Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Age of Reason

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I was at the mall yesterday looking for a new shirt, and happened to walk by a hair salon. I’ve been meaning to buy a diffuser for my hair dryer for about twenty years, and yesterday was the day. Not that I often blow dry my hair—that would be too close to styling for a simple girl like me. I’ve let my hair air-dry since 1990 with no apologies or intentions of change. However, since I don’t carry much extra weight anymore and have had to purchase a whole new wardrobe this past year, I’ve been thinking that maybe something should be done about my hair too. I know that if certain people who consider themselves my closest friends knew that I was having these thoughts, they would build bonfires and look for lambs and work other types of magic to make sure that I put these thoughts into action. So I didn’t tell anyone about the diffuser. I just bought it, took it home, and attached it to my blow dryer, leaving the whole contraption on my bathroom floor like a bullhorn before the riot.

Then this morning came, and the fruit, the oatmeal, the newspaper, the shower, the lotion on its skin, and soon enough, it was time to diffuse my hair. I did think this was going to be a good idea; it’s not like I spent ten dollars to make myself look worse. I followed the directions, scrunching patiently, and soon enough had basically what I wanted: a head full of wavy hair, something I think would have looked good on a model with the wind blowing it back off her face, except that I’m not a model and there was no wind. So ultimately I just pinned the top back like I usually do, and off to coffee I went, Annette Funicello with a few extra kinks.

On my drive, wearing my new shirt of course, I started reminiscing (with myself) about the bad old days when people—friends and strangers alike—would offer startlingly brazen commentary on my personal presentation. It all started in 1991 when I was having a conversation with one of my best friends, who was overweight at the time, about a hypothetical body-trading situation. I asked her, “Would you trade bodies with me?” and she replied, “Would I have to take your personality too?” I bet she’d be eating her words today if she could see me in my new shirt. And in 1996, on the floor of a discount warehouse club, a woman stopped me in the middle of my early Elizabethan era and said, “How do you get your hair to poof up like that in front?” I proudly told her that it was natural, which is true, if you can call a deformity natural. The hair on the front of my head grows out and up, what can I say? I have to batten down the hatch every day before I leave the house. In 2005, I was stopped in the grocery store by an elderly woman who I knew from the women’s workout center I belonged to at the time; she looked at me, perplexed, before asking, “Did you have a mini-stroke?” And then just last year, a friend/person blurted out, “You look great…from the neck down.” Too bad they all couldn’t see me today, in my new shirt with my hair diffused and a whole new attitude.

It was only when I got to the coffee shop and was sitting in my car, primping in the mirror, when I realized that all the baby hair that grows from my hairline down to my jaw had exploded and was now bursting forth in frizzy clumps, which would have looked natural on a baby orangutan. I hadn’t noticed this result at home, where evidently the light is more kindly to folk like me. I licked my fingers and slicked it all back, morphing from Buckwheat to Alfalfa on crack. This was a far cry from the modeling career I’d started just an hour before.

In days gone by, in worse days, I might have skipped my coffee date because of that. I might have called and said I was sick, then driven home and mixed up a cocktail at one o’clock in the afternoon because I was frustrated and embarrassed.

But these days are different. It takes more than the sideburns on my forehead to make me blink. I am a confident girl now, and this is the age of reason.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sue Me

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I have taken to working out in the early afternoons, going to the gym a couple hours after lunch, after the lentil soup has settled. But who am I kidding: I still shake my head and raise my hands to the heavens when I get gassy on the step-climber. Why? Why? I’m a writer, not a scientist.

I like going to the gym in the afternoons because that’s when the Silver Sneakers are there: older people from sixty all the way up to over ninety, enjoying an exercise program just for them, sneakin’ around. Last week I arrived in the middle of an ice cream social, and while I did not parfait, it was fun to see old people of all ages, entire generations really, sitting around in our plush lobby on the leather couches and the stools up at the smoothie bar, eating ice cream from cones but some from dishes—we have our celiacs, you know.

Not that these older folks don’t sweat. While they can definitely visit and snack—especially the men, who like to congregate around the tables in the lobby, holding forth and solving the world’s problems while they wait for their wives—most of the Silver Sneakers are very devoted to their exercise program, whether it’s low-impact aerobics, core-strengthening, or light weights. There are elderly men who pump iron and have bodies that a twenty-year old would kill for; there are elderly women with sweet physiques who you think are going to be twenty when they turn around.

I love working out in the early afternoons, not because I’m usually the youngest and strongest and most determined (that buzz was killed when Miss America 1965 walked in, along with her husband, Mr. Natural America 1968) but because there is a general sense of kindness in the air. While we all might wrinkle our noses and give each other the “What up!?” look when Mr. Handler walks through without his shirt on, drying out from the pool, still: the general mood is all-accepting and tolerant. Chairs are skitched across the tiled floor to make room for oxygen tanks. Machines are set far enough apart to allow for walkers.

One lady is there every time I go: a petite Asian woman with a scarf around her neck. She does weights and only weights, core strengthening suggested by her doctor, I assume. I high-tail it on the stair-climber and the treadmill, and she does the weight machine circuit, pushing and swinging around, pumping and lifting. I’ve seen her in the gym about a million times, this lady with the scarf.

Always on a mission to make friends, even though it’s against my grain, I finally said hello to her in the women’s locker room yesterday. Me being me, I yelled, “HELLO MY NAME IS KATE WHAT IS YOURS?” because, as we all know, when there might be a language barrier, loudness is called for.

The lady—still wearing her beautiful scarf, which to my credit I didn’t ask about—smiled up at me from her shortness. She yelled back, “MY NAME SUE! LET’S WEIGH!” Then she put her tiny hand in mine and led me to the scale, which—at our gym—is a little rickety, cannot decide if it’s American or European, and often needs to be reset…even though there are signs posted on it: DO NOT TOUCH. We touch it all the time.

“YOU FIX!” Sue yelled. Nobody else was looking, so I did my usual scientific inspection and unplugged, reset, and pushed buttons. My new friend Sue stepped up on the scale and registered a whopping 107 pounds. 107.6 to be exact.

“That’s great,” I said. “You look great!”

“Now you go,” Sue said, gesturing towards the scale’s platform where I have stood many a day.

I haven’t been feeling my lightest lately, but I know I’m not out of control, so I gamely stepped up and waited for the red digits to finalize my weight. 130.
Sue pulled on my hand again: “Wow! 130! Where you keep it?”

I was paralyzed in this moment. First, so pleased that I could make a friendly connection with someone who seemed so opposite of me—after all, I never wear scarves. And then, with all the foreign fields that I thought might separate me and Sue and prevent us from ever connecting, here she was, just another girl talking about weight. I kinda liked it.

I looked down at my body and wondered where I keep my 130 pounds. I shifted things around a little—obviously my body is not like breastless Sue’s in any way. Where am I keeping these pounds? That’s two ten pound bags of taters between me and Sue.

It seemed like so much, but what’s twenty pounds if it brings people together? Better than twenty pounds that keep people apart.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hello Balls

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I had this ingenious idea the other day to carry my MP3 player in my panties while I cleaned the house. I didn’t have any other place else to stick it—no pockets, no nothin’. This has led me to better understand and appreciate the male’s problem—and sometimes pleasure—of sporting that kind of equipment between his legs.

First off—no pun intended—having this kind of thing between your legs is constantly stimulating. It’s there, it feels good, it’s there, it’s cramped, oh yeah, there’s that seam I like about these pants.

Personally, I would have a hard time walking around with what seems like a foreign object between my legs…but maybe not so foreign. I would be in a quandary every day, probably many times a day, thinking, thatfeelsgoodfeelsgoodfeelsgoodworkworkworkfeelsgoodpeepeepeeputbackworkworkworkfeelsgoodImisswanther.

My MP3 player has a mind of its own. Duh. Wonder where it got that. It’s carrying the soundtrack of my life because I put it in there. You’d think I didn’t know how DNA works, but I’m new to this technology. It knows me better than I know it.

I was enjoying my little machine so much (music and movement wise) that I almost forgot about it when I went to the bathroom one of the fifty times I go every day. Instead of dropping into the toilet—like most everything else would, like most everything else does—it stayed in my panties. It just sat there, all blue and sparkly and fogged—still somehow connected to my brain.

Who knew a cord could stretch so long.

Love and pity and some kind of mercurial understanding of all men washed over me. Rock on, MP3 player.

And then I finished cleaning the bathroom.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Porn Free

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The morning routine around my house is the same every day: wake up, beg God for guidance, scoop out the litter box and walk out back to feed the birds. A friend remarked the other day that I sure have a lot of pigeons at my birdfeeder. I said, “It’s not a birdfeeder. It’s a pigeonfeeder.” I do all of this so that my feline roommates, Sara and Lucy, have live entertainment while I go about the business of my life.

The trouble is, we’ve had an interloper out back the past few weeks: a stray black cat. I’ve named him Ballsy because for as scrawny as he is, he has tremendously large balls. They’re so big that I don’t know how Ballsy walks or runs without tripping. I’ve never seen a cat with such a large package; it’s the first thing you notice when you see Ballsy.

Having Ballsy in my backyard is problematic for several reasons. One, he’s black—and my own black cat, Lucy, has never seen another black cat before. In fact, she doesn’t even know she’s black; she thinks she’s brown, like me and Sara. So when Lucy sees Ballsy, she can’t help but be drawn to him. I pull back the blinds in the morning and Lucy’s nose is immediately stuck to the patio door. I know what she’s thinking: I want to be with my own kind. I want that big-balled black cat. Let me out of here! I haven’t even told her she’s adopted yet, but I’m sure her wheels are turning now. Thanks, Ballsy.

I pull Lucy back with a thwack from the suction she’s created on the patio door and push her towards Sara, who has been racing from window to door to window, crying her Stranger Danger cry. Unlike Lucy, Sara can’t stand the sight of Ballsy, especially the way he’s always sprawled out on his back under my Evergreen Bird of Paradise, cleaning himself in front of God and everybody…like he owns the place. I know what Sara is thinking: Mother! Alert! Alert! Authority threatened! Alert!

With both of my cats upset but temporarily convinced to be still, I open the sliding glass door and step outside, onto the patio. Ballsy shifts on his bed of weeds twenty feet from me, splayed like a porn star with his big furry balls dragging in the dirt. “Good morning,” I say, throwing pigeon seed on the ground and filling my pigeonfeeder. “When are you going to be my friend?”

Ballsy squirms on his back, flopping his big balls around. I take a few steps towards him. He lets me get closer every day.

“Who do you think you are?” I coo to him. A legion of pigeons lined up on my roof coo and rustle too, waiting for Ballsy to leave. I walk a little closer and my skinny black porn kitty with the big black balls rolls into a sprint position. Two more steps and Ballsy is off, running for cover under the oleanders before jumping on top of the cinder block wall. There he sits, looking at me over his shoulder, poised. I don’t know what he’s thinking. Men are so complicated.

I don't know if I'm chasing him, or if he's running away from me.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Baby Got Blood

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My niece drove up from Tucson to spend her birthday weekend with me. Her name is Shanna and before I proceed, it’s imperative that we all pronounce her name correctly: it rhymes with Ghana, a pronunciation point she’s been making since she was ten: “It doesn’t rhyme with banana! And if it sounded like ‘Rayna’ or ‘Layna’ it would have a ‘y’ in it! C’mon people!” Now she’s thirty-two and teaches high school chemistry. How did this happen? She was just in diapers…and I was changing them.

Shanna and I are both originally from Minnesota. She’s been in Arizona for a couple years now. When we talk on the phone or in person, my oldest sister becomes “your mom”, and my parents become Grandpa and Grandma. This makes me feel removed from my normal everyday role of sexy divorcee and more like Mrs. Doubtfire. I was the baby in our family before Shanna came along; neither one of us are babies anymore.

However, it’s still up to Auntie Kate to introduce the occasional new food into Shanna’s diet, just as I used to dip the little spoon into pureed carrots and peas and choo-choo them into her mouth. This weekend it was beets: Shanna had never tried beets.

I was making Chicken Surprise, just sautéed chicken combined with a bunch of steamed vegetables with Parmesan cheese mixed in. That’s it—a simple dish. The beets stood out very colorfully among the other vegetables: yellow squash, mushrooms, onions. There was no question about what the main ingredient was in that night’s version of Chicken Surprise: beets.

As aunties do, I set the table and filled our glasses and soon enough dished up my Chicken Surprise. Shanna loved it! It warmed my heart to see her eat with such gusto, as if Chicken Surprise was better than pizza or even jalapeno hotdogs from Circle K…which I knew in my heart it was not. Still, I was thrilled that my niece had grown up to such a point where she was not just eating all of her vegetables, but all by herself and with a fork no less. It was a proud moment.

The evening wore on and soon it was time for bed. I put a couple extra blankies in Shanna’s room because she gets cold at night, and set up a fan next to her bed because she likes white noise. I turned in first because that’s what elderly aunties do while the young folk stay up and do crossword puzzles. Crazy kids.

I fell into a deep sleep almost immediately, and have no idea how much time may have passed when I heard a few knocks on my bedroom door, which then flew open without my saying anything. There was Shanna’s silhouette in my doorway, backlit by the hallway light.

“I’m bleeding internally!” she shouted.

“You’re what?” I mumbled.

“I’m bleeding internally! I just went to the bathroom and everything—everything—came out red! Bright red!”

“It’s the beets,” I said in monotone, wanting this crazy child to leave me in peace.

“No way!” she protested, wanting to be right. She always wants to be right. “I’m also feeling faint and my heart is racing!”

“It’s the beets,” I repeated. “Do you want me to take you to the emergency room?” I could not fathom getting up and taking her to the emergency room, sitting there for hours in the middle of the night, waiting our turn to finally get called back. The gurney, the blood tests, the oxygen tubes for Shanna’s faintness, all to find out that she’d shit beets.

But I would take her if she wanted me to.

Reason seemed to have taken hold of Shanna by this time; she was no longer an agitated silhouette in my doorway, but a still one. “I guess I just got freaked out because it was all bright red and stuff, but now that I know I’m not bleeding, I’ll be okay. Thanks Auntie. ‘night.”

With that, my bedroom door clicked shut and I was left alone again, snuggled under the covers with my own extra blankies, my own fan whirring to make the white noise I like too. I fell asleep thinking, I’m so glad I don’t have kids, knowing that if I did, I would want them all to be like Shanna.

Happy birthday, kiddo.

And one more last little laugh...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Gone With My Wind

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In my fourth week of physical therapy, I’m happy to report that the tiny flying monkeys swinging from my sciatic nerve and gerrymandering my pelvic region have been corralled and mostly expelled. At least I think they’re gone; for all I know, we may have simply killed them. I went in yesterday and yet another young therapist, Brutus, got me on the table—then got on the table with me.

“Okay,” said Brutus, tucking me in and around him. “I want you to go through a series of deep breaths and then blow it out, deep breaths then blow it out. Ready?” I was wearing my pajamas—a pink t-shirt and thin sweatpants—because now, every time I go in, some big guy always wants to squeeze the crap out of me, and I’m just lucky that no real crap has been involved, no foul odors…just tiny dead monkeys with broken wings.

“Mmm erdee,” I mumbled into Brutus’s armpit, signifying my preparedness as best I could with my face smushed between his arm and ribs. I breathed deeply and blew it out completely, and just when my lungs were empty, Brutus dug his fists into my lower back and pulled me hard against him. For a moment I felt like we were on a poster for Gone With The Wind.

Pop! There went that one tight spot over my left hip. Nice. Brutus shuffled us again on the table—me glancing around, wondering if this was legal—and I breathed/blew out again. Pop! There went another tight spot by my spine. He flipped us into one more contorted position—how we both fit on that table, I don’t know—and Crack! There went that pain right over my tailbone.

Brutus climbed off me and blurted, “Now walk around for awhile and see if you feel better than when you came in. I have to go work with another patient.” Go Brutus Go.

I slid off the table and found my slippers, which had flown off my feet during the first crushing. I took a few tentative steps, then straightened up and walked tall…with no stabbing back pain or seized-up butt muscles. A miracle.

Brutus got the elderly gentleman he was working with—also on his back, on the table next to mine—to do a series of open-armed butterfly movements: a lumpy ballerina. Then he told me to hop back up on the table, which I did, limber like a cat.

“While I work with Howard over here, I want you to lie on your back with this ball between your knees and rock back and forth. This releases fluid and lubricates your core. You’re a car that’s been parked too long and needs to lubricate its parts, okay?”

I readily agreed to being this abandoned car and lay on the table with what seemed like a very heavy basketball between my knees, rocking to the left and right, releasing my fluids. While this felt good, I worried about leaking, and hoped I didn't. I could hear Howard scritching on his table’s paper as he turned over onto his belly, as Brutus had directed before running off again. “You gotta cut a hole in this table for my nose!” Howard yelled to nobody in particular.

I looked over at him, still rocking my ball. “You gotta turn your head, Howard. Turn it sideways.”

“Oh yeah,” said Howard. “That works.” He lay flat on his table looking at me; we chit-chatted for awhile.

“What are you in for?” I asked.

“Mobility,” he said. I told him I was in for the same.

“What do you do?” he said, still gazing over at me, not moving, his big beautiful bulbous nose just inches away from my own.

“I’m doing it,” I said, like that was the best line in the world.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


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When you work out with a partner, you can go harder, faster, longer. Maybe it’s the fact that somebody is urging you on, or you have somebody to impress, or maybe it’s just that talking while you’re running or lifting weights distracts you from the fact that you’re hurting yourself.

In any case, I always work out by myself because I don’t have a partner—no close friends or acquaintances who want to fly into the no-impact night with me on the elliptical crosstrainer, or climb that never-ending stairway to hell. I go it alone on these machines, watching CNN on the screen hanging above my head or just staring at the firemen in their blue shirts run on the treadmills, silently working my voodoo magic in hopes that one of them will come over and light my fire.

The other day was no different: there I was again, climbing up the endless down elevator, trying to read the closed captions on the TV screen through my sweat-smeared glasses, sexy as ever. Oddly, a man I’d never seen before climbed onto the machine to my left and actually said hello.

“Hi!” I panted eagerly. Was this somebody to work out with?

After we established our love/hate for exercise and found that we were both teachers, we exchanged names—the first steps in making a friend, as I recall. I was feeling pretty comfortable in the situation until wouldn’t you know, yet another man climbed onto the machine to my right, sandwiching me in. My frickin’ lucky day. And this was a familiar man: we’d seen each other around at the gym enough in the past four years that we already knew each other’s names and were friendly, but I didn’t know what he did for a living. I’d never asked.

“So what do you do for work?” I asked Man on the Right as we all climbed and climbed.

“I own a small business,” he said. “I started it a few years back and it’s really grown. I’m lucky—now I can leave and come here and punish myself anytime I want.” We, the work-out sandwich, all laughed.

That should have been my clue right there to shut up; I should have made no noise after this happy and innocuous moment. Why push it? But instead—because I am me—I cranked up the resistance on my machine and pushed harder. I was among men, after all.

“We’re all lucky to have jobs,” I said. In my defense, there was a money program on CNN and the screen was flashing words like “unemployment” and “benefits extension”. I was being subliminally programmed to malfunction.

“That’s for sure,” said Man on the Left. Man on the Right just nodded. He was the most disciplined of our trio, climbing really hard and sweating.

I went on: “Yeah, our governor thinks that by refusing federal funds to extend unemployment benefits, white people are suddenly going to start taking the crappy jobs. I mean, just look around this building complex we’re in right now: everything’s getting landscaped and do you see one white person out there in the heat planting anything? No. White people are not going to take jobs like that.”

My words hung in the air like suspended students, not knowing what to do with themselves.

Man on the Right spoke up first. “Um, I agree with most everything that the governor has done. She made a wrong turn on SB 1070, but otherwise I think she’s doing a good job.”

Man on the Left said nothing, just huffing and puffing. He was the bigger and bloated ingredient in this sandwich, a teacher like me. I already knew that many of his colleagues had been laid off, but I didn’t have to wonder if they were out in the parking lot at that very moment wearing sun protection gear and planting ground cover. I knew they weren’t.

In very quick succession, both men finished up and climbed down from their machines. We all said “see you later” and “have a good workout”, and they were gone.

Only then—with sweat trickling into my eyes behind my smeared glasses and my chest pounding with exertion and regret—did I realize that I had talked politics at the gym. Everybody knows you don’t do that.

And I wonder why I’m always working out alone.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Can't Hold Me Down

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Life is so full of distractions, it’s amazing that any of us make it from our bed in the morning back to our same bed at night. That full circle—based on good Christian values and healthy habits of course—can sometimes be elusive, especially when your life is as tricky as mine.

First we have summer school starting up again, a brand-new batch of online students looking to continue their education—an education often lost under their very own bed because they haven’t looked there for a couple years, or packed away in a storage unit for two decades, mummified. This is always my fault, that the education has been misplaced or postponed—but never mind. I still do my job: Every morning I get up, park myself in front of the computer, and start teaching. There are e-mails to read, assignments to grade, questions to answer…lots of questions:

Q. OMG!!! When does this class start???
A. Last week.

Q. Can I use the blue textbook? I got it for cheap.
A. No. It’s cheap because it’s not for this class.

Q. Can I write about the legalization of marijuana and lowering the drinking age?
A. No. And please do not write your essays when you are high or drunk.

Q. I’m going on a cruise for three weeks in the middle of the session. There won’t be any Internet service. Is that okay?
A. Only if failing the course is okay with you.

After a couple hours of getting everybody straightened out, I can start working on my own problems, like trying to convince my home insurance company that putting new shingles on only half my hail-damaged roof is going to negatively affect my resale value because it will look stupid, AS IF my resale value could be negatively affected even more because I’m so far underwater, I’ve discovered new marine species.

And then there’s trying to get my benefits program to reimburse me out of my own money for medical costs they know very well that I have incurred because they are holding the receipts in their hands. It’s just that these are not the Special Kind of Receipts, and they would prefer me to break into their own system, download The Special Receipts, and then fax those in.

“Can you not see the Special Receipt on the screen before you?” I said on the phone yesterday.

“Yes I can, ma’am. You just go ahead and print that out and fax it in.”

“But you already have it,” I said. “You generated it. It’s right there in front of you.”

“Yes ma’am. But it’s your responsibility to fax it in. And I advise you to not get the barrel of the gun too close to your head because you don’t have enough money left in your account to cover death and dismemberment.”

Fine fine fine. Since my PC was virus-ridden and certainly not capable of printing or faxing anything, I disconnected the hard drive and hauled it in to my college’s shop for cleansing. Arizona once again feels like the devil’s birth canal, so I was red-faced and wet when I got there. Somebody picked me up by the feet and spanked me, then I could scream. Thanks, tech guys.

With the computer in the shop for an indefinite period of time, I decided to go get groceries. My list was unusually long, so my cart was full by the time I reached the cat litter section at the far end of the store. I shoved two heavy boxes onto the shelf under my cart, and started pushing my way slowly up to the register, my mind weighed down with student issues, house problems, medical reimbursements and my poor computer.

Not until I reached the register five minutes later did I realize that I had the wrong cart. I had taken somebody else’s full cart! This one had juice boxes and frozen chicken tenders and kids’ cereal in it—I had a mom’s cart! Where was MY cart with MY purse!? The only thing in this cart that belonged to me was forty pounds of cat litter.

I left the mom’s cart at the register and sprinted back to the pet section. There was my cart, my groceries untouched, my purse unstolen. Whew. I pushed it all the way through the store and heaved my boxes of cat litter from the mom’s cart onto the check-out counter. I glanced around: I didn’t see a mom looking for a cart. Maybe she hadn’t realized it was missing yet. Maybe she’d gotten frustrated and started from scratch. I silently apologized to what must have been a very frazzled woman as I left the store and walked back into the devil’s womb.


Every night, sitting on my bed, I strengthen my core the way physical therapy is teaching me: tighten and release. Tighten and release. Lift and hold for thirty seconds. Nice gentle stretch. My spine stable and my conscious clear, I climb under the covers to sleep, glad to have made it full circle again.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Good Times

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I’m so glad that today is July 4th, because July 3rd had issues. July third was the air conditioning that breaks down in 115 degree heat, the passport that gets stolen in Libya, the child who screams all day without indicating what might be wrong. None of those things happened to me, but life got pretty hairy.

It all started with the lovely blue hand-made afghan I’d purchased at an antique store a few weeks back. The zig-zag knitting pattern had reminded me of all the afghans my Grandma Lotus used to knit when we kids were young; we’d always wonder who would get that afghan for the next birthday or Christmas present. I couldn't resist the blue afghan, especially since it was only a buck fifty, so I brought it home with me to join my house of many-colored blankets, a blended family that would rival Brad and Angie’s.

Since yesterday was not yet a holiday, making it eligible for much cleaning, I decided to throw that afghan into the washer to freshen it up. Who knows, maybe it hadn’t been washed in fifty years. Maybe a hundred. As the washer churned happily and I polished up another antique--a wooden table--with my bottle of Old English, I began to smell something odd. Sniff sniff, hm, what could that be? If it was breaking through the cloud of Old English hanging around me, it had to be pretty strong.

I walked down the hall to investigate; as I passed the washer and dryer closet, the odor overwhelmed me. What was that smell? It reminded me of something… I opened the closet and opened the washer and then it hit me: MOLD. That’s what I was smelling! I stuck my nose into the washer bin because that’s how I am—gotta get right into the stink—and reared back, entirely grossed out. What to do, what to do. I let that cycle finish out, then threw in more detergent and turned the wash/rinse temperature to BOILING HOT/BOILING HOT.

As it turns out, even scalding water was not enough to kill the nasty antique mold, so I tugged the offending afghan out of the washer and threw it on the back patio, where it fit right in with all the pigeon poop, milk crates, and nails sticking out of the unfinished roof. You don’t want to jump too high on my patio or you’ll impale your skull on the rafters. I ran two empty loads on BOILING HOT/BOILING HOT with large quantities of bleach, and the smell in my house is right again. But that was a close one.

Of course, at a stressful time like that, you want to connect with your friends, so where did I head? Straight to Facebook, where I whined about my afghan mold. Good stuff started appearing almost instantly: “Oh, poor you!” like like like “Here’s my organic recipe for orange/lemon air freshener…” like like “Try drying it out in direct sunlight.” No likes. It’s a billion degrees here right now. Nobody actually goes outside. “Throw that mother out!” The last one got the most likes, so I liked it too. The antique blue hand-knitted zig-zag afghan will stay on the back porch, roiling in its own filth, until the temps get cool enough for me to haul it to the dumpster out back.

Sorry Grandma Lotus. Continue resting in peace. Happy 4th of July everybody else. :-)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Let Freedom Ring

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I’m sitting here eating a pear, wishing that my pear was a banana. My doctor has limited me to one banana every other day due to a new medication that could cause potassium build-up in my blood, resulting in the following side effects: stomach or intestinal irritation, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, muscle weakness, abnormal heart rhythm, muscle paralysis, trouble breathing, heart failure and then death.

So I eat my pear today, and look forward to my banana tomorrow. I follow the rules.

While it’s Independence Day weekend and most folks are out there having picnics, eating lots of bananas, watching parades and looking forward to fireworks, most of us are also tied to certain aspects of our lives that make us so very dependent. Maybe you’re attached to a rebellious teen who you must drag everywhere with you lest he set the neighborhood on fire. Maybe you and your family are stuck in your yard this weekend instead of on a camping trip because there’s no extra money in your bank account. Maybe you’re married to a conservative, dour person who hates parades and fireworks, so as much as you’d like to strip off your clothes and streak down First Avenue flying your freak-flag high and proud, you stay home, inside your house, inside your clothes, for the jillionth year in a row.

You are not independent. You are trapped.

For me these days, outside of the pear/banana situation, I'm stuck with a list of summer chores that I’ve been carrying around with me since school let out in May. Some tasks I’ve accomplished: get 21st century phone, get prints framed and up on wall, return borrowed items before it looks like you’re a thief…start physical therapy so left leg joins your family of limbs again.

But these are just four items on a list that still contains many other very important things to do before school starts again in the fall: get rid of rust in tub before guests arrive and think you are trailer trash, replace large cardboard lampshades that people always think you made yourself, get bucket with lid so bags of cat waste do not create toxic environment on back patio. Install standing birdfeeder far away from house so birds do not continue to poop all over back patio. Replace milk crates and pile of old bricks on back patio with…um…Hire someone to remodel back patio because it looks like a bridge underpass out there. Paint over the graffiti and shoo the homeless people away.

It feels good to cross chores off a to-do list, each accomplishment like one more closed link in the chain that connects you to feeling entirely independent, free of worries. You might have termites swinging from your rafters, or a warrant for your arrest, or 50 pounds to lose. Maybe you have an addiction like a monkey on your back. I have a troupe of tiny flying monkeys in my butt swinging on my sciatic nerve and using my spinal discs as lifeboats.

We gotta get rid of these monkeys.

My hope for this Independence Day is for everyone to declare their freedom from one toxic person, one daunting chore, one nagging feeling—one aspect of your life that you’ve been hanging onto for too long. Break one link in that chain that’s holding you down. As a former student once wrote, “I mustard the courage to do it.”

Here’s to hot dogs and apple pies, good times spent with good people, night skies full of booming rainbows. When the weekend is over and we’re back to life as usual, I hope we can all say that we mustard the courage to at least tug on our chains.

Let's tug hard.