Monday, September 10, 2007

about the.effing.librarian

How to Kill Your Grandmother
(a little more about me than you might want to know)

First off, whether or not I killed my grandmother is still up in the air. If anyone knew what I did, they'd decide that I had done something truly awful. Which it was. It was an awful thing. I killed my grandmother by rigging a table lamp to electrocute her when she touched it the wrong way...or right way depending on how you looked at it.
My grandmother on my mother's side came over from Italy with my grandfather. As immigrants I assume they had a hard time finding work and getting by. They never acquired any property other than furniture and other household items. I don't know if they were happy that they came to America. They lived in an apartment in what is now or what later became (depending on how the real estate market is going) a bad neighborhood somewhere in New York. I remember visiting her when I was little. She would make toast in the oven and invariably burn it and then scrape the black off into the sink. When no one ate the burnt, dry toast, she would cover it with plastic wrap and save it for the next day when no one would eat all over again. I don't know what my grandparents did for money, but my grandfather appeared to make furniture which was displayed around the apartment in the forms of two dark-wood chairs, a small reddish wooden end table and a multitude of hand-carved walking sticks and canes in various shapes and colors. As for my grandmother, she always gave us colorful, machine-knitted booties for Christmas, so I guess that's what she did.

After my grandfather died, my grandma moved in with us in ****. My older sisters had moved out on their own so there was room. Grandma got her own room which she filled with stuff she brought with her. Stuff she had for a long time. Stuff that was and smelled very old. Grandma, like many European immigrants I've met her age, never became fully Americanized. Her English was only fair which she spoke with a strong accent. She called lemonade, lemonada, and said it was in the fridgidaire, which I'm sure was what her first refrigerator had written on its door. Her children, though, were fully Americanized. I think it had something to do with WWII. Being considered American at that time seemed important.
Well, after Grandpa died, Grandma would just shuffle around the house in slippers. She didn't bathe daily which was a practice I'm sure she carried with her from the old days. I don't think it had anything to do with her being a big, fat old lady.

Let's face it, I didn't like her. I didn't like that after I finally got rid of my older sisters and my little sister was usually being cared for till around 5 o'clock while mom and dad worked, this intrusive, smelly old bulk would lumber around telling me to get off the phone or keep me from sneaking girls into my bedroom. So I knew I had to kill her. But I don't know anything about killing anyone. Sure I could put a bullet in your head as easy as pie (and I'm not just saying that), but how do you kill and old woman who lives in your house and not get caught?
And it wasn't just that I didn't like her that I knew that I had to kill her. I just seemed like the thing to do. Often Grandma would sit in her room until she fell asleep in her chair in front of the bug fights on her crappy old TV. It was truly a sad thing to view, watching this woman who appeared to be only waiting around for death to come and take her.

I don't know what it's like to be a mother, to be a woman, to marry a man, to let him lay his sweaty, hairy body on mine and huff and puff at me while he pushes his semi-erect prick into me, to have humans grow in and then come out of my body, to name them and raise them and to have them go off and move away and leave me alone with that man who only dies on me too early and leaves me to live with some total strangers, one of which I made come out my body but no longer needs me.
I don't know what it's like, but is sounds very sad.
On one hand, creating life is supposed to be a glorious experience, a fulfillment of an aspect of womanhood. But on the other, it's only biology: we're no better than dogs or spiders. How sad it must be to make a thing which does not care to be made. No one asks to be made. But still, we are here.
My mother doesn't seem sad. She has religion. Each day she prays on her rosary, presumably for her family. Probably for me. Ultimately, for herself. I guess. She thinks it's a good thing to do.
But Grandma seemed sad, bitter, tired. My guess is that between TV shows, naps, and bowls of lentil soup, my grandma wanted to die. The logic still seems sound. The results are, of course, what they are: Grandma's dead. And if someone had to be blamed or credited with shuffling her off this mortal coil then it should be me.
One day, when nobody was home but Grandma, who was in the kitchen washing dishes, standing by the sink in ankle hose, slippers and an enormous house dress, I prepared the device I used to kill her. I know nothing about electricity and I know nothing about planning a crime, so I just sat there with my tools and one of Grandma's table lamps. It was an old metal lamp and the cord was somewhat brittle, so I knew it was possible to rig it so it would give someone a nice shock. Whether it would be enough to kill, I don't know. I couldn't jam a penny into the fuse box to make sure the breaker wouldn't trip without someone finding out. Or at least that's what I think is supposed to be done. All I know about this is from movies like where Michael Caine kills his wife by rigging that hanging bulb in the basement. Really, I have no fucking clue what I'm doing. Who knows why I even did it. I must be fucking crazy.

I unscrewed the top, took it apart, and got to that dry, cracked, and in places, gummy, cord. Using a knife, a lighter, soldering iron, I exposed enough wire to get it to make contact with the metal interior of the lamp stand. I'm confident the melted cord dried to the metal leaving the copper wire touching the metal.
All the while, Grandma stood just outside the kitchen watching me. I looked at her. She seemed to start to say, "What are a-you doing with my lamp?" but stopped.
I took the lamp back into her bedroom and she followed. Earlier, I took an old rubber sink pad from out of the garage; I laid it on the nightstand and put the lamp on it. Insulation.
"If someone turns this on and holds the metal like this with her bare feet on the floor...she could get a nasty shock," I said into the air. And I got up and left her bedroom and put my tools away.
For the next few days, I was hardly home because I didn't want to find her lifeless body waiting for me flopped out on the floor. Or worse, find her barely alive needing mouth-to-mouth. But each night I was home for dinner and each night Grandma was there, too. I didn't know what the fuck was wrong. I checked the lamp and it was plugged in. Maybe I shouldn't have told her. Things weren't all well in my house and my dad was pis­sing me off fairly regularly. I got myself fired from the **** and he was mad about that: I wasn't too happy about it, either. My mom must've mentioned it to my oldest sister because she invited me up to live with her and her family in ****. So I moved in with them and got a job selling shoes in a big department store.
**** is not that far away, so on weekends I went home to see my mom and visit friends. Still, Grandma was alive. Surprisingly, though, she was looking better. She was styling her hair or at least brushing it. She was wearing actual shoes, open-toe medium-heeled sandals, and stockings that didn't sag down around her ankles. She wore a little make-up and she smelled nice. She seemed happy.

If things were fucked up before then things were all balls out looney tunes now. I just ate my food and tried to not look at Grandma. "How is-a you job?" she asked. I answered "Fine" while staring down at my gnocchi. Grandma was cooking more now, making her own sauce. After dinner, I peeked into her room and saw that the lamp was still where I had put it. There were a few flowers in a small glass next to the lamp.
I drove back to **** and went to work and sold shoes and cashed my paycheck and went out drinking and tried to get in some girl’s pants and bought clothes like I usually did.
A few weeks later, Grandma died.

"And...," I ask.
"What do you mean," my sister says.
"Well, how'd she die?"
"Mom said she just died in her sleep." Well, fuck me.

We had the funeral on a Tuesday and I wore my new blue/violet windowpane patterned suit and these handmade blue lizard skin shoes that I got on quadruple clearance. Afterward, we went home and sat around then ate. My mom said she was amazed at the change that had come over Grandma just before she died. She said that one day she was just sitting around the house in her slippers and then the next she was up and about and doing things around the house and in the yard. Everyone was surprised by the change. No one said anything about anyone being electrocuted.
Mom said that she thought that maybe Grandma knew that her time was coming. Then mom cried and had to leave the table.
The next weekend, I went down to help my dad pack up Grandma's things. Some of it got boxed up to be given to the church and some of it got thrown away. The lamp went to the church, but not before I yanked the cord enough to pull it away from the inside metal. I think. Looking back, maybe Grandma changed because the lamp gave her control over when she could end her life. Whether her change accelerated her death, I don't know. Maybe.
I guess Grandma knew even less about electricity than I did.


I once self-published a novel, so I am in Books in Print as both an author and publisher. And I never sold one copy of it. And you don't want to read it, either. But I did all the typing and editing and layouts myself, so I'm still proud of it. But no, you don't want to read it. At the time I wrote it, I thought it would be a bit hit and I paid for a tiny ad in the The New York Times Book Review. Don't ask me to explain my thinking. Only a few friends have read it.

But since you're here, that was a chapter from the book. It's one of the few parts I'm not embarrassed to show people. Because I call the book "the most offensive book in America." The point of the story is that a guy gets beaten by a mob attack and becomes famous for using "the n-word" when asked about it. And then he continues to insult people by race and gender and ethnicity on talk shows until he writes his autobiography, which is the novel. It's a fake autobiography about his thoughts on his fame written before fake autobiographies were popular.

And no, I never killed my grandmother.

Another thing: the.effing.librarian is actually in a book on your shelves right now. (Well, in only about 300 libraries. It's an old book.)

Now don't all go rushing into the stacks together; the resulting effect of everyone reaching for the same book at the same time could create a reality-shift which transforms us all into hyper-intelligent globs of protoplasm arguing over whether the a sound is the same in both Thomas Mann and Cannes. But a tidbit of effing's earlier nuggets of wisdom can be found in The New Official Rules by Paul Dickson. I'm not going to reveal what page(s) because then you will find out my real name, and that's not why I'm here. But you can pull the book from the shelf and give a circ and thus keep it from being discarded. Because like Tinker Bell, I can only live if you believe.