You Learn Something New

Maybe it’s just me.  But there are some things I know, but I don’t know I know them.  Get what I mean?  For example, the other day I was sitting and thinking to myself about something my mom used to tell me (I swear she did). 

You know sometimes when you eat, or you even see something yummy, especially something sour, how you get a stinging sensation in the corners of your jaws?  Hmm, maybe this doesn’t happen to everyone.  Well when I am hungry, if I haven’t eaten in a while and someone offers me a juicy peach, glands that are about two inches below my ears get a sharpish stinging pain.  I asked my mom why it hurt and she told me it was my glands. 

Not just any glands, but specific glands that were right there.  I am 39 now, and I got to thinking the other day that I’ve never heard of these glands anywhere except from my  mother.   I was going to go look them up on the Googles.  Right before I typed the word in, I realized I was never going to find these glands, because there was no such thing. 

I had no new information, I just suddenly realized that if people did haveSpangular Glands, I’d have heard of them by now.  I called all my siblings.  None of them remembers being told this particular lie.  I still double checked on Google.  No dice.  We do have Salivary Glands, but not Spangular ones.   Too bad I’ve been telling my kids about theirs for years.

To Our Newest Guest


I should probably just have a disclaimer in the guest room of whatever person is staying with us. I love having them (most of them), don’t get me wrong. But in addition to making you the expert on everything de Minnesota, allowing you to be generous and kind, and allowing you to show off everything you’re proud of, it really shines a brutal beam on those things you’d just as soon not share. Or things you just never thought of as weird until you had to explain them to someone else.

I’d put something like this.

  • In general Americans don’t iron. Go ahead and do it if you want. Knock yourself out, but it sure ain’t part of the standard American host-mom laundry package.
  • There are lots of clothes here that can’t be washed. Serious. That great new warm jacket you got. The puffy one? Can’t wash it. Dry clean it if you really want to, but it can’t be washed.

This one was hard sell to the guy living here from Colombia. I’m not sure he even believes me now. The funny thing was that the hardest part of the story to get him to believe was that there were feathers inside the jacket. You should have seen his face while he tried to figure out the joke. He just kept holding the jacket out and saying, “FEATHERS? INside the jacket?”, like I was an insane person.

  • As far as laundry, because of a shortage of fresh water due to glaciation, we are very conservative with water. Only the homeowner can run the washing machine, and only then when there is a full load. A full load is almost always enough to cover the bottom of the machine.
  • We don’t dance in this part of the country. We want to. We’d love to, but we can’t. We’ve never been taught to dance. This is especially true for white people. We’ve had our ethnic self esteem battered by the Latinos and the Black Americans, who say we’ve got no rhythm. Now we’re afraid to dance unless we’ve been drinking. This leaves the society with only drunk white dancers, giving further credibility to the theory that white people can’t dance. We leave it to the professionals and the minority groups.
  • At the Morgan home, our laundry system is very sophisticated, involving phases of the moon and critical mass of clean socks, underwear and jeans and towels. Everything else flows from those items. Laundry is done at least once a week, usually 5 times or so. But the system can’t be imparted easily to a newcomer. Just leave your dirty clothes in the basket, they will reappear clean, dry and wrinkly.
  • Don’t touch someone else’s car radio. It isn’t done. I don’t know about your country, but here it is the law that only the driver may touch the radio. Unless the driver is a teenager, and the mom is in the passenger seat. Then mom is in charge.
  • We rarely sit around the table to eat dinner. This isn’t because we don’t find that valuable, it’s because we can’t always find the table. Please feel free to eat at the kitchen counter with the rest of us.
  • We don’t watch TV most days. At all. Occasionally we watch a show on PBS or put in a movie. As unfair as it may seem, this means you won’t watch TV most days. The problem is that in this house, if you turn on the TV, we all become immobilized until the power goes out or the phone or doorbell rings. This is not typical American behavior, just Morgan behavior at this house.
  • I’m truly embarrassed at the state of my garage. It is not typical American. It’s an issue. In Colombia I’m sure people don’t have issues. But here they are attached to your birth certificate.
  • Some phrases you almost certainly didn’t know, probably didn’t care about, but will have mastered by the time you leave here are as follows:
  1. “Did you flush and wash?”
  2. “Did you really?”
  3. “Go back and flush”
  4. “Did you wash with soap?”
  5. “Go back and wash with soap”
  6. “Hey, get back in here and flush!”
  7. “Do you have socks on?”
  8. “Do you know where my keys are?”
  9. “Lights out.”
  10. “Kitties don’t belong on the counter.”
  11. “Did you brush your teeth?”
  12. “You did not. Go back and brush your teeth.”
  13. “Did you use toothpaste?”
  14. “Did you brush your tongue?”
  15. “Did you really?.”
  16. “Go back and do it.”
  17. “Kitties don’t belong in the garage.”
  18. “You have to un-ball your socks before I wash them.”
  19. “Get off the computer and go outside.”
  20. “Can you chew with your mouth closed, please?”
  21. “Can you catch that phone?”
  22. “kitties don’t belong in the toilet.”
  23. “If you don’t like it, you can have a peanut butter sandwich.”
  • Typical American dinners range from pancakes to tacos to pizza to baked chicken and noodles. We try to eat vegetables with every meal. The evening meal is served anywhere from about 6pm to about 9pm. If you miss it, see number 23 above.
  • We make noises here. Especially the men and kids. They do things in meetings and say, “Excuse me.” and expect the meeting to continue. And it does! Things that would only occur as a prelude to a medical emergency in your country. It can be uncomfortable to be around, but honey, you should see what they do when they’re alone. Get down on your knees and thank god they’re on good behavior when you’re around.
  • We obey traffic laws. Even when there’s no one around, we stop at the stop signs. We’re not quite as obedient as the Germans, but way more than the South Americans.

I’m just so busy…

I wrote this weeks ago, before I left for England, before my mom’s house had sold, before before. Isn’t it nice when you can feel better about things? After they’re over? Isn’t it nice?

Now looking back just a little while later, I think it’s funny and not all that significant that the word Executor looks a job title that should involve a black hood and an implement of death. For a while there, every time I saw the word, I thought of it as a harbinger of doom.

Don’t you just hate it when people say they’re so busy. Of course we’re busy. That’s our job. We’re all busy. But right now I am the kind of busy that eats my brain. I can’t write, can’t clean, can’t sit and chat, can’t walk aimlessly around the neighborhood, can’t bake… It sucks.

I’m just sending a message out to all the people who love me, and those who don’t but watch my blog anyway. You know who you are, and I love you inspite of yourself.
I’m executor in my mother’s estate. Executor is a job you couldn’t pay me enough to do. Lots of paperwork, complex legal stuff, and inevitably hurt feelings. I heard about a book once, before anyone I loved was sick. It talked about how to deal with death and the minutia and maxnutia of what is left over afterwords (if you’re wondering if maxnutia is a word, I encourage you to look it up).

I didn’t pay close enough attention to that book or its author or title at the time. And when I started to look for it, I couldn’t find it. So I’ve been muddling through. I’m not good at it, I hate it and I can’t quit. It has taken me a really long time (two years in October). I’m still not done.

There has to be a better way, but I hope I never have to figure out what it is.

In most cases there is a capable surviving spouse who can handle the estate, but in my mom’s case that wasn’t so. Her husband’s limited English and financial mismanagement were serious enough that she decided I would be a better bet. Imagine that.

The worst part of estate management is hard for me to choose. It’s either the headache I get when I start to think about the hierarchy of repayment priority and how that order affects the total amount that will end up going to each divisee in the will, or else it’s the way that dealing with money and property brings out the weakness in people involved. The people who are financially retarded don’t pull their shit together and see the light. The people who drink too much don’t lay off the hooch until it’s all dealt with. The the agoraphobes don’t just set aside their need for their own personal kingdom for a couple months.

And most importantly, I don’t become systematic and organized. I don’t become a good project manager. I’m just me, with a mouth too quick and a brain too slow. With chaos that is almost certainly medicatable reigning in my head. Damn, Damnm Damn.


Here is what we have so far:

headstone front

headstone back

It’s hard to imagine in granite, and in three dimensions. The letters look a little funky to me, but they only have two fonts and one is arial-ish and this is the other one. It looks classic in real life. Even if it looks like college football team lettering in the sketch.

I guess it’s hard to go wrong with tombstones. It will feel good to have it done. AS soon as I get the OK from all my siblings, it’s a go.


Yes ladies and gentleman, today I went out into the wild world to garner material, and also to do some errands that were overdue. Here are the highlights:


I went to the Monument Store. You know the one (yup). I was helped by the same very knowledgable, matter of fat fact woman. She is still quite helpful and quite enormous. I still wondered where she finds shirts that fit her.


I ordered up a grave marker for my mom. You may be wondering, “But lisa, didn’t your mom die in 2005?” And you would be right. She did die in October of 2005. Need I remind you that, first of all, it was late in 2005. Secondly (a nod to my mom who hated me to say ‘second of all’) I left this task to one of my sisters who shall remain nameless but whose name rhymes with Erin,and who was unable to complete it. Thirdly, I’m just barely getting by managing my own life, so get off my case. Lastly, I was busy managing her estate and her unimaginably complex and weird survivors.

But when my grandpa called inquiring if we needed help with paying for a marker because he had been to the plot and there was no marker, well, things got more urgent and done adequately was better than stunningly un-done. Nothing like a little shame to light a fire under my butt.

It’s going to have my mom’s name (her born name, maiden name), Susan Elizabeth Dunn, her birth year and the year of her death. It will have a celtic tree of life inscribed into it on the front face, and the names of all 4 kids and 11 grandkids on the back.


I’m seeking advice on a couple of things, because the final text is changeable for the next week or so:

First, is the maiden name thing OK? She never changed her name back from her second husband’s name, and never took her third husband’s name, so it seems weird to put either of those. Am I breaking any big taboo by reverting to her maiden name?

Second, we planned to put “Mom and Grandma to” …. And all the names, but she was Daughter, Sister, Wife, Friend, Mom and Grandma, so is it too busy to put all those things? I went with just mom and grandma because that was typical, but the other things were just as important. Any opinions from those who know us or those who don’t? This is where comments would be really appropriate.

So there is the Monumental Errand. Done mostly.

Next, I had to try to find a sunscreen that won’t give me zits. Another part of aging that sneaked up on me is the fact that my face doesn’t tan any more. It splotches. As if someone smacked me with a henna teabag on the forehead. So I’ve taken to wearing a hat with a wide brim almost everywhere. And I’m no longer young enough to make it a statement. I’m just another middle aged woman in a hat. I might even qualify as officially eccentric.

The guy who cut my hair said shell out the dough and go to the department store cosmetics counter (something I am loathe to do) and ask for a good sunscreen that won’t give you zits. He was right, of course, because at Herbergers they will take back your sunscreen if you don’t like it, unlike Walgreens. I got some stuff, and I’ll get back to you about if it is zitless, but let me tell you about the woman who helped me. My God! The real world is interesting.

Young woman, in her late 20s, lots of make-up. Dressed all in black, capri leggings and fishnets stockings, over high heels, with a black lab-coat thing over it all. This is all pretty standard. But when Iasked her about a good sunscreen that won’t give me zits on my face, she looked at me and started to talk about what might work for my skin type. Every time I looked up, she was looking at my neck, which I took to be some sort of make-up counter trick she had been taught about calculating skin type. It made me a little worried about how my neck looked, but that was fleeting.

She had me follow behind her wobbly heeled-fishneted self to a different counter, and then she leaned over the counter and said, “Do you think it ‘s the titanium zinc oxide that is making your skin react?” I’ve forgotten the actual substance she said, because this time when I looked at her, I realized with a very disturbed sensation that she was (get this) Still Looking At My Neck! Or maybe it was my shoulder, but it was never, in fact, my face.

For the rest of my distracted description of what I wanted in a sunscreen (sun blockage and no zits), I kept trying to catch her eye. She never waivered from looking at my neckish-shoulder area. She smiled and furrowed her brow at all the right places in the conversation. Her posture was attentive. She just never looked me in the eye. Never.


In case you don’t know. When you talk to people there is a standard polite way to make eye-contact. Babies know it. Children know it. Make-up counter women are almost always good at it. No one has to tell you to make better eye-contact, for the most part. Too much, and it makes people nervous and intimidated, too little they get nervous and suspicious. Although I recently read that men love lots of eye contact from women.

We’ll set aside Native American cultures and the Orient for the sake of this discussion. No let’s not. Even in those cultures, you either look down, averting your gaze, or you make fleeting eye contact. There is no culture in the world where the right thing is to look at the other person’s neck. None. Shoulders? No. Chest? Only in the bar scene.

And let me tell you, there are only three possibilities here. Either I had something horrible on my neck (believe me, I checked), she had some sort of brain disorder, or she was doing a college research project on how people react when you stare at their neck. I bought my 30 dollar sunscreen, which was tinted, even though I said I wanted un-tinted, and got the hell out of there. She came over, cocked her head and smiled at my neck and said, “do you wear lipgloss?” offering me a free sample. I didn’t look at the color,didn’t blink, “Yes. Yes I do. Thanks.” Damn it was disturbing.

I do feel a little tricked, because now I have tinted sunscreen with an SPF of 15, when I wanted a clear one with an spf of 30, but what the hell. I’m not sure I’m willing to go back. When I asked if I could return the stuff she was suggesting, she said, “Oh yeah, I’m the manager of this counter, just ask for me.” Brutal.

Zachary Jophes Morgan

Zach Smile

My oldest son graduated tonight. This is important for a number of reasons, and I think it deserves a small testament. It seems like the closest thing we have to a rite of passage. I’m proud enough to make this an open letter.

Dear Little Friend Zach,

From the moment I knew I was pregnant, from the time I suspected I was pregnant, I loved you. I imagined you. I apologized for dragging you out of the ether into the now, and for not feeling joy at your existence. I was terrified and amazed at what we had done.

Your dad and I were firmly convinced that we weren’t ready for making a family. We decided we wanted to give you up for adoption. It was the option that seemed to make the most sense. It seemed mature and generous; reasoned and sane. But oh, my god, the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth that ensued when we broke the news to our families.

It wasn’t like I had imagined. They were gnashing and wailing and beating their chests at the thought of giving you away. You were theirs as much as ours, it seemed. And reason didn’t factor in quite so much. What a hard couple weeks those were while we discussed what to do. Your grandmas begging. Grandpas offering unconditional assistance but behind the scenes encouraging the grandmas.

They won. We agreed. But decided we didn’t think we could handle trying to raise a baby while I lived at home. I moved into an apartment at 2216 Harriet with your dad. I was 8 months pregnant. You were growing, wiggling and healthy in my belly. I gained almost 40 pounds. I was19 when you were born. You created a family. If there was no you, there almost certainly would have been no Holly Avenue Morgans.


You were the dream baby. Easygoing and happy. Alert and active. You’d sleep anywhere. All you needed to be comfy was a diaper service diaper to hold, and a pacifier. You were everybody’s baby. While I finished school, Grandparents provided daycare, aunties and uncles doted, and Dad went to work.

Now you’re big. Bigger than me, bigger than Dad. And strong.

I’ve been thinking. I was always worried about spoiling my kids, so I think sometimes I overcompensated by being critical and tough. This happens to me with people I love. I saw you through a filter of love, love, love, but I worried that other people wouldn’t know. That they’d see you do something stupid, arrogant, mean or lazy and judge you based on only that. So character flaws and mistakes jumped out at me and I may have spent more time correcting than cooing.

I also tend to be emotive. I think I overcompensated by not heaping praise and affection on you. You didn’t help the cause by pushing away from almost the first day you were born, so you could see the world. Now that you’re taller than me and covered with unsightly man-hair, I have to steal hugs. I hope you don’t mind, and that you hug me back some day.
So now it’s time for me to say some of those lovey dovey things you probably don’t care to hear. But later you might, so save this letter.

I’d like to say thanks, I’m sorry, I’m proud, I love you, you’re beautiful and I wish you well.

I’m sorry for the times I lost my temper. I’m sorry I put your grandparents through the thought of you being shipped off (open adoptions were not de rigueur). I’m sorry for the day that the you got stuck on the wrong bus and your tummy felt like mashed potatoes. I’m sorry the squirrel you brought home in your arms had a broken back and had to die. I’m sorry the squirrel we watched fall out of the tree at Gramma’s house, and land on my car had to die, but proud that you were willing to help him along gently.

I’m sorry I couldn’t stop girls from breaking your heart, bullies from breaking your spirit and depression from breaking your stride. Sorry Ezra isn’t your friend anymore. Sorry that while you were a young teenager you forgot how to laugh and smile for a while and dad and I couldn’t remind you. Sorry your kindergarten teacher didn’t like kids.

I’m sorry your gramma had to die on you. She loved you best, because she always felt like you were actually hers. You weren’t. But until there was Bailey, there was you. I’m sorry you loved her, but not sorry. I’m proud that when she was dying, you were old enough to understand, young enough to cry. Man enough for the crying to break you and whole enough to recover. Call me crazy, but one of my proudest and saddest moments was watching you sit by what was left of my mom and your gramma, fold your tall self over and lean your head on her arm and cry.

Thanks for coming up to my room or searching me out to tell me about your day. Thanks for noticing the neighbor boys, for liking them even though they were little and you were big, and reporting their cutitudes to me. Thanks for having me cut your hair. Thanks for laughing until you cried at my puns and stories.

Thanks for choosing The Land Before Time as your favorite movie and wanting to watch it every day while I made dinner (“many things do not fly” being a quote from that very movie). Thanks for being nice to the retarded guy in the neighborhood. Thanks for bringing baby animals home and for dumpster diving.

I always worried that I’d never be able to have fun with my kids. Enjoy their company and have them enjoy mine. So much of parenting is drudgery and every-dayness. Whining, commands, reminders and bickering. Thanks for the times when we both laughed so hard we cried and our sides got stitches. You can’t imagine the relief that washed over me the first time that happened.

I love you and wish you well. I’m glad you’ll be close. I hope you feel comfortable visiting unannounced, unbidden as you were when you showed up 18 years ago. Know you can always come back (but the chore list will get progressively longer if you seem to be getting too comfy). I love you.


Zach says he’s going to move out in July. I wish him well, and I will miss him. Really.

Isn’t it great?

Isn’t it fabulously exciting that we can know things? We can learn things? Aren’t we privileged? What a wonderful thing! I’m in school, so is my dad. I forgot how much I like school. How fun it is to learn stuff and talk to people about stuff they know. I feel so very lucky to be able to go back to school.

I’m not poor, I’m not in a war-torn country, my children and husband are healthy. I’ve been going to bed lately feeling very, very grateful to be me, to be here and to be now. Not proud to be me, American and modern. Because I think of proud as something you earn. I’m blessed.

Isn’t it great we can know joy and ease after traipsing through tension and unhappiness? that we can be content and untroubled after surviving terrible things? What a comfort to know we can feel alive after being knocked to the ground by sadness and badness.

I have a good friend who lost his brother recently. He was too, too young to die. The guy had just sobered up and was really being a human. A new and more whole human. I don’t know that much about this case, but I know some things. They are as follows:

What a rare gift to see someone you love really change for the better. It doesn’t happen to everyone. Too, too many people die without knowing much contentment. Die before they figure things out. Die still slogging, carrying burdens or being chased by demons. It’s a huge thing to love someone and see them get what they need.

I’m in no position to tell someone else to be grateful in the face of such a loss. But I have seen people I love make changes for the better, and people I love slog through their own morass. The latter is so much more common than the former. And the former is such a sweet gift.

Isn’t it strange what a huge gift it is when people you love are whole and happy? Not perfect and totally fulfilled by every moment. Just able to laugh really, and not be broken or fraying or hungry all the time. What a wonderful thing.


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.

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.