Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Finch Finale

I know it's been quite a while since I wrote about life at Finch College. Though I haven't fully exploited all my adventures there, perhaps it's time to move on and share the closing chapter because  when one door closes, another opens.
Three years had gone by at Finch and graduation had come. I’d been invited to a classmate’s party at her parent’s apartment in Manhattan. I knew her father was a diplomat. She was smart, she sounded very British and had a royal European-sounding last name.  Though I didn't know her well, I liked her very much.  I was excited to be invited and worried about what to wear. The engraved invitation with its embossed gold seal should have been the tip-off. 

The elevator doors opened INTO the apartment and we were greeted by what had to be, butlers, real butlers in black waistcoats. I remember a dark beautifully wood-paneled room set-up with small round tables covered in pink linen cloths, with pink linen napkins, cut glass crystal stemware, and heavy silver place settings with multiple forks, knives, and spoons and beautiful centerpieces gracing the rooms. It was gorgeous. Simply gorgeous.

The butler-waiters were carrying massive silver platters engraved with the seal of South Africa. Stephanie’s father was the ambassador
  this was before anyone really thought anything about South Africa except that it was an exotic place at the bottom of the world. 

Those platters were sailing by piled high with lobster tails
  from South Africa. I sat at a table for four with Stephanie’s brother (Julian?) and his best friend. Perhaps they sensed my nervousness because they couldn't have been more gracious. I kept watching what they were doing  which fork or glass were they using?   I was in past my depth. It turned out that the four glasses were for white wine, red wine, water and champagne. Choosing the red wine was a mistake. 

Crowded by all that finery I reached for my water and promptly, clumsily knocked over my glass  and all that red wine spilled over that pristine pink linen cloth. A puddle of red. All over. Horrified, I righted my now empty glass and before I could utter a complete sentence of apology, Julian knocked over his glass of red wine. On purpose! 

“WHY did you do that? Oh my God!” I screeched. “Why would you DO that?” 

“To put you at ease,” Julian answered with calm coolness.

“And I should knock over mine as well,” said the best friend.

“NO!” I implored putting my hand over the top of his glass, “That’s CRAZY!”

“It’s the polite thing to do. If someone makes a mistake, you do the same. You don’t want your guest to feel uncomfortable.”

Now there was a twist on empathy.

At midnight the butler-waiters came out with those silver trays laden with champagne glasses filled to the brim
  with fresh orange juice. 

“Orange juice?” I asked. “At night?”

“It’s what we do In South Africa. It’s very refreshing.” And it was.

The clink of that glass signaled the end of an era for me and the beginning of a new time in my life.

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