NEWZFLASH! THIZ JUZT IN: oksana is in the ukraine. that’s where she’s from and that’s where she is now. on vacation. lucky girl. so she’s back there for a bit. how do i know this? a neighbor of mine named helen (to whom i referred oksana) and i were waiting for the elevator:
helen: hello there. can you believe this summer?
me: i know. it’s like a non-summer, that’s what it is.
helen: i know. and what about our little jet-setting friend? ha!
[i quickly run my brain fingers through my mental rolodex to find the tiny tabbed card that says “‘friends’ that i have in common with helen who lives in unit #1618.” it’s a very thin folder since we really only have one friend in common, not counting the doormen and possibly jeff corney who used to live down the hall from them.] when i realize that she is probably referring to oksana, my heart stops. it’s been almost a week with no communication and i was starting to get really worried.
me: oh, oksana! i know! crazy girl! jet-setting around! last time she was over, she mentioned that she would be gone for an extended period of time, but the dates must have totally slipped my mind.
that’s a total lie. i’ve been worried sick. why didn’t oksana tell me?
helen: i know. she told me the day before she left and she was supposed to come and clean that day, so we’ve been sitting in a filthy place for some time. i really wish she would have…
i would have slapped helen right there and then for talking about oksana in that way. but i was so content with knowing that oksana was a.) alive and b.) not wrongly deported that i just let my neighbor continue to talk about how her counter tops need a good scrub and her windows are so dirty. she practically ruined a blouse that managed to slide it’s way under a dusty bed. finally, i cut her off just as the elevator opens up to my floor:
me: well, i’m happy she got some time away. she really deserves it. that oksana, she’s the best there is
and with that: the elevator door seals shut and helen rises two more stories to her dirty home.
my place, too, is in a state of disarray. i unlock the door and walk in to a hallway floor that does not shine. my sink is full of dishes that may or may not be the culprits that are producing a bitter smell around that area. there are bits of popcorn that sprinkle my buckled floors and my toliet paper roll hangs limply down (oksana folds the corners ever-so). a thin, delicate layer of dust rests on my porcelain deer.
i drop my bag on the ground and two or three dust bunnies scurry out of its way. i’m just happy that oksana will be back.
as i was reading the latest issue of the Hoy newspaper, it dawned on me: i don’t speak spanish. i flipped through the pages and looked at the pictures instead. something about michael jackson. some cows in a field. kids holding up a plaque.
this afternoon, i took a break during running some work errands and i started organizing my day planner. a friend ran into me as i was sorting through my stamps (a proud collection, i have). this would all be fine, except, she ran into me about two weeks ago in the same exact spot reading the latest issue of today’s chicago woman.
mildly wildly embarrassed, i tried to look like i might be expecting a very important call. she left. i continued to sort my stamps. on the straw wrapper, i wrote in black upper case letters: YOU CAN DO WHATEVER YOU WANT TO DO. as i got up to leave, i brushed the wrapper on to the floor, hoping some unsuspecting person might see the litter, pick it up and before discarding it, see the note and do some good. years from now, they’ll be on larry king to talk about their latest humanitarian effort in india or a new invention they finally had the guts to put on the market. larry king will ask ‘where did it all begin?’
‘well, you see larry king, i found this here straw wrapper.’ and BOOM!
now, i didn’t really lie about expected a very important call. i am. a VIP call. oksana, my cleaning lady, hasn’t been returning my calls. two days ago, i called her to say hello and schedule a time for her to come by my place. usually, she returns my calls within an hour. a day passed and i haven’t heard from her. if you employ a cleaning lady, you realize the tight bond that potentially can transcend the menial nature of the job. my mom and ina almost took a vacation together.
i decide to call again. if i want this, i need to fight for it. it’s rarely worked for me in the past, but i have a feeling oksana is different.
please pick up, oksana. please pick up your phone, oksana, i anxiously breathe as the phone dials. ‘you have reached the sprint pcs voice mailbox of [pause] please leave a message.’
shit. no answer.
‘hi oksana, it’s graham. uh, just calling because i haven’t heard back from you and i’m starting to get a little worried. and i really need my place cleaned. but i’m worried about you more. okay, well call me back.’
still no response. in a last stitch effort, i text her quickly just to make sure i cover all bases.
i text: ‘R U OK??’
if she’s avoiding me, i don’t know what i did wrong. i go over the last few months to think of anything that might have caused her to not want to see me again. i gave her a pedi-egg in february, a christmas bonus, even new perfume. she has the keys to my place.
and then i start to think: maybe it’s you, graham. here you are: 27 and still single and it seems all of the most important ladies in your life are leaving you: dee, my favorite check-out lady at the market place is moving to georgia; ginger woman, my internet connection is no where to be found; and now oksana is m-i-a.
i dial 411. ‘chicago, illinois. for merry maids on sheffield.’ i hang up before they even give out the number. i’ve never cheated on oksana before, and i’m not going to start now. but my baseboards do need a little waxin’, if you know what i mean……. no. i can’t. i just couldn’t do that to oksana.
oksana, if you’re reading this (and god, i hope you’re not.) please, please, please call me. i, well, i love you and i want you back.
good evening, afternoon, morning, WHATEVER TIME OF DAY IT IS! HA HA HA HA! when times are rough and you feel like there is no way out, i listen to this.
now that’s what i call a MMM (mandatory music mondays)*!
in other newz, it seems my internet connection is down. i steal from a lady who named her internet connection ginger woman. it seems ginger woman has gone on vacation. or she changed her number. or maybe she no longer wants me using her. either way, i need her back.
* actually, i didn’t think of that acronym, hazel did.
this weekend, i learned that my mother used to ride roller coasters, bowl in a bowling league on saturday mornings, smoke dope (allegedly) with her cousin cheryl, and stay out all night long and then eat breakfast at a little place called the blue bird inn… drunk as a skunk. this weekend, she also took a shot of pineapple vodka with me and stayed out until two in the morning while singing her heart out to jukebox hits hand-picked by my father and brother-in-law.
all in all, mary kostic is a bad ass.
but it seems appropriate seeing as she hails from a family of bad asses. this past weekend, we traveled to pennsylvania for the annual rocca family reunion. my grandmother is the youngest of sixteen children, and now about three rivulets of families flow strong coming together to make up the rocca river. (what a beautifully idiotic analogy). there’s my grandma irene’s clan, my aunt mae’s and my aunt ninny’s. all apple-cheeked. all big, loving hearts.
at the reunion, inevitably someone almost always gets thrown into the pool, roberta gets a little drunk and the subject of catering for next year divides a family that has been successfully reunion-ing for over the past fifty years.
this year, the hot plate debate caused a thirty minute intercession during the annual family meeting (of who joey rocca serves as president; christine erderly, vice president; maureen andrews, treasurer; and our very own emily kostic brosnahan as secretary). in years past, when my grandmother was alive and my aunts were a bit more agile, they would cook up a feast for the family reunion. my grandma’s house is a small quaint house with wood slat walls and a bumpy linoleum floor in a pea-green color that your toes would get tickled on as you sat at the table eating corn-on-the-cob off of wax paper. for reunion time, every counter space was covered with trays of rolled gnocchi. each little potato dumpling rolled by hand. a task in efficiency and quality control—my grandmother’s gnocchi always seeming to be perfectly sized, perfectly al dente. perhaps it’s just my twisted sense of nostalgia kicking in after a weekend where every sight, sound and smell brings me back to a tank-top, short short, white socks with shoes wearing time, but the family reunion highlight was a sort of palatial buffet of italian favorites, all lined up in porcelain with flower motifs or bright plastic bowls—anything that wooden cupboards (built and installed by hand nonetheless) could house to house a feast for a hundred or so people who share the same love of a calorie-laden, carbohydrate-crazy food of a rich ancestral history. i know one unrelated italian who would love every minute.
[on an entirely different note, my mom once tried to make gnocchi for christmas eve when my grandparents and uncle visited. my mom rolled the gnocchi the same way, however, some, i swear, were shaped like small dinosaurs. small dinosaur gnocchis].
but just like all good things, good things must to come to an end. and generations of those who were reared on those tiny potato dumplings and fried dough rolled in sugar with surprise! achovies inside are now old enough to have babies and those babies have babies and the secrets and stories of the roccas seem to be myths of yesteryear—like how could three women successfully cook for a hundred people?
this year, kathleen (who is one of my favorites) was a little upset that she paid $14 per child to eat, although her kids like hamburgers and hot dogs better. this erupts a hail storm of hand-gestures, statements starting with ‘i’m sorry, but..’ and people standing up out of frustration to put their two cents in. emily scrambles to put it all in the minutes. because of her horrible hearing (this is no secret) and the fact that we all talk fast, she has a hard time really capturing the flow of events. i feed her info as the great debate rolls on:
kathleen just said that ‘we’ need to stop bitching, but we all know that ‘we’ means cheryl. cheryl, in rebutal, jumps to her feet to defense. junior suggests that we have an old-fashioned pasta dinner. aunt mae agrees with that. madonna sits in the corner and giggles softly drinking out of a plastic margartia glass (it’s finally confirmed that her, richard and i have the same sense of humor).
if there is one thing about the show of bravado and passion that ensues yearly, it’s that i love every minute. i sit and have a giddy smile from ear to ear knowing that these people think like me, talk like me, react like me. prez joey asks, seriously, ‘who doesn’t like spaghetti?’ and not a single hand raises… this impromptu survey is taken very seriously. when someone suggests something a little silly, everyone shakes their heads and whisper little secrets to their immediate families—the small white tent we sit under now more divided than any middle-eastern country. in the end, my uncle carl volunteers to donate the pasta, sauce and meatballs next year after a long back and forth about what the menu will be.
so it’s decided: a big pasta dinner and i think hot dogs and hamburgers. however, each family must provide their own condiments.
but who will bring the bread? andy comes to the rescue by saying that he will donate the bread. ‘please bring italian bread,’ someone else shouts out. naturally, what kind of bread do italians eat, i think?
poor secretary emily fills up two pages of notes on this meeting and even in the end she turns to me not really knowing what the final outcome is. if i were her i’d have a little more fun taking the family reunion notes (noting what people wore, who made a joke about Obama, who particularly had a snappy comeback). Sarah and i, multiple times, catch eyes during the meeting that both say ‘this is amazing’ and that’s exactly why we don’t hold public (family) office. i hear richard and madonna tried to start a grassroots whispering campaign to nominate me for president. it seems like a great resume booster, but this is one position that i do not want. this year, though, my mom is elected as vice president and my sister remains secretary. it’s sort of like the winds of change are coming to the roccas. my mom is a democrat and emily, well, she doesn’t vote.
the reunion rolls on. my mom does almost get thrown in the pool and cheryl and sarah save her. cheryl telling mary at the end that she would die before she’d let her chanel watch get thrown into the pool. the kids run around cheryl’s yard and pool. jackson takes me the the barn to see three baby kittens whose mother watches on carefully from the loft above. jack and i walk back toward the tent. underneath, aunt mae holds court in the corner and everyone catches up on the past year. there is a lot of laughter.
at the end of the day, the sky is a perfect slate blue. it’s a humid and windy night as we roll silently across the country roads of western pennsylvania. i stare out at the window as big trees and old houses are silhouetted against that beautiful sky. lighting bugs flash and their little yellow lights smear as we drive on. the wind laps my face and in my head i still have that giddy smile from ear to ear.