Friday, December 30, 2011

The older I am, the Older I Get


I think everyone, even those who love the sound of their own voice - musicians, politicians, radio hosts - have had the terrifying experience of hearing their recorded voice played back to them unexpectedly. It's other-worldly and mostly awful. The disembodied howl you hear on that cassette from 1980, those phone messages, that video of your trip to cancun - that's all you baby, that's what you sound like to others. Imagine all the years you've subjected the universe, including the people you actually love, to the screeching torment of your vocal range. Yes, that squealing bellows of sound is your human voice and it's what you give off. We're not really meant to hear our own voices in that way. That realm of sounds should be outgoing only.

Seeing your own photo is like that too. There you are, living a moment so beautiful, glowing in conversation and laughter, when everything makes sense, feels right. You are funny, you are in charge of yourself and you are actively enjoying your time on earth. Your connection with souls, sunset, music and food is positively vibrating with silent harmony. Perfection.

The next day you are shown a photo of that merry moment and what you see staring back at you is something else entirely. You are a malformed, hunched succubus of fat and wrinkle, roll and flake. Your hair looks like you molded it from corn husks and balanced it atop your tiny, tiny cranium, itself a shrunken apple on stooped shoulders. The circles under your eyes are slices of plum, floating in the porridge of your skin, sprinkled with chicken lips.

You stare at that writhing, rippled, loose-skinned, chinless, belly blob, with its gelatinous tits sliding into its corpulent armpits and you think, my god, who is that person and why wont they get a better bra?

The Iphone has that reverse photo feature, so the user can hold it up and shoot their own photo rather than the person out front. Sometimes that little icon gets pressed by my giant ham thumb, when I am, say, crouched over, trying to take a photo of a chair, and suddenly there I am, by accident, all of a sudden, at the worst possible angle, in ruthless light, and I will literally gasp at my own image.

This all sounds like false modesty. There is some serious, sad, ugly out there - people in crowds and lines that documentary films could feature. I gratefully acknowledge that I'm not in that neighborhood. Ugliness-wise I'm not even ringing that doorbell and running. What I'm talking about here is the grotesque discord between the person you feel yourself to be and the person your iPhone reflects you to be. Or the cassette, for that matter, portrays you to be.

These things don't matter, of course. Our physical beauty? Feh! We are but fleshy vessels for the love we feel for others. We are vehicles in which to transport our passion, our vision our silly walks and our lungs, like duffel bags to be filled with laughter.

But, from time to time I am allowed to forget, to indulge in vanity - I'm looking fine today, I think. Look at me go, all fresh and foxy. Then the universe sends me a cosmic jpeg, and, cue balloon-fart noise - there I am again.

Age, too, is funny in this way. Our perfect sense of self is expertly bubble wrapped for all eternity, vacuum sealed in a brine of self-recognition. You feel the same at five, as you do at forty-five. But the box your identity comes in gets quite damaged in life's shipping process. What you do, or don't do, over the years leaves its crumpled marks. The scars from poor hammer aim, or hasty interaction with the toaster over, leave your hands looking like oven mitts for the grim reaper. That zit you picked in 1990, isn't looking much better in 2011.

How is it we can become so loose, while also becoming so brittle? Once, while laying on my side in bed I had to ask my little boy, to "Please, move over honey, you're kneeling on my nipple." That same day I realized I couldn't even touch my kneecaps, let alone toes.

I know everyone has their personal doubts, their individual barcode for shame and self-loathing. I'm not sure it's comforting or just plain sad. It would be nice to have evolved more gracefully, and more completely, into light, fluffy clouds of self-actualization, instead of being perpetually earthbound by the corporeal full-nelson that grabs you, gives you nuggies and stuffs you in the locker of your own disgrace.

Only a few months after I'd had Lily, when I was pretty newly patched from her c-section, when I had a deep, red, raised gash torn across my belly and while my breasts were hot, hard and prone to activate like pre-dawn sprinklers on a Bel-Air lawn. I decided I'd pose for the photographer Spencer Tunick, whose images involve hundreds, and in this case, thousands, of naked bodies, posed in public spaces. I like to do things I think I can't possibly do.





Being naked alone is the worst. Nude with three thousand people is sublime, and here's why: Everyone is beautiful, all are hideous. In that random sampling I saw exactly one youngish woman with a magazine-worthy body that was lovely in both directions. I wasn't there to judge, but I was there to observe. And what I observed was this: Great boobs, terrible ass. Gorgeous face, coarse back hair. Picturesque bottom, zit-peppered face. Soy latte skin, pattern baldness. Giant belly roll, shapely legs. Bra roll, flat stomach. Toned arms, stump legs. Scars, birth defects, tattoos, dye jobs gone Mr Hyde. Crossed eyes, gnarled toes, alarming asymmetry, limps. Mocha, Vanilla, Chocolate, Shitake mushroom, prune. The family album of humanity depicts a comforting sameness in its vast variety - we are desperately flawed and perfectly resplendent. We are malformed and mutant, statues of David, all.

So, when I become too focused on my outsides, I like to give myself a little pep talk. It goes something like this: Shut the fuck up.

And I do, mostly, sometimes.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Dear Colon


Dear Colon,

I'm writing to you to say how sorry I am. There's no excuse for my bad behavior, and every reason to apologize. You've mostly been good to me, and I've been a bad friend.

I think we got off on the wrong foot ten years ago, back when I was newly married, that time when you just freaked out on me for no reason. One minute I'm at the mall doing a little shopping and the next, I'm at home, on the bathroom floor unable to move. You were having some kind of trouble receiving oxygen and by golly, you had a shit fit.

Interesting aside: As I lay on the floor, figuring out the best way to crawl to the phone, I wondered if anyone might get mad at me for calling an ambulance. Like, what if it turned out I just needed a fart and a beer? Was I saving my ambulance call for a time when I might be MORE incapacitated than face down on the floor, bleeding from my ass?

Anyway, colon, this isn't about what you've done, its about me, and what I've done to you. This is, after all, an apology.

People do weird things to their colons. Sometimes they put heroin in tiny balloons and store them in there for the journey. That's nothing. Me, I take about two-and-a-half pounds of roast beef , a half pound of ham, wrap it in sticky buns and casserole, roll it in about a quarter pound of butter, and some cheese, then powder it all with confectioners sugar and coffee grounds and I tamp it down into you like you're a child's Christmas stocking. I imagine you bursting with artichoke dip and yorkshire pudding in the same way those knit stockings are pointed with dollar store toys and Pez dispensers. Again, I'm sorry.

After that whole blood clot thing you did, we've never been right with each other. You've proved yourself to be a bit of a moody prick, I don't mind telling you, and as such, I've treated you like one. Take THAT! I say with a second helping of tenderloin. Nuts? Did you say you wanted nuts? By all means, have a dish of nuts over two days. I think you'll enjoy crushing those up.

You don't fight fair either. You just storm out of the room. No discussion. You decide that I will not have use of any part of my digestive system from now until...you feel like it, or I've repented with a monks diet of twigs and water. What kind of system is that? Who does that benefit? I mean, ultimately, you know I'll just have my doctor shove a camera up there on five feet of tubing and see what you're up to. So really, what's the point of the stalemate?

I want us to be friends, Colon, I really do. There's a lot of you to love and you have some fine qualities. I've seen pictures of you happy, and pictures of you sad, and I like seeing the happy ones with you all pink, looking like an upside down smiley face. The ones of you looking like a twisted piece of old shoe leather make me feel pity and shame.

So anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I am going to try to do better by you. I'm not going to be as reckless with your feelings. I'm going to remember you in my actions. A little warm water at night. Some fiber cereal in the morning - I know what you like. Some probiotics as a special treat. Don't worry, I've got your back. I promise I will not hold you open and choke you like a goose with its liver on the way to becoming a fine pate.

But in return, I'd appreciate a little consideration from you. No more of this stranglehold. No more turning over on yourself and storming off like a spoiled kid. There are going to be times when you are just going to have to take it like a man. I'm not giving up sushi, so you'll just have to take one for the team, far as that goes. And there will be overindulgences from time to time. You know me, you know what I'm capable of, what makes me happy. Don't deny me these pleasures outright.

I'm looking forward to improved relations in the new year.

All the best,
Jess

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Torn Asunder


The front room window, circa last week. Now occupied by millionaires.


During my parent's sadistic mid 70's divorce, there was a strange transient period where my dad lived in small apartments around New York. My mom stayed in the too big, un-renovated brownstone with too little money, and us kids. She "took in" a college girl, turning what was once my sister's and my domain into a slender little third floor apartment with a mini-kitchen. The woman walked through our house to come and go. We didn't care. My sister and I just shifted our act downstairs into what was once the master and second bedroom, while my mom moved into the vast downstairs "front room" that had a giant window that looked out onto 95th street. The room had formerly been my Dad's office.

In that room our dad had lectured my sister and me about the use of the calculator. We were not to use it, without express permission and supervision, because it cost a hundred dollars and it added numbers together, you see. But we loved the clicking chunk of those buttons and the (were they digital?) red numbers it displayed.

Later, Mom slept on a single bed in the corner next to built-in bookshelves, sort of tucked in the back corner of this huge, bright, cold room. I now think living small in a large space is one of the most depressing things a person can do. All one can do is hide in plain site. If it had been me, I'd have erected a tent in that room, and slept in that.

Anyway, my Dad was out of the house.

Under the deafening screech of my parent's split, there was this short-lived, quiet and transient reality my dad and I tenderly occupied in short spurts - times when I spent weekend nights at his various divorced-guy apartments. This was an unhappy time, writ large.

But buried in there, between the lurid and humiliating rages he launched against sales-girls in the Bloomingdale's junior department, and shit-fits turned against camp councilors and difficult packaging, I got to watch, with tender awe, as he worked a can opener around a can of tuna and accompanying Tomato soup for our lunch, a Tab for each of us.

I'd never seen him cook a single thing, ever, in my entire childhood. So I think he may have been digging into some college sense-memory, trolling the canned goods isle of Gristedes.

His apartments were always tidy, with a manly minimalist style. He was a bit of a metro-sexual, by today's standards, with his Mason Pearson bristle hairbrush and his shaving cake in a wooden bowl that he swirled across his face with a stubby, soft, round paintbrush.

He had bookshelves bought from Conrans, medal frames with glass shelves, on which he kept some select doodads I always found amusing. Wind-up toys and paperweights, small boxes and maybe an ashtray, or five. He had coffee table books, couches, and nifty cork-wrapped bedside lights, on articulated arms.

For fun we did things around the city, things I now imagine he had to think hard to come up with - ways that I might be amused by his bachelorhood, rather than terrified by it. He had many movie posters, and a couple of times we went to one of those now extinct u-frame it places, and picked out colored, beveled woods, which he paid for by the linear inch. We'd nail them together on the carpeted table tops with the tools they provided, laying the glass in on top of diamond shaped metal bits we'd carefully hammered into the wood. I always got to Windex the glass with newspaper, which felt important and a little dangerous actually, holding the big piece of glass with his help, wiping it clean.

Because he's the film guy, reviewing and making documentaries his entire career, there was almost always an old film in some director's oeuvre that we had to screen together.
This was pre-Beta Max even. So he borrowed or rented a film projector on a rolling cart. I'd pull the telescopic screen with tripod legs from the front closet. I'd tilt the green cylinder horizontally and pull the white scrim from inside it, hooking it to a metal loop at the top.

Together we'd watch old movies; Sullivan's Travels, The Third Man, The Philadelphia Story. He taught me how to thread that machine, a thing I loved, looping the film before snapping the lens shut, sliding it through all the slots and over sprockets in correct and precise order before winding it over the back reel and giving it a little spin to gather the header. He might even have some Jiffy Pop, and we'd shake it over the electric burner until the silver dome helixed out from its center, filling with hot buttery air first and then popcorn. More Tab.

He'd pull out the couch in the living room (in that apartment) and we'd together put the sheets on, sliding a pillow into a special single case he pulled from his closet. After tucking me in he'd go back to his room, reading and smoking into the late hours, long after I'd fallen asleep. I might have to pee, and I have a strong memory of him sitting up in his pajamas, half-glasses on, smoke curling up from his bedside ashtray.

A couple of times we went to the bubbled indoor tennis dome - a sort of Jiffy Pop container for tennis enthusiasts. We'd whack a ball around with wooden rackets, dad always torturing my nine year old back hand, with his lefty forehand. Then we'd go eat somewhere. Often as not, dad would take the opportunity to mine for and curse the events of my mother's life. He berated her horribly, and made me feel nauseous under the weight of my loyalties and betrayals, which were of course exclusively theirs. These were dark and mysterious times.

Soon enough my mom hooked up in a serious way with a man I grew to love very much, and after putting my sister in boarding school, the three of us, Mom, David and I, moved to Santa Fe New Mexico, which I know devastated my father and ultimately us, until we moved again, this time to Los Angeles, another doomed year for me, until the following one, when I too went to boarding school and thrived.

It would be twenty years before I would live in the same city as my dad again. By then so many years had shot through the goose-ass of life, so much wreckage and hurt, so many wrong moves and bad choices by everyone around me, that I'd become independent of the grown-ups in my life. I was an adult by the age of thirteen, and an old soul by my twenties. Dad became more stooped and internalized, and I was no longer a child he could amuse easily on a rainy Saturday.

I think back on those days, wading frightened in the dark waters of my parent's adult humiliation and defeat, through their bitterness and regret, and I find kernels of memory that taste sweet on the tongue. Something in there seems rare and momentary, a suspended dream of a time where buoyed by sadness, my dad and I bobbed along on a raft of tissue paper that too quickly dissolved under us.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Going to the Dogs, by Way of Pets



The pressure to get a dog is exquisite. There are a lot of people in this house who want a dog, while team 'no dog' has only one member.

It's me, the giant asshole. The huge, soul-snuffing, puppy-eating, cat-strangling, hamster-drowning, goldfish-slaughtering, poop-stain on the cosmic undies of the universe animal hater. This is how I'm portrayed in the family album.

People pile on.
"How can you NOT have a dog, living on five acres?"( You fuckwad.)
"Your kids are the perfect age for a dog" (Don't you love them?)
"It'll teach them to be compassionate and responsible" (Because they're not.)
"Dog's are so great." (You are Hitler)

We had one hamster who threw herself to a rigid death behind the dresser. I plucked her corpse, gingerly, from behind the drawers with salad tongs and told a loving story of how she had escaped to a better life in the fields.

Our second hamster lived in giant fish tank, pimped to look like the Playboy mansion, with grotto, exercise equipment, and a rotating heart-shaped bed made of pine shavings. Every week or so I would heft the glass enclosure downstairs, remove the divine Miss Bitter to a salad bowl, lift out her urine soaked furnishings and commence the room service and bed turn down that she so richly deserved. I bleached and rinsed her igloo domicile. I emptied and refreshed her on-demand drinking bottle. I tipped the twenty-five pounds of glass into our kitchen sink and scrubbed the sides with a scratchy sponge. I towel dried the insides to limit its humectant properties. I sprinkled a fluffy layer of fresh shavings and re-decorated her habitat to stimulate and amuse her. I bought her a car - a sphere of clear plastic that she could ram into walls and park in corners. When she was forgotten, I would take her out and let her run around in my shirt sleeves. I once told my therapist that I worried late at night that I wasn't providing our rodent a rich enough life.

We have two fish left, from the eight we've bought over the years. The two beta's, who share a divided tank on Lily's dresser, are hanging in. They were asked for and delivered within the hour, by the children's father, who shall remain nameless.

Fish, when crammed into an inadequate living space and overfed, are fetid, rancid creatures. I learned this again recently when I thought our daughter's vagina was rotting, but discovered it was only the cloudy fish tank wafting out an other-worldly odor of putrification and death.

Using a soup ladle, as I have many times before, I scooped puke-fish one into a coffee cup and covered her with fresh water. Gag-fish two got his own measuring cup. Holding my breath, I poured the feculent, malodorous, swamp mung down the garbage disposal. The miasma filled the kitchen and discharged into the living room. I have sniffed some pretty terrible things in my day - food stuffs, forgotten wet things, flood damage, sewage, homeless people, wounds - but this is the worst of them. No hyperbole. The worst smell I've known. It's like I imagine other smelly times in history - plague-rotted corpse piles, the underclothes of dueling knights after weeks afield, the signing of The Declaration of Independence; all those hairy men in summer-weight woolens, trapped in an airless room in the July Philadelphia heat. This is why I don't want a dog. Because of the Declaration of Independence.

When I went to a friend's house for the weekend, I came home to six fluffy chicks, pooping in a box under a heat lamp in our guest room. Tiny, sweet things with little peeps, small as a child's balled up sock. A joy. Until, like human babies, their poops turn to shit. Smelly, stinky shit. And they started kicking their sawdust all over my work space. A fine mist of sawdust filled the air, and landed like talc on everything in the room. Before long they outgrew the smelly box that once held my winter clothes, now a pile on the basement floor, and we moved them to the garage, where they continued to grow and crap while walking in an enormous old furnace box made of steel. Every few days I would climb into the clanging box and rake out their space, shoveling their crumbled, dry feces that once leaked wet from their chicken anuses, into a wagon and roll it into the woods. I'd lay down more sawdust, change their water, refill the crumbles, talk to them in dulcet tones.

Soon enough we converted the children's play structure into a coop by removing the slide and swings and flattening the clubhouse into a roost. Vildy and I moved the thing with muscle power only, by walking it, this end, that end, over to a shady spot so as to not prematurely fry the chicken.

They are amusing little pets, chickens. They lay eggs, for one thing, so they are like living slot machines - you pump in about five-hundred dollars in quarters and you get the thrill of a two-dollar jackpot every couple of days. Plus, they are genuinely sweet and curious creatures who act out enjoyable little chicken behaviors, fluffing, pecking, flapping, clucking, while digging forever in the straw and comically kicking it up onto each other's head. But they are profluent shitters, caking their hen house with a mortar of turd that needs to be scraped off with a hoe. Enter me, a hoe, in pajamas and wellies.

I climb into their disgusting little abode, sometimes with the willing help of my girl, often not, armed with my scraper, rake, snow shovel and steely resolve. I chisel their grime off the floorboards. I hose off the broom handle perch. I disassemble the feeder and waterer so I can replenish. I drag the cubic meter of straw or wood chips from the man-barn so I can bed them in clean fodder. I even hooked up a fan, with a long extension cord from the house, to better air out and dry their penthouse apartment. Once upon a time I had only to buy a carton of eggs.

Our cat, Ella, is sleeping next to me as I write this. She is my only friend. She understands my need for personal space, but also my desperate longing for affection. She provides both. She has the courtesy to poop outside, in the woods somewhere, and bury it in the pine needles. She is immaculate in a way I only wish my children would be, cleaning behind her ears with a paw and licking her own butt clean. She requires of me only the occasional lap, and my dexterous ability to pull back the tab on her dinner once a day. She too does not want a dog. We've talked about it.

My husband says a dog will keep the raccoons away. A compelling prospect, considering that I am the ONLY person who wakes up when the raccoons sneak into the kitchen through the cat door to throw our garbage all over the room. I am the only person who goes downstairs in her undies to hiss the raccoon out of the house and then clean the giant steaming man-sized raccoon shit pile off the counter. I am the one who tapes the cutting board over the cat door with duct tape at four in the morning and redeposits the coffee grounds and egg shells into the trash.

In closing, I will relay this impossible story: an OCD friend of a friend, who doesn't like people to disrupt the neat lines in the carpet made by the vacuum cleaner, got a dog. She dries the dog's paws with a towel every time he enters the house and also, I'm not making this up, wipes his asshole with Windex.

Who's the animal lover here? The one who promises never to squeegee a pet's ass with window cleaner, or the person who gets a dog?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pig Pen



Was it Oprah who said, "Depression is rage turned inward." Or was she just the person who slapped a trademark on the expression and made 40 billion dollars in twenty minutes? I don't remember, but its a good description. I'm pissed at everything right now.

I'll start big.

It makes me crazy that all this apocalyptic weather is taking place all over the planet and its all our fault, and we can't stop ourselves. Even if we’re Ed Begley, Jr., we're still fucking it up just by being here. As humans, we are the Pig Pen character from Charley Brown. Only instead of, or rather in addition to, stink waves wafting from our comb overs, we also have a fog of noxious nerve gas curling merrily from our footsteps. We're are, individually, pollution cannons, and collectively, the death star.

It seems all the oceans are now made primarily of discarded plastic, which we then eat.

Sickened by the effects of swimming in and digesting of, a used bottle of Nair, we consume unprecedented numbers of pharmaceuticals in the form of anti-depressants, birth control pills, and cholesterol medication, which we then urinate back into the ocean, so we can better eat it in the form of expensive mollusks who no longer have erectile dysfunction, or zits.

I hate it that pretty soon there is going to be one psychotic polar bear sitting on an ice cube in the middle of Bermuda, probably in my own lifetime.

I hate it that we are totally wasting another good president. Poor fucking Obama. Is that the worst job ever? I'm sorry, man. That's our fault too. We were so not ready for your kind of presidency. We handed you this teetering house of Schlitz cans, built so skillfully over decades of hard, hard drinking and we just knocked you into it and said, "Go", say some nice things and make us feel better about the clear surplus of douche-baggery and the deficit of resources for humanity. And you showed up, all sparkly, with that poetry and verve and we just wanted it so badly, the eloquence, the clear reasoning. It was like a salve to our poor brush cut souls, feet blistered by cowboy boots, our faces shot into by friends. It was awful back then. I feel terrible about how we've fucked Obama. I'm so, so, sorry buddy.

I hate it that from a birds-eye view it seems like four old guys went in and hacked all the zeros off our bank accounts and had them direct-deposited into their own. How did that happen? I've had economics explained to me so eloquently by NPR, but even after Planet Money enlightenment I'm still asking, Yeah, but how did that happen?

And then the earthquakes buried in a hundred feet of water, followed by shooting and looting and unmanned drones.

It's like the Earth is a giant Etch-a-sketch, and its just trying to shake enough to wipe itself clean. A massive fire here, a huge wave maybe, a little famine, a corpse in the well-water, some radiation, the deaths of millions. Wave good-bye to the nice people, she smiles.

So I've been feeling a little depressed lately. Somewhat doomed. Though mostly I've been having a jolly time of it. I surround myself with nice people and good food, and noise canceling headphones, which I can't say enough kind words about. I try to breath through the brutal things like they are contractions; a temporary agony through which something marvelous will be born. Sometimes I just sweat while crying into my window fan.

I'm not negative; I'm just completely overwhelmed. I took my kids to the zoo where some of the coolest animals I'll never see again, were represented geographically by a tiny red dot, the size of a hypodermic prick, on a far away continent. I look into their weird nocturnal eyes. I see you, little fella, I see you there. I wave good-bye.

I don’t know what else to do but ask quietly, and with respect:
Be more gentle, friends, be small. Contain thy tempest.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fizz for Thought



Louis wakes up every morning and the first thing he asks is, "Can I watch a movie on your iPhone?" To which I might reply, "and good morning to you, sweet Lou." Then he'll remember that there are other good things on earth, like BREAKFAST! and we're off to the races.

Lou loves to play almost anything, and if you entice him, he'll go anywhere or do anything with you, but if he's not entertained, either by his sister or his parents, or anyone else who'll have him, he'll revert back to screens, which is what we first world mothers call them now.

Combine this passion with his absolute loyalty to sweet foods, and we have the potential for some serious mushroom growing. We, as his parents, do our ever lovin' best to keep the boy moving both physically and neurologically, but it's a negotiation - sometimes we end up with the entire western territory for five dollars, and sometimes we get a vacation condo with a moldy shower stall and bed bugs - you just never know with boys.

So today, after shutting him down from watching a third movie or Avatar episode or whatever, he turns to me and asks if he can have a ginger ale. He already knows he can't have a ginger ale. He can have soda at grown up parties, but that's about it, maybe a couple sips of mine if he's being a sweetheart. But he's asking me for ginger ale after shape-shifting into the form of the sofa for more that two hours. So, instead of again saying, "No Lou, no soda." I take his hands in mine and sit next to him on our bench.

Looking him the eyes I say, "Here's my worry about you, Lou. I worry that you are watching too much TV and eating a bunch of crap and that you'll turn into a lazy fat person if you do that for too long. You're thin and energetic now, but these habits will turn on you without warning, and then suddenly you're a sad, lethargic, dull person."

He's looking me right in the eyes and I can feel his attention, he's hearing me, I'm really doing great. I ride the wave and continue, "You need to find things that are of interest to you when you're on your own, other than screens. There's drawing and reading, listening to music, dancing, fort building, coloring, toys..."

I've still got him. He's considering these things. I am the greatest parent on earth! My feet are not touching the ground.  "And furthermore Lou, we all love hanging out with you, so join in, be with us." He's nodding, "Ok, mama, I will." He feels so loved, I'm feeling so open and radiant.

Then he pauses and says, "Mom, I do have one question."

"Ask it, babes."

"One word, yes or no, can I have a ginger ale?"


Sunday, July 17, 2011

I'll Swear On A Stack of Holy Bibles



I swear like a whore being thrown from an airplane.

It's always come naturally to me. My Dad always cursed around us. I don't remember a time, ever, when language was curtailed to protect our young ears.

With my Dad, many sentences begin with "God damn it..." and end with "...this fucking thing!" For example, "God
Damn it, these gardeners with their leaf blowers, I'd like to strangle the people who make these FUCKING things!" This same sentence construction can be altered for the holidays, "God damn fucking Christmas tree lights, always tangled, always have to buy them new, these fucking things." Merry Christmas.

Or, for a younger audience, upon assembling the birthday toy, "These directions are bullshit, honey, I mean it, just bullshit. It's all just
CHICKEN SHIT." I'd wander away to play with something already assembled, something slightly less chicken-shitty.

I remember going to sleep away camp when I was eight, where I shared a bunk with a whiny, bossy, know-it-all, tattle-tale named Diane. She was a whistle blower of the worst kind. You'd be passing out equal portions of smuggled contraband, like Trident, or M&M's and she'd rat you out with her mouth still full. So I called her a fucking-idiot-tattle-tale-shithead. Later that night I was so homesick I wet my bed.

I've always found swearing to be delightful and descriptive and vaguely soothing. Maybe because the chances were good, considering there were changing tables to be assembled and curtain rods to be hung, my dad was swearing to me in the womb. I'm sure indelicate language was daily counterpoint to my mother's own life-giving heartbeat as I prepared to beat my path into the light and noise.

I was recently talking to one of my husband's oldest friends. From everything I've witnessed this man is a flawless dad. Vild admits, he's really ruining it for the rest of us because this sweet man cooks and cleans and says nice things to his wife. He's genuine and helpful and what's worse, he clearly enjoys being a father. I've never once seen him run away to hide from his kids or shirk a parental duty. I mention him because he and I were talking abstractly about swearing and he said he never swears in front of his kids, to which I exclaimed, "You're shitting me!" Kids everywhere.

He comforted me by saying, "Yes, but you don't drop the F-bomb." And I stared at my feet and mumbled, "Naaaahh, I don't do that." But of course I do. I have done. I will do. This may seem like splitting a cunt hair, but I would never say it directed at my children. I would never ever say, "Look you little fuckers, clean up your rooms!" But if I stub my ankle bone on that pointed metal bed frame again, I will always scream, "God Fucking DAMN it, mother-fucking fuck fuck!!!" and I don't feel too bad about it. I feel its the least my ankle deserves under the circumstances.

This past year I made a resolution to curb the profanity. I did so only because my kids were rolling their eyes and turning my name into a six beat word. Maaaaahhhhhm! So I decided to make a swear jar. Many have been called. The fee was a quarter for the S-word and fifty cents for the F-bomb. My kids LOVED the idea because I told them they'd get half the money and the other half we'd give to charity. I figured it would take about ten bucks to kick the habit. It started out slowly, I was really considering my words. Something would slip and I'd ashamedly get out my purse. It was good. The system was making me more aware.

Pretty soon there was close to fifteen thousand dollars in the jar. I'd wake up in the morning and if I'd had a bad sleep, or I just felt a bad day looming, I'd throw a fiver in before I'd even had coffee.

My plan backfired.

My kiddos often come to me to ask about the profanity of certain words. "Mom, is crap a bad word?" And to my ear, crap is a really good word. I can think of no better word to describe, for example, the contents of Bed, Bath and Beyond. Also, it sounds kind of mild and all right to me. Crap. Aw crap. That thing that broke right out of the package is craptastic. "Mom, is Jesus a bad word?" My answer: You can't say Jesus, because I don't understand the rules surrounding Jesus.

Here's where it gets really complicated. "Mom, can I say Friggin'?"

Ok, so 'friggin' and frickin' and freakin' are words invented by a team of fakers trying not to get busted for saying 'fucking', am I right? So its a place holder. They say, friggin' terrorists, blah blah blah (because they're church goers and their ass-grabbing priest might object). But we all know what they're not saying, don't we? These kinds of things get all metaphysical on my ass. What IS language? If you substitute cho-chi for vagina, are we not all still imagining your fur wallet? Honestly, If I say friggin' in front of the kindergarten class, is that ok? Nice to freakin' meetchya Mr. President? Am I still good? Can my kids say frickin' in front of other people's kids? Because they really wont be fooling anyone when they proclaim that putting on their friggin' shoes is a total pain in the tushie. So aren't all these rules arbitrary and dynamic?

I don't hold back on language of any kind. I don't dumb down my vocabulary for them. If I mean languid, I don't say pooped. If I want them to be exemplary, I don't ask them to be good doobies. No, they don't always know what I'm talking about. Sometimes I have to break it down. Flaccid, honey, means lacking firmness.

I don't want to hear my kids say fuck. I really don't. And so far they haven't. I think mostly because I've worn the sheen off the poor word. The other reason I don't want them to say it, though, is because I don't feel like they've yet learned the true grace and heft of language. Their vocabulary is still relatively small, their reading skills are yet developing. They don't really get it about how deftly words can be used to hurt, to humble or to exalt. I think when they do, when they can impress me with the use of words not found in the slang dictionary, then I wont really mind if they toss a few thousand fucks my way.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Pat On The Back


I've been thinking a lot about my old friend, Pat. He's that person, the one I've known the longest on this planet. We were zygotes together. Our mothers stood belly to belly in a gated park on the Upper East Side, while their daughters, my sister, and Patrick's sister, played. I imagine us as two tiny cartoon fetuses waving to each other through transparent belly domes. I liked him even before he was born.

Later, and he doesn't like me to mention this, a fact he'll deny, we took baths together as tiny kids. Sorry buddy.

Let me say this before anything else, Pat is now Patrick. He's maybe 6'3". He's got perfect teeth. He's a handsome, successful Ivy league graduate and owner of his own film company - that and whatever else he is, good and bad. But when I knew him, he was a chubby kid with buck teeth called Pat. Both our Dads worked for magazines. His for People, mine for Time. We were wrought from the same general genetic material. Both our moms were redheads. We had older sisters the same age. We both went to Dalton. We were both largely unsupervised by adults who, when they were around, were in their studies, or off somewhere having "grown-up hour", a euphemism for martinis. Pat and I were together and on the prowl.

Our primary prey, the focus of our plotting and sneak attacks, were our older sisters who, enough of the time, were in the next room. They "babysat" for us, by which I mean they spent the afternoon screeching, "GET OUT OF MY ROOM!!!!" We were uniformly hated by them. As proof of this, I once read my 10 year old sister's secret journal which had a chart of the important people in her life. Gillian was represented by a drawing of a rose, Gus, Pat's sister, was a daisy, and I was a line drawing of a garbage can, out of which green stink waves curled.

Pat and I were undaunted by their loathing. In fact, unrelenting- we taunted them, spied on them, eavesdropped, threw things and sabotaged them until we got bored. Then we set off into the rich unknown of the city for giant salted pretzels, Italian ices, and pizza.

We spent approximately four million hours playing at each others house. We walked the ten blocks or so to school together, carrying violin cases, or clarinet cases or school projects, then back again at the end of the day with heavy book bags. At recess, because the school had no outside space, they put up police barricades at either end of the block to stop traffic and we played between the parked cars. At dismissal time, we stopped at the Sabrett cart that parked outside our school (to get some of that upper east side allowance action - at that time mine was calculated by the cost of a daily pretzel, which was .25 cents or an Italian ice, which was .50).

We shucked and jived to and from school. The sidewalks swelled with our absurd and joyous repertoire of silly walks and slapstick. Pat was a person who would gladly do absolutely anything to make me laugh. He would walk into walls. He tripped over stuff, and let things hang from his face. He stuck things to his forehead. He could hide, sneak, pester and do voices. Not surprisingly, these are now the exact qualities I seek in my adult friendships.

We lived around the corner from one another which made the flow from his house to mine seamless. We had keys and divorced parents. We came and went, often together. We cavorted to Gimbel's department store- their 70's floor plan included a top floor devoted to pet supplies - for hamster bedding. To Azuma for whoopee cushions or posters or Chinese finger traps. We had school-issue public bus passes which enabled transport, free of charge, to movies, farther reaching friend's houses, and deeper city adventures.

Years later, he went to a fancy boarding school of one kind, I went to a fancy boarding school of another. His had blazers and tradition. Mine had moccasins, roach clip earrings and capes. But that distance didn't stop us from together attending his prom, on acid, I in a fringed flapper dress, he in a suit. We had a mind bendingly fun afternoon and evening, again prowling around, this time illicitly, but no less hilariously. We were too enlightened to attend the dinner, so we just walked around campus looking like what we were, old friends, while everyone else, with their imported dates, stood awkwardly holding elbows, dancing like white people.

I like to tell my daughter stories about Pat. She loves the idea of a best-friend boy. Her two best friends are boys, brothers, but they moved away and this has diminished her friend selection to an array of females. There's not a lot of cross-gender pollination in her group and its a bummer for her.

She's got what I had, a desire for loony play based on cockamamerie, so she likes to hear how Patrick would hit all the elevator buttons and pretend he hadn't as we stopped at every floor as if this was just how elevators worked. She likes the stories of how we walked around Manhattan, kicking at each others heels to knock the others feet out from under them. She likes hearing about Halloween, when we'd go to one apartment building, start at the top and hit every apartment on the way down in a helix of sugar-seeking, digging our hands into crystal bowls of pennies for UNICEF. She likes that we were both slightly below in station, compared to the celebrity children and heirs. She likes that we were free to move about in the world, with bus passes and allowance. It's a world she can only fantasize about, as I drive her to her friend's house strapped into our grimy van, the day formulated by adults, schedules, availability and supervision. She asked me recently if she could collect the mail and I had to think hard about the risks of her crossing our road to collect it. What the hell has happened to me?

I'm waiting for her to have that one best bud that fills her night sky with the constellation of possibilities. The one who loves her beyond all others, who will walk into a door to hear the tinkling of her laughter. The one who will squeeze mushed food between their fingers for her, armpit fart the national anthem and coat their teeth in chocolate sauce to better speak of serious matters.

I haven't talked to Pat in a few years now, but I know when I do, it will be because he calls me pretending to be a charity promoting better drinking water for parakeets.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Big Mac Attack



Hello, I'm a Mac.

Oh sure, I bought into the hype. PC was John Hodgman. Mac was that, Drew Barrymore's boyfriend, guy. But, as it turns out, I am deeply in love with John Hodgman, and this whole Mac relationship is not working out for me.

White machine, I thought I loved you. When you lit right up and sent me skipping along holding hands with your garage band and your nifty little icons, we were a charming couple. You drew me to you like a cute pair of t-strapped mary-janes, while I was the aged hag who thought she could look good in you. Never mind that I will wear heels perhaps twice more in my life. I have, maybe, one more wedding to attend (I'm talking to you, Zack) and maybe one sexy party somewhere, hosted by people I have not yet met. Other than that, I'm wearing Bjorn, or something with arch support.

So PC, you're the man for me. For one thing, I like it that I know where you've put my files, neatly placed in folders, like slippers, that I understand and that are right there for me, under the bed. You don't hide them down some one-way hall of mirrors in which every reflection of me is fat and unwieldy. No, I like the way you give it to me straight PC, just the way I like it, missionary style.

I enjoyed you, Photo Booth, but really, how many pictures can you take of yourself, sitting in front of your computer? Good hair days, bad hair days, its still just you, looking back at you, while you look back...at you.

I was glamored by all the graphic-y, flier, printed media possibilities, but I've never used any of it, not really. If I were nine, I'd make myself some menus and pass them out to my family. Ditto for garage band; I'd make myself a garage band and record it on garage band.

The cocksuckery of Itunes I can get on my PC. So, Mac, I'm getting a PC to go down on me.

Mac, you've been a good lay. I enjoyed our drunken, groping times together, me trying to get you to love me, while really you just had your eye on that slut, the IPAD. You took my $1499 and we had a few high nights together, but then you OD'd and I had to say goodbye to all my memory. You just left me that note with the sad little hard drive face on it. Nothing more.

Like all relationships we got back together one more time. I nursed you, and suppressing my anger and disillusionment, I gave you a new hard drive. We limped once more around the sun.

Sadly, your habits are ones I can't live with. You talk fast, but you walk slow. You eat too much and then you purge. You don't play nicely with my other electronics.

We have to say good-bye. PC has made me a cheaper, more boring offer I can't refuse, and its a long term commitment. Don't worry, I'll still be wearing my Mary-Janes for you, my little Iphone minx, but I know John Hodgman wont mind.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pine Tree Man




Do you know about Pine Tree Man?

A Russian man had chest pain and trouble breathing. Initial x-rays indicated a massive tumor. They went in, socialist medicine style, with a hammer and sickle, to find that the giant cancer was in fact a small pine tree growing inside him. He had, in the course of being Russian, inhaled a pine cone spore, and it had taken root in the pink, moist, soft, tissue of his chest.

You go ahead and throw up. I'll wait for you here.

This story has taken root in my consciousness in a way that I can only describe as a non-deciduous manner.

No one likes to hear a story that involves details about things growing inside the human flesh. But dammit if we don't all like to tell them. Insects and their egg sacks planted in your calf muscle. You're welcome.

Oh, and Alien. Best growing-inside-your-body sick-out ever.

But there is something about Pine Tree Man that nails me in the lung butter like no other. Maybe because the first picture I saw of his coniferous invader, it was a full-color image with the sprouted spurs of the pine bud laying like a Tiffany tennis bracelet on the glistening mucus of his pink, meaty insides. He was the human jewel box for an errant seed pod. Oh, barf-nugget of my soul, how you captivate me. How you hold me prisoner.

How petri-dish perfect is the human body that it can actually replicate the deep dark earth of the forest floor? Your lung lining standing in for the dark hummus of things dying. Precious gack-ball of death, just hold me.

Meanwhile, outside, Russian man is thinking, I've swallowed a tree. I am no longer a human, I am an environment. I felt that way when I was pregnant. Like I was a giant oxygen tent for a cluster of cells I would later identify as my family. It doesn't get more Alien than that. But at least, for me, it ended in good-smelling baby skin and soft footie pajamas. This guy, sadly wouldn't produce anything but bloody sputum and a tiny, mutant Christmas tree, suitable, and to scale, for lab rats. Nostrovia.

Yet, the joy. The joy of not thinking, but knowing, you are going to die from this hideous disease, and instead you find that you are the opposite of death, you are life itself. A few antibiotics and some cough syrup later and he's back in the glory of his Russian-ness. Laying low around the spores, I imagine, and thanking his lucky vodka drinks, that he will now die only of ennui and early onset liver-disease.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Don't Know What to Believe




I've been to church three times in my life. As a ring bearer in my parent's friend's wedding when I was five. Palm Sunday with Patrick Ewald when I was, maybe, 9? Once for an Armenian wedding, sometime in 1998.

We are not religious folk. Solipsism runs big in my family, for one thing, so I think the idea of any one member seeing the world as having a force more interesting than their own belly lint is highly unlikely. Also, they are bourgeois lefties. So, organized religion is out of the question from an intellectual standpoint.

Ohio, though, is God-ish. I have delightful friends who are churchy. Some because they were raised that way, and it's a habit, and others who believe, I presume, in the presence of God. Bully for all of them. Truly.

Somewhere between those two extremes is a whole lot of fudgey goo. I live in there somewhere.
I don't believe in God, but I think atheists can be kind of a downer. I believe there are powerful forces at work that I don't understand and I am highly tuned to miraculous moments. But I'm likely to assign those miracles scientific benefit-of-the-doubt.

The universe, of course, has these stunning, transcendent moments too. Like when you are sitting on lawn chairs, discussing the finer truths with your best friend, and a massive flock of small-winged, migrating birds flies overhead - a flock so large that it casts a shadow across the grass and causes a small current of air to blow down on your hair. The moment is the finest amalgam of science and nature, but let's face it, it's also fucking Godly. So who am I to say?

Sometimes its awkward. Especially raising kids. What to say to kids about any of this? To say you don't believe in God is like denying there is a Santa Claus. It's like you are discounting the existence of magic. I do believe in magic. Magic and puppets.

The universe, you see, is magic. Like when you hear your friend's writing about grief, written and spoken with that most accessible and nimble kind of language, the kind that cuts you down the center like a laser, so clean, that you hardly know you're bleeding out and being cauterized all at once. The universe serves up these beautifully plated moments.

When I read about Anne Lamott's God, I am a believer. Her God seems like someone I'd want to hang out with. A guy who totally gets it all, has that omnipotent humor -is in fact the funniest person in the universe -and who loves you no matter how big a fuck up you are or think you are. I could believe in that guy.

Also, and this is a minor point, Love is God. Not the other way around. That's why I'm doubty and skeptical.

Also, I believe in manners. Doing a kindness. I think being truly open and kind is its own religion and can change the world.

I believe laughter cures by shining warm light into your dark places. Laughing airs you out and removes fungus.

I believe in loyalty. You, all of these people, I'm with them. These are the people on my life raft. You're all coming with me.

What happens when you die? You live in all the good memories people have of you while your body becomes dark soil in which other, smaller things, grow. I'm totally good with that. I think its perfect and beautiful. Who am I to complain?

As for God, I wish them well.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Hot Waddle



With all the worker's rights stuff going on, and the bashing of teachers - what with their "part time" work - I would like to relay this story of a morning I spent in the classroom.

I volunteered, around Thanksgiving a few years ago, for Kindergarten "specials" day; a day when the room was divided into "stations" ,with three parent hosts managing a table for three disciplines. There were word things at one table, number things at another and art.

"I'll take Art!" I elbow in, knocking the other parents to the carpet. Because its in my nature to avoid anything too hard, and because the art table seems the most laid back - it always has been, and I've been choosing it my entire life - and the place where the kids would be most relaxed, the one I thought would be the most like play.

We were to make paper-bag turkey centerpieces. Yes! I love those damn turkeys; sweet things.

The kids had to rotate through all three stations during the hour long session, a little word sorting over here, some math facts over there, and sack fowl. No problem.

So we're off, and my first group sits down at the table. I figure this premier group really are my people, because, like me, they chose the art table first.

"ok, so, first take your bag, a sheet of xeroxed feathers, a beak, feet and a waddle."

Boy number one goes nuts over the word, waddle. I don't blame him. What's not to love? But then he gets a little hysterical over the word, falling out of his chair, laughing really much too loud. Two girls begin coloring their four turkey feathers right away, crayoning with an unsettling precision and intensity. Another child looks sort of dazed and unsure and another just gripped her bag with white knuckles.

"Ok guys, so now you need to crumple up some newspaper, like this, and stuff your bag." Four sets of hands start grabbing newspaper off the pile and crumpling. Immediately one bag rips from the force and velocity of the stuffing. I hand out a new bag. Waddle boy is just now pulling his shit together and noticing the project in front of him. The sisters Gauguin have already stapled their bags and are gluing feathers to the bag's ass. One other boy has the bag on his head.

This is taking quite a bit of time. Some of these kids can barely hold a scissors, let alone master the symmetry and hand strength required to pile staples through a tri-fold of lunch bag. Time is slipping away. Math group one is finishing at their table and they are getting restless. Waddle boy has colored one feather.

My voice gets a little pinched as I try to keep the kids on task. "Marni, your turkey looks great, take it into the hall to dry. Larry, don't put the feathers in your mouth. Glue, Derek, you need to start gluing! Esther, the waddle goes on the front - color, people, COLOR!

Is it warm in here? Really is it like incredibly, oppressively hot in here? Seriously, can someone open a window?

Only three of the first six turkeys leave looking like anything other than a 12-pack of chicken parts. Mutant, discount fowl line the hallway.

Group two comes to the table as I'm gathering construction paper scraps off the floor from group one. I have a new strategy. We're all going to do this together, one step at a time.

"Shake open your bag. Good. Now take the first sheet of newspaper and crumple it into a ball like this. Excellent Connor, but don't grab Elizabeth's bag. THIS is your bag, Connor. Ok, now crumple another sheet. That's ok, Grace, the ink will come off your hands. No, you don't need to wash them now. No, you can't wash them...Grace, please sit back down, you can wash them after... Lauren, that's great work. Don't lean back in your chair Martin, MARTIN?! That looked like it hurt, Martin, you ok? Ok, guys, lets get those feathers on the right end of these birds. I want to see those waddlers under the beak, kids, not between the legs. Grace, you're back. Please glue that beak on and get moving on the legs. You can't color the entire bag, Liz, sorry right, Elizabeth, we don't have time for that. Martin, really, you're holding the scissors under your chin like that? Does that seem like a good plan? Lauren, you're awesome girl, that is a centerpiece - now take it to the hall."

Paper is flying, glue is spreading out, misshapen gobble waddles, forgotten, have been left behind to be swept into the recycling box. Two more tables to go. And they all get snack in this period as well. What the hell is happening here?? I've lost my ability to control the group. Its bird-part anarchy. Sweat is coming out of my hairline its so fucking hot in this room.

"Mrs. Vild, could you please have the children get their lunchboxes after they've finished their project?" asks teacher.

Are you out of your mind, lady, don't you see what's going on here?!

"Sure, Mrs. Hammer, will do.

"Kids, you need to get these centerpieces done and put away. Clean up by your feet, eat your snack and get your lunchboxes out of the hamper."

I've got my hair jabbed up with a Dixon Ticonderoga, trying to catch anything remotely resembling air on my neck. Sitting on one of the miniature kid's chairs, my arse spilling off the sides and my knees tucked uncomfortably up under my own turkey waddle, all I want is for one of these souls to share their Shrek gummies with me so I don't have some kind of low blood sugar episode.

I'm hot, and not a little bit stymied by the chaos of artistic pursuit.

I need something stiff to drink and its 11:17am.

The women, and occasional men, who do this work, deserve more than collective bargaining rights, they need something big, like a yacht. I think yachts would be a good place to start.

That anyone would think that $60, 000 a year, the salary for a well-seasoned teacher, one who hasn't run for the hills, is exorbitant, hasn't tried stuffing 24 turkeys with liberal media in time for snack on a Tuesday. I can't even imagine what it takes to actually teach them something.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mental Properties: The hits keep coming.



I have a tenant who hates me. She hates me because I am The Man. I don't pretend I'm not.

I am The Man because I made her pay her rent after three months of not paying it and because I get to have this day:

7:45 PM Monday: I receive the following text from my tenant, for who I am, said Man:
"The basement is full of water."

7:48 PM respond: What?! How much water?

8:09PM: "Can't walk down the stairs."

I respond by taking a sleeping pill and shedding one single tear onto my pillow.

6:05 AM Tuesday: Alarm goes off.

6:30-7:30 AM: Get the kids out of bed, make their lunches, wait for the bus, send them off. This process takes one hour of standard-issue hysteria and chaos.

7:45AM: I arrive at The Upholstery Shop. I call the flood disaster clean up team. It takes them the entire day and four phone calls to get to the property to give me an price.

8-3:30: I spend the day at the shop working on a chair whose owners have insisted on covering in crepey thin silk . If you fart on a silk chair, it will leave a stain. I work this cheap-feeling, taffetta-esque, snag-magnet onto the seat. The material moves across the underlayment like Saran Wrap floating on the surface of a puddle. It will not hold a shape, it wants to suck the sweat from my fingers and leave water marks so badly I feel like I need finger- tip coasters. It takes me a full day to decide that what I'm doing will not work. Not ever. I need to rip off the day's work and start over.

3:45 PM: Flood disaster relief guy calls to give me his estimate of $2500.
3:46 PM: Thanks anyway.

5:25PM: Call from nice tenant who informs me the basement is full of water.

5:30PM Make dinner. Drink two big glasses of wine.
6:00PM: Do homework with kids as they cry.
8:00PM:Read chapters with kids as they fall asleep.
9:00PM: Battlestar Gallactica
9:07PM: Wake up to the sounds of Battlestar Gallactica ringing tinnily in my headphones, which are now around my neck.

6:05 AM Wednesday: wake to alarm.
6:30-7:30AM: snack complaints, silly walks, singing operatically in the kitchen about homework folders and pick-up notes, onto medley of show tunes about boots, library books and recorder sung to the melodies of Sweeney Todd, Oklahoma, A little Night Music. Kids laughing in eye-rolling, patient sort of way.

7:37: Play messages from machine from previous day : THIS IS NOT A SALES CALL.
7:37.5: Delete all messages.

7:57: Open shop. Work for two hours. Customer comes in and asks me, seriously, if I, and my 34 year old colleague, are a "mother-daughter operation." I play the part of the mother in this scenario.

10-1PM: Drive to/Call every rental agency in greater metropolitan area looking for basement drying fans. They're all out drying the mold out of other thaw victims' basements. Say fuck it, and try to buy a bunch of regular house fans. There are no house fans in all of creation, only clearance shelves of heaters. Curse on demand retail philosophy. Curse retail louder, because I don't feel like I've been heard. Leave 5th depressing establishment, sans fans.

1:00PM Drive 35 minutes to soggy rental property to assess.
1:35: On the way, receive call from fan rental place that they've been availed of three industrial strength fans.
1:36: Turn car around and drive to west side of what-the-hell-is-this-place to pick up fans.
2:15: Pay $250 for rental of said fans.
3:00 return to soggy rental property. Water has receded. Install cyclone of fans. Bleach entire basement. Call hauling service. Pay $300 for hauling service so I don't have to touch anyone's wet cardboard.
4:00 race back to get to MD appointment so I can have a finger shoved up my ass, literally, because the metaphorical ass-rape of the day wasn't nearly enough.
5:00 - get home so I can relieve in-laws who have met the bus (so that I might have the pointer finger inserted in my rectum).
6PM - make dinner rejected by kids, more homework, more chapters.
7:30PM- Declare that mommy is now closed for the evening.

8PM: text from hating tenant who informs me that the pilot lights are out and they have no hot water.

9PM: Discover that Vild has delayed return to this country by another four days.

I am the man.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nope, no thank you.



Are you one of those people who thinks about owning rental properties?

If you are, then the next thing you should ask yourself is would you knowingly tear a portal in into your life so that every ounce of negativity that exists outside of your person, could come pouring through the portal - like if you were to shoot a hole into your karmic fuselage and all the luggage and first class seats got sucked through it, some with bodies still sitting in them - it's like that, except in reverse. The suction comes the opposite direction and it deposits bodies, luggage, beverage carts and blue toilet water on top of your family.

There is so little good that can be said about being sucked from an airplane at great altitude. Maybe you get a moment of flight? Maybe you get a couple of milliseconds of something transformative as the atmospheric changes cause you to black out.

You don't get that with rental properties. There's nothing transformative about it. Nothing even anesthetizing like the thin air at 17,000 feet. Its a constant test of trying to trust and like people , to do right by them, so that in return you can stand ankle deep in wet toilet paper and bounced checks. I hate the regret of misguided trust. I want to believe in second chances. I want to believe and hope. But instead I get to scrape and paint a cobwebbed basement where the brick is soft.

I can feel so good and high, in my creative zone, firing like a high performance engine, just hugging the turns....and in time it takes to read one text I am eating cat food off a piece of torn linoleum as I stare into the balloon-knot anus of the universe.

And the relationship is ongoing. Its not as if you can just shake hands and move on. No. You. Can't. Because they're not going to like something. Like how a light bulb is out. No one can get their ass up on a chair and change a light bulb. But they sure know how to text. They can text while having root canal, on a wire high above the city, but bulbs require professional help.

And then there's the get-over, the change of paint colors, painted only as high as they could reach. Something in lime green. And the crap they leave behind, boxes of text books, and old exercise bikes, and plastic tubs of shit you wouldn't want if they were air-lifted into your flooded village. You'd pass and go back to your tarp. Because there's some crap that would make even a wet tarp hut look bad. So you haul all that shit out onto the curb over the weekend, taking time away from relaxation and your family, only to have someone complain to the city about early trash removal and then you get a little fine as a thank you. Poverty in $50 increments.

So if you're thinking about rental properties as a line of income. Think instead about selling your organs on the black market. Because you'll live longer, and you'll make more money.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Going Public



I only went to public school for one year, eighth grade, and it was in Pacific Palisades, California, one of the richest suburbs of Los Angeles. It was and is the very public school that O.J Simpson was filmed standing in front of, waiting for Sydney I guess, in one of the clips they showed over and over again, all the while he was getting away with murder. But there are other reasons I hated that school, well before O.J. killed his wife.

My gym teacher was a very tiny, plump Asian woman who was so heard-hearted and cruel, even mocking, that the thought of her gave me epic nausea every day before school. Stuff was stolen from me constantly. Kids shoved and tormented. It was harsh, mean, classist and full of every kind of bad value. Its biggest flaw, though, was that it was crashingly unmemorable but for those memories I am trying to forget.

The rest of my education was spent in fruity private schools. For those of you who don't know me personally, I will say by way of explanation, that I (and my sister) had a very privileged life, educationally, paid for by my dad, who was a working writer, a film critic at Time magazine. If Time had a heyday, it was in the 70's when I was a kid in New York. He was by no means rich, instead he worked incredibly hard, constantly in fact, at his profession, and somehow he afforded to send me to Dalton, and then boarding school. It would have been a comfort for me to discover that he had maintained a double life in which he was drug king pin, or I that I am the secret heir to title and substantial fortune, but the reality is he worked his ass off and chain smoked - no doubt due to the pressures of affording my education -my entire childhood. That, and things were a lot less expensive and exclusive then. There was still a middle class and it was still allowable, even honorable, for them to be included in upper class activities. I don't think that's true anymore. We were the last of the middle class Mohicans.

I say "fruity" private schools with love in my heart. I know that I had it real good, and didn't appreciate it enough. But I now say with pride, I am fruity! My people are fruity. I come from the fruit, and I have born the fruit. When I describe some of the educational techniques from my private schools, to my republican husband, educated himself through the very system our own kids now enjoy, I can see in his eyes, as they roll entirely back into his skull, just how frilly-poo-poo I am, and I am embarrassed for me.

When I tell him that in high school we acted out tableaus of our family life, placing other students in the "picture", posing them to represent our family dynamic, I have to hand Vild a barf bag. While conversely, he tells me how the principal used corporeal punishment on him and his 6-year old pals, I want to paint signs and picket all the way back to 1973.

They don't do corporeal punishment anymore. Instead, they do No Child Left Behind. Frankly, I'd rather have my ass paddled. Bush's hand cranked grinder for education, is mashing out the sausage meat of mediocrity, in state mandated bullet points. Weeee!

So, needless to say, I'm a very conflicted parent. My kids go to a really superior public school, and they are very lucky. But something about the "criss-cross applesauce" taming of large groups, and the handout rich environment make me edgy. I know I take my life in my hands, criticizing my kid's school, or over-generalizing about public school. But...

Why? my mother correctly asks, in the whole discussion about education, are the only subjects mentioned, Science and Math? Because, answers Bill Gates, we must prepare an entire generation for high tech jobs.

Super.

But I read everywhere that education doesn't lead to jobs anymore, so is it too much to ask that at least the years of education be fun and interesting while it happens? If math and science are your thing, go forth, my friends and prosper. But reading and drama and music and civics and creative writing, and family tableau enrich civil public discourse, not, I would argue, algorithms (though I'm well aware there can be poetry there too). Furthermore, I, and most of the fruits I know, would die in high-tech jobs. We would shrivel and our limbs would fall off right onto the motherboard.

I write this with the painful knowledge that my boy hates school. He sucks at it, for the most part. It plays to none of his strengths. Sitting still. Following the group. Being told what to do. He hates that. And it makes me long for an environment for him where he might clap out numbers by twos and fives rather than reading them off a xerox. Or I yearn for him to learn to write in an environment where creative juice is squeezed a little more fruitily, as much, let's say, as stickers are given out, not to him, for good penmanship.

My husband argues that it's good the kids are exposed to the "real" world, not some coddled one in which one's individuality is formed on the paper doily of indulgence. I just can't abide that. My individuality, which was so honored in my education, is the force that gives my life form and dimension. Certainly not my job. Not even what I learned, but the way I learned it, showed me that there were a million ways to do any one thing and that I might avail myself of any of those avenues to solve problems, to make friends, to meet the world, that global world we're so hot for, head on.

Who knows what the job market will look like in twenty years? We don't know what it will look like next year. It seems to me we need to make kids more flexible and adaptable, more creative in their thinking, not less so. Sure, more kids over the hurdles, I get that. But is our goal really to perpetuate a paradigm of ho-hummery? I can say this, I did NOT hate school. Sometimes it hated me. Mostly though I felt some fun things might happen there and while I was at it, I might learn a couple of things.