The Good Doctor 65
Pete had gone into the bathroom for his morning shower when Jase came galloping into the bedroom climbed into bed and straddled my chest. He bounced once and then stared maniacally into my eyes. He was wired.
“Guess what day this is, Dad!”
I rubbed some of the sleep out of my eyes. “Mmmmmm let’s see, this has gotta be Friday.” Naturally he wasn’t settling for that.
His knees tightened their grip on my chest. “IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!”
“No! You gotta be kidding! Sure ya didn’t get the days mixed up?”
“NO! IT’S REALLY MY BIRTHDAY! I’M SEVEN!” He held up seven fingers.
“Are you sure? You were born in what…1492?”
“No, Dad! I was born in 2000!”
“You weren’t born in 1492? You didn’t sail the ocean blue?”
“No, Dad! That was Columbus! That’s what he did!”
I smiled up at him. “I always get you two confused. You’re both Italian.”
“Where’s my presents? Where ya hidin em?”
I shook my head. “You get em at the party. Otherwise your grandma kills me.”
“Oh c’mon, Dad! I don’t wanna wait!”
“You want your Grandma to kill me?”
“Noooo….but.” He doesn’t want to go to this birthday party and he’s been fighting it for a week.
I ruffled his uncombed hair. “Jase…trust me. There is no way you’re winning this argument. Grandma has her mind made up and when it comes to family it’s like this is carved in stone.”
“But Daaaaddddd! Ralphie’s a jerk!”
“I totally believe ya, Kiddo. And frankly this whole combining birthday parties’ thing is a recipe for disaster but she’s got her mind set on this. Besides, even if you guys weren’t having your birthdays together you’d still have to go to his.” Italians never miss this kind of occasion. It’s like a law.
Just then Pete stepped out of the bathroom while he was buttoning his shirt. Jase decided to try an end run.
“Pete, do I gotta go to Ralphie’s birthday party?”
Pete laughed and then bent down and kissed the top of Jase’s head. “Nice try, Jase but there’s no way I’m getting in the way of your grandma.”
I said, “Jase, the only thing that I will promise you is that I’ll get you outta there at the earliest possible moment and somehow, before next year, I’ll talk your grandma out of doing it again.”
Jase looked at both of us and then sighed. “Okay….but remember you gotta get me outta there really early.”
The thing is that little Ralphie really is a jerk and he comes by it naturally because Big Ralphie, his father, is really a jerk too.
Oddly enough, or maybe not so oddly, Pete is my secret weapon. The fact is that he scares the crap outta my family. I don’t mean that they’re physically afraid of him but to most of them a doctor is like a Lord or something. When Pete’s around all the guys will be sitting on the edge of their seats with a frozen smile plastered on their faces and the top buttons on their shirts fastening their collars around their too thick necks and when I make up some lie about why we’ve gotta leave early, they’ll be only too happy to believe it. Then, when we’re gone, they’ll open their belts, belch and scream to their wives for more beer.
If I went without Pete it’d be way different. Without Pete, in their eyes, I revert to being just another Italian guy, which when you take into consideration the whole gay thing, is still pretty remarkable. One of the main reasons for that is that as much as Pete intimidates them my mom scares the living crap outta them. Actually to them my mom is even scarier than she is to me because I’ve had the advantage of proximity and I know how she really feels about lots of things and I know, despite her tone, just how far she’s willing to go to get what she wants. Plus because I’m her kid and she loves me she’s way more willing to let me live. Guys like Big Ralphie aren’t so sure and mom works at keeping it that way.
After I got dressed my mom showed up and started assembling all the pots and pans and ingredients that she figured she’d need. Not that she was doing all the cooking. There probably be eight or more Italian women in that kitchen but mom was a little like those chefs that battle on TV. She was in charge and everyone else was a helper.
She was lowering a heavy looking cast iron pot into one of her canvas shopping bags. When she stood up she looked at me.
“You’re not wearing that, I hope!”
“Ma, I gotta go to work. This is what I wear. I’ll come home and put on my tuxedo later in the afternoon.” I was being sarcastic.
“Don’t be fresh! This party is for your son, you gotta make an effort!” That’s kinda not true, the party was for the women who had cooked this whole thing up and really didn’t give a damn what the men thought of it or for that matter, the kids.
So I decided to tell a little lie of my own. “Ma, Jase has been a little……….” I made an Italian hand gesture that implied the possibility of illness.
That got her instant attention. “What are you saying? He’s got a fever?”
“Nah….just a little warm. It comes and goes. One of his friends had a cold recently.” She stared at me.
“Just that I don’t want him overdoing it.”
She put her hands on her hips. “But he’s okay for the party?”
“Sure…but if he looks tired to me I’m bringin him home early.” Okay, so I’ll burn in hell but I promised my kid.
“Of course! Lemme know. They’ll understand.” She waved a hand. “They all got kids.”
She was moving plastic bags full of dried herbs to the canvas bags when she said, “You’re gonna have to pick up your dad too. I gotta go early to cook but he won’t sit there all day. Frankly, Ralphie makes him a little…..” She made an Italian hand gesture that meant, crazy.
“I didn’t know that.” I really didn’t.
She shrugged. “They’re never together much because that’s how I work it. They had a disagreement some years ago.”
She lowered a three liter can of olive oil into the sack. “Your father told Ralphie that he thought he was an asshole. Ralphie didn’t take it too well.” She shrugged. “But that’s water over the dam.” Hmmmm, an ally.
“Ralphie is an asshole you know.”
“Eric, the whole world knows that. I’m pretty sure that on some level even Ralphie knows it. But it’s not the kinda thing you say.” She shook her head. “Your father can be too outspoken.” And of course mom would never do that. “I keep telling him he’s gotta be more careful of other peoples feelings.”
This was Jase’s first week of school, he just started second grade so besides his birthday he’s pretty wired about being back in school. He’s really cute with his little backpack. I told him he looked adorable and he didn’t talk to me for a couple of hours. Looking adorable isn’t high on the list of most seven year olds.
I pulled up to the school and he piled into the car but I kinda missed the kiss that I usually get from him at home. He sits carefully in the passenger seat and then tries to watch for his friends without actually looking like he’s watching or even slightly interested.
I reach over and squeeze his knee. “So how’s it feel being seven?”
He looked at me and sighed. “How come I’m so little, Dad? Everybody’s bigger than me.” Ah, a question I remember asking myself when I was his age.
“Cause you’re Italian and you take after me. And yes, I know it sucks but there’s not a thing you can do about it.”
“It’s not fair!”
“I know, it’s a total gyp and I honestly can’t tell you that it gets all that much better at least until you’re like a junior in high school. You just gotta figure out how you can live with it. And while you totally got shafted on the height gene I think you’re gonna do pretty good in the looks department. And I can pretty much guarantee that you’re never gonna gain weight. That isn’t so important for you now but I guarantee it’s gonna piss everybody off later on.”
He stared out the car window and sighed. “I’ll be like a million years old by the time I’m a junior in high school.” He turned to look at me. “What happens when I’m a junior?”
I smiled, remembering. “I’ll tell ya when you’re twelve, Jase.”
“Dad, is Pete gonna be at the party?” He sighed. “David’s comin over later and he’s stayin tonight.”
“Yep, Pete said he was gonna sneak away from the clinic early. But you know how it is with Pete, if someone needs him that’s gotta come first. He loves you more than anything but that’s how it is with doctors.”
“I know…but I sure hope he comes. Besides, Ralphie’s scared of him.”
“He is?” I mean, I knew Big Ralphie was afraid of Pete.
He grinned and said, “He told me that doctors are just lookin for a reason to shove stuff up your butt.” Well, that has been my experience.
I laughed and shook my head. “You don’t believe that do ya?”
He shook his head. “I told Ralphie that Pete never talked about doin that.”
“Jase, the only time that doctors do that is when they check a guy’s prostate and that’s not until you’re older…a lot older than you are.” I turned my head and gave him a big grin. “Although with The Ralphie’s it might be the fastest way to their brains.”
My dad was leaning up against his closed garage door, his eyes were closed and his face was lifted to the sun. Both of his hands were holding onto his cane. As we pulled into the driveway his eyes opened and he smiled.
Opening the car door he put his huge hand on top of Jase’s head. “My God! Seven years old! Where the hell does the time go?” Jase has this magnetic attraction to my dad and he lights up at the attention.
As my dad settled into the passenger seat he turned to me and said, “Eric, we gotta figure a way to get outta there early. I don’t wanna spend anymore time with that jerk Ralphie than I gotta.”
He swiveled around to Jase. “You don’t actually want to spend time with Ralphie do ya? The kid is as nuts as his old man.”
“I got it covered, Dad. I told mom that if Jase started looking tired we were leaving early.”
My dad shook his head. “Your mother is normally the most sensible woman on the planet but when it comes to her family she just doesn’t know when enough is enough.”
Jase leaned forward and said, “Maybe Grandma doesn’t know they’re jerks, Grandpa.”
A quick glance at my dad told me that he figured that he better start covering his butt.
My dad said, “Well, Jase, your grandma likes to think the best of everyone and so sometimes she doesn’t really see how people are.” That was a load of crap but I understood his motivation.
I shot Jase a warning look in the rearview mirror so that he’d understand to go along with me. “Well, Dad, one of Jase’s friends has a cold and Jase has been feeling a little under the weather so if he gets tired I told Ma that we’d be leaving early.” Jase looked at me in the mirror and coughed.
My dad was suppressing a grin and then said with a straight face, “We gotta watch out for the boy’s health.” He looked at his watch and said to Jase, “It’d be nice if you started to feel worn out around six-thirty.”
Despite being a jerk Ralphie is a great bricklayer and has a very successful business doing just that. And, of course, like most bricklayers, Ralphie’s house, which he built himself, is almost all brick. You even get the feeling that the trees would be made of brick if he could have thought of a way.
I dropped my dad and Jase at the foot of the long brick driveway while I parked the car. If the parking situation was any indication there had to be like thirty people inside the house.
I jogged back and then the three of us walked to the house.
My dad tapped the reddish brick of the driveway with his cane. “How would you plow snow off of this? The blade of the plow would always be hitting the edges of the brick.”
“I dunno, Dad.” We could hear loud female Italian voices yelling about cooking and laughing.
Inside a substantial portion of my family descends on us and we’re swept along by a tsunami of genuine Italian emotion. I think I got kissed like ten times and I’m surprised Jase’s head didn’t start to actually swell up from all the kisses. He was pulled away from me by a sea of women and hauled off.
Breaking free of the welcoming committee I spotted my second cousin Sally Rosinaro leaning against a kitchen counter sipping a glass of blood red wine while the worker bees buzzed around her trying to get all the food made. She obviously had not the slightest intention of helping and didn’t seem even marginally phased by the poisonous looks she was getting from the other women.
She tossed her jet black hair, lifted her glass to me and winked. Her voice was throaty. “Hi handsome.” She pushed off from the counter touched her teeth with the tip of her tongue and said, “Finally, somebody to play with.” Ten feet behind her my mother’s head came out of the refrigerator while she stared daggers at Sally.
I grinned at her. “Hi, Sally. You behaving yourself?” She was a slut and the whole family knew it including her husband. There were even rumors going around that he joined her in the games. Oddly enough they had three really great kids.
I was standing in the doorway to the dining room and she looked like she was going to brush past me but when she was right in front of me she turned slowly, rubbing her breasts against my chest. In the background I could hear my mother make a guttural noise deep in her throat. I pretended that I didn’t hear it.
Sally blinked and then stared into my eyes in a way that could only be described as smoldering. The thing is that Sally is so typical of how straight women think of gay guys. It’s like they figure that if they gave us a free shot at it we’d convert. They really don’t get it.
I smiled at her and lifted an eyebrow. “Any new tattoo’s?”
“ERIC!!” My mother’s voice was a sharp crack and she was obviously giving up on subtle and all activity in the kitchen stopped. The only sound was the boiling water on the stove and the sound coming from the family room of a TV surrounded by guys.
I turned and pretended that I had just now seen her. “Oh, hi Ma! When did you get here?”
She rolled her eyes. “I need your help, Eric!”
“Right now?” Eight other women were watching my mother and it was almost like they were frozen. This was a dangerous game I was playing and my timing had to be perfect.
I gave Sally a “What can you do” look and walked over to my mom.
I put my hand on her arm and said, “Ma, I hope you’re not working too hard.”
She, in a small gesture, jerked her arm away and said in a tense whisper, “You’ve got a doctor at home, you don’t need a tramp!”
I smiled and whispered back, “You really think that I’d ever want to trade? She’s only dangerous when you don’t talk to her.”
“Never mind talking to her! Just go in and see what your son is doing! And make sure your father stays outta trouble.”
In the huge paneled family room the guys were in a large semi-circle lounging on chairs and sofas watching what had to be the world’s biggest flat panel TV. Little Ralphie was sitting off to the side on the floor looking at a laptop computer and Jase was half leaning against my dad who was sitting pretty much in the middle of the room. Basically the men were waiting for the women to tell them what they should be doing. Sally didn’t count and she was the only women in the room. She was sitting on the arm of the chair that her husband was sitting in.
Big Ralphie was sprawled in an overstuffed chair next to my dad. His left hand had a firm grip on his crotch but then it usually did. He looked bored and irritated at being out of his element. Normally he’d be telling everyone what they should be thinking about whatever was on the TV but with my dad there it put him off his game and he didn’t like it.
When he saw me his head rolled against the back of his chair and the fingers on the hand that wasn’t holding his crotch waved at me. In his own way he sounded almost despondent. “Hi, Eric.” He sighed and jerked his thumb in the direction of the kitchen. “They makin any progress in there?”
I reached out and pulled Jase back against me and said, “I haven’t got a clue. They could be doin a coronary bypass for all I know.”
I bent my head down and whispered to Jase, “You doin okay?”
He turned and rubbed his head against my stomach. “I don’t feel so good.”
I whispered back at him, “Save it for later, it’s too early.”
He rubbed his eyes. “No, I really don’t feel good, Dad.” Uh oh.
“How not good? A cold not good or stomach not good?”
He gave me a pitiful look. “You better take me to the bathroom.”
Oh. “Okay, Jase, just take it easy let’s go.”
“We better hurry, Dad.”
We just made it. Jase dived for the toilet and puked out his guts. Nothing is as bad as him being sick, nothing. After a few minutes he seemed like he felt better and I got him cleaned up but we only made it to the door before he had to throw up again but this time it seemed like the last time. I don’t know how I knew that but I did.
He looked sick in only the way that a little kid can. I said, “Can you handle the ride home or do we need to wait and see if there’s more?”
He swallowed and said, “I wanna go home.” I knew the feeling.
I poked my head out of the door. We pretty much had everyone’s attention except the Ralphies. I looked at my dad and jerked my thumb towards the door. My dad moved pretty quickly and intercepted my mom at the kitchen door. She was moving like a heavy cruiser slamming through the waves of the North Atlantic flags snapping in the gale and eight inch guns scanning for the enemy. Her elbows were tight to her body her fingers tight around a large wooden spoon pointed straight up.
My dad attacked. “We’re going home, Helen. The boy is sick.”
I said, “Puking, Ma.”
She rushed over and put a hand on Jase’s head. He hated this! He particularly hated it because it was happening in front of everyone. It’s a thing that adults totally miss and it’s like the main thing to a kid. I was as much concerned about saving him from embarrassment as I was in getting him home and in bed.
“Ma, we’re leaving now.” I guided Jase away and towards the door.
She said, “But how? He didn’t have anything before.”
Then Big Ralphie made a huge mistake. He rolled out of his chair staggered to his feet laughed and said, “Maybe it was your food, Helen.” There was a collective gasp.
My mother’s expression froze on her face. She turned slowly and looked at Ralphie, her eyes dripped contempt. She took two steps towards him and stood with her hands on her hips her head held high.
“He didn’t eat my food, Ralphie, he ate that pudding crap that your poor wife made. And maybe you should be more worried about paying back the money you owe me than about what I cook for my grandson. I been ignoring the fact that you haven’t been able to pay me because you’re family…but that could change.”
Jase’s head rested back against David’s chest as Pete’s gentle fingers probed.
David laughed and said, “Jase is just too ornery for germs to live for any length of time.”
Pete covered Jase up and said, “It probably was the pudding but there’s no real way to tell. That’s generally the way those things seem to work in kids. An adult might have fought it off for a few hours and ended up puking in the middle of the night. With a kid it just happens faster.”
Jase said, “Will I gotta go to school on Monday?”
Pete laughed. “You’ve got the whole weekend to recover, Jase. I’m pretty sure you’re gonna feel just fine by tomorrow morning.”