Miss Sasha calls.
Miss Sasha: I did it, Mommy! It all worked out beautifully and I did it!
Tata: What? You sound happy. Are you under arrest?
Miss Sasha: No…
Tata: You’ve picked a second husband before you turn 23? You’re a prodigy!
Miss Sasha: Mom, I catered a wedding for a hundred people! There was hot food and a beautiful wedding cake with blue fondant and white snowflakes and everyone wanted my business card! It was a total success!
Tata: That’s fantastic! And you’re so happy!
Miss Sasha: I am! I am very, very happy!
Tata: Excellent! Let me know when I can quit my job and appear on the Food Network as your adorable and vivacious mother. Oh! And I’ll need a Mac lipstick allowance, and a trainer named Jurgen, and a plastic surgery Uranium 242 card…
Miss Sasha: Can I cater a second wedding first?
Tata: Well, okay. But throw in frequent flier miles at Harry Winston.
Last night, I picked up Siobhan and we drove out to Bridgewater to meet Trout and Lala at our favorite surreal sushi joint. Trout works for a Dutch company that gives its employees a small hunk of money to spend on food before New Year’s because a simple bonus is too complicated. We sit at a table for six. The restaurant is humming and busy and our gift bags and boxes block aisles on all four sides of our tables. Three lovely women turn up and ask us what we’d like to eat, whether they can warm our sake, open our wine bottles. We’ve brought enough wine for four people who don’t have to drive until Sunday.
Siobhan: I bet those kids are thirsty!
Trout: I bet their parents have lawyers!
Siobhan’s Jewish, Lala was raised Wiccan, Trout was brought up folky Catholic and Jewish. I was raised by secular humanists who loved and love shiny wrapping paper. Legally, I’m Jewish – blessed be! The packages on the floor are covered with blue, green, red, white, silver and black paper, with sparkly ribbons of another half-dozen hues. Nobody says, “Ladies, you demonstrate excessive good cheer.” Rather, they say, “Edamame? Coming right up!”
They mean it, but tonight, service is a complete failure. Our water shows up warm. Our sake is cool. Edamame could use a little salt. We intended to order handrolls, sashimi and more rolls as we thought of them but apparently the sushi chefs are overwhelmed. Twice, I get up and go look for our waitress. Our main course takes almost an hour to appear. Fortunately, we have a lot to talk about since Lala’s been away taking care of her sister, and miso soup.
Tata: Guess what! Guess what! Last night, I was just about to take a nap because I’m on vacation and people can bite me and Paulie Gonzalez called me up! He came over and brought me an ivy plant, and a jade plant and a giant rug for my peculiarly dancehall-size living room. I was so happy I made carpet angels.
Siobhan: My dad’s girlfriend – remember the Hideous Beast? – told me not to go to Nordstrom. She’d make sure Dad gave me the watch I wanted for Hanukkah. She asked me what kind it was. I said Skagen. She said, “Let me write that down.” They go to Nordstrom but she forgets the paper. They ask, “It starts with S. Where are the Swatches?” Nordstrom doesn’t sell Swatches. I get a call on my cell. It says “La Hideosa.” She says, “What was the name of that watch again?” I say it was Skagen. The next day, Dad says she’s lost the piece of paper again so I sent him the URL. That night, I found a note on the kitchen table: I BOUGHT A WATCH.
Tata: I told her to sniff it for spider venom.
Siobhan: That would be your father’s date.
Tata: If Darla wanted me dead, no one would ever suspect her. She’s brilliant, you know.
Siobhan: …whereas the Hideous Beast is truly stupid but see my watch?
It’s…a nice watch.
Lala: Emy’s feeling better. She had more surgery and the kids were upset every day. Over Christmas –
In secular society, no excuse to give gifts should be overlooked. Birthdays, Valentines’ Day, Arbor Day – no excuse! People need presents. If you don’t concern yourself with the curiously re-scheduled birth of a baby that may or may not have existed in the first place, December is still a fine time to give your friends and family members presents. Did your year suck? Concentrate on giving gifts to people who’ve been kind. Did your year completely fail to suck? Share the bounty! Other than Emy’s surgery, Lala’s year has been one of triumph. Our erstwhile teen bride completed grad school and gave her daughter an elegant wedding in one of New York City’s sumptuous botanical gardens, and her son was picked up by one of the big Formula One teams despite being too young to take his New Jersey driver license test.
Lala: – I’ve never mopped up more puke! Even my little purse dog was sick.
Tata: At least dogs usually lap up their own. What?
Trout: Remind me not to call you when I have diarrhea.
Tata: Eat white rice, drink a lot of water and forget it.
Siobhan: Straight to the solution, eh? No stop for the wallowing?
Tata: I wallow plenty. How much you want to think about the puke before you rejoice in the Pine Sol? So La was saying before I rudely interrupted –
Lala: Right. Then Terrance had his friends over and everyone watched movies, including the ex-husband. I think I put flat food on a plate for them. Either that or they really like my china.
Trout: Alan’s treatment is up, it’s down, it’s good, it’s bad. He’s sick all the time. We’re back and forth to Sloan-Kettering. I don’t have time to think twice.
Tata: One day I was over Trout’s house and I turned on the kitchen light. Nine-tenths of the stuff mountain in the kitchen was gone. At first, I thought she’d been robbed by the Salvation Army. Then I realized her cousin Cheryl must’ve taken one look and donned her rubber gloves.
Trout: Something like that, yeah.
Tata: If you called her once a month and said, “I’m lonely,” you’d be able to eat off the bathroom floor.
Finally, Lala’s got a date and the rest of us have stuff to do. We open presents one at a time. Soon, we are surrounded by shiny glass objects, shiny wooden objects, shiny metal objects, shiny fabric objects and one matte envelope of bath salts. I pile up a block and Sabatier knives, a chef’s knife and evening gloves. If ever I could dress formally for a killing spree, it’s now.
There’s also a matching sequinned bag.