Yesterday evening as I was preparing my dinner (a chef’s salad of somewhat fridgeworn ingredients too ugly to photograph) the phone rang. After a protracted search during which I accidentally stepped on the dog’s tail and let my roasting pine nuts burn on the stove, I located the handset. It had become trapped —like so many household objects and small mammals before it—beneath the day’s avalanche of unsolicited junk mail catalogs.
I perceived my sister’s name on the caller ID, pressed the “talk” button, and said “Whorehouse. How may I direct your call?”
Remember when the phone was always in the same place, and you answered it by merely picking it up, and your standard greeting was “Who the hell is it and why the hell are you calling my house?” Those were the days.
Largely because I detected my brother-in-law’s voice in the distance urging “Go on, say something!” I deduced almost instantly that the caller was not my sister, but my 2-year-old niece, Ro-Tel.
Ro-Tel has been an avid telephone enthusiast for over a year. She’s made it her business to know where I am on the speed-dial, but until now has declined to actually speak into the receiver. Instead, she has preferred to push the buttons while I plead “Hey, Ro-Tel, where’s Mommy? Can you put Mommy on the phone?” So I was surprised when on this occasion she immediately began making brisk inquiries.
“Bertie there?” (Bertie is my 7-month-old golden retriever).
“Yeah, Bertie’s here. Do ya wanna to talk to him? He’s kinda busy, but—”
“Ippy there?” (Ippy is Zippy, my 13-year-old chow-doberman and owner of the tail upon which I had just trodden).
“Yeah, Zippy’s here. Say, Ro-Tel, what’s this all about, anyway?”
“I’m wearin my Crocs!”
“Well, no surprises there; your hippy-dippy proclivities are hardly a secret. I hate to say it, but it’s all over town.”
“I’m eatin a cheeseburger!”
“A sound decision.”
“I give you a cheeseburger! Put it on a table!”
“Well that sounds dandy, but unfortunately I’m way across town, and the laws governing the space-time continuum have conspired such that—”
“I give you a cheeseburger, Juh!” (she thinks my name is “Juh”).
It was at this moment that my chemically-induced menopause went critical. It became not just a concept I’d joked about with my oncologist a couple of months ago, but a sudden internal loosing of a vast maudlin torrent. I choked up. Liquid leaked from my eyes. Why? Because my pine nuts were burned and phones are wireless and junk mail can bury things and my favorite dog is really old and my immensely young relative who only last week was an insensible little gurgling pink lump wanted to give me a goddam cheeseburger.
I immediately perceived that allowing this unnatural episode to proceed to its natural conclusion—i.e. an unfocused crying jag of indefinite duration leaving me puffed up, clogged up, with an Excedrin headache and no will to live—would suck really hard, so I lit one of the banned cigarettes I’ve been hiding, stiffened the upper lip, and pulled it together toute de suite.
“Excellent,” I said, “I accept.”
And I ate my salad while watching “King Of The Hill,” the episode where Hank buys a timeshare in Meh-hee-co to give his horrible old father something to live for.