#2. The Dog-Doo Yard of Despair
Yes, doom loomed large over the Narragansett Bay, but it was there that I learned of a fate worse than death. As I just said, my grandparents owned a few barking skeletons that spent their puppy years chasing aurochs and humping Neanderthal sofas (which I guess were just dead aurochs).
My grandmother's dog. He witnessed the crucifixion of Christ.
But as the years wore on, they had trouble walking the dogs, between my grandfather's dementia and my grandmother's everything. Their solution was to saw a German shepherd-sized doggy door out of their bedroom wall and build a ramp wending outside to a large, stark concrete patio, which I guess was once an oyster garage (or however you say "shed" in New English).
My grandparents surrounded the patio with a tall chain-link fence so the dogs could poop outside but not bolt across the border to Massachusetts. (Note: This happened.) It was a serviceable lifehack as long as you never-ever-ever-ever thought about it.
Unfortunately, my siblings and I had to, as the dogs stole our stuff constantly. And when this happened, the only option was to wriggle out the doggy door into the crap paddock, where we gingerly fished scarves and shoes and hats and Gremlins 2 for Game Boy from an inland sea of fossilized turds.
It was comparable to Jurassic Park, if Jurassic Park was about an insane billionaire who -- for perverted motives unknown -- traps the world's foremost scientific minds in a tropical labyrinth of manure and electrified fences.
The impartial observer would've assumed it was a penitentiary for bad shit or a nature preserve catering to Scheissefilme enthusiasts. Prowlers could've easily ransacked their home via the doggy door, but they'd have died of horror first.
#1. You Can't Escape a Good Deathtrap
I guess this is the point in the article where I'm supposed to go, "Sure, I complain now, but I wouldn't have wanted their house ANY OTHER WAY!" But I won't say that, because that's stupid. I spent almost every visit to Rhode Island in a Benadryl fugue because of invisible mountains of cat dander. Do you know what it's like to run downstairs on Christmas Eve and find out that Santa doesn't exist when you're flying on allergy meds? It's the exact opposite of getting crazy high and seeing God in a crinkly autumn leaf.
But I will say this about my grandparents' house: It taught me precisely how I do and do not want to die (outside of going to Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, loading Steel Force with C4 instead of Pennsylvanians, and riding that sonuvabitch off the tracks into the dirt mound where the employees park their cars -- a Viking funeral at 100 MPH).
My death will be so dignified, Philadelphia will see it.
My grandmother lived on her own from '95 to '98. This was impressive, considering that most of her internal organ function left for a farm upstate circa '91. She had zero interest in moving to a home, so we sold her house and she moved to New Jersey with us. I have no clue who bought her house, but I assume the current owner is haunted by hundreds of dogshit poltergeists.
My grandmother loved me. But the rest of the species? Bof. One of her favorite pastimes was swinging by the senior center and yelling at other, nicer old people. But in New Jersey, she couldn't drive, could barely walk, and didn't even have those Merlin-looking dumbfucks whose sole crime was being alive while her husband was dead.
My grandmother, with potassium, 1998.
My parents worked. I was doing puberty. My grandmother's day was sitting in a back room in an unfamiliar town, with no one to visit and nowhere to go. Her only company was a revolving cast of home health aides, infinite reruns of M*A*S*H*, and a six-pack of O'Douls (served daily, warm, at 9:00 a.m.).
When a new nurse quit, my grandmother fought with my mom, who fought with my dad. This was not the natural order of things. Grandparents died off screen under Halley's Comet, or at least went dotty to signify their impending return to the Gitche Manitou. (See: my dad's mom, whose brain cancer inspired her to start using "white trash" as a term of endearment.)
In the '40s, my grandmother almost ran into Hitler's motorcade while bicycling unawares through the woods. You're not supposed to survive the Fuhrer's car only to die in Jersey.
This went on for three years. My grandmother withdrew, speaking only when I dropped off her rise-and-shine O'Douls, the beer that tastes like futility.
One Wednesday, my grandmother woke up loquacious. She went off her gumball galaxy of meds, took Confession for the first time in half a century, hit on the priest because what-the-hell-at-this-point, and stage-whispered a complaint when he didn't know Latin. She stopped breathing on Sunday, minutes after she finally knew all the grandchildren were under one roof.
Here's another Trentonian headline to balance out the above paragraph.
We didn't have time to mourn my grandmother because the world was ending. She died on September 9, 2001, and anthrax contamination shuttered my neighborhood post office a month later. Driving her casket to Rhode Island near the Tappan Zee Bridge, we could see the pillars of dust hanging over Manhattan. When we reached the graveyard -- where I'd spent entire Julys pretending to be Professor X -- the only non-family members present were two neighbors and her ex-hairdresser. (They'd been locked in some tonsorial quarrel and never made amends.)
Even in death, Barney enjoyed a good photobomb.
My grandmother's sofa was made of tetanus and her backyard could only be cleansed by several thousand years of clergy-consecrated glacier. But that's just how I remember it. For her, that house was where, in 1968, my mom and her best friend inexplicably ate a rose to celebrate Mick Jagger's 25th birthday. The only way she'd have tolerated Jersey is if Medicare subsidized an O'Douls-fueled time machine -- an O'Doul-O'meter, if you will.
My grandparents in 1946. They are happy because that forest is not full of Nazis.
So, thanks for reading. I've basically never told this story to anyone, and I'm lucky that my lot in life is to discuss Wikipedia erotica on the Internet. Call your grandparents if they're alive and not totally dreadful. To ease you back into our regular scheduled programming, here's a final Trentonian headline captioned with unrelated, actual words of wisdom from my grandmother's mom:
"A good cheese smells like a dirty woman. A good wine tastes like the Virgin Mary pissing in your mouth."
-my great-grandmother (1897-1988)
Let's help you forget those nostalgic nightmares. Check out 18 Instructional Charts for People Who Suck at Technology and 19 Things Old People Suspect About Modern Culture.