Society time in Saratoga
By John Gray
Several decades ago when the Earth was flat and dinosaurs roamed the Northway, I sat at the head table at one of my brother’s weddings. The festivities were just getting under way when I realized I didn’t have a delicious roll, and the basket was clear across the table. Rather than ask my well-dressed sibling to pass them down I said, “Yo bro, throw me a roll.” Since men never really stop being boys, my brother grabbed one and tossed me a perfect strike. As I proceeded to butter that rascal, my mother appeared out of nowhere with a look on her face I hadn’t seen since I flushed my GI Joe down the toilet. In a stern voice she uttered just three words, “People are watching.” Mom was right. We were not back at home eating hotdogs in the backyard where throwing food was acceptable. Point taken. The food stayed still the rest of the meal.
I take this trip down memory lane because here we are: August in the Capital Region, which is the height of the social season. There are parties to attend, galas to crash and little black dresses scurrying every which way in Saratoga. Being from South Troy I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but have learned the hard way some of the dos and don’ts of attending these elite parties and I’m happy to share. I’ll break this into several categories so it’s easy to play along.
Food – This is one of the reasons to go to a fancy party this time of the year, but there are some rules to follow. Nobody really wants to sit down to dinner. Everyone knows the most fun and best food is during the cocktail hour before the dinner. This is where the schmoozing takes place, the martinis flow and you have your best chance to snag the elusive bacon-wrapped scallop. Tip #1 – anything that comes with a toothpick through it is yummy, but the stick itself is hazardous. Discard the little harpoon immediately lest you wave your hands around and stick someone, or worse off (guys), you put it in your pocket only to sit down later that evening and stab yourself in the scallops.
Liquor – There is only one reason for an “open bar” at a charity event. The goal is to get you so loopy that an hour later when they do a live auction you’ll lose control of all senses and bid $5,000 on a cappuccino machine imported from Italy. It is not cool to get drunk at one of these events because, trust me, everyone is watching. The only thing worse than you getting drunk is to have a date who is blasted.
Case in point: About 10 years ago I took a woman to one of these parties who, unknown to me at the time, had a slight drinking problem. One minute she’s having fun; the next she turns into Sybil saying, “Hey Gray. See that waitress over there. You like her don’t you. Why don’t you just ask her out? DO IT! DO IT!” The sad thing was that she was pointing at the 50-year-old man who was checking people’s coats. Apparently, after eight glasses of wine her vision went along with her class. That said, I swear to this day I did not have a crush on him.
Tattoos – This is a tough one, especially for the ladies. When you’re in acid washed jeans and a tie-dye tank top, your tattoo of a coyote howling at the moon on your right shoulder looks pretty darn cool. When you’re walking into the Hall of Springs in a strapless gold gown….hmm, not so much. Now, some people are rude and call a tattoo on a woman’s lower back a tramp stamp. Not only is that not nice, but the truth is, if you have to have a tattoo that is the perfect location to hide it under a fancy gown. Of course, if you’ve been slamming Grey Goose for an hour and you start telling the other guests, “No, it’s a dolphin jumping over a rainbow, wanna see it? Seriously, just help me with my zipper.” This is also not conduct that will get Cinderella invited back to the ball.
Fatcats – If you were to travel on safari into a dangerous forest, your guide would give you a short list of hideous creatures to watch out for. If you are planning to spend any time at Siro’s, Brindisi’s or any of a dozen other hotspots this month, I want to warn you about the Fatcat. He is usually a white male, often fat, who by luck or hard work has acquired some degree of wealth. Money in itself is not evil, but to the Fatcat it feeds an insatiable sense of entitlement. Translation—he’s a blowhard showoff who thinks he can buy anyone he wants.
I stood next to a Fatcat at Siro’s last year as he told the pretty young waitress (and I swear I’m not making this up), “Hey sweetheart. You don’t know me, but trust me you will. Here’s a twenty dollar tip. My way of saying I don’t want to have to look for you when I need a drink. Capiche?” He then proceeded to try to stuff the twenty dollar bill onto her person when she had no pockets. Not pretty. If you’re a woman, avoid the Fatcat. If you’re a guy hanging with Mr. Moneybags I have three words for you: guilt by association. Oh, and if you have a daughter waitressing in Saratoga this month, might I suggest a nice can of mace?
Hats & Shoes – Guys, this is one you will never understand so just let it go. Women cannot have enough shoes and when it comes to the social season she’s got to have the hat, too. Put the Visa on the counter and just walk away. Trust me, you don’t want to know. Now that said, ladies, be reasonable. If the hair and makeup is stunning and the dress is incredible do you really think anyone will notice if you are wearing Jimmy Choo or Payless? Okay, some women may, but most people won’t, especially if you have that coyote howling at the moon on your shoulder. Yikes.
I know nothing about hats only to say this: Ladies, if it’s big enough to land a small airplane on the brim you should consider going down a size or two. Just a thought.
Keep off the grass – True story. A woman I know attended a party at a private country club in our area. After several cocktails she and a few other women decided to wander off to the 18th green of the golf course and have a little late night picnic. Unfortunately, the spikes in their heels poked holes in the perfectly groomed green causing thousands of dollars in damage. They did what any drunk party goers would do—they ran! Not good ladies, not good.
Obey all signs – Another true tale. I’m at a party in Saratoga when one of the guests who recently had a baby asked the staff if there was a private room where she could go pump breast milk. The old pump and dump maneuver. They tell her to go upstairs. She reaches the top of the stairs and a sign clearly states: OPEN THIS GATE, ALARM WILL SOUND. Hmmm, what to do? She goes back downstairs and whispers, “What about the alarm?” They tell her to ignore it, they just put the sign up to discourage guests from wandering. You know what happens next. Up the stairs she goes, opens the gate and all hell breaks look. Sirens, lights flashing. Guests look up to see what caused the commotion and there she stands in her gown holding the breast pump. Priceless.
It’s the people not the party – The best times I’ve ever had, had little to do with the venue and everything to do with the company I was keeping. My friend Julie raves about the SPAC Ballet Gala each year. She and a large group of friends dress up, set up a picnic on the lawn and have a blast. They look forward to it all year long.
I’ve been honored to be a guest several times at the Whitney Ball at the Canfield Casino, and you know what’s surprising? The food is simple, the liquor common, but the fun is in the guest list. Mary Lou Whitney brings together people who might not normally rub elbows and for three hours, once a year, they share stories and laugh. The shrimp is scrumptious and the decorations divine, but it’s the friends I’ve made at that party over the years that I think of and smile.
We’re quickly running out of space so let’s recap Gray’s tips on the social scene. Hats, dresses, shoes—go crazy girl. Alcoholic dates—leave at home. Tattoos are optional, but the closer to your butt the better. Toothpicks kill, Fatcats stink and always trust a sign that says ALARM WILL SOUND. And foremost, if you want to be assured of a wonderful evening, go with some nice people. Whether you’re sipping champagne at a gala or eating PJ’s barbeque on the way back home, the people you hang with will make or break the evening. ‘Twas always this way and always will be.
John Gray is a Fox23 News anchor and contributing writer at the Troy Record. He can be reached at email@example.com