Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Dept.


If we, as a civilization, have plucked from the storehouse of eastern Mediterranean myth and legend the name of Oedipus to represent Freud's urge to kill his father and bone his mother, and the name of Sisyphus to symbolize profound frustration and fruitless endeavor, then where in that storehouse can we find a figure to represent the ingrained need on the part of mothers to throw out their sons' valuable shit?

Case in point: I know a guy who came home from college to learn his mother had thrown out his entire baseball card collection. That he didn't express his pique with the business end of a Louisville Slugger is unimpeachable testimony to his saintly forebearance. But, really, no foolin': what sort of confluence of bad chemicals, bad juju and bad judgment could possibly cause a person to do such a thing? "Tum-te-tum, just cleaning up my son's room, tum-te-tum, oh, look, here are several boxes of those baseball cards he loves so much, he's worked so hard to collect them all, how he used to save his lawnmowing money just to buy them, I remember the twinkle in his eye when he'd run back to the car, so excited to see which cards he'd gotten, such memories... welp, I guess I'll chuck them all out and then go shave the cat."

Such tales are Legion, for they are many. I, too, have had my life blighted by this scourge of maternal malice enrobed in cluelessness wrapped in a tissue of lies. After your sobsister graduated from college, I left my hometown to attend graduate school and then begin work. A few years passed, during which I was mostly overseas. Then, once back in the States, I thought to relieve my parents of the books and things I'd left with them. I went through several closets and retrieved books, mainly paperbacks that had formed part of a collegiate corpus of Required Reading that I'd taken great pains to avoid but also some of my old favorites from high school and college days. But danged if I could find my stash of Harlan Ellison novels and anthologies.

I had been a huge Harlan Ellison fan. I had first bought his better-known collections of speculative fiction, then his books of essays, then went back and bought his early novels. It was at a science-fiction convention that I'd had the opportunity to approach the Great Man, who was accompanied by a tall and leggy brunette I utterly ignored in my bedazzlement at the Presence, and ask him, tremulously, for an autograph. He smiled, took the book I'd just bought--one of his earliest novels, bound as a two-fer with someone else's equally minor work--and whipped off the dedication, "This is a terrible book and I apologize - Harlan Ellison."

This collection of paperbacks by my once-favorite author, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is what I was seeking in the closets and boxes of my parents' apartment. After opening and peering and moving and craning, I asked my mother where my Harlan Ellison books were. With the very eyes of guilelessness, she responded that she didn't know. Hadn't you taken them? No, mater, if I had taken them, I wouldn't be rearranging family-size bags of Cheez Doodles in the upper reaches of your storage areas. Well, you must've taken them; I haven't touched them.

At this point, I began to feel much as I imagine Orestes felt before Clytemnestra or, possibly, Stewie before Lois. The berserker fury was building in my head like pitcher beer in a puny bladder. Everything before me snapped into razorsharp focus then turned deep red. I remember little of what ensued, except, I think, I was fairly peckish and dinner was ready.

I cannot explain her behavior. I cannot explain the behavior of any mother who would so despoil the treasures of her son's youth. Is it payback for leaving the maternal bosom? Is it punishment for ineffaceable stretch marks? Is it transitory menopausal dementia? Wiser minds than mine may know, and they ain't saying. All I can offer by way of conclusion is this: don't leave your good shit in your mother's care. Ever. Because maternal instinct does not extend to your possessions, and if your boxes of near-mint Golden Age comic books are blocking her access to the Swiffer, kiss your run of All Star Comics goodbye, brother.

Oh, and I'm nominating Medea.

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