Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Commute is Hell


(See, this is the kind of thing I'm dealing with.)



First I have to back out of my driveway. Its straight, but at a weird angle, so its not totally easy, not everyone gets it right. Then I have to stop at my mailbox and get out of the car and reach in and you just never know what might be in there. Mail sometimes, and not cute mail with stickers on the envelopes, but the bad kind, from people who want things.

Then, back in the car, which isn't warm yet, and that's uncomfortable. Down my road. Why is that barn just in a heap like that? I mean, a gas can and a match, someone? Anyone? Then that stop sign. There might be a car coming and I have to wait for it to pass, sometimes its a truck, a big truck, and they're loud and scary. A left turn down the hill. I pick up speed and sometimes there's wind in my hair, but mostly not, because I have to quickly make a right turn, which kills the momentum.

Then over the highway on that bridgy overpass thing, which is kind of gross and urban seeming. By the park. What is with the kids and sports? All the time playing, playing, playing. And the parents, on folding chairs, cheering them on endlessly, forever.

A dip in the road past that house that someone built in the boom, but has been dark with the Pella stickers on the windows ever since. Oy, with the consumption!

Then a right. Almost immediately that road kill, which by God, hasn't changed with even the most intentional pulverizing by other cars. Why don't they build planes out of that stuff? That dead thing will survive anything.

And down the hill I go, past the wet lands. If I'm not waiting for a flock of turkeys to amble across with their gang-like attitude, just begging for me to toot my horn at them, then its deer, with that look they give you. You know the one I mean.

I saw a possum once with seven babies on her back and I was like, man, that's too many kids, take it easy on the overpopulation already.

Then up the hill. There is always someone jogging in one of those florescent vests and those really hurt my eyes, and yet I can't look away.

Then down the hill again, Christ its hilly. Past the cemetery with those really old headstones and the trees and all that grass and it almost always makes me think of death, and who wants to start their day that way? Its across the street from the retirement community that they built like the Death Star right across the street, I guess so the folks wouldn't have that far to go, and that place really makes me think of death, because its so vast and so many old people live there in nicely appointed apartments.

In that sneaky second driveway of the cemetery there's nearly always a speed trap, a cop just waiting for you to be driving faster than 30 mph, and really can a car go that slowly? Especially with the driver speeding away from death like that?

Just like that its all residential Chagrin with those little century homes with creative plantings, or now, the Christmas decorations, like that's going to cheer anyone up. Then I have to slow way down because my turn is coming up, and it looks like a lot of other little possible turns, so I have to be on my best game.

Its a sharp right, and I have to watch out for kids, in their little hats, walking to school. Come ON already. Then a random stop sign, which honestly is a waste of tax payer dollars. No one drives down this street except the people who live on it, or work on it, like me. So that's government waste right there, and really, do we need any more reminders?

Then I'm there, at the shop, and its been six minutes, which is not enough time to have finished my coffee.

You think this is bad, you should try it on a bike.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bat Shit




We arrive at the subdivision as we've done so many times before, in various other subdivisions, and head for the cul de sac address on the invitation. The street address is inevitably, 'trail-something' - Woodacre Trail, Meadow Trail, Riverside Trail - usually in memoriam of the actual green space they've paved over to build these homes.

We park in front of a mailbox with balloons tied to it, their gay ribbons stretched tight across our windshield in the strong wind. The trappings of a kid-party are peeking out from behind the attached two-car garage, some kind of tiki-safari thing. Jungle Terry, the entertainer who brings alligators and de-scented skunks into your backyard, has parked his zebra-striped Jeep prominently out front. But our invitation is a die-cut Batman shape, so somethings not adding up.

When a child we've never laid eyes on before tries to grab the gift from our hands, we realize it's not this house, its the mirror-image of this house, five homes down. We're not so lame and lazy as to get back in the car and drive, so we walk, which is an event in my kid's lives, trapped as they are in our mini-van with its fixed rear windows. There is of course no sidewalk because planned communities rarely plan for actual community. So we end up step-hopping along the curb, one foot on the neighbor's Chem-Lawn, one foot in the street, skirting parked cars and other traffic moving through the cul-de-sac to the two parties.

We take off our shoes in the foyer while my kid's excited voices ricochet off the twelve-inch ceramic tiles of the foyer, until their decibels are deposited on four thousand square feet of carpeting in the the Great Room. The greatness of this room includes a soaring wall of tempered glass, Orca ready. The looming view onto the backyard extends past the capacity of my peripheral vision and reveals several terraced patios, giant circles of paving bricks, two connected by a handcrafted Amish bridge, one with a fire pit. I've spent so much time at the Home Depot fixing up our own house that I am able to calculate the cost of the bill of materials from memory, before I have time to stop my bourgeois impulse. Their play-structure-swing-set thing is better than most inner-city playgrounds, but has the forlorn look of something hardly used and sits only fifty yards from their neighbor's unused swing-set thing. A dog barks anxiously, locked in the hidden laundry room, no doubt restless next to the GE Profile pedestal washer and dryer, with steam dryer and wrinkle free settings.

A spread of delivered food is generously offered; there are tinfoil trays of iceberg salad and ziti. I whisper to the buffet, "I'll be back to eat too much of you, later."

Pointed in the direction of the finished basement, where the shoeless party will be corralled on a thousand additional stain resistant square feet, we descend as we have to so many finished suburban basements before. In this model there are rows of theater seating on carpeted risers, facing a 152" flat screen TV. Cartoon Batman beats the shit out of a villain with life sized punches, the surround sound using my solar plexus like a beat box.

Two fellow party guests, who are actually smaller than the cartoon figures, have already checked into their juice bags, and out of the party, in the giant Laz-y-boys that threaten to swallow them whole in their leather folds - their tiny bodies hardly big enough to keep the seating mechanisms reclined.

Granite Island, in the sea of Stainmaster, has four stools moored to its shores. Beyond this configuration are two more granite counters that fortress a wet bar, only slightly larger than my kitchen, and with finer appliances.

"Nice basement", I say innocently, to my plump, dark-haired hostess with gigantic breasts. "You guys must live down here."

"Not as much as you might think." My hostess blithely admits.

I'd met her at a kid class where we chatted amiably on the benches while our kids climbed a plastic tube thing and whacked at foam structures with puffy pillow bats. She'd invited us to the party on the spot in a act of hospitality that struck me as generous and onerous at the same time. We accepted.

In the basement Versailles, I drink white wine, why do they all drink white?, while my kids suck down two juices apiece and nibble the corners of their sheet-pizza squares. Grapes roll on their plates like marbles on their journey from vine to landfill.

The other party guests arrive all at once, a battalion of on-time attendance. Suddenly the basement is filled with kids and commotion. They notice the Batman pinata, the head and shoulders of the caped crusader knowing full well its stuffed to the neck with fun-sized candies. The moms have to distract them with pleadings toward fruit and bottled water.

Word filters down to the basement: Batman is here! Batman is HERE!
And sure enough, Batman joins us in the basement.

The costume is good; a heavy rubber mask, chest and codpiece with big Paul Stanley-esque, Kiss platform boots and wings that open up large. Its definitely Dark Knight era Batman. No tights.
A child runs terrified to his mother's arms, while the rest of the kids go completely bat shit around him.

It only takes a minute to realize that this Batman is all costume, no act. He talks in a low raspy voice, but he's no entertainer. He's phoning it in, but not on a flashing red phone with a single button at its center. He talks about himself in the third person while he performs his party trick, twisting balloons into the single shape in his repertoire, a balloon sword, which delights the children to immediate violence. The hollow thud of their latex swashbuckling fills the room.

"Batman is making the green sword you asked for." "Batman doesn't like to be hit in the face with a balloon." "Batman needs to take a quick break." At which point he unfurls one of those sproingy fabric tunnels, and lets the kids climb through the "Bat-tunnel". Kids fill the tube like so much Bat-Sausage and the caped one leans over and asks me the time. His utility belt apparently not equipped with a watch or any way to punch out.

"I could make good use of that codpiece and those boots, given a free night and some babysitting coverage." I say out loud. Mild laughter. I think I've made that joke before, in someone else's builder basement that, too, was off-gassing its newness, depleting oxygen. I'm in a suburban house of mirrors.

Batman eventually and rather unceremoniously, departs the way he came, but sends word from the foyer to Party Dad that he needs to be paid his $180 for two hours of caped crusading.

***

For my kids this party, this house, is Disneyland. The hugeness of it all - the amount of stuff, the number of toys and gadgets - the cleanliness- they are in heaven here.

"I'm going to ask Santa for one these!" my daughter declares as I dismount her forcibly from the back of a ride-on plush horse, whose life like head swings back and forth with admonishing 'No's'. Kind of like my neck. No, you'll never have a $400 plush horse.

I want to evacuate my children from this environment as quickly as possible. The canopy bed, the monogrammed buckets of organized toys, the walk-in closets in every room, the rows of clothes. I don't know how to combat their innocent desire to have all of this. Their eyes are huge with it. They have plush-toy Meth eyes. And what's worse, they are turning on me. Pissed.

They're pissed because they're coming down and they don't know where that next fix is coming from. They're pissed because its time to go, because I've said "We'll see" a dozen times and because they can't have more of anything. I'm mad at them too, for liking this disproportionate madness, for not appreciating how hard we work, for not seeing how lucky they are.

And I'm mad at me too, for feeling so disheartened and jealous, for comparing my insides to my host's outsides, for feeling ashamed of what, by any decent measure, is our extreme bounty.

I leave with a swirling, self-devouring sense of disgust and envy, shame and longing. I cannot help but compare myself to this aesthetic and feel like a complete loser. I want to cry and thrash the way my kids cry and thrash as I strong arm them to the car. My patience canteen is dry and we're all thirsty.

At home, in our overused upstairs bathroom, I brush my kid's teeth with sadistic precision and put them to bed. I go outside and lie down in the un-mown grass of our beautiful meadow and stare up at the night sky through a haze of flying insects. Bats swoop and flop through the night air, filling their bellies on the bounty of our bug population before heading off to the bat cave.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Blowing Smoke Up Mervyn's Ass




I am a terrible liar. Really, super awful. Especially if I feel guilty about something, or I've done something wrong, then I'm the dog who has peed on your carpet; I get low to the floor with my eyebrows up in a little inverted V of shame and swipe the floor with hopeful, ambivalent wags of my tail.

Sometimes I try to lie. Like, Vild will say, "Did you scrape the mailbox with your car?" and I'll say, "NO!", but of course I did scrape the mailbox with my car because I'm too lazy to walk to it, and so I drive up really close on the wrong side of the road, with my hazards blinking, and reach in, Fat-American-style. So I say, "NO!" indignantly, and then maybe four seconds later I say, "Yes, OK, I did a little bit scrape the car." The full arc of my lies take about 3-5 seconds. My guilt mechanism is that finely tuned.

Sadly, it wasn't always so. I used to be younger and way more stupider. Particularly this one time, when I was a newly minted garment industry professional, armed with my very prestigious Associates Degree in Manufacturing - a two year degree I earned in fashion school in Los Angeles - and I applied for my first big corporate job at Mervyn's.

Mervyn's was, R.I.P, what people like me, with manufacturing degrees, call a mid-market retailer. You mortals would call it a crap department store. It catered to California women with mid-western tastes and slotted wallets filled with department store credit cards. Mervyn's made clothes for those women who posses giant key rings with laminated photos of their kids jangling noisily from them.

In fact, Mervs had many departments, from kid's to housewares, men's, women's, teens and so forth, and they needed something called a Color Analyst. I had no idea why colors needed analysis, but if they wanted to talk, I was ready to listen. It was an entry-level position in a grim suburb of San Francisco, the city that called to me with its gay magnificence in the early '90's.

I had applied for the job through the school's placement office, and soon thereafter I was called for an interview and landed the job. It was just that easy. I was qualified and, as it turns out, I have a keen eye for color. What this meant was that I was uniquely qualified to match socks with undies, pots with pans, cardigans with camisoles, pant suit components and luggage sets from different manufacturers to a color swatch in a cubicle in Hayward, an hour south of San Francisco.

Just like that, I had my very own low-paying, dead-end job with a long commute. Victory was mine! So I started staring at color swatches in a light box about a month later, after filling out a sheaf of papers for the HR department. One of those papers was an application for the job, which I found odd, seeing as I already had the job, and they had my resume. But I confirmed, and signed the information from my resume, which as a very minor incidental bullet point, mentioned that I had a Bachelors Degree from U-Mass.

I went to U-Mass for what seemed a very long time, more than three years. I made two of my best friends there, but I didn't actually, technically, graduate from there. I attended U-Mass. Then I left U-Mass in a huff, a few credits shy of a degree. But what the hell, I was close enough, right? Remember that this was a evolutionary flicker of time before email and Internet hit like a tsunami, a few years before your bra size could be found in a Google search of your name. People from HR actually had to call references and schools to learn the particularity of your deception.

Imagine my surprise when I was called to Human Resources a few weeks later. My boss, the kindest, sunniest, most personable woman ever to walk the halls of a corporate office building, told me I was being summoned, with the most genuine look of sadness and doom, like she'd been told in confidence that I had a rare genetic disorder, with only sickness and death ahead of me.

And here, my friends, is when the lying really began. Some might say it started when I wrote the lie on my resume, but I contend, from my own soul's-redemption standpoint, lies are the ones you tell to people's faces. It started small, as lies so often do. My boss said, "They cannot confirm that you have degree from U-Mass?" And the start of my lie came out as a shrug, and a sort of nondescript "hungh" sound, followed by, "That's odd."

Somewhere on the dead-man-walking route to the HR hive of cubes, I started creating the smoker that I hoped would lull the worker bees into a state of pacified ignorance and confusion. Another facet of the well told lie is that they start with the pollen of truth. Mine certainly did.

I left U-Mass is a mass of confusion. I had grades of "incomplete" in classes where I had only to turn in a paper to receive credit, an independent study that required the signature of completion from a professor who never returned from sabbatical, and maybe two more tiny semesters of class to get my degree.

By the time I got to the office, I'd created an Oh-jeez-here-we-go-again-with-this-college-degree confusion-again persona that I felt created the right alchemy of nonchalance and irritation that might ward off my being kicked to the corporate curb.

I spouted a geyser of bullshit and misdirection to the human resources director about how they'd said they'd corrected these issues, this is so totally typical, can you believe the inconvenience, I couldn't be more sorry for the trouble...

All the while, my dear, kind-hearted boss was nodding next to me in complete support. She was facing the firing squad with me, and as my lie got more complex and incomprehensible she was becoming truly hopeful. Maybe I hadn't lied on my resume. Maybe this was all just a big mistake. Her faith in me was being restored with every twist and turn in my labyrinth of lies. Deceiving this woman, who had shown me nothing but kindness, made something in me putrefy.

I had no idea what I was up against when I wrote the line on my resume. There were people whose whole job was about fact checking these kinds of things. I was scared. I wanted to keep the first real job in my chosen profession. I liked the people I worked with, I was able to pay my rent. I don't think it even crossed my mind that this misdeed could have effects beyond just my next paycheck. I shutter to think that I could have effected my boss' career (I don't think I could have), or the serious blow to my own career path it could have had. A career that lasted through three more jobs and ten years.

In the end, it was not that they were convinced I hadn't lied on my application, but from a legal standpoint they could not prove that I had. I spent weeks getting documentation of my incompletes, actually corrected and got credit for them with the university (go figure) and blew up enough dust to obscure the reality that I had said I had graduated, when I hadn't. They couldn't prove that I'd intentionally misrepresented on my application, so they couldn't fire me. It was all about the legality. I'd signed my name to the lie, which was the crime, and they couldn't prove that I'd knowingly lied which was my pass.

In the three weeks I held this sodden lump of untruth in the wet tissue of my conscience, before they decided to drop the issue with notes in the margins of my file, I was so terrified, so disgusted with my ability to pull it off, so humiliated at my own stupidity, I was changed forever.
My super-hero like power of deception was temporary.

Now you're likely to get from me a little more truth than you (or even I), are comfortable with at thanksgiving dinner, with mixed company, in the presence of minors, but its all me, Associates Degree in Manufacturing and all.

And if I do lie, you'll smell the pee and hear the thumping of my tail and you'll know.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Shedding


(this sweet little sketch came from somewhere on the web. Claim it, so I can thank you for it)



Vildy wanted a shed. We call it a "Man-Barn"; a place to house the ugly, the smelly, the broken and the filthy. Our garage, already full-up with the boxed, the moldy, the half used and the I'll-get-to-its, made it only sensible to build a giant outbuilding. I think V wanted the structure for the practical reasons, but also because he'd impulsively bought a giant framing nailer at a yard sale. The gnarly thing fires long nails into wood with a shuttering, cannon-like report. I think the purchase of this tool and subsequent project was a little like buying impractical shoes and then throwing yourself a party so you can wear them. So Vild went to Home Depot and bought a bunch of 2x4's and about three dozen clips of ammo for his big, loud, nail gun, then threw a party for himself and his giant tool.

He built the shed in a weekend, complete with shingled roof, never asking me for help, except to hold a wall vertical while he nailed it in place. He painted it barn-red, yes, and it was perfectly excellent, sitting there at the top of our driveway. We filled it with all sorts of crappy stuff, and the man-barn kept it all warm and dry.

Then we got a letter from the township.

The Man-Barn was sitting too close to the property line. This is stupid for two reasons. One, we live between a cow flop and a soy bean. A drunk guy fires guns next door from his barcalounger for heaven's sake. No one would notice or care if I rode my lawn mower naked, streaming flypaper, while belting out the Ride of the Valkyries. The other reason its stupid is because we own the adjacent lot, a big wooded hill that would be ridiculous to build on, ever. So they were siting us on a technicality. He'd built something too close to a property line that he shares, with himself. Ah, bureaucracy, you never disappoint.

But sometimes you must genuflect to the Man in all his stubborn, paper-pushing, poorly attended, micro-power, minutes taken, triplicate-filing, fees paid wisdom. Vild attended the zoning board meeting.

Fifteen minutes later he stormed out of the zoning board meeting.

He had to move the Man-Barn twenty feet.

The following video explains so much about why I love Vild, and why you can live in a place if you have someone like this living with you.

Hey Zoning Board, guess which finger I'm holding up.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cleveland, Always the Bridesmaid, never the Bride




Here's how I imagine the Cleveland pitch to Lebron went:




Cleveland
But, you grew up here. All your friends are here.

Lebron
I'm rich, so I can move all my friends to South Beach and buy them condos and jet ski's.

Cleveland
But, we're building a wind farm on lake Erie!

Lebron
Besides, I like big Latin bootie in tight skirts.

Cleveland
Have you been to Slavic Village? Wallto wall bootie in Lycra. No iron, stretch waist.

Lebron
I really like Cuban food.

Cleveland
Have you tried our Pirogies? We serve them as a dessert too!

Lebron
I'm really young and I'm excited for Miami night life.

Cleveland
Next year the Rock Hall might be in the running to host the inductee party. That will be at night.

Lebron
Winter is really very hard on my joints.

Cleveland
My brother has a plow service. He could give you a deal on your mom's driveway.

Lebron
I just signed my mom to a $750, 000 contract to fold my laundry and make that salad dressing I really like with the ginger.

Cleveland
I'd fold your laundry.

Lebron
Listen, you guys have been great. I'll always think of you when I eat a giant bratwurst.

Cleveland
We'll give you Akron outright. Seriously, take Akron.

Lebron
I like the name 'Heat'.

Cleveland
I like it when my furnace works.

Lebron
Listen, any time you're in Miami...

Cleveland
Will you still say hi to me if I wave to you?

Lebron
No. But I'll let you carry my book bag.

Cleveland
Deal.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

She Flies Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease


(Image from NY Times)


The other day, as I endeavored to buy myself a new t-shirt from Old Navy - a courtesy I felt the friends at my high school reunion would appreciate - my toe caught the slope of the handicapped dip in the curb. The first indication that I was airborne came as the cup of coffee I held in my hand sailed past my head in slow-motion. The second indicator was the realization that my body was parallel to the ground. For a split-second, Superman-style, my arms were outstretched and my entire corpse was in the air. The pavement came at me fast but there was plenty of time to think, oh-God-this-is-going-to-hurt.

My boobs hit the ground first, and this saved my teeth from catching the full impact of my fall from grace. Acting like boat bumpers at the dock where humiliation and gratitude come bouncingly together, they kept my lip, cheek and upper row of teeth from raking against the cement with the forward thrust of my landing. Had my D's not absorbed the G's, I'd have shown up to my reunion looking like, well, someone who had fallen face first in front the vestibule of an Old Navy.

I sat on the ground for a minute taking inventory. A rivulet of coffee streamed under my knee, which was only slightly scraped and bloodied. The meaty part of my palms were pink, but otherwise I was completely whole. A miracle. From across the nearly empty parking lot I heard a woman cry out, "OH MY GOD!!! ARE YOU ALRIGHT? THAT WAS A TERRIBLE FALL!!" I assured her I was totally fine, which she seemed reluctant to believe.

Falling is one of the times in pedestrian life when you completely lose control of your physical composure and your body is subject to its destiny in the most immediate sense. Now, I know there are those who seek this feeling, stuffing a backpack with laundry and jumping out of an airplane, say, or throwing themselves off a bridge attached to a slingshot. But those people are foolish and possibly drunk, and I'm not one of them. I like it when my head is up and my feet are down.

However, and I'm not proud admitting this, I love watching other people fall. I don't like seeing injuries, not at all in fact, but I do adore watching people lose their shit for a moment, watching them scramble for composure, seeing them try to shake it off, or blame the inanimate object that's summoned their embarrassment with an over-the-shoulder glance that says, "Where the hell did that sidewalk come from?"

When I went to U-Mass, there was a a vast set of concrete steps that descended from upper parts of the campus to a lower reflecting pool type setting.
The steps were w i d e, and there were many of them, and so they were a place people congregated. One of those many steps had heaved in the temperature fluctuations of Massachusetts weather, making it just slightly out of kilter with the rest. During breaks from class, it was my great pleasure to watch students come clip-cloppity down the stairs, catching the rythym of downward gallop, the confident descent and near flying extasy of a romping drop in altitude and then hit that weird step and see all the confidence drain from their faces as they disintigrated into gravity's embrace. Some would wobble and recover, looking around to make sure they'd not been seen, and swagger on. Others would sort of crumble at the knees and pop back up like marionettes. All of them gave that step the same backward glance that said, "What the fuck?!" It was slapstick at its purest and most fine.

I know my mother is reading this, having just had her own fall, considerably less funny the older you get. But, as she was unhurt, I will give you the image of my mom laying in a pool of freshly slopped epoxy in a New York pharmacy, struggling like a fly on flypaper, her clothing ruined, her dignity cracked open like a walnut. Ok, not that funny, but a certain terrible humor lurks there too, I think she'd agree. If she doesn't, I'm in big trouble.

Its that moment of complete relenting that makes me so happy. The rest of my life is a constant pursuit of control. Control of schedules, business, body, children, finances, cleanliness, diet, time, even rest for me is something I have to grab hold of and try to pin down as its opportunity sails past me. Of course I actually control nothing, but it isn't until I see someone fly through the air, or am airborne myself, that I realize how completely powerless I am, and I enjoy being reminded of how totally futile an attempt to be in charge of anything can be.

For today I am just going to try to keep the pavement down there, the sky up there, and me right in between the two.








Sunday, April 11, 2010

Stumped



When we were shown this house, it was such a piece of shit, I burst into tears on the tour, because I knew right then that I was going to have to live here.

I've posted about it before and I wont bore you with the details again. Suffice it to say, it was mediocre house that had been picked up by its ears and dipped in a vat of bad interior decorating and plopped in a beautiful setting. Everything about the house was coated in a thick layer of smoked glass, hollow core doors, brass, weeds and frogs. My future appeared, mirage-like, in the wavering image of a split-level in the middle of nowhere. Lily, who was then still a toddler, bloodied her head by standing up too quickly in a knee-level pass-through (A what? Yes, a knee-level pass-through. You're right to ask, but I can't help you) from the dining room to the lower-level fire place room. From the lower level's vantage, you could literally look up a guest's skirt while watching ESPN. I held a paper towel to the nick on her head and knew that my powers were useless.

After living here a very short time, I was called to a certain spot on the property. Always a front yard/front porch kind of girl, I placed two Adirondack chairs in front of the house between two curly willows, planted some thirty years ago. I've sat in those two chairs with every house guest I've ever had, every member of my family, in every combination. Those two chairs have provided an anchor to those trees and that yard for all five years we've lived here. When the house was unbearable, either due to construction or bad temper, and also in fair humor, when everyone is playing and relaxed, those chairs have brought forth. Tears have been shed in those chairs, moments passed between people, truths discovered, pot smoked.

One night the wind blew fiercely and it knocked our forward-standing curly willow right out of its rooted slippers and blew her on her side, where I found her in the morning, leaning against a stand of pines, in her death swoon, the skirts lifted on her elaborate root system, leaving a giant hole in the ground in which I could have laid down with my whole family outstretched.

I put my hand to my heart when I saw that tree on its side like that; big beautiful creature.

But time passes and the tree posed some obvious hazard. We had to cut that sucker down. And this is where Vild comes into the picture; where the four corners off cheapness and power tools, rope and ladder meet, that's where you'll find Vildy. But for once this is not a story about him.

He cut her down from the pines that had become a harness for her gravity, suspending her in mid air. I was nervous, but he did it well, as he always does, though any moment runs the potential to turn into a You Tube video.

The roots and stump righted itself, filling back up the hole, but maybe four inches off, so the thing turned into a mound of dirt with a big stump on top. Sad. But the kids kind of loved it. Kids love any kind of yard or house drama. And it was a good vantage point, a thing to jump from, sit on, hit with sticks.

Then one day the stump turned savage, sending out these long brown shoots, with thorns like parrot talons curling out from them. Thorns that don't just snag your sweater, but threaten to extract your liver as you walk by.

No one played on or near the stump anymore. The Adirondack chairs moved back, under the more rearward of the two willows, where its still nice, but not quite as nice.

Suddenly our place looked like a hick shanty to me. Brush was piled up everywhere and crap of every conceivable shape and size had accumulated. An old satellite dish in pieces over here, a chicken wire fence from a overly ambitious and completely failed vegetable garden over there. An overturned bathtub, pieces of drywall in the garage, rusted metal parts. A perfect hillbilly paradise.

My home is at once a rural dreamscape, filled with natural splendor, freedom and privacy and then just as quickly a prison of isolation, loneliness and enormous chores that require the community personnel of a large Amish family. Not just me, swatting at the landscape crankily with a broken rake and a garbage bag.

But this week we rented a really big dumpster, and I rode around the property loading up our belching, squealing rider mower that is more like riding a gas can with wheels, than any kind of lawn cutter. I filled up its wretched wagon eight times with all the waste from our lives and the lives of divorced people before us, and hurled it clanging into the metal belly of the dumpster.

The piles of brush I dragged over to the now evil stump, making a pyre of fallen wood. Vild lit the pile with one match and I watched the fire burn. All day I added more and more dead wood from around the place. At times the flames burned ten feet tall, at others it smoldered. But I tended that fire for nearly four hours, burning burning burning it all down.

Rain started to fall after I'd shoveled the perimeter and I sat in my Adirondack chair watching the last of the snarled, prickly wood burn away as passing drizzle sizzled on my skin.

But the stump remained.

After half a day of burn, that stump is only slightly charred from heat. Vild even went at it with an axe, both of us expecting it to crumble apart. But his blade hit that thing with such a resistant thud, it was as if he'd struck rock.

The willow will not go.

You can sit below it, you can turn up its roots, lay it down, chop her into firewood then light her up, but at the core, that girl is solid as a rock, and she's not going anywhere.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Skin Deep: The Facial Part II


When we last left off, our heroine was stalled at the grim intersection of facial and paralegal services. 

***

The outer office lady directed me to sit down in the big dentist chair in the vividly illuminated office. The chair did not swivel,  it did not recline.  She handed me a hair band. It wasn't torn from a package or lifted with tongs from a steaming vat, and that made me a little uneasy;  my dread of acquiring head lice, a condition our messy house and cold-water-only washing machine are ill-equipped to handle, is reaching phobic proportions.

The receptionist cum aesthetician turned from a row of apothecary jars and came toward me with cotton balls soaked in vinegar. She rubbed their astringent dampness on my cheeks until I puckered.  Then she loaded up with cream a fist full of tongue depressors, applying it adroitly to my nervous mug with the grace of Edward Scissorhands, clicking away at my epidermis with wooden digits.
Maybe I could have, in more compassionate new-age lighting, accepted comfortably her rapid and well-meaning chopsticking of my neck and chin, but in full-spectrum inquisition lighting, it was difficult. I felt like my skin had been sent to the principal and she had some strange ideas about correction.

Still, my skin is a neglected organ. I might as well admit this now; I don't wash my face.  At least not the way the marketing department at Estee Lauder might like me too.  In the shower I might blast my grimaced expression under the stream for a few minutes, or even use my leftover shampoo hands to give it a quick hidee-hoo, but I do not own a proper cleanser, nor do I follow up with toner.  What I do do is moisturize.  I'm crazy in love with moisturizing.  First on my list of things I'd take to a deserted island is some kind of lotion.  I can't go a day without it.  Really even an hour.  I grease up like I'm going to swim the channel at every opportunity and if I don't,  I really get quite manic.  I am as dry as archival documents in the Library if Congress.  If I don't self-correct I will fly apart in a cloud of crumbled ash.  I have lotion in every location I visit regularly.  By the kitchen sink, in the bathroom, by my bedside, in the door pockets of the car, at the shop.  When I get out of the shower I apply baby oil to everything from the neck down until I resemble a sea bird rescued from the slick of the Exxon Valdez. This is what I do to take care of my skin and I know its not enough. Any cosseting of my hide is welcome. Even if its manifestation is clicking like a swarm of cicadas around my delicate eye-tissue.

There is ruckus in the outer office and I can hear that Sara has returned. She's blowing hard from the hurrying. There's a man's voice out there too, and she is barking out orders in a way that gets the two of them, cotton balls and man-voice, moving.  Sara appears, her mouth announcing itself from the doorway with an orange lipstick so insistent I want to change lanes.  Sara, incidentally, is huge. Really, excruciatingly fat. 

Sara's husband is wearing a zippered fleece garment, the back of which is covered with strands of hair that have come loose from his scalp and been drawn by the Polartec's static properties to land and cluster like migratory seals at the spring mating ground of his shoulders and collar.  He is dashing around filling basins and mixing tonics. He is marching to Sara's drummer.

Sara wheels up to me on her desk chair and begins inspecting my face at very close range.  I feel self-conscious about my breath at this range, but more so about the fact that in order to get this close to me, to close the distance between my skin and her eyeballs, she has to push her belly against me and lean in, folding my knees into her corpulance.

There is a particular area of fat on a woman that I believe the ladies magazines call, "Muffin Top".  Its the area between the pubis and belly-button. My sister's old boyfriend always called this pussy-belly, and thus, so have we, my sister and I.  Sara is pushing her pussy-belly against my legs so deeply that I am left with only two choices.  I can either jump up and run away like a terrified Woody Allen, or just sort of relax into it and accept its maternal comforts like the flabby wings of a beloved grandmother wrapped around me.  That's what I do.  I try to think of it as a replacement for the warmed blankets they give you at the Aveda salon. 

Sara is talking fast, fast. She's assessing my skin and asking me about my habits, my products, the way I feel in a wool sweater, if I still get my period, where I'm from.  Its all happening so quickly, and I'm shackled by her belly roll, so I answer the questions as completely and honestly as I can, omitting  nothing of my skin's neglect, or the many times I've moved, or my political affiliations. If she'd wanted names, I'd have given you all up. 

Meanwhile, she clucks and shakes her head over the dryness of my poor face.  Her hands reach for and dig into various tubs and viles and from them she applies layer upon layer of cream, lotions, gels, serums - all of them from a line she developed when she was a chemical engineer. That's right, my facialist attorney-at-law has an engineering degree from CASE.

The more I reveal to Sara and the more she aggressively cares for me, the more connected I feel to her, not only because my knees and the lower part of my thighs have been assimilated into her abdomen, but because  I see that we are sort of alike.  She's a door-knocking Democrat, transplanted into white Ohio from the Middle East. She's had about fifteen careers.  She lives in a development not seven minutes from me, and she thinks everyone in her neighborhood has the intellectual curiosity of a mollusk.  She detests organized religion, and cringed every time 'W' appeared on television.  Sara and I are making each other laugh. I tell her about how I joined a play-reading group when I first came to town and the director gave all the best parts to a child commercial actress whose talent had been recently validated by her appearance in a local ad for a chain of Raised and Glazed, and who, at twelve, was the most experienced thespian in the room.  My potential cast mates went silent when I auditioned with a monologue I'd written that included a line about blow-jobs and smoke rings being two of the "additional skills" on my resume...crickets...cough...
I told her how I had ridden my bike home from the group at astonishing speed,  tears flowing horizontally off my cheeks in the wind.

More layers of moisture are applied. She gives me some enjoyable dish about a now dead politicial figure she went to CASE with back in the day.  A black woman who disliked white women. There was shoving involved. My pores soaked it in.

Sara's husband is smiling as he does exactly what she tells him to do.  "Wring out the washcloth. Hand me the cucumber balm. Get out the vitamin C gel. " But his is not an obedient idiot smile, but one so full of love for this demanding, opinionated, rhino of a woman that I see how deeply he cares for her just by his mild expression. I get it. Sara's unapologetic self-confidence is infectious and has healing properties. As she scolds you, and you succumb to her vaguely grotesque being, you are absorbed by her, and you begin to soften.  Your pores take her in with the cream and you feel more flexible, more confident yourself, more full of love.  Its not easy to like her, but suddenly you feel sure you could love her too.

When she's done, its like I've had drinks with a good friend. I feel loopy and loose, rolfed and purged. And my skin! My skin shone like a rubber plant after a misting. I was as taut and plump as a school girl, every cell of my dermis having been penetrated by Sara's miracle potions, her good humor and intelligent wit.

My facial made me feel more connected to my community than I've felt in months.  And the age defying effects were noticeable.  Vildy, who wouldn't notice if I shaved my head, actually commented, "Wow, your skin really does look good."

I'm telling you, you all need to be bossed around by Sara for an hour.  Your skin will never look better.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Seeing the World Through Cuke-Colored Glasses: A Facial Story in Two Acts




Act One:
Pampering.

This word conjures for me only the most delightful memories of dusting my son's itty-bitty balls with powder and wrapping them in smothering plastic materials that will never, ever, biodegrade.  To others it means having different, more northerly parts, wrapped and massaged (although, thinking of it now,  I've heard some wonderful things about Asian ladies with special skills in Los Angeles).  I like a hand job as much as the next guy, but I'm skeptical about pampering.

I was once given, as a gift, a "day of beauty", which strikes me as not nearly enough time. A single day of beauty? Downer.  Conversely, a whole day of being touched by a stranger, far too much.  After my manicure and pedicure I was ready to slough right out of there and be neglected for a few hours, never mind the facial and massage yet to be administered. There is something about mandatory enjoyment that I find daunting and vaguely sinister.  You will delight in this, on Tuesday at 10 a.m.

But life can be tiring, and ever since I turned forty, its like the gong of my youth was hit with the big puffy mallet of destiny. Suddenly I'm going blind and my skin is turning to parchment. On the ashen scroll of my face are written the words, so long sucker, in crepey strokes.

When my mother-in-law offered me her winnings from a raffle, in the form of a facial from a local skin care consultant, it was with greedy pores that I accepted.  What has my face to lose? Other than its last molecules of moisture which are wrung from its cells daily by the cruel hands of time and singeing winter winds.  Also, though I may be a doubter about pampering, one thing I unabashedly adore is freebies.  She didn't want the coupon, declaring, "I've given up on my skin." This, from a woman dewy as a summer peach, youthful as a doe.  She drew the good genes, and thus can fold on her facial.

For those of you (men) out there who have never experienced a facial, it goes a little something like this: Dim lights, white room, fluffy robe. Dentist-style recline. Fragrant candles, good-smelling woman in lab coat. Steam steam steam. Giant eyeball in illuminated swing arm magnifier. Squeeze, poke, squeeze. Strokes ever upwards from neck to brow with firm, greasy fingers. Cold mask of cucumber-y goo. Rinse, repeat. More stroking and massaging of face with unguents, emollients and salves. Plinky music recordings, played on instruments with only two strings, plucked by the purest souls.  More tonics, more steam, more goo, some applied with Popsicle sticks, others left to cook under hot towels. Its basically a rolfing of your pores to music in a reassuringly sterile environment. It ain't half bad.

Because I am disorganized as well as papery, I nearly let the skin voucher expire, and then, in a panic, scheduled my rejuvenation.  The consultant has a good address, sandwiched between the fine grocery and the chic boutique in the nice bedroom community.  I was deeply optimistic.

I took the stairs two at a time, then slowed to read the shingles on the closed office doors.  Weigand Distributors. Slanzic Tax Prep.  Phone Systems, Inc.  Dimitreus Export --weird company for a salon.  I find the right number on an oval placard, but am instantly confused by mixed messages.  Sara Skin Care, Sara Basha attorney at law.

Would you eat salami yogurt? Nuts and gum?

My enthusiasm wavered as the complexities of para-legal skin care loomed.

I walked into a grim outer office, with stacking chairs in a tight horseshoe arrangement puntuated by an open door. Nobody home.   

   "Hellooo?" I implore.
   "You're early." A disembodied voice from the inner office, followed by a head, then shoulders, then body.
     "Well, three minutes early."
     "I thought you were coming at 2:30.  I'll get your started, Sara will be here asap."
     "How do you know I'm here for skin care and not legal advice?"
     "You look really dry."

*************************

Stay tuned for Act 2, coming in next post.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Charming Little Post About Pets





I had many pets growing up.  Three cats, two dogs, two other cats, a beloved hamster, Beatrix, who is buried in a matchbox by the Governor's mansion in NY, with the East River rippling by. I love all God's critters. He knows I do.  He also knows that owning a pet at this stage of my life was something I wanted like a paper cut on my taint. Sometimes God is funny. Not hilarious, but cute funny. Mildy entertaining, like a co-worker performing at an open mic.

My kids, one and two, were desperate for a furred object. Preferably Dog in nature, something giant, and wet and slobbery, something optimally that would eat its own poo; something they could boss around on a leash. I could not possibly...

That's when Louis started asking for a kitten. Much in the way you might ask for a bike, when what you really want is a Cabriolet. Thing is, kittens, while adorable, are banana-cakes, loony, spastic, wind-up springing dander-balls, that are un-catch-able, impossible to cuddle. To prove this point I took the boy to Rescue Village, and let him play with three kittens...at once. Little did young Louis know, kittens can easily and without provocation launch themselves vertically from all four paws at once, like each pad has a Jetsons style propulsion unit embedded in it. Just straight up in the air, from a stand still, like they'd been burned by the very linoleum on which they'd just piddled. Also, they have claws,  a rude awakening for the kid, because they used them to climb Lou's sweater, right up to his neck. This for him was a little like a kitten version of the scene from Alien; If they'd climbed out if his intestines, he could not have been more horrified. He wanted to hold them, pet them, love them. All they wanted to do was hang from the lampshades by their toenails.

I felt like I might be in the clear, pet-wise.

Not having a pet is a little like being a married couple without children. People look immediately for your damages. What fundamental flaw in character has led you to become trapped on the soul's ice floe, where love and compassion for the small cannot survive?  I assure you I've got a warm lap and some adept scratching fingers for many a floppy and pointed ear. I freaking LOVE dogs, you just have to believe me on this.

We've already owned two hamsters in this house. Sunny, who went on walkabout and fell behind the dresser where she met her maker.  I removed her with salad tongs and buried her in a shallow grave. I had no love for Sunny. And then there was Bitter, who was adored, living long and well under my care until she died of old age.  She too is buried in a matchbox, under the swing in the yard. Her box is lined in purple satin, and decorated with little rhinestones, like a matchbox stolen from a  Graceland guest room. Bitter was a good girl who could bite the shit out of you in a hurts-so-good kind of way with her needle-like teeth. Lily and I wept, well, Bitterly, well into the night, remembering the good times we'd had with our dwarf-rodent.

So, like I said, God is funny. He sent Vild away for a long time in a far away land and then he sent our neighbors over for a meet and greet with a very special stray. She'd shown up in the neighborhood, which is to say on our road, and the nice neighbors took her door to door to find her people. Her people were not to be found.

Immediately this cat showed herself to be a lady, well-mannered and affable. She tolerated the kid's overbearing attentions as they showed her around the house by her armpits.  She endured while they snuggled her upside down, on her back, like a baby. She did not drag my sweaters out and screw them, like a male cat we once had, who would select his lovers from your shelves and leave them duly fucked around the house. She has no front claws, which, whatever your feelings about de-clawing, is a stroke of luck for us, and for Lou's sweaters and courage.  I said I would foster her until the Rescue Village could take her.  I wasn't going to get a pet, see.

You all know how this story ends.  Its not a surprise ending. I fell for her when I was home one day from work and she came and tended me like a kitten of her own, kneading my chest into dough, purring loudly at even the smallest attention. She loved me without needing me too much.  Delighted in my games of fetch and string. Pooped in her cat box.  What could I do?  And then there was this:



My ice floe melts, an inconvenient truth.



And then there was this:





And what the hell is a girl supposed to do?

Especially with this:




You hear that laughing, don't you? I hear it too.  Meet Ella.  She's our cat. You may now feel free to cough up a hair ball and drive into a ditch.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Blog Slog




Some bloggers I regularly enjoy reading are getting away with some terribly phoned-in boloney. They are squirting out some very tiny posts. Like, they throw up one paragraph with a photo and this is supposed to count as work. Some little dingle berry about how beautiful their new baby is, or a link to someone else's brilliance in their blog.  This, while I am in the vortex of existential malaise about the future of Chagrin and Bear It - can I continue, should I, does it really matter, does anyone care about my complaints, my observations, the silliness that is me - I am but a speck on the digital horizon.

I'm feeling bitter because I've been so stuck and miserable about writing lately. I'm whiney, and crapped out, itchy and dry. I'm busy with things that seem as dull as an NPR fund drive. I'm not cute or funny, I have no perspective on the little things in life that will crack you up or make you think.  I'm an asshole on wheels. My heart is hurty with the effort.  I've sat down half a dozen times to try to reach out to you, my beloveds, and its all been terrible, and empty and so full of obvious effort you can see the seams straining in every word. 

Sure, I could write a paragraph a day about how cute my kids are, and you'd all cough up a hair ball and drive into a ditch.  I'm not saying the posts about my bathroom are that much better, but let's all agree, they're longer.  There's a quantity there that I think is meaningful. If you can't provide quality, then I think length is vital. Unless your blog is a photo-journalism thing, well then, actually its not a blog is it? Its a website, and that's a whole other matter.  A picture with a caption is poo.  Unless your blog can be found at apictureandawittycaption.blogspot.com, I think you need to be typing some shit into the computer. This is harder than it looks.  If it were easy everyone would be doing it. Oh fuck, everyone is doing it. This is definitely part of the problem.

Its far too easy to compare yourself to others. Many people do it with things like thigh tautness or skin dewiness, tooth whiteness or hair silkiness. I don't care about those things. Or I do, but I realize my fright wig is beyond the reach of conditioner, my belly flab is two c-sections deep; its hopeless and so I help myself to another baguette. But I care deeply about reading and writing and its impossible for me not to, occasionally, slip on the banana peel of my own flawed ego, and compare myself to far better writers, writers who can write plot, say, or lengthy descriptions of flora, knowing all the botanical names for the things in their yard.  Good writing fills me so far up, that everything else drains out of me. Not all the time, but sometimes, great writing makes me feel like a big fountain pen has been poked into my flimsy cartoon bubble writing.  It makes me feel like a phony.

Of course I'm an addict too, so there's really no hope for me.  I can't stop reading, and I can't stop loving all those brilliant writers who make me feel both so hopeful and so completely inadequate.  I'm talking to you Lorrie Moore, Jim Harrison, Elizabeth Strout. Damn you Richard Russo, Tim O'Brien, Anne Lamott. Pat Conroy, you lovely bastard, how could you? Don't get me started Alice Monroe, I might have to kick your ass.

And yet, where would I be without you? All of you driving around with me in my dirty van. Collecting socks from under the couch with the help of Roddy Doyle. Dropping off movies with Cormack McArthy. Eating my sack lunch with Ruth Reichl. I love you, I hate you, I need your help.

Come to me friends, lovers, enemies. Do not poke me with your pens, but rather prod me, guide me, bring me home.