Yesterday, my husband dragged me along to a suburban party near Fort Meade, although an American suburb is a suburb, and we could have been anywhere. We entered a community called Ferndale Glen or maybe it was Wuthering Heights, I forget. All I know is that the name conjured up images of brambles and nettles, twisted old apple trees and rolling hills.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there wasn’t anything rolling or gnarled or natural about this community of homes. In fact, there were just clipped lawns, clipped hedges and dozens and dozens of cloned houses, clad in shiny grey vinyl siding, their expressions as blank as if they’d been injected with Botox.
While I fought the urge to turn the car around and get out of there (impossible in any case, since my husband was driving), he was looking around with interest.
“Go on, say it, you’d really like to live somewhere like this, wouldn’t you?” I said. “I don’t get it. I mean, look at these houses, just look at them! That one has got grey stone crazy paving on its front. I guess the owners were trying to express their individuality.”
“I’m not saying I’d want to live here exactly, just that the houses are a nice style. I agree the vinyl siding is awful, but what about if it was done in brick?”
“They don’t make any new houses in brick here. And even if they did, the house would still be set in the sort of clipped, sterile environment that would make me want to kill myself.”
He gave his usual resigned sigh, and we agreed to disagree.
I have to admit, the house we visited did look pretty good from the inside, with high ceilings and a lot of light. But it still didn’t make me want to live there.
The party was hosted by Melanie and Dan. She is reed thin, white skinned, with long red hair and a morose expression like she’s carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. He is Polish-Korean, and very sweet, but it always worries me that national security is in his hands, because while he works at the NSA writing code to prevent people tapping into US military secrets, he also has trouble with basic things, like remembering what day of the week it is or whether Clinton is still in office.
When we got there, Melanie was having a fit because her mayonnaise jar was out of date, and decided to send Dan out to the supermarket to get more. This is why I usually try and avoid these suburban parties. They make you realize just how square you have become. In my misspent youth back in England, you’d be sitting in your living room drinking with chums, and then at some point someone would be designated to put on an old overcoat and go to the end of the street (yes, there are off licenses at most corners, what a wonderfully civilized place England is, oh God I am beginning to sound like Bill Bryson) for a ‘cigarette run’ or a ‘beer run’ or maybe a ‘munchies run’ or even a ‘chocolate run.’ But at no point did anyone making a sandwich question the fact that a mayonnaise jar was badly out of date and cry, “Ye Gods, someone must buy some fresh mayonnaise as a matter of urgency! Go at once and procure me a jar.”
When Dan did eventually come back from his mayonnaise run, that was not the end of the matter. Oh no.
“What is this?” Melanie said, fishing the jar out of the bag and screwing up her face. “Canola Oil Spread?”
“I dunno, man,” said Dan, scratching his head. “It was in the mayonnaise aisle.”
“This isn’t even mayonnaise,” she hissed, before turning round and smiling at the guests.
Like I say, Dan is a very nice guy, I just don’t feel one hundred per cent confident about him writing uncrackable code and keeping this great nation safe.
I’ll give him this, though. He is very knowledgeable. About gerbils. It took him quite a long time (two years), but eventually he figured out that if you put a bunch of gerbils in a cage, their number is going to keep growing and growing until you don’t know what to do with them.
A few months ago he told me, “I have too many gerbils, I don’t know what to do.”
I said, “Put them out in the garden. They’ll soon run off, die, or get eaten by eagles.”
He declared this was too cruel and offloaded a lot of them on pet shops, and then someone (definitely not him) figured out how to tell the sexes apart, and now they have two boys and two girls in separate cages.
But here’s the thing. Even with that situation, recently the whole lot escaped and the males managed to impregnate the females in seconds while they were running about on the floor. Also, once the female gives birth, she is ready, WITHIN THE HOUR, to be impregnated again. All I can say about gerbils is, don’t do it.
I also learnt a lot about Doctor Who from a man who had me pinned in the corner and had watched every episode several hundred times.
“But didn’t the show get cancelled due to lack of ratings in 1989?” I said, dying of boredom.
I may as well have called his mother a whore.
He pretended he hadn’t heard me.
“What actually happened, was that a movie company bought the rights to Doctor Who, and thus the show had to go off air,” he explained. “Then they made a really bad movie that tanked, and eventually the BBC bought back the rights and started making the series again.” He gave an ecstatic, broad grin as if he’d just said, “And that’s how we avoided a terrorist attack by Al Kaida.” (Doctor Who Fanatic is another one who works at the NSA).
After I’d escaped from him, I got talking to Melanie’s eccentric mother. I mean, she doesn’t look eccentric, she’s a very pleasant looking sixty year old pediatrician, but she’s nuttier than squirrel shit.
She always discusses my writing career in awed tones, as if I were an author bringing in a couple of million a year.
“So what project are you working on at the moment?” she said.
“Well, I’m beginning to think that the only thing that sells is something high concept or an erotic romance. I can’t begin to understand why anyone buys those erotic books, each plot is exactly the same, but they have huge sales.”
“Yes, I guess those romance books are escapism, pure and simple, I find them boring. I read The Cell the other day by Stephen King. What a load of rubbish, it’s about how cell phones trigger explosions, basically an anti cell phone message. King hates cell phones. Well, that’s because he doesn’t need one. He sits in his house all day in Maine, writing his books in longhand.”
“What didn’t you like about the book?”
“Well, I like to learn something from each novel I read, and with this I didn’t learn a thing. King was talking about some guy creating bombs from scratch and hadn’t researched bomb making at all. He was just like, ‘he put together a bomb from some dynamite he had lying around the house.’”
“Seems a bit sloppy.”
“It was rubbish, I tell you.”
“Can’t say I’ve read any of his books. Like Harry Potter, they just don’t appeal. Anyway, what do you think I should write, I mean, in the high concept soft porn realm?
She thought for a moment.
“What about the Man with Two Penises? Do you think people would buy that?”
I didn’t bat an eyelid. Like Kevin Charnas, I am used to people coming up to me and telling me weird shit.
“Right,” I said. “And how would that work?” The concept made me feel a little sick.
“Well, I don’t know. You’re the author.”
“I suppose it would depend where the penises were located. If they were on the man’s pelvis, say, ten centimeters apart, I guess two girls could have sex with him at once, and he could have two orgasms at the same time. Or he could have sex with one girl with one penis and then after that penis was recovering he could use the other one.”
“Well, I think it’s a great idea. Think about it.”
Who am I? Displaced Londoner now living in the States with my two little girlies and long suffering husband. Co-author of hilarious parenting book Cocktails at Naptime www.cocktailsatnaptime.com
My mom's an Austrian, my dad's a Brit, which makes me a Britaustrian, or possibly an Austrish?