Sunday, August 20, 2006


Time goes by, and you forget things. It's been over six months--God, half a year--since my mom died. I would have thought I would have noticed the anniversary. I would have thought there was no way it could pass by unnoticed. Somehow, it did.

Maybe that's good. I'm not dwelling on it, I'm not letting the sadness overwhelm me. Still, sometimes I feel there's something wrong with me, I should be feeling sad, or at least feeling bad about not feeling sad. But there is no sadness, at least not daily, and no empiness, or sense of loss.

There are times, though. Today is the last day of the Iowa State Fair, which means the finale of the State Fair Talent Search. This thing has been going on since the Jurassic Period, a ritual in which all the stage moms force their kids to dance around in sequins, or older drama queens perform lugubrious show tunes in front of an audience of bemused, corn-dog chomping mulletheads. It's all as exciting as it sounds, but if approached in the proper spirit, it can be the height of unintentional hilarity.

Mom definitely had the proper spirit. Nobody enjoyed Bad Entertainment more than Mom. She paid good money to see the movie Xanadu, and was so overwhelmed by its relentless stupidity that she smacked herself on the forehead. (It still hurt the next day.) She saw the Neil Diamond version of The Jazz Singer accompanied by two of her grandchildren, and was so annoyed she almost chucked one of the kids right at the screen. When sitting through a marathon of Sid and Marty Kroft TV shows, she commented, "So this is what little gay kids watched in the seventies?"

So naturally, Mom loved the State Fair Talent Search. In fact, I can't even remember a time when it wasn't mandatory viewing. Mom cultivated a hyperintense sense of irony in all her kids, and what better way to do it than exposing them to the sight of corn-shucking midwesterners doing lame hoedown routines, or warbling the umpteenth version of "Over The Rainbow"? Watching the show came with its own set of rituals, such as guessing how many times host Bill Riley would utter the phrase "talented youngsters" or wondering who would be more likely to win, an Asian girl playing the piano or a black guy singing "Old Man River".

As I got older, I still tried to find time to watch this thing with Mom, or at least try to see it through her eyes. Two years ago, I watched it at my place, but she'd call every five minutes: "Flaming batons? The wind is blowing! Don't they have safety codes?" Or: "An Asian girl playing Bach. Guess we have our winner." Last year was the terrible summer of sickness for Mom, when we discovered she had cancer. We didn't watch the State Fair Talent Search together last year, and for some reason it never occurred to me that we'd never be able to watch it together again. I mean, sure she had cancer, and it was inoperable, but come on, it was Mom. She wasn't going anywhere.

This year, I'm not watching. Yeah, it might be funny, in the same way as always, but the endless parade of spastic dancers and baton twirlers just wouldn't be the same without the phone ringing, the sardonic voice and the comfort of shared laughter.