Tag Archives: family

“Downton Abbey,” Dammit.

I’m trying to write a post about Downton Abbey for my entertainment themed blog, but I keep looking at the clock and thinking that I should get to bed.  It’s getting kind of late and I have too much to say.  I wanna turn my light off soon.  Plus, I wanna watch an episode from season two, and episodes of Downton Abbey are about 50 minutes long, so I should get to it if I wanna get to sleep at a halfway decent hour.

Watching Downton Abbey again feels strange.  When I first started watching it several years ago, I had just become unemployed.  My mother and I devoured the first season in a day and a half, just in time for the premiere of season two.  The second season was also a blast — progressivism and Spanish Flu and temporary paralysis.  There were only two or three episodes left to air when my mom came home one day and told me she had bought the entire season on DVD at Barnes and Noble.  This meant we didn’t have to wait another several weeks for the thrilling conclusion — the answers were at our fingertips.

“Wait, what do you mean it’s already on DVD?”

“The British version,” she said, smiling mischievously.  “The episodes have already aired in the UK.  Now they’re all on DVD.  At Barnes and Noble.”  We laughed like villains.

About a year later, season three premiered.  I had a job.  It was a silly job, but it was something.  I didn’t have work the day Downton Abbey came back on, though.  It was an exciting afternoon of coffee drinking and pajama wearing.    Then, a few days afterward, my mom and I had a fight.  I downloaded the rest of the season and watched it without her.

It was a stupid fight.  I guess it was necessary, though.  Well, no, not necessary, but kind of unavoidable.  That’s ok.  We’re close, so that’s what happens.  If I ever have a daughter, I hope I fight with her, too.  It’ll hurt, but it’ll be better than never fighting with her.  You only never get mad at people you don’t think about.

Anyway.  I watched the rest of season three by myself.  I was really sick that day.  I couldn’t breathe through my nose.  I was sad, and sick, and alone, and then sad things happened on the show and I felt even more sad and even more alone.  I couldn’t tell anyone about what I had just seen, because everyone else was watching it legally, and I couldn’t tell my mom, because she hadn’t seen the episode yet, either.  Because she was also watching it legally.  Without me.  Because I was mad at her.

Two months later I moved out of my parents’ house and immediately got sick again.  This time I had a fever and my throat was on fire.  All I wanted to do was lie on the couch and watch Downton Abbey, because it’s a great show to watch while you’re sick, even though it’s only going to make you sad.  I kept putting it on, but every time I did there was all kinds of, “This isn’t my thing” and, “This is boring” and, “We should rent Wreck It Ralph.”  There was also Branson.  Tom Branson.  Jealousy over my attraction to Tom Branson.  The chauffeur.  The Irish chauffeur.  The fictional Irish chauffeur.  And for all my reassurances of, “Tom Branson isn’t a real person,” I was never quite forgiven.

But that’s all over.  That is so, so over.

Season four premiered on Sunday night.  I didn’t watch it ’till Monday.  And it was silly.  And it made me happy.  And some parts of it annoyed me, and those parts made me want to email my mom.  So I did, because we’re not mad at each other anymore and haven’t been for a long time.  Because we love each other.  Really love each other.  So we worked things out.

Watching Downton Abbey in my own apartment makes me feel like I’m getting away with something — like I’m meeting up with someone I was temporarily estranged from, or catching up with an old friend I was previously banned from seeing.  Either way, the series is entirely too important to me.  I’m ok with that, though.  Why should I be embarrassed?  I watch the show and I feel happy and sad and excited and nostalgic and I think about love and sadness and change and forgiveness and good riddance.  There are worse things I could do than love Downton Abbey for deeply personal, totally inflated reasons, right?  I mean, just because it’s dramatic and stylized and British doesn’t have to make it stupid.  Right?  I mean, it’s not stupid.  It’s…It’s…

it’s motherfuckin’ Downton Abbey, bitchesAnd I’m gonna watch as much of it as I like.

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Neutral Milk Tradition.

On Thanksgiving, when I was 17, my big brother changed my life when he handed me a brand new copy of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel.  At the time, I only listened to bands who had reached the height of their popularity in the late 1960’s or early [to mid -] 1970’s.  My favorite movie was The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus.  I still felt buzzed from the David Bowie concert I had seen months earlier.  I had written my 11th grade research paper on the cultural influence of Punk Rock, for which I received — and didn’t care that I received! — a good ol’ mediocre 75%.  Why, dear God, did my brother hand me a copy of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea?  All he said was, “I think you’ll like it.”

I’m positive the only reason I listened to the album was because my big brother told me to.  We weren’t little kids anymore, but that didn’t matter; handing me that album incited the same sense of urgency and fear I felt when I was seven-years-old and he handed me a copy of Soundgarden’s Superunknown.  I was given a task, and if I followed through that would mean I was Cool.  I took my copy of Raw Power out of my CD player, and replaced it with the CD my brother had just given me.  What I heard was all at once everything I loved about my classic stuff, as well as unlike anything I’d ever heard before.  It was dark in a Jim Morrison way, but not at all Bohemian.  Could Bob Dylan have written this?  Leonard Cohen?  Patti Smith?  Maybe, yeah, in another world…but that’s not how things panned out, was it?

Somehow, the rest of my family got turned on to that album.  Perhaps it was because my big brother also gave a copy to my little brother — or was it me who did that? — and then it was eventually played for my parents.  Regardless of the real explanation, it eventually got to the point where all five of us were singing, “What a beautiful face I have found in this place…”.

(My family’s love for this song gives my love for this cover a bit of extra umph).

A few weeks later, when my big brother was home for Christmas, he handed me a copy of On Avery Island.  Similar to the Aeroplane phenomenon, the remaining family members fell in love.  I distinctly remember listening to “3 Peaches” as a family on our way back home from a car trip somewhere.  Was it Vegas?  How…appropriate?

As I became a bigger fan, I learned that the band was formed in the 1990’s and that the lead singer’s name was Jeff Mangum.  When I learned about the band’s indefinite hiatus, I really, truly felt sad.  Bowie Buzz be damned, I wanted to hear “Oh Comely” live!

My prayers were answered, in a way, a year later.  I was a freshman in college, and my mom came to Santa Cruz to drive me home for Thanksgiving.  To keep us entertained during the six-hour-long trip, she brought a copy of Live at Jittery Joe’s.  She was especially excited for me to hear, “I Love How You Love Me” because it was “nothing like the original version!”  She also loved how the crying baby in the background punctuated Mangum’s performance.  “Isn’t it just so good and weird?” she said.

As a result of all this, Thanksgiving makes me think of Neutral Milk Hotel.  When Halloween is over and it finally starts to get a little bit cold (here in Southern California, that is) and people start thinking about ordering turkeys and learning how the Hell to make cranberry sauce, all I can think about is trumpets and Anne Frank.  Every morning, afternoon and night, regardless of where I am, I am either listening to, or thinking about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.


On Thursday night, after all of our esteemed guests had left the building, the five of us sat down in the family room to decompress and digest.  I was on the couch between my dad and my big brother.  My Big Brother.  My Big Brother who wanted me to stop listening to my Ren & Stimpy CD and start listening to grunge.  My Big Brother who changed my life when he handed me a brand new copy of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

I turned to him and said, “Thanksgiving makes me think of Neutral Milk Hotel.”  “Oh yeah?” he said.  I then told him that he had given me that album on Thanksgiving years before, and what an impression that album had made on me.  He said, “I loved that band so much in college and I was so upset that I would never be able to see them live.  I once had a dream I did.  It was very…emotional.” As someone who knows all about emotional concerts and emotional dreams, I felt very close to My Big Brother in that moment.  “Brother see, we are one in the same…”.

My dad and I mentioned that Jeff Mangum played at Occupy Wall Street.  “No way!” My Big Brother said.  “He did a show?”  He wanted to know when, where, and how we knew.  We explained that we had seen a segment on Democracy Now! where Amy Goodman talked about Occupy, and that during the segment she showed a few seconds of Jeff Mangum singing “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” for a crowd of people.  This really blew My Big Brother’s mind.  He didn’t seem to believe what we were telling him.  “I’m sure it’s on YouTube,” I said.

My Big Brother found a forty minute and fifty-nine-second long video of Jeff Mangum’s Occupy Wall Street set, and, as a family, we listened to all of it.  We sang along to every song: “Holland 1945,” “Song Against Sex,” “Two Headed Boy Part 2,” “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” “King of Carrot Flowers Part 1,” and “Oh Comely.”  During “Two Headed Boy Part 2,” when all of us took a break from singing to just listen, my younger brother — who is awesome — couldn’t help but repeat after Jeff Mangum when he sang, “God is a place where some holy spectacle lies.”  “Wow,” my little brother said.  “God is a PLACE.”  At the risk of sounding like a sentimental nut, I have to agree; and maybe, just maybe, it’s a place I’ve been to.  All I know is that I spent the night of Thanksgiving sitting on my couch singing about “how strange it is to be anything at all” with the two people who brought me into this world and the two people who I will always be inextricably linked to.  Does it get much better?  You tell me.

It is now the evening of Sunday, November 27th.  Thanksgiving of 2011 has come and gone.  While I’ve had a great time eating mashed potatoes and pie and stuffing for the last three days (curse you, delicious leftovers!), I’m looking forward to tomorrow, when I plan on ingesting some green vegetables and going to the gym.  The food binge may have reached its end, but the feeling of thankfulness will continue.  For as long as I have my Neutral Milk Hotel CDs, what ISN’T there to be thankful for?

Thanks mom and dad, for the obvious.  Thanks, little brother, for the awesomeness.  Thanks, Big Brother for more than you know…

And thanks, YouTube, for the sweet covers.

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Turkey Day.

I made a promise to myself a week ago that I would do something kind of crazy tonight.  In the grand scheme of things, this “something” is not really that crazy, but it’s still crazy enough to make me feel like my stomach is made of tiny butterflies.  There’s a lot of nail-biting going on over here right now.

I may not keep my promise; however, despite the darkness, the night is young.

I keep telling myself that I’m going to go for a run soon, but then I think about how cold it is outside, and how cold it was when I took a walk one night this time last year.  A year ago today, actually.  The night my grandmother died.  A year ago.  Today.

My grandparents haven’t had the greatest timing when it comes to the whole dying thing.  In 2006 my grandfather had his heart attack right before Christmas, and in 2008 my Papou had his heart attack right before my father’s birthday.  I, like my mother, assumed my grandma would never die, but she did — last year.  Three days before Thanksgiving.

Maybe she wanted to make sure no one came over and bothered her.

I admit, I got a good chuckle out of writing that last sentence.  It was a little twisted, a little shocking, and a little harsh.  Just like Her.

Just like Her.

When I was a kid, that was all I wanted to be — Just like Her.  I’m not really sure why.  Maybe because she said funny things, like “Goddammit.”  Or because she made really good grilled cheese sandwiches and always had soda in her house.  Or because she used to let me play with shaving cream.

Now that I’m older, I can’t help but notice how many ways I already am just like her.  Whenever I say or think the words, “To Hell with ’em,” I smile and think of grandma.  Whenever I make damn sure to have the last word, I smile and think of grandma.  Whenever I’m faced with situations that range from somewhat scary to utterly terrifying, I take a deep breath and tell myself, “Think of grandma.”

This act is something I like to call harnessing my Inner Polack.  As someone who is 1/4 Polish, all thanks to grandma, I’m allowed to say that.

I think my height is also “thanks to grandma.”  So’s my foul mouth.  So’s my love of donuts.

Good Lord, she was always the first person to tell me when I “looked great” or when I “looked fat.”  She was also the only person in the world who would offer me meatball sandwiches after I told her I just had lunch.  “You can do it just this one day,” she’d insist.

Dear God, it was no use telling her what was what — she invented What Was What.

I’m giggling right now as I remember Classic Grandma Moments.  I remember sitting on a bench with her at a shopping mall in Downey.  I must have been about four-years-old.  A woman wearing a gigantic back pack walked by us — she had a funny walk — and a bottle of lotion fell out of her back pack.  When my grandma told her she had dropped something, the woman didn’t understand.  My grandma eventually communicated to the woman what had happened, and after the woman picked up the bottle and walked away, I asked my grandma why the woman walked so funny.

“Well…” said my grandma, in her Rhode Island accent, “she’s re-tahted.”

I didn’t ask her what it meant.  I just assumed that everyone who walked funny was re-tahted.

A few years ago, after my grandfather had died and my grandma was practically bed-ridden, my younger brother, Michael, and I went to her condo to say “Happy Thanksgiving.”  At that point, visiting grandma was pretty hit or miss — I either came out of her condo smiling or sobbing.  This time, I’m pleased to report, was somewhat upbeat.  The three of us had a good little visit, and somehow the subject of Women vs. Men came up.

Michael said, “You can’t trust women.  They’re devious.”

My grandma paused, took a breath, smiled, nodded her head, and said, “Yup.”

Michael and I laughed, and then grandma looked Michael right in the eye and said, “Ya think ya smaht, but ya not as smaht as a woman.”

Years ago — and I mean many, many years — I thought that the day my grandma died would be the worst day of my life.  I knew it was inevitable, but I couldn’t help it — the very idea of it was enough to make me tear up.

Then my grandfather died and my grandma had a bad fall and everything changed.  My mother worked herself sick trying to do the right thing and grandma just kept getting older.   I was away at college and phone calls from home became depressing.  Every time I was in town, the phrase “let’s go visit grandma” inspired nothing but pain in my heart.   The days of grilled cheese sandwiches and shaving cream were over.

Last year, I was standing at the stove stirring a pot of homemade vegetable soup when the phone rang.  My mom answered it, and she just said, “Yes, I’ll be right over.”  It was my grandma’s caretaker saying there was something wrong.  This had happened hundreds of times before.  My mom got in the car, and I kept stirring my soup.

Fifteen minutes later I sat down at the kitchen counter with a steaming bowl of my homemade vegetable soup.  I heard the garage door open.  My mom came in, and she told me that my grandma had choked.

“Grandma didn’t make it,” she said.

I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.  After four years of going to visit my grandma One Last Time, she was finally gone.  I hadn’t seen her since her 94th birthday two months earlier.  I cried for a minute, and then my mother had to go back to the condo to deal with…ya know.  Everything.  As usual.

I finished my soup, and then a friend of mine came by to get me for our nightly walk.  I told her what had happened.  She put her arms around me, and when I said, “I’m okay,” I really meant it.

I’m “okay” tonight, too.  The kitchen table is covered with pieces of dried bread that will eventually be made into stuffing.  Michael just got home for the Thanksgiving break.  It’s cold outside, and all I want to do is curl up on the couch with my family.  More than ever, I’m thankful that I can do that.  People don’t stick around forever, even though sometimes it sure feels like they will.

There’s no way I’m going for a run, but I think I will do that crazy thing that makes me feel like my stomach is made of tiny butterflies.  Time to harness my Inner Polack and say, “Hell with ’em.”


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Anybody Want Anything?

want |wänt; wônt|


1 [ trans. ] have a desire to possess or do (something); wish for : I want an apple | [with infinitive ] we want to go to the beach | [ trans. ] she wanted me to go to her room | [ intrans. ] I’ll give you a lift into town if you want.

     • desire (someone) sexually : I’ve wanted you since the first moment I saw you.


1 chiefly archaic; a lack or deficiency of something: Victorian houses which are in want of repair | it won’t be through want of trying.

     • the state of being poor and in need of essentials; poverty : freedom from want.

2 a desire for something : the expression of our wants and desires.

Ever heard of California Chicken Cafe?  It’s a restaurant chain here in Southern Cali.  Most everything on the menu involves chicken, and, rest assured, the items that don’t contain chicken contain avocado.  You can also add chicken to any non-chicken item for $1.75.

You don’t know what you’re missing.  Really.  ::Cough::

California Chicken Cafe is a popular lunch option at the office where I work.  I, myself, rarely participate in the California Chicken Cafe extravaganzas.  No, I don’t think I’m better than everyone, I just can’t be spendin’ money on shit that doesn’t bring me immense joy.  Plus, I spent all my money on baked clams and cannoli last week at San Gennaro in New York City.

I regret nothing.

Today, a co-worker was about to make a chicken run when he suddenly cried out, “Anybody else want anything from California?”

There was a pause, and then I asked, “From California?”


I thought for a moment, and then said, “I want a house near the ocean.”

My co-worker laughed.

“No, no, as in, do you want anything from California Chicken Cafe.”

I didn’t want any damn chicken.  I did, however, proceed to ramble about some of the things I do, in fact, want.  When it was time for me to shut up and get back to work, the rambling continued in my head.

I now present to you Ten Random Things I Want.  Some of them are unique to California, and some of them…well…


Ten Random Things I Want

by Stephanie Callas


I want a house near the ocean.  I will live there by my damn self until I decide I want company.  I have not yet decided the exact location of this house, but I know it will be North of Pismo.  It will be impeccably decorated, and feature a killer sound system.


I want my car to be paid the Hell off.  No more monthly car payments.  None.


I want a bulldog.  An English Bulldog.  I will name him Brando and he will be my buddy.  He will be a healthy boy, with no respiratory problems or hip dysplasia, and he will not die of heatstroke like so many English Bulldogs tend to do.  He will be chubby and cute and he will love The Godfather as much as I do.


I want to know how to program computer viruses.   Ya never know when ya may need to rip someone off.


I want the cryogenically frozen body of Walt Disney.  People will come from all over the world just to get a glimpse of it, and I will charge admission based on my personal prejudices.  60-year-old man in an Armani suit with a 23-year-old socialite on his arm?  $10,000.  Cute hippie-boy with a beard and a beanie who wants to stop and see The Walt on his way to Mexico?  Admission is free!  (This is, of course, not including the food and wine he will inevitably purchase in his effort to seduce me).


I want to be able to travel.  I’m talkin’ far and wide.  I want to wake up, decide that I should spend the weekend in Barcelona drinking from a wine skin and speaking in an English accent and introducing myself as Brett, and then go do it.


I want to be friends with John Waters.  I want to be on a first name basis with him.  When he’s not visiting me in my fabulous house by the ocean, he will be sending me funny text messages and buying me semi-perverted presents.  We will Skype every Monday morning while we’re having our coffee.  He will say things like, “Mondays are just such a DRAG,” and I will say, “Honey, you WISH you were a DRAG,” and he will say, “Honey, the world couldn’t HANDLE all THIS in DRAG,” and I will say, “Honey, you WISH the world couldn’t handle YOU in DRAG”…


I want to speak fluent French.  I will go to Farmer’s Markets all over the world and ONLY speak French.


I want a box of cannoli from Ferrara’s bakery to be delivered to my door every Friday night.  FRESH.  I want them to be all different varieties — regular, chocolate, Nutella, pistachio — and they will all have perfect shells and perfect filling.  I will serve the cannoli to all of my fabulous dinner guests.  Some parties will be small, and others will put Woodstock to shame.  Brando will be everyone’s favorite couch companion, and John Waters will bring out everyone’s inner freak.  Tom Waits will be playing the piano and Patti Smith will be playing the clarinet.  Peter O’Toole will be serving champagne and Leonard Cohen will be handing out white lilies.  Nick Cave and Barbara Streisand will perform duets that bring the guests to their knees in cathartic abandon.  My parents will be excited to be out of the house and my brothers will be happy to be away from school and work, even though school and work is treating them just fine.  All my friends will bring fabulous dates — no assholes, no losers, no fuddy-duddies — and those who do not will be more than thrilled to spend an evening unattached and irresponsible.  No one will get drunk, and everyone will get happy.  The next morning, I won’t have to do one bit of cleaning.  While everyone is driving home, not one person will be thinking about work problems or school problems or money problems or family problems or marriage problems or credit card problems or plumbing problems or love problems.  No one will think, “I should have just stayed home and studied,” or, “I should have stayed in and searched for a new job,” or, “I wish that guy had called me back,” or, “I wish that girl hadn’t been there.”  All they will be thinking is, “I can’t believe I got a picture with the cryogenically frozen body of Walt Disney.”


I guess it goes without say that I want World Peace, so fuck it — I want Don Draper.

The End?

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A “Breather,” So To Speak

I don’t know how I passed eighth grade math. I guess it was because my teacher, Mrs. Baril, saw that I was a bright kid who deserved to graduate middle school and move on like all the other kids. Honestly though, I think I bombed (as in FAILED) most of the math tests that I took during my second semester in that class. Fractions were annoying enough, but good God, memorizing the number of ounces in a pint and how many pints in a gallon and how many ounces in one-third cup…forget it. One night while struggling to do my nightly math assignment, I said to myself, “Ya know, I have never purposely not done my homework. I think I’ll give it a try.” Alas, and yet, much to my advantage, the assignment wasn’t collected. Thus, my teacher went along thinking that I was a hard working student who had absolutely pitiful test taking skills. She gave me a “B” out of pity.


Yes. I admitted to the internet that I can’t do fractions for shit. I’m not ashamed. I think it’s kind of interesting that a moment of adolescent defiance has now evolved in to a legitimate deficiency. As we all know, however, life is often ass backwards, and today, my mathematical shortcomings helped transform what could have been an upsetting experience in to a damn good one.

Today my grandmother turned ninety-four years-old. That’s rather impressive as it is, but when I consider the amount of death bed scenes she has had in the past four years, I have to wonder how the Hell she’s still alive. It sure ain’t because she’s astoundingly healthy — she’s just been in survival mode since the Great Depression. She believes in things like never telling your husband how much money you have in your savings account and hiding the rest of your cash either under your mattress or pinned inside your bra. Ya know. Practical things.

My poor mother has been taking care of her ailing mother for four years now. There have been countless trips to the doctor for numerous ailments (back pain, skin cancer, LEUKEMIA), late night emergency visits prompted by desperate phone calls, botched MRI’s, terrifying hallucinations involving dead babies and a demon named Carlos (it’s nothing to laugh about, but…), and thousands of other upsetting daily occurrences. Grandma can no longer walk, she can barely hear, and she can’t really keep up in a conversation. Interestingly enough, she can still cut people down with great precision. Unfortunately, this means that my mother, on top of all the other things she’s had to deal with for the last several years, has also had to endure a staggering amount of criticism. Throughout the mad saga that these last four years have been, my mother has somehow managed to survive with her sanity in tact. Sane as she may be, however, my mother would rather not have to throw my grandmother birthday parties every year when September 29th arrives.

Mom has been to several of these birthday parties, and based on what I’ve seen in pictures, I assume that the parties in the past have been somewhat depressing. The guest list consists of whoever in my family is willing to go (IE: mom), Riza, grandma’s live-in caretaker, and Diane and Roxanne, my grandmother’s hospice care nurses. Previously I could never make it to these birthday parties because I was in Santa Cruz, but since I’m back in Agoura I decided to support my mom and accompany her to the festivities. When I told her I would be joining her, she said, “Well in that case, ya know what I think would be fun? If we brought Lemon Drops for all the girls.”

Now, my mom is not a big drinker. She doesn’t drink wine because it gives her Rosacea, and when it comes to beer she’s happy with having a Coronita (that’s the seven ounce bottle of Corona) when we invite people over for a barbeque. Otherwise, she only touches booze when she’s on vacation or when she’s out to dinner on a sweltering hot summer night. What does she order? Rum and Coke “with mostly Coke,” or a friggin’ Lemon Drop Martini. Proposing that we make Lemon Drops at grandma’s ninety-fourth birthday was her way of telling me, “I really need a Goddamn drink.” It was my assignment to find a Lemon Drop recipe, get the necessary ingredients, and assemble the drinks when we got to grandma’s condo.

When we showed up, my grandma was sitting in her chair watching television. I hugged her and wished her happy birthday. She asked me if I had a job yet. Typically I try to paint a rosy picture for her when she asks me this question, but today I just said, “Nope.” As usual, she told me that I should go work for my father so that one day I can “take over the business.” My father is a CPA. You really can’t just inherit that title. I would have to go study business. I would have to do MATH. I said, “Grandma, I can’t just have dad’s business. I would have to go to school for that.” “Well, you can go to school at night. Ya may as well. Ya gotta do somethin’.” I said, “I can do whatever I want.” Now, I did not say that to be bratty. I said it because it’s one of her favorite phrases. My grandma may have missed out on the feminist movement, but she has always believed in women taking over the world and showing everyone what’s what. If she had organized a regime to help carry out this plan, the world would be a very different place. Did I mention she believes she can kill people with her mind?

I was essentially telling her that I can do “anything I want” because I’m a strong, modern woman who has the world at her fingertips. I thought I would receive a nod of approval. Instead, this ninety-four year-old woman who can’t walk, can barely hear, and struggles to speak smirked at me and said, “Oh yeah? Which is what?” I looked at her, and she snickered as if to say, “Gotcha there.” I said, “Don’t look so damn pleased with yourself.”

Some may find it shocking that I said that to my grandmother. The truth is, I can say “whatever I want” to her. Sure, she may not hear me, but I know damn well that she loves when people go toe-to-toe with her, mainly because she loves having the last word. I have seen on more than one occasion that I have inherited my grandmother’s appreciation for such things. The difference is that I, Stephanie Callas, have learned to reserve my caustic comments for people who really deserve them, like men, for instance. Also, I know where to draw the line, while Grandma has no idea what “the line” is. The fact that she has maintained her ability (and her love) to remind people who’s boss when she can barely leave her bed is just plain eerie. I was there to celebrate her birthday with her, for God’s sake. Rather than get too upset, because, truth be told, I’m used to such moments, I decided to be pro-active. It was time for the Lemon Drops.

The guests arrived. I went to the kitchen to start makin’ the drinks. I finished the first one, poured it in to a glass, and brought it to Diane, my grandmother’s hospice care nurse. The recipe calls for six ounces of vodka, four ounces of triple sec, four tablespoons of lemon juice, and two teaspoons of simple syrup to make four servings. Somehow, the contents of the entire martini shaker ended up in Diane’s glass. You see, we do not own many martini glasses — I think we own one — so my mother brought champagne flutes instead. BIG champagne flutes. At no point while I was assembling this first drink did I think, “I better add x amount of juice to this mix, because a typical martini glass holds four ounces and these champagne flutes hold at least eight ounces and the recipe for four drinks asks for eight ounces of booze and only a few tablespoons of lemon juice.” No. I have literally managed to turn off that part of my brain. When I see cookie recipes that yield four dozen cookies, I make all four dozen. Why? I have no idea how to cut the recipe down and still have it all make sense. Why? I didn’t pay attention in Mrs. Baril’s Goddamn math class.

I brought Diane the drink. I said, “Taste it and let me know how it is. I will not be offended at all if I need to go add more juice.” Apparently it was delicious just the way it was. When I made the other four drinks, I managed to make them somewhat less boozey. Don’t ask me how I did it — I’m betting it was divine intervention. Still, they were powerful. There we all were — Diane, Roxanne, Riza, my mom, and me, sittin’ in my grandma’s living room drinking atomic Lemon Drop Martinis on Annie’s ninety-fourth birthday. It wasn’t long before the giggling started. I noticed that Diane, the loudest, was only about a third of the way done with her drink. It was only at that moment that I remembered the recipe was supposed to prepare multiple drinks, and, therefore, Diane had multiple martinis in her glass. I thought, “What the fuck have I done? This wonderful woman, who has done so much for my mother, is going to end up passing out on my grandma’s floor.” For a second I considered walking over to Diane and kindly telling her what I had done and taking the glass away, but when I noticed how much fun everyone was having, I decided to just hope for the best.

I have to say, I had a great time at my grandma’s ninety-fourth birthday party. I hate to say it, but I know that there hasn’t been very much laughter in that condo for a long, long time, and frankly, it was nice to hear. It was great to sit in my grandma’s living room and know, for a change, that I was having a great time being there. There was no need to fight back tears for my own stupid pride, or to be strong for my mother. In fact, I didn’t feel sad at all. More importantly, when I looked at my mother, I wasn’t looking at an emotionally and physically exhausted woman who just wished she had the power to take away her mother’s pain — I was looking at a happy person who was having a surprisingly great evening.

Diane didn’t end up falling asleep on the floor. I eventually told her that her drink was quite a bit more potent than the average libation, but she had no problem with it. This only made my mom giggle even more.

When it was time to go, everyone gave each other big hugs. We had all had a great time. I’m sure it sounds like we all had so much fun because we were all tanked, but that really wasn’t the case. Instead, I think it was because we were all so happy for a day off, so to speak. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person at the party who noticed that my grandma’s place is not often considered a particularly merry location. This was a nice change of pace.

As my mom and I walked to the car, we both started giggling uncontrollably. My mom said, “I feel like we’re the two mischievous ones sneaking away with our booze.” That’s exactly what we were, but I knew what she meant. When we got home, she thanked me for coming with her to the party. She said I made the party fun. I apologized for being such a total dumb ass and for getting poor Diane tipsy. We laughed, and then mom sighed. She shook her head, and said, “I know, but I’m tellin’ you, those grandma birthday parties can be tough.” I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was beyond grateful that today was exceptional. It really was.

Happy birthday, grandma. Happy Wednesday, mom. God bless you, Mrs. Baril. Cheers.

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