My parents are a lot like Abbott and Costello: My mother, short, round and impulsive, is always pulling some stunt that leads my taller, leaner, more sensible father to chastise her for the fine mess she's gotten them into this time.
Yesterday Dad recounted an incident from their summer trip to San Francisco: During dim sum in Chinatown they shared a table with an Italian couple visiting from Rome. An incurable eavesdropper and master of schmooze, my mother recognized their accents and began a conversation using the rudimentary Italian skills she picked up studying opera 40 years ago. Most people would have realized after 30 seconds or so that the couple's English was close to perfect, but my mother was on a roll. She pelted them with questions in English -- punctuating her slow, overenunciated shouting with the grotesque sign language that only confuses foreigners and makes them hate Americans that much more -- and met each of their increasingly nervous answers with "assolutamente!" or "molto buon!" Eventually they became so uncomfortable that they packed up their food and left. "I wanted to crawl under the table," my father said, shaking his head. "I kept kicking her foot but she just wouldn't take the hint."
At that moment my mother arrived and caught me cackling over the tail end of the story. "Oh, you're telling that one," she scowled. "I'll just leave you two alone to exaggerate about me some more," and she walked off in a huff. My father chuckled and shrugged. "There's nothing to make up here, she's totally self-exaggerating." It's so true; The woman is like a cartoon. She's not bad, she's just drawn that way.
I should explain that we were all together yesterday because we were working: My mother runs a small entertainment agency -- she hires music, magicians, clowns, etc. for parties and such. Whenever one of her commercial real estate clients asks her to orchestrate a seasonal event she turns it into a family affair, recruiting my father to set up the deejay equipment, my sister to play the music, and me to paint hearts, flowers and small woodland creatures on the cheeks of children who walk by. Cheap labor, I guess; We're like a low-budget Partridge Family. It's not a bad way to earn some fun money. I do it once or twice a season and get to play with paint and meet a few babies, which is never a bad thing.
When the event was finished my father left to run an errand while my mother, after handing me a check for my day's work, pulled her station wagon up to the curb. Predictably, she overestimated the turn and swiped the yellow concrete post that was probably placed there to protect pedestrians from drivers like her. (With my mother behind the wheel you're guaranteed the ride of your life. Possibly the last one.)
The scrape itself was less hilarious than the fact that Mom didn't even notice it and had to ask why my sister and I were cracking up when she stepped out of the car. When we told her what she'd done she insisted we were full of crap. "Look at the bumper!" we cried, and she glanced over and dismissed the blemish as a mark from a similar run-in two weeks earlier. "But there's yellow paint all over the place!" we screamed, now clutching each other to keep from falling down, we were laughing so hard. She bent down for a closer look and sucked air through her teeth ("whoops..."), looking only vaguely troubled until she discovered the yellow paint would rub off easily. Then it was okay. "Why would they put bumpers on my car if they weren't meant to be bumped?!" she exclaimed with wide eyes, as if it was the most obvious and logical question a person could ask. (And you know, it kind of is.)
Then she skulked over to me -- The Evil One, the one she thinks is always out to get her -- and she begged me, "Please don't tell Daddy. If I put one more dent in this car he's going to send me away." I smirked at her, remembering the last time I found myself in this position, and then I handed her the envelope with my check inside and said, "It's not too late to add another zero."