Being the caregiver to an 87-year-old woman is never easy. I won’t go into specifics but, I will say, that waking up to find used Poise pads for women who have bladder control issues filling the trashcans, soiled, silky grandma panties piled up by the washer waiting to be washed, and a slew of semi-empty cat food cans strategically placed in every corner of the house just in case “kitty gets hungry during the night” should round the image nicely.
I love her. Don’t get me wrong. She is my mother, a pain in my ass, but an all-around good time when it comes to story material.
She’s in love with Charlie Sheen, a man she considers perfect. She will circle, with red pen, in her very important TV guide, exactly when Two and a Half Men will be on the television, and how many re-runs she can chalk up each day—to having a laugh with Charlie—while I’m off teaching high school English to the youth of America.
On special days, she will repeatedly dial me at work, unrelenting until I pick up, whether I’m teaching a class or not, long past the days of caring about anyone else’s schedule or needs. Queen of the blue Lazy Boy recliner, Empress of All to tell me, You’re never going to believe what Charlie did today, as if he were actually in the room with her—her bosom buddy—her best friend.
“It said in People magazine that he was dating one of those porno girls.” She told me. “Really…” (Here she actually paused for emphasis) “I don’t know what he sees in those porno girls.”
“I think everyone knows what he sees in those porno girls, Mom,” I mumbled.
“Well, I don’t think you’re very funny,” she snapped and turned up the television to block me out to suffer the theme song of Two and a Half Men—blasting through the house—my temporal punishment until willing to make reparation for my sin of mocking her beloved.
Fuck, I whispered and went about my business trying to find where I had just set my noise canceling headphones to get in a few precious quiet moments of writing time.
My mother’s love for Charlie was palpable and everyone knew it. Which is why I am sure that you can imagine her misery when after twelve years of having Charlie, exactly where she wanted him, I accidentally kept her from her love by switching our media service from Charter to FIOS and introducing her to a new remote control.
Now, any one who has dealt with an “Old” knows that Olds don’t do well with any type of new system and especially new remote controls. Olds push every button. Olds push just the blue buttons. Olds turn off the TV and sit and pout in the dark until you come in and manage the controller. And Olds expect you to drop everything and fucking figure it out now or you will be berated for weeks on end for keeping The Olds from what they love: a sense of continued control provided by familiarity.
Suddenly, she couldn’t find Charlie and she hated me for it and let me tell you: Hell hath no fury like a Nana scorned.
I spent several weeks trying to be patient. Trying to teach Nana the new remote. Trying to explain that Charlie was still there on channel 5.
“But how do I get to him?” she would lament in obvious pain.
“Just press five, Mom.”
She would then hold up the remote in a grand gesture, hold her finger down for an eternity on the number 5 and we would both watch as it registered 555555555 on the television screen and took us to some strange FIOS advertisement channel.
‘You see?” she would cry, her eyes big and sad like one of those horrible 70’s paintings that still hangs on the wall in our den.
“He’s not there!”
I would show her once again how to lift her finger quickly when pressing the 5, and suddenly, Charlie would appear. Her eyes would widen, her toes would flutter, and all would be right in the world for a moment but of course… it never lasted.
I had my students create giant charts that we taped all around her television set, letting Nana know when her favorite show was on and exactly how to find it but to no avail. I would still come home to find her pushing buttons repeatedly, creating channels I’ve never heard of, as if she was trying to cosmically call someone to make the damn thing work.
Each of my brothers took his shot, spending lengthy phone conversations hoping to walk her through the steps yet, she still couldn’t get the remote to work and I would return home from a long day of teaching to hear her cry, “Why did you have to change things? Why are you trying to ruin my life?”
So one day I just gave up. I left and went around the corner to my significant other’s house. Where we sat, blissfully TV free, Stephen reading some fascinating article in MOPAR magazine about neutral safety switches and me, rapt in Mira Bartok’s, The Memory Palace, envying Mira’s bleak situation, when she actually had to change her name, move away, to find solace from her mentally ill mother.
“I could move away,” I said casually to Stephen. “Change my name.”
“We’d miss you,” he said without even looking up from his read: as always, impossible to get a rise from the calmest man in the world.
We went back to our silent ways before I noticed a text pop up quietly on my phone screen. It was from my son’s girlfriend, Penny. My favorite Nor Cal person now transplanted to my home in Long Beach. Heavily tattooed, Vegan, dark-haired Latina beauty, quiet like Stephen, but unwilling to take any shit from anyone, including “The Nana.”
The note read: Nana accidentally rented a porno. It will be on your next bill. Just thought you should know.
I could only imagine what had just happened. My mother: Trying to find Charlie. The repeated pressing of the buttons, the skip to On Demand, how she got down to the Adult movie folder would always be a mystery and one I really didn’t want to solve.
I didn’t even move.
I just texted back, always the writer, What was the title of it?
There was a long pause, ellipses of text flickering in anticipation before the response…
Lots of Big Butts for Every Guy.
There’s no need to tell you that the FIOS agent could not suppress laughter when I called to have the charge for Lots of Big Butts for Every Guy removed from the next bill.
Or that Dylan, my twenty-something son was mortified when he was the one to find her shouting, “Get it off! Get it off! Dylan you’re not going to believe what they are doing on my TV. Please get it off!”
He later told me that it was the most horrific moment of his life: accidentally watching porn with his Nana. “There are just some things you don’t want to do with your Nana, Mom… and watching porno is one of them.”
He said it was comical, the way she was waving the remote at the screen, in a large sweeping circle, as if it was some magical Harry Potter wand that would somehow make the debauchery; the big butts bouncing and banging go away. That said the joy of that visual was not worth what he had to witness on her TV screen.
I’d like to say that I felt sorry for her that I felt the need to comfort my mother but by the time I returned home, she was happily watching Two and a Half Men and seemed to now be unfazed by the incident, eating a pint of strawberry Haagen-Dazs, numerous miniature Chihuahuas parked upon her portly lap waiting for their bites, and Charlie on the TV saying, “Everybody’s got a little baggage … I drink and try to mouth kiss hookers.” My mom giggling like a fool.
“I heard you and Charlie have something in common,” I teased her during the commercial break.
“What’s that?” She asked.
“Ummm, that you both want Lots of Big Butts for Every Guy.”
She took a bite of ice cream, her look full of disdain before pointing her spoon at me as if to banish me from her kingdom.
No come back.
She knew she must concede and admit that she and Charlie were now forever connected… to porno girls.