CAVEAT: This story contains confusing language some may find offensive: contemplation of German articles. Reader discretion is advised.
I just got off the phone from listening to that fiercely independent woman, authoress of the book, Tips from German Tact, 93 year old Mummy Dearest. I just participated in The Actor’s Advanced Voice Workshop, and had some good news I wanted to share with the good woman. I thought earplugs would alleviate our communication problem. She accuses me of either whispering or shouting. Whichever, Mummy is unable to hear me. Truth is, this has never been about not being able to hear. Mummy, even according to her own shared recollections of elementary school, “Miss Know-it-All has always had a listening problem.
But this is another day, I thought. She has a new hearing aide. I got comfortable, said a prayer, and made the call.
It’s busy. Not unusual. Mummy loves to talk. She has either been on the phone for two hours or she, or her boyfriend Bill forgot to hang up the receiver. I give her the benefit of the doubt. She has stewardship over three phones. With two people in the house, there is bound to be confusion. Another hour passes. It’s noon. She’s been up since six. By now the busy woman would have noticed the phone was off the hook. I call every fifteen minutes, thinking, between gossip\ I might get a word in.
Success! The phone is ringing. How will I respond? My favorite Bavarian greeting comes to mind to greet God. Grüß Gott. It leans toward Namasté, something Northern Germans do not tend to do. Berliners like Mummy do not take well to Southern German tradition. It’s their nemesis. As far as Mummy is concerned, God does not live in the city. Therefore he should not live in the country either.
The phone rings again. Instead of greeting a pagan atheist with God, I’ll greet the household and say Grüß das Mayer Haushalt. That will do, without involving God. She’ll respond to that better. But wait, — is das gramatically correct? I don’t want to make a mistake. Long ago, when my father was a U.S. Department of Defense Education Adviser in Germany, she was his preferred German instructor, literally serving under him, sleeping with the boss. I considered the confusion that would invite, so I let it rest.
Mummy doesn’t like God. She gets very nervous in His presence.
The phone rang again. I had to think. Househalt is one of those German nouns that could be either der, or das, — masculine or feminine. It depends upon the last word, in this case Halt. Is Halt masculine or neuter, I ask myself. I may have mixed it up. Does the neuter noun, das Haus determine the article? I wait for her to pick up the phone while continuing my review of German articles, going back and forth to get right pesky German rules of grammar that make no sense. Why is the girl, (das Mädchen) neuter? The cat, male or female, is feminine, and the dog, male or female, is masculine.
I think I get it. German thinking 101: pussies are warm and fluffy. Everybody likes to cuddle up for a good purr. Canines are more assertive, more aggressive, more active. A female dog is male, der Hund, unless one is specific and refers to her as a bitch, (die Hündin. Then the female article describes her. I’ll ask Mummy. She will know.
To expect concentration on more than one topic per conversation is too much when attempting to communicate with Mother. I was certainly not going to try to comfort her in her voter’s grief. Her state just decriminalized the use of marijuana, the hard core drug that has been a part of her son’s downfall for thirty years. She sees him as a failure, and Mummy is always right. Once she thought she was wrong, but she was only mistaken.
She would have preferred I not have picked up smoking in that fourth ‘foster’ Home she placed me in at fifteen. I was her fuck-up before the term was coined. She wanted me to be secure, off her back, like the buyer position May Company offered me at nineteen. Not artistic, creative, imaginative, or happy. It seemed to me, one clothes buyer per family with a discount at “Her Store” was enough.
She picks up the phone finally, breathes into the receiver, and presses digits.
I projected my deepest voice, “Hello? Hell-o??” But Mummy was not listening. She was connecting. I hung up, waited fifteen minutes, tried again.
The line is busy again.
An hour later, my mind races. I choose my words carefully. I remember, in German the article is determined by the gender of the last word in a group. The noun Halt is masculine, — der. I resonate with my deepest German voice, but I forgot, to the ear of any subject of the Kaiser’s Reich, not to mention the Third, Bavarian German is vulgar.
But I like people who greet each other with God’s blessing.
Success. She picks up the receiver.
“Grüß der Mayer Haushalt, Ist hier die Frau Mayer?” I ask.
She greets me. “Hallo? Who is this? — Ha-llo?”
“This is Alan.”
“A-lan. Your son.”
“Ach, Alan, Du hörst Dich ganz komisch an.”
“Why do I sound weird? It might be my earplugs. Thanks for the confidence, Mother. Grüß Gott. Grüß der Haushalt.”
“Ja, Grüß der Haushalt.”
That’s settled. My greeting has been accepted. In correct German grammar at that. She would have corrected me had I been wrong — assuming she heard me. Good going Alan, I thought, happy to know my mind still functions when I need it.
“Mann kann ja nicht Mal auf die Tolilette gehen” she says.
“No time to sit on the toilet?” I translate. I had prayed and acted out an accepting conversation, anxious to share my good news with her. I took a deep breath. Just let her talk, I thought. She likes to talk. I begin the conversation with our usual entry. “Can you hear me?”
“Kannst Du mich verstehen?” I ask.
“Ja!” So far so good!” So I say “¿Como está Usted?”
Okay. She doesn’t live in Los Angeles. So I ask, “comment ça va ?”
She’s not used her French in years. “Wie geht es Dir?”
“Was? Ich kann Dich nicht verstehen.” She is unaware she is speaking in German, thinking in English.
I put forth my best stage actor training, ask very clearly, “W-ie ge-ht e-s D-ir?”
She replies “I can’t hear you. Ach! I don’t have my hearing aide in. Halt Mal an.”
Before I can ask if she would like me to call back, she puts me on hold. I wait.
“Ja” she returns. “Hallo? Ha-llo?”
“How are you?”
“Fine.” She affirms we are communicating. “I’ve been doing my exercises here at home.”
“Where do you do your exercises?”
“Ja, here at home. I just told you. Hab’ ich doch gerade gesagt.
“I know you do your exercises at home” I reply. “My question is this, do you exercise in your bedroom, in your TV room, your study, on your patio, or in the bathroom?”
“Ja, on the floor, of course.”
Okay, drop it, Alan.
“Ja, im living room doch!”
Of course she does her exercises in the living room. I should doch have known that. I got an answer, and can put that topic aside. I know the next comment will be.
“Ja, we’re done talking about that. What I wanted to say is…”
I was disappointed. The words didn’t come.
But she did get right to her top topic. “Are you with your friend Steve?”
“No, I am not with Steve. I called to let you know things are progress—“
She interrupts. “I really liked talking with him the other day. He sounds like a very nice human being, calm, quiet. I think he is a good influence on you.”
I agree. I should not have burst her bubble by letting her know Steve is a human being, running the gambit of high and low, calm and excited along with the rest of us, but that was not what she wants to hear. In her eyes, Steve is perfect, just as my lawyer was perfect – last week – and Obama was perfect — four years ago – until Mummy’s carbon copy daughter convinced her he is a druggie communist, and I was perfect – until I started pooping in my diapers. Now it is her “perfect” granddaughter she boasts.
At this stage, as long as my president has a conscience, I can live with that. I’m glad, this once, I got my way, and Mummy Dearest has to live with my vote for four more years. I can tell her, “You see? I was right.”
I started to explain how thankful I am this friend helps me in so many ways I cannot put to script, but them she interrupts me again. It’s her habit. I was happy to hear what she had to say about Steve, though cautious. “He seems to have a way of putting me in my place with just a word” I told her “and I am getting better, as each day, I reach a little further into my recovery. Some days it might be only an inch, but I move forward.”
I wanted to share with her, we attend Coda meetings once a week, Co-dependents Anonymous, but I may as well have told her the two of us are mentally unsound fools grabbing for a crutch. In her mind, any religion is a crutch. Even questioning one’s mental stability is reason to be escorted to SingSing where it’s Jeder für sich, und Gott gegen Alle, – Each for himself and God against all. No room for imperfection in the Kaiser’s Reich. Even less in the Reich of bully thug Nazis.
The sound of running water catches my attention. I thought perhaps she has taken this opportunity to answer Nature’s call, to relax on the throne while on the phone with me. “Is that water I hear running?” I ask. “Have I called at an inconvenient time?”
She is silent. I wait for her to yell into the phone, “I can’t hear you. Speak up! –.” … “Why are you yelling now?”
“Bist Du auf der Toi-let-te?” I ask, in my most hygenic German.
There is a pregnant silence. I hear her thinking how to explain she is multi-tasking, another habit. For fifty-five years I have been begging her to do one thing at a time, — like listen.
“Ja, I’m vashing.” She was always vashing dishes when she should have been listeing to her teenage son.
I beg again. “Can you please put the dishes aside. Just for just a few minutes? I would like to discuss something important with you.”
“No.” She demands. “I’m not in the kitchen. I’m at the Vashing Machineh.”
“Oh. Nicht die Spühlmaschine, the dishwasher, sondern die Waschmaschine.” I can hear her spot rubbing. She breathes into the phone.
“Ja. Tell me what you have to say. I am in a hurry. I vant to vear these pants in an hour.“ I ask politely, the American way. Not German. “Are you going somewhere?“
“Vhat business is it of yours if I am going out?“
Woah, I thought. She either has a new boyfriend or a new lawyer. Or one in both. “I only thought it a polite inquiry of a son” I said “to ask his ninety-three year mother what’s up. I am interested in your life.“
“Vell, I don’t think it is any of your business. You’re always popeling around in my life. Stop asking so many qvestions.“ As if she would prefer to be forgotten, to rot into centenarianism until her 116th birthday celebration when she’ll put in her best teeth.
My mind goes back to the first time she told me to stop asking questions. I asked her why my milk was frozen with ice crystals. Mummy didn’t breast feed. Daddy told me so.
“Did you call just to lecture me again?“ she asks.
I respond in my calmest American English voice. “No, Ma’am. I called because you left a message on my voice mail, telling me how concerned you were, how much you love me. I should keep you up to date.“
“Well, make is fast,“ she spits out the words. “I have to keep this line open. I am expecting a very important call.”
“I am facing eviction because the landlord doesn’t like my dog and cat.” Mummy was expecting a more important call. I was flabberghasted. Now I know she’s got a younger, bigger, better, different boyfriend waiting. One without boyfriend Bill’s dimentia. That quip surprised me more than my lawyer billing me $125.00 for the phone call to bill me. Even my warmed-over mother could not believe his cold approach. I could be calling from jail, but unless I fit into her image of sitting at Steve’s house, talking on his landline, she wouldn’t listen long enough to hear where I was. I lost her when I agreed with her, and started itemizing the many ways this friend has helped me. The more I itemized, the more annoyed she became. This was not what she wanted to hear. She only likes to hear good news. If she even listens.
She wanted to hear I had found someone who was going to marry me, preferably a younger blonde woman, though a man might be acceptable (if he could pass her inspection), someone to get me a secure paying job – not in the industry I have a degree in and have immersed myself in, but a steady 9 to 5 position. I could pay off the last of my student loans, pull myself out her red column forever. It must be pesky to know one has heirs standing in line to grab your four boxes of jewelry, your seven furs, and museum quality furniture pieces, bought with my father’s Lucky Strikes on the Black Market.
“I am sorry to have tied up your line. I will let you go” I say. “I will call back at a more convenient time. Have a nice day.“ I hang up, and yelled out a word I reserve for only the most superlative of beings, Christina being one. “You nasty fecking woman. May your atheist God love you.” With each interaction, this sick, co-dependent relationship is getting more un-be-lie-ve-ab-le and un-be-li-eve-ab-ler, as Mummy would say. I need to get off her red list. Next Step, distract myself with whatever is near, back to my dvd on a set Time Warner forgot to bill me for, and some much needed self-medication.
An hour later, my phone rings. Last month my caller ID would have displayed: That Bitch, but over the year, I thought relations had improved by 0.006%, so I reprogrammed it to read Mother Dearest. I let it ring. It goes to voice mail. She leaves a message to let me know how much she is thinking of me, (now that her gentleman called got through), how much she loves me. I just let her leave a message. “What kind of a mother would I be, if I didn’t care for my son?“ she says.
I don’t know, I think. An insensitive Mother perhaps, without a conscience? You can take the girl out of Nazi Germany, but you cannot take Nazi Germany out of the girl.
I know you think you love me, I think. I love you too, Mummy. Your way or not at all. Thank you for the material.
There is one life.
This life is God.
This life is perfect.
This life is my life now.
I accept all good, knowing God wants me to give and receive, love and respect myself, and all beings.
The way is made clear before me, and it is filled with joy and harmony.
I let go of my thoughts.
I release, and acknowledge. My Mind Is Divine Cause.
And so be it.