I was still talking to Sumter when it was announced that dinner was ready in the dining room. It was a buffet of southern food, supervised by Meemaw even though a professional caterer had been brought in to do the actual cooking. The centerpiece of the spread was, of course, fried chicken, although there was some smothered chicken for any Hollywood types who were watching their waistlines. (I guess I’m a Hollywood type who should be watching his waistline, but I wasn’t going to miss out on fried chicken on my birthday. Besides, my six pack seems to be holding up just fine without going on diet of beet shakes like Lucas is still on.) Then there were deviled eggs galore, dishes of hoppin’ john and rice, greens, and okra and tomatoes. For dessert, there were I think a dozen coconut cakes (made exactly to Meemaw’s recipe…and I understand she was at the caterer’s supervising all day today) and strawberry ice cream, although I’ve never had my two favorite desserts together lol. (And they don’t really go as it turns out. Meemaw: “I tried to tell them.”)
The food was totally bombass and I found a little time to sit down with Joyce, Keaton and Travis and enjoy it.
“Well, bubba…what do you say to your first big Hollywood party? Gayass enough for you?”
“Fuck you, man…what’s gay about it?”
Keaton looked around with a big smirk on his face. “Just about everything.”
Joyce burst out laughing.
“Can something nice not be gay just once for you two?,” she asked. “I mean…really…can’t you think of another adjective?”
Me and Keaton looked at each other and shrugged.
Meemaw, who’d been fussing over the buffet, came over and joined us.
“How’s the food?,” she asked. “Did the caterer follow directions right? It’s all my recipes…although they said they couldn’t do the chicken the way I do it for such a large group.”
“You mean not in lard?,” I said.
Joyce looked down at the chicken leg she was devouring.
“No, HB. I don’t make my chicken in lard anymore these days. They did it in corn oil. The caterer said your Hollywood friends would sue them for attempted murder if we served chicken fried in lard.”
“You’ve gotta taste it done that way,” I said to Joyce. “It’s awesome.”
“Bubba’s right. My mamaw used to make it that way too.”
“Yes,” said Meemaw, “but sometimes us mamaws have high cholesterol and have to start making our pie crusts with crisco.”
“Y’all have to taste Meemaw’s peach pie,” I said. “It’s always been my favorite. Although I’ve always had coconut cake for my birthday. I guess a pie would be lameass as a birthday cake,” I added.
“And there are no peaches in November,” said Meemaw.
“You look wonderful, Mrs. Block,” Joyce said, kind of out of the blue. (Maybe she was trying to butter Meemaw up some, I don’t know. Maybe I should have told Joyce that the way to Meemaw’s heart is by praising her cooking.) “And the dress is stunning…”
“It’s a Chanel, if you can believe it,” Meemaw said. “It was all Maya’s idea. Some people have a Picasso that they hang on their walls…now I have a Picasso to hang in my closet.”
We all got a good laugh out of that. I have to admit that I’ve never seen Meemaw in designer clothes. She wears them well, though. And I’m sure she’ll be able to wear the dress to church.
Soon after that it was time for cake, one of which was brought out with 30 candles, all of which I had to blow out on camera. Ok…I’ll admit it…a few candles wouldn’t blow out the first time, so they lit them all over again and I took a second shot at it and nailed it for the second take.
Like I said, reality TV isn’t always exactly the same as reality.
After the cameras caught me thanking Maya for the party – I was totally sincere when I told her all the nice things y’all’ll hear me say next Wednesday – Ethan had them pack up and leave. One thing Maya does right is that she doesn’t have the cameras stick around full-time at functions at which there are guests, so that the guests can get to relax a little, which I could feel all of them doing.
They stayed maybe another hour or so (I got some time with both Sumter and Corey to talk baseball while Joyce talked to Dixie and Madi) and then they began to leave, a few at a time, but steadily. Joyce and Keaton stuck around a little longer, then they left too. Then I loosened my tie and fell into the nearest couch.
I was fuckin exhausted. It had been an awesome surprise party, but, dang, it’s tiring when you have a hundred guests to talk to all night long.
Meemaw sat next to me. I suspected she was super glad to not have to do any of the cleaning up.
“Your Papaw always said you would end up a movie star,” she said.
“He said that? I thought he wanted me to live in the country.” I was a little disappointed that he didn’t think of me in those terms, especially after he worked so hard at teaching me the country way of life while he was alive.
“Of course he’d have loved it if you’d taken over the farm,” Meemaw said, “but he said that your looks would probably get you into movies. That’s what we all thought when you said you were moving to California.”
“Ok, Meemaw,” I said, trying to arrange my thoughts and count my points off on my fingers despite the fact that the beer I’d drunk all night long was starting to hit my brain finally, “first thing is I’m not a movie star. I’m on a cable reality TV show. And this is as far as I plan to go. I moved to California to get a new start and this was where the job opening was, you know that. I didn’t have a secret agenda. I still have my plans of opening a baseball resort some day…and this won’t last forever. Joyce still says that what I need to do is build up a clientele of students.”
“That’s a good idea. She’s got a good head on her shoulders. Yes, HB, I like her. Were you afraid I wouldn’t?”
The answer to that is not really…although I was afraid that Joyce’s age would bother Meemaw. To Meemaw’s credit, she never mentioned how old she thought Joyce was. (I still don’t know the answer to that myself…but we all know she’s older than me by more than just a couple years.)
Then I told her about the segment on the show, and she said she liked the idea. She’s seen me on the TV, and she said that I was pretty lameass when I started off, but that now I’m “like a pro” when I face the camera and talk to the audience.
“You’re just not getting any younger, HB. You know as well as I do that you’ll be 30 next year, and it’s time to start thinking more seriously about your future. You’ve got wits as well as looks…you should be using them. Oh,” she continued when I tried to interrupt, “I don’t mean you have to change everything tomorrow. You’re in a situation with a lot of possibilities: you should just pay attention to them and make the most of it when a really good one comes along. For the time being, you’ve got a roof over your head and those two delightful little boys to take care of. I hope you know how much they’re attached to you. They pretty much think you hung the moon.”
“Really?,” I asked. I mean, I know the boys like me (I like them too)…but ‘hung the moon’ seemed like Meemaw was going a little too far.
“HB, is there anything you actually realize in your life? How a bright boy can be so oblivious to all the things going on around him is a mystery to me. You can’t spend so much time in the gym that you don’t have time to think…”
“Ok, I get the point, Meemaw,” I said. Then I realized I didn’t even know how long she was staying. So I asked her.
“I’ve been here since Saturday, you know, at the hotel you used to work at” she said, “but I’m staying on here in the house another couple days. I fly back on Thursday morning.”
“That’s it? You’ve come all this way and you’re only staying for two more days?”
“You have your obligations, HB, and I didn’t want to get in the way. Besides, I didn’t make my travel plans. Maya did.”
“Well…that sucks,” I said. “There won’t even be time to show you around Los Angeles or take you to Disneyland or anything…”
“I don’t think Disneyland would be my cup of tea,” said Meemaw.
“Disneyland is everyone’s cup of tea!,” I said. “And then there’s…”
“Don’t worry, HB,” she said. “I’ll be back. It’s enough that I get to see you and how you’re doing. You know that I’m going to have to report back to your parents.”
“I reckoned as much,” I said.
“I’m still not entirely on Los Angeles time,” she said, getting up and looking at the little gold watch she wears to church. “So I’m going to have to turn in. We can talk more in the morning. May I have breakfast with you and the boys? I’d like to get to know them a little more.”
“Sure. 7 o’clock in the kitchen. Thanks for coming, Meemaw…you really made my birthday special. I mean…the whole party was unforgettable…but you were…well…the icing on the cake.” I got up and gave her a kiss and a big hug. Then I realized I was kinda hungry again and wanted another piece of cake. So I walked Meemaw upstairs to the guest room she was staying in now that she didn’t have to be kept a secret, and went back down to the kitchen, where the waiters were still cleaning up.
“Can I do something for you?,” asked one of the waiters. Yeah, he was giving me that look I get from gay guys. For some reason, this dude made me blush. Probably the beers and the fact that I’d been up since 6:55.
“I was hoping I could get another slice of cake,” I said.
“Anything for the birthday boy,” the dude said. He cut me a slice off of a cake that was still sitting around. “We were saving this one for us,” he then said, “but there’s plenty leftover. Your grandmother really put us through our paces today. Enjoy.”
He handed me the plate and I went to sit down at the kitchen table, but it was still covered with trays and dirty dishes and all kinds of shit like that. So I took it back with me to the pool house, sat down at my little table, and ate it. I lost count of how many pieces I had that night, but I haven’t had Meemaw’s coconut cake for years…and one of the things about coconut cake is that it’s never as good as it is on the day you first make it.
Then I saw that there was a pile of presents on the coffee table and spilling over onto the floor. I was so busy with the guests that it didn’t even occur to me that there were birthday presents involved too. It looked like Christmas on steroids. On the one hand, I did want to see what people had gotten me, but, on the other, I was super tired and I didn’t want to get any of the presents mixed up, since I knew I was going to have to write thank you notes. So I decided I’d open them with Meemaw in the morning after I got back from dropping off the boys. I just wanted to go to sleep, especially as it was a school night So I just got into my pajamas and climbed into bed. It wasn’t exactly how I’d figured my birthday night would end (I was slated to go out with my girlfriend, remember), but I’d had the surprise party…probably of my life…and gotten to see all the cool people I’ve met since I came to Los Angeles three years ago…to say nothing of Meemaw and Sumter…and even Corey Seager.
It had been quite a night. I dozed off thinking that, if this is what being 29 feels like, it’s a pretty good age to be.