Gargoyle's Delusions

My mother-in-law, Ms Larda, is back home in Chalmette.

Not a minute too soon. She says she can’t never show her face in Folsom again.

She had been staying there on the North Shore with my daughter Gumdrop while her house was getting fixed after Katrina. Thank God it’s ready.

What happened was, last Wednesday she got up at 5:30 a.m. in Folsom and went to make her coffee, like she does every morning, only this morning there ain’t no coffee left in the canister. Nobody else in the house drinks coffee except Gumdrop, and she can’t do that now that she is pregnant again.

Now, Gumdrop lives out in the country, five minutes by car from downtown Folsom, which has a traffic light, a feed 'n' seed store, and Gus’s restaurant, open early for breakfast, no credit extended.

My son Gargoyle is on his Christmas vacation from LSU and since my apartment is small and he takes up a lot of space, he is vacationing on Gumdrop’s couch. So Ms. Larda goes to the couch and inquires if she can borrow his car to go get some coffee. He don’t say nothing, being as it is he won’t be conscious for another five or six hours, so she takes that as a yes and picks up his keys off the end table and drives off.

While she is on her way, she notices that Gargoyle left a big old LSU 16-ounce insulated mug with a lid on it, right there in the cup holder. Sixteen ounces ought to be enough to hold her for awhile. She will just go to Gus’s and get it filled and be back before Gumdrop’s two-year-old, Lollipop, wakes up. Ms. Larda likes to get her up and settled in front of the TV with her bowl of Sugar Clumps so her mama can sleep late. This is the least she can do for having a place to live ever since she got too fat for the FEMA trailer.

But there is something she don't know about that insulated mug.

Evidently there was some kind of safe sex week up at LSU and they had a bowl of what I will call "safe sex items" in little foil packets setting out on a table, free. My son must have happened to walk past there when he had his empty mug in his hand and dumped most of the bowl into his mug. He must have had a time squishing them all down, but he did, and then he screwed this lid on. And he threw the mug in his car. What kind of plans he had God only knows, and God probably don't want to think about it.

Flash forward to Ms. Larda. She scurries into Gus's, and she sees a couple of people she met at St. John, the Catholic church there, who are already polishing off their eggs and grits. She smiles and wishes them a good morning, hard as it is to be nice to anybody before her coffee. Ms. Larda has the feeling that they think anybody from New Orleans is a little weird, so she is glad she at least put on some lipstick and brushed her hair before she left the house, so she looks halfway decent.

She pays the waitress for 16 ounces of coffee, and goes to take the lid off the mug, but it is stuck. After she struggles with it a while, the waitress tries to help, but she can't pry it off either.

Finally the gentleman from the church gets up and says, "May I?" and he wrenches it. Pop! Off it comes. And all these safe sex items that have been compressed in that mug ever since Safe Sex Week spring out every which way.

Ms. Larda lets out a shriek, naturally, because she is startled, and then she sees what has landed all over the floor, and she knows that if these country folks thought she was weird, now they got proof.

But I got to say, she has fast reactions for a old lady with no coffee in her. She don't look at the waitress or the church people or anybody else. She sets the LSU mug down on the counter and says, "I think I'll use a Styrofoam cup." And she pours her coffee and steps over the safe sex items like they was roaches and walks out with her head held high.

Back at Gumdrop's, she stomps over to the couch and kicks it a bunch of times. Nothing on the couch moves, so she goes ahead and gets Lollipop up. Then she starts packing for home.

I never would have known about all this if Gargoyle hadn't called the next day asking if I had seen his LSU mug. Ms. Larda and I happen to be having coffee ourselves at the time, and I say to her that he sure seemed upset about a $5 mug. She says to tell him if he wants that cup so bad, he can go out back and dig in Gumdrop's compost heap. I say "Is that where it is?" and she says "No, but since he wants make his grandmother look like a dirty old woman, he can wallow around in some dirt himself."

Then she tells me about them people in Folsom thinking she is a sex fiend. She can hear it now -- "carrying God-knows how many safe sex items in her coffee cup, at her age. Never too late, in New Orleans…" and they'll just laugh, real nasty.

She gets up and pours us both another cup of coffee, but this time she adds a splash of Kahlua.

"It's good to be home, Modine," she says.

Here's to that.

Your rating: None Average: 3.7 (117 votes)

Up until Katrina, Modine Gunch was Everywoman who fought with pantyhose until they went out of style, shoved dirty dishes into the oven when her mother-in-law was coming up the walk, shudderingly oversaw school science projects involving roaches, and insisted that a dish that didn’t survive the dishwasher didn’t deserve to live.

Her family’s adventures have tickled the funnybones of New Orleans Magazine readers for 25 years and have appeared in two books: Never Heave your Bosom in a Front-Hook Bra and Never Sleep With a Fat Man in July.

But in 2005, home was where the levees broke. The Gunch family’s houses, strung comfortably close together along one block, were among those washed away.

Now the Gunches would find out that they were double-wide and their FEMA trailers weren’t; “Don’t come knockin’ if this trailer’s rockin'” means somebody is stretched out in the vibrating recliner; and the talent God gave Modine was for cleaning out putrid refrigerators.

And five years later, the Gunches are still standing -- when they’re not second-lining.

As we hit the five-year anniversary of The Storm, we're re-publishing the Modine Gunch columns that appeared in New Orleans Magazine in the year after Katrina. These columns can be purchased – plus a few extra for lagniappe – as the third of Modine's books, Never Clean Your House During Hurricane Season. All the proceeds will go to charity, including The St. Bernard Project, a program that helps those affected by Katrina and the BP oil disaster in New Orleans’ neighboring parish of St. Bernard.

<=Click here to order your own copy.

While you're waiting for the book to be delivered, enjoy the columns. (You can read the most recently posted column above, or find all the posted Hurricane columns here.)

New Orleans Magazine has been Modine's home for more than twenty years. Find her in this month's issue here.

© Liz Scott Monaghan (content) and Rosemary Ruiz Lewis (illustrations)