Sunday, July 31, 2011
I recently returned from a trip to Boise, Idaho. Most of my family lives there. They used to live in the outlining areas of Seattle in small, cheap, quiet towns with one story Ranch Houses. My entire biological family moved to Boise for various reasons. My Mother and Father followed to be near their grand-children.
They bought a trailer home. I've had many trailer homes in my life. My Grandmother lived in a trailer park, as well as my Aunt Ardith and my Aunt Pauline.
My Aunt Pauline was a sweet, soft-spoken Montana born woman with gigantic, fleshy arms and kind, open, brown eyes. Aunt Pauline (and her husband, my father's brother, Uncle Gene) were the envy of our entire family. Their trailer home wasn't just the standard double-wide It was the deluxe standard double-wide and a half'.
"It's that extra half part that makes all the difference," my Aunt Pauline told me one day as we strolled along the bright, airy aisles of the local Piggly Wiggly outside of Seattle. Aunt Pauline was a cook. But not just any cook. She was a true blue country cook. And the reason she had to get that extra 'half' of a trailer was because she had a kitchen custom built into the trailer home. "This sucker could take us to the moon!", she used to me as she waved pot holders over the top of freshly baked peach cobbler.
Aunt Pauline fascinated me. She was a very sad woman and since I was raised by a clinically depressed Mother, I've always been drawn to the abused and torn apart people in life. Like all of the Bryan women, she carried her heart on her sleeve. I'm not sure if it's the depressive gene in our families or the way her body was formed which caused her to look like she need a hug and a long, long nap.
The Piggly Wiggly had over seventeen rows stocked to overflowing with local groceries. Aunt Pauline and I worked our way to the butcher, Barney. Barney was a thick man, a neck wider than my midsection, his eyes a startling green. Barney always came out to shake my Aunt Pauline's hand when she came to pick up her special, pre-cut meats. She didn't hesitate to take his enormous hand into her's despite the fact his apron and fingernails were covered in deep red blood.
On this day we were looking for a fresh cut of rump roast, the name, of course, made my young heart sing. I was almost a legal curse word in my book. "Your Uncle Gene thinks our new kitchen is over the top, but he'll quiet right down after the first week of dinners, I'll tell you that much, Mike," she said to me as she brushed a strand of thick, brown hair from my eyes, waiting for Barney to deliver our roast. I loved the way the butcher paper crinkled in my hands as I carried the nine pound roast to the cashier, my Aunt Pauline smiling down at me, telling me how much of a help I was to her.
On Sunday's for dinner, my Mother, Father and I would undertake the nearly two hour drive from our tiny town in Washington to Aunt Pauline and Uncle Gene's trailer park deluxe home nestled in the the southern most section of Seattle. The town was so small it was as if it was created as a byproduct of local planning.
On the way over, my Mother would sit in the front passenger seat and gnaw at the inside of her cheek and stare out of the window. Every fifteen minutes she would say to my Father, "Lynn, it's time to pull over if you don't mind. I see a sign for a rest stop."
After we pulled over, my mother would push open the car door with a grunt and slam it behind her. She would hesitate outside of the car and with one of her notoriously bright purple purses draped over the crook of her bent arm, trudge towards the nearest public toilet, one pigeon-toed foot in front of the other, her head hung low but her eyes steely and focused. She reminded me of the Old Woman in The Shoe wearily walking up the hill with two pales of milk to feed her annoyingly needy children.
On this day, my Mother was very unhappy. Her face was dark and heavy. Her eyes seemed to recede into her face and her mouth was nothing more than a line of clenched flesh. My Father looked at me briefly in the rear view mirror and smiled. "You okay there, son?" he asked. I nodded. He was checking up on me, making sure I wasn't too affected by my Mother's impending mood. He knew it was too late for that, he always knew, but now, years later, I love him for trying.
One of the big determiners of my Mother's mood was how often she had to shit. I didn't know the term for it back then, but now I know she had intense Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or, IBS. When we would plan trips away from home in any form, my Father and I had to map out our travel in proximity to the nearest toilets.
Of course, my Mother was mortified. One of her many physical ailments linked to her extreme anxiety disorder was having an uncontrollable need to crap her pants, but hey -- we all took it in stride. It didn't occur to me this wasn't how most American families lived.
I've talked to other people about their issues shitting and more often than not I've gotten very disapproving looks or admonishing reactions. They think it's classless to people or inappropriate. I'm sure it has something to do with my filterless way of expressing myself, but more often than not, I've come to realize people who don't find it at least partially humorless are people who have a very hard time finding humor in their own issues.
My Mother knew she had a problem with what she called her 'explosive craps'. And they were explosive. At times, when she would run to the nearest toilet, it sounded like a firecracker being set off inside of a plastic bag. She had to use all sorts of suppositories and creams just to sit down.
I know for a fact one of the reasons I'm not HIV positive is because I have had the same shitting issues as my Mother. If there is a plant in a bathroom it will wilt after I've taken a crap. Like Mother like Son.
I don't like anyone going near my butt hole that I don't know on at least a first and second name basis. If there is one fetish I will never, ever understand it is the eroticism of scat. I don't get it, I never will. To me, a butt hole should smell like Dove and look like a rose pedal, clean and fresh, waving in the breeze on a warm spring day. I want no hint of what comes out of a butt hole. Ever. I am obsessed with smelling very fresh and clean at all times. I'm sure my Mothers angry bowels has something to do with this.
Her IBS was so severe my father arranged to have a second bathroom built into our house, right next to their bedroom. During construction my Father sent myself and my Mother to the local hardware store to pick out a fan for the bathroom. Since it was going to be built into the center of the house it had to have some sort of ventilation.
"Well, isn't that interesting," my Mother said to me. Earlier, she and I had been looking over plans for the new bathroom. Sitting on the couch a few hours later, a cold beer in her hand, she flipped through my Father's newest Scientific American magazine. Her tongue darted out of her mouth and licked a thin line of beer foam from her top lip as she hummed and ran her tiny, slightly gnarled feet along the thick, deep maroon shag carpet in the living room.
Suddenly, she stopped. She stared at an article in the magazine. She laughed to herself, took a giant swig of her beer and turned the open page to myself and my Father and extended her finger to the article in question.
"Well, no shit, Sherlock," she muttered. "I coulda told you that. Expelled. God. That's the best word they could find? And pungent? Who uses the word pungent? Clearly not someone with IBS, that's for goddamn sure." She threw her head back and roared with laughter. I could see beer foam bobbing up and down in the back of her throat like a ship tossing and turning in a stormy sea.
My Father looked at her from underneath this glasses, then glanced over at me. I was laughing so hard I was having a hard time eating my bowl of homemade raspberry ice cream.
"Pungent, Mike! PUNGENT. Say it," she cried out, her hand at the base of her throat.
My Mother and I had a game where we would mock a famous chef then on TV. He was German and had a terrible time pronouncing certain English words. My Mother and I would watch the show and laugh hysterically. To us, it was funnier than the Carol Burnett show.
I grimaced and formed my face into an expression similar to the German chef. "Pungent," I growled, my German accent overly articulate and grotesque.
My Mother's head rolled back and she laughed harder. "Again!" she screamed.
"Oh, Jesus," she howled, slapping her open palm on the magazine, draining the last of her beer in one gulp. "You are one crazy KID, you really are!"
My Father looked on, his pale blue eyes small and confused. "I don't know what you two always find so goddamn funny," he said, shaking his head as he resumed applying glue to the back of a stamp and adding it to this growing collection of European stamps and coins.
My father was very proud of his stamp collection. My Mother said it baffled her. "What the hell does he do all day? Put them in a book and stare at them? What the hell is the point in that?"
Later that afternoon, my Mother and I got into the car and headed to the hardware store. I reached for the radio. I was in the mood from some music. "Don't," my Mother snapped as I reached for the dial. When my Mother drove, the only music she could listen to was Neil Diamond or Engelbert Humperdink. I nodded, opened the glove box and took out the newest Engelbert 8-track and shoved it into the player.
My Mother was always afraid any sudden movements or songs on the radio would jar her from the daunting task of driving. Once she and I were on the freeway headed to the movies and I sneezed. She screamed so loud we had to pull off to the side until she could gather her wits and then resume the drive. All told, on that day, it took us four hours to drive six miles.
I could tell she dreaded this trip to Jerry's Hardware. She was going with her young son to pick out a fan for a toilet she had to have built in her house because she couldn't stop shitting when she was upset.
It was a hot day. Normally, Washington State summers rarely go above seventy-eight degrees and the winters are moderate, hovering around forty degrees. Anything near freezing in the winter was front page news.
My Mother was sweating. Her anxiety was getting the best of her. Her hands opened and closed over the handle of her bright purple butterfly shaped purse. We stepped into Jerry's Hardware and were greeted by, well, Jerry.
Jerry had a giant mustache which rode over the top of his lip and dipped over the sides. He always wore cream polyester pants and polyester, short sleeved shirts in the summer. Around his neck was a gold chain with a medallion hidden beneath the collar of his shirt. I can't say how old he was because at eleven years old all I knew was he was an adult and I wasn't.
I was always nervous around Jerry. I had seen him in the supermarket with this wife and two sons. I noticed how his hands were always tan in the summer and how the back of his neck was always newly shaved. His hair was dark black and his arms were covered in a thick layer.
In the store, I looked up at him and smiled. He reached out and ruffled my hair. He smelled of my Uncle's aftershave lotion. I noticed he was wearing a smaller T-shirt than normal. Tufts of dark chest hair sprouted out from beneath this massive, winged shirt collar. I wanted to touch it, see if it was soft or coarse. I followed the line of the chain around his neck to the medallion hidden beneath the layers of dark, curly hair. I imagined it was a gift from his wife, or perhaps a picture of his sons.
My Mother followed Jerry to the front counter of the store. Her lips narrowed into a thin line. She put her purse on the glass counter top and exhaled sharply. "I need a fan, Jerry," she said. She stared at Jerry. Jerry stared back at her. He waited a second then broke into a huge smile.
I had seen this moment countless times. It happened when my Mother first spoke to a salesperson. People waited. And waited. I could never understand that pause, that hesitation. Years later I realized it was their need to bridge their image of the kind of woman she was with the sudden reality of who she really was.
My Mother loved to wear clothes made of pink, white, deep purple and blue. She was small, five feet two inches tall. She was slender but had a gigantic ass. Her hair was shockingly white, very short and combed neat. She never left the house without lipstick and eyeliner. You imagined her baking pies or holding a Grandchild in her lap. You saw her and immediately wanted to hug her or hold her hand.
Then she would talk. And her face would change into a grimace or scowl or be laced with such panic salespeople looked as if they couldn't decide if they should make her the only old woman in their life they told to take a flying fuck or offer to hold her hand. My Mother was the china shop and life was the bull.
The corner's of Jerry's mouth rose into a wider smile. "What kind of fan you are you looking for there, Joyce?"
My Mother sighed and bit the inside of her mouth. "A fan for my toilet, Jerry."
Jerry coughed a small laugh. My Mother glared at him. Jerry and she had known each other for over twenty years. By now, this was very familiar territory. Jerry always looked at my Mother from beneath narrow eyelids. And he smiled, as if someone had told him a private joke seconds before we walked in.
My Mother barked a bitter laugh. "Yea, I need a fan for my toilet. Hell of a way to spend a summer afternoon, huh?"
"I can think of much worse things, Joyce," he said, patting her hand once and then swiftly turning away. He walked into the backroom where he kept all of the supply books. As he walked away, I glanced at my mother and saw her shudder. She looked down at her hand. She looked as if she were about to cry.
In the end, my Mother and Jerry picked out a cute yet turbo charged fan for the bathroom. It cost a fortune, but in my Mother's eyes, it was money well spent. Anything to hide her IBS. When we left the store and got into the car, she stared ahead for a moment and didn't say anything.
Now, in my childhood, silence was never golden. Silence from my mother meant either Florence Nightingale or Medea were about to make an appearance. I never knew. Of course, I thought when she was silent, she was going to tell me she had finally found out I liked to look at boy penises in magazines I stole from the local pharmacy counter. But that moment came much much later and with the kind of emotional theatrics normally reserved for warfare.
On this day, she bit the inside of her mouth, exhaled sharply and turned to me and said, "What's at the Grand Cinemas??"
The Grand Cinemas were housed next to The Alderwood Mall, the biggest mall in the area. She knew I knew what was playing there. Movies were my obsession as a child. I lived for Friday when new releases would hit the theater. I would get so excited for a movie I'd have gas three to four days before it opened. I would caress the print ads in the Seattle Times and, if my Mom was in her Florence mood, beg her to buy the Arts and Entertainment section of the New York Times from a staggeringly enormous newsstand in Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. For me, nothing beat the movie and ads in the New York Times. They were the Holy Grail.
Without hesitation, I said, "Airport 75 opened yesterday."
The right side of her mouth rose into a grin. "Really?"
I nodded. I felt a flutter of excitement in my stomach. And nausea. I was never able to get a firm grasp of either. They both felt the same to me. I cleared my throat and said, "Karen Black might get nominated."
My Mother smiled wider. We knew all about "Airport 75." She subscribed to Rona Barrett's Hollywood magazine. She called it the best 'movie star trash rag' on the market. When my Father would travel for Boeing, a company he worked for for over thirty years, my Mother and I would flip through Rona's magazine.
My Mother had very strong views on celebrities. Often, little gems such as this would fall out of her mouth:
"Oh, that Barbara Streisand is so full of herself. Kris Kristofferson wasn't hardly even in the movie. And like she'd have a romantic relationship with him. He needs a bath is what he needs. And a razor."
"That Omar Sharif. Isn't he something? I could just jump into those goddamn eyes of his. But you can tell he's gonna get old and fat. Probably a womanizer too. Most of those men are."
"I don't know why they have to swear so much in that movie! I wanted to see John Travolta dance. And all they did was swear from beginning to end. Ruined the whole goddamn thing for me"
But on this day, she simply said, "Well, that Karen Black person is sure funny looking. Her eyes are kapooey. What was that movie your Father took you to that was rated R?"
"Yea with her. Who the hell else do you think I'm talking about?"
I had to think. It hit me. "Five Easy Pieces. It was boring. I fell asleep."
My Mother nodded her head over and over. "Yea, yea, that was it. Well, yea, I mean, who gives a shit about a bunch of depressed people. But that Jack Nicholson really has something to him. But he looks like the kind of man who hits women. Jesus. Okay! Let's go. Ready, kiddo?"
I nodded. We were going to the movies. My Mother and I were going to the movies. There were days where my Mother scared the shit out of me, days where she cried and never left her bedroom, days where she yelled at me with such force I felt as if someone had ripped out my guts and hung them on the side of our house for everyone to see, but when she took me to the movies I felt loved and protected.
On the way to the theater, we discussed the similarities between "The Poseidon Adventure" and "Airport 75." We were big fans of disaster movies. My Mother and I had been tracking their growing popularity. According to Rona, coming out at Christmas were two we were very excited about, "The Towering Inferno" and "Earthquake".
My Mother told me "Earthquake" was going to be released in 'sensurround', a technology Rona said would revolutionize movie-going forever. "The only thing that needs be revolutionized is Rona's hair, if you ask me," she said as we poured over pictures of the stars in the movie. "Not that you did, I'm just saying."
We walked towards the box office and stopped to look at the movie poster. It was bright yellow. Dead center was a drawing of a 747 jet screaming straight towards us as a smaller one slammed into the cockpit. My Mother took my hand. She smiled. Above the plane was the line we'd been hearing for weeks on the radio: "Something hit us...the crew is dead...help us, please, help us!"
My Mother and I read the line in unison. "Well, if that doesn't make you want to see a movie I don't know what the hell will," she said, grabbing my hand and leading me toward the the large, circular box office outside of the four sets of doors leading to the five screen movie house.
We settled into our seats. My Mother and I shared a tub of popcorn and milk dud's. "You know," she said, her jaws methodically working the milk duds into a brown pulp, "I remember seeing the original movies they were in before they were in these kinda things. Lord all mighty, I'm getting old." She reached her hand out and grabbed a handful of popcorn. Her hands were shiny with popcorn oil. She licked her lips. "I love how they call it butterfly flavoring. Jesus Christ on a crutch they can't say it's real butter because it isn't real butter. World is falling apart, Mike, it's just plain falling apart."
We waited as patiently as we could for the lights to go down. My Mother was getting antsy. "Oh, come on," she exclaimed for the benefit of everyone in the crowded afternoon movie house. "Let's get this damn thing on the road!"
As if by magic, the lights dimmed. "Now we're cookin' with gas," she said as she settled into her seat. "Here we go," she whispered. She looked over and me and smiled a wide, open smile. She put her hands into her lap, clutching her purse to her body as if she were afraid someone would grab it in the dark.
The movie progressed at a nice clip. As each star appeared, my Mother would comment, poking me with her elbow. The moment Gloria Swanson first appeared on the screen, my mother rolled her eyes and looked right at me. "There's so much Vaseline on the camera I can't even see her face." Someone behind her asked her to please be quiet. My Mother turned away, bit the inside of her mouth, then ribbed me and laughed. I was embarrassed. Why couldn't my Mother watch the movie and not comment?
Linda Blair appeared in her wheelchair. My mother exhaled sharply. "Nice parenting skills, huh? Put your fifteen year old kid in a movie where she throw up and swears and does disgusting things. Tell me she won't have to be in therapy the rest of her life."
Charlton Heston kissed Karen Black in a hotel room before boarding the plane. My Mother hit my leg so hard I nearly fell out of the chair. "Hubba, hubba," she said. My Mother always said if my Father didn't return from Europe from one of his training missions for Boeing, she'd pack up and show up on Charlton's Heston's door step.
The big moment in the movie was coming. The moment all of the ads had been saying made this the motion picture event of the year.
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. clutched his chest in his tiny plane. Beads of sweat rolled down his chest. Karen Black, one eye crossing over the other, roamed the plane handing out coffee and making sure Helen Reddy sang on key to poor Linda Blair.
The music began to build. My Mother reached over and snatched my arm in her grasp. I could feel her fingernails biting down on my flesh. "Oh, Jesus," she said, slowly rocking back and forth in her chair. Poor Efrem lost control of his plane ("...and his career..." she said to me afterwards).
It was headed straight for the 747.
My Mother slapped my arm with her palm. She pushed her feet on the ground of the theater and nearly stood up in her chair. The planes came closer and closer. The music was reaching a thundering crescendo.
She slapped my hand over and over. "Mike! Mike!" she screamed. Then, as if the roof of the theater were about to cave in, she screamed out as the planes collided, "Jesus Mary and Joseph!"
The popcorn in her lap nearly flew into the air. She slapped my arm again and again. People around us stared at my Mother as if she had just been released from the community nut house on a day pass. I was mortified but, at the same time, unable to control my laughter.
My Mother's excitement overcame her twice more.
The first time was when poor, frantic Karen had to maneuver the plane from slamming into a mountain (to which my Mother said, "That was goddamn close. Maybe she isn't so cross-eyed after all...") and when Charlton (my Mother's back-up plan for my dead Father) was lowered into the gaping hole in the side of the plane. Both times, my Mother slapped my hand and yelped out like an over excited Labrador set loose at a busy, country carnival. Despite the glares and patronizing laughter of people around us, I had a great time. The movie was thrilling and unbearably suspenseful.
Later, my Father asked me what we thought of the movie. I told him it was great. It was late in the day and my Mother was in the kitchen cooking. She was making stuffed green bell peppers with canned carrots and a side of cottage cheese. I could hear her frying the hamburger and chopping the onions.
She poked her head out of the kitchen, raw, ground meat on her hands and said, "Oh, it was just fantastic! I loved it! We had such a good time, didn't we?"
I nodded. My Mother smiled. The fading, summer sun filtered into the kitchen through a small window which overlooked our back year and the garden of vegetables and fresh fruit in the distance. When the sun caught my Mother's white hair in such a way, it looked as if she were encased in a glow as bright as any I had ever seen.
She nodded her head towards the kitchen. "You wanna come in and help your crazy Mother make dinner, sonny boy?" I rose from my perch in front of the television and joined her in the kitchen. She showed me how to cut the onions and fold them into the ground meat. With her hands over mine, we pushed the filling into the bright green peppers. We planned what movie we were going to see next Saturday.
"Let's go to something good. Something really, really good," she said as she slid the tray of peppers into the oven and then washed her hands under the stream of steaming hot water from the kitchen faucet.
Later, I sat beside her on the couch, leafing through the new Rona Barrett's Hollywood. She had one arm over my shoulder and had grabbed a handful of my shirt and was slowly patting me. She pointed to a special, deluxe four-page spread in the center of the magazine.
It was for the new movie, "Murder On The Orient Express."
"Now that looks good," she said, running the fingertips of her free hand over her lips. "That Vanessa Redgrave is really something. I don't know how she does it but I believe everything she says. You gonna do that someday? Be a big star and make your old Mama proud?"
I told her I would. I was certain I would. "Well, that's good then," she said as she glanced up at my Father sitting in his chair, sleeping, his big toe poking through a ripped hole in his sock.
My Mother whispered to me, "Do me a favor, sonny boy. Grab that bowl over there with your Father's Bing cherry pits in them. Why can't he throw them out? Can you tell me? Why don't you go blow the stink off and pick some raspberries and wash them up real good. I feel like making a pie tonight. A pie, pie, pie."
After we had eaten the warm pie with ice cream, I went to bed. I was tired and it was late. I couldn't sleep. I looked up at the fluorescent sticker-stars I had put on my ceiling. I liked how they stayed light long after the sun had gone down. I concentrated on the biggest star above me until I felt my eyes grow heavy and I willed myself to fall away.