Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Dinner Table, the Burping Alphabet Bet and The Peter Pan Collar

The table was always set, every night, fork to the left of the plate, knife to the right, paper towel napkin folded in half tucked under the knife.  The fork was always in the left hand, still is, the knife in the right, and napkin always stayed on the lap. Under no circumstances was said napkin to be balled up, held in the hand or otherwise disfigured before the end of the meal and it found it’s way to the trash.

Mom do we need spoons?

You always asked, one didn’t want to have to set and wash spoons that were not used and more importantly;

Spoon meant jello, or custard or canned fruit or on very special occasions, ice cream.  

Spoons meant  dessert.

The fruit cocktail single half a red cherry mined and fought over;  the pears packed in syrup juice drizzled over the warm Birds custard a half a pear on the side; the frothy rectangle jello, scoopable and smooth;mix the can of evaporated milk, pour it through the hole in the top the moving blender,  the whirling teaches patience as the jello orange or strawberry creamy treat takes a while to set. Listen to the roar,  the foamy layers settle;  see them forming in the glass 8×10 on the refrigerator shelf, shake the dish still not ready,  close the door!

Will we need a spoon?

Yes,  we need spoons.

Never is the fork  to be switched the right hand  and turned up  in the- too busy shoveling to hold both required utensils maneuver; the knife was never used and then simply set aside across the plate. The knife was to be held and used with every single mouthful.

That along with  a hand around the top of your plate, guarding it as if someone was about to walk by and steal it before you finished were uncouth, common and ill-mannered and got you either a slap with the flat edge of the knife across what ever flesh was available, or if particularly egregious, a full-out stab with the tines of the fork.  In my father’s defence, he usually only gave you the  loud silent stare, a clearing of the throat, and left the stabbing ritual for my mother as she was within reach most of the time.

These things were never spoken, but clearly understood, the social moray’s of the meal.

Among the other verboten table manners were burping, spilling, chewing with your mouth open, using your fingers, cramming in or eating too-fast, and serving yourself.

My mother always served.

There was always enough, but just. 

The portions filling, but never outside of  the Thanks Giving Turkey, and Christmas Standing Rib Roast were there any left overs.

Milk,  the only beverage, salt, pepper,  the only acceptable spices.

We five sit and wait as my father brings in the evening paper,  and turns on the news. 

Noise of any kind was strictly forbidden at the table, including talking…

The news is on.

“I canny hear the news!” the usual single warning uttered before temper flared.

Above all he must be able to hear the news.

In his defense my brother was easily led a stray.  One could actually egg him into doing almost anything before the age of ten.

Something this especially evil older sister did with regularity. 

“I bet you can’t burp ten times in a row before dad gets here,” I offer.

Honestly they came so quickly I really couldn’t count them, so I had him do it again.

Never once did the boy ever ask to what I was betting, what he would get in return, never once.

He just innocently accepted whatever challenge I could think of.

Sucker.

“ok…I bet you can’t say the entire alphabet while burping.”

It took him two glasses of milk, three attempts but he was able to do the entire alphabet in two long consecutive burps.

Laughter was uncontrollable. My brother was laying flat on the floor as his stomach was distended with the large gulps of air he has swallowed to produce said entertainment, when my father finally entered the dining room.

Silence in hind-sight was too much to ask.

Silence upon the sight of  brother rolling on the floor in pain was just impossible.

“QUIET!” came the single warning.

My brother cames out from under the table, proceeded to take another gulp of milk, look straight at me,  and giggle mid swallow.

Milk upon meeting a closed throat due to laughing proceeds to exit ones nose.

Milk spewed.

Mayhem ensued.

Laughter reined.

My father lost it. Unable to hear Walter Cronkite, he roared,

“Enough!”

My father then began ejecting children one at a time, the sequence of which were based both on the timing of who laughed next and the proximity to his chair.

My brother has lost his seat at the table first, quickly followed my older sister, baby sister, and then me.

All except one were ejected pre dessert.

With each ejection my father rose and pulled out the chair, and pulled you up from your seated position by the arm, and generally motioned toward the direction of your bedroom.

He never really uttered the words, “Go to your room”

So I didn’t.

Instead I laid in the hall on the floor army crawl style and spied on my sister the last remaining laughter hold out.

I don’t remember what made her laugh, or even if she ever did.

My father rose and stood behind the last remaining hold out.

Instead of grabbing her arm,  he grabbed her collar instead.

The collar gave way with a rip, bouncing my sister back down into her chair, leaving him standing there with the peter pan collar in his hand.

From the four corners of the house, laughter broke free.

My father defeated, tossed the collar aside, returned to his chair and finished his supper alone, fork in the left, knife in the right, napkin on his lap.

The sounds of our laughter drowned out Walter Cronkite that night.

They still do.

And now you know the story of the dinner table, the burping alphabet bet, and the peter pan collar.

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Tell Tale Heart

The Cardiologist carefully  lifted and replaced the stethoscope onto each quadrant, front and back, before listening again to the front with eyes squeezed shut. The “lets give it a listen” full eye contact, and  comforting smile disappear instantly.

The words pulse silently in my head, heart murmur, heart murmur,  heart murmur a terrible triplet.  A new symptom to add to the list.  I watch the professional eyes open and then avoid; they never do meet my gaze again.

Fucking whimp.

I want to scream at him.  Go ahead asshole tell me. What you hear I see.

It is Poe printed in black bold on thick white cotton bond, this heart tells tales; See him sitting all day long, not moving, watching TV, waiting, see him dizzy, grabbing hold, holding on, see him on the floor, see his lips mumble his not quite conscious first words,

“I don’t want to live like this.”

Cardiologist looks down and away, at his chart, at the wall, says, “his EKG is abnormal,”  holds it up,  the paper with the squiggly lines held aloft.

…do I look like I can read electronic scrawl?

I silently dare him to look at me, he doesn’t.

Bad girl takes over, refuses to look away; see  high-waisted  khaki pants,  a slight tuck to the left, buttons all done up tight, scrub faced  always wears a white undershirt, tightie whities, faithful deck shoes awaiting a deck, a walking ad for  L.L. Bean.  Safe money says this is an only gets blow jobs on birthdays kinda guy.

Bad girl wants to swear just to see him jump. Big juicy swear words roll around and almost slip out.

He starts asking questions.

“Ever had swelling of your legs?”

“Oh years ago in Rome… I was” Griffy starts,  only stopping to inhale as the story is lengthy an requires frequent oxygen intake to complete. I know the end of the story, but the cardio-boy will never hear it he has moved on to question two.

“Do you have shortness of breath?”

“Oh yes… why just today I was out of breath only walking to the chair and”

“Do you tire easily?”

So close …almost got that second answer fully out before the third was asked. Close  but no cigar.

“Well I think you’ll need some further testing to exclude cardiac reasons for your fainting.”

“I’m sorry, ” I stammer. ” Isn’t Multiple System Atrophy and the related autonomic mal-functions that cause both high and low blood pressure the cause of Griff’s fainting?”

It is as though I wasn’t in the room. He looks right at Griff and says,

“A 70 % blockage would be enough to cause your symptoms, I recommend further tests.”

Cardiologist man then stands,  opens the door, looks down the hall, and says, “you know how to get out of here? They’ll set you up at checkout with the appointments.”

Dr. Oz he isn’t.

“You do know he has MSA a degenerative neurological disorder than is chronic, progressive and fatal?” I add as I get up and start to wheel Griff out.

There was no answer to the query.

First impression note for the field guide he is a silver-haired Tempe Arizona frat boy who thinks waitresses belong beneath him and always put out.

Honey, you are quickly becoming a walking cliché’ … Remember No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Thanks Eleanor, but really this place would piss off Gandhi.

“See the blue light? its right, then another right,  down the hall to the blue light, then straight on til you see checkout  Take care.” as he disappeared in the opposite direction.

Strike One.

“Blue light?” I hiss. What the fuck is this a super fucking K-mart? Blue light special on aisle three. Blue Light?” I steam out, pushing Griff at a safe but speedy pace, his hair only gets a little bit tossed, we come to a stop at check out.

There isn’t room for the wheelchair in the checkout cubicle, its three by three, three sides, padded, convenient, with a high counter, and two over stuffed chairs in a blue that screams I’m supposed to make you feel comfortable and right at home !

News flash. Your chairs just piss me off.

Strike two.

I wonder if this place has ever heard of access for disabled persons.

Strike three.

All this is before she speaks.

“The doctor wants him to have a chemical stress test as soon as possible.”

“Excuse me? I thought we were referred for an echo cardiogram?”

She makes a fatal mistake by repeating her exact words in exactly the same manner only a hundred decibels louder.

The exchange continues.

“A stress test for a man who is unable to walk the 20 feet down the hall to the bathroom without passing out?” I ask.

“Can he get out of that chair?”

“Yes”

“Well then he won’t have a problem, can he lie down, lie still? ”

“Yes and yes”

“And did you come here for Dr….. ” here she pauses to look at the computer screen as there are no less than 12 attending cardiologist that frequent this lovely Cardiac Care Center. “yes,  Dr. M, so you came for DOCTOR M’s advice correct? DOCTOR M-wants him to have a chemical stress test, then an echo.”

Griffy sits head a little tilted, face drawn. I have talked over him literally, and lost my cool, again.

He didn’t need this from me.

I take out the green book, my Dedicated Griffy Information Depository and open to write down the appointments.

It slips on the way out,

Mother Fuckers!

Griffy laughs, at least we have this.

If nothing else, I can still make him laugh.

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