Saturday, August 23, 2014

At the Idea of Company


At the idea of company, my father would curl his lip.  That was just the start.  Once he knew that Mom really meant that company was coming over, his lip would relax and he would tilt back in his chair, his arms crossed behind his head, his eyes rolled to the top of his forehead.  I would usually watch this from underneath my fairy napkin.

When company did come, my mom was always happy from the start, but it would take my dad longer to warm up.  He had probably been chasing teenagers around all day, and I had probably toddled in on him going to the bathroom again.

Stuck in the family room with my older siblings, I was a pinball in a pinball machine.  My brother would pretend that if he fell off the couch without my kissing his big toe, he would die.  I always kissed his toe, sometimes frantically.  My sisters would send me into the kitchen for more chips and dip.  I’d come back with that and some mints in my pocket.

The results of my parents’ having company over varied.  When I was younger and just learning to spell, it meant that they would sleep in and I would pour my own bowl of K-I-X without falling off the countertop or spilling milk.  I would take it upon myself—the only awake person in the house—to compromise the rules and eat my cereal away from the breakfast table, eight inches from the television screen, me and Scooby-Doo.

Ten years later, backyard parties meant that the back of my guitar got scratched when my dad said to let the company have it, but I didn’t really mind.  It was the least of my worries.

Now with me and my parents in elderly states—having kind of grown up as the most troubled triplets in the world—we are the same as we were forty years ago: my mother still looking forward to the doorbell ringing, my dad and I still drugging ourselves, or hoping at least for drugs later.  My mom was a convert long-coming into the tripleness of us, but now she likes to take the phone off the hook as much as we do.

*
As might be imagined, my father was not a fan of my beaus, though my mother always went wild for them.  High school times were very hard for us as a unit.  Variously throughout the years such as in South Africa and the Iraq and everywhere like such as, especially when perhaps a stash of unsmoked cigarettes, unused condoms, and an unopened package of No Doz had been discovered in my bedroom’s attic, my dad would look at me, his identical, and put the pained look of You’re such an idiot across his face.  He and I would look at each other that way while Mom glanced back and forth. 

Everything always had something to do with a boy.

“Under no circumstances,” my father would level me, “will that young man be welcomed back into this house before I get a chance to speak to him.”

I would bite my lips; my dad always won.  He was the bouncer of our house.

One Friday night I had been let off being grounded for two weeks and had firmly reaffixed my fairy wings.  I was expecting the wrestler who had gotten me grounded in the first place—we were all expecting him—when my dad reminded me: “I’ll have a talk with him on the deck before you go.”  My mom heard this too, and when the wrestler arrived, my mom and I were suddenly mosquitoes listening at the screen.  We big-brown-eyed one another and telepathically exchanged, Is he really saying that? 

“You don’t take my daughter out and get her drunk,” my dad said.

“Yes sir,” the wrestler said.

“If I ever get a notion of anything like this happening again, you won’t see her again.”

“Yes sir,” the wrestler said.

My mom and I listened in the kitchen with the lights turned off so we wouldn’t be seen ourselves.

*

The three of us are still prone to speak like Yoda:
Quiet and peaceful it’s been around here.
Cold and windy it’s been all week.

We want even less company than we ever did.




Friday, August 15, 2014

Imitating People


There have been so many people coming to your door this week, you have become an a-door-a-phobe.  You sit on the couch with the front blinds open, watching the shadows of birds and trees, wondering if any of these shapes are going to morph into a human being walking up to your door again.  Landscapers have been coming to give you bids on your yard, cleaning services have been coming to give you bids on scouring the inside of your home, and there’s a pigeon that you’re allowing to roost right outside the front door on top of one of the patio pillars, in full view, so every time you hear her coo and flap and make shadows, it’s like she’s a person at your door, too.

The third and final landscaper comes by this morning.  You think you’ll like him best because the spelling of his last name is so similar to the spelling of your own.  You start out merrily walking the yard with him—the vast and sweltering front, back, and sides—pointing out things you’d like done.  Although he keeps saying that the customer is always right, he keeps contradicting you “from a botanist’s point of view”.  What you want to prune, he wants to chop down to the roots.  What you are growing into a bush, he wants to shape into a tree.

He doesn’t know the names of bushes and plants; he thinks your olives are plums.  He has never heard of a female Brazilian Pepper.  You inform him that they are native to Florida, wanting to emphasize your own knowledge and the hard work that you have already put into this property.  You keep admitting that you are only an amateur, but you are ready for a professional job.  He points out that the water pooling underneath your air conditioner's drip pipe is ruining the foundation of your house. 

“You need to put a bucket underneath that,” he says.

“It’s my pigeon bird-bath,” you joke.

“They can take a bath in the bucket,” he says.

He seems to enjoy standing in the direct sun at noon with sweat pouring down his face and pooling between his breasts.  You yourself can’t take it anymore.  You dismiss yourself and run inside; he strolls to his truck to do the estimate.  You’re so dehydrated, you won’t pee for hours.  You glug down some water and remember the bright side: you’re getting the yards and trees professionally done!  Your giddiness returns.

You see him coming up the walk, so you go outside.  He doesn’t want to give you the total cost before he breaks down the entire job into pieces.  You start listening a little more carefully through the glee when he says that because you want your hedge taken down one foot instead of the standard six inches, that’s an extra fifty dollars.  And because he’s gonna have to bring in his specialists to identify the trees and their sodium needs, that’s also going to cost more.  But the grand total is $425…twenty-five dollars less than the two other quotes.  You have your man.

You walk down the driveway with him, going to get your mail, chattering on about how excited you are to finally be getting a professional job.  You are hanging from the mailbox like a monkey when the botanist informs you that his company isn’t licensed and bonded, but they are insured.  If anybody falls out of a tree on your property, they can’t sue you.  And while he’s not a botanist yet—he still does tech stuff—he hopes for this to become his second career.  You climb down and look away from him, into your mailbox, reaching your hand in to grab the envelopes.

“So you guys aren’t really professionals?” you ask.

You remember that you picked this company because its ad said, “We Wear Uniforms!”  Indeed, Would-Be Botanist is wearing a t-shirt with his last name—again, very close to the spelling of your own last name—printed on the back with “Landscaping Services” printed underneath.  The same logo is printed smaller in front, to the left.  There is no first name.

“Listen,” he says, sweat pouring from his red hair down his pale cheeks into his puffy red beard, and again from between his breasts.  “I have a cousin who’s a teacher and he makes half of what I did when I was a tech full-time.  I’m doing this because I have a natural talent for it.  So do all my guys.”

Your teacherly self stands there dripping in sweat, remembering how much time you just invested standing out in the heat for nothing.  Your envelopes are getting damp. You say you have to get in, and Quasimodo it up the driveway.


Later, truly in the heat of the day, the pest control guy arrives.  You have taken yourself off summer naps, so you are cranky.  You have grocery shopped and the food is not put away.  Carl rings the doorbell and you go outside.  You walk the yard together, looking for spiders and ants.  They are staring at you in the eyes.  Your house is Halloween in August. 

Carl says he recognizes everyone from last month and can’t believe they’re all back.

You tell him you have to go in because your groceries are melting, melting, but to knock if he needs anything.  Forty-five minutes later he rings the doorbell instead, scaring the cats, but it’s not his fault.  You lean your forehead against the security door and ask him how it went.  He leans against your house, in the blue uniform of the brand-name pest-control service you use, looking like he has just crossed the border.

“I looked so hard, my eyes watered,” he says.

*

You sit on the couch for an hour, waiting for the third and final cleaning service representative.  You watch out your front windows.  By now the shadows have shifted, but they still dance on the street and your front pillars, imitating people coming to your door.

You wish it could be Robin Williams coming to your door.



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Complaints of the Summer


I stay on the patio longer than usual because my heart wants to get back into my throat.  I have to keep her from getting too upset before we go back in.  “Play with this,” I say, shooting a rubber band at her.

She surges joyously around in the wagon, just thankful for being touched.  I hate her in this moment.  I decide to tell her a story.  Maybe she’ll go to sleep.

“One day,” I begin, “there was a very large and interesting person who came down from Heaven and infected everyone.”

My heart cares not.  She flip-flops around in the constant water.  She is happy by herself.

My anger rises from not being recognized and it comes from a place I don’t particularly like.  I always have to put anger down in the regime of me.  I turn towards a beckoning lord.

“Lord?” I say.

“Yes Ma’am,” he says back.

“I feel disenchanted,” I whisper, “but my task for the morrow is to enchant.”

God says to me in this moment and summer of weakness, Sweet baby pie, I have been watching you.  I raised you to know yourself.  Do not let a moment or day or month of disenchantment steer you away from what you know is right.  Isn’t that why you got gas in your car yesterday?

God is joking with me.  I ask if he wants to be capitalized. 

He says no.

I challenge him.  I kick my feet.  I know I’m gonna get crucified anyway, so why wait.  “I didn’t get to go camping!” I tiny-shout about the complaints of the summer.  “I wanted this and that and the other!”

I tiny-vomit in my throat but swallow and go on. “Plus I was really hoping you could come through for me this time.”

God walks around in huge puffy footsteps.  I can hear the voice of him in my brother’s speech and my mother’s language and the vocabulary that my family has shared for years.  God has been arriving on my doorstep in semi-truck trailers and boxes all summer.  How excellent for me. 


God tells me this.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Drugstore

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I went to the CVS this morning to get some lotion and cat treats, and the place was surrounded by cops.  I pulled in and cruised through and saw the gang of my CVS—the employees—sitting on a cinder block wall, smoking, eating pastries.  I rolled down my window and asked, “What’s goin’ on?”

The manager said, “A little robbery."

I gasped in my brain.  “I want to shop here but I can’t!”

The four of those employees sitting there in the early morning light, in the hazy cloud of their cigarette smoke, almost spontaneously and in sync lowered their hands that held the cigarettes.

 “We want you to shop here,” their chorus called out, “but we know that you don’t have a choice!”

“I’m goin’ to Walgreen’s!”

*

I drove across the street feeling totally bad for everything that could have happened at the CVS.  These were my people and I saw them most days.  And then there I was at Walgreen’s, buying what I wanted anyway.  The most cheerful and tallest and oldest and baldest check-out clerk waited on me that day.  There was something about him that brought out the honesty in me.  “The CVS got robbed,” I said. “That’s why I’m here and not over there.”

“We’ve gotten robbed before,” he said, looking around like a tall Bob Newhart. “Guys come in here with sawed-off shotguns up their sleeves.  Basically, they want the pharmacy.”

I stood there, not exactly in my Sunday best, but held together.  I wondered if this old bald man was the same one who used to sell me liquor on the other side of the store.  That man had a bad case of psoriasis on his scalp, and this person does not.  I get the twinge that I should have been paying better attention.  My face makes the machinations of emotion, but my heart is slow.

“Well, I hope you have a good day,” I say as I tip-toe out of the store.

*

You go home and Lanacane yourself.  The ants have been thick this summer.  You often take your languishing body to the back porch, whether it is morning or night.  You sit out there in uncomfortable chairs, getting bit by ants, because you want your body to get used to it. 

There have been some birthdays lately that have made some people older, but these people are the same to you, so you didn't give presents.  You could be looking at an iceberg with fangs in the ocean, still hoping for a good sail.  You wish you were an animal sometimes so a whip would be in order, but since no whips or chains or harnesses are allowed anymore, you step onto the patio to give the ants their due.





Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer Nights


In the middle of the night, when the house is dark and the fans are humming—the AC, the humidifier, the noisemaker—your youngest, Leo, comes up next to you in bed.  You have earplugs in and a t-shirt over your face to block any noise or light from the outside world.  The weight of Leo’s body against you is what jiggles you awake; you slip out one earplug and uncover your face so you can make kissy-kiss sounds.  You put your right open palm up so Leo can nuzzle his face into it; he’s been doing this since he was a kitten, all parts of your body turned into his missing real mother’s belly.  His deep purrs thrum into your hand and for a few moments, he relaxes.

“Mama,” he says.

“Yes baby,” you whisper, so as not to wake up anybody else.

“I’ve been having a hard summer,” Leo says, his nose smashed into your palm.

“What’s the matter?” you ask.

“Well, for as long as I’ve lived here, I’ve been the baby, and it just seems like pulling your heart around in the wagon is taking up more time than it should.”

You know exactly what he’s talking about: the heart that you have not been able to detach yourself from, beating now warmly and softly next to the bed, swaddled in the wagon, still connected to your belly button with a sinewy fiber that you take care to wash every morning and every night, patting it dry.  You heart has gained color in her ventricles and no one would know anymore that she’d been broken.
 
Leo has been walking in slow circles next to your head as you have whispered these explanations.  Soon he is curled against your head, deep into his kitten sleep.  You have lost track of your earplug for that ear, but Leo works instead.  You leave your t-shirt off your face just in case anybody else wants to have a conversation in the next couple of hours.

*

Leo is gone when you realize you are awake again.  Your heart is stirring in the wagon. You take a tiny peek and can tell from the light coming from the windows that night is over, but day isn’t really here yet.  You close your eyes for a moment before your eldest, Sara, starts break-dancing with a Q-tip on her side of the bed.  “Sara, what are you doing?” you ask.

She is so deep into her glory-dance of the morning, she can’t respond.  You watch her somersaulting until the rising light brings your middle child into the bedroom as well.  She is the quietest by far and simply wants to sit between the shoes you wore yesterday so she can smell your feet, undisturbed for at least a minute.

“Hi Lucy,” you say, leaning far over and off the bed in hopes of scratching her neck, but she is shy and pulls farther away. “Mother, I too have an issue,” Lucy meeps with her black eyes.

“Yes, my sweet,” you say, pulling back too.  This is your gentlest one.

“I feel that it’s been very noisy around here lately.”

You curl up under your sheets and comforter, your eyes open, only natural light coming from the windows.  Lucy has never understood the Fourth of July or monsoons, her mother’s sobbing, a loud TV, or the telephone ringing too much.  She is not your brave vacuum girl, and the buzz saws being used in your neighborhood to cut down the trees from the storms have been deafening.  Plus, somebody got a new dog.

She has a hard time explaining all of this to you, especially with Sara break-dancing on the bed, Leo racing himself up and down the hallways, and your heart flopping around in the wagon.  You do the best you can at a time like this, which is to get up.  You put your clothes on, find the Q-tip and throw it away.  You put your hair up and take care of these children.  You open your house up, the front door and picture window, to a pleasantly cool July morning in Arizona.


You mix up a glass of power-drink and pour it over your heart.



Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Old Rule of the House




You have never really liked parties, those held in your honor or those held for others.  You grew up in a large family, the youngest child by far, and you could often be found reading in the closet where the sleeping bags were stored, or playing with a broken piece of jewelry in your treehouse.

But your parents liked to attend parties, just the regular barbecue, and your parents would have parties too sometimes in the yard and house.  Usually this meant that your mother would assign each of your four older siblings fifteen minutes apiece of playing with you, again and again.

This was an old rule of the house and had been happening since you’d been born, but when parties came along, sometimes the older kids would get tired of treating you like a baby.  “C’mon Katie, get on my handlebars,” your middle sister said one time.  “I’ll take you for a ride.” 

You knew that this was not particularly kosher because first, Mom hadn’t approved it.  Second, you had never ridden on handlebars before.  However, looking around at the party going on in the yard and house and wishing to get away with your sister, you climbed right up there and fastened your butt to the bike.

“Here we go!” your sister said.  Maybe she was twelve.  You cruised down the driveway in front of your house, made a fine and exciting right turn at the corner, and then your sister decided to turn into the gravel alley that would bring you back to the house from behind.

She was pedaling so fast and made her decision so late and didn’t realize how the bike might react to the gravel, especially with a four-year-old on the handlebars. It was getting dark; you didn’t see anything coming either.

You don’t really remember hitting the rocks with your face first.  You were not one to complain.  You were up and brushing your blood off your face and knees when your sister patted you down for broken bones, then walked with you in one hand and the bike in the other back around the block to the front of the house so no one from the party would see you like this.

“Mom, somethin’ happened to Katie,” your sister said, handing you over, going back out to the backyard before she could get shot.

You were quickly hauled off in your graveled knees and elbows and the missing skin on your face and nose; your mother needed to bathe you immediately.  It was a soda-bath with nothing but your mom’s arm and a soft washcloth.  You remember sitting naked in that bath, your mother washing you, when suddenly one of the party guests came into the bathroom too.

“Oh my God!  What happened to her!?” the party guest cried.

You had been relaxing in the bathtub, your shy little personality percolating, but then your mother struck up a conversation with this person.  Your whole story was told and it lasted too long.  The water got cold and you ended up crying, not because of your injuries, just for the inconsideration. 




Friday, July 4, 2014

First Fourths


Holidays have never been my favorite.
I sat on my mom’s lap for too long.
When she asked me in my ninth year
if I still wanted to go to carnival
I thought she should have already known.

I looked over my shoulder,
hoping that someone else felt the same way.
There was usually someone who did
 a sister or brother
or someone else who knew me.

My first fourths of July were spent
in upper peninsula Michigan
where my dad would shield my eyes
from the windy sandy lake.
From the puppy we were lucky enough to get
after the kittens had to be sent back to the farm,
I was always glad to get back home.

There might have been a time from the 70s to the 80s
when I was watching Michael Jackson,
not so much my family. 
Where was Richie Rich 
when I needed him.