Night and day.
These are the words that come to mind as I stand in the kitchen of my wife's parents' sprawling home in suburban Charlotte. After a relatively uneventful flight north and an amiable ride from the airport with my in-laws, I was immediately put to work helping to prepare for tonight's big event--Kara's family's annual Christmas Day party, which I've been informed several times is the stuff of legend around these parts. This appraisal is in no way surprising to me; Calling the Keller clan "somewhat social" is like saying that the Donner party was "a little hungry." What it meant for me was an afternoon of arranging dining-room china, hanging extra decorations, putting sand in the bottom of luminary bags and washing off serving platters while praying with all my might that the toaster next to the sink would accidentally fall into the dishwater while my hands were in it. All of this was done on orders from, and under the watchful eye of the Mistress of Blitzkrieg Domesticity: Kara's mother. If I ever wondered why my wife has a near-obsessive conviction that reality is something which constantly cries out to be improved upon, I need look no further than the woman who raised her. Basic white walls simply won't do. The caterpillar of cold-cuts and crackers can and should be tantalizingly morphed into the beautiful butterfly of curried jalapeno chicken capers with a drizzle of pear mustard on toasted baguette points. That Zen fountain you bought for someone as a thoughtful gift? Imagine how much more thoughtful it would be if you painted it with a textured bronze finish and mounted a can of Sterno in the middle to create a more soothing "fire and water" motif. Every wrapped gift had to be tied-up with six different multi-colored bows. Every bow had to have a little pinecone attached to it. Every pinecone had to be dipped in glitter. It all had to be placed lovingly into a crushed-velvet bag and filled with pastel tissue paper.
As much of an emasculative affront to my inner-Tyler Durden as it was being under the thumb of the Keller women, I knew the unfortunate truth--that it was preferrable to the alternative, which was attempting to engage in the usual bonding rituals of the Keller men. I could pretend to no end to be genuinely incensed that the Carolina Panthers just can't move the ball down the field worth a shit since they fired their offensive coordinator, but any idiot who ever watched a commercial for Monday Night Football could tell you that I had no fucking clue what the hell I was talking about. I couldn't care less about most American sports. I think Bud Light tastes like piss. I can't fix a car, snake a drain or install a ceiling fan. As far as anyone in this part of the country is concerned, I may as well be wearing lipstick.
It's true that for the most part, I think Kara's father and brother are pretty decent guys--but I couldn't pretend for a minute that you could make me a fit with them if you used industrial grease and/or a crowbar.
Night and day.
These are the words that come to mind as I stand in the kitchen of my wife's sprawling home in suburban Charlotte, surrounded on all sides by holiday revelers. It's a little past eight o'clock. The party is in full-swing and--by the somewhat subdued standards of any gated community--seems to be a rousing success. Kara's mother mingles; bathing herself in the seemingly endless shower of compliments. Her father is his usual tiny, silver-haired whirlwind of happy gregariousness. I've calmed what's left of the turmoil inside of my body with with a series of Bombay Sapphire and tonics of steadily increasing strength, and am now engaged in a lengthy conversation with the only person in the room with whom I seem to have anything in common. It doesn't escape my attention, or my wife's indignation, that this person is a fourteen year old kid. His name is James and he's the son of Kara's parents' next door neighbors. His mother the homemaker and father the doctor dress him like he just stepped out of a Nautica ad. He probably already has better credit than me. He and I talk movies, music, Playstation games--assorted bullshit. He's a little adult. I'm an overgrown child. It all balances out quite nicely. At some point in the evening, my wife chastises me for not paying enough attention to everyone else--including, but not limited to, an elderly Southern woman with a blue bouffant hairdo and a fuzzy red sweater with a picture of a Christmas poodle on it who wants desperately to get to know the man who married her dear Karry.
Time goes by.
The kid finally goes home--but not before tempting me with a personal escape plan which included playing a few games of Doom next door.
I have two more drinks.
I feel two more drinks better.
The crowd thins and clears.
The woman in the Christmas poodle sweater stands at the door and over-emotes that it's too bad we didn't have the time to get to know each other better. I contemplate informing her through my silly, drunken grin that it's unlikely I'll be in Karry's life much longer anyway.
I help clean up, because it simply can't wait until morning apparently.
I say goodnight, go up the ornately decorated staircase, get into the big, comfortable bed with my wife, pull up the goose-down duvet and lie awake in the dark for hours--staring at the vaulted ceiling and thinking about my mother and father and how they may as well be on a different planet.
Night and day, as in "the difference between."