Wednesday, February 29, 2012

happy birthday to z-z-z . . .

The only people who should celebrate birthdays are the very young and the very old.  All of us in-betweeners should do the right and noble thing and invite a few friends out to a restaurant with lots of deep fried entrees and then proceed to get seriously drunk.

Somehow I have been invited to two birthday parties honoring persons in the geriatric crowd.  Both events will be celebrated on Sunday afternoons and the guests will be relieved of their partying duties by 4:00 p.m., poor tired old souls. Enough time to get home, fry a grilled cheese sandwich, watch 60 Minutes and fall asleep snoring loudly into the couch.  I am talking about myself, of course. The afternoon will be strenuous and taxing, all those new people to avoid, too much cream cheese eating and drinking what is someone else's idea of a good beer.

The first party will honor my father's girlfriend, would they please come up with a better word. Her kids decided to give her a party because she has never had a birthday party and this doesn't seem like a good reason but there you go. I do not want to attend because I don't like parties in any form but I need to show some level of support for this budding relationship, so important to my father.

The second soiree is for my father's sister, my aunt Patti.  She is a brilliant musician and has the degrees to prove it and I sat next to her at the piano on many Saturday mornings of my childhood while she puffed her cigarette and I stumbled through Beethoven. Like any artist worth her toast she is eccentric, quirky and the back of her car, the entire back of her car is covered with pro choice and love your earth bumper stickers.  She wears bright red lipstick and long sweeping purple skirts and her daughter Penny is giving the party.  Both women have traveled through three husbands apiece and Penny is a bonafide witch and pagan which always sparks up the conversation. The invitation insists that we bring musical instruments.  Oh no, this I will not miss.

I will not go without my father.  It will be necessary to stand anonymously in his shadow and then I can peruse the room and check out the contents of the medicine cabinet unnoticed, oh, I'm kidding.  Most people would rather speak with Sonny than with me and that is more than fine. 

I asked if he had received the invitation knowing that he automatically deletes without reading any email from his crazy sister. He grumbled for a few minutes and then agreed to go.

Friday, February 24, 2012

young lily

My nephew and his wife recently had their first child, a daughter and she really is a cute little snippet and cute right from the beginning, you don't see that too often. She has the perfectly round head, the clear inquisitive eyes, the little rosebud mouth that pouts on cue for the professional photographer. Her mother's family is a handsome tribe, and we have a few cuties on our side, a few.

Babies are a controversial issue.  They inspire us to heights of filial tenderness and threaten to plunge us into depths of embarrassment and despair if they don't walk or talk on schedule. Americans are competitive to the point of intrinsic pain and we insist our youngest and most innocent get in the race pronto.

I was a young mother of two-year-old Jason and he didn't chatter aimlessly like the son of a friend of my husband's and his awful wife and their kid was born just a couple of days after my boy.  Janet was an obnoxious, crude horror of a human being and unfortunately, she  reproduced. The two boys were playing and Janet did not notice that her prodigy was punching my son.  Jason was giving me a heavy-lidded glare because he was not allowed to hit and how should he handle this situation if not to knock the daylights out of this monster playmate.  I finally said, "Janet, tell your kid to stop hitting my kid."  She stood up, raised her arm and whacked little Davie across the back causing him to fly across the floor.  "Don't hit him," she thundered.  It doesn't take a team of crack engineers to understand why young Dave liked to hit and often.  Janet and her son were barred from the house and it was just a few weeks later that Jason started speaking and it was a complete sentence. "Mom, I don't want you to drive me around anymore."  I and I alone know the reason behind that comment and I'm taking it to my grave.

The horizon for young Lily looks promising.  She has the best of both worlds.  A father home schooled in the safe confines of the Midwest, surrounded by cousins and grandparents, fresh corn on the cob and sleeping under patchwork quilts and a mother, a Christian college graduate and professionally devoted to children with unfortunate deficits in home and parental involvement.  Lily will fill in the spaces, whatever they will be when her time comes.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

at a distance

I ask for little in this life.  Healthy family members, a job that doesn't suck the life out of me, loose fitting neutral-colored clothing and on Saturday night I get to sit at an old downtown bar and eat some pretty decent pizza.  And the friendly barkeep keeps adding more whiskey to my cocktail to keep things interesting and when all this occurs the universe will spin and percolate as it should.  These requests are more than reasonable.  They are superlative and necessary to my existence.

But today I find myself tripping over invisible stones in the street and I swear people are looking at me like I have something voluminous hanging out of my nose. And it's all because Dave has invited Crazy Tom to join us for pizza and my natural rhythms are now threatened and interrupted.  The big guy should know better but he gets gregarious after his sauna at the health club and he does things like this.

Fast forward and I am wearing my neon orange pizza bar t-shirt that says "I just dropped in for a piece".  The staff cheers when I take off my jacket and I am home, sweet Jesus, I am home.  Then Crazy Tom slides into his chair and I order another drink really fast. Now I need to play the game of social interaction and it's not that I don't like people.  I just prefer them at a distance.

And Tom's okay, he really is, a single guy in his 50's who works at a group home for wayward boys, and that's putting it nicely.  He cares for his elderly parents, setting up his mom's Alzheimer's meds and arguing with his dad about, well, everything.  And he's holding onto the remnants of a disastrous relationship with a woman who harbors a piranha personality and she has relocated back to Florida, thank God, but he still bemoans her absence even after eight torture-filled months.  So we sit and listen to his rationalizations and maddening excuses for her insensitive behaviors and then I lick my pizza-stained fingers and bid good-by to Big Dave and the crazy boy.  They will be traveling across the river to a quaint little town where Lincoln once made a campaign speech and they have plans to hear a kickass blues group.

I know I would enjoy this band, middle-aged black men and women all from Chicago and Milwaukee so you know they will create good sound, you know they paid their dues.  But  I was divorced for seventeen years and spent way too many Saturday nights glued to bar stools staring up at band after band after band. I'm heading home to my down comforter and more Kessler's, good night sweet princes, good night and hopefully we'll all sleep well.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I allow myself a small smile as I stand behind the young man with multiple facial piercings and the white hoodie with lines of black barbed wire streaking across it and he's buying a pink and white teddy bear with a ribbon that says, "we weally weally wuv you."  Normally if I saw this guy on the wrong side of town I would make sure my backpack was securely lashed to my shoulders. Instead I want to know him, share a diet Coke, talk about junk mail or something.

I don't like Valentine's Day. There isn't a romantic bone in my body and I don't apologize. I'm right and the rest of you guys are wrong.  I've always been a  practiced realist shying away from anything remotely fairy-talish unless I'm with young children and then it's fun to see how long I can keep the fantasy story going until they finally roll their shrewd little eyes at me.  Romance bores me and I'd rather sit through a 60-minute car chase than endure five minutes of chick flick annoyance.  Those of my nature abhor public affection, stacks of Danielle Steele paperbacks and those whiny irritating Barry Manilow lyrics.

But I am married to a Don Juan in white Nikes who wants to hold my hand on a walk and dance to Presley's I Can't Help Falling in Love With You while exchanging soulful looks and trivial cutsie-pie banter. I only talk when necessary, a functional conversationalist so said the marriage counselor, and small talk God forbid romantic small talk would cause me to suffer a seizure or my eyeballs to bleed.

 I reluctantly admit I am lucky to have a man this enamored with me when I barely drop him a crumb of affectionate interest.  I am a woman who wants only the mechanics of a relationship, the nuts and bolts so to speak. On Tuesdays I iron his shirts and I send cards and birthday gifts to his out of town grandchildren and I am exceedingly nice to his social-climbing rude sister who owns 86 pairs of shoes, puh-leez.  I do what needs to be done to keep him clean and comfortable as well as his environment and I bake pies without being asked and clean his bathroom without too much grumbling.  Just don't talk baby talk to me at the dinner table or anywhere else.  And I will stay with you forever, my love. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I am turning the color of a coffee bean and it is not by choice.  Being overly tan in February is like having a lot of tattoos or an eye patch and people are drawn to you and want to ask questions.  I love to swim, I love to swim in the ocean and when I'm not swimming I am walking the beach, rhythmical waves like a mantra breathing in and out of my tired brain. The rest of the time I stay huddled under a sugar shack-looking kind of structure with 30 SPF slathered over my wrinkly hide, but it's not enough. My swimming fetish puts me directly under the tropical sun way too much.  And there's only so much Banana Boat can do and I inherited an olive Mediterranean skin tone prone to dark pigment, how that occurred with my middle-euro Germanic heritage I'll never figure out and I just keep getting darker.

When I was fifteen I was in Chicago attempting to cross a busy avenue and my father was waiting on the other side.  It was late August and I was deeply tanned and as I ran two black men whistled at me. "Hah!" Sonny emoted. "They think you're black!"  It never occurred to my father that black men would whistle at a white girl.

I would never schedule an appointment with a dermatologist the week after a Caribbean vacation but unfortunately I have a weepy, icky thing on my leg and I don't want to talk about it. There will be a lecture and I will roll my eyes and direct my mind somewhere else.  Dermatologists are the whitest people on this earth. My last derma doc was black lace Irish with riveting blue eyes, black blue hair and skin like the underbelly of a fish.  He was a Green Bay Packer fan but that is not the reason I left him.  Our insurance carrier got pissy at negotiation time and heaved all of the company customers over to a new medical provider.  My new gal is a strawberry blond, green-eyed porcelain beauty all white and peachy skin and I will be hearing her tsks-tsks way too soon.

It's time to go home.  Vacation means inhabiting a hotel room with one toilet and a man who farts and snorts like a brontosaurus and I am accustomed to a townhouse with three bathrooms.  I get nervous lying around doing nothing.  I need a project, a productive process to ignite my synapses, a museum or cathedral to explore and Jamaica is noticeably vacant on those. Hopefully I will remember to drive on the right side of the street when I return.

Monday, February 6, 2012

just another day in jamaica

Big Dave comes rushing up to my beach chair and yells, "you're missing all the excitement!"  That translates as drunken middle-aged men hoisting their wives into the air at the pool bar and pouring booze down the fronts of their swim suits. In one case, the woman weighed well over 200 pounds and I can only explain the husband's accomplishment as an adrenaline rush paired with way too much Appleton rum.  "Not my kind of party," I mutter into my book.  I abscond all organized pool activities but I do want to show for the aerobics class later that afternoon.  So at 4:30 I tiptoe across the bodies of passed-out sunburned red raw bodies only to find the exercise program consists of  two hefty matrons with belly-dancing baubles jingling around their ample waistlines dancing to some raunchy Mediterranean beat.

There are many positive things about a Jamaican resort. It is a place where grown men can wear obscenely loud purple orchid-patterned bermudas and get away with it. And I can indulge in two of my favorite activities: observing the eating habits of North American tourists and walking down a public street with an alcoholic beverage.  Referring to the former, you ain't lived until you've seen Minnesota citizens attack a buffet of deep fried vegetable fritters, meat pies and rum punch.

I meander over to the bar and order a Jack and diet and there are three bartenders pointing my way and demonstrating way too much interest in me.  I keep hearing "John Deere, John Deere" and that's the t-shirt Big Dave has been wearing all week and then young Charlene says, "you're Dawn, aren't you?"  Once again, my husband has passed this way and robbed me of precious anonymity. An extrovert spouse was not in my life plan but that's how the cards were dealt.  Worse things could have happened.

And now my husband is talking to a North Dakota green farmer who is saying, "soy beans don't like competition" and "all I got is John Deere equipment" and you never really leave home, you know, at least not any more.  Americans are everywhere, placing our stamp of macho cowboy bully rude boy on everything and soon the world will be one long strip mall with a McDonald's on one end and a J.C. Penney's at the other.

The only real problem with the tropics is you can't keep a drink cold very long.

Friday, February 3, 2012

odd duck at the party

Big Dave calls me and he is giggly and kinda nauseating at the same time.  "Are you excited!" he yells into the phone and I can tell he is spitting. Our vacation starts tomorrow and we are flying to Jamaica.  I think about his question and then say, you know, I'm really not the excitable type.  Honesty is always the best response and in most cases, not the desired one.  The last time I can remember being excited was 1971 when I woke up and found my bed on fire.  That's the level of intensity I require.

 I don't go into vacations easily.  I find it difficult to relax on cue and then there's the fact that I like my routines and schedules.  Without them I fear I may disappear, my obsessive-compulsive psyche will whirl feverishly for a few moments and then topple over like a spent top.

And then there's the problem of the all-inclusive resort.  Not my first choice for vacations but the big guy is footing the bill so I won't be complaining.  For one week we will be surrounded by alcoholic overweight misfits mostly from the continental Midwest who will begin drinking at 10 a.m. and many have brought their own 64-ounce mugs for the bartender to fill because those eight-ounce glasses are for amateurs, don't cha know.  To keep the alcohol from corroding their intestines they will make numerous trips to the all-day buffet gulping down deep-fried anything prepared by the island chefs specifically for the American tourists. And they talk and shriek from their stools at the pool bar and I never see anybody leave to use the restroom and I avoid swimming in those pee-infested waters and stay on the other end of the pool.

"All around us were people I had spent ten years avoiding - shapeless women in wool bathing suits, dull-eyed men with hairless legs and self-conscious laughs, all Americans, all fearsomely alike.  These people should be kept at home, I thought; lock them in the basement of some goddamn Elks Club and keep them pacified with erotic movies; if they want a vacation, show them a foreign art film; and if they still aren't satisfied, send them into the wilderness and run them with vicious dogs."  The Rum Diary, Hunter S. Thompson

My man, Hunter.  I'll leave my watch by the pool side so I can time my laps and my inebriated co-vacationers will look at me with just a touch of contempt for I am reminding them of everything they came to this island to forget. I am the odd duck at the party but then I am this way most places. Shortly after my 30th birthday I stopped worrying what other people were thinking and it's been a much smoother ride because of that. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

it ain't fair, I tell you, it ain't fair

We eat breakfast at our usual Saturday morning greasy spoon and the place is filled with obnoxious types whose volume button is turned to a very high frequency.  Even extrovert Dave laments the lack of  a peaceful atmosphere in which to eat our eggs and there must be a sign outside I tell him that says "Annoying loud people eat free."  And the worse group of dysfunctional misfits is sitting directly behind me.  A mother, grandmother and three little out of control welfare brats and not a wedding ring in sight.  There is pounding on the table, ice cubes being thrown against the wall, endless threats from the adults and then one comment, "I swear to God I'm going to give you one of your brother's pills if you don't calm down."  So this is what it's come to.  None of these people sitting at the ice strewn table will ever do anything productive or constructive for society.  They are leeches and the taxpayers will pay for their Cheetos and Pampers and subsidized housing.

These puppies should have been strangled at birth and saved middle class America a lot of financial headaches and I have always been an advocate for enforced sterilization for the inept and stupid.  We allow capital punishment - how much more of a stretch is this concept - annihilate them before their little infant lungs fill with oxygen and they learn how to fill out food stamp applications.  Crazy family stands up to leave and I have the misfortune to turn and look when the grandmother is bending over and her ass is easily a yard wide and then some inches.
Christ, there are so many things wrong with this picture.

But tomorrow I will be winging to Jamaica, a third world country without a middle class and there's something wrong with that, too. I guess I need to stop thinking so much and just order another drink. There's just so much a midwestern grandmother can do.  I will chat with the young staff at the resort and encourage them to stay in school.