"So, how should I introduce you?" Pauly asked, as I drove down Flamingo toward Caesar's Palace. "As my friend? My girlfriend? My roommate?" His mother was in Las Vegas for the Fourth of July weekend and we were meeting her for dinner at Trevi in the Forum Shops.
"At this point, do whatever you want, Pauly. Whatevvvvver is easiest for you" was my reply.
Look, there are no questions as to the status of our relationship. We're together. We have been for well over a year. Pauly has met my family a number of times. He's eaten my father's BBQ, watched the Yankees with my mom, treated Mandy to beers and Mexican food. But that's mainly because he's spent a helluva lot more time in Los Angeles than I have in New York.
Well, that and my parents are "normal" (his words).
Over a year in and I had yet to meet Mama McGrupp. Pauly assured me it was for a good reason. All I knew about this woman was that she was five feet tall, chain-smoked, had a wicked New York accent, was overly fond of Amaretto, and never had anything nice to say about anyone.
"Whatever you say, don't tell her you're Irish. Even a little bit. Just stick with German. She hates Irish people because of my father. She could also blatantly insult you at any moment, so be prepared" Pauly warned.
By this point I was terrified. I almost hoped he introduced me as his roommate or colleague. I'd be more likely to avoid a barrage of potentially loaded questions.
"Mama's on the warpath" Derek said as we walked up. Pauly mumbled a response laced in a sort of shorthand only brothers bound by over three decades of struggles with this force of a woman could understand. My stomach had been on the floor since we'd parked the car at Bellagio and walked over the bridge to Caesar's Palace. I could see her staring at me from ten feet away. I turned on my Hollywood smile.
"Mom, this is my friend Nicky," said Pauly (ohthankGod).
"It's a pleasure to meet you Mrs. McGrupp" I said as I extended my hand. I got a limp, cold handshake in return. Pauly's aunt and two of his cousins were with her and they seemed far friendlier. We adjourned to a large round table indoors.
I sat between Derek and Pauly, figuring that was the safest seat at the table. I ordered a glass of Shiraz and Mama McG got a whisky sour-- the first of several.
As I glanced over the menu, Pauly's cousin Meg asked me about working at the World Series. I gave some short, happy answers that didn't give away a lot while Mama stared at us from across the table, sipping her drink. After that, I buried myself in conversation with Derek, trying to avoid eye contact with Mama. She looked suspicious and annoyed.
I ordered a nice Chicken Marsala. Pauly and Derek both got the Veal Parmesan and Mama had the lasagna, deciding that she couldn't order the veal too since both the boys had.
"I'll give you a taste of mine when it arrives, OK Mom?" said Derek, attempting to placate her. She mumbled something unintelligible.
"I met your boss today" Mama said to Pauly. "He said you were a good writer."
"He's a great writer!" I piped up.
Mama looked at me like I had stood up, climbed atop the table, and urinated into the bread basket. My face flushed scarlet and I took a long sip of my Shiraz as I looked around for a hole to fall into.
"The Rio was nice. I thought it would be really seedy where you worked. But it's nice. Not as nice as the Wynn, but it's OK."
"You're thinking of Binions, where the World Series used to be. That's downtown where it's really sketchy" Pauly explained.
"I couldn't find a matchbook there-- I looked all over for a matchbook and tried all the bars but they didn't have any. I want to get one from every casino."
"Well I'll make sure to pick one up for you."
"We went in that, that Poker Expo thing ? And they were spraying this cologne I liked, but he wanted to get out of there so I couldn't get any" she said, glaring at Derek.
"Do you want me to get you some of the cologne?" Pauly said, his patience fraying.
"No. Forget it" she spat.
Thank God the food arrived. The chicken was tasty and it came with some lovely fresh green beans-- at least $200 worth if we're talking in Pauly veggie prop bet terms.
Derek, as promised, sliced off a nice piece of his veal parm and reached over to place it on Mama's plate.
"No! I don't want it! Don't do that! You hate it when I mess with things on your plate, so don't you do it to me!" she barked, out of nowhere. Derek put the veal back on his plate with a sigh.
I must have looked a little shocked at this outburst so Derek leaned over and whispered "Dude... this like, isn't even a 1 on the Richter Scale." Wow.
Mama and I didn't really say anything to each other after that. I finished my meal and she downed three more whisky sours. She didn't touch her lasagna, claiming that she had "lost her appetite" after the veal incident with Derek.
"Here, you eat it" Mama said, passing her plate to Cousin Meg. Meg accepted the lasagna with a smile.
"I'll share some with John too" she said, with a nod to Pauly's other cousin at the table. She sliced the lasagna in half and picked it up with a fork and knife, ready to set it on his plate.
Only it never made it to his plate. Almost in slow motion, the lasagna slipped from the fork-and-knife hold and fell... straight into her purse. Meg buried her head in her hands.
It looked like she might cry, until she started to laugh. Hard. The entire table, even Mama, cracked up as she pulled bit of ground beef and marinara-sauce-stained papers out of her bag.
"So, does anyone want dessert?" inquired the waiter.
"Nojusthebillpleasewhenyougetachance" said Pauly before anyone could interject.
65 minutes after arriving at Trevi, we made our escape. Mama bid us goodbye with little interest and left with Derek and the cousins to go get show tickets.
Pauly charged out of the Forum Shops in his New Yorker walk that requires me to nearly jog to keep up with him. He blasted past the Caesar's poker room.
"No poker?" I asked.
"No. I need to get off tilt."
We headed back across the bridge to Bellagio. We passed their poker room, the gaming pits, and at least two bars before I realized where we were going.
Gelato is the cure for Mama-tilt. I got Oreo, he got Mint Chip.
"So, now you get it, right? The hell I have gone through with this woman for over thirty years?"
"And she wasn't even that bad tonight."
"That's what Derek said."
"So you've met her, you happy now?"
"Yes. And we don't have to do it again, I hope for a very long time. But there is one thing though."
"You do look a lot like her."