HOLLYWOOD HILLS—The taxi driver in front of his ex's house took Jason's very last bill. He counted the suitcases Suzanne had brought back from Europe: there were fourteen in all—one for her CDs, one for her lingerie, and another for her jewelry, toiletries and so on. Jason didn't have anything left to tip the poor slob who has surrendered fat drops of sweat to get the fourteen suitcases to Suzanne's doorstep.
“Stay,” Suzanne was telling Jason's mom. “I wouldn't dream of you going to a motel or Jason's apartment. I hear it's an awful mess.”
If Suzanne, who was surely acting the part of ideal hostess, expected Jason to step in and offer lodging to his mother, she was mistaken. He said a curt goodnight, turned on his heel and went to his car, doing his level best to refrain from breaking into a run. Palpable was the relief from his mother's forked tongue.
Back in Hollywood, fifteen minutes later, Jason burrowed under the flood of books, student papers and stuffed animals heaped on his backseat, burrowed for the soothing balm of Mylanta, passionate painkiller for the aches of souls, to prevent him from plunging headlong into despair. He failed to find the torn half book—companion to the other half relinquished to Candy. In the pale streetlight there strayed from the mound of papers a student's blue registration slip, and he read Maria Candelaria Rocha—Candy's slip from when she briefly studied in his class. Jason had a flash: the girl being dragged away by a thug after one single night school class, wailing down the corridor.
In the space reserved for country, El Salvador appeared in awkward, unschooled printing. That was funny. Wasn't Candy from Mexico? And why hadn't she been answering his calls. . . ? The moment he stopped looking, the torn half of Mylanta's Oneness was right in front of his nose. He lustily opened it, craving ego-massaging sweet nothings. This is what he got:
“Hey you. Yeah you. It's been so long I forgot your name. Wait, it's on the tip of my tongue. . . Jason, the seeker of the Golden Fleece, the argot-naut. You're a language teacher, right? . . . A study of Catholic sisters in Minnesota who had reached advanced age and resisted Alzheimer's shows that the one common link they shared was they taught grade school. So there is evidence that teaching keeps your brain young.” A new neurological slant on teaching was the last thing he'd expected from Mylanta, and it was the last thing he wanted; he was exasperated. Mylanta had failed him; he was denied the instant soothing ego massage he'd come to expect from the guru.
Given the kind of venom that Mom dished out daily, no wonder he was such a sucker for the likes of Mylanta. Now, recalling Hamlet's words, “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” Jason pledged to deal with Mom himself, on his own terms. He cast Mylanta aside and trampled its pages in the gutter, vowing to face the evil forces of the universe and Mom, naked, unashamed and alone.
Sweet sleep did its magic. A subdued Helene joined him when he took Kit to school in the morning. Then she accompanied him to San Anselmo, where she judged, “There's no school here. It's all goofing off.”
Gudelia was settled into the role of Martha, the obsessively cleaning wife. Perky Gladys was the family's playful dog. The rehearsal process had trimmed much of the carnage from Joey Leonard's original version: now the violence was limited to kicks aimed at the dog who perversely became friendlier with each kick. Gladys had sewn a wonderful furry brown costume.
Meanwhile, tongues were wagging at Jefferson Adult School about what had really happened to Abby Fenwick. After vanishing for a week, there was Abby—sparkling, impeccably dressed in a water-melon pink Shantung silk dress, gold hoops dangling from her ears.
Principal Cloud had been smart enough to leave Abby Fenwick a glimmer of hope. After the newspaper's “allegations” of falsified test scores were fully investigated, she might resume her assignment via “freeway therapy” (i.e. being relocated to a night school in the Siberia of the school district's farthest reaches.) It must have been that hope that brought the disgraced teacher to the rehearsal.
She dove right in to a peppy duet, “Going Postal,” with Miguel Angel. Not a peep about the newspaper scandal from Joey Leonard, and Abby turned in a matchless performance, nuanced and emotional, as the form-fixated social worker who turns down Abel (Miguel Angel) for food stamps:
I need a magnifying glass to read your chicken scratch/You idiot, you brat, can't you read?/Last names first and first names last!/I think I'm going postal, I really do. . .
Abby tangoed with Miguel Angel, and dancers dressed as gigantic paper clips and staple removers pranced around the stage.
“That was wonderful. Simply wonderful,” exclaimed Jason's mom, clapping. She hadn't had the first bourbon of the day.
(To be continued...)
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