Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On Being "Under the Influence"

Amy Sedaris seems to push the limits of decency with her invited guests from all walks of life—and somehow still manages to seem charming rather than conniving in the process. She seems genuinely surprised when her sick guests balk at her helping herself to their prescription narcotics (“When You Get to Play Nurse” 160), and frequently inserts subtle jabs at her guests when describing what to serve or give them, like the “It’s Not Your Fault” lice comb as a gift idea for gypsies (165). But there’s no desperateness or bitter loneliness tainting the overall experience of the book.  The uncomfortable honesty present in the book’s content is transformed pretty completely into pure fun, thanks to Amy’s casually witty and vocal writing style, colorful childlike illustrations, and pictures of herself smiling, being high, putting on pantyhose, and covering herself head to toe in whipped cream and sprinkles.

            In Tuesday’s class discussion we called attention to the fittingness of the book’s title, I Like You, to the dynamics of hosting parties and telling jokes. But though our discussion reinforced it, no one pointed out the fittingness of the subtitle: Hospitality Under the Influence.  The pun here is plain, as Amy subtly hints at (and openly admits to) her fondness for alcohol, cannabis, and prescription narcotics. But it causes the reader to question—is hospitality always done “under the influence”?  Are our motives intrinsic, like genuine fulfillment gleaned from surrounding ourselves with people we like in our own homes, or extrinsic—the compliments, the recipe requests, the host/hostess gifts, and the unspoken pay-it-forward social promise of our mailbox (or inbox) being laden with invitations in the near future? Does the instinctive human desire to get something in return compromise the integrity of our hospitality? The integrity of our jokes? Is a party planning guide itself a recipe for disingenuous conduct, encouraging us to whip up tasty treats and cute crafts that we may never intend to credit to the proper source?

            When we invite people into our homes and offer them food we made, we make ourselves vulnerable, just as we do when we attempt humor. We can never be certain that people will enjoy our food and atmosphere of our soiree or be amused by our jokes.  I think that it is in this vulnerability that the integrity resides. Although we may naturally operate under the influence of hoping for reward, hosting and joking is risky business.  In both cases, the approval we seek is reciprocal, benefitting the amused and satisfied guest as much as ourselves. This fact lessens the inherent selfishness of the ulterior motive, in my opinion.  As Amy conveys so brilliantly, being under the influence can be a truly wonderful—and surprisingly productive—state of mind, to the potential benefit of all guests. Even gypsies.  

No comments:

Post a Comment