by Jake Kenny
I have spent my day being vetted by various members of a seed fund based in California. I blend uneasily into this float of crocodiles relying on the homogeny of white privilege (and a hastily procured Hugo Boss outfit from Nordstrom) to fit in. The day has gone well. Our talk of business matters and possible directions for the company they are founding is something I am comfortable discussing. I know what I want, what I believe should be done, and I can discuss such matters, if not eloquently, a least confidently. The topic has been pretty much exhausted, when the subject of dinner comes up. The tone shifts, personal lives are mentioned, and a pantomime of the phoning of wives, running partners, and children is performed. It’s a subtle litany of normalcy, and during this strange kabuki, I’m tempted to call my parents and ask about my dog, mainly because it seems to be expected that I check in with someone.
Chili’s and its Quesadilla Explosion Salad, a mound of iceberg lettuce, Tex-Mex vegetables, and margarita grilled chicken placed atop a quesadilla is mentioned. “It’s my favorite,” I’m told un-ironically by someone who earlier in the day I discussed million-dollar operating budgets with. “I’ll drive” And with that, we are off.
We are driven down El Camino to that temple of overindulgent, Middle-American cuisine in a Porsche Panamera hybrid that costs more than my house in Salt Lake City, filling the interior with small talk and innocuous questions about what I do in my spare time, my awkward responses sounding forced along with the subtle crispness of our collective aftershaves. I’m relieved when we arrive.
We all order the salad, cutting off the waiter in the midst of his pitch for margaritas and perhaps some chips and salsa, and the talk returns to its previous path onto hobbies, homes, and children? It’s here that I feel that I stumble: I have no wife or partner. The milestones of the traditional white male seem to have stalled out in my case at a much younger stage. This is not lost on these shrewd men. That I actually have a roommate and not a code for a Boston marriage or a closeted relationship you lie to your grandmother about to avoid an awkward conversation is out of place at this table. My relationship status is only concerning because of the lack of it. There have been several comments about the marketing director’s marriage to his husband that have telegraphed that sort of thing are not a problem. My single status and the fact that I don’t have an expensive hobby like ultra-running or biking seem to be sending up red flags to the rush committee of the fraternity I seem bent on joining.
It’s not the wealth nor status symbols on display that make me nervous or uncomfortable (the value of the watches draped casually on tanned wrists collectively cost more than most cars); I understand that these are just the trappings of men in their socioeconomic strata and in 15 years I too could, and most likely will, have them as well. Finding a partner is a much more difficult prospect and a more personal one, and it’s probably the most disconcerting. There is a social pecking order, in addition to the business one, and this hierarchy is just as important as the one listed on my LinkedIn profile, and finding someone to navigate that path with seems to be necessary.
I also can’t match the confidence these men possess. An online gaming hobby and a Lego habit don’t seem to be on par with the almost palpable aura of privilege and entitlement that these men possess. I don’t see how I will ever be able to walk through the world with such confidence. This is a much harder and more insidious interview to pass, it seems. Sure, I can follow through, I can take orders and I can work. But can I walk in step with these men? Do I have the mental fortitude to match them in their view of the world and assume that place in it? Most importantly, do I even want to?
The salads arrive, and I distract them with a discussion about Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and why I see myself retiring there. The talk moves to Tahoe, Vancouver, Park City, and we discuss winter sports and Utah Powder vs. Sierra Cement. The mood shifts slightly, and I feel like I’ve been granted a reprieve—that the trial proceeds with more discovery and I can take some more time before closing arguments. The check comes and we banter about splitting it up, what I can expense back to the company, calculating the exact amount with tip. Though cheap, there wasn’t meanness to these men, and after the check is efficiently dealt with, we exit the restaurant. The mood is light on the way back to the office, and I am returned to my hotel to pack for my return trip to Salt Lake.
The next morning my Uber driver babbles the entire way down Bayshore to the airport. I don’t listen or pretend to work on my phone, which is the universal sign in the Bay Area that I don’t want to talk to you. I miss the pre-sharing economy when you ordered (or had ordered for you) a town car and a professional driver and you never had to do anything but tell him what airline. I ruminate on this while waiting in line to buy a cup of coffee in the terminal, and I wonder if it’s a conscious decision to wall oneself off with privilege—to make class a weapon one wears like a suit of armor—and if it can be turned off and on.
I am tested once I take my seat in 4B. The window-seat occupant asks if I’d be willing to switch as she needed to pee frequently (her words), and she was flying for free as her daughter was a Delta employee, and so she couldn’t pick her seat, and wasn’t this fancy. Her stream of conscious nattering continued after I had agreed to the swap. Over Reno she confided angels had commanded her to buy a Chevrolet, and though she had resisted such promptings, eventually she gave in and purchased said car and just loved it. And isn’t that the way it always is? Feeling my own heavenly promptings, I put on my noise-canceling headphones and ignored her the rest of the flight. I was doing my best to mimic the men I’d dined with. Tomorrow, I thought, as I walked through the Salt Lake airport, I’ll go have a salad at Chili’s for lunch.
Gay Writes is a DiverseCity Series writing group, a program of SLCC’s Community Writing Center. The group meets the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month, 6:30-8pm, 210 E. 400 South, Ste. 8, Salt Lake.