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.