Mom was speechless. It was beautiful.

Today with Mom began dismally, but it got better as it went along. Maybe.

I knocked on her door, and the third thing she said after “Good morning” and “Did you sleep well?” was, “Really, Doug, I insist — tonight let’s trade rooms.”

Mom doesn’t do irony, but for a moment I hoped she was kidding. She wasn’t.

I’d been thinking about her trading-rooms bullshit yesterday, of course. I’d laid awake in bed thinking of all the things I should’ve said but hadn’t, and I’d hated myself for taking Mom’s crap so compliantly. I’d already decided I wasn’t taking her crap today. I had rehearsed for this moment.

“Momma,” I said, “This is simply rude of you, impolite beyond what I can tolerate. No matter how many times I say no, you keep asking one more time, one more time. Do you think because I’m your son you can be this rude to me? If I accepted your repeated invitation to visit you in Seattle, could I look forward to this much rudeness from you there?”

From experience I can tell you, yelling at my mom, losing my temper, would've been futile. I went with the “rude” line of attack instead, because when I was a kid Mom always drummed good manners into me. It was right up there with going to Sunday School. It’s really important, she often told me and my siblings thirty years ago, that "We are polite to all people, in all situations."

So telling my mother that she’d shown bad manners — and telling her politely — was my strategy to break down her defenses and shut her up. Seriously, I give myself a ‘10’ for planning and execution. She was speechless. It was beautiful.

And then, she began to cry. I was thinking Fuck your tears, but I kept my tone as pleasant as possible and said, “I am trying to be a gracious host here, but you’re not being a very gracious guest, and it’s very ill-mannered of you.”

I usually carry a few moist towelettes in my pocket, stolen from Kentucky Fried Chicken, and I handed one to Mom. She wiped her tears, and we went to breakfast at McDonald’s. For the first time all week she didn’t have much to say, and that’s OK. I’d rather have quiet than crazy.

We ordered Egg McMuffins and their fake hash browns, and after a few bites Mom sadly said, “Have I worn out my welcome?”

“A gracious host welcomes a polite guest,” I said.

She never apologized, of course, but she was acting sort of apologetic, so I'm calling it a win. Maybe my first ever win against Mom. It was marvelous. I'd open a bottle of champagne and pour it over my head, if I had champagne and someone willing to clean up the mess.

Finally she smiled that big forced smile of hers, and talked about Dad for a few minutes. What a relief. It felt like a week’s worth of drama, all before I even went to work.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Lunch with Mom was nice, I guess. We talked awkwardly, and she never once said anything rude or judgmental, mean or out of line, but she was awfully quiet. Thumb up from me. She said she’d left a message on Pastor Alvarez’s phone, but he hadn’t called her back, so we’re not having dinner with him. Both thumbs up.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

After work I took Mom to dinner at the Sincere Cafe. The neighborhood widened her eyeballs, but the crackheads and panhandlers were polite, and Mom and I didn’t argue. She didn’t bring up trading rooms. We both had the Number 1, and we both loved it, and neither of us finished it. I have two Dalmatian-size doggie bags in my mini-fridge. 

The vibe was peculiar, though. Mom had next to nothing to say. She’d brought a newspaper, and both of us read it while we ate. She wasn’t quite giving me the silent treatment — she was cordial, and so was I — but she’d been quiet since this morning’s melodrama.

When Mom talks a lot, like every day of her life and all week until today, I mostly just listen. Now she’s not talking much, and I haven’t got much to say, either. It was small talk or no talk, and I didn’t complain.

We don’t have much in common, Mom and me. We know some of the same people, and they’re people I also don’t have much in common with. That’s a compliment, though. I’m a strange man, and you wouldn’t want to have much in common with me.

When I finished reading the sports section, I started talking a lot, babbling basically. It was an experiment, to see whether she was willing to talk to me. So I talked about my work, my neighborhood, and whatever else came to mind. That’s how normal people talk when they’re being all normal and stuff, right? I didn’t get much response from Mom, except when I mentioned my hemorrhoids, and she said she’s had hemorrhoids too. “It must run in the family,” I said.

I asked what she’s been doing during the days, while I’ve been at work this week. I was expecting an ordinary visit-to-San Francisco answer like, I rode the cable cars, or I walked to the Embarcadero. No. Mom has been spending her days in her hotel room, reading her Bible and singing songs from the hymnal she packed. Eight hours every day.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

After dinner, we came back to the hotel, both of us on edge. Would she invite herself into my room again? Nope. We went directly to her room, where I didn’t say much but still did most of the talking, and she continued reading the paper.

When I got bored with watching my mother read, I quietly slipped out to go up to my own room. She heard the door click shut, and chased after me in the hall. “You didn’t say good night,” she said.

So I said good night, and a weirdly uncomfortable day with Mother came to an end. 

Maybe she thinks I should apologize for what I said this morning, but I didn’t and won’t. I think I handled this morning damned well, and if it damaged her, well, I’m still not sorry. I hadn’t told off my mother since I was about fifteen years old, and it went lots better this time than that time. And I’m sleeping in my own bed in my own room.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Tonight at the U.C. Theater, they showed two great dramas from the 1960s, Five Easy Pieces and Midnight Cowboy. I couldn’t go, of course, but I’m looking at the movie calendars tacked up on my wall, looking forward to resuming my life after Mom flies home tomorrow.

I maybe could’ve dragged her to a movie while she’s here, but not anything like Midnight Cowboy, with no ‘family values’.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Knock knock. I’d been asleep for half an hour, but I dragged my ass out of bed. I was sure it would be the mumbling man from down the hall, and he’d locked himself out of his room again, so I opened the door without peering through the peephole.

It wasn’t the mumbling man. It was my mom. “What the hell?” I said. Swearing is a big no-no in our family, and ‘Hell’ is swearing, so I’d broken a rule, but Mom let it slide.

“I was thinking,” she said. “I know you don’t want to trade rooms” — I was ready to scream — “but you could at least shower in my room tomorrow morning, if you want.”

I stared at her. “You woke me up.”

She said, “I’m sorry.”

I was asleep standing up, and taken aback that she’d actually apologized, so … I said “OK.”  The hotel’s communal showers can be disgusting, and Mom’s room has a private shower, and I paid for it, so why not.

Tomorrow morning I’ll shower in Mom’s room. I'm not sure how she’ll make it awful, but I have confidence that she will.

From Pathetic Life #3
Friday, August 19, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.



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