The Peripheral View - Scott Rainey RVC-8
How To Throw, And Attend, a Mensa House Party

About 20 years ago some fool… oops, I mean a very wise LocSec, appointed me Portland Metro Area Coordinator. "Whut does I do?" I remember asking.

"Make things happen and tell people about it" was the crisp reply.

"Like maybe a party?"

"Ah, sure, fine. Gotta go. Love to stay and chat. Can't possibly you know. Places to do. People to be. Love to all! Bye!" Translation: "Welcome to the world of 'make it up as you go along in Mensa Kid.'"

Phone calls and TGIF conversations revealed that there had been a tradition of "First Saturday" House Parties in Oregon Mensa that had stopped mysteriously, and some folks missed it. So for better or worse, as my first act as AC, I decided to resurrect the "First Saturday Oregon Mensa BYO House Party" and talked myself into hosting it. That took (a) deciding to it and (b) notifying the newsletter calendar editor. Easy.

It was a big hit. Folks had a great time and in the 20+ years since then, we've missed less than a handful of First Saturdays usually due to a conflict with a holiday. I've hosted 2-4 of them a year ever since, myself. When my home was a lovely spooky old place called "The Spider House" (architectural theme, nothing to do with household mascots) it was considered the Mensa Clubhouse, which was just grand by me. Nowadays, there's always a long list of folks who want to play FS host.

As with so many things in Mensa, this good idea has taken on the cache of "tribal wisdom" which means those who practice it just "know" what to do, and folks who don't already know, can feel foolish at first. This is the start of writing it down. It will not be the final word as I hope other M-hosts will kindly send me their observations, techniques and suggestions for a follow up.

How to Host:

(a) Decide to it (b) Notify your editor (c) Clean house (d) Set out party supplies (e) Open the door at the appointed hour. (f) Have a good time. (g) Go to bed (h) Clean up the next morning. (i) Repeat.

Big houses are great for parties of course but so are medium and small houses. We've had great times in modest apartments where everybody's elbow or knee was intruding into the personal space of at least one other M, and in fact those times are often the best memories.

How to be a Guest

(a) Bathe. (b) Dress in clean clothes. (c) Get there, but not early. (d) Bring something you like to drink. (e) Bring finger foods to share with everyone else. (f) Party on Garth. (g) Go home at a reasonable hour. (h) Thank the host for hosting the good time.

The awkward question of "what to bring" is best answered this way: Do what's comfortable. As a model, I generally say, "What did you spend on the last movie you went to? Spend that or perhaps a bit more." It's a crude metric but whether you're a starving student or on a comfortable salary, it's about right. Home cookin' is best but you can be creative at the grocery store too. Go light on the chips and heavy on chocolate. Cookies, cakes, pies and brownies from home. Shrimp rings, veggies, dips, and nearly anything from deli section work fine for store-bought. If you bring a bottle and set it out, expect your fellow M's to poach.

But Wait! There's a Little More!

(c) Cleaning house: If you think your home needs to be white glove inspection clean for M's fuggedaboudit. Clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy is a good metric. I use the parties as an excuse to tidy up and often a deadline for some medium sized household project I've been putting off. I'll clean house all day Saturday, but have boxes to throw things into and stash under tables as party time grows near.

(d) Set out party supplies: You'll want a couple of tables, one for food, one for drinks Some distance between them is a good idea. Have several garbage receptacles with liners strategically placed throughout the party. I like tall rubbery office waste baskets lined with tall kitchen bags that sell 4 for $8 at warehouse clubs like Costco. They are rugged, cheap useful for many missions, and last for years. Spare empty trash can liners can be draped over the side of the basket, under the current liner, ready to place in service when the current liner is full.

Forks, spoons, knives and plates should be laid out for those guests who don't use their fingers for finger foods. These can be disposable, or dishwasher safe.

Drinking Glasses - again these can be disposables or dishwasher safe items. In my 20's I discovered that setting out real glassware (bought cheap and in bulk from a restaurant supply house) gave the party a nice air of sophistication and toned down the rowdies quite a bit. You don't have to go with that modest expense, unless it especially appeals to you, as disposable drink cups are just fine.

Bowls and platters should be placed on the food table. Use stuff from your kitchen or go with disposables, your call.

Napkins should be stacked near the foods and strategically placed around the party. I also position absorbent terry cloth kitchen towels ($8/dozen @ Costco) at various places around the party so they're near at hand when something gets spilled

To Feed 'em or Not to Feed 'em?

Each event has a different level of food expectations so the answer is "it depends." As host of a weekend evening no theme house party, it's less important, as your guests are expected to bring the party to you. For meal themes, football parties etc, there are other expectations. If you have time and energy to lay out a lavish spread in addition to getting the house all ready, go ahead, but it's optional, not expected.

Tablecloths look good and protect your nice tables while hiding the ones with folding legs. Go with cheap, paper or vinyl. Buy 'em on sale. Wine openers, bottle openers etc. should be positioned near the drinks table.

Conversation seeds like playing cards, puzzles, and other interesting things can be set out around the party.

Have music, but keep it in the background, so it doesn't impact conversation. Happy music is better than dirges, hip hop or death metal.

(f) Have a good time, it's your party. It just bears repeating.

(g-h) Go to bed, at a reasonable hour, clean up the next morning. You'll find that M's in general are wonderful party guests. I've awakened to find the dishwasher full, and most party goodies bagged up and/or tucked away. The morning after cleanup takes about an hour and that's moving slowly.

Further Guest Tips

Pick up things for your host as the party progresses, and one more armload as you get ready to go. The easier entertaining is on your host, the more likely s/he is to do it again soon.

If you're someone with tips techniques or funny stories to share, please send them my way: I'll share the best stuff right here next month.

Special Thanks to Elna Tymes of SFRM, and host of "Start the Month Out Right" for her kind assistance in this article.