“Mike, let’s go !”
It was three o’clock on Thanksgiving Day, I was already cranky after an obnoxious call from my mother-in-law asking me to please remember to dress like the rest of the family, and I wanted to get the ill-conceived evening over with. My husband had made plans for us to spend the day with his family and show off some footage from our recent Arizona vacation. I hated visits with his family and avoided them any way I could. During the holidays, I just didn’t have any excuses.
“I’m still looking for the tape! Do you know where it is?” Mike shouted from the living room.
Already practicing the long-suffering sighs, I ambled from the kitchen to the living room to watch him fuss with the vast collection of tapes we kept. “I don’t know. It should be in there somewhere.”
“Do you think it’s downstairs?”
“Again, I don’t know where the tape is. It ought to be in the stacks. Just grab a few and let’s go before I change my mind and stay home.”
Looking back, that probably wasn’t the best idea, and any other time my anal retentive husband would have argued the point and keep looking ad infinitum. Maybe it was the head of steam I was building that made him decide to get things moving. In any case, we were in the Escort and down the road within the next five minutes, three different VHS tapes in my lap.
I was silent for most of the trip. I had about twenty minutes to get Zen so I could deal with the evening.
Upon arrival, I took a deep breath, flashed Mike a smile and stepped out of the car to meet my fate. He shot me the look as we traipsed up the pristine walk to knock on the door.
“Oh, hi kids!” came the enthusiastic greeting. I tolerated the hug, and watched as Mike got his kiss and “How’s my Michael?”
My smile slipped when I realized the phone lines had been busy. It was no longer a “little close family style Thanksgiving.” Mike’s entire extended family was in attendance, including the snarky drunk uncle. Upon our first meeting, the man had asked me if I was really black or just had too much tan. Mike’s family and I weren’t at all like oil and water. Oh no. We were more like matches and kerosene. But I couldn’t very well turn and walk out, that would have been rude, so I had to suck it up and get through the night as best I could.
Dinner was interesting. At least, dinner was interesting if you like watching cement dry.
“So how was the trip?” asked a grinning grandma.
“I enjoyed it. We saw the usual sights, but mostly looked around at apartments and houses for rent. We even saw a few for sale we thought we might go for,” I hinted.
“You two aren’t moving. My Michael is staying right here close to family. Family is very important, you know. Don’t you agree Laura?” she asked her granddaughter.
“I think so. ” She grinned.
Then, surprisingly, “But you never know, they might move. I was thinking about moving to Florida but Dan doesn’t want to.” She pouted.
Foolishly, I tried to keep up with the conversation.
“I prefer Arizona because it’s so much dryer. And Mike really liked it too, despite the heat.”
“I wish you’d leave my Michael out of that. You two don’t need to move. You can’t afford it”, said grandma as she put a pasta side down in front of me. For Thanksgiving. Well, maybe it was a special Sicilian Thanksgiving.
Laura grinned my way, just waiting for me to continue the discussion and jam my foot further down my throat. I just shook my head and dropped the whole discussion. Mike kept his face in his plate. A wise choice.
After the long dinner with its tension and stilted conversation, my husband went into the living room to put on the Arizona Vacation tape. Predictably, I soon heard the call of the married male, “Honey, can you help me?”
Can’t say I wasn’t thrilled to have an excuse to leave the table. I started fast-forwarding through the tapes while my husband rejoined the felines sharpening their verbal claws in the kitchen. I couldn’t seem to find the footage I was looking for. Finally, as the third tape neared the end I stood up and said, “Must be on a different tape. I can’t seem to find it on these.” I left the tape running in the machine.
As I spoke, everyone – and I mean everyone, from aunts, uncles and cousins to not-so-sweet grandma – entered the living room and found a seat. There had to be fifteen people in that tiny living room. They were busily ignoring me and discussing our return another day – ouch – when the TV screen flickered. The tape wasn’t whizzing past the snow typically found at the end of videotape. It was showing our audience something much more interesting.
As I stood frozen, staring at the screen, my husband appeared on the tape. Fortunately for me, my husband was both much taller and wider than myself. I can thank the missionary position for covering me up, even if it did make me look about as exciting as a stump. But poor Mike’s world must have shrunk to about ten by twenty feet of carpeted living room. To add insult to injury, it was in fast-forward, adding a whole new dimension to the action. Our faces weren’t showing, but really, did that matter?
The sudden heat in my face should have set my hair ablaze. My hands and feet went numb and the outer dimensions of the living room turned fuzzy. For me, the clearest object in the room was the TV screen and it was at the end of a hazy tunnel. The only positive aspect to this nightmare was the fact that the sound on a VCR doesn’t work while a tape is fast-forwarding. Still, I hoped for the floor to mercifully open and suck me into another dimension, one where such things either never happened or were considered normal, like bringing fruitcake to a Christmas party.
It seemed the best option was to do nothing and pretend innocence. How could they know for sure the identity of the pair on the screen? As Mike tried to find the damn stop button, his mother proved my theory correct by saying, “Now why would you record a movie like this? That’s disgusting!”
Hmmm. I thought, I guess we’re lucky it wasn’t the full frontal scene. Yes, I knew exactly what was on that tape.
With a straight face I answered, “Mike was probably just bored. These shows are funny, don’t you think? The acting is always bad. And the music…”
May as well play along. She’d given me the lead, hadn’t she? Then I realized my rambling was giving an impression opposite of the innocence I’d been hoping to project. Oh, well. Better they think I’d watched a million of the things than that I was actually in one.
“Well, it just doesn’t seem like something Michael would watch. He isn’t into anything like this.”
Now what could she possibly know about her son’s appetites? The two never had conversations of that kind – she would sooner have stuck her head in a toilet bowl and flushed. She’d never even discussed the birds and the bees with her kids. But this was not the time to argue.
Wouldn’t you know it, just at that moment, Laura cleared things up. “That’s Mike! See the tattoo?”
Discretion was not her strong suit. I could have shot her dead on the spot. The satisfaction would have been as rewarding as the distraction. Since I didn’t have immediate access to cannon, I settled for throwing the deadliest glare in my arsenal. Instead of the explosion of the few scattered thoughts in her head, I got an evil grin for my trouble. Perhaps I should have used holy water and garlic.
Just after the timely explanation of this helpful person, Mike discovered one of the distinguishing features of the twenty-year-old VCR. He had found, not the stop button, but the slo-mo button. At this point I began contemplating chewing the power cord with my teeth. The resulting electrical charges might have shorted the entire house and resulted in an emergency trip to the hospital, maybe even coma. I could have lain in bed, perhaps partially aware, tubes in every orifice of my body, machines beeping, while my family asked “WHY? WHY?” This would have been a real treat when compared with listening to the “reassuring” remarks from the grandmother.
“Oh, I’ve seen all that kind of thing before. It’s no big deal. You kids were just having fun. Remember, I was young once too.” She actually winked at me. Meanwhile, she continued to watch as if it were a screening of Caligula.
Dearest mother-in-law, on the other hand, was pursing her lips, frowning, throwing smoldering glances my way and no doubt wondering how I’d managed to corrupt her son so thoroughly. I’m sure she thought that before me, her chaste and pure son barely knew such things existed; he was raised a Christian , after all! The evil troll-sister, meanwhile, smirked, as self-satisfied as always. I didn’t allow her the satisfaction of seeing my true discomfort. I stretched, leaned back and yawned. Perfect attitude of unconcern, if I do say so myself.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Mike found the right button. He stopped the tape, stood up, faced the family, and said, “So, how ’bout those Patriots?”
Needless to say, those were not the final words on the subject. After a visit to a local bar put things in perspective, my husband and I went home and listened to the answering machine. It spewed forth long strings of laughter. I actually thought the thing might short out. We didn’t need to be told what was so funny, we could guess. Word had gotten out. Nevertheless, when the hysterics finally stopped, we listened to a highly amused brother-in-law informing us that for once he wished he had been present at the family affair.
He wasn’t the only well-wisher we had to listen to in the weeks to come. No one failed to find the humor in the situation or to comment on our supreme stupidity. Not to mention his mother’s insistence that normal people just didn’t do things like that and we should destroy the tape. What if the wrong people saw it? I have to wonder who the “wrong people” might be, at this point. She wondered how Mike would explain the existence of such a tape if his pastor found out. (What??) I thought the tape was pretty self explanatory, but perhaps she didn’t quite understand. I didn’t offer any clarification.
Mike did apologize to both his mother and grandmother for our error. Grandma, of course, didn’t think it was a real problem. I’m surprised she didn’t ask to see the rest of the tape. But, the incident passed as all things do. I got over it pretty quickly. My husband took a little while longer, but then, his grandmother did see him in the buff. Not many grown men would get over that without extensive therapy.
The moral of the story? At family Thanksgiving dinner, stick to football.