Monday, September 28, 2009

Three plots

The conversation started when my sister opened my grandma’s freezer.

“Holy shhi…uh, crap, Grandma, that’s a lot of ham. Who died?”

“No one yet. But we have one who’s going to be going pretty soon. The ACME just happened to have ham on sale last week, so I’m stocking up.”

Grandma, The Head Deaconess, is in charge of her church’s funeral dinners. It’s the perfect job for her as it makes use of all of her talents: buying food on sale, overcooking it, bossing around everyone who’s not The Head Deaconess, and standing around the church kitchen to talk about which brazen hussy mourner’s skirt is entirely too short for a funeral.

“How do you know when someone’s on their way out?” my sister asked.

“Honey, that’s what the prayer chain’s for. Well, that and prayer, of course. Speaking of ham, that reminds me of your Uncle Tom.”

Everything reminds her of our Uncle Tom. There’s something about a 45 year old man who has never married, who still has the used furniture he bought in college, who replaces his toothbrush annually when his mom puts a new one in his stocking, who makes a couple million a year but has his parents drive an hour to pick him up from the airport at Christmas because he doesn’t want to spend money on a rental car…there’s something about him that makes Grandma think, “You know what would make this really nice? If Tommy were here.” (Actual words uttered on a warm, sunny day as she sat in a lounge chair on a deck overlooking the ocean during a vacation purchased for her by my mother.)

She went on to explain to my mom why the funeral ham reminded her of her golden child…

“You know how your father and I have those two plots out at Rosemont cemetery.”

“Yes, I remember when you bought them from those guys who had little silver shovels on their tie clips.”

I couldn’t help but interrupt, “You bought burial plots from men wearing shovels?”

“I always thought that was a pretty tacky,” said my mom.

Grandma ignored our little side conversation and continued, “Well, you know how your dad has never really like Rosemont.”

“I did not know that,” my mom said, cocking her head to the side and nodding a bit, as if this was a fascinating thing to learn about her own father.

“Well, he’s never liked it out there. And since I do the funeral dinners, he’s been asking around…you know, to see where people are being buried these days.”

“That has to be one of the best parts of attending so many funerals,” my mom said, “the opportunity to research these things.”

“It is!” said Grandma, a little excited that someone else could appreciate that. “And we’ve decided we’re going to sell those plots and go somewhere else. We were thinking of Oakwood, but they’re full. Well, except for that one spot on the corner, but that’s where all those kids walk past after school and throw their trash. If you’re going to go there, you might as well just be buried in the middle of 4th street.”

I took a break from the veggie dip to ask, “Are there spots in the middle of 4th street? Because if so, I bet you could get a deal on those.”

“Plus,” my sister added, “it probably wouldn’t be very crowded. I doubt a lot of people buy plots in the median.”

Grandma looked at us a bit quizzically, briefly considered answering that, and then decided against it.

“The same people who own Oakwood have just opened a new place out in Stow. Your dad and I have been out there and we both really like it. I think we’re going to buy three plots out there.”

Three plots.

Suddenly, we saw how this story, like all long and winding roads, would eventually lead us back to Tom.

“I was just thinking, if Tommy never gets married, I don’t want him to have to be all alone. So, we’ll just buy three plots and then he’ll have one if he wants it.”

My sister then asked the obvious question, “So Grandma, where exactly would you like us to put him? Next to Grandpa? Next to you? Or…” she asked, her eyes widening with an ingenious idea, “in between you two, maybe?”

“Oh honey,” Grandma said, “it doesn’t matter to me. Wherever is fine.”

“In that case,” my sister said, “I think we should put him in between you guys. Like a metaphor,” she added, under her breath.

Mom snorted and tried to cover it up by pretending to clear her throat. I choked on a small piece of green pepper.

“And like I said,” Grandma continued, “he doesn’t even have to use it. I mean, if he wants to be buried somewhere in Florida with his Mexican girlfriend, that’s fine too.”

But you know she didn’t really mean that.

And, assuming my mother’s children outlive Grandma's Tommy, we will someday pay a couple men with shovels on their tie clips to carve out a cozy little spot for him right in between his parents. Like a metaphor.

Because, we would hate to have her lying there for all eternity thinking, “You know what would make this really nice…”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Next time, they can keep the car

The boys’ flight landed at 8:30 that night and they got home around 9. “Ok,” Blake said, “so where do we have to go to get your car?”

“Well, that’s the thing…it’s the last neighborhood in Baltimore you want to drive into at this hour with three hundred bucks in cash in your pocket.”

“Where is it?”


“West like on The Wire west?” asked Evan.


“Great,” said Blake, “because I was just thinking the other day that we don’t spend enough time hanging out over there after dark with pockets full of cash.”

“Plus, we’ve lived in Baltimore for months now and neither of us has been mugged,” I added. “It seems like as good a time as any to get that out of the way.”

“I do feel like a good mugging may be what’s been missing in my life,” Blake said. “Let's go. Evan, we’ll be back soon.”

“Uh…ok,” Evan said, looking genuinely concerned. Evan understands certain things to be true. For example, he knows that sarcasm doesn’t actually provide any protection against violent robbery. He looked at Blake and I not as you would at brave adventurers, with admiration and a hint of jealousy, but more like you would at helpless idiots, with pity and fear for their lives. Evan also knows that there’s no point in arguing with us, as he is a man of Logic, and that is a country Blake and I have no interest in touring. So, with his look of genuine concern, he sent us on our way.

Blake and I climbed into his truck and pulled out of the parking lot. He pulled a stack of twenties from his wallet and said, “Here.”

“What’s this?”

“It’s the dog’s half."

"You don’t need to do this."

"Take it," he said, shaking it in my face. "Seriously. None of us has any extra money. You can’t afford this any more than we can, so just take the money.” I stuck it in my pocket, glad for the help, embarrassed to accept it.

We drove west. The thing about Baltimore is that you’re never more than a few minutes drive (or stroll) from a neighborhood you probably shouldn’t be driving (or strolling) through. In that spirit, it didn’t take long for the trip to get interesting.

The street lights were all out, and, on either side of the road, there was project housing, the flavor of which I hadn’t seen since that time I got lost in Detroit on my way to a pediatric clinic. Laundry hung from lines in between the buildings. “Clothes lines,” I pointed, “I haven’t seen those since the last time I went to Amish country. Any chance you think these people might be Amish?”

“I'm not so sure,” Blake said. “I think the drug deal we’re watching over here and that guy picking up the hooker over there actually argue against this being one of Amish country’s satellite branches. Now, if that hooker was wearing a bonnet, maybe…but with her hair all out like that, I'm unconvinced.”

“Well, on closer inspection, I’m beginning to think you may be right, mostly because that guy appears to have a hand gun sticking out of the top of his boxers and, as everyone knows, the Amish wear briefs.”

As I said this, I glanced over at Blake and suddenly noticed something I hadn’t before—he’s really, really good looking. Like J. Crew model pretty. Like J. Crew model pretty…except much smaller. As I sized up his 5’8” buck thirty frame with his perfectly plucked eyebrows, long lashes, and pouty lips in his lavender polo, plaid shorts, and boat shoes, it suddenly occurred to me that I may have actually chosen the last man on the planet a girl should take with her to the impound lot. This is not the kind of guy you hide behind in an emergency, I thought. This is the kind you try to outrun in the vain hope predators will descend upon the slower, more attractive one.

“You know,” I said, half joking, “I think maybe we should turn around now and I’ll just buy a new car. I never really liked that one anyway.”

“Well, now that we’re all the way out here, we might as well just get this done. We’ve gone so far west I really think it’s going to get better soon, that we’re going to come out the other side of all this. Plus, I wasn’t planning to drive back through here. I think we should figure out how to drive around all this to get home.”

“Oh, that’s cute, the way you still believe we might make it home.”

We drove a few more blocks and somehow, it actually got darker. I repeated my suggestion that we might just abandon this mission. “I think that even if we do make it to this impound lot, we shouldn’t actually stop and get out. Like I said, I’ll just buy a new car. Or not. You know, I’ve been meaning to put some air in those bike tires and get a little more exercise.”

“Look over there,” he said pointing ahead. “A Burger King. And a gas station. With lights. See, I told you it would get better.”

“This is better. Now let’s go hole up in that Burger King until morning,” I said. I include this detail here to point out that it was not my idea to continue driving.

But continue we did.

The Burger King, the gas station, the lights—that was the eye in the ghetto storm. Suddenly, all that we had just driven through looked like the Sandals Baltimore compared to what we were in the middle of.

It was then that we began to panic. I looked over at the J. Crew model and thought, We are not going to make it out of here alive. I am about to get the only person in Baltimore who truly appreciates my sense of humor killed for a fucking used Toyota. I thought of the look on Evan’s face when we left the house—the look of pity and fear—and thought, ...and he is going to be so ticked at me when his boyfriend and I are dead.

Just when it looked it really could not get any worse, we pulled up to the impound lot. It was a large cement block wall with a huge overhead door in the center. To the right of the huge door was a smaller windowless gray metal door. Next to that hung tiny rusted placard that said RING BUZZER TO ENTER.

"Shit, Blake. We can’t get out here. Fuck my car. Just keep driving.”

“We’ve come all this way, let’s just try it.”

He parked in front of the buzzer. As he unbuckled his seat belt and reached for his door handle, I craned my neck around to survey the surroundings. There were a couple people standing in an empty lot across the street. One of them started to walk in our direction. “Blake, don’t move," I said. "Look at that guy behind us. I think he’s coming this way.” Blake stuck the keys back in the ignition and paused. The man crossed to our side of the street, slowed for a minute, looked at the truck, and then turned and walked the other way.

Blake saw this as our chance to get in the building. In one acrobatic move, with a flash of lavender polo, he jumped out of the truck and onto the buzzer. Less convinced that getting out of the vehicle was the way to go here, I tentatively opened my door and stepped onto the gravel outside. Hearing footsteps behind me, I whipped around to find a man standing near the rear bumper of the truck. “Evenin,” he said. My eyes shot to the hand he had resting on a bulge in his front pocket.

Meanwhile, Blake’s left hand was on the gray door knob as his right was on the buzzer. In the millisecond during which it was unlocked, he yanked hard and yelled to me, “Get in here. NOW.” I ran for the door, and he slammed it shut behind us.

We were standing inside a cage of fencing. There was a metal awning over our heads, cars parked outside the fence under the awning to our left, a small plexiglass encased office to our right. Inside sat a woman in her twenties. She looked bored and tired…until she sized us up, at which point she looked bored and tired and a little befuddled, as though she didn’t typically have visitors in boyfriend jeans and boat shoes at this time of night.

“Can I, uh…help you two?”

“We’re here to pick up a car,” I said.

“Yeah, I figured as much,” she said.

“It’s a 2002 Toyota.”

She turned around and pulled a handwritten invoice off of a cork board. “It’ll be two hundred ninety eight. And some ID.”

I slid a three hundred dollars in twenties and my drivers license through the thin opening in the bottom of the plexiglass.

“I can’t make change,” she said.

“That’s ok,” Blake stammered. “Keep it.”

“Alright,” she said. "Here’s what you’re going to do: You’re going to open that gate behind you. Walk straight back, into the open lot behind the building. Find your vehicle. Drive it back under the awning up to the big door. I’ll open the door just long enough for you to get your car out. Once the door closes, I won’t open it again. No matter what.”

Blake and I exchanged a look that said, quite simply, Fuck.

We opened the gate. We stepped out into the open lot and began frantically looking for my car. When I say frantically, I mean to imply that there may have been some actual scampering about and perhaps even a little squealing—some of it from me. We found my car, jumped inside, and drove under the awning towards the huge overhead door. “I really don’t want to go back out there,” I said.

“I really don’t want to get out of your car and into mine,” said Blake.

The door opened much too quickly, and I begrudgingly crept forward. Then, as quickly as it opened, it started to close. It was as if we were being kicked back out into the street. I sped up to avoid getting crushed and stopped near Blake’s truck. His keys in hand, he leapt from the passenger seat, darted in front of my car, and, in the time it would have taken most to unlock it, got inside, started the truck, whipped it into reverse, and blew through the first red light.

Trailing a mere seven inches behind his rear bumper, I followed that J. Crew model out of West Baltimore, back to the apartment from whence we came.

There were four open visitor spots. (When it rains, it pours.) Moments later, there was an open bottle of red and a story that began, “Oh. My. God. Evan, you would not believe where we just were…”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On vacation

I’m sitting on my parents’ deck, underneath an oak tree. (Or is it a maple? And how pathetic is it that I don’t know the difference? I grew up in Ohio for fuck’s sake. I should know my basic deciduous trees.) Anyway, I’m sitting under a basic deciduous tree, listening to the Avett Brothers’ new album on NPR, watching finches eat some sort of finch delicacy from my mother’s bird feeders.

When she was fired from her church job (a story far too gross for the internet) my mother spent a week obsessed with tiny birds. She hung three feeders from a basic deciduous tree branch in front of the kitchen window and spent hours bird watching. My sister called me one day and, in a bit of a panic, whispered, “Ever since she got fired by God, she just stands by the sink, staring out the window, bird book in hand, trying to identify those damn finches. We have got to find this woman a job.”

Now that Mom has recovered—something we attribute to the resumption of gainful employment, vodka, and her new found love affair with the word fuck—the finches are still fed, but no longer studied; and I sort of wonder if they miss the attention.

I know what that’s like. In New York, I used to walk past this crazy homeless guy every day on my way to work. As I walked by, he’d yell obscenities at me. Every single day. Then, one day, as I walked past, he didn’t say anything. It was as if he just couldn’t be bothered. You’d think I would be relieved, but I was secretly thinking, “What? All the sudden I don’t warrant offensive screaming? Suddenly you have better things to do than call me a cunt?”

So, you know, I wonder if those same finches who used to pretend to be all annoyed by the crazy woman at the window studying their every move are now surprised to find themselves feeling just a bit neglected since she’s gone back to work.

And what does it say about me that I’m spending my vacation sitting on my parents’ deck, under a basic deciduous tree I can’t name, wondering about the secret thought lives of tiny birds?

Don’t answer that.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Two ninedy eight

My car was stuck in an impound lot. And I blame this on the dog.

Not on my dog. I don’t have a dog.
I blame this on Blake’s dog.

Blake is a fellow intern. He is my favorite fellow intern. He reminds me of me. Except, prettier. And bitchier. And better at parallel parking. Plagiarizing hotdogsladies brilliant twitter, we only wish all the other idiots were as tolerant, self-aware, and intellectually nuanced as we are.

Blake and I sort of met before the intern year started. I emailed the intern class asking (begging) for a place to stay for two weeks while I waited for my apartment to be ready. Blake was the only one who responded. He said that he and his boyfriend, Evan, had a spare room and wouldn’t mind a temporary boarder. This was the third time a gay person offered me a place to stay when I was in a bind. When my sister heard about it, she said, “I’m beginning to think that being a homosexual has less to do with orientation and more to do with a person’s willingness to lodge your perennially homeless ass.”

“Could be worse,” I said. “I could still be living with my parents.” Then, she flipped me off—a sure sign that I’d won that round.

In the end, I didn’t end up staying with Blake. My apartment was available earlier than expected. In spite of having my own place, though, I have spent quite a few nights in Blake’s guest room. And I blame this on the boyfriend.

Not on my boyfriend. I don’t have a boyfriend.
I blame this on Blake’s boyfriend.

The dude makes killer martinis. Literally. These drinks suppress your drive to breath. A couple of sips, and suddenly, you can imagine what it might feel like to have those floating olives for brains. A couple more, and you’re convinced that you do.

In all of the time I’ve spent at Blake’s, trying not to let his boyfriend drown me in vodka, I’ve bonded with his dog. She’s an old, overweight, grumpy, long-haired (except for those few patches without hair) dachshund. She has terrible breath, and she bites. Sitting next to her on the couch, suddenly I seem both attractive and sweet. She's the best kind of friend—the kind that makes you look good by comparison

Blake and Evan left town this weekend for a friend’s birthday party. They didn’t go for the friend. They went for the party. They needed someone to watch the dog, and I happily volunteered. I’ve missed having a dog, and, like I said, she and I enjoy each other’s company.

The boys left Saturday morning. I spent most of the day at the mall—an unusual Saturday for me, to be sure, as there are few places on the planet I hate more than the mall. Gas station bathrooms. McDonald's that serve powered cream with their coffee. Crowded elevators. Airplanes that sit at the gate with the air conditioning turned off. The Pennsylvania turnpike… That’s it. The five places on the planet I hate more than the mall.

But, I decided that a tee shirt and jeans girl like myself could really use more than two pairs of jeans. Online shopping is difficult when you’re never at home to accept packages. I sucked it up and went to the damn mall.

I ended up with Levis 501s. Button fly boyfriend jeans—so named because you’re only supposed to wear these if you already have a boyfriend. If you’re a single girl, you’re supposed to shoehorn your ass into skinny jeans and then walk around pretending like you enjoy that painted on denim feeling, resisting the almost overwhelming urge to wrap your car around a pole just so paramedics will show up with trauma shears and cut you out of your pants.

I briefly considered buying said jeans, but I was concerned that they would turn me into a slut. They’d make good on their sexy promise—I’d attract the aforementioned boyfriend. And then, I’d put out on the first date simply because I could not wait ONE MORE SECOND to get out of those damn pants.

So, because I’d like to maintain some standards—like not putting out until the third date—and because I don’t have the kind of car or health insurance you can comfortably wrap around a pole, I bought the boyfriend jeans. I know I’m unlikely to attract a boyfriend with them, but that’s where the scrubs come in. Nothing says sexy quite like those drawstring floods washed in the same hospital load as shit-soaked bed linens. (Something to think about next time you’re watching the cast of Grey’s Anatomy peel them off of each other in some hot and steamy soiled utility closet.)

When I got back from the mall, there were no open visitor spaces outside Blake and Evan’s apartment. There were, however, a couple hundred open resident spots. I parked in the one Evan’s car normally occupies. I made dinner. I took the dog out to pee. I looked for a visitor spot for my car. There was not one. I watched a movie. I had a glass of Malbec. I took the dog out to poop. I looked for a visitor spot for my car. There was not one. I set my alarm for 7 am. I went to bed. I woke up to move my car. There was not one.

I made a phone call. A woman answered, and it was clear from her voice that I had just woken her up. “Uh…hold on,” she said before, I can only assume from the amount of time I spent holding on, she rolled over, finished her good night’s sleep, woke at her usual hour, made herself a cup of coffee, put on her face, and then returned with, “Yeah, we towed yo car. Is goin be two ninedy eight. Cash. Ezact change only. We open tweny fo sevin.”

And then I commenced to pacing. If pacing paid, I would have earned that two ninedy eight in about eight minutes. I paced and muttered to myself… It’s only money. This is not worth getting upset about. It’s only money. This is not that big a deal. It’s only money. I just won’t buy those shoes I wanted. Or that armchair. It’s only money…

And then, because that made me feel not one ounce better, I paced and muttered to the dog… “You know, I blame this on you. You and that sappy look you shot me last night when I suggested that maybe I should just leave and come back this morning to let you out. Damn that sappy look. Go get your leash. We’re walking to the ATM. Half of this two ninedy eight is coming out of your account.”

We walked the several blocks to the nearest ATM. A few blocks in, the dog gave me a sappy look that begged me to carry her the rest of the way. “Nice try,” I said, “but I’ve got two nindey eight reasons to ignore that face. Keep walking.”

Every third or fourth person we passed stooped to pet her. “She bites,” I warned. There’s always one, though...some douchebag who fancies himself a real dog person, the white Cesar Millan. He shook his head a little and reached his hand towards her head, smiling and cooing. This dog has no patience for smiling and cooing. She bit him.

“She bites!” he yelled, as he whipped his slightly mangled hand out of her jaw.

“Who knew?” I deadpanned. And we walked on.

Two ninedy eight later, I had my car back.

Except, it was actually three hundred. And a near death experience at a West Baltimore impound lot at 9:45 at night.

That’s another story for another day. I’m on vacation, so that day may come sooner rather than later.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

On the phone with Graci

G: "Tomorrow, I'm doing an autopsy on a schizophrenic."

T: "Can you see schizophrenia on an autopsy?"

G: "Yeah duh...there are people in their heads."

T: hysterical laughing

On the phone with Blake's boyfriend

The boyfriend: "I'm having a pomegranate martini. You need to come have one. They're good for your prostate."

Terroni: "I know I'm manlier than you are, but I don't actually have a prostate. And besides, I'm on call right now."

The boyfriend: "So tomorrow then?"

Terroni: "Yes. Tomorrow, we'll drink to my prostate."

Time of death

The nurse said, "We need you to come give us a time of death."

"Well, what time did he die?" I asked.

"I don't know. We can't call him dead until you pronounce him."

That is what it means to pronounce someone dead. But at the time, it struck me as utterly ridiculous.

He died when he died.
That's when he died.
But the time of death...that's when I say he died.

When you been awake for thirty hours, the absurdity of all of this sort of smacks you in the face.