It wasn't supposed to go down the way it did. There I was, my sophomore year in college and I'd somehow found myself involved with one of the legends of campus, an older woman who had heads a turning, tongues a wagging. D. And she was mine.
I was in a state of bliss. It was my first real relationship, the kind I'd always dreamed about.
And it was time to meet the parents.
If I remember correctly that was my literal first thought. Pffft. Parents. Parents were easy. In fact, I'd always figured one of the reasons I had problems going from Friend Zone
to Freak Zone in high school was that parents considered me such a nice boy. I was that smart kid, that polite kid, that guy in the marching band and on the tennis team and in the youth group and in the community theater program and who went to church every Sunday even when his mom didn't make him. I was most likely to succeed for Christ's sake.
Parents were easy.
If I remember correctly, D. tried to warn me--but I think she tried to warn me without trying to freak me out. Not that it mattered. I was having none of that. Parents, schmarents.
So off we headed to Ronkonkoma, New York, smack dab in the heart of Long Island. Looking back, the setup is now obvious. D.'s mom was out of town. Her older sister Amy was in town visiting the dad. I was being eased into the situation. But I didn't know that at the time.
What I did know within seconds of meeting the old man was that he was soft-spoken and geeky in many of the same ways that I was. He liked UFOs and was reading a book about Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works. Sweeeeet. Sure, he might have been from a different world--Puerto Rican, suburban New Yorker, still married and in charge of his in tact nuclear family--but he was my kind of people.
But things went horribly awry. And I can pinpoint exactly when this happened. During a tour of the house, D. and her sister started talking about Halloween, discussing costumes.
And I mentioned that I was going as a girl.
"Well how are you pulling that off?" she asked.
Good question. I was wearing my University of Miami baseball cap and the only bit of scalp peeking out was trimmed down to stubble. So off came the hat and out poured shoulder length hair.
D.'s dad got one eye-full of that and he just stopped for a second on the stairway, looking down at me. I felt the situation slip slightly out of my control.
Let me explain a little. This was the fall of 1992 and Lil Kenny had changed a wee bit from his high school days just a year and a half prior. Gone were the Catholic school uniform and the neat appearance. Now, I was knee-deep in grunge, fancied myself a bit of an Eddie Vedder clone--long, curly hair (with a shaved layer running around the base) and lots of flannel. Going away to college allows a certain amount of reinvention and, boy, was I taking advantage of it.
It wasn't a complete disaster. That came when I finally met THE MOM. Apparently, my only hope had been to win the dad over to my side, but I'd squandered a bit of good will with my freakish appearance. So I had no one to soften up THE MOM. I'm sure D. tried, but Mamma D. already suspected D. was sort of off her rocker. She was majoring in art, getting increasingly zany in her philosophies (and dress) and was not on the proper track: i.e., here she was about to graduate college and wasn't close to being married. Older sister had done it right: college, boyfriend, married.
And there I was, some young punk. Worse, I was some young punk from a divorced family. Worse still, I was majoring in English. D. was majoring in art. I was majoring in English. This brought our income potential up to that of, oh, I don't know, a migrant worker. Worst of all, I didn't know my place.
I was 19. I thought I was an adult. I'd learned a few things about politics. Hell, I figured I was Republican, that would make parents happy, right? I guess not.
I don't know if I remember clearly any exact exchanges with THE MOM--I do remember a 'debate' about social security--but I guess they were all sort of disastrous. I do vaguely remember a brunch (maybe it was Easter) that I thought went well. When I remarked on it afterwards, D. just gave me a look.
If I'm going on about this at length it's because it was a formative experience. It rattled me. It shook my confidence. I thought I'd tried to please these people--hell, I'd even kept my mouth shut about my newfound atheism and mentioned whenver possible that my family was Catholic--but there was just no winning them over.
Damnit. What happened? Parents were supposed to like me!
Of course, at that age, I didn't know what I know now. And what I know now is that if I ever have a daughter, woe to the little schmuck who comes along and tries to get in her pants. Furious vengeance will be rained down upon him.
But that realization has only made things worse. Now I have an absolute fear of a girlfriend's parents--especially if the girl is from another culture that might be a little more conservative or demanding than my devil-may-care parents who actually provided a home rent-free for D and I to shack up in (which prompted THE MOM to disown her for a spell. DISOWNED... in the 90s!). Especially Puerto Rican parents.
Luckily for me, I haven't really had many girlfriends since then. That was 1992. The next time I was faced with meeting a girlfriend's parents was 2004, when I flew to Miami to hang with M. (half Cuban and Puerto Rican, by the way). She was in the states on a break from her schoolwork in Brazil. Now, the trip wasn't designed for me to meet the parents, but met them I did. A little older, a little wiser, I'd bought a keyboard for her young half-brother, I watched my mouth around her dad and stepmom. I sent flowers to her stepdad and mom after the stepdad's mom had died. I even reined in some of my political speech despite her mom basically asking for a fullscale political reality readjustment from yours truly. I thought things went fairly well and M. said I did okay.
Then again, she dumped me two weeks later.
Now, close readers of this blog will note it hasn't been updated in a while and may have picked up some hints here and on the other blog
that I now have a GF. (You can say what you want, but the fact is technically I'm still NONdating, since it's just her.)
And this past Sunday, after three and a half months of dating and after I've practically moved into her place, I was faced with meeting THE MOM. And the brother. And an uncle in from Thailand.
Luckily for me, I was just hungover and tired enough on Sunday not to get overly nervous about the whole thing. I think, too, that has to do with GF's generally goofy and calming disposition and repeated reassurances that, if anything, her mom is even more goofy than she is.
We took the subway to Queens--despite the super-scary terror threats--to meet the brother, who was nice and seemed not to immediately want to kill me for sullying the good name of his sister. He drove us to Floral Park, where I had my first meeting with THE MOM--who as far as I can tell is tiny and sweet and didn't hate me at first sight. Even the uncle, who didn't speak much English, seemed not to despise me.
Then we all went apple picking in Wading River (how's that for a drastic change in Ken's lifestyle) and shopping at the Tanger Outlet Center in Riverhead. The only problem THE MOM seemed to have with me was her concern that a) I don't eat enough vegetables, b) I don't know a damn thing about apples because I found one good tree with about twelve apples on them and when I handed them over, she had to inform me that they were Empire apples, which are sour and therefore no one's favorite and c) that I'd just throw all caution and good sense to the wind and waltz into a filthy port-o-let to use the bathroom.
And I earned special bonus points when I saved the entire family (and me) from certain death when I noticed a couple of deer running up to the highway in broad daylight. My keen eyes and verbal warning gave the brother time to stop. Otherwise we would have hit the deer or the deer would have hit us. (I'm going to resist the urge to comment on what such a brazen daylight attack says about New York's apparent lack of readiness in the Deer Wars. Let's just say this sort of thing doesn't happen in Louisiana.)
We ended the evening by going to The Persian Tea Room in Little Neck and scarfing down Persian food. Just to make double-extra-sure that I kissed as much butt as possible, I paid the bill.
Overall, it was a pleasant way to spend the day and I didn't come out of it feeling as if I'd just taken a particularly brutal test ... and failed. Granted, I'm not the best judge of these things, but GF didn't give me any disapproving looks, hasn't reported that THE MOM hates me and has yet to dump my ass.
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