Wednesday, December 17, 2003

How to Take Worms to a Cocktail Party

If you ever want to take earthworms to a cocktail party, here’s my advice:

First, tell people in advance that you’ll be bringing the worms. Just talking about it is half the fun.

Second, let the worms get dressed up, too. They don’t want to show up at a party covered in dirt. No one will want to touch them and they’ll be treated like outcasts. Instead, buy clear water crystals like Soil Moist, which are available in the houseplant section of most nurseries. When you add water to them, they have the consistency of Jell-O and look kind of like chipped ice. (Usually water crystals are used to increase the water-absorbing capacity of potting soil.) The worms wouldn’t want to live in this stuff forever, but they’ll tolerate it for a couple of hours and they’ll look so elegant.

Third, get one of those little plastic containers about the size of a baby food jar to hold your water crystals and worms. It’s a little less space than the worms would normally prefer, but once again, they’ll put up with it for a while. Punch some air holes in the lid with a thumbtack.

You’ll need the smaller plastic container for the fourth step, which is to find something fabulous to carry the worms in. A little black bag, preferably in silk or velvet, is perfect. The more stylish it is, the more amazed people will be when you pull out your worms.

I have taken the worms to just one cocktail party so far, and it all went smoothly because I followed these simple steps. The party was a gathering of booksellers, publishers, and authors; many of them knew I had the worms with me and wanted to see them. A surprising number of people asked to hold the worms. I brought individually-packaged hand wipes with me, thinking that anyone who touched a worm would feel an immediate need to wash their hands, but as far as I can tell, no one thought twice about using the same hand they’d held a worm in to pour drinks, shake hands, or dip chips into salsa.

I left the party around midnight. Jim McManus, author of a book on poker called Positively Fifth Street, was going to give poker lessons into the wee hours of the morning. Even live worms can’t compare with poker, brandy, and cigars. That night, as the worms and I sat in traffic on an LA freeway, I realized that worms, like alcohol, smooth over any social awkwardness that one might feel at a cocktail party. The next morning, I didn’t have a hangover and the worms seemed no worse for wear. I slipped them out of their Soil Moist and into the damp earth behind my brother’s house, where I hope they are enjoying a balmy southern California winter right now.

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