Concentration is a wonderful thing. Too bad I don’t have enough of it. You’ll understand why in a minute. Recently I had a conversation with another friend who writes and we got onto the subject of influence – the process itself – the analyses, the imitations, the parodies, ultimately ending in absorption. Naturally name-dropping followed – who, when, how, why. My list wasn’t difficult to make: Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, Harper Lee, Billy Wilder, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, and Woody Allen.
That accounted for the who, but the when, how, and why were all much fuzzier in my memory. Ah, I thought, excellent. I’ll do a healthy cycle of introspection and pinpoint what I owe to each. This is where the lack of concentration came in. What happened was, instead of mapping out something insightful about the nature of influence, what I ended up doing was contemplating what it would be like giving the eight of them brunch.
Oh sure, it sounds like a real easy job. Set a date and send out the invitations. But there’s so much more to it than that, and I’m not just talking about the menu. The seating plans alone could drive you crazy. Including me, there would be nine of us and nine is an awkward number to seat. On top of that I decided a round table would work better than a rectangle – no one gets precedence that way, although you still have to figure out where to put everyone. The boy-girl-boy-girl scheme is perfectly respectable.
The half-and-half, as in boys on one side, girls on the other, also has its merit.
Alphabetical is always an option, but it lacks imagination. It’s like letting the dictionary do the heavy-lifting.
To make matters even more interesting, I wondered what it would be like to invite eight fictional characters in place of their creators. To be fair, I invited one female and one male character per actual person, which doubled the number of guests to eighteen and which made it necessary to have two tables. Yes, I know I separated the characters in terms of gender, but I had to narrow down the seating choices at least a little bit. Besides, I would have had to make up more seating charts and you simply have to limit the nonsense somewhere.
It seemed like a good idea to keep Charlie Kane away from Newland Archer (they’d only quarrel about society issues) though I wonder whether seating him next to Walter Burns won’t be dangerous. They’re both newspaper men, it’s true, but you can’t trust Walter not to shoot his mouth off. Although come to think of it, putting Alvy Singer on Kane’s other side could be equally explosive. Peter Walsh might feel intimidated sitting so close to gentlemen like Archer and Fitzwilliam Darcy, but he should feel comfortable with Joe Gillis sitting to his right. Atticus Finch will do fine no matter where he’s sitting, god bless him.
As for the ladies:
It was a real dilemma whether to invite Clarissa Dalloway or Mrs. Ramsay, but poor Clarissa is always throwing parties – she’d probably enjoy being a guest for a change, and Mrs. Ramsay probably wouldn’t be able to leave the kids anyway. I put Scout between Mary Kane and Hildy Johnson even though I thought she’d like Sugar Kane the best, but I thought it would be interesting to put Sugar next to Helen Sinclair since they’re both in show business. (Since I’m sure you’re wondering – I didn’t invite Annie Hall because I figured she’d be too stoned and you have to remember there’s a minor at the table.) No need to worry about Elizabeth or Ellen Olenska – they both enjoy diversity. You just have to hope that Ellen won’t keep everyone waiting; she likes being the center of attention.
I can’t even begin to imagine the conversation at any of these tables. I also couldn’t figure out where the heck to seat myself in all this, but honestly – if such a brunch could actually occur, I’d probably freak out and not show up. Although, theoretically I might attend if either of the culturally referential brunches were a possibility. At any rate, I’d still pay for the meal. I at least owe them that.