Questioning My Commitment

downloadby Karen Topakian

After listening to white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, screaming these anti-Semitic and racist Nazi slogans, “Blood and Soil” and “You will not replace us,” I began to question my commitment to nonviolence.

Because part of me wants to hit a Nazi, throw a brick at a Klansman, whack a fascist in the shins.

How can I adhere to my deeply held belief in nonviolence against such evil? Can I abandon my principles, just for a moment, to beat the crap out of a Nazi? Aren’t those the people we all hold up as the poster children for evil? The worst scourge of the planet. Why not get in a few licks? Assuming of course, I had the physical power to beat the crap out of anyone.

For several moments, ok hours, maybe days, I toyed with the notion of going off the nonviolence wagon to teach these folks a lesson.

Then I pondered, what lesson was I teaching and would it have any lasting value?

Fascism and White Supremacy will not end because I’ve pummeled a true believer. Support for them may even grow, if the public sees them as the victim or worse, the government may make the call for “law and order” to limit all protests.

Intellectually, I know their racist ideology won’t ever die because people can cling to ideologies long beyond their expiration date. Just ask the people who still believe Obama was born in Kenya.

Resorting to violence would only address my immediate anger and wouldn’t provide a long-term solution to White Supremacy.

How strong are my commitments if I’m willing to abandon them in difficult moments?

As I struggled with my dilemma, I turned to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s writings whose words first resonated with me when I heard them in my early 1960s sunday school class.

For half my life, I’ve tried to live by his six principles of nonviolence.

  1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
  2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
  3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
  4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
  5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
  6. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

I continued to question myself:

  • Can I win friendship and understanding against people wielding a lit torch and a gun?
  • Can I see them as victims and not evil people as they smash heads, drive cars into crowds and threaten to kill us?
  • Will my physical and emotional suffering educate and transform them or merely convince them to hit harder, strike deeper, shoot?
  • Can I honestly choose love when I feel their hate?
  • When, oh when, will that arc of justice bend far enough to reach us?

Why do I question them today when I’ve spent more than three decades participating in nonviolent direct actions? What’s different?

Then I realized most of my experiences with nonviolent action didn’t involve confronting someone who opposed my beliefs. In those 30+ years, I only engaged with law enforcement when I lay down in the road, occupied an office or disturbed the peace. People who advocate for war and the use of nuclear weapons don’t stand on the street corner carrying signs and brick bats, they occupy the halls of Congress and board rooms.

I acknowledge the privilege of rarely engaging my opponents face to face but that time will end now.

This time I will encounter the people everyone loves to hate – the Klan and Nazis. And I will need to live these principles and risk potential suffering and violence. Can I?

I looked to Dr. King who faced these same adversaries on his streets, in his home and in his life. He said, “In spite of the darkness of this hour … we must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence.”

If he could say this after those four young girls were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, how could I give up and give in?

Instead, I will use this moment to test my belief in the power of nonviolence to overcome evil, bigotry and hatred and to test my ability to remain committed.

 

 

 

Art and Nature

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by Karen Topakian

Before I walked into Mariposa Studio, I knew I would buy her book. Why not? Beverly Tharp was the professional photographer I had hired to produce my headshots, a friend and an artist. What I didn’t know was what else I would see…

Paintings of animal bones depicted as graceful ballerinas, strong swimmers and majestic flyers.

Poems about confronting a mountain lion and the sights and sounds of Clown Alley.

All because Beverly shared the space with studio owners, painter Anna dal Pino and poet John LeFan.

And of course, I saw Beverly’s sharp, radiant images of fleshy lotus leaves, rotund water droplets and graceful damsel and dragonflies.

Before we left, I bought two copies of Beverly’s book “In Love With Lotus” along with one of Anna and John’s, “Apparitions.”

If you want to see the show for yourself, go to Mariposa Studio for dates and times.

 

 

The Loss of More Than a Friend

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by Karen Topakian

On July 7th, I learned I lost a friend, Mike Veiluva.

Sadly, I’ve lost other friends on other days.

But this man was more than a friend. He had been my lawyer.

While I was the executive director of the Agape Foundation, Mike provided us with pro bono legal advice. Never more than a phone call or an email away, he reviewed all contracts, responded to letters from lawyers questioning our tax-exempt status for supporting grassroots social change organizations and represented us in negotiations with the never-ending parade of new landlords.

As importantly, he visited me and others in jail when we repeatedly committed acts of civil disobedience against war and the spread of nuclear weapons, then effectively defended us in court, again, pro bono.

And on many a hot August day, he patiently held my backpack on the anniversary of Hiroshima day, while I commemorated the deadly occasion by lying down in the street in front of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to protest the design and testing of nuclear weapons. Then he cheerfully waited at the gate for the police to release us.

For decades, Mike advocated tirelessly, using every legal avenue available to fight for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Ironically, five days after he died, and the day I learned of his death, the United Nations negotiated a legally binding treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.

Sadly, Mike Veiluva has left us. And took with him, his steel-trap mind, quick wit and a very generous heart.

 

 

 

Festivus for the Rest of Us

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by Karen Topakian

Festivus, a secular holiday celebration that exploded after its introduction in a 1996 Seinfeld episode, includes airing grievances and performing feats of strength. For the past several years, Peg and I have celebrated this event in Belmont, MA with her lefty college friends and their teen-age and adult children. This year, some participants responded to “What’s your grievance?” by uttering only one-word while others posed a question. Here are the highlights:

Trump and the Election

Bernie or Bust people – Fuck You

110,000 people voted for Harambe, the dead gorilla, for president (PunditFact says this claim is a hoax)

Why is the voting age 18? (A college junior questioned whether his peers would know enough make the right choice.).

Bannon

The Media

TV ads for pharmaceuticals (I’d rather take my chances on the disease than the medications’ side effects.)

Realistic video games. I don’t want my video games to look realistic.

Emotional tearjerker commercials. It’s just fucking shampoo.

Truthiness

 Parking and Traffic

Uber drivers. They drop people off where ever they want.

Boston drivers (do you really need an explanation?)

Self-driving cars

Road rage

Pedestrians surging into traffic

A lack of consistent placement of bike lanes

Belmont, MA roads. Requires the patience of a saint.

The Wilson Farm parking lot traffic pattern. It’s one way for a reason!

 Sports

Tennis is boring when Serena doesn’t play

Football games are boring

The Cleveland Browns – ugh

Philadelphia sports fans: drunk, sad, angry

Technology

Why does every kitchen appliance beep whenever it completes a task? What am I supposed to do, applaud?

My dishwasher treats me like a moron

My new phone doesn’t know my swear words

Google is run by an evil genius

General

I HATE HAMILTON!!!!!!! (A high school junior rap fan resents the false belief that the musical invented the genre)

Private colleges are a rip-off (said by a private college student)

Pharmacies should designate a colonoscopy preparation aisle that includes Jello, clear liquids and citric acid. Like the wound and incontinence aisle.

Small pockets on women’s clothes

Lifesavers – why are they so hard to find?

Men

 

 

 

Shopping with Alice

img_8812by Karen Topakian

When we’re together, my mother and I often participate in a ritual – shopping. Sometimes it’s for something specific. Sometimes it’s just to look. For decades, we’ve visited the same stores – Talbots, Chico’s, Macy’s, Banana Republic… We always want each other to look our best.

My mother’s advice on clothes remains unsurpassed. She possesses a keen eye for color, design and appropriateness.

We intend to be tactful and diplomatic. But we aren’t always successful. Here are a few examples.

I snuck into the dressing room to try on a pair of French Blue cotton pleated-at-the-waist slacks that tapered at the ankle. I glanced at myself in the mirror and liked the way they fit. When my mother took one look, she said, “That isn’t the most slenderizing garment I’ve ever seen on you.” To which I responded, “Maybe I’m not going with slenderizing.” Just to be defiant I bought the slacks, wore them a few times before concluding she was absolutely right. They ballooned at my hips and butt. Not an attractive look. I never wore them again.

Our fashion commentary clearly worked both ways. When I was a teenager, my mother played bridge one afternoon a month to which every one took the occasion to get dressed up. She had recently purchased a slate gray pencil skirt with a wide belt and paired it with a lighter gray long sleeve silk button up blouse. Instead of complimenting her on the fit, I said, “You look like a prison warden.” Crestfallen, she responded, “Once you say that I can’t wear the outfit.”

As I struggled to find a raincoat for my mother amidst a sea of ones easy to reject – hoods, ugly colors, too long or too short. She held up a beige trench coat. “Don’t you already have a beige raincoat?” I asked. “You can never have enough beige raincoats.”

While plowing through pile of sweaters at Talbots, I spied a red V-neck cardigan. “Mom, what about this one?” She smiled and said, “Theoretically, it’s a nice sweater.” Then pointed out it was the wrong color red, the V was too deep and she didn’t like the buttons.

 

Summer Olympics For the Rest of US

imagesby Karen Topakian

If the International Olympic Committee wanted to represent most Americans, they would include these real-life Olympic competitions.

Free-Style Burning

Fair skinned “athletes” lathered in baby oil spend a hot, humid day at the beach. Waving off “scientific” concerns about skin cancer, they avoid shade or sunscreen. The first athlete to break out in blisters wins the gold.

Vapid Reading

Armed with a strong Tom Collins, a player digs into the works of James Patterson, Danielle Steel and Jackie Collins. First player to find one sentence that would pass muster in a high school English class may quickly dive into the New Yorker.

Deep Napping

Laid out on a chaise lounge, hammock or lawn chair determined nappers settle in despite barking dogs, circling helicopters surveying a fast moving fire and children pleading for ice cream. Last one to bolt upright and scream, “Shut the F&%$ up!” wins.

Miniature Golf

A player uses a short club to hit a ball into a hole camouflaged by a plastic log cabin, condor-sized bird house or a leering clown face, in the lowest number of strokes as possible while avoiding pools of spilled soda, floating tufts of cotton candy and sharp-edged windmill blades. Players may not keep their own score.

Roller Coaster

After eating an extra large bacon-crusted pizza washed down with Dr. Pepper Slurpees, then waiting in a 90-minute line mid-day, each player rides with 5 nine-year olds in a metal car attached to a track that loops, climbs and 60-degree plunges at 80 mph without barfing.

Bird Watching

Teams of players spread their blankets down on a crowded public beach. Each team must protect their potato chip bags, broken cookies and half-eaten sandwiches from aggressive seagulls. Players may scream at and shoo the birds but not harm the birds or leave their blankets. Ants may be substituted for birds, if not available.

Synchronized Are We There Yet

Teams of bored 11-year old children without electronic devices, book or activities unwillingly pile into mini-vans for a long drive. Almost immediately after leaving the house, the teams begin chanting “Are We There Yet,” “I Have to Go to the Bathroom,” “She Touched Me” and “I‘m Gonna Be Sick.” Whichever van stops first wins.

Back Seat Driving

Teams of elderly nervous backseat drivers ride in hot cars, during long road trips to family weddings. Players repeatedly shout out unwanted cautionary phrases,“I think you missed the turn,” “Watch out” and “Is that a bag of leaves or a small boy?” Whichever player gets ejected first wins.

Entertaining 4-Year Olds in a Small Beach House During a Multi-Day Rainstorm

The player with the most children alive at the end of the week wins. Children with a weak erratic pulse will qualify as alive.

Red, White and Blue

Husbands and wives with divergent political views spend the entire 4th of July weekend without mentioning despairingly either presidential candidates’ names or political party. First person to call a divorce lawyer or schedule a lobotomy for their spouse wins.

Lone Wolves Anonymous Hires Public Relations Firm

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Date:                         June 14, 2016

Contact:            Canis Lupus, Leader of the Pack, 1-800–HOWLING, clupus@lwa.org

Lone Wolves Anonymous Hires Public Relations Firm

Jackson Hole/WY – Lone Wolves Anonymous (LWA) lashed out against the press and the public for besmirching its good name and inferring guilt by association.

For more than 40 years, lone wolves have received blame for committing random acts of violence starting with Sirhan Sirhan’s 1968 assassination of presidential candidate Robert Kennedy.

“We need to dispel the myth once and for all that lone wolves are to blame for so much carnage. We’ve had it up to here,” said Mr. Lupus pointing to his snowy white chest. “Not all lone and solitary folks are killers in sheep’s clothing.”

In response to these repeated false claims about its very nature, LWA hired the world famous public relations firm, Tooth & Nail, to burnish its falsely tarnished public image.

“We hired Tooth & Nail because they came highly recommended by the sharks who went from much feared to having their own hockey team and TV programs,” explained the pack leader excitedly.

Tooth & Nail immediately advised LWA to show the public their more fun loving and playful side. “They advocated we adapt a mantra of complete transparency. Therefore, we’ve opened up all of our activities to the general public,” announced Mr. Lupus “We’re anxious to show how everyone how we care for our young, scent mark and howl at the moon.”

Prior to hiring the PR firm, LWA tried a few less than successful image changing activities: hunting in pairs, which ended in acrimony; becoming gatherers which created packs of hangry wolves; and shifting the blame to other solitary animals, such as the Tasmanian devil, the grizzly bear and the Giant California sea cucumber.

“The bears refused to take the blame lying down,” said Mr. Lupus. “A Tasmanian devil delivered a lethal bite to a reporter seeking an interview. And the sea cucumbers let the fault wash right over their leathery skin.”

Lupus reminded the public that, “Lone wolves don’t kill people. People with guns kill people.”

###

The Hearing Test

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by Karen Topakian

“How long am I going to sit here?” my mother asked herself while seated on her suburban ranch house’s concrete front steps.

She pulled her German shepherd Pasha, a little closer to pet his furry head. The summer sun warmed her bare knees.

My mother put her ear to the screen door to listen to my father’s conversation with the man who was testing his hearing. She heard muffled voices. So she waited. That’s all she could do. That’s all she’d been doing for the last 30 minutes.

It all started when the ordinary looking man in the dark colored business suit arrived for his appointment with my dad. My father greeted him at the kitchen door and ushered him inside where he promptly shook my mother’s hand. She returned to the kitchen sink to resume washing the lunch dishes.

My father ushered him to a seat at the kitchen table where the ordinary looking man placed a thick black leather attaché case on the table. He carefully unclasped the two locks, gently removed a machine full of dials, gauges, switches, wires and a headset, which he placed on the table.

“Mrs. Topakian, I will need you to leave the house,” he solemnly announced to my mother as she emptied the cold coffee grounds into the disposal. “In order to test your husband’s hearing, I will need complete silence.”

My mother turned from the sink toward my father, eyebrows raised and her head cocked to an angle. My father nodded in agreement with the ordinary looking man.

She wiped her hands on the terrycloth dishtowel then walked into the bedroom to find her sandals. Muttering to herself, “Why do I have to leave the house? Can’t I just go in another room? And what about the dog? He didn’t say anything about the dog. Would he able to stay but I had to leave?”

In a few minutes, she emerged. Opened the cellar stairs, retrieved the dog’s leash and walked out.

After attaching the leash, she marched up the street. Pasha, like any good dog, wanted to spend his walk sniffing. My mother let him bury his nose in the grass for a few seconds before pulling on the leash to keep walking. She needed to finish her household chores on her day off. And now the ordinary looking man had highjacked her plans.

“I need to go to Almacs and CVS. But my keys and list are in the house,” thought my mother. “Plus I need to bring in the laundry from the line.”

She rounded the corner onto Budlong Road and walked for a block before she took a right. She thought around the block would be enough time for the ordinary looking man to complete his test.

Pasha again pulled on the leash to get closer to a squirrel skirting across a lawn. She jerked him back. While he sniffed, she fumed at the inconvenience of having to leave her own house abruptly.

Soon they approached the main thoroughfare at the bottom of the street, Reservoir Avenue. My mother walked carefully on the narrow sidewalk, struggling to keep Pasha out of the path of the cars racing past.

As she turned the corner at the bottom of her street, she saw the ordinary looking man’s car still parked in front of her house. “Was he also testing Armen’s eyesight and measuring him for shoes? How much longer would she have to wait?”

So she sat and sat on her front steps until the ordinary looking man bid her goodbye as he walked past her and climbed into his car.

My mother strode back into the house and declared, “Armen, do you know how long I had to wait? I’m glad he didn’t come in the winter when it was snowing.”

My father looked up from the paper and smiled, “What did you say Alice? I didn’t hear you.”

Republican Presidential Candidates Struggle to Find New Scapegoats

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by Karen Topakian

“Should I blame the mentally ill again for yesterday’s killings in San Bernardino?” mused Dr. Ben Carson to his advisor, Armstrong Williams. “I just blamed them last week in Colorado. Let’s find a new group.”

Carson and Williams sat in silence for a few moments.

“What about heathens or Catholics?” suggested Williams. “It’s high time we brought back blaming Catholics.”

Dr. Carson shook his head while stroking his salt and pepper beard. In a moment, his eyes flashed and he announced, “The Huns. I just read about their leader in the book, Attila the Hun: Better than Hitler.”

“Do you mean the nomadic people of the Caucasus?” questioned Williams.

“Did you say Secaucus, as in New Jersey?” asked Carson. “Yes, let’s blame it on Governor’s Christie’s people.”

“Caucasus,” repeated Williams. “The mountainous region in western Turkey. Didn’t you learn anything from our foreign policy advisor?”

“We agree. It’s the Huns.”

 

Mike Huckabee pulled his well-worn Bible off the shelf and plopped into an adjacent upholstered armchair. He thumbed through his favorite book looking for a new group to blame for the most recent killings.

“Sin and evil aren’t good enough. I need something more damning,” muttered Huckabee. “And I need to be ready when the reporters call.”

Huckabee turned to his bookmarked passages, reading his favorite words aloud to help himself focus, ‘fornicators, lustfulness, slothfulness.”

In a moment it came to him. He offered a quiet word of thanks to God “The good Lord has rained violence on us because of atheists. If they prayed more, God would stop the killings.”

 

Donald Trump spent a few extra minutes admiring his profile in the bathroom mirror. He slapped on an extra splash of aftershave to make sure he smelled good for the ladies in the press who would ask him for comments about yesterday’s killings.

“It’s sick people. And I know that because I’m one of the healthiest people in the world,” bellowed Trump. “Everyone else is saying mentally ill. I’m saying sick. All kinds of sicknesses make people go on shooting rampages. Cancer. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Restless Leg. Atypical Mole Syndrome. Even the heebie jeebies. ”

 

Ted Cruz sat at his desk drumming his fingers on his keyboard. He glanced up at his diplomas from Harvard and Princeton.

“I’m the smartest guy in the room. I know I can come up with something better than mental illness,” uttered Cruz looking for a new response to the most recent shootings in San Bernardino. “What about the gays? We haven’t blamed the gays in awhile..”

Cruz thought for a moment then proudly tapped out his new message – “A country allowing homosexuals to marry has lost its way. The husband and wife shooter couple probably sat next to a gay married couple, which profoundly affected their heterosexual marriage, forcing them to arm themselves and slaughter innocent people.”

 

“I still don’t see why everyone reacted so badly to ‘Stuff Happens’,” stated Jeb Bush to his campaign manager. “I didn’t say Sh^t Happens.”

The presidential candidate slouched back in his chair and put his head down.

“Do I really need to have something new to say every time there’s a shooting? I can’t keep up,” complained the brother and son of former presidents.

“You’re mumbling, Governor,” said his campaign manager.

“I bet the shooter had an older, stupid brother who stole the political spotlight from his younger, smarter, better looking brother. I bet the older stupid brother left a big stinking political mess for the younger brother to address and that led him to uncontrolled fits of violent rage,” stated Bush.

“Let’s stick with stuff happens,” announced the campaign manager.

 

“How many times do I have to say it’s our left wing values?” pronounced presidential hopeful Marco Rubio to his campaign staff. “They are undermining our institutions and leading people to pick up guns and just start shooting.”

“But Senator, we need to say something new,” pressed his communications director. “We’ve prepared a few comments for you, tell us which ones you like.”

Mr. Rubio gave his team the nod to go ahead.

“Living in the United States without a plan to address illegal immigrants and rampant abortionists, can make people resort to violence.”

“My Cuban parents fled violence to come to America where they worked hard without killing anyone, why can’t these people do the same?”

“I blame our president for forcing sick people to buy health insurance online. If they didn’t have Obamacare they would be too sick to get angry enough to pick up a gun.”

 

“Ok boys, what am I saying today about these shootings? I need something provocative to catapult me into the primetime debate,” announced presidential hopeful Chris Christie to his staff while they sat in the limo waiting for the bridge traffic to clear. “You have to give me something. I can’t sit with that nitwit Santorum again.”

His aides shook their heads.

“Do I have to do all the thinking around here?” asked the Governor from New Jersey. “Let’s think of something catchy, pithy.”

“How about if you blame the Democrats?” asked his communications manager.

“Can’t. Cruz already did.”

“What about something from the Bible?” asked an aide with a full beard. “Like blaming adulterers?’

“Pastor Huckabee’s sewn up the Bible business.”

“Should I tell him the idea you all rejected?” asked an aide with a persistent cowlick.

His staff aggressively shook their heads.

“Now I gotta hear it,” exclaimed the former prosecutor.

The assembled staff held their breath.

“Ahem, I went back and looked at some of your previous statements about gun violence and thought we could resurrect one. ‘I believe we already have too many firearms in our community. This recent incident proves it again.’”

“Driver, stop the car. You. Out of the car. Now. You’re fired. Don’t ever remind me of what I said in the past.”

Family Dinners with Nana

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Nana

by Karen Topakian

“Armen, what do you think about the steak?”

My father didn’t answer.

My Nana frequently asked my father this question during Sunday afternoon dinners where my grandfather, a funny man with sharp mind for business and big smile, always sat at the head and my father, a practical man of few words, sat at the foot. Nana half sat on her chair, nearest the kitchen ready to jump up at a moment’s notice to add more food to the table, as needed. My mother, sister and I filled in the empty seats.

During most of my childhood years, my parents, sister and I often ate these dinners at my maternal grandparents’ house in Cranston, RI.

Nana served roast beef or steak, vegetables, rice pilaf, a salad and a homemade dessert in the dining room, seated at the mahogany dining room table, set with a tablecloth and cloth napkins.

She prided herself on her cooking. She enjoyed and encouraged everyone’s compliments about her culinary accomplishments. But she mostly sought out my father’s approval.

Shortly after we arrived on Sunday at 2:30, Nana ushered us into the dining room to eat dinner. We took our seats and started passing the food.

“Mom, thank you for going to all this effort today,” said my mother passing the bowl of green beans stewed with a lamb bone, tomatoes and onions.

“Armen, have more pilaf,” offered my Nana waving a big spoonful in his direction.

“This time you made it right,” declared my grandfather in Armenian, enjoying his second bite of green beans.

“Armen, did you try the steak yet?” inquired Nana beaming.

My father didn’t answer.

“Mom, the pilaf came out perfectly,” praised my mother.

“Alice, pass Armen the salad. He doesn’t have any,” chided Nana.

“Mom, I heard Anna wasn’t feeling well,” mentioned my mother. “Do you know how she is?”

“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” responded Nana. “Armen, I almost made potatoes instead of pilaf but I know how much you like my pilaf.”

My father didn’t answer.

“Dad, do you want us to give you a ride to the bazaar next Sunday?”

“Armen, you haven’t said what you think about the steak.”

“Leave him alone. Let him eat,” grumbled my grandfather. “I’m not going. There’s too many people and it’s too loud.”

“Don’t say that. You know you’re going,” declared Nana. “Armen, it must be good because it was an expensive cut…”

My father didn’t respond.

“I’ll only go if the girls go,” announced my grandfather smiling at my sister and me.

“Does anyone want madzoon (yogurt)?” asked Nana as she started to rise out of her chair. “Armen, does the salad need more dressing?”

“Dad, we’ll pick you up in time for the chicken and pilaf dinner,” offered my mother.

“Armen, what do you think of the steak?”

“Why do you keep asking him?” challenged my mother.

“Armen, I made a delicious apple pie and I’m sure you’ll like it.”

“Dad, have you talked to Kuzoian’s lately?” inquired my mother.

“Armen how’s the steak?”

And finally my father answered, ”Tough.”