You don’t have a choice about growing old. You can avoid tour groups.
I have no qualms about awkward situations. I’ve done internet dating. I’ve done speed dating. I’ve counted myself among the 50,000 Gentiles on JDate. I am now living proof that pre-emptive hair removal isn’t the only way to ensure an awkward encounter.
My Grandma Cy passed through town last week on her 10-day tour of the California coast. I met her at The Plaza in Century City. She called down from her room to book a reservation at the hotel restaurant, all the while telling me that we had to invite a “weird” woman whose companion left early on account of an 89-year-old-hip to dinner with our party. My grandmother introduces me to a leathery blonde couple in the elevator who are also on the tour. “Shelly!” they say, after hearing I’m a graduate student in Psychology, “Have we got a couple of cases for you,” as they wink and gesture between themselves. Jokes are so much funnier the 87th time.
The hostess at the hip and trendy Breeze restaurant downstairs is struggling with the allegedly weird Justine when we arrive. My grandmother adds to the buzz, three tour guests, four people total. Justine had made a duplicate reservation. A tall aspiring actor (I’m assuming, he is waiting tables after all) barely puts down our menus before the cacophony begins anew—who we are, who has a guest, who will be paying for the guest, and the big winner, that the guest has a coupon. Oh god. Say it isn’t so. . . Justine razzes my grandmother when she looks at the wine list, “Hey, what are you doing, your granddaughter is here!” And that’s when I’m certain this will be a long night.
The entire evening was a medley of typical “Cyisms,” only enhanced by this woman she felt compelled to include in our party.
Cue aphasia. My grandmother asks about my summer plans. I mention that my sister and I are planning a trip to Central America. “Oh, lovely,” she says, “Will you stay in a hospice down there?” Me: “Err…I hope not. We might stay in some hostels though.”
My Grandma Cy is notorious for taking copious, bad pictures at inappropriate moments. By some stroke of grace her camera had broken the day before. By another, the Century City mall doesn’t have a store that sells them. When the food arrives, my grandmother asks me in a pleading and serious tone to photograph my seared tuna. I comply, thinking it a small concession for such a nice meal. The next instant Justine is out of her chair, snapping away with a disposable camera. She takes pictures of each of us individually. On my turn she takes two pictures – one vertical, one horizontal. “That’s enough, Justine-- have a seat,” my grandmother swats in the air. Unphased, Justine is still snapping. “Have a seat, Justine,” my grandmother says again, in what must have been her stern, classroom voice. I stare dumbfounded as Justine sits down and wraps her disposable camera inside saran wrap before returning it to her purse.
My grandma tells a story about my uncle picking me up from the China Town bus station in D.C. this summer. I had a treacherous experience confirming a pre-paid ticket on the NYC-D.C. China town bus on a very humid day. At several points in the morning I was stumped by things like construction, an inability to speak Mandarin, sweat, tears, and the unfortunate choice of the front bus seat which meant that the portly assistant bus driver sat next to me and slumped over on me when he fell asleep. The bus was also 2 hours late. All of these things happened. What did NOT happen, however, was the bus arriving in D.C., all of the passengers but me disembarking and my uncle finding me asleep at the back of the bus. This is, however, the story my grandmother tells to the table. “That did not happen!” I spit out before I can help myself. Awkward silence.
My grandmother’s friend Gerry (whom Justine had already called by my grandmother’s name at the beginning of dinner) asks Justine about an upcoming Ivy Conference—yes, ivy the plant. Apparently Justine has 100 of some kind of plant in her backyard in Atlanta. She goes on about it. Gerry says, “But what about the hydrangea conference or the marigold conference? Justine says, “ I haven’t joined those yet. I’m just in the Ivy Conference.” It’s possible that Gerry was a real badass at that moment, but she looked so innocent it was hard to tell. My grandmother tells Justine that my mom has a green thumb (also not true) and that she is a master gardener (true). “So am I,” replies Justine, her jowls jiggling, “among other things.”
After she’s finished her entrée, my grandmother pushes her plate away. “Well, I’ve done my wad,” she says. What?!
I sense that my grandmother is really trying with Justine because every time Justine stops a conversation with another one of her nuanced social skills, my grandma resorts to one of the thousands of non sequiturs she has up her sleeve. Justine asks me if I grew up in California. After I tell her I grew up in Texas, my grandmother jumps in, “In the 3rd oldest town in Texas! Guess what their zip code is. . . . 7-7-5-7-5! Don’t you just love that? It’s my favorite zip code. When my son called me 25 years ago and said they were moving there he said, ‘Mother, you’ll love the zipcode.’ And I do. It’s my very favorite zip code.”
I’ll spare the details about making the rounds after dinner to meet other tour guests. I finally found some relief when I said, “If I don’t get back to my car in 4 minutes it will cost me seven dollars,” which brought the evening of magical bonding to an abrupt end.