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 fiancé 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.

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