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 conservative tie.

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 graduation party..."

"Oh, no. No, no no. That leads to dancing. Dancing to the Devil's music. No."

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 floors therein.

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.

Just over a month ago I posted a huge list of places Chris and I were planning to go on our three and a half week, anniversary camping trip out west. While we did manage to stick to the plan most of the time, some places proved to be too buggy or closed due to construction. I promised to tell you if anything exciting happened and since a few exciting things did happen I thought I'd fulfill my promise with a list.

  • While camping in Badlands National Park a lone buffalo wandered through our campsite. I was in the middle of cooking up Buffalo steaks at the moment and the irony did not escape us.

  • While traveling through the Bighorn Mountains and admiring the several feet of snow that capped it we ran smack into a snowdrift. We were about 200 feet from the road, which only 6 cars drove by on, and we spent a good 20 hours there while it continued to snow. The next day Chris bundled up and headed out into blizzard-like weather in search of help. Eventually we were rescued.

  • While in Yellowstone National Park I got within 15 feet of a herd of buffalo and their calves. Now, before you start calling me stupid and wreckless, they were on either side of a pullout and I very safely stayed next to parked vehicles as I inch by inch approached and snapped away with the camera. Chris says he was afraid for my life but I didn't feel unsafe and the animals barely looked at me.

  • Also while in Yellowstone I got within 4 or 5 feet of a Grizzly Bear. This time from the relative safety of our vehicle. I'm not a total asshat.

  • Our first day in Arches National Park began with a 3 mile hike in the desert. I'll be the first to admit I'm not in prime physical condition, but we'd been hiking for at least a week by then and I was able to do 3 miles pretty well. Of course, the hot desert sun and my lack of head coverage along with the "gentle slope" of slickrock we had to clambor over worked against me and I made it almost to our turn around point when I collapsed with heat exhaustion. Luckily Chris had a gallon of water and we'd been drinking from it constantly or I'd have collapsed a lot sooner. I like to call this our Desert Death Hike.

  • To counter the moisture sucking heat of the previous day we opted to go on an all day white water trip on the Colorado River. I was looking forward to the water more than the rapids, we were only going to be hitting level 3 rapids and I've been on level 5s before so didn't expect to be challenged. Then we decided to ditch the chatty kathy's on the raft and switched to a kayak for the last half of the day. Wohoo..level 3 in a kayak was exhilarating!

  • In our meandering through the ancestral puebloan sites of the southwest we went to Yucca House National Monument where we spent a good hour looking at hills with brick-shaped stone littering them. Sometimes I think we'd both be happy to be archaeologists.

  • We ended our trip by stopping in St. Louis and staying with Laggedyanne and sessor. They kindly lent us their floor, their shower and their apartment complex swimming pool. Bless them.

There are a mega-fuckton of photos on our two flickr accounts. I'm still uploading mine but I'm up to June 3 finally - only 5 or so days left! You can find them by searching for cbustapeck or guaharibo in the flickr people finder.

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