Friday, May 12, 2006

It's All Relative

A few days ago I attended the Virginia Gold Cup with my husband. For those not familiar with Gold Cup, it’s a sort of Virginia based Kentucky Derby where the upper crust flocks to an idyllic pasture in Virginia Horse Country to watch horse races on a beautifully manicured course. They wear fancy dresses, elaborate hats and drink heavily as their $400 stilettos sink deep into the rail-side mud. Naturally, being high-class myself, I also attended, albeit wearing wedges.

This wasn’t our first time to Gold Cup and we’ve learned through experience that it’s certainly more fun to attend on someone else’s dime. This time, we arrived with my husband’s cousin at the tent of one of his company’s vendors. That’s how this works: the corporation pays big bucks for the tent and invites their big spending clients to attend with the intention of leaving them forever indebted so they will spend even more money next year. The downside is every so often you have to shake off a few pesky salesmen who keep getting in between you and the guy who set up the informal (and possibly illegal) pony betting pool or the bar. Worse still, it’s usually the same salesman cheerfully introducing himself for the 4th time in an hour since he started drinking while they were setting up the tent six hours ago.

The downside of going under corporate sponsorship is you don’t know anyone else except the people you came with, and standing like a loser in a small huddle for 5 hours can be a drag and ruin the Gold Cup experience. For some, this quick-make-friends requirement would present an insurmountable social challenge, but for my husband, it’s child’s play. I definitely consider myself an extrovert and I’ve even been called bossy, assertive and aggressive at times (don’t get me started…these are standard terms (of endearment Im sure) for women in management where the rest of management are men), but the point is, I’m no wall-flower. However, if my husband is anywhere in the vicinity, the rest of “extroverts” might as well go take a seat, because extrovertness can be relative and he redefines the very concept. The man is big (size) and huge (personality) and massive (voice). And people love him. He draws them in like a magnet. Store clerks, mailmen, customer service reps, health care workers, strangers in line, you name it- they are likely to be in a full-on animated conversation with my husband within moments of brushing by him and swapping business cards 20 minutes later so they can stay in touch. Universally they think he is in Sales (he in corporate finance, chief bean counter, which is an irony that people often cannot recover from.).

In any event, my super-extroverted husband can present a problem for me. Primarily that in purely in comparison I look quiet and dull. This makes me want to scream: “I’m not an introvert! I’m witty, I’m engaging, I’m…” Ah, but why bother, they aren’t paying any attention to me at all, I’m sort of the silent sidekick of my husband. So we’re at Gold Cup and we’ve secured a pub-style table to set our plates on. Now normally, I’d just assume eat in peace and scope out the potential temporary-friends situation afterwards, but my husband is already waving in everyone he sees walk by balancing a plate with their drink and minutes later, it’s so crowded at our table that my purse in on the grass at my feet, and the centerpiece has been pushed over and is now dropping petals onto my sliced pineapple. He’s even managed to land a couple salesmen at our table, which meant we had to pretend to be interested in their business for a few long minutes.

As usual, there are several people who cannot tear themselves away from my husband incessant chatting and are really warming up. A few times, I try to inject, but it’s difficult, since there is never any dead space and you actually can appear quite rude by forcefully interrupting only to say “yeah, I think so too!” or “I remember that!”. So I typically just put this semi-bemused smile on my face and nod. So this woman says to my husband, “You must be in Sales!” Hahaha. No no. He’s not. And she says, “with your personality, I just assumed” and then she looks at me and says (trying to be kind) “And I think you probably have a spark in you too, you take a while to warm up, but I bet it’s in there”. Ugh, condescending! No offense to shy people, but it makes me feel retarded when people assume I can’t function socially out of the gate. Now to my husband’s credit, he raves about me to most people he meets. I don’t know where this enthralled and infatuated man is when we’re at home arguing about whose turn it is to do dishes, but around most strangers, he has me sainted. I’m beautiful, brilliant, stunning in every way. Then he forces these strangers to agree with him. “Isn't she?! Isn’t she?!!” “oh yes, uh huh!” they agree vigorously, because they are under the spell of my husband by this point, and also lets face it, who wants to tick off a big guy?

Well the downside of 15 happy years with someone is you know the stories. You were either actually there when it happened or after hearing about it so many times, you feel like you were. Mostly, you can’t recall which it was anymore, but that doesn’t matter either. The point is, you cannot help to hear a story begin and think “oh boy, here we go again”. At Gold Cup, the first such incident was when my husband started telling a story about our former dog. Now this dog was the biggest doggie-nightmare there ever was. We are talking about a 110lb, barking, drooling, aggressive, non-house trained, epileptic, ball of fur that costs us many, many thousands of dollars and who we loved completely (but had to ditch in favor of our son). The stories from this dog alone, could easily involve an extended weekend stay.

It was clear my husband intended to use an assortment of dog stories on these people, which isn’t in and of itself unusual, but I admit that even I became concerned when he began going into great detail about how we missed the exit on our trip to get the dog from the breeder who lived three hours away (dramatic glance to me as he noted that his navigator dropped the ball and missed the exit). The specifics of this missed exit were beginning to hit the eight minute storytelling mark (‘and so we had to drive to the NEXT exit, which was Route 88, which I think if you took it South would take you all the way to Tennessee and at the off-ramp…”). Now it takes real courage to attempt to entertain people with stories of a missed exit, I mean, when is the last time you missed an exit and thought to yourself “I cant wait to tell people about this one!” But that is what is amazing about my husband- they were riveted, like he was revealing the location of the Holy Grail and giving tomorrow night’s lotto numbers.

Friends often joke that my husband can turn any mundane event into a lively story just by telling it in his booming voice, with his I-appear-to-be-on-amphetamines enthusiasm. But I let them have their jokes; after all, they are the ones who get to hear the endless stories with subjects like taking the garbage, reloading the dishwasher after his wife’s sub-optimal configuration or getting a monthly bank statement.

Naturally my mind was wandering as the dog stories progressed (are my arms getting sunburned evenly? I wonder what I should make for dinner…), until I hear a woman say in a conspiracial whisper, “you should really talk to that woman over there. She had a friend with a big white dog and it bit her arm off”. Whoa. I perked up. “It bit her arm or bit it off?” I asked. “Off. Gone. Right here” She says motioning to her mid forearm. Well, this has never happened before. I’m now getting all excited wanting to talk to this woman about her friends crazy dog, but just then, the announcements for the next race come on so we all rush off to find the “bookie” and place our bets, and I lose sight of the woman in the crowd.

After the horses run by (for the second time in a row my horse wasn’t even there by the time they passed our tent- what the heck is happening to my horses? I’m getting ripped off!), I decide I just cannot take my allergies for another second. The itching is leading to an overwhelming desire to claw at my eyes (which isn’t exactly a couture look), so I asked my husband to hold my drink and I begin to dig in my purse for my allergies medicine. Finding my little miracle blister pack of pills, I raise my head to reclaim my drink, but my husband is gone- my fault for taking my eyes off of him for 30 seconds. Not in the mood to try to gag down a dry pill, I set off in search of him and my drink. I find him towards the back laughing hysterically with an older blond woman I’ve never seen before. As I approach, I see him absentmindedly drop my drink in a nearby trash can. Argh, I’m going to kill him. After a quick detour to the bar, I head over to meet my husband’s newest best friend. He can’t remember her name as usual and the poor woman will have to tell him 15 times in the next 20 minutes until it sinks it, but what the heck. She finds me as cute as a button and thinks she and I look exactly alike. I’m assuming she means other than the 20 years separating us, but I can’t be sure. I excuse myself to go check if I’m suddenly getting crow’s feet.

Fast forward a couple hours and it’s time to leave. I’m beginning to feel guilty about leaving my son with the nanny for so long and after 90 minutes of priming my husband to leave (“5 minutes baby”, “let me just finish this drink baby”, “one more smoke since I don’t smoke anymore baby”), we actually begin walking away from the tent, cousins in tow. The cousins are not used to my husband’s and my rapid walking pace and every 5 minutes, we have to stop for 5 minutes and wait for them to catch up. We finally make it to the car and I’m designated as driver since I was seen drinking a Diet Coke at some point during the afternoon making me most likely to be sober. Actually I suspected this would happen so I did lay off on the booze in anticipation.

We eventually make it home, after a brief stop at the cousins to switch cars and for my husband to have “one quick drink”. We even manage to take our son for his nightly trip to the playground. I can’t say my husband was pushing the stroller in a perfectly straight line, but he did manage to vow that he was giving up the smoking and drinking and now would just do the drinking. He stopped, realizing his vow wasn’t quite the pledge of abstinence it initially appear to be, and we cracked up.

So in the end we survived another year at Gold Cup. Hope to see you there next year (especially if you are the lady with the one-armed friend, I’ve GOT to hear that one).

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