Wasted my day at an Open House. A condo. Six hundred and sixty nine square feet of black leather and boredom. Not a book in sight...just a lone IKEA pine shelf full of manuals and software. The place as memorable as a used Q-Tip. At least the seller left me what he must have considered mood music...Prince. I have to wonder what he must have thought popping Purple Rain into the player before scurrying off to work. I took him for a Michael Buble fan...and when he wants cutting edge he puts on Acoustic Alchemy or Luther Vandross. But, hey, I love surprises! Besides, I, too, was feeling a slight nausea on what best accompanies leather and cat hair balls the size of cotton candy. Not to mention dander drifts that could reroute an arctic traveler...or the fact that dried crap has somehow missed the confines of the litter shitter and cemented to the carpet. In hindsight, Prince might be a perfect choice although I felt a tad overdressed greeting people at the door to "Jack U Off." Nothing to worry about though...the majority of St. John knits and blue blazered brokers didn't seem to notice a thing.
The place has been sold twice and both times the sale has flipped due to financing and now it's back on the market once again. A realtor called me yesterday to tell me he was bringing in an offer but he never showed. What's up with that? Today the potential buyers seem to be little hipster MicroSofties who got into the company after all the splits but still have dreams of retirement like their forty-something siblings. There is a look to these guys--boyishly clean cut, wire-rims, thin and unathletic, quick of speech. They seem to always be checking their blackberries, calculating something. Another give away...the neighbors know them. Obviously more Bill Gates wannabes. Each parking stall holds a new leased BMW and on every terrace --an elaborate Weber blow torch barbecue. One over-achiever neighbor tells me, "I've currently locked into a 5 year arm based on my life goals and work expectancy. I plan to be married and settled by the time my mortgage payment adjusts." Obviously a programmer. I know I sound like an enlightened piece of shit but sometimes things are too hard to swallow.
Today the clouds are fighting each other...and then small breaks of sun appear out of nowhere. It brings me to a somewhat sad reflective state. When I get like this I start pulling out old writing and trying to resusitate it. I've started a story that I might try to add to...or not, SHIT, it's wild when you vomit material on a page and then cut it lose and begin again. The story of my life. But I guess what I try to do is unleash imagination. Take a proposterous situation and open up possibilities. Anyway, this piece is a convulsing combination of truth and fiction with no marketable value. It needs a lot of revision but I'll give you a taste of bile at its best...
My name is Custer J.C. Callahan. I know it's a mouthful but I'm my mother's last stand. You see, we're Irish Catholic which means if it doesn't fly with the Pope it's not happening at our house. I'm the tenth child and the youngest. My brother, born eleven months prior is named Will, after the little boy in Lost in Space...and my sister Ginger, after a shipwrecked castaway. Our older siblings lucked out. They're biblical figures --Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, and Mary. My parents must have been on a roll back then but lost steam somewhere between the girls.
My father is a doctor. We don't see him much. He's a soft-spoken man who is always performing surgery on some foreign kid who needs him more than we do. Lately we found out that a certain nurse needs him too but that's not a subject worth discussing unless you want mom to take a few hefty swigs of holy water.
As long as I can remember our mom has been working at home. She says her job is never done. One hundred and sixty-eight hours a week she tends to our needs. Lord knows I'm not challenging her performance record but one can't help but notice a change in hours. More often than not we find her sprawled out on the sofa, flipping TV channels and taking communion (or at least that's what she calls it though I have never heard of anyone falling down from communion except Baptists, and we aren't Baptists.)
It wasn't long after I started school that mom began dressing mannequins and leaving them on the front porch. The first was Mae. She wore a long blonde wig and had a little round crotch and breast. Mom dressed her in camouflage gear, the shirt unbuttoned to her waist so when the wind blew you could see her nips. The next thing we knew Mae had accessories --a toy MK47, a plastic grenade in her shirt pocket and a Lucky Strike behind her right ear. I thought the cigarette made her look cool until the neighbor kids smoked it in the graveyard behind our house.
I've got to be honest, the thought of one more body requiring space left me cold but I found myself growing fond of Mae and her army fatigue. Even though she was a girl and made of fiberglass there was something that appealed to my growing sense of duty. Besides, I recognized the importance of the opposite sex in battle having discovered my sister Mary's tampons make great missiles. I could launch a Tampex torpedo from the second floor landing and wipe out an entire nativity scene in the entrance hall.
Then more mannequins began to appear. They were multiplying so fast that it was hard to find a place to sit. Mom was dressing them too. Some in her fancy gowns with cocktail glasses and magic marker name tags that said, Hi my name is Tallulah, Zsa Zsa, Marilyn and Greta. There were others trapped in dad's nice suits, striking poses with adhesive labels attached to their lapel --Errol, Humphrey, Freidrich, and Winston. Then the furniture was out there. Initially it was just a couch and chair but not long after the side tables and a lamp joined them. When the weather got better mom placed herself between the dummies and carried on long conversations. The rich smoke from her cigarette would billow upward like soft, puffed pillows and ever so often her head would rear back and she would laugh like it was coming straight from her calloused toes. The oldest twins, Matthew and Mark say she's bordering looney on account of delivering so many babies in such a short piece of time. They say it's the equivalent of coming up from the bottom of the sea too fast and getting the bends. I don't rightly know what they mean but if that's the reason she's bloated and acting crazy, it works for me.
For six months mom had 'get a divorce' written on the kitchen chalkboard. It loomed at the top of the list like a large phosphorescent planet. And then one day it slid to the fifteenth position, wedged between 'get the dog neutered' and 'buy vacuum bags.' We thought that was a good sign although we still hadn't seen much of our father and frankly, all of us were getting pretty tired of ailing immigrants breaking up our home. And what made it worse was the idea that God will punish our sorry souls for wishing our dad would come home and resume his job. Our only salvation was Sunday school and bedtime when we'd purge our sinful thoughts and pray with all our might that Jesus cure every dang invalid and return them to whence they came. Good riddance! But after each prayer mom would let out a heavy sigh and say, "It's not that easy."
Next thing we knew mom has hopped a train full of frozen chicken parts. She cleaned the house and made ten little sack lunches like she thought we were Disney dwarfs and headed for the tracks. Word has it she got all the way to Missoula, Montana before they pulled her frost-bitten buns out of the boxcar and sent her back to Seattle. Trouble is we didn't know any of this until we got home from school that day. Instead of finding mom propped on the couch watching test patterns, Cora Mae Jones and her sultry singing voice was butchering sea life in our kitchen sink. She was wearing mom's apron and when she saw us coming through the back door she wiped all that odoriferous fish on the cotton and gave us a squeeze. Cora Mae was a big black woman, so big in fact it felt like you were buried alive in her skin folds. She helped clean on Tuesdays, but this was a Friday so we knew something was fishy.
"Where's mom?" We asked.
"Your mama has decided to do a little traveling," Cora Mae said, swinging a jowl in our direction.
"Traveling? When is she coming home?" We hollered.
"Well, we aren't exactly sure, but don't you worry all of your pretty little heads...I's fixing you something special to eat."
So that night we ate catfish with as much tartar sauce as we wanted and went to bed without a bath. When mom's hobo excursion was over, we met her at the door like a pack of wild hyennas running down an antelope.
"How was your trip?" "What did you see?" "Why did you leave?" "Are you going to do that again?"
But she was not much on words that evening. Her arms hung limp at her side, her lips pressed tight as a zipper as she curled into a potato bug on the sofa and closed her eyes. Cora Mae said traveling has a way of doing that to a person.
Things returned to normal for awhile although we noticed a few changes. Mom wasn't making lunches anymore and rarely changed out of her bathrobe. If she did venture from the house she dressed the way teenagers experiment with alcohol; mixing the wrong taste and proportions until eventually the effect makes you sick to look at it. She had also become quite proficient at cussing and spanking until the skin turned raw.
"If you F****** kids want your F****** dinner, you better get down here right NOW or you'll be fighting the F****** crows for it," all the while slapping at us like she was beating demons from our clothes. Things were escalating...there was no denying.
Matthew and Mark called a meeting. We gathered in their room and sat in a Montessori circle on the floor. Matthew walked around us slowly, his hand massaging his chin as if he was experiencing new growth. Although identical twins, he was born a few minutes before Mark and never ceases to remind him of the fact.
"I've thought a lot about our situation since mom took to the rails and I've come to the conclusion that we've reached a crisis stage," he said.
"That's a slight exaggeration, don't you think? I mean, come on, she hopped a train...she didn't rob a bank," Mark said. Two minutes can seem like a lifetime to a twin in second position.
Matthew glared at him. "Your opinion has as much pull as a rubber teat."
The remark created a few chuckles, except from Ginger, who has always claimed Mark as her favorite. Regardless, the comment shut him up and we turned our attention to the eldest.
"The first thing we need to do is restore order which I hope to accomplish in two phases."
At this point Mary lifts herself from the floor and raises her hand, one leg extended like a kick stand.
"I want to be secretary."
"All in favor?" Matthew scans the room.
A unanimous "I" bounced off the bunk beds as Mary ran off for paper and pen. When she returned, he implemented his two step plan.
"First, we must call dad and demand he come home. Now here's where this gets a little dicey...if he does, we need heavy surveillance. No more knocking up mom."
Mary drops her pen, pushing her index fingers in her eardrums, "LaLaLaLaLa,"she chants. I was thinking about joining her until Luke pulled her fingers out and told her to be quiet or she'd lose her secretarial status.
"Now if he doesn't come home, we have to resort to Plan B. Mutiny. That's right...we've got to take control of this sinking ship. What I propose is that each of us take responsibility for the child below us. Make sure they dress right, have a lunch, bath, and brush their teeth. That means watching who they hang out with during and after school and any change of behavior. And if anyone breaks the Callahan code of conduct, report to me. At that point we will call an emergency meeting in which we will impose a swift and harsh punishment. In other words, don't expect to have movable parts if proven guilty. All in favor say "I."
Voices rang out, though despite all the mass enthusiasm I could not help but lift my hands in prayer to the heavenly forces that be and ask that mom and our absent father somehow come to their senses and take the parenting back from the disciples.