Sunday we had to do a banquet for 30. The client was not unknown to me; she's
a jazz singer who's a friend of mine. The occasion was the graduation of her
youngest daughter from High School. I've met most of this woman's lovely friends
and charming family, but never her mother, the matriarch of their family. Her
dad, sadly, passed away two years ago. He was a Baptist minister.
Her mother is the archetypal bible-thumping hellfire and
brimstone Baptist. She's a big woman who wears support stockings and sensible
shoes. She uses words sparingly and rarely smiles. My
friend confided in me once that her mother thought that I was "a nice man but an
idol-worshipping Pagan anyhow who's gonna burn in hell unless, Praise
The Lord, he finds Jesus."
The party was all set to go at 2:00. The first couple showed at 2:05; the
rest dribbled in at 2:15. All had just come from church and were impeccably
dressed. I felt inadequate in my khakis, despite my pressed cotton shirt and
Hors d'oeuvres were served, along with soft
drinks and sweet tea (you don't drink alcohol, the Devil's beverage, in front of "Mama"). Mama showed up and
sat down and then actually spoke. "This all looks very nice."
I am certain that it could not have been kept from Mama that her grandchild likes
Rap. Mama is not stupid. However, as soon as a mix of Rap and old-school R&B
started coming out of the speakers in the private dining room, Mama sent one of
her other daughters to summon me.
I faced the old woman and she said, "Do you hear this? This is the music that's from the Devil.
Driving people to do all kinds of things that Jesus just
wouldn't have 'em doing."
"It's my fault, Mrs. W," I lied, trying to save her granddaughter's life. "I
just thought that most girls of 17 might like this kind of music for their
"Oh, no. No, no no. That leads to dancing. Dancing to the Devil's
I ran to the cable music receiver and found a channel for "Gospel." It
was actually quite modern and not what I expected.
But the next test pushed me beyond my capacity to stay composed under stress.
"I wanna see the kitchen in this place. I wanna make
sure my granddaughter don't eat what rats've been eating at."
Most people would've been angered by such an accusation. However, I took it
in stride and realized that the cultural difference was more than Mama could
take and this was her way of just making sure that everyone and everything was
"right." I invited her into the kitchen, bragging that one could eat off the
As we walked in the door, the chefs were busy preparing the main courses. The
stainless steel and tile sparkled. Squeaky-clean white plates sat on a large
preparation table garnished with roses made from carved and colored Daikon and field greens.
Just as we were about to turn and go, however, the goofy sous chef came
stumbling out of the walk-in refrigerator, making chicken noises and speaking in
a high-pitched voice (thank goodness he wasn't speaking English). He was
using a whole chicken as a puppet. The Chicken Puppet had an apple for a head
and, thanks to a carrot, was anatomically correct.
Now, I must take responsibility for setting the example that led to this
mayhem. A long time ago I gave the entire staff a talk about
trying to have fun while working, and not taking ourselves so seriously. That would make the day go a lot
faster, and be more enjoyable. Some never caught on. But a few embraced this
vast change from the culture of their former places of employment and delighted in having a bit
of fun. I don't know who was happier; them or me. And indeed, the sous chef
was mimicking my own demonstration of a chicken puppet. But I digress.
Mama asked me if I always let them drink on Sunday this early. I told
her that he'd not been drinking. She then shook her head, and walked out of the
kitchen, her arms in the air, shouting "Praise Jesus Almighty!"
My friend, her sisters, and the guest of honor all hustled through the
kitchen door just in time to see me vomiting in the enormous garbage disposal
near the dishwasher. The stress of anticipating Mama's arrival for a few days,
preparing everything for Mama, and failing her inspection had overwhelmed the
sedative I took that morning and the resultant panic attack caused me to see
stars, experience chest
pains, and, of course, rapidly emptied my stomach.
"Mama just told us one of your chefs made a, er, chicken do a little dance.
With his, er, uhm, thang hangin' out."
We all broke into laughter as I rinsed my face with cold water. As soon as I
could think of something to say I asked, "Whose
thang? The chicken's, or the chef's?"
They screamed with laughter again. The assured me that they'd told me Mama's
exact words and that she'd not specified which. I assured them it was not the
chef's thang at all, but a carrot, hanging from a chicken puppet. On the
words "chicken puppet" my friend's sister, who had somehow obtained a soda glass half
full of bourbon for herself, did a spit take. I and my friend's sister took turns dabbing
at each other with towels, and then discussed, in the presence of the others,
whether a food-fight would be the icing on the cake. We unanimously decided that
the rest of the party would go forward, however, without incident, if at all
possible. And it did.
One other thing: loss visited me earlier this week, again. And just after I
thought it was gonna be uphill after we interred my father.
Luscious the Cat died in her sleep Friday evening. The
furry companion with whom I, and then my mother, shared many happy times is no
longer with us. My heart is hurting. But I'm pretty sure that if there's a
Heaven for kitties, Luscious is up there chasing dust-bunnies and stray clouds.