Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood (3 page)

BOOK: Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood
3.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Changing Values

Last
week I lucked into a truckload of German Easter eggs. Their value is immeasurable because I use them to bribe Lary into fixing the odyssey of exposed wires and dislodged plaster that passes for my apartment. Normally Lary can’t resist these eggs, because they come with a plastic capsule in the center that contains an intricate toy, proof that Lary is really nothing but a fermented adolescent under all that irritable exterior, but unfortunately for me he’s in hiding lately on account of his stalker. That says a lot about this person, his stalker, because not many people have the power to diminish the value of German Easter eggs in Lary’s eyes.

Even though I personally have never seen Lary’s stalker, I hear accounts from those who have (“She has fake tits as big as Liberty Bells!”), so I believe it when he says she exists. He leaves town for weeks at a time these days, and when he does come home he stays at a friend’s until it’s time to take another job and then he’s gone
again. He tells me to “be really careful” when I go feed his cat. Now I figure something’s got to be wrong because the two things Lary truly values are his cat and his solitude, and something is keeping him from both. So I have to commend this stalker’s technique, because Lary’s desire to avoid her is greater than his longing for either his pet or his privacy. When you think about it, it’s a very effective method of exerting power over a person—to find out what they value and devise a way to deprive them of it.

It doesn’t always work. Take my father and his designer shoes, for example. Though he was largely jobless, my father nonetheless would not have been caught without his designer shoes, which he buffed and cared for like two prized Pekingese. They made his stride purposeful, so that when he walked into his favorite bar, his friends would take him for a man of standing. This image of himself became endangered when my mother left us and took her income with her. His attempt to gain some power during the divorce was to threaten to sue for custody of me and my sisters, assuming that—faced with the possible loss of something she really valued—my mother would instantly acquiesce and return home. He was wrong.

“You want the kids? Take them,” she said, forcing my father to acknowledge that he couldn’t. He backed down, and the divorce concluded with my father cutting his children loose and my mother cutting him a check that promised to keep him in modest supply of designer shoes for a few years yet.

Ever since then I’ve marveled at what an effective method of self-protection it is to divest yourself of the things that matter to you. If you can’t control your need to cling to these things, you’ll be controlled by the threat of losing them. Lary put the things he values on hiatus in order to bore his stalker into not bothering him. She’s already moved to another state, and I hear she’s reduced her harassments to intermittent episodes in which she spends the night in a rental car in his driveway. My guess is she’ll soon quit altogether, because Lary’s devaluation of the things he normally holds dear effectively took her weapon away.

My father died soon after the divorce. I attended his funeral with my mother, and as my father lay in state, she noticed immediately that his shoes were ugly and not name brand, so she accused the funeral director of stealing his real pair. My father had been working a new job selling used cars, and his coworkers in attendance insisted those were the shoes he always wore. They said he’d been saving money for a deposit on a bigger apartment, so when his daughters visited they wouldn’t have to sleep on a trundle bed in his living room.

My mother excused herself. The rest of the funeral she spent in the ladies’ lounge, where she might not have sobbed so loudly if she’d known we could hear her through the wall. I think she was remembering that aborted custody battle and how they both had been wrong regarding what the other most valued.

Poisoned Fish

I’d
just like to state for the record that I didn’t deliberately try to poison my mother when I was six. God, if you believed my siblings, sometimes you’d think I was Lucifer’s little minion growing up, what with the fact that I had a pack-a-day smoking habit by the time I was twelve and that once, when I was very young, like
five
, I killed a puppy with a tennis racket, but you have to let me explain this stuff. For example, the cigarette addiction was just a natural extension of my heritage, since both my parents puffed like living chimneys and by the time I was a year old I already had lungs that looked like two used tea bags. I remember once my brother accidentally ate a cigarette ash and spent the rest of the afternoon rubbing his tongue on the carpet under the coffee table to get the taste out of his mouth. That’s just how our house was: so steeped in smoke you could send signals. I didn’t even have to buy my own cigarettes, I just kyped them from the cartons my parents kept strewn about the house. That my parents didn’t notice packs at a time were missing is just testimony to the hugeness of their own habit (I myself quit at thirteen). That they died young should not have been a shock—it was anyway, of course, but it shouldn’t have been. For the record, I didn’t have anything to do with it.

Kim, Cheryl, Jim, and me with Echo

And the puppy. It’s not like I hacked it to death. Jesus God, get that out of your mind. The puppy was from a litter our dog Echo birthed under the big wooden desk in my brother’s bedroom. One day I thought it would be fun to place one of them on the end of a tennis racket and flip it around, but I stopped as soon as my brother demonstrated to me how the puppy wasn’t enjoying it by beating me over the head with a can of artificial snow. “When puppies whine
that means they’re crying,” he said, “like how you cry when I do this”:
thwack
. Weeks later the guy who adopted the puppy came back and demanded another one because the first one was faulty on account of how it died days after he brought it home. I always blamed myself, thinking it never fully recovered from the flipping, though for all we knew the man was taking the puppies straight from our house to a cosmetics testing facility. So it’s possible I had nothing to do with that death either.

You could almost talk yourself into believing that I was an ideal child, if not for the time when I was six and gave my mother, as a present, poisoned fish wrapped in toilet paper. That my intentions were good is only slightly less incredible than the fact that my mother understood them to be so, and therefore didn’t mete out her harshest punishment, which was to shove my whole head into a kitchen sink full of soapy dishwater until I coughed for air. I had collected the fish, dead and floating, from a polluted tributary behind the park after I overheard my parents arguing about money. At the time, my father had quit his job again, and my mother was between contracts, and there was no money to put food on the table, she said. Later I presented the fish, wrapped in paper from the public toilet, to my mother. “Food for the table,” I said proudly.

My mother was never one to cry much—except once when I returned home after she had officially reported me missing when I had stopped at the cinema on my way home to watch
My Fair Lady
, a movie that lasts about five days in duration. But she didn’t this time, though I was worried she would when I saw her face as I handed her the dead fish. Instead, she gently took the fish straight from my hands to the trash pail and thanked me graciously as she washed my palms. Absent any alcohol to kill the germs, she opted to rinse my hands with warm water and lighter fluid. I swelled with self-importance at the officious undertaking, as I noticed that she took extreme care to first extinguish her cigarette.

One Word

My
friends and I are making our movie debut in a film called
Fuck Fight Pray
, or, to put it in the words of the independent director here filming all day, “F-U-C-K! Action!” His name is Darren, and every time he spells out that one word I wonder if I should even bother trying to calm our neighbors by noting that we’re not making porno, and that this is an “art” film slated to be entered in Sundance (or at least in the annual Musical-Spoons Jamboree—probably). The movie is being crafted by creative young visualists with dreams and stuff. But why bother, when Daniel is out back bragging to the neighbors that he has a nude scene, and they believe him.

“Full frontal!” he shouts.

The movie is a beautiful tri-part cinematic observance, and this segment in particular is about a young woman contemplating a crossroads in her life after receiving a marriage proposal. In one segment, Daniel and I play a bickering married couple, and in our
scene all you see are the backs of our heads, but even then I bet you can tell we come across as naturally as two big fake breasts. The reason we were picked to appear in the film is because—this is important—when asked if they could come festoon our places with props and film equipment, we answered with one word, “’kay!”

Then we heard the title. When I ask Darren why he spells it out—rather than simply saying it—while calling the scenes, he says it’s because he doesn’t want to use harsh language in case children are nearby. “F-U-C-K!” he recites. “Action!”

I’m amused that he has a problem with that one word, seeing as how he cowrote the script. I have a bigger problem with euphemisms. There was once a local liquor store appropriately nicknamed “Horny Pete’s,” because the proprietor once tried to molest a seven-year-old girl, who escaped and ran screaming all the way home clutching her mother’s Salem menthols, which was the reason she had been dispatched on the errand in the first place. When she got home she handed over the cigarettes and commenced bawling her eyes out. “What the hell happened to you?” her mother asked, lighting up.

“He…he…he,” the girl blubbered, “
he pulled down his pants!

“He pulled down his pants?” the mother shrieked, and she wasn’t even thinking about the owner of the liquor store; she was thinking about a neighborhood kid known for pissing in public. When she heard that a grown man had flashed her daughter, her anger was so palpable that the smoke shooting from her nostrils was not from her cigarette. “We’re going to the police, and we’re gonna get that goddamn sick prick arrested,” and they drove to the station.

That girl was me, and I’ll never forget the female police officer who took my statement. She had hair like Ethel Mertz and absurdly arched, penciled-in eyebrows. My mother waited outside the room while the officer asked me to tell her exactly what had happened. I told them that, before flashing me, the liquor store owner had tried to provide me with a little porno lesson by showing me pictures of
couples in the throes of copulation, and he repeatedly used the word “fuck” along with all its conjugations. The officer, though, was uncomfortable with that word and asked me to substitute it with the phrase “make love.”

“Every time you need to say that one word,” she explained patiently, “stop yourself and say ‘make love’ instead.”

So I did. When we finished I was led back to my mother, who was assured that they would “lock his perverted ass up,” as she herself put it. On the way home I told her about the word substitutions the officer had requested of me while transcribing the statement. Upon hearing this she slammed the brakes so hard she needed to make that “mom arm save” maneuver to keep my un-seatbelted upper half from doing a face plant in the dashboard. Without saying a word, she drove straight back to the station, took my hand, and marched us up to the officer’s desk.

“Excuse me,” she stated loudly. The officer looked up, and my mother continued. “He did not say ‘make love.’ Do you understand me? ‘Love’ has nothing to do with this. I don’t want my daughter associating what happened to her today with the word ‘love,’ am I making myself clear? I would like the statement to be completely accurate.”

“It’s just one word,” the officer tried to argue.

“The
correct
word is ‘fuck’—do you understand that? Now write it down.” She hovered while the officer rifled through her desk to retrieve a pen. “F-U-C-K,” my mother recited loudly, and we didn’t leave until she was satisfied that the statement, in all its conjugations, clearly reflected that one word.

BOOK: Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood
3.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Assassin (John Stratton) by Falconer, Duncan
Siren's Secret by Trish Albright
Addiction by G. H. Ephron
Arsonist by Victor Methos
Envoy to Earth by P. S. Power
Blood Ambush by Sheila Johnson
Unhinged: 2 by A. G. Howard
G'baena's Pirates by Rachel Clark