Playing Doctor

Initial Visit?

Monday, November 29

The Suitcase Is Back In The Bedroom

Yeah, but don’t read too much into that.

Your mom’s given me a reprieve, but hasn’t granted me full pardon. The socks aren’t back in the drawer just yet.
She’s telling me to develop a routine. She says that’s what I need to do. Something solid. Something regular.
She tells me Hemmingway woke up each morning, got dressed, sat at his typewriter, put a clean piece of paper in the machine.

Yeah, and started drinking.
If he did it, by god so can I.
Where’s my scotch. I know I have a glass around here somewhere. Eh, what’s that kid? Right here in front of me? So it is.
Oh God, that tastes good. Maybe this won’t be so hard after all.
Pull up a chair or sit at my feet, let’s go ahead and give this a go then, shall we, kid? I’m going to tell you a story about a doctor, a medical resident, going home for thanksgiving…

The second I opened the car door, the briny air hit me, I could hear the parrots squawking off in the nearby palms, and I knew I was back in America.

I grew up in Miami, a world away from this southern town where I have spent the past year and a half, but I am back now. Palpably so, as I breathe in more of the brine.

After a seven hour car trip through insane holiday traffic, where ATMs were out of cash, and where the manager of a Kentucky Fried Chicken was in full scale panic mode because they were almost out of chicken. I am back to the America I know, where I can find a deli that serves bagels and lox, where I hear a triad of languages when I walk a single block, where I don’t have to listen to co-workers complain about ‘fags and Jews,’

God help them. But Christ, it’s the twenty-first century already. How do you say that its time to reconcile your bigotry with the ideals that your country was based on without being called condescending?

Let me interrupt my story for a second here. Kid, let me tell you how to convince anyone of anything without being condescending. A sucker punch to the gut, an elbow to the kidney, and a “shut your stupid mouth, you dumb asshole.” But don’t you tell your mother I told you that. That’s something she wouldn’t understand so well, let’s just keep that our little secret, okay. Yeah? Give me that smile. There you go.
Now then, where’s my Scotch? Ahh. Yeah, that tastes good. Hemmingway was a genius.
Alright, so back to the story…

For the third year running the thanksgiving party has included my new grandmother, Dottie, who is in her early eighties (How is it that I have a new grandmother you ask? It’s a long story) (Well, not so long, really: My mom got remarried three years ago.) and her neighbor Jeanie, who is 79 and has her over for lunch every Sunday. She makes Manhattans for her at these lunches.

“It’s in one glass, but it is probably four drinks,” Jeanie confides, “I always watch her ride her Little Rascal until she gets into her house, I don’t want her riding into the lake.”

When Jeanie was younger, she worked for the Truman administration and she tells fairly amazing stories about working in the White House during those years, particularly about the somber awe that blanketed the building after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This year, they brought Jeanie’s brother, Jim, an ex-Navy man. This was apparently not the first time he had been to my mother’s home, as we were drinking Beaujolais Nouveaux and he commented on the little golden dangly talismans my mother attaches to the wine glasses so everyone knows whose is whose. (A pointless reminder really: the glasses rarely leave our sipping hands.) His comments catch my interest, because he says how he still enjoys the monkey that was on his glass at the last party. I suspect that I misunderstood him, and, because I am vaguely bored with the general conversation that is occurring, I say: “Monkey? I have The Parrot. I’d prefer the Monkey. Mom, can I have the monkey?” My mother, who has been in the kitchen, comes into the room and looks in her little drawer of talismans and says, “I don’t see the Monkey in here. Can you make do with the Parrot?”

I toy with saying, “I’d really like the Monkey,” but before I can, Jim again says, “I have the Monkey.” And I feel a bit bad, because I realize only now that my game was trying to shame an old man for pocketing a trinket worth only a few dollars. A trinket I didn’t care about. I think my mother must have assumed he had the Monkey at that very moment, rather than at home, perhaps in his sock drawer. But he didn’t have it at that moment. I looked. He has the White Hibiscus.

So after a bit, we sit down to dinner, and I am sitting next to Jim.

During dinner he tells us about his 1953 solo motorcycle ride from the District of Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska, back across to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, taking the ferry back to Maine, and then down and back to D.C.

During the story, I am trying to read the tattoo on his forearm. But he is wrinkled and the tattoo is faded. By the end of the story, I am looking like I am starting the tonic part of a seizure as I hook my neck around and upside down to read his arm. I think it says “Fatty.” That doesn’t make any sense to me. I am trying to imagine some story that would explain tattooing the word “Fatty” on his arm. But I can't think of one, so I just ask him what the tattoo says. He gets stirred up and motioning at his sister says, “Oh, don’t talk about that. I don’t want to get in trouble.”

“Oh,” I ask, whispering, “Did she used to be overweight?”

He looks at me quizzically.

“The tattoo,” I say, pointing to his tattoo, “Your sister is very skinny. Why did you call her Fatty?”

He is still scrunching his face up and barks, “Kathy, it says ‘Kathy.’”

“Kathy?” His sister says, startled, “Why bring her up?”

At that point he tries to redirect the conversation by pointing out the shamrock tattooed on his earlobe which I—up until that point—had assumed to be a basal cell carcinoma.

My mother, going along with the change of subject, asks “Are you Irish?”

Things settle down after that, and the rest of the afternoon is relatively eventless, until all the guests have gone home, and my mother is putting away the talismans and exclaims; “The White Hibiscus is gone!”


Blogger hot babe writes:

The old man is quite the little theif, isn't he? And I love that Jeanie watches Dottie drive her Little Rascal all the way home. But what would Jeanie really be able to do if Dottie did ride into the lake? Drive her Little Rascal into the lake after her? I love old ladies that drink. I should. Someday I'll be one of them. I hope we have better devices than Little Rascals by then, though.


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