On at least three separate occasions during college that I can remember, my friends and I ran out of mixer in the middle of a party and, for the rest of the evening, resorted to taking shots of pink lemonade–flavored Burnett’s chased with handfuls of peanuts. It was awful, and I would groan, “This is awful,” each time I poured myself another shot and readied my peanuts.
I thought I had successfully erased these dark evenings from my psyche until this week, when I was rudely reminded of them while reading Lili Anolik’s Esquire story “The Secret Oral History of Bennington: The 1980s’ Most Decadent College.” A look back at Bennington’s prodigious class of 1986 — which included Gen-X literary stars Bret Easton Ellis, Donna Tartt, and Jonathan Lethem and is described as “sly, louche, low-down, and darkly perdu” — the piece is full of gossip and anecdotes from the time. There are tales of torrid love affairs and archrivalries, but the detail I have found myself revisiting the most, because of how starkly it stands in contrast to my own college experience, is Tartt’s dorm-room martini hour.
“I met Donna through Jonathan that first week,” writer and editor Paula Powers said of Tartt, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Goldfinch. Powers adds:
Once, during freshman year, she invited me to a martini hour in her dorm, and she was wearing a black brocade skirt-suit and high heels and smoking from a long, slender cigarette holder — very feminine, very elegant. She was mysterious.
I was impressed on so many levels. I was impressed by her style, by her early mastery of heels, by her sophisticated palate that didn’t demand drinks taste like fruit syrup, by her impossibly elegant cigarette holder. I was impressed that she billed the soirée as a “martini hour” instead of a “Slutz ’n’ Hoes Drink-Drink Chuggy-Chuggy Power Hour 4 Demeaning Women” or some variation thereof, which is what most of my college parties were called. I was impressed that she was described as “mysterious” instead of hearing that she “loudly shouted immensely personal details at me while spilling Natural Light on her sparkly Forever 21 shirt.” And I was most impressed that she pulled all this off as a college freshman and that, even now, as a 27-year-old woman, I am still not sure I could pull off a martini hour that suavely.
It doesn’t sound like she had any peanuts to chase her drinks with, though.