Just for a change, the Gunch family decides to take a little trip that don’t involve fleeing for our lives. We’re gonna spend a couple days at the Beau Rivage casino in Mississippi.
The kids can splash around in the pool and after they’re in bed, the stupider adults can take turns losing money in the slots while the rest of us take in a show.
So we pile in my sister-in-law Larva’s big van, straitjacket the kids into their car seats and off we go.
Halfway there, we’re ready to pull up at the rest stop, we all get out, and after a while we all get back in and we’re getting the kids buckled up again when my mother-in-law, Ms. Larda, leans over and whispers in my ear, “They must have a lot of trouble with you-know-what in these rest stops.”
I ask “What?” And she says, “You know” – and she points to this sign where we are parked. It says, “No semis allowed.”
“They actually have to put up a sign about it. I think that’s disgusting,” she says in a hiss.
I ask why is it disgusting that they don’t allow tractor-trailers at rest stops?
She looks around to make sure the children aren’t listening. “I am talking about SEMIS,” she says.
I wonder about that for the rest of the trip.
Now, Ms. Larda has always been what you might call creative with words.
Last week, for instance, she ran by the drug store to pick up a pacifier for my daughter Gumdrop’s new baby. Gumdrop is very particular about what brand of pacifier she wants. It has to be a Nuk, because she read in a baby magazine that it stimulates healthy oral and tongue development. Too bad Buddy Diliberto’s mama never gave him one, Ms. Larda says. But she promises to buy a Nuk.
Gumdrop says it has to be the smallest size they make, since this is a very little baby. Ms. Larda jots it down. “Litt. Nuk paci.”
Well, Ms. Larda can’t find it, so she goes to the man behind the counter, who is just taking a slurp of a Coke he got back there, and she says, “Young man, I am looking for a little Nuk-ie.” And the guy snorts his Coke right up his nose.
Ms. Larda has to go all the way to the Wal-Mart for this pacifier.
The same week, she goes by the Ace Hardware store. Her house in Chalmette is almost fixed up except for the doorbells. She owns a double, and there used to be doorbells on each side, but they never did work very good, even before the storm. So she looks around, and she picks out this brass knocker with a classy fleur-de-lis design. She decides she likes it so much, she’s gonna splurge and get another one just like it for the other side, where her sons Leech and Lurch live. She puts them in her basket and goes up to the counter and says, “I got a really nice pair of knockers here,” and the clerk goes immediately into a giggle fit and a lady clerk has to come pound him on the back and ring up the sale.
She was telling me and my friend Awlette about it while we was sipping some Bloody Marys at my gentleman friend Lust’s bar, the Sloth Lounge. And she was very upset.
“Now, Ms. Larda,” says Awlette, “you got to remember the cardinal rule about men. Any funny-sounding word means something to do with S-E-X.
“Even regular words, like melon or coconut or jug – you can mention one of them to a man, but they change meaning completely if you talk about two of them. It just ain’t safe to talk about a pair of anything if you want to be a lady.”
Ms. Larda thinks about that awhile. “It’s a shame, but you right,” she says. “I can’t even talk about my own church that I go to every Sunday without some man snickering.”
Lust has just wandered in and sat down next to us and he says, “What church is that?” and Ms. Larda says, “Our Lady of Prompt Succor.”
Lust smirks. Ms. Larda glares at him and he coughs and gets very busy rearranging the bar napkins.
“I rest my case,” Awlette says.
“Amen,” I say.
“All men,” Ms. Larda says.
So, remembering all that, I realize it’s not too surprising she’s upset about “semis.” She’s thinking like a man: if it’s a funny word, it must be nasty.
But “semis” means tractor-trailers and nothing else.
At least I think so. I decide to check.
When we get there, me and Ms. Larda take the kids to the pool, and she settles in a lounge chair next to some lady from up North. I hear her telling the lady that everybody in our family used to live on one street before we got diasporaed. The lady is asking if we caught that from the mold when I excuse myself.
I call up my gentleman friend Lust, and I say “Sweetie, what would you say if I told you they had semis right out in public in Mississippi? ” He says “Se-what?” So I try again, and tell him I just saw a great pair of semis. He says he don’t know what I’m drinking, but whatever it is, bring him some.
So it ain’t filthy.
After that, I forget all about it for the next couple of days, until we climb into the van to go home, Ms. Larda requests that we make any pit stops at the McDonald’s so we don’t expose the children to no filth.
Everybody looks puzzled, but then Lurch says McDonald’s is a good idea, because he saw on TV they got a great pair of specials this week. And Ms. Larda lets out a shriek.
I ain’t going to say any more, except we’ll probably have to get diasporaed again before we make another trip.