I was driving back from the supermarket yesterday when I had to pull over to let a fire truck get past me on the way to some emergency and it reminded me of one of the places my sister Marlene used to live in. This ordinarily wouldn’t be noteworthy but, my sister was just 24 years old cohabitating with our crazy 62 year old aunt in an Adult 55-and-over community at the time.
Something is definitely off track when you’re not yet feeling your late-twenties angst but your housemate is collecting Social Security; that’s no longer a roommate situation – it’s a sitcom.
My aunt Wink has shocking red hair, weighs less than most stick figures I’ve drawn, and once upon a fine summer day had to be tucked under my sister-in-law’s arm like a purse and carried out of HER own going-away party. That’s not even the most random thing about her: She’s a hairdresser yet doesn’t own a set of eyebrows. I tell you, her forehead is bare as a baby’s bottom! Try rolling your eyes at something ridiculous and when you look up – there’s not a stitch of hair in sight, just a vast wasteland. I’m not sure if they were too expensive and she’s on a tight budget or if she was the victim of a hit-and-run but somebody should dial 911 because there was a crime committed for sure. I never really thought that the Great Long Island Eyebrow Shortage of 1995 was a real epidemic, but I’m starting to reconsider my position. To combat this follicular dilemma, she uses a red crayon to color in where the eyebrows used to rest their weary souls. She has to be careful in the summer though – one wrong swipe of a sweaty forehead and she’ll be mistaken for Homey the Clown again! That being said, she is hysterical and was a perfect roommate for my sister Marlene, because crazy radiates towards crazy and those two were like magnets.
What made the pairing of these two kindred spirits dangerous was that, despite the vast age difference between them, they were eerily similar to each other but neither would ever cop to it. If my sister Marlene was the opposite of my aunt, or at least a little different it might have worked out, but she’s actually just a much younger version of her. Besides the fact that the two of them share the same first name and a natural proclivity towards excessive cursing and chain-smoking; Shave Marlene’s brows off, and Maury wouldn’t even need a DNA test to be 99.9% sure of that Baby Momma.
Marlene loved living there and she really was in her element – all the old ladies flocked to her and lived vicariously through her. It was as if In Her Shoes took place on Long Island instead of Florida and she was Cameron Diaz without the There’s Something About Mary hair. In return, she headed straight to the nearest JC Penney the day after she unpacked to purchase a new floral housecoat. It was her very own Fantasy Island and my aunt was Tattoo to Marlene’s Mr. Roarke.
My wife and I were driving to visit Marlene one afternoon when we got caught in some really backed up-traffic. Believe me when I tell you that in Long Island this is to be expected as the norm, but this was different. All of a sudden fire trucks come blaring past us on the side street we were perched on. We were about a mile down the road from their development, but the sirens were still close after they passed us. I tried calling their house line and got the machine. Tried cell phone and got the voice mail. Thinking the worst, we tried calling another ten times as if that would alleviate the situation or make them answer.
Finally we crept down the street and turned into their development to see multiple police cars and fire engines, and lots of people outside. We parked and ran towards their front door, when we heard that all-too-familiar voice calling out: “Hey!” We turned to see the ghost of Christmas future right there in front of us. Marlene was at her post in the center of about seven various housecoats snapped up to the collar all with cigarette ashes dangling from the sides of their mouths. They were huddled together on the grass more intently than most of the football huddles I’ve ever seen.
She paused only to take another drag “Get over here, Gloria saw the whole thing” she shouted excitedly, drawing us into the circle. There was actually more smoke coming out of all their cigarettes, than from the actual cars involved in the accident. We tried to tell her that we had been calling non-stop because we were worried with the sirens, but she didn’t have her phone with her because “it happened so fast and she didn’t want to miss anything.”
My wife looked at her and shook her head, then at me and then looked back to Marlene: “You need to move out of here right away!” She took another long drag from her cigarette and questioned “What are you talking about? This place is great!” There was no convincing her to move out and she stayed there living high on the hog as a life-surrogate for the seniors for another year. I guess it wasn’t technically a mid-life crisis for her, but it was certainly a funny thing for the rest of us to talk about.