Monday, December 26, 2005

Grandmother's House

“Boy, this traffic is something, huh?”

“Yep, it sure is.”

“I’m worried about getting to the airport on time.”

“I think we’ll be fine.”

“I don’t know, this traffic is really something.”

“We’ll be okay.”

Being with Bernard transforms me into a Pollyanna.

In any given situation, my ex father in law can generally find the tunnel at the end of the lights.

Driving into rush-hour traffic on a holiday weekend fit his expectations of life’s little miseries.

I put on Leonard Cohen.

After nearly two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic, Bernard parked at the airport lot and we went to meet his son Richard and his son’s ex boyfriend, Paul.

They exited the gate moments after we arrived.

“Great timing!” I said, kissing Paul.

“We’ll never get those suitcases into the car,” Bernard said, hugging Richard.

“I know, they’re huge, but they are the only bags we have,” Richard said.

“Well, couldn’t you pack together?” Bernard asked.

Richard and Paul exchanged a look.

“No,” Paul said, with finality.

We wheeled the enormous bags to the rental car. Bernard popped the trunk.

“As you see, it’s full of je ne sais quoi.”

“Oh, we can make it work,” I said, unloading the wrapped packages. “Let’s get your bags in first.”

“Let’s try stacking them,” Paul suggested.

“I think they will work vertically,” Richard argued.

“Well, let’s try your way first and see, then we can try my way.”


I busied myself with moving small gifts to the back seat. There were already enough chefs in this kitchen.

Bernard shook his head. “I was sure that wouldn’t work. Can you try putting one in the back seat?”

“We can, Dad, but let’s try the other idea.”

“I don’t think those bags will fit in the trunk.”

“We’ll try.”

Paul hoisted one bag and wedged it vertically against the other.

It didn’t work.

Richard pondered. “Well, what if we stacked them the other way? I think my bag has bigger wheels, and that may have been the problem.”

Paul nodded. “Good idea.”

It didn’t work.

“I think you need to put one bag in the back seat,” Bernard repeated.

“May I make a suggestion?,” I asked.

“Please,” Paul said.

“What if we placed them side by side, flat, like this?,” I said, abutting my hands as a visual aid.

Richard nodded. “That’s going to work.”

“I dunno,” Paul said. “But let’s try.”

It didn’t work.

Ten minutes later, we were back on the road.

Bernard driving, me in the passenger seat, and the suitcase in the back seat, pushing Richard to Paul’s side, as close as conjoined twins.

“What do you think?” I polled, ejecting the CD. “How about some Johnny Cash?”

“How about some Joaquin Pheonix, singing as Johnny Cash?” Paul joked.

“Heresy, and so close to Christmas.”

“As if. I’m Jewish.”

I flipped ahead to “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.”

Richard and Paul met at a party in college and soon fell in love. They moved in with one another. After graduation, they moved to New York.

In Lucy’s family, they were referred to as “the boys.”

I first met the boys in their Greenwich Village apartment, when Lucy and I visited New York.

Paul liked that the apartment afforded regular sightings of Matthew Broderick, a neighbor.

“The kid from ‘War Games?,’” I asked.

“He’s very talented, you know,” Paul said, sagely.

“And Paul’s got a crush on him,” Richard teased.

“I just admire his . . . talent,” Paul smiled.

About the time Lucy and I got married, the boys moved to Los Angeles.

Lucy and I brought the kids to visit them there.

Paul liked it that lemons grew in their backyard.

“Can we eat them?” Jason asked, handing one in his baby brother, a toddler in diapers.

“No, I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Richard said.

Jason snatched back the lemon as though it were a grenade.

Collie cried.

“Here,” Paul said. “Here’s a chip. You can eat this.”

Collie sniffled and took the chip.

Jason hid the lemon behind a cactus.

About the time that Lucy dumped me, Richard dumped Paul.

“Why?” I asked Richard. “You’ve been together so long.”

“I just don’t think it’s what I want to do with my life,” he answered.

Bernard took the news badly, blaming himself.

“If I had stayed with their mother, my kids would still be in relationships,” he said.

He had walked away from his first marriage when Lucy was four and Richard was two.

He is now in his seventies and ending his third marriage.

“Our break ups weren’t predestined,” I said. “It’s not your fault you raised impulsive children. Anyway, their mother is a lesbian, so getting divorced made sense.”

“Yeah, that’s my fault too. If I had stayed married . . .”

“I’m not sure that would have been for the best, Bernard.”

Richard and Paul are no longer boyfriends, but they remain best friends. Paul accompanies Richard to every family function.

They are still “the boys.”

As we drove to his mother’s house, Richard told us stories from his life and work.

Paul would interject if he saw a sign requiring commentary.

“’Suffolk County Vein Center.’ What do you think they do there?”

“Do they sell weather vanes?” I asked.

“No no, the kind in your body.”

“I don’t want to examine that too closely,” Bernard said. “This reminds me—though I don’t know why—but can you call your sister? We wanted to touch base about the traffic before they left.”

“I thought Lucy was driving the children out in the morning,” I said.

“No, that was last week’s plan. It was updated so that they come out tonight. Didn’t you get the memo?”

“No one tells me anything.” Of course Lucy had not told me. If she told Bernard, there was no reason for her to waste breath on me.

Bucky came to the door when we drove up.

“Well, you made good time,” she said, her arms wrapped to her torso for warmth.

“The traffic was unbelievable,” Bernard said. “Unbelievable.”

“Why didn’t you take the Sunrise?”

“We did take the Sunrise. I think Four-Ninety-Five would have been faster.”

“Not at rush hour, Bernard . . .”

“Hello, Mother,” Richard kissed Bucky as he carried gifts inside.

“Hi, Richard. No, if you take the Sunrise, you pass all those bottlenecks at exits in that county.”

“Hi, Bucky,” Paul kissed her as he passed with another stack of gifts.

“Hi, Paul. So what you have to do is take the Sunrise, get off the LIE before Lynbrook, at least, and then get back on the LIE near that exit, the one past the McDonalds.”

“Hi, Bucky,” I said, kissing her cheek.

“Hi, Jefferson. Do you know the exit I mean?”

“Not really,” Bernard said, stacking gifts on the car roof. “But c’est fini, nous somme arrives, n’est-ce pas?

“No Bernard, it is not 'fin-ee' if you plan to make this trip again.”

“Well, that remains to be seen. We could all be dead this time next year.”

“Well, that’s a cheery thought,” Bucky laughed.

She returned to the kitchen to find me and the boys scavenging for booze.

“Which of these bottles should I open, Mother?”

“Now, wait a minute, that wine is for dinner, and we aren’t eating yet.”

“What are we waiting for? It’s after nine.”

“Are you hungry?”

“We’re starving, we haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

“We were offered those lovely sausage patties on the flight,” Paul reminded him.

“Ugh, disgusting.”

“Well, I’ve made the sauce and the pasta takes ten minutes, so go ahead and open the wine, the one with the beige label. Paul, I’ve got Heineken for you and Corona for Jefferson.”

She put on her glasses to turn on the stove.

“Actually, I’d prefer wine,” Paul said.

“Me too,” I added.

“What?” she took off her glasses. “Well then, who is going to drink this beer, I’d like to know? I don’t think I have enough wine for the weekend if no one drinks beer.”

“I brought wine,” Bernard reminded her.

“Yes, but that’s expensive. We can’t drink that all.”

Richard put a hand on her shoulder. “Mother, we’ll get wine,” he said.

I turned on the stove.

Over dinner, Bernard talked about the riots in Paris.

“It makes no sense,” he shook his head. “They are burning their own neighborhoods. Why they don’t get on the Metro and burn the arrondissement quatorzieme is beyond me. It’s like Watts.It makes no sense.”

“Bernard,” Bucky asked. “Do you ever see Tony Lewis?”

“I haven’t seen Tony Lewis in years.”

“Well, I know that. I don’t mean socially, I mean on TV.”

“Who’s Tony Lewis?” Richard asked.

“My dear boy,” Bucky began, taking off her glasses. “Anthony Lewis is only one of the most famous . . .”

“Mother, please. I know who Anthony Lewis is. I just didn’t make the connection to the name 'Tony.'”

“Well, that is short for Anthony.”

“I’m aware of that, Mother.”

“We knew him in the Hamptons,” Bernard said. “Years ago.”

“Well, have you seen him on television?,” Bucky asked.


“Isn’t his hair ridiculous?”

“I thought Tony was bald.”

“Well, he is bald on top, but he has hair on the sides. He should keep it short, but its long. He looks like Bozo the Clown.”

“Smart fellow, though, Tony.”

“Smart enough to have a better barber.”

By ten thirty, the boys and Bernard were gone, having retired to nearby hotel rooms.

I kissed Bucky good night.

She told me where to find the bourbon.

Knob Creek.

Lucy’s brand.

I poured a drink.

Lucy was expected to arrive at eleven. I assumed the kids would be zonked, and I would carry them to bed.

At eleven oh one, Lucy opened the front door.

“Hello?” I called.

“Daddy!” Collie ran in and leaped on me.

“Hey Dad.” Jason said, offering his head to be kissed.

“Come on, Lillie,” Lucy said at the door. “Your dad is here.”

She ran in. “Daddy, Daddy!”

“Hey baby!”

I must be living in the past to think I would be carrying sleeping babies from the car.

I sat with the kids, asking about their trip, and their days at school. Collie was excited to talk about a class party that afternoon. Lillie kept interrupting with something about a bear.

“Okay kids, that’s enough,” Lucy said. “You need to get to bed.”

“Yeah, I’m really tired,” Jason said.

We took the kids upstairs.

Lucy took Jason and Collie to brush teeth while I put Lillie in pajamas.

She was in a very silly mood.

“Shh, keep your voice low,” I said. “Your grandmother just went to bed.”

She widened her eyes and whispered, “I don’t care.” She laughed.

“You better start caring, else she’s gonna chew you up.” I chewed on her belly.

“Okay Lillie, your turn,” Lucy whispered from the door.

I tucked in the boys, kissing them and reminding them that tomorrow would be Christmas Eve.

Collie giggled.

I tucked Lillie into bed.

“Good night, children,” Lucy called from the door. “Go to sleep now, okay?”

“Okay Mom,” Collie said.

“’Night,” Jason mumbled into his pillow.

“’Night Mom, ‘night Dad,” Lillie called.

I tuned out the lamp and left, closing the door.

The door to Lucy’s room was closed.

I went downstairs and freshened my drink.

I sat on the futon in the study, already made as my bed.

I turned on the television.

Darlene Love would be singing on Letterman. Jay Thomas would throw a football at a meatball on a Christmas tree. Holiday traditions.

I took a sip and held it in my throat.

I heard Lucy in the kitchen, around the corner. The freezer door opened. Three clinks sounded in a glass.

The door to the liquor cabinet squeaked.

Liquid glugged.

Bottles clanked.

The cabinet door squeaked again.

Lucy’s shoes crossed the kitchen and climbed the stairs.

The door to her room closed with a quiet click.

Letterman was in his monologue.

Half an hour, I swallowed.

I took another sip, and held it on my tongue.

Half an hour, during which my family arrived and we put the kids to bed.

We did not exchange a single word.


Hedonist said...

Odd. I was thinking there would be some sex involved. Then again, I guess she was staying true to form. Do you ever get tired of people commenting on your (once) loved ones?

exile said...

i don't think the holidays are ever easy.

take another sip, on the house.

marcus said...

oh, baby. i feel the stress just reading this.