Sunday, December 8, 2013

"Quick and Easy Room Updates", they lied. "Ombre Paint Your Bedroom", they cried.

I just listened to Jean Kilbourne speak intelligently about women and their unrealistic portrayal in advertising. And while I never tire of seeing how many ways we can airbrush murderous scenes of  naked women drinking beer from a cock while being lanced with a stiletto heel to the neck, I have to say, I've noticed a more disturbing trend, in the trafficking of unrealistic house porn to those who lay in bed, predated upon by Pinterest and Buzzfeed.

Cheerfully recommending that I ombre paint is not that different from sex trafficking. Both prey on the innocent, the gullible, the naiveté of it's victims.  Both lead to the demoralization of prey for predatory profit.

If I were to Ombre paint my bedroom, as they suggest, using shades of the same color from darkest to lightest, first I'd have to clean it. Which is not, in itself, unreasonable. But in my case, it involves the solving of too many little problems that I have neither the money, nor the creative mojo to solve.

We're all stupidly busy. Who gives a shit, am I right?  Indeed. But then don't talk to me about Ombre painting my bedroom as if the only thing that stands between me and it's painterly perfection is the nourishment of an organic kale salad. There is no Amish family of helpers awaiting my call to bucket and brush.

Ombre paint the bedroom, they mock.

I would have to detangle the cords, and look under the bed. Wipe down my bedside tables, move the dog crate and find a place for that burg of papers. I'd have to locate a proper light source, and in the meantime fix the vacuum to get up all the dust, which collects like mohair on the edges of the rug. There are cups that need to go downstairs and probably a cereal bowl under precious' side of the bed.

I'd have to drive to Home Depot, probably with my kids, who will squabble and want things that are bad for them, but I'll have to buy them in order to have the time to pick out the eight or ten shades this project requires.  Nothing could go wrong there. Needing to pick five chromatically gradated shades of a color that will look good in the very poor lighting of my bedroom is definitely in the wheelhouse of someone pressed for time and away from home without their reading glasses.

I'll have to move the king-sized bed, with the too many wrong-sized blankets, probably without help,  dragging it and leaning it against a wall in the very narrow hallway. When everything is out of the room and my paint shades are lined up, each with their designated pan, roller and brush. When all the tarps that I've remembered to purchase are laid out on the floor, then I will begin the painting and edge-blurring of the darkest color, nearest the floor. That will dissolve, no doubt beautifully, into the next color, which I will have picked like a suburban Renoir from the Martha Stewart collection - her collusion continuing with the sadistic proffering of false hope.  All these colors will blend and morph like clouds being blown apart by a gentle zephyr. And then, my too hastily purchased matchstick shades will miraculously turn into perfect window treatments and my bedding will respond in kind.

When I have humped every dilapidated, overused piece of shit from the hallway back into my bedroom, and I've touched every rubber band, orphaned penny and broken bit of headphone. When I've heaved four bags of trash into the already overfilled can, then I will be at my leisure to make dinner for everyone while the paint dries.

The ripple effect of this project will have resonated throughout the house and the kids will have taken the opportunity, while my attention was diverted, to use every dish from the cupboards and leave them like a derelict easter egg hunt about the house and in the sink. Chocolate-milk glasses and petrified cereal will make it impossible for me to make dinner without first drill-sargeanting the children through a clean-up or angrily cleaning it up myself. Both options equally disheartening and momentum killing. I will be exhausted by this point and my weak back will begin to moan in despair. I will be cranky. Really, very cranky and un-fun. My sense of humor will have been abandoned somewhere in the checkout line of the Home Depot hours earlier. The guilt of being the un-fun one will begin to seep into my cell structure. I will steep in regret.

By this time I will see what a horrible mistake I've made in paint colors, the winter light having anemically petered out of my bedroom, revealing the harsh borders, the garish blending of my misguided paint-choices.

To suggest airily that this is a room "fix" is the meanest, most mocking, finger wagging hoax I can imagine. The fix is in, that much I know. The "fix" for this room is to make it a room belonging to someone else entirely. Someone who has control over their environment, either with money, or personnel, or lots and lots of free time. And the only people who really, truly deserve such rooms are the people who have none of those things and probably never will.

I am old enough and formed enough to see beneath the veil of sexism.  But the promise of symmetry  and order in the home is a reckless pimp whose false betrothal lures me still. I'm am drawn to the airbrushed beauty of fruit bowls and thoughtful display, repurposed filing systems, boots at attention and hats all in a row on up-cycled hooks made from doorknobs.

The bedroom is a sanctuary. Insofar as it receives my wrecked, humiliated body in a tangle of ancient pillows and yellowed sheets at the end of the day. In its humble, familiar embrace I can rely. With its arms around me I can further peruse the images that make me resent it more deeply, as I sink into a drooling slumber.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Here's Cake in Your Eye

Kids birthdays cost three-hundred dollars. I've done this math a dozen different ways, and every time it comes out to three hundred bucks. You rent a place and invite some friends. three-hundred. You throw the party yourself and invite a few friends, three-hundo. Between the cake, some thematic party plates, a gift, some pizza pies, a treat bag, and a miscellaneous extra, three-hundred big ones. I've never figured out another way.

This year I said, smaller, please, more manageable. I can't make four cakes in two weeks. A party cake and a day-of cake for each, a week apart. Can't do it. Right? That's crazy talk. And I can't do a massive sleepover thing for one and not the other, and no human should have to suffer two consecutive weekends of house abuse, bodies strewn about like a refugee camp, toilets overflowing and muggings in the hallway.

So, for the boy, we're going to a place, with two friends. It's got lasers and a coin-snarfing arcade. At thirty bucks a head, before anyone's eaten a hot dog or whacked at a golf ball, you can figure my three hundred is not far from spent.

But it feels a little less than personal. I have a romantic notion of homemade things and crafts. These notions have nothing whatsoever to do with what my eight-year old wants and everything to do with some warbling call from my fantasy past, one that never existed, but one that I continue to conjure so that it can mock me in the present with its perfect untruth. What my kid wants, really, is to play video games with his friends. He doesn't give a shit about my sock puppet fantasy. Nothing he wants has yarn hair, hand stamping or raffia. He craves only pixels and maybe some candy, to go with the pixels.

But do not underestimate my ability to over think this thing. I will not rest until I have set expectations for myself that are so beyond my capacity to achieve them that I am almost immediately exhausted and  stress-barfing. Because nothing says happy birthday like a mother who is overwrought with anxiety and  aglow with the patina of disappointment.

So I head to Michaels, the craft mega store, where people like me can go, armed with glossy photos from Pinterest, to gather the close-but-not-quite-it supplies required for baking a Minecraft cake. Minecraft, for those of you not in the vortex, is a video game without any signifying themes. You build worlds out of pixelated bricks. I think. Something like that.

I went with this picture from Pinterest:

Ok, so you're thinking, "What the hell is that?" And the answer is, I don't totally know, but I know it reads Minecraft. It's a pixel-y building block thing. I knew Louis would get it immediately, and he really does like my cake. It's a mix, but it's my mix, and he likes that.

So I'm in the Michaels, looking for some pre-made fondant. I've got a plan. It's a plan that involves a lot of food-colored fondant, cut into tiny squares and arranged just so on top of my mix cake that Louis likes so very much. But my first stop is the cake box aisle, because I'm going to have to transport my finished masterwork to the blacktop laser park. So I'll need a box big enough to hold it.

I'm in front of the rack that holds the collapsed boxes at an angle. Kind of like this:

The dimensions and prices are typed in a very tiny font, and I've forgotten my glasses. So I'm kneeling in front of this thing, fingering the different flattened boxes, trying to find the one that will properly contain my dream.  What are the dimensions and price of such a box?

Michaels has inconveniently overfilled the display, so the cardboard boxes are really jammed in there while also spilling over their containment wires.  I have to yank and hold back simultaneously.  In what turns out to be less than the blink of an eye, I dislodge the corner of a box at close range and with great velocity directly into my eyeball. It's a direct hit, as if the rack was using my pupil for target practice.

It was both startling and excruciating.  I was blinded. Tears streamed from my eye in an overkill of protective eye washing. Water ran off my cheek soaking my shirt in an instant. I staggered around among the food dyes and cookie cutters, fondants and frosting bags, trying to open my eye, which was impossible. I careened over to the mosaic aisle to find a shard of mirror so that i might inspect the damage. On my way there an employee asked if he could help me find anything. Winking, and sniffling through the onslaught of tears I said, "No, actually, I've just jammed something into my eye...hard." He said, "Oh..." and after about ten mum seconds of staring, wandered away.

I somehow paid for the stuff that was in the cart, grossing out the clerk with my wet hand. Still without being able to open my eye, I drove across the parking lot to the Walmart, where they have a vision center. This is America. You too can receive sub par health care from a mass retailer. Using a shopping cart as a walker,  I approached a woman wearing an authoritative lab coat. I told her my story. Without expression she said, "There are no doctors here today." She stared at me blankly.  She didn't so much as offer me a tissue, or a seat. No humanitarian murmurs of consolation.  The eye specialist just stared at me until I went away with my damaged eye.

Later I found my way to an actual eye doctor, who did a lot very comforting things with special dyes and looky-lenses. He dimmed the lights and dropped anesthetic drops into the window of my soul.  He found a nasty scratch on my cornea and a bit of cake box still lodged in there. He did an entirely painless procedure to remove the cake box shrapnel. I left with prescriptions and reassurances that my vision would self correct.

But there was still cake to be made. Because no ill-conceived project shall be shelved before its time. I had to continue toward a conclusion that no one but me cared about, getting there using skills I do not possess, in an impossible time frame, with limited resources and now impaired vision. I made three layers of cake in varying sizes, to make a stepped platform for the many many fondant tiles I would the next day weigh them down with.

My friend, Carie, who is entirely up for anything, bless her soul, offered her kitchen for the project. We rolled fondant in our hands with food coloring so we could get the five shades required to form this nebulous construct. When Carie saw my stacked layers she looked doubtful. I said defensively,
"It's a crumb coat, it's not supposed to look like anything yet."

We mixed that fondant in our hands like stroke victims using therapy balls, smashing color into its resistant folds, until we had five shades that were nothing like what we'd hoped for. We cut tiles with a pizza cutter, about a hundred and fifty in all. We laid them down, one after the next in a random pattern, like the picture. And the more we laid them down, the worse it looked. The brown was an Oscar Meyer bologna brown, not the rich cappuccino brown I'd imaged. The greens failed to differentiate themselves. The tiles, when we had them all in a row, were of such different sizes and shapes that the pixelated quality was lost entirely and it looked more like a dadaist cake. A Rorschach cake. What do you see when you look at this dessert?

Me, I see a one-eyed dreamer, on her way to the supermarket to buy a cake.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Operation: Do Your Own Effing Laundry.

My dear British friends live in a small house. They have a small kitchen. They have a small fridge. They buy milk in containers only slightly larger than the cartons each child gets as a single serving with their school lunch here in The States. My friends have a washing machine, but no dryer. They wash a load, then drape the clothes on an elaborate drying rack in front of the radiator in the winter time, which in England is a good nine months of the year, and on a line outside the other three months. Their kids wear their clothes many times before they are considered dirty, and they have only a small selection of things to wear. This is not a function of poverty or deprivation, but of a prevailing sensibility about  how much is enough.

The sheer volume of clothing that is dispatched in this house is unrelenting and unforgivable. We, and when I say we, I of course mean they, treat clothing like it's dispensed from a roll. Single use, perforated tear-off, wear and dump. Add to this the fire hose of hand-me-downs pointed at us, drenching us in lovely, expensive ski jackets in a range of sizes, and shorts in every shade of navy and khaki. The piles can get deep.

Also, it seems only the freshest terry is worthy to blot the buttocks of my showered darlings.  Its a towel tsunami and we are being swept under by it.

When my family want something folded and put away not three feet from where they stand, they put it in the laundry basket in the bathroom.

A chorus of magical fairies sort the colors from the light. A pixie army facilitates the changing over from wash to dry. Oh! How their tiny joyful arms blur as they fold.  The owner of the once offending hoodie never once has to bend at the waist. It's enchanting.

I don't know when I became the laundry drudge. I do believe it began innocently enough. Honestly, I don't actually mind doing laundry. Of the thousand miserable household chores, I find the Downy fresh folding to be the least offensive. I enjoy the renewal, the do-over that fresh laundry provides. The ability to take the sweaty past and turn it into a fluffy future is a marvel. Tangled, putrid chaos becomes consent. It's zen in the art of wash.

I like a drink of cool water on a hot day, too. It doesn't mean I want to be water-boarded. When the hand-holding became a prison rape, I wanted out. Before I knew what was happening I was performing  daring feats of laundry - four, five loads a day, for people more able bodied than myself; washing things that were already clean, while everyone around me was getting in their naps and movies, snacks and playmates.

I once worried they'd ruin my stuff if I let them near the laundry. I recently woke to the dubious realization that I have no longer own fine apparel. The days of my owning, much less wearing, a thing that requires special attention in its care, are so long gone I can only dimly make out the shrunken silhouette of cashmere or silk as if through binoculars turned the wrong way around.

I say now, feel free to aggressively over dry my ruined cotton panties! Throw my t-shirts in with my jeans, neither have cried tears of fresh dye in more than ten years. Even things that were once lovingly laid flat to dry are now put through the 'fuck it' cycle of the Resignation 365 front-loader I now own.

But really, I don't even want them to do my laundry. My laundry is still a pleasure. I make small loads of legitimately dirty clothes. I use a single towel over an over again by hanging it to dry in a breeze. I am economical out of deference to the laundry doer and really out of not-quite-love for my sad, overworked clothes.

So today I did the thing. I said, no more! I walked my eight year old through the entire laundry procedural and announced the end of my reign. My daughter is ready. My husband is in deep denial, but also ultimately on board.

To those who can conquer worlds with the rapid agility of their thumbs, I say learn the digital interface of your washing machine keypad. Delve into the workings of stain treatment and load logic.

Know thy possessions. Learn the location of your sweatshirt. Heed the call of your dirty socks. When they are no longer in your drawer you will know it is time to listen for the dark whinny of the spin cycle and ride the white stallion of a bleach load.

Ride children, ride!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Under the Rainbow

The Wizard of Oz was the first movie I ever saw that made me aware that movies could be scary.

Margaret Hamilton, the actress who played The Wicked Witch of the West, said later that she felt guilty for much of her career, because she knew she had scared so many children playing that one role. I was one of them. But I don't hold a grudge. 

Margaret Hamilton altered my world view.  And though her Wicked Witch gave me a good fright, it was Almira Gulch, her under the rainbow character, that was terrifying to me. She, Ms. Gulch, was the evil that lurked in our human world, in the neighborhood of our childhood. She was the cruel adult. She represented all the powerful, mean grown ups I saw as a child, from the sadistically teasing gym teacher and the sour-faced lunch lady, to the guitar-teaching pedophile who prayed on me with their adult power.

Gulch hated Dorothy because Dorothy saw through Gulch's gingham, to her green-hearted core, and the power of Dorothy's seeing was the one thing stronger than the power Gulch exacted over her universe. The power of Dorothy's truth was too much and so Ms. Gulch wanted desperately to kill her little dog. Gulch sucked, and that movie scared the shit out of me. 

But it wasn't until I saw Jaws that I new what real horror was. I was eight in 1975, the year Jaws came out. My parents were getting divorced. My mom wanted to see the movie.  I'm not sure if my sister was there that day, but she may well have been. My intellectual, liberal mom had no problem at all taking her girls to see an adult movie (lower case 'adult'). I'm sure she thought it would be 'fun'.  And it might well have been, if the movie hadn't been about a giant man-eating shark that could eat the back of a boat.

I wanted desperately to leave the theater from the first terrifying chord, but my mom was understandably loving the film. She was simply enjoying seeing Jaws as an adult while I, on the other hand, was being permanently scarred by a film experience. I forgive her. But let me say without hyperbole that for months afterward, I was scared to take a bath. The sensation of floating in the bath water with my eyes closed, made sensory my memories of that film, and my irrational fear bloomed into what I now recognize to be,  a full-on panic attack. Never mind that it would be many many years before I would get in the actual ocean and even now I do so with some trepidation.  To this day my fascination with, and terror of sharks runs deep. I'm sure Stephen Spielberg feels guilty for scaring all those kids out of the ocean. I'm not mad at him either. 

But the experience of being so deeply terrified by Jaws changed me fundamentally. I never, ever wanted to be scared like that again. I didn't enjoy it as a ride, the way many kids legitimately do. I fucking hated it. Something in me formed that day. I made a decision. I would never ever, as long as I lived, see a scary movie. I vowed to myself, standing there in my Danskin top and corduroys, that I would never ever be pressured into seeing a scary movie by anyone, of any age, ever again, ever. It's the first decision I recall making on my own behalf. It was my first conviction. 

And it freed me. I told my mom about it and she was totally with it. She understood. No more scary movies for Jessie. Done. It was powerful.  Later, when there was peer pressure to see something creepy, I just said, Nope, I don't go to those. It was that simple. 
It felt like I was sticking up for myself. 

Then something terrible happened. For my ninth birthday, my dad announced he was taking me to see a show.  As a New York City kid, I got taken to a lot of theater. I saw the original casts of Annie, A Chorus Line and Grease, all shows I loved. I wore grooves in those cast albums that I sang along to, and acted out, in my bedroom.  And so, for my ninth birthday, a show!

My dad excitedly announced we were going to see... Death Trap

That's right, Death Trap. 

My heart sinks at the title. It sounds to my well trained ear like a scary title. The name of the play has two words in it and both of them are awful. I'm in a death trap of my own. I've made a vow to myself. A vow that works for me. And yet this is my dad, and he's doing this for me, and they're divorced, and this is my birthday present and I feel bad about everything under the sun, and he means well, and I'm totally fucking fucked. 

For those of you who have not seen Death Trap, the play is staged to look like the inside of the main character's library slash study. The walls are decorated with torture devices and old-timey weapons, like crossbows and maces and he's got the whole sordid hobby wall-mounted in his pseudo-intellectual man cave. I don't remember much more about it than this: the whole first act is... a... slow... build... up... of... tension, with startles that quickly amount to nothing, because the real something is going to happen in the second act. With music and light, the way only theater can, the play tightens the screws. To a regular audience member, this would probably have been good theater. Great even. But I was  levitating in my folding chair. I was so scared I felt like I'd been placed in a Space Bag(tm) and some unkind God was sucking the air out of it with a vacuum hose. I could have been put in the freezer and preserved. I was perma-sealed in fear. 

I lean over and tell my dad that I'm really scared. He says, "It'll be fine. It's not that scary." But on the contrary I'm really, really scared.  He repeatedly assures me that I am not. 

I sit through a few more taut minutes. I lean over again.  "I'm too scared." I whisper to him. "Can I go wait for you in the lobby?  I don't mind, I'll wait."

I assure you, dear readers, that I would have been delighted to sit in that lobby of for 16 hours if it meant that I did't have to sit in the theater for one additional minute. But my dad was in a bind. He couldn't really let me sit alone in the lobby, I guess, and he was watching this surely expensive show, and this was my birthday thing that he was doing for me, and what the fuck was I so afraid of?  Except the house lights are down now for the second act, and his hushing whisper is now a loud inside-voice. I'm in deep shit and I'm either going to sit in my own feces for the second act, or I'm going to stand up and get the hell out of there. 

I beg him to let me sit in the lobby. Instead he noisily picks up his coat and umbrella and storms from the theater, bashing everyone's knees on the way out. I follow him out, apologizing to the Gulch faces as they point their knees unbudgingly to the side. 

It was not a great birthday. 

By the time we'd walked a few blocks with dad swearing and yelling, and we were finally in a cab, I think my dad realized the size of his fuck up. Not only in the bad-choice pick of theater, but also the other stuff. That he'd been a complete hot-headed prick. That his temper had seared the fear from the show into me like an branding iron.  His misplaced anger turning an uncomfortable evening into an unbearable one. 

He tried with all his might to put the toothpaste back in the tube. I think the desperation of the situation struck him fully. That his marriage was over, that his child was afraid, that I was becoming my own person, that I had rights, and that he'd just ruined my birthday loudly in front of strangers. 

I don't envy him that regret. 

Of course I got older. I forgave my dad and eventually I saw Jaws, swam in the ocean and went on to lead a somewhat normal life.  Scary movies are now some of my favorites. Though I've still never seen a single slasher film. No pure horror of any kind. And I don't like practical jokes. I don't like the feeling of pulling something over on someone. I hate the moment when the joke is working and the face of the victim is so open and genuine. I don't like it when people hide and jump out. I don't care for it and have little humor about it. I think these are residues from my childhood. I find the real world quite scary enough and I don't need my trusted friends jumping out from behind bushes to prove it to me. Also, I don't do roller coasters. Not down with those. I don't want to feel precarious and out of kilter at dangerous heights with impossible speed.  The Wicked Witch of the West is plenty scary for me. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Valentines Day

If you are one of the chosen then you are hosting your child's class Valentine's Day Class Party, this instead of getting your dirty swerve on in the late afternoon, like you really should be

In the old days, if you were in charge of bringing a snack to school you'd just fold nuts into some gluten, infuse it with dairy products, tint it with a little red dye, dust it with powdered sugar and call it a party. But no more. Because today if you do that, someone will die. And nothing says 'love' like inadvertently prompting anaphylaxis in your kid's classmate.

We parents follow the guidelines, all formed in the negative. No red juices, No wheat, No dairy. This child over here has a chocolate allergy, this one inflames at the sight of strawberries, that one hives with latex. But where are the helpful suggestions, the lists of what's left to be consumed in festive environs? Air-popped popcorn, dry, not because it wants to be, but because it's parched surface cannot bond with salt and simply shakes it loose like a dress on your wedding night. A little water to wash it down? Not if you're bringing it in plastic bottles.That's just wrong. Even I can see that 24 plastic bottles thrown to the Pacific Gyre is shameful, if quenching.  And no juice. Juice is now considered a junk food, and a delivery system for harmful dye and instant diabetes.

God help the bearer of Nuts, for you shall be called Murderer.

Here's what I miss: a brownie with walnuts. Banana bread, also with walnuts. Peanut butter and anything. Dry-roasted, salted, spiced, sugared, blanched, in shell or out, crumbled as a topping, folded into batter, sprinkled on cereal, in a muffin, in a cookie, raw, toasted and tossed, offered in a bowl - NUTS!

Long ago there was the bake sale where you could choose a nut-free option if you were one of the unfortunate ones. Now nuts are a dirty, besmirched food, relegated to secret pantry forays.  Take me out to the ballgame.  Not if you want a peanut in a shell. Now it's pretzels, even when you flying the friendly skies. Or worse, pita chips in tiny bags. I never thought I'd miss the airplane peanuts, wiping the salt from the corners of the bag with my licked wet finger.

Healthy snacks that a kid will eat and feel cheerful about?  Happy Valentines Day, you're each getting a handful of lentils and an Epipen.