Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Conversation Peace

I sometimes wonder if the psychologists who wax rhapsodic over the importance of the Family Dinner have ever participated in one. The fact remains; we love each other dearly, but have painfully different definitions of what constitutes fascinating table talk:

CONSORT: What’s everyone been up to today?

DAUGHTER: Jason told me a joke. Why…why did the…why did…

(We wait and chew. The cat attempts to jump on the table)

DAUGHTER: Look! Lu wants my chili!

(I swat cat off table lightly)

DAUGHTER: I want to give Lulabelle a bowl of chili!

QUINN: No, sweetheart. (Prompting) Why did the…?

DAUGHTER: Oh, yeah. Why did the rooster cross the road?


DAUGHTER: Because he had poop on his tail!

(She chortles heartily at this. Consort and I attempt a supportive expression. I turn to Consort)

QUINN: How was your day?

CONSORT: Busy. I got over to Frye’s on the way home, and you wouldn’t believe how cheap 80 gigs is getting. Back in the early nineties, I remember getting a …

(I will spare all of you the following paragraph. Suffice to say, an 80 gig hard-drive used to cost a great deal more than it does now. Hard Drive Chat makes me long for Golf Chat. I feign attention. Daughter plays with food and tries to lure the cat back on to the table).

CONSORT: (Five minutes later) …which makes me think we should have gotten the bigger monitor.

(There is a pause, and I realize with a start that I am supposed to contribute something)

QUINN: That crazy Bill Gates.

(Consort stares at me. Apparently, I did not raise the level of discourse. Mercifully, the cat jumps on the table. Consort brushes her off)

DAUGHTER: Why can’t Lulabelle eat on the table?

QUINN: It’s unsanitary, sweetheart.

DAUGHTER: What does that mean?

QUINN: Gross. Besides, she has a bowl and a place to eat. She doesn’t need to be on the table, eating grated cheese (Having been focused on Daughter, I look over now and realize Lulabelle is on the table, whisker-deep in the Cheddar. I scoot her off and remove the cheese to the sink).

CONSORT: (To me) How was your day?

QUINN: Productive, sort of. And I started reading an interesting book at the gym.

CONSORT: (Fearfully) Really?

A side note: I am the most girlishly squeamish movie-watcher in the world: I actually flinch when someone gets slapped. This makes it ironic that I am endlessly fascinated by non-fiction books on subjects which would turn the stomach of an ambulance driver. I also have some personality deficit which prevents me from recognizing not everyone finds post-mortem putrefaction compelling.

DAUGHTER: May I be excused? I have to go to the bathroom.

QUINN: Yes. (Back to Consort) You’d like this book; it’s partially a history of Manhattan.

(Consort relaxes slightly)

QUINN: During the Influenza epidemic of 1917, 500 people were arrested in New York for violating “Spitless Sunday”. Sounds silly, but it was really the only recourse the public health officials had against this pandemic. They were completely outclassed by this incredibly devastating flu strain. A doctor of the time attended an autopsy and described the lungs of a flu victim as resembling melted red currant jelly…

(Consort pushes away bowl of chili. Daughter returns from direction of bathroom carrying the squirming cat and the cat’s bowl of food. She puts the bowl on the table, and starts hoisting the cat up there)

CONSORT: No, sweetheart.

(The cat bolts for freedom as Daughter scowls, grabs the bowl and huffs off)

QUINN: Put her food bowl away and come back, please. You need to eat some more food. (To Consort) Did you know “Exsanguination” is the fancy term for bleeding to death? There were flu victims who quite literally died with a gush of pulmonary blood vomiting out of their mouth. Can you imagine?

CONSORT: I can now.

(Daughter stomps back to the table, glowering. She sits in her chair, and pokes at her food disdainfully with her fork)

QUINN: Don’t give it a massage, honey. Just eat it.

DAUGHTER: How many bites?

Another side note: The phrase “How many bites?” is the small child’s most potent dinner weapon. It’s a tool which guarantees that while the child might take in another one hundred calories, at most, the rest of the meal will be spent in active negotiation. Some nights, I don’t engage. Some nights, I do.

QUINN: Six bites.

(Daughter moves the fork with glacial slowness into the food, and removes a molecule of chili, and a fleck of kidney bean. She looks mournfully at me)

QUINN: More than that.

(The fork dips in, and takes another dot of chili, from which she stops to remove a suspicious cell that might, if you added another ten thousand cells, be a piece of onion.)

CONSORT: I had something nice happen today...

QUINN: Good for you. (To Daughter) Make a decent-sized spoonful, young lady, or I will do it for you, and neither of us wants that.

(The cat jumps on the table next to Daughter, and quickly sticks her face into Daughter’s bowl. Daughter whoops in delight. I quickly grab cat, but not before I see at least a quarter cup of cat hair shower down into Daughter’s food)

QUINN: Oh, look. Dinner’s over.

DAUGHTER: What can I have for dessert?

QUINN: You have got to be kidding.

(Off she stomps to her room. There is silence as we stare at one another)

QUINN: Anyway, scientists say that it’s not a matter of if we have another flu pandemic, but when. There’s a particularly virulent flu seen in chickens in China right now with nearly 100% fatality rates. If it mutates into human form we’re all exsanguinating like crazy…

CONSORT: I have an idea. Why don’t you read that book to yourself, and keeping the interesting facts for, y’know, later? I’ll just read the paper, and we’ll have a lovely, quiet dinner. Nice. Quiet. Dinner.

That was the best thing I heard at the dinner table all week.


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