Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dinner with the Brits

Thanksgiving part two happened just an hour after the one at my mom’s house. Steve surprised me with the accepted invitation at the grocery store that morning, “So by the way, Nigel, the other English guy at work, invited us over for dinner tonight and I told him we would be there for six,” as though it were any other night. I guess that would have to be the way those crazy Brits look upon our night of grateful pigging out day, as if it is different from all the other times Americans stuff themselves with far too much food. Well, that’s food for thought, but moving on, I looked at Steve like he’d just kicked the puppy I always wanted, got, then wished it been a kitten instead. “My mom’s not going to be too happy about this, but um, I guess, okay, let’s go spend the evening with virtual strangers.” I rolled it over my brain and half of me wanted to throw a fit, but the other half realized that I got to spend the day with his family, so why not help Steve spend time with his, as a British coworker whom he has known less than a week must surely be, for they share the same accent after all.

It was hard to swallow the guilt I felt when I informed my mom of the development. The look on her face, which she quickly smoothed away, enhanced the twinge, and I forgot the “but Mom, Big isn’t even coming at all” speech and instead reassured her with promises that we could do whatever together all Friday and Steve should get to have a say in the day just a little bit even though it is not his holiday and he couldn’t care less about Pilgrims and popcorn, and then I threw my arms around her and blubbered because I felt torn.

So after Fruitsaladgate, we packed Audrey into the car and drove over the river and through the woods to Union Jack Nigel’s. When we pulled up to the gigantic house that could fit five of my apartment, we could see into the dining room where everyone sat talking and eating and it filled me with that warm gooey feeling I always get with tradition and family and dining room tables filled with people. I used to spend Thanksgivings with my good friend in South Carolina rather than go home, and one of our favorite things to do after eating with her family was drive around the neighborhood and peak in on other people still sitting around the table. At this house it was the men sitting talking and the women were clearing the table, at that house it was the opposite, and at other homes the tables were full or empty. There was just something about it that we both loved.

Steve, Audrey and I went into the house, were greeted warmly and introduced to the smiling faces around the table. This is where those food biases that I mentioned yesterday come in. Lovely home, lovely people, wouldn’t it follow that there would be lovely food? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I know I did. So after naively serving up a plateful of pretty looking Thanksgiving food and artfully moving the gag-inducing mush around said plate, I sat back to enjoy the conversation and get to know my new friends just in time to hear the guy sitting by Steve say, “yeah, my name pulls up nine pages on Google – I’m that successful.” And that was when my eyes glazed over, I pasted a smile on my face and I heard only remnants after that. Remnants such as, “well, we all have Bluetooth in our cars, don’t we?” from that man’s snobby wife with the golf ball-sized rock on her finger. Uh, no lady, but mine has a dent in the side and a cracked windshield. Those are features you just can’t buy, my dear. And then the man started telling jokes. This I did hear. “A very blind man [as opposed to a not very blind man goes into a bar, a blonde bar to be precise. He sits down at the bar, orders a scotch on the rocks, then says loudly, ‘Does anyone want to hear a blonde joke?’ The entire place goes silent. The blondes all look at each other. ‘Well?’ he presses. One of the blondes, a tall drink of water with everything on her walks up to him leans over and whispers in his ear, ‘So were you wanting to tell that joke to me? I’m a black belt. Or to the blonde behind you. She’s a sharpshooter. How about the blonde at the end of the bar? She’s a WWE wrestler.’ The very blind man paused for a moment, thinking to himself, and said, ‘Well, if I have to tell it three times, it’s just not worth my breath.’” The man paused for laughs, but it’d taken him 5 minutes to tell the thing, and I’m sorry that punch line, well it just didn’t have a whole lot of, well, punch. We were silently looking at him waiting for more, but it didn’t come.

“Pie?” the hostess asked carrying a tray of three delicious looking pies. “We have apple pie made by Tony.”

“I used my grandmother’s recipe,” he smiled and we oohed and his wife rubbed his arm proudly.

“And we have a pumpkin chiffon pie and a mince pie both made by Frannie,” our hostess continued putting the pies on the table before us.

Steve straightened up at the mention of mince pies, and memories of the mini variety of which we ate so many last year in London day and night with our tea flooded both our minds. After weighing the merits of each pie, tossing out the apple pie, because well a man made it, tossing out the mince because well it wasn’t the mini variety purchased in a six-pack from Tesco, I decided on the pumpkin chiffon. Steve went for the mince to no one’s surprise.

I eagerly took my plate and took a nice big bit of pumpkin goodness only to discover that in my mouth was a malflavorous (yes, I made up a word for the occasion) concoction, which can only be described as well, gross, icky, don’t wanna eat it, mommy bad. I looked over at Steve and guess from the full plate that his was inedible as well. So much for dessert. I tried to get back into the conversation, but as soon as the man started telling a story from an old Burt Reynolds movie and pausing for laughs as though it were his own material, I tuned out again and instead found my self looking around the table at the façade of the picture. Happy, smiling people around a beautiful table with a beautiful centerpiece with beautiful china, talking to each other, glad to be together again – on the surface it was the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving that’d I’d longed for for so long. But for heaven’s sake, need it have been so dull?

I excused myself from the table and walked around to find Audrey who’d attached herself to a seven-year old girl who had a thing for dropping stuffed animals from second story balconies. As I stood at the doorway of the dining room, I heard Nigel ask Steve is I was okay. Then Nigel came up to me and said, “I just want to make new friends. I like people and I like to have lots of friends. I invited Steve because I really like him. I’m glad you could come. They don’t know this about me at work, but I love to party. I am a big partier. Partying is my favorite things to do. Here let me take you on a tour of the house.”

With my head spinning and me feeling sorry for the two sons he tosses into the playroom with an Xbox and a babysitter while he goes out to do all of this partying, I tried to stem my judgments as I took in room after room and listened as he expressed his desire to buy the much larger home across the way and turn the bonus room into a media center and blah, blah, blah material things.

As Steve and I drove home last night, I was thankful for my life. I have a deteriorating Durango, a terribly small apartment, and a tiny television, but I don’t look across the way obsessing because this neighbor has a theater and I only have a playroom or this neighbor has 4,500 sq.ft. and I only have 3,500 sq.ft. Everything may not be Norman Rockwell, my family may be split to hell, but I learned a lot from those three hours with the rich folks. Thankful I am and thankful I’ll be. Maybe someday I’ll have the 3,500 house, the Bluetooth car and the golf ball ring, but Lord help me, until then I’ll be learnin’ some proper jokes and getting friends who can cook.