“CAN YOU GET khubz?” my mom is asking on the phone from her home in Michigan. Khubz is the Arabic word for bread. My ethnic background is Lebanese, which means that, for us, of all the pursuits in life -- philosophy, literature, politics, mathematics, science -- the most important, by far, is the pursuit (and capture) of food. In my family, if we have something to say, we say it with olives. Or feta. Or stuffed grape leaves. Broke up with your girlfriend? Here, have some hummus. Won a big scholarship? Yay! Have some kibbe. And so, my mom isn’t asking if Washington, D.C. -- the nation’s capital, a booming city of hundreds of thousands of residents, the most powerful city on earth -- has bread. She’s asking if it has good bread, as good as she can get in Detroit. And, just as importantly, she’s asking if I can get good bread at a good price. “Everything is so expensive there,” she says. “Olives up here? $3.99 a pound.” She knows, having visited, that olives here go for about seven bucks a pound. “Ridiculous,” as she puts it. And, truth be told, the olives here are scrawny compared with the big, meaty things my mom gets. But I still get exasperated. “Mom,” I say. “Yes, we have bread.” She changes the subject, which means she will bring bread anyway, and that we both know she will bring it, and that it would be ungracious of her as a mother to provoke any more of my childish impertinence. “You need to send me a menu so I can get started,” she says. “Mom,” I reply. “It’s October. The big day isn’t until June.”
THIS DAY HAS been coming amid weeks of preparation, months of senioritis, years of planning, and nearly two decades of emotional unpreparedness: Sam’s high school graduation party. Everybody knows that the graduation party is not for the graduate; it is for the parents. Think of the most famous graduation movie of all time, named, aptly enough, The Graduate. Dustin Hoffman as college grad Benjamin Braddock walks around “his” party disoriented and suffering the advice of his parents’ friends. With any luck, that is how Sam’s party will be. We’ll have family there, of course, although Jessica’s mom probably won’t be able to come, as she is frail. Her dance-hall spirit will be there, though. Hospitalized when Sam was about five years old, she whiled away the time when he visited, teaching him not Go Fish or Scrabble but craps and poker. That kind of spirit has a way of always being around. So, yes, there will be family -- there and not there. But mainly, there will be friends, mostly Jessica’s and mine, whose faces Sam will dimly recognize and whose names he will not know. They will leave envelopes on a corner of the table. And they will carry around plates of food, which, of course, will make my mother happy. OH,
AND WHAT of the graduate? What of Sam? He’s in there somewhere. At the center of the party storm. His baby pictures will be everywhere, even the one in which, bald and almond-eyed and about a week old, he looks like a martian. His accomplishments will likely be collected in a book to give the interested something more to know about him and the bored something to do. He will be standing in a crowd, smiling as he chats with people who will ask him where he is going, what he is going to do, and whether he is excited. They will tell him that college is going to be the best four years of his life. He will mingle, making everyone feel special, just as he always patted his mom’s back when he didn’t feel well, as if to comfort her. Maybe that morning we will have fought, again, over whether he should shave. (“When I shave, it makes me look 12 years old,” he protests.) Maybe we will have argued, again, over whether he should brush his wild, wavy hair. (“What’s the deal?”) Maybe we will have tussled over his not cleaning his room or straightening the basement or setting the table. But by the time the party starts, everything will be good. We will look at him from time to time while talking to a family friend and say things like, “Yeah, we got a good one.” And we will mean it. And everybody will walk around on the grass, which will be greener than it was before, even if it isn’t.
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