CHEAP EATS In the picture she is wearing a loose white gown, and her hair is white, and so are her eyebrows. In one hand, in her lap, she is clutching a white handkerchief, and upon the middle finger of her other hand, a monarch butterfly has landed. My grandmother is holding this butterfly to her puckered lips, as if to kiss it.
We didn't want her to have a heart attack, so I would wear jeans and a loose T-shirt and put my hair in a pony tail. What we talked about was chickens. On the phone, in person ... chickens. I considered naming myself after her. I did name one of my chickens after her. But I never "came out" to my Grandma Rubino.
I was thinking about this the other day in a Dumpster.
You do know I'm a Dumpster diva, right? And I say diva not because I tend to be more elegantly dressed than most of my fellow divers although I do, to the amusement of many a construction worker but because I tend to sing while I work. If I'm not wrangling out the words to one of my own original, lighthearted compositions, such as "The Absolute Nothing Blues," "I'm Pretty Scared Right Now," or "Agent of Entropy," then I'm mimicking something I halfway remember and in no way understand from Madame Butterfly.
Io credo a lasagna / E la grande soil / Senza chili con carne piangere taaaaaannnnnnto!!! . . . for example. I belt it out.
My new car, by the way, is a pickup truck. I know this to be true, even though it's shaped like a station wagon, because I have already hauled a load of scrap wood and a lot of garbage in it. I drove it to West Oakland and then took a train to Pittsburgh, Pa. Moonpie was getting married.
She's my oldest friend in the whole wide world, and a lot of my other oldest friends in the whole wide world would be there, including Shortribs, Bikkets, and Nada. Haywire, who lives in Pittsburgh, was out of town.
It was probably the best-written wedding ever, full of poetry and poets, and held on the top floor of a downtown artist's studio. Me and Bikkets made the music, on steel drum and violin. The cat who married them was the most qualified marrier I ever heard of: not a minister, nor a priest, nor a justice of the peace, nor a ship's captain, but a poet. The families just had to deal. And did, quite nicely.
I wear hand-me-downs and shop, if I shop, at thrift stores. I don't know about fashion, or etiquette, so I called Moonpie a week ago or so, while I was still in the woods, packing, for permission.
"Moonpie," I said, "can I wear all black to your wedding?"
This was before I knew I'd be attending a funeral as well. I didn't find that out until I was already on the train.
"Whatever makes you feel beautiful," Moonpie said.
Nor did I know that Bikkets would wear all black, and the three writers who read things. Even the Poet of the Peace: all black, even his tie. The bride wore whatever. It didn't matter. Against a night sky like us, the Moon was going to shine.
After the wedding, after the reception, me and cousin Choo-Choo went to Moonpie's new house, where we were staying with Nada and Shortribs. Moonpie and her man were off somewhere, so I got to sleep in their bed.
More important, I got to raid their refrigerator. The night before there had been a calzone and pizza party, and all I could think about before, during, and after the wedding dinner, was midnight snacking on last night's leftovers. There had been a particularly excellent hot sausage calzone, which was for some reason not popular.
I knew there was a lot left, and I scoured their refrigerator but couldn't find it. Shortribs and Nada had slept there the night before too. I asked and Nada admitted, a little sheepishly (but not sheepishly enough), that she'd thrown it all away that morning. "It sat out overnight," she said.
There was a huge Hefty garbage bag right there, and, in my wedding best, a butterfly in black, I dove in. I am my grandmother's granddaughter. I have survived the Great Depression and a lot of littler, not-so-great ones too. Like a lot of my family, I eat compost. I eat garbage.
I hold my grandma's pretty picture to my own puckered lips and whisper to it. "I lied," I say.
She whispers back, "How are the chickens?"