Saturday, August 5, 2017

Ch 8 The cast-iron cat in context

It is indeed real.

Ch 8 Sly and Doris thinks Michael is working really hard just to buy pot and I ask, Is that wrong? (OK, yes, I know it’s illegal, but morally? Is it wrong to smoke pot as long as you don’t hurt anyone else? I don’t think so)

Primo: My mom and my dad are upset because even though Michael and Maria were home over break, they didn’t visit except for Christmas dinner. My dad says they were too busy working and took every shift they could get.

Me: Except for the afternoon they went bowling with us. They like to hang out with us.

Primo: That’s because we don’t scream at them.

Me: Maybe we should. It does seem to be the way.

Primo: They didn’t go see my mom and dad at all after Christmas, even though they just went back to school today.

Me: What? The kids didn’t want to return to the Scene of the Crime of the White Meat?

Primo: Nope.

Me: And also? Don’t they complain that the kids spend foolishly? That they act like there is a – and I quote – money tree? Shouldn’t they be glad that they both have are working? It sounds like they have a good work ethic.

Primo: They think Michael is working only to have money to buy pot.

Me: OK, first, if that’s why he’s working, more power to him. I mean, I don’t think it’s a good idea for him to be breaking the law – it’s risky – but if smoking pot is the worst thing he is doing, that’s not too bad. Second, maybe he is working because – I don’t know – he has a girlfriend? He has expenses at college? Because he wanted to buy nice Christmas presents for his family?

Primo: Or maybe the kids just don’t want to be screamed at. Maybe that’s why they are not visiting my mom and dad.

Me: Yeah, maybe!

Ch 8 Sly asks for a refund on the salad he ate more than half of yesterday

Stephanie: You won’t believe what S did!

Me: What?

Stephanie: They’ve been really nice helping me out driving Michael to work. He’s working over break at that fast-food place he was working at last summer. I’m not out of work early enough to take him. So I have to give them credit for that. But S took M to work and ordered a big salad for his supper. He took it home and he and D ate half then decided they didn’t like it. So S took it back today and asked for his money back! It was half eaten!

Me: You are joking! If it was so bad, why did they eat half of it?

Stephanie: M was so embarrassed because of course S shouts into the loudspeaker, “This is M’s grandfather.”

Me: Did they refund his money?

Stephanie: Yes!

Me: Since when do you get a refund on food you just don’t like? And that you have eaten half of?

Stephanie: I don’t know. If it had gone bad, that would have been one thing. But they just didn’t like it!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Ch 7 I write Doris a letter about a cooking class I attend

Because I just don’t know what to say about their Christmas letter but I want to be nice to her

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ch 7 Primo gets Sly and Doris’ form Christmas letter and the last paragraph is a doozy and even though it is completely irrelevant, I wonder about the random quotation marks – is there a code I am missing?

Our nation, from my perspective, is in a precarious state with little hope of immediate or near term fixes. I believe our political system is too broken for either "party" to remedy, and the ideological extremists make the situation worse with each passing day. I can't afford to waste my vote by staying away from the polls, but casting a vote for (candidate X) will be painfully necessary because (candidate Y’s) vision and personal profile portend a bleak and frightening alternative.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ch 7 Primo wants to know why I won’t be BFF with Doris and I feel sad for Doris, mean for not wanting to be her friend, and then kind of annoyed that I am being put in this position, because a woman in her 70s who doesn’t have friends – that’s on her, not on me

Primo: Why aren’t you nicer to my mom?

Me: What do you mean? I am nice to her. I cleaned her refrigerator. I helped with the cooking. I tried to have conversations with her. I made the broccoli her way, even though her way is wrong and wasteful. I did not argue with her. I did not argue with your dad, even when he was being a screaming jerk. I pulled weeds from her garden. I cleaned her garage. What else should I do?

Primo: You're not sympathetic to her.

Behold the face of a person with an ice-cold heart.

 Me: Yes I am. I think her life stinks.

Primo: But you are not her friend.

Me: I can’t be the person who she tells all her secrets to and who comforts her.

Primo: Why not?

Me: Because that is way out of scope for our relationship! I can be friendly, but I can’t be her friend. I can’t be the person she calls to complain about your dad to. I cannot reassure her out of her loneliness and desperation and anger.

Primo: She doesn't have any friends.

Me: I can’t fix that. I can be friendly – and I am – and I can be nice to her – and I try to be – but I cannot be her confidante. It’s inappropriate. She shouldn’t tell me intimate things about her life. There are things I shouldn’t hear.

Primo: She tells me that kind of thing.

Me: Exactly! She shouldn’t be telling you, either! I don’t ever want her to tell me about their sex life. Or about how unhappy she is. Just the idea of it makes me really uncomfortable. I don’t talk about that kind of thing with my own mother. Why would I talk about it with yours?

Primo: But she is so lonely.

Me: I know and I feel bad for her – her life is awful, but a friendship doesn’t consist of one person listening to the other person complain all the time. Your mom is so needy and I just don’t want to be the person she leans on.

Primo: You listen to your sister and your friends complain.

Me: Yeah, but they've already banked good times with me. By the time they get to the whining, they have built up a balance. Plus, it's a reciprocal relationship. I whine back to them. I am not going to whine to your mother.

Primo: You could be nicer.

Me: I think perhaps you have a different idea of boundaries from me.

Primo: Maybe.

Me: I mean, you are an adult child of alcoholics and you had a seriously ill sibling. That can mess things up.

Primo: Maybe.

Me: I have no issues like this with my family. None. You have met them. I hesitate to use the word “normal,” but I feel safe saying that my family is relatively emotionally healthy.

Primo: Mine is not.

Me: I have noticed.

Primo: I just want my mom to be happy. You see how my dad ignores her when she talks. She was so stressed when you were cleaning the refrigerator and he didn’t say a thing to her. He is not nice to her. He’s a bully. He won’t drive her to book club. He never wants to have anyone over. He gets angry when she doesn’t get supper ready fast enough. He doesn’t help around the house. He picks at her all the time. When he’s not talking, he’s seething. She has a miserable life.

Me: I know. You know you can’t make her happy, right?

Primo: I can try.

Me: OK. I will try harder. I will write letters to her and engage with her more when we visit. But you owe me.

Primo: I know.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Ch 7 A good recipe we could have made instead of the Cream of Shrimp stuff and that might have prevented Sly’s blowup – it’s that good

Because I care about you, I am going to share this fabulous recipe I found online. It is delicious. It is better than Doris’ Cream of Shrimp dip. Way better. I know it sounds weird, but it is divine.

1 (8 ounce) package of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1- 1 1/2 cups chopped dill pickles
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
2- 4 tablespoons pickle juice (use less for thicker dip or more for thinner dip)
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Use a wooden spoon to press into the cream cheese then stir until loosened up and smooth. Stir in all of the remaining ingredients until evenly distributed. Transfer to a serving dish and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

This dip is good for up to a week when stored tightly covered in the refrigerator. It may become thinner as the week draws to an end.

Ch 7 Sly blows up about the white meat and accuses Stephanie of being a bad mother but says nothing about Jack being a bad father

Primo and I are making lunch/supper/whatever you call the holiday meal that is eaten in the afternoon after Sly and Doris have started drinking.

Doris tells Primo, in great detail, how to make the creamed onions, which of course is nothing more than

·         Open the can of tiny onions and
·         Mix it with the can Campbell’s Cream of Shrimp soup that we brought from Texas to Florida.
·         Throw in some booze

I just googled for the recipe so I could share it with you and can’t find anything like that.

I did, however, find a recipe for cream of something soup, chopped onions, celery, and cream cheese. Once you throw cream cheese[1] into the mix, there is no way you can fail. Maybe that’s what she is having Primo make, except she left out the chopped onions and celery. It still isn’t much more complicated than mixing the soup with the tiny onions. So why does someone need detailed instructions to mix everything together and warm it up?

Doris continues to drink while she micromanages the making of dinner from the living room.

Doris: Cut the stems off that broccoli.

Me: The stems are good.

Doris: They’re stringy.

Me: I can peel them. It seems a shame to waste all that food. I like the stems.

Doris: No, don’t do that. Just cook the crowns. That’s what Primo likes.

For Doris, everything is about what Primo likes. Primo is the sun and he eclipses everyone else around him. Only suns don’t cause eclipses. I don’t think. I was an English major. Don’t hold me accountable for scientific accuracy. But you know what I mean. Primo is the moon, eclipsing the sun. Primo is the only star (I do know that the moon is not a star) in the sky for Doris. Primo Primo Primo.

It doesn’t matter that I like the stems. I would eat the stems. I would be happy to eat the stems. I bite my lip and threw away perfectly good food, which just about kills me because I am from the Tribe of We Who Do Not Waste and throwing food away only happens if I have done a lousy job of inventory management and something has gone bad in the fridge. Other than that, I eat everything at my house.

I don’t waste food. I can hardly bear to waste bad food. I especially don’t waste food that I like. But – I am Making an Effort with Doris. I thought we were bonding – I thought we were getting somewhere. But this is a setback. She is making me waste food.

The doorbell rings and Stephanie and the kids walk in.

Stephanie: Hey girlfriend!

I give her a hug.

Stephanie: Hi Mom. How are you?

Even if I do marry Primo, I will never call Doris, “Mom.” I don’t get that. She’s not my mother. Why would I call her “Mom?”

Doris: Stephanie, what a lovely outfit you’re wearing! Those shoes are so attractive! And those colors look lovely on you.

Me: You do look cute.

Stephanie is dressed up in yellow slacks, yellow linen heels, and a peach and yellow blouse.

Stephanie: I need to wash my hands. Kids, ask your grandma what you can do to help.

While Stephanie is in the bathroom, Doris confides in me: Isn’t that a tacky outfit?

Me: I think she looks cute.

Doris: She can’t afford to buy new clothes. I don’t know where she is getting the money to fund her extravagant lifestyle.

Stephanie has not asked Sly and Doris for money – I would have known if she had, because they would have complained to Primo – and how she spends what she has is none of their business.

Stephanie: What can I do to help?

Me: Come help me. I am in the middle of the broccoli. She wants me to throw away the stems. That’s so wasteful. And I like that part.

Stephanie: She asked me to fix the broccoli once. I knew that no matter how I did it, she wasn’t going to like it, so I told her I didn’t know how.

Me: But you do, right?

Stephanie: Of course I do. It’s broccoli. How hard is it? My mother taught me to cook.

Me: So you just used that as an excuse?

Stephanie: Uh huh.

Brilliant! Why hadn’t I thought of that? “I’m so sorry, Doris, but I don’t know how to clean mildew off a door.” “I’m so sorry, Doris, I don’t know how to clean spilled food off a refrigerator shelf.” “I’m sorry, Doris, I don’t know how to put out the trash.” “I’m sorry, Doris, I don’t know how to pull weeds.”

Me: And she believed you? She believed you that you do not know how to make broccoli?

Stephanie: Yes.

Me: You’re kidding. She really and truly thinks you do not know how to prepare and cook a raw vegetable.

Stephanie: Yep. They think I am a complete idiot. Whatever. She and Sly have probably been telling people for years that I can’t even make broccoli, but whatever. I don’t care. I get tired of being criticized for every little thing. If they are going to criticize me no matter what I do, I might as well make my life easier.

Me: So that’s where the broccoli story comes from. It was one of the very first things they said about you on my first visit. I guess they were warning me. I’ve heard you don’t do anything right.

Stephanie: They try to act like they are so accommodating, but a few years ago, right after we moved here, they wanted us here for Christmas Eve. I told them no, because we have our own Christmas Eve traditions in our family. I’m Italian and on Christmas Eve, we have the seven fishes. I asked if they wanted to come to our house, because I already had the meal planned. No, they wanted us here. Doris said she would have seafood for me.

Me: What’s the seven fishes?

Stephanie: You don’t know?

Me: No. I know what gravy is now. Is there more?

Stephanie: It’s an Italian thing. It’s how we do Christmas Eve. When my mom was alive, we would start with grilled shrimp. We had linguine with clams. Cioppino. Marinated anchovies.

Me: I love those! We ate those in Spain when I was a kid.

Stephanie: I know! So good, right?

Me: What else?

Stephanie: Baccala.

Me: Not for me.

Stephanie: And of course we would make pizzelle.

Me: What’s that?

Stephanie: You’ve never had pizzelle? It’s the cookies we make at Christmas, either lemon or anise flavored. I’ll make some for you one day.

Me: It all sounds so good.

Stephanie: It is. And that’s what we do at our house on Christmas Eve. But when we moved down here, Sly and Doris wanted us to spend Christmas Eve with them. The whole reason Jack wanted to move here was to have a better relationship – to have a relationship, period – with his dad, so I said yes. And Doris said they would have seafood for me.

Me: Did she?

Stephanie: Yes. Technically.

Me: Technically?

Stephanie: They had a crab leg.

Me: A crab leg? As in one? One crab leg?

Stephanie: Yeah. Just one. One. One crab leg. One king crab leg. There was hardly any meat in it.

Me: But it was technically seafood, wasn’t it?

Stephanie: Oh yeah. My Christmas Eve seafood supper. It was more like my Christmas Eve garnish.

Me: That must be where Doris got the diet Dr Pepper idea. One bottle of diet Dr Pepper because she didn’t want to spend two dollars more to get a twelve pack and have leftover cans. But she got me that Dr Pepper.           

Which she did. Don’t think I’m an ingrate, even though technically, I am. It’s just that bottled soda does not taste the same as canned soda and everyone knows that.

I am being a bitch. Doris did ask what I liked to drink and she made the effort to get it and that was nice. It was. She is trying to be a good hostess.

And maybe Doris, not being a soda drinker, doesn’t know that canned soda tastes different from bottled. I have to give her the benefit of the doubt. I do. I don’t think bourbon tastes any different depending on the size of the bottle.

Stephanie peels the potatoes and we throw them into the pot. The potatoes have to be peeled. Doris’ kitchen, her rules, I guess. Mashed potatoes taste better with the peels, but that’s not my hill.

Jack opens the oven and checks the turkey. “Done,” he says.

Sly: The turkey should be done. Doris! Check on it!

Jack: It’s done, Dad. I’m taking care of it.

Have I mentioned that Jack is a chef?

And that he knows how to cook?

Doris comes into the kitchen to prepare the gravy. That job cannot be delegated. She lets Jack arrange things so she can have the drippings.

She sighs. She stirs. She sighs again. She stirs again. And she sighs again. Oh she is weary.

Stephanie: Mom, let me do it. You sit. Your wrist is still healing.

Doris: No, no, no!

She sighs again. Wearily.

Me: Doris. Really. We can do it. Please sit down.

It is clear that this is hard for her.

Doris: No, I can do it.

Jack: Come on, Doris. I can take care of this for you.

She shakes her head. If she doesn’t trust Jack, a chef, to make gravy, she is not going to trust me or Stephanie, the bad broccoli maker.

I shrug at Jack. He shrugs back. Fine. Doris can be in charge of the gravy. But nothing else. We do not delegate physical work to people who have arthritis.

I helped my mom make gravy (Norwegian/Slovak gravy, not Italian gravy) when I was a little kid. I know the trick – you put the water and flour in a jar, then put the lid on it and shake it. That’s how you keep from getting lumps.

But if Doris wants to leave her bourbon to make gravy, I’m not going to stop her. If she doesn’t believe me that I know how, then whatever. I don’t care. My ego is not tied up in gravy making.[2]

Doris: The gravy is ready.

Stephanie: Come on, Mom. Let’s go sit down for a bit.

Sly comes into the kitchen and hands a box to Jack.

Sly: Use this knife for the turkey. We got this set as a wedding present.

Me: What about the knife we gave you?

Doris used the paring knife in the morning to peel a pear. No, she did not use the potato peeler. I don’t know why. I don’t know why she had to peel a pear and I don’t know why she didn’t use the proper tool for the job. There are questions for which we shall never have answers, ever, and we must learn to live with the uncertainty. Life is ambiguity.

Sly: This one is fine.

Sly doesn’t even look at me as Jack opens the box, pulls out a 45 year old carving knife, runs his thumb across the edge, and frowns.

Jack: Dad, when was this knife sharpened last?

Sly: It’s fine!

I whisper to Primo: Have their knives ever been sharpened?

Primo: I don’t think so. I have never seen it happen in my lifetime.

Jack: OK.

As soon as Sly steps out of the kitchen, Jack whispers to Primo, "Hand me that new one."

Sly: Primo! Put the plates in the oven to warm!

Me: Not mine. I don’t want a hot plate. And I don’t think it’s a good idea if people are serving themselves in the kitchen.

Primo: My dad likes his plate hot. He’s always complaining that my mom’s meals are cold.

Me: Maybe your dad needs to help your mom make supper instead of sitting on his ass waiting to be served. He knows she has arthritis. He knows she broke her wrist. No wonder the food is cold by the time she gets it to the table – it takes her forever to put everything together. My gosh – she can hardly walk and it’s almost impossible for her to use her hands. Besides, why is she in charge of the cooking, anyhow? Or at least, in charge of doing what your dad says? If he wants to be in charge, shouldn’t he be doing the actual work? Doesn’t she get to retire? Or is it just him?

Primo: My dad is a jerk.

He puts the plates in the oven, but keeps one out for me. I guess everyone else will get burnt hands.

At Doris’ direction – because we surely cannot have figured this out on our own,[3] we load the broccoli and potatoes and cream of shrimp soup dip and gravy into serving dishes and put them all on the kitchen counter. Primo pulls the plates out of the oven and stacks them on the counter.

Sly: Kids, get your food. Be careful of those plates – they’re hot.

See? Isn’t that dumb? To heat plates that people are going to have to hold? Hot plates, if you are going to have them, are for when someone else is putting the plate of food in front of you on the table, not for holding while you serve yourself from a buffet line.

Primo, Jack, Stephanie, Doris, and I step out of the kitchen into the dining room so there is room for Maria and Michael to get their food. They move into the kitchen, leaving room for Sly to come in behind them.

I hear him lift a plate off the stack.

I hear him gasp and put the plate back down.

Ha! Hot plate! Serves him right.

I hear his angry voice boom from the kitchen. “What? You took only white meat! You’re not supposed to take only the white meat!”

Oh. It isn’t a hot plate. It is Drama.

Sly stomps out of the kitchen, face red.

Sly: Stephanie, look at what your children did! Look at that!

He points at Maria and Michael.


The rest of us crowd into the kitchen to look at the kids. Then we look at the turkey platter. Then we look at the kids’ plates.

Then we look at the turkey platter again. The kids have barely made a dent in the turkey, which is not surprising – there was a lot of turkey. It looks as full as it did five minutes ago after Jack carved the turkey. There is plenty of white meat. This can happen when you prepare a 22-pound turkey for eight people.[4]

Stephanie opens her mouth to speak, but Sly continues his rant: What kind of mother lets her children eat like that? How dare they take only the white meat! When I was a child, I never would have been able to do such a thing! My mother never would have condoned such rude behavior. She never would have let me take only white meat! We hardly even had turkey! We almost never had meat! I got to pick last! The children never went first!

If I were not in shock, I might remind Sly that he told the kids to go first.

I would also remind him that the kids also have a father and that if there is blame to be placed, it should go equally on the other half of the parental unit.

Jack is no fool, though. He knows Sly. He keeps quiet.

Primo is also stunned into silence.

Doris stares at the floor.

Nobody defends Stephanie.

Sly: Your children! How dare they?

Stephanie presses her lips together, shakes her head, and walks away from Sly.

Jack still says nothing to his father about his children or about the mother of his children.

I walk over to Stephanie, put my arms around her, and whisper in her ear:  I have Xanax if you want some.[5]

Stephanie: No thanks. I have my own.

Sly follows us into the living room and rages at Stephanie. What a bad mother she is. How dare she? How dare she?

Stephanie: That’s it. I’m not taking this anymore. Jack, call me when supper is over and I’ll come back to get the kids.

She grabs her coat and purse and walks out of the house.

Good for you, Stephanie. I wish I could join her.

Sly stomps into his office.

The rest of us stand in shocked silence.

After about 15 seconds, Doris and Primo follow Sly into the office, where they implore him to apologize to Stephanie. Sly maintains he has nothing to apologize for. He has done nothing wrong. Nothing.

Primo sighs. If there is a sound of someone wringing her hands, I hear Doris making that sound.

Please just come back into the dining room, her hands beg.

I KNOW! I know hands cannot beg! This makes me think of that psalm where the rivers clap their hands. Rivers don’t clap, people. They don’t have hands. I can never make it through that song at church without laughing.

If rivers had hands, could they beg?

Whatever. You know what I mean.

Primo and Doris continue their efforts. 

I am tempted to say, “Sly! We will be so much happier without your grouchy ass! Stay in here so the rest of us might enjoy ourselves!”

Sly: They shouldn’t have taken the white meat! They should know better.

Jack runs outside after Stephanie. Stephanie stands with her arms crossed, lips pressed together, shaking her head. Jack is in front of her, his head down. He reach to her and puts his hand on her shoulders, says something. She shakes her head again, but walks back toward the house.

The kids still stand in the kitchen, holding their plates.

Primo persuades Sly to leave his office. Jack and Stephanie come back inside. We all get our food – the plates have cooled by now – and sit.

Nobody eats until we see Sly lifting his fork.

Nobody speaks.

Nobody makes eye contact.

Sly: The Eagles offense was appalling today. It’s incomprehensible to me how that quarterback can keep his job. Two interceptions! Two!

He looks at Jack and Primo. They look back at him but say nothing.

The silence stretches until Doris jumps in.

Doris: They should fire him.

The rest of us stay silent.

When I am sure nobody else is looking, I catch Stephanie’s attention and roll my eyes. Her lips twitch as she shakes her head slightly. Then she rolls her eyes back at me and exhales. Lord have mercy who are these crazy people?

[1] You see all those posts on Facebook where people are sharing recipes and raving, “This sounds soooo good?” And it’s for something like a cake with two sticks of butter and five eggs in the cake and another two sticks of butter in the frosting? Of course it will taste good. It’s not hard to make food that tastes good when you use a pound of butter. The trick is to make food that tastes good and also has no calories.
[2] Except it does annoy me that Doris thinks I am so incompetent that I can’t make gravy. But do I really want to be the Main Gravy Maker? I need to adopt Stephanie’s approach. I have such mixed emotions.
[3] Can you tell I really don’t like to be bossed around like this?
[4] I just checked to make sure I was right on this. Common wisdom seems to be 1.5 lbs per person if you want leftovers. By that rule, a 12-lb turkey would have been plenty for eight people.
[5] Jenny sent me six tablets, but I discovered that Xanax does nothing for me. Doris did, however, give me her extra Vicodin after she realized it did not help with her broken wrist and after I told her that sometimes (rarely), it helped with my migraines. I didn’t use it for migraine that visit, but a quarter tablet every six hours made it easier to be around Sly and Doris. Blurry edges are not such a bad way to survive a bad situation.

Ch 7 Sly and Doris hit the trifecta of awful gifts

Christmas morning, there is no sleeping late, even though Primo and I did not get back to the house until 2:00 a.m., because Sly and Doris get up at 7:00 a.m. and if they are up, everyone is up. Why should they try to be quiet? Why should they not watch TV? It is their house!

We open gifts after breakfast, a meal of which I partake greatly, eating more than I would usually eat, even though it is not even good food and I hate eating until I feel stuffed, because I know we won’t be eating again for hours and hours and hours.

What IS it with these people? How do they make it from breakfast to 4:00 p.m. without eating? Is there something wrong with me that I can’t do that?

Primo: Mom, these are the same kind of knives Goldie uses at home. I got a set for myself, too. They are really nice. Cooks Illustrated gave them a really high rating. We noticed that you are using some really old knives. I want you to have something new and nice. It’s not safe for you to be using those old, dull knives.

Doris: These are very nice!

A sharp knife is essential for cutting birthday cake. And yes, I made both the jumpsuit and the blouse. Do you like the piping at the cuff? And the D-ring for the belt? I had mad sewing skills. I made almost all of my own clothes. My mom made the cake.

 Sly: We don’t need new knives.

Primo: Dad. You do. The knives you have are dangerous. I do not want Mom to cut off her finger.

Me: They’re dull, and a dull knife is a dangerous knife. Doris, I love these knives. They make all the difference in the world. They are really nice to work with. I think you’ll like them.

She looks at Sly and when he isn’t looking, sneaks a smile at me.

Ha. I win.

Doris hands a flat, smallish box to Primo. Maybe a gift certificate to Williams Sonoma! A cash equivalent so he can get something he wants for a change. No, my mother did not raise me that way, so don’t go blaming her for my tackiness.

It contains a framed 8x10 color photo.

Of Sly and Doris. Grim and glaring at the camera.

Primo: I don’t know what to say.

Well, who would?

Interpreting Primo’s stunned almost silence as hesitance to express a negative opinion about the quality of the frame, Doris hands a second frame to him.

Doris: Here's another frame if you don't like that one.

Primo: Which one do you like, honey?

Me: Oh, you pick.

Primo: No, you!

Me: You should decide. It’s going to be in your apartment. My opinion is not relevant.

Primo: Oh come on. Which frame looks better? The dark one or the light one?

Me: Fine. The dark one.

That's it? That's his Christmas present? After he has spent his vacation time cleaning their garage and cat box?

No! Of course that
isn’t all!

With both hands, Doris reaches under the tree, lifts a box slowly and carefully, and passes it to Primo. This one is the size of a shoebox.

My heart jumps in my chest. Shoes! She does get me! We do have a connection! Shoes!

Maybe they are expensive shoes. I’ve never had really expensive shoes. I’ve never spent more than $150 on a pair of new shoes[1] and that was for a pair of black leather boots that I planned to wear for at least five years. But I have coveted the expensive shoes I see online. Yes, I am a shoe coveter.

Clearly, I am not thinking. What should be going through my mind after the initial joyous thought of “Shoes!” should be, Idiot! Nobody buys shoes for another person unless she is with that person so she can try them on. Size 8 is not universal. There is no such thing as universality in women’s clothing and shoe sizes, which is one of the reasons we love purses most of all. They always fit.

I’m not thinking. I am wondering why it seems heavy, heavier than shoes should be.

Tell me these shoes are not fabulous.
Wait. Why is she giving the box to Primo?


Because it’s for him.

He opens it.

It’s a cast-iron cat.

Let me repeat that in case you don’t believe me.

It. Is. A. Cast. Iron. Cat.

Doris: Primo loves cats.

Point Doris. Primo does love cats.

She hands a box to me. It’s small and light.

Probably not shoes.

I open it.

And – my own stupid fault.

Because I refused to provide a list this year, not wanting to seem like a greedy pig, Doris struck out on her own and got me a vase hand-painted with blue asters and purple butterflies.

Believe me when I tell you there is nothing like that in my house.

[1] Not that I don’t value nice shoes. I get used Ferragamos on eBay. I like nice Italian leather shoes. I just don’t want to pay $500 for them.  

Monday, July 31, 2017

Ch 7 Primo and I go to Midnight Mass and Doris becomes very upset that Nancy was not physically saved by being baptized and I am sad for her because she is so tormented by her daughter’s death

Me: I am not going to that ugly suburban church again this year. I am not going to church early on Christmas Eve. It’s bad enough that we aren’t going to church at home, with the pastors we know and like, but I shouldn’t have to go to Christmas church at an ugly church. I am going to Midnight Mass downtown at the basilica.

Primo: Are you sure it’s a good idea to go downtown by yourself that late?

Me: I traveled alone over land from Chile back to the US when I was done with Peace Corps, you know. I can handle myself.

Primo: Yeah, you’re right. But I’ll go with you. That’s a really pretty church. I wouldn’t mind going to a service there.

Me: Your mom and dad aren’t going to like it. They’re not going to like that you’re going to church. Your mom thinks Fernando is too involved in his church.

Primo: I don’t care. They don’t get to run my life.


Doris: Why are you so dressed up?

Primo: We’re going to Midnight Mass.

Sly looks pissed but he says nothing.

Doris: Church? Church? Nancy thought being baptized would save her. But it didn’t! It didn’t change anything at all! It was all for nothing.

Primo: Mom.

Doris: Nothing! It did nothing! She had noted it on her calendar with three big exclamation points. She was so very excited, but it didn’t transform her! It didn’t fix her!

Primo: Mom, I am sorry. This isn’t about Nancy. We’re just going to walk around downtown to look at the lights and then we’re going to Midnight Mass. We’ll see you in the morning.

How would baptism heal mental illness, I wonder, and why would an atheist be upset that baptism hadn’t done so?

I slap myself. This is a woman who lost her child to mental illness. Be kind.

Sly glares at Primo and mutters something under his breath. This was not how they had raised him.

Primo glares back.

Primo: Let’s go, sweetie. 

Ch 7 I message Stephanie for her perspective on her wedding

Me: Steph! You there?

Stephanie: Hey grl!

Me: Guess what S just bitched about?

Stephanie: So many options

Me: I know

Stephanie: 0 changes

Me: S didn’t like the dollar dance at your wedding

Stephanie: It was fun! they were grumpy. They R sure that my family is mob.

Me: You’re Italian. It makes sense.

Stephanie: I know!

Me: Nice to know that the tolerant and diverse liberals are so non-judgy

Stephanie: They ((()))) me in loving acceptance

Me: D complained people in tracksuits and curlers at church

Stephanie: Duh! couldn’t invite all. I grew up there. baptized there. People see the dress etc. how we do things. didn’t mind. wish we could invite all.

Ch 7 Sly is so tolerant

Me: Your dad hated the dollar dance. Isn't tolerance of diversity of opinion a progressive value?

Primo: Only when the diversity of opinion is about things like I like and you don't. You are supposed to be tolerant of me, not the other way around.

Ch 7 Sly complains about Jack and Stephanie’s wedding because they had their wedding AT him

Sly: You should have seen Stephanie and Jack's wedding. Like something out of The Godfather.

Doris: It was such an over the top display of consumption. People showed up at the wedding in curlers! And in velour suits!

That is – something I am not used to. But I also wonder how true it is.

Note to self – sneak into bathroom to message Stephanie.

Sly: There was a horrible dance where men paid money to dance with Stephanie.

Me: Oh! You mean a dollar dance?

Sly: It was in exceptionally poor taste.

Me: No, it’s a pretty common thing in some cultures. I went to a Polish wedding once – it was actually a Polish woman marrying an African American guy, so there were two cultures there, and they did that. It was fun.

Sly: Vulgar.

I am saving my Bear-Poking Allowance, so I don’t ask Sly how that diversity and tolerance thing are working for him.

Primo: Dad, we did that at my wedding, remember? It’s also a Filipino thing. It was a lot of fun. We have that photo of ex-wife and me with dollars pinned to our clothes.

Sly: It’s vulgar.

The house is decorated with a pig theme. Lots of little pig figurines everywhere. Sly’s t-shirt is dirty and his feet are bare, his toenails thick and yellow, his heels cracked and blackened. He boasts to Primo that he hasn’t worn closed toe shoes since they moved to Florida.

Doris isn’t wearing a bra.[1] Her feet were also bare and her toenails are in worse shape than Sly’s.

Wait. I have to go back about Doris and her bra. No, she is not wearing one, but why should she? Why should she be uncomfortable just so she can conform to an external standard in whose setting she was not involved? She looks like an old lady with a large bosom who is not wearing a bra, but so what?

Man, I have got to stop being so judgy. Doris, you rock on with your bra-less 70something self. I take it all back.

But Sly. I will judge Sly. And yes, nobody ever sees the beam in his own eye,[2] but Sly is in no position to be throwing stones, if I may mix my proverbs and parables.

[1] I can get away with not wearing a bra. Doris cannot.
[2] I am sure there are entire lumberyards in my eyes.

Ch 7 Christmas Eve I spend my Christmas holiday cleaning Sly and Doris’ refrigerator

I clean Sly and Doris’ fridge. I did this last time, too. Did I tell you about it? I can’t remember. If I can’t remember, you for sure can’t.

I remind myself that they are old and this kind of thing is hard for them, but it is kind of gross. Still, it is a way to kill time rather than sitting by them pretending to be enthralled by the TV. And I am a really good cleaner. I love to throw stuff away and end up with a spare, clean, minimalist environment.

Which clearly is not going to happen chez Sly and Doris, but I can at least make the refrigerator look good.

Doris: I don’t even know how to thank you for doing this. I am such a dreadful hostess. I feel terrible that my home is in such disarray. I can’t clean and I can’t prepare meals. I am so ashamed.

Sly glares at her and ruffles his paper. I don’t know what he’s thinking but I’m going to make up some Sly Thoughts and put them into a thought cloud.

I pause my mp3 player, take the earbud out of my right ear, give her The Hand of Stop Talking but with a smile so it doesn’t seem mean because I don’t intend it to be taken that way,[1] and say lightly, "Stop. I don't want to hear it. I really don’t mind doing this. It’s good to be busy."

I mean it. I hope she takes it as an, "Oh don't give it a second thought" kind of thing, which it mainly is, but I really and truly do not want to hear it. That’s why I am listening to the mp3 player and not to her.[2] I want to block out anything that isn’t something I chose to hear.

Doris: I didn’t used to be like this. Now I’m useless.

I take out my earbud again.

Me: Doris. I really and truly do not mind doing this. Don’t worry about it.

SLY! This is where you are supposed to jump in to reassure your wife that she is not useless! This is what a loving husband does.

Sly doesn’t say a word.

Poor Doris. She doesn’t care what I think about her. She cares about what the man who promised to love and cherish her all her life thinks about her. She wants to feel useful and valued. I don’t think that’s something I could give her.

I replace the earbud, turn up the volume on the mp3 player, and clean.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Ch 7 And the battery conversation makes me remember this

Primo: Using rechargeable batteries is The Right Thing To Do.

Me: They don't work. I won't compromise function for misguided principle.

Primo: But when you compromise function for misguided principle, you get to feel superior.

Me: I already feel superior.

Primo: It's a false sense. You're not a liberal.

Ch 7 Sly asks Primo to buy him some batteries and Primo feels compelled to explain to me that the need for C batteries should raise questions in anyone’s mind and I say I don’t care why Sly wants batteries, I am happy just to get out of the house

Primo: I need to go to Target. Want to go with me?

Me: Sure. Anything to get out of here. You wouldn’t leave me alone with your mom and dad, would you?

Primo: No!

Me: Why do you need to go?

Primo: My dad wants some C batteries.

Me: Oh, OK.

Primo: I asked him what the batteries were for and he wouldn't tell me.

Me: Why do you care?

Don’t look the gift horse of getting out of the house in the mouth is what I say.

Primo: Because almost nothing uses C batteries anymore. Wouldn't you want to know?

Me: I have no idea about what kind of batteries are used where. I didn’t know that almost nothing uses C batteries, and no, I wouldn't care at all. I would be too distracted by my happiness at getting to get away from the house. Did he tell you?

Primo: I had to ask a few times. He didn’t want to tell me. Finally, after the third time, he told me they were for a vibrator.

Me: Isn’t this the guy who brags about his Viagra?

Primo: Yes.

Me: So why wouldn’t he want to brag about this?

Primo: I don’t know.

Me: But still - gross. Who wants that kind of information about his parents?

Primo: Yeah, I know. But he is proud that at his age, his sexuality is still a major part of his identity.

Me: Gross.

Primo: It’s not gross to still be sexually active when you are old.

Me: No, of course not. I hope we are still getting busy when we are old. The gross part is to tell your children about it.

Primo: Oh. Yeah.

Me: So you don't want to know this stuff either.

Primo: Nope. 

Ch 7 And HAHAHA! I have data and can refute one of Sly’s complaints

Sly launches into another diatribe about how Stephanie does not feed the kids decent meals. Just gives them hot dogs and sandwiches.

Sly: She doesn’t even make them brown rice!

Me: You know, Sly, that's not true. I asked the kids about that today. Stephanie cooks. She makes meals – meals of more than hot dogs and sandwiches. I don't know where you got your information.

Primo nods in agreement. Doris doesn’t say anything but I see a slight smile reach her eyes.

I leave the room. I would like to say it’s because you should always leave them wanting more and I want Sly to stew in my victory without giving him the chance to respond, but it’s really because there is only so much bear-poking I dare do.

Ch 7 Stephanie feeds the kids good food

Primo and I take Maria and Michael bowling. Because they are both taking as many hours as they can at work, this is the only time we will be able to see them except for Christmas dinner.

I decline to participate in the actual bowling as I am not keen on wearing shoes that other people have worn, even though I have a high enough gross out tolerance that I can pee in almost any toilet in almost any third world country[1] and even though I buy shoes at consignment.[2] Maybe I just don’t like shoes that have had more than one user.

Me: How does college food compare with eating at home?

Maria: It’s not so good.

Me: That’s how it usually is. That’s how it was when Primo and I were in college.

Maria: Plus my mom is a really good cook.

Me: Oh? What does she make?

Michael : You know. Pot roast. Salad. Meatballs and gravy.

Me: Do you guys eat like that every night?

Maria: When we’re home, yeah.

They seem confused at my questions. Of course their mother makes them supper every night. She's their mother. She makes supper. They eat supper. Isn’t that how it works in most families?

[1] As long as I don’t actually have to touch the toilet – I have thighs of steel, my friend.
[2] Ferragamos

Ch 7 Sly and Doris’ official reasons not to like Jack

·         We really wouldn’t know. Everything bad is Stephanie's fault.

·         (Except Jack does not volunteer to help. And Sly should not have to ask him.)

Ch 7 Sly and Doris’ official reasons not to like Stephanie

·         Stephanie is a bad mother
·         Stephanie doesn't cook for her kids (unless it’s to take food to them at school)
·         She gets home from work and just makes hot dogs
·         She never makes brown rice
·         Have you seen the way she dresses?
·         She spends too much money shopping
·         She does not take her children to enriching cultural events like lectures on global warming

·         She lets her children watch TV

Ch 7 I pick up the knives from Stephanie's and after she tells me what Sly forces Doris to do, I think maybe Doris will find an off-script use for the knives

In addition to the knives we ordered, we also bought a potato peeler, which we packed in our luggage – I don’t think anyone has ever hijacked a plane with a potato peeler, but just to be safe, we put it in the checked bag – because Sly and Doris want everything peeled: apples, potatoes, pears.[1] Primo and I are of the leave the peels on school for everything[2] because darnit, we like the peels, and my mother was right, that is where the vitamins are, and plus we are just lazy.

Sly and Doris want everything peeled BUT THEY DON'T HAVE A POTATO PEELER. I don’t wait until Christmas day to give it to them – I got it out right away because I am not peeling potatoes, apples, or anything else with a dull paring knife. I have no interest in accidentally cutting myself. My insurance is crummy and the ER would be too expensive.

I go to Stephanie's to pick up the knives.

Michael opens the door, hugs me, and yells: Mom! Goldie is here!

Nice kid. If only he would work at basketball the way Sly and Doris want him to.[3]

Me: Hey! How are you liking school?

Michael: Love it! Super busy. I’m working as much as I can over break because I am too busy at school to get a job. I’m glad I get to see you – I have been working double shifts.

Yes. He is lazy.

Me: What’s up, girlfriend? Your kids are in college with academic scholarships. There can’t be anything Sly and Doris can complain about.

Stephanie: Oh they can always find something to complain about. Come on in here – I put the package with the rest of the presents. Knives is a great idea – their kitchen equipment is not in good shape. Remember the turkey baster?

She ushers me into the master bath, where the tub is filled with wrapped presents.

Me: You keep your presents in the bathtub? Do the kids still believe in Santa?

Stephanie: No. That’s not it. I don’t put out the gifts until Christmas Eve. That’s how we do it in my family. This is a good place to keep them away from the dog.

Me: Sly is on a roll. He corrected Doris and me about an OB who he said is a gynecologist.

Stephanie: Because he would sure know better than two women.

Me: He is smarter than all of us. He knows the best way to do everything.

Stephanie: Including trash. I was over there last week to put their trash out – what a pain that is –

Me: Oh yeah.

Stephanie: You know they won’t get a wheeled trashcan, so I have to drag the can to the curb. They have the three bags –

Me: I’ve had to help with it. Was Sly supervising?

Stephanie: Of course he was. You know how he is. Nobody does it right. He has to watch while I put the bags in the bin in the right order. If I don’t do it his way, he makes a fuss.

Me: Oh good grief. You need to go on strike. Let them solve their own problems. Plus I am sure that Sly, the Union Man, would totally support a strike.

Stephanie: They won’t even ask Jack to do anything and he’s the one who’s related to them.

Me: I know. They complain to Primo that Jack won’t offer to help them but then get pissy about your help.

Stephanie: When Sly had that surgery and then Doris broke her wrist, I called every day and asked what I could do. Did they want me to pick up groceries? Make supper? Come over? They kept telling me no.

Me: I remember that. That was when they complained to Primo that Jack hadn’t offered to do anything. And they didn’t like how you did do the things you did.

Stephanie: I told Jack he needed to help his dad and Doris, but what could I do? I couldn’t make him. And they wouldn’t ask. Jack's attitude was that if they hadn’t asked for help, they must be doing fine.

Me: I asked Primo why they just didn’t ask Jack to help and he said they thought Jack should offer. Primo says that he would get in trouble when he was a little kid for not offering to help. Which is so dumb. Parents are supposed to teach their kids. A fourth grader doesn’t know to offer. You have to tell him to set the table or wash the dishes. If you wait for a kid to offer to help, you’ll do it all yourself.

Stephanie: They just like to complain.

Me: I like to complain, too, but nobody would say it’s my main hobby, like it is with them.

Stephanie: Well, Sly’s hobby, anyhow. Doris goes along with him because she is scared.

Me: Yeah, I have seen how he criticizes her. That has to get old. And he yells at her – she called Primo from the bathroom once when they were having a fight.

Stephanie: No, it’s more than that.  

Me: What do you mean?

Stephanie: I’m not sure I should tell you this.

Me: You have to now.

Stephanie: Doris called me a few weeks ago, crying. She says Sly forces her to give him blow jobs at least twice a week.

Me: What? She told you this?

Stephanie: I know.

Me: Like you’re her best friend and want all the gory details? But – but she can hardly breathe! She has COPD! She has to use that oxygen machine at night! I mean – she has breathing problems! How do you –?

Stephanie: He makes her.

Me: Why doesn’t she just bite – Oh. Right.

Stephanie: He outweighs her by more than 100 pounds. I wouldn’t put it past him to hit her.

Poor Doris. We both fall silent as we think about the nightmare of being forced to give someone a blow job. Being forced into sex alone would be bad enough, but to be forced into sex that affects your ability to breathe would be terrifying. How does a frail elderly woman fight this kind of thing?

Stephanie: Don’t tell Primo . I don’t think anyone wants to know that kind of thing about his parents.

Me: OK. I’ll bet Doris wishes Viagra had never been invented. If I were her, I would flush those little blue pills down the toilet.

Stephanie: Me too!

[1] Yes, pears. I don't know why. Maybe because the skins are so tough?
[2] Which, by this point, you know, as I have argued with Doris about it more than once.
[3] Rolling my eyes as I write that.