Wednesday, November 30, 2011

thanksgiving report

This is being written for the relatives who could not attend the family dinner and the guilty know who they are. The rest of you readers can go rent DVDs or make some soup because as a family we are not that interesting.

My daughter offers her house for Thanksgiving and damn I am glad. She's a social girl, the lovely Carrie and the next day I say, aren't you glad it's over?  I know her answer before I hear it, "actually, I like having people over," she says sounding a bit wistful.  Once again the evidence is clear, babies were switched at birth and this is not my living flesh and blood, yet I love her fiercely.

I suck at entertaining and the holidays bring my inadequacies to the surface.  My mother excelled at hospitality and anyone who supped at her table felt nurtured, her ironed violet linen napkins folded under the silverware.  If you get a food spill at  my house I will gladly throw a roll of paper towels at you.  I remember riding in the car with my parents, my son and his girlfriend.  My mother was talking about something and suddenly the girlfriend looked her straight in the eye and said, "I like you."  I was steaming in the front seat thinking why does nobody ever ever like me? But why should they?  The term polite company in my book means company who are polite enough to stay home and not expect me to wait on them.

We had 56 pounds of turkey, I'm serious, for eighteen adults and a smattering of small children who were mainly interested in dinner rolls and desserts.  Like I said, people cancelled along the way, no matter, Thanksgiving reigns as leftovers royalty and my gravy was smashing, I must say, simply smashing and it will live again, thanks to freezable containers.

Last year I hired some young bakers at the farmers' market to do the pies, I was too full of my mother's loss to deal with that baking requirement.  Pies were her speciality but those pseudo desserts were dull and lifeless and full of too much sugar. This year I produced a pumpkin pie of superior value, butter and brown sugar and walnuts between the crust and the filling, Marie's recipe on a cinnamon-stained card.  My sweet sister-in-law experimented with mincemeat to please the old man and who the hell eats mincemeat anyway?

End of the evening and I realized I had not seen my father for an hour. I walk down to the basement just a few creases in my forehead and there he is, sitting at the table surrounded by five children. They are teaching him Texas Hold'em and he says to me, "they understand the game but not the value of the hands."  Expertise intersects with youthful enthusiasm and it's a win-win situation.  Oh, lovely day. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

butter and other stories of slippery consequences

 I am ravenous for the Caribbean shrimp at one of our old German taverns.  And there is nothing Caribbean about it, guys I can taste the  rosemary for chrissake, but the saving feature is butter.  The shrimp are swimming in butter and their little bodies are encrusted with the stuff.  Add a baked potato with even more butter cuz sour cream is for amateurs and you have a slice of saturated heaven.
Dave says order another drink, he's not moving because his alma mater, Iowa State University is doing something exceptional on the TV.  The football team is ranked eighteen and they are about to trounce Oklahoma, the second ranking team in the country.  Like most Americans I love triumphant underdog stories because that's what this country was built on, look at Abe Lincoln, Liberace or that guy from Walmart.

I find a newspaper and doodle with the crossword puzzle and yes, I'll have another drink. Off to the right of our table three young men are laughing and yelling at an annoying pitch, slamming their fists on the bar making their drinks jump and spill a little.  The little guy in the middle is rattling off death threats to the Iowa State team on the screen above him and his homies are goading him on.  Men like to encourage stupidity in each other and I think it's an alpha male thing.

 Dave is talking to another bar customer and then he hears the loud guy and saunters over to him.  "Either you're from Oklahoma or you're drunk," Dave says with a broad smile.  I saw the man's face change and it became something feral and fearsome.  He's going to hit Dave and I launch myself out of the chair and am next to my husband in one second down.  I latch onto his arm pulling him away and giving the young rascal a wide-eyed expression of "what are  you going to do with a sweet old crazy guy like this?"  I am praying to an unseen presence, "oh, please, do not let this night end at the hospital or the police station."

At last the two buddies come to their senses and realize throwing more kerosene on this fire could result in ugly consequences beyond their control and they half drag, half push their frothing little friend towards the door.  Dave remains perched on the bar pole, still smiling and looking for a new listener, oblivious to how close his face came to being rearranged. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

marge at large

A pool stalker is sharing the planet with me.  Marge, her name is Marge and I know that because she signs her name on the pool log just like I do. She looks like a Marge, a bland, forgettable face kind of like a goat's, greying hair cut in a bob, an athlete's body, soft in the predictable places and she is older than me.  Despite that fact she is a stronger swimmer, she does a fast crawl to my casual butterfly stroke. When our schedules coincide I can feel her eyes on me from the other lane. Today I finished first and  headed down to the locker room.  I was under the hair dryer, my lime green towel wrapped around me snugly and suddenly, there she was. She bounded, yes bounded, over to me and made a complimentary comment about my swim bag, a converted Trader Joe's sack. And then she left, she didn't even use the toilet, now what to think of that.

Today she signs in just a few minutes before me. The hour passes and I have accomplished what I came to do and I head into the bowels of the building, the location of the women's locker room and for a century this college only accepted men as students so I guess we get the scummy seconds.  I walk past the showers and out of the corner of my eye I see her, waiting for me. Naked as naked can be and she is combing her nicely styled hair and her cosmetics are flawless and there is a gold and turquoise necklace around her neck nestled between two perfect breasts. Well, anybody's breasts are perfect when our arms are above our heads.  She purrs at me,"well, hello-o-ooh!"  Marge appears extremely pleased to see me and we are the only two occupants of this dungeon room.  I spit out a "hi" and head toward the toilet.  Swim pees are serious pees, your bladder was buoyed in the water, now you are weight-bearing and feeling the pressure.

I linger on the stool and wonder why she has to be so naked when everybody else scurries to get their towels around them.  Damn, this woman cannot be from the Midwest.   I know she is a faculty member as she marks that column when logging in her name.  At least I can attract professional academics and I actually feel proud of this.
Out I come and she's still posing and her body is unmarred by pregnancies and poor dietary choices. I figure the best way to nip this craziness in the bud is to show her my own disastrous body.  Off comes the towel and here is my lumpy abdomen compromised by three pregnancies and a progressive love of alcohol.  There have been three breast biopsies that left the tissue dented and dimpled and nursing three babies has assisted gravity's plan for my bosoms. But she is not swayed by all this and oh God, now she has winked at me. I leave hastily and red-faced and still dripping from the swim.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

we medicate the hell out of them

You wouldn't believe how often people ask if I like working in an Alzheimer's unit.  Some of them are the grown children of my residents and they rarely visit because their mother is a threat, a reminder that the end is inevitable and steamrolling their way.  They talk volumes at me, instructions on what I should be doing. You don't know your mother anymore, I want to say, her disease has changed her.  I show these insensitives no mercy. "Yes, I do like working in a nursing home.  Old people are so grateful and the ones that aren't we medicate the hell out of them."

 I wouldn't be anywhere else. Casey is my resident and thirty-one years ago Casey's son interviewed me for a job at their family jewelry store, it was the year I left my husband. I needed work and I thought why not a jewelry store and surely there would be commissions paid out on this expensive glittery stuff.  No, Casey's son told me.  No commissions, we don't want the staff competing against each other, bad feelings. And what he meant was: you all the get the same lousy minimum wage salary.  You cheap bastard, I thought, I got some bad feelings for you right here and then he went on to inform me since it was the Christmas season not to plan on spending time with my family.  I would be there at the store every night and weekend and all the miserable hours in between. That guy was just like his old man and Casey is one cantankerous, sewer-speaking, inappropriate dude and that would be the nice way to put it.

The staff is afraid of him, especially the housekeepers as they scurry around the dining room cleaning tables and floors after the evening meal. Casey has a keen eye and he will kick over their bucket of water if they don't move quickly enough.  He points out every missed crumb and gravy stain and will curse them like the evil pirate he is should they miss one.  I ignore Casey's taunts, what else can I do, he has Alzheimer's disease and most dementia patients fall into one of two categories, "pleasantly confused" (which will be my legacy when I am diagnosed although friends tell me I am already there) and, "aggressively mean and paranoid" and here Casey is firmly planted like a barnacle under a ship.  I'll sit him down with a 24-piece puzzle, some ditsy Disney character puzzle, and when Casey focuses his tyrannical tendencies are left behind.   And tomorrow and the day after and the day after I'll give Casey the same puzzle and he won't remember.

Friday, November 11, 2011


What's that white crap on my car?  Snow hit us early and hard and I awoke to a crackling sound hitting my window. Wait, my sleeping brain postulated, this ain't soft lullaby rain falling, it has mass and weight and I will need to deal with it.
I took the George test. I scooped a quarter out of my coin purse and inserted it into the tread of my tire and the coin should have sunk down to to his eyebrow line but there it sat and I could see the whole bald pate.  I need new tires and soon if I am to scale the treacherous slippery-slidey bluffs of my hometown.

I choose to live in Iowa. My father is here and my daughter and some of my grandchildren so I have roots and more than enough reason to stay.  I visit warmer, dryer climates throughout the year but I always return to this unstable land and wait for the cold days knowing they complete me. I could not live in an endless summer.

When I was divorced and impoverished I drove a forest green Chevette, a midget's car and there was no front wheel drive or anti-lock brakes.  I needed traction and one year I filled the back of that car with chunks of cement I found near a construction site. Luckily, no other vehicle came racing towards me causing my foot to hit the brakes excessively hard and those chunks would have hurled themselves towards my tender neck.  The following year I bought eighty pounds of kitty litter for the hatchback to combat the ice and my father commented, "what do you have for a pet, a tiger?"

Snow fascinates me, its beauty and singularity, and as I age I long for and appreciate the silences of life, so few in these days of techno noise and endless motor rumblings.  A snowy country landscape shushes the clatter and creaking in  my brain, bring it on.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Thanks to Herman Cain it's fun to read the newspapers again.  My hometown paper chooses to print the international news on the back pages adjacent to the auction ads, all pigs must go.  The front page is reserved for pictures of high school girl volleyball teams crying over their last place status and articles on yet another dumb thing the local police department did.  Our state capital boasts a Pulitzer-winning newspaper but none of that star-studded journalism got channeled our way. I buy the publication for the obits, the crossword puzzle and the Olive Garden ads. Our town is anything but a contemporary metropolis. Only twelve people showed up for the Occupy protest in the city park last weekend and two of them were rumored to be homeless and looking for free sandwiches.

Anyway, Cain remains a shining reminder that Rick Perry may not be the biggest loser the Republicans are backing.   Cain is a prominent name in the national restaurant biz and has decent academic degrees in computers and economics but there's those allegations made by women saying he sexually harassed them, made them feel like meat on hooks, gawked at and turned and pinched for plumpness.  There are reports of  payoffs to keep them silent and now these women want to break that earlier agreement as the stakes are quite high and the consequences quite devastating should this man ever sit in the Oval Office. Cain reacted like the sweating, wheedling  predator he is, denials, memory lapses, sketchy details introduced awkwardly and sparingly.

Then there's that other thing, Cain is a black man. And the journalists and spin doctors are calling this a color thing but we know better. It's a power thing.

John and Bobby Kennedy were sensible leaders and probably the reason we are still walking this continent after the Bay of Pigs.
And speaking of pigs, they both had their cake and got to eat it, too and Jack was renowned for his swiftness in the extramarital bedroom, evidently a matter of pride back in those manly sixties. Step away from that history book, young woman, you may hurt yourself.  Bill Clinton got a little more coverage than the Irish bros and he was raked over the proverbial coals a bit longer thanks to the burgeoning women's movement. Why Hillary never divorced his sorry ass will remain a permanent question mark in my mind and the reason I will never take her seriously for any political office.

Since forever Americans have missed the boat. We were surrounded by an ocean of ethnic talent, the potential for genius waiting to spark in the sciences, the arts, technology and yes, public leadership if only the proper direction and environment were provided.  But we sentenced them to servile jobs, dirt sweepers, laundresses, maids and farm laborers, shoe shiners, nannies, in essence, slaves.  But we did allow African-Americans and Hispanics to play our sports and fight in our wars because these were important entertainments in our lives and they were physically hearty and expendable. Unfortunately, Cain is a blemish on the proud history of a proud people, but I don't blame race, I blame male omnipotent ego.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I hate you, Leslie

It's 41 degrees outside and I am wearing a lightweight summer shift, bare legs and flipflops and I am on my way to the doctor.  The inappropriate clothing is necessary because when I am called back by the nurse she will insist I step on the scale and the flipflops can be easily discarded, too bad the dress can't as well.  And look at that,  I gained five pounds in the twenty days since I have last been here. "Good," says doc, "the weight gain is good, you were too small."  Hmmph, I bet he doesn't get to say that too often judging by the immensity of the company sitting in his waiting room. "It'll be gone the next time you see me," I say scornfully.  Five pounds is a pants size and my Liz Claiborne jeans sit idly in the dresser drawer and I am wearing  sweats with elastic bands. But those Claibornes run small, don't they, oh how we delude ourselves.

I have been sick these last three weeks and this has caused a major interruption in my exercise routine.  My eating habits never change but inertia breeds inertia and it has been easier sitting on the couch feeling sorry for myself and eating chocolate-covered peanuts than taking my feverish, wheezing body to the pool.  But now I need to move again, do the power walks listening to Jesus Christ Superstar on the ipod (I truly am odd and surely you knew that) and those goddamn Leslie Sansone exercise DVDs.  God, I hate that woman, she is perky and laughs too much at her own inane jokes with her mouth wide open and she's a biblethumper to boot. Who needs biblical quotations when I'm sweating through her prescribed lunges?  I comfort myself knowing she has chunky thighs and those black bell-bottomed sweats DON'T HIDE THAT FACT, LESLIE.  She gets me moving, easy on the joints,  I'll give her that, but I still yell obscenities while I'm doing her dance.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

songs of mother

I'm slicing apples, mounds of apples, granny smith, winesap, red delicious, jonathan.  And I think of my mother, slicing apples is an associated memory and she recommended a combination of several kinds of apples for a worthy pie.  Walking into her kitchen on a Sunday with the roast simmering after finishing my eighth grade homework and grabbing a sugared apple slice from the bowl, green and tart, I never ate the pie, a cake person myself.  Marie used a fork to ventilate her pie crust, her mother cut thin parallel lines, I do the same.

That's my Princess sign and that's what my
father called me in my distant youth but I still had
to pay my own way through college.
 In the last few days before her death she and I attempted a rhubarb pie. I  was  standing next to her hobbled little body holding onto the kitchen counter for support, not realizing she would be gone from me in a just a few short days and trying to keep my temper as she barked out orders.  I rolled the pie dough noticing its denseness, knowing it would be tough and sluggish on the tongue but she would not let me add more water.  It's fine, you said, and I knew it wasn't, but I would not argue with such an ill woman, death in her features. The crust was stiff and I poured the sugared rhubarb into it's midst just wanting to excuse myself from this place, this tired sick woman, it felt so wrong.  I  watched you knead dough year after year, learning from you.  Later, she said it was the worst pie she ever tasted. The creatin was building in your brain, your thinking was askew. Well, not that awful, added my gentle ambassador father trying to make a happy ending.

I see you in my kitchen, wearing your Thanksgiving sweater, the one with the orange and brown leaves, a turkey pin on your shoulder.  "Start the gravy," you say, "put some tin foil on that dressing."  There is no one behind me now, just absence and silence, and it's so profound, Marie, I want to skip the holidays, sit on a bench by the river watching eagles. I do not want to be around people, they're loud and self-seeking.  Where are you,  Cameron sees you,  three years of age, why can't I?