[Today: a birthday bashing. New here? part i, part ii, part iii, part iv]
* * *
Between dad’s sulking, largely noncommunicative, like an eight year-old we were making eat his peas, and Avrum, sulking and noncommunicative, like, well, Avrum—
“What the hell did you want me to talk about! She was basically sucking up all the oxygen around the table.”
And Beverli Lee, non-stop chatter, Avrum’s not wrong about that, the woman abhors a conversational vacuum and does not seem to require any sort of input from others in order to keep the words flowing. Again, these might’ve been exceptional circumstances, dad’s willful aloofness at the table, unlike him, unlike him that I’ve ever witnessed, increasingly uncomfortable as the evening wore on, drinks, appetizers, main course—
“You’re basically snacking, Tristan,” dad points out, breaking his verbal fast, in between what struck me as a very conscientious number of chews per chunk of steak. 30? 40? 50?
“That’s about right,” Lianne informs me. “Especially when you’re eating meat.”
“I’m fine, dad. Good list of appetizers.” A must for vegetarians in a steakhouse, I don’t add, not wanting to sound sanctimonious—
—not wanting to spark a political discussion—
–not with Beverli Lee, not at dad’s birthday dinner.
“If you’re worried about the prices,” dad says, “I’m picking up the check tonight.”
Well just, what the ever-loving fuck?
“There’s nothing really on the menu for me to eat, dad,” I tell him. Without saying the words, without a trace of complaint, I endeavor at. Judging from his reaction, however, that’s not how it comes across.
Tossing down his knife and fork, literally, using the word exactly as it’s intended to be used, tosses his knife and fork down, not slams, not places, tosses them down, literally, in between chews, he says,
“That’s right. I forgot. You’re a vegetarian. You hadn’t told us that yet tonight.”
“The soy boy,” Beverli Lee adds, briefly redirecting my attention her way, away from the ire building toward my dad.
“He’s almost as bad as you and your Lexus,” dad replies at her before picking up his utensils and going back at his steak or prime rib or whatever it was.
“You do let everyone know you don’t eat meat,” Lianne informs me, “Regularly.”
I do not! Regularly?! Only if there’s a reason to, like when—
“And there’s always a reason,” Avrum says, having heard them all, I guess.
“A Tesla,” Beverli Lee corrects my father.
“As if I didn’t know.”
“As if you didn’t know.”
“OK, so what the fuck is going on right now?!” I semi-shout, unable to rein in my disbelief and growing annoyance.
“No, you full on shouted, dude,” Avrum claims later. “Startled people at the tables around us.”
While it might surprise you to learn, I am the high-strung one in the family. Cool and measured is not my jam. Never has been. I am blamed for being the progenitor of two additional skittish and excitable children, my siblings. Not sure how that works exactly. It is the stance, though, that my parents took.
“You established the baseline,” I remember my mom saying one time, to me, to someone else. “That’s what it was.”
“Don’t know where he got it from,” dad would claim to their friends when I’d show up tightly wound about one thing or the another, whiffing a crucial at-bat or freezing during a pop chemistry test. “Neither Trudy or I are like that, are we.” They’d clink their glasses, cheers!, happy to be the laid-back types they were.
“Are you trying to get us tossed from the place?” Beverli Lee stage whispers across the table at me.
“I don’t know what you guys got going on between you,” I say, lowering it a notch or two as people turn back to their meals, “this…” I struggle momentarily, “… back-and-forth, jabby, nattery repartee, your annoying Punch-and-Judy clown act—”
“What are you talking about?” dad asks, seeming genuinely surprised.
“You. Tonight. Here. All pouty and withdrawn. What the hell’s that all about?” I don’t let him answer. “And then your, Oh, right. You’re a vegetarian. Or is it vegan? You never say. Chuckle, chuckle. I don’t understand. Do you have a brain tumour or something? Some other medical condition that’s causing this change in personality?”
“Oh, yeah. I knew it. Here it comes,” Beverli Lee jumps in, evidently feeling left out of the action. “What’s going on, daddy?” she actually whines in full wah-wah, Baby Huey voice. “You’ve changed. You’re not the same since you met that big, bad, awful women who’s not my mommy!” And then she really does the wah-wah at me.
“This is it when it really gets good,” Avrum will tell Lianne after the fact.