The parents we deserve
[ fiction - march 09 ]
After what seemed an eternity, it finally happened: they died. Paula's mother (87) went first, and, two months later, her dad (89) came tumbling after. "Oh, Paul," she sniffed. "Now I'm an orphan, too."
"There, there, babe," he said with a smile. "We all gotta go sometime." And they began to talk about whether to sell the Palm Beach condo immediately or to rent it month-to-month while they considered their options. Three weeks later, the magnificent property (two bedrooms, three baths, golf course view) was gone: a million, seven. Which brought their share of the total estate (one sibling, after taxes) to a decent, but not outrageous, 14.265.
Was it mere coincidence that their names, Paul (Mergers) and Paula (Acquisitions), were so similar? Hardly. A decade earlier, and about a month into the negotiations for what they would soon be jocularly calling their "non-hostile mutual takeover", the name question had popped up at an expensive restaurant.
The expert waiter, having finished serving the snails, and having opened the excellent bottle of Pinot Egrigio for both diners to taste and praise, glided off into the restaurant's dim recesses. The foreground music was loud and sexy: romantic.
"Paula and Paul," Paula said, reaching over to take Paul's hand.
Looking into her eyes, he said, "Paul and Paula: it was meant to be."
"Yep. To love."
Clinking glasses, they drank to that.
For the first year or so after the demise of their second, and last, set of parents, the "orphans" sailed along swimmingly. They earned (two salaries, two bonuses, 2.6), they spent, they exulted. Another decade passed, passably.
"According to the famed French philosopher, Rene des Shopping-Cartes," quipped Paula one mid-summer Saturday afternoon as they stood before the perfume counter of a fine department store, "J'achète, donc je suis."
Paul smiled dutifully at the forced adage, but inwardly he frowned. Sucking in seven or eight fragrances with one big gasp, he held them in his lungs while his mind flashed to the connubial bottom line. Yes, he had to admit it: after eleven busy years, his wife's frequent wit, with its ambivalent edge, was finally getting to him. Not for the first, or even the second, time, he knew in his heart that something was wrong with their relationship, something was missing. And, as he finally exhaled, he knew exactly what that something was. Yes, it was time for the well-heeled, well-adjusted, thirty-something couple to have parents - again.
"Is it possible, P? Do we really miss them?" Paula asked rhetorically. "The perpetual crises? the sense of entitlement? the demands? the immaturity?"
"You know we do," Paul replied. "Yes, it's irrational, but, on some level, in some crazy way, all children need parents. Maybe it's just guilt, maybe it's a need to feel superior. Whatever. It's real."
So they agreed: they needed parents. And they needed them sooner, not later, since, after all, the biological clock was ticking, and, in not too many years, Paul and Paula would be too old for the exacting task of "childing" - that is, of having parents.
But, fortunately, as both of them also knew, it is the easiest thing in the world to buy love. Their ad ('Personals') in Modern Immaturity, that widely-perused magazine for the target population, tempered a pound of bluntness with an ounce, at least, of tact:
Elderly couple wanted for full-time, live-in position as surrogate parents for financially secure, orphaned, thirty-something couple. Must be ambulatory, continent, able to assume position immediately.
Excellent salary/benefits, comfortable accommodations, plentiful food, usual parenting duties.
Equal Opportunity employer. (No seniles, please.)
Emails only: http://www.modim.com/pers#442/11
After two weeks, hundreds of applications, most of them unsuitable (including several pairs of overt perverts), and four interviews (negative), P & P finally found their couple. According to the terse e-app, Myron and Myrna (fearful symmetry) had just moved back to the city from (life is rich) Palm Beach, Fla.
This, the fifth and final, interview took place in the living room of Paul and Paula's split-level climate-controlled penthouse condo (three bedrooms, three baths). As the tan old couple sipped their "virgin" G & Ts and tried not to succumb to the mixed nuts, Paul threw them an opening softball.
"So, then, folks, tell us why you're moving back to the city."
"Way too many old codgers down there, just like us," Myron explained, gliding his loafers back and forth on the plush white carpet as if he were skiing while sitting down. "Then, there's the heat, the humidity! Whew! The travel brochures sure don't mention those things. May through October, the whole state is like a giant pizza oven. And we're the pepperoni."
P & P smiled politely as Myron pretended to pant and mop his brow. Myrna vigorously wagged her blue-rinsed head and flashed her Medicare-quality dentures, top and bottom.
"Pizza ovens are dry, not humid, dear," she corrected. "And how about the cost of living? There are so many millionaires down there we could hardly afford to buy our groceries and other necessities. And do you think they have senior-citizen discounts? Ha! Not on your life!"
"Ha ha," Myron said, "they have junior-citizen discounts! But that's enough complaining, dear. Don't mind Mother, folks, she's a great kidder. Speaking of kidding, did you hear the one about the rabbi and the alligator?" They hadn't, so he told it.
As soon as the mutual compliments had been completed and the door had closed softly behind the short, elderly couple, and after only a few snorts over their matching Wal-Mart golf outfits, Paul and Paula agreed that the search was over.
"Aren't they cute!" Paul said.
"Those are parents anyone could be ashamed of."
"Yes, they're exactly what we need."
It was true, Myron and Myrna appeared to be the quintessential parents: their sins seemed totally venial. Accordingly, the very next day, as per instructions, the P's white-shoe lawyer drew up a contract, and, without hesitation, both couples inked said contract, money changed hands, and, just like that, the P's had hired the M's. Two days later, furniture to follow, the old couple moved into the spacious guest bedroom, full bath attached, and cohabitation began.