1×18 Requiem for a Third Grade Ashtray

….. by TeeJay

Joan, Grace, Adam and Iris are shopping for party accessories in a grocery store. Grace asks if they want mini pizzas or mini burritos. “Burritos is always mini, because burrito means little donkey,” Adam explains. Thank you for the trivia, Adam. And why do you sound so cranky? Baby-Voice getting on your nerves? Hm, no, obviously not, because when she coos at Adam, “That’s so cool, you know, the Español,” he smiles at her.

Joan explains she needs to stay up all night because not only does she have to study for the Chem test on Wednesday, she also has to finish reading Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (which she describes as “a book about a guy who turns into a bug”). Grace tells her not to sweat Chem, she’s got Luke’s lab notebook. Yeah, that’s very helpful. Because you’d still have to transfer its contents into your head, Grace.

Grace’s cell phone rings, and she answers it, sounding unnerved with the caller, saying something about not forgetting something. Adam and Joan exchange a confused look, but Iris butts in, “I know what we need. Soy jerky.” Joan and Adam’s eyes meet. “Is she gonna be, like, the Yoko Ono of our study group?” Joan says. Adam sighs. “Don’t worry about it.”

When they wanna check out, Adam asks the guy behind the counter (who turns out to be Cashier-God) if he can hang a flyer. It says “Café Ennui – art show, poetry reading, coffee pastries – open daily ’till 2:00 am”. Joan thinks it’s cool and asks Adam if he’s in it. He explains, modesty in his voice, “It’s just a little coffee shop thing. I mean, they basically let anybody put up their stuff.” But Joan thinks it’s really special. “Adam, this is your first art show out in the world.” But Adam won’t hear it. “It’s really no big deal,” he says. Just then, Baby-Voice comes back. “Isn’t it cool?” she asks Joan, “Your mom started, like, a whole movement.”

In the background, Grace suddenly yells into the phone, “We’ve already been over this, I’m not gonna pretend to care about something that I don’t. That’s called hypocrisy!” She hangs up. Adam and Iris step closer to Joan again and stare at Grace. “Who is she yelling at?” Iris asks. The phone rings again, but Grace just throws it into the cooler. Of course Adam and Joan know better than to ask. (And Adam is wearing a Cuba Libre t-shirt. We’ve been asking ourselves if Chris’s dad, Jorge Luis Rodriguez, is Cuban because Chris was born near Miami and he said he’d love to play Fidel Castro when he’s older. Who knows?)

Next morning, in the Girardi kitchen, Helen is a little hectic. There are items strewn all over the table, old memorabilia from the garage. Helen tells Kevin to grab anything he’d like to keep, otherwise it will end up being smashed in an art project at school. Joan comes in, and grabs the first thing she sees. “Hey! My turtle ashtray.” Helen asks her if she would mind if she used some of that stuff for a class project, but Joan wants to hang onto her ashtray. “You can’t smash Archie,” she tells her mother in a begging voice.

Since Luke’s not at breakfast, they ask Joan to check on him. She does, grudgingly. Luke’s in bed, all sweaty, mumbling, “Can’t move. Head’s too big. Full of air. Possibly fluid.” Uhmmm…. All right, Luke, just stay in bed.

Burgundy hoodie alert! Adam’s wearing his burgundy hoodie in school! Okay, sorry for getting all excited. I just love that hoodie. Joan’s raving on about the Kafka novel, ridiculing it. But Grace is cranky for some reason. “It’s called literary symbolism. And didn’t anyone ever tell you not to talk with your mouth full?” she snaps at a breakfast-eating Joan. As if that wasn’t already clear, Adam says to Joan, “Something’s going on at home. I didn’t ask.” No, you wouldn’t, Adam. You know Grace too well.

He’s putting up some more of the Café Ennui flyers in the school hallway and asks Joan if she could help him unload some of his stuff there tonight. Which Joan would love to do, but she wonders why he didn’t ask Iris. Adam explains, “I told her not to come. Said I would be too nervous.” Oh. Why is that, Adam? Of course Joan immediately jumps on the bandwagon. A night with Adam without Baby-Voice? Who could say no? “I’m happy to be your roadie.”

Adam walks off, and just then Goth-God makes an appearance. He asks Joan to share her parents’ burden and take care of Luke in her free period and lunch break. “Let’s not forget the last time you asked me to share the laundry burden, and I ended up on crutches,” she quips. But she already knows she will do what He asks anyway.

In art class, Helen explains that she wants everyone to smash the memorabilia they brought and set the pieces in wet plaster in a wooden box. Adam looks really freaky with his burgundy hood over his head and the huge safety goggles with the elastic strap over both. On Helen’s cue, everyone starts bashing their old toys with a hammer. This is really kind of a bizarre picture.

Joan comes into the classroom, offering to check on Luke for her mom. Helen is touched. Yeah, well, she doesn’t know that Joan isn’t exactly doing it voluntarily. Helen mentions that she also wanted to make meatloaf and already put the meat out to thaw, but forgot the faculty meeting that night. Joan offers to make the meat loaf. She’s not thrilled. Joan, I mean.

At home, Luke is on the couch, not very alert. But the he realizes that he still needs to type up an essay for his application to Space Camp that’s due that day. And it’s in his lab notebook. Which Grace has. Joan tells him it’s no biggie, she’ll get it from Grace.

Back in school Joan is trying to figure out when she can study Chemistry with Grace and Adam. Grace says she has a “family thing—don’t ask” and Adam has the art thing. And Joan’s life suddenly turned into this one, hectic blob where she figures she can’t do everything at the same time. But she promises Adam she will still come to the art show and help him. She needs Luke’s notebook back and will meet them to study in an hour. Good luck, Joan!

Of course things get messy. Joan’s at home, making the meatloaf. But Will’s stuck in an elevator and she hasn’t gotten Luke’s notebook back yet and then Adam calls and asks where she is. She tries to explain to him that she’s running late and can’t leave Luke at home alone (Why not, exactly? He’s 15, for God’s sake, and it’s not like he’s on his deathbed!). Apparently, Adam’s mad. He hangs up on Joan. Joan looks up at the ceiling. “Are you there, God? It’s me, Joan. You suck!” Just how much becomes clear when Joan tries to switch on the dishwasher and blows a fuse that makes the house descend into darkness.

On her way to the hardware store to get a new fuse, she runs into Adam, who’s putting up his sculptures at the café. Joan’s about to walk off when he addresses her, but then she realizes she can’t just leave Adam with all the work, so she offers to help out. While they set up his sculptures inside, Joan asks him, “Why do I feel like we’re cheating on Iris?” He tells her that’s crazy. Is it? He told her he didn’t want Iris there, but then invited Joan? That is a little like cheating, if you ask me.

It’s kinda cute how Joan mistakes three people in a row for God who are not. Typically flaky Joan. And majorly embarrassing, especially to Adam, who has to watch Joan publicly address a poetry reader on stage in front of everyone. She walks out on a very confused Adam, telling him she’ll explain later.

Of course there’s still the matter of Luke’s notebook, so she decides to go by Grace’s house. Her father tells Joan that Grace will be back later because she’s at Hebrew class. Joan can’t believe it. The rabbi also tells Joan that Grace put off her bat mitzvah for three years, a Jewish ceremony to mark when a young woman becomes an adult. Just then Helen calls and orders Joan’s butt back home. Because when Joan blew the fuse, she left the house in a mess and Helen is less than happy to come home to find a bomb having gone off in her kitchen.

But Joan decides that her priority is not the blown fuse or the messed up kitchen, it’s her brother and his notebook. So she waits in front of Grace’s house for her to come home. When she does, she hands Joan the notebook. Of course Joan has to ask about Hebrew class. “I was supposed to do all this when I was 13, but I refused. Now my dad’s using my sick Grandmother to guilt me into it.” They both agree all of this sucks. Yeah, well, it kinda does. But wait till you become real grown-ups, kids. The problems will only become bigger.

The Kevin storyline in this episode is also more interesting than others. He felt something in his belly that seemed to be gas. Which hasn’t happened since the accident. So he has it checked out at the hospital without telling anyone, hoping they’re the first signs of nerve regeneration. The doc tells him they aren’t, there’s no change to his physical status. Luke is the first person Kevin tells about it. And at the end of the episode, it does turn out Kevin’s newfound sense of digestive processes (which is kinda gross, really, if you think about it) is indeed for real. Is this a tiny ray of hope for him?

Turns out Luke’s notebook didn’t help that much for the AP Chem test. Adam thinks he pretty much bombed. It’s really funny when Glynis comes out and, frantically worried, asks Joan, “How is he?” Joan pretends she’s really serious. “Luke? He’s sick, but he’s gonna pull through.”

Adam asks Joan what happened last night, but she doesn’t wanna go into it. She mentions Grace’s bat mitzvah class, but Grace shushes her. Oops, too late. Friedman already poked his nosy head in. And Adam asks what a bat mitzvah is. Wouldn’t he know if he’s known Grace for so long? Or was Grace that close-lipped even to Adam all these years? Friedman puts his arm around Adam’s shoulder, lunging into a lengthy explanation for Adam that we only hear the beginning of as they walk away: “Well, you see, Adam, even before we were slaves in Egypt, there was this tiny baby floating around in the bulrushes. Now, the little tyke’s name was Moses. Now, Mo, as we call him, he apparently was a stutterer…”

Joan remains at the lockers and Goth-God walks up. He tells her to get cream of wheat for Luke, but she doesn’t want to because she thinks it’ll never end. “It’s a black hole of never-ending worries and responsibilities.” God tells her, “It’s called growing up.” Joan thinks it’s scary. It is, honey. And God tells her that. What He also tells her, as He fishes her turtle ashtray out of her bag, is that she’s not alone.

Joan walks into the art room where she finds her mother, cleaning up some of the smashed bits and pieces from their plaster project earlier. Helen apologizes for having been so hard on Joan the night before, giving her a verbal whipping when she was only trying to help. In reply, Joan takes out the turtle ashtray and says to her mom that she can use it. But that’s not what Helen wants. So Joan puts on the safety goggles and starts hacking away at the ashtray with a hammer.

They have a very grown up talk about adulthood. “I always thought once you were an adult, you just sort of wake up with all the answers,” Joan says. “Yeah, that would be nice. There’s hardly ever any answers. Just more questions,” is Helen’s reply. And she would be right. I mean, yes, you get some answers, but not all of them. And wouldn’t it be kinda boring if you did?

The episode ends with the Girardis at the dinner table, having a few good giggles over Kevin’s game of “pull my finger”. And Luke and Kevin share a knowing look. “Does this mean…?” Maybe. A nice, upbeat way to fade to black and let the viewers wonder if Kevin might someday get out of that wheelchair.