Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Fucked-Up Winter's Tale

Leave it. The shovel stands against the door, dripping. The cat licks at it, though her water bowl is only feet away. Kick off your soggy shoes. Resolve to find your winter boots. For no particular audience, begin.

The unsexy strip-tease. Peel the gloves off with your teeth but note that this only leaves little black wool balls on your tongue. The houndstooth coat, hat, and scarf get hung on the vacuum. You look back and realize it's a bit like a scarecrow....a half-stuffed scarecrow, and the vacuum looked better than you did.

The cold huffs against the glass. Steamylike. Truthfully, it weeps. Condensation. Dense. Problematic as the upstairs neighbor who took a liking to you. At first you talked to him because you hadn't talked to anyone all day. You were scared you were going to start talking to the cat. You made small talk. You found yourself saying your boyfriend wouldn't be home for another two weeks and then scared that you did so. He said he was a student taking journalism classes, and having nothing better to say, you said you were an English teacher. You could see his eyes light up. He asked if you'd published. A poetry book. Does that count? He said he wrote Romantic Sci-Fi, and he emphasized Romantic, and you felt a little nauseous, though it could have been the peanut butter and cranberry sauce sandwich you ate before you went out to shovel.

You are polite, and say, "Well, publishing is publishing." And before you know it, he's taken the stairs by two or three, has disappeared into his surely dungeonous apartment, and is back just as quickly with a copy of The Book. He suggests that he shovel while you read his book. You say, "No, I'll keep shoveling." So he opens it and reads about human slavery. He skips a part and mumbles something. You are sure he said the word "sexy," and you know one of two things is true:
1) He stopped reading because he'd reached a part he thought was too sexy or
2) He thought reading aloud to you was sexy.

You dig deep, putting more into the shovel than your back would like you to. You are fat, and your body likes you to take things slowly, if at all, when it comes to exercise. He asks if you are in a writing group, and without waiting, he tells you that HE is in a writing group that meets Saturdays at a local coffee shop. You keep shoveling and remark that writing groups are like book groups...that they end before they start because no one can commit. And then you think you just said something that sounds like you're talking about a relationship.

You are now at least 20 feet away from him. You're shoveling like you've never shoveled before: head down, shoulder literally to some sort of grindstone. You are moving that snow, by God. You think you might be bent in half. You are a woman warrior. Bad Ass. If he touched you right now, you'd rip off his head and shit down his sci-fi writing neck. You know that you should feel sorry for him because he's wearing a jean jacket, and the bottoms of his jeans are flannel like a jean/pajama combo, but instead you feel creeped out. Invaded.

But your only violence is verbal. You will stop this flirting he's doing by mentioning your boyfriend approximately 30 times in the space of 30 seconds. You're not quite sure how you managed to cram in all those mentions. You said something like, "Mike is in Connecticut, but boy he calls me day and night. Mike will be home soon. Mike loves the snow. Mike hates to shovel. Mike will be glad to get home to US--the kitty and me. Mike sure is a big bruiser. I will be glad to be in Mike's big muscular arms--I think Mike said he killed a man just for looking at him wrong. I think Mike said that once. "

But this guy's is MORE verbally violent. He says, "Isn't he like TWENTY-FIVE?" And he sort of hisses it, and it wriggles up my pant leg and bites me on my ass.

"Yesssssss," I hiss back, but it's not a comeback.

"So you're a cougar?"

And before I can say anything, Creepy Upstairs Neighbor Sci-Fi writer goes upstairs, and I'm left in the cold, with another half of the driveway to shovel. So what's a girl to do? She comes inside and takes the only antidote she can. She turns on some Black Keys. She peels down to nothing but skin. She's not a bubble bath kind of girl. She's a water-so-hot-it-nearly-scalds-you kind of girl. She's a get-in-before-the-water's-finished-running kind of girl. She's a fuck-you-age-doesn't-matter girl.

Okay, as pointed out earlier, she's not a girl at all. She's 100% all-natural, "bring home the bacon, fry it in the pan....I'm gonna show you how to be a man" woman. And this woman is slippery when wet and washing away winter. A bath a day keeps the rude neighbor away, and hopefully it will speed the clock until her "boy" is home.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Phoenix Pair

The prompt for Sunday Scribblings is "What a Difference a Day Makes," which of course makes me think of the song lyrics to the song they're referring to:

"It's Heaven when you find romance on your menu."

It's not hard hard to find romance, though it's not as easy as the song lyrics make it seem. I found it early this week while on a thrift store shopping adventure. I found a 1985 daybook, planner, organizer, whatever you want to call it. I don't know much about the previous owner. In the first 3 pages, there are lines reserved for the owner of the daybook to write bank account information, the names of credit cards and numbers, health insurance records, etc--the sort of data that none of us in our right minds would record in the front of a book. We might as well write the information on our foreheads right after the salutation, "Dear Identity Thief:"

She wasn't worried about this, though. Apparently, 1984 was a gentler time. It was a time when we we could leave doors unlocked, and identity theft was the stuff of futuristic TV movies of the week. She had a savings account (last 4 numbers of her account number are 2887). Likewise, I know she had a J.C. Penney's credit card, and she wrote that number dutifully in the space provided. She began her entries on December 8:

"Debbie Peterson had a house warming party at her new appartment. Shawn T. was there. Party wasn't fun. Deb and I went to T.J.'s and talked."

This, of course, makes me curious who Shawn T. is, and I wonder why the party wasn't fun or if the owner of the diary was simply being bitchy. Later, we'll find that, while Deb seems like a confidante, she's got a dark side.

Another clue as to the identity of the planner owner comes in the next entry (12/10/84): "Got my name in the Idahonian's newspaper. It was about Campus Mail Room."

I think that must have been a really boring newspaper article. Maybe she was employed there. Maybe she was a student, and they asked her opinion on the mail room, reporter-on-the-street style.

I won't lie. Things are pretty boring for awhile. A week passes, with an entry on 12/16/84 in which she apparently attends an auction. Or so it seems. You see, the auction is identified as Dave Mattoon and Ed Mclam's. That Monday, there's a mention of a Dave, so perhaps the auction was the beginning of romance:

"Dave came over to my house. We went up to my room and talked. I showed him my art pictures."

Hmm. It appears she took home more than merchandise from the auction. The naughty minx in me partially wants for that last sentence to be purely euphemism. You know. It's where I'd make air quotes by making peace signs with two fingers on each hand and then bending those peace signs. I'd be implying that, if this was a mathematical equation, art pictures is equal to NAUGHTY BITS.

This is a romantic girl for sure. Her next entry (12/19/84) explains that her mother and father celebrated their 20th anniversary. She gave them her two favorite pictures (pieces of her artwork or photos?) and her father gave her mom a diamond ring: "One with 4 diamonds."

Thursday, December 20, all hell apparently broke loose in the Campus Mail Room: "Joanna got put down. Debbie and Mike railroaded her. Debbie's a low down Bitch! She's a big trouble maker and loose with different guys. The 24th of November she hit up on my boyfriend. Dave told her I'm not interested."

Woo-whee! But this complicates things. If Dave is her boyfriend, why did earlier entries make her seem as though they were fresh and new? Perhaps having just met? Is there more than one Dave?

Friday 21, 1984: "Christmas party in the Mail room. There was a lot of food. Dave and I went to the Moscow Motel to drink. Dale and Ed was there. Then we went to that new place by toco-time. Too many frat rats. Ugh! Then to the Capricorn. Dave and Ed were there. Ed was drunk. I put ice cubes down his shirt and pants. He put them down mine. The twit! Had a lot of fun. Dave and I made love in his car in front of my house."

The plot thickens. So the owner of the journal is obviously old enough to drink, but she's living at home. She is dating Dave, but she seems to be tracking two other guys. And she did a guy in front of her house! Saucy!

On the 22nd through Christmas Day, she doesn't write a lot. Sure, she went to her grandparent's house , opened presents, had a nice time, ate a lot, but she doesn't have a lot to say.

She writes again on Thursday, December 27. In a lined journal, it's the only wonky entry. She doesn't write on the lines but instead scrawls her entry diagonally in crimped fashion: "I really liked Dave. I really never told him. I'm glad I didn't cause that would probably be the end of the relationship. He taught me how to love lovemaking. I never got so excited like that with any other guy. Well, he's gone now so I have to find another guy that will make me feel good."

Hold the phone! Wait one cotton-pickin' minute! What happened? And if he meant so much and was so good in the sack, then why not hang on to him? Instead, she's on to the next!

Before you get too sad, she mentions Dave again on the 28th: "$165.31 left to pay on my car. Dave and I went to the shop and talked and made love many times in the camper. We had a very nice time. Dave gave me phone numbers of some of his friends that I have met."

I'm so confused! Exactly how many is many? Oooheh. And you'd think that if it was MANY times, it would be described as more than a "nice time" (true. she does use the qualifier, very...but we all know that very is a lazy writer's best friend. It doesn't add much to the description, and you're better off choosing a stronger noun, etc.). And if they had such a nice time, why did Dave give her his friends' numbers? Guy friends? Was he brushing her off? Playing wing man to his friends?

And it gets even more confusing. The next day, she writes: "Dave and I went to Club Troy in Troy and ate breakfast. He took me home. On the way, he got stuck at the beginning of the road going to my house in the driveway. Mom helped push. Gave him one last kiss. Never will see him again. Debbie Peterson's Birthday party. Didn't go."

The final entry takes place on Sunday, December 30: "Debbie Peterson's Birthday, her big 19th."

I read these journal entries, and I wonder how things turned out. I wonder if those two weeks matter to her anymore. I wonder if Dave does. I wonder if she continued her writing in another book, or if the incident ended her journaling tendency. I wonder how this time in her life reflected on her later in life. Did Dave's awesome lovemaking pave the way to other great lovers? Or did he ruin her for any future lovers? I wonder if she works in a better place, a place free of put downs and and railroading and low-down bitches. I wonder if she broke free of her love/hate relationship with Debbie. I wonder if she comes home to visit her parents if still alive. I wonder if she looks up Debbie or Dale or Ed when she comes back into town. I wonder if she came home for Thanksgiving and what she's thankful for. I wonder why I assume she left town.
I wonder how the day planner made its way to a thrift store. Did she die? Most people who give away diaries or journals tear out incriminating pages before they give them away. O wonder what she'd think knowing that someone read (and later wrote about) the two weeks of her life she deemed important enough to write about.

I wonder why I read notes I find in supermarket aisles, parking lots, and tucked into library books. I wonder why I care about people I don't know. I wonder what I would say to these people if I could track them down. I wonder what they'd look like. Sometimes I like to imagine they'd look an awful lot like me. And I bet we wouldn't have to say a thing. It would be a knowing glance, a look that said, "I know who you are. I've been there." It would be two phoenix's coming face to face, each having risen from their respective fire.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Lonely Apprentice

On Thanksgiving Day 2010, I miss my guru, my teacher, Sensei. The apprentice still has much to learn and frankly, is enjoying the lessons.

I've done lots of learning in my 35 years, most of it conventional book learning. I took the expected path: high school, college, and grad school. Well, maybe I shouldn't say it was the expected path. I grew up in a small town, and the expected path for small-town girls is wife and stay-at-home mom, hopefully in that order. I never got that degree. I failed those courses. Every time I'd go home for holidays, I'd run into classmates, and they'd ask what I'd been up to. I'd say, " I'm getting my [fill in the blank] degree." They'd say, "Oh...but are you married?" I'd say no. They'd look down at the kids in their grocery cart, tussle the hair of the child clinging to a leg, and nod politely with that tight-lipped, smug expression I've come to know as pity.

My uterus only twinged occasionally, usually upon notification that another friend had become part of the sorority of motherhood. Mainly, though, those twinges could be numbed by spending an afternoon with a friend and her kids. It was partially like an innoculation: getting a mix of sugar and spice, with enough poison that it didn't kill me but enough to make me careful. Or maybe it was more like the driver's ed Blood on the Highway films: a scare-me-straight tactic that ensured that I'd keep my eyes on the education prize and so be methodically accurate in all matters of sex and birth control.

It wasn't that I wasn't focused, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd never sit at the table with the grown-ups. I was the kid set up with the cardtable lemonade stand outside the Starbucks selling it's green tea lemonades for $5. I was the one playing catch-up when I'd go home to my apartment, researching all the philosophers and literary critics classmates tossed casually about in classroom conversation. I just couldn't cut it.

And I was okay with that. I watched friends exit academia with their Ph.D.'s in hand, only to embark on rounds of unsuccessful job hunting that made speed dating look like a walk in the park. Or occasionally, you'd see the Ph.D. put to total non-use: a brilliant woman who was working in public transportation. To quote from the famous Mike Myers, I said, "Someone get me off this crazy thing called love." I loved learning but loved my sanity more.

I won't lie. It's an uncomfortable exit, and those who spend their lives in school know the skin-crawling feeling of non-academia. You feel like the knowledge you have will drain out your ears or emit from your pores like garlic, and you worry that you'll suddenly turn instantly dumb. But the truth is, you still learn, just not in the most structured of ways. You're no longer paying to learn, and so all the pressure's on you to get out of life whatever you can. I read copiously. I surf the Net. The poet and writer in me is the opposite of those See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil monkeys. Contrary, I see everything, hear everything, and say whatever I feel. Likewise, catlike, I rub up along all the wonderful people I can. There's knowledge everywhere and in everyone, especially in those who don't consider themselves knowledgeable.

Of course, you downplay an English degree around some. You know their inadequacies will squirm around in them until they blurt out things about poor spelling skills or having failed English classes--things you basically don't give a shit about. Thankfully, there are the brazen few who don't give a shit whether you have a degree. They consider a degree a piece of paper, but toilet paper also an important piece of paper and infinitely more useful. I love those people. My grandmother was one. My Uncle Dick was another. And my boyfriend is of this kind. Yet these 3 people are among the most influential in my life. They share teacher status.

My uncle and grandmother are gone, lost to cancer, and so my main teacher is my boyfriend. He is his own University, and I'm working at a degree. This semester, I've got a full load:

*I'm taking wrestling, with an emphasis on forehead slaps. If I am lucky, I will avoid an archaic torture form that involves "mushroom stamping," an archaic form of humilation that works well as a verbal threat.

*I'm enrolled in Baconology 101. This is an in-depth study of how many dishes can include bacon, even if the student has expressed a vow to avoid eating meat.

*I'm auditing History of Xbox. I'm noticing it is a bit like religion...with a box shrine-like and occupying a sacred space next to the professor's bed. It seems to involve lots of talking to the TV screen and writing notes about recruits in a special notebook.

*There are several classes on football. I'm struggling with calling the professor's beloved team The Saints even when it's the Patriots. When I'm quizzed about the colors, I say white, blue, and red...and I get one wrong: it's silver, not white. There are pop quizzes on first down, second down, etc. And the teacher insists that I choose a favorite player (Woodhead!), and we take field trips wherein I'm immersed in real-life scenarios of watching a game with real football fans.

*There's Masculinity 240: farting, being able to pop knuckles, packing a good chew, watching South Park, and selective listening when around girlfriends. Strangely, this class also includes sensitivity training: how to hold a kitty like a baby, how to make your girlfriend feel like the most beautiful, special girl in the world, and an addendum to selective listening: listening and remembering what really matters to your girlfriend.

* There's Musicology: how to mix NIN, Eminem, ICP, Led Zeppelin, and The Black Keys without losing your mind. There's a seminar class on how to desensitize your girlfriend to the lyrics that feature violent acts to women and cats. Additionally, there's a lecture on weird times to play Johnny Cash and how to sing silly and wonderful songs to your girlfriend in the darkness, just before you both drift off to dream.

* Lovemaking 400. This is a Master's Level class. A lab and many practicum hours are required. There are infinite opportunities for extra credit.

This is the sort of class that makes the student wish there was no Thanksgiving break. A week is too long, and 3 weeks is torture. This student is eager to get back to the classroom. She misses it very much.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fortune Teller Barbie

The kitchen table is a Barbie-scape: partitioned microcosms of activity of the plastic goddess variety. It's a feminist world, with only 1 Ken per at least 20 ladies. In all honesty, it reminds me of a conversation that once took place while on a dog walk with the Missoula Human Society ladies. They joked that there needed to be an all-woman commune: a city block of houses owned by women and only visited by men when in need of repair or when the libido was in need of repair (wink wink).

This Ken in the middle of the table, however, doesn't look as if he could repair anything. Sure he's smiling, but I don't get the sense that he's handy or that he's getting lucky. Don't get me wrong. He's handsome, but there's something offputting about those mitten-like hands and the eunich state of his crotch.

No Ken. This world is for the ladies, and they seem to have it under control. In one sphere, a svelte hottie on tippy toes is being gawked at by her two labs, and the little girl nearby (her daughter, though adopted judging by the different facial features and hair coloring) is playing with two lab puppies.

In another picnic-type area, there's a woman in an evening gown lying down, a child doing a handstand, and another woman propped up. She can't stand on her own two feet in the most literal sense. This is an equal-opportunity world. This woman is severely disfigured and disabled, yet smokin' hot. She is stylish, also apparently later attending a black tie affair, regardless of the Band-aid on her foot and her left hand. The damage is already done on the right hand, which appears to have been slashed. I've never known whether it's appropriate to ask how someone became disabled, but curiosity got the best of me. I was informed that Luna, the dog they had a long time ago caused the wounds to Courtney. And Courtney is special because she was given to Sydney when Sydney had to go to the hospital for breathing problems.

All the world is a stage, and these particular stages are built out of the styrofoam packing materials computers come in. On one stage, there's a girl in a prom dress, apparently either waiting for her prom date or having gone stag. On the other stage, there's a woman clearly still trying to bring the 80's back. Her hair is crimped. She's wearing a jean jacket and leggings. And she's a single mother, as evidenced by the toddler playing in her lap and the two infants curled fetal beside her.

There's also a nod to nature. A floor lamp serves as a tree on which there are swings and gymnastic devices. One little girl is suspended from what appears to be parachute line or bungee cord. Below her, a girl has fallen on her scooter. She's on her back and looking up at the tree branch, perhaps envious of the girl who is doing flips. I have a feeling she has fallen before, as she has a Band-aid on her leg, and her top is missing. Luckily, the park seems a safe, perv-free zone in which little girls can ride their scooters topless.

It's likely that she was riding her scooter over the bridge. Or maybe she was swimming in one of two clear above-ground pools. Or maybe she was visiting the Goop tourist attraction. It's a test tube of navy-colored blob. Hayley informs me that I can get my own Goop for $4. She takes it out and tosses it on the table. I move to touch it and quickly recoil from the wet-yet-not-wet oddity. I ask, "What do you do with it?" She nods at the blob on the table and says, "That's it." It has a smell. I put my hand up to my nose. She says, "Yeah. I try not to touch it." Oh.

Finally, there is the all-monkey zoo. It's a bowl resting atop a cooling rack. There are 3 monkeys in an atmosphere made up of a toy bed, cotton balls, rocks, and trees that look suspiciously like wilted celery tops. The monkeys wear bows in their hair--pink bows--and I come to understand that even the zoo in this Barbieland is woman-exclusive.

I survey the landscape and the two girls who built the landscape, and I find myself wondering what kind of women they'll be. If their play is any indication, they will be:
* animal lovers
* physically active
*nurturing mothers
*compassionate and inclusive to those who are different
* fashionistas (or nudist colony members)

I realize that one can't predict the future of a child in the same way that some can look into a cup of tea and read the swirling tea leaves, but as self-proclaimed Auntie, I can't wait to watch their lives unfold and to see if some of their future wasn't foretold by what would appear to many as simply a mess of dolls on a kitchen table.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Merry Easter, With Gratitude?

Whose BRIGHT IDEA was it to skip through seasons? It is November 19, and the turkey hasn't come out of the proverbial oven. No wishes have been fought over the wishbone. I haven't yet had a chance to count my blessings.
One expects the marketers to fast forward to Christmas quicker than you can whip up a batch of Paula Deen's Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake, but who knew that spring was so close behind? Yet, the catalog you're looking at proclaims "Everything you need for Spring is here!" By everything, the catalog means bunnies: stuffed bunnies, bunny wreaths, bunny ornaments, Crinkle-legged bunnies, long-legged bunnies, bunnies with room for candy in their bellies, sequin bunnies, bunnies made of dried lavender or grape vine, bunny finger puppets, cotton mache bunnies, bunny picture holders, stretchy chenille bunnies, knob hanger bunnies, bunnies with bunny slippers, big-foot bunnies, bunny pairs riding a see-saw, bunnies with bouquets of flowers, bunnies with carrots atop which graze ladybugs, bunnies wearing knickers, shirtless bunnies with beer bellies protruding over blue jeansand bunnies wearing no clothes. Would you like your bunny to sit in a wagon or to be pulled in a rolling carrot cart? Or maybe you prefer your rabbits to be workers who push wheelbarrows, or to garden with watering cans and shovels. You can step on bunny stepping stones. Depending on your bunny needs, you can buy your bunnies per each or get them by the dozen.
And don't forget the bunny accessories: metal carrots, easter eggs, pinwheels, and watering cans. The watering cans are ostensibly to water the many flowers blooming on adjacent pages: metal flowers, hanging flowers, and a sack of flowers whose purpose is only limited by your imagination. It's all associational. Where there are flowers, can butterflies be far behind? Nope. There are butterfly wall hangings, yard stakes, plant stakes, garden rocks, candle holders, magnets, and garland. Also flying the spring-friendly skies are dragonflies, hummingbirds, owls, and birds of undisclosed species whose bellies open to hold candy. There are country birds sporting bonnets or backwards baseball hats (kind of ghetto, if you ask me) and a country bird riding a bicycle. And I'm not sure whether they're country or city or perhaps suburban, but there are also resin birds bathing in a resin bird bath. Finally, there are those other winged creatures: angels. Angels, apparently don't take angel baths, and I'm not sure where they take on water.
If you can take your eyes off the skies for just a moment, you'll see the snails, turtles, and mushrooms afoot. And don't overlook the frogs, most of which seem to be"country" frogs sporting overalls and straw hats, because those in the country always wear overalls and straw hats, and they're of course chewing on a shaft of wheat.
The non-country frogs are tealight holders, rain gauges, key boxes, and strangely, frog houses. Can you imagine if we had human houses that looked like humans (naked or clothed)?
The catalog explains that Spring isn't the time to sit around daydreaming and watching the bunnies and frogs butterflies go by. According to the catalog, it's about time you got off your lazy ass and built a work ethic. You need to understand that "Flowers are not planted by sitting in the shade." Console yourself knowing that your hard work will pay off, though, because "God bless[es] the hands that work in the garden."
As if that's not enough work to do, the catalog wants you to do inner work....Dr. Phil-type work. Get your head straight, in other words. In the imperative, they command you to act (in groupings of four):
"hope, believe, enjoy, laugh"
"trust, love, dream, peace"
"believe, hope imagine, dream"
Spring must also be a depressing time because the catalog entreats you to "Do one thing in the garden that makes you happy." Can you feel the love? No? I bet you don't even know where to find love, but signs explain, "Love lives here" and if it doesn't live here (which is wherever YOU are, by implication), then you can grow it: "Love blooms where kindness is planted."
The catalog asks you to go deep. Self-assessment is key. Are you an ungrateful swine? Spring is the time, apparently, to remind yourself to "Count your blessings" and to become a better parent. Your child is NOT a pain in your ass but is, instead, one of "God's flower buds just waiting to open." Not a parent? Well, perhaps it's time to ring up your parents and remind them exactly how special you are. And who are they to argue? It's all there in pastel writing.