My parents belong to a club that treats its members to different-themed gourmet dinner parties, hosted at members' homes and prepared in a very prescribed potluck style by the guests, who are given recipes for dishes selected to fit the evening's theme. In addition to these smaller events, which take place seasonally (four times a year; you figure it out) the club (ominously named The Establishment) meets in its entirety twice a year for an annual formal (black tie) dinner in January and a much more informal outdoor picnic/barbecue in July. The venues for these latter two events are fixed, at the homes of the club members with the most extensive silverware, glassware, and flatware collection, and the largest back yard, respectively.

As a result of my parents' involvement in this club, I have learned quite a bit about the workings of the dinner party, in particular the more formal event, which I catered (with the help of a rotating roster of friends recruited to help) for five years in a row (the pay got better every time, especially when I returned to "the annual dinner" as a starving college student). However, I believe that it was as a result of this experience that I failed to earn a potentially valuable scholastic distinction during my senior year of high school.

I'm not exactly sure what qualifications made me a candidate for the Presidential Scholar Award (having spanked the SAT probably helped), but after all my college and scholarship applications were finished, I found myself called upon to write yet another, complete with essay. I gamely set myself to the task, but in the end the prescribed essay topic was too painful for me.

My memory is not exact, but the general gist of the essay question was, "If you could host a dinner party for three famous people, living or dead, whom would you invite, what would you discuss with them, and why?" Bleaugh, I thought, don't these people know how much work it is to throw a dinner party? And so my essay response was born.

Long story short, I wrote a polite, well-worded statement explaining that I knew how much work a formal dinner party entailed, and that since I, a seventeen-year-old senior in high school, could not possibly afford to hire a team of kids like me to staff the kitchen, I would end up spending all of my time making the dinner party happen instead of engaged in deeply thought-provoking conversation with historical notables, so I'd rather invite my three best friends over to chat while I made pizza. Suffice it to say I never heard back from the Presidential Scholar people.

In retrospect, of course, it was a pretty obnoxious thing for me to do. But I maintain I did the right thing, if only because I had so much fun doing it. If I had the chance to write that essay again, it would probably be even more obnoxious. The social class assumptions implicit in the essay question are so unpleasant they make me wonder if I read it right. Then again, given that there's a linear relationship between mean parental income and mean SAT score, it's probably not unreasonable for the award application to reflect a little classism in its design. Still, that doesn't mean I have to like it. And besides, fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

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