My mother and I had decided that Bobo, with his lack of imagination, his logical, literal mind, would be best off operating and removing parts of other people—not a psychiatrist like his dad but a doctor nevertheless. Bobo seemed amiable to the constant suggestions that he apply for medical school, that while an undergraduate he take die right premed courses. “After all,” I said to him helpfully, “Ma and I are expecting you to support us, your feeble brother and aged mother.” But now that my mother had a job for the spring term, or at least thought that she did, she was much happier and more relaxed. At least she would not have to count on either of her children for support for a short while yet. “And,” she said to me, “often one job leads to the next.” She was anxious to begin saving money to buy a new car—she had owned her present one, a huge, six-cylinder station wagon, for almost twelve years. It plodded and groaned like a monster; it was ready to give up and be put to sleep out of its misery, but my mother would not let it alone, could not afford to. She had no choice but to keep pushing it, have its insides cleaned, parts changedand jazzed up.
My mother was a genius, that much was true. But what a genius! I often told her she would go on record as being the dumbest genius alive. An amazing Guinness World Record. “Even Einstein,” I told her, “learned to tie his shoes eventually.” Anyone could take advantage of her. She was invited to interview for a position in California. “The job is yours,” they told her on the phone, “just come out for an interview as a formality—when we give you the job we’ll give the airfare.” Four weeks later when she flew out there it cost her several hundred dollars and Bobo had to drive her to the airport at the crack of dawn (I may have forgotten to mention I don’t know how to drive—a traumatic accident shortly after I received my license, when I backed into a tree, put the fear of driving into me for life) and she had to wait for four hours in Chicago. And when she arrived in some obscure town in California, a town she had to ride in a six-seater airplane to get to, was anyone there to meet her? No. “I should have gotten on the next plane and come home,” my mother wept to me. But no, she waited and waited, and called the college until finally a pimpled silent student was sent to meet her. They drove for two hours, my mother chattering, struggling frantically to keep the student amused. There was no reply. The luncheon where she was to read her poems was served on the floor of a sagging house where she was offered a plate of zucchini. The interview lasted several hours; she was asked such questions as “Why do you want to teach poetry?” “Why do you want to live here in California?” (the college was in the middle of a little desert) and “Tell us a story,” (“There was a lady poet who flew West looking for a job... ” my mother began). Finally, at the end of the day, she was told she did not have the job and was sent home. The job went to a man who had driven out from the East, all his possessions tied to the roof of his car. He had sold his house. Although he had published only a few poems, was not as well known as my mother nor had as much teaching experience, and had long, lank, greasy hair and a mountainous belly, it was only fair that the job be awarded to him. Fair? It was only typical, a long string of events in my mother’s life all following the same pattern. My mother, crushed, came home, where she lay in bed weeping. The fare for the airplane trip was never sent to her.