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Maura Stone, scion of a great American comedy family and an early fan of the Trailer Trash blog. I learned what funny truly meant from this great humorist, satirist, and generous artisan.
Through twitter, I made the acquaintance of a man with a woman’s name, Stacey Roberts. I don’t know how he found me, but he did. He loved my blog and told me he almost lost his job reading my posts dating back to April 2012. I must’ve written close to 400 posts (of which I removed at least 100). I gave up printing them after the first 2,000 pages.
Then, he asked me to read his blog, Trailer Trash, With a Girl’s Name. I sat down and read from the very beginning and didn’t stop until the last post he had put up. Admittedly, Stacey’s funnier than me. His blog and his book are hysterical. And universal. Anyone - man, woman or wombat - can relate to his stories. Especially if they hail from the planet Earth.
Since then, I’ve been an ardent fan of this very funny man. He posts as well on www.humoroutcasts.com and has me howling. Although one can’t tell whether I howl in laughter, pain or in imitation of some local characters I blog about intermittently in kiss-keepitsimpleschmuck.
At any rate, I find Stacey a major force in comedy and without doubt his premiere novel will be a best-seller.
Hell, right now it is!!
Without further ado, please peruse an excerpt prior to purchase:
Arsenic and Old Ladies
It took a year of living in California for my mother to decide that doctors were going to kill us all. I’m pretty sure that like Snow White, it all started with a poisoned piece of fruit.
The women in my family all lived into their nineties, and some even over a hundred. They held up pretty well too: able to walk, talk, complain, harass, underappreciate, and deride the self esteem of others right up to their last moments on earth. The men in my family all died younger than sixty, probably from being walked on, talked down to, complained about, harassed, underappreciated, and having their self esteem derided. Or it could have been the careless disregard they had for their own safety, like when my Great-Uncle Mike skateboarded down the side of a mountain, flipped over the guardrail, and plummeted to his doom. Also in California. That place is a death trap.
From the stories I was told about the formidable women of my clan, I never would have guessed they would have made it out of their thirties:
Mom: “My grandmother? Five foot nothing, three hundred pounds, smoked two packs a day. Ate everything covered in chicken fat.”
Me: “So how old was she when she died?”
Mom: “Ninety two.”
Me: “And her husband?”
Mom: “Fifty eight. He fell off the roof trying to clean the gutters during an ice storm.”
Me: “Of course he did.”
Mom: “SSSSStace. It was his time to go.”
Me: “Of course it was.”
Knowing this, I avoid things like skateboarding and gutter cleaning, but I wonder if there was more to it, some regimen these women followed that explained their longevity.
In 1979, we were driving from our house in New Jersey to visit my Great-Uncle Julius and Great-Aunt Toby, who lived in Palm Coast, Florida. It was about a fifteen hour drive. On the journey was me, my brother Layne the Favorite, my Aunt Adele, Mom, and my Grandma.
We had barely been on the road for an hour when the trouble started.
Aunt Adele: “I’m hungry.”
Aunt Adele: “Carol. Are you hearing me? I’m hungry.”
Aunt Adele: “I’m hungry, I said.”
Mom: “We just ate.” Which was true. My mother had barbecued unspeakably black, crispy pancakes for breakfast that her mother, sister and son crunched their way through. I begged off.
Mom: “SSSStace. Why won’t you eat my pancakes?”
Me: “They’re burnt black.”
Mom: “You know why? Because I don’t use any butter in the pan. It’s grease. It clogs your arteries. It’s disgusting.” Crunch, crunch, crunch.
Me: “I’m not hungry.”
Mom: “What is wrong with you? These are made from barley. No disgusting white flour. Your brother likes them.”
Layne the Favorite (grinning and nodding at me with ash-blackened barley teeth): “They’re the best pancakes I ever had.”
Mom: “Adele. It’s ten thirty. You wanna stop for lunch?”
Aunt Adele: “It doesn’t have to be anything big. Just a piece of fruit.”
Aunt Adele: “Fruit! A piece of fruit!”
Grandma: “A piece of fruit would be good.”
Mom: “You’re right. We need a piece of fruit.”
Aunt Adele: “That’s what I’ve been saying! Just a piece of fruit!”
We drove in silence for ten miles while I tried to imagine what kind of outpost we could find that would stock pieces of fruit, as if on the side of the road there were big shirtless men with machetes who would hack up melons or grapefruits and sell travelers chunks of it. This happened for Teddy Roosevelt when he went on African safari in 1909 after leaving the White House. In 1979, alongside Interstate 95, it seemed ludicrous. Today, you can go to a McDonald’s and get a piece of fruit. The women in my family were visionaries.
Circa 1980, Ted the Drug Dealer’s parents lived in the Lawrence Welk Retirement Village in Escondido, California. They owned a double-wide mobile home (a palace!) on top of a mountain. For me it was a preview of the bright aisles of Heaven: sunny all the time, big homes with no wheels, and everyone drove everywhere in golf carts. Because there was no age requirement, I got to scoot around in one whenever Layne the Favorite got tired of driving it.
The journey to Escondido wended through country roads lined with farmer’s stands. My mother was delighted. She made Ted the Drug Dealer pull over at every one. The first time we went to visit his parents we didn’t get there until nightfall. The back of our van was filled with citrus, lettuce, cabbages, tomatoes, cantaloupes, strawberries, potatoes, cucumbers, and at least a hundred red onions.
My mother had finally found a place where she could get a piece of fruit. Right there on the side of the road.
Ted the Drug Dealer’s Mom: “Make sure you wash those.”
Mom: “Don’t be ridiculous, Ethel --”
Ted the Drug Dealer’s Mom: “Esther.”
Mom: “That’s what I said. Listen to me. You can’t wash fruit and vegetables. It takes away all the nutrientssssssss.”
Ted the Drug Dealer’s Mom: “They treat those with poison to kill bugs.”
Mom: “You know what’s poison, Eleanor? Red meat. White bread.” She shuddered. “Gravy. This is all-natural. Right from the ground. Natural.”
Ted the Drug Dealer’s Mom: “Esther.”
Mom: “That’s what I said. I don’t think you’re listening to me.”
The insecticide used at the time was arsenic. This is how it killed the marauding bugs that attacked fruits and vegetables:
2. Loss of motor control
4. Hair loss
5. Severe diarrhea
7. Muscle cramps
9. Night blindness
In 1980 California, you had to wash your fruits and vegetables with soap and water before eating them. You do not mess around with night blindness.
My mother dished up huge bowls of salad every single day. Unwashed piles of lettuce, cucumbers, spinach, radishes, and joyous handfuls of red onions, all crawling with latent death. We declined.
Mom: “Why aren’t you eating my salad?” Crunch, crunch, crunch.
Layne the Favorite: “It tastes funny.”
My mother looked at him, disappointment welling up in her face. He nervously twirled his fingers through his hair. A small clump of it fell out on to the table top.
Mom: “It tastes like nutrientssssssss.” Crunch, crunch, crunch. “It’s all-natural.”
Layne the Favorite: “I’m having trouble seeing at night.”
Mom: “Layner. It’s night. It’s dark. Of course you’re having trouble seeing. What’s wrong with you?”
Layne the Favorite looked horrified.
Me (waving): “I’m over here, Mom.”
Mom: “Oh, right.” Crunch, crunch, crunch.
Confusion. The first symptom of arsenic poisoning.
It didn’t take long for my mother to zero in on her favorite farmer’s market in Escondido - a huge complex of wooden stands covered in produce fresh from the acres of ground only a few yards away. The patriarch of the farming family was a lean, weathered man named Roger. I’m fairly certain he founded the Whole Foods chain of natural food stores a few years later.
Mom (crunching on a pear she had picked up from the stand): “Rufus. What’s good today?”
Roger: “Carol. You can’t eat that.”
My mother stumbled and nearly fell. Roger had to catch her and prop her up. Loss of motor control. The second symptom of arsenic poisoning.
Mom: “Robert. Ted will pay for it.”
Roger: “I mean you have to wash it first.”
Mom: “That’s crazy, Roland. That washes off all the nutrients.”
Roger: “Carol, we spray all our produce with arsenic. You have to wash everything.”
Mom: “I can’t listen to your chazerai right now, Richard. My head is killing me.”
A week later, Roger escalated his argument. Huge hand-lettered signs were arranged strategically around his produce stand:
DO NOT EAT UNWASHED PRODUCE
My mother glared at the signs.
Mom: “Rudy! Rudy!” She stalked over to him, staggering slightly. Some bright red hairs were lifted from her head and carried away by the breeze. “What is all this? It’s disgusting.”
Roger (patiently): “Carol. My produce is straight from the ground. It has to be cleaned before you eat it.”
Mom: “Well. Raymond. I never heard of this. What kind of farmer are you?”
She plucked a strawberry and chomped on it.
Mom: “Ted will pay for that.”
The next week, Roger tried another tactic: he set up fruit and vegetable washing stands: spray bottles of fresh water and dish detergent.
Roger: “Carol. How about you wash that nectarine?”
Mom: “No way! Not on your life, Reggie. Disgusting. You make me sick.” Chomp.
Since that was essentially true, Roger had no reply.
Near the end of the season, my mother got herself banned from her favorite produce stand.
Mom: “Look, Layner. Ronnie’s waiting for me. I’m his favorite customer! I told you.”
Me: “He looks unhappy.”
Roger: “Carol. You can’t buy anything here anymore. You have to get yourself to a doctor.”
My mother’s eyes widened and her cheek twitched. It was likely a muscle cramp - symptom number seven.
Mom: “Rupert. What are you talking about?”
Roger: “I’m not selling you any more produce. You have to buy your fruit at Ralph’s from now on. They wash it for you. That’s safest.”
Mom: “Ralph? Who the hell is Ralph? What are you talking about?”
Roger: “Ralph’s grocery store. They’re everywhere.”
Mom: “Rudy. There’s no way. No way! You know what happens when you wash fruit? The nutrients disappear. The nutrientsssssss!”
Roger folded his arms. Ted the Drug Dealer led my mother away, back to the van. She slept all the way home, even though she had just woken up an hour before.
Drowsiness: symptom number six.
Ted the Drug Dealer took my mother to a doctor. A simple hair follicle test confirmed what Roger the farsighted farmer already knew. We were told that night at dinner. The giant salad bowl sat empty in the middle of the table.
Mom: “Layner. This is going to be hard for you to hear. Apparently Mommy’s sick.”
Layne the Favorite: “What’s wrong?”
Mom: “That quack thinks I have the arsenic poisoning.”
Ted the Drug Dealer: “You do, Carol. He showed me the test results. Your arsenic levels were so high they didn’t fit on the printout.”
Mom: “Quack. Doctors will kill us all.”
She abandoned the quack’s treatment and found a holistic healer in San Diego who put her on a regimen of expensive drops he mixed himself in his shop. By the time we moved to Lake Tahoe six months later, her arsenic levels were nearly normal.
Mom (triumphantly): “See that? Doctors don’t know anything. I’ve been buying fresh fruit and vegetables from a produce stand that wantssss my business and I haven’t been washing off the stinkin’ nutrientssss and I’m fine.”
We had been secretly washing her produce, which turned out to be a huge mistake.
We spent the next seven years (classic Old Testament punishment time) with no remedies for anything – no pain killers, aspirin, hemorrhoid cream (apparently Ted the Drug Dealer had some difficulties from driving a cab all day) or antibiotics. I once had an untreated ear infection so bad that I couldn’t hear out of one ear for a month.
Until she married Marvin, King of the Jews, my mother followed the tenets of a succession of holistic healers:
1. Antibiotics destroy your body’s natural defenses
2. Aspirin shreds your intestines
3. White flour is evil
4. Painkillers mask symptoms
5. Red meat is evil
6. Never wash the fruit. Ever.
I left for college in 1988. My mother started dating Marvin, King of the Jews shortly thereafter. I came home for winter break and was required to have dinner with Mom and her new boyfriend. I made every excuse I could think of, but there was no way out.
My mother put food on the table. London broil, mashed potatoes, fresh green beans covered in real butter. The salad had no red onions on it. There was a bowl of gravy. I suddenly felt like I had the first four symptoms of arsenic poisoning.
Me: “Mom! What the hell happened?”
Marvin, King of the Jews: “Don’t talk to your mutha like that.”
Mom: “SSSSSSStace. What are you talking about?”
Me: “Red meat. White potatoes. Butter. God help us all - gravy?”
Marvin, King of the Jews: “What is wrong with you?”
Great. Now there were two of them.
There you have it - “Trailer Trash, With a Girl’s Name” by Stacey Roberts.
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