Polo. It is my first time. I imagine an English countryside, ladies in hats, teacakes. Stephen wears a blue suit. Sofia and I are in summer colored dresses although it’s not a summer colored day, surely. Our cab pulls through dense wood until we reach a clearing in which the dozens of horses in stables come into view. Behind that, peaks of white tents jut up into a sky threatening rain. We are dropped off and march on to the sign in. Ladies’ heels dig into lawn already scarred from the heavy hooves of horses.
Through a white fence and immediately to a gentleman offering glasses of champagne. It’s barely noon. I think this is maybe a bad way to start the day and opt for a macchiato, the first of about six throughout the day. Stephen chats up acquaintances. The wind blows harder. There is hope for it to not rain, a very vain hope. Lunch is served. Salmon with peas wrapped in cured salmon. It might be a pate, I’m not sure. It’s the shape of toast. There is a buffet. I am starving and rudely go up earlier than anyone at my table. Asparagus salad with shaved Parmesan, beet salad with some cheese that tastes neither like goat nor feta, caprese salad, potato salad smattered with flecks of dill. On the corner is a full leg from a pig – hoof to thigh – from which a server cuts off pieces of ham. I pass. Beef is being sawed into pieces and served with a gravy and risotto that reminds me of creamed corn. Even when it’s not British fare, there is definitely something British about it.
More wine. White. I’ve had more wine to drink this trip than I have in three years. I sense the need to drink is contagious here. There’s something about this place that requires libation. Or maybe that’s just life. I help myself to more slabs of Parmesan and finish a roll because the booze is going to my head and I’ve only had half a glass. I talk to the woman to my left about writing, journalism, schooling. She recommends schooling. I check out mentally because I’ve just been denied from the only school I wanted to attend. I nod and give some agreeable “Uh huh”s. She is nice. I want more wine.
The threatening clouds open up for a good sprinkle twenty minutes before the polo is to start. A ruddy faced boy in black comes running with a giant box of umbrellas. He looks under working age. I am reminded of the chimney sweeps in Mary Poppins. I walk under a big black brolly to the stands. Later I will lose this brolly in the tube, but we decide it’s a karmic thing because we had stollen it from the fields to begin with.
Horses come out – the Calvary horses decked out in traditional horsey garb. White and tan hounds clip at their heels. They are the colored of milky cappuccinos. I want another, actually. The rain has stopped but it is chilly and the wind throws my legs into a fit of goosebumps that stay for about four hours straight. “I’ve Got the Power” suddenly blares onto the speakers above. By the time I look up the Calvary is performing what is essentially synchronized pony cheerleading. I can only compare it to what it’d be like to see the Queen Mum dance around to MC Hammer. It’s ridiculous, fantastic, and entirely cheeky. British humor.
After much pomp and ceremony, the polo begins. The horses are powerful little beasts, built for the game. Their joints turn left and right, left and right painfully and jut out in odd directions and inopportune times. I ask Stephen questions about safety for riders, safety for horses, people dying. It’s dangerous and beautiful. Clumsy and refined. The British supposedly picked up the sport during an occupation of Afghanistan in the 1920s. Afghan royalty used to play, only the difference was that the ball being smacked around the lawn was of a decapitated head of their enemy. Charming, really.
After three “chucks” the wind becomes unbearable and we go back inside our tent. I get another hot coffee and eat some tea sandwiches. Egg salad seems to be all the rage here. As does smoked salmon. I opt for hummus and roasted red pepper on wheat bread. There are sweets, endless amounts of sweets. I nibble some chocolate, drink some water, and wish it was a sunnier day. The game plays on flat screens behind us but it doesn’t translate well and I don’t watch. At some point it ends. I look up and the stands are empty, leaving people traipsing down the lawn again back to London.
I am to stay for the “China White” after party which starts at 6 PM. Before I had heard about what this was really about, I had imagined it to have something to do with porcelain dishes and delicate ladies, drinking tea until small talk was exhausted. This is a terribly naive and inaccurate assumption. I soon discover that China White is a club in the city. And this is where people come to ruin their lives.
From the beginning the crowd is lively. Bodies jam up against each other, creating some much needed heat for the afternoon. Michael Jackson plays, people pump their fists in the air. I feel like I am at a rave. The sun isn’t even down yet. We move over to the VIP tent. The crowd is predictably dour and typically judgmental. The DJ booth stands between the VIP and the plebeians. I watch the plebeians have much more fun.
But the booze is free and as the time passes, the Very Important Pretentious loosen up. And they loosen up so rapidly and violently that the standoffishness from the daylight hours becomes a fond distant memory. There is a girl at our table who puts her head between her legs and moans for more drugs. She makes a joke about cocaine. She says she’s going to kiss Mickey Blue Eyes or my friend Veronica. At least she’s wise enough to keep her options open.
I look around and realize that she is not the minority in this makeshift club in the middle of a polo field. Everyone is on drugs or drunk beyond comprehension. I am forced to remember the first forty five minutes of a rave I went to in high school in which I watched Kandy Kids hop around on Ecstasy, dressed up like cotton candy and bumble bees. But these people don’t look like bumble bees, they look like whores. To my left is a girl who though her strawberry hair would cover her exposed nipples a la Botticelli’s Venus. Next to her is another friend with 2/3 of a breast hanging out. The other 1/3 is hidden with the help of now visible double-stick tape. I pull out one of three bottles of personal-sized champagne I transferred from a gift bag earlier. I pop it open. Take a swig of warm fizz. Pray that a light drunken state will quell my misery.
Veronica and I travel to the restroom. The door is open and a man rushes in. “Wrong loo! Sorry, wrong loo!” I yell. I see the back of his head, two hands, and a dusty plastic bag. Drug run. I get it. Veronica is buzzed and silly and looks like peaches and cream. “Ew! Ew! Ew! Don’t do cocaine! That’s gross!” she squeals at him. I wish I had recorded the entire interaction and then sold it to D.A.R.E. for a promotional video. He stomps out the door without looking at us and I hear him say to his buddies something like “I can’t give this shit away.”
Throughout the evening, there is a man sitting at our table that I begin to refer to as “The Village Idiot.” He is too drunk to speak, too drunk to move. He looks about mid-forties. I thank God for not giving me parents like him. In an attempt to communicate with Sophie, he pelts her with an ice cube. When he asks me where the cups are, he lugs me in the forearm. For whatever reason, our twenty-five-year-old friend has been put in charge to babysit him. And thus, we are also subjected.
I am starving. The last thing I’ve eaten was at 4 PM and I would necessarily put it into a proper meal category. There are sausages for sale. I have an “I hate this country” moment. A man by the name of Charlie comes up to me as I leave the stand and asks if I am from LA and says, “Oh! I have the LA crew coming in five minutes! Do you know Lucas Haas?” Lucas Haas is an actor I’ve been watching since Alan and Naomi when he was six, and been watching partying peripherally in LA since I was nineteen. I say I know of him though friends. Then Charlie tells me Leo’s coming. Like Los Angeles is some village in Eastern Europe and we must all be buddies. Yeah…me and Leo, good times. He invites me to come back to the table later, which I don’t.
I have some more champagne to fill my stomach. Now I feel like a true degenerate. The music bounces from good to bad, as does my mood. I am trapped until midnight – when the car comes. The hours creep on like black strap molasses until finally the lights come up, the people flood out, and I freshly anticipate food and a much needed shower. It’s only 11:30 but it feels like 4 AM. I haven’t seen people party like this…ever.
Our group walks out in the rain, under stolen umbrellas, over misted grass, scouring the fields for one car out of four hundred. Taryn is on the phone with the cabbie, confused about his whereabouts. She keeps yelling, “Hello? Sir?” into her BlackBerry. It’s cold and I miss the sweaty drunk bodies insulating me from this English summer evening. We stop at the pickup point and The Village Idiot falls into a barricadede, toppling it on top of a parking facilitator – a bigger man who was actually quite nice about being knocked into by a negligent drunkard.
Eventually the driver and our party find each other. His car is clean and warm and he is nice and foreign. It’s midnight. The drive is long and the roads are wet. I sit in the front and wonder what would happen if we were to crash into a tree. The girls holler off locations of Burger Kings, McDonalds, asking questions about how far away is this and how late is that open until. The conversation turns inappropriate, per the usual. I’d like to imagine this man is going to write a book about the asinine conversations he has heard in his occupation as a driver. Veronica’s lost a very important business card given to her by her future husband. They scour her purse. Nothing.
It’s about 12:40 by the time we get to the only place in London that’s open for food. Four chicken shawarmas. Taryn gets gristle in the third bite. She spits it on the street. I had mine in the first but I ignored it. In five minutes we have finished and half of our party continues partying and half of our party goes home. By 3 AM we all join forces again, learning that The Village Idiot had continued on with his evening and started a food fight at a restaurant. And while Veronica starts to change for bed, the lost business card falls out of the bra that she had so fortuitously placed into her décolletage. Good God.