Thursday, October 21, 2010
We arrive at the subdivision as we've done so many times before, in various other subdivisions, and head for the cul de sac address on the invitation. The street address is inevitably, 'trail-something' - Woodacre Trail, Meadow Trail, Riverside Trail - usually in memoriam of the actual green space they've paved over to build these homes.
We park in front of a mailbox with balloons tied to it, their gay ribbons stretched tight across our windshield in the strong wind. The trappings of a kid-party are peeking out from behind the attached two-car garage, some kind of tiki-safari thing. Jungle Terry, the entertainer who brings alligators and de-scented skunks into your backyard, has parked his zebra-striped Jeep prominently out front. But our invitation is a die-cut Batman shape, so somethings not adding up.
When a child we've never laid eyes on before tries to grab the gift from our hands, we realize it's not this house, its the mirror-image of this house, five homes down. We're not so lame and lazy as to get back in the car and drive, so we walk, which is an event in my kid's lives, trapped as they are in our mini-van with its fixed rear windows. There is of course no sidewalk because planned communities rarely plan for actual community. So we end up step-hopping along the curb, one foot on the neighbor's Chem-Lawn, one foot in the street, skirting parked cars and other traffic moving through the cul-de-sac to the two parties.
We take off our shoes in the foyer while my kid's excited voices ricochet off the twelve-inch ceramic tiles of the foyer, until their decibels are deposited on four thousand square feet of carpeting in the the Great Room. The greatness of this room includes a soaring wall of tempered glass, Orca ready. The looming view onto the backyard extends past the capacity of my peripheral vision and reveals several terraced patios, giant circles of paving bricks, two connected by a handcrafted Amish bridge, one with a fire pit. I've spent so much time at the Home Depot fixing up our own house that I am able to calculate the cost of the bill of materials from memory, before I have time to stop my bourgeois impulse. Their play-structure-swing-set thing is better than most inner-city playgrounds, but has the forlorn look of something hardly used and sits only fifty yards from their neighbor's unused swing-set thing. A dog barks anxiously, locked in the hidden laundry room, no doubt restless next to the GE Profile pedestal washer and dryer, with steam dryer and wrinkle free settings.
A spread of delivered food is generously offered; there are tinfoil trays of iceberg salad and ziti. I whisper to the buffet, "I'll be back to eat too much of you, later."
Pointed in the direction of the finished basement, where the shoeless party will be corralled on a thousand additional stain resistant square feet, we descend as we have to so many finished suburban basements before. In this model there are rows of theater seating on carpeted risers, facing a 152" flat screen TV. Cartoon Batman beats the shit out of a villain with life sized punches, the surround sound using my solar plexus like a beat box.
Two fellow party guests, who are actually smaller than the cartoon figures, have already checked into their juice bags, and out of the party, in the giant Laz-y-boys that threaten to swallow them whole in their leather folds - their tiny bodies hardly big enough to keep the seating mechanisms reclined.
Granite Island, in the sea of Stainmaster, has four stools moored to its shores. Beyond this configuration are two more granite counters that fortress a wet bar, only slightly larger than my kitchen, and with finer appliances.
"Nice basement", I say innocently, to my plump, dark-haired hostess with gigantic breasts. "You guys must live down here."
"Not as much as you might think." My hostess blithely admits.
I'd met her at a kid class where we chatted amiably on the benches while our kids climbed a plastic tube thing and whacked at foam structures with puffy pillow bats. She'd invited us to the party on the spot in a act of hospitality that struck me as generous and onerous at the same time. We accepted.
In the basement Versailles, I drink white wine, why do they all drink white?, while my kids suck down two juices apiece and nibble the corners of their sheet-pizza squares. Grapes roll on their plates like marbles on their journey from vine to landfill.
The other party guests arrive all at once, a battalion of on-time attendance. Suddenly the basement is filled with kids and commotion. They notice the Batman pinata, the head and shoulders of the caped crusader knowing full well its stuffed to the neck with fun-sized candies. The moms have to distract them with pleadings toward fruit and bottled water.
Word filters down to the basement: Batman is here! Batman is HERE!
And sure enough, Batman joins us in the basement.
The costume is good; a heavy rubber mask, chest and codpiece with big Paul Stanley-esque, Kiss platform boots and wings that open up large. Its definitely Dark Knight era Batman. No tights.
A child runs terrified to his mother's arms, while the rest of the kids go completely bat shit around him.
It only takes a minute to realize that this Batman is all costume, no act. He talks in a low raspy voice, but he's no entertainer. He's phoning it in, but not on a flashing red phone with a single button at its center. He talks about himself in the third person while he performs his party trick, twisting balloons into the single shape in his repertoire, a balloon sword, which delights the children to immediate violence. The hollow thud of their latex swashbuckling fills the room.
"Batman is making the green sword you asked for." "Batman doesn't like to be hit in the face with a balloon." "Batman needs to take a quick break." At which point he unfurls one of those sproingy fabric tunnels, and lets the kids climb through the "Bat-tunnel". Kids fill the tube like so much Bat-Sausage and the caped one leans over and asks me the time. His utility belt apparently not equipped with a watch or any way to punch out.
"I could make good use of that codpiece and those boots, given a free night and some babysitting coverage." I say out loud. Mild laughter. I think I've made that joke before, in someone else's builder basement that, too, was off-gassing its newness, depleting oxygen. I'm in a suburban house of mirrors.
Batman eventually and rather unceremoniously, departs the way he came, but sends word from the foyer to Party Dad that he needs to be paid his $180 for two hours of caped crusading.
For my kids this party, this house, is Disneyland. The hugeness of it all - the amount of stuff, the number of toys and gadgets - the cleanliness- they are in heaven here.
"I'm going to ask Santa for one these!" my daughter declares as I dismount her forcibly from the back of a ride-on plush horse, whose life like head swings back and forth with admonishing 'No's'. Kind of like my neck. No, you'll never have a $400 plush horse.
I want to evacuate my children from this environment as quickly as possible. The canopy bed, the monogrammed buckets of organized toys, the walk-in closets in every room, the rows of clothes. I don't know how to combat their innocent desire to have all of this. Their eyes are huge with it. They have plush-toy Meth eyes. And what's worse, they are turning on me. Pissed.
They're pissed because they're coming down and they don't know where that next fix is coming from. They're pissed because its time to go, because I've said "We'll see" a dozen times and because they can't have more of anything. I'm mad at them too, for liking this disproportionate madness, for not appreciating how hard we work, for not seeing how lucky they are.
And I'm mad at me too, for feeling so disheartened and jealous, for comparing my insides to my host's outsides, for feeling ashamed of what, by any decent measure, is our extreme bounty.
I leave with a swirling, self-devouring sense of disgust and envy, shame and longing. I cannot help but compare myself to this aesthetic and feel like a complete loser. I want to cry and thrash the way my kids cry and thrash as I strong arm them to the car. My patience canteen is dry and we're all thirsty.
At home, in our overused upstairs bathroom, I brush my kid's teeth with sadistic precision and put them to bed. I go outside and lie down in the un-mown grass of our beautiful meadow and stare up at the night sky through a haze of flying insects. Bats swoop and flop through the night air, filling their bellies on the bounty of our bug population before heading off to the bat cave.