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Summary of Feast or Famine
by Sue Kaliski
edited by Elizabeth Eccher
"Mom, you don't need a rental car, okay. I can drive you everywhere." Two days before Thanksgiving, Rick speaks to his mom via phone. Eli playfully darts in to say he's not doing yoga with his grandma. "Eli says he can't wait to do yoga with you." Rick relents about the car and says goodbye. Jessie, ready for school, can't wait for her grandma to see her Tae Kwon Do.
When her dad observes that Jessie hasn't eaten anything, she responds, "Dad, I never eat breakfast." "She's not gonna starve," Eli points out. Still, Rick presses a banana upon her, which Jessie tosses back on the counter in disgust as they head out the door.
At Sammler/Cassilli, Miles Drentell carefully inspects the model of the corporate headquarters as Rick and David await judgement. Descriptive words pour forth -- "excitement," "adrenal stimulation," "a ferocity that I find invigorating..." David dryly notes, "Buildings just aren't as carnivorous as they used to be, Miles."
"This building seizes the ground on which it stands," announces Miles. "I applaud that. We might be on our way, gentlemen." When Rick questions the word "might," Miles testifies that he makes his "last stand in this edifice against the ravages of mortality. You'll forgive me if I want to get it just right." David approaches to remind Miles of the "small matter of a design payment or two." With a flourish, Miles indicates his two assistants and says these payments will be arranged. "The work is excellent, gentlemen. I'll be calling you to discuss the next round of changes."
Followed by his entourage, Miles takes his leave passing Lily as she arrives. Miles appraises her with pleasure and casts a look in Rick's direction. "That was Miles Drentell," Rick informs Lily. Surprised, she says she hopes to meet him. David, moving away, notes that she'll have lots of chances.
Seeing the design model, Lily gushes, "My brilliant boyfriend! You have to show this to your mom." Rick comments that Mom will say it's beautiful before she even sees it. Trying to imagine their two mothers in the same room, Lily muses "Isn't that like matter and anti-matter?" Turning their attention to food, Rick insists on providing the holiday bird. Lily reassures, "We'll get it together."
[In black-and-white, Rick recalls when he first realized his mom was cool -- when his friends wanted to hang around his house.]
"Mom!" Rick opens the apartment door to Peg Sammler and they greet each other with delight. [The black-and-white continues. Rick's friends would fight with their parents "and end up staying with us...And my mom was cool, no matter how many people were there."] Peg embraces Eli and asks about the band -- "Are you playing all over?" Eli smiles and says they have to get good first, and Rick steps in to say E has to do homework first. "He's a senior, who cares about homework?" Peg conspires. "Way to go, Grandma!" Eli says appreciatively. "Thanks very much, Mom," Rick admonishes.
As Rick answers the phone, Peg looks back and forth between father and son. "Is there a problem?" she asks. Eli tells her it's a long story, and carries her bags upstairs.
"Grandma!" Jessie hurries in with excitement, followed by her mom. "Who is this blonde beauty?" gushes Peg as she hugs her granddaughter, then Karen. The two women appear fond of each other, and Peg shares a story of her recent retreat to Big Sur -- long hikes and massages. She tells of a "remarkable leader who has a double black belt in Kung Fu!" As Jessie pulls her towards the stairs, Peg waves bye to Karen, hoping to see her again.
Glancing at her watch, Karen waits for Rick to extricate himself from another involved phone discussion with Miles. Finally free, Rick tells her he would love to keep the kids through the weekend. She reassures him that she'll be with friends on Thanksgiving, and they wish each other a "Happy Thanksgiving".
In her room, Jessie positions her elfin grandma in Tae Kwon Do. She invites Peg to bring her best stuff, and parries the attack with her own thrust. Peg feigns injury and, sitting on the bed, wonders how this affects Jessie's relationship with boys. Suddenly deflated, Jessie replies, "What relationship?" Peg asks her "warrior woman" how life is outside of martial arts and whether her mom and dad help with high school. Jessie notes that they're pretty busy, but she doesn't need much help. Peg concurs, and asks about Lily. "She's okay. She's really pretty," says Jessie. Peg wonders how important this is, and Jessie assumes it is to her father.
Lying across the bed, Grandma asks about Lily's daughters, and notes about how many new people are in their lives. "It's not as if anybody asked you," she says. Jessie laments having to adjust to "their Thanksgiving the way they like to have it." She already misses her mom's homemade cranberries, so Peg suggests they make some to bring to Lily's. "Good idea!" Jessie approves, as they snuggle close.
That night, dinner is barely underway when Rick intercepts a phone call from "the Mom." "Is that what you call her?" Peg asks her grandchildren. Rick asks Jessie if she wants to bring anything to Thanksgiving dinner. She clicks with Grandma and reports that they will bring the cranberries.
Eli inquires whether Peg has boyfriends back in Kansas City? "I was seeing someone, but it was just sex," says Peg. Jessie is startled, and Eli slaps Peg a high five as Rick returns to the table. He proceeds to enthuse over Lily and her kids, adding with a tease "even if Jessie hates Grace." This comment mortifies Jess, so Peg shakes her head at Rick to derail any further chat on the subject.
Observing Jessie's plate, Rick wonders if she's going to eat. She claims that she is eating, as Peg looks on. Eli asks, "If I can get a date Thursday night, can I skip the whole dinner?" Rick's "Absolutely not!" earns another glance from Peg. Eli and Jessie leave the table to start their homework.
As Peg begins to clear the table, she kisses the top of Rick's head and remarks how wonderful his children are. She adds that Jessie seems "a little upset about Thursday night." Rick emphatically denies this -- his daughter is "just being dramatic." Peg goes on to observe that Rick is on the phone an awful lot. As he protests, she interjects that she knows how hard it is to raise kids alone: "I was there." Rick insists, "If Jessie has a problem, she'll tell me. We have that kind of relationship." Peg plants another kiss and approves, "That's the only kind of relationship to have." She stops to look around for the missing fortune cookies as her son takes a bite of food, concern spreading across his face.
Wednesday morning, Peg and Rick push their cart through the supermarket. Mom hates to think about "all those chemicals in all those packages" of prepared items, then remembers all the hours in the past preparing meals, "for what?" The family would talk about anything but what they were feeling -- Rick's dad had his work, his brother the football game, Rick didn't say anything.. "I talked!" Rick protests. Peg chuckles and adds, "If I tortured you."
Lily catches up to them, and happy introductions follow. Peg admires that Lily has a job. After Rick's dad died, Peg had "no job, no skills...nothing at all." Lily notes that Peg figured it out pretty well. Peg pats Rick's cheek, saying she had a lot of good help, and Lily pats the other side, agreeing that he's "occasionally helpful."
Angling to get Lily alone, Rick suggests they choose the wine while his mom harasses the butcher about their turkeys. "You're damn right I will," Peg claims as she turns the cart around.
Watching Peg leave, Lily exudes that she is "so cute." Pulling her along, Rick says he loves his mom, but is glad she lives in another state. Retreating into a harvest display, they momentarily lose themselves in an avid kiss. Rick's cell phone interrupts -- it's David, and Rick is needed back at work pronto. Lily helpfully offers to take Peg to lunch. Rick reluctantly agrees admitting he's not prepared "to have you hear about my adolescent sexuality, everything else about my childhood...." Lily reminds him that she already knows all about his "adolescent sexuality."
At a Chinese restaurant, Peg assures Lily that she is not a vegetarian, "just concerned about what goes into my body." She adds that "Mikey lost 20 lbs. in 3 months just by watching what he ate." "Mikey?" Lily asks as she sits. "Rich's brother," Peg clarifies.
Peg compliments Lily on her figure, adding "And you're 36?" "I wish," Lily rejoins. Noting how much Rick cares for Lily, Peg ventures that "I'm sure you've noticed he's not the most communicative person in the world." When Lily says he's "pretty open with me," Peg acts relieved, saying "You should have seen him 20 years ago." Lily then reveals that she sometimes gets a glimpse of this.
Peg continues. Rick used to keep everything inside, "even before his father died." When Lily confirms that Rick hasn't mentioned his brother much, Peg tells her that Mikey is an alcoholic. "He's doing well now, but it's been a long hard struggle, and there came a point where Rick couldn't deal with it anymore." Near tears, Peg says Rick and his brother haven't spoken in 7 or 8 years. Realizing she's said too much, Peg slaps a hand over her mouth. Lily takes her hand and says, "I am so glad to know you, and I'm happy to hear whatever you want to tell me."
Arriving home laden with groceries, Lily almost trips over two bookbags strewn on the floor. She yells up to her girls but instead is greeted by Judy who jests that she wants to have every possible moment together with their mother this Thanksgiving. Barbara Brooks walks in and exclaims that Lily has already done the shopping. Embracing her mother, Lily commenting that she looks wonderful. "You know me," Barbara waves it off, "Always the same."
[Addressing the camera, Lily says, "Barbara and Peg? Oil and water… Nixon and McGovern… Oh, that's not fair."]
As Barbara rummages through the grocery bags, Lily asks her mom if it's hard being back after last year. "Oh, honey, it's hard wherever I am." After a pause, Lily reports that Rick is bringing his mom as well as his kids to Thanksgiving. Barbara seems pleased to have a companion her own age, then suddenly worries, "I hope she doesn't want to cook!" Judy murmurs to Lily, "Battle of the Titans."
That afternoon in Eli's room, he plays his guitar and sings for Grandma. Seated, she rocks to the tune. As he strums the finish, Peg says, "Amazing," and wonders about any gigs yet. "Not for money, anyway," replies E, stressing that importance. His grandma wonders if his dad really has a problem with this? Eli lists the objections -- he's ruining his life, he's dreaming... Peg notes that it's a "teenager's right to ruin his future," and states that Rick is too busy forgetting that he was a teenager. Eli thought that after Grandpa died, his father had to get a job and make straight A's. A shocked Peg sets the record straight that Rick and his brother were "just this side of delinquents." She was on a first-name basis with the high school principal. It's Eli's turn to be shocked, and he wonders how he can use this information against his dad.
Dinner is served once again. Rick informs his mom that the food is from a "really healthy restaurant" and calls Jessie down to join them. Rick asks Eli about his recent paper on the Spanish American War. Upon learning that Eli didn't know of Teddy Roosevelt's importance to this event, Rick becomes agitated -- "He wasn't in the stuff on San Juan Hill?" Rick's contentious tone elicits a look of concern from Peg. Eli is upset now, and wonders if his dad wants him to rewrite the paper when he has so many other school projects pending. Meanwhile, Peg eyes Jessie's untouched plate.
Later that evening, Peg talks with Mikey on the phone. She tells him to send a picture of the baby, and reminds him of her offer to baby-sit. Knowing Rick has overheard this conversation, Peg tells him she'd never heard his brother sound so excited. She spells it out -- he hasn't talked to Mikey since the baby was born, indeed since his brother was married. "Mom..." implores Rick. Despite her assurance that there really has been a change, he tells her not to put herself in the middle. She protests that she hasn't said a word in four years. Rick replies, "Trust me, your silence has been deafening."
As Rick pulls out the sleeper bed, Peg changes course, saying "That son of yours is amazing." "When he's not challenging everything I say," returns Rick. Peg points out that's his job at this age. As Rick collapses across the bed, his mom wonders if he's still growing, he's so big. He grabs her knee to tickle her and, laughing, she rubs his head and shoulders. After a moment of hesitation, Peg talks about Jessie. Has she lost weight recently? Rick thinks the opposite, that she's gone through "an unbelievable growth spurt." Peg knows it's tough on young girls these days, with "eating issues." "You think she's anorexic?" Rick presumes. "No!" denies Peg; she is just glad Jessie's growing.
"Mom, did you come here to have Thanksgiving dinner, or to put into practice all the things you've learned in your workshop?" Rick tries to pin her down. "That's not fair," Peg replies. He tells her quietly that he's glad she came, then adds that he's dealing with a lot of things right now. "Heroic things," Peg inserts. As she kisses him goodnight, her son informs her, "We're gonna have a nice dysfunctional holiday dinner, like all good Americans." "I can't wait," says Peg.
The doorbell sounds on Thanksgiving Day. Lily, Barbara, Grace and Zoe greet the Sammler clan. After cheery introductions are complete, Rick advises Barbara that she is defending the north goal and Peg that she will receive the kickoff. Barbara, clueless, shrugs at Zoe.
Lily opens the oven to inspect the turkey. Barbara, entering with Peg, marvels about how big turkeys are, and Peg insists it's all about the hormones. She is happy to say she hasn't cooked a turkey in 25 years, and soon joins Grace at the kitchen table. She notes Grace's book, Tess of the D'urbervilles -- "They want to warn you of the dangers of being reckless with your sexual favors." Grace agrees and continues, "Why don't we read about women who were really wild and got away with it?"
Chuckling, Peg offers a book recommendation just as Jake bustles in. He comes bearing Phil's famous corn salad and Barbara's favorite, creamed spinach. Zoe leaps into his arms as Rick glances in from the next room. Jake is soon off to serve 250 dinners at the restaurant, news that thrills Barbara. "Oh, Mom," Jake says as he hugs her, "We are happening -- up 40% from the reopening."
Rick, Zoe, Jessie, and Eli share the sofa as they watch the football game. When Zoe tries to understand the passing game, Jessie and Eli offer assistance. Soon Judy and Aaron arrive. Rick gently asks Aaron how the ride was. After a glance at Judy, Aaron replies, "We had a very nice ride over here. The leaves are off the trees, and it's very evocative." He adds that he totally loves Judy's Corvair. She smiles and introduces Aaron to Eli and Jessie.
While Lily sets the table, Zoe shares photos with Jessie and Peg. "Mom, you were so cute!" she exclaims. Jessie wishes they had brought her dad's old pictures. By coincidence, Peg pulls a pair from her bag. Rick protests as Lily hurries over to see the photo of a strapping 10-year old boy. "I'm leaving now," he says, embarrassed. Peg remembers the fort he built -- "His father made him draw up the plans for it." Grace wonders if that's when he decided to be an architect, and Rick responds that's when he decided not to.
Jessie asks the identity of the other boy in the photo. When her grandma says it's Mikey, Jessie ponders "the last time we even saw Mikey... oh, the second grade, I remember." Peg looks at Rick as Lily turns away. When Jessie asks why he doesn't visit anymore, her dad says, "He's very busy."
As chairs are gathered around the table, Lily tells her mom that she should sit at the head. Barbara declines and presses Rick, "It will be your place." Aaron notices Rick's placement and, confused, murmurs, "That's Daddy's chair."
Standing behind Aaron, Lily speaks to all -- "I just want to say how much Dad is in our hearts, and how much I miss him..." Judy finishes, "And how happy he would be to see everyone here today." Passing, Barbara says, "Thank you, Lily."
Rick rises to "do the honors," and everyone applauds. [In an interview, Rick relates how his father always kept the carving knife "perfectly sharp," how each slice was exactly the same thickness. Rick smiles uncomfortably, struggling with the task, and wipes his brow. ["You weren't allowed to speak when he was carving. Not that that was much different from the rest of the meal."] Dinner begins, and Rick notices Aaron looking at him. They share a smile. [Rick continues, remembering it was his mother's job to keep things going at dinner, no matter what kind of "insincere inanity she had to come up with.....God forbid there should be a moment of silence." ]
Plates are passed, as are soft, amused pleasantries. Grace brings a platter of meat over to Aaron, who uses his fingers to swap some slices. Barbara observes in dismay. As Rick looks around, his eyes come to rest on Jessie's untouched plate. She catches her dad's look, and he smiles over his worry. Raising the wine bottle, he finds it empty. ["I don't know why I get so sad at holidays, there's no reason. I have more to be thankful for than almost anybody, and I can admit that.. Any day except Thanksgiving."]
During dessert, Rick is lost in thought and doesn't hear Barbara's repeated requests that he pass the whipped cream until she almost shouts. Lily softly asks if he's okay, adding "You can go to bed soon." Eli slides over to tell his father that he was supposed to meet a friend a half an hour ago. Rick points out that they're having dessert. When Eli says he's full, Rick snaps, "E, drop it!" This startles everyone, and elicits a disapproving look from Lily.
At the front door, Jessie and Peg say good night to Lily, and Rick follows with his thanks. "You're welcome!" she returns with an edge. As Eli leaves, Lily casts him an apologetic smile. Oblivious to the drama around him, Aaron naps peacefully on the foyer bench.
Upstairs at the apartment, Peg and Rick say goodnight to Jessie, who sounds pleased as she reports that Grace was nice to her. Readying for bed, Peg tells Rick, "They're a lovely family. She is quite a woman." A door slams and Rick spots an angry Eli crossing the hall. Attempting lightheartedness, Peg says Eli's not trying to turn everything into "a pissing match."
Wary of trouble, Rick asks his mom what she wants to tell him. Peg simply states, "Eli loves you and he wants to know that you love him." Maintaining that Eli knows this, Rick pushes, "So I let him slide by in school, let him do whatever he wants to show him how much I love him?" "Just talk to him," she says. "See what he's going through. You talk at him."
"And you know this after two days," counters Rick. "I knew it after two minutes, Rick," Peg becomes passionate. "You're checked out! I know what that looks like.." She goes on to say that he decided not to deal with his brother, he thinks his daughter is fine, his son... "Would you stop it!" Rick's voice is hushed and angry. "You don't even know me anymore." She maintains that he looks at everything but the problems, and he almost spits, "I deal with problems every day!" "Except when the problem is you," Peg finishes.
Seeing his shock, she softens and apologizes. "I just want to be close to you." He stares at her in disbelief, then turns and walks out. With sadness, Peg shuts the bedroom door.
Friday morning, Jessie perches on a stool observing a sullen Eli, who scans the paper in the living room. "Are you still mad?" asks she, adding that no one else got to leave early. He wants her to stay out of it, "it's not a big deal." "Then don't make it a big deal," she scolds.
Sleep-rumpled Rick walks in and teasingly suggests "turkey pancakes, turkey cereal, turkey toast..." Peg comes in from a walk and asks Rick for Lily's number. He's suspicious, but she assures him she just wants to phone her thanks.
Rick asks Eli if he has big plans for the day and, getting the silent treatment, reminisces about how he always loved the day after Thanksgiving -- "it was like a snow day to me." E states that he has lots to do, and Rick wonders if any of that is homework. "Dad, it's Friday. I have all weekend." "Nobody said you have to work today," his dad defends. When Eli shakes his head, Rick mutters "Fine" and leaves the room. Jessie looks at Eli, who lets out a sigh.
At the mall later, Zoe, Jessie and Peg precede Lily and Rick up the escalator. They split up, Grandma taking the girls. As they stroll along, Rick detects a vibe in Lily. "You okay?" "I'm exhausted," she hedges. He comments that "last night was nice," and she returns, "Was it? You tell me." Rick wonders what's going on, and Lily opens it up -- "I've never been around you at the holidays, you seem... something..."
Stopping next to a railing, Lily tells him he was "totally out of it -- people would speak to you and you wouldn't even answer them. If you were upset you should tell me!" To placate, Rick admits he was a little overwhelmed, "but I was fine," which earns a sarcastic huff from Lily. Now riled, he didn't realize she had this expectation of what he should be like.. "The only expectation I had is for you to be like yourself!" she insists. Heating up, he claims that she's judging him -- "You want me to perform for these people, you want me to be the host, be your father.." "What?!" Lily disbelieves. "Excuse me," says Rick, "but I'm dealing with my mother, your mother, our children... I just wanted everyone to be okay." "That's what we both wanted!" Lily stresses.
Jessie comes up behind them to find out for Grandma how much she can spend. Rick switches gears and tells her "whatever she wants is okay." He returns his eyes to Lily. Mutually frustrated, they turn and look out over the mall.
Eli wheels his bike into Rick's apartment foyer later that afternoon. Seeing his dad up to his elbows in casserole preparation, Eli ribs him: "You actually making dinner?" Rick expresses jealousy over the 20-mile bike-ride Eli has just taken, and wonders if he'll join them for dinner. Eli says he has to make some calls first. His dad nods and watches him go.
Eyes closed, Jessie reclines on her bed, headset in place. NIN sings of "black soul." Rick enters to alert her about dinner. After acknowledging, she rolls over away from him. He nudges her to remove the music. "Aren't you hungry? You haven't been hungry a lot lately." Sitting up, she claims she's hungry all the time. He sits next to her and after a moment proceeds, "I really get the feeling you're not eating." He knows this happens when people are upset, but she denies that she's upset.
Rick hesitates, but wants to understand. "Are you trying to lose weight?" She insists that she's not, that she doesn't even think about such things. Her dad stumbles on. She's so skinny to begin with, he would hate to think... "I mean, people make such a big deal out of that stuff." Both are tremulous but Jessie appeals to him with a smile, asking to finish her song before coming down. Moving to leave, Rick suddenly turns back and says more forcefully, "Jess, a lot of girls your age..." But she doesn't hear him through the headset she's replaced. Knowing this is a lost opportunity, he quietly tells her to come down as soon as she can. Jess returns to her music.
Finishing dinner, Eli compliments his dad on the non-turkey meal. As both kids race to pick up the ringing phone, Rick stares at Jessie's full plate. "It's very common," Peg says, referring without words to a possible eating disorder. "Whatever," says Rick in resignation. A heavy silence ensues. When she does speak, it's to remember that old feeling of not knowing what to say to each other. "I was married to that feeling. I don't need it anymore."
"Do we really have to have this conversation right now?" Rick asks tightly. Peg confronts him, wondering if he really thinks no one knows how helpless he feels inside. "If you don't come out of that shell, no one will benefit." He wheels on her but she plunges on, wondering if he knows how many years it took her to admit how much she carries around, "how much we all carry around." Rick doesn't want to hear this at all, but Peg asserts, "I have to tell the truth!"
Rick's had enough. He doesn't want to come home and have every word and action analyzed and criticized "according to the Peg Sammler school of how I should think and talk about my feelings!" Peg steps up, "I know it hurts..." "No, it pisses me off, Mom!" His voice is quavering as he continues, "Why do you have to bring up the past? It's done, he's dead. I know he was limited, but he was my dad!" Tears stand in Peg's eyes. "He gave me what I had, and I'm fine," Rick insists. "I can't help if I don't measure up to what you think I should be." He stops, jaws clinched.
Peg needs him to hear her. He is a wonderful man with very deep feelings, afraid of letting these out because they're not always nice. "Your children need you just the way you needed your dad." Touching his face, she begs, "Please don't hide from them. They love you." As he searches her face, Rick hears what his mom is saying.
Some time later, Rick completes an evening run. Entering the apartment, he sees Jessie in the darkened living room, sleeping upright on the sofa. Sitting, he pulls her over into his arms. He picks his daughter up and -- camera in slow motion -- carries her out of the room.
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