Unlocking the deadbolt, I open the front door. I’m always uneasy about what I’m going to find. Betty White predictably greets us. She’s a happy soul with a destructive nature, it’s exactly what you’d expect of a creature her age.
The entry hallway of our condo obscures the living area. As I round the corner I hope she hasn’t entertained herself by shredding important documents, crayon desecration, or artfully arranging my dirty underwear in front of the sofa.
My son darts ahead of me, at his age everything is a race. “I win! In yo’ face, Betty! This is MY HOUSE!!!” he giggles, pretending to stuff an imaginary basketball through a nonexistent hoop. He learned this celebratory taunt from me, I borrowed it from Charles Barkley.
Ms. White, completely unaware that there was a competition sits down on the floor. Her memory isn’t the best. She reacts with surprise, even though the same scenario plays out consistently. It’s not the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, I’m not ignoring the warning signs of deteriorating cognitive abilities. I’m also not holding a 90 year old Emmy winner captive in my home. Betty is our Shih Tzu puppy.
“Ewww! Underwear!” I was waiting for my sons reaction. It’s a daily thing. He’s disgusted by her hobbies. He doesn’t have Alzheimer’s either, he’s five. Words like underwear are hilarious to him. “Farty, fart, fart fart! You eat underwear!” he sings to the small ball of fluff as she wiggles with excitement. “What kind of dog is Betty, again?” he asks me…knowing full well what the answer is, but doing a pretty convincing job of feigning ignorance. “A Bull Mastiff,” I say, winking at him. “No she’s not, she’s a SHIT SUE!” He’s jumping up and down as he says this, I can’t tell if Grandma’s cookies are to blame for the burst of energy or he’s still ecstatic that he gets to yell the word “SHIT” without fear of punishment.
I grab my unmentionables and take them into my room. We got Betty from a friend in September when she was the size of a coffee cup, she isn’t much bigger than that now. My friend told me that the breed was used to guard the castles of ancient Asian royalty. Throwing my undies in the pile of dirty clothes in the corner, I laugh thinking about this. I try to piece together a scenario where a stealthy man dressed in black leaps over a wall. Carrying an arsenal of primitive weapons, he wanders through a bonsai garden without detection. Finally he reaches a house, as he scurries around a rice paper wall he slips on a puddle of freshly squeezed dog pee and a shredded piece of paper with important elementary school telephone contacts printed on it. Suddenly he hears a burp, his ankles are being licked aggressively. He retreats in fear, deterred by a small-bladdered mop with feet, and an underwear fetish. “Ninjas must not be the fearless warriors we assume they were. Pussies,” I mutter under my breath.
“Mommmmm-mmmmyyyyyyy! Betty is in my room! She’s got Sharky! She won’t let him go!” I hear the boy shout. Yeah, he’s telling on the dog. “You should learn to pick up your toys, buddy! Keep asking for a little sister”. I yell in response, amused by his exasperated tone.
“Betty is NOT my sister!” he declares. “Oh, but she acts like one. She’s doing exactly what a little sister would do. I should know, I am one.” Sharky is a plastic Great White. He was a purchase from the art museum gift shop and broke approximately 30 minutes after swiping my debit card. The boy only shows interest in him when he’s scheduled to be thrown away or he’s covered in dog spit.
“But, he was my present from the buseum. Remember? We got him when we went to see the shark exhibit and Larry Walmart?” he yelled from the carpet in his room. He was trying to elicit a fond memory so I would come to the rescue of Sharky. “Warhol, buddy. Andy Warhol,” I correct. ”Whatever,” he said.
I did remember our trip to the “buseum”. I told him we were going to do something fun, it backfired. “This isn’t fun, mom. Fun is getting dirty. This is boring”. I must have heard him say, “culture sucks” at least a hundred times that day.
Even his pint-sized protest could not persuade me to leave. I love art, someday I am determined to force him to love it too. The “Larry Walmart” exhibit was a collection of Warhol’s car paintings. Once we trudged through the shark exhibit, with the security guards laughing at my efforts to get the boy to appreciate the sculptures and paintings, I was certain my boy would change his tune.
“A BMW!!!!!” he chirped as we made our way up the stairs. “We should paint your car like that!!!” Admittedly, I considered it…but only for a minute. “No, I don’t think so,” I said guiding him to inspect the brightly painted German engineering. ”Mr. Warhol said that in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes,” I thought imparting this pearl of wisdom would catch his interest. “He was wrong, mom. I’ve never heard of him,” ignoring me, he let go of my hand and tried to get a better look at the car. I held onto his shoulder, not because the museum was busy, but because I know my son.
“Don’t touch,” I ordered. “Mommy can’t afford to buy a damaged Warhol” He seemed to be okay with just staring at the colorful pieces on the wall. “This guy should paint sharks!” the boy declared. We spent quite a bit of time on the second floor, I was pleased that I’d tricked him into culture. We made our way towards the exit. like everything in Florida…Walt Disney’s marketing strategies leaked in. Gift shops materialize out of nowhere.
I was hoping to get out of there without dropping an ass-load of coin on a cheap plastic memento As I scanned the bins I noticed that there were no cars, I thought I was off the hook. My boy wasn’t interested in the art prints. “Success!” I thought. We wandered towards an elderly man in a navy blue sport coat. He smiled as he saw us coming, “It’s always nice to see a young person here”. The boy was suddenly shy, he whispered “I really liked the trucks,” as he pressed himself against my hip. “That’s great! Let me get you a coloring book!” the man said. He motioned for us to follow him. What seemed like an innocent act of generosity was actually a trap. The route to the coloring book lead us to another gift shop. This is where the toys were.
The boy thanked the man for the book. As soon as he was out of sight, I was handed free gift and my son was on the hunt for something…less free. He wandered through the merchandise, I stood near a shelf making sure he couldn’t escape and molest the artwork. As he shopped, I perused the pages of the coloring book. If you’re wondering what feeling an Andy Warhol themed children’s pamphlet gives you…the answer is creeped-out. The pages contained a cartoon Andy saying things like “Hey kids, this is art”. From what I know of Warhol, I don’t think he would ever have said that. My little art critic came bounding back with what, at that point, was the unnamed shark.
“You didn’t even like the sharks,” I said, as I saw the price. “No, but I want to paint it like the BMW. It’ll be cool.” It would be cool, I couldn’t argue with that. I paid for the shark without any more questions. I put the coloring book in the bag with the PVC creature from the deep. When we arrived home after our day of culture, Sharky had been named and Warhol had been forgotten. We took Betty out for a walk, she seemed to be hanging on the boys’ every word as he told her of his adventures at the museum. Clearly, she was enthralled. She came back in the house and promptly began eating his coloring book. I didn’t realize this until my son presented me with the pieces…stating “I guess his 15 minutes are up”.