Up the Valley: Love Hangover

February 19, 2014

Some tips for Singles on the care and feeding of their friends who are Couples: today’s column in the Star...

As I write this, I am recovering from a slight overindulgence in strong spirits during the previous night’s Valentine’s Day Swing Dance Celebration at the theater where I serve as producing director. That’s my title at the moment — this being The Theatah and the 21st Century, I may have been ousted or replaced by a programming algorithm by the time this column goes to press.

I appear to have a perverse need for self-torture around all holidays. Having become a complete Scrooge at Christmas, it made total sense that I would spend years owning a retail store guaranteed to extend my Holiday Hell to 12 months per annum. Caught in an endless cycle of selling ho-ho-haute décor, then going in on Christmas Day to mark it all down, my holidays during The Lost Retail Years boiled down to: Unpack, Display, Discount, Repack and Repeat — all to an endless soundtrack of “The Christmas Song” by Alvin & the Chipmunks.

And so — being the accomplished spinster that I am — it was inevitable that I would someday produce a romantic Valentine’s Day holiday love-fest at the theater. I must admit: It was a fun night. I rented a dance floor, booked a San Francisco swing band called the Martini Brothers, and took unexpected pleasure in watching the couples twirling and canoodling on the dance floor.

There is something so endearing about couples when they are dancing: the big guys who are surprisingly graceful, the pairs wordlessly performing synchronized dance routines they’ve polished over decades, and the carefree, youthful aspect adorning women as they are spun, flipped and dipped by a strong partner.

The dance floor, however, is one of the few places I find couple-dom particularly adorable. Although most of my closest friends occupy this mysterious, and for me unattainable, state-of-being, hanging out with couples can test a sensitized single person’s patience. It’s not that I don’t love them wholeheartedly — both collectively and individually. It’s when they start WE-ing all over me that fondness turns to frustration.

Consternating couple behavior often results from a shared email address. I will be in the middle of an extended online conversation with one spouse, when the other suddenly chimes in unannounced. Rarely do they identify which of them is typing, so I have to undertake an operation to break their secret codes and ciphers that would have baffled the Enigma-busting cryptologists of World War II.

The only reliable way to communicate via joint-custody email is to carefully restrict communications to each spouse’s areas of sole responsibility. If, for example, the wife has authority over calendars and bookings (which is the case 99.9 percent of the time), I know that regardless of which spouse reads my message proposing a date, the husband wouldn’t dare enter into a commitment on their behalf, and therefore any definitive response on the topic must have emanated from the wife.

The reverse is generally true when the topic is tools or technology, as in: Do I need to upgrade the software on my iPhone, should I choose Mac or PC, or what is a socket wrench? But trouble arises when it’s a subject on which both spouses share jurisdiction — like cooking, politics and the personal lives of their single friends.

Some socially active singletons tell me that they frequently feel they exist solely for the amusement of their married friends. Sharing the agony of the single person’s dating experience must serve the essential societal function of confirming a couple’s decision to remain married. Even I, with a social life that a Trappist Monk would find confining, sometimes feel like Carrie Bradshaw swilling Cosmos at the dinner table of Ward and June Cleaver. I imagine perplexed post-departure conversations with the kids during which the Beaver turns to his brother and asks: “Gee Wally, why doesn’t Laura just find some swell guy and get married like Mom did?”

But I find couples to be at their most intolerable when ordering food in restaurants. Yes — we get it — there are two of you, and so you can split and share everything on Life’s Menu. Not for you the sad, lonely, pitiable need to order an individual Caesar salad before your entree or — worse — having to make the heartbreaking choice between a salad OR an entree. Yes, you have — by virtue of having coupled-up — earned the right to enjoy both meat and pasta, but civility demands that you take both from your own plate and fork. Feeding each other by hand after the first 30 days of marriage should provide grounds for the rest of us to compel you two to live apart for a while.

My next production at the theater includes a musical performance by Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges and his band the Abiders. His gorgeous wife of 36 years is coming with him, and his talented daughter is his opening act. I can’t imagine what movie star/musician/ proud parent/couple behavior looks like, but if Mr. & Mrs. Bridges start feeding each other by hand during the VIP party, well — I for one cannot promise to abide.

Our local leaders make an unusual proposal to protect a local eyesore:  My latest column in the Star….

It is remarkable how one neighbor’s eyesore can be another’s architectural treasure.

In the decorous neighborhood where I grew up, one house on our street featured a lawn display adorned by plastic deer and the associated flora and fauna of an enchanted forest. For years neighbors plotted — and sometimes accomplished — the kidnapping or mutilation of Bambi & Family, but replacement creatures always magically appeared in their places.

Another neighbor’s front yard contained a tranquil Japanese garden complete with bonsai-style trees, cement pagodas and cherry blossoms that, while lovely, were in distinct disharmony with the wagon wheel-adorned ranch house next door. In otherwise restrained neighborhoods, I’ve seen homeowners display a lifetime’s accumulation of hubcaps, beer bottles and faded, burnt-bulb lawn figures re-creating Santa’s Workshop year-round.

Here in St. Helena, where the town’s residents rarely reach a consensus on anything, there is a building located on a busy corner of town that is so incongruous, so dilapidated and so deleterious to the landscape, its pending demolition has inspired a resounding chorus of: “It’s about time.”

Chiming in with dissenting voices, strangely enough, are The People’s representatives at City Hall.

By way of background, let me explain that the blemish in question consists of the unsightly remains of a gas station built in the 1940s. It is a battered white metal box with a small service window, connected via tattered overhang to a platform that once supported gasoline pumps, harkening back to a time when motorists had their gas pumped and windows washed by live humans. In its day, it undoubtedly displayed a distinctly Edward Hopperesque Deco design. But today it is downright shabby, held together by peeling paint, decades of congealed grease, and plastic signs advertising smogging services.

The owners of the local hardware store — a respected and community-spirited family — purchased this old gas station property, which is adjacent to their store. They planned to replace it with a well-designed two-story commercial building, welcomed by many residents as a long-overdue overhaul of the downtown streetscape. Two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, their developmental dreams were dashed when city officials deemed the rickety relic a “character-defining element” of the downtown historic district, triggering further delays and pricey environmental impact studies.

Rather than demolishing this architectural anachronism, City Hall’s planning experts are demanding that the owners relocate it to a public park several blocks away, where it can be shored-up and repurposed as (wait for it) a restroom.

Ah yes, what greater tribute could be paid to the architect’s vision than to have his work permanently enshrined as a public toilet, where transients, escapees from police custody and local canines frequenting the adjacent dog park may forever seek refuge in its historically insignificant embrace.

Ironically, City Hall is itself such a ramshackle teardown that city leaders tried last year to offload it to some unwitting buyer looking to invest millions of dollars to replace it with a hotel, hoping guests would taste enough Napa Valley cabernet to sleep through the eardrum-splitting sirens of the Fire Department downstairs. City officials seemed desperate to dispose of the premises before someone discovered ancient relics buried in the basement or spotted owls nesting in the eves, or before some do-gooder came along and had the thing declared a “character-defining element” of historic downtown.

Still, this irony may present the perfect solution. Since the current occupants of City Hall seem so sentimental about this former service station, I would propose a swap. The hardware store owners should be permitted to build their new commercial building on the current site of City Hall, while city government should be relocated to the old corner gas station.

This would prove extremely convenient for everyone involved. Residents and prospective business owners could utilize this “Drive-thru City Hall” to have their permits denied without the bother of having to get out of their cars. Land-rich-but-cash-strapped locals could drop off sacks of gold, livestock or other tributes to pay their ever-rising water bills. And routine municipal services could be outsourced to overseas workers, at considerable cost savings to the city.

Imagine driving up to the window, but instead of an attendant, you encounter a giant menu and tiny speaker, just like Jack in the Box. You might select No. 1: Business License, No. 2: Building Permit, No. 3: Use Permit, and so on. A courteous Indian-accented voice streams through the speaker, saying: “We will be exceedingly pleased to help you. It is our great happiness to serve your profoundly important needs. If you will kindly give us your most excellent order and your telephone number, we will be contacting you very shortly, or never, as the case may be. Thank you for doing business with the Best Exotic City of St. Helena.”

If only you could order fries with that, it would be perfect.