Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul gets nervous about guest starring on a Mexican tele-novella.
No matter how you slice it, Mexico makes me nervous. Not the country, mind you. But my in-laws, Chef’s family. I should explain that I use the name of the country as an endearing term referring to my in-laws in general, much in the same way that I use the name of my partner’s profession to refer to my beloved Chef.
My nervous condition has a long history. When Chef and I first became an item, my Catholic mother-in-law refused to meet me. So the stakes were high once Chef and I were living together and she finally agreed to stay in Alphabet City on one of her twice yearly visits.
On the day of his parents arrival, I was rushing back from a two week cross-country trip for Condé Nast Traveler and was working myself up into a frenzy of anxiety. My boss Publisher wasn’t helping matters when I confessed to why I was so fidgety. She leaned across the mini-table separating our First Class seats.
“I certainly hope you have a game plan. This first meeting is big. Very big. You gotta have a game plan,” she said.
“You’re not just planning on letting them see you in your robe and slippers are you? Not to overstate the matter, but this meeting is make it or break it. You better be ready with your game face on.”
I tiptoed into the apartment a little after 1am, and everyone else—including my mother-in-law—was fast asleep. I was completely wired and unable to rest. How could Chef be snoring at a time like this? At 5am, I rushed to the bathroom, showered and drank a full pot of coffee. Taking Publisher’s advice, I had my game face on.
6am, sitting on the couch, I calmed my breathing just in case I could hear sounds of stirring from the guest room. 6:30am Nothing.
7am. I wake Juan Pablo.
“What kind of sick game is she playing?” I asked.
“She’s probably just tired.”
7:45am Juan Pablo is headed to work. Leaving me to face her on my own.
“What am I supposed to do?” I pleaded.
“Wait, I guess. Good luck.” He says and closes the door.
“Good luck? You’re kidding, right?
8. 8:30. 9. Now I was late for work, and exhausted from these shenanigans.
Just as I grabbed my bag and unlocked the front door, out popped my nemesis in a nightgown and crazy bed head.
“Mi hijo, leaving so early? You got in so late. You work too hard. And not even saying hello? Now wait, I have a present for you.”
Fully expecting a bottle of tequila or some woven place mats that every visitor from Mexico brought me, I was completely unprepared for the almost full-size mirror with hand worked tin frame. It was spectacular.
“You brought that here? On the plane?”
Never in a million years would it cross my mind to bring anyone a gift that large, much less my new gay son-in-law who I was less than enthusiastic about meeting.
“Never you mind. That’s what mothers do. Now what’s for breakfast?”
“Oh, I’ve gotta run. There’s cereal in the cabinet. We’ll talk later.”
“What? After I give you a present like that? Now get me some coffee and come sit down. How come you never visit in Mexico?”
She had the upper hand all along, and suddenly, I was no longer the star of my own sitcom, but the kooky gay gringo in a Mexican tele-novella. My story lines always involve some misunderstandings caused by my elementary Spanish. At our niece’s Baptism in Mexico City, I was pretty sure the priest told all non-Catholics to leave the church immediately. While I thought it was odd, I was supremely confident in my grasp of Spanish commands, I shrugged and stood up to leave in the middle of the service. Until my mother-in-law met me with a steely gaze. Cue commercial. And don’t get me started on how I misinterpreted a funeral sermon as blatantly anti-Semitic and threw a mini-temper tantrum at the wake to Chef’s utter dismay.
This year will mark the second time I’ve agreed to submerge myself in the familial chaos of a Mexican Christmas. Honestly, my in-laws’ Christmas bonding feels more like bondage to me. I come from a small family whose own holiday traditions sunk into a sea of dysfunction when my parents separated and I was ten. Once I escaped to New York, I thought I’d never be drawn into familial awkwardness again.
But as the Gringo, I’m learning to take a step back and admire this tight knit group who’ve made room for me at their table. And you better believe I’ve got a game plan—a gift of holiday goodness packed for my mother-in-law.
Viewer Advisory: this might be my last posting for a few weeks. Perhaps a couple of updates while I’m sunning in the Yucatan Peninsula. In the meantime, my deepest appreciation for all your support and encouragement—in just three short months, this blog has turned into one of my greatest joys this year. Here’s hoping you have a more relaxed holiday than I’m anticipating. Looking forward to posting in the New Year.