Doug types too much...
February 29, 2020
In late 2000, I was an orphan of sorts. Because of a shift in my job location, I ended up spending months separated from family. During my time as a drifter, multiple people felt sorry for me and extended invitations to dine with them. One family put up a standing offer to eat with them on Friday nights. Steak night.
Their family was small – just 3 people. Bert and Betty were the constantly bickering older couple and Betty’s father Myron lived with them in a suffering silence. Myron had made a deal with his daughter and her husband – take care of me while I’m alive and I’ll leave you all my money.
For a couple of months, I showed up at their house every Friday for steak night. Neither the meal or the company was subject to change. The meal started with grapefruit halves expertly sliced by Myron – each bite perfectly suited to be effortlessly scooped out with a spoon. It was always refreshing. Betty would put out appetizers.
Before the main course, a jar of Bubbies pickles was set on the table and each of us got a t-bone, canned peas, and a baked potato.
I was the unofficial provider of dessert. I tended to bring baked goods directly from the supermarket. Once I made the mistake of bringing a professionally sliced chocolate cheesecake. Even though the slices had visible wax paper separators, poor elderly Myron took it upon himself to slice the cheesecake over objections from Bert and Betty yelling that the cake was already sliced. Chocolate smeared everywhere.
Betty overcooked everything. The steaks were well done and tough. The canned peas bordered on mush. The baked potato’s skin was so crusty, you couldn’t get into it without first stabbing the end of your steak knife through the top.
The drink of choice at dinner was Hawaiian Punch. Always.
Their big-screen TV played during meals and could be seen easily from the dining area in their kitchen. The volume was kept at a healthy level so we wouldn’t miss anything. Bert’s view of the TV was the best one and he would often get distracted by something flashing by on the tube.
There would always be some tension at these dinners, but nothing got out of hand. Not at first. I think all 3 of them liked having me around. It kept them on their best behavior one night of the week.
Every steak night, the same ritual played out after dinner. We’d leave the table and adjourn to the living room to watch Bert’s favorite shows – Jeopardy followed by Wheel of Fortune. Then Bert and I would go upstairs to his screening room and watch old movies. Bert was big on silent films.
Bert was hard to watch movies with. Watching silent actresses tended to bring out his misogyny. His maleness could get a little vulgar when it was just him and me.
Bert was a savvy businessman – a self-made millionaire. But money does not buy class. Plus Bert was – let me say it – cheap. But only about some things. I’ll be the first one to tell you they were generous to me personally.
They lived in a beautiful spacious hillside home with impressive vaulted ceilings.
They were cat people and Bert thought the cost of cat litter was ridiculous. The solution? Just allow the cat to defecate anywhere it wants to on the wall-to-wall beige carpeting.
It was several visits into my steak night experiences before I spotted a healthy cat turd on the carpet by the TV stand. Bert caught me staring at it.
“Yeah, I haven’t gotten that one yet. They’re easier to pick up after they’ve hardened.”
Some might ask why I kept going back. I’m not sure myself. For some reason, I liked them despite the chocolate smearing and the bickering. And the occasional turd going through a rigor mortis process.
After a month and a half of steak nights, things changed and not for the better. I think they got comfortable with me being around them, so they started to reveal a little more of their dysfunction.
I missed one steak night because I’d scored a gig at The Comedy Store. It was the weekend they’d had their annual family barbecue. I’d been invited and had to decline.
The next week, I showed up promptly for steak night. Pastries in hand.
As Bert lets me in the house, he says, “Oh, and by the way, at dinner tonight, if Betty seems a little upset with me, don’t be surprised.”
Me: What did you do?
“Oh, nothing. She just started going off about how she never wants to do a barbecue again and she doesn’t want to renew our vows in Vegas next month.”
I girded my loins for some screeching over dinner, but that was not to be the case.
Dinner was interesting. For the first time in my experience with them, Betty was giving Bert the silent treatment. She spent the entire meal not speaking to him – only to me and Myron.
Myron was quite cordial. I liked Myron. How he endured, I’ll never know – he must have been waiting to die so it would all be over.
After the traditional half-grapefruit with a maraschino cherry in the middle, we had an appetizer of chopped chicken liver, sliced radishes, and sliced tomato. This was already set at our places when we walked in. Then we moved on to the tomato egg drop soup which is one of Bert’s favorites.
Betty begins the “shunning” of Bert by serving me my soup first which is a total break from routine. The king is not amused. Bert is trying to weakly smile through it all and each time Betty goes behind Bert’s back, she makes faces at him and looks at me and points to Bert and mouths the word “stupid.” I remain poker-faced each time she does this, but Myron laughs. Bert tries to crack jokes which all fall flat, but he thinks he’s amusing Myron because Myron keeps laughing at what Betty’s doing in the background.
For the main course, we had London Broil which had already been totally sliced up and was actually quite good and it was not overcooked. She made it special because she knew I was coming. I got six quarter-inch slices which was more than adequate – Bert literally got half of the slices. It had to be 2 pounds of meat which he proceeded to wolf down like a true carnivore.
Although we’d inexplicably switched from t-bones to London Broil, we still got our baked potato. And we had coleslaw made by Myron. It was all I could do to poke the point of the knife through the potato skin. Then when I finally was able to get the knife through the crust, I tried to not shake the table too much as I attempted to saw my way through to open it up.
Everyone was having the same problem, so it was like we were having an earthquake at the table – Hawaiian Punch sloshing around in everyone’s plastic cups. The big TV was on in the background, but the noise of the sawing was still LOUD.
The whole evening was off. We started late. Normally when Jeopardy came on, we had already left the table, but on this particular steak night, we were still finishing up the meal when Alex Trebek introduced the players.
I knew a lot of the answers, but I didn’t blurt out anything. Bert needs to be the king. Each correct answer he gets, Betty says under her breath, “So what.” Every time he screws up, he follows the correct answer with “Oh, yeah, that’s right. I knew that.”
Betty rolls her eyes.
On one of the “so what” jabs, Bert looks past Betty and says to me and Myron, “You know if she gets just one answer right, she wants to be congratulated, but I get almost every answer right and I get nothing!”
As we finished up the main course during a commercial break, Bert tells me how he got “screwed” the previous Sunday when he went to a new cineplex in Moorpark and found that unlike the place he normally frequents in Camarillo, he was unable to buy only one ticket and go see five movies in a row. This new place actually had employee ticket takers who were stationed at each entrance and you couldn’t sneak in like he loves to do. So he had to pay five dollars and only got to see one movie which infuriated him.
Myron wanted to know if I liked the coleslaw. I’d tried a hefty sample and it was very good and I told him so. Myron warmed up to me more each time I saw him.
I’d been told I did not have to bring a dessert on this occasion. Betty served Pepperidge Farm cookies and cling peaches for dessert, followed with a mug of tea.
Then the big news. The family has broken with tradition since I last ate there. The big announcement: Bert has decreed that Wheel of Fortune was no longer the favored show after Jeopardy. He has made everyone switch to watching Hollywood Squares because he thinks the joke answers they give are hilarious. I find them tedious, but that’s just me being a snob. He laughs his little “heh-heh” each time a celebrity fires a one-liner off.
They all move a few steps over into the living room to get closer to the 8-foot TV – I remain at the table finishing my tea.
Bert reclines in his throne, cross-legged – the matted cat jumps up and curls into a ball between his legs. Bert peels his socks off so the cat can lick his ankles.
Betty sits down next to him and quietly starts talking, repeating over and over “You’re a piece of shit, you know that?”
He ignores her and keeps staring at the TV.
I elected to skip the post-TV silent film screening and bolted at 9 PM.
Since the steak night atmosphere seemed to be getting progressively more toxic, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I figured I owed them for all the free meals, so why not take them all out to dinner. Surely no one would show their ass in a public place.
We met at the Corrigan Steakhouse on Thousand Oaks Boulevard. I’d never been there, but I’d walked by it when strolling in the neighborhood. I’d always been interested, but never went in. So for me, this was okay. That was their pick and they’d called to make the reservations. We all rendezvoused there at 6:15 PM.
Not a bad interior. We sat near the roaring fireplace. Kinda cozy, but also kind of American if you get my drift. In Europe, you feel a real coziness vice the made-up kind.
Our waitress was a bitch. Plain and simple. Tall, blonde. Bert was entranced with her chest and was going out of his way to charm her – it was ludicrous. Here’s a guy who’s quite portly, sporting hair that doesn’t belong on a man his age, plus he’s wearing a goofy t-shirt and shorts, and he’s trying to come off like he’s Clark Gable or something.
The waitress was flat-out rude. Still Bert loves her. He also loves any other female that happens to pass our table. Betty raises her voice each time saying, “Put your eyes back in your head, Bert.”
The trouble started as soon as Bert’s muse came over to take our order. Number one, she was greatly disappointed that everyone only wanted water to drink. You know, because they didn’t have Hawaiian Punch.
Bert immediately requests a basket of garlic bread. It arrives cold which sends Betty into the first of her tizzies.
We get to the ordering part. Myron is speaking softly, but the only person having a problem hearing him is the waitress from hell. She keeps asking him if he wants a soup or salad that comes with his steak. Myron doesn’t want either one.
Myron: No soup. No salad.
Waitress: Do you want soup?
Myron: No soup.
Waitress: What kind of soup?
Myron: No soup.
Betty (screeching): He doesn’t want any soup!
Heads in the restaurant stop to turn in our direction.
Waitress: Okay, then what kind of dressing do you want on your salad?
Myron: No salad.
Waitress: We have Bleu Cheese, Ranch, Italian, and Thousand Island.
Betty: He doesn’t want a salad!
Bert: He doesn’t like salad.
Me: He doesn’t want a soup or salad.
Waitress (to me, Bert and Betty): Will all of you just be quiet for a minute? I want to hear it from him!
Myron (louder): I don’t want soup or salad!
Waitress: So you want the soup?
It was like a nightmare. Who in the hell are you to tell paying customers to shut up? Bert doesn’t think anything of it because a) he’s used to people yelling at the table, and b) he can’t take his eyes off the waitress’s breasts. Despite the objections, the waitress brings Myron the soup which he promptly pushes away. The server still doesn’t get it.
Bert asked me when we sat down what I thought I might have. I said as long as we were in a steakhouse I was going to go all out and have a filet mignon. Admittedly, this is the most expensive piece of meat on the menu and Bert is delighted to hear me say it. All bets are off now.
Betty has lamb chops which are “boney.”
Myron has the petite steak with a baked potato.
Bert goes all out. He gets a jumbo shrimp cocktail, filet mignon, orders more garlic bread, etc.
When the meal was done, we decided to have tea. All the cups of tea were lukewarm. Very lukewarm. Betty pitched a fit.
To the waitress: Hey, honey, you think next time you could bring some HOT water?!
After tea, Bert says he’s full. I get out my wallet and am getting ready to ask for the check. And then, after he’s said he doesn’t want to eat anymore, he changes his mind and gets the chocolate-chocolate-chocolate-all-chocolate piece of cake which he can barely eat, but does anyway.
Betty then gets the NY cheesecake and splits it with Myron, but between them they can only eat half of it.
At one point during the meal, Betty started escalating her volume apparently without realizing it and within seconds the entire restaurant had gone silent because she was so unbelievably loud.
Then the corker. Upon exiting, Myron is trying to pilot his walker out the back of the restaurant to the parking lot and there is a tray on a stand in the middle of the aisle. The waitress is looking the other way, so she doesn’t see us coming in time to move it herself.
Betty: Bert! BERT! MOVE THE TRAY SO MY FATHER CAN GET BY, WOULD YOU PLEASE?!
KABAM! Into the tray goes Myron, stopping short of knocking it completely over.
As we left, we had become the center of attention.
After living through two badly devolving dinners, I was reconsidering my steak night standing invitation. Still, against my better judgment, I went into the ring for one final round.
On steak night, I drove to Ralphs and purchased a beautiful bouquet of flowers for Betty.
At the house, Betty bustles around the kitchen cooking steaks, canned peas, and baked potatoes.
The fruit appetizer is already on the table – big break with tradition – it’s not grapefruit, but cut up cantaloupe.
I give Betty the flowers and she doesn’t even take them. Doesn’t say thanks. Just tells me to put them down somewhere. I lay them on a counter and hours later, they were lying in the same spot – I still don’t know if she ever put them in water or just wiped her ass with them.
As we sit there eating our fruit, Bert informs me that he’s on a diet. One meal a day – dinner. Says he’s proud that he’s finally cut out the slices of pizza at lunch and the HoHos after dinner. But he also tells me he’s trying to keep his water intake down to only one glass during the daytime. Like having less water is helping.
Someone the family knows was getting married in another week and a half. Bert didn’t want to buy a new suit and was trying to lose weight so he’d fit in his old one. I assume the suit is plaid in nature.
Bert mentions to Betty that even though they’re really tight, Bert has been able to pull the zipper shut on his slacks that go with the suit. He estimates he’ll be a perfect fit in another 10 days if he keeps to his diet.
Myron pipes up with, “How’d you get into those pants anyway? With a shoehorn?”
Bert doesn’t get the humor or chooses not to.
Right after the fruit, Betty goes to the fridge to get Myron some red Hawaiian Punch and as she pulls it from the inside of the door, it slips from her hands and crashes to the floor. The bottle is plastic, but Myron had not secured the lid right when he’d last used it, so the red punch goes all over the floor beside the table.
I want to immediately get up and help, but I’m wedged in by Bert and Myron – neither seems to take notice. They just go on eating.
Betty dives to the floor with a wet rag from the sink and tries unsuccessfully to sop up punch with a rag that’s already saturated. Then she says, “Goddammit! SHIT!” followed by “Excuse my language!”
Still no one will get up to help her. She’s on the floor on all fours with her big butt sticking up in the air. She sops up punch and when she goes to wring it out into the trash can, she squeezes it so frantically that the punch sprays all over the surfaces around the trash can – like blood spurting from a severed artery. The more unsuccessful she is at cleaning up the mess, the more she flies off the handle. Then for the first time ever, I hear her gravitate to the eff word. She’s on the floor yelling out “Fuck! FUCK!”
Still Bert and Myron don’t move a muscle. Bert calmly eats a Bubbies pickle. Then he takes the remote and turns up Jeopardy on the already very loud big screen TV so he can hear the clues over Betty’s screaming.
Now we’ve got Alex Trebek sounding louder than if he was shouting in your freaking ear and Betty’s screaming out the word “fuck” over and over.
Then she really goes off. “Bert! BERT!!!”
He’s right beside her and doesn’t even blink an eye in her direction.
“Bert! Go get me the fucking paper towels you lazy piece of shit!”
Bert ponders it for a moment and then gets up and SLOWLY ambles through the living room and den to a far closet where they keep their household supplies.
Meanwhile, Betty is still using the wet rag to do the impossible and spurting “blood” everywhere when she wrings it out. I offer to help now that Bert’s moved out of the way. Betty doesn’t acknowledge me and just keeps screaming for the “fucking” paper towels. The louder she shrieks, the slower Bert moves.
Bert doesn’t know how to bend his knees. He’s in the right closet, but not looking on the right shelf. I’m thinking it should be easy to see since rolls of paper towels are fairly large in size. He’s casually calling back to Betty, “Where are they? I don’t see them.”
At this point Betty screams louder than I’ve ever heard before.
“LOOK IN THE CLOSET! THEY’RE RIGHT THERE WHERE THEY ALWAYS ARE YOU STUPID PIECE OF SHIT!!!”
Bert pauses at the closet door and stares at Betty. A showdown of sorts. He gives her his Travis Bickle Taxi Driver “You talkin’ to me?” look. I swear to you if I had not been there, he would have walked over and straightened her our physically.
Very casually, Myron says, “Betty, stop screaming.”
Bert finds the paper towels and SLOWLY walks back with them – in total defiance.
Betty grabs the paper towels and furiously sops up the punch.
Bert walks right through where she’s wiping up to get back to his chair.
She jumps up and screeches, “Don’t get it on your feet! You’re tracking now!”
After cleaning up, Betty gets our food and serves us individually. Each time she has to give Bert something, she practically Frisbees it in front of him which pisses Bert off, but he doesn’t say anything.
The steak is cheap cuts of meat with lots of gristle and bone. Bert is carnivorously attacking his meat and eating it with his hands. I’m using a knife and fork and when Bert sees me NOT chewing my bones, he wants to say something but doesn’t.
The baked potato is like sawing into a rock again. It’s the Twilight Zone version of Groundhog Day.
Betty is so frazzled by spilling the punch that she refuses to eat and goes over on the couch to watch TV while we eat.
When we finish, we retire a few steps to the living room to watch “the Whoopster” on Hollywood Squares – flipping over to Wheel of Fortune during the commercials. Bert goes to sit beside Betty on the couch so he can be where he sits with the dirty cat and she tells him she doesn’t want him to sit there. He says he has to sit there because that’s where his “baby” expects him to be each night.
She finally lets him sit down and I sit on the love seat with Myron.
Bert does his schtick of answering all the questions.
There was one puzzle on Wheel of Fortune that he struggled with – it was easy too – and I just blurted it out.
Bert shot me a look.
Then it was time to watch old movies. Bert and I go upstairs to the screening room and it’s hot up there. Bert turns on the air-conditioner and the moment he walks away from the thermostat, Betty goes behind him and turns it off.
Bert: Betty, give us a break! It’s hot up here!
Betty: Open the windows!
Betty won’t spend the money on running the air. We open the windows, but it’s hot outside too, so we get no breeze.
Bert tells me to sit tight – he’s going to get comfortable. He comes back in a few minutes wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. Huge gut spilling out over the waistline.
Bert falls asleep in his recliner half naked. I’m watching the movies while the cat sits between his legs and licks his ankles.
He’d wake momentarily, point out various actors to me and would, of course, never fail to mention who had great boobs and who used to sleep around a lot.
As Bert snored, the cat licked his ankles for minutes on end.
I spotted a turd in a corner.