Saturday, May 14, 2011

Guns Don't Kill People...My Uncle Does

It isn’t every day you wake up to suddenly realize you’re related to a cartoon. Every time I see Dale Gribble on King of the Hill, I swear Mike Judge had actually crawled inside my head and put my uncle Bob in his show.

Bob is my mother’s oldest sibling and only brother. And now that I’m an adult, I understand this was a smart move on God’s part, since I’m convinced that if Bob had been forced to share the testosterone with his brothers, he would’ve eaten them alive in order to preserve the stupidity of the species. You see, Uncle Bob was a shining example of just what a high-functioning degree of stupidity could do for a man.

My first memory of Bob is one evening at the house, watching him load his dogs into their wire cages to haul us all off to the local 4-H camp. That’s right, folks: Bob had twelve Coon hounds. The truly amazing part wasn’t that he had so many dogs, but that they actually had a Coon hounds club that met once a month (and that they could read a calendar). Aside from a secret handshake that involved the licking of the palms, to this day I still don’t know what they did at these meetings. But he loved it so much they eventually promoted him to President. He’d sit there, just presiding over the meetings in his mirrored sunglasses and green John Deere cap with his Marlboro clenched between his teeth, which he refused to remove even while chugging his beer. And if the man had been a church-goer, that’s the way he would’ve attended church, which was probably why my Aunt stopped inviting him in this manner:

“Bob, if you’re not going to change out of that get-up for a quick brunch with the Lord Jesus, then I’ll just have to pray you go to hell, because I’m not explaining that mess to God almighty when it’s your time to go.”

Bob was a walking contradiction. On one hand, he was very political--a devout Democrat for as long as I can remember. He believed in organized government (which was a surprise since he never once balanced his checkbook or carried a calendar to organize his time), and yet he never missed a vote at the polls, or the opportunity to rub my family’s very strict Republican noses in it.

On the other hand, his conspiracy theories and nut job ideologies tended to force him to lean so far to the left that he could wrap around himself twice and kiss his own right ass-cheek. “Clean air is nothing but a government plot,” he’d say, while coughing up another piece of his lung. It was twenty-three-years later that he finally stopped smoking. “Just seemed like it was time,” was his answer when asked why. Sure. And that six-month long round of radiation therapy was just another extended-stay opportunity to enjoy the Jell-O.

Since he was a seasoned hypochondriac, for a long while after they finally diagnosed the lung cancer and told him his time was limited, the rest of us could’ve sworn he was happier than he’d ever been in his life. I think it had something to do with the constant Xs he’d mark on the floor, while dramatically stating, “THIS is where I’m going to die. Mark it down on your calendars. The second I hit forty, you can come back to this spot and find me as cold as mom’s gravy.” We got to the point where we were just plain tired of him constantly getting our hopes up. As of right now, he’s seventy-three, has had part of his stomach removed due to cancer, and still draws those Xs on the kitchen floor. I think it was finally some time back in the mid-Eighties that my Aunt switched out the red crayon for a piece of chalk: Just easier for her to clean up when the deadline had passed with yet another disappointment. Much like the Rapture.

Still, I always liked Bob. Although, the only time he was ever funny was when he told really bad jokes and then laughed his own ass off all by himself, which is really what made him funny. At least he was smart enough to bring his own audience.

I remember one summer in particular where my sister and I, along with our cousins--Bob’s two sons--decided rather than go outside and play in the heat, we’d stay in to watch TV. Now, I’m not exactly sure who found it first, or why we felt the need to go searching through the couch cushions, but suddenly one of us pulled out a Penthouse from the armchair. At first, no one said much--we just kinda stared in fascination. None of us were older than twelve, so while we knew what we were looking at, we just weren’t sure what we were looking at. I think the bigger question for me was, when do you get it to look and act like that? As we slowly leafed through the pages the one consistent question we kept asking on another was, “This is Bob’s magazine?” It was too weird for any of us to think that Bob owned such a piece of high-brow literature, since none of us had ever seen him read, or even kiss his wife for that matter--which had to be to her relief. There were times you could just tell if given the chance, she’d run him over with her car and then hide the body. To this day, even her sons are convinced Bob could not be their father.

But, back to the book.

Everything we saw up to that point was pretty tame. While we liked to think we were experts already, we could only guess. However, as soon as Roger turned the page to the centerfold, he nearly dropped the book, my sister screamed and hid her eyes, Roger’s younger brother passed out and I just couldn’t help myself: I laughed out loud. For there, in all his stapled and glossy glory, was none other than THE Ron Jeremy. While it’s true there isn’t much need for a sixth-grade junior high-school lady to have any working knowledge of who Ron Jeremy is, apparently the rules for boys were very different, for both Bob’s sons yelled, “Hey! It’s Jeremy!” And I just couldn’t stop looking His nose was just so BIG for his face. It made you wonder how he was ever able to wrap a tissue round that thing when he sneezed. Luckily, though, he had lots of women hovering over him in the photos to help with that.

Ten-minutes after we had discovered the magazine and its centerfold, Bob came bursting through the living room, searching for something chaste like a flashlight or fan belt, and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw us with the book.

“’d you get that?”

Roger said, “’Neath the chair cushion. What’s it doing there, dad?”

After watching his face turn eighty-shades of red, he coughed, took a breath, and smoothly replied, “It’s your mother’s. Put it back.”

I was fairly certain I didn’t buy it, for two reasons. One, wasn’t it usually men who looked at the women? And two, I was pretty sure you didn’t "need" such a magazine in your living room to supplement your nightly television-viewing.

It’s been probably thirty-years since we first found the book, and I still can’t get the image of that day out of my mind. Bob never mentioned the incident again, and a few weeks later on a return visit to the living room, the book went missing.

Bob’s mellowed over the years, keeping his NRA rants and trips to the Baptist Gun Show to a minimum, and I can tell you right now, that one day when the Red X finally hits the kitchen floor, the world will mourn one of its most unique characters, who was worthy of his own TV cartoon show.

Thanks, Mike Judge.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Howard and Mona

All couples have problems. Live day-in and day-out with a Neanderthal that hasn’t learned after twenty-years of being told to put his knickers in a basket just inches away from where they eventually land on the floor, and you’re either looking for another social circle, or new and creative ways to commit suicide.

This idea of couples dating has always fascinated me. When I was married, my husband and I did it. It seems that anytime we find someone we want to share our life with, the first thing we do is find people we can ignore them for.

My parents did the same thing. When I was four and my sister a year-old, I remember this one couple that used to visit my parents regularly. Howard and Mona. Why I remember this from age four, I’ll never know. Perhaps it’s the peculiar way my parents began to behave once they had all become good friends and had a standing weekly “date”. I don’t know--maybe my parents were afraid of commitment.

Howard had dark hair and wore Buddy Holly glasses and checkered pants--a fashionista apparently light-years ahead of his time. Even at four, I knew that man was just one science experiment away from re-discovering gravity. He worked with my dad in the local machine shop, so it was a natural progression that they would begin to socialise with their wives. And at first, my mother liked Mona.

She was different. She had masses of dark hair piled on top her head in these neat little adobe mounds. She, too, wore glasses and liked to wear bright red lipstick. I won’t comment on her wardrobe, because...well, this was the sixties. Everyone was always so busy getting cancer, developing a life-long gambling addiction and doing the Twist that they had no time for important social issues like Politics, becoming obscenely wealthy, or how to properly dress themselves.

My mother loved playing the hostess, because that’s what you did in the sixties, and why not? Dad didn’t want her working. Little did she know this would prepare her for marathon sessions of Oprah thirty-years later. She turned out to be a natural. She’d always start fussing early Monday afternoon about the house. Each time I’d question her on this ritual, she’d say something wise like, “If the Pope were visiting, you wouldn’t want him to see your naked Barbie Doll on the floor, now, would you?” Which was stupid since I was pretty sure we weren’t Catholic. Then after the toys were put away, she’d scurry from the refrigerator to the stove, worrying over what hors d'oeuvres to serve, but not before she’d had my dad’s dinner planned down to the last Brussels sprout. And everyone thinks Martha Stewart invented domestic science. As I look back on it, I thought that’s how all women behaved. But years later, it would again be my mother who would prove me wrong. In the sixties she cooked dinner, vacuumed the house in heels, and obeyed my dad. In the seventies, she found women’s lib, discovered the joys of TV dinners and you were lucky if she ever put on her pants to answer the door.

But back to Howard and Mona. They loved to come over each Monday night and play Rook and Canasta--games I would later learn were the favourites of people who were generally just one day from death. I guess it’s some unwritten requisite of God’s: If you’re over sixty, then you must learn Canasta. Saint Peter mans the Pearly-Gates with a list of our running scores, according to my grandmother.

My parents gladly invited them each week. I guess it gave dad something to look forward to other than my mother’s bitching about diapers and laundry, and it gave her something to look forward to other than dad’s belching and scratching.

Howard would tell really stupid jokes in between trying to sell my dad Amway, and Mona had a very theatrical laugh--the one that reaches the back balcony even when you’re in a closet. It took the hair off a couple of my sweaters. For the most part, these two twenty-somethings were pretty cool.

But in all this bliss, Howard and Mona had a dark side. After months of dating, my parents began acting strange when Howard dropped hints for their weekly cards invitation.

I remember one time in particular, my parents had decided they didn’t want to see them anymore. When I asked them why, I was met with stutters, grunts and whistles to the effect of, “Well, it has to do with the mean, not average, vis-a-vis the vagaries and political curves of the gross national product and what time it was yesterday over the international dateline, but not what time yesterday’s time was, what it will be during tomorrow’s yesterday.” I was four. I just sucked my thumb and made a mental note to short-sheet God’s bed for dumping me into this family. And to seal the deal that we wouldn’t “be home” that night, dad pulled our Dodge Dart (yes, I’m serious) to the back of the house and parked it in the garage, which at four, I thought absolutely genius. However, in all my dad’s dazzling spy-brilliance, he forgot this particular garage door had a row of square windows--anyone could see in.

My parents's feelings must have had something to do with the fact that every time she was in my mother’s living room, Mona would sit and rip up tissues, then toss them on the floor. They weren’t used tissue--all the time--just tissue. She never apologised for this peculiar habit, and as far as I can remember, she never once offered to help my mother clean them up before they left. At the end of the night that living room floor rivaled DC’s cherry blossoms in spring.

Everything came to a ridiculous head one night at six-thirty. Thinking we wouldn’t be dealing with Howard and Mona that week, we were sitting at the kitchen table finishing dinner, when suddenly dad slammed down his fork and said, “Oh my God, they’re here.”

My mother said, “What are you talking about?”

“They’re here! Howard and Mona just pulled into the driveway.”

“WHAT?” I’d never heard my mother quack like a duck before. “What are we going to do?”

“Well, let’s just sit here and let them knock. When they don’t see the car in the driveway, they’ll realise we’re not at home and leave.”

I’ll say one thing: Howard and Mona were tenacious little buggers. He knocked on that front door like he had a hammer and a license to mine for diamonds. Finally after five-minutes of pounding, we collectively breathed a sigh of relief when their car door slammed.

“Great. They’re leaving,” dad said.

Oh, but life is cruel. Instead of leaving, they got into the car and pulled it round back. Dad was peeking out the kitchen window, overlooking the back driveway and saw Howard walk to the garage door where he then saw the car. I remember feeling like Jason Bourne, because dad had shushed the lot of us so Howard wouldn’t hear us from the garage door.

This time Howard got into his car to leave, but with my dad being a sharp one, anticipated Howard’s next move. Since Howard knew we were home, dad ordered us into the bathroom down the hall. It was a good thing, too, because just a few minutes later, I developed a good case of the trots (my Gerber, you see) and needed to avail myself of my training chair. As my parents were cursing the broken condom that had created me--their little bundle, Howard AND Mona were on the back porch, peeking into the kitchen window. We could hear them from our stake-out post in the bathroom.

Why is it you go by for months, then suddenly get the urge to laugh at the most inopportune time? Like during a gynecological exam? Once I started to giggle, it spread like a virus and soon both my parents were cackling like idiots, but in hushed tones. Suddenly we were a room full of Muttleys.

The next morning, my dad, never a dancer before, was tap-dancing like he was Savion Glover's understudy in Bring In ‘Da Noise when he told Howard I had become ill and needed the hospital, and instead of driving he called one of our friends to drive us over. Yeah, Howard bought it. Desperation will do strange things to your mind when you’re being dumped.

Howard and Mona never wanted to play cards much again after that, and my parents did eventually get back into another relationship, but it was years later before they were ready to open up their hearts again.

Just about the time my dad started selling Amway.