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We have the discussion at least once each week.
“You’re antisocial,” she says.
“No, I’m not. Now leave me alone.”
“You are. You go out of your way to avoid being with people. You don’t want to go out and we never have anyone over.” She pouts, stares at a fern across the room. A frond falls from the plant.
“I like to go out with people” I say, “it’s just that I have a very busy schedule. I have to work.”
“Where? Did you get a job at a convenience store?” (Substitute “fast food joint” or “pizza delivery” for every-other-week conversation.)
“Have you noticed the dog seems a bit lethargic lately. Think he’s getting sick?”
“ Don’t change the subject. The dog’s been dead for three years. You’re antisocial and it’s embarrassing.”
“Embarrassing? How so?”
At this point Kathy leaves the room and returns with a raggedy sheet of yellow legal paper in her hand. I’ve seen it before.
She snatches the remote from my hand and hits the mute button. So much for the latest edition of Cops. What good is it to watch Cops if you can’t hear the guy in the sleeveless T-shirt say nasty things to his common-law wife?
“Look at this list I’ve compiled.” She points at the raggedy yellow paper. “It’s everybody who has had us over — if and when you would leave the house. We owe every one of them a return dinner. Look at it; I’ve run out of space. It’s embarrassing. And look at all the names I’ve crossed out; that alone is humiliating.”
“Those are all the people who’ve died or moved away before we could have them over. I refuse to cross anyone else off the list before we make a good faith effort to invite them, invite anyone, over for dinner.”
“You seem to be indicating I have deliberately stalled this process.”
I make a grab for the remote, but Kathy is too quick for me. She has the reflexes of a young cheetah (the fastest land animal). This irritates me; there’s a gal on the tube explaining how you can lose 30 pounds in two weeks while eating all the cheese you want and ingesting enormous amounts of ephedrine. It seems reasonable. And it’s affordable.
“I’m getting more than perturbed, Karl. We need to do something, make some decisions. Tell you what: Let’s tack the list to the wall and you can throw darts at it. We’ll start that way. Two or three throws; each lands on a name and we have a group for a get-together.”
“I’m not opposed to the idea of having someone over, but it has to be done right.”
I’ve pushed her too far. She shoots for my grossly inflated pride.
“You’re afraid to cook for other people, aren’t you? You hoot and holler about food. You’re a know-it-all and you write about all these things you make and you’re afraid that, if we have people over, you’ll burn something. You’re a chicken aren’t you?” She makes clucking sounds and moves her arms up and down like wings. She knows I hate the chicken imitation, but I keep my cool.
“If I don’t burn it when I cook for you, I won’t burn it when I cook it for someone else. That’s not it. It’s a scheduling thing. As I said, it’s got to happen at the right time.”
“When’s the right time?”
“Well, it can’t be Sunday or Monday nights. I write my column and start the editorial on those nights. Then, I finish the editorial on Tuesday, so it can’t be then.”
“That leaves a lot of nights. When’s it going to be?”
“I have to look at the television schedule.”
“Well, they’re rerunning Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I can’t miss one of the shows or I’ll lose my grip on an incredibly complex plot. Can’t do that, because I’m sure Tara is going to return from The Great Beyond and she and Willow will be together again. And there’s the Stanley Cup playoffs. And it’s cubic zirconium month on the shopping network…”
I get the remote back: Kathy throws it at me as she lurches from the room, muttering in three different languages.
Does anyone know what “merde” means?
She’s right, I’ve got to do something about this. I have to loosen up.
I am not and have never been a social butterfly. I see enough people during an average day that I am content to hole up every evening with Kathy. I wouldn’t mind unplugging the telephone each evening at six. I love to cook a meal for the two of us, drink a couple glasses of wine, putter around, turn in around 10, do some reading, board the express to Dreamville around 10:30.
I’m going to have to change the pattern in order to promote a bit of domestic harmony.
I have an idea. It will satisfy my wife’s deep need to eat and chat and look at some different faces. At the same time, it will prevent anyone from wanting to accept a second invitation from the Isbergs.
I intend to throw a series of theme dinner parties. The events will be uncomfortable and will require even the most egocentric guest to review his or her worth as a human being. (Note to self: Invite several local politicians.)
The dinner parties will have historical, political and literary themes.
Guests will be required — no exceptions — to dress in accord with the evening’s theme and to be ready to create a character in harmony with the proceedings. This will take a couple weeks of rehearsal prior to the date of the party. My guests will have to flex their creative muscles to come to dinner at my house.
Party 1: The Stone Age. Dress: animal skins, crudely sewn garments. Guests will communicate with grunts and frequent physical aggression in order to procure one of the few bits of food available. Guests are asked to refrain from bathing for a week prior to the party. I will remove all furniture from the house and cover the floor with dirt and gravel. I’ll build an open fire inside the house to generate smoke and soot. The menu will include a limited selection of small forest animals, dead three to four days, kept at room temperature and served sashimi style. Guests will provide music by pounding on logs and howling.
Party 2: Caligula’s Banquet. I get to be Caligula. Dress: togas for the guys, elaborate flowing wraps for the gals. Each guest is asked to invite a brother, sister or first cousin as his or her “date.”
We will eat our hummingbird and honey entrée while reclining on couches in an oil lamp-lit and heavily perfumed environment. During the meal we will discuss politics and, at some point in the proceeding, I will go berserk and have one of the guests eliminated.
Party 3: An Evening at Versailles. Guests will be bedecked in foppish finery, with enormous, powdered wigs the mode of the day. They will engage in witty repartee and relieve themselves in the stairwell. The menu: cake, of course. Following the meal, everyone will stomp out a spirited gavotte and indulge in aristocratic class-bashing conversation. That is when I will burst in at the head of a gang of out-of-work Jacobin thugs (shouldn’t be hard to find here in Siberia With a View) and exact revenge for all of downtrodden humanity. Hold on to your hats. And your heads.
Party 4: A Night with Chuck Dickens. The dining room: designed to look like the slop hall in a Victorian sweatshop. Guests will spend the first three hours brushing beaver top hats, contracting whopping cases of lead poisoning and complaining about their dental problems. A bell will ring and the all-suet dinner will begin. Guests will have five minutes to finish their meals then will join together in a rousing chorus of God Save the Queen before setting back to work.
I’ve got several other ideas nearly ready: the Dustbowl Buffet; Famine in China Night (complete with one bowl of rice for six people, garnished with whatever strays into the yard that day); Adolph and Eva’s Last Meal in the Bunker; the Ludwig Wittgenstein “Pass the Slab” Feast.
When I’m done with my plan, after we’ve hosted a few of these galas, I doubt Kathy will find grounds to complain about never having people over for dinner. I’ll be able to go back to Buffy, Willow, Tara and the NHL secure in the knowledge I am not antisocial.
Now, I need to get work building a guillotine and learning to snare those pesky hummingbirds.