Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Guilt Trip

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I had a troubling dream last night. In the dream, I was dating Larry Hagman—not the young Larry Hagman from I Dream of Jeannie or Dallas, but the old Larry Hagman from today, with wild white eyebrows that rival Andy Rooney’s and the oily smile of a lecherous man.

For some reason I was living with Larry Hagman. He was supporting me, and we all know what that means: I had to sleep with Larry Hagman. Luckily my dream-director only had Larry chasing me around the house, ordering me to “get ready”, and waiting to pounce on me from around every corner instead of making me actually share a bed with him. That was the saving grace part of the dream, but still, the icky threat of sex with old Larry Hagman pervaded my dream and made it very scary. I would peek out the windows of our ranch house and there he would be, dressed up like a cowboy, doing isometric exercises against the barn. If he caught my eye, he would smile his big cheesy smile—his dentures glinting in the sun—and I would run and hide again.

In addition to having to fend off Larry, I had to put up with his ten-year-old grandson, who also lived with us and resented my presence. He stole my Centipede and Donkey Kong game DVD’s and smashed them with an axe after we told him that DVD’s were indestructible. He would take long hot showers, then write things in the mirror mist for me to discover during my own shower times: Watch out. Gonna get ya. I hate you. The boy always carried a fluffy white kitten around with him, that is until he killed it.

Larry saw no problem with any of this. He just wanted me to sleep with him.

I finally broke free of the oppression, rising slowly out of the coffin of this dream. I lay there with gloom in my heart, gazing around my own bedroom. There were the pressed flowers in frames, the antique mirror I just bought hanging in its new spot. There was the sock monkey my niece made for me in sewing class. Here was my real world.

But the Larry Hagman dream was obviously the result of pressure and stress, even though in my real life there are no icky old men trying to get me in bed, and no Damien children leaving hostile notes around my home. Where was the pressure coming from?

Could it be that magazine editor who was super-nice when she wanted my writing for free, but Bitch With Claws when I had a simple question, which made me grow horns and bite back for the first time in my life? Could it be the couple of men I date who want to be more than “just friends”, but I’m too busy chasing after myself? Could it be that my elderly parents are sending out distress signals from two thousand miles away, and I continue to sit here, letting my siblings take care of everything.

Do I get an F for “all of the above”? Maybe I need to play with my cats more and go volunteer down at the nursing home. Maybe I deserve Larry Hagman.

Friday, June 24, 2011

As I Lay Crying

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I’ve been in physical therapy for two weeks now because a performing troupe of tiny flying monkeys somehow flew up my butt, and they can’t find their way out. They’ve set up base camp inside the left side of my pelvis and have been sending out search parties for about six months now, looking for an exit. Their attempts at escape or rescue have resulted in a raw sciatic nerve from which they like to swing, and the seizing of my piriformis muscle. Tension is rising because they’ve mistaken my lower spinal disks for lifeboats and have been trying to dislodge them.

I was ashamed at first to approach my pain doctor with this story—so hard to explain—but finally I couldn’t bear the pain anymore. I remember sitting in the exam room with him, Dr. Lee busy studying my history on his computer, me trying to stop my fly-away leg from knocking things off the desk. Sit still, you damn monkeys.

“No drugs, right?” Dr. Lee said as we went through treatment options.

“Right!” I said. Pain pills make me shluggish.

“No injections, right?” Dr Lee said.

“Right!” I said. He knows I don’t have any friends to haul me around after I’ve been anesthetized.

That left physical therapy, my third summer in a row spent with strangers in various states of paralysis, glumly kneading Play-Doh and picking up grains of rice, screaming, strapped to walls with red and green rubber bands. Every one of us going nowhere fast.

On the bright side, I like my current physical therapy place. I was there two summers ago with a frozen neck, and now it’s flimsy. On my first day back I bobbled my head hello to my old therapist, Isabel, who had one child when I’d first met her and now has twelve. My new therapist, Elijah, has nineteen children…so you know these folks are friendly, determined, and resourceful.

“Okay,” said Elijah yesterday as he suddenly embraced me on the therapy table. “Since nothing seems to be helping and you’ve been in pain for so long, I’m going to try something a little unorthodox.” I mumbled “okay” into his fine-smelling armpit as he climbed on top of me, our bodies entwined and my face smushed against him, my left leg off making new friends.

“Now I want you to take a deep breath and slooowly blow it out,” Elijah instructed. I could hardly get a breath with his body weight pressing down on me, but I tried and then I expelled, thank God from the right end. I was not quite finished expelling when Elijah squeezed me with all his might, crunching my lower spine into my belly button.

“Aaaagh!!!” I shouted. The monkeys aren’t going to like this.

“Oops,” said Elijah, climbing off me. “I didn’t wait long enough for you to blow out. You still had some air in there. Sorry!”

Feeling as if I’d been punched in the back, I lay rigid on the table facing the ceiling, though my left leg was now running for office.

“We’re just going to try and relax,” Elijah said, staring down at me. “Looks like you’re having some spasms. Let me get you a warming pad.”

As I lay crying, Elijah wedged a special flat pillow under my back and left to go work with another patient. I closed my eyes, my left leg still waving to the crowds, and nearly fell asleep as the special pillow warmed against me. Then I heard a man’s voice somewhere behind me say, “I…I…feel really uncomfortable doing this. I hope nobody’s watching. You’re not like…recording this, are you?”

Well, I wasn’t going to miss whatever was going on back there no matter what the flying monkeys would do as a result of my twisting to see. I struggled upright and used the propelling motion of my left leg to turn around. There I saw a middle-aged man sitting on a stability ball, his legs spread wide with his hands on his hips, thrusting his groin forward, then his butt backward, then swiveling his hips around in a circle. Thrust, thrust, swivel. Thrust, thrust, swivel. Isabel stood next to him, smiling approvingly. They were both reflected in a mirror that covered the wall from floor to ceiling, their own private audience—or maybe not. I’d heard about those mirrors.

I briefly thought of lurching over and tucking a dollar bill into the man’s pants; the situation almost demanded it, and my flying monkeys urged me on. But in the end I decided against it.

Just the prospect of being inappropriate in such a professional setting is often rush enough for me. I’m lucky that way.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

No Man is an Island...But am I?

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When my sister was a young mother living in a new town, she was very hesitant to let my four-year-old nephew play with the neighborhood riff-raff. My nephew would stand by the window in their second-story apartment and call plaintively through the screen to other children playing below: “Frieeends! Frieeends!” My sister would scowl and respond firmly, “Those are not your friends!” Of course she was only concerned for his safety, but believe me that child was outside making friends as soon as he was big enough to pick up my sister and haul her away from the front door.

The issue of friends (and not having any) has remained prominent in our family; every time one of us five kids reports that we might be making a new one, rumors fly from Maine to Minnesota to Arizona: “So-and-so met somebody new. Hope this one isn’t a loser. Hope this one doesn’t steal. Hope they’re not a freak like the last one.” If it happens than any of my scattered siblings are gathered together for a holiday or vacation and somebody mentions the name of a new acquaintance, the rest of us will exchange looks and fall into our usual chorus, howling “Frieeends!” The fact that there are five of us, resulting in twenty friendships between us (if you do the math), has ultimately paralyzed us as friend-makers in the real world.

But still, I try. I took some sandals to my shoe repair guy Luis the other day and commented on some truly fabulous spiked heels that were already fixed, sitting on a shelf waiting to be picked up. “Those are gorgeous shoes!” I said.

Luis, who is four feet tall, responded, “Yes! But you know, no matter how expensive the shoes, they are always made with a plastic heel! I don’t understand! Plastic makes noise and is not safe!” He placed his little hands on the counter and looked up at me. “This lady, she bring all her shoes in here and I replace all plastic heels with rubber. It is safer and softer—she can walk and not go click-clack, click-clack, and not slip. Every shoe I fix for her. Every one!”

This inside information about shoes from a passionate man with whom I shared a common interest made me want to be Luis’s friend. I thought about how maybe we could meet for coffee since I lived so close to his store, or how I could bring lunch to him and we could hang out together back in the shop, my Pinocchio to his Geppetto.

Any dreams of real friendship with Luis went poof when he wrinkled his nose and said, “Your shoes, they are cheap and made poorly. I cannot fix them, waste of time. You can buy some glue and fix them yourself.”

Feeling gonged, I paid for the glue and took my fraying, smelly shoes out to the car, then drove to the gym. It was Silver Sneakers Afternoon, which meant that elderly people were everywhere: sitting in the lounge drinking coffee and visiting, moseying along on the treadmills, dancing to the oldies in the aerobics room. I climbed up on a Stairmaster next to a seventy-ish black man with sweat pouring off his bald head. “How do you like these machines?” he bellowed with a smile, friendlier than anybody I’d run into in a long time.

“They’ll kick your butt!” I said.

“That’s for sure!” he said, and we both returned to punishing ourselves.

Thirty minutes later I was on a treadmill and the same man was riding a bike off to my right. “You’re still at it?” he yelled across the room.

“That’s right!” I yelled back. We both smiled and chuckled the chuckle of total strangers.

Finally—sweaty, exhausted, my sciatic nerve poised to snap at any second, my left foot pulling me in circles—I slowly made my way towards the front door. “Goin’ home now?” the man called out, the same friendly smile on his face.

“Yup!” I called back, and we jinxed each other by shouting out “See ya later!” at the same time.

Gonged and jinxed, I slowly twirled out to my car, my left leg out like a kickstand. I got in next to my cheap stinky shoes, and off we went. Thinking back on the day, I knew that my shoe repairman would never be my friend; he clearly preferred well-heeled company. And I could never be the sweaty old black man’s friend because he asked too many questions. That would drive me crazy! I wondered if I could ever make a new friend with…I don’t know…a woman. Rich or poor, no matter what race or religion…just a woman who liked shoes and working out, somebody with a deformity or two like me.

I went home and got out my Guiness Book of World Records. I looked up “Longest Life Lived Without Making Any New Friends.” Surely I would connect with such a winner, or at least learn a bunch of what-not-to-do’s. But it’s such a new category, only one living person had been accepted: Me! There was my mug shot from that one time I got caught doing that one thing! Somebody had submitted my life story, and apparently no one else could beat it, living or dead.

Foiled again.

(This post originally appeared as a column on the web site Funny Not Slutty.)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Mighty Huntress (For Dad)

All of my favorite memories involving my dad are deer hunting stories. One in particular stands out because it is still grotesque and vibrant after all these years.

The year was 1986, my first year of college. I was living in the dorms at Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minnesota. I had been hunting with my dad for several years by then, and this year would be no different: I rose at 4 a.m. and met him down in the dorm parking lot at 4:30 sharp, where he sat in the truck waiting for me. My parents lived in a different town 90 miles away—Staples—so my father had risen far earlier than I had to pick me up. He had brought a thermos full of hot coffee and my hunting gear (orange jacket and pants, boots, orange cap). I suited up while we drove in the dark far out of town, far down the tree-lined highway, finally turning on a dirt road and bumping our way deep into the snowy woods.

There sat our new camper—new to us anyway—in the middle of a clearing. My dad and brother had hauled it out there a few days earlier. While we usually called the truck our headquarters (to get warm and change clothes) and cooked our hotdogs over quickly-assembled fires, this year my father had splurged and bought us an old camper, where we could cook real food on a stove, sit in a cushioned booth, even lie down on a bunk if we wanted. And it was heated, sweet Jesus. No more frostbitten fingers and toes; no more fires that singed my towering bangs and burned holes in our thick, insulated outerwear—so thick that sometimes we didn’t realize we were on fire.

But there was one rule that came with our new/used camper, and my father set it down firmly: Do NOT use the toilet because the plumbing system was NOT hooked up. We could do anything we wanted in the camper except go to the bathroom. To underscore this rule, my father was using the tiny bathroom closet as storage: if you opened the door you would see cardboard boxes, extra clothes, and a couple cases of beer, all stacked to the ceiling. You couldn’t even see the toilet. That meant I would still have to poop in the woods, my bare butt and legs exposed to temperatures below zero, maybe sitting on a scratchy hollowed-out tree stump if I was lucky enough to find one, hoping that another hunter wouldn’t happen by while I was crouched there half-naked doing my business.

I hated pooping in the woods. To me, it was the worst part of hunting.

Soon enough my brother and brother-in-law arrived in another truck, and before the sun had risen, we were all on our stands. My dad put me in a stand that was closest to the camper and told me I could go back and warm up whenever I wanted, but remember: don’t use the bathroom. It was still dark and well below zero when he told me to be safe and walked away, his broad orange back gradually and silently swallowed up by the white-gray forest.

After about an hour of standing still in the freezing temps, watching the sun come up over a ridge covered with trees and bushes but no deer, I could no longer feel my toes. My fingers too were numb and stiff, and my body shivered uncontrollably. It was usually at just this point when my dad would magically reappear out of the woods to build me a little fire and rub the blood back into my extremities, but I knew those days were over: I would have to get myself warm, which meant going back to the camper, alone. It was big-girl time.

I followed the path that the guys had tramped into the snow back to the logging road we had walked in on. I headed towards the clearing where our camper sat, now surrounded by a few more trucks parked there by other hunters. I opened the unlocked door to our camper and walked into what seemed at the time like my mother’s womb, warm and cozy and enveloping. My mood instantly improved. I took off my hat and coat and wool pants, then my boots so my frozen toes could thaw. I turned on our little portable radio to the crackly country station, then sprawled out in the booth and ate a Snickers bars. This was the way to hunt, sitting around in the real indoors heat, not that stingy wood-fire heat. This was excellent.

But here is where my story takes an awful, awful turn. The Snickers bar had set my bowels in motion, and I had to poop. It was morning time, after all—the natural order of things. I dreaded having to put on all my heavy outerwear again, now wet from melted snow. Plus, who knew where those other hunters were or when they’d be returning. I would have to hike quite a distance into the woods to find a private spot.

An idea dawned on me: why not quickly unpack the bathroom closet, spread a Hefty bag over the toilet, and crap in there? I could already see myself cinching up the garbage bag with my little wad of poop at the bottom. I would have a comfortable bathroom experience, then I could brave the freezing air for thirty seconds as I ran to the edge of the clearing and whipped the bag into the snow. No one would know.

This idea seemed very good…almost too good. I imagined that if I accomplished this task—pooping into a Hefty bag inside the warm camper on the toilet instead of pooping outside naked in the freezing cold—that everyone in my hunting party would want to do the same. I could actually be a hero for figuring this out.

There was no time to lose. I got up immediately and started removing items from the bathroom closet. The cases of beer were heavy and all the extra clothes cumbersome, but I got it all out, then unfurled a Hefty bag from my father’s supply. I whipped it so the opening gaped at me, then pushed the bottom into the toilet bowl, the edges over the sides. My need to poop had become urgent, so I plopped down and unleashed myself. Ahhhhhh. And wow, I didn’t realize I had to pee so much too.

Paper towels replaced toilet paper and soon enough I was ready to lift up the bag—now fully loaded—and take it outside to toss into the woods. I carefully gathered together the top of the bag, closed it, and pulled. To my horror, the bag lifted up with no weight on the bottom, as if it was empty—and, to my second horror, it was empty. In fact, there was a poop-smeared hole in the bottom of that white Hefty bag: I had evidently burned a hole in it.

I peered into the toilet itself and to my third horror, my pile of poop and pee and crumpled paper towels were all sitting in the bottom of the toilet—just as my father had instructed against. We were not supposed to use the bathroom, and I had gone and shit in it. And there was no flushing that away.

Panicked, I whipped out another Hefty bag and made sure it was not the Hefty bag from hell like the other one. I still couldn’t figure that out—had my poop really burned a hole in the bag? Was my pee strangely hot and acidic? Or was it a fluke that the bag had no bottom, like it was a tube? Whatever the case, I carefully put the poopy Hefty bag into the new one, then picked out the paper towels and put them in there too. That left me with a steaming cesspool of shit and pee to somehow get out of the toilet. I was just glad that it was my shit and pee and not somebody else’s; otherwise I might have died.

I knew at that point that I would have to use common household items to remove my soggy pile from the toilet, and everything would have to be done quickly because my dad or the guys could walk in at any second. I tore off some paper towels and sopped up the pee that was sitting on top. Then I grabbed a serving spoon from the silverware drawer and dug in. Scoop by scoop I dug my shit out of there and flung it into the new Hefty bag. As I got closer to the bottom—not gagging, not vomiting, because again this was my shit and I could handle it—to my fourth and final horror, I realized that against everything that was right in the world, there was a little trap door at the bottom of the toilet that kept tilting down every time I dug into my shit. My shit and some pee had left the toilet and entered into the bowels of the camper, somewhere that I couldn’t get to. There was no way to get the remaining shit out now without making that trap door open again and again. No matter how much I wanted it to quit opening, I instinctively knew that it would continue to do so, and that part of the situation was therefore out of my control.

This entire episode of emptying the bathroom cabinet, using the toilet, and scooping it out with a spoon had all transpired in about ten minutes. It was sheer luck that no one had returned to the camper during this time. To finish the job, I used the whole roll of paper towels to get as much of the poop out of the toilet as I could, then I sprayed 409 in there and used my mother’s dishcloth to wipe it down one final time. I hoped the dishcloth—embroidered around the edges with a homey scene cross-stitched in the middle—was not an heirloom of some kind. I hoped my great-grandmother hadn’t made it.

I threw the spoon and the dishcloth and all the paper towels into the Hefty bag, tugged my boots on, and walked to the door of our camper. First things first: get rid of this bag of shit. I opened the door and peered out: nobody I knew was around, though there were a couple other hunters standing by a truck nearby. They wouldn’t know what I was doing if I ran to the woods and threw this bag into the brush; they would probably think I was just throwing out some trash. You could do that in 1986.

Without putting a coat or gloves on, I burst from the cozy warmth of the camper into the biting cold of outside. I ran to the edge of the clearing, and then—to make sure this evidence was never found—I scrambled into the brush and deep snow. I shoved the bag hard under some bushes, where it blended in perfectly, white bag on white snow. Mission accomplished.

I got back to the camper as fast as I could and repacked the bathroom closet. I had just sat down in the booth, wild-hearted and panting, feeling like a criminal, when my brother walked in. “Hey!” he said, cheerful as always. “Isn’t it great to have this camper?”

I just hoped my poop and pee that had gone down the hatch were freeze-drying at that very moment. That’s all I wanted.

***

I did not tell this story to anyone —not one person—until about five years later when I was sitting around my parents’ kitchen table with my mom and one of my sisters, having some drinks before dinner. We were telling family stories as usual, and I knew I had a good one. After I swore them to secrecy—swore them to secrecy—I told them about the time I crapped in the camper toilet and had to dig it out. This story got them rolling pretty hard, and I was proud not only of keeping my own secret for so long, but also for giving them a good laugh.

About five years after that, we were gathered around the kitchen table again, my dad too. This time we were telling deer hunting stories, and all the old ones had been trotted out. Feeling brave—and knowing that I would face no real consequences for disobeying my father so many years ago—I looked at him and said, “I have a story for you.” I started at the beginning (“Do you remember when we first got the camper?”) and worked my way all the way to the painful end (“And then I threw my bag of shit into the woods.”) My dad sat fairly quietly as I told this story, listening intently. His eyes brightened and he held back smiles, a grin turning up the corners of his mouth. He did not look away as I pushed through every sorry detail; my mom and my sister were in fits. Finally, when I finished, he said, “Kathryn, you are in deep shit.”

My dad then launched into his own version of that story, which began after he had driven me back to the dorms that night and returned to the camper to make supper and have some beers with the guys. They were sitting around playing three-hand cribbage when my brother said, “My beer smells like shit.”

“Yeah, mine too,” said my brother-in-law.

My dad examined his own beer and the others, then got up to take a closer look inside the bathroom closet. He too smelled shit, but since obviously no one had used the bathroom, he figured somebody had stepped in dog crap. He returned to the cribbage game and later made dinner, looking for paper towels the whole time.
My dad, brother and brother-in-law stayed at deer camp and continued hunting for a few more days, periodically taking more beer and extra clothes out of the bathroom closet. The shit smell lingered, bothering them all. At one point my brother found shit on his boot, and somebody else found shit on the floor (they had originally thought it was a smudge of dirt). Apparently all my whipping and scooping and snapping had resulted in a bit of shit-flinging too.

The existence of human waste in a camper that my father had meticulously cleaned before deer hunting season absolutely confounded these men. As I sat there ten years after the fact with my father nearly erupting with joy and delight, I was falling to pieces myself. “I’m so sorry!” I gasped. “It was the Hefty bag!”

And then my sister chimed in, “Katie, we already told him. We had to—it was too good of a story not to tell.”

The rush of excitement and glee that had come from confessing the poop story to my dad drained away, suddenly replaced by embarrassment: Here he had known for five years that I had shit all over his hunting camper, and he had never said anything to me. He had been waiting for me to decide when the time was right.

My cheeks flushed hot, but my dad continued to bubble over with long-held laughter. “What the hell," he squeaked, tears rolling down his face. "What the hell kind of a father-daughter outing is that?”

The kind you remember for a lifetime.

Thanks for all the memories, Dad. Happy Father’s Day! Can't wait to get on the road with you again.

Click here for one of my dad’s favorite songs.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Framed

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In Arizona, summertime is for tackling projects inside the house, rather than outside in the death-inducing heat. Like many people down here, I have a list of things to do: re-caulk the tub, paint the kitchen, somehow get my cats to stop pushing out the screen door goddamnit. Today I stopped procrastinating and finally took on a project I’ve been putting off for months: framing two prints that should be hanging on the wall, looking at me, instead of sitting on the floor watching my cats’ buttholes parade by.

The task seemed easy enough: buy two frames and stick ‘em in there. However, once I arrived at the frame shop, I encountered a problem: one of my prints was from Oman, where I had vacationed earlier this year. My Omani print was not a standard size: it was not 5x7, or 8x10, or even 10x20. No, it was something more like 17 and four fifths by 13 and seven tenths. The man behind the counter said something about the Dewey Decimal System or metrics or decimation, whatever; my mind had stopped listening, blocking out all this useless information. I waited impatiently for him to finish the math lesson, then asked him what I should do.

“You’ll need to buy a custom frame.”

“How much is that?”

“One hundred and fifty dollars.”

One hundred and fifty dollars!? I had only paid thirty bucks for the print itself, a fact that I quickly conveyed to the man, who chuckled. “That’s very common,” he said. “But at least you’ll have a unique frame that nobody else has.” I know I looked at him like he was crazy, I was crazy, and anybody who wanted a unique frame that cost $150 was also cray-zee.

“Okay,” I said, pulling out my credit card. “But what about this other one? It’s not a weird size, is it?”

“No,” he said, examining the colorful print of a sunset I’d purchased in Key West on my last trip there many years ago when my lying impostor of an ex-husband took me on vacation with money he did not have, further running up the credit card debt that he then passed on to me in our divorce. No wonder it’s a sunset, I thought, looking at the print. Should’ve been a frickin’ hurricane.

The salesman helped me pick out a standard-sized 8x10 wood frame for the Key West print, and I left the Omani one behind so that it could be primped and coddled into its exotic, one-of-a-kind, expensive frame. When I got home, I immediately set to the task of putting the Key West print into its new standard-sized home.

But it wouldn’t go in there.

It almost did: one half of the print slid into the recessed area in back of the frame, but the other half stuck out like the up side of a teeter-totter. I’d get one side all snug and tucked in, then go to work on the other, only to have the teeter-totter effect reverse. It didn’t take long before this entirely unsatisfactory situation started to raise my blood pressure.

The print was supposed to fit into that frame, and I was intent on making it do so.

To quote my idiom-challenged neighbor, in two shakes and a lamb and a jiffy I had cut off one end of the cardboard mat to make it shorter. Next, I placed the shorn mat onto the back of the open frame and gently pushed it in. When gently didn’t work, I firmly pushed it in. When firmly didn’t work, I mashed it into the corners of the recessed area and slammed the back of frame shut, its hinges bulging out. I got a knife and started carefully—but firmly—pressing down on the frame’s metal tabs, trying to get them to slide under the wood to hold my print in place.

It only took a few minutes of this pressing and sliding and pushing and forcing before the frame exploded on my kitchen table, separating at the seams and sending all parts flying into the air. I instinctively shouted and stepped back as the knife slipped out of my hand and the 8x10 sheet of picture glass flew towards me. If I was ever going to be eviscerated, now was the time. I closed my eyes and waited.

Fortunately (depending on if you are my ex-husband’s girlfriend or not) I escaped injury, as did the Key West sunset print itself, but the frame is totaled. Under all that pressure, it finally met with its own personal hurricane and completely fell apart.

I know exactly how it feels.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wild Like Me

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Deep into reading Orange is the New Black, a book on one woman’s year-long stay in prison, I hear my name being screamed: “KATHRYN!” I jump in my seat, aware again that I am in fact not in a women’s prison facility but at an imaging center to get yet another MRI on my butt. Whew.

A short burly woman greets me as we leave the waiting room. “I’ll be your technician,” she says to the air in front of us. “Take your earrings out and your clothes off; you can use that locker over there. You have any metal in your body?”

Only my steely heart.

Down to my undies under a hospital gown, I am led into a screening room. Burly Girl and another nice lady hoist me onto the MRI table and lasso my left leg, which has been sticking out at a 90 degree angle for months because my sciatic nerve is somehow pinched. They tie my legs together and put plugs in my ears; I think for a moment that I have stumbled onto Death Row.

They tell me that no matter what, I have to lie still, but my mind roams freely: Clack clack clack, knock knock knock, BUZZZZ. Jesus, answer the door. Let that person out, or let him in, whatever he wants. Sounds like Newton’s balls. Rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat, if I didn’t know better I’d think I was being gunned down. Here come the bongos again. Now I’m in a fishing boat and whoever’s driving is going too fast: whump whump whump over the waves, I always love that thrill. Guys always do it to scare you. Twang, twang. Whoever’s driving this boat plays guitar too. A guitar with one string. Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt were in town last night…would’ve like to see them, except for John Hiatt. Hm, now two guitars…two one-string guitars. Nice. Reminds me of moving into my house six years ago…there two days and a huge city project commences in my front yard to replace the entire neighborhood’s plumbing. My yard, base camp—Clang, Clang, Clang, everybody yelling in Spanish. Now I’m in an elevator. Ding. Ding. The machine gunner outside is trying to get me. Two machine gunners, rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat, they’ve very angry at me. Must’ve written something to tick them off, hm, maybe that’s my ex-husband’s girlfriend out there. She’s gotta stop stalking me; it’s not like we’re in Vietnam.

Chop chop chop, whoosh, whoosh, sounds like I’m being airlifted out in a chopper. Apocalypse Now, right now…can’t wait to read that new book by Ann Patchett, some pharmacist going rogue in the Amazon. Good thing I’m strapped down in this tube or I’d be dead by now. That marine vet I met at the gym yesterday was really cute, short and bald, who cares. Glad I remembered to thank him and he said “you’re welcome”; more people should thank our vets. What did he say about being a marine: “First to go, last to know.” Marines are tough. What’s that, an air raid? Keeow! Keeow! Where’s my desk; let me get under it. Yeah, like that would’ve saved us. If somebody was making noise like this in my neighborhood I’d call the cops. So many foreclosures now, stray cats and punks driving around playing their rap. Boom dada boom dada boom.

Can I masturbate in here? Probably not. Probably count as moving. Love! I feel love in my heart. My heart is vibrating…feels good. My entire gastroesophageal system is in love. My eardrums too, my entire upper body, vibrating and in love. That adrenaline rush in your heart…I must be in love with this tube. There’s nobody else.

Chucka-chucka-chucka-chucka. Why is my head vibrating? I’m here for my back. GONG! GONG! Is this a headache? I never get those, but if I did, this would definitely cause one. I must have a strong dura. A marine’s dura.


Finally, it’s over. “You did great!” I hear from somewhere in the tube. That can’t be the burly woman; must be the other. “We’ll be right in to get you!” Right in to get me? They’re coming in here? I doubt that. They should say, “You’ll be right out.” That would be more correct. Maybe I should tell them that. No.

The machine slowly spits me out and they untie my legs. Burly Girl asks, “Need any help getting down?” “No no,” I say. “I’m fine.” I swing my lower body off the table and every bit of arthritis I’ve ever had pulses to life. My lower back seizes and my left leg starts to levitate once more. I stick-walk out of the imaging room feeling like the feral kitten I once plucked from the air conditioning vent in an old apartment from back in the day, feral with crazy eyes, never having stretched its legs. It stick-walked into my closet and hid in a shoe.

I hate the word “feral”. Who’s to say? Who can really tell? I prefer to be where the wild things are, wild like me.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ruffle My "O"

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Even though I had lentil soup for lunch today followed by a large fruit salad, I felt that it was time for another deep-tissue massage. My sciatic nerve is pinched so tight that my left leg now curls permanently up behind my neck; something had to be done.

I made the appointment and drove to Massage Envy, my current drug of choice. I hopped in and waited a few minutes propped in a corner before my regular massage therapist appeared in the lobby to get me. My therapist is a young man in his early twenties whose prominent physical features (as far as I can tell) include long eyelashes framing dark brown eyes, full lips, constant scruff on his otherwise innocent face, and strong hands. I know he doesn’t have a girlfriend because if he did, she would not let him wear the tiger-striped, 70’s style tennis shoes he prefers under his high-water slacks. Outside of the nerdiness going on below his knees, my massage therapist is a beautiful and soft-spoken man, and I call him Mark Ruffalo.

As I stripped down to my undies in the peaceful dark of Mark Ruffalo’s therapy room, I hoped that I would not feel the urge to pass wind during our session. To clear my pipes, I leaned forward and touched the floor, hoping that my intestines would give up any little ghosts hiding within, and they did not disappoint. I grabbed my t-shirt off the hook and waved it vigorously around the room, then climbed onto the table and lay face-down under the sheets—my curled and rigid left leg creating a tent-like structure over me.

Mark Ruffalo slipped into the room to the relaxing strains of Native American flute music. He had already asked me in his smooth husky voice, “What are we working on today?”, so he knew to go directly to my butt. “Sorry about the leg,” I mumbled into the face doughnut.

“Not a problem,” Mark Ruffalo said, mumbling into my knee.

As he pushed his thumbs deep into my butt cheek, working his way slowly down the back of my left thigh, I could feel my leg relaxing. Down, down, down it came; for the first time in days, my legs were parallel. The Indian flute music washed over my skin and into my brain; I was a human peace pipe being smoked by Mark Ruffalo.

Just as I was about to convert to Native Americanism, a gas bubble traveled from my stomach to my port of exit. Oh no, I thought. Mark Ruffalo is down there kneading my butt and he has no idea what danger he’s in. I quickly squeezed my cheeks together to prevent a mishap.

“Juuust relax,” purred Mark Ruffalo, putting both hands flat on my buns and pushing them around, unaware that my lentils were toiling and troubling, my fruit salad boiling and bubbling.

Pocahontas, Sacajawea, Cher, I chanted in my head. Pocahontas, Sacajawea, Cher. Don’t let me pass the great wind in front of Mark Ruffalo. Come to my rescue and I swear I will never mix lentils and pineapple again.

Most fortunately, the gas bubble retreated, and I made it through the massage without filling up Mark Ruffalo’s senses with my own personal sewer system. “We’re all done,” Mark whispered, rubbing my feet one last time and backing out of the room. “Take your time getting dressed. I’ll meet you outside.”

I lay on the table for a minute or two, counting my usual old blessings of a loving family, a rewarding career, and two silly cats at home. But my mind ran to new blessings: the fact that I can even afford massages, that I enjoy eating healthy food like lentil soup and bowls of fruit…and super-duper especially the fact that I did not rip a big fat smelly one in front of Mark Ruffalo.

I slid off the table and immediately felt my sciatic nerve begin to contract, pulling my left leg up and off the floor until my foot rested against my ear once again.

I should have known I wouldn’t be getting off that easy.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

25th Class Reunion Questionnaire, Part Two

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1. What are your hobbies and/or how do you spend your spare time?

When I transferred to our school in the middle of ninth grade, I was heavy into debate, band, softball, and dancing. As we all know, our school had none of these activities…just keggers and sex. Wanting to fit in, I threw myself into drinking and promiscuity…what a gas! Remember the big campout we had after senior prom, when the tent I was sharing with my date lit up the night with camera flashes? I hope soft porn photos are allowed on the memory board. I also have a good shot of that little wrestler guy puking before he fell into the bonfire. Is he coming?

These days I’m more into exercise (OMG, the entire fire department works out at my gym! Yummy!) and volunteering for Arizona’s Tourism Department. Little known facts about Arizona: If you get a DUI, you also get beheaded. Our K-12 school system is so bad, when I tell my college students that Arizona ranks 50th in the nation for education, they ask, “Out of how many?” Also, if you like to shoot guns—especially at people—Arizona is the place to be.

I also enjoy playing jump-rope with my cats.

2. Fondest High School Memory

There are so many, it’s hard to pick just one. I enjoyed seeing our bitch of an English teacher slip on the ice and fall on her face that one time (I grew up to be just like her and am similarly bitchy and graceless. Payback.) I enjoyed eating peanut butter cups and candy bars for lunch in the typing teacher’s room, which provided me refuge from all the mean girls who constantly tried to beat me up. I enjoyed the fact that my father was a forest ranger and I could alert all of you when he made plans to go up in his helicopter to bust our parties in the woods.

But I would have to say my fondest high school memory is temporarily winning the heart of our town’s biggest stud—the cutest and most popular guy our town has ever produced—and thinking, for the summer of 1985, that my life was going to turn out perfectly. That summer rocked.

3. Worst High School Memory

My worst high school memory is being led behind a grocery store by that girl we called Hog Woman—you remember, the fat girl with the long red hair who wore flannels and boots every day to school—and getting bashed in the face (twice) so I fell against a car onto my knees. Hog Woman popped my lip and gave me a black eye because she heard I said that the boy I liked would never be interested in her. I went home that night and watched the final episode of MASH with an ice pack on my face.

Oh! I almost forgot! My senior year, when I went to visit my older friends at their college, somebody put drugs in my beer and I could hardly speak, let alone find my way back to their dorm room. Then that big ugly girl who we all knew was a lesbian climbed into the bunk with me and tried to rape me. Good thing I’d started lifting weights at the Y; I was strong enough to push her off me.

Um…she doesn’t live around there anymore, does she?

And do I have to mention our most popular classmate and “best looking” Hall of Famer who died in that car crash a week before graduation? Are we having a memorial for her? I hope so.

4. List 5 of your favorite musical groups (for DJ use).

Zamfir, John Tesh, Yanni, Lena Horne, and Itzhak Perlman.

5. To plan for the amounts of beverages needed at the reunion, please tell us what you would like to drink and how much.

What I would like to drink? Oh, let me see. I would like the largest bottle of cheap vodka you can get your hands on and some punch to mix it with, a case of I.C. Light, a case of citrus White Mountain wine coolers, and a beer bong so you can get it all in my belly as fast as possible.

Can I wear a sweatshirt and vomit into my hood? I just want to see if I can still do it without making a mess.

But wait wait, that’s what I would like to drink. I can’t do that anymore; my liver is hanging by a thread.

Please set up a fountain of youth for me.

Thank you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

People Watcher

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Yesterday I traveled across our country, flying from Virginia to Illinois, then all the way back to Arizona. It was the day after Memorial Day, so I was not alone: people from all walks of life—the rich, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to get home—stood in lines, spread their eagles for security scanners, waited in airports, sat squeezed into airplanes for hours on end…sleeping, reading, snacking…staring at little screens with buds in their ears. We’ve all been there.

As always, I had my physical body on a leash, but my mind was left to wander: There’s only one flight attendant on this plane to Chicago…wonder why. That’s a big job for one girl. Hold on a second…is that a girl? Her hair is done up and her makeup is flawless, but her shoulders are broad and she doesn’t have breasts. Her voice is so high and delicate. Hey…I bet that’s a transgendered person. Stop staring! Stop looking her in the eyes…is there no one else here to look at? She’s so in charge and professional. I feel safe. Gotta take a clue from her and stop being so self-conscious. I should style my hair.

Back in Chicago for my four-hour layover, Ohhh Billy. I still can’t believe these automatic toilet seat covers: wave your hand and presto, the plastic rotates…no messing with the disposable kind. Cool. Bet Oprah had something to do with this. Her face is everywhere here, like the sultan’s in Oman.

Am I the only person in this entire airport carrying a laptop? I have to stop lugging this thing around…gotta get an iPad. And it’s hot, like I need four pounds of hot metal sitting on my lap, making me sweat. O’Hare is pretty but I’m not—should’ve showered this morning, not last night. So much for saving time. Greasy hair, oily face, dirt between my toes, deodorant not working. Definitely no potential husbands approaching me today.

People watching…I’m surprised this is still legal. People don’t like to be watched. Hard to watch people and not notice that some are hugely fat and drinking 600 calorie chocolate mochas…some are Chinese and speak to their children in two languages…one is an old man who wanted to visit with me; I blew him off…I have never seen so many Black people in one place…I hope it’s not racist to say that, to say “Chinese” and “Black”…that glee club of singing teenagers bugs me—don’t sing in the airport…that is the cutest child I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to see my cats again. I wonder if I would feel the same way about a baby. I wonder if anyone would ever give me a baby. Don’t give a baby to Casey Anthony.

That was the longest layover I’ve ever had. I’m going to sleep all the way to Phoenix. Guess not; okay, I’m going to read all the way to Phoenix. Magazines…too tired for a book. I didn’t know that Arlington National Cemetery lost track of so many people buried there, digging up urns by mistake to make room for new graves, people’s remains dumped in the dump. You’d think they could do better than that. I didn’t know that shale gas drilling is ruining people’s land in Pennsylvania. Didn’t know Zach Galifianakis doesn’t care what people think. Wish I could be more like Zach Galifianakis.

How weird is it that I’m reading an interview with Chaz Bono as we descend into Phoenix? My travel day sandwiched by transgendered people. I like that. I miss Sonny.

***

I ask the taxi driver what the weather was like when I was gone; he opens up, going from stone-faced to chatty. He finds out I’m an English teacher and says that in Somali, words are written exactly the way they sound; in English, words are written with silent letters. He hates the ght sound! How can he improve his writing? He asks for my best advice.

Read for fifteen minutes a day, I tell him—anything you want in English. Eventually the ght sound will be your friend. You’ll get it. He is happy and impressed and thankful. He will do this! We smile and wave as he drives away.

I let myself into my house and am greeted by the sight of a newly potted plant, a grand old plant now in a huge new plastic pot, sitting on the stand where it always sits in the front hallway. I see a little dirt on the floor and a pile of ceramic pot pieces on the patio. I am suspicious. My cats tiptoe towards me sideways. It wasn’t our fault, they say. We were playing hide and seek and thought you might be in there.

I’m glad for my neighbor who takes care of such things, and glad for little animals who are easy to forgive. I am not the ght sound—silent and disappearing—and hope that for whatever I do wrong on any given day, forgiveness comes my way so easily.