The Social Season
It is May, and we are in the midst of the Brandeis Hillel Day School social season. Everyone who has participated in any committee or event is invited to various parties, where they can meet other people who've participated and talk about people who have not participated.
Our introverted, saintly (can I say that in regards to a Jew?) Head of School must attend all of these parties. He usually shows up, is brown-nosed, makes an elegant, low-key speech of some kind, and then quickly ducks out. This is in stark contrast to our former head of school, who loved the spotlight so much that he even took the mic to belt out "Mustang Sally" each year when the old school baby bommer parents' band plays at the Walk-a-thon.
As the most powerful poor person at BHDS, I attend many of these parties. It's understood that they will take place in homes much more lavish than mine. Last Saturday's IA (Institutional Advancement, i.e. fund-raising) party was an extreme example of this. Held at an impressive Presidio Terrace home and yet oddly co-hosted by our own Director of Institutional Advancement, this party promised "jeans, casual dress," which I later found to mean "small tassel loafers, pressed jeans and a silk shirt and/or sportcoat. I made the scene in my usual Banana Republic wear, accompanied by the Hammer, who stood in for Sandra Bullock while the latter babysat both our Jawa and hers.
We arrived early. Too early. Early enough to spend a few minutes gawking at the party being held a few houses away at the home of Senator Dianne Feinstein. DiFi's party was not casual, not even in a loafers and sportcoat way. Mercedes SUVs lined the street. Hispanic men in white coats served as valets. Inside DiFi's enormous, thatched-roofed home, San Francisco society flitted from room to room. Outside, feeling more than a little Oliver Twist-like, the Hammer and I pulled our coats around us to block the wind.
Our school is in a period of transition. It is moving from a hippie-centric parent paradigm to a more traditional private school population. In other words, the establishment has crashed the party.
I'm cool with that. They bring money, which makes it easier for the school to get new buildings, keep teachers, and throw a little bit of tuition assistance our way. I do not cringe in the presence of wealth. Or at least I try not to.
I do, however, cower in the presence of accomplishment. Early in the IA party, I found myself talking to our host, Big Exec 3B, finding that he is in the same industry as Sandra Bullock. Given that his home is 10x the size of mine, I'll assume that when he says he "works" at a company, he means "runs" the company. I stood there bathed in sweat, trying semi-successfully to hold up my end of the conversation. At least now I can say "realtor" when people ask what I do, which leads to a short exchange about "the market." Imagine what it was like when all I had to offer was "high school teacher" and/or "some kind of writer."
There was no beer at this party. I know this, because I asked one of the caterers. I feel a connection to caterers since, like most people pretending to pursue a career in "the arts," I spent plenty of time with a tray in my hand during my 20s. Now, though I walk among heads of companies, mothers wearing impractical pashminas, and political operatives, I like to take at least a moment to be nice to the caterers, because, you see, I am a man of the people. Some of the people, anyway.
A half-hour into the party, wrung out, sweaty, incongruously holding a glass of white wine and not daring to eat, lest I drop a big chunk of Brie on the Persian rug, I defaulted back to my comfort zone. Barely a polite handshake went to the Marin campus parents -- all of whom were easily identifiable as Marin parents, due to their casually hip style and complete lack of potato shoes -- and I began searching for a safe spot.
I found it in the corner among a gaggle of Sun Devils. Unique to our school and formerly of Phoenix, Arizona, by the year 2009 the Sun Devils (including their rebellious Wildcat brother) will comprise a full 2% of the BHDS student population. Tonight the clan was well-represented by the 2 goateed brothers and their wives. I knew them barely before tonight, but I got a good vibe. And besides, I've been curious about Sun Devils and their mysterious, vaguely blue-collar "family business" for awhile. We deconstructed the party, bemoaned the limited alcohol selection and marvelled at the sheer size and scope of our hosts' possessions.
The party ended early, as such parties do. This is not a place of Cheever-esque excesses. Nobody threw their keys into a bowl or drank too much scotch and embarassed their wife in front of the boss. No teenagers stole a bottle of wine and disappeared downstairs. This is not New England and we are not frustrated ad execs taking the train into The City. Everyone thanked everyone else and the men in sportcoats disappeared into their sensible cars -- we are, after all, not DiFi's guests but only humble parents brought together for a common cause: our children.
Not me, man, and not Sun Devils or the Hammer. We went to a bar.