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The Revered Art of Just Showing Up

Thursday, August 9, 2018


This column has railed against social media. But it has great virtue when it serves as the modern Candid Camera: a reliably amusing tattletale. Supermodel Nina Agdal and Christie Brinkley’s son, Jack Brinkley-Cook, were recently busted by Instagram posts, dry humping at Montauk hotspot The Surf Lodge when they were meant to be seated in church at a friend’s wedding. 


Seriously? Did they really think they’d get away with that? 


Do any of you recall the old adage “Showing up is half the battle”? My parents constantly nattered on about the importance of keeping appointments, be they job interviews, family dinners, tennis lessons, etc. Those were the days when young people still listened to authority figures. 


Nowadays simply showing up is akin to driving a wood-paneled station wagon: antiquated. Try giving a cocktail party. The hardest part is finding out who will actually attend. At least a fifth of those you invite will bail out without letting you know. When people RSVP “Yes” nowadays, you’re an idiot to take that at face value. What “Yes” really means is “If I’m in the mood for a party that night.” And even if they do show up, they usually neglect to tell you their other half isn’t coming, or they’re bringing three friends, wreaking havoc on your head count and supplies of food and drink. Mercy to hosts who run out of alcohol.


As if not showing up isn’t rude enough, people today have zero guilt. Zippo. No apology call or text the next day. And if you happen to run into them a few days later, no mention of their transgression will be made unless you confront them. 


Whatever happened to sending flowers or a handwritten apology? But what really pisses me off is the sense of entitlement this behavior reveals. 


My friend Carolyne Roehm, one of the great hostesses of the 1980s and ’90s, recently told me she entertains far less due to the trendy prevalence of no-shows and last-minute cancellations. It takes a lot of time, effort and expense to entertain, and if people can’t bother to turn up, I don’t blame her for locking up her Limoges.


Another close friend says she recently planned a seated dinner for sixteen and ten either cancelled two hours beforehand or simply didn’t appear. When I asked her what the excuses were, she answered, “The usual bull: health issues, got the date wrong, ‘I’m away and can’t get back in time.’” Please! You have to be brain-dead to think your host will buy any of those pathetic attempts to sound legitimate.


The absurd counterbalance is the old school notion that a polite host should appear unfazed, understanding and gracious to the last-minute bail-outs. Hold on. Hasn’t this vintage nicety been perverted into permission? Certainly, no one seems to fear the consequences of not showing up. 


I say off with their heads—take them off your list. 


Let’s take the real estate business as a model. When you sign a contract to buy a property, should you bail out, you forfeit your deposit of 10 percent of the sale price. 


If you pull a no-show for surgery with a plastic surgeon I know, you will face significant economic consequences: 25 percent of the surgical fee plus full payment for the operating room. Only a real idiot would cancel on him. Or someone very rich and entitled.


One of my favorite stories of a no-show involves a small luncheon I gave for six friends at Le Bernardin. Five of us waited for quite a while for the sixth friend to arrive. When it became clear she wasn’t showing we went ahead and ordered lunch. She called me later that day, and in the blithest tone proceeded to tell me she couldn’t come to lunch because her ring fitting had gone on longer than expected. I confess that made me skip a beat to figure what on earth she meant. When I figured out she was being literal, I simply hung up. That one still rings in my ears.


Often, excuses revolve around children. If kids really knew how often they were said to be deathly ill or involved in a school scandal, they would be hard-pressed to recognize themselves.


In the country, weekend excuses often involve speeding stops, which is a quite a stretch. How many times can you use that without needing to explain how you still drive without a license? Auto breakdowns are another fave. Given the lack of local taxis in my hunt country weekend home, that one is pretty hard to counter. Then there’s the one that’s straight out of the fifties: “My babysitter bailed on me.” Riiiiight.


So is there any polite, slightly redeeming behavior that can mitigate these faux pas? For starters, if your partner decides not to join you at a seated dinner, pick up the phone and find a replacement so there isn’t a gaping hole at the table. Try to use common sense when inviting and don’t scare the horses—or your hosts. It’s always a good idea to run ideas by him or her first.


Always ask your host before bringing along uninvited guests. If it’s a hot, famous athlete or a respected writer, the answer may be yes; your personal trainer may be a no.


Lose the ridiculous excuses and simply say you are really sorry but you need to cancel. Send flowers or at least a note the next day.


But the real trick is to respect the effort made in trying to entertain you. Damn the excuses. Just show up.


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