By Peter Hamilton Travis
Have you found yourself working too hard this summer (at yet another over-staffed, casual Saturday BBQ for 200) — reconstituting excruciatingly picayune small talk?
Another buoyant, avant-garden-fresh retake on a particular Congressional Representative/close, personal friend of Jon Stewart’s Twaux pas™ perhaps?
Without paying any attention to what exactly it is you’ve been snatching off every glint-of-a-serving-tray that enters your peripheral vision? *
*My cherished, “regular” readers (“Good day Effervescents!”) excluded. Of course. I know that you know that I know that you know. I’m feeling a touch brittle of late, having semi-survived two near-death experiences while attempting to avoid being on the dead end of a vehicular manslaughter thing. At…their hands.
It is an indisputable fact: Summer is the perfect time for entertaining. Color me gauche (Crayola’s “Gauche” would be a scrappy blend of “Granny Smith Apple” and “Inchworm.”), but I prefer dip and chips to canapés of Platinum Arowana and locally grown, organic Northwest Woods Moss.
My absolute fave summer party appetizer is Kraft Philadelphia Brand Whipped Cream Cheese & Onion Dip and Ruffles. Not baked Ruffles. Or low sodium, low fat, potato-free Ruffles — for the potato intolerant who desire the taste of real potato chips — without the risk of tongue boils and necrosis of the lower intestine.
One of my fondest childhood memories includes helping my elderly parents prepare for a Saturday summer dinner party. I was responsible for the presentation and distribution of onion dip and chips.
Which I had deconstructed — with the help of a giant dry erase board and multi-colored markers — down to three primary tasks:
Task #1: Pop open a tin of Philadelphia Brand Whipped Cream Cheese & Onion Dip.
Task #2: Spoon the contents of tin into the center bowl of a spectacular chip and dip platter my mother claimed was a wedding gift. But I know for a fact she swiped it from the neighbors while they were in Wisconsin attending a distant relative’s wake.
Give my mother a key to your home — along with the responsibility of caring for a few spider plants and a five-foot tall cactus — and the laundry list of possible loss should include a lot more than a chip and dip server.
But this was no ordinary chip and dip server. A 24” circular silver platter with an attached bowl at the center. Both the platter and the exterior of the bowl were polished to a chrome-like sheen. They were probably plated. However, the interior of the bowl vibrated with phosphorescent chartreuse the chromatic luminance of which I have never seen since. The interior of the bowl was undoubtedly plated.
The contrast of the mirror-finished silver against such a deep, rich, jewel-toned emerald reminded me of The Wizard of Oz. Not the entire film. Just the Wizard. Of Oz. And Oz. The city.
Task #3: Open a fresh bag of Ruffles Potato Chips.
Our every day chips were Wise Potato Chips. Our formal chips were Ruffles. Most families differentiate between casual and formal china, flatware, or stemware.
We had potato chips.
Which — considering the vast repertoire of madness my family routinely staged — held little to no import.
After carefully arranging the Ruffles around the perimeter of the platter — ensuring every chip fell naturally into place without looking too haphazard. Or fussy. I’d quickly employ any Ruffles left in the bag to shovel 3/4 of the ready-to-serve dip down my gullet.
The “dinner” portion of these dinner parties was a convenient ruse. A traditional suburban Long Island parlor trick enabling a bunch of middle-aged binge drinkers to embalm themselves — en masse — in a private, relatively safe setting.
As the evening unraveled, I’d routinely waft through the living room and seize the chip and dip platter — with all the velocity and stealth of a feral hummingbird snatching a baby squirrel from its mother’s pouch.
Once safely inside the kitchen, I’d quickly refill the dip, recharge the Ruffles, and replace the platter to its original position on the living room coffee table. Without so much as a sideway glance from any one of the roomful of drooling, shouting drunks.
One might think a slightly weepy, oft-stumbling toddler wearing cowboy-themed, footed pajamas would stand out in a sea of broadcast color bar-patterned dinner skirts and polyester sport coats in hues from jaundice yellow to Ted Baxter blue.
I was invisible. And remain so today. Which is meant to put more than a few of you out there on guard.
PETER HAMILTON TRAVIS is moving to Canada — the only place left on Earth where Kraft still sells Philadelphia Brand Whipped Cream Cheese & Onion Dip. And Mounties have zero tolerance for selfish, semi-conscious, entitled drivers.