A Tale of Intergenerational Guilt in Two Acts
Having grown up in a Jewish-Greek household, I like to think I know a thing or two about guilt. Over the past 23½ years, I’ve desperately sought a way to turn the tables on prior generations. Fortunately for me, my kind, wonderful and loving grandparents recently stepped into such a trap. In two acts, I present this experience to you, the reader.
A few short years ago, my brother walked into my parents’ house with a pristine, white greyhound. Knowing that my brother is mildly inept, my natural impulse was to ask him what the hell he was doing with a living being in his possession. A couple of years and another greyhound later, my canine niece and nephew (pictured below) are now a cherished part of the family.
Act I: The Metal Meatballs
In early March of this year, I realized that I don’t see my grandparents nearly enough. Seeking to remedy this, I decided that I would invite myself over for dinner. When I arrived, I could see that they were warming up for Pesach. Tonight, we were eating my grandmother’s meatballs, a tradition older than myself and twice as delicious; if it were socially acceptable to walk around lathered in the sauce, I’d be nibbling at my own flesh like the dangerous psychopath I suspect myself to be.
Dinner conversation was scintillating as usual; I got to talk about myself—a subject I never tire of, and one that never goes out of style. Unfortunately, our discussion soon took a turn for the worst.
You see, the rivalry between my pseudo-nephew, Cutter the greyhound, and myself has been growing for some time now—at first, it was about space in my brother’s car. Soon, though, it began to escalate. At times, he would drink out of my water bowl or growl when I took my fair share of the bag of kibbles n’ bits.
The conversation went something like this:
[JESSE is on his fourth plate of meatballs. GRAMPS and GRANDMA watch him eat. We hear only the sound of Jesse chewing and moaning with culinary delight. After a moment:]
GRANDMA: Oy, Jess, I made a batch of meatballs last week that were hard as a rock.
JESSE: I highly doubt that, grandmother of mine. Your meatballs are always exquisite and masterful.
GRANDMA: No no no no, I’m not joking this time. I’m giving them to the great-grand-dogs. They can eat them.
JESSE: Grandma. I will eat them. Please give them to me. I beg of you.
GRANDMA: No, Jess, they’re so awful. I can’t.
[Jesse looks deep in thought. He is clearly thinking about the $700 he makes per month and the $575 that he puts towards rent, and the long way those meatballs could go in keeping him nourished.]
GRAMPS: Jess, you couldn’t even cut through them with a knife!
JESSE: Gramps, I’ll break my teeth on them if I have to—as long as they’re digestible, I’ll put them in my stomach.
GRANDMA: Alright, alright. Fine. I’ll give them to you, and if you can’t eat them, give them to the dogs.
[Fade out. End scene.]
Act II: The Shiva and the Brisket
A few days ago, we found ourselves at a shiva.
The grandparents were there; the dogs were there. I still haven’t received my meatballs.
Cutter had a twinkle in his eye and I took him aside and demanded to know what he was so happy about. He just stared at me mockingly. I threatened to chug his whole water bowl, but he knew that the war had already been won. From the other side of the room I could hear my sister-in-law thanking my grandparents for the “dog food.”
The jig was up.
[The atmosphere is jovial, considering the circumstances. Jesse’s head jolts up as he hears the words “dog food.”]
JESSE: What dog food?
GRAMPS: Oy, Jess, I prepared the Passover brisket and it was awful, I tell you. Couldn’t cut it with a sword.
[Spotlight only on Jesse. There is ice in his veins, fury in his eyes.]
JESSE: [Calmly] You’re giving a brisket to the dogs?
GRANDMA: Jess, you wouldn’t believe how bad it was.
JESSE: Grandmother of mine, your worst brisket is most likely still better than the Mr. Noodles I eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; you realize this, right?
GRANDMA: I doubt it. This is the worst brisket ever.
JESSE: Grandmother of mine, it is nonetheless brisket, correct?
GRAMPS: Jess, how’s about this: you find out when feeding time is for the dogs, and you chow down with them.
[Everyone has a good laugh as Jesse cooks up a cunning plan to snatch the brisket right from under Cutter’s nose.]
MOM: [To Gramps] Hey dad, I was watching “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” the other day and this guy took a brisket, put it in the food processor, and used it as a schmeer on toast.
GRAMPS: [With a look of disgust] What’re you, meshuggeneh? No, no, no, it wouldn’t feel right to put a brisket in the food processor. It just seems wrong to me, undignified.
[Jesse’s head explodes. He gives a disapproving look and leaves it at that. He knows that a look can mean everything.]
The following night, I came home to an email with the subject header “Meatballs.” I knew immediately that Cutter was wrong; the war was not over, nor will it ever be. There was now an offer on the table for a substantial amount of meatballs coming my way. Being the bigger man, I typed out some long-winded treatise on how I am superior to the dog, thus I pity it and will give it the food. Then I deleted all of that and said, “yeah sure I’ll take ‘em off your hands” and yelled out my window that Cutter is a dumb idiot and I beat him and I’m awesome and don’t mess with me.
Jesse Toufexis is a playwright, screenwriter, and author from Montreal, Quebec. He has a BA in Anthropology from Concordia University. His turn-ons include words and very little else.