Now that more than a week has passed since my birthday, I believe I can give up my handy chocolate cake rationale. This is the rule that in the two-week period surrounding one’s birthday, any meal is best celebrated with a slice of chocolate cake. Otherwise, the terrorists have already won.
The weekend before my birthday I headed down to Santa Cruz. On the way, I had a delicious chocolate cupcake at a Peet’s in Berkeley, followed two days later by two (2!) chocolate cakes procured by my friends, who sadly couldn’t agree which bakery made the best one and so were forced to get them both.
Another two days and it was my actual birthday, which I celebrated by having my lovely niece and her boyfriend over to join Jojo and me for dinner, followed of course by a chocolate cake. Two days after that, the leftovers were finished and Jojo and I resumed our normal sugar-deprived existence. The memories of a birthday well-celebrated, we felt, would last us at least to May Day, if not Mother’s Day.
Today, though, I met my parents in San Rafael for lunch, because they like me and wanted to take me out for my birthday. Always one to oblige, I found the excellent Jason’s Restaurant, and got there just before the noontime rush. I ordered a glass of wine and the crab cake appetizers, and settled in to wait for them to arrive.
Watching my mother and father walk in the door of any establishment has become almost a comic necessity for me. First they overshoot the door, then one of them turns around and spots it. Then they do the “after you” dance, where my mother reflexively reaches to open the door only to be dislodged by my father, who insists on opening it for her. He is miffed that she won’t allow him to be gracious, and she is miffed that he chose this particular moment to do something chivalrous, which he never does at any other time. Meanwhile, all the nudging and dislodging serves another purpose, which is to insure that neither of them falls over themselves or the doorsill upon entering the room.
Today’s entrance did not disappoint, and I had a smile on my face as I rose to greet them both. They sat down and ordered their own glasses, and to my surprise my father started right in. “Have you read that book about how both Clintons should be in prison? Both of them!” Sweet Jesus, I thought, he hasn’t had a drop yet and already he’s incoherent. He continued, looking at my mother, “Where is that book, anyway? I haven’t seen it lately.”
To which I shot back, “Oh, it’s in the bullshit section of your library, right next to Rush Limbaugh.” But my rejoinder just served to get them even more heated. Next up was my mother, who said, “Do you know, Hillary lies. She lies! Did you hear what she said, about landing under sniper fire in Bosnia? She just lies!”
My mother has perfected this incredulous look, as though she still doesn’t know how she was transported from the 1950s to the present day. You’d think she was still fresh-faced from voting for Adlai Stevenson, her last foray into youthful liberalism, so convincing is her look of innocence betrayed.
By this time I was seriously worried. We hadn’t even tasted the crab cakes yet. (Where were they, anyway?) They hadn’t gotten their wine, no one had even glanced at the menu, and already this was turning out to be the longest lunch in history. I had to do something fast.
But my parents are such rabid anti-Clintonites that simply changing the subject does not deter them. They would be back, Vince Foster and Whitewater in tow, to make me regret ever agreeing to meet them for lunch. What I needed were not snappy rejoinders. I didn’t need facts, figures, or a suggested reading list. That had all been tried before. No, I needed the conversational equivalent of kryptonite. Something to render them completely mute and unable to muster a single comment about Hillary, Bill, Chelsea, New York, Arkansas, or anywhere in between.
Just then the waitress came to take our order, and I had a minute to collect my thoughts. Damn it, I had raised five teenagers. I am a master at artful re-direction, the verbal checkmate that arises in an instant to disarm any opponent. And these two, much as I loved them, were no Christopher Hitchens. Once flummoxed they wouldn’t soon recover. This shouldn’t be hard.
Suddenly, I had it. Kryptonite in hand, I waited patiently until the waitress had taken our order. “So,” I began, “what do you think of Obama?”
My father blanched, hands nervously reaching for his napkin. My mother stammered, looked into her lap, then looked at my father and closed her mouth. Checkmate.
“Do you think he would make a good president?” I asked, just for fun. Actually, I was mildly curious how they saw this strong new contender. And now I had all the time in the world to find out, because they would not be returning to the subject of the people they loved to hate for the remainder of our meal.
The food was delicious. We had a lovely conversation, me cracking jokes while we exchanged news of friends and family. After the meal we were all stuffed, but the waitress brought a dessert menu anyway. We each ordered coffee, and then I said, “and we’ll all split a piece of your flourless chocolate cake.” My parents smiled indulgently, and in spite of their full stomachs uttered not a word of protest.
It was delicious, and split three ways it was the perfect amount of chocolate cake to end a glorious run of birthday celebrations. I will be back at it next year, by which time we will blessedly have a new president and this painfully long election race will be a thing of the past. Another day, another source of kryptonite. I think I’m up for it.