Saturday, January 16, 2010

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

Act One:

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 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, 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.