Friday, December 11, 2009

A-C0MMODE-A-DATING


CLASSIC STARBUCKS




As many of you know, and maybe two of you don't, my husband, Vild, has been spending a lot of time in China. Suffice it to say, he built a thing, the thing broke, he fixed the thing, the thing became many things and then all those things needed tweaking. Apparently he is the only engineer on the planet who can make the thing work and the Chinese people stop talking to their lawyers at the same time. So there have been many trips, all of them dusted in a nice powdery coating of Chinese anger and doodie-sprinkles, because apparently they don't use toilet paper over there.  In fact, he tells me, via one line text messages in the middle of the night, the executive bathroom is distinguished from the general populous' by virtue of the fact that its a single hole, and not a trench.  The Execs get a trickle of dirty water to rinse with too, but no soap, no paper. These same people wear masks at the market to prevent swine flu and take your temperature upon entering the country.
***
Today the pipes froze at The Upholstery shop. The building was originally a carriage repair shop, circa 1880, so the plumbing is sort of an add-on, and hangs stupidly below, and in some places outside, the building. We treat these pipes like the legs of a fine stallion, wrapping them in warm towels, bandaging them and leaving a heater on in the stall - but even so, I had to go to Starbucks to use their trench, which is, in every way, nicer than my bathroom at home.  Theirs are always clean and lovely, and replete with papers of every weight and dimension. For nose, bum and hands. With low light and a clean sink, I often stay a little longer than is considerate, admiring their choice of vinyl moldings and textured paints.

We at home, have two bathrooms. One for the four human members of the family and one for the cat box.  I am the only creature under this roof who goes with the door closed.  And Kitty, at least, will toss some sand over her doot.  The rest of these people have no shame, and borderline flushing skills.  Its only because I love and respect you so much that I have not made posts to the Daily Ick (R.I.P.) illustrating their inferior flushing skills.

The only reason I'm not more jealous of my cat, and her private pissoir, is because that downstairs bathroom dwells in the land that time forgot. Its both hideous and there's not enough of it. Its about 4x5 feet, which is workable, if a reality show came and waxed my throne, turning it into something wee but with a waterfall.  But mine is the ultimate 'before' bathroom. It will never get asked to the prom without being humiliated under a vat of pig's blood.

It has a drop ceiling that is missing a whole tile, revealing a lot of plumbing and weird cold air returns. Sometimes the condensation on those pipes is so severe that it makes a small puddle on the floor. The floor, which is the most egregious kind of bulk ceramic tile,  in a very off terra cotta color, a color I call, Tanning Booth Brown.  It's so cold underfoot, that it even makes my balls shrink. The tiny shower stall, fiberglass, is the smallest they make and is comparable in size to the bathroom on a Boeing 737. You can shampoo your hair, but with only one elbow flexed at a time.  The other arm is mercilessly pinned to your side.

There is a cabinet in there that holds only smell. And not just one smell. Smells of years gone by. Tonics and acne cleansers, cat litter and lotions and cleaning products. You could keep a few seniors from the community college busy for an afternoon doing a forensics work up on that cabinet.

The sink is pedastal, with a wide, too shallow basin. The tiny, plasticy medicine cabinet is pure 80's bachelor. It is flanked by inverted petal sconces with corrugated glass domes.

Sometimes late at night I go in there a blow a tiny, pathetic hit of pot into the outtake vent.  With cat litter grains crunching under foot, I really know how to get down.

When guests come to use our crappy office as a guest room, I can turn that crumpled can of a bathroom into something vaguely accommodating, using fresh towels, candles and ample use of bath rugs. I put little soaps and shampoos in there to trick my guests into feeling that its not the most hideous place on earth. But lets face it. If I forced my guests into a naked pyramid and snapped a few photos, they might stand a chance at better accommodations. But they indulge me, my beloved enemy combatants, because I make a nice stew, and will toast marshmallows with them around a campfire on a summer night. On those balmy nights they can pee outside, or, I know a really nice bathroom in town they can use.






Thursday, December 3, 2009

Not Drowning, Just Waving




If there are any of you out there reading this, after this long absense, well, thanks for being there. I've been up to my ass in alligators.

Louis went deaf there for a minute, my vagina exploded, the kid and I both had surgery, my shop has gone nova with new business, Vildy has been sold into slavery in China, and we topped the whole thing off with turkey in California, a visit to Disneyland and a return home to well-water that smelled like an egg fertilized by the rancid seed of a satanic rooster and left to warm on a freeway overpass above the Jersey Turnpike. Oh, and I overzealously ate a slice of pizza along the way and tore my lower gum doing it. So, that hurts.

A  note to say that, as it turns out, the scariest ride at Disney is losing your child in the crowd for five minutes. I finally got up the sack to ride the smallest and most old-fashioned coaster in the USA and when its done, and I'm radiant with pride, my phone rings and its my sister asking me if Lou is with me.  Adrenal flop sweats and a squirt of urine in my undies later, sprinting with my niece's hand in mine, my sister repeating into my cell phone, "Schickel, don't freak out. Don't freak out", Louis runs up behind us, literally chasing us as we are running away to find him.  He came to where he last saw me. Smart, and very, very unauthorized. Now that's a ride.

I think there's a whole theme park concept in there somewhere. Sort of like those vile Halloween spook houses sponsored by Christian youth groups where the horrors of sin are acted out by teens who pray to one day have the opportunity to commit one.

Nightmare parenting scenarios- in Omni-Max! Ride in a police chopper over Los Angeles as you desperately search back alleys for your missing child. Splash down into your own damp unders. Wait in impossible lines that double back on themselves into infinity to attend the kindergarten Christmas show. Pay nine dollars for a churro, only to discover that you've bought  Donkey's breaded cock. Toy Story- the recall! Where gift shop bits of Woody fall off and become choking hazzards and Mr. Potato Head's trap door can sever a small finger. Look out Mouse, I'm coming with my snap-trap! Maybe a visit with a bullying Mini Mouse who derides your children mercilously for sexting a pervy Captain Hook, who himself remains publicly taintless because he cannot hit the send button with his metal deformity. Fast pass indeed.

Oh readers, ride again with me. Ride!














 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Taking the Jungle out of the Gym.





When I was a kid, I played in Central Park, at one of the several playgrounds on the east side of the park. One in particular, that I remember well, had a brick and mortar pyramid, that you could scale the outside of, and also a tunnel that ran through it. On a hot day, the sand around the playground would be Sahara hot, but that little crawl space was cool and shady. Often some terrible kid would shove you while you were in there, it being out of site of parents, or more often nanny; they'd take a swipe at you while you were enjoying the cool damp of the passage.  There was a tire swing, mounted horizontally, so twenty-seven kids could get on there like it was the last American chopper out of Saigon, and swing that thing around at terrifying velocity. If you lost your grip, well, have a nice trip, see ya next fall.

Other playground equipment (a term that didn't even exist in the lexicon) were things like 4x4 posts buried on end at different heights, that you could leap-step from one to the next. One wrong move and you'd catch your chin on the next higher post, or you could slip and land straddle. In either case, you'd have to wipe the sand off your tongue with your grimy hands, feel the grit in your molars and the throb in your groin. The metal slides were second-degree-burn hot, the swings high and close, the see-saws without buffer. The safety measure that existed with see-saws was ingrained in its riders - you picked a person who wouldn't jump off when you were at the highest point, sending you rectum-first to the ground. There were no sanitizing wipes, no juice boxes at the ready, no intervening adults with sock monkey cold packs to sooth, scold and separate.  You just took your blows, shook it off and moved on to other things.  Maybe at the end of the day your mom would buy you a hot dog from a cart, or an Italian ice before you got on the cross town bus. It was perfect.

Today playgrounds are a whole different game. In many ways they are better, more plentiful, more modern, less burn-inducing. There are climbing things in the shape of castles with turrets and peep holes. There are slides that tunnel and curl, and benches for the parents.  Nothing to complain about, really. But there's also something missing in these injection molded fun-houses.

There is a lesser-known playground, not far from our house, that I've taken my kids to for some years now. I particularly like this little spot for some very specific reasons.  For one, the whole adventure takes place on grass.  Grass in a playground is a real treat and a novelty.  Mostly today you find the equipment knee deep in wood chips.  Its a safety thing. There's a certain head-height to smack-down ratio that dictates the depth of the chips. But wood chips are sharp and pokey, they get stuck in your sandals, and all the little wrappers and gum and crapoola that falls from kid's pockets gets mixed in with the shards, turning it into a splintery composite of flooring and rubbish. At other places, chips have be replaced with a bouncy rubber matting that is novel, but utterly unnatural. But at our little "castle playground", its grass, with little islands of pea gravel, that is both attractive and round to the toes. With grass, a mother finding a warm sunny spot, could actually lay her body down on the organic substrate and rest her weary bones. An attractive feature.

But perhaps the best part, in addition to the two modern, molded plastic monsters of fun, with bridges and perches, slides and corkscrews, are the jungle gyms. Yup, good old fashioned metal domes that you can climb dangerously high upon. In fact, you climb to a certain point, it becomes necessary to actually invert and change the position of your body at its greatest height. Its death-defying, takes some skill, and is not for pussies. There is also a freestanding set of  high monkey bars, that necessitate a leap of faith to mount, and a goodly drop for dismount.  It also has a set of big swings and a see-saw. See-saws have gone the way of the belted maxi-pad, being far too dangerous in their trust-equation for the modern world.  Someone might actually have fun on one of those things. 

This little park also has something that few others do, shade trees.  In the middle of summer, when the sun is high, and your kids are slathered in an armor of eclipsing sun screen, running from thing to thing, its nice to find yourself sitting under the canopy of nature's original sun block - leaves.  Also nice to spread a blanket on the grass, under the tree and eat your PB&J. This too is a rare treat. Trees have been replaced by pavilions, concrete slabs with rows of picnic tables under a roof. This is not the same thing. Eating your sack of McDonalds at a picnic table is not like laying on a blanket with your smashed sandwich and banana.

This park also has a porta-potty. Not a big deal, and not exactly a privilege to use, but in an emergency, much nicer to have one than not to. Cutting short the fun to find the facilities is everyone's buzz kill.

Today the sun was warm and bright, an Indian summer day, the most delicious of all warm weather days. We headed out for our castle park. The kids chattered amiably in the back of the van and we were full of anticipation for fun.

When we got to the park we found it painfully de-clawed. The jungle gym and monkey bars had been removed, the swings and teeter-totters yanked. In their places, bald patches of memory.  My heart made the sound of an accordion when you let one side drop. The plastic structures are still there, but the stuff that made it different, a little saucy, a little risky, was gone.  The disappointment made my kids have to pee. And, as you might imagine, the porta-john was gone too.

Why did they take that stuff out after twenty years of play? Because someone might find it hard, or fall off it. Someone might get rust on their jeans. Someone might sue.

So sad were we that we'd been fucked with in this way, and so full their bladders, I did what I could think to do, I encouraged my kids to pee on the spot where the monkey bars once stood, the empty sound of their urine splashing on the spot where laughter once pealed.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Falling Back




Every year its the same. Its Halloween, followed by the aggressive ouch that is the setting back of the clocks.  I don't feel happy about the extra hour; I feel hurt and confused.  You don't know where that hour has been. You don't just pick up an extra sixty minutes and dig in like its an eclair. You have to approach carefully, with suspicion.

It starts in the morning, when 7a.m. is suddenly 6 a.m, a deeply unkind weekend hour.  Am I supposed to feel grateful and go milk a cow?  No one's circadian rhythms are deceived by manually ticking back the clock on the coffee maker the night before.  Least of all my little boy, up in the dark, who whisper-talks directly into my ear like its a walkie-talkie, "Mama is it wake-up time?"  Tch tch, is this thing on?  "Get in here."  I indicate with a throwing back of blankets, revealing the envelope in which he is to mail himself back to sleep. This works for a time, sometimes he sleeps, or sometimes he traces the alphabet on my face with his tiny, tickly fingers. But ultimately his wakeful package is returned to sender, and we have to have Rice Krispies in the gloaming.

Its a weird day for me. Always has been. More than birthdays or Christmas, this day marks a passing of time, and the fucked up way its marked only makes it more potent and absurd, with everyone stumbling around like blind moles, late and wonky and hungry at the wrong time.

Historically I've been stricken with depression, but today was different. Today I wandered around lobotomized, looking for a start to something. I felt a certain emotional riptide pulling me away from the shores of cheer and into the darker, colder waters where the big ugly fish of desperation and loneliness swim and feed. But I felt somewhat more Jacques Cousteau about the experience.

I know that there are things I could change to make this time of year better for me. Maybe if I liked winter sports? Or if I could once again harness the anticipation of Christmas. Perhaps if my winter wardrobe weren't so unforgivably utilitarian and used up. Maybe if it weren't such a feat of will to heat my house. Maybe if I lived in a community where the inhabitants didn't burrow so deeply underground. Maybe if the leaves in front on my bathroom window didn't fall away to reveal my chubby nakedness to the chopped down soy plants and the cars that will never slow down enough to notice the nude, weeping lady, framed by the vinyl replacement window.  Maybe then things would feel different.

But instead we're all hungry for dinner at 4 o'clock and I've forgotten how to cook.  The kids are drawn to the TV like the fruit flies to my rotting bananas. My husband travels, and the darkness falls, close and itchy, like a sweater of the wrong blend.

So today it wasn't depression I felt, for a change, thank you upholstery shoppers and my lovely blog readers, all of you have taught me how to lay back and swim parallel to shore. Pulling me delicately, gracefully out of the scary, futile tide. But though I am not drowning, I am mighty tired and needing a clam roll and a beer.

Its still the day that isn't. And there's an extra hour of it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Love in the Heartland




When I moved to Cleveland I'd only ever had one Wal-mart experience.  As I was growing up Wal-mart wasn't yet in the cultural vocabulary.  Plus, you know,  New Yorkers - it would be a long time before they'd have big box stores (if you didn't include Macy's), and maybe forever before they'd like them. 

My Wal-mart experience came as a result of trips I took with my sister, Erika, and my Dad to visit my grandma in Portage, Wisconsin.

My Gramma's husband, Ed, a sourpuss, died when I was maybe eight, and Helen lived most of my life as a widow. She lived to be 94, that entire time healthy, and only for the last year or two under the supervision of a group home, when it just didn't make sense for her to be on her own.

For the second act of her life, she worked as a docent for a historical site in Portage, called The Surgeon's Quarters. The site, the location of a tiny log cabin, had been home to the surgeon for the soldiers of Fort Winnebego, which was occupied until 1845. The fort no longer stands, but the log house of the surgeon remains, along with a one-room school house, also part of the tour.

Grandma herself lived in a small apartment above the gift shop that was provided for her, along with a small salary, by the historical society that owned the property,  for touring groups of  Boy scouts and out-of-owners through the premises which were impeccable, and for kids, contained many wonderful and gruesome artifacts.  For instance, the 'operating theater' such as it was, was a table in the middle of the cabin's living room, that had been handmade by soldiers at the fort. The table's main engineering feature was a hole the size of a golf ball, through which the patients blood would fall, collected by a bucket below.  In the adult bedroom (all the children slept in a loft above the kitchen) there was a trap door that led to a cold storage, dug beneath the cabin for keeping hides, and probably root vegetables.  Grandma took great relish in describing how the surgeon's family had once had to hide from the Indians down there.  She'd throw open the trap door to the nasty crawl space and a damp, distant animal smell would curl out and you'd have to think of the grim little children quivering in terror at the onslaught of the "savages", wide-eyed down there with the smelly hides. It was good stuff.

But after she'd given us the tour, and we'd gone to Denny's for lunch with like fifteen of her closest friends - after that Erika, Dad and I would head back to our motel in the rental car, my dad chain smoking out the widow, while my sister, in the back seat gently wiped cigarette ashes off her newborn daughter's head, to kill a couple hours before meeting back up later for the three-meat-buffet.

You may think that Cleveland is the Mid-west.  Some days I'm convinced. But there's some debate. While its a source of comfort for me personally that we partake of East Standard Time, we are not really considerd mid-westerners.  Cleveland has a wee identity problem. Portage, Wisconsin suffers no such crisis of self-identification.

My grandma's town was a main street with a few stores that sold work shoes and Dickies in one aisle and pleather covered canteens for tourists in another. A coffee shop. A post office. It was a  practical, no frills city plan. The gifts that came from this little town, for birthdays and Christmas, were the weirdest, creepiest little doo-dads - - tiny hand crocheted dolls that were sort of rain-poncho shaped, with hard plastic faces sutured into the weave. Or miniature playing cards with badly rendered faces of the presidents on them, and a few national landmarks to fill what remained of the deck -- all these things wrapped in layer upon layer of bubble wrap and newspaper, as if they were treasures or in any way breakable.

I loved Helen with the full depth of my young heart. She was as exotic and loving a creature as I had ever known.  She adored turquoise rings of a huge, and most garish kind and she'd lovingly pummel you with the brass knuckles of her affection and bad taste.  She was generous and convivial and blindly proud of my dad and his accomplishments, cutting out his reviews and recording his shows, bragging about him to her friends. I'd never seen anything like her, with her hair up in a super high tight bun, and a hairpiece on top of that, a tower of hairdo that she had tuck-pointed weekly at the shop, coming at me with those heavy rings...

By the time I was of college age, Wal-mart had landed on a hundred acres of farm land like the Death Star, and was successfully sucking Portage into its gravity with the pull of cheap electronics and ten-packs of undershirts.  We, as visitors, were no exception.  Across the parking lot from our motel, separated by ten-thousand parking spaces, rose this giant, alluring temptress, promising, if nothing more, a way to kill an hour in the farthest regions of farm country.  My Dad, in particular was fired up for a stroll through the aisles, fondling the merchandise. I can only imagine his take, born and raised in Wisconsin, but a New Yorker by choice, on both the promise and demise that Wal-mart foretold for his childhood way of life. But it didn't stop him from buying his daughters some temporary crap for distraction.

I thought the mid-west was the coolest place ever. For the kid raised in Woody Allen's New York, with all the assumptions of priveledge and the amenities of urban breeding, coupled with the complexities of putrid divorce and unsavory parental maneuverings, the dacron sweaters of Wisconsin, the endless rows of shoddy Wal-mart merchadise, and the simple adoration of my Grandma all combined in a perfectly balanced equation, the sum of which was love.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Smell Something Funny? Your Local Government May Be Off-Gassing.





Our little township, Bainbridge, which is both a part of, and separate from Chagrin Falls, doesn't have a government, per se. It has a group of Trustees. These three elected officials oversee everything the township does. More precisely, they manage the township money.  This body arbitrates what gets fixed, or taken down, which contractor gets to mow the grass at the freeway on-ramp and how the explosive natural gas in the neighbor's well-water is being contained.

The, SAY  WHAT?? That's right, they peek in for a little howdy-do on how things are moving along with the well fix, since that house down the street was blown off its foundation by a natural gas explosion, which subsequently polluted their groundwater.

I showed up to the township Trustee meeting not because I am a dedicated activist. On the contrary, I am a sedentary anecdotist. But I caught wind of some doings that I wanted to look into, namely that they were planning to tear down a school building that Lily and Lou had gone to preschool in, and that had seemed to me at the time a pretty nice building.  It was nothing special architecturally, but it did have a big old gym, two floors of classrooms and a playing field out back and after all, there it was, built.  Generally I'm opposed to tearing things down and throwing them away. Everything made today is total crap and even older, mediocre shit, strikes me as worth saving.

Also, I'd read in the paper in an unrelated article that the school district was going to try to pass a levy to pay for a new school building in the next five years. My inner-Republican stopped brush clearing and perked its ears.

I attended the trustee meeting with every hope I'd have the chance to go all Norma Rae on their action, but discovered instead the existence of an alternate universe, the slow-moving, groundbreaking world of local government.  The meeting was packed because of the school building issue, the only sentimental item on the agenda. And by all reports it was the most well attended meeting on record. In fact, more often then not, there are only about ten people in the room. But that night, all hundred or so seats had spreading, dimpled asses in them. Everyone from landscapers wanting to bid contracts to the three dedicated activists who attend every...single... meeting, along with the local reporter who records the doings, to people like me who were clearly born yesterday, were present and fanning themselves with agendas.

So, the meeting starts and its, blah blah blah about the road re-surfacing on Pettibone and when can the detour signs be taken down, a few notes on the price for winter road sand, mailbox reimbursement - an "aye'' here and a "seconded" there, and a few hours (!) pass, filled with motions to file later motions (if that's even what they're called) and out of nowhere a woman stands up and asks the two-pronged question, like a serpents tongue, "When will they be transporting the plasma bomb down 306 to blow the clogged drainage dam, and when will the people with the poisoned water be getting access to the city water line, now that they've been drinking bottled water for over a year?" Shazam! I immediately perk up. 
   "I'm sorry, did she just say 'transport the plasma bomb'?" And a guy in a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, so I can see his armpit hair, sort of laughs nervously and says, "I think she did."

I have no idea what a plasma bomb is, but apparently they have to move it on a truck, and I'm imagining something very Doctor Strangelove, maybe a semi with a missile on it, rumbling down the road. They need a special permit for that, don't they?

I take another look at the woman asking the question, and immediately I get it; she's the person in our quaint hamlet who has made it her business to look out for the environmental interests of our community.  She's wearing the requisite lady-poetess outfit, signifying her earlier hippie status, and her grey-streaked hair is held back with combs.  In this woman's hands rests the future of our neighbor's drinking water and the potential for a bomb to be transported down main street. She's not even an elected official, but the trustees know her by name and they clearly respect her commitment to town policy.

I am showing my naivete by simplifying the proceedings to this degree.  Of course this woman is not alone. The trustees themselves are diligent, dedicated public servants, but I don't kid myself, they are also so deeply awash in a shit tide of bureaucracy, they're lucky to find a floating Buick and grab on. 

Many things were decided that night, though each item was heavily coated in procedural molasses.   Budget overages were reconciled, bomb safety was assured (there is in fact no such thing as a plasma bomb, except maybe in science fiction, but there would be a big stick of dynamite shoved in the ass of the clogged dam), well-water sampling results were to be disclosed in the local paper and business, by golly, was done.  Three hours into what would be a five hour meeting, the school tear down item floats to the surface, by which point I am so whip-lashed by the proceedings that  all I can do is whimper out a request for the air conditioning to be turned on. So much for laying in the path of the bulldozers.

I did learn a few things by attending that meeting.  For one, local government is terribly, terribly boring. But also, that the things that directly affect our personages, the water we drink, the roads we drive, the playing fields on which our kids chuck the ball - the real things that we can see and taste, and go to school in - the fate of those things rest in the hands of our town's minor-league officials and the people who show up to keep them in check.

Its great to get excited by Obama, or feel like knocking Glen Beck's teeth in, but if you want to change the world, show up to your town's chamber meetings, in whatever form they take.  It'll blow you off your foundation. 

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Demon Seed




Nothing says death like a pot of Hardy Mums.

I know the season of darkness is upon me when these rigid blooms appear in every flower box, every median planter, at every super market loading zone and every nursery from here to Toledo.  With their clumped stiffness they look to me like flowers that were maybe once beautiful, before they underwent some very aggressive form of plastic surgery. They're taut and happy in a way that says, I'm very very sad, but I can no longer express emotion with any of my botanical muscles. 

The way growers have engineered these blooms, packing them with ferocious density into their plastic vessels, they look strangled by good cheer, and it makes me feel the way I often do, that there must be something wrong with me.  I cannot experience joy when surrounded by this kind of blind optimism. These dreadful pots of glee make me look over my shoulder, make me wonder what harm will overtake me.

That harm, I know, is winter.  And its coming for me, for all of us.

So desperate are we cold climate dwellers to hang on to color, before it is washed away by the greyscale of inclemency, that the market is glutted with these flowers of doom.  The once gay marketplace of uniflorous blossoms, strong in their singularity, embraced by the sultry breezes of summer, give way to these shivering clusters, huddled together for warmth against the autumn chill.  They stand erect and without perfume, elbow to elbow with their clone-like siblings, their fuel injected colors groveling, "I wont die, its not cold, the sun is shining, that's not frost" but they don't convince me.  I see Mums and I want to shout back.

Its their can-do spirit I resent.  Fuck you, little cheerleaders of death, I know what you're hiding. Your congested glee is but a ruse, distracting us from the inevitable - long months inside, no sun to guide us, fighting with the chores of the cold, the endless battle of the thermostat, fire stoking and stoking and stoking, the winter gear, the muddy entry, the dripping boots, the shoveling and sanding, the painful bus stop intervals, the illness, the dry skin.

I know you winter, and I see what you're up to with these dreadful little flowers. I see your omen, and I'm planting bulbs, the equal and opposite show of faith, by way of revenge.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Love Means Always Having to Say You're Sorry




Few people really know how to apologize.  They think they do, but they don't. The only really acceptable form of apology is one where you lay down on the floor, throw your tail between your legs, and pee all over yourself. There are no qualifications, no rebuttals, no "yes, but..."s.  To get any sort of credit for a good apology, you simply have to make a sandwich of your own shite and smile while you eat it.

My people, historically, are bad apologizers.  Schickel's are German. We make the turd pie, offer others a slice, and smile while they eat it.  Historically speaking, I'm saying.

I am, by nature,  a bad apologizer.  I can only say this now,  because lately I've gotten much, much better at it.  And you know who's been teaching me? Vildy.

Vild gives an excellent apology.  It may come as no surprise to you that's he's had considerable practice, been at it longer than I, and as we should all know by now, it is only the fool who fails to learn from the Master.

Giving a good apology is not the same as always admitting you're wrong. I think people get this confused, I know I have.  Nothing is more annoying than people who apologize too much, for things that aren't their fault. Or people who just feel so guilty about stuff that they are forever lobbing apologies over the fence, making you pick them up like tennis balls at the country club.  Fuck that, those are worthless, dime-a-dozen-I'm sorries. That's not what I'm talking about.

Saying you're sorry is not a defensive stance, its a submission. I understand why its hard for people to do.  It's easy to feel that if you apologize, you've lost turf. That you're bending over, rather than giving over. But I've learned, through some really retard attempts, that giving a simple, honest apology is one of the most freeing things in the world. Its a euphoria all its own. Vild, as it happens, is high as a kite.

When you say you're sorry, and mean it, and the other person accepts it, its like the whole blackboard universe gets swiped clean by the eraser of God. And I don't think I'm overstating it. Something happens to your soul. It expands, increasing its volume ten-fold. And big as it gets, its still tiny, fitting comfortably in the palm of your hand.

I've lain in bed decrepit some nights, after a fight with Vild say, where I've felt so bound and gagged by my own ego, so tightly packed and shrink-wrapped in my own selfishness and rage that I feel I might implode, a sucking sound my only remains.  And every once in a while, when its  clear to me how wrong I've been, how completely I've been taken over by my mutant, Thalidomide self,  I will turn to Vild and give myself over fully in apology.  When I do this simple act, the hair shirt of self-loathing falls to the floor and I am once again smooth and comfortable in my skin, made silken by forgiveness.

I think people should really experience this more often. And in return, we should all learn to behave less victoriously when receiving an apology. In its perfect form, the reaction should not be a fist pump. A victory lap, run around the contrite, is an amateur, asshole move.  The experienced guru will see the delicate egg shell crack and put out cupped hands for the downy chick.

I have a long way to go.  I still defend, I still gloat. But I've had a few successes and with each one I get closer to something true. If I fuck up along the way to that truth, all I can say is, well, I'm sorry.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Turns Out, Its Rich People I Fear. More on that Later.




No boloney,  I didn't meet a Republican until I was in college.  There I became aware that there was 'one' on campus and only then because he self-identified as Republican and I was honestly, like, "Wow, there goes that Republican guy. " As I recall he was a big blowhard windbag, and so all the unknowns were affirmed for me.  "There's one of those republicans, and look, he's an opinionated ass." Case closed.

I grew up in a community of hot headed liberal New yorkers; people who believed, in true liberal fashion, that they're owed something. Those are my peoples. The entitled- egoist -upper middle class- east coast elitist- scrabble playing- prep school-arty set? My peeps.  The fact that I am not Jewish is still somewhat of a mystery to me.

So anyway, I'd heard about these republicans for a long time. And as I got older and more embedded with my tribe of abortion seeking, pot-smoking, Christ-forsaking, bag recycling, pacifist brethren, the easier it was to villify the opposing team.  But again, I'd never met 'one' personally. All I knew was that they wanted to steal my money and kill poor people. And also that if I let them, they'd drive my uterus like a big school bus, into the parking lot of poverty and despair because they like the 7 cells of my one night stand more than me.

Then I fell in love. With one of my oldest and best friends. Crazy in love. Talk on the phone from midnight to six  a.m. every night, in love.  Lingerie photos love.  See the future, feel all your heart's blood squeeze throught the tiny portal of what is possible,  LOVE love.

But there were a couple of problems.

One, he lived in Ohio and no self-respecting bagel-eater would ever live in Ohio. And then there was that other little problem...

I only discovered his condition very slowly. Its how I  imagine being poisoned with grains of uranium might be -  from pink and healthy to coughing an eyeball out your nostrill in about six months.  My sweet lovin' man was that most dreaded of all beasts, and, what's more, he owned a gun. He hid these truths from me for a long time, knowing I think that he was in enemy territory, he camoflaged by playing up his funny, disarming, self-depreciating, love-stricken characteristics, and downplaying his paranoid, tax-break loving, capitalist, isolationist bomb-shelter tendencies.

I am not kidding when I say that I think my family might rather I have dated a pedophile. At least then there would have been help for him, some kind of rehabilitative program or protocol. He would have shown as a big red dot on the neighborhood map, but this, this was way more complex. He might actually co-mingle with my people, might even cross-breed! Or worse, occupy my body and operate my voting finger - work me like a sock puppet, his giant fist up my lily white, tube sock ass.

 No one was more suspicious than I. When I found out he owned a gun, the conversation went something like this:

"I hate you so much right now, I think I might have to kill you with your own gun." The perfect argument for why I don't think people should have guns in the first place.

And then he brought me to the breeding ground of his people, the fertile, alien petrie dish where republicans coat the intellectual water's surface like trout eggs waiting to be fertilized by the giant semen hose of  racism and xenophobia.  And what did those psychos do?  They invited me in and offered me love. Unconditional, whole-hearted, good-to-the-last-drop, L-o-v-e.

Me, with my foul mouth and naughty past.  I was squeezed into the big table, with my inconsistent manners and sloppy values, my unfiltered opinions and emotional arguments, I was offered a seat at the table. Suddenly I was the novelty act. "So Jess, tell us what you think we should do about terrorism." Fifteen faces, ages 4-74, staring down the table over  a steaming turkey, three pies and fourteen kinds of cookies, to see what I might come up with.

"Be quiet old man, or I'll have to ask Vildy to shoot you with his gun. Now pass the gravy."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Humilation, Served With Milk

This is our front "porch" on an average day,
by way of illustration.



Lou had a friend over to play last year. It was the first play date he'd had in a while. We'd been struggling for some time to lure a friend or two to our house, which is off the beaten trail, from a new construction/ development/cul de sac point of view.  So when his classmate took the bait, I went a little crazy. I put housewife pedal to metal. I cleaned all morning. I baked muffins. I vacuumed out cobwebby corners. I swabbed the toilets, fluffed the pillows. I was feeling very Maria Shriver, superior in my parenting and housekeeping, and yet sort of funky and cool, like Anne Lamott.  And five minutes after this boy arrives, he looks up at me and says, very matter-of-factly, "Your house is messy." And I want to tell you, he really leaned on the word messy, hissing out those S's so that my chakras quivered.

By way of response I could have said, "Yes, honey, would you like a fresh-baked muffin?" or "That's not a nice a thing to say." But instead I immediately internalized the hell out of his casual observation, and I sat this four year old boy down and asked him to spell it out for me.  "What do you mean? What exactly looks messy to you?" and he said, "Well the floor is curvy and I don't know, its just all yucky."

His comment was like an arrow, shot true from his bow, straight through my Achilles heel.  I'd long suspected that my milieu was "yucky" and now this tiny arbiter had confirmed it. I sent him away to play with some broken toys while I limped from the couch.

I went about my duties as best I could while bleeding from the liver.  I puttered in circles, muttering to myself what I wanted to say to him, all the explanations and rationalizations.  I wanted to call him back and over a muffin and glass of milk tell him that lately I've really been struggling with housekeeping.  I wanted to prove to him that I used to be tidy.

When I lived alone and it was just me and my cereal bowl moving back and forth from the table to the drying rack, I was a very organized and clean person. I bathed every day before work. I made my bed. I exercised and had good clothes. I was a very good girl when I wasn't fucking the neighborhood Frenchman and snorting cocaine. I had all my toiletries in little baskets. I vacuumed under the bed.

Don't you see, my little pre-school friend, life moves so quickly. One day you're single and looking for love and the next a couple of toddlers drop from your loins and very quickly its hard to keep up with it all. Things went crusty without notice.  I owned a house, then two rental properties, two cars, a "creative" husband, two kids, four tons of laundry and a dying creative life and my attitude went limp with the potted plants.  I simply could not keep up.

I imagined he'd nod his understanding from under a milk mustache.  You see, we bought this house cheap, so we could get our kids into the nice public school system, and you know, you should have seen it when we bought it.  I peeled wallpaper off every room in this house.  Lily at the age of 3,  helped, spraying it wet with a squirter while I scored and scraped. We replaced every door, painted every wall, put in those skylights that are right now illuminating your disgusted countenance. We sanded the floors, painted the cabinets, tiled the kitchen, built that wall right there. We installed that cabinetry, put up all that drywall, put in those can lights. I built those cubbies, that are right now housing your blinking sneakers, and stained the wood myself in the garage. I reupholstered that very chair on which you sit. We did that ourselves, and yes the floor is a little off -- more milk?--but we didn't know that the tile adhesive we used wasn't the right kind.  We just didn't know. 

That swimming pool out there was filled with black water and about 5 billion tadpoles when we moved in.  I scooped the carcasses out myself after committing frog-icide on a massive scale. And you know what, my little pal in Superman briefs, we've never hired anyone to do any of it.  We've done all these things with kids, and jobs, through depression and illness, while close to broke, in good times and bad. We've spent our weekends retrieving appliances from craigslist hicks in distant zip codes. I think when you view our home through that lens, my little visitor with mitten clips,  you'll see we've made something quite beautiful here, though its a bit rough, I'll grant you, and the details may yet require a little finesse.

Furthermore --and you might want to put Nemo down for this bit -- people expect too much of themselves. Happiness, cleanliness, right-angles - its all a bit much. Its a lot to ask of human beings, who I believe, secretly want to hurl their feces at their glass enclosure like the rest of their primate brethren. I'm not saying we don't enjoy order, we do. Its just that people strive for it with such manic intent, I think they're missing the big picture. I mean, what's more important here, that my house is clean for our twice annual play date or that its filled with love the rest of the year?

A few hours pass and its time for me to take my tiny critic home to his super clean four bedroom, two-and-a-half bath, center hall colonial, built last year with walk-in closets for everyone.  So the three of us pile into the van that I'd vacuumed at the car wash the day before.

We're backing down the driveway and the kid pipes up from the back seat, "This car is junky, why don't you get a new one?"

Friday, September 11, 2009

Customer Service



Here's my Customer Service model: I'll do anything for anyone.

I got a call a few days ago from a man who is interested in having a sofa recovered in leather.  Recovering a sofa is a big job, as you might imagine, and working in leather is a specialty act.  But I fear nothing, and frankly, I was feeling a little greedy.  $ure, I'd ab$olutely love to reuphol$ter your $ofa!  So I arrange to go meet this guy at his storage locker in Mayfield Heights, a particularly delightful part of town where they keep the tile shops, Meineke,  Big and Tall,  and strip mall gyms that my sister and I refer to collectively as,  Butts in the Window.

I arrive at the designated shanty town that is Storage Plus, so named because its Storage plus a very dirty feeling you can't wash off.  I drive around to a row of lockers 100-110 to meet my mark.  He is a hard man to miss weighing in at nearly 400 pounds.  His sister is with him. She's just regular fat. He tells me that his locker is upstairs.

Immediately I see a couple of problems. One, how is this man going to get up a flight of stairs? Two, how are the two of us going to get his sofa down those stairs?  Undaunted, I follow him up.

I'll pause here to give you my public service announcement:  People, eat your vegetables!

It took roughly 35 seconds per step for this man to haul himself up to the next level. 35 seconds times, oh, 20 steps, that's what, about 7 minutes? I'll let you soak that in for a minute.

I felt like I should hand him a rope or something, or push from behind.  I'm not saying that to be cruel.  I honestly wanted to help him.  I offered about five times to have him describe it for me, and I'd just run up and snap a couple of pictures. But he insisted.  He was sweetly funny about the whole thing.  Laughing about how he'd lose twenty pounds performing this one heroic act of kinesis. Bless.

So we get up there to his locker which is HUGE and filled with perfectly ordered piles of the most depressing crap you could ever imagine.  The kind of furniture that Minsk housewives would cringe at - brass based tables with smoked glass tops. An entertainment center that covered eighteen feet of wall space.  Toilet brushes in with the suitcases. Shoes on top of dishes. Chairs covered in white vinyl, marbled mirrors, too many vacuum cleaners. An orgy of bad taste and the inability to let go. Somewhere in there was my next job.

But Steve (I'll call him Steve) had to sit for a few moments to collect the necessary oxygen to continue. He did so on a chair so tiny I feared for his safety.  We chatted about the price of leather, and his pending move, a downsizing from a big house to a small apartment, how he was going to get all this stuff in there. About his medical problems and pending surgeries. Diabetes and cats. Cats!  When he thinks of them he asks if I could just take a quick look around for his cat carrier.  Should be right over there, next to the Indians blow up chair. Go Tribe!

I find his cat carrier and hand him a roll of garbage bags he'd been looking for -- for some time, it seems apparent. Then he describes the sofa in greater detail and I go looking for that too. Its black, he says, should be right over there.  I see a few sofas, and quite a few chairs, but no black couch. Are you sure? I'm pretty sure.  Shoot, it must be in the moving truck. The truck? There's MORE?

So we make our way back down the stairs, me with the cat carrier and roll of garbage bags, him with a firm grip on his cane and the railing.  When we get outside, I see the moving truck about 25 yards away.  Steve says he'll meet me over there.  He gets himself into his car and drives over.  It was like a Monty Python skit. He gets in, turns on the car, drives a few feet, turns off the car, and gets out of the car.  I've never felt so young and svelt.

I climb up on the bumper and throw open the rattling gate of the u-haul, which is filled, floor to ceiling, with more furnishings from the home of Edith Bunker. A wall of them, fitted in like Tetris blocks, this way and that, so that there were no crevices, no unused space at all. To get anything out of that truck would mean disassembling a tight cube of despair meant only for its owner.

Steve apologizes profusely. He really thought it was up there.  He feels terrible to have troubled me.  He will call me when he can find his couch.  Really, he's so sorry.

So, as part of my new list of upholstery services, I am also offering getting shit down from high places, Garbage bag retrieval and pet carrier assistance. Free of charge!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Free to be Me and You


My youngest child just started Kindergarten.

Its like the ankle bracelet is off and I can now leave the compound without violating the conditions of my parole. Simultaneously, the clouds parted, the sun came out and the sky shone, aqua marine with puffy white clouds. There was music playing somewhere and a birdie alighted upon my outstretched finger, my middle finger, which I had extended in triumph over housewifery.

There is a lot to love about early childhood, and I've loved the shit out of what I could. But holy mother of need, its like I've been pecked by chickens for the past seven years. Amusing at times, look how they flock to my outstretched hand to take the grains of  love from my palm, painful after a bit, get these fucking filthy chickens off of me! Nourishing.  Ah, chicken soup.  Terrifying.  All these chickens are mine? I can't possibly eat that many eggs! And beautiful, of course, so beautiful.

But the day they both got on that bus, with their stuffed book bags and packed lunches, after I had stopped sobbing and had glass of champagne at 8:30 in the morning, after all that, the most amazing thing happened.  I had a complete, uninterrupted thought. I can't tell you what that thought was, because I'm new at this, and my shot memory has yet to be rehabilitated, but I can tell you that it was a whole thought, beginning, middle and end.  I think I made a plan.  It probably went something like this: First, I'm going to finish my coffee, then I'm going to take a poop without my kids charging in to ask me if the sky reaches all the way to the ground, or chasing each other through as a shortcut to the hallway, and then I'm going to look up the definition of succor, because I've read it a couple of times and never really known what it meant, then I'm going to stretch, and I mean really, really stretch, and when I do, Lou isn't going to try to leap onto my belly and ride me like a gasping bronco.  I'm not saying it was an elaborate thought process, or anything that will better the world for humanity, but man, it was mine, all mine.

You never think the day will come when you will have a few hours in a row to be you, not an extension of your children, or an amendment to your husband, or a the mistress of the grocery list, but the day does come, very very slowly and from a great distance.

As this day approached I began doing involuntary soft shoe in my kitchen, while also ruing the very real possibility that I was going to have to re-enter the job market. My job skills are as crusty as a case of pink eye, with as much appeal. Writing, shit, with every major newspaper now the size of an STD pamphlet at your gynecologist's office, that's no money-maker, except for a very lucky few.

An office job?  If there was one that'd have me...Dear GOD Vildy, DO NOT MAKE ME GO BACK THERE! I cling to his pant leg, begging and pleading.  "Don't worry babe, you'll never have to go back there. Something will happen." What then? Starbucks, Target? Sweet sister of self-esteem, NO!

Then, one day, Vildy heads out on his bike for a little post psychosis stress relieving bike ride and finds himself standing in The Chair Shop, where Larry Nelson has been caning chairs and repairing furniture for 30 years.  Turns out, Larry shared the space with an upholsterer for 18 years, and has spent the past year looking for someone who might want to upholster from that space.  Not two months later, I've just spent my first week at my new shop, which I've cleverly named, brace yourself, The Upholstery Shop.  The day my kids went to school, that was opening day of my new business.  There was a job waiting for me when I got there. 

I'm not in my basement.  My kids aren't stepping on the fabric as I cut it into the various shapes of a wing back chair. I'm not listening to the endless centrifuge of the washing machine, or kneeling on Lego as I hammer tacks into a seat back.  

Now I have this little place where I go, where the sun shines in, and the music plays, where I work at a table built by my best friend, where this nice man works in his shop, next to mine, and I just do this thing I love to do.  Its artistic, its occupationally therapuetic, its ever changing and I'm more a part of the world then I have been in years. 

What's more, I don't have to go to work for McWal-Fuck.

I love Kindergarten.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Recidivist Movie Watching



I do so enjoy a nice prison movie. And I ask you, what's not to love?

Bad heroes who have to shiv it out in grotesque cafeterias after their heterosexuality is violated by ugly men in close quarters - j'adore! Paying the ultimate price for contraband, the sanctity of the butt hole or the last delicious cockroach, all this and an amoral center - yes please! Making weapons out of chair legs, pillow cases full of soda pop cans and shop tools sharpened into picks - Don't mind if I do! I don't care how outrageous it gets, I'm absolutely up for it. Misunderstood criminals who heal urinary tract infections with magic houseflies that swarm from the throat of a giant black man? I'm all in, as long as its set to the backdrop of solitary confinement, clanking keys, squeaky shoes, dangerous showers and abuse of power.

I've watched Paul Newman eat those hard boiled eggs a dozen times. I'll never get sick of him shakin' the bush, digging the holes, or confusing the bloodhounds. Clint Eastwood climbing behind the walls of Alcataz? Nifty! Shawshank, Papillion, Bad Boys, Brubaker, Midnight Express, Last Castle, Dead Man Walking, Great Escape - you film it, I'm your prisoner.

Even when prison looks like club med for all the boys I loved in High School, I don't mind. As long as the main character has to eat off of a compartmented metal tray, I'll believe and follow. I like 'em preachy, far-fetched or documentary style - I even like a comedy in striped pajamas -Stir Crazy, Out of Sight, The longest Yard. All deliciously incarcerated.

I don't know why. Maybe its the prison within me that yearns for the prison without. Maybe its some unexpressed desire to be shackled. I'll let my therapist figure that shit out. All I know is, when they pass out the strip searches and initiation rites behind bars, I'm passing out the popcorn and cokes in my living room.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Breakfast in Bed: An Anniversary Tale



As of yesterday I've been married to Vild for nine years.

By way of surprise, our kids made us breakfast in bed. I knew they were up to something because Lou's elbows were not embedded in my rib cage as they usually are at 7 a.m. on a given day. There was a distinct absence of cereal requests or harassment for cartoons immediately upon opening my gritty, crossed eyes.

Suddenly our bedroom door sucked open, pulling the window shades away from the glass, and there were our kids beaming in the doorway, wobbling a tray between them, approaching the bed with something that looked like two coffee cups and a banana.

Upon closer inspection,there was indeed a banana, but also two cups of wet coffee grounds, some of which had slopped over the side so that it looked very much like a trail of ants crawling up the side of the cup, which it very well could have been, our house being what it is.

Coincidentally, I've had a headache for three days. I mention this because coffee looks real purdy to a girl whose had a headache for three days. But a cup of black, gritty mash like liquid sandpaper looks slightly less good. Clearly steps were missed in the brewing process.

There's a tender balance to be struck between the woman with the bad head and desperate need for coffee and the glowing children with the bright intentions and wretched brewing skills. I wanted to be a good parent but I also very much wanted a coffee do-over.

I once presented my own mother with a ten egg omelet, scorched on the outside, running raw on the inside, its edges extending over the edge of the plate like it had fainted there. She was tender enough as she scraped it into the trash, telling me she loved me for the effort. I was mortified and angry, hurt and confused. It was an omelet, I'd made it for her, and I couldn't see what the problem could possibly be, why wouldn't she just eat it?

I went down to the kitchen with the kids. Lily mentioned, as I neared the scene, that I should prepare myself for some possible spillage that may have occurred. The coffee pot, it was explained to me, had done something wrong.

With as much tenderness and love as I could muster, six minutes after waking, I told her she'd done a beautiful thing, whatever I might find, and that I'd walk her through the coffee making steps to see what error the pot had made.

Turns out the pot had forgotten to put a paper filter in, and the plastic basket had been filled to the top with about forty dollars worth of grounds. After the 'go' button had been pressed, the scorching dribbles of well-water had nowhere to go and had run off the packed mesa of granules, both spurting from the sides under the lid and flowing back into the water reservoir, then down the sides of the machine, across the counter top, drooling down the cabinet front - a river of hot grains running to the center of the kitchen. In the process, Lily had managed to get the cups into the flow, and filled them with some of the molten run-off from the counter top Vesuvius.

I unplugged the coffee machine which hissed gratefully as I carried it over to the sink like a fallen lover. I had to dump the thing in one deft motion, to avoid burns or worse, permanent damage to the hero maker. But deftness, it turned out, was not on the breakfast menu.

The tidal wave of caffeinated slop that sloshed into the sink, did a half-pipe maneuver, washing up the side of the basin in a hot arc that not only dumped a half gallon of liquid over this other counter, but sprayed coffee grounds in a fan across the window screen above the sink, which grabbed like Velcro each individual ground and held each one perfectly, one grain per grid of screen. It was an epic display. Lily watched in disbelief. This, she informed me, was not how coffee was made. She knows how to make coffee, and if I'd just let her do it, she'd show me how. Besides, she said, I was ruining the surprise.

A mop, half a roll of paper towels and two dishtowels later the kitchen was only slightly more tidy than when I entered it. Turns out, wet coffee grounds are stubborn little fuckers. They don't go quietly.

We re-brewed with the insufficient half cup of grounds that remained dry. I talked them through the process, highlighting the benefits of the filter - enlightened "oooohhhhh"s - and we all walked the tray up to Vild who slept peacefully.

He woke on our anniversary to his weak coffee and banana and with real pride Lily told him, "Me and Lou did it all by ourself!"

Happy Anniversary Vildy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Crying Indian...still crying, and now frankly, getting a little dangerous.

Chagrin Falls.

There are in fact falls that pour through the center of our quaint little town, the torrent made from the tears of a million unfulfilled housewives.

Be that as it may, its lovely, the Chagrin River, flowing with grace through several counties, until in dumps finally into lake Erie. In downtown Chagrin it makes a dramatic descent, crashing down between The Popcorn Shop and Starbucks to the delight of residents and tourists alike who congregate on warm summer evenings to gawk and stroll, talk and eat ice cream by its sonorous cascade.

We were those gawkers last night. My family and I got our requisite ice cream cones and went to watch the river do its thing. By the banks of this town's most beloved feature, you will find a thoughtfully constructed set of wooden stairs, with several well-positioned landings and built-in benches, that descend from street level to the base of the falls, so that one might pleasantly dawdle and enjoy the scenery. The stairs are steep, the view dramatic, and there's no way not to love it.

Last night it was crowded, it being the first truly hot evening of the entire summer. Couples, families, and many, many sweet-natured dogs were out in force. My kids stroked with sticky fingers, every single dog on the way down, so a 45 second trip became a 35 minute reconnaissance - all part of the pleasure.

Most of the way down, at perhaps the best vantage point, I see a gormless teen hurl his unfinished ice cream cone, with wrapper, into the ivy. It was a flash, and I wasn't sure, maybe it was just a glob of unruly ice-cream and though gross, impermanent in its assault on nature. His mother was facing him and said nothing. No sooner had this action registered, but the dickhead teen turns around a chucks his overlarge wad of napkins onto the manicured hedgerow. Its difficult to explain without boring you, how the wad was perfectly below eye-level, like it had been laid on a platter, a perfect, plated fuck you, so that no one viewing the falls would be able not to see it. But there it was, a bleached white ball on a stage of green, and his mother said nothing.

It really got my Indian braids in a twist. So I grab the wad from the shrubs and from behind and below, shove it back into his hand. I startle him, and at first he thinks I'm handing him some napkins as a gesture of friendship, but quickly realizes its a crazy woman handing him his own nasty gob of sticky paper.

He says, "Thanks...er...HEY! I just threw that there" and he points to the hedge like I should recognize that he'd already disposed of his crap, couldn't I see that? To which I reply, "Yes, I watched you do it. That's yours and there's a trash can right there...RIGHT THERE!"

There are moments when I can actually feel my pupils dilate and its possible something might have flown from my body, spittle or something toxic, or some kind of threatening aroma, because let me tell you something, that little fucktard marched that wad the three fucking steps to the trash can in quite a hurry. His mother watched without expression or frankly comprehension.

In closing I will say, I'm starting to get it. I'm beginning to regretfully understand how broken people do this. They see something nice, something naturally beautiful, or made with love, and their brokenness compels them to leave their mark of anger and hurt on it. It cannot be left alone, because to do so would be to admit and succumb to, beauty itself. I am starting to see the formula of the damaged soul that lashes out at the resplendent.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Crying Indian of Fields Road


I live on a beautiful country road, surrounded on either side by farms. At one end, Farmer Bob, with eyeglass lenses thick as hockey pucks, sparse teeth, and pants belted around his armpits, rotates his soybean crop with corn. This year its seventy-five acres of edamame, curling and leafy, low to the ground. Last year it was corn, into whose arching rows my children walked with fingers outstretched, finding feathers, and the antler of a buck.

Where our street T's off into another, belted cows, black with a white stripe in the middle like bovine ice cream sandwiches, low at the crossing. This road, Geauga Lake (Gee-aw-guh), curls its elbow around another beautiful farm, just past the river, that grows cutting flowers and veg, and is tended through an outreach program by kids in trouble and grown-ups who want to help them by pressing their open hands into the dark earth and showing them that they can make magic by pinching back flowers and planting seeds. Neither of these roads has painted stripes or shoulders, its just gritty black top without speed limit signs, that slopes down on either side, forming a ditch into which rainwater channels its way to the river and beyond. Much of the land by the river has been donated by private citizens, like toothless Bob, to the Aurora Branch of the Cuyahoga River Conservancy, preserving it for all eternity for wildlife and humanity.

If you follow Geauga Lake Road, it passes some very hick homes with slanted porches and giant woodpiles, and then a couple of ramshackle horse properties. If you follow it far enough, about three miles, and fail to use your breaks, you will smash your car through the wall of the health and beauty section of Wal-mart and roll to a stop in automotive. This parking lot is shared by McDonalds, Target, Kohls, Marshalls, and The Home Depot.

The point being, this preserve of the natural that we lovingly call home, shares a zip code with every single clam-shell pacakged, shrink-wrapped, palletted piece of shit you'd ever want to throw onto the landfill. All the scuzz pots can be found boiling over just a short drive from the mother goose who nervously tends her nest on the pilings of the bridge that crosses over our little branch of river.

Many people familiar with the area love this street, and travel its curving splendor to get to parts southerly, enjoying the surge of oxygen through their open windows.

Still other people travel this road without loving it at all, to get to the festering retail carbunkle without the hinderance of posted traffic rules or painted lines. Their mania for bar coding is so lustful and blinding that they tear through this solemn route at lunatic speeds, daring children at driveways end and elderly checking mailboxes to step out without looking. "DO IT!" the cars dopler past them, sucking up hems in their wake, tossing their innocent hair. At the hairpin that crests the hill, where there is nothing but trees, no houses, no spies, they roll down their windows, and seeing the beauty of those ancient trees, the mossy ground - they hurl their forty ounce plastic cups, and the cubic foot of crumpled waste that is a Happy Meal, or #1 with Coke, onto the fragrant beds of composting leaf hummus. I've seen a Marshalls bag billowing desperately on the lower branches of this shady passage, and cigarette butts still smoldering in the ditch.

What urge propels these passers-by when seeing such quiet splendor to fuck it up with their grotesque detritus? Is it anger at the cows for their voluptous languor? Or ire at the trees for ascending so effortlessly toward heaven? What makes a person hurl their permanent crap onto the carpet of the divine?

Littering seems so outdated. Something I felt sure, as a culture, we'd outgrown, like Thalidamide, Quaaludes and the typewriter. Don't we recall the PSA of the Native American, nee Indian, with the tear running down his cheek having had trash thrown from a speeding car onto his mocassins? I do. And I feel his pain.

"People start pollution. People can stop it."

Or shoot out the tires of the people who continue to soil my moccasins.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Safety Town


As Kindergarten approaches for my little boy, and all the five year olds of the land, here in sub-rural-burbia, the time for Safety Town begins. This is a sweet program sponsored by the township and its various men-in-uniform, fire and police, who fill the school gym with squirrely pre-school graduates in order to teach them how to better behave in the face of certain hazards. They set up a wee town, made of waist-high wooden buildings, with a real traffic signal at its center and the kids ride little pedal cars around and try not to make mince meat of basic traffic rules.

The volunteer cops with their real guns teach the kids about gun safety, about how not to touch them if they come across one leaning on their drunken neighbor's La-Z-boy after he's fallen asleep with a fifth on the fourth. Out here, this scenario is not all that unlikely. We have our very own anti-social neighbor who likes to spray the hillside with .22 fire in honor of our nation's heave-ho of British colonialism once a year. So a little precautionary fire arm talk feels relevant and good.

There's a lot of good information handed down through Safety Town. Don't cross the street between cars, stop-drop-and-roll, buckle up, 9-1-1, how to avoid lurky pervs, how to get on the school bus in an orderly fashion and memorize your home phone number. I loves me some Safety Town!

When I grew up in New York City we had Safety Town too. It looked a little different, but its lessons were similar. It went a little something like this:

Here's Dad's credit card. If it isn't over limit or cut off due to divorce maneuverings, go down to Gimbels on 86th street and buy some hamster supplies with it. You can take the bus if you want, or just walk. That bum who hangs out on the subway grate on Lexington, don't talk to him, he's probably a crazy person who likes to hurt children. If you get hungry for lunch you can stop at Papaya King and get a hot dog. If you want to go over to Patrick's house, go ahead. His mom's not home, so you wont be any trouble over there. Don't be a nuisance. Don't ring the elevator buttons too much. You can see a movie, but if its R-rated you'll have to ask an adult to buy your ticket. If you're running late, hop in a cab and be home by 5. 6PM is "grown-up hour" which means you're not allowed to bother the adults with your childish presence or demands for food. Dinner will be ready when its ready, and you'll eat it, or you'll have to wait for breakfast and three bowls of unsupervised Cap-'N-Crunch. Now go, and don't forget your key, we may be out when you get home.

I like our little wooden town with its dangers and hand signals, its coloring pages and graduation t-shirts. I like that I recognize the fire chief and the cop who taught my daughter about stranger danger. I don't kid myself that we're in fact any safer here than I was in latch-key 70's New York City, but I like it that we try.

If things get really out of control, I can always borrow some ammo from my neighbor and shoot the pervs myself.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Day In Single Syllables

We sat on the chairs. Watched them splash and dive for stuff. Float toys wrap their waists like bows. Two piece suits hiked all up. Tops tugged here and there. "Watch ME!"they shout as they think of a trick. They want us to look and we do. Lounge chairs stick to our butts. We sip cokes, tell our tales. Our lives we share in facts. The girls splash and ask for ice cream. "Most moms wont let their three year old jump off the board in the deep end." She says. "But she loves it. She has no fear. I gave her that." And so she did. No one could say she did not.

This friend is bold. Brave. When folks give her stuff she says, "Thank You" and never "No thanks." She will take the gifts. All of them. No qualms for help. She takes it.

"Live here." she says. "There is worth here that is more than the cost. You get more than what you pay for, even though you pay a lot." "Think of what you want and write it down. You will get it. Write it down as it should be, in pure form. That way the force can give it to you and not have to think about it. The force wont think. It will move down the list. Skip you." I am sure she is right.

The girls ask, "How soon will we go? Is it time?" Their hair flat and wet. They are prunes and spent. We have had sun and talk. We are spent too. We all pile in the van. The small one sleeps like a bird, with her beak tucked in her wing. Her neck all hung down.

Their suits are all dirt from the wet tree climb. Oh those girls. The one who says, "When I grow up I want to be wild." Oh jeez, her mom's eyes roll. "What am I in for?"

But it all looks good to me.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I've Moved A Lot

1. 19 East 88th street, NY - Learned to ride without training wheels in front of the Guggenheim museum.

2. 126 E. 95th, NY - Lived in a browstone, sold hastily during my parents divorce.  Mentioning this place, still pisses off my dad.

3. 444 E. 82nd, NY- On the 25th floor with my mom and step-dad, my hamster died here.
 
4.  Garcia St. Santa Fe, NM - Rode roller skates the entire year I lived here. 

5. Fiske St, Pacific Palisades, CA - Was repeatedly molested by my guitar teacher the whole year I lived here.

6. Five different dorm rooms, The Cambridge School of Weston - All good. 

7. Huron Ave., Cambridge, MA - Mom and David lived here. Fell in love with Casey here.

8. Hillary and Trudy's house, Huron Ave. Cambridge, MA - Mom left David, friends took us in.

9. Elliot St., Cambridge Ma.- one bedroom with Mom, senior year.

10. Greg Cushna's House, Newton Highlands, MA - mom moves to california. No where to go, move in with boyfriend's family.

11. Orchard Hill, Umass, Amherst - heinous dorm experience, roommate tries to beat me up. Meet friends for life.

12. Puffton Village, Amherst MA - first off-campus housing. Smelly, but fun.

13. Columbus Avenue, Boston - with Sioux, lost summer. Very fun.

14. Weird little Summer apartment, Amherst Ma - First time living solo.  Great summer. Photo school. 

15. Main Street, Northampton, MA with Deb Polansky - so fun. 

16. Massasoit St., Nothampton, MA with Megan Jasper and Sheila and the guy who died in the fire. - Constantly running out of heating oil, filling with $50 a time.  Lean. Strange. Often fun. Dated Cross dresser.

17. 22 Graves Ave. Northampton MA, with Rob Skelton, Henry, etc. - Rock house. Pancakes always offered to company in the after hours. Fell in love with Jason here.

18. 3(?)Main Street, Northampton, MA with Jason Loewenstien, Henry Bruner, Dan Goodin - Met Vild for the 1st time here.

19. 30 Main Street, Northampton, MA, with only Jason - first love nest. 
 
20 676 Geary, tenderloin, SF, CA - On my own again in the loin. Sexually harassed at first fashion-industry job.

21. National Blvd. Los Angeles, CA - Tiny little birdhouse. 100 square feet? Slugs crawled into shower. Like living in a boat. 

22. Culver Blvd. Los Angeles, CA - one bedroom. Broken into. Big Earthquake.

23. 18th/Sanchez, SF, CA - Commuted to Hayward. one-hour each way. Five years.

24. Shenandoah, Los Angeles, CA - biked to work in hollywood. Lived near my sister. Good year.

25. 3145 Meadowbrook, Cleveland Heights, Oh - Moved to ohio to be with Vild.

26. 2585 Idlewood, Cleveland Heights, OH - Had my babies here. 

27. 7444 Fields Road, Chagrin Falls, OH - living la vida loca.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

And What Do You Do?

Its a fair question and a good opener. It's natural for people you've just met to want to know how you fill your days. Frankly, I'd like to answer them. Instead I'm awash in dread and self-loathing. This well-meaning question, asked with sincerity, reaches my cochlea as, "What do you have to say for yourself?" I'm in trouble, but I'm not sure why. It's the same feeling I get when police lights flash behind me. Busted.

My inability to answer this question will surely reveal that I am but a sack of meaningless cells, oozing across the intellectual horizon, falling formless through the sewer grate of the unambitious into the Dead Sea of mediocrity.

Its not that I do nothing; I do many things. I even do two of them well. But I don't go to a job and a job is how we answer this question without grappling, over the chips and hot dip, with existential questions of self and identity.

I used to have a job. I was a production manager for a company that made wee jeans for tiny Hollywood starlets with impossibly erect nipples and toddler waists. And though the stress of that job made clumps of hair stay behind on my synthetic office chair long after I'd stood up, I had no problem identifying myself to the world. That's what I did, that was me.

Then I fell in love and moved to Cleveland where I discovered they don't keep fashion. I'd stepped off the reassuring, orderly pavers of a career path and into the drainage ditch of freelance employment. Then came kids and freelance became no-lance as the demands of motherhood overtook the demand for sporadic and meager income. At the fatal intersection of motherhood and isolation, a gruesome casualty was made of my creative and employable selves.

The void created a suction into which every shitty household responsibility flowed. Not only the obvious and immediate demands for snacks and entertainment, laundry and groceries but all the other tedious chores like waiting for service people, arguing with creditors, finding tenants, mowing rental property lawns, sorting through soggy papers, smog checking the cars, getting the trash to the curb, creatively paying bills for which there was no money, making appointments for my family's many orifices and keeping the house from physically sinking into the morass. My toddlers became children while I was on hold with the health insurance company.

So, when people ask politely what I do, such a rush of hostile embarrassment floods my temples I actually go blank. What the hell do I do? Certainly not nothing, but rather, nothing you casual-stranger-I-may-never-see-again wants to hear about. No one balancing a paper plate on their knee wants to hear a lengthy and angsty account of the many ways I've served my family, or the myriad ways I've made other people's lives possible and pleasurable.

So I started coming up with pat answers as a diversion. I say things like, "I'm an angry pleasure portal for my husband" or "I enjoy sex with animals" or "I'm a geisha girl for my children." Sometimes I'd call myself a writer. Sometimes I'd say Fabric Arts. Sometimes Property Manager. Though all of these were accurate, none of them felt true, and none of them expressed the yearning I felt for a definitive answer that would make me feel like my life wasn't slipping away on the banana peel of housewifery.

All of this can sound like sour grapes. Poor me, living a life of freedom and privilege, well fed and loved, enjoying the luxury of being able to raise a family without going to a job. And to anyone who feels that I'm grousing without basis, I say, with love, take a drink of my ass. The work of being a parent is hard, really hard, but losing your identity is painful and disfiguring. We need only to look to Michael Jackson for proof of how deadly this condition can be.

This fall my kids head off to school together on a bright yellow school bus, creating a new kind of sucking void. But into this space I already sense not the rush of a million thankless chores, but a stream of new ideas about myself. My saggy identity is being reshaped in the dryer of opportunity.

I'm already practicing some new answers to the age old question, and I'm pleased to say, they sound just like me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Who's the Luckiest Girl in the World?


I don't mean to brag, but my husband, Vild, is extremely talented and I don't want another day to go by without him getting the recognition he deserves.

He can balance a wet filter filled with coffee grounds on an overfull can of trash like the last in a house of cards, so delicately perched in perfect equilibrium that really there's no need to empty it, it can just stay that way indefinitely.

He can use one knife in both the peanut butter and the jelly so adroitly that by the time you make your fifth sandwich from the new jar of Jiff you may not even need to bother with the jelly, its already mixed in.

He can use five towels a day, he's that concerned with freshness.

He can fit fifteen shirts on a single hook in his closet.

He can make the pool go from green to gray and back to green using only $200 worth of chemicals.

He's really good at telling me ways not to spend money on groceries. His suggestions are always excellent, and I love his help.

He can poop with the door open.

He can cut wire using only my fabric scissors.

He can be on the roof with the kids without being the least bit nervous.

He can balance his laptop on his chest, just under his chin and type with little elfin flipper hands protruding from his neck, in the dark.

He can come up with a new and exciting way of putting the dishes away, every single time, so that I'm never bored by finding the can opener.

He's considerate about venting the zip-lock bags so that the cheese can breath in the fridge.

He always reminds me to put the vacuum away in a way that I can hear it, even if I'm in the other room, which I appreciate.

Whenever I forget that he's a Republican he can think of new and more subtle ways of reminding me, so that I never forget, and that's a comfort.

He's more than willing to share my toothbrush with me.


I'm the luckiest girl in the world.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Class Act

High School reunions are supposed to be a horror. Is anyone really comfortable with name tags? I don't know where to put them, above the boobs or below? Besides, large groups make my feet hurt. I don't remember anyone's name, even before they're horribly disfigured by the cruel glacier of life traveling across the continent of their face. All that, and its just a little too Then vs. Now for my taste. I'm typically better with incremental change.

You can get worked up before a reunion over things like Spanx. Do you run out and buy a girdle? Or just let the good times roll over the top of your pants? But even greater than concerns born of vanity, is the scary potential for some person, having gone completely off the rails in their own life, to come hurtling toward you, gasoline soaked and sparking, looking for some recognition of their former selves, as reflected in your terrified eyes.

For these and other reasons, my high school has never had particularly well-attended reunions. As students of a liberal arts boarding school whose academic focus was, almost pathologically so, the cultivating of the individual, we are not, as a result, joiners. This quality makes it hard to get a group of us free-thinkers to gather under our laminated badges when called to do so. We have a fuck-that-shit kind of attitude, in the nicest possible way.

But something happened this year, 25 years after, with the explosion of Facebook, and maybe just a little well-honed nostalgia, and dare I say it, a meaningful handful of us showed up to make it happen.

It took about an hour for all of us to gather our courage in the form of cold brews and snacks, to find ourselves collected in an ever more hilarious tangle of memories and one-liners. It was delightfully casual doings. Burgers, beers and suprises pulled from rental cars in the form of smokey treats, photo albums and The Cure. At one point, as two of our friends accidentally turned an adironack bench into a pile of kindling using only the weight of happy times, our friend, nervous about getting in trouble asked, "Where are the grown-ups?" and it was with genuine surprise and not a little concern that she received the news, "Jules, we are the grown-ups."

It was then that the official golf cart silently arrived, and sure that we would all be called before the Judicial Board, we stiffened. That is until we realized that it was our host, arriving with a quiet cart full of additional wine and beer...and give-away hats!

For ten hours I laughed so hard that my cheeks cramped and my voice dropped an octave. There is something about that kind of laughter - when you realize you are with people who are not only like you, but are actually formed from the same stuff. Its not the same as finding someone of similar tastes and humor, its better. The realization that you are beating the drum with your tribe - that these people became the people they are, at the same time you became the person you are - its a simple but sweet revelation.

We're each different now. Fatter, balder, more scarred, more emboldened, or mellowed. Some of us are found, some only more lost - all of us happily embedded with an entirely different cast of characters. But none of that changes the fundamental fact that we grew wings in cocoons of the same fiber. What we are now, we became then, in each other's company, groping, stumbling, flinging our way outward from that delicately dangling pod, until this weekend, when we all came fluttering toward the porch light and hurled ourselves indelicately into its warm glow.

We burned that adirondack bench in a roaring fire bowl and many of us spent the night on bunkbeds in the dorm, cackling into the wee hours, gasping for breath and creaking on our rubberized mattresses. We laughed, reminded so vividly, from so many angles, about how silly it is to be us, how wonderful and bizarre and unique. If only name tags could convey all that, we'd have burned them too.