"War & Sex"      "The Reason I Screen My Calls"     "Quality Time"     "My Mother's Blessing"    


War & Sex

“I'm the sexiest goddamn woman in Fresno” my mom told my kindergarten friends. She probably is. She wears tight skirts and partially buttoned blouses, always showing enough cleavage so we don't have to wait in line at the drug store to pick up her tranquilizers. To encourage men to honk she bleaches her hair platinum and wears blood red lipstick. From a distance it looks like her lips are really bleeding. From a distance you can also smell her Jean Nate – it says “I'm married but available.” In the morning when my friends come over to walk with me to school she answers the door in her silk robe and sunglasses. “Hi Maddy come on in“ she purrs. She looks like a movie star without a movie.

When we go to Church we all have to wear whatever color she has on “so that we’ll match”. As if God gives brownie points for families who all dress in lilac. Even though I think my brothers are gross, I feel sorry for them in their lavender slacks. After she gets us ready she goes to “put on her face.” Eye liner, eye shadows, foundation, blush, lipstick, and mascara are used to create a Vegas show girl type of look. She's subtle as a delicate flower – dipped in gold - with diamonds caked on every petal - and a spot light flashing on and off it. She wears this much amount every day and puts on bedroom - makeup at night. “Yes ... in case your father wakes up and sees me,” She says as if this makes sense. She is so religious about her makeup we're often late to Church.

If we get our church clothes dirty while she puts on her face – we're in big trouble – which means getting hit with her hairbrush on the legs. She chases us around in her lilac-colored chiffon cocktail dress with matching beaded hat and hits us with a sterling silver brush. It is part of a brush and comb set that her mother gave to her and she will likely give to me one day - to hit my own children with. “Now we can’t go to Church because you’ve got grass stains on your goddamn dress,” she yells. “If we die before we get to confession we’re all going to Hell. I hope you're happy!” She always threw that in “Hope you're happy.” Even as a kid, I knew she didn’t.

When we finally get to Mass we cause quite a stir. Even though we’re late we never stand in the back. Mom saunters down the aisle towards the alter like she's Kate Moss on a cat walk and we follow her red faced. Once the entire male congregation has gone from praying to staring at her ass, she smiles flirtatiously at some pious man and gets him to squish in closer to his frumpy wife and put two of his freckled-faced kids on his lap so that there is room for all 6 of us in the pew. I try to make eye contact with him and hope my eyes say “I'm sorry your family's all smushed together like that. It's not that my Mom doesn't care about you, she just doesn't know you exist.”

“I’m not cut out to be a mother,” she warns us, like we have other options. And she wasn't. Once, while helping the maids make dinner, she cut her finger tossing the salad, on the lettuce, and had to be whisked off to lie down. Another time she broke a blood vessel clapping for me at my piano recital and was carried out in tears, “Keep playing Sis, you're that good!” she called out as she left.

Mom She's just a very fertile and fragile woman. Which is why when she beats me with her brush, even though it stings, I'm proud of her for being able to hit me without hurting herself.

“Children are the price you pay for being as passionate as I am,” my mom tells Sister Anne, my third grade teacher. She didn't mean anything bad by it – she just wanted folks to know what her priorities were. She's had five children, two miscarriages, and still all she thinks about is sex.

Even her hobbies are sexual – some moms knit or collect thimbles from around the world – my mother collects condoms. When she went on trips she’d buy them as souvenirs. “Sis, look at this cute blue one I got from Solvang.” Her collection swelled when she bought thousands of them in a frenzy during “The Bay of Pigs.” JFK authorized the invasion of Cuba. We planned a surprise attack and hoped that the Cubans would be so happy to see us they'd join us in overthrowing their dictator. Boy did that back fire. The botched invasion was broadcast on our black and white TV from morning till night and my mother panicked. Even though Cuba is only the size of Catalina, she knew they would retaliate and overtake us. “By the end of the week we'll all be under a communist regime Sis, and you just know they'll make Fresno their new headquarters,” she exclaimed, taking more tranquillizers. “We're not going to go down with out a fight. I have a plan.... to support our family I'll become a prostitute and have sex with all the them.”

So JFK attacks Cuba on the 16th of April and on the 17th Mom and I drive to every drug store she can find and buy their entire condom supply. My Dad was on a fishing trip in Mexico. “He's never coming back, Sis. He's a siting duck out there at sea. We have to fend for ourselves,” she announced as we scoured the city for rubbers. If we got stuck at a light, she worried that another woman would get to the pharmacy first. Luckily for us, none of the other hooker/mothers were as quick as she. By the end of the day our station wagon was filled to the brim with Trojans. She put them in closets and drawers and some were kept in large boxes by her bed in case she was called into action in the middle of the night. As you may know we weren't invaded by Cuba, my Dad came back and Mom didn't get to service all the men she had expected to. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on her part. I don't know. I do know a lot of kids were born that year because we had all the prophylactics in a 50 mile radius and that my brothers had a lifetime supply of water balloons.

After her fifth child was born and there weren't enough tranquilizers in California to make her feel calm she decided to use some of her “collection” with Dad. Birth control is frowned upon in the Catholic Church, which means if you use them you go to Hell. But her sex drive out-weighed her need to spend eternity with Jesus. “I’m going to go burn in eternal damnation just to give you children a decent upbringing. I hope you’re happy. I will not have 12 kids like Mrs. Sullivan, four stuffed in every bedroom, it’s ridiculous. Your father doesn’t have the money to send a dozen kids to college. You’re going to a good university, Sis, and I won’t let the Pope stop you.” I didn’t argue with her but we did have a six-bedroom house,and according to my math, even at three kids a room, we had space for fifteen. Of course, we’d have to get rid of our maids, who had their own rooms. And then who would cook dinner, clean, or put us to bed at night and tell us groovy stories about slavery? Maybe Mom would have to use those condoms and go to Hell after all. Because of her situation she has often warned me: “Keep your legs crossed Sis. Sex has ruined my goddamn life – and now my after-life as well.”

The Reason I Screen My Calls

Weddings My mother's been married & divorced seven times. She calls herself “The Liz Taylor of Fresno.” Like Liz she is rich, drunk and used to be pretty. Unlike Liz she has colitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and only one eye. Her last husband, Cliff was a manure salesman with an extended stomach and racist sense of humor. They were married almost a year when she convinced herself, and then others, that he was trying to kill her. She “remembered” that he had been in the CIA and was a trained hit man. So she kicked him out, filed for divorce and hired a large Mexican man named Julian, who carried a gun, to protect her like she was a rap star and needed her back covered when she rolled out in the hood. I should mention she never rolled out, her lack of driver's license and eyeball combined with her colitis made driving not only illegal but messy. Her hairdressers, husbands and psychiatrists always came to her. Still, she insisted, an armed bodyguard was “a necessity.” even though he just followed her around the house in her robe.

After a few months with only her Spanish-speaking gunslinger and her many personalities to keep her company, she grew lonely. One night she “found” a lump in her breast and decided she had cancer and to take Cliff back since it didn't really matter if he killed her now that she was dying. “I don’t care what he does – I don’t have long to live,” she declared. Of course she didn't have cancer, it was just an excuse to get him back after she’d ruined his name, reputation and manure business.

She felt it unfair to fire Julian, who had done such a good job protecting her life, so she kept him on as a live-in bartender. This way when Cliff came home from a hard day of looking for work, Julian was there to mix him a drink. Not wanting Julian to sit idle all day, she got up as early as possible and drank until Cliff came home.

Amazingly this marriage did not work out. She fired Julian and Cliff and put herself back on the market. “I've got to be able to do better that this,” she declared.

Phone She is the reason I screen my calls. And yet tonight I’m so caught up watching an NYPD Blue re-run that I pick up the phone when it rings. “Sis, I've met someone.” It's only been a few weeks since Cliff hit the road and I can't help but wonder how my attractive, functional and single friends go months on end with out meeting someone and yet my one-eyed mother who shits herself reels them in. “Sis, this is it. He’s 43, his name is Rudy. He's a jazz musician and very sexy.” She can’t see me cringe over the phone as she describes the gory details of their sex life. No one wants to picture their parents having sex, especially with strangers. After she boasts that she no longer needs her vibrator, she comes to the point. “I’m thinking of getting married again, Sis.” I can hear the ice in her glass hit the side as she takes a drink. “But, the thing I’m worried about is - he’s never had any kids.” This is what she's worried about? She drops the phone and falls out of bed. As she bangs around on the floor I'm able to catch up on the NYPD plot. The snitch who Franz got his information from on the guy he's holding in custody for homicide might actually be the perpetrator. I love this show.

After awhile she rights herself. “Sorry, the damn maid puts so much lemon oil on my bedside table that everything just falls off. Anyway Sis, I need a favor, I don't know how to say this – so I'll just say it... will you have Rudy's child for me?”


Baster “Be our surrogate? You don't have to have sex with him if you don't want to.” She assures me that she’d pay for me to be artificially inseminated – even though it's more expensive to do it that way.

“It's a win win situation, Sis – will you do it?” I can't wait to tell my friends about this. Their parents are boring compared to mine. They don't projectile vomit or hold conversations with bits of blood leaking out of their mouth – yet alone ask them to birth their own brothers Crying and sisters. “I don't understand why you're not jumping at this chance Sis? You know I'd do it for you!” After she blows her nose she continues, “I love you and if you don't do this for me then ... I'll know you've never loved me.” She has worked herself into a grief known only to mothers of war time heroes. Still she manages to talk through her sobs “Don't forget, I gave you life, so really I'm just asking for you to pay me back!” There is no way in the world that I would say “yes” but she is upset so I tell her I'll think about it to calm her down. Oddly, she takes this as a slap in the face, either because she can see through my veiled “no,” which would be amazing considering the few brain cells she has left – or because she's insane – which I 'm leaning towards.

In any event she takes a dark turn. “So you won’t have my child?! Because you are a greedy goddamn vulture! You won’t help me have another baby because there will be less fucking money for you when I die!!” We are in a bad place now – so, I suggest politely that I'd rather talk to her when she's... “when she's had some sleep” is the euphemism I settle for. The ensuing scream would make any horror movie actress jealous. “I’m not drunk!!! Tell her, Rudy! Tell her” A male voice slurs on the line “Your Mom ain't drunk.” His use of the word “ain't” bothers me as much as the fact that he's been on the phone the entire time. “What’s wrong with that?!” she defends him. “We’re talking about his children, he has every right to be involved!” She has a point. But still, what can I say? I’m missing all of NYPD BLUE.

Crying After a few seconds of silence my Mom speaks, she’s no longer mad or upset, her next emotion has arrived and must be expressed. “Rudy,” she says gaily, “You know what we’ll do? We’ll call Alyse.”

“Who?” He’s confused.

“Alyse, my younger daughter, she’s much prettier than Andrea. A far better choice.” And with that she hangs up and so does he. I look at the screen, Dennis Franz is eating a hot dog as the credits roll. I'll never know who murdered that florist or how my mother could pick my sister over me.

Quality Time

“I didn't want kids, I just like having sex” my Mom would tell me and my brothers after she'd have a few screwdrivers. But she was Catholic and horny so there we were. She didn't know how to deal with all of us as a group so she let the maids do that and we spent “quality time” with her doing something she'd plan for each of us individually. I always looked forward to my outings with her. Sometimes we'd get our hair done or go to a movie but more often than not we'd drive around town spying on my Dad.

Phone My father was a hard worker, he spent his days in a produce office selling melons and when he was done he liked to chill out before returning home to a house full of kids by stopping off at one of his girlfriends to have sex and maybe spend the night. It didn't bother me – I was scared of him. He was tall and handsome with a cleft chin and gray eyes filled with hate. He looked like the Marlboro Man if someone had shot his horse and slept with his wife. Or visa versa. But Mom loved him and worried that if he stayed over at another lady's house that she'd fall in love with him too. I couldn't imagine that – I couldn't even see what she saw in him but I liked being her accomplice. I felt honored that she had chosen me to hunt him down – and I was only nine. I felt just like Nancy Drew. Mom brought me up to speed on what I needed to know about the case. First came a quick briefing on the birds and the bees which she called “making love.” I almost barfed. I'd never heard of anything so gross before but it did explain how Mom loved Dad – he'd made her love him with his penis. And if he was making love to other women they would have to love him too. She reasoned I needed to know about it so I could understand why “Your Father shouldn't be sticking his dick into every girl in town.” I nodded solemnly.

Squire Most of the time we had fun – at least I did. I loved sitting in our station wagon breathing in her scent; a mixture of Aqua Net and Juicy Fruit Gum, listening to her tell me how she couldn't live without him, as we'd peel around a corner. It was exciting. It was as if Mom and Dad were playing a game like 'Cowboys and Indians' except theirs could be called 'Cheaters and Spies'. It didn't seem serious because Mom was not that upset. I only saw her cry once - after a policeman pulled us over for speeding. She burst into tears as soon as he got to our window and shrieked “My husband's having sex with another woman and I can't handle it!” He advised us “to be more careful” and backed away from our car. As soon as he left her tears disappeared and I was left in awe of her ability to cry on cue. “I could have been an actress if I wanted” she boasted “but it's just not enough mental stimulation for me to read words that someone else wrote.”

One day we drove up to a large Spanish house in the country with a landing strip on the property and my Dad's plane parked on it. We stashed the car a block away and crept up to the house like spies, well like a spy with a spy child in training. As we snooped around Mom told me that if we were discovered to say our car had broken down. “That's a white lie” she said “God doesn't mind those – he only hates black ones.” God sounded prejudice to me. I wondered why the nuns never mentioned the color of lies and if I'd accidentally confessed some white ones at confession and had said lots of Hail Marys for nothing. Mom was more daring than I was and went into the woman's house through a back door. I remember watching her creep in and admiring her ability to tip toe. She made her way, on point, across the hardwood floors in her lavender pumps which matched her pant suit and the black and lavender paisley scarf tied around her neck. Huge Jackie O sunglasses were perched on top of her hair which she wore in a flip giving her a colorful Agent 99 type of look.

Girl It's hot in Fresno and I was dangling my feet in the lady's pool when Mom came tearing out. “Run!!” she yelled as she flew past me. When we got to our car she announced “We were at the movies - if anyone asks.” “Can I pick the movie we didn't see?” As we sped away she explained that telling people we saw Mary Poppins was not a lie – it was an alibi – which is what you have to have if people accuse you of doing things you didn't do. “But we were at her house,” I made the mistake of saying. “Who's side are you on?” She looked at me like I was Ethel Rosenberg with nuclear secrets stashed in my purse. Like Ethel I took the fifth. “How can you pick your father – he's a sexual pervert?” Again I was speechless we both knew the person picking him was the one driving our car through a stop sign.

Nun The next morning I asked my teacher about white lies. Sister Paul was a terse, dandruff- ridden nun who took a step back whenever she was dismayed. She asked what I thought a white lie was. When I told her - her hand went to her chest as if she had been bayoneted and she staggered back. “Where did you hear such a thing?” I didn't dare say my Mom, so I told what I hoped was a white lie and said “My neighbor.” “He is obviously not Catholic – your neighbor.” My neighbor was luckily not. She went on to lecture us that people who commit sins of deception were undoubtedly committing more heinous ones and taunting the Lord into throwing them into hell for all of eternity. It didn't look too good for Mom. She seemed too old to mend her ways – even though she going for “young and festive” in the Lime colored jump suit with orange accessories she wore to pick me up from school that day. It was the sixties and she was trying to be mod – I wished she would have tried as hard to be normal. When I relayed what Sister Paul had said she rolled her eyes. “Don't listen to her. She's just jealous of you because you're pretty and, well, she's not.” “Mom” I tried feebly to stick up for Sister Paul who was not attractive, but still. “Honey, they're all fat and ugly – why do you think they marry Jesus? It's not like they have any other offers.” She cracked her Juicy Fruit to emphasize the point.

My Mom was a hypocrites' hypocrite – she paid through the nose for all of us to go to Catholic school and yet led a life that had Hell stamped all over it. She wasn't worried about it – she believed if you were pretty enough – God was happy just to have you on his team.

It's an overwhelming burden to think your Mother is going to Hell, my only solace was that my Dad was going too, at least they'd be together.

In the meanwhile, the more Dad cheated on her the more quality time Mom spent with me. I always wondered, if he wasn't unfaithful if we would have done as many things together. I felt so special looking for lipstick stained cigarette butts on the ground, jimmying open windows or hiding in the bushes with her. I remember hoping that Dad would never stop cheating on Mom – and God must've been listening because he never did. I also hoped that if I ever got married my husband would not make love to anyone else or even to me, but if he did “stick his dick into anything that moved” that I'd have a daughter to help me hunt him down.

My Mother's Blessing

My Mother loved weddings. She loved them so much that she had eight! The party, the bands, the champagne, the hotels - that was her lifestyle and if she had to continuously get married to keep it, she would. She was definitely a “glass is half full” type of gal. In fact, her glass was always half full. She greeted each new day with a glass of vodka and OJ. She greeted the afternoon, evening, and early morning much the same. Then at about 6 am, she’d down a handful of sleeping pills and hope to pass out for awhile - this sometimes occurred but more often than not she would just sail through to the next day with a few less brain cells. Still and all, she had a vivacious personality and looked like she used to be pretty.

Her excitement about meeting my new fiancé had more than likely made it hard for her to sleep and there was a good possibility she hadn’t done so for days. I tried to prepare Bob (his real name is David but I'm giving him an alias so he doesn't find out) that we would either find her answering the door or lying face down on the carpet. Either way we had to stay until we got her blessing. My brothers had gotten married behind her back, pretending to elope, so that they didn't have a drunk at the reception and she was still smarting from it. I had been more polite and invited her to all of mine. We drove up to large home with rolling green lawns and were buzzed through a gate and soon found ourselves at her front door. A part of me loves seeing Mom because of the great stories I'll get to tell when I leave, another part of me would rather just make up the stories and skip the whole visiting thing all together but that would hurt her feelings and she might not pay for the wedding. So we pressed the door bell. Moments later a wobbly blonde in a yellow negligee threw herself into Bob's arms, going on about how handsome he was and how great he smelled. “I haven't smelled a man like you in years” she whispered as I winced. Her hearty welcome threw me off as she had told me repeatedly that he sounded like a self-obsessed gigolo on the phone and that I was making a huge mistake. Later in the bathroom, as she sprayed on more of J. Lo's new scent, she confided in me that she still didn’t like nor trust him, she was just being nice so that she could get him drunk to find out who he really was. Yes, who's not more themselves after a bottle of Vodka? If that is the real me - I’m a clumsy moron with a speech impediment who likes to throw up. But it was her house and her rules and I had duly warned Bob to fake his own death if need be but to stop drinking with her by midnight no matter what. I don’t drink - out of spite - thus she considers me a bad influence and doesn’t mind if I beg off early so that she can get down to business.

Bob thought it odd that my mom was wearing a low cut, slightly see-through negligee in the middle of the day but that was only because I had forgotten to tell him that she only wears low cut slightly see-through negligees. She feels this attire is perfect for entertaining at home and since she never leaves the house why bother with pants or a skirt - which are obviously “outside clothes.”

Mom She thought the negligees gave her a sexy look, and they would have if not for a few small details. One being that she had lost her eyesight in one eye and through a painful series of operations was now the owner of a used blue one that she called her “trucker’s eye” on account of it use to belong to a trucker who hit the skids. Her other eye was green and kind of evil-looking and definitely didn’t match the blue one, but “they tracked” the doctors were fond of telling us. Which is to say that when she moved the green one, the blue one followed. Even though she had no sight in the blue one, we were all glad she had it and considered ourselves lucky that we weren't forced to stare into a gaping hole. Her new eye was her favorite conversation piece. She loved telling guests about her “trucker's eye” and how since the operation she had grown fond of country music. Then she'd throw in provocatively “I wonder what other things I'll start to like because of him...”

Because of her bad vision she couldn't see that her negligee was stained with spilled drinks, bits of food and drops of blood. Her live-in maid usually took care of cleaning her wardrobe but, as fate would have it, she was now bedridden and my Mom had hired a new live-in maid just to take care of the old one. “You don't fire people just because they can't do their job,” she insisted. So despite two live-in maids her clothes were filthy, though she couldn't tell and we were too uncomfortable to say.

Mom Her makeup, which she had so diligently applied all these years to achieve a Donna Mills type of look, was now without the aid of sight, excessive. She wore quantities normally reserved for clowns or transvestites who forgot to shave.

Last but not least was her extended stomach, or I should say liver, which competed with her large breasts in the “Who Could Stick Out The Farthest” contest. What I’m trying to say is that it was far beyond the powers of a stained negligee to make her look sexy. So after dinner, which consisted of martinis with olives - mine just a virgin olive, I left them to drink and went to visit the maid and the maid’s maid. Visiting Irene, the original maid, was frightening. She had emphysema and was on oxygen, smoking like a detective who's case had grown cold. Her bedroom was filled with oxygen tanks and matches. Her cigarette was always dangling just centimeters away from the tubes of oxygen going to her nose. At any moment the place could blow so I paid my respects quickly and went to bed.

I said a quick prayer for my husband to be – not that any of my prayers had ever worked. As a child, I use to pray every night for a pony and all I ever got were more stepfathers.

It wasn’t until 4:30 in the morning when the ambulance pulled up that outside our house that I realized something had gone wrong.

My souced fiancé, informed me that my mother had hurt her back as the paramedics carted her off.

She had proceeded with her plan to get him hammered so that she could locate “the real him” and apparently when she did, she found him irresistibly attractive. She started coming on to him and though she was pretty easy to get away from as she was prone to falling, she persisted Ambulance so that he bid her good-night. Fueled by Smirnoff and memories of Mrs. Robinson easily bedding her would be son-in-law, she did not give up. She insisted “You're too large to sleep in the twin beds in Andrea's old room” and that she’d make up the sofa bed for him upstairs. He tried but couldn't get her to change her mind or even understand most of what she was saying. Resigned, he helped her unfold the sofa and went searching in the hallway for the linen closet. When he returned, he found her sprawled half-naked across the bed in what she must have considered a sexy pose. Like an old and bloated mermaid decomposing on a rock, she didn't move. Too grossed out to move himself, Bob froze in the doorway. Finally, she lifted her arm to beckon him nearer, causing her to lose her balance and fall back into the crevice between the sofa back and the mattress, which promptly folded up on her. Sadly for her, the only siren that night was the one on the ambulance.

In true Abbate family style, when she returned from the hospital, we never spoke of it. It simply hadn’t happened. It was one of the many bizarre incidents that had never occurred at our house. Instead we all quietly looked at pictures of hotels in Santa Barbara for our upcoming nuptials. Mother, a veteran bride, suggested “Navy and beige would be elegant choices for a fall wedding.” And they were.

Copyright (c) 2007 Andrea Abbate