Friday, December 11, 2009

When worlds collide

It’s been a while since I worked downtown, and I’m having some interesting moments of culture shock. This particular office isn’t exactly full of them, but there are a few examples of a peculiar sort of city-dweller roaming around.

Encountering them is like running into an alien species.

These are people who…have a maid service come and clean their 500 square foot apartment, where they live alone (or maybe with one [1] cat). They have cunning storage solutions for their large collections of matching outfits and shoes, and it may well involve a large network of dry cleaners and shoe shine shops.

Speaking of dry cleaners…they take things like socks and underwear to the dry.cleaners.YES.WAY.

See? It’s another species. For those of us who not only wash our own Unmentionables but then hang them up on a clothesline in front of God and Everybody…well, the idea of paying a buck fifty per rag to have my Unmentionables steam-cleaned, pressed and neatly folded for me…?

Does. Not. Compute. Does. Not. Compute. Does. Not. Compute.

And then, of course, there is the food issue.

I made a chicken/turkey shepherd’s pie for dinner one night – your basic “throw everything in the fridge into a pot with white sauce, top it with mashed potatoes and see what happens” kind of recipe. It’s the kind of thing I toss off because I don’t know what I’m going to make tonight, an emergency meal that throws all four food groups into one pan and hopes for the best.

It’s pretty fast to make, tastes good, is hot and filling – a great meal for tired parents who just want to go to bed, already.

As I made the main “dinner” casserole dish, I also put some of the filling into four small deep-dish ceramic pie plates, topped those with some of the mashed potatoes, sprinkled some cheddar over them and put them into the fridge to take for lunches later in the week.

Which we did.

And this is where it gets kind of funny.

The lady ahead of me in the microwave line stared at my pie for the longest time, and then suddenly asked, “What brand is that?”

“Oh, uh, it’s homemade,” I said.

“Homemade?” she repeated. “I haven’t seen that, is it at Safeway?”

Y’all can imagine how hard it was not to bust out laughing.

“No, no, it’s homemade, I made it. You know, from scratch.”

“Scratch? Is that a dry mix?” Dog is my witness, she was asking me if “Scratch” came in a box. I think I deserve a medal for not falling over in hysterics about this point.

“Noooooo, see, I…I had some leftover chicken, and some leftover turkey? So I took some butter, and flour, and onions, some milk and water and herbs, and I mixed it all together, and then I made some mashed potatoes and put that on top, and we had most of it for dinner and I put the leftovers into these little guys and…ta da!”

“Oh my gaaaaaaaahd, that’s…that’s so amazing,” she said. She took her Insta-Noodles out of the microwave, shook the bag, opened it and dumped it into a bowl. “Wow. I can’t believe you have time to actually cook…”

AND THEN SHE SAID, AND I QUOTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“…you must spend a fortune on ingredients, though.”

My brain went like this: {thunk!!}

Meanwhile, my mouth went, “Actually, it probably cost less for me to make four of these plus a meal for a family of six with enough leftovers for the two adults to have one more dinner than it cost to buy your bag of frozen pasta.”

“Oh, no, ha ha ha, this is the vegetarian one,” she said. “It’s only five dollars for this big old bag!”

“Ha ha ha ha, yeah, well…meal for six, leftovers, four small lunch pies, probably less than five bucks for the ingredients, especially since the vegetables came out of our garden, ha ha ha…”

Two worlds arm-wrestled for lunchroom domination. Both of us were perplexed by the other, not sure if we were fascinated or repulsed. We stood there arguing chatting about how hard it was(n’t) to roast a chicken, how (in)convenient cooking in general was, how (in)expensive homemade meals were these days.

I’m pretty sure we both wondered why we were having this conversation.

And I’m pretty sure it’s because we both envied the other.

Oh, c’mon, of course I envy her! Sure, I like my cooking – but there is definitely an appeal to just grabbing a bag out of the freezer, a bag I didn’t have to assemble first, and then you zap it and dump it into a bowl and Done.

No dishes, no standing around stirring, certainly no weeding / planting / watering / harvesting / washing / trimming / gah-can-we-eat-YET?, no pans to clean, no figuring out how best to freeze it so it will come out reasonably edible…someone else deals with all that, and I get to Just Eat.


I daydream about having not merely a maid service, but Household Staff. Someone to nanny the Denizens, so they can slumber peacefully on when it’s time for me to leave in the morning. Someone to take them to school, to micromanage their homework, to tutor them while I’m working one-on-one, instead of what they get…which would be me trying to tutor this one while micromanaging that one unloading the dishwasher while yelling at Captain Adventure to quit taking all the paper out of all the printers in the house while trying to figure out why Boo Bug is crying while cooking dinner and giving the cat more water because she’s out again.

Someone to clean the house, someone to drive us where we need to go, and yes, a personal chef who serves up good food on a regular schedule.

But the valet probably has more important things to do than iron my newspaper for me.

Not that this wouldn’t be a nice touch, mind you. I’d hardly fire the man for it, if he was so excellent at time-management that he could iron the creases out of my morning paper. Saints Forfend!

…I’m just sayin’ that we have what might be termed a tumultuous household, and even if I had five or six household servants rushing about cleaning, dusting, polishing, doting and so forth and so on, I rather doubt the valet would find himself sitting around with nothing better to do than iron a newspaper I’m just going to skim through and then toss in the recycling.

That’s all I’m saying.

Ahem. Anyway.

It was quite a moment. I have to admit, I’d clean forgot that there are millions of people out there in the Real World who wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what to do with a dead chicken; that there are, in fact, households that don’t have a month or more of food on hand At All Times; that there are grown adults who honestly think it is cheaper for them to buy pre-cooked meals than to make them from scratch.

And I’d forgotten that I kind of envy them, sometimes.

And that moving among them would remind me of possibilities I’d almost forgotten existed, of things like maid services to clean the bathrooms and pre-fabricated frozen meals that could be reheated at my convenience for lunch.

And that they would tempt me, Yea verily, they do tempt me, to be purchasing things like cool winter boots and trendy sweaters and all like that.


It’s going to be an interesting year, isn’t it…

(The pie was awfully good, though. It had that “grounding” quality to it, warm and filling and feet-on-the-ground good. ‘Course, it might have been better if the feet that were on the ground were in boots instead of wearing-out-at-the-toes pumps but you know, hey…one thing at a time…)


marit said...

Hilarious! And sad...
You write about it in a very funny way. But I think it's sad that people don't know how to cook...even though I'd love to have a maid and chef!

RaplhCramden said...

Are you even half this entertaining in real life? I have this fantasy that being poor with you would be a lot more interesting than being rich with like, I don't know, some native speaker of American who doesn't know what homemade means.