By Bob Branco
In my life, I have hosted many house parties and attended many others. When I give a party, I want to make sure that all of my guests are happy and comfortable, just as I expect to feel the same way at someone else’s party. With that in mind, I want to talk about an attitude that was made very clear during a house party I attended several years ago, an attitude that I did not expect.
It was a Saturday afternoon. My friends and I, along with my girlfriend at the time, were invited to someone’s house for appetizers and dinner. The people who hosted the party were extremely helpful and kind, and they did their best to satisfy our needs. Furthermore, these hosts are like many other people who run house parties, in that they continuously offer food whether you want it or not, hoping that you will eat it anyway. They appear to be offended if you don’t eat what they offer you, probably because they work so hard cooking for their guests.
One of my friends at this particular party is blind. For the sake of this discussion, I will call him Harry. Quite often when Harry goes to a party, he likes to drink a lot. When he drinks, he doesn’t get mean. He is simply an occasional social drinker who sometimes goes overboard.
Several of us were sitting in chairs on the patio while we were offered drinks and appetizers. Harry, who was sitting directly in front of me in a chair, kept asking for alcoholic beverages. In order to satisfy him, one of the hosts kept serving him what he wanted. After having several drinks, Harry asked for a cigarette. By now, his hands were shaking because of all the booze in his system. Nevertheless, someone lit a cigarette and put it in Harry’s hand. Remember that this is a family who will do anything for their guests in order to make them happy.
While all of us were observing an intoxicated Harry while he was smoking his cigarette, I became very anxious and worried. It’s one thing for a person to smoke while blind. It’s quite another if he’s drunk as well. I was concerned that the cigarette would fall out of Harry’s hand and onto his pants, the floor, or one of us. After all, the wind was blowing, and in my opinion, the hosts of this party had a potential fire hazard on their hands.
I thought about confronting the hosts about this situation. There was a blind drunk smoking a cigarette on a patio with a wooden floor where the wind was blowing: the perfect storm for disaster! In the back of my mind, I felt that the party hosts might take offense at my interference, claiming that they were on top of the situation. So I decided not to say anything. We all had our dinner, and then my girlfriend and I left the party immediately, because she didn’t want to be in the same house with Harry while he was extremely intoxicated.
When I came home, I thought more about what I had just witnessed. Even though nothing serious happened at the party after I left, I was convinced that the hosts had made a huge mistake and that I should talk to one of them about it.
Several days later, I called Joan, one of the helpers at the party. She wasn’t really in charge, but she was there to assist the family. I also know her very well. Keep in mind that Joan wasn’t anywhere near the patio while Harry was drinking and smoking; therefore, she had no firsthand knowledge of what was going on. She was probably in the kitchen helping with the food, or something like that. When Joan answered the phone, I told her that a blind guy at the party was allowed to smoke while intoxicated. Instead of acknowledging how dangerous this was, she appeared to be offended, as I had anticipated she might be. Though she was not on the patio and didn’t see Harry smoke while drunk, she said to me, “Don’t worry, Bob. We were on top of it.” First of all, how could she be on top of it if she wasn’t on the patio? Furthermore, how could she be so casual about a potential danger to several of the party guests? Nonetheless, she took offense, insisted that nothing serious was going to happen, and told me not to worry anymore.
Here’s the other part of this story which I find rather amusing. When I told several people about this party incident, some of them actually thought I was overreacting. Apparently I had no right to interfere with how these people were running the party because it’s not party protocol. A guest is supposed to go to a party, enjoy it, and mind his own business. It didn’t matter that an intoxicated blind person was smoking while his hands were shaking. It was none of my business. With that said, here was my counter argument. I am positive that if I hosted a house party where one of my guests felt that he was in a dangerous situation while I did nothing about it, I’d likely be criticized right out of town.
There is more to this. Another person that I spoke to about this party implied that I didn’t think blind people knew how to smoke. To begin with, I am fully aware that blind people know how to smoke cigarettes. I saw enough of it at Perkins School for the Blind. Many blind kids smoked in a designated room in their cottages. In this case, Harry’s hand was shaking while the lit cigarette was in it! Yes, he is blind, but he was also drunk. That was the point I was trying to make to this other person, who seemed to be offended by what he saw as unfounded criticism.
So I guess my question is simple. Is there such a thing as party protocol, and does this form of protocol mean that you have to ignore everything that’s going on at a party because it’s regarded as proper etiquette to do so? In my opinion, you need to draw the line somewhere. I wonder if several house fires take place because of people like Joan, who want all the guests to sit there and mind their own business no matter what’s happening around them. What would have happened if Harry had started a major fire? Would Joan then say I should stay out of it because of party protocol? I just don’t get it. I was raked over the coals because I was afraid for Harry and everyone else. Why shouldn’t I have been afraid? I sensed potential danger on that patio.