Coffee heat rising

Single in a couples culture

Have you noticed that? We live in a couples culture. Single adults constitute a large portion of the U.S. population:36 percent of women between 20 and 44 are single, and less than half of U.S. households consists of married couples. Yet the way our society operates is based on the assumption that most people are partnered, in a live-in way. America as an economy and Americans as individuals would profit if we changed that.

There’s nothing new about this observation. But until recently the only element about it that bothered me much was the inequity in the cost of traveling—a single traveler pays far more than she or he would as a member of a couple. As I grow older, though, and less able to handle mountains of work, it’s beginning to wear on me. It really takes two people to cope, especially if you have a job and expect to have a life, too.

Today was a case in point.

A trade group that The Copyeditor’s Desk belongs to was having a shindig this evening: a potluck. We’ve already generated a lot of work through this networking group, and so it behooves us to show up to the meetings. The DIY dinner (the group usually meets at a chain restaurant that caters the get-togethers) moved the meeting time up from 7:00 p.m. to 5:30, a freaking impossible hour when you have an hour-long commute and no place at the office to store food.

I was busy this week and didn’t have time to go out and buy extra food and cook up a potluck dish. Ech. I don’t at all care for potlucks, unless they’re at a friend’s house (and even those are suspect). Usually the food consists of tamale casseroles concocted with lots of Kraft cheese slices and canned enchilada sauce, accompanied by grocery-store raw veggie platters and grocery-store pies. This meant I would have to leave the office early, race to the grocer, pick up some sort of easy-to-construct foodoid, race home, throw it together on a sturdy paper plate or two, wrap it tight, jump in the car with it, and race to the meeting.

First thing in the morning, 7:15, La Maya calls and invites me to go for a 7:30 walk. I’ve overslept and haven’t even brushed my teeth at this point, but don’t want to turn her down because the morning constitutional is the main nexus of our socialization. Throw some food down for the dog and race out the door. Since the dog won’t go outside through a dog door, I figure to have to clean up a mess when I get back.

But no! Pleasant surprise; still, it means the dog has to be taken for a walk. By now it’s 8:30 and I still haven’t had one bite to eat, to say nothing of the morning dose of caffeine or even so much as a sip of water. My head hurts. Walk the dog. Race back in, fix breakfast, bolt it down, throw my dirty clothes on the bed, yank on some office clothes, race out the door, running radically late.

Drive for what feels like half my life to get to campus. Download a 200-page PDF and print it out, preparatory to writing an index. Spend a significant amount of time struggling with the printer, which has decided it has a paper jam in a place we can’t reach. Waste more time trying to figure out if an illegal charge was made on my purchasing card. Waste a bit more time yakking with one of the RAs. Waste another half-hour or so cranking an annoyed post about some very stupid stuff to the intranet blog and reposting a bowdlerized version to The Copyeditor’s Desk. By the time I leave the office, I’m hungry and still running late.

At the gourmet grocery store, in addition to the potluck makings I pick up some sushi to tide me over—or, I hope, to fill me up so I won’t have to eat another tamale casserole. Have you ever noticed that one package of grocery-store sushi is not enough for a single meal, but two is too much? Very hungry by now, I buy two.

At the check-out register, I discover my American Express card is missing. Nice timing!

Okay, there’s never a good time for a credit card to go missing. But in the have-you-ever-noticed department, have you ever noticed that things like this always happen at the most inconvenient of all possible moments?

Charge the food on Visa, race home (all the while trying to remember where I was yesterday), race in the door, search the office and house: no card. Call the hair salon; then remember I’d gone by Borders to buy a 2009 wall calendar. Yes, Borders has the card locked in its safe. Too late now to drive way to hell and gone over there (one of the charms of being centrally located is that the middle-class infrastructure follows the white middle class to the suburbs, abandoning you in your central location); arrange to pick it up tomorrow.

Throw the potluck foodoid together, wrap it up, toss it in the car, and race downtown. I decide not to feed the dog, even though it’s coming onto her dinnertime, because I really don’t look forward to having to clean a dog mound off the family room floor when I get home from the soirée. Struggle through hideous traffic made even more gawdawful by the lightrail, which is being tested up and down my route by its proud developers. Lightrail morphs formerly timed signals into guaranteed reds at every intersection, and it takes a good two minutes (at least!) to cycle through a light change.

Arrive at the central library, where the shindig is taking place, so tired I can barely speak, much less “network.” I get stuck sitting next to an aged couple who have, God help us, written and self-published a book rhapsodizing about their lifelong extramarital affair, which culminates when their love child tracks the woman down and brings the two birth parents back together after they’d put their relationship in cold storage, thereby ending two thirty-year marriages and breaking up two homes that had nurtured a total of seven children. This story, I might add, was a great deal less entertaining in the telling than one might hope.

I escape early, lhudly sing huzzah, and plod home, navigating past what appears to be a fatal accident. By the time I turn into my driveway—narrowly missing my neighbor Al and his little dog—I am just dead exhausted. But I still have to feed and walk the dog. And of course I haven’t posted to this blog, either. The bed is unmade, dirty clothes are strewn around the room, running shoes rest on the floor beneath the bed, dirty dishes clutter the kitchen counter…augh!

Dog fed and wrung out, house sorta picked up, it’s now almost 10:00 p.m. as I write this.

The point? Yesh, the point:

All of this would have been a lot less nightmarish had I been a couple. Setting the meeting time and asking people to show up with food a half-hour after work guaranteed that a single person would have one heck of a time getting there. A spouse, a partner, even a willing roommate would have taken the pressure off, because that person could have…

  • fed and walked the dog,
  • picked up something at the store,
  • made the bed,
  • unloaded the dishwasher & put the dirties in,
  • put the food on the plate while I coped with the dog or cleaned up the house…

Even ONE of those little helpmeety acts would have made getting to that meeting a lot easier and a lot more doable.

The assumption that everyone has a life partner not only is bad for the general sanity of singles, it’s also bad for business. At the meeting, I was simply too tired to function. Because I ran so late for work, I didn’t do a heck of a lot for the taxpayer today, either. As a society, I suspect we would be better off if we would take account of the fact that fewer and fewer people live together and more and more live alone.

By all means, for example, we should provide mothers and fathers plenty of time off work (or better yet, make it possible for more parents to elect to stay at home when the kids are little, if they so choose). But we also should provide comparable amounts of time for single adults to deal with their home lives, which amazingly enough are not empty! We should refrain from gouging travelers who would like to go it alone. We should provide places in restaurants to wine and dine single patrons, and not park single concert-goers behind columns and in the depths of the concert hall’s dead space. In short, as a culture we should recognize and accommodate the fact that something between a third and a half of Americans are single.

How is this hard?

Hallowe’en: “It’s the neighborhood”

Some time back, shortly before the real estate bubble started to blow up, I asked a Realtor why a house in the tract a block to the south of mine should be worth $60,000 or $80,000 more than my house, when mine is newer, its rooms are larger, its lot is nicer, and its interior had been updated more recently. She sniffed and remarked, “It’s the neighborhood.”

Sniff, indeed!

Well, there may be something to that. This evening I took Cassie for a walk during the height of the Hallowe’en tricking and treating and, as usual, walked down into that area. The difference between my neighborhood and that one was striking.

First, to get there you have to cross a feeder street, one that’s not so busy you can’t jaywalk across safely but that does carry some traffic. The road was hectic with people carting their kids in from the unsavory districts to the west and north, where no parent in his or her right mind would let the kiddies visit the local crack houses and meth factories in search of “treats.”

My neighborhood north of this asphalt dividing line had almost no children, but the slightly more affluent neighborhood to the south was alive with kids in costume.

In my neighborhood, almost every house had its front lights off (except for the occasional security light outside a garage) and the front windows shut up tight. In the other neighborhood, residents were out in droves, sitting at tables in front of their homes and doling out candy from big bowls. At three houses, the grown-ups were drinking wine and partying companionably on the front porch or driveway as the little visitors went from house to house to show off their outfits and collect their loot.

Think of that! The neighbors talk to each other! What a quaint idea.

Heaven help us, they also speak to poor folks. Now that is outré.

I walked over into La Maya’s part of the area, a block closer to the truly desirable addresses. Her house is worth about $150,000 more than what mine is worth—maybe more than that now, after Dave’s Used Car Lot, Marina, and Weed Arboretum was given away for practically nothing at auction. Interestingly, that neighborhood was just as hermetically sealed as mine: most houses had their lights out, and none of the locals were to be seen in public. Precious few kids, either.

So there you go: what makes a neighborhood is the neighbors.

Maybe when you’re looking to buy a new house, you should wait until Hallowe’en and visit all your candidate areas. Look for one where the residents are outside enjoying the little kids and each other—that’s a good neighborhood!