Before we left the house I delegated the pyramid of power. Or should I say, I reconfigured it. Tetonka would answer to no one, but would be in bed by 9:15, or we would find out. Laddie was given no control over anyone. He would not be awake when we came home. Eddie would be in charge of the balance of the kids. On the drive up, I recalled picking up Vern's wife Rachel for a company weekend away about 8 years ago. Vern was already at the Wisconsin resort playing golf, so Coach and I picked Rachel up on our way. Different house then. That place had been a fairly standard, suburban colonial. Not too different from the house that Coach and I lived in at the time. Back then the conversation focused on the addition they had just put on to their colonial, or one that they were about to add on to it. I don't remember. Over the 8 years since Coach and I had occasion to be at their home, there was a dramatic shift. Two years ago they built a million dollar mansion. Vern was doing well. They were living large. Tasteful and beautiful, but large.
Their house was built on a tear down lot backing up to a park. Rachel pointed out that for 2 years they waited patiently for exactly the lot that they wanted. Swell. Makes me wonder if my patience in waiting for almost 6 years (and counting) to purchase window treatments for the living room, dining room, and study in our 'new' house will provide me with the same kind of satisfaction. Six years ago while I was pregnant with Curly, we had plans drawn up to add on to our cozy colonial. After discovering that moving to a slightly bigger, younger house equipped with a three car garage was less expensive than adding on to our current place, we found a great deal across town and moved in when Curly was almost 6 months old. Even after all these years, it's too soon to replace the once white carpet. Our kids' destruction phase has yet to pass. Call our offspring consistent in this regard. Each hollow interior door that we own bares scars from many forceful closings, attacks by broom handles (with results that resemble gun fire), and failed lockouts run a muck. These visions of our own abode made it that much harder to process this paradise complete with a stocked 12 x 15 foot wine cellar, a gorgeous gourmet kitchen, spacious rooms, magazine inspired decorating, current furniture, and a home theater room for those relaxing nights with their two kids.
Vern offered us a drink in the massive foyer. I requested a glass of Riesling wine. Rookie. Vern suggested a wine that was paired with the first course of the night - either a white or red version depending on my preference. I enjoyed the white wine, and chose to stick with it rather than switch varieties as often as we switched courses. Let's not push my adventurous side. Spread across the kitchen table were several cheeses, a variety of crackers, samples of fig or orange preserves, honey mustard dipping sauce, grapes, and very thin slices of cured ham. Apparently this was tapas. Since I'm not that cultured, I wasn't aware that these were tapas dishes. Delicious. I sampled as much as I dared. The remaining courses were groupings of unusual foods paired with flavors and sauces on tiny plates. Each course was announced as it was beautifully displayed in neat rows on the granite island. Each guest hesitated before casually selecting an art project-like plate. Our palates were introduced to a food combination that most of us never dreamed of. Or perhaps due to my sheltered taste buds, I am the only one that never dreamed of them. Being a meat and potatoes kind of girl, these foods departed greatly from my comfort zone. The roasted Brussels Sprout salad with fired pita - guessing a mouthful of grass clippings would be a close comparison. I really enjoyed the roasted parsnip puree topped with crispy garlic shrimp. The puree part reminded me of mashed potatoes. Safe. There were tasty sweet potato fries with truffle oil, sprinkled with goat cheese and fried leeks. The cherry tomato spit tomato sauce at my dress, but otherwise very tasty. Duck empanadas. Never again. Seasoned duck in a puff pastry served with chimichurri aioli didn't do it for me, but one of our friends found them succulent and indulged in a second helping. The lesson from the next course: if I hadn't heard of it, I probably wouldn't find it edible. White bean, roasted fennel and arugula with manchengo cheese, smoked paprika, citrus vinaigrette topped with spanish churrizo. What? Finally, lamb, mint and feta meatballs with saffron champagne creme rutabaga hash. Firm believer that mint should be left to ice cream and girl scout cookies. Coach and I both found this course a daring exercise in careful bite selection. The meatballs were unique and yummy, but the bed of 'rutabaga hash' had to be avoided at all cost. Seriously, it just sounds like inmate food. Rutabaga hash. The chocolate fountain ending I approved of. I couldn't help but think my mother would have struggled to disguise her growling stomach until the dessert round reward.
We mingled with the other guests. Nice people. Because we don't get out much, I admit that I prefer socializing with my friends rather than Coach's counterparts. Enjoyable company, just not my peeps. Maybe my ideal cuisine isn't the only thing I am hesitant to steer away from. Only one of the guests chose to go the 'slipper' route, following the host's lead. She stretched fitted, flowered lady's totes slippers over her feet as if she were an 80 year old grandma settling in to watch the 'Wheel of Fortune.' There was a similarity among the group that didn't take long for me to pinpoint. Majority of them lacked body fat. Workout-a-holics. I identified with the two pregnant women. OK, it's been awhile, but I can still remember those days . . . delivery looming in the next few months. I recall looking like that . . a few weeks after peeing on a stick, certainly not in my 6th or 7th month. My imagination won't allow me to ponder the discomfort of enduring a pregnancy full of food deprivation. If I was more familiar with our locale, I might have slipped out and purchased a big bag of cheeseburgers and fries. I fantasized about replacing duck pellets with the fast food on the pristine white plates. Not because the food was inedible, but because these fitness focused prototypes (non pregnant and pregnant people alike) were in need of some fattening up. There was only one guest whose waistline proved that her lifestyle was not in line with that of her professional compadres. Yes, you guessed it. She was wearing slippers.
When it was time to go, Coach pulled up in our 11 year old, run down, salt covered minivan. I got in, ignoring the oil light that has recently become a constant fixture on the dashboard, and let loose. I was shaking and it was only in part due to the horrible Chicago cold we've been experiencing. We can't even afford a used car. We continue to pour money (possibly as frequently as our hosts pour wine) into this beat-up, eye soar and these people have remote controls to manipulate every aspect of their living space.
Perhaps it was just my tainted perspective, but a tasty night like this really left a bad aftertaste in my mouth. Coach and all the other guests are making a decent income, but Vern and Rachel showed just how incredibly set apart the corporate route has made them. I fear their gratitude dinner might allow for some disgruntled feelings. Apparently this dinner replaced the annual gift that Vern and Rachel generously bestow on his employees each holiday season. I think I prefer to open a gift in my substandard home surrounded by splintered interior doors and sticky floors in a fish bowl-like room with no window treatments rather than witness the fancy lifestyle adopted by the elite corporate staff.
The next morning Laddie wondered if we had fun. Since I am never shy, and I am perpetually hungry, I would say the night was good, just frustrating. I chatted with other couples a bit, sampled outrageously posh food, had a few drinks, and caught a glimpse of how the other half live.