Squad Goals: Natalie Dembinska Chooses Her Fantasy Dinner Guests
Richard, the Gray one of this fine publication, emailed the other day. “We’re doing an issue on squads, gorge, so could you write about your mates – maybe your dream gang? Like, the new ‘Who would you have round for dinner?’ I think your boy squad would be a fabulous freak show of aceness!”
Sure. Can I make them up, though? That freak show I call my “squad” is far from fabulous. Can you find fabulous in a gutter? Didn’t think so. And that’s where I tend to find the members of mine. It doesn’t help that I rarely spend any time out of one. Make of that what you will.
Rummaging in gutters aside, when it comes to dinner parties, I prefer to live by the gospel of the queen of entertaining, Amy Sedaris. Apart from never serving pizza to someone with a severe case of acne (as you don’t want the food to remind them of their face), or crabs to someone with crabs (as, again, you don’t want to call attention to their dodgy lifestyle choices), the key to any party, dinner or otherwise, is the guests. They are literally the difference between party gold and party turd.
To quote from Sedaris’s bible of all things entertaining, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence: “Whom you invite tells you whom not to invite. If you invite a fox, don’t invite a hound. If the party is going to be made up of mostly pretty young girls, then you might want to invite some old men. Nothing makes them feel more alive. If all the guests have the same kind of job, the result can be geeky shop talk, and that’s not a party – that’s a convention.” I should just say right here, if anybody is holding a party made up of mostly young and pretty girls and old rich men, should you want to throw a middle-aged woman into the mix to add some spice, let me know – I’m free most nights.
And on that note, allow me to present to you my fantasy squad. Aka the people who, if they ever picked up the phone, I would invite round for dinner. And if I had their numbers in the first place. Issues of them being alive or real at the time of writing might come into play, too, but to quote from the bible of the great Martha Stewart: never let a minor setback hold you back.
My second hostess with the mostest, the only one who in my eyes could ever rival Sedaris when it comes to advice about inviting people into your home, is Fran Lebowitz. Not that she invites people into her home, and certainly not to entertain them. But when it comes to food and hosting tips, she’s rarely wrong. Yes, white grapes are very attractive, but when it comes to dessert, people generally like cake with icing; and as for cold soup, it’s true, you do feel that it would have been hot if only you’d shown up five minutes earlier.
Anyway, the reason I include Lebowitz, more than her being Lebowitz, is that I feel like she would indulge me in my complete social awkwardness and allow me to just sit at the table, reading a book and ignoring everyone around me, like the recluse I am. Which kind of misses the point of hosting a dinner party in the first place, but then of course, the secret wish of anyone who has ever thrown a dinner party is that their guests would just go away. After all, Lebowitz’s idea of a great literary party is her alone, reading a book. I like to think that’s something we have in common. That and our favourite animal: steak.
Most people like to dress their table with a floral arrangement, but I find them costly and distracting. A dinner party isn’t about the company you keep on your table, it’s about the company around your table. However, it is always a good idea to invite someone who could double as that floral arrangement. Hence Phil Spector.
I’ve written about my love for him before on these pages, but let me just say one more time: I LOVE Phil Spector. Not enough to cross the line and become his pen pal while he’s waylaid in the pen, sending him sexy messages spritzed with an equally sexy scent. I’m not that crazy. I feel our love works better when played out long distance and only one of the involved parties is aware of it. This is, however, a man who gave us the Ronettes, Darlene Love and the Wall of Sound, and changed the way that music was heard. And judging by Ronnie Spector’s autobiography, he has some pretty good stories to tell. Plus, when it comes to the floral arrangements, just ask him to bring along his rather impressive collection of wigs. Why settle for a rose when you can have a mullet instead?
I remember the first time I ever laid eyes on Prince. I was seven. I had seen him before, but hadn’t really seen him. I was visiting my mum’s sister and came down with an ear infection. To keep me occupied she put on a film, Purple Rain. To be honest, of the more child-friendly options available in a time before online streaming existed, she figured I’d prefer Prince to the Grateful Dead in concert. She was right.
When I got home, my dad asked how it had gone. I told him I wanted to be a little red corvette with a raspberry beret on my head. Admittedly, this was probably preferable to my previous dream of being Dr Frank-N-Furter when I grew up (though at least he was a doctor). But then Prince did sing my father’s favourite song ever, Red Blood of the Communists Raining Down. You probably know it as Purple Rain.
My other reason for inviting the purple one is a Salma Hayek anecdote. She was with him at some party. Food was served. Hayek, according to Hayek, dived straight in. As you do when presented with something free and edible (that’s like spotting a blue whale in the Thames). She was with Prince at the time. Mid-dive, he grabs her hand and utters one line: “Sister, stay away from the buffet.” Prince was joking, but let’s be real for a second, are you really OK with signing up to Overeaters Anonymous? Me neither.
Before you say anything, yes, I realise that George Costanza is not real. But this is my fantasy dinner party and if I want to invite a Seinfeld character, I can. To be honest, it was a coin toss between him and Larry David. Costanza won. Choosing between the two is impossible, but it wouldn’t be possible not to have one of them on the list. And before you judge me on my coin toss, who else apart from Costanza finds pastrami to be the most sensual of all the salted, cured meats? Or wants to bite into a big hunk of cheese like it’s an apple? Is that not the perfect dinner-party guest? The one who’s happy with a decent deli spread bought cut- price because at 8.05pm the supermarket has to chuck it because of expiration dates? Plus, you know he’ll always bring a big salad. Sure, he’ll bitch about it, but then that’s what earplugs and sign language were invented for.
And since were on the fictional portion of our programme, let me once again say the words “coin toss”. Armando Iannucci or Selina Meyer? Sure, it was Iannucci who created Meyer and oversaw the writing of a line that has made me look at a croissant the way I might eye a dildo ever since, and also had me eyeing dildos the way I eye croissants in Pret at 8.57 in the am, Monday to Friday, but she is the one who spoke those immortal words and, anyway, the coin gave me heads. Don’t pretend like you don’t make all your most important life choices in the same way.
Anyway, every dinner party needs a guest who distracts from the host’s inadequacies and is there anyone more perfect for that than Meyer? If you get super-lucky – or her super-drunk – she might actually come through on her croissant promise. Plus, with Meyer, you always get Gary. And who in their right mind refuses a free maid for the night?
I almost met Ed Ruscha. Once. And by “met once” I mean I was in the same room as him five minutes after he had left it, but same difference. A friend of mine, when I made the mistake of asking her what she would like as a present for her 30th birthday, said issue 1 of David Bailey and David Litchfield’s Ritz Newspaper. So I found it. The entire archive, admittedly, but issue 1 was included and that was all that mattered.
It was while I was collecting the archive, which we had decided to split between us, with her taking the odd numbers and me the even – well, she had asked for the first one, so I was hardly in a position to deny her this distribution of the spoils – that I discovered I was standing in a room in which Ruscha had stood only seconds earlier.
The moral of the story: bad shit happens to good people all the time. I managed to resist buying the first edition of whatever it was he had signed just moments earlier because my bank account said no. At this point in the story, let’s not kid ourselves, all sense and willpower is going to go out of the window. But it’s Ruscha. How can you not round out a dinner party with the man they called Styrene?
Taken from the latest issue of 10 Magazine, REBEL HEART, on newsstands now…
Text by Natalie Dembinska
Illustration by Charles Jeffrey