Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Part Nine: Conspiracy Theories

Perseverate: To repeat something insistently or redundantly; to repeat a response after the cessation of the original stimulus.

Conspiracy theory: An explanatory proposition that accuses two or more persons, a group, or an organization of having caused or covered up, through secret planning and deliberate action, an illegal or harmful event or situation.

Put two things together, and what do you get? The Manny, that's what. 

For three weeks now, he's been blessedly sober. At least he appears to be, and there's no hint of fumes on the breath or the eggy, bloodshot eye. He snacks on pounds of chocolate and pretzels in bed, by his own admission, and says that there's no way he's a drunk because "alcoholics drink, and I'm not drinking! See?"

He perseverates on various things. Someone hacked his files and stole all his contacts. Something in the universe is out to get him. The post office is up to no good and is out to destroy his career. Why does something named "Grumpy Cat" have a career and he doesn't and couldn't he do the same if people were not out to get him? Goody Longbottom down the way gave him the evil eye and soured the milk in the cartons and the cows' udders. No amount of logic and humor can address these fears, and they are brought up every single day, numerous times per day, unless I can avoid him through stealth and speed. 




"I don't know, Miss Jennifer. It just seems that an evil force is out to get me. I have been betrayed. I did so much for so many people. And they betrayed me. My feeling is that there's something suspicious going on, for them all to betray me at once."

"Maybe they noticed you were a blathering drunk and they were afraid to do business with you?"

"Ah, no, not possible! My customers are all idiot drunks themselves! Most of them, anyway. No one minds if you're a drunk with lots of money. People just mind if you're a drunk without money and out of luck."

He might have a point there, with that last one.

He natters and blathers and perseverates so much and so persistently that I fear I will go mad, and will tear at the curtains with my teeth and kick him in the throat and stand on my head going "yah, yah, yah!" until he runs and hides in the attic.

Oh, speaking of the attic. I had an acquaintance come visit yesterday and she wanted to check out our attic, because we always say it's cool and has lots of potential and space. I kind of warned her that there was a man living up there but I am not sure she was prepared. We wandered into his space and he was sitting there among some orange peels, surrounded by dirty laundry, on a carpet black with filth (crap-daddle, that is one of my old carpets and I hadn't had the nerve to walk in there for quite a while, but now that I saw it I can't un-see it. Aw jeez, can it even be saved? No, it cannot.) My acquaintance hemmed and hawed and made some polite throaty noises but I could see she was jarred. Why does Jennifer have a troglodyte living in her attic? She seemed like a normal woman, but now I am convinced otherwise. And, the creature sitting there in the dirt has a pornstache!

[Manny shaved recently. And he has a pornstache now. And short hair.]

I can cook a mean pork butt.
He has outlasted the two days of sobriety once predicted by my friend, and he has not nipped at the sauce. But I confess that we are waiting for that fine day when his conspiracy theories will coalesce into a singular notion: If only I had a cocky-tail, perhaps everything in the world would right itself?

Haven't you ever thought the same, those of you who have had a whiff or two of the bottle? And when that day happens, what will become of him? 

Meanwhile, he tends our new tomato plants and braises the chicken thighs and mashes the avocados into a guacamole of which I can't pretend I'm not jealous, even though I was once considered the Guac Queen in our household. And I watch our boys attack Manny with their small, ineffectual limbs, because clearly he's fun to try to climb aboard, as big and rangy as he is. They are like mosquitos to him; he plucks one up and puts him gently aside just as the next boy launches himself. He laughs. He seems happy. He is good with them. I swear it. 


Something rotten this way comes.
He says he is happy, but for, you know, that problem. The betrayal. The conspiracy. Everyone is against him. He's trying to get a handle on it, wrap his mind around it, move forward. And he's really worried about the Korean grocery in town, because the veggies there are wilted and why would anyone sell wilted veggies and are they about to go out of business and if he had recommended them to someone they would think he was full of shit, just plumb full of shit, and that would give him a bad reputation for recommending bad grocery stores, and some of the veggies in that store sink in right under your thumb because they are so filled with rot, and there's something wrong going on in this world and why won't anyone wake up and see it? 

If you ever read this blog, Manny, know that I acted alone. No conspiracy. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Part Eight: Back in the House

It's not over....

For all we knew, the Manny had been living comfortably on a pig farm for the last several weeks, enjoying the company of his new porcine brothers, reveling in the fresh air, and enjoying a snort of bourbon whenever and how often he liked.

Bliss!
So we were pretty dismayed to get a phone call from him on March 11th, in which his opening conversational gambit was: "I'm cold. I'm homeless! And I'm scared."

He was clearly drunk. He claimed he was sitting atop a grate in NYC with all his bags and baggage and was freezing to death. Interestingly, that day was a balmy high of 66 degrees with a low of 45, but "It's below zero out here!" he stuttered.

"Dude, what happened at the pig farm? Why did you leave?"

"Oooh, their son was really annoying. I couldn't tolerate him! He was crazy!"

Some information was clearly missing. Perhaps he had gotten too cozy with one of their pigs in the sty and they sent him on his way? Either way, he was sitting on the streets of NYC.

"You drinking?" we asked.

"Me? Nah! I've been sober for 15 days, at least." Except it came out a bit like: "I'sh been stober for fiteen days at leash!"

"And your choice to quit drinking was motivated by...?"

"I just didn't need it. Can take or leave it. Why bother?"

He didn't listen much to reason, including the suggestion that he check in at an AA meeting.

"Why would I do that?" he said. "I don't drink!" Except it came out a bit like: "I dunnn drinkuh!"

After a while, he hung up. We were worried about him, but what could we do? It wasn't like he'd even proposed a solution to us. He hadn't even asked to come back.

Then, a couple of nights ago, we got a voicemail at 1:30 a.m. "Dude, I'm homeless," it said. "I am homeless. And scared. And you fucked me. You screwed me."

I didn't really like that message. So when he called the next day we were prepared for the worst. But this time he was sober. Completely, rock-solid sober. He said that he had hit bottom and was prepared to do whatever it took to get help. He was terrified. He sounded like a scared little boy who had thrown a rock through a window.

What would you do? Really? Here is what we did. We drafted up a list of ironclad rules and told him to come back and take a shower and start attending a program for drunks and show us the chips they hand out at AA and blah-de-blah and, oh, by the way, pack up your stuff and get the fuck out ASAP or we will do it for you. The point was, Obey the Rules or Ye Shall Be Homeless Again.

Last night I was lying in bed and at around midnight I heard the front door open and he came in, huffling and shuffling. I hid beyond our bedroom door as he thumped and mumbled up the stairs on his way to the attic. I peered through the crack into the light but I couldn't see him as he passed. When he was gone I darted to the bathroom and back, on bounding fleet feet like a kid afraid of the dark.

I didn't see him today at all. And I didn't hear from him either, except for that one time he entered the upstairs bathroom and released a series of loud farts.

 I told the story today, in brief, to a friend who has some knowledge of alcoholics. "He's sober right now," I said. "And we've given him lots of warnings and all that. And he said he hit rock bottom. So, we expect things to get weird but maybe he'll make it this time, maybe—?"

As we were speaking she held up two fingers.

"Is that the peace symbol?" I wondered, briefly. "Is she wishing me peace for being a good egg for taking in this poor soul again?"

Then she leaned over and said: "I give him two days. Two."




Friday, February 28, 2014

I Immobilized My Kid With This Handy Device



My child just had a panic attack. But I immobilized him quickly with the Papoose Board and he calmed down SO fast. The "spread-eagle" position is so comforting for little kids. It makes them believe that they are about to, like, hug Barney or Dora or another cuddly character. The head-strap aspect makes them super-secure, too, because they can't flail up and head-butt the mo fo who thinks that strapping them down is a good idea. The child pictured here was previously stupefied by continuous rounds of "Minecraft" and was therefore limp and flaccid when captured. Most children will bite you before being subjected to this humiliation.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Part Seven: Crumbling Walls

Hundreds of people wait for the end to this story. "Why not thousands?" I asked my friend. "Because you don't have a kitten playing a piano," he suggested. "You have only a drunk who can cook. It's not so visually spectacular."

Once we discovered the receipt for the bourbon, we conferred. My husband and the Manny engaged in the following dialogue:

"Did you buy a bottle today?"

"Uh, no?"

"So you didn't buy a bottle of bourbon today?"

"Uh, well, I guess I kinda did."

"I can't have you drinking and being around the boys. And if you are going to drink, you can't live here."

"I'm 63 years old. No one should be able to tell me what I can or can't drink!"

"OK, then. You have to promise me that your drinking will not become a problem. You need to be an asset. I don't need any more liabilities."

"I promise. Absolutely. Not a problem!" And he enwrapped husband in a giant, sloppy bear hug.

For the moment, his nannying duties were on hold, with the exception of cooking. Some mornings we'd come down to find he'd cooked chorizo and asparagus omelets for the boys and prepared a massive fresh fruit salad brimming with mangos, watermelon, and apples. He made homemade beef negimaki on the grill, whipped up fresh guacamole and spicy salsa, and ground gourmet espresso from the specialty coffee store. And little by little, sip by sip, we sensed that he was, occasionally, getting pickled on bourbon.

One night he ground up a whole lot of bourbon-flavored coffee and made himself a full french press worth. He retired to the attic and gurgled it down along with what must have been several shots of actual bourbon on the side, so that when we saw him next he looked like an old eggy-eyed groundhog given an electrical charge to the buttocks. He was literally vibrating with caffeine. We thought he meant to disguise the bourbon scent with the coffee scent, but we were not fooled.

I think I ought to back up for a moment to explain here, for a moment, why we—a nice, "normal" couple in a Westchester suburb—would ever choose a boozeaholic old fellow for our childcare in the first place. (Although the Manny, in his 60s, would resist the term "old fellow" most fiercely. "Good God, she's gotta be pushing 50! Too ancient for me!" he said of a woman who had asked for his number and persisted in calling him.)

There are a number of reasons. Among them, there is perhaps an idealistic, money-saving sensibility at play. After all, I found my fabulous Weber grill in someone else's curbside trash! Hand-me-downs and trash-picker finds include my lawnchairs, sleds, snow shovels, table umbrella, wheelbarrow, lawn tools, bicycles, snowboots, and couches. I get most of my clothes from boxes that my glamorous LA friend sends me when she cleans her closet. (Note to friend who is reading this: Send more!) The rest I get from the Salvation Army.

But we always think it's going to work out.

As an example, here is a section of our back stairs:

So trendy. Going for that "your wall is a map of unidentifiable Balkan states after-dinner quiz!" kind of look.
In a burst of energy, I'd torn off some ugly wallpaper and revealed a crumbling wall in need of professional assistance. I'd wanted to paint the wall myself, do it on the cheap. I'd gathered some paint samples. It would work out just great. Just like our new cost-effective nanny.

The wall never got fixed. It was too much for me to handle. Not without money, which is not in steady supply.

And, we really believed that the Manny was a good person. And indeed, he is. He once visited us at a time when Eldest Son had a serious problem with a bully and he was golden around the boys, really golden. He protected them. He had stood up for what was right.

Over a year later, our long-time supernanny had to move back to England. Manny wanted to move back east. We wanted to save some money. We thought: He loves the boys! He's a great cook. He can for sure pick them up and drop them off at school. What could go wrong?

But now our great cost-effective solution turned out to have problems, like the wall which, once revealed, was chunking off in powdery bursts of ancient plaster and revealing more weird Rorschach tests in its facade.

Manny started to slur and stumble. The Blanton's bourbon took hold.

I had a work trip that took me away for five days during which we had two big snowfalls and just as many days off from school. Manny was good as gold during those days, but I received texts from my husband:

"If you don't come home on time I will crack up!"

"Dishwasher broke."

"#worstweekever"

I got home and things were weird indeed. Manny, pajama-clad, was roving freely about the house. He was rambling about fish. He was a drunken mess. He wanted fresh fish and he needed to cook them, now! He started sobbing and laid his head against my arm and told me his real name, the one he'd been born with, and how his adoptive parents had disregarded him. He wandered up the front stairs and reappeared almost immediately down the back stairs, rambling and stumbling from room to room. I couldn't escape him.

"Miss Jennifer! My life is bad!" and he'd grip me by the arm and start to sob.

Over and over, he lurched and wept against my husband and told him how he loved him and how he needed a hug, repeatedly. And my husband, who had had just about enough, begged him, "Get away from me and stop touching me and go away! I have had more physical contact from you today than I have had with my own wife in five days! Just give me some space!"

At which point Manny said: "Stop yelling at me!"

Husband had not been yelling. But now he proceeded to do so: "I will not I will NOT please just get away from me RIGHT NOW."

I heard this from the next room but apparently right then the Manny swelled up like a big puff adder and his arms got fat like fire hoses and his chest got real big and pinwheels started to turn in his eyes.

Husband stood strong and glared at him, wondering what it might feel like when the Manny struck and his head hit the kitchen counter and his jaw had to be wired shut. (Manny is not a small man, by the way, nor is he a weak man.) They stood that way for several extremely tense moments. Both of them knew that if he threw a punch, the next call would be to the police. And, finally, Manny deflated.

Manny shuffled off to bed. "Once he sobers up, we'll talk to him," we agreed.

The next morning he was excitedly babbling about fish again. So, I agreed to drive him to the fish store. It was 11 am, and by the time we got in the car I realized that he was already three sheets to the wind. We parked and he wandered in and saw this:

I am a succulent red snapper on ice!
He became enamored with that fish. I mean, he started gazing into its dead eye. And then he started saying things like:

"The last time I broke a man's hand it was over a fish like that! OOPS! Don't repeat that!"

"Hey fish guy, you ever do wetwork? Yeah, don't ask me about that. What do you think of Mister Obama? He's a criminal! You gonna overcharge me for this fish or what? Rest your hand on the scales or what, right? Kidding! Just kidding!"

"Miss Jennifer, these fish are beautiful! You want a shine in the dead eye of the fish, you do. You don't want it to look dead and all you want it to look sheeny. You don't want it to look like a guy who got whacked last week and was left sitting in the alley. Fish ought to be fresh."

He was rambling all over the store picking out this and that but he spent his own money ($87) so I did not complain. We got snapper, scallops, salmon, and more, and then we stopped at the greengrocers (where he insisted that another shopper, an elderly woman, was flirting with him), and we went home.

He started stuffing the beast. He had bought all sort of herbs and he got the stomach of this fish open and stuffed it to a faretheewell.  His hands were peppered with herbs and such and as he was washing them he said, "I think I shall go on a little walkie."

I knew what that meant! No drunk who lives in an attic ventures out at 4:50 on a gloomy day for no reason. He was headed to the liquor store for certain. The last thing he needed was more booze. We'd been waiting all day for a sober moment to speak to him seriously.

My husband came home from the grocery store and asked where Manny was. I told him he had gone on a "little walkie."

Husband texted Manny: "Do not buy a bottle. I have been waiting for you to get sober so that we can talk. You promised me that it would not be a problem, and it is."

Husband then immediately called him, and said: "I just sent you some texts. If you just bought a bottle, you need to return it."

Manny said, "Okay!" relatively genially, and they hung up.

He didn't come back to the house. But twenty minutes later, he called back. "I can't be treated like a bitch," he announced. "My friend is coming here to pick me up in an hour. The decision has been made."

He came back with a sack of something liquid and quietly packed his bags and waited. He didn't eat one bite of that fish. That beautiful, stuffed, sheeny-eyed fish. We asked him to partake. He said, "I want your boys to have it. I want them to be fed."

Before he left he got teary-eyed and huggy in the kitchen again. "This just isn't working out," he said, shaking his big head. "No one is to blame. I'm not mad at you."

"But," said my husband, "if you'd just stop drinking...."

But Manny cut him off, as if that wasn't at all the issue. "Ah, this is what's best for both of us!" he said.

A car came to get him and the silhouette of a man stood at the end of our driveway. They were waiting to take him to the pig farm an hour north from here, where he currently resides. Manny rolled his suitcase out the door and I saw his slippers sitting there, his stupid slippers. I tried to latch them onto the outside of his rolling bag. I didn't have any success and finally I just rested the slippers there and they slid off with a soft whump onto the floor, and he said patiently, "Don't worry, Miss Jennifer. I will come back eventually and get them."

Will he? Will there be a Chapter Eight?

The next evening, Eldest Son said, "Mom, where is Manny? He promised he would do a cooking show with me. I kinda...I kinda miss him. I really do."

Manny always said that Eldest son was his "go-to guy." Eldest Son has never been able to tell a lie. And he wasn't lying now.

"Manny went to live on a pig farm for a little while! Say, let's cook right now. I have this recipe for chocolate mousse. Chocolate squares and eggs and heavy cream and cointreau? Hmm, don't have that last one. How's Grand Marnier? And let's make this chicken dish. We don't have the exact ingredients but we can improvise. You up for it?"

"A Moose! That sounds great."

(I didn't know what I was doing, not really. Not like a master. But it didn't matter.)

He started pounding chicken flat with a mallet and poking bresaola, cheese, basil into the folded packets. We melted chocolate and stirred in egg yolks and beat the cream into frothy peaks. We chilled the results and waited, excitedly, for the next day's reveal.

Since that night my son and I have made several recipes together, thus far. Don't underestimate the gifts that you bring into this life. Drunk, slurred, broken. There is always something left.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Part Six: Sober Up, We're Going Meat Shopping!

One fine winter's morning, the Manny came down from the attic. I saw him padding through the kitchen in soft slippers, apologetically filling a glass of water and retreating, as silently as he had come, back to his aerie.

He made small appearances throughout the day, like a dazed rodent, each time quietly filling a glass of water. Eventually, he accepted a proffered piece of gingerbread.

He must have emerged during the night, for by morning there had been further nibblings on the gingerbread. By day two, the gingerbread had been savaged. Quietly and neatly, with a knife. But there was little left.

By the third day out of seclusion, he started to make conversation again. He was wearing the same costume he'd had on since his return: flannel pyjamas and a sweatshirt. Whatever torments he'd endured in the attic to flush the booze from his system had seemed to do him a world of good. His eyes were brighter and he wasn't muttering and mumbling to himself.

He looked rather longingly at the cookpots and stovetop and said, "Thinking of going shopping anytime soon? Because I'd sure like to cook a meal for those boys. I sure would."

"You'd have to get dressed," I noted, and he practically leapt up from his chair, almost shedding his garments as he did so.

"I'll get changed and get some pants on and we can go buy some MEAT," he said. "We could get pork, and chicken, and pork, and meat, and maybe some beef and some things like that. OH, and some fresh vegetables, maybe like asparagus? And maybe some HERBS? I'll be ready in five minutes."

But gingerbread is tasty!
He clearly hadn't eaten anything other than gingerbread in days. So there we went off to the A&P, the closest local grocery store, which is staffed by octogenarians and patronized by other octogenarians. All of them are waving coupons and squawking to "Hector" or "Agnes" to come over to the register to verify a 45-year-old's ID. Things move slowly around there. I once likened the experience to being pecked to death by an aged duck.

Manny moved rapidly through the aisles, a new spring to his step. He prodded at avocados and rejected grapefruit that I would have happily tossed in my cart. He never even glanced at the junk food aisles. While in the produce section, he seemed more contented than he had ever been. He picked up herbs and sniffed at them. He fondled the rutabagas. More fresh items went into the cart: flip, flip, flip.

He really got going in the meat section. Some meat wasn't worthy of his attention. He really examined it, with the true cook's appreciation for a fine cut. He also squinted at the prices.

Meat makes the former drunk very happy.

"This is a good deal," he announced, tossing a family pack of meat into the cart. He picked chicken, pork, beef. He got more excited as we rolled down the aisles. He started blathering about grains and eggs and all sorts of food. He also grabbed a giant-sized bottle of Aleve and a lump of cured meat and a jar of caviar.
We checked out and loaded it home and he went to work, slicing and dicing and flipping things in his precious wok, which hung on our wall when not in use. The results were phenomenal. The boys gave me a little squint-eye as if to say, "Hey, thanks for the NUGGETS while he was gone. That was really great, mom, those frozen NUGGETS."

"You know what I wanna do?" he said. "I think I ought to start a catering business. I could do well at that. I really could, Miss Jennifer! I could sell good food to a lot of people around here who just want to eat! And I could cater their parties and such. And then, oh, I want to start a cooking show with Eldest son! He wants to learn to cook. I can teach him. I'll set up a video camera right here and then, we'll cook, we'll cook! And we can show how it's done, right here!"

So the days went on and the wok sizzled and the boys ate and ate and the Manny beamed. And then one day he went for a walk. And when he came back he accidentally left on the kitchen table a liquor store receipt for an expensive bottle of bourbon.

This stuff.
He saw me glancing at the receipt and he snatched it up fast as blazes and stuffed it into the garbage can. (Which was a dumb move, really, when one has pockets available.) Then he realized his error and hung about like a rabbit on hot cinders waiting for me to leave the kitchen so he could get the receipt out and destroy it. He kept walking out and coming back and shuffling about the downstairs, huffing and sighing.

But I didn't leave the kitchen, not until he went upstairs. Then I snatched the receipt out and took a photo of it. Then I took the garbage bag out of the can and left it by the back door.

He appeared in the doorway moments later, and his gaze went straight to the garbage bag leaning there against the cabinets.

"I'll take that out for you!" he said. "I'll sure take that out for you right now get it out of your way get it out of the kitchen yeah yeah I'd be happy to."

"You do that," I said. And he shot toward it like a man possessed.

I thought I smelled the stink of bourbon. And I knew that our world was unsteadily tipping, veering toward its next conclusion.



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Part Five: What a World

The Manny was in the house.

For a couple of hours, we heard nothing. He was up there, sleeping it off. I wondered when I would see him.

Our upstairs bathroom has two doors. I had entered through door #1, while door #2 remained closed. I was putting my contact lenses into my eyes, when he lurched in through door #2, looking like he'd been deposited there by a tornado belching up its unwanted offerings. He was wearing a snappy new pair of pajama pants but otherwise looked unwashed and miserable. His eyes looked like fried eggs sprayed with shellac.

"Why, hullo," I said. He promptly screamed like a little girl who has seen a spider.

"I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry," he mumbled, and then he repeated one of his favorite maxims: "People scare me."

He used to say this a lot when he first moved in with us. You'd surprise him at a bend in the stairway and he'd shriek and flutter back against the peeling walls, whispering People scare me. We have two stairways in our house, front and back, and so he'd take to creeping down one when he knew the other was occupied, just to avoid unforeseen meetings. No matter how innocuous your behavior, if he ambled into the kitchen and saw you there frying up an egg he'd gasp and flail backward as if spying a predator with a baseball bat.

"What, you didn't expect to see me?"

"It's just that...people scare me."

He told me once why it was. He did it to stop himself from immediately beating the tar out of whomever innocent had startled him. His natural reflex was to launch himself into kill mode, and to arrest this impulse he had developed a highly-tuned startle reflex, so that the first impulse became "scream like a tiny girl in panties" while "destroy the enemy" moved into second place. While in Vietnam, he had been taken prisoner for several weeks. They had sliced both his Achilles tendons so that he couldn't run away, and then they punched and kicked him until he spat blood.

But on this morning in the bathroom, I didn't know that story yet. I turned to him and said, "So, I hear you were in the hospital?"

He shook his head vigorously. "No way, no way.  Hospital? Pffah! I missed my flight, man. It's my friend. The friend I was staying with. She got me all upset. She pushes my buttons, man, she pushes my buttons!" And he jabbed at the air vigorously.

"So you weren't drunk and strapped down by EMTs and carted off to Bellevue?"

"Crazy talk," he said. "Lies!"

"What about your tooth?" I said.

He said: "I am dead inside. I am just dead inside. My toof hurts."

I prodded at my contact lens until it made purchase with my eyeball.

"What will you do about your tooth?" I asked.

"That bitch ruined it all!" he said, running his hands through his now-short hair. "She was out to get me, let me tell you. She set me up. She ruined me. She ruined my life. Lies. I mean, she called an ambulance on me. Who would do that? WHO would do that?"

"Maybe she was trying to help?"

"Help? She was trying to ruin my life. She was trying to see me destroyed. This is what happens when you trust people, Miss Jennifer. This is what happens when you are a nice person. Oagh, my toof!

I couldn't look at him anymore, so I backed away and darted downstairs. I heard him shuffling and mumbling about upstairs. Then I heard him plodding back to the attic. My husband sent him an email. It told him that we knew the true story and, while we loved him, he must not drink one more drop of alcohol. If so, he would be out. Last chance. And he didn't come out of the attic—not at all—for two more days. I swear I didn't hear him come out to urinate, or anything. He didn't eat a scrap.

I asked a friend for some advice and she said: "He's up there detoxing. Your home has now become a halfway house, a rehab facility. With three kids under the age of 10 under the roof. I guarantee that you are not prepared to handle this. This man needs medical supervision. You should get him to a hospital."

I looked upwards, to the attic, and thought of the ominous and terrible task of extracting the Manny and delivering him to a nearby hospital, with no medical insurance. I thought of the only possible recourse if he should come barging down in a drunken apoplexy, which was calling the police. That would truly "ruin his life." I thought about the fact that it was only 6 degrees outside. Drunks die in the snow.

I thought about the fact that once, when Manny was a very young boy, he had seen an old man stumble off some apartment steps in the cold. The old man had fallen and his teeth had been knocked out—bang!—on the concrete, and he had died right there at Manny's feet. And Manny had wanted to tell someone, anyone, but his adoptive parents (distant relatives of some sort, as his biological parents had been murdered by Stalin) didn't love him and didn't care about anything he had to say or think.

He said to me, "What a world. What a world! I watched that old man die, and no one cared."

I looked up toward the attic and simply waited.

Oh, what a world! What a world!





Monday, February 17, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Part Four: Grey Gardens and Bellevue

People have been stopping me on the street and asking, "Why didn't the Manny make that plane flight?! Tell me now, or I'll have to wring your neck. Whaddaya been doing, writing more children's novels or something? Cease it now and write the MANNY DIARIES."

So the Manny had gone into the city, and his flight was the next day. On that day there was a snowstorm. But that's not why he didn't make his flight. In fact, we texted him during the snowstorm:

"Make it out OK?"

"A-OK! 70 degrees and sunny," was the reply.

But the very next day I got an ominous message from Manny's friend, to whom I had never spoken directly. She told me that Manny was in the hospital and asked that I call her immediately. Wild speculations flew through my mind. He had arrived in CA and had mixed it up with the criminal dentist, who had placed a hit on him that had misfired at the last moment. He was now on the run with a bullet hole through his midriff and the evil dentist's disembodied teeth implanted in his shoulder! All bets were off.

I called her back.

"Well," she said. "Manny was supposed to catch this plane tonight, right?"

"No, last night. He already caught a plane last night. He's in California, right?" I said.

"Uh, no. I think he might be in Bellevue?" she said.

As it turned out, Manny had gotten the date of his flight wrong by one day. That left him with 24 hours in which he thought it was, perhaps, a really grand idea to go out and buy a few bottles of Tito's vodka. He had apparently gargled with Vodka, washed down his eggs with Vodka, had a Vodka-induced nap, and proceeded to sample additional Vodka snorklings until his friend arrived home from work. He'd knocked over the shelf in her bathroom and was lying about in a stupor, mumbling about the evil dentist who was going to extract his molars without permission.

"You gotta plane flight to catch!" she said, helping him out the door. He retrieved his roll-aboard and promptly fell all the way down the stairs of her apartment building, his luggage clattering after him. A horrified neighbor popped out and said: "Call an ambulance!"

"He has no health insurance!" said Manny's friend. Manny was lying comatose at the base of the stairs, his exploded luggage of T-shirts and briefs around his ankles. Faced with little alternative, she called the ambulance. The EMTs arrived and tried to get Manny into the vehicle. He awoke quickly and resisted fiercely.

"You fat sons-o-bitches! You sons of pig-whistling cockmonkeys!" he shouted, as they tried to take his vitals.

Finally the EMTs subdued our Manny and strapped him down into a bed in the ambulance, where he continued wailing and thrashing and burbling about the criminal dentist who was out to pull every good tooth in his head.

They asked Manny's friend what his name was, but she didn't really know anymore. So she gave some random name that was an amalgamation of his "real name" and his "fake name." It probably sounded like "Maneerdaniel Smith."

So no wonder when, later, she called every hospital in the city and they didn't have him. They'd never heard of him. We did some searching and could not find him.

"He detoxed while at my apartment," said the friend. "He stayed in his room for a week and sweated and swore. I wanted to help but...it was like Grey Gardens. There were like 1,000 empty bottles of Tito's under his bed."

Just don't invite ANY tenants into your home, OK?
"Made in Austin," said I. "Titos, that is, you know. Good stuff!"

"He's out to kill me," said the sweating friend, who Manny had told me wore a leopard-skin bathrobe that didn't tie properly and revealed a naked tummy. "I seriously think he will take revenge on me because I knew he didn't have health insurance. But I was just trying to help."

"He's as gentle as a kitten," I said.

"Tell that to the bouncers at every bar on 10th avenue!" she retorted.

I said that I would investigate and, if I had any clues, I would report back.

I went to bed. I woke up the next morning, and went to open the living room curtains. The morning sunlight illuminated a rolling suitcase, seated by the door.

"Aw, honey?" said I. "Whose suitcase is in our living room?"

Husband came down and rubbed his eyes and looked at it.

"Why, that's Manny's," he said.

"He's in the house," I said.