Thursday, July 28, 2005

On young business power couples. Okay, so lately I've been catching the trams during peak hour. This has been a real eye-opener, because it's been ages since I've noticed the phenomenon of the young business power couple. You know what I mean. The girl will have on a conservative skirt suit, a well-cut wool coat, those really shiny sheer pantihose, and some tasteful and subtle jewellery. Her hair will be groomed into a nice ponytail, or cut in a modern but not too trendy way. She will have thick but skilfully applied makeup. She will have a quality leather handbag, probably black or brown or beige - the sort my mother would nod sagely at and say was a good investment before buying it from said woman at the Camberwell market and hawking it on eBay for roughly twenty times what she paid the bourgie lady.

As for the guy, he'll have a kind of pink, scrubbed face and will be wearing a nice suit with a carefully thought out shirt and tie combo. He'll probably mix up the patterns to show he's young and on the cutting edge. He'll have slightly directional shoes - maybe those Mario ones with the square, flat toes; or maybe boots with biker-style buckles or something. He'll be clinging pathetically to the spiked-up weekend hairstyle that looks so incongruous with the business suit.

I always seem to see them on the 59, so I fantasise about their executive lifestyle in Kensington or Ascot Vale. They'll live in a neat renovated terrace or a nice Californian bungalow with polished floorboards, minimalist furniture and fluffy rugs. There'll be a kitchen where they whip up Thai green curries, warm beef salads and the like, which they eat with a nice glass of wine while watching a DVD. The guy will have touch footy on Wednesdays and the girl will have netball or Pilates on Mondays. For some reason I am imagining their bed, quite low so you fall rather than sit on it, with little side tables, decked out in cool neutral tones of black, grey, beige and white, with heaps of plump pillows, most of which get thrown onto the floor when it comes to actual sleeping. The girl will hang up her coat, smoothing down the back where it's creased from when she sits down on the tram.

I don't mind it when I see these young corporate types individually. Mostly, they remind me how glad I am that I don't have to wear suits and work in office towers pushing paper about, fielding emails, enduring meetings and being bossed about by older, fatter doofuses. But something in me frays and snaps when I see them in couples.

There was one really high-res couple on the way home on Monday night, maybe late twenties. They looked like they ought to be in a prospectus pointing pens gaily at blank sheets of paper, or in a TV commercial for home loans, or in a posh restaurant making eyes over a power lunch. The girl was quite pretty, with buttery blonde shoulder-length hair. She had little pearl stud earrings. She was wearing a coat of an indeterminate pinkish, orangeish, reddish colour that I will call "hot salmon". It looked as though it were made of felt, and had ribbon details and fashionable raw edges on the collar and cuffs, although these were neatly cut and seamed. It was the sort of hip but conservative coat you might buy for a vast sum from some slightly offbeat shop like Rosemin or Fat. She also had one of those handbags trimmed with brocade, and nice, slightly fancy Mary-Jane shoes. She had a scar on one knee.

The guy was also good-looking, in quite an old-fashioned, wholesome sort of way. He had neat, 1950s hair, the sort of sandy colour that fair-haired little boys often end up with as adults. I couldn't get over how clean-shaven he looked - this was at about 7pm. He was wearing a charcoal overcoat over his suit, well-polished black shoes, and was carrying a backpack. When he smiled, several rows of wrinkles appeared at the edges of his mouth and eyes.

The two of them were chatting about the most banal stuff - they were planning to visit some friends in the country or something. I imagined their lives as a merry-go-round of visiting other young business power couples: for dinner and drinks, perhaps going out to a restaurant, visiting , or someone's holiday house for the weekend. They had obviously reached that stage in their relationship where they were thought of as a unit, and they'd get Christmas presents from the other one's family, etc.

There was another couple on my tram this morning. The girl was wearing a white wrap blouse with a navy business suit that needed drycleaning - there were dirty marks on the skirt. She had what I would consider to be too much makeup (heavy eyeshadow and lipstick, and a line between her mask-like face and her tender, naked neck below), and dyed blonde hair in a ponytail. She was reading a dog-eared book called I Know This Much Is True. (I Googled it when I got to work, and it seemed to me like a bargain basement The Corrections, but when I mentioned this to Mic, he said he'd read the book and it was quite good.) Worst of all, she was wearing sneakers with her pantihose. I am totally up in arms about this practice. If high heels are too uncomfortable, why not just wear flat shoes? You're a corporate gimp, lady. Deal with it.

Her boyfriend was a hot Eurasian guy, wearing a beautifully tailored dark pinstriped suit with a blue shirt and a pink-and-blue striped tie. Except when he turned around, he wasn't that hot - his face had that squashy, gone-to-seed look that hot young guys often get after a few years as a corporate gimp. He was reading last weekend's Good Weekend. Cos, you know, he was too busy on the weekend being arse-jammed at the law firm or the consulting agency.

The thing that really gets me is their intimate behaviour, sitting close together and holding hands. I don't know why intimacy in young business power couples bothers me. Perhaps it's a mingling of business and pleasure - the same yuppie couples aren't nearly as annoying on weekends in casual clothes. Perhaps I want to think of the corporate world as a temporary place - a place you go to perform a role, wearing a costume, which you then discard and become 'yourself' - but the couples force me to recognise how the corporate workplace is actually a way of life. And it makes sense that young business power couples meet their partners in this life, or at uni while studying to join this life, and they don't see the same disjuncture between 'work' and 'home' as I do.

Or rather, theirs is a different blurring of 'work' and 'home' than me and the people I spend time with. For me, work extends into home because I do my freelancing from here. But I also spend so much of my supposed 'leisure' time doing creative and intellectual work for which I don't get paid. Take yesterday, for instance - I worked until 6pm, then had a magazine meeting that went from 6-9pm, then I went home and edited articles for the magazine until 1am. I could tell similar stories on behalf of all my friends who make music, do comedy, theatre and film, are writers, academic researchers, etc. Yet, when I'm asked at a dinner party or family function what I 'do', this work has no meaning because it is unpaid and self-initiated.

I am pretty sure that Glen and Mel Gregg will have thought through these ideas more comprehensively and elegantly than me. Basically, a rage begins to boil up in me when I see young business power couples. And although I realise that it simply transfers my anger onto people who are only doing what society considers successful and prosperous for educated bourgeois twentysomethings, I enjoy the rage.

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