I stood outside, admiring the supremely well-greened turf of the two-plus-acre spread on a ritzy street in mid-country Greenwich. I sipped my cocktail. I’d already toured the 5,000-square-foot modern house and seen the art collection. The marble-dusted lap pool gurgled aqua only yards away. Two other male guests and I stood with our host, and I complimented him on his house.
“All I have to do is nail my wife once every two weeks, and I get to keep it,” he said. Bleary-eyed, he took a swallow of his drink.
“Tough work,” Guest No. 2 chimed in. Chuckles.
“Especially getting her off first,” No. 3 volunteered. Gales.
Now I have no real problem with dirty jokes. It’s just that I don’t love guys making them at their wives’ expense. And I prefer them funny.
“It’s not so bad,” our host offered, his words evaporating into the twilight like the flicker of the fireflies. He finished his drink. He sighed. His gaze was distant, his prominent jaw muscles bunching as he set in to chewing on his ice.
I’m new in the suburbs; it took me a moment to realize he wasn’t joking.
During the course of the next three hours (which felt like 10), I was plied relentlessly with hors d’oeuvres by the catering staff, with drinks and cocaine by some guests, with information by others.
It seems our hostess-the host’s wife, an attractive, vivacious fortysomething woman-had built a fine career for herself in investment banking over the past decade. While the host left a family business for an erratic career as a financial adviser, the hostess plugged away. He’d been unemployed at various times over the past three years until recently. Meanwhile, the company the wife worked for was bought, and she cashed out to the tune of about $8 million. She’d bought the house.
The host had quite a reputation for partying. During a recent party he’d thrown, he’d passed out and been carried upstairs, only to awake vomiting, with blood shooting from his nose. This was all told to him, since he’d blacked out.
I drifted through the living room, tuning in to conversations.
One male guest’s custom was to drink beyond all repair so that there was absolutely no question who-he or his wife-had to drive home. He was in observance of his custom again this night.
Another male guest shared his dream: bending his wife over the top step of their swimming pool. Yet another boasted openly about “getting” his wife in the shower the previous weekend.
One man at the party, a good earner, was the envy of all the others. He was building an expansive addition to his already spacious house. The reason: to accommodate a ping-pong room-not for his kids, but for himself.
The tone of these conversations harked back to at least the 70’s, to those I’d overheard between my parents’ friends. Or perhaps even further, to the 50’s, to ones I’d seen on television and in movies. In those, the women, huddled in the kitchen, sneaked cigarettes and complained about (or bragged about) the sex they had to make do with, or provide, in direct relation to their latest shopping conquest. The talk conjured a time when men were men, and women wrangled the Tupperware.
But now, it was the women who were in the trenches and the men who picked up their daughters at ballet classes and handled the ordering-in. I felt like I was in a Sinclair Lewis novel, with coarser dialogue and the roles reversed.
This reversal could have been a healthy, welcome one-strong women sharing the burden of earning and decision-making, the way the Cosmo articles claimed they should-except for the toll it seemed to be taking on the men. They had the air of stand-up eunuchs as they hid their desperation behind rocks glasses and took off-color pot shots at their spouses.
Across the room, a female advertising executive-also well-kept and fortysomething-regaled the assembled ladies with a tale of a giant water rat that had menaced the household. She’d had a showdown with the aggressive rodent in the kitchen, while her husband, “the pussy” (her term for him), refused to answer the call of duty and instead cowered in the bedroom.
I only half-heard this tale, because I was in a conversation with said husband and a few other guys. The husband told of a company retreat he’d been on; the executives he worked with-men and women-rotated in choosing each year’s destination. Last year, a female vice president chose a hunting lodge where the urban-suburban white-collar bunch had spent three or four days in an effort to find and shoot white-tailed deer.
Dinners at night consisted of each hunter contributing a dish. I heard the long-form version of the husband’s Caesar-salad recipe, right down to his searching the local market for a seasoned bowl in which to make the salad.
The female exec tramped the hills in bitter cold, looking for her buck until the last possible moment, while the men waited in the warm lodge, bags packed, for the last day and a half-hoping, I suppose, that the Romaine stayed crisp.
I looked around at the men in the living room. Madras shirts, bellies, baldness. The women, if not dynamite, were at least high-octane in comparison. The old saw that there were always younger, prettier women out there had apparently motivated these ladies, while the same wisdom had encouraged us, the men, to let ourselves go intellectually, if not physically, slovenly.
If these wives hadn’t yet wondered what else was out there for them, I thought, maybe they should. It couldn’t be long, I predicted as I drained my raspberry vodka, before young male muffins as trophy second husbands come into vogue for these still-good-looking, still-young, self-moneyed wives.
Everyone’s got their reasons for leaving the city and trying something else, especially lately. I’d moved out to a small house on a wooded, hilly, rugged two and a half acres harboring an isolationist fantasy: I couldn’t see my neighbors, they couldn’t see me. But that’s not the way it went. Instead my wife, an attorney, said it was “time for us to meet friends.”
So much for fantasies. Here I was, at a late-season garden party that she told me to come to. She was across the room laughing it up with the gals, while I glanced furtively at the other men, exhibiting all the self-determination of the average grunt in Vietnam-ducking low, waiting for orders, fully expecting to get greased.