(From Shadows and Ghosts)
I returned to New York in August of ‘91 with five hundred dollars to my name (all that was left from the royalties on my surrealism film, money I’d saved while teaching, and a surprisingly large option on a Jungle Thriller I’d written as a joke), direct from my breakup with Ricky Mahoney, looking for God-knows-what from the city and my family. I’d say I was thinking that a change from L.A.’s brand of insanity might do me good, or that my mother’s homemade chicken soup, Max’s good-natured pep-talks, and Lisa’s insistence that having my hair colored and styled would make me feel better, but that would be a lie. The sad fact is, when I left the West Coast for the East, I wasn’t thinking at all. All I had going for me was brain-stem activity, and even that was minimal. The only reason I managed to get on the right plane was because the same friend who had convinced me to fly out to L.A. put me on it. I vaguely remember an arm around my waist and the feeling of falling into a seat and seeing someone’s hands fussing with a clasp in the vicinity of my crotch. I also remember telling the person who was fussing not to bother with the chastity belt because I knew how to pick the locks. The next thing I recall is coming to in a hospital room. Max was standing at my bedside and Lisa was pacing madly beside him.
“You should have left her on the plane.”
“I couldn’t. They would have taken her to a state hospital. You don’t want her in a place like that.”
“No, Max. I’m sick to death of the way she keeps dragging us into her messes, and the way you get Crusher to leap into action to save her. For once, she could have at least had the courtesy to get strung out on the other side of the country.”
“Keep your voice down.”
“Who’s listening? The nurses? The doctors? They have better things to do.”
“What about Ida Mae? She might hear you.”
I quickly shut my eyes.
“Or your mother. She could show up any minute.”
Lisa said, “What?”
“I said, your mother might hear you.”
“You told our mother?” she said. “My mother that Ida Mae was here? In the hospital? That she was….”
“Don’t worry. I didn’t tell Edna why Ida Mae was here. I just said she collapsed at the airport, probably from exhaustion. I thought your folks would want…”
“Of course. I mean, Ida Mae is their darling, isn’t she? Why wouldn’t they want to know why she didn’t come to see them the second she landed? Exhaustion. I protect Ida Mae and myself and end up being a schlemiel. They’ll carry on about how sensitive she is and I’ll get shoveled away like a pile of soaked kitty litter.”
“That’s not true.”
“Oh, no? You wait and see what happens when they get here. You wait.”
And then I caught a whiff of Chanel and stuffed cabbage, and heard my mother’s voice slice through the room. “How is she?”
I opened my eyes. My mother was bending over me, laying her palm on my forehead, and grasping my wrist to check for signs of life.
“She’s slee…” Lisa moved next to her and got a look at me. “I guess she’s awake.”
“Mom, Lisa, Max.” I smiled weakly. “Hi.”
My mother leaned over and kissed me on the cheek, nearly smothering me with her chest in the process. Then she sat on the bed. “Look at all these tubes. Gevalt. So why didn’t you come home before you got sick?”
“I’m sorry.” I looked past her to Max. He had this sad, lopsided smile on his face. Lisa’s back was to me. “Where’s Dad?”
“Looking for a spot.” Lisa swiveled around. “Why didn’t he just go into the lot?”
My mother turned so she could see Lisa. “I told him that, but you know your father. ‘What? I’m going to pay twenty dollars to a hospital to visit my daughter there? Don’t they charge enough already for the room?’ Who can argue with him?” She shifted her focus back to me. “So, are they feeding you enough? You look so tired. What did you have for lunch?”
“I don’t know. What does it say on the bag I’m hooked to?”
Max laughed and Lisa shot him a glare. “That’s not funny.”
“Sure it is, Leese. C’mon.”
I took Mom’s hand just to annoy her. “So, Max, did you guys get a cat? I thought I heard Lisa say something about kitty litter.”
“What’s this?” Mom pulled away from me and zoomed in on Lisa. “A cat with the baby? Are you meshugah? It could smother her.”
“Ma, the baby is five years old.” I swear, if Lisa had had a gun at that moment, she would have used it on me.
Max cut in. “Edna, Lisa told me you went to see the Van Gogh exhibit at the Met yesterday. How did you like it?”
“It was wonderful.” My mother, who could be distracted no matter who was in the hospital, said, “We loved it…and we would have seen the whole thing, but we were parked at a half-hour meter.”
It was about then that my father showed up, having found a great spot two blocks away at another half-hour meter. As a result of the parking situation, I didn’t see much of them while I was in the hospital, which is just as well. It made it easier to sustain the lie.
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