Atlantic City Fake-Out


After two nights at my parents’ home in the Central Valley, we headed south and have now arrived in Burbank, site of Word Cup 8, Word Game Players’ Organization 2018 national Scrabble tournament. Starting Saturday, five glorious days of Scrabble competition!

We had planned to meet my parents for dinner in Fresno on Tuesday evening. We had suggested DiCicco’s, an Italian restaurant that is a favorite of my wife’s and where gluten-free, vegan entrées are available. My mother rejected this choice, saying she doesn’t like DiCicco’s. We settled for Sizzler, where I can go to town on the salad bar and assemble my own guaco tacos. However, Mom called us while we were on the road to say that Dad wanted to go to DiCicco’s and that she was staying home because she had so much cooking and cleaning to do and because she was tired.

When we asked Dad about this at dinner, he told us that Mom said she “doesn’t want to schlep around in the heat.” (It’s been over 100F the last few days.)

“You don’t have to schlep around in the heat,” he told her. “I’ll drive you.” Vintage Dad.

We enjoyed a feast on the Fourth. Due to the excessive heat, we decided to forgo barbecuing in favor of cooking and eating indoors in the air conditioning. Mom outdid herself, cooking fresh beets to make a batch of borscht for me. She said there were beautiful cabbages in the supermarket, so she made cole slaw, including a separate vegan batch for yours truly. I always know I’ll be coddled with homemade food at Mom’s. Meanwhile, the meat-eaters chowed down on hot dogs and I brought my own gluten-free vegan Beyond Burgers.

No visit to my parents is complete without two things: A tour of Mom’s garden and an argument about something or other. Mom is proud of her purple-blue lilies of the Nile that wave lazily in the breeze near the front door, her crepe myrtle, her overloaded peach trees and her many pots of tomato plants. The pots are arranged on two large tables in the back yard close to the house, one of which I recognized as my old study table from law school days, once so buried in books and papers that I’d have had to conduct an excavation in order to find my typewriter.

Dad was disappointed that he was out of beer. Mom complained about Dad’s foul mouth and his predilection for sitting alone on a folding chair in near the patio, mumbling obscenities that appear directed at no one in particular. Mom says Dad is losing it. He’ll turn 85 in November and we’re starting to think about a celebration. Of course, we’ll have to do it all over again in March when Mom turns 85.

Mom started carrying on about how my pants are too tight and they’re cutting off my circulation and I’m going to end up with my legs amputated. We were glad for the opportunity to take off into town to do some errands. On the way back, we stopped in a convenience store and I picked up a large pale ale for Dad. He was thrilled and later praised my choice as he sipped at the creamy head with his hot dogs and potato salad (which is funny, as I am clueless — I don’t drink and pretty much guessed).

As the sun began to lower in the sky, I joined my parents on folding chairs in the driveway to enjoy the cool evening breeze and watch the neighbors set off sparklers and even a few rockets. Soon, the fireworks display was eclipsed by the nightly star show. The thousand points of light visible in my parents’ rural area began with the appearance of Venus, the evening star, followed by a slow reveal of the Big Dipper.

Mom had something on her mind. She wants to take a trip to Atlantic City, she announced. First problem: Dad doesn’t want to go. I told her I would take her. “What do you mean you’ll take me?” she challenged. We’ll go on a plane, I said, to Newark or Philadelphia, then we’ll rent a car. “He’s going to take me to Atlantic City and he’s going to pay for it!” she crowed to my father. She loves to get his goat.

“I’m finally in a position where I can afford to pay for it,” I said. She quickly snapped back “I’m in a better position than you are to pay for it!” No objections from this corner.

Mom began waxing nostalgic about how wide and beautiful the Atlantic City boardwalk is, how descending just a few stair steps takes one to the sand, how much more beautiful the Atlantic Ocean is than the Pacific. She declared a wish to visit the two new casinos (the Hard Rock and the Ocean Resort) that recently opened on the boardwalk and even said she wants to gamble there. What? Mom hates gambling!

Wow, Atlantic City. Such memories. I am a bit too young to remember the pre-gambling era, when the place was a honeymoon mecca and a family beach vacation destination. I do remember my grandparents taking a trip there when I was a kid and bringing one of my sisters a maroon sweatshirt emblazoned with the logo “Greetings from Atlantic City NJ!” Later, when I graduated from college and began working, I often hopped on a tour bus headed for Atlantic City early Sunday morning. Following a three-hour trip, I’d alight on the boardwalk, take a long walk down to the Playboy (getting a kick out of the cocktail waitresses with their little bunny tails) and Caesar’s, eat lunch at a cheap buffet, then head back to Bally’s or the Claridge to drop a hard-earned C-note into the slot machines (one quarter at a time) or on the money wheel before hauling my tired butt back onto the bus to snore away the hours as the driver slogged northward through the Garden State Parkway toll plazas, snaillike in the Sunday night traffic.

Mom asked me whether we would stay in a hotel or somewhere else. “Of course a hotel,” I replied, “not a bungalow.” Mom noted that we won’t need cooking facilities because we’ll eat out. “Then we can just stay in a hotel,” I responded. She loves rubbing it into Dad’s face. I heard him mumble some prime obscenities under his breath.

About this time, my wife, who had been working on her laptop in the kitchen, came out and sat down in a folding chair next to me. She began checking airfares and reading them off.

Second problem: My mother is yanking my chain. (What else is new?). She has no intention of traveling across the country (or even to the grocery store) without my father. She just likes to goad him about how she doesn’t need to depend on him.

I think I’ll call Mom’s bluff on this one and see how deep a hole she is willing to dig. Upon my return from Los Angeles, I intend to call her up to let her know that I have to reserve vacation dates at work and that I need to buy airline tickets now if we’re going in August.

She’s not going anywhere, of course. And if Mom did commit to going to Atlantic City, I’m sure that Dad would suddenly agree to go. I have no intention of going with the two of them. If Mom needs accompaniment because she doesn’t want to go alone, that’s different. Even so, I can just see Dad “unexpectedly” showing up at the airport, or at the door of Mom’s hotel room, or on a bench on the boardwalk just as we happen to be walking by. Because that’s how it is in my family. Cloak and dagger tactics, spite and bile are coin of the realm.

But what if Mom’s for real? What if, by some freakish hand of fate, she decides to show Dad up well and good and actually go? I probably would have a better chance of winning the lottery. Still, Mom is unpredictable, a trait she takes advantage of to the fullest. What will I do if she calls my bluff?

I’m not bluffing. I’ll go.

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