A couple of years back Zach did great job on a paper for school. This is a big event here, just him finishing a report is a big deal. But to ace it… That’s a coup worthy of celebration. So we offer to take him wherever he wants for dinner. Except McDonalds. He chooses Applebee’s. It could have been worse.

We’re all getting ready and at some point I realize that Jasper is not lagging behind in getting ready. He is ready. The realization comes to us all sort of at the same time. That Jasper fully intends to go to the restaurant in his jeans and a sequined leotard. Again it could be worse. It has been worse. Andy shrugs and asks if he might not be more comfortable in something else, “you might get itchy in that.”. No dice.

Zach is handling it in his own gracious way. Muttering about how he can’t believe we are letting him go like that. And about how he isn’t even going to walk with us. “If I’m lucky people will think you’re just retarded. No. If I’m lucky people won’t even notice me with you.”

The host at Applebees was great. A young, athletic, clean cut guy who was really outgoing and friendly. He got out the kiddie menus and crayons for the boys. Handed one to Zach, “Here ya go, dude.” And one to Jasper, “And one for you, princess.” Yowch. To his credit, he handled Jasper’s outrage pretty well, “Oh, that? I ah, I call everyone princess. I’ve got to get out of that habit. Are you a dancer?” Jasper explained he was going to be in the circus. “Wow, that is SO cool.” Nice save, waiter-guy.


I think I wrote something very similar before ( Maybe you can tell me what the best parts of each one are and I can combine them.

What kind of person was my mom? My mom was the kind of person who people relied on. Anyone falling on hard times ended up at our house. If hard times came to you, Susie might show up, watch the kids, clean the house from stem to stern and bring dinner made from scratch.

My gramma used to say, “Susie can clean a room in the time it takes other people to think about cleaning it.” Don’t get me wrong; she was no Susie Homemaker at home, but she knew how to help in a crisis.

She was the kind of person who inspired loyalty. A peculiar and fierce kind of loyalty that, as far as I can tell, comes from having an unpredictable depth of or breadth of emotional responses. People loved her best not because she was so good, but because they knew she could be so good. If only she weren’t hounded by so many demons.

If only she weren’t so emotionally volatile. The kind of love and loyalty that always comes with a fear both of a person and for them. I guess for a while the way to describe the kind of relationships people had with my mom was to say they were co-dependent. I found that to be too limiting, too simplistic and judgmental to describe anything so real and complex.

Most of the time she was the kind of person who scared little kids for the first ten minutes and then won them over with her sheer uninhibited goofiness. She was like an alternative, anti-Mary Poppins. Sure she read your kids a story, but she’d also cut up her own clothes without hesitation to make a Zorro costume. Then she’d drill them on the different parts of a sword, or types of knives. My preschool kids came home and sprinkled daily conversation with words like scimitar and scabbard.

She’d take them on treasure hunts and send them home with a wicked grin and a bag of the most bizarre and worthless crap. The kind of stuff kids loved, but most adults would have thrown away. Broken watches, animal teeth and bones, ribbons, buttons, plastic swords and drink umbrellas.

My mom could usually out-gross any kid. She was the kind of gramma who would chide a kid for picking his nose by telling him, “Don’t wipe that on your pants. If you’re not going to eat it, give it to me!” This won over both my boys, but she couldn’t always turn the crass off, and sometimes it got embarrassing.

On a good day my mom would call up and without any introduction say, “The hairy patch on the rear leg of a horse!” to which the proper response was, “fetlock!” She’d say, “Thanks, Bye” And you might not hear from her again that day. Calling your kids was not cheating on the crossword.

On a bad day she might call and say, again without niceties, “I sure don’t know why you’re punishing me, but I think we’d better talk about it.” Sometimes I knew what she was talking about, sometimes I didn’t. It didn’t matter. The only way to avoid a long angry spell would be first, admit that you were punishing her. Pleading ignorance would only get you in deeper.

Secondly, you needed to tell her why you were doing it. That admission, to be fully valid, needed to entail why either a deep character flaw in you, or deep relationship problem (husbands preferred) caused you to mistakenly take it out on her. If you cried, which wouldn’t be hard, because she had a gift for making people cry- If you cried and followed all the above guidelines, you might get a call the next day like nothing happened. If you didn’t, her anger could last for months.

And that’s the thing. Life with my mom was messy. Sometimes it was fun, sometimes it was icky, but it was intense and imperfect. When she got sick, it didn’t fit in with the rest of her life. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with her at all except that while she was sitting at a green light waiting to make some weird or wonderful left turn; while she was daydreaming about the crossword or how mad she was at somebody; while she was being herself, cancer blew through a red and none of that stuff mattered.

Lee’s and Dee’s Barbecue

Last weekend we got the following:

Zach had the catfish dinner, corn coated catfish, fried up nice. Baked beans and cole slaw. Orange pop to wash it down.

Catfish being a scum-suckin-bottom-feeder, one’s expectations can’t be too high. I think it was pretty decent. Not greasy, but not very brown, either. Not a bad dinner if you’ve got decent hot sauce, which was provided, free of charge. This is important because on the take-out menu, extra ketchup is ten cents.

Andy had the half-slab dinner. Half a slab of beef ribs with the slaw and the beans and a Pepsi. Decent enough that he had to adjust himself in his seat to eat more.

The cole slaw was acceptable. There was the addition of cracked pepper, but that is acceptable in my book. As is celery seed which I have seen done as well. What is not acceptable is putting onions in cole slaw. That is the nastiest trick. I rank it right up there with putting walnuts into brownies.

The baked beans were eau de Ivory Soap. They looked so dang good. Obviously not from a can. Real chunks of ham in them. Not gelatinous chunks of pink rubber, but real meaty looking ham. Imagine my sadness at the addition of the fresh clean scent of Ivory. Now my dining companions couldn’t taste it, but neither of them finished their beans.


Years ago when we got Lee’s and Dee’s for the first time and shared it with my mom, she said the food would be good but for the distinctive perfumey taste of Promise margarine in everything. I wonder it that’s what I was tasting?


I had the 6 wings with rice and a strawberry pop. Strawberry pop is something not found in just any restaurant. Points given for that. Shows a level of comfort with one’s self that I find admirable.


The rice was definitely weird. Coated and completely shiny with margarine. I think it was converted rice. Each grain was way too aloof. Like the rice was pretending to be rice and over acting.


Here’s my theory about rice. Usually you want rice to either soak up grease, to add bulk or to stretch out your enjoyment of some yummy sauce. In this case, we were definitely looking for grease control. Converted rice with margarine coating it is mostly plate decoration. It meant I couldn’t eat as many wings as I wanted to.



And let me tell you, the wings were awesome. They were crispy and salty and browned like I haven’t had them since I was a kid. That wonderfully crispy fat, oh my god it brought me back. Reminded me of when sometimes we’d have fried chicken. I think my mom fried it on the stove-top and then baked it in the oven. Whatever she did, it was good hot or cold. I would go back just for the wings, but I would bring my own rice.


The guy who owns the place stands outside pretty consistently every day. I think he goes out to smoke, but he ends up being a kind of Victoria Street Ambassador. He waves to people driving by or stopped at the 4 way stop at the corner. He looks like a bald black Colonel Sanders. He’s very personable, if not overly warm.


His wife seemed angry at us. I think we interrupted CSI or something. Because the TV was blaring the whole time we were there.


Here’s my recommendation. Get the ribs and the wings, with a little slaw. Call ahead or wait for them, but make your own rice, get your own beans if you must have them. Bring it home and enjoy.

A Big Day part 2

We decided we needed lunch. Everest on Grand is a Tibetan restaurant here in St. Paul ( . The food surprises me, which I really enjoy. And when I leave, I feel better than when I arrived. I think all the ginger, cardamom and little black seeds I can’t identify must be really good for me. But I should have turned around and left as soon as I figured out they were having a lunch buffet. I’ve been to buffets with my brother before.

I love my brother. He’s funny and smart. But he’s also a pig in more ways than one. He knows it. And for some reason, at this stage of his life, he’s revelling in his piggitude. We got the buffet. There was lentil soup, batter fried vegetables,spicy tandoori chicken, rice and various curries. I tried a little of everything and then returned for the things I liked. I liked the chicken and a curried veggie dish.

Patrick liked the chicken and the battered veggies. But mostly the chicken. He liked it a lot. After his 3rd return I looked at him and said, “You can’t go back again. You can’t.” He wiped his hands, sopped up the cucumber sauce with his pita-bread and said, “But I like this chicken. It’s pretty good.” His recent trips to the buffet line were mostly chicken with maybe a little sauce.

The waiter was starting to avert his gaze from our table and forget to collect my brother’s empty plates. It didn’t matter.

The reason I never should have come to a buffet with him is because he has more than once told me of his methods at the Chinese buffets in his neighborhood. “Oh god, Lisa. I’m to the point where when I walk in, I can see the manager start to sweat. They look like they’re gonna cry.”

His MO is to make repeated trips to the buffet counter and get crab legs and shrimp. He shells them and makes a pile of shelled meat. He returns for more, but doesn’t eat the shelled meat. When his plate is piled high enough, he digs into the pile. He watches the steam trays and goes back when they refill it. It’s some kind of sick control thing. His life isn’t that great, this makes him feel like he’s the guy in charge.

So I knew my saying that he was embarrassing me wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I just had to wait it out. Which I did. I sat and sipped my tea and looked at him. My only brother. Pigging out at a little neighborhood Tibetan restaurant. They didn’t have crab, so he settled for the chicken. He hadn’t even taken his baseball cap off at the table. He was plain old grossing me out.

I wrote out the check early, but just before I gave it to the waiter, I added in the memo space,”Thank you so much. My brother is homeless.” He’s not, but it made me feel better.

The stupidest thing is that on the way to the car, he said lunch was just “OK.” He didn’t even like it that much. He said he was just eating more to try to be satisfied. OK, I have been there. Eaten more because the food was bad. It’s insanity, but I understand it. But that whole gluttony at the buffet thing, it’s something else. That’s a sickness.

The poor woman at the monument store probably had an endocrine disorder or something. But if there were a God, and if he were really into divine retribution, my brother would have had to be as big as her for at least a day.

A big day, part 1

I went out to lunch with my only brother last week. I needed to go downtown and so did he. I offered to take him. Afterwards I took the wrong exit to get him back home, so we decided to make the best of it and get lunch and stop at the headstone store. My mom still doesn’t have a marker on her grave.


I can only accept responsibility for this inasmuch as I did try to give the job to someone else early on. You know what they say about if you want a job done right? Totally true. We’re getting way past the 1 year mark, and I feel bad when I think about it. So when I realized you could just go to the headstone store, I wasn’t just curious. I was in the market.


It isn’t actually called the Headstone Store. It’s something more dignified, like St. Paul Monuments or something. But you don’t have to get too far into the place to figure out what they sell. They sell beautiful markers for all your grave-marking needs. Mostly in shades of gray and black, but also some shades of pink, which look like headcheese, with bits of char sprinkled in.


The woman who works there knew exactly what church we were referring to, knew the history of that particular graveyard and knew who to ask for to double check what she thought she knew about the requirements. She was polite, patient and professional. She was amazing. I looked on-line and at lots of pamphlets, and buying a gravemarker is ridiculously confusing. She made it seem simple.


She was also the largest, fattest (can I say that?), most obese person I have ever had a conversation with. She was so heavy that the weight of her eyebrows caused cleavage between her forhead and the bridge of her nose. She was big enough that her face was just a tiny part of her head, surrounded by flesh. She was astounding.


We heard her from an office when we came in. She just hollered out, “I’ll be with you folks in just a little bit.” We told her not to worry, we wanted to look around. And we did. Very few people are good at shopping for this kind of thing, mercifully. I hope I never get good at it.


We were ooh-ing and ahh-ing the photos of markers and snickering about why some of them were still sitting in the store instead of marking a grave. We saw fantastic celtic crosses, obelisks, angels and the standard lik-m-ade stick kind. We paid no attention to the employee helping the old man and young woman in the office. We did notice them, and feel sad for them, whatever their story was, how good could it be?


We had walked all the way to the back of the store, and by the time she was done, she came out of an office behind my brother and me. “Whenever you folks need help, I’m here. Anything in particular you’re looking for?” I didn’t even turn around when I said, “We’re just checking out your beautiful pictures here.” Patrick turned around, and said we’d be right over.


I noticed out of the corner of my eye that when he turned around he was sort of stiff, like he moved his whole body around instead of just his head. And his mouth was open. I turned around, saw her, and said something like, “Give us 2 minutes, here.” I turned around just like he did. We flipped some pages of the display photos. I hope from the back we looked normal, because we both had our mouths wide open and our eyes slid towards each other.


We’re so crass and inappropriate. We couldn’t just not notice, couldn’t not notice that we noticed and couldn’t hide our astonishment. Watching her walk was no less surprising than if the whole store had sprouted enormous legs and crossed the street. It was puzzling, disconcerting and fascinating. But she sat down after a few short steps. I think we were all relieved.


It must be hard to be that kind of big. Exhausting just to brush your hair or walk to the bathroom. I had this distracting buzz in my head while talking to her. And it was distracting, because she had lots of good information and I wanted to listen to her. I swear I did.


“Assumption in Richfield has two sections…” Fat, Fat, Fat, huge, you are so big. How do you find a hat. They don’t make shirts that size do they? Do you have to learn to sew if you get that big? “One of the oldest in the Cities…” Would it be OK to ask her to recommend a good place for lunch? Or would she think it was just because…. Doesn’t matter, because Patrick would die if I asked. “April is the busiest…”

We took one brochure with easy to read notes and left her with hearty thanks and a promise to come back soon. She gave us a business card.


When we got to the car we both closed the door and took a deep breath. “HO—–ly…” We leaned back in our seats and laughed and bemoaned the fact that my mom couldn’t be there with us, because other than ourselves, our mom is one of the few people who would have appreciated meeting this woman as much as we had.

Look, if my talking about her and being wowed by her has offended you, take comfort in a few things. First, while I was amazed, I wasn’t disgusted. I never thought, “What a slobberous pig, why doesn’t she have a fucking salad once in a while?” I didn’t assume she was stupid or lazy. I didn’t dislike her or avoid her.


Second, I can’t change this about myself. People are so interesting. And so different. But some are more interesting and different than others. She definitely fell into the “more than most” category.

Third, there are some people who make my day just by crossing my path. Superficial, trashy, base and mean, maybe. But I try hard not to stare, not to be mean and not to make commentary until I’m far away. These include, but are not limited to the morbidly obese, little people (oh how I love little people), the very tall, identical twins, Ubangis, the blind (but it’s OK to stare at them, right?) and anyone wearing either formal-wear or a full muslim veil.

And lastly, as usual, God (mr. Deity) wrought his revenge on me during lunch, so you can just be glad for that if you think I’m too mean. But that’s another story.