I couldn’t understand why not, so I asked her as much.
Suri sounded ill at ease as she said, “Well, they’re all doing Sombrero Chicken these days… I guess you could still go breaded, though who knows what they’ll think…”
I’d seen it at an affair recently. It consisted of a hard, tasteless crust in the shape of a Mexican sombrero, salad filling up the brim, and pieces of egged chicken sewn into the crust in place of sequins. Everyone raved over it! It was the talk of the entire affair, making us all practically forget why we were even there.
If my memory served me correctly, though, besides a peck and a taste here and there, the sombreros were returned to the kitchen virtually untouched. Was I too much an old-fashioned Jewish mother to want my main course enjoyed and eaten and not brought back into the kitchen?
I voiced my misgivings to Suri.
You know how people can sometimes give you that pitying look with the message clearly coming across, “Are you normal?”
I practically felt that look coming over the phone lines.
Suri seemed at a loss for what to say, and I was equally at a loss as to why I should serve something headed for the garbage just because that’s what “they’re” all serving. I mean, who are “they” anyway? Come to think of it, I shouldn’t judge “them” so quickly – whoever they are – because ‘”they” must have a good reason for serving something which no one will eat.
I asked Suri if she knew whom I could ask about all this. Suri seemed to brighten and advised me to call her neighbor’s sister-in-law, Dina, who was a party planner. It was she who’d done the sombreros for that last affair.
Okay. So “they” are no longer nameless. Dina is one of them, and at least now I have a name of someone whom I can actually call to clarify this sombrero thing. I could feel – even over the phone lines – my inherent self-worth going up at least a drop in Suri’s eyes. At least I wasn’t totally disregarding what “they’re” doing and had agreed to do some research.
Research I did.
I called Dina the party planner, telling her that I needed a main course for a sheva brachos. Before I had even finished my sentence, Dina breathlessly interrupted. “Oh, so you want to know how to make Meat Marsh? They’re sooo the rave. They’re not even such a patchka, really, and the effect is totally worth it. You just need-”
“Meat Marsh?” I interrupted. “I thought you did Sombrero Chicken for the main course.”
The talkative Dina suddenly went silent.
“Sombrero Chicken?!” she seemed incredulous. “You’re kidding me, right? I mean, Sombrero Chicken is sooo 2010. I mean, it’s practically ancient. I haven’t seen it in like ages. And weren’t they weird? The idea was cute and all, but between me and you, no one ever liked them. And forget about actually eating them! Ohmygosh. They were a total waste.”
Dina was silent for a moment and then asked somewhat uneasily, “You’re not really thinking of doing those anymore?”
The ‘look,’ I knew, was coming over the wires again.
I informed Dina that I had not been thinking of doing Sombrero Chicken at all but was told that it was she who’d done them.
“Mommale, in this business,” Dina informed me, “you have to do what they’re asking. They were all asking for sombreros then, that’s all.”
Now I was seriously confused.
“They were asking you?” I was taken aback. “I thought it was you who was telling them about Sombrero Chicken.”
Dina was unfazed.
“Oh sure,” she laughed lightly. “They ask me what they’re all asking for, so I tell them. It’s my job to be on top of what’s going on, you know.”
“Anyway, about the Meat Marsh,” she plunged right on, “let me just tell you how to make the marsh first….”
I wrote down the entire weird process just to be nice. There was no way I would serve something resembling this swampy marsh thing, only to throw it all out and be told a month later what a ridiculous idea it was anyway but that it was just what some invisible people were asking for.
The sheva brachos was a success and my breaded chicken was finished off practically to the last piece. Suri did give me that ‘look’ again when we began setting out the main courses on the plates. After the sheva brachos, though, when we were dividing up the leftovers and everyone was asking for my chicken only to be told that there was none left, I did see some sort of unreadable expression on Suri’s face. I contemplated giving her the ‘look’ back, but I decided not to push it.
This is not the end, though. A week after the sheva brachos, I was getting the ‘look’ again.
We were redoing our kitchen and I was inquiring about different flooring options. The saleslady in the store was going on and on about the different options in porcelain flooring. I asked if there was anything besides porcelain, as I was unsure about some of the practical aspects of such a floor.
The saleslady seemed taken aback. “But they’re all doing porcelain now!” she exclaimed. And that’s when I got the ‘look.’
So the elusive “they” were at it again, now mixing into my flooring options.
I decided to get to the bottom of this whole thing once and for all.
As a starting point, I asked the saleslady for names of people who had done porcelain.
“Well, that’s just about everybody,” she insisted. Nonetheless, she furnished me with a list of names to call. I started with Adina, who began singing the praises of the colors she’d gone with, the texture, and the layout.
When I asked about comfort, she grew pensive, though.
“The truth is,” Adina confessed, “the tiles are very hard on my feet. And cold. But it’s not like I had a choice. This is what they’re all doing. Still, I decided on the darker shade and went with a diagonal design…” And on she went.
Rochel Leah’s story was pretty much the same. She loved her floor, loved the look, loved the price. But when I probed a little further, Rochel Leah sounded downright frustrated.
“My Moishe’le cracked his tooth when he fell,” she confided. “And dishes? Forget it! You drop them, you lose them. My mother has vinyl and it’s sooo practical. But what can I do?”
This time, I finished her thought for her. “This is what they’re all doing,” we said in unison.
To be honest, I found two ladies who liked their floor regardless, but what a pity on those who would have loved to go with a different option but didn’t because of what “they” are saying. Add to that the fact that no one even knows who “they” are or what process they use to decide on all our life’s choices, and I felt I owed it to myself to research a little more and try to uncover the elusive “they.”
It was just so frustrating. The tile store referred me to a decorator. The decorator denied involvement with whomever “they” were, referring me to the publisher of a home and fashion magazine. The publisher of the magazine insisted that he just showed whatever “they” were doing.
Who were “they”? Nobody had a clue.
“They” mixed in to the shoes I wanted to buy, the style pocketbook I used, and the colors to be included in my wardrobe. Some of my friends felt that the colors really didn’t look good on them, but the colors were what “they” were all wearing these days and who were we to argue?
Storekeepers only show “what they’re all showing.” Suppliers sell “what the stores are asking for.” And the stores are asking for it because “this is what they’re all showing this season.”
My head was spinning and I was no closer to discovering the identity of these meddlesome people who had no qualms about mixing into every last aspect of my life.
Sometimes I feel myself weakening and wanting – at least just for once – to dismiss whatever “they” say and get something I really like. Most of those times, one look from my friends which says, “Are you normal?” jerks me back to reality. Who am I, after all, to go against the elusive but mighty “they”?
There are times, though, when some inner rebelliousness and recklessness fights back. I throw caution to the winds and carelessly walk out of a store with an outfit that looks perfect on me, that I know will take me through many seasons, and that’s even in a color which compliments me.
I go out wearing that outfit and find myself standing next to another woman, someone very much like myself, who is wearing some cheap material in a weird and eclectic mix of ill-fitting and mismatched styles and colors which does nothing to complement her looks or her image. I try not to stare in horror and pity or give her that ‘look’ which asks, “Areyou normal?”
After all, who am I to say anything? We both know. This is what “they’re all wearing.”
Who are “they”? Will we ever meet them? Do “they” even exist?
Sometimes I wonder if we’ve been had.