Thursday, May 12, 2005

Be Glad I Didn't Buy the Ones That Said, "Fonzi? Here's Your Fonzi!"

"The rich are different from you and me," Fat Scott Fitzgerald said.

"Yeah," Backdoor Ernie Hemingway replied. "They are very thin people who live in very large spaces, which is counterintuitive."

Most of the time I don’t envy the rich, poxed as they are with bad taste in home decoration and an inclination toward serial anorexic monogamy. But I do envy the emptiness of their lives, i.e., the fact they are able to create living spaces filled with buffer zones, so that in those moments that require hibernation of the spirit, there is always a cave handy. I don’t mean in their intimate relationships. I don’t mean separate bedrooms. The part of Living Rich that arouses me is having a guest house on your “grounds” or extra rooms in “the other wing” so that when people come to stay you are able to stick them somewhere out of sight, out of earshot, out of smell, and they need to be seen only at the breakfast buffet in the formal dining room.

And not even then if they take a tray in their room.

Money is only a tool, and I don’t covet all of the rare and difficult jobs that can be done with it. But I covet the ability to dispense with the inconvenience of having guests without having to dispense with the guests themselves.

What most of us in these United States have in common is an intimate knowledge of experiments in living like the one in which my wife and I are currently participating during our visit to FLA: one two-bedroom house regularly occupied by one mom-in-law and two sisters-in-law, a witches milkshake to which we have been added. We sleep on the sofa bed.

It’s kind of a status thing who gets what sleeping area. You know how it is: Washington slept here, but you ain’t Washington, so you sleep there. It’s the badge of the nonRich, having to play the happy visitor while sleeping in the smallest, mustiest bedroom or in the basement or on the sofa bed or on the floor in the den on the blow-up mattress, and the blow-up mattress always leaks. At least we were spared the blow-up mattress. The mattress on the sofa bed is 25-years-old, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was the mattress crinkled. As we squirmed in the heat, the mattress made that distinctive rustle created in my experience only by handling large sheets of limber plastic – cheap tarps for painting, for instance, but most commonly those big bags that bulky new products are sometimes wrapped in.

Like mattresses for sofa beds. My mother-in-law has chosen not to remove the plastic in which it came. It’s one thing to keep your inflatable Darth Vader in its original shrink-wrapped box, but I don’t think a sofa bed is a collectable. First night here every time we shifted on the sofa bed, it crinkled. Next morning my wife took a pair of scissors and cut the bag off the mattress. Her mother was watching, but my wife said nothing to her mother, neither explanation nor apology. She has a good relationship with her mother, don’t you think?

By the way. What is the motto of visiting among the working class? Too little space and too much food. You talk about something that is not a point of religious or political disagreement – which leaves only nostalgia about/contempt for the dead – and eat eat eat. I love to eat. It would be disingenuous to complain.

No, no complaints about the food, which is plentiful, good and murderously sodden with fat. Actually, I’m leading up to the privacy issue. When you are sleeping on a sofa bed in the den, which is actually an extension of the kitchen, you are on display, as in a zoo. If you sleep in the nude, you have more to display -- or so one might claim but I do not believe we will go there today. Probably not tomorrow, either.

Focus, Robertson, focus.

I wrote previously about forgetting my belt when we packed for this trip. I also forgot my bathrobe, which really is the sine qua non if you sleep in the nude in the public square, as it were, of a strange house. It’s like a reverse striptease when you sleep in the sofa bed in the den. Look to the left, sheet strategically positioned. Sit up, grab robe on floor, stand up, sheet slips off, robe slips on, while any relative who has just wandered in looks on with growing terror, the notion of too much information on the verge of being horribly confirmed.

But I didn’t bring my robe. Oh la la.

When I went to the WalMart to buy that belt I referenced in an earlier post, I thought I might buy a cheap bathrobe, too. What I stumbled upon was a wall covered with sleep pants and sleep shorts. I was not familiar with the concept of sleep shorts. Pajamas, yes. I wore pj’s when I was coming up. But these WalMart sleep shorts were flimsy, brief and comic, not substantial like my kid pj’s. Also, there was no top. The WalMart concept of sleep is a manly concept. At this point you may say, well, why not just sleep in your underwear? You didn’t forget your underwear, did you? I mean, this is your 94-year-old mother-in-law and your 60-year-old sisters-in-law. The effect on them of your dainty body, avec underwear or even sans underwear, should be negligible, particularly when one’s drawers are droopy.

But one has one’s pride. One has one’s dignity. One does not want to look like James Gandolfini with a hangover after Carmela threw him out.

I checked out the sleeping shorts. I settled on a black satiny pair with the words “Twilight Zone” printed on the seat. And now I walk through the house in the a.m. for hours at a time and no one gives me a second thought and most of the time not a first.

Someday, Tom Cruise will look in the mirror, and there I’ll be.

Stick that in your Scientology, baby.

Addendum: My wife reads this and says, "My God. You make my family sound like Redneck Nation." So let me specify that my sisters-in-law are also visitors; they just got here first.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In my large family (10) we'd not only pack ourselves - plus spouses and progeny, if any - all over our parents ranch style tract house, but play practical joke on each other. Jokes that escalated over the time spent. Christmas never became too extreme. Only two or three days stay.
But summer visits often lasted five days or more and a short-sheet job on someone's bed was answered - not always correctly, for the perp was usually silent - with the old smear of limberger cheese on pillow cases. Followed by a water-balloon wake up call. Retaliated by a midnite drag while in a sleeping bag to the back yard where the victim would by squirted like so much fast food mustard into the swimming pool. And so it went.
I suggest you strike the first blow. Or possibly someone is already planning vengeance for "Twilight Zone." Check the sheets before sliding in.