Yesterday morning, an elderly man was about ten steps in front of me. He was about six feet tall with trimmed gray hair peeking out from a tweed flat cap. He wore brown leather shoes, tan trousers that were a mite too large, a navy twill jacket. His ears stuck out a little. From behind, he looked almost exactly like my father.
Rationally I knew that this wasn't my father, but he shuffled his feet so similarly that my heart instinctively hurled itself toward him anyway. I wanted to know what he looked like. If only I could see his face, I'd see that he'd look nothing like Dad. Even if some bizarre twist of fate gave him an identical face, it wasn't Dad. I knew this, and yet I felt simultaneous urges to run away and run toward this stranger.
His gait was slow, so I tried to catch up to him. No matter how much I stretched to see his lightly whiskered face, I couldn't see any of it. I'd get closer, and just as I found the right angle to steal a sideways glance, he'd shift his path. When he disappeared into the news and candy shop, it was too late.
I tried to keep it together by looking up at the tops of buildings. Gravity kept the tears from brimming over at first, then my preference to never cry at work did. Hours later, upon crossing the apartment threshold: release.
This morning, I retraced my steps from train to street. I looked around. Not-Dad, of course, wasn't there — it's a big city with lots of people and patterns, and paths sometimes cross only once. The truth is that the man I'm looking for will never be there, at least not physically. I'm still wildly unused to living without my father. The grieving moves forward in sine-wave formations. But at least it's moving forward.
I was up before dawn again and called my mom. She made me feel better. Before work I stopped by Walgreens to buy a Valentine's Day card for her. It's her first v-day without my father in more than 35 years, so I hoped to make it feel a little less alone.
Hallmark — oh yes, I do care enough to send the very best — had a dorky selection. The flowery "For you, Mother" cards were mawkish. The music-playing cards were gimmicky. I considered a greeting from the Chipmunks, but she hates rodents. In the end, I went for a card whose theme truly captures the sentiment and depth of our relationship. I think it'll show her how much she means to me. Let's hope she likes the Jonas Brothers.
This was our last Christmas together at the house, in 2007.
And this was our first and only Christmas at my apartment, in 2005. We took things very seriously, as you can see.
Generally speaking, we had a good time together. I miss my dad a lot today, but I've enjoyed remembering past Christmases we've had. It's been a bittersweet day. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have important things to do, like slipping a fuzzy wreath collar on an unsuspecting dwarf cat.
- Are these leather pants? Are you dressing like a dominatrix now?
- You look French! Like you just got off the boat! No, no — in a good way, like a longshoreman!
- He's wearing underpants in the lagoon.
- I can't wait for this Hells Angels look to go out of style.
- I don't like lobster claw.
- Don't try to hobble so fast.
- Milo is not going to clean the poop off his paw all by himself.
- Well, what if he wanted you to get a Brazilian? How would you like that?
- I'm not paying fifteen dollars to take a picture with a bird.
- Babies don't vomit, Annie. They spit up.
- You're right, there are beards everywhere.
- Stress can affect your enkodrane system, you know.
- Slugs don't like tin foil.
- I'm not sure that I'd be able to tell dog poop from human feces.
- Oh no, hand-blown glass dildos!
- The bluejays here are skinhead bluejays.
- Oh Annie, it looks like leprosy.
- A Nazi is not going to win a prize.
- The guys downstairs — I think they're growing some pot.
- That man must have bathed in cologne. Maybe it was a first date.
- Look, Annie, his jacket says HATE.
- I'm not drunk, I just tripped on the suitcase. Don't write that down! Ed. note: She speaks the truth.]
- The bathroom smells like cabbage. Annie! Don't you dare write that! They're going to think I took a shit unless you put that the guys below were cooking. People will think it's farts! I'd better shut up. [Ed. note: The neighbors' awful cooking smells indeed wafted up to our apartment. Any odors stemmed from them, not me or my mother.]
(She is right on both counts, for the record. Even though I would never use the word "hunk.")
"And I don't get the fuss over this Jason character and his abs," she continued. "They showed a clip of these giant wolves, and it was like Lilliput, with the wolves bigger than everyone else."
(I interrupted to tell her yes, I've seen the scene. She describes it in detail nonetheless.)
"There are all of these cartoony wolves and it looks like a Disney kids' movie. And Belle is running toward Jason and she yells, 'Run, run!' and then HE turns into a giant wolf, too. I don't get it."
(Betty has not read the Twilight novels or seen the movies. Understandably, the wolf thing makes no sense. It doesn't if you're familiar with the saga, either.)
"I don't understand why that Jason has his shirt off all the time," she went on.
(Same here. I mentioned that Sabrina and I felt uncomfortable while seeing him shirtless on screen.)
"You two! You two are old enough to have babysat him! You dirty old ladies!"
(I explained that our discomfort did not stem from lust, but that it felt weird and wrong to see a teenage boy strut around shirtless and "sexy.")
"Well, he is not cute! He looks like Howdy Doody!"
(I defended him, saying that he's only 17, give him a break, he's a kid.)
"He does look like Howdy Doody," my mother proclaimed. "He's got that pug nose and big horsey teeth! Not cute! Anyway, I think this Moon sounds like a bad movie. Buffy should take care of all of those Twilight bozos."
(On this, we agreed.)
Lately I've been trying to get Betty to adopt a pet of some sort, a little critter to keep her company. Her beloved cat Cecil had run away earlier this year, and she still gets teary-eyed when she talks about missing him. So a few months ago, we went to the local animal shelter to look for a cat. There were some beautiful polydactyl kittens there, and I encouraged her to look past their "deformities" (her words, not mine) and give them a home. She stroked their foreheads and then burst into tears. "I'm not ready for a new kitty," she said. "I just can't do it."
Even now, she has yet to show interest in bringing a new cat home. "I will when the time is right," she insists. I don't push the issue, although I worry about her enduring a winter — the first without her husband — alone in a cold house. In an attempt to make her feel less alone, I e-mail the videos to her. She liked this one. "Thanks for sending & making my Monday start with laughter," she wrote in an e-mail this morning. So while it might be silly to make M&M videos, maybe there is a reasonable excuse behind them. Or at least a justification.
Betty knows my fear of needles well, so when I mentioned the vaccine today, she congratulated me on not fainting. "Did it hurt?" she asked.
"Not too badly," I said. "I got the shot up by my shoulder."
"Oh," she said. "Well, you could have asked to be injected on your ass instead."
She said this with such no-duh cadence that I began laughing. My mother, who is always suspicious when I start laughing, demanded to know what was so funny. I explained that receiving a shot in the arm is far preferable to showing off my dupa.
Betty's reply: "You think your doctor hasn't seen an ass before? Don't be silly! There's more fat in the butt, so it won't hurt as much."
"Oh, so now you're calling me a fat-ass," I said. "Nice, Mom. Really nice."
"No, no, no," she yelped. "I just mean that sometimes it's easier to pull your pants down and get a shot in the rear."
I honestly do not see how baring one's buttocks could possibly be easier than rolling up a sleeve. Maybe if you were wearing a chainmail t-shirt, but otherwise, wouldn't it be more work (and awkwardness) to drop trou? Then I thought of the unsuspecting physician. I imagined an innocent doctor expecting to dole out a simple arm injection, only to turn around and be greeted by naked cheeks waiting expectantly to be protected from influenza.
"I think I'll stick with getting shots in the arm," I told my mother.
"Remember, the butt is always an option," she replied.
We agreed to disagree.
(I told you I was neurotic.)
So when Robot Boy introduced me to someone as his friend back in August, I quietly slipped into the Tomlin Freakout — the inevitable panic that stops emotional attachment before it gets too deep. Being a former English major, I overanalyze vocabulary choices with the best of them. Naturally, I assumed that he must think of me as just a platonic friend and I should really diversify my dating portfolio and boy was I dumb to think he liked me in the same way, I bet he's dating that redhead too, and I had better retreat, RETREAT! I managed to regain enough sanity to talk myself down from the freakout, and we talked about my unnecessary parsing, but still, I spent the next couple of months wondering why he wouldn't just say he was my boyfriend. It's junior-high, I know. I am not proud of it. It's just that in my experience, people who say "Aw, let's not label ourselves" wind up being the ones who are shtupping some 22-year-old girl while you're at home naively baking them romantic cupcakes or whatever. So you see why I like a little reassurance, don't you?
Long story short, I recently explained that I needed more definition, which is the adult way of saying, "I just want to be called your girlfriend, even though I am embarrassed to admit that." Robot Boy said, duh, of course you're my girl, silly. And then we broke up! It was a Bizarro World breakup, one of those "Hey, we're in love with each other, so let's call the whole thing off!" events that, in a movie, would have Jennifer Garner doing madcap cute-crazy things to get her ex back. I thought about doing something sweepingly romantic, except I'm heavier on the crazy than the cute. So instead I allowed myself a week to wallow, and now, in an effort to stop pining, I am writing lists of things that weren't great about Robot Boy. The problem is that he is a good man who is proving difficult to vilify. I have a hard time coming up with real flaws, so the list is filled with trivialities like "doesn't like my shoes" and "does not discourage redhead from blatantly sexual flirting" and "has facial hair." (In my defense, my shoes are stylish, and he does seem to enjoy the attention, and, well, longtime readers know how I feel about facial hair.)
Betty was saddened to hear about these recent developments; I think she had visions of tiny Robot Boys and Robot Girls running around someday. "That was not great timing on his part," she said. "Of course, maybe he'd been wanting to break up with you for a while, but he didn't want to dump you while you were worried about Dad dying." Leave it to my mother to introduce more conspiracy theories into my head. I have spent the hours since lying in bed, amplifying coincidences into evidence to support this idea. The cycle of neuroses has been recharged!
When we learned that he had only a couple of months to live, I said, "Well, whatever he wants to eat, he can eat. We'll bring him chocolate malts or McDonald's or anything he asks for." Betty wasn't sold on the idea, arguing that high blood pressure had contributed to the problems that would lead to his death. "Do you want to feed your father the hamburger that kills him?!" she exclaimed. I just raised an eyebrow, and ultimately she got what I was saying.
Sort of. By the days before his death, my father had lost the ability to feed himself and speak. He showed no interest in food. My brother, however, discovered that if you spoon-fed him ice cream, he'd happily eat. So that's what we did. The night before he died (or maybe the night before that, it's all a blur) I tried to feed him vegetables, and he refused to open his mouth. For ice cream, however, he gladly obliged. I was sitting at his bedside, spooning ice cream into his mouth, when Betty spotted his untouched dinner.
"He should have a proper meal," she said. "Some of this chicken, and some mashed potatoes and gravy."
"He doesn't want it," I said. "But he's eating the ice cream."
"Well, that's not very nutritious."
"Yes," I said quietly. "But this might be his last meal, and if he doesn't want mashed potatoes, I'm not going to force it. He wants ice cream, so I'm feeding him ice cream."
Betty made one of her little hissing sighs. "Well, for my last dinner, I'd prefer mashed potatoes."
"I'll keep that in mind," I said. (I am a terrible daughter.)
Betty puttered about the room for a few minutes while I continued to feed my dad. Then she said, "Oh, just let me try giving him the potatoes." Okayfine.
"Bob?" she purred, loud enough so he could hear it. "Have some of this, honey."
Fully expecting the cold sweetness of ice cream, my father dutifully opened his mouth, and Betty plopped the mashed potato onto his tongue with a smile. As soon as the tuber hit his tongue, his mouth puckered, his nostrils flared, and he slowly turned and gave her the biggest pissed-off stare you've ever seen. Betty started laughing, apologized to him, and then switched to the dessert. That seemed to please him. Maybe you had to be there, but he was funny until the end. And yes, his last meal was ice cream. Vanilla.
It has been another long day, and now my mother is sleeping in the bed where I slept last night. It's like an exhausting version of musical chairs, but it is a quiet gift to be with my father during his last days.
Mom: And you thought I was drunk when I went to King Billy's!
Me: Well, you were not completely sober. [This is true.]
Mom: I only had two and a half drinks! I was fine! Remember, you were clucking about how your father wasn't going to like this [also true] and you worried about the tattoo parlor being sanitary [again, true]. I still don't see why you made such a fuss about where I wanted the tattoo. I think it would have been nice to just look down and see it whenever I wanted. And YOU said I would have looked like a gang member.
Me: Well, you would have. You should be glad we were there to stop you.
Mom: I don't look like I'm in a gang. Besides, I'm sure a lot of nice people have tattoos there.
Me: Yes, and most of them are gangbangers and prisoners. Or former prisoners.
Mom: They are?
Mom, doubting me: Nooooo.
Mom: Do you think maybe they were gangbangers who got the tattoos in prison?
Me: It's possible.
Mom: I don't buy it. Johnny Depp has one! He has the number three, right there on his hand!
Me: That may be the case, but I think people know Johnny Depp isn't in a gang.
Mom: Well, maybe Johnny Depp doesn't care if people think he's a gangbanger!
For decades now, my mother has been losing the war against a small army of rodents. She hates the chipmunks for burrowing into her garden wall, for wiggling their tiny bodies into her store of birdseed, and, now, for EATING her pansies. I am not a hippie, but I think the universe is trying to tell her something: that no matter how much humankind would like to triumph over nature, cute little rodent bandits will always prevail. And they'll have flower-breath.
My mom bought some charity CD that features The Who and The Cure, and somehow she found out about my Paul Weller crush. She just IMed me: "Who is this Peter Weller?" Peter, Paul, it's all apostolic.
I sent her this video, which is a capsule of everything I superficially like about young Paul Weller: the skinny suiting, the beaklike nose, the youthful energy bursting from his body, the mop of hair stuck to his forehead with sweat, and the perfect pairing of sharp guitar with a catchy melody.
My mom was confused at first. "He's too young for you," she said. (This has not stopped me before, I should mention.) "And not as good-looking as Pattinson." (Jury is out.) I had to explain that The Jam were touring while I was floating around in a blissful amniotic pool, and that now Paul Weller is a sleazy 50-year-old who gets tanked in public and slips his 23-year-old girlfriend the tongue. Then we had the IM conversation at right. I am glad that my mother agrees that a middle-aged man who bleaches his hair is not so dreamy.
Then my mom went on to talk about how men who date much younger women have major issues. Well yeah, no shit. Except, as I pointed out, my dad is 18 years older than she is. "I was young," she said. True, but it's not as though Dad was Snidley Whiplash, tying the knot against your will, I replied.
Her response: "Yes he was! I didn't know better!" That is ridiculous, because they seem very much in love in all of the faded photos I look at, and because my dad is hardly coercive. Also, now that I think about it, I always hated Dudley Do-Right and wanted poor Snidely Whiplash to triumph once, just once. The helpless damsel always bugged me because she was such a wuss, and Do-Right had that weird chin, and Whiplash seemed more interesting. Maybe that makes me a bad feminist, or a textbook psychology case, but either way, it means I have daddy issues, right?
"Well, for all we know, he could be a Hasidic Jew."
"I bet you haven't cleaned this litterbox in a week!"
"Now, what exactly is the Embarca-cardio?"
"Where is your Scrabble? Why is it that every time you break up with a boyfriend, you lose your games?" (Ed. note: I would argue that I lose my game, not games.)
I have the hankering for hot chocolate from Hot Chocolate, so I tell Betty that I'll treat her to a cuppa. "Oh no," she says. "I've got to lose weight." I should mention that my mom is a size 8, 10 tops, and that she already looks fine. I get my hot chocolate to go, and at Wabansia I offer her a sip. "Just one sip," she says. Then: "DAMMIT." I wonder what's wrong, and ask if she's all right. "That's some damn good chocolate," she says, and then denies herself another sip.
4. the will
Ever since last year's Terri Schiavo media debacle, my mother has been hot on the topic of living wills. She and my father both created theirs because they "don't want to be vegetables," and this past summer Betty brought me a blank living will to fill out. I have not done so yet, mostly because I am still young enough to believe that I am invincible! (For the record, if I am ever in a lifeless state, pull the plug, okay?)
The older my father becomes, the more my mother begins to worry about things like living wills and Medicare and prescription drug coverage. We were set to meet my eldest brother and his wife for dinner on Saturday, and for an hour beforehand Betty wrung her hands, worrying about the best way to show them the copy of my father's living will. "I don't think you should worry," I told her. "I really don't think Scott will freak out." At dinner, Betty eventually raised the topic without seeming nervous at all. Knowing how scared she was made me love and admire her.
3. at brunch
On Sunday, we went to a restaurant to have brunch with Jen and Dave. A gent I'd dated about a year and a half ago was working. We're on pretty good terms, but still, I feel guilty for having broken things off because he's a good guy and it really wasn't his fault, I just fell crazy-like for someone else, bad timing, so on and so forth. Anyway, I introduced him to Betty. Betty and I sat down. "Now how do you know him?" she asked. I explained while she hmmed. "Well, he's quite handsome," she mused. "But he needs a haircut."
Then she began to concoct excuses to talk with him. "Maybe I should go ask him for some cream." "Why don't you go talk with him?" "He keeps looking over here..." At the end of our meal, when I said my goodbyes to the gent in question, Betty purposely left me behind and gave me nonverbal "FLIRT WITH HIM" commands through the restaurant windows.
2. dj betty
There are two things my mother loves wholly and deeply: Viggo Mortensen (who she calls Viggle and Viggu, alternately) and a good bargain. While I'm my mother's daughter, we have different opinions on what constitutes a bargain. For me, a $400 pair of shoes for $50 is a bargain. For her, $50 is too much to spend on shoes in the first place. German frugality trickles away through generations, I guess.
Anyway, while I was at work on Friday, Betty went to Sam's Wines to browse. This was a fabulous treat for her, as she found a great bargain. Back at the apartment, she showed me her treasure. "Look what I found," unwrapping an object encased in tissue paper. She produced a small glass etched with the Courvoisier logo. "What do you think?" she asked.
"I think it's fine if you're a rapper," I said.
"A rapper?" she replied.
"Yeah, a rapper."
"Like this kind of rapper?" she asked. Then she started shoving the air in front of her, much like a mime would mimic the hottest dance moves of 1992. "One and a two and a duh-nuh-dah-dah," she rapped. "Three and a four and a dah-yo-yo-dah!"
Words escaped me. I covered my eyes. Betty stopped. "Are you laughing at your mother?" she demanded. "It was a good deal! It was only 50 cents!"
50 cents. ZING!
1. the comparison
Betty and my good friend Jen had never met, so we decided to have brunch together. It was a good time. After saying our goodbyes to Jen and her boyfriend, Betty and I walked back to my car. Here is the conversation that ensued during our drive home.
Betty: YOU DIDN'T TELL ME JEN WAS SO GORGEOUS!
Annie: Uh, well, I know I mentioned she was pretty at one time or another...
Betty: But you didn't say gorgeous! I had no idea! She is absolutely beautiful!
Annie: Yes, yes she is, but I guess I didn't really think I needed to warn you or anything.
Betty: I mean, she really is stunning. Breathtaking!
Annie: This is true. When we go out, the men always go to her first.
Betty: Well, yeah.
Annie: What does that mean?
Betty: Who would blame them? She's a very pretty girl.
Annie: Now wait, what what does that mean about me?
Betty: Oh, honey, don't be jealous. You're... you're... funny!
Annie: Um, Mom? Funny is how people describe homely girls to be polite.
Betty: But men like funny!
In an attempt to boost my self-esteem, my parents showered compliments on me. "Oh, you are getting more and more beautiful as you grow up," my father said. "You'd be so pretty if you didn't have that damned Tomlin nose," my mother said. At home, my parents praised my alleged beauty, while at school my classmates picked apart my flaws. They were happy to point out my flat chest, uneven smile, scarred eyebrow, braces, discolored tooth, generic Keds, Sears-bought corduroys. I felt ugly, and to combat their criticism, I did what any other 11-year-old in 1989 would do.
I got a spiral perm.
It didn't happen overnight, of course. I had to beg my mom for a perm, giving her no real reason except that everyone else was getting a perm and I would be the only girl with straight hair. "Well, how much would that cost?" was my mother's refrain. I did some research. The popular girls at school went to the Clipper Ship, a nautical-themed hair salon decorated with fishing nets and taxidermied fish. I called the Clipper Ship and reported my findings to my mother.
"We can't afford that," she yelped upon hearing the price. "Pssh. For forty dollars, you're just paying for the ambiance."
But my mother loved me, and my mother is a wily and frugal woman. She eventually contacted Nan, a French-Vietnamese neighbor who also "did hair." In our tiny corner of Michigan, nobody is a stylist; people are hairdressers, or they "do hair." So my mother made a deal for Nan to come over one Saturday afternoon to give me a spiral perm. "It'll only be $25, and you can have it done in the kitchen," my mother explained. I was on my way!
When Nan came to our house, she showed us all kinds of rollers. "I want tight curls," I instructed. "And teased bangs." Nan and my mother tried to talk me out of this coiffure choice, but I would have none of it. And when the rollers came out, and my hair reeked of chemicals, I was the happiest girl in Van Buren County. So happy, in fact, that my jagged smile almost deafened the taunts of Poodlehead that came my way when I went to school the following Monday.
My grandfather immigrated to this country with very little to his name, and because of the kindness of fellow immigrants and of public programs meant to help people like him, he did very well for himself. He always said that America was the best country in the world. I've missed him terribly since he died a few years ago, but sometimes I'm glad that he's not alive to witness his idealism crumble.
As we walk, the gravel crunches below us. My mother's breathing is louder than mine, hers a soft rasp developed from smoking thousands of cigarettes over the years. I wonder if I've walked this road a thousand times. We turn right at the hill, look carefully for speeding pickup trucks as we cross the black-top pavement, and walk to the lake.
Three skinny-legged little girls are splashing merrily in the water. They are all wearing modest bikinis, and I remember living that perfect phase of girldom, when I hadn't yet learned to curse the existence or lack of curves. My mother sits on a large rock, and I sit across from her on a squatter one. The rocks are warm from the midday sun that beats down on us, and the effect is one of being heated from the earth and sky. As though I'm drawing all the warmth of the world.
"HELLO!" my mother crows jubilantly. "HOW ARE YOU, HONEY?"
"Where are you?" I ask. "Are you at Mary's?" Mary is her longtime friend who lives in Lombard. Mary's mother is sick, so I wonder if perhaps my mother has come to the suburbs to comfort her friend.
"I AM USING A NOKIA!" she continues. She sounds sloppily excited, as though she's been hitting the Franzia again.
"But where are you?" I continue.
"AT HOME! I'M USING A NOKIA CELL PHONE! YOUR BROTHER GAVE IT TO YOUR FATHER FOR FATHER'S DAY!"
Oh Jesus. I can see where this is all headed: lots of phone calls from Target ("they have Hanes Her Way briefs on sale, honey, do you need some?"), calls while driving, and the inevitable call to complain about the inevitably high mobile bill. It's very sweet to think that my father will use the phone, but in our family there's only one big talker, and that person does not share any of his genes.
Me, thinking: (Does she mean Tim Burton?)
My mom: Tim Balland, Tim Balland...
Me, realizing: Oh, he's a rapper.
- - -
Last night, while gawking at the hundreds of channels afforded to my parents by the DirecTV, I ran across the FUSE channel. "Is that what Ophi and Tali were on?" my mother asked.
"No, that was TRL, on MTV," I responded, realizing that we were weirdly speaking half in abbreviations. "This is some other music channel."
The two people grinned on screen, announcing that they were sooo stoked about the new Morrissey video. "Mom, they're going to show Morrissey," I said. She punched the air, grinned, and scurried over to the couch. My father entered the room with O'Douls in hand. Morrissey started to lazily sway his hips. "Oh, he looks OLD!" observed my mother.
My father blinked at the television, perhaps wondering why we were watching the pomp of a graying pompadour. "Who is this?" he asked.
"It's Morrissey," said my mom. "He is old and grumpy and gay," I added. "Oh," said my father, and he, too, sat down to watch the video.
But first, some backstory. Earlier in the visit, I had told my mom about a recent Saturday night date. See, this is the thing: everybody thinks I date a lot (and maybe I do from time to time) but it's fairly rare that I get squirrely about going out with somebody. Anyway, I was very excited and therefore mildly anxious about spending time with the gentleman we will call Mr. Vocabulary. I think it's because he has a certain joie de vivre, a beautifully genuine smile, and, yes, an awesome-in-the-literal-sense vocabulary. This is going to sound corny, but he seemed really engaged in doing things with his life, and I like that in people.
The problem was, I tried to be suave and subtle in suggesting that we get together (read: I am a chicken), so I wasn't sure if our dinner plans were an actual DATE or if they were just, you know, hanging out. I don't like to assume that men are romantically interested in women, because I don't like the whole heterosexual assumption thing myself. Or maybe he just wanted to have dinner because he likes to eat. Or maybe he just wanted to continue our scintillating discussion of Mineral's greatest hits.
While I tried to decide if I was being foolish for thinking that this was a date, I tried to get dressed. I wish that my brain could print output of my thoughts, because they are mile-a-minute and ridiculous:
Huzzah, I am going to wear my new Roxanne Heptner shirt and grey pants. Oh, wait, but then you can see the bra through the shirt. Maybe that is a good thing! No, no, this bra is not foxy and besides, if it is not a date, you will look inappropriate and tacky. Wear the white Ulla Johnson shirt instead, but dress it down with jeans so it doesn't look too fashiony. Ah, but this shirt is the sort of thing that makes men confused as to why you'd have sleeves that kinda float there...
I finally dressed myself in Levi's and a black shirt (again, Ulla Johnson, who is maybe my favorite clothesmaker) and picked up Mr. Vocabulary at his house. This is all I will say about the evening here, because I don't think anybody would appreciate the details of their Saturday night being broadcast on the interweb. Besides, I am still not sure if it was a date.
All of this weekend history leads up to dinner. My mom had been hitting the Franzia, and so she spilled the secret of my weekend maybedate. "Annie," she purred, "Did you tell your father about Mr. Vocabulary?"
Suddenly, I was 13 years old again, hoping that my dad wouldn't notice that boys existed or that yes, I was indeed wearing a bra. Was my mom kidding? Of course I had not told my father about Mr. Vocabulary. There are certain girly things that girls tell mothers, and fathers are not allowed to hear them. It's nice to let dads think that young suitors are lining up to ask their daughters on sterile dates void of sexual tension. I think it might break my dad's heart if he saw how I generally prefer to stay home alone on weekend nights, curled up with Miki-chan and dessert. Who am I to shatter his ideal?
To my mother's question I mumbled no, and then feigned a keen interest in the lonely radish sitting among the snow peas. Chomp, chomp I went on the sacrificial vegetable: mouth's full, can't talk now! Of course, my mother saw this as a sign to fill in the blanks. "Well, he's a little older than Annie," she told my father, who by this point had noticed me squirming. "And he grew up in X, which is very interesting, wouldn't you say, and he has lived in Y as well, so they can talk about that, and his name is MISTER VOCABULARY. I like that name, don't you? I mean, of course Annie would want to keep her name if they ever got married—not that that's in the cards this early, but I'm just saying that Annie Vocabulary just doesn't sound the same, does it? And get this! He is not a vegetarian and he smokes. He smokes!"
This last morsel of information delighted my mother to no end, fueled in large part by my naive teenage declaration that I would never date a smoker. She loves it when I go on even a single date with someone who smokes, because this makes her think that I will get off her back about her own habit. She is wrong about that. I considered telling her as much, but then I glanced at my father, whose interest in the mushroom gravy now matched mine in the vegetables, and decided to let it go.
Betty: I was reading that magazine Details—have you heard of it?—and they had an article about male body image and how now, men are feeling too fat. And they blamed it partly on how the Stokes are all skinny—
Me: The Strokes?
Betty: No, the Stokes. You know, that band with the cute singer.
Me: Yeah. They're called the Strokes, mom.
Betty: Nnnnn... I don't think so, honey. I'm pretty sure they're called the Stokes.
I love my mom.
Knowing of the family's mole problem, a neighbor jokingly suggested that the rodential ruckus would endif only my mother were to "shoot the dang things." All of the adults got a chuckle from this outlandish idea. All except one. When we looked at my mother's face, it was as though she had been divinely blessed with great rodent-murdering insight.
Betty bought a Smith and Wesson pistol within a week, and then she began to plan her kills. She preferred to hunt in the morning, "when they're really moving." She would gingerly stomp the mole runs flat and patiently wait for one of them to pop up again—a sure sign that a mole was busy burrowing. She'd carefully aim her pistol at the ground, pull the trigger, and then, BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAMBLAM! BLAM.
Originally, these shots were followed with her call: "Bob! Baaaa-ahbbb. I need you to dig the mole up!" My father, a patient and peaceful man, would grudgingly comply. He and I both disliked being drawn into my mother's murderous plots, as we did not share in her bloodlust. When he expressed this to my mother ("They're just doing their job, and I hate to see the bloody little things") she agreed.
"You're right," she mused, gently caressing the cold steel of the pistol. "If we leave the dead ones in there, it'll be a message to the other moles." After that summer, we never had a mole problem again.
- - -
HOW MY MOM EMBARRASSED ME THIS TIME, a play
MOM: Have you heard about Annie's crushes?!
JEN: Well, some—
MOM, interrupting: Well! On Monday she's going to a concert with [established crush]. Now, you know Annie and how she gets nervous and overanalyzes things...
EVERYONE ELSE AT TABLE: Ha ha ha! No, you don't say! Chortle chortle!
MOM: ...but I think she should be confident with this one, because they have a lot in common. Now, she had told me about him last time I visited, and we saw him and I asked him about Fugazi—you know how she likes to tease me about me liking them—but she seemed convinced that he didn't know she was alive.
ANNIE (mumbles): Moth-errr.
MOM: Well, I say he was just a little shy! So I put a Mom Hex on him! I just knew it would work! She has nothing to worry about. Now, have you heard about Whoa? Let me tell you about Whoa...
ANNIE: (crawls underneath table, dies)
- - -
I've been running a lot this week. No big distances, but just enough to get the heart beating. I've also been challenged to a basketball game, but as my would-be opponent is a foot taller than me, victory seems improbable.
- - -
FURNITURE LUST, AS DESCRIBED TO E.K. (eric k., not evan k.): Yay for furniture! Isn't it kinda nice to have furniture? There's something wonderful about going home and feeling a little bit grown-up. I love furniture. Remember, without the first R, it's FUN-iture.
- - -
My parents are coming to visit tomorrow. It'll be really good to see them. My mom and I have talked every day this week, and even though she drives me nuts sometimes (like this morning, when she called at 8:15), she's as much a friend as a mum. My father is cute because he's interested in my life, but feels awkward about inquiring. So he gets news from my mother, who in turn tells me what he's been asking. My father seems concerned that I will start dating an older man who has been married, has children, and is just looking for sex.
- - -
Today is a lucky day for those who remain cheerful and optimistic: my fortune for today.
One of the ways to pass the time here is to read the local newspaper's birth announcements. Without fail, some poor baby is given a "clever" first name like Harley-Quinn. Today, my mother mentioned that she had wanted to name me Paige. I feel that would be a cooler name than my current one, which is best suited for a six-year-old.
Usually, the whole New Year's Resolution thing seems like a sham. I tend to make jokey resolutions like last year's "More rock, less talk." But this year, I think I am going to make some and stick with them. When I have followed through on these decisions, I will then reveal them.
I feel like I have been doing things lately that, while not overtly destructive, are not overwhelmingly affirming or positive. And therefore they often become destructive in little bits, chipping away at the good things.
Both this year and last, I was presented with a "mystery" of sorts. Last year, I felt lousy about it and tried to find a logical explanation, so I could pretend that there was no reason for me to feel that way. This time, I do not care so much about the reasons, but the results.
- - -
This morning, I watched Say Anything and wondered why Lloyd is so hung up on prissy Diane Court. Sure, she's smart, but, to paraphrase Lloyd himself: he gave her his heart, and she gave him a pen. Even though Lloyd embodies most of what you could want in a person (wit, kindness, Clash t-shirt), something about that movie always felt off to me. Why didn't Lloyd wise up and think, "Hey, I've got a great career ahead of me as a kickboxer and ladies' man. Diane, though often awesome, is consistently inconsistent in her treatment of the Dob. All of these other ladies seem to realize how rad I am, but instead of opening my eyes, I think I will stand here and play some Peter Gabriel for Diane as she snootily ignores my potentially embarrassing stance."
Hmm? I think that somewhere along the line, Diane breaks poor Lloyd's heart, he moves to Chicago, changes his name to Rob Gordon, opens a record shop, and the rest is history.
Mumsy is coming to town tomorrow. I don't know what to make of this e-mailed sentence: Well I'm an early bird, as you know, so if there were some morning errands you needed done Friday, I could drive you wherever if you're contemplating tha day off. Did you see that? Tha day off. Tha. Has Betty started taking the creative spelling of the rap world to heart?