Friday, September 03, 2004

Family Dinner

It had been a nice day, not unlike the kind of blue-sky day residents in Pripyat were enjoying on April 26, 1986, the day that engineers at the Chernobyl plant decided to test what would happen if they turned off all the reactor safety mechanisms and created a blackout. They wanted to know if the turbines could still generate enough electricity as they spun down to complete the reactor shutdown procedures.

"I've been thinking," Gloria says.

Core safety test has commenced. All safety controls have been disconnected. Power has been shut off.

"I think we should have more dinners as a family," Gloria says.

Within seconds, the reactor has become totally unstable. The system temperature is soaring out of control. As a desperate attempt to save the reactor, all control rods are lowered into the core in an attempt to shut it down.

"Just some time together, you know, as a family," she says.

Power has surged to one hundred times normal levels. BAM! There is a massive steam explosion and hundreds of tons of nuclear fuel spew into the air.

It's too late to evacuate.

"The Gorgonzolas have dinner as a family every night," Gloria says.

"The Gorgonzolas are Islamic Jews and make their own cheese," I say. I can't quite get my arms around the dietary constraints of Islamic Jews. As far as I can tell, if you eat a bird of prey that consumes shellfish, Hell opens up and swallows you right there. So baked flamingo is absolutely, definitely, out.

Don't even get me started on the cheese.

"Besides," I continue, "Brad Gorgonzola commutes in an oxcart. I don't think they're a good compare."

I'm in deep trouble, though, no matter how Brad Gorgonzola commutes to work. As a family is one of those magical phrases that just can't be refuted because it has italics priority. Normally, if you say the phrase slaughter goats, it would always be italicized. It demands to be italicized. When a woman puts it in a sentence with the phrase as a family, though, it sounds like this: "I think we should slaughter goats as a family."

See? Those words automatically italicize themselves.

Or she might say "Let's bury the body in the landfill--as a family."

Deep, deep trouble I'm in. Family dinners, here I come.

I'm not sure what the term 'family dinner' even means. Up until the time I was about fourteen, it meant having to eat where I couldn't watch TV. After that, when I entered my angry rebel phase, it meant having to eat with The Man, who in this case was The Mom.

In either case, I never understood why anyone wants to talk at dinner. I'm a guy. 'Dinner' involves 'eating.' If I want to be talking, then I'll be 'talking,' not 'eating.' This fine distinction is lost on many members of the fairer sex. My communications at dinner are usually limited to grunts and hand gestures, with an occasional curse thrown in if I drop a fork. Welcome to sparkling conversation dinner theater.

Plus I like to read at dinner. I have for as long as I can remember. I don't know why, but I do know that I really enjoy it. This doesn't go over well with other members of the As A Family Dinner Collective. Which is what we are as we gather for a dinner of, um, food and talking.

"You're reading a magazine," Gloria says.

"I am," I say enthusiastically. "Sports Illustrated. Did you know that Ichiro is batting .507 since July seventh? Is that incredible or what?"

"I thought we would talk," she says.

"We are talking," I say. "Did you not hear what I just said about Ichiro? The guy is a freak!"

"RESCUE SQUAD TEN HEADING TO THE SCENE!" Eli 3.1 loves to be active during dinner, and by 'active' I mean running around at top speed, stopping to grab a bite of food like a marathoner at a water table. Now his talking fire engine has been called into action.

"About our days," Gloria says. I--"

"HISSSSSCRACKLECRACKLEHISSSSSCRACKLECRACKLEHISSSSS." That's the Playskool Yard Crew Grill. Apparently, the sound of grilling is actually the sound of static at overwhelming volume levels.

"Like I was saying," Gloria says. "I--"

"GRILL YA LATER!" All these toys talk. "LUKE, I AM YOUR FATHER!"

Okay, the grill didn't actually say that last one.

Eli drives by his little dinner table in his tricycle. "Daddy, daddy, I need to tell you something!"

"What, little man?" I ask him.

"I'm eating at the drive-through! Look--chicken nuggets!" He gathers up a nugget and pedals off.

"CAN YOU FIX MY--FRONT WHEEL?" Scoop the bulldozer has activated himself. No one knows why.

"It's the conversation that I enjoy most," I say.

"Shut up," Gloria says, laughing.

She may have a steak knife hidden behind her back.

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