My friend Larry was trying to explain. “It’s like I’m Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School,” he said, “only without the money.” We were sitting around our friends’ and former professors’ kitchen table, watching dogs and kids and Legos mix it up on the floor while adults scurried about prepping for Thanksgiving dinner. Larry and I went to graduate school together almost 20 years ago and both received our MA in Creative Writing at New Mexico State University. While I received my MFA elsewhere shortly after that, Larry had returned to Las Cruces almost two decades later to put the “F” in his MFA if that makes any sense to people who should probably care more about mofos than MFAs.
Larry had invited two fellow grad students to Thanksgiving in what the rest of us dubbed “The Dating Game.” Both 20-something women had the same name—Janey—and dietary designation—vegan—so all the adults and even some of the kids referred to them as Janey No. 1 and Janey No. 2 as if they were curtains on a game show. Standing at barely five feet, Janey No. 1 arrived first, wearing a backless, twirling party dress and a pair of shitkickers purchased in the boy’s section of Salvation Army. And, as if to confuse us even more, Janey No. 1 was scheduled to pick up Janey No. 2 at the airport just after dessert.
When Larry signed up online to return to his alma mater, he was fairly sure he’d get in, so he didn’t take the application form that seriously. Under the heading “Nickname,” he’d jokingly typed “T-Bone.” Little did he know that computer networks had advanced since 1994, so when he’d arrived at NMSU, T-Bone was everywhere: on his nametag, student ID, financial aid paperwork and the lips of his fellow grad students and professors. I mention this because, not long after she arrived, I heard Janey No. 1 yelling to T-Bone that they should do something called an “Irish Car Bomb.”
“Isn’t that in bad taste?” I asked my old friend, seeing that his parents came over from Ireland to escape things like religious wars, British occupation and, well, car bombs.
“Nah,” he said in a rooster-guarding-the-henhouse sort of way.
An Irish Car Bomb is a big drink for a petite firecracker like Janey, and watching her drop a shot of Baileys with a Jameson floater into a full pint of Guinness got my salivary glands going. What was even worse was witnessing so much good booze trickle down her chin and onto her tidy and unmotherly chest. I knew I’d been away from graduate school for a while when I realized it’s now a requirement for students to raise both arms in the air and scream after finishing a drink that should only be served in sports bars. Janey hugged T-Bone, and I watched as the decades between them melted away. I could almost hear Woody Allen whisper in my ear, “The heart wants what it wants.”
“She is so not driving to the airport,” one of my former professors said. We all agreed that no one should drive anywhere that night, so Janey texted another grad student who happens to share my first name, which I share with the owner of the house we were eating and drinking in. Rob No. 2 or No. 3, depending on whether you rank by age or height or history with car bombs, would gladly retrieve Janey No. 2 and deliver her shortly.
“We need a whiteboard to keep track of all these dull-named people,” I said, exhausted. “And I’m one of them.”
“I feel like I’ve already eaten,” T-Bone said, carrying a full plate in from the kitchen.
“Car bomb!” a few other adults yelled, and we all raised our arms and screamed in the air like good current, former or future graduate students.
“I made vegan gravy!” Janey No. 1 added. No one said anything to that.
Like a holy man, I stuck to water and wine that night, but there were plenty of other options I saw mosey their way out of liquor cabinets and various refrigeration units. In the post-dinner exhale—after turkey and its supporting cast, vegan and non-vegan cakes and apple pies baked by a local Christian woman that my son said tasted like “Jesus dipped in caramel”—I saw the effects the car bombs had on T-Bone and our little Janey. The May/December duo was teetering as if they were experiencing a series of minor earthquakes. It almost seemed fun, having a chance to relive two years of your life.
“Oh Jesus,” T-Bone said, pawing at the front of Janey’s dress which was now stained a deep burgundy. In some twisted act of gallantry, he grabbed a plastic bottle and started pouring bubbling water on her neck and chest.
“Wet t-shirt contest,” someone stage-whispered.
“Car bomb!” someone else yelled, and I didn’t need to turn around to know that he was signaling a touchdown.
T-Bone wiped his hands on the front of his jeans. “That’ll do the trick.”
“People usually use club soda, not tonic,” I said.
“Oh jeez,” he groaned, sounding more like a Larry and less like a T-Bone.
Besides helping her smell like a patio bar during spring break, this parade of wardrobe malfunctions exposed Janey’s array of tattoos, so I asked for a primer. “This one I got because I love Dr. Seuss,” she said, pointing to a grove of cotton-candy trees. “Oh, and I have one, well…” She paused.
“In a private place?”
“Yeah.” She nodded. “It’s the one I didn’t really think through.”
The back door opened and in walked the other Rob, followed by Janey No. 2, whose youthful face managed to look tired without forming any wrinkles.
“You must be hungry.” I raced to the refrigerator. Who doesn’t love the sight of Thanksgiving leftovers? “Here,” I said, handing her a gallon bag full of sliced turkey breast. “Go to town.”
“Um, I’m a vegan,” she said grimly.
“Car bomb!” I yelled, and reached for the sky.