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)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

FAMILIES: “My grandparents are coming to visit!” Not my grandparents, of course, not that I wouldn’t mind seeing them again. It’s just that should I see them again I wouldn’t have time for a chat and a nice cup of tea; my grandmother believed that all of life’s problems seemed soluble after a nice cup of tea, no matter how really godawful they really were. No, upon seeing the grandparents I would hie me hence to the nearest confessional forthwith and with all possible speed, the resurrection of the dead being one of the surest signs that the Day of Judgment is at hand and I would just as soon skip that whole eternity as a hot dog on a barbecue theme.

No, this enthusiastic bit of news came from our egregious mold pit’s homework mentor, an altogether lovely young woman charged by the local pedagogical authorities with stuffing some small portion of the modern curriculum of reading, writing, and political correctness into the mostly unused brains of the unwilling, the unable, and the undisciplined educational inmates of our happy little burg. She does a fairly good job on all three, from what I can see. She retains some small measure of control over her troop of unruly brats without resorting to cattle prods, branding irons, or brass knuckles, which is a lot better than most of the teachers can manage with that lot. I think some of this success is simple patience on her part, and the rest may have something to do with the library allowing her cohort of Lilliputian brutes to play computer games on the homework computer. There’s nothing like slaughtering whole armies of bug-eyed space aliens in a gratuitous orgy of bloody green splatter and senseless violence to calm the disposition and ease the heart of even the most recalcitrant delinquent.

I nodded politely when she told me this; she was so enthusiastic and happy about the news that I couldn’t tell her that I am seldom that enthusiastic about seeing my relatives. She looked on this gathering of her family as an unalloyed good thing, as a chance to catch up with loved ones and hear all the news of who’s marrying and who is divorcing, births and deaths, scandals and successes, all the things that form the deep human attachments that we give the inadequate word family to. She was already deep into planning the sleeping arrangements at her house when I went to sit in my office and ponder for a moment. I don’t see my relatives very often, really, and when I do I tend to regard the massed ranks of blood kin sitting in my living room with the same look of warm and tender regard that a heavily indebted farmer reserves for the sight of a swarm of starved locusts descending on his crops. Maybe a little less than that, since if all else fails to get rid of the locusts you can always eat them; getting Uncle Jimmy into any grill except O’Reilly’s Bar and Grill down on the corner might prove a bit difficult, and even if I could, he’d probably be too tough to eat, even with the forty years or so he’s spent marinating himself at the aforementioned O’Reilly’s.

The problem with relatives, as I’m sure we all know from personal experience, is that you can’t pick them and you can’t get rid of them, especially if they want money, and a large proportion of them will want money at any given time; why else do you think they’re squatting in your living room? I think that the major thing I can’t stand about my relatives, apart from them knowing I'm a soft touch for a twenty and drinking everything alcoholic in the house, down to the vanilla extract and my aftershave, is that they constantly bring up episodes in my life that I no longer remember or even wish to remember. I am now 46; next month I will be 47, and yet to a large number of these people I will always be the boy at the wedding.

Now, you must understand that I do not remember this incident at all; it happened when I was three or four years old and like a lot of stuff that happens to you at that age, it has long since vanished from the conscious memory. My parents went to a wedding with two of my brothers and me; the youngest two brothers hadn’t arrived yet. The wedding was a pretty standard one, as weddings go, or so people keep telling me. It was hot that day and, in that era before the ubiquity of air conditioning, the front doors of the church were open to catch the breeze, if there were any breezes available to catch. The happy couple were up at the altar getting ready to exchange vows when the youngest brother at the time, the Navy lifer, although at this time the Navy was still a future prospect and not something he was actively seeking out, rolled his big red fire truck up the main aisle of the church. My mother was embarrassed at this behavior, as you might imagine, went up the aisle to retrieve the brother.

The brother did not wish to return to the hard pew or be quiet; small children are uniformly uncooperative in such matters; and when presented with a physical attempt to remove them from where they want to be, they squirm like grafters caught red-handed in mid-peculation on 60 Minutes. He also did not want to leave his fire truck in the middle of the church’s main aisle lest some grown-up decide to appropriate the toy for himself. Small children regard all adults except their own mothers as untrustworthy at best and potential felons at worst, and the brother decided that he wanted his fire-truck back before some larcenous adult made off with it. The brother squirmed for all he was worth; he did not want to leave that fire-truck; and suddenly broke free. He ran down the main aisle, my mother in hot pursuit. He grabbed the truck, stared wide-eyed towards the back of the church, and loudly announced before God and the assembled congregation, “Look, Mommy, Akaky wee-wee.” At this stunning piece of news the congregation, the wedding party, the bride and groom, and the priest all looked to the back of the church to see just what was going on back there.

What was going on is fairly simple to describe, since people have been telling me this story for most of my life. While my mother went up to collect my brother the Navy lifer and my father talked politics with the person sitting next to us in the pew I had taken the opportunity to wander outside and was, at that very moment and purely in a spirit of theological and scientific inquiry, urinating on a statue of the Blessed Virgin and trying to see how high I could get the stream to go. I was about to inundate the Holy Mother’s knees when my mother grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and dragged me off to one side of the church so no one could see her not spare the rod on my backside.

The story lives on, of course, and if everyone who has ever told me over the years that they were in the church that day had actually been in the church, the place would have to be the size of Yankee Stadium. I don’t remember any of this at all, neither my excretory assault on the statue nor the spanking afterwards. I am told that it caused a huge sensation in the church followed by waves of hysterical laughter, so much so that the priest held the wedding up for fifteen minutes so the bride could go into the sacristy and redo her makeup. Apparently she cried so hard her mascara ran her face and she needed to clean up so as to look presentable in the wedding pictures.

Relatives have a bad habit of remembering such things, usually when I want to know when they are going to pay me what they owe me, and constitute an important reason why I don’t see them very often; they don’t want to pay me and I don’t want to lend them more than I have to. I’m sure some of them are very nice people, if only on the basis of the law of averages, but I seem to draw the deadbeats and the knuckleheads the same way magnets draw iron filings or rigged poker games draw suckers. Maybe if I said I’d lost my job they’d go somewhere else for money. It’s an idea.


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