Thursday, June 28, 2012

An Obvious Thing

We are in flagrant disregard of Duty.
It would seem an obvious thing, the sun in summer.

There are wild fires, heat waves, people evacuating, sweating. We sit in sweatshirts in the evening and discuss whether or not to build a fire. It would seem an obvious thing, the sun in summer.

It emerges and so do we. We come out blinking, a city of moles. White like Haddocks and timid, unsure. Like shy brides we haltingly walk into the parks, the squares, the public spaces. We resist the urge to cover newly exposed flesh. We take all our business outdoors. Lunches are eaten, teeth are picked, clothes are changed, naps, definitely naps.

Siblings fight and wrestle, dump water down each other's pants. I write and practice my long range stink-eye. They lift their heads and look at me sometimes. They nod, thumbs-up, mouth O-K. They do not take this stink-eye seriously. Nor do I. It is merely for effect. A reminder. Yes, we are stripped to our underwear and playing in a public fountain, but there are decencies to observe. This stink-eye of mine remains like a vestigial tail or something from a time before them, before the sunshine and the splashing and the underwear and shrieking. Some archetypal image of The Way Things Are Done and Things We Do Not Do and I Would Never...

I forget and I ignore them while they play. This is why they love me best today. Because I ignore them. Sometimes it is best to be ignored and be left to mischief. The crows are taking advantage of these lax circumstances. And a seagull has swung by from the ship canal. The seagull is ridiculous, as big as a goose. Like that tall kid in middle school who got breasts and acne early. Awkward, gawking around, looking for a place to fit. The crows mock it and chase it with their fierce, hard beaks. They have rumbling smokers' caws and slick black feathers like greasers. They are pretty and too smart for their own good. The seagull just plods around among them, trying to find a friend.

The hobos have a box of popcorn. Like a moving-sized box. Full of popcorn. I am curious about the provenance of this popcorn. They scatter the popcorn for the birds and the seagull taunting ceases temporarily. There is more than enough for everyone. I am a little bit ashamed. I have been rabidly protecting my pizza crusts, bagel ends and fancy expensive protein bar remains from the birds. I don't want them to touch me with their lizardy feet or poop near me. I am squeamish and selfish. The hobos, they understand scavenging. They understand being misfit. They have watched the moms gather their children closer when they pass. I feel bad and want to ask them about their giant box of popcorn.

The birds are done with the popcorn for now and they have moved on in a loosely choreographed flapping and squawking. Incredibly they have reformed on the arm of a well-dressed man. Pencil thin gray trousers, neatly pressed dress shirt sleeves turned up in honor of the sudden warmth. An inky flock of birds fly from knuckles to elbow and up under his Important sleeve. He walks with purpose, buried in conversation on his phone. He has Important Things To Discuss. His birds tell a slightly different story than his phone and his clothes and I want to ask him about them. I am not on the other end of his phone, though, so I do not get the chance.

The girls in dresses from my eighth grade dances breeze past. All shoulder pads, high waists, wide belts. Geometric patterns and bold colors. They can wear these though. They are young and invincible. They are not Haddocks. They are brown and brushed and do not chase small people across public spaces. They are like burnished statues, monuments to youth and perfection and seem to say "We can wear these ugly clothes because we make them beautiful with our glow. We are young because we do not remember them from before. These are not the clothes of agonizing adolescence. These are the clothes of quirky irony and we have inherited them to show you how it's done." I let them because I don't care that much about it. I laugh that what is old is new again, and I am suddenly older. They will see pictures later and wonder who these people were who thought such things were good ideas and then they will know why we others sit in comfortable jeans and natural fibers, sensible shoes.

There are children on leashes and dogs who roam free. I wonder at this backwards world and hope the dogs don't poop near me or touch me with their tongues. I briefly hope the same of the children. But they are on leashes, so it is less likely. The children are up long past nap time and sit on the ground and cry. The mothers resist the urge to do the same. Childless grass nappers open one eye and stare. They do not understand this resistance to repose. The dogs sniff for popcorn. The hobos have moved on and left their box. A large child rides a tiny tricycle through the fountain. There is scolding and pouting and arguing. Perhaps some foot stomping, too. The sun has turned a bit in the sky.

The opalescent Haddock flesh begins to turn the iridescent pink of Salmon and the dogs get restless. Mothers check their clocks and a general rustling begins. Like the crows, they begin to flap and migrate. Disorganized and all at once, emerging into a pattern. Dripping children, blue lips with soggy pants, pink cheeks and goosebumps find bicycle helmets, a drink of water. I stand and somehow dump my coffee down the back of my shirt and pants. I am dripping, too, and smell like what I imagine is South America. Musk and sunshine, sweat and strawberries and coffee. I sit back down and laugh.

I stand again and collect my things. I sneak past the box of popcorn and take a peek. I say a silent thank you for all of this nonsense. For the birds and the fountain. The hobos and their purloined popcorn in a shipping box. For the children and the dogs and the walking, rusting tattoos. For the statuesque goddesses and the skate punks. For my Haddock flesh that will carry me home with groceries and wet monkeys on two wheels.

It is all absurd.
It is all so beautiful and in motion.
An amoebic throbbing and constant moving of in and out.
The world contracts and expands to allow another and some more as we come and go.
There is room for everyone here in the sun.
It's an obvious thing, this sun in summer.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mama's Hitting the Hard Stuff

Liquor boxes are the best.
They are sturdy, a good size. They are made for toting heavy valuables. They are free.

Should you see my husband driving around, hitting up all the liquor stores in town, do not be alarmed.

Should you see the kids and me in our Sunday best sitting in the car outside the liquor store, waiting for Daddy to return, it's not what you think.

Should you walk into my living room and see what appears to be twenty cases of good vodka stacked on our hearth, you will be disappointed if you think we are planning some sort of swank party. I don't know how to mix a cocktail. In fact, the only cocktails I know are the names I've read in books. Nerd, I know. It's the kind of nerd I'm all right to be, though.

The truth is, Mama has been hitting the hard stuff again.

The hard stuff like that cupboard under the stairs that has been a repository for random and useless things for the last five years.

The hard stuff like trying to determine which of my babies' priceless works of art to part with.

The hard stuff like resisting the urge to sit down and read all of the letters from friends and family that I have saved for the last 20 years or so.

The hard stuff like sneaking broken toys and cherished junk to Goodwill when no one is looking.

So it's my fault. I've sent my husband out to the liquor stores. It's me. I'm the one who's been holed up in the house, ignoring my kids, too dirty to be seen by the general public, hitting the hard stuff and hitting it hard.

My husband comes back loaded with gems that make my head spin: Grand Marnier, Goldschlager, Seagram's, Smirnoff. I exclaim with exhausted, half-sick glee over them and hoard them to myself, telling everyone to go away and leave me to it. I just need them to get me through this time. I'll quit in a month. I won't need them after that. I promise.

In a few weeks, we'll load it all back on the wagon. I'll be done with it all. I'll send them on their way. It will be back to business as usual. I will quit and I will enjoy the summer outdoors, I will play with my kids, I will socialize with friends again. I may even shower and shave. In a few weeks. For now, I'm hitting the hard stuff. Please excuse the mess.

Liquor boxes are the best.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Remembering My Lines

"Honey! Time to get up. You don't want to be late for your last day of school!"

A few months ago, the jBird and I were lying on the floor reading together. In the book she was reading, the main character's mother said this to her daughter. jBird read it to me in that sing-song voice that denotes a friendly and warm adult.

"Can you say this to me when it's my last day of school?" she asked me.
"Sure," I said. "You want me to remind you it's the last day of school?"
"No, I want you to say it to me just like that," and she repeated the line in the same sing-song Mother voice.
"No problem," I said.
"You have to remember to do it."

The mothers in the books she reads are either perfect or absent. The perfect ones are attorneys, astrophysicists, veterinarians. But they always seem to be on vacation. They always have the correct words to say to their daughters. They are warm and loving when they need to be, but stay out of the way most of the time. They are these benign, flat characters who serve a certain purpose and then fade into the background. The absent ones are another sort of wish-fulfillment, I suppose. My jBird is intrigued by orphans. Some of the mother characters are so horrible that it is a relief they are gone. Others are an ephemeral snapshot of beautiful perfection kept close to the child's heart, but not interfering all that much when they want to go chase fairies or something. These things fascinate my independent little girl.

Her books never say things like:

 Daisy's mother was a complicated woman. Her jeans never seemed to stay up. One of Daisy's favorite games to play with her mother was to yell 'Coin slot!' and stick her finger in the spot where her mother's jeans had slipped down. Mother sometimes drifted off in the middle of sentences and left Daisy wondering what she was even talking about. She was by turns dreamy and disconnected, crabby and blunt, present and attentive; but she was always loving. Daisy was never exactly sure what her mother did. She would sometimes spend hours at the computer or writing in a journal and then she would suddenly get up and go on a mad cleaning spree or take Daisy and her brother to the park. Mother could talk for what seemed like forever about certain things, but then other times answered with a distracted 'Mmm-hmm.'

They just don't write moms like that for kids. I'm not even sure that they should. My voracious little reader escapes into books for hours at a time, her favorite place to read is sitting in the tree in front of our house. She absorbs these characters and scenarios and tries to fit them into her world. She is still young and doesn't quite realize that her world is richer, more textured and interesting than the formulaic stories she reads. After all, she has no real fairies that come and talk to her or clans of cats who come to her for help. I remember being eight. I remember imagining the worlds of my books while playing in the woods. I remember thinking sometimes how much easier my favorite characters had it. I remember wishing my mom would be more like the moms in the books. These were things I never would have dared ask my own mother, so it thrilled me to my very childish soul when my jBird asked me to say the lines from her book. That kind of openness and innocence in a gesture of wishing is something that brings me to my knees with gratitude. I am more than happy to oblige.

This morning we woke up on the couch. My jBird suffers from chronic insomnia and last night was a little rough. In the wee hours she had finally fallen asleep and she lay there snuggled against me, warm and safe, mouth open and breathing her little snaggle-toothed halitosis into my face. She's getting older, but when she's sleeping, she looks every bit of my baby girl still. I watched her sleep for a few minutes, trying to squeeze the last drops of silence out of the morning, trying to give her just a few more minutes to restore that whirring mind of hers. I kissed her forehead, stroked her hair and said:

"Honey... it's time to get up. You don't want to be late for your last day of school..." in that lilting voice of fictitiously perfect mothers.

She stirred and smiled a tiny jack-o-lantern for me, and snuggled closer. I often miss my cues. Sometimes I step all over other people's lines. Sometimes I burst into the scene and start reciting a soliloquy from an entirely different act. Almost always, I improvise and confuse the other players. But sometimes, sometimes... sometimes I get it right. I arrive on cue and remember my lines. My ovation is that little smile and an extra snuggle.

jBird and her real mom.
In time, she will realize that life is not like her books. That people, even people who love her with all they have to give, are fallible and messy and real. She will come to see that this drama we live is a rich story unfolding without formula, without a script. I know my daughter and I believe she will come to appreciate this. Just as I hope that she comes to appreciate that even though her mother is not the glossy perfect mother she reads about, that she is a real mother. A woman who tries and sometimes fails. A woman who loves her more than she even knows how. A woman who will say the false lines that she requested to show her how real the love is she has for her.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lovely Rita

I have it on good authority that Paul McCartney turned 70 this week. I wonder if this is the golden year in which his transformation into Lady Elaine Fairchild is complete. Probably he threw himself a mad do at the Museum-Go-Round and plotted with King Friday about how to further scare the peewillikers out of small children. Are you picking this up? Are you getting me here?

Well, look at this.
And now look at this.
I rest my case. Sweet dreams.

Sir Lady Paul Elaine Fairchild McCartney has been on my mind a lot today. I have been picturing him galloping about on his mighty steed in a suit of vegetarian armor. I have been a little bit stunned that the last remaining Beatle is 70. Oh wait, there's Ringo. He still remains, too. I listen to him narrate Thomas the Tank Engine in my house nearly once a week. (Although, I prefer Alec Baldwin's oral interpretations of those wily little Sodor engines.) Was Ringo ever really a Beatle? Poor, maligned Ringo.

Mostly I've been humming Lovely Rita. It's a happy place in which I have chosen to reside.
Rita yelled in my face today.
Got right in it and gave me a proper scolding.
Her indignant spittle touched my cheek.

Oh, lovely Rita, meter maid.
Where would I be without you.
Give us a wink and make me think of you (lovely Rita, meter maid.)
Lovely Rita meter maid. Rita meter maid.

And so on.

I did not ask her to "give us a wink", because I'm quite certain that she would instead have opted to "give us a slap." I think her outburst had less to do with my measly seventy-five cents in the meter and more to do with the fact that she was missing her Paulie's birthday shindig at the Museum-Go-Round.

That's really what I think.

How often does your long lost Beatle-y love turn 70 and throw down with the Neighborhood of Make Believe? Not very often. And you get stuck hoofing around checking for expired parking in dark blue polyester in the suddenly hot sun? It totally sucks to have to work when you know Bob Dog is sipping shandies with the Queen and Mick Jagger is there hanging with Henrietta Pussycat (and you just know that Henrietta is boring Mick to tears with her whole "Mew mew mew mew" shtick) and Daniel Striped Tiger is probably cringing and crying into his beer someplace because he can't work up the courage to just go and say hi to Pippa Middleton. These are not the kinds of things one wants to miss. I bet she'd even heard that Chris and Gwyneth might show up. Of course Mr. McFeely will be all "Speedy delivery!" and want to tell poor Rita all about it tomorrow.

So, Lovely Rita, meter maid. I forgive you for being a little short of temper today. I will forgive the yelling, the space invasion, even the flying spittle. I know it sucks to have to work while your friends are partying. I hope that Sir Lady Paul saves you some cake or something. Besides, I love a woman who takes her job seriously. It's probably tedious. Nobody is excited to see you coming. "Hey Rita, Meter Maid! Thank you for the $44 ticket for being 2 minutes over my time. I love what you've done with the chalk on my tire! Keep up the good work!"

I hope Lovely Rita gets to catch the last trolley to the party tonight. I hope she gets a chance to kick off her sensible shoes and hang with Lady Aberlin. I hope she can tell her pals about the idiot who ran down the street with her hands full of Hooligan and candy to beg for mercy. And maybe, just maybe, Sir Lady Paul Elaine Fairchild McCartney's face will light up when he sees her and he will wrestle the microphone away from Ringo for long enough to sing her song for her.

Lovely Rita, meter maid.
Nothing can come between us.
When it gets dark, I tow your heart away.

Friday, June 15, 2012


I was just going to write a post about a certain hubbub that has surfaced in my consciousness and I looked up the etymology of this word. Everyone does that, right?

So, for some reason it was stuck in my moldy cheese that hubbub was either a Yiddish word or was of Turkish derivation. Not so. I'm also not sure where that notion came from or why I was so sure of it.

Whobub. Say it with me now. Whobub. I've got the quiet shaking giggles going on now. That is even more fun than hubbub. Apparently it's believed to be Irish in origin, dating back to at least the 1500s. Whobub.

"What is all this whobub? Ye aught to be diggin' yer potatoes!"

Forgive me. That was ethnocentric of me. But funny. I could have made worse jokes. I won't. Those kinds of jokes are dreadful. Ethnic stereotyping is a terrible thing.

You know what's not terrible? Whobub. Or hubbub.

Sometimes hubbub seems terrible. It is a wonderful, onomatopoetic word for a mind-splitting thing. There has been a bit of a hubbub that has foamed into my consciousness of late. It's not my personal hubbub (I have plenty of that, but it's manageable.) It's a general jostling and jockeying about. It's a rattling and ranting on. It's a golden age we live in. Any old knucklehead with a computer or a data plan can say whatever they like to whomever they like. They don't even need a firm grip on such pesky things as grammar rules or spelling or syntax. Just a half-formed opinion and some mad skills with their opposable thumbs.

"What's all that whobub?!"
"Aye, the monkeys have got hold of the internet again."

Sorry. I said I would stop doing that.

Here's why I love the knuckleheads, though. We have this thing called the First Amendment here in the New World. It enables all of us to worship how we choose, speak how we choose, petition the government, assemble peacefully, and so on. In short, it allows for hubbub. And whobub. It allows for me to be a knucklehead and write this ridiculous blog. It allows for people to comment and say appalling or wonderful  things to people. It allows for pornography, for Bibles, for Ku Klux Klan meetings, tent revivals, worship assemblies of every stripe. It allows for Gay Pride Parades and Occupy Wall Street. It allows for Pro-Life protesters outside of Planned Parenthood and the One Million Moms. It allows for the people who stand on street corners and ask you to sign petitions for everything from legalizing marijuana to saving puppies. It allows for cryptic "Oh woe is me, dark is the night!" status updates on Facebook, it allows for photoshopped pictures of kittens to be circulated ad nauseum. It allows for you and it allows for me. We are, all of us, knuckleheads.

This Hubbub Amendment is annoying, isn't it? It means that anybody can say anything. People say some really offensive things. With social media and 24-hour news cycles and the great Habitrail of the internet we can all talk a lot. It gets so noisy sometimes. There's a riot of information and mis-information right in our living rooms every day. You can choose the flavor of the pick-up fight (gay marriage, mommy wars, animal rights, legalization, reproductive rights, did you know that Tom Cruise's pet cause is keeping widescreen formatting on films when they are released on DVD?) you want to get into and throw yourself into the fray. If that's your thing, by all means, don't let me stop you. It is your right to shout long and loud about whatever you believe in. Or to quietly snark around leaving comments. Or to print your own fliers and hand them out to passersby. It is my right to completely ignore you. It is my right to not like you, even. What is not my right is to decide that because I don't like you or what you have to say, you don't get any rights.

I was in traffic behind a car with a custom license plate holder that said "Honk if your horny!" I did not honk. Blatant, sophomoric displays of sexuality and misspellings do nothing for me. Chances are, the owner of that car would bug the ever-loving crap out of me if we sat down for coffee. But I love him. I love him because he's a human. He's a person who expresses himself in the way he sees fit. He's a fellow traveler in this life and I wish him well. May he have all the horny honkers he seeks. But please, oh please, don't let it be me.

If there was a proposition up for a vote banning tacky license plate holders, I would vote that sucker down. Does that mean I would run out and put one on my car? Absolutely not. Does it mean that I approve of every last thing that people decide to declare with the butt ends of their cars? No way. "We're spending our grandchildrens' inheritance" is especially offensive to me. What it also means, though, is that I might have to inadvertently read dreadful cliches while I'm sitting at a red light. It also means that I don't decide that everyone who gets a custom license plate holder is an idiot and worthless as a person and has no right to have one because clearly if we let this kind of nonsense carry on, what will it lead to?

Hubbub. All these voices. All these words, images, ideas, beliefs. Often contradicting, diametrically opposed. Frequently ill-informed, ill-reasoned, illogical. Gut reactions made gospel. A lot of times, if you stop and listen to the hubbub, one voice at a time, it doesn't even make sense. In the theater, if you are part of a background crowd that needs to make some noise, you do a little trick by repeating "watermelon, watermelon, watermelon" or "rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb" over and over. The voices overlap and it sounds like conversation. I took an American Studies class in high school and we would frequently get into intense debates over Alexis de Tocqueville and Dave Barry and the like. My Canadian friend would wait until the conversation hit a fever pitch and nod his head sagely and interject "penis!" into the hubbub. This was always hilarious. What was even more hilarious is that sometimes, people would be so caught up in the hubbub, they would agree with him. That's how you know when the argument has lost any productivity whatsoever. When we are so wrapped up in what we will say next that we will nod agreement with a Canadian (!) shouting "penis".

Sorry, that was also ethnocentric. I love Canadians. Some of my friends are Canadians. I've got no problem with Canadians.

I don't mind the hubbub. I choose what I will listen to, what I will read, what I will believe. I will choose when to speak and about what. I will grant you the grace to do the same, whether I like what you have to say or not. Whether I like you or not. I may even listen. I won't always agree with you, but I will always accept you as a person.

It seems a lot of what passes for discourse in our society today is the equivalent of everyone shouting "rhubarb" or "watermelon". We have the rhubarbs on one side, hide bound and determined that they are righteous. We have the watermelons on the other side believing the same about themselves. Occasionally we have a weirdo stand up and shout "penis!" but no one is really listening and it gets lost in the rhubarbwatermelonhubbub. Sometimes I get bent out of shape about all of this. But then I remember I have my own personal volume control. I can choose not to listen. Not to speak. Not to be a rhubarb or a watermelon (or a penis, for that matter). I'm glad they're all out there shouting though, offensive as they may be. It means they're using their First Amendment rights.

The right to create a hubbub. Or whobub.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Little Girl

Today is my dad's birthday. He would have been 66. I mark the day every year because it is almost impossible for me to forget dates. Unless they are happening in the future, and then it's almost impossible for me to remember them.

I resembled my dad physically when he was alive, and our personalities were very similar in a lot of important ways. The kind of ways that enabled us to enjoy an amiable relationship and not push each other's buttons too much. One time when I was getting in very bad trouble for some indiscretion in high school, he sent my mom out of the room and he said, "A father isn't supposed to have favorites, and I don't. But I think you and I understand each other, we think alike in some ways." I've always been his little girl.

My dad and me when I was a little girl.
I think about him every day. Before he died, I used to hear people say things like that and think "Oh, how morbid." It's because I didn't really understand. I didn't understand how you can miss someone, but not be sad all the time about it. For the first year after he died, I didn't understand how anyone could miss someone and not feel like they'd been punched in the stomach. For a year I saved up most of my tears all day and then cried them into the sink as I washed the dishes after dinner. I don't really do that any more.

I was thinking about his hands today. He had big, broad hands - full of scars. They were the hands of a much younger man. My sister said she would never marry someone who didn't have strong hands. She didn't either. The last time I saw him was in a hotel room in San Antonio, Texas. He was sick. He was waiting for open heart surgery. He was going to die. I think we both knew it, but we wouldn't say it. I sat with him on the bed and he held hands with my jBird. Her tiny white hand in his big brown one. Even sick, he was tanned from working in the yard. She sat and she petted the curly red hair on his arms. Sometimes he would slip and call her by my name. He sometimes had a hard time relating to me as an adult. I was always his little girl. It drove me nuts because I'm not a little girl.

"We never talked to you kids about dying," he said. "It's nothing to be afraid of."
"I know," I said.
"Papa, will you die?" jBird asked.
"Everybody dies, baby. It's part of life. It's why you live your life well today, so the dying is all right," he said. I'm not sure if he was talking to her or to me. I could only sit and listen. I had no words. I didn't want to lie or say something ridiculous and comforting.
"I want you to know I'm not afraid to die," he said. "I want you to know that whatever happens, it's all right. I should have talked to you more about this while you were a kid. Then you wouldn't be afraid."
"I'm not afraid," I said. "You did talk to us about this. It's just hard to know how to think about it until it happens. I'm OK. I want you to focus on getting better. You and Mom can move out West. You need to be near us."
"Yeah, Papa! You can come live with us!" jBird piped up.
He laughed. He always had a marvelous laugh. "I'd love that."

The Hooligan wasn't quite two yet and he was rolling around on the bed with my mom, showing how he could count backwards from 10. We watched them play for a while, because his big old pumpkin grin is somewhat irresistible. He looks so much like my dad. We didn't talk about this dying business any more. I sat and held his hand and I could almost believe that everything would be all right.

You know, everything is all right. He died. Three days after his surgery, just as the doctors said he was getting better. I'm not angry with them. They did their best. They were surprised and grief-stricken as well. But everything is all right. Sure, I miss him. I think of him every day. I think of him at milestones. I remember his birthday. I think of him today, his birthday. Tomorrow we go and get our new house inspected. It is our first house. We will be moving to someplace my dad has never seen. He would have been out of control with excitement. He would have driven me nuts. He would have had all sorts of advice about things I already know. He would have double checked that my husband knew what he was doing and it would have infuriated us. He would have had to have been restrained by my mother from coming immediately and painting every room and digging flower beds and fixing every loose screw in the place. He would have pestered my mom to look at the pictures of it over and over. I would have been irritable and flattered and I would have known that he was like a kid when he was excited about something and that he didn't really mean to intrude.

So I think of him especially today. I'm not very sad, though. I laugh at the silly things I remember about him. I laugh at how he would have been so excited to see this next step in my life. I wonder if where he is, he can. I don't wonder about it too much, though. Because he is where he is supposed to be and I am where I am supposed to be. And because he told me not to be afraid. Because I knew he was ready to go. Because he told me it's part of life. Because he told me to live the best I can now.  He told me everything would be all right. And I believed him. Because I've always been his little girl. And because I'm not a little girl.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Deli (En)Counters

Last week I decided that grocery shopping was entirely too proletariat or something and did other things. This week we have no food. And by no food, I mean a cupboard full of assorted impulse buys (This enchilada sauce comes in a pouch instead of a can! I must buy it! These granola bars are blue! Everyone will eat these!) and a refrigerator full of condiments and noodly green onions. So what's a girl to do, but go and hang out at the deli counter?

Seriously. I was at the deli counter at one of our local grocery stores, just waiting my turn. A man came up behind me and started waiting his turn, too. The Hooligan was reading the labels of everything in sight while hopping from foot to foot, stopping occasionally to tell me the rules of the intricate game he was playing with himself.

Deli Lady #1 came over and took my order and started to work on filling it.
Deli Lady #2 came over and surveyed the scene, looked at the man behind me and said: "Are you two together?"
Man behind me, without skipping a beat said "Not yet!"
Deli Lady #2 looked briefly confused while Deli Lady #1 and I exploded in the sort of laughter that comes from being taken completely by surprise by something witty.
Deli Lady #2 gets it and said "Oh, you're cute!"
Man behind me, again without skipping a beat, said: "I wish she'd think that!" while gesturing at me.

Folks, I am rarely speechless. I can almost always blurt something. I'm not promising that it would be particularly appropriate or witty, but rarely am I ever at a complete loss for words. But there, in the deli section of one of my favorite grocery stores, I stood as mute as the rotisserie chickens. To be in the face of such quick wit and just pure, delightful impishness just made my day.

Nobody ever hits on me anymore. I am not the girl who is easily flattered by unwanted attention. I have never been the girl to thrust my heaving bosoms at people and bat my eyelashes. I have almost always been the girl talking to herself in her head and assuming that no one can see her when she laughs at her own joke that she told herself or if she dances a little bit for no reason at all. I am the girl who has been raised to be respectful and kind to just about everyone regardless of gender, and flirting always seemed so insincere. I am also the girl who always assumed that if someone was staring in my direction, I either had a booger showing or they were staring at the person next to me. But still. Nobody ever hits on me anymore.

I'm not saying this delightful fellow was hitting on me, either. I suspect he was just amusing himself. But in so doing, he amused me and Deli Ladies Numbers One and Two. I suppose the feminist in me should get all uppity and how dare he degrade my status as a human person with breasts by making a lighthearted jest rooted in the fact that we were different genders. I suppose the gray-haired married woman in me should be offended. Did he not see my ring and the child who is clearly mine? I suppose the mother in me should be outraged, too. The nerve of some people to just joke about such things in front of children! How will I explain that to my child? Won't someone think of the children?!

I wasn't offended. I wasn't all simpering and flattered, either. I was terribly amused. It was just one of those wonderful, slightly off-color things that pass the time while you're waiting for your corn dog. It was a tiny connection with three other human beings where we could share surprised laughter during an otherwise boring and mundane activity. I love when people step out of the bounds of propriety and just say stuff. I grow so weary of treading around people's over-large toes and fearing that the joke might not be funny. I grow even wearier of my own out-sized toes.

There are real problems, real prejudices with malicious and callous implications. There are mean-spirited people who seek to tear down and belittle with their words, their humor. There was that one terrifying woman in the grocery store once who, when I politely moved aside and said "No, you go ahead," whisper-growled-hissed "Yes, Mother!" at me and almost made my son cry. There was me, irritable and needing to pee, who snapped at the woman behind me in line at Wendy's because she crowded my space. There are racists, sexists, size-ists, age-ists, bigots, loudmouths, lechers, losers, degraders, and douches everywhere. That sort of nonsense should not be taken lightly. But isn't that all the more reason to step back and enjoy a laugh with a stranger who took a risk and made a silly little joke in spite of the fact that I could have gone all Femi-Ninja on him? Hi-yah!

There are so many giant chips we could carry about on our shoulders. Sometimes we get so stooped and miserable and greasy because of them. It is terribly refreshing when Man About the Deli comes and offers some nice, cool Ranch dip to salve the saltiness and remind us that life is mostly delicious; we should enjoy it in all of its carcinogenic absurdity. Also, more importantly, that we should sometimes just get over ourselves and our over-thinking, over-sensitivity, over-compensation. To paraphrase everyone's favorite sexist villain, Sigmund Freud, sometimes a corn dog is just a corn dog.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Message From The King

Sometimes at night we can hear our neighbor behind us playing this song on the accordion and singing along. It is the kind of wonderful surreal thing that I love about this city.

Perhaps that's where both of my kids caught it.

I'm mopping brows and wrapping and bathing and administering Tylenol at the moment. I'll be back. Until then, enjoy this bit of magnificent jumpsuit madness.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Gnaw Thyself

A while back, Masked Mom reviewed the movie, Catfish. So intrigued was I that I immediately reserved it at the library. I won't go into the details of the movie, you'll just have to watch it, but at it's heart, it's about who we are versus how we represent ourselves. It also explores the idea of online socializing, online personae and how these things can become tricky. This is part one of the worm that has been gnawing at the back of my brain.

A while back I had a discussion with a fellow blogger in which I tried to explain that because of the nature of blogging, there is a potentially wide gulf for misunderstanding between blogger and reader. My writing style tends to be somewhat intense and lends a feeling of intimacy with the reader. I have been accused of being manipulative and duplicitous because of this, but that is not ever the intention. I mostly write pictures of things, I paint a thought I want to explore, I want to draw the reader into that thought and swim around in it for a while. People write for a number of reasons, in infinitely different styles. This style just happens to be mine. I like the interior view and I'm not a very good storyteller, so there you have it. This is part two of the worm. Chomp chomp.

I'm reading Jonathan Lethem's Ecstasy of Influence right now. The book explores the relationship of the writer to his own writing, to the writing of others, to the art, music, and presence of others, to the writer's world, both interior and exterior and how all of these things influence each other almost inexplicably. One of the most fascinating ideas that keeps recurring throughout the book is the notion of what Lethem calls his "public avatar". He writes novels, essays, and articles, many of which contain personal information about him, about his childhood, about his life. One could conceivably sit down and piece together a timeline of his life based on his published work. One could also know how intensely he felt about different events and people throughout that timeline. He does interviews on television, on the radio, and in print. In many of these interviews he answers personal questions about himself. All of this lends fans the idea that they "know" Lethem. His reaction to compiling this public/private information about himself, from himself, is interesting. It is a separate Lethem. It is the Lethem that readers know. It is not the man himself. This is the end of that brain worm that is now crapping out this halting essay.

Where, exactly, in this whole mess is the Self? How often do we presume knowledge of another person based on scant evidence? What if the evidence is copious but not complete? Would the evidence ever be complete? I can confidently say that my husband knows me better than anyone else. One of the things that I have adored about him from the start is that I can be fully "myself" around him. I have maybe two or three other friends with whom I feel the same. I have plenty of friends with whom I feel comfortable and amiable, but I spare them the full disclosure. I have someone I consider a dear friend, whom I have never actually met in person. I am completely open and candid on a variety of subjects in our written communication, but there again, is it complete? Is it possible to know someone without having ever spent time in their physical presence? There are people in my life with whom I spent way too much time in person, but never really got to know who they were. There are several men that I've dated that never, ever even had the tiniest idea who I was. All of these people, however, see me in different lights. Their assessments of my characteristics would overlap to some degree, but would each paint slightly skewed pictures. If this makes me duplicitous and manipulative, then so be it. But I don't think I would be alone in wearing those descriptors.

Perhaps the Self is the person we, and we alone, know? Fair enough. But do you know anyone who seems to be completely deluded about their Self? A talkative person who says "I'm shy." An intense and tightly wound person who tells you that they are easy going? Who has made the errant perception? You or your friend? Are they perhaps privy to interior information to which you have no access? On the other hand, I have known several people throughout my lifetime who spent a great deal of time and energy telling people how wonderful they were. This is a behavior I find off-putting and strange, but in almost every case, people believed them. "Oh, So-and-So? She's wonderful." I have nearly bitten off my tongue to keep from asking "Why?" Is it just that this sort of person is better at PR? Or are they really as wonderful as they tell everyone they are and I just can't see it? Maybe it's just me, but I find the greater the dissonance between my perception of a person and what they say they are, the less I like them. In these types of situations, is it I or they who don't know that Self?

Is this whole concept of Self further muddied by our assorted profiles and online accounts? Blogging is a relatively new means of communication. It's less personal than an email, longer than a status update, and virtually limitless in its reach and subject matter. We post the pictures on Facebook of the days when everyone's smiling. We list the preferences and hobbies that we want. We expose only the dirty secrets that we feel like exposing, some not at all. We use screen names, acronyms, nicknames, pseudonyms. We tell stories, divulge information, give the impression of intimacy, but there's a difference, isn't there? For one, I think it would be pretty boring to look in on people's every move. "Going to the can now, probably should bring a magazine." We paint with broad brushstrokes the pictures we want others to see: for some it's a constant string of dramas, a litany of woes; for others it's the opposite - everything's great, the children are adorable and I never sweat. For most of us, it's something in between. Does all of this add another layer to the Self that didn't exist ten years ago? Or is it just a digitized facet of something that was already there?

I have no definitive answers to any of these questions, in case you were wondering. They've just been composting back in the waste heap of my brain and I throw the worms on when they come up and they gnaw away, turning it over and over, hopefully into something more viable. If I had to hazard a guess, I would suppose that the true Self lies somewhere in the middle of the perception gap. That if we took all of these varying accounts and lay them one over the other like overheads on a projector (remember those) that the picture that emerged would probably surprise us all. Maybe most of all, my Self.

This was written for GBE2's topic this week: Self

Friday, June 1, 2012

Oh, You Are So It!

I play tag nearly every day. It usually involves a lot of shrieking and tackling of small children. Sleepy Joe from The Life and Writings of Sleepy Joe invited me to play tag with her. This is the kind of tag where I can sit comfortably in my pajamas and drink coffee. Nice.

Go check out Sleepy Joe. She's an aspiring writer like so many of us. She's so warm and witty. Plus she's got the best screen name, ever. And she's British, so you know, sexy.

Because there are not enough random facts about yours truly cluttering up the consciousness of far too many people, I am to list eleven facts about myself. Then I am to answer Joe's eleven questions. Then I am to tag some more people to answer eleven questions of my own devising.

You can listen to this song while you read.

Eleven titillating facts about Tangled Lou:

1. I fall in love about 100 times a day.
2. I am not much of a fidgeter.
3. I collect pens and coffee mugs. The cheaper and tackier, the better.
4. I also collect those smooshed pennies from tourist destinations. One day I want to cover a wall in my office with them, a glittering tribute to blatant merchandising and tourism.
5. I try not to say "I can't" when what I really mean is "I won't" or "I don't want to".
6. I fart a lot.
7. I almost stroked my neighbor's glorious lambchop sideburns yesterday.
8. Whenever people have those huge gauge grommets in their ears, I am tempted to stick my finger through them.
9. A cruise does not sound like a vacation to me. It sounds like torture.
10. Sometimes I eat random things I find.
11. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the beauty of things I just cry and my monkeys say "Oh. Mom's crying again."

Eleven Answers to Sleepy Joe's Questions:

1. Who is your favorite literary hero? I don't do favorites, really. Here are some I like: Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes, Anne from Anne of Green Gables, Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath, Perkus Tooth from Chronic City, Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series. These are just a few I can think of right now.

2. Why? I like characters that aren't necessarily the hero. I like flawed characters, I like the ones who aren't front and center, but are next to the front and center. I like characters who are rich and dynamic, with strong character. I like characters who mess up and change over time, who work hard and keep living.

3. What is your favorite children's story? The Three Questions, based on a story by Leo Tolstoy.

4. Are you a closet reader? Are there some books that you won't admit to reading? It's kind of too dark and crowded in my closet. I prefer my bed or the couch. I find the best way to keep from having embarrassing secrets discovered is by telling them myself. I read every last word of the Twilight Series. Same with the Sookie Stackhouse books. I read all of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books. I used to sneak pulp romances in junior high for the sexy bits. I've read every Agatha Christie book ever written. I also read The Devil Wears Prada. I've read the entirety of the graphic novel Buffy ouevre. I am oddly resistant to best-sellers and then I break down and read them eventually to find out what all the hype was about. I'm more embarrassed about admitting that there are some books that I should have read, but haven't.

5. Do you have any regrets in life? I regret having spent so much time reading the Twilight series. I regret that I didn't get that "Winner Winner Chicken Dinner" T-shirt I saw at a restaurant.

6. Name one ambition, not including getting your writing published. My Miss America answer to this question is that I want to make a difference with my life. I really do. I don't know exactly how, but I want my life to have meant something, mattered to people, and to have helped make at least a small part of the world a better place. This has always been my ambition for as long as I can remember. The "how" of it changes, but I like the idea of being open to the possibilities with this in mind so I can do what's needed where ever I am. I also would like to leave my kids with boatloads of money so that they don't have to worry about things, but that's more of a pipe dream.

7. Heels or flats for a night out? Doc Marten's boots. So I guess that would be flats. I have a lovely pair of Italian heels that are collecting dust in my closet that make me feel like a dominatrix, but in a good way. They are oddly comfortable for such high heels, but then I feel like an impostor when I wear them.

8. What are your comfort foods? Chips and queso and re-fried beans. That might explain number 6 in the previous list.

9. Normal clothes or comfy PJs? I like for my "normal clothes" to fit like comfy PJs, so really, it's the best of both worlds. My PJs kind of resemble workout clothes. So if I should, hypothetically speaking, walk my daughter to school in my PJs, people just think I am super diligent and I am going to work out after I drop her off, rather than being a lazy slob who will go home and eat cookies for breakfast with six cups of coffee. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

10. What is your favorite film? Again with the "favorites". My top 5 are probably... Moulin Rouge, Lost In Translation, Casablanca, The Birdcage, and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.

11. Coke or Pepsi? Neither. I'm not much of a soda drinker, but if you've been around the Periphery a while, you'll know what I mean when I say HOT YELLA KOOLAID!

Here's the part where I run around with my arms flailing like a chicken and try to catch someone without running into a lamppost. So get ready to run:

The M-Half of the M-n-J Show
Faith In Ambiguity
The (not always) Lazy-W
Word Nerd Speaks
Just A Mum?

Even if I didn't tag you, you are welcome to play along if you are so inclined...

On your marks, get set... 
Here are your 11 questions:

1. If there were 5 birds in your yard, which one would you eat? And why?
2. What's the best thing that happened to you when you were 7 years old?
3. If the mob was going to take one of your fingers to recover a debt, which finger would you give them? Why? (Or would you do that thing where you flip the table and grab the giant meat cleaver from Vito?)
4. If you were to throw a drink in someone's face, what drink would it be and why would you do it?
5. Someone gives you a gorgeous mink coat for a gift, would you wear it? Why or why not?
6. You are trapped in an elevator with the following people: Elton John, Kathy Griffin, Jimmy Carter and John Malkovich. What do you do? Would you take pictures with your cell phone?
7. Who did you want to be when you were 13? Are you that person? Why or why not?
8. If you found a finger in your burrito, would you set it aside and keep eating? Why or why not?
9. If your navel dispensed the condiment of your choice, what would it be? Why?
10. Are you a ferret person?
11. You are given an award for something you are very proud of. You get up to make your acceptance speech and they hand you a box of teeth. Does it throw you off? What do you do? Would you proudly display it on your mantel?

GO! Happy tagging, folks!