The Elder and I braved the cold last night to view "About Schmidt" at the Lagoon in Uptown. Decent, if not great movie, with some laugh out loud moments and other moments of eye-rolling from clichés.
Besides the horrifying site of Kathy Bates nekkid, there was something else that piqued my interest and immediately shot me back to my childhood.
Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) goes to Denver to attend his daughter's wedding and has to stay with his son-in-law-to-be's mother (Kathy Bates). The house is disgusting. Junk is piled everywhere. Couches containing an untold number of fungi and bacteria abound. The family shoves food in their mouths ala the Simpsons and greedily grab more from a Lazy Susan in the middle of the dinner table.
It reminded me of going over to eat at friends houses when I was a kid. Not so much the white trash aspects, but more of the overall feeling of "what the hell is THAT?" that you got from sharing with the family THEIR daily ritual.
Ritual is everything to kids and they don't like it interrupted. We got very used to everything being a certain way and it pretty much rocked our world when it wasn't.
It would hit you right when you walked in the door of your friend's house. The Smell. It was the first sign that things as you know them are going to be very different from now on. The smell was a combination of all the people, pets, household cleaners and food that passed through the house on a given day. It was never a neutral smell and always distinct from house to house.
Next, you might go downstairs to watch TV before "supper". Now normally you and your brother were given control of the tube, very graciously I might add, from your Old Man, which meant you knew when all the Hogan's Heroes, I Dream Of Jeannies, Gilligan Islands, etc. were on.
So you walk your pal's living room and sprawled out on a Lazy Boy drinking a beer in his t-shirt is your pal's Old Man and he's watching....the news! He nods at you as a greeting and you spend the next half hour sitting politely bored out of your mind and you think "who cares what Ron Magers has to say?"
After what seems like hours of sitting their faking your contentment, the food is ready and you head upstairs not really knowing what to expect.
The basics of the meal are pretty much what your Ma would serve: some type of hot dish, potatoes, a vegetable of some persuasion, bread and milk. But nothing ever tasted the same. There would be big chunks of onion in the hot dish. The potatoes would be julienned (something your friend's Ma read about in Good Housekeeping). The vegetable was always something you never had to eat at home, like broccoli, but you accepted a serving anyway. The bread was some hard, dark brown wheat variety only your dad ate and spreading that runny margarine on it didn't make it much more palatable. And the milk, skim. It was literally blue and tasted like water. "We drink 2 percent" I would declare.
So the meal is over and all you're thinking is "Okay, that food sucked, but bring on the dessert!". Now at home, after every supper, we would take large bowls and fill them to overflowing capacity with scoop after scoop of ice cream, Nestle's Quick, Hersey's Syrup, cookies, or anything else that we could fit in there and then dollop the whole thing with some good ol' 2 percent.
So you see the matron shuffling about in the kitchen, getting a small tray together and you are all set for a sugary delight....when she sets down a dish of Jell-O in front of you. Jell-O. Jell-O was something we ate on the side of our meals; it surely wasn't dessert material. And how can something with carrots be considered a dessert anyway? I think we all remember the green Jell-O with carrot shavings in it that I'm referring to--couldn't it at least have been the red Jell-O with bananas?
So the crappy meal is finished and all the dishes are still on the kitchen table. Like home, you immediately bolt from the area since you have done what you came to do. "Aren't you forgetting something?" a nagging voice cries out. "Umm...thank you?" you say, hoping that was it. "Take your plate to the sink." Wait a minute, she's saying I have to bus my own dishes? We never have to do that at home but you sheepishly retrieve your plate and haul it over like a good little henpecked husband to be.
You can't wait to get out of there and back to your own family ritual, which you appreciate for about 10 minutes until you're back to taking it all for granted and whining because Mom bought strawberry Quick instead of chocolate.