Of Australian Hitmen and Mothers of Two

Posted: December 4, 2012 in Mom, Russ
Tags: , ,

Of all the people that came through the studio, there were a few standouts for mom. One of the “Russes” was an Australian hitman named Gaffe. In her frequent letters to him, Mom also spelled it Kaffe and Goffee (she was never a very good speller, and let’s face it…it’s kind of a weird name). Her issues were reaching a boiling point at this juncture – she would refuse to talk in the house because it was bugged. We’d go for long car rides to discuss important things – mostly Russ and the imaginary goings on in the studio, or the mafia in general. Sometimes Tim went along for the rides, sometimes Grandma watched him. Sometimes she’d just wander off by herself for hours and hours and nobody would know where she was. She’d usually buy a notepad at Rite Aid, drive to the remote end of some parking lot, and fill the pages with letters to the various “Russes”. Sometimes, she’d address the letters to “The One” or “The Right One” – this was a Russ who she insisted was real and had met only a handful of times. She would repeatedly ask Russ when “The Right One” was coming back. He usually gave her a patronizing non-answer – “Well, you know, you gotta keep looking. He’ll turn up eventually…” Inevitably, mom took this as a cryptic response, and every nuance needed to be dissected and decoded. Was he being sincere? Sarcastic? Was there a hidden meaning in what he said? At the end of every lesson – every one – she would pull Russ aside and ask him the same question. Sometimes more than once. The tone was always completely different than her usual speaking voice – it was high and reedy, almost lilting. Regardless of the answer he gave, she was never satisfied. I think he could have looked her right in the eye and validated every one of her delusions, and she still would have found some way to obsess and question.

The letters became more frequent and much, much longer. It wasn’t unusual for her to hand Russ 2 or 3 envelopes with 6 double sided pages each. She would ask him to deliver them as soon as he could to “Andre the Giant” (an allegedly short and muscular “Russ”), or “The Real Russ” or “Gaffe”(pronounced Gah-fee). She used to freak out over mafia hits when they made the news. If some unlucky wiseguy was mowed down in a Brooklyn cafe, she’d leave panicked messages on Russ’s machine begging to know if Gaffe was alright. She used to insist that Gaffe told her when hits were going to happen, but she only mentioned them after the fact. “Oh yeah, Gaffe mentioned there was going to be a hit today. And there it is.” She’d nod at the TV or the newspaper, emphasizing her point.

I was always on edge. I can’t tell you how many times mom would wake me up on a drive home and say “Dan. We have a tail. I need you to sit up and pay attention.” I would gamely note the description of the car in question, sometimes the plates if I could. She would drive for hours out of her way to throw off the tail. Sometimes we would just drive in circles, or pull into a busy mall. I remember one time we had stopped at a Burger King and ordered it to go. As we were walking out, I went to fish some fries out of the bag. Mom grabbed my hand, picked up the bag and chucked it in the trash. “They were trying to poison us.” I was pissed…I really wanted a Whopper.

Once, when eating with friends, I ordered chocolate ice cream. I sunk my spoon into it and stared.

Me: Is this poisoned?

I slid my dessert over to Mom and her friends.

Me: I think there’s something in it.

Mom’s friend casually inspected it, announcing they were ice crystals. I ate it apprehensively, convinced I was the target of a gangland assassination.

I have no idea how or why Russ put up with what he did – pacifying mom’s insane, repetitive questions. On some level, he might have been afraid of her. I think he also knew that discontinuing lessons wouldn’t fly – she would just camp out in his waiting room, or outside the studio.

Inevitably, mom fell in love with Gaffe – an imaginary person who was masquerading as my music teacher. One afternoon, she drove to the studio and demanded to see him. Russ, of course, couldn’t present someone who didn’t exist, so he made some excuse.

Mom: Doesn’t he want to see me?! 

She threw open her arms, her purse flopping against her flank.

Mom: Just have them kill me.

Russ looked at her incredulously.

Mom: I’m serious. Have them order a hit on me if I can’t see him.

Russ mumbled something and retreated. Mom was blubbering – snot was running out her nose, her face was wet, and her mouth was drawn down in an almost exaggerated look of sorrow. She screamed and cried all the way to the car. Once there, I tried to get her to calm down. She wouldn’t even respond to me. After what I felt was an appropriate period of time, I began convincing her to get Russ to remove the hit.

Me: What will happen to Tim and me?

Mom: You’ll just go live with your uncle. You’ll be fine.

Now I was crying. I looked back at Tim, who looked shell shocked – at 6, I don’t think he had a grasp on the specifics but he knew some serious drama was unfolding. When he heard mom making plans for us to live with relatives he broke down hard and started sobbing too. Mom got angry and tried to make us stop. I screamed at her.

Me: But you’re gonna die! You just ordered a hit on yourself!

She said nothing for a while, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles. Finally she relented and changed to a softer tone.

Mom: I’m going to call it off.

I hiccuped.

Me: What?

She made a sharp right into a Texaco, fished some change out of the ashtray, and made her way to a phone booth. When she returned, she had calmed. Her makeup was a mess, though.

Mom: I had him call it off. I told him I didn’t mean it. I explained that I just really need to talk to Gaffe.

I looked at her.

Me: Okay.

Mom: I’m going to just write him another letter.


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