“Don’t you remember? You missed the chair. You missed the chair and you landed on your tuches so hard you threw up.”
I sunk lower into my leftover birthday cake.
“I didn’t throw up,” I mumbled into the stale vanilla frosting. My birthday was two weeks ago.
“Well maybe you didn’t THROW UP, but you certainly had to lay on the bathroom floor for about 20 minutes.”
My mother redirected her attention to Sal, who was grinning impishly over a very large slice of cake.
“Our bathroom is very cold.” She told her pointedly. “It always has been. Even when I was a kid, I used to think to myself, ‘we’re lucky this bathroom is so cold,’ because growing up we were six people in here you know. It would get very warm in here. Very, very warm.”
I didn’t like the look on Sal’s face.
“Me, my mother, and father- they slept in the living room- and then my two brothers and my sister. My two brothers shared the room by the back bathroom where Hal is now, and my sister and I were in Monica’s room. Who wants a Crystal Light packet?”
My mother buried herself in a cabinet.
“You don’t even like things from packets!!” I mouthed.
Sal opened her lips and squeezed a bit of mushed up, watery cake through her teeth. Saliva dribbled onto her plate.
I closed my eyes and wished I’d never agreed to let Sal interview her for her newest piece.
I am almost 40 years old. I shouldn’t be embarrassed about my mother. And I’m not, really I’m not. I used to be, but now that I’m older I understand her. I grew up in the same apartment she grew up in, in Forrest Hills. I went to the same schools, I studied communications at the same community college. Really, other than having children of my own, I understand that I am fast on my way to becoming my mother. Just like everyone says will happen.
My mother and I have the same hyperopic eyeglasses prescription, and the same magnified brown eyes. We have the same matchstick arms and legs and the same round belly. When we are together, my father calls us the Spider. We have the same blow dried bangs, and we wear the same Sketchers. So yes, I understand my mother and I understand what’s it’s like to become your mother.
Sal is my roommate. She just moved in with me about 6 months ago. Sal is in a graduate theatre program at NYU that focuses on performance art, and last year she won some kind of award for a solo show called “Your Mother is Our Mother.” I didn’t see it, because I didn’t know her back then, but when she first told me the name of it I thought it was about the planet. You know, Mother Nature! Because I don’t want just anybody’s mother to be my mother, but I can understand it if it’s nature.
I looked up a clip of Sal’s show on the Internet. I looked up Sal’s name “Sal Greenauer” and then I clicked over to her website http://www.salgreenauertist.com, which immediately confused me because it brought me right to a large blank white page, and I didn’t know where to click. I had to scroll my mouse around on the page and nothing happened. And then I tried clicking all over the page with my mouse and still nothing happened.
And then I got frustrated and I was going to abandon the whole project, and just as a kind of joke, I clicked the mouse in a pattern. You know the little rhyme, “Skunk in the Barnyard?” Like that, like I was knocking on a door. And I was redirected to another page, just like I solved a riddle.
I was redirected to a page that was mostly white again, but this had some writing, even though I couldn’t read it because it was in some sort of colorful outer space font that I had to chase around the page. I clicked around and wasn’t surprised by most of it because, this is New York City, and even though I don’t go to shows, I know that there are a lot of people who come here with wild ideas. It’s not for me, but I understand there are people who have to do their art. Ever since Sal moved in there has been all sorts of weird stuff in my apartment, like doll arms and piano keys. I’m fine with this as long as nothing is a choking hazard to my doodle, Karma.
Then I recognized the name of one of her collaborators, Whit Croc, who is a childhood friend of my mother’s. She’s known him since he was Alfred Brown. In 2010, Whit Croc built a glass house in Times Square, where he lived for the entire month of May. Legally, the bathroom had opaque walls, but whenever he was fully clothed you could watch everything he did. We went to see it, and then my mother got harassed by an Elmo and we had to leave.
It seemed that Sal and Whit Croc had recently collaborated on a piece called “Fearful Towers.” It was a giant yardstick, about 20 feet tall, in a giant white room. You could stand next to it. When I asked Sal about it, meaning- what was the point- she said something about the limits of algorithms, the moral clarity of skyscrapers, and reconnecting with childhood rituals. I told her that Whit Croc’s real name is Alfred Brown.
What surprised me most about “Fearful Towers,” was that it seemed very serious. The kind of piece that makes you question your existence and your place on the earth and whether or not it was worth it. But Sal was not serious at all, even though she was one of TimeOut Magazine’s 30 Under 30. Sal was a joker, sometimes cruelly so. I wish she’d never asked to meet my mother.