Covering High Society
NAME: Shelby Hodge | AGE: “Old enough to order Cristal” | HOMETOWN: Houston | QUALIFICATIONS: Society columnist for the Houston Chronicle from 1991—2009 / Editor-at-large of CultureMap (“Houston’s daily digital magazine”) / Has attended more than one hundred social events since January
• I consider myself something of a social historian. I’m just not into this modern-day vicious gossip thing. Gossip is snarly. It’s probing, it’s hurtful, it’s often mean-spirited. And that’s not who I am. That kind of writing gets every door in the city closed to you. You can’t slam somebody one day and expect them to let you cover their party the next.
• I don’t try to purposely hurt people, but if something is blatantly ridiculous, I have to say it. I did once write about the worst food that had ever been served at a gala, and the husband of the gala chair was furious and sent me a registered letter, a letter to my house, a letter to the office. He called me. He was really jumping down my throat. I didn’t put his name in the paper for a year.
• If you have the ability to read between the lines and pay attention to what I’m writing, you get it. If you don’t have the ability, then you might miss it, which is to my advantage.
• Subtlety is my motto. I try to stay in the background. There are a lot of so-called society writers who stomp their feet and complain about their table placements and that they want to get a free dish of this or that. I would never do that. If I have a problem, someone will hear about it, but it will be done quietly.
• I totally understand that people befriend me because they want their name or their picture in the paper. There are always reasons behind superficial friendships, and that’s fine.
• If you’ve been invited to my house for dinner, that means I think you’re a real friend. If you’ve never had dinner at my house, then it’s something else.
• What I like most is all the interesting people I meet. Although I don’t call them by their first name, George and Barbara Bush know me by my first name, and that’s pretty exciting, you know? To be able to walk up to them at a cocktail party and talk to them at ease. That is definitely the bonus of this job.
• There are a lot of very colorful people in Houston. Last fall Tilman Fertitta gave a party benefiting the police department, and he had SWAT teams, helicopters, people scaling down the sides of his house, a fake kidnapping. It was unbelievable.
• People will come up to me and say, “Hi, Shelby, how are you?” And I’ll think, “Oh, my God, who is this?” I try to be gracious and hope that when I can’t remember their names that I’m being a good actress.
• I can be getting my nails done, and I’ll have women come tell me about their upcoming gala. I don’t resent it, but that’s why I try not to work at home. I have to have some point where there’s a separation of work and private life, and my home is it.
• Don’t fool yourself that it’s all about going to parties. I earn my living going to parties, but I work my fanny off doing it. From a distance it looks like I’m not working, but if you follow me, you’ll be exhausted by the end of the night.