My husband-elect is the product of the blond, patrician union of a WASP & a Brit, which is to say, a Supergoy. I am the multi-racial product of noisy, gesticulating immigrants. But we work, because we’re both ethnic centrists. Many of the traits associated with my ethnic background, such as operatic displays of emotion, intense religiosity, and a large rack, completely bypassed me. That I would rather die than cry in public, or that I believe three exchanges of “I love you” are enough for any romantic relationship (1. To establish the fact, 2. Wedding night, 3. Deathbed) qualified me for a diagnosis of severe autism by the standards of my touchy-feely family.
He, on the other hand, lacks some of the cool reserve & emotional repression associated with his people. For example, there’s the time he signed a letter to his mother: “Miss you. Love, Christopher” – his bewildered parents could only wonder, did he think he was dying? Did he think she was dying? What else could have prompted such a shockingly emotional outburst? Why is our son so out of control?
As you might expect, certain members of his family are taken aback by our cross-class/interracial union, starting with his grandmother/family matriarch, “Augusta”. Every time we meet, as we did at dinner last night, she blanches slightly, as though surprised to find that I’m even swarthier & more déclassé than she remembered.
I’m not terribly bothered by this because his parents like me and because I have a fundamentally flippant attitude towards any social interactions that don’t involve a casket. However, being on the receiving end of Augusta’s contempt is not pleasant and I’d really rather avoid it. Her smile brings to mind Dwight MacDonald’s description of Mary McCarthy (”When most women smile at you, you feel terrific. When Mary smiles at you, you look to see if your fly is open”). She wields euphemisms expertly; for example, when she smilingly called another dinner guest’s mother “quite a lively woman”; it was clear to everyone fluent in Venomese that Augusta was actually telling him his mother was a trouble-making slut.
My choice of career only made me fall further in her eyes. As Thorstein Veblen & Merchant-Ivory films (which I secretly like - I know they are uncool, but as a general rule, I prefer the emotional problems of characters who have quill pens and beautiful antique clocks to those who have vintage band t-shirt collections and desperately want to have quirky sex with Zooey Deschanel) have taught me, a trademark of “old money” is its worship of the archaic - this is why, among other things, their children major in classy things like French or art history, which involve tastefully studying the past. Future-oriented subjects like science, engineering, and computer science are best left to vulgarians, new money (same difference), and Asians.
Even worse, I have chosen to apply my scientific credentials to something as trashy as television (which…okay, point) and as proletarian as law enforcement. That I spend my time analyzing the rotting handiwork of the kind of tacky people who solve their problems by incompetently murdering each other only compounds my riffraff status. So, unsurprisingly, my work elicited only a curt, “Charming” from Augusta at our first meeting. She then cornered me after dessert to question me further, in order to determine just how low-rent I really am, an interrogation that essentially felt like this:
Fortunately, for most of the night, Augusta’s wrath was directed at another guest, a young man who is what you’d expect of someone raised in extreme wealth with no moral guidance or limits. Amoral & possessed of a delightfully malevolent, “dropped the rape charges” charisma, he is well on his way to becoming a full-blown WASP sociopath, like Charles Manson with his own horse. He had brought along some, ah, lively friends, including two young women who were what the English call “tarts” and what my mother calls, “Single Women Without Skills.” That Augusta was displeased by this intrusion would be an understatement and she was flinging euphemisms around the table like a ninja at a throwing star gallery all night.
Unfortunately, though, it came to be that Augusta & I were left alone together at the end of the evening. While outwardly calm, I was running wildly down the hallways of my mind, yanking doors open and upending boxes in a desperate search for a mutually agreeable conversation topic. Books meant to advise the socially awkward on how to make small talk tend to give terrible advice like “bring up your fascinating scrapbooking hobby” while ignoring the obvious -the best way to create an instant, lively conversation between people who have nothing (or nothing nice) to say to each other is to bring up a person, place, or thing they both loathe &/or scorn and then viciously mock it together. I have seen entire friendships spring up between strangers after they bonded by trading gleefully malicious commentary about effete liberals, reactionary conservatives, Megan Fox’s extremities, or how stupid your tumblr is.
So I made a rather clever, if I do say so myself, & rude pun on Charles Manson in a Polo Shirt’s last name. Augusta’s face contorted into a strange expression I eventually recognized as a genuine smile. And then she laughed! She made her own pun and we were off to the races, trading witticisms and dishing on our mutual dislike of his family.
It was nice. As we sat there, cackling like witches, for the first time I felt like she wasn’t judging me on my lineage, or on the color of my skin, but on the content of my insults & the quality of my vendettas. In fact, my boyfriend later told me that she spoke positively of my intelligence (more social advice: if you dislike the same things another person dislikes, you are “intelligent”) & included me in her plans for an outing next month, with no prodding from him!
This made me happy because it showed that two people from vastly different class/ethnic backgrounds can get along famously. They just need to a) find someone they can hate & feel superior to together and b) look past what makes them different and bond over what makes them the same; for example, that they’re both bitches who talk about people behind their backs.
I’m really glad I could share this uplifting experience with all of you.