Thursday, May 24, 2012

Jackie Versus Marilyn

Honestly, it’s not a difficult job.

Look pretty, plaster a smile on my face, make small talk with the right people, ask compelling questions at the right time… So why do I have so much trouble being Mr. Wright’s “plus one” at business and political events? Why can’t I be Jackie to his JFK?

I’m terrible with names, and I can rarely place a face. I’ve conducted lengthy conversations with bigwigs, discussing their families, the real estate market in their state—wherever that is—my upcoming book, and what the kids are up to, only to walk away, whispering to Mr. Wright, “Who in blazes was that?”

Jackie was too classy to bungle associations that way, I’m sure.

Last night, at a reception, I was greeted with an enthusiastic hug from a charming man who—sadly—was not wearing a name badge. “It’s so good to see you!” he said. Who was he? High brass? Someone we had dinner with in Miami? A leadership colleague of Mr. Wright’s? My mouth kicked into Stepford Wife mode, automatically producing an always-appropriate, “Great to see you! How have you been? How’s your family?”

“I’m fantastic,” he said. “As far as I know, my family is fine, though not much has changed since you and I chatted for an hour yesterday.”

Oh. He did look a little familiar.

My mental Rolodex is always flipping at top speed, trying to place the friendly folks who kiss my cheek, pat my back, or try to squeeze the stuffing out of me. I always feel inadequate when a well-wisher greets me with, “Christina-Marie! So wonderful to see you!” and I’m forced to respond, “Hey… you… It’s great to see you, too!”

As the wife of a man with a certain level of influence, I’m occasionally called upon to make introductions. It usually goes something like this:

“Mr. Bigwig, I’d like you to meet my dear friend, um,—I’m sorry, what is your name, again?”

“It’s Bill.”

“Of course, it’s Bill. I meant your last name, Silly!” Insert light, flirty laugh, a la Marilyn.

It’s anything but nimble, yet I’ve used this technique to not-so-gracefully reveal the first and last names of acquaintances I’ve forgotten many times, with success. Only once did a gentleman call me out, rolling his eyes as he said, “I’m such a dear friend, she can’t remember my name. Yeah, we’re really close.”

No social grace at all. It’s no wonder we’re not close, Mr.—I’m sorry, what was your name again?

As difficult as it is to open my mouth and say the right thing, it’s sometimes more difficult to keep it closed to avoid saying the wrong thing. The absolute biggest challenge is to remain absolutely silent.

During our most recent trip to Washington, D.C., I performed remarkably, if I do say so myself. I avoided the low-hanging fruit as we walked near the Capitol and two Planned Parenthood petitioners approached, asking, “Do y’all support Planned Parenthood?”

I equally avoided intervening when a particularly shrewish woman suggested Mr. Wright did not boast the proper credentials to attend a privileged reception.

I’ll never be the refined, polished Jackie-like gem on the arm of my husband I’m expected to be. I tend to be a bit too loud, too brazen, too forgetful, too aloof, too much of a spectacle, too “Marilyn” in drawing attention to myself.

I do succeed in sporting a fabulous collection of hats, though. Perhaps I’m Marilyn, with the benefit of Jackie’s hats.

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