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Strove to find a way to punch people in the face by using the Internet.

8/16/2004

DIARY OF INDIGNITIES
Meet My New Adopted Cousin, Anthony
Last weekend marked my lesbian mother’s 60th birthday. This was celebrated in her typical fashion, crazy.

I know, I know... Everyone thinks their parents are crazy. Whenever I say I was raised by a crazy woman and would’ve been better off with a pack of wolves, the response is an indulgent chuckle and a few patronizing words about how the details may change from family to family, but there’s a cosmic sort of balance at work that ensures everyone’s family gets an equivalent dose of the crazy and blah blah blah.

Well, bullshit. My mom is really, really fucking crazy. Years ago, at a previous place of employment, she stopped by my office unannounced, despite the fact I had specifically forbidden her from doing so. I wasn’t there, and a co-worker admitted to me the next day that it took a while before they figured out she was my mom. Everyone had thought she was some sort of lunatic bag lady or mental patient that had wandered in at random and started babbling nonsense at everyone. Unfortunately, they only misjudged the “random” part of that scenario.

Nothing I’ve written about her on this site comes anywhere near to accurately depicting the full experience of mom’s robust, distinctive brand of crazy. Every so often I sit down to write an entry about her, and invariably I black out before I can finish. The last time it happened I woke up several days later, naked and shivering on the floor in a puddle of my own urine. There was a 462-page document on my computer that consisted of nothing but the words I LOVE YOU, PUDDING, ONLY YOU COOL THE BURNING, typed over and over and over again.

Because of this, my friend Damien, who is a ventriloquist’s dummy I keep under the bed, says I should put off attempts at writing the comprehensive entry on mom until I can afford that shiny bucket of Xanax I’ve had my eye on… Damien gives pretty good advice (well, generally, but I don’t want to go into it), and he’s got a big knife, so I try to do what he says. Hence, this particular entry isn’t meant to offer anything but the tiniest glimpse into the whirling tornado of horror that is my relationship with the woman who 35 years ago pooped me forth from her ‘giner.

But it’s mom’s birthday, not mine. She’s rented out the meeting room and kitchen at the local Unitarian church for a party, and called me 14 times during the week leading up to it to ensure I’ll be there three hours before it starts “in case they need to move tables.” I show up reasonably early and find the other 20 or so assorted family members and friends she’s badgered into service, making up useless little jobs for themselves. Mom is nowhere to be found.

I’m enlisted to hang streamers, which give me chance to check out the many bulletin boards and dioramas and shit around the room. Of course, this being a Unitarian church, these things contain no discernable religious content. No, instead of addressing spiritual concerns, the place is positively wallpapered with posters, flyers, poems, brochures and macramé devoted to the modern liberal political agenda. I’ve always wondered where they indoctrinate people into the local NPR-and-a-Volvo-station-wagon brigade, and I guess it’s here... Oh, look. Canvas grocery bags with a picture of a tree on them. What a surprise.

All this doesn’t really have any effect on me, other than causing the same mildly deflated feeling I get when faced with any other brand of reflexive, partisan political or religious stuff. I manage to stop myself from correcting some bad science in a display designed to frighten children into caring about global warming, and continue hanging my streamers, making sure the loops are all uneven and shitty-looking in an obligatory display of juvenile passive-aggressiveness.

A few guests start to arrive, mostly Unitarians who feel duty-bound to show up, along with a few people that look like they know my mother from her medical support groups. For many years my mom has defined herself through various support groups, and they provide her with the bulk of her social activity. If it has an acronym, vague symptoms that can’t be detected by doctors that don’t use crystals or wands and gives you the opportunity to act all victimized and oppressed, my mom’s got it.

Her main deal is that made-up Chronic Fatigue Syndrome thing that went out of style like 10 years ago. Ironically enough, she’s absolutely tireless in her involvement with various Chronic Fatigue Syndrome support groups, and in a normal week expends enough energy to power a crazy-powered rocketship trying to rally support for her fellow not-really-sick Chronic Fatigue comrades.

Mom eventually shows up, a little late to her own party, but whatever. I walk outside to greet her and see if she needs help with the oxygen tank she wheels everywhere she goes. It, like her, is covered in balloons, ribbons, sashes, glitter and stickers. One might think this is to reflect the celebratory nature of her birthday party, but — Oh ho! — one would be wrong. She dresses like a cross between a rodeo clown and
Steven Tyler’s microphone stand no matter the occasion.

“Look! You can see my wings!” she says. She raises her arms and starts flapping her grotesque, flabby upper arms back and forth.

“Haaargh,” I say. My jaw clenches, exploding a back molar into a fine powder.

“I’m old! I have wings!” she chirps, and flaps herself inside while I try to fight off a panic attack. I wonder if any of those goddamn Unitarians have some beer or something stashed in the back of the fridge… Some organic microbrews or something… Fucking hell.

After a few deep breaths, I walk back in. My sister is chastising my conservative brother-in-law for writing “George W. Bush” on his name tag, which considering the setting is actually pretty damn funny. Especially for a Republican.

My sister’s new kid, just a few months old, is a beautiful little girl. But she has a little red patch of baby eczema or something on her forehead, and I’m compelled to devote the next hour or so to referring my niece as “baby jam head” and pretending to scrape strawberry jam off of her with a cracker. This mortifies a few guests, but shit — if I can’t get a drink during this ordeal I need something to get me through it.

But things get cranking and the party turns out to be OK. I enjoy insulting the infant, and the food’s good. It’s fun watching my shellshocked Southern Baptist in-laws stagger around, confused by all the Democrats and lesbians. When I concentrate real hard and pretend I’m not actually related to any of these people, I have little flashes of something resembling… Fun. This little soiree is actually one generous application of booze away from being a legitimate good time. Who would’ve thunk it?

My reverie is soon broken, of course. A crazy guy walks in and stands in the middle of the room, mumbling and staring around bug-eyed. This dude is obviously nuts, but a different kind of crazy than my mom, who manages maintain just enough of a tenacious, self-absorbed grip on consensus reality that we can’t really lock her up or anything. No, the new arrival is closer to what I think of as a classic street crazy, all google-eyed and twitchy and clearly just fixin’ to snap and start ranting or killing people.

This is disconcerting — downtown Gainesville is filled with wandering psychotics, and dealing with them when you leave the house is just another fact of life. I used to own a little record shop on what passes for our main drag, and garnered plenty of experience calming or pummeling agitated nutjobs and drug addicts as the situation warranted. But we’re in a fairly affluent, outlying section of town without a lot of foot traffic, so this guy’s appearance is extra disturbing. I mean, we’re set back from the road a ways, so it’s not like he was just walking by, saw people and decided to crash the party.

My instincts are to deploy my bum-hustling skills and toss him out, but I hesitate. He’s recently bathed and is wearing pants, so there’s the chance that he actually might know my mom from some schizo support group or something. Maybe the Unitarians keep him around for comic relief; what do I know?

A minute or two of this guy swaying back and forth and listening to his own synapses misfire and my sister goes over to talk to him, asking him how he knows our mom. A few vague, mumbled answers and it quickly becomes clear that he doesn’t know my mother, or anyone else there. I start walking across the room, assuming the next step is to ask the guy to leave. My sister just shrugs and fixes the guy a plate of food.

Shit. Feed ‘em and they’ll never leave.

The next half hour is kind of stressful. He’s quiet, and seems content to just mumble to himself and stare at things. Mom and sis say they don’t care if the guy sticks around, and tell me not to confront him. Everyone else is pretty much just ignoring him, even though he has a crazy person’s idea of what constitutes appropriate personal-space boundaries. I can’t relax, though — I’ve seen way too many guys like this just unexpectedly freak out, and keep having visions of what would happen if he lashed out and hit one of the kids or fragile, old liberals mincing around the place. The guy isn’t tall, but he’s thick and has big arms, and I keep seeing disaster. Potentially hilarious disaster, sure, but disaster.

So I shadow him, waiting to pounce in the event he goes ballistic. Every once in a while he whips around to see what I’m doing, and I quickly look away and act interested in the ceiling. We circulate through the party like this for some time.

Eventually, I get fed up. I tell my sister I’m going to ask him to leave.

“Wait, I have an idea,” she says. “I’ll fix him a plate of food to go, with the emphasis on ‘to go.’ He’ll get the hint.” Yeah, because crazy people are so good at getting hints. This guy is getting the hint the Pope controls all monkeys through the use of magical footrubs, and that’s about the extent of it. But a few minutes later she shoves a plate of goodies in his hands, points him toward the door and thanks him for coming.

He immediately turns around and tries to come back inside. I stand in his way. “Sorry man. Party’s winding down. You take care.” We stare at each other for a few seconds, then he turns around and walks off.

“Whew, that went alright,” I think. “I wonder if God would’ve been mad about me beating up a crazy dude in a church? Fuck it — God obviously hates me anyway, and I don’t believe in Him. Plus this isn’t so much like a real church as it is an issue of Harper’s come to life.”

I relax a little and have a glass of punch. I make fun of Little Baby Jam Head and start to enjoy myself again. Then I glance out the side door, and see the damn crazy guy again. He didn’t leave, but walked around to the side of the building. Fuck. And now he’s becoming more agitated by the second, whipping his head back and forth and yelping out random crazy stuff. I’m sick of this shit, and go to tell mom that I’m calling the cops.

Mom is having a conversation with her friend Susan, who’s some kind of Unitarian high priestess or whatever. I mention the police, and Susan looks at me with open disdain. “I really don’t think such steps will be necessary, Patrick,” Susan says. I notice other guests staring at me, shaking their heads. What the fuck?

Oh yeah — these people are rank-and-file NPR/Volvo liberals. They think I want to call the cops on the crazy guy because he’s black, not because he’s crazy. Being capital “L” liberals, they don’t actually know any black people, of course, and might even think that all black people act the way this guy acts or something. Regardless, they sure won’t miss a chance to act all patronizing to someone, so Susan tells me to stay put while she goes to talk to him and learn all about his needs and feelings.

Susan brings lets guy back in a few minutes later. “His name is Anthony, and he doesn’t have anywhere to go,” she says. This seems to satisfy everybody. Somebody slips Anthony 20 bucks, and you can be sure he really doesn’t have anywhere to go now. He might be crazy, but he’s not so crazy that 20 clams doesn’t brighten up his day. So Anthony’s part of the family now, and we resume our weird dance, where he walks around staring at things and startling people, and I follow him around and think about different ways to kill him, if the need arises.

The party eventually winds down, and guests start drifting out. Occasionally, invisible forces compel Anthony to follow folks out to the parking lot. He’s not menacing, but he’s damn weird, and a few people ask me to walk them out to their cars. As I’m still not allowed to directly confront the guy, our little dance becomes even more absurd.

When there’s just a few of us left, we start cleaning up. Anthony grabs a mop and starts attacking the floor with a zeal that’s quite impressive, if not actually very effective or thorough. My attitude softens a little. He seems honestly grateful we let him hang around, and wants to help out in any way he can. He seems less sinister to me now, and more like… I don’t know, just a lonely crazy guy who’s happy to stumble on some nice folks willing to give him money and cake. Shit, I reckon I’d be happy too.

We close up. Anthony helps me carry some leftovers and shit out to mom’s car. As she bends over to put a box in the back seat, Anthony takes a step back and starts openly checking out her butt. His google-eyes get even googlier, and a big smile spreads over his face.

I stare at this scene, barely able to comprehend the twisted wrongness of it all. Anthony glances over at me and gives me a big grin and a thumbs-up. It’s too much for me — I can’t speak or move. Anthony spends a few more moments gazing with open appreciation at my mother’s 60-year-old, lesbian ass. Then, without a word, he walks over to what I assume is his car, gets in and drives off.

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