Having fun with my mother is like enjoying a week in Tokyo with Godzilla in tow. Actually, death by Godzilla is mercifully quick and he doesn’t complain incessantly about the prices and cuisine. Anyway, I girded my loins and braced myself for the impact. Thursday, which felt like Friday, eventually ended and I drove home to find my mother waiting for me. She has a knack for arriving early, usually an hour or more ahead of time. At her request I took her to get a Baldino’s sub, all the time hoping that she wouldn’t embarrass me to the point where I could never return. I considered stopping by Subway and claiming Baldino’s had sold out, but I stayed the course and was pleasantly surprised when everything went smoothly. We returned to my apartment, ate our subs, and watched a few episodes of the Star Trek – The Next Generation, season one (again, her request). The day ended satisfyingly enough.
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Ever since her near death experience last Halloween, my mother has made a concerted effort to behave a little more politely in my presence. She’s still the same bitter, hate-filled vessel who raised me, but a taste of her own mortality and a mound of hospital bills reminded her that I am the only person in existence who hasn’t abandoned her, and she’s going to need my money in the coming years. I’m leery of dropping my guard around her, thinking that the instant I do the old vitriol will come spewing out, but I have to admit she seems to be making a concerted effort to be *gasp* NICE.
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The actual Friday came around as it always does, and it did indeed feel like Saturday. We piled into my car and drove to Chattanooga for the Tennessee Aquarium, which is the world’s largest freshwater aquarium and kicks major butt. I had planned this day for my second trip to the TA since my first visit had been over the Independence Day weekend and I had to attempt to enjoy myself over the screams of, by conservative estimate, every kid born in the Western hemisphere. I had waded through tantrums and fleshy pinballs bouncing off me as I made my way to the next tank, trying to focus on the signs with the interesting factoids as I pretended that the last collision didn’t leave another sticky mess on my leg from a little pair of jam-hands. This time would be different. With the little nightmares safely tucked away in their
When we neared Chattanooga, my mother said “I hope this isn’t the day all the Tennessee schools send the kids to visit the aquarium.” Anyone who knows my mother (like I unfortunately do) knows this is exactly the sort of head game she likes to play (namely “forgetting” that the day we chose to avoid the kids would be the one with the greatest concentration). She gave me bad directions to the aquarium for several miles until I quit listening and relied on signs, instinct, and illegal aggressive u-turns to get us there. The aquarium was not packed with children from Tennessee. Georgia had also thrown its midget monsters into the mix.
We made our way into the aquarium and I paid for the tickets without her noticing the price, which always precipitates a public outburst. She rejected my suggestion to visit the IMAX theatre and see six story tall 3D sharks, so we took our tickets and waded into the sea of squalling children.
The only way I could attempt to do the TA any justice would be to write a Stephen King length brick describing all the wonders and varieties of marine life I saw, but a blog is not the place for that (this has gone on long enough as it is). The place is worth visiting for the architecture alone, not to mention the sad history inscribed in the sidewalks about the Cherokee nation sent west on the Trail of Tears. I’ll just hit on few highlights:
- A new saltwater building featuring SHARKS OMFG LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU heh heh heh.
- A butterfly garden where the nasty little insects land on you, but you are not encouraged to squish them.
- A freshwater exhibit showing rivers of the world complete with their fauna, flora, and fisha.
- Petting zoos (yes!) in the salt and freshwater buildings featuring sturgeons, stingrays, and SHARKS OMFG LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU heh heh heh.
- Some interesting warning signs which make me wonder if the humans are the brightest species in the building. (No, there aren’t any dolphins, but the turtles are beginning to look mighty sharp.) Among these signs are warnings not to throttle the sharks and stingrays in the petting pool, for parents not to dangle their children over the barrier to the alligator pond, and a request not to toss change into the otter pool. I can understand the last one. Who among us has not been moved by the dulcet tones of Jiminy Cricket when he sang “When you wish upon an otter / Bring your daughter to the slaughter.” Note – Jiminy had just dropped acid and was going through a brief metal phase.
- No penguins, unfortunately. Maybe the sharks ate them.
Anyway, we survived the sharks and (much worse) the school kids, most of whom were well controlled by their chaperons, some of whom should have been dangled over the barrier to the alligator pond. It was time for lunch. Since the aquarium employees (read: Nazis) had confiscated my tartar sauce at the entrance, we had to forage elsewhere. We took the free electric shuttle to the other end of downtown Chattanooga, a small but lovely metro area, and stopped at a place I picked called the Southside Grill. It stood mostly empty with a row of Mercedes and Jaguars parked in front. We took our seats, received menus, and the complaining started immediately, starting with the prices I would be paying.
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I’ve come to understand that there are two types of old people. Some are like me, still a vital and changing part of the world around us despite our failing minds and bodies. For instance, I have an iPod. The other kind is like my mother, the type that has quit living and is just taking up space while awaiting grim death. They think they have put forth all the effort required for one lifetime and can now lean back and receive the respect (read: free ride) they earned during the bronze age. One symptom of this kind of old person is that their price index is rooted in the year they stopped growing. For my mother, I’m guessing this year to be 1972. She thinks the Waffle House is outrageously priced. Once she called me to complain about the exorbitant price of ground beef when Wal-Mart had it on sale for 89 cents a pound. Needless to say, entrees starting at eight dollars amounted to highway robbery.
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My own five foot Godzilla pitched a major fit, first over the high prices and then over the menu selection. I’ve noticed the wait staff seems to disappear when her mouth starts running. I offered to take her somewhere else and she shifted into indecisive martyr mode. (e.g. “Do you want to go somewhere else?” “Whatever you want is fine.” “Okay, let’s eat here.” “I don’t want to.” “Then where do you want to go?” “Whatever you want is fine.” Repeat until homicidal urges take hold.) She left her order with me and went to the restroom, opening a window for the waiter to return. I had planned to get something exotic with goat cheese or shrimp hash, but instead ordered a pair of bacon cheeseburgers with fries.
Forget the freaking fish tank. The Southside Grill is now Chattanooga’s main attraction. Without exaggeration I can say that was the best bacon cheeseburger I have ever eaten – sirloin patty hickory grilled to perfection, melted Vermont white cheddar, thick cut bacon served with fresh toppings on the side, a light Dijon mustard, and a toasted Kaiser roll. My mother agreed it was the best she had ever eaten, and contained her future complaints to the price and the fact that the restaurant wasn’t doing too much business. We exited full and logy, leaving her with barely any energy to gripe. We shared the shuttle back with a pair of tourists, women in their late millennia who still took the time to reapply makeup between stops. I wondered at what point do women stop that pointless ritual. Maybe never. On the way home we stopped at an outlet mall so my mother could pitch a fit when the cashier tried to charge her the advertised price for a pillow (don’t ask me to explain that one).
In my next installment – GIANT ATOMIC CHICKENS! do not appear. But I promise monkeys.