Bless This Mess
"Home for the holidays" is not a new concept to this city of square pegs who fled their familial confines for the West. Returning to the scene of the crime and spending the year's end with the family is an occasional venture required to maintain one's presence in the will, as well as trace the genetic source of all your bad habits. The following personal anecdote occurred just a few weeks ago, and is relayed here in hopes we can all grow together as a community. It illustrates the painful yet universal horror of watching one's own mother -- the sweet old woman who fed and clothed you as an infant -- yack beige-colored vomit all over a restaurant table.
The day after Thanksgiving progresses at a suitably banal level, as my brother and I, both trapped for a few days in a tiny Montana cattle town, attempt to digest yesterday's meal. We wrestle with boredom in a bar with many animal heads on the wall, engaging in afternoon conversation with a solitary customer. The guy's name is Ray, an old, unshaven coot who looks like an apple-head doll. Ray is a bit miffed about the whole O.J. deal. When the verdict was announced, he had to pull the feed truck he was driving off to the shoulder to hear the awful news. There is unmistakable remorse in his voice. Not for the victims, but for the fact that Ray lost 60 bucks on a wager. Realizing this is our only entertainment for the moment, my brother and I keep coaxing out the pickle-brain, until he suddenly snaps and grumbles, "They oughta send that bastard back to Africa." The bartender shakes her head at his idiocy. Whoops. Ray's even more of a fool than we thought.
By early evening the bar fills with people, including my parents and assorted acquaintances. The seventh-grade science teacher, now dating the ex-sheriff and still a humorless Nazi tyrant. Our family's hired ranch hand from the '60s, a guy who first introduced me to Buck Owens and is currently building a house for pianist George Winston. The mayor. The cigar-puffing guys from the BLM. It's a merry time, much laughter and loud storytelling. A few folks are sampling some of the bar's free nachos and cheese, including my mother.
Now my mother is probably like many of yours -- a nice lady in her late 60s, gray-haired, still on the ball, with those inexplicably fashionable eyeglass frames that have the bows issuing forth from the bottom of the lenses. Doesn't drink much at all, but on this occasion she gulps down four or five scotches, bubbling with the excitement of Thanksgiving and family. And her laugh is getting just a little too effusive. It's time to leave. Being a true mom sensitive to the growling of empty stomachs, she insists on buying the family dinner.
My brother, father, mother, and I stroll across the street to the fabulous Olive Motor Inn, Mom clinging to my arm and laughing like a jackal. There is one other table occupied in the restaurant. We are seated, order meat all around -- this is Montana, after all, goddamn it -- and Mom's head promptly drops to rest on the soft white tablecloth.
Our plates arrive, and it is apparent that Mom is worse off than previously thought. She doesn't touch her food, her head not even lifting from the table. Maybe she's just tired. Us boys drunkenly tear into our steaks with the enthusiasm of Somalians hacking open bags of U.N. rice. It is the calm, the eye of the hurricane.
Suddenly Mom's back arches, and like a cat with distemper out on the lawn, her mouth opens and discreetly pumps out a torrent of vomit, a bubbling well of yellow/beige puke which immediately soaks through her feeble napkin and begins spreading all over our table. My brother pauses in midchew and warily eyes a rivulet of Mom's scotch 'n' nachos gut-bilge, which slowly approaches his plate like a flooding tributary. My father is stunned; I am paralyzed with abject fear. It's Mom -- Jesus, we've killed her!
My brother runs to the kitchen for a roll of paper towels, and we pile them onto the sickly puddle, which is beginning to give off a not entirely pleasant odor. Our waitress is completely freaked out, as is the table in the other corner. But Mom is not done. There is at least a half-pint more to present itself, which it does, quietly ac-companied by the obligatory spitting and dribbling. In retrospect, I have to say she blew oats with an unselfish, dainty surreptitiousness, almost ladylike in its elegance.
But the situation is getting to be too much. My father slaps down a few 20s and announces he will drive her home. He suddenly seems very much a white knight, whisking the maiden from the jaws of the dragon, hustling his wife out the back door of the restaurant. My brother and I burst into maniacal laughter. What else can you do? I look down at the battlefield, a scarred landscape of smeared barf and soaked paper towels, and realize all of us boys have nevertheless managed to finish our plates.