Afterwhile, Crocodile 🖤
Robbie has covid. So irritating. Got him on Paxlovid the same day he had obvious symptoms and a positive at home antigen swab, done by me, probably more aggressive than he would have done. The second line popped up right away. Seems like me and Gma Pat are the last of the Covid Superheroes in the Anderson Clan. And Dylan. And Beau.
He’s isolated in Dylan’s old room, on the first bed I ever purchased. Got it at Macy’s on a brand new credit card when I was like 19? 20? We have all the air purifiers on and he wears a mask if he comes out of the room for anything. I make him get up and out of bed to shower and walk around and go outside and sit in the sun. He is fatigued and achy and has mild nasal congestion and a mild sore throat. Not worsening. Demanding, but not worsening. He wants cake. He’s a crybaby whiner head. And sometimes he’s an autocorrected duck. But he’s not in the icu and he’s not intubated and he’s not on ECMO and he’s not dead. Like my dad.
I worked at Hoops Sports Bar & Grill on Freeport Boulevard, back when I bought that bed. Must have been 1992? 93? I was a waitress, with a black apron and a fancy manicure. I made good tips and minimum wage. My rent was only like $225/month. Todd used to throw food at me and Clint or Paulie were behind the bar. Our regulars were the OGs from Fuji cuz they owned the place, a couple of mailmen, a fellow polo parent and some of his cronies that shall remain nameless, and all of my friends. We were in the same building as the old Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor. The one the airplane crashed into and killed 12 children and 10 adults and injured 25 others, in 1972. Now it’s the Police Department.
One night, I was standing at the cash register near the front door and several police officers came in all stealth like, guns drawn, looking at me like where is he? Is there a problem, Officers? They signaled me to get behind them. That was whack. Some silent alarm had gone off, apparently. Other than that weirdness, it was a fun place to work. From Friday or Saturday DJ dance club to Sunday morning brunch to Monday Night Football, it was sometimes busy and often not and eventually it closed and I was on unemployment for awhile. I was still trying to take classes at Sac City College, but mostly just dropped them. Surviving. Falling in real love. Living my own life.
One night, when sleeping over at Robbie’s apartment, my Mazda GLC was stolen from the alley behind his apartment building at 1818 G Street. I hated that bucket and was so glad it was stolen. I walked out to go to work Sunday brunch and it was gone. I thought maybe Robbie or Erik played a joke on me and moved it. Nope. That car sounded like a rattle-trap car. It would backfire and rumble and smoke and I didn’t have money for maintenance. I drove it until the thing wouldn’t move anymore. It super sucked when the police said they found the car and I had to go pay hundreds of dollars to get it out of impound and it had finger print dust everywhere and smelled like homeless people. No offense intended to the unhoused. But, if this story was scratch and sniff…you would understand.
I had that car towed to my dad’s house in Fairfield once, cuz he said he would get it fixed for me. I was desperate and it was a rare interaction. It was necessity. It was only temporarily “fixed.” Snap, crackle, pop pop pop. He gave me a few hundred dollars when I told him I needed some help. He wasn’t an everyday dad, but when I asked for it he found a way or my grandparents would. It wasn’t easy to always have to ask for basic necessities. Yes, at that point I was technically an adult, but it had always been that way. Nothing was automatically given or to be relied upon. Like a tightrope walker without a safety net. Just gotta land on your own two feet.
My grandfather was the Chief of Police in Fairfield. When he retired, he opened a bar. Later, he bought a piece of property next to Johann’s. Home of hot dogs and pancakes. Ding’s Cocktail Lounge became a Fairfield landmark and was around up until the year I got married, 1999. I mean, that’s when my Grandfather sold it. It does still exist, with a whole different vibe, today. But the OG Ding is dead.
And so is my Gma Helene. She was the second wife. I am named after my father’s mother, Anne Marie, the first wife. She died before I was born. I have heard she died of a broken heart. There may have been a scandal of some sort, but I was never part of that conversation. Helene was the only grandmother I knew on that side of my family. I spent so much lovely time with her. I don’t think my aunts, uncles, or cousins know quite how special our relationship was, or how close I was to both Gma Helene and Papa Ding. I say that because to them, I’m mostly peripheral at this point. On the side. Not in the fold. I was the first grandchild and had my grandparents all to myself for like 10 years. My mom was always sending me to their house for the weekend. I happily went. It felt like love and stability when I was there. I was proud to share my grandfather’s last name, until the inevitable “this is Randy’s daughter.” My time with my grandparents made up for the lack of time with my dad, back then. It doesn’t anymore.
I would wake up and go sit in the bean bag in front of cartoons on the console TV with the round channel dial, click-click-click. My grandma Helene would bring me orange juice and sourdough toast with butter. My grandfather was already out of the house, off to have coffee with the regulars or out to help a friend with something on the ranch, or IDK…just out and about. Never idle. Then gma and I would go to the bar so she could do the books. I loved going to the bar with her in the early mornings. Sometimes she would take me over to Johann’s for a giant pancake. She would order it and go back to the bar to work while I stayed there to eat. It seemed safe. Then I would walk back to the bar and play Ms. Pac Man, the kind that was a table you could set drinks on with an ashtray, still clean cuz it was early. High Score. Or, I would play pool, and use the cheater stick. I remember the feel of the chalk on my hands and how I would rack ‘em up, with precision. No 8-ball rule when you play alone. I would play all my favorite songs on the jukebox. I played Upside Down by Diana Ross over and over and over again and dance and sing like no one was watching. I loved those lyrics. And Hopelessly Devoted to You by Olivia Newton John. Unlimited quarters.
The bartenders were my best friends. There was Georgie Porgie Puddin’ Pie who kissed the girls and made them cry and when the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away. He let me come behind the bar and use the gun for my orange juice or my Shirley Temple and I got my own pile of cherries. And smokehouse almonds in the little package. My grandpa called them ammonds, no L. They taught me how to play dice. I love the sound of the shake of the leather dice cups and then pounding them on the bar and the sound of the dice landing., clickety-clack. There was Hoppy, who was always cleaning. They had those towel machines in the bathroom, the ones that go round and round. And the urinals had those smelly disinfectant thingys that the men peed on. Ew. And there was always Blackie, he was a regular and my grandfather’s friend. They all made me feel loved. I was their early morning entertainment.
My grandmother had a cluttered office with liquor bottles stacked high on wooden shelves and it had an underground safe buried into the floor. It had a barrel-key lock and a combination lock and fake floor that made it invisible. She let me open it and get the bank bag out. After she did the books, we would go to the bank drive-thru to make the deposit. She told me that every week she deposited $5 into an account for me. That seemed like a lot when I was little. They probably had to use that money to pay legal fees or bail my dad out of jail…cuz it was never given to me.
Gma loved going to the horse races. She was a gambler. She would take me with her and let me bet. Like I literally could walk up to the betting window and place my own bet, without an adult with me. $2 to Show on Wandering Whisper, please. Gma liked the trifecta. I loved those days. She wore hot pink lipstick, always. She would secretly smoke cigarettes, but only at the track. “Shh, don’t tell Grandpa, he doesn’t like it when I smoke.”
My mom would take me to K-mart to pick out back to school clothes and she would put them on layaway then ask my grandma to pay for them. And those blue-light special ham sandwiches. I always came home with new K-Mart clothes or Kinney’s shoes. I remember a particularly favorite outfit my gma bought me. I picked out a pink satin bomber jacket paired with black cholo pants and china flats. I loved that jacket. I wore it to school on Monday. I thought my grandparents were rich, because they owned the bar and a nice house and a boat and they always had enough money to buy me clothes and shoes and to give my mom whatever she asked for. They were generous. My dad never paid “child support.” But if we needed something and asked, they always gave my mom what she needed. But, it sucks to have to ask for basic needs. Forever.
Grandpa was always home by dinner time. Sometimes, if he had been at the bar overlong, he was drunk when he came home. I could always tell because everything was funny. He was a happy drunk, at least when I was around, so it was all good. Sometimes he cooked or gma cooked, but I loved it when he did. He made the mundane delicious. Here, try these pickles I made, Andrew. Or here take this smoked trout home, it’s good on crackers. Oh, my buddy gave me some alligator, let’s grill it. Take this venison home, pound it out, season it with salt and pepper, dredge in flour and fry it in oil. You’ll love it. I made spaghetti sauce, take some home. Albondigas for dinner, sound good? We usually had fresh bread and butter and an iceberg salad on the side and they bought Catalina dressing for me cuz I liked that tangy sweetness. I sat in that folding metal step-stool booster seat that all households had in the 70’s. Gma’s specialty was Peach Cobbler. We always sat down to the table for dinner, the 3 of us. I loved that. After dinner, there was usually some football or baseball game on. I would sit in the crook of my grandfather’s legs on the couch with him, snuggled. Sometimes we would play ping pong in the family room, like across the room from each other, no table. I wonder how many ping pong balls they found in the light fixtures when they remodeled. Probably at least 100. Gma would bring us both nightly ice cream. Dryers Vanilla for him, Rocky Road for her, and a little of both for me. With Hershey’s chocolate sauce. He would try to teach me Spanish so I could at least count. Mi Espanol es muy malo, pero entiendo mas que hablar. I speak Spanglish a lot at work, and rarely need a translator, so that’s cool. Necesitas algo? Tiene dolor? Quieres mas medicina por dolor?
They had a vacation home at Lake Berryessa. It was a mobile home. A double wide with a huge wooden deck over looking the lake with stairs that led to the dock. Those weekends were the best weekends. My grandfather had a pontoon boat with downriggers for fishing deep in the lake. We would go out fishing on the boat at least once a day, sometimes twice. Morning and evening. He would pull me slowly on the tube on the way home after we brought the lines in. Grandma didn’t go out on the boat with us. That was our time. He let me choose the radio station and he let me drive the boat. I can bait a hook, land a fish, kill it, and clean it. Cook it in foil on the grill with butter and lemon and herbs. Rainbow Trout preferred. Thanks, grandpa. I loved those days. All of them. I don’t ever remember a day filled with tears when I was with them. They made me feel so loved. They always wanted me, never said sorry no we can’t have her this weekend. They kept all our phone numbers and knew where we were, even when me moved. Again. We had claim to several pages in their address book. They were the source of info. Where’s my dad? When is the last time you saw him? Can you come get me?
There were many times that my mom didn’t want to make the drive from Sacramento to Fairfield, a 45 minute drive, to deliver me to them. She would take me to downtown Sacramento and put me on a Greyhound Bus. Alone. When I was a child. Can you believe that? I would try and sit in the front seat near the bus driver and hope that no one sat next to me. Lots of creeps rode the bus, for sure. That’s something else I would never do as a parent. Gen-X, the neglected generation. Lucky I didn’t get trafficked. I don’t ever remember having to ride the bus back to Sac. One of them always drove me home on Sunday afternoon. Friday night bus rides and Sunday drives. Here’s the money you asked for. When can she come visit again? Love you, Andrew. That’s what my Papa Ding called me. See you later alligator. Afterwhile, crocodile.
I miss them. I miss knowing they were there if I needed them. They gave me a name to be proud of and I was so very lucky to call them mine.