My Friends Are Dumb: The Matriarch

I’m not very good at taking vacations. And as with most of my adult inadequacies, I blame this at least in part on my upbringing. When I was a kid, we only ever took the same two trips each year, one over spring break to visit my grandparents in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and another to go up North to Rhinelander and the great North Woods of Wisconsin. The first was always a mid-spring adventure consisting of 18 hours of driving (interspersed with the occasional fast-food stop, pack of Combos from the gas station, and Gameboy adventure), early bird special seafood dinners, and extremely short walks on the beach (my spirit was willing, but my legs were short, and my skin tone ill equipped for the Florida sun). The latter always took place at the end of July and was a childhood summer dream involving an indoor pool, video games, and a shockingly small amount of time spent outside. Neither, however, were particularly daring or adventurous, and neither offered any opportunity to expand my horizons, and explore the great wide world.

However, I also blame this on my own unhealthy work-life balance. I’m a very all-or-nothing kind of guy. It can admittedly be fairly difficult to get me to commit to something, but when I do I stick to it with the otherworldly adhesion of a new pack of duct tape, or the undying commitment of a particularly loyal dog. For better or for worse, I have spent the last 6 years buying fully into the white male American “workaholic” stereotype, and have shown a commitment to God and Company that would make any CEO or Jeff Bezos acolyte swoon with avaricious delight, and any direct manager say “Well, he’s got it covered. I’m going to go to my son’s baseball game for the first time in 5 years”. As such, it can be a bit mentally unnerving to just *leave* it all behind for a week to focus on rest and relaxation. What typically happens is an unholy bastardization of what should be a tranquil respite, as I pair reading at the pool with emails to Sara in engineering, and meld a relaxing morning cup of coffee with a categorically less relaxing call with senior leadership.

All this is to say, I rarely ever feel an overwhelmingly strong motivation to take a few days off and go on vacation. As my upbringing has instilled in me an utter lack of curiosity regarding the outside world, and since I have an extremely trying time attempting to unplug from the grasping, clenching claws of my personal gang of corporate buzzards, it just never seems like it’s worth the time, money, or effort. So, when I actually *do* manage to get up the energy and willpower to click “Submit” on that PTO request, hit “Buy Now” on that Delta ticket, and pack up my meager belongings for a well-earned trip, I *really* like to make sure I know what I’m getting into, and can be sure in the fact that I’ll enjoy every second of my long awaited voyage into harmonious bliss.

Which brings me to the trip I took this February to Boynton Beach, Florida with my best Friend Landon. Landon’s father, after working tirelessly for decades to both put food on the table and then ultimately kick his children away from the same table at the age of 18, has managed to do fairly well for himself. As such, he did what any well-to-do Midwestern white male with an empty nest and a Portuguese wife would do – he bought a condo in Florida. And being more than able and willing to invite his adult children back to the metaphorical table *assuming they could now pay for themselves*, Landon had an open invite to drop by some time to visit. And hey, maybe bring a friend?

Thus, did we find ourselves one snowy February morning soaring several thousand feet over the ground, masks clasped tightly around our noses, a bottle of hand sanitizer always at the ready should a stranger even so much as glance in my direction (Every time I heard someone cough, I think I lost a year from my, if genetics is any indicator, already short life). Now, Landon’s dad wasn’t going to be there when we arrived. He doesn’t live in this condo full time, and still works in New York for the airlines. Which was mildly disappointing, as I feel like he and I have a lot in common. Neither of us are particularly fond of social interaction; we both have a prolific fondness for black coffee; and we can spend an entire conversation together doing nothing more than staring idly at a computer screen and not acknowledging each other’s presence.

His mom, however, was going to be there for the duration. Which is where our story truly begins. In all fairness, I had met Landon’s mom before, so I had no excuse for not knowing *exactly* what I was getting into, especially as most of that time consisted of her *totally not being as high as a kite* and filling the empty spaces between thought and words with enough idle chatter to comprise an entire feature length film. That being said, there was a small and shockingly optimistic piece of me that thought the relaxing Florida sun, soothing ocean breeze, and gentle swaying of the palm trees would ease her hyperactive nature. Alas, it was not to be. For in the end, Landon’s mom is shockingly similar to a hummingbird with ADHD. She never seems to stop moving, always fluttering from one place to the next. You will not find a single crumb, smudge, or discarded skin particle anywhere within her general living space, as cleaning is something of a religion to her, and she is its prophet (*Fear not, children. Look upon the light reflecting from this mirror cleansed with several liters of Windex, and within its glossy reflection shall you find salvation from the filth of the earth*). And conversation truly never ends within her domain, as other people’s contributions to a dialogue are entirely optional – it doesn’t really matter if you reply to one of her inquiries; if you give it enough time (a millisecond) she’ll simply reply for you.

Suffice it to say that this led to some mild consternation on the part of this socially withdrawn workaholic. The weird conversations, strange occurrences, and ethereal disregard for basic human decorum that arose during the course of this week are likely enough to fill a novel. But in the interest of time and my rapidly dwindling cup of coffee, I’ll stick to three instances that really stuck out over these few days in the Sunshine State.

Breakfast Smoothies: Understandably, breakfast smoothies are a light and healthy way to begin any day. And as Laurie has spent most of her adult life living in small town Wisconsin where chicken is considered a vegetable, and every breakfast consisted of enough bacon, sausage, and congealed grease to instantaneously stop the heart of an athlete with the cardiovascular fortitude of a Greek god, it’s understandable that she might wish to spend the next few decades reversing the arterial damage from the first few. And within my first day of joining Landon’s clan within the family condo, she asked me if I might be willing to whip one up for her. Being a gracious guest, and acutely aware that I was effectively getting a 5-day hotel stay for free, I obviously agreed, and prepped myself to follow her instructions to a “T”.

“Okay Tom, so what you’re going to want to do is reach into the fridge, yup good, and pull out those strawberries and that carton of pineapple juice. Lovely. And see that half a banana sitting on the counter? Great, snatch that up and slice it for me. Cool, so we have our banana, strawberry, pineapple juice…okay, great go ahead and put all that in the blender. Hmmmm…okay, toss a few blueberries on the top there….and oh yeah *duh*, take some ice and just layer it in there. Great! Okay, last step. Reach under the counter, uh-huh that’s the one, and pull out the handle of Malibu. Great, and just pour that in righhht over the top. Yup, keep going. Bitch, have I said when? Keep. Pouring. Has it reached the top of the blender yet? Perfection. Okay, now just give that a quick blitz.”

What. The. Fuck. Of course she’s so happy all of the time, she’s literally walking around with a buzz 24 hours a day under the dulcet rays of the Florida sun. *This was at 10 am*. She’s made getting day drunk into an Olympic event. She is what college frat boys aspire to be. “Oh, I’m just gonna grab a quick shower beer. Aren’t I young and outrageous!” Bitch, have you started every morning of the last calendar year with a third of a handle of rum? Didn’t think so. Check yourself, Chad. This is Laurie’s inebriated world, we’re all just living in it.

Early Mornings: As we’ve reviewed in prior posts, I am not a particularly apt sleeper. I really only get around 4 hours of sleep per night, and have a tendency to wake up shockingly early (usually around 4:30 am). And as on a typical day I usually take this early rising time as a sacred opportunity to get a few hours of work done without the incessant interruptions of well-meaning co-workers, I am just generally in the habit now of always waking up around this time. Including vacation. Which posed something of a problem in Florida. As I live alone, I normally have nobody to occupy my space and mental capacity when I wake up in the early hours of the morning. But apparently, Laurie operates on much the same sleep schedule as I do. In fact, I’m not entirely sure she *ever* actually sleeps, outside of drifting off for a few minutes here and there (Which we’ll get to momentarily). All I know, is that during that first day she was pseudo-psychotically cleaning a set of dishes in the kitchen when I walked out of my bedroom to start the morning. (Note: We didn’t even use any dishes the prior evening. I have no idea what dishes she was cleaning. I’m pretty sure she took some perfectly clean dishes out of the cupboard, just to clean them again.)

I’m usually a perfectly pleasant person in the morning, given that I’m a generally early riser with a propensity for immediate, and copious amounts of, coffee. But I had an extremely difficult time that morning hiding my irritation as I grunted in reply to her streams of loosely held together dialogue (Side note, props again to Paul: Since this is his usual response in the same scenario, and given that she’s now been subjected to this for several decades, my lack of conversational prowess was well within expectations.) As such, in order to avoid this in the future, I devised a plan. You see, Laurie liked to sneak in a quick (hopefully sober) swim each morning, and as strange as the dish cleaning might seem, it was also something of a daily occurrence. As such, all I had to do was lie in bed until I heard the last bowl being placed back in the cupboard, at which point silence would reassert itself, meaning Laurie had departed to practice a few laps of the butterfly stroke, and I could exit my bedchambers safely. Truly an aberration from a typical morning in Milwaukee.

Late Night Snacks: Along with a never-ending social battery and a perpetual state of mild inebriation, Landon’s mom has an almost shocking disregard for personal space. Which meant that, for better or worse, we ended up spending quite a bit of time with her. In particular, late at night, when the primary activities of the day had subsided, and we were passing our evenings watching movies and TV shows. Specifically, the movie Stardust (i.e. a masterpiece of literary fantasy fiction translated seamlessly to the big screen via stunning visuals and an inspired performance from Robert De Niro) and the TV show Scrubs (i.e. the primary recipient of my free time in middle school, and a love letter to platonic bromances everywhere). Now, Laurie would always begin the evening watching these visual masterpieces with us, but would usually drift off after an hour or so in her recliner (which, incidentally, she found on the side of the road 2 days earlier, but that’s a story for another time). And each time, Landon would gently, yet chidingly, tell her that she should probably get to bed. And each time, Landon’s mom would come to, stand up, and briefly leave the vicinity.

Admittedly, the first time this happened we thought she *had actually gone to bed*. But it became very obvious very quickly that she had no intention of doing so. Instead, she rallied hard, and returned to join the party, fresher than ever before (sincerely, frat boys – take note. This is your mascot, your muse. Flock to her side, and submit as her humble acolytes). The first time this happened, she returned with a bowl of cereal and a glass of rum, which is as remarkable as it is ultimately disgusting. With her anachronistic breakfast food and superfluous alcohol in hand, she sat back in her recliner to resume barely paying attention to the movie (except, obviously, to make fun of it every 10 to 15 minutes). The second time this happened, she returned with a few slices of pizza, a soda, and a shocking disbelief that she could be gaining weight when *she went swimming every morning*. I assume she eventually went to bed. I wouldn’t truly know, as she outlasted both myself and Landon. But if I were a betting man, I would once again hazard that she doesn’t actually sleep, and is subsisting entirely on rum and sun, like a drunken house plant.

So, there you have it. A week in the life of Landon’s mom. As alluded to earlier, this does not even begin to capture every aspect of her personality, nor our time together (For example, I didn’t even touch on being yelled at for not making my bed). But this should suffice for now. Any wider window into this landscape of crazy would be as looking upon the face of God himself – sure to drive you mad from the sheer impossibility of it and the inability of the human eye to truly interpret what it’s seeing.

But thankfully, this means more blog fodder for a later date. In the meantime (*pours aggressive glass or Malibu*) cheers, all.

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