Thursday, April 30, 2009

The All Pear, Part 2

If you need to refresh your memory since it's been so long since my slack ass wrote anything meaningful, here is Part 1.

My parents decided to drop me off with Nadia at her parents' house which was way out in the middle of a mountainous snowy nowhere in Quebec. They would leave me there for a couple days while they went off and shopped and had some much needed time to themselves. Nadia thought it was a great idea because I would really be immersed in the French language there and because she had a younger sister who was fifteen. Only Nadia spoke English. All of them were Muslim.

Back then I had no earlthy clue was a Muslim was. None. My father was the first Jewish person to ever set foot in Millpond and the only foreigners we ever saw were Mexican migrant workers and we only saw them from a great distance picking crops. They even lived in special camps. Everyone in Millpond was Christian. Period. I had never heard of a Muslim. I had heard of Arabs. They wore those long white sheets on their heads. They rode on camels, but that was the extent of my knowledge. A few years before there had been hostages in Iran. Everyone in Millpond called the Iranians Arabs too. I figured Nadia's family would look exactly like the Saudis I had seen on the nightly news and imagining one of them hopping around in five foot deep snow banks, with the dream of opening a ski resort of all things, was really rather funny, even for a twelve year old. I wondered if they had a camel and if it liked the snow.

"Do I have to wear that on my head too?" I asked Nadia.

"Mais non cherie, you're too young."

I was relieved.

Nadia's family lived in a run down chalet at the base of what had once been a ski slope. They had recently purchased a resort that hadn't been in use for at least twenty years and they were trying to get it back up and running. I have often wondered if they ever reached their goal.

To my great surprise, Nadia's family looked fairly normal, disappointingly normal really and there was no camel. Her mother and sister looked much like Nadia. They were all short and rosy with curly black hair under their scarves. Nadia's father was tall and thin and dressed pretty much like my dad. I had my own room in their chalet and Nadia's sister Ghislaine instantly brought me a pile of Garfield books in French which I thought was just about the most hysterical thing I had ever seen. A cat speaking French??? Je deteste lundi. Garfield spoke French? I looked at these books in disbelief for hours. How could it be possible that Garfield spoke French? It couldn't be.

I liked being with Nadia's family. They hugged and kissed me and their chalet smelled like spices. Nadia's mother made couscous for dinner and what I loved most was that Nadia's mother baked her own bread, which you may recall, was a longtime fantasy of mine. I must have eaten thirteen of the round, coarse brown loaves she kneaded by hand during my stay. I just couldn't get over how lucky I was to travel to foreign countries, stay with people who didn't speak a speck of English who made their own bread. On top of that, Nadia's mother introduced me to two things that remain a large and important part of my life today: honey and peppermint tea. I never had honey on bread before, but Nadia's mother poured it onto my place and told me to put it on the bread. A whole new world opened up. After dinner, we all had peppermint tea in glasses, not tea cups, and it was like drinking a hot, melted candy cane. To this day I am fanatical about both mint tea and honey and sometimes I even combine them.

I'll tell you, I didn't want to leave. But while I was there, one night after I had gone to bed I heard Nadia arguing with her family and I heard two words that I recognized. Green card and Norman Horowitz, but we'll get to that in a minute. From what I observed, Nadia's family was religious. They had special prayers that frightened me a little and a different Bible. Looking back on this experience the funniest thing stands out to me. At this point in my life I was just being introduced to the Judaism of my new father's family. It was equally as foreign and strange to me as Nadia's family's Islam. To me, who had fresh eyes for both traditions, there seemed virtually no difference whatsoever in the two religions. They did almost the exact the same things. The Orthodox Jewish women wore head coverings too. The prayers were even similar. They both loved peppermint tea for goodness sakes. (Although when this story took place I had not yet had the peppermint tea at my new grandparents' house. That was coming soon and is its own story.)

But maybe that is beside the point. The point was that Nadia was arguing with her family. I had an idea of why that might be. For one thing, Nadia has no interest in being religious at all. She liked the Pet Shop Boys and American pop culture. When my parents gave her weekend nights off she'd go into the city and party with a group of young artists my parents had introduced her too. Nadia had also recently managed to get a boyfriend and his name was Norman Horowitz. I really did not like Norman Horowitz, so I was thrilled to hear that apparently Nadia's parents were even less thrilled with the idea than I was. That night as I lie in bed in the chalet listening to them arguing in French, I thought maybe I wouldn't have to plot Norman Horowitz's murder after all. Maybe her parents could talk some sense into her.

Norman was a nebbish. I had learned this word from Francine, the girl down the street who wore the scoliosis brace and was obsessed with her upcoming Bat Mitzvah and when I saw Norman, I realized exactly what it meant. I don't know where on earth Nadia met Norman or why she was attracted to him, but they had been dating only a short while when we went to Quebec. Things were already getting serious though. He came over several nights a week to watch TV with us and Nadia went out on dates with him on her nights off. He was tall, skinny and red headed. He had no visible eyebrows or eyelashes and he always looked kind of sucked in and seasick. His eyes were so pale that they were more white than blue. Norman was an accountant. He was extremely Jewish and when he spoke he sounded exactly like Woody Allen except whinier. A germaphobe, Norman wouldn't touch anything (except Nadia) and every time I had been around him he had mentioned at least twice that he felt like he was coming down with something. The strangest thing was, Nadia was terribly smitten with him and he with her. They giggled and blushed like idiots around one another.

When we got back from our winter vacation in Quebec, it just got worse. Norman started coming over every single night. Nadia spent all of her time off with him. One night when I had gone to bed, I snuck out of my room and caught them going at it on the couch in the den (we didn't have furniture in the living room, but we had a small TV room with a couch and that's where they were.) I was traumatized. Pretty soon they began talking about marriage and I was deeply alarmed. I wished Norman Horowitz would die because I knew what was going to happen. He was going to take away my beautiful All Pear and marry her and I would never see her again. We would never sing "Rock Me Amadeus" again. I would never get to go to Quebec again. I wouldn't have anyone to speak French to. My life may as well have just ended as far as I was concerned.

If this were a made up story, something exciting and unexpected would have happened. Maybe Nadia would have realized that Norman was a nebbish. My mother often said she thought Nadia was after him so she could get a green card. I will never know. If I were making this all up, perhaps twelve year old me would have had a revelation that when you love someone you have to set them free and all that nonsense. None of this happened. In real life Norman and Nadia got engaged before the daffodils finished blooming. They had barely dated two months. In real life I was pissed because I knew exactly what was going to happen and it did. Norman didn't want Nadia to be an All Pear anymore. He wanted her to move in with him, so regretfully she gave her notice to my parents and started packing her things. He even wanted her to convert to Judaism and she started classes at a local temple. I always wondered what her parents thought about that.

And just like that she was gone and I was alone again, singing "Touch me, believe me, the sun always shines on TV, hold me, close to your heart, touch me, and give all your love to me."
Monday, April 27, 2009

Bunny Flu

I somehow managed to come down with what I am calling flu-like symptoms yesterday. I call it this because I had the flu shot (so I can't get the flu right? so this is something else?) and because, being a massive hypochondriac, I swear I have the swine flu. I always think I have everything that I see on the news and swine flu sounds really, super scary. There is something terrifying about the word swine. I don't think it could be more frightening unless they called it maybe the maggot flu or the vampire bat flu. Swine is an awful, awful word. I think they do this on purpose. Swine even sounds worse than hog or pig. Pig Flu sounds a lot milder than Swine Flu and a name really says a lot. I'm comforting myself by reminding myself that while I am feverish, aching, half delirious and have a sore throat that makes me feel like I swallowed sulfuric acid, that I have much milder symptoms than Swine Flu. I think what I actually have is Bunny Flu.

I've decided to call whatever is making me ill the Bunny Flu, because that almost sounds like something kind of cute and fun, doesn't it? I'd much rather have Bunny Flu than Swine Flu. So now, as I lose my voice from Bunny Flu, I have ten million things to do and I'm going to do them all in spite of my affliction, but really I just want to sleep on the couch and watch movies and sip Jamba Juice Cold Buster smoothies. My thesis is due this week and I have to finish it and turn in my students' grades and get ready to go to California next week and oh, lord. It's all too much to process right now. Oh, I also need to finish the All Pear story, which I will. Damned Bunny Flu.
Friday, April 24, 2009

Momentum

Ok, in an effort to get out of my slump, today I am beginning my job search in earnest and applying for a few, important positions that I'd really like to get. I find when I get in a rut I have to take baby steps to get out of it and that each little action I take gives me more and more momentum to get stuff done. For some reason, something as idiotic as upgrading my template gave me a nice little push. After that I finally took the dry cleaning in and it's been sitting around for a month. After that I decided to make a Wide Lawns Facebook page. I didn't do anything with it yet and I didn't make it so you can be a fan yet, but I'm on it, don't worry. In the meantime you can now add me as a friend if you'd like to do that. Someone mentioned that on Facebook, I'd get to see all of you, but you wouldn't get to see me. You're right and in a way that's probably not fair, although I promise you in real life I'm pretty damned average and ordinary anyway. I think this person had a good point though. Often I hate having to be anonymous. It's kind of annoying, honestly. There are a few reasons why I'm anonymous and none of them have to do with attacking anyone (I know there's a lot of discussion about anonymous Internet bullying and I'm definitely never going to do that). I started off writing anonymously so I wouldn't get caught writing at work, which didn't exactly work out as planned. Now I have a new job where it's not even possible to write at work, so that's no longer an issue. I don't want my students to find me. Students are obsessive googlers of their teachers. They look for anything they can use against their teachers and while I think many of them would love my stories, I don't feel it's appropriate for them to read them here. Also, my husband asked me to blog anonymously so I honor his request. So here's the deal. If you add me as a friend on Facebook I will make a concerted effort to let you all into my real life a little more, as much as time constraints allow, because obviously I can't sit on my ass at the computer all day. I will post pictures and things I find interesting for you and I will try to give you a better idea of who I am as a person, if that's even possible. And then I will look at all of your pictures. Just kidding. I won't stalk any of you. If you'd like to be my friend, just search for Wide Lawns.

And now, I'm off to write some cover letters! Woo hoo. Cover letters. I told you I'm exciting didn't I?
Thursday, April 23, 2009

Editing

This is kind of a test of the Wide Lawns Broadcast System.

Oh Good Lord. I just took a big step here and edited my template and converted it to the new thing. This is causing me a major anxiety attack in preparation for the addition of ads. I completely messed up my whole deal, had to get a whole new site meter and then it wasn't working. I swear, I am the biggest Luddite I have ever met. Is everything working? Does it look normal to you all? Did I screw it up? Am I freaking out over nothing? Should I just go get a cup of coffee and shut the hell up?

I repeat, this is only a test.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The All Pear

This isn't the beginning of another long story, but I thought at the end of the Tammy Chronicles, you all might be interested in what happened next. Luckily, not much, which is why this isn't one of those big long, heart wrenching tales. This is just a nice, little two parter.

After the whole Tammy disaster you can imagine that I'd be a little gun shy about another "nanny." I wasn't pleased with the idea of this "Au Pair" thing. I'd never heard of such a thing, first of all, and it sounded freakish and foreign like escargot which really meant snails. For some reason with the way my mother pronounced it, I could never figure out what the hell she was saying. It sounded like "All Pear" which brought to mind nothing but a can of pears. Until that point in life I didn't even know that pears were fruit that grew on trees. I had only seen them as small white cubes in heavy syrup, so that was what I pictured and it did not make a bit of sense to me.

Rivka was the "All Pear" who lived down the street. She was a tall, horsey Israeli girl who took care of twins and their older brother. None of the kids were my age, so I didn't know them, but my dad knew Rivka because of Israeli radar. No matter what Israelis will always find one another. I'd venture that they have some kind of elaborate secret network but that would sound like some of the craziness spouted off by white supremacists and I don't want to give them any more ammunition against Israelis. The point of this is that Israelis, like all other immigrants, somehow find their kind and my dad found Rivka the "All Pear" down the street. He told her that he and my mother were looking for a live-in to watch me because they often had meetings in the city and work that lasted into the late hours of the night. Rivka had the perfect solution.

"We found you the perfect All Pear," my mother announced one evening at dinner, "This is so exciting. She speaks french."

Now, in spite of myself and my misgivings, I perked up considerably. I had recently fallen madly, passionately in love with all things French. I was so in love with France the French language, of which I knew a total of about ten poorly pronounced words, that I started telling everyone that I had been French in a past life. I was a horrible student, but I was getting a B in French. That is how much I loved French-ness. I loved it enough to put in enough effort to get a B.

When I heard that the All Pear spoke French I pictured a willowy woman with a beret and a neck scarf. I thought she'd show up on our doorstep with a poodle and I wanted her to look exactly like Sophie the girl from my French textbook. I worshiped Sophie. She had a friend named Jean Marc and I had secret plans to grow up and marry him.

"Is she from Paris????" I wanted to know immediately.

"No," my mother said, "She's from Morocco."

"Marraca? Isn't that those things you shake?"

"It's a country too."

"It is not. Where is it?"

"Arabia."

"Like camels?"

"Yes and desert."

"For real?"

"Yes."

"And they speak French?"

"Yes," my mother said, "A lot of them speak French. I've known a bunch of Moroccans and they've all been really nice and they're great cooks. You'd love Moroccan food. "

This was actually true. Later in life I would come to enjoy Moroccan cuisine, but at this point I was confused because I thought they only spoke French in France.

"What's her name?" I asked.

"Nadia."

This confused me further because I associated the name Nadia with Romanian gymnastics, one of my previous obsessions which had been replaced with medieval times, horses, pioneers and now, finally, France. In that order.

Nadia arrived quickly. She was short and voluptuous with dark almond eyes, a curly black bob and... a head scarf? Nadia was a Muslim, but I didn't really know what that was back then. I thought she looked like a belly dancer from a story about Sultans and genies. For this, I instantly adored her. She was just so loud and grinning, so rosy cheeked and full of teeth. Oh, and her accent was perfect.

Once unpacked Nadia's headscarf came flying off. I'm still unsure as to why she even wore it in the first place, because all Nadia wanted was to be a free, single young girl in New York in the 80s. She was fascinated by American pop culture and style. She constantly listened to music and wanted to do nothing but dance. She couldn't cook and she didn't clean the house but I was crazy about her. She didn't shave her underarms and sometimes she kind of smelled like taco seasoning, but I didn't mind this on her because all exotic french women had hairy armpits and didn't wear deodorant, right?

When my parents left me with Nadia I didn't particularly care if they ever came back. Nadia was fun and pretty and she spoke French. She had a little beige car which she zipped and whipped around every corner in town. She took me wherever I wanted. We went to all the John Hughes movies together, to the mall and to get pizza. She spoke to me half in French and half in English and pretty soon I had scooted up towards an A minus in French class. To this day I credit Nadia with my halfway decent pronunciation of French words, though French people from France have all decided that I speak with a Swiss accent. I have no earthly clue what they're talking about there. I mean, it might make sense if they said I had a Moroccan accent. Maybe some of my French readers can explain this one to me.

Nadia's parents had recently moved to Quebec to open a ski resort. Living in the desert all their lives they had dreamed of snow capped mountains and finally managed to achieve this goal. Nadia wanted to take me to visit them and my parents had been doing pretty well, so we all decided to take a long weekend and drive to Canada. I had definitely died and gone to Heaven, I thought. I really had. Not even a year before I had been lonely, abused and miserable with my biological father and stepmother and now I was traveling to foreign countries where they spoke French with my French All Pear.

First we went to Montreal. I had never seen so much snow in my life (this was January). Montreal was like a beautiful city carved out of ice and I just could not get over this whole kilometre thing. I just remember driving around the city, listening to the French radio playing Aha's "The Sun Always Shines on TV" which was the most beautiful song I had ever heard in the same way that Montreal was the most beautiful city I'd ever seen. We had ice cream and I ordered a scoop of noisette because of how lovely and refined I felt saying the word. That night we ate dinner in a lodge and my parents ordered Chateaubriand.

The next day my parents dropped Nadia and I off at Nadia's parents' home and before we even made it ten kilometres of the way there Nadia was quickly wrapping and knotting her head scarf.

To be continued....
Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Current Events

It's the end of the semester this week, so I'm wrapping everything up, calculating my students' final grades and getting all my thesis crap together. I finished my workshop with the famous writer last week and it didn't go as planned, meaning the famous writer wasn't completely blown away by my writing, or in fact, even remotely impressed by it. Every time I'm in one of these workshops with famous authors things, I secretly always hope that I will impress the person so much that they will say things like they've never seen a student write like me or that I am in possession of so awesome a talent that they simply must publish me in their journal immediately and have their agent call me at once. I've been hoping this since I've been in school. I've always wanted to be the star student.

Has. Not. Happened.

I haven't so much as ever even one time had a teacher even say I had talent. So much for the whole cliche of the teacher taking the student under his/ her wing and making something great out of them. I love those stories. These after school special cliches have warped my entire perception of the world I think.

But you know, I'm not complaining just because I had unrealistic expectations. I'm actually kind of making fun of my own idiocy.

I've been in a terrible slump here recently. You remember that episode of "Friends" where Ross was in a slump and he started lashing out at people? Then Monica made him a special sandwich and someone at his job ate it out of the work fridge and he completely lost his shit and had to go on sabbatical. I feel like that. I feel like Ross having anger management issues. I've had a meltdown every single day this week and most of them have been over nothing. One of them was because I wanted to write and couldn't think of anything to write about. Luckily that passed quickly, so don't worry. This isn't going to be one of those posts where I say I have writer's block. I don't. I swear.

I have some stories planned, but I'd like to rest briefly from the hard core writing and give some updates on things going on right here in my present.



1. Faith Hill found ME!!!! On Facebook! I had looked and couldn't find her. Then out of the blue she found me and guess what? She's totally fine. All that stuff about her was rumor apparently. She looks great and seems to be living a normal life. The thing is though, that I've barely communicated with her. She didn't seem open to a gigantic gab fest of catching up, so I just said hi and that she looked great and she said the same to me and that was about it. But it still made me really happy. And it made me realize how ridiculous many of the Millpond rumors are. I recently found out that people were saying that I was a lesbian painter in New York which could not be further from the truth. I could never be that exciting or glamourous.

2. And speaking of Facebook, I've learned a few things and I'd like to pass them on. First off, some of those people who seemed a little eccentric and quirky back in high school have now had enough time for all those little quirks and eccentricities to ripen into full blown psychoses. Secondly, there sure are a lot of people who harbor a lot of unnecessary resentment and animosity towards one another based on stuff that happened twenty years ago. Luckily this hasn't happened to me directly. No one has resentment towards me, but I've observed it in others. So new rule - stuff that people did in high school doesn't count. You'll be happier if you live by this rule. Most kids are mean in high school and middle school. It is the nature of adolescence. Hopefully people have grown and matured since then. Of course there are some who don't, but I've found that most people do change and things they did as kids should never be held against the people they are now. This goes for relationships too. Young adult and adolescent relationships don't count towards your real life. They provide practice and milestones, but the nature of these first loves is that they don't work out. They aren't supposed to. Most of the time kids don't have the maturity needed to maintain any semblance of a real relationship and because of this sometimes (usually) we get hurt. My high school boyfriend dumped me for someone else while I was ON MY WAY TO VISIT HIM. I had to turn around. I was utterly suicidal over this. But you know what, he's a wonderful person and we're still great friends. The boyfriend after that I abused relentlessly because I was a fickle, silly little girl. I broke this poor boy's heart a million times over and you know what, he didn't hold it against me. We talk a few times a week now and are very dear friends. So don't use Facebook as a way to relive your teen angst. Let people change and forgive them. Thank them for teaching you valuable life lessons that helped you get to the relationship you're in now. Add them all as friends.

3. I was considering starting a Wide Lawns Facebook page, but I'm lazy as all get out and I don't know if I would adequately maintain it or if you all would want to be my friend. I don't know what I would put on it. Do you want me to do it? After my American Idol post last week I was thinking how I'm a really bad self promoter and maybe now that I'm done with grad school I should focus some time on promoting my career some more. I'm oddly self conscious about doing this. I think in general we have a societal taboo against self promotion, but then I think, if you don't promote yourself then who the hell will do it for you? You can't sit around and wait for things to happen to you. You have to make them happen. So maybe I need to rethink my prejudices against self promoting. Surely it can be done without being sleazy, right? Ideas? I wish I had a publicist.

4. After June 19th I will be officially out of a job. This concerns me deeply. I'm looking for a new job and leaving no stone unturned, but there is a hiring freeze on teachers down here, so things aren't looking great so far. Still, I'm optimistic. I'm also considering putting ads on my blog. I haven't done it yet because I wanted to keep my site commercial-free and I'm lazy and because I thought readers would think I was selling out or something. I personally don't mind ads on other sites at all. Usually I ignore them or if it's someone I really like I click the ads as a favor to them. I'm going to ask you all. Would you mind if I "monetized"? I need the money but I'd rather not piss off readers. Please let me know your opinions on this before I make my final decision. Would you expect more from me? What would you expect?

5. I'm going to get some housework and grading wrapped up and once I throw the laundry in, I'll sit down and write something real for you all. In the meantime, I'd like to hear your thoughts on some of these ideas.
Friday, April 17, 2009

Kidney Stoned

I adore my grandfather. I feel like I'm so lucky to have had three grandfathers in my life to love. I mean, a lot of people don't even get to know one of their grandfathers and lucky me, I get three. I only have one left, Saba, so you can imagine how worried I was a couple of weeks ago when he was ill right before everyone came for Passover.

My whole family had the flu and Saba came over three Sundays ago looking peaked. He had to lie down and he told everyone it was no big deal, just the flu. Still, I was concerned. I was afraid he was working too hard, that he was pushing himself too hard for an eighty year old or that the upcoming influx of guests would be too much for him to handle.

"Just the flu."

By Thursday of that week my parents told me he was in surgery.

"Oh my God, for what is he ok?" I asked.

"Kidney stones."

Hmmm. Surgery? For kidney stones? I've never heard of such a thing. I know they blast them up with ultrasound, but surgery?

"Nope," my dad said, "The ultrasound didn't work. He told me they're doing surgery."

By the next day my grandfather was livid. He called my parents in an outrage.

"They didn't do surgery on me!" he exclaimed, "They put me to sleep and let me have a nap, then woke me up and charged me money."

To translate, my grandfather believed that the doctors had lied to him about the kidney stones; that they had lied to him in order to perpetuate some elaborate scam wherein they tell hapless old people that they are going to have surgery, when in fact they just put them to sleep for a couple hours.

"How would I know the difference?" he said, "They think they can get one over on me, but I'm sharp. At 80, I'm very sharp. I know when someone is trying to pull a fast one."

We asked him why he thought this happened.

"Aha! No incision."

"You have no incision from the surgery?" we asked.

"Nothing. The doctor is not so smart as he thinks. You want to really trick someone? You make an incision. Then they really think they are having surgery. How is the doctor so stupid?"

We then learned that for over an hour my grandfather made my grandmother scour every inch of his body looking for any possible signs of an incision.

"There is nothing," she confirmed, "The doctor lies. He put my husband to sleep and did nothing."

"But the real question here Saba, is this. Are you better or do you still have kidney stones?" I asked.

"No. No kidney stones. Pain is gone."

"So the doctor did something."

"Absolutely not! It is coincidence!!"

"So to confirm - you had pain before you went to sleep and woke up and it was gone."

"Yes, but this is coincidence."

Outraged, my grandfather hung up and vowed to call the hospital and expose the doctors and the terrible scam they had going to take advantage of old people. I can only imagine how the person who actually answered this call might retell this part of the story. It sounds like something from my old job.

Afterwards my grandfather called back, even madder because he hadn't gotten anywhere. They insisted he had surgery. He insisted he didn't, couldn't possibly have.

He then decided that he also never had cancer five years ago.

"All a big scam I tell you. How do you explain this. I have cancer. I have an operation. I go back and now cancer is gone? How do you explain this? I never have cancer. All a terrible scam."

We suggest that his lack of cancer after the operation is due to the fact that they cut it out, but we still can't explain the kidney stone issue at hand.

My dad finally called the doctor for him to try to make some sense.

"Sir, I tried to explain this to your father but he didn't understand. We removed the kidney stone fragments with a catheter. This is why your father doesn't have any incisions," the doctor explained.

We tried to tell Saba, but he wouldn't hear of it. He's still insisting he was the victim of a horrible con game.

I wonder how many calls like that the hospital gets, from old people convinced beyond all reason that they never had medical procedures. Thank God Saba's never heard that old kidney harvesting urban legend or he'd be swearing that was what this was all about.

Old people, you have to love them.
Thursday, April 16, 2009

Chicken Feet

Throughout the years my parents have been involved in some unusual, creative and sometimes all together unheard of business ventures. Of course my mother will say she had the last laugh on everyone who made fun of her, as she spends the summer touring around the country in her rock star bus wearing her fancy sunglasses, never having to worry about punching a time clock or worrying if HR will approve her vacation days. But still, some of these businesses, or proposed businesses have been, well, interesting, to say the least.

One day I'm going to sit down and make a list of every single thing my parents have ever done to make money. This alone could be a novel. From the green lipstick, press on nails, apparently edible, Romanian, anti-aging face cream, to a discount junk store it seems like my parents have done it all. By far though, their strangest business venture ever was Dr. Karcher's Chicken Feet.

I wasn't more than ten when my parents got involved with Dr. Karcher. It started before I went to live with them in New York, before the ordeal with the Hungarian and before Mood Lips.

During a visit with my mother I burned my hand on the iron. It was just a little burn, the size and shape of a silverfish.

"Hold on," my mother said when I showed it to her, "Let me put some Chicken Feet on it."

"You're not putting any chicken feet on me!" I protested, picturing a full, live chicken dancing up and down my arm.

I hadn't seen any chickens. I hadn't smelled their tell-tale manure, the scent of which I was quite familiar living in Millpond my whole life and all. I hadn't heard any buck-buck or cock-a-doodle-do-ing muffled in the linen closet. Surely my mother didn't have chickens now, did she? I mean, it was my mother. Not much would surprise me.

She left and returned with what looked like a white tube of toothpaste with corn colored lettering on the sides. Unscrewing the lid cracked a crust of dried, light yellowish...something which crumbled to the floor. And the smell. It was like opening a kettle of boiling vinegar.

"What IS that?" I asked, in horror.

"I told you, it's Chicken Feet."

"Chicken what?"

"Chicken Feet."

"It doesn't look like chicken feet."

"Well you couldn't very well stuff whole chicken feet into a toothpaste tube could you? They're ground up."

"Ugghh. Eww," I groaned as she smeared the gritty, yellow paste on my tiny burn, which I regretted even showing her.

Dr. Karcher's Chicken Feet salve looked exactly like what it was - ground up chicken feet.

"This is so gross," I complained, "Chickens walk in poop!"

"Well Dr. Karcher washes them off. You think he's going to make medicine with shitty chicken feet? Come on. Dr. Karcher is a brilliant man."

Soon I got to meet him. Dr. Karcher and his wife, Mrs. Dr. Karcher, lived in rural Maryland in the heart of chicken country. They both looked ancient, thin and yellow. People who spend a lot of time around chickens often take on the appearance of poultry themselves and this was certainly the case with the Karchers, who were close to eighty and looked as if they ate nothing but ground up oyster shells and marigold petals. This is what they fed their hundred thousand chickens, who were housed in long, low aluminum bunkers whose rounded roof and walls gave them an ominous, military air. Apparently though, I was wrong. They didn't eat chicken feed. Instead they ate little more than chicken feet, boiled into a gelatinous broth.

"The chicken foot is the most nutritious thing on the planet Earth!" Dr. Karcher explained.

How he'd come up with this notion I never knew, but he talked a lot about his travels in China and what he called "The Orient" and how they ate chicken feet there. This often happens when Westerners visit other countries which they consider exotic. They'll make observations without a great deal of logic. Old people are eating chicken feet in China. Therefore the chicken feet must be the secret to their longevity and of course that's why they're eating them and not because they're poor and oppressed and don't have the wide variety of choices we westerners have at our disposal. Instead, we like to think they have some ancient, secret wisdom that could save all mankind. I suspect this is what was going on with Dr. Karcher. That and insanity.

"In America we just throw the chicken feet away!! Imagine!!! We're throwing away the cure to every disease, every injury, even aging itself!" Dr. Karcher went on.

He said he'd been developing his line of chicken feet pills and salves for fifty years, in secret at his farm. The FDA refused to approve it because it would put the big drug companies out of business. It would make doctors obsolete so everyone was against him. "They" were watching him. He then explained that he'd experimented on stray dogs - dipping them in vats of boiling water. I clapped my hands over my ears so I didn't have to hear anymore. I was seized with a sudden, sweating terror. What if Dr. Karcher had lured us to his farm so that he could experiment on humans?? What if he wanted to dip US in boiling water??

"Oh don't get upset! REX!!!!" he yelled.

An old dog, hairless in places limped into Dr. Karcher's kitchen.

"See, he's fine! After I boiled him I covered him in chicken feet salve and within days he was completely healed! Honey! Give Rex some broth!"

Mrs. Dr. ladled the dog a steaming dish of broth from an enormous pot that bubbled on the stove. I couldn't keep my eyes away from the stove. I didn't want to look, but for some reason, I couldn't stop staring at it. Every few minutes through the rumbling steam a bright yellow chicken foot would bob up at some awful angle, claws branched like a little tree, nails pointing at the ceiling, and then I would quickly avert my eyes, only to look back again a few seconds later.

Rex sniffed the hot liquid and padded out of the room.

In the end, Dr. Karcher did not drop us in boiling water. He simply gave us a box of prototype products for my parents. He wanted them to market his products for him, to use them and see that he was right. Chicken Feet could save the world.

I don't know why, but the Chicken Feet never worked out. Maybe the mysterious "They" had something to do with it. Maybe it was just too gross.

The morning after I burned myself with the iron, my mother asked me how it was. We looked at my hand, turning it over, searching for the burn. I had forgotten about it by then. The burn was gone. There wasn't even a scar.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Beautiful

Aunt Hedda has managed to enrage everyone before we’ve even begun the Seder.

“You’ve put on weight. Do you have an announcement?” she asks me.

“No!”

“Then, don’t get fat or your husband will cheat on you.”

“You’re too old. That’s why you had a miscarriage,” she then tells my grieving aunt.

My grandmother, stooped with osteoporosis, lights the candles and begins the prayers. She is the religious sister; darker haired, taller and broad shouldered with a hooked nose. As her hands swim in circles over the flames, Aunt Hedda leads me to my grandmother’s linen closet.

“Look at this. Your grandmother is meshuganah. You’re going to be just like her. I see you line everything up. You want to live this way?”

My grandmother has folded each sheet and towel into a uniform square. She measures her linens with a ruler so that each stack is the exact height. Later we wait for salad as she picks through individual lettuce leaves, lest an insect hide within the romaine’s pleats, causing her to accidentally break the kashrut’s ban on eating insects. Aunt Hedda laughs, calls her names, but my grandmother continues to flatten each leaf. My cousins make fun of Aunt Hedda, thinking her English is bad and she won’t understand. When she walks out, my father does a spot on imitation of her, complete with affected British lilt over a heavy Israeli accent. We mock how she poses when anyone pulls out a camera. Soon we are all hurling play insults in Aunt Hedda’s nasal, high pitched bleat. I suggest that she colors her hair with Cranberry Juice Cocktail. When she returns to the table she calls us pigs because there is no charoset left and warns we will regret eating so much.

“I’m used to watching my figure. I used to be a fashion model, you know.”

“We know!” everyone says, because she tells us at every opportunity.

“I was very beautiful once.”

“Yes, it’s true,” my grandmother says, “Hedda was the most beautiful.”

When Passover ends and Aunt Hedda leaves, I drive my grandmother to the dentist. She tells me how her family escaped Slovakia, traveling at night with false passports, practicing German. In Italy, the Nazis stopped their train.

“They took us off the train. They looked at our passports and I knew they will shoot us. But then they’re arguing.”

My grandmother turns and looks out the window for a long time before she continues.

“The one German knows we are Jews. He says to kill us, and my mother with a baby in her arms. The others laugh at him. ‘Let them go. Look at this girl,’ they say about my sister,‘a Jew could never be this beautiful.’”

“Aunt Hedda?”

“Yes.”

My grandmother hasn’t turned from the window.

“Without her,” she says, “This family isn’t here.”

Workshop

I'm in a workshop all week and we had an interesting assignment - to write a full, true story under 500 words that brought to two people to life on the page. That is hard. This was especially hard for me. I like to say that as a writer I'm more of a marathon runner than a sprinter. I'm in it for the whole 26 miles, sweating, dehydrated, cramping and crapping in my pants. But I could learn to be a little shorter and I tried really hard with this story. I tried so hard in fact, that instead of just the seven people in my class, I decided I wanted all thousand or so of you to read it too. Now this is a rough draft, written on the fly under duress. I have plans for it, so read it now, because I'll likely take it down, polish it up considerably, add and subtract some things and maybe get brave enough to send it off. Once you read it, I'd appreciate your comments. Does it work? Was it interesting? Did it 'hit' you? Was I singing? I had to really twist it to fit it into the constraints and I really wish I'd had time to drag it out some more, but anyway, here it is (in it's own post).
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I Sing With Words

I just watched American Idol on the DVR. I am a little ashamed of this. I didn't even enjoy it. I hardly ever do, but still I stick with it every week in spite of the cheezy karaoke, songs that make me change the station when they play on the radio and predictable critiques peppered with scripted lame jokes. This week was particularly awful with Quentin Tarantino. Could they not find anyone else even remotely music related? But I still watch.

I watch American Idol because I love the idea that regular people who have a dream, some talent and some pluck can make it big. I've bought into that idea so much that I've taken out a second mortgage on it. A regular person can be somebody if they just get lucky and work hard enough, if they have a spark, if they're a star. I grew up on this idea. Oprah convinced me of it. The self esteem movement, popular in schools in the eighties, funneled it down my throat like tequila during a Cancun Spring Break. I can be anything. I can do anything. This is the idea that makes people slap together rafts out of PVC pipe, duct tape and old German cars and cross dark seas, knowing they face execution if they get caught. It's that. With each ocean swell they think "In America I can be a star."

They always talk about people who have "It." I don't know what it is, but I want it. I want someone to look at me and say that I have "It." I want a standing ovation. I want to be discovered like Lana Turner in the coffee shop because someone thinks I have "star quality."

I can't sing. If it's dark and I'm alone I sing in the car, but I can't sing well. No one else has ever heard me sing seriously. When I sing around other people I purposely sing badly so that they'll laugh at me and it will be ok. If I tried to sing seriously and they still laughed I wouldn't able to stand it, so I make sure that can never happen. It's a risk I never take.

Sometimes I wish there were an American Idol of writing. That would be very boring to watch in reality, but imagine for a second that it could exist and that it wouldn't be boring. I think I could get a golden ticket though I often wonder if I could make it past Hollywood week. Would they say I was original or that I needed to decide what kind of artist I'd want to be. Would they overlook me and pick some other blogger who's a one trick pony abusing hyperbole, toilet humor and strike throughs? Am I pretty enough? Would the real stars be the rich kids whose parents could afford to send them to summer programs or do I have enough of a crack baby story to draw in the viewers? Would the audience vote me off? Could I even really make it past the audition or am I one of those pathetic souls who show up in costume, obviously off their meds, convinced that they can break glass with their rendition of "Wind Beneath My Wings." Do others cringe when I sing?

I want to stand on a stage and be heard. I want the lights to shine on me, for once; the audience rapt, some in tears. I want applause. I want to show up and throw down and make a song my own. I want to belt something out. If I could do that then everything would be erased: everyone who left me, who said I wasn't good enough, who never loved me. Finally, I would have proof that they were wrong.
Friday, April 10, 2009

The Deal With My Finger and Then Enough About That

Ok, here is the deal with my finger. It is healing more and more every day, but it's in a weird place and keeps sticking to the finger next to it and reopening the wound. Still, not a big deal.

I went to the surgeon Wednesday and he said it needed to heal more. On May 20th I'm going back for a surgery (I think Mohs?? maybe not. I can't remember if he said it was or wasn't that) where they scrape off some layers then put each layer under a microscope to look for any remaining cells that they might not have gotten. He said he thinks they got it all and that we'll probably be able to stop with one layer. If it turns out that the cells go deeper into my finger then we'll do more "real" surgery with stitches and all that. I think it's fine.

I had a very early stage melanoma on my finger. I knew something about it was wrong. I showed it to two other doctors who told me it was nothing. I showed it to many family members who thought I was being a hypochondriac. I just had a bad gut feeling about this thing. It appeared as a tiny, raised, jet black dot on the inside of my right pinky, around Thanksgiving. It grew exponentially in the next few months which also alarmed me. Then I remembered something about melanomas often appearing between fingers and toes. I have a friend whose husband's first wife died at 29 of a melanoma and they never knew where it started and the doctors thought it was probably between her toes. This thing nagged at me. My mom had a friend who died of melanoma and so did my former co-worker, good friend Stacey.

Despite what everyone said, I went to the dermatologist who was very concerned. The biopsy came back and confirmed my fear. The good thing is it was still very tiny and in an extremely early stage. Everything is going to be perfectly fine. I'm not even remotely worried about it. It doesn't hurt.

The moral of the story is that you should know your own body and trust your own gut. Don't listen to what other people say. Go to an expert if you have a concern because it could save your life. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it's good to get things checked out anyway. My dermatologist would also like you to know that you shouldn't forget to rub sunscreen on your hands and your ears too. A lot of people forget those parts. I know I never put sunscreen on my hands.

Ok, now enough about my pinky.

Just Humor Me, 70s Album Covers

Today a dear reader sent me a link (I love when you all do that) to her post where she scanned in a bunch of really strange 70s album covers she found. The result is much like 15 Minute Lunch's 70s catalogue post that went viral. Some of these things are so odd and funny. I about peed myself looking at this post and I really wanted to share it with you. Please visit Just Humor Me and look at this album covers. I'm sure she'd enjoy your comments as well.
Thursday, April 09, 2009

Tammy Part 6 - The End

When Tammy finished wiring her jaw shut, she looked like Jaws, the Lurch-like, metal mouthed henchman from Moonraker. Her mouth was a mess of hardware; wires tangled as her hair. It took her hours locked in the bathroom to complete the job, in which she wove the wire through her teeth like floss. She wrapped the wire around each tooth and then latticed and twisted more wire vertically to connect her top and bottom teeth. Her mouth looked like a prison fence.

She came out and announced her accomplishment through a clenched jaw. From that point on, every word she said made her sound as if she were holding in a great rage.

My mother couldn't believe it. None of us could. Poppop called her "one crazy broad." Tammy didn't care. She'd show us all when she got skinny. Then my grandfather would suddenly realize his love for her and if she had her way, she'd end up as Mommom Tammy. The idea of this gave me the kind of nightmares where you wake up screaming in a cold sweat.

"How in the hell are you going to eat?" my mother asked her.

"Liquids," Tammy answered. She'd taken to talking as little as possible. She said the wire had shredded her tongue and talking made her mouth sore.

"What if you need to throw up? If you get sick you're going to choke and die. This is dangerous," my mother tried to reason with her.

But there was no reasoning with Tammy. Especially when she was hungry and pretty soon, Tammy got hungry. Really hungry. It was like watching a junkie go through the DTs.

"I need ice cream!" Tammy said through her locked mouth.

She lived on milkshakes. She went through gallons of ice cream and milk every day trying to quell her ravenous hunger. With her jaw wired shut, she probably consumed more calories in butterfat and sugar than she did when she allowed herself to chew and gorge freely, but she couldn't see the logic and her anger increased with her weight. Still, she sucked milkshakes through her metal balleen like a humpback inhaling tidal waves of krill.

Soon we noticed an odor. My mother thought the cat had hidden a rodent. We looked everywhere. We cleaned out the garbage can and the sink disposal. The odor got worse and it became obvious that the stench of decaying mole oozed from Tammy's maw. The smell was indescribable. Once my sister puked up spaghetti and meatballs in the car and it got all gummed up in the gear shift, nearly impossible to clean. Our car never lost the sour, rotting odor. Tammy's mouth smelled worse. I've heard stories about the reek of dead bodies left undiscovered in unairconditioned apartments for many days. I think Tammy's mouth smelled similarly.

"Can't you brush your teeth?" my mother asked.

"Tried. Toothbrush got caught in the wire and ripped. Almost lost a tooth pulling it out."

We tried to get her to rinse with Listerine. She could spit it out easily enough and she didn't like the taste. Everyone took to avoiding her. When we couldn't, we maintained a safe ten foot distance, but it seemed like the stench permeated the entire house. Still, Tammy kept her jaw wired shut and still, Tammy drank milkshakes.

My parents became more and more alarmed as this progressed. It had been obvious for a long time that Tammy wasn't right in the head, but she seemed like she was with us to stay. She wasn't about to go anywhere. I heard my parents discussing it in their bedroom late at night.

"She's nuts," my father said.

"What can we do? She has no one, no where to go."

"We could give her some advance notice so she could get another job."

This didn't work. Tammy liked it with us.

"She's too comfortable," my father said.

"We have to make things harder for her so she'll want to leave."

"That's easy," my Dad said.

"How?"

"Stop buying her ice cream."

The next day my mother had a talk with Tammy.

"Look," she said, "things are hard for us. We can't afford to pay you and feed you at the same time. In fact, we can't even afford to feed you. The deal with the Hungarian's not finalized yet and I scrape together every cent I can selling produce with my Dad to feed the kids and pay the bills and I can barely make rent this month because the cost of your ice cream. The kids don't even get to have treats this often. I haven't been able to get them ice cream in a month and they're skinny as hell. Ice cream's expensive and you eat two week's worth in a day. So if you want it, you're gonna have to find other means at getting it."

Tammy wasn't happy when we cut her off. After starving herself for three days she went in the bathroom and with pliers, snipped and ripped the wires out of her teeth. Jaw freed, she was so hungry that she proceeded to tear through our refrigerator like a Tasmanian Devil. In two days our refrigerator was bare.

"This is ridiculous. We can't live like this," my father declared.

My mother took me to the grocery store.

"Ok, this is what we're going to do. We're going to get a few things that don't need refrigeration and we're going to hide them under our beds. Eat in your room and don't let Tammy see you or come in there. We have to do this or we won't get anything to eat. For dinner, on the nights I'm home, we'll take you out to eat without her."

I was kind of excited about this for a couple reasons. Number one - my parents and I were united against a common enemy. We had the same goal to rid our household of Tammy once and for all and I was more than willing to participate in Operation Starve Out. Number two, we could go out to dinner which meant pizza, grilled cheeses with greasy diner fries or my favorite pasta primavera at the new place Daly's Dandelion that opened up by the mall. Third, I was allowed to not only eat in my room, but I was permitted, instructed even, to store a box of Devil Dogs under my bed. Yes, this was very exciting.

It took about two weeks, in which Tammy did actually appear to drop a few pounds. One day she stormed up out of her underground room and demanded my mother buy her a train ticket.

"Where do you want to go?" my mother asked, feigning innocence and surprise.

"I'm going back to Utah. They got food there. I know people. I can get work. I can get something to eat. I'm too hungry here and you all can't afford to pay me or feed me."

"Well, I'll borrow some money from the Hungarian and we'll do what we can to help you get back home."

That weekend, Tammy left just as she'd come, trashbags in hand. We celebrated after dropping her off at Grand Central by grabbing falafels and strolling the cobbled streets of South Street Seaport. It was one of the happiest days of my life. As we walked I learned how displeased my parents had been about Tammy.

"She never once ran the vacuum cleaner. She never so much wiped off a dish. She made a bigger mess and to think I wanted her to help me out by cleaning."

"I thought we'd come home and find she'd eaten the kids."

"I'm shocked she didn't go out to dad's pickup and eat a bag of raw turnips."

My father laughed.

"I can't believe he slept with her."

"What??" I said.

"I can't believe you said that around her," my mother admonished my father.

She turned to me.

"Nothing. He did not just say that."

"Poppop and Tammy -"

"Don't you say another word about it! Nothing happened. You don't need to hear things like this."

On the drive home from the city that evening, my parents tried to figure out what to do next. They lit cigarettes and didn't put the windows down far enough.

"The problem is," my mother started, "I should have gone through an agency or something."

"Exactly," my father said, "like Rivka the Au Pair down the street. We can get a girl from her agency."

"Yes! We need a foreigner. American girls aren't worth a damn. These foreign girls'll work their asses off and be happy to do it."

"That's it then."

My parents turned to me in the backseat.

"We're getting an Au Pair!!"

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Chag Sameach! It's Passover!

Sorry for interrupting the Tammy Chronicles (as some of you have been calling this current story), but it's Passover tonight! I'd like to wish all of my Jewish readers a very happy and healthy holiday. May all of you eat better food than that to which I am about to be subjected.

If you'd like to read more about my past Passover adventures, visit last April's archives and scroll through. There are several posts and an unappetizing photo essay. I'm going to try to pull that off again this year, although photography is strictly prohibited. Hopefully this year I'll be able to make it all the way home after being force fed stewed prunes and won't have to stop at a rest area breaking out in a cold sweat.

Wish me luck.

I'll wrap up the Tammy story shortly.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Tammy Part 5

My grandfather looked a lot like his truck - sturdy, yet rusted, like he could get the job done, but not without some struggle. He was close to sixty and weathered. Tall and skinny everywhere else, he had a big gut. We used to always ask him when his due date was. He had a long, thin nose and a full head of snow white hair that he combed over to one side so it always fell over one eye. His hair reminded me of the wings of snow geese. Poppop June was a trucker. He'd spent a long lifetime hauling produce up and down the East Coast and he had a small produce stand at the Amish Market outside of Millpond for many years, which he closed in the winter when the fruits and vegetables were out of season. He swore and joked constantly, chewed tobacco and spit the juice in a Folger's can. He liked Patsy Cline and George Jones and smoked Pall Malls. His favorite foods were served at breakfast: pancakes, scrapple, biscuits and gravy, cream chipped beef on toast. I never saw him in anything other than a plaid shirt tucked into jeans or khakis.

I've never quite understood this, but Poppop had a way with the ladies. After being married to Memere Marie for 27 years, she'd had enough of his carousing. They got a divorce when I was in the first or second grade when Poppop took up with a 19 year old barmaid from Ohio named Flipper (this is its own story too). Nine months later my grandfather had a whole new family and a daughter eight years younger than me, his grand daughter. A year after that he had another son and not too long after that Flipper took off with the baby boy and left Poppop with the baby girl. I have never been clear on what happened or why. I don't know why she took her son and left her daughter, but she did. I don't even know what made her leave, except that she was abusive and an alcoholic and wanted to go back to Ohio. Maybe she was young and wanted to party and not be married to a sixty year old man. I don't know, but I do know that a sixty year old man whose job required him to be away for most of the time was not in the best position to take care of a toddler on his own. For a while my great grandmother, who was near eighty, moved in and tried to help out, but she was frail and not well suited to keeping up with an active three year old either. Most of my memories of my great grandmother involve her sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of black coffee and a lit cigarette, eating Sunbeam Bread straight out of the red and yellow bag. She existed on caffeine, nicotine and starch.

When my mother called my grandfather and asked him to come up, he agreed because he could find more work in New York. Winter was coming. He'd closed his stand for the season and needed cash fast. One of his favorite laments was that he never knew how he was going to make it through the winter, so this offered him a solution. He could leave his little girl with me and Tammy. He'd work in the daytime when my parents were usually home. Then when he'd get home in the afternoon, it would be time for them to leave to go to meetings with the Hungarian and he'd be home to make sure that Tammy wasn't starving us or performing heinous acts of bestiality on the dog and cat. It would work out well for everyone.

My mother and grandfather decided to make money that they would peddle winter vegetables out of the back of my grandfather's pick up truck. My mother's idea was that they could drive the truck (ice cream style) through the religious neighborhoods of Monsey, New York where the Chassidic Jews there would become loyal customers. My grandfather thought that they could also do well in the projects of Yonkers where the blacks were just as desperate for cheap food. My grandfather would pick up what he could in Millpond and haul it up in his tractor trailer, which he'd park at a nearby flea market. He'd them supplement that with produce he could buy dirt cheap wholesale at Hunts Point Market in the Bronx. He knew many of the vendors there. During the week, he'd haul and buy produce and on the weekends during the days my mother would join him as they drove from poor neighborhoods to housing projects peddling root vegetables, cabbage and fifty pound sacks of russet potatoes.

All week long Tammy had been anxiously awaiting my grandfather's arrival. I couldn't figure out why, but maybe she imagined he'd be a father figure to her or maybe she was just desperate for any single man, even if he happened to be sixty. She'd been on her best behavior since the foot stomping incident. We all had really. That day was a catharthis for everyone and as we'd all behaved like idiots we all felt badly and vowed to clean up our acts. Tammy had even made Shake 'n' Bake one night.

When Poppop walked in the door she turned bright red. He took one look at her and said: "GOD DAMN." This could have been interpreted in several ways, but it seemed to me as if it meant "Jesus Lord that is one ugly assed woman." It could very well have meant the opposite, but I don't believe it did.

Having set her sights on my grandfather, Tammy turned into Super Nanny all of a sudden. She adored my grandfather's daughter and doted on her constantly, while generally ignoring me. I get this. A pudgy, blonde toddler is a hell of a lot more cuddly and appealing than an angst-ridden, sullen, eleven year old with a bad mullet.

One day Tammy walked to the pharmacy and stole herself a bag of makeup. She took to wearing the green lipstick and press-on, french manicure nails my parents manufactured. All of a sudden Tammy seemed concerned about her weight, asking me repeatedly if she looked fat in her pink sweatshirt and stirrup pants.

"Did your grandfather say anything about me?" she'd ask.

"No."

"Did you think he was looking at me last night? I thought he might be looking at me."

"I'm pretty sure he wasn't looking at you."

"I'm pretty sure he was. Do you think he likes me?"

"Probably not."

"It's because I'm fat isn't it?"

"Maybe."

The idea of anyone finding my grandfather attractive was about as disgusting to me as anyone finding Tammy attractive. The whole thing was just terribly, terribly wrong.

"I'm losing this weight and then maybe your grandfather'll like me," Tammy announced one afternoon.

"Oh yeah? How? You going on a diet?"

"I been trying but I ain't got no willpower. I like food too much."

"So what are you gonna do?"

"I'm thinking about wiring my jaw shut."

"You're what?"

"I"m gonna walk up to the hardware store, get some wire and I'm gonna wire my teeth together so I can't eat."

"Won't you die?"

"I'll drink liquids through my teeth."

"You can't do that. I'm telling my parents."

"I done it once before. It's the only thing that works. You watch. I'll get this weight off in a month and then your grandfather'll think I'm hot."

"You're really gonna wire your jaw shut?" I asked.

"Hell yeah."

And with that Tammy set off up the hill towards the hardware store to get the wire.

To be continued...

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Tammy, Part 4

I don't know what posessed me to call the 700 Club of all things. I'd watch it sometimes, late at night if no one else was up. I'd go into the den and smack the TV so the volume wouldn't shoot up and I'd watch the religious fanatics on television, with their unmoving helmets of hair, praying for people and promising to solve all of their problems through their direct line to Jesus. I was eleven. I was confused. I had come from a home where everything was strict, rigid, ordered and planned. Every second of my life had been controlled right down to the littlest detail. I had been sheltered from everything that could have possibly corrupted me and I was disciplined with the expectation that I should grow up to be equally as rigid, closed and self-righteous. I lived every second of my life in fear of punishment. Then suddenly, that life was all gone and I was instantly dropped into a life that was, in every way, the exact opposite. With my mother, not much mattered. There was no church, no piano lessons, no expectations of what I would be when I grew up. We had no schedules or plans and no one controlled me. I could make my own decisions. If I wanted something to eat I could go get it. If I didn't want dinner I could go watch TV. On TV, I could watch whatever I wanted and no one cared. If I wanted to run naked, I could. If I wanted to ride my bike all day long, my mother didn't think twice about it. Ice cream for breakfast wasn't a problem. If I had wanted to wear makeup to school I could have. Morals weren't such absolute black and whites. There exceptions, grey areas and as a child, coming from a life where I had known no compromises with wrongs and rights and where exceptions were never made, I didn't understand the concept that sometimes you had to do what you had to do to get by. This was simply incomprehensible. It is something that I still struggle with as an adult, though I find the older I get and oddly, the more educated I become, the better I am at dealing with nuance. Still, I can be a very rigid and uncompromising person sometimes and I think this is what my mother meant when she said I was just like my father. As a child with no concept of flexibility, who saw her father as mean, I thought when my mother said that I was like my father that she meant I was mean.

My father traumatized me. Moving suddenly between two, polar opposite households was jarring, confusing and also traumatizing for me. At eleven years old, I was unbelievably fucked up. My mother knew I was fucked up. At the same time, she was, in her own way, also traumatized. She had spent the past decade dealing with the loss of her only child to a cruel lunatic. She sold drugs to pay for lawyers. She lost her fertility, so I was her only chance to have a child and she needed to get me back. She got busted. She went to jail. She remarried. She dealt with addiction, poverty, her own parents' divorce, her father starting a new family in his late 50s with a girl who was 19 who left him with two babies. My mother had panic attacks. She had no education, no skills and a lot of big dreams. She was determined to create a family and she would do anything she had to do to make it work. At the time she finally got me back and I finally came to live with her in New York, my mother wasn't even thirty years old. She was impossibly young to have gone through so much. She was resentful and mistrusting of authority and systems because they had done nothing but screw her over in the past.

At eleven years old, I didn't know or understand any of this.

I had grown up with my biological father drilling into my head that my mother was a criminal, that my stepfather was in the mafia and that they were both going to hell. He told me they were evil people. He said if I went to live with them I would be evil too, that their friends who were drug lords and mafia henchmen would kidnap me and hold me for ransom. He said I would be murdered and that no one would take care of me and I would grow up to live on the streets if I survived. None of this was true. My parents hadn't sold drugs or done drugs in years. They wouldn't even drink wine with dinner and both of them were committed to sobriety and to creating some semblance of a family life the best they could. No one was in the mafia. While they did often hang around some colorful characters, there was never any violence and the only danger was that sometimes my parents, in their naivete and desire to become fabulously wealthy, would trust people with their money that they shouldn't have. (Like the Hungarian, but that is another story.)

At eleven years old, I didn't understand this either and when Tammy lumbered into our lives, shattering my dreams of bread baking with Prairie Dawn, I thought maybe my biological father had been right and I was going to hell after all. I thought that my mother saw nothing wrong with Tammy.

The truth was that when my parents saw Tammy, all hulking six foot something of her, with her zebra leggings, lugging her garbage bags off of that train, that they were just as horrified as I was. They realized there had been a terrible misunderstanding. They knew Tammy was going to be trouble, but they felt like they were stuck. In a depserate situation, with money quickly dwindling, they didn't have another option. They had to trust the Hungarian and be there when he demanded because he was going to make them rich. They didn't know anyone else in the area to stay with me for the odd hours that they would have to be away. Tammy was not ideal. She was not what they had in mind, but she had come all the way from Utah and had nowhere to go. Thus, an odd dependence was born between my parents and Tammy. She needed them as much as they needed her and best of all, they didn't have to pay her as long as they fed her and gave her a place to live. It was only going to be for a very short time anyway. They didn't see the deal with the Hungarian as something that would take very long. Tammy was a brief sacrifice that we'd have to make until the money came in, they could get rid of her and we could move into a mansion and live happily ever after.

My mother has always been far more optimistic and understanding of people than I have. She empathized with Tammy. She too had a child stolen from her. She knew what it was like to be dumb and young and desperate and she wanted to give Tammy a chance because no one had given her a chance. And everyone deserves a chance. She allowed Tammy to shoplift because we didn't have the money to buy her clothes and God knows we were all sick of having to see her in those zebra leggings with her gut hanging out of that cut off tee shirt. Plus, it really was getting cold and you can't let someone freeze in the winter because there's no money to buy warm clothes. Tammy shoplifted necessities, not luxuries. She didn't even have a pair of shoes.

At eleven years old, I didn't understand any of this.

Stealing was wrong, period. Tammy was crude and ugly, period. My parents appeared to side with Tammy over me, period. I was definitely going to hell for lying about my school being flooded and I didn't see any way out of the situation. So I called the 700 Club.

I had memorized the number. I felt like if I called the 700 Club that God would see that I had made an effort to repent for lying to get out of school. Maybe then he'd get rid of Tammy for me. Maybe, if I called the 700 Club, one of those people with that perfect hair would talk to me and be nice to me and side with me. A sweet voiced woman with a thick southern accent answered the prayer line. I pictured her with piles of hot rolled, platinum hair like Dolly Parton, as I told her my whole, long dramatic tale and we prayed fervently together. When the call ended, I felt renewed. God was on my side again.

That was, until the 700 Club called back to talk to my parents. I heard my mother through the door.

"She did what?"

"She told you who? Oh really. She did? Oh she said that, did she?? I see."

"And she told you how she lied about school? Mmm Hmm."

"You want to pray with me? Well let me tell you something..."

When my parents called me out of my bedroom I knew for sure that they were going to beat the living hell out of me. I knew I was in some serious trouble. If I had done something like this with my father and stepmother I wouldn't have seen the light of day for a year, but with these two, I had no idea what they would do.

"So you called the 700 Club on us?" my mother asked, "Have you lost your mind?"

I got a long lecture. It was not pleasant. By the end I was a blubbering, hysterical wreck and then my parents did exactly what parents should do. They didn't beat the hell out of me. They also didn't blow the whole thing off and let me get away with it. They punished me. I was grounded for six weeks. I couldn't use the phone or watch TV and the only way that I could get off was to get on the honor roll at school.

Strangely enough, my punishment relieved me. I could only imagine two extremes. Either I was going to get beaten or no one was going to do anything at all, which would have meant that I didn't matter and that no one cared, but when they had to, my parents actually came up with a fitting punishment which wasn't cruel and which made sense. The fact that they did that, while I couldn't articulate this at the time, made me trust them. It proved to me that although they were both extremely inexperienced at parenting, that when it was truly important and when it really mattered that they could act in my best interest.

The next day Tammy made the peanutbutter cookies. She stopped walking to the bar at night and stayed home. I still tried to avoid her as best as I could, but at least she was making an effort.

Back then, I didn't think my mother believed me about Tammy. The thing was, she had had a nagging unease about leaving me alone with her all along. The night after my punishment was handed down, after I'd gone to bed, my mother called my grandfather, her father, and asked him to come up and stay with us for a while. It would be in his best interest, because there was a lot of work for him in New York. He could make some good money in New York and get out of the slow economy of Millpond for a while. My grandfather thought about it and agreed. At the time, he was in his own desperate situation and this would be a good solution for him as well.

The next weekend my grandfather packed his three year old daughter into his rust colored pick-up, loaded to overflowing with fifty pound bags of russet potatoes,and headed north.

When he arrived, Tammy fell in love at first sight.

To be continued...

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