Bourgeoisie in the Big City

Last night Zack and I attended a dinner party hosted by a well-known Houston socialite. A common small-talk question that came up was: How do you know “C”?

In January, right after Zack moved here, he was invited to a birthday party by a daughter of his mother’s friend who lives in Houston. He met an assortment of people there- all ages, but all upper crust. Fast forward eight months. We’re in line at Central Market, the “bougiest” of all grocery stores in Houston. Imagine a maze, kind of like Ikea, but way more enjoyable. Aisles of cheese, wine, and all natural herbs and grains for sale by the ounce. The produce is to die for. You go in for milk and you come out with six grocery bags. It’s dangerous, really. But anyway, we’re in line and Zack nudges me. “I think I know that woman.” She was at the checkout in front of us. Dark hair with a gray streak, a long emperor-like dress, bangles and rings out the wazoo. Looked about sixty years old but she was very pretty, and wrinkle-free. “You know that woman?” I asked. “Yes,” Zack said. “I think I met her at a party once.” He walks up and taps her on the shoulder, re-introduces himself. “Oh yes, Zack Hartman!” She gushes. “I do remember you, how are you?”

“This is Allison Berger,” Zack says, pulling me forward.

“Alice Bergen,” she confirms.

“No, no,” I say. “Allison Berger.”

We’re holding up the line now and I’m trying to pay for the groceries, which have yet to be bagged. People are staring as I throw the vegetables into paper and plastic and as Zack and “C” exchange phone numbers. She kisses Zack on both cheeks. He looks like a startled child. I wave goodbye to “C.”

“You’re blushing,” I say as we walk to the car.

“Oh god,” he says. “I had no idea what I was doing.”

***

Yesterday Zack called me at work, twice. The first time to tell me the location of his next rotation with Air Liquide, which was big enough news in itself. The second was to tell me that “C” called.

“Who?” I asked. I’m still in a state of shock from earlier.

“C.” Who?

“‘C’, from Central Market. She invited us to a party she’s having tonight. The US ambassador to Spain is going to be there. What am I going to wear? What are we going to bring, wine?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t think she’ll like the Bota Box.”

I posted a Facebook status update for suggestions on what to bring. Steve Lucas said something fun and youthful. Julia Ries suggested wings or beer. Chris Cordell and Cait Yeager both said wine, only in different forms (white in a silver bucket and in a bag, respectively). John Hendrickson thought an exotic fruit or vegetable would be neat, and even gchatted me after the fact to ask me if I thought it was a good idea (no). Last but not least, Charlie Carr suggested orange slices.

Zack got home from work and was bugging out.

“Let’s bring flowers,” I said.

“How about chocolates?” What, was he trying to woo His Excellency?

We ran down the block to the florist that was just about to close for the day. I saw a yellow orchid that was potted and pretty. “Let’s get that.”

“How much for the orchid?” we asked.

“Sixty.”

We paid and left. “Do you really think that orchids cost sixty bucks?”

“That man could have told me any price and I would have believed him. What the hell do I know about flowers?”

Zack was much more calm now that we had something to bring for “C.” We went home, got dressed.

“Should I bring a tie just in case?”

“Are you gonna walk in to her house and then put it on in the bathroom?” I laughed. “No, you’re not.”

“I hate you.” He loves me.

“Are you ready to hang out with the bougey bougey?” Ready as we’ll ever be. I wasn’t nervous, anyway.

***

7:31 pm. We were the first ones there. This was also a topic of discussion. Be on time or fashionably late? We didn’t know if it was a dinner party or not. I opted for on time. Better safe than sorry. We knocked. A maid opened the door in a get up a la Alice from the Brady Bunch. “Let me get Miss ‘C’,” she said.

She walked into the foyer in all her glory. Another emperor dress, massive pearls, and her hair in a low ponytail this time. “C” put the orchid on the front table and thanked us graciously, kissing us on both cheeks. I went the wrong way. So did Zack. Awkward.  She offered us white wine. I tried not to cringe. She offered red. I smiled.

As she floated away into the kitchen I took a look around. It looked like a museum. “I wonder what her estate is worth,” I said to Zack after we left. “You’re terrible,” he said. But really, I didn’t mean it in a morbid way. Every wall was covered in paintings and framed coins and trinkets. Each table was neatly cluttered with tiny boxes and dishes. There were cards and pictures everywhere. From what I could tell, she had about twelve godchildren. Thank you for the presents, “C” one card read. We love you very much.

She returned with the wine in tiny glass cups. There was a knock at the door. Young and old people filed in, all chattering in Spanish. Kisses on both cheeks, as if we were in Spain, not Houston. I watched carefully. Left to right, cheek-wise. I noted this to Zack for next time. Every person who arrived to the party was bilingual. Zack and I looked at each other. Shit. Definitely not bougey enough for this.

We played it cool. I tried to make myself sound really intelligent. People asked me about my field, my career, the places I’ve been. I talked up my trip to five-day trip to Madrid (where the ambassador and his family was from) like I knew all about the city. All I knew was that that parks were pretty, and people go clubbing til 8 a.m.

Everyone there was interesting. There were a few girls from Texas there who were really down to earth and talkative- I appreciated that. I felt like I had to be on my toes at all time, which was a little difficult toward the end of the night when I was on my third glass of wine. I tried to define “blogging” for “C.”

“You know everything!” she exclaimed, then saw my empty glass. “Here, let me get you another.”

“Oh, I think I’m alright.”

Zack interjected. “I’m driving tonight, darling.”

“Well, okay, fine.”

“You’ll be able to define even more things now!” One of the Spaniards said somewhat sarcastically.

Five minutes later “C” got everyone to say a tongue twister in Spanish. One tiger, two tigers, three tigers. No one could do it- not even the ambassador himself.

“I love Allison!” “C” said. “She knows everything. Allison, tell us a tongue twister in English.”

“Sally sells seashells by the seashore!”

“She sells seashells on the seashore,” Zack corrected me.

Fail. I could see my wine mouth in the mirror.

The party was dwindling at this point.  There were only about seven of us in the kitchen. I told “C” how wonderful it had been, how fascinating everyone was. “You must always invite people to your home,” she advised. “Even people you barely know, people you just met. You have to keep things interesting. Don’t let yourself become one of those people who goes out only in groups of couples, where the men talk about football and the women talk about their men. You must have intelligent friends.”

I nodded. We all shuffled out of the kitchen. We said thank you and goodbye, kissed left cheeks, then right.

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10 thoughts on “Bourgeoisie in the Big City

  1. 1. “I hate you.” He loves me. (LOL)
    2. Zack interjected. “I’m driving tonight, darling.” (aww!)
    3. “You must always invite people to your home,” she advised. “Even people you barely know, people you just met. You have to keep things interesting. Don’t let yourself become one of those people who goes out only in groups of couples, where the men talk about football and the women talk about their men. You must have intelligent friends.” (brilliant)
    4. I nodded. We all shuffled out of the kitchen. We said thank you and goodbye, kissed left cheeks, then right. (perfect ending; i will read all of your novels one day)

  2. “Alice Bergen.’ She confirms.”

    Here’s a question: can it really be a confirmation if they got it wrong? No srsly you’re the grad you tell me. I really like C’s advice and it was so perfect at the end of this post! And your link to the Cass McCombs song, that was so cool and subtle.

    1. good question, joe. i have no idea. maybe “repeats unsuccessfully” would make more sense than “confirms.” maybe i should have double majored in english instead of just going for a wimpy minor.

      and hey, yeah, the city of brotherly love! that means we can hang out again!

  3. I love discretion as much as the next person, darling, but clearly I *must* know who this woman is.

    And, I can’t believe you creeps are moving back to Philly. Bum, bum, bummer.

    xo

  4. about the confirmation thing – i really liked the way you wrote that because it was a brilliantly subtle way to describe the sort of air of being powerful and in charge that “C” has, being able to confirm something that is actually incorrect. love your writing. also love “C”s life advice. so when will your first dinner party be??

  5. OMG, I love this candid depiction of upper-class socializing. I’m not sure what I love more, though–the awkward cheek kisses, or the whole, “you must surround yourself with intelligent friends.”

    fyi: i thought it was sally sells seashells BY the seashore, too.

    red wine brings me back to ecco domani and dinner at your place.

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