FRESH YARN presents:
Pains & Automobiles
My mother has gone Hollywood.
Not by taking acting lessons, or dressing inappropriately for her age or commissioning frightening plastic surgery or anything like that. Worse. Mom just gave me notes.
It happens when the folks and I are road tripping from their current home in Torrance to check out the retirement community of Temecula. I can't imagine how Temecula could be more retired than Torrance, but that's beside the point. I naively believed this would be an excellent opportunity for me to power-nap in the car while my dad drove. Nothing gets me more excited then someone else offering to drive in L.A. I do my best sleeping in cars. And I totally intended to perform my daughterly duty and rustle up the mandatory excitement for the floor plans at the Sunny Days Senior Experience Condos when we arrived there.
What I should've remembered is that in my family, parental ambushes are launched when the unsuspecting kid is confined to a moving vehicle.
I ride in the backseat of Dad's '90s-era Accord, oblivious, picking dog hairs off myself. Sir Gus Ippotamus, ("Gus" for short), is the usual guest of honor in the Honda. This special Shar-Pei is the love of my parents' life, their favorite child, and as his full registered name correctly implies, the world's most high-maintenance and pretentious dog. I catch the dirty look my father shoots me over his sunglasses in the rear-view mirror. Maybe it was a bad idea, moving the "Wrinkles Are Sexy!" blankie so I could sit on the actual upholstery. Dad slams on the brakes just as I'm about to pluck a hair from my tongue, grinning as I nearly bite my thumb and index finger off. Yep, I'm definitely in the dog house.
Anyway, back to my mom going Hollywood. She's been quietly riding shotgun in the Gus-mobile for the last hour when she turns suddenly and fires an exploding round in my face: "It's nice you sold a story to that show Medium, but I think you should write something about AIRPLANES!"
Now this might not seem like all that shocking of a statement. I've gotten notes before. Airplanes aren't in and of themselves controversial. It's just this is the first time in two years my passive-aggressive, Republican, "the entertainment industry is evil" mother has acknowledged I quit practicing law to write. As far as career choices go, Lawyer = parents' wet dream. Writer = parents' worst nightmare.
When I broke the news I was giving up my high-paying, respectable law job for the scandalous, artistic unknown, it was treated like a death in the family. First came denial -- the topic was ignored. Then came anger -- holiday party plans were canceled, because what would my parents tell their friends? If the pretending was working for them, I assumed it would work on their dear pals. I, the destroyer of my parents' social life, assumed wrong. Bargaining and depression came as a package deal. My dad sent me newspaper classifieds for job openings at prestigious firms such as Ambulance, Chasers & You, with attached post-its begging me to apply so my mom would stop crying. When I politely informed him this was not the usual employment route people who graduate from accredited law schools take, there was reversion to anger. How dare I throw away my career after he put me through school!? When I gently reminded him it was I who took out the seventy grand in student loans to pay for law school, well, let's just say there was severe backsliding in their grief cycle. All the way back to denial. Until now.
"It's nice you sold a story to that show Medium, but I think you should write something about AIRPLANES!"
I'm too stunned to respond. Dad joins the pitch, "You know .with mix-ups at the control tower, and jets almost crashing and stuff!"
Mom nods vigorously and squeals, "Exactly!"
Who do these people think they are? Sherry Lansing and Jerry Bruckheimer? Sherry and Jerry, who up 'til now have refused to recognize my decision to write, are now telling me what to write! This is SO NOT the form their acceptance was supposed to take.
An inkling of insight comes when I remember my mom is obsessed with '70s disaster films. Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure. And then there are her all-time faves, the airline thriller trilogy that is Airport, Airport '75 and Airport '77. (She doesn't count the fourth installment, Concorde: Airport '79, because "that one was crap." So weird, yet so wise.) I don't know why she loves these movies so much. I suppose it spices up the monotony of suburban life, watching mass destruction from an Ethan Allen couch. Come to think of it, between Mom's bad hearing and Dad's aversion to movie candy prices, these could very well have been the last films my parents saw in an actual theater.
And that's when I realize my mother is reaching out, inciting me to write about something she likes so she can find some common ground and understand me. She's waiting at the gate, hoping I'll make my connection so we can fly together. But first, a few mechanical difficulties on my part.
"Those airport movies you love are a tough act to follow, Mom. Especially these days. Between Flightplan, Red Eye and Snakes on a Plane, I'm not sure I have anything fresh to add to the air peril genre."
My mom's head whips around. "Snakes on a Plane? What's that about?"
"It's about snakes. On a plane."
Mom rolls her eyes, disgusted with me and my no can do attitude. "Really Tonya, like I give a damn about snakes, Jodie Foster or Rachel McAdams. Something scary must have happened to you at some point on an airplane."
Little does she know, I'm way more frightened that she just name-dropped Rachel McAdams than I've ever been on any 747.
But I miss my mommy and I'm desperate to win back her approval. "Well it was more funny than scary, but a thing did happen on a flight a few years ago."
"Back when she was still practicing law," my mother hisses at my father. He nods conspiratorially in her direction, then pumps the brakes to punctuate their disapproval. A gas tanker nearly piles us from behind.
"Uhh, yes, anyway, I was flying from Oahu to Maui for a deposition."
Oops. Mom closes her eyes and sighs painfully, "My daughter was an attorney. In Hawaii." Way to go, Five-O. This stupid airplane story needs to be EPIC.
I raise the volume to compensate. "Right!! So, I'm boarding the plane!! I get to my row and there's this Sigma Chi-tattooed frat boy in an SMU Football cap with an overly rounded brim blocking the aisle."
Before anyone rushes to judgment and assumes I'm a man-hater who's gonna
rip on this guy just because he's in a fraternity, likes football and
wears a baseball hat, let me set the record straight. (1) Fraternities:
I'm admittedly wary of the frat pack in general. However, my boyfriend
Mike was in a fraternity and he's the most decent, respectful guy a girl
could ever know. Score one for the Greeks. (2) Football: I love football.
LOVE IT. Since I was a little girl. I cried on Christmas morning at age
four when I unwrapped a doll in a pink dress rather than the blue nerf
football I asked for. I stopped believing in Santa right then and there.
That doll had my mother's handiwork written all over it. When I hit six,
my family moved to Colorado, where it's a state residency requirement
that you worship the Denver Broncos. No problem there. I went ga-ga over
the "Orange Crush" -- scary, hulking defensive linemen named
Lyle Alzado, Randy Gradishar and Tom Jackson. These were D-men so vicious
that they crushed opposing offenses despite having to wear bright orange
jerseys. Nowadays I watch more college football than pro. Regardless of
the bullshit rankings rigged by east coast-bias. Can you tell I went to
a PAC-10 school? Don't talk to, call or otherwise bother me when my Washington
Huskies are playing. Even when they suck. Especially when they suck. (3)
Baseball Hats: There's nothing cuter than a guy in a vintage tee, jeans
and a baseball hat. Just don't bend the brim in half. In my opinion, it
looks like a vagina and interferes with the effortless, manly look you're
trying to achieve.
"So I get to my seat and there's Football Frat, shoving his massive Eagle Creek duffel bag into the overhead compartment and blocking the aisle. As I'm waiting for him to finish smashing this beautiful orchid plant that's already been carefully placed in the overhead by another passenger, I can't help but notice the back of Frat Man's t-shirt. It says: 10 REASONS WHY BEER IS BETTER THAN A WOMAN. Followed by a list of reasons, which include, but are not limited to: 'BEER never has a headache.' 'BEER looks the same in the morning.' 'A BEER is always wet.' 'If you change BEERS, you don't have to pay alimony.' And my personal favorite: 'BEER doesn't demand equality.'"
My dad's chuckling is cut short by a withering stare from my mom.
"Anyway, about a half-hour later, I'm sipping some POG juice -- Fun Hawaii Fact: Pineapple-Orange-Guava juice is always served on inter-island flights to quench your tropical thirst! -- while reviewing my depo questions when I feel Frat Hat staring at me. I study my file harder. 'Sooooo,' he growls in his best strained come-on voice, 'If I do something bad, do you promise to arrest me?' I choke, and a little juice squirts out my nose, but I recover. I smile sweetly without looking at him and purr, 'No, but I do promise to prosecute you and get you sent to a place where you'll be raped repeatedly by large Polynesian men.' Blitz! Run, quarterback, run! Frat-Fuck backpedals for his life. 'Uhh, geez, I was just kiddin -- ' I grab the Budweiser can off his tray and sack his ass, 'You're boring me. I think I'd rather talk to your BEER.'"
My mom's giggling is cut short by an uncomfortable cough from my dad. Evidently the audience is responding along gender lines.
"Fratty goes down hard, fumbling his Aloha Airlines blanket as he spins toward his other neighbor looking for pass protection. But the little white-haired Asian woman in Seat A is playing for my team. She delivers the fatal hit -- 'Haole boy, YOU PAYING FOR MY ORCHID!' Grandma then strips him of his blanket and starts up the trash talk. Okay, technically I'm not really sure what she was saying because I don't speak Japanese, but it sounded super harsh. At this point, our opponent wisely decides to take himself out of the game. He pulls his SMU hat over his face and stays that way for the rest of the flight. Grandma and I share a wink. There's no way we're gonna risk an excessive celebration penalty with high-fives, dancing or chest-butting. We know we're mightier than the Orange Crush. We're the Orange POG!"
As the Gus-mobile pulls into the sales office of the Sunny Days Senior Experience Condos (Phase II Grand Opening!), I wait for the plane story verdict. Apparently this is not an open and shut case for Judge Mom, so her law clerk steps in to clarify a few points.
"What happens to the guy?" asks my dad.
How the hell would I know? Still, you're never supposed to admit you don't know the answer when the Court asks you a question, so I decree with conviction, "My Frat Friend now uses his beer t-shirt to dust the mansion he bought as a gift for his lovely wife when she gave birth to his quintuplet daughters."
What can I say? I became a lawyer because I'm an idealist. It's also why I quit. It's easier to bring fictional people to justice.
Strangely, this satisfies Dad. He moves on. "Was there any turbulence on the flight?"
Damnit, I was hoping the football angle would be enough to distract him from the lack of special effects.
"No. There was no engine trouble, no sudden dip in cabin pressure, NO TURBULENCE." People, this is the reason the American legal system is so slow. Lots of time spent on tangential matters of little importance. I might as well throw myself at the mercy of Lady Justice to speed things up. "Any questions, your Honor?"
Mom tilts her head thoughtfully, "Yes. Why should we care?"
Nice. First she forces me to run with this plane idea, then she expects back story and personal symbolic meaning. Picky, picky. I have to admit it's a good question though. "Umm, the reason you should care is it was one of those truly fantastic moments where some jerk degrades you and instead of staying silent, you respond perfectly. That never happens. At least not to me, anyway. Usually I think of a great comeback when I'm laying in bed hours later and then I kick myself because it's too late."
"I see. And could this be a skill you learned as a lawyer?" Oh, that mom is a shrewd one. She will impeach me and use this as irrefutable evidence of why I shouldn't have quit the profession that taught me not only how to stand up for others, but for myself. My mom is no longer going Hollywood on me. She's going Supreme Court. She's going Sandra Day O'Connor. Retired, yet still powerful.
What would Sandra do? She could go either way. She's a swing voter who might surprise you. And that's just what my mom does when she renders her final judgment: "You should write your plane story. But Dad's right. Add the turbulence."
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