Town Without Pity
Just once, I want an experience where we throw away 91 cents together.
Albert Brooks to Debbie Reynolds in Mother
Being the oldest in family, and the only girl in my generation, means that pretty much anything I do takes on unimaginably scandalous proportions in my small hometown.
Sometimes I see the reaction coming and can steel myself for the disapprovalusually I dont, and I get blindsided.
Most readers, are for example, familiar with the great Crystal Light debacle of the 90swherein my diabetic family and stepfamily were visiting and, in preparation for their stay, I had bought a little cannister of Crystal Lite lemonade (est. cost approx. $3.99 in Clinton dollars) so I could offer them tasty, sugar-free cold drinks
never realizing the firestorm this would set off. (I think everyone agrees, a couple cans of Dr. Pepper and diabetic comas wouldve been a far preferable outcome.)
In serving what they all viewed as an overpriced luxury item, I had become the profligate daughtergiven to such insane heights of excess and extravagance that I might as well have been caught lighting cigarettes with $100 bills, and extinguishing them with the champagne flowing from my bathroom faucets.
A black sheep.
I can still remember the tear in the corner of my mothers eyethe disappointment that registered in her voice as she recommended the economical alternative that passes for lemonade at their house (a little RealLemon, a little Sweetn Low, she advised, choking back emotion, youd never know the difference.)
Oh sure, I was making a good livinga responsible citizen in the eyes of many. I had a healthy IRA, home equity, and no car payment
but I expect that did nothing to ameliorate the visions of me homelesshuddled over the the Rupp Arena heating vents in a vain attempt to warm myselfthat haunt them to this day.
The cannister is still in my pantryonly one lone, forlorn, ill-conceived container recklessly consumed while three remainforever serving as a cautionary tale of what COULD happen (and had that whole Y2k thing panned out, Id have been set for drinks for at least the first few weeks of the apocalypse).
Thank God for my brother is all I can say.
From Austin. In town for the month.
Who with one savory lasagna managed to obliterate the Crystal Lite episode from our familys collective consciousness.
Years from now, when everyone is gathered at the obligatory funerals and weddings, I am happy to report my prediction that lemonade will have been long surpassed by dairy.
It was scandalous enough that his lasagna called for three, maybe four, kinds of cheese
. (exactly as it does at my house, but were not talkin bout me
.Not anymore, anyway.)
That mightve kept the Episcopalian ladies auxiliary going 'til Christmas: Four, you say?
.? Why I wouldnt know where to begin finding four cheeses for a lasagna? I cant even begin to think
Yes, yes, well, mozzarella, of course
.Parmesan, maybe? And you know theres that ricotta, but we dont eat that kinda stuff at our house
Tastes just like spoiled cottage cheese if you ask me.
That woulda kept em going and sustained the towns conversational mill up through the holidays at a minimum. It wouldve probably become the butt of many an inside dinner joke whenever any wife spooned Ragu over the spaghetti and one of the kids, or perhaps the husband, might ask say, do we have four kinds of cheese to go with this Marge? as he snickered behind his hand and the table erupted with laughter.
Were already talking about an inconceivable culinary and budgetary excess
until you get to the part where ONE wedge of cheese cost
THIRTEEN dollars (and it was probably less than an ounce, if you MUST know).
And thereupon, stunned silence overtook our corner of the world
because this was the kind of thing that takes a few days to absorb before it can become a laughing matter.
But THIRTEEN bucks?
Pour un wedge du FROMAGE?
Just who the hell do we think we are (I imagine the town elders are saying)? Rockefellers? Vanderbilts? Bill Gates?
Have we taken leave of our senses? Set up a meth lab? Started selling oxycontin on street corners? Are we growin weed on the family farm? Stealing hubcaps off cars? Taken up rap and gangsta violence?
Clearly, the only kind of enterprise that would finance such extravagance would be ill-gotten gains.
Equally clearly, this is a shame well all have to bear until it dies down and another teen pregnancy or stabbing comes along to occupy the communal conversation for a few days.
Second, I have painstakingly removed all the price tags from all the cheese in my refrigerator, so that I dont get written out of any of the wills the next time any estate planning is done. (But I still gotta stick up for my brother here in silent approbation: we are not Kraft kidz.)
Im already halfway to being disowned because I dont stock the Sams Club 7 pepper blend in my cupboards (so if you see me crouching behind the refrigerator sprinkling an unknown substance on your food, relax
.Im just grinding fresh pepper as quietly as I can). I guess if I wanted to be less uppity I could scatter the peppercorns right on the table and put a mallet, or a small hammer, at everyones place setting. Right next to the sidearm Ill place under everyones napkin, so they can hunt and kill their own prey in the nearby park.
Because the truth is, I really cant tell whats going to set my family off.
For example, one of my aunts was in town last week and dropped by my office to borrow some books.
Id forgotten to mention her visit to my coworkers in the front of the building, so I felt pretty bad when she was subjected to the usual interrogation that any unannounced drop-in might get here (stopping just short of a full body-cavity search).
One guy held her at bay while another walked back to my office and, with a skeptically arched eyebrow, relayed that Someone who SAYS her name is Kitty is here to see you.
Uhhhhh, yeah, I acknowledged. Thats AUNT Kitty.
To which he replied accusingly, Mmmm-Kkkkkk. Whatever. I dont have her name down. Nobody told me.
(I could picture the inquisition that was probably taking place, Kitty whooooo? Aunt Kitty whoooo?
. followed by ARE YOU EYEBALLIN ME, MAAM
It was a pretty short visit. Uneventful.
She was fine though.
Or so I thought.
By the time I got around to checking in with my mother, Id worked up a nice apology about not leaving Kittys name at the front door so she could come straight back.
That was quickly dismissed in favor of a lengthy conversation about WHY was I running around barefoot?
Apparently, the tom-toms started beating the second my office door closed, and its been the source of some distress in my family for days now.
I usually kick off my shoes when I walk into my house, or my office. Always have. As aberrant behavior goes, it strikes me as pretty innocuous, but the mounting consternation led me to feel a need to inquire further
trying to imagine the source of this dismay.
Well, I ventured, did she say my feet were dirty
Was she worried I dont have any shoes?
Did she think our floors are carpeted in ground glass and I might injure myself?
So I give up. Im just waiting for the next tense family moment when everybodys at a loss for words, which is when I plan to tell them I cant afford shoes anymore cause I spent my LAST thirteen bucks on cheese. n