A little fellow and people who love and fear him snag stray thoughts.
At last, it was baby Andrew’s very own day. Never mind he was two months shy of three years old and none but Aunt Kar – pronounced “care” – brought tortes or cookies or any other mouthwatering little gifts, the merry cupcakes with frosting parapets to nibble or to mush. A child might once in his life be allowed to take a colorful plastic fork and splatter viscous sugar when it’s his day!
Aunt Kar purchased a quart of whole milk early that morning. Skim milk, she opined, was not festive, for it had the color of ordinary cotton underwear that had been washed a hundred times.
Whole milk! Glorious whole milk, as snow white as the well-folded, ultra-fluffy terrycloth bath towels of her daydreams, the amenities of colossal five star hotels so far and different from home sour home. Kar made sure the expiration date was many, many days away by sorting through two entire shelves. She got the very freshest carton, not the last of the lot which supermarket stockers had moved to the front with corrupt assurance, albeit by standard FIFO practice, that most of their valued if not respected customers weren’t as scrupulous and thoughtful an auntie as she.
Kar had the happy picture in her mind of the milk moustache and cake crumbs and a lick or two of red, white, and blue frosting – the colors of the American flag, she yearned – after Andrew ate the first slice and washed it down with moo. Her angelic mother and beloved father and sweet brothers and sisters gave milk that name, once upon a time.
“Moo!” she heard in her reverie, with hope that every member of the family she belonged to now, her husband JoJo, his brothers, the grandmother, the close family friends, would “Moo!” as one voice when baby Andrew washed down the honored first slice of christening cake with a gulp of the aforementioned.
“Moo!” she daydreamed. “Moo!” She dreamed with open eyes, because she knew this family. They were the good-for-nothing Gusses, the disgraceful exception within the family dwelling ideal of Alder Avenue and Yolanda Drive. They were the shame within the city limits of San Anselmo. Reeky and ramshackle and behind in their property taxes. But for baby Andrew and, she prayed, herself, the Guss home was an abomination unto the American middle class.
3) Aunt Kar’s eyes were open, but she dreamed of many members of the Guss family pitching in. Dreams in vain of a family effort to move all the parlor furniture to the walls. Then baby Andrew clearly would be the center of attention on his baptism day. The dream was peaceful as tumbling flower petals and breezes of her mother’s angel wings. Kar had left the home of kind God-fearing parents and cleaved unto JoJo, uncle of Andrew. In this daydream, the entire Guss household and habitual Sunday drop-ins surrounded the baby and eagerly bestowed smiles and gifts.
“Moo!” she whispered, carton of fresh white milk in hand. But Kar knew. No one would bring a gift. The furniture would stay where it was. “More than probable,” she sighed, breaking off her reverie. It would be life as usual until the last second, when one Guss or another – now Kar merely was envisioning – yapped, “Right!” Some might pull back their legs to slouch in a different direction. Then Kar could approach by ginger steps through the sprawl of feet, carrying a tray of comestible tributes for the baptism boy.
Kar knew this family. Granny Guss would say, “Well, look who’s here!” and beam at the baby for ten seconds, as if Andrew wasn’t already just a few feet away from her lumpy recliner, watchful in his way, and Granny, in degraded form, in hers.
To Kar, baby Andrew was a love. To the lumpy Guss grand-matriarch who was nearly indistinguishable by color and features from her overstuffed chair, baby Andrew was a reminder of something basic, although she’d long forgotten what. He had remarkable warning eyes. He was vigilant, like a hawk. He was self-protective in a way that forced her to care, although that, too, was an inchoate feeling. She raised a stink if family didn’t jump to it when she dropped her empty banana cake tins, lest the lingering aroma draw pests to two precious yards of carpet which lay between his crib and her sitzplace, their mutual sphere of influence where multitudes of Gusses feared to tread, and other sentients died trying.
Picking his nose so engrossed John Guss while he waited for a blueberry smoothie that he didn’t hear the Mayor of San Anselmo express “Like . . .” with a heavy helping of sarcasm.
John silently said, “Winner!” then found a sure adhesive niche under the table. His ears were warm and pink from gratification, and the rest of the mayor’s pronouncement was clear: “. . . San Anselmo really needs another restaurant.”
He thought it was insider information. It was just the thing, of all things! He needed to do something fast with the bequest he’d gotten from The Crazy Lady. For a few years he’d hung around her house close to town – as filthy an abode as the ramshackle Guss habitat which was, as stated, a disgrace, the anathema of avenues Alder and Yolanda – letting the crazy old bat cook meals for him, loan him coffee change he never repayed, and give him the keys to her late model Saab convertible for drives by himself to the taverns of west Marin. He also had convinced her that he was Elvis.
“I love Elvis!” she said.
“Then . . .” said John, twisting his wrist, beckoning for the obvious conclusion as he leaned closer to the old lady, who had no other friends.
“You’re Elvis? You didn’t die? Can you still sing ‘Love Me Tender’?”
“One thought at a time, Edna. You love Elvis, so . . .”
“I love Elvis so. Yes. Indeed. Yes indeedeedoo.” She hummed.
Maybe harmony instead of logic, John mused. He hummed along until she switched without a clue to “When The Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along.”
“I never performed that one. Not even in Vegas.”
“Huh? That hearing aid you sold me isn’t all you cracked it up to be, John.”
“You were saying about Elvis, that you love Elvis . . .”
“I do love Elvis.”
“And who am I? . . .” he crooned. “And who are you? And who am I? And who is Elvis?” John would have swept her into his arms and off her feet for a waltz around the room, but The Crazy Lady was as plunked into her chair as Granny Guss was back home. “Elvis is who? Who am I? I am Elvis. You are Edna. Elvis and Edna. Edna and Elvis. And so, and so, and so . . . And so?”
“I love Elvis.”
“And so!” he crooned still, with Sergio Franchi-like phonemes to drive the case home. John knew The Crazy Lady was basically pre-Elvis – all the Perry Como music he’d endured waiting for his ham and cheese sandwiches to come to completion with Edna’s trademark Thud! when she cut the slices of gluten bread in half.
It went on interminably, his crooning, his waving, rolling hand, his studious proximity, and John thought he was going to be late for baby Andrew’s, his son’s, christening party.
But finally she said, “I love you!”
“And I love you, Edna! You’re the mother I never had! Oh, I love you, too!”
Liar! Granny Guss lived and swatted, by some local lore lived to swat, bugs just a ten minute walk away. But the brief renouncement paid the vast dividend of half a million dollars cash, plus the Saab, bequeathed in Edna’s will to John Guss (an assumed name, he had assured her, in order to protect Lisa Marie).
Long standing ambitions thus could come true.
Granny Guss was worn out from the waiting. She lobbed her flyswatter to baby Andrew and said if his daddy wasn’t “dawdling like Deacon somewhere, I’dahaddabig blue baptism ribbon on it for ya. Surewoulda, Baby Drew. Sure woulda. Bigandblue and shiny as a . . . uh . . .”
Waiting wore her out and she couldn’t think.
“Can’t think! Even though I’m ambidextrous!”
Andrew took the flyswatter as his own and fulfilled the mimetic urge which is the key to early learning. He swung hard as his tiny arms allowed and smote three flies. To the extent his toddler’s mind could stretch, he intuited three as a magic number. “Like A-B-C, and like the holy trinity, from whose sanctifying grace I’ve so far been deprived due to the tardiness or complete absence of my male parent. When are they ever going to get this baptism and the subsequent christening party together? It’s not Aunt Kar’s fault that this pod of petty thieves, petty moochers, petty scrounges, petty liars, and petty no-good lie-abouts that is my family forces postponements.” He was a toddler in the sense that he was mostly confined to his crib, due to bad parenting, but he was two years and ten months old, and in many ways spry.
Unless Aunt Kar was home, baby Andrew knew only brief spates of affection and attention, just some sentimental flotsam during the rising tides of household drunkenness and adulterated peyotism. He overcompensated when he could.
His tiny tot’s intellect swung into operation again, recalling his mother’s gibberish. It was full of numbers, and three was her favorite. The ideational amalgam of love of mother, group extermination, and just-manifested mimesis further prompted the feeling that three was a special number. Ants were in the house always; now they intruded upon the six proprietary feet of carpet between his crib and Granny’s huge chair. He looked for three of them in a row.
“Something about the boy,” Granny said, still huffing from the effort it took to toss the flyswatter over the crib rail. She was miffed and intrigued all at once: “Why’d Kar have to have a damn christening party when it was time to watch Regis and Kelly? . . . Eyeslikahawk. Them ants and them flies dead as doornails. Eyes like Monsignor’s, too. The good monsignor . . .”
Swat! Swat! Swat! Swat!
“Send ‘em a message, little Drew!” Granny Guss was re-animated by baby Andrew’s flailing arms. He could kill the intrepid insects, who looked where they had no business of looking.
Swatswatswat! “Geed ‘em, Deadeye!” She took her eyes off Kelly Ripa and Reeg to see baby Andrew swat those that dared march. There would be no procession on the two sacrosanct yards of carpet ‘twixt crib and recliner, not with her christening day gift in the baptism boy’s hands. It was fond-making for Granny Guss that the boy was ambidextrous, like her. With his new flyswatter, he could annihilate the foes left and right. For years she giggled only when Kelly Ripa made her giggle, but she giggled now, glad to see talent in the family again after an entire skip-generation, glad to see the ants and flies morbidly flattened.
Granny Guss wanted to shout, Gee! Gee! Haw! Haw!
She settled for something as succinct, but in its mellifluousness more compatible with her blood pressure:
“Send ‘em a message.”
Flies, ants, sourbugs, centipedes – all smashed.
“Yahoo, baby Drew!” Granny Guss shouted for joy. “Send ‘em a message! Send ‘em a message!”
Uncle Joe wandered into the room and with a kick sent a wastebasket flying, because it was in the way. Everything seemed to be in Uncle Joe’s way.
“I wish my name was Drew,” he mumbled.
Baby Andrew’s father, John, emerged from nowhere and heard Granny Guss get in the dig that he was late. “Well look who’s here.” He had half a mil cash and a clean-as-a-whistle Saab convertible, and had stopped saying, “Aww, Maaaa,” ever since. His brother JoJo, Kar’s husband, knew that he, too, was late for something. When it dawned on him, he slapped his forehead. He was supposed to pick up the cake. Aunt Kar cursed. It was an admitted failing. She watched herself constantly in order not to edge baby Andrew closer to the Guss family’s infinite downward spiral, but the profanity beginning with “D” that she expressed was inexorable. She was furious that the christening cake evidently sat in The Rustic Bakery in Larkspur, not on the dining room table in the sordid San Anselmo home anathematized by Alder and Yolanda neighbors.
“D___, d___, d___!” she cried.
It was a mistake to repeat the imprecation three times, because a fire thus was lighted under Drew’s mother. She was up, up, and away with another litany of numbers as she walked worried circles.
“Sorry,” JoJo slurred, pro forma.
Swat! Swat! Swat! Swat!
“Gee haw!” Granny Guss yelled in spite of her chronic torpor. “Get over here and sweep them dead critters off baby Drew’s and my carpet, boy.”
“Aww, Maaaa,” John complained, the old habit not quite extinct.
Granny Guss’s shouts drew most of the family to her and baby Drew’s purview. Even the Sunday drop-ins turned sideways to take a look. By the time they realized Sunday had come and gone along with Monday and that it was Tuesday, they also knew it was time to move on. All the beer and the booze and the street drugs were gone, and Aunt Kar was radioactive about protecting the carton of whole milk, the only ingestible left in the house. Word had spread that JoJo forgot to pick up the christening party cake. Everyone who needed to know the time knew it was between nine and ten in the morning, because jolly LIVE! WITH REGIS AND KELLY was on. The parasites, or “real people,” depending on one’s politics, who’d come from wood-on-dirt cottages in the Fairfax hills or from certain apartment buildings located in “on the upswing” San Rafael neighborhoods, hadn’t two nickels to rub together and were loathe to suggest a coffee run, lest they be forced to admit to empty pockets. Their need for coffee was strong. Deferred gratification was not in order, no matter how eagerly they anticipated fresh trouble arriving at the Guss household by Wednesday (an eternal recurrence of annoyance, mildly put, for the good citizens of avenues Alder and Yolanda). They strayed off, ignominiously walking half a mile to downtown San Anselmo where there was a cool world of cafes and fresh opportunity to mooch. Some had cars, but they were uneasy about starting them. They’d become clear-headed enough for vague recollections of gauges indicating Empty, or about histories of deferred maintenance since the moment of taking title.
JoJo curled into a fetal position in his bedroom. It was the logical response, at home, to flubbing the dub, forgetting to get the cake which was the centerpiece of his nephew’s christening day celebration. He didn’t expect anyone to come knocking. The cake was supposed to surprise baby Drew; moreover, little Drew was in his crib, stuck there like any infant. In short, baby Drew was both unaware and, perforce, incapable, so he wouldn’t be crashing down the door. Nor would Kar, who was too steamed. JoJo could just see her eyes shut while she thought of the lapse of memory and the dereliction of duty which absolutely would be interpreted as betrayal. He didn’t want to face her for awhile.
He doubted that anyone else noticed or knew. Everyone in the Guss home except Kar and baby Andrew did “their own thing.” He remembered that phrase, from his own baby days. Another was “No appointments, no disappointments.” And that far-off conversation he’d overheard at the Tiny Tots School concerning child-rearing: it was all about “letting it happen.”
He pondered each phrase, and how it had affected him, made him who he was now at age thirty-four. He wanted to blame Kar for blaming him. He knew she was blaming him. “Makes sense,” he conceded, curled on top of the quilt.
As he lay there, he saw himself looking like a comma. It was a good shape for letting God’s blessings rain down upon him. First of all, he asked for forgiveness with regard to the christening cake. Then he asked for money. Next, a Lamborghini. He realized he was being silly, and possibly was committing blasphemy. He was tired, tired as a young man could be who nearly always flubbed the dub.
“I’ll let you figure it out,” he prayed. “You must know what I need even better than I do. You’re God.”
It was baby Andrew’s christening day, a good day for prayer.
JoJo swore he had the perfect schedule.
8:50 Roll ‘em out. [“‘em” was himself. JoJo once took an adult education class about the Dalai Lama at Sir Francis Drake High School, just across the creek, and noticed his sloppy language converged with sophisticated notions of The One, in case he ever had to stand in defense of Guss household parlance.]
8:51 or thereabouts, to 8:58 Scratch for coffee; dress (change socks and other items); get inside bathroom, lock, cough.
9:00 Hit the living room sofa and catch Kelly walk onto the set.
9:30 latest Fire up.
9:35 Order fresh coffee from the Drake canteen according to the protocols of the Marijuana For Coffee deal. Say a little prayer for President Reagan, RIP.
10:00 Go to bed.
10:02 Boink Kar, if she is in the room.
16:00 Wake up and roll ‘em out.
16:01 to midnight Let it happen.
00:01 to 8:49 Free time. Some sleep.
The perfect schedule. Kar didn’t agree. She got agitated over it, but what did she know? Miss Goody Gumdrops. The Dalai Lama taught there was “perfection in everything.” Or, mused JoJo with the help of some encrusted mescaline in the night table doilly, was that the dude who used to be in Oregon with all the Rolls Royces and the purple people?