Family Circus

Craig and Lisa combine broods.

“Don’t you love it when the other person sucks? It’s the most cruel thing in the world, but you look way better when the other person sucks.”
  • “Don’t you love it when the other person sucks? It’s the most cruel thing in the world, but you look way better when the other person sucks.”
  • Image by Dave Allen

Craig met Lisa on Match.com, when the website (and the idea of internet personals in general) was still relatively new. Lisa — mother to two girls, Wendy and Shelby — was several years out of an 11-year marriage; Craig — who had two sons and a daughter — was recently separated after close to 20 years with his wife. “When you hit it off, you hit it off,” says Lisa of the timing.

“Lisa was the only one who would answer my letters,” jokes Craig before adding, “You go through all these profiles and you get pretty good at reading between the lines. You only get about 2000 characters, but in just that one paragraph, Lisa was able to pack a lot in. This was a literate person who was well-spoken, well-educated, and so forth. I wrote her an e-mail, and I guess she felt the same way.”

“I have to tell you, sweetheart,” says Lisa with a grin, “I bought that little blurb off a website called matchdotcomwinningprofiles.com.”

They married in April of 2000 at Escondido’s Felicita Park. I spent a day with them and their combined broods shortly before the wedding. We paid a visit to the wedding grounds. Craig’s children, Chadd, Ariel, and Leo, practiced acrobatics, forming human towers and executing choreographed drops — all three were then involved with the Fern Street Circus. Lisa’s children were by comparison silent and watchful, an audience for their future step-siblings’ antics. Afterward, we had lunch at Pat & Oscar’s and visited North County Fair in search of a dress for Ariel’s upcoming high school formal.

Then, there were two dogs in the family — Shasta, a white Pomeranian, and Rocky, a black Jack Russell terrier. Now, there is a third: Skittles, “The world’s fattest dog,” in Lisa’s estimation. “And she has no shame about it either.” Skittles is happy to attest to this, rolling over onto her back and lolling her enormous, black-and-pink-and-white belly into scratching position. “We think she was crossed with a pig,” says Leo, and from her shape and coloring, it is easy to see why.

The dogs have their run of the back yard: a patio, a strip of grass, and a fair-sized square of trimmed evergreen bushes separated by crisscrossing paths. They can enter the house through a doggie door cut into the glass slider, but once through, they find themselves fenced into a pillow-strewn holding pen. Only Shasta has enough leap in her to clear the fence and roam the great indoors: the office space that opens into the kitchen, the dining room beyond, and the slope-ceiling living room beyond that.

Skittles arrived last year on Shelby’s birthday. “I never had the opportunity to get my own real pet,” she explains. “All the other pets” — the dogs, Leo’s iguana, Ariel’s snake — “were adopted by somebody else. But Skittles is my dog, though now she’s Mom’s more than anybody’s. Mom takes her around everywhere, but that’s all right, because I have a cat now.” Shelby is 16, still quiet in comparison to Craig’s children, but (small surprise) more poised than I remember her 13-year-old self. When I first visited, Craig was living in Escondido and Lisa in Valley Center. But Valley Center, says Shelby, “was a very small little farm town, and I got tired of it. I decided to go to a private Jewish school, because we are Jewish — well, at least Mom and I are.” She enrolled in the San Diego Jewish Academy in Carmel Valley, and that helped bring about the family’s move to Valley Center. But after a year, she found the Jewish Academy small as well — “There were, like, 60 kids in the whole school.” Now she’s enrolled in the local public high school and has resolved to stay put. (Lisa tells me that the move was also supposed to reduce Craig’s commute to Sorrento Valley, but he was downsized “right after we made arrangements to come here.” But the third reason — to bring Craig closer to his children, who were living with his ex-wife at the time — held up.)

Lisa and Shelby are cooking dinner this evening, but their efforts are not collaborative. Each is working solo from her own cookbook: Shelby is making Lasagna alla Zucchini from Favorite Brand Name Country Italian; Lisa is working on Stuart Anderson’s Famous Whiskey Pepper Steak, taken from Top Secret Recipes, a collection of restaurant preparations. (The steak recipe is followed by T.G.I. Friday’s Potato Skins.) Both books hail from Costco. Shelby bought hers because she likes Italian food and wasn’t getting it at home. “I was always a very bland eater and a worse cook,” says Lisa. “What I normally prepare is just kind of plain and blasé. It’s the same thing all the time: steak and potatoes, hamburgers and potatoes, chicken and potatoes, pork chops and potatoes. With the chicken and pork chops, I like to coat it in bread crumbs or flour and just bake it in the oven — it comes out really good. Steak or hamburgers I barbecue. If it’s a pork roast or a rib roast or a chicken, I put it on the electric rotisserie.” She also had a deep fryer, “for making French fries or real fried chicken. Just once in a while, when you feel like having some thing greasy.

“So one day,” Lisa continues, “Shelby decided she wanted something more exotic,” and so began her career in the kitchen. “But I’ll tell you the secret of Shelby: she has exotic taste, but ask what her favorite kind of potato is, what kind of potatoes she has to have just about every night? Mashed potatoes made from a mix. It’s fine with me, because it’s very easy; five minutes and it’s done.”

Tonight’s disparate culinary paths are also an attempt to please every body — it’s not every night that all the children are gathered ’round the table. Leo still lives with his mother, and Ariel has settled with her boyfriend in Pacific Beach. Ariel is, according to Lisa, “not officially a vegetarian but is just naturally not interested in meat.” Opines Shelby, “She’s just kind of grossed out by Chadd.”

Chadd, explains Lisa, “is like a Neanderthal. He’d eat 36 ounces of red meat raw if he had the choice.” (Just now, the Neanderthal is hunkered down in his homemade loft amid the rafters in the garage.)

Shelby sets to work dicing a couple of zucchini and an onion. Using a fork to keep her fingers away from the knife, Lisa starts in on an onion of her own, along with a couple of cloves of garlic — a favorite of hers, the great exception to her fondness for bland. A shared cluster of ingredients huddles together on the white tile counter: Contadina tomato paste, horseradish, beef broth, S&W stewed tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, cracked black pepper, and a miniature bottle of Jack Daniel’s. “When I came home, Chadd looked at the bottle and said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you needed that? I have it!’ ”

“Yeah, he has a nice collection of liquor in his room,” chimes in Leo, who is hovering over a computer with Craig. “The liquor rack is thoroughly organized. You realize that you could get drunk with great efficiency, but you couldn’t find a pair of pants in there.”

Lisa calls out for help: “How many tablespoons in a quarter cup?”

“I’ll ask Google that,” Craig calls back and starts typing.

“He takes great joy in doing these conversions on Google,” says Lisa.

The mystery solved, Lisa measures out her butter and gets on with her whiskey sauce. Craig and Leo return to their project, printing out Craig’s arrangement of a Dave Grusin song. “I think he’s one of the greatest jazz composers of our age,” says Craig, “but he’s widely unappreciated because he plays mandolin. I wanted to change this song” — which has four parts, originally scored for guitars and mandolins — “to be for instruments that we play: woodwinds, primarily, and piano.”

The computer was a great help in this effort. The song moves very quickly, and Craig would have been hard pressed to pick out the individual lines if he had to listen to it at full speed. But simply playing the track more slowly would alter the frequency of the notes. Happily, “I have a program that cuts the speed in half — you’ve got some note at a particular frequency, and you can go back to the time domain and choose to make it a longer time at that frequency.” Double the time for each note, and presto — your song is half as fast. After that, it’s just a tedious matter of plunking out notes on a keyboard hooked to the computer, which then places the notes on the staff. “They’re still pretty hard to sort out, but it doesn’t matter if you get them exactly right, as long as it sounds the same.”

The phone rings; it’s Ariel, calling her father. She’s late, and there are bets as to when she’ll arrive.

“I’m betting 5:45,” says Craig. “Lisa’s at 6:00. Leo?” “I’m on 5:40; I’m being nice. But it’s not fair when you start calling and giving her directions — you’re influencing the time.”

“Are you accusing me of trying to influence the outcome of this wager?” asks Craig, mock-shocked.

“When we were up visiting Grandpa, you started calling and making sure she had the right directions, because she wasn’t going to make your time. Chadd and I were declaring shenanigans.”

Craig and Leo disappear into the living room, where Leo begins picking out bits of the melody on the piano, an upright baby grand built in 1896 that’s been in the family since 1929, when it was purchased by Craig’s grandfather. Together with the mahogany-stained entertainment center — new and gleaming in contrast to the piano’s timeworn finish — it is the room’s dominant fact, dark and hulking against the pale walls and carpet. It testifies that this is a musical family; further evidence is provided by the stash under the open staircase: saxophones, clarinets, guitars, a banjo, an autoharp, a flute, a violin, a ukulele, and a rolled-up marimba. Craig plugs in a bass guitar and begins noodling around. Leo plays a piece he has composed on the piano.

Back in the kitchen, Shelby is cooking down the mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, and onions in a skillet. She has already put the water on to boil for the pasta and measured the noodles to make sure they are the correct (two inch) width. She mixes eggs and cottage cheese in a bowl. “I was supposed to lightly beat the eggs,” she says, jabbing their yolks with a fork, “but it’s all right.” She begins stirring them into the cottage cheese. “They’re lightly beaten now.”

Lisa lets out a cry of dismay, peering at the recipe in the cookbook that she carries about the kitchen. “It said green onion, and I thought it meant green pepper! Well, now I can’t be sued,” she shrugs — her recipe is no longer Stuart Anderson’s. “What can we use? Is there anything growing outside? Grass? I have something growing out there, but I forgot what it was I planted.” She heads out to a collection of starter pots on the patio. “Yes! Oh, look — it was going to be green onion,” she says of the tiny shoots she finds there. “Oh, and one of them died.” She soldiers on with the sauce, losing count of the teaspoons of Jack Daniel’s as she adds them to the sauce and pausing to slip a flat loaf of frozen garlic bread — also from Costco — into the oven.

Ariel arrives at 5:43; Craig wins the bet. A buzz attends her entrance — she moved to San Francisco with her boyfriend for a year after she graduated from high school, and even after her return, she doesn’t get to the house for dinner often because of her job as a restaurant hostess. But besides the rarity of her presence, there is her presence itself; she is a long, tall woman with broad shoulders and a voice full of emotional dips and swells. She has had people trouble at the circus, and when Leo asks her about it, the story comes tumbling forth.

Leo provides a sympathetic ear even as he insists that his status as brother “may influence me in a negative way” toward her plight.

Craig gets Ariel seated at the piano, where she starts playing "Für Elise." Craig accompanies her on bass, hitting the bottom note of each chord. “She can sight-read,” marvels Leo. “ She learns songs; I make them. She can be the starving studio musician, and I’ll be the starving composer. But we’ll both be starving circus performers.” The circus is what took Ariel to San Francisco — there was a school for it up there. She specializes in rope work — spinning, twirling, winding, and unwinding herself in a long ribbon suspended from the ceiling. Leo, who juggled throughout my last visit, has become a young master. He took a bronze medal at the world junior championships and is, he says, “one of the top ten in the world when it comes to three-ball.”

Lisa melts butter into a pan in preparation for searing the slim slabs of sirloin. She summons Chadd to transfer them to the grill on the patio for finishing, and he makes his way down the ladder and out of the garage. Once upon a time, Chadd had long hair — very long hair that came down in a silky wave to his waist. Now, his head is near-shaven; his long hair hangs on the wall in his loft in the garage, more like a pelt than a scalp. “I got tired of taking 45-minute showers. Admittedly, shaving my entire head takes about 30 minutes, but I only have to do that every third week.”

Lisa slips in a mild objection. “When I wash my hair, which is just a little shorter than yours was, it doesn’t take me 45 minutes. It takes more like 5. W hat did you do to your hair?”

“I was pretty vain about it,” admits Chadd. “No one else had that kind of hair.” Lisa begins reading to Chadd from the recipe.

“Oh, man. I have to follow directions?” he complains. “I rebuilt my entire suspension without directions!”

“I’m only giving you one step. ‘Grill the steaks for three to five minutes or until they are done to your liking, and salt the steaks lightly as you grill.’”

“Salt,” says Chadd, in the manner of a surgeon requesting a scalpel. Lisa hands him a prodigious salt mill; it seems nearly a foot high.

“Hey, hey, hey, you salt your own!” warns Shelby.

“Don’t worry; I know how much salt normal people like.” Chadd takes the steaks out to the grill, and I follow. “I am a salt addict, if you will. I probably consume three to four times the salt you do. It allows me to taste food better. If there’s no salt on my food, that’s all I can think about.”

Chadd is 21. He moved in because “my mom kicked me out. Basically, I just didn’t listen to her when she said, ‘Get off your ass and get a job,’ which I should have done. She had every right to kick me out. I moved in with my dad, and a few weeks later, I had a job — so I guess she won, oddly enough.” He works at Subway. “I’m going to be managing it all on my own come February; my boss is opening a second store.” He’d like to buy a franchise one day. “It would be nice to be 22 and have a real good chunk of something. And I seem to be pretty good at it, so why not?” All he needs is the money to buy.

He built the loft in the garage himself. “I love it. I probably prefer it to living on my own. I can keep close to my family, but I have privacy.” (That is easy to believe. It is not a large space; it is almost as cluttered as Leo said it was, and it requires a steep climb up a ladder to get in.) “It does get pretty damn hot in the summer” up near the uninsulated ceiling, “but I just live with it.” Speakers and stereo equipment occupy a prominent place against one wall; Chadd stores his music on a computer. A hammock hangs out over the empty air.

The liquor collection Leo referred to is partly the result of his newfound fondness for tequila. “I got turned over on my 21st birthday by an old friend of mine. He gave me a shot of Patron silver, and I was hooked on good tequila right there. I try to stay away from the cheap stuff, and I try to keep it down — there’s nothing worse than realizing you can’t get along without it. Recently, I’ve been cutting back. I try to do a month of abstinence once in a while, just to make sure I still can.”

Chadd turns his attention to the steaks. “Lisa, I believe, likes it pretty well cooked. My dad likes it right in the middle. I like it pretty much kicking.”

Inside, Shelby is folding back a layer of noodles and slipping in a layer of cheese she forgot to add. Lisa is helping Wendy set the table. Craig is cueing up a bootleg video he made of Leo’s performance at the World Junior Championships. While he works, Ariel tells him that while she was doing her act for the Fern Street Circus, a photographer took some pictures of her “in some really cool poses. Apparently, they blew them up and auctioned them off for a whole lot of money. He’s going to make me copies of them. I was, like, ‘Whoo! Go, me!’”

Leo’s show, performed before an audience of judges and fellow jugglers, begins to the music of “Bad to the Bone.” He enters the stage on a miniature bicycle and begins his three-ball work, at one point juggling them behind his head. He uses white balls that reflect the spotlight and practically glow against the black curtain behind him. The audience begins clapping; they like him. His four-ball work is set to Lou Bega’s “Mambo #5.”

“Everybody taps their feet to that song,” he attests. He has a couple of drops but finishes by catching the balls behind his back. “I’m pretty consistent between three and five drops,” says Leo. “There are usually between one and five in a show.” Adds Craig, “If you don’t drop, you’re not working hard enough.”

He juggles five balls to the music of the Stray Cats, pulling off a move in which he catches a ball on the back of his neck and hefts it back into play. For six balls, he stands on a board that sits atop a cylinder. “That’s never been done in competition by anyone.” Then it’s on to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and clubs. He misses a catch after a somersault but then tries it again and nails it, much to the audience’s delight. “They see how hard it is, so when you do it again, they love it.” He finishes by juggling while standing on a giant ball, another trademark maneuver.

The tape then skips to Ariel’s performance on the ropes, but not before we get a shot of Lisa from behind, walking on a treadmill. Craig, quickly forwarding, explains that the shot was designed as a motivator in Lisa’s efforts to lose weight. Ariel is working one of the side ropes in a show held at Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium. The girl opposite her is having trouble; her safety line has snapped and tangled itself in her rope so that she is unable to stop spinning. Ariel’s spin, however, looks good.

“Don’t you love it when the other person sucks?” asks Leo. “It’s the most cruel thing in the world, but you look way better when the other person sucks.”

Chadd observes, “I really like it when Ariel does those moves versus shorter people; it just looks so much better to have a big body — you know, so much more grand.” When Ariel wheels down the rope with her legs split, I can see what he means. (Chadd was with the circus once — he did yo-yo creditably well — but no more.)

Dinner is served; the clan crowds in around the dining room table and the card-table extension. Chadd has lost track of his super-salty sirloin some where in the pile of steaks and issues a general warning and request for immediate return. Lisa has had some trouble getting the peppercorn sauce to thicken just so but manages to pull it out just in time. Dinner talk covers an ordinary range of topics — work troubles, tolls on bridges, the unbearability of living in San Francisco — before Craig tells Lisa, “We had a little trouble with the film today. I went to show Ariel the video...”

“Ohhhhhhh,” moans Lisa.

“You know what was on the end of the tape?”

“Ohhhhh. Ohhhh.”

“It was the treadmill tape from behind,” Leo tells Shelby. “Ohhh. Ohhh.” Lisa is mournful.

“I’m sorry, Lisa,” says Ariel.

“Ohh.”

“It was pretty early on, too,” says Leo.

“It was pretty scary, huh?” asks Lisa. “Yeah. It was, like, ‘Whoa.’”

“Okay, stop while you’re ahead, Leo,” warns Ariel.

“No, it was refreshing. It was, like, ‘Wow, she’s different now.’”

“Oh, you suck up.” Chadd jumps in.

“Was it zoomed way in so the butt took up the entire screen?”

His remark — all their remarks — is not nasty; the talk is banter. There is a sense of comedic performance.

“You’ve lost 15 pounds, right?” asks Craig, leaping to her defense.

“You did put the camera in the same place?” asks Chadd when Lisa complains that she can’t see any difference between the before-and-after footage. “The same zoom and everything?”

“I’m not filming it!” exclaims Lisa. “We need to do another shot. I don’t think we’ve done it in four to six weeks. We have to have some sort of continuity, otherwise it’s going to be ‘Big butt, big butt, big butt...’ ” She smiles at herself. “...’Big butt, big butt, big butt!’”

Shelby asks Chadd if he wants one slice or two of his lasagna, and the weight talk shifts targets. “One please. I’m trying to get not so fat.”

“Chadd had to lie about his weight on his driver’s license,” Craig tells me.

“I put down 225, and that was a lie,” bleats Chadd. “Not by too much — only 5 or 10 pounds or something.”

“And you’re only 21.”

“And I bicycle, and it doesn’t go away. I’ve had free pounds that didn’t really show — they’re, like, on the back and the butt and stuff, so you can’t really tell.” But at 225, it began to tell in the gut.

“Your stomach will be resting on the top tube of the bike, but you’ll still look totally fit from behind,” predicts Leo.

“It helps if you eat better when you bicycle,” advises Craig.

“I’m eating healthy sandwiches every day! I’m just eating too many of them. Jared” — the Subway pitchman who went from tub to trim with the help of Subway sandwiches — “didn’t eat five sandwiches a day. He didn’t get cheese; he didn’t get mayo. They don’t tell you that in the commercials.” Nor did he eat Subway cookie dough raw. “That’s my downfall right there.”

Chadd’s diet has become the stuff of family legend: the time he wrote down everything he ate in one day and racked up 7900 calories, the time he ate a can of undiluted clam chowder. “I have a new life goal,” announces Craig. “For the rest of my life, I’m going to weigh less than Chadd. If I ever weigh more than him, it’s going to be an utter failure on my part.”

Lisa is moved to pity. “Oh, Chadd, you’re the standard for failure!”

“I’m like Skittles to everyone else.”

Even Craig tries to commiserate.

“When I turned 40, the metabolism really started to slow down. Before I was 40, I had all this nervous energy. Now I’m content to sit in my chair all day. I went from 185 to about 205.”

Some of that all-day chair-sitting was less than voluntary; after he was downsized, the family got into a bit of a hole while he searched for a new job. Two months of sending out résumés produced nothing. “I have a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford. Not a single call. Every now and then you’d get the word from somebody that they were looking for kids who would work for nothing. They don’t want people who are over 30 with children.” Fortunately, because he’s experienced in a specialized field — one that determines the feasibility of drugs during their development — he was able to put the word out to his colleagues and find steady work as a consultant. But digging out of that financial hole has required a string of 70-hour work weeks.

Lisa, meanwhile, has seen her niche business — writing e-mail query letters to agents and producers on behalf of screen writers — ravaged by clumsy competitors. “A common question for a screenwriter is, ‘How do I market my work?’”

She developed a list of contacts via e-mail and got to be known as someone who knew what people would read what sort of scripts. “The average screenplay got five or six requests to be read, which is really unusual,” boasts Craig. But after a couple of years, he laments, “three or four other companies started doing it, and they were total spammers. They were basically paid by the name, and they just sent out a query to every single email address in The Hollywood Creative Directory.”

“Now,” says Lisa, “they open their mailbox and there are 10 or 12 queries, and they just hit ‘delete, delete, delete.’”

“It’s kind of sad,” continues Craig. “It’s leeches who take people’s money and don’t do anything useful and screw it up for everybody.” She still has some contacts, however, and her own screenwriting efforts have drawn some notice — one project made it as far as being optioned.

Leo, Chadd, and Ariel fall into a lengthy discussion of lizards — Ariel’s iguana has been ill of late. After a while, Craig coaxes them over to the piano to take a crack at the Dave Grusin song. Chadd fetches his alto saxophone; Ariel and Craig assemble their clarinets. Leo sits at the piano. It is pleasant to listen to the song emerge from the jumbled first runs; out of the false notes and missed unison, the four find their parts and their timing. The session does not quite achieve polish, and some of the playing shows the scrape of rust, but it is still live music. year at the Jewish academy. “You get a medal for being in the top five; she pulled out more awards than any one else. This was for science; this one is Principal’s Honor Roll, humanities; this one is for math, and this one for Hebrew. I was really proud. What I have to do is get a frame to put these up.”

She tells a story, one that adds a new chapter (if not a full volume) to the family saga. Lisa was adopted as a child and has spent years looking for her birth mother. By the time Lisa found out who she was, her mom had died, but the search revealed the existence of several half-siblings, none of whom had ever heard about her. “They were alive when their mother was pregnant with me, but she had divorced their father, and they stayed with the father. Apparently, she met someone and had me, and no one knew,” not even her mom’s brother, who is still alive. Last August, Lisa traveled east with Craig, Leo, and Shelby and met them all. “As soon as I walked in the door, they all looked at me and said, ‘Oh, you look like Mom.’ They showed me pictures of her, and I thought, ‘Oh, I look like her — more than they do.’ I was happy to look like the mom I never knew. And I consider myself lucky, because of the chances of them all accepting me.” She told her father the story — her adoptive mother has also died — “and he was, like, ‘Wow, I want to meet them.’ So this Christmas, we’re going to go.”

Melding her own nuclear family has proved similarly smooth. “The kids really get along and listen to each other, which is really cool. There were never any problems.” And now that Leo is over 14 and can choose which parent he wants to live with, Craig has asked him to move in. “I think it’s good for boys to spend time with their fathers,” says Lisa, who is delighted by the prospect. (Though she and Craig both get along with her ex-husband — “I’ve known him since I was 17 years old, and I still consider him one of my closest friends,” she says — relations are not nearly as sunny with Craig’s ex-wife.) Later, after Chadd and Ariel have left to hang out at Ariel’s apartment, and Shelby has gone upstairs to write an essay in which she conveys an emotion, Lisa asks Leo, “So, when are you moving in?”

“Well, I don’t know.” He switches to a John Wayne drawl: “I haven’t figgered that part out yet.”

“We were talking about next weekend — that was the plan,” says Craig. “Something like that.”

“Is that going to work for you?”

“I guess. I thought this weekend was going to work for me, and then I went to Utah. So until Friday, it works for me. But I’m sure something will come up.”

“Well, let’s make a plan of it. Try not to make other plans, okay?”

“All right.” “What do you want to bring over?” “The wax desk and all the accoutrements that go with it. I’ve got to figure out where to put that.”

(The wax desk is for the carving of wax jewelry molds. Leo admired his mother’s wedding ring and afterward “started hanging out in random wax carving places. One of them, though I didn’t know it at the time, was a really famous jewelry maker — he made the America’s Cup. He’s here in town.”)

“Have you talked to your mom about all this?” asks Craig.

“Mostly.”

“Good; that’s good. So we’ve got to make room in your bedroom.”

“The wax desk can replace the bookcase; I don’t have any of my books on it.”

“That’s good, because Ariel was just asking if we had a bookcase she could use.” He grabs a phone and dials Ariel on her cell. “Hi, Ariel. You were asking about a bookshelf? Leo is getting rid of the one in his room — it’s three shelves, under-the-window size. You want that one? Okay — when you come up again. We were just talking about it because he’s going to be moving in next week.”

Lisa brings out some leftover birthday cake — though Shelby’s birthday is not until tomorrow, she celebrated it yesterday with her grandparents in Temecula. Conversation meanders from the process of selecting the new Dalai Lama to Craig’s memory of L. Ron Hubbard’s claim, back when he was just a novelist, that if you really want to make money, you should start a religion. I excuse myself for a moment, and when I return, Craig and Lisa are smiling. “What we’ve decided,” says Lisa, “is that we want you to come back, and we’re going to re-stage this whole dinner and we’re going to be drunk. It’s going to be like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

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