Hey, Chubby

A woman has her hand over her mouth trying to stop her hiccups, Detroit, Michigan, September 10, 1957. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
(Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

“Hey, Chubby.”

We’re in the car, once again on our way to or from a doctor’s office.

“Hey there, Chubby.”

She’s not talking to me. The “Chubby” in question is a man in baggy black shorts and a sweaty purple t-shirt. And a complete stranger. He’s minding his business, walking in the opposite direction we’re driving and any minute we’ll pass, me and mom in my car going west, and the fat man walking east.

“Ccchhubby.” I look at her. “What? He is. He’s chubby.” She’s wrong, and she’s being kind. He’s grossly overweight. And lucky for all three of us, he is on the sidewalk, and we are in my car, and the windows are rolled up and the air conditioner is on and she is speaking what she thinks is softly, to herself. And it almost is, comparatively speaking.

She listens to the television with the volume set at 40. I had no idea it went up that high, but this is the volume things need be if you expect her to hear them and understand what’s being said. When she whispers you can hear her in the next room—her version of a whisper is my normal speaking voice. No one has ever accused me of being soft-spoken. I am not a person to whom anyone has ever said, “Can you speak up?” This, to my mother, is a whisper. Even if “Chubby” could hear her, she’s at an age where she feels that anything can be said as long as it’s true. More accurately, she feels that she can say anything as long as it’s true. I’m not sure how she feels about what other people say. Doesn’t matter, unless they’re turned up to 40 (and you thought it only went up to 11), she doesn’t hear them.

We stop on our way out of the doctor’s office to look at a beautiful little baby. The baby is Black, or Hispanic, a “baby of color.” The young mother barely notices our coo-coo-cooing over her baby, she manages a weak smile and turns away. Her mind is probably elsewhere, on whomever she had to bring down here to nuclear medicine.

I can feel my mother’s inner harrumph at being ignored, and then: “I didn’t shoot Trayvon,” she says in her stage whisper as we get to the elevator. I don’t think anyone heard her but me, but for a brief moment, I consider jumping into the elevator, letting the doors close, and letting Big Edie fend for herself.

On the drive home, she apologizes because she’s ruined my life, because she got sick. I’m here to take care of her, push through for doctor’s appointments, make sure she drinks liquids—“I don’t like water!”—that she eats something other than generic dollar-store fig newtons, that she uses the steroid spray when she’s congested—“I’m always congested. I have a deviated system.”

“You didn’t ruin my life, Ma. You fucked up my vacation, but you didn’t ruin my life.”

At home, I search the internet to find out what time and what channels and how many times a day her favorite show is on. “You know the one. Raymond, but Jewish and skinny.”

Seinfeld, it turns out, is on TBS every day at 6:00, 6:30, and 7:00pm.

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