Sunday, July 18, 2004

People don’t understand why I’m often too tired to do anything Saturday night. Or why, on Friday, when they say, "Hey, the weekend’s almost here, aren’t you excited?" I have to force a smile. Or why I have to assert my alone time on Sunday, or as I sometimes call it, Mike Day.

Is it because I work all week, and then go out for drinks and a movie Friday night? Am I worn out from my long run Saturday morning? Or because later I go up to the sweltering San Fernando Valley? As Eugene Jerome said in Biloxi Blues, "This is hot. This is Africa hot. Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of heat."

Or maybe it’s because I spend nearly every Saturday with my mother, grandmother and sister. Now, it’s important to know that I absolutely love my family. They’re all wonderful people who’ve been great to me my whole life.

But they’re crazy.

My mother has been paralyzed from a stroke, and my grandmother is very old, so they can’t get around much or see well. But they look forward to spending time with the family each weekend. My sister Julie usually wants to go on outings, to museums or a movie, partially because it keeps us busy and decreases the chances of family arguments.

Of course, it doesn’t matter. These fights are inevitable. Which is why I’m usually for keeping it mellow. Who needs to drive all over town? And I’m the one who winds up transferring my mother in and out of her wheelchair into the car, into the restaurant, wherever. It gets extra tiring. We can stay home and have our weekly squabbles without me straining my back.

Last weekend, I was relieved that my mom wasn’t in the mood to go to the Long Beach Aquarium. I had told Julie, "Do you know what the traffic is like on the 405?" but that wasn’t good enough. Mom helped me dodge that bullet, saying she wasn’t in the mood for a long drive. So where did Mom want to go?

The 99 cent store.

Great. Don’t ask me why she was fixated on this, but the four of us went. I wheeled my mom through the aisles, and holy shit -- even at under a buck, this stuff wasn’t worth it. Jewelry made of cardboard, brand names that were slightly off: Heintz Ketchup, Milk of Magenta... You’d have to pay me to buy this crap.

Afterwards, we went out for Chinese food. There’s a nearby restaurant we all enjoy – very low key, good food, and surprisingly inexpensive.

But the usual drama began. My grandmother can’t make a decision. And Mom just keeps babbling sometimes, even if the conversation isn’t directed at her. And my sister doesn’t always remember that this is just how they are – you can’t change it; just try to deal with it.

Julie: Grandma, you want a shrimp dish?
Grandma: Well, okay, I guess that would be good.
Julie: They’ve got: Walnut shrimp --
Mom: I don’t want that.
Julie: Shrimp with snow peas –
Mom: I don’t want that either.
Julie: Cashew shrimp –
Mom: I don’t really like cashews –
Julie: Mom, please –
Me: Mom, we ordered a dish for you already.
Mom: What are we getting?
Me: Orange chicken.
Mom: Oh, good, I like that.
Julie: So, grandma, what do you want?
Grandma: Do they have a shrimp dish?
Mom: I don’t like shrimp.
Julie: Mom, I was asking Grandma!
Mom: Don’t you dare talk to me like that!
Julie: Fine. Grandma, what do you want?
Grandma: (stares like a deer in the headlights)
Me: Julie, let’s just get shrimp with snow peas.

That usually doesn’t conclude it. The discussion goes on a lot longer than that, ending up with us ordering shrimp with snow peas, but only after everyone gets even more annoyed with each other.

Yesterday, we did take the trip to Long Beach. The aquarium was great, once we got there. Giant tanks filled with sharks or glowing jellyfish or freaky cowfish or adorable seahorses.

But the usual frustrations played out prior to getting there.

We took my car, which is roomier than my sister’s, so Mom and Grandma could sprawl out in the backseat, while Julie drove, because as a passenger, she gets car sick. Plus I hate driving and she said she knew the way.

After nearly two hours on the road, as we’re getting into Long Beach, Grandma is telling one of her little stories. She’s always repeated the same tales over and over – no one in the family would dare mention certain buzzwords like "eggplant" around her. "Oh, did I ever tell you how your Uncle Barry hated eggplant his whole life, but one day…" Yes, she’s told us this a thousand times.

And in her later years, she’s repeating things with greater frequency. We had rented that documentary, "Spellbound", and she told us three times in the course of the video, "I’ve always been a great speller. I often find myself hearing a word and spelling it out in my head. Do you do that? My favorite word is ‘tintinnabulation’. That’s from this Edgar Allan Poe poem. It’s spelled T-I-N…" Upon the fourth repetition of this, my sister and I looked at each other. We wanted to ask the woman if she was insane, did she not know she just told us this? Or was this a test to see if we were listening?

But Grandma feels offended if you say something – it perhaps reminds her that she’s old and forgetful. So instead we grin and bear it, literally.

Mom, since having the stroke, doesn’t quite have that tact. She groans in the back seat how she’s heard this story since she was a little girl, for chrissakes. Then Grandma gets upset, and Julie turns around and says to let Grandma tell the story again if she wants to. And Mom tells Julie to be quiet; no one was talking to her.

Then Julie looks back and asks me: wait, which way do we want to go here?

I don’t know. I thought she knew the way.

Should she turn here? Where’s the turnoff?!

She’s starting to freak out – I’m grabbing the Thomas Guide – and she’s getting frantic.

Okay, I say, just go straight and if it’s the wrong way, we’ll turn around somewhere.


I forgot – my sister has this phobia about driving on bridges. She can handle canyon roads, narrow tunnels, heavy traffic, but for some reason, bridges freak her out.

We all have our little driving quirks. I personally don’t like being stopped on a steep incline. I hate that roll-back before you get started again. Ya never know if the car in front of you is gonna slide down the hill into your front end, or if your car is gonna wind up banging into that schmuck who’s riding your ass behind you. I probably would never make it in San Francisco.

So there we were, driving over this suspension bridge, my grandmother shaken with insult, my mom pissed off at my sister, and Julie crying hysterically as she’s facing one of her greatest fears.

By the time we turned around and got to the Aquarium, I thought my head was going to explode.

There was the usual interpersonal agita the rest of the day, but it was all anticlimactic after that, and like I said, the aquarium was nice. We all enjoyed it.

That’s why I don’t always look forward to Saturdays. But, hey, now it’s Sunday. I’m gonna relax and take it easy. Happy Mike Day.


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