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Instructions on Nana


First off, Tobey, don't even think about touching my lava lamp. I will know if you touched it when I come home for Christmas break. You're not fixing anything, trust me. I like the blue globs resting on the bottom. Don't let Nana throw it away either.

And about Nana, I want to talk about living with her (without me). To start off, there’s how old she is. Which is super old. Like "sleeps more in the recliner than her bed" old. Like "she makes the whole house smell like Werther's Originals and cats covered in IcyHot" old. Which is why, even though you are only fourteen and possibly the stupidest person I have ever met, you’re going to have to take care of Nana while I'm at college. So here are some rules. Rules that if you break, then I'll kill you — right after I break your little, cracked Yoda figurine you painted for Mom at summer camp 5 years ago.

Rule One: Don't mess with Nana's dentures. Don't put them in your mouth and chase the neighbor’s cat around yelling, "I eat you big time, furry cat." I saw you do that last fall and it was weird. And gross. Plus it's disrespectful. Those are Nana's teeth, okay? So don't.

If anyone calls asking for me and Nana forgets to tell them I am at college or gives them the number for the plumber in Pittsburgh, let her. Then get off the couch, go over to your phone shaped like Garfield and check the caller ID. Call them back. Give them the right information. I don't want to miss any calls. But wait until Nana is in the garden or washing her pantyhose in the bathtub.

Nana knows all the strays that hang by the back door and whether they've got their scraps for the night. So don't even think about shooing away that fat, smelly one. That's her favorite. She calls him Frank.

Remember to dust all the pictures on the mantle. Especially the one of Mom and Dad in the heavy silver frame. I think it makes Nana too sad to do it. So clean it for her. And it's always nice to see Mom again, right? Plus, maybe seeing how handsome Dad used to be might make you think you won't be as ugly and oily as you are right now. But don't worry, you will be.

Never ever look directly at Nana's ankles. Ever. Don’t even look at them from the corner of your eye. Nana knows it looks like a ridiculous stack of potato sacks down there. She can't fix it and neither can you. Leave it alone.

I know "Everybody Loves Raymond" isn't funny. But you know what else wasn't funny? The Great Depression, World War II, and the impending approach of death. But you don't see Nana complaining.

You are eventually going to have to help Nana get rid of all of Mom's clothes. It has been three years and they are taking up an entire closet. Her sweaters hang like octopus arms from the shelf in the basement. I suggest you do it around Thanksgiving and donate it to a good cause, even if the good cause is the orange trashcan in the alley.

Whenever you leave the mall, Nana won't be able to find her car. She will just hold her keys in front of her like it is some glowing, magical amulet. There are several ways to lead her to it without pointing out her wanderings aloud. Figure them out. They aren't hard. There’s no reason to remind Nana she is forgetful. It is mean and it doesn't help. Yeah, she will probably not remember. But it's a crap shoot — maybe she will.

When "Trixie" comes to visit with Dad (be sure and call her Gertrude as that is her real name and she hates it), you can tell Grandma that she is an Avon lady. Nana will then ask Dad how Mom's doing. I usually go out and shoot baskets at that point. Dad'll storm out moments later and then peel off in his pick-up with Gertrude for happy hour at Long John Silver's. That's when it's time to go in and watch some more "Raymond".

Don't wait for Nana to hold your hand every time. Reach for hers first occasionally.

Don't wear that pink shirt in public. This has nothing to do with Nana. You just look like freak when you do.

There is nothing wrong with crying if you are old enough to remember when movies were just black and white people lip-synching to words. So if you hear Nana doing it as she stands over the stove, don't leave the kitchen. Finish your hot pocket and Dr. Pepper.

Remember to leave the crossword for Nana. You suck at them anyway. She can do them in red pen.

I will be back in three months. Try not to ruin everything before I get back.

Julia McCloy is a technical writer working in Memphis. Her work has appeared in fautline, McSweeneys, and Yankee Pot Roast. She prefers laughing to pretty much anything.

Patrick Barb is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Given enough time and eggs, he can make a decent omelet. His work has previously appeared on
Yankee Pot Roast.