Mom, I apologize in advance and, just so you know, my phone is currently off the hook.

You know that compelling instinct we all have to share something horrifying or repulsive? It's the first cousin to the urgency some of us crave for someone else to confirm that the milk really has gone bad (here, smell!) or that there are, in fact, clumps of green, fuzzy mold on top of the raspberry jam. We need others to bear witness, to corroborate the event in order dilute the horror, the loathing of the experience and lighten the load weighing heavily on the portion of the brain reserved for things no person should ever have to contemplate.

Clifford. Clifford. Clifford.

There. It's been said despite the pact Mrs. G. made with her mother years back that they would, in familial oneness, block out and not speak of the four years he was part of their lives. Sorry Mom, but Mrs. G, for better or worse, is a writer and some stories are just too good to conceal. It would be sad for the story of Clifford to die along with the two of us.

Clifford was Mrs. G's mom's second husband and, therefore, Mrs. G's first stepfather, and he was a perfect case study of a man who avoided adulthood by refusing to budge from adolescence. When Mrs. G's mother met him, he was 38 and still lived with his parents. Scratch that, he didn't still live with his parents. He had always lived with his parents. His mama still cooked his meals and did his laundry and lovingly called him Cliffie as she handed him his plate of eggs and bacon each morning.

Mrs. G's mom met Clifford at a bar called Trader Vics in Memphis. They barely dated a month before they decided to get married. Mrs. G's mom insisted that she loved him and, really, could do a lot worse. He had a job. She refused to listen to anybody during the intervention organized by Mrs. G's grandfather. The whole family sat around Mrs. G's grandparents' den and said things like "For the love of God. he is a loser and Jesus H. Christ. have you lost your mind?" and "Sweet Mother Mary, we don't want him in our family," and, finally the most shocking statement of all as Mrs. G's grandfather was a serious tightwad, "I will write you a check for $450 dollars right this second if you don't  marry this goober." All in all, it was an exciting intervention despite the fact that no one in the room had any psychological training beyond embracing the family motto of Get the hell over it.

But Mrs. G's mother married Clifford all the same. In her defense, she has since told Mrs. G. that she married Clifford to get out of her parents' house. She and Mrs. G. lived with them the year following her mom's divorce from Mrs. G's father. Mrs. G's mother couldn't take the restrictions placed on her by her well meaning parents: they monitored her comings and goings, they listened to all her phone conversations as the one phone in the house was in the den and only had a six inch cord and they dispensed well intentioned advice from sun up to sun down.

So Mrs. G, her mother and Clifford moved into a small apartment in Frasier and began the section of Mrs. G's life she has labeled the fourth ring of hell. Living with Clifford was like living with an insecure sibling. He related to Mrs. G's mom as his mom. He competed with Mrs. G. for attention and emotional gold stars. No one in the house paid much attention to him or offered him an ounce of respect. Even the cat ignored him.

Clifford wore velour jumpsuits with built in belts, he bathed in Brut cologne, he shellacked his hair with Aqua Net, he wore beaded moccasins in public and he had possibly the worst job on the planet. He worked for an insurance company. He drove around Memphis, meeting with clients in their homes to help process their paperwork and collect their urine. The backseat of his car was littered with little yellow plastic vials, each containing some sort of urine test magic tablet. When Clifford hit a speed bump, the pills rattled around like pee pee castanets. It was awesome to ride around with Clifford, his jumpsuit and complete strangers' urine. Just awesome. When Clifford wasn't in the room, Mrs. G. referred to him as a piss peddler.

Well, you might be thinking to yourself as Mrs. G's mom repeated over and over, so he was a loser, he was a bust, but he could be worse and, in truth, he could have been. He was never overtly mean to Mrs. G. and he certainly never hurt her. He was basically harmless, annoying but harmless.

But Mrs. G. is about to tell you something that is going to rubber stamp that Clifford was a loser of the most alarming, unsettling kind. She only told Mr. G. about it this morning over coffee, because she didn't want him to be blindsided when he read her blog. She had to cover her eyes with her hands as she confessed, unable to bear the possibility that that the stockpile of concerns floating around his head might audibly CLICK and reveal that his wife really is as mad as a March April no less.

Mom, Mrs. G. begs you, stop reading now and click over to your Diabetic Republican Grandmother's Forum. Seriously, go now.

Clifford had a curious hobby that he had apparently been pursuing for a disturbing length of time: he collected lint in his belly button. And when he had a beer or two, he would unbelt and unzip his jumpsuit and show it to, no lie, anyone who was in the room. It was a small ball of lint the size of a green pee pea and after he pulled it out for others to admire, he gently tucked it back in. Where this lint came from, no one knows, because as the Lord is her Saviour, who would want or need this information? Some questions are just not meant to be asked.

Or, have mercy, answered.

No one shed any tears when Mrs. G's mom divorced Clifford four long years later. He moved back in with his parents and Mrs. G. married another man within a year. But that is a story for another time. Mrs. G. survived revolving parents, and, truthfully, none of them were that bad. They make for interesting dinner conversation, though the lint ball is just between you and Mrs. G. Pinky swear.

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Reader Comments (50)

Here I am at insomnia central and I have just been blindsided by belly button lint. How can I sleep after that? The nightmares (with an honourable mention for the velour jumpsuits with built-in belts) !

Thank you Mrs G, you made my night !

April 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkapgaf

I just choked on my chamomile tea. Like kapgaf, I was trying to cure sleeplessness with a little tea and blogging (thoughts spinning in my head were keeping me awake), but now I've got visions of green belly button lint!

This sentence is absolutely beautiful: "Even the cat ignored him."

April 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkcinnova

LOL! If you are going to share your family secrets, this is a good one to share. Brilliant!

April 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

I have to admit, I'm a little surprised your mom reads your blog!

(Great post, but then again, they always are. xo)

April 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

No, wait. He collected the lint, but he kept it in his belly button? How much lint does a belly button generate daily? Is it really so miniscule that a lifetime's supply ends up [compressed, of course] as a ball the size of a pea?

I'm in awe. And also a little grossed out.

April 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterg

Mrs. G - turn on channel 4, tQuick! here's a story about snuggies -- the backward blanketsl still laughing about that youtube video.

April 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelinda

Mrs. G, sadly this is not the first man that I know of that has a belly button lint collection. I can think of two others. Where the hell did this start? And how did it catch on?

April 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteroceangypsymom

You mean to tell me there is some kind of belly button lint movement? It's good to know I am not alone in my shame. Mrs. G.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe Women's Colony

I can accept it all...except the part where he TUCKS IT BACK IN. Because then I have to wonder about what he did when he showered. Or went swimming. There's a sense of commitment and routine there that I find very...disturbing. And yet, curious. Like those warnings telling those with squeamish tendancies shouldn't watch the following...whatever it is.

Did he worry about losing the little ball when he changed? Did he check it regularly? Did he have a safe place where he kept it at night and put it on every morning?

Am I just as weird as Clifford because I'm wondering about all of this?

Mrs. G. people often wonder if there's a point to things that happen in life. The answer, I've learned from you, is YES. It's for interesting stories the REST.OF.YOUR.LIFE. No one can top 'em!

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermamava

OMG!!! I need therapy, NOW! Eeewwwww! The whole thought of velour and belly button lint is generating an extreme shivering reaction, and not in a good way either. (Seriously though I can't stop laughing at the whole thing, what a hoot!)

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKim

Mrs. G - the forces of nature decided that you no longer need to work in a school setting - because, your life calling is a writer! You are a fabulous writer! As I read your post, I can actually imagine myself as the young girl watching this freakish man in a valoure suit. That my dear, is brilliant writing!

Publish! Publish! Publish!

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie

It was the velour. The velour was the source of the lint. I can hardly type this out without vomitting into my mouth a little. Too early in the morning for this -

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy E.

Kind of disgusting, but as habits go, I think it's benign. Did he have to have to be liquored up to show it off?

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrudeek

I have to say, Mrs. G., with all due respect, that was more than I needed to know.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMeredith

I remember my stepdad REMOVING belly button lint, but I'm pretty darn sure he threw it away.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenn @ Juggling Life

Okay. I'm nauseous. I'm picturing a paunchy, pale, hairy belly being unveiled as the zipper slowly rasps down to the attached velour belt. What in the world was the reaction of the lucky viewers when the lint pea ball was brought out?

Your mom sure can pick 'em.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterManic Mommy

Ack. Argh.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe Other Laura

I was so enjoying the phrase "pee pee castanets" ... until my mind was wiped clean with the lint image.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Harp

Ditto Annie's comment above. You went from a high with the descriptive "pee pee castanets" to a new low with the lint ball.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrobin

Oops! That's not meant as a criticism, just my knee-jerk reaction to your story. Terrific writing!

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrobin

Just the other day, my 10-year-old came running: "Mama! I have bellybutton lint! I have bellybutton lint! Just! like! Homer Simpson!"

My thought - even though he's my son? "Um, OK - this a little too close, a little too intimate. I did not need to know that."

I'm sure Clifford's revelation was a proud, proud moment for your mom.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDharmamama

I should have stopped reading when you warned me. ack!

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPamela

You derfy wimps. You only had to read it. I had to LIVE it. I had to LIVE with the lint. Mrs. G.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe Women's Colony


April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

HI-freakin'-larious!!! Mrs. G, you are so funny.

You lived in Frasier? Was it the same Frasier that is there now? Yikes. I lived in Memphis for 15 years. 1991 - 2006 I loved it.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSabra

Mrs. G, I am stil laughing. You were right some stories are way too good to hide.l

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

Yes, it was the same Frasier that's still there. The apartment was right across the street from Trezevant High School

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe Women's Colony

Great post! Although that belly button lint was a little disturbing. For your sake, I'm glad he didn't last for more than four years. I can only imagine the size of a four year old lint ball.


April 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterthe domestic fringe

Have you read Anne Tyler's Celestial Navigation, Mrs. G? Her character, Jeremy Pauling, who lives with his mother, reminds me a little of Clifford, although Jeremy came off as a bit more pathetic and endearing. Less gross. I guess if Jeremy he had collected belly button lint, he would have used it in one of his sculptures. Heh. :/

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura/centerdownhome

Next time there should be BIG ALERTS so some people may not almost spit water through their nose as they are reading this.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I just spit iced tea. That is hysterical and so honest. Makes you big is that lint ball now! LOL!!!!

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKatherine

Good god almighty, Mrs. G.
I have to wonder if the fur on his belly ever got snagged in the zip of the velour jumpsuit?

Eww eww ewww.

I used to think that hernias were from when people accidentally unscrewed their belly buttons. So I avoided any kind of contact w/my b.b. I swiped a washcloth across it and hoped for the best.

icky icky icky

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkate in Michigan

Didn't see that one coming. I would ask how your mom could stand this nut but then I recall she likes Bill O Crazy from FOX so her taste in men is just different from mine. On a side note my hubby lived in Frasier for a few years in the sixtes too.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermargaret/Who asked you

Hysterical. I know this is true because you cannot make stuff like this up. Thank you for all you do.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Oh my God! I'm torn between disgust and hysteria! The worst part is that I can PICTURE this because the prose pops and shimmers. Bad girl, Mrs. G! The matron will have nightmares . . .

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMinnesota Matron

Jesus, Mary and etc. Mrs. G, I see something of what formed your outlook on life...I shudder about what you saw at such a tender age.. will go now to see if it is possible to wash the image out of my mind.. where did I put my mind soap?

One ball! That's nothing! There's a man in Western Australia who has the world's largest collection of navel fluff (Guiness Book of Records) and it's sorted into bottles according to colour!

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFran from Oz

Pinky swear. For reals.

I found myself relieved that it wasn't toenail clippings.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCha Chca

for the first time, i wished that you weren't the kind of writer who could put the reader into a setting so that the reader felt as though they had been there themselves.

so, so gross.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjennie

His name is Clifford for god's sake. 'Nuff said.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStacey

Although I adore Mrs. G, this is more information about her past life than I think I can handle. And I'll never be able to clean the lint screen on the dryer without conjuring it all back up again.

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Paul

Thank you.
What more can I say?

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCeeLee

I wonder how big that lint ball is these days. Come on, you know you've wondered, too. ;^) (And did he keep his nail clippings in a jar or something? Okay, I'll stop now.)

April 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBeth



April 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteremily

Oh Mrs. G., you had me at "pee pee castanets".
I heart you.

April 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTrenches of Mommyhood

I am having visions of Clifford pulling up in my driveway (in his velour jumpsuit, ofcourse!) and I can't stop laughing! I might be overtaken by the giant lint ball and rolled down the street, away from my loved ones! All the while hearing the tinkling of some castanet specimens! Oh lordy! Mrs. G - you just make me laugh, thank you for sharing your slant on the world, detractors be DAMNED! You are a HOOT!

April 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBramble

*audible gasp* Oh no! Not beaded moccasins!

April 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterapathy lounge

I'm sure your mother forgives you, that story did need to see the light of day.

April 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNora

peepee castanets and belly button lint (ew!)
Now you have me laughing hysterically. Thank you!

April 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertracy

I'm so glad you decided to share that story!

It'll be a secret well kept between you, me, and the internets.

May 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStarshine

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