My mom’s bones were really visible.
Those last two years before New York were especially hard. The year right before her death was like sleep walking toward a cliff knowing the edge is there, was always there, and never there at all.
As sick as my mom was my whole life, we really never thought she was actually going to die. She certainly thought about it I think, and so did my Dad I guess, but for some reason I never really did growing up. It wasn’t really talked about too much either. Maybe this is because she was such a survivor. Most of my life she resembled a resident of Auschwitz. I never really met a woman like my mom again until eight years ago when I met my wife. It is now 2020.
When I really look back I can see she was no ordinary person. My mom had an epic sense of strength to which I can only compare to that of myths and legends when it came to what she had to face. Oddly enough, I almost exclusively think of Ripley from the movie Aliens when I think of this strength she had. There aren’t even many mythical depictions of women of this calibre anymore it seems.
I grew up in Springfield, Virginia which is the most generic sprawl in NOVA (Northern Virginia). The year before her death, I was working as a cashier and ice cream pumper at Dairy Queen in Ravensworth Farm’s shopping center. I remember all those nights on my way back from work, rollerblading under a vaulted black sky mostly hidden by light pollution, illuminating the vast open highway bridges I would cross along narrow sidewalks so dangerously that year.
Ravensworth is a middle class suburb of D.C. and Springfield is the city. The time period of this particular memory was actually after the first year of art school in NYC where I spent the summer falling back into the anesthetic of the bedroom communities of North Springfield, adjacent to Ravensworth. Quite a let down from the bustling simultaneity of New York’s teaming urban jungle environment. I was 19. We had moved to a rambler in Ravensworth from Edsal Road in 1989, and then moved again in 1994, to a split level in North Springfield.
At Dairy Queen I worked with an older guy named TJ Muhtadi, who was my boss and owner of that particular DQ. He was a great old hippie, lanky Muslim guy. We loved him, and he paid us almost three times the minimum wage for the time, 1997, at $12 an hour. He liked Pink Floyd and reminisced about psychedelic drugs. His son Matt was a dick, and a stickler who stuck us with Virginia slave wages when his father left.
TJ would always be like “We were hippies man, it was great, then it all ended one day, I don’t know what the hell happened!” I grew up my whole life hearing some version of this abrupt and tragic end to the 60’s. Everyone I knew my parent’s age except TJ, looked back on it like a passing phase, throwing the cause and the rest of the sensibility into the attic like it was some necessary rite of passage. Into what I would wonder. It would be a long time before I really knew why that decade had lost vision of itself, and even longer before I knew what everyone regarded as growing up, really meant. This is a topic to which my original and most initial conclusions were the most accurate.
TJ had this awesome scraggly grey and white Einsteinian hairdo, pretty good looking dude I guess for an older guy. His family had grown up in America, though I don’t remember (nor did I ever really know) his nationality. I was pretty stupid-ignorant about such things growing up, despite coming from a relatively well informed liberal family.
We caught him cheating on his wife a couple times there in the walk-in fridge making out with some other well-to-do white woman, half his age. Good for him.
One time he even came to work stumbling around a bit probably smelling of liquor, his two daughters and that same chick in toe. His wife jangled the bell of the store door behind him a few minutes later. She looked dubiously around trying to ignore what was going on. The whole place had this plastic aroma, ice cream, vanilla, chocolate, bleached floor, and the sizzle of foot long hot dogs smothered in fake chili and radioactive cheese.
There was a Kilroy‘s bar and restaurant right across from Dairy Queen in that same shopping center. I would later find TJ hung out there. It had some pretty serious biker gang shit going on. My brother would later fill me in on the dangers of that one.
Me and the gang of guys I grew up with hung out at the 7-Eleven at the base of that shopping center on the opposite end from the DQ, where we were forever ingesting another kind of nuclear waste: melted plastic nachos and Big Gulps or Slurpy slop drinks. We’d sit on the edge of a hill joined by the 7-Eleven parking lot that had this beat in fence mangled indiscernibly with what was left of what was once a bush or tree. It was growing around what had become a man sized hole down the hill to the other side, which was Braddock Road. If one was civilized enough, you could walk Braddock’s sidewalk leading to the shopping center from Ravensworth. If you were a kid or just generally less civil, you took the shortcut up the hill to the parking lot of 7-Eleven.
Ravensworth Shopping Center was anchored a by a big ol’ Safeway in the middle with various shops coming out of both sides. My brother tells me it’s an H-Mart now.
The 7-Eleven lied right next to a great mom-and-pop pizzeria called Bazzano’s.
On Braddock Road and toward North Springfield, a National Right To Work Building stood like a dark monolith overhanging the shopping center, next to the massive Braddock highway bridge I would use to rollerblade across back toward home. I would much later in life come to understand what ‘Right to work’ meant and that it’s a bullshit conservative idea standing for the exact opposite of what it declares. This opposite land style relationship would be better understood upon reading books like 1984 by George Orwell, where The Ministry of Peace was actually the Ministry of War.
One time later on my brother got the side of his head beat in a bit by a no standing sign that swung back at him after he violently pushed it away from himself in anger. I guess rather than hit me. It was one of those signs that stood on a crumbling cinder block with rounded edges and it tended to wobble. I was telling him to call the cops when this Vietnamese guy at that 7-Eleven wouldn’t let us buy ciggs and beer cause my brother was with me and underage. I was insisting that the guy was discriminating against us despite my being over 21 at that time. My brother freaked out because I was insisting and he knew what kind of fresh hell calling the cops in Fairfax County could or would be. I had that white suburban kid privilege going on at the time, but my brother knew cops better and what they really were, or tended to be: pigs. I didn’t call them.
Chicken Strip Basket, Mike! Kazi would cry from the cashier post. He was the new manager at the Dairy Queen after Mike’s time there, TJs dick son, and more my brother’s time at the Dairy Queen. We both worked there along with a bunch of our other friends including Jon Hoop, who is another subject entirely.
It’s not easy to just up and start living in another country without first speaking the language as is the story for the vast majority of immigrants to this country. I would really realize this in full force upon up and moving to France in 2001. I resumed the same industry and worked at several restaurants, though neither of them French. Still, they were run by the French, and not speaking the language is something you really don’t want to do there. For the whole story, there is a chapter here called ‘The Move to France,’ but for here and now suffice to say, it’s only blank stares when taking an order from a group of native French people in their own country. Not profuse apologies nor looking cute will help you there. Oh sure they’ll give ya a nice round of courteous ‘C’est pas grav, taquite pas…’ (It doesn’t matter, don’t worry…) upon delivering the fact that you really don’t speak it, but after this round there’s really nothing but a demand for another server who does. You are shuffled off pretty quickly too after that declaration, and I was time and again. It’s a wonder I got as far as I did as a server there: a total of maybe 3 months.
That said, Kazi, like many who worked at the DQ there in Springfield VA in that day, must have felt as I did in France. I beg to differ however, at how we handled it for them, and it must have been better. Every time we couldn’t understand him, it was somehow our fault and we were the ones who wound up apologizing.
Nevertheless, these three words were most of what we heard from him. ‘Chicken Strip Basket!’ It meant, drop another batch chicken of what would become known as ‘chicken shitz’ into the frier. ‘Chicken Shitz,’ were a bunch of frozen measly looking ice-white turds that could kill a man if aimed right at his temples. We’d toss into that frialater with a surefire sizzle and pop, and Kazi’d know the deed had begun.
Pumping ice cream and selling hotdogs wasn’t all glamor and games, however, the tedium was unbearable. Let’s say, as compared to the kamikaze effort of the serving job I’d be taking later on that summer.
Blizzards were the actual mainstay of DQ life. A ‘Blizzard’ if you’re not familiar was a ice cream blended cup-bucket of gok we’d mix in with Cookie Doe or Snickers, berries, whatever tickled your fancy. We’d even be instructed to dip the the Blizzard over with one hand so that the customer would be able to see how it magically didn’t fall out. We’d then set it right side up and hand it to the Blizzardee. Often it was a kid. My favorite was fucking with their parents though.
One time I got so bored with it I decided to try something new with the Blizzard presentation event. So I mixed up a precarious amount of soda (not done) into the X-Tra large cup of slop this particular dad would consume with his 8 year old kid. Very different result by the way upon tilting it completely over.
‘Look Danny, he can turn it completely over and it doesn’t come out!’
Yeah and I just tipped it over like normal, a blank stare from my soul drained face, a 12 hour shift could create. I didn’t even flinch or change expression, the glop of soda-Blizzard dropped like a rock onto the counter, exploding all over this dumb kid and his suburban guardian.
I suppose this parent’s aim was a lesson in gravity. They got one.
I must emphasize the addition of just the right quantity of soda (it was Pepsi) to the effected Blizzard mixture did not, I repeat, did not melt the ice cream and turn it to melted slop. Instead, the body of the glutinous ‘drink’ solidified just enough for upside down launch onto the effected area: the counter top, and exploded upon impact. Those were the days.
Now that think on it I feel sorta bad, the Dad was prolly just scraping things together, no matter how upper middle class. This was before I really understood fully what personal battles everyone was fighting everyday.
Eh, who cares.
My Dad even said to me one morning driving me to Annandale High School, as he did many days: “You see these cars Neal, all struggling, all possibly about to get fired, all have problems like you wouldn’t believe…”
It hit me, I really take for granted life on its own, especially in those days. And especially since (though I didn’t really know it then) the sheer gulf of distance between the appearance and the reality in American suburban neighborhoods is a Sahara of space and time. To this day, most of my old friends are hung up on what really boils down from their illusions to power, money and appearance far, far more than their millennial counterparts. I saw the departure from this ridiculous existence in Katherine, my wife now, who really doesn’t give a shit about such absurd things.
Well that Blizzard covered little boy has a story to tell now with his dad for years to come. I am a very good donor in that sense.
I really wish I hadn’t spent quite as much time jerking off alone in my room that summer before I lost my mom. Hours of time masturbating. To be fair I spent a good amount of time with her, but my God in Heaven what time, every moment I would not have left her presence. I don’t really comfort myself with words like ‘you really never know’ and ‘you gotta live your life though.’ Sure ya do.
I spent 9 hours waiting for the Greek manager to see me at the Amphora restaurant. He actually was Greek, and the place was indeed a Greek restaurant. A diner actually. I’ll always remember that smell of a real restaurant, that mixture of smoke and table cleaner. That pungency of coffee and people’s stories.
Once I told this old man I was waiting on, that there might be technology in the future where we could live forever. Poor man, that’s so discriminatory. Oh well, he simply told me “Don’t worry, you won’t.” Ha. Good for him. I waited on him regularly there, his coffee and pastry. Now I’m the old man with coffee and pastry, sitting alone. Wish I knew a decent diner like that one though, in Vienna Virginia.
After the 9 hour wait of my eternal persistence, Georgio, (really doesn’t sound Greek) the balding old dude came back to me and said “come back tomorrow” and somehow I knew that meant I had the job.
George Calderon, a great friend of mine who worked there had actually vouched for me. Waiting all that time, I thought was persistence worth paying for. Actually it was just the time it must have taken to get him on the phone, jee whiz.
Ampora was and I believe still is this Greek joint with fake stones on the exterior and old style diner décor on the inside.
George, unlike myself, could remember anything. Any order.