I’d like to start this entry with an old, but illustrative, joke.
Cast your risible timeline back to 1956. Back to when American Jews were legally restricted from so many resorts – among other things – that they had to start their own in the (then) backwoods wilderness of the Catskill Mountains. Back when America was “great”, in other words. At least according to those in red baseball caps.
The most famous of these resorts was Grossinger’s, and it’s here that our Borscht Belt joke takes place….
It’s the first weekend of summer at Grossinger’s and a group of Yenta are hovering near the check-in desk carefully eyeing every arriving patron. When they spot an elderly gentleman coming through the door that they’d never seen before, one of the women immediately accosts him.
“You don’t look familiar” she says. “Are you new here?”
The man looks down at the floor. “I was just released from prison” he said. “I spent the last 40 years behind bars for killing my wife. I strangled her when I saw her talking to another man, then put her body through a wood chipper.”
The Yenta’s eyes grew wide. “Oh my god!” she said. “So you’re single?”
I haven’t been able to update because my dad came to visit for a couple of weeks, and our computer room is also our guest room. I was sweating it out the entire time he was here that he would start my computer and click the “PORN FOLDER! DON’T CLICK!” folder. (I should probably name it something no one will click, like “My Poetry“. I should also probably not have it be the only folder on my screen.)
My dad is really, really cool. Even though he’s getting up there in years he still blasts around the country on his motorcycle, works part time restoring classic British sports cars, and plays a mean accordion. He’s funny, well educated – a retired research hematologist – and doesn’t wear black socks with sandals.
He’s also single.
My mom died fairly young, of a rare cancer, about 20 years ago. She’d married my dad right out of school and in true Italian Catholic tradition immediately started pumping out kids – 5 in their first 7 years together. Her knees didn’t touched for almost a decade.
Growing up I never once heard my parents argue, let alone fight. I honestly can’t remember either one even muttering something derogatory under their breath when the other wasn’t around. They were still desperately in love 30 years later when my mom left, and afterwards my dad never dated. He still wears his wedding ring.
So last month my dad called and invited himself to Easter dinner. He’s been doing this more and more lately at holidays. Partly it’s because I’m the best cook among the siblings (of course). But mostly it’s because it gives him an excuse to drive one of his restored Triumph TR-6’s for 5 solid hours with the top down, pretending he’s competing in the Mille Miglia.
Here are his two babies:
I don’t know what he took that picture with. Probably something he got free with a magazine subscription. Or in a cereal box.
I absolutely love when my dad comes up for a visit, even if I know it’s just to sample my cooking. We really get along great, and on top of that he always brings beer. NewWifey(tm) loves him too, and for the same reasons. So when he invited himself for Easter we gave a hearty assent.
The day after that invite I took a call from our good friend “Ella”. Ella is one of NewWifey(tm)’s stitching buddies, but I like her a lot too. She often comes over – again, for the food mostly – and we always have a good time. So when she phoned and NewWifey(tm) wasn’t around, I felt comfortable chatting her up. At one point in the conversation I happened to mentioned that my dad would be joining us for Easter dinner.
There was a pause. “Are you making a lot of food?” Ella said.
“Don’t I always?”
Another pause. “Would you mind if I joined you this year? I was supposed to go to my nephew’s, but his daughter got sick and.…”
“Of course you can come!” I said. “You’re always welcome, you know that.”
“Thank you. I’ll bring wine.”
When NewWifey(tm) came home later that night I told her that Ella would be joining us for Easter dinner.
NewWifey(tm) immediately turned pale.
“Why the hell did you invite HER?!” she said.
I was shocked. “What do you mean? She’s one of our oldest friends! We’ve had her over for plenty of holiday dinners before. What’s wrong with inviting her to another one?”
NewWifey(tm) sat down on the sofa and put her head in her hands.
“I don’t know what we’re gonna do” she said. “This morning Ruth called. I told her SHE could come over then.”
I stood in front of her not comprehending. “What’s the problem with that? They’ve both been here plenty of times, and they get along just fine. I don’t understand….”
NewWifey(tm) raised her head. “Are you dense? They both want to come over because they know your dad is gonna be here.”
I snorted. “That’s crazy. They want to come over because I’m the best damn cook either of them have ever met. They tell me that all the time. I mean, c’mon. They’re not interested in men any more at their age.”
NewWifey(tm) shook her head. “Are you that fucking clueless about women? They’ve each met your father separately, and neither of them have been able to shut up about him ever since. It doesn’t matter how old they are. They’re single, and he’s a catch. If they both show up at our house on the same day he’s here, there’s gonna be blood.”
“Well at least it won’t be menstrual blood” I said. “That ship sailed long ago.”
She shot out a heel and caught me hard across the shin. “You just watch. They’re both going to arrive dressed like you’ve never seen them dressed before. And when they spot each other, I’m telling you, it’s gonna be a very restrained, very ladylike cat fight to the death.”
I shrugged. “Whatever. It’s not like dad’s gonna notice anyway. He’s not interested in ANY woman.”
“That’s irrelevant” said NewWifey(tm).
Fast forward two weeks to Easter. Dad arrived the Thursday before, and he’s already fashioned a new quarter panel out of sheet metal to replace the one that was rusting through on our Ford Escape, helped NewWifey(tm) replace the bad faucet in our back bathroom, beaten me on my own track on our dirtbikes, and purchased three cases of beer for the feast.
On Easter morning Dad and NewWifey(tm) went to some church service (I’m still a devout atheist), while I got started prepping dinner.
For the record, I made:
Individual braided Easter breads, with the egg in the center (I actually made these the night before because of oven space considerations, and also so they’d look good on the table when the guests arrived).
Asparagus and shallot soup puree.
Roast ham with an apricot, orange, whisky, and thyme glaze. Plus a tureen of gravy made from extra glaze mixed with ham stock.
Stuffed leg of lamb cooked in a Romertopf, roasted on bed of baby potatoes, garlic, and thyme fronds, with a rosemary and fennel top crust. Gravy made from pan juices.
Brandied pan roasted mushrooms with summer savory.
Bowl of extra roasted baby potatoes from lamb dish.
Curried rice and squash biryani.
There were a few oddities in there, like the potato salad in addition to roast potatoes, and the biryani. But they were specifically requested, so there they were. I exist to serve. Or cook, anyway.
While I was midway through my prep work Ella showed up. Three hours early, and in a full Christian Dior Jackie Kennedy outfit – a red sleeveless number that hugged every fold of her fat. Plus 3 inch heels.
She was also carrying a case of wine. “I didn’t know what kind to get” she chirped. “So I got a bunch.” She looked around. “Did your dad come up...?”
I told her that he and NewWifey(tm) would be home shortly, and she could make herself at home. She sat primly at the kitchen island, pretending to be interested in how I tunnel boned out a full leg of lamb, making inane small talk. All the while she kept her head cocked so our front door down the hall stayed in view.
About an hour later I heard NewWifey(tm)’s car coming down the road. I went to the front door to greet them, Ella right beside me.
NewWifey(tm) and dad pulled into the driveway.
Right behind them came Ruth’s car.
I heard a faint gurgling sound on my left. It was coming out of Ella.
Ruth got out of her car wearing a sleeveless red Coco Chanel dress, probably a size too small, and 3 inch heels. My dad went to her car and lifted out the case of wine she’d brought along. She put her hand on my dad’s arm as he carried it to the house.
The gurgling sound became a prolonged hiss.
“Oh, hey, look who’s here!” my dad said when he walked in the door. “Ella, it’s great to see you again!” He gave Ella a peck on the cheek. “NewWifey(tm) didn’t tell me you were coming. Let me just put this wine away and we can all chat while Danger cooks.” He walked towards the kitchen carrying the case. As soon as his back was to us Ella shot a feral look at NewWifey(tm), who stared straight ahead with a completely blank expression.
I went back to the kitchen.
For the next three hours I chopped and mixed and kneaded and basted and basically kept too busy cooking to notice what was going on elsewhere. In the other room I could hear my dad laughing and chatting breezily as he always does, our two guests tittering along every time he laughed. NewWifey(tm), meanwhile, didn’t really talk much that I could hear. But every 15 minutes or so she would come into the kitchen for another glass of wine, the same blank expression on her face.
At 2 o’clock, right on time, dinner was ready. NewWifey(tm) had made a very nice table setting as usual:
As we often do, we set an extra place in case anyone showed up unexpectedly. It’s happened too many times in the past for us to neglect this. Being the best cook anyone you know knows has its drawbacks sometimes.
I sat at the head of the table, NewWifey(tm) opposite me at the far end. My dad sat immediately to my left. After some covert glaring and very subtle elbowing, Ella sat across from him, Ruth to his left. The smell of Avon ‘Eau d’ Wildflower’ perfume was overwhelming. I set out three of the 24 wine bottles they’d brought, and NewWifey(tm) grabbed one and placed it right in front of her.
My dad gave a brief and cheerfully fulsome prayer, then we dug in.
Or rather, my father and I dug in. Ruth and Ella each made a show of lifting every bowl, platter, or tureen that was passed to them. But when it was all over there was barely a forkful of any one thing on either of their plates. NewWifey(tm) didn’t even bother with the pretense. She just poured herself wine.
Dad and I, meanwhile, neither noticed nor cared. Each of our plates were spilling over with two kinds of meats, two kinds of potatoes, a kaleidoscope of gravies swirling together, mushrooms, etc. We tore into the breads, drank the soup right from our bowls, and worked our way through the two remaining bottles of wine while laughing and talking alternately about my work and his cars.
None of the ladies said a word. Ruth and Ella studiously kept their heads down and pretended to lift food to their mouths, while NewWifey(tm) just got more and more plowed.
By the way, I do want to pause here for a moment and mention something about ham.
You’re making ham wrong.
Yes, you are.
In the future, please make your ham like this:
Now back to the story.
Actually there isn’t that much of the story left to tell (you’re welcome). After about an hour and a half of being completely oblivious to the fully pitched feminine battle going on around us, my dad and I patted our bellies and declared the feast a success. My dad gave some heartfelt expressions of thanks to the ladies for their generosity in coming up to join us (not to mention the 2 full cases of wine). In return they gave overly effusive expressions of appreciation for being able to see him again. “And my, your son is quite the talented cook! You must have been a wonderful father for him to have turned out like that.” They each plastered on a smile that would have put the Joker to shame, and each patted one of his arms. While looking at each other.
NewWifey(tm) still hadn’t changed expression. It had been hours.
My dad stood up and made to clear his plate from the table, but Ruth swooped over his arm and grabbed it first, just barely beating out Ella who was simultaneously lunging for it from across the table.
My dad didn’t notice a thing. He thanked Ruth for being so thoughtful, then headed for the living room. Ruth shot a smug grin at Ella, who instantly turned the color of blue ice. To her credit though, she did manage to force a treacly smile in return.
For the next hour or so we all sat around the living room chatting. I set out a platter of small pastries and a variety of liquors, along with a pot of tea and coffee. Ruth and Ella flanked my dad on the sofa, laughing overly loud when he made a joke and smiling brittle smiles at each other when my dad addressed them both.
Eventually though I could see that the effects of alcohol and several metric tons of holiday foodstuffs were taking its toll on him. His head started lolling back into the cushions, and the gaps between his sentences were getting longer and longer. I knew from experience he wasn’t going to be able to go nap-less much longer. I had to wrap things up.
“Well ladies” I said, “it’s been wonderful having you both here to share our Easter dinner, and we can’t thank you enough for all the wine. But unfortunately I do have to go to work tomorrow, which means I need to get to bed in about an hour. So I hope you don’t mind if I pronounce this feast over, and kick your asses out the door.” (They’re old enough friends that I can talk to them like that.)
They in turn thanked us for hosting them, and each gave a way too long hug and kiss on the cheek to my father. Then the two red dresses marched down the driveway to their respective cars, and after a moment where they each glared wordlessly at each other from behind the wheel, they drove off.
I closed the door and turned back inside. My dad was already asleep on the couch, head fully back, mouth open. NewWifey(tm) was in the wing back chair next to him, a fresh glass of wine in her hand. She still hadn’t changed expression.
I gently shook her shoulder. “It’s ok honey, they’re gone” I said.
NewWifey(tm) gave a short shake of her head, as if waking from a dream. She looked around, then took a deep breath. Color started returning to her face.
“Are they really gone?”
“Jesus” she said. “The same dress. The same fucking dress. It was worse than I thought.” She drained her glass. “We better get your dad to bed and clean up. You have to be up early for work, remember.”
“Yeah, I remember.”
I went to work the next morning, and by 2 o’clock I was back home. NewWifey(tm) and Dad were having lunch. Leftovers. I joined them. We drank another bottle of wine. I told them about my day, what news stories I was covering. My dad told me he wanted to go into Manhattan while he was here and check out some museums. NewWifey(tm) said she’d take him if I was too busy working.
After the meal my dad excused himself to use the bathroom. When he was out of earshot I said to NewWifey(tm), “So, did he say anything about Ruth or Ella?”
“Depends” she said.
“Depends on what?”
“No – Depends. Adult diapers. Your dad found a pair of them in the bathroom when he got up this morning. One of our two combatants must have left them there by mistake in her haste to get back to your father.”
“I’m guessing he didn’t find that a particularly alluring revelation about them?”
She laughed. “Let’s just say he’s too much a gentleman to admit it skeeved him out. But both called this morning to thank us – him – for the ‘wonderful time’ they had yesterday. And both times he waved the phone away and had me tell them that he’d gone out sightseeing.”
“Are you going to try to find out who the culprit is?” I asked.
“Are you kidding? I don’t have a death wish” she said. “The one who left it would be mortified, the other would be furious that you father could think it might have been her. Both would probably try to strangle me for not finding it before him. I’m just gonna let this one slide.”
I nodded. “Yeah, it’s probably for the best that they never know. Still, I can’t help but think that if he played his cards right he’d probably be in for a 3-some.”
“Ewwww!” said NewWifey(tm). “With THEM? Would you?”
I thought about it a moment. “Depends.”
And with that stupid joke, I finish this entry.
My dad stayed on another couple of weeks, and had a great time. He fixed a bunch of stuff I’d been too lazy or stupid to address, we ate a bunch of great food, rode motorcycles, watched “Girls und Panzer”, did some sightseeing. By the time he left most of the gifted wine was gone, also. And on the last day, just as he was leaving, he handed me two wrapped packages.
“Give these to Ruth and Ella next time you see them, will you?” he said.
“What are they?” I asked.
I stared at him, mouth open. He laughed.
“I’m just kidding. I got them each some pignoli cookies from Little Italy. They didn’t eat much when they were here, but maybe when they’re not fighting over me their appetites will return.” He hopped into his little British Racing Green Triumph TR-6 and blasted down the road towards home, an arm breezily waving goodbye as he left.
Well goddam. I guess my father, at least, isn’t that fucking clueless about women. How did that skip a generation…?
G’night kids. Don’t forget to check the bathroom before you go to bed. It could cost you a 3-some.