This is why small towns are dangerous. We had a septuagenarian free-for-all at our dinner table a few years back and it was so over-the-top crazy that you'd swear I was related to everyone sitting there. In fact, I wasn't but the craziness transcended bloodlines and I took strange comfort from that!
I captured this in my journal a few hours after it happened on Easter Sunday 2000.
Okay, so it’s last night and we’re all gathered around my pretty pastel table. The cast of characters includes R, my parents, Margie, her sister Dorothy, her brother Arnie, Arnie’s wife Evelyn. Except for R and me, everyone is over seventy. We are all opinionated. Unfortunately we hold different opinions.
You need to know that Margie doesn’t trust her sister-in-law Evelyn. Even though Evelyn has been in the family for over fifty years, Margie still considers her an outsider. Dorothy loves Evelyn and they go antiquing together. Margie watches from her kitchen window as they drive off. Once my mom thought she was Margie waving her fist behind her frilly priscillas. And then there’s Arnie. What can I say about Arnie? I like the guy. He seems more like a tough guy from Queens or Brooklyn than a Swedish farm boy from central New Jersey. Fair skin, ruddy cheeks, what’s left of his hair is crewcut and blond. He’s tall and burly and apparently has a thing for the ladies. I didn’t know that about Arnie until yesterday when all hell broke loose at my dining room table. I thought he was kind of shy and quiet. Hah!
It started innocently enough when Arnie expressed his love for Hillary Clinton. “That’s what you call one smart dame,” he said over his beer. “Smartest damn first lady we’ve ever had in office.” (My dad muttered something about Eleanor Roosevelt but everyone ignored him.) She’s not in office, Margie pointed out. She’s a wife. “Smarter than he is,” Arnie went on, glaring across the table at his sister. “You know who’s really running this country.” Good thing somebody’s running the country, Margie said, since he can’t keep his pants on. “He’s a man’s man,” Arnie said, voice rising, “not some namby-pamby rich boy. Old Hillary understands that”
At this point R and I are kicking each other under the table and trying not to laugh – or to enter into the fray. My mother is watching, wide-eyed with amusement. I know her opinion of the Clintons’ marriage and I’m wondering how much longer she’ll be able to keep it to herself. My dad has the same expression on his face that he used to have when Mona and Grandma El went at it. (Ah, family tradition.) He is ready to collapse in helpless laughter.
The Siblings are poised for battle.
He’s a pig, says Margie. We’re not sure if she’s talking about her brother or the president.
“He’s a MAN,” bellows Arnie. “You’re gonna tell me any red-blooded man wouldn’t do exactly what Clinton did?”
At which point my Beloved piped up with, Speak for yourself, Arnie.
And, God help us, Arnie did. Arnie waxed eloquent on the wonders of the pinchable female behind. You’ve heard it before. Aman’sgottadowhataman’sgottado. Even if it gets him 5-10.
Arnie turns to me. “Come on,” he says. “Admit it. You’ve had your ass pinched a time or two, haven’t you?”
Yes, I said. So far they haven’t found the bodies but they’re out there.
Everyone laughed but Arnie. “Admit it,” he said. “You know you liked it.”
No, Arnie, I didn’t.
“You know you did.”
Arnie, trust me, I know I didn’t. Being groped on a subway isn’t one of life’s greater pleasures.
“Every woman likes it.”
No, Arnie, every woman does not like it.
At this point his sisters and wife jump down his throat and Arnie clears the room by saying, “What would any of you old bats know? You haven’t had your asses pinched in so long you –“
That’s when Evelyn slapped him.
This whole thing was reminiscent of an on-line discussion a few weeks back that has had permanent repercussions. I think we all know there’s a difference between flirting and harrassment, between the man/woman thing and aggression.
Who doesn’t want to be desired?
Who wants to be pawed over like the sale rack at Loehmann’s?
It’s all the same to Arnie and to a frightening percentage of the population out there.
We all recovered our equilibrium and finished out the evening in good cheer, however the fight picked up steam again when our merry band of funsters got home. My mother said the fight broke out in earnest on the front steps of Margie’s place and went on a good hour. Margie called Arnie a pig and a brute. Arnie called her a tight ass. Evelyn kept saying Arnie, please don’t use that language at which point Arnie would invariably say, #*@( . . . loudly. Evelyn said fifty years in that family was more than enough and stomped off toward their place.
I found out that Arnie and Margie both have police band scanners and they monitor the neighborhood 24/7. Arnie had a big surprise for my parents. “I hear your sister’s heading over to Naples for a week,” he said to my dad. “Jean’s taking care of the dog.” My dad almost keeled over. Did Vi tell you that? he asked. “Nah,” said Arnie. “Heard it on my scanner.” Now there’s a bad combination for you: my dad with a cordless phone and Arnie with a police band scanner. I have to admit my mom and I have talked a lot about Margie and Company over the last few years and much of it has been from our handy-dandy cordless phones. My poor mother is convinced Margie heard something she shouldn’t have and that’s why she doesn’t ask my mother to go to K-mart often any more. I reminded my mother that Margie shouldn’t be eavesdropping but that didn’t make her feel any better. And I do understand why not.
Shades of Princess Di and James Gilbey. Shades of Charles and Camilla. Shades of why I’m going to think twice before I use my cordless phone again. At the very least, you won’t catch me talking about Margie or Arnie.
Or Hillary, for that matter.
The night may have a thousand eyes but in this neighborhood it’s the ears you have to worry about.