Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Theory of Relativity

Sharing family stories carries with it a certain degree of responsibility, a sacred charge if you will. Granted, it’s not exactly the equivalent of Moses coming down from the mountain with stone tablets, but I need to mind my Ps and Qs or else I face an even greater wrath – my wife’s.

Some of you may recall that a little over a year ago I wrote a column about my side of the family and the personalities that populate that peanut gallery. It was my contention that when taken as a whole, the dysfunction and borderline insanity displayed by my kin represent probably 95% of the population – in other words, they’re normal. This weekend, I attended a reunion for a branch of my wife’s family tree and learned that they’re just as “normal” as my family, and probably yours. It’s all relative, certainly. More on that in a moment.

Last week we went to our oldest son’s very first band concert. He plays the trumpet. He’s no Herb Alpert or Dizzy Gillespie, and last week’s band concert demonstrated that he’s not a child prodigy either. But that’s okay. When the band finished their first song, we had a little trouble clapping because we were busy keeping our youngest son’s hands down in his lap and not covering his ears. It would be safe to say that our youngest lacked the wisdom to see that the band’s performance went relatively well – no windows were broken and the neighborhood dogs didn’t join in a communal howl. My wife’s father, I noticed, had a very big smile on his face at the end of the first song – I couldn’t tell if it was a result of Grandpa Pride or if he had just turned his hearing aid way down. It was no philharmonic offering by any stretch of the imagination, but the relative simplicity of the song had my wife and me bursting with pride to hear our son blowing that horn like mad and following the bandleader’s direction.

Relative simplicity can go a long way. Take Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll, Part II” (otherwise known as the “Hey Song” frequently heard at sporting events) as an example. In the three-minutes-eleven-seconds song, only four words are uttered along with a whole slew of inaudible “ughs” that sound like a tennis player lunging for the ball played out in front of a catchy guitar hook that just keeps repeating itself – it’s not Beethoven even on a good day. Nevertheless, that simple song, more often than not, will find you painting your chest, belting out those four words, and grunting like a Caveman. Do that alone, and you’re a freak. Do that in a stadium with 60,000 other fans, and you’re normal. It’s all relative.

Now, back to the family reunion. I heard one story about two couples (the two women were sisters) taking a trip down to Tijuana; one couple ended up leaving the other on the side of the road south of the border to hitchhike their way back to San Diego. I got the distinct impression that alcohol was involved. Another story involved the granddaddy of combovers that would have put Donald Trump to shame and given Bob’s Big Boy a run for his money in the styling department.

No one on my wife’s side of the family has ever been famous like Gary Glitter for penning and composing what has become known as a sports anthem, but I’m proud to have married into this “normal” family all the same. We can look at it in another way: neither has anyone on her side of the family been convicted and imprisoned like little Gary for doing naughty things with underage girls in Vietnam. Good thing, too, because it would be hell – relatively speaking – trying to get everyone together for another family reunion.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Giblets All Around

With the prospect or specter of having thirty or so family members and/or friends jammed around a table designed to seat eight for Thanksgiving dinner, many of you have reached your wit’s end (a shorter trip for some than others). This is evidenced by the fact you have resorted to sending e-mails to me, a humor columnist, asking for advice on matters concerning the holiday ranging from the aforementioned seating question to proper menus. I’m guessing Martha Stewart hasn’t been returning your phone calls.

Wendy Wisnewski writes, “What should I do to entertain the children while I am finishing the last-minute preparations in the kitchen?”

I’m assuming the husband/father here is either in jail or he has already been tasked to keep Uncle Herb and Cousin Phil in opposite ends of the house. Clearly, hiring a clown to come in and perform a small magic show and make balloon animals for the kids is out of the question – not necessarily because getting a clown to work on a holiday may be difficult but because you may not be able to tell him apart from your Aunt Phyllis. If you’re not planning on taking a family photo sometime that day, a nice paintball war in the backyard would be a good activity – dress the kids up like Pilgrims. Get them all tuckered out running around and then fill them with turkey (Mother Nature’s sleeping pill, tryptophan), and they’ll zonk out for hours after dinner. If you are planning on a family photo, just substitute the paintball guns with BB guns – it’s really easy to airbrush out any red marks the BBs might make on the children’s skin.

Bradley Rykoff asks, “I woke up this morning with a tattoo of a Smurf on my chest and a message on my answering machine telling me that I agreed to have all the guys from my office over for Thanksgiving dinner. I just bought a turkey, and it’s got a bunch of strange things stuffed up inside it. What are they and what do I do with them?”

I can’t help you with the Smurf on your chest (although I would recommend forgoing that trip to the Bahamas with your buddies until you resolve that issue), but the turkey thing is something I can address. That bag of goodies inside the turkey is called the giblets: the heart, gizzard, liver, and other edible organs of the turkey. If you were going to stuff the bird – that’s not a euphemism – you would take the giblets and chop them up and mix them in with the stuffing. My recommendation, though, would be to find out who got your drunk enough to get you to have a Smurf tattooed on your chest and place them in his sock drawer or bed sheets along with a note that says, “Killer.”

Lastly, Kelly Chadwick poses the question, “With seating at my one and only dining room table limited, where should I seat the children?”

When I was a child, we were banished to the kids’ table, which was basically a folding card table with a white paint stain from a long-forgotten home-improvement project. And while one could make the argument that such an arrangement is good for children’s socialization skills, the reality is that you’re going to spend more time ferrying the kids back to their own seats because they want to sit at the adult table. If you don’t go with the paintball activity mentioned above, and you don’t anticipate an opportunity to get your kids completely exhausted, the best thing to do is seat the children at the big table and have the adults sit in the family room with TV trays to watch the football game. Believe me, you won’t hear any complaints about not sitting at the adult table. Happy Thanksgiving!