Thus the car trip to Tim and
Margots wedding was even more painful than it should have been. Being creatures of
habitand habit is, after all, an attempt to create order from randomnessthe
Banker family sat in their customary car trip places: Jackson Robert drove while
whistling to an all news radio station, Erta was in the front passenger seat staring
out the window, Jet sat in the right rear watching the roadside sights, and Job was
in the left rear pinching Jet.
Jackson Robert rebounded from
daily crises better than his wife. Polish his shoes, de-lint his suit, straighten his sock
drawer, andlo and behold!hes back on track. Erta, however, took a
much longer time to recover. While watching his Holiness Charles on TV had helped,
she could easily spend the rest of the day sulking over the fact that she never knew the
right thing to say at the right time. Being the queen of esprit de l'escalier,
she was eternally coming up with the perfect repartee just a few minutes too late.
"Dad, can we hear some
music?" Job asked from the back seat.
"What's wrong with the
news?" his father replied.
"Come on Dad, if weve
gotta sit in the car all day at least we oughta have some music."
"We're not going to be in
the car all day," his father told him. "And besides, a little news wouldn't
hurt you once in a while."
This was actually quite true,
since Job's idea of current events was to watch the weather forecast on TV to find
out when high tide and low tide would occur. Job pinched Jet hard and gave him a
"We want music," he
said to his father, then quietly to Jet out of the side of his mouth, "don't
"Actually Id like to
hear whether theres any more news about the break-in at Cordins Jewelry
Store," Jet said.
"Whats it to
you?" Job asked.
"Nothing," he lied.
"Just curious." Then, leaning up to the front seat, he asked his father,
"Was there anything in the paper today?"
"About what?" his
"The break-in. You know, at
anything," his father said, proving that the importance of an event is directly
proportional to ones involvement.
"Dad! We want music,"
Job said, grabbing Jets thumb and pushing it back towards his wrist.
good," Jet said, jerking his hand away before Job broke his finger. Again.
Over the last four years Jet had
suffered Jobs wrath to the tune of forty-seven stitches, a broken finger, a
dislocated shoulder, two cracked ribs, four sprained ankles, two first-degree burns,
one second-degree burn, a punctured eardrum, and innumerable cuts and bruises.
It wasn't that Job was overtly
violent; somehow it just ended up that way. Whereas Jet philosophized, Jackson Robert
cleaned, and Erta prayed, Job faced life's frustrations head on and ended up beating them
"Mom," Job asked,
"what's your vote?"
"Vote on what?" Erta
asked, still staring out the windshield.
"Music or news?" he
asked. "Where have you been?"
"Why don't you boys play a
game?" Jackson Robert asked from the front seat.
"Yeah," Job said to
Jet, "let's pretend the news isn't on the radio."
"Let's pretend Job isn't in
the car," Jet added.
Robert said. "If you two cant get along then you can each just look out your
own window and play with yourselves."
"Havent we been
through enough of that for one day?" Jet asked. "Masturbation can cause
anti-social disease, you know."
The look on Jobs face told
Jet he was going to get it later.
* * * * * *
From the moment they set foot in
the banquet room of the Rockcrest Country Club, Erta began introducing Jet and Job to a
never ending stream of relatives the boys didn't remember.
"Why you must be Job,"
an obese blue-haired woman wearing gooey red lipstick and an ill-fitting floral print
dress told Jet. As she bent down and kissed him on the cheek, leaving a red blotch that
had the consistency of axle grease, he was engulfed by a cloud of fumes that smelled
like a mixture of maple syrup and embalming fluid. Eau de Slow Death. "I bet
you don't remember me, do you?"
"Sure I do," Jet said,
even though he wasn't sure he'd ever set eyes on the woman before and was fervently
hoping he never would again.
"Well then, who am I?"
Jet looked at her blankly,
waiting for the whispered prompt from one of his parents which never came.
"I'm your Aunt
Gertrude," she explained, "now you remember, don't you?"
Jet paused as if trying to
conjure up a residual memory of the beastly woman. In actuality, he was repeating
"I wish you'd go away. I wish you'd go away" over and over in his head,
hoping it would have the desired effect and she would be teleported to a parallel
dimension that he would never have the displeasure of visiting.
"No," he finally said,
knowing that if he said yes he would most assuredly fall into another one of her devious
traps designed to embarrass him.
"Then surely you must
remember your Uncle Carl."
"I can't believe you
wouldn't remember us," she said, folding her hands over her heart and feigning
deep emotional wounding.
"Well," Jet said,
"you've got to face life's frustrations."
He was saved by the arrival of
the bride and groom, seizing the diversion as an opportunity to slip from his mother's
side and scope out the room. He stopped to look at the table piled high with
presentshundreds of square boxes, covered with silver and white gift wrap. He
watched couples clumsily dance as the band played what should have been an illegal
arrangement of "Satin Doll" performed on drums, clarinet, and accordion. He
surveyed the food tables, which were barren except for empty chafing dishes filled
with steaming hot water and two proud centerpieces: a sculpted ice swan and
twenty-two pounds of chopped liver artistically molded into the shape of
Jet stopped by a set of swinging
doors safe in the knowledge that everyone was too busy dancing and drinking and wondering
when the food would be served to pay him any attention. The double doors swung open,
nearly knocking him back into the wall. Two men and a woman, all wearing black pants
and red waiter's jackets, entered the banquet room carrying silver serving trays neatly
arranged with food. As the doors swung the other way, Jet slipped around them and into the
kitchen. He looked at the trays neatly adorned with celery stalks stuffed with cream
cheese; triangles of crustless white bread topped with egg salad, paprika and a
gherkin slice; and small pastry puffs filled with pimento cheese.
He had just shoved the third
open-faced egg salad sandwich in his mouth when he was startled by the sound of footsteps
approaching. He turned and spotted an open doorway behind him. Stepping inside, he found
himself in a large pantry. As the three red jacketed people returned noisily to the
kitchen, Jet crouched behind a big cardboard box, chewing and swallowing as quietly as he
could. On the side of the box were the names of the freshly married couple, written with a
nearly dead black Magic Marker: Tim and Margot.
He silently lifted the flap of
the box and peeked inside. He was about to commit his second crime.
* * * * * *
Jet re-entered the banquet room
through the front door. Spotting his parents, he picked his way through the crowd
until he was standing directly behind his mother. He stood quietly for about a minute,
which was how long it took Erta to turn around and notice him.
"Where have you been?"
"Jet..." she said,
giving him one of her I-want-the-truth looks.
"I was mingling with my
long-lost relatives," he told her. "Isn't that what I'm supposed to be
"Have you seen your
"No, but I'll find
Jet turned and walked away,
pretending he couldnt hear his mother calling after him. As he scanned the crowd
looking for his brother, he noticed that nearly everyone was holding a small plate of
food in one hand and a drink in the other. He stopped by one of the food tables long
enough to impale four Swedish meatballs on a toothpick tipped with red cellophane
curlicues. He was using his fingers to pick the meatballs off the toothpick and pop them
in his mouth when he passed the kitchen doors.
"What do you mean you can't
find them?" a piercing woman's voice demanded.
"I know they're here, 'cause
I brought 'em in myself," a man said defensively.
"Well they didn't get up and
walk off, did they?"
"We're looking for
'em," the man said, his voice rising in pitch. "We'll have 'em out there in
a few minutes."
"Don't you have any others
we can use in the meantime?" the woman asked.
"Why would we? We had
"Well what do you expect
everyone to do," the woman nearly screeched, "wipe their mouths with toilet
paper? Find the fucking napkins!"
Jet spotted his brother standing
in a corner and headed towards him, finishing his last meatball as he reached his brother,
who was standing with their cousins Jello and Jello.
The Jellos, as Jet called them,
were his Aunt Doris children. Jet thought Doris was a shrill, overbearing,
domineering, whiny and abrasive woman. Since Jet's parents firmly believed that everyone
was supposed to like their relativesa theory Jet didnt subscribe
tothey never let on that they too thought Doris to be a shrill, overbearing,
domineering, whiny and abrasive woman.
Doris ruled her two children, as
well as her husband, with the tact and diplomacy of the Fourth Reich. By the time her
children were four and six years old, and her husband thirty-seven, they had begun to
resemble slightly humanoid lumps of quivering Jello. This in itself wouldn't have bothered
Jet much except that he hated Jello. He hated Jello with canned fruit cocktail in it,
he hated Jello with whipped cream on top, and he hated Jello most of all when it
came out of a mold shaped like a dead fish. Jet realized human shaped Jello was
really no worse than fish shaped Jello, except that at least the fish shaped Jello
was neither a cousin nor an uncle.
"Mom's looking for
you," Jet told his brother.
"That's nice," Job said
with his mouth full.
"Is that the message you
want me to give her?"
"Can't you see I'm
busy?" Job said impatiently.
"They're having a
contest," the younger Jello said.
"If it's IQ, Job loses; if
it's looks, Job loses; and if it's sense of humor, Job loses." Job threw a piece
of food that splatted into Jet's forehead. "But if it's temper, he wins."
"Your brother and my brother
are seeing who can eat more egg rolls," young Jello said. "They're up to
Jet picked up the miniature egg
roll Job had launched at him and offered it to his brother. "Make it
"We're out of egg
rolls," Job said as he knocked it to the ground. "Let's find more."
The four of them headed for the
main food tables. People were standing around, mouths smeared with Swedish meatball gravy,
fingers coated with fried chicken wing grease, and mustaches stained with whiskey
sour foam. And not a napkin in sight. The women wiped their mouths with the backs
of their hands, smearing their lipstick. The men ran their suit jacket sleeves across
their mouths. And more than one person surreptitiously wiped their hands on the
Job, Jet, and the two Jellos
elbowed their way to the table, stationing themselves in front of a chafing dish half-full
of baby egg rolls. Job and Jello the Elder resumed the contest, matching each other
egg roll for egg roll as the younger Jello acted as official scorekeeper.
Jet watched an elegant looking
woman daintily wipe the corners of her mouth with her fingers, then casually clean her
fingers on the coattails of her husband's expensive Italian suit jacket.
"I'm sorry about this,"
Jet heard the woman who been screaming in the kitchen say to a man who was sticking his
fingers in his mouth and sucking them clean. "We ordered a thousand napkins with
Tim and Margots names hot stamped in gold and the damned caterer can't find
them. Do you believe it, he can't find a God damned napkin anywhere."
Jello announced loudly.
"Now don't let the napkins
spoil your day, sweetie. Everything's just lovely," said a woman in an Indian
bedspread skirt and Mexican peasant blouse as she scratched her forehead, leaving a
mustard stain that could have passed for a Jewish Indian's war paint.
Jello said, his voice rising.
"I don't know if I can eat
anymore," Jello the Elder said, gasping for breath and holding his stomach.
"Napkins, shmapkins," a
man said as he scratched his chest, smearing a bloody red barbecue sauce stain across the
front of his freshly starched white shirt, "I'm havin' a great fuckin' time."
Jet began a play-by-play
commentary of the eating contest, a soprano Marv Albert hoping for a grand slam home run
in the bottom of the ninth with bases loaded and two outs. "And the crowd holds their
breath expectantly," he announced to no one in particular. "Can he do it? Can he
eat just one more egg roll and go home with the title? Will he retire as the champ,
or will he leave with egg roll on his face and bowels that won't move? Ladies and
gentlemen, a heavy stillness has fallen over the crowd as everyone asks the same
question...Can he do it?"
The room suddenly fell silent as
everyone turned to see what the commotion was about. Job reached into the chafing dish and
picked up an egg roll. He dipped it in a small dish of mustard and wiped the excess
on the side of the bowl. Tilting his head back, he opened his mouth wide. the egg
roll was poised at arm's length above his head .
"The moment of truth is upon
us," Jet continued loudly. "It's either now or never. Everything he's
worked so hard for is hanging in the balance at this very moment. Can he go
through with it? Or will he choke?"
"I hope he chokes,"
said Jello the Elder.
Job opened his fingers, the egg
roll falling through thick air in slow motion, a yellow blob of mustard appearing on the
tip of his nose as the egg roll bounced off, ricocheting into his teeth and plopping into
his waiting, gaping mouth. He chewed once, then swallowed.
"He did it, ladies and
gentlemen! Yes, he did it! This is absolutely amazing. Yes! We've got a new champeen!"
Jet and the Jellos started
clapping loudly. Not knowing why, for they didn't even understand the import of what
had just happened, a nearby couple joined in the applause. And just as laughter can be
contagious, so can applause. And it was, spreading quickly through the crowd until the
entire room was clapping wildly.
Job grinned broadly, bending at
the waist to take several exaggerated bows. Jet and the younger Jello each took one
of Job's hands and held it as high above his head as they could reach, jumping up and
Now it's quite possible that Job
had just plain eaten too much, for fifty-nine egg rollseven miniature onesis
more than any living person should consume in a month, better yet ten minutes. And
it's also quite possible that the three glasses of champagne Job had managed to chug
behind the large potted plants while no one was looking were a bit much for him,
which wouldn't have been surprising since he was, after all, a fifteen year-old
unaccustomed to drinking. But the truth is, the excitement of the wedding reception
was more than he could take, and Job held a well deserved reputation for getting
overexcited at any party-like function. As he straightened up from what would be his last
bow his expression made an abrupt change.
He leaned over the table and
threw up all over the twenty-two pounds of chopped liver in the shape of
* * * * * *
The Banker's left immediately,
barely slowing down as Erta repeatedly said good-bye and apologized for their hasty
departure. The rest of the guests stayed for several more hours, eventually
leaving with gravy-stained shirts, teriyaki-stained cocktail dresses, and
grease-coated pants legs. Three minutes after the last guest left, the bride's mother
threatened the caterer with a lawsuit for mental anguish caused by the humiliation of
not having any napkins at the affair, her husband refused to hand over the
check for the balance due the caterer, the caterer punched the husband and broke
his nose, and the police arrested the caterer for assault, later discovering
that he had outstanding warrants in four states for passing bad checks.
When the bride and groom arrived
at the Saratoga Spas Grand Hotel two hours after the reception ended, they discovered a
surprise in the trunk of their car. Instead of their luggage, they found a cardboard
case containing one thousand white paper napkins with their names and the date of
their wedding hot-stamped in gold.
[ Chapter 6 ]