August ain’t what it used to be.
It used to be hot and boring.
It ain’t boring no more; it’s the exciting climax of hurricane season.
My mother-in-law Ms. Larda decides to buy a GPS for her car, so if Bob Breck and them weatherologists tell us to leave, she’ll know which way to run.
She finds one cheap at a garage sale – five years old and never used. She decides to test it early one morning, after she wakes up dreaming about tidal waves and can’t go back to sleep. So she slinks out in her nightie and tells the GPS to direct her to Rocky and Carlo’s. (Not that she’d go in dressed like that.)
You have a choice of voices on a GPS, and each one comes with its own name, like a Cabbage Patch Kid. This one is already programmed to “Daniel,” and Daniel has a British accent. He pronounces Judge Perez Drive “Judge Pair-ez,” and St. Bernard “Saint Bear-nerd.”
Now, she usually likes British accents, like from Hugh Grant or Paul McCartney, but this Daniel sounds oily, like a BP executive. Plus, he don’t know what he’s doing. I guess he’s never been updated. Every time he tells her to turn and she don’t, because maybe a house is in the way, he says “re-cawl-culating,” real snippy. He recalculates her halfway to Violet, when she remembers she’s supposed to be home at 7 a.m. I said I’d pick her up to go by my daughter Gumdrop’s house in Folsom, to take the kids to feed the giraffes and zebras and whatever other slobbery animals they got at that Global Wildlife Center up there.
She whips around, with Daniel objecting – she tells him she’ll re-cawl-culate him – pulls in the driveway at five to 7; tears inside; flings off her nightgown; yanks on her pants and shirt; grabs her wallet out her purse, sticks it in her cleavage and grabs her decoy purse.
(Gumdrop’s little boy, Go-cup, like a lot of kids, likes to root through purses – opening pill bottles, pulling out Depends, chewing up lottery tickets – so around him, she carries a decoy purse full of doubloons, Carnival beads, plastic keys and a pill bottle that if he pries off the lid, a huge rubber spider leaps out and scares him half to death.
She says that’s the best way to teach kids.)
She runs out when I pull in the driveway, and we take off. Neither of us notices she left the door to her car open.
A little later, my brothers-in-law, Leech and Lurch, drag themselves home from the Sloth Lounge. They live on the other side of Ms. Larda’s double, in a sloppy mirror image of Ms. Larda’s apartment. There is a connecting laundry room they share in the back. Sometimes Ms. Larda will pass through the laundry room to their kitchen to stick meals in their freezer; and sometimes they’ll pass through to swipe something out her pantry; but they all agreed not to go farther than each other’s kitchens. If they want to go into the rest of the house, they go around front and ring the doorbell. That way everybody has their privacy. Ms. Larda don’t know what goes on in their half of the house and she don’t want to know. (When she had the house re-built after Katrina, she put a lot of sound-absorbing insulation between them.)
Still, Ms. Larda is getting older – not so you’d notice, because like she says, fat people don’t get wrinkles – and the boys are close enough to hear if she all of a sudden keels over; the insulation isn’t that thick.
Anyway, that afternoon, Leech wakes up, goes to make coffee and there ain’t none, so he tip-toes through the laundry room to Ms. Larda’s kitchen. He notices her purse on the counter. Strange. She never leaves her purse out in plain sight. It goes on the coat rack in the living room under a coat, even in summer.
He is frowning at it when Lurch wanders in, scratching himself – and stops short and looks at the floor. There is Ms. Larda’s nightie – after all the years of lecturing about never leaving clothes on the floor, and all the years of showing them a good example.
Leech yells “Ma-a?” No answer. He calls her cell phone. It rings in her purse. He reaches in the purse to shut it off, and sees her wallet is gone. Lurch runs around front and to ring the doorbell, and sees her car door standing open.
They call the sheriff.
Meanwhile, me and Ms. Larda are reclining in Gumdrop’s air-conditioning, glugging Diet Coke out of two-liter bottles, recovering from the heat and the kids and the buffalo spit. Finally we head home, but Ms. Larda makes me stop at Best Buy. She tells the man she wants a GPS that don’t lie and don’t have no accent.
“Y’all got one like that?” she asks. “One that talks normal, like me. Not like a ‘erl man.’”
The best he can come up with one that talks like Darth Vader. She takes it.
It is almost dark when we get to her house.
The yard is full of police cars with their lights flashing.
“My boys!” Ms. Larda screeches. She jumps out of the car almost before I can put on the brakes.
Leech and Lurch are talking to a deputy, who has her nightie in a plastic bag. Then they hear, “Lurch! Leech!” and they look up; yell “Mama!” and they all run into each other’s arms. It is enough to bring tears to your eyes.
Then they all start explaining – them coming home late, her leaving the purse, Daniel …
“You people need to communicate better,” the deputy says. He hands back her nightie. Then all the police cars go away.
Nope. August ain’t boring no more.