Family (Part X)
By Pete Moss
Denise was awake and had been watching me. When I turned over our faces were within inches.
Denise had a sneaky smile playing around the corners of her mouth.
"Oh gosh, I'm sorry..." I said.
"Sorry for what?" said Denise.
"For hitting me over the head and dragging me back to your cave by my hair?"
"Well I wasn't hitting on you....I just needed to get out of the house and find someone to talk to..."
"If anyone should be apologizing it should be me, feeding you free drinks and then following you home," said Denise.
I felt my pocket and realized the $20 I'd left the house with was still there.
Then Denise kissed me. That felt pretty nice.
Then we heard Granny banging around in the kitchen.
"She wants her coffee but she can't remember how to make it," I said by way of explaining why I had to break off kissing Denise.
"Of course," said Denise. And we tumbled out of bed and I went into the kitchen. Denise stayed behind smoothing wrinkles out her hair and clothes.
"Morning Granny," I said. "You want some coffee?"
"Oh god yes. This stupid old percolator seems to be missing some parts," said Granny.
I set up the percolator and not long after the place started smelling like fresh coffee, Denise made her appearence in the kitchen.
"Carmen? Is that you? You've finally returned after all these years?" said Granny.
"No Granny, this is my friend, Denise," I said.
Denise stepped forward and held out her hand. "Pleased to meet you."
Granny looked uncertain for a minute, but then she put her hand in Denise's and said: "Are you sure you're not Carmen? I would like to see Carmen at least one more time before I die."
"Oh, I'm sure you will," said Denise. "See Carmen again, that is."
But Granny had forgotten all about Carmen. "Do you like coffee?" said Granny.
"I love coffee," said Denise. So we sat around in the kitchen and drank coffee. I made eggs and toast, cause that was all there was in the fridge. Then Granny wandered out of the room.
"Your Granny is adorable," said Denise.
After that Denise was over at the house pretty much every day, and most nights when she wasn't working.
And with Denise around Granny perked up. She remembered how to make coffee, and she took a stab at doing crossword puzzles again.
Denise's dad was a real gift. He brought over a water heater he'd salvaged from another job, installed it, and just like that we could take hot showers. He fixed the fusebox so that we could light up more than two rooms at once without blowing a breaker. He snaked out the toilet so it didn't overflow, there was quite a list of things around the house he fixed, without charging a dime.
Unfortunately the used water heater was a code violation. Elizabeth's attorneys got the restraining order quashed but Susan Jones was still siccing the city on us.
But I didn't pay much attention to legal wrangling. Granny's resurgance lasted a few months, but then, right when the fall rains started up around Halloween, Granny caught a bad chest cold, which progressed to pneumonia, then she died.
She peacefully died at home, with me and Denise and Denise's dad there.
Funeral arrangements were already made. Granny was to be cremated within 48 hours. She wanted her obit to run in the Chronicle, and she'd written that; three concise paragraphs which made no mention of any family aside from myself. She wanted her ashes scattered at Ocean Beach. Technically we were supposed to get a permit for the scattering, but the permit cost money, and the party was small enough that we figured we could get it in under the radar.
Then at the beach Denise said: "Who's that woman watching us?"
I was about to dismiss Denise's question when the woman started coming towards us.
"Oh shit. I hope it's not another blasted code inspector," I said.
And the woman came up to us. She took off her sunglasses. "Hi, I'm Germaine Galloway. I'm your cousin." she said to me.
"My cousin?" I say.
"Yes, Elizabeth was my mother."
"Elizabeth?! But Elizabeth was gay!"
Iguess the look of surprise on my face is rather comical cause both Germaine and Denise laugh.
"Yes, my mom was gay, but apparently not %100."
"But then....who's your dad?" <
"Some actor Elizabeth had a fling with one time when her and Bessie were broken up."
"Betsy, not Bessie," I say.
"Bessie, Betsy, whatever." says Germaine.
Denise has been staring intently at Germaine.
"Wait a minute....wait a minute....I know you, I've seen you before," says Denise.
Germaine gets a guarded look on her face.
"Yes I do! You are GiGi Labonte! Oh. My. God! GiGi Labonte."
"Who?!" I say.
"GiGi Labonte! She played the kid sister on that TV show about the runaway mom. I watched that show on reruns everyday after school when I was a kid," says Denise.
"I confess I played that role," says Germaine.
"Oh My God!!!" says Denise, going into a full on star struck seizure.
"I'm sorry to pop up like this out of the blue..." says Germaine.
Denise's dad comes up. I don't know where he went after we scattered the ashes but now he sticks out his hand and he and Germaine shake hands.
"We were going to have a memorial dinner at the Korean Bar-B-Que over at 9th and Clement, you care to join us?" he says.
"If it's not too much trouble," says Germaine.
"Not at all," says Denise Dad.
"Oh My God, I loved that episode where you and your sister had to talk your mom down out of that treehouse..." babbles Denise as we head to the parking lot by the seawall.
I would've driven us to Ocean Beach in the Packard but Granny hated the Packard, so we walked the 10 blocks to the beach from her house. It didn't seem right to give her remains their last ride in a vehicle she hated. We planned to take the bus over to the Korean Bar-B-Que but Germaine has a rather nice Lexus, so we get in that and drive.
At the Korean Bar-B-Que Denise is still babbling: "I can't beleive you didn't tell me GiGi Labonte is your cousin!" she says to me.
"Honey, he didn't know, OK? Honestly, that GiGi Labonte stuff is ancient history, please just call me Germaine."
"But you have no idea what a huge part of my childhood your show was!" says Denise.
Germaine rolls her eyes. Then we order the sizzling beef with spicy cabbage and steam rice.
We eat, everybody is hungry and there is no talk for a few minutes. But when our appetites have been somewhat slaked I speak up.
"You know....I spent 2 years at the mansion in LA, I never found any trace of you." I say.
"I didn't grow up at the mansion. I grew up with some showbiz freinds of my dads, Ted and Dave. Ted was a set decorator and Dave was a househusband, they had bungalow in West Hollywood. I visited Elizabeth every month, when Bessie wasn't around, and Elizabeth gave Ted and Dave some money , but that was about it as far as her involvement."
"So how did you get on the show?" says Denise.
"You know that's the funny part. I was 13 when I got that part, and I was playing an 8 year old. I never intended to go into the industry, actually. But Ted took me to work one day, and the next day, there I was at a live reading on the Warner lot."
"Wow...say that again," says Denise.
'The Warner Lot'....please?" says Denise.
Germaine rolls her eyes.
"Anyway, I got the role, and that just pissed Elizabeth off to the moon."
"Because you went into a disreputeable field like showbiz?" I say.
"Oh no, well, that, maybe, a little. What really pissed her off was that I went and got a job. You have to understand, Elizabeth was leisure class all the way. The idea that one would work for one's money was completely disgusting for her. But naturally, once I found out how much it pissed her off, keep in mind, I was 13, my teenage rebellion was blossoming, I wouldn't've turned down that role for a million dollars."
Nothing is said for a minute. But then I know what I have to ask.
"So did you know my mom?"
"Oh, Carmen wasn't your mom. Carmen was your big sister."
The memorial dinner lasts an hour. There's quite a bit of information to assimilate after all.
But eventually Germaine gets in her Lexus and drives off.
Denise and Denises dad and I walk from 9th & Clement, through Golden Gate Park, to Granny's house at 40th and Lincoln.
We stop along the way at a liquor store and buy some Jack Daniels and when we get back to Granny's house we drink shots for awhile listen to Granny's favorite records: Thelonius Monk and Les Mcann, and go to sleep.
It's barely 3 days before the eviction notice shows up.
Susan Jones has not one, but two, city departments to compete at which can be more efficient at getting rid of a pesky squatter at a valuable property in the Outer Sunset. The pesky squatter, that would be me.
Granny, being the irreverent free spirit she was, neglected to leave any kind of will at all, and Susan Jones doesn't let the grass grow under her feet when it comes to seizing stray properties.
I call Elizabeth's lawyers in LA but it's bad news.
They've wrapped the negotiations on Elizabeth's estate. There will be a halfway house for teen-age prostitutes, but it will be in downtown Holllywood, not Angelino Heights. The Angelino Heights mansion will be auctioned off, along with all its contents. In exchange for negotiating this deal Elizabeth's attorneys have taken a modest third of the gross.
As far they are concerned the deal is closed. They would appreciate it if I returned the Packard, as it is techincally part of the estate, but at this point they won't press the issue.
I don't know what to do.
A second eviction notice is tacked to the front door. I have 30 days to be gone, or the sheriff will come and throw my shit in the street.
I do some research. I talk to some lawyers who work out of walk-up offices in the Mission, but when these lawyers hear they are up against Downtown Susan Jones and her firm, they back off.
Luckily I have Denise, and I move in with her and her dad at their place at 36th & Noriega.
But then Denise dad is arrested and spends a night in jail.
It turns out, in 28 years of practicing his trade, remodeling countless kitchens and bathrooms, converting numerous garages to illegal in-laws, constructing sheds in backyards and converting attics into usable storage, he has neglected to get a business license from the city, or a contractors license from the state, or a federal tax ID number from the IRS.
Denise's dad is up to his eyeballs in shit from all levels of governement.
And, not strangely, Susan Jones name appears many places in the paperwork.
Finally, Denise breaks up with me.
"You're cute, you're funny, you're hot as a firecracker, and I'm gonna regret this for the rest of my life. I don't know who Susan Jones is but she's coming after you with a flamethrower and an atomic grenade launcher and I can't have my dad as collateral damage."
There's nowhere left to sleep but the Packard.
I drive around for awhile. Find a street with what appears to be other vehicles that people might be living in. I park up.