Sunday, December 8, 2013

"Quick and Easy Room Updates", they lied. "Ombre Paint Your Bedroom", they cried.

I just listened to Jean Kilbourne speak intelligently about women and their unrealistic portrayal in advertising. And while I never tire of seeing how many ways we can airbrush murderous scenes of skinny, naked women drinking beer from a cock while being lanced with a stiletto heel to the neck, I have to say, I've noticed a more disturbing trend, in the trafficking of unrealistic house porn to those who lay in bed, predated upon by Pinterest and Buzzfeed.

Cheerfully recommending that I ombre paint is not that different from sex trafficking. Both prey on the innocent, the gullible, the open-hearted naiveté of it's victims.  Both lead to demoralization of prey while predators profit.

If I were to Ombre paint my bedroom, first I'd have to clean it. Which is not, in itself, unreasonable. But in my case, it involves the solving of too many little problems that I have neither the money, nor the creative mojo to solve. My creative mojo, which is formidable, is being used up right now by every other aching, needy part of my life. I've got more things needing my attention right now than perhaps any other time in my history, including when my kids were toddlers, and that, as I've said before, was like being pecked to death by hens.

We're all stupidly busy. Who gives a shit, am I right? Indeed. But then don't talk to me about Ombre painting my bedroom as if the only thing that stands between me and it is the nourishment of an organic kale salad. There is no Amish community of helpers, awaiting my call to bucket and brush.

Ombre paint the bedroom, they mock.

I would have to detangle the cords, and look under the bed. Wipe down my bedside tables, move the dog crate and find a place for that burg of papers. I'd have to locate a proper light source, and in the meantime fix the vacuum to get up all the dust, which collects like mohair on the edges of the rug. There are cups that need to go downstairs and probably a cereal bowl under precious' side of the bed.

I'd have to drive to Home Depot, probably with my kids, who will squabble and want things that are bad for them, but I'll have to buy them in order to have the time to pick out the perfect ombre paint shades.  Nothing could go wrong there. Needing to pick five chromatically gradated shades of a color that will look good in the very poor lighting of my bedroom is definitely in the wheelhouse of someone pressed for time and without their reading glasses.

I'll have to move the king-sized bed, with the too many wrong-sized blankets, probably without help, if Vildy's not in town, and drag it against a wall in the very narrow hallway. When everything is out of the room and my five shades of paint are lined up, each with their own pan and roller and brush, and all the tarps that I've remembered to purchase are laid out on the floor, then I will begin the painting and edge-blurring of the darkest color, nearest the floor. That will dissolve, no doubt beautifully, into the next color, which I will have picked like a suburban Renoir from the Martha Stewart collection, where the collusion only continues with the sadistic proffering of false hope.  All these colors will blend and morph like clouds being blown apart by a gentle zephyr. And then, my too hastily purchased matchstick shades will miraculously turn into perfect window treatments and my bedding will respond in kind.

When I have humped every dilapidated, overused piece of shit from the hallway back into my bedroom, and I've touched every rubber band, orphaned penny and broken bit of headphone. When I've heaved four bags of trash into the already overfilled can, then I will be at my leisure to make dinner for everyone while the paint dries.

The ripple effect of this project will have resonated throughout the house and the kids will have taken the opportunity, while my attention was diverted, to use every dish from the cupboards and leave them like a derelict easter egg hunt about the house and in the sink. Chocolate-milk glasses and petrified cereal will make it impossible for me to make dinner without first drill-sargeanting the children through a clean-up or angrily cleaning it up myself. Both options equally disheartening and momentum killing. I will be exhausted by this point and my weak back will begin to moan in despair. I will be cranky. Really, very cranky and un-fun. My sense of humor will have been abandoned somewhere in the checkout line of the Home Depot hours earlier. The guilt of being the un-fun one will begin to seep into my cell structure. I will steep in regret.

By this time I will see what a horrible mistake I've made in paint colors, the winter light having anemically petered out of my bedroom, revealing the harsh boarders, and garish blending of my misguided paint-choices.

To suggest airily that this is a room "fix" is the meanest, most mocking, finger wagging hoax I can imagine. The fix is in, that much I know. The "fix" for this room is to make it a room belonging to someone else entirely. Someone who has control over their environment, either with money, or personnel, or lots and lots of free time. And the only people who really, truly deserve such rooms are the people who have none of those things and probably never will.

I am old enough and formed enough to see beneath the veil of sexism.  But the promise of symmetry  and order in the home is a reckless pimp whose false betrothal lures me still. I'm am drawn to the airbrushed beauty of fruit bowls and thoughtful display, repurposed filing systems, boots and hats all in a row on up-cycled hooks made from doorknobs.

The bedroom is a sanctuary. Insofar as it receives my wrecked, humiliated body in a tangle of ancient pillows and yellowed sheets at the end of the day, I agree. In its humble, familiar embrace I can rely. With its arms around me I can further peruse the images that make me resent it more deeply, as I sink into a drooling slumber.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Here's Cake in Your Eye

Kids birthdays cost three-hundred dollars. I've done this math a dozen different ways, and every time it comes out to three hundred bucks. You rent a place and invite some friends. three-hundred. You throw the party yourself and invite a few friends, three-hundo. Between the cake, some thematic party plates, a gift, some pizza pies, a treat bag, and a miscellaneous extra, three-hundred big ones. I've never figured out another way.

This year I said, smaller, please, more manageable. I can't make four cakes in two weeks. A party cake and a day-of cake for each, a week apart. Can't do it. Right? That's crazy talk. And I can't do a massive sleepover thing for one and not the other, and no human should have to suffer two consecutive weekends of house abuse, bodies strewn about like a refugee camp, toilets overflowing and muggings in the hallway.

So, for the boy, we're going to a place, with two friends. It's got lasers and a coin-snarfing arcade. At thirty bucks a head, before anyone's eaten a hot dog or whacked at a golf ball, you can figure my three hundred is not far from spent.

But it feels a little less than personal. I have a romantic notion of homemade things and crafts. These notions have nothing whatsoever to do with what my eight-year old wants and everything to do with some warbling call from my fantasy past, one that never existed, but one that I continue to conjure so that it can mock me in the present with its perfect untruth. What my kid wants, really, is to play video games with his friends. He doesn't give a shit about my sock puppet fantasy. Nothing he wants has yarn hair, hand stamping or raffia. He craves only pixels and maybe some candy, to go with the pixels.

But do not underestimate my ability to over think this thing. I will not rest until I have set expectations for myself that are so beyond my capacity to achieve them that I am almost immediately exhausted and  stress-barfing. Because nothing says happy birthday like a mother who is overwrought with anxiety and  aglow with the patina of disappointment.

So I head to Michaels, the craft mega store, where people like me can go, armed with glossy photos from Pinterest, to gather the close-but-not-quite-it supplies required for baking a Minecraft cake. Minecraft, for those of you not in the vortex, is a video game without any signifying themes. You build worlds out of pixelated bricks. I think. Something like that.

I went with this picture from Pinterest:

Ok, so you're thinking, "What the hell is that?" And the answer is, I don't totally know, but I know it reads Minecraft. It's a pixel-y building block thing. I knew Louis would get it immediately, and he really does like my cake. It's a mix, but it's my mix, and he likes that.

So I'm in the Michaels, looking for some pre-made fondant. I've got a plan. It's a plan that involves a lot of food-colored fondant, cut into tiny squares and arranged just so on top of my mix cake that Louis likes so very much. But my first stop is the cake box aisle, because I'm going to have to transport my finished masterwork to the blacktop laser park. So I'll need a box big enough to hold it.

I'm in front of the rack that holds the collapsed boxes at an angle. Kind of like this:

The dimensions and prices are typed in a very tiny font, and I've forgotten my glasses. So I'm kneeling in front of this thing, fingering the different flattened boxes, trying to find the one that will properly contain my dream.  What are the dimensions and price of such a box?

Michaels has inconveniently overfilled the display, so the cardboard boxes are really jammed in there while also spilling over their containment wires.  I have to yank and hold back simultaneously.  In what turns out to be less than the blink of an eye, I dislodge the corner of a box at close range and with great velocity directly into my eyeball. It's a direct hit, as if the rack was using my pupil for target practice.

It was both startling and excruciating.  I was blinded. Tears streamed from my eye in an overkill of protective eye washing. Water ran off my cheek soaking my shirt in an instant. I staggered around among the food dyes and cookie cutters, fondants and frosting bags, trying to open my eye, which was impossible. I careened over to the mosaic aisle to find a shard of mirror so that i might inspect the damage. On my way there an employee asked if he could help me find anything. Winking, and sniffling through the onslaught of tears I said, "No, actually, I've just jammed something into my eye...hard." He said, "Oh..." and after about ten mum seconds of staring, wandered away.

I somehow paid for the stuff that was in the cart, grossing out the clerk with my wet hand. Still without being able to open my eye, I drove across the parking lot to the Walmart, where they have a vision center. This is America. You too can receive sub par health care from a mass retailer. Using a shopping cart as a walker,  I approached a woman wearing an authoritative lab coat. I told her my story. Without expression she said, "There are no doctors here today." She stared at me blankly.  She didn't so much as offer me a tissue, or a seat. No humanitarian murmurs of consolation.  The eye specialist just stared at me until I went away with my damaged eye.

Later I found my way to an actual eye doctor, who did a lot very comforting things with special dyes and looky-lenses. He dimmed the lights and dropped anesthetic drops into the window of my soul.  He found a nasty scratch on my cornea and a bit of cake box still lodged in there. He did an entirely painless procedure to remove the cake box shrapnel. I left with prescriptions and reassurances that my vision would self correct.

But there was still cake to be made. Because no ill-conceived project shall be shelved before its time. I had to continue toward a conclusion that no one but me cared about, getting there using skills I do not possess, in an impossible time frame, with limited resources and now impaired vision. I made three layers of cake in varying sizes, to make a stepped platform for the many many fondant tiles I would the next day weigh them down with.

My friend, Carie, who is entirely up for anything, bless her soul, offered her kitchen for the project. We rolled fondant in our hands with food coloring so we could get the five shades required to form this nebulous construct. When Carie saw my stacked layers she looked doubtful. I said defensively,
"It's a crumb coat, it's not supposed to look like anything yet."

We mixed that fondant in our hands like stroke victims using therapy balls, smashing color into its resistant folds, until we had five shades that were nothing like what we'd hoped for. We cut tiles with a pizza cutter, about a hundred and fifty in all. We laid them down, one after the next in a random pattern, like the picture. And the more we laid them down, the worse it looked. The brown was an Oscar Meyer bologna brown, not the rich cappuccino brown I'd imaged. The greens failed to differentiate themselves. The tiles, when we had them all in a row, were of such different sizes and shapes that the pixelated quality was lost entirely and it looked more like a dadaist cake. A Rorschach cake. What do you see when you look at this dessert?

Me, I see a one-eyed dreamer, on her way to the supermarket to buy a cake.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Operation: Do Your Own Effing Laundry.

My dear British friends live in a small house. They have a small kitchen. They have a small fridge. They buy milk in containers only slightly larger than the cartons each child gets as a single serving with their school lunch here in The States. My friends have a washing machine, but no dryer. They wash a load, then drape the clothes on an elaborate drying rack in front of the radiator in the winter time, which in England is a good nine months of the year, and on a line outside the other three months. Their kids wear their clothes many times before they are considered dirty, and they have only a small selection of things to wear. This is not a function of poverty or deprivation, but of a prevailing sensibility about  how much is enough.

The sheer volume of clothing that is dispatched in this house is unrelenting and unforgivable. We, and when I say we, I of course mean they, treat clothing like it's dispensed from a roll. Single use, perforated tear-off, wear and dump. That we have a fire hose of hand-me-downs pointed at us, drenching us in lovely expensive ski jackets in a range of sizes, and shorts in every shade of navy and khaki only adds to the onslaught, but is not the culprit. The perpetrator is heedless sloth and a sense of entitlement.  Fresh towels are used once and rolled into a ball to mildew in the corner. It seems only the freshest terry is worthy to blot the buttocks of my showered darlings.  Oh, and if a zebra farts in the Serengeti, my kids will change their pants and throw the "dirty" ones on the floor.  Its a trousseau tsunami and we are being swept under by it.

When my family want something folded and put away in the drawer not three feet from where they stand, they put it in the laundry basket in the bathroom. From there, magical fairies working in unison, hover the basket down the stairs to the basement, their frantic wings buzzing along with their merry singing, as they sort the colors from the light. There, a hive-like pixie army amasses to better facilitate the changing over from wash to dry, load after load, until the real wonderworking begins, their tiny joyful arms a blur as they fold and sort and basket stack for each member of the family using perfectly timed choreography, like the Chinese Olympic games. The fairies return the once unfolded garment, perfectly creased and scented fresh to the drawer. The owner of the offending toggery never once has to bend at the waist. It's enchanting.

I don't know when I became the laundry drudge. Somewhere between wearing clothes myself and mom as concubine, lies the truth. I do believe it began innocently enough. I don't actually mind doing laundry. Of the thousand miserable household chores, I find the Downy fresh folding to be the least offensive. I enjoy the renewal, the do-over that fresh laundry provides. The ability to take the sweaty past and turn it into a fluffy future is a marvel. Tangled, putrid chaos becomes consent. It's zen in the art of wash.

I like a drink of cool water on a hot day, too. It doesn't mean I want to be water-boarded. When the hand-holding became a prison rape, I wanted out. Before I knew what was happening I was performing  daring feats of laundry - four, five loads a day, for people more able bodied than myself; washing things that were already clean, while everyone around me was getting in their naps and movies, snacks and playdates.  I think part of me worried they'd ruin my fine garments with their clumsy handling of my threads if I allowed them to do it. But I recently woke to the realization that I have no fine apparel anymore. The days of my owning, much less wearing, a thing that requires special attention in its care, are so long gone I can only dimly make out the shrunken silhouette of cashmere or silk as if through binoculars turned the wrong way around.

I say now, feel free to aggressively over dry my ruined cotton panties! Throw my t-shirts in with my jeans, neither have cried tears of fresh dye in more than ten years. Even things that were once lovingly laid flat to dry are now put through the 'fuck it' cycle of the Resignation 365 front-loader I now own.

But really, I don't even want them to do my laundry. My laundry is still a pleasure. I make small loads of legitimately dirty clothes. I use a single towel over an over again by hanging it to dry in a breeze. I am economical out of deference to the laundry doer and really out of not-quite-love for my sad, overworked clothes.

So today I did the thing. I said, no more! I walked my eight year old through the entire laundry procedural and announced the end of my reign. My daughter is ready. My husband is in deep denial, but also ultimately on board.

To those who can conquer worlds with the rapid agility of their thumbs, I say learn the digital interface of your washing machine keypad. Delve into the workings of stain treatment and load logic.

Know thy possessions. Learn the location of your sweatshirt. Heed the call of your dirty socks. When they are no longer in your drawer you will know it is time to listen for the dark whinny of the spin cycle and ride the white stallion of a bleach load.

Ride children, ride!