Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Ain't We Lucky We Got 'Em"

During the 1980's, I attended junior high, high school, and college. To recap that, for those of you Distractites who are reading this with one eye locked onto The Housewives of East St. Louis, I was an adolescent of the '80s. Thus, all of my worst hormonal moments of wracked self-esteem were accompanied by the soundtrack of Kajagoogoo singing "Too Shy" and featured me, in a regrettable Flashdance/Madonna fusion, wearing a slashed-up sweatshirt and fingerless lace gloves.

Continuing to employ our magical time machine (borrowed from J.J. Abrams, who, now that he's done creating an alternate timeline in the new STAR TREK movie, doesn't need it 'til the sequel) and spiral backwards through the annals of history , we can hop another decade and dial in to the fact that, if Jocelyn was an angst-ridden teen in the '80s, she was also a child of the '70s.

And the cool thing about the elementary school years plus the vibe of the 1970's? We kids were free to be you and me, baby.

Even things that, objectively, might have sucked seemed okay and fun because--high five, Tricky Dick--it was the '70s, and nobody could pin me down!!

Think of it this way: in an era when Carol Burnett wore curtain rods inside her dress; when Hee-Haw taught me to sing "Pffft, You Were Gone"; when guest stars Ruth Buzzi and Jim Nabors were on "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour"; when that high-spirited charmer, Little Joe, made Hoss roll his eyes in exasperation on "Bonanza"; when Schneider was both building superintendent AND family counselor on "One Day at a Time"; and when a visiting fundamentalist clergyman made a fool of himself on Walton's Mountain after drinking moonshine...well, life couldn't be anything but good.


It occurs to me that the previous paragraph might give the impression that all I did was watch television during the 1970's, much like you are right now as you read this (prediction about your show: I'm pretty sure Kaison's husband is going to leave her...for 10-to-life...and Cassoulet's line of messenger bags "to hold re-ups and pistols" is going to fail, so turn off The Housewives already, and train both eyes on the computer monitor, you slacker blog reader). Indeed, given that I was "firing up the colortini and watching the pictures fly through the air," how challenging was it, we must wonder, for me to be carefree and tra-la-la when my days were comprised of little more than watching child prodigy Gary Coleman ask his rich, white benefactor, "Whatchu talkin'bout, Mr. D?"

That's a fair question. Honestly, I spent at least five years of the 1970's in front of the television. As well, I spent two years making crank calls on a rotary phone (when the party line wasn't tying up the line), asking one Mr. Thomas Morton of 1405 Poly Drive why, if his fridge was running, he didn't go catch it!!! What's more, I spent a cumulative six months of the '70s walking to the Kwik Way to buy Wacky Wafers with the dime I'd just earned for scrubbing the toilet. Then I spent the other two-and-a-half years of that decade outside, riding my bike around the neighborhood with a pack of kids, playing Cops 'N Robbers and wondering at what point Lisa Mackin, then twelve, would start actually wearing a shirt when she came out to play (...speaking of late developers...not that we were, but I'm guessing that if you're sitting there watching one of those vapid Housewives shows, at least some small part of your development is arrested, so let's just agree that we all need to put on our shirts now and grow up).

I'll have you know, too, that I also sometimes turned off the television to go to my friend Ruby's house, where we'd try to make muscles in our arms by doing curls with the soup cans in her pantry. Or sometimes I went to Girl Scouts or ballet class or trick-or-treating, especially to THE MOST-AWESOME-HOUSE-EVER that handed out cans of 7-UP on Halloween.

And if you've never seen a house hand out soda pop, then you need to get a passport and travel a little bit, Jonah, 'cause it's a sight to behold. The shutters actually morph into arms.

Perhaps most notably, one other thing I did when not watching Peter Falk's crazy eye and fumbling gait on "Columbo" was go out in the backyard and scoop up dog poop.

It had to be done, right? And since my parents were busy with singing and earning pay checks and watching "Maude," it was left to us kids to do the deed. My sister earned her escape through babysitting jobs and a declared love of CATS (not the musical, so fie on you, Andrew Lloyd Webber, you Danielle Steel of Broadway!). Mostly it was my brother and me, out back, shovels in hand, scooping the poop.

Get this, however: you know how things have changed since the 1970's, like how people no longer wear hot pants or dumb hats or leg warmers or any of those embarrassing fashion follies that mark that long-ago decade as atrocious?

Crap. Never mind.

Well, anyhow, some things have changed since the '70s. I mean, "Facts of Life" is off the air, for one, and that popular, stuck-up Blair is now a homeschooling hardcore Christian who declares on her Website "...the author of my story is my heavenly Father."

Also, people play Space Invaders less often (strangely, though, Pong continues to rule), and the Marlboro Man stopped riding a horse and lighting up when he died of lung cancer. Or maybe a few days after he died. But eventually, he stopped.

Clearly, then, the world has become a vastly different place in the last 30-odd years. For me, as I think back to my childhood, I see that the main thing that's changed, outside of the exciting process called Jocelyn's Growing Boobies, is the aforementioned dog poop.

Remember the dog poop of the '70s? Oh, yes, you do.

If your memory is honest, you're picturing something white and crusty.

This leads me to my point: what ever happened to the white dog poop of the '70s?

I've been pondering this for some time now, feeling nostalgic for the calcified, fossilized dog poop of my youth. Sure, when backyard poop scooping happened, there were also some fresher, browner specimens, much like today's modern dog poop, but mixed in were always a goodly amount of the dessicated whites.

Solving this mystery is easy enough, I suppose. With new public policies and social contracts in place, people now pick up their dogs' warm, steaming emissions virtually as they are evacuated, often using that oogy "hand in a plastic bag" approach.

Thus, the poop just goes away, never having its rightful chance to weather the elements and age into art. For those of us who are deeply nostalgic, this is a serious cultural loss. Seriously, I have a 9-year-old daughter who looks blankly at me when I start waxing romantic about white dog poop. "Whatchu talkin'bout, Mrs. J?" she asks.

Lest you feel dragged into the black hole of my woe, I have good news.

A few weeks ago, after he attended the local Wednesday night trail race--a series of races, in fact, which take place at different trail systems around the area every spring and fall--my Groom came home and announced, breathlessly (not from the running but from good tidings!), "I found it!! I found the white dog poop from the '70s. It's out there. We can go see it, if you want. It's about half an hour from here, on the 'Bull Run' course that goes down for about two miles before it then goes straight up for about two miles. Remember that place and how you kind of passed out there that year you ran the race? Anyhow, it's where the white dog poop lives in this new millenium! I found it. It's out there, and I have the coordinates. Knowing how excited you'd be, I left the car idling, so pack up the kids and get in. Let's go get a gyro and sit by the white dog poop while we eat!!!"

You know what, though? Just like it was a bad idea to go back and drive by my elementary school a few years ago--the place was too small, too stripped of emotion, too clinical for my heart's rememberance--I knew instinctively that it would be wrong to go visit the White Poop of the '70s. Somehow, seeing it now, with grown-up eyes and tzatziki sauce on my chin, would

diminish a cherished piece of my experience,

re-open a time of yearnings that have since comfortably relaxed,

force me to question the validity of other hallowed memories from that time (could it be "Good Times" wasn't actually a critical social exegesis?),

and undermine a personal mythology that still, decades later, makes me want to don a white disco suit, hold my pet rock close, and cheer for Mark Spitz to win just one more gold medal.

Indeed, some things are best left unscooped.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Instead of Being a Gumshoe, I Chew Gum and Buy Shoes"

I'm trying to figure out why I don't feel like sitting down and writing a post this week. Perhaps it's because I just finished a year (my 19th) of teaching writing, because I have been spending every evening the last two weeks compiling and editing a 100 page student publication, or because summer classes start today. At any rate, it sure is easier to yammer than type.

After running a cholesterol check on Paco's blood, we had to change our choice for lunch.

To have given birth to the perfect comedic foil is one of life's special joys.

That, and shoving His Nibs into the dishwasher hole when he ignores every last bit of the crap I fling his way.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Preeeeeeepare Ye The Way of The Froth"

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"I Can't Even Look at These Photos Without Needing to Roll My Body in Pancake Batter and Flip Myself into the Non-Existent Arms of the Badly-Combed-Over, Green-Suited Fisher-Price Man Who Worked Changing the Stoplight From Red to Green in the Toy Village of My Youth"

To summarize that title: for me, much of the zest of life is tied up in food and toys. If Buzz Lightyear could hobble up to me, holding a cob of corn dripping with butter, I'd take him to infinity--and beyond. If a Chatty Cathy doll could toss me a quesadilla, frisbee style, I'd pee myself. Or if a Lego dinosaur could stomp up and present me with a bowl of potato chips he'd crisped with his own breath, I'd call him Son and send him to camp.

You might, then, gather that I am a huge fan of Groom's final portfolio project in his digital photography class this semester. Having to choose a "theme" around which to shoot ten photos...and not wanting to go cliched or cheesy...Groomy decided to make photos of "What They're Up to When We're Not Looking."

The scope of that theme could have reached vast and wide, even into Mel Gibson's underwear, but, wisely, His Groomitude remained tightly-focused and turned out the following ten Playmobil/food-based photos:

The Great Coffee Siphoning Caper

Strawberry Catapult

Cheerio Diver Surfacing

Scaling the Everest That Is Called, in My Language, "Banana Bread"

Give Me Pineapple, or Give Me Honeydew

Cracker Cabinet (I'm not showing the companion photo entitled "Honkey Ho-Ho's")

When You're a Skeleton, Och, But The Cheese Goes Right Through You

Robert Falcon Scott's Polar Expedition Could Have Benefited From Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, Especially Right About the Time They Were All Penning Their Farewell Notes to Their Wives and Gnawing on Their Own Pinky Finger Bones

Underage, Under the Influence, and on the Counter


These photos encapsulate what I've always felt about my husband: it's amazing that someone can see so clearly into my brain and my soul--places where beach balls are made of cream puffs; skateboards glide on crescent rolls; plastic horses deliver curry; and S & M Barbies work with licorice whips.

And, of course, Groom himself is both my plaything and a real dish.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Gallery in the Galley"

In which I blather again--oh, holy Jeebus, yes--and then some more.

If you can't tolerate the video, or if it just makes you cry too much, the upshot is:

my husband can't get a critique of his art work.

So that means you should give him one.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"In the End, Only Quentin Tarantino Could Do It Justice: Part IV"


More of that.

Then some silence.

After two minutes, Groom finally put down his bowl of ice cream and meandered over to my prone form. Holding his spoon up to my mouth and noting that it fogged up with my breath, he returned to his snack and enjoyed the unaccustomed silence.

The next day, I came to. By then, Groomeo had set up a borrowed squirrel trap near Banana Alley in our kitchen and also bought a rat trap, which he set in the oven drawer.

Occasionally, over the next few days, he would stand at the back kitchen door and wave out to me in the little lean-to I had pitched in out in the raspberry patch. It was a small space, certainly, but it provided enough room for me, a sleeping bag, and Tuppy--not that I needed Tuppy, what with the great out of doors known as God’s Toilet all around me, but I’d brought my little chamber pot pal along for company and sanity saving, a la Tom Hanks and Wilson in CASTAWAY.

My, but Tuppy was cute once I drew a face on him. I spent many an hour back there amongst the raspberries, marveling at the clarity of his complexion, rubbing his back, asking him about his childhood in the factory.

Oh, all right, I didn’t really move out to the raspberry patch, but I sure as Stuart Little shadowed Groom more tightly than usual after the RAT pronouncement—no mean feat, since I always spend a fair amount of time latched onto his skin. It is, after all, very, very soft.

Indeed, we had a Velcro marriage for a few weeks, as we waited for the traps to spring and my soul to be released from bondage.

A visual metaphor for the marriage during this time.

The live trap proved no help, as the beast in the kitchen was small enough to get inside to eat the peanut butter…yet big enough to keep the trap door from snapping closed behind him as he ate.

How did I know he was male, you ask? Did I ever undertake any gender-typing examination, you wonder?

Effing screaming hellbats of yore, no I did not. However, I did find out later that he was actually very scrawny. And, in my experience (which includes the time I glanced at a jar of Jif and gained four pounds), anything that can eat loads of peanut butter every night and remain underweight is unquestionably male.

Eventually, then, we gave up on the live squirrel trap. It was up to the rat trap to bring home the glory and allow a foot of physical space to come between Groom and me. That “tight all the time” business was a bit too middle school even for my juvenile sensibility. We’d be walking around with our hands slipped into the back pockets of each other’s Levi 501’s, and suddenly I’d be possessed with the urge to yell out, randomly, “Hey, Mr. Murphy! That was a really tough pop quiz you gave in geometry yesterday!!”

One night, as we lay sleeping upstairs, we heard a loud clank down in the kitchen. Sitting up simultaneously, due to the Velcro, we managed to look at each other in a fashion both bleary and alarmed.

Is it Santa? I wondered to myself, hopefully. I did need new socks.

Alas, no. The sound had been that of a rat trap snapping shut inside an oven drawer. Peeling away the Velcro, I helpfully shoved Groom out of the bed, murmuring, “Go get ‘em, Tiger. And don’t forget to wear gloves when you deal with it. The Plague has been awaiting its chance to resurge.”

Two minutes later, Groom’s feet trudged back up the stairs, and he climbed back into bed with a “Rat bastard sprang the trap but got away.”

How very O.J. Simpson of him.

True to fashion, Groom was snoring thirty seconds later. To my credit, it only took me two more hours before I stopped listening for the sound of tiny scrabbling feet on the stair case.

The cool thing about rats, though, is that they’re slow learners.

Two nights later, we heard the same metallic clank; I gave the same shove; but this time, Groom was gone for some time.

In fact, I was listening to the third song sung by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Joey Bishop by the time he returned.

“Well,” he said, coming into the bedroom. “That was really gross.”

Because Groom is both of Norwegian extraction and an emergency First Responder, he doesn’t shake easily, I realized immediately that the fewer details I knew, the better the rest of my life would be. “So, um, it’s dead?”

“Yea. And it was gross.” He actually shuddered.

“It was ginormous, right, because how could it be small if it had all the world’s darkness powered by universal energies of malevolence and then packed into one body?” I needed to know.

“No, actually it was scrawny.” Despite the peanut butter. “But long.” Like a pole vaulter.

“Where’d you put it?” I asked, needing to know where not to look.

“Don’t worry. You won’t ever see it where I put it.”

Was it in the dishwasher, then? Perhaps the washing machine?

“So it’s over. It’s actually over.”

And it was. The only remnants of that night, in fact, are memories of my fear and my love of Tuppy, who still sleeps under my side of the bed

…and the fact that I can never see Groom in only his boxers and a pair of gardening gloves without having an adrenaline surge.

But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

"Clearly, Because This is Part III of What Could Have Been a Two-Sentence Story, The Director of This Overblown Epic is Kevin Costner"

Thus, from then on, I couldn’t sleep on the couch. I couldn’t stay on the main floor after Groom went up to bed. Part of our marriage vows is that he will never leave me alone in the presence—real or implied—of a rodent, just as I will never leave him alone in the presence of a woman wearing a wig, a polyester track suit and chunky gold jewelry who has just squawked, “I tell you this, hand to heart: you’ve never experienced delicious dining until you’ve been on a Disney cruise.”

Sticking to the agreement, every night, he toted me up the stairs with him at 10:30 p.m., right about when I was waking up for the day…and when my bladder was ready to do some serious and repeated unloading.

You know me not at all if you doubt that I actually tried taking the screen off the window in our bedroom, so that I could hang my rear out the hole and pee down the front of the house during the night time hours. Unfortunately, the house had been built in 1892, when windows were designed upon a presumption of Outhouse Existence and People Who Are Not Damn Pampered Wussies. So no luck.

Note the distinct lack of urine trickling out the upstairs window.

I also tried to get my substantial posterior angled so that I could use the Girl’s widdle portable potty up in the bedroom. Woefully, after it got snagged on my thigh that one time and drenched me with an outpouring of just-released still-warms, I abandoned that strategy.

The solution came in the form of one of our finest modern inventions (provided you are willing to embrace the notion that chemicals and toxins constantly leeching into your food constitutes a fine example of ingenuity): Tupperware.

We had a good-sized tupperware bowl, just waiting to be initiated as Chamber Pot of the 21st Century.

Tuppy and I got tight there, for a month or so. Tuppy ruled. Tuppy cradled. Tuppy caught. Tuppy also challenged my husband’s love for me, as he’d wake up every morning only to be greeted with the impressive inches of my night’s work, right there, next to the bed. I’d blanch with him and grumble, “Yea, I know. But I need you to walk with me as I carry this down to the bathroom to dump it out. Rodents aren’t afraid of urine, even that of a woman as powerful as I. Just, er, look up at the ceiling as you walk down the stairs. That’s not at all dangerous. Maybe whistle a little.”

Tuppy and I continued bonding for several weeks. During this time, Groom and I came to a gradual acceptance that the scat we were tracking went beyond shrew or vole in size and heft. This hunch became a certainty one evening when, having braved an extra half hour on the couch by myself, I glanced towards the kitchen and saw a large blur, somewhat like the Tasmanian Devil, whirring across the doorway.

Screaming, I ran up the stairs, planted my foot firmly into Tuppy, who sat on the floor, awaiting my nocturnal visits, and hobbled frantically over Groom, who was reading in the bed. “There’s…an…enormous…horrifying…beast…dancing…with bloodlust in its eyes...calling on all dark magic…in the kitchen!” I managed to whoof out.

Naturally, when Groom went down to look, the kitchen was all innocence and light. He found nothing.

Except a spoon and a bowl of ice cream, which he was savoring entirely too casually upon his return to the bedroom--where I sat, a quaking mass of raw nerves. Licking fudge off his upper lip, he remarked, “Well. So. I’ve been thinking about it. And I'd say we should get a live-squirrel trap. We need something big for what we’re dealing with.”


“No,” he responded, digging into the bowl for another bite. “I think we have a rat.”


Heck, yea, there's a Part IV coming. Truth be told, I'm in manic grading week, looking ahead to final exams, and so I'm drawing out this story in an attempt to get over the end-of-semester hump.

Just wait until the end of next fall semester, when I plan to turn a story about a stubbed toe into a seven-part series of posts that detail in 97 sentences every aspect of the moment I shouted, "Oh, that really hurt!"

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

"...And If the Coen Brothers Won't Direct It, Don't You Think Jonathan Demme Could Tap into the Necessary Pathos?"

Part II:

Subconsciously, of course, I had an inkling about the culprit.

Them was animal scats.

Looking at Former Naturalist Groom, I pled, “You used to teach Small Mammals class…so what creature emitted this junk?”

In our marriage, this question is the equivalent of “Does this make me look fat?” in other marriages. The poor male needed to be very, very careful how he answered.

You see, it’s possible I have a wee issue with things rodential. I had missed classes in college due to encountering squirrels on the path; I had called the police when a bat got into my house; I had experienced a mini-nervous breakdown in junior high when the end of my neighbor’s hamster’s tail broke off in her hand (and this, before that same hamster killed and partially ate his compatriot the time I pet sat).

Groom was aware of both my history and my desire for honesty. Thus, he didn’t want to affirm or deny the possibility that a creature with clawed, scrabbly feet, a pointed tale, and a lust for blood might reside within our house.

Cleverly, he drew upon his history of teaching diplomacy to student naturalists and answered my question as he would have the “Does this make me look fat?” query:

“Well, what do you think?”

What I thought was that it was time to pack my bags and head to a hotel until a team of eleventy-seven pest control professionals had rid the house of every possible rodent, even if they had to inject the place with clouds of toxic gasses that would subsequently cause the fetus in my belly to grow three eyes.

Turns out, what Groom thought was that the drawer was full of something clearly larger than mouse emissions and that they had come from a shrew or a vole. His reasoned reaction entailed not a week in a hotel but rather getting some traps, yet—hello, Einstein Trump--traps do not even come with a swimming pool or air conditioning or cable tv, so where was the fun in that?

Harrumphing, I watched from the corner, arms crossed, while he set a handful of traps later that day. As I harrumphed, I realized that the traps were all in the kitchen, and the kitchen was an essential part of my nocturnal route to the bathroom. I couldn’t get to Bathroom without Kitchen. Hmmm. Suddenly, having considered the logistics and realizing Kitchen Bypass = exploding bladder, I found myself on the horns of a dilemma.

Harrumphing even more, I distracted myself by musing about The Strange Case of the Half-Eaten Banana, a mystery that had been unfolding inside my work bag that week. Every night, I would put a banana into my satchel and lean the bag against the back kitchen door, where I could grab it on my way out the next morning. Strangely, a couple of times that week, when I would get to my office and fish around my bag for the banana, I’d find it already half eaten. Pretty high-larious practical joke, O Uninspired Family, is what I’d been thinking up until the day of Rodent Squizz in the Oven Drawer.



Gnawed-upon bananas and masses of excrement beneath the cookie baker and no place to relieve myself—all these traumas mixed together in my psyche, as I faced the truth of wildlife afoot inside my home.

And it wore a tiny t-shirt reading “I Defecate for Potassium!”


Part III pending...

Sunday, May 03, 2009

“Still Negotiating with James Cameron to Direct, But Since He's Kind of a Crusty Wanker, I'm Working a Side Deal with the Coen Brothers”

We used to live about one hundred yards from our current home, in a house that had one bathroom, which was located on the main floor, off the kitchen.

I got pregnant while we lived there.

The father of the baby was my husband.


At any rate, right about Month 7 of that pregnancy, I started sleeping on the couch in the living room, as the eight-times-a-night trudge up and down the staircase from the bedroom to the bathroom had begun to wear down footpads, knee cartilage, and morale. On the couch, though, I was mere feet away from the embrace of the bathroom. Plus, it was easier to sleep sitting upright on the couch, a technique that helped fight off heartburn, which was another hazard of late pregnancy. So there I was, night after night, beached on the couch, clutching my Tums, my tp, my bowl full of Moose Tracks ice cream, and my belly (third hazard of the last trimester: round ligament pain).

I wish I could tell you twelve babies walked out of me shortly after this photo was taken. But no, I was the prow of a ship thanks to only one damn baby. However, in my defense, he weighed 60 pounds.

Although I was lumbering, the system was elegant.

Then I opened the drawer underneath the oven one day and found it full of

--How you say it?--

fecal matter.

Looking quizzically at Groom, I asked, “Is there something you need to tell me?”

He avowed innocence, crossing his heart, batting his charming blues, taking me into the bathroom and providing evidence that he had made deposits in the traditional place. Recently.

My attention then shifted to Girl, then two years old. At that point, she was pretty well potty-trained. Yet she had the look of an imp crossbred with a rascal sprinkled liberally with scamp. What’s more, her rear end, in its occasional personified state, might have spotted that under-oven drawer and fancied it just the right height for some toiletual unleashing. When I showed her the problem in the drawer, she hugged my knees tightly and swore, “No, Mommy. I pwomise I awways make my tinkles in da widdle potty in da bat-room.” Ever a sucker for a knee hug (note to Groom), I bought her story.

Next, it occurred to me that I was in the grip of some pretty fierce hormones, and perhaps they were amnesia-inducing. Being generally bleary, I needed to entertain the idea that I might have wandered off the couch one night and, thinking I was in the bathroom, squatted in the oven drawer. Stranger things had happened. Like the time my bra wound up hammered to the wall of a bikers’ clubhouse in Denmark. Logically, isn’t pooping in an oven drawer a natural extension of radically misplacing lingerie in a public place?

However, with a fourth hazard of late pregnancy being reluctant bowels, I felt pretty certain the crime was not mine.


Part II forthcoming...