Read The Suburban You Online

Authors: Mark Falanga

The Suburban You (8 page)

If that does not work, you begin dabbling in the unknown. The window that says “Not Enough Disk Space for This Application” concerns you. There is a ton of stuff loaded onto the computer, most of which was there when you turned the computer on when it came out of the box. You have been using this computer for eighty-four computer years and have not used most of these applications. You have no idea what most of them are and you are really not sure what impact deleting them will have on what you and your kids want to do on this computer. Nevertheless, you begin deleting files, once you accidentally figure out how to do so by finding a right-click mouse function. You wonder why this problem has never surfaced before, and tomorrow, when you are at work, you ask the Information Technology guy, Dan the computer man, and he tells you that the games now use more disk space and that your eighty-four-year-old computer no longer has the capacity to handle them. You sort of believe what this expert tells you, but not really. You think that somehow he will get a commission on a new computer that you buy and that that is his motivation for telling you that your eighty-four-year-old computer is not man enough to handle these new games.

After you have deleted just about everything from your computer and the new games that your kids want to run on the computer still do not work, you finally accept your fate.

That Christmas, Santa brings your family a new computer, which you all witness on videotape that Christmas morning after all the gifts are opened. It is a computer that you hope will free you up from being the family's Director of Information Technology. Your sole motivation in Santa bringing this new computer into your home is to give you a year or so of hassle-free computing. Santa brings the computer that Dan the computer man recommended. He ordered it for Santa and Santa ended up paying $400 more than Dan the computer man told him he would be paying. Asked several times if the kids' eighty or ninety existing computer games will play on the new computer, each time Dan responds, “Better than ever.”

On Christmas morning, your kids open up the new computer. They are tingling with excitement at the thought of getting at those hundred or so games they have on CDs, which they haven't been able to play, in a hassle-free manner, for a year, give or take.

After all the excitement simmers down, it is time for you to set up the new computer. You have been told by Dan the computer man that all you need to do is plug it in and you are ready to go, a much simpler process than the last computer you bought. So that is what you do. You turn on the computer and the graphics are clear. Dan the computer man has told you that there will be absolutely no problems, that your new computer will have enough capacity to play any game. There will be a huge difference, he assures you.

Your kid inserts a CD of his choice. Nothing comes on. You calmly ask him to select another. No go. He tries a third, fourth, and fifth. All no-plays. You cannot believe what you are experiencing and you are tempted to call Dan the computer man on this Christmas morning to see what he got you into here. But you restrain yourself, mostly because you do not know how to get Dan's phone number.

You then tell your kids that even though their games do not work, they can go online and check out some games on the Internet. You try to get online but realize that Dan did not connect your Internet service, like he said he would. For that Christmas Friday and the following weekend, your kids have one brand-new computer that they can look at but not use, because it does not play any of their games, nor can they get online. It is about as useless to them as your wife's 1984 Macintosh SE. They have access to a second computer that does not have the capacity to play the games that they now want to play, and they have access to a third, a 1984 Macintosh SE, which they would like to dismantle to see what is inside to understand how computers were made in the olden days. While you are tempted to allow them to do that in order to make up for Santa screwing up so badly on this long Christmas weekend, you resist.

On Monday, you haul the brand-new computer that Santa brought into work. Dan the computer man is not in on that day. You leave the computer there overnight, and again disappoint the kids when you come home empty-handed. “Why was Dan the computer man allowed to take off today when you had to go to work?” your eldest asks.

The next day, Dan is back. He tells you that he had a wonderful Christmas. You do not want to hurt his feelings, so you say that you did, too. You tell him about some of the complications that you have experienced, the first being that you cannot get a game to work on the new computer that he specified for you.

Dan says, “No problem, let me take a look at it.” He does, and he says, “Oh, this is Windows XP. That's the problem.” “What does that mean?” you say. “The games that you have are all probably Windows 98 and 2000 compatible. They are not compatible with Windows XP,” Dan says, clarifying the problem for you, but about a month too late.

“Dan,” you ask, “does that mean what I think it means?” Dan tells you that none of the hundred and twenty or so games that you have will ever operate on this new computer. “XP is a more sophisticated operating system,” he tells you, “and it is better than what you had on your old computer.” You disagree.

That night, you drag the computer that you wish Santa had not brought your family back home. You describe what Dan has told you to the kids in a way that they can understand. “Let's go to Target, kids. We are going to get some new computer games,” you say.

Go to Your Friends' House for Christmas Dinner

Your extended family lives in the suburbs of San Francisco and New York, respectively, and none are coming to visit you for Christmas this year, like they occasionally do. So Christmas dinner is a dilemma, until you are invited by your friends, or until your wife takes it upon herself to ask for an invitation, a point about which you will never gain full clarity. The friends, whose house you will visit for Christmas dinner, have never had anyone outside of their family join them for this special holiday event.

Like clockwork, an hour before you are supposed to arrive at your friends', the Sclafannis', your wife reveals to you the expected time of your arrival. You show up, and Joe Sclafanni's mother and brother are there along with his wife and kids. It's his entire immediate family . . . and you and your family. You met Joe on the sidelines of your kids' soccer games and since then he has become your close friend and business partner, with whom you buy, manage, and sell real estate.

You hang out first in the large kitchen. Eventually, you proceed to the large round dining-room table, which is set with all the right glasses, all the right plates, and all the right silverware in all the right places. It looks festive. There are water glasses, white-wine glasses, red-wine glasses (which are used most at this dinner table, where everyone seated has a vowel on the end of their last name), salad plates, bread plates, soup bowls, salad forks, dinner forks, soup spoons, and dessert spoons. This is a lot of stuff to keep track of, and, as in many meals of this nature, when there are many glasses and plates, for some it is confusing as to what is what and whose is whose.

The food is brought out in courses, and your hostess is a professional chef. You have scored big on this Christmas dinner. You are with good friends, you are hanging with their extended family (people's mothers always like you), and you are eating a world-class meal, created by a professional chef, that has been prepared on one of those $10,000 cast-iron industrial stoves, at a place setting that would be suitable for a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser dinner. What could be better?

You are laughing and having a good time and are about halfway through the main course, moving through this gourmet dinner faster than anyone else sitting at the table, when all of a sudden your friend's wife turns to your wife and asks, loud enough to attract the attention of everyone sitting at the table, “Diane, what are you doing?” emphasizing each word in a discrete, staccato fashion. The question is asked in such a manner, with such surprise, so as to direct the attention of the entire table of guests to your wife. You wonder, has your wife taken her left breast out of her shirt? The laughing stops and everyone turns their attention to your wife. Your wife, who takes another gulp of water from her glass, which is three-quarters empty, before responding, says, “What are you talking about, Donna?”

Now, at the point that this question is posed to your wife, she is simply drinking water, her preferred beverage, out of what she believes to be her glass. In her mind, this mundane activity does not warrant such a question, asked with such emphasis. As organized a person as your wife is, she is a woman who often gets confused with these complex place settings as to which side her bread plate is on and which of the six or so glasses sitting to her right and left have been allocated to her. Her confusion with these matters, coupled with the confidence she exudes, is enough to set an entire table of diners out of whack, with everyone questioning whose glasses and bread plates belong to whom. Your wife, the center of attention of the entire table, is drinking her water out of the most enormous glass that any of you have ever seen in your lives.

Your wife, who you would say is more than comfortable having attention directed her way and who is very funny when it is, looks genuinely startled and says, “Donna, what is wrong?” She self-inspects, holding her glass away from her, in the air, so that she can see more of herself, expecting to see her left breast exposed, as she scoots away from the table a bit to see what Donna may be seeing. She cannot detect anything unusual or anything out of place. She is puzzled.

“Diane,” Donna says, “you are drinking from the water pitcher.” Your wife, who is seated next to you, looks at her “glass” and says again, “Donna, what are you talking about?” “That's the water pitcher,” Donna repeats. You and everyone else at the table take stock of this situation, and, sure enough, Donna is right. Your wife, perhaps thinking that she was the honored guest, assumed that she was served water in the extra-big glass, a carafe-sized “glass” that was way bigger than any other glass on the table. The glass that, your wife admits to everyone, was a little awkward to drink from because that funny protrusion, the lip of the pitcher, kept interfering with the smooth transfer of water from this serving container into her mouth.

Your wife, at this juncture, has two ways in which she could react, but only one comes to her mind. Option one is that she get embarrassed in front of this warm extended family that she is meeting on this occasion for this special Christmas dinner that for the first time opened up this special holiday to nonfamily members. This, of course, is not your confident wife's style. In the nineteen years that you have known your wife, you have never seen her embarrassed in any situation; you do not anticipate this reaction from her today, and you are not let down.

Option two is that she make a joke of it, which she does well. She tells you all that early on, when she noticed that the largest and most formidable glass at the table was placed before her, she assumed that she was being welcomed into this family as an
-special guest. She told everyone that she thought it was an Italian tradition, an “Italian custom at Christmas,” she said, a way to welcome nonfamily guests. She told everyone that she was wondering what all of these other glasses were for, given the fact that the one that was placed directly in front of her was so large and had the capacity to hold as much beverage as all the others sitting in front of her combined. She told you that she questioned why anyone would drink from those small glasses when there was such a large glass.

Everyone laughed and laughed uncontrollably and since then you all have been invited back for Christmas dinner with the Sclafannis each year. Your wife can always find her place setting at this dinner table. It is the one with the really, really large glass of water sitting in front of it.

Go to a New Year's Party

It is New Year's, and there are many parties that you are invited to. In some respects, it is a difficult night, because when you RSVP you want to do so in a timely way but you also want to hedge your bets and maintain your flexibility in the event that a better invitation comes along.

You, of course, are not consulted in this process, as your wife, for this first night of the year, is making the plans without your input, just as she has done all of last year and will do all this year and the next. Why should this first night, you ask, be different than any other night? You know one resolution that your wife is
making this New Year.

Forty-five minutes before you have to leave the house, your wife informs you that you will be going over to the Girards' that night. You think that this sounds pretty good. You enjoy parties at the Girards'. They are informal and they attract your core group and then some others. You are grateful on this night that your wife has notified you an additional fifteen minutes earlier than she usually does for events of this nature.

You go to the Girards' and find that a good crowd is there. The energy is good, there are a lot of kids running around, and there are many people from your core group. You can kick back and enjoy it all. Gary always has some good red wine, and on this first night of the New Year you enjoy that. You roam from room to room. You get tired of listening to one guy, who you just met, talk about his job, so you move on with the excuse that you need a refill. You circulate and you think about how you like this style of party more than most others. You are a free agent, you can meander in and out of conversations as you please.

It is 10:15 and your wife comes over to see how you are doing. You tell her that you think that this is a terrific party and that you are so happy that she selected this party to come to. You tell her that this will be a fun place to be at midnight and that the kids, with many of their friends, are having a blast. To this your wife responds, “Honey, we have to go over to the Jensens' now. We were supposed to be there fifteen minutes ago.” You think that she has had as much wine to drink as you have and that she is goofing you with this news, but then you remember that she does not drink wine and her “Come on, let's get over there now” expression tells you that you are on your way. “The kids can stay,” she tells you. The Jensens' is not a kid party, and that is the first clue that the Jensens' party will be different from the Girards'.

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