Thursday, June 22, 2006

active ingredient

What most people find festive--a weekend at a beach shack with friends, a boat trip down a river, a crackling bonfire on a summer night--I see as a bleak nightmare to be grimly endured. I would sooner put lit cigarettes in my eyes than share a vacation house with a crowd. Inevitably there is one bathroom for ten people, so there is a constant line, and when its time to do your business, someone outside of the rickety door decides at that moment to take the CD out of the player as your furiously pull up your pants in the silence. Later, you are thwarted again as you realize that if you can clearly hear your friends newspaper rustling as he read the Times out loud for everyone's amusement, then they can all hear you. The days crawl by as you swell like a tick. No, thank you.

I do not way to stand in the kitchen with the car keys, seething, while one person makes a grocery list and another hunts for cash and a third announces to the housemates playing touch football that all fourteen of us are going to the grocery store in one car for a shopping expedition that should take ten minutes but will stretch for three hours, do you want to come along?

Every eternal day revolves around the meal. If you're at the beach, there's always someone who feels that it's their duty to boil lobsters, a joyless process of liberating the creatures from their muddy prison at the fish market, praying for the water to boil so they'll stop struggling, mustering your appetite as you wrestle the meat out of its shell, and then cleaning up the carcasses, the stench of which hangs over the kitchen for the remainder of the week.

If you're in the woods, you try to devise a menu from the macaroni and cheese mix and Vienna sausages offered by the bait and tackle shop that also sells toiletries and food, or, with noisy fanfare, you open the spider-corpse-encrusted grill out back to barbecue some dubious meat, which will be cold and raw in the middle and burned on the outside. On another night, you will make spaghetti, which the cook keeps tasting with the same spoon and putting back in the sauce, and you can count on someone throwing the cooked pasta against a cabinet door to see if it sticks, done to much hooting and clapping. When it comes to meals, everyone pitches in, so that your food is lovingly touched by fourteen sets of grimey hands, and since everyone is usually drunk by cleanup time, there will always be at least one chunk of beige food stuck in your fork tines when you eat something the next day.

The mantra of the gathering is always "Do your own thing," but of course you can never really do your own thing without acute self-consciousness. If you bring up a book that you're dying to finish, someone will plop down next to you and ask about what you're reading, or a group will gather around you and talk loudly so that you read the same paragraph three times. Somebody always brings a dog, usually a black Lab, and no matter how carefully you edit the guest list, there's inevitably one really annoying person in attendance, either some girl who gets too drunk and cries, or a meathead who likes to repeatedly remind her about it the next day when he's not checking all the various sports scores on TV as the birds chirp merrily outside. You buy flowers at a roadside stand to decorate the house, and in the tumult, nobody puts them in a vase. Days later they've turned to mulch on the counter where you left them, buried under a mound of moldy kitchen rags.

Silence is not going to happen, because silence doesn't mean Good Times, so there's constant chitchat, and one guy who takes it upon himself to play deejay. After lunch, time halts completely and gets stuck at four thirty for what seems like days, so the whole cabal bumbles around until someone cracks a beer and everyone else, relieved, follows suit. Then it's time to go to the grocery store.

After dinner, you can't go to bed early because everyone feels compelled to do the late-night Big Chill thing, and besides, there's an uncomfortable undercurrent because one couple claimed the good bedroom, despite having just joined the group this year. Then it's activity time. No, thanks, I dont play cards at home, so I sure as hell dont want to do it here. Or Boggle. Or charades. But you finally give in, and you drink more than you want to, and Boggle starts to seem sort of fun, and you think, Hey, this isn't so bad.

But then the next morning, after a restless, sweaty sleep on yellowed sheets and a musty dog-hair-covered afghan that the original house owners aunt knitted during the Eisenhower administration, you jolt awake at dawn to the sound of the stereo blasting courtesy of the one early-riser guy who's annoyed that no one else is up after he has already run five miles on the beach. Fuzzy headed, you make your way downstairs, where there is always a person eating cereal and making chipper small talk before you've had your coffee in a seventies earth-toned mug that's cracked and glued back together and has an ancient lipstick mark that has never been washed away. You grab the carton of warm orange juice that a housemate has left out on the counter overnight and pour it into a glass that foams up from the dish soap that somebody forgot to rinse during the drunken group cleanup.

Then, all you want to do is bike into town to that quaint little scone shop that you spotted during the drive in, the one that looks like an English cottage with morning glories covering the sun-dappled front patio, and buy yourself a scone, a cappuccino, and a newspaper and quietly read, but that is not what this weekend is about. Because even though the unofficial motto is "Do your own thing," if you actually do break away, there are raised eyebrows and hurt feelings, or, worse, as you make your escape and pedal desperately to the scone shop, you discover that you're playing Follow the Leader to fourteen bikes. Then your boisterous, hung-over mob noisily overwhelms the tiny scone shop. All the gentle regulars flee as the girl who drunkenly cried the night before complains that the store doesn't offer soy milk and the whole posse rearranges all the tables with loud scraping noises, so that everyone can sit together. God forbid you have two newspapers.

When you can't put off taking a shower any longer, you wonder why you didn't bring your flip-flops as you behold a rainbow assortment of pubic hair on the floor of the mildew-scented stall. After you're done lathering up in a trickle of cold, rusty water with Prell--always Prell shampoo, bought from the local tackle shop that sells toiletries and food--you reach for your one towel that you had carefully placed on the third hook, only to find it in a wet, fetid pile next to the john after it has clearly been used to swab your friends nooks and crannies.

Your mind races. Who used the shower before you? Was it one of the clean ones? Was it one of the guys in the nice gay couple or was it the husky one who came out of the bathroom after breakfast cheerfully announcing that he needed a plunger? Who is having actual fun here except the meathead guy and the couple who doesn't have a good relationship and are just relieved to be around others? As you prepare to go on a communal trip to the ancient movie-rental place that has Jaws in the New Releases section, and the long debate commences as you all try to find the one movie that hasn't been seen by all fourteen of you, you vow to yourself, Never again. Never, ever, ever.

** I love rants. They make me smile, especially when they're so incredibly unnecessary (and even more especially when in the written word). This is just a sampling really. Pay attention to what I read these days...

** Post Post Script: It has just come to my attention that the above post script was not as clear as it ought to have been. This rant is not from me but from the author of the charming and entertaining book that I am reading right now (see below). I love to rant, but I'm not near this cynical... a quality that I admire when it comes to light reading. I'll write my own words soon enough, I suppose.

Currently reading :
But Enough About Me : A Jersey Girl's Unlikely Adventures Among the Absurdly Famous
By Jancee Dunn
Release date: By 30 May, 2006

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