Thursday, December 15, 2005

Confuscious say: Never insult chef before she serve mashed potatoes

November 24, 2005, Thanksgiving
Steve's house

They start arriving at noon.

Brothers bearing covered plates. Sisters-in-law with bottles in hand. Aunts, uncles and cousins. Babies. An elderly man carrying a cane and wearing a zippered Cardigan sweater. Some I know well, and hug warmly as I open the door for them; some are vaguely familiar, and I greet them with awkward handshakes and sheepish smiles. Some I have never seen before, and I offer them an open mouth and a quizzical look.

Each time the bell rings, Tim abandons her mashed potatoes or candied yams and rushes over to me, insisting on being at my side when I open the door. "Hi!" we end up saying in unison, just like a couple of PDA'ing newlyweds.

"Forget you, I want her!" one old man says, hugging Tim longingly. She turns her cheek to him, blushing visibly.

"Who was he?" she whispers, as he places a tin of cookies on the counter.

"I thought you knew him!"

"I thought you did!"

I have met Tim's parents a couple of times, briefly, when we crossed paths in her driveway. Her mother seemed a bit loud; her father acted withdrawn. I know Tim has a younger sister, Drea, but I've never met her.

When the three of them arrive at my doorstep, my eyes go straight to Drea; I can't help it. Although she has a huge hoop earring stuck through the middle of her bottom lip, and her pant legs are wide enough to obscure a UPS truck, I can tell right away that she is gorgeous. Her eyes are huge, round, and deep blue; her hair thick and healthy, her waist impossibly thin, her breasts full and round. She reminds me of an actress, trying, unconvincingly, to pass herself off as a gangster, her beauty refusing to be hidden.

"Hi Marvin, hi Diana," I say, warmly.

"Steve, I want you to meet my sister Drea; Drea, this is my boyfriend, Steve," Tim says.

"How do you do," I say, extending my right hand.

She shakes it, though it's not so much a shake as it is a slide of her palm across mine.

"What's up, G?" she says, flashing a mouthful of flawless white teeth. It's almost like she can't act this way and keep a straight face.

"What's up G?!" Tim sneers. Drea flashes the exact same look back at her. It's amazing how alike they look, now that I think about it.

"She's going through a black phase," Diana murmurs as they walk by.

There were 32 people in all; everyone who was supposed to show up, did.

1:58 PM

"Soup's on!" Tim announces, ushering guests to two long pairs of tables. The first course is homemade French onion soup for the adults, and mac and cheese for the kids. She patrolls the dining rooms, smiling jauntily, asking, "All done?" as she removes empty bowls from the table.

"Hun, can you start stacking the dishwasher?" she asks. "Just keep stacking as much as you can in there, and anytime it fills up, run it."

"Yes ma'am."

"Could I possibly get summa them macaronis and cheese?" The hugging old man says. It turns out he's my father's uncle Sal.

"Actually, would ya mind if I had some too? It smells so good," Aunt Shirley says.

"Yeah, me too," say three other adults.

"Hey, no fair! That's our macaroni and cheese!" A voice calls over from the kids' table.

"Watch your mout' " an Italian-sounding voice replies, harshly. That's definitely someone from my side.

Tim scans the table, as if waiting for silence. "Was there something wrong with the French onion soup, guys?" she asks, in what sounds like a half-hearted attempt at humor.

"No," say a few people with empty bowls in front of them.

Tim scoops out three bowls of mac and cheese from a glass baking pan, frowning bitterly.

"What?" I ask.

"Macaroni and fucking cheese? On Thanksgiving?"

"Hey, it was your idea."

"Turkey will be ready in fifteen minutes!" Tim announces, serving the mac and cheese.

Tim insists on carving the first few slices of turkey herself, inspecting each piece, front and back, as if she works for the USDA. "Perfect," she whispers to herself.

I can tell right away that this is no ordinary turkey. I'd say it was juicy, but juicy brings to mind the image of biting into something and feeling moisture. This is way beyond juicy.

This turkey is so moist that the juices run off the pan, onto my counter, and all over the tiled floor. I have to mop. Twice.

I fill up a platter of turkey slices and grab it to bring to the table. Tim snatches my wrist. "We bring out all the platters at once!" she admonishes.

Tim taps a glass with a butter knife. "Everyone? Excuse me!" the conversations grind to a halt.

"Thank you all for being here. Steve and I really appreciate your company, and we hope you love the turkey! And it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a toast, so Steve, take it away!" she smiles broadly, gesturing across the table to me.

Thirty-one heads swivel around to face me.

"I want to repeat how happy we are that so many people from both families could be here today. I'm happy that we're all getting to know each other. Tim and I are very close and we like the idea of our families being together, so thank you."

"Awwwww," say a few voices. Drea rolls her eyes, slipping white earbuds into her ears.

"I also want to take this opportunity to thank Tim. She says that I'm the host, but she's done 90% of the work here, and trust me, this dinner is going to be amazing. Tim, thanks."

She smiles sweely as a wave of applause fills the room.

"And finally," I say, raising my glass, "I am sure you'll love the turkey, but in case you don't, we're going to have some mac and cheese warming up in the oven-"

Laughter. "Yay!" says the kids' table.

"I wish you all the health and happiness in the world. Cheers."

"Cheers!" the group answers in unison.

My father is the first one to taste the turkey. He sits perfectly still for a moment, inspecting the slice, front and back, just as Tim did. I've been watching him carefully ever since he filled his plate; dad isn't tough to read.

"Tim. Tim!" he says, waiting patiently to get her attention.

She looks at him, eyebrows raised.

"Tim," he booms in his trademark deep voice, "dis is de best turkey I have ever tasted in 65 years of human life!"

He's answered with a roar of laughter.

The activity grows more frenzied around the platters, the laughter subsides, and the room falls silent save for the clinks and clanks of silverware against china.

"Oh my God, this is amazing!" "So juicy!" "Tim, how did you do this?" "This is the best turkey I've ever tasted!" The kudos keep rolling in, and Tim is sure to acknowledge every one.

The eating slows considerably, and there is still plenty of meat left. I don't know exactly how much the turkeys weighed, but they were the fattest ones I had ever seen, so fat that we had to use my neighbor's oven to cook the second one.

"Wouldja mind if I took somma the leftovers home with me?" Uncle Sal asks.

Heads turn to look at Tim. Something tells me Sal is not the only one who wants to get their hands on this turkey.

"Sure, uncle Sal," she smiles.

"The line forms to the left," I say.

I seriously think Tim should dump the catering business and open a restaurant. This was the best meal I've ever eaten. Other people said the same. There were endless courses of food, each served at just the right time, and all of it was prepared perfectly.

After putting away the third load of dishes, I slip downstairs to watch the football game. I'm not antisocial, but having that many people around starts to wear on me after a while, to the point where I need a break.

I park on the sectional couch, longneck beer in hand.

"Hel-lo!" sings a voice from the staircase behind me.


"Yo?" Diana says.

"Hi Diana. Coming to track me down?"

"I'm tracking you down," she says in an ominous tone, as if she were a villain on The X Files.

"Tim looking for me?"

"No, I'm looking for you."

"How nice of you!"

"Steven, we need to talk."