Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Meeting the Parents

I’m dating a man who comes from a more impressive background than mine, at least on paper.  My boyfriend, Alex, hails from a family of physicians, lawyers, and culinary experts, which is a far cry from my motley family.  In my family, I’m one of the few lucky enough to have the opportunity to earn a degree of higher education, although my generation and those younger are starting to up the ante.  Inevitably, Alex and I reached the “meet the parents” stage of our relationship, which is intimidating and daunting at best.  Alex arranged a nice dinner, in which we would be accompanied by his mom, a culinary professor and celebrated food critic, and his step-dad, an owner of multiple restaurants.  The closest anyone in my family comes to reaching culinary professional status is a truck driver who delivers frozen food to restaurants (I can get you a killer deal on bulk frozen hot dogs!). 

I walked into that restaurant, trying not to show my trepidation of the unblemished surroundings.  I held my head high, I looked the part, and I’d done my research (The protocol is to use the utensils from the outside in.).   Much like Alex, his family turned out to be wonderful people.  They were great conversationalists, highly interesting, and far from pretentious.  My nerves calmed shortly after the introductions and the first glass of wine. 

It didn’t take particularly long to discover how truly out of my element I was; actually, it took the arrival of my Caesar salad.  It arrived, looking delicious and immaculate, with the exception of two thin strips of an unidentified substance placed in an X directly on top, as if it was mocking my inferior knowledge by marking the unknown.  I leaned toward Alex, attempting to smile sweetly and asked in a hushed voice, “What the hell is that?”  He told me they were anchovies, and I suppose my next inquiry was written on my face because I needn’t ask.  He explained they were usually in the dressing, but these anchovies are much fresher.  I’ve never claimed to be an aficionado at fine dining, and this was totally new to me.  He told me I am “precious,” which he says all the time, and I’m confident is his way of saying, “you’re mildly retarded by my standards and I find it amusing.” 

Next, I tried an artichoke, which I was certain I could handle without incident.  I was very wrong.  All artichokes I had encountered previously were on a pizza, in a dip, or in a jar, so I had actually only had artichoke hearts and had never seen a full artichoke in all its glory.  Confident in my fine dining endeavor, I put an entire leaf in my mouth and chewed.  And chewed.  And chewed some more.  Oh, hell.  There was no way I was going to be able to swallow this thing.  I tried to bite it into smaller increments so I could swallow the leaf, but that was unsuccessful.  I tried to chew it into a compressed ball to get it down, but then I imagined it springing open once I swallowed, leading to an airway occlusion, a raucous scene, and a blatant display of my ineptitude.  Furthermore, an ambulance would likely be called, and my own coworkers would show up to my aid; not only would I be an embarrassment to my boyfriend, but I’d never hear the end of it at work.  I decided my best course of action was to discreetly spit it into my napkin and hope no one noted my incompetence.  I thought I’d gotten away with it, until I saw Alex chuckling in my periphery. 

I ate a good portion of my pasta without any major glitches, and Alex’s step-dad offered to let me try his quail, which I’d only had once before and was littered with shotgun pellets.  He placed the leg on my plate, which was no more than two inches long.  I made a valiant effort at proper etiquette, with a failed attempt at cutting the meat off the bone with utensils.   I suppose my furrowed brow displayed my frustration with the damn bird, because Alex’s step-dad said, “Tiffany, it’s okay.  Just pick it up and eat it.”  I did as the man said, and as it turns out, quail is mighty tasty, despite the fact I don’t possess the good manners to eat it correctly.

Once the dinner was over, I rose to say my goodbyes and express my gratitude at meeting these fine people, when I saw a chewed up ball of artichoke leaf on the floor near my foot.  Once I got a good view of it, I was damn glad I didn’t swallow it, as I was more certain than ever it would have caused a medical emergency.  I kicked it under the table before anyone else saw the evidence and made a silent vow to myself to gain some class. 

The next day I called my mom to tell her about my fine dining experience.  In between fits of hysterical laughter, she told me about having dinner with some of the highballers in my dad’s family when she was younger.  At the age of 19, my mom had never had shrimp, so she had no idea if she liked it.  My dad’s family insisted that she try the cocktail shrimp, and she was trying to display an heir of classiness, much like I was.  After her shrimp encounter, my dad’s family asked her how she liked it.  She told them, “I don’t think I care for shrimp.  It was awfully crunchy.”  Similar to how I now know not to try to eat an entire artichoke leaf, my mom learned to peel shrimp before she eats it.  My mom told me they never held the incident against her, and I’m pretty confident Alex’s family won’t either. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Stuff Me When I'm Dead

Luckily for me, I was raised in a family that does not shy away from atypical or taboo conversational topics.  Even more luckily for me, my family is interesting and full of diverse characters; among others, my family consists of a preacher, various motorcyclists, a bank robber, a drug addict, a blind albino, a paraplegic, a hypochondriac, a schizophrenic, an amateur chef, a dentist, and a former fugitive, as well as many people who probably shouldn’t be allowed access to firearms (I have an uncle who shot himself in the foot).  As for myself, I’m a paramedic.  My family never fails to keep me entertained and grounded.  

A few years ago, there was a rash of rapid fire deaths in the family, giving one particular year a theme.  On the bright side, as a direct result of my gothic stage in high school and college, I had to do very little shopping for funeral attire.  My family is huge, so we’ve got some experience in funerals, and we were really starting to get the hang of this funeral thing after so much exposure in such a short period of time.  We may not have totally put the fun in funeral, but we did have an evening enhanced by White Russians, that led to my aunt yelling “Who’s your daddy?!” complete with a reenactment of some of our lesser seen relatives.  Classy, I know. 

Once the tears dried following the last of four funerals in as many months, the inevitable topic of what we wish to be done with our remains when the time comes was brought up.  My aunt Bo, who has always had a flair for drama, wishes for a full funeral and burial, complete with flowers and weeping friends and family, “and you bitches better not bury me in anything tacky.”  My mom is indifferent to the ceremonial particulars, stating simply that she wants to be cremated, “and don’t you dare put me in a nursing home before it happens.  Just take me in the backyard and shoot me.”  I want any of my viable organs to be donated to anyone who may be able to get a little more use out of them and the remainder of my body to be donated to science, specifically The Body Farm in Knoxville, TN. 

My cousin Morgan, however, does not feel restrained by the pull of society.  Frankly, she never has, and I admire her brazen disregard for practicality or tradition.  My favorite fashion accessory in history was the ever tasteful grill seen in all of her smiling prom photos.  Morgan has a special request: “I want to be stuffed.” Naturally, this unusual remark caught our attention.  She tells us that she wants to be posed like a bear with her arms up and teeth bore in a snarl, frozen mid-attack for eternity.  She appears to have given this topic a fair amount of thought.  She would even like us to record her voice with threats before she dies, so that we can pose her above people while they’re sleeping and really freak them out, but the voice recording was only an added “bonus.” 

Obviously, this is going to take some time and effort to arrange, as this is an atypical request; luckily, she’s young and healthy, so we have plenty of time.  Being the good, loving cousin I am, I put my research skills to use.  I was in college at the time, so I used the campus library to peruse books on taxidermy.  Most of the librarians probably weren’t terribly surprised at this particular subject, as I was frequently there and researching books on death and forensics, but I received more than one raised eyebrow.   The only real fruit of my library research was learning that human taxidermy is not legal in this country, which makes little sense to me seeing as how embalming and plasticization is perfectly legal.   

I made an inquiry to one of my anthropology professors well known for his expertise in animal carcasses; he had confessed to us he was responsible for the “no road kill in the break room refrigerator” rule, as there was a time in which it was not an uncommon sight, and some folks were displeased to see a dead raccoon next to their yogurt.  (He was one of my favorite professors, and not merely because he assigned a project in which I took home a tibia of a deer that led to my roommate questioning my sanity when I walked through the threshold wielding it like a bat over my shoulder.)  Despite my professor’s extensive experience, he was at a loss. 

The internet, not the most highly accredited source in empirical research, proved much more helpful.  Apparently, for an extra fee, you can have a body shipped to Mexico, where they’ll do pretty much anything for tacos and maybe some clean water.  Excellent news, and the conundrum is solved!

It was my turn to write a poem to another member of my family, as per our Christmas tradition, and this seemed the perfect topic.  Some families have elaborate meals; we make fun of each other in sadly prosaic rhyme. 

I present to you Morgan’s Christmas Poem of 2005:

Stuff Me When I’m Dead

I’ve told you once,
I’ve told you twice.
Is not very nice.

She’s my cousin,
You heard what I said.
Morgan wants
To be stuffed when she’s dead.

Kept in a closet
And saved for a scare.
I’ll be the one
Who fixes her hair.

We’ll record her voice
Before she’s dead,
Then place her over
Someone in a bed.

It’s no wonder
We all think she’s crazy;
Her afterlife plans
Are a bit hazy.

In fact, I think
It’s against the law,
But that’s never
Stopped us at all.

Whatever the cost,
This is her wish.
Morgan will be
Stuffed like a fish.