We are 102 years old. Well, not really. But we sure as heck act like it. We had dinner at 5:23 p.m. tonight. It must be some kind of record for us. We sat down at a regular haunt in town and I looked at my watch: it was 5:23 p.m. Cocktails – martinis, if you please – and then appetizers, main courses and coffee. All done and consumed and well on its way to becoming human waste by 7 p.m. Civilized people haven’t even had cocktails yet but we’re already headed home. Of course, the dog needs to eat and her dinner hour WAS at 5:30 p.m., so I guess it’s a good thing that we’re heading home except that I feel like we’re 102 years old.
I’m 34 years old. My husband is 40 years old. We’ve been married almost 8 years and we live like we’re 102, respectively. We get up, we work, we eat, we watch T.V., we go to bed, we sleep, we get up, we work… well, you get the picture. This is broken up with walking the dog here and there, the odd bit of garden work, the odd writing sessions where I get inspired by the inside of my damp but mortally empty martini glass and let loose (could now be one of those times?) and the odd trip to Toronto to visit Mom and get away from this house.
We need to get away because I love this house and I hate this house. It’s a house that is filled with dollar signs. We need to strip the 50 year old wall paper and we need to paint. We need to replace the plaster where water came in two years ago (we fixed the roof, but never the wall). The carpeting is that same all-purpose rumpus room cheap stuff that people put into their basement ‘wet bar’ rooms 35 years ago and never replaced, but we have it everywhere: upstairs, downstairs, even on the stairs… everywhere. We have no real furniture except the dining room set because we lived in tiny condos before moving here and so we have tiny condo furniture. We live with our donated lamps. We live with our freezing cold kitchen, which was built over the added on 1 car garage with no insulation built into it at all. Wonders of wonders during that first winter when we couldn’t get water out of the kitchen taps. We insulated the pipes but we still haven’t insulated the floor of the kitchen. You can actually stand at the door of the kitchen and it is like hiking through the forest and descending into a rock cave and feeling the temperature suddenly drop several degrees. Except that there are no beautiful rocks or gloriously green fauna here (not counting the old piece of Morbier cheese in the fridge). It’s a kitchen with hideous brownish floral wallpaper, streaked with water stains from a leak that occurred in the roof before we owned the house. At least, we hope it is from before. I compulsively touch the streaks every time it rains to check but so far so good. But here’s the thing: if we happen to have an extra hundred or two lying around after the bills are paid, and if you asked me what I really wanted to do with that money, I would say ‘go out and eat’. I can’t even picture myself saying ‘buy paint’ or ‘pay a contractor to fix the wall’. Heck, we lived with the downstairs toilet broken for 4 months because we’d rather go out for drinks and dinner than pay a plumber $75 to replace the wax ring. Screwed up? Maybe. Priorities all over the map? Maybe not. For all the beautifying of homes that I see on T.V., for all the “Extreme Makeovers” that I watch and wish we were the recipients of, I’d much rather have a beautifully seared slice of foie gras with a glass of slightly chilled Sauternes than paint for my streaky walls.
So you’re reading this and wondering what institution I plan to check myself into tomorrow. But there are no rehab clinics for people like me. I’m a gastronome. A foodie. A lover of all things ingestible, with the possible exception of pig’s trotters, cow tongue, chicken brains and most all forms of offal. Does that mean I’m not a true gastronome? I’m sure there are some out there who would tell me that I had to give up my membership card and resign in disgrace. But I’m going to stick to my resolve. I love food. I love wine. Maybe because I love all these things, I feel the need to enjoy them in peace and quiet.
This brings us full circle back to why we ate at 5:23 p.m. It was because we had the place to ourselves. The kitchen had been revving since 3:30 and we were the lucky recipients of all of the owner’s attention. We received our food and were well on our way to being finished while the restaurant filled up and the table behind us was looking around, wondering why their 2 cosmo’s, 1 manhattan and 1 white wine were taking so long. We didn’t have to hear “Sorry, we’re all out of ‘x’ tonight” because we were the first ones seated for the evening. We had no trouble parking, no wait time for a table, no reservations needed and nobody sitting anywhere near us for most of our meal.
When we were wrapping up our dining expedition, a group came in and sat at a reserved table that had balloons on it. The Birthday Girl, if we can call her that, was 84 years old. Except that she didn’t look a day over 72. Seriously. Someone had requested an extra heater be plugged in near her seat, so she didn’t get a chill and she blew that off like it was yesterday’s dust. She ordered a glass of Chardonnay and said: “To hell with it! I’m 84, not dead!” I loved this woman on sight. This is what I want to become one day. Her tidy hairdo and her neat, classic clothes didn’t betray the real personality that lay beneath.
So I wondered: “How do I get there?” How do I get from 34 year old who can barely keep her eyes open through dinner because she is stupefied by her own existence to 84 year old, knocking back the Chardonnay and having a grand old time? I’m not sure but I’m pretty sure that’s the point of this journey we call life. The key, since everyone is always looking for the key, is to live by your definition of a life well lived, not someone else’s. If you want to be an uptight, tight-lipped, know-it-all, tell everyone how to run their lives person, you can. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that life, of course… Not really, anyways. But know where you want to go and then figure out how to get there. You’ll stumble, trip, sometimes fall flat on your face. But you will get there, one way or another. And if you don’t get exactly where you want to go, at least you will have lived by your standards and not had to sit back and think: “Why the heck did I do that?” when you’re 84.
So I am leaving the streaky wallpaper and the tiny condo furniture where it is for now. I’m saving a little and spending a lot, being a little bit of the ant, just in case, and a lot like the grasshopper.