21 July 2008

Family Ties

There is fun in dysfunction. It's there, right in the middle of the word. So you have to see the humor malformed families hold. And sometimes, it just not that hard to find.

I went up to have lunch with my teenaged cousin and his sister on Saturday. They aren't old enough to go into bars yet and, since it was Dark Knight weekend, we were going to avoid all movie theatres and anything near movie theatres in order for me to keep my sanity. As a rule, I don't like crowds, I especially don't like crowds full of children, and I don't like crowds full of children in the suburbs more than just about anything I can think of at the moment. Something will eventually spring to mind, but, suffice it to say it will have to be pretty loathsome for me to hate it more than suburban kiddie crowds peppered with the people that bred them.

Ruling out bars and movies, and having an unwillingness to go to a restaurant near one of the cineplexes, that left us to lunch on strip mall food. (Insert disgusted sigh here.) I don't do fast food. I require a place where one sits down, peruses a menu held in one's hand, not plastered on a high wall, and a server comes over to take the order. I'm finicky that way. Outside of that, I'm up for just about anything. When I asked my dear cousin what he was craving for lunch, he declared, "Aw, man, I could really go for some sushi." I looked back at his sister. We shared the same look of horror, but for two totally different reasons. She's not gastronomically adventurous and I don't think anyone should be eating sushi at 11:59 AM, especially not in a town called Canyon Country. Since I would only be eating the vegetarian varieties, I figured I wouldn't likely die from it. (Key word being likely.) His sis would be safe, since she was going the meat-cooked-in-teriyaki route. My cousin is a hulking seventeen-year-old football player who can tolerate just about anything. Besides, he's a local. His immune system is used to that stuff.

For the record, it was the least attractive sushi I have ever seen. Possibily ever made. Sushi is supposed to be an art form. I've seen more artistic displays in the dog bombs I've near-missed. The knife skills of the sushi chef were abysmal. Blindfolded, I could have done a better job, and that would include whatever digits got amputated in the process. Even the ingredients were peculiar. They put pickles and brown bamboo shoots in my vegetable roll and completely skipped the carrots. I don't know how they say it in Japanese, but I took one look at it and said, "Quoi?" My cousin seemed disappointed. "Is it all right?" he asked. I assured him and his sis that it was just fine. And that there would be cake right after. Somewhere else, of course.

Yes, yes. I know I was just moaning about my thimples. But this was a medicinal application of sugar and fat. If you had cruddy sushi for breakfast, you'd need a cake chaser, too.

We drove across town to a place known for its pies, and was surprised to find that they did not have any cake. It should be mandatory that all restaurants carry chocolate cake. The world would be a much better place for it. In spite of the chocolate frosted chocolate muffin, I opted for fresh peach pie, my cousin got banana cream, his sister got a hot fudge brownie sundae that came in a tall goblet and, while she is rather tall for her age, as he always was for his, I thought we would need to get her a booster so she could reach in and spoon it out.

It was over our mounds of calories that my cousin brought me up to speed on family stuff. He said he spoke to our grandmother the other day. When she inquired what he was doing on the weekend, he mentioned lunching with me. "Oh," my grandmother replied. Then she asked him, "Has she gained weight?"

I put down my pie fork and picked up my jaw. Even his sister's eyes went wide on that one. "She really said that?" I laughed. He nodded and attemted to clarify, "But I think that she meant it in a good way, like do you have enough money for food. She also asked if you bought a house yet."

If you haven't guessed, outside of my cousin, I don't talk to my family. Not for one reason. No. There are many. It's not like a Hatfield and McCoy type standoff, it's not vitriolic, it's just safer for me to keep a healthy distance. I am rather the Black Sheep of the family. I'm a liberal Democrat for one. A feminist for another. I chose an art rather than a science for my degree. If I say something, I mean it. I don't just say mean things to say them. They mean them more as love taps.

My family has never really figured me out. They were certain I would go on heroin if I went to CalArts. Or, at the very least, stop shaving. (Neither of which happened, by the way.) My mother once accused me of being a lesbian, not because I was overly flirtatious with women, but because I hadn't brought any boyfriends home in a while. A strategic decision on my part. I remember making the mistake of taking a weekend getaway with my parents, who invited my beau along. My mother commented, "He's very handsome, but I bet he wished he was a little taller." "Yes, mom. He mentions that often. It keeps him up at night." He was 5'10. She's 5'8. I'm 5'6.

My family has only expected the worst from me. And, while I haven't been anywhere near a huge success at life, I haven't quite hit the skids either, which must be a sore spot for them. I have bypassed addiction to alcohol, drugs and/or sex. I don't even smoke. I've no bastard children (that I know of). No divorces, but no marriages either, so that's more or less a wash. I've not been homeless or tossed out of my apartment. I don't even have any tattoos or piercings outside of those on my earlobes, and they did that to me when I was five. So, now, I guess the only things left for me to live up to is morbid obesity and devil worship (which Buddhism might as well be to them). I told my cousin to let our grandmother know that I'm due for lapband surgery in a couple of weeks, but I wear my 400 pounds really well. Then I took another bite of pie.

Did she gain weight? Sheesh. This coming from a woman whose own brother-in-law used to refer to her as Jabba (never to her face, though). She's lost weight over the years, but was never what one would call svelt. It's her side of the gene pool that gives me the thimples. And I just can't stop laughing about this. Did she gain weight? I couldn't wait to get on the freeway and get a signal to call a friend and say, "Get a load of this..."

We think of grandmas as cake-baking, skinned-knee kissing bundles of love. My grandmother was a cake-baker, a pie-maker, but more the what-the-hell-were-you-doing-running-in-the-first-place-now-quitcher-crying kind of matron. She has also been very good to me at times, but that has always come with a heavy price. I used to pay it, figuring it was family dues. But then there was one phone call between us not too long ago that kind of made me want to cancel my membership.

I was in a bit of a bad patch. Three car accidents in one year (only one was my fault, and I blamed that on post-tramatic stress from the first one); a client who didn't pay on time, and then the check would bounce; and a burning stomach that would end up costing me two-grand. In an effort to comfort me, my grandmother reminded me that I wasn't getting any younger, I was crapping my life away and would never amount to anything. This was right after I published my first book (something I didn't share with my family until it was done). I explained to her that I knew she didn't really understand what I was working toward, but that I had just made a big step; I wrote a book and it was going to be in Barnes & Noble stores. I told her that I was both excited and hopeful about it, and maybe this would be the start of something good. To that she replied, "Oh, shit on your book."

It's okay to laugh. I did. That's the fun of dysfunction. For an 82 year-old woman to serve that up to her adult granddaughter, it's kind of priceless. Once I recovered, I said, "Okay, Grammy, I'm hanging up now." "Well, are you coming over tomorrow?" she asked. "Um, no. No, I'm not. Bye."

As we continued our lunch conversation, my cousin and his sister pointed out that they were really only children. Each having a different father (their mother was married to each of them at the time; don't want to paint the wrong picture), and each of their fathers having no other children, on a technicality, his sister told me, they were in fact only children. They both seemed really pleased with that. Who was I to argue?

After we were good and stoned on sugar,we went over to the Barnes & Noble where I showed his sister my book (and moved it into a better position), and got them some important literature (she, The Outsiders; he, No One Here Gets Out Alive...a very apropos title in that zip code). Then we made our way back to their home, where I promptly asked his mother, "Did he tell you what my grandmother said?"

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