Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Where I am, in the "Real" America

This has certainly been a week. Readers, my family is insane. I knew this in theory of course, but I'm really seeing it in all its naked glory right now.

I seem to have arrived in Millpond at perhaps not the best possible time for anyone. I'm almost regretting this trip to be honest with you.

For one, Bella has had an incident with a bat.

The other night a bat got loose inside of my cousin Bella's apartment and she ran screaming hysterically around for several minutes trying to get away from it. Finally she ran downstairs where the people who live below her were about to call 911. They thought someone was murdering her and that she was running from someone with a knife. She explained it was just a bat. No, not a baseball bat, a bat bat. An animal. The neighbors (two girls) and Bella went back upstairs to see about the bat, which they managed to kill with an accounting text book, but not before Pepper, Bella's hellcat tabby got ahold of it and the bat bit him. Pepper, being a young cat, was not vaccinated. This commenced a round of hysterical calls to Animal Control who said Bella had to keep the bat in a jar in the refrigerator until they could come get it for testing. The cat had to go to the emergency vet and be placed in quarantine until the bat could be tested for rabies. Bella was distraught. She imagined her death with a foaming mouth like Edgar Allen Poe. She imagined losing two cats two Christmases in a row (her other cat died last Christmas). She became morose. We waited every day for the call from Animal Control, because if the bat was postive for rabies then Pepper would have to be put to sleep. Luckily, the test came back today and the bat was negative. Thank heavens. So that's over. Now, once Bella passes her accounting final tonight, I can go up to see her and have a relaxing weekend.

I was supposed to be staying with my aunt and uncle a little north of here. I was supposed to go to their house yesterday and sleep over for a few days because Mommom Jewel, who is not doing well in her grief, could not bear to stay alone in her apartment and went to stay with my aunt and uncle until January. Why I don't know.

I should have known better. I really should have. I packed all my stuff into my rental car with the optimism of someone who has brain damage and drove 45 minutes north of Millpond to my aunt and uncle's house expecting Lord knows what. I was promised my own room and a place to make food and I expected some cleanliness.

When I got there I found Alice's Restaurant. You all ever see that movie? Apparently my relatives are hoarders. They are the sorts of people who just stack shit everywhere. All over - stacks of newspapers and magazines from 1987 and crates and boxes and bags of shit and since it's Christmas, the shit they have stacked everywhere had Christmas decorations on it. They decorated their clutter.

I remember this house from my childhood, but not like this. I have fond memories. I remember in 1979 when my young, newlywed, childless aunt and uncle moved into this house, which is so far out in the country that I was a bit alarmed actually. It's in the town which is not actually a town as we conceive of a town, but is rather more of a crossroads with some houses vaguely near it. I'm pretty sure I saw the Devil sitting out on the corner waiting to buy people's souls to make them famous blues musicians. I'm not in Mississippi, but it certainly looks like it here. You know how you see movies about the Delta and there's these old shacks on the roadsides with people with no teeth picking on banjoes on collapsing front porches? This is what it looks like.

Since 1979 my aunt and uncle have apparently done nothing to their home. At all. Including clean it. Actually, this is a deeply untrue lie. They have done a couple things to their home, but this occurred in the mid-80s. At some point in the last thirty years they have also placed stick-on wallpaper borders around a couple of their ceilings. They have also had two children who are now grown and moved out.

My relatives heat their home with a coal stove that frightens me. It coughs out black dust which settles on every surface, including the piles of clutter which are decorated for Christmas. There is a big coal scuttle on the floor and a pile of coal in the backyard which scares me a bit too. It's very Cinderella. I admit that it feels pretty nice to stand next to the stove though, but I think this is because the rest of the house, meaning anything more than ten feet away from the stove is about forty degrees. I'd have to sleep in my parka.

I was not to have my own room because the room I was going to have is filled with hoarded refuse and there is no bed. I was supposed to sleep in a full sized bed with my grandmother. I had some concern here.

Next I went to see if there was anything I could eat, already knowing the answer would be a resounding "are you fucking crazy?" I did not expect what I found in my relatives' refrigerator.

I think hoarders often hoard food too. I noticed they had spices in their cabinet where the glass bottles had yellowed and the old, greyish blue McCormick labels were peeling off. They haven't made those labels in over twenty years. Readers, a word of advice if any of you are doing this - spices only last a year or so. If you have greyish blue labels on your McCormick spices throw them out immediately. Your spice cabinet shouldn't resemble a time capsule.

But the refrigerator was worse. Now, they don't have grocery stores all over the place here and the ones they do have aren't especially well equipped. Going food shopping is a major outing for my family, so it doesn't happen often and when it does they go to Sam's. Of course. They have to buy in bulk. Unfortunately, it's not a surprise then that this branch of my family tree struggles with severe obesity. Because they have severe obesity and because they eat ass rotting shit Sam's Choice food products they're not only obese, they're plagued with health problems. On one hand I'm like what the fuck do they expect? On the other hand, I guess they're doing the best they can. They're ignorant but even if they weren't ignorant they still don't have a lot of choices. But then again, sometimes I kind of think they do have choices because there are fresh and frozen vegetables available. I've eaten fine at Memere's house because she cooks from scratch. So I don't really know.

What I do know is that when I opened this refrigerator I was confronted by my worst food fears. Cool Whip, huge tubs of margarine, processed american cheese food product, baloney, hot dogs, squeeze cheese, artifically flavored and colored and MSG dusted everything. I couldn't find a single fruit or vegetable. Not one. Nothing was fresh. Nothing was real. Nothing was the color of real food. Nothing was gluten-free at all and there was so much packed into this poor, straining 30 year old refrigerator that there was no way I could get myself some stuff and store it in there. Plus, that would feel very weird and imposing to me. I'd b drawing too much attention to myself.

Then I got kind of mad because I hate hearing my family complain all the time about how fat and unhealthy they are. Also, as an aside here, I need to add that they think I'm sickeningly thin and ask me everytime I see them if I've gotten help for my anorexia.

I pulled out the crisper drawer and guess what was inside. Cookies, Chips Ahoy and some crap I've never heard of and there were so many cookies in there that there was no room for a head of lettuce or some carrots, God forbid. You know why the cookies were in there? Duh. Because it's a "crisper" so the cookies will stay "crisp."

I was about to have a panic attack. I had to very politely explain that it wouldn't be comfortable for anyone if I stayed there and that I couldn't impose all of my snotty high maintence nonsense on my family. I said I would sleep with my parents in the bus and that I would come up every single day to visit with my grandmother and take her places. I think she understood, but I feel terrible.

I'm conflicted here. I don't want to be a yuppie snob and I don't want to hurt my family's feelings. They're nice people. They just have a really different lifestyle than I do. I feel guilty but dammit, I miss my Whole Foods and my Starbucks and my J Crew cardigans. I just need to get somewhere away from all these guns and pickups to a quiet place where I can listen to NPR, where I can be with the other brainwashed University left wing liberals, where we can all have long discussions about what Silliman has written on his blog, over cups of chai which are not as good as the chai one of us had on the ashram he visited in India last summer while he was on sabbatical. I need to have dinner parties and book club meetings and play with my friends' adopted Chinese daughters. I need a place where my iphone gets wireless so I can download poetry podcasts and "The Moth" and look at things that end in .org. I need to be in the Fake America again where I can be as pretentious as I want and no one will notice. Here, I'm not even doing ironic very well. I just don't fit in. Here's a prime example.

In the Super-Walmart the other day I thought I was being polite as I checked out. I took my bag, smiled cheerily at the cashier and said:

"Happy Holidays!"

"Umm," replied the cashier, "We say Merry Christmas here."

Well excuse me.

Merry Fucking God Damned Christmas then.


Emily said...

Poor Bella! That sounds awful (but gave me a hilarious mental image of them killing the bat with an accounting textbook; my roommate is studying for the CPA, and I'm pretty sure he could kill something larger than the bat with one of the books).

And don't feel bad about not staying with your aunt and uncle; you would have been miserable, they would have sensed you were miserable, and someone probably would have melted down by the end of the week.

Oh, and good luck with your eating disorder. :)

One Crazy Chick! said...

The whole Walmart thing gave me chills. Go on, say Merry Christmas assholes it doesn't change that America is full of people who don't have the same beliefs.

Happy Holidays said...

Hasn't "Happy Holidays" become ubiquitous now? I'm from the South as well, and I understand, but I am so tired of this "taking Christ out of Christmas" thing. I am a server (at an up-scale rich/conservative-clientele restaurant) and before Thanksgiving I started saying "Thank you for coming and enjoy your holidays" when tables paid - Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, Tibetan Festival of Lights, Kwanzaa, Nothing-at-All, whatever the hell your holiday is! Goddamn that makes me irritated. Merry fucking goddamned Christmas, indeed.

Modern Philodoxos said...

I understand completely. I live in the midwest. There's an amazing duality of yuppie/redneck, which exists mostly in harmony. However, when you, as a yuppie, find yourself in a position where you must eat, shop or expose a political opinion around a redneck, it becomes a strange battleground. My boyfriend's family thinks I'm insane because I ask for diet Coke at their house. I didn't even know people drank regular coke anymore.

Steph said...

"Merry Fucking God damned Christmas then"


That is God Damned hilarious.

Elf said...

Like you were supposed to know what religion she was by sight.

CC said...

I've screamed like someone was murdering me for roaches in my apartment, so I can only imagine what I would do if I found a bat in there.

As for the Merry Christmas deal, I guess it's a damned if you do (non-Christians get offended) and damned if you don't (Christians get offended. You think if I said "Merry Fucking God damned Christmas" during Mass next Sunday I would get excommunicated?

Anonymous said...

"We say Merry Christmas here."

"Yeah. That sort of insensitivity and cultural blindness is exactly why I moved and I'm only visiting this crappy WalMart in the middle of nowhere. Enjoy your life, then!"

Ay yi yi.

Christi Lee said...

To Walmart checker:

Bitter, much?

I just hate when people correct things like that. The reason we say "Happy Holidays" is to not leave people out, not to NOT offend people.

I always make a point to be kind and say have a good day, and thank you to the people who ring me up.

If that twit wonders why people just grunt and hurry off after they pay for their merchandise

In my part of the woods, if you can't say something nice, we say:

Shut your fucking pie hole.

Living in Muddy Waters said...

Oh Wide Lawns, I hear you. I have to go from Raleigh, NC to Frostproof Fl once a year. I hear you! From the land of Breugger's Bagels and Caribou Coffee to McDonald's being the only access to Wi-Fi and a large steepled church on every corner.

There's just no going back, is there?

Missicat said...

Poor you! I can relate, it sounds very much like visiting my ex-husbands elderly grandfather. What I remember of it, I managed to block out most of it or it would send to therapy....*shudder*....

Definitely do NOT feel bad!! That sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.

Dawn said...

Oh, I just don't get it. How on earth is wishing someone a generic holiday greeting offensive to anyone? If I see someone wearing a big cross, I'll make that leap and say, "Merry Christmas." If I'm at church or a family Christmas party, I will say, "Merry Christmas." But to presume every stranger you come across in Wal-Mart or McDonald's is Christian and celebrates Christmas is just ignorant, arrogant and rude.

Anonymous said...

Someone just emailed me a commentary Ben Stein wrote regarding Holiday greetings (actually, I think it was last week). Basically, he said he's absolutely NOT offended when people say "Merry Christmas" to him (he's Jewish), nor is he offended by manger scenes displayed in his town, or Christmas trees or any other Christmas display. He goes on this big, long rant about how Americans have become too politically correct and overly sensitive, too easily offended and too fearful of offending others.

I'm like you, though. I mostly just wish people Happy Holidays because you never know. I'm Catholic, but have relatives who are Jewish and a future son-in-law who is Hindi, so I think it feels awkward to say Merry Christmas, especially in stores and to acquaintances, because you just never know.


grumperina said...

This post makes me think of the book Stuff White People Like - funny and true at the same time. I think you hit on like 30 of the items the author lists (NPR, Starbucks, ashrams, Whole Foods, etc., etc.).

Rachel said...

Oh, I am so wishing that someone (besides my boss - I'm not stupid) would send a self-righteous "Merry Christmas" my way. I can give them their "Happy Hanukkah" right back at them! If they object, then I can say "Well, you wished me a happy your holiday, so I wished you a happy my holiday."

MtnMama said...

Good grief! It was "explained" to me yesterday that Christmas is part of "having lived here for years and years" - as if anyone Non-Christian is a "new arrival." Sheesh. And this is Northern California, close to the capitol. I suppose they will cling to their twisted beliefs no matter how much information to the contrary exists. *sigh*

Sauntering Soul said...

Your aunt and uncle's house sounds much like a great aunt of mine. She had a very tiny pathway through her house because she had newspapers and magazines stacked to the ceiling all throughout her house. Stacks and stacks and stacks. As a child it completely creeped me out and I hated when my grandmother told us we would be going there for dinner. Everything just felt so filthy and dirty and I never wanted to eat anything from her kitchen. She owned an alterations shop and I used to marvel that she was ever able to find anyone's clothes when they came in to pick them up because her shop was full of piles and piles and piles of clothes.

Jess said...

I agree, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Isn't being pleasant enough?

Jeannie said...

I think you did the most gracious thing by opting out of staying there. Even though you are family and live in the same country, you have vastly different cultures. You are only "snotty" if you think you are better than they are simply because your lifestyle includes taking good care of your body and challenging your mind. If they prefer to have prepared foods and an easy lifestyle even if it means sacrificing style and longevity, then that is their choice. Everyone has their own priorities and lives accordingly. And suffers whatever consequences may come of it. They may suffer ill health while you might be under more financial or social constraints. Whatever. Live and let live.

Gayle said...

I am addicted to your blog because everything you write about Millpond sounds exactly like a description of my hometown in southern Ohio. I miss it a lot, but every time I go back, I realize that I'm now one of those yuppie brainwashed left-wing university liberals, and it makes it hard to have genuine conversations even with the people I know and love. I completely understand the guilt at realizing how "snobbish" you have become, but whenever your (or, well, my) relatives start proudly showcasing their vehement racism and fundamentalist views, it's very hard to just chalk it all up to American cultural differences, or to look beyond all that and find the wisdom of your elder relatives. (How did your relatives' fridge remind me of racism? Sorry. Didn't mean to imply that there. Guess it made me think of people holding onto old sentiments. I'm projecting.) It's a mixed blessing that you can't ever really go home again once you've ventured out into the rest of the world. Sigh. Thank you for all the posts!

Anonymous said...

Wide Lawns - Its all about Festivus now. A Festivus for the Rest-of-us.

Seinfeld had all the answers.

Oh and Merry Fucking God damned Christmas to you also my friend.

Beth said...

I understand the culture shock. I love my parents, but I have a 48 hour rule. I can't visit their town for more than 48 hours. I start to get violently ill from all the ignorance.

And, coincendentally, the same reason I can't stay at my parents house is the same you couldn't stay with your aunt and uncle.

Renee in Seattle said...

My MIL is 50 lbs overweight and constantly, I mean CONSTANTLY complaining about how fat she is. Then when she comes over, she does her own grocery shopping because "I don't have anything she eats" (I make everything from scratch... I would churn my own butter if I could). When she leaves my fridge is full of pre-packaged processed everything, my freezer full of ice cream, and my cupboard full of processed crackers. Blech.

caroline said...

I'm betting you are having to drink gallons of water because your food is so heavily salted. They're trying to turn you into a country ham!

Amy said...

Helpful hint - they sell these coolers at Wal Mart and places like that that you plug in. They can keep things cold with no ice. So, if you DO want to go back to your aunt and uncle's place but want somewhere to keep your food, this would probably work nicely.

Merry Goddamn Fucking Christmas. Haha.

KT said...

Merry Fucking God Damned Christmas to you, too. Don't you love being home for the holidays? :P

Good luck with your eating disorder, but maybe a few weeks of eating processed American cheese product will get you on the right track again. Throw in some "crisp" Chips Ahoy, and you'll be set.

Kate said...

Awwww. Merry Christmas, lady.

I'd have had the same walls-are-closing-in-on-me feeling upon viewing the contents of said fridge, as well.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh. My husband's crazy great-aunt ALSO was a hoarder and has tons of stuff stacked everywhere AND a coal stove that put coal dust everywhere. She apparently also had thousands of dollars under her mattress when she died. Weird. I never had to go there, but if I did, I definitely wouldn't sleep there. Don't feel bad.

Ambitious Blonde said...

My bat met his maker via tennis racket. I had no idea I could swing like that until I was faced with potential rabies.

Also, if you actually said "Merry fucking goddamn Christmas" to the clerk, you are my new hero.

Green said...

Are you okay? Do you want me to call you?

I would never have been able to figure out how to get out of there. I'd have just stood very still in a corner and silently cried all the time.

My crisper is empty. Completely empty. Because I like to see all my food when opening the fridge.

kerry said...

I think not staying at the hoarders' house was a good choice. Sure it's nice to be close to your family, but if you can't eat anything and the walls are closing in, nobody's going to be happy. Visiting during the day is valid- it's the only time you'd see them even if you stayed there.

For what it's worth, I think you have very valid concerns about food. How much of what's wrong with us is due to the food we eat? A lot. Not to mention the gluten thing.

Poor Bella! Poor bat! I'm glad he didn't have rabies, though.

The holiday greetings debate is something I anticipate and dread each year. Sure, it's ok for someone to wish me a merry christmas. Or happy holidays. Or happy hannukah, I don't really care though I'd prefer a solstice greeting. It's one thing to wish someone the thing which you believe, but entirely another to get offended if someone gives you the wrong greeting.

I think that clerk would have not liked me very much; I am likely to have said something about her small-mindedness.

Then again, isn't it punishment enough to work in a WalMart?

Anonymous said...

When I worked at Wal~Mart, we wern't allowed to say Merry Christmas

Dan from Iowa and Delaware said...

Hi there,

Your MFGDC episode brings back a memory of being down home.

Sigh, civilization. Hands raised and clenched in pleas to heaven.

One Christmas day, I was back home in southern Virginia. I needed to go to the Greensboro airport to pick up my Philadelphia girlfriend.

Still in Virginia, I get pulled over. Christmas morning, and in the goddamned Bible belt, and with local plates, for crying, fucking howling out loud.

Instead of giving me a ticket for doing 73 in a 65, he writes me one for having an obscure expiration on one of the stickers...on my parents' car.

I thought, but didn't say, merry fucking Christmas. Ours were the only cars on the highway.

My parents, God love them, might have misplaced the sticker renewal because they, themselves, are hoarders, too.

Now I know where fruitcake comes from.

Xtine said...


I know, right?

My mother was accused of "marrying up". Why? Dad was 'educated' and had all his teeth and, basically, didn't have 7th generation trailer daddy stamped on his forehead.

Emily is right though: it'd have become apparent how miserable you were, and things would have gone downhill very quickly.

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