I am suffering from mushbrain lately, an affliction I first blamed on pregnancy, and now the fault of motherhood. Oh, to be able to formulate thoughts and clever blog posts again like the good old days.
I'm taking the easy way out on this post. Rather than trying to write about anything which requires a shred of intellectual consideration, I'm just going to trot out a tale of my crazy family. I hope my fuzzy brain can make this as funny as it deserves to be.
I have lived in the UK for nearly 5 years. In that time, my Mom has managed to assemble and captain a group which I fondly refer to as the Brain Trust. The Brain Trust is composed of folks you would swear had just stumbled off a bus from your friendly neighbourhood mental hospital, an assortment of unbalanced and socially inept oddballs. The line-up is thus:
My Mom - a free-swinging single lady of questionable mental stability ever since my parents split up. She insists the correct assignation is "eccentric", I prefer "cracked out". My parents separated when I was 16 or 17. Truthfully, I don't even remember anymore. I recall the moment I was told that my Dad was moving out down to the most minute detail, but yet I can't even narrow my age down to within a year. I have trouble stringing a series of more than four words together, but yet that last sentence made me think of a line from Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales" - "I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six." Look at me getting all Faulkner up in here with my stream of consciousness writing.
So, my Mom. Her motto is, "I don't need a man", yet this very same woman may very well single-handedly prop up Match.com. Additionally, she frequents a bar which has a name straight out of an early 1990s Patrick Swayze movie. But, you know, she doesn't need a man. She has a lodger I will call Ralph, a man in his early 40s who she used to date. Ralph wanted to save some money, so after they broke up a few years ago he moved in. He is a carpenter by trade, so in exchange for the minimal rent he pays, he helps my Mom keep up her mid-19th century four bedroom house.
Ralph has been arrested at least twice for driving under the influence. He has also been busted for marijuana possession and is often laid back and chilled out, characteristics my Mom believes are natural rather than induced by the evil weed. She knows he's a pothead but she is one of those annoying people who sees the best in people and chooses to pretend that she has turned him around with the love of Christ and a good homecooked meal or two.
The deputy to this crazy crew is Mom's friend Phyllis. Phyllis is the ex-wife of my Mom's ex-boyfriend of four years, Herman. When Mom was dating Herman, Phyllis was a crazy bitch born of the dark lord. You know if my Mom is referring to someone as being crazy, that other person must have some severe issues. My Mom would fake shudder every time she said Phyllis' name, and regale me with stories of Phyllis' renowned psycho voicemails regularly left for Herman. Fast forward a couple of years, by which time I'm living in the UK, and Mom mentions in a few phone calls that she and Phyllis go to Swayze Bar every Friday night. Oddly enough, they are now totally BFFs.
Phyllis, aside from being "eccentric" like my Mom, has a host of physical problems from which I should really gain no entertainment. My handbasket to hell has been packed for years though, so I might as well just go with it. Phyllis has a slight narcolepsy problem and falls asleep at random points during the day. When we were first formally introduced she barely allowed a salutation to emerge before she was nodding off in her chair. My brother, let's call him Stanley, reliably informs me that she regularly dozes off mid-conversation. Phyllis and my Mom often have conversation littered with randomness and not much sense. Stanley sometimes calls me, 5 hour time difference be damned, with the phone concealed in his hand when Phyllis and Mom are having one of said conversations. It's like being under the influence of some really powerful psychotropic drugs, with the faint whistle of a tea kettle in the background. No snoring though.
Mommy Dearest, Ralph, and Phyllis are the primary members of the Brain Trust. There are two notable fringe members though, and we simply must not forget them. They are fringe members due to the distance they live from the key members, and as such they can only converge with the group on major holidays and the odd weekend.
Brain Trust member number four is my Aunt Florence. Florence is my Mom's sister, so logically she is as nutty as a fruitcake. Florence lives alone in a trailer with a bunch of cats, who she of course refers to as "my babies". She is an unemployed former nurse who was fired from her last job about 7 years ago for peeing in the coffee mug of a hated co-worker. Three guesses as to why she's in The Trust.
Her unemployment continues due to an alleged back injury which prevents her from doing much of anything but hanging out with cats, watching TV, and being more than slightly nuts. Being on a budget, Florence is a bargain shopper, preferring the wares of the Salvation Army. Most interactions with her involve the exchange, "See this sweatshirt? Salvation Army. One dollar and fifty cents. Now that's a good deal." She is on a veritable cocktail of medications, with her possible addiction to Vicodin the most worrying. Florence is often in a dazed state, seeming to take in conversations but not quite sure whether she should reciprocate verbally. Telephone calls are particularly trying, as it is usually me asking questions and being met with silence for about a minute before a response emerges. Even then it is brief and has no lead on questions. Stanley tells me that when Thanksgiving dinner was wrapping up this year Ralph was attempting to buy some Vicodin off Florence on the sly when my Mom was cleaning up in the kitchen. Florence obliged, no doubt because she needed to stock up on orthopedic shoes from Salvation Army.
The final member of the Trust is Florence's on and off boyfriend of 30 years, Arthur. Florence and Arthur started dating way back in the day, went off course somewhere in the late 80s and early 90s so Florence could marry a biker half her age, then picked up again in the mid-90s. Arthur is socially inept, to say the least. He has a distinct serial killer vibe - you wouldn't be far off base if you were to envision him wearing a cape made of human skin, slathering himself in yak blood whilst babbling in a childish voice about wanting to be loved by his mommy. Basically put, he's creepy. The last time he and Florence visited he commented to my Mom that he had no smoke alarms in his house. My Mom chastised him and gave him one of hers until he could get some of his own. A few weeks later she received a package from him which included the offending smoke alarm and a lengthy treatise on how she should stop lecturing people and mind her own business. Two whole pages about a damn smoke alarm.
During one assembly the Brain Trust piled into the car to go to one of those buffet places. When Stanley told me this I laughed at the image of the Trust, 800 kinds of crazy between them, converging on a restaurant at the same time. I have no doubt fellow diners were waiting for them to start eating their napkins or combing their hair with forks, the looney old bastards.
Sometimes when I'm feeling unbalanced, I spare a thought for the Trust, and how I may find myself in their Salvation Army shoes someday - gulping down my Percoset and knitting seasonal sweaters for my dogs. Maybe, just maybe, I can be President of the Trust one day.