Saturday, February 22, 2014

My Godfather Ate my Homework

Lelia Taylor, at Buried Under Books, gave me this opportunity to blog about my favorite subject.

My Godfather Ate my Homework 

Marta ChauseeMarta’s Chausée‘s first full-length novel,Murder’s Last Resort, was the winner of the 2011 Dark Oak Mystery contest.  Her creative non-fiction, memoir and poetry have been published in various literary magazines and won various awards.   
A Southern California native, Marta has been many things– junk mail envelope stuffer, foreign language teaching assistant, boutique owner, forensic document examiner, corporate wife, mother, mental health therapist and life coach. Put those experiences in a blender and see what you get.
     Thank you for inviting me to guest blog for you, Lelia. Just about a year ago, my life turned to shi*t, and I'm going to tell you exactly how it happened.
      As 2013 began, I wanted change, so I rented out my college-town bungalow, and became a gypsy, sleeping either at my mom's, my friend, May's, or my boyfriend, Alan's, while I looked for an apartment near the beach. 
      My boyfriend and I had never co-habitated.  It got ugly fast.   
      My idea of primitive surroundings is decorative pillows filled with poly foam.  His idea of acceptable living space includes twenty year old, discolored, cat-shredded carpet, a threadbare lump which was once a sofa, and a rusty reefer full of icy stalactites formed in the Pleistocene Era.      
Lifestyle choice was not our only problem.  I had to get out of there.  We had to break up.
      Enter May Sun, and her business trip to China.  Smooth transition.  I began to house-sit for May full time.  From cold, dungeon-like agony to sun-filled ecstasy.  May's home was outfitted with down everything, crystal chandeliers and fine porcelains.  Now this was more like it.
      One morning, as I relaxed at the breakfast room table, happy as a princess in a palace, the phone rang.  It was my godfather, Dennis.  He called to tell me he had broken his pelvis.  Would I come up to Seattle to help him and my godmother, Hella, who had advanced dementia?
     Well, sure.  What else was I doing?  I saw it now-- me, a cross between Flo Nightingale and Glenda, the Good Witch.  I practically packed a nurse’s costume, complete with a starched, little, pointy white hat, white hose, and white ortho shoes.  My godparents were childless.  Whom else did they have but me?  
     Marta to the rescue. Savior to all. Beacon of hope, squirting the milk of human kindness like Dale Chihouly squirts paint from giant squeeze bottles onto the canvas.  
     Hella already had full-time, live-in care, but Dennis wanted me to drive him on errands, fix the occasional meal, listen to his stories, and, between caregiver shifts, help out with Hella.  He never said it, but I was his insurance, his Mini Me in training.   
     I had deeply loved this man since early childhood.  He taught me to draw and paint. This man and his wife, retired Ice Capades stars, taught me to ice skate and snow ski.  
     I spent years wishing he were my dad, instead of my real dad.  I thought he loved me, too. Wasn't that why he called me to come visit?
     His sister, Doreen, also my beloved friend, called from England one afternoon.  They chatted a few moments, then he declared, 
“Oh yes, she’s here now."  
       He looked me over and frowned, "She tries to help." Mumble, mumble.  Then, "She's OK.  She's all lumpy dumpy, but she's OK." 
      Huh?  He hung up the phone. 
      "I'm right here," I said.  "I can hear you, you know."  
      He looked surprised, then crafted a blank expression, and asked me to make him some tea.
      Hella, meanwhile, sat in a corner, running her hands over her face, lolling her head in circles like a crazed parrot, and refused to even acknowledge Dennis.  She did, however, speak gibberish to, smile at, and blow kisses to everyone else in the house, including me.  Dennis sprayed us all with .357 bullets from his eyes.

Marta Chausee Clydesdale     I cooked the bacon wrong one morning, and got yelled at. He snapped at me when I couldn’t find his tax papers. Gee, I guess I couldn't remember where he put them before I got there.  
      "Lord, you're clumsy," he remarked the next day, his voice laced with contempt, as I stumbled once, trying to balance around waist-high mounds of outdated catalogues and musty-smelling magazines. 
    "Yes, Dennis.  I am a Clydesdale, and we're not known for our grace," I wanted to say. En route to the garage later that day, where he asked me to practice opening his safe, I tripped in the dark, and my foot went through an empty cardboard box.  He howled as if I had just crushed his priceless collection of hand-painted quail eggs.
    I escaped for a few precious minutes on Day Three to pick up an Rx for him at the drug store. En route, I called my mom and hissed into my cell phone, “I am never coming back here again, as long as Dennis is alive.”
      And of course, that was all it took; Dennis promptly died.  I was out of the country when it happened, so kind neighbors took over the executorship of the estate, and placed Hella in a memory care facility.  Thank You, God. 
      A few weeks later, my welcome home gift was the news that I was now in charge of everything.      
Hella, the house, the attic crawl space, the ham radio room, the garden shed, the covered storage patio, the cars, the garage and its rafters.  All mine now.  All either dusty, sticky, molding, dripping and/or oozing.       
An early version of Dennis’s will had a moving truck fill up all their possessions, and dump them in the front yard of my home in Claremont.  
“Do your best with it all, dear,” was scribbled in the margin in Dennis’s cramped handwriting. Gratefully, he changed his mind in 2009, and left all that stuff up there.
If Dennis had one thing, he had at least three things, and all three of those things were covered in grime. Electric generators, lawn mowers, power tools, sleeping bags, blowdryers, catalogues, magazines, papers.  We must have tossed out 3000 razor blades.  Suicide, anyone?
      Dennis loved feral cats.  Over the years, they wandered in and out of the house, leaving their calling cards behind.  The house reeked of mildew and soaked-in cat piss.  Made the old boyfriend’s place look and smell like a five-star resort.

Marta Chausee Guns     Dennis, the pack rat survivalist.  His safe room/woodworking shop/garage, was loaded with enough hand-guns, shotguns, Lugers, AK-47s, and rounds of ammo to outfit every person in Renton Highlands. 
      Twenty-five gas masks, and 4 huge cartons of Army-issue emergency meal rations were stacked in a corner.  Giant backpacks lay on make-shift shelves, ready for the nuclear holocaust for which Dennis was prepared.  We unpacked them, expecting water purification pills, things to barter, maybe even gold coins.  
      Instead, they were filled with ancient underwear, the kind with holes and worn-out elastic, ratty old clothes, more gas masks, mosquito repellant, and waterproof matches for Hella and himself. 
Had he no pride?  They were going to run around like bums in those rags after the nuclear holocaust?
      The irony was, they both had huge wardrobes of pristine clothing.  After the Ice Capades, Dennis had worked for ABC Television, and Hella had worked for Dean Martin and Dick Clark.  
      They had party togs to die for-- in mothballs for years, but I reckoned that made them impervious to nuclear holocaust. Why not show some flare, and pack some of those sparkling, big-shouldered duds from the go-go 80s?  Who wants a boring post-nuclear holocaust? 
      Dennis was a ham radio nut, master carpenter, oil painter, photographer, welder, and a model builder.  Inside the house, his hobbies spilled into every room.  Sifting through 2500 square feet of junque, collected by a nutty genius-hoarder, cowed me.  Midnight trips to dumpsters were made, things were given away. Twenty-eight electric and manual typewriters were donated to Goodwill, right back to where they came from. Oh gosh, I nearly forgot the 17 plastic cameras.  Estate sales and garage sales were held.  
      Old boyfriends came back into the picture, earning gratitude and new appreciation by being rock solid, super helpful and heroic.  Giant, blue dumpsters were rented and filled.  Junk-drunk neighbors went through what I thought was useless crap, but they seemed to like it.  Even paid money for it.  Finally, bonfires blazed.  

Marta Chausee Dumpster
     And the year had started out so well!  My first full-length novel, Murder’s Last Resort, was released by Oak Tree Press on February 8, after two years of brutal scrutiny by Sunny Frazier, the acquisitions editor.  Back in 2011 when we first met, she all but pried open my mouth to check my teeth and gums.
      "You've got to be healthy, fit, prepared to market and promote," she said.  "You give your all in that first year of publication." 
    "I'll be great at it," I answered with aplomb.
    "Create an elaborate, detailed marketing plan," Sunny said. 
      I wanted my book picked up, so I got right on it.  Best marketing plan wins.
      Poor Oak Tree Press!  They got exactly 90 days of feverish marketing out of me, before the 80-something body snatchers took me away.

Murder's Last Resort     What is the answer?  Pick younger authors?  It’s not my poor health that tanked my big marketing schemes.  It was the poor health and demise of others.
     I thought my second novel would be completed and ready for edits last November.  Not so.  I couldn’t even produce the dreaded Christmas letter this past December.  Now, that's bad.  
     My energies are sapped.  Creative juices?  I must have scrubbed those away, when I scoured the bathroom at the hellhole up north.  
     Last December, I brought Hella to a dementia community in Eagle Rock, where we often visit.  Or, I should say, I stroke her hair, while her head lolls.  I remember with fondness my two book launches in March and April of last year.  Seems like another life.  
     And there's more  My beach place-- cool but tiny-- is a disorganized mess. The boyfriend is out of the picture again.  I'm moody and living in boxes. I hate my life.  I see my Clydesdale future before me– poor, fat, old, and involuntarily celibate.  They shoot horses, don’t they?