The birthday party was typical for the San Gabriel Valley, a myriad of attendees gathering at a 1970's-built single-story ranch home, tastefully decorated in semi-antiques, an HDTV, and red-apple wallpaper. Apples of all colors sat on shelves and in curio cabinets and the carpeting was a deep apple-red. Present are former and current long-time neighbors, a few parents of school chums to the birthday boy, family members. Not everyone knows each other. The hostess is a bubbly, friendly sort. She's warm and kind and she and I kid about how her 5-year-old son, R, will marry my M, my 5-year-old daughter. The two children are wonderful friends. He's a true gentleman even at such a young age (when it was time to leave, he offered to open the car door for her, and did). The first time I saw them playing together, I was touched (and maybe wondering if I should be forewarned) at how M literally beamed at him. They were 4. Despite the fact little R has moved to another school, the two still remember one another and played together the most.
I sat with several other women, including the hostess, the five or six of us sharing school stories, ADD stories, sports stories, and other such anecdotes about our kids. R's dad buzzed around, working to convince us to have some Martinis. After some tentative rejection, we said yes. “Appletinis” all around.
Mind you, I was trying really hard not to check the hour. There was an element of personal torture sitting in this quasi-knitting-circle and even the prospect of alcohol (which was weird to me because there was this huge Bible on the countertop and I swear to God Martini drops spilled on it as the drinks were passed to party guests) didn’t help. The women were curious…the x-ray technician who loved animals and who has a mean temper which recently showed when a fellow soccer mom dared smack the windows of her SUV during a parking mishap, the Oregon retiree who still wears her hair long and red and sports a nose piercing while dressing in stylish denim and suede, the sexy divorcee with black-rimmed glasses who adores her teenage children, R’s grandmother who chugged beers like nobody’s business with the long, no-longer-blond hair, and the hostess’s sister who wears puffy boots and a long knitted scarf. And me. I wore my jeans, suede cowboy boots and not-warm-enough coral sweater, and my white-streaked curls kinked out due to the gray clouds and threat of rain.
I laughed in unison with the ladies as we chatted (the men were outside, bonding over a new leaf blower the dad recently purchased) and nursed the Martini. While I sat in this circle, I wished I smoked pot again (another story, another time, a lot of sweat trying to explain it) and cursed my friend G for always dropping the ball on bringing some to our breakfasts. The problem is that I’m inherently shy and would much rather be at home, reading, writing…oh hell…really, I’d rather be in Palm Springs, reading, writing, entertaining my fantasies about taking on a lover.
The conversation turned to the skyrocketing costs of goods, to the joys of shopping at discount places. The x-ray technician said, “I have to tell you how great Walmart is on a Friday night at 11:00 – no crowds, the cool people all hang out there, it’s so awesome. My kids and I’d been bored last weekend and absolutely had a blast walking the aisles. Now I know where to go! And it’s cheap, too!”
Cheers, we all said with our Martini glasses (red plastic, disposable cups). Here, here Walmart.
The blower blew outside – the men were blowing leaves out of the bouncy house. Taking turns. M ran into the house and R chased her – neither kid was wearing shoes and it couldn’t be more than 50 degrees outside.
The sister chimed in, talking to the hostess, “I forgot to tell you guys about the great bargain I got at Target the other day.”
“Ooo do tell,” the ladies said. “Love that store.”
“Disneyland to my kids,” I added.
“Well, I’d stopped by to pick up some things and I found this adorable pair of jeans – you know, with the sequins? They weren’t on sale…forty bucks or so, but I went ahead and popped them into the basket. Didn’t even try ‘em on. Got to the checkout stand and saw the bill to be only about fifty. Thought maybe I was wrong about the pants. When I got to the car, I saw the receipt didn’t list the pants. Oh my god, the cashier forgot to charge me for the pants.”
“Wow…lucky girl,” someone said.
“Great deal!” The divorcee laughed.
The men outside started doing shots and I was having flashbacks of college (well, what college was to some people being that I spent most of my time in the library, wandering the stacks and breathing in the delicious mustiness of old literature and literary criticism books). I began to wonder if the Christian pre-school our children attend is aware so many parents of their students are blatant lushes.
The x-ray technician added to the tale of thievery, “I never told you about Home Goods.”
The hostess queried, “Home Goods?”
The red-headed retiree clarified, “Yes, the store Sears had going for a while, went out of business.”
“Right,” the tech said, “I loved that place. So when they had their final clearance sale, me and the kids – the daughter was just 4 – we headed right over to pick up stuff. We were shopping up a storm – totally excellent deals. Anyway the daughter spent the time scooting around with one of the those kiddie shopping carts the store lets customers use.”
“Love those carts,” the divorcee said.
The hostess smiled really big, a gushy sort of smile, “Awww…R loves those, too. Adorable!”
“Sweet!” I added.
X-ray tech continued, “So we go through the checkout stand, buy all our stuff…just $102 for tons of decorative stuff…and we walk to the Suburban. I unload, look around, and just pick up the kiddie cart and shove it in the truck.”
Gasps all around, claps.
The men had moved on from the shots and were now playing with R’s brand-new fishing toy. The end of the fishing toy, the plastic hook, got caught on top of the added-on, extra-huge garage, the extra garage that’s meant to house the hostess’s toy-box (by the way, for those not in the know a “toy-box” is not made of wood and is not used to store Playskool toys, but rather is a trailer meant to tow around ATV’s, motorcycles, dune buggies, and such). R and M watched as the men took turns trying to unhook the plastic hook.
Divorcee and the retiree laughed heartedly about the stolen shopping cart.
“She still plays with it and she’s 7,” the x-ray technician said, thinking back almost wistfully.
I am now…totally stunned. It must be the pot (or was it my conscience?) that always made me turn back around to the cashier and hand back the un-rung goods, or drive back to the market to pay for the candy lifted by one of my kids, or thank god J was caught shoplifting the time he tried it back in December. As I sat there, downing the last of the Martini in a red plastic cup and openly checking across the room at the clock, I wondered how many thieves live in suburbia. Thieving moms. Stealing goods from Target and Walmart and places going out of business.
I wonder what other crimes they’re committing. Damn, I wished I had a pipe and some good bud.
The men all rallied together and pulled hard at the plastic hook. It came off the garage intact and R and M danced around, holding hands, and kicking up their cold, pink heels. Their wedding will be…fabulous.