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October 19, 2014
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I had just returned home after living abroad for a year. It was reverse culture shock.

Back home

First Day Back in the States

The next morning I awoke after only 5 hours of sleep. The combination of cough syrup, homemade hooch and frosting had spun chakra roulette. I heard voices in the kitchen. Mom was standing at the stove making the kitchen thick with the familiar smell of deep-fried trans fats. Her oldest sister, aunt Grouse, jumped up. “There he is! Come here you.” She pulled me in for a hug. “You’re too skinny” she barked. “Your hair looks great!” I countered. “Yeah, what’s left of it” she said.

“So how are you Anthony?” She seemed genuinely interested. “I’m great! I’ve just had the best year of my life.” Mom placed a cup of coffee in front ot me and I felt my energy come back. Grouse said “yeah” with a subtlety of intonation that fell somewhere between a question and a statement. It caused me to pause for just an instant. She continued, “well that chooch that does my car wants 200 bucks to replace one lousy line!” Scientists could calculate the nanoseconds it took my brain to scan its limited knowledge of cars, while my internal censor searched its records for politically incorrect slurs from the 1950s. “Do you want some breakfast?” mom asked. “Do you have any yogurt?” I asked. “Oh geez” squealed Grouse. “You’re not one of THEM, are you?”

“Can you believe Walmart was out of 4-roll packs of toilet paper?” Grouse led a difficult and unfair life. “I had to buy a 16-roll pack as big as my car. And there I am pushing this cart back to my car with these 16 rolls of toilet paper piled on top. I might as well wear a sign that says ‘shit machine’.” I suddenly remembered chocolate frosting. “Is there any cake from last night?”

In the afternoon I drove to my Dad’s place. His black-haired, half-dog half-pig poodle demon spots me as I turn the corner onto his cul-de-sac. I hear barking. I see fangs. I bound up the stairs like the homecoming son in a Christmas-themed instant coffee commercial. “Hiya Dad!” We hug. “Anthony, how are you?” We un-hug. “BREE NO!” he bellows. The next few minutes are a schizophrenic mix of small talk interspersed with his screams at pig/dog. Bree regards me askant, as if I’ve come to steal the silver. “Anthony, you want some coffee?” “Sure!” Bree howls with alarm.

“So how’ve you been Anthony?” He’s using my name a lot. Either he’s trying to make me feel special, or he’s on some new medication. “I’ve been great. How are you?” I was genuinely concerned. “Eh, good days and bad days. Ya know.” We haven’t seen each other for over a year and we’re starting with platitudes. Before I could stir sugar into my coffee, my father told me of his not-so-secret wish to ‘off’ the governor. “You see these?” He holds up a pack of Marlboros. “If you don’t keep puffing on them, they go out!” I was confused. “You set it down in the ashtray (he demonstrates for clarity) and it goes out in two minutes! You gotta keep lighting them!” My initial thought was that this was a good thing. It makes cigarettes safer and the smoker doesn’t waste any of it. “I swear, for two cents, I’d put a bullet between the governor’s eyes.” Clearly my dad’s freedom to waste cigarettes was being snuffed out.

I stayed for three cups of coffee. Whenever pig/dog woke from one of her obesity-propelled naps, apparently forgetting that she had already welcomed me, she launched into another red alert. Bree had never known a thin person and, like most in that town, she was xenophobic.

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