thanksgiving with the rich folks - Thursday November 26 1998
Thin slices of a long baguette were arrayed decoratively on a tray before me, and it was my job to spread pesto on each one. After they all had their pesto, the next step was to crumble some overpriced white goat cheese and sprinkle it on top of the pesto. Meanwhile Kim was frying up mushrooms and asparagus for the topmost layer. We were making finger-food hors d'oeuvres for the Thanksgiving Feast we'd be attending. Kim had it all arranged, of course. One of her somatics classmates named Genevieve had invited us to her Point Loma mansion to partake in the turkey, cranberry sauce and other staples of a traditional American Thanksgiving. Talk of the Nation on National Public Radio featured several people from a Plymouth Rock museum, in character, answering caller questions about their 17th Century lifestyles. In the shower at one point I became obsessed with their conspicuous failure to use the term "savages" to refer to the Indians (as they really should have been doing had they been fully in character). So I found myself muttering about the "ravages of savages."
In amongst the other preparations for Thanksgiving, I cut my hair for the first time since arriving in San Diego. Haircuts prior to this one in this year have included a haircut in August in Ann Arbor, and one in May at Kappa Mutha Fucka (for which I received the incompetent assistance of Cecelia the Brazilian Girl).
Kim, whose attention to detail in matters of protocol has never ceased to alarm me, had me make some sort of card to go along with the hors d'oeuvres we'd be bringing to the Thanksgiving Feast. Since it was an art project, though, I dove into it with enthusiasm. My card featured a little labeled map of San Diego made to look like the head of a turkey, with Point Loma being the upper beak, Coronado being the lower beak, Mission Bay being the eye, South Bay being the wattles and La Jolla being the bumpy thing on top of the head. Below this was the plump body of the turkey, complete with feathers and fat little feet. In the background a masked executioner with an axe was approaching, and the bubble from the turkey's head read, "Happy Thanksgiving, Goodbye San Diego." It was, I suppose, a typical result of my perennial desire to subvert hum-drum American institutions. I strongly suspected there would be much in need of subversion at the Point Loma mansion where we'd soon be feasting.
Kim and I met up with her older neuromuscular colleague, Heather, who, in her Accord, led us the rest of the way to Genevieve's place. We went to the solid double oak doors of Genevieve's mansion and knocked, but no one was home. Then Heather suddenly recalled that the feast was actually happening at the mansion next door, where Genevieve's mother-in-law lives. As we were heading to the second mansion, Heather made a weak pre-introductory comment to us about Genevieve's husband, a guy named Frank. "He's kind of full of himself," she said. She had to say something, after all, or else we would have been totally unprepared.
Inside Mansion II, the smell of turkey was heavy on the air as introductions were made. Genevieve was blond, unassuming and thirty-something, her husband Frank had thinning hair, a determined look in his eye and was in his late 30s. Then there was Frank's mother, a whithered yet vibrant old lady still using a walker in the aftermath of a hip replacement. I later learned that she'd had two facelifts in an attempt to counteract the effects of thirty years in the bright San Diego sun. These had done nothing about her wrinkles and had succeeded only in putting a permanently surprised look on her face.
There were two additional women present, both in their 30s, and I have no idea what their relationship was to either Frank, Genevieve, or Frank's mother. There was also a big black old Labrador retriver with white whiskers and an eager friendly face. He added a certain David Lynch ambience to the rambling mansion what with the big plastic cone improbably around his neck.
The turkey needed another twenty minutes (turkey always seems to), so there was suddenly an opportunity for Frank to give us a little taste of his personality. It started out innocently enough; he wanted to show Kim and me how he makes dinner glasses from elegant blue wine bottles. But then I noticed an enormous 18 litre vintage car engine up on blocks in some unknown stage of restoration. I made a comment about being impressed by it, as anyone should have been, and he asked (somewhat defensively) if I wanted to see more. Sure, I did, so a museum tour commenced. The garage proved to be a labyrinth of nooks and crannies, all of them crammed with ancient cars. There was a steam-powered car from 1900. There was a sleeve-valved car a few years younger. There was even a peculiar car with a two cylinder engine featuring a valve clearance of some two inches (most valve clearances are a millimeter or less). The tour was fascinating, and I greatly enjoyed it, but Frank the tour guide left a little something to be desired. He was behaving like a conceited little eight year old boy who has all the best toys on the block and knows it. Every new exhibit was accompanied by a quiz designed to highlight our ignorance and showcase his brilliance. And when we made observations based on our knowledge, he always took the opportunity to disagree, even when he had no idea what he was talking about. For example, when I noted the clearly Victorian styling on an automobile from 1876, Frank corrected me by saying "Victorian" only applies to the 19-teens, though he couldn't give me the name of the period this automobile was from if it wasn't Victorian. It has always been my understanding that Victorian applies to the reign of Queen Victoria, which was a vast period stretching over most of the 19th Century and into the 20th. Of course, I was absolutely polite and deferential, willing to concede that I was wrong on this point even though I wasn't. But I could feel resentment growing inside me. What was wrong with this spoiled rich kid?
A later tour of the upstairs took us to a manly kitchen featuring intricate hand-carved oak woodwork on all the doors to everything, including the freezer and refrigerator. By this point I had grown weary of expressing the impressed envious exclamations Frank was expecting, and the tour began sapping away my life force. It didn't really matter that I couldn't muster any more enthusiasm; Frank had clearly not been satisfied with even the initial high level of enthusiasm I'd expressed when the car museum tour had commenced.
The kicker was when Frank, on hearing that I am an artist, announced that he had a "secret" for paintings. He then led Kim and me back to his mansion and showed us his paintings. They were huge, ornately framed heroic depictions of Frank out in the wilderness with his antique vehicles and hunting gear. The colours were disturbingly wrong somehow, but the shapes were mostly accurate. I asked if they were based on photographs. "They are photographs!" Frank exclaimed, "I blow up a photograph really big and then it's all paint by numbers from there."
"Is that your secret?" I asked. It was. I hemmed and hawed and made approving noises, but I absolutely could not bring myself to say anything good about these artistic atrocities. My little remaining life force needed to be defended at all costs.
It's kind of hard to go wrong with a Thanksgiving feast as long as the turkey gets cooked, and finally, it was. But the vegetables, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and stuffing were kind of dreary. There was plenty of wine, since Frank (in an effort to further impress us) had made a major assault on his wine cellar. Some wine stands up to the years better than others. A bottle from 1976 tasted like rainwater that had dripped through a musty old attic full of back issues of National Geographic.
The levels of social complexity at this dinner were almost too complex for words to describe. On the one hand there was Frank with his bombast, monied generosity and infantile need for approval. Then there was Genevieve, Heather, and the other women, who (as seemingly sensible women) must have been embarrassed by the first impression Frank was making. Then there was Kim, who was trying her best to come across as intelligent, sensible, conservative, trustworthy and refined for people who may some day be business partners, venture capitalists, or clients. Then there was me, just wanting to get drunk and enjoy myself and, on the side, sew little seeds of subversion. For example, in amongst all the pretentious talk of fine wine, I said that sometimes nothing is finer than a 750 mL bottle of Mad Dog, especially when you need to smuggle booze into a movie theatre. Not only was Kim embarrassed by such statements, but she also tried to curb my drinking towards the end of dinner (to give the erroneous impression that we are more temperate than we actually are). Worst of all, every now and then she'd patronizingly whisper in my ear some trivial social grace that she thought I should undertake, such as thanking people or shaking hands. As you might imagine, I found myself growing increasingly resentful.
From dinner conversation, Kim and I learned that Frank's mother had worked for Frank's father, the manager of a nylon plant in Missouri back during World War II. After the war, the plant retooled to make women's undergarments. Eventually operations were moved to San Diego, and much money was made. This money was invested heavily in real estate and even more money was made. Now, years later, the father is dead but the family has two mansions (full of art and expensive luxuries) right on the beach of San Diego harbor. But they're not completely happy in their situation. They're resentful of a neighbor's overbuilt house blocking some of their view. And they also hate the endangered Least Tern, because Frank's preferred water skiing location on Mission Bay has been decreed essential Tern habitat and thus off limits to motorboats. It was almost comic to hear this spoiled adult, trapped forever at the social maturity of an eight year old, having so much and still complaining because he can't also play as he wants in what little remains of the habitat of a species on the verge of extinction.
I learned later that Frank was raised by inattentive nannies. This would definitely account for his debilitating social handicaps. Clearly, money can't buy everything.
After we'd made our graceful exit, Kim and I rendezvoused with Heather back at her elegant Point Loma apartment. We drank espresso and chatted with Heather's new boyfriend, a handsome swarthy foreign guy of about my age. I was fairly talkative and discussed the work I do. It was a much more comfortable social situation than the turkey feast had been, but Kim was still picking at me, making quiet little suggestions so that I would come across as more refined.
When we made it back to our place in Ocean Beach, I called my folks and talked to them for the first time in weeks. Kim was overhearing me the whole time, and when I was done, she was very upset that I hadn't mentioned her at all. I explained that I didn't feel comfortable talking about her in her presence, but that didn't do much to resolve the matter. We fell into a big fight during the course of which Kim floated a new idea: that I only want her for the sex.
After patching things up somehow, Kim and I went up to Mission Beach to visit another of her somatics friends, who was also having some sort of post-Thanksgiving feast get together. This friend was a Swedish chick with long blond hair and only the slightest trace of an accent (and occasional Y-J substitutions). She was most inquisitive about me, and seemed stuck on the idea that I am an ethnic German, which is only partially true and one of the least interesting things about me.