Friday, December 31, 2010

Delta Blow

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I flew home yesterday from Minnesota to Arizona. Luckily, I had planned far enough ahead to reserve myself an aisle seat, though it was towards the back of the plane. Oh well…at least I wouldn’t be stuck in the middle between two strangers, or tucked against the window, having to crawl over two other people if I needed to get up.

What I couldn’t predict was the slave ship nature of this Delta flight. There were at least 250 Canadians, Midwesterners and Snowbirds smashed into the plane, and we became unsettlingly intimate upon departure, rubbing far more than elbows. Each passenger’s seat was about one square foot, which was fine for the children among us, but the adults couldn’t help but engage in good touch/bad touch. We uneasily felt up our seatmates who, under normal circumstances, we would never have found attractive. Information about our homelands and the loved ones we left behind was forcibly squeezed out of our mouths as our rib cages contracted from the crush of us against each other. Arranged marriages quickly took place to account for otherwise embarrassing exchanges of flesh. That’s what we do Up North.

As Julia Roberts flitted around free, free at last, on the video screens in Eat, Pray, Love, I sat stiffly in my aisle seat, shoulder to shoulder with—as I couldn’t help but discover—an elderly cancer survivor with one and a half lungs and no breasts. Over and over passengers passed me by on their way to the bathroom, big denim-clad butts brushing against my arm, parkas swishing against my head. I have never been so close to so many body parts at once as people of every size and shape pushed down the aisle, rubbing stomachs and butts and hands and crotches against my left shoulder and ear.

When the young couple seated in front of me decided to change their two-year-old’s diaper right there because they were afraid of joining the forced march to the toilet with a toddler, the pungent smell of poo filled the air, making me wish I had chosen an emergency exit seat. When the flight attendants started rationing out drinks, the cart came so close to me that I simply crawled in and stole a few fish and several loaves of bread. They came back later to collect trash; I gave back the bones and the crusts. I would have liked to give back the crumpled and shameful experience of flying Delta, but it was oversized and would have cost me an additional $25.

The 45 calories of pretzels you’ll get during your passage on this airline are not nearly enough to sustain you as you tussle with your seatmates, get shoved down the aisle, and try to protect yourself from the bad touches of good people—especially if you have to watch Julia Roberts gorge herself the entire time. Definitely bring a snack if you can, and don’t forget your loincloth.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Little House on the Scary

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I lie in bed at my parents’ home in Minnesota, cozy in my basement room with the wood paneling and red carpet. Heavy homemade afghans keep me snug under the chenille bedspread and clean white sheets. My head rests on feather pillows.

I’m dreaming deeply when suddenly I’m awakened by some kind of roar or scream. Someone is in great distress upstairs and I can hear it all the way down in my room. I glance at the clock—8 a.m.—and immediately think, My dad is dead. Mom found him dead in bed. This trip is going to last a lot longer than I thought.

I shake off the world of my dream, get dressed, and run upstairs. I peek into my dad’s room: still dark, his body still huddled under the covers. I walk down the hall to find my mother cheerily playing solitaire on the computer in the den. “Who was shouting!?” I say.

“That was your father. He was having a bad dream,” she says. “I found him standing by the dresser, gesturing like a wild man. I rubbed his back and he's sleeping again though.”

“Well is that normal?” I ask.

“Fairly," she says, suffering. "Too much pistachio pudding this time."

Later, when my father is up, we all sit at the kitchen table for breakfast. “What the hell were you dreaming about?” I ask.

“Something about work,” he says, stirring his coffee. My dad is retired from the Forest Service, days when he was in charge. “Something about being a leader, telling people what to do.” He stares at me intently. “Why do you ask?”

“Because you woke me up from a very intense dream too! Some lady had asked me to lunch, and I went because I thought it would help my career, but when we sat down at the restaurant I saw that she had very hairy arms and realized she was a lesbian! I knew she wanted me, and I didn’t want to be rude, so I did eat with her but then I ran back to work, where there were these two guys polishing the floor with this big machine. One of them asked me to lunch too, and I went even though I was full because he was so cute, really big with shaggy blond hair. On the way to the restaurant he stopped to get his mail, and I realized that he was Manly Wilder! When we sat down to eat, he pulled out all these blueprints to show me, and then he said he just polished floors on the side. He was really a courtroom designer. A courtroom designer! Can you believe that?”

My dad shakes his head and purses his lips, a look his five silly children are used to. “You dream crazy,” he says. “I don’t know where you get that from.”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hate It When You Leave

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There’s something about preparing your house for your own departure that never feels good. I cancel the paper and stop buying fresh fruit—try to eat up what’s in the fridge—and the heaviness of absence starts hanging around. The leaves on my plants droop and I water the plants, promising to return in a week. I clean the bathrooms for my own return, and start gathering my travel clothes, doing a special load because I haven’t worn those clothes in a year. I make a list of things to do and when to do them for the same man who has been house-sitting and cat-sitting for me for five years. Every year I download this list, update it, and print it out. Every year I come home and my cats are fine.

My cats know me so well that they sense my apprehension about leaving—of course. The suitcases aren’t out yet so the hard evidence isn’t present, but they know. Right now we’re playing the Sophie’s Choice game: who does Mom love most, who can irritate her the most but still find love, and who is demonstrating calm and collected love, not hysterical love. I just cleaned their entire bedroom (yes, they have their own) and witnessed the battle of the wills when it came to who could sit closest to the vacuum cleaner without running like a screaming mimi away first. Mom was making it noisy; could it be that bad? Had either of them ever suffered physical consequences from Mom running the vacuum? Noooo. But Lucy bailed first, no surprise. She’s no pin-up like Sara. She’s not cool like that.

I’m heading to Minnesota. The regular family questions have already trickled down here to Arizona: How many kids do we have on Christmas Eve? How much noise will Dad be able to stand? Did you get presents for everybody or not? I didn’t either…good. Do you think So-and-So will be able to make it, you know, despite the troubles? Are you bringing food? Are you going to church? No. Me either. Good. You know Mom wants us all to go. I know.

It’s just not me anymore.


I pack my thick cotton Minnesota lounging clothes and know they’ll get me through an unexpected storm, an unexpected two or three nights snowed in, and a mass I didn’t want to attend in the first place. There I’ll be on Christmas Day, warm and cozy at my parents’ house, setting out the smoked salmon and the herring, cutting up the cheese, waiting alone for the more disciplined members of my party to return.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Snowbird

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My friend Flossy came over for brunch today. At 87, she is the most outgoing, assertive, compassionate, and well-dressed woman I know. She likes to say that we used to be “roofmates”, since we lived in adjacent condos from 1998 to 2002. I like to say that she taught me the art of chit-chat.

Flossy is one of those older women who loves to visit…with anybody. Think of yourself standing impatiently in a grocery store line—or tapping your foot, checking your watch and rolling your eyes in a restaurant—and I would bet money Flossy had something to do with it. It used to bother me to no end when we’d go out for lunch and she would spend what seemed like forever visiting with the waitress. During one lunch a few years back, the visiting started during the ordering process, started up again every time the attentive waitress returned, went into full force when the food arrived cold, reared its ugly head again during the Delivery of the New Meal stage, and continued on and on during Flossy’s Acceptance of the Apology and Free Meal Coupon stage. That lunch, I really didn’t get a word in edgewise, and I told her how I felt.

“You embarrassed me,” I said.

She leveled me with a stare that I’m sure only comes from owls before they decide to eat a rat. “It’s called being social,” she said. “You could work on that yourself. And you never know—I might have been the only person who engaged that young woman in conversation today. She could have a lot of personal problems and I was the only person who showed interest in her today.”

So this is how the world works.

I have since swallowed a few chill pills. Instead of slumping in my chair and looking glum in Macy’s shoe department when Flossy takes visiting to a whole new level with another customer, not even a sales rep, I wander off and look for bright tops. She thinks I need more of those too, to go along with the manners she taught me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Always Remember

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An old boyfriend came to town this week, and when I say “old”, I mean super old. He’s 63! What happened to when I was 22 and he was 44, we lived in Alaska for the fun of it, and dating an older man seemed exotic? What happened to when he had two kids, not four…when I had two boyfriends, not zero…when seeing him made my heart warm up and turn over instead of leaping into my throat for fear he would slip and fall and break a hip? Gone were those mysterious snowy Alaska days when I was still impressed with a man who added canned vegetables to his spaghetti to make it healthier. Long gone.

“Mac” was in town for a golfing vacation and he invited me to join him and his friends for dinner at the mini-mansion one of them owns in far north Scottsdale. This is the kind of house where you feel as if you have money too, just by the very fact of being there. You must have money to have somehow finagled an invitation to this Tuscan retreat with the negative edge pool and well-contained fires in every corner. I do not have money (let it be known) so I waltzed in with what I have instead: a helpful nature. The lady of the house was bent over a cutting board, slicing tomatoes with the blade coming towards her hand. “Hello and oh my God!” I said, walking in. “You should never cut towards yourself! Never ever. Always slice away from yourself. Do you want me to do it? My dad taught me how.”
Mac told her my name and she gave me the knife; I was inside the circle, building Insalata Caprese.

But later I had to run back to the bedroom that I would or would not be sharing with Mac, which of course had its own bathroom, sitting area, library, and shower for seven. I attempted to wash my hands and noticed that Mac had not yet twisted open the new bottle of hand soap by the sink. He had been there for three days and evidently had not been washing his hands after going to the bathroom. My head cocked, my face twisted up, and I ran with the unopened bottle to the lady of the house: “Do you see this?” I tiny-shouted. “Mac has not been washing his hands after using the bathroom!” I quickly tracked down Mac, who suggested that he had instead been showering after each use of the toilet.

I was not impressed or convinced, two of my basic jobs in life.

And much later, sitting outside around a beautiful table with a fire built right into the middle of it—I use candles myself, but evidently that’s out of fashion—I realized, once again, that you bring yourself wherever you go. You can’t help it; you’re attached to yourself. If you’re lucky like me, you end up in the company of six other people who celebrate you for being friends with a guy for twenty years, a guy they have loved for fifty, even though he doesn’t wash his hands. Even though—short on hair, sunburned from golfing and stiff with a bad back—he still cannot pick the right girl.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sneezed To Meet You

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I sneezed this morning and accidentally fractured a bone in my hand. That’s because when I sneeze, my entire body automatically convulses and I end up in a pose looking much like Michael Jackson did at the end of his dance routines. This morning I happened to sneeze in the bathroom and knocked the towel rod off the wall when I beat it.

My sneezes are so loud and spasmodic that even at their beginning, with the first gasps that precede them, my cats dive for cover. The three of us can be enjoying a cozy curl-up in my recliner at night, watching the murder shows on Investigation Discovery, when my pre-sneeze sharp intakes of breath send them flying. I can’t blame them because I usually end up face-down in my recliner after the attack, tangled in the comforter.

I inherited grand mal sneezing from my dad. Since he weighs more than I do, he is not so prone to flying around, but his sneezes are so loud and sudden that they can ruin the festive nature of his grandchildren’s birthday parties, causing the little ones to cry. My mother—a small woman—sometimes has to be fetched from the other room, where she has either been blown by the force of her husband’s sneeze, where she is seething at this affront to her birthday party senses, or both.

I’ll do anything to avoid sneezing in front of others, especially my students. I will resist a sneeze to the point of appearing autistic, tapping my head against the white board or spinning down the aisles to check homework. A teacher doesn’t want her students to think she’s prone to inappropriate fits of break-dancing. A teacher doesn’t want her students to think she’s human.

But students sneeze all the time in class, and they think nothing of it. We hear the squeaks, the peeps, the roaring A-CHOOOO’s, and inevitably another student will say, “Bless you.” The sneezer will be thankful for this blessing, and class will go on.

I used to say “Bless you” when my students sneezed, but not anymore. I hesitate to bring God into the classroom for fear of getting fired. But I’m quick with a Kleenex and “Gesundheit”, and sometimes I’ll say, “Didja get any on ya?”, like my dad always said when we were kids. This leaves my students staring at me as if I was a stranger from a strange land, which…being from Minnesota…I guess I am. It’s the lesser of so many other evils.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Clicking My Heels

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I’ve been out of sorts lately, mean and ornery, and I think I know why: I’ve been cheating on my old gym. I didn’t want to tell anybody because the firemen there are like friends to us now…why would I turn my back on them?...and my new gym has such a bad reputation for being shallow and fake. The only reason firemen ever go there is to resuscitate young women whose lungs have given out under the weight of their false breasts.

So now I admit that for the past couple months, I’ve been working out at a big famous gym, located directly across the street from my house. It was easy, like an affair with a neighbor. I could come home from work, duck in for a quickie, and actually be home earlier than usual. I could sneak over there on the weekends and be home before anybody noticed I was gone.

The new gym had glitzy locker rooms, big-screen TVs, and tons of machines on which you could exercise in any position you could ever imagine. The problem was that so many people were attracted to this place, it would get really warm in there. It would get hot. The women would glisten and pant; the men would get all pumped up and sometimes they’d shout. I would get distracted and then not concentrate on what should have been important to me: my family, my abs, my work, and the healthy, predictable patterns of my daily life. No matter how boring all that might be sometimes, it’s still my core strength, and I had been wooed away.

Yesterday I broke up with the fancy new place and drove my car back down to the old predictable place to renew my membership. The TV’s are smaller there, the machines aren’t new, and the lockers are metal, not wood. The teenage girl at the front desk chirped, “You didn’t miss much!” and the massage guy came running to pick me up and hug me, my feet dangling two feet off the ground. “There’s just something about you,” he said. “Something good.”

There’s no place like home.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Don't Mess With Me

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Popular names when I was a kid, when I was growing up, were names like Missy, Eric, Michelle, Laurie, and Jeff. I lived in Minnesota back then, so I guess you could say those names were popular in Minnesota during the 70’s and 80’s. Andrew, too. And Denise.

Now I’m 42 and teach college courses in Phoenix, Arizona. The names of female students become just a little edgier every year, a little weirder, more and more misspelled. A glance at recent online rosters reveal Kelsie, Mimi, Ariel, Chyna, Cadence, and Sunny. Thankfully for the young gentlemen, their parents have been more traditional: we have Michael, Adam, Phillip, Justin, and Paul.

There was, however, one young man in one of my on-campus classes a few years back whose name gave me pause. His name was Blair. He looked like a witch project coming straight for you, anybody would've agreed. He had one perfect feature—bright blue eyes—but other than that, he was all scary movie: acne, greasy hair slicked into a shark fin Mohawk, clothes right out of the dirty laundry, dumpy fat, just a Pigpen of a guy with fangs.

Blair never talked much, but one day he had to do some talking because when I passed back graded essays, I noticed that I didn’t have one for him. “Blair,” I said. “Do I have an essay from you?” He shook his head and said, “No, I didn’t do that one. I couldn’t think of a good topic.”

I looked at him like he’d just told me he had to change his last name because people didn’t like the sound of “Dahmer”.

“What?” I said. “You didn’t do it? You can’t just not do it. You can’t just skip a unit.” I spit out those last words: skip a unit. Skip a unit. Lick dirty feet. What the hell kind of a world did he think he lived in? Skip a unit. Eat dirty poop.

“Well you said we only have to complete three out of four units, and I didn’t like this one, so I didn’t do it.”

Didn’t like it? Didn’t do it? Smelly poopy pants.

At this point I’m sure I was looking at him like he was pissing on my feet. I was Linda Blair in a face-off with the Blair I Didn’t Do My Witch Project. Everything was fecal and rank and wrong, retarded and Siamese evil, evil.

“I didn’t say you could just skip a unit,” I said, measuring my words. “I said if you fail three units, you can’t pass the class. That doesn’t mean you can skip one.” Rotten smelly fart. Shit finger. “You’re going to have to speak with me after class!”

And I was going to have to go home and take a shower. Skip a unit my ass.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thorn In My Pride

I’ve only had to call 911 once in my life, when apparently I was about to deliver the devil’s child. I was home alone one night thinking that an evil baby with hooks for hands and claws for feet was tearing apart my belly. Also, my lower back had seized up, more indication that the devil had impregnated me and I was about to have Damien.

I called 911 and was soon surrounded by firemen, which—as you might imagine—raised my spirits. I tried to insist that I had overreacted to the pain and didn’t really need to go to the hospital, but as I grabbed my belly and Damien gripped my spine with his claws, there was no denying that something was wrong. Lying on the gurney in the ambulance, surrounded by cute gentle smart sweet men in uniforms, I remembered that one of my online students was a fireman. “Hey,” I wheezed. “Is there anybody here named Brad?”

“Yeah,” said one of the guys. “He just took your blood pressure.”

“Well, tell him his English teacher says hi.” Then I passed out.

As it happened, Damien had killed my gall bladder, which I had to leave at the hospital. That was two years ago, but Damien still lives within me, corrupting my personality at times and slowly breaking down my other organs, most recently my heart.

Then, on Thanksgiving night, my neighbor’s chimney caught on fire. I had been out, and when I returned I had to park far away. Once again, there were firemen everywhere. As I lugged my battered heart, an empty salad bowl and a baggy full of turkey down the street toward my home, I looked up to see a cute gentle smart sweet man in a uniform. Damien let go of my throat for a moment, enough time for me to ask, “Is there anybody here named Brad?”

The fireman smiled, put his hand to his chest and slowly straightened out his name patch: “I’m Brad,” he said.

“I was your English teacher!” I said. I had to smile.

Brad grinned: “You with the gall bladder!”

After we established that my neighbors were okay despite the fire, that it’s a small world, and that Brad is not single but there are many other firemen who are, I continued on my way toward my house. I think Damien got scared off by the good will of all the concerned neighbors standing on the sidewalks, the flashing lights of fire trucks, and the one small positive palpitation my heart had been able to make all week. I’ve been breathing easier ever since, and my heart is mending.

Firemen are good for so many things. I think there should be one for every girl in the world.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sunshine Family

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Now that my houseguest is gone, my cats are full of confidence again: Lucy is rolling on her back in the sunshine, rubbing on table legs she mistakes for mine; Sara is running with wild abandon around the house with my earplugs in her mouth. At two, they don’t have a lot of words yet, but their expressions and noises speak volumes. For instance, Lucy—by far the quietest and most demure member of this household—circled my work chair this morning, meeping, until I got up and followed her as she meeped down the hallway into the spare room where the houseguest’s suitcase had been. She stood her ground, locked eyes with mine and continued to meep vigorously, which I took to mean, “Mother! This is MY room! This is where I come in the morning with you to do our stretching, and then my late-morning sunshine patch is right over there! You know this, yet you allowed Stranger to be in here with his clothes and wire hangers! Wire hangers! I did not like that! I have been hiding under the bed for a week! Unacceptable!”

I’ve apologized to Lucy several times for her displacement, and since she is also slow-witted, she won’t remember what happened. Sara on the other hand, demonstrative by nature, has chosen several colorful methods to convey her displeasure at the change in routine, reduced playtime, reduced snuggle time, and utter inconvenience caused by Stranger. This morning she jumped on top of the fridge, where she has never been before, and yowled next to the Cheerios box: “This is not a Cheerios family! We do not eat Cheerios! We eat oatmeal and tiny pieces of smoked oysters and we lick the bowls of lentil soup!”

I got her down from there, but just now she curled up in my lap on her back, gazing up at me with her paw on my chin, purring, “Mom, there were golf clubs in my hiding spot all week. You delayed the washing of our blankets and the clipping of our nails, you closed the bathroom door in our faces, and for a week you did not play the fishing-rod game with us. It was too loud in here, and that man used a different soap. We like it when you’re here alone with us, grading your papers with the Easy Listening station on all day, banging your head against the wall and making choking noises. We don’t like the Adult Alternative station, Mom. We like it when the garage door wakes us up and we come to the door to see you, not you and somebody else. And Mom, I don’t know if you noticed, but that man didn’t have any fur on his head.”

I think it would be hard to date somebody with two little girls like this, two little girls who anchor me. I never looked at it that way.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Playing House

Many important things happened this week: my dad had a colonoscopy, one friend’s house was burglarized, I ran my book club, and I graded a jillion student papers until my hands bled from trying to remove the noose from my neck.

However—and I am both pained and blushy to say this—I also have an out-of-town guest, and have been most curious about him and his effect on me. It’s like running an experiment in my own house, with me as both scientist and subject. Do I like pouring this man a glass of milk? I think I do. Write that down. Do I mind it when he leaves the seat up? Yes I do. Tell him. Should I mention that the way he doesn’t shave for three days, the way he leaves his clothes and belongings scattered throughout my spare room, suitcase open and overflowing, reminds me of living with Ed Gein? Probably not. He’s only here until Monday.

So instead of shooting concerned e-mails back and forth between my mom and my siblings, trying to figure out how Dad really felt about his colonoscopy, I used that time to facilitate friendships between my cats and this non-cat person: “She wants you to pet her” (leaving out “you stupid man”). Instead of hanging on the phone longer with my friend to find out what the burglars got, I hung up and arranged a breakfast display for my late sleeper: tea, honey, cup, spoon, more milk, Cheerios, a muffin, butter, and a bowl of blackberries. It’s what my mom does for my dad every day, so I figured, I will do that. I hope this shows love.

Instead of studying my book club selection more carefully so that I could be right most of the time at our meeting and make fun of those who were wrong, I waited for what seemed like appropriate moments to light candles, play music, and flit around revealing all of my Victoria’s Secrets.

But I did get those papers graded, and even though I can’t turn my head because my neck bone is fused to my shoulder blade again, I am still managing to gaze coyly at my houseguest when I reach out to him covered in lace to say, “Please don’t brush those pistachio shells onto the floor” (leaving out “this is not a bar, you pig”). I hope he can sense how much I like having him around, and how easy this is for me.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Numb to Love

I needed a massage yesterday like a wounded soldier needs morphine. With my neck broken, my lower back seized up, and the nerves in my left thigh hot and spastic, I lurched into Massage Envy as a POW: Prisoner of Want.

After being led back to the massage chamber, I tugged my clothes off and heaved my remains onto the table, belly-down, tucking myself in under the white sheet. I pressed my face into the doughnut and waited for Lisa to make me whole again. I was there for a Deep Tissue, meaning that Lisa was supposed to use her fingers, hands, and elbows, her fully body weight and possibly some dental equipment to reach all my balled-up muscles and bring them to life again. I was expecting good pain to replace my bad pain; I wanted to have moving parts again.

Lisa came quietly into the dark room; to the sound of flutes and chimes, she began to caress me. She began with my neck and moved to my shoulder blades, which by then had switched places so that it appeared my neck had wings. I was sure that Lisa would push everything back to where it belonged, but instead she gently hugged me. I said from my doughnut, “I think the pressure could be harder.” Lisa responded by sweeping her fingertips down my fully exposed back and touching her nose to my neck wings. Soon she moved to my left leg, by then curled back toward the ceiling, and lightly pressed her thumbs into my thigh.

As I neared rigor mortis there on Lisa’s table, I fell asleep. I couldn’t help it. I felt like I was going to second base with Lisa when what I really wanted was a professional to rough me up, hurt me bad, make me cry. Instead I napped and occasionally woke myself up by drooling and farting, which wouldn’t have happened if Lisa had kept me awake by jamming her skinny elbows into the deepness of my tissues like she was supposed to. She didn’t even turn me over; she left me on my stomach, face-down in the doughnut, passing wind and slobbering like a dog.

Lisa would not make a good nurse, nor would she make a good girlfriend. She should have seen that I was numb to love, paralyzed and scared. I wanted her to resurrect me, to go all in, but instead she did as she pleased, then told me it was over.

I’ll never ask for Lisa again. She reminds me too much of myself.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Opening Day

Deer hunting season began in Minnesota this weekend; yesterday was opening day. Though I don’t hunt anymore, I still get excited for news of a kill. My whole family is out in the woods with guns—as always, I’m hoping that the news involves a big whitetail buck and not my nephew.

I clearly remember the first time my dad took me hunting. I was thirteen and toting a muzzleloader, Katie Boone. As dawn broke and my dad prepared to leave me alone on a stump (so he could pussyfoot around me and scare up the deer) he put his face up close to mine and said, “DO NOT MOVE FROM THIS SPOT. DO NOT WANDER AWAY. DO NOT LEAVE FOR ANY REASON. STAY RIGHT HERE. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” Oh, I definitely got that one. It was part of the agreement that he’d made with my mother for being able to take me hunting in the first place. If he lost me, that would be the living end.

I parked my behind on the stump and watched my orange dad fade into the woods. It wasn’t long before I ate one of my Snickers bars, and then the inevitable: I had to poop. My dad had instructed me on this part too, stuffing toilet paper into my jacket pockets the night before and telling me if I had to go, just pick a spot AWAY from the stand. Now as my need made itself known, these instructions jangled in my head along with the part about DO NOT MOVE FROM THIS SPOT.

I decided that taking five long marching steps away from my stump would count as both “away from the stand” and “DO NOT LEAVE.” I took care of business, then carefully covered my droppings with a pile of sticks: camouflage. I was back on my stump in no time.

An hour later, as promised, my dad was back to check on me. He asked how I was doing and I confessed that my feet were cold (I assumed that they were anyway…at that point, in twenty-below weather, I could no longer feel them). In one of his most memorable displays of affection for me, he decided that we should build a fire to warm me up.

This idea sounded great for about five seconds until he said, “Let’s go gather some kindling,” and headed straight toward my camouflaged pile of poop. It was like a poltergeist pulling him over: a pile of dead sticks to start a fire. Never has a little girl worked her mental magic as hard as I did in the next couple of minutes as my dad gathered large sticks, medium sticks, and then…oh no…the little sticks off my poop. I imploded. I’m surprised I’m even here to write this.

Somehow we got to the point where my dad had built a little fire, removed my boots, and was rubbing blood back into my stiff feet. All thoughts of my poop pile disappeared as my dad tended to me, saying, “Your feet got this cold because you’re not moving around enough. You need to come with me; we’ll walk together.”

Decades later, as hunting stories got told around the kitchen table one night, I finally asked my dad if he knew he’d picked kindling off my poop. He gave me the smile and the nod I have seen plenty other times in my life: part smirk, part pride, part disbelief that this child could wonder for a moment if she was loved.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rip Your Professor

Apparently I am the worst teacher who has ever walked the planet. If you believe what you read on RateMyProfessors.Com, I started one class this semester with over forty students and am now down to twenty because I cut them all up into tiny pieces and ate them. Either that, or twenty students ejected themselves from my rotten class like people jumping off the top of a burning building. “A complete waste of time and money…”

The truth is that I started with 24 students in that class, and it’s now down to 17, which proves not only that some people can’t write, they can’t count either. I’m guessing that the ex-student who wrote this most current scathing review of me is the young man I failed because he turned in a paper that contained material plagiarized from the Internet. Obviously I didn’t win any points myself for being such a great sleuth. “Worst teacher ever…”

Sometimes students only see the evil side of me, the militant and power-hungry witch who shouts over the crowd to get them to listen. I’m sure I don’t look super-cool when the snarky beast who lurks within me surfaces to ask a student, “Do you think I teach this class just for you or do you sense that there are other people here who might want to learn something today?” Perhaps all fan support died on the day I blurted out, “I did not have children for a reason.”

I did not sign up to be a police officer either. I don’t enjoy ticketing students who are late, sleeping, chatting, texting, behind in their work, or cheating. I don’t get a kick out of ending a young man’s life as an English student, even if he deserves it.

I was telling all of this to the Dean yesterday and he said, “Remember: How we say goodbye is just as important as how we say hello.” He’s so right. I know that “Bang bang, you’re dead!” isn’t going over well. I should probably stop saying, “Would you prefer an ‘F’ for ‘failure’ or a ‘W’ for ‘worst student I ever had’?” I realize that chasing students across the lawn because they refuse to stay after class for their public execution is wrong of me.

Finding something better than “You dug your own hole, so get in it” is now a goal of mine.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

If You See Kate

I hate it when a fresh roll of toilet paper falls into the toilet when I am trying to load it into the dispenser. This happened last night when the dispenser rod misfired and shot my Charmin into the toilet bowl. The resulting soggy mess, a total loss of perfectly good merchandise, made my heart sink: I had guests and that was my last roll. I fished out the dead and bloated wad of tissue, wrapped it in a towel, and—feeling like a criminal—discreetly disposed of it in the garage. There I sawed a roll of paper towels in half, smoothed the rough edges, and flitted back to the bathroom to hang that up instead.

It’s just been that kind of week.

It started out on Monday when I was driving around in my car and thought, Hm, it smells like manure in here. Where did that manure smell come from? Sniff sniff. Why does my car smell like shit? I bet a dog got in here and took a big dump in the back seat. That is really ripe. I can’t believe my car smells like shit! Whosever dog shit in this car is going to pay to have this cleaned. When I got home from running errands, I tore the car apart: no poop. I popped the trunk and grabbed the bag of organic plant and tree fertilizer I’d purchased earlier. Holy, this thing frickin’ reeks. I’m not keeping this in the garage. I placed the bag near some bushes in the front yard and forgot about it. A few days later when I was outside raking my gravel, so the escapees’ footprints would be easy to identify, my thoughts once again turned toward the ongoing persecution of me. Jesus Christ it smells like shit out here. I am so frickin’ tired of every cat in this neighborhood using my yard as a litter box. I would die if my cats did this to someone else. What is it about this one spot—that must be one big nasty cat leaving that kind of stench… I looked up from raking and saw my bag of organic plant and tree fertilizer cowering by its bush, quietly waiting to be whipped.

And then maybe the most egregious offense I committed against myself happened earlier today. To relieve stress, I was on my hands and knees in the living room, vigorously running the tips of my fingers between the baseboard and the carpet, picking out wads of cat hair. I had enough hair to make one kitten and my spirits were rising when suddenly it felt like my middle finger got shot off. I howled and leaped up and shoved that finger into my face, but was unable to detect a wound. I hopped around, finger to the world, wondering Why no blood? Why no mark? Why such pain?

Who knew that impaling myself on a carpet staple would make the same questions I’d been asking all week resonate with such force.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Zero Tolerance

I had a friend visiting from Pittsburgh this week and wanted to show him a good time in Sunny Arizona. Over breakfast one day he picked up the newspaper and said, “What’s up with this beheading in your town?”

I glanced at the article; the names of those involved jumped out at me: Moroyoqui, Aguilar, Reyes, "El Joto". The phrase “undocumented immigrant” was front and center, and the crime had occurred just miles from my house. “Uhhh…that’s a fluke,” I said. I didn’t tell my friend that I had recently clipped out another local news article reporting on a fatal shooting in “self-defense”. A police officer in that article had said, “People in Arizona carry guns. You better be careful about who you are picking on.” The two men who got killed had been stealing beer at a keg party; the shooter will not be going to jail.

To get our minds off the beheading, I suggested we go for massages. On the way, my guest asked about a police photo radar van he saw parked on the side of the road. “We have a lot of those,” I said. “Last year some driver went crazy on one of those speed enforcement guys and shot him to death. Guess he couldn’t take being watched anymore.” We nodded in understanding. We drove through a few more intersections very carefully, our picture being snapped by more photo radars, and watched our speed monitored by several large flashing signs on the side of the road.

After the massages, we came home and had a glass of wine. My friend wanted to head out for dinner, and I said we couldn’t. “You can’t drink and drive in this state. It’s zero-tolerance. If you have any alcohol in your system and get caught with a taillight out, you’re going to jail.” I know someone who was recently stopped for speeding and the officer asked her if she’d had a drink in the last 24 hours. I found that nosy at best.

I can’t speak for everybody who lives in Arizona, but personally, I find all the flashing radars and neon speed signs maddening. I hate being stopped by teams of drug agents and German shepherds who search my car on the way to San Diego. I don’t carry a handgun and I don’t think anybody else should either. If somebody wants to steal your beer at a keg party, let it go. As for that beheading, well…in this state, you have to be careful who you’re picking on, right? That guy must have been really super irritating.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sometimes You're The Bug

I run the book club at my school, and one could say that I’m the president. I like to say that a lot. Every semester we read a book, usually of my choosing, and we meet twice for discussion. Everyone is invited to join Book Club: students, faculty, staff. We eat Little Debbie snack cakes, drink punch, and reveal our personal and political opinions in ways that would never slide in the classroom. I love it.

One semester I agreed on somebody else’s choice for reading material: They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky, a memoir written by several Lost Boys of war-torn Sudan. I didn’t know if I wanted fire poured on me all semester, but I wanted to remain president, so I agreed.

After one particularly harrowing weekend of living vicariously through the Lost Boys (trudging through Africa on our skeletons, plump greedy lice the size of thumbs falling from our hair, all while Russian airplanes dropped bombs on us), I had to come up with a set of discussion questions for Book Club. To start, I simply plagiarized the questions listed on the book’s web site. While some were good, I thought about adding a few of my own:

1. Many people snack when they read. When Benson got his hair cut and wrote, “[Big] lice dropped on my shoulders and crawled away like fat sesame seeds with my blood boiling in their abdomens”, what were you snacking on and why? How long did it take before you vomited?

2. Many of us are single, middle-aged women. (If you aren’t now, there is a great chance that you will be one day.) When Benson’s father killed the lion single-handedly, how many of you wondered, “Why can’t I find a man like that?” Explain.

3. What was your reaction when the driver of the tanker that was carrying the boys to safety turned out be drunk? Did you know that drunk-driving was a problem in Sudan? Do you have a drinking problem? Tell us about it!

4. When Benson describes being so frightened that he “ran up a bare tree trunk, monkey-style”, did that phrase give you pause? Did you have to struggle as racial slurs tried to force themselves into your brain after Benson mentioned his climbing abilities? When Benson went on to describe the jiggers that infested his feet, did this struggle become more intense?

I can’t help the way my mind works. Is that bad of me?

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Up in Smoke

I went to the gym a little later than usual today, with my hair pinned up in some kind of bouffant, piled high on top of my head. I don't know why; it just turned out that way. Thankfully I'd been wearing it like that all day, so at least some tendrils had escaped to make it look ever so slightly less severe, as if there had been a light breeze wafting through the windows of the queen’s carriage during her daily jaunt through the pastoral glade.

I walked into the near-empty gym, but spotted a fireman right off the bat—they’re always dressed in blue with the logo on their shirt. I thought, hm, the truck must be in back…wonder if my married guy is here? I walked toward one long row of exercise bikes and there he was, sitting all alone, reading a book while he pedaled, a young and gimpless John McCain. I could not believe my utter good fortune. All thoughts of my beehive were immediately replaced by the sheer force that drew me like a poltergeist to the bike closest to the fireman. I was there before I knew it, and have only God to thank for steering me away from the bike directly next to the fireman to the bike that would leave one machine between us, the very least I could do to maintain a modicum of social propriety and gym etiquette.

“Hello!” I cheerfully barked. No one had ever been happier to see anyone else ever in life.

“Hello!” he barked back. I would soon learn that yelling is part of a fireman’s job.

Somehow I got situated on that bike and never mind the marble-sized bump that has been growing on my tailbone for a good three months, just one more vagary of the autoimmune disorder that God has smote me with to obviously keep me out of morally questionable situations just like this. But I didn’t care if it felt like I was sitting on a raw Brussels sprout; nothing could have prevented me from getting on that bike.

After some small talk that made my heart soar, I remarked on the book that my fireman was holding. “Whatcha readin’?” I asked sexily.

He showed me the cover and I saw that it was a novel by Charles Dickens. Hm. A little bit of polter went out of my geist.

“Why are you reading that?” I asked, trying for the jillionth time in my life to stop my face from contorting into arrogant disdain.

“To improve my vocabulary,” my fireman responded.

“I’m sure that’ll come in handy the next time you time-travel back to 19th century Britain,” I said. A brief snort of contempt then escaped from my snout.

Our pleasantries having turned unpleasant, my fireman eventually said goodbye and wandered off to the treadmills with his friend Pip. I continued to ride my bike, friendless except for the parasitic twin that was growing out of my butt.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Another Slippery Slope

Sometimes what doesn’t seem amusing when it happens becomes at least slightly amusing later on. For instance, yesterday in class, we read an essay out loud; the essay was about how Mother’s Day is celebrated in a federal prison for women, a real kneeslapper.

Afterwards, I asked all of my students to write a response to the following questions: “How do you connect to this essay? What is similar between your life and the world of this essay?” To set a good example, I, too, wrote a response, and I volunteered to read mine first: “The first thing that comes to my mind is that I have a cousin in jail right now. My cousin is my age—he’s my favorite cousin—but he has always lived ‘on the edge’ so to speak, and he is now in jail again, for ninety days this time, because he didn’t pay his child support…for about the fifteenth time. He is not the only person in my family who has been in jail or rehab, or both. I used to look down on people like that, but I don’t anymore.”

I looked up from my paper triumphantly, feeling that I had revealed a personal detail from my life that surely must have made me appear more humane, more real, more down to earth for my students. Now they would see that I did not lead a golden life with a silver lining, that I was just an everyday kind of person like them. They would now trust me even more than they already did.

Having revealed this tiny sliver of my family’s bold and unique refusal to adhere to any definition of social normalcy as it might ever have been understood by any civilized people after the prehistoric age, I asked for students to share their own written responses. One after another volunteered, each beginning with the following types of phrases: “Even though I personally don’t know anyone who’s ever been in jail,” “Although the prison experience is very foreign to me,” “While I was raised in a family that never broke the law,” and “I don’t really know anything about what this lady is writing about.”

What a proud teaching moment that was for me.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Love Your Mom (and Dad)

A repost for Mother's Day:

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A friend of mine mentioned today, over the phone, that old adage about writing as if your parents are dead. I’ve always hated that saying, that instruction; I find it remarkably discomfiting and wrong-minded. If you want to write as if your parents are dead, you’ll never write, because if you’re anything like me, your heart will be paralyzed and you won’t be able to see clearly for years because your tears will be so thick. Your mind will be clouded with memories of walking and talking Mom and Dad, and whatever they said, whether they meant it to be important or not, lasting or not, will ring in your ears so that you can’t hear anything else. You won’t be able to eat, and all you’ll want to touch is the back of your father’s shoulders as you hug him hello, and the curve of your mother’s cheek as you kiss her good night, just good night, not goodbye. If you’re like me, you’ll cry new tears every time you smell coffee when you’re still in bed, or winter in the air for the first time every year, for all of your good senses will work together to conjure your parents back from wherever they have gone, and you will not be able to write at all, not during that time.

So don’t ever tell anyone to write as if their parents are dead, because it’s an awful thought, and the opposite of brave.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Gay Old Time

My brother calls this morning from Maine. This is a strange time for him to call because usually he spends the weekend with his boyfriend, Todd. I answer and before he starts telling me about his most recent misunderstanding with Todd, he politely asks me what’s up with me. “I’m trying to figure out how to stop my toilet from running,” I say. “I know it’s the flapper.”

“Oh! I have an excellent tip on how to fix that! Turn off the water to the toilet, flush it, then get the inside as bone-dry as you can. When everything is dry, take some Vaseline and smear it on the bottom of the flapper and all around the seal, then press it together. Turn the water back on, flush, and when the tank is full, the toilet shouldn’t run anymore because you’ve created an airtight seal on that flapper.”

“Will personal lubricant work?” I say.

“No, you have to use Vaseline.”

“Okay,” I say. We cackle.

I start draining the toilet while my brother tells me about the Todd thing: “Well, I hadn’t seen him all week, so when I drove over there last night, I was feeling very romantic. I went into his house, walked toward him with my arms stretched out for a hug, and he let out this big fart! I couldn’t believe it! I went to hug him and he farted again!”

“Was he sick?” I say. “Or is this normal behavior?”

“No he wasn’t sick! We fart all the time. This was aggressive.”

“Well, he’s obviously upset about something, because that is definitely an affront to your sensibilities.”

“Well yes! I backed away from him and said, ‘You pig!’”

“Did you fart back?” I ask.

“Well, not right away I didn’t. But later on after dinner I let one rip, and I know he knew what I meant. He knew we weren’t going to have sex that night!”

“Well, that’s a no-brainer,” I say as I wipe out my toilet. “But the question is, why would he fart like that in the first place? What was he upset about?”

“All I can figure is he asked me to move in with him again last week, and I’m still not ready, plus he’s on call this weekend, and he’s always pissy when he’s on call.” Todd is a doctor.

“My best advice is to definitely get to the root of the problem, because if he pulls something like this when you’re living with him, you won’t have anywhere to escape.”

“Exactly. That’s exactly how I feel.”

“So go tell him that. Say, ‘You offended me by farting when I was obviously trying to create an intimate moment.’”

“’And if you do it again,’” my brother adds, “’We’re through.’”

“Well, I’d hold off on the threats,” I say. “I mean, Todd is an intelligent man. He just made a mistake.”

My brother sighs. “I know, and that’s one of the reason I love him. Maybe I’ll just tell him that if he’s going to behave this way every time he’s on call, I’ll come over and have dinner with him, but I will not spend the night. I just won’t stand for it.”

“Sounds good,” I say.

“Okay, I gotta go. I’m in his driveway. I’ll only call you back if something else goes wrong.”

Todd, the normally quiet, sedate, polite medical professional, now the big mean fart monster. This was great: two grown men in a serious relationship communicating with each other via farts. My mother met Todd a couple years back at some family gathering, and she e-mailed me after to say what a lovely man he was, but somewhat of a wallflower. “I think he was trying to blend in and lie low,” she had written, “so as not to cause a scene.” A gay scene, I wondered? Well, now we knew what kind of a scene Todd was really capable of causing.

I guess there are many sides to Todd, as there are to each of us.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What Possessed Me

There was no air conditioning in my classroom yesterday, none to speak of anyway. Students slumped in their chairs. We’ve come to expect some of this due to building construction, but yesterday was sauna warm—the hottest day so far. My pores and hair follicles were standing wide open, making me extremely vulnerable to body snatching. Who should come lurking around but old Bipolar Mohler himself, my dad, his elderly spirit set free to wander the planet while he took his midday nap back in Minnesota. I think I heard my mom playing the piano in the background, something by Dvorák.

As my dad sank into my body through my sweaty head and gaping pores, a student asked me if he could go get a drink of water. I set my mirthless jaw and squinted at him. The side of my upper lip vibrated and twitched, coiling into a sneer. I pushed it down with my thumb. “Sure, you can get a drink of water," I said. "But in the future you should come prepared for things like that because you get up and leave this class at least once every day. That’s unacceptable.”

A teacher’s unspeakable inquisition then flew out of my mouth on the wings of black flies: “Do you want to do some gift shopping while you’re out there? Maybe visit a water park? Would you like me to bring some water to you? What kind would you like, the sparkly or the plain? Do you need to go to the bathroom too? Would you like me to run the water to help make you go? How about a nice shower? Would you like to take a shower while you’re outside getting some water? A bath? You say you’re a bath person? Oh, of course. Let me draw you a bath. Let me cool you off with damp sponges. Let me get my rose petals.”

I stood there foaming at the mouth, expecting the student to turn into a tiny piece of shit at any moment—like I used to do—but was surprised to see that my father’s magic wasn’t working on him. He just sat there quietly, playing with his pen.

“Right on,” he said. “Can I go now?”

“Sure,” I said, my dad waking up somewhere in Minnesota. “Sorry about the heat.”

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Firewoman

I woke up today and knew immediately that this was going to be a terrific day, a day of highs. I opened my eyes and felt rested, happy…definitely charged up. My oatmeal was especially tasty this morning, work e-mail was minimal, and—since the temps are down—I was jazzed through and through.

Giddy on life, as silly myself as any second grader could get, I merrily drove to my gym. As I turned into the parking lot, I mused, This would be a good day to see that fireman I like. I haven’t seen him in a week.

I didn’t see any fire trucks parked outside, though I did see a few firemen working out when I got inside, men I recognized as being in my guy’s unit. Hm. That meant they were parked in back and that my fireman could be playing racquetball. Very promising.

I bopped through the main room and decided that if my fireman was on the premises, I was going to show him that I could work out hard, not just stroll along on the treadmill. I found an empty Stairmaster, hoisted myself up and away I went, stomping and at times gaily running up five million flights of stairs, sweat pouring down my face and back. I would run and climb and sweat and show this guy—if he wandered into the main room—what I was made of. I would be Firewoman.

And then I heard it: the sound of his voice. It was low but not too deep, a little raspy and rough, the kind of voice you might hear from a guy who is used to yelling a lot. If I had to give it a color, it would be magenta; if I had to compare it to a food, it would be medium-rare steak grilled with Omaha steak seasoning, my favorite. That’s what I noticed first, his voice approaching, and then when I looked up and saw him across the room, my heart threw itself against my rib cage, wanting to pump over there with the fireman, not satisfied anymore just pumping for me.

As my blood pressure rose and cheeks flushed, I was doubly glad I’d chosen the Stairmaster: not only did it show what a tough chick I am, it provided good cover: I could sweat and pant without anyone blinking an eye, plus I could hide behind it and pretend to read my propped-up magazine while focusing all of my senses on the fireman and trying to send him ESP messages: come over here, you were meant for me.

I got a good long look at him as he came down the hallway and stood in an open area for a minute or so. I couldn’t help but feel like I was hunting an exotic creature and had just spotted a prized specimen emerge from the brush, just minding his own business, checking the wind for food and females. He is undeniably a trophy, this fireman: a younger Robert Redford with tousled gray hair …an older, ruddy-complexioned Brad Pitt without the prettiness…an older, taller Mark Ruffalo...a younger, more handsome James Brolin...Alec Baldwin if he didn’t dye his hair and hadn’t gained all that weight. I hope I’m making myself clear.

And I've seen him reading a book on the stationary bike. A book.

Seeing him coming toward my end of the gym, I climbed down from my machine, pumped in every sense of the word. I walked stiffly toward him as he walked toward me. The air sparkled, for me. I could hardly move after my workout so he probably thought I had arthritis, which I do, very sexy. I wondered if his butterflies wanted to mate as much as my butterflies did. We didn’t even say hi, hardly glanced at one another, and I know why I couldn't: because he wears a ring. He’s married.

If I want to keep saying that I can go to sleep at night knowing that I’ve done my best that day, then all I can do is admire him from afar, keeping my butterflies in check.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Metamorphosis

When I started exfoliating my face for the first time ever earlier this week, I was pretty excited. 42 years of oil and dirt build-up were about to be cleansed, not to mention fine lines and cavernous pores into which more than my earthly share of shame and regret had burrowed. Mistakes were written all over me in the shadows below my eyes, guilt heavy around my mouth. I needed this exfoliating product advertised as a “non-irritating, invigorating scrub” like I needed to be reborn.

For best results I was to use this apricot scrub two to three times during the week, so I used it twice a day for five days in row. More is always better. Nothing happened for the first couple of days. Maybe I was more perfect than I had originally thought. And then, on the third day, the skin on my face became taut and shiny; my hairline rose half an inch. My eyes got wide and I could no longer close my mouth. My nostrils flared. Tight.

On the fourth morning I looked in the mirror and saw that my face had burst open. Sheets of skin peeled from my forehead; white flakes sat like a thousand tiny tombstones across my cheeks. Dried blood speckled the areas where skin had been tugged too vigorously during my restorative sleep. My lower eyelids were turned inside out, pulled down to my cheekbones. I yawned and kites formed.

If this was all for the better, so be it; if a new and better me was emerging, Jesus it was about time. Maybe there was an angel in there somewhere, an angel just waiting to molt.

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

All Fired Up

For months now, I’ve been lusting after a fireman at the gym. I imagine what I’d say to him if I ever got the chance to say anything.

“Hello. My ex sister-in-law in Iowa has advised me to toss my cats into a tree on my property in hopes of drawing your attention.”

“Hi. You’re the most attractive man I’ve ever seen in this gym, you’re so much cuter than the guy I used to go out with, and honestly I can’t think of any other man in real life who I’ve seen in the past few years who is as attractive or as sexy as you are. When I take off all my clothes at night and get into bed, I think of you the whole time, what it would be like to be naked next to you, wrapping my arms around your neck, running my fingers down your chest, letting your strong hands lift me up into whatever position feels best, our naked bodies rubbing together. Isn’t that just nuts?”

“Hi. You remind me of John McCain right after they let him out of that POW camp, but without the limp. I thought he was so handsome. I was only four back then. You must’ve been around 20, so you might actually remember all of that.”

“You remind me of a middle-aged Robert Redford before all those things started growing on his face. Did you see Legal Eagles?”

“Hi. Do I know you? The wood stove in our basement in Minnesota overheated one time when I was a kid and smoke poured all through the house and we had to call the firemen. And a couple years back I saw a dead person’s legs sticking out from under a tarp by the side of the road and the firemen were there. Also, sometimes I see fire trucks parked outside of nearby grocery stores where I shop.”

“Oh wait, my heart is beating a mile a minute, I feel hot, feverish, here, feel up my chest. Maybe I should take my pants off. Is there a fireman in the house? Oh, you’re a fireman?”

“Hi. I just thought I’d mention that everything about you that meets the naked eye makes my eye want to be naked too.”

“Hey. I know you’re married and we can only be friends, but since we don’t even know each other, I’d like to introduce myself by burying my face in your chest.”

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Only New Girl

Since I expose myself on a regular basis (but not in the illegal way, heavens no), people feel free to share back their opinions not only regarding my work, but also my personality. So far this has provided me with a lot of helpful insight into why I don’t have any friends. I’ve learned especially a lot about why I’m single.

“You are unapproachable,” said the massage guy at my gym, after I had exposed to him my nearly-naked body. He cradled my head in his hands and pulled until my neck was two feet long. “You walk in here every day looking like you’re going to war. I personally would be afraid to talk to you unless I had something important to say, like some really good stock tips.” With one hand he held my regretful head up in the air, and twanged my neck with the other. “You need to loosen up.”

Then an old college classmate found me on Facebook. Because I was raised Catholic and must confess all bad things immediately, I told him what the massage guy said. I thought he would react with shock, since I was so outgoing in college—how could I not be with hair that scraped the ceiling? “Not to sound mean,” he wrote back, “but you were unapproachable in college too. I could only talk to you when I was drunk. LOL.”

Finally, one of my high school teachers chimed in, sending me an e-mail prompted by an upcoming class reunion: “The boys were afraid to talk to you because you were so pretty," he reminisced. "And you always walked around like you had a stick up your butt."

A stick up my butt? Pretty? What? I walked around in terror in high school, the only new girl in the entire school, because the mean girls with scraggly hair and flannel shirts hated me. They pushed me down stairs and drew big hairy dicks on my locker. I stared at the floor when I walked, and avoided the hallways because I knew I would be sneered at there. I went home with a bloody lip and bruised cheek one day because I liked a boy who would never go out with one of those skanks, and had made the mistake of saying so.

In reality, in the real world of gyms and workplaces and grocery stores, I’m shy. That’s not a stick up my butt; that’s social paralysis. I am not a member of the Green Beret. I want people to come up and talk to me, especially men, lots of men, and especially men who look like Jackson Browne. This writing thing is simply me beating everybody else to the punch.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pollyanna Pouts

In the morning I move my philanthropy, my Neanderthal, my duodenum, wait wait, my philodendron, yes, my last fly-infested hanging plant outside to join the other patients on the patio ward. I was hoping she wouldn’t succumb like the others; I’ve had her since 1998, the year I bought my first house. She’s been through everything with me—the moves, the divorce, all manner of drunken horseplay, but—like me—she lived through it all with few complaints, managing to grow and mature despite the dark corners. She’d get a little bushy now and then, sprout a wild tendril or a yellow leaf, but what girl doesn’t.

I walk her through the house with a heavy heart, my sick baby crawling with flies in her crocheted swing. I open the sliding glass doors and leave her outside, sitting on top of my plastic utility cupboard in the one hundred degree heat. If she was a real baby, I would be arrested. If she was a puppy, I would be reviled. But it’s either me or her, and if she doesn’t make it, at least I thought to amputate some of her shoots before shoving her into the oven. At least I still have those, rooting for her in a vase.

I come back inside, into the coolness of my house, and go to shower. Standing naked with water cascading all around me, I glance at the label on my shampoo and notice that it guarantees to preserve my sanity—that’s what it says on the bottle—and I think, how smart of me to choose this brand. This is exactly what I need. I happily clean myself and wash my hair, but since it seems almost too good to be true, this cleverly appropriate shampoo, I look at the label again. I have transposed the letters to make “sanity” out of “satiny”. Disappointed, I chastise myself for being so naïve, for always believing in the impossible.

It's not even noon.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Back to School

Yesterday was my first day back to school, which I started by spraying bathroom air freshener all over my head. In my excitement, I’d grabbed the Glade instead of the Garnier. I didn’t want to add hairspray on top of that, so I went to campus a little flyaway, yet disinfected and citrusy. When I got to the English Department, the AC was not working very well: I walked in to find office workers and faculty members moving about in slow motion, smiling their welcome-back smiles through sheens of sweat. I joined this halting parade, killing 99.9% of the germs and viruses in my path.

Once in the classroom, it was back to offering myself up to the gods of America’s Future. I made myself call out all of my students’ names, first and last, mangling them as I went, hoping that the laugher at my expense would go in the bank so I could withdraw it later when my students start disliking me for the grades they get. I left my last class of the day with sagging sanitized hair, chapstick caked around my mouth, and sweaty feet. Yum.

Yet, it was a good day. A very good day. Teaching is one thing that I can say I was born to do, despite what anybody else might say. Going into a classroom to face twenty-five representatives of America who expect me to further them along whatever path they’re on is, for the most part, a complete pleasure on my part. And when it’s not a pleasure—when the grades are not good or I accidentally make fun of someone’s birth defect or I wear my shirt inside out—the saving grace is just being there, lost in teaching. I could always teach and forget a broken heart for at least those 75 minutes; I could teach and not feel terror that my dad had cancer. I had to teach a few days after my cat died and I didn’t cry for 75 minutes in a row, which was a record at the time.

So here is to a new school year: the hesitant laughter and forgivable errors, the flying time and unplanned pregnant pauses—the lessons in public speaking, both intended and not.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Say No Go

Last week I read a headline in the newspaper: “Mall ban on starting chitchat is quashed” (http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/nation/100691894.html) I thought, a chitchat ban? Is this where we’re headed? If so, there goes my last chance of ever finding a new friend or a man to love. If chitchat is banned in malls—and then grocery stores and gyms—then I will be rendered mute in the world outside my home.

Not that the world is a particularly chatty place to begin with. I go to the gym and get my nerve up to say hi to a man, then I see his ears are plugged, wires dangling down to his MP3 player. Everybody’s wearing ear buds or headphones. Am I supposed to use sign language to chitchat with people at the gym? The only sign language I know are the letters “a”, “b”, and “c”. I’m sure I’d make a lot of new friends that way, running around signing “ABC! ABC!” Somebody get that spelling girl out of here.

Even if people at the gym aren’t wearing ear buds, who really looks you in the eyes anymore? Stare at anybody longer than two seconds and they think you’re a freak. Up until just recently I’d been making a point to smile at one elderly Indian lady at my gym, a silent and glum-looking member of our Silver Sneakers club. It was my project to make this lady know that I noticed we worked out at the same time, and I remembered her face: we were in this together! At first she kind of smiled back, but after several encounters with my pearly whites, she conveyed with her narrowed eyes and curled lip that she was displeased with the attention, so I knocked it off.

Pretty much the only people I chitchat with anymore are receptionist-types and check-out clerks—trapped people. Yesterday I showed the big purple and green bruise on my knuckle to the girl ringing up my stuff at the health food store: “Look at this!” I said, shoving my gnarly contusion in her face. “I accidentally punched the armrest on the treadmill!”

“Oh my God!” she screamed. “That looks like it hurts!”

“It does,” I said, breathing in my daily dose of chitchat. “It hurts a lot.”

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Neighbor Man

I greet the day by hauling in the houseplants that I banned to the back patio last week, hoping that the fruit flies and their offspring living in the dirt have been incinerated in the Arizona heat. My cat, Sara, greets the day by parading around on her hind feet with her front legs punching the air, a stuffed toy in her jaws, prancing and dancing and waving like Geoffrey Rush on the trampoline in Shine. She has the mouse, she has the mouse, God love her, she has the mouse. She is ten feet tall.

The pest control guy arrives and I tell him that I think I have found the breeding grounds for my fruit flies: they are eating, preying, and fornicating in the houseplants. I know this because there were very few flying around this past week, and now—with the plants back inside—a slow but steady wing-whipped energy has risen inside my home, emanating from the near-dead plants. All we have to do is look at the dirt to see that it’s moving, so we take the plants back outside. The question remains though: Where did the fruit flies come from in the first place? I don’t have any fruit trees on my property, I wash all the fruit and vegetables from the grocery store, I do not keep dirty dishes in the sink, and my indoor garbage can is covered. The pest control guy—“Josh”—asks if we can take a look over at my neighbor Steve’s house, because he has a lime tree that grows next to the wall that separates our property. I call Steve and he says sure, come on over, he knows this doesn’t have anything to do with him because he never sees fruit flies inside his house unless he leaves dishes in the sink “for too long”, which he rarely does. So come on over.

Josh and I step across my weed-free, decorative gravel-covered side yard into the weed-infested, beer-can and cigarette-butt covered yard that belongs to Steve. Steve meets us out front and we all peer together through the crooked slats of his decaying wooden fence that butts up to my smart cinder-block wall like a homeless person passed out in front of a bank. Steve grabs onto the gate and rocks it back and forth until the slats open further, offering us an even better view of his back yard. There’s the lime tree with fresh fruit on the branches and rotting fruit on the ground. Spiders scatter everywhere, running up and down the fence, some toward Steve’s house and others in the opposite direction to mine. The grass is mixed with weeds, all up to our waists. I am sure Steve has a dead body or two hidden back there. He must; there is no other use for this land.

“There you go,” Steve says.

“Thanks,” we say, and retreat quietly back to my house.

Josh starts with, “Well, some people have a higher tolerance…,” and I stop listening. Higher tolerance for what? Filth? Plague? Insects that fly into their ears and mouth? Some people like that stuff? Huh? Josh tells me to have a talk with my neighbor about cleaning up his property because that will probably cut down the fruit flies, not to mention the spiders and jiggers and scorpions that are also starting to pop up.

Steve calls me later to find out what the pest control guy said, and I tell him.

“But seriously, I don’t have any fruit flies in my house!” he says.

“Do you have any fruit, Steve?”

“No.”

“Any houseplants?”

“No."

“Any fresh food at all?”

“No.”

“Do you ever cook anything to even create dirty dishes in the first place?”

“No.”

“Well figure it out, Steve!” I am nearly hysterical. “Your tree is growing the fruit flies, then they’re flying over here to live! They’re born over there and they move over here! I’m hosting your frickin’ fruit flies, man.” I quiet down. “Jesus Christ, Steve. Either clean your shit up or feed ‘em yourself. Frickin’ be a neighbor, man.”

“Hey, okay, settle down. I’ll clean the place up.”

Sometimes you just have to speak the language.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Heavy Fuel

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been noticing the smell of gas in my car. I’ve pooh-poohed this smell, glancing around at intersections for offending 18-wheelers. However, today as I drove around town, my dura began to ache, and there seemed to be an oil slick forming on my palate. By the time I arrived at my massage appointment this afternoon, bittersweet fumes had filled up my senses. I walked headily across the parking lot, still hoping that whatever reeked of gasoline was not my car.

“I’m here for my Rejuvenating Massage,” I said at the front desk.

I was quickly led down the hall to a room, where I disrobed and climbed onto the table like an unfortunate pelican. My massage therapist came in, a new girl to me, and immediately started digging her fingers into my back. I wondered if she could smell the gas like I still could. After awhile I couldn’t smell anything anymore because the fumes coming off my hair had stuffed up my nose. I breathed through my mouth and could taste gas. I tried to relax.

I had asked for the Rejuvenating Massage and I’m sure the blood was rushing back to my spine from wherever it had been hiding all day, but my massage therapist was hurting me. She repeatedly jabbed two fingers into the flesh on my back and pushed them over my ribs, bumpity bump bump. I should have told her immediately that this did not feel good, but I didn’t, for the same reasons I stayed married too long. For the same reasons I was driving around in the Exxon Valdez.

Finally, my eyeballs swimming in rainbow swirls, I mustered the courage to tell her the truth.

“I think the pressure might be a little too much,” I tiny-shrieked.

I think I’ll call my mechanic tomorrow.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Return to Me

I drive back from visiting gracious friends in their lovely world states away, afflicted with a serious case of the Shoulds. I drive and think, I should wash the dirt off my house because it looks like Pigpen lives there. I should always leave extra rolls of toilet paper out. I should stop subscribing to celebrity magazines; that’s just junk for my brain. I should get out there and volunteer. I should buy grown-up furniture. I should set up Pandora so I never hear another song I don’t like. I should eat more quinoa because it’s perfect. I should stop making cruel fun of people. What’s wrong with me?

I come in the house dragging my heart and my suitcase. My cats, Sara and Lucy, are waiting for me on their backs, eight furry legs waving hello. Hi Mom. We forgive you. After the loving, after some unpacking and a quinoa-free Hot Pocket, I get down on the floor to play with them. I absentmindedly toss a small red rubber ball against the wall. It returns to me and I begin playing a game of catch with myself, the wall my imaginary friend tossing the ball back. It’s been years since I have played this type of game, maybe 30 years since I last threw a ball against a wall because I had nothing better to do and no one to do it with. A thought crosses my mind—I’m making a useless thumping noise in my own house and I like it—when Sara leaps off the couch to join me, Sara the feline Flying Wallenda. I toss the ball against the wall and whoosh there Sara goes, into the air in a stunning arc, bending it like Beckham. She gets the ball, she chases the ball, she scores. I toss the ball again and Sara flies into the air, Geoffrey Rush at the height of his schizophrenic glee.

We play like this for awhile until I notice Lucy, my wallflower. She sits, staring blankly, mesmerized by the air. I slide my free hand under a magazine and wiggle my fingers; she takes a full minute to coil herself into a loose spring, slowly pouncing on the paper, the only trick she knows. Wild thing, I think. You make my heart sing.

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Roadrunning

I drove from Arizona to Blanding, Utah, today and am pleased to say that all of my personalities have arrived in one piece. What took me most by surprise as the day wore on was how wide of an age range I’m capable of in just a twelve hour period. I started the day as a 42 year old hausfrau, unplugging appliances and kissing cats goodbye, but just an hour later there was a teenager driving my car, stuffing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich down her face and trying to use the cell phone at the same time. Later on I stopped to gas up and stared at my reflection in the restroom mirror: a somber elderly Indian woman stared back. Evidently we’d been chewing betelnut.

My middle-aged self was back to check us into this Super 8; that was me with the hunch on my back, dragging the suitcases and the food box up the stairs. But who was that dark-haired little girl sitting alone at the family restaurant later on, ordering a cheeseburger with fries, wolfing down her food so she could run around outside before it got dark? How did she get old enough to stay in a hotel all by herself? And why was she wearing those white orthopedic sneakers?

When I got myself settled back in the hotel room, almost ready for bed, I took one last look around at the scattered evidence of who I am: a multi-colored pill box the size of an appetizer tray, candy bars and ponytail holders, a tube of homeopathic pain-relief gel, bananas and granola for breakfast, a wet bikini next to white sturdy shoes. An atlas open to Utah.

I’m about to do my stretches, as usual, and know that none of this is a stretch at all.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hate for Teacher

Online students harass me much more often and with more gusto than on-campus students, and I love them for that. Perhaps my on-campus students are scared off by the vertical “expression lines” that divide my forehead into three distinct panels; perhaps it’s my sharp tongue and biting wit (“wouldn’t win any orator contests” writes one student on ratemyprofessors.com). Whatever makes them hesitate to raise my ire or approach me with a problem larger than a dull pencil—-whatever exists as a barrier between me and the students who sit in my classes—-does not exist between me and my online students. Many of my online students seem to think of me as a faceless, limbless, highly fickle and unfair blob with no human feelings who calls the shots as they e-mail their way through first-year composition, otherwise known as Internet English 101.

Today I was e-assailed by Cheyanne, another underprivileged child born to uneducated parents who knew the name had a horse-running-free-on-the-prairie ring to it for some reason, or who pulled her name out of a crayon box and couldn’t remember how it was spelled when they signed the birth certificate. Cheyanne wrote:

Ms. Mohler,

I am quite frustrated with the responses I am receiving. In the first essay my problem was comma splices and in this essay I did not have enough commas. Can you please explain my errors. Some of the commas I feel should not be there and some of the commas should.

Ms. Mohler responded:

Actually, there is no such thing as "having enough" or "not having enough" commas. There are correctly used commas, incorrectly used commas, and missing commas. To learn more about commas use, you should check out the links on our class web site, or do a simple Google search (which always results in many good comma-use sites). The back of your textbook also contains a helpful punctuation section. Since English 101 is not a grammar class, I do not focus on teaching grammar and punctuation; you are already supposed to possess those basic skills. I understand, though, that many students struggle in these areas, which is why I offer some guidance and suggestions (and some editing assistance).

If you have more specific questions, please let me know.
Take care,
Kate

I know that upon first reading this exchange, you might think that no real problem exists, that this student is simply seeking out some friendly clarification, and once she receives it, she will say “thank you” and retreat from the light. However, I know better, because I’ve been teaching online courses for fifteen years. I know very well what Cheyanne really means:

Dear you bitch,

I’m trying my f***ing best to juggle work and school and three kids and a boyfriend who’s a drunk and you’re telling me that my f***ing commas are incorrect. I didn’t take this class to f*** around with somebody like you who doesn’t give a shit about my life and who gets paid a shitload of money to just sit there and f*** me over because I can’t use a f***ing comma. I’m going into debt here to pay for my education so I can move out of this shithole and make a better life for myself and my kids and you’re out there telling me to Google my comma shit. If commas matter that f***ing much to you then why don’t you just show me where they f***ing go.

And here is what I could have written:

Dear incorrectly spelled Cheyanne,

I’m sorry you’re frustrated, and you have every right to be. The fact is, in my humble opinion, you were totally short-changed in grade school all the way through high school when you should have been taught how to write, including all the basics like how to use a comma. If you had been my little girl, I would have raised holy hell at your school if your teachers were not providing you with such basic knowledge. And, if I had been your teacher, I certainly would have taught you myself. However, for reasons that remain unclear, nobody made sure that Cheyanne learned how to use commas, and now you are earning very low grades in this college course because of it.

It’s not my job to teach you how to use commas. It’s my job to hold up a series of hoops and see if you can jump through them. If you can, then you can proceed with your college education. If you can’t, then you will have to take English 101 over and over again, either with me or with another hoop holder, until somebody either decides you’re ready to pass and move on, or is too tired to care anymore and passes you anyway. The truth is, if you’re patient enough and keep coming up with the cash, sooner or later you’ll find the college instructors who will keep passing you through no matter how well or poorly you perform, and—-just like you got your high school diploma—-eventually you’ll get your college degree. It happens all the time like that.

So buck up, Cheyanne (no pun intended!). Things aren’t as bad as they seem.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Treadmill Bound for Nowhere

I used to have a friend who was tremendously overweight, opera star heavy. We were best friends actually, and we could talk about anything. Sometimes she would ask me about diet and exercise because those were two things I was good at, but these would be fleeting conversations—very infrequent. Our time together was more often spent on singing karaoke (she was better), flirting with boys (she was better), and eating sushi (it was a draw).

One day as she drove us someplace, one of those infrequent diet and exercise conversations led me down a slippery slope, and I asked a wrong-minded question. I asked her, “Would you work out and eat right if you were guaranteed my body?”

She looked away from the road only long enough to put me out of my misery. She said, “Would I have to have your personality too?”

Bang. Bang, bang.

That exchange has stayed with me through the years, and the lesson of it resurfaced most recently this past week. My visiting nieces, ages 15 and 31—both of whom I adore—conveyed to me in the course of conversation that they were glad I wasn’t the one who raised them because then for sure they would be overly body-conscious and lacking in self-esteem. That is how they perceive me: with the propensity to instill in them these fundamental flaws because I’m so hard on my own self. They’re glad to have their own quirky but normal and oddly fertile mother, and not me, because I might have damaged them.

Bang.

This is hard to know. Younger single aunties usually get to skate away pretty free, never really held to the mother standard. We’re supposed to be well thought of and highly regarded by the kids: smart and fun, Julia Roberts to their Emma. Relief at not being raised by us is not supposed to be part of the equation.

Relief at not being us is only a baby step away.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

A Wistful Corpse

Today I had my first MRI. When my doctor was signing the paperwork for it last week, he asked me if I liked to sleep. I said yes, just as much as the next person, and he said if I could sleep during the MRI that would be great because since I would have to lie very still anyway, sleeping would make the time pass more quickly. I said I probably wouldn’t fall asleep, but I like to think, so I’d probably do that instead. When I told my mom I’d be getting an MRI, she said I’d probably get to listen to music because that’s what she got to do, and they even let her choose the music she wanted. So my mom played dead to the oldies.

As I was being eased into the MRI machine like a wistful corpse on a conveyor belt, having learned that my tube was not a jukebox, the young technician’s words rang in my ears: Try not to move…if you move, it’ll take longer…if you have to move, only move during the steady hum part, and say something before you do to let us know…but try not to move at all. She had told me earlier that a lot of people fall asleep during an MRI, so I probably wouldn’t have to worry about moving anyway. I wasn’t worried about moving in the first place, actually, because I was there to have a fracture in my coccyx scanned, and it already felt like my ass had been impaled on an elephant tusk, so it wasn’t like I was gearing up for a game of Twister. There be no sleeping during the MRI, but there would be no moving either. Just thinking.

Huh…I can’t really hear anything with these headphones on…God, these are like bagels, bagels on my head, they’re totally eighties…What’s that? My heartbeat? Wow, that’s loud. Maybe I could fall asleep…This is kind of like being in an oven, kind of like a tanning bed, but it’s not hot…I used to work in a tanning bed place. I hated that…What the hell is that? A drum? Sounds black, kinda tribal. I like Sting…Now what?…Jesus, that sounds like the peepers in my parents’ marsh, peepers on crack more like it…I wonder how my nieces and nephews are doing. I miss them…We’d get them to say “ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh” and pat their lips to make them sound like Indians…God, it’s always changing. Sounds like a jackhammer, a machine gun, yeah, like The Godfather…Shooting is so violent…Those scenes from The Rape of Nanking, those were hard to watch, it was so sad how they shot all those people, the Japanese suck…At least that’s over…I should have closed the garage door when I left, anybody could just walk in and take something, it’s that kind of neighborhood. Luis could be robbing me right now, but probably not, he’s a good kid, he’s probably just raking like I told him to, but how do I know? He’s just a neighbor kid, he could walk in and go straight to my dresser and take that diamond ring my freak of an ex-husband gave me…what a dick, “husband” is too generous…I should let that go, it’s been seven years…That sound really bugs me…I feel like I’m in an Atari game, Centipede, what was that one with the asteroids…rata-tat-tat, rata-tat-tat…Will I have time to get my nails done?...God, my back is killing me, it’s like that scene in Blood In, Blood Out when they drop that guy on the fire hydrant, that must have hurt…I can’t believe I’m having an MRI on my ass, I’m probably the only person who has ever been in here to get an ass MRI…What is that? Sounds like that song, what was it, Rock Me Amadeus, the guy must have had hiccups or something, but I liked that song. Was that Robert Downey Junior in the movie? I like Robert Downey Junior.

Who the hell sleeps through an MRI?

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

40 is the New 60

Every morning and every night, I get down on the floor and stretch. I do it in the morning because I’m stiff from so many strenuous hours of sleep; I do it at night because by then I’ve shrunk to three feet. If I was unable to stretch, I would just be a head with arms and legs.

And then there’s the pain. You would think that my house was constructed of Wailing Walls for all the guttural and faith-based pleas I make. Jesus God help me get up from this chair. Jesus, why are my elbows on fire? Lawd Jesus, don’t let this mean I can’t walk for three days. Don’t leave me this way.

It didn’t used to be like this. When I used to walk around with a skip and a smile, that’s how I was feeling. Now it’s all fake; I don’t really feel that way. I walked into the pet store today with a shooting pain in my right shin, pretending that I was fine. I wondered, Are other people my age walking into pet stores with shooting pain in their shins, pretending that they’re fine? Are we all falling apart, or is it just me? Nobody talks about it. It’s hard to admit that I want someone to apply moist heat to all of me, all of the time. I would wear an astronaut suit of moist heat if I could.

I looked in the mirror today and saw the ghost of Katie Past. Yes, that was my forehead, but it had the hoof of a cloven-footed animal. The skin underneath my eyes folded over itself like sheets and blankets turned down for an overnight guest. My pores said their first words.

I needed a shave.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Baddest Man

I bit myself today. I went from chewing on a roast beef sandwich to needing ten stitches on the inside of my cheek. I’m sure I looked like Lee Harvey Oswald did when Jack Ruby shot him. I ran to the bathroom to inspect the damage and stood there for a few minutes with my mouth hanging open, nose pressed against the mirror, blood oozing between my teeth. Nice one.

Biting of the lips and inner cheeks runs in my family, coming from my father’s side. My dad is constantly biting himself during meals or conversation and can go from a pleasant looking man without a care in the world to appearing as if he’s swallowed his tongue. The five of us kids would sit around the table when we were young, quietly eating our dinner and listening to our parents visit, when suddenly my dad’s face would convulse and blood would appear in the corner of his mouth. We’d stare at him until he collected himself, maybe thirty seconds, then everything would go back to normal.

All five of us kids are prone to this biting, but my oldest sister feels especially afflicted because there wasn’t fluoride in the water when she was growing up, so her teeth are weak and tiny. Every time she bites herself, a tooth falls out. Soon she’ll need dentures. Now that we’re all older, none of us are as stoic about the situation as we used to be. At any given family gathering one of us will drive our teeth through our tongue or cheek and sit there howling with a contorted face while the others react: “Whaddja do!?”

“Ah bit mah self!”

My dad just raises his eyebrows and smirks at these outbursts, blood gathering in the corner of his lips. What a bunch of babies.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Sleep With The Fishes

Mel Gibson makes me sad. He never gives me the chance to dream about him at night. It used to be all the stupid movies, and now it’s the tail and horns. What a waste of a pretty face.

I’m pretty picky in my dreams. There at least, I need a perfect man. I love Steve Martin but don’t dream about him because he’s not the most masculine guy around. I would marry Steve Martin in real life, but not in my dreams. I don’t dream about Tom Cruise ("Nic knows why") and not about Harrison Ford (looks 90 next to Calista). Not Russell Crowe (thing between his eyebrows) and not Brad Pitt (thing between his ears). Johnny Depp, too little. Heath Ledger, too late.

George Clooney woos me in my sleep some nights--a ride on his motorcycle, dinner with friends--but it took me awhile to warm up to him. It started when he got angry after the paparazzi chased Princess Diana to death; I liked his speech. My boyfriend at the time said, “I don’t see what the big deal is. It’s not like she’s the President or anything,” causing me to yank back the plate of breakfast I’d just given him along with my affections. George was definitely more my type.

But I guess George was busy the other night because I dreamt that Melissa Etheridge was in my bed. This turned out to be more of a nightmare. I was on the right, with Melissa in the middle and Tammy Lynn on the left. Tammy was mad at Melissa, so Melissa turned to me and started touching my leg. Yikes! I distinctly remember trying to explain that while I thought she was a very nice person, I was not of that persuasion, even though I had no excuse for having her in my bed and felt awful that I had apparently misrepresented myself.

I finally awoke from what had become a terribly awkward situation, smashed up against the four extra pillows I keep in bed. I rolled away with relief and fluffed them back up. Melissa, Oksana, there are other fish in the sea. For now, I’m glad that none of them sleep with me.

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