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Thursday, January 22, 2009

I See Your TWA Coffee


When you're young, you swear that when you grow up you won't do any of the things that your parents did that scarred you for life. As hard as you try to shed the parental imprint, it never works, and all that effort ends up being just a complete waste of time. Sooner or later, you become your parents, unconditionally.

Unfortunately, my dad died when I was six, so he wasn't around long enough to earn my hate and scorn or to even imprint upon me. Therefore, the only person I could have possibly turned into is my mother.

I took notice of it the other day when I saw a family standing in a movie line. The daughter, who was probably fifteen, wore as a skirt a piece of cloth no wider than a necktie. She was naked from her butt crack to her bra line. She wore a black bra-like thing that was barely covered by some sheer rag that was wrapped around her and knotted in front. She had a huge dangling bauble from her pierced navel, four pairs of earrings in all eight of her ear holes, plus an eyebrow ring. Plastic bracelets adorned her arm from wrist to elbow, and her makeup had clearly been applied with an ice cream scoop. You could fry ants with the sun's reflection from her candy apple red lip gloss. She had on so much mascara that her lashes stretched from here to the ocean. And her turquoise eye shadow had flecks of glitter in it, so that each time she blinked, I thought a flashcube had gone off.

She was far enough away in line not to hear me when I mumbled, "I see your twat!"

"Excuse me?” said the Other Bill, incredulously.

"Oh, did I say that out loud?" I asked. "I'm sorry, I was just looking at that girl over there."

The Other Bill had lived with me long enough to know the "I see your twat" stories, so he just shifted his eyes over and got a glimpse of Flashcube Girl and sighed.

Back in the ‘60s, the worst thing a girl could be accused of was being a slut. Sluttiness, in our family, was determined solely by fashion sense of my mother, a woman who wore the same winter coat for over 40 years.

For months when we were kids, my sister begged my mother to let her get her ears pierced. My mother's answer was, "Only sluts get their ears pierced."

"Sally Myers has her ears pierced," Kathryn once said in defense. Sally was the lady across the street who was pushing 80 and had always worn pierced earrings.

"Maybe so," Mom argued, "but next time you're over there, look at her earlobes. They are stretched out and saggy. One day they'll touch her shoulders. Is that the way you want to look when you're old?"

It was true that Sally was an elongated kind of gal. Earlobes, chins and breasts dangled downward, but it was just from gravity and nature. It wasn’t as if she wore barbells in her ear holes.

As it turned out, my mother’s decision on ear piercing was quickly reversed during a visit from a relative from my father’s side of the family. My Aunt Kay, the most sacred and beloved sister of my late father and my sister's namesake, stepped off the plane from Denver wearing beautiful, tasteful silver and turquoise pierced earrings that she had bought at the Denver Museum of Natural History gift shop.

Mom knew then that she had to raise the white flag. No one in our family regarded anything Aunt Kay did as less than sacrosanct. She was the one most like my father in wit, appearance, and talent. She was well-read, handy, and had a wicked sense of irony. Defying anything she said or did would be like spitting on my father's grave.

The next morning, Aunt Kay held ice cubes on both sides of my sister's earlobes. When the flesh was sufficiently numb, she stuck a sterilized needle through them and inserted my sister's first pair of pierced earrings. Mom was forever silenced on the ear hole issue.

Here’s an old joke: A voluptuous Trans World Airlines stewardess comes up the aisle and leans down and asks a businessman, “Would you like some of our TWA coffee?”

“No, thank you,” the businessman replies, “but I would love some of your TWA tea.” Yuk, yuk!

I like to ask people whether they can remember the first time they heard a bad word used. Most people have made foul language so much a part of their lives that they can’t remember the debut of any profanity. I can remember the first time I heard TWA tea. It was long before I heard the airline joke. It was during the time my sister started wearing miniskirts.

As hems rose, so did my mother's ire. She bickered constantly with my sister over the length of her skirts. Having my mother say things like, "You can't wear that; you look like a slut," was completely ineffective on my sister, so the stakes were raised.

One morning Kathryn walked into the kitchen wearing her latest hemmed-up skirt. Mom turned from the toaster and looked at her, horrified.

"Kathryn, my God, you can’t wear that! I can see your twat!" she cried.

"You can't see my twat!" Kathryn protested.

"I can! I can! I can see your twat!" Mom countered, sounding like some deranged Tweety Bird.

"What's a twat?" I asked, entering the same arena last visited at a family reunion dinner table when I asked what circumcision was.

"I see your twat! I see your twat!" Mother continued to tease.

"What's a twat?" I demanded.

"It's her tee-tee," Mom told me.

"A twat is a tee-tee? I can't see her twat," I declared.

"See?" Kathryn said to my mother, “Billy can’t see my twat, and he’s closer to it than you are.

Nevertheless, the teasing continued and became a charming familial catch phrase. “I see your twat” is so imprinted upon me that I still use it whenever I see some adolescent girl in a movie line emulating Britney Spears, like the kid in the movie line. I can’t help it. It’s my mom’s imprint.

Not long after the introduction of that phrase, my mother accidentally fell into her own slut costume when one morning she paraded from the bathroom in her white underpants and a bra that was blue.

"A BLUE bra?" my sister admonished. "You told me that only sluts wear colored underwear."

"Oh, it's hardly blue at all. Besides, it was on sale.” Apparently there was no such thing as a frugal slut. “It's bluish-white," Mom insisted, defending her moral, cross-your-heart high ground.

"But it's still blue. It's a ba-looooo bra!" Kathryn crowed, sounding like a Model T horn.

My bedroom was in between my sister’s and my mother’s. Henceforth, every morning, there was, from my left, "I see your twat! I see your twat!" and from the right, "Ba-LOOOO bra! Ba-LOOOO bra!"

And they both acted so surprised when, a decade later, I told them I was gay.

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