One Night in Fort Lauderdale

I take a redeye to Florida every January to visit my grandmother. In Judaism, you always pray to spend the next holiday in Jerusalem, but somewhere I think it was mis-translated to Fort Lauderdale. You spend your life working and saving to one day finally retire to the beach, and you spend the rest of your life sitting around watching Good Morning America in an air-conditioned box. Waiting around for the big air-conditioner in the sky.
I catch the flu two days before I leave, as is my religious custom. I arrive at 8 am, not having slept on the plane. I try all eighteen sleeping positions, and none yielded the fruit of sleep. I am exhausted to the point to pure acceptance. I don't have the energy to be offended at the onslaught of impending abuse.
The truth about Fort Lauderdale is that it's a wasteland of Wal-Marts and early-bird buffets, separated by strips of concrete, and sugar-coated with a white-sand coastline and tangerine waters. It's as if Costco bought a swamp, installed A-C and invited everyone to could park their RV in the parking lot.
I finally figured out the difference between how it feels driving in a sea of SUV's on the Florida Turnpike and a sea of SUV's on the 405. Everything's the same, but in California we've replaced Jewish guilt with white guilt and a healthy dose of pollution guilt.
Part of the genius of our family's "abuse" is that it is invisible to the naked eye. I present her with my new 8" x 10" head shots. Since my last photos, I've lost 10 pounds, removed my lip ring, and no longer have bleached, spiked hair. Not fifteen minutes after I arrive, Ruth Dattner, who can see a crow perched on a lawn chair and Venus in the night sky, but even sitting 12 inches from a giant plasma TV, cannot identify George Clooney, Ruth Dattner says for the first of eleven times today, "I don't like your hair in these photos." "Grandma, I spent an hour getting my hair done for these photos. "Some hairdresser." Ensuing are the eleven iterations, a la Mozart. "If you get a good haircut, you wouldn't have to spend an hour making your hair look good, it'll stay looking good. When was the last time you went to a hairdresser?" We both cut our own hair, but today, as she squawks that we've used two whole teabags for two cups of tea, she doesn't care that I'm saving money or that I might actually like how my hair looks. "Your hair today looks…. blech." I just spent six hours overnight on a plane. "It's your haircut." My cousin Antonio says "I think your hair looks nice." In this one fell swoop, I've been usurped as the family peacemaker. Relieved of my duties. I've been defended. It's a strange, woosy feeling. "Comb your hair before we go, will you? It looks terrible." "I will comb my hair if you don't mention it again all day." "I can't make any promises." "Then I'm not combing my hair." "Comb your hair." "Only if you don't mention it again." "Ok."
I give my father several copies of my new headshots as well, a gift I'm hoping will fill out my sparse attendance on the mantle next to the weddings and babies of my step-siblings. "What kind of lens did this guy use?" He's looking at the nose he passed on to me. "I don't know, some wide, some telephoto." Did you not just hear Grandma capping on my hair, dude? "I think you do better with a 120 lens, shot from far away." My own father wants me to have an optical nose job. If there is a third insult in the first fifteen minutes, I am possibly going to explode.
At the chinese buffet (incidentally called Chinese Buffet), we sup on round after round of fair to middling cuisine. It seems to me that food quality is often inversely proportional to food quantity. It is here, between the crab rangoon and the shrimp with lobster sauce that Grandma beings to unleash her mighty storytelling prowess. And when I say story, what I mean is judgement, for there is no middle or end to most of her long, descriptive "tales". Some fat people sit down at the table next to us, and she says "(blah blah blah I missed the first part) we were watching this family eat and they each had a giant glass of milk, hash browns, eggs, bacon, pancakes {time out here–this is almost exactly what we just had for breakfast} and the thinnest one was two hundred pounds." "And what happened?" I naively ask. "Nothing. They were eating a lot of food." I wish I realized this when I was a kid; I could have been curled up with her around the fire and pleaded, "Grandma, tell me another judgment!" "Poor people steal, and so does George Bush. Don't marry an Armenian." (She told this judgment again two days later.)
After the buffet, Grandma's poor ankles are swollen. We're rubbing them at home, treating them with electrical devices. She's feeling hopeless and asks "Do you have a passport, Alicia? You can't get back in the country without one now. Even if you go on a cruise or if you go to Canada." "Yeah, I have one." Duh. "You have to have one to get back in the country. Promise me you'll get your hair cut." I had promised myself I would draw the boundary. No more abuse or I'm leaving. But it sounds so ludicrous… Who says "Tell me to get a haircut one more time, and I'm taking the next flight home?" "I promise I'll get a haircut when I get home." I have been wanting to get a really nice cut, but I'm growing my hair, and I don't want to lose the inches after all this time. "And then send me a picture of it." "Ok." Oh, the fields of battle are bloody. My soldiers are bleeding chocolate. Tomorrow, I really swear that I am drawing the line.

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