My Fake Aunt and Uncle’s Real Exploding Waterbed

I had a fake aunt and uncle as a kid. They only lived a few minutes away, but in the suburbs, in the early ‘90s, they may as well have lived in a different universe. They were “very California,” which was their compliment for everything. They loved wine and jazz and salad tongs. Their house had a lot of kaleidoscopes. They owned not one, not two, but three rainsticks of varying sizes. 

As a little kid, I stayed with them at least one weekend every month, and when I did, I slept in a waterbed.

If you’ve never slept in a waterbed, don’t.

If you are ever tempted to sleep in a waterbed, ask yourself if you’ve ever gotten a proper night’s sleep on a pool float.

My fake aunt kind of looked like Demi Moore, back when Demi Moore was the actress everyone wanted to look like. My fake uncle did not look like a movie star at all, but sometimes he wore a beret, and it looked terrific.

Sometimes he couldn’t hear very well because he’d just blown out an eardrum while scuba diving. We didn’t live anywhere near an optimal scuba diving environment, but he managed to find one.

They claimed they had a cat, but I never saw it. I think its name was Rainbow, which is an appropriate name for a cat that may or may not be imaginary. 

When I was five, my fake aunt got obsessed with Twin Peaks, like all the cool people did in the early ‘90s. “You’ll like it, it’s got little people in it, like The Wizard of Oz,” she said.

One time we watched Twin Peaks in the basement during a tornado, and I was afraid the house would be picked up and dropped, Dorothy-style, in Twin Peaks.

“That would be amazing,” said my fake aunt. “Let’s go outside!”

My fake aunt once let me take a bath during a thunderstorm, and I was convinced that I would die.

Their staircase had black spindles rather than white ones, and this was fascinating to me, because in every TGIF sitcom that I watched, the spindles were bright white, creating a sense of optimistic, comforting blandness as well as a nice visual whenever a small child inevitably got their head stuck between them. According to TV, a kid getting their head stuck between spindles was an average Friday night in the suburbs.

An average Friday night at my fake aunt and uncle’s involved a lot of wine and an attempt at playing one of their didgeridoos.

They had four.

“You have to cycle your breathing, like the Aborigines,” my fake uncle would say.

My fake aunt and uncle liked to ruin independent movies for me. In the early ‘90s, the heyday of Miramax, they were my version of Internet spoilers for films that I was way too young to see, but was still fascinated by, thanks to my daily devouring of the scintillating cinematic coverage in USA Today.

“We saw The Crying Game last night,” said my fake aunt. “It’s very good. You should see it … when you’re older, of course.”

I was only seven, but I knew what The Crying Game was because USA Today had run a pie chart called, “Do you know the twist of The Crying Game?”

“No, you should see it now,” said my fake uncle. “Before someone ruins it for you. The girl is a guy.”

My fake aunt yelled at my fake uncle for telling me the twist, but over the following two years she managed to ruin both The Piano and Pulp Fiction for me. My fake aunt and uncle loved Pulp Fiction. They dressed as John Travolta and Uma Thurman for Halloween. No one knew who they were.

When their daughter came home from college, she and her friend Kevin would read Magic School Bus books to me on the waterbed.

“The water cycle just blows my mind,” Kevin would say, with big wide eyes.

Kevin was very good at playing the didgeridoo. I bet he caused the waterbed explosion.

For my eighth birthday, my fake aunt and uncle took me to a Manheim Steamroller concert.

That same year, I lost a tooth while I was staying with them, and the Tooth Fairy left me an envelope under my waterbed pillow that was filled with loose change—most of it Canadian—and a note that said, “Thank you for the tooth! Love, Auntie.”

When I was nine, the waterbed exploded. Through a Rube Goldberg-esque chain of events, the waterbed explosion started a small fire as well as a major flood. A big silver cassette player shorted out from the water damage, and then melted.

The early ‘90s were quite a dangerous time. 

My fake aunt and uncle were the first people I knew who had one of those coded keypads for their garage door. They bought it because their garage door kept mysteriously opening in the middle of the night, even after they got the keypad. Finally, when my fake uncle went out in his John Travolta costume to confront the culprits, he found a trio of raccoons. 

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