Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum"

Once I finished college and graduate school and poked a toe into the frigid air of that fabled place called "real world," I realized that it's hard to make new friends when they're not stuck next to you for 16 weeks in Psycholinguistics; there's a natural flow towards beer and conversation when class is over, but if there is no class, then it's just you and beer and silence and not have flow. Connections are easily made when you're comparing $600 bookstore receipts with your peers; they are less apt to happen some years later when you're comparing insurance information with the person you've just sideswiped in front of the Juan More Taco on Main Street.

Indeed, when you're in that post-educational phase of life called "work suck junk," it's a challenge to find new BFFs, to find kindred spirits. In my job experiences--with a few notable exceptions--I have been surrounded by people who take professionalism seriously; who believe meetings are a place of productivity; who feel everyone should sign a card for Joe when his mom dies, even though they've never actually spoken to Joe, outside of asking him to pass the staples when they've been "shopping" in the supply closet at the same time. In short, I've been surrounded by people with whom I have very little in common, outside of our need for staples. Of course, there is a certain amount of forced conviviality, a few slaps on the back as a display of collegiality, the occasional soft moment over a Ziploc bag of celery sticks at the little refrigerator in the lounge...but the truth is that, at the end of the day, I don't necessarily want to hang out with people I know simply by virtue of having the same employer. And, quite rightly, they shouldn't want to hang out with me. Cuz, hell, baby, I'm not always the nicest W-2 withholder in the room. If they need to run away fast, it's completely understandable to me, and I'm happy to give them a starting shove.

Imagine, then, what a rare bit of bliss it is to encounter a colleague with whom I genuinely click, with whom I can be my genuine overblown self. Up until this past semester, I had only two folks like that on my campus, two folks who can tolerate my pissing and cackling and scorching and chortling, and they don't blink. But suddenly, I'm finding three is the magic number.

Three is named Gretchen, and she's livened up my life a bit this last month, sharing stories of unbelievable students, having my family over for dinner, introducing me to limoncello, abetting my habits of gossip and swearing, and giving me the warm feeling that comes from having a new friend around whom I can use the word "anus" and not, upon seeing her astonished mug, have to suddenly pretend I was just randomly naming parts of the body because that's what I do from 2:58-3:00 p.m. each day.

So I have a new galpal, and I have been liking her. But lately, I like her even more, and here's why: she's got killer interesting kids. Evidence of this is contained in the photos below. Gretchen recently had her birthday, and on that special day, her eight-year-old son, Oscar, slipped a card into her bag, a little something he'd picked out just for her.

It was one of those musical cards, so sing aloud the song "Good Love" as you look at the images, starting with the envelope:

...proceeding to the attention-getter:

...and ending with the HIGH-larious, completely-inappropriate, but ever-so-dear-because-it-shows-that-although-he's-a-behavioral-problem-at-school-he's-still-innocent punch line:

Like she won't flash this bit of memory lane on him some evening when he's fifteen and has his buddies Doug and Cal over for a gaming marathon?

Dwarfing the birthday card, however, is her family's Christmas card, which will adorn the magnet board in our kitchen for some months to come:

"May brotherly love and goodwill give you
Joy this holiday season!
Best wishes,
Rick, Gretchen, Jeremy, and Oscar"

Well pleased with the past year and its new friendshipial developments, I'm ready to move on and face 2009. Where better to start the year than California, where mudslides and wildfires seem a reasonable compromise to having the entire state break off and slide into the Pacific?

Between now and January 5th, we'll hit the L.A. area to visit my mom (with side jaunts to San Diego, Palm Springs, and Pasadena).

And who knows...even though I won't be attending college there, it seems possible that I could, maybe, possibly--

perhaps while watching Shamu perform at Sea World--

make a new friend.

After all, even killer whales have anuses.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Who's Your Daddy?"

Back in the 1980s, I did the college gig all traditional-like. Squirming and chafing in Montana, I hit eighteen and began the countdown to flight. When the time came to start college, I viewed the 1,000 miles separating my new campus and my hometown as "a headstart on a life where I don't work in a bowling alley."

1,000 miles away from my high school, I learned to wear scarves and listen to REM and dance to Soul Asylum and subsist on the salad bar and listen to convocations featuring distinguished speakers like that old curmudgeon Garrison Keiller and stalk physics study group sessions in the hope that the word "torque" would ever mean more to me than being the last name of a member of the 1960's faux-musical group The Monkees (Peter Tork) and attend a production of Sam Shepard's True West and climb the water tower about an hour after putting the keg's tap directly into my mouth and,


I think you get the picture.

So I have that experience in my life that represents "college."

However, now I teach at a community college, which often feels more like a move of social justice than a career choice.

Because, you know, there are reasons why students are attending the community college. Certainly, there's convenience; there's affordability; there's the personal touch. Additionally, though, students often find that the community college is a place to go after--or while in the midst of--personal crisis: divorce, job loss, rape, rehab, mental illness. Our students, in short, aren't living their educations. They are tucking their educations in and around their lives, flitting to campus for class and then booking away again the minute the Anatomy & Physiology lab is done, tearing to daycare to pick up the twins.

Thus, community colleges often lack the traditional "college culture." They are commuter campuses, by and large, so our students miss out on the experience of checking their mail for care packages from home or riffling through their roommate's drawers while she's at Abnormal Psych, looking for weepy journals, sex toys, dime bags, packages of Pork Ramen. They pop in to "learn" and jet away to "live." Rarely is there a marriage of the two.

All of this explains why I so love the end-of-term student art show on our campus. For three quick days, the place almost feels like--has the vibe of--a college. When the art show is hung, I feel like shouting to the students, "If you think this is good, you should know places exist where professors take you outside for class in the Spring, and you all sit and lean against trees--YES, there are trees!--and talk about Kierkegaard. And sometimes after class you go play frisbee, and after that someone will play a guitar and sing Cat Stevens off-key. During all of this, you feel more comfortable than you ever have before and simultaneously kind of queerly alone--yet certain that your life will never be more vivid. This, dear community college students, is what you should extrapolate from the art show. Scurry now. Do that. Extrapolate." (then, being where we are, I define "extrapolate")

This semester, the art show was particularly fun because Groomeo has been cashing in on my free credits and taking some art classes, so his work was displayed, too, AND he got to pour glasses of Pepsi at the opening night reception. Me? I got to skip around and clap my happy hands in front of any piece signed "Jocelyn's Husband."

I also got to warm up my snarky sotto voce comments for the dreck that festooned the place. As it turns out, I possess happy hands and sotto voce comments in equal measure, so I went skipping and bitching and mocking and twirling until I was finally forced to collapse back at Groom's Pepsi table and order a double.

Much revived by the carbonation, I headed back out to witness more of "the learning curve made incarnate" that decorated the walls and tables. Of course, personally, my best artistic abilities involve stick figures, sock monkeys, and my own urine, so I couldn't be too condescending.


Come. On.

I. Mean. Really.

And I haven't even included photos of the myriad works featuring Tinkerbells or clay seals playing basketball.

What I learned from my art trolling with the kids was this: five-year-old boys rewy, rewy think paintings of Captain Hook and cigarette-smoking chimpanzees wearing visors are soooooooo cool. I also learned that my husband does a damn good job--so good, even, that when his first assignment in Drawing class this term was to create something on a scratchboard, as a way of learning technique, and the teacher recommended animals as a good subject for this medium, he was able make that untenable assignment sing. Initially, when he came home from class and told me that there might be kitties involved, I recoiled and gasped out, "You mean...create an animal? Like, on purpose? Must you?" Cringing right along with me, Groom said, "Well, textured subjects work well on scratchboard; there's no way to erase, and there's nothing but black and white, and so fluff translates well. But never fear: I'm going to think on it."

For one wild day, he considered doing a picture of a dandelion gone to seed. I was able to get behind him on that notion. I knew the alternative.

But then he decided to listen to his teacher and take this basic assignment and do, yup, something basic. He announced he was going to scratch out a sheep.

Greeting his declaration with more than a minute of silence, I eventually left the room to re-group before returning, resolved, able to tell him my love would withstand this one test, but if he ever painted a unicorn, it would be over, and he'd need to be out by Monday.

Crikey, though, look what he did with the Baa-Baa:

Dude made my jaw drop at a sheep's head. Previously, the closest I had come to this was dropping my trousers in the loo at a pub called The Boar's Head.

With this bowl he threw in Ceramics class, my years of muttering about "this pain-in-the-arse piece-of-crap-we-serve-beets-in" came to an end.

This wall displays three of his 2-D digital designs, one for movement (him on a unicycle), one for radial balance, and one for rhythm. Maybe you all should send me gifts now, so I can send you a little thank-you card, featuring one of these on the front. I like books, espresso, and dangly earrings.

Here's Girl, viewing her pappy's self-portrait. The instructor took his photo, off of which this drawing was based, on a particularly greasy-headed hat-hair day, which means I now get to tell him all the time that he has a seriously ginormous forehead. I'm tempted to get him all steamed up and fry an egg on it.

Cutting in closer to that portrait, I find my happy clapping hands coming out again.

I mean, look. He's just nice (...even though I'm not quite sure where his eyelashes went; did they never grow back after the bacon grease fire of 2005?).

Seventeen years ago, His Groomishness graduated from a pricey place that offered up the traditional campus experience. Now he's mixing it up a little and making me all shivery.

Indeed. Every night, I get to hop into bed with those peepers--those kind eyes that have staked out residual territory just below the ginormous forehead of a community college student.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"She Had Eight Weeks to Work on Her Final Essay, a Period of Intense Craftsmanship That Resulted in This Opening: 'Are kids still talking to their parents? Well, some are but most don’t talk the old fashion way or the way they should, they now talk to their parents through texting and emails and once in a while, if you are lucky, a phone call (most likely from a cell phone)'"

Gasping, flailing, wiping gunk from my eyes, I'm surfacing, turning my face up from the mass of research papers that has consumed my energies in recent days. Students have told me that Americans are obese; water is scarce; language is overly casual; music should be freely downloadable; smoking bans are good; coral reefs are dying; modern animation rules; and BPA might be dangerous.

Slap my knee and call me Tiffany, but I'll be damned if they're not right.

Yup, I'm swimming along with their opinions, gliding through the pages, occasionally taking a break to stand up and keep rice-sized blood clots from forming in my legs.

And when I stand up, I look out the window. Well, shitbam.

Somebody put nine inches of snow out there and shut the town down when I wasn't looking. Here I just gave Krystal an "A" for hepping me up about global warming, and during the grading, the Abominable Snowman sneezed and shook his dandruff on the house.

Easily, my grading break lengthens from a leg shaking to out-and-out abandonment of duties. I not only need to prevent rice-sized blood clots from forming in my legs, but I also need to prevent student prose from clotting my brain.

Clearly, it's time for us to strap things to our feet.

This one is eight. She's a better skiier than I.

In my defense, I'm only six on the inside.

That one there is five. I urged him to jump into the street and notify any passing eighteen wheelers of his presence by waving his poles around wildy should they bear down on him.

I cannot convince the obstinate lad to ask for his two front teeth for Christmas. He's all, "Who even cares about toofs, Mom? I want some Star Wars legos. Santa can keep the buckers."

When skis get tiring (sort of like the continuing speculation about Katie Holmes' tense friendship with Victoria Beckham), we move to the bear claws. My tastes being more refined, I often attach French crullers to mes pieds.

After an hour's romp, Niblet is more than ready to "act like Mommy grading research papers."

Inspired by the drama of his body language, I head back inside and bring my computer out of its hibernation.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Safety in Popsicles"

I love winter for ninety-eleven reasons:

1) When I wear snowshoes, my size 10 hooves actually feel petite in comparison. This is also why I sometimes sport a pair of huge "We're #1" foam hands when I teach sign language.

2) Scarves are the accessory that can never go wrong. I read this in Isadora Duncan's biography.

3) Cold temperatures create a perfect excuse to stomp inside and sip on a hot cup of cocoa...or, better yet, to bypass the cocoa and simply pour Kahlua into a mug.

Frankly, I bypass the mug and pour the booze directly into my gaping maw.

Oh, all right. I bypass the Kahlua and chug Isopropyl, Kitty Dukakis style. She, too, loved a good snowball fight--before the rubbing-alcohol-induced blindness set in. At least we now have an excuse for "throwing like girls."

4) If I view my reflection in a piece of ice, my crow's feet are hardly discernible. Frozen water mirrors are hella cheaper than laser surgery.

5) When I pour juice into a cup of snow, I am catapulted back in time to age six at the Yellowstone County Fair, to a day when I had a really kickarse snowcone. Fortunately, with my homemade snowcone, eaten far away from the 4-H cow barns, I don't even have to cry when I trip and drop it. I just dive to all fours and start lapping.

Pride and snowcones are poor bedfellows.

6) When I go cross-country skiing, my vocal chords get a much-needed limbering up; you better believe I'm a screamer on them hills. Post-ski, my throat thoroughly warmed, I'm ready to come home, spin a disc, and hit all Mariah Carey's high notes.

Incidentally, if I ever do willingly remain in the presence of a Mariah Carey song, please grab an ice pick and stab it into my frosty white buttocks. Then do it some more.

7) Ice skates = the poor man's Ginsu knife. Many a loaf of foccacia has regretted my triple lutz.

8) Before the cold really hits, when local ice is still in its infancy, having Niblet sit on a lakeside cliff and tush-sled downwards is a tad worrisome. However, once a solid, fierce coldsnap hits and holds, his airborn descent is no longer given final punctuation by a "splash"

but, rather, after a silent Wile E. Coyote moment of hovering mid-air between cliff and lake, our lad hits the frozen ice mattress of Lake Superior with a dull "thud."

What a relief that he won't drown.

(look at this patsy priss-priss of a lake way back in November; it's all "Oooh, look at my freely-churning waves." But no more, friend. No more. Slowly, gradually, the little flirt is hardening into a surface reminiscent of Nicole Kidman's forehead, capable of no natural movement.)

Way to go, Winter.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"Boot Camp"

I'm clearly not cut out for the military. I'm legally blind, poor in attitude, and slumpy in posture. The world is a safer place with me firmly installed behind a podium and a latte.


Even though I have no desire to be broken down so that I can be built back up again in camouflagier form,

I do harbor a secret desire to attend boot camp.

My camp, of course, features Sergeant Steve Madden and Drill Master Kenneth Cole as the officers in charge of tongue and sole lashings.

Private Harley Davidson, reporting for duty.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"Can't Read a Face by Its Book"

I've considered getting myself all Facebooked. Heaps of folks whom I like and admire, from George Will to Pat Buchanan to Ann Coulter, are on Facebook, and the idea of being able to poke them before spreading graffitti all over their walls holds no small appeal.

But then I remember I have a blog already and wonder if I need to create yet another "life by proxy" site for myself. The answer, so far, has been nope. I can't imagine finding the oomph to maintain one more thing in my life, especially when I already have a fair number of plucking, exfoliating, and moisturizing regimes already in place. If I added any more responsibility to my daily list, I fear something would have to give, most likely remembering to pick up my daughter from Girl Scouts (rest easy, responsible parents: it's a mere 6 mile walk home, and she's a wiry little thing).

My reluctance to go Facebook was further fueled when I eavesdropped on a student after class one day.

Her name was Mindy.

You may have heard of her.

Mindy was chumming up to an unsuspecting classmate--one of her favorite past times--and opened with,

"My mom is so gay."

Fellow classmate, lacking an adequate comeback: (incredulous silence)

Me, stepping in for the save: Well, if she's found love, that can never be bad, right? Does this mean you have two mommies?

Mindy: Huh? I said she's so gay, not, like, a lezbot. Sometimes, Jocelyn, I don't know what you're talking about. She's so gay because she joined Facebook. And she's ancient, like 37, which makes it pathetic. I mean, who wants her mom trying to "friend" her?

Me: Hey, c'mon, people of all ages use Facebook! It's a great way to find people you used to know and, um, see what they're doing and where they're living so you can go through a bunch of angst about how your life isn't glamorous and hasn't panned out in the direction you'd have hoped back when you were 20, but because you want to keep doing kind of a queer and creepy semi-friendship but mostly engaging in an ogling voyeurism of these past acquaintances, you act all smiley while secretly hoping they're going to announce their divorce (you always knew Sean from your biology class was a rat bastard, so a little misery serves him right) and have to change their romantic status back to "single." Indeed, Facebook isn't just for you half-formed striplings! It has a rightful place in the lives of petty and bitter people of all generations, right?

Fellow Classmate, who has been sitting agape the whole time: Naw. It's just sad when old people get on Facebook. Even Tom Petty.

Mindy, shaking her head ruefully without ever actually having encountered the word "ruefully": Totally. My mom's all saggy and only has this lame boyfriend, and she's been keeping clean since she got out of rehab, so why does she have to go and be all tragic on Facebook? Seriously, she has about three friends on there, and I'm one of them. I'm kind of all, "Mom, maybe go back to the bar, or get a hobby or something." She's completely going to want go start going out with me on the nights when the mom of my baby's daddy's other kid watches my daughter. She'll probably (dramatic, put-upon sigh) start asking to borrow my jeans, too. I mean, GAWD.

So, for now, even though I know heaps of y'all are ancient geezers and proud members of the Facebookian world order, I'm going to continue to resist creating the sad and pathetic presence I would contribute. Like Mindy's mom, I'm doing pretty well at those things all on my own.

Just me, my rainbow-covered poncho, my John Travolta tote bag, and a borrowed pair of Mindy's jeans.

We ride the bus sometimes.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"Dear Jeebus and Pilgrims Who Are Dead: I Am Thankful For Teaching That Is Never Dull"

A follow-up to my previous post.

After a few days of putting out feelers, I managed to hook up Mindy with an office on campus that helps with things like food and cars and telephones. Now, dauntless, even in the face of an STD, Mindy continues to spread her witless charm throughout the Land of Freshman Composition.

Mindy Moment #2:

After class last week, she began chatting up a classmate that she knows vaguely, someone more interesting than most:

Her: Are your parents tall, like you?

Him: No, not really. I'm trying to remember--I was always small and scrawny, but then we moved somewhere, and I shot up. It was traumatic. Hmmm. Where did we move? I think we moved to Indonesia, and then I was starting a new school--

Her: Wait? What do you mean, like, Indonesia? I've heard of that continent! Why would you move there?

Him: Just my parents' work. It was just their jobs.

Her: What is their job?

Him: My dad's a diplomat, but it's not a big deal; it's just his job.

Her: WAIT. A diplomat? So you're all rich?

Him: No, not rich. My dad just works. He has a job, and part of it is that we moved around.

Her: OH. MY. GOD. He's a diplomat? That's, you mean, like, he's the duke to the king?

Him: (incredulous silence) (then a beat) (more incredulous silence) I, bwah...derflup...huh?

Me: (stepping in for the save; reaching out and patting Mindy's shoulder affectionately) Yes, Mindy. That's right. His dad is the duke to the king...of the United States of America. The duke to our king. It really is a great honor. Maybe one day, you can work for the king, too, holding his mirror or combing out his wigs. Reach for the stars, Peanut.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Can I Talk to You After Class?"

In the middle of a rousing class session, during which I assigned the persuasive essay and outlawed the topic of abortion (never a good subject for a two-page paper written by untried students who still live at home), a 19-year-old student named Mindy came up and asked me if we could have a private moment after class. Denying my impulse to shout "NOOOO, for you see I have a date with 8 ounces of raspberry yogurt up in my office at roughly 12:04 p.m.," I assured her my every breath would be applied to realizing that future meeting.

Twenty minutes later, when the room had cleared, she came bopping up.

"What I have to tell you is...well, this is hard to say to you because you're, like, who you are, but, um...I think I have herpes."

Since I don't, and I'm only her English teacher and therefore--shout out to the Marquis de Sade, Oscar Wilde, Anais Nin, Henry Miller, and Erica Jong--am only vaguely equipped to diagnose STD's, I wasn't exactly clear as to why Mindy had stayed after class to provide me with this information. Was I to hug? Apply cream? Create an Excel spreadsheet tracking her outbreaks?

The subsequent conversation unfolded thusly:

Me, after some mulling: And, so, is that why you didn't have your rough draft today?

Her, dodging the question in a rush of "logic": I went to the doc last week to have her look at it, but when I got to the clinic, no one was there. I only have an OBGYN now that my other doctor died--did you hear about that? It was in the paper. So I can only see my OB, and if she's not there, I'm done. So anyhow, I have no phone, no computer, and the fuel pump went out in my car, so I can't drive to school right now. Sure, I can catch rides with my boyfriend, but that's actually keeping me from dumping him, and he was on a one-month plan with me, and then he was going to be out. Now he's trying to find me a new fuel pump, but last time he got me a car repair, he hired a crackhead who was so high he didn't put in any calliper screws, and the car was even worse after he fixed it, and I eventually had to push it into a different place and pay, like, three times as much, and now my boyfriend has found me a $20 fuel pump, which I bet is made out of Mt. Dew cans and Skoal. Did I tell you I'm afraid my three-year-old is going to get kicked out of daycare right now because I can't pay--is it too late to apply for a state daycare grant thing for next semester?--so my baby's daddy's grandma is watching my daughter today, but the kid is all gross and dirty when she gets picked up from Nana's house, and so do you ever offer extra credit in this class?

Me, squaring shoulders and unfloobernoodling my brain: I, so, well, um, what? Oh, yes. I can see how herpes makes it hard to get daycare. So, hey, you're very good natured in the face of all these stresses. I'm sorry I'm laughing, by the way, but you're making this all kind of funny. There's something kind of charmingly carefree about you, as you relate your woes.

Her: Ah, f***, I was raised like this. We never had any money or anything, especially after my dad left, so everything's always a fight. Hey, I want to learn Spanish. Will they teach it here next term? I have a good Cuban friend and a good Puerto Rican friend--I met them when I lived at the YWCA in the Young Mothers' Program--and I learned some good cuss words from them in Spanish, but I want to learn more. I actually know quite a bit from Dora and Diego. My daughter learned to count to twelve from those shows, and now I've taught her to count to thirty in Spanish. So can I take it here? Next term?

Me: Yes, it's offered pretty much every...

Her: I actually want to learn Spanish because I want to go to San Juan, you know, like in Puerto Rico, and get my butt done.

Me: (incredulous silence)

Her: You know, they take the fat from your stomach and inject it in your butt so that it looks all perfectly round. I looked it up on the Internet. It costs $3,000. I mean, I want to have one more baby one day, and it makes sense to wait to do the butt job until I'm done having kids, so I have time to learn Spanish while I'm waiting, right?

Me, further unflagemallatinging my brain: Well, I guess it's all about priorities. Learning Spanish is a good idea, no matter your motivation. But how about dealing with what's on your plate right now? When can you go back in to deal with the herpes? I think we have some programs on campus that offer emergency assistance to students in need; would you like me to contact some people and see if we can find you the money to get your car fixed, so you can get to the doc more easily?

Her: Huh? Yea, that'd be okay, or whatever. I just wanted to know if I can do some extra credit.

Me: Oh? Oh. I got all distracted. You know your life is quite the soap opera.

Her: I know. I only ever watched one soap opera, and they cancelled it.

Me: Well, now. It seems you just can't win this month, doesn't it? Here's the deal: I don't offer extra credit, as that smacks of high school to me. College is more about doing the work to your best ability in a consistent fashion. Plus, as I look at your grade here, I see you have--against all odds--a B. That's great, so stop worrying. Just get your paper written by Wednesday. Do you have a topic for it yet? Remember, I always urge you to find a topic that you have experience with and that relates to your own interests and life so that you can draw your examples from what you've actually lived.

Her: Yea, I've got a topic, and it's a good one: alcoholism.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


School pictures came home last week, toted in backpacks jumbled with Boxcar Children books, broken pencils, water bottles, and gym shoes. The kids are proud and excited about the photos; usually, I fake an interest on their behalf.

However, I find I'm turning a corner, when it comes to my attitude about these highly-contrived photos that jam a kid onto a stool in front of a magnification of Stephen Hawking's brain.

Thus far, I've balked at school pix--and not just because, in my high school senior photos, the shoot's stylist made me lean on a wagon wheel and clasp my hands under my chin coyly. No, my issues go beyond Conestoga trauma. Here's what rubs me:

Some company comes in, holds my kid hostage for a few minutes, using a photographer that calls every kid "Patty" in an effort to get him/her to smile naturally, and then the whole outfit tries to charge me, the parent, large American dollars to buy back my own uncomfortable-looking children in packaged form so that I then have something to share with the relatives come holiday time. Couldn't I do this type of thing every year on my own, at the J.C. Penney's, if it mattered to me? And don't I, quite willfully, resist doing that, too, because it's all just so fake and weird and hell if I don't prefer a candid shot I've taken myself for free? And couldn't I just give the relatives new socks, if they require a holiday thought? Or perhaps a free weekend--or week, or month--with the kids, if they need to see them so damn much?

Clearly, school pictures make me swearish, and I think we all know I'm generally quite refined.

But this year? I've been surprised; I'm appreciating adding their photos to the progression of years. I like seeing them grow up through the school's eyes. Crunk it, but I think I prefer my kids wallet-sized.

Hence, suddenly I am all about embracing the school photos, even though they give me paper cuts when I hug them too tightly.

Plus, the photos prove that my kids exist when I'm not around, and I've never been completely certain on that point before.


You know why I don't blog about this one as much as the other one? Because she shows up, shuts up, and does the job, all with a sprinkling of freckles. Oh, and if you ever need a kickass speller, call 1-800-GIRL.

Certainly, when she's overtired and has had a big day of Scholastic Book Fair + Parent/Teacher Conferences + Swimming Lessons, the sum of these parts is just as likely to be her lying on the floor of her bedroom, screaming in high dudgeon, a toothbrush dangling out of her mouth, kicking her heels repeatedly in an impressive fit as it is to be her spelling "temperamental" correctly.

But then she recovers and helps her little brother with the snap on his pants.

If you've ever wondered what it looks like when a Finnish/Norwegian-American gets his monkey on, this is your day.

Note the pebble-creature necklace, which I was given when I turned 12.

I think I wore it in my school picture that year...the necklace, a new bra, a cowl-neck sweater, and a smile manufactured just for the photographer when he called me "Patty."

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Twenty-Three Years and Thirteen Days"

In terms of female friendships, I have sixty-eleventeen inspirations but only three true Women of My Life. One of these three I met in 1985, in a dorm lounge, where she was being way too cute and cynical and cutting for her own good. Intimidated, I decided I didn't like her.

She kept being cute and cynical and cutting, however, and at some point, I realized I loved her. Eventually, I went with her to Ireland for a semester; I listened with her to The Pretenders; I cried with her under a sink; I stood up with her at her wedding; I learned new dimensions of pain and guilt from her during her divorce. Twenty-three years later, she can make me blow open a kidney with laughter and provide the comforting feeling that someone in the world knows everything about me and still doesn't make a citizen's arrest. She and I? Lifers.

This dearling gel, called Colleen, has spent the last few decades shedding her armour of cynicism and allowing kindness and vulnerability their rightful place.

She is so cool.

Who better, then, to relate a pivotal moment for the U.S., the moment when millions of citizens felt--hokey as it sounds--a renewed sense of possibility?

I refer, of course, to the recent presidential election. Colleen lives in Chicago with her beau, Tim, and threw her energy on election day towards hope. Of that historical day, in an historical place, she writes:

I spent the afternoon of Nov. 4 curled up next to the elevator on the floor of the tiny lobby of a nondescript downtown Chicago office building, peering at a list of Pennsylvania voters, clutching my iPhone in one hand and plugging my ear with the other to block out the cheery voices of a dozen others who'd fled the steamy warren of basement offices crammed full of Obama campaign staff and eager volunteers. I left lots of cheery voice mails reminding people to vote. A few of the people who picked up the phone were curt; two hung up on me as soon as I said "I'm a volunteer with the Obama campaign" (which I found thrilling to say), but most were delighted to tell me that they'd voted for Obama.

Making calls did what I hoped it would: distracted me from my anxious, audibly-whamming heart, and made me feel like I'd done some little thing besides sending money to fight the good fight. I hopped the El to Tim's office at 5:00. We sat at his desk eating takeout sushi and obsessively refreshing news Web sites until we joined the river of people heading to Grant Park around 7:15.

It's impossible to be a misanthrope in the midst of an enormous, good-natured crowd. Nobody shoved, nobody was drunk or obnoxious, nobody bitched about the long lines for the metal detectors, everybody joshed good-naturedly with the cops, everybody was smiling and laughing. As the field slowly filled, people were glued to the Jumbotron screen showing CNN. (Seriously, Bill Bennett, shut your giant head the fuck up. Best comment of the night, from an incredulous James Carville: "After the last eight years, I hardly think y'all have any authority to tell Barack Obama how to govern.") Roars went up every time CNN projected a state for Obama. Boos for each state called for McCain. Roars whenever the screen showed the live feed from the park. That's us! Wave! Woooooooo hooooooo! We're in the middle of history! When the California polls closed and CNN declared Obama the winner, people screamed, cried, hugged strangers. I felt a funny mixture of giddiness and gravity: We did it. Take that, haters. I can finally let go of eight years' worth of anger & embarrassment over what's been done to my country. Oh, god, there is so much to heal and to fix.

The crowd was surprisingly quiet during McCain's concession speech, booing only when the camera shifted to Sarah Palin. We waited another hour for Obama to come onstage, turning to one another every few minutes and saying incredulous things: Holy shit, this is real. I can't believe I'm here for this. Oh my god. Yes, we can.

I said the Pledge of Allegiance and really meant it.

When Obama and his family appeared at 11:00, a quarter of a million people whooped and cheered and hallelujah'd. I'll never hear anything like it again as long as I live. I teared up at the sight of him and his young family, beautiful and smiling and willing to take on this tremendous task for us. When he began to speak, I started to flat-out weep, big gasping sobs of joy and pride and relief (and a little bit of fear for him, too). Yes, we can, everybody chanted along with him. Yes. We. Can.

Here's a picture for you. Tim is dead center in the "frame" formed by the two flags; Colleen is to his left, leaning on him.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


A pot of water boiled on the burner behind my husband, as he leaned against the stove, pulling my face into his sweatshirt. This story does not end with seared human flesh, so relax, gentle reader.

He hugged me to him for a long time, hard.

Finally, I managed to choke out, through thick tonsils, "I really love the hug. But I'm having trouble breathing even when my air passages aren't obstructed by a hoodie. Let me come up for a gasp."

I reared back, gulped in some oxygen, and nuzzled back in for the hug.

After a minute, he took my hands off the sweatshirt covering his back and tucked them underneath, so they touched his skin.

"That's never bad," Groom pointed out.

"Brave man. You're not very discerning about who touches your unclothed bits. You have no idea where these hands have been. But I like your skin."

We were quiet for a minute. The water burbled behind us.

"I'm really sorry you've felt so pooky for so long this week," he said into my greasy hair.

"I'm really sorry I haven't showered for two days," I responded. "And thanks. This tonsil stuff has been suck slathered onto a crud cracker."

"I'd do anything to help you feel better," he said, hugging me tighter, cutting off any hope of breaf to my body.

Breaking away for a few more gasps of air, I pointed out, "You let me watch America's Test Kitchen and brought me omelets and espresso milkshakes in bed. You made me feel twelve kinds of better."

"Well," he noted, "I like you."

"I like me, too."

Then he turned to the pot of water and poured in the macaroni that he would bring to me, minutes later, after I'd crawled back into the bed. While I ate the noodles, wincing with every swallow, he joined me under the covers and stroked my calf with his foot.

Nine years ago today, my husband literally was The Groom. I was the other one. As we stood up in front of 120 friends and family, it was unseasonably warm. That Santana song featuring Rob Whatzhisfutz was the #1 song in the U.S.. I cried a lot during the ceremony, and not just because that Santana song featuring Rob Whatzhisfutz was the #1 song in the U.S..

I'd never actually dreamed of being a bride. However, I had dreamed of finding a One True Love.

It's simple to feel that I've found such a thing when we're both in perfect health; it's unquestionable that I've found it when one of us is suffering an illness.

I am constantly awestruck that I have something to believe in.

I was a bride married to amazement
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms

--Mary Oliver

These banners, painted by my mother-in-law, were the backdrop to our vows.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Decapitating the Child"

For almost nine years, Groom has been our stay-at-home parent (I married him because he was the closest thing to a woman I could find in a man's body). He is an example of walking Zen, so his temperament has been perfectly suited to taking the kids to storytime at the library, playing soccer in the yard, building a pirate ship out of cardboard boxes, making Mommy a latte, and cooking up spicy pork bits for dinner. It's been a good ride.

But now Girl is in third grade, and Niblet is in half-day kindergarten, and Groom is thinking about what he wants to be when he grows up. Certainly, he's held some part-time jobs (newspaper boy, coffee shop barista, cross-country running coach, adjunct anthropology and world geography instructor) during our marriage. And before I yanked him away from it, he was working as a naturalist at an environmental learning center. In sum, he can throw paper, grind beans, run 50K, lecture on the Yanomamo, and teach Voyageur canoeing to a group of 4th graders.

Looking at his resume, then, it would seem he can do anything but may be qualified for nothing.

To get past that little issue, Groomeo is, this semester, taking advantage of one of my job perks: free credits at the college where I teach. While he's already got a degree from one of them spendy private liberal arts institutions, he's now experiencing the rich and diverse pageant of humanity known as the community college classroom as he takes ceramics, drawing, and 2-D digital design courses this semester, with an aim, ultimately, to earning a second degree in graphic design or art education. While he's heard my stories for years about how agonizing it can be to teach students how to be college students while they're in college, the reality of being in courses where he's the only person to turn in an assignment when it's due has been occasionally startling. Equally startling for me has been the inside glimpse I'm getting into my colleagues as they instruct my husband. Since Groom and I have different last names (he's "Smothers" and I'm "Brothers"), the instructors of his classes don't know that they're teaching my husband.

Even better is the fact that one of his courses is taught online (the 2-D digital design), so I can read the teaching and look right at the class.

It's kind of, um,


While I think most of my colleagues are crazy-ass talented rock stars, not everyone is turning in a performance worthy of Ozzy biting the head off a bat. In fact, I'm discovering that sometimes students do terrible work or no work at all, and still they get big points. And sometimes instructors send out messages to their classes that are so undecipherable and riddled with errors that I have to read it out loud seven times before throwing up my hands and saying, "I have no idea what she's trying to tell you. I don't think she's ever written a sentence before."


But since I'm merely a fascinated onlooker, I can only read and blush and apologize and try to urge Groom to set the standard, and maybe everyone in the class, from the other students--to the teacher herself--will realize that the work can be better.

In the 2-D design class, the students are asked to post their assignments to a class blog, so everyone can view the image that's been created, along with an explanation of what the student is trying to achieve and how he/she went about making the final image. Here are a few copy and pastes from Groom's classmates, as they elucidate the subtleties of their pieces, on that blog:

"For my abstraction, i chose pieces of fruit. I tried to get a real close up image so you weren’t exactly able to see what it was. I wish it flowed more than it does because I don’t think the art work is very balanced."

"I think the pictures here speak for themselves. I did not use any computer programs to maniulate the images because the images are cool on their own."

"I used mostly images and shapes that appeal to me and tell who I am. Sorry It’s so small but I had to resize it that small to get it to fit."

Clearly, these students have taken chisels and pounded little holes into their hearts which allow love and passion and emotion to flow out of their chests and into their art. On top of all that, their critical thinking is staggering.

When I see the larger context of the entire class's explanations, I find myself appreciating, on behalf of the, em, challenged instructor, that she gets to have Groom in her class. He's generally a person of few words, but at least he's willing to take the time to explicate his process. So, here, for your reading enjoyment, is one of the Groom's posts for class**:

I am glad that we have about a week to complete these assignments. My brain doesn’t create the best designs on a short time frame. I need to get into the class, read the assignment, and then just let it sit and ferment in my brain for a few days. If anyone has ever made beer, this will make more sense. After an initial fermentation, you rack the liquid (transfer it to another container to remove sediments and jump start the fermentation process) and let it sit some more. After my initial processing of ideas, I sit down and “rack” my ideas into a design. It usually isn’t that exciting–just like your imaginary beer or wine at the racking stage of the process. I let the ideas ferment (usually on bike rides, runs, or when I wake up in the morning) some more and come back to them at the bottling stage. Some more tweaking and changes occur, just like the process of moving my brew from carboy to bottle. Then I need to go away and come back later. My imaginary brew needs me to do the same. It sits and mellows. So does my design. The results end much better at the end of this long process than when they were a jumble of ingredients. Enjoy my latest homebrew. It is posted above.

Part of my problem in the early fermentation stage is the Internet. In this assignment, we had to find six items with a radial balance. Sounds easy. But when I do a search in Google, like for “bicycle wheel image”, and then 100s of search pages appear, I start to hyperventilate. I just don’t have the patience to sift throught them all and find what I truly want. I find it much easier to make my own images, from my own life, and work from there. So I photographed six different fruits and vegetables with radial balance on a white background (making it easier to cut them out in Photoshop later). I loaded these into Photoshop and began altering them. First I changed them to black and white by switching from RGB color mode to Grayscale. Then I messed with the contrast and brightness. Once I had an image I liked I cut the fruit or veg from the background and pasted it into a new document. Here I switched back to RGB color mode and created a new layer in which I selected the image, airbrushed a green color over the image, and then selected overlay so the color and black and white image below merged. I did the same thing with my son’s head.

Then I created the master document and began to copy and paste the images. First, I created a layout by creating a gradient layer with the red color. I put the darkest color in the lower left corner, creating the radial focus point of the design. The color fades out from here, empahsizing the design’s radial direction. My son’s head went over the focal point, and I began to arrange the food in a spiral pattern from his mouth, resizing the images to get larger the farther they got from his mouth.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brew. It has left me mellow and hungry for some squash.

**I'm the kind of sick this week where I have to wince, cringe, groan, and clench my fists every time I swallow. My tonsils have a lifelong history of kicking all other tonsils' asses when it comes to swelling and pain. When I'm sick like this, and the docs tell me to open my mouth and say "ahhhh," they generally jump back and hold themselves for a minute before gasping out, "Well. Now. That's impressive." At any rate, that's why I didn't have a whole lot of sass to pour into this post. Since I literally can't talk right now, Groom's words have pitched in.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

"In a Fog"

It was full-frontal foggy the other day. This wasn't just film noir, dry ice kind of stuff. Nay.

This was, "Holy Haunted House, but I'm holding my hand up in front of my face, and I can't see it!"

Okay, it wasn't my actually my hand, but I was waving something vaguely hand-like up in front of my face--a glazed bear claw from the donut shop, in truth--and I couldn't see it a bit. Which makes it all the more fortuitious that pastries can be eaten by touch and require no sight.

Indeed, it was so foggy last Monday that a person might have been forced, there, outside the bakery

--as if she were slow dancing with a man named State of Desperation--

to use only mouth feel and feather-light fingertippling to feel her way around yeast and glaze and buoyant dough, until the claw disappeared and only chin crumbs remained. Yup, it was Sticky Face Foggy the other day, friend, the kind of day where pride is unnecessary, as you can't even see yourself falling upon 500 calories of wickedness in a frenzy. You might as well eat three, for only the shadows know.

Some hours after that person Helen Kellered her way around a baked good, she awkwardly high-fived her healthy self and went for a run on the Superior Hiking Trail. Getting to the trailhead was an adventure in itself, as visibility was down to approximately 15 feet, which meant, once she knew roughly what part of town she was in, she had to flip on her blinker and then drive another 400 yards in the turn lane, muttering, "They ate Hutchinson Street. There is no Hutchinson Street. Yoo-hooooooooo...Where are you, Hutchinson Street? Maybe Hutchinson Street looked like a bear claw to someone this morning, so they mauled it with their teeth. Whoa, jinkies! There it went. That little curb thingy back there was Hutchinson Street. Looks like nobody's behind me--but who would know, on a day like today?--so let's throw it into reverse and hit it on the rebound."

Eventually, our nameless bear claw ravener, also named me, forwarded and backed herself to the trailhead. I parked, pretended I was Catholic so I could cross myself dramatically, and headed into the woods.

Blundering through the fog, I listened to the Halloween podcast of "This American Life," which featured the anxiety-inducing tale of a woman outside her country home who was attacked by a rabid raccoon on the driveway. Only after she managed to pin the 'coon by its neck and feel around in her pockets for something--anything--did she find her cell phone, with her that day by a fluke. She called her son, and within minutes she had the aid of her family. But, get this: after her husband bashed at the rabid beast with a stick for several minutes, trying to kill it, the thing only got angrier and more aggressive. So they got a tire iron, the ultimate meat tenderizer, whereupon it only took another twenty whacks to put the poor, diseased creature out of its misery.

As I listened, I was reminded that going for a trail run is really relaxing, especially when you're making your way through the forest juggling an enormous branch, a shard of broken glass, a granite rock, and potentially-rabid-animal-blinding confetti made of leaves.

What? I heard a puma.

And a badger. Discussing, in an exchange of hisses and gnarf-gnarfs, which parts of me looked most tender.

I had the children to think about, as I armed myself, intent on self-preservation. Wouldn't want Niblet and Girl to grow up without a mother and all. Who else would dissect for them the talents of American Television Icon Chuck Woolery? (one day, when they're ready)

Equally as heebiejeebie-ing as the thought of being stalked by rabid monsters was this worry: in that soupy fog, was my face going to melt?

Or in a slightly-brighter scenario, I posited that I might get back to my car and look in the rear view mirror, only to see this:

I'd have to gasp and be all, "Where'd my hair go?"

Fortunately, nothing used its cougar fangs or bear claws to tear at my flesh that day. And my face didn't decompose into a smoky masque.

In fact, the whole thing turned out unexpectedly well. The scary podcast ended with David Sedaris visiting the morgue for kicks and giggles. The carbo-loading I'd done earlier in the day kept my tiny cat feet happily gliding over the trail. And the best bonus of all--that which keeps Bono looking 48 instead of his true 87 years old--is that mist and fog are hella good on the pores.

When I finished my run, flushed and trail tangled, I dropped my arsenal of weapons and hopped into the car, doing a quick check of my look in the rear view--for stray branches that might be dotting my hair.

HAWP. Looking back at me was this:

Oh, joyful, face-tightening fog, you made me ten again! I am glorious! I am magical!

Then the curious goiter on my shoulder bit me.

Monday, November 03, 2008

"Casting Your Vote in 2048"

In about forty years, if you start seeing lawn signs in your neighborhood touting "Wee Niblet for President," I urge you to slow down your hover vehicle and take note.

In Wee Niblet, you'd have a president who could work both sides of the Target Halloween clearance aisle, who could stabilize the economy ("One dollar, per piggy bank, per week, but only if you empty the bathroom garbage can on Tuesday mornings"), and who could revitalize America's health care system by insisting everyone have tubes put in their ears, as he has, making "pool adventures in ear plugs and a cap" a national mandate.

Punky has a platform, all right.

Even more convincing for you Undecideds out there (waiting for Rosie, your robot maid, to bring you a Mercurytini, as you recline in your easy chair made of moon dust and monkey chromosomes) is the fact that Niblet, even in his early years, proved himself an accomplished stretcher of the truth.

For example, at age five, he swore up and down a bunkbed ladder that he did not like Kit Kittredge, An American Girl: The Movie one, single



Crackerjack photographers on site during the movie viewing, however, proved the politician-in-training to be

a liar of "we have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq" proportions.

When asked about the photos, Niblet replied, "It's amazing what Photoshop can do. I wasn't even there that night; I was home, with Hilary, making cookies in an effort to prove that she's a woman."

Unfortunately, Future President Niblet's disclaimers felt hollow in the face of further photographic evidence, which clearly indicted the "Commander in Cheat" as

a swinger without remorse.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Deep Tissue, Deeply Discounted"

I could have taken my experiences at cosmetology school and washed that cheapitude right out of my hair.

Hell no. One of my greatest hallmarks is the refusal to take a lesson, even when it's slapped onto my head and speared with swords. In the case of my follicular thriftiness, I could have learned that I get what I pay for, and if I pay nine bucks for a haircut, I generally get three bucks worth of smarts wielding the scissors and six bucks of spray spray clouding my brain.

Luckily for my battered wallet and the well-worn dollar bills that have constructed a permanent home within, I don't learn nuthin' nohow, Gomer.

That's why I also patronize a training program for massage, which is sort of like letting a four-year-old hang my wallpaper--if by "four-year-old" I mean a nineteen-year-old named Brittany and by "hanging wallpaper" I mean stroking my body with oils.

That's the euphemism you use for it, right? Remember when you were twelve, up in your room for three years, "hanging wallpaper"? Goodness, but your mom thought you were an industrious soul! She never could understand why the wallpaper you later hung in your first home as an adult was so crooked and droopy. With all that practice you'd had, she'd been certain you were a professional! And you were!! Just not at that!!! Tap me, wanker!!!!! But wash your hands first!!!!!!

Jinkies. I was channeling Brittany there for a minute. And let me tell you, having never seen her written work, but simply felt her hands on my back, I had to intuit her predilection for exclamation marks. My first hint was when she wrote one on my clavicle in ylang-ylang oil. It was all well and good when she drew the straight line of the exclamation point, but then she started searching for a place to put the dot at the bottom of it, and suddenly I found myself yelling out, "No nip! No. Nippledom. Step away from the nip, Brit-Brit!"

Oh, all right. So I'm just making up shizz. Like that's news, Cronkite.

Refocusing now:

Fact one: I love the feeling of getting a deal. Fact two: the college where I teach has a massage therapy program. Fact three: the massage therapy program offers "clinics" each semester, during which students gain valuable on-the-job experience. Fact four: the clinics cost $15 for an hour massage. Fact five: Fact Four makes me throw out some serious jazz hands.

At such a minimal cost, these clinics book up fast. Every semester, I call on the first day the schedule comes out, attempting to get appointments for both Groom and me, yet often we are too late. But last month, when the schedule was released, the Gods of Muscle Relief beamed my direction: I flexed my dialing finger and went buzzsaw on the phone, managing to book a total of three massages for the household.

Yea, two were for me, and one was for Groom. Who wants to know?

A couple of weeks ago, I went for my first appointment, the Relaxation Massage. After forking over my 1,500 pennies, I was greeted by, yes, Brittany. This Brittany was so imbued with the essence of her Brittanyishness that she made Ms. Spears look like a Velma in comparison. This Brittany, from her bleached hair to her glossy lips to her tight shorts to her faux-tanned legs, set a new standard for manufactured beauty put on public display.

However, she was there, studentizing with some seriousness; clearly, the homeopathic art of massage therapy spoke to something deeper within this girl, something existing in her naturally-beautiful heart (beating an inch beneath her pink push-up bra). Indeed, despite her off-putting facade, Brittany proved to be a total BFF honeypie!!!!!!!!!!

Having hooked up, Brittany and I headed to the room of massageual arts. But here's the rub (you know you totally read this blog for the puns):

The massage is cheap because it's part of a clinic--meaning there were nine other patrons getting their massages at the same time as I, and in the same room. About the size of my bedroom at home, the massage room has ten curtained-off cubicles, one for each patron/masseuse pairing. After ushering me to our little Island of Connection within the larger room, Brittany instructed me to disrobe and hop onto the heated massage table. Backing out, she took three clothespins and snapped me into some questionable privacy.

At this moment in the clinic, things got a little surreal. There we were, the ten of us, all getting nudie together in a darkened room, a scenario that felt, somehow, as though it should cost much, much more.

Personally, I'm not overly discomfited about dropping my bundies in a relatively public place; I've given birth, after all, which constitutes the ultimate modesty decimation. But it was strange to be stripping down in my place of work, one floor below my office, down the hall from my classroom. At this most-recent massage, I was three feet away from a colleague who teaches psychology ("Yo, Betsy! How's your sabbatical going?"), two feet away from a mustachioed lawyer, and generally able to hear the intimate shuffles, scratches, and coughs of my cheek-exposed peers.

Once everyone was naked and warmly tucked in, the masseuses returned and unclipped the curtains, pulling them back so that the cubicles disappeared, leaving the twenty of us sharing a unified space. At that point, the clinic got even more surreal, for the students practiced the "massage script"--all ten, simultaneously, dipping their heads down to their respective clients, loudly whispering in unison: "I'm going to start the massage now, (insert name of client), and if at any point you'd like me to use more or less pressure, please let me know. I'm going to begin by working on your scalp."

Because some spoke more quickly than others, those sentences tapered off awkwardly at the end, with the last student masseuse left self-conscious as his uttering of "scalp" rang out, a cappella, throughout the room.

For the next hour, the scripted lines were presented periodically--always simultaneously, as the various parts of the body received attention. Every now and then, I fought off the urge to counsel Brittany, "You can speak for yourself, Brittany! I will understand your own particular way of relaying the information; I can perceive that you are an individual, despite the script and the fake tan that are currently defining you!! Brittany!!!!! Hear me, Brittany!!!!!!!!!!!!! Brittany?? Brit-Brit?"

Ouch. Perhaps perceiving my internal monologue, Brittany dug one of her French tips just a tidge too hard into my calf. Of course, my heavily-muscled calf is made of steel, and her tip snapped off, where it remains embedded in my leg to this day.

Eventually, at the same pre-scripted minute, the massage was over, the curtains were redrawn and clipped, and the students retreated. We citizens re-dressed and made our way, cheeks flushed, out into the daylight, trying to preserve the sense of relaxation as we began recalling the grocery list, the kids to pick up, the meeting at 3 o'clock.


Overall, the upshot of my reliance on student trainees is this: I am willing to pay people to put their hands on me, but I'm not willing to pay them much,

and this is--in no way


at all indicative of any

deep and longstanding

self-esteem issues

I might have.

It's not at all kind of sad.

So stop thinking that.

You're just a big, dumb boozer anyhow, so what do I--WHAT?

Am not, either,

you kettle of blackness daring to call me Potsy.

You're the dumb drinker who passes unfounded judgments.

No, you're the dumb drinker.

No, you are.

A judgey drunk.

Maybe you need to go get your hair cut and your body massaged, and then you'd feel nicer.

I can hook you up. Bring five dollars.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Deep Conditioning, Deeply Discounted"

Early on in my career as a person with hair, I stumbled across the option of the beauty college. Generally titled something like Darlene's School of Cosmetology, such places are, theoretically, win-win for both the cosmetological students and the shallow-pocketed patrons. For nine bucks, customers can get a hair cut from a country girl named Tawny, she who is honing not only her scissor, but also her interpersonal, skills:

Her: "So, snip, do you, like, do stuff?"

Chairbound Client: "Yes, I'm a lawyer. I specialize in family mediation and have recently started to do some pro bono work..."

Her: "My mom totally loves Bono, too! He's kind of a geezer and all, but so's she, so there's a match made in heaven. I totally have to say I only know how to count to seven in French cuz of him. Gawd, my mom played that 'uno, dos, tres, catorce' song, like, twelve times a day when I was in middle school."

At this point, Tawny turns to her fellow fledgling professional cosmetologist, Heidi, who is repeatedly testing the heat of a curling iron by pressing it against her index finger--and, yes, it does seem to be hot, each and every time she recoils--and asks,

"Remember that old 'uno tres' song from, like, five years ago? My mom would crank it, and I'd be out back of the trailer practicing round-off flip-flops, and I'd be all, 'Welcome to the 19th Century, Mom. Ever heard of My Chemical Romance? Like, get with the times, lady!'"

In response, Heidi puts down the curling iron and starts back-combing her own hair, eyeing her image in the mirror as she replies, "My mom's even dorkier than that. She likes this singer guy called Eric Clapton, and I'm so, 'Uh, yea, Mom, you go ahead and clap on and clap off your little Clapton there.'" With that zinger, Heidi picks up a bottle and begins spraying her volumized and baloonified follicles into an unmoving shell.

During this exchange, Chairbound Client has watched, first, with fascination, tutting inwardly, "My, my doesn't life present a rich pageant?" After a moment, however, CC's gaze shifts downward to the REDBOOK magazine that was plopped into her lap upon arrival, during the intial "So, what did you want today?" consultation. Finding an article about how to make a five-bean salad that can win over even the toughest mother-in-law, CC realizes that feigning interest in the recipe is easier than pretending to be part of Tawny's conversation posse.

Just as CC gets to the part of the article where the forbidding mother-in-law compliments the long-suffering daughter-in-law for her beany efforts, Tawny refocuses and pipes up again, her professionalism re-emerging,

"So that's cool you like Bono. Is there other stuff you, eh, you know, do in a, like, day?"

For the Chairbound Client, the best strategy at this point is not to engage, not to reveal. Rather, keeping the flow of words focused on Tawny will lubricate the proceedings.

"Oh, sure. But mostly I wonder about how you decided on this career for yourself. Tell me about it."

A snip and a snap and a brush and a "I just always liked to play with hair" later, the thing is done. CC is released from cape and chair, able at last to pay the nine dollars and head home to wash out the masses of "product" applied to her head, stuff that, instead of adding control and shine, have just made the whole business seem lank and greasy.

But, hell, it was only nine dollars.

For me, this was the typical I'm Caught in a Hell of My Own Cheapness beauty college experience. But then, when I lived in Minneapolis for a bit, I discovered the Aveda Instititute. Yes, it was still a beauty college; however, it aspired to a kind of grandeur, to turning out more than hair cutters, to graduating salon therapists, to teaching the art of image crafting.

So what if it cost fourteen dollars? My image could get crafted, Dieter!

And this kind of implied I might have an image. Or that there was the possibility of one.

So I went there sometimes, and they gave good hair, and it was all tea and rosemary mint scents each time...until the day I went in, hoping for something special. Some friends and I had a big party weekend ahead of us, and we wanted fun hair...retro hair...beehive-ish hair.

Upon our request, the Institute fell silent. Had bobby pins still been in fashion, we could have heard one drop. Instead, we just heard multiple arm bangles clanking against each other.

"Like, a beehive? You mean, in your hair? Just a minute..." fretted Salon Therapist Carina.

Frantically, she called over her Therapeutic Colleagues, Hansi and Iris. I heard whispers of "They want 'up-dos,' and not Prom-type ones. How do we do an 'up-do' without baby's breath?"

Moments later, these words emerged out of their hushed exchange: "We need Lorraine. Run--get Lorraine."

During our wait for the legendary Lorraine, Salon Therapists and Chairbound Clients all chuckled nervously and stared at each other in the mirror, unsure of how to acknowledge that we'd come to The Best Thrifty Place of Hair, but no one in the joint could create a well-known, decades-old hairstyle. The whole thing was akin to when I read a document written by a fellow teacher and discover he/she has no idea how to use an apostrophe. In such moments, I find myself, quite snappishly, declaiming things like "Stop embarrassing the profession. You either need to know the fundamentals of the most fundamental things, or else you should get yourself to a Target and cozy up to one of their 'We're Hiring' kiosks, where you can fill out your application and pursue a line of work that suits you better, Nutwad. Just don't answer any questions that might require an apostrophe."

(for more rants along this line, you can visit my other blog: O Mighty Irrational Stickler)

Fortunately, Lorraine wasn't long in coming. At the very sight of her, the 1970's Virginia Slims slogan "You've Come A Long Way, Baby" ran through my mind. Lorraine was Old School. Not only was she preceeded by a whiff of polyester, she also had a rat-tailed comb tucked into her nest of hair. A complete anomoly in the Aveda world, Lorraine was the only woman for this job.

"Up-dos, huh?" she asked. "Okay, so the hair of the 1960's needed a good foundation, girls. Gather 'round. For this lady here, we'll do some finger rolls, and for this one, let's do a bubble 'do, and for the other one there, let's give her some shape on the forehead as well."

A crowd of Salon Therapists followed Lorraine's every move. She threw up some scaffolding on each of our heads and then, gradually, got the trainees involved. Every time one of them would draw back and give Lorraine a questioning glance of "Is this right? Am I done?" she'd reply with "More spray. With a good old-fashioned updo, you always need more spray."

After much rolling and sculpting and tutting and repeated sprayings, we were done, ready to emerge into the daylight. We paid our fourteen dollars, plus tip (instead of leaving money, I wrote a little note that said, "You'd do well to follow Lorraine through life; if, for some reason, you can't, I understand Target is hiring") and giggled our way out onto the street, discovering that our 'dos had turned us into showstoppers. The feeling continued for three more days, as we rode out the Power of the Spray and slept with our heads propped up on wooden blocks, geisha style.

An added bonus was that even cheap people like me always have a stash of little plastic cocktail accessories in a drawer somewhere.

The moral of all this hoo-ha, clearly, is this: if you're drunk enough, it is possible to sleep with swords stuck into your head.

Monday, October 20, 2008

"The Wreck of the Edmund FitzJocelyn"

I live next to the largest body of fresh water in the world in terms of surface area. Because I have a long bendy straw, and I am very good at leaning out my window, I am never thirsty.

And because I am always careful to suck up my requisite sixty-four ounces per day, the water levels would take quite a hit, were it not for the forty-two creeks in town that continuously feed the lake.

Not incidentally, forty-two creeks and a big lake perk up some sweaty arse in the heat of August. For those few days when the temperature hovers near 90 degrees, we just pack up our beds and pillows and drop them into the frigid waters of the lake, where we recline in perfect comfort.

Yea, Lakey is frigid. Interestingly, when something is so enormous, it is slow to warm and slow to cool, rather like 1970's tv detective Frank Cannon closing in on his suspect during the episode "Girl in the Electric Coffin."

He didn't rile easily, that Cannon, but once he had a scent, there was no stopping his drive for justice. Cannon and the Big Lake both exist in a state of intriguing contradiction: cold when it's warm and warm when it's cold.

Of course, Cannon actor William Conrad died in 1994 of congestive heart failure and has been persistently cold since.

Lake Superior, however, swishes on and, as it does, warmed a bit this past August--two months ago now. For several glorious weeks, we were actually able to inch our toes into the relatively-balmy 53 degree water, eventually shoving in the whole foot, and when that went numb, wading to the ankle. At some point, the impulse to plunge would overtake the screaming messages from our nerves, and we'd shimmy in up to the groin or go Full-On Fool and submerge every last follicle.

For eleven beautiful minutes, the heat of the day would drop away, and we'd swim and pull up hunks of eroded concrete from the lake bottom,

and then, suddenly sideswiped, we'd be struck with the paralysis of shit-damn-holy-hell-that's-cold-water-and-I-don't-care-if-it's-88-degrees-outside-because-my-innards-are-now-a-box-of-Bird's-Eye-frozen-peas. And really, if I have only one rule of parenting, it's this: when the five-year-old utters anything starting with "shit-damn-holy-hell," it's time to towel off and go get cocoa and a scone.

On one particularly-spirited day this past August, with out-of-town visitors in tow, we launched ourselves on a progressive tour of the city's swimming holes, creeks, and polar plunges. In one afternoon, we hit four different spots, and at the end of it all, fell into an exhaustion entitled The Day of All Summer Days.

That day in August seems far removed now; but it resonates with what I feel this mid-October. When I hop into the lake in August, it's a way of embracing the peak of a particular season--it's me in my twenties, quitting my job as a nanny to drive to Graceland in Tennessee and Hot Springs, Arkansas, and White Sands, New Mexico, and Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colorado, in a big swoop of "cuz I can" roadtripping abandon. The crest of summer, like that period of my youth, is golden and evanescent and fugitive.

And now. I'm forty-one, and I'm the embodiment of October 20th; I'm a breathing mid-autumn day. After we eased through June, July, August, fall set in with jarring swiftness. The overhead light of summer angled sideways and became slanting, mellow, softer. Everything in the world blazed briefly--orange and red and saffron--and then, in the midst of my gasp about its beauty, began the decline into rust, amber, chestnut. Fall and I are fading into an abatement of our peaks, and starkness looms.

Curiously, being just past the pinnacle, a tidge beyond the brightest blaze, a week past the sell-by date, well, it leads me into a feeling of harmony with bigger, deeper life junk. Although leaves have fallen from the trees and crunch underfoot (on my body, the leaves are called "breasts"; unbound, they too crunch underfoot), and although the lake is too cold to touch (on me, no such thing exists), and although ripening has morphed into waning,

I like it.

Fall, and my forties, are a season of ebbing. We are less fertile; we are less flexible; we are less free.

Yet we are full of texture; we perceive the rhythm of the full cycle; we appreciate that lessening can result in abundance.

We suspect, in our declination, that winter may be the richest of all seasons.

After all, there will be cocoa.