Day #1: Tales of Arrested Development

There are 18 more days until THE SWEET FAR THING bows (I know, ’cause I just counted on my fingers), and I’ve decided that I’m going to challenge myself to do an LJ entry a day until December 26th. I may not have anything to say and will have to resort to periods of silence within the blog that make it feel like the world’s worst Pinter play, but I’m going to try.

I’m going to start, Gentle Reader, by telling the tale of last weekend when I went away to Maine with my BFF, Eleanor.

Now, Eleanor and I have been buds since seventh grade when we met up on the breezeway at Congress Junior High and promptly got into a heated argument over which band was better, Kiss or Led Zeppelin. She still foolishly believes in Kiss and I just downloaded the Mothership, so I’m still firmly in the Led Zep camp. She also adores Benny Hill and doesn’t get Monty Python, and I can’t abide Benny Hill but rate Monty Python as my fave TV show of all time. These religious differences aside, we have remained BFs for many, many years now, and have survived countless situations together. And so it was we found ourselves surviving yet one more of these last weekend.

In the interest of full disclosure, this is a story that reveals some unsavory truths about your narrator, namely that my immaturity can sometimes reach operatic proportions. If, Gentle Reader, you somehow hold on to the idea that I am a fully realized, mature adult, well, read on at your own risk. If, however, you’ve long suspected that I am an utter tool, this will confirm your suspicions.

After driving up from Boston and getting lost about twelve times, Eleanor and I check into into our inn, which overlooks the Atlantic and is utterly gorgeous. I swear it looks like you’re about to fall off the edge of the world in this place–Gor.Geous. We head up to our room and flop on the bed and shout, “NO KIDS!” at the tops of our lungs and test the gas fireplace (which alternately thrills and terrifies us–Will we unwittingly set the room on fire? Will the gas fumes kill us as we sleep? Hey, we can make the flames go higher and lower, higher and lower, just by flipping a switch! Huzzah!) and take four million pictures and jump up and down squeeeing in excitement. We try on the hats we’ve just paid too much money for and I decide mine makes me look like a deranged folk singer with a patchwork bucket on her head. Eleanor says hers is a fancy bucket that doesn’t even cover her Spock ears, but it’s too late to return them, so there we are.

“Are you hungry?” Eleanor asks, which is a silly question as we’re always hungry and always trolling for food.
“Uh, let’s see, I’ve eaten half a box of truffles and some old Cheese-Its I found in my coat pocket. Yes.”
“Maybe we can find some funky cafe with a little local flavor,” Eleanor says, drawing out the words “local flavor” like a lounge lizard.
We are agreed that this is a fine, fine plan, and so we go downstairs and ask the lady at the front desk if she can recommend a good place to grab a bite.
“Some place kind of funky and fun and cool,” Eleanor says, and I’m telling you those were her exact words. I’m just saying.
Front Desk Lady thinks for a moment and says brightly, “Oh, you should go to {name of place withheld to protect the mean girl telling this story}.”
“That sounds adorable,” Eleanor says. I agree that NAME OF PLACE sounds adorable, and we step out into the Maine cold which is unlike any cold this Texas girl has ever felt in her life. The kind of cold you feel in your internal organs. The kind of cold that has your face frozen in a rictus smile. The kind of cold that has me saying, “There are not enough socks in the world.” The kind of cold that makes me feel like I have grown a pair and they have retracted deep into my womb.
We pile into Eleanor’s minivan, which I have to mention because this is a girl who once wore black leather and dated lots of indie musicians, some of them semi-famous, and because I am cruel enough to mention this to her every time I get into her “Love Machine,” as I call her ride.
We drive for a while, figure out we’re going the wrong way, get lost two more times (because neither one of us possesses an internal GPS), and then, finally, we find the cafe. It looks cute from the outside, and by now, I could eat a small child–as soon as my face unfreezes.
“Right this way,” the owner says the minute we walk in, and he leads us into a dining room in which we are the only people under the age of 75.
Now, hey, that’s cool. No problem. But in the corner, there is an approximately ninety-year-old woman at the piano. She is wearing a Santa hat. And beside her is a gentleman with a stand-up bass who is singing Christmas carols at the only volume setting he has, which is louder than any concert I ever stood through at CBGB’s. And his enunciation is abnormally perfect, as if were teaching an elocution lesson like the voice teacher in “Singin’ in the Rain.”
“Chest-NUTS RRRROAST-INGGG ON AN O-PEN FI-RRRRRRE. JACKKK FRRROSTT NIP-PPPINGG AT YOUR NO-OSE…”

Eleanor looks at me with huge eyes, her lips twitching, and deep in my gut, I hear a voice whisper, “You are so very screwed.”

Gentle Reader, this is the part where reason should have prevailed. I should have turned to our host and said, “Forgive us, sir, I’m Dr. Arrested and this is Dr. Development, and we just remembered that we’re on call tonight in the Idiots’ ER, so we have to go now. Have a great evening!” But we do not listen to reason. We allow the nice man to seat us RIGHT. IN FRONT. OF THE BAND. And this is all it takes to usher us into the Inappropriate Laughter Zone.

There is an episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” that I love in which Mary goes to a funeral and cannot stop laughing though she is desperate to because she knows it’s socially wrong. But once she starts, she just can’t stop. Bear this in mind during the scene that follows.

As I mentioned, we are seated right near the band, and Eleanor, being one step ahead of me, cruelly takes the seat with her back to them leaving me to face front and center and be the responsible party here, which I am clearly not cut out for. The kind gentleman with the stand-up bass looks right at me. He nods and gives me a welcoming smile. And then he sings:
“YULE-TIDE CAR-OLLLSSS BE-I-NGG SUNGG BY A CU-WIIIRRRRRE AND FOLKSS DRESSED UP LIKE HAPPY {meaningful pause} ES-KEEE-MOOOOSSS…”
Yes, he ad-libbed “Happy.”
They’re not just Eskimos, they are happy, well-enunciated, very loud Eskimos. And I am the woman about to totally lose it.
At which point I look over and see Eleanor crying–CRYING–with laughter. Tears are streaming down her face which she is trying to hide behind her menu, her mouth is open, and coming from it is the sustained strangled noise of a woman who is laughing so hard her breath can’t catch up. And that’s all it takes. I feel the laughter bubbling up from the bowels of a friendship that began at age 13 and often dips back there. My lungs ache from holding back the laugh explosion on the launching pad. We’re in a public place. Abort! Abort! I’m so desperate to keep it together that beads of sweat appear on my forehead despite the frigid temps.
“Don’t look at me,” I manage between my teeth. “Don’t. You dare. Look. At. Me.”
An inhuman sound burbles out of Eleanor then, a cross between a cackle and a seal pup being clubbed to death. She lowers her head into her hands and her shoulders shake. She’s laughing so violently, it’s like she’s crying, and I am on the verge of a total maniacal laughter meltdown. My eyes fill with tears. My lips tremble. I push my fingernails into the palm of my hand and stare at a spot on the wall.

The nervous waitress comes over to check on us. “Is everything okay?”
She just lost her pet hamster, I want to say. Mr. Wheely was like a member of the family, and when he died in that freak habittrail accident, well, it just hit us all so hard. Could you give us a moment? Or maybe you could ask the band to play ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’? It was Mr. Wheely’s favorite.
“F-f-fine,” I sputter. “S-s-sorry. Sorry.”
We somehow manage to give our orders, and the waitress backs away, giving us the stink eye, as well she should.
I think we’re cool, and suddenly, Eleanor’s voice shoots up, reaching an octave only dogs can hear as she leans over, grabs my arm hard, and says, “Oh God, the Santa hat lights up.”
And indeed, Gentle Reader, it does. Just like the top of the Chrysler Building.

I have to bite my knuckle so hard I can taste blood. It’s not enough pain, though, because little sounds of explosive, barely suppressed laughter are hissing out of me like air leaving a tire on the verge of a blow-out. I’m praying now, “Please, God, Thor, Vishnu, Hecate, Zippy the Pinhead, whoever’s out there, please, please, please do not let me lose it completely.”
But the gods, they are out. Sorry, babe, we’re on the coast. Good luck with that.
A waiter brings bread to our table, and I have the misguided thought that if I stuff my mouth with food and water, it will be impossible to laugh. So I do.
“EVERY-BODY KNOWSSS…a turkey…and…some MISTLE-TOOOOOOEEE…”
I promptly choke on the bread. I mean choke, choke. I spew water all over the table and I’m reaching into my throat with two fingers to dislodge the bread that’s stuck there. The nice elderly woman at the table next to us asks if I’m okay.
“Do you need the Heisman Maneuver?” she shouts over the singer.
This is what it’s come to–somebody’s great-grandmother is offering to hit me with a football trophy to keep me from choking to death on my own stupidity.
“No, thank you,” I say when I can breathe again.
My near-death experience has given me a moment of scared-straight clarity, but Eleanor has her napkin covering her face and her shoulders are moving like pistons and I know it’s only a matter of time before I’m gone again. I bury my face in the menu and she stares off at the lovely church across the street and we spend the remainder of our meal not talking, not even daring to steal a look at one another while listening to the large-print version of every Christmas carol known to humankind.
After about a half-hour, the singer begins plucking out the opening notes of “Happy Trails.”
“I think they’re stopping,” I giggle-whisper, exhausted. “They’re playing Happy Trails. That’s an ender, right?”
But no. It’s just a cunning segue into another song, and our fearless entertainer starts to sing something I can’t quite understand. “mumblemumblemumblemumble…DON’T FENCE ME IN!!!!”
And at that, we both lose our s**t entirely.

The waitress comes over. “Would you like to see the desert menu?” she hisses.
“NO!” I manage. “Just…check…please.”
It’s there in a nanosecond. (If you want to be in and out of a restaurant in record time, I suggest inappropriate laughter. The staff will have you fed and packed up in a heartbeat.) I pay it, leave the largest tip of my life, and we are out the door and running for the safety of the Love Machine. We’ll never be allowed to eat in that town again. And frankly, the next time I hear “The Christmas Song,” I will not be able to control myself.

Tomorrow, I will blog about Part II of our adventures, in which we get lost in Stephen King country.

OFFICIAL TSFT COUNTDOWN CLOCK: 18 more days…

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