Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Brothel Idea

The Brothel Idea

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Sometimes I wish that as lady of the house, I could be even more in charge of what goes on around here, because if I could, sometimes I think I’d turn my house into a brothel. It would be nice to see men happy and relaxed, gently caressing the naked arms of women in various stages of undress. It would be nice to see the women, all shapes and sizes, proud of their offerings and secret abilities. My favorite customer would be the 60-year-old widowed rancher who came in every Saturday night to see the same girl; he would buy them both just a couple of drinks, and then I would show them their room. My favorite employee would be the 40-year-old recovered alcoholic who we surreptitiously gave Cokes instead of rum and Cokes, grape juice instead of wine, who suffered the fumbling young men whose first choice was her, who wore her long hair up most of the time and little makeup on a face that somehow hadn’t aged. In my brothel, the rancher and 40-year-old would eventually fall in love, kind of like Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart. Off they would go to work the land and live decent lives, leaving me behind to keep on pimping.

This mindset comes, perhaps, from the fact that most people who currently come to my house are men. The exterminator, the roofing contractor, the bottled water truck driver, the landscaper—all men. Sometimes it feels like there’s a parade of men coming and going through my house, all here to take my money, so I think it would be nifty if—once in awhile—men showed up and gave me money, hence the brothel idea.

I didn’t say it was a good one.

I was home yesterday, waiting for yet another man: a Home Depot representative who would return my repaired, re-strung, custom-made $300 Hunter-Douglas wood blinds to me and my naked window through which God and everyone could have been peeping for the last month. I knew this man’s name was Theo because I had met him when I hauled the broken blinds into Home Depot weeks ago. At the time he had struck me as a taller, gentler version of Homer Simpson.

Dissatisfied by the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. window of time that Theo had apparently assumed I’d set aside for his services, I called Home Depot in the morning in hopes of setting a more exact appointment, something in the early afternoon. This worked; Theo would arrive right after lunch. He showed up with my blinds in a long cardboard tube and immediately started work unpacking them. I asked if he would be needing my help with anything, and he said no, so I excused myself to continue my brothel-planning in the other room.

After not hearing much for about thirty minutes—no cussing, no mumbling, no frustrated phone calls for assistance—I returned to the scene of the blinds. There they hung in my picture window. I watched while Theo snapped the valance into place.

“They look good,” I said.

“Yes, they do,” Theo replied, bending down to pick up two additional wood slats off the floor. “And Hunter-Douglas was kind enough to include two extra pieces!”

I stepped closer to inspect the kindness of a window treatment company. “That one’s cracked,” I said, pointing to the splinters. “And so is the other one.”

Theo frowned. “You’re right,” he said. “Maybe they’re from your blinds.”

I held my tongue regarding what I wanted to say about a company that returned trash to its customers. Instead, I walked to the window to get a closer look. “I hate to say this, but the strings are all twisted,” I said. “Just like they were when I returned them. That’s why they wouldn’t go up and down.”

“They’re supposed to be like that,” Theo said.

I raised my eyebrows in surprise instead of going directly into my don’t-frick-with-me look. I continued: “The little groove in the slats where the strings are supposed to be isn’t catching the string. Look. The slats move all over the place.”

Theo looked. “Those are called ‘floating” slats,” he said. “They catch the groove when they need to.”

When they need to, my ass. At that point, I definitely felt that I was being fricked with.

“What about the space at the bottom?” I said, pointing to the one-inch gap between the window sill and the bottom rail of the blinds. “That was never there before. Maybe Hunter-Douglas broke those ‘extra’ slats.”

“No,” said Theo. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be. They must have been too long before.”

“Theo,” I said, my hands on my hips, “lemme tell ya somethin’. These might not be broken right now as we speak, but I can guarantee you they’ll be broken not long after you walk out of this house. The strings are twisted, the slats are all over the place, and the sheer weight of them,”—I paused to pull on the cord, using both hands and throwing all my weight into raising the blinds, which bowed in the middle on their way up, ending in a mocking smile at the top—“the sheer weight of this thing prevents it from working correctly. Do you see that? They shouldn’t even make wood blinds this long.”

“I’m just the head installer,” Theo replied as I lost my grip on the cord and went flying towards the ceiling. “That’s all I do,” he called out. “Install! I don’t work for Hunter-Douglas; I work for Home Depot, and my boss is out today! But I’ll definitely tell him of your concerns!”

I climbed down from the ceiling, using the wood slats as steps. “Thanks, I’d appreciate that,” I said, and shook Theo’s hand. “Say,” I added as he started to pick up the packaging and broken slats. “I noticed that your belt has the words 'Scout Law' on it.” I hoped that my being polite enough to ask about his hand-tooled belt, combined with my listening to the gripping Boy Scout hiking story that my inquiry elicited, combined with my verbal restraint earlier in regards to his B.S. about Hunter Douglas (clearly the greatest company on earth next to Chick-fil-A)—I hoped that all of this would work together to make Theo sympathetic to my desires as lady of the house.

I walked him and his long empty tube to the door, much like a madam might escort a customer to the front gates of her establishment.

I felt oddly satisfied.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Mommy Kind of Way

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Anyone who has ever seen me after 6 p.m. knows that my typical evening attire includes an extra-large t-shirt, baggy pajama bottoms, white socks and leather sandals. But Manfriend was coming over for dinner last night, and I wanted to look nice for once. Usually that means a slightly less voluminous t-shirt, wearing a bra, rolling up my pajama legs, and not wearing the white socks. However, this time I took my makeover to a new level: I wore a matching set of pajamas and the same color sandals. This actually looked like an outfit.

Breaking out this set of pajamas wasn’t easy for me: I had received them as a gift two birthdays ago, and the tags were still attached. One of my best-ever friends had given them to me over lunch, responding quickly to the somewhat disgusted look on my face when I had them unwrapped: “Kate! You’re gonna love these! You don’t have to wear old sweatpants and t-shirts around the house anymore! They’ll make you feel better about yourself…they’ll make you feel sexy! Guys like it when you put a little effort into presenting yourself too. My husband loves me in these.”

I shook out the black and white polka-dotted top with short poofy sleeves, then the sleek rayon capri bottoms. “Thank you so much,” I said, hating the outfit already. I couldn’t imagine myself in it. “I can’t wait to try it on,” I added.

The polka-dot pajama set hung in my closet for over a year, until last night when I decided to spiff up for Manfriend. Wearing a real outfit, like jeans and a cute shirt, was entirely out of the question—restrictive street clothing is not allowed in my house past 6 p.m., not on me anyway. Wanting to look nice but still relaxed in some kind of loungewear, I finally turned to the matching pajamas. If my girlfriend, a mother of three, could wear them and her husband appreciated it, then maybe I could wear them and Manfriend would appreciate it. I owed him something for always being so sweet to me, even though I can be a putz and we never have sex.

I slipped into the polka-dot top and black Spandex capris, then put on my black and silver leather sandals, somewhat expecting a wave of slinky cougarishness to wash over me. How sexy I would be, even at 44. I studied myself in the mirror to assess the situation: just as I had thought, this outfit made me look like a linebacker, Minnie Mouse trying out for a football team. I already have broad shoulders, and the poofy baby-doll sleeves accentuated my huskiness. The collar was up to my neck, the main shirt part loose and stretchy, and I wondered if this was in fact a maternity top.

I finally settled with the idea that if it looked good on my fashionable girlfriend, it would look good on me too. I went about preparing a monster salad for dinner, waiting for Manfriend to show up with the main course. We share like that.

When the doorbell rang, I fluttered over to the door like I thought a woman might in this kind of get-up. I got Manfriend and his steaming hotdish inside and settled. After eyeing me up and down for about thirty seconds, he said, “So uh, whatcha wearin’?”

I blurted out my whole story about the pajamas being a gift from a girlfriend who was always trying to improve my wardrobe, who said “You better not!” when I told her I was going to wear cargo shorts every day for the rest of my life, who gave me green silk pajamas way back in the 90’s, an outfit I found so flattering at the time that I repeatedly wore it out to dinner. It was the prettiest ensemble I owned at the time. The only ensemble, actually.

“Tell me what you really think,” I said to Manfriend. “Does this look okay on me? I don’t really like it—I’m not a polka dot kind of person. Be honest.”
“It’s very…blousy,” Manfriend said, “in a mommy kind of way."

“I knew it!” I said. “I can’t wear this! I’m going to change.” I retreated down the hallway to my bedroom with Manfriend calling after me, “But the pants are nice! The pants look good!"

I pulled the mommy blouse off as soon as I was out of sight, then looked through my t-shirt collection for something that was casual but not tent-like, something more form-fitting that didn’t have underarm holes. I settled on the clingy white and pink t-shirt that I’d purchased at a store for teens several years ago, back when I was first entering my cougar stage. It read “Too Hot 40” on front, what I felt was an appropriately risqué message at the time, though I never understood why it was sold in a store for young girls.

I returned to the kitchen, where Manfriend was putting his hotdish into the oven to keep it warm. I stood before him. “Is this better?” I asked. I already knew it was.

“Too hot for you?” he said. “Too hot for me?” Manfriend was hurt.

“No no,” I said. I pulled the front of my t-shirt out so it was flat and easier to read. “It says ‘Too Hot 40’.”

“No it doesn’t,” Manfriend said.

I looked down at my shirt and read it the correct way for the first time: Too Hot 4U. Manfriend was right.

“Oh,” I said, “I never got that. Sorry.” There I’d gone again, managing to insult a guest in my own home, managing to look like a whiny perfectionist, a self-obsessed middle-aged woman trying to reach the heights of mature sensuality while retaining the wink of youth.

Now that’s me.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Return of Hotdishing

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Remember when David Letterman confessed to the world that he’d been sleeping with all the interns who worked on his show? And when Bernie Madoff admitted to stealing billions of dollars from investors? And when Amy Winehouse informed us that she didn’t want to go to rehab, no no no?

Everybody has some explaining to do once in awhile.

As for myself: the tiny flying monkeys that sleep in my joints—that come out sometimes to swing on my nerves, that make my feet buzz…that feed on my organs…that alight on my back…these winged monkeys that are so small, I can’t see them coming—had taken to gnawing at my brain again. I know that’s hard to believe, but I’ve never lied to you before. “Brainfood”, to them, does not mean reading a book or attending a lecture. It means burrowing into my cerebellum until pink tissue starts oozing out of my ears and nose.

Everybody knows you can’t go around like that. What to do? I’ve come to learn that you have options when this or something close to it happens.

Option #1: Actually, you could choose to go around like that. People will look at you like you’re crazy-sick—which you soon will be with your brain tissue exposed to the elements—but it’s your choice. People will want to touch your brain inappropriately and you’ll probably let them, and then you’ll have a dirty brain (not to be confused with a dirty mind). If you’re okay with brain tissue coming out of your head’s orifices because tiny flying monkeys are having their way with your sanity, that’s your right.

Option #2: You could try to get rid of the monkeys all on your own. I’ve tried to do that many times, squeezing them out so hard that my knuckles turned white and my turkeys went cold. At first this would scare my monkeys into remission—maybe for a year, maybe a month—but they eventually learned that I was no match for them. Back they would come, faster and stronger than ever before, having rested up and exchanged information about how to take me down the next time. I don’t recommend this option; it rarely works. There you’ll be in your life, all alone, trying to keep your monkeys under control when they are silently plotting against you, waiting to pull the trigger. They’ll watch you from the inside out, chomping at the bit, weakening you until you just cave in.

At least that’s what it was like for me.

I might add that tiny flying monkeys reproduce very quickly in the dark. The more you try to pretend they’re not there, the more Pearl Harbor you get when they eventually launch their next attack.

Option #3: You could ask for help. That’s what I did. My monkeys had multiplied and divided to the point where sometimes I didn’t want to get out of bed. My nerves were raw, my insight was going, my joints were aching…but that could’ve been because my brain was so befuddled, I often forgot to take my meds. I had to reach a place—a real place, not an imaginary one—where there were other people suffering from the same disorder. There were people in charge there who had successfully battled their own demon monkeys, who could show the rest of us how to draw on powers we never knew we had: anti-monkey powers. We meditated, we fellowshipped, we prayed to the God of our own understanding; we found our appetite for life again (mine emerged in small-group). We worked in the kitchen and wore signs around our necks: “Ask me what I’m doing today to kill my monkeys.” We learned that you can’t fight them alone, not the internal ones that buzz around eating your brain and organs, not the external ones that cling to your back, blocking the sun.

Option #3 is the best by far.

*

So, good for David Letterman for coming clean about his sad parade of susceptible interns; if you recall, he had some help in doing that, in the form of blackmail. Good for Bernie Madoff, who reached his real place (prison) with the help of being caught red-handed. And good for Amy Winehouse, in a better place now, cleaner and whiter than any place she’d ever lived before. We know she had some help in getting there, the bad kind of help that tiny flying monkeys give when left to their own vices.

And here I am, back from a disciplined place where monkeys don’t fly and not much else does either. I’m home a littler earlier than I’d expected, but better early than too late, right?

Better early than too late.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Off to See the Wizard

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It’s 6:30 a.m. and I’m chatting with my sister on the telephone, her time being 8:30 a.m. “How can you be so energetic and ready to talk so early in the morning?” she asks.

I tell her I usually wake up in the four o’clocks. I wait until 5:15 to get up, and then I let the kitties out of their room. I hope they’ll be happy with 15 hours of freedom until they have to go back in again. They usually are.

“I like routine, therefore they like routine,” I say to my sister, smiling on my side.

“Well, that’ll work magic when you go in to fight the tiny flying monkeys tomorrow. If you like routine, that’ll make it easier and faster.”

My sister also suffers from Tiny Flying Monkey Syndrome, though hers is under control. Mine is not. It seemed like cortisone injections worked for this, and changing medications was good for this. It seemed like the more you stayed active, the more you would see the tiny flying monkeys fly away.

But that is not always the case, and my sister and I are cases in point. This sister and I are physiologically the same.

“Hey,” she says. “What are your plans for the rest of the day?” It’s at times like these that I wished she lived in Arizona, not Minnesota. We could cover up with afghans on the couch and eat pizza and watch stupid stuff.

“Well,” I say, “there is so much to be done. My drip system is broken again, so I have to call my yard guy. I tried to pretend that I didn’t see the problem for a couple days, but today I had to admit it.”

“Bummer. Where you’re going, you’ll be trained to recognize problems right away." I immediately feel like I’m going to a concentration camp.

“The airline that sold me that ticket to Mexico with insurance doesn’t want to honor the insurance! They are so hassling me!”

“Well Katie Mohler, you will be better able to handle that hassle when you get home from the Tiny Flying Monkey Academy. It won’t even seem like a stretch to download those forms and get them signed.”

“By the frickin’ President?” I say. We both laugh, knowing how hard this game is to play.

“I’m just scared,” I say to my sister.

“I’ve been that scared,” she says back.

*

Knowing that the dynamics and the handing-out of treats will soon change in my home, I let my roommates outside this morning with a bit more abandon than usual. I had already chased away Leo’s biological mother—his lurking mother, always in my oleanders—so it was just me and the kids. I did everything I usually do: empty the kitty litter bin, fill the bird feeders, water three spring plants that are still hanging on. They could turn into bushes! This excites me.

I turn to my crew and notice that everyone is scattered. Are they on leave yet? No. “Report to the main station!” I call through the bullhorn I keep there just for this reason. “Report to the main station!” I bellow again.

This scares Lucy inside, and makes me able to reach Sara, who likes to prowl prowl prowl. “Hey baby,” I say to her, dragging her out of the oleanders by the scruff of her neck. I need to say “hey baby” less, but Sara is used to the way I talk. She knows she gets a treat later.

I throw her into the house and go hunt for Leo. I don’t have to hunt long, because a long lean black cat with serious eyes is looking at me from the bushes way across the yard.

“Hey Sweetpea. I love you. Just so you know, your older sisters are inside the house because that’s what we do around here.”

Leo stares back at me, a million yards away, and begins to wail. He wails and whines and tries to make his tiny-roar heard. Maybe he realizes that he can only be fully appreciated behind the walls of our own home.

When he’s afraid enough, he comes trotting over to me, through the yard. “So like, where's my surrogate mother, the brown-striped one?” he huffs as he passes me, going into the house. “Where's the black one I’m used to?”

We still enjoy a brunch of pancakes and omelets, and the Sunday paper.

*

My yard is broken. An airline is screwing me over. The tiny flying monkeys are back, and I’ll be lucky to have any kind of oatmeal tomorrow before I leave.

This is the kind of day I’m having, while my children live in royalty.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Unexpected Family

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For my family to go from a single mother of two four-year-olds to that plus a new and unexpected baby has been enchanting. I never knew if I could get Baby Leo to live through the next 24 hours; I would burst home from work when he was two and three weeks old to heat his bottle to just the right temperature, then I would zoom to open the door of the room where I was keeping him, hoping to see him alive.

I always made the bottle first, expecting the best.

To my heart’s fulfillment, it always has been the best: Leo alive and growing, the four-year-olds growling less and less. When they were allowed to mingle in person after the CDC approved it, they each took to their new roles: Sara (Guardian), Lucy (displaced Queen), and Leo (New Struttin’ King of the Mountain).

But families have dynamics, and I’ve discovered in some recent days that if I personally do not enforce those dynamics in my own household, the whole operation falls apart. For instance, when a new kitten is mauling your most devoted older cat, you need to gently pinch the kitten on the back of his neck and say, “No! You do not hurt your sister!” The kitten will whine, but the anti-social behavior will discontinue if you keep up with this instruction.

Hopefully.

*

My cats are inside cats for 23.75 hours out of the day. I allow them outside for fifteen minutes in the early mornings now, since it’s the coolest time of our day, but only under my supervision while I water the plants and feed the birds. It was easy to supervise my four-year-olds before the baby came along: Sara and Lucy were led by virgin spirits, not by uninhibited male hormones. Now we have Leo, who rockets around the back yard like a bat out of hell. I have never seen a kitten move so fast.

We three older women look at this child and we each have our own opinions. I'm too busy to ask who’s thinking what.

Lucy will hardly come outside anymore because so many strays have been spraying our newly decorated cement; she feels like the force is against her. My poor. She has been getting lots of extra attention from her own mama.

Sara comes out and wants to walk the property, but her first priority now is making sure the kitten is safe. The kitten latches onto Sara like Sara is a gymnasium. I’ve spent the last week picking the kitten off Sara, telling him, “No! Do not attack your sister!”, then putting him down.

I imagine if I do this repeatedly, he will learn. Theoretically.

I try to enjoy my own time outside in the mornings, filling the bird feeders and watering some smaller plants I’m babying. Sara has given up walking to the side yard because if I call, “Where’s the baby?” she is suddenly an older sister, helping Mama. I’m so proud of her.

And there I am, at 6:30 a.m., chasing the baby. Chores are over and Leo has to come in. I haven’t learned the art of getting a kitten to come in against its will yet. I chase him, I lure him, I almost get him; I’m sure that by the end of any particular chase scene, he will never want to snuggle with me again.

There we go through the oleanders; there I go, across the yard again, chasing a one-pound cat. He is black and mischievous and full of energy. I have ant bites already. I worry about Leo having ant bites.

“Hey sweetpea,” I say from a half-acre away, suddenly resting on my heels. “Why don’t you come over here and help me water this plant?” The only thing I know for sure about Leo is that he likes flowing water. He’s a shower kitten.

“Okay,” he says, then trots over like the Inspector General. Leo struts, as opposed to me and the girls, who just walk.

“What’s goin’ on and how can I make it worse,” Leo says. He smells my watered plants; he wants to climb into them. He is always cuteness in black and white, but a mother does what a mother must do. I pick him up by the scruff of his neck and say, “Don’t leave when you’re not allowed! You’re still small and you don’t know what could happen.”

I shake him again, gently. “Besides, everyone who loves you is inside.” I stuff him inside the patio doors, where the good girls are waiting.

*

We thrive on discipline here, and it’s my regret that I have to be the enforcer. But when the little cat is mercilessly attacking the mama cat, and Elizabeth Taylor is hissing at our new Elvis, somebody has to intervene.

When I got the twins, I thought that was hard enough. When the unexpected little one arrived, I gave no thought to doing it again. But when I’m out in my yard by myself—the kids safe in the house—these are still my quietest and best times.

Just give me a garden to play in, without responsibility, for a day.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Return of the Flying Monkeys

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I have been painfully chained to my mattresses lately. Yes, the tiny flying monkeys are back, this time only allowing me to accompany them on their extreme adventures carrying me to the bathroom and back.

If we only had a zip line.

My neighbor, Nabe, had called earlier, wanting to check on me. “Did you eat anything today like you didn’t eat yesterday?”

Nabe’s questions are always hard to answer. Plus, I was deep into chapter five of Sybil Exposed, as if the first Sybil hadn’t been enough for me.

“Why?” I asked suspiciously.

“Well I just thought that if you haven’t been eating that you might want to share this Alfredo dish I’m making.”

I brightened, remembering how pleasant the other night with Nabe had been, the one when the flying monkeys weren’t so tiny…when they were still trying to muzzle me. I had to fight hard that night, but as everyone knows, any fight is exhausting, so instead of expending extra energy trying to talk, I just listened to Nabe.

This action alone seemed to calm down a lot of loose nerves in the room, especially in my two and a half cats. And me. And Nabe.

So if Nabe wanted to bring over his Alfredo dish and serve it up in bowls in the bedroom, where I was still heavily into the exposure of Sybil but obviously in need of sustenance, who was I to say no? Nabe knows best most of the time anyway.

I hadn’t laughed in days, and I had no expectations of Nabe making me laugh, and I really just wanted his Alfredo stuff, but still—a girl does what a girl has to do—so I leaned back into the covers and began to listen to Nabe, who—incidentally—was leaned up against the window frame, making sure none of my cats jumped through the open screen.

We do have pets in common.

Nabe started telling me a story about how his dog is so sly, it steals one French fry at a time from a whole box, so nobody knows what’s happening until all da fries is gone.

I laugh so hard that I realize I’ve had a full day, and it’s time for bed.

*

There has been an ongoing debate in this household about who belongs and who does not, especially lately, with the addition of another child who appeared out of nowhere—another black child: Leo. Unlike his much-older sister Lucy, who finally realized she was black when a black stray kept parading by our windows, Leo did not have to wait, for his heritage doesn’t stray that far from our steps.

Like this morning, when she was waiting for him between two potted plants out back.

The tiny flying monkeys had released the small of my back just enough for me to rise to the occasion of the day. So much had been going on in my mind, in my days and nights, that Sybil Exposed wasn’t even interesting anymore. Who knows why people have problems; the important thing is to keep having them.

We stood together as a family, as we always do—me holding a paper sack full of cat pee and poo—and I pulled the vertical blinds, and there she was: Leo’s mother.

The first very sad but unmistakable piece of evidence was the fact that we all thought she was Leo, including Leo.

Knowing that I hadn’t opened the door and that he'd been scampering about my feet two seconds before did not stop a near heart-attack. As most parents do, I looked to the other children—certainly they must know something further.

But they were stymied as well. How could we all still be inside, and Leo be outside?

After a quick sniff-fest to make sure that our heads weren’t crazy, we all looked outside again and there she still was: Leo’s Mother. Lean like Leo. Same white markings. Same broad nose and forehead.

My heart passed under the dirt thinking how awful it would be to have to give Leo back.

Of course she was waiting out there for him.

I’d seen her before.

I looked down at the three souls gathered at the doorway, all wanting to go out for different reasons. I had always trained them to want this--to go outside, but return to me—without ever imagining that a real mother would be waiting steps away.

I did what every adoptive mother in the world would have done at the time. I flicked my nail hard against the window pane, and then I did it again, until she was gone.