FRESH YARN presents:

True Love and After That
By Matt Price

The dinner started normally. We went to the Authentic Café, and my dad took the best seat, facing the door, which gave him a prime view for his nightly detective routine. "I wonder why that tan lady is with the bald guy? I bet he's her brother…no, they're holding hands…I bet they're married. Yeah, they're married." Roger Price, Mundane P.I. My mom, never indulging the man, grabbed my hand.

"So your father and I want to tell you something."

My heart dropped. I'm not good with bad news. Actually, I'm OK with the news. I just can't handle that transition time between "we want to tell you something" and the news. My dad takes a break from the tan lady to chime in. "You're going to tell him now?"

Mom: "Why not now?"

Dad: "I don't know. We're having dinner."

Me: "What is it? What is it?"

They ignore me.

Mom: "You want me to tell him when he's driving the car? He'll veer off the side of the road."

Me again: "What? What? What?"

My mom's face contorted with a combination of tension and mischief, as if the mom side of her wanted to shield me from the news, but the yenta side of her had to share this life-changing gossip. The yenta side won.

"Well, you know how Mama's been lonely since Papa died last fall…"

"She's OK, right? Mama's OK?"

My dad chimes in again. "Oh, she's more than OK…ooh, look, the tan lady got a salad. I wonder why the bald guy didn't get any food? He probably ate already."

I snapped. "Hey, Encyclopedia Brown! Enough! What's going on?"

Mom: "Your grandmother has been making some friends."

Well, that's good, I thought. She's been bored in her assisted living building. A few friends can't hurt, right?

My mom corrected herself. "Not just friends, um…she's been seeing people."

"Seeing people? What do you mean? Like she's seeing ghosts and stuff?"

"Um, no…Mama's been seeing other men."

I have a history of getting up and leaving the table when I hear shocking news. Apparently this started when I was four or five after my parents informed me that I had to go to kindergarten the following week. I didn't scream. I didn't cry. I just got up from the table and walked away. And now here I am, fifteen Hollywood years later, doing the same thing. I could hear my parents laughing behind me as I closed the bathroom door. I washed my face and looked in the mirror. This wasn't possible. No way. They're kidding. My folks, man. They totally got me. Very funny, folks. Very Punk'd.

Sitting back down at the table, I played their game. "So…who are these 'other men?'"

"Well, there's one man in particular. His name is Douglas. He's a retired cantor."

OK, this isn't a joke. This person is real. He has a name and a job. Douglas the Cantor. I take a deep breath. I nod. A lot. I nod when I'm nervous. I'm basically a prematurely balding bobblehead doll when my Mom says, "Besides, technically, Mama and Douglas weren't really seeing each other. He just came over a few nights a week. They'd have sex, and he'd go home."

And with that, I'm in the bathroom again. 'They'd have sex, and he'd go home?' When did my grandmother become Rizzo? And with a cantor? I thought a cantor had morals. Does he moan the Sh'ma when they're together? Did I really just think that thought about my grandmother? And you begin to see my living nightmare.

Sidebar: My parents and I don't discuss sex. We never have. It's just understood that people do it, and sometimes babies are born. End of story. My dad never really felt the need to have the fatherly sit-down with me, and while my mom is very hip, she's a puppeteer. She makes a living going school to school with her little, red honking sidekick, Mrs. Goose. The sex conversation with her would probably have done more emotional harm than good.

Mom: "So don't you think Matty should always wear a condom, Mrs. Goose?"
Mrs. Goose: (honk, honk)
Mom: "I agree."

And now we're finally having a fairly explicit sexual conversation, and the main topic is my tiny, once pure grandmother. My mom assures me that the affair started in June, and it's all over now.

"It's the end of October! You've known since June?"

"I wanted to tell you face to face."

"I've seen you twice since then."

"Well, it never came up."

"No, last time I was home, I could've sworn I asked you if Mama had hooked up with anybody lately."

"I don't think it ever came up."

Came up. Came. Now everything is sexual, and it's relating to my grandmother. I was pissed. She was married to my grandpa for 62 years. They were a unit, inseparable, like two antique salt and pepper shakers that only make sense if the other one is close by. Their marriage had defined true love to me. And I am a sucker for true love. I cry at any movie, TV show, book, or poem where true love is mentioned. And when I say any movie, I mean that I teared up when Denise Richards' character dumped Casper Van Dien's character to go be a space pilot in Starship Troopers.

So when Mama came to visit months later, I decided that this was all a mistake. She was my grandmother, for God's sake. She was the grandma who laughed at all of my jokes and called me her special guy. She was the grandma who gave me trinkets like the pink pig that she made in her ceramics class during one of her winters in Fort Lauderdale. She was the grandma who came to all of my plays, including my scene-stealing performance of Coach Van Buren in our high school production of Damn Yankees. Sorry for the self-congratulations, I just need a little love right now. No way was my grandma an octogenarian floozy. I know I've could've written "whore," but again, it's my grandma, and she's not one.

So the first night she's here, we're having dinner, and she tells me that she has a secret. "That's OK, Mama," I replied. "You can tell me later," hoping that later would turn into much later which would turn into never.

But before I could take another bite of my lasagna, she leaned in and said, "I have a black boyfriend. He's 64, and his name is Rudy."

There are moments in your life that you remember forever. Your first kiss. The first time you fall in love. The first time your grandmother tells you that she's having sex with a 64 year-old black man named Rudy. Another thing you have to understand at this surreal juncture, my grandma wasn't the most tolerant of all cultures. She wasn't the Grand Wizard or anything, but she was from a different time period. Once Mama sat shot-gun as my mom drove me and a few friends home from high school. After Kyle and Tonya, who are both black, got out of the car, Mama turned to me and said, "that Tonya's pretty for a Negress."

So now I'm face to face with my grandmother and the idea that she hooked up with another man. How could I be writing the words "grandmother" and "hooked up" in the same sentence? I'm sure sentences like that exist, for example, "because of her pneumonia, your grandmother needs to be hooked up to an IV." But other than that, those phrases should be on the opposite ends of the English language spectrum. And then Mama discusses more men. There's Jack, the self-professed "most hated cop in all of Chicago." Supposedly Jack was despised throughout the '40s and '50s because he used to give out more traffic tickets than any other cop on the beat. Sounds like a great catch. And Paul, who doesn't ever say anything. They just hold hands while watching movies like The Hurricane in the lounge. She tells me that Samuel Jackson is very attractive. I can't decide what makes me madder, that she's scoping out still more men, or that she can't tell Sam Jackson apart from Denzel Washington. This isn't possible. My grandfather was my hero. He taught me how to play catch and how to tell jokes. I have a picture of him in a leather jacket circa 1920. He's lifting a Hedy Lamarr look-alike over his head. Every time I do anything that I think is remotely cool, like buy a Claudine Longet record at Amoeba, I imagine my leather jacketed Grandpa and realize that I'm about as cool as Terry Bradshaw doing an AT & T commercial.

As Mama and I sat in Farmer's Market the next day for lunch, I thought of confronting her. It was the last day of her trip, and it was now or never. But how do you confront your grandmother? She's your grandmother. She's 83. She's earned the right to live life as she pleases. But did she lose grandmother rights after having sex with Rudy? This is what's going through my head as we eat lamb kabob. Guilt, anger, weirdness, wishing I got the corned beef at Phil's. Over and over. I couldn't get it out of my head. Was I mad because she appeared to be checking out the elderly riff-raff that hang out by Bob's Donuts? Or was I just mad because she hooked up more than I did? Way more. And apparently with way more people. Maybe I was mad because I thought these people were just using Mama for sex. And then I was mad at myself for even thinking that was possible, and then I was mad at myself again for thinking that it wasn't possible. The circle of anger and confusion over my grandmother's activities never ended. And just when I was finally getting the courage to actually say something to her, she pulled a locket out of her bag and opened it. Inside was a picture of Papa, probably taken a few years after the leather jacket shot. She just kind of held it up right in front of her eyes, stared at it for a few moments, and said, "there's my man…"

Then she rubbed the picture some more, put it back in her bag, and continued eating her lamb kabob.

Two months later, my grandmother died unexpectedly. My family was shocked. Mama was supposed to dance with me at my sister's wedding in May. We didn't know what to do or how to react. I went to Chicago for the funeral, and it was all a blur. When we were in line greeting people, my sister turned around and said, wiping tears off of her face, "Rudy's here."

I asked her how she knew it was Rudy, and she just stared at me blankly as if to say, "do you know any other little, old black dudes?"

I turned around and sure enough, there was this small, thin black man with a graying afro, mustache and glasses, quietly taking a seat in the third row. He smiled and nodded politely at our family, and I nodded back. And I realized that Rudy was just a man, a nice man, actually, it looked like, but he couldn't replace my grandfather. He was just there to help Mama bide her time until she could be with her true love again, and now that's where she is. And in that moment, I was finally at peace with everything. I mean I was still freaked out by the sex part, but emotionally, I was OK.

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