10.01.2007

Storytime


I've got nothing today, so I've been rummaging through the archives of my mind to find a story to tell you. Here's one from high school (The names have been changed to protect the innocent). There are more where this came from:

Starting when I was 16, my friend Christine and I worked for her stepfather for a couple of years. We'd turnkey apartments, which meant doing everything that needed to be done between tenants--cleaning, painting, wallpaper, steaming carpets, you name it. We made $16 an hour (each), which was pretty awesome in 1979, when the minimum wage was $2.90.

At first, her Pops would drive us to work in his '69 Chevy Caprice station wagon. The missing front passenger side window was covered with plastic, and the interior smelled like bar-b-que. Eventually, we started driving ourselves. When I was 16, my parents wouldn't let me take my car on the Interstate. My father kept a close eye on my mileage, too, so Pops let Christine drive his boss's old truck when we had to go somewhere far away like Riverdale. He didn't care that she was only 15, a year younger than I.

We'd crank up some REO Speedwagon on the boom box, pick out the ugliest 1960's surplus wallpaper we could find in the complex basement, and redecorate slum-like apartment communities such as Barclay Arms, the student housing for Life Chiropractic College. Before papering or painting, we'd write notes all over the walls for the cultural anthropologists of the future to find--usually graphic messages about Denise Gordon, one of our McEachern High School cheerleaders.

Christine's stepfather was the only father she'd ever known. He'd raised her since she was two. Besides the hard labor of his construction job, the man took care of the household duties as well. He cooked for her and her two older brothers, took care of the house, did the shopping, everything. On a good day, her mom would lie on the couch in her pajamas, waiting for Phil Donahue to come on. On a bad day, she'd hold a loaded gun to Christine's head and threaten to pull the trigger. I'd witnessed this personally. The woman was certifiable. So we were extra thankful for Pops, who'd make us frisbee-sized pancakes on Saturday mornings and buy us liquor. And since I preferred him to my own father, an alcoholic exhibitionist with the temperament of a Pentacostal deacon, I spent most of my time at Christine's.

Every now and then, we'd do a bigger project for Pops, like assist with the remodel of one of those mansions in Ansley Park. That meant scraping paint, stippling ceilings, sanding floors, and staining baseboards, much harder than hauling out the abadoned stashes of Penthouse in the closets at the apartments. When a huge renovation was finished, he would take the whole family to Panama City Beach. At the Redneck Riviera, he'd fill our pockets with airplane sized bottles of vodka to sneak into the Miracle Strip amusement park. We'd mix it with orange juice to fool security. We'd usually end up meeting some townies in the Fun House and driving around with them all night, listening to Aerosmith. Pops would give Christine's wacked-out mother a sedative so she wouldn't shoot us when we came in at 3 a.m.

You might be surprised to hear that Christine and I were as pure as driven snow--and this despite the fact that utility men often showed up at the apartments we were cleaning, only to find us trashed and giggling because one of us burned our feet on the eye of the stove or accidentally stuck a screwdriver in an electrical outlet. We had no intention of having sex until we were 18, and as far as we knew, we hadn't. But at the beach one of these times, Pops insisted on offering us 'morning after' pills he'd scored from a pharmacist "associate" of his. Christine's mother walked in during this discussion--one of maybe three times I ever saw her vertical--and spied the pills in his hand. Showing her usual interest in pharmaceuticals, she asked what they were. He told her it was sinus medicine, but we could tell she thought he was holding out.

We assured him that we had no need for the "Sine-Aid" or whatever, and that he'd already been more than generous, what with the copious herbs and spirits. He was so warm and kind, so incredibly understanding and sympathetic to us, the two teenaged girls in his care. He said he respected our resolve but warned that teenagers had "desires" that could lead us to do things we didn't intend. He urged us to accept the meds--just in case. It almost seemed as though he wanted us to have sex. We refused.

On the way back to Atlanta on that particular trip, Christine's mother became very ill. She was delirious, moaning, in and out of consciousness. She was having hot flashes and raging nightmares. This went on for a couple of hundred miles, while we listened to our Christopher Cross tape and mocked her in the back seat. During one of her lucid moments, Pops asked her a few questions: Had she eaten the shrimp he left out overnight or missed a couple of doses of her Haldol.

Finally, she confessed that she might have taken too many of his sinus tablets.

12 comments:

gaga said...

You SO left out the good details the first time you told me that story. What else are you holding out on??

Nicholas said...

Tania - I love your stories. I'm obsessed. Pls write a biography some day...

Nicholas said...

...an autobiography...duh

Tania Rochelle said...

George, you never listen!

Aw, Nick. You're so sweet.

Mary Campbell said...

your stories are the best! soooooo fucked up, I could never dream this shit up. PLEASE write an autobiography some day!

Tania Rochelle said...

I couldn't make this stuff up either. I have no imagination.

gaga said...

That's not true at all, and you know it.

Jennifer said...

T,
That is an excellent story! Can you imagine how fucked up it would be if you and I wrote something together?!?! We should try it!

Kathy said...

Can you please come to Denver and help Randy finish renovations on our upstairs apt? You clearly have more skills in this area than I do. Glad to see that others are calling for an autobiography too.

Tania Rochelle said...

But that was a true story, Jennifer! You and I don't have any stories like that together.

Collin said...

I also support the idea of a memoir...as you know. :)

Tania Rochelle said...

Hey, this blog IS my memoir.

And Kathy--I've conveniently forgotten everything I ever knew about being a handyman.

Oh, and Jennifer, we probably could write a story about Dan. And the fact that I wore your friend Heather's old engagement ring until I pawned it.

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