She is as I expected; hair bleached pineapple blonde, fraying out around her shoulders like a static burst of cotton candy, lips painted in drug store pink, hazel eyes draped in aquamarine blue frost. The under layer of black liner has begun.. what I know will be a slow drip down the corners of her eyes and onto the waiting cheekbones.
I glance at our reflection in the hall mirror. I am wearing the same look that has carried me in and out of fashion for a decade; worn in Levi's, black T-Shirt, brown leather jacket, plum lipstick and a patting of oil free powder.
We have always been like this; beyond different.
At age 12, she experimented with glitter and lip-gloss. That same year, I became the only eleven year old in the neighborhood to collect Barbara Streisand and write poetry about the inhumanity of man.
She smiles her wide, Vaudeville smile and pushes past me with a wave of her pocket book. Purses will always be pocket books in my family, just as pasta will always be spaghetti, regardless of its shape.
She is celebrating a time in her life when, at thirty-four, the hips have grown out, the waist in, the legs down and the stomach flat. All this is accentuated with the aid of stretch jeans emptying into white opalescent sneakers and a blue knit sweater that attempts, but fails to cover her naval.
Her accomplice is a computer salesman vaguely reminiscent of Deneiro, but taller and less attractive. He is from Jersey, like her, (like me in another lifetime), but lives in an area he calls affluent. She is quick to inform me that only the shopping is better there.
"The people are the same white trash," she explains while filling her pocket book with items from my refrigerator.
He seems too normal to be dating my sister, until I notice the way his eyes race back and forth like he's watching some internal tennis game; right...left..up..down....
He holds out his hand quickly and pulls mine hard when I offer it to him.
" I'm Mic... you know short for Microsoft.."
" I'm Rossi.. short for.. I hope you're both hungry. I haven't eaten all day.."
" Well,” Mic speaks and I notice a trace of madness in his voice," You're sister has to have vegetarian food and then there are her bleeding ulcers."
Sis senses the opportunity to complain about her health and interrupts." I told you I had ulcers... didn't I? You remember those stomach pains that I thought were gas...well actually they’re that too...Anyway, I’ve got a lot of problems so I want to go to “Jeckle and Hydes” and beat up some gargoyles! I'm itching for a fight and I want to drink and smoke because my life sucks! Did I tell you what Scumbag Number Five did this week? ...and you can forget about that delivery job! They fired me too! "
I sigh, remembering in an instant what spending time with my sister is like; a running monologue of all the jobs that fired her, the string of men that did her wrong, the beauty pageants she won or almost won and an update on the growing number of health problems she believes are afflicting her.
She pulls out a can of Diet Coke from her pocket-book, takes a hard swallow and leads a charge to the theme park restaurant that I had successfully avoided since its opening some years past.
“Jeckyll and Hydes;” the name rather says it all, don’t you think?
We push past the disgruntled college graduate dressed up as a mad scientist and the group of steroid induced young men shouting,” Brooklyn rules!" and enter the den of Disney.
The maitre d'- a stand up comedian in the uniform of the day, safari ware- spots my sister as a potential crowd pleaser and seats us in the center of the restaurant, under the dancing skeletons and wall of singing African masks.
She seems more at home than I'd ever seen her.
A vanload of mentally challenged men and women arrive and are seated a few feet from us. I pick out the ringleader and dub him Forrest Gump although he looks like Jerry Lewis plus thirty pounds. I don’t know why I do that; give total strangers nicknames. Call it a hobby.
Sis makes eye contact with him immediately, overhears his conversation about a restaurant on the shore and announces to him and the entire bar that, she too, is from New Jersey. They are fast friends.
Mic has started the process that will continue for the rest of the night of calling everyone, with the exception of our waitress who is named after a beer called Saranac and looks like Jodie Foster before the Armani, "Bro".
He orders shots of peppermint schnapps and micro- brewery beer chasers for himself and Sis. I stay with the safe; frozen margarita, but have to send it back when I notice the after-taste of pina colada mix.
Saranac, who has by now figured we will be her entertainment for the night, finds excuses to come by our table every few minutes.
" More Schnapps... Bro? "
After a pass of root-beer schnapps, Sis leans over and kisses Saranac on the cheek. " I love lesbians...they're all like me... abused women with revenge on their minds!" Saranac shrugs off the moment and returns to the waiter station, sending out a reel of machine gun like laughter.
I realize that Mic and I are the only ones in the room not laughing.
Mic orders popcorn shrimp for us all to share, oblivious of the fact that I am mostly a vegetarian and Sis has decided to keep kosher (with the exception of mall food which somehow she has decided is Kosher by virtue of the mall gods). I am so hungry and bitter by the time the pile of greasy balls arrive that I pop a handful in my mouth and become nauseous immediately.
The mechanical gargoyle on the high ledge near us comes to life and sings a song about taking an Uzi and gunning down Barnie the Dinosaur. Sis jumps up and screams, " I slept with Barnie and he was really good!" I begin to force flash backs of my child hood, trying to focus on the exact place where Sis and I went in separate directions. After several attempts, I come up with birth.
Sis, sensing the possibility of a free drink, escorts Forrest through the secret bookshelf passageway that becomes a rest room. By the time they return, he is in love.
She responds to his affection.
" Go back to your seat you weirdo!"
Forrest's sidekick is a five-foot tall middle-aged man, with Asian features, who rocks back and forth and claps his hands whenever anything loud comes out of Sis's mouth. I name him Ed McMahn.
"I feel like killing some of these guys that dated your sister, and I could if I wanted to," Mic informs me, "I was in the military when I was young. I worked with nuclear weapons!"
I ask him how long he has been dating my sister and he explains that up to this moment about thirty hours have elapsed since he answered her personal ad asking for a companion for rides in the country. I wonder aloud if any of those rides were meant to occur on nuclear warheads. He does not understand my humor.
He drinks his beer in one long swallow and leans across the shrimp balls so close to my face, I fear being kissed before he explodes," How can I tell her how much I love her?"
The demon butler who carries a feather duster comes near our table and hits the handle of the duster hard on the back of a chair. It lets out a whip like crack.
" Beat me baby! Tie me up and give it to me," Sis cackles at him until he turns whiter than his makeup and retreats to a table of sympathetic legal secretaries.
Her last visit (when she emptied out all the salt and pepper shakers in a local Thai restaurant) appears before me, a painful reminder. I search our table for the shakers and push them to my side.
Our food arrives and the pumpkin ravioli that Saranac had promised to be the most gourmet item on the menu are covered in a sauce the consistency of wet cream cheese. They are edible only after being wiped on my napkin and dredged in the guacamole from Sis's vegetarian fajita.
Mic fondles his jellyroll style chicken Florentine over creamed spinach with home fries. He eats slowly, drinks quickly.
I abandon my tortellini with a shmear and take revenge for my situation by harpooning Mic's potatoes with my knife rolling them in the leftover shrimp ball dip and swallowing them half chewed. By now manners are the least of my concerns.
Suddenly the large stone face of King Tut comes to life and announces that we will all soon die. The thought seems almost relieving.
Forrest leans over to my sister," Can I tell you a joke?"
" I don't know can you? " she responds somehow not offending him.
" This guy falls and gashes his eye and has to go to the hospital..."
she interrupts," Whoopee."
But Forrest, who is by now my hero, holds his own." He has to go to the hospital and they give him a circumcision and use it to fix his eye, like a skin graph. "
" Whoa that's funny Bro."
" Yeh.. So now,hee hee, he's okay, but he's a little cockeyed!"
There is an audible silence while Forrest nervously waits for validation.
Sis senses the tension and digests the joke, savoring its aftertaste. She will not waste this moment. The spotlight is on. She smiles, pauses and just as Forrest looks like he might explode with agitation, lets out a loud approving cackle and pounds on the table. " Wow that's funny! I'll have to change my wee-wee pad now! Do you have any extra Serenity Pads?" Forrest, visibly touched, returns to his burger. He seems to sit a little taller. Ed claps in approval and the rest of the table look at their leader in newfound awe.
"These kind of people just love me," she explains to Mic who is still chewing the same piece of chicken since the joke began and drumming on the table with his fingertips to keep with the rhythm. He chews in slow calculative repetitions as if he were counting each grind of his back teeth and only swallowing after fifty.
She is thrilled with her new fans," They really get me. You know I was a bus driver for retarded kids and I never had so much fun in my life, but they fired me for being late too much. I couldn't help it. Scumbag Number Three was then and he had robbed my pocket-book so I didn't have gas money and ..."
Saranac brings me a pina colada-less margarita with extra tequila and I beg her to rescue me from my family. She watches Sis throw ice cubes at Forrest and says," Hey, I live in Queens you know, so we see a lot of this."
... and.. like poetry... The Monster Mash blares out from the hidden speakers above the skeletons.
In a spontaneous fury, Sis jumps up, grabs Forrest and Ed and starts to dance with them. Their friends join in. She screams like a cheerleader at the last game of the season, "Come on you guys, clap those hands, gimme the bump, come on faster! It's the Monster Mash. It was a graveyard smash!" .. and indeed it was, since I wished for a moment that I was dead.
Forrest's table wakes up in joyful abandon and begin to sing, clap and dance all around her. I put my humiliation away long enough to watch an amazing scene unfold. Sis swings Ed by his elbows, hooting each time his feet leave the ground. She grabs an elderly woman in the group and teaches her a side step.
" Shake it! Shake it. Gimme the bump.. the Monster Mash! whooeeee!" My sister is on fire, shaking, stomping, bumping, hooting and it becomes contagious.
Everyone at the bar stops to look at the sight. The safari staff lower their trays. The demon butler lets his feather duster fall to his side. The Brooklyn contingency of big guys in construction boots actually put down their Budweisers. They, we, are mesmerized, stirred by this vision.
There, surrounded by what were introverted, handicapped men and women an hour ago, transformed into laughing singing, wondrous children, is my sister. My sister who has sang renditions of Blondie and Rolling Stones songs for D- level rock bands in the worst bars on the South Jersey shore and almost never been asked back, who has been fired from every career she tried; interstate trucker to beauty parlor colorist. She is there cackling her infectious cackle and bringing her new adoring fans out of their shells. And just for a moment in their eyes and in mine, she is a star.
" Wow!" Forrest gasps," Are you an actress?"
" I'm Miss New Jersey," she screams in ecstasy," Want my autograph?!"