Mother was the hub of the family. Somehow she managed to raise four kids singlehandedly and I’m sure it drove her more than a bit mad. She had no parents, no siblings to help. The longest of her three marriages lasted only eleven years. She had one close friend who was unable to help beyond a sympathetic ear. Mom’s situation was her fault in part and she was a very strong-willed woman. Self preservation was often the center of her motivations and it was a knife that cut swift and clean.
She’d never admit it openly, but she was desperately lonely.
I spite of it all, she was an amazing woman. Part pirate, part angel, part peacock, part dragon. She didn’t break molds, she annihilated them. No matter how people felt about her, they never forgot meeting her.
* * *
Mom’s hair was legendary. In my circle of friends, it was often the butt of jokes that even I couldn’t help but crack. She was born blond, but dyed it black for many years, citing Elizabeth Taylor as her inspiration. In the Eighties, she dyed her hair red and curled it, teasing it to such an astounding volume that it became a presence itself. Metaphorically, it mirrored her personality perfectly. She kept it red until the day she died.
* * *
I don’t give a husky fuck was her signature expression and she used it often. She said she didn’t curse much until she started performing in jazz bands. “I was surrounded by men and every other word was fuck. Sometimes someone in the audience was an asshole. There was no room for sensitivity, I had to hold my own if I was going to perform. So, I got tough.” My friends came to our house and marveled at the freedom I had. I could swear to my heart’s content. Mom certainly couldn’t repress her vulgar vocabulary, so why should her kids have to? On the flip, she demanded excellent manners. Cursing did not give license to be disrespectful. “You can do this at home, but you do it in public, I will kick your ass.”
* * *
Even with my help, my three sisters were a challenge for my mom. She didn’t dare go to the bathroom with the door closed. To leave the girls out of view might be necessary for brief periods, she always kept within earshot. My much younger sisters considered it a literal open door policy and badgered her regardless. When it became too much she’d yell, “LEAVE ME ALONE AND LET ME POOP IN PEACE.” And sometimes I’d walk in on her unknowingly. Gah.
She was often confronted with dissension among her children too. “Look, I’m the adult, you’re the kid. Shut up and do what I told you,” was her patented response.
* * *
I owe my sense of humor to her. She was quick to crack a joke, and it often fell in inappropriate territory. There were boundaries. Degrading or racial jokes were intolerable. One Christmas she walked past me and sang, “Hark!…” This was immediately followed buy a loud fart. Without skipping a beat, “…The angels sing!” ended the lyrics.
* * *
We begged for a dog. Mom resisted. She caved eventually under one condition: we would be responsible for it. “I don’t want to be the one who ends up taking care of the goddamn dog, you hear?” Our agreement lacked any true commitment. Her friend had cocker spaniel puppies so we took one. The family meeting to name him was proving unproductive until I gave my proposal, “How about Mofo?” It was a joke, not a serious bid. Mom’s eyebrows collided in confusion. “It’s short for motherfucker,” I declared in comedic triumph. Everyone laughed and there was no further discussion about a name.
The name was prophetically appropriate.
We called him Mofie when he was good. He wasn’t good much. He pissed on everything. Anything in reach of his aim was fair game. My sister’s stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, the side of the couch. And he’d do it seconds after being let in the house. He ate everything. Cat shit out of the litter box. Cigarette butts. Barbie heads. Balloons. Crayons. As a result, his turds looked surreally festive. We had Hindu neighbors from Fiji two doors down and they had a fire pit in their back yard with a big pot over it. In it they’d cook with curry every day and the strong odor hung over the block like a cloud that stung the eyes. Mofo would get out of the yard and bee-line to their house and find a way to the backyard and feast on whatever was available. This meant curry. Then he’d slink back home when we’d catch him, his fur drenched in fission-bonded curry grease—the energy produced by the odor was so powerful it created an aura of radiating light waves around him. We’d scold him from a safe distance and he’d sulk in overindulgent shame. Then he’d barf curry lava everywhere for about an hour. I swear it etched pits in the concrete of the backyard patio and burnt patches of the lawn. This happened more than once. It was times like these when we called him by his full name, Motherfucker.
* * *
Mom was a sexually liberated woman but was ironically old fashioned in certain ways. This left her prejudiced and naive to the wider spectrum of sexual expression. When her aunt died, we had to sort through her belongings and determine what to throw or give away and what to keep. Her aunt had what looked like an imported bicycle that could fold in half. Mom wanted to keep it for her to ride. The tires on it were flat and in an advanced state of disintegration but it had a convenient tire pump tucked into the frame. She asked if I would pump up the tires so she could try it out, busing herself by digging through boxes while I did her bidding. The pump worked great despite it’s age and I told mom it was ready to ride. Her head popped out from behind the piles of her aunt’s belongings and she walked over to the bike. She stopped dead and gasped like she’d seen a snake, her finger aiming at the cylindrical tire pump I left on the ground by the bike. “Is that some type of dilldoo?” she asked disgustingly. Laughing, I said, “What? No, mom. That’s the tire pump. And it’s dilDO, not dillDOO.”
* * *
She was a champion of the downtrodden, especially women.
Mom took me to Disneyland in my tweens, just her and I, because we couldn’t afford to take the whole family. I was excited because I’d never been there. It was nice to get some one on one time with mom but I was less than impressed with Walt.
We were walking back to our motel right near the park and it was hot. The cheesy 60’s and 70’s styling of the motels that dominated both sides of the street hadn’t caught up to the 80’s yet. The motel just before ours had a refreshing pool in front, feet from the sidewalk we trudged along. It mocked me from behind a black iron fence. Our motel didn’t have a pool. A girl’s screams from the pool grabbed our attention and I could see a teen aged boy dunking a girl under the water, his teeth framed by smiling lips. She thrashed, but the pool was too deep for her to stand. What looked to be their mother sat in a lounge chair blankly observing what was happening without any reaction. The boy relented, but only for a second as the girl broke the surface and gasped. Then she was under again. Mom grabbed my arm and looked me right in the eye. “You keep walking right up to our room. Don’t stop,” she commanded, shoving our room key into my hand. I picked up my pace a clip, looking over my shoulder as mom ran up to the fence.
“HEY MOTHERFUCKER STOP THAT,” she roared. The boy visibly jerked, startled by my mom’s booming voice. “WHAT THE FUCK YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING YOU PIECE OF SHIT? LEAVE HER ALONE.” The boy stopped, dumbfounded. The girl popped up crying and quickly swam away from the boy and to shallow water. “SHE’S TERRIFIED YOU ASSHOLE WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU SHE CAN’T BREATHE.” I stopped just before I’d lose sight of what was happening. As my mom continued her verbal assault, the girl shook her head in agreement as she trembled and sobbed.
The boy collected himself and climbed out of the pool. His strong and mature physique proved he was more a man than boy. My heart dropped. He yelled back at my mom, trying to redeem his pride but she stood her ground. Then the woman sitting in the lounge chair started yelling at my mom too. What anyone was saying was lost to me in the vocal chaos. Fear crept up my throat as things escalated. The man-boy puffed his chest, still yelling, and started to walk towards my mom. “FUCK YOU BITCH WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?”
The fence between them wasn’t particularly tall and I feared the worst. “I’M CALLING THE POLICE YOU WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT,” mom countered. “SHAME ON YOU FOR NOT STOPPING HIM,” she directed at the woman. Mom looked my way and saw I was still there. “GO, RUN AND CALL THE POLICE CABBY.” I darted away, not sure what to do. I could still hear her yells as I climbed the stairs to our room and fumbled with the key. Our door faced the street and I caught a glimpse of mom walking quickly through the parking lot towards the stairs as I opened the door. I waited, expecting to see the man-boy in pursuit but he didn’t follow. Mom pushed me into the room and locked the door behind her.
* * *
I wouldn’t be the man I am today without her. Thanks mom.