I’ll Always Hate Zucchini
“Drop the zucchini and run,” said my mother, before we lost her on that first night of our holidays in Mexico, “it’s the only thing I can do.” I was ten at the time and had poked my head around the corner, thinking everyone else was asleep as the cursed vegetable rolled on the ground.
I thought it odd that Mom would be up by herself, getting dressed. I asked her where she was going? She was crying and tried to hide her tears. “They say madness merely depends on which end of the knife blade you’re staring at, and who’s holding the gun to your head,” my mom said as she continued getting dressed and assured me everything was okay. She patted my rear towards the direction of my room.
I remember Dad was up and had a strange look on his face. It wasn’t from Montezuma’s revenge either, as he stared through the partly open window of that Mexican beach house watching Mom run off into the dark. I’ll never get adults; life as a kid seems so easy.
Only mom never came back, that zucchini lay there staring at me for the rest of our holiday. I hated that vegetable. Dad said she was just running. It took me many years to know from what. For the longest time I thought that it was me.
My parents took us to Mexico to see the Festival of the Dead, which I'd already guessed wasn't going to be a happy holiday. Solemn affair, everyone hanging around waiting to see whose limb falls off first. I'd already been to a couple of school sock-hops that should have been named the same. No one really wanted to dance with a skinny redhead who preferred to stand up to her knees in slough water catching frogs instead of putting on a dress and painting fingernails.
Yes, back to Mexico. I did tell mom to make sure she earned brownie points by telling everyone at the Festival of the Dead, even the zombies, that she should buy them a drink, because they can't. They try but by the time the drink reaches their mouths your typical zombie has either crushed the glass or spilled it all over themselves. Oh, and note to self, don't waste your best jokes on zombies: they don't get it. Humor I've discovered is way beyond them.
But yo-yos are another matter. Keep them entertained for hours on end. They just stand there watching the yo-yo going up and down, up and down, up and down and believe it or not, up and down. Don't think they get past the string and realize there's someone at the end controlling it. So survival tip #101 when walking through parts of town that are quite dodgy, if attacked by zombies whip out your yo-yo, give it to someone with spasmodic seizures and run like hell.
I know Dad loved Mom like crazy. “She drives me nuts,” he’d always say and sometimes “me pistachios as well.” They thought kids said the craziest things! I knew adults were weird and feared I’d become one of them someday.
Although crazy I'm told is only skin deep, while insanity resides in the bone marrow. Funny, maybe because of the time I spent with my mom, I can always tell the difference between the two. If I wink at a crazy person, they wink back, smile, and in the back of their eyes splattered all over the insides of their brains, there's a story: a good fable, or Van Gogh's next painting awaiting. While a truly insane person merely glares back and asks, "Why don't you piss off or on and just get out of my face while I tell Hitler sitting here beside me here what his next plan of attack should be, and if he does what I tell him to do he can install me as the leader of the Turks and Caicos islands. Yeah, that's me, king of the Caribbean and all the chocolate in the world is mine to control, ha, ha, ha.”
Don't know why we went to Mexico; usually on holidays we'd go camping. I love camping. Except for the time a weasel was eating my shoe. We were getting ready for bed when mom sat up and said, "What is that God-awful smell? Has some wild animal crawled in our tent and died? No, it's these." She picked up my runners, pinching her nose shut, and tossed them outside. "You need to take a shower and these need to be put in an incinerator before you attract wild animals from miles around, maybe even a bear. They can smell a dead carcass from across a valley. " I wondered why then none had attacked any of the double arches fast food places near the city limits. But I forgot bears only eat meat.
In the middle of the night I awoke to a rustling noise and peeked bravely out of my pup tent, armed with a bag of marshmallows and my water pistol, only to watch a weasel devouring my shoe with the same relish he'd give to wolfing down chocolate dessert. Although their idea of chocolate dessert is probably slugs rolled in slimy mud and sprinkled with maggots.
In the morning it didn't take much from Mom to convince me and I hobbled humbly into the showers, cringing at the inevitable. "My dear, it's time to start growing up and becoming a woman. Off you go," Dad added. I thought about all those years of caked-on crust I'd worked so hard to build up that had now come to an end. I didn't want to be a lady.
That day began my hate affair with campsite showers. One either got a mere trickle that couldn't drown a housefly or a cascade that replicated Niagara Falls. I screamed as the ice water hit me and yelled the hot water kicked in, all fifteen minutes of it built up behind some pressure valve. Scalding me and turning my skin the same color as boiled lobster.
I returned to our campsite, without an ambulance in tow, to my chagrined mother. "Doesn't that feel better, all clean?"
"No, I'm half parboiled and the other half feels like a sun-tanning polar bear on New Year’s Eve in the middle of a northern blizzard." But I knew I didn't want to spend the rest of my life limping around with one shoe half eaten by gangs of weasels armed with plastic forks and knives chasing me. Which I hear they use instead of metal cutlery, something to do with bizarre allergic reactions that change them into zombie-like feral creatures, see earlier mention of zombies.
I grumbled, but took regular showers after that, much to my parents’ liking and with the savings in disinfectants and air fresheners affording my family to occasionally buy large fries instead of regular at the local fast food chew-and-choke diner in an effort to fatten me up.
Shortly after that when I was twelve, Dad took me duck-hunting. His way of bonding, although how that was supposed to make me a “lady" I'll never know. I remember sitting in the duck blind wondering does puberty really make you do crazy things like want to kiss boys and let them put their tongues down your throat, like I’d seen on TV? Or, even worse, let them win at card games. Unfortunately my trip into adulthood began that year when I began to grow boobies, as Mom called them. Why I don’t know, they’ve nothing to do with TV. Worse, came the start of the red plague. “The eternal curse of women and worth a million dollar baby to Alice Cooper in ‘Only Women Bleed’,” Mom said. I think Mom was smarter than she let on.
Well, Mom said my breasts had begun to develop, but even now they’re still nothing much more than a pirate’s dream, a sunken chest, or a baker's delight, two raisins on a breadboard. Some lucky girls had their breasts balloon early and at vastly inflated rates. Those, especially the pretty ones, the boys couldn't keep their hands off. Then there was me with my mop of red hair, gangly legs and arms. I knew I'd not get asked out except by some pimply-faced geek with taped-up glasses and missing two front teeth, not from getting them bashed out in hockey but more likely from bad hygiene. The type that spends all their time on the computer trying to figure out how to beat the triple-breasted Amazon of Myros instead of brushing their teeth. Apparently her breasts enlarge another cup size every time you hit or stab her. So every testosterone-fueled teenage male wants to fight her, but take their time defeating her. Oh, I forgot to mention that after she hits 42DDD, you get to the next level when her bra armor explodes and then you're really doomed to death by hardened teats, with imbedded needles poking out of them. Pummeled to death or nippled to death, couldn't dream a better way to go for most adolescent males. Yeah, brilliant, except I beat her in about fifteen seconds whereas most guys take months. The massive distraction decoys I guess only work on male teenagers and not a redhead who discovered girls weren't her bag, or as my mom once said, "Licking mackerel, no thanks." Unless he's a real nerd and is trying to best the world mathematical record for calculating Pi, or trying to create the formula for fitting a nuclear bomb into a pop can. Just big enough to nuke the next door neighbor’s dog. You know, the yappy punting breed kind that craps all over your lawn and barks nonstop until its owner comes home and then obediently fetches the newspaper, tail wagging. Yeah, that one.
Unfortunately for Dad he told me Mom was pretty good at cards, ‘cause she’d always win at strip poker. I wanted to be like her but had no intentions of losing my strips, sirloin or pork or any kind of meat, to a boy, man, dog or overstuffed armchair. She did tell me once she did burlesque shows and her stage name was Cupid Stunt. Someone told her it had to do with spoons or something like that. I never got it. However, working with spoons or any cutlery with a sharp edge was never mom's great gift in life. Dad did all the cooking, much safer and cut down on buying band-aids in bulk.
Speaking of armchairs, I did ask her once why are all armchairs overstuffed? I think when people sat on the first armchairs ever made they all said, “Oh, this makes my arms look so fat.” I reckon that someone got the brilliant idea of overstuffing them and made a fortune selling them to old ladies. “Mrs. Penderson, you look darn good in that overstuffed armchair and your arms, I might say, look so thin.”
“Oh, you’re such a sweetie. I’ll take it.” The rest is history.
I miss Mom to this day. Dad never remarried. I hear him cry some nights watching soppy movies or crazy comedies with people running around like their butts are on fire because someone had stuck Tabasco sauce on the toilet paper and they never noticed. Which, in that case, probably would feel like your butt was on fire.
Mom often ironed clothes in only her bra and panties, cursing the summer’s heat. Sometimes she’d be wearing a playboy bunny tee-shirt tied into a knot around her midsection, hair bobbed into a beehive, aka sixties Bond girl, listening to eighties bands like Bon Jovi and singing along with ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ and ‘Bed of Roses’ at the top of her shrill voice. “Go out and go play with parked cars and shaggy dogs,” she’d yell, sucking back a whiskey straight.
Nearly every night before she left, Mom would say as she tucked me into bed, “Why do I love you so much? You’re my world and all I’ve got to show for it.” I never got it. Not at six, seven or eight. I learned years later about soul-mates, but I knew mom and dad weren’t meant for each other. At least I figured out that mom wasn’t his. Dad was in awe of her and would do anything for her. They’d dance drunk on Saturday nights; I’d watch or join in on occasion. The dancing, not the drinking. I never saw them fight and couldn’t figure out why anyone would swallow stuff that would make flies stagger around in a daze if they’d fallen into the glass that looked and smelled like bad pee. Dad did tell me once that they met in a Mexican bar and after a dozen tequila shooters I popped out nine months later.
I tell people I remember the day I was born, being confused because all the people with halos were telling everyone, "Stay away from the light." That didn't make any sense until I smelt the coffee on the other side and thought yeah, this is the joint. So I went into the light and next thing I know some bugger in white is holding me naked, upside down and slapping my ass. I didn't have any pockets to shake money out of and couldn't talk or even gurgle at the time. But I do remember my mom being there and thinking, lady you should shave that thing into a Fu Manchu. Dad was flat on the floor with a nurse giving him smelling salts. He didn't take to the sight of blood well.
I remember our next-door neighbors coming over once and they’d mentioned they’d been trying for months to conceive a baby without any luck. I told them to do what my parents told me they did, suck back a dozen tequilas, chuck in the worm for good measure, whip out the flag and say it has to be done for the country. Worked for my parents. I was grounded for a week.
As we sat in the duck blind I asked Dad. “If the ducks can’t see us, why are we hiding?”
“No, silly girl,” Dad said. “It’s to make us blind to ducks. You’re starting to sound like your mom.”
I thought it would make more sense to put one of those fake decoys on our heads, walk around with white canes and a card reading, “No legally blind humans here with guns, really.” I suppose ducks probably can’t read anyways or at least not English, because mom always said, “Ever see a duck reading a menu at your local restaurant or sitting at a bus stop waiting for the number eight bus?” She told me that ducks were quite smart at numbers and they had been known to steal credit cards in order to book up all the cheap rooms via the internet and airplane flights for the trip back south in the fall. Yeah, ducks really are a lazy lot that like nothing better than to slather on suntan oil and soak in the heat. They'd fly for weeks, drive, hitch rides, hijack cars and even cruise on the back of Harleys, but not Greyhound buses. The dog on the side always freaked them out. So if any ducks are behind you at the ATM always screen your pin and bark loudly, a good thing to remember, my Mom told me.
A flock approached. Dad tensed. I cringed, thinking of the hours I’d spent holding lifeless necks all the way to the car, their limp, still-warm bodies oozing life from a dozen pellet holes and later plucking feather after feather from riddled corpses. The thump of gunshots in the background from other hunters. How many times had I scrambled across the fields to collect dead or dying fowl as they ceased their allotted lifespan in this eternity. Hearts faintly beating as warm blood ran into cold earth, knowing their one shot, their one go at making it in this ducky reality has come to an end. Well, except to later be my peppered-with-buckshot duck soup.
I wondered if the bad ones ever came back as pop-up decoys in an arcade. Avenging crimes against fowl-kind over and over again. Plink, plink, plink. Their torture only ending when some sweaty human wins his overstuffed teddy bear. Which make me ask the question …
Why did Mom have to leave and make me the golden retriever?
I craned my neck skyward, listening. This didn’t sound like the usual honks. Regal, large sweeping wings buttered the sky. Sandhill cranes floated down amid the mallards and teals, like angels protecting the flock.
Mom loved cranes. She would make Dad stop by the downtown parks where we’d sit on the benches and watch the cranes. Long, elegant necks stretching out, deftly picking up their morsels and lifting their captured prey high in the air before depositing their cargo at the top of a high-rise under construction. I remember the tee-shirt she wore the day she disappeared. ‘Majestic Crane Ltd. We lift everything. Big or small.’ Dad said even cranes couldn't help her, she’d already gone from 36DD to 42 long.
I believe Mom vanished to live her dream and become a crane operator in Tijuana, where she'd regale tequila-inebriated seniors with tales of her younger days as a ballerina, aka burlesque dancer. Or maybe she became a truck driver, pulling big ten-fours, or slinging burgers in Ronald M’s first drive-in restaurant. She always swore that A&W stole the idea of waitresses on roller blades coming to your car window in the fifties, except she wanted to do it Hooters style. Yup, that would be my mom, living a full and crazy life swinging her maracas.
One time I remember her sitting on my bed, dressed in her usual pink bunny slippers, playboy tee-shirt tied around her waist, with a bit of hang-on-tight-we’re-going-for-a-ride-darling flab around her waist hanging out. Mom hated getting fat and fought everyday to stay pleasantly curvy. Although not the curves a hippo would find attractive, she’d say, stroking pussy as she came into my room.
I never did find out why she called our cat pussy. She said it was from an old cartoon show called Puss ’n’ Boots, and calling him Boots didn’t sound right. But I didn’t think it mattered. The Cat, I called him. He didn’t like being stroked. Hunting flies on the other side of the window-pane was his gig. It’s no wonder cats don’t chase sticks if they haven’t figured out that glass won’t allow you to hunt flies. Of course the flies haven’t thought that if they could get into the house, they'd end up as a tasty late-night cat snack. But either cats don’t know English or like a typical feline he never listened to anything anyone else had to say. They have this innate ability to stare at you when you’ve yelled at them for the hundredth time and telepathically say, “What? This is news. I’ve never been told this before."
Mom always said never gamble and put your pussy on the line. Actually that was the one animal that beat me regularly in poker. He'd sit there, glance at his cards, look at the stack of tuna-chips, muttering, "You're wasting my time with those cards, because my paw, er, hand is better. Not to mention I've very sharp claws and I know how to use them." He'd run them across the granite table making that high pitched SCRATCHING tone that tore across your nerves like a dragster (car, not dressed-up male) peeling off a line of rubber. Under the threat of massive bleeding, I'd fold and he'd give me that 'Whatever, not interested' look, then return to licking his rear end and every single time make a horrible face. As if he forgot licking his butt was not the same as drooling over catnip. I always told him feces come out of there, not the Sistine Chapel. If you want holy, get the pope to bless it. Otherwise get catnip-scented disinfectant and use soapy water to wipe yourself. Oh, yeah, that'll never catch on. Cats hate water. If we're supposed to be smarter than them in the food chain, why is it that we have to feed them, groom them, empty their litter baskets and pick up all their puked-up hairballs and not the other way around? Anyways, I swear my cat is possessed. At times it would lay there asleep, as most do, for hours on end and suddenly leap up like it just crapped out six jalapeños, dance around sideways, fling itself into a drunken Michael Jackson pose and tear across the room like it just saw three blind mice begging, "Eat me."
No wonder some dogs give up chasing cats. Oh, there's a few hardy souls out there that only learn after a cat whirls about and presents itself in a odd drunken oriental position hissing, "Ah, stay away from me, evil canine. I am practiced master in CatWando. One slice of my claws can eviscerate dangling testicles in a blink of an eye, or in dog terms, before your slobber can hit the ground." Dancing wildly about, the dog in question would smartly think, "Is this worth it?" before backing away quietly. Well, you'd think, but dogs aren't known to be the brightest lampposts on the block, at least not when faced with a whirling dervish armed with a mitt full of scythes going at them. You'd think they'd instead revert to their base need to sniff their own bollocks and seek newspapers or sticks to retrieve. I visualize a canine's worst nightmare imaginable is waking up next to a lion or tiger, thinking, "Wow, who'd think of feeding catnip steroids to the tabby?" History between the species would have been different if the Lone Ranger's dog had figured out how to use that nifty lasso gizmo his master had.
What the? The Lone Ranger didn't have a dog? Most dogs would answer that with, "In my dreams I'd learn to use that lasso and become your faithful companion. Chase all those sticks needed to start your fire, when you're out on the range and bring you your slippers. Bet neither the Indian nor the horse could do that. I'd bring you the daily paper, but the Indian and his smoke blanket are a bit more than I can carry."
"Ah, plenty smart, that Rover," good old L.R. would probably smirk behind his twelve-cent Halloween mask. Really it should have been 'The Lone Ranger and Rover Crime-fighting Duo' rounding up the baddest criminals and sticks in the west. You wonder where dogs get these wild dreams from when they don't have anything like catnip to imbibe. Well they do lick their own behinds. Yup, that could cause bad hallucinogenic reactions.
I sat quietly watching the cloud of ducks and geese coming in, thinking some people aren’t ever meant to be conventional or settle down. As the country song sang, “It’s five o’clock somewhere and someday I’ll be Saturday night.” Oh, that’s a different song but then that was Mom. Different. Did I want to be like her and settle for the ordinary life, preferring to walk with limp fowl dangling from my hands to our car?
I know now Dad couldn’t hold her. Mom had wings that needed to unfold. Like cranes that threatened to soar, the inbred instinct to use those wings hungered inside her. I watched the flock landing. Geese honked, spreading wings like angels descending, while the ducks laughed to themselves like they had some inside joke they kept repeating about Lone Duck Dong, so named because he thought he was a goose with what he had stashed in his trousers. Well, until someone looked in his trousers and said, “Hey wait a minute. Ducks don’t wear trousers.”
From somewhere in the stillness my mom was calling as she danced the night away with Dad and me laughing, rock music blaring in the background. It came to me recently she’d been clipped living with Dad and myself, and I don’t know if he ever saw it. Mom was like a thoroughbred horse that was only used to rent out to people for forty bucks an hour to ride through some well-worn trail in the woods.
Dad lifted his gun.
Mom was not one to ride well-worn trails and waste her life.
“No!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. Neither was I, damn it.
I ran from the blind waving my arms like some possessed person winning a pair of Stanley Cup NHL final playoff tickets.
“Be free! Be free!” A fowl cloud lifted; tears stung my face.
That night I dreamt my mom was out somewhere smiling at me waving that last zucchini at me from Mexico. Yeah, I knew madness did depend on whose holding the gun to whose head. But I swore when I grew up I’d never eat one ever again.
Dad never did take me duck-hunting again.