Q. We’re cranking up the pool for the season and are wondering, what’s the protocol when skinny-dipping happens? It’s surprised us at a couple of our parties.
Water is natal—we’re born in it and of it—so it’s darn near impossible to predict when grown humans might want to get nekkid in it. The idea works the room as a party guest would, until it becomes…the idea. I’d never really considered the process, but I recently attended a pool party that spontaneously combusted into skinny-dipping. The pool party hadn’t been on the evening’s docket—there was a concert, then it was suggested, how about some snacks and a nightcap at Harold’s pool. About a half hour in, boom, a half dozen Maxfield Parrish forest nymphs—a.k.a. female guests—were cavorting in the silver-gilt moonlight. This vision triggered the “olly olly oxen free” that made it all okay. Most attendees made the jump; some didn’t. That was key: no pressure. As with every other party, there’s an etiquette. I’ll call it the Emperor’s New Clothes, but with the twist that the emperor is the example, not the joke. The rule is, although nobody’s got a stitch on, one should act as one would at every other party, with exemplary decency, generosity, and good humor. Good manners and good humor—though complex to maintain when everybody’s naked—become more important than usual. Skinny-dipping is a collegial circumstance, a moment of community. Good manners uphold that civic notion, and keep the party going rather than brake it. Mannerly forms of address and courtesy are especially handy tools in those moments when the finery of civilization—the social armor of your clothes—has been removed from the equation. In that sense and many others, a skinny-dipping party is an excellent opportunity to show who you really are.
Q. Tailgating season at the races is well under way. Tips?
I lucked into a tailgating scene while walking back to my car after a dove shoot that taught me a great lesson. As I got to the patch of red dirt where we’d parked, here was a fellow shooter who had kitted out the rear of his 4×4 with an antique “road bar”—a chest that clapped open like an old steamer trunk. It had slots for his well-aged Scotches, differently infused gins, and a beautifully turned place for his ice bucket. Sipping bourbon at his truck was like being in his living room, while standing at the edge of a cornfield cradling my twelve. He was completely insane, and I loved him for it. Not all tailgating has to be luxe—what’s on offer can be as simple as fried chicken livers—but it should be done insanely right. The best tailgating carries the passionate follow-through, that one flourish of a host who cares. It can be as simple as a bottle of Angostura bitters, a chutney garnish, a tray of biscuits, or, because it’s Derby and steeplechase season across the South, a silver Jefferson cup for your inevitable julep. The point of tailgating is to deliver excellence into an unaccustomed, “wrong” place, namely, outside.
Q. It’s Mother’s Day again. What to do?
The dread-inflected adverb again tells us your story. Cast off the apprehension. Start by not making lunch or dinner the crux of your celebration. The idea is to toast her by refreshingly entertaining her. A program: Find a good movie, starting about 5:00 p.m. That puts you out in time to hit the best bar in town for drinks and appetizers to discuss the film. She’ll exhaust that topic by the end of the first drink. Don’t worry, it’s spring in the South, so there’s better conversational ammo lying around, namely, “the garden.” I don’t know whether you stood for orals in grad school, but brush up on your horticultural Latin and mind your blooming times. It’s not a “fig” tree. It’s a ficus. When the azaleas are setting buds, how to thin privet, when ivy begins to strangle a tree—it’s infinite, scholarly, and meaningful, because garden philosophy is the philosophy of renewal, which is the greatest gift you can give your mother. Dinner doesn’t have to be fancy, because fancy is what everybody who is guilty about not seeing their mothers will do. It’s the ongoing gift of diversion, engagement, and good companionship you’re after, not an obligatory slog through an obligatory meal, for you, or more important, for her.