When I was growin’ up, we used to put Vaseline on our faces to keep ‘em from lookin’ ashy. Somedays us kids would do it ourselves and show up to school with so much grease on we looked plastic. Good morning to you, good morning to you, We’re all in our places, with bright shining faces…
We was always late for school, man. When you showed up late, you had to get a late pass from the office before you went to class. We were late so much, our late passes would already be ready when we showed up.
We would be late for everything. They got this saying, “fashionably late”. Man, if being late is fashionable, we shoulda been on the runway in Paris.
I remember I had this wristwatch, and I liked to see when it was 11:11 11, the whole clock on the same number for only one second. Well, church started at 11:00 00, but I usually caught all 11’s on the way.
My dad said in the car once, “From now on, we’re going to be on time. We are the On-Time Olivers.” We got a lotta laughs outta that. We had this idea about making black satin jackets with ‘On-Time Olivers’ written on the back in yellow. Anyway, we continued to be late, majorly, and every time we would say “The OTO’s are at it again…”
My dad is a funny cat, man, and the funniest thing is, he doesn’t try to be. Everyone gets the joke but him. He went through this phase where he was out of style on purpose. It was just a few years. I guess it was his mid-life crisis. We had to force him not to leave the house with sandals and socks on, or a with a hip pack on years after they went outta style.
“Where are you goin’?”
“I’m goin’ to the store.”
“You can’t go out like that!”
“Like what? I’m just goin’ to the store.”
“But you’re wearing sandals and socks.”
“So what’s wrong with that?”
“Dad, please, man…”
“What? I don’t care what nobody thinks.”
“But we do, man.”
“Yall aint even goin’.”
“Yall are crazy, I’m just tryin’ to go to the…”
He’d mumble under his breath on his way back to the room and re-emerge with the appropriate fashion correction, or occasionally with something even worse on, then we’d have to go through the whole thing again.
My dad was old school, militant, a big, black, 6’2, 250 type-of-cat. He coulda went to the NFL, but it woulda been as a free agent and they didn’t get paid much back then. So when my friends saw him, and heard his deep voice, they’d be scared. But he was really a beautiful cat on the inside. I mean he would play with us until we were laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe. I remember he used to take us to church, and when it was over we’d be looking all over for him. Where’s dad? Excuse me, have you seen my dad? Do you know where he’d be? In the car passed out ‘sleep. The cat just couldn’t stay awake and he didn’t wanna be disrespectful by sleepin’ in the middle of worship. We used to laugh and tease him about it, but lookin’ back, I respect it. I mean if you believe in somethin’ you should give it all you got, even when you know it ain’t enough…
But you know what’s the funniest thing he ever did?
I can’t even tell you. There are too many to choose from, and you had to be there anyway.
I can tell you ‘bout my mom, though.
Go look on TV at a nature channel when they show birds. Or look at a picture of an eagle. See it’s eye? It’s like this emotionless piercing beam. But you can only look an eagle in the eye one at a time. I used to always be gettin’ in trouble and lyin’ about it, and my mom was always out for the truth. So we would do this prosecutor-defendant thing, sometimes for hours. Suddenly, outta the blue, my mom would put her eagle eye on me. She would just stop cold, and beam me with her eyes wide open, mouth closed, nose flared. Dead silence. And she would just hold it, dead still, without even blinking. It was her last tactic. She was clever, but so was I; I learned it from her. I used to sit in the bed at night going over all my lies to make sure I had not only the story, but every story straight. This was a game of poker. If I win, I live to sin another day. If she win, it’s fire and brimstone. I could either confess, and tell the truth about everything, or I could plea bargain, and give up a little bit of stuff and not get in trouble for the rest, or I could keep bluffin’, but that risked a greater punishment if she actually did know somethin’.
Sometimes I would get bold and eyeball her right back. Sometimes when I did that I couldn’t hold it as long and I would look down, which was like a confession, or smile.
“Why are you smiling? Is something funny?”
And every now and then, rarely, I really hadn’t done nothin’. But who could believe that?
I remember this one time when I was in 3rd grade, my mom walked in while we was in eatin’ and was like “I’m not washin’ yall’s clothes anymore,” and then just walked right out. So I had to learn it all from scratch from that day. All my white clothes turned pink, all my red clothes turned pink, and everything else shrank. She was Austin’s top real estate agent, so I guess that’s one chore that had to do. But she was and is the best cook in the world. But she had this one thing: she wouldn’t clean up the kitchen.
And she wouldn’t cook if the kitchen was dirty. She would just walk into the room with this sweet voice and say, “Oh, I was just about to cook [favorite dish], but the kitchen wasn’t clean so…”
“No, mom,” we’d say all desperate. “I’ll clean it right now.”
“No, it’s OK,.” she’d sing out, “by the time you finish I won’t have enough time.”
“No, we’ll clean it right now. We can do it fast.”
“OK, well, call me when it’s done and if there’s still enough time, I’ll see what I can do.”
Mind games, she was a pro. She had us on point. We’d be watchin’ TV after school, and she would just walk in, turn it off, not say a word, and walk right out. We would just look at each other, sniggling under our breath, and find whatever was wrong in the house. And speakin’ of TV, we were four kids with one remote. Sometimes we all wanted to watch the same thing, sometimes we didn’t. So whoever had that remote, that was power. And you better not sleep on it either. Because the other ones would be watchin’ you and as soon as we could see the veins stop poppin’ outta your hand SNATCH!- there go the remote and your favorite channel. One time my big sister had it, then my mom told her to go clean the dishes. So you know what she did? She took it right there with her in her back pocket. She coulda at least put it on the channel we wanted to watch. We tried to sneak up on her, but this was a big sister, she had eyes in the back of her head. That dish rag came flying…
My mom’s the best mom in the world. My friends wanted her to adopt them. She used to take time off work and take us to nice hotels for Spring Break, and my dad would come when he finished work. She would let us pick any recipe in her dessert cookbook and we would cook it together, and you know the best part was licking the spoon…
You know what she used to love for Mother’s Day? Bath stuff. She used to love taking a good, long bath. And she deserved it…
Do you wanna know the worst thing that ever happened to my family?
A box of ice cream sandwiches.
We had ‘em in the freezer, but we had to ask permission to eat them. One day, my mom checked and the last two were gone, but no one had asked to eat them.
Controversy ensued. Interrogations went on for days, and suspects were re-called for further questioning.
“Don’t get in trouble tryin’ to protect Daniel. If you know somethin’, tell me.”
That’s what they told my little brother. I was far and away the most likely suspect, but wallahi, I didn’t do it.
Me and my brother were on the same Little League basketball team. We had a championship game that Friday, but the situation hadn’t been resolved. My mom promised that there would be no game and instead we were gonna all stay home and get our behinds beat.
We were all looking down, then up at each other, and then all at me, but really, I didn’t do it, and even if I did, as bad as I was, I was a team player. I wouldn’t let anyone go down for me.
Finally, at the last minute, my mom called off her bluff, and we went and won the game.
No one has ever confessed to this crime, but I have a theory. I had this final project my senior year of high school and I had to stay up late a few nights to work on it. I noticed that sometimes my dad would come walkin’ in out of his bedroom in the middle of the night. He’d go right to the fridge, eat somethin’ and go back to the room, without a word. I would even say somethin’ to him but he wouldn’t say anything back. He was taking his midnight snack sleepwalking. I would even ask him about it the next morning and he didn’t remember. So that’s my theory. I think deep down in his inner psyche, he was harboring deep-seated longings for ice cream sandwiches, perhaps triggered by traumatic memories of missing the ice cream truck as a child. You know how it is, by the time you hear it and go ask for change, he’s gone. So he subconsciously arose and devoured them, wrappers and all in a sleep-like state, then went back to bed with no recollection. I’ve put this theory to him but he’s not convinced.
I wish I could tell you the ice cream story he does know about, but he made me promise to stop tellin’ it.
There’s one other story I gotta tell you, because if you meet my family they’re gonna tell you anyways. We moved to North Austin, but we still got our hair cut in East Austin, at Green’s barber shop at 11th and Rosewood. That could only happen on the weekend, and some weekends my parents were busy. This one time in 4th grade, during Christmas break, I had had enough, so I went into their bathroom, took out the clippers and decided to do it myself. I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that Mrs. Green used a guard on the clippers, so I just turned ‘em on and promptly cut a bald spot onto my head. After that I just panicked. I kept trying to fix it, but it was just cutting more bald spots. It wasn’t working like it did in the barber shop. So I came up with a plan. I would put on a hat, go to bed early before my mom came home, then sleep late until she left for work in the morning. It woulda worked if it wasn’t for my own big mouth. We were sitting at the table and I started smarting off to my sister. So she flipped the visor in my cap and everybody just froze.
“Oh my god! Mom’s gonna kill you. What did you do?”
“I was trying to cut it and I don’t know what happened.”
“But why did you try to cut it?”
“Because nobody will take me to Mrs. Green.”
So she took me back to the bathroom. She tried the same thing I did, with no guard, but from the top.
It wasn’t working. So she took some scissors and cut my hair all the way to the bone by hand, then smoothed out the chilly bowl with the clippers.
But what would my mom do when she saw me with a haircut? We decided I should stick to my original plan to go to bed early. But… my mom came in to say good night anyway and noticed I had gone from Bone Thugz to Michael Jordan. Admiring my sister’s craftsmanship, she decided to let it go. Had my dad been the one to discover it, he probably woulda just been like, “That’s one less trip around town for me…”
And since my little sister would probably be the one to tell you this story, I’m gonna tell you one about her. It’s the pre-emptive strike doctrine.
She ate dog food once. She was probably only about 5 and we were all at home alone. She just snuck and ate some and we caught her. We freaked out. I mean, it was for dogs, it’s probably fatal to humans. So my big sister called 911.
“Hello, this is 911. What’s your emergency?”
“Hello, ma’am, my little sister just ate some dog food.”
“I’m sorry, did you say she ate dog food?”
“How much was it?”
“It was just one piece, ma’am.”
“Is she OK?”
“Cicely, are you OK?”
“She said yes.”
“OK, well just give her a little milk and she’ll be fine.”
“OK. Thank you, ma’am.
“Mm-hm. Thank you for calling.”
That’s my family, growin’ up Oliver. You had to be there…