I was part of a movement of "dinosaur moms" when I lived in Maryland (Astrodon Johnstoni is the Maryland state dinosaur.) Which is nothing more than this -- dinosaur moms delight in the half-feral nature of the beasties they parent, even as they whisper Shakespeare and Kierkegaard in their ears at night.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Danny Zuko, Part 2

This first boyfriend and first break-up were defining moments for me, and not just for the usual reasons. Enter Mr. D, the school guidance counselor.

Mr. D made it a point to be very involved in the students’ affairs. Once, when I took bean sprouts for lunch he grilled me about my body image until I was forced to confess that I took bean sprouts to keep up my eccentric image and not to lose weight (I also sometimes brought baby food). This level of engagement is surely laudable in a guidance counselor and I know some kids who credit him with saving their lives, but he was chummy to a fault.

Mr. D pulled me aside and asked me if I had broken up with M. I replied that we had broken up with each other. Undaunted, he explained that M had been seeing him about his parents’ divorce and was depressed to the point of doing something drastic. He then implored me to get back together with M, because another change might put him over the edge.

This sent me running off to find M, who assured me that his heart was not pounding on the floor. I told my parents, thinking to impress them with my responsibility, and was surprised to find that they zeroed in on Mr. D’s behavior instead.

Mr. D and the principal would often lunch in the cafeteria. With a middle schooler’s naïve trust that all grown-ups want to be better and will thank you for your criticism, I sat myself down with them. There in front of the whole lunch room and the principal, I laid out, rationally and dispassionately, everything I now understood was inappropriate about Mr. D’s breach of M’s confidence, the emotional blackmail, the inappropriate subject matter -- all of it. He thanked me for my input and apologized and as far as I was concerned, it was over.

This stands as the very first time I ever stood up to a grown-up. And just as I “imprinted” on M, creating a soft spot in my heart forever for swaggering boys with peach fuzz; so did I also “imprint” on my first run-in with authority. Even in my law practice now, there is still a vestigial middle school sensibility that says grown-ups are rational. They want to do better and will thank you for holding their feet to the fire.

This persists even though Mr. D gave me my first and only “D” letter grade. Because, mercifully, I was too oblivious to put those two events together until later in life.

Friday, December 28, 2007

My First Boyfriend, Danny Zuko, Part 1

It’s different now. Now, if you are gifted, it’s treated like any other accommodation.

But when I was in middle school, in our primitive gifted and talented program, being G & T meant that we had the run of the school. When there had been some infraction and the principal called an assembly to ferret out the misfeasor, we were always exempted. We never mixed with the general population and we didn’t even have some of the same classic experiences, like taking Spanish (We took French?!). So it was easy, when we started watching “Grease” and reading S.E. Hinton novels, to identify with the soc’s and to romanticize our schoolmates as greasers.

And noone seemed to challenge this conception. My best friend L. allowed me to school her on the finer points of royal address and tea parties even though when you think about it, she was my NEIGHBOR, and so, honestly, how dissimilar could our demographics have been?

So, imagine my thrill when, on a class-wide field trip to the Bureau of Engraving, I found myself seated with my best bud L and a bunch of regular kids for the entire bus ride to DC. I struck up a conversation with these boys, who thought my silly double entendres were hilarious and unbelievably risqué. The bunch of us girls ended up paired up with a bunch of the guys. Mine was M.

With his long hair and peach fuzz mustache, M looked like the Danny Zuko I’d imprinted on. He was the perfect first boyfriend. His best friend was a girl, so you could trust him. His friends were much more advanced than my friends in terms of actually going out and doing big kid stuff, like going for pizza or playing pac-man. He held my hand at couple skate and at the haunted house. He and his buds sat with me and my buds at lunch and they continued to think I was endlessly hilarious and shocking.

Well, and that was about the extent of it. So, when it became clear that we both had an inkling there was more boyfriend/girlfriend terrain to be covered, we just kinda freaked out and broke up instead. We promised to still be friends and meant it and continued to sit together at lunch.

What didn't make it into the Christmas letter

My friends and I are at an exhausting time of life, it seems. Where, not five years ago, our Christmas letters were full of deep reflection and high spiritual (not to mention, material) ambition; this year’s batch sounds more like, whew, we made it out of the year with the same crew we brought in, and not too battered by the journey.

I am humbled to note that my Jones, who had the most obvious milestones to report -- starting kindergarten, learning to read -- hearkens back to but one event of 2007. And that is, the day Mom popped the zit on my bum.

Why has this event taken on such epic proportions in his 6-year-old cranium? Well now, it WAS a monstrous zit. And it was already established that any assault on his bodily integrity was cause for great alarm (To his credit, he’s wailed inconsolably when I’ve cut myself, as well). But I think that the most likely reason of all is that the telling of the tale has tapped something deep and ancestral. You can almost hear the drumbeat by the fire.

Because, logistically, he could not bear eyewitness to the goings-on, he has been forced to imagine the sparks and lava and dragons that were unleashed into the world on that fateful day. And the story grows with each retelling, until he has me wrestling the demons to the ground.

Yes, he’s my little Ralph Wiggum. Remember Ralph Wiggum on his discovery of a couple sneaking a kiss in a closet? “They were making babies and I saw one of the babies and he smiled at me.”

Only the ending remains the same, the most chilling part, “And then, there was a little bit of blood. And you had to get a bandage.”

So long as I write the Christmas letter, you’ll hear about scout camp and promotions at work. But to hear Jones tell it, we emerge from this year panting from cataclysmic battles. And I can’t help but consider that Jones has it right.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hatin' on Kwanzaa, Part 2

In which our heroine finds peace about kwanzaa.

I wrote this e-mail to our school's principal this year:

Will you please pass this on to the teachers and staff? As a person who grew up celebrating kwanzaa, I am interested in making sure people have an accurate idea of it.

Increasingly, people of good will sort of blindly lump it in with other, essentially religious, seasonal holidays. And there has arisen this mystery around it, which suggests that Black Americans are in on something that is difficult for others to understand or appreciate. Even a lot of the books out there make it seem like it's something that it's not. I think that shrouding these rites in secrecy only increases racial division and we certainly don't need any of that.

I would like to make myself available for anybody who wants to do something on kwanzaa. I don't want to hear anybody spreading the misunderstanding that it has roots in Africa or in religion. It was really an early civil rights awareness exercise -- a pillars of character program, if you will.

Appropriate to the age group, of course, I'd want teachers to be prepared to discuss critically that its principles are nationalist and Marxist and might very well not ring true. That its practices embrace a primitive fetishized view of the African continent that might very well not be authentic or sensitive to the real modern day people who actually live there. That the principles and the practices should be understood in their historical context, the 1960's.

I personally hope that what kids would get out of it is the idea that the creator of this program did this because he wanted people to pause and reflect on some really important principles. That pausing and reflecting on principles is always good news. And that its importance now might be as an invitation to pause and reflect on your own principles.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A limerick for grandma

I write from my father’s house where we are celebrating my grandmother’s 85th. My grandmother is one of 13 and the first of them (who had survived to adulthood) passed this year. So there seems to be a renewed effort to gather the family while we still can.

There have been enough of these milestone birthdays that they have a predictable shape. We have our roles. My dad hosts, foots the bill, and makes remarks in his speeches that scandalize or outrage the aunties. My cousin – the one who steals a little time from her tech job to run marathons, update her children’s website, and do a little modeling – does the planning. My stately great-aunt fusses over the catering. My second cousin prepares the sweeping epic video montage, with auntie as biblical matriarch.

My offbeat uncle gives the comic roast.
My deadbeat uncle sends a letter.
And my beaten-down uncle takes potshots.

I sing.

I love to sing, but really the only reason that I sing is so that no one will make me give a toast. I am categorically lousy at them. I practically ruined my sister’s wedding going on and on with no point until they finally had to cut me off.

I sang “Amazing Grace.” Not an inspired choice, but fool-proof.

The kids did poems. Girl did a limerick, “My grandma is really fantastic/ And no, I’m not being sarcastic./ The perfect playmate/ There is no debate/ Over her I am enthusiastic.”

Some others of her generation did a very inventive skit. I was talking to their dad (Actually, I was angling for him to take my bookish girl in for a month and maybe some of their sass would rub off). He volunteered that they had an agent and were vying for a spot on Disney. Which sort of made the performance seem less like an act of creative exuberance and more like an opportunity for exposure. But I’m sure I’ll feel differently when they’re the next Naked Brothers Band.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Art is a gift from Jesus"

My six-year-old spaz-boy Jones is often over-shadowed by his very accomplished 10-year-old sis. He generally accepts her tutelage with adoration, but lately has been making “I just want to win, just once” noises. Time for some alone time with Mom, I reasoned. It came to pass that Girl had a dress rehearsal at a church that was within walking distance of several museums and the big city library. The rehearsal would be three hours long -- too long to pass by talking among the parents and too short to justify the drive home and back. By happy coincidence, it was also “First Friday,” when museums have late hours, so I took Jones along. We dropped sister off and had a lovely adventure, with Jones gamely “leading” me through the city night.

We ran into a father and daughter in the children’s area of the one museum. I’ve had this experience before where I come across a father out with his kids, clearly actively engaged with them. By all rights, this father and I should be able to recognize the same kinship with each other that mommies automatically enjoy. But I always say something too familiar and the daddy bristles. On a field trip, I once made a flip “What are ya gonna do” remark to a dad about going by my mommy title rather than my first name at school functions and got lectured about how we don’t lose our identities when we become parents. Oh, I’m sorry, did you want to talk about comprehensive immigration reform on the bus ride to the zoo?

So Jones come up to me and exclaims “Art is a gift from Jesus!” To which I reply, puzzling where he might have heard this -- on tv?, “Umm, yeah? Is that right?” Because for some reason it’s important to me that I appear to this dad as an indulgent parent rather than child-bride to a fundamentalist cult. The daddy looks at me with acknowledgement and blandly says, “Where do they get these ideas?” And I, taking the offered hand of parental solidarity, say, “Yeah, religion is like sex. They can’t just learn it in the street.” Oh, he folds up like a fan. Oh, I’ve spooked the daddy. He doesn’t meet my eyes the rest of our parallel play in the children’s room.

Now, I know I said the s-word, but I’m telling you. If that dad had been a mom, she would have just said something earthy right back or proffered her own embarrassing anecdote. We won’t have true equality until we can all be like my own step-father, who, having raised his kids on his own, can stand with a bunch of mommies and talk smack on his own kids like the best of them.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

eight is a lot of things (Phew.)

Eight Passions In My Life
1) Spouse
a) Certain amusements that I engage in with said spouse that deserve AT LEAST their own sub-category.
2) Girl and Jones
a) Parenting (Some people are parents. I am a parenting enthusiast.)
3) Yapping and writing
4) Evolutionary biology
5) Calling bureaucrats out on abuses of power
6) Keeping in touch
7) Really grasroots, envelope-stuffing, door-knocking, palm-pressing activism
8) Singing

Eight Things To Do Before I Die
1) Sell my writing for money
2) Host a podcast with Dino Mom
3) Sue the government in mandamus
4) Own my own business
5) See my kids stand up for themselves. Around middle school, when they first stand trembling before a grown-up and give them what-for, my job as a parent is done. The rest is gravy.
6) Retire (A diminishing prospect)
7) Sit on the board of a big non-profit
8) Be elected to something (Technically, I was elected to the Party Central Committee of my county back in MD, but that was in the primaries -- only Dems voting)

Eight Things I Often Say
1) Nice (Only you have to say it like Nah-ees)
2) The law should be a strict father; not a crazy drunk father
3) All right then.
4) Do I deserve this?
5) Bless your heart (I don't know how that one got started.)
6) It's all good (Well, 'cuz it is)
7) Who's in charge? [You] Yes, me.
8) They've lost their ever-lovin' minds.

Eight Books I Read Recently
See my Good Reads

Eight Songs That Mean Something To Me
1) "In My Life," The Beatles (Our song)
2) "We Care a Lot," Faith No More (Woke me up every day for law school)
3) "No," they Might Be Giants (If I say no, it's a thousand times no)
4) "Carmelita," Linda Ronstadt (Just the saddest song there ever was. I wore the vinyl off of this album.)
5) "Surrender," Cheap Trick (First album I ever bought. It was 99 cents at McCrory's)
6) "Superheroes," The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Singing this at my high school talent show might well be the single creepiest thing I ever did.)
7) "On Broadway" The Drifters (The soundtrack to my musical aspirations)
8) "Lost Generation" by me

Eight Qualities I Look For In A Friend
1) Wears pants at her waist
2) Believes in doing something about it
3) Cops freely to parental dereliction
4) Stays in touch
5) Doesn't need liquid courage to dance
6) Has clever ideas about stuff to do
7) Doesn't ask who else is coming to my party
8) In a discussion, argues from the heart and not from a brochure

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God

I have never belonged to a church. My parents would sometimes take us when they got to thinking we were growing up to be rudderless heathens and easy prey to cults, but the fervor quickly flamed out and Sundays were reclaimed by Bugs Bunny. Any denomination of non-threatening Protestant would do. We attended the nearby Presbyterian Church long enough for me to memorize a few Bible quotes, learn some cute camp songs, and perform as Joan of Arc in a saint’s pageant. The kids I knew from that congregation would later become the Young Lifers of high school.

Later, when race became a ground of conflict between my parents, my father would take us to an old-school Black Baptist church. He enrolled me in the choir, in hopes that I would thereby gain some soul. There was a lot about that experience that I imprinted on. I liked the way it got hot and bright when the morning light shone through the stained glass windows; the sweat flying off the brow; the grandmas getting the spirit and needing to be fanned.

I liked the message, which was always some variation on the theme of our abject wretched unworthiness of God’s attention and utter gratitude for even the basic fact of our existence – our breathing, our waking – let alone our other blessings too enormous to be contemplated. Seen through that lens, the deprivations which were so evident in that humble Black community on the outskirts of our prosperous suburb seemed insignificant. And the otherwise meek girls sang with the power to make the walls come down.

Homely and yet exotic, this community was my birthright, if I’d stayed long enough to learn its peculiarities. Which I didn’t. And then I spoiled it by thinking too much. It got so I couldn’t see past the minister’s petty agenda and the congregants’ mindless head-bobbing.

And then in college, of course, I was militant agnostic to atheist and rather a snot about it. I came to identify with Shaw's book. Ironic, given how very White that particular pastime turns out to be.

And now, in mid-life, I am joining a church.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Facts of Life Are All About You

Reading my dear friend Mrs. Y’s facts o’ life blog has put me in mind of my own first forays into the birds and bees talk. My father was in public health, so I grew up as sort of the local authority on the subject. I was even a little political about it. I had a responsible fatherhood poster on my wall with pregnant men, which I thought was deliciously subversive.

At an impressionable age, I read in Cosmo that every woman should carry a passport and a diaphragm in her purse at all times. I could proudly report that I’d been carrying the “three for free” in my purse since I was old enough to drive to the free clinic. “Three for free” were the tropical colored (and reportedly snug) condoms that were discretely placed three to a paper lunch sack and kept in a bowl on the counter. I considered it a feminist rite of passage to dare myself to walk up and lay claim.

It was my pride, but it was also my cover. If I was the tween and teen set’s answer to Margaret Sanger, then I could talk about these things in the abstract, keeping the spotlight off of my own personal choices. I was assumed to be too worldly-wise to be the dreaded “V.” On the other hand I was accepted as so above-it-all that it would have been as childish as snickering in sex ed class to speculate about the specifics.

Thus, the only peer pressure I ever felt about the matter was to read up on the latest perversions, lest someone get hold of a copy of Forum and scoop me. I envisioned Girl taking after me in this respect, though with a touch more class (as I did have rather a potty mouth).

So it was with this in mind that I busted out the graphs and charts on my little homegirl at the tender age of 8. She had always been fascinated by guts and gore, so it was only a matter of time before the expurgated children’s anatomy books were to prove insufficient. She asked. I said ask me tomorrow. She asked me. We went to the library. Thus armed with sensitively rendered pen and ink drawings, I launched in.

And it was really really hard (as it were). There was so much I wanted to shove into my little presentation -- my baggage, my ambitions for her, and just the sheer volume of data -- that it all came out in one earnest sweaty monologue. It wasn’t so much discussed as it was sort of soldiered through. Beats me if she came away from it with anything useful at all; beyond this is neat stuff; it’s not anything you need to be bothered about for a long time; it’s to do with these parts; love and babies are part of the story…

I’ll have other chances, but considering how comfortable I thought I was about this stuff, I was really all over the durn place.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

In praise of the humble house party

Jones just recently had a birthday. Girl is about to have one. Both milestones will be rung in by a good old-fashioned house party.

Said party will take place from 1 pm to 3 pm on some Saturday reasonably close to their actual dates. We’ll put up a couple of balloons and put on some inoffensive party mix. Every kid in the class and every kid in the neighborhood close to your age is invited. Exceptions are allowed after third grade or so.

Said party will consist of 30 minutes of arriving, a craft, some punch, some pretzels and such; 20 minutes of breaking and looting a piñata, 30 minutes of decorate-your-own cupcakes with several kinds of ice cream, more punch, blowing out the candles; 20 minutes of opening the presents, which devolves into playing with the presents, which devolves into running around like sugar spaz banshees; and 10 minutes of collecting up your goodies and saying goodbyes.

The themes have been more or less inspired (Make-your-own superhero was a hit.) The fare has been more and less healthy -- though seldom rising above the level of celery with peanut butter on it (Once, we made our own pizzas.) But after some experimentation with Chuck E. Cheese and his brethren, this is the formula I’ve come to.

I am bourgie enough that I essentially do think of a birthday party as a right, not a privilege. And I am proud enough that I do try to be clever. I have had my moments, but I’ll never out-do my writer friends (Let’s play Calvinball and then go geo-caching!) But I also deliberately try to tamp it down.

I'm with Dinosaur Mom. I mean, why mess with it? It’s not your debut. It’s not a field trip. It’s not a statement (Unless the statement is -- Get me. It’s my birthday.) It’s a party -- cake, ice cream, goodie bag -- what?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bobbing and Pretending

I just recently had the “I don’t vote,” conversation with my neighbor. Instant. Deal. Breaker. “I don’t vaccinate.” Another good one. Is it just Arizona?

Here’s my baggage about this. I think it’s my fault. That my persona doesn’t match my politics, I mean.

I cultivate a shabby soccer mom/ civil servant vibe. I hope that it hints at some depth, some worldliness (but it hasn’t netted me any potluck or book club invitations of late, so maybe I’m kidding myself.) I would like to think, at least, that I’m not indavertently giving quarter to people’s crazy stuff.

You come out with some crazy like that, and I will not only think less of you, I will immediately wonder what I’ve done wrong to make you think I was trying to hear that.

It's well-honed, this persona. Most of the time it handily wards off all sorts of unwelcome conversations -- alpha-mommy competitions, sordid confessions, stock tips, jokes about how white people can’t dance, and all but the most dogged Christian testimonials.

Oh, c’mon. We all do it. We build these defenses and then we riddle them with these little doggy doors. I want to hear your secret trash-tv obsession. I don’t want to hear celebrity gossip. Do come out of the closet to me. Don’t tell me about your hot date. Do snark about your kids. Don’t say your wife doesn’t understand you. Do school me on my fashion don’ts. Don’t talk about fashion.

And you can even have your crazy. Lord knows I’ve got mine. But, just. Not...

Look, I’ve got wing-nut friends who call me pinko and that doesn’t bug me. My dear friend’s husband has a bumper sticker on his truck referencing Hanoi Jane. Really? You’ve got beef with Jane Fonda, you’re 35 years old? That's ok.

But just -- it's like the guy who hit it off so well with my Jewish boyfriend that he invited him to a Klan rally. Yeah, thanks for thinking of me, but...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Albus + Gellert TLF

It's like bloody "Deliverance."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Affair to Remember

So, I was wondering why the ads on top of my blog were suddenly all about catching him cheating with DNA and I realized that I had referred to something dismissively as "the whole affair." Oops, I did it again. I can't help but take personally the ads that get generated by my key words and I'm embarrassed how much it influences my writing. It's like the year of middle school that I wrote with a left-hand slant because Teen mag told me it showed that I was creative.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Man Meme

1. Who is your man? Desert Ramblings
2. How long have you been together? 15 years, depending on how you count.
3. How long dated? Depends -- about a year
4. How old is your man? A year and a school grade ahead
5. Who eats more? Me, but I eat better.
6. Who said “I love you” first? Spouse.
7. Who is taller? Spouse towers over me at 5'7"
8. Who sings better? Me. But he's awfully good.
9. Who is smarter? Spouse, but I'm better educated.
10. Whose temper is worse? His.
11. Who does the laundry? Me.
12. Who takes out the garbage? Spouse, but we're training the kids to do it.
13. Who sleeps on the right side of the bed? I sleep house right. He sleeps stage right.
14. Who pays the bills? Spouse.
15. Who is better with the computer? Spouse
16. Who mows the lawn? No lawn. Rocks.
17. Who cooks dinner? His mama. Me on weekends.
18. Who drives when you are together? Spouse.
19. Who pays when you go out? Spouse. I never have cash. Also, he tips better.
20. Who is most stubborn? Me, but he's getting there.
21. Who is the first to admit when they are wrong? Spouse
22. Whose parents do you see the most? His mom lives with us and his father lives nearby.
23. Who kissed who first? We were in a play together in high school and I contrived to put a kiss where it wasn't in the script.
24. Who asked who out? Neither. Just happened. But he took the initiative to drive out to see me when we lived far apart.
25. Who proposed? He did. Bended knee -- the whole thing.
26. Who is more sensitive? He is more sensitive to minor irritations. I am more sensitive to noise and smell.
27. Who has more friends? Me. But he is the better friend.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

conditio sine qua non

Belle-mere is off on a jaunt, so I've been walking the dog. This has given me the chance to observe the neighborhood. This is the perfect time of year in AZ. The desert plants are all in bloom and have brought out the hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. The presence of bees is very reassuring to me. I have baggage about having carved up farmland for our suburban dwelling, and the bees seem to me proof of the eco-system's resilience.

I renew my commitment to tackling the backyard, which has been denuded of its topsoil. We have embarked on composting. The pile is stinky, which the books insist it shouldn't be. But there are other very reassuring signs that good stuff is going on. It's been very rewarding to behold all that rotting and seething. There is just so much action, so much "going on" in that pile. I can pretend I'm monitoring it, but it's just going on without any contribution from me.

It's rather like I felt when I was pregnant. Here I'm getting all this credit for fostering this life when, really, it's not like anything is required of me, except to allow it. But I love that feeling, that at the end of the day, if you've done nothing else, you've at least been the conditions under which something is happening.

Monday, October 08, 2007

High School Drama

When I was a senior in high school, I had the devoted attention of a very brilliant boy. To say that I loved him is almost a tautology, because I don’t know what “I” or “love” meant to me before him. It was forged in our relationship -- he pushing me to be a truer friend, a more honest thinker, a braver adventurer.

A year ahead of me in school, he had preceded me to college and we had the idea that I would follow him there. He was an artist -- showered me with cards and sketches daily. In our little crew, he had been the guy whose house everybody crashed at, and what identity I ever had in school was based largely on being adored by that guy.

Inevitably, when it came time for me to decide on a school, I had done him so powerfully wrong that I couldn’t see being on the same campus as him. He won’t speak to me to this day.

The inevitable was a boy also brilliant, but younger and much less worldly, given to hiding under a dingy hat and scribbling furiously in his notebook. Taking up with him benefited neither of us. I gained an audience for my antics, but lost integrity. He lost the comfort of his “island” and gained only notebook fodder.

Notebooks which, I should note, we turned in weekly to our AP English teacher. That woman never looked at me the same.

One eve, when snow had cancelled the next day's classes, I trudged through the snow to the scribbler's house. His family must never have known the likes of me before. All they knew was that their son had been ripped from the bosom of his family and come back saying strange things. "Did you know, Dad, that language is a virus from outer space? Pass the peas."

I had gone with some vague notion of defending my intentions, which were not really all that defensible. "I mean to play with your son's head, if that's all right. No point, really, just idleness."

I was ejected; Scribbler, in a fury, insisted on running me to my friend M's house. The car slid on the ice and into a cement mailbox. It was just a fender-bender, really. It could have happened to anyone in the weather. But it transformed the whole affair into something much more epic. Me, ringing M's doorbell that night. "S. thinks he's James Dean. Tried to kill us both. Can I sleep here?"

I rediscovered him in our high school’s latest round of reunion frenzy. I am pleased to note that he has found happiness in family life and academia, albeit his blogs have a familiar twinge of discontent. That too is comforting. Our lives basically track along the same Bourgeois-Bohemian lines.

I had become very comfortable with the notion that these two lives I had ruined were the great unfinished business of my life. And now I feel that it’s long past time I got over myself. What little I can gleam from cyber-stalking the artist, he seems to be living a glamorous single life, which seems to suit him so well that I can’t see where our relationship would have gone. And the scribbler’s life also suits him. His angst has mellowed to a perfectly sensible melancholia; and he is accomplished, whether he will admit it or no.

And of course deep in the background of this story is the man who would become my husband, off at college, being done wrong by his own high school senior girlfriend.

As unprecedented as our little scandal must have seemed at the time, it was all already written. A cliché, really. And in the end, we all just became who we were.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

$1.99 for a fax

I just paid $1.99 to send a fax. I’m irked by this. Which is remarkable because here are the events that led up to my paying $1.99 to send a fax.

Today my Jones did not go to school because he was still semi-comatose from the heavy-duty antibiotics his body is processing in its battle against the death bug he brought home last week. No doubt the fault of some parent dosing his kid up with aspirin and tossing him back in the classroom, hoping nobody would notice.

This bug has laid waste to the entire family, save Girl (knock wood). Every day I wake up with an entirely new symptom. Yesterday it was muscle pain. Today it’s sore throat. But I thought to take a Tylenol when I woke in the middle of the night (recurring hideous dream where I get caught in flagrante with various unsavory characters in my life), so it’s under control at the crack of dawn, when I must rouse to put Girl on the bus and begin my journey to Eloy, a monotonous hour and a half straight shot from my home.

I have court at the immigration detention center. I do the dead man walking march past the sequentially locking doors, the barbed wire, the surrender of my id, the marking on my hand in invisible ink, the guard escort. But that was actually really neat, being my first detention court experience. And my guy got what he needed, which was just a lower bond so that he could get back to his family and his other lawyer in San Francisco.

The immigration detention center is down a long gravel road out with the tumbleweeds with no cars in sight. And to top it, there is a dangerous felon on the loose from the nearby county facility. So naturally I blow out a tire. And when I say blow out, I mean the rim was irreparable. And there’s noone, so I go to fix the tire. And I actually manage fairly well, so butch in my sandals and skirt working those lug nuts. So that was actually really neat.

So it hurts to pay for the new tire and rim, but what are ya gonna do? But then I decide to bail on going into the office, because it’s all the way north and I’ve just come from all the way south and I’m sick and Jones is sick and I’ve had a day. But that’s just an excuse because I haven’t had a day.

My day’s been fine. I’m fine. I have a job that allows me the flexibility to bail sometimes. That in itself is pretty wonderful. I’m sick, but I’m getting over it. I’ve got health insurance. And I mean, after all, I’m not SICK sick. Court, jail, changing a tire – not really all that stressful. Paying for the tire sucked, but what are ya gonna do? Plus, there’s a Sonic Burger by the tire place and I got a strawberry limeade (My absolute fave, and good on the throat – Tylenol wearing off now). This is what being in your thirties is, I muse, trying in vain to get strawberry up my straw and wishing I’d gotten the Route 44. Nothing riles you.

And then I remember that I still need to fax the thing about the bond to the San Francisco lawyer. And since I’m not going into the office, I need to go to the Postnet…

So, correction. Things still rile me. I am totally riled right now. Over paying $1.99 for a fax.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Shout out to universal remotes

And to my beloved. This business trip marks my husband's first that I can confidently command the technology in my own home. I can watch tivo, live tv, or even a movie even though it is well past a reasonable hour in his time zone. Nachos in hand, I settle in for a night's viewing, secure in the knowledge that the remote has been programmed so expertly by my soul's mate, the captain of my ship, that even I can't foul it up. Hee-hee-hee. Blue screen of death; where is thy sting?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dispatches from the ADHD front

So my girl comes home yesterday and says it's her shoulder mate's birthday tomorrow and she'll be in her workshop making him something. A shoulder mate, for the uninitiated, is the person who sits next to you at the table (or diagonal -- it wasn't clear). So she comes down and she's made this contraption with feathers and wood bits. Me: What is it? She: I don't know. Me: May I suggest making him a lanyard instead?

I mean, the kid is almost ten. Do I seriously have to tell her not to make the sort of present that only a mother would love? But I'm so delighted that she has exhibited sufficient awareness of the world that she even knows this kid's name and has managed to remember that his birthday is tomorrow that I don't quibble. So shoulder mate is getting both the feathered creation and a lanyard snake today.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hard out here fo' a shrimp

So my girl is in this choir, and being a shortie mc'short-short, she never has to guess where she'll be placed. So we were talking about how she'd better bring it because she'll be front and center all her life. Spouse walks by, mumbling, "Hard out here fo' a shrimp..."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11 is a kindergartener

Where were you on September 11? I was 38 weeks pregnant with my youngest, and home in our apartment with my oldest, being between jobs (and far too preggers for any prospective employer to want to hear it from me). My husband called me from work and said to turn on the news and try to make sense of this footage. This plane seemed to have hit the World Trade Center. At that moment, beholding that scene, not once did it cross my mind a) that the attack was deliberate or b) that the towers would not hold up. The plane looked so small and the towers loomed so large.

What I remember of that day was the slow unfolding of the horror. It’s one plane, probably an unfortunate accident. It’s two planes, but the towers can easily withstand the hit. The one tower fell but the other tower will hold up. Where is the President? Another plane hit the Pentagon. Where is the President? There’s still another plane that missed its mark. How many are there and why can’t we stop them?

My sister would come over, weeping. I had a different reaction. I became robotic and practical. We would become news and command central for the family. We would learn that my father, who often travels for work, was in the financial district for a meeting; that my brother-in-law, an electrician, had just finished some restoration in the wing of the Pentagon that was hit. Both were fine, but my father and his colleagues were so desperate to get out of the city that they chartered a limousine to Baltimore.

My daughter would turn off the tv, saying, “I don’t like this show. It’s too violent.” Yes. Yes it is.

There was concern about a hospital bed and blood shortage. We lived near enough to DC that I was briefly concerned for my own imminent hospitalization. But of course the hospitals were fine when my son was born a few weeks later.

That son will turn six in a few weeks and that is the way I tell time. The September 11 attacks and everything that came after -- the fall of the Taliban, ink-stained fingers, “special registration”, the Department of Homeland Security, Guantanamo, “shoe bomber,” “enemy combatants,” “shock and awe,” “hidey hole,” Saddam on trial and executed -- have all taken place in the time it took for my child to learn to talk, walk, go potty, tie his shoes, and count to a hundred. September 11 is a kindergartener.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Howlin' With the OWLS, Part 1

I'm so psyched.

I have just been rolled into a snowballing e-mail started by a group of righteous women I went to law school with, looking to have a reunion. We called ourselves the Owls, for Organization for Women Law Students and Staff. We were a student group, but so much more than that. We were a clubhouse, a haven, a lifeline for each other during the nasty business of navigating law school, and all of our other life choices during that pivotal time. During those three years, four of us got engaged; one came out of the closet; one left an abusive spouse; one faced an unintended pregnancy; we all flopped down on the OWLSS lounge couch after particularly brutal rounds of Socratic hazing; some of us graduated at the top of the class; some quit.

We came from all walks of life, but what is class in law school? As a student you are ramen-noodle poor and yet as a future lawyer, no one is crying for you. I learned a good lesson about so-called sophistication my first week. It was the “Summer of Mercy” and anti-abortion activists had pledged to make Iowa City the next Wichita. I went over to see my new acquaintances -- "alleged feminists" -- graduates of the local hayseed college, thinking I would blow their minds. Let’s go over and help the counter-protest at the women’s clinic, I challenged. Wait right here, they replied. And came out with signs and t-shirts and my buddy C’s got cuffs and a gag to symbolize the “gag rule.” Turns out these hayseeds could teach this DC kid a thing or two about demonstrations.

Monday, September 03, 2007

But when ya start carryin' pictures of Chairman Mao

Does it bother anyone else that CNN insists on referring to the PRC as "Communist China?" As in "More disturbing recall news from Communist China." It's not that it's inaccurate, EXACXTLY. But, hey, as long as you're channeling Archie Bunker, why not go all the way and call it Red China? Why not just say "The pinkos are trying to poison our children again!" ?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Oh, It Ended Sad

On Last Comic Standing, some seasons ago, Rob Cantrell did a bit that starts out like a cute observation and slowly reveals itself to be a horrible story with no punchline. At some point he just stops himself and says, “Oh, it ended sad.”

“Oh, it ended sad.” Beloved spouse and I have found that line appropriate in an astonishing number of settings. You go into something thinking it’s a goof or maybe even subversively, ironically hideous and it ends up being merely awful.

Last weekend, back home for a reunion of my old youth theater troupe, I experienced such a moment. This troupe and the ramshackle theater it occupied, was legendary, back in the day. I was in it only briefly but so thick and tangled were those associations that there is no story of my adolescence that does not begin or end at that place.

The theater had superstars – glinty-toothed young men in their prime – initiators of backrubs and coiners of phrase. But, as in probably every theater, the heart and soul of the place were the guys in the crew. Crew guys are always trusted with the keys, they always have tools on them, and they would do ANYTHING for the play.

Now these guys in the crew were the best kind of trickster monkeys – skinny dippers and tormentors of guard dogs and raiders of panties and traffic cone thieves. There was G, who once singed his tuchus trying to outdo his father’s claimed prowess at flatulence combustion – a frathouse classic. “I thought it was understood that we kept our pants on,” deadpanned the Dad.

There was M, a spoken-word poet, who has genuine actual “lost years,” when seriously no one – not even his family – knew where to find him. I should say at this point that all of these guys “made good.” They’re stand-up guys who, y’know, vote and recycle and whatnot. With intelligent bemused wives and precocious tots. And they’re all ABOUT something – freelance writing or step-parenting or piloting aircraft.

So we’re all lounging around at the reunion, hearing the exploits and the “now it can be told” confessions, and I say “Tell us the one about how you spent the night in jail.” I already know the story, but it’s a favorite. Four of them are out on the road very late at night. They are stopped because apparently there have been burglaries in the neighborhood. Cops ask to search the trunk. As always, there are all sorts of heavy duty construction tools in the trunk. The cops get the wrong idea, take them to jail. While the whole misunderstanding is being sorted out, they show incredible good humor by singing “Jailhouse Rock” and clanging tin cups against the bars and otherwise making the best of it. It’s an outlaw story. A corrido.

Yeah, only it wasn’t like that at all. It was actually real life, with having to make the one free phone call and being booked and the whole thing. And it ends up being an end of innocence story. A scared straight story. Which, duh, I’m a lawyer. I should have known. I guess I’d just never looked at that story as a grown-up until just then. And there ARE some funny parts, but they are poignantly funny. The story ends, “And then we all got lawyers.” Which is kinda the ultimate “Oh, it ended sad.”

Oh fellas, I never would have asked for the story if I’d thought it out. But never mind. You always were and still are some of the awesomest bad-*sses I ever knew. But you also always were and still are some of the most genuine and principled men I ever knew. Yeah, even when you were lighting your farts on fire. It was there.

Friday, August 10, 2007

They've lost their ever-lovin' minds

So, my beloved called me at work today to vent his spleen about politics. This warms my heart, as I love being that for him -- Just someone to shake your head with. They’ve lost their ever-lovin’ minds, baby. It’s just you and me.

What had his goat was this brouhaha over Bill Richardson on the Logo panel. I didn’t hear it, but apparently Richardson said something about something being a choice and then spent the rest of the panel trying to explain that he didn’t mean that homosexuality is chosen. And now, it appears that the entire gay community has written him off. This reaction is infuriating, because, given that not one Republican even accepted the invitation to a Logo panel, this should be one of those “You had me at ‘Hello’” moments, where the mere act of attending the panel at all shows you where he stands.

Not to mention that Bill Richardson’s actions speak louder than his words, because he is the only one of any of the candidates who has ever had to do any meaningful wrangling for gay rights (not counting what role Clinton had in Bill’s disastrous “Don’t ask; don’t tell” debacle). As governor, he actually fought for civil unions. In New Mexico. Sheesh. But anyway, I don’t really want to blog about politics.

The reason I bring it up is this. It makes me sad for couples who seriously disagree about politics. I don’t mean like a good knock-down drag-out every once in a while -- “How can you be such a Bolshevik?”/ “How can you be such a defender of the machine?” That’s totally fun. I mean, like disagree about deep-seeded moral commitments or even about whether politics is something to talk about at the dinner table. How do they do it?

We’re not even such big pols, but I get a lot out of living in a house where snarky comments like, “Gosh, I get such a good feeling from supporting someone as ideologically pure as Kucinich!” Or “Could Obama maybe get some foreign policy experience before he declares war on Pakistan?” are invitations to discussion. I know in a lot of households there would be this uncomfortable, “There you go again.”

Monday, July 30, 2007

Back-To-School Shopping

So $130 today to buy the school supplies for Girl and Jones. Is that a lot? That’s just supplies – the stuff on the list plus some stuff from the wish list. I no doubt could have saved a bundle if I’d gone to Wal-mart, but I won’t, because it makes me sad. Plus, I’m only brand-loyal about a very few things, but many of them are school supplies.

I am lucky that they still love their old backpacks, which I decorated last year with the insignia from their made-up super heroes – Zappy Guy and Gadget Girl. And I only bought a very few clothes, as they have to wear uniforms, which is magnificent. Their grandma is taking them for new shoes. So, they’re set.

We are presently in the midst of a domestic purge catalyzed by Jones destroying each and every one of the models he not two days ago brought back from Legoland and his father painstakingly assembled. So, really, I should by all rights have made more of an effort to scrounge up the old supplies, many of which were untouched from last year. But that would have involved a full-on archeological dig. Plus I have such fond memories of my own back-to-school shopping, which was a full day of sibling-free one-on-one with Mom, including Department! Store! Lunch! So, essentially the children get High School Musical pencils because I used to get clam strips.

The list at Girl’s old school in Maryland was very do-what-feels-good. This one is far more dictatorial. Portfolios can be whatever color you choose but NO DESIGNS PLEASE. Binders will be 3” (I had to convince myself they didn’t mean 3-ring binder I had never seen a 3” binder before. It’s like a little briefcase.) I cheated a little, as I assume all moms do, because I don’t want my child to be the only chump with a pink eraser when she could have the one shaped like a panda she got from Balboa Park. I’m less concerned with Jones, who is a big doodler anyway.

Milestone: Being a fifth grader, Girl graduates to protractor, compass, and calculator this year. Her calculator is shaped like an adorable pink cell phone, which is either the most inspired or most pernicious thing I’ve ever seen. Our generation of Barbie famously complained that “Math is hard.” Perhaps if she’d had a cute pink calculator?....

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Trash Antics, we hardly knew ye

I went to Ed's house at our usual time and they weren't there. I called The Dude and he didn't answer. I realized I don't even have a phone number for Ed. I e-mailed both of those guys asking what up. Now it's three days later and I get an e-mail from The Dude saying, as follows, and I quote, "the band is no more. good luck." What is that?

This Playground for our residents only

Today, at the HOA meeting, we were discussing the content of a sign we were going to place at the playground.

There is a lot of frustration, because the community is under siege by graffiti, open-air drug use, car theft and other issues we never thought we’d have to deal with in a new-build suburban community. For this I blame Pulte, our builder, who should have built us a better system of covenants and enforced its own resident-owner policy. And I blame our own completely feckless HOA board, who back down whenever they meet any resistance from the apologist from Ogden, our property manager. It is a bad scene.

Anyway, so we have decided to place a sign at the playground. We toyed with the idea of having the sign say that the playground was for the quiet enjoyment of our residents only. Or something like that. Those signs are increasingly common. It would probably be cheap to buy one ready-made. And we eventually decided that simple was better and that all we really wanted was to post hours that the playground was open and have done.

I was very proud of us, because, seriously, the problems we are facing, and we still showed restraint. Because those signs really are nasty and I would not want to live in a community that had them. I am not usually all that Woody Guthrie, but playgrounds, I mean, c’mon. They can’t be for the exclusive use of any one set of private property owners’ children. They just by their very nature can’t. Just by being children, they should be able to claim all playgrounds as their birthright.

Now I recognize that the really pernicious elitism is in the communities that don’t even have to have signs because you’d have to know passwords to even find yourself in the vicinity of their playgrounds anyway. But the signs, though, think what they do to a kid. Not just the kid who is made to feel unwelcome by the sign but the kid who is made to feel that he’s supposed to be vigilant against unwelcome riff raff.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Name our band!

All right, people. I need your help. Our new band needs a name. Having once been in a band called Emerald Tiers, which we soon tired of explaining was prog and not Celtic, I freely admit my incompetence in the matter. Some candidates:

Shallow Gravy (Mmmm. This one is from The Dude)

Cat Vacuuming (Sounds naughty but just a wonky term for procrastination)

The Current (Nice Fitzgerald reference here, I think)

The New Colossus (Rejected for sounding too much like colostomy. Shame.)

Loretta As An Ornament (What I promised my teen self I’d name a band if I ever had one. Might have worked in 1982.)

Terrible Beauty (What I promised my college self, upon reading Yeats)

The Choir Invisibule (Gets the wonk vote, surely.)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Iterative Like Jello

One of the things I am really enjoying about this foray into punk or psychobilly or whatever it is The Dude and Ed Stephens and I are doing here, is how completely foreign it all is. I mean, I at least know who The Meat Puppets are. Well – I mean, I know that they’re a band. But these guys played with them.

So I was talking to this techie guy at work today. So, basically “your company’s computer guy.” I’m trying to articulate this insight I’m starting to have about the process. And this thing, this quality, this “it” that I’m trying to describe without hurting his techie brain – he just shoots it, tags it, and releases it.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” he says. “It’s an iterative process, like when Jello Biafra would hum this … and the Dead Kennedy’s would strum this…”

“Yes, iterative. That’s what it is (keying in dictionary.com). Nnh-hnh.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My Second Ever Lyrics -- Lulu

You know me
You think you know me
But what do you really know?

You know me
You think you know me
But what do you really know?

Sorry to interrupt
Sorry to intrude
I let you paint me
Primitive and crude

What are you watching?
What are you seeing?
What will you say?
What will I do?
Walk Away

Now that you know how
The other half lives
What will you do?
The other half
Of you

You know me
You think you know me
But what do you really know?

You know me
You think you know me
But what do you really know?

Don’t you know to
Put the mask on
And save yourself
Before attempting
To save somebody else?

You know me
You think you know me
But what do you really know?

You know me
You think you know me
But what do you really know?

I won’t be Lulu
I won’t be Lulu
I won’t be Lulu for you

I won’t be Lulu
I won’t be Lulu
I won’t be Lulu for you

You know me
You think you know me

Gay militants in my basement, part II

The first thing they tell parents at those college orientation things is try not to make any dramatic life changes when they first leave home. But of course that is when everybody makes their dramatic life changes, and my parents were no exception. No sooner had I stickygummed my posters, than they divorced and sold the house. They split custody of the buses, with one going to my father’s condo and one to my mother’s townhouse, which was a new build. Thus did I find myself in the awkward position of telling our busdriver I really did live here but I was not quite sure which house.

I go to check on my father and stepmother (then his girlfriend) concerned – I admit it – that they might be uncomfortable about the proposition. My first trip home – can you imagine that phone call? Yeah, college is great,… yeah, classes are hard, sure, yeah, here’s the thing…

Well, of course they were gracious, so shame on me for not giving them credit (In my defense, in the years that followed, we had quite a few discussions about matters of sexual orientation that were, to say the least, not productive. Yet, for all that, difficult to say where stepmother really stands. Cagey, that one.)

Stepmother has cooked up a storm. Dad has cornered my friend. Let’s call her Grace Jones, as she had that haircut and that righteous demeanor. He’s bought a CD player and one CD – the Star Wars soundtrack – in order best to demonstrate the surround-sound feature. When all is said and done, the only observation he will make about the whole event will be how impressive he found her. This will blow my mind. Not that she doesn’t kick *ss. She totally does. But I had to see my dad in a whole new light knowing that he got how kick *ss Grace was.

Come the day of the march, we all bus and metro into DC, in our home-made pink triangle shirts, building excitement with each new group that boards, placards and flyers in hand. Whereupon my high school bud, Turtleduck, absconds with my erstwhile boyfriend, and they spend the day museum-hopping OR WHATEVER instead of experiencing the transformative moment. There, see? It ended happy for poor Fosco. How’s that, Turtleduck?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How two busloads of gay militants got in my basement

In honor of Pride Month (which actually is celebrated in April around these parts, because June is too $%^$%&* hot), I will recount this tale of gay pride in the Reagan era. Picture, if you will, 1987. Culture Club is on MTV, "As Is" is on cable, Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller himself) co-stars in Harvey Fierstein's "Torch Song Trilogy." This is a long and rambling story, with something of a point, I think, if you bear with me. It's my Alice's Restaurant.

When I was in my first semester at college and I wanted very badly for everybody to love me all at once, I kept to a pattern that I had established in high school, which was this: The way into any group is to identify the most accessible boy and kiss him. While even then I would have freely admitted this was not the most progressive of social strategies, it was nonetheless indisputably effective. It’s really the same skill as picking off the weakest antelope.

It was Fosco’s misfortune that the herd I happened to be stalking was this misfit band of Illuminatus-spouting elves and wizards who dwelled in the coveted on-campus cottage we referred to simply as brown house.

I call him Fosco because “Fosco Tolkien” is the name I got just now when I put his real name in the hobbit name generator at http://www.chriswetherell.com/hobbit/. Clever thing that. Apparently, my hobbit name is Myrtle Smallburrows of Sandydowns. Stealthily, did this Sandydowns temptress come to exercise dominion over poor Fosco of brown house.

Then, to compound my fault, I not only used him for whatever I thought I would gain from the companionship of these woodland creatures, but I also made him do all of my typing. We had vax back then, and I didn’t even know how to log on and make the vax do my bidding in the first place, let alone type. Oh yes, by moonlight I did creep into brown house and shove the handwritten pages of my latest oeuvre into the face of poor Fosco, who – dutiful hobbit -- would churn them out by deadline.

But that was only the beginning of the woes that acquaintance with me would bring him.

Now my true heart’s yearning was an upperclassman who looked like Jim Morrison and dressed like James Dean, with a “Live fast; Die pretty” demeanor not at all befitting his status as my resident adviser. Chivalric was my unrequited love. That he was gay and quite militant only just made him all the more deliciously tragique, as he would allude to narrow escapes from AIDS and bashers alike.

Don’t get me wrong. It was not for him, or not for him alone, that I joined the gay student group on campus. No, I actually did share a very heartfelt kinship with its members as a fellow “invisible minority.” Plus, they were awesome – fierce and self-assured and worldly. They were Stonewall. They were ACTUP, which had only just formed. And inviting – did I mention I wanted the world to love me?

Our big project was we were going to the LGBT March on Washington – the first national march since 1979 and the first display of the AIDS quilt. I wouldn’t have missed it. Also, for me it had the added appeal of a cheap trip home. Eventually there were two busloads of us – and all of them were going to camp out in my basement. Even Fosco had been coaxed to leave the shire, thinking to charm the girlfriend’s parents.

Monday, June 25, 2007

My very first lyrics -- Lost Generation

“What shall we do with our
Selves this afternoon?” You cried
“And the next day,
And the next thirty years?”

We paraded, masqueraded
Cultivated jaded looks
Screamed and scratched and scrawled
In composition books

We were pathfinders
Original settlers
You wanted to be F. Scott
I wanted to be Zelda
Lost Generation

“What shall we do with ourselves
This afternoon?” You cried
“And the next day,
And the next thirty years?”

Unafraid, we stood
Naked at the ball
We screamed and scratched and scrawled
Our manifesto on the wall

We were pathfinders
Original settlers
You wanted to be F. Scott
I wanted to be Zelda
Lost Generation
Generation lost

I did you dirt and you
Did me damage
We were never offstage
King and queen of the Jazz Age

“What shall we do with ourselves
This afternoon?” You cried
“And the next day,
And the next thirty years?”

We custom-made our own crusade
And played nursemaid to our best selves
We screamed and scratched and scrawled
And yawped and yawned and yelled

We were pathfinders
Original settlers
You thought you were F. Scott
I was so Zelda
Lost Generation
Generation lost

Wuthering Wuthering Wuthering Heights

I have always suspected this about writing lyrics; the trick is to get other people’s lyrics out of your head. If I said to you, “Ti-ti-ta, ti-ti-ta, ti-ti-ta-tah,” what would you think? But the minute I said, “Wuthering Wuthering Wuthering Heights,” wouldn’t that completely cover the field?

How about this one? Ta-ta-ta Ta-ti-ti-ti Ta-ti-ti-ti Ta-ti-ti-ti Tah.
Can it be anything other than, “We care a lot about the gamblers and the pushers and the freaks.”

So, Dude and Ed are playing and I’m just trying to find a melody line in there and I’m singing “Outside in the hall, there’s a catfight. Outside in the hall, there’s a catfight.” Over and over again with different emotions. Like, pissed off or drowsy or torchy. It sounds cool, but, …

Am I a total hack or is this how you do?

The Dude Abides

The Dude: Yeah, well. The Dude abides.

The Stranger: The Dude abides. I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners. Shoosh. I sure hope he makes the finals.

I have met The Dude and he is putting together a psychobilly band in Scottsdale, Arizona. What’s more, he has recruited me for it. So, it’s The Dude, me, and Ed Stevens from the tv show “Ed”. You remember -- the lawyer who ran the bowling alley?

Mike Burton: Hey, ten bucks...

Ed Stevens: I'm not really in the mood.

Mike Burton: No, you're gonna like this one, it's conceptual.

Ed Stevens: ...Okay.

Mike Burton: Ten bucks... if you give me ten bucks.

It all started when I was idle at my stupid day job and I decided to dedicate my entire day to filling out sweepstakes and contest forms. I came across a free classified ad site for Phoenix-area musicians. I wrote, “ 38-y-o female vocalist seeks band. I was in a progressive band years ago and was written up in the City Paper for my ‘angelic vocals’.”

Which I thought was pretty up-front. I was hoping it would come off like I have chops, but I’m not a young thang and I’m not in the biz. Even so, I got a few slacker boys jammin’ in their mom’s basement. Now, I love me some slacker boyz, I do, but really now.

Dude e-mailed me, name-dropped The Meat Puppets (past) and The Gin Blossoms (future) and we set up a time. We all met at Ed’s house last Saturday. I played them mine. They played me theirs. I don’t know the protocol of these things, but at some point, I guess they agreed that I was in. So they sent me home with a CD of some stuff Ed’s old band had recorded and told me to write some lyrics. So, apparently I’m a lyricist now.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Your hair is not sun tea

I’m 38 – in my prime, no? But boy have I have been feeling old lately. Partly it’s my job. I have been doing a stint at the local community college, where I share a bathroom with the women’s volleyball league, all toned and jocular in their knee-highs and those – what are those little stretch shorts that only cover the butt?.

And partly it’s my hair, which has been going grey in great big Morticia Adams streaks for a few years. I like the streaks – I do. They’re my earthy mama cred – all long and wavy and kinda wiry. But when they started to get mousy, I thought I’d dye it. Not out of shame, you understand. Just for the experience.

I have never once died my hair. One time, when my sister was working at a salon, she pilfered some blue color gel and I put it in my hair and then tried to set the color by sunbathing because I didn’t have a hair dryer. When I confided this transgression to my hairdresser (I have sometimes gone to real hair salons), they all had a big laugh, saying “Your hair is not sun tea, honey.”

So, my first mistake is not going to a hair salon. I’m just too busy. I went to one of those places where you don’t have to have an appointment. And out came gushing all this baggage about my twisted relationship with cosmetics. I want to dye my hair, but I don’t want to cover up the grey, just some, y’know, drama. So the lady ends up convincing me that I really want highlights. So I don’t know if this is what it’s supposed to look like, but now all my grey is platinum white and lots of my hair that wasn’t grey before is this sickly old lady yellow.

Oh, I am hag-a-riffic.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Reading the top of the box

I think it was a comedian who said that life is like a board game and the lawyers are the ones who have read the top of the box. Proof positive that I am in the wrong field because in games as in life I cannot be bothered to read the top of the box. However, when one of us did finally consult the official rules to Uno on a point of contention, my instinct as to number of cards drawn at a turn was vindicated.

Ah but my reputation was already fouled. Beloved husband has already convinced them that my rules are yet another ruse to unfit them for the outside world. In checkers, I play that any one piece, if it has made one jump, can on that same turn continue jumping not just in the forward direction, but also backward, until jumps are exhausted. Why is that not the rule? My husband can't even look at it. Also, in dots and boxes, my husband plays this bizarre way where you can only win one box at a time. I can't think what the point of that is.

If it were up to me, I think we should just have a house rule that we must always go by the rule designed for liveliest play. It's not serious, and yet it so is. My kids are deathly sober toe-the-line types and it is quite possibly an important moral point this not being too authoritarian about checkers.

On going native

Flying back, I was asked whether Phoenix was my home, and it’s the first time I copped to it without hedging. As I am coming up on the anniversary of my move west, it’s probably time to give up my newcomer persona. I guess I was sort of waiting to “go native.” I thought maybe I’d be slower, more relaxed, like hotter foods (I HAVE become more of a salsa snob). I thought I’d have taken up hiking and xeriscape.

I still might. Summer’s the wrong time to embark on anything in the desert.

I could change my screen name. Arizona does not have a state dinosaur. It has a state fossil, but it’s just not the same.

We live in Laveen, which is technically a “village” of Phoenix. We’re the southernmost and westernmost edge of that sprawl, before you get to properly incorporated towns like Goodyear, Tolleson, or Avondale. We have one pitiful, unkempt border to the west that we share with The Rez, one industrial warehouse border to the north; and to the east we slowly give over to the spas and salons of South Mountain Park. So, depending on how you approach, you might see what we saw in the place or wonder what crack we were smoking. Having logged a year here, I still feel both extremes.

It’s pretty country, when the sun sets over the Estrellas. A little farmy at times, due to the thriving dairy industry, but for all that, our air is much clearer than in the city. There’s a Walmart, needless to say, and a supermarket. But you still see some old-timers filling up the feedbags at the old corner market before riding Old Paint back to their crazy huge mountainside homes.

But it’s not what Laveen is, but what it is going to be that drew us. In a few years, when the services have caught up with the population, and the churches don’t operate out of the schools, and the promised community center and college have been built, we will have that ownership that comes of having been in on the ground floor of something.

If we last that long.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Breadcrumbs on the Path

My last boyfriend before my beloved husband, T---, is an academic. When T--- and I were newly married (to our respective spouses), we lived relatively close and saw each other every so often. They had a marital moratorium on children in those days, since lifted. So, especially because of that, it was hard not to think of him in comparison/ contrast with the life I chose. Like he’s the breadcrumb I left along the path in case I need to retrace my steps back home.

Sitting in their living room, I couldn’t help but think, this could be me; with dogs instead of children, the blue-eyed Afghan girl on the wall, sharing my husband’s consternation that if Bush steals the election there will be nothing for it but to move to Canada. I would tally the units of L.L. Bean gear and references to the New York Times as “the paper” – all would be exhibits in my indictment for smugmuggery.

Petty, I know. Also pointless. Especially now there’s some time on it; and those of us who came late to backyards have them and those of us who came late to children have them; I’m sure T--- and his wife sometimes feel like drudges or sell-outs or caricatures of themselves just as often as my husband and I feel like vanguards or freaks or catcher in the rye. But they’re who I always think of when I think of “like-minded people.” People who, when you say you’re moving to Canada because Bush stole the election, say Yeah, Man, take me with you.

Like-Minded People

So, I’ve been thinking about this business of “like-minded people.” Everywhere I went, my classmates, especially the young parents, were proudly announcing that they had managed to surround themselves with “like-minded people.” Now, to be absolutely fair to my beloved classmates, when they say “like-minded,” it isn’t Stepford code for the narrow exclusivity and shallow conformity of the bourgeoisie.

I have no doubt that they mean it in only the best Bo-Bo sense. A place where they can raise quirky, free-thinking, smarty-pants kids without too much lowest common denominator telling them to man up, quit dreaming, be sexy, or buy cool stuff; where the neighbors don’t gossip if they recycle their grey water and keep their grey hair; where they can return from their moderately-well-paid but purposeful jobs to do some actual living in their living rooms, shabby chic and overstuffed with books, arguing into the night over good wine and potluck.

On "Mad About You," Helen Hunt (surveying LGBT parade): "Do we have enough gay friends?"
Paul Reiser: "For what?"

Hard to scoff at that. That’s all I want in the world. I have only had a glimpse of it. A few of my parent’s friends early on were quite – what’s the word? -- intentional. I have a friend who spent some time in a commune that referred to itself as an “intentional community.” I like the sound of that.

It was like that -- intentional, full of intent. They were forever forming groups with preposterous names like The Institute for Community Development. The neighbors used to put on one-acts at each other’s houses and we would do the sound effects. We were welcome at anyone’s house and if the finger paint was going to be too messy, we would just paint naked.

Whereas, my life? Has no “intent” in it besides mine.

Dear Reader, if you exist...

It is an indicator of how starved I am for adult conversation that I came back from reunion just spilling over with thoughts I wanted to do something with. Good thing, Dear Reader, if you exist, that I have this blog. It reminds me of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle,” which I did as a freshman at college. A particularly pathetic moment on the maiden’s journey where she’s got the baby and they’re starving and she tries to nurse him. “There’s nothing there, of course,” she says, “But you think you’re drinking and that’s something.”

Monday, June 11, 2007

Archival Minds III: B--- from college

Nowhere were my mental limits more in evidence than at reunion just now. So it was par for the course when my classmate B --- asked me to solve a mystery that had been plaguing him for fifteen years. He was the monkey king of our campus – a trickster with an underground following of rogues and misfits who would commit various acts of hazardous and illicit mischief and derring-do around campus. Apparently I was privy to this information, but when pressed about my source, answered that it was someone who was trying to impress me (Only apparently I put it more, err, explicitly than that.)

Who was my informant? I don’t know. I don’t know that there ever was an informant. One thing about having a memory as bad as mine is that once you learn something, you forget that you ever didn’t know it. You just think it’s common knowledge.

So when B--- asked me, I just figured it was like that. Lo these many years ago, I probably surmised that he was up to something and I was probably fishing and didn’t want to admit I had nothing. Also, if I recall, I was kinda hoping B--- himself wanted to, err, impress me.
But so we’re puzzling over this when another classmate greets me like a long-lost army buddy and I’ve got absolutely nothing. I mean he’s there and he’s saying, oh but I had long hair then and describing himself, and… seriously nothing. And now he’s beginning to doubt himself and he says, you’re from Detroit, right? No, I say with relief. Maybe he’s got the wrong girl. But you’re – awkward pause – you’re Black, right?

OK, well without going into a whole other thing, yes, I am Black. And it’s not as stupid a question as you might think because I don’t look it, but I am quite political about it, or was in college. And now I know he’s got the right girl because he goes on.

You blew my mind. We were in choir together and we were on tour and we played that Black church in Detroit and afterwards down in the basement you were talking with all the people from the church and they clearly accepted you as Black, you could tell by how they were talking, and I thought, I had no idea.

And then he goes on and it wasn’t a DIRECT segue but he’s showing me pictures of his multi-racial kids. Kinda like it was all of a piece, me blowing his mind and him ending up with multi-racial kids.

So, in the middle of it, B--- whispers to me, well that solves our mystery.

I guess this guy who used to have long hair and apparently thinks I’m the bomb used to be one of B---‘s lost boys. But if he’s the one, then that makes me pretty much of a heel, doesn’t it? Because then that would mean I really meant something to him. I mean, he broke a confidence to impress me. and I knew he did. and I still can’t remember his name.

Archival Minds II -- My Spouse

My spouse belongs in this list, as he’s known me since high school. Along with the usual marital mind-meld -- “Darling, what’s that tv show I like, with that guy?” -- he also delights in calling me out on my pretensions. “I like that Billy Ray Cyrus. I don’t know why…” I’ll muse. And he’ll reply, “I know why. You’ve always had a thing for the peach fuzz boys.”

Archival Minds

This is a shout-out to the people in my life with the archival minds. It has been my great good fortune that at every stage in my life there has been one really remarkable person whose memory is good enough and who is interested enough in me that she has borne witness to the little musings and proclamations of my life, and played them back for me.

My memory is lousy. I once had a pen pal in England, and every time I would write her I would say the same exact thing, about this boy I liked, and how he didn’t know I was alive. When she got back to the States, she showed me these repetitious letters, chiding me for my obsession. But really all it was was that I thought it was an interesting thing to write in a letter; and it never occurred to me I had already done so.

The original memory-keeper in my life, and reigning champ, is J ---. She has known me as long as I can remember (Or should I rephrase that, since we’ve established that isn’t much of a boast? Since middle school). And we have kept touch despite boarding school, college, grad school, and various other moves. I have sometimes been a pretty good correspondent, but, as Jane Austen said, “It is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve.” More often than not, it was she who tracked me down. Remember, young’uns, this was before google. There was a web of friends to be maintained in order for us all to keep track of each other; and she was its center. With her as Greek chorus, every step on my life’s journey has felt like prophecy fulfilled. “Well of course you’re marrying him – remember what you said about him when you first met?”

How liberal arts grads parent

So I’ve just come back from my college reunion where I’ve discovered that my former classmate has made quite a name for herself on the blogger boards as “breedemandweep.com”

Having graduated in the early 90’s, just about all of us who are ever going to jump in that pool are in various stages of parenting. So the conversation inevitably turned to what we anointed liberal intelligentsia made of the whole business. In the first place, we were pretty unanimous that our liberal arts experience had pretty much given us bupkis to draw on, especially those of us haunted by the specters of our profs shaking their heads at our compromised, gendered, commercial, authoritarian households.

Not actually a bad thing. Not really. College was for me the workshop for my most epic self – my Nietzschean no-compromises, “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” self. It was important to that experiment not to give any quarter to thoughts of a life compromised by material reality or obligations to another person.

But, come on now, we all did find room in our heads for spouses and kids later on. As reckless and solipsistic a girlfriend as I was, I found courtship and marriage pretty effortless when it came time. I remember when I was visiting an ex at Big State U. his evangelical girlfriend took me to see a very popular Christian speaker who was exhorting us to hold onto or reclaim our virginity (Poor ex? Yes, I remember thinking the same thing). The speaker’s point was that anyone you’d ever been with takes up space in your head just as if they were right there in your future marital bed. The girlfriend decided I wasn’t threatening when I admitted being moved by that particular visual image. But really she shouldn’t have because I took a different lesson from it, which is yes, yes, let it be.

Did we – despite ourselves – leave room in our heads for spouse and children? Were we Prince Hal, loitering in the tavern, but somewhere in the back of our minds, drafting our St. Crispin’s Day speech? I think we must have been. Not by living our lives so that we could deliver ourselves unbesmirched on our wedding day. But by living our lives so that we could present ourselves worldly, healthy, and whole.