Friday, January 13, 2012


My dad used to hang out with guys who subsisted by selling items out of the trunks of old Buicks. One of these creepolas, who disappeared from the scene, probably due to money owed, calls the office. He rail thin and ashen with dyed auburn hair. The employees used to call him “Dracula” and he'd have lunch with Dad and instruct me that if his girlfriend called I shouldn't say where he was. The paramour rang frequently and would grill me harshly and even though my lips were sealed, she'd, either by dint of intuition or process of elimination, show up at the restaurant and make a scene. Apparently Dracula was more of a man than his appearance belied because he was involved with another dame as well. Lady Number Two was in the business of manufacturing industrial sized batches of what my parents called “goyishe” bagels and Dracula would bring us giant 10 dozen bags of the Wonder Bread-like things. He is more surprised to hear that I am running the business than he is of my dad's death. I converse as patiently as I can manage until the doorbell rings and I end the conversation a bit abruptly.

I rush from my back office to the door to find a homeless man I don't recall seeing before. Snot glistens from his nostrils. He assumes a familiarity and confides, “I have a problem. I drank too much last night,” he continues, “and now I need some money for the bus.” “I don't have any money,” I respond, which isn't exactly true although I do have less than usual. Plus this would mean walking to and from my office in the back. “I just need a couple of dollars,” he importunes and I tell him I'm sorry and close the door in his face. While I don't want my dad's old acquaintance to call again or particularly stop by, as he's threatened nor to have the confessed drunk come knocking for more coin, having blown them both off stirs up a dissonance I find difficult to shake.

Joe College, after much socializing, is returning to school. Our washer breaks and I buy a replacement hastily from a local used appliance purveyor, who I strong arm into immediate delivery, so I can send the boy back with clean clothes. He loads up our former records and stereo equipment and crispy folded laundry and says goodbye. The first semester he finds excuses to come home just about every weekend but now he seems to have made the adjustment and some social connections so I suspect his visits will be less frequent. I hug him goodbye and even through we talk or text just about every day and he's only an hour from home I start to weep. Spuds slumps on the couch and mutters under his breath, “Oh Jesus. She's crying.”

I've sworn off the Food Network for New Years and find that Hoarders and Intervention are safer viewing if I am to remain on my diet. A younger brother notes tearfully, during an intervention, that his alcoholic brother and the attenuate drama always suck up all of his parents' attention. “I relate to that,” I say, remembering my parents in full throttle agitation over one of my sister's myriad crises. “Me too,” adds Spuds and I practically pounce on him. “Just kidding,” he winks, but there is a tiny grain of truth. My older son likes to stir things up, a trait Himself frequently notes is inherited from my side of the family. Our kids are not us but inevitably we see a number of our own traits in them, some biological and some acquired by osmosis. Spuds is more self contained than his brother and often opts for the role of wry observer as opposed to direct participant. I see a little more of myself in the older boy and more of Himself in the newer model and like their parents, they've used their contrasts to forge a deep connection. My boys squabble and have their jealousies but I know that their bond to each other will endure years longer than I will.

The older boy has come and gone with such frequency that we still haven't adapted to the rhythm. He returns to school after Winter Break and Himself too goes back to school after a two month sabbatical and I am on edge all week. There are irritations at the office with the bank and a transfer facility. My dad's old crony calls and I turn away I beggar. I plan to write about three abusers of power I've reported on before. There is meaty news about Clarence Thomas, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Sheldon Adelson this week.

I take notes on a recent Supreme Court decision on which Thomas is the only dissenter. Oddly, this is the second case where Thomas has sided with New Orleans prosecutor Harry Connick Sr. (yes...the dad) who it seems, at least twice, has played fast and loose in the courtroom. In the recent case all the other justices agree that the only witness to identify a murderer gave inconsistent statements but Thomas writes a long winded dissent to the effect that this is irrelevant to the conviction. The infamous Sheriff Arpaio, is going at it with the Feds and it seems perhaps is on the verge of comeuppance. The lesser known, but no less scandalous, Sheldon Adelson, who introduces himself as the richest Jew in the world, has given five million dollars of his ill gotten lucre to Newt Gingrich, apparently for calling Palestinians an invented people.

But even people I love to hate can't get me on track for any writing of gravitas this week. It all comes out pretentious blather. When I realize I can't make a piece out of the hate update I am at sea, frustrated and ineffectual. Little things have gotten to me and instead I end up filling yet another page with my feelings and what my eldest refers to as my “white lady” problems. Maybe someday I'll write something of earth shattering substance and not be distracted by my greedy bank, flaky callers and assertive beggars. It turns out Joe College is actually coming home for the weekend because his closest friends are still in L.A. for a few days before they return to more far flung schools. I'll make a special shabbat meal because college food has made him better appreciate my cooking. I know we'll have fewer Friday nights with him and soon we'll be shipping off his little brother too.

R Kelly's insipid “I Believe I Can Fly” wafts into my head. When they were very tiny the boys sang it together, arm in arm, and the cloying song melted my heart. They slept in our bed, far longer than they should have, the two of the curled together between us. The kids are more sparing these days with blatant reminders of how dear they are. I am not at my best this week but I will sign off here and tonight we will light the candles as we've done every week of our boys' lives. My sweet babies are nearly men. They will rush through the prayers and tear brutally into the Shabbat challah. During this ritual, for these few minutes, even after a lousy week, I am again reminded of what I truly treasure.


FionnchĂș said...

Coming home from teaching last night, a chilly one at 10:30, I pulled in at the usual corner station nearby to fill up. As I was turned towards the pump, I heard a sudden mumble. I could make out "Happy New Year" and then a garbled need-money-get-gas-go-see-kids.

Pivoting around, resigned (it's rare at this station to have somebody asking me in English however mangled and not broken Spanglish), I faced a middle-aged (at least) black man with snaggled teeth. No car of his was in sight, unsurprisingly. Nor did he look in any shape to drive one.

I usually don't give handouts, but I did, without demurral. I asked him to wait a moment. I grabbed a handful of quarters from the coin slot in my car and I gave it to him.

He looked less than grateful. I was not sure what he'd expected. He went away without any further spiel.

I got back in the driver's seat and watched as he hit up (seemingly without success) a Latino man at the next pump engaged in the usual routine. I started the car, and my tape of an Ivy League, Oxford-educated lecturer resumed, an eight-tape series all about "God and Mankind: Comparative Religions." Lecture Six was almost at its end, as it related The Book of Job, Paul's theodicy, karma, and attempts to explain human suffering as we've invented for so many centuries, although the answers continue to elude us.

I'm glad I have kids to come home to, and you. I miss their silly films and singalongs, but seeing one's three syllabi today shared with me and the other's delight at "30 Rock," I am content. xxx me

Rosemary said...

Wonderful post Layne. Love, Rosemary X

My own Damn Blog said...

Since my only offspring has taken her nuptials, I am lucky to get a once a week out of boredom call as opposed to the daily "about the wedding" calls. It could be that I'm a bit pouty lately, but still...
Oh those Hoarders...I must admit those nasty people have motivated me to "get my own home in order" and rail on the spouse to do same. I suppose the cancer has helped me to see that a cluttered atmosphere does adversely effect the healing process. Next time you visit I am hoping to show you a neater homefront. Here's to hope.