Friday, February 23, 2007

The Land Of Family Fun

I must have done something very bad in a previous life, because I’ve ended up in hell. It’s called the Caesars Brookdale Resort. It is “the land of family fun”.

On the drive up here yesterday we passed a church somewhere in Pennsylvania with the sign “Act today like you’ll be meeting God tomorrow.” They should add: “Otherwise we’ll make you sit through the Maisie Hills Band at dinner-time.”

Maisie (not her real name) is in her 50s, and while we digested the sub-ordinary stodge that the resort is passing off as nutrition (it’s an ‘all-inclusive deal’, otherwise known as No Escape), we were subjected to her mid-life interpretations of songs old and new, plus banter in between numbers. Come on dad, get up and dance! Oh look, there’s a bloke in the audience looks like Justin Timberlake! As my ten-year-old daughter, who recently discovered The Joys of Sarcasm, would say: Ha. Ha. Ha.

We must be the only family in America insane enough to leave Washington DC on a mild and sunny day, after a month of freezing, ball-biting weather, and consciously drive northwards for four hours, back to the cold and the snow, and all for the pleasure of freezing cross winds, Formica décor, getting elbowed away from the salad buffet by alternatively sized natives, and tortuous small talk with the family from Long Island placed at our table to foster exciting new friendships.

Our apartment was designed with the swinging playboy demographic in mind rather than the suburban family of four. In the master bedroom there’s a jacuzzi, and a ceiling mirror over the bed. The wife and I could stick the kids in front of the tv, close the door, run a bath, crack open the bubbly, put on some James Last, and party like it’s 1972. In theory. In practice we all four lie on the bed and stare up at our reflections, making faces. Would I really like to watch myself fucking? I’ll keep you posted (maybe).

There is an actual reason we’re here, rather than staying at home and burning a pile of hundred dollar notes: the rest of the family is skiing, a sport I reluctantly took up and gave up ten years ago after falling down a Swiss mountainside and ramming my knee into my head during a beginner’s course I’d been coerced into taking.

The wife booked that, as she booked this. When I heard the price we were paying, I imagined a ‘resort’ in the sense of something luxury, where you’re pampered a little, and the quietly devoted waiters bring you complementary cocktails by the side of a vast and peaceful indoor pool. Perhaps a pianist plays Bach in the marbled foyer, and all kids except my own are banned.

If I act today in such a way that I get to meet God tomorrow, I’ll ask him if that’s the kind of set-up you get for good behaviour.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Great Suburban Traditions No. 3 - Dog Crap

Just say No! to Chelsea
There are two kinds of dog owners in suburbia. The first kind are the sane and the civilised who have a fenced-in yard, take their dogs for walks on the end of a leash, and who carry around small plastic bags to clean up their pet’s crap. My direct neighbours have a dog like this, a healthy and slim black labrador named Maggie I’ve just had the pleasure of looking after for the weekend while they were away. Just to get it straight that I love dogs, see.

The second kind are the sociopaths who have no fenced-in yard, and who let their dogs roam free to crap wherever they feel like it. After all, it’s a free country for dogs too, right? That would be the dog from two doors down, a spaniel of some sort who’s taken a liking to the smell of our front yard and constantly craps there. Now that the yard smells of nothing but its rear-end waste, she likes it even more.

That this dog is called Chelsea is a further blow. The crap-happy hound started shitting on our grass right around the time Russian billionaire Roman Abramovic took over my least favourite football team in the world, Chelsea FC, and they started winning trophies by virtue of the multi-millions they spent on Europe’s best players. That a dog with such a name would take to dumping on my space just as its namesake football team was buying its way to glory seemed doubly unjust.

I sent a very polite e-mail to its owner saying that I didn’t much enjoy clearing up her dog’s mess, and could she do something about it, please. Much too polite, as it turned out, because she ignored it. She’s employed ‘doing something on Capitol Hill’ (presumably not working on legislation to prosecute violators of environmental laws) and is a very busy woman, it seems. Professional dog walkers come during the day and walk the dog properly. At all other times, the voiding cur has free rein to squat on my turf and let it all out.

What sort of neighbour ignores a polite e-mail? If someone had sent me an e-mail like that, I’d have gone round with flowers, an apology, and an assurance that it wouldn’t happen again. Because, like most people, I’d be kind of embarrassed that my dog was shitting on someone else’s property. I’d see it as my responsibility.

Chelsea still kept calling around to drop off her fecal deposits. Sometimes I’d see her and try to chase her back down the road, but the animal was too dumb to realise I was angry, and would just unapologetically come over to be petted (I’m sure if she could speak she’d have asked me to wipe her arse too). And so I started putting her piles of crap in a plastic bag and leaving them on the neighbour’s doorstep. My other neighbours said I needed to post them through the front door to get the message home, and maybe they were right. One day I got so mad I typed out a firm letter. I threatened, reluctantly, “further action” (though I’d no idea what that would entail). Before I could change my mind I dropped it through the letter box. But the woman who works on Capitol Hill doesn’t work on Capitol Hill for nothing. She ignored it.

The next step was to actually call round. “Could you please clean up the crap your dog’s just left on our verge?” She squinted at me like I was a rogue pedlar. “Verge?” was all she said. Ah damn it, my big moment and I go and choose a British word. “You know, the grass part next to the road.” She cleaned it up, but with bad grace and, again, no apology. It’s amazing how some people have the knack of making you feel like you’re in the wrong for them having a dog that craps in your yard.

Finally, I stooped to her level. Last month I scooped up four piles of Chelsea’s crap in the snow shovel and dumped them right on her front doorstep. It took me over two years to get this far. Our garden’s been clean ever since. I suppose you have to speak the only language these people understand. Crap.

In another positive development, Chelsea FC are not doing so well right now. They’re six points off the lead in the English Premier League, and Abramovic is falling out with the coach Jose Mourinho for having wasted too much of his cash on expensive players who haven’t produced the goods. I like to think I’ve messed with Chelsea’s karma. In fact I think I’ve dumped all over it.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Great Suburban Traditions No. 2 - Neighbourhood Watch

There’s a crime wave sweeping across suburbia. You may not have seen it, or even heard about it. But fear not, Neighbourhood Watch will soon be stamping it out. Yes, North Chevy Chase has declared the War On Crime!

I received an e-mail the other week from a woman I’ve never met, but she lives a few streets away. She’d set up a Neighbourhood Watch on her street and wanted to tell me about some police seminars being offered at the Audubon Society in case I wanted to do the same.

Why in the name of sweet weeping Jesus would I want to do that? Because “my husband and I [oh my God, the Queen of England has moved to my ‘hood] have become concerned about some car thefts, burglaries and robberies in our area,” she wrote. “Some”? How many is “some”? You just know that there’s maybe been one car theft and one burglary in six months, and a robbery two towns away she read about in The Montgomery Gazette.

Crime in suburbia’s not easy. Every car has an alarm, so you’d have to be careless to have one stolen. Likewise every house. We once locked ourselves out and it took a professional locksmith an hour to get us back in. Not that we’ve got much worth nicking. Our TV’s a modern, fat-backed antique at seven years old, and my CD collection is unsaleable - I’m such an elitist that the police would track them down and trace the burglar in hours. (The official police report: “The criminal was apprehended trying to sell a Jackie Leven boxed set to customers at a Burger King in Wheaton. They became suspicious that the cult Scottish soloist’s collected works were some kind of an explosive device and alerted security.”)

True, there was a home invasion (an ‘invasion’ being as few as one or two persons) a couple of months back in the posher part of the neighbourhood, down towards DC. That’s where some of the houses are so big that the invader’s defense will be that he thought he was strolling into the Mormon Temple for some quiet time. If you had enough savvy, you could invade and live in one of the spare rooms there for months, and the only person you’d ever meet would be the cleaning lady.

And an unwelcome ‘invader’ would certainly be cause for a Watch campaign. In suburbia we don’t even like invited guests to be in our house, in case their feet inadvertently brush the carpet pile the wrong way, or their kids leave snot trails on the upholstery. But we put up with them anyway, for a couple of hours a month, if absolutely necessary, provided they send in advance a doctor’s certificate giving them full medical clearance.

But what about all this crime? Until I moved my office to an upstairs room at the back of the house at the end of last year, I spent seven and a half years watching the neighbourhood through a downstairs window from my desk. Believe me, nothing ever happens. There’s no one around to make it happen. If someone walks past the house you jump up. “Christ, what’s that?!” Oh, just a human being. The postgirl, in fact. Don’t worry, she’ll soon be gone.

The only crimes on our street are committed by the dog two doors up that regularly craps on our front lawn (to be the subject of a future ‘Great Suburban Tradition’), and the quarter-witted commuters who speed down our street at 40mph every morning because they can use our neighbourhood to shave 15 seconds off the journey to their doubtless essential jobs.

Other than that, the "concerned" and beady-eyed watchers on patrol are going to be hard pressed to spot much criminal activity around here, unless they stop me late at night walking back from the Ri-Ra bar and demand to see my ID. The chances are that there would be an immediate crime involving aggravated verbal assault.