No. I'd rather be surprised by a disappointment than happy with what I expected."
|The January 2010 snowman at Bed, Bath & Beyond|
This year, we were both shopping for floor lamps (separately), and each of us had a price peak beyond which we would not budge. As she told the girl at the department store who insisted that the one we liked was not part of Clearance, "No, I wouldn't give that for it. I've been out of a lamp in that back bedroom for three years and I don't care to go another three."
Pickings were even slimmer at the Dollar Tree, where we were in search of red chargers, but definitely not in the market for ...baby grease.
That's what the gentleman to the right of us shouted to the checkout girl, 30 feet away, "Sweetheart! Hey! Sweetheart! You! You got any baby grease?"
Apparently, she heard what I did and clarified, "grease? You mean like motor oil? That's in aisle four."
"Naw," he yelled back, "baby grease", as if his renewed emphasis explained it. ("Made from real babies?" I was thinking, having no idea what he was talking about.)
Observing her blank expression from across the store, he clarified, "grease like you put on a baby, y'know," adding in a conspiratorial stage whisper, "like for after where he's circumcised."
Clearly non-plussed (maybe not the first time she'd been asked this), she responded, a bit over-familiarly, "sheeeeyittttttt? You got a new baby? Another one? When you gonna figure out how to quit that?" Then she asked if it was a boy (which I thought the aforementioned circumcision would've made obvious), and he laughed, answering with a good-natured laugh, "yeahhhh, I reckon we can quit now."
We never did find any red chargers, but baby grease is on aisle seven.
We also did not buy a single CloseOut Santa, which is unusual, because her Santa collection is legendary, well into the hundreds (like shopping, this obviously skips a generation). I pointed out several, "this one seems nice? He's all in white...Do you have this one?" Even at 80 percent off, she had no interest.
Finally, I asked, "where were all your Santas this year?" I had just been there Christmas weekend, and there were no Santas, no elves, not even a tree. Not so much as a poinsettia. While the only seasonal decor I allow in my house is a token sprig of mistletoe, hers has always been bedecked and bedazzled -- every square inch glistens with snow and sparkles and moving trains conducted by drummer boys and wise men that whistle and wind through Bethlehem and past the Baby Jesus in his creche. It is no small setup. Every year, she talks about divesting herself of her collections, but my brother and I -- with no interest in kids or heirs and less in seasonal decor -- are disappointing prospective recipients, and the topic is inevitably tabled.
There was a long intake of breath, suggesting it was a good thing I'd asked. And what followed was a lengthy huff about my stepdad and his endless complaints about bringing the decorations down from the attic, the amount of work this entails for him, and what a pain in the ass it will be for him to pack them all up and return them to the garage. It's all true. Every year, he grumbles and mutters from Thanksgiving to January, "Jeeeeeesus Christ, I don't know what we're doing with all this shit... awwww, for cripes sake, I said I'm leaving her if she brings one more goddamn Santa into this house." It's relatively good-natured -- just part of the ambient noise that seems to occupy their daily life -- and most of us tuned it out decades ago, the way he turns down his hearing aids when we're not saying anything of interest to him (which is always). She hauls stuff into the house, he waits until she's forgotten about it, and hauls it out to the trash. It's a good system.
But not this year. This year she'd had it. "Bitch, bitch, bitch. That's all he ever does and I'm sick of it. Sick. Of. It. So I quit. We didn't even have a TREE," she said triumphantly with a twinge of sadness, as though she'd won an epic battle, but that it had cost her dearly. "Why didn't you just tell him to knock it off?" was my innocent question. This is obviously the Family Dance -- she hoards Santas and he complains. She gets more Santas and he gets to complain even more loudly; the acquisition makes her happy and the grousing makes him happy. My theories were instantly met with righteous indignation, progressing swiftly towards outrage at me for even asking such a stupid thing, and further implying that I know absolutely nothing about how Marriage works (which is one hundred percent true).
"You know I had to run into your father's first ex-wife last week" she said, my cue that the topic had changed and I'd better keep up. "Mom, you are dad's first ex-wife," I countered.
"Oh," she seemed puzzled for a second, then snapped,"Well you know the one I mean. She's married to some bald-headed guy now." Yes. I didn't know about the new hairless spouse, but I know she's the one he left my Mom for. As opposed to his current wife, which is the one he left the second wife for. (See also, our family's own War of the Roses).
"How did that happen?" I asked -- always mystified that in a Mayberry-sized smalltown with only two grocery stores and a handful of gas pumps, my parents have crossed paths less than a dozen times in the nearly 30 years they've been divorced.
"I had to wait on her." It turns out the new bald husband regularly patronizes the Christmas bake sale at my Mom's church, and my Mom had to sell her a Diet Coke. "Did you poison it?" I asked mildly.
"No," she said primly, "And I also did NOT slap her. And I did not say, 'well how have you been, you Old Whore?' which is what I felt like saying, and I didn't tell anyone anything about except our priest."
And what did he say? "He said that was very Christian of me, and he knew it must have been awkward."
I wondered aloud if she'd even recognized my Mom (it's been thirty years). "Oh she knew who I was all right. And she looks exactly the same. You know she was always so coarse."
"Yes," I agreed. "The old whore."
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