The following tale is really more of an oddity than a trauma, but for consistency’s sake, let’s ignore that fact. When we first moved to New Jersey from the city — circa 1975 — my dad spent many a weekend making rounds at the hospital. This meant that my sister and I spent many a weekend in the company of my mother (you remember Jan) and grandmother (aka “Grandma”).
There were trips to the Woodbridge, Short Hills or Menlo Park Malls, and there were afternoons spent on the playgrounds of Middlesex and Union counties. But by far one of Jan and Grandma’s favorite activities was something I have recently dubbed “the infectious house drive-by.”
We’d climb into the blue Volvo and cruise through upscale neighborhoods of towns we didn’t live in. Jan would drive at about 5 mph down tree-lined blocks, admiring the massive center-hall colonials and sprawling modern ranches that belonged to strangers.
Jan: Would you look at that one? That is JUST breath-taking.
Grandma: [SOMETHING YIDDISH] Is that a BREAKFAST NOOK? [SOMETHING YIDDISH]
Jan: Marla says the guy who lives here is shtupping his nurse. Rich plastic surgeon. The wife’s a real piece of work.
Grandma: A lotta people gotta lotta money.
Me: I like candy.
I understand the desire to view beautiful homes. To this day, I enjoy touring the posh neighborhoods of whatever city I’m visiting. What I did NOT understand, however, was what my mother said every time we left one of these tony neighborhoods: These houses make me SICK. Just SICK. Feh.
It was very confusing, most notably because I had no idea what the word “feh” meant. But moreover, it defied my limited knowledge of epidemiology. I knew that the kids in my nursery school class could contaminate me, but not that HOUSES could. Did Jan mean that if a house had chicken pox, we could all catch it from the car? WTF — was she trying to kill us? And how come I didn’t feel sick, if she did? Oh my god! Could houses DIE?! Wait, if these houses made her sick, why did she voluntarily subject herself to them?
It was too much for a 3-year-old to process. Actually, I’m pretty sure it drove me to invent Evan, the invisible friend who passed away suddenly when my dad threw him out of the car on the Parkway one day.