Friday, May 24, 2013

Barbie vs. Mrs. Pillsbury

I met a real Barbie one day. It wasn't so much how she looked—if she really looked like Barbie, she'd probably have lower back problems and fall over a lot. Rather, it was her lifestyle that brought the comparison. It happened when my older daughter, Miara, needed a ride home from a friend's house. I'd already changed into my pajamas and didn't want to change back, so I put on an old army-style coat that I'd gotten from a friend who wanted to throw it away. I couldn't find my shoes, so I stepped into my winter snow boots. I'm sure I looked right at home—that is, if my home was under a freeway overpass.

I drove up the steep hill, past the country club, to the friend's house. All the houses there were very nice, very big, and each one very unique. They must have had restrictive covenants requiring meticulous landscaping and Range Rovers. The view of all the lights in the valley below was pretty awesome.

I rang the loud, clanging doorbell and Ken and Barbie answered. Barbie had immaculate hair and makeup, even at that late hour. Ken's sporty sweater hadn't a wrinkle on it. They invited me in to the parlor, where I stood on the shiny hardwood floor next to an equally shiny Steinway. Two very well behaved dogs strode in and sat quietly.

By all measures, it was the perfect couple, with a perfect house, in a perfect neighborhood, and perfect dogs. I'll bet they even trained the dogs to use the toilet. Despite how nice it was, I felt extremely uncomfortable and out of place. It wasn't my clothing, but more like I'd stepped into a totally different reality. They told me how much the girls had enjoyed their time down in the theater room all evening. Ken asked what I did for a living. I told him I drove trucks for the landfill.

Luckily Miara soon emerged from the palace basement and rescued me. Once she saw my attire, she said goodbye to her friend and pushed me out the door. After that, she always asked Mom to pick her up.

A few months later, my younger daughter Ro Ro needed a ride home from a friend's house. This neighborhood was the exact opposite of Barbie On The Hill's. It was sandwiched between a freeway, a hotel, and a refinery. The houses in the cul-de-sac were originally all the same, but several sported additional rooms and sheds attached to the main structure. Toys, bikes, lawnmowers, and dogs cluttered the yards. One house had an old muscle car on blocks in the driveway with an engine dangling above it. The sidewalk had some cool skateboard and bike ramps where tree roots had lifted up the concrete slabs.

I parked in the single-car driveway and held the screen door steady so I could knock on it. A half-dozen kids rushed to welcome me in. I gathered that they lived in nearby houses but used this one as their second home. The living room had a mess of toys that the kids were having a great time playing with. A slobbery, crotch-sniffing dog lumbered around and knocked stuff down with his tail.

The mom walked out of the kitchen and my first impression was of Mrs. Pillsbury—Poppie Fresh. She wore a stained apron and carried a spatula. Bobbie pins held her greying hair back. Her bare feet looked used to stepping on Hot Wheels and jacks.

She immediately related how much fun it was to have the kids all there and invited me to stay for dinner. It smelled wonderful, but we had to leave. For those few minutes I was there, though, I felt completely at home. It was like I'd known the family my whole life.

I don't want to force a value judgment on these two families. I'm sure Ken and Barbie were wonderful people that I could have become good friends with—if I had season opera tickets. And I have a lot of respect for someone who's ambitious enough to afford that lifestyle. I'm also sure Poppie Fresh sometimes wished she had a bigger home and someone to cook for her once in a while. But it struck me that Poppie's home was so much more inviting because she wasn't out to prove anything.

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