Two parents, two languages, two, two two.
My crackpot engineer father had his paper for Turbo Expo 2007 turned down, like his paper for Turbo Expo 2006 and others. He does not represent mainstream thinking in his field, instead choosing to look at exceptional events that conventional thinking can not explain. His fight with these idiots motivates and drives him, sending him back to peck at the keyboard time and time again.
But he still kinda wanted to see what’s going on, which is why I suggested going to Montreal this week. The plan was very soft — my mother couldn’t commit to anything, from if she wants to go out this afternoon to her own responsibility or happiness.
We left Monday morning, a few hours later than my father and I would have if she was not coming. Her displeasure with our suggested departure was not offered in words, but in grimaces we had to interpret and serve. That was the same technique she used to demand a half-hour breakfast at Panera before departure. Ah, passive-aggressive pushy-bottom narcissists, who make you figure out what they want are not fun.
I knew that my job would be taking care of my mother. Except for a few moments when I left the hotel room after she was settled at night, or before she was out in the morning, I was always with her, driving or pushing the wheelchair.
What this lead to in me was a kind of a smarmy TV show, where I narrated almost everything. It seemed important to entertain her, to engage her, and to keep her calm as I tried to figure out where the hell the things were in Montreal.
I know the city of Montreal because I spent a term at McGill as part of Canadian Studies from NY State University College @ Plattsburgh, just 60 miles south. I was a kid there, and as I walked in the night, I thought about how I wasted my time there, never claiming myself but sticking to being my parent’s child. Girls in black tights, and I should have been one of them.
I thought that right until I walked into the toilet in the room I had to share with my parents, where the stench of my mother’s used sanitary pants overwhelmed me.
I had come up with a plan that dropped my father at the Expo while I occupied my mother, and he would meet us back at the hotel. Problem is that she was upset that no one was taking care of my father.
I call this dilemma the three hands problem. In microcosm it happened when I had the peony support rings in one hand, my pocket knife in the other hand, and the tag I cut away fell to the ground. My father yelled at me for letting the paper drop. Now, I fully intended to pick up the tag after my knife was back in my pocket, but to him, I shouldn’t have let the tag drop, holding it, I guess, in my third hand.
When I do something by myself — like dig a hole for the new lilac bush — I don’t feel that stupid. But when their expectations get layered on, pulling me in all directions and demanding three or more hands, like to hold the basket and push the wheelchair simultaneously, well, it gets hard, just as it did when my father decided to tell me how to prepare the hole, not thinking about the physical limits of the job. In the past he has mocked me for using brute force, but when the tree had to come out of there, there was no time to borrow a chainsaw, I had to move the 12″ trunk by myself.
In Montreal, I had to take care of both of them, catering both to my mother’s incredible neediness and to her concerns over her husband, who, now he totters with a cane, she sees as frail.
I got my mother into the hotel — very anxiety thing for me — down into parking and then up, with the bags. It was many hands. The pressure was exacerbated by needing to urinate, and with this sugar intolerance thing, when I need to go, I need to go. I couldn’t find a facility, I did find my father who I tried to lead to my mother, but the elevator was on the wrong floor, I bimpled and bobbled, finally having to relieve myself in a corner of the parking garage. Oy.
My father, of course, hadn’t asked about the Metro, the subway that went right from the hotel to the Palais De Congress, so he walked the whole way.
After a few minutes upstairs — “Make me tea!” — we were off on our evening jaunt, to Ikea in Boucherville. I got us across the bridge — driving stress — and north on 20. My mother, though, didn’t like the fact I wasn’t sure where were going, and pushed me to get off to find an Information Tourisique.
Of course, that just lead us astray.
I drove and I drove, and she got more and more disturbed. Eventually, I found 30 east, which would cross 20 east. You see, because the St. Lawrence isn’t straight, around Montreal, there are no North/South roads, but East/West roads often cross each other. Oy.
Eventually I pulled into a Dollarama, and pushed her about, though having to run McDonald’s across the street to heed another call of nature. I tried to peruse the brochures I grabbed to find a map, but her needs were more pressing, needing me to pull the stickers of the peg so she could find what she wanted, and not wanting to wait for me to return them to their position.
It was at the cash I got to see my mother at her worst. This wasn’t tourist country, but she was sure the woman at the register should understand her demands for instructions to Ikea. I looked resigned and compassionate, saying “Merci” to her, just another woman understanding how hard it is to take care of the elderly.
I continued on 20 back towards Montreal — the same 20 we turned off at her behest to find directions — and when I saw the big blue and yellow building, my mother really didn’t want to believe it. She had already decided I had fucked up royally, and didn’t want to be surprised with success.
Then it was pushing and explaining and narrating some more, though dinner and looking at couches.
I got them back to the hotel and they were down, but the worst was yet to come. You know, I really wish I could shorthand this, not have to work so hard to retell the story, but the excruciating parts are in the details, the wearing, little crushing details that make every moment a new challenge in survival.
The next morning it was out for breakfast. My mother was not happy I hadn’t found her a room with a nice breakfast included, but was pleased I heard her injunction for savoury and brought back slabs of Quebecois pate to go with her olive roll. I packed them up and got them in the car, but as I was sliding into the driver’s seat, the door limited by a massive concrete pillar less than a foot from it, I saw the problem.
The driver’s front tire was flat.
I unloaded the car to get the spare and jack, rolled the car forward a bit, but not too far, since the garage was tiny and overloaded, and started.
The scissor jack has a base of about 8″ by 4″ . Tiny. And the garage floor was sloped. The jack tilted and the car slipped off.
The general manager of the hotel, an glib, solicitous & urbane Eastern European fellow, explained I should have used the parking brake.
The next time, with the parking brake on, the same thing happened.
I went upstairs with the GM to call AAA. He told me that I should be proud of taking care of my parents so well. Then I went downstairs and got my mother back into the wheelchair and my parents into the lobby.
I failed again on the third try, though this one was much harder because the car had rolled back enough to have the pillar against the jack, so the handle had to be removed and replaced at every stroke.
When I told my father, he explained how I should have scavenged wood to chock the car. Apparently this is what he had been telling my mother, as she rolled her eyes.
I ran with my father to the Metro station, showing him the map, explaining the stops. helping him find the right direction. He still missed his stop — Place D’Armes sounded too French, so he rode on to Victoria Square — but made it.
Since I was reluctant to use the cells we have in Canada, and my father hates his anyway — it confuses him — I told him that starting at 2:30, he should be outside the hall every half hour on the half hour.
I found the AAA guy. He asked if I spoke any French.
I quickly figured out what he was asking. Was I like a Montrealer, who respected language, or was I like my mother, who demanded service the way she wanted it? I remember seeing a court session in Montreal, one person speaking English, the responder French, each having the grace to understand the other’s language even while speaking their own.
It was a bit of a mess — the parking garage demands payment, no place to put the jack, the donut having to be levered on — but when he finished and I said “Marvieullux!” (Marvelous) he laughed. I ran up stairs to get cash and a card — my mother had decided she would carry the money — and got going.
Problem is that I was in the heart of the city looking for a Goodyear dealer. My father had been explicit, that he wanted to replace the tire with the same kind. I just was hoping I could get something, and he wanted Goodyear. Yeah, add to the stress and pressure, go.
I loaded my mother and drove north on the island, desperately seeking help. I kept up the chatter, of course, patter to calm her down, and moved. Finally, after a pee stop for her at a McDonald’s, I decided to go to the south shore (the east shore?) where I had some comfort, crossing the big Champlain bridge.
I got off before Taschareaux, and wove down small streets, looking for tires. I was about to be routed onto Pont Victoria, the old railroad bridge I had joked always confused me. Built in 1859 for the railroad, it doesn’t easily fit into modern traffic. My mother, told me to turn off, which I would have done anyway, but better she was engaged.
There it was — a small service station with tires outside. My mother had been pushing me to stop at any service station, and it was impossible to tell her that auto body shops were not good places to get tires done.
I stopped and dropped off the tire. It was about 1:15, which means I had screwing with this thing for about 2.5 hours. He said to come back at 2. Luckily, the place would be easy to find — Pont Victoria is a big landmark, so big there are even signs leading you to it.
We drove towards Tacheraux, the big street. Instead of shopping, she encouraged me to stop at Harvey’s. She got the right condiments on her burger, but I got the wrong ones on mine, and between the fatigue and the language I just gave up.
We got back and the guy realized he had mounted the tire in the wrong direction, for the passenger side. It meant more time, but good he had that level of quality. They mounted the tire on the car — good, because by now it was raining — I paid and we were off.
We had missed the 2:30 pickup, so I stopped the car on Rue Bleury at 2.50. “What is the name of the street in English?” my mother asked after my French prounciation, reminding me of my Toronto grandmother, who when I read package instructions in French said “It must be on there in Canadian!”
I assumed that the stop would allow me to clean up the mess in the car, and be there for 3PM, but my mother nixed the idea, demanding that I drive on.
My father had misheard me, so he had been standing outside since 2. I waved and he indicated that I should make a kind of U-Turn on this one way street to get into a cab-rank.
My anxiety level rose from 9.5 to 12 at that, and I pulled, blocking the street and being blocked from turning more. The traffic moved and I did, and we got there, my father slowly getting in the back seat.
Problem is, a water bottle was on the seat, not well capped, needed for my sugar help, but thrown back there because as a passenger, managing objects was beyond my mother’s capacity.
The bottle opened as my father sat on it, and he got quite cross. Is there something higher than 12?
I drove and drove and got my mother to her other demand, the big supermarket. I unloaded her, standing in the rain waiting, and my father got out, and I didn’t close my door, leaving it for him, and got shit because I would have screwed up and my idiocy meter pegged, and when I got back, she felt I had left her in the chair blocking other people and cresendo, bang.
But there was shopping to be done, shopping where my mother didn’t look at the table close on the right, but looked across the aisle and got angry, shopping where she demanded going up the same aisle four times, shopping where my father followed so close with the cart he caught my heel with the bone spur three times, shopping where I had to run upstairs to the can, shopping from hell. As I write this now I stop to slap myself hard in the head from the frustration of it all.
After checking out and leaving my mother in the lobb, no the store, no over there, and my father baffled in the lobby, I went out and repacked the car, the rain having stopped. I got the groceries in — baked goods, baked goods, pickles and soup for her, jam & Red River for him. I loaded my mother & her chair, baffling my father who didn’t know where she was, and realized I was to drive.
I didn’t want to drive across the border. Anxiety.
I also didn’t want to drive without water, which was in the back seat, and which I couldn’t ask my father for, not after the performance of him trying to dry his wet bum in the store.
I chattered, though, found CBC Radio 1 on the radio, and go through the border. My mother said that my father should pick where to eat in Plattsburgh, at least until she decided he wanted to eat at Perkins.
I drove most of the rest of the way, with my father driving after it got dark. Scary.
Loads to bring in and my mother falling asleep in her recliner, not making it upstairs to bed.
And I thought about the window of the locked Mac Pro store on St. Laurent, people in a city where people live between languages, claiming some kind of life.
And then another damn day.
“They appreciate your help and they resent it,” Miz Ruby said last night.
And I feel like an idiot.