Thursday, November 27, 2014

Let Simmer For One Hour

By Richard Miranda, For The Daily Bosco

Part Three Of A Series

Another round of drinks seems to be going around to combat the heat. The “appetizers” are sitting on top of the stove – “cooling”. An odd choice of words I know. The ladies are leaving the table. They appear to be heading for the other room to see something that Ginny has bought on her afternoon shopping spree. I don’t get it. What stores do they have here that they don’t have in Memphis? I peek around the corner and to my amazement they’re pulling stuff out of a Target bag. I don’t think a city can be incorporated without having a Target, Wal-Mart and a Starbucks within the city limits. Fire and police services follow shortly thereafter.

Neiman Marcus or Nordstrom’s I could understand. Ginny can easily be wearing the equivalent of a mortgage payment on her wrist but she’s raving about something she probably bought off a sale rack. I guess the drive to the high-end stores in Newport was just too far. Actually, Steve is the one that buys her the expensive crap. Ginny’s much more of a spendthrift. I mean she’s been known to wash and reuse Glad freezer bags, taking recycling to a new extreme.

Steve is a lot more generous with his money than people give him credit. Beneath that hard-core conservative republican exterior lies a generous hard-core republican that knows the advantage of a good tax break. Seriously, he’s more charitable than people think but I wouldn’t put it past him to try and get a receipt from the Salvation Army bell ringers.

Feeling a bit peckish I take advantage of the opportunity to visit the now unoccupied kitchen table with the snacks on it. Upon closer inspection I notice that the crackers and chips look vaguely familiar. One bite verifies my suspicion. These are the same snacks that were here at the last month’s get together. Does she scoop them all up after we leave and save them for the next time? The dip is probably within tolerance but there’s a cheese log on the table that’s developing a second coat. There are pretzels, I can’t stand pretzels but they have a shelf life of about a thousand years so they’re still edible. The taco chips, wheat thins, Ritz crackers, they’re all stale, except for one bowel full of potato chips which has some weird flavor like artificial sour cream. Why do they do that? Why can’t potato chips just taste like they should? What ever happened to Granny Goose?

The dips are about as bad. There’s the traditional ranch-onion. If I want bad breath I’ll go outside and smoke a cigar. The salsa is from Del-Monte, just like my Mexican grandma used to make. This stuff tastes like spaghetti sauce with cayenne pepper in it. Maybe it’s Italian salsa. The taco chips are stale anyway. I could put onion dip on a pretzel but somehow I don’t think that will work. It’s all like that prop food you see on display in restaurants that’s supposed to look enticing but just reminds you of the wax fruit on your mom’s coffee table.

The temperature outside has peaked for the day but with all the kinfolk and the oven cooking something all the time the house is still a sauna. I make the rounds outside again, hoping for a breeze and some fresh air.

Malcolm is heading in for a reload of brown liquor. So I miss the end of “Angler’s Corner “, alas my heart breaks. Steve and the brothers are refreshing their drinks as well. Nick has gone for something new to fill the Martini glass and another beer for Steve and Patrick.

As they return they’re accompanied by Michelle and Stephanie. As they join me at the patio table, which is naturally still in the sun, they’re discussing one of the latest cause célèbre. Michelle’s leading the charge today.

“You see the pool needs work and she’s always talking about how much it costs to heat it. And she never puts the air on.”
“Well, she’s always cold.” Nick retorts.
“Oh c’mon, she doesn’t want to pay any more to Edison than she has to.”
“Actually it’s both.”
“The side of the house needs some gardening.”
“It’s got to be expensive for her to pay for a gardener all the time.” Stephanie with her first contribution of the day.
“There’s a lot of house for her to take care of and a lot of expense that goes with that. You know how Betty worries about her expenses. Don’t you think so Rick?”
“The taxes, you forgot the taxes.” I add, just fuel to the fire.
“That’s right. She’s always talking about her tax bill.”
“Ad nauseum.”
“But it’s only going to be more if she buys somewhere else.”
 “That’s her on-going argument. She said she’d move but she’s afraid her tax bill would go up.”
 “Not if she get’s something smaller.”
“Smaller? She’s got Prop 13 on this house. It’d have to be the size of a lean-to if it’s in Orange County.”
“She’ll bring up location – she wants to be located near all her kids. Except for Ginny and Steve, of course.”
 “Why not, what’s wrong with Tennessee?” Steve pipes in, sarcastically.
“Yea, to be equally distant from everyone she’d have to be somewhere in the Texas Panhandle, not a solution.”
“Really, if you think she’s cold here. She’d never deal with a winter there.”
“Well if she wants to stay equally close to all her kids out here then she’s looking at moving not much more than five feet to the west.”
“That just puts her closer to her Korean neighbors and you know how she hates the smell of kimche.”
“Well I got these brochures. There’s a nice place in La Habra.”
“La Habra! I know you all used to live up there but in a few years it’s going to look like Boyle Heights. She’ll never go for it.”
“I don’t know, I think this place looks pretty nice.”
“Yea but it’s the surrounding neighborhood that’s questionable.”
“It’s a gated community for seniors.”
“In a city that’s losing it’s property value as we speak. In a few years that place will be Fort Apache with creamed corn.”
“Mom said she doesn’t want to be around old people all the time.”
“How come?”
“She says all they do is sit around talk about how sick they are.”
“As opposed to how sick everyone else is.”
“She wants to be active.”
 “I don’t think they chain you in.”
“Actually, I think in some of those places they do.”
“These aren’t nursing homes, they’re retirement communities.”
“Well then what does she do now that she wouldn’t do there?”
“I don’t know. I think it’s just the idea of change that frightens her.”
“That’s understandable. She’s probably envisioning a place that’s got the smell of disinfectant everywhere and orderlies in scrubs helping a bunch of people hobble around to the background noise of bland music and P.A. announcements.”
“It sounds like Wal-Mart.”

“What other places do you have brochures for?”
“Well there’s one down closer to us.”
“She’d probably like to be nearer you guys anyway.”
“That’s not entirely true. Betty talks to Ann talk all the time.”
“No kidding, they’d probably call each other today but since their in the same room together they’ll probably just make up for it by talking on the phone twice as long tomorrow.”
“Hey what about that retirement place over by the hospital?”
“You mean the one across the street from the cemetery?”
“That’s the one.”
“Aside from the fact that it looks like the Ritz-Carlton and is probably priced accordingly, having sickness and death as neighbors may not sit too well with her.”
“It really is a nice place though.”
“Do you know who lives there? Or is it lived there?”
“The guy that played Tony the Tiger.”
“Yea, I saw him in the local bank one day. He was a big tall guy and that voice is really distinctive. Not only that but he’s one of the singing ghosts in the haunted mansion at Disneyland, that’s how I recognized him.”
“You see Steve, that’s what’s great about living in Southern California. Where else could you have a guy like that for a neighbor?”
“I bet people ask him how he is in the morning just to see if he’ll say he’s ‘Great!’”
“We’ve got celebrities in Memphis, how about Cybil Sheppard?”
“That only works for you if she keeps her shades open.”
“And Kathy Bates.”
“That only works for you if she keeps her shades closed. Besides celebrities are a dime a dozen, I’m talking about living next to an animated character and an American Icon at that.”
“It’s California; he’d probably turn out to be gay.”
“No, lactose intolerant.”
“That’d be ironic.”
“Actually, I think he died.”
“He could still be your neighbor. The cemetery’s across the street.”
“Nothing like cutting down on travel time; rest home, hospital and memorial park all within a quarter mile of each other. It brings new meaning to the term “golden triangle.”

“Ann mentioned some nice places out there by you.”
“In Corona? Betty would never live out there, well she might but nobody would come out there. I mean you all treat it like it was Afghanistan.”
“Well, now that you mention it, there is a certain resemblance,” Steve again.
“Nonsense, Afghanistan is much more peaceful than Riverside County.”
“And the natives are friendlier.”

I happen to glance over toward the house only to see Malcolm skulking around the stove through the kitchen window. What’s he up to?

Refocusing, I add, “She wasn’t so much looking at retirement facilities as she was condos and town homes. Betty might be more open to that seeing as she doesn’t want to associate herself the geriatric crowd.”
“That does open up the field a bit.”
“With some work she could sell this place and live comfortably pretty much anywhere.”
“But she doesn’t want to spend the money to do that.”
“I think she would just rather complain about it than actually move. Moving is a frightening thing for her. She’s much more comfortable with all the burdens of owning this house than the stress of moving somewhere else. How long has she been here? Thirty years?”
“More like thirty-five.”
“Well there you see.”
“So you think she’s entrenched.”
“I think that moving is going to be stressful for her.”
“Moving is stressful for anyone. Doing the laundry is stressful for Betty. One time we were in the view section at Anaheim Stadium and the Angel’s hit a home run so we all jumped up like good fans. She tells Ann to be careful not to fall.”
“Okay so we’ll look for a ground floor apartment.”

About then Donagen joins the discussion. “Hey, you know it’s her life and if she wants to live here instead of someplace else then she should be able to.” Although he’s essentially right and stating the obvious conclusion of the conversation he’s missed the entire point of this discourse. I just wanted to say “Yea, shut up kid,” but withheld my response. In any case he was ignored and the McLaughlin Group continued their exchange.

“And all her friends are here; in Fullerton, I mean.” Stephanie has developed the talent of adding fuel to the fire without being caustic. Generating a good burn that flares up slowly enough so that she has enough time to distance herself and not get singed. Patrick, on the other hand, is usually the one who interjects a joke at the right time to diffuse a moment when things get a little too dicey. In a way, an interesting contrast in a couple. “You mean, as opposed to just on Earth.”

“I’d imagine she’ll want to stay close to all of them.”
“At least while they’re still breathing.”
“I guess friends talking about their illnesses are better than strangers.”
“Well, they’re friends. It’s not like what you tell your kids when you move; that they can make new ones.”

Why do we do that, really? We pack up and move without due consideration to people in our lives that are at least as important as family, sometimes more. True, we can’t remain stagnant in our lives and sometimes moving away is the trade off. Sometimes it’s our friends that do this and leave us behind. Sometimes getting away from people, places or circumstances warrant the sacrifice of that day to day interaction with those individuals in our lives that we choose to be with.

But I think we may have become too transient these days. Sure it’s an Americanism to be able to up and move for greener pastures. But maybe we take it too lightly sometimes. Or perhaps not. If we were so entrenched that we never wanted to leave the familiar for new digs we probably would stagnate and end up sitting around the same old table with the same old friends talking about the same old problems. Sort of like a pale reflection of this conversation.

They’ll never get Betty to move. She’d rather lament about how much her taxes are and how much it costs to heat the pool and cool the house. Not that she does either of those last two things. But she’ll probably live out her days here and we’ll end up burying her under the pool. However she did mention that she wanted to be put in a mausoleum. Interment above ground shouldn’t be an option for people over eighty.

“Betty probably would make new friends; she’s always been a charmer.”
“Yea, she’d be flirting with all the old guys in no time.”
“And if it’s close enough, I’m sure she’d still see most of her old friends.”
“It’s not like any of them don’t drive.” 
“If driving means traveling at half the speed limit with the left-hand turn indicator constantly on.”
“Too bad there’s no alternative means of transportation for senior citizens out here.”
“Mass transportation is a joke.”
“It’d be nice if everyone over a certain age could have a service where a driver came and took you where you wanted to go.”
“Give it a few years and they’ll have robot chauffeurs.”
“Sort of like a science fiction version of ‘Driving Miss Daisy’.”
“Can you imagine a bunch of electronic Morgan Freeman’s on the road?”
“Not here; it’d be too politically incorrect, maybe in Tennessee.”
“You’d have to paint them white, like they did to the lawn jockeys.”
“That’s terrible.”
“No what’s terrible is that sooner or later there will be a furor over the fact that there are no minority lawn jockeys. Lawsuits will follow. You’ll see Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton on Nightline.”
“NPR will do a story on how historically, at least half of all lawn jockeys were once black and that over time their contribution to landscaping has been eradicated by horticultural revisionism.”
“This sounds like a conservative’s nightmare.”
“See what happens when you watch Fox News before you go to bed.”
“The Republicans don’t care what color the lawn jockeys are just so long as you put a camera in them.” “What a great way to keep an eye on the neighbors.”
“Who says they’d point it at the neighbors?”
“Now there’s a great Christmas gift idea.”
“Aren’t we picking names this evening?”
“That’s the rumor.”
“It’s about time.” 

The picking of names for Christmas has been a tradition as long as I’ve been around. As with most chores and activities associated with this family it’s far more involved that one would expect prima facie. We’ll get into that later.

“Betty strikes me as more of the garden gnome type.”
“Too Euro don’t you think?”
“I saw Obama and Hillary garden gnomes on the Internet the other day, that’s pretty American.”
“You’d need a Jar Carney troll to complete the set.”
“So back to this ‘getting Betty into a home’ thing, Michelle are you going to bring this up with her?”
“I was going to bring this up over dessert and show her some of these brochures.”
“That’s it! Let the wine grease the skids a little. Plus the tryptophan from the turkey and she should be malleable enough to at least hear the idea.”
“I’d appreciate it if someone would back me up on this. Any support would be welcome.”
“I think we all have Betty’s best interests at heart and if this provides an environment where she’s happier and has less physical and financial burdens then sure.”
“She’s also got to want it Steve.”
“That too, of course.”
“Just emphasize that there’d be less stress for her.”
“I say she still won’t want to give up the house.”
“Well with a view like this I can’t say as I blame her.”

 The sun is just about hitting the horizon and the lights are starting to come on all across Orange County. That combined with the gentle warm breeze of the Indian summer make you realize why people pay a fortune to live here.

 “Just go easy, you guys are already making it sound like an intervention.”

 Good ol’ Nick, he’s always looking out for his mom. I’m sure he’s just as worried about her coming down those stairs one of these days and breaking something. But, like the rest of us he knows that if they hit her too hard with this idea she’ll just reject it out of hand. She might do that anyway.

 “Yea, you know someday someone may be having this very conversation about us.”
 “A point well taken.”
“Someone meaning our kids.”
“Who else?”
“I don’t know. Lawyers, third wives named Shauna.”
“Yea right.”
“Steve’s the only one that’ll have to worry about that.”
“Naw, I intend to work right up until the last.” He probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Really, no deathbed utterance of ‘Rosebud’ from Xanadu?”
“I don’t remember any Rosebud in that movie.” Donagen looking perplexed.
“Citizen Kane?”
“No Xanadu.”

“I wouldn’t mind if it’s somewhere tropical.”
 “Ever since hurricane Katrina hit I don’t know. They tend to forget about old people.”
“Find a place on high ground. Michelle, make a note to check the elevation on those places.”

“If they let you do what you want, when you want it wouldn’t be that bad.”
“I’d hate to be treated like a child and told what to eat and when to go to bed.”
“You’d probably have to deal with all the other people there that are acting old.”
“I wouldn’t want to suffer the cranky shut-ins. You know how some old people get. They get stodgy.” “I’d want to go out and play polo with those little electric scooters.”
“I guess that’s the challenge. Surrounding yourself with people that don’t act old.”
“That’s kind of an extension of the rest of your life; that you’d want to be around people that don’t get you down.”

 Thanks for the epiphany Donagen. It’s nice to see that some of your tuition is paying off.

“It still could be an apartment or condo – it doesn’t have to be an old folks’ home.”
“She’d probably prefer retirees though. I remember apartment life and I always prayed that I’d get good neighbors.”
“I’m sure she’d want her peace and quiet.”
“Okay, so we’ve narrowed the playing field to retirement communities. Maybe with some mild form of assisted living later on. Some big thick necked male nurse named Lars to come around once and a while to make sure she hasn’t fallen and broken a hip or something but her own place with lots of quiet old people for friends. Does that sound about right?”
“Sort of.”
“Michelle, have we winnowed down your list of brochures too far to make an effective sell?”
“No, I can work this.”

 The woman could sell power tools to the Amish.

As if on queue Betty steps outside, “Nick, could you come and take care of this?” The urgency in her voice denotes some sort of crisis. Usually it means that she wants him to participate in the food preparation or maybe carve the turkey. It should be out of the oven by now anyway.

Oh and that’s right. What will the condition of the bird be tonight, medium-rare with just a hint of salmonella or char-broiled to a crispy brown?

Everyone’s ice has melted anyway. No surprise. So we all head off to refresh or replace our drinks. The turkey is out, resting under a foil tent and whatever else is cooking is just about done. With the oven working full blast there’s no chance of this place cooling down before next Tuesday. Betty looks harried (nothing new); Ann has that look on her face, that look. I feel relieved that whatever and whoever is the cause the odds are that it isn’t me. All the usual suspects were inside with her.

Betty may have said something irritating, as most mothers of adult children are prone to do. Usually a bit of superfluous parenting that comes across as condescending mixed with downright attempts at arm-chair quarterbacking your life. These instances are usually predicated by the phrase “You should have …” or “Why didn’t you …” We vote now, pay taxes and raise kids. When are they going to realize that all of our personal issues are not self-inflicted? Or it may have been Ginny. Who knows what she may have said? It’s usually something out of the blue but those things usually present themselves a notch higher than this. Ann would be louder and Betty would probably be crying or vice versa. Or perhaps it’s Malcolm; I’ll bet it’s him. He’s the most likely candidate just by way of exposure – Ann usually expresses some displeasure every time the occasion brings them together.

It’s 5:30 and Betty’s flustered. “Everyone, we should go in and sit down.” I’m for that since there wasn’t anything to nosh before dinner. The kids nabbed all the potato wedges. Not that her request has gone unheard but the table is still being set and the side dishes are just coming out of the oven. Nick and Patrick are opening bottles of wine that they brought. Nick with a Syrah, Patrick uncorking a Semillon, very nice. We brought three bottles of wine, the chardonnay is a dead soldier, a Pinot is working and a Sangiovese on deck. Michelle gathers them up and takes them to the table. Wine is an essential element at these dinners and she’s well aware of the extent to which it promotes candor. I count no less than five bottles on the table. “Do you think there’s enough for tonight?” “Well, at least for starters.”

Ginny is loading stuffing into a serving dish. Going on about how we should do this in Tennessee where the seasons actually change. Nick is starting to carve the turkey. The television is still spewing out juvenile crap. Malcolm is on the couch talking to Donagen about what’s wrong with his truck. Steve and Andy are discussing who knows what – federally supported municipal bonds – whatever. Stephanie and Ann are taking things to the table and talking in teacher-ese. There’s a certain bustle about the house which is, I suspect, the way Betty wants it. But there’s also a bit of tension. As I noticed before something’s got the stress level up in Ann and Betty and Ginny. I can hear it in Ginny’s voice now as she’s making comments about what she’s putting in the dish. “Mom, didn’t you put celery in the stuffing? You always put celery in the stuffing!”

Ann calls for my attention, “Rick could you bring some serving spoons out here?” I look around unable to find one. Incidentally, there’s not a single square inch of open space on the entire kitchen counter.
“Where are they?” I get a response in THX sound,
“There in the drawer under the counter where they always are.”

I barely know where the serving spoons are in our own kitchen. I eventually find a couple of spoons and take them out to her. She’s making space for the food amidst all the wine on a table set for eleven but designed for eight.

“You know you’ve got this whole table over here; in front of the door.”
“I’ve got it all taken care of.”
“After all this time I don’t know why you don’t do these dinners buffet style instead of passing everything around. There would be more room.”
“It’s how we do things. Like mom saying Grace; it’s tradition.”
“That’s more like penance.”
“Seriously, the food gets cold. Hey, are we all going to fit this time?”
Like I said, the table is undersized or overbooked. Getting everybody in without knocking over anything should be accompanied by Cirque du Soleil music.

My curiosity is still aroused and I have to find out what the deal is with her, Betty and Ginny so I pull Ann aside. “What’s wrong? You guys all look pissed off.”

“The turkey’s just a little overdone.” My suspicions confirmed. I know who did it but somehow it’s just more entertaining when she points the finger.

“Didn’t it come out on time or did someone miss the timer?”
“No, the temperature was set too high.” She has a tinge of disgust in her voice. “Really? I heard you say it should be at 325 wasn’t it …”
“It wasn’t at 325, it was higher.” I gots to know!
 “Did someone change it or something?”
 “Just …” Ann issues a waiving gesture with her hand and walks back into the kitchen.

Some things are just inevitable.

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