Uncle Moloch at the Supermarket

Mrs. Linsley Horgenrather of Hillsborough, California favors us with this hellish reminiscence of growing up in the 1950s:

Whenever Mumsy was in the insane asylum, I got sent to stay with Aunt Pudge and my cousins in Seattle. They lived in the U District, in one of those ugly brick houses that look as though they were built in 1840 but were probably built in 1930. I’m saying this just so you can picture it.

(If you’re wondering where my father was, it was probably Singapore where he trying to sell some deal to Jardine Matheson. At least that was the story we gave out, because it shut people up.)

Aunt Pudge was some kind of assistant dean or administrator in the University’s psychology department. Her job consisted of talking on the phone a lot, and signing memos. When I was really little my cousins and I spent a lot of time playing in the big anteroom outside her office. There were a lot of strange toys out there, like a mechanical bear that when you squeezed it would open its mouth, and a turtle would come out.

Sometimes psychologists would come in and watch us. They believed that the first toy a child chose in the room would determine your course in life. I always went for the bear, so they decided I was going to be a dental hygienist.

Aunt Pudge’s first husband died during the war, and she had a succession of men in her life afterwards. When I was about ten she was going with a guy name Moe. He was very exotic and foreign-looking. We called him Uncle Moe, though his real name was Moloch. He had pointy features and wore a goatée. He was going bald and often wore a beret, but he wasn’t French. Uncle Moe’s thing was trying to get you to undress, if you were a little girl. I don’t know what he did with boys. He was pretty creepy, so I didn’t like to be in his company unless Aunt Pudge was around. I don’t think she knew how creepy he was, because he seemed to behave himself around her.

One day we all went to the big supermarket in Wallingford. Aunt Pudge, Uncle Moe, my cousins Cecily and Curt, and me. Supposedly we were getting ingredients to make Cecily a birthday cake. She had very specific instructions for the cake. She wanted it to be three-layer, with the middle layer fudge brownie and the other two layers golden cake; with chocolate frosting that was colored orange, because her birthday was Halloween. Now, there was no Betty Crocker or Pillsbury or Duncan Hines cake mix like this, so we had to combine different mixes and ingredients.

Cecily and Aunt Pudge fussed over the mixes and frosting ingredients while Uncle Moe took Curt and me around the corner to the lobster tank. He asked us if we wanted a pet lobster. I couldn’t think of anything worse, but Curt actually said, “Oh yeah that would be keen.” This was an expression he picked up from Spin and Marty. “Oh yeah, that sounds keen!”

So Uncle Moe picked up Curt and held him over the tank and told him to choose a lobster. You weren’t supposed to put your hands in there. You were supposed to pick the lobsters up with a pair of long-handled pliers that hung on a hook above the tank. But Uncle Moe ignored that. Curt just reached in and grabbed a couple of lobsters and threw them on the floor.

This caused a lot of excitement among the ladies in the meat section, across from the lobster tank. One of them started to scream. There wasn’t anything to be scared about, because the lobsters had rubber bands around their claws. But when they scuttled across the floor it looked like they were chasing people.

The man in the white coat in the meat department came out of his freezer room to see what the commotion was. Uncle Moe tried to put him at ease. “It’s just the children having a little horseplay. You know how kids are!”

I don’t think the meat man believed Uncle Moe because, you know, with his beret and his pointed beard Uncle Moloch looked like a pretty shady character. But the meat man sighed and slapped his hands together and went over to fetch the lobster pliers.

What no one noticed up to now is that Curt was in the lobster tank. It was almost deep enough for him to swim in, and he was in all the way, kneeling on the bottom with the lobsters around him. Curt was making faces at us with his face pressed up against the glass.

I figured Uncle Moe was going to try to talk his way out of this, and he did, by saying it was me who put Curt in the tank. This was a sheer impossibility, but I always got in trouble if i talked back to grownups, so I stayed mum.

“I’m going to have a word with you when we get home, young lady!” Aunt Pudge said in the car when we stopped at the light at 45th and Roosevelt. I knew I was really in for it. Was my face red!

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