"Playground" is a contemporary novel of manners with a dash of satire. The issues dealt with are male crisis and role reversal in the modern family.
The novel has three main protagonists. Two of these are men who live in their wives' shadows - go-getter women who are consumed by their professional careers. The third man is a playboy and a bachelor, a media star and a chronic womanizer. Each of them is dealing with a male identity crisis in his own way. The third man stages humorous yet pitiful seduction scenes so as to seem a superman. His masculinity is always constructed, always on show. The two "henpecked husbands," in turn, experience female domination in two different ways. One of them is simply a mentally-challenged loser who is wilfully unemployed. Caring for a small child, cleaning and cooking are his responsible chores, which he is barely capable of carrying out. Yet he ought not to aim any higher, given that he has apparently been made for the role of house-husband. The other is a lazy academic, who in spite of his high mental qualifications has not attended to his career in time. He has chosen a comfortable life by the side of his very high-earning wife. After years of floundering about, however, he understands the root of his lifelong mistake. He comes to his senses and finds his place in the world - he becomes a writer.
Kochan avoids moralizing, he doesn't take sides with any of his protagonists, nimbly sidesteps cultural stereotypes, and is a fine observer of the transformations in customs that have taken place over recent years.
Marek Kochan (born 1969) is a prose-writer, and author of television scripts and texts for stage. His publications include the novels "Fanquizea" (1996) and "Playground" (2007) and the short-story collection "The Ballad of the Good Gang-Boy" (2005).
NINE. THE FOREMAN WAS SUPPOSED TO BE HERE BY NOW. Kociak had been pacing about the apartment, tapping and measuring for nearly a quarter of an hour already. Who cares that it's bent. Who'll notice, who's going to knock and see if there's plaster underneath or hollow. Come on, who? Father. Yeah, Witek's grandfather will notice right away, he'll knock. What does he care anyway, the apartment's ours, he can keep tabs on his own. It’s us who are going to live here. Helenka did the earning, I'll renovate. Keep him out of it. He, Kociak that is, doesn't live just to please his father, he lives for himself. He has his own life to live. About a window or something. He'd get into a squabble about whatever, that energy was being wasted. He'd say that his wife had a look in the evening and said no way, but it would be okay. It was worth a shot, a dignified way out of the whole mess. These are Kociak's thoughts from nine on the dot to nine-oh-five, nine-ten. Even at nine-fifteen he was at the same spot. He'd call Helenka. That he wasn't there, this foreman. Did he call you, maybe? Because he hasn't even got my number. No, don't give it to him. Don't even talk to him. Don't even pick up when he calls. I'll take care of it, I already know how to deal with him. But it's easier said than done. All the more since the foreman won't show up. The anger, on the other hand, does show up, mounting in Kociak between nine-sixteen and twenty to ten, culminating at around half past. What's he thinking, the ass. What did the man think, that Helenka and him were going to wait so long for him? Goes twice for Helenka. When she's got stuff to take care of, business, she's supposed to blow her valuable time waiting for the foreman? The paying customer, imagine. The hatred blazes hotter in Kociak, then, when it's going on ten, it gradually simmers, refines, cools. Finally, it hardens. Just you wait, I'll get you, I'll fix your wagon. He looks through the orders, checks the signatures. A calm, almost jolly Kociak hears the doorbell, it's five past ten. Well, I made it on time, says the self-satisfied foreman. And where's your wife, not around? Okay, you and I'll just take care of things. And so, everything's all ready, I've got the bill here, he hands it over. We'll take care of it, take care of everything, Kociak tells him, smiling. But not today. What's that? Ah yes, you've still got to make some minor repairs. What repairs? You see, Mr., Kociak stares at the bill, and the stamp with the name on it, Mr., yes, I'm not mistaken, Adrian, to my mind it looks quite all right. I saw it during the day, and all in all it passed the test, to my mind. But my wife! My wife, Adrian. Flew into a rage. Came in at two minutes to nine, had a look around, and told me there was no way, everything's botched up, she wouldn't have it. Either they put in whole new windows, she said, or we'll go with a different company, so we lose the deposit, too bad. Someone else'll do a decent job. I only just begged her, Adrian, give them a chance, I said, it's a good team after all, gave it their best shot, they just rushed things a bit, they'll come back and take their time, they'll fix it up. You're lucky you didn't come by earlier. She would've let you have it. Waited till five past then left like a locomotive, and she would've run right over you if you’d crossed paths. You don't know her, she doesn't look it, but she can be a real typhoon, Adrian. She has her own company, in the real estate business, and sometimes she chews out her workers so bad that it's painful to watch. And she knows her stuff. She's a lawyer. Knows how to read a contract. She told me right away that you're just a sub-contractor, and that you've got a deal with a window company. That right, Adrian? Exactly. She said that if something doesn't get done quite right, she'd go to where your bosses are and you wouldn't wriggle out of the damages you caused. Vengeful, that woman is! One time a building contractor did a superstructure design for her client, adapted an attic space, and something wasn't quite right, so she took him to court and showed them expert testimonials saying it would have collapsed, took away his right to practice, and they barred him from the union. Destroyed the man. And she has connections. I'm backing you up right now, but if she goes after you, there won't be a decent company in Warsaw that would hire you later. She'd get addresses from databases and sully your good name everywhere. You could fight it, but what do you need these troubles for, what good are they to you. You're from Plonsk after all, no work at all there, and there's a really big market here. Why take the risk? Better to do your own thing, earn a bit, put away the money. If she's satisfied, she's sure to even recommend you. For windows, and bigger jobs too. You're thinking, what are we doing this for. We have quite a few places like this for rent. And we'll buy a few more soon. That’s how it is with us! A snap of the fingers. That's all I do, I survey renovations, collect money. It's my head that's on the line. And the small repairs is what it's all about. But what does it matter if it's okay by me, when she's not satisfied. I know her, Adrian, I've lived with her five years and I've already learned that it's better to give in, do things her way and then everything goes fine. I hope you never have to come face-to-face with her. Because if she comes back now, woah! I mean, you don't want that, I don't want that, it's in our common interests that we arrange things peacefully. I'll deal with her myself, you just help me out a bit with those repairs, and I'll cover you. Do you know, Adrian, what I got for not keeping track of you guys yesterday? And so, down to business, two things: first the corners, then the fillings. Tear them out, put in new cardboard-plaster plates - what for? Otherwise it just won't do. Today or tomorrow, whenever's good. Because you know, I'm pretty easy-going, as long as I haven't got her on my back, says Kociak.
Translated by Soren Gauger