Random Right-Now Cocktails

Actually, this originated as Poverty Cocktails—as in, "I'm in poverty, you bring the cocktails"—but the solvent can try it too.

Sad story: I was headed for a 20-something birthday. I had just quit my job to become a freelance writer. I was living in a basement studio. None of my neighbors knew me, let alone my birthday, and there were no colleagues to drop hints to. So I decided I was one of those mature people who just hate a big fuss being made about their birthday.

Napoleon en route to Russia had fewer delusions. Around noon, dank little drops of sadness started to drip down like an overhead leak, and by sunset, I was up to my neck in it.

Down but not out, I started dialing. To anyone at his or her telephone, I posed the same question: "Can you come over and celebrate my birthday with me this very night—in a couple of hours, in fact? And, if so, um, might you perhaps bring a cake and maybe some wine or Champagne?"

Since no one had any notice, almost no one was free to fall for this. So I ended up with one ex-colleague, a 60-ish Irish friend of my mother's, the guy upstairs whom I had never met, and three or four others, none of whom knew each other. It was tacky, it was pathetic, it was one of the most hilariously excellent times I have ever had.

Now, unless you're really young, really poor, and really bummed about your birthday, I don't recommend making everyone bring everything. But I heartily recommend throwing very small, very low-stress, very last-minute parties—and doing so very often, as I did for years after that first foray. For, as I later realized, my original approach—desperate and accidental though it was—had several built-in virtues. One, it automatically weeded out anyone who stood on ceremony, as well as anyone who didn't really want to come. Moreover, the last-minute factor ruled out my finding a whole matched set of guests (colleagues or family) free to accept, and resulted in a refreshingly motley crew. People simply couldn't get caught up in the same old blather about work or politics or whatever; they had no "same old" anything in common.

Random right-now cocktails free you to ignore the "Oh, if I invite this person, I have to invite that person" rule book, which swallows so many guest lists whole—and sucks the spark out of so many gatherings. This isn't a wedding; it's a whim.

Next: The Soiree in Shifts