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“You know who she looks like?” his grandmother says to his mother.
“She looks like someone, but the name – I can’t think of the name, ” his mother says.
“She” – a/k/a “I” – is (am) standing three feet away.
“Yes! That’s it! Has anyone ever told you this?”
Oh, so they
know I’m breathing the same air as they are. Gee.
“No,” I say, not wanting to breath any air anywhere anymore.
What 22-year-old girl wants to be told they look like the daughter of Lucy? The marginally attractive, rooster-haired, questionably talented fourth fiddle in a famous family?
She's whimsical! So fanciful, footloose and, yes, fancy-free! Although she's past 40, she's wearing her hair in two long braids, with little bows of colorful yarn at the ends, leftovers from the latest hat she knit with own two hands, and she is, indeed, wearing that very hat right now! When she plods back into the room in her multi-color toe-socks with your hot blueberry twig tea in a mug she made in the barn and a scone she just baked that morning, be sure to tell her, with a twinkle in your eye, that you appreciate this charming detail.
From the get-go, he wanted her to be his. Yet how would he, a humble baker, introduce himself to this tiny dark beauty? For now, it was enough to follow her down the streets of Havana, and admire her in silence as she shopped.
After she had paid for her fruit and was on her way home with her purchases, he would pass behind her and place his colorful gifts in her brown paper bag. When she unpacked, she would wonder where the oranges had come from, since she knew she hadn’t bought any.
Ahhh, yes. My Poppop, the romantic!
The Neighborhood Playhouse claimed to want to teach wannabe-actors how to be more “truthful”, to free themselves of posing and posturing, to reach what was truly “real”. Going in, I knew it would be just another false situation, reeking of bullshit.
Before class, these cretins would be sitting on the floor, one behind the other, administering back rubs. Or draping themselves on the decrepit sofas, displaying carefully prepared and manufactured angst. And during an exercise, somehow work in a way to be at least partially naked, if not completely so, in a hideously misguided attempt to be “free”.
When I pull the many-colored afghan up to my chin in bed, its popcorn-y texture tickles, and I say a small “thanks” to its creator. I’ve never seen her, never will, and it’s not because she’s a grandmother who died before my birth, but because my only contact with her is via eBay.
It arrived two years ago, wrapped with apparent care, like a gift. It was clear she put a lot of time, love, and pride into its creation. And as corny as it is, it
a gift – to remind myself that people can be very, very good.
Although I fiercely wish it were true, my friend is not the best one in the show. No one is good – indeed, they’re all cringeworthy -- but I want him to be the best of the worst. I want to be able to go up to him after the show, hug him, and rave that he was fabulous. But I can’t. Even Meryl Streep couldn’t pull that off. So when the show’s over, and my boyfriend asks if I want to wait around for my friend, I decline and pull him out of the theater before I’ll have to lie.
“You know, I was thinking about this on the bus over here,” Ron says. “I was thinking that if I really wanted to, I could make a shirt out of grilled cheese sandwiches and wear it while running errands. I could use stale bread for stability, and stitch it together with yarn.”
“But why would you really want to?” I say.
“Y’know, I could even wear it here!” he says. “To my sessions with you!”
I remind him that I don’t allow food in my office.
“But it wouldn’t be acting as food!” he says. “It would be a shirt.”
Despite my vehement protests, my boyfriend listened to the painter and allowed him and his crew to match the dining room chair rail to the pumpkin/terra cotta walls. Why you would want to essentially disregard the existence of the chair rail was beyond me, I said. But hey, if you want to let a distinguishing feature blend into the woodwork, that’s your deal.
Sure enough, as soon as we see it for the first time, we agree it looks horrible. The chair rail looks like a keloid scar over which someone with a heavy hand applied cover-up to disguise it.
A hammer, displayed in the plate-glass window of a local hardware store, dressed in holiday finery, hopes to transform mere passersby into shoppers and then convert them into buyers, if not of the actual hammer on display then at least one of its family, huddled inside the store.
Jewelry stores, clothing stores, department stores. These all showcase wares that are obvious hits. Although the dressed-up windows in which they are displayed certainly add to the appeal, they do not transform the items from mere utilitarianism into luxury. But the hammer, the humidifier, the dustpan? This is their time to shine!
Until two weeks ago, my boyfriend had never heard of the word "jit". When I used it in the car on the way down to my parents' house for Thanksgiving, he said, "What’s that?"
"Oh come on," I said. "Jit! Like -- jizz!"
"I never heard of it," he said.
"No one in Wisconsin used that word when you were, like, 12?" Me, slackjawed.
When we got to my parents', I asked my mom about it in front of him, and of course she heard of it.
Yeah, that’s right – a li'l jit-chat with my mom.
My landlord squints at the hole in the bathroom ceiling, then back at me, where I sit at my desk, pretending not only to be busy but to be okay with him just dropping by mid-morning to decide how best to "fill the hole" that afternoon.
"I guess this means I can’t use my video camera there anymore," he says, with what may be a quasi-wink.
"You can still use the one in the ceiling above the shower head," I would say -- if only I didn’t sort of believe he actually has one and has already been doing so.
I have earned my reward. In my day to day life, I am vigilant about recycling and about using my legs whenever possible. I make sure that every last toilet paper roll makes it to the proper bin, take the stairs instead of the escalator, and walk everywhere I possibly can, shoes permitting. So now, this morning, having tended to the appropriate disposal of paper, plastic, and aluminum and engaged in a leg-intensive workout including more than 200 squats and tread-hills, I’ve earned this reward of a disposable paper toilet seat cover and the luxury to actually sit while peeing.
It’s 1997, and I’m “single” again, not really on the prowl but taking offers. One night, at a new “space” in which I appear to fit in but secretly don’t and therefore want to flee, I meet P. Because he’s compact, stylish, well-groomed, and so charming and easy to talk to, I figure he’s definitely gay and thus have an easy time with him. And later, he has one with me.
It’s not until “after”, and he’s barefoot, that I notice we’re literally seeing eye to eye. Would I have fucked him had I know he’d been wearing elevator shoes?
Vapid, pouty-lipped, sullen-faced, blank-eyed bored heiresses and heirs, dressed not just to the nines but to the tens, elevens, and beyond, find themselves languishing atop an enormous jagged black rock just after dawn, poufy party dresses only slightly less poufed than when the festivities started seemingly yesterdays and yesterdays ago, neckties undone to an effect somewhere between rakish and debauched. Shoes in hand, anywhere but on feet. No one has anywhere to go. None of these overprivileged eternal revelers ever has anywhere to go but the parties that land them on these rocks.
Oh, how I loathe luxury lifestyle billboards.
At long last, his mother is dead, and nothing is holding him back. Hands on hips, alternately tongue-clucking and whistling, Richard looks around the apartment they’d shared for all his 52 years, not sure where he should begin. How best to start a new life?
Crank up the music? Jump on the sofa? Order in pizza? His mother would die if she knew he considered these things!
His decision: He walks to 7-11, buys a box of Raisin Bran, and, once home, digs his hand into the box, eating only the sugary raisins Mother had always replaced with “real” ones.
The grandmas emerge from the woodwork, wearing classic 1940’s-style cotton aprons embroidered with twin cherries. Each bears, in both hands, a dish containing a warm baked good associated with her home country.
Suzy’s “American” grandma is first, offering a kindly “hello” and an apple pie in a basket, steam wafting from the crust. Belinda’s German grandma offers a brisk nod and an apple strudel on a Longberger dish. Leni’s Greek grandma grins under the weight of an enormous jelly-roll sheet loaded with baklava. Bringing up the rear is Linda’s junkie grandma, struggling to tape together an already-opened package of Sno-Balls.
Despite her most fervent attempts to discourage her daughter, Mrs. Martinson knows Martina will press on anyway and do what she wants to do. She always does, that one. She was headstrong from the get-go, insisting on being born two months early, just so her birthday wouldn’t be compromised by being too close to Christmas.
But, really, what kind of mother would she be if she caved in and let Martina fashion a small handbag out of a pork chop?
“So why wouldn’t you let me make mittens out of fish last week?”
She just doesn’t want to hear it.
Nostrils approached me, innocuous pinheads from afar, but once within arm’s length, caverns intent on sucking me in, snorted deep into their hosts’ lungs, where I’d swing from the limbs of bronchial trees, tiny banana grasped in one hand, like an old pro.
Soon the fixation spread from the nostrils to the noses themselves – regarded more as proboscises, actually – stripped of any association with humans and taking on the appearance of a wide variety of snouts, beaks, and trunks, all charming and adorable on animals but nothing short of grotesque on human faces not that appealing in the first place.
Last December, before my foray into his family waters, my boyfriend told me his grandma might not take to a new face readily. Indeed, I caught her staring every time I turned around. At a country club brunch, when I peered down the length of the long table toward her, there she was, leaning back, peering at me. Eventually I joked that she’d appear around door jambs, in triplicate, like in a cartoon. Or rise from the floor like an organist at an old movie theater. Or look up at me from the water when I lifted the toilet lid!
How did it feel to freeze to death in a drift of snow in Vermont almost a decade ago, my dear sweet friend? Were your eyes open to see your last breaths, evaporating, hanging in the frigid air above your still, shivering body? In your drunken stupor, did you have any idea you were about to die? I would like to think you knew nothing, felt nothing, that the alcohol had numbed your mind and body so completely that you were unaware you were shutting down, if only for that night’s sleep.
Did you wish for a blanket? A bed?
You will be fortunate in everything.
Who the hell wrote this fortune cookie message? An overindulgent Upper West Side mom who considers her brat’s every whine an aria, every scribble a masterpiece, and every diaper load a miracle? Way to overstate, fortune cookie company scribe!
Then again, perhaps I should sympathize with the unfortunate guy. I can just see him hard at work on a tiny portable typewriter, up to his eyes and elbows in paper cliché, overloaded with trite thumbs-up wisdom for the apres dim sum set, daring the gods to strike him down for such a loaded order.
Dear Milwaukee Marriott West Pillow,
Please forgive me if what I’m about to say seems too forward, given that I’ve known you for but one night, but I don’t think I can go another night without expressing how I feel.
Quite simply, you are the pillow of my dreams. I’ve never met anyone like you. You alone, dear soft hotel pillow, satisfy me in ways I never dreamed possible. I am a pillow Goldilocks, always searching for perfection, but, unlike, Goldilocks, never found it. I had, quite literally, given up.
Until now. You, my love, are “just right.”
So far Milwaukee has been okay, and the food we’ve found has been surprisingly good. Thai with enough kick to make me take appreciative notice, Indian with enough oomph to warrant overeating, and Japanese good enough to chop extra wood for sticks with which to eat it.
The highlight, hands down, though, has been the art museum, where I had the good fortune to take in an enormous quantity of mental patient Martin Ramirez's stuff. I was left utterly slackjawed. It takes quite a bit to slack my jaw, but damn it if this dead fucker didn't accomplish that feat.
She has mild Alzheimer's, so of course she doesn't remember that just three minutes ago she had already told you about her husband's (who died seven or eight years ago) clay sculptures that he made without any toothpicks to hold them together.
We’re in her living room, my boyfriend and I, on the sofa. There’s room for her, his grandmother, if we "scootch”, but she dances over and sits on his lap anyway.
She wants to play hostess, and keeps asking if we want anything. At first we demur, even though we both know we want every cookie and Hershey’s kiss in the house.
Eventually we say yes, we’d love some tea. She’s in the kitchen getting stuff together, so I hop off to see what she’s doing.
One “Your house is lovely,” and I get the grand tour.
A never-used living room, complete with sentinel Steinway black baby grand. Untouched bedrooms in silent waiting, a la a bed-and-breakfast. A butter dish that her great-grandmother brought over from Germany in 1858. Her doll from over 80 years ago, porcelain perfect, unblinking, and gorgeous, makes me want her owner never to die.
Then back to the kitchen, and "I'm making tea for someone, right?"
As if it’s not bad enough that she has at least three chins, she has a cascading gut to match. Multi-tiered, like a wedding cake avalanche, slip-sliding down the front of her overloaded body, gathering momentum as it nears the floor at her feet, themselves obscured by the gushes and mushes of flesh. She lumbers to the fountain of chocolate fondue in the corner of the banquet hall and regards it as if it is a shrine. I imagine her hoisting up an enormous white gut-lump with one no-knuckled hand, and, with the other, slathering molten chocolate into the crevice.
“Have you tried Morningstar strip steaks?” my mother asks.
“No, I haven’t,” I say.
“Morningstar. That’s the brand.”
Uhm, yes. I know.
“Nope!” I say.
“Oh my god,” she says. “It’s fabulous. Sis makes it into pepper steak, and you’d swear, cutting into it, that it’s some sort of meat. It has that consistency.”
And this is a selling point?
“She uses green peppers, tomatoes, onion, mushrooms, garlic, and stir-fry sauce. With brown rice.”
Cooking for myself is a selling point?
Mami, mami, mamacita, I want to say, have you forgotten I live in Manhattan? We have delivery! Meatless delivery!
Thank you for inexplicably not wanting to fuck in July 2006. Thank you for falling asleep in my bed instead after minimally making out and for leaving the next morning without making up for the previous night’s fucklessness. You see, had we started hanging out and fucking, I probably never would have met the fella who fucks me like you never would be able to. You never gave me the chance to find out, but I’m absolutely positive you could never top him. So thanks, from the bottom of my heart, for not “topping” me.
“One day this will be your wedding quilt,” his mom says, holding up the intricate work her hands were still creating.
I concentrate on not squeezing his hand, raising my eyebrow, allowing my heart to pound audibly through my sweater, or indicating in any other way that it’d be really cool if that wedding was ours. From across the room, I telepathically make a wish on the quilt, like it’s an eyelash or wishbone.
Years later, after his ashes are buried under a tree in her front yard, I tell her what I’d wished.
“That was mine, too,” she says.
“It’s not a menorah,” he says, of his neighbor’s window display. “It’s a candelabra. There are too many candles.”
No, I say, it looks like it has eight, and one in the middle.
“Yeah, but menorahs only have seven.”
Whaaaaa? This, from a non-Jew who, before we met, had almost no Jew experience. Although I know little about Judaism, I do know, as do most Jews and many non-Jews, that Chanukah’s eight days, and thus there are eight, plus the middle one to light them.
I want to inform him that Christmas is ten days, despite what the song says.
Although I don’t dig Oprah, I record her show anyway, “just in case”. Invariably, however, the one-line program description doesn’t meet my expectations, and I curse myself for having watched.
A recent show featured three “failed suicide attempts”. The first guest’s attempt involved a bridge-jump yielding no visible damage. Zzzzz. Fast-forward. The second rolled out in a wheelchair, showing evidence of her leglessness after a 30-car train ran over her. Her interview was Jesus-intensive, so I fast-forwarded. The third blew off his face with a shotgun. But when he came out, he had a somewhat reconstructed face. What a letdown.
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