The first thing you have to understand is that I get invited to very few parties, for reasons that aren't terribly hard to figure out.
It's not that I embarrass anyone by lurching around with a lamp shade over my head or loudly insisting that we all play Twister.
It's just that I add so little to a party that when the host is drawing up a guest list, he or she invariably jots down my name and then thinks: Why bother?
This is nothing new, either. I remember back in fifth grade we were supposed to have a Halloween party that included prizes and a pumpkin-carving contest.
All the kids were buzzing about it for days. But when I finally summoned the nerve to ask the teacher when the party would be held, she said: "Party? Pumpkin-carving . . . what are you talking about?"
Naturally, they held the party the very next day, when I was home sick with the flu.
Look, I'm not complaining. It's something you learn to live with.
Given this background, then, imagine my surprise when I found myself at an honest-to-goodness party the other evening.
The last party I went to was dominated by a lot of rail-thin, pasty-faced Health Nazis sipping Evian and raking celery sticks through a yogurt dip.
But this party was really rocking. First of all, there were a lot of fat people in the place.
If you walk into a party and see a lot of fat people, chances are it's a pretty good party. Fat people just want to have a good time. I don't know why that is, but it is.
Anyway, I was so taken with the good time everyone was having that I finally walked up to the hostess and said: "Mom, you have some pretty wild friends, you know that?"
Later in the evening I was hanging out near the crab dip, keeping a low profile, trying not ruin things for everyone else, when it happened.
Suddenly this man detached himself from the crowd and came up and started pumping my hand.
There is no more terrifying experience in the world than having someone come up to you at a party and start pumping your hand -- especially when you can't remember his name.
My wife is always telling me: "Be honest. If you don't remember a person's name, just tell him that."
Yeah, right, be honest . . . let me tell you something about honesty, OK?
Honesty is way, way overrated, especially in this situation. Because if you're honest and tell a person that you can't remember his name, he'll give you this hurt look, like you just ran over his dog.
People don't like when you forget their names, believe me. They're very touchy that way.
So instead of telling the guy the truth, I did what I usually do when I forget a person's name.
I faked it. I started calling the guy "chief."
This is my standard response when I can't remember a guy's name. I call him "chief." Or I call him "buddy" or "pal." It gets you out of a lot of embarrassing situations.
I have a friend who calls everybody "doctor." You hang around with this guy, you figure everyone he greets is a physician. It's just that instead of trying to remember people's names, he calls everyone "doctor," which they seem to like.
It's when you forget a woman's name that you have big problems. Because you can't call a woman chief or buddy or pal. Well, I guess you could. But it probably wouldn't go over very well.
And you can't call her babe, hon, sweetie or any of that other sexist stuff. Because pretty soon she'll be winding up with a bolo punch. And then it might be lights out. Some of these women can really throw a punch, too.
(This is neither here nor there, but you know what the key is to duking it out with a woman? If you're ever that stupid, I mean? You gotta get in the first punch. Because some of these women can hit like a mule.
(I ought to know. I was decked by a woman once at a fraternity mixer in college. She was drunk and threw a punch at her boyfriend, who was standing right next to me. Only her boyfriend had apparently seen this routine before, so he ducked. The punch caught me on the chin and practically lifted me off my feet.
(I'm telling you, the woman had an uppercut like Joe Frazier.)
Anyway, I had a nice talk with Chief, who kept calling me Ken, so it all evened out.
The rest of the party went well, too. Eventually I slipped out around midnight, although not without first thanking mom.
She told me the next day that no one had noticed that I'd gone.
Yeah. I've heard that one before, too.