Tuesday, December 16, 2014

dazzled i'm not

Dear Dazzle:

I am returning this shirt to you because I ordered a size large and the thing you sent me would fit a medium-sized poodle and snugly, I might add. Where is your factory located - India? I ask you this because I once purchased a jacket in an Indian shop and I am a small person and the only one that fit was an extra large.

I know I was supposed to go to your website and acquire an authorized approval code, whatever that is but I found that website impossible to navigate - very confusing and illogical. A drunken monkey must have created it.

Do you do this purposely to discourage people from returning your elf-sized shirts? Well, here it is anyway with the receipt and I had to pay for the special  envelope twice at the post office because I couldn't remember if I had paid the fee when I first got the thing. I am painfully honest especially when confronted by federal employees. I blame this on early childhood influences such as Catholic nuns, an OCD girl scout leader, a sadistic babysitter and my ex-Marine father.

I thought about giving it to my six-year-old granddaughter but since the text says THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE I thought it might encourage inappropriate comments from mentally ill strangers. I could handle that, possibly relish it but she has not learned that skill. Yet.

I want my money back. Sincerely . . .


.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

d d

I volunteered to be the designated driver for my 90-year-old aunt and my husband as they celebrate their December birthdays. I have never been a designated driver because I like to drink but I am well-equipped for the job. I perform well in emergency situations. One time I emptied my whole college dorm when I woke up and discovered my bed was on fire. I pulled the alarm and refused to leave the building until every last coed was safely outside. Nobody was going to die in my fire. The firemen had to escort me out of the building and my picture was on the front page of my town newspaper.


Harleys are a big deal in the Midwest, nobody knows why.  My little aunt identifies herself with this segment of the population and tonight she is wearing the orange Harley sweatshirt with 2004 LEAF RUN emblazoned on the back, short leather skirt and knee high black boots. She has sewn black sequins on her black leather cap. And check out that black and white zebra nail polish.

I pick up her up and she and my husband are giggling. They are looking forward to their tryst in the night, all the naughties they intend to commit and then I will be there to safely transport them home.  My aunt has always had a huge crush on my husband, reminding me how sexy he is and "what kind eyes he has," can both exist in the same body? I remember ten years ago or so she and I were listening to a rock band down near the river marina and the lead singer was a young black man, comely and muscular and she whispered to me, "that man could park his shoes under my bed anytime." She told me about her lifelong crush on Harry Belafonte, all this from a little country girl living in a small farming village.

I slap my hand on the old time wooden bar and tell the bartender, "I do not care how much I beg or whine do not DO NOT serve me any alcohol." My aunt is all of 4'8" and with her knee high boots she looks like one of those strange John Lennon-drawn cartoons from Yellow Submarine. Her dentures are too large for her tiny mouth and she is all teeth and boots. I do water, diet Coke and finally n/a beer and then a pizza with meatball sized-chunks of sausage that will visit and revist me in the night to come.


 "I'm the designated driver," I tell the red-faced loud-mouthed person next to me. "You're D D!" she shrieks in my ear. Yes, I'm Dee Dee, this woman does not need to know my real name. I glance at the clock for the 100th time this hour.

 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

how many dancing santas will this stage hold?

I'm sitting on a bus at 7:15 on this cold Sunday morning and listening to a woman older than me. She has a shiny blond pageboy haircut sprayed into frozen waves and lots of plastered on foundation two shades darker than her real face color. She laughs too much.

I zone out her prattle and wonder what she looks like first thing in the morning. That blond hair would be matted to her scalp and there would be smeared mascara on her pasty cheeks.  She looks like she requires a lotta time to get ready.

 I am traveling through frozen Wisconsin cornfields to a dinner theatre. I am with my 85-year-old aunt and she has small wads of toilet paper in her ears. This is her first winter in the Midwest after thirty years of living in a small trailer in Arizona.

I am not like these women. I don't wear garish holiday sweaters. Lipstick is my only cosmetic, very European and I do this because my natural lip color is fading and soon my mouth will be a small black hole at the bottom of my face. I don't need to wear four rings on each hand or designer jeans imbedded with shiny enormous rhinestones glued to my butt.

The chatter is constant and loud, these women do not need to come up for air. They have mastered the art of conversation without the use of oxygen. I am not one for endless loops of words. I may resort to the toilet paper in the ear thing.

She gives us Christmas quizzes on red and green paper. I refuse to circle any answers. The only thing more humiliating than taking this test is exhibiting enough interest to answer the questions. I stare straight ahead at Blondie's doughy face as she spits into the microphone. Her cheeks wiggle and wobble when she talks.

At the all you can eat buffet I watch the girls downing Bloody Marys and drinks with large umbrellas, I'm guessing six inches in diameter. I decide to treat myself and order a diet Coke. It comes in a 32 ounce glass and I need both hands to lift it up to my disappearing mouth. "And the best part,"chirps the red-cheeked waitress, "is it comes with free refills!" That will not be happening as I do not like peeing on a moving bus.


I am sitting in the dark theatre and audience members surround all four sides. We are all old and there are dozens of walking assisted devices taking up space in the aisles threatening to trip us and create more walking disasters. I can hear several people snoring and the farm wives behind me talk and laugh no matter how many dirty looks I give them. They think they are in their living room watching TV.

The actors are singing and whirling around the small stage. They are fresh-faced, sparkly lads and lasses with unbelievable skin and teeth.  Was I ever that young? Did I sparkle?  My friend Sandy's son is a famous symphony orchestra trumpet player and he says they're all on coke. He has played for many dinner theatres: two shows a day, they skip meals and snort coke to stay thin and alert. They do have a lot of energy and these shiny creatures seem to vibrate and twinkle and glow from within. There are four children in the program and I am hoping they were not given coke and I'm especially concerned about one lively little girl.

Back on the bus the chatter is louder fueled by those large colorful drinks. I just want to curl into a ball and have soft tropical breezes kiss my fevered brow. I will not talk for the next four days, I swear, tired little introvert that I am.
 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

sorrry i'm late

"I'm sorry I'm late," I say to my husband, "but I didn't want to come anyway." He sighs and waves me in the door. I sign the ledger, this is the veterans' center and why am I signing in anyway? I am not a security risk but I could be and I have been. I marched in a lot of anti-war protests in college and I know my picture is in more than a few FBI files. I hope my hair looked good.


I have agreed to attend a buffet luncheon with all the guys. Symbols of male aggression adorn the walls, weapons, military uniforms, a grenade on someone's desk. Nothing is color coordinated but I know these men have carefully and intentionally designed this getaway place to comfort and calm the ongoing battles in their heads.

There are several roasters of meat, atop a pool table,  piles and piles of meat, mountains of meat, too much meat, a gluttony of meat.  Randy, an Afghanistan vet is being applauded for providing all this animal protein. I hear him tell the guys his grandmother died in April 2013. He gathered up all the meat from her funeral dinner, bagged it and threw it in the freezer. Until now. Here it is for consumption, I will avoid those crock pots, they smell oily and unnatural.

The only vegetables are canned corn and Van Camp pork and beans. This is all I will put on my plate. One of the guys puts his hand in a roaster and pulls out a greasy grey pork rib and plops it on my plate. "You're gonna want to eat one of these," he says. When no one is looking I transfer it to Dave's plate. I'm fairly certain the big guy's stomach acid is much more intensely concentrated than mine. I've seen him eat sloppy joes slathered in peanut butter and mayonnaise with sliced pickles.

 The man sitting next to me is a Korean veteran and he is 84 years old. Why do old guys always have that dusty-looking skin? You just want to take a rag soaked in furniture polish to them.  He is dressed in a plaid blazer and sweater vest, corduroy trousers. I remember old black and white photos of great grandfathers playing cards around the kitchen table, factory laborers dressed in Sunday suit coats and ties, this generation liked to dress up. Thank god that's changed.

He has funny stories, he used to be a county supervisor so you know he has funny stories. His red nose looks like mutilated pink play dough, he must like the drink.  He says, why must I always be the oldest guy in the room? Come back on Wednesday, I tell him. My father, all of 90 years, stops by to play euchre. I notice his dinner-sized plate is heaped with cherry cream something and cookies plus potato chips. How he lived to be a great age on this diet is a mystery for the ages. I like it here.

I munch my corn and beans and look around the room. Some of the men are disheveled, clothing stained with holes and they never look up from their plates. They are here because they are hungry, they have no interest in socializing. Their fingers are drumming on the table, feet tapping tapping tapping, always always movement.  I remember the first date with my spouse. His knee never stopped bouncing for the entire two-hour movie.

 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

i will want a fork

I am going to eat at the Japanese restaurant. My oldest son resides in Japan and he teaches English. This is pretty much what all Americans do who live in Japan. I'm thinking it might make me feel closer to him, having a meal here. He can only afford one trip home a year.

 Most ethnic restaurants in my hometown americanize their menus. There's always those cheeseburger and chicken nugget entrees at the bottom of the menu but I have heard this place is the real thing. I order the shrimp tempura. The little Asian waitress asks, "You will want a fohk?" Excuse me? "A fohk?" I'm sorry, I, what oh a fork! Yes, I will want a fork.

I have never learned to use chopsticks and I never will. I don't care how culturally cool it appears to be I will not do it. Here we have Asia, an ancient, introspectively wise culture and this is how they manuever food into their mouths? Any three-year-old knows you can pick up more sand with a shovel than a stick.

And then it arrives. Asians have cornered the market on food presentation. A work of art has been placed in front of me and I don't know whether to eat it or take it home and display it on my coffee table. There are five very long shrimps forming a little upright tent, their tails sticking straight up in the air. There is rice and dumplings and an orange with its top cut off and the fruit removed and quartered and put back into its peel. Pretty. There is sushi but that will be ignored. I know seaweed is very healthy for me, but for chrissake, it's seaweed.

Other things have been tempured. A large piece of broccoli, something square and white, something square and orange, a large golf-ball sized thing with black skin peeking through the golden panko. Eggplant? Mushroom? Bull testicle? It squishes and leaks juice into my mouth when I bite leading me to believe it is the latter of those possibilities.

The little waitress comes back smiling and bowing and I ask her what the mystery items are and she cannot say so that's disconcerting. She may not understand my English. I think the whole world should adopt bowing. It is a polite gesture and possesses a sort of dignified beauty about it. It may reduce the amount of terrorism all around us. I say it's worth a try. I leave her a large tip and I have always been a big tipper and I want that mentioned in my obituary.


As I leave the place a truck is parked outside and staff are removing food boxes and taking them into the restaurant. There is a picture of a large orange koi, an Asian goldfish  painted on the side of the truck. My Japanese-English-teaching son has these same fishes tattooed on his back.  I am wondering just what the heck I got served in there.

Friday, October 17, 2014

cancer scare #147

It is 8:30 in the morning and I am eating from a large container of french onion dip. With a spoon. I finished the chips a half hour ago. The latest virus has dug its claws into my system and a raggedy cough rips through my chest. My body has betrayed me and I will not feed it good things.

I drive to the urologist's office and seat myself in a room full of older gentlemen looking really worried. In this particular corner of the world female anatomy is superior. I silently applaud my short little urethra. We are all here to have tubes with lights and cameras inserted into our bladders. I am not kidding.

Some guy with a microscope said I have red blood cells in my pee and now I must go through the required medical scrutiny.  I walk back to the exam room. On the walls are detailed posters of the male prostate and reproductive systems, pink tubes and ruby red bulging sacks exploding everywhere, things no respectable woman should be forced to view. I am happy I do not own a prostate. Like breasts and uteruses, they exist in middle age only to harbor disease.  As we grow older we need to shed our sexual machinery, it only works against us.

The doctor's name is Horchak and wasn't Horchak one of the goons on Welcome Back, Kotter? He is deeply tanned, too tanned for a man who works in rooms without windows. His shirt is bright orange and open at the neck and a large gold cross lays on his dark chest hairs. His black thinning hair is slicked back and with his beady blue eyes he reminds me of Alex Baldwin, not one of my favorite human beings. His gold framed glasses are sitting crookedly on his nose.

"Do you smoke?"
"No."
"Did you ever smoke?"
"Yes."
"When did you quit?"
"'95."
"One pack a day?"
"Two."  I never do anything half way.
 
 
His eyes lock with mine. "Smoking produces toxins that travel in the urine to the bladder. The bladder walls are bathed, BATHED with these poisons and that's how the cancers start!" Those blue liquidy eyes are blazing with some inner not quite defined emotion. I want to apologize for some reason. I started smoking as a freshman in college, 1970.  My throat would be raw on Monday morning from all the pot I inhaled over the weekend. My roommate, an art major from a small town where her mother taught that same subject at the local high school advised me to start smoking cigarettes, a way to "condition" my throat. Thanks, Moria. We think her mother meant Mariah, you know they call the wind Mariah.  I started with menthol Marlboros, green and white boxes and it tasted like smoking toothpaste, but it had to be done. I was on a mission. I needed to be high.

 I decide not to tell Horchak about the long term love affair I had with marijuana after my divorce. I am already in enough trouble. Cannabis was my opiate of choice and before you start we all know people who chose a lot worse.

That's all I know for now. This was an informational meeting only and they will take that "peek" inside my bladder next time. It's hard to schedule an appointment when I keep leaving town.

And I think about getting one of those prostate pink tube posters. I could mount the thing in my living room. As one brother has commented, "you seem to like weird things hanging on your walls."

Sunday, October 5, 2014

whitey's legacy

 



My husband's best friend Whitey is dying. He gained the name in childhood for the alarming white shock of hair atop his head. Now it's gone thinly sickly grey. At age eighteen he was an enlisted Marine who volunteered for three tours in Viet Nam.  He came from a gruesome upbringing, an older brother wailing the crap out of him and Whitey never fought back. There just wasn't enough pain and punishment to satisfy this kid.





At Whitey's 50th birthday party I saw the brother. Paul picked up a piece of cake and rammed it in Whitey's mouth so violently the guy crashed into the wall behind him sending a framed picture of water lilies to the floor, glass everywhere. Whitey spent his youth beating up carnies and taking outrageous dares in bars.  He was perfect Marine material.

After the war he returned to the states with a liver full of Agent Orange and addictions to cigars and hard liquor that eventually earned him malignancies in all his major organs.

Of all Dave's friends Whitey has always been my favorite. Underneath the tough guy image is a soft-hearted intellectual. When I first cut my hair my Dave was displeased. We were with Whitey and wife for a ravioli dinner and Mister started his lament about HER HAIR. "I think she looks sexy," said Whitey and he lifted the beer bottle to his lips and held Dave's gaze. Topic never came up again.

PTSD clamped its ugly jaws into Whitey big time and Dave won't tell me about the guy's experiences, just as well. He has served time in several mental institutions and once he posted  negative remarks regarding the Bush administration on a facility bulletin board when the asshole was still in office. Whitey got whisked away by FBI agents, all sunglasses and crew cuts. They grilled him for three days and they had photos of Whitey's front lawn where he routinely displayed anti-Bush placards. Whitey said he got the feeling the guys were on his side.

Whitey wants to have a celebration of life party. These have come into vogue lately and I'm uncomfortable with the concept. One of our town's greatest benefactors for the arts, an old woman with a fabulously decorated apartment did the same thing when she learned of her Alzheimer's diagnosis. A week later she marched herself into the Mississippi river.

Whitey has invited 287 people. There will be six kegs of beer and a fried chicken dinner from a local caterer. A funeral service in reverse.

 Godspeed, Whitey, my good man.

Monday, September 29, 2014

ollie the oiler

I am in Minnesota not by choice but here I am nonetheless. My father wants to see some military museums so he sits in the back of our Impala as we head north. I want to make him happy. He's 90 years old and his fragile spirit could take flight at any time. I hear him humming to himself as I have heard all my life and I've adopted the same habit myself. He reads his newspaper, every single article and does the crossword puzzle as he has for the last seven decades.

Twice a week he dresses up as Ollie the Oiler in bib overalls and a train engineer's cap. He plays the part of a maintenance man on an ancient dredging boat at our local museum. Ollie will answer tourist questions for anyone showing an interest in river dredging and you would be amazed how many people want to know this stuff.

We will be gone four nights. My father refuses to buy the commonly used suitcase with wheels and extended handle, easy on the back and easy to move. He would never trade "perfectly good usable" anything in for a better, more accomodating model. He has four, FOUR hard plastic suitcases and a large cooler full of beer and fruit. I heard him say one suitcase was just for shoes. He packs like a wealthy elderly matron from the Victorian era, er, your ladyship.


I could successfully live the rest of my life without visiting 1) another military museum or 2) another  blacksmith demonstration. I grew up being dragged all over the Midwest visiting these exhibits and I should be excused from any further suffering. Military museum: after an hour or two of viewing Civil War amputation tools and related items I feel heavy and sad and I need to go hold a baby or something. And blacksmithing: another barn, another blue-tinged fire with a hairy half-naked guy in a leather apron wielding huge iron tools and the thick sticky smell of manure. Oh look! He made a horseshoe! Oooh, aahh . . .

 Everything in Minnesota is painted forest green or made of knotty pine.

 
 You could get knotty-pined to death in this place. This is the land of seriously Norwegian Lutherans and loons, often one and the same entity. Actually, the loon is the state bird and there are loon calling contests in every berg and church parish, kind of like pig calling contests in Iowa. Come to the Midwest, an alluring corn-filled paradise hosting abundant animal calling rituals. The little town we are visiting puts a twist on their contest. What does a loon with a sprained foot sound like?  A drunk loon hitting on a female loon? A loon with popcorn stuck in his throat? There's just so much you can do with loon material.

I ask the woman at the museum, is there a good place to eat around here? She is chewing her gum ferociously and finally says, "oh yah, just down the street, two bars that have good food, one on each side of the road, you betcha," in that singsong Norwegian Fargo lingo.  Instead I find a cute little French bistro in the travel guide. "But the woman at the museum said they have good food," spouse whines, he doesn't like those healthy eateries with complicated menus.  I will not eat bar food where nutritious innocent veggies get breaded and deep fried and then there's that other American creation, the family restaurant. They feel obligated to offer mac and cheese and other nightmare entrees on their laminated just wipe it clean menus.

At the French place my father smiles and slides into his seat and says, "always sit with your back to the wall. That way no one can shoot you from behind."

He's always been one to pull interesting philosophical ditties out of his head but lately they've been getting kind of strange.

Friday, September 19, 2014

a tale of two universities

In my sixty odd years on this planet I have never gone to a college football game. Call it luck, call it divine intervention, call it clever ingenuity on my part. Keep in mind I possess the soul of a true and pure introvert and that makes the discussion a little more believable. I am accustomed to rude people calling me a party pooper when I attempt an early leave, They smirk and wait for my embarrassed response. I should call them on it. I should say,"at least I'm not a needy, attention-grabbing narcissistic blowhard. If I were, there'd be two of us."


But I digress. I have been lured into attending this event at my kids' alma mater university town one hundred miles away because the young grandchildren will also be attending and this means more face time with them. We adorn ourselves in the University of Iowa Hawkeye attire of black and gold. Except for my spouse. He is an angry Iowa State University alumnus. His red and gold shirt sports six-inch letters that scream BEAT IOWA. He has written letters to our editor demanding more coverage of his team and accosted local store managers because they do not carry ISU wearables. But alas he is in Hawkeye Land and this will never happen.

Our car has crawled to a near-stop as we enter the town and I look up from my book to see hundreds, no thousands of people milling and churning, bees in a hive, all heading in the same direction towards the Holy Grail, the sitting Buddha, Elvis's Graceland, their Mecca.  Waiting to worship in the big round half-bubble arena in the distance. Thousands. I have made a colossal mistake.



I am afraid to get out of the car. I am afraid what will await me out there. There are no parking spaces. We end up in a city ramp and are unloading our food baskets when two friendly policeman approach us and explain there is no tailgating here, public property and all. We quickly wolf down cold hot dogs and spoonfuls of hummus and pineapple slices. It's just getting worse.

We climb and climb up to our seats and masculine-themed rutting AC/DC tunes are blasting me senseless. On the field huge men are chest bashing each other and pumping their fists in the air and the fans are pig-grunting their approval. Everything is blown up and threatening to me. I feel like a small soft piece of fluff on a foreign ocean. The student sections are roiling, churning masses of humanity, they move as one large ferocious animal, waiting, NO, begging, NO demanding spilled blood. And they have it.  By game's end four students limp and stumble their way off the field. Young healthy bodies should not act that way. I picture an eighty-year-old man decades from now rubbing his hip in front of the fireplace and remembering that golden September afternoon long ago.

I am sitting next to cowboys and boy scouts, Harley riders and cavemen, astronauts and every kind of manly man. Here in this stadium everybody is a manly man, even a small bespectacled older woman with an incredibly attractive family .  No matter how lewd and uncontrolled and barbaric football can be it's legal and allowable and encouraged. It is the ALL AMERICAN SPORT, thus we give it our highest and mightiest stamp of authenticity.

 And I can't believe I'm enjoying it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

back in san diego, thank god

I step into the restroom stall at Chicago O'Hare and push the button for a new toilet seat cover. For some reason I sit down before it has stopped moving and I slide quickly to the left and almost crash on the floor. If this is any indication how the rest of the day may go I will head directly to the bar and stay there for a really long time.

I am back in San Diego, thank god. After a hot summer baking in the Iowa corn fields I need to be somewhere with a little culture, some place that sells really good beauty products and decent Indian food. I am sitting on Susan's beautiful new grey Italian leather couch made in China and playing with the recliner buttons.

We go next door to the neighbors' wine party. There are sardines and garlicky hummus and a delicious bowl of fresh tuna seasoned with yellow curry, quiche dotted with mint, a small bowl of walnuts and creamy dip bursting with colored peppers and tiny bits of salty olives. And meatballs. The house is a museum with framed art stretching all the way up to its high ceilings. The furniture reminds me of Rosemary's baby's neighbor: big and clunky and darkly satanic. I sit on the couch, all green velvet and carved wood and my legs stick straight out in front of me, such is the lot of the short girl. 

 By the third glass of cabernet I am feeling warm and really swell in this strange little house. The hostess is flamboyant and likes to hug. Her necklace is lovely, large flat stones laced together and striped with blue and purple rainbows. Helena* wears heavy black eye liner and her grey hair is sleek and pulled back with hairpins, she's pretty in a coquettish AARP way. Hel is in her 70's and her boyfriend of three years rearranged her furniture on their first date. He tells me later in hushed tones that he has three sons, two of them dead, one shot nine times in the back by the police when he was eighteen years old. "And they bragged about it," he says.  Mario, the young man from Guadeloupe, talks about his planned trip to Spain. He will ride his bike cross country. I do not know people like these back in I-O-way.

Raymond sits next to me, neat and prim in khakis and white sweater and has given only one word replies to anything directed at him. Suddenly he touches my bare foot and exclaims, "I love your long skinny toes! They're so pretty! I love your toes!" His drunk wife is sitting next to him and he pulls off her sandal and says, "Look at Norma's short stubby toes! I love your toes!"  I don't know what to do.











And then that same wife blurts out, "so what are we going to do about these immigrant children coming into our country and bringing all those diseases?" Mario makes a small choking sound. He's eating meatballs. Susan's husband Jim is a staunch defender of the oppressed and racially insulted and he quickly takes the stage. "These are the same people who cut your lawn, prepare your food and watch your children." Damn, this is getting good.  Susan doesn't want to do this political haggling with a roomful of wine-soaked friends and she's right. Cheap entertainment is well, cheap.

*the names have been changed to protect the utterly clueless
 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

the sneaky guy

"Don't you think this guy is kind of sneaky?" I ask the husband. My radiator in my eleven-year-old Impala barfed out its' contents on the driveway of my former son-in-law. I stopped there to pick up my grandsons and take them to IHOP for breakfast because the jerk has only wieners and ketchup in his fridge.

Big Dave calls. His mechanic wants $500 to replace my radiator. "Too much. I'll make some calls," he says.

One of the guys at the Vets' center told him about some hillbilly who works cheap. We turn off the old highway onto a gravel road and there are NO TRESPASSING signs everywhere, some of them pockmarked from bullets. This short wiry guy comes out of a garage that has a partially caved-in wall. He is opening a Coors Lite and there are three crushed cans on the windowsill near my car and I just know they weren't there yesterday.  His skin is  brown as shoe leather and he's wearing one of those sleeveless shirts with no sides. The logo above his heart is the name of the local Harley-Davidson bar and his name is embroidered below that, Sliver.  None of this is making me feel comfortable. "You wanna beer?" he sneers, directed to my husband. There are several major teeth missing in this mouth. All transactions will be in cash. I'm not comfortable with that either. My daddy raised himself an honest girl.

"Yeah, that other guy's estimate was just plain rape." He winks at me and I feel heat flaming my cheeks. His late acknowledgement of my presence feels way too intimate, almost dirty. I'm fingering the cell in my pocket and wondering if I can dial 911 without Sliver noticing.  My husband is telling him about the loud and obnoxious groan coming from the underside of my car. "Yeah, I can do you for that," he says, lighting up a Marlboro and my husband is cracking open a beer can and I am walking toward the highway for so many reasons.

 The next day  he repairs the muffler. I turn the ignition and Christ, the noise is worse. I live in a really seedy part of town so nobody should notice. I go home and slam the door. I get down on my knees to check out this new muffler and the thing is dented and grime-encrusted and I reach out my finger to see how thick that dirt is. Bad idea, back comes the finger with a blister starting to blossom. Stupid, stupid, I should know better. About so many things.

Seems like Mr. Sliver and I are not finished. I have a quick and angry reaction to anyone who treats me like a stupid person.  As a small, older woman I sometimes get this treatment from members of  the Old Boys' Club and some of their young counterparts, a bunch of Confederate Republican homophobes and I quickly let them know I can and will eat them for breakfast.
 Sliver, you messed with the wrong small, older woman.







 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

regressing

She is six years old and she's usually in your face, a tough little broad.  Her mother approves and I agree. Women need to be aggressive and loud to get their mission across, Gloria and Bella would approve. The little one and I were leaving the liquor store with well, a few bottles and she yelled at the clerks. "Okay, good-by everybody. We're going to go home and have some fun with all this booze."  No wonder I feel like I'm being watched.

But then she got different. Remote, tight-lipped, beyond my reach. "Did you have a bad day at school?" No. "Are you mad at me?" No.
That's all I got.

She's regressing. She wants warm milk in a sippie cup. She wants to sit in a stroller and not walk with me. She's begging her mom to buy her a car seat although she's 17 pounds over the weight limit. She's surrounds herself with old stuffed and stained toys, a fortress against an unrecognizable world.  "Will my dad be at your house for Thanksgiving?"  I'm not going to explain this to her, she does not understand the dynamics. Her mom can do it. This child's vulnerability is like a slap in my face. I can't protect her.

My job shouldn't be this hard. I'm a grandma. Through the generations we have done the grunt work. My great-great grandma and her spinster daughter traveled from one family to the next, stitching quilts, baking cinnamon rolls, holding babies while everybody else went about their work.

This is what I want to do but my job is redefined. Now I chauffer children to golf practice, boy scout meetings, gymnastics class. There is little if no conversation during these car rides. Screens are up, I hear a little snicker, a reaction to some online jolly. I am lonely.

My daughter is reclusive, wrapped tightly in the cocoon of a second divorce, not sure how to deal with the overwhelming angst of it all.  I don't know what to say.

I lie on my back in the pool and stare at the changing cloud patterns.  I know women are not accomplished at spacial perception but I study those clouds and see many things, skawking ducks and elephants wearing clown hats and an entire train chugging across the blueness.

I am lonely, exceedingly lonely, so much pain in my family.

We give each other facials. It is comforting.








 

Monday, August 25, 2014

an introvert attends a wedding reception

Drat, another social event. Didn't I just attend one last month? I hate summer. People celebrate way too many things.  Our friends are all married as are most of their kids. But now the kids' kids are getting married and it's not right we are still getting invited. I could run that kid over in my Chevy Impala and not know who I flattened. I say if I haven't talked to this person in the last three days I should not have to attend his event.

We pull up to the Community Center and I see the HyVee catering vans. HyVee, the King of Midwestern Groceries but could somebody please do something different? How about that fancy new Thai restaurant on the west end or something cajun packing lots of heat?  Instead, yet another fried chicken dinner and those little beef slabs that look like Spam and taste weird. I toss our wedding card into the giant gold fish bowl festooned with purple ribbons. I had penned "to the happy couple" on the envelope with a little heart and arrow, a dead-give away to the fact that I do not know their names.



I crackle as I walk across the floor. I am wearing my daughter's platform sandals, one size too large and packaging tape is stuck inside to keep them on my feet. Up ahead is a table with platters and platters of cake pops. Ooooooh, cake pops. Maybe this might have some worthwhile results afterall. They are all wrapped in cellophane which will make their removal from the building less mess.



"Don't you think Ron's wife looks like a hooker?" My husband's head snaps in my direction. He is eyeing me very carefully knowing that after three drinks I tend to say things out loud that should remain in my head. I give him a little smile and try to look level-headed and steady-eyed. See? I'm still miles away from a drunken demeanor. He slowly turns back to the conversation, something about somebody's golf ball collection and knows he is now on babysitting duty.

But I behave myself and eat the shitty chicken and miniature meat-like slabs. I am content as the evening drags itself to its beer-soaked end. The groom is having trouble removing the garter off the bride's thigh. Behind him are the groomsmen woot-woot-wooting like barbarian clansmen. Content, knowing  there are six cake pops in my purse and four more in each of my husband's pockets.
 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

it is 1970

It is 1970 and I am eighteen years old. I have just graduated from an inferior Catholic convent school. My parents wanted me to go the bigger newer Catholic high school but I balked and kicked my feet. My friends were going to the obscure school hosted by the dwindling Sisters of the Visitation and it was all that was important to me, being with my friends.  Our gym teacher smoked and coughed in a corner of our windowless basement gym and the nuns had us in the convent kitchen shelling corn when we should have been studying logarithms or something.

So I wore the idiotic freshman beanie and the itchy plaid skirts and hoped I would never grow up. My parents wouldn't let me cross the street until I was five years old and then they had to because I needed to go to kindergarten.  I'm not sure why but they always thought I was making the best and correct decisions for myself. And I wasn't, that's how good an actor I was.

I worked at S.S.Kresge's as a cashier in an aqua blue plastic apron cinched at the waist, not an attractive look for a short girl with no waistline. I folded underwear and bagged orange slices for $1.35 an hour. College was on the peripheral and it scared me. I really didn't want to learn anything else. But I bought green pillowcases for the move to a state university along with my Simon and Garfunkel albums and my beat-up Schwinn.

During my first six months of college life I had many new beginnings. Got drunk, got stoned, got laid. Fathers, give your daughters some stretching room. Sit on them too long and they will explode in a fury of passion and curiosity. My first night drunk I got up to leave the bar and three men stood up. Apparently, I had promised all of them they could accompany me home.  Next morning I showed up for my Intro to Psych class, all 1500 of us in a theatre setting and I begged the guy on the aisle to change seats with me. I did not trust my stomach still roiling with its boozy contents. What did Steve Martin say about Intro to Psych? "They teach you just enough to think you're crazy." I already knew I was crazy.


 My roommate, an art major wore a gloriously hand-embroidered navy blue cloak and stored our joints in her paint box and I worried about the toxic stains we were inhaling. My throat was furiously raw on Monday mornings from all the pot and she suggested I take up smoking to "tenderize" my throat. Thus began a lifelong love relationship with menthol Marlboros, like smoking toothpaste. I would watch that roommate draw. She would sketch an apple, pick up that apple and take a bite, sketch it again and so on, bite after bite. I envied that.



I liked the 70's. We were smug and safe in our generation knowing that our sheer numbers would conquer all. My brothers smoked pot in their bedroom and my mother would shout, "what are you burning up there?" Incense, ma, incense. One brother dropped acid and thought about flying out a third floor window. He went to the emergency room and my dad thought he had a bad case of flu. You can't bring that kind of magic back.


Friday, August 1, 2014

blank for awhile

My first marriage was to a musician, a jazz-classical guitarist sentenced to playing 80's rock and roll in a small Midwestern town. "Do I want to make music or do I want to make money?" was his lament in the short eight-and-a half years of our unlucky union. My twenties were a time of two steps forward and one step back or was it one step forward and two steps . . .  I was overly medicated on really strong antidepressants and floating on the ceiling most of the time. "Just put a string around my ankle and pull me down when you get home from work," I instructed that first husband. He was unamused.

In one desperate attempt to escape a mind swimming with suicidal homicidal self-defeating really awful thoughts I left. I packed up a box of cleaning solvents and bought a new broom and dustpan. I didn't know where I was going but it would be clean. I found a foul apartment on a foul street and the first morning I awoke the kitchen was swarming with thick slick cockroaches. I screamed and went to my drug store cashier job. I had not worked in ten years, I took what I could get. My first paycheck went for $80 worth of chemicals that are probably illegal now but they worked on those slimy critters. I slept unfettered but the toxins lay heavy in those small rooms and I'll probably develop a scary cancer somewhere down the road. I spent the next year stoned on really good weed, thanks to sleazy friends I thought were my friends. I needed to go blank for awhile.

I woke up. I came gasping to the surface and realized, this is wrong. I collected my children, said good-by to that first husband as he sped off to what he thought would be a SUPER DUPER CAREER WITH J.C.PENNEY IN OMAHA and they screwed him royally, firing their mature managers - and Joe was a good one - to employ younger, greener wimps for less money, the usual pattern. Our youngest son spent the next few months firing baseballs at the siding on my house, splintering the shingles, angry young boy. Can't seem to get past all this, probably need therapy.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

specific concerns

I am standing at the medical desk trying to convince the receptionist my physical was indeed scheduled today and not yesterday. Surely my handwritten pocket calendar is far more accurate than her computer. I see by her badge that her parents named her Meghann not Megan which means every time she gives her name to someone who is writing it down she will need to spell it. Thanks a lot, mumsy, probably why I never attained anything higher than receptionist.

"Can you call back and see if they have an opening?" I whine.  Meghann sighs and picks up the phone. "Dawn Giegerich is here and she was a no show yesterday. You can't see her, right?" Jesus, Meghann, could you please rephrase it like you actually want to solve my problem?
 "Did you have any specific concerns?" Meghann asks. Other than the fact I am having this conversation with you, no, uh-uh.

I slink out the door with my new appointment card for two months from now, jeesh, what is wrong with the medical profession? Good god, cannot believe that question even formed in my head.

Seventeen miles later I'm picking out corn at a garden stall and I realize I left my kindle back on that ill-fated medical desk. Groan. I consider if it would be less embarrassing to just leave the thing and purchase a new one. By the time I get there they will have scanned my book list and realize I am not just forgetful but dangerous to the public at large. Titles like The Psychopath Inside ( how to recognize the psychopath in you) and The Secret World of Saints, just another mentally ill Catholic, yes, they surmised that correctly. They may also wonder about the preponderance of Jewish Buddhist authors. That's just the way it happened. I can offer no further explanation.

I decide it is not a good time to drop 400 bucks on something I already own so I head back in the direction of Meghann. I'm listening to an interview on public radio and it involves a doctor with an Indian accent, my favorite inflection.  He is an expert on Parkinsons' disease and he's talking about the therapy of aerobic exercise but he says instead, "erotic exercise" and I am instantly in a good mood again. God, I love this country.

Friday, June 27, 2014

buffalo bill

Every day I spray myself with a Coppertone product designed for water use, it's kind of like shellac for your skin. When I flex my elbow or bend my knee my skin actually cracks. But it's good stuff and it keeps the melanoma bugs at bay. I have never encountered a pool with shade trees so my ninety-minute lap sessions require sun screen with the density of a good varnish.

Most of the participants during the adult swim time are large older women and we call them water walkers. They go back and forth, back and forth in the shallow areas, talking about doctor appointments and restaurant menus. Their choice of slow almost non-existent exercise and love of double bacon cheeseburgers (I catch snatches of their conversations as I work my way through the water) keep them overweight. But they are a kindly lot and I respect the fact that they are trying.

As I near the edge of the lane I encounter two male life guards, young men probably college students earning their summer keep and they are deep in talk. I hear the one kid say, "no room for us to swim today, this place is teeming with buffalo." Jesus, what, excuse me and I draw myself up to the five-foot height that is me. "That was an unkind thing to say!" I tell him and his orange-framed sunglasses swerve my way. He smirks when he sees me, little old lady, salt and pepper dyke haircut and wrinkly neck. "Wha-a-a-t?" he uses his best squirrely tone, reserved for the likes of me and unimportant types. "Your turn will come," I spit back. "I would like to see what you look like in 60 years."

I am angry and swim away quickly. I inherited my father's trigger temper and I know it is better to leave and wait until I simmer down  and then attempt a conversation.  If I don't I will say something truly stupid and risk a punch in the face. This much I know about myself.  Several laps later I approach the prick and he says "I was referring to their behavior not their weight." "I wasn't aware buffalo behave," I respond. "I meant they are like, herding. Maybe I should have used a smaller animal to reference this whole thing." "Maybe I should talk to your supervisor."

He has longish blond hair, a surfer look with a few Asian tattoos, attempting to copy karma, so beyond him. His slack hardened expression tells me he has no conscience. The supervisor listens to me, appears sympathetic but there he is the next day, sitting on his high chair, whistle in mouth, observing his herd.

"Hey Buffalo Bill!" I shout his way, "how's it going today, sweetness?" I like being old, there are no apologies, no explanations, we get away with everything, no one's listening.  He scowls and bites down on his whistle. Karma says,what goes down comes around, dude. Good luck when that happens.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Oily turns 90

There are two words that will cause me to descend into a sweaty and heartbeat-skipping anxiety attack. Family meeting. FAMILY MEETING. I have this game I play with myself because I have a lack of interesting things to do. If I need to deal with something unpleasant - a root canal, a gynecological exam, bingo night at the nursing home I ask myself.  Which would be worse, hostessing the bingo or having that exam? It helps put things into perspective and makes the event less threatening. But there's nothing more frightening than the family meeting. It stands alone in its hellish terror.

Luckily, I come from a family whose members agree on this. Major catastrophies need to be happening before we will all gather in a room without a Christmas tree and stare at each other. Like my mother's final illness and now, my father's 90th birthday.

I am one of five siblings all born within seven years. The upside of that situation is that we enjoyed the same childhood interests pretty much the whole time during our upbringing. The downside is that we are fiercely competitive for the desired parental attention slot and we are ballsy and ruthless about our expectations.  These characteristics do not lend to a successful family meeting.

I have just finished feeding my father his supper after he spent eight hours at our local museum dressed as Oily the Oiler, an imaginary employee on a steamboat. Dad gives tours on this crate that used to dredge mud out of the Mississippi way back when. I cannot think of anything more boring but like my brothers he is totally fascinated by anything that has an engine, especially big noisy, grease-belching ones.

I baked a rhubarb cake for Dad's dessert and consider offering a piece to my brothers and their wives. But then I think, no, they'd want something to drink and then would need to use the bathroom and that would only prolong the situation.

We face each other across the room and talk about pulled pork sandwiches and buying tableware at the dollar store and for the most part the session ends with no blood shed and the vein on my father's forehead did not pulsate at all, not even once.

Successful family meeting.







 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

old lady dreams

I am standing in line to buy a movie ticket and I consider seeing Maleficient.  I, like the rest of the country am totally mesmerized by Angelina Jolie.  I see the parade of pink and purple eight-year-old debutantes filing into that theatre and I think, perhaps not. I am not attracted to anything appreciated by one small part of the population, especially if it's all one gender. Do you think Jennifer Anniston ever attends movies starring Angelina?  I wish someone would research that issue. I really want to know.

So I ask the cute young man selling tickets, "Um, how is the X-Men movie? Would an old lady like it?"  He has a touch of African-American blood and those fabulously dazzling white teeth all young people seem to have.  I flutter my 62-year-old eyelashes. "You're cute," I say when he stumbles over the answer. I am at ease saying this now but I didn't when I was younger. What a shame, perhaps I should have, my life could have been interestingly different.

I sit through six or seven movie trailers.  We all know those short clips match the movie and I become slightly alarmed when they flash names like Schwarzenegger, Gibson, Stallone, Cruise, Ford - all actors whose movies I actively avoid - okay, I do like Harrison. Those movies tend to have a disproportionate  amount of gun fights, car chases and male bonding behavior, grunt, grunt.  Jesus, where is the intelligent dialogue and character development I so desire. Woody Allen, make an appearance already.

I apply too much butter to my popcorn as usual and find the theatre overly populated by alpha males. Still I become intensely involved in the story line, never getting bored with Hugh Jackson's knuckles sprouting sharpie things, is that bamboo or bone or what? My first X-Men movie and I am a convert. I wink at the young ticket-seller as I leave the theatre. I can dream old lady dreams, it's all I have left . . .   

 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

my thoughts on the bike

I want a bike. Some of my best moments were spent on a bike, my trusted partner in escape from the social complexities of being a teen-ager in the 60's, a Kelly green baby with a tiny 24-inch tire span, some nameless brand, not like the Schwinns my well-to-do neighbors rode, I don't know where my dad dug it up. I became one with the wind when saddling this princess and spent glorious hours away from home, far away from the shenanigans of three crazy Animal House brothers and a mother who said I never got her house clean enough.

The last time I rode that beauty was in college. "1-2-3-4 WE DON'T WANT YOUR FUCKING WAR . . ."  Sometimes the militants brought donuts so it was worth showing up and a lot of the boys were really cute, yes, I was so serious about politics.  I rode a bike one other time. My brother had a pseudo farm in Wisconsin, he raised rabbits for their meat and I think the little hares knew about it. They rustled nervously when I entered their barn. And there in the corner was a crotchety old piece of a bike. And I didn't know the brakes were useless until I smashed noisily into a bale of rusty barb wire, just another trip to the ER and a tetanus shot. I go there a lot but that's another story.

My favorite brother steers me to his local bike shop and you need to know this about my favorite brother. He is an extreme athlete and he has biked so long and so hard that he has an enlarged heart and his doctors plead with him, less time on the bike, weirdo. Anyway the bike specialists came at me like I'm a trainee for an astronaut program.  My brother has phoned them in advance, she's old but she's in good shape, yeap, thanks.

I am bashful and insecure about my ability to ride this bike. I never had to deal with 24 gears and hand brakes.  Would your brother help you with the whole bike riding thing or would he just give you a rash of crappy? the bike salesman sincerely asks.  Crappy rash, I answer. Do you want me to call him? No, not at this point. But then I think, he can be paternal, I respond, remembering how he coached me through facebook and blogspot, me a computer novice as we shared my mother's deathwatch. It beat crying and breast beating.

And then came Helen. My husband likes to discuss all the details of our married life to the world and he told Helen, an established cyclist at his vets' center that I was having trouble. It is my observation that anyone named Helen is a dependable sort, steadfast and true, not particularly exciting or interesting, but a stable personality none the less. And this Helen fits that bill. So we agree to meet up, a cycle lesson for me. Her husband Paul comes along, for no good reason that I can see. "Yeah, my bike cost $1600 and I've already rode 40 miles this morning," he tosses off.  Well, good for you, you self-absorbed egotistical yuppie and your hairless legs are making me nauseous. He tells me he's an engineer and you just know he's trouble.  He's all about the science of the bike ride and I prefer to see the fairy tale side. We approach a scary downhill slant and he says, "here's what I want you to do. Coast half way down the hill and then start pedalling really fast."  Wha-a-a-, my brain is whirling, ABORT MISSION, ABORT MISSION, danger Will Robinson, DANGER!

To be continued . . .

Monday, May 12, 2014

once upon a time in mexico

It is my first time in Mexico and as the plane nears the air strip I notice the tightly coiled jungle vegetation, it's all so dense and darkly green and clings closely to the ground, afraid to grow any higher in this heat. It's all so reminiscent of Jamaica, my lovely orphan of the Bahamas, my usual tropical choice of vacation.

I am bouncing along a dusty back road squished in the middle of the front seat of a beat-up Toyota van. The driver is young with slicked-back oily hair curled at the ends. His brown arms are hairless and his fingers keep beat on the steering wheel to a Nirvana tune and that's not an easy thing to do if you think about it. He doesn't speak English and his CD holder boasts Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gin Blossoms, U2. "Any Rolling Stones?" I venture. He gives me a smile and a large gold tooth is planted right in the middle of it.
Good lord, is that four people on one motorcycle, dad, little boy, little boy, mom, all helmeted at least. These are a small brown people.

Back at the resort I begin my laps in the turquoise pool and after sixty minutes a man with more tattooed skin than not looks my way. All afternoon he has been blowing deadly Marlboro smoke in my direction and now he says, "you're nuts."  I'm nuts? I'm not the one sitting in full sun this close to the equator sipping Bud Lite when Corona plus lime is available.

 I bring my exercise routine on vacation and then I get suspicious looks from the other tourists. I don't talk to them. We are here for different reasons.


I am in my chair slogging through Keith Richards' autobiography, what an awful man, when this group across the pool starts blasting a MP3 comblomeration of country, rap and slimy Bieber ballads. Did you really think we want to listen to your shitty choice in music? Did you bother asking any of us? Can't you see there are drunk people here trying to sleep?

 If we were in Jamaica there would be Bob Marley tunes everywhere, every taxi, every village square, every jerk chicken place. "Don't worry 'bout a 'ting, cause every little 'ting gonna be all right . . "  It is all right the first few times the song wafts softly on the breeze but by the end of the week you just want to slap someone.  And the truth of the matter is, it's not gonna be all right. The fricking Russians are in the Ukraine and now Biden's going over, there's a waste of jet fuel. But then the AP just announced the arrival of powdered alcohol, there's a good idea. You could sprinkle it on frozen pizza, a Hostess cupcake, your breakfast cereal. By god, everything would indeed be all right. Go, Bob.

 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

wealth

I open one eye and see a grey rectangle that is my window. Another drizzly morning devoid of  spring color and I consider staying motionless under my down comforter for the remainder of the day.  It is my birthday and I should do what I want. I have slippers from New Zealand waiting under my bed, a gift from my mountain-dwelling son, he knows cold and it is cold.

The polar blasts have pounded my corner of the world all winter and they will not relinquish their hold even though the calendar says late April. "I remember the year you were born," my father will tell me later today, "the lilacs were in full bloom." Those poor bushes are barely sprouting leaves in this crazy frigid weather.

I hate birthdays. A day when all eyes swerve in my direction. I cringe every time the phone rings. I will need to make light and spirited conversation something I am not good at.  I am grateful for the wealth of family and friends in my life. I just don't wanna talk about it or necessarily to them.

Supper with my father and I'm cooking.  What? skawk several of my friends through the course of the day. You're cooking, on your birthday, sqawk!  But it's my dad, I explain and he sent me this really cool card. And he did, a little girl with a pixie haircut striding across the front of the page. "You walked like this," he tells me, "when you were little, like you were on a mission." Probably looking for my Lennon Sisters' coloring book. He writes in bold capital letters, "you are one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me." Drat, there's that watery eye thing happening.

I remember when I was fourteen.  Sonny had arranged an interview for me at the S.S. Kresge store. A friend of his wife managed the underwear department, a position envied by all the other ladies in aqua nylon tie-in-the back smocks with ink-stained pockets. I fretted this whole thing with all the teen-aged angst I could muster. What if I fail? I will have let down the old man. No one will ever hire me. I am an insignificant insect in the unemployed hordes and it is there I will remain.

My father heard my muttering and I poured out my soul, as much as I could to my pipe-smoking, kind of nerdy dad. He looked back at me in those black-framed glasses and sharp Marine-precise crew cut and said, "when you walk into that man's office, that is the best thing that happened to him all day."
Needless to say, I got the job.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

naked catholics

I waited a full twenty minutes after the two women left the pool. This should have given them ample time to shower and vamoose from the premises.  I would then have privacy in that horribly open shower. But they are still lingering and talking about some dive that sells the best beer-battered cod this Lenten season. Who wants to shower with naked Catholics? Not me.

I creep to the far end of the locker room but then, "Dawn!" Yes, I was forced to introduce myself one day. "You are an incredible swimmer! Just how old are you?"  Christ, am I now in this category? People ask my ninety-ish father this all the time. They are astounded that he has lived this long and is still functioning. In early youth and in great age we have the ability to astound people if we can still perform mundane tasks. Two-year-olds are praised if they can skip or use the potty.

"I'll be 62 this month," I sigh, attempting to shield myself with a very small bath towel. Curses, why didn't I pack the beach towel?
"Awesome! You don't look THAT old." What I hear: 62 is really old. And I would like to add that I never use the word "awesome" to describe anything, except maybe God.

"Oh," gushes the thirtysomething girl in pink leopard panties. "You are my idol! I want to be swimming just like you when I'm that old." How do I exit this conversation with some semblance of dignity? How do I keep from punching her in the stomach?

It's funny. Leopard pantie girl and I actually have the same name. First, middle and last. I always knew there was another woman in this two-bit town with my moniker. I spied her once in the police column of the local newspaper. I waited all night for family and friends to call asking about the published offense but no one did. I guess they totally believed I did indeed steal those Marlboros and beef jerky from the local Oky Doky mart.

And then there was the time I picked up a prescription at the local medicine place. I was tired, just off work, needing to be home on my couch with my friend, Mr. Kessler. I silently paid for the large bagged box knowing  I had only ordered a small tube of anti-itch skin cream. When it was all unbagged I found a diaphragm for chrissake and friends, that ship left the dock a long time ago. The doorbell rings and the pharmacist is red-faced and stammering on my welcome mat, anti-itch skin tube in hand, probably worrying about a federal lawsuit. Just hand it over, buddy, I have better things to do than shiver in my doorway. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

the losing side

I am at yet another sixth grade basketball game and as usual my grandson is on the losing side. This has been a recurring theme in my life and I don't know why.

Why are our boys always on the losing side, I asked my daughter one spring evening as I watched the opponent whip around the bases followed by two more of his teammates. It's not that my prodigy jinx the game process or are weak and incapable athletes. They just end up on the wrong team. Every single time.

I don't take losing well. I avoided all competitive sports in my academic years. I was short and stubby like a cigar butt and was always the second to the last kid to get picked for a team. And the last kid was Betty Rae who had polio and wore this awfully thick brace on her skinny leg and she couldn't bend that leg at the knee. Watching her run was a terrible process, the braced leg swinging outward in an arc like an out-of-control helicopter blade.  I preferred to sit under our cottonwood tree and read. Go play with your friends, my mother would say. Why?

I started thinking it was my presence that was poisoning the boys' efforts. I started experimenting. I would go to the bathroom, buy some popcorn, go watch the miniature golfers whenever a grandson went to bat. If I wasn't there watching him, it would be all right. There was something in my cosmic make-up that caused him to miss the ball, drop the ball, run the wrong way, whatever. Sometimes I would just miss the entire game, take my negative force out of the arena but to no avail. They would almost always lose and I would be left with a double heaviness on my heart, my boy's and my own grief.

Did I mention there are a disproportionate number of tall kids on the successful team? There always is. Losing builds character, says one of the winning kids' parents, that annoying little half smile lingering on her lips.  Fuck you, I think, losing breeds self-contempt and hopelessness and I secretly long for her tall kid's neon yellow shoe lace to unravel and cause him to fall backwards on the hard floor shattering his skull and all her hopes. I'm still picturing the pinkish-colored brain material seeping onto the floor when, "Dawn, ready to go?" That's the husband.

I don't ask for much, just a little fairness in the midst of all this eleven-year-old angst.

 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

from pizza face

I have three brothers and one sister and all of us are divorced save for one brother. I have told this brother on more than one occasion that if he had married any other woman than the one he married that other woman would have kicked his sorry ass out the door a long time ago. He gives me this amazingly annoying smirky smile and I just want to slap him.

But I don't because like my other siblings we grew up taunting and teasing this poor kid until he exploded in a screaming, vindictive rage. Being children in the 60's was not always easy. We overly spoiled baby boomers had too much time on our hands with no video games and precisely three television programs dedicated to our age group. And with a lack of juvenile obesity we turned to other physical extremities to pick on including my brother's large Dumbo ears made more visible by those crew cuts popular for boys at the time. If he didn't have those ears we would have found something else. He made such an easy victim. "He was the middle child afterall," my mother would sigh.


Even my father would join in the fun and once threw a large chunk of styrofoam up in the air behind my brother's back. He turned and saw the thing and started running towards us shouting "there's a giant white owl chasing me!" Another time he ran screaming from the house, "I've swallowed a cherry pit! I've swallowed a cherry pit! I'm going to die!" Too fun, I say holding my sore belly from laughing.

All of us were fighters, eager to leave our mark on each other. My brother still has a visible scar above his left eyebrow, a thin feathery reminder of the ice cube tray (full) I bashed onto his head. I don't know what he did to deserve that but I know that he did.  And then there was a time I was lounging on the couch watching one of those three children's TV programs and he was kneeling in front of me, elbows on an ottoman, big mushy marshmallow butt taking up my space. For some unknown reason I kicked him and I didn't realize how hard until I saw my white-socked foot now resting on the deserted ottoman and the top portion was blood red. I had broken my toe, another reason to get back at him at a later time.

I don't know if age makes us wiser but I do believe it makes us more tolerant. And even though the elephant ears have become more prominent and his hair has receded leaving a salt and pepper fringe we have at long last become friends. We owe each other that. I love you, Mark. From your sister, Pizza face.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I don't like talking to strangers when I'm naked and other weird reasons

I'm back in the pool after a week of lounging on Susan's couch waiting for the San Diego rain to go away and it never did. And it didn't help that we visited places like Extraordinary Desserts, a little hole-in-the-wall eaterie where you take a number and wait for the staff to serve you a slice of cake big enough to fit a dinner plate and festooned with fruity syrups and fresh rose petals.


I get cranky and tense when I don't exercise and my skin feels like it is attached too tightly. Inertia allows for the toxins to run around unabated in  my circulatory system without release. When this happens I frown a lot and look at the world from under skulking eyebrows.

I stay in the pool for almost two hours because one by one, other swimmers are leaving and going down to the locker room. I would have to join them in the open shower and I don't like talking to strangers when I'm naked.

Where do you want to eat, I ask the six-year-old. She picks eating places based on what kind of coloring books they have behind the counter and the availability of ice cream. "Culver's." No, we've talked about this before, I tell her.  We will go some place that sells booze because you are staying at Grandma's tonight and she will require that.

Tasting samples of Chef Ivan's lemon pepper asparagus and seafood lasagna at the grocer's. And I can show you where you can purchase these, an overly eager perky clerk tells me.  Why does she assume I want to buy this stuff?  It's greasy and way too lemony. No thanks, I mumble with my full mouth, wanting to be done with the conversation quickly, "I just came to eat." I can be refreshingly and disturbingly honest, especially to the perky. They deserve it and so much more.

And finally, driving the grandchildren from the movies, well movie, we saw only one I politely remind the young motorist in the opposite lane who believes I cut her off that it truly was indeed my turn and I add a small wisdom-filled smile to drive the point home. Not the barrage of obscenities I usually let loose should I be driving solo. "You might as well hear it from me first," I say to the boys. "There are a lot less smart people than dumb people in this world. You are in that minority so watch your back."
Thank God karma always prevails.



 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

travel junkie

I'm running away from all that Midwestern winter crap and am presently in San Diego. Yet here we are, my California friends and I, sitting on their couch watching Jon Stewart reruns because we're into a second day of rain. All the really fun things to do in this city are scheduled for outdoors. Susan says it hasn't rained in months and the broadcaster says this much rain hasn't occurred in over three years. I'm not surprised. Bad weather follows me. Years ago when we used to vacation in Las Vegas  I was responsible for several historic rainstorms in the desert. Scientists should study me. I am that remarkable.

All I want to do is travel.  I would join a convent or work at Walmart if they promised me travel opportunities. Oh, I would come home at some point, long enough to take my grand kids to Wild Buffalo Wings and the water park, do the laundry and then repack my bags for the next adventure.  I am a travel junkie.

I am grateful that I have tasted fresh bread in the early morning at a Parisian bakery and felt the spray as my little boat maneuvered around Niagara's falls. And that time I ran away from an alligator swaying his tail in the back yard of my friend's house in Port Charlotte, Florida. I have tasted exquisitely fried walleye pike caught from a deep cold Canadian lake and collected sea shells on a windblown English beach.

And I want to do more, lots more. I can't get enough. I hang on every word of Susan's friend who is traveling to Budapest to follow the Danube's path cutting through the old country. I ask every thing I can think of and it's still not enough. This thirst cannot be slaked.

As a kid our summers were spent on a man-made lake 50 miles from our home. And I loved it. Those days count as some of my fondest memories. Swimming all day in that mud-clogged lake, sitting around a bonfire telling stories under thousands of stars, laughing with my cousins and siblings on a back porch that slept 20 kids.

hello, that's me, swigging from the Pepsi bottle

I was a divorced woman with three kids buying a house with a 29-year-old furnace and an electrical system that caused my power plant-employed brother to ask, "Who did the wiring? Edison?" Talk about living on the edge, pay check to penny pinching pay check. My kids only got new clothes on their birthdays and Christmas and when you come right down to it, that's enough. We went to a family reunion in Wisconsin once and that was our travel log for all those years.

But I met a nice man with lots of money, thus my ability to travel frequently. This is not the reason I married him. He doesn't mind if we go out to breakfast and I want to read the newspaper instead of talking to him. Or the fact that my father comes twice a week for dinner and gives far too much advice on how we should live our lives. And most importantly that I require hours and hours of alone time to feel sane and safe, despite the social creature that he is.






 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

amazing women (mimi and leona that is)

I am tap-tap-tapping my foot sitting in a chair at the local hair-cutting place. It's a walk-in kind of business and the two operators are busy clipping away and I have read three PEOPLE magazines and still it is not my turn. The one male customer has little hair to speak of, mostly a five o'clock shadow covering an eighth of his scalp, but still he finds places that need further trimming. And the elderly woman in the other chair is holding a hand mirror the whole time and directing where to cut and how much and we're talking fractions of an inch.

Finally, I am called forth. I like this little salon on the poor side of the tracks. Gang members and prostitutes come here for cutting and waxing, I'm not kidding and it is vastly superior in entertainment value than the CostCutters at Walmart. Mimi will be my cutter for the day, an enormous black woman in spandex tights and knee-high boots and I am glad. She is an artist and I love watching her scissors flip and twirl with each slashing movement, somewhat like Old West cowboys spinning their pistols on their fingers.

She grabs my hair and I feel myself being lifted out of the chair, small price to pay for the masterpiece I will soon own. Her immense bosom and belly merge into a global form and I am braced against it, and I feel warm and maternally protected. Too soon the haircut is complete and I must return to the real world and its ever waging war.

The day before I encountered my aunt Leona, 90's something, parked in front of my father's townhouse and she was delivering some kind of candy bar, my mother died years ago and she wants to take care of him. "I need to get a haircut," I'm telling her.
"Well," she says, all 4"8" of her, "you've come to the right place." She is wearing black tights and knee-high boots (did I not get the memo?) plus a zebra-striped scarf with matching hat and little else. She pulls out a shaver from the back of her car and it's caked with fuzzy white and black hair. "I'm cutting Joe and Helen and Evelyn and Rita's hair! (aunts and uncles) You just set it on #4 and let her rip!"
aunt Leona and some old guy
Good Lord. That's okay, my operator is a personal friend, I wanna help put her kids through college, I stammer. And that seemed to work.

 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

don't read while eating

I have never had good skin. I inherited this condition from generations of sweaty pimply Germans. One dermatololgist told me my body was a textbook for skin disorders, I've had everything. I'm a receptacle for pus. I'm an ongoing factory spewing out old dead white cells, my pores ooze the stuff all the time.

Not to spoil your appetite, but this is my world and my shower cubicle is packed with green tea stringents, oil-erasing and grease- eradicating soaps, alcohol-based bars promising to dry up and dry out.  I live to exfoliate but it never did a damn bit of good.

But this is something brand new I find sprouting out of my face. The thing is red, hard and spreading and it's taking on a life of its own, I swear I hear it whispering to me late at night, o-o-oh my pet, my precious. It reminds me of early John Lennon drawings, a little head with little legs, an entity unto itself, my lost fetal twin, a bit of bone and tooth and hair threatening to take over my face.
I lay on the couch, tossing and feverish, dreaming about old bad boyfriends and good drugs and I see my husband's worried face above me, "why do you keep checking on me?" I scream, "I'm all right, leave me alone!" I'm not, but I won't know that until later.


Damn, it's MRSA, that scary antibiotic-resistant monster bug. You have a MRSA furuncle, says Megan, the physician's assistant, referring to the growth on my cheek pretty much the size of a fried egg.  A furry uncle, yes I have several of those and this is the best name they could come up with?  Oh, and by the way Megan, why was my case not deemed important enough to see a real doctor?  Granted, it's not skin cancer but it's ugly enough to make my husband back away from me, his hand over his mouth, trying not to breathe the same air. The thing is weeping like an under-milked cow.

 End result is this, I get some pretty serious antibiotics and a week off work and a good excuse to haunt dark, lowly illuminated bars. Nobody must see the mess that is me.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

an introvert at the resort

My husband is sitting at a pool bar in Montego Bay. I approach him trying to balance all my swim items precariously in my arms and announce, "I'm moving down to the  beach. The people sitting next to me at the pool are getting obnoxious." He doesn't look up from his Sports Illustrated. He knows I will make this announcement several times today. Resort life is hard on introverts. Actually, only three kinds of people do well at these places. One, alcoholics. Two, people who get anxiety attacks if they aren't having a conversation with someone every fifteen minutes. And three, a combination of the first two.

I scan the little inlet looking out over the ocean. Two hefty guys are snoring in beach chairs. The one guy's shirt says, I ATE MY TWIN IN THE WOMB. Womb? Who says womb anymore? Are we living in the Old Testament? And the other fellow's shirt says, I DIDN'T CLIMB TO THE TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN TO BECOME A VEGETARIAN. We are so thankful that printed text t-shirts are the norm these days so we can identify our fellow cretins and their faults in just a few printed words. So I will move away from these womb-spouting carnivores and try the other side of the beach. My eyes fall upon a group of Italian women all laughing and whooping and gesturing in a way that only Italians can gesture. I yearn for the private solitude of my living room couch.


Yep, pretty much the whole day.

 I see that offensive fashion choice, the speedo male swim suit still has not died. I don't know why European men find it necessary to exhibit the bulging outlines of their testicles. And all that body hair.

Most of my beach mates are from Midwestern states and a lot from Canada. I know, same thing.  Nope, you never see anybody here from Hawaii. I am affectionate of all things Canadian this week as my Kessler's whisky has not yet been introduced on this fair island. So I'm sipping on something called Canadian Mist and I'm feeling all warm and well cared for.

Big Dave is currently in the pool holding a strawberry daiquiri and picking out team mates for the pool Olympics activity. They all seem to be large-breasted women, their sunburned orbs bobbing and bouncing in the turquoise pool water. Sadly he will realize too late that people with this physical endowment move very slowly in shoulder-high water and the race will be lost.


 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

waiting for my daughter

I am waiting for my daughter to come tell me she is leaving her husband. I have two old friends who remind me of my girl and they are intelligent, gentle human beings. They work and volunteer in humanitarian fields but they had difficulties choosing life partners. They have been married multiple times to jackasses who lack the realization they are jackasses.  My daughter is like them.

I don't mean to put the spotlight on me but I can't stop feeling terribly awful about all this. Usually, I allow myself one day of self-pity and then dismiss it but this is not happening. I cry while I pick through the broccoli stalks at the supermarket.

There are three children involved and we know they will not go untouched. Years ago my own divorce left my kids staring out their classroom windows, confused and alone. One of the teachers had the stupidity to call my eight-year-old son on the carpet for this behavior putting his desk next to hers facing his school mates. She was a jackass, too and I wasted no time telling her. I was a nice person up until that moment.

I need a distraction and decide to see a movie. I pick Gravity.

Sandra Bullock, weird name, is in a space pod and she realizes there is no fuel and despite all her heroism and intellectual capacity she is doomed. She's too scared to wait around for the oxygen to be depleted so she shuts down the tanks and lays back to die. Suddenly her flight companion played by George Clooney is at the window banging to be let in. We thought he was dead being shot out into the void earlier in the movie but then he opens the pod door and and climbs in next to Sandra. Why isn't she sucked out? Why isn't her skull crushed into frozen red meat like the other dead astronauts? But there's Clooney with a bottle of vodka he picked up from a Russian satellite station telling her it's not hopeless. He says they can use the launch jets to shoot them over to the Chinese space station and eventually home. Space is a veritable United Nations it seems. He's telling her she needs to get her life back. After her young daughter's death all she does is work and drive around at night and listen to the radio.


I'm starting to feeling better about Sandra's situation and my own life and then there's my mother's voice in my head for crying out loud saying, " those boys will be all right, they will be in a better environment." I know this is what she would have told me if she were alive. If she were alive.

I'm convinced all that's left of my mother is in a brown cardboard box, her ashes from the University hospital, sitting on the top of my bookshelf. I will not see her again. I am an academic and a scientist and it's not going to happen. And maybe Sandra and I invented our own saving moments to get past it, to get past whatever makes us stare out the window and do nothing to save ourselves. So anyway, that's the story. I'm going to be fine. We're all going to be fine.