Thursday, August 29, 2013

Jack pulled pork

The first bit of advice (though it felt more like extortion, as if her mother would not allow herself to die in peace unless Calisto agreed to carry out her las requests) was this:

"Don't ever work for anyone other than yourself."

Her mother had treated Calisto's insistence on attending college as a foolhardy exercise at best, and an excuse to live young and wild for a few years at worst. She was fond of saying "I never registered for a single course, and yet I've been supporting myself since I was 19 years old," which it was true had been the time when she started Haughty, although it was not successful enough for financial independence until years later. Ordinarily Calisto (who'd heard this spiel enough times to have it memorized front-to-back) would retort with "Not everybody wants that" or, in less patient moods, "There are more choices in life than making dresses all day," to which her mother would respond "It's either that or go into debt for 25 years just to learn how to make somebody else rich," and they'd be off again. This was well-trodden ground for both of them, and Calisto still harbored bitterness over her mother's lack of support in those early days and even partly still blamed her for her washout. But all she'd said was "I know, mom. I will."

The next piece of wisdom she had to impart was:

"Find a man worth keeping, and stay with him."

This one was actually harder to swallow. Calisto had never formally introduced any of her always-short-term boyfriends to her mother before. In high school, she was the kind of girl who'd take a gay boy to the prom so he could stay in the closet a few months longer. At least she would have if she had known any gay boys at that time, or at least any who made her aware of it. As it was, she spent prom night studying for entrance exams so she could get the hell out of her mother's house. Only after her death did it ever occur to her that her mother's disdain for academia may have been rooted in anxiety over losing her only child to the outside world, however distant their relationship had grown at that point, and in that realization Calisto struggled through several tear-filled nights trying to reconcile that she was in fact so driven to get into college specifically because she needed to spend time away from her mother.

But her mother had never married, and she knew her words of advice really meant "Get married while you're still young." Hers had been a liberated, enlightened generation, raised to believe that marriage was a failed, obsolete institution and that the traditional obligations of child rearing and housewifery were long dead. Perhaps for this reason Calisto had always felt herself to be a burden to her mother, and had grown to accept that her mother's business would always come first and hearing that she'd apparently changed her mind on this issue and now wished she had spent more time looking for a man to settle down with felt like a betrayal of her whole upbringing. Not that her upbringing was the ideal one to have, but it was still hers.

These were her mother's dying requests and at the time they didn't mean anything, but once the standard period of grieving was over and she had returned to whatever semblance of a live she had, they stuck with her. Actually, it was disturbing how quickly things got back to normal. She would think about her mother as if she were still alive, until she remembered she had died, and at that point those two nuggets of wisdom came back to haunt her again. She would wonder how her mother had settled on those two things being the last advices she'd give. Had it been a long-term plan, or had those things simply been at the forefront of her mind in her dying days? And why did they seem to contradict each other? One thing seemed to say "Do exactly what I did," and the other seemed to say "Don't do what I did." Yet it wasn't as if she had asked a lot of her, or that it was totally unfeasible to accomplish both of those things.

Calisto had been obsessing over these questions, in one of her typically pensive moods that night when Naomi had announced "That's it, you are going out with us tonight."
It wasn't as if this type of invitation was unheard of, but it was so unexpected that she could only respond: "Who's us?"
"Me and Eric and some guy he works with. Come on. If I leave you here tonight you'll fossilize."

It didn't appear to be a double date at the time, but looking back Calisto realized that was probably how it had been intended. If she'd had any inkling that her roommate intended to hook her up with the skeezy-looking guy who was always slinking around by her workplace, she never would've accepted, which was probably why it wasn't presented that way. 

The night went like this: The four of them met at a small coffeehouse on Hotel Street, ostensibly to see a friend of Eric's who went by the stage name Kolo. They had sat through an unreasonably protracted sound check and one acoustic slack key number when Naomi received a text from her work friend.
"We have to go," she said. "Jack pulled pork is $2.50 a tray for the next hour, and I'm starving."
"We just got here," Monte said.
Calisto knew better than to protest. Squarehead's was her and Eric's usual haunt, a bar and grill downstairs from where they all worked, and Naomi lived and died for the Jack Daniel's pulled pork they only served on certain nights, which was by far their most popular menu item. 
"I have to get there right away," she would say. "They run out of the shit after 10 minutes. It's that good. People riot to be first in line. I swear to god I saw someone scalping trays of it last time."
So her and Eric were gone, saying they would be back, Calisto declining to accompany them because she knew how those crowds would get and could not face them tonight, and Monte, being a vegetarian, not seeing the point in any of it.
"Jesus, that was abrupt," Monte said when they were gone.
"That's Naomi. That's Eric, too, really. They won't be back either."
"How do you know?"
"I know my roommate. She will text me with some excuse an hour from now, tell me not to wait up while they get some alone time. I think she brought me out tonight just to do this."
"That sounds shitty."
"I deserve it. I've been in her hair way too much lately. She needs a break from me."

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