Friday, April 27, 2007

"Flick My Switch"

I'm kind of dim.

To put a finer point on it, I lack a certain natural curiosity. Of course, I want to know what's for dinner, if Heather Mills is able to dance, and when the next Harry Potter will be released. This type of short-term, self-gratifying curiosity I have in spades.

But when it comes to questioning assumptions and doing daily analysis of the things that are right in front of me, I fall short. Indeed, my personality falls into the "what is, just is" school (in contrast to the bigger "what is, well, it might not necessarily be" category). Another way to think of this would be:

If there is a pancake on a plate on the table, my brain reacts with a, "Cool. Pancake on table. Must eat it. Now."

Other people, however, might have the response of, "How did that pancake get there? More importantly, why is it there? What would be the ramifications of eating it? And is it actually a pancake? It looks like a circular bready foodthing, but for all I know it could be slightly-overcooked lefsa. Or it could be a frisbee. Or mayhap it's a saucy beret that I might toss into the air, Mary Tyler Moore style. Unless I touch it and smell it, I can't be sure of its possibilities."

Luckily, if there's only one pancake on the table, you can rest assured that I've polished it off by the time the deeper thinker gets done sorting through his/her litany of questions. Poor, hungry ponderers. Good thing you have all that food for thought to keep you sated.

The earliest instance of my living-upon-unquestioned-assumptions occurred with my parents. My dad was named Donald, and my mom is Maxine. Until well past the age of 9, I assumed that all moms had names that started with "M," and all dads had names that started with "D"--so that their job titles corresponded with their first intials. It was the Rule of Parenting. Then I met my friend Margaret's mother Theresa, and that pesky "T" name made my foundations shake. "Couldn't you just call her your 'tom' instead of your 'mom'?" I asked.

And it wasn't until my mid-twenties that I realized, consciously, that the seasons, well, they would just keep spining 'round and 'round. There was one year in particular when I thought, "Look, it's winter now. 'Bout this time last year, wasn't it winter?" Suddenly, feebly, the bulb flickered on. Once I slowed it all down and made some notations on a Post-It note, a pattern emerged: for every year of my life, there had been a spring followed by a summer followed by a fall followed by a winter. I could, therefore, extrapolate that this succession of seasons might continue into future years, as well. This most definitely affected my shopping; realizing that Land's End was clearancing swimsuits suddenly made much more sense, for there was clearly a chance that summer-like weather might be back the following year, so buying a swimsuit would not just be a fool's enterprise.

Then there were the revelations that took place once I got married, and my husband moved to the town where I'd been living for more than three years as a singleton. He, with regularity, would head out on an errand or for a run and then come home and, in a single remark, open up a whole new world to me. One day, he walked in and announced, "Hey, you know, that cemetery here in town is a great place to run; it's well-paved, flat, and away from traffic." I looked blankly at him and replied, "Cemetery?" "Well, yes, Joce, there's a cemetery in this town of 23,000 where they bury the deceased, you know. And it's right off the highway there." My blank stare remained until he continued, "It's over by the Shopko." OOOOHHH, over by the Shopko. Why didn't he just say so? But who knew there would be a cemetery in my town? I must have been watching coverage of Princess Diana's death the day the town gave its seminar entitled "Yes, We Bury the Dead 'Uns Here in Civilization." At least, harumph, I knew all about the tragically-deceased ex-princess' burial. I saw her casket and everything, and her self-righteous brother made that island-dealie to inter her on. Maybe if they'd shown live coverage of someone in my town getting buried--over there by the highway--I might have had an inkling about that cemetery business.

Even my long-suffering husband had to sigh loudly when he witnessed, a couple years after CemeteryGate, my discovery that sunflower seeds come from--GET THIS--sunflowers. Until that fateful day, I only knew they were dropped by a stork into the sunflower-seed-packet-patch and, instead of the options of "boy" or "girl," I could choose between still-in-shell or already-shelled. Or if I were in a town without a packet patch handy, I could head into the Gas 'N Chug and buy some. I may be dumb, but I can make a convenience store purchase; many of the dumbest people I know make convenience store purchases. However, who knew that these things in the bag weren't named "sunflower seeds" due to some manufacturer's whimsy? Who knew that they literally could be shaken out of a sunflower and then either eaten or planted to grow more sunflowers? This a-ha moment took place after we'd grown sunflowers in our yard, when I one day saw a hail of small objects plummet out of some of the huge yellow heads. "My, my," said I, "but those little things look a whole lot like the sunflower seeds I buy at the store." Hey. Wait. A. Minute.

Gazed upon through loving eyes, my pockets of ignorance are charming. Blinder-free, though, we can all agree I's a dimwit.

What, you need further evidence (beyond the fact that I am *still* astonished that Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold's marriage didn't last)?

Okay, so last week, I was out for a run, listening to an NPR story about the new baseball stadium that will be built in Minneapolis in a few years. The pundits kept talking about the Minnesota team--you know, The Twins--when suddenly, I skidded to a stop, right there in the gravel. The Twins. Yea, I'd heard that name for years. My brain bulged out of my ears at that moment, though, as it changed shape one more time. How surreal is it that Minneapolis and St. Paul are called The Twin Cities, and then they have this baseball team called The Twins? Could it it possible...that...there's a correspondence? I always just figured you have to call a team something, so, sure, why not "Twins"? In the world of sports, there's The Wild--and I'm guessing they're kind of, um, like that. It's not as though they live in Wildville or anything. (Do they?) And also, there are The Rangers. Could it be they all work in a national park, and I'm just now figuring that out?

Quite frankly, I could give you more examples of how I blithely trip through my days, but I have to leave now. See, there's a pancake on the table over there. Must eat. Now.

Patooooooey. Friggin' beret. Sorry I poured syrup on your hat, lady. But maybe next time don't leave it sitting there on the table like that.

Oh, by the way, can anyone explain this to me: every time I click on the button that says "publish" here in Blogger, a bunch of new words shows up on my blog. What's that all about?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"You Finish My Post"

Here are some photos from the big race this past weekend (I'm in the blue shirt, #2409). Because I was in a state of severe oxygen debt, I have no recollection of a single thought in my head.

So you tell me: what was I thinking, as I tripped through the trails?

I'll give you a little starter:

"As Jocelyn ran the Trailmix..."

Monday, April 23, 2007

"Trailmix: What Doesn't Choke Me Makes Me Stronger"

For the last five or six years, I've run a spring race that's held in a nature reserve outside of Minneapolis. When registering for this race, which is called The Trailmix, there are three options:

  • I could run the 50K solo race (translation: 31 miles, all on my own screaming feet). But since I often feel as though I'm going to expire just from carrying a basket of laundry up from the basement or heading into the kitchen for another snickerdoodle, I'm pretty sure I'd be dead by Mile 12, and I would like for my children to know their mother. So that's out.

  • Or I could run the much-more reasonable 25K solo event, which would have me out shuffling 15.5 miles on muddy trails for, oh, let's say, five hours or so. Here's the thing, though: I need to eat sometimes, and if I were out there, frolicking with the spring peepers for such a long period of time, I would need some serious sustenance--none of that Gatorade or little cookie business they have at the aid tables, either. I would need a catering van to meet me mid-course and lay out a spread of corn puffs and brisket and scones and espresso panna cotta if I were to have any chance of getting through the rest of the mileage. After ingesting such a fine meal, however, I'm pretty sure I'd head back out onto the trail and need to hurl it all up the moment I ascended the first hill. And, frankly, paying for a catered meal only to vomit it up shortly thereafter sounds way too much like being a 21-year-old bride at a wedding where Kool and the Gang covers are played during the reception.

  • So I have always opted for the third choice in this race: the 50K team event. Under this option, four of us break up the 50K distance, which means that we each run 7.75 miles. This distance is still long enough that I take walking breaks, especially when the course snakes up the back of a downhill ski hill (and then we all get to careen down the front of the thing, like out-of-control Hot Wheels cars, on the other side). And sometimes, when it's really slippery, and I've just stumbled for the 50th time in three minutes, along with realizing I'm just about the last person out of 400 runners still remaining on the course, I cry a little.

But my tears are all part of the fun, I'm sure. Indeed, good weep generally spices up my day and breaks up those endless "hours of contentment."

Mostly, I do this race because it's a chance to be on a running team, and Paula Radcliffe only knows when I'd ever get to be on such a thing otherwise. My lot in life, historically, is to be the kind of person who is drafted for a Trivia Night at the Bar team, where I slam a beer and ring the bell simultaneously, shouting out, "Wink Martindale!" Thus, it's a rare thrill for me to be part of any team that taps into my physicality rather than my some-would-say-"useless" knowledge of gameshow hosts, film directors, and Reese Witherspoon's love life.

Unlike at Trivia Night, the first requirement of my Trailmix teammates is that they have to enjoy losing.

Okay, I put that wrong. Rather, let's just say they shouldn't be competitive for, rest assured, our team is going to place about 42nd out of 60 teams. Or maybe 59th. In fact, with me as Team Captain and literal anchor, I hold my team's standing to the back of the pack; my sluggish form keeping me at well over a ten-minute mile, I've even approached race directors and offered to be a "sweeper"--the person who takes the flagging down off the course and who, encountering injured strays upon the race course, helps them hobble to the ambulance at the finish line. I did this once for a little kitty I found on the path, and he licked my face repeatedly with his sandpaper tongue before the nice paramedics strapped him to a stretcher. I'll never forget his woebegone little face peering out at me from the back of the ambulance as they drove him away.

At any rate, I'm a slow runner, and I don't care a whit. Many of the students in my English classes are poor writers, but I don't begrudge them their efforts. It's okay to participate enthusiastically in something you're not inherently good at and not to measure yourself against others but instead against your own possibility. For my students, this sometimes means using a comma correctly (I give them a big "Woo-hoo" and ring my Trivia Night bell when that happens). For me, with running, it means covering almost-8 miles on trails with a grin on my face.

All runners at the Trailmix start at the same time, and then teammates' final times are all added together to arrive at the team's total time. My goal, one day, is to find teammates who are both swift and humble, who would be willing to engage in this proposition: I would like their three times to equal my one time. Maybe they each could run the course in 45 minutes, and then I could finish in 2 hrs, 15 minutes. For no good reason and with no real purpose, that plan still has an intriguing elegance to it.

Interestingly, though, my efforts at this past Saturday's Trailmix overthrew tradition. Having felt quite certain that I was ready for little more than a leisurely jog up and down the hills of the reserve, viewing the race as, really, just another chance to save a kitty, I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself possessed of the Eye of the Tiger.

See, at the starting line, I took a notion: instead of starting out really slow and then slowing down, mile by mile, I might try starting out with a bit more exertion and then slowing down mile by mile. My eyes got a little buggy, then, when, two miles into the race, I wasn't having the solitary run I'm used to; in fact, I was still in the middle of a pack of people (they were all clacking to each other so loudly that any plaintive mewings in the woods would have gone unheard; fortunately, they rather toned it down after I bellered, "SHUT UP, FELLOW RUNNERS, ALL OF Y'ALL. SOMEWHERE OUT HERE, THERE MAY BE WOUNDED FELINES WHO NEED MY HELP. HOW WILL WE EVER HEAR THE CRIES OF DISTRESS IF YOU INSIST ON THIS RELENTLESS BLABBING TO YOUR FRIEND ABOUT THE NEW TIRES ON YOUR CAR?").

And then, mile after mile, despite the mutters swirling around me about "watch out for the crazy lady," I just felt good. The course was relatively dry, there was good cloudcover to protect my Southern Belle skin from burn, and the kitties had all stayed home. Stress free, I was having a fine ole toodle. The fact that I'd also selected a "rabbit" to follow, a determined woman who chugged along in her snazzy little green sports bra, helped, as well.

There she is.

Whoops, there she goes. Better ramp it up and dog her heels. Slow down, Cinderella! What is it, midnight, and your carriage is about to revert to a pumpkin? Rein it in, princess.

At one point, Rabbit Lady took off, out of my sight, and I feared I'd lost her for the duration. But then, in the last mile, there she was again, taunting me with her sweaty greenery.

The Rabbit firmly back in my sights and plenty of steam still in my engine, I plucked her off efficiently and made for the finish line, grinning at the cheers of my family and teammates (yea, of course they'd all finished already, but they hadn't had time to change clothes, exfoliate, do some coupon-clipping, and have a roast beef sandwich before my finish, as has been the case in the past).

And when I looked at my time on the clock, I just about had to grab my cell phone and dial up Paula Radcliffe right there and then, to holler joyfully to her: "Paula, Paula, sweetmeat, I beat last year's time by 20 minutes. Do you hear me? 20-friggin'-minutes! That's beyond outrageous! I am fleet; I am zippy; I am a veritable winged sprite!"

But then I remembered I don't own a cell phone and that Paula changed her number after my last call anyhow.

So, instead, I just hummed a few bars from a little-known song called "Jocelyn Rules All Things and Saves the Kitties" and jigged over to the t-shirt table.



Thursday, April 19, 2007

"A Jocelyn By Any Other Name Is Someone Else"

About three times a year, I go to a salon to get my hair cut. This, I believe, qualifies me as a semi-low-maintenance woman, at least when it comes to hair. When it comes to dark chocolate and compliments about how my very presence eases any interpersonal situation, however, I am high-high-maintenance, requiring a steady influx of both.

My favorite thing about going to the salon is when the stylist drizzles a little fragrant oil on my scalp and gives me a five-minute head and neck massage. My love for her, during those moments, surpasses my love of Tina Fey, and that is immense.

My least favorite thing about going to the salon is the inane small talk. I do not see the same stylist each time (spreading the love is one of the keys to my profound interpersonal success), so I have no ongoing relationship with the person cutting my hair. I do not want an ongoing relationship with the person cutting my hair. Outside of the fact that I am wearing my hair and he/she will soon be wearing bits of my hair, we generally have nothing in common.

I've tried bringing a book to use as a "no conversation, please" prop, but without my glasses on, I am unable to find my nostril with my finger, much less read a book. I've tried shutting down conversation by saying things like, "My meditation hour this morning was cut short by my preschooler hollering 'Wipe me,' so I think I'll just take a little quiet time right now to cleanse my inner being and remove all spiritual traces of poo, if that's all right with you."

But the chat engine still revs up, and before I know it, I'm discussing the weather--yes, muddy, yes, brisk; whether I have children--yes, two, three if I count myself; and at what moment Chantal or Philomena or Tess first knew she wanted a career in cosmotology--usually when she received a "D" in biology in high school.

Despite my efforts to look distracted or sullen, we end up doing the chat. Indeed, in addition to knowing how to point cut, stylists have the gift of gabbaliciouness.

This past weekend, then, when I clomped into the salon, I was braced, resigned to tumbling under the onslaught of Small Talk. If it meant getting rid of my split ends, I could feign enthusiasm about sap moss shampoo and the fact that my stylist had just gotten her own apartment.

But I wasn't prepared to be met with such a hearty and jovial handshake by my stylist. She fairly raced towards me, as I paged through OUTSIDE magazine in the lobby, trying not to topple off the modernist squares that doubled as furniture. "OH. MY. GOD. Your name is Jocelyn?!!! You'll never believe this: MY NAME IS JOCELYN, TOO! OH. MY. GOD."

I managed a tepid, "Wow. What are the odds?" while she tugged me to her chair and plopped me in. As she began strangling me with the frontal cut-cape, arranging the velcro ever-tighter around my neck, Jocelyn the Shearer continued: "My whole life, I've, like, hardly ever met another Jocelyn, like maybe once. Ever. And then here you are..."

Strangulated Jocelyn (aka me) gave her a "Yes, there aren't too many of us" before Shearly Jocelyn raved, "But, wait, get this. Okay, so yesterday, I HAD ANOTHER JOCELYN HERE, AND I CUT HER HAIR, TOO. SO, LIKE, WHEN I SAW THAT I HAD A JOCELYN TODAY, TOO, COMING IN, I THOUGHT, 'WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON? IS THIS, LIKE, THE SAME LADY AS YESTERDAY, AND SHE JUST WANTS ME TO CUT MORE?'"

I choked out a quick, "Now, that could either have been flattering or a problem, right? You probably wondered why she was coming back so soon?"


Right about here, I perked up. And under that frontal cut-cape, I cracked my knuckles and warmed up for some fun: "Um, Jocelyn? Hi, it's me down here, the other Jocelyn? No, not the one from yesterday...I'm today's Jocelyn, the one who's here right now with you? Hold on to your rat-tailed comb, but I think I can make you really gape: I, the Jocelyn here in front of you, JUST TURNED 40. It's as though all the Jocelyns in the world are spaced a decade apart, eh?"

Shearly Jocelyn dropped her arms to her sides, limply, aghast at the wondrous world of possibilities that had just opened up in front of her. "This is just, like, the most incredible thing I've ever heard. I can't even believe how weird this is."

I egged her further: "And you know, I'd be willing to wager there's another Jocelyn somewhere in the world who's 10 years old right now. And, for a large amount of money, I'd even be willing to search out one who just turned 50. We're everywhere, I'd guess."


Yes, Shearly Jocelyn. There's a startlingly large world out there.

Having warmed up, I moved in for the kill: "And don't you love that all the Jocelyns of the world, no matter their age, are named after a French opera? And, even more, after a lullaby in that opera?"

Shearly's eyes crossed, and she heaved a big sigh: "Um, like, what do you mean?"

"Well, that's why my parents chose the name. It actually comes from Old German, and it also means 'cheerful' or 'light hearted' in Latin. In fact, it started out as a masculine name that now has traversed genders to become a feminine one."

"So, er, huh?"

"It's all neither here nor there, really. I've just always found the meaning of names interesting, and my parents chose the names of their kids pretty deliberately."

"Like, on purpose? All's I know is my mom had heard the name Jocelyn somewhere, and it fit in with the rest of my family, with Jamie and Jessica and Jory and all."

And, with that, I realized our conversational thread had completely unraveled. Time for me, with no book in hand, and an entire haircut left to get through, to redirect:

"It sure is sunny out today, isn't it? Are we going to wash my hair now? Do you have any of that sap moss shampoo? How about you do a little texturizing today? Do you like to use a razor when you cut? What's your favorite service to perform here at the salon? Do you ever get to do nails, too?"

Forty-five minutes later, I staggered out of the salon, exhausted from the effort of diverting attention away from our common name. But for the rest of the day, blinded by my shiny, bouncy, newly-revived locks, no one noticed my inner depletion. And isn't that the point of a haircut, after all?
I hasten to point out, dear readers, that sharing this story is only possible because I use my real name on this blog. Imagine, for example, if I used an online tag such as CraftyWeePaws. How could you have suspended your disbelief in the face of TWO or more women in the world sharing such a name, even in the wildly creative world of hairdressing?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Endeavoring Vertically"

When Groomeo and I first met and were wooing, he worked as a naturalist at an environmental learning center. What this meant, on a day-to-day basis, was that he tromped around trails with a bunch of fourth graders and expounded on such lofty subjects as water ecology, whitetail deer, beavers, and seeds. Most frequently, he had to teach the two "backbone" classes of the ELC: a ropes course and rock climbing. On the surface, these seem like awesome classes to take and to teach...which is why every school bringing its kids to the ELC signs up for them. This means, then, that every naturalist has to teach Rocks and Ropes courses an average of, oh, a hobgobjillion times in his/her career.

Indeed, by the time naturalists wipe the sparkly dew off their tanned eyelids, they often realize that they'd find a trip to the mall in the Big City terribly refreshing. I mean, there are generally no whitetail deer running through J.C. Penneys, and there most surely isn't a ropes course in the hallowed mallhalls next to the Baby Gap, much less a rock wall to climb (unless, of course, you visit Minnesota's Mall of America, where all things are possible, from buying catsup at The Lake Woebegon Store to taking whacks in a batting cage). For jaded naturalists, the mall is a cool, shady haven, where they can buy socks and look at overweight people drinking sugared sodas and not be bothered, for two blessed hours, about the diminishing number of heirloom varieties growing on the planet.

Most definitely, Groom was not craving more time at the climbing wall or out on the ropes course. Thus, I knew it was love when he agreed to belay me (not nearly as titillating as it sounds) and make possible my first-ever rock climbing experience.

Adapting to the outdoorsy life, I started my afternoon of rock climbing with a 7-mile trek to the ELC on the Superior Hiking Trail, which is, itself, pretty much made up of rocky ascents and inadvertent slips 'n trips.

By the time I got to the ELC for our climbing rendezvous, I was plenty bushed. As I worked on recovering, I stood there, at the bottom of that climbing wall next to Groom, eyeing the myriad options of routes up the thing, and thought, "Maybe if I do a swift ninja move and catch him off guard, I can snap his tibia and make a break for it before he can tackle me and start strapping me up."

Woefully, I liked him well enought that I wanted him to consider me a worthy helpmeet in life--which entailed de-emphasizing to him my my love of celebrity gossip and the occasional pack of double-stuff Oreos in the hopes that he could imagine me fitting into his existence--so I girded my loins (literally, by strapping on the climbing harness) and gamely requested, "Just say nice things, no matter how much I complain, okay? I may try to point out that not only is it inane to climb a mountain simply because 'it's there,' it's even more ludicrous to climb a wall because someone built it and then proclaimed 'it's there.' When start crabbing out loud, tell me my arms look really buff and that you've never admired anyone more than you do me at that moment."

With the terms agreed upon, I began my ascent. This meant, naturally, that I stood in front of the wall for some long moments, adjusting my harness and helmet, trying to ascertain if someone had hung a ladder onto the wall that I could just shimmy up.

The ladder-lacking treehuggers. No luck. It was time to really, really start, lest the romance take a hit.

I tentatively put a foot out towards a hold, retracted it, started a hand upwards, retracted it, and then adjusted my harness some more. I also did some important behind-the-ear scratching.

Right about then, Groom stuck the belayingropethingy under his body and laid back on the floor, resting his hands under his head, settling in for the duration.

The long-suffering tolerance inherent in his pose made me take action. I put up a foot. Then, well, you know, retracted it.

After much hemming and hawing, I finally launched myself up the wall. At this point, I know I should emphasize how important and life-changing that difficult ascent was--how it taught me about decision making, trusting my abilities, and the depth of my strength.

In actuality, it was replete with suckage.

I had no idea where to put my hands, how to make it easier, or how to get my arms to stop visibly shaking. If anyone else had entered the room, I might have sobbed.

The Groom, knowing me instinctively, occasionally gave a quiet suggestion for a better handhold--but mostly stared at the ceiling and let me muddle through (and this, ladies and gentleman, is the key to the ongoing success of our marriage). When, after an eternity, I finally reached the top ledge, I heaved myself over and sat there, quivering, noting, "I might need to stay here for a few minutes. And is there any other way down, like a rescue helicopter? One with some graham crackers on board?"

Outside of emulating Mary Martin in Peter Pan, however, it seemed I would have to climb back down on my own steam. But I bolstered my spirits with an assured, "Oh, coming down is always easier in everything, right?"

"Actually, Joce, most people really dislike descending; they can't see where they're going, and that makes them uptight. In general, folks dislike the descent much more than the climb up."

Suddenly, I decided to sit a whole lot longer up on that ledge. I envisioned a rich life of solitude and fasting there, where I could replay the film of GREASE in my mind on an endless loop. Who could ever get tired of "You're the One That I Want," after all? And the dance contest, when Sandy in her prim, white dress gets knocked off the floor by Cha Cha from St. Bernadette's? And then, when Rizzo tells Kenickie on the ferris wheel at the school carnival that she's not knocked up? I could have milked that masterpiece for weeks before even thinking about heading down off my Ledge of Cinematic Nostalgia.

Eventually, though, my stomach growled. It occurred to me then that the first three days of fasting are a big buzz kill; plus, I'd forgotten to wear my adult diaper. The downward deed had to be done.

During the climb down, I did, in fact, experience a little life lesson, a sort of rocky epiphany: I am someone who likes a blind descent. When I can see everything clearly in front of me, I get anxious and work too hard. On the other hand, when I only have an intuitive sense of what I need to do, I can plunge ahead, or backwards, as the case may be, much more confidently.

In short, the descent was groovy. I slithered down that wall quicker than Kate Moss and Pete Doherty can stammer: "What white powder? We just ate doughnuts and got some sugar on our noses, fer gawsakes."

Back on the ground, I decided I'd done enough of proving myself to my beau. It was time to get real and let him know I'd not be hankering to climb up that wall again any time soon, no matter that it was part of his career; I'd tried out his stuff, and now he could get okay with my bidness.

"Hey, Groom-To-Be, I gotta tell you something: I actually just really like reading PEOPLE magazine and scarfing down the occasional Wendy's single classic burger, no pickles or tomato. But I promise I will always go on hikes with you and ooh at aspens and stuff."

"That'll work," said he. "Haven't I told you that when I biked from Seattle to Minneapolis, I had to stop in northern Montana and find a drugstore in a town of 200 because I knew PEOPLE'S Best and Worst Dressed issue was coming out that week? So, yea, let's go for hikes and all, but when we do, let's gossip about how Gwyneth Paltrow named her firstborn after, hahahaha, a piece of fruit. Like that would ever happen."

And, thusly, our vows were written.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Famous First Words"

(photo: Jay Johnson)

The owner of these feet jumped into my bed this morning, had a little cuddle, and then uttered the household's First Words of the Day:

"I have dried boogers in my nose. You need to get them out."

If, like the gypsies of Romania, you are a superstitious person and believe that the first words uttered by a family member at the start of each day determine how that day plays out, what can we surmise about Jocelyn on Wednesday?

I might have crusty fingers.

I might have had a teachable moment with my son before the sun rose.

I might have made an uncharacteristically hasty exit from my bed this morning.

I might go shopping for some new anti-bacterial hand solution.

I might have tried out a new spread on my breakfast toast, one made up of little, crusty flakes.

I might have determined that my kid's unrestricted breathing is, in fact, NOT a priority for me.

I might need to change the pillowcases.

I might have discovered that a Q-tip can't do what a finger can.

In truth, my response to The Niblet was more like, "Um, yea, honey? That ain't going to happen. There comes a point in every young lad's life when he becomes responsible for his own boogers. Today, sweet hallelujah, is just that rite of passage for you."

How about you, gentle readers? What were the first words uttered in your household today? And what do they tell us about your day?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

"Talent Will Tell"

Most nights, I watch only the first three minutes of the evening news. Everyone knows the first three minutes are where it's at, and the other twenty-seven minutes are all weather teasers; superficial overviews of happenings nationally and internationally; the weather guy in an outside-the-studio weather garden ringing a bell because the night is, er, "clear as a bell"; hockey highlights; regional weather reports; weather-across-the-nation summaries; stories about how Gordy at Gordy's High-Hat Diner has been pleasing crowds for three decades with his well-fried hamburgers; and weather predictions for the following day, all capped off with some stilted banter between faux-jovial anchors ("That cold weather, Steve, that's kind of like 'brrrr, why do we live here, isn't it?'" "Don't you know it, Seth! I couldn't have said it better.")

Okay, I have to be honest here. I don't even think the first three minutes are worth tuning into, much less the other twenty-seven agonizing minutes. Local evening news--any evening news--is a bunch of overpackaged blather (Gordy and his burgers notwithstanding).

But sometimes I tune in, just to see if Dick Cheney's shot anyone that day.

And occasionally, even if Cheney has kept his finger off the trigger and his hands off George Bush's marionette strings, the evening news coughs up a goodie. For the last four years here in Duluth, those goodies have come from one source, a baby-faced newbie reporter-cum-anchor named Edward Moody.

My relationship with Edward started when he, a fresh graduate from some Kansas university, landed a job "here in the Northland." For his first assignment, his mettle was tested when studio heads packaged his lithe frame into a huge parka and stationed him, in the middle of a severe ice storm with hurricane-force winds, out on the most blustery corner in our beloved hamlet of Frigidville. For many greenhorn reporters, this would have been a moment with which they would not have reckoned at all well. Many unseasoned reporters would have watched their frozen fingers snap off, one by one, blowing away in the tempest, and decided, "Mom, Dad, I'm coming home to live in the basement. My blogging will keep me out of trouble; I promise."

But not Edward. Nae, Edward fluffed his parka, clung to the microphone with every frozen finger still dangling from his paw, and shouted to the camera with an enthusiasm bordering on glee: "This is Edward Moody, coming to you from the Coppertop Church, where small children are flying by my head, their bodies encased in ice! You can hear faint splashes as their bodies reach the lake and are tossed in!! Even better, cars all around me are skidding into light poles, but luckily their frames are buffered by the two inches of ice coating their exteriors. Indeed, this is no night for man, beast, or daycare to venture out!!!!"

Then he winked, turned a cartwheel right there in the church parking lot, and wrapped it all up by doing jazz hands after tossing a baton twenty feet into the air (not that he caught it; the baton was found the next day embedded into the side of the Positively Third Street Bakery, where it had narrowly missed decapitating a worker who was rolling out challah dough).

In short, Edward breathed passion and fire into that ice storm, melting hearts around the city.

The next day, I sent in my registration and dues for the as-yet-nonexistent Edward Moody Fan Club. It's a great club to be a part of, since there are no meetings or officers. We do nothing but tune into the universal vibe that is Edward. And we don't even have to watch the news to feel that. It just thrums amongst the stars.

After such an auspicious start, his natural talent and boyish enthusiasm fast-tracked him to a job as weekend and morning anchor. More than anything, the populace of Duluth has been eager to see him grow facial hair and hear his voice change. We've folded the lad unto our bosom, and isn't he turning out nicely?

So you can imagine how exponentially my affection grew a few months ago when I staggered down to the television one morning at 6:15, turning it on as I grappled about for a Backyardigans DVD that might sedate the Wee Niblet and tamp down his natural energies until at least sunrise, only to find Edward already in the studio, dapper in his usual sartorial splendor, presiding over the morning news.

I stood up a little straighter and ran a hand through my tousled hair, discreetly testing my breath in the palm of my hand (Verdict? Nasty.). Averting my mouth from the television, I watched peripherally, as Edward put his own stamp on morning anchoring.

At the end of the broadcast, Edward suddenly departed from reading the teleprompter, acting initially as though he was launching into some wooden repartee with the weather guy:

"It was my birthday yesterday, you know, Todd."

"Oh, well, happ--"

"And you know, Todd, I was feeling a little down..." [editor's note: It's hard to be a person of color here in Honkeytown, not to mention young and, I speculate, don't go getting the idea that feeling depressed is a usual thing for Edward. Don't. He's fine. He just had ONE hard day, all right?]

"Geez, Edward, that's too bad. But you know, we at the station all wish you a happ--"

"And so here's the thing, Todd. I went up to the mall..." [another editor's note: Bad idea, Edward. The mall never made anyone feel better, even if they got a Cinnabon. That thing goes to the hips for a lifetime and is the stuff of regret.]

"Wow, that's great, Edward. The mall is a great place to see some weather, which we now need to wrap up..."

"And after I'd walked around for awhile--feeling a little mopey, I'll admit--I headed out to the parking lot."

"Wow. Now we really do need to just recap the weather. Tomorrow we'll see..."

"And when I was in the parking lot, a woman drove by and recognized me. She stopped and rolled down her window to tell me that she's a fan and how much she likes the broadcast..." [editor's note: How could she not? It's EDWARD, and he is possessed of a natural charisma the likes of which Bill Clinton only aspires to] "...and then she started telling me about how watching our show has really helped get her through some hard times."

"Sure enough, people have hard times in all kinds of weather, don't they, Edward? And if I could just go into some of that NOW..."

"So I listened to her tell me about her thirteen-month-old son and how he'd been really having a really hard time because he'd needed a series of eye surgeries..." [editor's note: I don't have a thirteen-month-old, already. And no eye surgeries. I wasn't at the mall that day. Sure, one time I ran into Edward at the grocery store and mauled him near the butter, asking him, "So who *does* choose your on-air clothes? Because you are always so turned out." But, swearsies, that was not me at the mall that day.] "...and she was just telling me how difficult the last year has been for her and how she really appreciated the brightness I'd brought into her mornings..."

"That's really interesting, Edward. We're just about out of time here, so quickly, let me just warn..."

"And after I thanked her for her kind words, I really had a moment there. I know we're about out of time, Todd, but it really hit me there in the parking lot that no matter how bad you think you've got it, there's always someone else who has it worse...." [editor's note: I'm sure the hard-times woman felt really good about herself when she watched you say that, Edward. But we can forgive you one gauche misstep. You're young, after all, and compassion comes in baby steps.] "...and so I needed to buck up and realize that I should just be appreciating what I have. Now, Todd, I know I've used up your time here, but we've got to sign out now. This is Edward Moody, along with Todd Hansen, hoping you have a good day."

As the cameras pulled back, Todd's body language remained agitated--after all, he hadn't finished off his broadcast with the much-needed thirteenth reminder to "grab an umbrella before heading out"--while Edward's face softened into misty dreaminess as he further mused on the lessons of his birthday.

The following week, swear to Cronkite, Todd Nelson announced that he would be switching stations and becoming the weather dude for a new FOX nightly news broadcast.

My forecast for Todd in his new job? A cold front of completely scripted weather updates, sprinkled with showers of awkward banter alternating with deep sighs of opportunity-missed, topped off with patches of keening for the sunshine that is Edward "Keepin' It Real" Moody.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"The Wisdom Is Not Actually in the Teeth"

A couple of weeks ago, Groom, at age 36, had two wisdom teeth extracted. Since he'd had the bottom teeth taken out during college, he had only the top two with which to contend. One of his top buckers had emerged from the gum and, with no wisdom tooth on the lower jaw beneath it to grind against, this tooth had then continued to grow, unchecked. Basically, he had an inside-the-mouth fang, which, luckily, is just how all the Red Carpet Hollywood celebs are wearing their fangs this year. On the other side of his skull, Groom had an impacted wisdom tooth; the lily-livered thing was afraid to peer out into the light of day. Or the light of soft palate.

Except soft palates aren't really renowned for their light.

So the tooth was afraid to peer out into the, er, moist, soft darkness of the mouth cave. Now *that's* lily-livered, eh? I mean, what's so scary about a moist, dark place, ya big Tooth Wussy?

Well, bats, for one. They're found in moist, dark places (not so much mouths, though), and they're scary. If you fall asleep in a cave, after a long day of spelunking, bats will crawl down your throat and suffocate you.

You maybe didn't know that. I'm a regular font of little-known facts like that. If you ever need to know what to do with a shoelace and a bottle of lotion, just ask me. I've got the knowledge locked up.

So, to summarize this post so far: Groom had one too-big tooth that hurt and one no-show tooth that hurt, and bats are possessed of a rare evil.

On the day of his tooth extraction, Groomeo was nervous, fidgety even, which is a rarity. Normally, Groom is Walking Zen, all contented fluid control (he's like the fog...everywhere at once so subtly that you can breathe him but not touch him). But that day, he was a little twitchy, scratchy, jerky.

To assuage his nerves, I tried making a dramatic show of complimenting him: "What a Big Boy you are! If it hurts when you wake up, I'll have a Tootsie Pop and a Harry Potter sticker waiting for you, sweetie!!!! And you're such a strong, fine lad that I'm sure you'll be back on your skateboard, doing tricks outside the public library, in no time."

Oddly, his twitching gained momentum.

The surgery went well--he didn't have any psychological breaks due to the anaesthesia or provide me with any new material by waking up sobbing, "Beethoven...Beethoven...bound through the meadow towards me, my love! Embrace me!"--and a few hours later, we headed home where he began the long, slow process of recovery.

I was ready for the bloody gauze, the swollen chipmunk cheeks, and the unfocused Lortab pupils. But I hadn't realized he would also need to rinse his mouth every half hour, for, well, let's see how long it's been now--um, TWO WEEKS. Basically, he's been carrying around a Nalgene bottle full of a salt/baking soda potion, and no matter where we're at, he faithfully does the swish and spit. Parking meters, the kids' hair, tree trunks, and people waiting at the bus stop...all have felt the spray of his rinse.

Once or twice, when we've all been out somewhere together, I've forgotten about the All-Important Rinse Bottle and tried to give the kids a drink from it. As a result, my son has a new love for "savory water" and will no doubt dip a cup into the Pacific Ocean one day, when he visits the West Coast, raising his salty drink in a toast to Good Ole Pappy.

As the healing has progressed, there have been a few setbacks; for example, a stitch popped well before the date when it should have. After that, like the pearls falling off my heirloom choker when I snagged it on Laura Bush's brooch at a State Dinner, the stitches began a steady plink, plink, plink of unraveling. And then, well, the smell began. (No, not at the State Dinner. The White House actually has a reasonably talented chef, one who uses shallots to great effect and who keeps bad smells to a minimum. Keep up with me here.)

The smell began inside Groom's mouth. Personally, I stayed far enough away that I could just take his word for it--we wouldn't want The Lurve to suffer, after all. But he spent several days shaking his head, noting, "Man, my mouth reeks." Then he'd pick up his Nalgene bottle and do the swish 'n rinse.

Shortly thereafter, The Flap became an issue. What with the stitches gone (and, er, our phone out of order so that he couldn't call the oral surgeon's office for aid), a flap of unhealed skin hung down. I envisioned it as a stage curtain that could be drawn when the bits of trapped rice and ham were ready to perform and then closed again after they took their bows. I considered buying tickets to see The Flap.

But then, one afternoon, Groom approached me rather tentatively and admitted, "I just swallowed The Flap. It sort of, well, fell off right when I was drinking, and down the hatch it went."

R.I.P, Flap.

A consequence of The Flap's demise was that there is now even less protection between Groom's upper gum and his sinuses, where the impacted tooth was extracted. Only the thinnest of partitions separates these areas now, until new tissue grows to fill things in.

All of this leads me to the question that now occupies me most: Since the reek has gone away, and, thus, I now feel like getting near The Groom again, is it possible that I might try to lay a passionate kiss on him some night, only to have my tongue come out his nostril?