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This is the first installment of my column, CNF 500. The column will deal with topics related to anything and everything creative nonfiction, and will be 500 words. As essays editor of The Nervous Breakdown, I’m always ready to consider essay submissions of any length for publication. Please email essays to ekleinman at thenervousbreakdown dot com.

I’m going to tell my mom about my writing.

We’re in the International District in Seattle. It’s January. I’ve always liked these types of outings with her. We took the bus from Lynnwood. I’m wearing her coat because I live in Austin, Texas and I don’t have anything warm to wear. It’s a black coat from JCPenney with huge pockets and a fluffy hood.

 

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 

People think I’m nuts. They think that I am a killer, a badass, and a dangerous woman. They think that I am a boot-stomping, man-chomping rock ’n’ roll sex thug with heavy leather straps on my well-notched bedposts and a line around the block of challengers vying for a ride between my crushing thighs, many of whom won’t survive the encounter.

That’s what I like people to think, anyway. Some actually buy it. My manufactured mythology had begun on stage in San Francisco, and was full-on folklore here in Portland. My band, The Balls, had become a wild success over the past three years, and we packed a downtown club called Dante’s once a week, as well as clubs throughout the west coast from Seattle to San Diego. My sex thuggery is reserved for only one man, however. And though we fuck like we just got out of prison, home life is domestic. I help with the care and feeding of my boyfriend’s young son, cutting off crusts, giving back tickles. I even own an apron.

Despite my disenchanting normality, however, I get to sing for a living, drink free most places, and I get laid regularly. Life is good.

And now it’s Christmas time, so I’m all extra everything with good cheer. December in Portland can be a dreary spectacle. Right around Halloween, a big chilly sog plops its fat ass over the Pacific Northwest and stays parked there until Independence Day. Even in the gray, spitting rain, however, I’m all atwinkle, heading to Hawthorne Boulevard to skip through herds of wet hippies to Christmas shop. And even though I find those pube farmers highly irritating, I am humming “In Excelsis Deo” and in love with the world, so fuck ’em.

Hawthorne is a main thoroughfare in southeast Portland where, on one block, you can buy a latte, Indonesian end tables, pants for your cat, a vinyl corset, or a two-hundred-dollar T-shirt. It’s a great place to find perfect gifts for the loved ones in your life, and I am going to buy the greatest Christmas gift ever.

“The Greatest Gift of All”: I hear my little fourth-grade voice trilling in my memory bank. It was in a school Christmas play and was the first solo I ever took on stage. It was also one of the few times my mom saw me sing in front of a real audience.

“The greatest giiift of aaall . . . it can come from aaany wheeere!” I sang the heck out of it, if memory serves.

My mom had started beading and was taking it very seriously. She was selling pieces on eBay—seriously—so I’m headed to a store called Beads Forever to get her some killer imported beads, maybe some semiprecious stones. I have a vision of getting her a badass assortment and putting them in a cool, funky box. It’s the first Christmas gift I will buy for her in maybe ten years, and it will be perfect.

“Per-fect!” I sing in a fake opera voice.

I see the store ahead through my swishing windshield wipers and, “Fuckyouuu!!” I sing in triumph, to no one, as there is a perfect parking space directly in front of the store. “ Rock-star fucking parking!” I pull up, swoosh my wet car into the spot, throw it into park and my phone rings. The little lit-up window reads “BDLarge.”

“Dad? Hey, Dad.”

“Hi, sweetie.” His voice sounds heavy.

“What’s wrong?”

He sighed. Someone must’ve died. My grandmother. Neeny. God, at Christmas we lose Neeny Cat? 

“Dad?” 

“Your mom died last night.”

What?

“Who?” His mom. Neeny. Ninety-four, lost her mind when her husband of sixty-odd years passed.

“Your ma.”

“Who?” More sighing. Why the fuck is he sighing so much? Should I get out of the car? 

“Your ma. Your mom died last night. They don’t know what happened yet sweetie, but . . .”

I’m literally looking into the store where I’m going to get her Christmas gift. Should I still? My hand is on the door, my car is parked . . . rock-star parking and the best gift ever. No. I say no to this. My dad says something about having to call my brothers and will I be okay? He’ll call me back right away. Love you. Bye.

Love you. Bye. 

It’s dark and raining but people can still see into the car, and I must look crazy. I grab the steering wheel with both hands and suddenly I’m sobbing, screaming at the gauges. What the fuck to do?

Where do I go, home? I can’t see. I can’t drive. I call my boyfriend at work. “Hi. Can you come get me? My mom is dead and I’m on Hawthorne.”

She’s gone. 

My first thought. She is gone. Not my first thought. No. Fucking no. I’m thrashing around inside my body. What the fuck do I do? What am I thinking? No. I peel my mind away like a child turning its face from a tablespoon of cough syrup. No. My first thought.

My first? Thank God. Thank God she’s gone. “Thank God she’s gone.”

 

Excerpted from CRAZY ENOUGH: A Memoir by Storm Large. Copyright 2012 by Storm Large. Published by Free Press.

 

Sung to the tune of “Paint it Black”

I see a row of curlers and I want them taken out
My friends are on their way / I want them taken out

Sung to the tune of “Under My Thumb”

Under my name / Mom, this mail was not addressed to you
Under my name / What if this had been personal?
See it’s right there?
See how my name is there and not yours or Dad’s
The mail has come and
It’s under my name

Sung to the tune of “Let’s Spend the Night Together”

Let’s spend the evening together
Playing monopoly and eating Bagel Bites
It’s not weird because it’s Sunday
And you’re pretty funny when you’ve had a margarita

Sung to the tune of “Get Off of My Cloud”

Hey (Hey!) Mom (Mom!) / Get off of the phone!
I’m (I’m!) Still (Still!) on the goddamn phone!

Sung to the tune of “Brown Sugar”

Brown Sugar / You cook it on Butternut Squash
Brown Sugar / It’s good but really sweet

Sung to the tune of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”

I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag,
I was schooled with a strap right across my back,
But it’s all right now, in fact it’s a gas!
But it’s all right, I’m just kidding, Mom!
It was a gas, gas, gas!

Hi, Laurie.  It’s Mom.  What are you doing?

Hi, Mom. I’m…working on a self-interview for a website that is going to run a nice segment on my new book.

 

Is this the book about the ghost? Why did you write a book about a ghost? That’s stupid. You can’t even see them. That’s like writing a book that’s not even really there. James Patterson never wrote a book about ghosts and he’s very successful.

I know he is.

 

He’s my favorite writer.

I know he is.

 

You should write books like James Patterson does.

(Silence.)

 

You know?

Yeah.

 

His titles are so catchy, like Cat and Mouse, Jack and Jill and Pop Goes the Weasel. You should use titles like that, titles you can remember instead of Ghost….Ghost…Ghost the Friendly Ghost? Is that what you called it?

Spooky Little Girl, Mom. It’s called Spooky Little Girl.

 

I don’t know why you wrote a ghost book. That’s stupid. What could you say that Patrick Swayze didn’t already say in the movie?

This isn’t a book about I wrote a book about ghosts because my dental hygienist told me an incredible story about her friend, Lucy Fisher, who was kicked out of her house by her boyfriend and lost her job in the same week. The next week, she moved to a different city to live with her sister, and her first day there, she was hit by a bus and killed. But none of her friends knew it, although they thought they kept seeing her places or hearing her voice. It was crazy to me that a person could just disappear like that; Lucy’s friends didn’t find out she had died until long after she met with the bus. We think we’re so “plugged in” with our cell phones, email, Skype, chats, contact lists, but the truth is that given the right set of circumstances, any one of us could vanish just like that—and some people wouldn’t find out for months, or a year. I wanted to take the perspective of Lucy and run a little crazy with it. In Spooky Little Girl, Lucy’s unexpected death lands her in ghost school, where she has to learn the parameters of haunting with other “surprise demisers”; how to get things done, communicate with the living and successfully complete her assignment—with a touch of revenge–without being noticed and exorcized by a dirty fake psychic hippie that keeps lurking around and has the capacity to launch Lucy into the unknown for eternity.

 

Is Whoopi Goldberg in it? You should put her in your book. You should tell your boss that. When does the book come out?

No, Whoopi Goldberg is not in the book, but there is a somewhat wicked grandmother ghost who likes to pinch the rump of another lady in the book who is not very nice. Grandma’s a pincher. She likes to pinch bad people when they’re on the potty, mess around with their images in digital picture frames, steal socks and battle nosy mailmen. So there really wasn’t room for Whoopi Goldberg; I already have a full house of ghosts, ex-boyfriends and some crazy bitches. The book comes out April 13. On Tuesday.

 

Oh. Then you have time to put Whoopi in. You put Whoopi Goldberg on anything and it will sell. Look at what she did for The View.

The book is finished and printed; you know this, you have a copy. Besides, where would I even put that sort of character in the story? Where did you think I needed Whoopi Goldberg?

 

(Silence).

(Silence).

 

(Silence).

You didn’t read the book.

 

I’m reading….something else. I have to finish that one first.

Let me guess. Step on a Crack or When the Wind Blows?

 

No. But you should really change your book mugshot to something outdoorsy and sporty, like—

Sarah Palin? Holy shit. Are you reading Going Rogue instead of my book?

 

She’s an inspiration. She has five children, a job and kills her own meat, probably every day.

So if I kill something, you’ll read my book? Next time I come to your house, I’m stealing five Ambien out of your pill bottle for reading that book.

 

She didn’t steal those clothes. They were a gift. Anyway. You still using too much salt?

Yes. When I smell burning hair, I’ll stop, but if you keep talking about Sarah Palin, I will probably have a vein burst in my head concurrently. Huh. What’s this? A nosebleed…?

 

Did you get electrolysis yet?

I’ll pluck today. When I’m done with this interview.

 

Oh, yeah. We’re done.

 

 

 


 

If Mom were a superhero, she would be The Piddler.

When she needs to wash her hands, she’ll look through coupons first. If she needs to pick up the dry cleaning, she’ll stop at the antique store on the way. And when she needs to go to work, she’ll watch a rerun of Ab Fab, then show up half an hour late claiming, “Traffic was just awful today,” which, turns out, is every day.

I’d like to say that old age is responsible for this poking trait, but Mom’s always been a world class stoner without the weed.

When I was a Sid-and-Marty-Kroft kid, we’d always roll into church during the second hymn. I can still recall Birdie Cullen’s glass eye popping over to sneer at us as we inched down the red carpet to an open pew in the front (always in the front!) while the congregation sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” completely off key.

[Church was where I first realized that God hated me, but we’ll get to that later.]

My sister, clever mother of five beautiful children whom she manages with aplomb via color coated folders and spreadsheets, often gives my mom the incorrect time for family functions so that mom is sure to arrive on time.

“I gave her an extra hour,” my sister huffs as she opens the door for Mom who is now thirty minutes late for the event (an hour and a half if you go by the time she was told to be there.)

My brother, a staunch Libertarian who spends most of his Saturdays cooking tenderloin on his Smith and Hawken grill while wearing his sherpa-lined Crocs, bellows to his Belarusian wife, “Expecting her to be on time is like expecting Bill Maher not to cuss. Ain’t gonna fucking happen. Have a radish, monkey?”

“Thank you, Puffin,” she coos before turning to adjust a place setting, most likely from Williams-Sonoma.

They make me sick with their love.

But I’m happy for him.

Really.

One time, The Piddler made us late for a funeral.

Somebody’s uncle had died, and we never missed a funeral. They served bar-b-q beenie weenies afterwards, usually with cellophane toothpicks.

On this occasion, we made our way down the red carpet to a pew near the front (of course), right behind the weeping mistress who outed herself that day.

She was the widow’s best friend.

There was a slapping fight in the lobby afterwards. The wife lost her wig. The mistress lost her dignity. I permanently lost my appetite for beanie weenies.

[Why do friends fuck each other’s husbands?]

[Why do Protestant churches all seem to have red carpet? Isn’t red the color of Satan? And whores? And fire? I contend there is evil envy in the church, but we’ll get to that later, too.]

(So many questions, so few acid trips.)

Once again we had to pass Birdie Cullen, always a fixture at any church function, which included funerals, weddings, baptisms and bingo.

Birdie’s face never moved whenever we passed her. She would be transfixed on the pulpit, seemingly entrenched in the pastor’s words, but then that glass eye would whip around to find us, like the Weirding Way fighter training module in David Lynch’s Dune; and boy, could that eye shoot daggers faster than a pissed off carnie.

It was just a matter of time before Birdie’s eye started killing. Of this I was sure.

“Don’t stare,” The Piddler reprimanded, then waved to the church organist, Randy Butterman, the first closeted gay man I ever met.

(Mom and Dad were professional dancers, so I only knew the braggart kind.)

Incidentally, we were late for the funeral because The Piddler wanted to deadhead her geraniums.

Another time, The Piddler made me late for a concert I was supposed to play in high school. I was fourteen, an especially sensitive age.

We arrived at the auditorium fifteen minutes late (in retrospect, not too bad for The Piddler) because Mom wanted to make a quick stop at the drug store to get a new pair of pantyhose since the ones she had on had a run. Unfortunately, it was Sunday and The Blue Law forbade her from buying pantyhose on Sunday.

[You were also forbidden from buying washing machines or frying pans, which I found ironic since most religions like to keep their women cooking and cleaning, preferably barefoot where I’m from. The Blue Law seemed counterproductive. But life is full of these wonderful paradoxes.]

Though Mom was a practicing Presbyterian, she didn’t conform to a lot of religious hoopla, especially if it meant she had to go anywhere with a run in her stockings. After a meaningless but heated conversation with the pimple-faced clerk, she left without a new pair of nylons but did manage to procure a new romance novel, which she read at all the stoplights on the way to the concert, much to the chagrin of neighboring drivers.

When we finally arrived at the concert hall, the orchestra was already deep into the Summermovement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and I had to creep through the violas during the simulated thunderstorm.

To add fuel to the fire, The Piddler kept snapping my picture as Sammy Black, my super duper badass crush, watched me stumble with my cello through a maze of moving elbows. Flash after flare, The Piddler seemed to capture every nanosecond of this bright red moment. At least the flash was in time with the music, and it did add to the stormy atmosphere of the movement.

When I finally arrived at my chair, my nemesis, Sandy Ween, grumbled, “Figures.”

I jabbed her in the head with my bow.

The Piddler snapped a picture.

Later that evening, I asked The Piddler, “When will you develop the film?” I wanted to relive my magnum opus with Sandy Ween over again.

“You know what’s funny?”

“What?” I replied.

“I completely forgot to put film in the camera.”

Figures.