Honest Conversation Is Overrated
Actual Human Interactions Witnessed Or Overheard
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
The worst Thanksgiving ever happened between St. Augustine and Vero Beach Florida in 1995. I was eighteen, and angry at my family for not flying me back to New England for Thanksgiving. "But, Safey, your grandfather lives just a few hours away. And he says you never go and visit him." Probably because I hated the man. Everyone in the world had to conform to his timetable, and his way of life. If you did something that didn't fit exactly into the mold he had set for his life, he would spew forth venom that made Poison Dart Frogs and Sea Wasps blush and ask "Was that really necessary?" I made plans to stay there as short a time as I could.
My roommate, Matt, lived two and a half hours further south. He kindly offered to drop me off on his way to his happy platonic orgy of Thanksgiving Family Fun on Wednesday afternoon, and pick me up Saturday morning, so we could get work done before classes resumed on Monday. Truth be told, I had brought all the work I had to do with me, knowing there would be loads of time that I didn't want to deal with my grandfather.
On our way down, Matt decided to show me what was, at the time, The World's Largest Wal-Mart. A grocery store and three fast food restaurants in one department store was a little much for my non-Walmartian brain to deal with. I had to get away from the grocery section before my head a sploded. As I walked away, I heard a man absolutely screaming at an eight year old boy. The kid was bawling. And while I am just evil enough to be amused by kids who cry at ridiculous things like losing an annoying toy, or not getting to eat ice cream because they called their mother a bitch; seeing a defenseless kid being verbally abused in public while not being in injury threatening danger (I do believe a parent should scream their head off at a kid who is about to seriously hurt himself or someone else.), twists my psyche into something pretzilian and Herculean. It took every fibre of my being not to get involved. I did not know what the kid did that instigated the yelling. Unless there was physical violence, this was none of my business.
After we finished our BK or MCD "food", Matt and I headed back to the car. We were nearly in the car when I saw Screamy MacAsshole continuing to berate his kid. This was easily twenty minutes after I saw them by the grocery section. "Safey, are you ok?" I knew there were blood vessels bursting in my face.
"Do you want me to hit you again?" Again? "Because I'll beat your ass right here in the parking lot."
I snapped. This happens generally every three years or so, when something strikes me as so heinous, I lose all sense of boundaries and social behavior. "I fucken dare you."
"Excuse me?" This was none of my business. I should be in the car. I should be on my way to a miserable Thanksgiving with the one member of my family I truly couldn't stand. And maybe that was a part of the reason why I snapped.
"If you hit him while I'm in the same parking lot," Matt grabbed my arm, which I yanked from his grasp, "I will beat you til you bleed." I very much meant it.
"Safe, we should--" Matt looked into my eyes and backed off.
"No. We shouldn't. This guy has been yelling at this kid for at least a half hour, and he's threatening to beat him right here in public."
"Mind your fucken business, padre?"
Padre? As in Father? As in the thing he wasn't qualified to be? And here, I'm making a huge assumption. Maybe he wasn't a bad dad, maybe he was a kidnapper, or maybe he was what my friend referred to as Daddy Stove Top, a guy who just happened to be stuffing the kid's mom.
We were still close enough to the front entrance that the security guards could see us, and one of them, Spidey Sense all akimbo, came outside. "Is everything alright out here?"
"No." I said, in my sterncalm voice. "This man is threatening to beat up his son in your parking lot."
"Now wait a fucken minute. This isn't anybody's goddamn business."
"Actually, sir," the security guard said, "it is our business. You were asked to leave the store because you couldn't keep your language in check. I've already called the police. If I see you touch your son, I'll make sure your arrested for assaulting a minor. And I doubt the police will be real gentle with you."
The guard went on. But his presence made this very much No Longer My Business. Shaking, I followed Matt to his car. I buckled my seat belt, and we drove out of the parking lot. "I hope I didn't make things any worse for that kid." I said five minutes into the silence.
It was about to get dark when Matt dropped me off at my grandfather's condo. My grandfather's second wife (my grandmother had died in 1991), buzzed me in, and met me at the door. "Your grandfather is...I'm not sure where he is, but he's not in the house, Thank God. Your room is all made up. Do you want any ice cream or anything." I loved Caroline (my step-grandmother). I had no concept of what she was doing with my grandfather. She was unselfish, smart, funny, an English teacher. None of us knew that by next Thanksgiving she'd be ravaged with Cancer.
"No, thanks. I had a long trip."
"How about a game of Cribbage?" Ahh, Cribbage. The family card game.
"Sure. But if Grandpa comes home, let's hide the board. I don't think I can deal with him losing and accusing me of cheating. The only thing worse is actually losing to him."
After three games, and half a bag of Milano cookies, my grandfather came home, and the board and cards were hidden under one of the deck chairs.
"Well lookee who's here." Oh, great, he was drunk. "My favorite grandson. My only grandson."
"Up for a game of cribbage?"
"No, I was thinking about turning in. I'm incredibly tired."
"You chicken?" I wanted to fire his internal author.
I went to the guest room for about a half hour when I heard him snoring on one of the couches. I took the opportunity to sneak out to the beach and get some writing done. I was so incredibly proud of the poetry I wrote that night. It was so cutting edge, so Important. I've long since burned any and all copies of it, but that's because it was too amazing to be comprehended, not because it was horrible crap written by an egomaniacal eighteen year old with three different colored pens in his possession.
I snuck back into the house and went to sleep around three. At six, I woke up to my step-grandmother stage whispering. "Robert, you keep your voice down. Safe is in the other room trying to sleep."
"Well, he needs to get up. We should leave in an hour."
"For heaven's sake, we are not going to spend Thanksgiving at a boat yard--"
"A yacht club."
"A boat yard. This is Thanksgiving. If you want to go to a proper yacht club with a buffet service, that's fine. But I see no reason to drive to your old boat docks and eat turkey with a bunch of strangers who don't need our company."
"Care, they're living on boats, and need some company during the Holidays. It's the Christian thing to do." It's important to note that my Grandfather only attended church for weddings and funerals. I'd never heard him mention Christ's name before without having dropped something on his foot.
"If you want to be Christian, let's go volunteer at a soup kitchen. I'm not going to your damned boat yard."
But we did. When the smoke cleared, Caroline and I were sitting on elementary cafeteria style chairs at the end of an oblong table full of rich people too cheap to buy their own food, and too hated by their families to be invited to Thanksgiving dinners. These were definitely my grandfather's people: assholes who owned boats and treated everyone else like trash. They hated us, despite our best green bean casserole and mashed potato intentions.
"He was the cutest little thing." Snob #47 said. "A Brazilian nigger. Dumb as a tack, but loyal to no end." The part of me that wasn't horrified by the language, was amused that he'd inadvertently admitted the guy was smart. You didn't have to be sharp as a rubber ball to figure that out.
"Sandi" (sometimes you can tell when names are spelled with an "i") "be a good girl and get daddy some more turkey." Daddy was too fat to get it himself.
"Wayers yer bote?" asked a particularly well-groomed boat child. "Ares is the biggggg won over thayer." It's important to note that I'm not making fun of a child's accent. This kid was likely from Connecticut or Ohio, or one of those states that has no discernible accent. He was talking this way specifically to aggravate me.
"We don't have a boat anymore." My grandfather had sold the Spar-Kee a year before.
"Sew weye are ewe heeeeyer?"
"That's a great question." Caroline asked. "Why are we here Bob?"
I excused myself under the pretext of getting more turkey. I have actually never been hungry enough to eat the fried cardboard that they were serving as turkey. But while I was up, Caroline grabbed my arm. "Grab your jacket, we're leaving."
"Do you have a suit with you?" Caroline asked. Given that I'd expected my grandfather to spring a formal meal on me, I had, indeed, brought a suit. "Good, we're going to the Yacht Club."
"We were at a yacht club." My grandfather mumbled.
"We're going to a yacht club that made a big fancy buffet for all the members. Not one where I have to eat jello with marshmallows and broken glass with a bunch of people who were invited to spend time with their family, but decided they were too good for it. You know, civil snobs."
So we stopped off at the condo, and walked to The Yacht Club down the street. The Yacht Club was only about half full. "Most of the members are with their families today." The hot maitre'd said when my grandfather pointed out that they weren't full. There was an implied "But I can see you're the sort of asshole who doesn't get invited to family functions" on the end of his statement that made me miss Alex. I got the feeling that if Alex spoke better, all of his statements would have implied insults in their intonation.
The Yacht Club was...Yacht Clubby. There was a gigantic center island in the ballroom with a six foot tall cornucopia ice sculpture. It was surrounded with every type of food imaginable. And a few types you wouldn't believe even after they'd passed through your digestive system.
Having already had my stomach shredded by the half piece of cardboard I'd ingested with The Boat People (and not the interesting International kind), I was pretty reserved with what I picked up from the buffet. A little bit of turkey with mashed potato. Then, some ham with corn on the cob. Then, a very little roast beef.
"Safe!" My grandfather called from the other side of the ice sculpture. "Come here."
Not willing to sink to his level and scream back across the room, I walked over to him.
"Try this." He said, putting some sort of grease covered squid looking thing on my plate.
"No, thanks. I'm getting kind of full."
I began walking away from him. "No, thank you."
"I'm not asking you. Safe!" My name is not Safe. I am Edouardo. I am minding my own business at this hoity-toity buffet being stalked by a cray person. Ring-around-the-rosy-pocket-full-of-restraining-orders. "SAFE!"
"Robert!" Caroline. "Lower your voice this instant."
Thus began the public unwinding of five years of family turmoil being voiced very loudly in public. I'd like to think that if this happened now, I would have just taken whatever the alien life form was he was trying to get me to eat, and defused the situation. Of course, if this happened now, it would be really creepy because my grandfather has been dead for eight months. But I was eighteen, and angry, so every time he pushed one of my buttons, I pushed his back until the hot maitre'd actually asked us to lower our voices because we were disturbing the other guests.
"I'm going back to the condo." I walked back to the condo, changed into some less formal wear, and went back to the beach to be passive aggressively angry.