Thursday, February 09, 2006

Reservations and Other Family Fun

A sizable chunk of the family, both natural and elected, is landing in Tucson next weekend. I have... roughly seven days, eight hours, and 49 minutes to prepare. The healthy route, I think, would be to draw up betting sheets similar to the ones you use for your office Super Bowl pool (who will be the first to utter an audible expletive in an inappropriate setting? who will be the first to storm from the room?) and make complete sport of the whole sorry situation.

They're coming for my son's confirmation, for god's sake (uh, yeah, we'll be addressing the ethical issues surrounding a lesbian sending her kid to Catholic school in a later post; just let me get through the next 7:8:47 intact f
irst). This should be a time of celebration in a time-hallowed family tradition dating back to 1867 in this country and a dozen-odd centuries back in Bohemia before that. Instead of, say, our much more recent tradition of ugly flareups at family gatherings.

I have to keep reminding myself that I'm pushing 40 and have the moral authority to tell the problem people to take it outside or, better yet, shut the fuck up. It's hard when those problem people are my parents. I mean, Jesu on a friggin' pogo stick--if your mutual situation is that unbearable, get a fucking divorce and put the rest of us out of our misery. My aunt and I plan to take the initiative and banish any offenders so the rest of us can carry on with what we do best, namely, playing games and drinking fine wine
and laughing late into the night. The history of nastiness is fairly recent but is taking its toll. This is not the atmosphere I want my son to remember when he grows up and builds his own family. The aunt and uncle who are coming in are my favorite people on the planet, hands down. We'll band together and see what happens.

Meanwhile, I'm pondering restaurant choices. Cafe Poca Cosa is always at the top of my list, but if they're booked or not down with a party of 12, I need other options. Preferably something unique and identifiably Tucson. I owe the aunt and uncle hugely for an epic, tragi-comic dinner we experienced in Chicago over the summer. The Kid and I were in town to coincide with another uncle/aunt/their brood's visit. That uncle and aunt are particularly enamored with Rick Bayless and wanted to dine at his signature Topolobampo in the River North neighborhood in Chicago. They decided to go on an architectural boat tour up the Chicago River and then mosey over to Topolobampo for a 6:30 seating. Kid and I chose to join them for the boat tour but, lacking money and nice clothes at that point of o
ur trip, planned to eat at a neighborhood bar and either meet them after dinner or catch a train back out to the 'burbs where the aunt and uncle live. So far so good...

The boat tour was phenomenal. Chicago has an incredibly rich architectural history, and viewing it from a boat while sipping a Heineken from the on-board bar is a great and civilized way to take it in.

It was also a rainy way to take it in. I was initially pleased; Chicago never looks so much like itself to me as on a gray, rainy day. However, as the tour progressed, the rain came down harder. And harder. When we pulled back to the dock, it was blowing near-horizontally. The crew helpfully offered rain ponchos at a discount; one dollar instead of three. We took the glorified Hefty bags and ran for the ticket kiosk, crowding in under the 12" overhang that provided only psychological shelter from the rain that was, at this point, apparently being fired from several Gatling guns.

The group sprinted for the cars we'd come in, and I drove my Chicago uncle's truck (even after living in Tucson for 11 years, I still know downtown Chicago better than he does) toward Topolobampo. Arizona uncle pointed out the futility of the Kid and me walking around in a monsoon trying to find a place to eat, and asked us to join them for dinner, his treat. I pointed out the low probability of us getting seated wearing shorts and t-shirts that were soaked through. He assured me he'd get us in.

We arrived at the restaurant, and, well, shit. Pretty fucking fancy place, that. While the uncles smarmed the maitre 'd (my brother is an important architect from Arizona! He's a huge fan of Mr. Bayless! We got soaked on the boat tour!), I skulked to the bathroom to turn my adidas t-shirt inside out for some minimal veneer of respectability. The staff eventually relented and seated us, cramming eight dripping people into a table meant for six, at the very back of the room next to the kitchen. The waiter graciously offered to bring the three kids in the party tacos from the next door Frontera Grill, which is the more-casual cousin to Topolobampo. So far, so good. He brought them limeades too.

The Kid and I, heartened by the service--or at least by the fact that we hadn't been thrown out on our asses--ordered an appetizer to share, and I ordered the pork loin, and a glass of wine. The uncles ordered the tasting dinner ($75 apiece, $125 with matched wines) and things went downhill from there. Our $11 appetizer appeared... and consisted of three masa patties, each approximately the size of a Kennedy half-dollar, each topped with a couple of teaspoons' worth of stuff. Oh, they were delicious, phenomenal flavors theretofore unencountered by this tongue, but... FUCK! The entrees were equally sublime, equally miniscule. Just freaking tiny. The pork loin plate held four slices of meat roughly the size of... well, you know when you peel a banana, how big each of the individual peels is? Yes, not quite that big. Undeterred, the uncles passed around their plates so everyone could taste the morsels of beef, the moles, the pipian. The gazpacho, with its tiny frozen balls of lime sorbet, was exquisite. Arizona uncle walked his wife to the restroom. She has MS and, despite my uncle's carefully guiding hand, stumbled into another diner, spilling his wine. They were glared and muttered at. Aunt returned to the table, mortified and angry, in tears. We comforted her the best we could and ordered coffee. It did not appear. The bill, however, did appear... roughly three feet long, with several items double-charged. Arizona uncle raised a fuss. An allegedly amended bill appeared, still not corrected. More arguments. A third bill arrived, at which point the uncles were ready to pay anything just to get out of there. $735. Seven hundred--hundred!--thirty-five. Dollars. Fuck. FUCK! They had charged the kids $3 apiece for refills on the limeade, of which each child probably had three or four over the course of the two-hour meal. Wine--the house red--was $12 a glass, of which I had ordered two. The Kid and I weren't sure if we should crawl under the table or just flee, setting fires behind us as we ran.

We helped ourselves liberally to the matchbooks in a bowl on the hostess stand.

The valet brought the truck, and Arizona uncle told the valet Mr. Bayless could go fuck himself. He grinned and pocketed his $10 tip. Uncle asked me if I could stop at the first Burger King I could find, since he was still starving.

So yeah, I promised Poca Cosa the next time they came to Tucson. It'll set me back a couple hundred bucks, but debts will be repaid and it will all feel worth it somehow.

No comments: