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Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Mother, My Miser


I’m turning into my mother and don’t know what to do about it.

The other day I got home and saw yet another pile of newspapers that Other Bill left on the bathroom floor. I got down on my knees, and as I collected the paper and rolled it back up and stuffed it into the bag it was delivered in (also on the floor), I said to no one except myself, “I thought we agreed to pick up after ourselves.” Granted, this would not have been the exact approach my mother would have used, but I still heard my mother coming out of me. Typically, if as a child I had left this mess, Mom would have grabbed me by my ear, marched me into the bathroom, rubbed my nose in the newspaper and screamed, “Look what you did! LOOK what you did! Bad! Bad!”

Another momism I am trying to wean myself from is the word, “filthy,” because I can’t say it without spelling it afterwards. “Look at this room,” my mother would say, “it’s filthy! F-I-L-thee-Y-thee!”

When I first spelled it out in front of Other Bill, he looked down at me in amazement. “What-thee?” He asked with a devilish grin on his face. I knew that look. It was the look that said, “This will be another one of your quirks that I get to tell everyone we know to make them think you’re weird.” I try to reel in the use of that word, but just the other day I F-I-L-theed his nightstand (which I’m not allowed to clean or touch, because valuable expired coupons, burned out light bulbs or a year-old Seven-Eleven cash register receipt for the empty pack of Bubblicious might turn up missing.)

My mother hated it when sugar was spilled on the floor. She hated the sound it made when you stepped in it. She hated the way it stuck to your foot if you walked barefoot in it. She hated the fact that it attracted roaches. Spill water, spill flour, spill anything else, but don’t spill sugar. The other day I walked into the kitchen and heard that gritty noise under my heel. “Someone spilled sugar,” I announced to my dog, because no one else was there to blame. “That’ll draw roaches.”

I slapped my hand over my mouth in horror. Not only was it a direct quote from Mom, but now it was the second time in a week that I channeled her without a human audience.

If Bill leaves a light on in a room that’s not being used, my motherly response to him is always, “We don’t own Tampa Electric.” It doesn’t matter that we don’t live in Tampa or that our electric provider is Florida Power and Light, not Tampa Electric. I am possessed by the skinflinty, demonic soul of my mother, and she has all the control over how I respond to a potential loss of revenue.

The toilet sometimes doesn’t refill after Bill takes a midnight trip to the bathroom. I could let it slide. Really, I could say nothing, but I’d never get back to sleep. I have the choice of getting up to fix it myself or making Bill get back up and fix it.

“Did you jiggle the john?” I asked him recently at 3 AM.

He sat upright in bed. “I beg your pardon?”

“Did you jiggle the john?” was a phrase that lasted for years in our house. We didn’t have the knowledge, the expertise, the problem-solving skills, or a Daddy in the house who could fix a singing toilet. All we knew was that if we jiggled the handle after we flushed, it would stop refilling when it was supposed to. My sister and I had connecting rooms separated by an accordion door, and if I got up to pee in the middle of the night, I would walk back from the bathroom through her room, jump up into my big mahogany bed, pull up the covers, and lay my head on the pillow.

“Did you jiggle the john?” my sister would call from her bed.

Dammit! She always waited until I was tucked back in before reminding me. So I’d pad back through her room to the bathroom, jiggle and return.

God forbid we should waste a drop of water and drive up the utility bill. When I had friends over to the house, Mom would remind me, “Don’t forget to tell him to jiggle the john after he pees.” And if I did forget, she had no problem telling the non-jiggling friend to correct the situation. It was mortifying. My friends would ask me, “Why don’t you just get the toilet fixed?”

It was because my mother had an intense fear of plumbers. Actually, it was fear of paying a plumber. During my sister’s first menstrual cycle, our bathroom shut down. The toilet overflowed when you flushed. The shower, bathtub, and sink would not drain out. Mom sought the advice of a neighbor who loaned us a couple of plumbing snakes. We ran the snake down the toilet, down the sink, and down the shower drain. Each time it hit a dead end. The neighbor then advised us to go at it from the both ends. He showed us where to dig, so we burrowed in the ground a couple of feet until we found the sewer opening, and while I rammed the one snake down the shower drain, my sister rammed her snake up from the opening in the pipe, which was a delightful task for a first-time menstruator. While we were slaving away, Lou Sparkman, the Martha Stewart of the neighborhood, always sharply dressed for a fancy country club luncheon, walked up to see what we were doing. Mom tried to block Lou’s view in order to prevent the possibility of being reported for violating child labor laws. From inside the house, my snake finally broke through, sending me tumbling to the smelly shower floor.

A second later my sister yelled out, in front of the pursed-lipped rich lady and everyone else within earshot, “Ew, Mom, a big load of tampons and shit just shot by!” Soon after Lou vanished, my sister got a stern lecture about what wasn’t flushable and what words were not utterable in front of elite country club ladies. This was probably the only time that we were able to fix something ourselves without calling in a professional.

These days, I still haven’t learned that “You get what you pay for,” is always truer than, “We can do this ourselves!” It’s part of the demonic possession. My mother broke bones, got stitches, cracked windows, and always tried to save the delivery charge by insisting everything could fit in the car. We had needles nearly lost in our arms when she tried to economize on allergy shots, and we got embarrassingly hideous home-barber haircuts. She’d never buy a book but always paid the fines for overdue or lost library books. And since her spirit is my financial advisor, I’m the same way.

For instance, when our kitchen sink recently became clogged, I decided, like Mom, to take the bull by the horns and rent one of those electric augers to try to fix it. Only I didn’t have a neighbor to tell me what to do (or a country club lady to gross out.) Instead of poking the snake from up on the roof (“Oh, is that what that pipe’s for?” I later asked the plumber), I drilled in through the pipe in the wall under the kitchen sink. After failing miserably, I reeled into the kitchen an unpleasant smelling glob of sewage, but it still did not break up the clog. So in addition to the $40 for the auger rental, I ended up paying $150 for the plumber.

There is a scary by-product of being possessed by the skinflint spirit of my mother. She is seeping into the body of my partner. He can no longer say, “It’s filthy.” He always says, “It’s F-I-L-thee-Y-thee.” And recently after neglecting to turn off ceiling fans in rooms that I have exited, he uttered the Tampa Electric phrase.

I don’t know how to curb this disturbing trend set by My Mother, Myselfishness. I guess the best thing to do is to go out and hire an exorcist.

On second thought, maybe I can find a library book on exorcism. I can probably do it myself and save some money.

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