Family Values

I was relating to a friend of mine a visit to an acquaintance’s house. My friend has a wry wit and a high sense of irony and amusement. My little social expedition was inconsequential except for the inventory of decor that I took in while others were engaged in polite small talk. The house, once called ranch-style, had been to the best of its ability, turned into the ubiquitous, generic, expensive, uber-suburb home that is prevalent in my neck of the woods. The property was indisputably the best asset – beautiful, untouched and adjacent to a horse farm – how could you go wrong? If it were up to me, and of course it isn’t, I would declare this a tear-down, and build something in its place that folds gently into the landscape, has at least a modicum of originality and doesn’t have a size complex. Or, let ranch be ranch.

The interior was expensively appointed but something was off. The window treatments, a term I dislike, were baroque. The furniture and do-dads were – I need Oscar Wilde for this; critiquing interior design is not my area – too coordinated as well as nonsensical. I hold to the axiom that it’s all in the mix, but that’s not what was happening here. While I was sitting at the silver-brushed wood dining table(!), I remembered a line from a movie I had just watched: Addams Family Values: “These are beautiful things! They’re from catalogs!”

This line is delivered by Debbie, played to perfection by the amazing Joan Cusack. Debbie is the grasping, kitschy, sugary, black-widow murderess who marries Uncle Fester. My friend had not seen the movie, so the conversation moved from the house of too many curtains, to telling him about the movie: mostly about the character of Debbie. I suggested that we’ve all known a Debbie, and he quizzically gave this some thought. He said that he had worked with a women who would wear at least three designer logos in evidence on her person at all times. “And, the funny thing is,” said my friend, “I’m pretty sure her name was Debbie.”

In the movie, Debbie and the other characters have enviable lines. The writing is razor-sharp. The overarching sensibility from director Barry Sonnenfeld, who has a cameo as one of the parents at Camp Chippewa’s Thanksgiving recital, is in evidence here as it is in the Men in Black franchise, Get Shorty, RV, et al. Sonnenfeld is particularly unforgiving towards suburbia. There’s a scene where Raul Julia, as Gomez Addams, delivers a horrified reaction to just that.

In the end, Debbie has her comeuppance, but not before she has a great monologue on the origins of her psychotic self. Ballerina Barbie NOT Malibu Barbie!

There was no Debbie at the house of curtains, instead our rail thin nervous hostess was wearing a Harvard University sweatshirt and informing us on the challenges of raising a German Shepard puppy. Her four children didn’t factor into the conversation. That confused me further, why does a grown woman wear a school sweatshirt? And, you need to go to Harvard for this?

I know I’m being unkind. It’s all in fun, isn’t it? I would imagine that my invitations will dwindle and my social calendar diminish – who would want me over silently collecting material at their expense? Ironically, I was supposed to go to a Buddhist prayer/chant/discussion group this morning, and instead I have penned this. For real.

So I will close, repent, and petition for forgiveness. And, I will try to be nice.

Clare Irwin

“Go West, Young Man, Go West”

Greeting and Salutations, it’s the Christmas, or holiday, season. Either way you know it the minute you head out on the road, which is traffic jammed and full of people who seem to be in a shopping delirium. After the last impatient person blew their horn at me, I started having unkind thoughts that the herd really needs some thinning.Or, it’s time to move on. Here where I live, which could be any suburb suffering from afflulenza, I find it perplexing that these same horn honkers are usually driving a huge SUV that is almost large enough to require union membership in the Teamsters. The Chevy Suburban, I think it is, reminds me of a hearse. It’s a gloomy and aggressive looking machine. I know, to each his own, but oddly enough I never see more than one person in these vehicles, and often notice that these same people are rabid about separating the plastic from the paper but drive a car that gets 20 feet to a gallon.

I’m digressing. Lately I’ve been spending time with an friend who is working hard at breaking the shackles of suburbia. It’s a fight — more like a prison break than a shedding of mores. I admire him greatly and his journey has been both blessed and arduous. But he’s doing it. Leaving in two months and heading west. Wyoming, to be more precise. I’m a little envious, but at the same time I am grateful that he may be an example that I could follow and speed my own plow to find my “West.” Wyoming is beautiful. I’ve driven cross country twice – something I would strongly recommend – and the summer trip took me to the big country of Wyoming and the Black Hills of the Dakotas — all that purple mountain majesty. But I’m not a winter person, the winters there would kill me. So my west will have to be more southern and warmer. I could do summers up there. I’ve always wanted to see a buffalo wallow. I remember when I was a kid reading a book about a girl growing up in the Dakota territory and she comes upon a buffalo wallow filled with wild violets. It’s a lovely image and it’s on my to-do list.

I’ll get there, it may take me a little longer. Not too long I hope. Living in the hustle and bustle has become too much – I am seeking a quieter more serene daily existence. I have it to a large degree in the way I live my life, for which I am most grateful, but I’m out of sync with everything around me. And that is okay, but it is enervating. When I looked up this old quote, “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country,” credited to Horace Greeley in the 19th Century, it was written in the context of America’s expansion westward. Now in the 21st Century, within the context of my friend’s and my own desires, are we longing to escape all that has been built? Are we looking for a new frontier that eschews “opportunity” in exchange for the freedom to live our lives the way we wish? 

I don’t know. This raises a lot more questions than I intended. Not sure where I’m going with all this. I’ve been thinking about my friend and going through all my post ideas that I keep on the WordPress dashboard – 28 pending at last count! Not to mention the ideas on Post-its on the actual dashboard of my car. My 20 year old marketing adviser/whiz kid tells me I have to write more and often. He is absolutely correct and I know it.

So this is what I have after a Sunday of battling the consumer mania.

Happy Delirium!

Clare Irwin