Chapter 12 Summary

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The twelfth chapter, “Home Movies,” tells the story of Cal's birth and early childhood. Cal’s birth coincides with a moment of near death for Lefty. Desdemona finds Lefty on the kitchen floor and thinks he died. Although her “wail echoed off the kitchen’s hard surfaces,” she soon discovers that she feels happiness because “The worst had happened. This was it: the worst thing. For the first time in her life my grandmother had nothing to worry about.” Cal goes on to explain that she would prefer to replace the oversimplified representations of emotion, such as “joy,” with “hybrid emotions,” such as “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” or “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” Lefty survives and regains consciousness after two days, but he loses the power to speak.

After Calliope is born, she can “sense the happiness of couples holding first babies and the fortitude of Catholics accepting their ninth.” Dr. Nishan Philobosian is seventy-four at this point and notices nothing unusual about Calliope’s sex, though perhaps because he is too busy noticing the Appalachian eyes of his middle-aged assistant. Cal shares Julie Kikuchi’s theory that “beauty is always freakish” and goes on to explain that he possessed an “awkward extravagant beauty” that explains why no one took the time to notice that he was born intersex. Desdemona is disappointed when Milton does not plan to baptize Calliope. She takes out one of her fans of “Turkish Atrocities” and begins to fan herself. Cal explains that “to anyone who never personally experienced it, it’s difficult to describe the ominous, storm-gathering quality of my grandmother’s fanning.” Regardless, it works, and Milton eventually agrees to have Calliope baptized. They take her to the church and Father Mike dips Cal into the “green, scummy, holy water.” After the third submersion, Calliope emerges and “from between my cherubic legs a stream of crystalline liquid shot into the air.” It hits Father Mike in the face, causing the congregation to laugh, but no one “wondered about the engineering involved.” Though no one notices or wonders about the child’s unusual sex, Cal admits that “5-alpha-reductasedeficiency syndrome is a skillful counterfeiter.”

Milton shoots home movies in which Cal notices how Chapter Eleven has the “tyrannical, self-absorbed look of American children,” but which would later be examined by doctors like Dr. Luce. Dr. Luce would talk Cal’s parents into giving these films to him, and would go on to use them as evidence in support of his theory that “gender identity is established early on in life.” The film “Easter ‘62” would show Tessie handing Calliope a baby doll; Callie would hold it to her chest before “putting a bottle to the baby’s lips, I offer it milk.”

However, Milton has begun to change. The Zebra Room is no longer bringing in the money that it used to, and his concerns over his business have begun to take up more of his attention when he is at home. Milton looks out the window and notices that the white family—good customers—that used to live across the street from the diner has been replaced by “a colored man named Morrison,” who comes into the diner but only orders coffee and endless free refills. There is a hole in Morrison's roof that has been patched using a bit of tarp and some bricks. By the time Milton begins to consider leaving the neighborhood, he discovers that the Zebra Room is now worth less than it was when Lefty bought it in 1933.

Young Callie meets Marius Wyxzewixard Challouehliczilczese Grimes, a young black man who is studying law....

(This entire section contains 713 words.)

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He wears a black beret and points out to people that all of the businesses in the community are “white-owned” and that there are no banks because “they don’t give loans to black folks.” Marius hopes to become a public advocate and plans to sue the city of Dearborn for housing discrimination. Marius points out to Callie that Milton gives free coffee to the police officers because he is “scared of us black folks.” Callie stands up for her father, but their next conversation is interrupted when Milton comes out of the diner and tells her to “stay away from people like that.”

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