Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Cancun: A Difficult Dinner

Dinner last night began in the same way it so often does - with me feigning indignation for comedic effect.

My mother had ordered a bottle of pinot grigio for herself and, after receiving it and tasting it, declared that it was pretty good. My father asked to see the bottle and when he took it from my mother I leaned over Chiara to have a look at it myself.

The first thing I noticed was that it was not, strictly speaking, a pinot grigio at all, but rather a blend of chardonnay and pinot grapes. I slammed my fist down onto the table in mock disgust and cried out “A blend!? Mother, how could you!?”

I then asked my father where the wine was from. He read the back of the bottle and informed me it was from Vera Cruz. Again I slammed my fist down on the table, rattling the flatware.

“Vera Cruz!?” I shouted in faux consternation.

“What’s wrong with you?” my father asked me.

“Nothing,” I replied quietly. “I’m feigning indignation.”


“For comedic effect.”

Stare. Silence.

Later, while discussing the adoption of Children, Tim impressed upon me the importance of a child having a cool name.

“Like Kobe or LeBron?” I asked. “Yeah,” said Tim.

I offered to call an adopted son LeJeff or LeKobe. Somehow or other this led to a more earnest discussion of potential baby names. Jennifer volunteered that she and Tim had already selected baby names for their theoretical children. The top boy name? Finnegan.

I said I thought it was a terrible name with a great nickname: Finn.

My dad said it was a terrible name because it was Irish.

This, as you might have expected, was the screeching turntable of the evening and rather upset my sister. It also rather perplexed the rest of us.

We pursued the topic with abandon.

Turns out my father believes that an Irish name dooms a child to a life of prejudicial treatment because, and i quote:

“Everyone knows that the Irish are a bunch of drunks and criminals” and “No one would ever think an Irish name was anything but low-class.”

It should be noted, for the record, that mine is, of course, an (ethnically) Irish family. Indeed, my father's actual surname is O'Brien.

We tried to explain to my father (over Jennifer’s mild protestations) how dashedly pretentious and upper-crusty a name like Finnegan actually was, but he wouldn’t have it. Instead he insisted over and over again that we must be incredibly ignorant if we didn’t know what people thought about "the Irish."

Tim asked him if he still called it a paddy wagon.

You can guess how this all went over.

Later, my sister offered up the middle ground (and perfectly true) position that words and names change their meaning with time and use. She mentioned the etymological history of her own name ‘Jennifer’ and how it came originally from ‘Guinevere’ who, according to my sister, was a slut.

This really caught in my father’s craw for some reason.

“How was Guinevere a slut!?” he demanded in far too loud a voice.

“Uh, because she slept with someone who wasn’t her husband!” my sister replied, pitched over the table and pointing a fork at my father.

“A knight!” he replied, red in the face, bubbling with anger. “You can’t be a slut for sleeping with a knight of the Round Table!”

“Of course you can! Especially if you are married to King Arthur!”

Here I tossed in that maybe she felt neglected because he was always off somewhere with Merlin, playing cards and whatnot. Tim smirked and, looking down, stirred the food on his plate in ever-tighter circles.

From here things got progressively more ridiculous until, almost as if the weight of the conversation caused itself to collapse, the whole thing just fizzled away leaving little more than a smell of burnt ozone and a cloud of steam.

We ate more or less silently for the remainder of the meal.

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