Mom. And whoever. The food here is gross. Geriatrically challenged, if you see what I mean. Often over-peppered. Which is absolutely a thing, Ma. You never admitted that, did you? You always believed pepper to be so innocent. So mild and harmless. As for salt, we both know how undeniably biased you are against salt, Ma — its texture, its nature, its very existence even. As if a gang of sodium crystal ninjas murdered your goldfish or something. What was the name of that gold-colored fish you owned? Lawrence Goldfishburne per chance? He died of natural causes, Ma. No one poisoned him with table salt. That would be like me claiming my breath stinks because the tooth-fairy coats my tongue with garlic every night. The logistics just aren’t trustworthy, Ma. Anyway, the food here reminds one of dirty socks — the kind cross-country runners willingly admit must not be recommissioned. The kind you’d be mortified to keep in plain sight. The people here are nice, though, but only in that motivated-by-a-paycheck sort of way. You know, the way waiters never spit on your pickle because they’d rather pay rent than watch you eat a saliva-flavored dill slice. Ma? Do the Callahans across the street still mow their lawn once every four days? I miss that. They’re big on routine here too. Like if I don’t chew my au-rotten potatoes exactly 16 times the sky will topple our heads. Only it won’t be the sky as we’d always conceived it; it’ll be lava-hot and turn our skin to oil and our bones to a brittle dust that smells of iron. This is how they operate here, like life matters way more than it actually does, more than any halfway sane person whose lived long enough could possibly concede. More than cinnamon matters to hot gooey buns. More than the color red matters to nesting robins. More than a coat matters to a lost Inuit. More than cold water matters to the desert traveler. More than icing matters to the birthday cake. More than nails matter to a safely constructed shelter. The people here, they’re nice, they are. But they’re exceedingly normal human beings, Ma, which, for the purposes of this home-bound diatribe, means they cannot help holding themselves as superior to the folks they care for. And it hangs on them like a thick perfume clings to the sticky-wrinkled skin of an ancient geezer. And it contradicts their supposed primary aims, the recovery of a psychological-center and all that mush. But Ma, do the Callahans still have dinner parties once a month? Do they still not invite you? Do they still shower you with slanted gazes when’er you pass? Sorry for that. Sorry from me for them. Are the Callahans possibly right, though, when they claim you leave your yard unkempt just to spite them? Probably in an effort to prove some point –appropriate neighborly relations viz. minding one’s business perhaps — the intricacies of which only YOU could possibly understand to a degree that makes the act actually worthy of execution? One thing I’ve learned here is that empathy is a finite resource, Ma. There’s, like, a set amount of it floating through the universe. And that means that the kind of good some of us would hope to see done can’t reasonably be expected. It’d be like if I wanted to make origami-ducklings for you, Joseph, Serena, Serena’s kid (whose name escapes me at this moment), Gary, Wayne, and Skinny Ray, but only had enough paper for two of you. And that, in my opinion, Ma, pretty much explains the appalling surplus of suffering in the world. Although it doesn’t explain why this place insists on making me eat spaghetti that has the consistency of a gravel road, or broccoli-cheese soup that has a slightly purple hue to it. Ma, do you ever wonder what Grandpa would think about the advent of the DVR? Remember how angry he’d get when he missed an episode of All in the Family? Like he was capable of ripping a phone book in half or chewing through the kitchen sink. I wish there was a way I could DVR Grandpa’s favorite shows and then present them all to him, in a nice digitized list, like a surprise birthday party, him going all gooey at the gesture. Remember those ties he used to wear, Ma? The skinny brown ones made, I think literally, of recycled shag carpet. He wore the avocado one to my high school graduation and damn near ruined the whole ceremony. Remember Principal Graves and Vice-Principal Marconi couldn’t stop dry heaving at the sight of such an awful tie. And Grandpa just sat there grinning proudly, cracking his thumbs and humming Elvis songs. Ma, did Grandpa really do what that bald prosecutor said he did? Because if so, I’d probably have to reconfigure my settings in terms of how much I love, respect, and cherish the man. That’s the kind of thing that lands one in a place like this. One second you’re corralling a few pigs into your truck, humming “Love Me Tender,” the next you’re moving your tongue in the greatest overall radius it can stretch in order to prove you swallowed what they gave you. The point I’m trying to make here, Ma, is that maybe, just maybe, this whole thing for me was predestined. Written with little splotches of chromosomal ink, stained onto my lifeline with hard blots of molecular material. Grandpa told me once that he shit into a box and mailed it anonymously to an old boss he had who’d fired him for taking one too many bathroom breaks. It was when Grandpa worked for the railroad, when the only thing he talked about was hard hats and unions. I guess what I’m saying is that some people are lucky to live when they do, Ma. As in, like, before the advent of digital recording devices, when society pretty much let you do whatever you want with your own livestock. But others aren’t so lucky, like their birth itself is a form of cosmic entrapment. Like the second they’re secreted they’ve already got white slippers on. Actually I have to tell you, Ma, the slippers they give you here are easily the best thing about this place. Your feet have never been so comfortable. Your feet have never been so looked-after, Ma. Even now, as I spell this out, my feet are in a state of solace so exquisite it eludes my meager skills of description: warm, but not too; secure, but not squeezed. I wish all the people I’ve ever loved could walk a mile in my slippers. Ma, do you think it’s possible you owe the Callahans an apology? And don’t act for one second like you don’t know the trampled hydrangeas to which I refer. Let us play no games here, Ma, not with Vanilla Strawberries on the line. You destroyed life that day, Ma. This is what I fear you don’t understand. You decided that your personal vendettas were more important than, say, the Frazier family’s small children being able to enjoy the perceptual extravaganza that is a multi-colored and well-tended front-garden. Ma, do you think for one second I wouldn’t break out of this place if I could? Do you really believe I’m just, like, cooling it at the spa? There’s a man here named Bruce who resembles a redwood. He blinks and the glassware rumbles. He burps and locked doors bust open. If he dares move the rest of us have to take cover like it’s a goddamn air-raid. Ma, the point here is that this is no Sunday brunch. It’s, like, grueling in a way. Like the way you’re never alone, even when you’ve got a room to yourself. There are windows on the doors, Ma. Windows. On doors. So they can look in, Ma. And believe me they’re looking. The windows don’t go, like, under-utilized or anything. There’s always someone breathing down your nape, or studying your eyes, like if you roll them counterclockwise instead of clockwise it signifies some deeply-entrenched psychological despair that might wreck your life if it isn’t properly work-shopped. But I’ve got to go now, Ma. Pet Randall for me, under his neck like he likes. And Ma, apologize to the Callahans. Not because you think you should, or because you’ve rethought your opinion of their unrelenting snobbery. Do it for me, Ma. Do it for your boy. Do it for the Frazier kids too. The red-headed one has a rough go ahead, we both know that. Bring him comfort now before it’s too late. Let him see the pretty flowers, Ma. Let him pet the hydrangeas. Until next.