Six Short Stories about My Mother

One: The Fran Muffin

One summer morning my husband went on a baked-goods run. Upon his return, he was disappointed to learn that, instead of the cran(berry) muffin he’d ordered, he had received a bran muffin.
“Good thing you didn’t get a Fran muffin!” said my friend Joyce.
“What would a Fran muffin taste like?” asked my husband.
I thought for a minute. “It would probably taste one way for the first two-thirds, and then turn into something completely different.”

Two: The Six Million Dollar Fran
Last spring, my mother got her first knee replaced, and in September, she had the second one done. After major orthopedic surgery, you go home with physical therapy exercises, a cheap metal cane, and prescription painkillers. I know Fran is taking the drugs when I get emails like this:
Fran: happy hands at home.
Me: “What?”
Fran: diane johnson
Me: “Fran, what are you talking about?
Fran: weren’t you asking for funny books by women?
Me: Yeah, like a month ago. And it’s “Loving Hands at Home.” What’s with the e.e. cummings capitalization? Are you on drugs?
Fran: do not forward to siblings

Three: Franded

Last month Fran flew to Florida to visit Nanna for Nanna’s birthday. She went to the airport to fly home after four days in Century Village to learn that there’d been a mix-up: instead of being scheduled to fly home on Saturday, she was booked on a Sunday flight.
So she did the first thing anyone would do under these circumstances: she called me.
“They want a hundred dollars for rebooking!”
“So pay them. You’ve got a credit card, right?”
Pause. “It’s a hundred dollars.”
Me: “Why don’t you just go back to Nanna’s for another night?”
“You don’t want to go back to Nanna’s?”
“You don’t want to go back to Nanna’s, but you don’t want to spend a hundred dollars to have them change your ticket.”
Seething silence.
“And so now, basically, you are trapped between the rock of your cheapness and the hard place of Century Village.”
"Jenny, I am warning you,” she said, her voice low and furious. “Do NOT call your siblings about this.”
So of course, I call my sister Molly, who calls my brother Joe, who left a message for my other brother Jake, then conferenced us in with Fran on the line, so we can mock her. “You’re stranded!” says Molly.
“You’re Franded!” I said.

Four: Squish
Isn’t writing a slashing evisceration of John Grogan’s newest memoir kind of like sharpening your bayonet, pulling on your boots, and marching off to put down the s’more rebellion?
Is the Times seriously not going to review Wally Lamb’s new book? Are they just going to lump a few sentences’ worth of plot summary into a roundup alongside the sequel to the balls-of-yarn book, while giving anal sex enthusiast Toni Bentley two pages to write about movies or something?

Is Wally Lamb a girl now?
And speaking of girls, and how they are catty and competitive and just want to read silly ladybooks, except when they don’t, perhaps you saw the New York Times’ recent piece on battlin’ book clubs?
It was laden with sexist stereotypes (poopy diaper talk! Passive-aggressive scone-making! Cat fights! Cartoon illustration of harridans lobbing hardcovers!), lazy generalizations and the obligatory digs at popular fiction, Dan Brown, Oprah's book club and “bad chick lit and worse chardonnay.” I expected all of that.
What I did not expect was to find out that you can, as one Esther Bushell does, make a living as a “book club facilitator,” charging between $250 to $300 per club member, per year.
Seriously? This is a job now?

And if it is a job, shouldn’t the lady doing it be able to lead a discussion about THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, with topics including but not limited to girl-on-girl rivalries in the workplace, gender versus generational loyalties, the choices the screenwriter made in adapting the novel for film, and how the book fits in to the evolution of the single-girl-in-New-York narrative from Lily Bart through Carrie Bradshaw? I mean, I could lead that discussion, and I am not even a trained professional charging between $250 and $300 per club member, per year!

Okay, that was not about Fran. Apologies!

Five: Rick Roll

“Oh my God,” said my husband, staring incredulously at his Blackberry. “Everyone. Come quick. have to go watch the Macy’s parade right now. They have rickrolled the parade!”
I hurried into the TV room to see. Fran limped along behind me. “What is rickrolling?”
“Well,” I began, as a remarkably well-preserved Rick Astley gyrated on our screen. “Say somebody sends you an email with a link that says “click here to see a great video.”
“I wouldn’t do it,” she said instantly. “I don’t know how to play videos on the computer.”
“Okay. Theoretically, if you did know how, you’d click on the link...”
“No, I wouldn’t! It could be a virus!”
“It’s a video that you really want to see.”
“It could be identity theft!”
“It’s Amos Oz and J.M. Coetzee, and they’re talking about death and the Holocaust. So you click on it...”
“There’s no video like that.”
“It’s Shirley Caesar singing “No Charge” for Mother’s Day.”
“Is there a video of that? You should send me the link!”
“But you wouldn’t click on it.”
“I would click on that. That I would click on.”
“Okay, so you click, only instead of the video you wanted, it’s Rick Astley singing ‘Never Gonna Give You Up.’ That’s rickrolling.”
Fran thought this over, frowning. “I don’t understand.”
“See, instead of the video you want to see, it’s something totally different and irrelevant!”
“But why would someone do that?”
“Because it’s funny!”
My sister cruised into the room and took in the scene. “Give it up,” she advised me, “or you’re looking at forty-five minutes of your life you’re never gonna get back.”

Six: Weird Numbers
My brother Joe Weiner once met a young lady at the mall. She was in line behind him at H&M and he observed as Mrs. Fields’ bag in her hand.
“Do they still weigh the cookies?” he asked.
“What are you talking about?” asked the young lady.
“The cookies are sold by weight, so when you buy one, they weigh it to figure out the price. Haven’t you noticed that whenever you buy a cookie there the price is always different, and it’s always some weird number?”
The young lady considered. “Yes,” she said, “you’re right!”
Joe smiled. “You want another weird number?”
“And then I handed her my business card,” he reported.
“And she called you?” Fran asked.
Joe smiled.“Oh, yeah.”
Meanwhile, Molly told the story of a guy she’d been out with a few times, and didn’t want to see again. “I told him I was going to visit you, and he wrote ‘have fun in Philly, my funny, foxy lady,” only he spelled everything with “ph.” “Phunny, phoxy...”
“So what’d you do?”
“I wrote back, “Phuc you.’”
“Oh, Molly...” Fran sighed.
“And he’s still texting me!”