I believe in a vengeful God who whenever I say anything sarcastic to my 81-year-old mother adds another 6 months to her life.
I told my daughter, 14, this theory and she turned right into Nelson Muntz.
“Keep laughing, funny girl,” I said, “but if I’m right when I’m her age she’ll be 174 and you’ll be taking care of both of us.”
Just last week, I was telling a friend how unflappable I’d been through this holiday season.
“This year’s going to be different,” I prophesied. “I’m not going to let the pressures get to me.”
The optimistic mindset lasted four days.
I contend I am mostly nice throughout the whole year and it’s impossible for me to up my game just because everyone else does for four weeks. I fear layering any more nice on what’s already there might suffocate my inner smart ass and the death of my inner smart ass would be the death of me.
So at Christmas, my nice-guyness always looks like it’s falling behind just by standing still.
Pisses me off.
This is the time of year when many turn to Jesus Christ.
I find myself turning to Don Rickles.
Known lately for playing Mr. Potato Head in the “Toy Story” movies, Rickles, 88, is beloved for being surly. He’s been cited as a major influence by David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Kathy Griffin and Howard Stern, so in a way he’s influenced everyone who’s influencing everyone else. It’s considered a badge of honor to have been insulted by Rickles.
“Every night when I go out on stage,” he says, “there’s always one nagging fear that somewhere out there, there is one person in the audience I’m not going to offend.”
I was thinking of Rickles the other day when I got sarcastic and insulting with Mom. She’s suffering from persistent mild dementia.
I know of so many who have it so much worse. See, hers is the kind that, for now, inspires more exasperation than sympathy.
An example: She called me not too long ago near midnight and said she needed me to drive the hour to her Pittsburgh apartment right away.
What was her emergency?
She was out of wine and toilet paper.
My response: “If you have enough of one will you need any of the other?”
She lives with my second cousin who’s been there for nearly three years in a quasi-caretaker role.
But the girl’s life is crowded with the many happy distractions of youth and my mother is my responsibility. It’s up to me to deal with her concerns over healthcare, insurance or how we’re going to work it out when a neighbor takes her to the bank without anyone telling me leading to the inevitably boing, boing, boinging of multiple checks.
So the guy who has power of attorney over all his mother’s affairs is now mostly powerless to do anything to beneficially effect two lives: hers and his own.
She turns 82 next week. Her father lived to be 97 and the only time I’m competent in doing even basic math is when I calculate what age I’ll be if she makes it to, gulp, 2029.
And this week, what with all the school assemblies, the parties, the pop-ins, the shopping and other assorted pressures, it got to me.
I felt like lashing out at everyone I encountered.
I wonder how Rickles gets through the holiday season? How does he remain true to himself when so many thoughts are on the birth of the Christian savior?
Well, for one, it probably helps that the dude is Jewish.
Maybe I ought to think about giving that a try.
So I gripped the phone extra tight when Val handed it to me and said, “It’s your mother.” She never calls without the result being some pain in my ass.
Yes, Mom, what is it this time?
“I just called to thank you for your wonderful card,” she said. “I was having a bad day and it made me so happy. You’re such a good son!”
In fact, I’d forgotten I’d even sent one.
Maybe I was wrong about Rickles. Maybe the key isn’t being more sarcastic.
Maybe at Christmas I should try and act more like that other Jewish guy.
I’m pretty sure my inner smart ass is feisty enough to survive a little more insulation, especially this time of year.
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