- Just a Teardown Anyway
Everywhere I look, something is dirty or broken. I’m perched on the toilet (I only perch in this house) looking for toilet paper since the holder is cracked and empty. I find the roll inside the bidet on my left, next to some dead flies. On my other side are two ex–towel holders. One is missing a rod and its twisted mounts look sharp and rusty. The other’s rod is hanging vertically. I close my eyes and turn away.
“What’s this?” Julia asks, pointing her chubby toddler finger at a brownish lump on the peeling wallpaper by the shower.
“I don’t know. A bug, maybe.”
“No,” she says, “it’s not a bug.”
“Well there are lots of unknowns here, honey. Don’t touch it.” She shows me a dead moth the size of a golf ball wrapped in the edge of the vinyl shower curtain. “This is a bug,” she says.
Julia loves her Grandma’s house. It goes on forever and it’s crammed with pointy metal objects that resemble toys. On the first day of our visit, she and my mother have fun playing with fire. Grandma lights dozens of votives and Julia snuffs them out with the candlesnuffer, over and over. Her wispy kid hair dances around the flames. They laugh uproariously.
Grandma cautions Julia, “Make sure you don’t use up all the matches, because they don’t give them away free anymore.”
“Oh?” I inquire politely.
“Yes”—she shrugs—“only if you buy cigarettes.” She gives me her what’s the country coming to look.
From my vantage point on the toilet, I can see outside into ground zero [End Page 135] for Mom’s latest big idea. She’s concerned about the end of the world as we know it, so she’s erecting a giant hydroponic dome in the ex–tennis courts. “We’re going to grow everything,” she says with a knowing smile. “We’re going to feed, like, the whole town.”
The dome construction has been sputtering for three years and now it looks as though it’s come to a standstill. Her husband, Hugh, who tells me it’s a disaster beyond any of their usual disasters, won’t even discuss it.
“My nerves are shot,” he says.
The dome is part alien spaceship and part elementary-school papier-mâché volcano. It’s at least a hundred feet wide and two stories tall. For some reason it’s way off center in the double tennis court space, so two sides of the tall fence have been removed to accommodate it. This was poor planning, even by their standards, because now it’s an open wound of a construction site. Chunks of concrete are falling from portions of the exterior, and a rickety post holds up the igloo entrance. Broken glass and nails are scattered everywhere willy-nilly. It’s the kind of setup OSHA probably dreams of stumbling across, say to use as a public service video about dangerous construction practices, or How Not to Build Things in Your Backyard.
“Stay away from this,” I say to Julia. She nods, as if it’s obvious.
Mom and Hugh have had three experts in the last three summers come to finish constructing the dome, and paid each good sums of money. Whether the experts were con artists or just incompetent is unclear, since Hugh won’t talk and Mom has little credibility.
My mother has little credibility because she has difficulty with accuracy. Put another way, the truth is rarely her first choice. Her statements need to be decoded depending on how she is trying to influence your behavior or shape your opinions. If she wants you to go somewhere, it’s 8 minutes away and the entrance fee is $4. Otherwise, it’s 40 minutes away and “everyone says it’s not worth it.” Every person she knows is a Top Something, like her architect friend who (she says) designed the opera house in Sydney. Everything is better, worse, longer, shorter, costlier, cheaper, bigger, or smaller than what is factual, so guessing well is a survival...