Here's the Scoop: March 19, 2008

Taking the test
We tried to come up with an appropriate title and finally settled on the obvious: The Boyfriend Test.
There would be no need for pencil and paper. No 45-minute time limit. No cheat sheets. Nope, The Boyfriend would pass — or fail — on his own terms. For those of us who like to make snap judgments, the test would not take long.
This may sound cold-hearted. It is. Just like the rest of human nature.
The Boyfriend in question belongs to my niece. Somehow, she seemed to have forgotten exactly how embarrassing family members can be. As a result, she asked us if it would be OK if her Boyfriend (capitalized in this column for effect, not for proper grammatical purposes) accompanied her to the annual O’Sweeney St. Patrick’s Day Dinner.
Naturally, I felt obligated to determine if The Boyfriend would clear the first hurdle. Was he Irish, I asked? Uh-uh. This was a bad start. If he didn’t like beer, this was going to be a real problem. Fortunately, he passed the beer test with flying colors. He would be an Honorary Irishman for the occasion! Heck, even it he hated beer, he probably would have wanted one to take the edge off the task of facing The Family Observation Panel.
That beer obstacle was easily settled. But it wouldn’t help him with the possibility of the family members handing out failing grades to The Boyfriend for things like bad manners or the inability to laugh at my jokes — no matter how stupid.

Jittery visit
As we prepared for our company, I commented to my wife: “Can you imagine how nervous our niece and The Boyfriend are about meeting The Clan?”
I tried to think back to my early 20s (a difficult task in itself) and how I would have felt in such a situation. The feeling was not a pleasant one.
I never met my wife’s dad, but she has often commented, “My father would have hated you.” Quite a ringing endorsement. Apparently, my father-in-law had little room in his life for sarcasm.
We didn’t want this to be the case with The Boyfriend.
The more I thought about The Boyfriend having to endure small talk and the scrutiny of having everyone take note of his eating habits, I became nervous myself.
Then, it struck me: Suppose he didn’t like us? Sure, his only teammate for this visit was my niece, but even though they were far out-numbered, they would have the opportunity to assess us. That couldn’t be good.
I generally like to break the ice in such situations with a bit of humor (see above). Sometimes it works.
Shortly before the arrival of my niece and The Boyfriend, I suggested that it would be really funny to load up a piece of corned beef with a huge amount of salt and see if he was polite about eating it! I was overruled.
Undaunted, I thought it would be cool if I developed a long list of really personal questions that The Boyfriend would have to be crazy to answer. That idea didn’t fly either.
Then I came up with a proposal for establishing a series of “ratings” signs that we could flash at the end of the evening, like the type they use in determining ice skating champions. Another brainstorm that met with stiff opposition.
Finally, we decided on simple human interaction. Boring, but a good indicator. The Boyfriend passed with flying colors. I wonder how we scored?