The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

THE MAY STORM: This morning my Aunt May was complaining again…well, let me rephrase that a little, since my using the word again might, simply by definition, cause the reader to infer that Aunt May has, at some hitherto undocumented and therefore constituting one fairly humongous suspension of disbelief, point in her life stopped complaining about whatever the annoyance of the day was and had a conversation about politics, religion, the economy, sports, sex, her husband, her kids, the dog, or some other subject that either could not, would not, or otherwise did not lend itself to the usual metamorphosis into a long list of grievances, said grievances aired at length and then discussed in excruciating detail by herself.

I got back from the post office just as she launched into a discussion of her health and I immediately wished that my government, a government that does not hesitate to locate, at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars, a major Coast Guard installation in West Virginia, a state set squarely in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains and one that noticeably lacks a coast worthy of the name, much less one that needs guarding at these prices, that this very same government would send me on a secret mission to the darkest parts of darkest Africa, the most mysterious places of the mysterious East, or somewhere beyond the back of beyond, there, like Shakespeare’s Benedick, to pluck a hair from the Great Cham’s beard, anything at all to get me out of the house and away from Aunt May, because her prolonged jeremiads against the fates that hate her so much, and with good reason, if you ask me, usually begin with how bad her health is these days.

In short, and I heard you think too late, buster, and just see if I try to make this thing any shorter just to suit you, smart guy, I’d gotten back from the post office in time to hear the daily whine from beginning to end, with nary a sign that she was ever in a mood to stop. I was completely, utterly, and absolutely stuck. It’s strange to think that I have known this woman for more than forty years now and in all that time I don’t think she’s enjoyed good health for more than two hours straight at any given time; we do not, as a society, appreciate how much hypochondria can be a life’s vocation, even, in the best of cases, raised to the level of art, and it makes you truly loathe the hard of hearing, who can surreptitiously turn down the volume on their hearing aids in these situations and then nod and smile their way through one of Aunt May’s more protracted and gruesome soliloquies about her bunions.

My presence, however, suddenly changed the dynamic, if you want to call it that. My mother’s family, for reasons that I’ve never bothered to think too much about, tend to name their first born sons after our grandfather, a man who died years before I was born. I am sure he was a very nice man, but he had a large family, all of whom have children of their own these days, and some of them have children of their own, and consequently there are a plethora of us with the same name, and yes, family get-togethers can get confusing, what with twenty or so of us all saying, what?, whenever someone calls our name. Family get-togethers was the subject uppermost on Aunt May’s mind this morning, for a moment eclipsing the negative effects the modern world has on her health and peace of mind, and that is no mean trick, I’m telling you.

The reason for the sudden turnaround is that my cousin, who, as mentioned, has the same given name as myself, is finally and long last marrying his girl friend, and after two kids, an SUV, and a house in the suburbs complete with a mortgage I think we can all agree that it’s probably well past time for them to tie the knot. You would think that Aunt May would be happy about this turn of events, that she would welcome any change in my cousin’s marital status that might finally keep my uncle from referring to his own beloved grandchildren as those little bastards. You might think she’d be ecstatic over the upcoming nuptials. You would be wrong.

That Aunt May despises her current son-in-law with a passion is a phenomenon I’ve brought up before, but the disinterested observer might ascribe this visceral dislike to the fact that the son-in-law is not the most likable person you are apt to meet in a month of Sundays; the future daughter-in-law, on the other hand, is a lovely young woman that anyone would want as a member of their family. Anyone, of course, does not include Aunt May, for whom the young woman in question is, was, and will always remain the vile temptress who led her precious little boy off the straight and narrow path and dragged him down the primrose lane into her personal pit of iniquity, there to wallow in a devil’s stew of lust, corruption, and fornication; Aunt May wanted my cousin to be a priest, and so did he, until he met his future bride to be in college. Hormones being what hormones are, that ambition didn’t last very long after their first meeting. Aunt May still hasn’t forgiven her; I think Aunt May was looking forward to my cousin getting his cardinal’s hat a couple of weeks after his ordination. She always had high hopes for him.

So you can imagine the tenor of the prolonged rant I had to endure this morning, since by a process of magical thinking I can, because of our exact same name, stand in for my cousin while he is off doing whatever it is that future bridegrooms do with their kids on a Saturday morning, and why should a deeply annoyed aunt rant about one thing when she can rant about several things at once, I had to listen to what I’ve come to regard as the standard litany of woe, beginning with my cousin (Aunt May's daughter) Ellen’s not getting married in the Church or in a church at all, for that matter, an impossibility under the Catholic rules governing this sort of thing; the son-in-law is divorced from his first wife, whom he married in the Church, and the first wife is alive and doing very well, thank you, and without much in the way of financial help from himself, because giving financial help requires an income other than your wife’s. And then, horror of horrors, Ellen got married in a restaurant’s main dining hall by a minister of an unspecified Protestant denomination wearing what looked suspiciously like a polyester suit, which led to that whole ugly scene with Aunt May wondering out loud during the ceremony if the minister officiating was the restaurant’s head chef or just the short order cook. Ellen didn’t appreciate that crack at all; neither did the son-in-law, but I think I’ve established, if only by inference, just how much weight he pulls in that family.

And so on and on it went, for the better part of an hour, although the relative nature of time made it seem more like the better part of a day, the philippics, the jeremiads, the slanders, the calumnies, against the future daughter-in-law, the current son-in-law, her bunions, the ingratitude of children in modern American society, her liver, the loose morals of American women, her back, the rudeness of the current crop of cashiers and baggers down at the local supermarket, her gall bladder, and so on down the line until every social problem faced by the United States corresponded with one of her aches and pains, and Aunt May was no longer an elderly Irish lady engaging in a prolonged self-pitying rant about her son marrying a floozy (she’s not, just for the record; I didn’t want to leave that impression), but a great, even Christ-like figure bearing the sins of a great nation on her broken and aged immigrant body.

Frankly, I wanted to dive through a window and escape, but my mother gave me one of those meaningful looks that says if she’s got to put up with Aunt May’s diatribes then so do I. So I sat and listened for another hour or so, praying for some deus ex machina to put an end to the agony, and then I got one; a call from the security company that protects the egregious mold pit where I earn my bread and butter. Apparently the Saturday staff had set off the alarm and the company notified the police, who were on their way to the library to investigate the alarm just as soon as they finished their jelly doughnuts and coffee at the Dunkin Donuts over on the other side of our happy little burg. This was clearly a chance for me to demonstrate my leadership skills, to show everyone how calm and cool I could be in a crisis situation, a test of my management abilities. So I bugged out of the house, with my mother looking daggers at me, and headed off to the library, where the cops still hadn't arrived when I got there half an hour later. So right now I’m just sitting and waiting and hoping that by the time I get home Aunt May will have returned to New Jersey and all I will have to listen to is my mother tell me what a low and gutless coward I am, leaving her there all alone without any protection against the full fury of Hurricane May. It was a low trick to pull on Mom, I know, but desperate times require desperate measures.


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