Well-To-Do by Sam Sheffler

A bleak 90's version of the American nuclear family, by Sam Sheffler

The couple sat in their car in the driveway. A torrential downpour kept them there as they waited for the real estate broker, Lynn Banyon, to show them the quaint wood framed house on the north side of route 27 in Amagansett. Even though the property was not south of the highway, the beach side, as they would have wished, they had agreed to see it on Lynn's word that it was probably the nicest within their price range north or south.

When Lynn got there she said, "I'm sorry. I had to drive the kids to the rec center for Tae Kwon Do class, and you know... with the weather and all..." Lynn had the word "mom" crayoned all over her. She was very pregnant again. The local housewife turn real estate agent wore expensive fitness sneakers, oversized overalls and smelled of children, specifically stale American cheese.

Stan and Mary Kahn had come up to the Hamptons this stormy Saturday in November to look at houses for the summer. The finally comfortable Kahns had devoted their lives to their current well-to-do station in life.

Stan had just gotten a promotion at his firm. He was a diligent worker, well liked at the office, and could get what he wanted. He could play the politics - meaning, he could have the propensity to be an asshole behind closed doors if he had to. With his enlargement of pay, he was granted less responsibility; so, he could afford to take more time off. This would also allow him the forty grand for bond at a golf club and give him the time to play.

Mary worked as a script supervisor for a popular television game show and had the summer off for hiatus. She liked her job for its unusually large salary and the freedom of the schedule. Her favorite quotation was "You know what they say... nothing beats TV money!" Excited about a leisurely summer of days filled with trips to the Farmer's Market, long strolls on the beach, and catching up on her reading - she would then casually brag about it to her friends stuck back in the city.

They were self-made New Yorkers. His parents were Queens grocers; hers a little more haute, as school teachers in Pellham. Life hadn't been a cake walk for either of them. They had both had their set backs - from humble beginnings they both felt they had been given the shaft plenty of times, from busting their asses in school to fighting for every inch of yardage they had gained over the course of their careers. Not to mention the fact that Mary had been flashed by a strange man in the school yard as a little girl. An event that put her into years of therapy, and, she suspects, has made it nearly impossible for her to reach orgasm. Stan had a small penis and was going bald. And yes, they had had their share of fights over the years, but they always ended in mournful apologies. Stan would give red roses and jewelry. Mary would cook a delicious homemade Chinese meal and give Stan oral sex. To their friends they were a delightful couple. They took pride in the fact that theirs was seen as a sound and solid marriage.

In their late thirties, Stan and Mary had forgone a family. Mary knew she wasn't the mothering type. Taking the time out of her work schedule and the possibility of advancement at "the show" (as she called it, yet another colloquialism which displayed her sass and zest for life) meant more to her then having to deal with the mess of rearing a child. Stan wasn't interested in parenting either. His brother had plenty of kids to keep the Kahn name going. Anyway, what they were interested in was the good life. Nice things and prestigious positions were what they aspired to, and they were on their way. Kids would throw a wrench in the works, they agreed. The Kahns had that understanding and felt it strengthened their marriage: giving them one up on their friends. If history said anything about the sanctity of having a family, progeny, they were happy to be sacrilegious. They both unspokenly thought of Lynn Banyon as a boob.

The two were in the prime of their lives and were excited about buying a place in the lazy, low key, Long Island town. They had been coming out to the Hamptons for years, going in on shares with their friends. They had stayed in "wooded communities" in Quogue, a blind driveway Sag Harbor cottage on the Cove, condos off of Three Mile Harbor Road, and even a tennis and beach hotel in Napeague - bunched together with friends and enemies from the city. Motley groups of up and comers who simply had to summer in the Hamptons. They would spend every other weekend rain or shine making the best out of their little slice of the Hamptons.

Part of the joy of having a place out on the east end of Long Island was the drama that could stir up between supposed friends and housemates. Usually, just petty differences about eating someone else's stock of food, the acknowledgment of how dirty a couple could be, or the discovery that someone didn't make as much as they said they did or gave themselves an elaborated job title. The Kahns needed the melodrama and thrived on the venom, as did everyone else.

The barbecues could be pretentious; they might have to withstand the humiliation of waiting on line for what seemed like hours to eat at a satellite of an expensive Manhattan restaurant; the twenty minute drive and half an hour ordeal for beach parking might be frustrating; the supposed Hollywood parties might only host a single celebrity and that from tabloid TV's Inside Edition; but Stan and Mary were troopers and stuck to their guns, returning every year. The Jersey shore was for high school kids, chiropractors, and cops. Now they finally had the opportunity to take the next step and buy a place of their own in the choice community.

"And how 'bout this weather?" Lynn said as she ushered them past her and into the front door of the modern built colonial. She shielded her head from the Nor'easter with a copy of the Independent. "We can really get bombarded this time of year."

The echo of foot steps on the hard wood floor clacked through the house. The room remained dark. Lynn shut the door and walked out of the room. Outside, the howl of the wind and rain gave their shelter a cold but cozy feel. "It's so much larger then it seems," Mary noted as she moved forward in circles.

Lynn found the light. With a flick of the switch the room came into view. It had a standard second home feel to it. It was modest, yet sophisticated. The walls were paneled with non-descript sand colored wood. Following the walls up to the high ceiling they could see the second floor. It appeared as a balcony overlooking where they stood. On the floor lay thick and colorful Persian rugs over amber industrial carpet. The shelves were filled with paperbacks and sea shells. Modular gray corduroy couches formed a "U" around a glass coffee table and faced the brick fireplace. After first glance around the room Stan and Mary both set their eyes on the most noticeable furnishing in the room. A black baby grand piano was situated in the far corner on its own plush rug; on top of the stately instrument stood tens of framed photographs of different age and size.

Lynn entered the room, bored. "So this is it. Take a look around. Ask me questions," she said tersely.

As if drawn by a very small magnet in a large vacuum, the couple sauntered to the piano without much thought or dedication, looking about the room as they approached. "How many baths?" Stan inquired.

"Two and a half," said Lynn, busy with her own thoughts. She walked to the window and stared out into the storm. An odd quiet filled the room. The couple became instantly interested in the photos on the piano. All three of them seemed as if they were half in a daze. The assuring nature of being out of the storm had everyone preoccupied.

"Three bedrooms you said?" Mary half heartedly threw the question out and over to Lynn.

"Yeah, that's right." Lynn continued to concentrate on the rain. Her clients didn't bother her about her lack of attention; they suffered from the same non specific meditation.

Stan picked up an old black and white photo of a large immigrant family posed in rows. The men had thick mustaches, wore hats and dapper yet old and sooty suits. The women were dressed in heavy off-white dresses and had kerchiefs over their heads. Two young boys wore knickers. A teenage girl was the only one smiling, she wore a dark dress and a light colored blouse. A very young child, Stan couldn't make out if it was a girl or a boy, sat on a tricycle. "Look at this," he said to his wife. "Looks like your side of the family." He laughed.

"Hey! My family was much poorer than those poor people," she shot back and smiled. Mary was holding another frame. She pointed at the teenage girl in the family portrait that Stan held in his hand and waved the black and white photo that she held. It was what looked like an older incarnation of the teenage girl from the family portrait. "Look at her. This must be her. Isn't she wonderful."

Stan put on a snide smile. "I can't imagine there being two pictures of the same Gypsy, what a coincidence."

"Stan! Stop being such a pain in the ass." Mary raised the frame in her hand pretending to wind up to hit him. He flinched on cue. Another, more modern, color photo caught Mary's eye. In the picture the group of friends were engaged in a party. The scene contained three couples collapsed upon each other in drunken glee. The revelers stood on a deck, behind them was a pool. Mary looked out the sliding glass door across the room to find the very same deck and pool outside. "Well, they've certainly had some good times here," Mary said to no one specifically. She turned the frame to face Stan who was inspecting a photo of two attractive young women at their high school graduation. "Look Stan... fun. You think we could achieve such gaiety?"

"No. You know me. I hate fun."

"Yoo-hoo! Are these the owners? Are any of these people the owners?" Mary waved the picture at Lynn, who broke her stare out the window and joined them at the piano.

Lynn pointed at the couple who were at the bottom of the pileup. He - olive complexion with a bit of a paunch, black hair with a wisp of silver in front, and wore dark sunglasses. She - a too skinny strawberry blonde whose skin looked leathery with a spotty and scaly tan. "That's them. The Delmonicos. He's in bonds. She's a family therapist. Had something of an eating problem." Lynn gestured her finger toward her throat with a gag. The Kahns nodded knowingly. "They just broke up last year, right after the summer. Twenty years. Two kids. They chose to sell the house instead of deciding who should take it. Classic story... he was sleeping with his secretary. It had been going on for ten years. They even had a kid together about three years ago. Do you guys have any kids?"

"No. We don't have the time," Stan answered as he had time and time before. Mary nodded in accordance.

Mary glanced at her husband knowing he really was unfun enough never to have an affair. Lynn excused herself to the bathroom, saying something only a pregnant woman could detail about her bowel movements. The Kahns nodded and resumed their fascination with the landlord's photo-history.

Mary picked up another frame. People sitting around the deck in chairs with their drinks. She scanned the faces of the guests to see if any were familiar to her. She didn't know anybody, but familiar they were. The party members all had a similar look: New York successful; all with their own Manhattan style: well groomed with a touch of sarcasm in their pose. These were the type of people Mary and Stan called friend. She thought of the parties she would have this summer. She thought about how it was her turn to host. Her guest list would include a whimsical medley of the important and provocative, like Stan's boss and their friend who created the ad line "You've got a whole lot riding on your tires" for Michelin.

"What'cha lookin' at?" Stan asked his wife.

"Oh, another party."

"Let me see." Stan took the picture and inspected. "Look at this." He pointed at a balding bearish man enjoying high ball and a cigar. "Doesn't that look like Jeff Savoy?"

Jeff Savoy was an old close friend of Stan and Mary's from the city. They had met him years ago when they were all scammed by the same pyramid scheme involving an environmentally conscious mutual fund. He was a few years older than the Kahns, yet always the life of the party. He was outrageous, not missing a beat since his days in the frat. He worked as an accountant at a big firm; one of his main clients was a "hot" (his word) rock band. The few occasional times the Kahns had smoked pot in their adult lives it was with Jeff. Stan and Mary often wondered if Jeff had changed his name to Savoy to suit his lifestyle. Stan often said "I bet his real name is Savistonich or maybe Savit."

"Yeah that does look a bit like him," Mary concurred. "Funny, knowing Jeff - he does look like he's having a ball. If there was a lampshade on his head then I'd believe it."

"But then you couldn't see his face," Stan mused.

Mary shook her head. "You know what I mean."

Stan pointed at another shot. "That is him! It's Jeff! It has to be. What the hell is he doing in this photo? How does he know these people? That has to be him."

Mary looked. "That could be him."

"What? You're not convinced?" Mary's response made Stan skeptical again.

Mary picked up a photo of a party that took place in the house during the late seventies. Everybody had wine glasses in hand. Guests were dressed in much denim and velour, pants were tight, collars were wide, some women wore tube tops, hair styles tended to be longer and facial hair (on the men) abounded. It was a time of lax mores and even feebler fashion. Mary's eyes lit up with thrill upon setting eyes on the party. She threw it before Stan's line of sight, in front of the picture he was already looking at.

"Oh my God! Look Stan." She shook the frame. "I think you're right. I think it is him."

"Let me see, where?" His eyes still hadn't focused on the image.

"Where?" she said sarcastically. "Remember that perm?"

"Holy...! That is him! I told you!. But what the hell is he doing here at this party. I never met these people." The Kahns were concerned, even indignant at the fact that they might have been left out of a very important social scene. Then Stan made an important observation. "Where's Katie?"

Katie was Jeff's wife for almost three decades. She had stayed with her husband through thick and thin. When his firm made mass layoffs in its upper echelons in the early Nineties due to over extension in the Eighties she went back to school to get her teaching degree so she could work while he got back on his feet.

"I don't know where Katie is, but he looks awfully comfortable with that woman." Stan pointed to a long black haired woman. The back right pocket of her tight fitting flared jeans was occupied with Jeff's hand. "That has to be him. You're right. That's his perm! And she looks like Cher!"

Mary was amused. "Easy honey, let's not get likeness happy here. That's not Cher. That's definitely not Cher... but that definitely is Jeff."

"Well, she looks a lot like Cher," Stan said humbly, dropping the subject. "But how 'bout that... if that is Jeff... he's had a parallel set of friends that we never knew about for as long as we've known him." Stan got a little angry. "What the hell is that? You think you know someone..."

Mary picked up another photo of a party. It looked relatively recent. In it, the man they identified as Jeff Savoy was in full embrace and connected by the lips with a blond woman in a spaghetti string bikini; her hips poured out over the bottom of the suit.

"Oh my, if that's Jeff... what about poor Katie?" Mary's face dropped thinking of the implications of their long time friend sullying his marriage with years of infidelity. She actually thought about what if it was her that was faced with her husband's infidelity, but then she remembered she was married to Stan. "What should we do?"

Stan was perplexed. "What can we do? Rat on Jeff?"

"This is weird." Mary grew quiet reviewing their dilemma.

Stan and Mary left the piano in deep thought. They walked from room to room, checking the place out.

"Maybe Jeff has a twin brother that he never told us about," Mary tried to rationalize.

"We've met his family. He has no twin brother," shot Stan.

"What are we going to do? This is such an odd, uncomfortable situation."

"Why would he have a group of friends that he never told us about?" Stan seemed hurt, yet fascinated. And in a rare attempt at hipness used a bit of street slang that he picked up from some of the younger men in his firm. "I mean, what? We couldn't hang?"

"Stan, he was screwing another woman."

"That Jeff Savoy is something else. So unpredictable."

The Kahns felt closer to each other now that they held this privileged information. After years of going out to the Hamptons - this was best dirt they had ever tread upon. They were giddy with an excitement and power that rarely comes along. The fate of their friends' marriage was in their hands, and they intended to have fun with this advantaged position.

The house seemed fine to them. Everything was very basic and standard. That appealed to the Kahns. They reconvened back at the piano.

About that time Lynn reappeared from the bathroom. "So folks? What do you think? You seem pretty interested in the pictures. They, unfortunately, do not come with the house." Lynn laughed at her own joke.

"We'll take it!" Stan said with a gust of spontaneity he hadn't demonstrated in years, if ever. Mary looked at him happily incredulous. He smiled at his wife who smiled back.

Memorial day came and went. The Kahns had moved in. It was the beginning of June and Mary was planning a July 4th party. She wanted it to be as big a success as what she had seen the Delmonicos' photos; to live up to the splendor that once graced their deck in summers past. She made all the plans: hired a caterer, ordered the booze, rented extra chairs, picked out invitations, and most importantly drew up the guest list. At the top of the list... Jeff and Katie Savoy.

The Savoy situation had been percolating in both Stan and Mary's heads since that day back in November. They felt the only way to approach the curious circumstances of the Savoys without being point blank confrontational was to have it unfold at the scene of the crime.

"What if he sees the address on the card?" Mary asked Stan.

"So what," Stan replied. "He doesn't know we saw the photos. What type of excuse would he make up for not coming? 'Katie, I can't go to that party I have adulterous memories of that house!'"

"He could make up another reason for not coming."

Stan assured his wife. "You know Jeff, he wouldn't miss our party for the world. If we held it at a morgue he could come."

"Yeah, we know Jeff alright." She smiled viciously. Stan kissed his wife and they did it once on the floor.

The plan went: if that guy in the photos was indeed Jeff, (and they were positive it was), Mary and Stan would surely find him out by needling him with knowing looks and slipped words. What the outcome of this experiment would be neither of them knew. But they would be sure to press the issue to the point of making Jeff crack and get it out in the open. This could be a fourth of July that would live in infamy. Their friends would never forget the party.

A week after the invitations went out RSVP cards started to trickle in through the mail. Upon opening every one Mary hoped it was the affirmative response from Jeff and Katie; but no card from the most wanted of guests. RSVPs filled the mail for the last two weeks of June and stopped as the month drew to a close. Still no answer from the Savoys. Mary and Stan thought this a very telling sign that there had to be a problem and it probably sprung once Jeff saw the address.

Two days before the party a lone response card arrived in the mail. Mary waited till Stan got home from golf before she opened it. Mary sat at the kitchen counter with a glass of Merlot and the small envelope before her. Stan entered to find his wife a bit buzzed, wearing a giddy smile on her face. "Look what came in the mail," she gloated.

"An RSVP," Stan said. "Think it's from Jeff and Katie?"

"I don't know. I waited for you to find out."

"That's very kind of you - queen of devious."

Mary laughed and opened the envelope with her nail.

"They're coming," Mary said excitedly. "They say they'll be here with bells on."

It rained on fourth of July, as usual. The party had to be moved from the deck to inside the house. Mary did a very good job of inviting a party that resembled one that the Delmonicos' might have. The mix of people in the house was very Manhattan transfer; a mix of the financial world, TV production, a doctor or two, and a peppering of lawyers for good measure. Rain and all, it seemed as if everyone was having a good time, but still no sign of the unspoken guest of honor and his wife.

At this point both Stan and Mary had tied one on. The rented frozen margarita machine was working just fine and made such a delicious concoction that they didn't even realize that they had both downed about eight of them. They were acting loud and one might even say "goofy," Stirring their party's anticipation for the one they were waiting for, Jeff Savoy. Stan and Mary's hidden agenda was cloaked by an actual longing for a guy that brought so much joy to their festive occasions over the years.

"...This one time," Stan howled, "Jeff made us all drive up to Ski Windham, a two hour drive mind you! Just so we could take some crumby plastic sled that he had in his trunk down a trail on the mountain." Stan had the crowd going with his anecdotes of Jeff's frivolity. A few of the guests inquired as to the missing guests' whereabouts.

Mary chimed in. "I don't know. They said they were coming." Mary was virtually bubbling over from anticipation of the sting operation she and her husband had set up. Ugly, spiteful, thoughts filled her head of how when the couple arrived she and Stan would move in for the kill. First, asking Jeff questions about what he thought about the house; then, peering into his eyes knowing he was more educated on the subject then he led them to believe. Even if Jeff never confessed to being there before, they could at least extract a mournful look from his face. Making him regret his shameful behavior of the past. Why they were so interested in uncovering Jeff's wrongs the Kahns didn't know, it was instinctual. It had gone way past curiosity at this point. It was merely a challenge of morality that Stan and Mary couldn't even back up with their own virtue. Their own scheming behavior was equally if not more reprehensible.

"Then there was that time we all crashed that party at Tavern on the Green after the U.S. Open... and Jeff got into that argument with John McEnroe about a line call in the second set," Mary remembered.

Someone mentioned how years ago Jeff had gotten him a job a small brokerage house. Now they were a partner. Someone else told a story about how she and her husband never ever thought they would ever have gone ballooning, but sure enough it was Jeff and Katie who had invited them. The stories about the good couple rolled in. And sure enough, Jeff and Katie arrived and were greeted with a rally of excitement.

Stan and Mary never said anything to Jeff or Katie. They kept their mouths shut. Jeff stuffed his mouth with pepperoni and fresh mozzarella from the Barefoot Contessa on water crackers. Katie gabbed about the inner city school she taught at, and the funny names of the kids she had in her classes.

After the party the Kahns confided in each other how good they felt about taking the high road.

Jeff Savoy had known he was in the neighborhood but didn't even realize this was the house that he used to frolic in, the effect of years of daily casual pot smoking.

Back in the city after the summer, Stan started sleeping with his secretary and Mary started smoking Marlboro lights.

1 comment:

  1. i found this very interesting and had been expecting a dramatic ending, all the better for
    not having a dramatic ending. revealing, real and so true to life. makes you think about friends and their agendas.

    michael mccarthy