So I was walking around the Tenderloin looking for stray twenty-dollar-bills that might have fallen into gutters, and I was thinking, as I often do, about my mother.
A few years ago my mom got all upset because she heard that today's youth lacked moral guidance. So she sat me down and she said, "Daughter," she said:
Don't ever cross a picket line.
Work for Greeks.
Don't you ever eat something that you find dead at the side of the road, unless you were in the car that killed it.
I'm not sure where my mom got her fine Depression-era set of ethics, except that I think she heard the last one on a radio show. Her enduring affinity for Greek employers (and her corresponding loathing for the French) probably stems from her experience working as a waitress in Alsace and Italy. Apparently, if you innocently drop a plate full of spaghetti in somebody's lap, and they have to go and make a big stink about it, your Greek boss will defend you, whereas your German boss will take the comp'ed meal out of your paycheck, and your French boss will probably slap you across the face.
Anyway, it's the first point that really stuck with me: I'm convinced that, in the Final Judgement, when the goddess Ma'at weighs our hearts on her golden scales, the murderers will make out better than the scabs. (And bad tippers will be thrown straight into the jaws of the crocodile.)
But speaking of my mom's international wisdom:
It's best if you don't eat raw oysters in a Mexican street market.
Here followed a tale of heartbreak and amoebic dysentery.
But my mom survived both the oysters and the French, and pulled herself up by her bootstraps to become the world's leading eastern North-American paleoethnobotanist, which was always a lot of fun to write in the little blank under "Mother's Occupation." Now when she calls me up, her conversation tends to go something like this:
"It turns out you can tell the species of acorn just by looking very closely under the microscope. So that's very exciting. I'm going to have to try that on my own acorns when I get home. Mmph. Excuse me. I was pulling a cork out of a wine bottle, with my teeth."
But all intrepid globetrotting archaeologists need their endearing phobias. For Indiana Jones it was snakes. For my mom it's blimps. I don't know if she was a Hindenburg victim in a past life or what, but it's really no fun being in a car with her if there's a Goodyear Blimp in sight. She keeps scanning the sky anxiously, wondering if it's following her, wondering if it's watching us. Also among her bizarre phobias is the conviction that I'll be sent to jail someday...ha ha! Trés absurd!
Laugh, damn you.
Anyway, back to the blimp thing. For a woman of science, Mom is actually very attuned to signs and portents. There was this one time that a headless pigeon fell from the sky, literally at her feet.
These are bad times.
"These are bad times," she told me. "Bad times, when headless pigeons fall from the sky." And I can't deny it.
But the last thing my mom taught me, the biggest thing really, and more important than Fortean events, is the definition of love. I remember when I was a little kid, I got worms. Just like a dog. Tiny little white wrigglers that squimed around in my asshole. And they itched and would keep me awake at night. So I remember that, in the weeks it took for my de-worming pills to work, my mom would spend an hour or so every night picking these worms out of my butt so that I could get to sleep.
That is love, in all its shocking profundity. When you spend hours picking worms out of somebody's buttcrack, that is love.
So, I love you too, Mom. Thanks for picking the worms out of my butt. Thanks for getting me drunk all those times. Thanks for teaching me right from wrong, and thanks, in advance, for posting my bail.