By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Invitations to two Thanksgiving dinners in Orange County, California. One scheduled for the beige living room of a beige Huntington Beach tract home at 1:30 p.m., the other for the beige living room of a beige San Clemente tract condominium at 3:30 p.m.
Unable to decide, I accept both.
At 2:30 p.m., I arrive at the residence of Theodore and Laura Squaughan, both in their late 50s, both tenured professors of genetics at the university. Ripped and roaring, the Squaughans lead me by both hands to the dining table and introduce me to their “friend Tom,” a dead male turkey, and “friend Howard,” a dead female duck. Both appear recently beheaded, gutted and plucked, then roasted and basted and now languishing half-eaten at either end of the table. Between them: wine and yams and biscuits and gravy, mashed potatoes and gravy, mustard greens and green beans and even greener decaffeinated coffee. I’m then introduced to the more boisterous guests: Brian, a composer and part-time junior-college professor; Beatrice, an ex-nurse in her 80s; and my father, an ex--clinical psychologist in his 70s.
As I‘m squeezing into the child-size rocking chair that’s been wedged between Brian and Beatrice for me, my father, midconversation with one of the Squaughans, lets loose with a loud, malodorous pun. It is the same pun he lays once every four or five months, whenever he‘s exposed to the word boysenberry.
“Boysenberry?” my father exclaims quite thoroughly, as ever, then the little micropause, and then, “What about girlsenberry!”
Everyone reacts with “blehh” or “that’s awful” or “that‘s just terrible” or otherwise balks andor cringes. My father cringes, too, as if the pun had a will of its own, had demanded a manifestation and had chosen my father as its vessel.
Brian the composer, however, is not everyone. He does not blehh. Does not that’s awful or that‘s just terrible or otherwise balk andor cringe. Rather, halfway through a hearty swig of red wine, Brian performs a genuine spit-take, with full compression and torque, aimed, just in time, at his lap. And as Brian spits and spews and coughs, so does he flush red, arise and hightail it to the bathroom. To a fresh chorus of blehhs, that’s awfuls and that‘s just terribles, followed by quiet dabbings and wipings, soft tinklings of napkins in ice water.
I make a note to myself: Do not ask Brian the composer about his music. Then I decide to break the silence with a new topic. I say, “By the way, today’s Terry Gilliam‘s 61st birthday.”
“What’s that?” Beatrice asks.
“That‘s the guy who directed Brazil,” I reply. “One of the Pythons, the one who did the animations. The guy eating beans on the couch in ’The Most Awful Family in Britain‘ sketch, in the last episode, Episode 45, aired on December 5, 1974. That guy. Then he runs out of beans and starts yelling, ’I‘VE RUN OUT OF BEANS!’ and he can‘t get up off the couch and then it’s just, ‘BEEEEEEEEEEANS! BEEEEEEEEEEANS!’ Eric Idle‘s ironing teapots, remember, Graham Chapman’s in teenybopper drag and . . .”
“No,” Beatrice interrupts, “what is that?” And she pokes me in my secret-detective-style note pad, which I‘d just returned to my breast pocket.
“Oh, that that. That,” I explain, “is a reminder not to ask Brian about his music.”
“Oh, really?” says Beatrice. “May I see it?”
I’m not one to disappoint octogenarians on Thanksgiving, so, since Brian‘s still cleaning up in the bathroom, I show Beatrice the note, which she reads aloud, carefully, much as one might deliver instructions for bandaging a minor abrasion to a troop of Girl Scouts: “Boysenberry pun spit-take. Do not ask Brian the composer about his music.”
We hear Brian say “Fuck” and “God damn it” in the bathroom. Beatrice nods and returns my pad. Someone refills my glass of adequate red wine, for which I am severely thankful.
Friend Tom, a robust and well-basted cadaver, had grown up in Palmdale, on a farm owned and operated by the Keck Family. By chance I’d known the Kecks during my high school incarceration in the Antelope Valley, and had spent several afternoons and evenings in their frightening American home.
It was a large ranch house with what they called a “bonus room” -- a single room upstairs, used for recreation. The bonus room had either black walls and red curtains, red wall-to-wall carpet and a red ceiling, or red walls and black curtains, black wall-to-wall carpet and a black ceiling. I can‘t remember. But the pool table, the bonus room’s centerpiece, was definitely upholstered in red felt. It was a ghastly room, a vampire‘s tract tomb, where John Keck and I played electric guitars and shot pool after school. Like shooting eight ball in a shallow casket. And beneath the bonus room, paintings of howling, tortured demons -- twisted, hollow faces, vaguely rendered as if in walnut burl or by Edvard Munch -- hung at the bottom of the stairs, in the kitchen and throughout the living room. Some kind of religious theme, I figured, but I was afraid to ask for details.
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