Friday, August 13, 2010

the half eaten bag of tortilla chips and the low fat biscotti

Iris and I are in the throes of planning our trip to Burning Man. Burning Man used to be, if not my life, a large part of it. I went to the Man back when things were wild and loose, back when we used to not only take guns but even drive around shooting them off at things. I soon went from being a wide-eyed spectator to being the legal counsel and a member of the board, spending much of my time and effort in the unglamorous behind-the-scenes work (as I used to say, I took my passion and turned it into a crappy full-time job, replete with far too much office politics). Now Burning Man is very different, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the young people burn the Man these days.

But while we're looking forward, I can't help but remember how it was, and in particular, I recently had occasion to remember the curious incident of the half eaten bag of tortilla chips and the low fat biscotti.

The year was 1996, and my first husband and I were planning our trip to Burning Man. We invited a friend of ours and his housemate (who later wrote a big article published in a German newspaper about me and my huge transformation from downtown lawyer to arts festival femme fatale and very suspiciously refused to give me a copy after I shared that my husband could read German). My ex mentioned casually that he'd invited Lesley, a coworker of his whom I had learned to hate. He tried to make it out that this was my idea, but as I rebutted, I would sooner have sawed an arm off than invite Lesley on my vacation. When I'd first met my husband's colleagues from that job, I'd described Lesley as "the girl who doesn't have an affect", and my husband agreed. But then the affectless coworker tended to come up more and more, and then the next thing I knew I was no longer welcome to accompany him to the office on the weekends (both workaholics back then, we had at one time a policy that if we were going to spend weekends working in the office, we'd do it together). After I realized that when he was out of town he was calling Lesley and not me (and the excuse that they were coworkers went only so far, given that they were in different groups and given that the calls seemed, at least sometimes, to be about what bands were playing on the upcoming weekend), I gave him an ultimatum that he got more than enough of Lesley at work and she was no longer welcome to socialize with us out of the office. So, imagine my surprise to be told that I'd invited Lesley to go on our vacation to Burning Man! I quickly invited a close girlfriend to have a female ally close at hand.

At a get-together to plan the trip, my erstwhile husband and I, the only ones who'd been before, laid out our expectations. I was known for always cooking, but I spelled it out: "This is my vacation, so don't expect me to cook for you. You're all on your own." I slowly panned from face to face, fixing everyone with a strong glare to drill that point home. On our way home, my husband sweetly shared how cute it was that Lesley's list of things to bring consisted only of "things to set on fire." Aww!

When the time came to drive out to the desert, Lesley chose to sit behind my husband, who was driving, and whisper into his ear, the ear on the far side away from me. I couldn't hear what she was saying, but hours of having her murmur in his ear worked my last nerve. We made a pitstop in Sparks, Nevada, to get fresh produce at the last minute. My husband annoyingly chose to "keep an eye on the truck", rather than help me shop, and Lesley insisted she was all set and didn't need anything. Instead of going in to buy groceries, she leaned back on my Jeep, putting one foot up like she was starring in a soda commercial, and looked deep into my husband's eyes. I was angry, but I charitably assumed she must have enough food along. I took over the driver's seat to put an end to those whispered tetes-a-tete, and as I observed later, Lesley spent hours whispering into the driver's ear when it was my ex driving, but not one word was whispered during my hours of driving.

But then as mealtimes came and went, it slowly emerged that Lesley had brought no water, no booze, and no food other than an open, half eaten bag of tortilla chips and a bag of low fat biscotti. She hadn't brought anything to share, other than those stupid biscotti. Oddly the one thing she had brought along was a copy of the Berkeley phone book, which at one point she carried off into the desert, later returning without it. Although I wondered what the hell she'd done with the phone book, I didn't ask. I was too filled with rage.

At every mealtime, I would cook a fabulous meal, assisted by my friend, and the two of us would eat it (my friend carrying on, for Lesley's benefit, in a loud voice about how great the food was). Lesley would stare at me, begging in body language for table scraps, but I wouldn't offer her food, and she didn't ask for it. My ex would pace around eating, angry at me for not feeding the obviously hungry Lesley, and refused to sit down with my friend and I to eat a civilized meal. With Lesley begging like a dog for food with her eyes and my husband fuming over my inhospitality towards her, the tension was high at our camp. Our friend Mark and his housemate brought a variety of dried camping food, and they gave Lesley their scraps at each meal after they had eaten their fill. I often ranted about how dare she come with nothing but half a bag of tortilla chips and some biscotti, we stopped at a grocery store for God's sake, and the lazy $*@&! stood in the parking lot hitting on my husband while I bought food she expected me to cook for her.

Lesley came to life at other times, though. She was separated from our group as we were exploring one night, and when she found us, she ran up and grabbed my husband's ass... right in front of me. I was livid. My friend was shocked and kept saying over and over again, "I can't believe she did that! She grabbed him!" Lesley looked at me for my reaction. My ex later completely denied it. "Oh, she was just reaching for something in my pocket."

Tension built. I went for a walk with my husband and informed him that he was free to sleep with Lesley, and then I would file for a divorce the day we got back. He freaked out at the mention of divorce and instantly changed his attitude. For the rest of Burning Man, he stayed by my side, and we had a wonderful time together. Lesley's spirits visibly sunk, and she slunk around gloomily for the rest of the trip. I felt as though I had squashed her like a bug, and, magnanimous in my triumph, I gave her some of the pasta puttanesca I made.

My ex and I were happy, so very happy then. We ran about hand-in-hand, seeing everything there was to see. I have a picture of myself taken then with my friend Mark, which appeared in a coffeetable book about Burning Man, and I'm clearly in my element, proud and confident and beautiful and happy, savoring my victory over the forces of evil and low fat biscotti.

[Four months later I filed for a divorce, and my husband and Lesley went public with their relationship (although he always did claim that nothing happened before our divorce and that "Lesley would be very shocked if she were to hear that you thought she'd ever done anything inappropriate")].


J9 said...

You get more and more interesting the longer I read your blog. Haove fun!

Silliyak said...

Any idea what the ex is doing now? I need a little closure!

hughman said...

silliyak, probably whining about not eating well and regretting his relationship choices.

Silliyak said...

H, I eat too well, and in terms of relationships,I got the best one. I win!

PHX Mama said...

>>it slowly emerged that Lesley had brought no water, no booze, and no food other than an open, half eaten bag of tortilla chips and a bag of low fat biscotti.

Best. Line. Ever.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Silliyak, I have no closure for myself or for you. Unlike 99% of divorced Americans who can find out what their ex is up to via Google, I have no clue what mine does. He has a very common name -- so common I'll let y'all have at it: Michael Mueller. I've only heard about him twice since our divorce: my dear friend and hairdresser Michele saw him & Lesley walking towards Dolores Park holding hands, and a friend of mine from my old apt building was all agog to tell me that he ran into Michael and found that Michael had had a heart valve replacement. I have no idea where he lives or works or if he's still in the Bay Area or still with Lesley.

Our friends ended up going with one or the other of us in the divorce, and my former brother-in-law and I tried to stay friends but it was weirdly difficult. Sigh.