I have a little problem with my father-in-law Don Paone. As I write this, he is 85 years old and still going. The problem is – he is going slowly. This is not due to his age but rather his temperament. The guy is a slow walker, a slow talker, and a maddeningly slow eater. He has genetic slowness. His wife, my mother-in-law Peg, is just the opposite. She is a fast talker, walker, and eater. But she is a young chick, really, only 84.
Don Paone is a published writer, his concentration philosophy, with an intense concentration in Catholic theology and politics. God created the world in six days but it takes Don Paone 60 days to write a thousand to two thousand word article – if he hurries. I write 30 of such articles in that time. Okay, so I am generally writing about the trivia of gambling, of which I am an unparalleled expert, and Don is writing about heaven, hell, and priests who should know better. There is no comparison in the seriousness of the issues we tackle.
Even for simple articles, Don Paone has to do massive research. His research is endless, which is fine if you are writing about things that aren’t timely, but half the time he is sending his articles to the New York Times whose editor invariably tells him that what he wrote about, while well written and intelligent, was no longer hot. It was hot about a month or two or three ago. It took Don that long to get his ideas down on the page and by that time nobody cared about the issue at the New York Times anymore, or at any newspaper or magazine in America or the world. “Okay, so the world is oval, Don, we already knew that!”
Let me measure his slowness for you. He awakes at 7:30 AM. By 9:30 AM, he has finished his slow shower, his slow shaving (he must shave in two directions, so that’s two slow shavings) and his slow dressing. He then eats breakfast. Slowly.
At 11 o’clock, he is finished with breakfast. The problem is he hasn’t finished reading the New York Times. He is always behind in his New York Times reading. Now, most of you would jump to the conclusion that he is reading the New York Times for the news or the editorials. But that is not so. He reads the New York Times to parse it. Yes, parse it; as in enjoy the structures of the sentences and how the writers go about creating a story. His only real book reading is style and grammar books. These he reads slowly. He never reads a normal fiction or non-fiction book because there “just isn’t enough time.”
So he is always behind in his New York Times reading, day after day after day after day. And he must read the New York Times in chronological order so that he always has six or seven papers piled up from days past to read. This is another reason why he is behind when he writes about contemporary things – when he read about them; they aren’t contemporary anymore. They are last week’s news, which he has just gotten to.
Okay, after breakfast, he must get right to work. To do that, though, he must slowly organize what he is going to do for the day. If it’s a research day, he gets the computer ready to use the Internet, where he does most of his research. In the old days, when he was younger and slower, he had to plan which library he was going to for his research. That was truly endless – the planning. He’d make a list of which libraries he was going to and it took forever to compile the list as he writes slowly. In those days he was a relatively fast writer; he was banging out an article every six months or so.
But now he gets the computer ready by turning it on. Unfortunately, there’s usually some problem with the computer so he has to call his eldest son, Donald, to find out what’s wrong. So those days Don just kind of mopes around waiting for Donald to come home and figure out what is wrong with the computer.
Now Don’s eldest son Donald, a desired day laborer on Long Island because he can speak both Spanish and English, so the gardeners and home repairmen who need help always pick him up on the designated day-laborer street corners and parking lots so he can help them translate for all the illegal aliens that are also being hired. Suffice it to say that Donald knows computers and not just how to hack into them, but also how to fix them.
When I was away in Vegas for a 12-day trip, Donald decided to fix my computer because we hired him to redo my office. The computer wasn’t broken and I am sure you know the old saying about fixing something that isn’t broken. My computer has not worked well since then and I no longer have any sound.
Back to Don Paone.
If Don Paone is just going to write, meaning the computer is actually working, then he readies himself at the dining room table where he has his notes written in longhand. With the computer fired up, Don is now ready to blast off. The research is at his fingertips. The Internet is humming. His yellow legal pad is ready to be ripped into. His fully loaded inkwell pen is bursting.
The man is ready to write and his notes are spread out on the dining room table. He is poised over the legal pad. He is clean. He is shaven in two directions. He is fed. He is ready to do the writer’s rumble.
Then the interruptions begin.
My mother-in-law Peg usually has something to do in the community that requires Don to come along. This is usually around noon, just as Don hovers over his legal pads, prepared to write about his great ideas about the universe, God and man.
Peg is very big in community activities, both church and state. She is the president of this, of that and of other things in our village on Long Island: If I can remember some of them – the Rosary Society, the Women’s Club, the Historical Society to name a few. If she were President of the United States, we’d have a much better country, I can tell you that. Peg could make a teenager tired – her energy is boundless. But she likes Don to be with her when she does some of her community or church work – which is almost every day of the week, including Sundays, as she is the altar chairlady of the local Roman Catholic Church, Our Lady of Lourdes.
Most days, therefore, Don doesn’t get to actually write, poised though he might be, which is a shame because he is a good writer. Most days he doesn’t get to do his research, either. And all those copies of the New York Times pile up waiting for him as well. So he is behind in everything always and from the split second he wakes up.
Now, how do I know all this? Because when I am not gallivanting around the country doing my research in casinos, my wife, the beautiful A.P., and I have dinner with Don and Peg on Friday evenings at the Cork ‘n Board restaurant. That’s how I know Don’s behind on everything every week because that’s what he says.
I once tried to help Don with his writing. He had asked me how I had written 20 books [now I am at 35], three plays, a DVD, six television scripts, three movie scripts, edited and wrote forwards for a dozen more books, and also wrote thousands of articles for the 50 or more magazines and newspapers I write for regularly; all of this in a mere 16 years [now 30 years]. He seemed genuinely interested in figuring out how to increase his writing production, which had seen him write about 20 articles in that same 16-year period – a dozen of which were published.
So I told him, pleasantly, that he was nuts to take two or more hours every day getting ready to go downstairs just to have breakfast. Shower in the evening, not in the morning, and shave every other day, not every day – and just do it one way one day! Go up the beard one day, then down the beard on the day after tomorrow. Also, don’t get fully dressed (Don has a hard time coordinating his colors so that takes endless amounts of time and ultimately the help of Peg). Just go downstairs in your pajamas or put on a sweat suit and eat breakfast, read a little, and get to work. If you don’t finish the paper, recycle it because a new one will be arriving tomorrow. Never waste a morning because that is prime writing time – you are awake, refreshed, and crisp. The afternoon is better for editing and polishing. Use those mornings because you are fully ready to write new material.
That was damn good advice, I must say. That works for me.
But it didn’t work for him, even though he never even tried to speed up the writing process. He just couldn’t change his habits. Or maybe he is changing them but he is doing so sooooo slowly that no one has noticed yet.
Okay, fine, you know we all have different rhythms. Don has a rhythm too, much like a bear in hibernation. I live in my sweats. In fact, I have very few clothes. I don’t need them; I don’t want them. I’m never behind in my newspapers and I read three a day. I usually read a book or two a week. I read magazines. I watch movies. I write for eight hours every day seven days a week and I am even now writing on my gambling jaunts to the casinos around the country.
But none of that matters, really. That’s how I work. That’s not how he works. And that’s that. It really isn’t any of my business.
But here is where I do come in. Those dinners we have with Peg and Don are very nice occasions – but Don eats so slowly that he’s always behind the rest of us. I have finished my salad, my soup, and my main course plus a few drinks – which takes me about an hour – and Don is still on the soup. Then he gets to the main course (thankfully he has no salad) and takes forever. New planets have been discovered; new countries have come and some have gone, animals have gone extinct, other animals have just evolved and Don is slowly eating his meal. And he always orders something that has a lot of food in it; like veal francaise with potato pancakes – a huge pile of potato pancakes. At Cork ‘n Board you get large quantities of good food.
He cuts the veal slowly, lifts it to his mouth slowly, he looks at the fork with the veal stabbed on it and ponders – what he’s pondering about I have no idea, but he ponders and then he puts the food in his mouth and chews in such a way that it can only be caught on stop-action photography, the kind the Discovery Channel uses to show how plants move in the course of 24 hours. Announcer: “You never thought plants moved, did you? Well, look at this incredible stop-action photography and you’ll see that plants move several inches every 24 hours!” These plants move faster than Don Paone eats!”
Because I don’t want to finish my meal so far ahead of Don, I decided that when we have dinners together I would order what he ordered and eat as slowly as he ate. When he cut the meat, I would cut the meat – into the same, small piece. When he took a forkful I would take a forkful. When he lifted it up to his mouth, I would lift mine to my mouth. When he pondered I’d ponder. I thought this would work out just fine. Therefore, I would not eat, finish my dinner, and have to watch Don eat as suns in distant galaxies went super nova. I would match him fork for fork, chew for chew, and swallow for swallow.
That was the plan.
It was Friday evening, the first Friday of my grand design, and Debbie, our regular waitress came over. She brought our drinks for us since she knows exactly what we want. At Cork ‘n Board we have our own table and our own waitress. I like that. Since I am on the road a lot, when I am home I like a lot of routine. Debbie is an outstanding waitress and a hell of a nice person.
“Have you decided?” she asked us.
“Let the women go first,” said Don, which is what he always says. We have a regular ritual at these dinners.
“I’ll have onion soup, no bread,” said my wife, the Beautiful A.P. “I’ll have shrimp with garlic and oil. No potatoes but extra vegetables.” My wife is on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to help her avoid a flare up of Ulcerative Colitis – something she has been free of for five years now [now it is 16 years].
“Peg?” asked Debbie.
“I’ll have a fruit cup, salad with Russian on the side…”
“Ha! Ha!” laughed Don. “A Russian on the side. Oh, boy!”
Debbie gave a little chuckle.
Don always makes that same joke when Peg orders “Russian on the side.” The first time I heard it, two decades ago, it was pretty funny. Debbie has heard it, maybe, several hundred times, but she always manages a chuckle. She is a truly professional waitress.
“Now, Don, you always say that,” says Peg. “I’ll have salmon, broiled, with lemon and butter and I’ll have a baked potato.”
“Frank, you go,” said Don. This was the dining habit I had to change; otherwise I wouldn’t know what Don ordered in order to make my selection. But I had a foolproof plan.
“No, Don, as the patriarch of the family, you should go,” I said.
“Uh, I don’t know what I want yet,” he said.
“Okay,” I said. I had this figured cold. “I’ll have the cream of broccoli soup, a salad with honey mustard dressing on the side and…” Here came my moment of triumph! “…I’ll have as my main course, whatever Don is having!” Ta! Da!
“Okay, Don?” asked Debbie.
“Uh, to the Queen!” said Don lifting his wine glass for a toast.
“You have to order before we toast,” said Peg.
This toast, “To the Queen!” Don made at every meal. I wasn’t quite sure what it meant but I always toasted. I wondered if Peg were the Queen? Maybe it was to the Queen of England.
“Oh, right,” said Don. “What are you having Frank?”
“Whatever you’re having,” I said.
“Hmmm,” said Don.
“Should I come back?” asked Debbie.
“No!” said the Beautiful A.P., knowing that if Don didn’t make his decision now we could be in for a long evening.
“Have the veal francaise,” said Peg.
“My mother has spoken,” said Don. “With potato pancakes.”
“That’s not funny,” said the Beautiful A.P. “You shouldn’t be calling Peg your mother. That is just nasty. You should stop that.”
“I am just joking,” said Don, his whole face and baldhead turning beet red.
“Soup?” asked Debbie.
“Oh, the chicken noodle is fine,” said Peg, ordering for Don.
“Okay, I’ll be right back with the soups,” said Debbie.
The course of conversation at these dinners is usually the same week to week as follows: Peg asks me how my family is, I tell her they are fine but my mother is losing more and more of her memory; how are my sons, they are fine, and my little grandson is beautiful [I now have two grandchildren], and when am I traveling next, in a few weeks. Then the Beautiful A.P. will tell how much she loves being a librarian, which is her new career, a career she has wanted to be in since she was a little girl and then she’ll tell about a few maniacs she served the past week (I’ll bet you didn’t know that public libraries attract maniacs – harmless ones mostly) and the combined elapsed time of A.P. and my conversation takes a total of, oh, about two minutes, three if A.P. has some really funny stories.
Now it is Peg’s turn. Actually, make that big letters: PEG’S TURN.
Peg talks in long but precise and intimate detail about people that A.P. and I don’t know (we call all of them Mr. and Mrs. Obscure) and they are legion, people that Don has totally forgotten (“Don, you know who I am talking about, come on. She was wearing a pillbox hat with a retro sixty’s lime green dress at church four weeks ago and was sitting next to Paulie and Theresa Smithy who are having trouble in their marriage and are seeing a marriage counselor who is related to Joan Jonah whose hip is really giving her trouble after her last trip to Florida where she fell in a row boat and what she was doing getting into a rowboat is beyond me, she’s 87 years old, but her son, a retired school bus driver wanted her to get on the boat.”) and about how Mr. and Mrs. Obscures’ houses are fixed up, and the vacations they took, and what’s happening with their children (kids Obscure). She speaks at length about their homes, going from room to room chronicling how the owners made all sorts of design changes and at the end of the story Peg mentions that house no longer exists but was torn down thirty years ago to put a bigger house on the property which she then describes in even greater detail.
Peg informs us of all the politics in church and state in our village, which is just about everything going on everywhere. She was instrumental in running out of town a priest (nicknamed Adolph after you know whom) who deserved to be run out of town. This guy closed the house for unmarried mothers – called Momma’s House – because he wanted to build a bigger church as an edifice to himself. I think he even wanted to name the extension after himself. Peg was one of the architects of his demise. (“We Catholics believe that abortion is murder but he kicks out the women in crisis who agree to go to term on their pregnancies?” Peg would say to the local papers and radio stations that interviewed her.) You don’t tangle with Peg that’s for sure. Unfortunately, all the unwed mothers had to leave our community since their house was torn down. But if you want to know what the inside of the house was like, Peg can take you on an inch-by-inch verbal tour of it.
When you dine with Peg you realize that she is writing a verbal book every time she speaks. She never just says something is this or that – no sir; the adjectives flow in the descriptions and there is almost never a time when one word would suffice when dozens of words could also be used.
Peg loves to discuss her son Lawrence and her daughter-in-law Catherine and their two beautiful daughters, Peg’s grandchildren, Anna and Laura, (“Oh, that Anna is such a character!”) or she discusses the Beautiful A.P. Whenever I bring up A.P., I let Peg know just what a great daughter she has and what a great wife A.P. is – which she is.
According to A.P., “Peg loves to throw herself into community work and to talk about all the things going on around her, all the people she knows and she knows just about everybody. Her community business validates her. Before there were liberated women, Peg found that doing things was more fun than just staying home. She’s always on the go.”
Peg was discussing the color of someone’s living room when Debbie brought over our soups. I didn’t have to match Don spoon for spoon on the soup because I would have a salad coming next. But I watched the way he ate it. Don and Peg are expert at manners. Dom tilts the soup bowl away from him when he spoons out the soup. He never even drips a little of the soup on the table or the napkin. Unfortunately, some soup always drips on his shirt. None of us, not Peg, not A.P., not me, has ever seen the soup go from spoon to shirt, but somehow it does at every meal.
Don never notices it but Peg always spots it.
“You spilled soup again,” says Peg.
“Acchh,” says Don and then we all forget about it and continue dinner.
A.P. and I finished our soup, Peg finished her fruit salad, and then the regular salads were brought. Don ate his soup, with the cup now tilted away from him, and the stain growing on his shirt.
Now I slowed down my gastro ministrations. I tried to time my salad eating to finish when he finished his soup and to do that I started to cut my salad into smaller pieces.
I was keeping pace this way.
“Everything all right with your salad, Frank?” asked Debbie
“You’re cutting it up. Do you want me to have the chef do that?” asked Debbie.
“Oh, no, no,” I said. “I, ah, am trying something new, slow down how fast, uh, how much, you know,” I said. “I’m getting fat.” I hoped she realized that I was trying something new because I wasn’t getting fat; I was already fat from too many gourmet meals in the casinos during the past 20 years [now 30 years].
I don’t know if she knew something was up but she nodded and headed to another table.
“Is the salad okay?” asked A.P.
“It’s fine,” I said.
“You’re just picking at it,” said A.P.
Don had his soup bowl tilted away from him. I tried to see how much soup he had left. I couldn’t get a good glimpse because his hand covered it.
“It’s fine,” I said.
I was determined to begin my dinner when Don began his dinner. Debbie had learned to bring out our main courses even before she brought his. Tonight would be different. Tonight I would start with Don and end with Don.
The end of world hunger, disease and war, and the second coming of Jesus Christ took place and Don finally finished his soup. I finished my salad then too.
“Ready for our main courses, Debbie” I said, happy to see my plan working perfectly.
A few seconds later Debbie placed my plate in front of me and Don’s plate in front of him. Problem! Don had much more food than I! Oh, God, how could I keep pace when Don had what looked like an Everest of veal in front of him.
“Don,” I said. “You want to switch plates?”
“I thought you were going on a diet?” asked Peg.
“Yes, well,” I said. “That looks like a lot of food for Don.” I know I sounded like an idiot, but it would be very hard to stay on pace with Don since his plate looked like the mountain in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
“Oh, I’m fine,” said Don. “I’m really hungry.” He started to slowly cut a slice of veal.
I was desperate. “If you need me to eat any of your veal I’d be happy to,” I said.
“Scobe, what are you saying?” asked A.P. I looked at A.P. She gave me this look that said, Have you gone crazy?
“Oh, well, you know,” I said. I grabbed my fork and knife. “Hey, let’s eat before everything gets cold.” Maybe I could rush Don into eating at something like normal speed. Maybe pigs can fly too.
So we started eating. A.P. still glanced at me. I smiled at her. Peg chewed a mouthful of salmon.
But Don had not yet lifted the small slice of veal to his lips. So I fiddled with my veal. I started to cut it, nano-inch by nano-inch, and when I had finished cutting my slice, Don was only just now lifting his slice to his lips. I had to eat half as much as he did to keep pace with him since he had so much food to eat. Don was about to bite when he thought of something, “You know, ah,” he blinked. When Don spoke, he blinked a lot. He put down his fork, blink, blink, blink.
“So I said to Mary Contessa that…” started Peg. Peg can start a conversation about anything at any time if she thinks she can get you hooked with her eyes.
And Peg had me on this one because we caught eyes. When you catch Peg’s eyes, “she launches” (which is what the Beautiful A.P. and I call it) and you are a squirming fish on a hook. Sometimes she just hones in on one person and grabs him/her with her eyes and then she launches into a long soliloquy. She had me pinned now.
Don was blinking.
I put my forkful of veal down.
“I, ah,” said Don blinking.
“Mary Cummins was going to miss the Women’s Club Meeting…”
“Ah, uhm,” said Don.
“What kind of members are these that they miss all the meetings and don’t want to open up the club to people who will actually attend the meetings?” said Peg.
“When Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of, ah,” blinked Don.
He still hadn’t picked up his first forkful!
“Don,” said Peg, “What are you talking about? We’re discussing Mary Cummins and Mary Contessa.”
“I …wanted to… say… something,” blinked Don.
Peg dropped my gaze for a second. I was free.
“Okay, what do you want to say?” asked Peg.
“I forgot now,” he blinked.
Don has some severe memory problems and he forgets a lot – like how to get to places he’s gotten to for 60 years.
“The Women’s Club is a hard working group,” said Peg but I busied myself with my fork. I had to take a mouthful soon.
Don lifted his fork.
“Is everything okay?” asked Debbie.
“Yes,” I said.
“Yes,” said Don putting down his fork. He still had not taken his first bite!
“You haven’t eaten anything, Frank,” said Debbie.
“Are you feeling okay?” asked A.P.
“Is he sick?” asked Peg.
“Fine. I’m fine,” I said.
“I want to see you take a big mouthful of your food!” laughed Debbie. “Come on!”
What could I do? I took a mouthful.
“One more,” said Debbie.
“Okay,” I said. So I took a second mouthful. And, wonder of wonders, Don took his first mouthful. But Debbie then made me tale a third mouthful.
I was behind him in eating by two mouthsful but I could chew slowly. Except Don was the slowest chewer on earth but I was determined to under-chew him.
“Good boy,” said Debbie and she walked to another table.
I chewed in stop-action.
“Is the veal okay?” asked A.P.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m just relaxing as I chew.”
A.P. gave me that Are you crazy? glance but she didn’t say anything.
Peg now launched into the history of the Women’s Club, founded in 1951, none of whose members I knew or cared to know, and how all these Marys (Cummins, Contessa, O’Toole, Flaherty, and Rineberg) were stuck in the old ways and didn’t want new ideas. The youngest of the Marys was 80. The youngest member of the whole club was 70 – a young sprite! I quarter listened to the avalanche of information about the Ladies Auxiliary although I nodded every so often as Peg continued. I didn’t want Peg to think I wasn’t interested in her story because I do love Peg. But I intensely watched Don. I was keeping pace with him. So far I had four mouthsful and he had taken eight. God, my plan felt great! If he had twice as much food as I, this eating pattern would allow me to finish when he finished – some time in the 22nd century.
“Hey, Frank,” said Tommy the owner of the restaurant. “Is everything all right with that veal? I notice you haven’t eaten much.”
“The veal is delicious,” said Don, putting down the forkful he was just about to eat! My fork was in midair too. I put mine down too. I had to keep pace with Don.
“The veal is great,” I told Tommy.
“I hope so,” said Tommy. “You don’t do restaurant reviews do you?” He laughed.
“Not anymore and I would give your restaurant a great review,” I said.
Don picked up his fork. If I kept talking to Tommy I might be able to get Don to take that forkful and maybe even another one without me having to eat a thing.
“So anyway, the Yankees…” I started.
“Tommy, I need a carafe of cabernet,” said Debbie.
“Oops, gotta go,” said Tommy who was also the bartender.
Don excused himself to go to the bathroom. This was becoming an ordeal. Peg talked about Nanette Ludinski whose husband had left her with five kids, a terrible thing to do to a woman, especially in 1947, when Mr. Ludinski flew the coop with some dancer for Radio City Music Hall. I guess it really got to Mrs. Ludinski too because she just died at age 90. “She was really very healthy until the day she died,” according to Peg, snapping her fingers.
“Are you okay?” whispered A.P. as Peg continued to talk.
“Yes, damn it, I am fine,” I whispered back.
Peg explained that Mrs. Ludinski never trusted men after 1947.
“Why so angry?” whispered A.P.
“I’m not angry. I’m just eating slowly,” I whispered.
“She had one man that she loved in 1956, Paulie Delano, nicknamed PD, a cop, when she was finishing the basement of her first house on Vincent Avenue, although she never really did the walls there quite right because she painted over cinderblock and it was uneven, but she just couldn’t say yes to marriage…”
“Why are you eating slowly?” whispered A.P.
“To stay even with Don,” I whispered back.
“Ridiculous!” whispered A.P.
“Why is that ridiculous?” asked Peg. “She was very hurt. It wasn’t easy raising those five kids all by herself since one of them was deaf, one had a club foot, and one had a very bad temper which got him imprisoned when he was in his early twenties for assault after he hit a cop at Jones Beach who told him he had to leave because there was a curfew.”
Don slowly walked back from the bathroom.
Peg discussed the various incidents in the lives of Mrs. Ludinski’s children but ultimately all the kids turned out okay and retired from different successful professions.
Don took a small bite of one of his potato pancakes. A.P. finished with her meal. Peg finished with hers as well.
Don still had most of Veal Everest remaining and all the potato pancakes except for one small bite out of one of them.
My veal was cold, maybe colder than Mrs. Ludinski right now, and I decided fuck it! I quit! and I resumed my normal way of eating. I finished in a flash.
And so, as usual, we all waited for Don.
Peg was on the story of the living room of Davida Davidson who had just sold her house in a neighboring community without ever having done anything to the house in the 30 years she had lived in it. Peg had visited the house once, in 1960-something, and described everything she could remember in great detail. It was enough to get us through Don’s eating.
“That house is going to be torn down,” said Peg. “The Amaruso Demolition company run by Danny…. Oh, Alene, you went to school with Danny’s sister.”
“Who?” asked the Beautiful A.P., whose first name is Alene, a name I find beautiful and Alene hates because so many people call her Arlene or Eileen.
My cell phone rang. I had forgotten to shut it off.
“Scobe,” said A.P. in the voice that said, You aren’t going to answer that in a restaurant are you?
“It’s Dominator,” I said as if that made it okay to answer the phone.
“Tell him you’ll call him after dinner,” said A.P.
“Hey, Dominator,” I said, answering the phone.
“You’ll never guess but that stupid fuck was murdered!” said Dom.
“The stupid fuck as in the stupid fuck?”
“Yep,” said Dom. “He was killed in one of those sleazy motels in Vegas. They burned the body and they identified it with teeth. But the big fat fuck is dead.”
“His teeth? Christ!”
I felt a kick under the table. A.P. kicked me under the table. She whispered in my ear, “You said teeth, Scobe.”
I looked at Don Paone and his face was blown up like a red balloon, veins sticking out of his neck, his baldhead, and his forehead. Damn, I had also said the word “fuck.” You can’t say those words around Don when you are eating or … well, he might die.
“Listen Dominator I am at dinner, I’ll call you back in a half hour, okay?”
“Sorry about that, Don, Peg,” I said.
Don’s swollen head was receding.
At Peg and Don’s house there is a table tent placed on the table at all times that has a list of words that cannot be said during a meal: teeth, spit, mucus, saliva, gums, tongue, scrotum, abscess, fart, fungus, armpit, diarrhea, toes, feet, bunions, nails, eardrum, eyeball, root canal, dentist, toilet, bathroom, bladder, kidney, and choke. If those words are said at the table, Don’s face becomes bright red and his head swells up, veins bulging ominously. His eyes get watery and he blinks like crazy. We’ve never pushed the issue because of the obvious pain he’s in when those words are spoken.
Except once. By my mother.
She and my father were at Don and Peg’s and we were all having a great dinner, which Peg had prepared. Peg is a wonderful cook. My mother, a lovely, kind and generous woman and one who never wants to hurt anyone, saw the table tent. She picked it up.
“Oh, what’s this?” she asked.
“Those are words…” started Peg.
“Teeth, root canal, mucus” said my mother.
“Uh, Mom,” I said.
“Diarrhea, dentist, nails,” continued my mother who is quite deaf.
“Mom,” I said.
Don was swelling up. My mother just kept reading: “Tongue, gums, abscess, saliva, bladder, kidney…”
“Mom!” I yelled.
She looked up.
“You can’t say those words at the table because…” and I nodded over at Don who was redder than a red beach ball.
“Don, your head is all red,” said my mother. Since Don is almost completely bald, you could see the veins bulging at the top of his head. They looked like they were pulsating. “Don, did you choke on something?” asked my mother and Don turned redder.
“You can’t read these words,” I yelled.
“Oh,” said my mother and put down the table tent.
I concluded having witnessed that incident that if you pushed those words on Don for any length of time; he would expire.
I hung up with Dominator. “Some guy who wrote some rotten stuff about Dominator on the Internet was found murdered in a sleazy motel in Vegas, burned to a crisp.”
“Dominator takes everything too seriously,” said A.P.
“Hey, it’s no fun having people attack you,” I said. “It’s taking Dominator some time to get used to the fact that when you are famous people takes shots at you.”
“You handle it okay,” said A.P.
“Yeah, well, it’s still not easy,” I said.
“The people who attack usually aren’t as successful,” said Peg. “Ramona Jorgensen was a past president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Flowers and she didn’t do very much and then Sally Blake took over and created a great newsletter that she published once every two months. Sally did such great work around the village that she received so many awards for her holiday floral arrangements throughout the village. Well, Ramona became an increasing critic of Sally to the point where at board meetings she would stand up and just attack Sally every chance she got…”
“The usual after-dinner drinks?” asked Debbie.
“Yes,” I said.
“What do I get?” asked Don, who was beginning to forget what our habits of dining were – other than the habit of eating slowly. Peg ordered for him.
“You know the mayor is having a problem with attacks, too,” said Peg. “He has been attacked for going on too many trips.”
“What? What are we talking about?” asked Don, who sometimes found it hard to follow the conversation – he was also slightly deaf too.
Now when Don asked a question, especially about a political figure or someone of prominence in our village, Peg did not like to talk about it too loudly. So she would then cup her hand over her mouth and talk so low that no one could hear her and even a lip reader couldn’t read her lips. That was the opposite of what Don needed, someone who would look him in the eyes and talk normally or even loudly. “Mumble, mumble, mayor, mumble, mumble, mumble,” said Peg into her hand.
“What?” said Don leaning in and starting to turn red.
“Mumble, mumble, mayor, mumble, mumble, mumble,” said Peg into her hand.
“Mumble, mumble, mayor, mumble, mumble, mumble,” said Peg into her hand.
“Forget it,” said Don. “I can’t follow this.”
Then Peg took her hand away from her mouth and talked in a normal voice and launched into a discussion of what the Rosary Society was doing for their big party next month.
In another hour we were waiting for Don to finish his coffee and his drink. When he finished I paid the check with my airline-miles credit card and Don gave me his and Peg’s half in cash. It took forever for him to count out the money since he did it three times to make sure he had the correct amount.
Now a tricky part occurred – could we get out of the restaurant without Peg meeting someone she knew and launching into an endless story? That happened about half the time. We would stand waiting for Peg, as she talked animatedly with someone none of us recognized.
But, in truth, I would never replace these meals. I like true characters, and Peg and Don are truly characters.
[Peg died July 29th, 2009. There is a picture dedicated to Peg in the lobby of the church. Don died January 19, 2012. My mother died March 22, 2008. Cork n’ Board is now Uva Rossa. I did the eulogies for both Peg and Don. Debbie is still working in a restaurant in our village. Dominator did something unconscionable to me, which I wrote about in my book I Am a Dice Controller.]