© Copyright 2013 by Sara Jacobelli
Roach Races at the Getaway Motel
Sunday, December 6, 1981
Well, Nonna, I sure have a lot to tell you. So much has happened to us. Sometimes I wish I could go to the airport, and scrunch up real small into someone’s suitcase who is going to Italy. Things here in New Orleans are Going All Wrong.
We did move from the Sands Motel on Airline Highway to this Motel on Tulane Avenue. It’s near the jailhouse and the courthouse. Nothing on this street but a lot of Bail Bonds places. Mama says she wishes that she and Papa owned a Bail Bonds place, because “that’s where the money is.”
This Motel is called the Getaway Motel. Mama says, “It’s because as soon as you walk in the door, you want to Get Away, fast!” That is so true that it’s not even funny. The room is even smaller and dirtier than the Sands Motel. And it’s so noisy, with people drinking and fighting all the time, that it’s hard for us to get any sleep. But Mama said that maybe she could quit her job at the Circle K and get a bartending or waitressing job in the Quarter. She could make good tips, and then take a cab back to the Motel at night.
The room is really dirty and has Ants and Roaches. Gino takes model paint and splashes it on the Roaches, then him and Antonietta have Roach Races. I swear those kids are some kind of Crazy. They don’t have much left to play with anymore. We went to the Storage Space and took some of our stuff. Mama grabbed a few board games and decks of cards, some clothes and pots and pans. We are losing our stuff in the Storage Space because we can’t pay the Bill. So we took a few things, what we could carry on the Bus, and said Goodbye to the Rest of Our Stuff. (Mama took our Photo Albums, too).
Mama bought a hot plate and tries to cook dinner on it in our room. She tried to make Spaghetti and Red Gravy but it didn’t come out too good. She wishes that we had a “Real Kitchen.”
Papa won’t get another job, Mama says he has a “bad attitude.” He’s been Selling Weed. He even has a scale and he makes baggies of weed to sell. Boy, does that stuff smell stinky. Mama says he shouldn’t make those baggies in front of us kids. I don’t care if he Sells Weed as long as he makes enough money to rent an apartment. I just don’t want him to get busted and go to Jail.
Guess what I did? They had a Parent-Teacher Conference at the Little Red School House in the French Quarter, where the Little Kids go. Well, Mama had to work, so she sent me. It was seven o’clock at night. Mama and I took the Bus. She went to work and I went to the Conference. She told me to bring my Notebook and to take notes.
You should have seen the look on the fourth grade teacher’s face, Mrs. Keffler! She couldn’t believe I was attending the Parent-Teacher Conference. She kept looking at me over her reading glasses, with this disapproving look. “This is highly unusual.” she said. “How old are you?”
“I’m twelve, but I’ll be thirteen in July. Everyone in my Family was born in July. . . and my Mama said to tell you that I am Very Mature for My Age.”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I suppose you are.”
“So tell me about Gino, does he get in trouble?” I asked her, doing my best Mama impersonation.
“Gino.” She looked through her notes. “He does get into a lot of fights, which we are concerned about. He’s a charming boy, but he struggles with Reading. And he has a Hot Temper. He’s good at Sports, though.”
“You gotta watch Gino,” I said. “He’ll get those little girls in his class to do his work. He’s sneaky.”
“Have your parents talk to him about the Fighting, Dani. Here’s my number. Your mother can call me.”
I then went to Mrs. Daley’s first grade class to see about Antonietta.
“Oh,” Mrs. Daley said. “She’s a Doll. Adorable. Really sweet. Well behaved. Gets all As on her work. I am concerned about One Thing, though.”
“She’s been Stealing from her classmates. Little things. Markers, erasers, pens. I keep finding stuff hidden in her desk and in her book-bag.” Mrs. Daley’s face crinkled in concern. “Is everything OK at Home?”
I looked at all the stuff crammed into Antonietta’s desk. “Yeah, everything’s OK with us. I’ll tell my Mom about the Stealing.”
I felt very Grown Up walking to the Bus Stop after the Parent-Teacher Conference. I felt like I was a Real Parent. On the bus ride back to the Motel, I thought about Gino and Antonietta. Fighting and Stealing wasn’t That Bad, really. They were basically Pretty Good Kids. I decided to tell Mama what they were up to, but to get Mama to promise not to tell Papa. Papa would whip them with The Belt, and I didn’t think they deserved that. I just couldn’t bear the thought of hearing them cry.
A couple days after the Parent-Teacher Conference, we were at the Laundromat. We had to wait forever to get all of our clothes washed and dried. A lot of the machines were broken and people were fighting over the ones that worked and there was One Lady who had about a Million Kids and was taking up all the Machines. Even though it was early December, the Laundromat was as hot as a huge oven.
I told the Little Kids how when I was little, I used to watch the clothes go around in the washing machine like it was a TV. “That’s Dumb,” Gino said. “You were some Dumb Kid.” He kicked the machine.
“Gino, stop it!” Mama grabbed him by the arm and shook him. “I’m tired, I worked late last night.”
“All right!” Gino sat on the floor leaning against the wall with his legs stretched out. He was pouting.
I stood up. “I wasn’t Dumb. And besides, you Guys weren’t even Born yet. Mama and me went to the Laundromat and it was just us. We went to McDonald’s after, and You Weren’t There.” That shut them up for awhile.
“Oh, honey, look at that sign.” Mama pointed to a hand-lettered sign Scotch-taped above the pay phone.
I read it out loud. “This is a business phone. Three minuets only.”
“It’s supposed to say Minutes, not Minuets,” Mama said.
“What’s a Minuet?” I asked.
“It’s a dance, an Old Timey Dance.” Mama stood up. “Rich People wore Fancy Clothes at Big Fancy Balls and Danced the Minuet!” She grabbed me, and swirled me around like we were dancing. Her dark hair fell loosely to her shoulders. Gino grabbed Antonietta. The four of us danced around the hot, crowded, dirty Laundromat. The other customers looked at us like we were crazy. Mama laughed and laughed, saying, “Only Three Minuets, just Three, kids! Just Three!”
We all giggled, not quite sure what a Minuet was, but not really caring. We danced our hearts out in the Laundromat, while our brightly colored clothes in the washing machines and in the dryers swirled and swirled and swirled.
Buona notte, Nonna
Photo Credist: “Laundry 012,” by Darwin Bell. License CC NonCommercial. Flickr.
“Laundry,” by Bilal Kamoon. License CC Attribution Only. Flickr.