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.