He's new here, and it shows.
The new guy is doing the dance, displaying his plumage, singing his song. He's not fighting, yet, but he might as well be, for his goal is nothing short of asserting his social supremacy over the rest of us, or at least as many as he can, by overwhelming us with his taste, refinement and superior access to financial resources.
I have two advantages over him. One, I don't care where I stand in this group of dads, the core members of the monthly Shady Glen daddy/daughter club. Two, I know something the new guy doesn't, which is that he doesn't stand a chance.
There's an odd inversion in the Shady Glen social scene, one that surprises though it makes perfect sense. In Shady Glen, the youngest are the richest, the oldest the poorest. That's not the way things work in the outside world, of course, but that's how it works here. Shady Glen is a great place to raise a family, and as a result it attracts families. Young families, to be precise, for it's universally thought to be ideal to move in before your kids start school.
But Shady Glen is also expensive, and it just keeps getting more so. To move here with a young family, you have to have quite a head start on life. And to move here in style, to purchase a prime house on a prime lot, you have to be really rich. To do that before your kids start kindergarten is pretty remarkable.
I managed to do it only because (1) before I had kids I bought a house at the bottom of the real estate market and rode the ballooning equity up through the bubble, then (2) I used that equity to purchase a less-than-prime house on a less-than-prime Shady Glen lot after it had sat on the market for nearly three years, and (3) I work very hard. Reasons (1) and (2) carry no cachet in this community. Reason (3) is a negative, a blot, a smear, for it marks me as a wage slave, the furthest one can be from the idle rich and fortunate speculators who populate Shady Glen's younger ranks, especially the ultra-alpha males who gravitate for some reason to Shady Glen's daddy/daughter club.
I'm a nobody here, but at least I know it. I have this knack for rising in life just below those nearest me, so I've always been acutely aware of my subordinated social rank, that gulf separating me from those in my sight but oh so very far above me. To avoid humiliation and maintain my sanity, I learned early on that I cannot play their game. When I must situate myself among them, in this case on direct orders from my wife, I sit back, observing, the consummate outsider.
The new guy doesn't get it. Like so many who wash up on Shady Glen's shores, he once ruled the roost, lording it over the Joneses, too good for the hood. He's moving on up, but he has no idea how much higher up can be. Soon he'll learn.
First he must run through his positioning ritual. He approaches them, always asking what they do, the surest way to assess one's rank in normal society, but this is Shady Glen, where everyone's an "investor" or "in real estate" or "runs a business" or, my favorite, is a "producer," all playfully vague job titles utilized by those who do not need to, and usually do not, work. He runs a small business, one that's successful, in its own way, but one that will never approach theirs in sheer idle remunerativeness. Not that they care.
He senses defeat and moves on to Plan B, puffing out his chest as he discusses his plans to buy a new building for his business. One asks him how much, I have several buildings on the market right now. Turns out they're outside the new guy's range, not even close. Another laughs, ribbing the office guy, I can't believe you're still trying to unload those dogs. No one's buying commercial anymore.
They move on to wine, to vacation homes, to Thursday's golf at the club, to luxury cars and how much we hate them, can you believe his Mercedes stalled in the parking lot, $120,000 and it won't even turn over, don't get me started on that goddamn brake dust, you've got to get the chrome wheels, it just slides off, but I hate it, it's so flashy, fifteen thousand miles and I'm on my third set of brakes, I told you to get a BMW, but the Aston's pretty cool, I heard he bought one, you should check it out. The new guy lurks in the background, wisely remains silent, unable to offer anything, for he's never savored life at that level and, having stretched so far to move here, he probably never will.
Then they're discussing home improvements, a perennial topic, one that's especially apt tonight for we're sitting in a massive gazebo in a new backyard, the product of ten months of hired labor and hundreds of thousands of dollars in flagstones and retaining walls and water features and outdoor rooms and kitchen equipment and audio/visual wiring and all-weather flat screens and he senses an opening, finally, at last, for he's planted over a hundred trees on his property, or so he says, triumphantly. They look at him, one asks where do you live, he tells them the street, another asks where is that, an odd thing to say in a community with maybe fifteen streets when you've lived here for almost a decade, but he didn't mean anything by it, he's genuinely puzzled, has no idea where the new guy lives. And I can see it dawn on the new guy, the sickening realization that even the right side of the tracks has a wrong side.
And it doesn't help that the new guy's lying, but only I can tell, for unlike them I've actually seen his house, I looked at it before buying my house, and I looked at it again just last week, and let me tell you, it had nowhere near a hundred new trees. Maybe ten or twenty tops. But the new guy's desperate now, slipping and sliding, unable to gain any traction with these guys, so he'll say anything.
Later I hear the new guy recounting a story, something that happened to a friend of his, and it bears an uncanny resemblance to the plot of a movie I saw a few years ago. A few of them look away, too polite to unmask him. They're decent guys, actually, and they have nothing to prove with him, no need to score points off him. And they know it. So they move on, leaving him to prattle on to the night air.
It's late and I'm looking for my daughter and I see the new guy talking with a small group of dads. Schools. He's saying that with three kids in the Shady Glen public schools he's saving a bundle, almost enough to cover the spread between his old house and his new one, at least before he begins the major remodel, he hastens to add, and he asks them how do you like the school, it's great, isn't it, but each in turn recites the name of a private school. He's now shaken, he's finally made it only to find they've already left, so he spits out something about not liking private schools on principle but willing to look into these if we think they're that good while he turns to me, a frantic look in his eyes, having earlier identified me as the only one here who works for someone else, the only one here who hasn't redone his backyard, the only one here without live-in help, the only one here who exudes nothing at all, the only one here with less to offer and even less to say, the only one here who clearly doesn't belong, in short, the only one here he has any chance of one-upping for a shred of stature within the tribe, and he sidles over and asks me, all nice-like, how my daughter is doing in the public school.
As I avert my eyes one of the guys tells him she goes to that private school in the canyon, the small one, I've heard good things about it, we looked into it a few years ago, she really seems to like it.
He left soon after. We won't see him again. He'll tell his wife we're a tight little clique, a bunch of jerks if you ask me, not the sort of people I want to hang out with, say, I have an idea, let's have a pool party, invite the gang from the old neighborhood, you know, the ones we left behind, give them a taste of Shady Glen, we can show them all the trees we planted, give them tours of the house, wait till they get a load of this place, they won't believe it, show them the view from the top, for this is the life, my dear, this is big living!