Thursday, September 20, 2012
Time for some levity: White Trash in the Snow - Chapters Thirty Five and Thirty Six
(Last week's chapters of White Trash in the Snow - 33 and 34 - can be found HERE.)
“You’ve never seen New York City, Cristol. Aren’t you excited?”
Rachael and Cristol were on a transcontinental airliner 36,000 feet in the air. This trip was unusual in many ways, not the least of which was that no other family members came along. Rachael had spent the first minutes of the flight reveling in thoughts of taxpayer dollars covering this trip east. They were public servants. All of the Saplins were practically working for nothing. Tad wasn’t on the payroll, but, like Hillary during the Clinton years, the electorate was getting “two for the price of one.” That was the only comparison with that couple that Rachael Saplin would allow anyone to make. That whiny Harvard educated lawyer and her philandering womanizing husband are nothing like me and Tad.
Settling back and closing her eyes, Rachael turned her thoughts to the office where an assistant was still trying to complete details of the agenda for the days immediately in front of them. It had been a last minute decision to have Cristol accompany her to New York. The reason given was that Cristol would attend a women’s luncheon with her mother. As with most events, the invitation was sent in the governor’s name only, but Governor Saplin ignored such minor details. She showed up with extra people (usually it was Pride and Tad) to events of all kinds. As a whole, organizers were very gracious people. It was their job, wasn’t it? Table settings would hastily be set, extra rooms provided if Maple and Cristol went along, and everyone acted as if it was the management’s oversight not to have things “just right” prior to Governor Saplin’s arrival.
Governor Saplin bragged often that she was thrifty, and she was. This flight was coach, and she and Cristol would be sharing the lodgings, too - suite in a luxury hotel on 5th Avenue for only $900 dollars a night. And out of the four day trip, they would only go to three expensive restaurants for dinner; one night they would have New York style pizza. “Four days?” her assistant had asked, “But the women’s conference is just three hours. What else belongs on the itinerary?”
The Governor came up with an itinerary and an excuse for it, “Leaving quickly would short-change the people who elected me, to represent this great state, of course, by being seen at some of the city’s most famous places, there, too, and meeting with other high level government executives in the east.” Her office sent a news release to the New York Times, but they showed no interest. Nevertheless, this was all good for her state, she told herself, and it was going to be very good for her and her family.
There is no such thing as a coincidence, Rachael reminded herself. Being able to get Cristol out of the state and across the country at this pivotal time is God’s plan, not mine. And the destination – New York City - is the best place in the whole world to go about your business undisturbed and unnoticed. Obviously, this was divine providence. In the middle of the previous night, she had followed up and helped Providence along by calling a toll-free hotline and confirming that, in New York, an abortion could be obtained through the 24th week of gestation.
In the SUV on the way to the airport, she brought up the “common sense solution” and stated the obvious. No one knew them in New York. And privacy was protected by the founding fathers. “Do you know that the Constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion? Yup, it seems the founding fathers knew women, that in which they did, pertaining to, it seems, abortion is legal even though it’s not ideal. And when patriots, and the Supreme Court got together and wrote the laws, they had to allow it because of Freedom of Choice. I have great respect for all of ‘em and you know I’m a Constitutionalist, also.”
Cristol scowled, but said nothing.
“What do you think about that?,” Rachael prompted. Cristol did not feel obligated to open up. There was silence in the vehicle the entire rest of the way to the airport.
Rachael put the vehicle in long term parking. They took their bags out, locked it up and started the walk to the departure terminal. Rachael tried one last nudge. “Pray about it while we’re up in the air. You’re closer to God up there.”
Now, Cristol appeared to be sleeping, and Rachael decided to try to do the same. After all, they had a busy time in front of them. On Wednesday there would be a handshake photo-op with the mayor. That was the most important stop on the trip. If Rachael Saplin was going to succeed in becoming a national political figure, she needed to be seen with famous people. The Mayor of New York would be a valuable addition to her portfolio of pictures she referred to as “headshots with hotshots”.
Prior to the photo op, Rachael was scheduled to have her hair done. That would be expensed because the photo would be displayed in the governor’s office. How much would an updo cost in the Big Apple? Who cares? And she would pamper herself by paying out of pocket for a manicure and pedicure, (she’d never had a pedicure). Hmm, if all the charges were combined on one invoice and not broken down, I can submit the whole thing for reimbursement.
Now then, what was she thinking about before? Oh, yes, while she was spending a long afternoon in the salon Cristol would be having a great time. Through connections and a bit of luck, arrangements had been made for her to be in the audience at the taping of a show at the MTV studios where Jennifer Lopez was scheduled as the show’s guest that day. Rachael wasn’t sure if Cristol was a J-Lo fan, but she knew Tad thought Jennifer Lopez “had a great ass”. If Cristol got an autograph she could probably trade it with her dad for six month’s worth of weekend car privileges.
Cristol turning 17? Where’d the time go? Is Cristol ready for greater responsibility? She hasn’t proven herself very careful with her driving permit. Rachael’s thoughts wouldn’t shut off. She kept her eyes closed, but sleep was edged out by concerns about her oldest daughter. Already she had a couple speeding tickets. And there was the problem with her friends drinking and using illegal substances. I hope she doesn’t drink and drive, and, hoo boy, sex, obviously, is another area where Cristol’s been acting irresponsibly. An unwelcome memory popped into her head and Rachael saw herself in Cristol’s bedroom, yelling, saying that they were going to be late for a photo shoot, looking under the bed for a lost shoe and finding a pair of briefs.
I should have sent her to live with Helen right then and there. Rachael twisted in the seat, trying to get more comfortable. The uncomfortable memories continued to prick at her. Why didn’t I? Oh, yeah, it was Dad…, she remembered that when she’d told her parents about the discovery under Cristol’s bed, Buck’s reaction helped her cool down;“You know kids,” he said.”They’re always losing their underwear.”
She’d given her dad a hug and he’d given her a pat on the rump. She hadn’t let the misplaced clothing bother her after that, until now. It’s not my fault. I’m so busy doing the Lord's work, I have to trust Him to watch over the kids..
With troubling thoughts in her head, and Cristol napping beside her, Rachael gave up on trying to sleep and stared out the window instead. The clouds beneath looked like a landscape of snow. The snow reminded her of home. Sometimes her state could feel as large as the sky. And she was responsible for all of it! She began mentally ticking off all the pressing issues and urgent situations that had occupied her time since early summer. There had been difficult staff changes (so many people were not loyal!), and the trip to Kuwait (that’ll look good when they want me to run for VP), and week she spent with Tad when he was commercial fishing (Thank God I could keep in touch with work through my two Blackberries), and Field’s enlistment in the US Army. Then, there was that “Airport in Nowhere” deal that she’d had to reverse herself on when Senator McElwain came out against it (whew,dodged a bullet there), and she’d had to really scramble when she got such short notice about that visit from the all the powerful guys in the party (Thank God for Costco's, too). And so many problems with her former brother-in-law! She’d lost her temper when she saw him working at the State Fair’s trooper information station on First Family Day at the fair. (Who’s brain fart was that? I’m pretty sure who, and when I get back head’s will roll!) Lately, Sally’s problems with Ed were messing with Sally’s ability to help take Pride to school and lessons. That would have to be dealt with soon. And, last but not least, she’d called for a special session of the legislature so she could push through her energy proposal.
With all that happening and overlapping, of course she’d been distracted. Of course she hadn’t had much time for Cristol, or any of the rest of the family. Of course she'd not known Cristol's “development”. She couldn’t be faulted.
Maybe this New York trip would take care of that problem and also be a time for them to reconnect. Praise God.
It was Sunday night. The trip had been long, and both Rachael and Cristol were exhausted as they settled on to separate plush sofas in the posh suite, waiting for “Desperate Housewives” to start. Watching the show together was the one thing they shared, a reoccurring event that connected Cristol and her mom once a week. Even if Cristol was in Azzolla and Rachael was away, one would call the other as the theme song began and, with phones on speaker, they would comment and laugh and share the hour’s entertainment.
Both were looking forward to this evening’s show; the previews hinted that one of the main characters was going to announce she was pregnant in an attempt to keep her teenage daughter’s illegitimate pregnancy a secret. This season promised to get interesting.
“It’s going to be fun seeing if she pulls that off,” said Rachael. “After four kids, I could fake it. Shoot, it’d be easy.”
Cristol’s hands were draped across her own tummy. She asked a benign question, “Which do you think would be harder, to hide a real baby bump or fake having one?”
“Ha! Faking one’s never crossed my mind. Now, hiding…” Rachael stopped mid-sentence. “Either way, it’s all about baggy clothes.”
Cristol nodded. Her mother went on, “ Just watch. I’ll bet she will be strappin’ on a pillow and wearin’ baggy clothes.”
Cristol was about to share her feelings about hiding what she thought was now a ginormous midsection, but, to her dismay, her mom changed the subject “Isn’t this room great?” she beamed, looking around.“I’m feelin’ spoiled.” She went to the in-room snack/beverage selection, took an eight dollar bottle of spring water, and sat down again..
“This is a blessing, Cristol - you and me having girl talk and waiting for our favorite TV show.” She went back to the sofa and stretched her legs out onto the hassock. “Did I ever tell you that, when my sisters and I were little, satellites didn’t reach us? The TV Guide was worthless to us Azzles. Our local station played everything a week late, that’s when the tapes arrived by boat or plane. Even the moon landing was on tape.”
Cristol groaned. “Yes, Mom, you’ve told me.” About million times.
Rachael was fascinated by her own life’s experiences. She could find opportunities in nearly any circumstance to regurgitate tales of her childhood and young adult life. Sometimes the facts changed. If you called her on it, she ignored you. Field said it was called self-obsession. Cristol and he would roll their eyes at each other when she started in to one of her stories. They both thought she should just write an autobiography and get it out of her system. If she did, would Cristol be more than just as a footnote? “Chapter six footnote: full-term delivery October 27, 1990. Seven pound six ounce baby girl.”
Continuing to be fixated on memories of her childhood, Rachael babbled on. “Petticoat Junction was my favorite show. There were these three sisters, Billie Jo, Bobby Jo and Betty Jo in this little town called Hooterville. Hooterville had only a few townspeople and a general store. It was a lot like Azzolla. Back then we only had nine hundred people, you know. Sally and Helen and I used to pretend we were the girls from Petticoat Junction.” She kept prattling on, not noticing that Cristol could hardly keep her eyes open. “It was understood that I was the middle one, Bobby Joe. She was just like me. A brunette and a tomboy – and also, she was the smartest one.”
Rachael’s soliloquy switched over to another comedy show of the same decade “Then there was “The Beverly Hillbillies. We used to act that one out, too.” She laughed, Cristol yawned. “I was always Granny ‘cause I was really good at bein’ feisty and having crazy ideas and also at bossing around Ellie May - that was Sally- and Jethro – that was Helen. Helen hated being a boy, but we made her do it or else she couldn’t play with us. That was great. I was awesome. Even today Dad will say to me “you’re as stubborn as Granny.”
Hooterville? Hillbillies? Granny and Bobby Jo? What a lame-ass conversation, Cristol thought. But, it was always easier to let the conversation flow in her mother’s direction than to try to steer it somewhere else, so she said, “You should have become an actress, Mom. You are still really good at that stuff. And you like to be on a stage and have an audience clap and cheer for you.”
Rachael lit up. “You betcha! I do. And also, I like to tell stories; I’m a great ad-libber, too. But, as I’ve told ya before, I have a calling, discovered it when I was a teenager, politics - that’s why I’m out there every day trying to make the world match what I know is the only right way for things to be.”
Cristol was uncomfortable. She plumped up a throw pillow and moved around, trying to find a better position. If her mother insisted they talk, they would talk, but it wasn’t going to be lies and spins. “Sometimes, Mom, your stories just don’t add up,” she challenged. “If you heard God calling you into politics as a teenager, why did you study to be a sports broadcaster?” she challenged. “That sounds to me like you were rebellious. A real sinner, huh, Mom?” she was being facetious, even though that word wasn’t in her vocabulary.
“Now, just see here Cristol Sherman.” First and middle name - Rachael was showing her annoyance. “You know very well that if a door is open, I go through.”
“Right, Mom. Like the twenty college doors you went through trying to get someone to put a graduation cap on your prom hair?”
Rachael ignored the digs took a long drink of spring water.
“So, really, Mom, God said ‘Rachael Heat, go forth and be a substitute news reporter’?”
“Absolutely, yup, that’s right. God opened that door, too. And, before you ask, I’ll tell you the rest. God spoke to me through a friend’s father and said ‘Rachael, you should run for city council.’ It was another open door. Like I said, it’s simple. When a door opens, go through.” Rachael went back to the sofa and sat. Cristol watched her mother curl her trim legs up onto the seat and realized that was something she, herself, could no longer do.
“Cristol, see if there’s any straws.” Rachael always used a straw when she drank from a plastic bottle. It was a compulsion with her, a tiny bit of OCD.
Cristol got up and looked around the kitchenette for some straws, preferably the kind that had an accordion-like flexible elbow. She didn’t find any – straight or flexible. She was miffed. “Wouldn’t you think for the price of this room they would provide the essentials?”
Rachael wasn’t upset. She simply picked the phone and called room service. “This is room 2012. Can you send up some straws?...Yes, straws. Thanks. Oh, wait a minute. Make sure they’re the bendy kind….yes…thank you.” She hung up the phone, then looked at Cristol, “Do you think I should tip?”
“Huh? Tip them for a couple of three cent straws?” she said. “That would be stupid.”
“Yeah, we don’t want to look like hicks. So, where was I?”
“You were going through a door. But I have another question. You said there’s only one right way. How do you know that? Can’t there be other choices just as right? Why would the choice you make be the only right one?”
“Like I just said, Cristol, God tells me.”
“No, of course not, but everything is in the Bible. Maybe not by name, but in spirit. I choose the way that is based on faith, love and truth. That’s always the right way. It’s simple.”
“Simple? I wish”
Rachael unmuted the television with the remote, and spoke over the intro music, “Some day soon you will get your calling, then it will be easy for you, too.”
There was a knock at the door, and Cristol went to get the bendy straws for her mom.
Rachael kept talking. “Just remember – base everything on faith, love, and truth.”
The young man sent to room 2012 with an unusual delivery felt no love from the girl who answered the door. Cristol grabbed the dozen paper wrapped tubes from his hand and closed the door without making eye contact. A split second before the door shut tight he heard a woman’s voice call out “Thanks.” The sound of a chain scraping through its metal track told him he need not bother waiting for anyone within to return with a gratuity.
For the following hour, they tried to escape their own problems by watching a character named Bree deal with disturbing news from her teenage daughter. Neither found the relief they wanted. Each of them was half tuned in to the action on the large flat screen while the other half of the brain was scripting their own reality show.
Later, after lights went out, Cristol took her cell phone from the nightstand and under the covers, sent a text to Maple. “Mom is bree. LOL.”
“wat???” came the prompt reply.
“tell u when we get home : )” She closed the phone and continued thinking about the similarities between the “Housewives” character Bree, and her own mom. Both of them always trying to give the appearance that their family was perfect and that they, themselves were perfect mothers. Almost as common as her winking, was Rachael’s saying “If there was a better way to raise children, I would have found it.” The mantra was accompanied by a wagging finger.
Cristol promised herself that she would never expect her own children to be perfect. Neither did she harbor hope of becoming perfect. She knew that, already, she was far from the perfect mother.
She tossed and turned and finally began to think about the next day;s MTV taping of Total Request Live! Jennifer Lopez was the guest star, and Cristol was excited to see her in person. While internet surfing for information about pregnancy, she’d found rumors that J-Lo was expecting twins in February. If the Hollywood bloggers were right, the actress and Cristol had gotten pregnant about the same time. Cristol would get to compare herself with Jennifer’s size and shape. She must be much bigger if she’s having twins, she thought, dismissing the chance that she, herself, could also be having twins. Twin babies would, according to things she’d read, be smaller than single-birth babies, even with the same gestation period. My God, I’m using words like “gestation period.” This is totally weird.
Drifting off to sleep, Cristol pictured herself walking onto a sound stage in the clothes she’d packed - low heels, a dark skirt, a white top that hung loosely over her belly. Will I be on camera? Do I show in that shirt? Will the skirt hang alright even though I can’t pull the zipper up all the way?
It was a restless night.