Not Suitable For Family Viewing

Not Suitable for Family Viewing

Vicki Grant

This book is dedicated to all the “celebrities” who allowed me to sully their good names in support of John Martin Junior High.

1

The man is a movie star. When my mother sees him, she slaps her hand over her mouth and gasps. He smiles and walks toward her. She jumps up and throws her arms open. They hug. She says something to him that I can’t hear. He tosses back his head and laughs. (I bet she says the same thing to all of them.)

She takes his hand and they sit down on her big leather couch. It’s kind of a gold colour and, today at least, it matches her hair almost exactly. (Who knows what colour her hair will be next week?) Their knees touch. She tells him he looks fabulous. He tells her the same thing. She sticks her lips out like she’s some cheesy swimsuit model and says it pays to have a good plastic surgeon. She winks. They laugh. She takes a sip of water, then asks him about work, the ranch, his sister’s illness. They talk and talk. She doesn’t take her eyes off him the whole time. It’s classic Mimi. The guy totally falls for it.

She softens him up a while, then she comes right out and asks. When is he going to stop fooling around? When is he going to settle down, get married? He sighs, shakes his head, looks down. He opens his mouth to say something—but my mother stops him. She puts her hand on his arm and says, “I love you. You know that.
I really do. And there’s so much else I want to talk to you about…” She turns away but doesn’t let go of his arm. “First, though, this word from our sponsors!” She looks right into the camera. “Stay where you are,” she says. “When we come back, George Tasiopoulos is going to tell us all about his remarkable love life!”

The camera zooms in on George’s face. He acts horrified, as if that’s not what he came here to talk about at all. The
You, You and Mimi
theme music kicks in. My mother leans against him and whispers in his ear. It’s so embarrassing. He wags his finger at her. The studio audience eats it up. They’re on their feet, clapping, laughing, checking the monitors to see if they got on TV.

I pick up the remote. This is sick. I’m a seventeen-year-old girl sitting in a dark room on a beautiful summer day watching my mother on TV.

Again.

Or should I say “still”?

What’s the matter with me? Why am I doing this?

I’m going to turn off the television. Get up. Walk out. Do something with my life—or at least my hair.

I am.

Right after this next segment.

2

Friday, 3 p.m.

Mimi Marathon

The 72-hour
You, You and Mimi
marathon continues. If for no other reason, watch it to see how Mimi’s nose morphs over the years. Five big sparkling stars if you love lifestyle TV. A no-go zone if you don’t.

Anita doesn’t even knock. She just barges in like she owns the place and yanks open the drapes. The sun practically blinds me but she doesn’t care. I cover my eyes with my arm. I don’t groan. I won’t give her the satisfaction.

“Up. Get going,” she says. “I’ve had enough of this nonsense.” She flicks off the TV, stuffs the empty chip bags into her uniform pocket and kicks the stool out from under my feet. My legs thump onto the floor as if they belong to a corpse.

Which, come to think of it, I guess they do.

“C’mon. I told you. Up!” She pulls the cushion out from under my head, pushes up my chin.

What does she think this is? A police interrogation?

I can feel her staring at me. I can picture her lips all puckered up, her eyes squinting, her whole head just ready to blow. You’d think
she’d learn. You’d think after all this time she’d know that’s only going to make things worse. No way am I moving now.

She clears her throat. She starts tapping her foot. What? Is that supposed to scare me or something?

She can tap a hole in the floor for all the good it’s going to do her. She can fry my brain with those X-ray eyes of hers. She can spray me all over with her beloved Lemon Pledge and buff me to a high shine. It’s not going to make any difference. It’s my life. It’s none of her business what I do with it. I can spend it watching reruns if I want.

The tapping stops. I brace myself. I figure she’s going to freak out any second.

But she doesn’t. She freaks
me
out instead. She flops down on the couch—and starts hugging me.

Hugging me!
Like what’s with that?

This is not what I need right now. Seriously. I clench my face. I try not to move. I hold my breath. She is not going to do this to me. I won’t let her.

Crying is so lame. Why do I feel like crying?

She’s got so much product in her hair it makes a crunching sound in my ear. She tickles my arm with her fingernails. She pushes my lips up into a smile. She rubs her cheek against my face and starts making these big, wet kissing sounds. She thinks she’s going to make me laugh and then—just like that—everything will be all better.

Doesn’t she get it?

Why doesn’t
anyone
around here get it?

“Tickle her.”

“Give her a candy.”

“Buy her a new car…

“a new computer…

“a new friend…”

Whatever. It’s always the same thing. “Throw her a bone. She’ll be okay.”

My face hurts. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. I’ve got to blank her out. I try to concentrate on the orange and grey pattern flickering on the inside of my eyelids. I do the yoga breathing thing that Mimi forces on her audience just before the credits roll.

It doesn’t take long before I feel like I’m floating in jelly. I love that feeling. I’m barely here.
Anita
’s barely here. She’s just this sort of distant wobbly voice—the cartoon teacher yammering away at the daydreaming kid.

It makes me think: why does everyone always feel sorry for people in comas? The comatose guys should be feeling sorry for
us.
They’ve got it so easy. No worries. No expectations. No wondering how you’re going to fill your day. (Next time the guidance counsellor asks me what I want to be, that’s what I’m going to say: comatose. If nothing else, it’ll make picking my courses easier.)

I start to relax. Anita has to have noticed that her little kissy-kissy ploy isn’t working. So now what? She’s too scrawny to drag me out of the room. There’s no way she’d ever consider calling up my mother and “bothering” her about me. She can’t stand my father. (She’s never said so, but please. I’m not blind.)

Her only other option? That little temper tantrum she’s been holding out on.

I’m almost looking forward to it. At least it’s real. At least she’s not being “nice” to me just because I’m Mimi’s kid. I’ve always been able to count on her for that.

I know exactly what will happen. (Despite what Mimi’s
Thanksgiving Special might lead one to believe, this is as close as we get to a family tradition around here.) Anita will go ballistic. She’ll do/say something she regrets. She’ll slam out of the room and go clean the fridge. She’ll put a note on my pillow saying she’s sorry. She’ll leave me alone for a day or two. By then, I should be gone to Dad’s for a few weeks. (Or at least I think I should. When am I supposed to go to Dad’s? How long have I been at Mom’s? How would I even know?) Anita’ll be happy to see me when I get back. For a while she’ll even cut me some slack.

Problem more or less solved.

But I’m wrong again. Anita doesn’t go berserk. She doesn’t stomp out of the room. She starts rubbing the tip of my nose with her feather duster and singing that stupid song she made up when I was little.
“Birdie, Birdie, fly away…

I want to rise above all this—make
her
look like the childish one—but I can’t. There’s something about that song that just gets me.

I do exactly what I promised myself I wouldn’t do. I jump up. I go, “Why. Are. You. Bugging me?”

Anita’s got this huge smile on her face. “Because you
always
bug the ones you love,” she says. She swishes her duster at me again and winks.

“Very funny,” I say. My bottom teeth are jutting out and my nostrils are huge. I know exactly how ugly I look. Who’s her little Birdie now? “Why don’t you just do your job and leave me alone?”

“Then I wouldn’t be doing my job, would I?” She plumps up the cushions. “I’m paid to do everything your mother would do if she weren’t out working like a dog to give you this fabulous life. That means cleaning the house, buying the groceries, making the meals—and getting you up off your sorry behind.”

Oh, yes. My
fabulous
life! It always comes down to that. The nerve of me! I don’t have a thing to complain about! I have everything a girl could ever want!

Or at least buy.

I’m all ready to say something—something mean—but I don’t have to. The doorbell rings. It’s my turn to smile. Ha! Anita’s got to go answer it now. And when she does, I’ll lock myself in. (Why didn’t I think of that before? I’m usually pretty good at finding ways to keep people out.)

She doesn’t move. She just raises her eyebrows. “Robin, be a good girl. Go get that, would you?”

I can’t believe her.


Me
go get it? You’re the hired help. You go get it!”

She puts her hands on her hips and looks me up and down like she’s some tough chick from the ‘hood.

The doorbell rings again. She flicks her head toward it. “Off you go now! And be polite. Nobody likes a rude girl.”

I’m so mad all I can do is hiss at her. She waves her hand in front of her nose.

“You should brush your teeth too, honey. Fresh breath is important if you ever want to be an active member of society again.”

I storm out of the room. “I’m only answering the door so I can get away from
you
!”

I hate myself for saying it. I hate her for making me say it.

Something sad and cold pours over me. This is how I treat the one person who loves me? Like really loves me, I mean. No wonder those girls at school dumped me. Why would anyone like me?

I do what I’m supposed to do. I stand up straight. I put an almost-pleasant look on my face. So long, Robin.

I open the door and say, “Hello.”

For one horrible second, I could swear it’s another Anita staring back at me.

3

Friday, 3:30 p.m.

Radio Mimi

In “Cleaning the House, Cleansing the Soul,” psychologist Adele Currie tells us what we can discover about ourselves through our housekeeping styles. Clean freak Mimi Schwartz reveals a surprising secret.

I haven’t seen Selena in ages. Must be since I started going to boarding school. (When was that? Four years ago? Five years ago? A lifetime?)

Selena didn’t wear makeup back then—or a push-up bra for that matter—but it doesn’t take me long to recognize her. She looks exactly like her mother now. The skinny hips, the skinny nose, the massive hair, the perfect nails. She’s wearing one of those ugly orange and purple Chili Willie’s uniforms, complete with matching hat and burrito stain. You’d think it would bother her but it doesn’t. The way she’s standing, you’d swear she was wearing the latest Dolce & Gabbana. It makes me feel sort of embarrassed that she caught me in my sweats. I can’t believe we used to be best friends.

From the look on her face, neither can she.

“What’s your problem? Ma on your case?” she says.

What is this, voodoo or something? How come she and Anita can always see right through me?

I shake my head as if it’s nothing and let her in. I’m suddenly nervous, suspicious. I feel like I’m surrounded. Is this one of Anita’s little schemes? Find me a friend? Get me out of the house?

I don’t think so. Anita gives Selena a big kiss but sounds as surprised to see her as I was. “What are
you
doing here?”

Selena tries to look offended. “What? It’s a crime for a girl to want to see her mother occasionally?”

Anita just lowers her chin at that.

I get the feeling Selena didn’t really expect to get away with it. “Okay. Fine. I need a ride home. I missed my bus. I’m babysitting the Lombardo kids at six.”

Anita explodes. “Six! It’s almost four!”

She’s forgotten all about me. She’s glaring at Selena now. (I never thought of that before. That’s how to get Anita off my back! Feed her fresh meat. Let her “love” somebody else for a while.) She looks at her watch. She does this full-body exasperation thing—shrug, sigh, eye-roll, slump. “Well, you’re going to have to help me then! I’ve still got Mimi’s
entire
room to do!” She’s so mad her lips keep moving even after she’s stopped talking.

Selena follows Anita down the hall. I head the other way. I’ve got a TV in my room. It’s calling me home.

Anita doesn’t even turn around. “You too, Robin,” she says.

She knows I wouldn’t scream at her with Selena there. I’m trapped. I follow her too.

Anita is making a big deal about nothing. Mom’s room is spotless as usual. Doesn’t matter what time she has to be at the studio
or how late she was out the night before, Mom always hangs up her clothes. She always lines up her shoes by colour and heel height. Her bedroom always looks exactly the way it did the day the interior designer placed the last expensive knick-knack on the mantelpiece. It’s like a fancy hotel room. The only thing that looks out of place is that old picture of me on the bedside table.

Anita hands us each a cloth. She points at two high-back antique chairs that no one’s ever sat in and says, “Dust.” She heads off to the other side of the room and powers up the vacuum.

I take the left chair, Selena takes the right. She immediately starts rushing around as if this is some type of
Survivor
challenge. I turn my back to her and kind of swish away at the chair. What a waste of time. I feel like I’m on
CSI
or something. The chair’s already clean. What am I trying to pick up here anyway? Traces of DNA?

I swish some more. I back up to see how I’m doing. I guess Selena does the same thing. Whatever. We smash butt-first into each other. That little ass of hers is surprisingly powerful. I go hurtling forward like I just got rear-ended by a Greyhound bus. I grab an arm of the chair to keep my face from smashing into the wall.

Brilliant.

As if a spindly thing like that could hold a tank like me.

The chair flips over and I end up doing this flying-hippo belly flop right on top of it. I try to get up but the floor is slippery and I can’t manoeuvre with the seat of the chair wedged into my gut. It’s so embarrassing. I must look like a dead moose tied to the roof of a Smart Car.

Luckily, Anita’s still vacuuming the walk-in closet. She doesn’t hear anything.

Selena, though, sees me splopped over this upside-down chair
and goes nuts enough for the two of them. She slaps her hands on either side of her head and starts mouthing swear words at me. She clearly thinks this is my fault. (Can someone please explain why my ass is more to blame than hers?) She digs her little feet into the carpet and starts yanking me by the arm.

That’s a big help.

Every time she pulls, my face slams into the leg of the chair. It doesn’t stop her. She just yanks harder.

I don’t know why but I suddenly find this all hilarious. Me totally klutzed out on the back of some priceless antique. Selena bashing my brains in. Even the thought of what Anita’s going to do when she catches us. It totally cracks me up.

Selena’s still swearing and sweating and yanking but pretty soon she’s laughing too. She’s pulled me halfway across the room and I’m still no closer to getting upright. We nearly pee ourselves when we realize that my lip’s bleeding all over everything.

The sound of the vacuum suddenly gets louder. I turn and see Anita backing out of the closet.

We are so getting killed.

Selena cranks up the lip-swearing. She yanks harder. The chair tips over on its side. Something shiny hits the floor. We both see it. I mouth a swear word too, then freeze. Now we’ve gone and broken something.

Selena is better in a crisis than I am. She immediately goes into her Flashgirl superhero mode. I half expect her eyes to start glowing and little fluorescent whirlwinds to blow up around her. In a nanosecond, she plucks the thing off the floor, stuffs it in her pocket, grabs a fistful of my pants and pulls. That’s all it takes—a Class A wedgie—and I’m on my feet an instant before Anita turns around.

Unfortunately, Anita’s no fool. She immediately notices that I have the leg of a chair caught in my hair.

The way she screeches you’d swear she’d just stumbled on the decapitated remains of her entire family. She drops the vacuum, races over and rips the chair out of my hair. (And my hair out of my head, but, like, whatever.) She falls to her knees as if she’s going to start giving the chair CPR or something.

She flails an arm at us. “Get out!
Get out!

We know better than to say anything. We get out.

Somehow we manage not to laugh until we’re safely in my room.

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