Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

The dotted line...

They call it “the closing,” as in closing the deal. It consisted of an hour in a lawyer’s office signing our names over and over again. I scrawled my name and raised my right hand to swear that I was doing so of my own free will, while kicking my co-mortgagee under the table to say “Can you believe we’re doing this?” Meanwhile, the realtor earned his commission by discussing the finer points of the new model Mini Cooper with Busytot, down the other end of the table.

Then the daughter of the former inhabitant arrived, signed the necessary forms on his behalf, and gave us a quick tearful hug. It was a bit like our civil wedding: lots of paperwork and joking, and then a surprising burst of emotion when all was done. And now, the house -- for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and holy crap please don’t let the market crash now -- is ours. We may kiss the bank.

So much for the honeymoon: our first job was mucking the place out. We spent a very grubby and satisfying couple of evenings dragging things from the shed and the basement onto the verge for the bulk trash collection. Very cleansing it was, too. It’s like having one of those colonic irrigations but without sticking an actual hose up your actual bum.

The previous inhabitant was not a hoarder, really, just a deeply frugal person. You live through two wars and a depression, you learn not to take stuff for granted. Everything had been carefully saved, just in case: the bag of string and shreds of fabric for tying up tomatoes, the pile of stakes and sticks and branches behind the shed, enough glassware on the premises to host a drinking horn, and every curtain that had ever been retired from regular service carefully folded up in a trunk against the day that blue roses come back into style.

There were a couple of choice surprises, too: spunky Smurfette rollerskates with the legend “roller-smurfin’” on the wheels. A picture of the Pope that lights up when you plug it in (as my father-in-law naughtily observed, who doesn’t light up when you plug it in?). A guitar. Not to mention the glass jar of petrol stored not ten feet from the furnace, and a bottle of something equally high-octane but slightly more potable, stashed away handily behind the downstairs bog.

The gas, the grog, and the bag of string went into the trash, but the guitar and the fifties lounge suite will live to fight another day, as will Smurfette and His Holiness. The surplus furniture and crockery, on the other hand, went to a variety of good homes, largely the HQ of a local group dedicated to getting the youth vote out for John Kerry.

As an alien in this strange land, I can’t legally vote or donate money to any campaigns – but if an ancient filing cabinet and a well-loved formica table can help win back the White House, bring it on! And when the posse of very attractive and energetic twenty-somethings turned up to collect the gear, it occurred to me that perhaps what the Democrats need is a new variation on the baby-kissing technique. No point schmoozing the under-twos, they can’t vote – we need to get some of these pierced and tattooed cuties to hand out favours to their wavering peers instead…

The merry-for-Kerry crew pounced happily on a giant brown corduroy monstrosity of an easy chair. Apparently, after a hard day of campaigning, you want a nice sit-down, a cold beer, a vegan kebab, perhaps a shiatsu foot-massage. Based on my own hazy memories of gratuitously libidinal student politics, I wouldn’t be surprised if that cranky old Archie Bunker chair saw some strenuous after-hours rock-the-vote action. Mate! They don’t call them Lay-z-boys for nothing…

Tell you who’s not a lazy boy at the moment, and that’s the all-singing, all-dancing Busytot. He’s growing like a weed, losing his Buddha belly and his toddler totter. “I’m a big boy,” he’ll tell anyone who listens, and to prove it he hangs out with the big boys at the playground – the hard-as-nails five year olds who have taught him to say “Hulp, hulp, I’m going down the toilet!” as he whooshes down the green spiral slide.

He also appears to have the musical gene that runs in both families, as well as the flamboyant Broadway gene that bursts out around two and a half in most children. Every day is opening night, every small task inspires a free-form aria on the merits of, say, bread and honey, or a wistful ode to what might have been, like “Cho-co-late for dinner, that’s very YUM.” Well, helloooo Dolly!

After seeing Ladysmith Black Mambazo performing on the New Haven Green the other night, he’s added a couple of Zulu high kicks to his burgeoning breakdancing repertoire, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear him sneak a line or two of rhythmic “azum, azum, azum” and some trilling ululation to his word-perfect rendition of the cookie song. “WHOAH! Cookie cookie cookie start with C –yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yiiiii!”

When he’s not singing, he’s talking. And talking. Like an attentive language student (which I suppose is what he is, really), he’s expanding his conversational vocabulary by taking formulations frequently deployed by the teacher and plugging in his own details. “I’m hungry, by the way.” “I’m really serious about want lemonade, Mummy.” “Have to x, otherwise y” is another favourite, although like Mark Twain’s wife when she tried cussing, he knows the words but he can’t quite sing in tune. “HAVE to spill it, otherwise table get all wet!” “HAVE to jump on the table, otherwise you say NO!” Uh, whatever, grasshopper. Too zen for me.

I enjoy the witty banter but sometimes it’s like hanging out with Groucho Marx, Salvador Dali, and a querulous elderly relative with a touch of dementia, all at the same time. He unreels whole paragraphs of impassioned nonsense, wistful nostalgia, and trenchant social critique, salted with a constant stream of hectoring demands. “I don’t like naughty mice, only nice mice, actually. Mice live in the holes in cheese. You know that? You know Wallace and Gromit? Remember? They ate the moon, it made of cheese. That pretty funny. I want smoked cheese, by the way. On a plate. Get the plate. Not that plate, the green plate. NEED the green plate! NOW! Shriek!”

We have our own version of charades these days: I pause, cup one hand theatrically to my ear and raise my eyebrows. The clock ticks, and he eventually relinquishes a wheedling “pleeeeeeease?” with all the good grace of someone handing over twenty cents to one of those window-washers at the stoplights. I mean, who’s doing whom the favour here? And this is the boy who was saying “thank you” at his first birthday. But all learning is about repetition. He’s Helen Keller, I’m Annie Sullivan, and I’m holding his feral little hand under that running water five hundred times a day while spelling the magic word into the other grubby paw.

To his credit, he plays along with my gentle etiquette lessons. He knows which side his bread is buttered on, plus who buys the bread and the butter and who can open the large and creaky cutlery drawer. Sometimes I even get a frankly sycophantic “Pleeeease... I love you too?” But there was a bit of a glitch the other day when I nudged him for the appropriate word. “Can’t,” came the mutinous mutter. “My pleaser is broken.”

Hey, we all need a break. My blogger is, if not broken, at least temporarily hobbled. I’ll be taking a wee vacation from Busytown to attend to the house, hand in the dissertation, and pay proper attention to my long-suffering boys (yes sir, green plate, coming right up). I’ll be back in August, just as the summer starts to cool down and the election campaigns begin to heat up. You’ll know me by the fancy velvet bonnet with the fine layer of paint and plaster dust on it. In the meantime, check out the links at the right and my fellow Public Addressers for your daily dose of quality prose. See you on the other side!