I spend the better part of a day selecting a ceiling fan from 113 Amazon pages of possibility. Himself, in a noble effort to eradicate a sound akin to bones breaking, sprays ours with WD-40 a bit too zealously. Usually he is discouraged from attempting household fixes and I rely on the boys from the office. I co-host a surprise party for one of these fellows who is used to being imposed upon for small and maybe not so small home repairs. We tell him we need urgent help with a garage door that won't open and this is so credible and probable that it is the perfect rouse. There is of course, at the moment at least, no garage to repair, but there will soon be a ceiling fan to be installed. I'm not even sure if I even like the fan but there is a heatwave and after getting through about 50 pages of possibilities I am exhausted and beaten down.
The guests arrive a half an hour before my friend and his tool belt. I've done my usual potluck prep providing some appetizers, beverages, salad, main course and dessert. All bases covered in case the offerings are weighted in one category too heavily. At one gathering that I attended, everyone brought a dessert. There were no complaints. Nevertheless I like to insure a balanced menu with quality provisions. The guests, most of whom I don't know, are a diverse, very artsy crowd, a bit more bohemian than our own little posse of old fogeys (people who would use posse and fogey in the same sentence). I am knee-jerk indignant and superior when menu contributions include chicken wings from the Von's deli and a tray of plain wrap cookies.
I futz around refilling drinks and plating things. I am not entirely comfortable meeting strangers and even, often these days, people I know. I am afraid my party planner mode might seem aloof or snobby so I force myself to engage. The birthday boy and his partner do not use Facebook. They are, like most of their friends, artists. They spend a lot of time together at openings, concerts and film screenings. They do things. Out in the world. No Facebook. We used to do things too. I am struck by how genial and affable the group is. I know too that except for the people I already know, that no new relationships are being formed. While the chit chat is totally pleasant and the group diverse and iconoclastic, I feel my own undercurrent sense of falseness and futility. I am very rusty at being around new people, even nice folks (despite the crappy cookies). I decide that maybe I need to get out more. I will try not to judge people who just don't care that much about food and I should only be so lucky.
There are three kids at the party, two twelve year old boys and a seven year old girl. They eat a lot of the most expensive cheese and steer clear of the generic cookies. They remind me of my kids, who were also completely comfortable with adults. They chat affably with each other and the grown ups. Being kids, the repartee grows tiresome and the three of them huddle around a phone watching a video. I ask them if they want to watch TV, which given my own social regression, is what I'd probably rather be doing myself. They demur relenting only when I point out that they can stretch out on a comfy couch and watch the same thing they are watching on a big screen. One of the kid's dads later chides the boy for surrendering to the boob tube instead of being edified by the awesome group of adults. I pretend not to hear.
I think about the extent to which Facebook for has supplanted real human contact. I get a phony infusion of warmth there and then am free to melt into the couch with remote, laptop and popcorn. I used to love lying on my bed talking to a friend on the phone. One of my sweetest memories is the first time Himself and I spoke. For about two hours. I was in my tiny cottage in Echo Park and was in a pastel phase. I had to pee so bad. Now I cringe when the phone rings. It seems my relationships are better modulated when communication is via text or the (archaic to my children) e-mail. I can present myself so much more charmingly with a lag-time to compose my thoughts.
Still, I do try to spend real time with real people. I am not being hyperbolic when I state that, more often than not, attending a Weight Watchers meeting and having breakfast after with the girls is the high point of my week. There are fewer scheduled get-togethers these days. Maybe there is a message that I am not getting but it seems that I tend to take more initiative towards these things more frequently than most of my friends. Usually asking for a date is met with an enthusiastic and appreciative response but I think I am the ask-er more often than the ask-ee. I wonder perhaps if many of us have lost the knack of preserving affable human contact in our lives. We have Facebook and Amazon Prime and Twitter and Netflix after all.
I love my home and idle away many hours there. But its decrepitude and the accretion of things weighs. And I am more than a little repulsed that the prospect of coming home to an imperfect ceiling fan is unconscionable to me. My house, like the food I cook is my own creative outlet. But, maybe though this is just a rationale for indulging in excess. Living life out of a couple of suitcases, free of things, truly appeals. I love my stuff and my space but I am also oppressed by the attention all that I have amassed requires.
It is so easy to surrender to the couch and not to be bored. There are at least a 1000 hours of series to get through and this is just HBO. There is less imperative for some to seek out human interaction. Perhaps there is too little in my own life. I have long conversations with the dog “You're such a good girl. You're my office dog.” And the cat. “Thank you Gary for not peeing on the bed.” I chastise our little robotic vacuum, who is unimaginatively called Robo, when he tries to eat the cord of my laptop. As I write this Himself is yelling at Robo for getting stuck under a chair. If Robo had fingers he'd dial social services.
The bonsai on the balcony are Brother Juniper, Paddy and Nestor. We share two nice blue cars, Bluie and little brother Junior. After driving my ancient wagon to nearly 200,000 miles now we have one very nice used and one of the few new cars we've ever owned. Himself embarrasses me when he catches me stroking the steering wheel affectionately so I try not to do that anymore. But I do talk to them. I praise Junior for not needing to visit the gas station. I thank both of the boys for being so nice to drive and staying so nice and clean. The latter, I'm afraid, is due to the demise of Rover, a short haired dog who shed so much that it was a miracle that he wasn't bald. If any one has another good line to help characterize the enormous amount that the dog shed I will gladly cut and paste.
Anyway, if it weren't me I would think these one-sided conversations are indicative of loneliness. But what's a little anthropomorphism when there's such good tv? My intention however, at this moment at least, is to cut down on the TV and Facebook. I am taking baby steps toward figuring out how I want to live as I enter what is likely the beginning of the last part of my life.
Illustration: Three Symbols by Eileen Agar, 1930