"That's the fam," she said.

A paragraph of background, for any newcomers:

I am a very reclusive man, with few friends and little social life — by choice. Almost always I prefer to be at home, alone, tilted back in my comfortable recliner. Recently I've moved back to Seattle, where I grew up, because there's family here. They're the only people I see, mostly at once-weekly breakfasts. I'm at Mrs Rigby's Diner at 9AM every Saturday. The family is invited to show up then and there, if they want to see me. Usually 2-3 people join me for breakfast. Some Saturdays it's only me, and I eat alone, which is not a disappointment.

My brother Clay wanted to have a day where we'd hang out, so we made very vague plans to spend Saturday afternoon together. We talked about maybe going to the zoo, maybe going to a museum, maybe having a picnic, maybe visiting Dad at the cemetery, but nothing had been decided except that our day together would start at 2:00 PM. Clay said he'd come to breakfast Saturday morning, and we'd decide then, what we'd be doing in the afternoon.

On Friday, Clay texted me, and asked if Saturday's breakfast could start at 8:30 instead of 9AM, because he had somewhere else to be afterward, and his scheduling was tight. I said sure, I'd come early for Clay, be there at 8:30.

Bus service slows down on the weekend, runs only every twenty minutes, so I caught a bus that got me to the restaurant at five past eight — way earlier than Clay had said. I'd brought a book, thinking there'd be some quiet time before Clay got there, but he was already at a table, already eating breakfast, with his wife Karen, and with Leon, a friend since forever for both me and my brother.

"You're late," Clay said to me as I sat down.

"Uh, no, I'm twenty minutes early."

"We were meeting at 8," he insisted, "but it's no worry."

"Glad it's no worry," I said, "but you asked me to be here at 8:30, not 8:00, so I'm early, not late."

"That rhymes," Leon said, and we laughed about crossed wires and miscommunication. Then I ordered my omelet, and the four of us talked, and I asked Clay what we'd be doing together that afternoon. He said they hadn't decided yet, but that we could talk about it at the party.

"The party?" I asked, and he explained as if he thought I'd known — after breakfast, we were going to his son's house, for his granddaughter's birthday party. She's turning two. Everyone was going to be there, and soon I understood that the "everyone" going to Fatima's party included me.

"I'm not going to a party," I said.

"Why not?" Clay asked, a blank look on his face.

"Because I don't want to," I said. 

"Aw please," he pleaded.

"No. I'm not a party guy. I went to a party once in the 1980s. Never again."

"It's just a birthday party for my granddaughter," he said.

"Well, have a grand time with your granddaughter. Tell the kid I said 'happy birthday', but for the fourth time, I'm not going."

It wasn't the last time I said no, of course. There followed further 'why nots' but my patience for 'why nots' isn't long, and I started getting cranky.

"You didn't know about the party?" Karen asked.

"I sure didn't," I answered, but that doesn't matter. If I'd known, I still wouldn't have gone.

Karen said to her husband, my bruddah, "Clay, you can't surprise people like that." She's good at reining him in, and after that the four of us talked like relatively normal friends and relatives.

Toward 9:00, Clay and Karen started to seem impatient, eager for Mom to arrive. Mom usually comes to breakfast on Saturdays. My sister Katrina usually drives her. Maybe Clay wanted to talk to Mom about something important, I thought.

At about nine, Dick and Young-sook walked in. I hadn't expected them, but after hugs Dick explained that they were going to Fatima's birthday party, and he'd thought breakfast with me would be a good start. It was good to see him, less good to see Young-sook, but they're a package deal. Marriage and all.

Clay told them I wasn't coming to the party, and Dick asked me why, so that whole argument/conversation happened a second time. By then I'd said no ten times at least.

Then Clay took his phone out, and called Katrina."I thought you and Mom were going to be at breakfast," he said to the phone, and I don't know what Katrina said, but Clay raised his voice almost too loud for a restaurant, and said, "We have to be to the party by ten. How long until you get here?" Whatever she said to that he didn't like it, and then he said, "What does Mom want for breakfast? We're going to order for her, 'to go'."

Then Clay frowned and growled and said "Hello?" She'd either hung up on him or the connection broke. He poked his finger at his phone to redial Katrina, but Karen overruled him. "Clay, we've talked about this. She's driving. She'll get here when she gets here. Relax."

"Why would you order Mom's breakfast 'to go'?" I asked.

"Because we're in a hurry," he said.

I did not understand what Mom's breakfast had to do with Clay and Karen being in a hurry, but this is my family. There are always things I don't understand and never will, and I wasn't curious enough to ask again.

Dick and Young-sook studied their menus. She barely speaks English, was undecided about what she wanted, so she pointed at several pictures.

The waitress came, and Dick said he wanted a Coke, with very little ice, saying it slowly and loudly, and bringing back a bad memory. Then he ordered everything Young-sook had pointed to on the menu, but she'd done a lot of pointing — pork chops and eggs, and an omelet, and strawberry pancakes, plus sides of bacon and sausage and a cinnamon roll.

Karen said, "That's a lot of food, Dick — are you sure?"

He said he'd eaten at Mrs Rigby's before, and their portions were small. He'd never eaten there with me before, so I said skeptically, "The portions are pretty generous, Dick."

Leon has been to some of these Saturday breakfasts, and he said, "Yeah, there's usually more food than I can eat, and I never even order any sides," but Dick waved him off.

The waitress read Dick's order back to him, and asked, "Wheat toast or white, with the omelet?" and then, "And same with the pork chops?" That second question about toast should've been another yellow light, but Dick plowed through all the yellows.

While Dick's feast was cooking, Clay called Katrina again, asked again what Mom wanted for breakfast, and again they were mysteriously cut off. Then he asked Leon if he was coming to the party, and Leon had a mouthful of sausage but shook his head no. Then Clay asked again if I was coming to the party, and I said, "Still no, and no next time, too," and I knew Katrina had hung up on him. Twice.

Pretty soon, Dick and Young-sook's breakfasts came — on five plates, filling his half of the table. Even through Young-sook's broken English and accent, I understood what she said as the plates clattered down: "So much food."

Then Mom and Katrina came in, and their arrival made us a party of eight, at a table big enough for only six. We couldn't drag another table over, because the tables on both sides were already occupied, so Katrina and Mom sat in an adjacent booth — very temporarily, I thought, because Clay and his wife had long ago finished eating, and he was itchy to get to Fatima's birthday party, so they were about to say goodbye and go, right?

Then more details were revealed, details seemingly known in advance by everyone else, but news to me: Mom wanted to go to Fatima's birthday party, but Katrina couldn't go and couldn't drive her, so Clay and Karen were driving Mom to the party.

That's why Clay had been so anxious for them to show up.

That's why he'd wanted her breakfast to be 'to go'.

They couldn't leave until Mom had eaten, and Mom takes a long time to eat breakfast, and good luck trying to rush my mother through anything. She's at breakfast for the talk-time, much more than for the food.

Clay again told Mom to order her breakfast 'to go', and said she could eat it in their car. Mom said absolutely not, and said it loudly.

With almost a buffet spread out in front of him, Dick offered to give Mom his pork chop breakfast, so she wouldn't have to order and could eat quicker. Ever since Babe, though, Mom doesn't eat pork.

Dick offered her their strawberry pancakes instead, but Young-sook had already eaten a few bites, and she was saying something in Korean that seemed to mean she wasn't yielding the pancakes.

"I always order the cheese omelet," Mom said, "and that's what I'll order when the waitress comes back."

Clay was fuming. Karen was trying to keep him calm. Young-sook was saying, "Too much food," but eating off three of the five plates in front of her.

A waitress came by, took Katrina's order, started taking Mom's order, and Clay interjected, "To go."

"Not to go," Mom said. "On plates, and there's no hurry." 

Clay fumed some more, as another waitress poured coffee at the table, then whirled around to pour coffee for Mom and Katrina in the booth. The table and the booth were six feet apart, so we were all talking louder than what's appropriate in a restaurant. Clay raised his voice louder still, and said, "They're singing 'Happy Birthday' at 10:00 and I don't want to be late, Mom."

So far this was just an ordinary Saturday breakfast, but it was about to get strange.

Karen tried to quiet Clay, and I said, "Hey, inside voice, man," and then Dick started honking.

I recognized his honks, from an afternoon spent with Dick a few months ago. He'd wanted to take me to his favorite restaurant, which was Dairy Queen, and in the middle of our hamburgers and ice cream he'd started honking, and excused himself to the restroom.

That day, Dick explained between honks that he has an as-yet un-diagnosed medical condition — sometimes when he's eating, his throat constricts, swallowing becomes difficult, and he becomes nauseous and needs to puke. Puking is almost impossible, though, while his throat is constricted, which causes an involuntary honking sound.

Our meal at DQ was the first time I'd seen and heard this phenomenon, but Dick said it's been happening for years. It hasn't gotten any worse, he said, so I shouldn't worry. If he waits and relaxes, after a while his throat unconstricts, and he can finish his meal.

When he started honking at Mrs Rigby's, Dick excused himself to go to the restroom and try puking, and while he was gone everyone at the table wondered about the honking. Apparently Young-sook and I were the only ones who'd seen it before, so I explained his honking in English, and she explained his honking in Korean, though of course she was the only one at either table who spoke Korean.

When Dick returned, everyone expressed their concern, and Dick said again not to worry. Then he took a bite of his hash browns, turned pale, started honking again, and excused himself to the restroom again.

Karen said Dick should see a doctor, and Young-sook said something like, "No docdoc," which seemed to mean Dick had refused to see a doctor. That's no surprise. He hates doctors, usually doesn't do what they say — he has diabetes but eats at Dairy Queen, after all. We've talked about it, believe me. As the cliché goes, it'll be the death of him, but Dick is a very stubborn man.

Mom and Katrina's breakfasts came, and Clay urged Mom to eat more and talk less, but everyone in the family knows that'll never happen. Mom glared at Clay and said, "I will take as long eating breakfast as I want, and it's starting to feel like a long breakfast," and indeed it was.

Dick came back from the restroom, apologized to everyone, sat down, took another bite of his food, and started honking again. He excused himself yet again, headed toward the head, but returned immediately, still honking like a goose. "There's only one restroom, and someone's in it," he said between honks. "How can this place (honk) have only one damned restroom?"

Leon's been around my family his whole life, and knows to leave when things start getting crazy, so while Dick honked and honked Leon paid his tab and said goodbye.

Soon as Leon was out the door, Dick vomited just a few drops into his hand. Still honking, he wiped his hand into a napkin, walked again toward the restroom, but came back and said, "Now there's two people ahead of me in line," and continued honking.

"This is embarrassing," Katrina said, because the restaurant's other customers were staring. Dick honked some more, and looked like another vomit attempt was upcoming. "Why don't you step outside?" Katrina said, but Dick was honking while standing at the table, because standing gave him a view through a door, into the back room, where he could see the restroom line.

"Now I'm third in line," he said.

"Well, not really," I said, "since you're not in line."

Dick retched a small barf into his hand again, then wiped his hand into the already-barfy napkin. "Don't worry," she said. "When all this happens, sometimes (honk) I vomit, but never much. There won't be a mess."

Young-sook was making faces and holding her throat, mimicking and mocking Dick, and again I wondered what I always wonder, what the hell is their marriage even about? All I said was, "Go outside, Dick!"

He walked toward and out of the restaurant's front door, honking and then retching into his hand on the way. He stayed outside for several minutes, but the restaurant's door was open (sunny day, no air conditioning) so everyone inside could still hear his honking. Young-sook continued eating, and we all continued talking, mostly about Dick's retching and honking, but no-one went outside to see how he was doing.

Is that awful? I don't think so. He'd told me at Dairy Queen, and told all of us that morning, that this has been happening for years. It's ordinary for him, don't worry, he said. So I say, eat your breakfast while it's hot. I apologized to the waitress, though, as she came by with more coffee.

Mom said she was worried about Dick, and Clay told her to eat faster, so she ate slower, and I noticed a busboy with a mop was cleaning some of Dick's vomit drips from the carpet near the door. 

"He said this happens a lot," Katrina said, "but if I had some condition that made me honk and vomit when I ate, I don't think I'd eat in a restaurant."

And is that an awful thing to say? Again, I don't think so.

Clay phoned his son, father of the birthday girl, told him that they might be late, and asked them to hold off on singing "Happy Birthday." I didn't hear what the answer was on the phone, but when he'd clicked off I said, "She's two years old, Clay. She's not gonna remember or even notice who was there when the song was sung."

"It's not what she'll remember that matters," Clay said. "It's what we'll remember," and I guess I don't speak the language of grandparenthood because I could make no sense of it.

Dick returned, apologized again, sat down and again started forking his pork chops. "Don't do it, Dick, please," Katrina said. "Your body doesn't want the food."

"I want the food," he said, almost smiling, determined to eat his damned breakfast no matter what. He put the pork to his lips and of course started honking, excused himself another time, walked outside and continued honking.

"How many times is he going to honk and excuse himself?" Mom wondered and shrugged.

It was 9:30 or so, the restaurant was filling up, and half the customers were watching Dick through the windows as he honked, or trying to ignore my family talking too loud at our two tables.

"My god, this is so embarrassing," Katrina said again, and she stepped outside to talk to Dick. She told me later she'd gone outside to ask him to stay outside, but soon they came back inside together. 

Dick sat at the table again, and my mom said, "Dick, you're coming to the birthday party, right?"

"Nothing could keep me away," he said, not honking but still looking like he was ready to collapse.

"Could you give me a ride there after breakfast?" she asked.

Dick smiled wanly and said, "Sure," and then raised his arm and whistled, calling the waitress the way you'd call a dog. She came over with a concerned look on her face, and he asked her to box everything up, or more accurately, told her to box everything up. Whether he's feeling shitty or feeling fine, Dick is brusque with the wait-staff at any restaurant.

Very quickly, everything from all his plates was boxed up, and almost as quickly, Clay and Karen started putting their jackets on. Clay said, "We're ready, let's go," and he had to say it a second time before I understood that he was talking to me — he still thought I was coming with them to Fatima's birthday party.

"He's not coming," Karen said patiently.

"Ask your wife," I said. "She'll explain."

"No means no, Clay," and you'd think that was me talking but it wasn't. It was Karen, because she's fabulous.

"What do twenty no's mean?" I said, snarky.

Clay rebounded from that, smiled and told me he'd pick me up at my place at 1:00, but all week long, the understanding had been that we were getting together at 2:00 on Saturday.

"Two o'clock," I said.

It isn't unusual. Clay does this — he sometimes makes plans for get-togethers, gets the time wrong, sometimes the day, or forgets to tell people that they're getting together at all. Karen reassured me that we'd all meet at my place at 2:00, and then they left.

With only five Hollands now, we consolidated ourselves to just the original table we'd occupied, so our volume was lowered. Dick's honking is triggered by eating, and he'd stopped eating so he stopped honking. We were masqueraded as an ordinary family, though of course we'll never be that.

Dick apologized for all the honking and puking, and took a credit card from his wallet to pay. I sighed, Mom rolled her eyes, and Katrina explained it to him: "They don't take plastic, only cash."

His face went from pale and near death to angry. "They don't take credit cards? It's 2022, how can any place not take credit cards?"

"There are signs all over in here saying cash only," I said, pointing at one of the signs. "And I've always said it when I send breakfast invitations — Mrs Rigby's is cash only."

"Well, I didn't know," Dick said, "and I don't have that much cash." His five plates for two people came to a little more than 40 bucks. Mom chipped in twenty, and I chipped in twenty, and Dick had a few dollars and some change, and paid his tab to the penny. Dick and Young-sook walked out carrying two plastic bags of their food, and took Mom with them, so after that it was just me and Katrina.

"Well," I said. "that was a delightful breakfast, wasn't it?"

"That's the fam," she said, and shook her head. "Did you know about Fatima's birthday party?"

"Not until I got here, and Clay told me I was coming to the party."

"Almost the same here," Katrina said. "Clay called me at 7:45 this morning, and told me I was coming to Fatima's party."

"He tells," I said. "He doesn't invite, he tells."

"Yup," she said, shaking her head. "I'm going to lunch with Annie and Adelle today," she said. "I might've rescheduled my lunch if I'd known, but I'm not going to cancel it at the last minute for a 2-year-old's birthday party."

"Tell Annie and Adelle I said they're still hot." The three of them have been best friends since they were in junior high school together, and I had a crush on both Annie and Adelle when I was eleven and they were 15. It's been a running joke for fifty years.

"I'll tell them they're hot," she said, and lifted Dick's abandoned coffee cup, looking under it. "Dick didn't even tip."

It's always separate tabs at the Saturday breakfasts, and Katrina opened her wallet to pay her bill, which came to eleven dollars and some change. She put two twenty-dollar bills on the table. My bill was a few dollars more because I'd had a butterhorn on the side, but I also left two twenties. Considering the ruckus, it feels like a stingy tip, but after giving Dick $20 it was all I had in my wallet.

Katrina gave me a ride to my boarding house, and then we said goodbye. I came into my room, packed my laptop, and bused to the library, where I posted that day's crap to this site, answered a few emails, read a magazine, and tried to unwind from breakfast and mentally prepare myself for an afternoon with Clay and Karen.

"That's the fam," Katrina had said. You never know what's coming next. Sometimes it's a mess, but sometimes it's not.

The afternoon with Clay and Karen was delightful. We had lunch at Spud Fish'n'Chips — expensive but delicious — and then we rode the ferry to Vashon Island and back, looking out the window or standing on the deck, taking in the view, talking about old times and baseball and dead loved ones and Dick's honking. The only even vaguely uncomfortable moment was when Clay & Karen bowed their heads to pray before the fish'n'chips, but that only lasted a few seconds.

Other than that, the whole afternoon was a good time, because that's the fam, too. Most of 'em are nuts but so am I, and I love 'em all.


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  1. This is pure insanity, every word. Well done not losing your cool. It took me twice as long to read as normal, because I was verbally responding to the idiocy, out loud. Jesus F. Christ.

    1. It explains a lot. Jesus, with that crowd I’d be antisocial too. My kin are mostly dead and they’re kinder than doug’s family. They were half crazy when they were breathing but not THAT crazy.


    2. Well shitfuck, thanks, both of you. It was a morning to remember, but I wasn't sure the writing wasn't a morning to forget.

    3. Sadly I suspect it was just another “Holland” family morning. When the writing fades and the story shines through, that’s damn fine writing.

    4. That was me and Google can suck my tailpipe.


    5. Damn it I’m gonna try to make point one more time . , . Doug, you are bright, decent, patient, kind and gentle, and generally accept people for who they are.

      As I meet other members of your nuclear family and beyond through your posts, it becomes clear that broadly they are few of those things. I begin to wonder how you turned out to be a sound, caring man amidst the chaos.

      I’m glad you did and enjoy being a web friend. It enhances my life. I just don’t know how you survived those people. Damn my thumb hurts.

      Hope this came out ok.


    6. > Hope this came out ok.

      It came out OK, in my opinion.

      I don't know that I came out with all those complimentary adjectives. I ain't so fond of me, and I can be a real shit-head.

      The real fork in the road was Jesus. Clay and I were almost the same person until he gave his life to Christ, so how we turned out is maybe a good controlled experiment.

      He's happily married, grandfather of four, and a genuine nice guy, just sometimes a little fuzzy in the head. Me, I'm alone and got nobody, but I'm happy and frickin' Jesus ain't judging me every day. I'd take the no-Jesus path again.

      Sorry about your thumb. Too much hitchhiking?

    7. Me,I’m still on the road
      Heading for another joint
      We always did feel the same
      We just saw things from a different point of view
      Tangled up in blue


    8. One of my favorite BDs. Google says he's only 81.

      I hope you're making progress toward all the needed repairs, and not being too terribly dogbit.

  2. I'm trying to decide who is crazyest between Dick and Clay and your mother. Clay seems just confused, and your mother is controlling and wants more control, but I go with Dick. He said he's eaten at that rstaurant before, but he didn't know there's only one restroom and didn't know it's cash only. And if anyone should avoid going to restaurants!

    1. All of us are probably equally crazy, just in different ways.

  3. Jeeesus this hurts. You deserve a better family, and as for Dick nobody can help health-based honking but anyone who treats restaurtant workers rudely as a routine matter is an asshole, and should not be tolerated at any restaurtant.

    1. Always when family has visited, I've preferred taking them to restaurants where I knew I wouldn't be coming back. When I moved back to Seattle I didn't do that, and sometimes it's been awkward, but I just apologize to the waitstaff next time I'm alone and always tip big, and hope they don't hold my family against me.


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