Some time ago my younger son asked me the question “Are we rich?” but with his adorable accent it sounded like “wich.”
“No sweetie,” I replied, “We’re not rich. We seem rich because we have a nice house but we’re not.”
I figured I would skip the part about the toll the GIGANTIC mortgage has had on mommy and daddy’s sex life.
“But Malibu is where rich people live,” chimed in the older one, ever willing to state the facts.
“That’s true, but not everyone in Malibu is rich.”
They sat in the backseat and thought about this for a while. Did I not mention that this entire conversation took place in my car? Well of course it did! Because these are boys (I read this in one of the mostly useless parenting “tips” I peruse from time to time) they’re not as comfortable talking face to face. Ever try to talk to a guy in the outdoors, he looks out at the distance, like an Amish farmer surveying his crops? It’s so annoying, but once you know this you can use it to your advantage, like when he looks out at the horizon you can floss your teeth.
It’s why men bond over beer and sports games, giving them something external to focus on, while women prefer to sit at the smallest possible dinner table and staring into each other’s eyes as of they’re about to make out, even if they aren’t.
But as a mother, the “indirect direct” method of conversation has been an invaluable trick for pulling out information, about my boys’ day at school, their thoughts and feelings, that otherwise get summed up in the response, “Good, can I watch TV now?”
It’s true that Malibu is kind of a dichotomy. You can’t tell who’s rich and who’s poor until you go to their houses, because half the people dress like they’re homeless. It’s the new chic, even the stupidly expensive Chloe bag I bought myself recently (instead of paying the aforementioned mortgage) is called a “hobo.” What’s next? The new perfume of the future Shit-Chic™ you will feel at one with the earth…
The rest of Malibu dresses like mermaids. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen women over fifty wearing glittery seashell barrettes in their hair, bright coral lipgloss, and trailing multi-colored organza on the way to lunch. The only drawback: trying to pick sand out of 8 inch clear plastic stripper shoes. I would describe this as a “quality problem.”
Many things in Malibu aren’t what they seem. Besides the trusty Prius (a non-status status symbol) and Ugg boots (worn year round with anything from a sweat suit to the tiniest mini-dress on earth – I’m looking at you Pam Anderson) there are many things that intentionally camouflage wealth or keep it on the down-low. The public schools out here are so great that simply sending your kids to one doesn’t mean anything (parents at our school are movie stars, super-models and pro-athletes) but most of these people are indeed “wich.”
But sometimes, people are just outright living way beyond their means, and later you find out about repoed Escalades and sneaking off to the Valley to try and sell last season’s designer bags. (To buy this season’s of course.)
Then there are trailer parks, and longtime “Malibillies” (as my friend Melissa calls them) who probably bought their house in the boondocks for $14,000 back in 1973. They are suspicious as Appalachian mountain folk and “crazy as a cut snake,” and would not look out of place on an episode of Hoarders, the show on which the ladies could not steal a moment to floss their teeth because they don’t have any.
Although the majority of people who live here (and are not bussed in from L.A. – which is part of the reason I love our school) are at the very least middle class. The other day I was helping in my older kid’s Grade 3 classroom (I know, I’m a SAINT) and the writing assignment involved thinking of al obstacle in your life and how you overcame it. It was fairly amusing watching these rather lucky kids think of obstacles and come up with nothing. “We waited ages for a table to get sushi and then they didn’t even have the cod roll, you guys…”
Eventually they all turned up dead pets, some divorces and broken limbs, so I guess we are all alike in that we’re trapped in these stupid yet miraculous human skin sacks, that dictate our limitations. Although if I had been speaking to more of the kids who get bussed in, I may have uncovered this gem that my children quoted from a friend at school a few years ago:
“My dad got shot.”
“Oh that’s terrible,” I said, and part of me meant terrible for this poor kid, and part of it was the fact that my (at the time) five and six year olds now knew it was possible in this world for your parent to get shot and die. I was hoping to at least save that little nugget of truth for second grade. Perhaps a nice drive out to the country where I could drop the news while they gazed distractedly at the scenery.
This morning as I was driving the kids to school after a remarkably drama free morning (what? Have we turned a corner? Could I dare to dream?) the kids started pointing out landmarks…
“There’s another wich person’s house, and another wich person’s house and that’s a wich person’s mansion.”
Ah those wich people. Always fucking things up for the rest of us.