Arnold Levin contemplated the punishment for shooting his in-laws. Would it be considered justifiable or would he get a judge that was never married and thinks all life is precious?
Arnold and Marie made a solemn vow soon after they married to always live at least one thousand miles from family.
The number one thousand wasn’t arbitrary, because they both knew that anything less than that wouldn’t preclude Marie’s family from weekend drop-ins.
It would mean nothing for her family to hop in the old Ford and drive five hundred miles with baked ziti casseroles, sausage, and a roasted chicken packed in ice in the cooler in the back seat.
But a thousand miles meant flying and Marie’s mother was afraid to fly.
“God is good,” Marie said to Arnold. “In His infinite wisdom He made my mom terrified of airplanes. This limits the number of people she can feed.”
Now, to be fair, Arnold knew his family wasn’t much better. When he announced to his parents that he planned on marrying Marie Taggliani, the Levins were silent. His mother encapsulated five thousand years of Jewish history in one question: “Tell me, does she put mayonnaise on her hamburger?”
“You could do worse,” his father said. Which, coming from his father, was as close to a blessing as Arnold could reasonably expect.
And things went well. After twenty-four years of marriage Arnold’s parents warmed to Marie. When they visited his folks, his mother would offer Marie elaborate instructions on the proper way to make chopped liver. “You have to add wet challah and burn the onions.”
“What’s challah?” Marie had the good sense to ask Arnold privately after the first cooking lesson.
“It’s a bread made with the highest amount of cholesterol possible,” Arnold explained.
Arnold’s father would watch television throughout most of the visit and when Marie would go to the den to visit with him, he’d point to a chair and say, “Sit.” Arnold assured her this was a sign of affection.
However, Marie’s family wasn’t quite as subtle. Her family hugged. Her father hugged, her mother hugged, her three sisters and two brothers hugged. They hugged and they kissed. Even the men. After spending a day with her family, Arnold would become so self-conscious he’d shave twice a day.
But the hardest part of being with Marie’s family for Arnold was the talk. It came in three volumes: loud, louder and louder still. From the first shouted, “hellos,” to the final, tearful, “goodbyes,” the decibel level remained loud enough to neuter dogs that wondered with within a two mile radius of their home.
Visits by Arnold and Marie usually consisted of Marie’s mother cooking and expecting everyone, especially Arnold, to eat everything on the table — the pastas, the sausages, the ham — while leaving room for the homemade cannoli.
Leaving any morsel of food on the plate, Marie taught Arnold, was a cardinal sin, which the Taggliani family took very seriously.
And there was Marie’s dad. A wonderful man who had spent over thirty years of his life as a transit cop in New York City. That meant he had stories to tell and a voice loud enough to be heard over the roar of the trains to tell it with.
He also had the ability to remember every inconsequential detail of his life while simultaneously forgetting that he had told you that very same story just ten minutes earlier.
Arnold sat at the dining room table, in the midst of a Taggliani family reunion, stuffing his face with ravioli while Marie’s family out shouted and out cursed one another.
Little children ran around the table screaming and crying, as Arnold nodded his head when Marie’s father asked if he ever told him about…and then proceeded to tell him.
That’s when Arnold began considering the punishment for shooting the in-laws.
But when he looked over at Marie and saw her laughing and waving her hands while soaking up the last drop of marinara from her plate with a huge piece of garlic bread, he put away his imaginary guns, smiled at his wife, and said to her dad, “No, I never heard that one.”