Thursday, December 27, 2007

“The Meathead”

Although it’s not January 6th yet, I’ve had an epiphany.

You see, I got to enjoy a revelation this past Christmas week.

It was not a star, a star, shining in the night that drew my focus.

There was no Baby Haysoos in a pile of hay what got my attention.

It was not the fact that the best sales stampedes commence at 6 a.m. on December 26th that made me lurch out of my prone position.

Rather, my eye-opener, my spine-tingler, sprang from a spontaneous moment of generosity out of one of my neighbors. The giver? Generally, he’s an asshat of a wankiedoodle.

In the three years that we’ve lived next door to The Wank, he’s never held a conversation with me about anything but himself. I know his high school hockey team’s winning record (25 years ago); I know where he buys his cars and why they are superior to all other vehicles; I know that he treated himself to a Rush concert for his birthday this year. About me, in return, he knows two things: my name is Jocelyn (in his brain, “Jawsslin”) and—more importantly—I live next door to him.

I would expect such constant self-absorption from someone who’s younger. But he’s 42. I would expect an inability to give and take from a confirmed bachelor, from someone who’s lived alone for three decades, someone who eats his tv dinners with his best friends, the cast of HEROES. But he’s married with two young kids.

However, despite being surrounded by people who need him, he’s engineered his life so that he remains the Star of His Own Stage and Screen. He doesn’t so much talk to his wife or, you know, really look at her. He’s never helped bathe the kids or put them to bed. How could he fit those activities in when there’s guitar playing to be done out on the back deck and when there’s woodworking to be done in the garage?

Wank has mad avoidance skillz.

Annoyed with his character as I am, I generally do the gradual backwards-easing-foxtrot-of-‘I-think-I-hear-one-of-my-children-losing-a-finger-and-thus-must-dash-now’ when he tries to engage in random Wank dialogue about the color he’s going to paint the trim on his house or how he’s been using a new hair-growth-stimulant to fight off the balding.

But he got me the other day. And I was revelated. Epiphanized.

No, he didn’t suddenly prove to be a man of depth and intuition. He’s no Charlie Rose. He’s no Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s no John Stewart.

Not that I have an obsessive crush on any of these uniquely-gifted and strangely-attractive warlocks of lust. Their names randomly—completely without forethought--popped into my noggin. It has nothing to do with the precise intelligence and raw, animal magnetism that rage through their pulsing beings that make a girl weak from elbow to knee. So stop asking, ya big Nosey Nellie.

I was talking about Wank, you’ll remember, and he’s just a lummoxy dolt, not the leader of a talk show or a country or my heart.

Yet this douchebag swayed me in the palm of his hand, gently, for just a minute the other day. And I have to admit, his charm was completely raw and animal.

See, I was over at Wank’s house, chatting with his long-martyred wife, when he entered the living room. Somewhat apologetically, he asked, “Hey, so do you guys eat meat?”

Pretty sure this opener was his way of launching into a story about a bratwurst he had eaten one day during Open Lunch in middle school, I nodded warily. Hell, I eat meat like Amy Winehouse snurffles white powder and wanders around the streets in her bra in the middle of the night. Neither of us wants to be rehabbed for our little problem. Just give me a tender steak and a firm foundation garment, and take your mewling concern elsewhere. We’ll be fine, Amy and me. Just fine.

But Jerk Neighbor actually had a point:

“So I’m really good at bartering. I mean, once I got a cap put on this tooth right here [insert finger into incisor] for $20 after I gave a guy an adjustment,” Chiropractor Wank continued, paying no attention to my tightening body language. “And I just made a killer barter today: one of my clients paid me in half a cow. It’s really good beef, too; it’s grass fed, so it’s all tender and stuff. So, even though I shouldn’t be trying to pawn off meat on you guys, would you want some?”

I waited a beat. Then another. Waiting. Toe tapping. Waiting. Waiting for the price point he was going to assign to the beef in his basement—“and only seven dollars for a ribeye, but I’ll make it two for twelve for you guys.”

It turns out I was waiting for a number that never came.

Instead, Wank clarified, “You’d actually be doing me a big favor if you took some ‘cause I can’t get the freezer closed. You like a roast? I’ll run down and get you one. Just hang on.”

Snap it if he didn’t come back two minutes later toting a plastic grocery bag weighed down by not only a roast but also two T-bone steaks and a pound of hamburger.

Twittering, futzing, shaking, I crumpled to the floor in a faint of delight. Then I laid there for awhile, sopping the tears off my cheeks with my collar. After that, I mentally rewrote my will, making Wank the beneficiary of one of my great-grandmother’s landscape paintings. Next, I lifted up the skirt of their couch and noted all the toy remnants living under there; they had set up a makeshift village and elected Buzz Lightyear mayor.

Finally, I heaved myself up and, with trembling fingers, clutched at the Bag of Beef. I tossed out a few “Hosannahs on the Highest,” kowtowed a little bit, and muttered my thanks in five languages as I stepped out their front door and turned, ebulliently, to cartwheel and fa-la-la my way home through the snowbanks (never once releasing my grip on the Dead Cow of Profound Joy).

While beef is definitely my bag, Christmas never really has been. I don’t respond well to the pressures of expectation and tradition and ritual. Plus, in junior high, I really wanted Billy Joel’s Glass Houses album, and even though I put it on my Christmas list and hung that list on the fridge, I didn’t get it. In fact, I never really got anything off my list; I just got a bunch of clearance junk, the cost of which roughly equaled the price of Billy Joel’s Glass Houses album. Common sense says I should have stopped making lists and deadened childish hope, but instead I decided to start dreading Christmas.


Then, this year, with clouds parting and a ray of sunlight spearing down towards earth, Wank gave me the Bag of Beef.

It was the best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten. It was unexpected. It was spontaneous. It suited me to a T (-bone). It was thoughtful. It was specific to who I am. It reminded me that people are always more than they seem.

His unanticipated, uncharacteristic gesture--completely bare of snowman wrapping paper and a big silver bow--managed to deck every single one of my complicated maze of halls.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Hollyday Wishes"

Wishing you and yours a dry sofa in 2008.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Shaking the Magic Google Ball"

I've been socked this week by a stack of research papers, student yowls, and end-of-semester freak-outs. So the writing time? Very small. You know what that means, right? Memetime, lads and lassies!

Thanks, Lone Grey Squirrel, for inspiring this meme: typing my answers to the following prompts into Google Image and then choosing a photo off the first page that pops up. Images are the perfect antidote to a week when I am tapped out and my words are--how you say it?--not having way.

Photos it is.

1. Age at My Next Birthday:-

I'll be the cost of sending you a piece of junk mail. Hell, I am junk mail.

It's not the size of the dream, my friends. It's the quality.

2. Place I'd Like to Travel:- Bulgaria. I heard they have soup there.

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral stands near the center of Sofia. It is dedicated as a monument to the Russians who liberated Bulgaria from nearly five centuries of Ottoman rule in 1877-78.

3. Place I've Been:-

Akureyri, Iceland

The thing about Iceland is the towns have swimming pools in the schools which are open to anyone, including travelers; these pools are heated thermally, by local hot springs.

I should have gone to high school in Iceland. My pours would have been thermally tightened, and then all the fellas would have been clambering to take me to the Winter Formal.

4. My Favorite Food:-

I'm full of suprises.

5. Place where I was born:-

Billings, Montana. I drank a lot of beer on those cliffs (known as the Rimrocks or "Rims"). One time my cousin, Luke, was so drunk he fell a couple hundred feet off one of 'em. My dad got to put on his trench coat at 3 a.m. and go bail him out.

I miss my dad.

6. Place where I live:-

Duluth, Minnesota

We're all about bridges, ore boats, and splashing.

7. Name of Past Pet:-

This is Professor David Dandy of Colorado State University. I wish our poodle had been named Professor. Or David.

But if we'd shaved Dandy really close, he'd have looked like this guy--although maybe a tidge less manic.

8. Best Friend's Nickname:-

"Groom" wore no jacket, tie, or boutonniere when we got married. But he did wear a vest.

And that's all he wore.

9. My First Name:-

As if Blogger Jocelyn would ever strike "The Liberty" pose in a gym full of seething hormones. Instead, I keep my posing restricted to home base, where I've perfected the high-flying Hand on Remote Control stunt.

10. My First Job:-
When I was 10, Mrs. Baker across the street came flying over, breathlessly telling me she had to go pick-up her older child from an emergency situation, but her 10-week-old baby was sleeping in the house...and she needed me. She needed me for money. Thus, a twenty-year career in babysitting was launched.

And if you don't want to count babysitting as a "real" job, what with the non-taxed pay, then this was my first job: The summer when I was in 8th grade, the Pepsi Company of America ran a promotional contest, where drinkers of their beverage could, upon opening a can of fizzy sugar water, check the pulled-off tab (not like this new-fangled one in the photo) for a letter of the alphabet. Players of the game would then collect letters on tabs until they could spell out words ("S-O-D-A") or, for the ultimate prize, a phrase...something like "Pepsi Rocks the World." Woefully, the Pepsi Company Factory of America made a little error and printed, instead of a handful of tabs with the elusive "R" (the letter that would bring about a big-money win), about a thousand of them.

For you math majors out there: a thousand x Big Money = A Quathwajillion of dollars. The Pepsi Company of America did not want all those "R" letters hitting the public. So I and a couple of my pals were paid to sit in a warehouse and open pop cans, eight hours a day, for weeks, our eyes trained for "R"s.

I never did find an "R," or surely I would have pocketed it and would now be sitting in my mansion that cost exactly one quathwajillion of dollars.

Instead, I sit in my modest home, grading my 44th research paper on "the obesity trend in our fast-paced society."

Apparently, my students inform me, we Americans drink too much Pepsi.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Arc of Some Skivers"

In the fall of 1985, my mom dropped me off near the little town in Minnesota where I would be starting college.

Fortunately, my aunt and uncle lived at the spot where she stopped the car, so it wasn't like I was left trying to hitch a ride to campus or anything. Mom had a meeting back in Montana the week my college experience commenced; thus, she dumped me on my aunt and uncle a little early with instructions to "ditch the girl at the dorm next to the smelly ponds sometime next week. Oh, and here are her sheets, size Extra Long."

They heeded her words, and a week later, Sheets and I were deposited at an imposing cinderblock structure on an otherwise bucolic campus. After the goodbyes, I felt as many freshmen do: a little excited; a little bewildered; a whole lot lonely. I tried to act confident and cool as I blasted my cassettes of Howard Jones ("OOOOH, what's love got to do, got to do with it?") and bought new highlighters, accoutrements which would, I hoped, help me decipher my HISTORY OF EARLY MODERN EUROPE textbook. Who was this Balzac, I wondered, and would covering his life story with bright yellow marker make it more meaningful?

Essentially, I was bewildered and adrift.

Gradually, though, that business of hanging in there and faking it did pay off. I met some people, and we flirted with each other. Pretty much, they all lived in my dorm. On some levels, they affirmed my feelings of worry and inferiority, for they were Big Smart, well-traveled, and accomplished. In comparison, I felt Just Smart Enough, provincial, and a touch hayseed.

More importantly, however, they affirmed my worthiness. They thought I was funny; they invited me to sit under their tapestries and listen to The Replacements; they wanted to go in with me on a late-night Domino's double cheese pizza. Together we wrote (in highlighter) own new history. They transformed me.

Now, twenty-two years later, these pals from college still rock me like a hurricane. After graduation, everyone cast about for careers, spouses, homes. While we threw our voices into the greater world, this college crowd also continued its common thrum. I was with some of them the first time they got drunk. Later, I was with them when they got married. We've carried each other through divorces and the deaths of parents and the joys of babies being born. Damn it if these people haven't turned out to be found-siblings that only cost our families about $30,000 per year in tuition to discover.

Along the way, there have been times when our closeness has waxed. Then it's waned. For a few years, I thought some of the relationships were gone, that they'd shriveled beyond repair or care.

Now that I'm forty, though, I sit at the vantage point of a queer maturity: I can see the larger arcs of friendship. It came as a big life lesson to realize that even when a relationship has seemed dead for some time, it can still be revived. What I sometimes thought was belly up had simply gone dormant. With the slightest puff of air, we always resuscitate completely.

Hence, when many of us gathered a couple of months ago to celebrate the birthday of one of our luminaries, it was a true celebration--and not just because there were little hors d'oevres of butternut squash soup served in shot glasses and shrimp tacos and scallop empanadas and free wine and Red Velvet cupcakes and itty spanikopitas.

It was a celebration of longitudinal camaraderie.

And buttercream frosting.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

"Wax On; Wax Off"

In the past week, my mid-sized burg has received upwards of a foot and a half of snow. In other words, I've already had my Christmas.

Snow, to me, is a gift. I love that junk--slippery, light, heavy, cold, transmuting, crystalline; it satisfies my Myers-Briggsian ENFP need for change, as it takes the entire world around me, covers it with Abominable Snowman vomit, and makes everything seem different and new and worthy of attention.

Plus, snow means skiing. And, hypothetically, I love skiing.

Since we didn't leave the house so much during my youth in Montana (but, man, did we watch us some Family Feud!), I only took up cross-country skiing when I was 29. In my mind, then, that was last year, even though a closer look at the calendar might reveal it to have been 11 years ago.

When I started skiing, I lived in Southern Minnesota, where the strongest adjective that can be applied to a hill is "undulating." As well, I didn't know anyone else who skiied, so I pretty much winged it when it came to buying equipment and technique. Suffice it to say, I went "novice" with both. I learned to slide a little on short, wide, waxless skis. Shuffling along, I zip-a-dee-doo-dahed and looked at deer and squirrels at the local nature center. They looked back at me. It was all very "Disney on Ice," except no one came along and took a rifle and blew Bambi's mom's head off while I shooshed by.

A decade later, my equipment and ability were still stuck at novice. I had met and married Ye Olde Groom, a Norwegiany type who had been on skis from age 4 (admittedly difficult during the summer months, but, amazingly, he still managed to swim, eat corn on the cob, attend the State Fair, and learn to cross-pollinate corn, all with a pair of Rossignols strapped on). He'd even competed as an individual in cross-country skiing at the State tournament during high school. Having held a life-long anti-jock policy (killer premiums), I had to take a great leap of confidence to allow such an experienced athlete into my life, much less to allow him to lay eyes on me attempting to ski. The first time he watched me barrel down an icy hill, he was typically kind, applauding the fact that I had stayed on my feet, smiling joyfully, the whole way down.

I confessed that my face, pulled back by the G-force of the wind during my uncontrolled plunge, had been frozen into kind of a death grimace.

Nevertheless, I benefitted from the tips he gave me. But then, a few months later, we started running the Kid Gig, and that meant tag-team parenting, which, in turn, meant I was back to skiing alone, my technique petrified. Two winters ago, when we finally took the financial plunge to buy me some new, waxable skis, it was my will that became petrified. While my hope had been that better equipment could help me take that leap into becoming a better skiier, the actual result was that better skis highlighted completely my inability to ski. Those old, waxless skis? They'd obligingly hidden my lack of know-how. However, genuinely slick skis caused me to cry, panic, and then crumble out there on the trails. They went really fast, and I didn't want to go really fast. I had rather cottoned-to skiing like an 80-year-old priest, it turned out.

So now I'm all about rationalizing my way into situations where I need to use my old, comfort skis. The newer, excellent skis sit largely unused there, in the corner; they've taken up crocheting. I may get a lovely scarf out of my neglect. Instead, I either make a case for the temperatures being too cold or, um, too warm for me to deal with waxing my hot-shot skis. Barring that, I have decided to cultivate an enthusiasm for back-country and river skiing, pursuits that require wider, hack-em-up skis and virtually no understanding of how to use the poles or hit a rhythm. I don't even mind the spots with frozen waterfalls, where I have to take off my skis and huck them to the top and then scramble up after them. I'm never a better skiier than when I'm holding my skis and tossing them away from my body.

Oh yes, I'm a rhapsodic river skiier. Today, I twittered out for my first river ski of the season. Sure, it's been cold, but the season is still in its infancy, and the subzero temperatures have just settled in, so as I departed, I tossed a quick, mostly-facetious, "Hope I don't break through" to Groom.

Forty minutes later, after zig-zagging past and over myriad patches of open water and burbling holes, I had, indeed, broken through at least five times. The first time a five-foot slate of ice crumpled below me, causing my being to drop a foot, I squealed like Angelina Jolie spotting an Asian orphan. I didn't get wet, though, and since I know the creek I was on isn't particularly deep, I kept going. And breaking through.

After a bit, one of my skis was caked in two inches of ice and would no longer glide. I was snowshoeing on skis on a semi-frozen creek. But, hark!, there was a birdie. Tweet, tweet, little birdie. Look at Jocelyn here, being a skiier!

Crash. Down I went again. On about the sixth whomp through into the still-running creek, my one ski had become a leaden popsicle, weighing me down. I did a weird little wet-in-a-frozen-creek version of the hokey pokey and finally managed to extract that iced-up paw from the waters below.

Since the whole point of my venture had been exercise and relaxation, and since I was feeling decidedly weighed down and anxious, I did the logical thing: I took off my skis and climbed up the side of the little canyon to the road.

It was an agreeable toddle back down the road to my car. During my walk, I considered the ambivalence that marks my relationship with skiing. I have a bit of a complex about it, what with living in an intensely-accomplished outdoorsy community. I would like to be good. I would like to hang with the big guns. I would like to be able to stop screaming in my head when I have the sticks strapped to my feet.

Odds are, that isn't going to happen. What does satisfy me is knowing that I'm doing it and that there is a certain grace in trying. I don't come from a tradition of "getting out there." Yet I'm getting out there. In the larger context of my life, the fact that I even own skis is a marvel. The fact that I willingly take them onto thin-ice-over-running-water somewhat cavalierly is nothing short of miraculous.

As is the feeling that my kids will grow up free of my athletic demons. Although I will fail them in other ways, and they will grow up to discover they lack other skills they wish they had, I can at least snarl at them in the middle of a future argument, "Listen. You know how to ski. I gave you that. So hesh up, Little Miss 'Why Can't I Play the Bassoon When All the Other Kids Can'!" (that's generally how I talk to the kids, incidentally)

For right now, when they are young, and my feelings toward them are uncluttered with too much annoyance, I can simply call it a miracle: thanks to a community program called KidSki, my kids will always find skiing natural.

Tomorrow is the first meeting of Kidski for this year. It will be Girl's third year and Niblet's first. Already, they've been in the yard this week, tootling around merrily on their skis. Niblet spends most of the time on his back, skis to the sky, eating snow. Girl, however, whips around the house in gleeful loops.

This is Girl, two years ago, when she was five.

Here is her Kidski class, the same year.

Groom built a "digger sled," which can be pulled while he skis. We took Girl out on the river with it one day, a couple seasons ago. She refused to set even one boot in it--because she insisted on skiing instead. Of course, she got all frustrated and had an enormous meltdown out there, and we had to threaten to leave her there in the snowy woodlands to grow up a feral child, raised by wolves, speaking like Jodie Foster in Nell, before she stopped her fit and allowed us to take the skis off her feet. But, hell, she wanted to ski that badly. I would have been in the sled in a trice, were I her. I was in the sled, in fact, as we waited for her to wind down, the crazy little snitter.

Girl skis across a plain of caved-in creek ice. It's always good to send out a child as a "test balloon" first, when the strength of ice is in question.

I could have used her today, as I broke through repeatedly. In her absence, though, I plowed on, gave up, and hoofed it back to the car, mentalling marveling at her easy confidence, her free-wheeling joy, on skis.

I don't get it. But I sure do admire it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"From the Mouth of Dinko"

A few days ago, my new blog pal August, smitten with my irrepressible boy, challenged him to answer the Vanity Fair questionnaire that's been making the rounds.

Wee Niblet, aka "Dinko," has subscribed to Vanity Fair for years now--two of them, to be exact (the subscription came about during potty training, as he put in long hours of work on the little plastic seat; The New Yorker, with its endless pages of theater productions and show times, tires the preschooler set, so Vanity Fair it was). Thus, he was flattered and happy to rise to August's proposition. Plus, Dinko has just added "C-A-T" to his literacy repertoire thanks to the PBS show Super Why! , so he was thrilled to have a public forum in which to display his new knowledge.

And now I must wipe a tear from my eye as I, Proud Mama, present Baby's First Meme:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Watching Donald Duck have a snow fight with Huey, Dewey, and Louie; I almost wet my Tyrannosaurus Rex pajamas, I was laughing so hard at those cheek-wheezers.

What is your greatest fear?
Our basement. I can only go down there with someone else, and I have to say loudly, "There is no monster down here, for hear me? NO MONSTER" as we head down the stairs.

Which living person do you most admire?
Porky Pig. S-s-s-s-s-eriously, folks, it was like I saw myself there on the screen when I first spotted him. I lead with pink pudge, too. He's coming to lunch next week, if I can get the peanut butter open for some sandwiches.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Poop. The fact that I can't open the jar of peanut butter by myself. But you should see me cut up Playdough with a pastry blender. Now that's plorable.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
When they refuse to try on my new paper-mache beanie; they are scaredy C-A-Ts.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Sleeping through the night.

On what occasion do you lie?
When I pretend I didn't hear my sister say "I'm sorry," just so I can tell on her. My mom would love for me to be bi-lingual, but that would mean I'd have to learn to say "butthead" in Spanish to describe myself.

That sounds like a lot of work. So I'll continue to be an occasional butthead in English only.

What do you dislike most about your appearance?
That annoying fourth eye sometimes causes me to walk into lamp posts.

What is your greatest regret?
I didn't ride my tricycle more during the summer of '06.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My mom. And her soft tummy of Love and Comfort. No one can compete.

So stop trying, Dad. You can go make dinner. We'll be here on the couch.

Which talent would you most like to have?
Being a professional lasso thrower.

What is your current state of mind?
Humming. My mind and mouth hum all day long.

If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
I'd have wings and a retractable whip growing out of my hand and X-ray vision and a real live baby dragon.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Making it through seventeen minutes of the Bee Movie.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
Buneary, a cutie Pokemon.
Or maybe a snow plow driver.

What is your most treasured possession?
My beautiful and glamorous fake-real yellow crystal diamond from a booth at the Home Show. All people want this because it is very, very expensive, like $2, and it is a diamond, and everyone wants my rare and exotic crystal diamond.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Seeing the scarecrow's head rot.

Where would you like to live?
In the bed with my mom.

In the future, it could be on a therapist's couch.

What is your most marked characteristic?
When I'm hungry, you need to feed me. It gets really ugly, really fast otherwise.

Who are your favourite writers?
Mo Willems; Tedd Arnold; Ruth Stiles Gannett

Who is your favourite hero of fiction?
I listen to Junie B. Jones in the car when we drive around, and she makes me laugh all the time, like Wowie Wow Wow. When she thought her new baby brother was a real, live monkey, I about dropped my juice box.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Did you know my sister can ride a two-wheeler and is really good at spelling?

What is it that you most dislike?
Dressing myself. I kind of refuse to do it. So far, it's been a pretty effective strategy.

What is your motto?
"I have a really great idea..."

Favourite journey?
The one that ends at Target. They have a whole section of Pokemon cards and Ben 10 toys there. I can push buttons for an hour before I need to go to the restaurant area for a bag of popcorn.

What do you value most in friends?
Proximity. If they are here, I will play. If they like to wear toe socks, too, like me, that's a bonus.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
"You know what?" and "When will Mommy be home?"

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Louis XVI. I hide my shyness in pageantry, too.

What is your greatest extravagance?
The occasional second bowl of applesauce.

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
We'd have a cutie baby. Mom says it ain't gonna happen.

What is your favourite occupation?
Hiding a screwdriver in a heap of Ooblek and then watching it emerge as the slime melts away.

What is the quality you like most in a woman?
Red hair and glasses and an accommodating lap.

What is the quality you like most in a man?
A unicycle.

How would you like to die?
I'm only four. I'm not ever going to die.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

"If You Wheel It, He Will Roll"

Groom just turned thirty-seven.

We gave him a unicycle.

He should never have said, offhandedly, as he bit into a piece of watermelon this summer, "By the time I'm forty, I want to be able to ride a unicycle."

'Cause then we gave him one.

And now he has to master the sucker.

Thus, Groom's birthday saw him down in our dungeon, learning how to mount the thing (and, yes, we keep the house cold enough that indoor hat-wearing is called for; stop being such a wussy guest and hat-up already). Balance will come later. Even one day in to his training, he already maintains it will give him a core workout to rival the pilates class taught by the Ab Nazi at our gym.

Since I can't have them myself, due to the chocolate-worshipping tenet of my religion, I do so appreciate rock-hard abs in others. When the census-taking ab-checkers come to our door next year, Groom's unicycle-hardened belly will earn their respect. Just to get them to put X's in all the right boxes, I'm willing to intensify the display and eat a smidgeon of lentil soup out of his belly button. Just 'cause I can. Those ab-census-takers will get an afternoon of entertainment beyond all dreams when they hit Unicycle House.

The unicycle is, indeed, a gift that will keep on giving.

supportive applause

The Wee Niblet can't wait until Pappy can juggle flaming torches on the unicycle. Girl can't wait to play tag with him and be chased by Unicycle It. I can't wait to see him make stir-fry on the roll.

Face it: we are circus folk.

P.S. Stop coveting our orange shag carpet. Your desire is unattractive.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"When I Was Young and Full of Grace"

I believe, when my aunt labeled the Wee Niblet "irrepressible," that she saved me at least twenty-three minutes of racking my brain to find the most apropos adjective for the little nutter. Indeed, without her astute assessment of him, I might have thoughtlessly described the lad as merely "zestful" or "bubbling."

What a mistake that would have been, for he and his occasional mohawk efortlessly infuse twelve thousand bubbles, with small lungs and a twisty straw, into piles of unsuspecting zest, shake them to the tune of a mambo, stir the concoction with Mad Maxian vigor, and top it all off with an olive (or rather, ten of them, pitted, each waggling on the tip of a grubby finger).

Niblet is four. Niblet has remarkable mojo.

It is rising.

Placing a call on his hot dog phone

His days begin when he rolls into our bedroom, climbs into the parental bed, and starts kneading my belly, elbow skin, and neck folds (there are no greater expressions of affection from this tactile preschooler). After a bit of a cuddle, he's ready to "watch," a half-hour that has him singing and dancing in front of the tv...unless his watching gets derailed by a pick-up round of "Animal School" with his Girl sister. When they play Animal School, she teaches; naturally, he is a student and sits in his assigned place among the penguins, unicorns, bats, and gorillas. So effortless is his popularity that he may run for Animal School Council (they need a new treasurer).

As he watches or plays, Der Niblet munches on his breakfast of beef jerky, pickles, and/or croutons. By 9 a.m., his visionary and entrepreneurial spirit has awakened, and we find ourselves making helmets that are half-alien, half-dinosaur. Generally, the purpose of the helmet is not specifically revealed, but we're amenable to pitching in because participating in the process means that we have license to make a whole lot of googly eyes and antennae--honest work that keeps us out of the meth lab. Plus, he needs an assist with the hot glue gun.

In between projects, there is some dabbling with chess, playing Camel Poop Care Bears with the neighbor girl, organizing his Pokemon binder, breaking eggs for the pizza dough, and cutting up National Geographic magazines. At some point during this agenda, The Boy Hurricane either makes a case for it being a pajama day or for wearing tights, a sportcoat, and a Frankenstein tie.

Best of all, while his given name is fairly unique in the U.S., setting him apart in any classroom or puke-ridden ball pit, he finds it unsatisfactory. Several months ago, as Niblet sat in his sweat lodge, toying with his ceremonial pipe, a new name delivered itself to our chap, a name that he, in turn, revealed to us. It is his true name, he maintains, and it should be the only one we use to address him.

It is Dinko.

Certainly, I slip up. Sometimes my mistakes slide by; sometimes I am quietly but firmly reminded of his Dinko-ishness. Sometimes he'd like to reprimand me for being so absent/neglectful/audacious as to not recall my own son's name.

But then he spots his little sewing machine or a bag of magnets across the room, and he's gone. I am temporarily off the Dinko hook.

Of course, when he trips up to me, three minutes later, holding a pop-up book about King Tutankhamun in hand, I'm back in the hot (glue gun) seat. You see, Dinko is adamant about the pronuciation of that dead pharaoh's name, and when I read it with its traditional inflection, the boy grounds me with a glare and an exasperated: "Maw-om, it's Too-kin-ham!"

Quickly forgiven once I apologize and practice, I am then invited over to his ever-evolving diarama of King Too-kin-ham's barge, where my finer motor controls are required--to tape in a few new loaves of bread and storage barrels. The whole thing is made out of grocery bags, chopsticks, and unfettered whimsy.

Dinko's days are full; he has many departments, from barges to monster-making, that require constant attention.

Frankly, we can't figure out from whence all this zany caprice stems.

Although the origins of his character are murky, it is clear that Dinko is a one-man goof troupe.

This, I believe.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

"Paging Ms. Chandelier...Ms. Crystal Chandelier. Your Prescription Is Ready."

There is a host of traditional names slapped onto mewling, unsuspecting babies in the United States when they're born: William, Emily, Alex, Susan, Mary. And we've all seen and heard those more creative names--some of which have cultural or familial connotations--such as Shaniqua or Anders. But then there's a whole other class of names out there: the out-and-out "Did Mama's epidural seep into her brain?" monikers.

I heard a story several years ago about a woman who was cooking in her kitchen when she went into labor. She ended up naming her baby "LaMonjallo" because the last thing she saw before she hit the floor that day were the words printed on the Lemon Jell-O box on her counter.

And then there was the time a friend of a friend of a friend (the most reliable of sources, and always just where I need her!) was in line at McDonald's, and in front of her was a kid who was cutting up, dancing around, bumping into folks. After rolling her eyes a lot, his mother finally shrieked, "Spatula! I have two words for you: BE HAVE."

No matter how you Ginsu up a name and the word "behave," however, the fact remains that the tags we use to identify ourselves on our homework, job applications, and ultimately tombstones, matter. A rose by any other name smells like garlic toast.

Feeling as I do about names--convinced of their importance and ability to shape lives--I found myself involuntarily snurfling with laughter and disbelief last week at the end of my Short Story class, as I read over my students' responses to an activity that had asked them to analyze their feelings about their own given names (as much as I like to mess with the kiddies and pack their hours with meaningless busywork, this assignment actually related to a story we'd read about a Chinese man who had to change his name during the Cultural Revolution). Part of the activity required them to explore optional names for themselves; that is, if they had to abandon their given names and choose new ones, what would they choose and why?

Gentle Readers, here is a cross-section of their answers, carefully vetted to give you a clear picture of the analytical abilities of our nation's next generation of leaders. They would change their names thusly:

"Probably something like Sydney because I have always wanted to go to Australia and I just like the name."

"Semore Butts--saw it on THE SIMPSONS, thought it was funny."

"My new name would be Hiro Nakemura. It's the name of an awesome and funny character on the show HEROES."

"I would change my name to Buddy. I think it would be kind of cool and funny if everyone called me by a slang version of the word friend. It would be like not having a real first name."

"I'd change my last name to Shanks and my first name to Adam. Shanks because it's badass and Adam because it flows with Shanks."

"If I were to change my name, I would change it to Jagermeister. I would choose this name because the meaning of it is 'hunt master.' I love to hunt things of all kinds. I think this name would be suiting for me. It is also the name of a rather popular drink. I also like to drink it. I could drink my own name. Not many people can say that. I would also have a nice looking coat of arms. It would be the picture on the Jag bottle. It's a big old buck."

By my calculations, President Jagermeister, Vice-President Shanks, and their Cabinet of Intellect will take charge of the White House in roughly 2037, ushering in a tenure of leadership that will make Americans long for the relatively-sensible logic and thoughtfulness of thirty years earlier.

This is your heads-up. They're coming.


Move to China; change your name.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Bear Feet"

In my last post, I jested, in closing, that I was going to go out and take down any bears that might be rummaging through our compost bin. I also reported that I wouldn't be able to eat any non-locally-grown bears, if it were to turn out that they had actually been transported, under the auspices of a wildlife witness protection program, into Minnesota from a different state.

As that post indicated, I have quite a repertoire of Dead Animal Humor, especially because one of my cousins waaaayyy up North here actually keeps his family's bellies full of meat throughout the year thanks to hunting and, more importantly, road kill.

Oh, yes, he does.

To aid him in his road-kill quest, he's got some contacts with state troopers; also, he lives in a remote part of the state where all 87 residents know each other's bank balances and underwear rotations, not to mention how they stock their freezers. With such connections, my cousin's meat needs are easily fulfilled. If a moose gets hit on Highway 1, the solution to such a public, bloody mess is, "Call Kurt." Or if a deer gets bonked, someone will inevitably stop by his family's cabin, knock, and holler out, "Deer kill down by Misty's place!"

After the call or the knock, Kurt collects his tools and any unsuspecting greenhorns he can wrassle into a crew, and he heads out, day or night, to begin the slaughter. And slaughtering a moose? A little bit bigger project than scrapbooking Junior's trip to the State Wrestling Championships. Indeed, butchering a moose is intense, heavy labor.

But, holy buckets of Bullwinkle, you can eat the thing for ten months, so it's worth the effort.

Right? Right? Right?

At any rate, you can see why road kill and compost bin humor trip so lightly out of my brain. Thanks to My People, I make up little vignettes like in my last post.

However. The day after I posted about out-of-state bears getting transported, a different cousin of mine (her eccentricity, by the way, differs from Road Kill Cousin's; her thing is that she's given all of her passle of kids "D" names. I'm glad she stopped spawning just after the birth of Baby Darby and before she had to resort to the moniker Baby Damnation) emailed these photos of a bear that was struck by a truck near Lincoln, Montana.

Dead bear. Funny, right?

Not so much.

In truth, it makes me sad. Look at that photo of the four paws at rest, in particular. There's something strangely human there. If, you know, that human weighed 800 pounds and was horrifyingly hirsute.

Certainly, being a good Montanan myself, I know James Gandolfini here is pretty much just stew meat topped off by some fly-fishing resort's new bearskin rug; despite that, I find myself wanting to knit the poor bugger some booties.

Note to self: learn to knit.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Conversatin' Locally"

Two mornings ago, while Girl was at big-school and Niblet at little-school, Groomeo and I took an anniversarial, celabratory pole hike (basically, that means we were hiking but used ski poles, too; the arm workout gives the whole cardio aspect a boost. Personally, I enjoy it because I'm a much better skiier when there's no snow involved). Being on the Superior Hiking Trail was, of course, lovely, but it got even funner once night-owl Jocelyn woke up enough to allow for an interchange of words.

The first grunts I managed telegraphed to Groom this random question: "So when you coached cross-country [running], and you guys would do 'hill bounding' in training, what exactly did that consist of?"

His subsequent demonstration--perkily leaping up a hillside to the sound of my muted applause--had the effect of re-injuring his groin muscle, a muscle that both he and I take very seriously. For the last few months, he's been relying on yoga and biking in lieu of his usual daily running, just to give Groiny a break. But there, in the space of a hill bound, all his good takin'-it-easies were nullified.

As our hike got going, so did his groinal protestations. Being of Norwegian extraction, though, he did carry on for an hour and a half, stoically. It helped, too, that we had some conversatin' to distract from the pain.

His opener was:

"So when we go over to Kids' Godmamas' house (our kids have the benefit of two godmothers, a lovely couple at whose commitment ceremony a few years ago we were privileged enough to speak a few words. I generally do that anyways, but it's so nice to be invited to do what comes naturally) on Saturday night for their annual Friends' Thanksgiving dinner, their request is that everyone's food contribution be locally-grown, from not more than 50 miles away. With that in mind, and because neither of them hunts wild turkeys, we'll all be having wild-rice-stuffed squash."

Tripping over a rock but stopping the stumble with a well-placed pole, I mused on this. Of course, having a healty boho/crunchy strain in me, I could appreciate their choice. On the other hand, both Groom and I are a little tired of every concept, however noble, being packaged and marketed. Is it really different if it's the books of Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver that nudge our choices, instead of Wal-Mart and Costco? Is it always necessary to distill every life choice onto a bumper sticker?

Okay, okay. I suppose it is--sometimes. Buried somewhere in that last paragraph, though, there is a point to be taken. I'm just not going to disrupt the good vibrations of any conscientiously-composting, homemade-pesto-making, light-treading human peace symbols who might be reading this by pressing it home. If you disagree, calm yourselves by soaking some beans, lighting some incense, locking in your dreads, and getting the tie-dye pots a bubbling. Just make sure your incense and RIT dyes were made within 50 miles of your home, O righteous leftist consumers of the world.

Suffice it to say, these friends of ours are good, deliberate, thoughtful women. Their Friends' Thanksgiving will be delicious and fresh, the food not contaminated with chemicals or petroleum residue. I like all that. I do.

"Hey, wait," I finally replied to Groom, "don't you always make some bready thing? How are you going to do that under those constraints? It's not like the rocky clay of Northern Minnesota is waving back and forth with wheat stalks."

"Yea," ma man affirmed. "It's a bit of a sticky wicket. Luckily, after a delicate negotiation with Godmama One, she and I reached a compromise: if I promise to only purchase hemp shirts for the next three years and wipe solely with Seventh Generation toilet paper, we can use wheat from a couple states over. The rest of the ingredients, we're going to have to scrabble together."

The brainstorming began. Noodly with gratitude that we wouldn't find ourselves spending the next two days pounding dried yarrow into a wheat-substitute, we easily decided that local eggs and butter would be no sweat. Speaking of sweat, we started immediately collecting ours on that hike, mopping it into a handkerchief which we later wrang out, ultimately dehydrating the liquid until a small pile of crystals remained. We have salt. Locally-grown and emitted.

But yeast. Where to get it? A-ha!

A quick trip to the drugstore after the hike solved that one. We loitered near the Vagisil, and when women approached, we called them out, convincing them to donate some personal samples. After a bit of intimate scraping, the bread can now rise.

Indeed, eating locally is really an issue of ingenuity. The hike hocked up a list of ingredients, along with an unanticipated joke, created as I struggled with too-long poles, one that we can use to amuse the crowd at the Friends' Thanksgiving table:

How many hearty Finns does it take to collapse a telescoping hiking pole?

Answer: None. It takes a Norwegian with a groin injury!

That's the kind of material that kills up here in the Northwoods.

Okay, I'm off now to check the porch for our weekly delivery of butter and bottled milk from a nearby dairy. And even though we didn't have a good year for basil, there's pesto in the freezer that needs thawing before dinner. After that, I'll carry out the compost--although if I see any bears out there, rooting through our old egg shells and carrot peelings, I fully intend to kill them and hoist them into the trunk of the car as an entree offering at the Friends' Thanksgiving.

They are, after all, locally grown.

Unless, of course, we discover they were tranquilized this last summer in Yellowstone Park for getting too near tourists at Old Faithful and then transported a thousand miles away to Northern Minnesota where they've been ekeing out an existence in our compost bin. If that's the case--frick!--the carcasses will just have to rot.

It's a matter of principle.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"We Was Cute Once"

Two weeks ago, my husband, nearly 37 years old, lost his first grandparent.

Seemingly the most hale of his four living grandparents, his grandmother went into decline rather abruptly, with a kidney infection turning into congestive heart failure turning into pain and exhaustion that sapped her will to fight.

Her husband, a former bank president and World War II pilot, had been the one we'd all been watching. He is the one with Alzheimer's and untreated prostate cancer. He has been the one everyone's efforts have been concentrated upon for the last three years. Tacit agreement had it that he would be the first to go.

Yet he didn't. He hasn't.

Rather, his wife of more than sixty years belied expectations and, after painstaking caretaking of her husband, has left him behind, alone. Forlorn. Wishing for death.

Fortunately--although it didn't feel that way at the time--Grandpa had already moved to the Memory Care wing of the Senior Home a couple of months ago, after he was found by a state trooper wandering down the side of the highway. So his transition out of the immediate life of Grandma (known to our kids as "GGma") had already taken place. He was somewhat accustomed to being apart from her, down the hall, over in his new digs.

However, with daily visits and enduring devotion, they weren't really apart. As GGma's health became more grave, my father-in-law had to break the news to his father: "Mom is dying, Dad."

And the Alzheimer's? You know, that cruelest of diseases? It, of course, provided no mercy.

In this case, it meant GGpa--although unable to recall names and places--remained bitingly aware that his helpmate of decades was passing out of his life.

They had a private religious service together in her last days, led by their pastor. After it, GGpa was inconsolable.

Two days later, when GGma died--peacefully, comfortably, all wishes expressed--it was GGpa, with his unreliable brain, who sat beside her, lucidly, holding her hand, rubbing her cheek, even after she was gone.

The very image of them, there in the hospice, slices me in two.

Today, November 12th, would have been their sixty-third anniversary; yet after all that time, they were not a habit to each other. They were not one of those couples who sit in the Embers, indifferently eating their omelets, not speaking to each other, staring off into space. Rather, after sixty-three years, they had an active love for each other, feeling complete only in the other's presence. Even GGpa's advancing dementia couldn't diminish their interdependence.

It is from this perspective of ongoing conscious appreciation that I greet my eighth anniversary with my groom a day after theirs, on November 13th.

He is, quite simply, my all, my everything, my favorite and my best. There are at least 4.569 reasons that add up to the way I dote on him. Here, I give you five of 'em:

1) He is unflappable and uncomplaining. This is a much-needed and -welcome counterpoint to all my complaints and flap.

2) He knows how to communicate with me in Jocespeak (woe to those who consider it a dead language!). I am, you see, a person who can get dramatically derailed during a slow bend down to tie her shoes. But with Groom giving me directions, I get it done every time. For example, when I go out to run an unknown route, he is smart enough not to tell me, "Turn right at Oneida Street," but instead to break it down thusly: "When you see the big rock on the righthand side that looks like Richard Nixon with his cheeks waggling, turn right. After that, you'll run for about the length of time it would take you to sing the extended dance remix of 'Tainted Love', and then you'll take a left." Now that's what I'm talkin' about.

Similarly, when we were recently up the road at an important crossroads for migrating raptors (Ye Olde Birds of Prey), a place we go to often in the Fall, and he was off hiking with friends while Niblet and I hung around the main vantage point, resting our weary paws and awaiting their return, we got to witness the release of a big bird. It was tossed up into the wind above the overlook, and the whole thing was cool. When Groom and Friends returned from their hike a few minutes later, I tried to describe the bird to them. "Was it a hawk?" they asked. Weellllllll, er.....yea? I could tell them that it had parentheses-like curves around its eyes, and its beak looked rather like a bracket (<>). And, for big sure, it wasn't an owl. So what kind of hawk had it been? "Like, not small," I reported with authority. Groom knew then to ask, "Was it bigger than a package of Double Stuff Oreos?" "'Bout the same size!" I reponded, gleefully. That answer, coupled with a photo I'd taken, narrowed it down. Due to his patience and bilingualism, Groom discerned, "It was a red-tailed hawk. See in the photo those red markings?" Not at all sure how they looked like my beloved Oreos, I nodded agreeably nevertheless.

The bird is released

3) He sighs gently and happily when I rub his wrist.

4) He raises our children with consistency and patience, yet he loves it when I point out the benefits of storing them in the freezer.

5) He has always and ever made me feel like my foibles increase my charm. Were I more perfect, he would love me less.

For all these reasons, plus twenty-thwifty kamajillion others, he leaves me agog.

In an ideal world, he and I will die together, when I'm 104, and he's 101. We'll be on a hammock together, eating truffles and staring at the branches up above us in the sky, when suddenly our hearts will simultaneously stop beating.

The world not being ideal, this will most likely not be the case, although I am having a truffle fridge installed at the base of our biggest tree, just as a nod to possibility.

Alternatively and more realistically, then, I wish for a death like GGma's.

Indeed, my acute and illimitable hope is that, in fifty-six years--better yet, in sixty-six--when I am at long last diminishing and facing the Great Beyond, it will be with my constant and enduring companion sitting next to me, knowing me as no other, stroking my cheek as I exhale one last time.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

"Coyotes; Time As An Abstract"

NPR runs a weekly audio essay entitled "This I Believe" in which average folks hold forth on an issue or idea that they hold dear; NPR describes this segment as a forum where people "...from all walks of life share the personal philosophies and core values that guide their daily lives."

Since I walk and have a life, I must also have philosophies and values, ja? And dammit, but I've held back with my personal views long enough on this blog. It's time to cut loose.

Thus, I've decided I will occasionally feature my own "This I Believe" posts, from time to time, especially when blogging time is at a premium, and I need easy filler. My "This I Believe" posts are just me vamping a bit (again, not something we're familiar with on this blog).

But let's keep that vamping part just between you and me, okay?

Shake on it?

Cool. But your palms are a little sweaty. Are you hiding something?

After much consideration and vetting (I had to toss out gun control and the death penalty--too thinky for this hollow noggin), I have arrived at this week's issue of deep passion:

I believe pillows, like my belly, should be fluffy.

When punched and scrunched, a good pillow should change shape. A good pillow, after the fashion of my husband, should give and give and give and then, to top it all off, be a little more flexible.

I detest a hard pillow. Those unforgiving ironing-board-like pillows that never take on an indentation, even when brass knuckles are applied with great force? They're just mean.

And after my early thirties and a particularly-bad break-up, I made a solemn vow that never again would I allow Mean into my bed. Whether a wolf in sheep's clothing or an ironing board in a pillowcase, I will not abide the mean.

The thing about an adamantine pillow is that it hurts me, even when I've been nuthin' but good to it. I give it flannel and jersey; I speak to it gently; I lay the freshest of heads upon it. But then, during the night, it gives me, in return, a bloodied cauliflower ear. It makes the side of my head feel like a lugnut has been soldered on during dreamtime, and I do have ever so difficult a time hanging earrings off a lugnut.

Hard pillows, those compressed anti-downers, need to be fired. Take away their jobs; put them in the incinerator; glaze them and shove them into a kiln--but fire them.

This, I Believe.

Monday, November 05, 2007

"That Michelangelo: Some Sort of Mutant Turtle, Right?"

I have profound deficiencies in my knowledge of art. Sure, I recognize dogs playing poker when I see them, but beyond that, my high-priced liberal arts education is artistically pockmarked. Certainly, I can enjoy the shadows of Rembrandt. I groove on the dribs and drabs of Pollock. I've even heard of that DaVinci dude (it took a group of Navaho speakers to break his code, right?). But I lack a comprehensive, well-developed overview of art.

This, I blame on cheese curds. And Long Island Iced Teas.

See, when I hied off to college and could have enrolled in and attended a host of mind-expanding art classes, I was otherwise occupied. As a Montanan transplanted to the Midwest, I was too busy taking my first delectable, delicious, delicate bites of deep-fried cheese castoffs to sit in a darkened room taking notes about delectable, delicious, delicate brushstrokes put to canvas three hundred years before. At the age of 18, I wanted the immediate, in-the-moment, contemporary gratification of the crisp-but-melty cheese curd. Once the curds were swallowed, I headed not to a class on masterworks; rather, with my digestive system well-protected by a coating of grease, I headed next door to the town bar for its Wednesday night tribute to the perspicacity that is rum, vodka, tequila, gin, triple sec, all capped by a splash of cola: the Long Island Iced Tea.

Frankly, I was too busy bringing on heart disease and killing brain cells to consider how Chinese sculpture might have toppled a dynasty.

So I'm a little dumm about art junk stuff.

Imagine, then, what a revelation Frank Gehry was to me last year, when I toddled in to the couch and turned on the tv, balancing on my arm the adult version of curds and Tea : a glass of wine and some pita chips and hummus. At that moment, PBS was broadcasting a documentary entitled SKETCHES OF FRANK GEHRY. With my hands too full to turn the channel, I had no choice but to sit down and swoon into the rapture of his work.

Who the frick knew? Who knew, I ask you?

Okay, as it turns out, a large part of the populace knew and is well acquainted with Gehry, as he's one of the most-ballyhooed modern American architects. His work is big-time stuff around the world. I can hear you "fa-fwa-fooing" now about how you've been versed in Gehry since your cloth-diapered Mother Goose years.

I, however, had spent my formative years with my head too deeply dropped into the works of Pearl S. Buck...and then into a bottomless cup of have any idea that a guy was out there, coming up with such visions, and getting paid to produce them.

And really, that's the part that continues to inspire a certain faith: Gehry has created a very singular vision, one outside of traditional form, and people with money have gone for it. I'm not at all used to people with money putting their dollars behind ground-breaking, convention-flaunting ideas.

I, for example, once pitched a "rolling Halloween pumpkin, for when the candy outweighs the kid" to Proctor & Gamble, and they laughed me out of the conference room. I'd even bought a new black pencil skirt for the presentation, but they didn't so much as compliment me on it as they showed me the door, those corporate rat bastards.

My resulting cynicism lumped out-of-the-box thinkers like Jocelyn and Frank into the same Pile of Woeful Neglect (we're located, in the card catalogue, just after the Pile of Wondrous Nightshades).

And yet that PBS documentary reminded me that sometimes, in this world where big money generally fuels sure bets and more of the sames, the deep pockets can open up for genius and awe.

And on days when I cannot breathe due to the frustration I feel about our president,

Or I am tempted to wrap my fingers around the throat of a bully who has called my 4-year-old Niblet "ugly" and "fat,"

Or I mourn that my students at the college have never left Minnesota, even though we live a 10-minute drive across a bridge from the next state,

Or I keen for parents standing at the open graves of their fallen children, having to close out the sounds of protesters chanting and holding signs about "Fags in the Military,"

Or I rage when the best people I know have their hearts ripped open by failed love,

Or I see The Backstreet Boys on Jay Leno,

I find solace in the knowledge that an artist like Frank Gehry not only exists but is rightfully heralded for designs that push us all out of the safe and easy.

Let's raise and clink our curds in his honor.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

"Epically Myopic"

There's a reason why I'm legally blind and why, when I'm not wearing my glasses, I mistake the coat closet for my husband. Sure, there's the whole genetics thing. And, okay, maybe I like hugging fleeces and puddle boots. I won't even delve into the illicit dalliance I've been having with a pair of fingerless gloves. It'd make you blush.

However, the fact that my first lover was a book--and what a skanky pleasure-seeker I've become since that first!--is also responsible for my sketchy eyesight. Indeed, many of my best friends are books, to the point that I feel some of them owe me Hallmark cards imprinted with messages like, "Sorry We Sucked Away Your Eyesight and Good Posture, Sis." In particular, I think GONE WITH THE WIND, which I read 26 times in the fifth grade, and THE GOOD EARTH, which I alternated with GWTW that year, owe me at least a lunch at Applebee's (they can present their Hallmark envelopes to me over the Tequila Lime Chicken).

Interestingly, even with the fields of black dots that float around as a daily part of my vision (the optometrist says it's something about snapped, er, filaments), I keep reading. Often, I read crap chick lit. Other times, I read really good chick lit. Interspersed is a wide variety of other genres. I'm an equal-access book whore.

Naturally, some books have separated themselves from the pack of dust-covered johns.

For at least fifteen years, there has been a book I've called my "favorite." Doing this is specious, really, as I can't possibly have a favorite book, when so many are so excellent and do so much so well. However, when people have asked for book recommendations, I've often coughed up the title ANGLE OF REPOSE. I love that book because I love Western stories, and I love books that don't read like "litt-ra-choor" but rather like rousingly-good tales of human beings being human, and I love what Wallace Stegner does with words. In fact, ANGLE OF REPOSE stands out in my reading life because its pages marked the first time I ever wept while reading, wept from the sheer beauty of the prose. Stegner's use of language awed and astonished me; he broke my heart open with it.



I'm feeling a bit disloyal to the memory of one of America's greatest-ever writers, this Stegner, because he's just been edged out. First, he gets killed tragically in a car crash; then, fourteen years later, this novel of his, so long my favorite, finds itself getting slid over on my make room for a newcomer.

Thanks to a gift from one of my best galpals, this last week of reading has caused me to fashion (down in my basement smithy) a new Golden Bookmark to plug into the pages of The Interloper: FUN HOME by Alison Bechdel.

Damn, people, but it's a great book. It's great so jarringly that I found myself complaining to Groom the other day, as he waited for his turn to read it, "I just don't have the right words to tell you how richly and complexly this book is affecting me. I don't know how to articulate my respect for what this Bechdel broad has done." And seriously? I think we all know that even when I can't figure out quite what I want to say, that rarely stops me.

This book has stopped me. I, em, not have way when it comes to analyzing its successes.

Certainly, it's a memoir. And I do love me a life story.

But it's so much more than that. For one, it's a graphic novel.

And, honeychile?

I don't like graphic novels.

I'm pretty sure, somewhere deep in my closet, I have a buried t-shirt that reads "Graphic Novels: How The Robotics Club Amuses Themselves When the Batteries Burn Out in Their Light-Sabers."

Sweet Marmaduke, but I don't even like to read the comics in the newspaper. Just give me some good words, and save your stinkin' pictures.

Unless, of course, you're Alison Bechdel, and your pictures enrich and support and elucidate the writing in ways I hadn't thought possible. On each page, in this amazing book, I found myself reading the text and then diving into the accompanying picture panel for the next beat, urging the rhythm of the story to continue.

Plus, Bechdel manages to tell her story both in linear and circular fashion, coming back on the chronology several times, as she unfolds her realization that she is a lesbian and learns that her father, too, is homosexual.

In the midst of these fairly heavy life events, Bechdel dazzles with her vocabulary (I had to holler loudly one day as I read, "Thank you for using 'prestidigitation,' Smart Dyke Lady!"); her wryness (count how many times the can of Pledge appears in panels, as she hammers home her father's neatnik issues); her unflinching approach (a few libraries in the South, finding their patrons unable to appreciate cartooning of masturbation and girl-on-girl, promptly yanked this book from their collections); her appreciation for how literature can inform understanding of life (for her continued lack of patience with college classes fueled by the pretension that is literary analysis, I kiss her Carhartts).

I'm not necessarily recommending that you gallivant out to the book store or library and grab this book. It might not be your style. Maybe you don't read much. Maybe you have other priorities, like seeing which couples are "safe" on DANCING WITH THE STARS or, um, playing solo fooseball, racing back and forth from side to side to make the little men spin. Or maybe you do read, but you just like your Louis L'Amour.

So read it or not.

All I know is that I, a prodigious book-devourer, have had the enormous pleasure of apprehending, this past week, that my best reading isn't behind me; that there are whole new ways to read that I've never before relished; that, at age 40, I am still plenty limber enough to kowtow before an author of greatness.

As I lay here on the floor before her, clutching her book to my bosom like a talisman--and wondering why I don't bother myself to chase after the dust bunnies with a broom more often--I tell you this:

Alison Bechdel has left me humbled and breathless.