Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Whole Lotta Pork (Political or Otherwise)

“This is Zeola,” the deep, soulful voice greeted me on the other end of the telephone line.

“Hey, there, it’s Belle. Can I speak to Mamma?” I had exactly twenty minutes to unload on Mamma before I had to be at Housing Works Book Store for Jonathan Lethem’s reading. I wasn’t quite sure how I could be both tactful and timely in recounting to her my work woes.

“Belle, is that REALLY you?” I could just see the whites of her eyes growing bigger. When Zeola got excited her eyeballs bulged out of their sockets—Daddy said that she reminded him of a catfish about to expire on a fishing rod. “The connection’s so good I’d think you’re right here with me at the stove.”

“No, still up here in the big city tryin’ to do my thing—”

“I didn’t think your Granddaddy would ever let go of you,” Zeola said, her accent like slow buttermilk coating every word. She lowered her voice, “What are you doin’ up there with all those Yankees?”

“Oh, Lord…” I could just imagine being late, walking in on Jonathan mid-sentence, tip-toeing to the bar to get my complementary, horrificly oakey serving of Chardonnay.

“Listen, I’ll call back and chat later, but I’m in a hurry. Will you just pass the phone to Mamma?”

“Lands above, we worry about you!” Zeola said, adopting the urgent, strained tone that adults use when chastising loud children inside the local Cineplex.

“Put her on the phone!”

“Well, I don’t know if your Mamma can make it to the phone on account of the bacon grease that’s poppin’ out of my skillet but, being the good Christian that I am, and seein’ that I need myself another soda, I’ll just try to holler and see if she’ll come back into the kitchen.”

Zeola was angry. I was angry. Mamma would soon be angry when she heard that I hated working for the News Channel. Marvelous how even long distance we could all get worked up in a matter of minutes.

“It’s Belle you’ve been talkin’ to for all that time?” I heard Mamma say in the background. “Lord, look how you’re runnin’ up the phone bill—hand me that.”

Bacon frying in the house always put her in a bad mood.

“Belle, is that you, honey?”

“Hey, there, Mamma. You got a second?”

“Yeah, but not much more. I’ve got to keep supervisin’ Zeola and the bacon. She’s making a seven-layer salad for the church supper. Damn chintzy Episcopals—the church has money coming out of its ears and we still have to bring in food. Why can’t we just have the vestry meetings catered?”

“I want to quit the News Channel,” I blurted out.


“Nothing’s like I thought it would—”

“Lord!” Mamma shouted into the phone. “Zeola, you mean to tell me that you think that hunk of pig is done? You mean to tell me that all of the germs have been cooked out, there are no more trichinosis running around—you would serve that to one of your grandbabies?”

If the issue at hand was either my future as a journalist or the possibile trichinosis poisoning of the Episcopal vestry, the pigs would win out. Growing up, Mamma’s greatest fear was that one of us would die of either trichinosis or asphyxiation. While she argued with the maid, I downed the last of my glass of wine. Liquid courage. I had to tell her what was happening at work.

“Now, Belle, I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” she said, once again focusing her nervous energy on me. “Up in New York and at the News Channel, you’re at the center of the thinkin—”

“The thinking, conservative world,” I said, rolling my eyes, finishing the oft repeated sentence.

I'd had enough of them all. I snapped shut my cell phone and grabbed my keys. Walking down Prince Street I wondered--was there more pork frying in Mamma's kitchen or being slung around the News Channel's basement newsroom?

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