Mexican ketchup

So my family has started reading Gu.e.

They now stop themselves in the middle of telling stories: “Oh, I shouldn’t say that. It might end up on Austin’s blog.”

Great. Now they’re going to practice self-restraint and try to be normal, and I’ll have nothing to write about.

I think that if I am going to write, then using family for material is a given. Flannery O’Connor is known for saying that if you make it out of childhood, you have enough to write about the rest of your life. Well, I never plan on making it out of my childhood, so let the anecdotes, absurdities, and irreverent banter continue to flow.

Since I now have to be careful what I say about my family—poppycock!—I’ll only be sharing hypothetical stories. Writing a book like Frank McCourt‘s Angela’s Ashes could get me in big trouble. His memoir didn’t exactly describe his family’s halos and laud their generous virtues.

I’d rather not have a falling out with my family. Spending time with them is one of my favorite pastimes, and I’m still on my parents’ cell phone plan. There’s a lot I stand to lose by alienating them.

I’ve been told that I’m allowed to write about my relatives after they’re dead.

Super. What if I die first and the world misses out on all those stories? I have a responsibility that I intend to honor. My family toes the line of sanity, and people need to know about all that ridiculousness.

I drank an Americano and came up with a solution: anytime I write about my family from now on, I’m writing about hypothetical situations. Understood? I’m not saying it did happen, I’m saying that on December 23, 2007, the following situation unfolded, and the family involved may or may not have been mine. I’m not pointing fingers.

That said, if you happen to know someone in my family, don’t go up and say, “Hey, I read Austin’s blog post, ‘Mexican Ketchup,’ and I can’t believe you said that.” You could make a fool of yourself because IT MAY HAVE HAPPENED TO SOMEONE ELSE’S FAMILY. Ha.

Do we have an understanding? (I’m narrowing my eyes and giving you a significant look.)



Every year, the dad’s side of somebody’s family eats at Kobe’s Steakhouse off of West End Avenue. We’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember.

Kobe’s is a hibachi-style Japanese restaurant where a chef cooks your food right in front of you. The chef’s antics and canned jokes make the meal more a performance than a quiet affair. He’ll use a spatula to flip shrimp tails into his shirt pocket, his hat, or someone’s glass of water. He’ll stack slices of onion into the tapered cone of a volcano, pour vodka through the hole in the center, and light it on fire.

This particular year, our chef was Hispanic, not Asian.

No biggie, right? I’m sure he’s got the skills if he’s got the job. What does his race have to do with anything?

He says hello to everyone and begins setting out the shallow rectangular dishes for the dipping sauces. While he’s ladling out the soy-based sauce for steak, he says, “Japanese A1.’

Ha, ha, we’ve heard it a dozen times before. Everyone gives a courtesy laugh, and we go back to our conversations. This is what is expected of us. We know the script, and we play our part.

Once the Hispanic chef has passed out the Japanese A1, he starts on the reddish dipping sauce for chicken, seafood, and vegetables.

“Japanese ketchup,” he says.

Ha, ha. We all laugh, and we turn back to our conversations, but wait, our hypothetical Grandma has something to say.

She leans forward, making sure that he notices her, then makes a joke of her own, “You mean Mexican ketchup?”

He gives her a crooked smile, then turns back to his work.


What just happened?

Did she really just say that?

I don’t know what was worse, what she said or what my hypothetical self did before I could catch him.

I kneed her under the table. She was sitting to my left, and I whacked her with my bony kneecap.

What just happened?

Did I really just do that?

She turns to look at me with a smile on her face. She shakes her shoulder and crinkles her nose—that posture that says, “I made a funny, didn’t I!”


Grandmas are tricky creatures.

You never can tell what they’re going to say. They are given to extravagant acts of generosity and waking up at 4am to do crossword puzzles. They know how to make biscuits, and they know all the high-scoring two-letter words in Scrabble.

I have two of them. They never cease to amaze me. I might get a random check for $100 in the mail for “gas money” or I might get something less tangible, like a story to tell.

But like I said before, I am not saying that this happened in my family. This may just be something I heard about on Facebook or CNN. Okay? Do we have an understanding?


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