Stick a Fork in it: It's Done

July 16, 2009
By Jennifer Lam GOLD, Rochester, Michigan
Jennifer Lam GOLD, Rochester, Michigan
11 articles 0 photos 0 comments

The fireburst outside beamed through our windows as I glanced at the dinner table, which was decorated with scattered rose petals and a checkerboard design. Seven plates were set, ready for the guests. My friends Oliver and Veronica sat at the bench, Oliver reading a torn paperback of To Kill a Mockingbird, Veronica reapplying her eyeliner. “When are the other guests coming?” Veronica filed a nail.

“Yeah, we’ve been waiting four hours, literally,” Oliver said, tearing off his Red Sox jacket. This revealed a violet Ralph Lauren polo that clashed with his Chicago Cubs cap. Just then, my bachelor uncle, Denver, barged into the kitchen. He was saturated with sweat and resembled Mr. Miyagi’s karate kid with his dark, floppy hair, white sweatband, and t-shirt.

“Do you mind?” I pulled him from his usual barstool. He was inches away from gurgling a Pepsi. “Our guests could be here any minute!”

“Yeah, right,” Oliver checked the weather on his iPhone. “Did you guys know there’s a one in four chance that they’ll get rained out? I mean, if they’re coming all the way from New Mexico and Egypt…Man, what’s the use of NASA inventing a quotidian time machine if it takes so long for them to come?”

“Hey, they have lives, you nerd!” Veronica folded up the Wall Street Journal and swatted him like a nuisance. “We all know that whenever anyone makes a time request, we and NASA have to agree to let the subjects visit their homelands first, bring their family and friends to life, etc.—”

“Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!” Oliver scrunched his palms over his head.

“Who’s the nerd?” Denver patted his post-workout forehead with his sweatband and charged up the stairs as the doorbell chimed. I sprinted to the door in my French beret, black tunic top, BCBG lined dress shorts and a pair of azure flats to find Cleopatra VII herself, smothered in bangles and pearl earrings.

“Hi! You know, you’re earlier than Conrad, and he’s only from New Mexico!”

“Conrad? I would very much like to meet him. I just divorced my last husband—and brother—Ptolemy XIII, you know! He was so demanding, asking for equal power. As if!” She sauntered in and sat at the head of the table. My mother appeared, offering her a silver goblet of grapes, olives, and wine. Cleopatra dangled them into her mouth like a true Queen.

“So glad you could come. I love your earrings,” Veronica fawned over the jewelry, then fingered her own pearls.

“Thanks. They’re Egyptian. I adore your plaid beret.”

“Thank you! It’s British.”

“Where did Denver go?” My mother inquired, pan-frying ham and eggs for Cleo’s entrée, baking a macaroni and cheese casserole for Veronica and microwaving takeout Chinese for Oliver.

“Right here—Hello. Cleopatra, right?” Denver had transformed his look: a svelte navy dress shirt and trousers, with his scent of perspiration replaced by Drakkar Noir.

She gazed at Denver, her cocoa eyes sparkling like French cider. “Please, call me Cleo.” As Denver knocked a picture off the mantel of his latest ex-girlfriend, the bell rang again. Veronica, Oliver and I opened the door for none other than Mr. Conrad Hilton himself.

“Sorry I’m late...I was at a conference for the Dallas Hilton—”

“The first high-rise hotel you ever built!” Oliver took out a Hilton HHonors pamphlet/bookmark from his book. “Now known as the Hotel Indigo.”

“Sure.” Conrad stepped past the golden foyer, into the black and white schemed dining room. He saw seven transparent glass plates set, with a place card at each. He immediately withdrew several books from his black messenger bag and placed one at each setting. “Your table is full,” he observed. “It only has room for seven, and all seven are here, I presume?” He squinted at Denver and Cleopatra cozying up, my mother furiously flipping pages in the Cheater’s Cookbook and setting out the final dishes, Veronica simpering at him, me pouring ice water for everyone, and Oliver already devouring Conrad’s autobiography. “If you are 100% occupied, you are not charging enough rent,” he snickered, straightening his debonair Ocean’s Eleven-esque suit, loafers and navy pants.

“You look so young, Mr. Hilton,” Veronica said, swaying from foot to foot, tossing her blonde locks. “If you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?”

“I’m Conrad to you! ‘Mr. Hilton’ is my father!” Conrad grinned, his blonde, spiky hair casting mountain-like shadows on our beige walls. “I’m thirty, by the way—”

“Really? You look like you could be twenty. I’m only a few years younger than that, you know,” Veronica twirled a piece of hair in her finger.

“Be My Guest, huh?” Oliver studied the back cover summary. “Tell me, what kinds of stocks of yours profited most before the Great Depression? Because I’m working on this theory...”

“May I use your restroom?” Conrad said to me, walking slowly away from Veronica and Oliver.

“Please,” I pointed him in the right direction. “No one wants to hear about your theory, Oliver.” Oliver shrugged and snagged a Mountain Dew from the freezer. The guests and I sat down and began to scarf without Conrad.

“So,” Cleopatra pulled away from Denver for a millisecond, “did you know that I can squander $10,000 in one meal?” She raised her wine goblet, as if challenging us.

“Impossible,” I said, biting into a California roll topped with raw white tuna.

My mother drizzled her salad from Olive Garden with Vinaigrette dressing. “And wasteful.”

“No. Watch.” Cleo unhooked one of her crème hued earrings and let it plummet into her drink, producing a ripple of Chardonnay. It created extreme steam and fizzled, slowly disintegrating.

“What kind of earring is that?” I twirled my fettuccine Alfredo (also from Oliver Garden) on my spoon.

“It’s priceless,” Cleo shrugged, helping herself to another wine refill, poking at her fig casserole. “This is delicious,” she said.

“I knew you’d love them,” my mother gushed, “since they were grown in the—”

“Gardens of Babylon,” Oliver interjected. He was still lost in the autobiography (which no one else had touched). Meanwhile, a platter of two double cheeseburgers, chicken tenders and fries rested in front of him, neglected. Veronica filched a whole tomato from him and plopped it on her own platter of carb-free Weight Watchers spaghetti and meatballs.

“Nerd,” Denver whispered to Cleo. They shared a private laugh.

“Hey, Denver, whatever happened to that Stella girl you used to go out with?” Oliver murdered his bacon and Rib-Eye steak with his bone-hard, prehistoric teeth. “Huh?”

Denver cleared his throat and forced a heaping spoonful of mac and cheese into it.

“Oliver!” I shot him a text as fast as they shot fire in Lexington during the Revolution. “You know she broke his heart.”

“Sorry about that,” he texted back. “I’ll behave.” I giggled as he inconspicuously held his iPhone under the table, playing Solitaire, feigning interest as Veronica babbled about her latest ballet recital.

“What is this?!” Conrad emerged from the hallway, shaking a bottle of nail polish remover in our faces.

“You’re back!” Veronica squealed, pointing to the empty seat next to her. “Your filet mignon and caviar are getting cold.” She smoothed out her khaki shorts and Victoria’s Secret pink, lacey, ruffled camisole and hoodie.

“It removes nail polish,” I sipped my Mango Madness-flavored Snapple.

“Where,” Conrad said in a low, calm voice, “are all the little shampoos, conditioners and lotions?!” He made rapid hand gestures at the ceiling array of indigo pots and pans, credit cards falling from his trouser pocket. “Good thing my messenger bag had spare. Ah, well, that’s right...Here.” He distributed the cards to everyone.

“What’s this?” Denver said after gorging himself on country fried steak and mashed potatoes with gravy. An entire crate of White Castle cheeseburgers sat by his side, his next dish. “A gym membership? I’m already registered at Lifetime, Blackbelt USA, and YMCA.”

“It shows,” Cleopatra stroked his arm, using her other hand to twirl a fork in her South Beach Diet Caprese Chicken TV dinner. Her silver, black and bronze bracelets with etched hieroglyphics resonated with the soft fabric of her impeccably chosen Greek goddess dress in pure white. The brass clips scrunching each sleeve into place nearly blinded Denver, who had been thoroughly admiring her. He winced, soothing his eyes with the cheesy crust of his Cheese Lover’s pizza. Cleo simpered. “Even though I rule Egypt, I speak Greek, too. Did you know that the Greeks are strong too?” Denver’s face reddened a bit, while Oliver pretended to gag himself with his ketchup-drenched fry.

“Carte Blanche,” Conrad said merrily. “Use them wisely. My gift to you, for inviting me,” he glanced at me. “Yours has the highest limit of all,” he gave me the chrome and gold shaded card.

“Thanks, you’re the best! We’re going shopping tomorrow, Veronica! I’m going to buy all the DKNY, Juicy and BCBG that I can get my hands on!” I reached into my lavender Jansport backpack for my 100-item Christmas wish list.

“Shopping. Right,” Veronica droned, still staring at Conrad, not even mentioning her latest find, a pair of dark rinse jeans that featured faux drops of dyes. They had been imported from Panama and sat in her oversized Franco Sarto leather handbag. Reluctantly, he sat down next to her, uncovering the simmering pot before him.

“Wow! I ate pork and beans all the time when I fought in World War I,” Conrad eagerly stabbed the canned concoction. “Tastes just like the army.”

“I made my special lasagna for everyone,” my mother announced, stirring her Minestrone soup. “It should be ready in a few minutes. I’ll go check.” I adjusted my authentic Parisian beret in dread. Oh, no. Not the lasagna flambé! The last time she made that, we ended up eating at Red Lobster!

“Fabulous,” Cleopatra said, but was drowned out by an annoying, obnoxious ringing sound—her mobile phone. “Isn’t this phone cute?” It was gold, of course, with pearls, and her initials. “I stopped by T-Mobile on the way here and they customized it!”

“Who is it?” Denver looked over her shoulder, struggling to read the name, drops of Sprite hitting the tablecloth. “Julius Caesar?”

“Of the Roman empire?” Oliver spit out his chicken teriyaki. Even Conrad stopped gargling the champagne.

“Yes...he’s just a friend,” Cleo smiled at the tiled linoleum floor. Then the caller-specific ringtone activated.

“Secret lovers, that’s what we are...” the classic ditty proclaimed. Cleo promptly let it go to voicemail, as Denver pouted.
A slow, rumbling noise that resembled thunder came from the oven, as well as a POP (maybe a crackle, too). I discerned the vicious, vehement bubbling of something sinister—the fattening lasagna cheese, no doubt. I saw my mother take the dish out of the oven and plop it onto the breakfast counter to let it cool. The beats in my heart proliferating, I bit my lip as the dormant dish became a very active volcano indeed: Generous portions of ricotta cheese, pepperoni and sausage, flimsy spinach, extremely al dente lasagna noodles and Ragu launched up against every crevice and inanimate object in the kitchen. Thank Marshall Field the breakfast counter is far away from the dinner table, I closed my eyes, or we’d have dirty guests. The black-red shade of the meat sauce on the walls (all four of them!) resembled a scene from A Nightmare on Elm Street.
My mother strolled into the dining room, tugging on her Mickey and Minnie t-shirt, heaving her Martha Stewart apron on the coat rack. I sighed. She had to make the flambé. Honestly!
“It’s not supposed to do that,” my mother made an excuse. “It’s just supposed to—”
“Erupt?” I couldn’t help myself.
“It’s lasagna flambé…it’s supposed to be entertaining,” my mother said, “and make a little fire, like with bananas flambé…Thank goodness I ducked in time…Who wants lasagna?” she said, breathing deeply. Without waiting for a response, she chopped off “pieces” thick as rocks from the rectangular tin can, using an electric knife to boot. She heedlessly dumped one on each of our plates.

After a long chug of champagne, Conrad galloped over into the living room across from our room. “HEY,” he said obnoxiously, “is that a karaoke machine? I can’t eat anymore until I sing!” He fumbled with the wires and menus until Queen’s “We Will Rock You” blared. “You got mud on your face, you big disgrace,” Conrad belted out, swinging the mike. He cringed at the tainted walls. “Waving your banner all over the place,” he sang appropriately.

“Nice pitch, Conrad! Sorry, I’m on a diet,” Veronica held up her hands at my mother. “I can’t have...dairy.”

“My mother’s special lasagna,” I tried to explain, pushing my own pasta around in circles, “is called Cheater’s Lasagna, and instead of using actual lasagna noodles—”

“What is this?!” Conrad, Denver and Oliver were comparing “pieces” after Conrad’s big number. “No offense, but I must say, this is no way to treat a guest,” I overheard Conrad stifle a giggle.

“I know the lasagna is a bit hard,” my mother chomped on her own chunk of lasagna just fine, “but I used wonton wrappers instead. So some of the noodles may be harder, and some may be starchy, and/or droopy or doughy...I like it.”

“‘I like the tumult of life. I like its problems, its ever changing stresses’,” Conrad said to Oliver, wincing at the burnt Bob Evans sausage and carrot-colored spinach. “Why did I ever say that to the press?” He gargled some more wine.
“I can’t tell whether this is the cheese or the noodle!” Oliver held up a creamy, white, iPod-sized substance. Cleopatra wrinkled her nose in disgust, scraping her pasta chunk onto Denver’s plate.
“At least I’m not a nerd!” My mother’s utensils hit the table. She blushed. “I meant that affectionately!”

“Dude, Oliver, if you’re still hungry, you can have some of my fried chicken,” Denver offered, whipping it across the table.

“Did you know that KFC’s chicken isn’t really chicken? It’s cloned chicken,” Oliver spat, fixing his contacts while swallowing a slice of apple pie. The fruit overflowed the crust and plopped into his chicken and dumplings soup.

“Nerd.” It was Cleopatra this time who’d labeled him.

“Hey, at least I didn’t marry my own brother!” Oliver let his silver fork fall, the tines hitting Veronica’s New England clam chowder.

“Gross! Oliver!” Veronica winced, running at the speed of light to the bathroom, her straight platinum blonde hair flying in wisps.

“For your information, Oliver,” Cleo fearlessly imbibed her Chardonnay, “I ditched my brother Ptolemy.”

“For Julius?” Denver leaned all the way back in his chair, cracking open a Bud Lite. He rolled his eyes.

“Oh, Caesar means nothing to me. I was in love with him, but now I just keep him around to have a secure hold on my throne,” Cleo shrugged.

“Isn’t that kind of superficial?” My mother placed her now-empty plate into the dishwasher as Veronica flopped her way back, her stilettos falling in rhythm with each other.

“That’s brilliant,” Veronica and I said in unison.

“You’re 21 now,” Oliver clarified, “and Julius is 31 years older than he’s 52?! Did you hear about the study on May-December romances and how they decompose your intelligence and self-confidence, a little bit each day? It has something to do with your neurotransmitters…” Oliver was mid-bite in a basket of fish and chips. I knocked my Snapple Lemonade into his basket in an attempt to shut him up. “Hey! Hey—this is pretty good! The fruit taste goes perfectly with the batter!” He slurped it up.

“Nerd,” Veronica, Conrad, Denver, Cleopatra, my mother and I shook our heads.

“I don’t suppose anyone wants dessert?” My mother’s eyes browsed everyone’s platters, the “lasagna” still there.

“Uh—I’ll take care of that,” Conrad said with frightening alacrity, returning to the table, finishing the last of his rice pilaf, lobster and shrimp cocktail. He dove into his awesome messenger bag one final time. I reveled in its sophisticated design as I demolished my remaining Rainbow Roll.

“I love your bag, by the way. Veronica and my family and I went to Boston last summer—”

“And they’re all the rage there,” Veronica beamed, glossing her lips flirtatiously with a Victoria’s Secret lip stain in a hue known only as “Nubile”. “You’re so trendy, Conrad.”

“Thanks,” Conrad blinked disconcertedly, bringing out mini circular packages wrapped in brown paper with two signature ivy trees on it. “Chocolate chip cookies. Every guest at the Doubletree gets one upon check-in. Enjoy.” He took a swig of his fermented drink again.

“Doubletree Hotels, huh? Is there anything the Hilton Hotels Corporation doesn’t own?” Veronica said in awe.

“I would say a number one fan, but that would be you,” Cleo dipped her doughy indulgence (the one that hadn’t splattered everywhere) into her wine, along with some chocolate-covered strawberries.

“Clever,” Conrad lifted his champagne flute, next to his 99.99% empty bottle. “How’s your beverage?” He indicated her goblet. They were the only ones at the table with wine.

“Phenomenal, sublime bliss,” Cleopatra leaned across the table, the fluorescent lights illuminating her gleaming pyramid-colored eye shadow and charcoal eyeliner. “Yours?”

“Excellent. Hey, Cleo, you ever been to Starbucks?” Conrad’s wine tipped over the rim of Conrad’s flute and into Cleo’s goblet. She drank it anyway, with a smile.

“No, but I’d love to.”
Conrad took Cleopatra’s arm and escorted her out as Veronica opened her mouth, agape. “It’s been excellent,” Conrad reiterated. “Thank you for having us.” The door shut gently as they walked out of our lives as abruptly as they’d entered. Then we heard the vibrating.

“Hey, she left her phone,” Oliver pointed a fork at her seat. He turned the vibrating sound off.

“Cleo?” A voice had left a message. “It’s Mark. Mark Antony. I miss you. When are you coming back from my cousin Caesar’s palace? Didn’t you already get what you wanted from him? When are you coming to me? You promised we would be together! Come on, you married Ptolemy XIII, and he was your brother!”

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