August 9 1998, Sunday
im and I went to brunch with her mother and step-father, Chuck. The place was a big classy restaurant called Webers, and the table where we sat was a spacious booth in a darkened alcove. It was a cozy place to eat, and the buffet was varied and not in the slightest bit chintzy. I sat with my back to the restaurant's main space and it was easy for me to imagine I wasn't eating out at all, except when reality intruded in the form of a smartly-dressed waitress reaching over my shoulder to address problems with Kim's cappuccino. It was good strong bitter cappuccino, too much for Kim but perfect for me. I don't like "easy drinks"; I like to taste the drugs I'm getting.
It's still a little like I'm on the spot whenever I'm with Mother, but I'm gradually becoming comfortable with her and accustomed to her peculiarities. Her neurotic and unabashed materialism was such an off-putting surprise when I first met her last month; it came across like a parody of the American ideal, presented as a moral lesson to support my entirely contradictory life purpose. But today I genuinely found myself enjoying talking to her.
As Kim's suitor, of course, I'm expected by Mother to be the best in every way (that's an extension of her materialist aspirations). But I felt friskier today, deliberately stirring the conversational pot with subjects that I knew would push the limits of acceptable. Mother is remarkably easy to shock, or at least she pretends to be. She puts out a vibe of genteel properness, but I keep getting subtle indications that it's all a big front, like she's projecting these vibes to mask a crazier, wilder side. The hedonism is already evident; throw in a little anti-social weirdness and Kim's mother would be an older version of the kind of kids I hang out with in Charlottesville.
When Chuck talked about a recent bird show he and Kim's mother attended recently in this very same restaurant (which features a massive conference space), he mentioned that there was a whole subculture connected to it, something the average person would never suspect. As an "industrial psychologist," Chuck's mind is well-tuned to notice these sorts of things. The language he uses to describe people and their thoughts resonates well with my thinking. We communicate well because we're interested in the same sorts of psychological puzzles. But of course he comes at it from a different origin and with a different goal. While I'm busy studying the elements of American society to satisfy my literary aspirations, Chuck is being hired by vast multinational corporations to give "times are a'changing lectures" to the workforce when it's time for a massive downsizing. In the Detroit metro area, industrial psychology is itself a growth industry.
The subject of "subcultures you'd never suspect" gave me a chance to bring up an unpleasant subject for Mother's benefit. It wasn't that I was consciously trying to be shocking; I was feeling comfortable and confident and capable of handling Mother's shockability. He who takes no risks risks being a bore. I mentioned last night's "naturist party," and how we'd hung out with a bunch of naked gay guys in a hot tub. Kim qualified nearly everything I said so as to make it more palatable, but still Mother's reaction was shock and disbelief. "I know you're smarter than that!" she announced. In the end, though, she had to accept the reality that we'd actually been in a hot tub with gay nudists. Kim had said something about Spunky Lisa convincing us to do it, so at least Mother could find a certain amount of comfort in the thought that the idea of cavorting with gay nudists had originated with neither her daughter nor her likeable boyfriend.
Another opportunity I had for shocking Mother came with a discussion of Matt Rogers. Kim and I talked about the sad story of Matt Roger's unsuccessful seduction of Spunky Lisa, and how it had all come to a heartbreaking conclusion Friday Night at the Cavern Club. We were sure to fill Mother in on all the pathetic details of Matt's trying too hard. There was that time, for example, when Matt decided to come over to Lisa's house to walk her housemate's neglected dog. He tried to get in one day and the place was locked and he feared he'd be arrested as he tried unsuccessfully to break in. (At the time, my comments to Kim about that had been, "You know you're in bad shape when you're being pussy whipped by some girl's housemates!"). The Mother-shocking part came when I described how Matt may not be the best catch in the world when viewed objectively. Not only is he not Jewish (this would be an issue for Spunky Lisa), but he's an unemployed former bus-boy. "He's not doing much with that Oberlin diploma," I added. Equally bad (if not worse) things could be said of me, of course, but I've been placed in pretty good light for Mother's benefit and by now she's convinced that I'm eminently employable, talented, well-bred, artistically sensitive, brilliant, and possibly from a wealthy family. I delighted, you see, in shockingly showcasing the sort of riff-raff I hang out with in the person of Matt Rogers. After our anecdotes and descriptions, Mother seemed positively scandalized by this Matt Rogers person, even if Kim was defending him with testimonials to his sweetness and intelligence. Wryly, Stepfather Chuck interjected, "Matt Rogers: now that's a good solid American name, the kind you can grunt." As her former-therapist, he seems to get at least as much of a kick out Mother's shockability as I do.
I ate lots and lots of food and downed plenty of iced tea. We stayed at Weber's a good three hours talking and eating and I had a surprisingly good time. When it was all done, Chuck paid for it all on his credit card.
ext, we all rendezvoused at Mother & Chuck's house, mostly to help Mother decide where to put the swimming pool she's planning. (Everywhere she goes, she's been carrying around a swimming pool catalogue, throwing it open and asking for suggestions at the slightest provocation.) Since I've been billed as having artistic sensibilities and design sense, she was especially interested in my opinion. She took me to all levels of the deck in the back, asking me to picture a big party happening and where the pool should go. The options were a narrow strip of land in the backyard (between the pond and the house) and the sideyard, a fairly large field. I vacillated between the options but eventually decided on the large field since locating the pool there would involve the least tree removal and wouldn't clutter the transition between the naturalness of the pond and the opulent splendour of the house. Of course, to fully realize a sideyard pool, there would have to be trees planted to block the view from the neighbors, to whom I jokingly referred as "perverts." No matter what I said, though, Mother wasn't through with pumping me for ideas. She seemed to be more interested in brainstorming for the pool than the pool itself. Kim and I could have stayed there all day making the pool decision and she'd just end up doing what she wanted to anyway, so we headed back into Ann Arbor.
att Rogers came over in the evening and hung out with Kim and me. He was very apologetic at first, convinced (it seems) that we need every waking moment together for a perpetual shagfest. But once we'd convinced him to stay, he went out to get some alcohol: Gekkeikan Saki. I've noticed the folks I hang out with in Ann Arbor drink a good amount of saki. I guess it's cold and miserable here most of the year, and everybody is in the habit of drinking warm vino on frozen grey snowy days, to the point where they continue to do so right through the summer. For my part, I stuck with vodkatea. Kim said later told me it made my kisses taste delicious.
Matt is a good guy, and he's fun when we're talking about geeky issues. But a lot of the time he seems somehow frozen in certain patterns of thought. Big words come out of his mouth as if by reflex, and sometimes ideas do as well. He has more trouble than most people with getting stuck in intellectual ruts. My having to constantly stop to tow him out of the intellectual mud with my intellectual tow truck gets to be an infuriating chore after awhile. He's still on a honeymoon of sorts with Kim, though, and she never seems as aggravated by him as I am. Another bad thing is that Matt's irritating qualities all get noticeably more pronounced when Matt has been drinking.
Kim wanted to go out tonight again to see a band, the Ghetto Billies (some kind of goofy music ensemble). I go out a fair amount when in Charlottesville, but it's rare that I go to bars where I must pay cover charges. A night on the town in Charlottesville usually meant finding a private party or drinking a few beers at a bar and listening to lame music for free. I simply can't afford to go out on the town every night, especially to hear goofy music. I don't especially like goofy music. So tonight I said I would not be going out at all, that instead I'd be going to Angell Hall to work on my musings, etc. Kim was fine with that, and she even found a date tonight in the person of Matt Rogers. She said she doesn't normally go out quite this much, but since she's only in Ann Arbor for three more weeks, she feels an increased need to socialize.
one year ago
back to the top
previous | next