11 Eat your spaghetti, Kelly Ripa

September 1, 2007

“Gee! Haw! Gee! Haw! Yippie! Yahoo!”
The screams turned old mildew in the cracks to dust.
JoJo tore out of the bedroom, thinking Granny Guss had keeled over during an ad and some firm lumpy part of her squished the remote for a channel switch. Briefly stated, he thought he heard Jessica Simpson on the mechanical bull in her “These Boots Are Made For Walking” video. He wanted to see it again and entreated, “Go for the gusto, Jessica.”
But Granny Guss was far from a return to drowsy, drooling form. There was a dizzy cruise ship commercial within the second-hand Bang & Olufsen screen, and before the station break, JoJo presumed, Kelly had pouted directly at the camera, keeping Granny Guss’s torpor at bay by forcing a question mark into her mind: Why was Kelly pouting, and what would Regis say?
“Rock ’em and sock ’em, baby Drew! Gee haw! Club ’em Alley Oop style! Hi yo dinosaur!”
Baby Drew put his newly acquired flyswatter to excellent use, with Granny Guss egging him on. Delirious studio applause shook the normally stolid Bang & Olufsen speakers.
“Aw, s___,” JoJo grumbled. He liked Kelly, but she was looking lately, sometimes, like an extra-terrestrial, and he’d had other things on his mind when he bolted from the bedroom to catch a glimpse of juicy ephemera like Jessica. He pivoted for the return trip to the bedroom. As he closed the door, he heard Regis say, “We’re back.” Until then, to accompany the slaughter of any household pest within flyswatter length of the baby crib, Granny Guss screamed, “Send ’em a message! Send ’em a message, little Drew! Send ’em a message!”

12 Every ant and fly, hammered

September 1, 2007

“Send ’em a message!” Drew repeated silently, mimicking Granny Guss. It was, as noted before, how babies learned. He reflected and quoted her again. “Send ’em a message.” Then interrogatively, he turned it into an apercu of history and intent and diction. “Send ’em a message?” He questioned the very use.
“Egad!” thought baby Drew (as always, in infantile approximations of the vernacular represented here. It may have taken shape something like “‘g’!”). “Wasn’t that a political slogan, and a perverse one, to put it mildly? Yes, yes, ’twas George Wallace’s slogan, and a mean way of putting things, indeed. Not exactly ‘I Like Ike.'”
Baby Drew was the exception to the rule. Constant exposure to television was not harmful to him. In lieu of parental devotion, he soaked up the lessons of The History Channel and its facsimiles whenever Granny Guss keeled over from somnolence and squashed the remote in that edifying way. No one in the household dared dislodge it, so the baby watched uninterrupted instruction for hours and hours while the Guss Family pageant ran limitlessly.
“A churlish slogan, not at all nice,” baby Drew goo-gooed. “On the other hand . . .” he paused (“O’h’h’r [with a gurgle worthy of stylish denizens of the 4th Arrondissement] ‘nd”), and hammered away at every ant and fly in reach.

13 A non-operating 1978 Olds on the lawn

September 1, 2007

Aunt Kar picked up baby Andrew under his little shoulders and bore him out of the crib.
“Time for a walk, baby. This place is dis-Guss-ting.”
There was a little bit of steam between her ears, a little bit of anger, a little bit of despair, but Aunt Kar still made sure there was room for a bit of laughter.
Drew understood puns, even at age two years, ten months. He laughed so gaily and bounced so much on the sacred six feet of carpet that Granny Guss snuffled awake and groggily told him to send a message to the ubiquitous “’em.”
Little Drew mimicked George Wallace’s cracker accents in response. “The only good hippie is a dead hippie.” Good, he stressed. Dead, he stressed. But it was pronounced in a manner befitting an infant. As he uttered, “‘y g’ ‘ie d’d ‘ie,” Aunt Kar didn’t understand. She held his little hand and marched to the porch.
“Beautiful Yolanda Drive,” she said. “Beautiful shade trees, beautiful wide street, beautiful respectable homes, and the beauty of being off the over-traveled path. We’re so lucky to live here, our rotten situation notwithstanding. So close to the schools, yet some significant steps away from the sidewalks en route on which the pseudo-ragamuffins scrape their soles to and fro.”
“G’b’g’g’g’g’.” Baby Drew agreed. In light of existential authenticity as he understood it from a C-Span lecture concommitant to a Granny Guss jackknife over the remote, he wasn’t comfortable seeing children of millionaires dressed daily like gutter rats.
“Someday you can go to Drake High, too!”
“G’g’g’g’g’g’!” He thought of vast playing fields.
“Step carefully, baby Drew!” The front steps were crumbling, as ever.
“There’s Uncle Joe!”
Uncle Joe was in his non-operating 1978 Oldsmobile, parked on the front lawn i.e. parched grass, thistles, cigarette butts, and bare spots where an architect’s plans must at one time have indicated an affable green expanse. The forlorn vehicle and its forlorn occupant reminded Drew of the House of Usher. (The Biography Channel/Granny Guss enflopped full length.)
“Say hi to your Uncle Joe, little Drew!”
Uncle Joe nodded back, grudgingly. He muttered, as was his wont – in truth, it was a compulsion – “I wish my name was Drew.”
Drew screeched. Aunt Kar’s first thought was Joe had made an unbecoming gesture. Then she saw.
“Motherf______!” Joe kicked open the passenger door, as necessary due to rust, and emerged to the full extent of his stature. His chest swelled. His knuckles manifested fury and a tattoo per: H I W A Y 2 H E L L
Baby Drew bounced up and down like a West Point ring knocker seeing his first fire fight.
Exceptions Aunt Kar had taken to Uncle Joe were for the moment suspended. “F______ louses! Vermin! Ferets! Bourgeois slime. Nothing from nothing!”
“G-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g’!” Bellicose was baby’s stuttering. The situation in the oak shade was not an idyll.
A few bicyclists strayed off Saunders Avenue, something of a thoroughfare. They pedalled along Yolanda Drive in the charmed circle it made with Alder Avenue. Although perhaps a mistake, they had no right.
The view from the front lawn, as it were, was pointed: bicyclists had no right to exist.

14 Rambo, Marshal Dillon, Nietzsche, baby Drew

September 1, 2007

The sluicing sound of skinny bicycle tires on respectable gray pavement, and three hunched-over bodies passing Yolanda Drive’s colonnade of oaks, alerted little Drew to another Guss family tradition. He jumped up and down as if Granny Guss were shouting out of her twisted grin to “Send ’em a message!” Then half a dozen gunshots cracked the serenity in San Anselmo’s gem – in fact, a gem unsurpassed of American upper middle class neighborhoods. A moment before, the three bicyclists had disappeared where Yolanda Drive joined Alder Avenue. Aunt Kar beamed. “Rambo!” Uncle Joe screamed. But little Drew’s excitement abated in the same flash. It was not street justice being meted out to the lycra sapiens, the flies, the ferets, the scum of the earth as bicyclists were deemed within the Guss household, even by one like Kar, practically a saint. It was the kindly, hard-of-hearing Racanellis watching “Gunsmoke” with their window open.
“Thus Spake Drewathustra,” the infant said to himself in goo-goo language, devoid of the usual plethora of hard consonants. He was an intimate of The Western Channel, as well, during many of Granny Guss’s smotherings of the remote, and of his father’s Nietzschean ravings. Thus the Guss family vituperation for bike riders, a questionable ideal, observed, as ever, in vain.
Drew knew the sixth shot was Marshal Dillon’s.

15 It’s Madison time (You’re looking good)

September 1, 2007

Aunt Kar took little Drew's hand to stroll the neighborhood and enjoy baby's christening day. Perhaps it was as God intended. "Things happen for a reason," she said lightly, aware of the pinch of didacticism. There was still time for the christening party to begin, but perhaps there was a reason God intended it not to. A lesson by inference, if Drew was listening. "We can amble gently o'er sidewalks of cement and stone, past friendly facades, yea, within earshot of normal wicker chat on proud porches." Believing the bicyclists had been gunned down, she pronounced the prospects for the stroll safe.
"U's'k b'g f's 'd," Drew said with an expectant look at his aunt. He meant [though by now the interpolations may be evident] "It was 'Gunsmoke.' The big flies aren't dead."
He thought bicyclists, because of their shiny and flamboyant sleekness, were merely much larger specimens of the pests he killed daily, previously by any means possible, presently with his gift from Granny Guss.
"Then the neighborhood isn't safe!" Kar declared. They would have to wait to see them ride away, out of the other conjunction of Yolanda and Alder. Or, Kar wouldn't be surprised, they might find an easement or even trespass to make their way to the creek, there to smoke their pot and have sex after admiring each other's bottoms during the course of the bike ride. "And that's public property!"
She thought her nephew was quite the little man about San Anselmo in his natural hemp shoes and drawstring trousers. His suede tunic fit perfectly. He was dressed for comfort and style and – a sudden twinge – his baptism, rather his latent baptism. No one brought a present, Monsignor hadn't shown up, JoJo forgot the cake; grievance upon grievance upon grievance.
Yet Aunt Kar forebore, and to turn lemons into lemonade, she thought a little dance lesson would be a delightful pastime on the front lawn, as it were, until the neighborhood had an all-clear about the bicyclists.
"It's Madison time!" she twittered. "Get up!"
Uncle Joe had returned to his grounded Olds but hadn't gotten into his seat. He stood facing the driver's side window, and carefully observing his reflection in it, he snarled, "I love my country." When Kar made the Madison call, he turned around.
Did she ever forbear! he thought. His brother's wife was a fox. Kinda blond, not too tall, not prissy about her looks but careful about her health and dressed like she cared about someone besides herself, she kept that sexy thing.
"Step . . ."
Drew was an adept. He'd taken to solo dancing like Switzerland to hospitality.
"Clap," Aunt Kar called. Uncle Joe was offended at first, then quickly understood.
Drew clapped his little hands, and when Aunt Kar called "Turn," he turned on the beat and exactly copied the brief shimmy she threw in.
Uncle Joe tried to join, with the excuse of making a longer line. It was, after all, a line dance.
"No–shoo!"
"N' sh' g'bf!" This time the baby didn't copy perfectly. Nevertheless, it was two against one, and Joe retreated to the driver's seat, lit a Kool, and thought about Kar's shoulders shaking.
Uncle Joe French-inhaled and yearned to dance with her.
Dance? I know that you, esteemed Reader, have already deduced that the soul-saving euphemism is a veil for "boink."
Uncle Joe wanted to boink Kar although she belonged to his brother JoJo, who sometimes did, and always wanted to, boink her. Pretty much everyone in San Anselmo wanted to boink Kar, from the cafe scruffs to the burgermeisters and many of their neglected wives – the wives who would be frisky, to paraphrase Kipling. They'd give up their BMW X5's for it, some with their children inside.
"You're lookin' good."
Drew pirouetted, much as he did when he swatted flies, but with a barely perceptible bob, more properly a wobble, a move peculiar to infants, and becoming to them.
"Those adjustable ankle straps giving you the boss line!"
Clapping hands, Drew sang, "'s 'e 'd'n" on and on.
It's The Madison, it's The Madison, it's The Madison . . . until the bicylists were seen swooshing away.

16 Mohammed and the mountain

September 1, 2007

“All clear!” came the Neighborhood Watch signal closeby on Yolanda Drive.
With the area secure, Aunt Kar added a backbone-slip move to conclude The Madison lesson, and decided because the mountain wasn’t coming to Mohammed, she’d bring Mohammed to the mountain. Once more she took baby Andrew’s hand. They turned in the direction of downtown and set off for a bakery.

17 Engels, Marx, Mel Blanc’s mistress, Alley Oop

September 1, 2007

Ross Valley was the only homeowner under forty in Kent Woodlands that the old-timers with the really, really good properties didn’t call a little twirp. He heard that on the grapevine. It was flattering. It made him feel at home. The acceptance came for a lot of reasons, but one revolving in the superstructure like Twyla Tharp was the deal maker or breaker. Ross didn’t mess with the women, not their spouses, their daughters, or more likely, their granddaughters. He was between wives but not houses, and they didn’t begrudge him his “4 by 40” because he evinced so much respect for the latter. And he was friendly, like the whole world was when the old coots grew up. They always were glad to accept his drop-by invitations for coffee poolside – even their wives were were glad, and it glowed – because often there was a familiar covergirl or actress on the premises who was just as congenial as he. Some casual glamor, a touch of L.A. which was no problem for the old-timers because they were Californians, not one of the contemporary pinprick personalities all about the county.
Ross wanted to give something back beyond his fidelity to the original vision of Kent Woodlands. He’d kept the perimeters nearly what they were when he acquired the house. Some critical improvements, not enlargements, obviated the taint of petrification. But he was stumped. Ordinarily, he’d make the call and the Frisco Ninja would be on the case. But Frisco was busy with his mission of getting the straight women of San Francisco off their P’s and V’s – Prozac, Paxil, Valium, Vicodin, ad nauseum. Nubile in the crazy Members Only city, they walked around in a fog.
The phone rang.
“Thanks, be-a-b-be-a-be-a-bea-baby,” he smiled. The careful stuttering was part of the ride. His companion starred in a major studio film, just released, as Mel Blanc’s mistress.
He accepted the phone. One of his “ears” presently was sipping coffee in downtown San Anselmo, and listening to town talk. There was a baby who was a stone motherf_____ with a flyswatter. Like a little Alley Oop. “He’s the toughest man there is alive!”
Ross’s first thought was about the conversation last Sunday with old Mr. _____ and his lovely wife, _____. He thought, too, how the Frisco Ninja’s mission seemed indefinite.
The old duffer had gotten quite exercised, quite pointed, yet with certain nicety of form which respected his wife’s slight morning headache. The intensity in his voice increased, but not its volume, to not disquiet the basic assumption underlying the flagstone deck as well as the natural intention of roses, lemon trees, bougainvillea and the oaks near and around the pool: “Kent Woodlands’ Covenants, Codes, and Restriction’s are well conceived, very well written. But how are they enforced? That’s right. How. Are. They. Enforced. Period and punctuation point!”
Ross wanted to give something back to the community, to their respect for elbow room and decent taste; in short, to the cause of “the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms” not just “that single, unconscionable freedom – Free Trade.” Which latter the punks, with their 10,000 square feet proposals, rushed squealing to for help.
He shook his head fondly. “Ah, Karl, Frederick . . . the Kent Woodlands Property Owners Association needs you.”
His starfriend applied her fingernail lightly to Ross’s bare shoulder, like stardust.
“A penny for your thoughts,” she said, with no particular motive for staring besides looking at him and listening.
He loved her that moment for not trying to start a conversation about David Hockney’s show at the LACMA, as one of the provincials closeby yonder might. So far away, anyway. Here was a clear and beautiful morning ten miles as the bird flies from the Pacific Ocean, north of the Golden Gate.
“Andrew Guss,” he answered. “You might be hearing about him someday.” He knew it was already filed. None of the people Ross Valley counted on, even for pleasure, frittered things away.

18 Town&Country “Special Advertising Section”

September 1, 2007

Ross was on the phone with Alain de Tochigi, the legendary but elusive Frisco Ninja.
“Hey, Chops- . . .”
“Not like nickname!” Frisco wanted to be called Frisco or Monsieur de Tochigi, or Alain.
“Just getting a rise out of you, mon ami. In case propinquity with all those sedated ladies was coolin’ you.”
“Not happen!”
“Getting any results? Maybe I should say are they getting any?”
“Maybe!”
“Listen, man,” Ross said, all business. “I don’t know the drill yet about enforcing Covenants, Codes, and Restrictions, but bucolic Kent Woodlands has turned into a construction site. You know that song, ‘They Paved Paradise and Put In A Parking Lot’? Close. It’s all about fences and gates, big, pneumatic, Fortress Kent Woodlands gates, and long, high don’t-look-don’t-touch fences. Is this Marvelous Marin or is it ol’ East Berlin?”
“Stop joke!”
“It’s either the Modern Bride Magazine view of life, or maybe a sophomore-year-abroad aesthetic. The new homes here after the tear-downs are dreams come true, then paranoia is tacked on retroactively. Very like schizophrenia like that, where the poor souls maintain their facial aspect, the deepest part of their expressions, that they had when their first breakdown occurred. Either way, a rut is taking root.”
“See what you mean!”
“Yeh, walling off humanity and nature, you dig, my beautiful ninja brother?”
“Not brother! I humble San Francisco gardener! You very rich, live high on hill!”
“That’s the way the wind blows,” Ross replied, to even the playing field. “So how is your garden growing?”
“Today,” said the Frisco Ninja, with the current turned down, “six lovely ladies. Very nice ladies. Looking for love in all the wrong places. Forget San Francisco, try Milwaukee, I tell them. Then I tell baseball and beer joke about Mel Famey. Half hour later, laugh.”
“The Valium version of Chinese food.”
“Ah so.”
In an effort to steer them back to concupiscence, the Frisco Ninja had taken the ladies to the top of Telegraph Hill to view Coit Tower up close.
“I say, stare hard! Lovely long granite shaft!”
Ross asked if it really was granite.
“Don’t know! Hard enough whatever! Stick straight up! Everyone like!”
“So, they’ll see the tower, jutting like it’s snapped to attention, and maybe some memories will begin to come forward . . .”
“Ah so! I make doctors give permission! No psychotropic meds today! Today, ham and cheese sandwich!”
“Down to earth,” agreed Ross. “A deli in North Beach, I have no doubt.”
“Ah so.” The Frisco Ninja demanded: “Why you want talk! Time to give lecture. ‘Al Green, Prince of Love’.”
“Think they can relate to that old time stuff?”
“I quote line: ‘My baby loves the one night stand, and so does all the fellas in the band.’ Make ask questions! Have energy! Ham and cheese!”
“Well,” Ross demurred. These alternative therapies. . . . But the Frisco Ninja’s succeeded when all the others were just quixotic.
Ross continued, “I need some insurgency, some sanctions, some way to give the Kent Woodlands Property Owners Association fists of stone. You. But you’re on a job that ain’t going to quit. I don’t know how many straight women there are in San Francisco over twenty-one, but I think you’ve got a job for life. So I want you to just block out some time, for a consultation only. There’s this kid in San Anselmo . . .” Ross told Frisco what he’d heard, that baby Drew had the chops, “. . . but legally, morally, ethically – even if he is fully suited to carry out some, ah, aesthetic cleansing – I cannot ask him to work until he’s christened.”
“Ah so,” Alain de Tochigi, the Frisco Ninja, said with equanimity. He interrupted what he was about to say to Ross and shouted, “Mayonnaise! Okay! Mustard! Okay! Ketchup! No!” The sudden directives were outlets for consternation which the calm conversation with Ross had suppressed. There was especial antipathy deep in the Frisco Ninja’s soul for white trash who would degrade the landscape of Kent Woodlands. Rich wankers, he called them, in the patois of San Francisco gardeners. If it were true that this baby Drew was successfully emulating Alley Oop, then it would be the Frisco Ninja’s imperative and privilege to work with the flywatter-empowered “mean motor scooter and bad go-getter” soon upon a long-awaited baptism.

19 Sin in the parish

September 1, 2007

Monsignor Quinn blew on his coffee and smacked the morning newspaper with his free hand. When he finally folded it to fit between his cup and the cafe table gewgaws, he relaxed, sipped, and gazed around. In his bountiful valley parish, San Anselmo and Ross, religion was a tough sell. Home ownership in the two towns conferred a cosmological non plus ultra. Everyone believed they’d already arrived and the world arrived around them. Why should souls so favored by Providence flood the St. Anselm’s rectory, as if they were at risk? They felt they could die happily just as they were, were there not so many toys still to buy. Even Monsignor was gobsmacked – despite his vow of poverty – by the current, glorious Mercedes SL but wondered and worried over its next iteration.
Although it was not the greatest time in American history to put it like this, and perhaps unChristian as well, he told himself that by entering the Plip Plop Coffe Shop he was bringing Mohammed to the mountain. And there they were, the sinners of Ross Valley, before ten in the morning, the haute bourgeoise who must have their coffee in public, dressed quite like their children, only less imaginatively. They looked like gutter rats, too, but without interest. Slobs, rather. Complacency Chic, Monsignor had heard it called, “. . . strike the chic.” Understatement ad absurdum.
In walked a toddler in fashionable cabana clothes with an uncannily sexy minder. It was Aunt Kar and her precocious charge.
“Oops,” Monsignor muttered. The surface of his coffee became choppy, as if a sign.

20 Whoopee – the Cushion

September 1, 2007

In normal circumstances, such as a coronation in Monaco or a gilded yet graceful bow at The Cotillion or, less promisingly but quite fateful, Armageddon, baby Drew would be noticed. But as he approached the counter in the San Anselmo coffee shop, hand in hand with Aunt Kar, he was nary a blip. Monsignor Quinn took note, of course, but his peculiar alertness was induced by guilt. Yet instead of an act of contrition for forgetfulness – Sloth, perhaps, was the subsuming sin – he said, “Oops” and hid behind The Sporting Green. He plotted a way out the side door, by which he would slip over the wood bridge to take the wrong, long route to the Guss house, to appear there in fifteen minutes or so, able to say truthfully that he’d gone the wrong way and was late. As prolegomena to administering the sacrament of baptism, they would be, indeed, facts, if he could sneak by a few tables without the glint of purple silk and the mass of his black robe attracting attention.
For everyone else except the counter person and the barrista, the prevailing attitude made manifest was self-absorption.
Then a lazy fly circled a bicyclist who sat splay-legged at the table nearest baby Drew. The cyclist’s cling-top rivaled the sheen on any number of insects, and while little Andrew took a swing and missed the fly, it would be hard to judge the attempt as inaccurate because to the toddler the images before him were simply fly upon fly. He hit the cyclist in the dawdling posture. The lazy horsefly buzzed away with an aura of complacency. The bicyclist hit the floor.
Baby Drew hopped and, in something of a grace note upon The Madison, bopped, glad to fulfill Granny Guss’s exhortation to “Send ’em a message.”
The sound of the stricken body, the violent sudden contact with the floor, wasn’t Thud or even Oomph; it seemed more like Oomph spelled backwards and enunciated as though at least four syllables; the closest palpable example, air leaking slowly from a flaccid Whoopee Cushion.
“You killed him,” Aunt Kar thought, but didn’t say.
“He’s dead,” stated a laptop peruser, and one of the Plip Plop Coffe Shop’s greybearded habitues. Inconsistency with life somehow had made him look up.
“He’s dead, all right,” Sheriff Keene, off-duty, affirmed.
“Oh! Oh!” were some not incongruous remarks beginning to be heard.
But the Sheriff calmed things down, “That’s okay . . . no harm done.”
It was, in fact, an opportunity for some chat to ensue between tables, that is, between single adults sitting at those tables who might otherwise be chary of conversation.
San Anselmo, while not providing statistics accordingly, is a community of degrees. The meaninglessness of that statement takes a distant second place to the pun pertinent to the percentage of residents with college educations, baccalaureates, masters, and doctors of philosophy, medicine, et al. It’s not far-fetched, then, to imagine that someone would say, “‘He Swung And He Missed’.” “Oh!” from a table within earshot. “Nelson Algren! I love that story!” Then from the prompter, “Oh! I thought I was the only person in San Anselmo who still read him.” “Oh! By no means! At Stanford, I . . .” And on it could go, all the way to the altar, or, if atheists, some ceremony of commitment sans the accoutrements of the opium of the people, to cite Karl again.
In fact, such a conversation did take place over the dead body of the bicyclist, and Monsignor Quinn, proving the adage about taking the boy out the seminary but not the seminary out of the boy, butted in.
“But he didn’t miss!” Oh for those days of disputation! he marveled, sighed, and pined.
He’d put down the newspaper to take up the debate, and so doing made his face plain to Aunt Kar.
She steamed. Another villain vis-a-vis baby Drew’s baptism day. She supposed, with rancor, with cynicism, that welcoming her nephew’s soul into the communion of saints had slipped his mind.
He wasn’t a naughty Monsignor, as Granny Guss dependably called some of his counterparts, but he didn’t have a right to be stacking sacraments. She steamed when she saw a pretty teenage student donating a few squibs of Hawaiian Tropic Suntan #4 Lotion in lieu of consecrated oil for the last rites, and Monsignor accepting with an unctuous, slightly guilty smile.