Thursday, May 3, 2012

How I Learned to Pay Attention More

This will make sense eventually
Back during my single days I went to Miami for my Great Aunt and Uncle's fiftieth wedding anniversary.  As they had frequently come north for family events in our area, a horde of Bronx born Italians and our kin descended on southern Florida. 

Overall it was a great weekend. The party was a hoot and a wonderful time was had by all. We were around the day before and after as well, providing time for some family male bonding. Grunting over my cousin's self-built '57 Corvette and wildly cheering Holyfield as he beat the snot out of Tyson in payback for the whole ear chomping thing added to the weekend’s mood.

I also ended up accidentally juggling for a birthday party.  (Not that I fell off the curb and suddenly performed a cascade.)  I was flipping some stuff around during a backyard barbecue and a bunch of little faces appeared between and over the fence to the next home.

There were some very entertaining wildlife experiences during our visit as well.  My cousin’s young grandson pointed out the back sliding glass doors of their waterfront home and said,

“That’s the backyard.  It’s pretty, but we can’t play there…’cause there’s alligators.”

Wise Lad.

Note for any readers actually paying attention…this was a different backyard than the barbeque.

The other animal encounter, despite our close proximity to the Everglades, was also inside.  Our pre-teen cousin had been showing my sister and I the menagerie in her bedroom.  The space was filled with tanks and small cages containing all manner of creatures about which she displayed amazing amounts of both knowledge and care.  With great pride she announced the latest member of her collection and produced a “wallaby”.

This event occurred well before I took any interpersonal communication or coaching classes (all of which could be titled, “How Not to Be a Schmuck”), therefore my direct response was likely the wrong way to handle this announcement.

“That’s a kangaroo rat.”

Granted it was a remarkably healthy, extremely clean, and obviously well cared for kangaroo rat, but it was still definitely more a relative of Mickey and Minnie than Kanga and Roo. (Or for Warner Brother’s fans: more a relative of Speedy Gonzales than Hippety Hopper.)

She continued to try to convince me of the Wallabishness of her charge, citing the word of the pet shop owner that sold it to her. (I suspect he also did an impressive side business in sales of the Norwegian Blue…Lovely Plumage!)

I followed up in my uninformed by human resources method of argument by repeating,

“That’s a kangaroo rat.”

She tried to further explain the purchasing circumstances, specifying the wallabian tendencies of the animal. I cleverly replied,

“That’s a kangaroo rat.”

Finally, she decided to well and truly prove the animal’s wallabocity by obtaining multiple second opinions.  The rest of the menfolk were still drooling over the ‘vette, leaving a much more estrogen based crowd for her to bring the show and tell to.

Again, my lack of communication skills left me with the unheeded suggestion of,
“That might not be such a good idea.” 

As she exited her room, taking the hopping mammal in question down the hall, I looked over at my sister and silently counted down on my fingers:






And then, with a flourish, pointed toward the doorway.

The battery of screams that echoed back to us was pretty typical for a kitchen filled with a large number of Italian women and a large rodent.

My cousin calmly carried the kangaroo rat formerly known as wallaby back to her room.  Based on the gentle and tender way she held it, and the high quality of care she gave all her animals, I can only believe it lived to a ripe old age…

That is if the shrieks of my other relatives didn’t give it a massive coronary.

While the days were full of family, fun and festivity, the hotel nights were another matter entirely.  Whenever my mother called to try to discuss the travel arrangements, I would respond with, again, fantastic communication skills,

 "Yeah, Sure, Whatever."

This is because, frankly, I can sleep anywhere, anytime, under any conditions. (It's a family trait, which was mentioned during the toast at the party.)  This is where my inattentiveness caused severe problems, as I ended up sharing a room with my sister Kim, and my grandmother.

At night there were very interesting noises in the room, because my sister had just gotten over  pneumonia, and my grandmother...

was a grandmother I guess.

Basically it sounded as if the other bed was being shared by an asthmatic elephant seal and Darth Vader due for an air filter change.  I mentioned that description to all of my relatives the following day and got many laughs.  As I got older, in a cruel example of karma and/or divine retribution, I began to snore like an asthmatic elephant seal WEARING Darth Vader’s mask due for an air filter change.

The night was my quiet time, however. During the day both of them would swear and yell near constantly. 

My sister yelled about:

Her hair
Me being in the way
Her hair
Me making fun of her hair
Her hair
Me in general

My grandmother yelled about:

Her pills
Losing her pills
Thinking she put out her pills when she didn't
Opening her pills
Pistachio shells she thought were her pills
Me making fun of her pills

I am also convinced that if one of them was in the lobby getting coffee, and the other was in Guam, the moment I stepped into the bathroom they would both IMMEDIATELY need to be in there.

I can sum up the chaos surrounding those living arrangements with a single tale.

The set up:
Kim was in the bathroom which contained a fan used as a wind machine from the Wizard of Oz.
Grandma and I were in our room.
My parents were in their room.
My Aunt went for a walk with her room key.
My Uncle was wandering the halls. (Because my Aunt went for a walk with her room key.)

The phone rang; I answered to hear my mother say, "Find out if anyone is hungry."

I yelled, “Is anyone hungry?!"  
Grandma yelled, "No!"
Kim yelled, "What?"

I yelled, “Is anyone hungry?!"  
Grandma yelled, "No!"
Kim yelled "What?"   

The cycle continued repeating until there was a knock on the door.  My grandmother, who had been ignoring my sister up to that point, opened the bathroom door and yelled,
"What the hell do you want?"

I explained that the knock came from the main entrance as Kim managed to scream and shut her door before Grandma got to the other one.  

During the brief period the bathroom door was open I again yelled,
"Is anyone hungry?" 

My uncle then walked in with a big grin, like Lenny and Squiggy entering Laverne and Shirley's apartment, inquiring,
"Did someone ask if anyone was hungry?”

Grandma yelled,
“What the hell do you want?”

And I vowed to pay much more attention to travel arrangements in the future.


Anonymous said...

Hysterical Jeff. An excellent job of describing one of the most dysfunctional (but loving) families known to mankind. I will definitely print and show to my mother. Memories of your grandmother always brings a smile and a laugh to anyone in our family. Great job cuz.

Anonymous said...

Hey jeff great story I remember that get together well. I was a big fan of your grandma she saved me from a lot of ackie's shot to the head that at that time was legal. cuz ralph

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx for the compliments, and for posting, cousins. It always means so much more to hear from the people who were a part of the stories...expecially when it doesn't involve threatened court actions or restraining orders.

Antonia Nedder said...

Love it!!! I laughed out loud for the pistachio shells comment. Well done all around.

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx cousin. Luckily we have a family that comes up with material like this on a regular basis.

Brian said...

First reference to a Lenny and Squiggy entrance ever. Perfect.

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx for posting, Bri. And more thanx for actually being someone who gets a Lenny and Squiggy reference.