Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hell on Earth

This is Hell. Like so many well-intended big ideas of mankind, psychology is the biggest of them. The 20th century is a warehouse of great ideas that paved so many roads to Hell. This particular road goes to Osawatomie Kansas. To the State Mental Hospital.

Oh sure, it looks serene and lovely. Bucolic, even, but don't let the picture fool you. In the 1960s Osawatomie was a place of utter despair and hopelessness. I visited my mother here through out her stays, which were frequent.

They say that the sense of smell is the most powerful trigger of the memory, and for me, that smell is Lysol cleaner....the brown bottle. It is a hideous memory. It is the smell of a coverup. The smell that the men and women in white used to coverup the other smells...the smell of people in straight jackets, tied to their wheel chairs, with only their feet to guide them here and there...the smell of shit and Lysol. The smell of sweat and Lysol. The smell of vomit and Lysol. Lysol was the coverup of the really ugly truth about Osawatomie. That Osawatomie is where you go to be punished and tormented til you wish you were dead.

I could never understand my mother. I could never understand mental illness. In the sixties, a maleable person believed everything the doctors said. If they told you to take Valium, you did it without question. Hell, psychiatry was all the rage. EVERYONE had it. If they tell you that you needed to have electroshock therapy, then you did it, without question. My mother never questioned anything. She was a good girl. When everyone said, "Malinda, you are crazy," and they said it over and over and over...she believed them. They, being her older brothers and sisters who stood to collect on her inheritance if she were ever found mentally incompetent.

Her daddy died a rich Texas oil man. Her siblings were all much much older than her and had already received their shares. Momma, not yet 21, didn't come into her inheritance until well after they had squandered theirs
. But if she were, you know, not all there, well...what a nice windfall is this!

To be fair, Momma had her demons. She was unsure about her decisions, so she would go her mother, who would promptly tell her to go to the psychiatrist and talk to him, and he would put her on a diet of pills. She lost so much weight, and became so nervous, that she became paranoid. This was AFTER she began taking all those helpful drugs. Then her memory went. She lost track of the days, often sending me out to wait for the school bus on Sunday or Saturday. I would try to reason with her, but to no avail. Hours of standing outside, waiting for the bus, and she finally rememered the day. Driving home, she'd forget where she was going. She would turn down one way streets the wrong way. The police were always bringing her back home. She would bundle us up and take us out to the car and start driving, til the police would bring her back home. By this time, she really was insane.

Her problems began when she eloped with my father. He was not liked by the Family. It was the Family which made all the important decisions, and the Family was not pleased that Little Sister had run off with a jazz musician..who played in stripclubs....GASP! Who played the Devil's music...No! ...who consorted with BLACK PEOPLE! No, say it ain't true Missus Bunn, Say it ain't so! T'is.

Something had to be done....they were expecting the first child. Persuade her that her husband is unfit, and bring the child to live with the Family. Get an anullment. Get a divorce. You're still young and pretty! And so the Dutiful Daughter did just that....until one month after the boy was born, she was pregnant again! Divorce is off. And so it went. Three more of us followed in quick succession.

Each child was an opportunity for the Family to take away from the youngest, most pliable sister and divvie it all up for themselves.

First, get rid of the boys....they look like their father. The girls can go live with Mary Anne or Sharon and Roy, but the boys...let their sisters forget about them.

All this while, Momma was in Osawatomie, "getting better". We visited every now and then, and always with the caveat not to be loud, or laugh, or make Momma cry.
So we took a bottle of Bubbles and a bubble pan, and a bubble paddle that made huge bubbles and lots of them all at once....and as always, Momma would get quite winded from the visits and we would go. She was barely there, in her eyes or in her body. She had wasted away to a mere 90 lbs. At the age of 26 years, she was shriveled and old. She barely recognized any of us.

(Next: Father rescues us through blackmail and other dark arts)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

For my Beloved Immortal, a very Happy 23rd Anniversary!

Via: VideoSift

I want to wish my husman (that's what I call him) a very, very happy 23rd anniversary. Eloping with you was the best thing I ever did. Every time I look at our growing girls, I am prouder and prouder to be your wife. You have been the most giving, loving man I know. You have sacrificed your time, your wealth and your health to provide for your family, and to be able to spend time with us. You have never betrayed our love. You have never cut your children or me down with harsh, cruel words.

You have never been dishonest in your dealings with me or with anyone. You are the most transparent man I know, and I have never told you that I love you enough.
I do not need fancy jewelry. I do not need a high priced restaurant or even flowers.

Last night's walk together as a family after dinner was the best time spent.

I love you.

The above video is a timelapse travel across America. I know you wanted to travel across America on bikes with Stauche, and Lord willing, you will do so before you die. Julia sent me this clip. Enjoy watching it!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Many Lives of Ratfink

Cartoon by Ronald Searle

One of the first cats we ever owned was DumDum, a vicious Siamese cat who could chase a dog up a tree. When my father brought home a collie-white german shephard mixed pup, Dum Dum promptly set the cur straight as to where it belonged. (under the basement steps, trembling in her own pee, usually) After Mom died, Dum Dum just went over the top insane and took off. We thankfully never saw him again.

Later came Charles, a stray white cat with a black stripe going from his head to his tailless rump. He had gas perpetually and could clear a room just by walking in. He became known as Pepe Le Pew, and I held out hope that my father would just get used to him and let us keep him. No such luck. Charles met his fate at the animal shelter.

My father decided that sending a cat to its end wasn't good for the filial relationship and bought me a new kitten from the pet shop next door to his music store. I got him for Christmas. (Two years before Bra entered the picture). He was a slim, lovely kitten, a long hair black cat with white paws and chest, and a white stripe that spread out like a smile over his chin. We called him Sachiko.

Sachiko was graceful and sleek. He had a sweet odor about him and he liked to do somersaults. We would tie a feather onto a fishing line and he would chase and jump over it, and never seemed to get tired playing with us. He was every pet owner's dream cat. He did his business in the catbox and didn't spray the furniture...he was neutered when we bought him.

One day, when we moved to a new city in another state, Sachiko ran away from home. He just couldn't adjust to his new home.

My father then bought us a Norwegian Elk Hound we named Goozer, and he followed us everywhere, and kept the Madrid Brothers and the Couch Brothers away.

Our street was an eclectic melange of assorted insane types. All races and ethicities collected on our street. We didn't bother the blacks, and they didn't bother us. We got along just fine that way. We didn't get along with the boys across the street, however. The Beaudry Brothers were dangerous. At least Danny B. was. He was violent and a known prowler. We did everything we could to stay out of our way, but he often peeped into our windows. Calling the police was always pointless, but a dropped frying pan on the end of Little Sister's jump rope often kept him from actually gaining entrance through the windows.

Other types, even more dangerous than the Beaudry Boys inhabited our street as well. One of the more dangerous types was an animal killer. He didn't kill rabbits and squirrels...his quarry was kitty cats. Cute little kitty cats. At any given time the smell of formaldahyde permeated our street, and we knew to stay away from the red house with the constantly open front door....no one ever seemed to go in or out, but the always-opened door kept the rumors about the occupants fueled for a long time.

One summer day, My brother Stauche and my sister Mouse came running like they were being chased by the very Devil himself, as they burst into the house. Stauche was carrying a bundle that reeked of formaldahyde, and Mouse was looking out the front door to see if Satan had followed them home.

Stauche opened the bundle, a red bandana, and inside was a tiny baby kitten, shaking and smelling of the poison.
"We rescued him," Stauche said.
"YOU rescued him," corrected Mouse.
"You are brave, little brother," I said.
"There were four dead kittens, and this one was trying to walk around, so we snatched it." Stauche explained.
"You mean you went into that house?" I was truly in awe of my younger 10 year old brother.
"No," he said. " There was a tub of chemicals in the back yard, and Mouse and I were walking throught the alley, when we saw all the dead kittens. I am never going back there again. It was too scary. I thought someone would come out and grab me." Stauche was shaking in his sneakers.
"Let's take him to a vet," said Mouse.
"Vets cost money, and we don't have any money," replied Stauche.

Not far up the street was a veterinarian. We explained what happened to the kitten, and smelling the poor thing for himself, he simply gave us some medicine and gravely asserted that the animal would probably not last through the night.

But he did. Stauche stayed up all night in his room, feeding the kitten, religiously giving him the medicine, til it was gone. In a week, the kitten had survived and thrived under my brother's care.

"I have decided to call him Ratfink." Stauche said. And who were we to argue?
Ratfink was a gentle cat. He was a patient and longsuffering cat, as though the ordeal in the chemical bath had given him a wise perspective on life. Nothing frightend him, either. Not Goozer, who could be wired for sound. But Goozer loved the new kitten, and the two became good friends. Stauche fed him like a king, and Ratfink grew fat and contented.

On one hot late spring afternoon, when the four lilac trees in our yard were in full bloom, when the air was hot and muggy, with an impending thunderstorm on the way, we could smell it, and there was just enough time for a water hose fight with the Slutzes, Ratfink decided to come out on the porch and watch the fun....til the first spray of the hose sent him scampering back into the house. He didn't quite clear the screen door, however, and it slammed on his back leg. Everyone stopped the war immediately, and to our utter horror, we saw that Ratfink's leg was nearly amputated.

Stauche got a towel, and gently picking up the cat, who was going into shock, carried him out the door and up the street a few blocks to the vet who had given him the medicine the first time.

Astonished to see that the cat had survived and was clearly in good health, with the exception of nearly bleeding to death, the vet put a splint on Ratfink's leg, and showed Stauche how to apply the ointment, and how to reapply new bandages. This time, however, the doctor was not optimistic. He told Stauche of all the possible outcomes, and each and every time, death was the probability. But Stauche only smiled. Ratfink was still alive.

And once again, Stauche cleared out the bottom drawer of his dresser, filled it with clean towels, and tenderly took care of Ratfink. He cleansed the leg, gave him his pain medicine, fed him his water through an eye dropper, and bought sardines from his allowance. And once again, Stauche took him into the vet for inspection, and once again, the vet was surprised at how Ratfink thrived and was able to hop about without the splint. His foot was no longer strong, and he could only hop, but he lived.
The vet never once charged my brother for his services. He was too impressed with my brother's diligence, and he would tell all the pet owners who brought their animals to see him about Ratfink and Stauche.

Ratfink lived with us for several years until well after R had moved in. She didn't like the cat, often nitpicking his every flaw. She had bought new furniture for the house, and Ratfink just didn't fit in with the decor. When she saw the cat stretching and scratching her new drapes, it provided her with an excuse to get rid of him. She took him to an animal drop off box located by the side of the road near the animal shelter and only told Stauche after a week of fruitless searching, and when he called the pound, it was already too late. Ratfink had been put down. My brother flew into a rage, and took a tennis racket after his step mother. He missed her, but put a slice into the wall near our parent's bedroom. She stayed out of his way after that.

One day, a few months after she'd gotten rid of Ratfink, she spent 250 dollars on a longhaired purebred Persian she named Pooty. My brother glowered at the cat and smiled one of his most ominous smiles. "I have decided to call him PUDWHACKER," and who were we to argue?

Pudwhacker prooved to be as opposite of Ratfink that any cat could be. But Stauche managed to keep the pretentious stepmother from fulfilling her dream of showing the cat off in competition, by teasing the cat's fur with Mouse's comb...and by putting bubble gum into his fur. He didn't actually inflict pain on the poor, bedraggled hairball, but he rendered him useless as an objet d'art, for when the stepmother's friends came over, she could no longer say, "I paid $250 for him." and hope to impress them. Pudwhacker got revenge on my brother by using his bed as his toilet, and the ultimate revenge on us all, when he went into the maintenance crawlspace behind the bathtub and died. It took us forever to find where the foul odor was coming from. That was the end of Pudwhacker, and we didn't own anymore cats til we moved away from home.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Nilsson to the left of me, Slutzes to the Right...stuck in the middle with eeeew!

Not an actual picture of the Slutz family.

Sorry I couldn't find a picture of real, live Slutzes...Oh, I tried. I Googled like hell, and they are nowhere to be found in the Googleverse...and yes, that was their name....but this picture comes close.

You have already met Mrs. Nilsson. It is time to meet the New Neighbors on the block. The Slutzes. There's Big Jim, Truck driving patriarch of the group, and the Missus, Ethel, or as Big Jim calls her: "woman". Then there is the chip off'n the ole block. Son number one. Jim Junior, or as they say in Southern: Bubba. Bubba's a Marine, and he can kick your attttttthhhhhh....just ask Becky. She is at the end of the line. Next in line is Phillip. Phillip has acne. Dreadful acne, and greasy hair, and a lisp. He desperately wants to grope me. Eeeeeeww. Then comes Pamela. She has acne, and greasy hair and a lisp. And then comes Tim. Tim has no acne. His hair is soft and dry and blonde. Tanned. Short, but no lisp.Tim is cute. I wouldn't mind too terribly much being groped by Tim. And then Danny. Not bad, either. Not as cute as Tim, though. Danny has a lisp, and he is slightly pudgy, but his voice is deepening, so it will cover a multitude of sins. Last, but not least is Becky. She will have acne soon enough, and her hair is stringy and greasy. Poor child. And, of course, the ubiquitous lisp. Becky is the first person I meet. Before we continue, let's meet the former occupants of the Little White Bungalow of North Fourth Street:

The family who had previously lived next door to us were interesting. The father was Jewish, named Abramovitz. He and his Filipina wife were pot-smoking hippies. They had two daughters. The Abramovitzes were known for their wild parties. Drug addicts came from all over to celebrate their stupidity at the never-ending party circuit that was the Abramovitz bungalow. Once, a deranged party goer mistakenly staggered into our house, and not realizing that this was not where the party was, he proceeded to put a five dollar bill down on the piano where I was practicing, and requested that I play "The Yellow Rose of Texas." It was lucky for me that I knew the song, due to my father's fastidious education of us into Stan Freberg's song parody records. My brother went next door to alert the revelers that one of their own had wandered off the reservation, and soon Mrs. Hippy Abramovitz came in and pulled the demanding music aficionado back to his smokefilled den of iniquity. Yes, the Abramovitzes fit into our block well, that is, until the police raided their house and they disappeared. The house was barely empty when the Ultra Loud Okies moved in.

I am not sure how eight people managed to get into that tiny house, but I guess, if they can do it in Russia, they can do it here, too.

So we meet Becky, who proudly announces that her big brother is a Marine, and he can kick our Aaaaaaaatttttthhhh!
"So, whats yer name, little girl?" I ask.
"Becky Thlutth", she spat.
"Well. Isn't that nice! " I said. "Becky Sluts, S-L-U-T-S....hmm. Really, kid?" I smiled. A gift from the gods! And then I laughed hysterically.

Becky was not amused, and at first, I was worried that she might go in and get her Big Brother, who is a Marine and he might just come out and actually kick my Aaaaaatttttthh.

But all she did was throw her glass of lime Kool-Aid on me. I responded by going and turning on our hose and spraying her. She was soaked, and went in bawling.
Suddenly, from out of the house came five of six angry Slutzes....minus Bubba, who's a Marine, and can kick your aaaaaatttthhh! and the War of the Water Hoses began.

Since it was summer, we actually enjoyed getting wet. And we got very wet. They got wet, and we got wet....and since we both had fruit trees: ours was apricot and theirs was plum we had even more weapons at our disposal. Soon, the air was flying with rancid rotting fruit from under our tree, and we nailed them and their stupid little house.

Not willing to be outdone in weaponry, they went and gathered the rotting fruit from under their tree and did likewise, and soon, our white houses were now white, with either orange smelly spots, or white, with purple smelly spots. This was our first encounter.

After we had spent ourselves in a frenzy of mashed fruit flingage and water wastage, we introduced ourselves:

"Our name is spelled S-L-U-T-Z....." They waited for us to laugh again. None of us said anything. We were too tired to fight anymore. So we all agreed it was okay to be a Slutz, and we didn't have too many fights after that.

Next Episode with the Slutzes: Big Jim grills his steak at 3 am, and get me mah beer, woman!

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Cry Havoc! and Release the Frogs of War!

I would hate to leave people with the idea that I was a troubled troublesome troublemaker, but, oh well. We weren't always at war with the Evil Stepmother. There were even times we allied ourselves against more powerful and evil enemies. Like the old lady next door. You know the one. The widow with the immaculate yard, whose walks are always clean and never have snow or ice or leaves on them. The old lady whose house makes yours look like urban blight, even after we picked up all the dog crap and raked the leaves. Her very silence, after I'd say "Hi!" as loudly as I could, just because I knew she's a tad deef in one ear, was the shot across my bow that just begged for a war.

Please don't think I go out of my way to harrass old folks. I have never tripped one, robbed one, scammed one. No matter how tempted I might have been at 14. All I ever tried to do with the old lady was just. say Hi! Is it too much to ask for a simple Hi! in return?

Oooooh, and she would take our baseballs, all the time, too. We used to play catch in the yard with real baseballs, but everytime they either went into her yard, or wedged between the chainlinks of her fence, she would scamper out with amazing vigor and speed and take them back into her Baseball Prisoner of War Camp, where we would never see them again.

In order to make peace with the old battle-axe, my dad gave us tennis balls, or Nerf balls. They wouldn't "damage" her chainlink fence, and maybe she would stop calling the police on us.

Finally, it came down to this ultimatum from the cops:
"If you keep bothering Mrs. Nilsson, we will remove you from this home and put you into a foster home." And we took that threat seriously. So it was decided, that no matter how nice it was outside, if we saw Mrs. Nilsson, we were to come back inside, and not attempt talking to her.

But, even with that preventative, the endless noise and mayhem that eminated from our house made it necessary for the cops and the social workers to begin paying us regular visits.

There were constant house inspections....They were not happy with me after I papier-mâchéed the floor in my bedroom into a relief map of the French Alps. But trying to explain "inspired creativity" was seriously lost on these bozos.

It all came down to one. last. chance. After the relief map incident, (I had to get on my hands and knees and scrape it off completely, and it was a cruel form of punishtment to make me destroy my project, besides) we were told under no certain terms, that anymore visits by the police would land us all in SEPARATE foster homes.

By Christmastime, we'd managed to avoid all contact with the old hag, mainly due to the fact that she was back in Sweden for a time, and thus we had peace, since the cops hadn't come for at least 3 months. But the belief that we had dodged a bullet was about to be shattered. All because of snow.

Now there hadn't been a peep from the old lady's house in three months. Her sons or daughters would come over and keep the place up, but we didn't speak to them, nor they to us, and we kept to ourselves. But with the first snow, just before Christmas, came the overwhelming temptation to lay down in it, roll around in it, make forts and weapons. Lovely weapons; snow... packed tightly into a small balls and dunked in cold water and left to freeze...only the most ideal weapon to use against people who wear glasses. But I ask you this question: If you had the choice of rolling around, making snow angels and forts and snowballs with the snow in your own yard, KNOWING that there was a good chance you would land in Dog crap, or doing the same in the pristine, virgin snow next door....Pure Nilsson's Yard Snow, what would you do? We figured she wasn't home yet, and it was still dark out, and so, one set of footprints became five sets, angel silhouettes appeared, a fort at the far end of her yard sprung up and we were caught white-mittened, munching on tasty white ice cold manna.

We were suddenly startled to see her in her bath robe and slippers, armed with a shovel and hurling the most vile Swedish invective at us. We all ran, and miraculously, none of us were nailed with the shovel. But worse was to follow. We ran through the back of her yard, through the bushes and into our own backyard, into our house and down to the root cellar. We kept quiet, and my older brother opened the shutter that led under the porch. We quietly climbed under the porch to look through the latticework for the cops. No one said anything. We barely breathed.

We had not long to wait. The police rolled up and we saw their feet march up to the porch...we heard their feet on the porch, and then the door knocker rapping. My father and R. were not yet up, so we heard them rouse from their warm bed and and get dressed, while the brass knocker kept rapping furiously. We were quiet as mice as we listened to the police ask my father if he knew where we were.
"They're upstairs in bed, officer."
"Oh? Would you please go and check, just to make sure, sir?"
"Of course, officer. It isn't even 7 in the morning, so I'm sure that they are still in bed. It's dark out, for Chrissakes!"
"Nevertheless, sir, please go and check, just to make sure. We got another call from Mrs. Nilsson about your kids trespassing on her property, and we've warned them and you about what would happen if we had to come out again."

Then we heard dad's feet stomp upstairs and open doors, and calling our names. None of us answered.

'They, uh, aren't here, officer."
"Well, do you know where we might be able to find them?"
"You might try the park up the street, or the school."
"Look, sir, when they come back, I want you to call me, so we can straighten this out. We are really getting tired of the old lady calling us for every stupid little thing. I hope I make it REALLY clear to you that we don't WANT to be coming out on Christmas Eve Night, just because your kids decide to piss her off again. Do you understand?"
"Yes, officer."
The police left, and I heard my father sit down hard on the sofa. It was the kind of sitdown that one does, when one has had all the air knocked out of one. Heavy. Angry. Bitter.
Neither of them spoke. R. went into the kitchen to make coffee. She said nothing. He said nothing. The silence between them spoke more loudly than if they were having a fight. We had really disappointed them. We sensed the straw breaking the camel's back with every sigh they made. It was time for us to face the music.

We went up quietly, into the kitchen, still in our coats to face our parents sitting at the kitchen table. They said nothing. We tried to apologize all at once, but my father's stony glare silenced our attempts. He said nothing, but went to the phone and called the police.

They came, and we knew that this might be the last Christmas we would spend at home.

It was decided that taking us away on Christmas Eve would be pointless, since it would take several days to find five different foster homes. No use in ruining anyone else's Christmas. We were going to be removed for a six month trial beginning in January.

We open our presents on Christmas Eve. It was the new tradition R. had introduced into our family. I had to admit it was a better idea to open presents the night before Christmas. That way, you could stay up late, and sleep in late, have a big breakfast and prepare the dinner without having toworry about picking up trash and putting together presents. She handed me a present. A ceramic doll. I had never had one before. I was surprised. It was a lovely doll. Not like a Barbie, but it looked like a real girl, with long braids and a straw hat and a velvet green dress and black shoes. Her eyes even looked real. I gave R. a hug and gave her the present I had got her: A hot chocolate mug. ( I didn't tell her about the fake cockroach that was glazed to the inside. Why ruin the surprise?)

Dad got us all the best gift of all. We surely didn't deserve it. A brand new stereo system with Dolby speakers....it was like uttering a magical incantation: Dolby Sound. We couldn't believe the difference in the quality of sound, but Dad's gift was only partially finished.

He announced at about 10 pm that it was bedtime, and no ifs ands or buts! Having gotten through the day relatively unscathed, we all decided that the best gift we could give the parents was some obedience, we all went to bed without an argument.

It wasn't yet 2 am, when we all were quietly awakened by dad.
"Shhhh! Don't make a sound. Follow me."
We did, and soon, he led us all down to the dining room, where he'd opened the windows facing Mrs. Nilsson's house. The new speakers were put into the windows.
"Look up to her second floor," he said. We did. Unbelievably, her window was slightly opened, and her bedroom light was on!
"Watch." He pulled out a cassette tape and slid it into the new stereo system.
"Now listen." He pushed the play button.
We listened. Soon, we heard the sound of...frogs! Nothing but frogs, croaking, singing, mating. The volume was low at first, but ever so gently, he began raising the volume a little at a time. Soon, the cold winter night's air was filled with the sounds of joyous summertime! Frogs. In Dolby Sound. Frogs and dragonflies. Frogs and buzzing bees, frogs and birds singing in trees. An occasional plane flying overhead. Children laughing in the distance. A chorus of frogs, with an occasional interlude from a motorcycle or a bicycle interspersed inbetween froggy movements.
"Where did you get this tape, Dad?"
"Your stepmother made it this summer."
For the first time, I began to see why my father loved this young woman. I went over to her and hugged her and thanked her.

We watched the shadowy form of Mrs. Nilsson come to the window and look out. Dad turned down the sound and removed the speakers and shut the windows.
"Go back to bed and pretend to sleep." We giggled and did just as he said.
Not but a few moments later, the police were banging on the door.
"We got a call from Mrs. Nilsson again, sir."
"Look, we were all sleeping."
"I can see that you are probably right, but the woman swears she hears frogs coming from your place."
I wish I could have seen my father's dead pan face.
"Frogs? Uhhh, we don't have any of those. Are you sure you heard her correctly?"
"She said frogs. Would you mind if we took a look through your house? Please, we just want to reassure her that you don't have any frogs here."
"Sure, of course, officer. Come right in."

The police looked through our house, into each of our rooms, where we were suddenly surprised awake and ever so confused at the ruckus....who was disturbing our visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads like this?!

Satisfied that there were no frogs on the premises, they went back to Mrs. Nilsson to tell her that they'd found no frogs.

So they left, and twenty minutes later, we began the whole process again. And once again, the police came, looking for frogs, only to find none.

We waited another hour, and then once again, repeated the process. And this time, the police didn't bother coming to our house. We listened as the cops chewed her out for wasting their time and said they were tired of her petty complaints and that they weren't coming out anymore, and if they had to come out again, they would arrest her this time.

New Year's passed, and my father received a call from the Department of Social Services that we wouldn't be going into foster care after all. Of course, they never said why, specifically. Just that there was a problem with finding five seperate homes for everyone. Yeah, right. Ribbit.

Music Hath Not Charms to Soothe the Savage Bra

cartoon by Davey

When committing to a war of attrition, psy-ops is everything. As teenagers, we had already at our disposal a vast array of psychological torture devices that send grown men and women to their knees, weeping, pleading, "Mercy! Have Mercy on me! I will get you the damn puppy, and I WILL DO THE DISHES....you don't have to...just stop repeating everything I say....pleeeeeease?" And because we were compassionate and just, and because we had reduced our elders to helpless neurotic piles of spent humanity, we did stop, and we did get the puppy, and they DID do the DISHES....

So, the question was, which weapon would end this sham marriage and restore our names back to "White Trash Hooligans"....from "White Trash Hooligans with Perv Dad?" Enter the Tin Clarinet. Horn of Doom. Woodwind PainStick of Horror.

One night, while pretending to be a great jazz flautiste, sitting in with the boys on my Dave Brubeck albums, and with Maynard Ferguson Live at Jimmy's album, I stopped. Bra had been pounding on my locked door to tell me to give it a rest...it was past 10 pm and "People Were TRYING to SLEEP." Well, I didn't know those people, and I certainly wasn't one of them, but I was quite winded, and sleep didn't sound half bad, but Bra gets irritated at loud noises...and she hated me practicing anyway, so that became our first weapon of war. She becomes so irritated at all the noise, that she often becomes one with the noise and outlouds the noise we were trying to irritate her with in the first place. The flute, being a girlish and pretty-sounding instrument...once you got over the passing-out-while-learning-how-to-play-it phase, simply did not suffice. In the bottom of my closet was the instrument which caused weeping and suffering so great, that my grandfather banished it from his house and gave it to my brother, who, not having anything remotely to do with practice, eventually gave it to me.

Grandmama's tin clarinet was so old, the pads came off when the keys were pressed. In the bell was a large dent...probably where Grandmama's mother, angry at the fact that her husband had built a house for his mistress in back of the family homestead, and proceeded to cuckhold himself there, hurled the offensive demon horn against the door, and dented it. But I digress.

Grandmama's tin horn was of no use in any orchestra. It couldn't be tuned, it couldn't be pawned, it could only collect dust. During those times when I attempted to play it, the low notes would stray upward...not gradually, either, but with unexpected suddenness, causing my head to collapse into my shoulders, in a vain attempt to shield itself from the pain. I would immediately stop playing it at that point, since it was a futile attempt to keep the cursed instrument under control.

The next morning, I sat in with the Firehouse Five Plus Two Dixieland All Stars Band and when it came my turn to solo during the Tiger Rag, I gave it my all and then some. The horn couldn't keep the pitch, but sounded like a police siren that couldn't be turned off. And then it sounded like a wounded cat, begging for the car to come back and finish him off. And then, well, just high pitched squalling and all the other noises that occur when one bites down on the reed and blows. The effect was almost immediate. Bra knocked furiously on the door for me to stop, but she couldn't use the "it's past 10 and everyone is sleeping" ruse, because I checked, and it was 9 am,
and it was Saturday, and it was raining out, and I still had several days left of being grounded, so I continued to play. And she continued to scream, and threaten, and beg, and cry....it only took an hour and she was crying! Finally, at around noon, I gave it a final rest. Later that week we allowed Dad to drive over it with the car. It could inflict pain no more.

Now, it is at this point, where I will simply refer to Bra as R., since that is actually the first letter of her name. R. is also easier to spell.

We had our first truce after the clarinet incident. The next battle involved drum sticks with plastic tips. (Hint: Formica countertops being tapped upon with plastic tipped drumsticks has a spine shattering effect guaranteed to let you go to the movies, even when R. said no six times already. You can probably get popcorn money, too, depending on the proper amount of tappage.)

The next battle involved a promise my father had made to me. He promised me that I could have a finely crafted pearwood descant recorder, if I could master the cheapo Yamaha 2 dollar one, first. And so I did. And this was no weapon, either. In no time at all, I went from playing Hot Cross Buns, to Handel, Bach, Telemann and Vivaldi. And my prize was an Israeli hand made Gill pearwood recorder, which was special ordered and very expensive....but the difference is that the sound was so much sweeter. My favorite place to practice was in the branches of our apricot tree, or on the rooftop that overhung the backporch. My window opened right onto the roof, and from there, I could climb into the tree and practice my recorder. I usually played the recorder when I knew no one would be home. But whenever R. was home, she would complain about the noise.

R. did not like the recorder. Even the larger alto and tenor and bass recorders...but what she really didn't like, was the fact that my father had spent 50 dollars on a whistle. And so, she disappeared it. She came to me and told me, gloating. I looked everywhere for it, but I never found it again,and I took the loss personally. This was beyond mean. It was cruel and spiteful. It was war.

Lacking a clarinet, I found an even more useful instrument of torture. The ocarina. I bought the clay ocarina from the music store for a few bucks, and instead of being loud and piercing....it was a sub-neural type of instrument. It lacked the ability to play anything melodic. At first, it sounded sweet enough, but the toy could only play three random notes. So playing it was like a Chinese water torture. The same three notes, softly played, over and over and over, sent her crashing into my room, where she grabbed the porcelain three note wonder and flung it against the wall, shattering it to pieces. She turned and walked out, slamming the door behind her, leaving me with a stupid grin on my face.

The following instruments were used in battle with less effectiveness: The Jew's harp....I kept getting my tongue pinched, or the middle boinging device kept hitting my teeth and hurting me. The brass fife....not as irritating as the ocarina or the tin clarinet. Playing Spike Jones records loudly....she only laughed...she was getting wise to me.

Ultimately, nothing worked, and I had to resign myself to the fact that she was married to my father....for better, or hopefully worse.

Next: Cry Havoc and release the Frogs of War!

Monday, June 5, 2006

The Marriage of Gigolo

cartoon by Ronald Searle

February 1976. My father remarried six years after the death of our mother, whose story should have come first, but I thought this would be more interesting. I mean, after all, when you talk about the death of a parent, it is somewhat of a downer. Talking about my father's second wife would be something of a downer as well, if it weren't for the facts involved.

My old mommy died at the ripe old age of 29. I was still in single digits when she died, and after a succession of government-paid-fer nannies and babysitters, my father finally settled on the last of the babysitters, who at the time of her deflorestation (by my father....I accidently heard the whole thing, egads!)
was a scant 17 years of age.

R. aka "Bra" was a lovely young woman, with long, straight, shiny hair, smoldering brown eyes...big eyes. Big, batting eyes. After the braces came off, her teeth were like a brilliant, whitewashed picket fence. She had Osmond Teeth, and she stood at 6 ft naught, a full half foot taller than my father. Yes. I said a full half foot. It might have been almost 8 inches. Who's counting?

Bra became my new mommy, after finishing ROTC and turning 19...just beyond the reach of her parents and the law. We sat in court as the judge pronounced a sentence of marriage on them. I was 14. My new mommy was but 5 years older than me.

I could never figure out the attraction of Bra to my father. I could never figure out the attraction of all the girls before her to my father, either.

Short, balding, with a greasy black lop of hair evenly spaced with hair goop into a plasticized combover. He smoked. He had a beer gut. He had Horribly Crooked Buck Teeth. In fact, if my father were some sort of vehicle, he would definitely look like THE truck on the left.

So, go figure. Why do all the ugly guys get all the hot chicks? In a word, the same dirty old man that captured Bra's heart captured my mother's heart, too. Music. The man is a musician.

Look at all the rock stars. Mick Jagger gets the model. Stephen Tyler is so ugly, that you have to look at him through a pinhole in a shoebox to keep from going blind.(Scroll down to #3 in the list.) Not only do these monsters get the girls....they proceed to breed with them...and the children manage to defy the odds of becoming ugly like dad...well, with the exception of Ozzie Osbourne's kids. Eeeeesh.

So it was with my father. All he had to do was play the piano, and the girls would be put into a semi-hypnotic trance and suddenly pledging their eternities away in order to be his wife.

But at least my father tried to do right by marrying her....not that it prevented us from becoming the laughing stocks of the schools we attended.

Bra came from a neurotically perfectionistic background. She was the only girl in a family of screwed up boys. She often bore the brunt of her mother's unassuageable wrath and her father's indifference. T'is true, that the definition of the word "shrewd" is this: The epitaph of a man who was married to a shrew.

Bra could do no right in her mother's eyes, and as a result, she sought comfort at our house...we were exactly the opposite of everything she'd known at her house. We were slobs, we always seemed to be wise cracking and playing jokes on one another. In spite of our lack of material wealth, we were a happy noisy clan. I can understand why she would like coming over to our house. And why she would want to marry my dad. He paid attention to her. Her dad never seemed to acknowledge her...or anyone else for that matter. So she became a fixture at our house. And then she became MY MOTHER.

The Battle was joined on the day she became the Enemy. I mean, it was all right to hang out, but marrying my dad? We as his filial interests declared war on them both. And nobody won this war.

The First Act of War: Weapon of Choice: Call her Mommy and See what Happens

"Stop it."
"Stop it right NOW!"
"Momma? Mom? Mummsy Pie?"
"Jack, make them STOP it RIGHT NOW!
"Kids, show your mother some respect!"
I am NOT YOUR MOTHER! If you say it one more time, I will ground you for TWO WEEKS!"

Two weeks later, we were devising other weapons of war. It was decided in council chambers...in my little brother's bedroom, that is, that the weapon of choice this time around would be music....the very honey pot that lured her into the lair of the dirty old man in the first place.
First weapon in the musical arsenal: Grandmama's Tin Clarinet Which She used in the Official Marching Band of the Women's Auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan of Shawnee Mission Kansas. I saw a picture of dear Grandmama resplendent in her white KKK uniform, her blessed white face surrounded by a white hood. It must have broken her racist heart when my father started playing all that darky music and hanging out in nightclubs. I can almost imagine her putting her hand to her head, looking at the posters of Sarah Vaughan and Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie on his bedroom walls. Where did she go wrong?
Another story for another time.


Thursday, June 1, 2006

Some New Things to happen on my blog

Cartoon by Jean-Jacques Sempé

Many folks, mostly friends and bloggers on other sites, have often said that I should write a book. It seems that the many stories I tell are entertaining to normal and psychologically happy people who have had rational parents and events make up their balanced but boring childhoods. I cannot say that, however, and as a result of a comically dysfunctional childhood inflicted upon me by my parents, (always blame others) I find myself growing bored with the kind of commentary I have been posting.

I just don't get angry much these days. Not even at the Glorious, Boastful Sons of Allah. Does anyone get surprised anymore at the Antics of the Religion of Peace™? I don't. It is all so predictable. First they fume, then they detonate themselves: whitewash, deceive, kablooie!, repeat as before. So, I just don't get upset....if anything, the political scene is so corrupt and dysfunctional, that the only emotion I can conceivably muster is that of contempt and ridicule...which is what I haven't really been doing. I miss that, so I am going to go back to doing that. In addition, I will be adding a generous recounting of my not so boring past, whenever it suits me. And as an added bonus, there will be no moral to the stories I tell. Why, you ask? Because, I just. Don't. Give a Damn No More.
Til then, Ciao, Dahlinks!