Thursday, March 4, 2010

In which Sly and Doris buy us a wedding present

September 2008 I'm going to tell you flat out that I am an ingrate. And that I myself am a bad wedding present giver. So if you want to stop reading, go ahead. I am going to whine even though I do not have a leg to stand on here.

Consider yourself warned.

Let me explain. I am a bad wedding present giver because when my friend Rebecca got married three weeks before I went into the Peace Corps and one year after I finished grad school, I gave her socks. (I sent her the socks once I got to my Peace Corps country.)

Yes. Socks.

Granted, they were cool socks made in my Peace Corps country by marginalized illiterate indigenous women with organic handspun wool, but they were still. Socks.

So it's not like I can point fingers here.

And as far as being an ingrate?

Sly and Doris are under no obligation whatsoever to buy us a present. None. It is gracious of them to even consider it, especially as this is Primo's second marriage and really, do you need to buy a present for someone's second wedding if you bought something for his first one? I would say no. Really. I would. My motto is one wedding present per lifetime per person.

There. Now that we have dispensed with the obligatory pleasantries, let's move on, shall we?

Sly and Doris have decided to get us a present. That is indeed lovely. We have told our families that we don't really need anything, which is true. We are merging two complete households and I am trying to get rid of stuff, which is not easy because Primo is very attached to things. Like ten year old phone bills. And 20 year old calendars. And benefits schedules and open enrollment information from companies he worked at in 1993. I have been trying to throw such things away, but have not been having much luck.

I have also been trying to get rid of duplicate kitchen items and furniture. That's been a little easier because I have been able to appeal to the Good Liberal in Primo. "It's the Right Thing To Do," I say earnestly. "What about The Poor?" I'm not sure The Poor want the cheap knives that Primo bought when he moved here, but my knives won and I suppose cheap knives are better than no knives at all.

Although we don't need any household items, we still love getting presents. I have been touched that friends and family have sent us gifts. Friends and family who have not even been invited to the wedding. Several of my aunts and uncles have sent us very generous checks. Very generous. Wow. And friends have sent great gifts. My college roommate sends tulip bulbs. Perfect! I am a competitive gardener and what a great idea for a new house.

My mom asks if she can finally get me that KitchenAid stand mixer I have been coveting but never had the room for before. Yes! Now is the time.

Sly and Doris decide we need a lamp for the living room. Well. Yes, we do. Doris wants to go with me to get one NOW.

Now? She wants to go shopping now? Now is not a good time. Not that any time would be a good time. 1. I do not enjoy shopping. 2. I do not enjoy spending time with Doris. 3. I have like a gajillion other things to do to get ready for having an additional seven guests arriving soon.

Plus I do not pay retail. My way is to go to estate sales or junk shops and find beat-up pieces that I refinish and restore to their previous glory.

At the moment, I am working on an end table that I got at Salvation Army for $5. It is covered with gloppy yellow paint, but it is hardwood underneath, with dovetailed joints. When I am through stripping and refinishing, it is gorgeous. My friend Bruce, who has an estate sale business and who is a certified appraiser, tells me it is maple and that he would price it at at least $150.

But I am spending someone else's money so I guess I will go. Primo does not go because he is working. Lucky duck.

We go to the fancy lamp shop by our house.

Holy smoke. Lamps are $300 and up. I know this is what lamps can cost because after I was laid off from my corporate job, I helped my friend Laurel, who is a decorator, with her invoicing and estimating. I am not surprised, but still.

I do not want to make a $300 decision in one hour. I do not want to spend $300 on a lamp, period. What I want to do and YES I KNOW THIS IS TACKY and NO MY MOTHER DID NOT RAISE ME THIS WAY is ask for the cash. I want the cash so I can find a cool lampstand at an antique shop that I will re-wire myself and then I'll get a new shade somewhere* and I'll spend just $50 and then have $250 for something else.

I don't, though. I don't ask for the cash. I just want to. Yes. Yes, I know this is gauche. I know it, OK?

And guess what?

It is pretty clear that Doris does not want to spend $300, either.

Which annoys me just a little bit because she is the one who offered. It was her idea in the first place. What, were we supposed to go to Target and spend $20? Not that I have anything against Target lamps - we have some and they have been good to us - but before you tell us you want to buy us a lamp, shouldn't you have an idea of what kind of money you're talking about? And if y0u didn't know, shouldn't you just have said, "Here's $50. Go buy a lamp?"

And then I would have thought, "$50? That's it? That's all they're giving us for a wedding present?"

Which yes I know is tacky but a nice lamp costs more than that and if they have been eating the expensive cheese for several days and have already spent more than $50 on booze, then shouldn't they spend more than that on a wedding present?

But that didn't happen so I didn't have to have socially unacceptable thoughts about how much money someone was spending on a present she wasn't even obligated to give.

We go home and tell Primo that there wasn't anything I fell in love with, which isn't exactly true, but I just can't bear to spend that much money on a lamp when I know I have better options. I am always looking for the arbitrage opportunity.

Instead, we order a cheap-ass Chinese lamp from that arrives broken, so Sly and Doris get a refund from UPS. I hate cheap-ass Chinese products, although it didn't look that bad on the website, but we should have known. It's not too broken to repair and if UPS had actually come to inspect, they could have taken it back. We just filed the claim because it was broken. I would have been happy to return it, but UPS said, "Eh. Whatever. Keep it." So we did and we fixed it and it's in the basement where it's not that bright and you can't see that it's a cheap-ass Chinese lamp made by political prisoners who work as slaves so that we might have cheap consumer products here.

Not that I have an opinion on that.

We should have gotten the expensive lamp.

Except in the end, what they do pay for is to frame the oil paintings that we buy on our honeymoon in Spain. And they spend almost as much money - maybe even more - for that as they would have for the lamp. I am not involved in those negotiations, but apparently, they are a bit grouchy about it.

By now, I am less sympathetic to their financial situation, especially after we have flown them to our wedding using Primo's frequent flier miles, even though they have their own frequent flier miles (Primo says they are saving them for Sly's sisters' funerals, but how much do you want to bet they will ask Primo to attend those funerals instead?), picked them up at an airport 90 miles away, and fed them our $400/lb Carr Valley cheese, even though they are lactose intolerant.

Buy nice or spend even more is what I say.

* Which is what I end up doing, only I get a faulty socket and it exploded and set the shade on fire right before book club a few weeks ago. So now I have to re-wire.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In which Primo almost divorces me within 48 hours of marriage

Is it just me or is this becoming the all-whining, all the time blog? I like a good whine as much as the next person, but it needs to be tempered with humor. I don't want to give anyone the impression that it is all gloom and doom chez Digger. That is indeed not the case. We have a good life here and Sly and Doris are merely grist for my writing mill.* I like to gripe about them, but I get it out here and then I am done. Although that is not to say that I have not fantasized about their being tucked away in an assisted living facility someplace without access to a phone.

I joke! I joke!

The Sunday after we get married. Primo is taking his parents to the airport 90 miles away so they will not have to change planes. He drops Claudia and Chloe off at our airport on the way. My sister and I get to work changing sheets, doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom, whatever.

I don't care about the housework because I am free. They are GONE! They will never come to our house again. Never. Well, probably never.

The next item on the agenda is supper. I invited my dad's aunt and uncle and two of his cousins over. They haven't seen my mom in years. This will be a good chance for the family to be together. Primo is not thrilled about having yet another event, but seeing as his parents have been in our house for NINEDAYS, I don't think it's unreasonable for me to have my family over for supper for one evening.

Only Primo is delayed taking his parents to the airport because his mother has lost her wallet and we have all the crazy looking for it. So they don't get to stop for breakfast as they had planned, which stresses him out, because even though Primo is a last-minute kind of guy, it is last-minute on his terms and having the terms change throws him into an "I'm an engineer and this is Not In The Plan" tizzy.

And then there is traffic on the way back. And then Claudia and Chloe take their first flight out and then find that their connecting flight is canceled, so he is trying to arrange new flights for them because we brought them in on frequent flier miles - Claudia as her wedding present, Chloe as her I don't remember present - and he has premium status so it's easier for him to do it than for them.

By the time he gets home, he is frazzled and wants nothing more than a beer and a nap.

But my relatives are here.

They are early.

Of course they are early.

Bless their hearts.

The one cousin is the same guy - let's call him Glen - who came over for lunch a few months ago. I had told him 1:00 or "even closer to 1:30 so I can be sure to be home from the gym and showered."

This whole thing was supposed to be just a casual, come over for a sandwich or a bratwurst the next time you have to go to the VA deal, not a formal lunch. You know - call me the night before and see if I'm home, we'll eat in the kitchen.

But it somehow became a sit-down, dining room lunch for Glen, his wife who does not get out much, Primo, and me. On a workday.

Yes. It was all my fault. I admit it. But I did not know I was inviting his wife. I thought he was just coming over after going to the VA. That's how the whole thing started.

But fine. They're old. They're sweet. It won't kill us. I even tell Primo he doesn't have to join us, he can stay upstairs in his office, but he says that would be rude.

This is the lunch. Primo has not showered. I have just stepped out of the shower. I am naked. It is 12:30. 12:30, y'all. I said 1:00, 1:30.

The doorbell rings.

Lord have mercy.

I throw on my robe and open the door.

It is Glen and his wife.

I should have known.

This is [the part of the country where people show up early].** This is the place where I have had to tell repairmen, "I swear you better not show up one minute early or my husband will kill you" and they still show up before 8:00 a.m. Seriously. What is up with that?

Basically the same thing happens for the supper. Everyone shows up early. Primo gets home from all the airport drama and finds his house full of people, including my new relatives, to whom I have offered beer and because I know nothing about beer, I have unknowingly offered them the Good Beer, which upsets him even more.

He forces a smile, says hello, excuses himself, and stomps upstairs, where he sulks. He has not even had a chance to shower today. I try to cheer him up and wonder if my constant bitching about his parents stresses him out the way his sulking about having to entertain for one evening is stressing me out.


My bitching has got to be worse.

The good thing about Primo is he does not hold a grudge. He is like our cat that way: he gets it out of his system and then it's done. I take him a beer,*** rub his back, listen to him tell me about the hassles of the day, and then it's over.

He takes a shower and when he comes back downstairs, he is a new man. He is his usual gracious host self and becomes even better once he learns that the Good Beer was not wasted. It's not that he minds sharing the Good Beer, it's that he doesn't want to share it with guests who don't appreciate it. But my dad's cousins are also Good Beer drinkers who discuss beer knowledgeably with Primo. Then he learns that they are also engineers, so the three of them are off and running. It only seals their fate when Primo finds out that Glen has brought two boxes of produce from his garden and the other cousin has brought a bottle of wine.

We have a lovely evening made all the better because it ends early. People who show up early also leave early.

* As is Primo for my other blog. He just rolls his eyes every time he reads it. "I should know better than to open my mouth," he says. "Everything I say ends up on your blog." I shrug. "It's all material," I tell him. "You are my straight man." And then I kiss him and promise him some wxyz and we are cool. Primo is a hottie. It's not like wxyz is a sacrifice.

** As if Sly and Doris would not recognize themselves and these situations if they were to stumble across this blog. But yes - fake names, undisclosed locations.

*** My sister tells me I need to "Take care of him." I'm like, "What? I'm taking him a beer." And she's like, "You know!" And I'm like, "No. I don't." And she sighs and says, "Go make him happy, you idiot. Nobody will miss you for half an hour." And I get it and I say, "But we can't do anything for two weeks" and she says, "Oh there are things you can do for him so get out of here."

Monday, March 1, 2010

In which Doris makes an apple pie and I pretend to be nice but I am NOT NICE ON THE INSIDE

September 2008 and others. Doris always makes an apple pie for Primo. Apple pie and onion rings. Those are her things for Primo and it is sweet.

In a way.

You know I'm going to get snarky with this. But I will acknowledge a mother's love and give Doris her due. Mother's love. Check. Wanting to show that love through preparing special food. Check and duly acknowledged.

Now here's what really happens.

Doris, bless her heart, is in horrible physical condition. She has COPD or whatever it is that you need one of those oxygen thingies to breathe at night. Years of smoking when she was younger - she has since quit - have taken their toll. She has had that aneurysm surgery - triple A, I think it's called - and has bad arthritis. She is not even an old lady. She's only 70 or 71. She is old before her time and it frustrates the heck out of her. Nothing wrong with her mind, but her body is falling apart.

What this means in practical terms is that she cannot 1. stand for a long time, i.e., more than two or three minutes and 2. she cannot easily do things involving her hands, i.e., peeling or chopping.

All of this would be fine - well, not fine, really, but just a fact - except she still wants to make that apple pie for Primo.

Which she cannot do because of See 1. and 2. above.

So what happens is that I become the chief cook and bottle washer only I am not the chief, I am the sous chef and although I will suck it up and pretend to be nice and be the sous chef when I am visiting Sly and Doris, I do not want to be sous chef IN MY OWN KITCHEN.

Little aside here: When we visit, not only do I become the sous chef but really the main chef because I refuse to watch an arthritic, can barely stand and hardly breathe old lady working in the kitchen, I do so with inferior tools, which is why last December, we bought Sly and Doris a new set of knives. I was sick and darn tired of using their 30 year old knives that hadn't been sharpened in that long.

I also took a potato peeler with me because Sly and Doris want everything peeled: apples, potatoes, pears. (Yes, pears. I don't know why.) Primo and I are of the leave the peels on school for everything because darnit, we like the peels and my mother was right, that is where the vitamins are and plus we are just lazy. But Sly and Doris want everything peeled BUT THEY DON'T HAVE A POTATO PEELER. They peel everything with a small, dull paring knife and if that's not a recipe for slitting your wrists, I don't know what is.

So. It is the Sunday before our wedding. I am making a big meal. Primo is going to grill steaks. I am making dinner rolls from scratch. Yeah. For dumb. I am an idiot.

Doris wants to make an apple pie for Primo. Oh man.

Fine. I have everything we need to make an apple pie because my kitchen is stocked for the apocalypse. I'm like that. Got it from my mother. If you're worried about being in the right place when they drop the Big One, be at my mom's or at our house. Probably our house, because we have over 300 bottles of wine in the basement, but my mom is better organized, just because she doesn't have to argue with Primo about what crap to keep and what to discard. That's what being a widow means: control over the basement.

Doris starts to peel the apples, even though I point out that Primo prefers his apples unpeeled. Oh no. They must be peeled. OK.

She can peel only one. I take over. Oh. Like I'm going to make her peel all of them? "You started this project, missy, now you're going to finish it?"

I am faking being nice to her. Inside, I am seething. I do not want to spend my Sunday afternoon baking an apple pie with Doris. Last thing I want to do. But I pretend.

Then she starts on the crust. Is explaining pie crust to me! To ME!

Primo tells me she wants to teach me to make an apple pie.*

I hiss that I know how to make a pie, thankyouverymuch, that my mother and my grandmother taught me to make a pie when I was a little girl and that I do not need to be taught how to make a pie at the age of 44.

But she cannot stand at the counter to finish the crust and must sit at the kitchen table while I take over. She instructs me from her seat. I clench my teeth as I do as she directs. I know how to make a pie. I do not need her to tell me what to do.

Oh I am so mad. I cannot believe that I am having to take pie-making instruction from someone who is not even, as far as I am concerned, a good cook. She fed Primo store-bought cookies when he was a boy. Yes. Store bought. And sorry, Primo, but I have eaten at your mom's house and her cooking is not All That. Maybe she was better when she wasn't arthritic, but I am not seeing any big pie secrets in this pie. As a matter of fact, she's not even putting anything in the filling to soak up the juice and keep it from burning, so I already know more than she does.

But I keep my mouth shut. And pretend to be nice. But I'm not being Real Nice. It's Fake Nice. Nice on the outside but not on the inside, so it doesn't count but I don't care. Insincere Nice.

I do the same when we mention something about line drying our laundry and Primo says that he likes the way the clothes smell but he prefers how the towels get fluffy in the dryer and Doris tells me I should dry the towels in the dryer for Primo. I think, "Don't tell me how to run my house, lady, and hey aren't you the environmental activist? Shouldn't you be in favor of line drying over machine drying?" But I say nothing, just grit my teeth because 1. she is a guest in my home and 2. she is Primo's mother.

And we have an entire week of that: of Fake, Insincere Nice. The kind of nice you are on the outside when you don't like someone so you try extra hard to be nice to her so she doesn't know you don't like her because how awful would it be for someone you DON'T LIKE to think badly of you especially when she has already said that she is not coming to your wedding. Yeah I know it's crazy.

* Doris did not say she wanted to teach me to make a pie. In her defense - and it pains me to say this because I want to be the hero and them to be the Bad Guys - I might have said something to her about, "Oh you have to tell me you secret for apple pie because Primo is always raving about it!"

But I didn't mean it. As in, I didn't want her to actually make a pie. Just say something like, "Oh, I use this secret spice," and I would have nodded thoughtfully and said, "Well I'll have to ty that the next time I make a pie," and we would have been done with it and everyone would have been satisfied.

In which I tell Primo I won't talk about Sly and Doris on my blog

September 2008 We are stilll in the pre-wedding drama of Sly and Doris threatening not to come to the wedding because they are so mad, so traumatized by my statement on my blog about my concern about seating three "vocal atheists" at the wedding supper.

Primo says they are insulted that I think they might not know how to behave in public.

I know they don't know how to behave in private. Mean, vicious gossip about their own family to strangers. Foul language. And that's sober. Drunk, they are even worse.

I have seen them since behaving not so great in public, either. At least, I have seen Sly behave rudely. Last December, we were at a restaurant. When the waiter brought our food, Sly told the waiter that my broccoli casserole didn't look nearly as "disgusting" as he thought it would.

That, after telling me the night before that he has always treated waiters well, but that was in reference to tax fraud, not to being polite. Sly always tips in cash so the waiter doesn't have to declare the tips on his taxes. Sly is very proud of this and sees no problem with what he does, although I pointed out that I have to pay taxes on the money I earn so why shouldn't a waiter?

Back to the wedding Drama. I tell Primo his parents are over-reacting and he agrees, but whatever. I have atheist friends and relatives who would not concern me at all. I would put them next to my mother, Father T and Pastor G on a trans-Atlantic flight and not worry that there would be a single problem. Not all atheists are obnoxious. Not all obnoxious persons are atheists. It just happens in this case that the atheists in question are slightly belligerent in their views and have belligerent personalities. Well, one of them does, for sure. A volatile combination and one that has me worried because it's my party.

But the main thing Sly and Doris are mad about is that I wrote about this on my blog. Because the whole world reads my blog.*

Really, the only people who read this who know Sly and Doris are 1. Sly and Doris, 2. Primo, 3. Me.

So what's the problem exactly? Yes, my mother read it, but she doesn't know Sly and Doris, although she is going to meet them. So big deal. My mother reads on my blog that I am worried about three un-named "vocal atheists."

This from the people who, within an hour of meeting me, were trash talking Stephanie, my sister in law, and then moving on to Ted and Jack, Sly's other two sons and Primo's half brothers. Yes. They are concerned about propriety and decorum and not airing dirty laundry. At least I am using fake names on this blog, as I did on my other blog.

I tell Primo fine. "Tell your mom and dad that I will never, I mean NEVER again talk about them on my blog. Ever."

"Never?" he asks.

"NEVer," I say.

"What about when we visit?" he asks.

I think, "Well, we don't have to visit, you know," but I say, "I just won't blog while we're there."

"But they'll wonder why you're not writing about it. You blog every day."

"Tell them out of respect for their wishes, I am no longer mentioning them on my blog."

"But they'll be insulted if you don't mention them in that way."

"Too bad. Tell them live by the sword, die by the sword."

"They'll be upset."

"Like I care. They can't have it both ways."

Primo sighs. "They're not going to be happy."

"I don't care. Don't tell them anything. You don't have to put yourself in the middle of this. Just don't mention it. But I won't ever mention them again on my blog. I am done with them. Done."

And I haven't. When we go on our forced march to visit them once a year, I don't blog. Or I blog, but I leave them out of it. Unless I am going to make a leetle joke with them as the punchline. Let them find insult where they may. Yes. I am that petty. Sue me.

* Ha. As if.