A Potluck Is a Perfect Place for a Mid-life Crisis

Potluck. What's not to like about potluck?


For starters, "potluck" is a 40-something word. Unless they're wearing sweater vests, 20-somethings look anachronistic saying it. Thirty-somethings? Depends. Did someone die? If not, this group says "dinner party and oh-can-bring-such-and-such." Not "potluck."

The worst thing about going to a potluck is not knowing it's a potluck until you arrive.

Like last Saturday.

I thought I was going to Oktoberfest at the P.G. Pool (aka The Cool Pool), a private cooperative swimming pool in P.G. County where where I can drink beer as my 6-year-old safely runs around unattended. It's like summer camp for the whole family.

As we park, my husband says flippantly, "Oh this might be a potluck."

Might be a potluck.

"Hm, yep, it's not a food truck party like I thought," is the only explanation he musters. I groan as my family approaches the fenced-in pool grounds empty-handed.

As others carry in casseroles and salads, my husband jokes that we could bring our son's backpack as subterfuge. An illusion that we've brought something. He laughs. I might find this funny, if I wasn't now preoccupied with the rotting food I'll have to clean out of the lunchbox contained in the backpack.

Must I think of everything? No. But here we are.

"Don't worry about it," my husband says. "Just don't eat anything."

Again, he thinks he's helping. But I'm hungry.

And now, in addition to feeling like a hungry potluck scofflaw, I also feel like a typical woman. Mentally cleaning out a lunch box. Worrying about coming empty-handed to a potluck. And I'm not even out of the parking lot yet.

Where's the devil-may-care chick of my youth? Hell, of my 30s. I feel like a Good Housekeeping-reading (but Jamie Lee Curtis was on the cover this month and she refuses to have her pictures touched up showing her gray hair and wrinkles, so I had to buy it), what-will-they-think-of-me woman, which clashes with my collection of rock-and-roll T-shirts that asks "age appropriate?" each time I slip into my favorite Dirty Deed Done Dirt Cheap T-shirt, the one I accidentally wore while teaching a Kindergarten class causing to me hide from the principal all day. High school all over again.

Rock on.

Who the hell am I? And what exactly did turning 40-something do to me? Is this a mid-life crisis? Should I buy a sports car? Have an affair with a 25-year-old co-ed? D.C. is a college town. No. Affairs take so much energy. And you have to shave more often. I'm guessing. Perhaps pilates?

So many questions.

Luckily the party is crowded. Kids are running and digging in the volleyball court. A band is playing bluesy music. The Beer Guy is selling drafts of cold, hoppy beer. I ignore the potluck table looming in front of the kiddie pool like a jury stand.

"Are you familiar with the pool's potluck?" A man approaches me as I stand at the entrance where during the summer I'm giving my member number to a perky teenager.

Busted, I start to explain, saying too much like a guilty person often does. Oh is it potluck? I would've brought something except see I just moved and have no idea where my Tupperware is living right now and...

He points with his beer. "That's the beer vendor. Drink. That's the band. Dance. That's the potluck table. Eat."

I get my wallet out, making my money obvious. See. I'm not a freeloader, I show my new community. I buy beer. Not the one that's all foam though. I know how to pour beer from a keg from all those high school keg parties in the woods of West Virginia. As you get older it's important to place value on such things. The I've Lived Syndrome that younger people hate hearing about.

With my purchase, I'm validated and free to check out the potluck table. I tend to a dish as if it's mine. Stirring. Consolidating. And then help myself to some bread and cheese.

My husband didn't mention potluck perhaps because he doesn't approve of potluck. "You just never know," he shrugs his shoulders and rocks back on his heels.

But you don't know what a restaurant does to your food, I argue.

"Restaurants are federally regulated. They can get closed down. At a potluck..."

He doesn't need to finish. I'm used to my husband's uber-male logic. And I know he's a picky eater. I just didn't know The Fed was involved. And I didn't know about his firmly held belief that most lethal salmonella outbreaks originate not in a slaughterhouse but at potluck gatherings and that the Super Bug that will usher in the End of Days is breeding in someone's chicken noodle casserole as we speak.

Who is this man? While I dare to eat some pesto pasta, firstly because I still feel guilty and secondly because I could die, I'm consoled by the fact that his devil-may-care-attitude has it's limits at food borne illnesses.

Soon it's time for the s'more campfire, another great amenity at The Cool Pool. I didn't bring anything for s'mores either. But the beer has taken my obligation edge off.

Chatting with the woman sitting on the log next to me, I learn we both produce television. We commiserate about the death of older women on American television while outwardly thankful that we don't have gray hair and wrinkles. She's nearing 50 and doesn't look it. A fact she knows. Women usually tell their age when they know they don't look their age. I remind myself not to do that anymore.

"We have to hang out," she makes me a beer promise.

As we drink by the fire, someone lights a cigarette and I'm back at a high school keg party with the ghost of a David Bowie soundtrack blaring from a cute guy's truck.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes... Turn and face the strain... Ch-ch-Changes... Pretty soon you're gonna get a little older.

My new BFF says "rock on" too. But when she says "omg," I cringe. Somehow that crosses a line. And as she plays with her iPhone's Facebook features, friending people at the fire, I turn to the British woman next to me to talk about something more age-appropriate. Public transportation in London. Really? You get fined for using inner-city roads too much? Hmph. Fascinating.

Strange fascination, fascinating me.

Changes are taking the pace I'm going through ...