Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fighting Fair

When we were growing up my mom enrolled us in karate. It was after Wendell was the victim of an unfortunate school yard Kumete and was on the losing end. Since that time she decided to enroll Wendell in the local do jang up the street. Our martial art form was Tang Soo Do. Basically, it is a Korean martial art used by the South Korean military. After Wendell had reached orange belt I was enrolled and then my sister followed. Usually my brother was an exemplary student. My sister tried but she was so young she always fell on her butt or fell asleep. I on the other hand was just plain reluctant. There was too much yelling involved and we always had to clean the do jang for discipline. Plus our Anglo Tiger Mom gave our master, Master Bosco, permission to treat us as his own children.
It was a typical Saturday at the do jang. Cars pulled in signaling the dismiss of the adult class and now for the children’s class. A lot of the youngsters bounded in and were happy. I on the other hand wasn’t so much. This was my second class of the day and I just wanted to go home. The only thing to make it worse was the arrival of Billy Santos. Yes, Billy Santos the swarthy looking Greek boy who’s family owned a bakery and flower shop. Despite being ten he was on the tall side. His favorite activity was bullying the littler belts. The last week a white belt had been matched up with Billy the Bully Goat. Despite being several belts his senior and this being only a beginner, instead of teaching he took a cheap shot to the kids stomach. The white belt went down and clutched his stomach in pain. Needless to say the kid was not back this week. Then again, this was normal for Billy Santos.
“Oh here he comes.” Skipper said fearfully. Billy always targeted Skipper first.
Billy the Bully Santos marched over and said, “Well if it isn’t Skipper. Are you going to fall asleep after forms today.”
“Drop dead.” I answered.
Just then Joey Rath arrived. He was a skinny kid with greasy hair and went to the emotional support classroom during school. This was Billy’s partner in crime. “Did April tell you to drop dead? Why don’t you just eat a ding dong fatty?” Joey asked.
“Well at least I am not in special ed.” I snapped.
Just then Wendell walked over. Billy and Joey straightened up because they were fearful of Wendell. Locking eyes with them he asked, “Are you guys bothering my sister’s again?”
The two shook their heads and retreated. Heading to their next victim Jessie Sherwood and her girly clique they left us. Jessie Sherwood was the most girly girl in the do jang. She was infamous for her girly screaming during free sparring and complaining about her hair getting messed up. A diva with a tude, she was ten going on thirty. With her was Bobbi Collins, her much quieter and much prettier bestie. Bobbi was okay on her own, but with the help of Jessie she was just too hard to take.
“Just ignore him. He’s an asshole.” Wendell cautioned.
“What if he hits me during free spar?” Skipper asked.
“He knows Billy is a bully and never matches him up with girls.” Wendell said.
Just then Master Bosco clapped his hands. “Line up kids.” He said.
We started the class with the usual jumping jacks and push ups. During the stretching, Master Bosco had to take a phone call. Stepping in was Master Gerard. Yes, Master Gerard. Half Korean and half white, he was the step son of Master Bosco. A skilled fighter and someone who looked elegant during demonstrations, Master Bosco was the softer half of the dojang. Plus the kids loved him. He was fun to have in class and was always cracking jokes. He and Master Bosco had a tumultuous relationship. While Gerard was a good martial artist he was not the hardest worker in the world. As a matter of fact he was downright lazy. In addition he always had a tendency to use his martial arts training to get into things like street fights and bar fights and always  over a sleazy girl. That’s when he spent the night in jail and they called my dad. He didn’t have it together, and that’s why we all probably loved him.
“Okay, stretching time.” Master Gerard said pulling his hair in a pony tail. It was long and black. During his last stint out of the Master’s house he had lived downtown with some hood types and grew his hair long. Then he saw a red head with a low cut blouse tap on the glass. She wore bright pink lipstick, so bright she should have been walking the streets of Amsterdam.
Master Gerard waved. The red head waved back. “Is that your girlfriend.” Chris Smith asked. He was another emotionally disturbed boy who frequented our dojang. A special project of Master Bosco, Chris periodically wigged out at school staff and had a burst of tourettes. His parents hoped martial arts would calm the boys spirit.
“No, I met her last night.” Master Gerard replied and snapped his fingers. The boys in the class laugh.
“You had s-e-x.” Billy Santos said. “Was she good?”
The rest of the class ooohhhhed. “It’s none of your business. Especially since you probably couldn’t get a girl if you tried.” Wendell snapped.
The rest of the class chuckled. “Now that’s enough. Save the anger for free sparring. And about love, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.” Master Gerard replied.
Just then Chris Smith leaned over to Skipper and I and asked, “Have you ever been so hungry you just ate paper?”
Skipper shot a look of disgust. I just shook my head no. Isaac Rubenstein, the unfortunate young man who had one hand that wasn’t formed and a flipper for the other as well as one big toe on his left foot, the last wave of Thalidomite children, looked over curious.
“Why Flipper Boy, you checking out the girls?” Billy Santos hissed. Joey, his compatriot chuckled. To make it even worse for the poor deformed child Billy Santos started making dolphin noises. In a way it was sort of funny but totally mean spirited. Of course we would never expect anything less. Of course our mother had explained why Isaac was so deformed to us and why we should be kind to him. Apparently, my mother and Mrs. Rubenstein spoke frequently and she had remarked at how karate was a saving grace for Isaac. Apparently, Isaac, who went to a therapeutic school for children with deformities, was being bullied by kids in the neighborhood. Karate gave him the confidence to fight back. Being a hard worker, Isaac became one of Master Bosco’s favorite’s quickly.
I turned around and shot them a dirty look. Sure, he may have had flippers as hands essentially but Isaac was a good dude. “Oh hi fatty.” Billy Santos hissed. I flicked him off and turned around. Santos would lay off me I had a feeling because Wendell shot him another dirty look.
Just then Master Bosco emerged from his office ready to take over class. It was form time. “Alright, color belts, I want you to do basic 1-3. We need work on that.” Master Bosco said clapping his hands.
We lined up and began. I usually hated form time. I know it was basics but they were boring. I liked the fighting better. Usually I was lousy at remembering patterns and had no shame in copying off of my neighbor. In this case however, my neighbor was Jessie Sherwood who didn’t know it either. And then her neighbor was Skipper who always copied off of me by default. Essentially it was the Three Stooges do karate. Master Bosco, upon seeing this, shook his head in distain. “Do any of you know the form?” The three of us stared at each other.
“April and Skipper, I expected better from the both of you. Give me twenty push ups.” My sister and I both got busy with our punishment.
“What about me?” Jessie Sherwood asked twirling her hair.
Master Bosco, at wits end with the would be Valley Girl shook his head and walked away. Jessie Sherwood stood there clueless. As my sister and I were knee deep in our penance we heard Jessie Sherwood scream, “NO!”
Skipper and I looked up to see Billy Santos and his crony hurling spit balls in Jessie’s direction. Master Bosco, upon seeing this, walked over to the two delinquents and asked, “Are you finished with your forms yet?”
“Yes sir.” Billy Santos said being the perfect student. Eddie Haskell in every way, he was able to turn it on when Master Bosco was there. We all often wondered if Master Bosco truly knew how evil Billy Santos was.
“This is exemplary. Billy has mastered all the forms.” Master Bosco announced to the class. “How did you do it Billy?”
“Hard work sir.” Billy replied.
“Hear that April.” The Master said.
“Yes sir.” I said sarcastically.
“Twenty more knuckle push ups.” Master Bosco snapped.
As soon as Master Bosco turned his back Billy shot me the “ha ha” glance.
“Fuck you.” I mumbled.
“Should I tell The Master you are swearing?” Billy said with an evil smile on his face. Blackmail.
“That’s my job.” Wendell said.
As Master Bosco came to the front of the class he then announced it was time for one step sparring. More basics. When would the fighting begin?
As Master Bosco came around he critiqued each of us. Of course for this he matched Isaac and myself up. “You got it?” I asked Isaac grabbing his stub of a hand.
“Yeah, now block me.” Isaac instructed.
I blocked Isaac who then threw a punch. For as much as one step annoyed me I always liked working with Isaac. He had an enthusiasm for the style of karate that no one else did. Plus he wasn’t as crazed as Master Bosco was about how everything had to be perfect. Then again, this was probably why Bosco was in charge.
Bosco had been a lot like Isaac back in the day aside from being deformed. Jeffrey Bosco had been a red head who played the tuba at a local high school. The prototypical band geek, he had been at the mercy of the bully boy jocks. However, after watching Bruce Lee he discovered martial arts were the secret. So Bosco started kicking ass, taking names, and fighting in tournaments in the Far East. He would have been like Steven Seagal, who was like a cult hero in our home, except he had red hair.
Bosco came over to us and asked, “How are we doing?”
“Good. She almost has it.” Isaac said. I quickly demonstrated for Master Bosco who nodded. Skipper on the other hand was matched up with Bobbi Collins, the quieter half of the Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber duo.
I heard Skipper say, “It makes no sense to be wide open when I throw the punch to you. Who do you think you are, a cheerleader?” I found myself trying not to laugh. I had already done twenty push ups that day. I didn’t feel like doing more.
“Oh, Skipper’s getting frisky.” Joey Rath seethed to Billy Santos. For some reason Bosco partnered the Goon Squad. Then again, they always worked best together and actually learned faster. But they still annoyed the rest of us.
“But her sister is really the little woman of the duo. Hi-ya!” Billy mocked a girly voice that was supposed to be me.
I turned around, mouthed “fuck you” and then flicked him off again. Isaac, being audience to all of this said, “You know, maybe I don’t have arms and legs like you but I know a few things.”
“Like what?” I asked as we continued practicing.
“Like you are better off to ignore that asshole than let him get to you. You see, he doesn’t fight fair. He takes cheap shots at everyone because he is a bully. Karate teaches us to use violence as a last resort.” Despite his physical condition Isaac always cleaned up at the tournaments and seemed like in his old age he would probably move to the foothills of the Far East to teach martial arts to would be students like ourselves.
“He is pushing me. I just want to murder him.” I snapped as I blocked Isaac again.
“Well here’s the thing, he thinks he is big and bad but he will meet someone badder and worse.” Issac pointed out.
“I know but I still want to beat his ass.” I said throwing a punch. Just then Isaac blocked it and he had a twinkle in his eye. A knowing twinkle reminiscent of the blind master in all those Kung Fu movies.
“You don’t think Bosco knows what he is about do you? Well Bosco has him figured out. Don’t worry, he will get his sooner than you think.” Isaac smiled.
“Hope so.” I mumbled.
Just then Bosco announced it was time for sparring. Billy Santos was first matched up with a white belt named Bobby. Bobby had white, blonde hair and was relatively new. Not more than seven, Bobby was terrified of this hulking bully of a color belt. Right away the fighting began and right away Santos advanced on this poor creature. The fight ended with Bobby, scared to death, sitting in the corner.
“You okay?” I asked him.
“It’s my third day and I am not sure I want to come back.” He whispered. “Kids pick on me in school. Kids like that.”
Of course I had been matched up with Jessie Sherwood who hit and punched like the girliest girl. Although we were no contract I really wanted to hit her in the head. It was like April Brucker, would be writer and Pittsburgh Steeler fan, fights Jessie Sherwood, would be Dallas Cowboy cheerleader. Just then I saw her mother wave. Yes her mother, wearing a ripped Grateful Dead t-shirt and jeans with her stomach exposed and not to mention plenty of makeup. My mother had spoken to Mrs. Sherwood once and she had told her she had Jessie when she was nineteen and didn’t know who the father was. Big surprise, and from the looks of it the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Of course, not paying attention ran in the family too. Both mother and daughter waved. I got a little bit of a shot but not too much contact. I was in no mood for Bosco to punish me further.
Just then I saw Master Bosco pull Wendell over and whisper something to him. “Wendell, Billy.” He called to the two as they partnered up.
“I can take him.” I heard Billy Santos whisper to Joey Rath.
Skipper and I were sitting the round out. “You okay?” I asked Skipper.
“Yeah but I really don’t like Billy Santos.” She said. “He threw a spitball at me. I told Wendell.”
Just then Skipper and I exchanged a glance. “Begin.” The Master announced. Just then Billy Santos threw a cheap shot at my brother. Wendell, being faster, blocked it. Billy threw a kick and Wendell blocked it. Billy then, frustrated, left himself wide open and did a kick similar to that of the Rockettes on Broadway. That’s when Wendell, fed up with this bully, landed a punch right to his gut. Suddenly, Billy, unable to take the hit, doubled over in pain crying. Suddenly the whole sparring exhibition stopped as the Master ran over to Billy.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
Billy, crying, asked, “Can I have some ice?”
“Sure, sit down. Wendell, you sit out for the rest of class. And I want to see you in my office after we are done today.” Master Bosco snapped.
We all exchanged a look. Joey Rath, usually a follower of this guru of bullies looked downward. Jessie Sherwood, usually on a planet of her own, looked at the fallen Billy Santos with amazed eyes as did Bobbi Collins at her side. The little white belt in the corner named Bobby began to smile. “I think I will come back.” He said.
Isaac gave me a knowing smile as if he had been right. Of course Chris Smith, emotionally disturbed as ever said to Skipper and I, “Did you see your brother? That was fucking awesome.”
As class ended the parents came to scoop their children up. Some had seen the gut punch demonstration of violence. Joey Rath’s mother, a crazed Mary Kay lady said as she scooped him up, “I always thought this martial arts was way too violent. See Wendell is proof.”
My sister and I rolled our eyes at Mrs. Rath. Looking back no wonder Joey was so messed up. He never had a chance. Then of course some of the other parents shook their heads in silent distain. Bobby’s mother, a little lady with mousy brown hair said to Master Gerard, “Is class usually this violent.”
“No, they were upper level belts of the same strength.” Master Gerard explained as he began his sneak around the back of the school with the red head who came come to watch class. Who knows what they were doing back there and if we asked we would have gotten an answer.
“Man that Wendell kid is fierce. He seems so nice.” The red head said to Master Gerard as they disappeared.
Just then my mom pulled in the parking lot with her mini-van. Very much Saturday in suburbia, she had come straight from doing yard work with my dad. “Where is Wendell?” She asked curious.
“Oh the Master wanted to see him. He punched Billy Santos.” I explained. Skipper shook her head backing me up.
“Good. If he’s in any trouble I just want to talk about what a bully that child is. I don’t believe there is usually a bad kid but he’s defective.” My mom said.
Just as my mom was about to march into Master Bosco’s office Wendell emerged. “You in trouble?” I asked.
“Nah. Master Bosco pulled me aside before I fought with Santos and told me to go as hard as I could.” Wendell explained smiling.
“So you aren’t going to get kicked out?” Skipper asked.
Wendell chuckled. “Far from it. But I want to explain something to you two. Although I might make fun of you for being idiots, it’s not alright when anyone else does. Sure, you two might be idiots but you are my idiots.” Wendell explained. “And by the way, I call shot gun on the way home.”
A minute later our mom emerged giving us the okay to go home. She and Master Bosco had talked briefly and Master Bosco agreed, Billy Santos was a bully and the only way to shut him down was to match him up with someone bigger and stronger. In order to celebrate the end of a grueling day we got Wendy’s.
As for the events afterward Bobby returned to karate, not only becoming one of Master Bosco’s best students but eventually to become a professional kickboxer.
And Billy Santos did return, his ego knocked down several pegs. From that day onward the poor deformed boy was no longer Flipper Boy but Isaac.
My siblings were still idiots indeed, but Wendell and Skipper were my idiots. Some things change but that never has.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Dark

In fourth grade my best friend was a girl by the name of Julianne Haas. Julianne and her family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. That meant unlike the rest of us she didn’t celebrate Christmas, Easter, Halloween, or even her birthday. Of course for her birthday which came right after Halloween we always snuck her a lip gloss or some little girly thing. During holidays she was always the oddball, never able to watch Halloween movies. Not even Charlie Brown. Of course my family didn’t have Cable TV and I wasn’t allowed to watch TV during the week. These two things combined made us pals. We were both oddcasts in a school where the kids were overindulged cable junkies able to do whatever they pleased it seemed.
Since my folks had my siblings and I later in life they were old school as compared to the other parents. My mom often would wince when she came to PTA meetings to find the other mothers in high top tennis shoes. Julianne’s mother, a devout Witness, never wore shorts. Although my mom, a gym teacher and fitness enthusiast wore shorts, she felt as much an outside as Julianne’s mom. So as we became friends so did our mom’s. Despite the religious difference that didn’t matter either.
Julianne had an older sister Janelle. Janelle was on a dance team that traveled around the world. She was tall and beautiful and was built like a Barbie doll. All the guys used to talk about Janelle. For as young as we were she seemed like a goddess to these guys. Julianne was pretty too, but not in the same way her sister was. She had pale skin and pitch black hair. Looking like a young Snow White, she always wore dramatic red nail polish. However, she would be the peel off kind that could be removed before her Witness Parents saw her hands.
I never minded Julianne but sometimes she was at odds with the rest of our crew. Sue Ellen McClay, a red head who dreamed of being a writer was a sometimes friendemy of our clique. Once Julianne called Sue Ellen on Christmas Day to go sled riding. However, because Sue Ellen was with her family she couldn’t come to the phone. Julianne never quite got over the supposed diss and didn’t speak to her for the rest of the school year. It wasn’t that Julianne was mad, it’s just that she didn’t understand never celebrating holidays and all. Eventually it seemed she was on everyone’s bad side.
One day as I was walking to lunch in the cafeteria I was pulled to the table by our friend Lauren. “April, lets not let Julianne sit with us today.”
“Why?” I asked the chunkette with brown hair and an olive complexion. Despite a sweet outward appearance she was capable of mean girl stuff the rest of us were not.
“Because she wouldn’t go to my birthday party because her mother said they don’t celebrate birthdays.” Lauren said. I rolled my eyes back. Little Miss Mean Girl hadnt invited me either.
“You didn’t invite me either.” I snapped.
“Well I was mad at you.” And yes she was. I blew off Lauren in order to do an extra credit book report. Then again, Lauren and her gossip could never be trusted. Plus Julianne was my friend.
“Well Julianne is still my friend. Drop dead.” I replied getting up leaving this mean girl to rot with Sue Ellen.
I saw Julianne and motioned for an open spot for the both of us. “Sue Ellen doesn’t want to be my friend.”
“No, you just called her on Christmas. She was with her family.” I pointed out.
“Well I am tired of them gossiping about me. I am glad we are friends.” Julianne said. “Do you want to come over my house next Friday?” She asked.
“Sure.” I told her.
“Bring Skipper too.” Although Skipper was the tag-a-long when we hung out the elf did keep things interesting. Plus it seemed right now I was Julianna’s only real friend. At the time, I didn’t realize how she felt so at odds with everyone.

The next Friday came and the bus dropped Skipper and I off at the front of Julianne’s house. Standing at the front door was her mother. Looking like a larger version of Julianne she was clad head to toe in her usual blouse and skirt. Despite it being the nineteen nineties she looked as if she was dressing for the fifties. With her large glasses she smiled and greeted us. “How are you girls?” Mrs. Haas asked.
“Good.” I said. “Good to see you Mrs. Haas.”
“Good to see you too. Would you girls like some lemonade.” Mrs. Haas asked.
“Sure.” Skipper said.
When we got to the kitchen on the wall there were pages in various frames. “What are those?” Skipper asked curiously.
“Oh various passages from the Bible.” Julianne explained. Next to us on the chair were pamphlets from Watch Tower. Although Mrs. Haas was gracious enough to respect the fact my parents didn’t want converted and never approached us, she always had the literature lying around. She often went door to door in our neighborhood with another woman who had red hair. Every so often Mrs. Haas would stop by if my mom was home to say hello. My mom’s whole attitude was while she was a Catholic she respected Mrs. Haas and her commitment to her faith, and maybe these well meaning pests would help someone in need.
“Oh, our dad just keeps his Bible by the bed.” Skipper remarked.
Julianne laughed. “My parents are into the whole JW thing.” She said as soon as her mom was out of ear shot. “Sometimes I disagree with it.”
Just then Mrs. Haas came back with our glasses of lemonade. Sipping the lemonade we heard a car with loud music pull into the driveway. It sounded like hip hop or rap of some sort. Julianne bit her lip. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“We aren’t supposed to be listening to that sort of music.” She said.
“Who’s listening? We aren’t.” I asked.
“No, it’s going to be another battle grand royale. My sister versus my mom.” Julianne said. Just then Janelle entered. She was dressed in a form fitting tight shirt with painted on jeans. Throwing her back pack down Janelle looked around and headed to the refrigerator.
“Hey kiddies.” She said. That was her usual greeting for us.
“Who took you home?” Julianne asked her sister. Janelle looked beautiful in that beauty pageant meets trash sort of way. She wreaked of cigarette smoke. Quickly, she took out her perfume to try to spray away the smell.
“Oh Rock n Roll Bob.” She said with a dreamy, goofy girl  grin on her face. I was familiar with the lore of Rock n Roll Bob. My brother knew the kid only in passing. He was in high school and had several piercings. As a matter of fact, you could probably run after him with a magnet if you really wanted to screw with him. He was two years older than my brother and even the kids in the seventh grade knew of this Goofus Maximus Supremo.
Skipper and I looked at each other. We had heard that this moron was responsible for a three car pile up outside the high school. It all started when said idiot was driving too fast in the wrong direction during a drag race and crashed into two other cars. Luckily no one was hurt but this idiot regarded it as sort of a notch on his proverbial belt. Meanwhile the rest of us rolled our eyes and didn’t need a crystal ball to know his future either included him pumping our gas or asking, “Do you want fries with that?”
Just then Mrs. Haas entered. Seeing her oldest daughter a look of disapproval came over her face. “Have you been smoking?” She asked.
“No mother.” Janelle said.
“Want to go pick flowers?” Julianna asked. Skipper and I nodded. Something led me to believe that this rebellious teen and mom fight was going to be something of a brawl.
As we walked out of the kitchen I could overhear Mrs. Haas asking again, “Have you been smoking?”
“No mother. Now stop asking me questions. I have dance in an hour.” Suddenly I heard what sounded like a slap.
“I hate you, you bitch!” The teen screamed.
“Flower time.” Julianne directed. Skipper immediately held my hand unsure of what else to do. Whatever was going on with this family they were seriously more screwed up then we knew. Sure our folks could be strict and tough but we didn’t have Bible verses on our wall. This was a whole new level of intense that we could have never dreamed up.
The three of us headed to the spring sunshine where we saw a flower bed and began to pick various daisies and made arrangements. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we made Skipper a crown?” I asked her.
“Sure.” Julianne said as the two of us wove the flowers together to make a crown for the third wheel tag a long. Skipper dawned the crown on her head. She began to skip around the yard and sing some crazy song she had learned in music class that week.
“You have a pool?” I asked.
“Oh yeah but my mom never goes in.” Julianne said sort of saddened.
“Why?” I asked.
“Oh, she doesn’t want the neighbors to see her skin.” Julianne explained. It was the strangest thing I had ever heard. I ignored it and saw Skipper running around the yard in an instant.
“I am Skipper, Queen of the Fairies!” She shouted and began singing, “Tra la la la la.” This seven year old imp was indeed adorable. Balletic in her movements, she leapt around the yard and began to spin until she fell down. I laughed but saw Julianna pale as a ghost upon seeing her mother standing in the yard.
“What are you girls doing and why is Skipper on the ground?” Mrs. Haas asked.
“Oh, just having fun.” Julianna said as if that was against the law in their home. From the looks of it fun was probably a sin in itself against God.
“I am Skipper, Queen of the Fairies.” My sister said.
Julianna tensed up a bit. “It’s a joke.”
Mrs. Haas scowled at Julianna and then went back in the house. “What’s with your mom?” I asked.
“Oh, we aren’t allowed to tell fairy stories or talk about fairies because they are magical.” Julianna explained to Skipper and I.
“Oh. Then we won’t.” I told her trying to make the best of a very awkward situation.
“Why?” Skipper asked propping herself up from the ground, grass stains on her butt.
“It’s my religion.” Julianna explained.
Skipper, without missing a beat said, “Why would anyone want to join such a stupid church?”
There was an awkward silence. Somehow I had to save the situation wherein my kid sister had put her foot in her mouth. Poor Juliana wasn’t a princess but it was clear she lived in a glass tower. And not to mention while my sister was right this was my friend and now this was my mess. Thanks kid.
“She doesn’t mean that do you Skipper.” I said giving my sister a little kick.
“Sorry.” Skipper said as I helped her up from the ground.
“I think the storm has blown over inside. Come on.” Julianna said.
The three of us made our way inside the house. Mrs. Haas was in the other room talking on the phone as I saw Janelle at the table scowling. “Mom’s in a bitch mood.” Janelle informed us.
Julianna stared at the ground. She didn’t know what to say to her rebel without a cause older sibling and neither did we. Either way, it was clear this kitchen was an open war zone and Julianna knew it. “Do you want to play with my hamster?” She asked us.
“Sure.” I said.
Skipper and I followed Julianna to her room where she got her hamster, Captain Cook, out of the cage. Her walls had cut outs from magazines and seemed to be a normal girl’s room. There weren’t Bible verses on the wall of this room which was a relief.
“Your religion lets you have hamsters?” Skipper asked. That’s when I threw my hand over my sister’s mouth in hopes to shush her up.
To my surprise Julianna laughed a very sweet, gentle laugh. “Yes Skipper.” She said, “They let us have hamsters.”
“We can’t have a hamster.” Skipper told her mournfully. It was true. We could not. My parents forbade all rodents. Even our hermit crabs were a stretch and that fad had died out years ago in our home when Hermie I, II, and III all passed and Skipper’s crabs Pretty Nice and Girly Girl had also sailed to crab heaven. Not to mention we had been pinched a few times and that sort of sucked.
“Can he run in his wheel?” I asked Julianna.
With that my friend got the hamster out of the cage and off he went running. Captain Cook was running around the upstairs and of the house and we ran after him. It didn’t matter that the kitchen was a war zone, Captain Cook was on a voyage in his wheel. Mrs. Haas saw us and laughed. I was surprised she knew how to do that. Always serious and religious, I doubted she did anything except go to Kingdom Hall and occasionally sell real estate with her husband.
Of course Janelle was at the table doing her homework and yelled, “Run Captain Cook, run!”
Just then we heard the front door open. It was Mr. Haas. With brown hair and a bushy mustache he saw Captain Cook running around and immediately laughed. “Well, it is clear that when April and Skipper come Captain Cook is out of the cage and in the wheel.” He said chuckling.
Mrs. Haas however was not about to let the fun continue for much longer. The Sheriff of the Fun Police had come and said, “Could you girls take Captain James elsewhere? I have to have a chat with Mr. Haas.” Her tone was steel. If her words could have cut the toughest metal in the world they would have,
As we entered the next room we heard Mrs. Haas hiss, “Your oldest daughter is out of control. She is wandering away from God.”
“Rebecca it’s because you rule with an iron fist. Let the kids have a little fun every once in a while. Let them sing a song. Then maybe Janelle wouldn’t try to test you so much.” Mr. Haas suggested. While he was very involved with the church he seemed more mainstream and less severe than his stern spouse.
“Well she is testing me. Are you aware she was smoking!” Mrs. Haas said.
“So talk to her about cigarettes and how they killed grandma.” Mr. Haas suggested.
“And then Julianna was telling fairy stories with those girls. I don’t blame them so much because they are Catholic. But our Julianna should know better.” Mrs. Haas hissed again.
“She is ten. Let her be a kid.” Mr. Haas suggested.
Julianna looked at us apologetically as Skipper and I stared at each other horrified. “My mom can be intense sometimes.” She said.
“It’s cool.” I told her.
“Want to go to the basement to hang out?” Julianna asked.
Skipper and I shook our heads yes. Anything would be better than hearing her family drama unfold.
As we ran down to the cellar I blurted out, “This would be the perfect place to tell ghost stories.” Indeed it would have been. Her basement was dark and there was only a little light that came through the window. It had this eerie, otherworldly glow about the place.
“Lets tell ghost stories!” Julianna said very excitedly.
We all shook our heads and one by one began to tell our favorite scary stories. Skipper started and ended the scary story session. She told one stock story about a girl with a ribbon around her neck by the name of Jenny. Apparently Jenny’s friend Alfred wanted to know why she had the ribbon around her neck and one day she told him to remove it and Jenny’s head fell off. Skipper, to finish her tale, let out a blood curdling scream at the end.
Because Skipper was being so melodramatic Julianna and I laughed. This kid was a mess but we did like having the pest around. Just then Mrs. Haas came downstairs. “What’s going on?” She asked eyeing the three of us suspiciously.
Julianna was silent not knowing what to say. Then I realized it. We weren’t supposed to be telling scary stories. Oh we were in for it now. There was this tense silence as she eyed the three of us up with her big glasses. They were going to have an exorcism at Kingdom Hall, except they didn’t have exorcisms in the Witness religion.
“We were telling….” And that’s when I threw my hand over Skipper’s mouth. There was no way I was letting Skipper get my friend in trouble again.
“We were talking about this girl we know with smelly feet.” I said making the save of the day.
“And what smelly feet she has.” Julianna agreed.
“Her feet stink like they want to be alone.” I countered. The two of us laughed, my hand still over Skipper’s mouth. A smile cracked over Mrs. Haas’s face. Saved by the bell. Just then she turned to go upstairs and Skipper bit my hand.
“Ouch!” I screamed.
“Don’t ever do that to me again.” She snapped. “I was just going to say we were telling ghost stories. Why did you have to go and lie?”
“Because I am not allowed to tell scary stories either.” Julianna explained. Skipper then looked down at the ground, guilty of not knowing. Her seven year old brain was still trying to wrap itself around this religion.
Just then we heard a car pull into the driveway. “It’s my grandfather. You should come and meet him. He’s so neat.” Julianna told us.
“Is he allowed to tell scary stories?” Skipper asked curiously. I elbowed my sister, who apparently didn’t get the memo about not putting her foot in her mouth. Nonetheless she kept on doing it, more flexible than any yoga instructor.
Julianna to my relief laughed. “Yes, he’s not a Witness.”
“What is he?” I asked.
“Oh well he’s Methodist or something. He sneaks us Christmas gifts and stuff. Don’t tell my mom I told you.” Julianna said making us promise. I elbowed Skipper again so she would get the memo.
Running up the stairs we were greeted by a man with salt white hair and a Santa like beard. “Julianna, how lovely to see you!” He said picking the youngster up. My friend smiled and laughed when she saw her grandfather. Then again, I wasn’t aware that there was any smiling or laughing to go on in that house, the one of dismal service to the tyrant God of their understanding.
“Hi grandpa. These are my friends, April and Skipper.” We both shook his hand as he sat down. Somehow, Julianna began to tell her grandfather I was a geography buff.
“April can name any and all capitals around the world.” She told him.
“Japan.” Her grandfather asked.
“Easy, Tokyo.” I replied. We went on for a few more as he began to tell us that during World War II he had been in the Navy and basically sailed around the world. Somehow, he had won a purple heart for being injured in Japan. He talked to us about the far East and how much he loved the people of Japan despite the fact that they were our enemies during that war. Looking at her grandfather and seeing her mother, I wondered how such a nice told man could have spawned such a religious zealot for a daughter.
As the story wrapped on Janelle came out of her room. She was more or less slinking by her grandfather, shirking in the shadows, trying not to be seen as she wore a crop top and mini skirt. Her lipstick was nearly black and her hair was done in some slut up do that only the MTV rap girls like ‘Lil Kim wore. Just then, her grandfather saw her. “Hi Janelle.” He said.
Janelle stopped dead in her tracks. “Hi grandpa.” She said guilty as charged. Janelle was busted. This was going to be the start of another World War brewing.
Mrs. Haas turned her head. “Get back in your room and take those clothes off. They are disrespectful to your grandfather.”
“Fuck you mom!” She screamed. There was a moment of awkward silence. “Dad said I could wear them.”
The grandfather chuckled. “You were just as rebellious when you were young. Cool your jets.” He told her.
“Not loose like this.” Mrs. Haas snapped.
“Who are you calling loose? Why don’t you tell our company about our older brother you had when you were sixteen? You know the one you had to give up for adoption.” Janelle snapped.
Skipper gave me an awkward look and there was even more of a silence. Mrs. Haas at that moment stood up and slapped her daughter. Julianna looked down, ashamed that this story would circulate back to school. Janelle cried and ran to her room. Mrs. Haas stood there in a daze. The grandfather said, “Laverne, if you didn’t keep such a tight reign on the girl she wouldn’t be breaking out of the cage.”
Just then my mom’s van pulled in the driveway. We thanked Mrs. Haas, we thanked Julianna, we thanked Julianna’s grandfather and off we drove home. Even if my mom didn’t tell us that dinner was burning we would have bilked it. Those people were too much for us.
Soon after our visit to that house Julianna was forbidden to talk to me. It was because we told fairy stories. When Julianna acted as if this was my sister Skipper’s fault I disfriended her immediately. Sure, maybe Skipper didn’t know any better. It wasn’t her fault that she was being a normal seven year old child on a grounds that was one step away from a mental hospital. While Skipper may have been a pain in the ass she was still my pain in the ass and most of all my sister. And it was Mrs. Haas fault for not letting children be children. Shortly after my disfriending her Julianna grew more and more distant from our group as a whole until she completely and utterly ate lunch by herself.
Of course Janelle proved to be more of a problem running away from home several times until she eventually secured employment as a stripper and small time porn star. She doesn’t go by the name of Janelle anymore but rather Bam Bam, because according to the posters she is the hit of the club, but then again she has those cottage cheese thunder thighs the ghetto and white trash patrons of that low class joint she dances at love too. The sad part was, Janelle was probably destined for better things like Scores.
Julianna’s parents eventually divorced. Her father met another woman while selling real estate and they moved to Florida where he now has a second family. I saw his picture a few years ago on myspace, he looks happy. And from what I heard he was also blackballed from the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall as well. But from the looks and sound of it he went willingly.
Mrs. Haas apparently is still involved and goes door to door with the same red headed woman. Since her shunning of my sister and I, my mom more or less tells her to get off our porch when they come with their Watch Tower nonsense.
As for Julianna, she is married and working as a hairdresser. By the looks of the pink streaks and the gay friends, it seems as if she has broken out of Kingdom Hall. However, in each picture I see of her online she is always holding an alcoholic beverage which means she is still an unhappy slave in her own way.
When I recall that day at the Haas’s house I remember I learned one important thing. My family lived without cable therefore we didn’t see somethings and were denied some programs. However, there are some people with all the channels in the world. But because they have such a severe dogma they are damned to live in the darkness forever, never to see light.
And in their darkness, in their stupidity, in their quest to save the world, they don’t realize that not only is the entire world screwed but their own lives are a complete shit show. That is, a God sponsored shit show.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Losers and Other Strangers

My mom’s sister and my Godmother Aunt Flo would often come and visit when I was a kid. She would usually call unannounced or leave a message that was long and whiny in nature. My mom would trip running to get the phone while my dad would yell, “Ignore it.”
It’s not that my dad was cold natured. Not at all. Usually my Aunt Flo was either misinvesting money or in trouble with the IRS and needed legal advice. My dad was all about helping family, just not being bothered when he wanted to watch television. When she wasn’t doing that it was to call my mom and to give her the latest on her relationship with Ralph. Yes, Ralph my aunt’s boyfriend. According to my Aunt Flo Ralph needed her love because he had allergy problems. One thing Ralph seemed to be allergic to was work. Because he couldn’t keep a job and finally he insisted he had some sort of illness and therefore got disability checks. This illness, rare in nature, would have made it hard for him to lift and exercise. However, Ralph always made time to go to the gym, do a few bench presses, and check out the babes while keeping his meal ticket.
If Ralph were good looking that would be one thing. This was not the case at all though. Instead he had a bad stray on seventies than that only porn stars like John Holmes could have rocked. According to my Aunt Flo, Ralph was not a porn star. As a matter of fact he was impotent. I overheard this once when my Aunt Flo came over with her coffee unannounced and pulled my mother in the living room.  As if that weren’t bad enough he was bald. But Ralph wasn’t losing his hair gracefully. Instead he ordered a really bad wig online and would stick it on his head. Obviously fake, there was no way a man’s hair could never blow with the wind and there was no way someone could always maintain a perfect pompadour hair do like he did. Oh and it does get worse. To finish this moteif, he wore horribly colored open shirts and tight pants that went out with the seventies. If you want to know why disco died you could just take a look at this man and know that he killed it. Of course to make more of an effect he glued on chest chair, probably stolen from a local chipmunk who had met with the wheels of an automobile on the side of the road, and added gold chains.
Not to mention he had a sick sense of humor too. During a family Halloween party once he came in dressed as a hunter. With a gun strapped to his back he threw a cardboard cut out of a dead deer on the ground. To finish off this sick costume piece with no redeeming quality, he wrote the word “Bambi” on it and even gave it holes that looked like bullet holes and used corn syrup to make fake blood. My mom, who was standing next to me at the time mumbled, “If only he would use that effort and find a job. But then again, why would Ralph work when he has my sister?”
As my mom ran upstairs to take the urgent call from Aunt Flo my dad stopped the movie. It was our usual Friday night shoot ‘em up. My brother Wendell seemed annoyed that the film was stopped for this distress call from our aunt. “Just when Van Damme was about to give them the karate chop.” My brother lamented.
“Don’t worry. It will be back on once your mother finishes with Aunt Flo.” My dad assured us. “What ever her latest is with Ralph The Jerk Who’s Allergic to Work is.” Yes, that was the nickname my parents had given Ralph. While my dad had said it one day after Aunt Flo stopped over, my mom was the one who made it stick.
“Why does Aunt Flo date such idiots? She seems like such a nice lady?” I asked propping myself up. It was just a few weeks shy of Thanksgiving and already getting cold out. My sister Skipper was next to the fire already asleep. Sweet on the outside, that child was probably dreaming about something disturbing. Once in the middle of the night she couldn’t sleep so she simply cleaned her room. While my mother was pleased to find that unlike her two other children her youngest kept a spotless domicile, it always left the rest of us uneasy. Little Skipper was probably going to be the next dictator so we all knew that we had better behave.
“Who knows. She was seeing Chuck Davis. Chuck would have given her the moon. Now she is seeing this goof.” My dad said. He had little or no patience for my aunt’s horrid choice in men. We had all liked Chuck Davis. Chuck had been my aunt’s previous boyfriend of five years. Sweet and sort of boring, he loved my aunt and would have taken a bullet for her. When she left Chuck for Ralph, she said the magic with her and Chuck wasn’t there.
I remember my mother, who married my dad after knowing him less than a year asked, “And it took you five years to figure that out!”
“He is such a loser.” Wendell said. “And Mom says she always sees him out and about with his glue on chest hair.”
“Ewww. That stuff is just gross. Don’t ever mention that again. He’s a disco reject.” I declared. My dad upon hearing this laughed.
“Worse than a disco reject. I lived through the time and trust me, I have seen some bad glue on chest hair kids but he tops it.” My dad assured us. However he decided to take time for his usual daddy lesson. “This is why kids you have to be careful who you date. Date people who have a job, career, and a future and are willing to work hard. If you waste time on the wrong person you could waste your whole life, especially if you know they are the wrong person and all you are left with is baggage.”
Wendell and I looked at each other as my dad said, “See I knew your mom was the right one as soon as I saw her. I gave up all my other girlfriends. However, your mom still hasn’t given up her other boyfriends.” My dad said as he heard my mom coming down the stairs.
“Don’t even start.” My mom said as she hit my dad square with the pillow.
“What was Flo squawking about?” My dad asked.
“Oh apparently Ralph’s stint as a flabotomist in Florida didn’t work out. Some Cuban guys jumped him.” Yes my mom was referring to one of Ralph’s many attempts to make money. He told my aunt some story about training to be a flobotomist and going to Florida to work and they would have a distance relationship. We all knew it wouldn’t last. As a matter of fact when my dad and Wendell heard they had a running bet. My dad bet a month, Wendell bet three weeks. The idiot had lasted two.
“Dad, I won the bet. You owe me one night without taking out the trash.” Wendell said.
“No, I am your dad. You will take out the trash. You won the bet and that’s enough.” My dad replied tiredly.
“Then April gets to take out the trash for me.” Wendell said.
“Done.” My dad replied.
“Hey!” I screamed. I hadnt been a part of this death pool.
“It’s only fair. You talked back to me and missed a homework assignment at school. And not to mention you fought with your brother yesterday.” My mom pointed out. Angrily I shirked and flicked my brother off.
“What was that?” My dad asked curiously eyeballing my hand gesture.
“Nothing.” I mumbled.
“ Well Ralph the Jerk Who’s Allergic to Work probably got his ass beat because he was trying to get another girl in another port and someone’s brother saw what a loser he was.” My dad guessed as he restarted the movie. Wow, for someone so smart and intelligent my aunt sure knew how to pick them. She was in my Aunt Violet’s dental school class. The lady had a brain, she could crack a book, but why did she pick her men out of the gutter?
The worst part was, this had been one of the many jobs Ralph couldn’t keep. Of course there was the job selling Amway and his other work from home schemes that all fell through because they were too much work. In the end it was all the same, my aunt ended up as his meal ticket while he had a piece of meat on the side.

Saturday morning started with me rising early for a dance class with my sister. Of course before that I had to take out Wendell’s garbage. I did so grudgingly and full of resentment. Just then my Aunt Flo’s car pulled into the driveway. Swurving down the street I heard both a cat scream and some poor woodland animal run for it’s life. Then she made a turn into our driveway that not even Dale Ernhardt could have pulled off. Shutting her car door, she got out and saw me. Running down the driveway she asked in a hurried beath, “April, is your mother home?”
“Yes.” I said.
A minute later we were both at the door. My mom, seeing us opened it. “Hi Flo. Can I get you some coffee?” She asked my aunt. Her red hair was in a tussle and she wore a purple ski jacket.
“I was in the neighborhood and decided to say hi. Ralph is coming back from Miami and I just feel so bad about what happened.” My Aunt Flo said as she let herself in. My dad upon seeing her gave her the hello and quickly made an exit. This was girl talk. He didn’t want to get involved. Being a guy and not liking Ralph the Jerk Who’s Allergic to Work my dad wouldn’t have given his two cents but rather broken the bank. Plus he liked my Aunt Flo as a person. She was thoughtful and never forgot anyone, she just had terrible taste in men.
I went upstairs and my dad asked, “When did your Aunt Flo pull in the driveway?”
“A few minutes ago as I was forced to take out the trash for Wendell.” I told my dad.
My dad groaned. “No doubt to talk about Ralph the Jerk Allergic to Work.” I shook my head. It was true.
“April, do me a favor. Let me know when they are gone. I just can’t know what is going on. And the paper is yours if you want it.” My dad informed me passing me the Post Gazette. One thing my folks were big on was us reading. And it had been hard for them that I had trouble with it at first. However, once I caught up I read all the time. To encourage this my dad would give me the paper every day when he was done with it.
After I gave my dad a kiss my brother Wendell emerged from his room. For Christmas my parents had given him his own TV to play video games on because his video games kept wrecking the VCR. At least that’s what my dad said. “Is Aunt Flo downstairs?” Wendell asked me.
I shook my head as in yes. “What are they saying?” Wendell asked. First I had to take out the trash and now I had to do his dirty work. At times like this I liked my brother.
“She is saying it was terrible that Ralph the Jerk Who’s Allergic to Work wants to come back and she feels terribly about what happened.” I told him.
Behind us we heard footsteps. Standing there was Skipper. She was rubbing the sleepy sand out of her eyes. It was rare that this night owl got up without any prodding. “What’s going on? I heard whispering.” Skipper said.
“Two words, Aunt Flo?” I told her.
“Where?” Skipper asked.
“Downstairs.” I replied.
“Speaking of which, April could you get me a glass of water?” Skipper asked.
“You have two legs. Go get it.” I said.
“Get it for me or I’ll tell mom you hit me.” Skipper said as an evil smile came over her face. If Skipper told my mother that, no questions would be asked. I myself would have a meeting with her notorious wooden spoon and then be forced to do Skipper’s chores for the rest of the day. Either way, no questions would be asked. My mother would always believe Skipper. In my mother’s eyes Skipper was angelic when in reality Wendell and I knew she was pure evil.
“I didn’t hit you.” I told her surprised that this Satanic creature in a satin pajama dress dreamed up such an ugly lie in order to get her way. Siblings were indeed the devil’s creation. Skipper was proof.
“Wendell will say you did so you have to take out the trash again.” Skipper promised. Now she was angling Wendell to get on her side and that was perfect. After all, a week ago Wendell had been on my dad’s bad side because he put a video game in a movie case. This would have gone unnoticed except my dad was with my mom returning the movies and they were fined extra.
Wendell shook his head. “Plus the glass of water will be a way for you to spy. And you will fool everyone. No one will suspect you because you are stupid.” Wendell mentioned. While Skipper was evil Wendell was just plain obnoxious and rude. I didn’t know what was worse. Obnoxious and rude was deserving of a smack, but since Skipper was there she would concoct some story, especially since she was in a blackmailing sort of mood.
I extended my arm and middle finger as I made my way down the stairs. “Thank you sweet sister.” Skipper called. Evil little gnome. Wait until she got old enough. Oh boy I was going to set her straight. Especially when I told her that she was an accident. Gosh was that child disturbed.
As I made my way to the kitchen I heard mom and Aunt Flo talking. “You see, he wants to move in with me.” My Aunt Flo explained to my mom. My mother looked as if she had been hit by a truck upon hearing this news.
“Flo, he doesn’t want to work and will be watching TV all day.” My mom said.
“But you see, no one understands him. I understand him. With a little love he can turn his life around.” My Aunt Flo said trying to reason with my mom. I looked at my mom and she seemed to be getting a headache.
“Flo, you have given him all the love in the world and he still doesn’t want to get his act together.” My mom pointed out.
“But you see, we are getting married.” My Aunt Flo replied. “He even brought me a ring.” At that moment my aunt showed my mom her diamond. It looked like a big one. Lord only knows how he swung that one being unemployed and all.
Then my mom delivered the punch of the century, “That’s great Flo. Where did he steal it from?”
I quickly got Skipper’s glass of water and ran upstairs. Forgetting my anger for my pint sized adversary, I had news to report. As I got to the top of the stairs I said, “News on the home front.”
“What? Give us the dirty skinny.” Skipper asked as if she were a British General from the trenches greeting a spy who had been behind German lines.
“Aunt Flo and Ralph the Jerk Who’s Allergic to Work are getting married.” I said.
“Did he at least get her a ring?” Wendell asked alarmed at this news.
“Yes and mom wants to know where he stole it from.” I said
“He probably did steal it. Dead beat.” Wendell said as he made the exit to go back to the video games. Now I was left with Skipper.
“We have a dance lesson in a half hour.” I told the elf. “So get some breakfast or I will persuade mom to leave you home. You blackmailed me once today and it’s not going to happen again.” I said making a motion like I was going to pound the plotter. While Skipper was cunning, she cowered at threats of actual physical violence. I had size and speed and would use it. With that Skipper was off to get ready. Just then I heard my aunt leave and my mom breathed a sigh of relief. We would be getting the details later. I had a feeling.

On the drive to dance class my mom was silent. Already an aggressive driver, she was more angry behind the wheel than ever. “Mom, you just ran both a stop sign and a red light.” Skipper pointed out. Our mom had just gotten a ticket three weeks before. The worst thing was, she was taking my brother to karate and forgot her license. Needless to say it was an experience.
“Just shut up.” She snapped at Skipper. While Skipper could be annoying sometimes my mom usually more or less spared the verbal rod with Skipper because she was the baby. And if you yelled at Skipper her first reaction was usually to cry.
And that’s what Skipper did. She started to cry.  Part of me couldn’t help but laugh because in a way this was kharma for her blackmailing scheme earlier this morning. When we pulled into the parking lot Skipper had tears running down her face. My mom, ashamed at how she lost her temper with her youngest and most perfect, pulled the car in the lot. “I’m sorry sweetie.” She said to Skipper giving her a big hug. “Your mother has just had a long morning.”
After a second Skipper asked, “Is Aunt Flo really going to marrying Ralph the Jerk Who’s Allergic to Work?”
That’s when my mom hit her hands against the steering wheel. “Skipper, just don’t remind your mother, okay.” She told my sister giving her another hug. Then she looked at me and said, “Promise your mother you won’t be like Aunt Flo who dates only losers that won’t work. Doing that would upset your mother and make her cry. Don’t upset your mother and make her cry. It’s a sin against God.” My mother said. Most of the time my mom was really cool but when she added the sin against God thing in put another level to things that made it all that more damning and severe.
We both promised my mom that much as we walked downstairs. Our dance teacher Miss Linette was there ready to see us practice our routine. When our mom left we were there, in the dance studio, still with the residue of the early morning drama on us. A tall former rockette with brown hair that was short and cropped, Ms. Linette asked, “What was with your mom?”
“Should you tell her or should I Skipper?” I asked my baby sister, still shaken from my mom’s yelling at her.
“You.” Skipper told her. That’s when I proceeded to describe to Miss Linette the drama of the morning from start to finish. To my surprise, Miss Linette was not appalled at all. As a matter of fact she laughed.
“Well girls. I have a sister just like your Aunt Flo. Except she goes farther by marrying and having kids with the guy.” Miss Linette explained. “Her husband just went to jail.” While Aunt Flo’s man didn’t serve time yet, there was always that key word, yet.
Skipper and I looked at each other. “But enough of that. Let’s tumble.” Miss Linette directed. She put on our dance music and off we went bending, twisting and flying through the air, getting ready for the recital. Skipper seemed to forget she was yelled at and I seemed to forget I invited Aunt Flo in. While I could have lied and said we weren’t home it wouldn’t have worked. But damnit I should have tried.

When our lesson was over we waited outside for my mom to pick us up. We would have stayed indoors but the Caswell sisters were coming in after us for their duet and those two divas required all the time and space in the world. “Miss Linette’s sister’s husband went to jail. Do you think Ralph The Jerk Allergic to Work will break the law?” Skipper quiered.
“Nah.” I said. “That would require being ambitious. He sleeps till noon every day. Being a criminal is usually a hard job.” I told my sister.
My sister shook her head. “Why does Aunt Flo date such losers?” My sister asked me. Skipper tugged my shirt trying to keep my attention because for a brief second my eyes had wandered off. We loved my aunt. She broke her neck to make every occasion special and always came armed and dangerous with the camera. Maybe it was annoying that she snapped a billion photos but there was always something of a record of the occasion.
“It’s a mystery of the universe. But promise me Skipper, you will, someday when Prince Charming comes, marry a guy who has a job.” I said getting stern with the youngster.
“Only if you’ll marry a guy with a job.” Skipper replied.
“Pinky swear.” I said.
“Pinky swear.” Skipper replied. That’s when we did our pinky swear, elbow kiss. It was sister code for promise and contract signed, sealed and delivered.

When our mom picked us up she was in a slightly better state of mind. Maybe it was the much needed second cup of coffee. Or maybe it was a trip to the supermarket. Who knows. She chirped away asking how practice was and then said, “Listen girls, if your Aunt Flo calls tell her I’m not home.”
We shook our heads. “What if you are home? That would be lying.” Skipper informed her.
“Do you want to hear anymore about Ralph the Jerk Allergic to Work?” I asked Skipper. “And the wedding that they are probably mooching off of people for.”
Skipper shook her head. “Well your dad and I don’t either.” My mom told us as we pulled into the driveway.

My mom was so exhausted from dealing with my aunt she decided we were eating in front of the TV. Plus the morning had exasperated her so much it was leftover time. This was actually a good deal all around. My dad was catching up on his Big Battles and meatloaf always tasted better on the second day. However, my mom fell asleep instantly. Apparently, after my Aunt Flo announced her engagement the phone was ringing off the hook. My mom’s sister Marie called and was panicked along with her brothers Mark and Preston. Not to mention my grandfather, who had almost died of a blood clot in an accident less than a year before, was livid. My mom couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t blame her.
Just as my mom was in the middle of a sleep the phone rang. “Go see who it is.” My dad said tired from the long work week and morning drama. He did have a long week. As a matter of fact he had gone into the office that day. My dad was the opposite of Ralph The Jerk Allergic to Work in just about every way. Aside from the fact that he was loyal to my mom, didn’t wear a toupee or glue on chest hair, and would never dream of having a spray on tan, my dad had a job. As a matter of fact having his own law firm he worked seven days a week and even took calls on vacation. The son of a machinist in a mill my dad had been working since he was seven years old having his own paper route. My dad definitely didn’t do well with lazy.
Wendell being the closest to the door got up and looked. “Aunt Flo.” He said.
“Don’t pick up.” My dad said. “We cant take it anymore.”
Just then the message machine started. My Aunt Flo was basically yelling at my mom for judging her and Ralph the Jerk Who is Allergic to Work. She finally ended her message with the immortal words, “But nobody understands him.”
My dad put Big Battles on pause for a second and decided it was time for his Daddy Lesson. We were all ears and he said, “Children, I have been around a lot longer than you. I just want you to know, if you ever hear anyone say, ‘no one understands me’ it means that they are an asshole and everybody knows it.”
The room was silent for a moment. Wendell, Skipper and I all locked eyes in agreement. This was a true assumption about Ralph The Jerk Who’s Allergic to Work. That’s when my dad put Big Battles back on and the rest of us watched it and fell asleep. As I heard the November rain pound on the window I knew it was a perfect way to end such a craptacular day.
Six weeks later my Aunt Flo found out that Ralph the Jerk Who’s Allergic to Work had another fiancĂ© two towns over with two kids. Much like my Aunt Flo, she had been bank rolling him. Being in the thick of the relationship, my Aunt Flo still believed she could change him. When he broke it off with her because the other woman was willing to give him more financial support, my Aunt Flo gave him back the ring. Of course my mother pushed her to pawn it. However, when the other woman found out about my Aunt Flo she dumped Ralph the Jerk Who’s Allergic to Work like a hot potato out of the oven.
Ralph the Jerk Who’s Allergic to Work was an asshole. We all knew it. However it seemed my Aunt Flo was the last to get the memo.
Years later I would learn that there was a word to describe a kindly woman like my aunt who dated men beneath her in hopes of saving them, codependent.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Iced Cream

It was the summer of 1995. The heat raged in a way that ravaged the sidewalk and made everyone crazy. Yes it was so hot that you could fry an egg. So what were we doing on a glorious summer Saturday? We were not relaxing by the pool or playing in the park. Oh no, we were headed to a funeral. Yes, it was the funeral of my Uncle Tim’s brother Ricky. Tim, Ricky and his brother Sammy all were a crazy lot. Actually crazy is an understatement. Three ill-adjusted former Vietnam Veterans, they could teach a child the alphabet by saying, “A is for alpha, B is for bravo and C is for Charlie that slanty eyed little chink no good SOB” over a cold glass of beer. Actually most of the time they did try to teach a child the alphabet in that fashion, that is, before a more sober and more aware adult whisked the child away.
Ricky had passed away from a heart attack in his sleep. Sandwiched in the middle, he was the younger brother of my Uncle Tim, the drunk married to my Aunt Maggie. Aunt Maggie was a saint of a woman who worked as a nurse and would take the shifts of others who needed to attend family events or whatever else. A salt of the Earth kind of gal, we often wondered how she got married to such a loser who drank his way out of every job he had. Nonetheless, Uncle Tim was our favorite drunkle. Always drunk, he never missed a recital or family event. While never sober, he always provided the always on the mark and sometimes racist color commentary for family events. Sure this wasn’t a highlight for some of my aunts, but Uncle Tim always gave us savings bonds for our birthdays.
Then the youngest in that line was Sammy. Sammy had been drafted in Vietnam at eighteen. Already a kid who wasn’t making it, Sammy was pushed over the edge. While in the jungles he apparently had befriended a young Vietnamese boy who accidentally stepped on a land mine and was blown to bits. Sure it is tragic but at least he wasn’t eaten by a tiger like my Uncle’s other friend. Both would suck though. Nonetheless, that is why one should never make friends at war. To grieve, good old Sammy took up with some Thai hookers and drugged away his pain. And that is what he had been doing ever since that time, that is, with brief stints in rehabs, psych hospitals, and jails. Usually it meant a phone call to my dad to bail this fun loving junkie out. Never having shame, Sammy, much like his brother Tim, showed up intoxicated. However, Sammy didn’t come to a lot of the family events because a lot of people didn’t want him around. Between the hookers and strippers he usually dated as well as his little crack habit, some of my aunts didn’t feel he would be a good influence on their children, kill joys. Not to mention Sammy frequently urinated in public. But hey, at least it was good for the grass.
Ricky was the middle child in this family. He did not have a drug or alcohol problem like his two siblings but rather suffered from multiple personality disorder. Yes, there were three personalities in the world of Ricky. The primary greencard holder was Ricky. According to my dad, he was a good guy. Then there was Jack, Jack could be rude and obnoxious and apparently had voted for Barry Goldwater for president back in the day. Lastly there was Bob. Bob was a quiet intellectual who valued money and even somehow managed to open a savings account. This one still boggles my mind because Bob didn’t have a heating bill or a photo ID. However, Bob always believed in saving his money apparently.
Despite his mental health issues Ricky had a good heart. He looked after the wayward Sammy and gave him a roof over his head rather than the Taj Mahal Crackhead Motel he usually took residence in. In addition, Ricky also let Sammy know there was no drinking before five and crack could not be smoked in the house. And whenever he got a new girlfriend, usually someone who worked in the sex trade in some way, they were to keep their relations in a cheap motel. And if her pimp were to come onto Ricky’s property Jack might come out and put a cap in his ass. Basically Ricky was the success story.
“Why do we have to go to this funeral?” I whined to my mother as we dawned our black. We had never really met Ricky or Sammy. We just heard horror stories from my dad who was forced to deal with this McKnucklehead Clan. But for as much as my dad would tell us never to grow up to be like our Uncle Tim, we all sort of did like the guy. He made us ice pops every Fourth of July as he drank his umpteenth beer of the day. While other people would have succumbed to alcoholism long ago, Uncle Tim had a liver of steel and that’s why we loved him.
“Funerals are for the living and we love your Uncle Tim.” My mother said as she combed the knots out of my hair.
“But we don’t know Ricky.” Skipper whined as she came in. “And the last time I went to a funeral I had a nightmare.” Oh I did remember her last funeral parlor outing. Wendell had told Skipper some horrible scary story on the way home from the funeral parlor where we were paying respects to some old lady who had gone to our church. All night, Skipper had nightmares that the old lady had risen from the dead. This resulted in her sleeping in my bed, kicking me all night, and stealing the covers. When I complained to my mother about my night visitor she told me to wait until I was married and my husband snored in addition to those things. That’s when I announced my intent never marry and invest in six cats. My mother fired back telling me with my craptacular attitude I was well on my way.
“Well Ricky won’t rise from the grave. He’s at peace.” My mother assured her.
“Only one of his many personalities will come back.” Wendell said entering the room. “I hope it’s Jack. Jack sounded like a dillweed but I think we would have been fun at a party.”
We all shook our head in agreement. That’s when my mom decided to have a mom moment with us, to teach us compassion. “Children, your Uncle Tim’s brother Sammy will be there. He isn’t well.” My mom tried to explain.
“Oh, you mean the grizzled Vietnam Vet who pees everywhere?” My brother asked.
Skipper and I burst out laughing. “We should totally screw with him by saying, ‘quick, hide. Agent Orange is coming. Charlie is on his way!” I suggested. It had been a line from some war movie we saw. My brother and sister began laughing as well.
However my mom was serious. “Listen, when Sammy was in Vietnam he saw some pretty awful things. I want you to have compassion for him. He has been through a lot. So be kind.” My mom commanded.

As we piled in the car my dad made it clear he was not looking forward to this errand. While my dad loved my Aunt Maggie, his big sister, whenever my Uncle Tim’s family was involved there was always some sort of legal trouble. It wasn’t like they could ever let my dad be either. They called him at all hours of the day and night with some drama. As we drove I asked my family as a whole, “Do you think Uncle Tim is going to be drunk?”
Wendell laughed, “April, you are asking that like is the pope a Catholic?”
My dad however didn’t find this as funny as we did. Instead he took it as occasion to teach one of his many daddy lessons. My dad explained, “Children, there comes a fork in the road when you have to make a decision about what you want in life. I remember when your grandfather met your Uncle Tim he said to your Aunt Maggie, ‘a man that can sit on the couch that long and do nothing is no man at all. Don’t marry him.’ She did and look at how much she has to go through. So work hard, go to school, save your money, and get a good mate. Because if you marry wrong you could end up with an Uncle Tim, an old drunk who does nothing. Are you listening April?”
Why did my dad felt the need to target me I will never know. That’s when I informed my dad again of my announcement. I was never marrying and having six cats. “You say that now but you just wait. You will fall in love and someday I will have six little April’s running around.” My dad teased.
“No!” I screamed. “There will be no little April’s. I will discontinue the genetic pool. It will be for the best. We had a good run.” I countered.
“April just shut up.” My brother Wendell said.
“I bet Wendell will marry some old fat hag like your ex girlfriend Ann the refrigerator girl.” I told my brother.
“Well she actually has six cats and has never been married so watch how you treat your brother.” My dad told us both.
“And a fat cow she is.” My mom said laughing.
“Fat cows have feelings.” Skipper said being the most sensitive of us. We all sort of burst out laughing at this adorable little elf.
As we neared the funeral home on the South Side, my dad pulled into a parking space. He said to us before getting out, “Now you know your Uncle Tim;s brother Sammy isn’t well. The odds that he drank and did drugs before he came today are very good. While I want you to limit contact, be kind.”
We all nodded our heads as my dad continued, “Just remember, if you say yes to drugs that could be any one of you. Drugs fry your Goddamn brain. And if you say yes to drugs I will take a two by four and beat you with it. I figure as long as you are losing brain cells we might as well do it the old fashioned way. Dope is for dopes. Got that kids?” My dad asked. We all shook our heads. Daddy lesson number two, concise and to the point.
When we entered the funeral home we were greeted by my Aunt Maggie out front. The wife of Uncle Tim, she was separate from her spouse for the moment and smoking a cigarette. The odds she had just come from the hospital where she worked as head nurse in the ER were very good. We gave her each a kiss as her red lipstick smeared on our cheeks. A larger woman, she puffed on her stress nicotine as my dad asked, “How is Tim?”
“Good. And by the way, Sammy is in rare form.” Aunt Maggie warned puffing her cigarette. “He lost his brother and broke up with Nanette.”
“Nanette?” Skipper asked. You see, at the time we were not fully aware Sammy dated such women of ill repute. So my sister, being a mere seven probably thought Nanette was a normal woman.
“We’ll see you inside Maggie.” My dad said whisking us along avoiding that crash landing from the awkward fairy.
As we made an entry into the old funeral home we separated from our parents as soon as we saw our cousin Frankie at the door. A red head with freckles, Frankie had been one of two children adopted by our Aunt Bess and Uncle Frank along with his sister Casey. For years good old Frank and Bess tried to have a child but could not. Finally they got Frankie at six weeks old from a local Catholic children’s charity. Right away, this creature with a mysterious genetic map surprised everyone. At the age of four he was reading. At eight, he had taken up trumpet and quickly surpassed his band teacher who, proud of the gift he spotted in his pupil, sent him to a master teacher at Carnegie Mellon who exclaimed little Frankie had been born to play trumpet. However, despite being bright, Frankie was prone to mischief and therefore he was always at war with Aunt Bess.
“Hey Frankie.” My brother Wendell said. “How has this place been so far?”
Frankie laughed. “Earlier, Ernie, some cousin of Uncle Tim was here and he was cool. We were going over to the body and changing the hand position because the place was quiet and there was nothing to do.”
Skipper gasped as she heard this. “That’s terrible! Especially since rigor mortis just set in.” She said informing them. Skipper, intelligent but disturbed, was studying dissection at her science camp.
“Nah, it was actually sort of fun. Plus Uncle Tim was drunk and telling some story about how Vietnamese people are all evil Communist Spies named Charlie.” Frankie said. We were all familiar with those drunken tails of racism with no point. However, they were quite entertaining, reminding us that we were topping the bell curve.
“Did you open his eyes?” I asked. While it was disgusting to touch the dead body part of me was curious. Plus it sort of sounded fun.
“Nah, my mom, the General came and crashed my fun. She gave me a smack in the head and made me stand with her. And then Ernie’s mother took him home. So it’s good you came Wendell. It’s the last of the fun before I have to play the funeral mass.”  It was true, Frankie or Frances Robert O’Brien III as his mother called him when she was enraged with his latest stunt, would be playing the funeral mass with with his trumpet. That was the up/downside of having all the musical talent in the family. With that the two were off. It was just me and my sister alone in this funeral home.
Of course in ear shot was my Aunt Bess kvetching to my Aunt Violent and Uncle Steve about her son’s latest antic. Dressed in all black, she had her alburn hair pinned up. Standing next to her was my Uncle Frank. A Union Carpet Layer who worked nights, he already seemed exhausted and this visit before his time on the clock began was probably the last thing he wanted or needed. Nonetheless, we all loved Aunt Bess and Uncle Frank. They were politically involved, knowledgable, would give the shirt off their back to anyone, and usually had an open door policy at their house to any and all kids in the family and on the block, especially on the Fourth of July.
“I turn my back and there is that son of mine, rearranging the hands on the dead body. You know, he is usually a good kid. But every time I turn my back he is always trying something. If I didn’t get there in time I swear to God that kid would have opened the eyes.” My Aunt Bess said. She was steaming.
My Uncle Frank seemed like he had already heard enough about this for an hour. “Bess, he’s eleven. Boys will be boys. You yelled at him, it’s over. Let it go.” My uncle told her. My Aunt Bess was the type to fight it out until the end. I always swore if she were a boxer she would be Mike Tyson minus the ear biting. However, my Uncle Frank was more live and let live. This made them a good combo, especially when they ran in local political races on the same ticket.
“And Frankie’s a good kid. It’s just you know how Tim’s family is. They all tumble out of the trailor park once a year for Christmas mass and funerals. They don’t know any better. But Frankie is always over Mom’s house mowing her lawn once a week.” My Aunt Violet said. She was my dad’s youngest sister and the one who looked the most like me apparently. At the time she was in dental school. She had only been four when my grandfather passed and for the most part my dad actually acted as her surrogate father.
“Well thank God he is friendly with Wendell. Wendell will be a good influence.” My Aunt Bess said as her rant ended.
“If it’s any comfort I would have smacked my son in the head if he did that too if I had one.” My Uncle Steve told her. Uncle Steve was Violet’s husband. Working in the construction business, he was a fly fisher and passionate about it. As a matter of fact he had even written a column for a fly fishing publication. Usually weekends were spent with his dad on the lake doing guess what? However, it seemed this fishing trip had been cut short.
“I hope he washed his hands.” My Violet replied laughing trying to lighten the situation. Sure, my cousin could be a little crazy but Aunt Bess was on the war path. The best thing to do was try to make her laugh. Standing there of course was my little cousin Casey. Six to Skipper’s seven, the three of us were thick as thieves sometimes and I always had to shepherd these wayward girlies. She looked at us with longing eyes, ready to make the escape from her mother’s clutch. While Frankie tested by Aunt Bess Casey was seemingly angelic in comparison.
My sister and I looked at each other. We had no idea the funeral was going to be this wild. Just then Wendell and Frankie came running over. “Is my mom still complaining about earlier?” Frankie asked rolling his eyes back. “You know she made me wash my hands one hundred times.”
“You touched a dead body.” I replied. Frankie seemed to be missing the point entirely. “But don’t worry, your dad put in a few good words for you.”
Just then, my Uncle Tim came staggering in. Smelling as if he had just bathed in a keg at the local bar our drunkle spotted us and gave my sister and I a sloppy kiss and Wendell a big old handshake. “How is my favorite Godson?” He asked my brother.
“Good. Good to see you Uncle Tim.” Wendell replied.
“Well I see your mom is going off about something again.” Uncle Tim said.
“Yeah.” Frankie said. “And there goes the General, in for the kill.”
“Oh is she still going on about the dead body?” Uncle Tim asked. The four of us shook our heads.
“Tell her to get over it. Ricky ain’t here. He’s dead. And if he were here, he would be telling you how to arrange the dead body. You see, the Vietnamese always played dead so we used to do that shit to the corpses anyway. So basically you were just checking. They bury people alive all the time in Asia by accident.” My Uncle explained as he tried to grab a chair to stay up.
The four of us shook our heads as we saw our Aunt Maggie out of the corner of our eye beckoning our Uncle. “My Prison Guard is here.” That is what he called his wife. As my drunkle lumbered off the four of us let out an awkward burst of laughter.
“Why is it that my mom is the only one still upset about this?” My cousin Frankie said as he walked off with Wendell. Just then Casey spotted us.
“Look Mom, April and Skipper are here!” She exclaimed.
“Then say hello.” My Aunt Bess instructed as Skipper and I made our way over. As soon as we made our way over we got a big kiss from my Aunt Bess.
“You girls sure look beautiful!” She said. “How has your summer been?”
“Good. Swimming a lot. Writing.” I replied. I had been published in my elementary school newspaper that year. It was a stupid story I had written about a cat with no point whatsoever. But my father basked in the glory that his child was doing something and not on her way to actively becoming a homeless criminal. So perhaps this was an achievement to be celebrated. To top it off, he read the work, the anti-literary classic, to anyone who would listen.
“Well that’s wonderful. You should keep that up April. And how is my Goddaughter Skipper? You didn’t say hi to your favorite Aunt Bess.” My Aunt Bess asked.
“Good. I am in science camp.” She replied. Skipper, for as quiet and sweet as she was, had a sick side. Yes, even at the age of seven she was into dissection. Peculiar, Skipper would present her odd findings about the innards of animals sometimes while we were eating dinner. While fascinating, it did make digestion complicated.
“And I saw your Mom and Dad. They said you were both on the swimming team.” My Aunt Bess said.
“And you didn’t say hello to your Uncle Frank.” Oh darn, he forgot the guy but not for long. Immediately we both gave him a big hug.
“We enjoyed your story about the cat.” My Uncle Frank said. I thanked him. Why did my dad have to read that piece of trash to everyone? Why couldn’t they read the story where three people for murdered? It had been a good one. Lindsay, my best friend from school liked it. However, my mother said I couldn’t put it in the newspaper because it was something about me being a maladjusted secret and how we needed to keep that within the family and the family alone. So the stupid cat story it would be.
“And we didn’t say hi to Aunt Violet girls.” My Aunt Violet exclaimed seeing us. She was probably just relieved to get Aunt Bess off the war path long enough.  She gave us a hug and said, “What is this I hear about you swimming.”
“We joined the swim team at the country club.” I informed her.
“Oh good. I remember I swam in high school. Your mom helped me perfect my backstroke.” Violet explained. It was true. My mom was the queen of the swimmers. Captain of her division one team, my mother not only was a champion breast stroker but also had a sit in to get letter jackets for herself and her teammates because the college wouldn’t award such things to women’s teams.
“And then no one talks to Uncle Steve.” My Uncle Steve said lifting us both up at the same time to hug us.
“How’s the fishing?” I asked.
“Ah good. But I had to comehome early because of the wake.” He explained.
“Death ruins a fishing trip.” I said. With that, the whole group of us burst out laughing. It was probably the easy laugh everyone needed after my Cousin Frankie’s little excursion. I could see him and Wendell out of the corner of my eye too. They seemed to be staying out of trouble.
Just then I heard the patter of feet. It was my cousin’s Lacey and Glinda. Both were beautiful girls with long brown hair. Unlike us, they lived on a farm and had a donkey named Buddy who was for the most part the star of the town’s Christmas pageant and often walked down the aisle of the church Christmas Eve for mass.
“Hey girls, grandma is looking for you. You are being summoned.” Lacey said. She was the older of the two and more of a talker. “And she is currently teaching my brother about the New Testament.” My grandmother wasn’t religious but every once in a while did a spot check on catechism. Currently, my cousin Nathan was her latest victim. And the worst part was that he was only two.
As we wandered over Lacey explained, “She’s in a rare mood and she got lipstick all over my cheeks.”
“I have lipstick all over my right cheek.” Skipper whined.
“Well get ready to have two kisses for the price of one.” My four year old cousin Glinda explained.
As soon as my grandmother saw us she said, “Well there they are. You girls didn’t give me a hug and a kiss. Wendell already gave me a hug and a kiss.”
Nathan looked at us as if we had just come in time, saved by the bell. A quiet kid with brown hair who had a like for puzzles even at this young age the whole grilling was too much for him.
“Your dad read your story about the cat to me April. It was good. You should write down all the books you read.” My Mema suggested. “I know I do.” When she spoke I knew she meant trash romance novels, books I was too young to follow. I didn’t like boys anyway. They were loud and annoying and seemed to make fun of the brainier girls in the class.
“I am in science camp Mema.” Skipper said.
However Mema seemed to want to spare Skipper. “You lost weight April. Are you using those big muscles to swim?” My Mema asked. Okay, the awkward fairy had officially landed. Just then Aunt Violet came to the rescue.
“Time for your meds Mema.” She said whisking my grandmother away for her blood thinner. Saved by the bell once again.
“How do they know someone is dead?” Casey asked as soon as Mema left.
“They drain the blood and replace it with chemicals.” I explained. “There is no way he could be alive. He’s like a stuffed animal.”
“Ewwww!” Glinda exclaimed.
“Actually it is quite true. Because when someone dies their innards liquidate.” Skipper explained clinically. There was no doubt in my mind that this screwed up child was my direct relation.
“Yuck!” Casey said. “That is disgusting. April, how do you live with her?”
Skipper’s face fell. This was my turn to be big sister. “Well I wrote a story about three people being killed that my friend’s enjoyed. We are a messed up crazy bunch.”
“True.” Lacey said. “My mom says Uncle Tim bathes in a distillery.” My Aunt Deanna was probably right about that. The wife of my dad’s brother Deke, Deanna had grown up on the farm the family now lived on. Parties at their house were cool because we got to ride around in Mr. Reznik’s model T, my Aunt Deanna’s dad, and swim in their pool. But Aunt Deanna pulled no punches.
Just then a creature came up to us smelling of rum with a flask that he was barely trying to conceal. Looking as if he had slept on the street and been in a bar fight, he smelled like a mixture of Jack Daniels and pee. His hair was brown and scraggled off his head. Everything about this man scraggled. He let out some sort of a howl. I think he was supposed to have been crying but the Jack Daniels and whatever other substance he had consumed was making it impossible to understand him.
“Ricky, you would have been good when Nanette dumped me. Why did you have to go?” The man in the suit whined. He was skinny, junky crackhead skinny. The suit he wore, probably stolen from the local dumpster, had a stain on the jacket. On that same part of the jacket was a hole, possibly a bullet hole but we didn’t want to ask. Either way, we were left to assume this was cousin Sammy.
“Is it true his girlfriend is a hooker?” My cousin Casey asked tugging my shirt.
“That would be ex girlfriend.” I told them now stuck being the older cousin and having to teach a fact of life I barely knew.
“What’s a hooker?” Glinda asked. Oh gosh, why did I have to shepherd this flock? Why couldn’t there mother have told them? Then again, they were only six and four.
“A bad girl.” I told them.
“Like what?” Casey asked.
“Like your mom will tell you the rest.” I told them.
Just then Sammy turned around and saw us. Drunk, he stared for a second and waved as if he were Dorothy and we were tiny munchkins. That’s when Sammy wiped his eyes, took a big gulp from his flask, put it back in his pocket and asked, “Hey kids, do you want some iced cream!” He said it with such enthusiasm and a huge smile, or rather a disturbed drunken grin.
At that moment we all sort of stared at each other. I myself would not have minded the iced cream. However, my mother probably would have had a fit if Skipper and I went with cousin Sammy. And Aunt Bess, well my cousin Frankie would be the least of her problems. Aunt Deanna, well, she wouldn’t have that, especially with someone who probably bathed once a week if that.
“Want some iced cream?” Sammy asked again.
Just then Aunt Deanna came to the rescue. Her short brown hair was cropped and her face was sun kissed by all the laying out by the pool. Seeing us, she had Nathan by the hand and said, “Well Sammy, thank you for the offer but these kids haven’t had dinner yet and we wouldn’t want to spoil their appetite. Come along.”
As we all walked with her I wanted to award her the save of the day. That was brilliant. “Thank you. He was scary and smelled bad.” Lacey said. Glinda shook her head.
“Speaking of which, we have to leave because we are getting hungry. Good seeing you girls. And April, loved the cat story. Keep them coming.” Enough of that damn cat story already was what I was thinking but oh well.
Just then I saw my brother, father and mother motioning to Skipper and I. It was time to pay our last respects. We went up to the coffin where we saw a man with a gray beard and several tattoos laying there. He seemed like out of Timmy and Sammy Ricky would have been the success story. Not to mention he was probably a saint having put up with My Uncle Tim and Sammy for as long as he did. I said my usual “Our Father” and then got up.
On the way home in the car we talked about what a freakshow the funeral seemingly was. My dad was quiet for the most part because apparently Ricky had written the will but no one was sure if it was legit because half way through the will Jack, the personality who voted for Barry Goldwater took over and it was a swear word every other word. Plus it was written on a legal, yellow steno pad. My Aunt Maggie had pulled him aside with this drama and therefore he was in no mood to discuss.
But when we told the iced cream story everyone in the car started howling. “He was really drunk. I think he drinks more than Uncle Tim. They probably both test the laws of nature with their livers.” Wendell observed.
“That’s why you should never do drugs. Stuff like that.” My dad said getting serious. We rode in silence for a few minutes before my dad pulled over to what appeared to be an iced cream shop.
“It’s Saturday and summer. You kids were so well behaved at that funeral. I think it’s treat time.” My dad said. We all cheered.
However my mom wasn’t completely sold. “April needs to watch her weight.” My mom said.
“Anne, she can watch her weight tomorrow.” My dad told us as we got out of the car.
Perhaps Sammy did have a point. Maybe we did need some iced cream. So what if we were screwing up our appetites and it was before dinner. But he taught me something important. A crackhead is indeed a person in your neighborhood.