Friday, February 12, 2010

Cheap Date


Cheap Date

There is an old school Italian bakery near where my mother stays in Eagle Rock and I notice they have a cookie called a “hermit” which I remember she used to like. I remember that I like them too and polish off a few myself before I arrive to visit Mom. She is farther adrift every time I see her but when I arrive with the hermits, I find her surprisingly alert. She says, “That’s my daughter” which floors me because she has been uncertain exactly who I am for many weeks. For the first time in a number of visits, she is clutching her handbag. She ails with a cough early in the week and I deliver two rounds of antibiotics so I expect to find her drawn and frail but there is no sign of illness. I offer her a hermit. Recently, apparently confused by them, she spits out nuts and other chunky bits that she used to like. I am concerned about the hermits, which contain raisins and almonds, but she tastes one and her face softens. “I love these,” she murmurs again and again as she works her way through the bag. I do not remember ever seeing her more purely happy. Even though the big TV. has on a particularly grating reality show about Carnie Wilson and her preparations to host The Newlywed Game instead of a comforting old movie, I stay a bit longer this visit. My mother savors the cookies and I savor that there is a bit more of her than usual.


As it often does, it rains on my birthday which further dampens my family’s scant enthusiasm for celebration. I had originally requested a Mexican dinner but the place is a bit far afield and high risk for mariachis which induce apoplexy in Himself so I choose an Italian joint in the neighborhood for which I have a coupon. It is not haute cuisine but satisfying in that Eye-talian food of childhood memory sort of way. The owners are corpulent twins who bear an extraordinary resemblance to Tweedles Dee and Dum. The coupon says explicitly that the user should leave a tip based on the full amount of the bill and because they seem like nice people and maybe business isn’t so great if they are issuing coupons I cough up 25% pre coupon gratuity plus an extra ten bucks, leave the cash and the coupon on the table and we leave. We begin to pull out of the parking lot and one of the owners comes dashing out, waving furiously. He admonishes us for not announcing that we were using a coupon before ordering, although the coupon itself does not specify that this is required. I tell him that we left more than adequate cash but this gains us no immunity from his remonstrance. I probably won’t bother with a coupon again if it means the humiliation of presenting it to the waiter before dinner or being chased down after like a scofflaw. I am resigned, I guess, to a life of home cooking and taco trucks.

My sister Sheri always thought I was pretentious and high falutin’ and I thought she was low class and she would laugh maybe about the coupon humiliation. Early in my marriage, Sheri, having bankrupted, via a cocaine addicted husband and a gambling compulsion, a videotape rental store that my father had bankrolled for her, is reduced to living with my mother. My sister has just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her marriage is tenuous. The husband drifts from my mother’s to other places and then back. She’d met this fourth, if you count common-law, husband and as the family always referred to it, “stole him away” from her best friend since childhood who’d been having an affair with him. He had been married at the time and his rejection of the convention of monogamy is consistent through his third marriage to my sister. She clings to him desperately but he clings back only when experiencing a deficit of cash. My sister has no resources to live anywhere but my mom’s but there are constant acrimonious explosions and I am frequently called to referee. At the time I refer to Fulton Avenue as Grey Gardens but having recently seen both the Maysles brother’s documentary again and the HBO dramatization with Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore it is clear that my mother and sister were far more vicious than Edie’s big and little ever were.

I think perhaps they might be able to reach some sort of détente if they have a few sessions with a therapist. I arrange for them to see mine and am included in the session. I remember nothing about what transpired but at my next session the therapist seems almost to be chiding me for my naïveté when he tells me that there was absolutely nothing he can do to help either of them. I haven’t thought of this in years and do not remember how I reacted at the time. It comes back to me from nowhere and I tell Himself and my dear friend Richard the story. Both of them erupt into snorting laughter. At first I am taken aback and then I begin to laugh myself and it seems that maybe I’ve gotten somewhere.

After the therapist, things get worse between my mother and sister and despite her physician’s admonishment to avoid warm weather, my sister follows her husband to Las Vegas. She is able to get some public assistance and low cost housing and my father and I subsidize her. It comes to light that while living at my mother’s house, my sister had intercepted some of the many credit card offers my mother received in the mail and opened a number of accounts in my mother’s name. She wracked up enormous debt. My father and I are already stretched, paying for private nurses because my sister is adamant about living independently but she is in genuine danger of serious legal consequences regarding the credit cards. We pay them off. My mother notes that no matter how infirm my sister was during her stay on Fulton Avenue, she listened for the mail and waddled out to the box with her walker every single afternoon.

My sister is able to remain in her Vegas apartment until the day she dies. I hold her hand and then go to Applebee’s with her husband and his sister. They are into Santeria and talk about that some. If I hadn’t paid it, I would still be sitting there waiting for someone to pick up that check. I fly directly home where I have two kids in diapers, instead of remaining for the funeral. I pay for a modest burial at a local mortuary and tell my brother-in-law that within that budget he can make whatever arrangements he likes. He calls me again and again. He screams that the funeral my sister had wanted would be ten thousand dollars. He calls me cheap and selfish and a bitch but I won’t, really can’t, budge. I tell my father about my brother-in-law’s harassment of me regarding the funeral and he says to tell him to put it on my mother’s credit card.

The rest of the birthday is spent watching three episodes of The Wire which Himself and I have embarked on now that Dexter is over for the season. It is complex and stimulating and in the cold house we watch it wrapped together in a blanket. I realize that Himself’s motivation is purely to absorb the warmth generated by my ample body and he would find a size 14 hot water bottle just as effective but after over twenty years it is still nice to avail myself of this cheap thrill.

Valentine’s Day is another one of those holidays that’s destined to disappoint. When we were in elementary school the rule was you had to bring a valentine for everyone in the class. All you could really do was choose a particularly romantic one for a special boy or one with a skunk for a classmate deserving of retribution. When the impartiality requirements were lifted, I received very few valentines. For twenty years now though, I’ve gotten one annually. It is always written in an elegant hand with a fountain pen and is usually homemade. But even though we keep our efforts humble there is an artificiality that isn’t conducive to romantic milestones. The pressure and obligation to make a memory sort of precludes the serendipity and convergence this actually requires.

Years ago we make the mistake of going to a fancy restaurant for an ostensibly romantic meal. It just seems like the sort of thing you’re supposed to do so we find ourselves crammed in like sardines. The meal is overpriced and pre-plated so diners can be in and out in less than an hour. Dining out on Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day or New Year’s Eve is for suckers. Dining out on Thanksgiving is for the pathetic and dining out on Christmas is for the pathetic and/or the Jewish.

Before marriage, we spend a Valentine’s Day in New York. We eat at the Russian Tea Room. I just remember that it was very red. There is a snowstorm and there are very few taxis. I want to ride in a horse drawn carriage through Central Park but Himself is adamantly against it for reasons now, decades later, I am still not certain of. This perhaps is tit for tat for a trip to Ireland when we arrive in Dublin for the first time, in a pounding rainstorm during rush hour. Confounded by roundabouts, and driving on the left, in the days before GPS or even Mapquest we finally locate our hotel, a charming conversion of a Georgian townhouse, and are informed that no en-suite rooms are available. I will not traipse down the hall to share a bathroom with strangers. He is furious at me but I will not capitulate and we end up navigating the city for several more hours to become ensconced at a charmless modern high-rise hotel. In a room with a private bath.

I note with every birthday now how much farther I am getting from the probable midpoint. 53 x 2=106 so midlife has pretty much vanished from the rear view mirror. It has always been very important to me to have something to look forward to but now it seems sometimes there’s not much more than early bird specials and specialized medicine. All that remains of the bar mitzvah is inflicting psychological torture on Spuds to get his thank you notes completed. There is no travel on our horizon and for the last few weeks our professional situations have been particularly thankless. I watch a lot of TV and I look forward to it. Sometimes this goes on the list of signs of depression and sometimes it’s just that I like TV, always have, and why the hell not? Food, by the way, is subject to the same discomfiting rubric as television.

The coffee makes itself at 5 a.m. and I wake to the aroma. I buy some particularly warm, albeit ugly, slippers for half price at Target and I leave them bedside and it feels good to slip into them in the cold morning. I will come home from work and the DVR will have prison documentaries, The Daily Show and The Office. Some days I surrender to the beaten downness and in despair forget the comfort of these tiny sweet pleasures. No matter though what travails a day may bring, I look forward to the end, when the lights go out and we whisper and breathe. In the darkness, every night, not just holidays, I am reminded of the reason for and the God in having travelled more than halfway through.
Shabbat Shalom.

1 comment:

Fionnchú said...

Prison documentaries indeed. I guess anything to make our life look more glamorous! Speaking of budgets, that tab even for simple fare was far more than what they pay per diem in Tehachapi.

To thit: if the coupon cost $10 for $25 off and you left not only the 25% tip but $10 extra than Tweedledee (or -dum) came out well ahead of our "saving"; did we spend more than the actual meal? I was already mulling this over before you mentioned it. I know you reign as financial wizard but my bafflement endures.

I am sorry we will have to find another local pizza joint now, as I liked it, but the humiliation of this owner's rant rankles me, and I am sorry that it dampened the evening's meal. It would have been fun if we had taken off already and he was waddling after us as seen in our rear-view mirror. I think our homemade pizzas with TJ dough taste better anyway, and you have to endure my b-day dinner at El Morfi eating my beloved white pizza anyhow.

Otherwise, as I have shelved in my own memory deep any Sheri episodes, mercifully few as they were by the time I came along, I guess I learn anew where our money once went. I hope its targeted, funereal expenditure created some kind of good karmic debt even if our quotidian one remains.

And for that less tangible debt, I remain indebted to you. xxx me