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Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Weed in Her Garden

John was my mother's upstairs neighbor.  A nice enough guy, I suppose - friendly and outgoing.  He worked for the cable company.  Some kind of installation technician.  He could have benefited from a couple more showers a week, but that's just my personal preference regarding routine cleanliness.  Everybody's different.

John drove a small, red convertible.  A Chrysler Sebring, I think.

"Fancy wheels," I suggested to my dad one morning.  We carried garbage past his vehicle on our way to the dumpster.

"That car's for ladies," he replied.

"Are you kidding?  I was gonna get you one."

"Why?  I'm not a lady."

It didn't take much to turn Big Mare's head, however.  Butcher, doctor, priest, pizza guy - she didn't really have a type.  John carried the laundry basket down the stairs for her and unclogged my parents' toilet twice when Mom couldn't find the super.  He took a screwdriver and unearthed all the dandelions that grew in the cracks between the front steps so she could sweep them up.  She instantly developed a crush on him.

"John's divorced," she confided over coffee and Munchkins at the Dunkin Donuts.  "His ex-wife fooled around on him."

"Says who?"

"He told me.  I've seen her in the parking lot.  She's a dirty-looking bitch.  I wish I knew someone to fix him up with.  Too bad you're married."

"Yuck," I protested.

"He's such a nice guy."  Her voice trailed off.

"Well, maybe Daddy will die soon, and you can go out with him."

"That's never gonna happen," she said wistfully.  "They have a little girl, you know.  Kayla.  Kylie.  Carla.  Anyway, such a pretty face.  But the poor thing is heavyset.  She'll be a whale in no time."

"That's too bad."

Mom looked down at the diminishing container of treats.

"How many of these have I eaten?  Did you notice?" she asked.

"I'm not sure, but the box is half empty.  Maybe you should stop.  You don't wanna give yourself a bellyache.  What'd you have for breakfast, anyway?"

"Tums.  No, I'm wrong.  Metamucil."

*******

John this and John that.  The John Lovefest went on for several months.  Until one day, my mother came across a joint in the hallway, right outside her front door.

"I have to show you something," Big Mare whispered.  She pointed to the apartment above us and put her finger to her lips.  She immediately returned to her customary loudness.  

"Gene, go get that thing I found yesterday.  It's in the ice box."

Dad shuffled into the kitchen with his vague instructions.  So we waited a few moments.

"Your father thinks I'm stupid.  He's out there sneaking jelly.  Gene!" she shouted.

"Why do you keep bringing jelly into the house if you don't want him eating it?"

"I couldn't pass up the sale, honey.  It was 'Buy one, Get one free Smuckers.  The good shit."

Dad returned, carrying a large ziploc that contained a rather meagerly assembled doobie.  She snatched Exhibit A from his hands and thrust it in my direction.

"Is this what I think it is?"

I looked at the sad little cigarette, all alone and half frozen at the bottom of the bag.

"It's probably weed," I told her without examining the contents too carefully.

"No," she insisted.

"Yes."

"I knew it.  Son of a bitch.  And I trusted him."

I'd seen my mother like this before.  Reprogrammed by half-assed information. Intimately insulted by casual conduct.  It was a miracle she ever forgave my roster of indiscretions.  I didn't have the strength to rescue John.  Plus, I don't think he really cared as much as she did.  Actually, I'm almost certain.

"Mary, honey.  Tell your father to put this back in the refrigerator, will ya?"

"I'm gonna throw it in the garbage, Mom."

Fom that moment on, everything was changed as far as Big Mare's new ex-boyfriend went.  Marijuana had knocked John from the pedestal upon which my mother personally placed him.  She always took great pride in professing that she understood the drink, but not the drugs.  Never the drugs.  So selectively philanthropic.

I couldn't see the difference, really.  They both got you fucked up.  But I guess she felt that drugs were illegal and, therefore, unacceptable.  Case closed. Unbeknownst to John, he'd been demoted to the depths of Mom's shittiest shit list.

That evening after dinner, the telephone rang.  It was her.

"Listen, kid.  I smell something.  I think he's up there, smoking his pots."

"So what, Mom.  What are you gonna do?  Call the cops?"

"I wouldn't give him the satisfaction."

"Did you ever think maybe the poor guy has cancer?"   It wasn't an unreasonable assumption.  John looked like hell.  "It could be part of his treatment."

"I wish."

"C'mon, now.  That's not nice."

"Oh, I'm disgusted, Mary.  More disgusted than usual," she said and hung up.

The following week, we ran into John at the pizzeria across the street from my folks' apartment.

"Mrs. Dall, hey!" he called out cheerfully, shaking my father's hand.  I said 'hi.'

He stood there for a moment as my mother deliberately ignored him, facing the wall to avoid eye contact.  The exchange was incredibly awkward, especially since Big Mare was the only one who seemed to appreciate the point she was trying to prove.  These points were generally so overwhelmingly pointless, the experience often left her hapless victims somewhat stunned as a result.

After a silent minute, John ventured toward the counter to retrieve his greasy bag of lunchtime cheese and sauce.

"Okay, then.  Better get back to work."

"See ya, John."  Save yourself, I thought.

After he left, Mom leaned across the table.

"There was always something about that creep that rubbed me the wrong way," she said.

I watched through the window as John's cable van pulled out onto the avenue.

"My conversation with Lori confirmed it," she continued.

Oh dear, there's more.  Another new boyfriend.  Only this time, a girl.

"Who's Lori?" I asked, merely going through the motions.

"You know Lori."  I did not, by the way.  "She's his ex.  I ran into her at the A&P yesterday."

Here we go.

"I feel so sorry for that woman.  No wonder she left him.  I just wish I knew somebody to fix her up with."

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