# of pages revised: 33
# of days left to complete 2nd draft: 62
Last night was Nikki’s birthday potluck, and I really was not sure what to expect. She had invited: the farmer from down the road and his friends, the people who work at the fruit market, the crazy next door neighborhood with Lyme disease, and a nice married couple who Nate met through work.
So, it was going to be a motley crew. And I was concerned that we did not have enough alcohol to make people feel at ease in such awkwardness. Nikki and Nate don’t drink, so they hadn’t taken this into consideration.
“Do you think I should go out and get some beer or something?” I asked them.
“Well, we have two beers in the refrigerator,” Nikki said. “And I have a bottle of red wine somewhere that I was going to use for cooking. That should be enough.”
“Maybe,” I said. “Well, the liquor store is right down the road, so we can always run over there and get something real quick if we need to.”
Later, as I was making meatballs, Nikki got concerned that we didn’t have anything for people to drink besides water. Finally, I thought, she’s coming to her senses.
“Hey Nate,” she said, “will you run to the store and buy some seltzer?”
“Seltzer?” I said.
“You don’t like seltzer?” Nikki asked. “I can make some Crystal Light, too.”
Oh dear, I thought. I was beginning to get nervous about the potluck. A whole bunch of random people and no alcohol. I wanted to crack open one of those beers for myself right away, but no – we only had two, and they were going to have to last us all night!
You have to understand that I lived for six years in New Orleans. You don’t host a party in New Orleans without alcohol. Not even a child’s birthday party. It’s considered rude. People come to a party expecting some booze.
Another thing you don’t do in New Orleans: you don’t arrive at a party on time.
But, at 5:55 pm, five minutes before the official start of the potluck, I looked through the kitchen window and saw someone lumbering through the back yard holding what looked to be a plate of raw meat.
“Nikki!” I said, “I think Clay is here.”
I’ve heard a lot about Clay, the crazy neighbor, but this was my first encounter with him. Apparently Lyme disease can affect your coordination, but it’s unclear how much of his slurred speech and stumbling walk is due to Lyme disease and how much of it should be attributed to his heavy drinking and drug use. He burst into the kitchen and thrust his plate of pork chops in my hand. “They can go on the grill,” he said. Apparently he thought this was a cook-out, even though it was thirty-seven degrees outside. I politely took the pork chops and put them in the oven.
“Clay, can I get you something to drink?” Nate asked. “Some seltzer?”
Clay was silent for a long moment, probably waiting for Nate to continue with other drink options, like beer or whiskey. Finally, when it became clear that seltzer was the only choice, Clay said, “uhh…I’m all set for now.”
There was a knock on the door. Six o’clock on the nose, and three of the other guests were arriving: the fruit market people, sans the schizophrenic one (probably for the best). And then, a few minutes after that, the nice married couple arrived. Everyone stood around awkwardly while Nate offered them glasses of seltzer.
“Do you think I should open the wine and offer that?” I asked Nikki.
“That’s OK,” she said. “Let’s just stick with seltzer for now.”
I considered opening a beer for myself and pouring it into a glass, pretending it was seltzer so I wouldn’t have to offer anyone else beer, but I thought no, I don’t need alcohol to be social! And then I went to talk to Ed about fruit.
Once all the guests had arrived, Nikki brought out the “appletizer” party game. Nikki had sliced up eight different types of apples, and we tasted the slices and guess what type of apple it was. I made the chart to keep track of everyone’s guesses, along with an attractive poster with all the apple varieties listed. The fruit market people had an obvious advantage.
“Apple number one!” Nikki announced, passing around slices.
Clay mashed his slice into his mouth. “Can I get another?”
“What does everyone think?” I asked, my pencil poised.
“Empire!” Clay shouted. “Definitely Empire!”
“This is an old apple,” Ed from the fruit market said. “It’s been sitting around for awhile.”
“Northern spy,” Nate said.
“Where did you get these apples from?” Ed asked suspiciously. “You didn’t get them from us.”
“Apple number two!” Nikki announced.
“Empire!” Clay said.
“Well, you already guessed Emprie,” I told him gently.
“I don’t know,” one of the guests said, chewing mournfully on her slice. “This game is too hard.”
My apple slice was mushy, so I fed the rest of it to Zeus, who had been sitting by the coffee table with a string of drool dripping from his mouth.
By the time we got to apple number eight, we were all confused and laughing. “I don’t know!” we were all crying. “Too many apples!”
“I need the whole apple,” Ed from the fruit market was saying. “I need to hold it in my hand and feel it and smell it and take a big bite of it.”
“Maybe next time we can do the tasting with pears,” Roberto, also from the fruit market, said.
“Or cheese,” Nate suggested.
“Empire!” Clay said enthusiastically.
“Great job, everyone,” Nikki said. “Let’s go ahead and start eating, and I’ll tabulate the results.”
I pulled Clay’s pork chops out of the oven. They were actually really good, and people seemed to like them. People also seemed to like my meatballs, and I was pleased as punch when one of the guests asked for my recipe.
“Well, I really just made it up,” I told her, feeling like one of those adult women who knows how to just whip things up in the kitchen. “I can write down for you what I did.”
The married couple brought a crazy-delicious dip. Ed brought the best pineapple I’ve ever, ever had. Nikki’s salad was fresh and amazing and adorned with the goat cheese my mom brought when she visited. We also had homemade guacamole and homemade chowder.
We ate and talked and laughed. Ed told us about his past lives, and Roberto told us about how he had immigrated from Mexico at the age of twelve. Clay told us that he doesn’t wrestle at parties anymore. There were some awkward pauses in conversation that normally I would have filled by filling everyone’s wine glasses. But there was no wine, and the awkward pauses quickly passed. By the time I brought out Nikki’s birthday cupcakes (flourless-sugarless-carob cupcakes that she made for herself), I had decided that the alcohol-free potluck had been a success.
Oh, and guess who won the appletizer game? Clay and I tied for first place!