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.