Molly’s mom seemed to me, an alien, over a decade older, a city woman, a future helicopter parent, two car garage and tiny yappy dog owner, a God Complex attender, likely conservative. Molly’s mother seemed more organized, more involved and connected, more flexibly employed, more traditionally married, more housewifey, and so fit to the given plastic-mold in her concern for her daughter’s education. She had a two story on the outskirts of town, where all the houses were brick and the townspeople cruised to the grocery store in golf carts. Her and her kids were always dressed in name-brand clothing. She had afforded BOTH kids clear braces. She wore decorative sweatshirts appropriate to season. She worked part time in some office. Her husband kept the money flowing but was rarely home because he was always “off on business.” They had four dogs and a fat black cat that would all peer down their noses at me from her bay window whenever I pulled into her driveway to drop off or pick up my daughter.
I was overwhelmed by things like squeezing our money through a sieve, pulling together a work schedule, attending late night classes, and getting my writing done. I didn’t clean house much, and my husband kept up with it well enough. I sort of felt cozy in the muck and muddle. I was good enough if I was giving my children – the youngest 6 and the oldest 20 – a warm meal and some sort of minutely positive attention daily. I had to hope that the public school system was doing well enough and, occasionally, I tried to reverse any disreputable damages. I imagined myself stepping up later. I thought the older I became, the better I’d fit in with those “traditional” type parents like Molly’s mother, but I was beginning to realize I wasn’t catching up with anyone.
I had nearly puked because I realize Molly’s mom had seen my apartment in an outright wreck. She saw the piles of shoes and coats which beaver damned the flow of traffic from the front door. She saw my gritty carpet after my kindergartener had been chopping up one hundred tiny paper triangles to prove her newfound counting skills. Molly’s mom saw our family dog, sick and coughing and weepy eyed, in need of a vet’s attention, if only we could have afforded it. She saw a twin bed as it sat unmade on the floor without a frame in the space traditionally reserved for a dining table. There had been toys and papers everywhere. She saw stacks of half-filled cups on the end table and ashtrays filled with cigarette butts and discarded chewing gum. She saw my sink full of dirty dishes, the leftovers of supper, and, of course, it had been spaghetti. The worst was she saw my husband napping half-naked on the couch in his Darth Vader-esque sleep apnea mask. Surely, she bore witness to his hairy belly button.
My daughter had tried to wake me so us two mothers could meet, and I, being exhausted from staying up über late the night before, brushed it off in a sleepy mumble. I told her – perhaps half aware of what I was avoiding – I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Later, when I learned of Molly’s mom’s invasion, I beheld visions of the woman running a manicured finger over the top of my television to calculate the depth of the dust. I envisioned her kicking coats and shoes aside, fighting the urge to organize them herself or perhaps thinking she should graciously loan me one of her organizational cubbyhole systems (like a good fellow mother would). I saw her sniffing the air and lifting her chin in an attempt to raise her head out of the scent of dirty dog and cigarette smoke. I saw her gazing caringly at my sixteen year old daughter, wishing the Lord had given her a more suitable set of parents.
After learning of my exposure, I snapped. I assured my family they were a group of totally careless people, not concerning themselves with the appearance of the apartment in the face of new company, and the worst kind of company – a “traditional,” older, conservative mother. I started tossing shoes into the shoe basket, started rinsing dishes and shoving them in the dishwasher. It is a given, I insisted, that when anyone – not just another woman – looks upon the interior of a living space and it’s messy, it’s immediately blamed upon the mental state and ability of the woman. Among mothers, there can be a brutal competiveness, a tendency to sneer, judge, and share gossip. Mothers can seek to show up one another. Society sets this up the regulative order of things. When I was very young, I witnessed my own poor, single mother as she was practically tortured by fellow female church goers. Having had my first three kids before I was 21, I have had nightmares about such castings and have always felt like I had a wider tail to cover.
After my mini-explosion upon being exposed as incompetent, my husband stared at me like I was crazy. He raised his eyebrows and stepped away from me as though I was contagious. But all this falls on me! I cried. Can’t you see? Molly’s mom thinks I’m awful. His stare sunk deep. What had I just said? I was thinking crazy. I stopped and laughed at myself and convinced myself to brush it all off. Why should I care what Molly’s mom thinks of me? She’s so freakin’ plastic.
Not long after all this, Molly’s mom let me in her ranch to make a quick phone call. As I walked up to her house, I realized I had never noticed her grass was dry and tan unlock the other lush green lawns on the block, nor had I noticed that there sat a rusting Bronco in the driveway that never moved. “Just kick the dogs away,” Molly’s mom had told me. The dogs had yapped and jumped and sniffed over all of my lower half. There sat a tiny pink bow on the head of the Pomeranian, and when I saw this I thought I had been spot on in my assumptions. But then I noticed the fur on its belly and the underside of its tail was so grungy it was twisted into dredlocks. As her big black cat nuzzled my calves, I saw it had bald spots. Something was off. After Molly’s mom pointed me to the phone, she ran to the bathroom to ponytail her flaming red hair which suddenly seemed insanely frizzy and unruly.
Molly’s mom’s house was disgusting. I stepped over pets and pillows and dirty clothes in the living room to get to the phone in the kitchen. With all of those pets and that overfilled trashcan, her house was so odorous it was tangy. Stringy dust bunnies waved from her heating vents. Her front bay window was cloudy and had a line of slimy dog saliva. Her sofa was ripped open in places, exposing chunks of yellowed foam. Her carpet was stained – pee? tea? Her houseplants were all brown and slumping, neglected. Her family portraits were all goofy, off-center, and hanged crooked. She had a large kitchen table, but I couldn’t see the top of it for the stacks of junk mail, magazines, and cookie packages. She had a plastic basket on her kitchen counter overflowing with little orange bottles of prescription pills. Then I saw her toaster which sat there by the phone. It was covered with caked-on crumbs and burnt crud. It was a repeated tool of the easy breakfast, littered with PopTart pieces, a symbol of neglect, overuse, and exhaustion.
TheToaster - FA+, by Ingrid Falk & Gustavo Aguerre.
Buenos Aires, 2000 - installation
2500 slices of bread on foamboard. 500 x 450 cm.