Every Crooked Pot
the saltwater remedies
The day we got pulled over for speeding, I was sitting in the backseat of the family station wagonLissy to my left, Mitch to my right, my Keds straddling the hump. My mother was riding shotgun with my father. It was mid-December of 1968 and I was seven years old. We were on our way to Florida for a business trip my father had disguised as our winter vacation. My father wanted out of the carpet business and thought this was his chance for a steady gig, playing clarinet at his friend's nightclub in Miami. It was a long drive down from Akron, and my father was set on making it to Savannah by the end of the day. That's why we got pulled over somewhere in southern Ohio, clocked at eighty-seven on the radar.
Even before the highway patrolman reached the car, my father was out of the driver's seat, walking toward the cop. "Officer," my father said, hands slightly raised, like the cop had him at gunpoint, "thank God you stopped us! I know I was speeding, but you've got to help meI've got a very sick child in the car!"
Lissy, Mitch, and I looked at one another, confused, wondering who was sick. Then my mother reached back and gave my knee a squeeze, smiling at me with one brow raised.
I twisted around in my seat to get a better angle on the action. And while the flashing light on top of the patrol car went round and round, I tried timing my eye blinks just right, so that each time I opened my eyes, all I would see was red.
My father and the policeman were talking, but you couldn't hear the cop, just my father. "Officer," he said, "with all due respect, in the time it would take me to explain this to you, it could be too late."
The policeman came closer to the car.
"Listen," my father pressed on, walking alongside the cop, "it's very technical. If you really want to know, the orbital mass in her eye has ruptured." Followed by: "The retinal vascularization is swelling up and her festorial glands are coagulating!" My father was on a roll. There was no stopping him.
The cop muttered something into his ticket pad, his tongue working the inside of his cheek, rolling around like he had a jawbreaker in there. My father hadn't shaved that morning or slicked back his hair with Brylcreem. He looked a mess with his hair jetting out in all directions.
"All you have to do is look at her! Look at her eye! My God, the poor thing's hemorrhaging like crazy!"
I wasn't hemorrhaging. I always looked that way. It was my birthmark. The doctors said it was a hemangioma, but everyone else called it my port wine stain or my strawberry mark. To me it looked more like I'd been punched in the eye. The lid was always puffy and there was a big lump growing out of my eyebrow. The white of my eye was always filled with blood and the outside was all red and purple. The doctors told my parents it was because I had too many blood vessels in my eye.
"Officer," my father continued, "I've got a doctor standingby. He's waiting for us at a hospital in Cincinnatiand if I don't get her there soon, she's gonna lose her sight in that eye!"
Lose my sight? I didn't even need glasses.
The officer tugged on his cap and leaned over to look at me. I made sure the cop got a good shot of my eye, and I knew better than to smile. My father was counting on me. I had a job to do. So I made my bottom lip curl under and scrunched my shoulders up close to my ears. My whole face went all sad, like a clown's. Normally, my eye never hurt, but right then it felt like it did. Given another minute, I could have cried.
The officer looked at my mother, offering her a half-nod, like the crossing guard at school giving you the go-ahead. He turned back to my father and the two men exchanged a few words, then shook hands.
My father got back in the station wagon, leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and started to laugh so hard that his shoulders were shaking. Then the cop pulled out ahead of us in his squad car and switched on his red sirens full blast.
"Hang on, gang! Here we go!" My father revved the engine and off we went, following close behind the police car. My father pointed toward the flashing light on the cop car and howled, "Here comes the Goldman express!" He pumped the accelerator as we whipped past another mile marker.
Instead of a speeding ticket, the officer gave us a police escort to the hospital. We ducked inside the sliding glass doors of the emergency room and waited until the cop drove off. Then my father herded us back to the car and hit the gas. Even with the detour, we made it to the Ohio-Kentucky border in record time.
Outside of Lexington, we'd started playing that license plate game where you try to get all the states. Mitch and I shouted out every plate we saw, even those states we'd already nailed. We could tell we were getting on Lissy's nerves, so we kept doing itjust to make her cover her ears and lean as far away from us as she could. She was three years older than Mitch, six years older than me. She was a teenager now, which meant she was done playing with us.
For a long stretch, ours was the only car on the road. No license plates to be found. We were bored, with nothing to look at other than faded barns, weather-split with Mail Pouch slogans blanched out on the sides. Mitch kept kicking the back of my mother's seat, asking how much longer.
"Not too much," she said, keeping her eyes on the road, like she was the one driving.
My father was slouched in his seat, his shoulder pressed to the window, one wrist draped over the steering wheel, fingers free for snapping. "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" was coming over the radio, accompanied by the squeaks from the Styrofoam cooler, which was sandwiched in between the suitcases. My father was singing along with all his heart, going, "I've got lots of friends in San Jose/ Wo oh oh oh ..."
When we got to the Holiday Inn that night, my father was in the adjoining room. He was lying on the bed with his right foot dangling off the edge, smoking his pipe as he read the Savannah phone book. That was what he did in every hotel room on every road trip we ever took: He read the Yellow Pages. He said you never knew what you might find.
Mitch and I were in the other room, fighting over my Etch-a-Sketch. He was holding it high above my head, making me jump for it.
"Give it back!" I said, slapping at his arms.
"Uh-uh-uh! Somebody's gonna get hurt." My mother stood watching us from the doorway of our connecting rooms. She was cleaning out the cooler, the lid tucked under her arm as she threw out half-eaten sandwiches and a bag of crumpled chips.
I kept slapping Mitch on the arm until he got mad, dropped the Etch-a-Sketch, and shoved me onto the bed. He leaped on top of me, sat on my stomach, pinning my arms back with his shins while his fingers played typewriter on my chest, hunting and pecking. "ChChChChChChChCHING!" He hit my cheek like it was the carriage return.
I wiggled out from under him, got back up, and charged toward him. He grabbed both my arms and turned my hands on me. "Why do you keep hitting yourself, Nina?" he said, whacking me in the head with my own fists. "Why do you keep hitting yourself? Huh? Huh!"
My mother came to my rescue. "Will the two of you just settle down and get ready for bed. We have another full day tomorrow."
"Tell what's-her-name to get out of the bathroom," Mitch said, now bouncing his Super Ball off the headboard.
"Mitchell, will you pleaseLissy?" My mother rapped at the bathroom door with the Styrofoam lid. "C'mon nowyou're holding everybody up."
Two seconds later, Lissy opened the door and stepped out. Her long blond hair was rolled in emptied-out cans of Tab, held in place by a strip of hair clips that looked like a band of bullets. She wanted to know why she had to share a bed with me.
"I do not snore!"
"Melissa," my mother said, "if you can sleep with all that hardware on your head, then you can sleep through a little snoring."
"But I don't snore!"
My mother bopped me on the head with the lid of the cooler. It made a hollow thump. She bopped Mitch too, then Lissy. It made us laugh.
My father was still in the other room, reading the phone book.
The next morning, we hit the trail at 6:30 A.M., and after stopping at a music store my father had discovered in the Yellow Pages, we arrived in Miami Beach. We passed a hotel marquee advertising Neil Diamond for Christmas Day and another one, next door, pushing lobster tails and Elvis Presley for New Year's Eve.
Mitch was clowning around, asking, "Hey Dad, where's the sign with your name?"
My father didn't answer and Mitch didn't ask again. It was the height of the season, and in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Collins Avenue, my father was no longer slouched in the driver's seat, no longer finding his way to San Jose. The back of his collar was damp with sweat by the time we pulled up to the Newport Hotel.
Inside, the lobby was loud and crowded. An oversized Christmas tree slowly rotated in the center while a dozen or more artists sat at easels, cartooning the tourists. A trio of musicians in matching vests, playing mandolin, trumpet, and conga drums, performed for people as they passed by.
"What do you think, gang?" my father said, tapping his foot to the music. "Is this not a hopping place, huh? Huh?" He was pleased with himself for having selected the Newport. "Not too shabby, huh, gang?" My father was stomping his foot now, clapping, gesturing to the conga player, who smiled back, nodding.
I stared at my father's loafers and started stomping my foot, wishing I could keep the beat the way he did. He looked at me and grabbed my hand, twirling me around like a Hanukkah dreidel.
After he'd spun me around a few more times, my mother told Lissy to go get Mitch, who had wandered over to the fountain. He was leaning along the marble ledge, his feet off the ground, his shirt all wet in front as he ran his fingers through the water, trying to scoop out the coins from the bottom.
I turned away and noticed a couple stepping off an elevator. He was tall and slim, with sideburns to his jaw. She had long frosted hair, kept her sunglasses propped up on her head, and wore a silver bracelet high up on her arm, way past her elbow. You didn't see women like her back in Akron. She reminded me of the fashion models in Lissy's magazines. She glided when she walked, and I was sure she always had handsome men following her around everywhere.
When I grew up, I wanted to be like her.
"Didn't I tell you? Didn't I say this was a great place?" my father said when it was just us five up in our rooms. The Newport Hotel was way better than the Holiday Inn, with blue-and-gold-striped bedspreads that matched the drapes and chairs. There was a big marble bathroom, with a tray on the counter that was filled with little bars of soap and miniature bottles of shampoo.
My father went to the window and pulled open the drapes. "Is that not gorgeous? Come here, kids ..."
We all crowded around him, me slipping in place beneath his arm, a snag on his nylon shirt rising and falling against my cheek as he breathed. When he was happy like this, I just couldn't get close enough.
"Look out there," he said, tapping his middle finger to the glass. "You could take a picturelike a postcard. You kids have any idea how much extra it costs just to be on this side? Just to have this view of the ocean?"
That night we kids sat three in a row on the side of the bed, voting for which color shirt my father should wear with which color suit. My father was color-blind, so I grew up watching him walk around the house half-dressed, going, "Does this go with these? Does that go with this?"
Back home, my mother had systemized his sock drawer: Black socks were tied, browns were rolled, and navies were folded. Shirts were hung from light to dark, with brown collars facing right, blues going left. Everything needed a specific order; otherwise, my father got into trouble.
Once he found a men's clothing outlet in the Peoria Yellow Pages and bought three pairs of chartreuse slacks. My father said they stood out on the rack. "Sharpest goddamn pants in the place!" No one could talk him out of them, not even the salesman.
My father couldn't see colors and couldn't dress himself, but he could sell carpet. He was a salesman all right, and he'd have customers buying wall-to-wall shag in a shade they never thought they'd own. My father was a frustrated musician, who hated what he did for a living, even though it was the thing he did best.
"Okay, gang, which one?" He draped four ties over his arm for us to choose from.
The neon sign outside Flipper's had a lit martini glass with an olive blinking on and off. Flip, the owner, was an old navy buddy of my father's. They'd been stationed together in Pensacola, and after leaving the service, my father went north and married my mother, while Flip went south and opened his nightclub.
My father stood under the awning, looking back at the parking lot. "Didn't I tell you, Sandra? Huh? Huh! Valet parking and everything!"
We didn't valet our car that night. Instead, we parked in the lot across the street. My mother made us all hold hands as we crossed the interstate. I don't think my father liked the idea of pulling up to Flipper's in his station wagon with QBCQuality Brand Carpetsrunning across the sides and back, not when all the other cars were Cadillacs and Lincolns. We had a Cadillac back homebrand-new. That was the car my mother drove. We would have driven her car down to Florida, but my father didn't want toput that much mileage on it. But I knew that if we had brought that car down, my father would have valeted it, in a second.
My mother took a final drag off her cigarette before crushing it beneath the toe of her pump, giving a twist to make sure it was out.
"You kids have any idea who's played here? All the big namesbig, big stars." My father said this without naming a single one. Then he wiggled the knot of his tie and took his clarinet case from Mitch. He took one last look at the parking lot and shook his head. "Valet parking and everything. Flip's done all right for himself ..."
Flip was a large sunbaked man who had a gold medallion hanging from his neck. He greeted my father at the entrance with a big bear hug. Then he stood back and rapped his knuckles on my father's clarinet case. "Artie, I see you're still carrying that licorice stick around."
"Yeah, well ... you know, haven't played much lately ..."
My father had been rehearsing every day for the past three weeks. My mother had accompanied him on the piano, taking time out between numbers, darting into the kitchen to check on dinner.
"You know," my father said with a shrug, "I figured for old times' sake, I'd bring it alonggive the kids a treat."
Flip laughed as he reached an arm around my mother, pulling her to his side, saying she was just as beautiful as ever. And she was, even though she looked older than my father. It was the hair that did it. My mother had been gray for as long as I could remember, but her face was young. She had high cheekbones, a perfect nose, and blue-gray eyes that everyone said were her best feature.
Lissy looked just like my mother and Mitch took more after my father. He had the same dark eyes, long face, and squared-off chin. People said I was a combination of the two, but I thought they were saying that just to be nice.
Flip led us down a flight of stairs and past the bar to a table close to the stage. "You're in for a real treat, Artie," he said as he pulled out a chair for my mother.
"Yeah? If these guys are half as good as we used to be, then you've got yourself a winner here." My father gave Flip a little jab in the side as he sat down.
All through the first set, my father danced in his chair and Lissy kept inching away from our table as far as she could get, until a cocktail waitress told her she was blocking the aisle. As she scooted in just a bit, my mother reached over and squeezed her hand. "Everybody's watching the show, Lissy. Nobody's paying any attention to him."
When the band took a break, Flip came over to our table and said, gesturing toward the empty stage with his thumb, "Aren't these guys outasight, man? Didn't I tell ya, Goldman?" He made a clucking sound. "Outasight!"
Flip pulled over a chair, turned it around, and straddled it, resting his chin on the back. While he and my father were talking old times, my mother reapplied her lipstick. Mitch had challenged me to a stare-down and Lissy kept elbowing me, trying to make me blink.
During the last set of the evening, Flip cut in on the piano player and called my father to the stage. They started off with "What a Wonderful Life," and after Flip soloed, it was my father's turn. Eyes shut, knees slightly bent, head bobbing left, then right, giving it his all, one note after the next.
I glanced over at my mother. She was smiling, her left hand on the tabletop, beating time to the music. Then people started to applaud, and for the first time since my father had gone onstage, I settled back in my chair, smiling big and proud. Even Lissy pulled in closer to our table, wanting to belong to him again.
My father and Flip played three more numbers. And my father looked like he belonged on that stage. He dazzled up there,joking with the audience between songs, making them laugh and clap even louder. He really did have what it took to be a star. Pizzazz, that's what my father had. And he knew he had it. He didn't even have to work at it. It was just there.
My father and Flip ended their set with the two of them standing before the microphone with their arms over each other's shoulders, singing "Fly Me to the Moon."
The next morning, my father didn't say a word about Flipper's. After breakfast he went down on the beach with Lissy and Mitch, while I sat at the foot of my mother's chaise lounge, lobbying to go in the ocean without my goggles. The goggles, custom-made to protect my bad eye from the chlorine and salt water, had been accidentally left back home by my mother.
"But I'll be careful," I said, picking at the daisy appliqués on my mother's beach bag.
"Honey, I told you, if you want, you can go in the poolin the shallow endjust as long as you don't get your face wet."
I knew from her tone that this was as far as I'd get. So I went over and sat at the edge of the pool, the bottom of my suit catching on the cement each time I moved. As I swirled my feet in the water, I looked out at the ocean, sulking.
Half an hour later, when my father came up from the beach, he crouched down beside me, told me it wasn't any fun down there anyway, and handed me a shell, all pink inside, like the roof of someone's mouth. My father kissed the top of my head, then went back over by my mother and spilled onto the chair next to hers. The bottoms of his feet were dusted with sand and a piece of seaweed was strung around his second toe. A long, dark lock of hair dangled down past his eyes, all the way to his cheek.
I got up and took the chaise on the other side of my mother. My father was already deep in conversation with the two men tohis rightone wearing black socks with sandals, the other wearing a hat with fishing lures stuck all over it and a smear of white sunblock across his nose. They were discussing how the S&P was at an all-time high, and my father had launched into a speech, telling these strangers that they should invest in gold. A fresh audience. My father couldn't help himself.
The woman with the frosted hair, the one I'd seen in the lobby the day before, was tanning herself in the next row over. She wore a thin gold ankle bracelet and lay there, still, like she was sleeping. I closed my eyes, too, listening to the sound of bare feet slapping the wet cement and breathing in the smell of chlorine and coconut oil.
I was almost asleep when my mother leaned over and dabbed lotion onto my arm. "Honey," she said, rubbing it in, "you getting hungry, sweetie?"
We'd just eaten a big breakfast; she knew I wouldn't be hungry yet. I could tell she felt guilty about leaving my goggles behind. I knew I had her then. She was weakening and I wouldn't have to say another word. I just looked at the ocean and sighed. My mother turned toward the water, shading her eyes from the sun in a lazy salute. We could see Lissy from where we were. She was checking her tan marks, peeling down the shoulder strap of her bikini like the skin of a banana. My mother ran her hand along her throat and looked back at me.
"If I let you go down there, young lady," she said, "you have to be careful. You have to stay with Lissy and Mitch. And I want you to promise"I heard her calling after me"you won't go CRAZY! NINA, I MEAN IT!"
The three of us stayed in the ocean the rest of the day. Even Lissy played with us, jumping the waves. After each surge there was a moment's calm as that wave rolled past us and broke along the shoreline and another came roaring our way. Each wave brought a new kind of excitement. At just the right moment, we'd hurl ourselves into them headfirst, tumbling about,getting tangled in seaweed and losing our footing in a wash of foam, frothy as a bubble bath.
When we went back to our hotel room, the red message light was flashing: Flip had called. My father phoned back right away. "Yeah, Flip, Art Goldman, just returning your call ..." He tugged on the drawstring of his swimming trunks, going, "Uh-huh, yeah ..." Then finally: "Heh-hehwe didn't sound too shabby now, did we ... Oh, it's an impressive setup you've got there ... Uh-huh, yeah ... Yeah ..." He let go of the drawstring then, sat on the edge of the bed, and reached for his pipe in the ashtray. "You know me, Flip, I'm always up for a little business proposition ..."
After he hung up, my father waved his fists in the air, going, "Yes, yes!" carrying on like he had the day he ran alongside of Mitch's Schwinn, letting go just in time to watch his boy pedal off, zigzagging his way down Burlington Road.
"Sandra!" he shouted. "This is it! THIS IS IT!"
"Yes, dear, I know," she said, smiling, patting his cheek.
He kissed her on the mouth, and not a second later, his eyes clouded over. "Oh me!" he said, patting his chest, half laughing, half crying.
My father cried a lot. Happy or sad, it didn't matter. He'd start up over anything, saying, "Oh me, here I go again with my waterworks."
"Didn't I tell ya, Sandrastick with me? Huh? Huh!" He blew his nose in the handkerchief my mother had handed him. "C'mon, gang!" He dabbed his eyes. "Everybody get showered, get dressed!" He reached for his clarinet case and said, "Your Big-Joe-Daddy-O's taking everybody out for lobster dinners. How about that? Huh? Eh! Fresh Florida lobsters! We've got some celebrating to do!"
While I was in the shower, I heard my father playing his clarinet. I sang into my bar of soap, dance-stepping among the bubbles sudsing up the tiled floor: "Fly me to the moon/And let me play among the stars ..."
We were getting dressed for dinner when my mother first noticed the change in my eye. "How does it feel, snookums?" she asked.
"Normal." I shrugged. It felt normal.
"Well, you know, it really does look good. And considering you were in the ocean all daywithout your goggles ... Can you see the difference?" She turned my head toward the mirror in the bathroom. It looked the same to me, maybe a little less red, or maybe it just looked that way because the rest of my face was so sunburned.
"I'm telling you, Artie," my mother said after she'd shuffled me over to my father in the other room, "it doesn't seem as red to me. Does it to you?"
"Let's have a look ..." My father sat on the edge of the bed in his boxer shorts, inspecting my eye, spreading the lids apart with his thumb and forefinger to get a better look. "Well, well, well ... Not bad," my father said, "not bad a'tall ... Certainly doesn't look any worse. Who knows, maybe the ocean's good for it ..."
"The corner isn't as red, is it, Artie?"
"All that salt water ... Who knows ..."
"And without her goggles ..."
"Like Epsom salts or something ..."
Their voices came rushing toward me. They were talking so fast, I couldn't catch it all. But the part I held on to was my father saying "The ocean's good for it." The ocean's good for it! That was all I needed to get me believing salt water had the power to cure me.
The next morning, I got up early, pulled on my one-piece, and stood swinging my beach bag back and forth, telling Lissyshe looked fine. She had already changed her bikini twice and I was losing precious saltwater time.
I wasn't allowed near the ocean by myself. My mother said I had to have either Mitch or Lissy with me, and I wanted to get as much time in the water as I could. So after lunch, when Lissy decided to lie out by the pool, I egged Mitch on, challenging him to race me to the beach. Hours later, when he wanted to go inside for the day, I tried getting him to stay, telling him he could dunk me as much as he wanted and that I wouldn't tell on him or anything. I even promised him all the cherries from my Shirley Temples for the rest of the trip. I did what I had to do so I could stay in the ocean, concentrating on the salt water healing me, washing over my eye, washing away my birthmark.
It was our second-to-last day in Florida and my mother had called us in early from the ocean because my father didn't want to be late. He was meeting with Flip and he wanted all of us to go with him. My father had a thing about going places by himself. At least one of us had to accompany him to the barbershop, to the delicatessen to get smoked fish and bagels, to the music store, the driving range, and even to the bank. And the thing was, once he got to wherever he was going, he'd almost always find some stranger to talk to. But even if he ignored you the whole time, you'd still be all excited to go with him the next time, and the time after that.
Lissy and Mitch started picking out what my father should wear that day, but I didn't feel like helping. I was in the bathroom, studying my eye in the mirror. My eyelid still looked lumpy, red, and purple, a little like a raspberry. But when I touched it, it felt solid beneath my fingertips.
It had only been five days, and even if nothing was changing on the outside, something inside was under way. Until then, I'dnever really thought about my eye. I knew there was a problem with it, but it wasn't serious. It was just my eye. But now that I'd found something that could cure it, my eye had started to bother me. And suddenly, what I wanted more than anything was for it to be normal, like everybody else's. I didn't like the way I looked anymore. I decided I needed to be fixed.
Now I understood why my parents had tried to fix me before. I was six weeks old when they first noticed my birthmark. There it was one day, having surfaced out of nowhere like an unexplained bruise. The pediatrician was certain I'd outgrow it. But instead, the hemangioma continued to grow, and by the time I was a year old, my entire right eye was discolored and twice the size of the other one. Before the age of five, I'd undergone four unsuccessful operations. All they did was leave a few tiny scars on my lid where there should have been a fold. After the last surgery, my father started buying thick medical books that he stacked on the floor in his office. He subscribed to half a dozen medical journals, searching for something that could help.
I grew up with strangers staring at me, coming up to my mother in the supermarket, in line at the post officewhereverasking what had happened to my eye. "Did she fall?" "Was she in an accident?" My mother would wave them off, her voice dismissive. "Yes, yes, she was in an accident."
My father's approach was different. Whenever someone asked about my eye, he'd come back with something like "Aw hell, you should see the other guy." He said this was easier than going into the whole story. Besides, it always got a laugh.
It was almost four o'clock when my father dropped us off at the diner next door to Flip's nightclub. And while he met with Flip, we kids sat at the counter with my mother, sipping Cokes, waiting.
I dug down in the front pocket of my mother's purse for a piece of Juicy Fruit and put the whole stick in my mouth, molding it over my front teeth, like braces. I showed Mitch and thenhe wanted gum, too. We were both smiling at my mother and Lissy, tilting our heads from side to side, giggling.
The waitress behind the counter looked at me a beat too long, offering what I realized was a pitying smile. I closed my mouth and started working the chewing gum off my front teeth with my tongue. I locked my eyes onto the napkin dispenser, staring at my reflection in the metal holder, looking to see how my eye was doing.
I was still studying my eye when my father came through the door. "Christ, Sandra, you didn't hear me? I've been sitting out there honking!" He thumped his toe on the doorjamb. "C'mon, c'mon ..." He'd left the car running; he wanted out of there.
My mother paid for our Cokes and then we kids piled into the backseat, silent. We knew my father's moods, and when he got like this, we'd try hard not to give him anything to jump on.
"There's nothing to tell" was what my father said after my mother asked about his meeting. "It doesn't matter." But from the sound of his voice, you could tell it did matter. A lot. And even though my father wouldn't say anything more, we had already figured out he wasn't going to be playing clarinet for Flip.
Back at the hotel room, my father sat on the side of the bed, chewing on the bit of his pipe, sorting through his money, repositioning the twenties on the outside, then the tens, the fives, and, finally, all the singles tucked in the middle. He always carried his money this way, big bills on the outside and never in a wallet. I think it made him feel like he had more that way.
My father still wouldn't speak to us, and my mother was trying to get him to talk, asking where he wanted to go for dinner. He shrugged and finally said he didn't want to go out. My mother lit a cigarette, walked over to the windows and stood there, staring at the ocean. She was smoking fast, one puff right after the other.
We kids didn't know what to do when they got like this other than keep our mouths shut.
It was getting late, and we were hungry. My mother tried again, asking my father if he wanted anything from room service. He just shook his head, and that's when my mother yanked the receiver off its cradle and sent the base of the phone crashing to the floor. "You really know how to spoil it for the rest of us, Artie, don't you!"
It was her rage that finally broke my father's silence. And after she'd placed our order with room service, he made a few groans and moans, and then started letting out phrases like "You try and be a mensch, a stand-up guy, and where does it get you?"
I could tell he wanted to talk then, but he didn't know how to get started. This was how he got sometimes, and whenever he did, he'd wait, expecting my mother to coax whatever it was out of him that he couldn't bring himself to say. "Will you please tell me why Flip said he wanted to meet with you?" My mother knew how to handle my father, when to get angry, when to hold back and let him have his moods.
"Oh yeah," he said, "he told me straight out."
"Carpeting. The son of a bitch wants me to get him a deal on carpeting."
"But did you tell him you were hoping to play clarinet?"
"But did you tell him, Artie? How do you know he knows?"
"Sandra, please! The man knows!"
Then he went silent again until after room service arrived.
"The nerve of him, Sandra! Just comes right out and asks what kind of deal I could work out for him. 'It's your shop, Goldman,' he says to me. 'You own the place. So tell me what kind of deal you're gonna give me.'"
"What did you tell him?" my mother asked, checking to make sure our order was right, letting bursts of steam escape each timeshe peeked under our dome-covered dinners. "Did you agree to help him?" She passed our plates around the room. The rims all looked shiny, peppered with beads of moisture.
"Well, what could I say? I told him I'd see what I could do." My father paused, reaching for one of my mother's french fries. "It's not gonna be a small job. I mean, we're talking something like seventy-five hundred square feet ... I could make some decent change ..."
"Uh-huh." My mother set her plate in between them on the bed.
Lissy, Mitch, and I nibbled our food, trying to be invisible.
My father reached for another fry. "I might as well make it worth my while." He opened a packet of salt, shook some into the palm of his hand, and sprinkled the fries. "I could still mark it up, plus the paddingnot to mention the labor ... And believe me, this isn't the end of my music!"
"Of course not, Artie."
"What's to stop me from putting together another band?" He was eating freely off her plate now. "Some damn good musicians back home ... I could round up some talent."
This kind of talk went on for a while, until my father looked over at us as we sat on the extra bed, empty plates on our laps. He must have felt guilty, because in less than a minute he said he was taking us out for a fancy sit-down dessert, where they made banana splits right at your table. As soon as he said that, the air in our room lifted and I started to breathe again, relieved.
On the morning of our last day, my father had slipped back into a quiet mood. I felt down then, too. We were leaving the next day, and my eye still wasn't normal. But I did have a plan. And while the others were at breakfast, I went up to the room and looked for containers to emptyLissy's shampoo on the ledgeof the shower, all those miniature bottles on the counter, the pill bottles along the sink in my parents' bathroom, whatever I could find.
I'd gotten the idea after seeing bottles of sand in a souvenir shop, stacked next to the canned sunshine and coconut pirate heads. I stuffed the containers inside my beach bag and headed back to the restaurant. And there I sat, back-kicking the leg of my chair while my father settled a dispute with the waiter over the bill. Who cared if we got charged for an extra order of bacon? It was just bacon and I had to hurry back to the ocean.
It didn't start out as much of a beach day. Early on it looked like rain and it was windy and cold. All the hair on my arms was standing straight up and you could see the goose bumps underneath. The waves were rough and the water had turned mossy green, scalloped with whitecaps.
Lissy, Mitch, and I walked along the shoreline, the surf bubbling over our toes, cool and tingly, the sand smooth beneath our feet. I was dragging my beach bag behind me as we walked, the plastic containers clattering around inside. My mother said we couldn't go in the water unless the weather cleared up, and I was feeling cheated, like someone had given me a present and then taken it back.
After lunch, the sun came out and Mitch and I were in the ocean, seeing who could hold their breath the longest. Lissy waded in the surf, eyes closed, her nose pointed to the sun, working on the finishing touches of her tan. I lunged head-on into one wave, and then another and another. I wanted to take in all the salt water I could.
At the end of the day, my mother stood at the top of the deck, waving us in. It was still windy out, and her hair swirled up on top of her head like a soft-serve cone. She wore big sunglasses with black-and-white checkerboard frames. I pretended not to see her and held my breath under the water again, trying to count to one hundred.
When I came up for air, my mother was gone from the railing and Lissy was shaking the sand free from her beach towel, calling for us to come in. Mitch ran ahead of me, scouting the sand one last time for shells. I went to my beach bag, took out the containers, and ran back to the surf to fill my empties. This way I could do my saltwater treatments back home. I'd dab just a bit along my lid every day until my birthmark was gone.
"Jesus Christ, Nina! I could have taken your mother's goddamn thyroid medicine!" My father stormed about the hotel room holding a fistful of pills.
I'd thought it would be okay, since I'd left them on a tissue and not just on the counter. I sat there, frightened by the sound of his voice. It didn't even matter what he was saying. He was yelling and I could feel my heart beating way up inside my eardrums. The tears started trickling down my cheeks.
"Christ ... so now you're gonna cry about it, huh? Huh!"
"Artie, calm down, would you, please?" My mother gathered the dirty laundry strewn about the room, slung over the chairs and onto the beds. "It's over and done with," she said. "It's not a big deal."
"Well, it sure as hell is a big deal if she thinks she can just go into other people's things. You could have taken my Valium, for chrissakes! What do you have to say for yourself, young lady?"
I couldn't breathe, couldn't say a word. His yelling scared me and that was making me bawl even harder.
"Are you satisfied now, Artie?" my mother said. "You want to make her cry some more?" She leaned over the suitcase on the bed, tucking dirty socks down into the corners.
"Nina, I'm talking to you!"
I stared at my father and found myself giving him the same look I'd given the policeman the day we got pulled over for speeding. I knew it was the same look by the way it made me feel. I had found a way to make myself pathetic and beyond reproach.
My father threw up his hands and shook his head. "Ah, Christyou want to baby her, Sandra? Go ahead and baby her. I give up!" My father grabbed the ice bucket off the dresser and walked out of the room.
He had backed down. My father had given up and I had won.
And that's when I realized that my father had taught me something that day the cop pulled us over. He'd taught me that I could use my eye to get out of things, too, and make people do things for me. It could maybe even make them go easy on me.
I got up from the bed, snatched my beach bag off the floor, and ran into the bathroom, shutting the door hard behind me. I emptied all the salt water down the sink. Right then and there, I didn't want to be cured. I needed my eye to be just the way it was.
EVERY CROOKED POT. Copyright © 2007 by Renée Rosen. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.