Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Everyone has been in a situation where his or her loose stomach suddenly becomes tied in a triple-sheepshank knot. You know the deal: a spouse or other companion invites you to share a meal with a relative of theirs. Though his or her intentions are usually good, unappetizing gruel such as haggis with blood sausage and pickled ram's testicles can cause irreparable damage to culinary taste buds...not to mention your relationship.

In 1983, my mother was involved with a gentleman named Larry -- who acted more like a glorified babysitter than a "dad" (excepting the time he became the only "father figure" to ever paddle my ass). One Sunday morning, the usual routine of waiting for the church bus was suspended. This was because Larry's mom -- a 24-hours-a-day-in-her-pajamas-type woman -- wanted her most intelligent son (7th-grade education -- no lie!) to bring his ready-made "family" over for breakfast. My siblings and I welcomed the change of plans, readying ourselves for some seriously good eats. After a 25-minute drive fighting with my brothers and sisters over an electronic hand-held Space Invaders-like game, we arrived at the "All-You-Can-Eat."

The house, located less than two miles from my mother's old high school, was a sprawling, two-story structure with a well-tended garden that was most assuring for first-time guests. Once inside, however, Mr. Miracle Grow's dream became Martha Stewart's living hell. Aside from the clothes piles and garbage tucked in every nook and cranny, the first things I noticed were the many televisions scattered throughout the place. Numbering about thirty, they occupied every bedroom, both bathrooms, the garage, den, etc. There were even a couple of non-working sets in the upstairs hallway that served as tables. The most impressive of all the boob tubes was situated in the family room. A three-panel stack of TVs, each had an important function. Top set was where the antenna stood, middle layer brought you the picture, and the bottom TV delivered not-so-crystal-clear sound. An early version of the home entertainment center, perhaps? Don't laugh. The triple-headed monster was equipped with full cable (including HBO). All of us were heartily introduced to Larry's mom and his six brothers. Dig this lineup: Lloyd, Leslie, Lonnie, Leon, Lynn, and Lance. No L-monogrammatic (as in Laverne) sweaters for this bunch. Eyeballing an old western ("Gunsmoke") on the triple-stack, we five hungry steers were corralled into the kitchen to chow down.

As I stared at the plate, my thoughts began to mirror those closest to me. We all gave the grub a "What the hell is this crap?" look. The main course, you ask? Eggs and salmon. Not just any ole egg 'n' salmon platter, it was the kind where chicken embryos are unstable and "catches of the day" would be thrown back by any sensible fisherman. To make matters worse, my least favorite foods at the time were (in order): 1)eggs, 2)fish, and 3)watermelon. Sensing tension across the crowded table, my mother (aware of the foods I most disliked) flashed me a look of great concern, motioning as if to say, "Try to get through it, son." Beaver Cleaver'd had it easy with those brussels sprouts, and the longer I sat paralyzed with fear, the more jealous I became of his predicament. Trying to stall consumption by devouring slices of buttered toast (the only edible item on the table), I waited and waited for my chance to abort such a lousy surf 'n' turf expedition. Fifteen minutes later, I finally caught a wave that would set me ashore. Besides the L-to-the-sixth-power exponential relations, Larry also had three sisters (Robin, Tina, and Rachel). The youngest one, Rachel, was a temperamental child who spoke in a whiny manner. On this day, she rewarded me with, "Mama, I'm not hungry. I wanna go to parrrk..." The pajama-clad pushover implored her youngest son, "Oh Lance, please take Rachel to the park." "Not now Ma, I'm eatin'," replied the idiot, wasting his get-out-of-jail-free card. "MAMA!!! I'M NOT HUNGRY!!! I WANNA GO TO PARRRK!!!" bellowed Rachel to 135-decibel effect. Although it was not my familial duty, I "kindly volunteered" to escort the hot-headed little one to the swings and sliding boards. Mama nodded in approval, and the two of us were soon in the sandbox creating sculptures. Dirt never tasted so good!

Less than a year later, my mother would meet the man that I've been proud to call my father for the past sixteen years. Our worries have been few. He doesn't like his mother's cooking. Or his mother.

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