When I think about my Dad’s mother, Ruth, I get a vivid image. A pear shaped 80 year old lady from Russia-Poland in an old drab blue, green and white housedress. Like a me maw dress. I don’t remember her hair or the features on her face, but I see her whiskers. Long, white ones. Like a cat. Seriously. I see an old lady human cat face. I mean I don’t remember her looking like a cat, she looked like a human being. A regular old lady who only spoke Yiddish, but with white cat whiskers. Lots of them.
When my stepmother, Gerrie, and my father would fight, which was a minimum of 3 times a day, they would attack the people the other one loved. For example my father would yell “Betty! Your tongue is sunburnt,!” or something about the toilet. My Dad loved talking and yelling about toilets. My stepmother’s Mom was named Betty. Both she and my Dad only had about 5 to 10 things each that they would yell at the other one about their family members. I heard the same things being yelled for 12 years, on an almost daily basis.
One of my stepmother’s favorites was “Your mother has whiskers!” which she would yell and then my Dad would freak out. I took everything literally, so I came to accept that my Grandmother, who I never called Grandma, or any proper noun for that matter, had whiskers. I didn’t look for them when I saw her or anything, I just knew they were there, and I accepted it as another part of my reality, even though I couldn’t see them. So if I didn’t see the whiskers, I just thought “something must be wrong with me. I mean, I know they’re there. Gerrie says it all the time. I gotta try harder. I gotta be better at seeing things.” I really wanted Gerrie to like me.
I was 8 years old. We had just moved to California. Or rather, my Dad had just kidnapped my brother, 2 sisters and me and took us to California. He shipped out his new girlfriend Gerrie and her daughter Tammy, (from a previous marriage to an alcoholic who left her and never came back) a couple of weeks after we got there. We all lived together as a “family” in a rented house in a suburb about half an hour north of Hollywood called Westlake Village. The rented house came with California Tan carpet, and rented furniture, the kind you see in commercials on television for the “Blowout Sale” at Levitz. Actually my Dad got the rent-to-own furniture. He was really smart.
My Dad also shipped his parents out from Miami too and put them up in a nursing home in the Valley. But I remember them always being at our house. And my stepmother hated it. Ruth, my Dad’s mother, only spoke Yiddish and my Grandfather Art was an asshole. They were both completely insane.
My Dad has survivor guilt just for being alive. According to my Dad, Ruth’s whole family, including all of her many brothers and sisters, except her got “burned in the ovens in the Holocaust.” Now, I’m not one to go around accusing people of lying about the Holocaust. But we are talking about my Dad. My Dad who says when he grew up the kids in his neighborhood tied him “up in a tree” and lit the tree on fire and yelled at him, and then adds out of nowhere “they called me fat.” My Dad who has said the following sentence so many times I know it better than I know my own name “I grew up in a one bedroom apartment in the Bronx. I slept in the bathtub. We didn’t have with what to eat.” Well, sometimes it goes like this actually, “I grew up in a one bedroom apartment in the Bronx. I had to sleep with my mother and father. We didn’t have with what to eat.” And less often, “I grew up in a one bedroom apartment in the Bronx. I slept in the kitchen. We didn’t have with what to eat.” I never heard anything about where my Uncle Leonard slept, but I knew he was there too. I was no fool.
It was our first Hannukah in California as a family, and Holocaust Survivor Ruth was in the house. I don’t remember where my Grandfather Art the asshole was at the time, but I do remember my father crying. I’m sorry, I mean wailing. Ruth was repeatedly saying “Robert! Robert! Robert!” Which with her heavy Russian-Polish accent sounded like “Whaaabeeccchhht! Whaaaabeecccht! Whhhaaaaaabeccchhhhhhttt!” I walked into the living room to see Ruth walking from one end of the living room, through it to the kitchen, and drops of shit falling from her under her dress, making a curved trail on the California Tan carpet on the way. It reminded me of the trail in the story Hansel and Gretel. Her shit looked like slabs of liver. Maybe that’s why I was never able to eat liver. I dunno. But my Dad was following her and crying and screaming loud “MAMAAAA! MAHMAAAH! WHY COULDN”T YOU USE THE BATHROOM MAHMAHHH??!!!” And she just kept screaming for him “Whhhaaabbbeerrrrrttt!!!” Calling for him. Calling for him to come help her. Help her take a shit. Or maybe I have it wrong. Maybe she was calling him to clean up her shit? Wait, no. She was just yelling his name because that’s what she did. Honestly, her dropping shitlets in a trail on my living room floor, her whiskers, and her yelling “Whaaabeeercchhttt!!!!!” are the only things I remember her doing. Ever.
So there I was, Happy Hannukah to me. I just stood there in the foyer of the house watching this scene, and it reminded me of the pirate who chases the wench in circles on the Pirates of the Carribean Ride at Disneyland. That was my favorite ride. I must have retreated again into my imagination while I was standing there in order to be able to make that happy connection. I don’t remember the feelings I had, just the observation. And my observation was that these 2 were fools!
“What buffoons,” I thought. Since I was “a very bright and sensitive child,” as my father said about me, all the time I might add, I used these gifts to deduce the fact that I was fucked. If I was able to allow myself the comfort of having feelings I would have felt terrified. Instead, I stood there frozen. Like an animal who is about to get killed but can’t move, who if it were human would think “If I don’t move or feel anything maybe they won’t see me, maybe they’ll leave me alone. Maybe I’ll be invisible,” I just stood there paralyzed.
I stared at this scene of buffoonery and thought “This is a nightmare movie. I’m now living in real life nightmare movie that is made up of cartoons. These are the lunatics I’m being held prisoner by. I’m fucked. I’d better not think about my mother right now or They are gonna know, and then They are gonna get me. I AM SO FUCKED.”……
Happy Eight Crazy Days and Nights of Hannukkah to Everyone!!
Tags: female whiskers, hannukkah, holocaust, housedress, human whiskers, Lisa Roth, lisa roth is awesome, roth family channukkah, russian polish grandma, sexy menorah, shit, shitting on the floor, ugly moomoo, westlake village, whiskers