My friend Janet the poet and I are both blessedly childless, so we haven’t shot our savings on a child’s college education (usually, to judge from our friends, a child who wants to go to a very expensive college). We have plenty of time and money to buy books, bicycle, and vacation in the Caribbean with our husbands/boyfriends.
But these days we spend a lot of time taking care of our parents.
Janet’s mother, Alabama, calls her constantly at work.
Janet is in the middle of a meeting, preparing an annual report for a nonprofit, when Alabama calls to say that she has a pain “here.”
“Where? I can’t see you.”
“It’s in my side. It’s probably appendicitis.”
“Then call the hospital.”
“You know what happened to Kat’s mother,” Alabama says vaguely. And then she says she needs Janet to bring chocolate chip cookies from Original Cookies, Chinese food from The Dragon, a new garden-theme mug from Ben Franklin, and a dress from Nordstrom’s she saw online.
“I’ll have to buy a cooler for the Chinese food.” Janet lives 100 miles away.
“Just bring it in a sack.”
“The crab rangoon might go bad.”
I am, sort of, some of the time, taking care of Janet’s mother because we live in the same city, and she likes me. I got her Chinese food at the Hy-Vee yesterday. When Janet calls me in her car to say she is on the way to X City with Chinese food from The Dragon, I tell her Alabama had Empress chicken and crab rangoon yesterday.
“Damn her!” Janet is exasperated.
Alabama is what we used to call a squeaky wheel. Even ten years ago heads turned when she walked into a room. She covered organic gardening, and then fashion, for a local newspaper, and then, rather suddenly, became a TV reporter. It was all about the hair, she used to say. She knew nothing about being a TV reporter. Janet thinks it was perhaps all about sleeping with someone at the station. Alabama dyed her hair white-blonde and tossed it all the time on air. Her eyelashes were as big as butterflies. She fluttered them. She says they are real. Janet says they are fake.
“I hope you’re going to come with me to see her, because I’M REALLY MAD AT HER,” Janet says.
And so Janet and I both visit Alabama.
Alabama is a relatively healthy septuagenarian who still drives, shops, and reads the news all day on the internet.
She says we must go to several websites and read articles on…. Then unfortunately she zeroes in on Janet and trashes her looks.
She checks Janet’s hair and makeup and says she needs to dye her hair a lighter shade of blonde and wear darker foundation.
“I’m not doing that,” says Janet.
Alabama looks at me and says, “You need to lose weight, Kat.”
Janet is horrified. “Mom! You know she’s on those pills.”
“Yeah, I’ve got hypothyroidism but I’M IN BETTER SHAPE THAN YOU,” I say, laughing. God knows, I’ve spent a lot of time with Alabama, and now she’ll change the subject.
Janet quotes her favorite movie, Network, which she grew up watching, due to her mother’s job. “And now we’re going to say, ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.'”
I just watched Network so I know some better lines. “‘All I know is first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, I’m a human being, goddamn it. My life has value.'”
“Network?” Alabama asks waveringly.