Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Great Shopping Cart Massacre

I used to spend a fair amount of my time stalking shopping carts and photographing them. (I intended to say 100 percent of my time, but that sounded weird so I edited it.)

Winner of "Best in Show" at the International Shopping Cart Exposition, 2011. (Domesticated.)
Why did the carts fascinate me? For one, they are sly. They are quick. They can be quite savage, and can attack without warning. Yet they are also lovely, wild creatures, often filled with candy wrappers and empty bottles of Night Train Express.

The afterlife for me looks like...a shopping cart?
And they migrate! Once a single shopping cart infiltrates a neighborhood, you can be sure that more will follow, as if drawn by the scent of their kind. And as for their reproductive capacity—well, shopping carts will try to mate with almost anything, such as the door of your brand-new car. Basically, they are used to snuggling together in close proximity and, like a sausage and a bagel, fit together like magic. Traditional shopping carts are the randiest of the food and goods transportation mechanisms, unlike the "Four Wheel Deluxe Rolling Thingy," below, which hasn't even bumped wheels with another cart-like entity for at least a year. Sad.

But my scientific interests took a turn a while back, and I took a break to pursue some other topics. My recent scholarly publications include:

Chlorinated Pools: How Come There Is No Plant Life? (The Journal of Well-Funded Yet Incredibly Pointless Studies, 2013)

Wallpaper Moves So Slowly Because It Doesn't Want to be Caught So it Can Kill You in Your Sleep (Reader's Digest Large-Print Editions, 2014)

Goodbye, Doo Doo. Where You Goin' Now? Can I Come, Too? (To be published by The Golden Box for Young Readers, 2016) *Reviewers may request ARCs by writing to me in the comments section of this blog.

Anyway! All of these ventures were deeply boring for one reason or another. Except for the children's book, which was not boring at all but still gives me the shakes and the willies. Have you ever been inside a sewer? All in the name of authentic research, but it's not very nice.

And then today I came across this horror—a multitude of shopping carts, dead in a ditch! Had they flung themselves to their doom because people had been buying too many heavy objects, like pumpkins (out of season) and Big Fat Loaves of Bread and Bacon Bricks? (Note: I purchased a Bacon Brick at De Ciccos on Halstead Avenue last week but no carts were harmed during the event. Bacon Bricks should be the subject of another post. What, you've never bought a bacon brick?!)

The humanity!
What led to this massacre? Please, shield your children's eyes, because these photos are disturbing.

Gravely injured; no hope for recovery. 

I can't even bear to look. Heartbreaking.

Going to kill self now.

Ahhh...glglggjjfjfjjk. Choking on tears.
What led to this horrible event? Was it because I ABANDONED the shopping carts for "more interesting" pursuits?

But no, we must not blame ourselves. In fact, I think this is clearly the work of the notorious Pimples Tuscadero, disgruntled "Stop 'n' Shop" bagger, age 22. Vengeance shall be mine. Oh yes, it shall.

You have not died in vain, my beauties. I will chronicle your majesty once again. Just as soon as I finish my work on Basement Crickets of the 21st Century.

You might also like:

And a whole lotta my older posts, too. Get to it. Life is short, and awfully sweet.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Manny Diaries, Chapter Fourteen: Someone Whacked Me on the Head and Stole My Pants

The Manny has had a spate of bad luck lately, but I want to reassure all his fans that he is absolutely fine, despite the rather ominous tone of this post's title. If I were more verbose, the title of this post would have been "Someone whacked me on the head and stole my pants, shoes, and underwear, and then some ladies found me lying stone cold naked from the waist down in a bush," which is decidedly worse. Because who steals underwear?! And why leave the shirt and take the skivvies?

This is so much more acrobatic than it must have really looked, and my Photoshop is poo, but how long do YOU want to Google terms like "Hairy male legs protruding from bush" before you have to permanently clear your browsing history and take a scalding shower? 
But let's back up. A while back, we got a phone call from Manny, who had suffered a stroke/seizure sort of thing and was slurring and hiccuping uncontrollably. Luckily, the stroke/seizure sort of thing had occurred while his kind landlord, Rudolfo, was on hand unstopping the toilet.

"Apparently, you're not supposed to put TP in the toilet in Mexico," says Manny. "Because I got it all clogged up. Why do they call it toilet paper, anyway? If it doesn't go in the toilet what kind of paper IS it?"

Manny suddenly keeled over and whacked his head on the floor and commenced bleeding and writhing. He related the story as such:

"I fell flat on my head. I almost died! I was bleeding out on the floor! Rudolfo, he sticks his wallet in my mouth so I won't bite myself. But it's too late. I already swallowed some of my tongue! I mean, a big chunk of my tongue! I think I swallowed it!"

"So anyway, Dora, my landlady, calls the Red Cross. She says to me, you're not going to die today, and especially not in my apartment. Meanwhile, my skull is cracked open. It was too much! Did you know that a quarter-inch of my tongue is missing because of the crazy-ass seizure I had?"

"The Red Cross tell me I have brain enamelies. I was fledge-e-ling around all over the floor. My arms were in the air! I bit my tongue off! My mind is crazy! The Red Cross told me that my tongue will fix itself."

He seemed okay, though, and fairly jolly despite what had happened. The Red Cross didn't charge him a penny. He hiccuped and blamed it on the "brain enamelies." He didn't drink anymore, of course!

He went on, sharing more details of his life in Mexico:

"So then, the lady with the scorpion tattoo calls me. I met her at the Learning Library—all the gringos go there. She tells me about the guy who put scorpions in the Mezcal. He cuts their stingers off. Charges $250 a bottle. Hey, my eyes are doing weird shit. There is a guy here who is trying to sell me an AK-47. I've gotten old, and OLD! One day this crazy German chick shows up at my door. She wants to sleep with me!"

"Did you sleep with her?" one of us asked.

"You know I'm a private guy! I don't like to talk about that stuff! How dare you ask me! Yeah, I did.
See, I'm glaringly honest about everything now. I'm like a retarded child! And I'm not drinking a drop."

Then he started talking about how awesome Mexico was and how we all had to come down and live there because it's so beautiful and so safe and marvelous. He planned to rent a beach house. He hoped that we would serve as his "memory," because his brain was doing weird tricks and couldn't remember things properly anymore. 

It might have had a little bit to do with the night, a few weeks later, when someone whacked his skull with a crowbar and took all the clothing off his nethers. He was lost, walking around dazed in some neighborhood, when someone gave him a whack and left him slumped in the weeds, free of pants and shoeless.

"They even took my underwear," he said. "The Red Cross made me some paper towel underwear. I still have a big dent in my head. Like a HOLE in my head, Miss Jennifer. It was awful."

Disposable undies. Not the finest.
During the incident, the poor man bit his tongue again. Maybe a wee little chunk went down the gullet?

But he's still in fighting form, despite the fact that on top of all this, he had a heart attack not too long ago. The Red Cross told him he probably had the heart attack because he stopped drinking so suddenly that it shocked his system. "Remember that day you picked me up on the side of the road?" he said. "That wasn't alcohol. It was my HEART."

But, mind you, he is not drinking now. Ahem. His landlords are the kindest people possible—much unlike his previous landlords, who kicked him out for giving the Mexican workers free beans and rice. The Mexicans shouldn't "get used to the idea that they get anything for free."

"You don't do that to people, that isn't right," he said. "He told me, you will either be shot or arrested. So I left."

He's a good person. He delivers meat to some of the local men, whose wives reportedly hate him because all they serve is beans and rice, and he shows up with steak and mushrooms.

"My life right now is the best thing that's ever happened to me. I pay $235/month to live here. And they feed me three meals a day," he said. "Oh, and I'm about to get married to their niece. She's only 25, and she likes me. Her name? What? No, I didn't forget her name, I just don't remember it. She likes me a lot! We're going to move into a bigger place. She wants to take care of me!"

Manny had just been to a 9-year-old's birthday party, where he had been offered alcohol, and he vociferously refused. Purportedly.

"I'm so much healthier. Listen to how I'm talking. This is not crazy! I feel so much better. I am healthy! I am not worried about drinking too much. I love it so much here. They knock on my bedroom window at 11 at night and bring me tostadas. This is a good world. This is a good place."

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

10 Ways in Which I Have Ruined My Sons' Lives (Irreparably. With flawed bagels, and beets.)

I have ruined my sons' lives completely and forever and here is proof.

1. I made my six-year-old take a shower. Yes, I actually made him take a shower. (He didn't want a bath, either.) Direct quote: "You have ruined my life forever. You have even ruined all my birthdays for the rest of my life, and all the weeks leading up to every one of the birthdays. And the weeks after the birthdays." (Note: This particular cleansing did not take place anywhere near his birthday.)

2. I failed to answer my phone when my 11-year-old called me to ask if he could go to his friend's house. Before he could try again, his phone battery died, so he was forced to come home, and was quite displeased. Direct quote: "Would it be so much trouble to actually answer your phone for one time in your entire life? Is it your ENTIRE life's purpose to make my life suck?" (Note: I did not answer my own phone because my battery was dead.)

3. When my nine-year-old, who tends to strew a lot of food around his seat while he eats, left bits and pieces of crumbs all over the floor, I jokingly suggested that we nickname him "Bits." He bolted from the room in tears. Direct quote: "You are a cruel mother."

4. Once, at a local Grange fair, my six-year-old desperately wanted to try one of the arcade games in which you shoot darts at balloons to try to pop them and win prizes, including ugly stuffed animals in appalling hues. Each try cost five dollars. I refused, and explained to him that these games were often rigged, and that he would not win the giant purple gorilla. And even if he did, the beast would not darken the threshold of my home. Direct quote: "You have ruined my life forever, and you have ruined it so bad that you have even ruined it after I am dead. I want a different family."

If you don't have one of these in your house, you have definitely ruined your child's life.
5. I served the same six-year-old a bagel on which the cream cheese was not properly smeared so as to cover every nook and cranny on the bagel. He looked at it in disgust, and then promptly burst into tears. Direct quote: "I can't even get a good bagel around here. No one ever helps me. I have to do everything! You need to fix this bagel so that there is not ANY spots that do not have cream cheese on them!"

You missed a spot. You worthless failure! I would have been better off raised by circus folk who would have LET me have a go at that balloon-popping activity and I would have WON a stuffed animal, for sure I would have. Now fix my bagel. 
6. Just about every time a child loses a tooth, I completely forget to put money under the pillow from the tooth fairy. I remember the next morning, and in a desperate frenzy I rush upstairs hoping that the child hasn't noticed. If I am lucky, they also forgot because they were too hungry for breakfast, and the tooth is still there. However, in most cases, they have re-hidden the tooth in some completely obscure place in one last effort to find out if the tooth fairy is clever enough to find it. Now it is far too late to do anything but write an elaborate, long note from the tooth fairy explaining that she got caught in a windstorm or had a lot of work to do after a fistfight in which children lost many teeth. 

In addition, my brothers ate the cookies that we left out for Santa last year with such gusto and chomping and "yum yum" noises that my nine-year-old was drawn out of his bedroom and compelled to spy upon them. Direct quote: "Mom. I know things. I have seen things. Many things. You don't want me to speak them out loud. Do you? DO you?" 

7. After having had too many margaritas at a friend's party, I ended up telling their 10-year-old daughter the name of the girl that my son liked at the time. Whoops. I guess that was pretty bad? But for goodness sake, the child should've been in bed! Let's move on.

8. I told my 11-year-old that his two younger brothers were like a gift to him because he had constant companions and steadfast friends that would last a lifetime. Direct quote: "Your poisonous fecundity has completely ruined my sanity and deprived me of any chance of a nice hot relaxing shower without the revolting scent of my sibling's turds plopping into the toilet at the SAME TIME." He didn't say it out loud. But his eyes did.

9. When I served my six-year-old an innocuous chicken tender, he informed me that this wasn't the type of chicken tender that he preferred, and that I should know this by now. He just doesn't care for that brand of chicken tender, and the fact that I served it to him indicates that I have little understanding of his needs. Direct quote: "This is the worst day of my life."

10. I tend to write humiliating blog entries about a child pooping out blueberries during tubby-time, and other things that my sons surely would not want the world to read. However, I have been posting so sporadically that I think I have only about five followers by now. So it's seriously not a problem at all that I can use phrases in my blog like "ass-grabbing toadhat" and "muppet-fondling marmoset" (totally hypothetical examples of phrases that I might use, mostly in photo captions). Because just a handful of local moms of my sons' friends will ever read this blog and cast shame and aspersion upon my family, and will come for us with the beets, rutabagas, eggs, offal, old toys, etc. to toss at the property with cries of "Pfaw! Horrid badly-raised children!"

All these items would look totally NOT out of place on our lawn. I mean, my son did say he wanted "beets" for Christmas this year. He definitely meant these types of "beets," right?

Fertilized by Doctor Dre! I mean, um...what? These are beets!
So maybe I just ruined a few birthdays and all the weeks leading up to them and all the weeks following them?

Coming Soon....Chapter 14 of the Manny diaries! In which he gnaws off his own tongue. Sorta. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Art and Love Therapy for Evil Little Boys

Since our return from NH two weeks ago, my three boys have been on the verge of fratricide. At summer camp, they were all in separate cabins and left to torment only those in their own age bracket. And their counselors, poor scarred 18-year-olds who still probably wake up at night in a cold sweat.

But now they have turned on each other like wolves, guided only by my new 14-year-old babysitter who was left with no recourse but to lock them in the basement and blast the "Frozen" soundtrack at them from the stereo. I fully sanctioned the activity. When they finally broke free my eldest son snatched an empty Vodka bottle from the recycling bin and chased young Mordred (as they call her) down the street brandishing it at her. I am sure the neighbors have an even finer view of us than they did before!

The evil reached its pinnacle yesterday afternoon, when 1) Eldest Son hauled Middle Son across the driveway, leaving him with horrible asphalt burns 2) Littlest Son scratched Middle Son so viciously that 3) Middle Son kicked Littlest Son clear across the room and cracked his head into the record cabinet housing the turntable.

The babysitter had long been let off duty, and I hastened downstairs to the screams. The accusations flew fast and fierce.

"He hurted me worser than I did him so he should be punished badder!"

"I did NUFFINK."

"I did nothing; however, I am sure I shall be blamed as I always am, because this is the course of things."

That last speaker, age 10, then flung the TV remote at my head and, as it bounced off my skull, I shouted "GO UPSTAIRS!"

"You always punish ME and not THEM!" he shouted. "Just because I hit you in the head with something you punish ME! Is this fair? Oh, you are such a good mother!"

He was right. They all went into a big fat time-out while I fumed about what I would do to PUNISH them. For wasn't punishment the only acceptable solution? I fretted that I was a bad mom. I didn't know the least thing to do right now. What would serve justice for their naughtiness?

Then it came to me. I would kill the little buggers with kindness. I gathered them in the living room and proposed several options to make reparations. They were:

1. You will each write a heartfelt letter to both brothers expressing that you love them and WHY. The letters must be of a reasonable length and written to the best of your abilities.

This got feedback:

"I dunno how to spell!"
"This is the worstest!"
"Oh shoot me now."

2. You will perform a skit representing the theme of "Brotherly Love." The skit must be of reasonable quality. It may not include battle scenes or death.

This also got feedback:

"But skits without conflict suck."
"Can we have just one battle scene? It could, like, lead up to a scene in which we all hug?"
"Will you be filming it? Cause if so, NO."

3. You will parade down our street singing a song that I will quickly compose called, "I Love My Brothers and My Brothers Love Me."


"I will nevah evah do that."
"Option Three sucks."
"Shoot me now."

Middle Son was openly weeping at this point, and Eldest Son was thrashing about in chair rubbing at his eyes. Littlest Son was staring glumly into space.

So, all options voted down, I told them that they had to collaborate to devise Option Four themselves. And they had to do it without arguing and come to a polite and genial agreement amongst the three of them as to what Option Four would be. This was, of course, the secret behind Option Four. The devising of the option was the activity in itself. Whatever they cooked up would simply be bonus material.

I left the room and returned in about five minutes. During that time, they had all mutually consented to make gifts for each other. The gifts would be made out of clay. They were very keen to get started. There was no talk of screen time. They were, in fact, excited about their plan.

I got out a bucket of air-dry clay and put on some music and they made these. They aren't done yet; they still need to be painted and presented. But they check them throughout the day to see if they are completely dry yet, and Middle Son keeps asking when he can give his presents to his brothers.

A magnificent dragon.

Handmade necklaces.

Strange stubby things?
After the experiment was over we met in a circle for a group hug, during which the boys, unprompted, said things like:

"I love you, my brother."
"My brothers is the best!"
"Hugs and love! Hugs and love!"

We concluded it all with a "Go Team!" cheer, after which I solemnly reminded them that any of the previous options could easily be invoked at any time.

The next day we heard a long, piercing scream from the bathroom. Middle Son had sprayed perfume directly into Littlest Son's eyes. He claimed he had been spraying it to "cleanse the room of bad smells" and that he had sprayed it far from Littlest Son's face. In fact, the victim had had his back turned to him!

Littlest Son cried out that his brother had "broken the bond of brotherly love."

A forensic reenactment of the crime revealed that the lie was preposterous, and the offender was sent to bed. The next day, I decided to bring down Option One (letter writing) as the penalty.

The gist of the letter read, in sum:

"I did absolutely nothing wrong and have no guilt whatsoever because I am innocent and did nothing wrong and am innocent. Will you forgive me? Love, your brother."

I shall start work on my original Brotherly Love song shortly, which will be filled with uniquely embarrassing references such as:

Brothers never argue, brothers always share.
Brothers even give up their last pair of underwear.
My brothers are my blood, to them I'm always true.
If they ever called upon me, I'd even wipe their poo.

Public performances forthcoming.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Chapter 13: I Found My Two Gallons of Mezcal

"Miss Jennifer! Miss Jennifer! I'm going to buy ten chickens tomorrow!"

Such were some of the first words that Manny spoke when he finally reached me by phone from his new home in Oaxaca, Mexico. And boy, did he ever sound drunk. Happy drunk, mind you. Ebullient drunk. Almost giddy with drink.

"Ten chickens! Like, 20 cents a piece. Hey! Do you know you can get two GALLONS of Mezcal here for only $16. Two gallons! Not that I'm drinking anything because, man, I'm about a mile high up in mountains and it's beautiful and I don't need to drink or do anything bad at all. Nyet! Nyet!"

Will he name one of his new chickens "Bun-Bun"?
Was that Russian he was speaking? Yes, he revealed to me that he can speak about 10 different languages fluently. Never once while he was staying with us had I heard him speak one word that wasn't English or mangled English.

"Any Eastern European language there is, I can speak it. I don't like to tell people because they will get an impression of me," he said. "Like a wrong impression or a weird impression, you know?"

It seemed odd that a man who forgot how to pronounce words like "guacamole" and called a "beet" a "parsnip" and a pork loin "that other meat--the meat, you know the one, that's not chicken and not beef, dammit, what's that called?" would have such a facility with languages. But I didn't argue.

"Nyet!" he said again, and then: "Dammit! There I go again. It's so confusing, all these languages going around in my brain."

"How about Spanish? You learning Spanish?"

"Yeah yeah! Uno, dos, tres, nachos!" I laughed. "What, what?" he said.

Mexico was treating him rather well. He loved it there, after only two or three days. He could see the President of Mexico's house from where he stood! The food was fresh and good and unbelievably cheap. He repeatedly remarked on the cheap price of the Mezcal and then quickly added "not that I'm drinking it" after every reference. He mused about the two gallons of Mezcal that were about to be delivered to his casa, and sniggered gleefully over the cheap price. "For cooking. And maybe a sip with lunch. Just a splash," he coughed.

He insisted that we all come down for a visit and live like kings. Heck, we should all just move down there permanently, because it was heaven on Earth. "Those boys can run wild in the agave fields!" he said. "It's the safest thing! A mile of space! They would be perfectly safe to just run wild. Except there are these burros...these really big burros. What are they called? Burritos...OXEN. I mean, bulls! You don't pet those guys. They could gore you."

That is one big Burrito!
The trip down had gone perfectly. His large bag weighed two pounds over the weight limit, but the woman in the baggage area had winked and waved him onward. The Federales treated him kindly and laughed at his jokes, despite the fact that he'd been gurgling free double Absoluts on the plane (apparently Aeromexico hands these out for free, plus hot breakfast. What an airline!) "I would not be escaping from anything, of course. Who the hell wants to escape TO Mexico?" the Manny snorted at customs, as they all laughed and waved him through.

His new landlords met him at the airport and took him out for dinner: A huge meal with tequila shots that amounted to about 8 dollars total for three people. After this he became really chatty and mentioned that in Vietnam, he had killed 163 people. Apparently, they keep a tally. It's considered a sort of honor, a point of pride. I think it has haunted Manny his entire life.

"That's a lot of dead people," he said, almost soberly. His landlady had hushed him and said, "Let's not talk about that, okay? Not out in public and not to other people, at least?"

"I almost screwed my pooch there, Miss Jennifer!" he said. "163 people. That's a lot." There was a long moment of silence and then he was off and running again:

"Do you know how salty the salt is here? And how sugary the sugar? I took a big lick of a salt pile and it was so salty I almost threw up. They have mountains of salt! Your dad, I mean your husband, would hate all that salt. The sugar is just so sugary. And the sun? I'm brown like a beautiful Mexican girl! I've found my smile. I have finally found my smile. There is nothing better than this. Do you know how much free booze there is, Miss Jennifer? I mean, I'm so happy, I'm not needing to drink at all. Just a little with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you know?"

From left to right: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
He called back about 10 times in the next two days. He sounded a little lonelier; he asked to speak with the boys and they all shouted things like "We miss you!" as we poked them and pointed at the phone. He'd received his chickens and was prepping to name them. They each produced about one egg per day. He thought he might name three of them after the "little guy, the middle one, and the big one," our sons.

"You really ought to come down here. I'll pay for your trip! I'm working on a new business plan. Pretty soon I'll be making 10K a month. Hey, did you know that you can get a meal down here with eggs, beans, chorizo—all you can eat—plus three shots of Mezcal, all for three bucks?"

The last time he called was June 21. I recall that when he had been gone a few days we took note of a strange sort of melancholy, almost as if we had been at a funeral. "I feel as if someone has died," I said, in the parking lot of Trader Joe's. And then there was the thought: He has gone there to die. We will never see him again.

We will never see him again.

Never again will I be worried that, upon stepping out of the shower robed and towel-turbaned, that Manny will sight me and recoil and stammer his way into a doorframe. Never again will I see the plate of fresh-cut fruit that he has laid out for the boys at 6 am, making sure there is an ample supply of red apples (the only ones youngest son likes!) in proportion to green apples, along with cuts of watermelon and pineapple. Never will I see the chaotic mess he has made of the kitchen after a stir-fry extravanganza, with drippings down the edge of the stove. We won't hear him moan and cry out: "The pain! The pain!" as he plods up the attic stairs to his dark aerie.

I hast barfed profuse filthy dishware whilst I wast cooking.
Here is what I wonder on this rainy, desolate, wind-cooled night: As he steps out beyond his meager possessions (wok, pot, coffee carafe, lemon squeezer, spoon) and looks past the casa to see the burros plodding along, carrying firewood against the sunset, is he perhaps, strangely, the happiest of beings? Does he know even one sure thing that we do not, if even for the briefest of moments? He has claimed his smile. He knows better, perhaps, than to expect its certainty each dawn.

We dream a fiction. We can never really know the truths that fools and madmen hold in their dark, stung, longing hearts.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Chapter Twelve: Chippy and the Back Scratcher

He made it. The Manny made it to Mexico. He's really there, and he is really not here. I think I'm suffering from a fair amount of disbelief.

There's a residual effect in the air, like he left some ghostly effluvium here, such that I can almost hear him groaning "The pain! The pain!" as he treaded up the stairs at night. I still realize with a start, at 5:15 pm, that no one is cooking my boys a gourmet dinner, and now I have to toss some frozen lump of a thing in the oven to get them fed. I look out the window and expect to see him shuffling through the garden in his slippers, inspecting the pea shoots and looking for Bun-Bun, his special tame friend, who must have lost his (or her?) parents to a hawklike personage because the thing is FEARLESS.

This is Bun-Bun.
I once remarked that we shouldn't be so quiet and gentle around Bun-Bun because we were teaching him additional fearlessness that his parents had failed to teach him and he was gonna get snacked upon. I worry about the little fellow daily, as does, no doubt, the Manny.

Before he left, we suggested that he would be lonely without his special animal friends, Bun-Bun and Fatty the Groundhog, who lives under our shed. So we jokingly plucked a "lovey" out of the Vast Bin of Neglected Stuffed Animals and gave him Chippy the Chipmunk, who is a hand puppet,

He really took to Chippy. He walked around with him a bit, talking to him and working the hand puppet so that Chippy would "respond." I said it made him seem less crazy because at least he was talking to SOMETHING as opposed to just babbling to himself. In fact, he took Chippy with him to Mexico. But, he left the back scratcher (pictured below) behind. Do you know how I found out? When we were cleaning his room, after his departure, my husband gently scratched me on the back with it as I was bent over stuffing things into a garbage sack. glgflflh!!

Chippy and the Back Scratcher. Use your imagination to picture the scene with the Manny in it. 
The cleansing went on for quite a while. It took all morning to take down his blackout curtains and let the sun shine into the attic room, sweep the desk of detritus, and gather up a sackful of greasy and sticky coins. There was some half-gnawed peanut brittle. There were some half-empty Coke bottles, and a bottle of ear wax remedy. There was not, however, an empty liquor bottle of any kind. We figured he's gotten pretty savvy and spirited them out in the dead of night, or maybe poured the stuff into Coke bottles in the parking lot of the CVS and then tossed the evidence.

The things we leave behind.
Because there was no doubt—no doubt whatsoever—that he had started drinking with a feverish intensity right before he left for Mexico. On Friday morning, two days before his departure, he showed up in the kitchen at approximately 8:30 am as crocked as a monkey. He was mumbling and slurring and blathering about how dreadful his life was and how fearsome things had become.

"Someone's gonna screw my pooch!" he said dolefully. "Everything that could have gone wrong for me has gone wrong. All of it!"

I said: "Are you drunk?"

He staggered backwards into a doorframe as if I'd punched him in the gut, his eyes bugging out.

"Drunk? DRUNK? howonearthcouldibedrunk? Huh? Heh?"

"Well, even a child can see that you're drunk."

"No no no no no I'm not drunk! I don't drink! Why would I be drunk? My life is so bad...the pain, the pain." And he massaged his aching hip. He stumbled around, mumbling madly and bumping into things.

My husband had words with him. Well, they weren't just "words." They were bad words, spoken at a high volume. By the time we came back from a school concert event, he had gone into the city to conduct one last errand. Husband sent him a note apologizing for raising his voice, but Manny simply must not drink and lying about it just made it worse. He wrote back:

Not drinking  I'll have    a hotel Saturday  need to go don't trust you
What about thee quorts in your space you have your own problems 

"Thee quorts" referred to something he'd seen in our own liquor cabinet—intriguing, given that he had no possible reason to look inside that cabinet.  But then again, we'd been noticing a few things vanish from that cabinet now and again.

Here was a dreadful dilemma. How was he to get to the airport? How would we ensure that he was going to get on that plane and fly to a different country? And would he return in time to pack Chippy, his wok, the back scratcher (evidently not, in this case. glrk!), his French press, his lemon squeezer, and a handful of underwear?

Fortunately, he did. And he came back wearing this jaunty chapeau, which I think he imagined as a Mexican sombrero-like accessory but, on him, looked a little small atop his big ol' head.

Heisenberg Dos, in straw.

This isn't the last chapter, of course. You've probably figured that out by now. There is more. Indeed, there is more.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Manny Diaries, Chapter Eleven: Mexico is for Lovers

On Sunday (6/15/14), if all goes according to plan, the Manny will be winging his way toward his new home in sunny Mexico. The odds that he actually makes it onto the plane grow increasingly slimmer, in direct proportion to his nervous nattering and hand-wringing, and the reality that he's drinking again. Yeah. His fears include:

  • Being detained at the airport and made to pay exorbitant taxes on the few beat-up possessions that he's taking with him.
  • Finding out that his landlords will put him in enforced servitude upon arrival, and that the Craigslist listing was an elaborate ruse to get a slave.
  • Discovering that whatever suitcase he brings is exactly 1 inch too large to qualify for the one free bag (because of the wheels!) and being forced to pay more money to transport it.
  • He will get waylaid by banditos at the local Wal-Mart
  • He will accidentally drink the local water and get Monty's Revenge
  • Since he can't speak Spanish, the cheap translation app he bought will say "pussy" instead of "gracias." When we typed in "thank you." Which it does. For real.
  • And much more!

In the interest of a smooth removal, I took him to the local Goodwill to find a cheap suitcase of exactly the right dimensions. We found one right away! Here it is:

Manny accosted a fellow who was sorting girls' clothing on the racks.

"Do you work here? Or are you just some creepy guy who likes touching little girls' clothing?" he asked the man, then guffawed. "Anyway, do you have a tape measure?"

Manny opened the bag and reached into an inner pocket, immediately yanking his hand out and flinging a pair of dirty women's undies violently away from him. They landed on the end of the clothes rack and dangled there. Virginia is for Lovers, indeed.

"OH MY GOD I HAVE CRABS NOW!" he said, scratching his arm violently. "Look, do I have a rash starting?"

"Crabs don't jump that fast," I suggested.

"They jump FAST!" he said. "Like lightning! They hop. They leap."

He bought the suitcase anyway, but the whole way home he scratched at his arm and inspected it for crabs and fresh bites. He got home and obsessively washed his hands and then started on the dinner prep. Except earlier that day, my husband had hidden the salt, after an overly salty meal that had rather bloated and sickened us. (The cooking was starting to lose its shine, after we realized that the scale was telling a tale of buttery, greasy, salty, sausagey overindulgence).

So he went seeking the salt, becoming almost crazed in his hunt.

"Where's the SALT? I can't find the SALT. Could someone have HIDDEN the salt?"

"Maybe," I said cryptically. "Maybe someone did hide the salt. I believe that may have happened, yes."

"Who hides salt?!! That's a creepy, crazy thing to do. WHO hides salt? I mean...I just can't even understand why ANYONE would ever hide salt. That's troubling."

He scratched at his head and worried about the crabs again, a little bit. Then he went searching for the salt again, muttering and cursing.

Next, he decided that he wanted to have a tag sale and get rid of all his worldly possessions, but for a few treasures that he would take with him to Mexico. So he made some truly extraordinary craptastic signs and tacked them up around the neighborhood, and he sat on our lawn, sweating in the heat, surrounded by a panoply of strange goods, including the Aunt Jemima bookends from Part Ten.

This print, by the artist Niagara, greeted shoppers as they arrived at the sale.

Here are some things he said to people who dropped by:

Woman: Is this something to rest your spoon in while you're cooking?
Manny: You can use it to cook up your heroin, actually.

Man: I'll offer you $20 for that.
Manny: Don't screw my pooch! I'm not an idiot. Didn't the ad say "no crackpots"?

Husband's Frenemy who lives down the block (returning item that he bought for $10): I got home and the wife said "no." So I'm bringing it back. Can I have my $10 back?
Manny: Who the fuck DOES that?

He sorta had me in agreement at that last one.

Anyway, he managed to unload a variety of things and made some decent cash.

As his possessions disappeared one by one, I began to wonder about the mental state of a man in his 60s who is suddenly unburdened. Lightened. Free to travel to Mexico, and perhaps to never return. One of the few things he hadn't chosen to sell was the urn containing his beloved bulldog's ashes. That would go into storage, along with the bulk of his art collection. The cast iron pots, the spoons, the coffee grinder, the French press—all of it sold, gone.

And I did think of all our relentless, endless belongings in the attic, those things that we call home. What we cling to and what remains. Ashes and memory. And how my friend texted me today and said "Is Sunday a special celebration combining Father's Day and 'Get the Fuck Out of My House Day?'"
Yes, all of that.