For a minute I just stood there with my back against the wall, staring at the credit card receipt. Then I slid down into a crouching position on the kitchen floor. ‘So this is it,’ I thought to myself. ‘This is really going to be how I find out.’ I’d found the receipt in the front pocket of one of my husband’s suitcases on Tuesday morning. It was for dinner for two at the Four Seasons Hotel in Santa Barbara — a place he’d told me he’d never been. He’d had the Merlot and the rib-eye; she’d had the cucumber martini and a Caesar salad. I’m guessing that she waived the dressing.
I’m already working out the logistics by the time my husband gets home from work. My daughter and I will return to the UK and we’ll try to do this thing without getting the lawyers involved. I’m flicking through my mental Rolodex for prospective second husbands when I hear his key in the lock. ‘I thought you’d never been to Santa Barbara before?’ It wasn’t the opening gambit I’d planned on. ‘I haven’t,’ he replied, perplexed. With a flourish, I produced the receipt. There was a — surely contrived — bout of forehead scratching before he dared look me in the eye. ‘I’m pretty sure I wasn’t with my mistress that weekend,’ he smiled. ‘Because I was with you, in London.’
An article in Time magazine wordlessly handed over the breakfast table to me the following morning insists that ‘the secret to a happy marriage’ depends on ‘who makes the first conciliatory move to lower the emotional temperature’ after a row. If you’ve just unfairly accused your husband of adultery, it should probably be you. And even if you haven’t, say researchers from the University of California Berkeley, it helps if the woman backs down first; apparently we’re better ‘emotional thermometers’ than men, more adept ‘at finding ways to diffuse a highly charged situation’. The only surprise in findings like these is that some cretin paid a lot of money to have a hunch validated by science.
America’s hunch seems to be that Chris Christie — by far the most impressive Republican on TV — is too fat to run for president in 2016 and win. The bombastic governor of New Jersey who coasted through to a second term last week probably wouldn’t put it any less bluntly himself. Despite winning the nation’s hearts by bear-hugging victims of Hurricane Sandy in a blue fleece and bravely undergoing lap-band surgery in February, Christie’s biggest obstacle remains not his party but his girth. His cardiologist is doing the rounds of the morning news shows (‘He has good functional capacity,’ she insists), but when ‘weight’ is still the first thing to come up on Google and a new book claims that Mitt Romney made jokes about Christie’s ‘ability to pass through the aisle of a campaign bus’ while aides used the codename ‘Pufferfish’, you get the sense that it’s still an issue. I wonder whether it’s not so much a matter of health as representation. Physically, if not mentally, Christie is alarmingly representative of his country. Maybe Americans — to their detriment — want a president who looks less like they are and more like they aspire to be.
‘I’ll definitely look into it,’ I assure the TV actress sitting beside me at dinner on Thursday night. I won’t, of course. Her suggestion that I attend a class on ‘The Basics of Mindfulness’ is as enticing as the bowl of mung bean chips passed around earlier. ‘Mindfulness’ is the new zeitgeisty word. On the tongues of executives, movie stars and techies, it’s used to signify ‘living in the moment’. It’s about marvelling at the maple leaves in your drive, drinking in the blueness of your Starbucks barista’s irises and feeling your child’s laugh on a deeper level. It’s also a belated attempt to compensate for the numbing effects of visual media. Saul Bellow once said that ‘our steady state is distraction’. Surely this attempt to re-school people in something which should be the norm should be viewed just as bleakly.
It has taken a week’s detective work for my husband and I to work out where the receipt came from. It turns out that the suitcase once belonged to my husband’s stylist, who spent a weekend in Santa Barbara — with her fiancé. No drama there, then. For some reason, I’m disappointed. Then it dawns on me: living in LA has turned me into a drama-seeker. Angelenos are as infected by their own dramatic legacy as Italians are by opera. All their reflexes and attitudes come from TV and film. Dinner parties turn into Woody Allen pastiches and marital discord is expressed most naturally in 12-point Courier — the official screenwriters’ font. So if you’re lucky enough to find an unexplained receipt, stray hair or lipstick mark on your husband’s collar, be mindful that you’re living the dream.
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