Friday, April 17, 2009



I am afraid that my mom is going to suddenly snap out of the Alzheimer’s and be royally pissed. Three years ago I sold her house and cast off about 99% of her possessions via grotesque garage sale and Out of the Closet and the dumpster. Now we have cut what she carries with her by half again. Richard and I arrive to move her from “hotel” to house and she is sleeping on a couch in the t.v. room. We enter her room to begin packing and I notice that eighteen year old Sally the cat is rail thin and wheezing and boogereyed. I find most of the food I’ve provided over the last months stashed in the closet. The new place has agreed very reluctantly to take the cat but surely would rescind upon discovering the degree of decrepitude. I desperately call Himself and he arrives swiftly. I complain about the cellphone a lot and sometimes that he is an asshole, which he sometimes is, but he is the best husband in the world when it matters. The staff all come to say goodbye to Sally and make sure that her toys are packed. I tell them she is moving to my neighbors. The lady from the front desk waves the birdy on the stick and the cat bats at it listlessly. Up until a few months ago my mother would rhapsodize about how much she loved the cat but now she does not remember her. I pack up more clothes than she needs but all are beautiful and I think it will make her feel good to have them. We throw out bags of kitsch shit that she loved and attached great sentimental meaning to and beautiful garments ruined by 3 years of institutional laundry and incontinence. I pack her a few of the wide belts that flatter her Scarlet O’Hara waist and a couple of the less ugly pieces of jewelry. Himself walks right past Grandma and her boyfriend as he carries Sally the cat out for her last ride. She doesn’t recognize either of them.

I hate going to the hotel. I hate the thickness of the air purifier used to mask the effluvia of the demented masses. I hate the smell of the food. I get sick, deep in the pit of my stomach and keep my jaw tightly clamped to ward off dry heaves or worse. It is a sickness unlike any I have ever known and it is difficult for me to describe my state at the anticipation of visiting the hotel or at the bittersweet, wracked with guilt, relief there is at leaving. Some of the residents are less than placid, others drooling zombies, and inevitably I am yelled at or grabbed or pled with to facilitate an escape. I avoid going alone either dragging Richard or bribing one of the kids with lunch. For the last few months, she doesn’t recognize the hotel when we return from Saturday lunch. She is frightened and bewildered when we leave. I close the door of the hotel for the last time and feel the rush of sad sweet relief.

I unpack what is left of her possessions in the new house. I realize that heartlessly, I have tossed all her jewelry boxes and her plastic finery is relegated to remain loose in an unlined drawer. My mother was fanatical about lined drawers and would hoard wall and contact paper. I have been too spastic to correctly cut a piece of contact paper and peel off the paper backing so it smoothly lines a drawer and I abandoned this practice years ago. Mom discovered an unlined drawer at my house once and looked at me like I’d opened a beer bottle with my teeth. She makes herself at home immediately and is delighted by the kitchen and Precious, the Pomeranian, which she refers to as a cat. Instead of begging me not to leave her, she barely notices when I go.

There is a message that some of her medications have been left at the hotel and I must return for them. Her boyfriend, the doctor is sitting at their table having lunch all alone. I realize though that for as much company as my mother is capable of being and the doctor is capable of appreciating, the hotel staff can take any other of the lady residents there, apply some Aquanet and seat her in my mom’s chair and no one will be the wiser.

I carefully back a large box of framed family photos, of me and my kids and her parents and my sister. There are too many for the walls of her smaller room but Ning, the owner, says she’ll have Mom choose the ones she wants and I can pick up the rest. The entire box is returned to me intact. “She says she doesn’t care. All she cares about are her clothes.” I have offed her cat and ruthlessly trashed the nostalgia of her life but it is a great blessing for her that I know her as well as I do. One of the great tragedies of my life is that she never knew me, and slips every day further from ever knowing me, as well as I know her. Nevertheless, I will insist that they hang up the most beautiful photo of Mom that I can find. And maybe a good one of me too.

I visualize the Passover week as a journey and in this year particularly it feels like one. With the help of my family I make a sweet Seder to begin the trip out of Egypt and tell the story with people we love. It is a lot of work but of all the meals I make in the course of a year, it is my favorite. Until Thanksgiving. Then that will be my favorite.

I realize that the 60 year old business I own may not survive the downturn in the economy. I inquire, thinking a lot of coursework will be involved, into reinstating a teaching credential and discover I am able to renew it instantly on line with a credit card number and the click of a mouse. I am now a credentialed California teacher but that will not stop me from saying “fuck,” I haven’t taught in 17 years but I’ve volunteered to tutor and brush up my skills at something I love to do.

826LA has a real groovy artsy homey feeling. Floor to high ceiling shelved with Murakami. Beverly Cleary. The History of Communism. There are squishy sofas and hipster tutors, tending toward the younger side but also a few of us weathered egghead types. Scads of Latino children. Four Macs of intermediate age which reduce me to ask a fellow tutor for help by saying , “Excuse me, I’m a PC.” Er, “Excuse me, I’m a big stupid asshole.”

On my first day, I am assigned to shills. Jerry, a firth grader, who despite the stultifyiness of his assigned school homework performs like a little machine. The program director brings a copy of a handsome literary journal bearing one of Jerry’s illustrations. I just sit there with him for a few minutes and we look at it. Sister Stephanie is a front toothless sweet faced first grader with pink barrettes who takes enormous delight in completing her worksheet and learning the difference between “quiet” and “quite.” She clasps the sleeve of my sweater and caresses it until she suspects her brother is getting more than his fair share of my attention and then she gives it a good yank.

There is a gaggle of boys between eight and ten who are hyper and physical and snotty and the program director glares at them and says, “Just let me take care of them.” One of the kids reminds me of a seventh grader I taught in Compton in about 1979. He was ablaze with rage. He couldn’t read a word and spoke little English but could be nasty in Spanish. Recently enrolled, he was on the waiting list for evaluation by the school psychologist. He was hitting other kids and disruptive all the time. Other teachers at the middle school paraded about with paddles and they used them frequently. I spoke about the boy to the principal and one day she arrived with what I gleaned was a newly arrived couple with a baby and some toddlers. The principal disappeared. My Spanish was at about an elementary school level but there were no social worker or translator available. So I just said something like, “He behave very bad daily.” The man slapped the boy who glowered and winced. The man grumbled that the boy wasn’t his kid and he didn’t want him and was stuck with him so he better damn well behave. I don’t remember what happened next. Another kid I taught in Compton though calls me once in a while when he’s high and asks me to invest in a business. Even though he is brain fried it is remarkable that he remembers me, his 9th grade teacher over thirty years ago.

I write my prisoners and send them Pesach cards. They write back. One of the guys hits me up for stamps or money and obviously wants me to perceive him as a victim. I send him twenty stamps and tell him stuff about myself and just don’t respond to what seems manipulative. Another sends me a sad prison visiting room photo of himself and “the love of his life.” He was born in 1965 but looks older. He writes, “Thank you so very much for bringing a huge smile to my face and heart. I read and re-read your letter.”

The Dodgers massacred the Giants 11-1 on opening day. Orlando Hudson hit for a cycle, (a single, a double, a triple and a run) something I have never seen. Opening day is the best day of the year at Chavez Ravine, a new season, a blank slate and we brim with hope as we prowl the spruced up stadium checking out new food concessions and debating about whether this year’s seats are better than last year’s. There are no Dodger tickets this year. I cry every time I see Manny on a billboard and then I feel like an asshole because there are hungry children and professional sports stand for a lot of things I really hate. I still would have liked to sit in the sun, and listen to Scully on my earphone radio and see Hudson hit the cycle. Spuds didn’t take it as hard, or if he did, didn’t let on. He knows there will be many more opening days and really, I know it too.

The kids and I attend a small college production of Hair. I must have seen it more than once at the Aquarius Theatre in 1969 when I was enthralled with culture and politics in radical transition, just like Spuds is now. Eloquent or shocking young voices made me feel important. I expect it all to be icky but it is wonderful and powerful and staged with great brio. A few decent singers would have been swell but the kids are earnest and sweet and giving it their all. Hilton Als writes about the painful depiction of the black male in the NY revival and I notice that in our Pasadena adjacent version the nude scene is o.k. (although not everyone in the cast strips) but Prisoners of Niggertown (it’s a dirty little war) is changed to Prisoners of Honkeytown. There was a good deal of “Hey Hey L.B.J. how many boys did you kill today?” and my kids were prodded to chant it but I couldn’t. I remember the Great Society. His daughter spoke in an interview about being a young girl in the White House and hearing from her bedroom protesters screaming "Hey Hey L.B.J..." all day and night.

I return home exhilarated and nostalgic after tutoring and Hair and Himself is eager to sleep. He does this psycho thing of getting up at 3:30 a.m. to catch the train which has something to do with the way the sun hits the east facing window but I don’t remember the all of it, either because it was of no interest or seemed specious, or both, and I stopped listening. Nevertheless, I know how important it is for him to sleep these nights so I peremptorily, feeling in a chatty mood, shut myself up with a sleeping pill. It goes down the wrong pipe and suddenly sounds akin to a whale in heat begin issuing from my throat until I am able to loudly gargle to dislodge the tablet. Earlier in the week our cats (obviously sensing the treachery we are capable of wielding with cats) deposit a dead rat love offering at the foot of our bed and Himself is awakened by my spoon in the garbage disposal shrill voice to perform another service in the odious annals of husbandry.

I honor how small what’s left of my mother has become and ruthlessly/lovingly wrest her from an institution and return her to a home. The Passover journey is almost over and I have survived and I am proud and I am weary. My chametz is sold to a gentile for a dollar and I will buy it back in person. I paired down my mother’s things for this phase of her journey and now I must decide what I should take back for my dollar and what it’s time to cast aside.

Chametz, or leaven is a metaphor for vanity and arrogance. Like the yeast makes bread rise, our egos get puffed up. Yeastfree I transition my mom and her clothes and keep my horror at bay and show love. I accept that the business my dad started in 1950 might have passed the point of no return and I begin to explore other ways to earn a living. I resist the temptation to read my horoscope on fifteen different astrological websites and do puzzles and instead write letters to people that society has sent away to rot. I make Seder. I tutor children. I help Spuds with an essay about morality being an inborn quality and insurance for mankind’s’ evolution. The 16 year old travels two hours on the train for geometry tutoring but arrives without his textbook. I do not kill him or even yell with particular vigor. I buy my beloved spring strawberries from the farmer’s market and massage the gnarly tense spot in his neck. The Passover journey is nearly over and I find myself a bit closer to who I want to be. I will hand back the worn gentile dollar with instructions to cast away all that is vain and arrogant and to return only the leaven that is sweet. There is sweetness there just for me, the comforting balm at the journey’s end. There is sweetness there to share. I’m buying it back for a dollar. If I can only decide what to wear.


1 comment:

Fionnchú said...

Well, I officially don't get out of bed until 4, although blessed or cursed with an internal timer, I usually force myself out of the covers right about 4 a.m. If you leave on a later southbound train, the sun hits your face full force, and since the windows are not tinted, this hurts my eyes even with sunglasses. This solar angle's alignment with my face is the reason for my earliness.

I did think too the cats sensed our surreptitious dealings! They seemed to know this when I returned; even Gary came in to sit on my chest as usual. I felt bad, but at least donating the extra food and supplies to the feral-cat care providers perhaps showed a bit of the Franciscan spirit about which I blogged just the day before!

I wonder who buys your chametz? I guess since we did not look at it for eight more days and then some, the mold on the old challah grew! Some kind of metaphor? xxx me