Edna and I were sitting on Verna’s porch one evening, when Edna picked up a copy of National Geographic from the end table and pointed to the natives on the front cover.
“Look at the shirts on those guys,” she said.
“What about ‘em?” I asked.
“They’re sparkling white! How do people living in a jungle keep their clothes spotless while I get a permanent stain on a blouse every time I eat Chinese. There must be something about pounding clothes on a rock in a cold stream that Proctor and Gamble isn’t telling us.”
“Don’t be silly,” Verna said. “They probably don’t eat as much Chinese carryout as we do, so their clothes stay white longer. It’s all in the food you eat.”
I tried to find a middle ground before we got too far around the bend.
“Perhaps they only photograph the natives who are wearing clean shirts. That’s what I’d do if I were the cameraman.”
The Food Arrives
About that time Verna set out a box of red wine and some cheese balls, causing Edna to register a ten on her Richter shock scale.
“Verna, what’s with the box of wine?” she blurted out.
“Oh, I got that at the drugstore today. It was on special and the clerk said it was really good.”
“Since when did they hire a sommelier for the checkout counter?” Edna chided. “I can’t believe you bought wine in a carton like it was orange juice, for heaven’s sake.”
“I thought you, of all people, would approve,” Verna replied. “Don’t you know that changing the packaging of wine reduces greenhouse gas emissions? Because the product weighs less, it is less costly to transport. If we put all our wine in cartons we would reduce gas emissions by two million tons, the same as retiring 400,000 cars.”
Edna was stunned. When Verna stepped out of the room, she took a sip of the wine, shook her head and whispered, “I’ve taken liquid cold remedies that had more body than this.”
“I think you’re a wine snob,” I said.
“How can you say that? I just don’t like the idea of wine coming from a plastic spigot.”
“Well, don’t say anything. It will just hurt Verna’s feelings.”
So we drank the wine in deference to our hostess and masked its deficiencies with cheese balls. Several glasses into the evening, Verna set out another surprise: a 4” x 4” plastic cube filled with cards.
“What’s that? Edible paper?” Edna teased.
“No,” Verna replied, “it’s a game called Table Topics that we’re going to play.”
“You know I’m not good at games, Verna,” I said. “I think I’ll just run along home.”
“No one leaves until we play the game,” she said, throwing her arms out like a defensive guard.
“Okay, okay. I’ll play one round. . . or one inning. . .or one hand, whatever it is,” I said.
“Where did you get the game? At the drugstore?” Edna asked.
“That’s right, I did.” Verna replied, “How did you guess?”
I was getting impatient. “Hurry up and let’s get on with this, Verna. How do you play?”
“Well, each person picks a card, reads the question on it, and then we discuss the answer,” she said. “To keep the pace moving, we will limit each discussion to just three minutes, so you have to be quick. I’ll go first so you get the idea.”
A Few Bad Questions
Verna pulled out a card, snickered to herself and then read: “If you were setting up a new society, what would be the role of women?”
Edna pounced on that one. “We would be the rule makers. You know the old saying, ‘Those who make the rules rule.’”
“What kind of rules would you make?” I asked in an attempt to spur conversation, as I was sure the game was intended to do.
“I would have the entire population sprayed with a contraceptive solution. Then in order to be parents you would take the free antidote. That way only people who truly wanted children had them. It would really solve a lot of problems.”
“With my luck I’d be in the shower when the contraceptive dusting plane flew over,” Verna said. “Besides, I don’t like this question. You pick one, Jean.”
I pulled out a card and read: “If you got a tattoo what kind would you get and where would you put it?” I’m not into elective pain, but I played along.
“I would get something discreet… perhaps a small butterfly on top my big toe,” I said.
“Ahhh … that’s cute,” Verna said.
Edna sighed her disapproval and let Verna and me ramble. After a few minutes, she tried to draw a conclusion.
“You’re being too rational about this. Nobody gets up in the morning and says, ‘Today I’m going to get a tattoo.’ You don’t elect to have some guy in a leather vest with a pony tail poke needles in your skin when you’re sober—only when you’re drunk or in a country whose name you can’t pronounce.”
Things Best Forgotten
That was hard to argue with, so Edna grabbed a new card and read: “What was the worst hairstyle you ever had?”
“I’ve liked all my hairdos. . .at the time,” Verna said.
“Honey, you looked just awful in that beehive you wore back in seventies. I’ve waited all this time to get up the nerve to tell you that. It’s best you don’t go on thinking that was a good look.”
“I think I detect a little jealousy from you, Miss Edna,” Verna said curtly. “I got lots of compliments on that hairstyle.”
“All right, you guys, can we reminisce more gently?” I said. “Let me give this one a try. I’d say my worst hairdo was those banana curls my mother made me wear so I would look like Shirley Temple.”
“Well, did you look like her?” Edna asked.
“No, I had buck teeth, blond hair, and no eyebrows. Though I think my curls were far prettier than Shirley’s.”
Before I could finish describing the loveliness of my naturally curly hair, Verna was waving a new card in the air. “Listen up, girls, here’s one that hits close to home: Which of your children would you want to take care of you in your old age?”
“All of ‘em,” Edna shouted without hesitation. “To keep me in the manner to which I want to grow accustomed, ‘it will take a village,’ as Hillary might say.”
Verna and I agreed that taking care of Edna would require at least a joint venture, if not a village, and quickly moved on.
Next Question, Please
I pulled the next card and read, “What’s a perfect age?” There was a noticeable pause in the conversation as though we were all doing a mental calculation.
I spoke first. “There is no perfect age,” I said profoundly. “No one is ever happy with what they are.”
Edna frowned. “I don’t know about that,” she said. “Eighteen was pretty damn good.”
“Think about it. You only feel that way in retrospect. I bet you wanted to be older at the time,” I said.
“Well, I definitely wanted more money, fancier clothes, another job, and a better boy friend,” she declared.
Unable to determine the perfect age within the three-minute time frame, we moved onto yet another topic, this time one that we could get our teeth into—literally. It read, “If you had to put on ten pounds, what would you eat to gain the weight?”
We lit up with delight at the thought!
“I remember when Shelly Winters supposedly put on thirty pounds for Poseidon Adventure and she never looked the same again,” Edna warned.
“I tell you something crazier than that,” Verna added. “I read about a prisoner on death row who ordered a salad and Diet Coke for his last meal. Why in the world would anybody do that?”
“Maybe they had a bad cook at the prison,” Edna suggested. “But let’s get back to the question. How are we going to put on these ten pounds. . . and fast?”
It didn’t take long to decide that gelato and mashed potatoes would be our weight gain foods of choice, though we differed as to which flavor of the Italian ice cream we’d use to achieve the goal. I thought we were just getting the hang of the game, until the next question caught us all off guard.
An Evening Cut Short
Verna could hardly contain her amusement as she read: “Tell the truth, do you pee in the shower?”
We burst into laughter. It’s surprising what a dumb question and a cheap wine will do to your sense of humor.
“That’s it,” I said, “I’m going home.”
“Me, too,” Edna chimed in. “This is a disgusting game. . . and so is that drugstore wine you served,” she shouted back at Verna as she headed out the door. “But those cheese balls were divine.”