Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Every Rose Has Its Thorn"

My freshman year of college, I watched 40 people recoil in horror when I announced at the first floor meeting in my dorm: "And I really like heavy metal, especially Ozzy."

Soon enough, after four years of being exposed to the folksy Midwest, I outgrew my good-ol' hardcore Montana musical roots, but the truth is that the roots of my hair remained heavy-metal challenged for at least another 15 years. At the time, I called my penchant for getting spiral perms "a tribute to '80s hair metal glam bands." Now that I've let my hair enter the new millenium, having stopped the perming and bought a hair dryer, I refer to that dark period as the "why the hell did I think looking like that nutter Dee Snider from Twisted Sister was cool?" era.

I might have continued, unabated, frying my hair in slavish devotion to Geddy Lee, Ronnie James Dio, and John Bon Jovi, but one afternoon a small-town beauty parlor gave me a wake-up call I couldn't ignore. Two clacking beautologists in Spamtown, MN, underscored for me how my Cool Metal Hair was, in fact, just a wad of trash existing in a state of frizzy balloonification (much like Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley nowadays).

Before I entered the Spamtown Salon that day, I was actually feeling a renewed commitment to my Cool Metal Hair--I mean, on that day, I was sure I was tired of the old half-hearted waves and was completely ready for Bic-lighter-during-a-ballad, standing-ovation curls.

Thinking ahead, I parked in the 12-hour lot outside the salon, knowing that I have many hanks of hair and that perming all of them would require a longer time than writing the comprehensive exams for my graduate degree did.

Walking with briskness, I entered the salon. Within 4 minutes, Karen and Chere', hair stylists (recognizable by their lack of natural eyebrows), were clucking with great consternation at my DAMAGED and POROUS and PROTEIN-LACKING hair, and soon the perm was declared a moot point--"I mean, look! If I grab her hair, it just breaks off! Look here! And here, when I grab it! Snap! Snap!"

Indeed, in good conscience, as licensed operators, they could not perform their craft on my limping tresses. If I would hope to some day have a perm again, they first would have to perform emergency, life-saving measures on my locks, beginning with me drawing up a living will. As I squirmed under the tightly-neck-velcroed plastic gown, they began to whisper to each other. They searched each others' eyes--deeply and repeatedly.

Then Karen, shop owner, turned decisively to me and declared, "You will need at least a double PPT treatment--under the dryer, mind you--before you leave today. The first PPT treatment will be done in conjunction with a dose of Climatress. Then, as you exit the shop, you will need to purchase at least three of our specialized products, including the protein Tiger spray, to be used liberally just after gentle towel drying every time you wash your hair for the next month. At that point, we may be able to downgrade you to spraying the Tiger three times a week, but know you will need to come in and let us look at your progress first. Once you've made it successfully through our protein-restoration program, we can then re-open the issue of the perm. But before beginning any part of your haircare, we must first lop off a minimum of three inches. We also reserve the right, once we have PPT-ed you, to add layers and trim even more of the damage. This is the only way we can relieve you of the flyaway frizzies that now plague your look. Do you agree to our conditions?"

At this point, Chere' needed to go have a smoke and field a phone call from Tony, "the Mexican guy who was in my wedding and who used to come in for the flat top."

I weighed my options and realized I had none, for what could I, English instructor, know about the many moods of hair? Following my brief nod and choked acquiescence, the PPT began. It involved heavy slathering followed by a plastic-bag headwrap and half an hour under the dryer (during which I read BAZAAR--the one where Meg Ryan was grabbing her left breast--and ALLURE--the one in which the fact that grey was that year's black, whereas the year before brown was black, received heavy coverage).

Then we rinsed and repeated, this time leaving my head in the sink for ten minutes, thus allowing for natural drainage. Following the PPT, my head underwent a second round of firm "if we grab it, will her hair break?" tests. I passed with at least a C+. (Looking at my hair, Karen mused, as though I weren't right there, "You know, she *could* have pretty hair; I mean, the color's not bad, and there is some shine up by the scalp. Her friend Pamm said this girl had as much hair as she. That's a good one! This girl doesn't have one half the amount of that Pamm!").

To cement the deal, however, I needed to agree to the aforementioned layers and extra trimming. After that, I was to spend another half an hour under the dryer and then five minutes under the hand-held hairdryer (with diffuser). At this point, my hair was still wet, but I was assured that, despite the -20 windchill, since I did have a hood on my jacket, it would be okay if my hair froze and underwent the rigors of a cold front. And, they mused, did I notice how much more of my natural wave was coming through now that they had amputated the gangrene that had been my hair?

At the front counter, the ladies lined up my new array of haircare products, with Tiger front and center, and watched benevolently as I wrote out my check for $64.75. Two-and-a-half hours after entering, four inches of hair shorter, I suited up to face the outdoor hair freeze.

Saving the day for me was the man waiting to have his hair done, who said to me as I zipped up my head in multiple layers, "Do you climb a lot of mountains? Cuz you have incredible calves. They look really strong."

Yes, sir, thanks, it *is* a new haircut.

But then I turned around and looked at him, and when I realized it was Ozzy Osbourne himself, there for his own PPT/Tiger treatment, my day was redeemed. I had him autograph every bottle in my bag, even though he couldn't quite remember how to spell his own name or why he was in Austin, Minnesota, in the first place ("MMMbblll, Sharon dropped me here...the gel is off to have sumping nipped or tucked...where's the dog poo? Jack climbs things now, ya know.")

Later that night, after Ozzy came over to my humble digs and ate tamales and Moose Tracks ice cream with me out of hand-me-down dishes from my grandmother, we each sprayed each other's hair with The Tiger and spent an hour in front of Ally McBeal, detangling with our Afro-picks, humming "Crazy Train" and occasionally shouting "SHAAARRROONN!"

Monday, November 20, 2006

"The Original Cheap Date"

A couple of weeks ago, on October 31st, The Groom and I volunteered to be readers at our daughter's school; the school celebrates a "Harvest of Literature" that day because to actually say the word "Halloween" would have meant that the place was run by Satan worshippers looking to inculcate the small minds into the world of Beelzebub. So "Harvest of Literature" it was (does anyone else think Scarecrows and cornstalks are every bit as evil as vampires and ghosts?).

When we received a call that we had been scheduled to read *together*, for 35 minutes, in Girl's first grade classroom, my gut reaction was one of joy:

"Oh my gosh, we actually have a date! You and I will be doing the same thing at the same time in the same place! How romantic! Love hangs in the air! And it will just be us, one teacher, and 28 first graders--that's so intimate! Groom, you and I are going to rekindle our flame right there in front of the weekly spelling words!"

And then I realized that my thoughts, at age 39 with two kids, of what a "date" is compared to my ideas, at, say, age 13, of what a "date" was (a rumbling Chevy idling by the curb, dinner at a steakhouse, candlelight, a little Everclear, holding hands by a bonfire, some making out on the vinyl seats of the car)...well, they'd become more modest but ever-so-much-more satisfying.
These days, give me a hard, straight-backed chair, a tote bag full of Robert Munsch books, 56 upturned eyes, a sea of hands waving in the air, and Groom next to me, and I feel like I've just been to Prom (theme: Lionel Richie's "Dancing on the Ceiling"). It didn't hurt that I had about four shots of Everclear before staggering into the classroom, either.

photo from flickr.com (KDern)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Daytime Pain and Nighttime Soap"

Call me predictable, even stereotypical: I dread going to the dentist. Sure, Dentist Person may be a very nice individual, well-qualified, and gentle of touch, but I still don't like him/her. Me no want to see Dentist Person.

The deal is that Dentist Person has tools--tiny pickaxes, long needles, shrill drills, and that weird Mr. Thirsty, who tries to suck my tongue right out of my head. All I will say is that, as a rule, I don't need tools inserted into my skull.

What's that, you say? Oh, yea, the drugs. Why do I dread Dentist Person when there are so many nice gasses and shots I can get there to dull my pain? Well, #1, I don't like needles stuck into my dainty pink gums; and #2, I can still hear and smell what's going on, even when I can't feel it, and trust me, the mere sound of the drill, coupled with--get this--the SMELL of burn coming out of my mouth (what are they burning in there, when smoke comes out? This has happened the last couple of times I've gone to the dentist, and it makes me rip at my cuticles with great vigor)...well, my senses get overwhelmed, and I'm forced to resort to deep yoga-like breathing to get through the appointment.

So you can imagine the trauma when, last year, I had my first--and, knock enamel, LAST--root canal. To give him his props, I will say that Dentist Person and his Minions tried to make my experience pleasant; they covered me with a fleece blankie and gave me a polka-dot kneck pillow. Dentist Person even told me a heart-warming story of how he is such a chicken in the dental chair that when he needs work done, he literally wears Depends. The thing about empathy, though, is that it feels hollow when one's jaw is being cranked open for almost four hours by a metallic claw. Dentist Person needed to stop telling me about his "I'm-with-you-sista-undergarments" and just set me free, so I could spiral off into the night and go ice skating at Rockefeller Center with renewed joy in my heart, like Britney did this week after she filed for divorce from her personal root canal, The Federdud.

But he didn't set me free at all.

In fact, the D.P. strapped on his tool belt and started sharpening nutcrackers and nunchucks and screwdrivers and ice axes on a whet stone, and I started breathing shallowly and rapidly, alternately closing my eyes and opening them to let my eyeballs roll around, unable to find distraction in the understated humor of the Dilbert sticker that had been applied to the bright light above me.

What I would have given for a "this last season of Dallas was actually all a dream" escape hatch right about then--COME AND CONVINCE ME IT'S NOT REALLY HAPPENING, BOBBY EWING! But Bobby was out romancing his new wife, that Pollyannaish Pamela Barnes, not caring one whit that she was the daughter of his father Jock's archenemy Digger Barnes or that I was squirming in a reclining chair, panic-stricken. No, he left me there to suffer. But there is justice, I can say, now that I see Patrick Duffy's recent resume features stints on Reba and The Bold and the Beautiful. How far you have fallen, you multi-talented actor, since your triumphant run on Step by Step with the luminous Suzanne Sommers!

Three and a half hours later, heartened by the knowledge that Bobby Ewing was just as much a cad as his brother, JR, I emerged from Dentist Person's office, my wallet much lighter (a little Texas gold would have helped right then), my jaw aching like a sledgehammer had been pounded into it, my face still numb from all those drugs. Four days later, I was still sipping soups and eating overboiled beets in an effort to stop my stomach from growling...just waiting for the day I could again rip into a big ole chunk of longhorn with gusto.

In fact, my tooth was so tender from all Dentist Person's ministrations that it throbbed with a steady beat for several days, much like JR Ewing's oozing chest at the end of Season 3, when his mistress (and wife's sister) Kristin shot him and tried to frame poor, drunk Sue Ellen. The thumping in my tooth, and his heart, was palpable, visceral, yet I knew my misfortune came from genetics more than my decision to sleep with and impregnate my wife's sister. If only Dentist Person wore a big Stetson and some Justin Roper boots along with his Depends! Ah, then I would have felt justified in driving him away from my personal toothy Southfork that day, forcing him into a sanitorium with Sue Ellen...while I remained behind at the ranch, drinking soothing mint teas on the veranda with Miss Ellie and playing Marco Polo in the pool with Lucy and my new boyfriend Kit (who will NOT turn out, next season, to be gay).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

"Twenty-Eight First Graders, the Lone Teacher, a Slew of Specialists, and One Shy Girl"

Anne Lamott once wrote of a type of situation so taxing it could "...make Jesus drink gin from the dog dish." This is how I often feel, as the parent of a school-aged child. It's surprisingly hard to let my kid go off all day to be manhandled by the world. It makes me want to go hit six-year-olds who might say even one mean thing to my Wee Nibben of a girl. It makes me want to creep down corridors wearing a locker costume as camouflage, just in case she needs a pencil sharpened and can't do it herself. It makes me want to hop in the mini-van and follow the school bus all the way into the parking lot (sheepish confession: I've actually done at least one of these. I could probably hook you up with a really novel costume for Halloween next year, by the way).

Frankly, though, when I first had kids and sussed how intense the early years are--from quirky newbornhood to colicky infanthood to irrational toddlerhood to no-separation-at-all-costs preschoolerhood to how-can-you-be-an-adolescent-already kindergartenhood--I couldn't wait for them to start going to school fulltime. Yea, that's right: I was counting the years until my kids would go away for a large part of the day. This is not an uncommon sentiment among parents, either, I'm here to tell you. Anything that can reap huge, awe-inspiring amazement has to suck in equal measure. It just does. Ask the guy who carved out Mount Rushmore. Giving birth to, and raising, those heads pretty much killed him. But they were worth every minute of his sweat. He created a masterpiece, but he was probably pretty flippin' happy on those days he didn't even see or think about whether Roosevelt's moustache was overshadowing Lincoln's nose. It was okay for the heads to go away from his head for awhile.

Such is the case with kids. Hence, when our first kid headed off to full-time school this year, I was astonished that it actually, gulp, hurt. All those hours of freedom we'd been anticipating in a state of mental high-kickery (sing the song "One" from A CHORUS LINE here)--you know, time to sit down while drinking coffee instead of slurping from the mug while trudging back upstairs to find size 5T pants that were "softier, like fleecier, for my tenderyish leg skin, not scratchy like these"--well, they also meant that we'd just lost the best hours of the day with our girl.

Now, she gets off the bus at 4:30 p.m., when it's already getting dark, and she's ravenous and needy and wired. And some days, when our attempts to sit down communally at the kitchen table and help out with her homework have degenerated into her sobbing and yelling because she doesn't understand contractions or what an apostrophe looks like, we end up in retreat, in the basement, cowering behind the dryer. Around nine p.m. we then stick out a tentative ear, listening for any rustling sounds up at the table in the kitchen. If we hear only muffled snores, then the coast is clear--we can stop snacking on the Bounce sheets sprinkled with Tide crystals and creep back upstairs, careful not to wake the Exhausted Scholar.

In short, having a kid go off to school for eight hours each day hasn't delivered the anticipated bliss. Even worse, we're now wracked with the concerns and questions about her education that mark us definitively as middle-class-white-overly-educated-liberals: "What curriculum are they using? How many times will she be pulled from class for assessments during the year? What's the average class size?"

This last question has created the most discussion for us, as we hover behind the dryer, night after night (on the plus side, we've figured we can accept pizza deliveries through the dryer vent; the delivery dude just shoves the pie down through the bendy tube). The dilemma is that we have not sent the Wee Gel to our neighborhood school but instead, she attends a public "magnet" school further from home, one that offers intensified music opportunities. And, because I was raised in a musical household, with a father who was a voice professor and a mother who was the Executive Director of the city's symphony, I value what music education can do for any kid, whether or not she is gifted in that area. Cripes, I just want a child who can read music and who stands a chance at identifying Mozart when it plays on public radio. Modest goals, right?

Because this school is considered a "good" one, I actually had to scramble around like a Manhattan parent four years ago, when our daughter was not yet two, and call the school to get her on a waiting list. At that time, when she was 18 months old, she was twelfth on the waiting list. Thus, we were jubilant when she reached kindergarten age, and we received the call from The School, saying they had an opening for her. It was, as those youngsters these days say, the bomb diggity.

Kindergarten passed without a hitch; she painted and cut and counted in her class of 17 kids. The fact that she is a very reserved child (often mistaken as shy...but she's more, as my friend from Texas put it some years back, "a no bullshit baby." She's quite confident and actually sees no reason to open up to someone who's never invested in her--it's the old "you get what you pay for" with our lass, which I quite respect) made no difference; it simply meant that our parent/teacher conferences would open with an exclaimed, "I would like to have twelve of your daughter in this class!"

And first grade now is going swimmingly for her, except that we worry. We do. You see, her class has twenty-eight students in it. That's a lot. Especially when we have a kid who doesn't really ask for help. This is the kid who fell off a dock into a lake two summers ago, caught in the chest-high water, buffeted between a pontoon boat and the dock itself, and she just stood there, no peep made, until someone looked down a few minutes later and saw her holding silent court there with the lily pads. So trust me, I was not a whit surprised this year, in school, when her homework--diligently completed within two hours of it being assigned and carefully put into her special folder in her backpack, ready to return to the classroom the next day--accumulated because she didn't know where she was supposed to turn it in. So the completed homework kept coming back home with her, day after day, until it had worn a groove into that special folder. "Did you take it out and show it to Mrs. A and ask her where you should turn it in?" The answer was no, a woeful no, because "Mrs. A is always so busy with the other kids around her desk, and I didn't know how to get in there."

This reality of too-many-kids-on-one-teacher stands in stark contrast to the pretend classroom that this same daughter has been overseeing in our living room for the last three years--she has 26 dolls as students, and every one gets her individual attention, from Astrid, who made the Principal's List for being able to sit upright unassisted, to Kobe, whose mom sometimes drops him off late because she had to go to a meeting at a factory in China.

(The "art specialist" demonstrates the dolls' weekly project. The kid in the front row wearing yellow, Kiki, is a bully and a troublemaker and can't follow directions for anything.)

The difference between our living room and the real-life classroom, however, is that the unengaged dolls remain benign and passive, but in the real world, the unengaged kids either clamor around the teacher even harder, looking for attention, or else they start sticking washable markers in the pencil sharpener, or else they, like our girl, sit quietly at their desks, clutching a homework folder.

Once I realized that homework--in the first month of first grade--was becoming an emotional issue, and once my husband and I remembered the frozen feeling of being painfully shy in elementary school, I chose to hop into this particular issue. Even though I want my child to learn to cope, to be self-sufficient, to figure things out in the world, I stopped by the classroom, casually, one day ("I was just, er, here in the school because, em, I needed to get fitted for my new camouflage locker costume...and so I thought I'd pop in"), and mentioned to the teacher that at least one of her students was feeling confused about the process of submitting homework. This was news to the teacher, and she easily and gratefully handled the problem. Girl's homework is now handed in where it's supposed to be, when it's due.

But the behind-the-dryer discussion about "do we keep Girl in the class of 28 at this good school with a fine teacher, or do we pull her and enroll her in the neighborhood school that has 18 students in the first grade classes?" took on steam. I ended up emailing my sister, a kindergarten/first grade/second grade teacher herself (and who isn't a fan of the Shift key on her keyboard), someone who has handled anywhere from 18 to 31 students in a class, and her pragmatic reply calmed my gut:

"and honestly, with a class over 25, no, you really don't get to spend individualized time with every kid or really get to know them. especially the quiet ones. you're just thankful they're not being a pain and can stay on-task by themselves while you deal with the "big" personalities...which is why i've loved looping, by spending more than a year with the same kids i feel like i do get to really get to know the kids better, personalities and strengths and weaknesses...so i think you have to weigh what you want for Girl's education. if she's making the academic and social progress you want for her, then she might be fine or more than fine where she is. plus being exposed to the variety of cultures available at her present school prepares her for the real world... if you want the opportunity for her to receive more individualized attention so that she can move faster in all areas, then maybe the smaller class school...BUT i'd strongly recommend visiting all the classes for a min. of 30 miutes each at the new school to see how the teachers are...you might end up swapping a big class, good teacher, for a smaller class, not as good teacher...i think it's great great that the teacher realizes she needs parent involvement AND help with a large class. i know many teachers who do not like to have parents in the room for extended lengths of time, so plough through everything on their own...with that many kids,you do need regular help. i've had classes with 27+kids and no aide and it can be killer at times...depending on the day, the kids, you, the activity...oh, and here's something i realized in denver, the kids in my smaller classes had a harder time learning to work independently and where to find information if it wasn't available cuz i was always available. i really noticed that the kids in my larger classes HAD to learn to work on their own and wait their turn and learn to ask friends who were experts for help if i was busy, where with the smaller classes, i was always available to help them...which is not a bad thing, but when i needed them to work independently, they seriously couldn't cuz i hadn't had to train them from day one how to...weird, huh?"

Yea. Weird. Huh.

The issue is settled for us for this year: good teacher, large class, Girl who copes. She luuurrrves her school and teacher and hordes of classmates and computer time and the Christmas and Spring concerts and Boost-Up gym time and art and choir and music and field trips to the Children's Museum and class visits to the school's cultural center and............

So the cost may be her never having a teacher who has the time or energy to sit one-on-one with her and unlock her talents, character, personality. I guess that's up to everybody else in her life, starting and ending with her parents, who currently find themselves on their knees, crouching behind the dryer, eating "stuffed" pizza, drinking gin out of the dog dish.

Friday, November 03, 2006

"Not So Much My Saviour After All: The Pompous Lord"

I feel it. Pulsing towards me through cyberspace, I sense your desire to read more of my rambling adventures in other countries. Or maybe what I sense is just my computer trying to stream this week's episode of Ugly Betty to me, but I'm choosing instead to read this communication from abc.com as a psychic connection that you and I share. And either abc.com or someone else out there is telling me that more travel stories would be okay. Yes?
I'll take your silence as a hearty and resounding "yes!!!"

Now, I know you want to read about when I was 17 and attended a weekend biker ralley in Denmark (all the hardcore bikers from around Europe converged on a farm for the weekend), but since some of my unmentionables went missing that weekend and later showed up nailed to a clubhouse wall, I shan't relate that story, lest I blush and find myself unable to make eye contact with you in the future when we bump into each other near the holiday hams at Cub Foods.

And I could regale you with a story about camping around Iceland for ten days, my body sucking up around-the-clock arctic light; upon return to the States, my body's internal clock was so confused that I ended up with a surprise pregnancy--a daughter now six!--out of the deal. A quick summary of that part of my life goes: "Whee. Whoa. Wow. Whoops." But again, if you'd read a detailed account of such a happy, but personal, mistake, how could we chat superficially at the Cub Foods after running in to each other in the cereal aisle? We'd be fake-smiling, trying to come up with things to say, mindlessly loading our carts with heaps of unneeded Quaker Oats, while your brain would be spinning: "Oh, man, I know way too much about this lady to even pretend to care about the weather. But just keep smiling, Skeeter. Just keep smiling. And nodding. And making those affirmative noises in your throat."

Or I could tell you a story about being in the airport in Chisinau, Moldova, when I tried to crack a joke about how I was visiting the country with the intent of drinking lots of their famous wine and then standing on the corners to sell Levi jeans for a huge profit (hey, it was after the Iron Curtain had fallen, so I thought the place might have lightened up. Who knew 70 years of Soviet influence wouldn't just melt away into good humor and that I would be pulled out of the baggage area and made to stand aside and be scowled at while my passport was "taken to another room"?). But again, if I told you this story, there you and I would be, standing stiffly in the Cub Foods cookie aisle after we reached out simultaneously for a package of Keebler Merry Mints, taking turns retreating and saying, "No, really, you go first" and then lurching out again at the same time and clunking hands, making you think to yourself, "Honestly, I swear this woman is the type of annoying person who would think making jokes to uniformed officials in crumbling countries is appropriate. And she probably plans to serve these cookies at a neighborhood party, passing them off as homemade. 'Oooh, look at me: I worked for hours, trying to get the icing just so!'"

So I guess I'm left telling you another story about Ireland, where even poor behavior seems only "naughty" at worst, and it's the uniformed officials themselves who are cracking the jokes at the airport.

When last you left me in Ireland, I was cursing at a pony and muttering "Never again...Never again..." The good news is that I hitched up my chaps, tucked my spurs into my backpack, and got over my pony trauma before deciding the next thing to do was explore, on foot and by car, Co. Donegal--a remote place with sparse bus service, which left me asking my B & B hostess, "You're really sure it's safe for single women to hitch-hike around here?" Assured that hitch-hiking was common practice in the area, I began relying upon it to get me around the county.

After warming up my thumb the first day with an intricate exercise involving balancing jelly beans on my thumbnail and then flipping them into my mouth (repeatedly), I set off for the coastal mountain/hiking area of Slieve League, scoring four rides whilst to-ing and fro-ing.

The first guy was a handyman who hollered, "Ya don't mind sitting in back with the tools, do ya?" Not at all. I made off with his monkey wrench.

The next husband and wife were very prim, venturing so far as to ask me if, indeed, everyone in the United States carries a gun. Upon exiting the car, I blasted them with my Supersoaker.

After my muddy, awe-inspiring, 3-hour hike at Slieve League, I was picked up by Liam, who asked me to sit up front and cradle his Sunday paper on my lap. Sensing a fetishist, I obliged, but I managed to steal the crossword puzzle and leave him, undoubtedly, bereft of the sense of accomplishment that comes with knowing which 1970's rock group performed "Mr. Blue Sky" and filling in the accompanying three-letter answer.

Finally, I hitched a ride with an enthusiastic 19-year-old who was incredibly happy to see me--or anyone else, for that matter. This lad never met anyone or anything he didn't like...especially MacGuyver, with whom he was obsessed. "Lawse, but that man can do anything! Give him a rubberband, a spatula, and some brown sugar, and he can make a bomb! And what about his hair? Isn't it cool? Didya notice my hair? I had it cut and bleached to look just like his--you know, that actor Richard Dean Anderson. Doncha think I look like him?" Not having the heart to tell him that highlighted mullets had gone out of style, well, before there ever was style, I remained mum. But I did show him how to make chewing gum out of tree sap, a match, and tire tread before he dropped me off.

Heady with the power of The Hitch, I set out again the next day, this time walking to the local strand (aka "beach"), where I intended to take artistic photos of fog and throw rocks at seagulls. On my way back to the B & B, as I walked the narrow road, I was almost body slammed by a careening Mercedes Benz, driven by a buck-toothed weasel named Justy, who looked and acted like Dr. Frankenstein's sidekick, Igor ("Yessssss, Master..."). Next to him, in the Seat of Command, was a 63-year-old florid man named...

"Lord Hamilton, my dear, and so nice to have you aboard. Do sit in the back, and I'll tell you about myself." This he proceeded to do for 20 minutes, detailing his family's pedigree, handing me a gold business card that had the weight and heft of a credit card, inviting me to stay at "the manor" next time I was visiting, and cautioning me off "the natives," saying, "They're animals and gypsies, every one of them." Speechless in the backseat, and not by choice but because I couldn't get a word in edgewise, I mentally reviewed the history of the Republic of Ireland: English landlords driving the native peasants to destitution and starvation...and there I was, sitting with one such modern "landlord" who'd not had the good sense to update his thinking or to really look at the substance of the native inhabitants of the town of Killybegs. Later, after he dropped me off with a shouted warning not to socialize with a soul in the town, I recounted his monologue to my B & B hostess, a native herself, who laughed herself silly and dismissed him with, "Ah, you were in a car with Himself! He's quite a toff, eh?"

I still have that gold business card, and I still think often of how Lord Hamilton prided himself on being above the reality of the people who surrounded him. His pomposity created in him a crisis of character, one of which he'd never be aware--such was the state of his arrogance.

Even now, eight years later, I feel confident that if I ever run into him in the coffee aisle at Cub Foods, I will crack open a bottle of Torani's Hazelnut syrup on his head and dump its contents into his declaiming maw, just to make him cease babbling about his importance. (You can hover down by the tea bags, gawking and assuring your fellow bystanders, "Trust me, I've read her blog, and I can tell you this is just like her.")

And I guess I won't be staying at the manor.