My late mother’s good friend wrote a book. He wrote a chapter about her. He changed her name, but it’s about her.
If you follow my blog, you know that her friend bragged to me about how he knew all about my late mother’s childhood abuse, and that he put a chapter in his new book about her. The book was released on Sept 22, 21 days after her death.
I was sick to my stomach when I read it. I don’t doubt that the story is true, but having my late mother used as a prop for this guys amusing story sickened me. Here is the chapter:
“That reminds me of the time my boyfriend made me drink a gallon of gin to bring on an abortion,” I heard as I served the ginger shrimp dumplings. “Well, did it work?” I asked as all my dinner guest’s mouths fell open. “How the hell should I know? It turns out I wasn’t pregnant. But at least he showed me a good time.”
Typical Christine, who has made a career out of dropping statements like this into conversation whenever she feels left out. It’s her way of reminding people she’s there… as if anyone could forget the 60 year old woman wearing a red wig and an orange sweater dress. From the first day we worked together at Radio Mexico, I “got her.” While all the other waiters hated her because she’d yell at them when they tried to eat leftover wings out of the bus bin, I welcomed her bluntness. She was realer than real, and most people
just don’t know how to deal with that. Snobs commented on her Staten Island accent, but I found it endearing. My sisters commented on the fact that she always wore a different wig, but I found her ever-changing identity refreshing. People recoiled as she referenced childhood molestations over cocktails, but I found her openness daring. She forced you to realize life wasn’t perfect – but that was no reason to start feeling sorry for yourself or blame other people for your problems. She was the penultimate self-help guru, and always knew the right thing to say. Whenever I was lost, she shined a light at the end of the tunnel, bringing me through to the other side.
We quickly bonded over a forty bag of coke the first night we worked together. After the restaurant closed, she invited me to her favorite bar, The Kastro, on East 5th street for a drink. Within minutes of being there, I knew I was home. Richard, the bartender, made me one of his world-famous margaritas, and we waited, along with the rest of the bar, for the arrival of Valeria, the coke dealer.
There was no mistaking her when she finally stepped through the door. She was a stone-faced Puerto Rican in her early 40’ s who was dressed in a style I can only describe as “Mother of The Bride.” She wore a purple floor-length gown covered in rhinestones with matching pumps and earrings. Why someone who dealt drugs for a living would choose to be so flashy was beyond me. All anyone needed to do was tell the police to look for the brassy-haired Puerto Rican in the sequin gown if they wanted to turn her in. But that was Valeria’s M.O. I would comment on whatever she was wearing – “Valeria, I just love that gold and black pant suit” – buy a forty bag of coke, and be on my way.
Christine would relay tragic stories of her upbringing as we took turns buying rounds of margaritas. She seemed to know everyone at the Kastro, and I loved meeting these bizarre creatures of the night – some of whom changed genders depending on the weather. Mark, a painter, would sometimes show up in drag, as his alter ego, Julie. As opposed to regular drag queens, who live for the spotlight, Julie preferred to sit in an unlit corner and flirt with straight men. I guess she figured if it was dark enough, they might not realize this 6’3″ woman with an Adam’s apple was really a man.
Our Sunday night trips soon became Sunday and Wednesday night trips. When I started catching later trains back to Bellerose, Christine told me she sometimes went to an after-hours club named Brownie’s. Two hours later, I found myself stumbling there at 4:30AM.
When we got to the club, Christine told me to stay behind her as she knocked on the door. Ten seconds later, a very good-looking man opened up. It was Dominic, the bouncer. Christine said hello and introduced me. “And this is my friend Greg,” she said. “He’s good people.” “Cool, Greg, nice to meet you. I’m Dominic,” he said as he extended his hand. God, these after hours people were classy. “Quick, get in,” he said as we scooted down the steps into the dungeon that was Brownie’s.
Once inside, my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I realized I was surrounded by dirty stay-outs drinking canned beer and cocktails out of plastic cups. Although everyone was high, there was only a low hum of conversation. These after hours people really did have class! Christine and I stumbled over to the bar and lit a cigarette. “What the fuck is going on?” I asked her. “Excuse me, young man, what did you just say?” I heard from behind me. “Oops – I forgot to tell you the rules,” Christine said.
I turned around to see a portly 55 year-old black man in a cowboy hat. “Young man, I will have you know that cursing is not allowed in this establishment.” I turned to Christine, “Who the hell is this clown?” I whispered. “He’s Brownie,” she told me. “And he takes these rules seriously.” “I will not have anyone using swear words, and I take it you will follow these rules, or do I have to ask you to leave?” he continued. He was serious. “Uh, no, I had no idea – but now that I do – you won’t have any trouble with me.” He smiled. “That’s what I thought. Miss Christine doesn’t hang around trash,” he said, and kissed her on the cheek. She blushed. “Oh, Brownie, stop.”
It dawned on me that Christine and Brownie were lovers. If I wasn’t so coked up, my heart would have stopped right there. “See you later, Brownie,” Christine said, as she ushered me over to the pool table. “I just love that rule of his,” Christine said. “Since people can get so messed up when they party, the fact that you know there’s a small rule you need to adhere to keeps your subconscious mind aware that you need to stay under control. It’s a great way to keep people in line without having to be forceful, don’t you think?” “Uh… what?” I asked. She had lost me at “adhere.” But in hindsight, her theory made a lot of sense. As I sat around, snorting coke off a pool table, I knew there was something I was forbidden to do, and it kept me in check.
That was the best thing about Brownie’s – since it was an illegal club, there was no reason to take that long, unnecessary trip to the bathroom – all one needed to do was whip out your drugs in the middle of the bar. I soon learned this wasn’t the best tactic, as lowlifes would run over acting like your best friend. I had a lot to learn about all these after-hours clubs. While I tried to sort out the do’s and don’ts, I heard someone banging on the front door.
Everyone froze and looked at Dominic. A hush came over the room as he went to investigate. He came back and told everyone to head to the other side of the room in silence. Like cattle, we shuffled over to the side of the club, awaiting more instructions
against a dank wall. Since I was totally out of my mind, I was convinced there were mobsters with machine guns on the other side of that door, trying to get in so they could mow us down. In reality, it was probably just the cops responding to a noise complaint. I whispered to Christine, “Has this ever happened before?” “No,” she said. “Not in all the years I’ve come here.” So the gangsters had chosen the night I came to gun people down! Seconds felt like minutes felt like hours! And still no word from Dominic!
When the thuds died down a few minutes later, he told us we couldn’t leave for at least an hour. Great. So now I was trapped in a literal dungeon at 6 in the morning with no hope of getting out. “Baby, it’s gonna be okay. This reminds me of the time my foster father locked me in the basement for two days when I lived in Michigan.” “What happened? How did you get out?” I asked. “Well, I finally crawled out the window above the washing machine and went to my case worker and told her what happened. She placed me in a new home and that guy didn’t molest me like the first one, so it all worked out fine. You see, there’s always a window open for you, waiting for you to find it, even in the darkest of places.”
I was in no mood for her New Age nonsense. “So where’s that window now?” I asked. “How the hell should I know? This place is a rat trap. If there was a fire, we’d all be dead.” Thankfully, that window did present itself two minutes later, when Brownie told Christine he was “getting out of dodge” and heading back to Brooklyn.
Once at the door, Dominic checked to make sure East 9th Street was clear. He opened it up to admit us into the blazing sunlight. Normally, I would have been completely depressed to greet the day in this condition, but after what I had been through, I was thrilled.
Two hours later, as I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep, I ran parts of the night through my head. What kept coming back to me was Christine’s comment about how she was happy about getting a new foster father after being molested. It suddenly hit me and I realized why I had no problem listening to this woman’s agonizing stories. Although they were horrifying, she had a way of looking at them that made me laugh. Comedy was her way of dealing with the tragedies in her life; something I related to ever since that fat bitch who lived above Bellini’s Pizzeria called me “Gaygory” when I was five. But even though Christine and I were able to find humor in the abuses she experienced as a child, my friends didn’t. In fact, they were often traumatized whenever she shared one of her tales.
Years later, after the Kastro and Brownie’s had come to pass like so many gems of NYC, I invited Christine over for a New Year’s Eve dinner party. During dessert, she shared a story about how she spent her weekends as a child on Staten Island. “Every Friday night, I sat at the dining room table with my mother and helped her melt paraffin wax so she could fill in the missing teeth in her mouth before she went to the bar. A few hours later, she would stumble back home with a strange man, wake me up and said, ‘This is your real father.’ Then she’d go have sex with him on the pullout couch.”
While I howled with laughter, the fondue forks fell out of my dinner guests’ hands. “So how did you feel about that?” I asked. Without missing a beat, she replied, “How the hell should I know? But I sure did love making them fake teeth. Every night was like Halloween.”
Scarnici, Greg (2015-09-22). I Hope My Mother Doesn’t Read This: A Collection of Humorous Essays (Kindle Locations 1235-1239). Thought Catalog Books. Kindle Edition.
Charming stuff, huh? This is my late mother, the woman so traumatized by abuse that she gave her own newborn daughter away to strangers. The one who cut me out of her life after I found her. The woman who died from liver disease, after a lifetime of drinking and drug abuse. This asshole uses her, to tell his shitty stories. Not funny to me, at all.
I don’t even know where my mother’s ashes are. I guess she was cremated. I did not go to the memorial service. This guy, Greg, spoke at the service, crying over the friend he lost, my late mother, his drinking and coke buddy.