In New York’s Whitehorse Tavern there’s a table held sacred by many, table five. A quick glance suggests nothing out of the ordinary about this piece of battered furniture, its surface worn smooth by the bottom of countless glasses, its landscape dulled by the tears of broken dreams. However, this table holds a distinction held by no other table in the literary world. It’s the table that Dylan Thomas had his last drink at before being carried across the street to Saint Vincent’s Hospital where he died shortly thereafter. The Tavern has become a Mecca for wannabe writers and misunderstood artists, all trying to capture a piece of the agony that fueled their hero’s creativity. Pathetic hustlers of the English language, all trying to one up themselves by walking on the razor’s edge, flock to places like the Whitehorse. Those in the know want to sit at the table where the great bard himself finally met his end after playing a game of whiskey roulette with hand of death.

It’s sad that writers feel the need to emulate their idol’s demise, following in the footsteps of someone else’s self-induced madness. Many of us write, trying desperately to stay one step ahead of the emotional train wreck, begging fate for an end to the destructive storm that is our world. Our words keep us one step away from the darkness, those desperate hours that haunt us when the silence falls. We never get ahead of our insanity, always running in place and never going forward. One step from the madness and ten miles from sanity is where I stood at any given moment.

I sat at that table, whiskey in hand, not pretending to be a tormented writer, but because I wanted to toast the man who gave all of himself to his art until in the end, there was nothing left but the shell of a withering soul. I came because I was thirsty for something else in life. I came for the rightist of wrong reasons.

It was a cold winter night when I stumbled into the Whitehorse, desperate for something other than the void that my life had become. I was going through the motions, breathing with the shallowness of a man with no convictions. I was a man with no past or future, just a stagnant mechanized existence. I had just spent the better part of two hours listening to the relentless ranting of a fashion designer, a woman who went on and on about how brilliant she was. The first rule of literary survival I learned was simple; anyone who claims to be brilliant usually isn’t. They’re rubes, simpletons who’ve thumbed through college outlines of all the great books, higher learning through a series of Dummy’s and Idiot’s Guides. They’re pretenders to an intellectual throne far beyond their grasp. They’re the people that say all the right things at all the right times, always making a point to throw in the names of whoever is on the top of the avant-garde heap. “Blah, blah, blah… Andy Warhol. Blah, blah, blah…” On and on again until you want to die. “Blah, blah, I know more than you, blah.” My mind was spinning from an evening spent in a room full of cultural vampires. Enough was absolutely enough. Having told this room full of simpletons “I’d rather cut myself with broken car glass than listen to one more nanosecond of this dribble,” I was out the door and into the tavern in under five minutes.

The place was empty, as if the plague had just rolled through Greenwich Village. That was fine by me. I liked an empty bar, devoid of people working hard to preserve their livers in a bottle of whiskey. I didn’t drink a lot but when I did I didn’t need some buzz kill sitting next to me, waxing on and on about his broken dreams. New York is filled to the brim with tales of heartbreak and guaranteed schemes that fell apart just before the payoff. It’s a city that serves as a beacon to the mentally unstable artist and greedy yuppie alike, both of whom were big fish in the little ponds of their hometowns. Now they’re surrounded by bigger fish in the biggest pond of all, nasty giant fish with a taste for blood. In the end they’re eaten alive by the unforgiving nature of life in the city. The bowery is paved with the carcasses of some of the most brilliant artists I’ve ever met and the jails are filled with scheming yuppies. New York’s a town designed for hustlers and tricksters out for their own gain.

The waitress came back to the table with my drink, a double shot of Black Label Scotch, neat no ice. I stared down into the placid amber liquor, peering into its depth as if Buddha would swim to the surface with a lifesaving piece of wisdom written just for me. Nothing happened, other than the soothing smell of the double malt wafting up to my nose. “God I need some fucking peace,” I said to myself. My nerves had just started to calm down, as I lifted the heavy glass to my lips. The silence was perfect, dead like me, empty and void of the sounds of desperate bar people desperately trying to sound as if their lives had meaning. There was no blah, blah, blah to kill my buzz.

The first slug of scotch went down, burning my throat with that acrid warm feeling hard liquor has. My shaking thoughts suddenly started to smooth out like a plane after it’s flown through a turbulent patch of sky. I could breathe again, taking in the squalid barroom air with renewed faith. It was a perfect moment in time, one that could never be repeated, so I savored it with the enthusiasm of a man who discovers a hundred dollar bill in an otherwise empty wallet. For that brief moment all was well in my world. Everything was, as my wife would say, peachy.

Suddenly the silence was broken by the slamming of the tavern’s door. Looking up to see what idiot ruined my perfect moment, I saw him enter the bar, the worst possible sort to run into when you’re out for a quiet evening of destroying your liver. Sammy the Gimp scanned the room looking for a familiar face he could extract a free drink or dollar from. I quickly lowered my head but not before his eyes met mine. “Shit” I muttered. My evening would now be spent trying to get rid of Sammy. I looked back up knowing his smiling junkie face would be beaming in my direction. Sure enough it was, his scrawny wrist limply waving in my direction. No point in putting off the inevitable. I nodded which was the universal gesture amongst junkies to “come on over and waste my precious time.”

Sammy was one of those old time junkies that had the word loser burned into his forehead from years of failed schemes, broken promises and too much time on Riker’s Island. Getting involved with anything Sammy planned was a sure fire ticket to the joint. He was an idiot but he did have a certain charm. Sammy had an innocence reserved for the mentally retarded that made you feel bad for him, bordering on almost liking him. His toothless grin lit up like a roman candle as he limped over the table.

He got the name, Sammy the Gimp, after being shot by a junk dealer on Avenue A down in Alphabet City. He bought a large quantity of dope on credit and didn’t pay his bill on time. Unfortunately, the dealer had a large number of other deadbeat junkies also behind on their payments, so an example would have to be made. Sammy was that example, being stabbed 23 times. One of his injuries was a lacerated leg muscle that caused his cartoonish limp. When he was in my presence he was a nuisance at best. When he wasn’t around to step on my last nerve I felt bad for him. He was somebody’s little boy once, a son born to proud parents who could never have imagined their boy becoming a junkie. I watched, as if hypnotized, as his left foot dragged across the sawdust floor making the sound of sandpaper on steel. When he got to my table he clumsily pulled out a chair which sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard as it scrapped against the floor. He finally settled into it. God, this man was noisy.

“Johnny my man, how the hell are you?”

“Just fine Sammy. What brings you uptown? This isn’t your normal watering hole?”

“I was looking for you. Well, actually I was coming back from Harlem and I ran into that loud mouth skirt maker…”

“Fashion designer, Sammy, fashion designer, there’s a difference” I added.

“Yeah, whatever, she makes skirts, doesn’t she?”

It’s amazing how a simpleton like Sammy can somehow come out ahead in a conversation. He was right, the “loudmouth” did make skirts, and it was a funny thought to think of her as a skirt maker rather than that know it all fashion maven. I tried to keep quiet, as if my silence would propel The Gimp out of the tavern but Sammy picked up where he left off.

“Where was I? Oh yeah, I ran into the skirt maker and she said you insulted her then stormed out of the party over at Izzy’s place.”

“I didn’t want to listen to another second of those wannabe art-types rambling on about the state of art in New York, as if any of them really knew what was going on. Jesus, the shit that pours out of people’s mouths would lead you to believe that there’s a bad case of verbal diarrhea going round.”

“Verbal diarrhea?” he asked.

“Verbal diarrhea Sammy, didn’t you have something pressing to say?” I knew I was about to get the lowdown on some surefire scheme guaranteed to get me rich, loaded or both. Wanting to get it over with, I forced him to get to the point. There’s nothing worse than having to wait for a loser to spit out their plan knowing that you’d end up having to get involved in order to get rid of them. He continued, spitting wet lumps of peanut out of his mouth.

“Here’s the deal.” A chunk of gooey nut lands on my hand. “I was up in Harlem, going up there to cop this new shit that’s supposed to be off the charts but there’s no one home at the Buster’s place. I mean no one in sight. I knock on his door and nothing, not a peep. I bang on the door for ten minutes. I figure they’re in the back room so I try the door knob. The doors unlocked so I walk on in and guess what, guess what the fuck I saw?”

“Tell me Sammy, just tell me and get it over with.”

“Hey man, I’m trying to do you the favor here.” More peanuts fly out.

“Yeah, you’re right. Sorry Sammy, go on.”

“So I go inside and they’re all fucking dead. I mean shot up, guts hanging out, faces blown off dead. You couldn’t tell the boys from the girls.”

This was more than I needed to hear. The Gimp managed to show up at Busters after someone had put the fix on the dealer and now his big mouth is guaranteeing me a spot on the morning police report. This is what I meant about losers, they go to do something as simple as coping dope in Harlem and end up walking in on a gangland slaying. Then they start telling everyone who will listen, their tragic tale which eventually means that the guys who pulled the trigger will find out. They’ll start looking for Sammy which means they’ll talk to everyone who knows him with my name appearing first on their list. God damn gimpy footed little bastard had dragged me into his sad sack pathetic world once again. Even with my glaring eyes burning a hole through his forehead, my eyes saying “I’m going to skin you alive,” he kept talking.

“So I look around to see if there’s anything of value and I see a paper bag.”

“What paper bag?” I asked, knowing that the bag most likely contained drugs, money or both.

“The paper fucking bag filled with the purest heroin I’ve ever tasted.” My mouth dropped open. I was now officially sucked into one of The Gimps fucked up schemes because I couldn’t resist that damn drug.

I sat with Sammy at table five in momentary silence as if he’d shut up long enough for the enormity of his great fortune to sink in. To his left I could see the ghost of Dylan Thomas smiling as if egging me on to indulge my addiction. I’m sure Dylan wanted me to take my own version of that last drink and join him permanently at the table. The lure of drugs had overpowered the knowledge that anything Sammy touched turned to shit. All I could think about was that bag, that big fat bag.

“So Sammy, what did you do with the dope?” Saliva was now dripping from my mouth, slowly pooling on the table’s surface.

“What do you mean, I have it right here.” At which point he started to pull out an enormous freezer bag of white powder.”

“Put that away man. Are you crazy? You can’t walk around with that, you’ll get caught.” This was becoming a nightmare at a hundred miles an hour but I was too blinded by the thought of getting loaded to care.

“What am I supposed to do with all this junk man? Hey man, you want a little? You can have it for free since you always looked out for me.”

“Sure Sammy, I’ll take a little.” The drool started pouring from my mouth until I had to wipe it away with a napkin for fear of someone thinking I was having a medical emergency, a bad bout of dope-luster’s disease. Unbeknownst to me, The Gimp had prepared some “to go” bags of junk back at Buster’s place.

He signaled me to reach under the table, which I gladly did. My hand slid past a hundred years of chewing gum stuck to the table’s underside, past the rusting piss stained post that held it up until I felt the soft plastic skin of the bag. Taking a quick glance before shoving it in my pocket, it appeared to be close to an ounce. I looked back at Sammy who looked almost thoughtful yet resigned in the dim red lights of the bar. It was then I realized that Sammy wasn’t long for this world. His eyes were begging me to help him. Whenever drug dealers got shot up and some junky came along and stole their stash, they ended up paying with their lives. Nothing is free in this life, especially drugs. I felt bad and had to give The Gimp fair warning. As I started to say something Sammy cut me off.

“Listen man that stuff’s nearly pure so don’t use a lot. In fact, maybe you should smoke or snort it.” There was a glimmer of genuine concern in his beady little eyes.

“Yeah, I’ll keep that in mind. Listen Sammy, you need to get rid of that stuff. It’s going to bring you a world of hurt. Someone’s going to be looking for it.”

“Yeah man, I know. I’m going to start selling it one dime bag at a time.”

“That’s the wrong answer Sammy. You’ll get killed if you try to deal it on the street. The first thing everyone’s going to ask is where a lowlife like The Gimp got such good shit, no offense.”

“None taken asshole” he muttered. I continued.

“Look, we need to take this to Nick the Wop over on Grand Street and dump it. He’ll give you half of a fair price but you’ll be alive to spend the money.”

“What’s your end of the deal?” There was a sudden note of hostility in his voice.

“You just gave me an ounce of primo shit that will keep me high for weeks. I also sort of like you and I don’t want to hear about you getting killed.”

“Everyone laughs at me Johnny. They call me a loser behind my back.”

“That’s because you are Sammy. We’re all losers. Look at what we do, swinging smack everyday at the end of a spoon. We’re all fucking losers, one no worse than the next.”

“You’re not a loser.  No one ever calls you that.”

“I am. You just can’t see it because I hide it well. Let’s call Nick and see if we can get this mess cleaned up. Go ahead and keep some for yourself and we’ll dump the rest with Nick.”

I left Sammy at the table, getting up and walking to the payphone by the men’s room. I got a hold of Nick and filled him in, giving him as little information as possible, saying my “friend” needed to make a fast transaction of dope for cash. He figured my “friend” was The Gimp. Nick agreed to meet us in an hour. After a little chit chat about Sammy’s ability to fuck things up, I said goodbye and walked back to the table. Sammy sat with a smile on his face and powder hanging off his crooked nose. The look of disgust on the bartender’s face filled in the missing pieces. In my absence, Sammy had snorted a pile of product in plain sight and was now in the twilight zone, the good twilight zone. I filled Sammy in on my conversation with Nick, having to stop and start as Sammy fell in and out of a heavy nod. After having tipped the bartender an extra twenty dollars, I had him call us a cab. As the Tavern started to fill up with the usual repressed homosexual college jocks desperate to save their masculinity through alcohol abuse, Sammy and I shuffled out to meet the cab. In a moment we were off towards Grand Street. I took a big snort from my bag of dope and within three minutes I was pleasantly numb.

The city at night, with lit up windows and neon signs, becomes a visual wonderland passing by in a blur. It’s like a perpetual string of Christmas lights spread throughout the concrete landscape, a warm fuzzy fist full of eye candy for those on the nod. Everything suddenly feels great. Everyone’s suddenly your best friend. Nothing hurts anymore and you become the dream of yourself you could never be in a state of sobriety. Everything is just a pleasant state of flux. Even riding in the yellow cab of death is fun. Even the driver amped up on crack for three days makes you smile. He’s your friend, your best friend. The normal potholes and torn up asphalt that jarred your kidneys to the point of no return feels like the gentle bounce of a trampoline as we sped down 3rd Avenue, towards Nick’s office.

Nick’s office was a loft space above a dim sum joint on Grand Avenue. While Nick was Italian, thus the nickname Nick the Wop, he felt more comfortable in Chinatown where, according to him, “everyone fought for a better deal but no one ever fucked you for a buck”. Nick was a connected guy, having worked his way up in a Brooklyn numbers crew, but was forced to quit when he got strung out. The Family doesn’t allow junkies. However, even without the Mob to back his play he still carried a serious reputation. Fuck with the Nick the Wop and you’d discover pain you never knew existed.

By the time we got to Nick’s office, Sammy and I were heavily sedated. Exiting the cab, I was hypnotized by the numerous neon signs, their Chinese symbols becoming more interesting when illuminated in a red or green glow. Sammy grabbed me by the arm as I started to walk into a Chinese record store in search of something other than what we had come here to do. Apologizing, in that whiney junkie voice we all get when smacked back, I turned towards Nick’s office.

Nick was in the business of fencing stolen goods. It didn’t matter what you had, from tubas to goldfish, from diamonds to women’s diaphragms, Nick could find a buyer for everything. Of course he’d give you pennies on the dollar but he assumed the risk and no one would ever know where the merchandise came from which was what I wanted. Sammy liked to brag about his big scores which usually amounted to nothing, except in this case. He’d be found out via the junkie internet, a series of payphones up and down Manhattan’s east side, within twenty fours which would earn him a trip to the morgue. Setting him up with Nick would keep him marginally safe.

To get into Nick’s, you had to walk through the dim sum joint, through the kitchen and up the world’s worst set of wooden stairs. This routine worked well since you’d never know Nick was here unless you had prior knowledge. After convincing Sammy that Nick really had an office here and he wasn’t being set up in some awful way, we made our way through the kitchen and its nonplused workers.

“You’re kidding Johnny, Nick’s back here?”

“Yeah I know, it seems a bit strange but it’s the perfect cover.”

“I don’t know Johnny.” He was getting nervous, like a cornered rat.

“I don’t know Johnny” I replied back, mimicking that dopey dog from the Davy and Goliath cartoon. “Look, I’m doing this to help you, you little fuck. I’m trying to save your sorry ass.”

He muttered something, looking at me like a broken hearted puppy which made me feel worse. Man, why did I get involved in this fiasco in the first place. I knew The Gimp was trouble and I still sat there listening to him. Before I had second thoughts, thinking about kicking him to curb, I smiled and pointed to the stairs. “Get the fuck up there Sammy,” bringing the kitchen’s conversation to a standstill.

We made our way up the stairs which lead to a large hallway covered in garish red felted wallpaper. Nick once told me that the rest of the building was a whorehouse and its madam had a thing about the color red. Everything was a shade of red. The hallway was lined by doors every twenty feet or so. However, finding Nick’s door was easy. We just looked for the door guarded by a three hundred pound gun totting thug. Straightening ourselves up, we approached the humorless man with the shotgun in his paws.

“What do you want?” He was brief and to the point.

“We’re here to see Nick, he’s expecting us.”

“Hey Nick,” the goon shouted. “There’s a couple of fucking junkies to see you.”

That’s great, I thought. Fifty nine minutes with Sammy and I’m lumped into the category of “fucking junkies.” Of course it didn’t help that I was nodding while I stood there, the perpetual string of drool now extending past my jacket well on its way to the floor.

“It’s alright Bruno, it’s just Johnny from Brooklyn and The Gimp. Let them in.”

“Get the fuck in there and don’t make any trouble, assholes.”

“Relax tough guy. I’m a friend of Nick’s.”

“Tough guy, fucking tough guy, you little shit?” The goon was pissed.

“Is there a problem out there?” Nick screamed.

“Nothing boss.”

Before the tough guy with the shotgun could do anything, Sammy and I slipped through the door. Nick smiled when he saw me, his smile suddenly turning to a frown when he saw Sammy. He didn’t like Sammy but business was business and this was well worth the trouble of bringing The Gimp along. I had Sammy hand him the bag of junk, which he immediately tested.

“Jesus, this stuff is nearly pure. How’d you get it? I hear that Buster’s place got shot up a few hours ago. It’s too bad Buster wasn’t there or you would have got away with it clean.”

My heart sank upon hearing those words. I assumed that Buster was killed since nobody would be stupid enough to steal from Buster unless Buster was dead. Nobody would be stupid enough… then there’s Sammy. Shit, I knew the loser’s credo, “everything they touch turns to rust, all schemes fail then crumble to dust.” Not only was I with Sammy now but I had an ounce of Buster’s product in my pocket. What the hell was Sammy thinking?

“Fucking Sammy, what the hell were you thinking? Didn’t you look around to see if Buster was dead? Do you know what’s going to happen if Buster finds out you walked off with his stash?”

“Relax” Nick said in his deep raspy voice. “No one is going to know anything about this. Here’s the solution, the fix to your problems.”

“Here we go” I muttered to myself. We were on the losing side of a coin toss and Nick knew it. We and I say we because I was with Sammy which made me guilty by association regardless of the actual facts, were screwed. There was one way out and I knew what it was even before Nick uttered a single word. We’d get to leave here alive and without fear of Buster ever knowing Sammy took his junk. The only drawback was we’d only get that out of the deal and nothing else. There’d be no money handed over, only the promise of silence. Nick continued.

“You’re going to give me the heroin and I’m going to keep my mouth shut, get rid of the junk and that will be that.”

“What about my fucking money.” Sammy whined.

“Your money you shitty little gimp? There’s no ‘your money’ involved. This stuff wasn’t yours to begin with and I’m doing you a big favor, saving your life by fixing this problem. Actually you owe me.” The Gimp looked like he was going to blow a gasket so I chimed in.

“Just shut up Sammy. Nick’s right. We walk away now and it’s a case of no harm no foul. Nick gets rid of this stuff and you’re off the hook.”

“Johnny, you told me you’d help me,” Sammy whined.

“Yeah, but I didn’t know that Buster was still alive. You might have taken a look at the bodies to make sure he was among them. I’m sorry Sammy but this has to play out this way. It’s either that or Buster’s going to come for you.”

On that note Sammy started crying. Another great scheme fallen apart, burning the word loser just a little deeper into his soul. I felt bad, hell even Nick looked upon The Gimp with pity filled eyes.

“Listen Sammy, I’ll give you an ounce for your troubles. This way you can have a good time and you won’t feel so bad. You just have to keep quiet about this or I’ll kill you myself. Are we square on that Sammy?”

“Yeah, I guess so. I mean abso-fucking-lutely.”

“Listen Sammy, I need to talk to Johnny about something so go wait out in the hall and for God sakes don’t get Bruno pissed off, alright?”

“Okay, Nick,” he said in that damn dopey dog voice.

After Sammy left I sat down on Nick’s couch to talk to him. Sitting next to me, his expression told me the news I was about to hear would not be good. I knew Nick from the old days. He always took care of me and vice versa, but time had changed us both to a point where we ran in different circles these days. We weren’t as tight as we used to be. I couldn’t ask for the favors I used to ask him for. Sammy was headed for a fist full of hurt.

“Johnny, this isn’t going to bode well for The Gimp. I mean I’ll get this stuff out of here and more importantly away from you two but Sammy’s got a big mouth. I can’t have this blowing back on me. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“I got it Nick. I don’t like it but I got it.”

“You’re a good kid Johnny and I’ll keep you out of it but you know what has to be done if push comes to shove.”

I knew what had to be done. I knew I couldn’t say anything to Sammy because I was a “stand up guy.” Mind your own business where I came from and you lived a long life. Walking out into the hallway and facing Sammy was more painful than I thought it would be. I wasn’t a thug and didn’t have the stomach for this life. I had one chance to do something right which was protect The Gimp. I begged Sammy to let me send him out of town for a few weeks, anywhere he wanted my treat. The only condition was that he left that night. He thanked me for the offer but said he wanted to go home, catch another buzz and think about it. What could I do? I couldn’t repeat what Nick told me because I gave him my word I’d stay out of it. On the streets you’re only as good as your word. When your word’s gone so are you.

I took Sammy home by taxi, offering to stay with him until I could convince him to leave town. He smiled and told me to go home, he’d see me tomorrow and we could have a good laugh about it then. I left his rundown tenement building on the lower eastside, knowing there’d be no happy ending yet silently praying for one. I made my way back to Brooklyn, finally nodding off at about five in the morning.

I awoke the next afternoon to the phone ringing, echoing through my empty loft, pounding my ears like a jackhammer on crack. Picking it up, I mumbled

“Yeah, who is this?”

“It’s Nick. I just wanted you to hear it from me rather than some fucking junkie on the street.”

My heart dropped to depths I didn’t know existed. I knew what was coming as if the story would have some other ending. I constantly played a dangerous game with people who played for keeps, playing it for years but always escaping injury and death. However, at this single moment it all caught up to me, all the close calls and narrow misses. It was payback time and it was long overdue. Someone had just paid for my fucking sins, Karma with a sideways payback.

“Buster’s people found Sammy this morning. They cut his fucking left hand off. They cut his fucking… they shoved it down his… never mind. I’m sorry Johnny. I know you tried to help him.”

“Yeah I tried but obviously I didn’t try hard enough.” I thought I was going to start crying. Nick sensed this as well.

“Look Johnny, it was only a matter of time before Sammy’s mouth caught up to him. This wasn’t your fault. You’re not part of this world kid, you’re better than us and that’s a good thing. You don’t have to live this way. You don’t have to be an animal, but you have to quit using dope. It will kill you in the end. I have to hop but I wanted to tell you that you’re not in the loop on this one. Buster was convinced that you had no part in Sammy’s bullshit.”

“Thanks Nick, I mean that.”

“Listen Johnny, I got more than expected for Sammy’s score. I felt bad about jerking you for the money but Sammy would have blown the deal back to me so I had to play it the way I did.  I left something for you in an envelope. Bruno stuck it under your door this morning.”

Looking across the room I could see the envelope near the front door. After hanging the phone up I opened it up, finding roughly four thousand dollars inside. I pulled out the ounce of junk I still had, poured out a line and soothed my trampled nerves. Calling a travel agent, I discovered that this was a great time of year to head west. Booking a one way ticket to San Francisco for the following week, I decided to go back to my hometown. Nick was right. I could get out of this way of life. I could go out on my own or in a casket, my choice. Sammy’s death was the final straw. I didn’t belong in a world were men’s hearts were tempered like cold hard steel. My metal was weak like tin, rusted from tears of regret and sorrow. Before exiting New York, I stopped by Nick’s and took him out to lunch. When we parted he said something that stuck.

“Kid, I wish you well out California. Go follow those dreams of yours. Write that book you keep threatening to write but don’t ever come back here again and don’t use my real name if you write about you and me. Don’t come back to where you don’t belong. Me, I don’t have the devil’s chance of leaving this life but you, you have a ticket out. Use it or the last thing you’ll see will be Bruno’s shotgun right before it takes your head off.” He didn’t have to say another word. I became a ghost and simply vanished.

Resolutions are too hard to keep, so this year, instead of making resolutions, I’ve decided to make money. I’ve started a business called Resolutions, Inc. What we do at Resolutions, Inc., is help people keep their resolutions.

How does it work, you ask? Simple. Just send us your resolutions, and a representative will call you every day to make sure you’re still keeping them. The incentive? For every resolution you break, another representative will visit you (at your home or office—your choice), and break one of your fingers.

Paranoid Mode

By Irene Zion


There are actually two stories involved in Sara refusing to ever help us out again. They both involve the infamous NANA, of nail scissor fame.

In the first, we asked Sara, who was in college, but on summer break, to please come home for a weekend to watch the animals, and be home for my mother just in case something untoward would happen. My mother lived with us and I took care of her for ten interminable years. My mother at this time was living one block away in a Retirement Village. She tended to have “incidents.”

The bottom three kids: Tim, Lenore and Ben were in summer camp and it was Parents’ Weekend. (Lonny was in Cambridge, England, I think, studying something artsy.) We were gone for four days, what with the driving up to and back from the wilds of Wisconsin, land of fudge and lakes. This was, (are you young ones even aware of this?) a time before cell phones and computers. She agreed to come. We left for Wisconsin. (FOUR FRIGGING DAYS!)

My father had actually pulled me aside when he was alive, (I know that seems obvious, but we are a strange family,) to ask me to promise that we would never ever, ever, under any circumstances, take my Mom into my house or my town, no matter what. I promised. Then my mother had a heart attack in Brooklyn and was left on a gurney in the hospital where she worked as an RN for umpteen years, for an entire weekend. Then on Monday a doctor saw her and told her that she had had a heart attack. How could I keep my promise to my father when my mother spent the weekend on a gurney in the hall of a hospital and wasn’t seen by a doctor for three days when she had actually had a heart attack and didn’t find out for three days? We moved my toxic mother to Champaign. I had to break my promise to my Dad. They were planning a retirement home a block away. She was one of the first to sign up for an apartment. She could have had any apartment she wanted. She lived with us until it was built a couple of years later, then after she moved in she hated it and moved to a different apartment. She hated that one too.

If you want to drive in Illinois, you must get an Illinois drivers license. That means a written test and also a driving test.. My mother wanted to drive in Illinois. My Mother failed the driving part it in the huge metropolis of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, so her friends told her to go to a small town nearby and take the test there. She passed. In my thinking that meant that she really only had a license to drive in a tiny small town with no traffic whatsoever. But, what do I know? Logic does not seem to be the driving force in the machinery of Government.

In this tiny four day interval in time, when we went to Wisconsin and asked Sara to be there, my mother got into her first and only car accident. It was massive. Her car was totaled, and, because she was old and befuddled, the Police gave HER the ticket, when, seriously, it was not her fault. (I would be the FIRST person to tell you if it had been, trust me on this.) So Sara had to deal with my mother and the Police and it was assuredly not pleasant. On the other hand, no one was hurt. Things could have been worse. Sara did not see it this way. She was very angry with us.

But it turns out that that was just a practice run for Sara.

The next time we asked Sara to watch the animals was when we had a chance to finally go somewhere. There was a retinal meeting in Israel. We had FIVE children. We never had time to go ANYWHERE. It was only ten days. Across the entire world, for TEN FRIGGING DAYS. (I’m sorry, I think I’m shouting. I apologize.) Tim and Lenore were at regular camp and Ben was, naturally, at Science camp. I believe that Lonny was at NYU doing something artsy. The only place we ever went was Wisconsin for Parents’ Weekend. I really wanted to go somewhere exotic where the economy was not dependent on fudge. Israel was genuinely unconventional and they were not into fudge. Sara agreed, reluctantly, but she agreed. Ten days in our house watching the animals with the slight but inescapable possibility of another “incident” with NANA.

We flew two million miles to get to Israel. We flew El Al. Those people really know how to keep people safe. They separated Victor and me and asked us questions to make sure we were not terrorists. This was fine with us, since we were not terrorists, rather we were tourists and we were realty hoping to fly on a flight that was entirely full of tourists and terrorist-free. Some woman on the flight got sick and had to get off after we had boarded, so we had to wait for them to find her baggage and remove it, since her baggage might very well have been C-4 in a suitcase. We felt so safe.

When we finally arrived in Israel, it was hours before the room would be ready. We had had no sleep and Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State at the time, was staying at our hotel. There was a lot of security. There were dogs everywhere. I said to Victor:

“Look, honey, we could have brought our dogs! This is a really dog-friendly country.”

Victor then explained that they were bomb-sniffing dogs and our dogs would probably not qualify. Oddly, this came as a huge surprise to me. I was not in paranoid mode yet. We discovered that every time we got on an elevator a very huge burly man with a big bulge on his hip accompanied us. None of these burly men ever got off on our floor. They just escorted us. Victor had to explain that to me too. I was still not in paranoid mode.

Victor and I visited all the requisite sites for tourists and were having the time of our lives. I loved seeing the teenagers in uniform walking around with uzis. We were never afraid for one minute the whole time we were there.

Halfway into our visit we ate somewhere where it was unwise to eat. We were very open-minded. (Did I say we were not in paranoid mode yet?) We got a case of food poisoning the likes of which we have, gratefully, never seen again. To be delicate, let’s just say that we needed a two-bathroom hotel room. The both of us were very, very sick for four days.

We were in Israel, in our hotel room, alternately running to the bathroom all day and all night. In the middle of the night at about the third day of our poisoning,


This was Israel. We didn’t know anyone, and yet the phone rang. That was when I switched into paranoid mode.

“Mom, is that you?” asked Sara.

“Uh, yup, it’s me,” I answered, “ What are you doing calling Israel in the middle of the night?”

“I am never doing anything for you and Daddy for the rest of my life,” she said.

“Uh huh, and why is that?” I asked.



“Uh huh,” I said. “What exactly do you mean?” I asked, needing to make a run to the bathroom.

“Here!” she said. “Talk to the doctor!” She handed the phone to a surgeon.

“Your mother has no circulation to her right foot and gangrene has set in,” the disembodied voice said.

“If we amputate now, we can get a below-the-knee, which is, naturally, far superior to an above-the-knee.” The voice said.

In the background, I heard my mother yelling:


The disembodied, apparently medical voice said:

“Your mother does not want the amputation. She says she wants to die. This is precisely what will happen if she does not get the amputation immediately.”


Then my mother got on the phone.

“If you interfere with this I will never forgive you,” she said.

“It is none of your business,” she said.

“I want to die NOW,” she said.

“This has nothing to do with you!” she said.

“If you hadn’t left me in the lurch none of this would have happened!” she said.

“This is all your fault!” she said.

“I will never forgive you!” she repeated.

I said: ”Mom, the doctor said that you will die without the surgery. Your foot has gangrene. You need to have the surgery right away or you will be left with the far harder above-the-knee prosthesis, or, what’s even worse, you will absolutely permanently die!” I pleaded.

“I damn you to hell, Irene!” she said to me.

”I hope you die in a plane crash!” she said.

“I always hated you and knew you would ruin my life,” she said.

“Mom, please let me talk to the doctor again,” I asked.

The doctor told me that she would die an appallingly horrific death without the amputation and that time was of the essence as she already had gangrene and sepsis was likely to set in very soon and death would surely result and it would be a painful death.

“Your mother does not appear to be of sound mind and it is up to you to decide,” the doctor said.

“But there was nothing wrong with her when we left.” I protested.

”Well, there’s certainly something wrong now and she will die if you don’t decide to save her right now,” said the doctor.

“Amputate her foot,” I said.

Sara got back on the phone and said:

“I will never forgive you.” (If you are counting, that made two people in my family who said they would never forgive me inside of a few minutes while I was on vacation, sick as a dog, two million miles away.)

“But Sara, Nana was fine when we left,” I said. “We had no way to know this would happen”

“You will never get me to do anything for you for the rest of your lives!” Sara said.

“You are acting as if I planned this to happen, Sara. She was perfectly fine when we left,” I reiterated.

“I may never speak to you again,” she said, and hung up the phone.

I ran to the bathroom.

Victor was already in the bathroom.

“I need to use that toilet you are on,” I said

“”So do I,” he said, “That’s why I’m on it.”

“I just told some surgeon to amputate Mom’s foot, against her will,” I said. “It was gangrenous and she would have died of sepsis in the most horrible way, the doc said, so I gave my permission because he said she was nuts and only I could save her life.”

“She’s really going to be pissed,” he said.

“How long are you going to be on there?” I asked.

“Not long,” he said.  “Why didn’t you just let her make the decision?”

“The doc said she could get a great prosthesis below the knee and she’d be just like new,” I explained.  “If we waited at all she’d need an above the knee and that’s way harder to get used to, and if we waited any longer then she would die of sepsis.”

“Are you done yet?” I asked.

“Not yet,” he answered.

“So?” he said.  “Why do you want to get in the middle of this? She’s made her decision.”

“Because my mother will die if I don’t,” I answered. If I knew then what I know now, I would have just let Mom die. It would have been better than what followed, but how was I to know that then?

When we were well enough to travel, we flew back to Champaign. Sara was still very angry, as though we had set the whole thing up just to trap her. My mother alternated screaming at me that I had ruined her chance to see my father, (my father was already 10 years in the ground at this time,) and turning her face to the wall to shun me. She only had one foot.

The saga of my mother does continue, but this is as far as I’m going to go this time. It is remarkably draining.


Comment by John P |Edit This
2008-11-05 18:08:14


Did they amputate with nail scissors, or did they use proper doctory-like tools?

I’m drained just from reading that.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-05 19:25:26

Well, John P, I was not there, since I was a million miles away, but I’m pretty sure that the surgeons did the operation and not my mother, since she was pretty much set against having it. Surgeons tend to l like their toys and they are shiny and clean. Had it been her idea, I would’ve gone with the nail scissors as a guess.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 10:17:15

Are there two John Ps or do you have two pictures that look nothing like each other?

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Pamela Norinsky |Edit This
2009-04-02 04:20:48

OMG what a disturbing story! I remember you telling me how life was with your mother but I never imagined her to be as evil as you had related to me. My deepest sympathies to you for having to endure your mother’s craziness. I thought my mother was crazy but now realize yours had a monopoly on crazy.

My mother had at one point also refused to have bypass surgery for her leg and wanted to die instead. My brother, Aaron told her he would commit her and I cried my eyes out until she decided it would be best for all concerned if she had the bypass. She is now 84 and I believe thankful she had the surgery!

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by lonny |Edit This
2008-11-06 02:46:17

i agree with this person

i thought i was going to read a light hearted story
about police or drunken pigs or some such thing

but when it was about nana i knew it was going to be draining
perhaps someone should charge my mom
for the time i mean

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:08:02

Not every story is milk and honey and puppy dogs.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Josie |Edit This
2008-11-06 11:10:40

Watch out for the mile and honey and puppy dogs… That’s how she lures you back again!!!


Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 17:20:31

Josie! You are giving my secrets away! Bad, bad Josie!

Comment by Melissa |Edit This
2008-11-05 19:15:30

Ok I am dumfounded. no words.

Woah…….and that is about it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-05 19:26:42

Oh, but Melissa, there is so much more. I’ll need to scatter this story among the really funny stuff so I can get through it with some semblance of sanity.

Comment by Melissa (Irene’s friend) |Edit This
2008-11-07 14:10:45

Funny,,,,,,,,I thought it was going to be a story like when my grandpa ran into a bus bench with his car. Then went to court and told the judge he was nuts, he was never in an accident and they were just out to get him.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 15:56:27

Just because a person is old does not make an accident his fault. All these evil people will become old themselves and it will come back to haunt them!
Poor Grandpa!

Comment by keiko |Edit This
2008-11-05 19:22:00

that was intense. that’s it for me.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-05 19:27:29

Keiko, you work with weird stuff every day. You are stronger than that! Give it another shot.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 06:30:03

What a bunch of wusses. (Can you say that anymore?) Okay, what a bunch of Pansies. (Oh. Can you say that anymore?) How about Namby-Pamby? I know! You are a bunch of yellow-bellies! (Wait. That can be insulting too.) I’ll just call you sissies. I’m not sure you can say that either, though. God, I NEED a new rule book!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 15:58:10

Keiko, you are a chickenshit.
(But I love you anyway.)

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2008-11-05 19:42:46

i believe i’ve mentioned my theory about those so-called vitreous society meetings….

anyway, nana was crazy and mean. at least she was more interesting to look at after the amputation. i never liked her.

i bet i become her.


sara didn’t mean it…she was young and she probably thought nana sucked, too.

Comment by lonny |Edit This
2008-11-06 02:57:44

nana was always nice to me

she used to always bring me cashews – which i like a lot
tim or lenore would ask ‘why dont we get anything’

nana would say ‘no i only brought something for lonny’
hell yeah – i rule

i have nothing but fond memories of her cookies and getting us chinese food
oh and when we used to go to red lobster and all she ate was hush puppies
and she would put half eaten ones in her purse wrapped in napkins
the hush puppies i mean
she didnt wrap her purse in napkins – that would be silly

im not defending some of the horrible things nana thought it necessary to say to my mom
in fact just found out while reading this delightful little story

it was a typical upbringing
you know baskets full of potpourri, paintings of barns and lakes, lots of mayonnaise….

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:35:25

Oh Lonny, I know. You had something in you that made her just adore you. She actively disliked the other four children. This caused problems for them and for me, but you were the perfect child for her. At least she loved one of you. The sun rose and set in your eyes for her. It was good for you and good for her to have someone to love so completely and unquestioningly. Grandmothers are supposed to be this way, but they usually love all the grandchildren. Nana had a bit of a glitch there.

I forgot about the pilfering. She’d take anything, wrap it up in a napkin and go home. Back in the old days when they gave you silverware and plates on airplanes, she’d take those too. Her bag was always full of packets of sugar and sometimes she’d unscrew the tops of salt and pepper shakers and put in some piece of napkin and screw the tops back on and then put them in her purse.

She always seemed to need more. She didn’t need any of this stuff. She had plenty, but she had this hole she couldn’t fill.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by John P |Edit This
2008-11-06 12:12:47

We would go to Yosemite National Park on Christmas day every year when I was growing up in Fresno. Sometimes we ate lunch at the Ahwahnee hotel and my mom would steal their fancy silverware. Only one piece at a time, but we ended up with a couple of complete sets by the time I left for college.
I think the similarity between my mom and your mom stop there. Although I think her mom (my grandmother) had some of those crazy mean spirited tendancies, but she died when I was very young so I don’t remember.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 12:56:34

What is it that makes certain mothers steal stuff they don’t need right in front of their kids? I think it’s a very peculiar thing. Also curious is that it happens so much.

I’m glad your Mom was nice. You should tell her how you feel. I’m probably sounding like a broken record here, but if you wrote her a short note and mailed it to her she would clutch it to her breast and treasure it the rest of her life. Promise, John P!

Comment by John P |Edit This
2008-11-10 10:19:52

I wish I could. She committed suicide in ‘98. I was only 22 and had just started grad school. I sure didn’t call or write enough when I had the chance.

Irene is right everyone – call your mothers and tell them how wonderful they are and how much you appreciate them while you still can. (Unless they are like her mom, then I’m not sure what you should do).

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-10 12:02:13

Oh John, I am so sorry!
No one thinks to call or write enough until they get old enough to wish people would call or write. You’re just a normal person. I’m sure she knew how you felt. Mothers always do, they just enjoy hearing it. I’m sorry that your Mom was in that much pain. I’m sorry that you have to carry that on your back for the rest of your life. That’s a heavy load at a young age.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:11:38

Sara was wonderful! She took on two jobs that were supposed to be easy breezy and ended up with the twilight zone. She’s probably gets a twinge every time she agrees to do something seemingly simple, all these years later.

Sometime I’ll go into why Nana was how she was. You’d forgive her. She didn’t mean it either. You can’t help it when you’re nuts.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:44:07

Lenore, can you imagine how hard it was for Sara, who is so GOOD, to do everything she could to please Nana and to be rebuffed? The rest of you took it in stride, but Sara always CARED so much. It broke my heart. (And she’s the one who got stuck with the “incidents!”) If you read this, Sara, I am unreservedly sorry!

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Christine |Edit This
2008-11-05 21:10:04

Good gravy! Your mom sounds like my mom during her “bad menopausal years,” only your mom was always in Mach 10 Bitch mode.

You are the polar opposite of that Irene…and I love ya!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:14:56

When I was raising my kids and I started to become frustrated I would always stop and take a breath and say to myself: “You are NOT your mother. You have patience. Relax and enjoy your wild beautiful children.” It worked pretty well, the fear of becoming my mother.

Comment by George |Edit This
2008-11-05 21:28:58

When your mother lost her foot, did you change her name from Rose to Ilene (i lean!!).

Comment by George |Edit This
2008-11-05 21:28:58

When your mother lost her foot, did you change her name from Rose to Ilene (i lean!!).

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:16:03

OUCH! George, that is such a lame joke!

Comment by ` |Edit This
2008-11-05 22:09:31

I really wanted to go somewhere exotic where the economy was not dependent on fudge.

Priceless, that one.

I, for one, am incredibly entertained by this story. My grandma got pretty mean at the end, too – only NANA has her beat by a landslide. I wonder if I will be mean and what horse froth I will spout at my children…

Comment by lonny |Edit This
2008-11-06 03:02:03

the fudge store in eagle river was really something

they made licorice of many flavors, jaw breakers of many sizes (up to just silly and wont even fit in ones mouth), rock candy, candy dots (which is sugar on paper- if you dont know), and of course fudge – lots and lots of fudge


Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:38:44

On Parents’ Weekend I think each person gained at least 5 pounds just from the Eagle River Fudge Store. The sugar smell would knock you right over when you walked in the door. I’m certainly happy we don’t have that where I live, what with having the metabolism of a person in a coma and all.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:23:09

Nana was under control, somewhat, when my Dad was alive. After he died, there was no one to say, (appropriately,) “Shut up, Rose!” Without him, she was an untethered tiger. Ten years of untethered tiger I was responsible for.

Sometimes old folks get really sweet. I’m hoping that will happen to you and me. My dog and I work at an old folks home and it’s mostly the sweet ones, only a few are mean and paranoid. We’ll be the kind of old folks that people WANT to visit!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 06:47:35

What happened to your name, Erika Rae?

2008-11-06 12:18:40

Hmmm. I think I was trying to go incognito. Or something.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 12:59:01

LOVE your new moniker! Who could ever forget it?

“Did you hear that Schmerika Schmrae got another book published?” I can hear it right now. Think how easy it would be to find your books on the shelves of the bookstores!

Comment by Josie |Edit This
2008-11-05 22:52:11

OK – that was quite a tale and I’m real sorry for you but dang it Irene – do not take me into the bathroom with you and your husband ever again, especially while he is on the pot!

I will never forgive you for the images you have left in my head!
I may never read you again.

:::Stomps out of the bathroom:::

And tell (Lenore’s dad) to light a match, will ya!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 05:25:55

Josie, I told it as it was. We were so sick when all this went down. I’m afraid the whole room stank, not just the bathroom. Wait, I think I just made it worse for you. Solution ahead:

I think eating ice cream washes those icky images from your mind. Go get some Chunky Monkey.

Comment by Josie |Edit This
2008-11-06 11:08:37

This is how you tricked Sara into round two, isn’t it?
I’m feeling like you’re setting me up for something here… like this whole thing is a trap…

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:03:30

Oh my poor Sara, the WORST things happened to her when she was the emergency person for my mother. No one should have to be in the positions she was in. The thing is that there was no warning, no hint anything could go wrong. She’ll probably hold it over my head forever.

Chunky Monkey, I promise. It will be all wiped from your memory.

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2008-11-06 06:08:53

A surgeon entered the room. Maam, he said, I have good news and bad news, which would you like first. The thoughtful woman replied, I would like to hear the bad news first so the good news will cheer me up.
You need to have your foot amputated immediately. Oh, my G, she said. Quick, tell me the good news.
Your roomate wants to buy your slippers.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 06:17:48

ksw, That is a really funny joke. (And in much better taste than the earlier one!)

I can always count on you to make me smile.

Comment by amanda |Edit This
2008-11-06 07:05:41

Ohhhh involuntary foot amputation, that’s a good one. In my family, that would totally be On The List.

My brother and I keep a running tally of “things we were denied as children”. It includes pony rides in our backyard on our birthday, a limousine for the grade 8 prom, being allowed to stand on top of the refrigerator, and so on. In order to make it onto the list, we need to witness someone else enjoying the thing, for instance my mom’s cat is allowed to wreck the joint without punishment, doesn’t have to clean up after himself, is served treats at least thrice daily. The neighbour’s kids have their own private bunk house in the yard, own tiny motorcycles, and get to use any language they please. When we see yet another thing for the list, we announce it by shouting to our mother, “That’s on the list, too!” “Also on the list!” “Put that on the list!” etc.

There is a companion list of “things we had to do which others did not”. Making major medical decisions for our grandmother, that would definitely be on this second list.

In fairness, I am sure my mother also keeps a list of “things I had to deal with at the hands of my children, which other mothers were spared”. I suspect this list includes “daughter having boyfriend with own apartment at age 16″, “daughter going gay for 9 years then switching back”, and “daughter getting first tattoo in friend’s basement at 16, hiding it under long-sleeved shirts till age 20, then proceeding to get several more to keep the first ugly one company.”

If you were to keep such a list, you would surely be entitled to add ALL events in your story to it, without delay.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 10:10:41

Amanda, I love your lists! I have to say that it never even occurred to me to even WANT to stand on top of the refrigerator. My kids didn’t think of it either. I’ll bet that is a singular wish, maybe peculiar to your family. (Not that I am intimating in any way that your family is peculiar. Seriously, who am I to even hint at peculiarity with my glass house?)

The things you had to do that others did not is a really hard one. Medical decisions for someone you love suck eggs. You can’t win. Nothing is the right choice.

My daughter, Lenore, (you probably already know her,) got herself her first tattoo in her junior year of High School. I assure you she did NOT look 18. It was horrendous. I didn’t see it for at least a year. I talked about it somewhere on TNB, but I forget where. It looked like a map of her ovary on the skin on top of her actual ovary. It was hideous. She had it changed into a quite beautiful hummingbird which is actually about 16 times life size. We call her tattoo girl now, for the sheer number of her tattoos.

Did you have any problems with getting yours in your basement? It doesn’t sound like the most sanitary of places for such an undertaking. Who did it? (Don’t say a friend, please.)

My lists are sort of amorphous blotches in my head. I don’t know what’s there until I start to write. (There’s probably a psychiatric term for that.)

Pets are universally treated better than kids. There’s a reason for that. Pets are WAY nicer. Ask anyone with both.

Comment by Dana |Edit This
2008-11-06 08:09:32

Wow. What a cantankerous old crank. But it makes for a great story! (I love your stories, even if I do tend to get a bit queasy at times.) What IS it with old people pilfering stuff from restaurants? I know a lot of people attribute it to living through the depression, but that’s true of a lot of people who don’t line their pockets with free napkins and condiments.
My now deceased mother-in-law never saw a jam display or Equal packet that she didn’t want to shove in her pocket. When we helped clean out her closets we found a little treasure in every pocket. )

I’m sorry your mom was mean. My grandfather was a monster and my mom is a saint. You and she are living proof that these cycles can be broken.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 10:16:01

Dana, I am so proud to have made you queasy! That’s a first for me and I think I should get some kind of award. GO ME!

Did your Mother-in-Law wrap leaky food up in napkins too and put it in her purse? That always got to me. Usually she actually carried around a baggie to put the napkin-wrapped food in, so her purse didn’t get all wet. Creepy behavior.

Tell your Mom today that you think she’s a Saint! Better still, write it in a little note and mail it to her. I swear she will cry and keep it forever. Trust me on this, Dana.

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2008-11-07 17:09:05

Hey, Ma

You remember how she used to get all her money in singles and carry around a huge wad of cash?

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 18:29:44

Yeah, I forgot that. Tim! It always made her feel like she had more money when the roll was thicker. HA! I like ones too. (uh oh for you guys!)

Comment by amanda |Edit This
2008-11-06 10:41:28

As described here, oh yes, the tattoo was done by a friend:

It was an eyesore, and while my mother thinks “tattoo” is short-hand for “stupid ugly thing you did to ruin your perfectly pretty body and one day you and all your tattooed friends are gonna regret what you’ve done to yourselves”, she grudgingly prefers the cover-up to the original.

As for the fridge-scaling, well, in our house, all the “good” stuff was hidden in the cupboard above the fridge. Getting on top of it was the quickest route to raiding the supplies of candy, ribbons, scotch, elastics for pinging, cake decorations and loose coins (depending on the age of the climber, their interests and goals upon reaching the cupboard varied). The ban on actually getting right up there and rooting around, well, this was clearly unfair to those family members too short to reach the cupboard by any other way.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 11:00:37

I love your beetles, Amanda!
I believe I used those same words to my daughter, Lenore. Mother’s speak from the same handbook.

I can’t imagine a category to explain the range of strange things hidden above your fridge. Why would rubber bands be with the scotch? Why ribbons with the candy? This is stumping me. Did your mother just hide anything you guys wanted but couldn’t have up there? That would make sense.

Comment by amanda |Edit This
2008-11-06 12:44:00

Although my parents have moved house several times since we were small, there is STILL a cupboard that contains: a carton of wooden matches; three bottles of Johnnie Walker; sandwich bags; the scissors and pens; a sushi and sake service; massive sacks of potato chips; and some swizzle sticks.

Sometimes, when I am home visiting, I just stand there on a chair, gazing at that crazy top shelf. There is no explanation, none whatsoever, for this mingling of household goods.

The jar of rubber bands has been moved, to the cupboard that contains all the drinking glasses.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:30:26

Amanda, I love the way your mother thinks. It’s so unconventional. Now I’m going to puzzle over why the far of rubber bands moved to the cupboard with the drinking glasses. Why would you possibly need a glass and a rubber band at the same time? If the glass is broken, you can’t hold it together with a rubber band; it’ll still leak. I’m not going to give up. I’m going to think on this mystery. It’s good to have a mysterious mother!

Did you see below that Marcia had a friend whose mother padlocked all the food? At least you could move a chair and sneak up there when your mom was on the other side of the house. It was hard, but you still had a fighting chance.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:05:28

mothers! Where did that damn apostrophe come from? (Must learn to proof read!)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 16:04:16

and jar, not far. I MUST LEARN TO PROOF READ!

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Autumn |Edit This
2008-11-06 11:12:47

I enjoyed the story. That being said, I tend to lean toward misery when I choose my reading material. Not sure why that is.

My family would have done the same thing. My grandmother will turn 99 in December and she has become very bitter at times. But she still lives in her home (with hired help) and she never drove in her entire life so we never had to worry about that. She dotes on the great grandchildren now, as she once doted on us. That’s something anyway. She reserves most of her nastiness for my mother, who after years of spending AT LEAST two or three days a week with her, finally found someone to spend her time with. Since my mother has had a boyfriend, the last 6 years or so, my grandmother treats her as though she has abandoned her completely and is pretty mean to her most of the time. This despite the fact that my mother still makes it over there at least once a week to bathe her, fill her pillbox, etc. My uncle, whose home you can get to through my grams back yard, rarely sees her. Gram is much more understanding of him. The reason you ask? He is a man. That’s all it takes in my grandmother’s mind to absolve you of her disdain. Just have the right genitalia and you are off the hook. (although he has his hands full at home, but that’s another story)

Anyway, blah blah blah. Sorry, this is your story time, not mine. I want to know more.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:10:13

Oh Autumn, your poor Mom! The ungrateful ones can pierce your heart. I also have a brother. Ask me how much help he was to me for ten years. No, don’t. I can’t bear to start another draining story. I’ll write that sometime later. The story of the only child my mother wanted. Oh yes. Another time.

Tell your mother how wonderful she is. (Or just read advice I’ve written twice because I’m obsessed with this topic.)

Comment by Autumn |Edit This
2008-11-06 15:42:27

I try to make a point to remind my mom of how much I appreciate her so I hope she knows it. Phone calls, the occasional card in the mail for no reason. I’m sure she has her faults but to me, she’s pretty much achieved sainthood. I have nothing but adoration for her.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain about my grandmother since it wasn’t until her early 90’s that her attitude change went into effect. Even still she’s mostly pleasant as long as you have one of her great grandchildren in tow. I don’t have children so I tend to limit my visits to when my sister is heading over there too.

Whenever family members get to talking about her mean moments we sort of chalk it up to the fact that she has earned it by being wonderful all her life and making it as far as she has. If she’s bitter in her old age I suppose that I might be too. Most of her friends have died and her family is spread out and her husband has been gone for over 30 years. Really she’s just lonely, and that I can understand.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 17:15:00

Old is hard. So many of the people you love are dead and you feel like shit. Everything hurts and you can’t hear or see well. I think I’ll be pretty cranky if I get into my 90s. Since she was warm and kind for decades, she’s due a little slack. Borrow a friend’s kid and bring him over and say he’s yours. She’ll probably think she forgot and get all happy. How can it hurt?

Comment by jmb |Edit This
2008-11-06 11:16:43

It’s a compliment but I was tired after I read this.

We flew two million miles to get to Israel.

The old rabbi told me once that everywhere Torah says Israel you can insert your own name.
Israel is symbolic for God’s relationship with us.
Israel means,
One who struggles with God.


Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:18:36

jmb, thank you.
I was emptied out when I wrote it, and it’s only the beginning of this particular story. I’ll need some sort of break. I’ll write about the worms in the Amazon or something. Something that doesn’t grab my stomach and pull it forcibly out.

I didn’t know about what the Rabbi told you. We have a Torah. I will try to read it that way and see what happens.

My relationship with God is a struggle.
So many questions unanswered.
and yet
and yet

Comment by jmb |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:36:10

And yet.

That’s what faith is, right? The and yet?

what’s that Leonard Cohen said?
love is not a victory march,
its a cold and its a broken Hallelujah….

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:47:03

Whoa. That’s beautiful.

Comment by Josie |Edit This
2008-11-06 19:59:26

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 20:10:46

Wow, Josie, that was stunningly beautiful. Thank you.

Comment by Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) |Edit This
2008-11-06 11:22:36

When my mom was a child, she had a friend whose mom kept a padlock on the food cupboard in the kitchen. There was no between meal snacking in that house! I can’t even imagine living with someone like that. You need to tell the story about Nana visiting the in-laws in England. I have forgotten what happened but I know it was funny.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 13:20:48

A PADLOCK? That woman had control issues, Marcia!

Marcia how can you remember a story I forgot? Now I’ll have to get in touch with my brother.

Comment by ben |Edit This
2008-11-06 14:40:15

I remember thinking that summer camp was required of us, like school. I thought the federal government mandated that I be without air conditioning and surrounded by suburban Chicago Jews for 8 weeks out of the summer.

That does not make much sense, but I was pretty little.

If I had known it was just to give you two some peace and quiet I would have protested.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 15:24:04

Oh Ben. You can think it was to give us peace and quiet, but, really, what kind of peace and quiet could we ever have being responsible for NANA?
We sent you to camp so you would learn about the outdoors and be with loads of kids and have fun. You lived in a city where there was NOTHING for you to in the Summer at all.
Instead of watching TV or playing video games, in your case, you were playing team sports and learning how to live with others without the interference of your mother. I know your father didn’t interfere, but I was incapable of not interfering. They have a name for that now: helicopter mothers. I know it. I’m sorry. It was impossible for me to be any different.
I hated when you all left. My nest was empty for all camp time. It was a preview of what was to come. If I had it to do over, I would have the kind of kids that never grow up. Best time of my life. Best.
We’ll see what you do when you have kids. Maybe you’ll let them play video games all summer and eat blue candy. I doubt it though. When you grow up and have kids everything changes. (For the better, I might add.)

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2008-11-07 17:05:26

Yea. No shit, Ben.

Why did we have to hang out in Eagle River? Wasn’t there a closer Jewish-athlete enclave we could’ve spent the summer in? I hate sports. Always have. At least you had the balls to ask to go to Jewish science camp instead.

You always did like going your own way. Shithead.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 18:34:17

You know, you ingrates, your Dad LOVED camp. He wanted you to have the same experience. How could we know you’d be sports-impaired?
That damn Science camp messed up our 21st wedding anniversary. We were going to go to Africa for it, but the Parents’ Weekends were two different weekends because you were in different camps. Spent our 21st anniversary on the worst bed in the smelliest motel in the universe instead.
Sports-impaired losers!

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2008-11-21 21:40:51

We weren’t all that sports-impaired. We just didn’t like that sort of thing. You know, being outside and so forth.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2008-11-22 05:48:47

I’m pretty sure that not being outside makes you sports-impaired, but correct me if I’m wrong, Tim.

Comment by Amy |Edit This
2008-11-06 17:24:35

Believe it or not I found the time to read this while the baby was sleeping and the hubby is out for the night! I forgot what peace and quiet was like. My grandmother is not as crazy, but still basically not a nice person. I can relate.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-06 20:00:57

It is absolutely astounding how many crazy grandmothers there are out there!

(What are you doing on the computer? You should be asleep when the baby’s asleep, remember?)

Comment by Sara Zion |Edit This
2008-11-07 07:24:31

Luckily, this was fifteen or twenty years ago.
I don’t remember much and besides, it’s done now.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 08:54:38

Oh Sara, I’m so sorry that we put you in this position twice. If only we could have known ahead of time, we could have saved you the trauma. Anything you said to us was richly deserved. Luckily there are no more crazy grandparents and besides, I’d never ask you again for anything like that. I promise not to be a crazy old lady. I will never move into your house. You’re safe now.

2008-11-07 07:43:33

Seriously, Irene.

Are you writing these stories down in a larger format? I’d suggest “Running With Nail Scissors”, but that’s been done.

And when you do… I want first dibs on the screen adaptation rights. Pretty please?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 08:56:43

I never wrote anything before in my life. What you read on TNB is it. I have to thank Brad for inviting me because I am having the time of my life here.

Kimberly, if ever, you got it!

Comment by donald |Edit This
2008-11-07 08:06:50

your mom sounds like…..a….lovely woman…..yup! very nice!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 08:58:41

Donald, I don’t believe I have ever heard that about my mother. That’s a first.

(I have a feeling you are being facetious, though.)

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2008-11-07 17:01:47

Man, I sure am glad I wasn’t the one who had to call you guys with that news. Poor Sara. I remember I got arrested for underage drinking when she was watching us one of the other times you people were out of town. I tried to get her to not tell you guys. I was a bit of an asshole.

I got the shits in Israel too.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-07 18:38:06

You got arrested for underage drinking with Sara in charge? Oh my God, that poor girl!
You know she never told us. She kept your secret and your juvenile delinquent butt out of trouble.

(Thanks for sharing about your bowels, though.)

Comment by Cecile |Edit This
2008-11-08 15:23:47

I was here in USA when when that infamous call came from Israel, crying what should we do?? I believe Ira went to take a look to make sure there were no hallucinations going on. Poor Rose. It was the real deal. Some things things we don’t forget (too bad we can’t remember the good stuff as easily!)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-08 16:47:58

I called you? I don’t even remember that. Ira has always been a prince among men. Yeah. Poor Rose. No one should have to go through that, even a crazy wacko grandmother who hates kids.

Comment by Ursula |Edit This
2008-11-08 16:21:47

Again a story well told. It is certainly understandable after two bad experiences with “Nana” that Sara would say “no” to further requests to “help out”, but my feeling is that Sara would have and would do anything for you if you really needed her.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-08 18:13:07

Ursula, you are entirely right. She’s always been dependable. She couldn’t change that if she tried. She’s reliable in spite of everything.

Comment by alex d |Edit This
2008-11-14 07:00:20

you see thats why vacations suck and if sara wont help you im always around the corner

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2008-11-14 15:14:11

Thanks, Alex,
You are the sweetest of the sweet. (However, since NANA is not on the docket, it’s not such a huge offer as it would have been….)

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2008-12-02 05:41:07

as always one should be quite careful about what they wish for, especially for someone else. Is it not strange how we learn so much from our families,even when the method of learning is so regrettable … you are one great friend caw

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2008-12-02 10:45:07

Hello, not really ksw,
As I recall, you’ve learned a thing or two from your family also. (Also, sometimes regrettable….)
Such is life.

Comment by Mary Richert |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:52:17

I don’t know why, but I love Nana. I also think she would be extraordinarily difficult to deal with, but you do such a good job of making her this… just incredible person. I think “incredible” is a word I’m going to overuse in reference to your family. I apologize for that in advance. Your writing makes me feel like the most difficult experiences are the ones most worth having. That may be a silly assumption on my part. But really, I’m so glad you’re telling these stories.