Mrs. Gemgem and I
Denver – Good morning, everybody! I hope you have been doing well. There is good news and bad news to report! First, the so-so news: it has been warm here in Colorado over the past few days (good for chicks, bad for snowboarding). Now for the good news: there’s no bad news. Now for the bad news: there’s no good news.
“Mmm .. ‘kay,” you say?
I know! I feel the same way!
Anyway .. I have a story for today.
Many eons ago, when I was in high school, I had a friend who lived on a street called, “Knight.” Or rather, my friend, A’ight, lived there with his parents in a house on Knight Street in a middle-class section of Albuquerque.
A’ight, whose real name was Jimmy Gemgem, lived with his parents and a younger sister in a typical suburban, brown adobe house found everywhere in New Mexico. His father was always working and rarely home; his three older siblings lived on their own, and the younger sister who lived at home was barely starting middle school.
His mother – a raging Catholic – worked as a secretary and hated her job, her life and me.
Mrs. Gemgem and I did not get along. I mean, that’s kind of understating it: she thought I was an evil, “white boy” and once asked if I had lice after I scratched my head in quizzical fashion. And I never really knew why she hated me, either.
In fact, despite the fact that we routinely got caught coming home late, or got into fights, or had the police call to say their son had been caught quaffing a 40-ounce bottle of malt in the parking lot of Kmart, Mrs. Gemgem’s belief in the Old Testament about deaf people being “possessed by demons” remained constant and never-wavering.
She did not like me because I was deaf.
I had first met A’ight at a restaurant in the northeast heights section of Albuquerque, near a large shopping center, where we were hired as dishwashers and had taken a quick likening to one another.
In fact, the very first time I met A’ight, I had trouble understanding his name. Since I read lips (I am deaf), I sometimes have difficulty understanding certain words people say, and our very first conversation went something like:
“What’s your name?”
“Paotie. What’s yours?”
“Were you the eighth child born or something?”
“HaHa. No, A’ight.”
“A’ight! Like, ‘It’s gonna be a’ight!’”
“It’s gonna be ‘tight?’”
“Yeah. No! A’ight!”
I would sometimes crash at A’ight’s house during the weekend – usually after a night of hard partying or fighting – and we forever tried to sneak out of the house and past his parents. We often tried to sneak into A’ight’s house a few minutes before curfew, and then sneak back out of the house a few minutes after curfew had passed – and only after we’d made enough noise for his parents to know we had been home.
Sometimes, it worked perfectly. Sometimes, we had to wait hours for Mrs. Gemgem to fall asleep in the living room, holding a book in perpetual precariousness. Sometimes, we’d fall asleep waiting for Mrs. Gemgem to return to her bedroom.
And then one, cold late Friday night after spending countless hours cruising around Albuquerque, looking for chicks, booze and free food at All-You-Can-Eat restaurants, I found myself at the end of a stern lecture by A’ight. He explained under the dome light of his truck that his mother had caught us sneaking in well past curfew the weekend before and was probably keeping an eye out for us.
More importantly, he said that we had to be extra quiet.
“Be quiet – we don’t want my mom to hear us come home, a’ight? I got in trouble last weekend, a’ight, and if she hears us walk in, she’s gonna kill me, a’ight?”
As we both quietly shut the doors of his truck and walked the driveway to the house, A’ight gestured to me to “Be quiet.” And then he Shhh’d me again as he stood before the front door and quietly inserted a key into the top lock.
I leaned a hand against the wall on the opposite side of the door and sighed with relief. It had been a hard night of looking for parties and we’d barely escaped the clutches of an angry, drunken group of idiots from another high school that had chased us throughout Albuquerque earlier that night.
It was good to be safe at A’ight’s house, I had told myself.
And then I looked at A’ight and realized his face was suddenly pale. I wondered for a moment if he was sick because he suffered from a chronic stomach disorder, and then I dismissed it as bad lighting. The fading porch light gave off a yellowish hue that hardly illuminated anything, and in a way, it had made A’ight’s face look a bit grotesque, too.
Curious, I stared at A’ight and realized he had been talking to me. Not only that, but he looked desperately panic-stricken and asked, “Duuuude? What’d you do that for?”
I stood confused, unable to comprehend what he had just asked me. I sheepishly shrugged at A’ight.
“A’ight,” said A’ight through an exasperated sigh, “you rang the doorbell.”
“Yeah, you did. Now my mom’s gonna kill me, dude. A’ight?”
I mean, first of all, the last thing I ever would have thought about was a doorbell. I am deaf – doorbells have never been part of my life. But that fact didn’t matter to Mrs. Gemgem as hidden floodlights from every angle at the front of the house shone on us like convicts at the very last fence in a prison yard during a bungled, nighttime escape attempt.
A’ight sighed (again) and shook his head as more lights came on from inside the house. I had looked at the palm of my hand and noticed the rectangular shape of the doorbell barely imprinted in my hand, and then looked again at A’ight as the front door swung open and a dark figure appeared.
It was Mrs. Gemgem and she was mad.
I tried to explain to Mrs. Gemgem that it was really my fault that we were late but she didn’t seem to particularly care to listen to anything I said. I tried to reason with her but she yelled at me before calling my Mamma to come and pick me up.
Twenty minutes later – and after a litany of religious lectures from Mrs. Gemgem – my Mamma came and got me. As we drove away from A’ight’s house on Knight Street and Mrs. Gemgem’s soul-burning glare, I explained to Mamma what had happened.
I explained that I had seen Mrs. Gemgem standing behind the curtains of the house when A’ight and I first pulled up to the house, and I that knew she’d be waiting for us. In fact, I knew she would be angry with us no matter what we did – all she wanted was to yell at me.
Mamma smiled before asking, “Did you ring the doorbell on purpose?”
“Of course not, Mamma – I am deaf. Praise the Lord.”
Be good .. or be good at it.