Posts Tagged ‘ family ’

When Gods Cry–A Christmas Memory

I was eleven and the world was not less complicated, despite what the nostalgics suggest. I was at the ICU at St. Vincent’s hospital. I was told I was born here, in some faraway place called the maternity ward, but I had never seen this building. It seemed huge and labyrinthine. The lights were too bright on this floor, and the nurses too quiet. It was marked in its difference from the rest of the hospital, and by extension the bright pulse of the city and the rest of the world. This was not a place for celebration, or health.

It was a week before Christmas. I didn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore, but I could still feel the impending joy the thought of him recently engendered. Outside of this place it was in the air, crackling like buzzing electricity above us and through us. A shared connection and liked-mindedness I’d only ever experienced in a sports stadium when the home team player hit a ball long and deep and the crowd stood and waited for it to descend beyond the fence. That anticipation.

This place was immune to it. In the lobby there was a tree with white lights. Ribbons and wreaths adorned the walls. It all disappeared when the elevator doors opened. In the ICU, everything seemed blue, the color of veins returning spent blood back to its source to become replenished. Death returning to life, the daily miracle. I imagined veins to be similarly subdued.

I held in my hands a piece of green construction paper cut into the shape of a Christmas tree. Taped to the middle of the tree was a Polaroid of myself, my sister and three brothers sitting on the stairs that led to our bedrooms, peeking through the banister supports decorated in evergreen. It was taken a year ago. We were smiling and looking off to our right at some real or imagined joy. We were evergreen as well.

Around the photo I had drawn colored bulbs, red, purple, orange. At the top was a yellow star. I was no artist, but I liked the way it turned out, and I liked my mother’s and grandmother’s reaction when I showed it to them. Would you look at that! Ah, the creature. It’s beautiful. I wanted to give it to my Grandpa. Not just give it to him, hand it to him myself. I wanted his validation.

But he was sick, which is why we all piled into our rickety car and drove to the city, to our grandparents’ four-room apartment with the tiny Christmas tree sitting on top of the television. We were there so my mother could visit her sick father. I wanted to see him too. My parents looked at each other indecisively.

I was the eldest of my siblings and my grandfather’s favorite, as I heard in whispered declarations from my Grandma. When I was small I would sit transfixed at the kitchen table and listen to him tell tales of his bartending days in his Irish brogue. I remember few of the stories, but I can recall the cadence and intonation. He taught me to play solitaire and rummy. When my grandparents would come to our house in the suburbs, bringing endless brown-paper bags of food and love, he would sit in a lawn chair in our back yard and throw me ground balls. I loved him with abandon.

Which is why I brought red, green and yellow into this blue ICU. Whatever my Grandpa’s condition, I was stubbornly convinced, it would not be worsened by seeing me. I was his favorite and I loved him and I made this for him. But in this hushed place where the air seemed dense, my convictions wobbled. I felt wholly misplaced, in my color, my redness, my youth. I was an interloper, armed only with a piece of construction paper, and I was overmatched. I was left alone in a sterile waiting room while my Grandma and my parents went to assess whether my Grandpa was up to seeing me. The television droned, unwatched and unheeded. I could feel each second pass.

Visiting hours were nearly over when my father came to fetch me. You have to talk really quiet, he said, and we can’t stay long. You’re Grandpa’s not feeling well. OK, I said. I had lost whatever small will I had to argue. His bed was coming off the right hand wall and my mother and grandmother were standing on the far side. My Grandpa was facing them. His glasses were off. His hulk was contained in a light blue gown and a white sheet. He had an IV in his wrist and a breathing tube in his nose. The room was dim.

Look who’s here to see you, my Grandma said, and my Grandpa turned in my direction. He couldn’t make me out without his glasses. Who? Who is it? It’s Brian come to visit you. There was a jolt of recognition in his face, then he turned away and began to cry. I had never seen him cry. I didn’t think such a thing was possible. Can gods cry? I wept myself for causing his tears.

I didn’t want him to see me like this, he said. He came to bring you something, my mother said, something he made for you. I was struck dumb and lifeless. My father took the Christmas tree from my hand and handed it to my mother. My Grandma said, put your glasses on and look. He wiped his eyes with the heel of his hand and reached to the nightstand to fetch his glasses. They were thick, and when he put them on his eyes were magnified. I could see the leftover wetness from his tears. Look at that Jeremiah, my Grandma said, it’s a picture of the kids. My Grandpa nodded. Ah now that’s nice, he said. We’ll tape it up here on the wall, my mother said, so you can see it.

It was dark when we left the hospital, but lights abounded. Taxi headlights, storefront blinking lights, the red and green of the the stoplights extending down into the recesses of Seventh Avenue, turning from one color to the other in a rolling, endless spiral. The city was impossibly big and vibrant, and I was infinitesimally small. Holiday lights hung in odd apartment windows. Reds, greens and whites, shining boldly with arterial life and expectation. The air was cold and bracing. Vital. There was no blue.


Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom–FREE 6/10-14


My ebook Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom will be offered for FREE on Amazon from 6/10 to 6/14!  Here is the description:

“Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom” is a collection of blog posts from playwright and author Brian C. Petti. From the depiction of the author’s upbringing as a fat, shy Catholic school boy to the vagaries of family life to trying to live hand-to-mouth while on disability, “Sister Mercedes” is a sometimes hysterically funny, sometimes tragic and always human glimpse behind the veil of parenthood, marriage, pop culture and the world in general.

Funny, inspirational and moving. ”Edward Hayes  |  6 reviewers made a similar statement

Rage Against the Machine


My kids do this thing called “raging” when they play video games. Apparently, raging is when a gamer reacts to things not going his way in a particular game by letting loose a string of angry, vicious epithets aimed at…I don’t know, the world, the game, God, fate, whoever fake shot them? There was a term for it back in the olden days when I played video games. It was called “being an absolute jerk”. It got you not invited back to your friend’s house to play Pitfall on Atari. By his mother.

I have to admit I’m not a gamer. The last time I was seriously invested in a game was The Legend of Zelda—Ocarina of Time. I spent hours upon hours chasing chickens, exploring caves, winning fishing contests, etc, etc. They should have called it Ocarina of This Will Take Up All of Your Free Time and Most of the Time You Should Have Been Spending With Your Family. And no, letting your kids watch you play doesn’t count. I finally finished the game at 4am the morning I was due to check into the hospital for abdominal surgery. I probably wasn’t going to sleep much anyway.

So I understand the addictive nature of the gamer, though this raging thing I’m not so sure about. My thirteen-year-old son plays online with a bunch of pre-teens, teens and never emotionally matured past teens. For him, I think raging is more of a performance art. Judging from the Youtube videos he watches, I think the general consensus among online game-players is that the more ridiculous, over-the-top and vile the language of the rage, the more funny and entertaining it is for everyone. For those of my generation, I liken it to listening to Eddie Murphy comedy records as a kid. If you don’t know what “records” are, you probably won’t get the reference.

My ten-year-old is a different story. Mychal’s not playing online, just by himself. So when he hurls his poisonous invective around like hay-makers at a barroom brawl, it’s hard not to cringe. Should such venom be caused by a mere fumble in a video game? I mean, I remember how I felt when my New York Giants almost lost a fumble in the NFC Championship game, and how I made what my kids still refer to as “high-pitched girly noises” until they jumped on the loose ball. But that was real life, or at least sports. When I tell my son to calm down before he becomes the first ten-year-old to have a heart attack, this is his response: “I’m just raging! Whaddya want me to do, get an ulcer?”

These are his choices? Scream like a banshee at an inanimate object or get an ulcer? I didn’t arrive at that point until I was at least forty and he’s already there at ten?

Then I have all those “parental worries”, like “What’ll happen when he has real problems?” or “Will he have anger issues?” or the ever-present “Am I the worst parent in the whole wide world?” All navel-gazing nonsense. Kids turn us into such namby-pamby wusses. Mychal is a multiple Good Citizenship Award winner at school. The only person he ever raised his hand in anger toward was his older brother, who is such a scootch that my wife and me are secretly waiting with bated breath for when Mychal gets big enough to take him down. Mychal is a chronic complainer, a kind person, a hypochondriac, a cuddler, a comfort-seeker, a good friend and a better-than-average theater critic. Violent he’s not.

Have you ever been in a car while a mild-mannered person was driving? Remember how white your knuckles got from grabbing onto anything handy to stay alive? Remember how your heart was beating out of your chest when you finally extricated yourself from their crazymobile? Why? Because that unassuming, modest person turned into a freakin’ lunatic behind the wheel, right? Screaming out the window, flipping both birds while driving with their knees, cutting people off like Henry the Eighth after a bad marriage. Then when they got out of the car, they were Clark Kent again. What is that?

My best guess is that it’s a safety-valve. The pressure builds up, then BOOM! it’s released. Some people are loud yellers (hey, that’s me!), some are crazy drivers, and some who don’t have kids or cars yet are ragers. Rage on, Mychal! And I’ll pretend I’m not imagining you firing a rifle into a crowd from a bell tower while you do!


At the Chinese Buffet With Lee Marvin


On our kids’ birthdays we allow them to pick whatever meals they want. My older son Conor turned 13 recently, and in those relatively few years he has learned to play the system to the hilt. Somehow Mary El and I got roped into providing a breakfast at Burger King, followed by a trip to the Chinese buffet for lunch/dinner. I think that in at least half the contiguous United States such a diet would be grounds to have my boys temporarily placed in foster care. If you happen to be one of these states’ representatives, please come and get them as soon as possible.

Mary El took him to BK for a healthy breakfast of grease sticks with maple syrup and some kind of deep-fried, vaguely potato-like substance. He had two of those. I looked up the nutritional value of that combo one time on the back of a place mat. It said, “You’re kidding, right?”

These are the jokes, folks.

Conor was in his newly teenaged glory. Until about an hour later, when he was face down in the couch moaning that his stomach hurt so badly he wished it would just explode like Alien and end his suffering once and for all. For his birthday we didn’t say I told you so.

We decided to put off the trip to the buffet until 3:00 to give Con some time to recover. The rest of us hadn’t poisoned ourselves with belly bombers, so we were getting hungry. Passing up Chinese food was NOT an option. So when the time came, Conor screwed his courage to the sticking post and crawled into the backseat. He spent most of the trip in the fetal position. With great gastronomical distress comes great responsibility.

I’m not sure what hurt him more, his stomach woes or the fact that he was squandering this opportunity to participate in what was, for him, a culinary royal flush. How often does the opportunity arise to have exactly whatever meal you want no matter how bad it is for you? All right, how often when you were 13? Conor, like the rest of us in the family, is a foodie. He hasn’t quite developed taste, but he knows what he likes. He’s also a world-class planner of exactly the type of good time he wants to have. Let’s go to the park, get ice cream, see a movie and play a game when we get home! Got home too late to play Monopoly? Now it’s ALL ruined! Self-sabotaged again! So entering the Holy Land of a Chinese buffet and not being able to eat was tantamount to Tantalus never being able to reach that delicious, low-hanging fruit. Only with chicken sticks.

Going to the Chinese Restaurant was one of the highlights of my lower middle class childhood. It was rare, first of all. Most of the time we went when my mother had exhausted every possible scenario for fixing dinner and payday was still a few days off. That, or a super-special occasion like when Skylab fell or someone managed to graduate. It was mysterious and wonderful. The red booths, the foreign music, the fish tank. The sharply dressed waiters who brought Pu-Pu platters. Actual fire, right there on the table, rising out of magical blue goo!

Now we’re fed like pigs at a trough by servers who can hardly hide their disdain for us overfed fatbodies. I miss the waiters who used to go back to the kitchen to laugh at us. It was more noble somehow. But self-service is now king. We make our own coffee, we pump our own gas and we load up our own plates.

C’est la vie. But I digress.

We picked a seat far back in the restaurant in case Conor began to moan again. He lay down in a heap in the booth behind us, garnering a few double-takes from people on their way to the restroom. We told the waitress we were getting three meals and a “maybe” and ordered Conor a Coke to sip on. The rest of us went on with the business of earning our servers’ disdain by becoming overfed fatbodies. Mary El bemoaned the fact that there were no crab legs, which didn’t come out until 4pm. Like the gun in Act I, this will be important soon.

As we neared the end of our meal, a miracle occurred. Conor’s stomach rose from the dead like Lazarus. With the strength of ten Grinches plus two, he arose from his prone position, dusted himself off and threw himself back into the fray that is the Chinese buffet. He was thirteen, dammit, and he would not be denied his birthright in soy sauce. Conor wanted himself some crab legs. See, I told ya.

Conor and Mary El have caused the stock of crab crutch companies to soar over the past ten years. Give them a pile of crustacean limbs, a nutcracker and some melted butter and get out of the way. And disdainful servers were bringing them out by the truckload as we spoke! Somewhere a crab is trying to make a fist in protest and realizing he can’t anymore. Conor’s birthday was saved! Except…

We paid for lunch, not dinner. And the buffet was being guarded by the formidable restaurant owner, who I’m sure has made it her mission in life to allow not even ONE crab leg to be eaten by some conniving late lunch guest. We would never try such a tactic ourselves, because besides being morally wrong it would involve knowing what time of day it is at any given moment. We’re not that clever.

But Conor wanted crab legs and it was his birthday. Mary El is the more intrepid of us two. She volunteered to make a run at the crab legs like Lee Marvin in “The Dirty Dozen”. If anyone made a fuss, she would explain that Conor wasn’t feeling well when he came in and now he would like to have dinner, so charge us the extra two bucks. Mary El has a way of expecting the rest of the world to be as reasonable as she is, which is why she takes on these missions instead of me. I’m certain everything will soon go to hell, and it usually does. My back was to the buffet and I didn’t watch. I did, however, casually remark to Conor that it would be funny if the owner said something to Mom.

It wasn’t. No sooner had the words escaped my mouth, I heard the owner raising her voice: “That’s for dinner! Not lunch!”

I know, my son wasn’t feeling well…”

Not lunch! You pay for lunch!”

I know we did, but my son didn’t eat…”

No crab legs! Crab legs for dinner!”

Add it to my bill. lady! My son’s eating crab legs!”

I was in hysterics. Proud, embarrassed hysterics. Mary El came back to the table with Conor’s crab legs, began to shell them in an annoyed manner and said, “Check the bill when it comes. We’re paying for ONE dinner!” Then the funniest, best part of the whole experience occurred. Mary El looked over my shoulder and found the owner wherever she was in the restaurant, made sure she wasn’t looking, and surreptitiously snuck a piece of crab leg into her mouth with a look of pure, unadulterated rebellion. Take it out of my mouth…I dare you! Hell hath no fury like a woman denied crab legs.

And you don’t mess with Lee Marvin on her son’s birthday. 

Family Demons and Theater Ghosts

My Uncle Jerry– “Junior” to his parents and siblings—was one the true tragic figures in my family. He’s been on my mind a lot lately because I’m playing a character based on him in my play “Banshee” to be produced in August at FringeNYC. I guess there’s nothing like walking a mile in someone’s moccasins to stir up memories and ghosts of the past.

I first knew my Uncle when I was about 9. In 1978 he took me to my first game at Yankee Stadium. He was a tremendous, rabid Yankee fan. I remember being way back in the stands, deep in foul territory on the right-field side. When Jim Spencer hit a home run, I could see the ball pass high by the foul pole before disappearing into the outstretched hands of the the crowd. It was his attempt at conversion. He bought me a pennant and a Yankee photo book, with pictures of Willie Randolph, Greg Nettles, Lou Piniella and Chris Chambliss staring out at me from pat poses, seeming as awkward in front of a camera as I would have certainly been facing a 97mph fastball.

To his eternal consternation I became a Met fan anyway. The dignity and mundane excellence of the Yankees could not sway the bleeding heart of a boy who would find himself rooting for underdogs the rest of his sorry life. The Mets were losers, but they were MY losers. He referred to them, not kindly, as the “Mutts”.

Uncle Jerry had been a city beat reported, I was told, and on rare days when we were sleeping over the Chelsea apartment he and my Grandparents shared–and nobody was looking– I explored his bottom dresser drawer that contained cut-out articles about robberies and murders with his by-line. There was a Journalism award and a few Yankee yearbooks and yellowing newspaper pictures of the team. I had never seen anyone in my family who had their name in the paper. By the time I knew him he wasn’t a reporter anymore. He wore a long coat with gloves and a police-type hat, and my Grandma complained bitterly about the conditions he had to deal with out on the West Side docks on his behalf. He wore a sad, drawn, silent face as she explained the bitter wind, the shameful, cussing, hard-boiled truck drivers who cursed him for slowing them down, how the skin on his face would freeze in the winter and burn in the summer. At the time I hadn’t a clue why he would choose to do such a thing when he could be out covering crimes and getting press passes to whatever game he wanted to attend.

As I grew older I realized something wasn’t right. Sometimes my Uncle would talk incessantly, arguing with an edge in his voice about any topic, arrogant, too animated, manic. He would get so wrapped up in the Yankee game he would yell out at the screen, admonishing players that would never hear his voice. Other times he was silent, moody, unapproachable. He would sleep and we would all need to be quiet in the apartment, or our house in Rockland when he was visiting. He avoided eye-contact and appeared to be haunted by something only he could see or hear. He would mumble to himself and recite whispered curses at the TV while repeating movements with his fingers over and over in an attempt to hex the opposing team. If the Yankees won he would relax and slowly return to himself. If they lost he was too.

Slowly I was able to piece the past together through overheard conversations and innocent questions. When my Uncle was a young boy, three or four, my Grandpa came over from Ireland to New York to settle himself before bringing his family over. World War II began to brew and it wasn’t until some eight years later before my Grandma and my two Uncles were reunited with their husband and father. It was like meeting a stranger. My mother was the result of my grandparent’s reconvening.

By this time my Uncle Jerry and his mother had developed a kind of interdependence that is all too common between eldest Irish sons and their mothers. Grandma was his caretaker, his defender, his shield against a cruel world, and after eight years of absence my grandfather didn’t have a chance of breaking that impenetrable bond. Hearsay says that when my Grandpa tried to get my Uncle to move out of the apartment and live on his own my Grandma vehemently interceded on Junior’s behalf and threatened to go with him. The subject was never brought up again and my Uncle lived with my Grandparents in that four room apartment for the rest of their lives, and then his.

There were also deeper, overheard snippets of a story about my Uncle’s suicide attempt, his times in institutions, how his life got away from him and how he lost the little he cherished like his reporting job. I went with my mother when I was about 19 or so to see my Uncle in St. Vincent’s psych ward. He sat in a chair not moving a muscle, with a thousand-mile stare as my Grandma pleaded with him to stop this nonsense and just get up and come home. He moved his eyes imperceptibly toward her and tried to form words that his mouth could not execute. She would never understand the idea of mental illness, and he would never be able to explain it to her. That mute, misunderstanding non-communication is how I always remember their relationship. I was there with my mother again (just after my parents divorced) after my Grandmother died of pneumonia on the couch in the front room. We waited and waited for the morgue to come get her as my Uncle kneeled by her in vigil, heaving and sobbing. We’d practically drag him into the kitchen to try to interrupt his relentless grief, only to have him return again and again to her lifeless body. It went on for hours.

I had been living across the hall from their fourth floor apartment at my Aunt Kitty’s place. She was in an old-age home but the apartment was still in her name and rent-controlled, so I squatted there four days a week so that I could get to my college down on 5th Avenue. After my Grandma died and the owner of the building caught on to what I was doing, it was agreed that I would stay with my Uncle from Monday to Thursday during my Junior year. I was apprehensive. We always got along well despite my preference for those New York Mutts, but I didn’t know what state he would be in after losing his mother.

The state he was in was sedation and slight catatonia. He still smoked his Camel unfiltered, still had his meal in front of the television, but it was as if he were working on autopilot. He told me over and over how glad he was to have me there, how lonely he was when I went home for the weekend. His defenses were not just down, they were completely destroyed. I had to work out my schoolwork so that I could visit with him a few hours a day, usually while the Knicks were on, and then later in the year the Yankees. I would comment on the game we were watching and he’d comment back, but he rarely spoke first. He would get a couple of turkey sandwiches from a place he probably went to for years, because they piled the turkey on them like Richard Dreyfuss’ mashed potatoes in “Close Encounters”. We’d eat about four, I’d read or do work until 7, we’d watch the game together and then go to bed, me in his room near the kitchen and him in my Grandparents’ room with the Sacred Heart of Jesus nightlight shining like a spotlight above the bed.

The last time I spoke to him was on the phone the summer between my junior and senior year. I was working six days a week off the books at a deli so I could afford to go back to school. He told me the place was lonely without me around and I told him I’d make time to visit him before I came back for school. I never did, and I feel an enormous amount of guilt about it to this day.

The character I created is not my Uncle Jerry in the purest sense—he’s more willing to take chances, to fight for his life. I think in “Annie Hall” Woody Allen says we create art so we can write the endings we wished could have happened. The play’s ending leaves Junior’s happiness very much in jeopardy, but it at least holds out a chance for it that he never had in real life, resigned as he was to surviving his demons by clinging to my Grandma’s lifeline. I can only hope that “Banshee” serves as some sort of redemption for the past. Even if it succeeds as a play I doubt it will actually redeem anyone—but I think it might provide a catharsis. Either way, my Uncle Jerry will be alive for a couple of hours, some parts of him onstage and other parts in my memory. Stirred up with the other ghosts of the theater who exist for a few fleeting moments before settling back down to earth. If he could settle with a bit more peace, I might have fulfilled my promise to visit one more time.

The Walls Come Tumblin’ Down

Good Friday this year was spent in a hospital trying to figure out why my headache was so bad I couldn’t open up both eyes at once while the lights were on.  They gave me narcotics that made me feel doped up, and then a cocktail of Motrin and an anti-nausea med that made me feel like I was both going to pass out and my skin was going to crawl off my body.  The last time I had a migraine like this meant sepsis, so I had to give blood and take a round of antibiotics.  The whole thing took about eight hours.  I won’t find out if I actually have sepsis until the blood tests come back Monday, so I opted to go home and continue the IV antibiotics there.  If you’ve ever tried to get sleep at a hospital, you understand why it’s better to be home on Easter morning with two kids than to be in a hospital.  If they give you an option to go, GO! 

Illness and I play a constant game of hide and seek.  Most of the time I can keep just ahead of it.  I peek around corners, fall asleep just before it gets bad, get through a little league practice or a playwrighting lab minutes before it’s able to effectively breathe down my neck and mug me in some back alleyway.  I always feel like if I can just turn down the volume a little, or stop and take a deep breath or close my eyes until the worst passes,  I’ll make it through.

And sometimes there’s nowhere to hide. 

I’ve done this for years.  I worked myself into the ground, almost literally, when I was able to work, in an effort to outrun what was chasing me.  It’s not noble.  In fact it’s reckless.  It’s stubborn.  But what was the alternative, admitting that I couldn’t support my family anymore?  Admitting that the one thing I was always good at, working a problem to death until it was gone, wasn’t going to serve me in this case?  Whatever success I had up until the point I started getting sick, whether it was playwrighting or corporate management or sales was due to 5% talent and 95% tenacity.  I worked 40 hrs a week while I was in college full time, and worked every day during breaks to make the next semester’s tuition.  I traveled into NY from Newburgh for my first career every morning and back every night.  Nothing special, everyone does what they need to do.  But when my energy started to wane I knew I was in serious trouble.  I started parsing it out by importance, and much to the chagrin of the people who were paying me, many times my job didn’t end up on top.  It would always end up BACK on top of course, I couldn’t afford to not be working, but more and more my children and my writing drew my energy and my attention.  I’m not saying it was right, I’m just saying it was.

It took years before I was finally run to ground, years of slow leaking, stumbling blindly forward until I fell.  And I tell myself I’m still who I was, that I’m no less a person for my illness.  But I can’t be who I was.  I can’t hold a job.  I can’t complete a role in a play.  I can write, but now I can’t direct and produce the way I used to.  I can be a parent, but I know I’m not nearly the parent I used to be, the one who was involved and active and who played with my children and got down on the ground with them.  I apologize to them more than I say yes to them.  They tell me it’s OK more than I tell them.  It’s not fair to any of us us, or Mary Ellen, who’s had to take up the slack.

These were the things I was supposed to do this week while the kids were out of school:  go help out at their practices, go to one of Mary El’s rehearsals so I could see how her show is going, have play-dates with with three of Mychal’s and Conor’s friends, and maybe play nine holes of golf with my Dad.  I did none of it, and odds are it will be weeks before I’m in shape to do any of it.  Every time I come back a little less.  I went from working 50 hours to working 40 to working 30 to not working to not leaving the house to hardly leaving the couch.  And I go to my blood doctor and see the folks with the wraps on their heads and their paper-thin skin and I know it could be much, much worse.  But it ain’t great, either.  It sure ain’t great. 

I probably won’t publish this–it’s the kind of stuff nobody wants to hear and nobody wants to say, so why bother making everyone uncomfortable.  Being sick sucks, big news flash!  If I was enjoying it, THAT would make an entertaining post.  Man bites dog.  There was a brief moment of levity, come to think of it.  Saturday night I dragged my sick, migraine-having butt downstairs to help the kids dye the eggs.  The kids are joking and laughing like the Looney Tunes characters that they are and Mychal gets caught up in what he’s talking about, turns around and slaps me right on my bald head.  I’ve had a headache for eight days.  I just stared at him, as his “What?” look turned to “What did I just do?”  He immediately leaves the room and has to be coaxed back by Mary El.  I thought it was kinda funny, after the shock wore off.

Mozarts of Monumental Malfeasance

Mighty Max, maker of many messes.

Why is my family producing so much trash? Because I’m constantly writing this blog! Ha, ha, very clever, it is to laugh.

But really. I JUST took out the full bag and put it on the front porch and before I turned around the new bag was three quarters full. If I didn’t know better I’d think something was filling it from beneath, some cosmic rift in the space-time continuum landed the galaxy’s landfill at the bottom of my plastic garbage can.

But alas, I do know better. Not only would cosmic waste be much, much bigger than my receptacle, I also have prior knowledge of my family. We are world class garbage producers. First of all, we use enough paper in a week to take out a small forest. My son Conor is an artist, so he needs to always have reams of loose paper around. He goes from page to page following his twisted psyche, and if his psyche tells him to just draw a circle and move on that’s what he does, never to return to that piece of paper again. I’ll try to trick him sometimes by turning the pages over and putting them at the bottom of his pile, but he always figures it out and complains about the sullied page. What if THIS is the time he comes up with something brilliant? Knowing there’s a mar on the opposite side of the page would keep him up at night. I’m a playwright, and my method is (apparently) to write in the back of 7 or 8 notebooks at a time. When it comes time to put typeset to keyboard, I’m invariably searching through scraps of folded paper trying to match point A to point B and wishing I had even a semblance of organization. Then we go through the children’s bookbags and see that their teachers found it necessary to send home every single piece of work they’ve ever done, along with reminders of everything from the next PTA meeting to the class’ participation in “save a tree” week. But that, and approximately 1000 plastic cups and soda bottles, explains why our recycle bin in filled. Where is the garbage coming from?

Well…we have James who’s built like a bear, and Conor, who’s built like an ox, plus Mychal, myself, Mary El and the cat (Max) fighting for existence. There’s a lot of food on that ride. A lot of eggshells and popcorn bags and cat food bags and used paper plates and go-gurts and leftovers and used paper towels and chicken bones and banana peels and carrion and such. I think I saw antlers in there once, but I thought it best to leave the issue alone.

We also have so many medical supplies in our home that we technically qualify as a local clinic. We would make it official if insurance weren’t such a hassle. I get boxes every week with my TPN supplies (bags of intravenous liquid, two types of flushes, ice packs, gloves, etc.) and the dressing on my PICC line needs to be changed every week. Mary El gets boxes full of the supplies for her semi-liquid diet. The boys have both been sick this winter, and we’re both perpetually illin’, so we have a plethora of pharmaceutical remedies to fit any illness you can throw at us. Strep throat? Covered. Muscle aches? Give us a challenge. Gastrointestinal distress? Upper or lower. Depression? We got the good stuff. In spades. We also produce a veritable mountain of medical mess. See the alliteration there? No extra charge.

There’s also the cat box, and coffee grounds, and lightbulbs, of course. We thought those reduced energy ones would be a good idea until we realized our bulbs never die of natural causes, but always fall victim to being in lamps that are knocked over during indoor basketball or football games. Oh, and there’s broken lamps too. There’s broken a lot of stuff, come to think of it. Our boys always ACT upset over breaking things like their toys, or a mug, or the front porch, or the beveled, irreplaceable glass from a bookcase in the livingroom…but I think they secretly enjoy the hell out of it. You can’t cause this much destruction without strategically planning it, can you? Or maybe they are misunderstood geniuses, working in a new, undiscovered medium—Mozarts of Monumental Malfeasance. Man, what is it with me and “m”s today?

Whatever way you slice it, we create a lot of mess. By the time garbage day rolls around, we have the front of our car loaded with two plastic tubs full of recyclables and four or five humongous black hefty bags full of nonsense. Why on the car, you may ask? Allow me to explain. We have a long, long, unpaved driveway, and with all the snow and ice this winter it would be not only uncomfortable but somewhat dangerous to try to load up the big garbage receptacle at our house and wheel it all the way to the end of the driveway. With our luck, it would get stuck in the mud and we’d have to call for yet another tow. So instead we load up the front of the car until we can’t see to drive and slowly make ourselves to where the receptacle is, next to our mailbox. It may not be pretty but it gets the job done, and it’s a trip the whole family can enjoy. Our togetherness almost makes me misty-eyed—wait, no, it’s just the stench.