Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tammy Part 1

Even at eleven I thought it odd that my mother would take out an ad for a housekeeper/ nanny. We weren't rich back then and my mother didn't exactly work, at least not in the traditional sense, but my parents believed that if you wanted to be rich you had to do what rich people did and rich people had housekeepers and nannies. You had to appear rich, my father said, because if an opportunity came along and you looked like a schlep you’d never get anywhere. People wouldn’t take you seriously. The outside of the house was more important than the inside, because that was what people saw, so we had a leased Mercedes in the driveway of the split level ranch we rented from an Indian business man, twenty miles outside of the city on the edge of a wooded reservoir, while inside, the house was pretty much empty. We couldn’t afford furniture. Most rooms in our house were empty except for the kitchen. Our table and chairs were actually discarded patio furniture that my mother had foraged from someone’s trash the summer before and we slept on mattresses on the floor.

"When we moved up from Florida," my mother explained, "the U-Haul flooded and all of our furniture got ruined. But don't even worry about it. This next deal we're working on's gonna come through big time and then we'll move out of this place and get a mansion anyway."

"So why furnish this place, right?" my father added.

"Yeah, we're moving and then you'll see some furniture," my mother said.

They talked a lot about what the new furniture in the mansion was going to look like. My mother dreamed about something called a pit couch. She wanted to do everything in white, mauve and light gray.

"Mirrored walls," my father would chime in.

"Black lacquer furniture with gold trim," she'd add.

She wanted a dining room table made purely out of glass.

My parents were deal makers. They'd never worked office jobs, retail or service. They were entrepreneurs who hustled together. Their motto was “if you work too hard then you’re too busy to make any money.” My father said that office jobs with weekly paychecks, health insurance deducted from the net each week, were a waste of time for pussy-whipped schmucks and the last thing he would ever be was a pussy-whipped schmuck. My mother loved this about him.

My parents always had several deals working at once. It was like a numbers game because most of the deals were scams or bullshit or just never ended up coming through. Once in a while though, they’d get a decent pay off and we’d live well for a few weeks, often too well. My parents would go out for lavish dinners in the city at Le Cote Basque or Tavern on the Green, popping bottle after bottle of Perrier Jouet. My mother splurged on a silver, fox coat at Sax and the Mercedes 500, navy blue with tan interior, appeared in the driveway, replacing our Buick. They’d spend everything before they could even think about furniture and then we’d be right back where we started.

When my mother placed the ad for the nanny/ housekeeper, my parents were in the middle of putting together a deal to manufacture and sell green lipstick. Their fledgling company already sold press-on nails, but now they wanted to venture into makeup, starting with lipstick, which was cheap and easy to manufacture they said. Plus, they'd discovered something no one else had. Mood lipstick, as they called it, started out crayon green and was supposed to magically change color based on a woman’s individual body chemistry, creating a custom color unique as the woman herself. It looked to me like the lipstick instantly turned a garish, hooker-ish fuchsia, the exact same shade on each person who tried it, but my parents insisted that it was genuinely different on everyone and it was going to be gigantic. Mood Lips was going to take the cosmetic industry by storm, making traditional lipsticks obsolete.

A week before placing the ad, my mother decided that the green lipstick needed a better tube – something as different and innovative as the product inside. An Israeli at a falafel joint in the city had shown them a special lipstick tube made by a Hungarian in New Jersey, who had a cosmetics factory. Instead of a cap, this tube had a flip top operated by a small slide. You slid a tab up and the lid opened. Slide it back down and the lid closed. My parents went to see the Hungarian, who lived in Short Hills and wore Armani suits. The Hungarian impressed them. He owned a chain of women’s clothing stores, each with its own cosmetic counter that sold a line of makeup and skin care products named after his wife. He had recently taken his company public and the stock was taking off. He had even been written about in the Wall Street Journal. This was the time for my parents to get in. They’d be millionaires within weeks. The Hungarian even wanted my mother to work with him, so she’d have to get a nanny for the child of course and she shouldn’t worry about the cost of that because she’d have so much money so quickly that she’d be able to give the nanny a raise.

My parents were in. On the way home they called a real estate agent to show them mansions for sale in Saddle River. My father swore that if they hadn’t driven up in the Mercedes that this would never have happened because the Hungarian wouldn’t have taken them seriously. Success comes to the people who look successful. My mother immediately went home and placed the ad in the New York Times. She was going to have a housekeeper and a nanny and the day after she placed her ad she found another ad. I never knew if she answered Tammy’s ad or if Tammy answered our ad.

“Good Mormon girl from Utah seeks live-in childcare position in New York area. Can cook and sew, loves children. Friendly, attractive and quiet. Would love to be a part of your family.”

“She told me she cooks real good,” my mother told me, “and those Mormons are raised from birth to take care of a house and kids. I could tell from talking to her. She can cook and make her own clothes. Aren’t you excited?”

I imagined a willowy blonde in a puff sleeved prairie dress kneading bread all over our kitchen counters, and I confess that I did kind of find that exciting because that was how I wished my mother was.

Until Tammy arrived from Utah, my parents left me alone. I'd come home from school, let myself in and boil a pack of ramen noodles or stir together a box of macaroni and cheese. Then I'd sit in the kitchen, at the table that was supposed to be on someone's deck or patio, and make long distance calls which lasted for hours, to kids I'd gone to school with back in Millpond. I made my life sound glamorous and exotic, telling them how I went to Broadway shows every weekend in a limousine and how on the first day I was already sitting at the popular kids table at school. Of course none of this was true. I didn't have any friends in New York yet unless you counted Francine, the girl at my bus stop.

Francine wore a hard plastic body brace because she had scoliosis. It was padded and the color of the congealed fat on the top of cold, chicken soup. She had insisted on showing it to me as we waited for the bus on the first day of school. All Francine talked about was her scoliosis and her upcoming Bat Mitzvah. It sounded like she practically lived at Hebrew School. She was horrified that my parents weren't sending me to study Talmud and that I hadn't been checked for curvature of the spine myself. Francine and I just didn't have a lot in common and other than her I had no other choices for friends.

As the sun went down behind the rows of trees in our backyard, I'd drop my dirty dishes in the sink and then sit on my parents' bed watching TV until they got home from working with the Hungarian.

"I promise you won't be alone much longer. Tammy's getting here this weekend!" my mother told me, late one night.

"She is?"

"Yes, and she's going to cook and clean. Just wait. She'll sew all your clothes. She's a Mormon you know. Mormons love kids. I talked to her on the phone today."

"You did?"

"Yes and she told me her specialties are tacos and peanut butter cookies!"

"I love those!"

"She can't wait to get here and meet you. Aren't you excited? You're going to have your own nanny. Do you know how lucky you are?"

I nodded because my mother expected me to, but honestly I didn't really know if I was lucky or not. Still a nanny would at least be interesting. Children in story books had nannies, so I found the idea somewhat appealing. I would have rather had my mother around, but if my parents were going to be multi-millionaires, and my mother had to work for the Hungarian in order for that to happen, then I couldn't exactly be complaining, could I?

I didn't know what a Mormon was. It sounded Amish to me and I always wanted to be Amish. Maybe Tammy the Mormon would play with me at the lake and help me with my homework. I'd tried to get my mother to go over a worksheet with me but she waved her hand, with its press-on nails, and said she'd never been good in school and it all looked like Chinese to her. Plus, I was smart. I'd been in gifted and talented so why couldn't I do it myself? Maybe Tammy would have been good in school and would understand how to do Pre-Algebra and Life Science. Maybe she'd read Judy Blume books with me and we could watch the Cosby's together.

The next time my mother asked me if I was excited about Tammy, I actually was.

"She's taking the Amtrak cross country. Utah's far away so she's been on the train two days already. We got to pick her up at the station tomorrow."

I could barely sleep. The anticipation drove me crazy. I couldn't concentrate on "Deenie" and I tossed and turned trying to decide if I should wear a skirt because that's what Mormons liked. What if Tammy saw my hair and hated it and wanted to go back to Utah? What if Mormons beat their kids and she wanted to beat me? What if she was really nice and then she thought my parents were crazy? I thought of every possible scenario until the sun rose and I got up to watch Saturday morning cartoons.

Later that afternoon my parents went to pick Tammy up in the city at Grand Central Station.

"You have to stay home because we need room in the car for all of her suitcases," they said.

I pictured the Mercedes laden with tacos, peanutbutter cookies, suitcases of calico jumpers, the Book of Mormon and a sewing machine and reluctantly, I agreed to stay home and wait.

A few hours later, Tammy burst through the door and stood on the landing of our split level ranch between the first and second floors, as my dog, a small red pomeranian went after her ankles, intent on drawing blood.

To be continued...

18 comments:

Mamie said...

Hurry, hurry, I'm in total suspense - I NEED "Tammy Part 2" ASAP!

Anonymous said...

that was mean, the suspense!!!

Christi Lee said...

Oh lord. You have no idea how much I needed a new story. I have had the worst week ever. =( Thanks for posting. Try not to wait too long between posts... Please.kthxbye. =)

S. said...

I saw you had updated and ran to the kitchen for my tea and fruit so I could sit, read and enjoy. You don't disappoint, I can't wait for Part 2!

Gina said...

I had that green mood lipstick. It looked like shit on me.

Anonymous said...

I'm with everyone. For all that I have conjured up in my head by your fabulous beginnings of the
tale of Tammy, I can hardly wait to see if I'm right.

I have to say, I JUST started to read a blog called the nienie dialogues and from there, I am,
for the first time in my life, learning about Mormons. And exmormons.org.. the difference
between the LDS and the FLDS,
and this all started from the
HBO show called 'Big Love'.
I must tell you that I am hoping
that Tammy was good for you and to
you. OY. I know many people that believe that the trappings
need to include showing the world,
and then they have no furniture,
honestly, I do. However, I also
see many people who believe it and
make it happen. Sounds like your
Mom and Dad :) didn't quit and from the tales you tell and their
lifestyle they live now, sounds to
be like they are living their dreams . The idea of mood lipstick
intrigues me to this day. I had my mood ring - and honestly, I've
seen younger girls wearing them in this day and age. They would eat up the mood lipstick, and I have to add that I am an ex Estee Lauder employee, but boy did I learn alot through that stint.
Now, please, onto Tammy. :)

Your writing is captivating.

Cathi
in Canada

UmmFarouq said...

I had that green lipstick in the special lipstick tube. It was actually my mom's, but she passed it to me. Fuschia, completely. Horrid. But that was 1985 or so, and horrid was acceptable.

I also remember attending at least 12 make-up parties with her, from which we'd come back with so much crap. My daughter, on a trip home 2 years ago, cleaned out my Mom's bathroom cabinets. Same crap we'd bought in the 80s--still there.

Manda said...

Good God woman... You have me on the edge of my seat... I must know more... More More More!!!!

Wide Lawns said...

With all the random people who seemed to have had that damned green lipstick I am honestly shocked that we still couldnt afford any damned furniture!

Sundar said...

Hi WL - I am a big (though only recent) fan of your blog. I was just wondering where your sister was during the period you describe in this post.

Veronica said...

I remember Mood lipstick!! God that stuff was horrible! I had no clue though so I rocked that shit every day my 8th grade year. I still cringe when I see pictures of my grishly pink lips.

Missicat said...

Tammy part 2 please!!! *holding breath*

Missicat said...

Forgot to add - also had that stinkin' green lipstick. :-)

Anonymous said...

I remember having that lipstick too.

Can't wait for part 2 of the story!

MtnMama said...

Yes, I too had the lipstick! It went so well with the tri-color eyeshadow, don't cha think?

I could be a research resource for anyone who wants to know what suburban California Mormons were like...
Can't wait for more...

Maria said...

I'm impatiently waiting for Tammy Part 2. I need to meet her and I need to meet her now!!!

Sinclair said...

WL, I just wanted to let you know that your writing goes perfect with my morning coffee :)

Thank you for the time you put on this blog, for all the free laughs you give us, for all the times I've had to look words up on a dictionary but mostly for sharing such interesting life from your point of view. I'm always amazed how you can turn even the most disappointing story into a learning lesson or a great joke.

Your blog should replace all those boring English as a Second Language books. Coming from a foreigner that's a compliment :)

Green said...

My aunt had that green lipstick! She had me try it on and I did and then my mother pulled me aside and quietly said I might want to go look at my lips in the mirror. It was very bright and horrible looking. My aunt gave me the tube to take home, but I threw it out at home.

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