Wednesday, January 26, 2011
When I got laid off from my job, I wasn’t too concerned at first. My wife was still working and we had savings. We didn’t have that many expenses.
And I wasn’t worried about my prospects.
I hold a Master’s degree in business administration with an impressive and continuous work history.
We live in a large city where there are plenty of companies engaged in commerce that should be, at least in theory, interested in my skill set.
“Something will come along” I told myself.
“This may actually be a good thing” I told my wife.
A week later to the day, my wife told me that she was pregnant. A small kernel of worry began to form in me, somewhere. But still, I wasn’t terribly concerned. Nine months would be a long time. In nine months, I figured that I’d have a solid start on a college fund. In nine months, we’d have the nursery painted yellow.
At 18 weeks, my wife’s best friend from university threw her a baby shower. Friends of ours traveled from up and down the east coast for the weekend. While the women were eating cake and opening gifts, I took the husbands and my poker buddies and a few work acquaintances to a whiskey bar. We slapped each other on the back and smoked fat cigars and at the end of the evening I put the lot on my credit card.
My wife was furious with me for that. She was spending more time being nervous and angry and impatient. I told her not to worry, in order to reassure her. I begged her not to worry, on account of the baby.
From the shower, there were so many gifts that they stood in stacks in our living room for 3 days before were able to sort through all of them. There were baby clothes and bins for soiled diapers and all sorts of baby things that I couldn’t even fathom.
One of the couples that had come to the shower weekend was The Manhattan Danfritzs, William and Jessica. Will was my closest friend from university. After graduation, we had lived near each other in New York City, during which time Jessica and my wife had become very close friends as well. William was a stock analyst and made good money right away but it wasn’t until he had been at it for a few years, just around the time that I had moved from Manhattan to attend graduate school, before he received a number of significant promotions in short time and really began to make a name for himself at his firm.
Jessica, William’s wife, was an entertainment lawyer. She too was an instant star in her firm. The two of them had become a power couple amongst the Manhattan elite and when they arrived at my wife’s baby shower, I hardly recognized them. They dressed differently and they talked differently, not just from how they had used to dress and talk, but differently from anyone I had ever met before.
This had made our back-slapping reunion at the whiskey bar a bit awkward. At the end of the night, my friends and ex-coworkers tried to pick up the tab, both because I was supposed to be the center of attention but also because they all knew that I was unemployed. Will was the only one who didn’t try to help pay because, I think, he couldn’t really understand what all of the fuss over a few hundred dollars was all about.
The day after the baby shower and my night out with the guys, my wife called me on my cell phone. I felt hung over, but I was following up on a few job leads anyway. I had left her at home going through the shower gifts.
“Did Will say anything to you about their gift to us?”
Going through the gifts again, Sarah had reexamined the pair of baby shoes that the Danfritzs had given us. She knows a bit about fashion and designers and, lately, all the best brands that sell clothing and shoes for both baby and mother. But she hadn’t heard of the brand of the baby shoes until she looked on the internet.
“Hon, these are $1000 baby shoes. Will and Jessica gave us $1000 baby shoes.”
I went home straight away to see the $1000 baby shoes.
Later that day, casually rubbing the toe of a $500 baby shoe with my thumb, I realized that I had missed a scheduled job interview. I had raced home to see The Shoes. Our savings account’s balance was slipping. The winter had been harsh and heating bills were the highest in years. Sarah’s cold had turned into bronchitis and, on account of the baby, the doctor’s bills had gotten large.
The next morning I received a voicemail about my missed interview. Apparently, I had wasted some important person’s time and I was informed that I should fuck off.
And then Sarah was 7 months pregnant. I was still unemployed. The spring time was glorious and our garden, usually flush with small flowers and early vegetable shoots, was brown with the fall’s remnants. I could see mold and slime on the decaying plants. It hadn’t been turned over.
Our savings were tapped. Sarah’s parents didn’t call as often because every time that they did, I was finding a new way to ask for money. I still called my parents every few days to keep them updated on the progress of their new grandchild. They sent $20 every 5 days.
With Sarah asleep on the couch, uncomfortable with child and unable to sleep in our bed, I would search the internet for job leads, no longer limiting myself to our city or even to the east coast. I needed a job. My family needed money.
Late one night, I was at the computer and Sarah stirred on the couch. My glass of cheapest whiskey was empty, except for barely a remnant of an ice cube. On a shelf, I saw the gifted baby shoes on display. Our family needed money. I logged on to Craigslist and posted the following ad: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Friday, January 14, 2011
One night a few weeks ago I went to a party and found myself talking with a Polish woman. She was interesting to talk to – she seemed very feisty – and she had a great rack.
I’m a married man myself, so I spoke with her only out of curiosity and so that no one else would take her away from me. I needed to be able to stare at her chest off and on throughout the evening in order to keep the party from being a total bore.
In the course of our conversation, which ran from our favorite neighborhoods in the city to mathematics to literature, she asked me if I knew any Polish men. She said to me, in that thick, breathy Polish accent, “I need a single man who is single. And he must not like to hurt cats.”
Those were some standards! As it turned out, I did know a single Polish guy for her. I told her so. She seemed surprised that I did, as if she might have been the only Polish person drifting around outside of Eastern Europe.
Subsequently, I set them up with each other’s contact information and sat back to see if anything would happen. Piotr was a coworker as well as a friend and a week or so after, while we were eating lunch, he mentioned that he and the woman, Ania, had been trading e-mails and had made a plan to meet for a drink the next day. I had not described her to him, other than to assure him that she was attractive. I couldn’t wait to hear his reaction to her.
The question that I wanted to ask more than anything in the wake of their first meeting was whether or not they had spoken to each other in Polish. Did they conduct their whole date in English? Did they speak just a bit of Polish to each other, to sort of prove their Polish-ness? Or, in the context of blind dates and first dates, did they fully retreat to their native tongues? Did they feel so uneasy that they wrapped themselves in the privacy of a foreign language and hope to protect themselves from all of the English speakers around them?
I wanted to ask Piotr about what language that they had interacted in, but I couldn’t. It felt invasive and rude. It felt racist. Well, not racist, but nationalist. If two black friends had gone out on a date, would I have asked them if they had only talked about hip-hop? No, of course not. So how could I ask Piotr about speaking Polish or English?
I think the answer to my fascination lies in my not having any framework for bilingualism or multi-lingual relationships. A professor of mine in college was a Frenchman and he was married to an American. He mentioned to me that he only spoke French to his son and his wife only spoke English to the boy. This blew my mind. How does the human brain compartmentalize the two sets of words coming into it? Does the child even realize that these are two different languages? I think I can understand it when a long time speaker of language A then studies and learns language B. But from birth? Knowing zero languages and then being spoken to in two different languages at the same time? What does the human brain make of this?
Another time at another party, I talked with a guy who was a linguist. He was studying German dialects. Dialects! I was drunk and I kept saying to him, “I have no context for this! I have no context for understanding this.” I had studied Latin in high school and used it to understand the etymology of English words, but I never thought in Latin or spoke Latin. I just read Ovid or Virgil. I didn’t know anything about dialects or slang.
So I suppose I’ll never know about Piotr and Ania's use of language unless they tell me. Or maybe I’ll go on a double date with them and gain some insight into their relationship – how they interact with each other, how their intimate moments are conducted. Do they drop their voices and whisper to each other? Do they draw their heads together and turn slightly away so that they won’t be overheard? Or, as I suspect, do they switch to Polish and use my ignorance to protect their private thoughts?
Perhaps I’m just bothered that things might be kept from me. I helped create this relationship. I deserve some credit for that, don’t I? Let me in! Don’t shut me out.