When I was a young child, I was a very picky eater. If I didn't like what was being served, I would simply ask my mom for something else. Usually, my mother would give me what I wanted. Sometimes, though, she'd ask one of my older siblings to get it for me, much to their dislike.
When I was in middle school, my mother decided that if I didn't like what she was serving that night, then I can fix something else myself. Oh, how my elder sisters celebrated while I sat there, shocked that my whims were no longer catered to. I didn't know it then, but that night, my appetite and palate would change.
From then on, I started to appreciate whatever was being served. My mother also decided that I was old enough to start making meals. I protested, of course, but it was useless. At 10 years old, I was in the kitchen, making meals alongside my mother or older siblings. So by the seventh grade, I had mastered pancakes and omelets--I refused to cook runny eggs, and I still refuse to this day, blah disgusting! By the eighth grade, I was a master at frying chicken and making stews and soups.
By the time I had graduated high school, I had the basics of cooking down. When I struck out on my own, so far away from my family and friends, I was glad to have learned how to cook for myself. But being a poor, struggling blue collar worker, I began to appreciate having food even more than I thought possible. It wasn't that I was starving, though there were times when it seemed like it. Rather, it was my palate that was starving for variety, for something new.
I suppose when you're on a limited budget, you tend to buy the same things that you can afford. And in the hopes of trying to end the boredom of eating the same thing week after week, I began to experiment with food and different ways to combine and cook various ingredients. In way, it was the natural evolution of what I had begun when I first started to learn how to cook. I was curious about the different mixtures, and I used to experiment with different cococtions in the kitchen. Sometimes, I was successful, like the mild spicy fried chicken I made. The family luved that one. Other times, it was a failure, like the soy sauce flavored pancakes. Even the dogs refused to eat them.
Being on a limited budget and starving for flavor not only made cooking a fun hobby, it also led me to try different foods from different cultures. I found it to be an adventurous, usually pleasing, experience. And so, it was with the lure of a free meal consisting of Asian cuisine that I found myself attending one of my friend's parties.
I've known her since junior high school, so it was quite a pleasant surprise when she moved here a few years ago. I shall refer to her as Hostess, as she was the hostess of this little get together. But also, for as long as I've known her, she has always tried to make others feel comfortable in her company. Unfortunately, she's had to learn the hard way a few times that there's just no way to please everyone all the time. But that doesn't mean she doesn't try.
I arrived early before the party started. I've been to a few of her parties to realize that underneath her smiles and easy going laughter was an anxious, worn out girl, too worried about others and not taking better care of herself. I wasn't sure if her martyr characteristic was a result of a Catholic upbringing or maybe something she was born with. But as her friend, I've always tried to be there to help her out, and she's always been grateful for my presence. And it wasn't just because I made myself useful and help set up the party. But rather, it was because she often confided in me her fears and concerns, things of an intimate nature.
Hostess' husband is at times suspicious about my relationship with Hostess. He puts on a show by grabbing her hand, stroking shoulders, and calling her pet names when I'm around. In public, he goes even further by trying to make out with her. I think it makes him mad that I'm so close to Hostess and that I am not fazed by his actions.
I've often wondered why Hostess married this Oaf. I suppose it could be love. But I suspect that it was because Hostess enjoys telling Oaf what to do. Come to think of it, Oaf needed to be told what to do, like empty the trash or check the mail. Once I found a note on the fridge Hostess had left for Oaf. It was a to do list, which was as follows:
1. Walk the dog
2. Feed the dog
3. Lock the front door
I thought, good lord, he has to be told to walk and feed the dog? And it was his dog for a whole year before he even met Hostess! Which got me wondering, how in the hell did this dog survive that year?! Oaf does not take any initiative at all. I sometimes wonder if it's because he doesn't know any better, or perhaps he's just lazy.
It's not that I think Oaf is such a terrible person. Rather, I think Hostess could've done a lot better. But what do I know? Oaf seems friendly enough at times, but there's an annoying immaturity and air of self importance around him that just irritates me. He likes to brag, and that's just a turn off; I think he does that sometimes to make himself look important. Or maybe he just never learned the art of conversation. I've been at a few parties where he's inadvertently insulted more than a few guests.
After setting up the food and some of the plates and flatware out, Hostess said that her brother was making a 7 hour drive down with his family to visit. They would be staying at their sister's house, just ten minutes away. He usually brought his wife and 2 sons. Expecting more company, Hostess had tasked Oaf and I to get some extra chairs from a friend of theirs. When we got to the place, the friend gave us 8 chairs and offered two folding tables. I went to reach for the tables when Oaf declared, "We don't need any tables. She just said chairs."
I looked at him and said, "We'll just take the tables, just in case; if we don't need them, they don't have to be set up." But Oaf just flatly refused, eager to get back to the party, saying, "Nah, I don't think we need that many chairs. Let's just take 6."
So we returned to the party, where we discovered that in addition to his family, Hostess' brother had also brought 3 cousins. By now, quite a few people had arrived and were having drinks. While Hostess was ecstatic to see her 3 cousins, whom she later said she hasn't seen in a few years, she was a little miffed that we had not brought the extra tables or more chairs. She pulled Oaf into the kitchen and told him so. To which Oaf replied in a loud voice, "Well, you didn't say how many chairs you wanted or bring the tables. And I didn't know they were coming!", and proceeded to point out the cousins, bringing the guests attention to this little altercation.
I could see the cousins getting uncomfortable, some guests were whispering to each other theories about the small argument. 'Great job, idiot,' I thought, looking at Oaf, 'You just offended her family and some of her friends.' So I walked over to the cousins and started to do some damage control. I introduced myself and offered to get them some drinks and pointed out the food. They were a little shy, but I got them some beer and offered to take them on a short tour of Hostess' house. They were eager to leave the uncomfortable scene and move out of sight. I showed them some of the upstairs rooms and living space, before taking them out back to the yard. After some small talk, I led them back inside to get some food, and they immediately returned to the yard to eat in peace and be out of sight.
Meanwhile, I looked over to the living room and saw more people had arrived, and some of them started to form separate little groups. Some were neighbors; others coworkers; some friends; some I had no clue who they were. I scanned the dining room and saw Hostess doing what she did best. With a smile on her face, she spent some time acting interested in what each little group was discussing, then throwing her head back in laughter, she excused herself and moved on to the next group. A few minutes later, she saw me and walked over.
She had her hair down, showing off a new above the shoulders cut that complemented her features. Her gold and green dress fit her lithe body and flowed with every step she took. She looked fantastic, and her smiles and laughter made her all the more charming. But underneath the blue eye shadow and ruby red lipstick, I could see the weariness bearing down on her soul. I asked her, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," she sighed; then smiled and waved at some people who were watching from the living room. She turned and reached for a bottle of water, then offered me one. "We'll talk later," she said. I could tell she had a lot she needed to get off her mind, but now was not the time. She started looking around and I told her, "I've shown your cousins a little bit of the house, and they're in the yard, eating."
"Thanks," she said,"I should go talk to them," and she looked at me. I knew that she was deciding what her next course of action should be. I made it easier for her.
"Go talk to your cousins," I said, "I'll take care of your guests." She squeezed my hand, smiled, and sighed just a little bit of relief before heading out to the yard.
I opened my water bottle, took a drink, smiled and made my way over to the various groups. Time to charm the pants off these people. Hostess and I were raised in a culture where being gracious to guests and hospitality were of the utmost importance. So using the skills I have perfected over the years, I sauntered from group to group, introducing myself, doing as Hostess did; laughing at the little stupid jokes; nodding, smiling, saying the occasional 'ooh' and 'that's so interesting', and tossing in the 'tell me more'. Sometimes, I rephrase what was just being said, to give the impression that I was interested and paying attention.
Among the first group I met, I heard them discussing the latest programs the company had installed. 'Ah, the nerds from work', I thought. I singled out the main speaker in the group, and asked him, "So how do you like these new programs?", and Mr EyeTee started to spout information that was really useless to me. I grasped that there were some bugs in the programs, and asked his opinion of how these bugs should be resolved. His face lit up and he started laying out his plan while the other nerds seem to offer their opinions. I asked about the costs vs the benefits of some of these plans, which further elicited more opinions in the group. I excused myself when a little debate started and moved over to the next group.
The next group was discussing the latest developments in the school board meetings. 'These were the parents', I thought, 'possibly some PTA members'. So during a lull in the conversation, I asked, "So what kind of extra curricular activities does the school offer?" And thus I was subjected to stories of school teams and clubs; fund raisers and bakes sales. I asked if they had any pictures, knowing damn well that most parents carry fotos of their kids, proud to list off their kids achievements. And boy did everyone in this group show off and brag about their kids. It's amazing how some people like to blab on and on when given the chance. But, as long as it makes them feel like they're having fun, then what's the harm?
To tell the truth, I do enjoy mixing in the company of others sometimes. And there are times when a group surprises me with some stimulating conversation. Then there are times when I'm bored out of my mind. I find these gatherings as an opportunity to sharpen my social skills and improve upon my hospitality techniques. And as much as I'd like to think that I've got some very sharp people skills, there are occasions when they are thoroughly tested. The arrival of some new guests would offer a great challenge to my hosting skills, for they had come: The aunts.
Though they were really distant relatives of the Hostess, these three elderly ladies were self appointed matriarchs of this community of transplanted Southeast Asians. A triumvirate that wielded significant power in the daily affairs of their people. Though, they were short, wrinkled, and graying at their heads, there was no mistaking their great influence. Beneath their soft spoken words and gentle gestures, they exuded power. They were masters of manipulation and always meddling in the lives of many. I called them the Dragons of the West.
Though they seemed to rule jointly, they were always making power plays against each other. Many were pawns in their shadow wars. But their different strengths served as checks and balances in their world. Make no mistake, though, that given a common threat, the aunts unite to form an impressive force that has destroyed many who've made the mistake of crossing them.
They stood at foyer, surveying their environment, predators assessing their prey. Protocol demanded that they be acknowledged. Hostess was still in the yard. Oaf was nowhere to be found. Not that he was the best choice to welcome the Dragons; but it was his home, and it would be appropriate for him, if his wife was not available, to greet these guests. And so it was up to me.
I took a drink out of my bottled water, wishing that I was drinking something stronger instead. But I had planned on driving back home after the party. Alcohol was out of the question. I politely excused myself from the group, put on my smile like an armor and prepared myself for the onslaught of the Dragons. As I made my approach, their eyes locked upon me, narrowing, plotting, while giving me sweet smiles that hid their true intentions. I felt as if I was about to face a trial by fire. I thought to myself, 'Let's see if I am good enough to avoid getting burned.'