Aunt Jennie did her hula dance; hips crashing over her Jordache jeans. Uncle Mark tried to do his magic card trick with a pinochle deck, before his wife, Aunt Lucy, snickered and he told us all to go fuck ourselves. The small cousins sang "Jingle Bells," while my cousin Stan and I did a breakdance out front. Grandma recited a Eugene Field poem, then cried, declaring, "Everyone dies, especially the sons of bitches."
But then there was my Uncle Peter. The one everyone was waiting for. A pill-popping drunk and unemployed roustabout by day, and superstar family entertainer by night. Everyone would roar with laughter at his impressions of Jackie Gleason, Walter Brennan, Johnny Carson, Little Richard, Mister Furley and others.
This time, though, fresh in the psychic wake of Grandma's declaration, Uncle Peter calmly took one last swig of
Rhinelander, stood in our makeshift spotlight and stared into the bare light bulb. Even though this was an uncharacteristically slow start, the family smiled with hope. Nobody was funnier than our Uncle Peter. You could feel everyone trying to will him to perform. You could feel everyone desperately needing to laugh.
"For my first and last impression of the night, I give you Rich Little..."
Some stopped smiling. Some continued, confused, still hoping.
After an awkward silence, Uncle Peter said, deadpan, in his own voice, "I don't know what to say unless I'm someone else."