Friday, August 13, 2004

Steve, the Mildly Unwell incestuous bastard

First, a note of thanks.

At about 9:45 yesterday morning, this blog received its 10,000th hit. Thanks, everyone, for your continued support and encouragement!


8:00pm. Greg and I pull up to the VFW with Dad's table.

This particular hall is at the top of a long, narrow staircase. The table is bulky, so this won't be easy.

Greg and I each take an end of the table and start towards the hall. After much grunting and jostling, we get to the top of the stairs.

Greg opens the door. I can see inside; it's dark and empty. How early ARE we? I follow him inside with my end of the table.

The lights snap on. "SURPRIIIIIIIISE!" yell thirty people. A DJ plays "Happy Birthday," and everyone joins in.

Holy shit!

I look around at the smiling faces: My brothers, my dad, cousins, aunts, uncles, old friends. It hits me at that moment that I'm lucky to have so many people who care.

There is a stack of presents about five feet high for me to open. A picture of me in front of my car is painted in frosting on a full sheet cake. "Happy 34th birthday, 'old man' ," it says.

How cool is this?

I smell whiskey behind me. "Hey old timer!" I turn around.

Mom is standing there.

"MOM!" I say. We hug.

"You're getting sentimental in your old age," she says, slurring. She is drunk. My aunt Shirley, her sister, stands behind her, laughing. Shirley doesn't look sober, either.

We talk for awhile. Mom is working part-time at a fabric store, and living with Shirley. "Come visit sometime," says Shirley. Mom tells me about a little retarded (Down's Syndrome) girl named Dawn who comes over sometimes. Mom is teaching her how to knit.

"Your mother is wonderful with that girl. WONDERFUL," Shirley says.

I don't believe it. Mom ought to be kept as far away as possible from any kid who needs parenting.

I make my way around the room. I am talking to my friend Joe when I see someone approaching me from the right: A short girl, maybe 5'1", about 30, big chest, curly black hair.

It's my cousin Jenn, Shirley's daughter. I haven't seen her for at least five years. She was dating some guy, and they moved down south.


"STEEEEEVE!!" We hug. I am immediately aware of her breasts, big and firm, as she presses tightly against my chest.

"Came all the way back here for my party, did ya?"

"Not quite," she smiles. "Things didn't work out with Ray and me. So I came back home, tail between legs."

"Sorry. Didn't you have a job down there?"

She laughs. "Actually the timing was good. I just finished school, and I was looking for a job as a PA, physician's assistant, when we broke up. I just found a job up here, at Walker Street Pediatrics."

"As a PA?"


"'Skewze me! 'SKEWWWWWZE me!!" says a sloppy voice from the front of the room. Mom has grabbed the DJ's microphone, and is making an ass of herself.

"I jus' wanna wish my best birthday wishes to my LITTLE baby boyeee," Mom says.

"Awwwwww," says the crowd.

"Jus' remember," she says. "On de' road of life, may you find many watering holes!"


"And I wanna wish you continued success, continued success at your job, because you are sush' a big shot' I hope you make a lotta money, because I need someone to pay for my booze when I retire!"

More laughter. It's tense, uneasy laughter, though.

My brother Chris walks up to her, smiling, and gently takes the microphone away and hands it to the DJ. He takes mom by the arm and guides her off to a corner of the room. Chris is really great at defusing situations just like that: He's had practice.

Jenny sighs. "Your mom and my mom," she says.

"Mom's gonna drink herself to death one day." I say.

"She doesn't look so good lately. She's been itching a lot, too. Whenever I go over there, she's always itching like crazy." Jenn says.


"It's an indicator of liver trouble. I keep bugging her to see her doctor."

"MOM? LIVER trouble? Couldn't be," I scoff.

"I never really got a chance to talk to you about this," she says, "but I'm so sorry for what you guys had to go through, with your mom leaving, and all the hell she put you guys through BEFORE she left. That must've been TERRIBLE!"

"No picnic," I say. "But we lived."

"You guys all did SO well," she says. "All three of you. You're amazing! Your dad, too."

"Yeah, dad is great."

"I noticed your mom said you were a 'big shot'," she smiles. "Aren't you a VP or something?"

"Ya, a VP."

"That's great that you're so successful!" She seems genuinely happy for me. That's pretty rare.

I'm reminded of what Bette Midler said: "The hardest part about success is finding someone to be happy for you."

"Thanks, Jenn."

"So, what's your secret?"

"Put a lot of brown on your nose," I say.

She chuckles. "Seriously!" She is staring at me intently, her brow wrinkled. Her eyes are a deep, chocolate brown, and shaped just like almonds. She is beautiful!

OK. Am I lusting after my cousin?

"There's an old expression," I say. "If you wanna earn more, you have to LEARN more."


"It's corny, I know. But it works. When I first got into this business, everything I could learn, I learned. Even things that looked irrelevant at the time, I made it my business to know them. All the policies and procedures of the company, every piece of software. Everything. People would come up to me and say, 'why are you studying that?' And sure enough, six months later, I'd need to know it."

"And you were probably the only one who DID know it." she says.

"Exactly. So then, when a promotion comes along, or some additional responsibility is available, who's the first person they turn to?"

"You! Awesome, Steve," she smiles.

"So tell me," I say. "When did you know you wanted to work in medicine?" I always ask that kind of question. People love to answer it.

She answers immediately, without missing a beat. "I was at an amusement park, waiting in line at one of the restaurants," she says. "A little boy in line in front of me passed out, fell right back into my arms. So I lowered him to the ground, and looked at him, and his eyes were rolled back, and he was turning purple..."

"Wow! Really?"

"Yeah! So I just kind of instinctively tilted his head back and looked in his mouth, and it turns out he was choking on a hard candy. One of those gobstopper things."

"Oh, man!"

"I had no training in CPR or the Heimlich maneuver, so I just kind of followed my instincts and pressed on his belly, and the candy popped right out."


"And his parents came running up to us...."

"And they made you pay for the candy?" I say.

"Hehehehe!" she chuckles. She runs her finger around the edge of her cup. IS SHE FLIRTING?

"No, they didn't make me pay for the candy," she says, sarcastically. "They paid for my lunch, as a matter of fact. They were so grateful! There were tears in their eyes! And I thought, it must be amazing to be a doctor, or a nurse, and to be able to do that every single day!"

"And it makes good financial sense too," I say.


"You'll never have to pay for a meal again!"

"Huh? Ohhhhh! You are so bad!" she says, smirking. Then our eyes lock for a second, and we both look away.

Yeah, we're flirting. I don't know whether I'm getting grossed out, or extremely turned on.

I cut the cake, and open my presents. Tons of great stuff: Clothes, gift certificates to and iTunes, gold cuff links (from Dad), a framed Dali print from my brothers (looks really expensive), and a lot more. It's been a really great birthday: I saw more people, and got more gifts, than any other birthday I can remember.

Jenn approaches me. I thought she had left.

"All the presents, my God! You are spoiled rotten!" she says.

"Yeah, that's no lie."

We talk for a few more minutes. She is shooting nervous glances at the door. "Well, I better get going," she says, finally.

"I need some air. I'll walk with you," I say. We walk out the door.

Suddenly it feels like every eye in the place is on us. I'm probably overreacting, but if people ARE starting to look, it should be obvious why: We've been talking on and off all night.

We get to her car. It's a good 100 feet from the entrance of the hall. If someone were to walk out the door now, we wouldn't be in plain view...but we wouldn't be invisible, either.

"I had a REALLY great time talking to you," she says.

"Me too. It was nice seeing you again."

"We should-" she says.

"Yeah," I say, nodding. "I'll give you a call next week!"

"OK," she says.

A light breeze passes between us. A strand of hair blows into her face, between her eyes. She sweeps it away with her hand. I hear the faint blare of a distant train whistle.

I take her hand. She links her fingers into mine. Hot electricity courses through my body. My heart pounds wildly at the inside of my chest. The hairs on my arms and legs stand up.

She squeezes my hand tighter. I look at her lips. She looks at mine.

The train whistle, again...