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Over the Rainbow with Brian Burns: Play House


Photo: Juliette Luchini

My 6-year-old social circle was about as impressive as my T-ball skills so when my mom used to go to open houses for fun, I joined her. Development after development was blossoming into life around our area of New Jersey, turn-of-the-millennium complexes filled with the kind of McMansions that Carmela Soprano would have deemed too gauche. Homes that my parents’ combined supermarket salaries wouldn’t be affording at any point in the conscious-of-reality future. None of which mattered.

“I really love this drop ceiling,” my mother would say, her chin aloft as the realtor followed behind. “And that sponge-painted wall in the den? Gorgeous. But, I’m curious, why no his-and-her vanities in the master bath?”

Weekend in and weekend out, I was brought along to these homes—subjected to my mom’s desire to poke around houses that would never be ours. A desire that, before long, I came to share. These model homes were the dollhouses I was a generation too old to socially-acceptably play with—places where I could come and go at will, crafting my own stories of who cooks in that kitchen with the Viking freestanding range and who recreates that Little Women scene where Kirsten Dunst falls through the ice on the man-made frog pond in the backyard.

“Yes, yes, I’ll be in touch,” my mom would say, averting eye contact as she threw business cards into her Marshalls handbag. “And you don’t mind if I grab one of those Pellegrinos, do you? For the road!”

Whether or not my mom’s real estate alter ego became too masochistic to bear, we eventually stopped going to open houses. Gone were the weekly opportunities to hurl myself into vinyl-sided shells of a life and imagine how much my friends, in this alternate reality where they existed, would envy the place I called mine.

“Look at that fucking house,” I squealed to my friend, Shannon, as we drove through Newton, a neighborhood outside of Boston. “Unreal. These are, like, $5 million homes. And these cars in the driveway? Can you imagine?”

It was a few weeks into November and Shannon and I were headed to her office’s holiday party. She’d asked me to be her plus-one and the chance to confuse Shannon’s coworkers into thinking she’s dating a massive poof was too good to pass up. Though we could have taken the T to get there, I’d recently learned how to get around paying for an Uber by means of falsified identity.

“It’s so easy, all you have to do is create a fake phone number,” I explained to Shannon earlier that night, after instructing her that the bottle of Barefoot, and not the Francis Ford Coppola, was for us to drink. “Log out of your current account, sign into a different one, blah, blah, blah. Uh huh, yep. Now, put in all your information but, wait, no, do a different first name. I get paranoid. But then, yeah, just put in your credit card number and voila! Free ride!”

Adjusting the grip on our Trader Joe’s bags filled with store-bought desserts and $11 pinot noir, Shannon and I were the first guests to arrive—eight dollars and thirty-three cents richer than if we’d paid to get there. The host of the party, a tall woman named Lena with expensive looking flats and a German accent, graciously added our contributions to the dining room table and made small talk with us as she finished cooking.

“So, what do you do?” Lena asked, turning towards me.

“Well, uh, I’m a student,” I responded, trying my best to remember my plans-for-the-future script I’d journaled the previous summer. “But I’m a senior so, you know, just a few more months before reality slaps me across the face! Ha. But, uh, yeah, I work in journalism right now, I was interning last year at this website and then they hired me and—yeah, I know, crazy, it’s…yeah, I’m lucky. But, ideally, I’d love to do something more…creative? Eventually! I mean, I don’t know, I’m not delusional, I realize what I really want to do is pretty…pie-in-the-sky. But, I mean, for now it works. Ha.”

Pushing a strand of hair behind her ear with a flour-and-egg dredged finger, she responded, “Oh. That’s nice!”

Working at an attorney’s office, Shannon’s coworkers were less Ally McBeal and more Calista-Flockhart-at-carpool—my vision of fast-talking ball-busters receding more and more with every quarter-zipped dad and sensibly-pumped mom that walked through the door. Having spent my professional life surrounded by either journalists or supermarket employees, I’ve gotten used to a specific kind of colleague-to-colleague small talk—the future of print news, undergrad anecdotes, their son Brayden Lee’s expulsion from the school district, Serial. Expecting to be treated to stories about MS-13 gang members and Mark Wahlberg’s pardon plea, I poured myself another glass of wine after hearing someone say, “I always end up with over-salted kale chips and I really have no idea why.”

Dinner was served. Pondering if it was more polite to use my fingers to remove an olive pit from my mouth or hock it out at full velocity into the nearest house fern, I took my plate of spanakopita, Swedish meatballs, niçoise salad, and babaganoush into the living room, joining Shannon and the other guests seated in a circle around a few toddlers romping around on the floor. Balancing my plate on my lap, I watched everybody watch these kids, baffled by the content looks on their faces. A roomful of silent adults, switching their drinks over to water by that point so they could drive home sober, willingly entertained by babies on a rug.

“Have you ever seen Revolutionary Road?” I asked Shannon, checking under my collar for quarter-life crisis hives.

One of the kids waddled over towards me and grabbed the napkin that I’d placed on the coffee table. Her mother, who looked and sounded like the lobotomized Katie Holmes of Tom Cruise’s dreams, snatched it out of her hands and set it back down.

“No, no, no, Iris,” she cooed, smiling towards me. “Sorry about that. She sees that it’s paper. We only use cloth napkins at home.”

“Aw,” I replied, trying my hardest to find some semblance of life in her eyes.

The clock struck nine. Shaking hands with the people I’d met, Shannon and I got our stuff as murmurs of “past bedtime” were spoken around us. We had other plans for the night, intending on going straight to our friend’s apartment where—unknown to me—a surprise birthday party was waiting. I was about to be greeted by a few dozen friends celebrating my turning 22, drinks and dancing and codeined-out acquaintances waiting for me to rejoice getting another year older. Looking back as we drove away—our fraudulently free ride taking us from one house to another—the lights inside Lena’s home were bright enough for me to see parents, Tupperware and car keys in hand, ushering their coat-stuffed kids along as Katie Holmes, I imagine, urged Iris to “say goodbye now.”

Brian Burns is a Columnist and Executive Managing Editor of The Hub. He can be reached at Tweet him @brianTburns_.

Posted by on February 9, 2016. Filed under Around Campus,Opinions & Editorials,Over the Rainbow with Brian Burns. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.