Put the wine down, Alice.

My parents hosted us for dinner last night, to celebrate the seven million birthdays in our immediate family, in ONE WEEK. Over the course of 8 days every September, we have the birthdays of my father, my two brothers, and my sister. So, a bunch of us gathered, and Grandma Alice was there, too. My sister’s boyfriend brought a jug o’ vino over, and before I know it, he’s pouring Alice some of the sticky sweet wine into a red Solo cup. Oh, God, I think. She’s going to go nuts. If she lacks a filter when sober, then all hopes of acceptable behavior go out the window when there’s wine involved. And, she’s off. She drank that first glass as if there was bucket of 20 dollar bills at the bottom, giggling, yelling, performing for what she perceives as her audience. It wasn’t too bad, more or less just Alice on a megaphone, if you will. Stuff we can handle.

Now she’s being poured a second glass, and I’m a bit nervous. She’s 80, never drinks, and has arteries that have proven inaccessible by even the most advanced cardiac interventions. Probably not the best candidate for “just one more.” I’m across the room, talking with my father, and then I hear it-“…and that OBAMA!” I freeze, looking at my dad. She’s going to start talking about politics. She’s trying to start a conversation with Kate’s boyfriend, who is giving her virtually nothing to go on, yet she’s undeterred. “You know Obama’s a Muslim, right?” and “He’s ruining our economy. I LOVED George W. Bush-now THERE was a president. He always did what was right.” Now, I don’t need to explain to you, dear readers, what statements like this do to my heart. It’s especially difficult hearing this come from someone I share blood with. It’s also worth noting that everything she thinks she believes is straight parroted from Fox News, or other equally uninformed people that tell her these things as truth. Being 80 however, means that trying to encourage her to see the light, tell her how wrong she is, is a fruitless activity. But, it’s also impossible for me to keep my mouth shut, no matter how hard I try. Sensing this, my father and brother interject with distracting, off topic jokes. In this moment, I couldn’t love them more. I look, and notice that Alice’s wine is only half gone.

A few minutes later, I’m sitting next to her, and she’s looking up at Kate’s boyfriend, who is playing with Squish. Suddenly, Alice says, “Dominick, take your shorts off!{*Insert horrified head snaps from all across the room, here*} I mean, your shirt! Take your SHIRT OFF!” This doesn’t make anyone in the room feel better, especially Dominick, who awkwardly smiles, not sure what to do. “Grandma!” I say, “Why are you saying that?” “What? Look at him, he’s hot,” she says, referring to him lightly dabbing his forehead with a napkin. “Don’t ask people to take their clothes off at a party, it makes them feel weird,” I tell her, and she laughs, as if I’m kidding. It’s not that kind of party, Alice.

Over the next few hours, she calms down (sobers up?), but not without first telling someone (who shall remain anonymous, for privacy reasons) what a weirdo she always thought their brother was, staring and creeping around all the time. She says all this, despite my mother’s attempts to tell her to stop, saying “Oh, no, Mom-not that again. We’re not going there.” Apparently, this a tale she likes to tell repeatedly. Not a big fan of socially-appropriate conversations, that one. She is, however, a fan of jugged wine, and the calamity that invariably ensues when she’s had some. But hey, she’s 80…I guess she can do what she wants. And she should (minus the political talk-that’s just a no-fly zone). I say go big, or go home…but only if you’ve got a DD.

Cheers, Alice.

Glassware fit for a frat boy.

Oh, Alice.

Anyone who has known me closely for any bit of time, has heard what I have called the “Alice Chronicles.” Alice is my grandmother, and is…colorful, to say the least. Spend any amount of time with her, and you’re going to come away with a few feelings, the most notable of them being mortification. Take her out in public, and you’re bracing yourself for her to engage in battle with whatever customer service person we encounter. Server, counter clerk, you name it-she’s got an issue, general public, and it’s with YOU.

I called her up yesterday, and asked if she’d like to join me for lunch this afternoon. She of course said yes, and told me she wanted to go to the Olive Garden. Fine. Ok. Admittedly, I had a few drinks at the time I proposed lunch, and by the time it began to wear off, I started to rethink my invitation, knowing it wasn’t going to end well for anyone involved (except maybe her). The whole way up, she keeps telling me (probably mostly herself, though), “I swear, Jenn ,I’m going to keep my mouth shut, and not embarass you today. I’m just going to enjoy myself.” Two things: 1)this tells you that her behavior has become an expectation amongst everyone and 2)this is a vow she has no intention of keeping.

We get to the restaurant, and our server, Mykal, (really?), sidles on over, and starts being overly charming and shmoozy. I instantly know that this is only going to encourage her, and I can feel my stomach start to tense. He asks us what we’d like to drink, and I ask for water. Alice? She asks for a Tom Collins. At noon. Ugh, God, I know what’s coming next. “And make sure the bartender makes it right. Needs lots of sugar (?). I was a waitress and bartender for 53 years (this number grows everytime she makes that statement), and none of these young kids know how to make a good Tom Collins.” You’re right, Grandma, because the last time anyone ordered one, it was 1978, and it’s safe to assume that the majority of modern-day bartenders were not living yet. So, Mykal is a good sport, and off he goes to get our drinks. My grandmother immediately launches into more of her hollow promises of keeping her mouth shut, saying, “I know it’s going to be bad. And I’m just going to shut up and drink it.” It comes out, and on cue, she says it’s terrible. She then tries to compensate for its lack of sweetness (according to her) by pouring 6 sugar packets into it. My poor nurse eyes couldn’t handle it, so I looked away, brushing the overflow sugar from the table. Suddenly, I notice the orange wedge in the drink is gone, and it’s because she has tossed it on the floor, under the table. Oh, my God. Seriously? Upon questioning, she says she didn’t realize she did it. Mmmhmmm. Again, I let that go.

Thankfully, the food arrives, which slows her ability to talk at elevated levels about all sorts of stuff, but not slow enough so that a giant rivulet of sauce flies from her mouth, to my hand, which she finds hi-lari-ous. The poor server is in the midst of a lunch hour rush, and he can’t come by the table without her trying to engage him in a long, drawn-out conversation. My favorite thing she said in response to him saying he was a musician was, “So, what kind of music? Rock and roll, or rap?” Mykal is the most caucasian, acoustic guitar looking individual I’ve ever witnessed (he was probably barefoot for all I know), and she says, “…or rap?” Hilarious.
Anyway, once we’re done eating, she’s now trapped this poor kid for so long talking, that I am physically uncomfortable with her lack of ability to read social subtleties, and I have to get up and flee to the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror, and my ears and face were so red and hot that it jarred me. It’s almost over, I told myself. Then we’re getting the hell out of here.

I get back to the table, and she is now telling him a very, very personal story about one of our family members, and at this point, even HE didn’t know what to do. He looked at me as I approached, a bit wild-eyed, and when I get within earshot, I froze, not believing what she was saying. This isn’t ever going to end, is it? I’m going to die in an Olive Garden, I thought. I composed myself and I said, “Grandma, look around. He really needs to get back to work.” So, with that, she shook his hand, said “Mykal, you’re good people. You’re a good boy.” And he was a good boy. So much so, that he got a 40% gratuity on the bill. I figured it was the least I could do.

As we walked out, she said, “Boy, that booze hit me something fierce.” “Really, Jabberjaw? I had no idea”, I say. And she laughed. “I know, I told myself I wasn’t going to get nuts today. Oh well. Want a mint?” she asks, digging through her Grandma purse, and offering me one of her half-opened, Grandma-style Starlight mints, the ones that vaguely taste like lipstick and pennies. I took it, popped it in my mouth, and it brought me back to being a kid again, and eating them back then. Just like those mints, her personality has always been part of her deal. And crazy or not, I love her for it. Although, from now on, I think we’ll do meals at my house. 🙂