09 June 2008

Sister's Baby Shower, pt 2

If you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans.

Original plan was to head out of the house at 2:30~ish, and get to the Baby Shower place by 3:00. Ish. Then, we were supposed to help set up, and have everyone arrive around 5:00. Reality struck, however, and the lady of the hour ended up sleeping far too many hours. Nobody was properly roused until around 3:45. Eventually, around 4:00, everyone managed to wake up. Then (give or take), at 4:30, after much clattering around, and confusion (up to and including the confusion with how to make the back most seat of the van go upright), we managed to get a move on. Then came traffic. Then came a giddy moment, where all of us finally broke through the chaos of the road, and made the final, mad dash to Glastonbury (from Middletown), and got to the lady's house.

We arrived around 5:00. Not too many people were there, but the lady of the house was (understandably) flustered. Unfortunately, this transmitted itself to my mother, who also started to get frustrated. After a bit of bumping of heads, and confusion, I decided to take charge.

You see, my mother and I had started cooking early that morning, and had everything neatly into those aluminium trays that you get at the store where they cook large amounts of food, and serve it at events. This meant that when we arrived at the shower place, all we had to do was fling everything into the oven, and keep everything hot. There was everything from appetisers to entrees, and everything was oven ready. Once the lady of the house saw that I knew how to work her oven, she stepped aside, handed me the reigns, and just let me take over. Of course, my mother being who she is, had been bragging to all these people that I'm /that/ Dino, the vegan cook book author and Manhattan vegan chef bla bla bla. When they saw that I'm not a blundering idiot, it was a simple question of everyone finding the evidence for themselves, rather than my really having to prove myself over much.

When you are introduced as such-and-such to a group of people (by someone they trust), they'll start looking for evidence to back that up. This is why it's so dangerous for parents to label their children (the smart one, the pretty one, the difficult one, the one who is a fussy eater). Every time that parent's adult friends interact with that child, they'll have that echo bouncing around in their heads. As they see even the slightest evidence to support that label, they start using the same label as well. I kid you not, but within a few minutes of the other women arriving into the house, my name had run ahead of me on winged feet.

I was making quick work of a half of watermelon, and slicing the juicy, ripe fruit into thin slices (so that it's easy to pick up and eat), while deftly making an ever-growing pile of rinds to one side. Mind you, slicing watermelon is not a difficult task. Neither is setting already cooked food in a tray, and turning on the oven to warm it. Slicing cupcakes in half, and arranging those halves on a plate isn't exactly rocket science. In fact, nothing I was doing was really all that extraordinary, but it wasn't just "Dino" doing it, it was "Dino the cookbook author and professional cook" doing it. This meant that not only am I an Indian male (a group notorious for being unhelpful in the kitchen, which was a cause for major delight to these women, whose husbands mostly lurked in the background, socialising with each other) taking charge of his baby sister's event, and doing so competently, but that I was also a professional, who came all the way from New York City to see to it that everything went smoothly (and it was).

It ended up where the ladies would offer suggestions, but it would be exactly that: a suggestion. Rather than ending up being an event where everyone was flustered, I was able to orchestrate the food handling, while keeping up a steady stream of chatter with anyone within ear shot, so that I didn't seem to be asocial in what should be a celebratory event. AND THE THING IS? I've done exactly this sort of thing a hundred times before, back in Florida, or any other place I've visited, but it never had the same effect as did this one, where I'm the pro, taking charge. Before now, it's mostly been "our dear friend Dino, who's a damned good cook, who offered to help us put dinner together for our friends."

That being said, I don't think that I would have been able to deflect the situation had a few prerequisites not been met:

1. All the cooking was done by the time we left the house. No new cooking was required at all.

2. I had no clue who any of these people were, and the feeling was mutual. They didn't know that I'm just a laid back guy, who's used to being in the eye of a storm of chaos, and making all the different pieces function as a coherent whole. I didn't know that my mother and sister were so close to the lady of the house, that both of them would have gotten equally flustered at seeing her flustered. I just took charge when I saw that nobody else was.

3. My reputation preceded me. My mother has been talking about how proud she is of her vegan cook author son since forever. Frankly, she's sung my praises (in terms of cooking) ever since I started cooking alone in the kitchen. From a very early age, I am used to hearing her sincere pride at my love for being around food, and handling it so well. My mother is one of those people who doesn't give out praise unless it's deserved, and she has no illusions as to what her children are. When we screw up, she is the first to admit it. However, when we do well, she's equally quick to tell anyone who will listen about how proud she is of her talented child.

4. The people there are generally laid back people. If anyone there had been uptight, or nasty, I would have immediately withdrawn to my computer or cell phone, and promptly ignored everyone. I don't like unpleasant company, and will make a concerted effort to avoid such people when necessary.

Finally, around 9:00 or so, we all started to head out to our respective cars. My sister's friends had come up from New York with another one of her friends from New Jersey, so I asked that group of four to come back to her place, and hang out for a bit before going back home. They were all glad to do so, and we all trouped back to my sister's house as a little mini caravan. We get into the house, and instantly, everyone lets her or his hair down. We got comfortable on couches, they had some coffee, and we all started chattering away rapidly.

What was supposed to be a quick 10 - 20 minute visit ended up stretching out into a quick game of Taboo, and then a good deal of cross conversations, where Barbara explained Passover to my mother and brother-in-law. Actually, it was more like Barbara and I both explained Passover, because I think that Cliff has made me an honorary Jew. Mazel Tov, and all that. Half way through the discussion about Shabbat, and Yom Kippur, and Kibbutzes, and the serious schelp you have to make from Central Jersey out to Trenton, or Manhattan, we lost track of time, because that's what happens when you combine a group of people who enjoy talking (and talking with each other). Throw two mothers into the mix (and a mother-to-be), and there is no /way/ anyone is moving anywhere until there's been plenty of laughter and hearty well wishes going down on all sides.

My mother, my sister, and the lady of the house where we had the shower made sure to thank me profusely for taking charge (which I was happy to do; it's like Cliff says "It's easy to point the finger out there, but we need to point right back to ourselves and TAKE CHARGE!); and take charge I did! The New York group left around 12:30 (because goodbye takes such a long time to say properly, doesn't it?), and everything here wrapped up around 2:00. After a nice chat with Steve, I finished writing this up.

Suffice it to say that coming back to my family reminds me why I am so close with my mother, and reminds me why I'm thankful for being physically far away. The two of us can talk a blue streak, but repeated exposure will probably come back to bite us all in the butt. We can all easily handle measured doses, but much more than that, and there is bound to be unhappy friction. As usual, I can't sleep out here, because it's so quiet and comatose. I miss the sounds of the sirens at midnight, and the traffic. The quiet is just disconcerting. Can't wait to get back home.