Friday, May 05, 2006

Do The Things We Never Have

Seriously, I baked two cakes last Friday night and laid out phyllo dough all Saturday morning until my kitchen was sticky and I was miserable. Naturally, the next thing to do was shower, apply makeup and drive down Route 27 singing with the windows wide open, because there's no way to feel cool on the way to a bridal shower so you might as well howl along with Toto on a testosterone-fueled classic rock station.

Auntie InExcelsisDeo's house used to stand in the woods and backed up to a cemetary. The cemetary's gone, and developers are carving out hunks of wooded area on every side of the house. Heavy equipment sits quiet half a mile behind the house, clearly visible between what's left of the trees but it is soon obscured by an ingenious mass parking job that is visible from space. The family has so many parties they bought a tent, which is pitched, decorated and filled with an embarrassment of small food riches, gifts and party furniture. It is also teeming with people I couldn't pick out of a lineup and every chair is taken. Sandy, daughter of Auntie, sister of Monday the bride, maid of honor at my daughter Miss Sasha's wedding, grabs my hands and kisses my cheek.

Sandy: I'm so glad you're here! I know you hate these things!

Yes, I hate women in packs. Inside the house, I find strangers barking food-related orders. I frown. I loiter. I frown. I sit down in another room. I frown. I wonder what I'm doing here. Auntie InExcelsisDeo emerges from Hair And Makeup Hell. She has prepared herself to be Mother of the Bride.

Auntie I.: Domenica! This is my niece Domenica. This is my former neighbor Effie.
Tata: It's Tata.
Effie: Domenica, nice to meet you.
Tata: It's Effing nice to meet you, too.
Auntie I.: Who do we know who drives a Jaguar? Ooh! It's Marguerite! Ta, go out there and make sure she has company.

Once upon a time, two Sicilian brothers married two Sicilian sisters and produced a whole bunch of Sicilian double-first-cousins in Highland Park, New Jersey who looked more alike than most siblings. The resemblance between my grandmother Edith, her cousin Marguerite and Marguerite's sister Mary Nancy was startling. I totter across the lawn in stupid shoes and tell Marguerite I'm her keeper, and let's go in the house. Auntie I., Mom, Marguerite and I buzz around the kitchen, listing off critical life-shaping events of the last year so after five minutes we can talk instead of announcing. Everyone blabbers about Marguerite's blond hair, courtesy of a hairdresser in Napoli who didn't speak English, and Marguerite's dialect was from the wrong neighborhood. Strangely, Marguerite's accidental blondness looks fantastic. If my hair were that creamy beige I'd look like Death; Marguerite's deep olive skin looks polished and healthy. After I turn 70, I'm moving into the tanning salon so I finally enjoy a family resemblance.

Auntie I. declares Monday and her fiance are on their way and nearby. It's Monday's birthday and she's expecting a barbecue. Uncle Frank, Father of the Bride and Tender of the Grill, is a giant of a man who can't hold still; he builds things, takes them down and builds other things. About half a dozen tall, lanky friends of Monday's younger brother Tony are tossing horseshoes on a brand new pitch. This becomes very exciting when Daria, her two young sons, husband Tyler and baby Miss Fifi walk across the lawn to the tent - and the little boys wrench hands free to go investigate what the big boys are doing. Tyler sprints after them. Two hours pass before I see him again.

Marguerite and I commandeer a small end table, steal pink napkins and set up a centerpiece because otherwise we're two ladies without a table and nowhere to set our lemonades. Mom brings a chair. Now we are three ladies sitting under a tent where three tables of people are staring at us and we have few ideas who they are. Time passes. More time passes. Daria and Miss Fifi sit down and thank Kali, because now we have someone to look at instead of the tiny, crustless sandwiches we can't eat until...we don't know when. Finally, Monday and her fiance Cary park and walk across the lawn.

Tata: I can almost smell a tiny sandwich.
Daria: Yeah, I can't believe you're here. You hate these things.
Marguerite: Oh God. I hate these things, too.

Monday has to kiss 400 people between the driveway and the tent and during that time, we have a brutally honest discussion of Marguerite's dating status.

Mom: How long have you been with this man?
Marguerite: Two years.
Mom: You went to Spain with him?
Marguerite: No, that was the last one.
Mom: The married guy?
Tata: What?
Marguerite: I don't know what you mean.
Mom: The "shared" one.

Suddenly, I'm not the only one who's made a career of petting strays and sending them home to their wives. What the hell? The other Bad Girl drives a Jag!

Tata: MOM!
Marguerite: I waited a long time for this man. He's a prince. Goofy, but a prince. He wears a watch he spent $7.95 for. We were walking around Boca and the band broke. He said he would just step into Tiffany and get the band fixed. I said, "Get out of here, they're going to laugh you out the door." So he went inside and said this family heirloom broke and he'd like to get a new watchband. The man behind the counter said, "Pardon me, sir, but I think you'll find what you're looking for at WalMart."
Daria: You were standing in the doorway, laughing your head off. Weren't you?
Marguerite: I was. So he went next door and the woman at the counter had the eagle eye and the accent of a New York Jew. She said, "Your wife has a Rolex and you're wearing that?" He said, "I wear that because my wife wears a Rolex." She said, "Maybe next time you spring for the classy $10 version, huh?"

Monday kisses her way through the tent and says, "Ta, you're here! You hate these things!"

Tata: Your mother promised to hunt me down and kill me if I didn't come.
Monday: Mom, you're the best!
Auntie I.: Love you, too, sweetheart!

Sandy patrols the tent, handing out bridal shower bingo cards. Mom takes one and cheats by writing everything Daria, Mom and I got together to buy.

Sandy: Do you want one?
Marguerite: Oh God, no!
Tata: I'd rather have a rash.

In her wake, the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and his new fiancee join us in the tent. Marguerite looks momentarily aghast. I jump up, "I have the BEST ex-husband!"

Tata: EEEEEEEEEEE! Congratulations!
FE-H: Hi! Thank you!
Tata: Do you remember Marguerite?

Seeing happiness and not ducking throwing knives, Marguerite is happy, too. She kisses the Fabulous Ex-Husband. I kiss Karen, his fiance. Mom kisses Karen, Daria kisses Karen. Miss Fifi kisses Karen. Marguerite is pleased to meet Karen. In the midst of all this kissing, I bleat, "Show us the ring! The ring!" but I can't reach her hand and Karen doesn't hear me. Mom catches hold of her hand.

Tata: Sasha picked it out. Let's see the ring!

Karen holds out her hand. The ring is beautiful. Four women, two of whom have the kind of jewelry expertise that comes of carefully examining the contents of blue boxes, oooh and ahhh. Miss Sasha has lovely taste and the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) has the good sense to finance it. Karen takes a chair at one of the tables, where she is the belle of the ball. The Fabulous Ex-Husband joins the menfolk on the lawn, who are plainly having a much better time sunning themselves and drinking beer than I am until at some cue I don't hear, women get up and fill flowery paper plates with small food. Marguerite, brooking no nonsense, says aloud, "Can we eat yet?"

Auntie I.: Yes! Let's eat!

After the stampede and back at the tables, Marguerite asks about the phyllo pouch I made.

Tata: Potato, peppers, onions, cheese, cream, fresh herbs, artichoke, capers...

Daria sits down and asks about the phyllo pouch.

Tata: Potato, peppers, onions, cheese, cream, fresh herbs, artichoke, capers...

Mom sits down and asks about the phyllo pouch.

Tata: Potato, peppers, onions, cheese, cream, fresh herbs, artichoke, capers...

I wish I'd brought White Castle sliders. For the next half hour, shower guests ask this question over and over.

Tata: Potato, peppers, onions, cheese, cream, fresh herbs, artichoke, capers, Jimmy Hoffa.

Surprisingly, my mother does not swat the back of my head, perhaps distracted by the gifts Monday's opening. Monday registered at Bed, Bath & Beyond and Crate & Barrel, leaving us with the impression that Monday, kindergarten teacher, has developed perilously expensive tastes. When Monday opens a Saturn-shaped cheese board, Mom smiles but I hear a sigh. One gift is too enthusiastically wrapped. Someone says, "Does anyone have a knife?" Mom, Marguerite, Daria and I each produce a knife. I wonder if the baby's still unarmed. Horrified, Monday says, "If I use a knife I'll have babies."

I'm sitting between two women over sixty. They don't need much of a shove.

Tata: Marguerite, did you hear that?
Marguerite: What did she say?
Daria: If Monday uses a knife she'll have babies.
Marguerite: Is that what she thinks? It's time InExcelsisDeo has a frank discussion with Monday.
Auntie I.: What what?
Marguerite: She thinks babies come from using knives.
Sandy: No wonder she's so dull.
Auntie I.: Nobody gave her cutlery, right?
Marguerite: Why do those people keep shouting, "BINGO"? Wasn't it bad enough the first time?
Mom: Monday, open that package so I can win, too.
Monday: You're cheating.
Mom: Of course, Monday, that's how it's done.
Monday: Cutlery!
Mom: Bingo!
Marguerite: Doesn't Monday look like Sophia Coppola?
Tata: She does!
Monday: Who's Sophia Coppola?
Tata: She made The Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation.
Marguerite: Francis Ford Coppola's daughter.
Tata: I think she's tall, like you, Monday.
Marguerite: Except she's short like us.
Tata: In any case, we're all from the same island.
Monday: Oh.
Sandy: Who do I look like?
Tata: Daria, Todd, your brother, Daria's sons. You all look like our cousin Freddie. He's dead and no longer resembling much of anything, which is why you don't remember. And I look like the mailman brought me.
Daria: You look just like Mom.
Maguerite: You look like your grandmother.
Tata: I what?
Marguerite: Boy, she had a way of making your day. If you were feeling pretty good she could fix that for you in a flash.
Daria: "Nice shoes."
Tata: She would say sharp things to you, for sure, but she would tell everyone else how much she liked you. I heard that almost constantly.
Marguerite: It's wrong to speak ill of the dead but boy!
Tata: She had only one way of saying hello to us -
Daria: She would grab a handful of your hair and say -
Auntie I.: Would someone please pour me a glass of wine?

Auntie InExcelsisDeo seldom drinks and when she does, it's usually a sip of something and a face. This version of Auntie stands in sharp contrast to the one that taught me to keep vodka in the freezer and ran around with bikers. People do change.

Monday: Can I have a picture with my bridesmaids?

The girls assemble. They are all tall. It looks strange to me.

Monday: Now with my sister and my cousins!

Daria and I stare at each other. We put down our desserts and go stand next to Monday, who is easily 6' tall. Sandy is pretty close. Daria is close to Sandy's height. Then there are two blond cousins from Monday's father's side. I smile for the cameras. I feel very short, fat and middle-aged.

Tata: I'm going to get you for this, Monday.

Some people change, just not Me. The wedding's about a month away - ample time to plot revenge. For instance, what if the priest's suddenly indisposed, and the only officiant available is a mime? Who wouldn't buy the DVD of a wedding that turned into a game of charades between Pennsylvania farmers and Jersey Italians? The happy couple could start out life together as a big hit on EBay, and a lucrative investment for Me. So plotting my revenge is practically a public service...


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