I have before me the schedule of events for last weekend's suburban expedition, and all week I've been too disheartened to write about it. But my expat friend has been hankering for the write-up, having heard a few highlights from me, so here goes.
The thing was billed as "Girls Great Escape." That's right: No apostrophe. The purpose? "Designed to pamper and refresh the female spirit." Sounds vaguely feminist, no? Let me ask you this: Is [warning: do not click link without first muting your speakers] the BeDazzler feminist? Are the terms girls and ladies innately feminist when referring to women?
I'm getting ahead of myself with the BeDazzler reference. Let's take things in order here. The Escape began first thing Saturday morning with check-in in the hotel lobby, whereupon each registrant received a crinkly plastic satchel with papers, a fan (perfect for the hot-flasher, I s'pose), a bottle of water, and a 2-ounce scuffed plastic bottle of Smirnoff Orange Twist vodka. Hello! Good morning, Mr. Vodka! My cousin (code-named M, after Judi Dench's character in Casino Royale) and I deposited our luggage and crinkly satchels in our 11th floor room a with view of the downtown Chicago skyline and, closer in, the hotel's dumpsters and the car dealership next door, and the seedy D-Lux Motel across the street.
Time for continental breakfast. It was amazing! I'd never before tasted fresh pineapple so utterly lacking in pineapple flavor. I don't know how the kitchen staff managed to track down this rare variety of pineapple—quite a coup.
M and I had to hustle after breakfast because I had booked a 9:30 manicure. First we stopped at the sign-up table to see which activities we wanted to attend. Water aerobics or yoga? Not dressed for either, nor in the mood for exercise. Psychic readings? Oh, puh-lease. (Which, by the way, has become Ben's favorite phrase of late.) What utter crap. Wine-glass painting class? Why would we want to paint wine glasses? Flower-arrangement demo? I trust the florists to handle that for me. Self-defense demo? My mom and I took a multi-session class at the Thousand Waves women's martial arts studio. Bra-fitting makeovers? Already booked solid. Okay, so nothing to sign up for. Free afternoon!
The manicure was fine, and actually went days longer than usual without chipping. The manicurist asked how long I'd been married (going on 16 years) and exclaimed that I didn't even look 30. Yay me!
After the manicure, we sat on our respective beds (nice linens!) and chatted (or, to borrow the parlance used on the printed schedule, we opted to "Chit and Chat comfortably." WTF? "Chit and Chat"? What, pray tell, is Chitting?) while leafing through magazines. (Thankfully, I'd brought some magazines. What kind of hotel doesn't sell magazines?!?)
At 11:00, it was time for the Boutique Shopping Market to begin. O frabjous market! One vendor's table offered BeDazzled t-shirts. My personal favorite, what with my Irish heritage, was the tee with a leprechaun made of orange and green rhinestones. There were also BeDazzled hats with words writ in rhinestones, not to mention purses bedecked with shiny studs. Another table was laden with counterfeit designer bags. There were assorted jewelry and clothing displays, a nice-if-you-like-scented-candles selection of soy candles, and an out-of-place booth with hipster screen-printed tees, the shirts made of pre-weathered soft cotton. Hmm, not for the demographic in attendance here. Poor thing. I should've bought that brown long-sleeved tee with the monkey on it for Mr. Tangerine.
Three vendors' tables featured merchandise generally sold exclusively via house parties (much like Tupperware used to be)—shiny purses, Tastefully Simple food (damn, I was hungry—I snacked on the almond pound cake samples), and Pampered Chef kitchen tools. You know—the mainstays of suburban married-lady retail-oriented evenings. (I've never been invited to one of these events by friends in the city.)
So, M and I, both hardcore city dwellers ill-aligned with the suburban mystique, found much that provoked our mockery. Yes, we recognize that we were unbearably snobby and catty. But good gravy, we needed the entertainment, because the boutique and the crafts classes weren't doing it for us.
The luncheon began at 1:00 and consisted of passable chicken Caesar salad. The catering staff put a smallish glass of white wine at each place setting. Our table was almost half empty, meaning there were four extra glasses of wine just sitting there…so when we finished our wine, M reached over for two more. And when we finished those, she stretched her arm a little farther and grabbed two more. (Mind you, I normally don't drink more than one or two glasses of wine in a day.) M figured the other Girls at our table had us pegged for lushes. That may be.
The event's emcee was a man (why?? Where's the female recharging in that?) in a Cosby-style patterned sweater (you know the type). He boasted that the attendance numbers had grown over the Escape weekend's three years, and this year, there were "over 162" people registered. I want to know how many exactly. Was it 163? 164? Or maybe 168?
Our afternoon gaped wide open, and we feared falling into the depths of hell. So instead, M and I picked up a couple cans of cold Sprite, ordered up Casino Royale on pay-per-view, and sipped our orange vodka and Sprite cocktails during the movie. Pretty good movie, though there was a tremendous amount of disbelief to be suspended. M thought Daniel Craig was cute, but I don't much care for him. Lovely piercing blue eyes, though.
Eventually, 6:00 rolled around. Time for the wine tasting! Alas, I had already developed a hangover despite never actually being tanked. Same-day hangover! So unfair. So I had Diet Coke (elixir of the gods) while M had a couple more small wines.
Dinner followed on the heels of the wine tasting, which was actually more of an "open wine bar" deal. I had to sweet-talk the event's managers to line up a non-steak entrée. The alternative turned out to be a steak of white fish clad in a uniform yellow coating. It had no discernible seasoning (aside from salt), and I still haven't a clue what the yellow stuff was.
Some Girls ordered cocktails before dinner. One woman at our table explained her drink to her group: "It has lime and mint and rum. It's called a MOE-ja-toe." (Er, mojito takes a Spanish pronunciation.)
M and I were wearing the same ultra-casual clothes we'd had on all day. We were surprised to see that many women had dressed up for dinner. Dresses and high heels, sparkles, and ornately patterned apparel abounded. Also, who knew that the chemical dyes needed to "frost" hair were still on the market? We don't see much frosting in the city. I don't understand why so many retro '80s and '90s hairdos were on display, either. The suburb the hotel was in borders on Chicago, and we all get the same TV shows, movies, and magazines. Why have hairstyles so close to a large city stalled out in a previous decade? Can anyone explain this phenomenon?
During dinner, a Frank Sinatra wannabe serenaded the Girls and roved around the ballroom with his wireless microphone, kneeling down to put his arm around assorted women's shoulders while he sang. It was incredibly cheesy.
After dinner, one of the women at our table—a stranger to us, really—asked M if she could take her leftover steak to give to her dog the next day. (Steak lady did say that M and I looked like we were in our 20s. We opted to take her at her word, though it's certainly possible that the eyesight of a 71-year-old grows dim.) Another diner must've been bothered by meat strands caught in her teeth. M described it as "deep-sea diving," what this woman was doing in her mouth with toothpick and fingernails at the table. Eventually she extracted a piece, and resumed the toothpicking action for another extended bout.
Sinatra-esque was continuing his performance after dinner, and when he finished, a DJ was due to spin some tunes so that over 162 Girls could dance. Dance! I'm marginal on dancing with my husband at a wedding, so dancing on carpet in cargo pants amid BeDazzled women while my headache throbbed? Did not sound like a good time.
M also had zero interest in dancing, so we headed back upstairs for more pay-per-view. The Departed was fantastic, though I could've done without the gushes of blood from crania and whatnot. I also managed to feel queasy all evening. Was it the uncharacteristic consumption of alcohol? Was it the wine-followed-by-vodka sequencing? Or was it the yellow fish coating? I know not.
The next morning, the champagne breakfast buffet had…moist scrambled eggs. I'm choosy about eggs: they must be well scrambled, and don't gimme any wet stuff. So I opted to forgo protein. The pecan coffeecake was good, though. You could bake a shoe with pecans on top, and I'd eat it with pleasure. I love, love, love toasty, crunchy pecans. I also skipped the champagne because that's an instant recipe for a headache (although I think I can safely drink prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine).
The stand-up comedian (pardon me, the comedienne, as she was billed on the schedule) who performed was decent. (Have you ever heard of a comedian working a breakfast gig? Me neither.) She lost me with all the country music references, but when she asked the assembled crowd if anyone had any piercings, she got off a good joke: "My nipples aren't pierced, but sometimes I like to wear clip-ons." She'd also asked anyone with a tattoo to raise her hand. Out of over 162 people, I think only about four people raised their hands. So apparently, this is a tattoo-averse demographic, the Girls. (I don't have one, but I harbor thoughts of getting a small blank crossword grid tattooed on the inside of my calf so I'll never be without a crossword to work on if I get bored.)
A woman at our breakfast table exclaimed, "This is the greatest weekend I've ever had!" (Poor dear.) I suspect this crowd consisted largely of women with husbands and kids, women who don't get many opportunities for "me" time. Last year, I had three long weekends away from home without my family, and there was probably another weekend or two when Mr. Tangerine and Ben visited my in-laws without me. I'm lucky to get the time that I need to recoup some sanity, to feed my mind. I wish everyone's existence allowed them that—because we all need to have some time when other people's needs are secondary to our own.
So in sum: I'm a little bit of a snooty bitch, but I'm a happy one. And I paid the karma price for the mockery with that hangover, which lasted from Saturday evening through Sunday night.