Baby Boomers

Whiskey Tango Family

I’m pretty fortunate when it comes to my extended family.

Not because they’re particularly helpful. Or empathetic. Or normal.

No, I’m fortunate because they live 400 miles away. Which means they’re close enough to visit for a weekend without wasting a day traveling each direction, but far enough away that I don’t have to see them very often.

I used to visit my family more often. Back then, I was single and in my twenties and my nieces were cute little kids and Southwest ran some really good fares.

Nowadays, I’ve got a five-year old daughter and a lot of shit going on that really makes it a hassle-and-a-half to get on a plane. Oh, and Southwest ain’t as cheap as it once was. Plus those rat bastards charge full-price for said five-year old even though her butt takes up, at a maximum, forty percent of that seat. AND I’ve stopped eating on Southwest since they switched from yummy peanuts to salt-lick pretzels.

And the TSA is a pain in the ass. And driving takes that full day I mentioned. And… umm… the lunar cycle? Help me out here. My mom is asking about next month.

I’ve managed to whittle it down to just two or three visits to the extended family per year. And I’ve started to notice that, with an additional distance between visits, a similar distance has grown between me and my family. Such that, whenever I’m forced to interact, I spend a good portion of my time wondering how the fuck we are related.

Part of it is generational, as the driving forces of my family have always been the baby boomers. So when the cooler is filled with a shit-ton of some tiny-ass water bottles that contain more plastic than water, such that I have to make a genuine decision between hydration and killing the planet, I chalk it up to the baby boomers being hellbent on ensuring that the earth doesn’t survive past their generation.  After all, they’ve been told that the world belonged to them from the moment they were born.

But my generation ain’t lining up to change things, either. I’m the only one who moved away. Everyone else stayed behind. Some of my cousins still live with their parents at 40 years old. The others have ventured a whopping two or three miles away from their childhood bedroom!

One of my cousins has a daughter who is six weeks younger than my daughter. I suggested we hold a joint family party somewhere in between, so that we could separate our requisite “crazy family party” from the “kids’ party.” She wouldn’t hear it! The birthday party has to include both family and friends, and must be as close to the cousin’s actual birthday as possible. The result is a “joint” birthday party that takes place six weeks after my daughter’s birthday, at which her cousin is getting twice as many presents.

And yeah, my daughter got a whole bunch of presents six weeks earlier, but that’s a hard concept to describe to a five-year old. So instead I just tell my daughter that all of those presents are shitty 99-cent store presents (more on that later) that we’re going to throw away as soon as we get home. Okay, I don’t tell her the last part, but I have yet to have her ever ask about any of the shit she’s gotten in the orgiastic bacchanal of two five-year olds simultaneously opening forty presents.

Full disclosure, I used to fucking hate the “family” birthday parties, where the child whose birthday it is ranks about twentieth on the list of reasons for the get-together. Reason number one is always showing off the house/cleaning skills/culinary skills.

One year I went to my room for two hours and nobody noticed. The boomers were all just there to see each other. None of that has changed. At this year’s party, the two birthday girls had to get out of the pool to blow out candles because, dammit, some old farts wanted cake before they left.

But it’s not just about birthday parties. It’s the whole shebang. Why do none of them have interest in anything slightly above banal? I only live 400 miles away. How am I so much less parochial? And, if they raised me, when the hell did they all become so god-damned Whiskey Tango?

To wit:

Beer. Last time I visited my family for a shindig, there were two beer options available: Bud Light and Corona. I tweeted about it, but wasn’t too bothered. The party hosted by boomers, so it was expected. All of their beer tastes were developed in 1960, when all beer came from Milwaukee or St. Louis.  For them, Michelob is a “premium craft.” Heck, I should be impressed they’ve “branched out” to Corona, even if it goes against my core belief that nothing that is supposed to have fruit added should be classified as beer.

Yes, Blue Moon, I’m looking in your direction.

But the child’s birthday party was hosted by Gen Xers, not Boomers. They are world travelers, and I have personally traveled to Australia and Scotland together, and I know she’s aware of craft beers. So I opened the cooler with baited breath. I was greeted with… Coors Light. I moved it out of the way, dug underneath and came up with another Coors Light. I opened the other side of the cooler, looking for the secret compartment with craft bee. Heck, I’d take a Michelob at this point. All I found was another sea of silver.

So I grabbed an iced tea instead. At least it wasn’t sweetened.

Maybe I should have…

BYOB. When we were leaving my mom’s house to go to the party, my mom’s husband asked me to pick out a bottle of wine or two. He said that my cousin never had good wine. I don’t think my mom’s husband’s wine is all that great, either. I live near multiple wine regions. Nothing in Southern California comes close. So if someone who drinks crappy wine says that the wine at this party will be crappy, then I better just plan on drinking beer.

Oops.

So I grabbed a bottle of wine for him. When we got to the party, I felt a little awkward bringing it in. Honestly, who brings their own booze to a non-BYOB party? So fucking tacky. Can I put my car up on blocks in your front yard, too?

Even worse, it was white wine, so it had to go in the host’s refrigerator. Because the cooler’s filled with Coors Light, naturally. Nothing’s so classy as walking in the front door and saying, “Hey, can you move some shit out of your refrigerator so I can put my mediocre wine in there since your wine sucks ass?”

Then again, had I known about the Coors Light situation, I would’ve been sneaking a six-pack in the refrigerator behind the wine.

Is it to late for Amazon drone delivery?

Shopping. At one point, we had to get a couple of things at the grocery store. Mainly, we had to pack the birthday present we brought for the cousin. If we tried to wrap it before we left, the TSA would have undone all our efforts.

My mom also wanted to provide fruit for the party. It’s BYOF, too. So off to the grocery store we went.

My mom didn’t ask what we needed. So when I appeared in the same checkout line as her with a gift bag, a card, and one package of colored tissue paper, she blinked and said, “Oh, I didn’t know that’s what you were getting. We could have gone to the 99-cent store if you wanted.”

Ugh. The 99-fucking-cent store. Both my and my wife’s mothers frequent that place. Neither mother is miserly nor in danger of running out of a pension anytime soon. But goddamn it if that 99-cent crap isn’t going to find a spot on their shelves.

It’s like they took all of those “Thrift” ideals that their Great Depression-era parents taught them, but only understood part of it. Thrift means both not overspending for things you need, but also not buying a bunch of unnecessary crap. But the Baby Boomers want all the crap, they just don’t want to pay for it. This becomes an issue because every time my mom sees my daughter, she’s giving her crap. It’s all ephemeral, not meant to be any more meaningful in the grand context than a passing bowel movement. Of course, each 99-cent piece of crap gets added to all of the other 99-cent pieces of crap and our house is overflowing like a backed-up toilet.

Meanwhile, while my mom’s chastising me for paying full price on a birthday card, she’s purchasing one of those pre-cut, pre-arranged fruit platters. Costs about eight bucks for maybe two bucks worth of fruit. With more plastic than a 3-ounce water bottle.

But just make sure you’re making the most from your “toys made of lead” budget.

Now let’s get out of here and enjoy the Southern California traffic.

Traffic. My mom doesn’t trust traffic apps. How does Google know, she asks, if there’s about to be an accident on a route? Fair enough, although I actually wouldn’t put it past Google to have an algorithm that knows where and when future accidents will occur.

But when she picked us up from the airport at 6:00 and we wanted to make a baseball game by 7:00, I told her in no uncertain terms that we were taking the route Google told us to take.

Of course, Google doesn’t assume you’ll stay in the slow lane for the ENTIRE fucking route. And sure, this is in Southern California. so all of the lanes are slow, but the slow lane is especially slow. Every mile, an onramp deposits ten new cars into the lane, who promptly merge in front of us, then slow down even more in order to pull into the second lane, from whence they speed up by twenty MPH or so. And my mom is pretty much eternally going five MPH, except for the times she’s at a complete stop for all of these mergers.

“And see?” she says when we get to the game twenty minutes later than Google said we would. “Google doesn’t know how to account for this Southern California traffic.”

I wonder what Google would say is the dominant flavor in…

Churros. We met my niece for breakfast at a pretty good establishment in San Diego County called the Breakfast Republic. Solid food. I’ve eaten there a couple of times, but this was the first time I’d eaten at this particular location.

They have lots of scrumptious variations of Eggs Benedict and pancakes. My niece is a vegetarian, so she wasn’t interested in the crab cake bennie I got. She got Churro Pancakes. She gave us each a bite. Pretty yummy. Actual chunks of churro in there, and a dominant flavor of cinnamon.

Which my mom found odd. “Huh,” she says. “I wouldn’t expect that for a churro. Do you taste, I don’t know, kind of… cinnamon in there?”

Um, yeah? What the hell does she think a churro tastes like? What does she think that brown powder that they roll the dough in when it’s done cooking? Cumin?

Oh well, at least she wasn’t offensive or anything…

Pride. After breakfast, my niece was heading off to a Pride parade. She wore a rainbow shirt that said Pride on it. At first, my mom seemed oblivious, but the conversation eventually went there.

She seemed okay at first. Nothing overly offensive. She asked if my niece’s boyfriend was going to go to the parade. My niece said probably not. It’s not that he’s opposed to gay pride, he just doesn’t really want to hang out with a bunch of sweaty dudes with asscheeks hanging out. Totally get that. I’ve never understood how, in order to support LGBTQ rights, you need to oppose basic hygiene. Is there any way I can believe in marriage equality without getting a sunburnt schlong?

That being said, does my niece’s boyfriend realize that it isn’t just dudes letting their asscheeks hang out? Nothing like a gay pride parade to bring out all the heterosexual labias. It’s Mardi Gras, only without the beads and the necessity to fly to New Orleans.

But I digress. The reason I brought this all up was my mom’s response. She agreed with the boyfriend. Sort of. In typical Baby Boomer and/or white trash and/or general out-of-touchness, she started with, I shit you not, “I’m not a homophobe, but…”

Prepare the eyeroll.

“I just don’t want to see it.”

Okay, not quite what niece’s boyfriend was saying.

My mom went on to say there’s a gay couple on a soap opera she watches. She just fast forwards whenever they start kissing. It bothers her.

Um, what exactly does she think the “phob” part of homophobia means. If I say I’m not afraid of snakes, I just don’t want to see one because it makes me uncomfortable, guess what? It means I’m afraid of snakes.

But my mom adds the coup de grace.

“I don’t have any problem with them doing what they do. Just… do it behind closed doors or something.”

Spoken like a true non-homophobe.

Seriously, how did I come from this family?

I don’t know.

Just pass me the Coors Light.

Eating Habits of the Elderly

My mom came to visit last weekend. Always an adventure. But between the “fun” of having someone in our space constantly and the “why is grandchild getting tired of me” and the off-hand comments on our parenting, I found a few oddities about her choice of food.

I found a few of her choices odd because they align with my in-laws, who we dine with more often. My mom grew up in the suburbs of Southern California, my mother-in-law grew up in the rural foothills of Northern California, and my father-in-law grew up in Vegas, so there shouldn’t necessarily be too many common threads between them, geographically.

Except that they were all firmly entrenched in the Baby Boom era. Which means they grew up in an era where Kool Aid was considered healthy and Wonder Bread was the preferred avenue toward the mandatory carbohydrate input of the day. And the only proper spice to put on any dish is salt. And if that’s not enough, add a little more salt.

So it must just be the children of a certain age that have a couple of tendencies toward what I might call double-wide culinary school.

And, other than a few go-to’s, all three of the eaters in question are prone to the finer things in life. Their tastebuds have definitely progressed beyond their meager beginnings. I wouldn’t necessarily call any of them foodies, but they’re not those “same five dishes we’ve always had” types. Especially the females. My mom won’t bat an eye at a Thai restaurant and my in-laws love to discover new gastropubs in San Francisco (provided they have been well vetted by a known source). My mom and mother-in-law are both very good cooks. Both of them can make Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner for twenty, and are even sometimes willing to tweak one recipe or another. One at a time, of course, but still. My father-in-law watches every single competition show on Food Network and my mom is hellbent on visiting every Bobby Flay restaurant in the world.

And yet… And yet…

Mustard. 

I love mustard. I will put mustard on just about anything. I’ll take mustard over mayo on a sandwich any day of the week. I hate when you’re at a conference that’s “providing sandwiches,” because those sandwiches are inevitably half mayonnaise, and the mustard is relegated to tiny packets. So there I’ll be, standing over the trash can, trying to scrape off the mayo and using my teeth to open the five mustard packs it’s going to take to offset the slimy meat and… you know what? Screw it, I’m just going to have a mustard sandwich.

My jaw hit the floor when I saw Alton Brown put mustard (and cracked pepper) on a grilled cheese sandwich. My life has never been the same.

And don’t get me started on In n’ Out’s mustard-grilled patties. They’re a slice of heaven, but I can only get them right about 1/3 of the time. Every other time they assume I want animal style.

“Can I get a double-double, mustard-grilled?”

“Okay, one animal-style double-double.”

“No, just mustard-grilled.”

“Okay, mustard-grilled with pickles.”

“No pickles. Just mustard-grilled.”

“Okay, thousand-island dressing.”

“No, I don’t want fucking animal style. I just want fucking mustard-grilled.”

Blank stare. “Okay, I’ll just write animal style, and I assume the cook will know what to do.”

And there’s I’ll be, scraping shit off of his burger over the trash can.

About a year ago, the in-laws were over for a barbecue. Burgers and hot dogs. Of course, all three of the baby boomers prefer hot dogs over Brats or Polish or Italian or Hawaiian, but whatever. I get out the condiments and…

“Do you have any mustard?” Father-in-law asked.

I hand across the mustard. He looks puzzled, turned the bottle over in his hands, put it down.

“No, I mean mustard.”

See, the problem was that I had given him what I consider mustard. I don’t remember which specific type it was. I can’t imagine it was anything overly spicy. Nothing with horseradish, no Colman’s English, no nuclear-orange sweet and hot. It was probably a generic stone-ground. I probably had some better stuff on hand, but I wouldn’t waste it on my in-laws.

And don’t get me started on the coffee swill I bust out when my mom is visiting.

But no, my father-in-law didn’t consider this particular bottle to be mustard. Of course, we all know what he meant by mustard. He wanted the neon-yellow sourpuss mustard. Good, old-fashioned American brands like… French’s. Or Heinz. What I had handed him was a natural-looking yellow-brown, with a couple of speckles indicating that it did, in fact, come from a plant. Maybe even a mustard plant.

I know the seeds are only for effect. I worked in a homemade ice cream shop in college and can attest that the beans in the vanilla bean don’t add squat to the flavor.

Well, I was a tad bit embarrassed at this barbecue to discover that, although I had three different types of mustard in the fridge, none of them were what he was looking for. I resolved to have some the next time they were over, and he settled for ketchup. I was smart enough to not bust out the malt-vinegar ketchup.

The earlier incident had been lost to the annals of experience. We now keep a bottle of French’s yellow mustard around for the in-laws when they visit. I never thought more of it, and often forget it’s in my refrigerator, even though I see it next to the good shit every time I open the refrigerator.

So while my mom was visiting, I absentmindedly asked her if she could put all the condiments out while I was cooking the burgers. Three guesses which yellow condiment was waiting for me when I got outside.

And look, I’m not opposed to the yellow mustard. It serves its purpose. It gets the job done. It’s cheaper and usually more accessible than the good shit. When I’m scrounging together a mustard sandwich from the Subway spread, chances are it ain’t Grey Poupon I’m slathering on the soggy bread. When I’m at the ballpark, if yellow’s all they’ve got, I’m still getting a hot dog. Whereas, if Coors Light is the only beer they have, I’m getting water.

Although I have noticed that more ballparks are giving good mustard as an option. Just sayin’.

Yellow mustard is a perfectly fine product. But if there’s a yellow mustard right next to a stone-ground horseradish mustard, is it really a question which one you should grab? Well, evidently, it is, because I now have one Baby Boomer who refuses to eat the latter, and one that, I don’t know, doesn’t know it exists? Because what surprises me the most is that my mom opened the refrigerator, saw this, and it never even occurred to her to grab more than one.

mustard

Oh, and that mayonnaise is also only there for when Baby Boomers are in tow.

Bisquick

I’m a little less understanding about this second culinary foible.

Whenever my wife’s sister is in town, we do breakfast at the in-laws. I usually try to steer us toward a restaurant. We have a wonderful breakfast place that specializes in mimosas. I am usually overruled.

Breakfast at the in-laws is usually a smorgasbord of chaos. Mother-in-law cooks up bacon and then leaves a bunch of options out for us to cook for ourselves. There are eggs, which I usually opt for. And then there’s a giant batch o’ Bisquick.

I could have said “pancake batter,” but I’m striving for accuracy here. And whatever the fuck Bisquick is, it ain’t pancakes.

The name implies it started as a biscuit mixture. That might explain the odd baking soda-esque tinge that remains on my tongue whenever I eat a Bisquick pancake. Maybe if I were to eat the pancake with a big ol’ batch of country gravy on top, it would taste a little better.

Bisquick officially lists itself as “Pancake and Biscuit Mix.” So even they have acceded to the fact that they are usually used for the former. Didn’t bother changing their name to Panquick, though.

Oh hey, they also say you can make waffles with their product. Just… let me see here… well, it’s the same as pancake batter, but with a little oil. Are they aware that waffles are supposed to taste different than pancakes? No? That might explain why I also didn’t know that until I was twenty.

My mom is on the same Bisquick-wagon my in-laws are on. About six months ago, she was excited to make some Mickey Mouse pancakes for my daughter. She had been practicing! Because it’s super hard to make Mickey Mouse pancakes. You have to… make three pancakes… but simultaneous! And connected! I assume it takes up a whole semester at culinary school.

But sure, Mom, knock yourself out.

She goes to our pantry and comes out a few hours later like a bewildered spelunker returning from the Land of the Lost.

“I’m sure I’m just missing it, but I couldn’t find any Bisquick.”

“Oh yeah, I usually make pancakes from scratch.”

Blink. Blink.

“From that standard, in-every-kitchen-in-America, Betty Crocker cookbook right there.”

Blink. Blink.

“The one you gave me twenty years ago when I moved out?”

“Oh. Um. Okay. I just. I don’t think I’ve ever made them that way.”

So for this visit, my wife decided to get a box of Bisquick at the store.

“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much,” my mom said when we showed it to her. I think she was more excited at the Bisquick than she was when I told her a grandchild was on the way.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m not going all hipster, anti-processed food here. I am perfectly fine with boxed meals. If I could eat Zatarain’s Caribbean Rice fortnightly, I would. I survived a good portion of my bachelor years on Rice-a-Roni, Pasta-Roni, and their ilk. My mom probably had to look behind three boxes of Shake & Bake and a barricade of Mac & Cheese (for the child, naturally…) in her ill-fated search for the Bisquick.

But I’ve got a few problems with Bisquick. First and foremost is the taste. There’s something acrid to it. Something that tastes like they couldn’t figure out if they wanted to taste like biscuits or pancakes (or waffles), so they split the difference and banked on being nondescript enough or ubiquitous enough that nobody would notice. It is not a flavor you would find when you go out for breakfast. Fortunately the IHOP/IHOb rebrand wasn’t alluding to International House of Bisquick. All of these Bisquick-lovers opt for fluffy, flavorful pancakes when we’re out for breakfast, yet don’t bat an eye settling for substantially less when at home.

I suppose I get that a little. I love getting Eggs Benedict when I’m out for breakfast. Because poaching eggs is a pain in the ass. And I can only assume hollandaise sauce would take effort. And I’m guessing the packet hollandaise wouldn’t taste as good.

But there’s a big difference between Eggs Benedict and pancakes, and it’s my biggest problem with the Bisquickers. PANCAKES AREN’T DIFFICULT TO MAKE! Bisquick requires three ingredients: Bisquick, milk, and egg. The Betty Crocker recipe adds four more ingredients: Flour, milk, egg, brown sugar, oil, baking powder, and salt. And I can’t imagine either of the Baby Boomers I know are having issues with brown sugar, oil, baking powder, or salt.

Seriously, I’m shitty at baking because I never measure things correctly. My wife’s the baker and I’m the cook, because I like to toss it in the pan and sample and add a little of this and try to offset a pinch of that. Who does my wife get her baking ability from? Her mother, who loves to bake. My mom makes enough Christmas cookies to feed a battalion. They both make homemade pie crusts and cakes that I would have to buy from the store.

You know what pie crusts and cakes and cookies all have? Oil. And sugar. And probably some baking powder.

Yet neither of them can be bothered to put the extra three minutes and one dirty measuring spoon into a morning meal.

So my mom made a batch of Bisquick pancakes for my daughter. She used the number four mold this time, since my daughter just turned four.

Then she put the rest of the batter in the refrigerator.

Two days later, she busted out the two-day old Bisquick batch. Even my daughter thought that was much. Those refined four year-old taste buds took one bite and said no, thanks.

So my mom made another batch.

Look, I love me some leftovers. But all three of these Baby Boomers are prone to hold on to every morsel of leftover food. A refrigerator becomes a veritable minefield of day-old, week-old, and when-the-fuck-did-we-have-Chinese food. I’m prone to a bit of this, myself.

But Bisquick batter? The whole fucking box cost five bucks. It’ll last twenty years. I may only be a teacher, but I think I can afford a little batter dump.

But then I have to remind myself that our parents grew up during the Great Depression.

Right? Like in “Grease.” The malt-shop, poodle-skirt, Elvis-Presly-pelvis-shaking Great Depression.