Revenge of the Nerd Ch. 43byrpsuch©
Jeff rang the bell at 6:06. I walked him into the dining room.
My Father looked at his watch. "I said six sharp."
"And that was what, from your mouth to God's ears?" asked Jeff.
My Father stood there speechless, stunned. Nobody had ever talked to him like that.
"I didn't get the invitation until after business hours yesterday and, I don't know how you were brought up, but I was taught you never show up for a first visit without something for the hostess."
He lifted his arm, walked toward my mother and handed her a dozen roses.
"Thank you for the invitation, Mrs. Fine. Nice to meet you."
He turned to my Father and said, "I was also taught never to act in such a way as to humiliate a guest. I'm sorry if I made the incorrect assumption that you were brought up with manners.
"I'll forget all about this. I don't want any further embarrassment for Ashley or your wife."
He said all of this in a kind, understanding, conciliatory tone.
My Father's face was turning red. I glanced toward my mother. She was fighting a smile.
Dad remained gruff and accusatory.
"Who are you? I was expecting your older brother William."
Jeff got a confused look on his face and shook his head slowly. "I don't have an older brother. Where did you hear that? Ashley, did you tell him I had an older brother?"
"No. I didn't mention a name at all," I said.
"The phone... What about the work he did representing our government in Venezuela, trying to smooth relations?" Dad asked.
"Well, it certainly wasn't my older brother since I don't have one."
Jeff got a quizzical look on his face and sounded almost incredulous at the idea he was about to suggest.
"You didn't snoop into Ashley's phone records, did you? My phone is registered in my first name, William, although I haven't used it for a while. I assure you though, I haven't represented our government in any capacity."
As difficult as it may have been for Jeff to maintain his act, I could barely restrain myself from breaking out laughing.
"But that William Goldberg, the address... How old are you?" asked my Father.
"How old are you?" asked Jeff.
He turned to my Mother and said, "I'd ask you Mrs. Fine, but I know how impolite that would be."
"I'm sorry. You're right," said my Father. I don't recall ever hearing him apologize before. I'm sure it was a ploy.
"It's forgotten," said Jeff. It sounded sincere, with an edge of dismissiveness.
I was awed by the performance. I had expected my Father to destroy Jeff. Instead, he was suffering the death by a thousand cuts. Jeff was late; my Father's fault, and his rudeness to point it out.
Everything Jeff said sounded gracious as he characterized what my Father said as ill-mannered. He caught him on snooping to get information on him, though he surely didn't do it himself.
Jeff apparently planted some stories on the internet to make his "brother" match the name on his phone making my Father look like an idiot talking about a fictitious person. I was sure he wasn't done.
My Mother seized on Jeff's graciousness by saying, "Why don't we sit down to dinner and start again?"
"What a wonderful suggestion," said Jeff.
He walked over to my Father, offered his hand and said, "I'm Jeff Goldberg. Pleased to meet you..." The sound of the "you" was up and elongated. There was no mistaking that he was asking my Father's first name.
Having so thoroughly embarrassed himself, my Father could not fail to shake Jeff's hand. "Ebenezer Fine."
Jeff coughed abruptly, I'm sure, to keep from laughing. He returned to the only empty seat at the table.
My Father was so thrown off his game that, not only could he not form the withering questions and accusations he probably had planned, he couldn't even think of anything to say to generate a conversation.
Mom surprised me by killing the silence.
"Jeff, Ashley said you have some important job, but she didn't tell us what you do."
"I'm kind of a biochemist."
"Kind of?" asked Dad. If he had a moustache he would have been twirling it.
Jeff was unflappable.
"I'm working on a computer model of body systems. I hope to combine the way we replicate DNA, including mutations, and use it to produce proteins, with all the other components of cells to generalize a model of cellular operation that can be differentiated to predict the effects of changes to the nutrition and chemical environment on the functioning and development of the various systems. Then, based on that..."
I hated to cut him off, he was so enthusiastic.
"Jeff, do the guys you work with understand everything you're talking about?"
"Not entirely. Some of their top-level scientists understood it well enough to convince management to make their offer."
"I think you've already gone past our ability to understand what you're talking about," I said. "Mom, Jeff's a computer biochemist, kind of."
She laughed. My Father had been ready to pounce on Jeff's answer of ‘kind of a biochemist,' but as Jeff answered, Dad's eyes seemed to glaze over.
"I don't mean to be dismissive, but you seem awfully young to be doing that kind of work," said my Mother.
"I have an undergraduate degree and I'm going back to school for my Doctorate in a month," Jeff said.
"I, I don't mean to harp on it, but you seem young even for having a college degree," she said.
"Well, I'm only one degree older than high school," said Jeff.
Dad waited until the hiatus between dinner and dessert to start in with his plan.
"Jeff," you pathetic loser, Dad said. Well, it was in his voice, "Ashley said you're planning on getting married. What do you expect to live on, her trust fund?"
"We weren't planning on getting married until after she graduates. I should have my Ph.D. by then and I'm going to be paid very well. I don't think we'll have to touch her trust fund, even if she decides to go to graduate school herself," said Jeff.
"Ashley, you should have filled them in. They're your parents. No wonder they seem so put off."
"I thought you said you were starting graduate school in a month," challenged my Father.
"And I plan to get my Ph.D. in the spring. Where's the problem?" asked Jeff, as if any idiot could understand that it only takes a year to get a Ph.D.
"I've never heard of anybody finishing in that time," said Dad. "You need to take all the coursework, come up with an idea for a thesis, write it, defend it. It can't be done in that little time. It's impossible."
"I guess I should have checked with you first." He sounded completely ingenuous.
"This past January I decided to finish up my undergraduate degree in one year. I entered the previous September and graduated in May. Why should graduate school be any different?
"You've already heard the topic of my thesis. The university has accepted it. I've been working on the details this summer and I can't imagine that it won't be completed by the end of the school year. I'm optimistic I'll get the chance to defend it months before that."
Dad would have loved to jump all over him for his arrogance.
There wasn't any.
Jeff said it like he was telling us he was going to the kitchen to make a banana split. That wasn't difficult, was it?
"How do you expect to have this wedding? Do you know how expensive that is? Is that what you're going to tap her trust fund for?" he asked.
"I understand you don't want to be involved with this wedding, but I don't think that will impose an insurmountable financial burden," said Jeff.
He reached into his pocket and unfolded a piece of paper.
"I've talked to my parents and they've agreed to participate the way a groom's family customarily does. They're delighted. They love Ashley.
"I've got the ad they signed off on for the Jewish Exponent. I guess we'll have it run in a few weeks. ‘Louis and Petal Goldberg announce the engagement of their son, William Jefferson Goldberg, to the incomparable Ashley Fine of Gladwyne.'
"'Jeff spent the last year earning a degree in biochemistry and computer science and expects to earn a combined degree in those fields in the spring. Ashley will graduate in the spring as well, in a discipline yet to be determined. The family loves and has complete confidence in her. The wedding is planned for June, just after their graduation.'"
This was it; the heart of the plan.
The prior cuts had just been surface wounds. There was no way Jeff would allow that to be published. I didn't think he would allow my parents to be hurt that way, even if they deserved it.
But he would absolutely forbid bragging about his two, one-year degrees.
The Jewish Exponent is pretty formal and I didn't know if they would allow "incomparable" or showing complete confidence in me, but it didn't matter.
Jeff had made sure everyone who knew my Father would understand which Ashley Fine was getting married by including Gladwyne. They would understand Dad had nothing to do with the wedding.
Dirty family laundry would be aired on the pages of the paper that announced every important Jewish life-cycle event in the area. His public image would suffer a staggering blow.
"Don't worry about the cost, Ebenezer, I'm sorry, Mr. Fine, I've arranged a loan from my company against my salary and I've authorized Ashley to spend up to $200,000 on the wedding.
"My Mother is delighted to plan it with her and I'm sure they can stay within that constraint. It won't cost you a penny."
Add to the battered public image a decimated ego. We don't need your stinkin' money. The cuts were coming fast and furious.
"I don't see how you can possibly have an affair for a thousand people on that kind of budget," said Ebenezer.
Jeff sounded like he was adding up the guests in his head, out loud.
"My family, their friends, my friends, Ashley's friends, I can't see where it would add up to even two hundred people."
"I have hundreds and hundreds of people I have to invite. I can even write them off as business expenses," Dad bragged.
"I'm confused," said Jeff. "I didn't think you were coming to the wedding. I thought you objected so strenuously you weren't even going to be there.
"I planned on getting you a set of pictures in case you had regrets in the future. Are you saying you want to come to our wedding?"
And, fight fans, the blood is flowing.
"This is just a misunderstanding. Of course we don't want to miss our only child getting married," said Dad.
"I'm sure we can make room for the two of you," said Jeff.
"Still, I've got to say, it really doesn't seem fair to me for you to expect us to put our marriage in hock for your business interests.
"Your family is certainly welcome, of course. I just can't see taking on all that additional debt for your business associates and friends. Ashley, what do you think, honey?"
He staggers, and he's down. The crowd is going wild. One, two, three, he's out!
If I had been watching this comedy on DVD, I would have paused it until I could stop laughing. But my role required that I appear to take this seriously.
"I have to agree with you..." What do I call him? Doctor Goldberg makes no sense here. This is the first time he's called me ‘honey.' Pumpkin? Buttercup? That would fit in his family. No new names. "And I certainly don't want to take that kind of hit to my trust fund. It's for a rainy day."
Right. Neither of us ever has to work if we rely on it. All we have to do is not go on repeated spending binges.
"I, I'm sure we can work something out on this, said Dad. "Let's not be hasty. You have to give us a chance to assimilate this. You didn't tell us you were getting married until last night. Ashley, let's talk about this."
"Jeff?" I asked.
"It's your family. I wouldn't want to step on your toes."
I had been acting as if he was the captain of the ship of our relationship. He tossed it back to me as if I was the co-captain.
"We'll see if we can work something out," I said.