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.


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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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Strained Magic

Not all of us can understand all the lyrics to all the songs we have ever heard, but we still like to sing along, so we make up our own lyrics, just like when we all sang “wrapped up like a douche” (in our heads of course) for the first few years after “Blinded By The Light” came out in 1977. We didn’t know what a douche was, but we knew it could be wrapped up, and so God said unto us, sing forth the douche’s praises, and His will was done.

A similar misconception occurred in roughly the same year when ELO came out with “Strange Magic”, but this mistake was only made by one very special little boy named Stevie Baker, who grew up to become my on-again, off-again boyfriend. Stevie first heard this song on the car radio while his family drove cross-country from New York to Arizona. Like the rest of us, Stevie liked to sing along, but he wasn’t singing “magic”. No, Stevie was singing “my dick”, as in “Strained my dick! Gotta…strain my dick!” Fortunately for Stevie’s family, he sang quietly to himself in the back seat rather than belting out what must have been an unsettling conflict of interests for a ten-year-old boy.

I only mention Steve because I’m in need of a plumber, and since we’re no longer together, I can’t change our Off-Again status to On-Again anymore so that he can come over and help me with handyman stuff. I used to do that when, say, a plumber would want $600 for what Steve would have done for free, or at least for dinner and a load of laundry. We would barter like that: Steve would cut a hole in my wall and install a new window, and I would pretend not to notice when he used the word “decevious”, as in this reference to my behavior: “I don’t like it when you have lunch with former lovers and don’t tell me. I feel like you’re being decevious.” Or another example would be, Steve spent a weekend digging trenches and installing an irrigation system in my backyard, turning what used to be a barren dirt lot into my fantasy retreat, and I went out of my way to find and purchase one six-ounce cup of peach yogurt, his favorite, so it would be waiting in the refrigerator for him when he was done. And believe me, he was done before he touched it.

I was generous with Steve like that, and wonder sometimes how hard it was for him to walk away when I finally told him that I had given all that I could give. How hard was it for him to trade in a catch like me for that good breezy girl he married six months later? It must have been just awful.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lay Off My Shoes

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Although I must have hurt my mother’s feelings a million times in the last 42 years, I can remember only two times that she has ever hurt mine.

The first was when I was about twelve, going through that awkward stage, which for me meant having different-sized feet. Far different, and both very big. My mom would take me to buy shoes and nothing would fit, or one shoe would fit and the other wouldn’t. Always a people-pleaser and never wanting to appear difficult, she would pull the salesman aside before we even began and say, “My daughter has very big feet. One is bigger than the other. They don’t quite match. She has very big feet for her age.” I would sit quietly in a chair and listen to her preface our shoe-buying episode with this speech, and I did that many times as my feet morphed from acceptable same-size little girl feet to different-sized elephant-woman feet.

One day after school as we headed into a shoe store downtown, I turned to her and said, “Could you please not tell the salesman that I have big feet? He’ll see it for himself.” I can’t remember her reply, but the look on her face conveyed that it would be a long time before she forgave herself for being so thoughtless. She never pointed out my ill-matched feet again.

The only other time she ever crossed the line of politeness with me occurred when I was about twenty. I was away at college and had gotten into my head that my skin was very sensitive, from scalp to heel--far more sensitive than the skin of an average adult. So I asked my mom to buy Dreft for my laundry, which of course she did along with all the other special items she would buy when I came home to visit: Pringles, Twix candy bars, co-jack cheese...all my favorites. She’d made a carrot cake too.

By the time I settled in at my parents’ house that weekend, after a couple long days of sunbathing and swimming in the lake, I decided that my skin wasn’t very sensitive after all. I walked down to the basement eating Pringles from the can and saw my mom doing laundry, with my pile set aside. “Hey,” I said to her hunched back. “You don’t have to use any special soap for my clothes. You can just wash mine with the rest.”

She turned to me with her eyes rolled back in her head, her teeth gnashing, her fingernails transformed into claws. When she opened her mouth to speak, I saw fangs. “Then why did I buy this damn Dreft!?” she roared at me.

I ran crying to my room like a ninny, and it didn’t take long for her to find me and apologize. To this day, so many years later, she keeps a box of Dreft on the laundry shelf just in case I show up sometime more sensitive than the last, and to show me that she will always be sorry for anything that made me feel less than cherished.

This one's for you, mama.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

Come Fly With Me

Hundreds of fruit flies have congregated in my house. If I were a fruit fly on my own wall, I would see me sitting at my computer table, typing away, but occasionally applauding myself, saluting, or grabbing the air. This is me trying to kill the fruit flies. They have flown into my mouth and I can tell you that fruit flies taste like celery. I can also say that their own appetite is not limited to fruit. It includes toilet water, wall paint, house plants, WD-40, toothpaste, ordinary household dust, human flesh, any type of leftovers taken straight from the refrigerator, and anything I personally put into a drinking glass. If I developed a taste for battery acid, my fruit flies would too. Just as my cat Sara frolics and purrs in the punishing stream from my water bottle, oblivious to the fact that she is being scolded, my fruit flies thrive on the organic insect killer spray that supposedly annihilates...oh let me see...aphids, mealybugs, mites, leafhoppers, psyllids, scale insects, thrips, and whiteflies. Not fruit flies though.

I’ve tried nearly every fruit fly trap known to man. They won’t fly down my funnel traps, apparently well-schooled in the funnel trap trick, trained by yesterday’s ancestors to fly away from soda bottles wearing the big white bonnet. I’ve left pin-pricked cellophane-covered glasses all over the house, half-filled with various concoctions: orange juice, wine, apple vinegar, sometimes with a piece of banana thrown in, sometimes not, sometimes a peach. The idea is that the flies will crawl in through the holes but not be able to find their way out, but my flies are too smart for that. I’m left with glasses sitting around full of rotten fruit and scummy juice, flies careening down the hallway in droves, mating along the way so they can lay their eggs in the shower drain before feasting on the caulk around my pipes.

The one trap I have yet to try involves leaving your oven open all night with a piece of fruit in it. All of your flies are supposed to go in there and gorge themselves, then in the morning you’re supposed to slam the oven shut and baked them to death. The directions for this trap end with “clean oven thoroughly”. I seriously doubt that an oven could be cleaned anywhere near thoroughly enough after such an invasive and misguided affront to its senses. It would probably never want to be touched again. I know I wouldn’t.

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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Shut My Mouth

Today I stood hunched over my kitchen sink, thinking Lawd, why do I be washin’ deez baggies? I do wash baggies of all sizes...sandwich, quart, gallon...and then hang them to dry on a five-pronged gadget that another less inspired housewoman might use for its original purpose of displaying photos. I got into the habit of washing baggies when I was married years ago and my husband spent all of our money. We had to make do with only five baggies total for an entire year.

I know from experience that you can’t just wash and reuse baggies at whim; actually, a lot of thought needs to go into it. If there was something especially icky in the baggie, like raw moldy bloody chicken, then you should just throw the baggie out. Also, if you’re washing it and it springs a leak, then you shouldn’t reuse it, though I know it’s tempting. When the baggie is dry and ready to pluck off the photo tree, give it a test run: if it doesn’t seal up quickly and smoothly and instead gapes at you like a big mouth bass, it’s time for a new one.

There are other penny-pinching habits left over from my bankrupt marriage that I would do well to break, like never leaving the house and giving newspaper clippings as gifts. I still hoard free things like twist-ties from bread, and rubber bands. I slap my own hand when the grits come round for seconds, even though I live alone and can take as much as I want now.

It ain’t easy bein’ me.

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