During my formative years, my mother used to recount strange stories. One, in particular, was about a woman who sneezed so hard, she pulled her back and ended up contorted for life. Mom liked that story way too much.
This was her other favorite tale:
One morning, a guy was naked in his bathroom shaving for work when his cat jumped up on the sink. He pushed the cat away. In retaliation, the cat clawed his balls. In pain, the guy doubled over only to smash his forehead on the sink, knocking himself out cold. His wife entered the bathroom to see him unconscious. While the ENTs carried him out on the stretcher, the cat crossed their path. They stopped on a dime and he fell off the stretcher and broke his leg.
I believe the moral of the story is that one thing inexorably leads to another. As well as the prevalent theme of the Family Stone: Shit happens.
In my late thirties, I went to visit my parents out on Long Island a fine wintry Saturday morning. I had to claw my way through their shrubbery to enter the front door.
"Dear Lord," I moaned. "You can lose a limb in those branches!"
"Yeah, it's overgrown," agreed my father. "We gotta fight our way in and out. Hell, even the postman warned us he won't come up to the door to deliver the mail."
Knowing my parent's deteriorating health, I suggested, "Why don't you hire someone to trim it back?"
"Ah, it costs too much." My father was the quintessential cheapstake. You needed a crowbar to crack his wallet open. As a matter of fact, the only gift I received from him was a Tweety Bird watch we both admired in a department store several years later. Perhaps it was the cost: on sale at 60% off. Two weeks later, he died leaving me with a Tweety Bird watch as his final and pretty much sole gift, a legacy of sorts. I wear it frequently, more so than my Movado.
I made a decision, one I knew I'd rue for a long time. "Okay. Let me help you out. After lunch, I'll trim it back."
I told my parents terrific news, the reason for the visit that fine wintry Saturday morning. "I got a call back for a national tv commercial." I had an agent and auditioned frequently for tv commercials, tv shows and movies.
"Which one is this?"
"It's a national campaign to promote Calgon soap where they'll use my back in a shower scene. The call back's on Friday."
"Really? But you're one massive freckle!"
"Yeah, but on camera, for some reason, my skin glows. My agent said I've light from within and the freckles don't show."
My parents beamed. They had my back, all right.
Right before I tackled the trimming project, I had to walk the dog. My parents usually got the dog wound up for several days' prior with, "Your sister's coming to visit!" Which resulted in a dog tackle the moment I stepped foot in the foyer. Hell, it was bad enough clawing my way through the shrubbery to the front door. Although to be jettisoned right back out with a frenzied 100lb dog squirming on top was no picnic either.
While I ate lunch, the dog strategically stationed himself by my side, whining and drooling, waiting for that walk. I don't know which was worse, but the combination was ghastly to witness during my meal. In one movement, I bent down to put the leash around the impatient beast's neck before he was fully cognizant. Otherwise, it would've been bedlam. Then, I let him drag me down the street, spitting out gravel in the process. Once I returned, I let him loose in the backyard prior to entering the garage in search of shrubbery clippers. Soon enough, I found a pristine pair and made my way to the front porch. Hours later, I finished chopping the shrubs in front of the house halfway to reveal windows which hadn't seen daylight in at least a year.
My parents perfected the Adams Family mansion look forty years' earlier. Let's say we had issues with our neighbors due to their anti-semitic nature. As a result, my father decided to stick it to them in a passive-aggressive way by not doing the one thing on which they all doted: manicured lawns. We had a taste of Oklahoma during the dust-bowl kind of lawn where the weeds grew in patches and the remaining ground was sere. The backyard was full of humongous trees that never were pruned, the largest trees in the neighborhood. The house had an unkempt air. Inside was a whole 'nother ball of wax.
Afterwards, I washed up, took the dog for another drag around the block and then joined my parents for dinner. "Dad, I saved you a hundred bucks. Now you don't have to fight the bushes to get in and out of the house. Hell, you've sunlight on the street side."
Matter-of-fact, he thanked me, patting me on the back.
"I guess it's time to go," I finally said.
"Break a leg," cried my mother and we exchanged kisses.
"Hope you get the commercial," said my father and we hugged.
By Tuesday morning, my entire body was aflame. Besides the incredible itching, I had hive-like bruises all over. I ran posthaste to the doctor.
"You got poison ivy," he informed me.
"Poison ivy?" I screeched. "It's winter!"
I gritted my teeth. "I trimmed the shrubs in front of my parent's house." Then I recalled my audition. "How long will this take to go away?"
Cavalierly, he responded, "Ordinarily, it takes a week or two. In your case, give it a month."
"I'VE AN AUDITION IN THREE DAYS!" I shrieked.
I looked in the mirror. Forget about my face that looked like it rotted on one side as well as my spotted arms; my once pristine back was layered with welts. Some actually resembled lesions. I poured a ton of calamine lotion all over and prayed it would disappear. Friday, on the day of my call back, I met with my agent after shmearing thick foundation on my face and neck followed up with tons of make-up.
He pulled me aside before I stepped into the changing room. "They really like you and your back. And love your facial profile. I believe this is a shoo-in! Go ahead, break a leg!" and patted me on the shoulder. This was a big deal.
With trepidation, I changed into my backless swimsuit and at the last second dashed in front of the blinding camera lights. After I pantomimed washing under a shower on video, the casting agent said, "Okay, thanks," and I scooted back into the dressing room.
After I changed back into my clothes, my agent came over to me. "Sorry, but we're going to have to redo it. For some reason, there's something wrong with the video."
"What do you mean?" I asked, hoping against hope they didn't notice the massive purple-blue marks all over my back. I was surprised they didn't notice the welts all over my face, neck and hands.
"They saw some spots on your back. Just change back into your swimsuit for another take."
I did. This time, when I emerged from the dressing room, none of the neon lights were on.
"WHAT THE HELL IS THAT ON YOUR SKIN?" yelled my agent and the casting agent at the same time.
"Poison ivy," I responded.
My agent glared at me. "How the hell did you get poison ivy in the winter?" Before I could respond, he shouted, "How long will it take to go away?"
"The doctor gives it a week," I lied through my teeth.
My agent, a good judge of character, saw right through my charade. Shaking his head, he sighed and tersely said, "Just go get dressed."
I knew right then and there I blew it. Which goes to show what occurs when shit happens. Mom was right.
In order to save my dad $100 from having the shrubbery pruned, it cost me $150 in a doctor visit, $30 in calamine lotion, $20 in a prescription and $10,000 of royalties in a national tv campaign.
Which always comes to the forefront of my mind every time I look at that ferkakta Tweety Bird watch.
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