My friend who may or may not be separating from her husband keeps saying she wants to "play single" and "try out being single with me" and wants me to help her "remember how awful being single is."
I do not like it when she uses the term "play single." I do not like all the implications, spoken and unspoken, those phrases carry.
But. She's been very nice to me during the past year. And I'm the only single person she knows within an 800 mile radius so I'm her observation subject. So I'm tolerating it, cringing through a forced smile kind of thing. And hey, I'm getting out more thanks to her. She's married and having a midlife crisis, I'm unemployed and having run of the mill crises. She wants a single compadre to recharge what she feels is a lackluster existence, I have no money to do anything and pretty much no one to do anything with even if I had money, so, hey, it's a win-win. I guess.
The problem (of which there are many) with this that doesn't set well with me is that I like her husband. I like her kids. I like them
. As a family.
Their suburban dream life isn't exactly what I
long for, but, they are not "typical" yuppie suburbanites. Of all my former single friends who've married and gone native in the suburbs, they are the lone couple who still have a shred of their former personality...and reality...in their lives. They had an SUV when both their children were in car seats, because, really, it's just a lot easier to get the kids in and out of their car seats in a vehicle with higher seats. But, as soon as the kids were tall enough and old enough for car seat emancipation the SUV was traded in for a smaller, "regular" car. Sure, it has cup holders that accommodate juice boxes, but there are no DVD players embedded in the seat backs. I know! I know
! Imagine such a travesty! The kids have to actually hold their DVD players in their laps
. It's like, the olden days or something. Their children get teased about this and the parents (my friends) are scorned and tut-tutted by the other suburban parents due to their lack of on-board entertainment. As my friend said, one unforeseen advantage to being van/SUV-less in the suburbs? No one expects/wants them to carpool a tribe of children to activities. They can ferry one or two friends at the most. Which means their children are forced to endure the presence of and social involvement with other children who may not be their chosen friends but live close or are involved in the same activities. Oh the humanity! Their children have to endure car rides with other children who aren't their "special" friends!!! Ye gads, this is child abuse! This will scar them for life!! Car pooling based on, you know, logistics
???!!! Savages!!! It's worse than Lord of the Flies
I like my friends because they see the absurdity of the extreme child-raising mentality prevalent in a lot of suburbs...and they refuse to be part of it. Their suburban friends chastise them for this. Their suburban friends have even staged "talks" with them about how their renegade behavior is adversely affecting the socialization and growth of their children.
Here's the thing: I like their children. They are not selfish, spoiled, greedy, thoughtless, dull cookie cutter brats. They are are imaginative, kind, interesting, funny, wise, polite children. They're not perfect, but they're real. If this is the result of stunted socialization due to a lack of SUV/mini-van car-pooling then rock on, it's working.
My friend and her husband have never exactly "blended" with the other suburbanites. They fit-in because they have the right house in the right neighborhood and he has the right kind of job and earns the right amount of money and she stays home with the kids and they generally wear the right clothes and go on the right vacations. But. They don't blend with the other people there. They're not above it because obviously, they are part of it, but, at least they are aware
of life outside their right neighborhood and right town. They are very aware that their lives are not perfect and their children are not prodigies and they are not the epitome of success. They are very aware that their world is a very, very small and closed ivory tower masquerading as a Utopian society of culture and social acceptance. They see the weirdness and hypocritical nature of their neighbors.
This is getting way off track but in case you don't know anyone who lives in a sheltered suburb you have to hear this.
Their friends give money to charities for underprivileged minorities yet their children have never played with much less attended school with kids who aren't white. (I mean really white.) They hire nannies and housekeepers and gardeners who speak foreign languages because they think it's "a good cultural experience" for their children. And yet those nannies', housekeepers' and gardeners' children and grandchildren do not play with or attend school with their employers' children. One of my friends' neighbors has a housekeeper who has three children the exact ages of her employers' children. You might think, "Hey, that's great! The kids can play together!" Nope. The housekeepers' kids are not even invited to the elaborate birthday parties where loads of other kids are invited, even flown in from other countries. I kid you not - these people flew in kids from France (children of distant cousins and work colleagues) to attend a five-year-old's birthday party to give the event a "multi-cultural tone," but the children of the Nicaraguan housekeeper were not invited to attend.
My friends are very aware of the ridiculousness and absurdity that surrounds them and they try very hard to stay out of it as much as possible. They are considering a move to a less "right" suburb, but the housing market is crap and for now they're stuck there.
And I think this is a contributing factor to their marital malaise. My friend wants to go back to work. She is the only one of my former single working friends who has made any real and honest effort to find a job after the kids started school. Unfortunately, too, her son's entry into school and her re-entry into the workforce coincided with the horrible job market last year. You think I'm
having a hard time finding a job? Try being a woman who quit her job 8 years ago to stay home with her kids and now wants to work again. She's never worked retail or waited tables, either, so we're in a similar job-hunt plight. Though her's is not tinged with financial worries. They don't "need" the money she would earn. But that's not to say her job hunt is any less discouraging or frustrating than mine.
Lately she's been thinking maybe she needs a complete change of environment and mindset. Hence the "playing single" thing. I don't want her to divorce her husband. I like him. I like them. Married. Their problems are not money or sex or fidelity. They're having midlife crises and I think those crises stem from their ridiculous friends and neighbors in the suburbs. Of course
they go to bed at night thinking it's all bullshit and a waste of time! If I was surrounded by that mentality and "lifestyle" I'd be in some sort of crisis, too. And I think they both realize their environment is a huge contributing factor (hence the desire to sell the house and move to a less pompous suburb). But they're kind of stuck there, and my friend feels like time is slipping away and she needs to do something now
. Her husband understands - he knows she wants to work and that she's never fit in with the other stay-at-home mothers in their town and he loves her all the more for that. But. That doesn't change the fact that until they can sell their house that's where they live and that's what she's surrounded by all the time.
Enter: Me. The lone single friend in the city my friend still has.
We choose days to "play single." Her husband made the mistake of jokingly calling it a play-date once. That joke resulted in an extra visit to the couples counselor. He's "okay" with her "playing single" with me because he knows I'm responsible. He knows she's "safe" with me and that my conscience will be her guide. If she needs to get something "out of her system" better that she's accompanied by me rather than one of her similarly discontented suburban friends. I'll show her what she's really "missing," not some created fantasy of like-minded unfulfilled suburbanites. My mere presence alone keeps it real. My life is not a fantasy Disney-fied version of single life, smooth and prettied up to make everyone feel warm and safe. It's the real Coen brothers deal. Stark, harsh, kinda funny but mostly unpleasant.
On the days she plays single she does what I do, a one sided life swap. She lives like me, the good but mostly the bad and the ugly.
I'm pretty sure I'm saving a marriage.
And I'm pretty sure I have the premise and enough plots for at least a couple seasons of a sitcom.
My friend's been taking a lot of classes lately. Mostly yoga and poetry, and of course she's training with the closet Svengali
. She offered to pay my tuition for a couple classes. She wants to do things that are creative, hands on. So we're taking a jewelry class which, as I suspected, is more of a metallurgy class.
Let's just say we're not stringing beads.
It's held in an art center, you know, real
art and artists and studio space, where the emphasis is on creating and being with other artists. It's a studio co-op where artists have work space. To subsidize the expense of studio space a portion of the building is used for classes.
This is not cutely/chic-ly decorated suburban "paint a pre-made piece of ceramics" or "make a cute bead necklace" store
where the purpose is selling
stuff, not-so-cleverly disguised as a way for customers to get creative and provide a "fun" creative birthday party for the little ones.
This is a real art space - gritty, utilitarian, smelly and drafty. People milling about wearing tatty clothes splattered and stained with paint, clay, ink and unknown solvents, probably mostly toxic. Faces and arms smudged with ashes from kilns, metal polishing solutions and more paint. They're carrying hack-saws, large rolls of industrial grade wire and metal, slabs of marble and stained gallon jugs sloshing with murky liquids. There are classes for children but they're confined and secluded in a "safe zone" of the building - nothing hot, sharp, toxic or breakable.
It's going okay. Don't get me wrong, I
love it, I'm in my element, these are "my" people. This is my native environment. My friend, though, well, she's kind of struggling. She's afraid of the raw fire power of the acetylene torch and she doesn't like the icky smell of the finishing solutions.
And she is, um, jealous of me, or over me, or something. There's some kind of negative thing going on with her. Envy, inadequacy....something. Since she got married, had kids, quit her job and moved to the suburbs our friendship is based on the assumed principle that she is successful and socially acceptable, socially "right" and I am a loser who is still single, childless and, heh heh, gotta love this, unemployed and soon-to-be homeless. In her mind, though, the fact that I'm single and childless is more pitying and more suspect than the fact that I am unemployed and losing my home. She views it as cause and effect. She feels that if I had a husband to rely on I wouldn't have to worry about financial stress and losing my home. But that's a blog for another day or a couple visits to a therapist. Anyway, the accepted outward appearance dynamic of our friendship is that she's the pretty, successful, enviable one and I'm the unattractive, wacky lovable loser.
But here, in a creative environment, among "my" people who speak "my" language, the tables are turned. (It should be noted that I congenially resist the urge to say, "Your in my
world now, missy," (bwa ha ha implied)) This microcosm of creativity is a small (very small) outpost where creative people can get their art on. Half the people there don't even own cars, much less notice or care about what cars other people drive. Obviously I like it, I'm enjoying it. It's very, very good for me on a lot of levels. My friend had to coax me to let her pay for my tuition and supplies, I didn't feel "right" about accepting that sizable gift. She was too timid to endeavor something like this on her own but wanted to try it, so in the end she convinced me that I
would be the one being charitable, doing her the favor of accompanying her on her quest for...whatever it is she's trying to find.
When I visit my friend in the suburbs I am more than a fish out of water: I am a stranger in a strange land. Sure, I grew up in suburbia, rural
suburbia, so I know the language, it's my native tongue, in fact. But. My parents were never "typical" suburbanites. Were it not for the riots in the '60s and the fact that they both like gardening, my parents would have happily stayed in their first house in the Detroit city limits. Yes, they loved their rural suburban home and grew to be integral in the community - actively involved with groups and volunteering, always friendly and helping neighbors. But. They weren't exactly the keep-up-with-the-Joneses types. When I was a kid I resented my parents for "making" us live in the middle of nowhere. When I was old enough to choose where I live I left suburbia. And have not lived there since. When I visit a suburb I always feel, I dunno, weird, I guess. I find myself holding my breath a lot when I'm in the suburbs, like some disaster is about to happen or someone's going to throw an insult at me or confront me, ask me what I'm doing there. But now, watching my friend and her midlife crisis, I have an even better understanding of the sacrifices my parents made for us kids. They wanted us to be able to run and ride bikes and swim and sled and skate and play in the woods and attend good schools. It didn't kill my parents, they had each other and some good like-minded friends. But the suburbs are killing my friend and her husband. And I have even less desire to move there. And this class, with other creative people, is really good for both of us on a lot of deep psychological levels - there are other people like me who don't fit in with the accepted suburban norm, and there are people like her who aren't happy accepting "success" in the form of a nice house and new car.
My friend wants to push herself, get out of her comfort zone. But she's the kind of person who feels that doing anything, even pushing yourself, getting out of your comfort zone, requires a companion. And sure, a traveling companion is always nice, but I feel that to really explore yourself, step out of your comfort zone and find yourself, a certain amount of independence is required. But my friend...she's extremely social, she needs a compadre. So. I'm her trial single-girl companion.
Unfortunately I'm making friends with most of the people at the art studio, people I have a lot in common with and people I understand. Not that I'm little miss popularity, but, I'm far more open and social there than I usually am because I have a comfort level, things in common. Ideas to exchange. This is not the Trillian my friend is used to seeing. And this is not a world my friend understands. So I end up translating a lot to and for my friend. She's the foreigner, here. She's the one people eye suspiciously. One of our younger, less tolerant classmates, rolls her eyes and scoffingly calls my friend princess. Yes, that's immature and yes, inappropriate, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a certain amount of vindication. When I attend my friend's parties in the suburbs her suburban friends say some really catty things to me. Far worse than being called princess by a young sculptor with an attitude. But I'm not out for revenge so I try to ignore all the social stuff and just enjoy the class and the opportunity that's been presented to me.
And it's getting kind of thorny on the project front. I'm excelling in our metals class. I love it. This is my kind of thing. Duck + water = swim. In some circles I am now known as the Copper Whisperer. My friend...well...not so much. See above, fire, smelly, princess.
And more to her disdain, most of the people in our class are artists of some ilk - most are graphics or painting professionals who want to either try out or get back into some kind of sculpting. So, there's a lot of creativity in the class. People have big ideas and loads of sketches and a "just jump in and do it" attitude with the torches and tools. Most of us are well acquainted with power tools and smelly solvents and...sketchbooks. My friend can barely use a screwdriver, fumbles with a lighter at a concert, and is more of the paint-by-number type of artist. She didn't think a jewelry class would involve, you know, drawing
. Or power tools. Or safety goggles. Or acetylene torches.
She wanted to push herself, true, but this is more of a shove from behind. She's afraid of the torch and doesn't like the smell and she thinks the people there, while quaint, are weird and dirty.* She's like a carnivore who doesn't want to know how cows and chickens are butchered. She prefers to think the meat in the grocery store just somehow magically appears there, as is, all neat, fat trimmed and packaged nicely, nothing questionable or messy, no dirty hands, in the process. Similarly, she doesn't want to know how paintings and sculptures are made, she prefers to think they just somehow magically appear in galleries and museums, all clean and pretty and displayed in an eye-pleasing way, nothing questionable or messy, no dirty hands, in the process.
So, we had a little cat-fight, okay, more accurately she had a hissy fit at me over my success and her failure in the class she paid for. It was inevitable and I predicted it, but it was still hurtful. "If it weren't for me you wouldn't even be able to take one
class and now you're the star pupil!" Yeah, it was kind of an ugly meltdown. (Which also happens to be an apt description of her class project.)
She has yet to achieve even one of the course "requirements." I have accomplished all the goals, completed the required class project plus four more pieces. Our instructor, who is encouraging me to keep working with metals, gave me some tools and metal to use at home. She's giving me lessons in techniques usually covered in the more advanced classes. She wants to use two of my pieces in the student showcase. This is what pushed my friend over her edge. She's used to being the successful one in our relationship. She's used to being the one "in control" and the "leader." She's also not used to failure of any kind. And she's sort of impatient, too. I predicted her breakdown, but I didn't think it would happen quite so soon.
Still, I'm glad we have it out of the way and we're moving forward from it. I'm trying to help her with her project, trying to slowly show her some techniques. I asked her what she wants to make and translated her ideas into sketches she can follow. This will, in turn, help our instructor understand what she's trying to accomplish. I think at the end of the class my friend will have at least one project and will walk away feeling "good" about her adventure in metallurgy. She is absolutely trying new things and getting way, way, way out of her comfort zone. And hey, it's a darned good story to tell back in Suburbia.
Dancing with Herself
Then the single-girl play date fun continued! What do single girls do on Friday nights? Drinks and dancing! With gay men! Off we went to see a Eurodisco band at a small club. Much to my friend's surprise, there wasn't much dancing or drinking in our group. I don't have money or the inclination to drink much alcohol, my friends who joined us are not big drinkers, and we all feel too old and self-conscious and disinterested in dancing to hit the dancefloor. We're not fuddy-duds, we were at a live show, we wanted to see/hear live music, we're just...not kids anymore.
MAF and his partner have been together a lot of years. 10-ish. They are an old married couple. They are not ashamed or closeted gays, but they are not flamboyant or in-your-face-with-the-gay-rights-debate. They're regular people who do very regular things and are a typical couple except they're the same gender. Neither of them has ever liked gay clubs or gay resorts or gay this or that. They're not ashamed of their sexuality, but they don't see it as their defining label. MAF doesn't really like Eurodisco, but his partner does, so, the compromise they found long ago was: No stupid disco-clubs, but if a Eurodisco band comes to town for a live gig, at an established "regular" venue, they'll go. This was just such an event.
I'm not really into Eurodisco, either, but hey, it was an inexpensive gig and my may-or-may-not be getting a divorce friend was in the city and looking for a single girl in the city night out. Yes, it's a sad and telling reflection on my single girlness that the best single girl night in the city activity I could come up with was a live Eurodisco band with a gay couple. I know this. But, just as my friend originally thought a jewelry making class would be fun and hanging out with artists would be "quaint," so did she think hanging out with a gay couple at a live Eurodisco concert would be "hip."
My friend is like Barbie commercial. She comes in one outfit with loads of accessories and other outfits (sold separately) available. She bought an outfit for our jewelry class, complete with artist created jewelry and designer boots, but was mortified to discover that it might get sooty, stained, torn and dirty - and posed a health and safety hazard: Her earrings and necklace recently procured at a local gallery were admonished by the instructor, "You'll want to take those off, you don't want anything dangling around the torches or polishing wheels and drills. The wheels will suck in a necklace and choke you before anyone will even know you're suffocating. They don't call it the 'strangler' and 'the widowmaker' for nothing." The instructor was exaggerating for effect, but the precaution is real. It should be common sense, but, to my friend, who's never been in a real studio or around real power tools, common sense isn't so common. (For Coen brothers' effect, imagine my suburban friend as Carl Showalter and the polishing wheels as the wood chipper.
) She was also very surprised to learn that her "artist's blouse" and "La bohème
" skirt and expensive designer boots called "Gallery Girl" are not de rigueur in our class or the studio at large. Her catalogs apparently lied to her about what artists wear.
Okay, so, after our class we went to my place to get ready for the night out. I wore, you know, actual work clothes to class, and needed a shower. My friend wanted to change her clothes, too. Not that she got them dirty or that she needed a shower. But. Like Barbie, she had a theme outfit for a night out with gay men at a Eurodisco concert. Yep. They sell such an outfit. It's comprised of a lot of black skin-tight clothing and yet another pair of boots. Thigh-high boots with four-inch heels. My friend used to be really cute, as she ages she's turning very pretty. This is not a usual or easy transition for most women but her DNA is fantastic and she looks great. She usually looks effortless and natural. The artist outfit would probably look natural back in the suburbs, so I'll let her off the hook with that one. But. Her single girl in the city night out outfit? Yeah. Um. Yeah. Well. You know. Just because I
don't know any single women who dress like that doesn't mean they don't exist. But. You know. We're not kids. Even Madonna doesn't dress like that anymore. She looked like she was wearing a Halloween costume. It was kind of sad to see, so forced, so clearly grasping, gasping for something, some persona, some transport out and away from something. But, she had already downed a lot of vodka and through the haze of booze she thought she looked hot so, you know, rock on, sister, let's go, my friends are waiting.
When we arrived at MAF and his partner's home they were visibly, um, shocked by Mid-life Crisis Suburban Mom Barbies' outfit. "Hi, how are you?! We haven't seen you since Halloween!" We were all dressed as some era of Cher, a Chera, for Halloween
. So, MAF's recognition of Halloween in conjunction with my friend's evening attire was not unintentionally coincidental. As proof of MAF's good nature, he left it at that and didn't make any obvious jokes or remarks about my friend's outfit other than to say, "Your hair looks great like that!"
Okay. Like I said, I don't drink much, MAF and his partner drink even less. Our nights out are usually nights in. I'm unemployed. MAF is doing "okay" but his partner was unemployed for almost a year and they're living on a very tight budget. When we get together it's usually an inexpensive bottle of wine and potluck of what we have in our combined kitchens. Which is to say, some sort of pasta, some sort of sauce from a jar, lettuce that's on its last sell-by day and cheese shredded from the un-moldy end of the brick. (This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around
.) So this night out was kind of a big deal for all of us.
We decided on a restaurant that was close to the concert venue. It's not a great restaurant but it's inexpensive and if you stick to the basics on the menu it's not bad. And it's also a neighborhood joint. Certainly not of the hip and trendy persuasion and certainly not of the "single girls out for a big night in the city" persuasion. My friend was visibly disappointed at the lack of ambiance and "singles vibe."
Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention, this is another of her phrases that is irking the crap out of me. "Singles vibe." Everything from a blouse to a car to a restaurant is graded according to its "singles vibe." She wants to create and exude a singles vibe. The jokes and remarks about batteries go unsaid but every time she says, "singles vibe" I have to fight the urge to make a sarcastic comment about the vibe most single women have because dating is such a nightmare that they've given up and are more satisfied staying home in their comfy pjs with their, um, "singles vibe."
During my closet and wardrobe intervention the term "singles vibe" was used so often I felt like a character in a noir version of a Poe-like story, a woman being tormented and finally driven mad by the incessant repetition of the same phrase over and over, "singles vibe""singles vibe""singles vibe""singles vibe""singles vibe""singles vibe""singles vibe""singles vibe" "Stop, stop, please stop I can't take it, please, have mercy on me, can't you see you're driving me mad? Stop!" "singles vibe""singles vibe""singles vibe""singles vibe""singles vibe""singles vibe""singles vibe"
Anyway. The restaurant lacked ambiance and singles vibe. My friend looked extremely out of place and she knew it. She was self-conscious about it and I felt bad for her. She tried so hard, she was really looking forward to a big night out in the city, and she clearly miscalculated the caliber and genre of restaurants MAF and his partner and I frequent. I think a lot of her vision was misconstrued by images of gay life portrayed in movies and on television. I think she presumed that since MAF and his partner are gay, and dress up as Cher on Halloween, that the only establishments they frequent are hip and trendy places where only straight-off-the-runway nightclubwear is acceptable. When plans were being made I made sure to explain to her that this restaurant was chosen for its proximity to the concert venue and the inexpensive meal prices. But she chose to go the over-the-top route with her outfit. And there she was. She didn't look like Lady Gaga, but you know how when you see a photo of Lady Gaga everyone else around her looks kind of off, out of place, especially when the people around her are dressed such that next to anyone else they'd
be the head turner? Well, it was kind of like that. In comparison to my friend the rest of us looked like refugees from the Island of Nondescript Apparel. And MAF's partner was funked up that night! He pulled out the good outfit, got a fresh haircut and everything. For us, an inexpensive meal and a budget-friendly concert is
a big night out, you bet he pulled out the good outfit and got a haircut. And yet, he looked downright frumpy in comparison to my Mother from Another Suburb friend.
MAF paid for the concert tickets, so my suburban friend wanted to buy dinner. Which was nice of her. No doubt about it. But apparently the vodka was really kicking in and she felt that, since she was paying for dinner she had the right to criticize every morsel of food on the table. Fortunately MAF and his partner understood it was booze and a lot of pent-up suburban frustration talking, but still, it was embarrassing. I tried to make light of her comments, turn her frown upside down, but I was largely unsuccessful. So we cut the dinner short and went to the club.
Okay. Well, she was happier because she deemed it to have a decent singles vibe. And a bar. She started a tab and started buying drinks. For all four of us and approximately twenty of her new best friends, 15 of whom I am sure were underage.
Yep. My friend was mingling with really, really, really young boys. I presume some of them were gay but some of them were not. And some of the ones who were not gay were eying my friend as an easy a) alcohol source and b) lay. In the dim light and with her outfit and hair and make-up the fact that she was technically old enough to have conceived some of these boys was not obvious. (Sidebar: How old do you have to be to be a Cougar? And, what's the age difference required? The "old enough to be his mother" rule of thumb has a lot of gray area. I know women who got their periods when they were 11 or 12. Technically they could have given birth at age 12. So when they're 32 and the guy is 20, is that a Cougar relationship? Or does "old enough to be his mother" actually mean "old enough to vote when I conceived him and now he's old enough to legally drink booze in all 50 states and US territories." I'm not clear on this. If anyone knows the official ruling please let me know. I know someone who wants the guidelines.) I was pretty sure most of the guys were mostly harmless, but, I was concerned about the "aiding to the delinquency of minors" infraction. Forget the lack of SUV/minivan, that would definitely get her kicked out of carpool.
The club is the sort of club that has three opening acts before the main act. Which is cool, lots of live music is a good thing. But two of the bands sucked. And no, that's not a given since it was a Eurodisco extravaganza. I had higher hopes for the music but tried to just go with the flow. Since the foot/ankle injury/surgery I don't do much dancing. It hurts and I look like an idiot. So. I sat at the table with MAF while his partner and my friend shook their groove things. Every now and then my friend disappeared to the bar or got caught up in a dance circle. On more than one occasion she was in the center of a dance circle. Oh yes. My very overdressed married mother from the suburbs friend was gyrating and dancing surrounded by a bunch of young men, straight and gay.
MAF's partner took these opportunities to sit one out.
And then my friend would suddenly appear, and breathlessly and drunkenly say something like, "This is so much fun! You guys are so great! I think it's just great that you found each other! You're so cute together! I just love gay guys!"
The term you're searching for is: mortification. She was talking at
my friends, about them, as if they were an attraction in a museum or "It's a Small World" at Disney Land. Not Disney World
. The much quainter, older and uglier stepchild, Disney Land
. Set to a Eurodisco soundtrack. Surreal doesn't even begin to describe it.
At this point a lot of things were going through my mind. None of them kind. Or compassionate. Or Sympathetic. But the main things going through my mind were, a) She's really, really, really drunk and b) how is she going to get home to the suburbs because she's not driving in this condition and she's not spending the night with me because 1) I am not sleeping on the couch and 2) she has to take her son to karate in the morning. MAF read my mind and proffered his Blackberry, on which he conveniently had the suburban train schedule. "If we leave now we can get her on the 12:10."
Dragging my friend out of that concert was no easy task. But we did it. MAF drove at break-neck speed to the train station, I texted my friend's husband that she was too drunk to drive and he needed to pick her up at the train station in their suburb. He called me back in seconds flat and berated me for "letting" her get so drunk that she couldn't drive and how was he supposed to pick her up at 1 AM when they have two young kids sleeping, he couldn't just call a babysitter at this hour, how could I let him down like this, he was depending on me, so on etc.
I know, okay? I know. But she started hitting her vodka stash before I even realized she had
a vodka stash. And then when she was so rude about dinner it was clear she was so drunk she wasn't driving home and at that point I kind of figured I'd be driving her home. But when I saw the train schedule and realized I'd be stuck in the suburbs until the morning because I'd miss the last train back into the city I just thought...oh whatever. I am irresponsible and I do
forget about babysitters and suburban train schedules, okay? I'm single. I have a singles vibe.
Driving my friend's car back to the suburbs early the next morning I felt like a teenager facing serious trouble when I got home. The quiet suburban neighborhoods and properly groomed lawns only reinforced this. There's nothing like early morning in the quiet suburbs to make even the most innocent, well-behaved teenager or singleton feel like a debauched hooligan bound for Hell. "Good" people are snugly sleeping in their cozy beds or reading the paper over breakfast in nice dining rooms on proper dining room tables. "Good" people are not out and about early on weekend mornings, unless they're jogging or preparing for some community event. If you're out and about in a suburb very early on a weekend morning, odds are very good that you were up to no good on the previous night.
My friend's husband and son met me in the driveway. Her husband whispered to me, "She's asleep. Get in, I'll take you to the station. You can catch the 8:45." We had a silent ride to the train station. Even their son, who is usually a chatter box, said nothing. I knew there were a lot of issues. My friend was supposed to take their son to karate because her husband was meeting with a client later that day and wanted to go into the office to prep for the meeting. I heard all about it the day before, albeit from my friend's slightly skewed perspective. The perspective of the wife and mother who desperately wants to return to work and can't find anyone willing to hire her and she resents her husband's job and work responsibilities. So. I felt really guilty about letting my friend's alcohol intake get out of hand. This was interfering with her husband's job. This was not good. I'm more responsible than that and he trusted me. I let him down. Oh crap. If they get a divorce it'll be my fault. When we got to the station I just said, "Thank you. I'm realllllly sorry." He said, "It's not your fault," and drove away.
I was pretty sure our play date for the next week would be canceled, but my friend is sticking with our class and so, she showed up for class and went back to the suburbs after our after-class snack. No mention of the previous week's drunken train wreck, I mean train ride, was made so I didn't bring it up, either. Filed under things left best unsaid.
Going to Graceland
Okay, so, after the night out with MAF and his partner didn't live up to her hopes and left me so embarrassed I'm not sure I'll ever feel right about socializing with MAF again, my friend decided that a) she would spend the night with me "sometime" and b) we'd go "out" for a more "normal" night out. Normal apparently meaning more of a heterosexual singles vibe.
Well, "sometime" arrived sooner than I expected.
And I think it's now safe to conclude my may or may not be getting a divorce friend will not be getting a divorce.
This time out my friend donned a more "appropriate" outfit. I think she's getting the hang of dressing herself more occasion appropriate - reality based, not catalog fantasy image based. I don't think she's sending a singles vibe, but she's exuding less of a suburban mom who's desperately trying to not look like a suburban mom vibe, so, you know, that's probably a good balance.Maybe a little sluttier than appropriate, but not trying so hard as the Night of the Eurodisco outfit.
She heard about a newer restaurant in my old neighborhood. She thought maybe we could drop into a few bars after dinner, check out some local bands. Okay, this sounded all right with me. And she promised she wouldn't drink "too much." And really, she doesn't usually drink much. Which is why I think she got so messed up and out of control The Night of the Eurodisco.
She took the train into the city and a cab to my place. Normally I would take a train and a bus to our class, but she didn't want to "deal" with that so she paid for a cab to our class. And back to my place. We worked on my closet a little more, she's learned some new techniques from the closet Svengali. And then we got ready to go to dinner. Okay. I admit. It is fun, nice, to have someone to hang out with and do to dinner and, you know, just generally pal around with. But. I can't ever quite forget that she is married and has two children. She wants to play single, and that's "okay," I guess, but, she isn't actually single. So where's the line? When does "playing single" become, "inappropriate behavior for a married women?" I've never been married. But. I have been in a couple serious, long-term, monogamous committed relationships. And the "rules" of fidelity are pretty much the same. Right? You can go out with your friends, have a good time, but you don't wear your lowest cut tops, shortest skirts or highest strappy heels or smolderingest makeup when you go out without your partner, right? (Especially not all at the same time.) Or did I miss something in the last decade? Is it now perfectly okay and normal for married/relationshipped people to go out without their partners looking as if they're on the make? (I realize "on the make" is a really antiquated term, but I like it. And I'm using it. If it makes me sound old and spinstery, so be it. I like it way better than "singles vibe.")
I'm very uncomfortable with my friend's desire to "play single." I feel like a co-conspirator against her husband. I don't like that. I like her husband. And apparently he knows "everything" that's going on, they allegedly talk about this and he's going along with her desire to re-charge herself, "play single" as long as she doesn't actually have sex with someone else. Still, I'm just not comfortable with some of her behaviors. I feel like she's crossing lines her husband doesn't know about. And I'm not going to snitch on her, rat her out to him...or am I? I already made it clear to her that if she has sex with someone I will not cover for her and I will tell her husband. Still. The whole looking like she's on the make thing bothers me. I've never liked women (or men) who are teases. You advertise it, you sell it. There are laws about bait and switch. You don't advertise something with no intention of selling it, instead offering something else. You don't go out to bars advertising boobs, thighs and smokey eyes and sell, "let's just be friends." Or do you? Maybe that's done these days. I dunno. I've been up on the shelf a long time, I guess. I don't know how being single works anymore. I know, I know
! I'm the Mayor of Singleton and I'm out of touch with my constituents. Good thing I have a married friend who wants to play single!
All right. So. Another cab ride to my former neighborhood. I would have taken the train or a bus, but my friend didn't want to "deal with that." So cab it was. The restaurant turned out to be very hip, very trendy, very crowded and very expensive. In other words, exactly what my friend had in mind.
We had a reservation but of course we had to wait for a table. At the bar. Which was okay, my friend promised she'd only have one or two drinks during dinner and one or two if we went to some bars after dinner. And she stuck to her promise. We found the remaining free cocktail table and discussed what we'd drink - and tried to figure out the protocol was for drink procurement: Wait staff or schlepp the gauntlet to and from the bar?
One advantage to having an attractive friend is: Men. They come out of the woodwork and offer the most amazing things. Usually booze. The guy who approached my friend within seconds of our arrival was nicer than a lot of men in this situation. He offered to buy both
of us drinks when clearly he was only interested in my friend. I was honestly surprised he even noticed me, let alone acknowledged my existence. I scraped together a little cash for the evening, not much, and my friend insisted she was going to pay, but, I wanted to pay for at least some portion of the evening and I especially didn't want this guy to buy me a drink. I did not want to be indebted to him in any way. He wasn't shy about taking the money I offered. Which was barely enough to cover the cost of one drink. I didn't think my friend should let him buy her a drink, either, but, she did. So. There you go. The first transaction of the evening. Apparently buying her a drink meant he was entitled to ogling her breasts, rubbing her thighs and and telling really lame jokes. I did not know that thigh rubbing was being sold so cheaply these days.
The thigh rubbing, breast ogling and lame jokes continued for way too long. A lot of bad memories of when we were both single came flooding back to me. Us going out, her getting picked up by dozens of men, me saving her seat/watching her purse/waving her good-bye when she left with one, me going home alone. Finally our table was ready and we wound our way through the crowd to our table, which was wedged between the kitchen and bathrooms.
My friend was furious.
I tried to calm her down, "Welcome to Singleton: Population: Us. Conveniently located between the kitchen and bathroom doors."
My friend complained to the hostess, pointing out three empty tables not by the kitchen or bathrooms. The hostess wasn't budging. She insisted those tables were reserved.
My friend countered with, "But we have a reservation!"
Yes. Two women + dinner reservation = table by the kitchen/bathrooms.
My friend has been married so long she forgot this Law of Singleton. It's in the Singleton Restaurant and Dining Code, article 1a: "Single people dining alone shall be seated at the worst table in the establishment, located next to one or both bathrooms and the kitchen." Article 1b, "Single people dining in groups shall be seated at the worst table in the establishment, located next to one or both bathrooms and the kitchen." Unless, article 1bi, "If two or more members of the group of single people are women between the ages of 19 and 23 and of centerfold caliber attractiveness (slim, petite, blond or Asian with boobs no smaller than a C cup), in which case a table in the window or closest to the bar will be offered."
We were both hungry and the wait for another table meant going back to the bar and enduring more thigh rubbing and lame jokes, so we stayed at the Singleton table. Dinner was expensive. I mean really expensive. I felt horrifically guilty. There was no way I could afford this place. One meal cost the same as my entire week's food budget. I hate being unemployed. Not because I can't afford to eat at expensive restaurants. I don't care about that. But the indebtedness makes me feel like crap. My self esteem has taken so many blows I'm afraid I'll never fully recover. I had a lot of misgivings about this evening, but I was so focused on my friend "playing single" and her husband that I didn't give myself much thought. Now, staring at the menu, knowing I didn't even have enough cash to cover the tip on one meal, I wanted out. I wanted to go home. I was uncomfortable and miserable and on the verge of a meltdown about my life. "It's not dinner, it's my liiiiiiffffffe, sniff, sniff, sob sob, I don't have a job, no one will hire me, I'm going to be homeless and I don't even have a husband to cheat onnnnnnnnnn. wah wah waaaaah" that kind of thing. I could feel it creeping up on me and it was getting harder and harder to fight it off. Obviously I don't get out much. And my friend thinks she's doing something nice for me, getting me out, helping me feel more connected to normal life, etc. But. Wow. This breakdown really sneaked up on me and was ready to throw a major punch at me. The level of acceptance and rising above myself required to overcome that breakdown was nothing shy of miraculous.
Okay. So. We made it through dinner. It didn't take long. I had a salad. A very small salad. With guilt infused malaise served on the side.
After dinner we went to a bar I used to go to when I lived in that neighborhood. It wasn't trendy then, but wow, what a difference a few years make. It hasn't changed at all, but he clientele has. Once again my friend was the target of a guy looking to buy what she was selling, or what he thought she was selling. And oh lucky me, this guy had a friend.
Over the course of a few drinks we learned we had a few things in common. One of these guys also lives in the suburbs and was staying with his friend who lives in town to help do some renovations on the kitchen and for a little fun, food and f...oh never mind.
My antennae immediately tingled - one of these guys was married. Admittedly, I don't have very good gaydar. And my jerk-dar isn't always accurate, but, my marriedman-dar is always, always, always dead accurate. I knew exactly which of these men was married. And of course the irony was poetic. The friend with the kitchen renovation was okay, though there was something kind of off about him, too. Not married, but my jerk-dar was picking up something from him, something on the creepy-o-meter. I don't think he was "interested" in me, but I got the feeling that he might be a long-time resident of Singleton, perhaps, like me, in a self-imposed dating exile.
Wellllllll, I didn't have to wait long to find out to find out if I was right. What do you know? Turns out his place was just around the corner. How convenient. When I finally got my friend alone in the ladies room to compare notes I told her there was no way we were going back to that guy's place. My friend was all, "Oh come on, they're harmless and they're nice, he wants to show off his kitchen renovation. They're doing a kitchen renovation, on a loft condo on one of the busiest intersections in the city, Trill, how dangerous can they be?"
Yadda yadda yadda nothing in my long, storied, dating life could have ever prepared me for what was lurking in that innocuous cookie cutter loft-condo building. From the outside it looks like every other faux-loft condo building. The corridors seemed normal, long passages with Starbucks-y paint colors and modern light fixtures and normal doors with industrial unit numbers. The smell of someone's Chinese take-out mingling with the faint bass of someone's stereo. Everything seemed perfectly normal. Even the entry to the condo gave no clue as to what lurked just around the corner. The kitchen renovation was not a lie. The kitchen area was all but gutted and new cabinets, flooring and cans of paint were sitting, waiting to renovate the kitchen.
I thought, "Okay, these guys are legit, that part of their story wasn't a lie. One of them is still very married, but one of us
is very married, too. So. Yeah. There's that. Relax a little, Trill, don't drink or eat anything, use the buddy system, never let your friend out of your sight, have 9-1-1 ready to dial on your cell phone."
I think I may have even sighed a relieved sigh at the sight of the kitchen renovation gear.
We were invited into the living room. I knew we were on the East side of the building and two floors up so I figured there might be a really great view of the skyline. And there was. A lovely view of the skyline.
But I didn't notice that for a while.
My friend was the first to turn the corner see it and judging by the fear and shock in her expression I dialed the 9 of the 9-1-1. If it was as bad as her expression indicated, she wasn't looking out the window so I knew she wasn't awestruck by the view. I knew whatever had her shocked into silence was inside
the condo. With us.
I didn't want to see what fate had in store for us. I wanted to dial 9-1-1 and then close my eyes and let these guys do whatever it is they do to women in that room my friend was witnessing. I was hoping the cops would show up, not in time to save our lives, but in time to save enough of us to be able to identify our bodies. Or at least my
body. Because my friend was dressed so out of her norm that no one would think the slutty trollop in some guy's loft condo in the city in the middle of the night was her. But if they can identify my
body then her husband will figure out the remaining pieces of slut I'm with are what's left of his wife.
I hesitated to turn the corner, eyes closed, fingers in pocket hovering over my phone's keypad. I heard my friend finally speak. "Oh. My. God."
I dialed the first 1 of 9-1-1 and opened my eyes to see if my friend was still alive.
The two guys were standing there, hands on hips, beaming proudly, surveying whatever was lurking in that room.
The married one sidled up to my friend asked her what she thought. My friend said, "I, uh, I'm not sure.Trill, come in here, you have to see this."
I timidly stepped around the corner, bracing for the worst.
As I said, nothing in my storied dating life could have ever prepared me for what was in that room.
Two words: Jungle Room.
One more word: Elvis.
And one more word: Graceland.
I kid you not. There, in an innocuous loft-condo on one of the busiest intersections in the city of Chicago, with a picture window view of the skyline, is an exact, and I mean exact
, duplication of Elvis' Graceland Jungle Room. I was simultaneously awed, impressed and horrified.
My friend, too, was visibly shaken. I know they have nothing like this in her suburb. (Though I've seen some weird freaky stuff in suburban houses, so, you know, it's possible. Not probable, but possible.)
Okay, what do you say when two guys invite you back to see their condo kitchen renovation project slash Jungle Room?
I got nothin'.
I finally said, "Wow, this seems very, um, accurate."
The heretofore somewhat quiet, unmarried guy said, "Yep, exact replica. It took four visits to Graceland, tons of photos and an incredible amount of research over 14 years. I've been researching and collecting everything and storing it until I could afford to buy a place that had the exact dimensions. The window's a little different, but other than that it's the exact dimensions of Elvis' Jungle Room. "
In case it's been a while since you've seen it, or if you have never seen it, here's a reminder, just a small corner of the actual Elvis Jungle Room:
This guy has the exact lamps, furniture, carpet, tchtchkes, the Tiki bar, everything...even the wall bricks/rock were laid in exact duplication. The plants were trimmed and placed accurately.
It was both loving homage and creepy obsession.
Naturally, I presumed one or both of these guys were big Elvis fans. So I said, "So, you're a big Elvis fan, eh?"
The unmarried guy said, "Meh, early Elvis, you know, pretty cool. But I'm not much of a fan. But the Jungle Room?! I am a huge fan of the Jungle Room. I went to Memphis with some friends for a weekend, something fun and different to do, drinking, mostly, and we toured Graceland. I came away a changed man. It was a pivotal moment in my life. It's always weird when people ask me if I'm an Elvis fan because I'm really not much of a fan of him or his music."
"Just his Jungle Room"
"Right! You get it! You'd be surprised how many people don't understand that."
"Huh. Yeah. People can be so narrow minded, so literal, so quick to judge."
"Yeah! Exactly! See? You
I didn't get it. But then again, I kinda do. I don't understand the desire, the drive, to recreate the Jungle Room, but I understand loving the Jungle Room can be different, separate from loving Elvis.
We had a very awkward, overly polite conversation, and my friend and I got out of there as soon as we could make a break for it.
When we got outside, on the relative normalcy and safety of the sidewalk, she said, "Ohmygodohmygodohmygod, Trillian, can you believe that? They seemed like such nice guys! They seemed so normal! Oh my God, Trillian, I cannot wait to go home. In one evening I've been groped, forced to sit at the worst table in the restaurant and subjected to...whatever that
"You did figure out that guy is married, right?"
"Which one? Not the Jungle Room guy. No one would marry that
I suddenly felt the urge to defend the Jungle Room guy. He represented all us Singletons. There's kind of a code here in Singleton. You always defend other Singletonians against married people who ridicule and judge them. "I dunno, you know, apart from the Jungle Room thing he seems nice enough. Your husband has a man cave. This guy just took it to another level."
"Yeah, a level of insanity
. You're not serious, are you? God Trill, do you like
him? Like, like
him like him?"
"No, I'm just saying, if that's his only quirk, you know, it's contained to one room, and it shows a lot of dedication...I mean, I don't think it's a forgone conclusion that he has
to be single."
"Oh God. You like him."
"No, I don't. But, I've gone out with men who have much worse obsessions and hobbies - or worse, no interests at all. At least he has, you know, a hobby, a passion."
"Oh God. You like him."
"No, I don't. But I don't think he's so awful that he's unlovable. I hope there is some woman out there for him. But it's not me."
We hailed another cab and headed back to my place. My friend texted her husband at least three times during the 30 minute cab ride.
The next morning my friend dug around in her purse for change. "Trill, do you have any cash on you? I cannot believe I went through all my cash!"
"Cabs. Dinner. Drinks. Cabs."
"Being single is really expensive."
"Well, being single your
way is expensive. I
don't take cabs or go to expensive restaurants or bars or buy different ensembles for every event of the day."
"Your way isn't any fun!"
"I don't mean to be rude, I appreciate our night out and I'm grateful for all that you've done for me, but, I didn't think your way was all that much fun, either. Though we did get to see the Jungle Room, so, you know, that was
fun. Now that we got out alive, that is."
"I dunno, Trill. I didn't love being single when I was single. I just thought maybe now that I'm older, wiser...I thought maybe things would be different, less desperate, more interesting. But it seems like the same old BS and weirdness."
"That's what I think, but when I say that people think I'm bitter, jaded, a sore loser, a discontented spinster...so on etc."
"Who can blame you? Men looking for nothing but quick and easy sex...married men...men with Jungle Rooms...blech. I know I'm lucky, I know my husband is great. That's not the issue, never has been. I'm not looking for something better, or even different."
"Then what do you want?"
"I don't know."
"Maybe. I guess. I dunno."
"Freedom isn't free. Freedom, independence, it's really expensive."
"I knew living alone is expensive, but Trill, I don't how you manage, even when you were working."
What could I say? Finally she gets it, she understands why, even when I had a job, I wasn't out every night whooping it up, shopping every day and having dates and interesting adventures in some presumed single-gal-in-the-city montage.
The "playing single" play dates have been good for my friend. At least she's learning something, becoming more aware, realizing the grass isn't greener, or something, anything
positive, I hope.
We have a couple more metallurgy classes and a few more play dates and I'm hoping over the course of a few months she'll recognize and realize that the malaise and discontentment she's feeling have nothing to do with being married with children and everything to do with living in town filled with hypocritical phonies and not having a personal identity separate from your husband and children.
But that's armchair psychology for you. Easy to diagnose other peoples' problems. The advantage of distance. All that.
*She thought one guy who was taking a smoking break from his sculpting was a homeless person. I "met" him the week prior when I ventured into the sculpting studio and saw him working on a 10' piece. When we headed into class and I saw him in his scruffy sculpting clothes, hair messily poking out from a tattered hat, sitting on the sidewalk outside the studio having a smoke, he said hello and I responded, we had a small exchange about the weather. My friend was mortified that I would talk to a homeless person. I said, "I don't think he's homeless, he's working on a huge hunk of marble in the sculpture room." She said, "I don't understand why artists have to be so messy and dirty." I didn't respond. Why bother trying to explain?