Sunday, August 26, 2012

lucky dogs

Good things come to those who wait and I have been waiting.  After one year and seven months my eldest boy is sitting on a bench in Rockford Illinois.  He has been gone from my sight and heart all these months and it is a long time for a mother to ponder what escapades he may be embroiled in.  My maternal mind is crazy good at conjuring up pictures of him withering away in a Thai prison or floating face down in the Genghis river.

When he left Iowa on that cold January day his plan was to explore mideastern Asia and he did all that.  Initially he said he would not visit China and this mother was glad he would not be inside those red, red borders. And then he changed his mind and I was scared when I heard the guards confiscated his travel book at the border because of the chapter on Tibet, poor enslaved Tibet.  They insisted it was "all wrong, this all wrong, not true!"  Yes it is true you crazy, communist cretins.  Luckily, Jason doesn't act like an American, that's his saving feature. There isn't a rude, spoiled, competitive bone in his body.  And he blends in easily with foreign landscapes and native populations. Small, darkly tanned, obviously intelligent and quietly curious, never drawing attention to himself.

What was India like, I ask. He avoided my inquiries during our phone calls and emails.  Crazy, was all I could get out of him. What kind of crazy, I pushed and he told the story of some local youngsters wanting to play football but lacking the necessary ball. They found a dead dog that served the purpose. You don't even want to think about that. And then there were the bodies barely covered with a scrap of clothing lying in the street covered with flies.  How does this happen, my orderly sanitized American brain wants to know. Too many people, he said, no government could keep up with the chaos, the monstrous conditions, glad my grandsons are on this side of the globe absent from the insanity of too much humanity and not enough sustenance and space.

We are lucky dogs, we Americans.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

high school french

Questions I need to ask myself before embarking on the London-Paris trip:
  • can I fit a liter size bottle of Kessler's in my backpack?
  • should I leave my Iowa t-shirts behind and pretend I'm from Canada?
  • do I really want to drink warm beer?
  • I'm okay on sharing a bathroom at the hostel but whom am I sharing with, refugees from a small third world country who herd goats and live in tents in desert climes and poop in holes?  Okay, they might be interesting . . .
  • can I really go three weeks without a decent ham and cheese omelet?
  • will pinterest be available in the UK?
  • will my husband and father still be alive on my return or will they die a languishing hoarder's death amidst towering piles of junk mail and styrofoam food containers?
  • will the customs people eye me strangely when 17 double rolls of extra-strength Charmin roll out of my bag?
  • can I deal with my own body odor and that of my son's and the goat herders for days on end?
  • do I have to eat fish and chips and do I have to eat them with malt vinegar?
  • where can I find fishnet stockings for my first stroll down the Champs Elysees?
  • should I ditch my hello kitty around the neck passport holder?
  • and lastly, uh, okay I guess that was it.  Was hoping for a much bigger finish.

Friday, August 17, 2012

women in the neighborhood

Nothing embarrassed my mother, nothing and that made her different from the other women in the neighborhood. Those 50's housewives were invisible and they had no voice in the important arenas of life.

These descriptions did not apply to my mother. If Marie was unhappy about a restaurant meal she would take herself back to the kitchen and inform the chef of his culinary mistake and educate him to a tastier technique. That would leave me back at the table playing with my silverware and looking the other way until she emerged triumphant, a new friendship forged with this chef and they are laughing and patting each other on the shoulder.

She excelled in shopping and finding the best deal and if that was not available she would hide the garment in one of those roomy drawers underneath the counter under a bunch of hangers and wait for the damn thing to go on sale. She would watch the papers incessantly and call me excited with the discovery that her capri pants were five dollars cheaper and we could rescue them from their hidden place and the sales people were never the wiser, a game played well.  She exalted in the secrecy.

She was an outrageous flirt, oh she liked the boys, check out her girlhood diary. On Saturday night my high school date would arrive and I was up in the bathroom frantically trying to cover a row of pimples with Cover Girl rosy beige glow.  I knew she was sitting in the rocking chair in her housecoat with the hem of  her lacy nightie peeking out, swinging her shapely crossed leg and entertaining my teen-aged romeo. And probably better than I would be able to do, well I didn't care, they were uninteresting slobs . . .

Did I say flirt?  When I was still a young mother I took her on all-day shopping trips once a month and one time she suggested having an early morning donut at a bakery on Central avenue. We walked into the fragrant shop and I saw a roomful of truckers swigging their morning coffee before mounting their rigs and heading out.  "Hey Marie!" and "Marie, over here!" and "lookin' good, Marie!" came from various tables in the room and I am chagrined and she is beaming.

She was a darling and years ago traveling back from Philadelphia with my youngest son and his then girlfriend she had us crazy laughing all the way to the Mississippi  and then some. And the girlfriend patted her hand and said, "I like you." And that of course left me seething in the front seat, "why does no one ever like me?"  Well, we all know that answer.  Occasionally, I can be fun but not on a regular basis, too much work.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

i don't know

 Didn't Nana like to visit Mackinac Island?, I ask my father interrupting his vigorous consumption of my fettuccine. "There are two interesting things about Mackinac Island," he begins totally ignoring my question. "First of all, the island is the source of the title, 'mad hatter.'"  Where does he find this stuff?  "Back when they made top hats from beaver skin they treated the material with mercury and when that gets into the body it changes brain tissue and causes insanity. The hatters had mercury on their hands and they would in fact, go mad, thus the "mad hatter."  And yet there's more.  "The second thing about the island is that in the nineteenth century a miner was injured when part of his abdomen was blasted away in a mine explosion." Sonny goes on to explain the man lived but one could actually view food he ate traveling through his digestive system and the doctor convinced him to stay for two years so he could observe and study his intestinal tract.
This is a horrible story I tell him and I am understanding why he wins every Trivial Pursuit game he plays and I have forgotten my original question.

Men like to swagger when they talk, the show-offs  They have difficulty admitting they do not know the answer to any question and my husband cannot say those three emasculating words, "I don't know."  An example: Crazy Tom is planning a bike trip across Jamaica, one of our favorite haunts.  I ask Big Dave, how does Tom plan to get from Ocho Ries (his hotel location) to Montego Bay (where the ride will begin.)  My husband's response includes a history of the biking industry on the island, check point stops in the Jamaican Blue Mountains, why coffee is an important Jamaican export and Tom's latest argument with his father.  He does not know.

Personally, "I don't know" is one of my favorite replies. It means I don't have to continue this conversation.

"And another thing, hair doesn't grow under my arm pits anymore,"  my father tells me.  I'm considering printing up a pre-approved list of acceptable dinner topics.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

sometimes the past comes crashing through the front door

I am sitting on my couch with a stiff drink, glad to be home and away from work, tonight they just wanted to beat me up.  My mind roams backwards as the years collect  and sometimes the past comes crashing through the front door.

 I was once a divorced woman with three young children and ambiguous child support.  "I'm a little short this month," the ex was fond of saying and he wasn't referring to his 5'7" stature.  I needed to take the highest-paying job and those gigs were not usually pleasant.

 Being a supervisor in an understaffed human services office is right up there with a root canal minus the novocaine.  I can tell you some weird stories like the greasy little pimp who offered me a position in his harem while I was smoking a cigarette outside the Scott county office, "hey little mama, you wanna make some really good money?"  Davenport Iowa is a cess pool and then there was the six-foot-plus black man who wanted to meet me in the parking lot after work to discuss why I canceled his food stamps, may the better man win.  Sometimes I get really tired of this human race.

Back in my home office I was the only supervisor in the place that day and I get a frantic call from Linda, a new worker, all of five feet short.  She was interviewing a muscular young man, he wanted food stamps and was living with his brother who had a lot of money and we had to deny his application.  He kept rhythmically pounding his fist on little Linda's desk and chanting, "some one's gonna get hurt here if I don't get what I want," what a dick.  I come into her cubicle and my goal was to get Linda out of there, so I send her on a fake errand, see what General Relief can do for this poor slob.  My mind is crazy racing and then I remember Dave, an ex-Marine social worker, 6'5" and biceps that resemble boulders. Dave and I return to the cubicle and Dave stands there with arms crossed like Mr. Clean and I say, " let me explain the policy again." That guy exited our space so fast I felt a breeze. I think he called a congressman on this one, damn welfare state.

Those early days hold a bittersweet flavor for me.  We were innocent young shining things back then and I used to silently grumble while cleaning my daughter's long hair out of the bathroom drain, but damn, I wish I could go back.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

slut no more

We have a word for women like that, I tell Big Dave, we have a word for women who desert their women friends and go off with some man. The word is slut. Crazy Tom, my husband's long-time bachelor friend who recognizes only his own predicament and cannot for the life see the trees or the forest left Dave high and dry at a local saloon last night. My dogs are tired after my evening shift and I send Dave out alone into the night and Tom was supposed to meet him but he never showed.  Dave had seen him a couple of hours earlier at their gym talking to some overweight woman with dirty blond hair and Dave thinks they are doing the dirty deed on Tom's saggy mattress even as we speak. Men are shits, I growl.

Back in my crazy divorcee days I had a woman acquaintance who pulled the same trick on myself and our circle of friends, I tell my husband, poor man, his eyes downcast and clearly saddened by the betrayal. My friend's paramour informed her that he would not tolerate her spending time with us gals, and we were solid citizens, all of us, but she caved. She worked for the post office so on one beer-soaked night we ordered foot-long chili dogs and mailed them.  At her station's postal box. Federal offense, yes, but I believe statute of limitations apply. Thirty years ago I emerged from my divorce a male-hating crazy person  but  I cleaned myself up and can now sit down with polite society again. Two sugars, please.

My father quickly entered into a friendship with a woman mere months after my mother's passing. Do you think it's too soon, he asked. Yes I do, I thought.  No I don't, I tell him.  None of my business, do what you need to do to heal, I am worried by your weary, grieving face. But now that woman, actually an old friend of his, has ended the relationship. My father craves matrimony and she is fiercely protective of her independence. Who can blame her, but I say nothing to the old man. Why chain herself to another needy man, tote that barge and lift that laundry basket. We should all live in solitary rooms, emerging only to ask necessary questions.

Oh, and Crazy Tom fell asleep in front of the TV while waiting to go out with Dave. Slut no more.