Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Saturday Night Part 1: Fear and Loathing In Bel Air

Saturday night we went to a party in Bel-Air. The only other time I've been there was when I was on my way to UCLA, missed a turn and had to cross the sacred threshold of the Bel-Air arch off Sunset. I could have made a quick U-turn and continued on my merry way, but truth be told I was so excited to be in the rarified air of the rich and famous that I decided to take a little tour. I planned to drive on up a few blocks and let my tires luxuriate in what I imagined to be not gravel but billions of tiny exotic hand-cut stones shipped in by the boatload from Italy. I would then turn around at the next stop sign, which is not a stop sign at all but an octagon cut from solid platinum and festooned in millions of red Swarovski crystals, the word STOP spelled out in huge five-carat diamonds. I didn't get far, though, because as I drove past the security booth the Prada-clad guard stared at my van as if it were a a space ship sent from an alien planet to dispense toxic fumes throughout the colony. He immediately got on his radio and called ahead, alerting them to the fact that there was a woman wearing what appeared to be clothes from Target and driving a vehicle identified only by the moniker 'Non-Mercedes.' He put an end to my little joy ride when he pulled me over at the next corner and, using a device similar to a breathalizer that calculates your net worth, exposed the fact that I was indeed an imposter. And he banished me and my inferior vehicle out of there, out onto the road made of common tar! And domestic concrete!

I guess you could say I hold a grudge, because Saturday night, as we drove up the winding roads flanked by gargantuan mansions, I felt an uneasiness churning up inside me and I turned to Rigel and proclaimed, "I HATE RICH PEOPLE." Thank God he had some duct tape and rope with him because it stopped me from going postal on that blonde getting out of her Jag with her Blackberry in one hand and sweater-wearing chihuahua in the other. I tried to flip her the bird but with my hands restrained it must have looked like I was giving her the 'thumbs up' sign because she blew me a kiss and tucked her headshot underneath our windshield wiper.

Not surprisingly, the home was beautiful and huge - I estimated it to be roughly the size of three Costcos - and one of their eighty bathrooms was as big as our entire house and had a shower the size of our living room. I believe it had around five hundred bedrooms, twelve separate kitchens and sixteen jacuzzis, one of which was filled with champagne and naked movie stars, although things were a little fuzzy after my second glass of Sangria. I vaguely remember sitting in a chair that I know cost as much as both our cars, and thinking that it was the most expensive thing to ever cradle my ass but I kept it to myself, as well as restraining myself from dismantling the frame and stuffing the whole thing in my oversized purse. Go me!

Saturday Night Part 2: Do NOT Show Me The Money
After the party we went to dinner with some friends because nothing soothes mansion-envy like big plates of hot steaming food. Our friends had the restraint to order a small pizza and a salad while Rigel and I each ordered pasta served on enormous platters the size of wagon wheels, on which we goaded the waiter to grate "More cheese! More I say!" I guess the fact that, having kids we rarely get to dine out, let alone at a place that doesn't have chicken fingers as their signature dish, causes us to try and make the most out of every dining experience. We have to live la vida loca! in case the opportunity doesn't present itself for another six months. In fact you can usually tell the couples at restaurants who are out for a rare night sans progeny: We're the ones who are a little too happy to be there, asking the waiter to repeat the specials ad nauseum, gleefully calling out, "Bread! And butter! And water!" obviously delirious to have someone waiting on US for a change - and, yes, we are the ones begging the staff to let us hang out way beyond closing just to have a few moments alone, the valets eventually having to remove us from the premises, kicking and screaming and still clutching or menus.

We had a great time, until the check came.

Now, I know it's always easiest to just split the damn thing in the middle, thereby avoiding laborious minutes of itemizing each and every main dish, drink and dessert. That is, easier UNLESS you come from my family, where fighting to see who gets to pay the tab has been elevated to a violent gladiator sport. I grew up watching my mom and my aunts argue vigorously over who was going to pay the check, sometimes resorting to elaborate and devious means. "I've got it, I said," my mom would shout as she wrestled the bill from my aunt's tightly clenched fist while distracting her by knocking over the ketchup dispenser. "Back off. I've got it this time," my aunt would argue as she held a butter knife to my mom's throat, her other hand desperately waving a stack of bills at the perplexed waitress. If my aunt lost she would attempt to make me complicit in this crazy game by trying to stuff a wad of money into my pocket, whereby I'd yell at my mother, "She's trying to pay!" and my mom would end the battle by knocking my aunt unconscious, leaving her bruised and battered body under the table, a twenty-dollar bill folded neatly upon her chest.

So it would stand to reason I would inherit this insane trait. When the bill came on Saturday night, Rigel promptly figured out the tip, added the whole thing up, split it in half and threw down a pile of cash to cover our portion. This could have been the end of the story if I didn't feel the pull of my ancestors rising up, beseeching me to restore honor by covering the tab, or at the very least pay for our gluttonous ways. I encouraged Rigel to 'put in a little more' since we had had the pricey pasta dishes, but both he and our friends refused, saying it was easier to split it down the middle.

Now, I have to inject here that Rigel has never wanted anything to do with my family's psychopathic head trips over money. I've tried to explain to him that when my mom or one of my relatives offers to pay, it's not actually an offer to pay but a battle cry to start the haggling, but he just looks at me incredulously and says, "They offered, and I accepted - did I miss something?" This has resulted in more than one wrestling matches of our own, but on this night he wasn't going down easy.

"Give them ten more dollars" I whispered to him.
"What for? We've already paid. They're fine" he replied, not so quietly.
"Our food cost more than theirs did. Give them the ten dollars!"

This resulted in a mad volley of two five dollar bills being tossed back and forth across the table, as our friends were stubbornly declining the bounty, unaware of my fierceness and resolve in matters of this nature. Other diners must have thought we were playing a demented version of ping pong, as the bills flew through the air and we yelled things like, "Take that!" and "Score!" In between came my explanations of familial traditions and lunatic relatives, my cause finally being somewhat justified as we each decided to keep five dollars to pay for our valet parking. As for our friends, they left, shaking their heads over the spectacle they had just participated in, and fearful for our next dinner date when I will surely resort to more violent means culled from my years of experience with my clan of overzealous check-paying loonies. To those of you out there who have yet to dine with me - prepare to hand over the check! Do not attempt to pull out your wallets if you value your limbs! You have been warned!

Archive File: This Life | Eating

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  1. hey wait a minute....!!!

    we offered the last time and you guys said "thanks" - end of story - no haggleing, no volley of cash !!!!!

    What the....!!!!!!!!!

  2. Lesson learned: next time, wait until Marsha orders, check price on her meal, and then order accordingly. Bill paying problem solved!!!
    You kill me!


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