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:

Click here, then read.

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 Dvor├ík.

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


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


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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