Don’t ask me why I’ve decided to write this today. It’s meaningless. You way wish to delete this and save your coveted time. You’ve been warned.
She brought me breakfast in bed and whispered “Do you like this?” I smiled and said “can we try dinner in bed too?” She laughed. We agreed that it felt excessive but was too much fun. Food, love and Netflix all from the confines of a big cozy bed. Then the sound of rain came down upon the roof echoing through the house. I dare anyone in that situation to not start humming:
“Well I love a rainy night I love a rainy night I love to hear the thunder watch the lightning when it lights up the sky …you know it makes me feel good!”
(And this is NOT an endorsement of Eddie Rabbitt. I repeat…NOT an Eddie Rabbitt endorsement. He gets this ONE ‘get of of jail free card’ for this song. Capiche? Good.)
After our third day of the bed-in I told her it was my favourite dining experience to date.
“Really? Do you have something against formal dining?” she naively asked.
“Do I have something against formal dining? Well, you’re going to think this is strange but…”
The solo dinner of the hapless bachelor is often awash in self pity, frugality and quite honestly a lack of patience for the finer art of culinary mastery. Often times I suspect I’m some reincarnated depression era dude from England where I’m satisfied with some deep fried battered Haddock and a few greasy chips. Captain Highliner meet Mr. McCain. Gentlemen start your defibrillators!
These days, to have access to an oven feels almost hedonistic. In my Spartan and pathetically selfish bachelor lifestyle, a Swiss Army knife and a can of ‘mystery meat’ constitutes a formal setting. I’ve whittled away the superficial formalities that have been imposed upon me by our entitled first world food marketing gurus. (That’s the bullshit I tell myself). In fact, I now consume my food as though I was serving life in prison for covering one single Barry Gibb song (which is certainly grounds for an extended stint in solitary). Completely hunched over – close to the table – my right arm wrapped around my plate of gruel for protection while the left arm moves swiftly in a back and forth shoveling motion. (The Swiss Army knife shiv placed gently in my sock.)
But you should know that this wasn’t always the case. There was a time from early childhood and long into adulthood that I was reluctantly forced to sit at a nicely set table, dining with others while maintaining proper etiquette. These were and continue to be some of my best childhood memories.
I was eight years old and my pal Cyril walked over to our driveway on a Sunday afternoon. He’d just returned from a day out with his father who’d purchased him the new Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle action figure. Every Tuesday his father would bring him toy shopping. It was crazy. I had nothing other than a ten cent Superball and board game called Trouble which no one wanted to play. So needless to say, I was beyond excited when Cyril came to visit his grandparents on any given Sunday.
Our driveway had just been paved that year so it was a great place to wind up Evel and see if he could jump the chalk line of our imaginary Grand Canyon. We went back and forth to see who could hold the record for the longest jump. Cryil won. He always did. He had an intricate knowledge of these new toys. Then, just as I was about to figure it all out, prepping for my jump the shark moment, I heard the familiar Sunday call from my mother “Time for dinner!”
“Sorry Cyril, I gotta go. See you after dinner.”
I went inside for our weekly roast beef dinner. My dad at one end of the table, my mom at the other end and the eight of us in our usual places. It was always memorable affair with my brothers and sisters making me laugh and usually a few weekly update stories thrown in for good measure. On this occasion I remember feeling constrained by the proceedings. I was obsessed on breaking Cyril’s record. I couldn’t contain myself. I was jonesing for more Knievel time. The time, energy, and love put into this traditional Sunday dinner was completely lost on me. I was on a mission. The second I could get away from that formal gathering I could be back into the thick of things. I would own the crown. Skip the dishes alright. Wait for the dessert then disappear amidst the clean up. Once outside, I waved Cyril back over to my driveway for a shot at the title.
I revved up Knievel a good ten times then then put put him down on the pavement…He was airborne! And with that I watched Cyril walk over to Evel, the bike and the ramp and proceed to stomp them all into a million peices.
“Hey! What? Why did you do that?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I felt like it. I get a new toy every Tuesday. See you next week.”
It was moments like this that made me wish I was a Protestant. Fewer kids in the family meant more toys. Besides, I heard they got candy after their Sunday services. We just got a lifetime of guilt for things we didn’t do.
Every Sunday for a few years it was the same thing. Cyril would come over with a new toy, things would be going along just great and then the dreaded….‘Time for dinner!’
This may sound hyperbolic but from that moment on, formal dinners just reminded me of confinement, wasted time and downside of huge families.
Years later, while living in Toronto I was dating a nice italian girl from my hometown who had recently moved to the big city. It happens that her parents decided to move down and built a house in which they rented her the basement. It was beautiful home which always made me feel a little homesick for LIttle Italy back in Sault Ste. Marie. Her mother Rosa was always making fresh pasta and drying it throughout the house. Her father Guido could be found in the garage making his sausages and homemade vino. Our relationship was at the six month mark and I got the dreaded call that it was time to meet the Calabresian Fockers on THANKSGIVING DAY no less!
“We’re having a big family dinner and I know everyone would love to meet you! Wear something nice. We all dress up.”
“So I’ll be the quintessential middle class WASP mangiacake at the dinner party? It’s my To Sir With Love Moment!” I replied with a chuckle.
“Ha ha, not quite but you know the drill.”
There it was. My big fear of formal dining situations reared it’s pathetic head. We were too new for me to get into the unamusing backstory of Cyril and the traumatic after effects of broken toys so I reluctantly agreed to the totally sane and generous offer of joining a great family for Thanksgiving Day dinner.
I arrived at the house wearing what any good red blooded Irish-Franco kid from humble beginnings would wear in the 1990’s. A nice pair of tan boat shoes, a matching pair of tanned docker pants with a matching tan belt and a red and green rugby shirt. All adorned, I might add, by a suit jacket made of burlap and reeds from the haute fashion house of Crickateer by Sears. Think George Costanza.
I made my way into the living room and was met with an an extended family of old and young resembling a scene directly out of any Fellini film. Everyone was dressed in formal attire. Even the young children seemed ripped from the pages of Toddler GQ.
Upon the extended table came the pasta and the bread and the chicken and the vino and the bread and pasta and the chicken and the vino and the bread and the… I was seated next to Guido at the head of the table which sat about fifteen of us.
He slowly reached over rubbing his thumb and forefinger onto the sleeve of my suit jacket “Heya Jay, we gonna geta you soma new cloth. I hava soma friends who canna helpa you.”
And with that he generously refilled my wine glass and gave me a firm pat on the back.
“Excuse me Guido, I’m just going to use the washroom. I’ll be right back.”
And with that, I stood up only to find my legs weren’t working. As I stumbled over to the wall to hold myself up, the entire table erupted in laughter “Ha ha…the mangiacake had too much of the homemade vino! Ha ha.”
Fortunately for them, this type of behaviour was exactly as what would have happened in our house so the ribbing made me feel completely at home. I had heard from my Italian friends back home that you had to go easy on the homemade wine. It was always stronger than the ‘good’ wine (which they reserved for the priests Sunday visits).
Upon returning I remember feeling my gelatinous, overheated frame slowly fading into a sleepy haze. I was still too proud to remove my burlap sack dinner jacket and sat suffering in silence looking at my soon to be ex-girlfriend. I could just feel it. The cultural divide felt too strong in that moment.
I fell into crippling self doubt as my overactive imagination whispered to me – ‘ What’s wrong with you Aymar? It’s only a dinner for Chrissakes!’
But the voices grew louder. “Where’s the turkey? Where’s the stuffing? The mashed potatoes?
And then, as though it was divine intervention, her mother Rosa appeared from the kitchen with a pumpkin pie. Was this redemption? Could it be? A bridge of commonality between our two cultures? Perhaps this could work after all? I mean….Pumpkin Pie! Come on.
I watched as Guido slowly placed a small piece of pie to his fork and brought it to his nose. I watched him sniff it as though an inquisitive basset hound.
“Heya Rosa….whatdya calla this? Is thisa mada a froma the squash?”
“No, it’s a mada froma the pumpkin! We make it fora the mangiacake”
Everyone laughed including myself. I truly loved that family.
And with that I thought “Wait a minute? No one here eats pumpkin pie? They just blew up the bridge.”
Now the truth be told, the cultural difference was a beautiful thing and the pumpkin pie was not a deal breaker: the lack of true compatibility was the deal breaker (even though she was a great soul.) That said, the memory of that one dinner party was yet another brick in the ever expanding wall of dining misfires while meeting the prospective in-laws.
The years progressed and I often found myself avoiding these dreaded dinner party invitations.
I was able to skirt around them like a trained professional, limiting them only to the rarest of special occasions.
Then, out of nowhere came the mother of all dinner party invites. Another girl and another set of Fockers. Only this time I was in my thirties and stakes were much higher. What happened next is the stuff of legend.
And this is where Evel Knievel jumps the Grand Canyon.
Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion of….TABLE FOR ONE.