Opinion: Squid Vicious 

Billy Fried

By Billy Fried

I just returned home from three weeks in Florida, caring for my mom (with my daughter) while her regular caretakers got a break.

It was precious times, helping her through her day. She lost her mobility a year ago after suffering a stroke, and I fully expected a disability like that would make her depressed or even ornery. But I was wrong. She has embraced her predicament with grace. She goes with the flow, even though the most basic of functions are beyond her grasp.  

For me, it was a ritual of love; a role reversal where she was the one naked, vulnerable and dependent. And the best thing was, she giggled through it all. Like a child. For some strange reason, just the act of lifting her out of her wheelchair elicited gales of laughter. To the point where her body goes limp, and she loses the ability to clench her butt cheeks to suppress an air biscuit. (Hey, an empty house is better than a bad tenant, right?). Which induced still more laughter. But required all of my strength to hold her up.  

Of course, all of this left me pondering the vagaries of aging and the difference between a health span and a life span. Though her physical body is now a burden to her, my mother is perfect from the neck up, which I constantly remind her of.  

She has all her faculties. Her five senses are fully engaged, and she can delight in the small things; a foot rub, the smell of fresh lilies, or singing along with Kermit the Frog’s rendition of “Rainbow Connection.” Sure, she may forget what she did yesterday. But she can remember meals she ate when she was 15. And riding the streetcar looking for all varieties of them. Food has played a big role in this New Orleans gal’s life. And at 91, it still does. Her tastes have changed, and her appetite has shrunk, but she will brave a hurricane to get her beloved raw squid. 

And that is what we did for three weeks. Getting her in and out of the car, headed to the same sushi bar, day after day, sometimes for lunch and dinner. And it’s always the same thing. Squid. Both nigiri sushi and hand rolls. No soy, no wasabi. A squid savant. She used to add a yellowtail handroll, but that no longer floats her boat. She just craves the chewy texture. Before sushi, she used to gnaw at bones. And gizzards. And knuckles. The more gristle, the better. Southern girl, remember?  

But now it’s squid on her lid 24/7, and I am fascinated watching her enter the zone of rapture when she takes that crackling first bite of premium Japanese nori, warmed and toasted for maximum crispness. She chomps down on the cone, and invariably, a slippery slice of squid dangles from her mouth. She jerks her head back like a sea lion swallowing a fish. Then, her eyes glaze into a silent stupor. There’s no interrupting her revelry. Some would call it mindfulness. Others might characterize it as sex. 

Then, there’s the sweet, nightly ritual at home following the meal. Some chocolate ice cream, and then off with her clothes and into her pajamas – with a lot of hygienic maintenance of the privates. Off with her makeup. Then, the mixing of two overpriced moisturizing oils and the gentle application to her face. I make sure to massage her gullet to prepare for tomorrow’s squid. Then brush her teeth, which she could certainly do by herself, but really, why bother?  

I lift her into bed, adjust her pillows, and give her a scalp massage. Ahh. But then, the horror begins: “Put on Fox News.” You’re kidding me, mom. A Kennedy Democrat like you? I’m afraid it’s true. My mom has been neuro-linguistically programmed by the network to listen and obey. She sleeps with it on, and it tells her what to do and think, like the Manchurian Candidate. This, of course, keeps us from engaging in any kind of serious political debate lest we devolve into chaos, and I quarantine her from the squid. We don’t let it get that far, but I feel my greatest achievement to date is convincing her to choose Nikki Haley over Trump.  

My work is done for now. But far from over. I see the future and ponder what I will be like at 91, if I get there. I don’t know where my mom gets the fortitude to soldier on with all the complications that go with mobility and function loss. But I’m grateful for the many squid who have given their lives for her joy.  

Some have praised me for caring so intimately for my mom. But really, it seems instinctual. If you love someone, you just do it. And the beauty of doing it alongside my daughter is that she is fully indoctrinated into what’s next – why me, of course. So, as I always remind her, “Pay attention!” 

Billy is the CEO of La Vida Laguna, an outdoor adventure company, and the host of “Laguna Talks” on KXFM radio – Thursdays at 8 p.m. Email: [email protected].

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  1. Kudos for showing a loving and vulnerable aspect of yourself, Mr. Fried.
    Happy 2024 to your mother, your daughter and to you.
    Kiku Terasaki


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