Wednesday, June 30, 2010

La vida en Arizona!

My neighbor Juan calls me Kathy. “Hi Kathy,” he says when he comes out to water his rose bushes. “Hey Juan,” I say, ignoring the fact that my name is not Kathy. People have been calling me Kathy for years, and in this particular case, I think it’s karmic payback for the first two years I lived next to Juan and called him Jose. Shortly after I moved in, I backed out of my garage and was driving away from our next-door homes when I saw Juan out in his yard. We waved and I mouthed the words “Hey Jose” through my windshield, exaggerating each syllable: “HEY! HOE! ZAY!” My face burst into flames on my way down the street when I realized my error.

With the immigration situation all over the news, people from Minnesota and England and "the Iraq" want to know what it’s really like to live in Arizona these days. The truth is, even people who live in Arizona want to know that. Our local newspaper, The Arizona Republic, has been running question and answer pieces for local residents who are wondering what to do if they get caught in the company of “an illegal”.

A recent question went something like, “If I get pulled over by the police for speeding while driving a company truck and I have my co-worker with me who I know is illegal, will I go to jail?” Or, “If I drive five miles an hour by a group of dark-skinned men standing by the side of the road and two just happen to climb into the back of my truck and work construction for me all day, and they’re illegal but I have no knowledge of that and pay them under the table with untraceable bills, will I go to jail?”

There’s the indignant: “What am I supposed to do, drive by a playground and pick up a sixth grader to work in my yard all day? C’mon! That’s what an illegal is for!”

And this: “If we are not legal citizens but get robbed and my husband is beaten, can we get deported if we call the police or go to the hospital? Our kids are legal.”

Frantic, paranoid and angry questions from people who see a way of life coming to an end fill the newspaper and radio waves: If we stand too close to an illegal, will that make us illegal too? Can we get illegal on us? Will it wash out? Will I go to jail for that?

This country invited Mexicans to cross the border to work jobs that nobody else wanted, the hard labor jobs and the ones picking fruit, factory jobs too. Some of these people—-when they were free, free at last—-started flipping burgers at McDonald’s or cleaning bathrooms in office buildings. Others started their own businesses, landscaping and painting and masonry, making something out of desert nothing. Illegal was everywhere and a fact of life; illegal defined the nannies and housekeepers who raised our children and made our meals. While they were at it, they taught our children to speak a second language.

So if you’re wondering what it’s like to live in Arizona, outside of the blasting heat and the moist monsoons that are about to turn this region into the devil’s birth canal...to Minnesota and England and the Iraq, and everywhere like such as, I say this: it’s shameful. I hope everybody calls me Kathy from now on so I can lend my real identity to somebody who deserves it.

Click here

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Nuclear Baby

I don’t have any babies, but I have nightmares about misplacing one. In the dream, I’ll suddenly remember I had a baby many months before, but I can’t remember where I put it, so I’ll look high and low until I find it hidden under a bed. I’ll pull it out and it’ll smile, then morph into a tall dusty baby who walks and talks well beyond its achievement milestones. Not only have I missed the baby altogether, I’ve missed its first tooth, first word and first steps. My forgotten baby never seems any the worse for having spent its first speed-growing months under a bed without food or water or clean clothes, no human contact of any kind. It is loving me and talking up a storm as it marches around, smiling a big toothy grin as the dust bunnies fall from its full head of hair. It is a nuclear baby, able to withstand the edgiest of infancies, and it’s ready to spend the rest of its life with me no matter what I did or didn’t do so far.

No surprise then that in real life, I have cats instead of babies. One of them, Sara, has unusually long legs and a small head. Sometimes when I’m in the kitchen, I’ll pull out a top drawer and her face will be in it, staring up at me with her large green eyes. She gets herself into this pickle by climbing into the drawer from the back, and is then unable to get out. This morning I rounded a corner to see Sara hurrying down the hallway with an empty box of Kleenex stuck on her head, and I laughed for the first time in days.

I put a box on my head once. It was the last year I went trick or treating, even though I should have called it quits the year before. I was in sixth grade and my best friend Michelle and I decided we’d go as a two-headed alien. My family had just gotten a new refrigerator so we were all set for the body, and two smaller boxes for our twin heads were easy to find. We taped everything together. Two armholes, two neck holes and two eye holes later we were almost complete, but not before jabbing two metal clothes hangers into the box tops for antennas. We taped a garbage bag on the front: FEED ME.

Since we only had one small eye hole apiece, the neighborhood was hard to navigate, but we made it. We shouted “Trick or Treat!” at each new household, secretly glad that our identities were hidden. We chatted about babysitting jobs and junior high coming up as we toddled down the sidewalks between groups of children, trying to maintain our balance. At one nicely-kept house with the porch light on, we once again lurched up to the bell. The door swung open and we shouted “Trick or Treat!” into the chiseled face of the blond-haired eighth-grade boy I’d had a secret crush on for three years. “Hi Katie, hi Michelle, how ya doin’?” he said. “My mom’s makin’ me answer the door. Want some candy? Here ya go. See ya later.” Slam.

Those were no wonder years, baby. Those were the years that turned girls into stony-faced men.

click here

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bipolar Mohler

I can’t say a lot about today, which happens sometimes when I don’t leave the grounds. Since visitors’ weekend is coming up and it was only 112 degrees outside, I thought it might be a good time to sweep out my ill-ventilated garage, which I've done twice before in the five years I’ve lived here. I knew luck wasn’t on my side when I found three live geckos stuck in the glue traps that the pest control guy had left for scorpions. My heart sunk deeper with each paint can I dropped on the traps, Sophie's worst choice. I put them—-traps and all—-in the Dumpster in the alley, along with the roach carcasses, leaves, icky pennies, and other small debris I had swept up.

Lost in my heart of darkness, gecko-murderer, sweeping dirt with sweat pouring down my face and a sick feeling creeping into my belly from warm Kool-Aid, I looked up and saw, to my horror, that somebody had parked in my driveway. Oh my God, my heart skipped a beat, who could it be, who was going to see me like this, there was blood splatter, my socks didn’t match and I was wearing my “Bipolar Mohler” t-shirt with my dad’s face on the front, *not funny now*, even my tinted Clearasil had melted away to reveal the biggest zit I’d ever had as the adult child of an alcoholic, oh my God...oh wait, that was my car.

Whew.


click here

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I've Got Something In My Pocket

As a Brownie Scout, I was always discomfited by the song we sang at meetings: “I’ve got something in my pocket / It belongs across my face….” Hold on there, soldier. Something wasn’t quite right about that. In the first place, rarely did I have anything in my pocket. Boys kept things in their pockets; girls did not. I was lucky to even have a pocket; they probably cost extra and my mother wasn’t going to pay more for that.

Secondly, as my young brain maneuvered down the path of having something in my pocket, I wondered: why ever would this same thing belong across my face? What could I possibly be carrying in my pocket that came from there? Snot? Had I sneezed into my hand and stuffed it in my pocket again? If so, why was I singing about it? What else would I have in my pocket? A Kleenex? Then why didn’t I use it to wipe my nose?

Did I have a mustache in my pocket? No, that would only come in later years.

“I’ve got something in my pocket / It belongs across my face….” The words nagged at me, even though I was only seven or eight, and I was never quite able to pay attention to the rest of the song. When I got older—-old enough to quit the Girl Scouts when it became clear that only the girls with disabilities were going to stay in—-I was dismayed that I’d been made to sing these lines unto the Lord. If ever there were lyrics with double meaning, these were them. By a certain age I knew exactly what was in my pocket, your pocket, and everybody else's pocket, and these things certainly did not belong across our faces.

As a fading porn star looking back on my troubled youth, I only ask that these lyrics be revisited: I've got something in my pocket / It belongs across my face. No, it doesn't.

Click here

Monday, June 21, 2010

Robby Benson, Robby Benson

I can’t remember when I first saw Ode to Billy Joe. Certainly not when it first came out in 1976…I was only eight years old. I have foggy memories of watching that movie--either on TV or on video, in my early teens--and I didn’t understand what the problem was. So Billy Joe went behind a curtain and smoked pot with another man? Why so upset? He went back there and the guy confessed to a murder? Okay, but get over it. What’s done is done.

That Billy Joe had accidentally (or not) had sex with another man went clear over my head until I saw the movie again many years later. Ohhhh...well that was definitely a problem. Everything made sense, and I knew why Billy Joe jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

After that, empathy grew in me like cancer. It was slow to start because the only experience I had with it was walking the stations of the cross every Lent (poor Jesus!), but soon it was in my bones and became inoperable. Now I cringe when comedians bomb. I would be a very bad industrial farmer. If somebody else farts in public, you might as well set me on fire. My own face burns.

Just blame everything on me, because I do anyway.

(click here)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Elephant Woman

One of my sisters has stretch marks on her stomach from having babies. They aren’t just delicate white lines or pale squiggles; these stretch marks are dark red and purple, running wide and vertical up and down her skin from ribs to hip bone. Her stomach kept splitting open the bigger her babies got; there was nothing she could do about it. After all these years, the scars on her skin are soft and loose, stretchy rips in her flesh.

After her first two pregnancies, she found herself single again--back in the Minnesota dating pool. Eventually those times would come when she’d have to bare her stomach. Once, she lifted her shirt and the man could not contain his shock. “What happened!?” he said, staring at the jagged purple strips down her belly.

“I was attacked by a bear,” she said.

His eyes widened in admiration and respect. “Really? Woooooow.” She had another child with him.

I don’t have any big obvious scars like my sister’s because I didn’t have any babies. You can still find flaws on me if you’re looking for them though, as demonstrated by my most recent Arizona Romeo as we watched some TV the other night. With no warning, he erupted with “Oh my God, what is that on your leg!?”

I stopped, dropped and rolled before twirling into a yoga pose, but found nothing.

“What?” I asked.

“That!” He pointed to a tiny lump on my shin, a flesh-colored bump the size of a small flat button that disappeared when I flexed my leg. He recoiled, as if he’d discovered my parasitic twin.

“It’s a fat deposit,” I said. No woman should ever have to say that. “It’s nothing.”

He hasn’t called since!
click here

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Schizo Through The Tulips

This morning I felt bullied and scholastically marginalized when the colleagues I was supposed to meet with at 10 a.m. didn’t show up, but then I remembered we weren’t meeting until tomorrow. With extra time on my hands, I learned to speak Vietnamese and went for a pedicure, fluently picking out the most expensive hot stone calf massage/pedicure package against my own wishes. I then sat in a humid physical therapy room for over an hour with glum strangers who silently kneaded Play Doh and pinched grains of rice. I had gone there willingly to stand alone in the corner with my hands pressed into the wall. My afternoon, my Blair Witch Project.

I went from therapy to the gym, where I tried to rub my face in the dirt again. Did I climb the steps yesterday at level five? Today I climbed them at six. Did I run on the treadmill for ten minutes the last time? Today it was twelve, on an incline. I showed me who’s boss. With nostrils flared and eyes rolling up in my head, I couldn't read or visit with my neighbor; all I could do was hang on for the ride and entertain a few fleeting thoughts: What…eat…later? Hope…not…stink. Hope…look…sexy.

I looked up at some point to see that President Obama had come on the TV to my right, talking about the oil spill; an HGTV program was on the TV to my left, something about redecorating a house. I made all this out through the text and pictures on the screens, but it all got mixed together when it came through my eyes and entered my brain. I started thinking that’s really too bad about the oil spill in that house. They worked really hard on that bathroom but you’d think he’d do something about that mole on his nose. Nobody even knew what BP stood for until they did that whole bedroom in pink. I wish I had hardwood floors, but it's not the President's fault. He's just a faucet head. Why don't people see that?
click here

Monday, June 14, 2010

My Brazilian

Nobody knows remorse like a miser from the Midwest who has wasted money. Minnesota misers can be especially hard on themselves after making a financial mistake, and I speak from experience, having personally mized in Wisconsin, Michigan and a few times in North Dakota. The mere mention of the phrase “throwing money out the window” has me in conniptions. I would rather see a thousand splendid Kleenex washed with my darks.

So I was in great distress Sunday morning when I discovered that my female Brazilian Pepper tree had apparently gone out and gotten drunk the night before, because she was half-standing half-sprawled in the back yard with her trunk split open. I expected a lot more out of her than that. Not only did I pay good money for the tree itself (plus delivery and planting!) two years ago, but I recently paid $50 for a professional prune job. Like the cautious mother who doesn’t want to spend umpteen dollars for a fancy salon haircut that her daughter is just going to regret, I should have insisted that the pepper tree wait until she was older, or at least until she could pay for it herself. But nooo, she had to be pruned right now because that’s what all the other Brazilian Peppers were doing, so I shelled out the money and look what I got: a straggly nuisance weed of a tree that can’t hold its liquor. She tried to say something about a wind storm, but she couldn’t even stand straight, let alone talk.

Word to the wise: If you live in Phoenix, do not buy trees that belong in Brazil, especially the female ones. They're devious and insolent. click here

Friday, June 11, 2010

Nothing to Lose

Four score and seven years ago, men used to ask me out. It was in a previous life before I knew that sleeping on my right side for 42 years would create a permanent crease from my ear to my nose. To be fair, it was also back in the day when I was more approachable. My sign does not say “hey baby” anymore. It says, “I’m busy get out of my way.”

And then, a couple weeks ago, to my shock, one man stepped forward to say that he was attracted to me...would I like to get together sometime? All of the loose skin on my face bunched up in disbelief. Before saying yes or no, I dwelled on the prospect for days, then finally confronted the man and demanded why he asked me out, like an interrogator questioning a murder suspect. Why did you do it? WHYYYY?

(I’m not saying it’s a mystery that I’m single.)

The man responded, “I had nothing to lose!” He had nothing to lose in asking me out. How simple and clear.

So I’ve been thinking about this concept, “having nothing to lose.” It crossed my mind when I started this blog site: What if that college boyfriend I dumped for a much older and sexier man posts an anonymous comment on here? “SHE’S A SLUTTY SLUT SLUT!” My mother would read that! My students would read that. Would the whole world think poorly of me, or would they remember that you can’t please everybody, especially the bitter folk? What would I lose if that happened?

Nothing.

I would still have my lovely house where I live by my lovely self, my cats would still sleep on my belly at night, and my retirement account would remain intact. My nuclear family would still radiate in that special way they do, and my friends would howl and love me all the more.

Writing online for the whole world to see (or for no one to see) certainly involves taking risks. I wonder if I’m wasting my time, if I’m going to look bad or attract negative attention, or—-worse yet, for fragile me—-elicit indifference from someone I wish would give me a nod at least. A tiny bone. But these risks are just my tiny worries, worth nothing really.

I can afford to lose them.
click here

Monday, June 7, 2010

Blood

Blood

Today I hung pictures in my bedroom, colorful original works that I’d purchased at an arts festival. They’d been sitting on the floor since April, propped up against the walls. No handyman then, no handyman now, so I finally gathered my tools to do it myself.

With each spattering of nail holes, I fulfilled cultural myths: women should stay in the kitchen, girls are not good at math. My bedroom looked like it had been machine-gunned by the time I was done. That’s okay—I know how to spackle too. I stepped back to admire my work and noticed a red smear on the wall near the last picture I’d hung. What was that? I looked closer and realized it was blood. Holy!

I quickly tap-danced in place to find the source, knowing it was on me somewhere. I discovered that the smarting in my left pinky was not just a small irritation but rather a deep slice bubbling blood, dripping down my hand. I shot my arm into the air, remembering a first-aid hint to keep bleeding wounds above the heart. I noticed another bright red smear on my way out the door. Holy! The mafia had come to hang my pictures.

As I stood over the bathroom sink watching cold water wash my DNA down the drain, I couldn’t help but think of my dad. Unlike me and my siblings, he has always bled with great nonchalance. He's a woodsman, a hunter and a gardener—a moveable feast for generations of mosquitoes and deer flies. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been sitting across from him at the dinner table when an orchid of blood has blossomed through his shirt: a fresh bug bite, or an old one scratched. He could peel a wood tick the size of a tarantula off his scalp and sit there with blood dripping down his forehead—our new half-sibling waving hello with eight legs—and this would not faze him.

“Dad, you’re bleeding” became a routine observation for the five of us Mohler kids growing up, the refrain to the song of life in our household. My mom was capable of loading her lyrics with a little more sense of urgency: “Jim, you’re blee-ding" she'd say, jabbing at her own body to hint at the point of origin. He might glance down and dab with a napkin, but he never looked surprised, and he certainly never tap danced.

Sometimes blood was the most we got out of our dad, and if that sounds like a complaint, it was. It used to be. I wish I had a funny line to make that better. He's always liked a pretty song though (click here), so here's one for you, Daddy. I'll keep looking for a Zamfir version.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Hello Walls

When you're single, you're alone a lot--that's why most people don't stay single for long. People who don't like to be alone go find somebody to marry; especially now with the Internet, that's easier than ever before. You could be single in the morning and married by night. Incidentally, I'm living proof that you should be very careful when it comes to finding a husband online. One bit of advice: don't trust anybody who keeps waving reg flags. Those are warning signs, not party favors.

Personally though, I like being single, especially when everything is working: the air conditioning, the car, the lights, etc. It's a glorious day from Jesus when all major appliances turn on and off and the toilet swirls from sun-up to sun-down. Sometimes when I'm walking around the house, I stop to appreciate the refrigerator's hum or the rattling of the six-year-old air conditioner on the roof. Hello, walls.

click here


It would not be a stretch to say that I would rather have all of these things than a boyfriend or husband, if I had to choose. I think any single woman of a certain age would agree, if she's ever experienced the creeping dread and hysteria associated with the silence of a broken appliance or a car that won't start. Those of us who have been plucked from the bosom of the friendly Midwest and now live alone in cruel cities are especially prone to having the blood drain out of us when--say--we walk into the kitchen to find water leaking from under the fridge: Oh my God, why is it doing that? What's happening? What's wrong with it? Is it broken? Should I replace it? How much for one of those Onstar ratings? Maybe I should call an electrician. Or a plumber. Handymen always rip me off! This is going to cost a thousand dollars. Everything costs a thousand dollars. Oh my God, look at that water.

I'll never have cold food again.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hotdishing

What is this word "hotdishing"? What language does she speak? While you may not be able to find "hotdishing" in a dictionary, its root word ("hotdish") has a long and colorful history in Minnesota. Simply put, "hotdish" is the Midwestern term for "casserole", which (in Minnesota at least) usually begins with a cream of mushroom soup base and spills unto us from the Lord with everything from rice and noodles to mixed vegetables and Cheez Whiz. There are meated hotdishes, vegetarian, and transgendered varieties--one for every mood and occasion, every fridge full of leftovers. Give me your tired, your poor, your intoxicated--there's a hotdish out there with your name on it.

I'm raising the word "hotdish" away from the confines of a lowly food noun, up and out of the kitchen to a freshly minted verb, "hotdishing": to write casually about seemingly disparate topics that all fit together. I'll try to do that here, keeping in mind that my mother is reading, and perhaps only my mother. Go easy on the hot.

Which brings up a new topic: Who am I writing for, and why? For me, striving to connect with readers--to entertain them or persuade them--has meant different approaches over the years. Sometimes I was writing to impress my English teacher; other times I was trying to win a man's love. Sometimes it was both at once. Sometimes I wrote to beg for money or mercy--and I got them, too.

Tonight I'm writing for you, but also for the cute and funny sports doctor who electrocuted the nerves in my left arm yesterday, testing my reflexes. I always have somebody specific in mind whose mind I want to change, whose heart I want to break, or whose smile I want to see...when I write, that is.

I hope the electrocutioner reads this and laughs--my favorite reward, what makes the work worth it.