Monday, July 30, 2007

"Interview My Sweaty Pits"

Eleven years ago, I was twenty-nine, and I had recently left my job teaching composition at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (after three years there, my annual salary had skyrocketed to all of $19,000). In the hopes of making more money, which would, in turn, give me more choices in life, I decided to try snaring a job in Minnesota's community college system. After all, I'd done my undergraduate work in Minnesota, and I had a host of friends and relatives living there--not to mention the lure of all those hotdishes featuring potato chips crumbled on top, a claim to the legend of Paul Bunyan, and some of the highest taxes in the country! Who wouldn't want to live in such a state?

After I blanketed the state with my CV, the first college to call me for an interview was the one located in Austin, Minnesota (the much-ballyhooed town where pigs are boiled down and stuffed into tins labeled SPAM).

When I arrived for the interview, the dean came out of the conference room, shook my hand in heartfelt and homey fashion, and asked, "So, are you ready for your teaching presentation today? Do you have any materials for the committee? Will we need to set you up for a Power Point or anything?"

My response to this was to stand, slack-jawed, while considering how quickly a heart rate can elevate. Sure, I was ready to answer some questions and all. But teaching presentation? Huh?

Honesty on occasion being a good policy, I snapped my mouth closed enough to answer something like, "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about. Teaching presentation? I got nada here, dude."

As it turned out, the college had sent me a large envelope containing details about the interview and instructions for this presentation.

I received this envelope, quite helpfully, the day after the interview.

In that moment, there with the dean, I was tempted to tell him I needed to withdraw from the search process, that I couldn't complete the interview after all. But then I remembered I'd ironed a shirt for the occasion, and I don't iron for nuthin' hardly nohow, so I decided to wring some worth from my efforts to appear crisp. I took a leap and said, "Any chance I could just wing it? What's the presentation supposed to cover?"

Interestingly, my question flustered him. Even though he was heading the search committee, and they'd already interviewed three other candidates, he couldn't quite remember the assigned topic for the presentation. "It's, hem, er, something like dissonance in expository writing and how you'd go about teaching that. Let me go check for sure." With that, he pitched off frantically towards the conference room, the untucked tail of his shirt billowing out behind him.

As I awaited his return, I brainstormed, "Okay, Self, you've been teaching college writing for five years now, and you've never heard of dissonance in expository writing. But, to Self's credit, you do know what dissonance is. Let's say, hypothetically, there were a president who claimed he was the best candidate for the position of Commander in Chief, even though he had high-tailed it away from all military calls in his past, while his opponent had actually served in a situation of war and been awarded honors for his bravery and all. And let's say the voting public bought the spin that a yalla coward who shirked his duty was, in fact, better suited to lead the armed forces than someone who stood up and fought...speculating here, however ludicrous it may sound--that the voting public bought that line and its hook and its sinker. Yea, there's some dissonance going on in such skewed thinking, right? So maybe dissonance in expository writing has to do with writers, hep me Jesus, thinking one thing and yet writing something else entirely? Okay, okay, okay, I can b.s. my way through this thing. GOOOOO, Team Jocelyn!!"

Right about then, the dean skittered out of the conference room, wiping the sweat off his brow and tucking in his shirt, to reveal, "Oh, dear me. heehee. It wasn't dissonance in expository writing! It was coherence in expository writing! Pretty close of me, though, eh?"

Fresh off two minutes of frantic internal fretting, my reaction was less than diplomatic, but annoyance was masked by the sweet wind of relief: "Coherence in writing essays? You mean, like, using transitions and showing connections between ideas? In other words, what I teach all the time? Outta my way, Dithering Dean! I've got a presentation to make!"

With that, I brushed past him, tossing him a well-ironed kerchief he might use to dry his forehead, and marched into the conference room, ready to meet my interviewer.

Or, rather, all NINE of them. Plus the dean. Making--now count it up with me--NINE plus ONE, or TEN people on the search committee. That's just cruel.

Good thing my nerves were already rattled and my bravada up, or I'd have heaved all over their shoes. Instead, I smiled, shook some hands, and settled into the hot seat.

And you know? There is something to it, that feeling of "what the hell; there's nothing much left to lose," when in an interview. My absolute gut feeling was that I was already screwed and that I should just consider the next hour and a half as practice for future interviews, ones where my shirt might be wrinkled but where I'd actually have a teaching presentation in hand.

Feeling so very screwed, I shrugged, relaxed, and had a good time. When I was finally asked to stand up front and treat the committee as though they were students in my classroom, ready to learn about coherence in their writing, I positively skipped up to the whiteboard and grabbed a marker; after making up some silly sentences about huge search committees and how they scare the mettle out of any underprepared candidate, I did a little curtsy, saluted the masses, and hightailed it out to the parking lot. There, in my car, I sniffed my armpits--yup, suitably flop sweated--rolled my eyes at the Gods of Mail Delivery, and turned my attention to the Hardee's across the street. Now that my stomach had calmed down, it was insistently requesting roast beef. On a bun. A bun littered with sesame seeds.

Five minutes later, nibbling The Beef, I chuckled ruefully at the whole affair. Good thing, really, that I'd been so unnerved by circumstances; otherwise, I might have done a good job in that interview and, gulp, gotten the job in Spamtown, where I'd have been doomed to live a lonely existence for who knows how many years. Lucky, indeed, that I'd miffed the thing.

Of course, a few days later, Spam College called and offered me the job. Seems the committee had been impressed by my ability to think on my feet--you know, like teachers have to in the real world. Looking at my credit card debt and then looking at the 100% raise I'd be getting over my previous job, I found the decision made itself.

Thusly, my stint in Spamtown began. And thus, eleven years ago this summer, I was

moving to Minnesota from Colorado with my long-time boyfriend,

renting one of the two houses in town listed in the newspaper, a place I'd soon come to call my Unibomber Shack,

and starting my ongoing research of

dissonance as it intersects with expository writing.

Many thanks to Actonbell, who tagged me with a meme some weeks ago--a meme that has now Mighty Morphin' Power Rangered itself into these musings about a summer past. More to come.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Good Vibrations"

As a teacher of writing, I caution my students against using cliches in their writing. Cliches are hackneyed and trite and require no thought on the part of the writer. For example, I point out to my young charges, the phrases it was raining cats and dogs and I was up at the crack of dawn are empty and hollow--they are dead to me. Please, I beseech my tuition-paying pupils, don't use the phrase sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll in your essay entitled "The Meaning of College Life." If you must use a cute little phrase, try reworking the cliche a bit, to freshen it up; give me, at the very least, free love, Yellow Submarines, and Janis Joplin. Go for some gusto, O College Writers of the World!

In the face of my exhortations, they yawn a lot, send a few text messages, and then start zipping and unzipping their backpacks loudly.

Clearly, the cliche battle is mine alone to wage, and, therefore, I do my best to uphold my No Cliches, Especially on Sundays, policy. So I trot through life, whistling to myself: to convey a sentiment with precision in writing, the last thing a writer should use is a worn-out, overused cliche.

But you know what? Right now I need one. Because? The weather this week, here in Minnesota? There's only one way to tell you: it's not the heat; it's the humidity.

It's so humid, friends, that our toilet is literally wrapped in a bath towel right now; it's sweating so much condensation that the bathroom floor was becoming slick with toilet sweat puddles. So we wrapped it.

It's so humid that, during yoga class the other day, I was dripping with sweat to the point that, when I lowered myself from a Downward Dog into a Child's Pose, my dripping legs failed to actually stop when they made contact with the mat, and I slid right through, off the mat, thereby losing my, um, connection with the center of the earth and, er, all my chakras went out of alignment. And I said a bad word, too.

It's so humid that, I kid you not, I washed my hair before bed the other night, and 18 hours later it was still wet. YES, I've heard of the modern invention called hair dryer, but the idea of willfully and purposefully applying heat--even a dry heat--to any part of this body when temperatures are almost 90 degrees is anathema. Thus, my follicles remain moist. (How's that for a pick-up line?)

Suffice it to say, this week is not breezing by for me. In fact, my naturally-buoyant spirits have felt oppressed, suppressed, by the thick air and the ongoing sensation that I'm breathing through a wet washcloth. Even staying up until 2 a.m. each night, reading the new Harry Potter, hasn't gotten my mojo rising (but nice job, Ms. Rowling! I can't believe you killed off the entire cast of characters on the last page like that!!).

So what, gentle readers, can do the trick for me during this challenging week?

Fortunately, I can answer that question thanks to Jazz , who tagged me some time ago with just the meme I need: to list five things that raise my vibrations. Thinking of these things has provided exactly the counterpoint that my soggy spirit needs:

1. The nightly date with my beau. Quite unconsciously, we fell, a few years ago, into the pattern of tucking in kidlets, having a drink, and plugging the DVD of our tv-show-of-the-moment into the player, which we watch, rapt, while we eat a delicious dinner (tonight: cold sesame noodles with chicken and sugar snap peas). While our days consist of the chaos that can accompany parenting young children, my groom and I have a protected hour or two each night, a time of focus and shared experience, that keeps us, if not on the same page, at least on the same episode. Result? The the love remains in its groove.

2. Speaking of food, there is one meal in particular that is guaranteed to turn my frown, how you say, upside down: a fried egg sandwich. The sheer simple elegance of this dish gives me a big ole case of The Happies. There is butter, egg, toasted bread; toss on some salt and pepper, and I suddenly feel nestled to the bosom of a loving world. Yes, steak rocks. Sure, chocolate saves. But the fried egg sandwich is my ultimate comfort food.

3. My Teva flip-flops. Last weekend, I attended a farewell party for a good friend. While I was grateful for the chance to pay tribute to how much I like this guy, I was put off by the invitation, which asked guests to bring an appetizer (no problem) and their own drinks (what the hell? This is something I've experienced several times now in Minnesota, and it just peeves me. I mean, are you hosting the party or not? If you are, howzabout you put out some food and, if you can't do that, at least provide some drinks? If you don't want to do that, howzabout you go to a movie that afternoon instead of pretending at some kind of faux hospitality? I was glad, however, that guests weren't also asked in the invite to come over the day before the party and clean the host's house. Hmmmmm. As it turns out, I am digressing. None of this has anything to do with my flip-flops, really. Gotcha!). Okay, so at this party, we were asked to leave our shoes by the door, so as to not track Nature into the house. Then we were lead out the back door of the house to a patio. After standing, barefoot, on that patio for a couple hours, it was pure, rabid bliss to get home and slip my aching dogs into my soft, accommodating, saucy little Teva flip-flops. Even if the blood of small hamsters is the highly-guarded secret of Teva's manufacturing design, I don't care. These things are that good. Power to the bloodsuckers!

4. My afternoon coffee. Before the age of 35, I had only ever had one cup of coffee in my life (at Mardi Gras in 1991, when I hadn't slept for some days). But when I hit 35, Groom took a job as a barrista, and I learned the beauties of showing up at opportune times to kipe his free "shift drink," so long as it was sweet and frothy and basically a dessert in a cup. All of this occurred when I'd just had Kid #2, so once again coffee was used to get me over the hump of not having slept for some days...or some months. Now, even when relatively well rested, I rely upon my 3 p.m. mocha or latte to get me through the mid-afternoon dozies. I also am very good at making the case that a mocha is nothing--nothing!--without a little biscotti sidecar.

5. Exercise. It's the best of all addictions, this need to raise my heart rate every day. And, like coffee, my devotion to exercise only started in my 30's. And, like coffee, exercise has been essential to making me a better parent. When I go for an hour run every day, I actually think, reflect, and plan. If I didn't run, we'd never have a shopping list or take a trip or enroll the kids in camp. I needs me thinkin' time, and I love seeing the world by foot, up close and smelly. And on those days when I hit the gym instead of the trails, I love reading my celebrity gossip while ticking the minutes by on the treadmill. And at the end of my exercise, I'm all sweaty, which is...
...em...just what humidity does to me, too. So now I'm back where I started. I was feeling better there for my first four vibration raisers, but now I'm just back to sweaty. Dag. What to do?

The good news is that that blogging, as well, inflates my spiritual balloons. And right now, today, my ballooons are blowing in the breeze for my fellow blogger, Diesel, who, as you read, is hosting a little party over at his crib. His Media Office has sent out this press release:

Diesel, the twisted genius behind the humor blog, has announced the publication date for his first book! Antisocial Commentary: From the Secret Files of the Mattress Police, is a hilarious excursion through the mind of Diesel. From topics as varied as James Blunt and the Incredible Hulk to global politics and perpetual motion machines, Antisocial Commentary is a tour de force of satire, sarcasm, and just plain silliness. Savor such essays as “The Force is Middling in this One,” which answers the question “What happens to someone in the Star Wars universe who isn’t quite Jedi material?” and “Harry Potter and the Inevitable Slide into Satanism,” which explores the nefarious connection between the works of J.K. Rowling and the minions of the Devil.

Diesel's book will be published on August 15, but for a limited time we fellow bloggers can pre-order a signed copy at a discounted price, so if you're a fan of Diesel's and have ten bucks burning a hole in your birkin, head on over to and give him a big ole virtual (and financial) hug. The book is guaranteed to raise your vibrations.

Monday, July 23, 2007

"Poop Across the Genders"

I just couldn't get a good photo here of what I want to show you. What you need to know is that this is a page from one of Girl's "fast word" books from the past school year (first grade), wherein she was to practice writing certain words of the week by placing them into context and creating her own sentences. For example, if a word of the week was milk, she had to write, "Kee-rist, do I hate the milk of all hooved beasts," or something equally precocious, in her little book.

What you can't so much see in this photo is that her third-to-last sentence makes me retract my previous assertion that mostly it's the little boys who are scatalogical. I know, I know, so many of you tried to set me straight, but now I'm convinced that little girls love da poop, too, although they are more metaphorical about it.

"So what did she write on this faintly-chicken-scratched page?" you ask. You poor, blind sod; I can help.

For her beloved teacher, Mrs. Anderson, our Girl composed the sentence: "I like his sh!t."

What's even more troubling about this is that Mrs. Anderson then reviewed the page and quite specifically put a purple smiley face above the sentence in question. Could it be that Mrs. Anderson likes his sh!t, too?

I had no idea.

And who is he?

And what's so special about his particular junk?

Obviously, the sentiment in this sentence came about due to the acceptance of, even urging for, emerging writers to use creative spelling, and Girl, not so fond of the letter "r," wrote sh!t instead of "shirt."

But in my leetle head, I like to think of her uttering this sentence when she's 14 and is scoping out her latest crush (he's got sloppily-long brown hair and is playing air guitar at the end of the corridor) while leaning against her locker and gossiping with her best friends, LeeAnn and Trinity. They've just asked Girl why she has the hots for this guy--you know, Chess Club president Walter Schlinkman.

The Girl's answer will be simple and succinct, drawing upon a memory from first grade:

"I like his sh!t."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

"Family Expansion"

When Groom and I met, started the love groove, and launched into the Plan Making phase of our relationship, we had the whole "So, uh, you want kids or what?" talk. Since I knew I wanted have kids, and since I was irretrievably snagged by this guy, I got to do a big, dramatic "WHEWWW" and wipe sweat off my brown when The Groom replied, "Yea, I do. Just not this year."

Since this talk took place on our second date, his statement was all good.

Four months later, I was pregnant (woops). Technically, however, we didn't greet our Girl during that first year together. Nay, she didn't emerge until a year plus three weeks.

During our initial kid talk, outside of setting a timeline of sorts, Groom also mentioned that he thought two kids would be a good number. On the other hand, I'd always thought three kids would be just about right (the fact that I'm a third child who sprinkled diamonds of sunlit joy onto my parents' lives had nothing to do with it, either. I just, um, like the number three). A truce was struck with the words: "How about we take it one kid at a time?" Everything was all, all, all so very good.

And then I got knocked up, popped out Girl, nursed a lot, took a bit longer to get pregnant with Niblet (had to stop the damn nursing of Girl--who knew Da Milkies would work as Contraception for This Particular Redhead?), and then...

Well, and then I was really, really tired. Two? I could dig it as the magic number.

Of course, I can't say that decision to stop expanding our family has gone unquestioned. Groom is completely set with our two. He's all logical and rational and thinks it's fine that we've essentially replaced ourselves, body count-wise. My gods, though, are Whimsy and Speculation--and they often, in the last few years, have sent me off to chase notions of babies unborn. I have often found myself caught in spirals of "what if" and "maybe we should just..."

But ultimately, over the deafening noise of my last few eggs shriveling up into sandstone fossils, I realized that I have only batted about the idea of a third child because I would want to know him/her as a 25-year-old. I'm not actually all that interested in the sleepless nights for three more years, in tripping over rattle-y keys on the floor, in putting in the sweat and tears required by everything leading up to Age 25.

Thus, we're done with the whole procreation thing, Groom and me. Realistically, two kids pretty much tap us out, in terms of time, money, and energy; plus, we got two good ones, and since every new kid is a wide open crapshoot, we're going to sit tight with these two and call it a day.

But still.

I do get the internal call sometimes. Sometimes I feel like I have space in my heart for another child...just not of my loins. And realistically, I'd need a child that could prosper from benign neglect.

Adoption seemed the answer.

So, last year--and most of you don't know this yet--Groom and I adopted a third.

We did the paperwork. We went through the homestudies.

And eventually, we adopted "The Keene Creek Section of the Superior Hiking Trail." I know it's a long moniker, but it's the only name the thing will answer to. For ease, you can just call it Baby. (that's BAY-BEE)

The good news is that our 3.2 mile long Baby only needs attention periodically, for help with cleaning up, fighting natural erosion (much as I do with my home micro-derm kit), and a little chainsaw work. And, honestly, hasn't every parent, at one point or another, wanted to take a chainsaw to his/her kid?

So a couple times a year, we shore up our little patch of trail, drop off a big blue stuffed bunny, and take the kids in for some bonding time with Baby. It's all been very low key.

Woefully, Baby had a little tantrum last week, during the big wind storm. Yup, Baby got a little messed up. So Mommy J and Daddy Groom had to march in the other day and straighten the li'l tyke out.

Groom removes a splinter from Baby's side.

Baby has brought some needed diversity to our family, as well, for she's an Urban girl, running through the heart of Duluth. Just being around her broadens our horizons beyond our usual Quiet Whitey World. Look what she's done with her blocks and fingerpaints:

Cootchie-Coo, Baby. You make Mama sooooo proud.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Mel Torme Is Merely A Velvet Fog Compared to Me"

Move over, Bob Barker.

Step aside, Tony Bennett.

Outta my way, Bill Clinton.

Get another job, Oprah.

There’s a new Schmoozer in the business, and her name is Jaw C. Lin.

Yup, I recently discovered, a bit to my surprise, that I’m a schmoozer. Lone Grey Squirrel broke the news to me with a swift “tag, you’re clearly it,” based on a tag he had been thumped with by a blogger named Mike.

I must admit, at first I reeled back a bit, fretting, “Do I really wear that much hair gel? Did Lone Grey Squirrel notice that I like to walk around with a microphone and a martini in hand, over-emoting, assuring people I feel their pain and offering to give them a make-over or another chance to spin the wheel? Am I a slick weasel, and I just never knew it?”

As it turns out, however, I do none of those things, eschewing everything from microphone to gel. The only parts of me that satisfy the schmoozer definition are my love of a Lemondrop and the Big Wheel I keep in the bedroom (no details forthcoming, you voyeuristic preeverts).

Luckily, in his usual elegant prose, LGS elucidates the positive condition of being a schmoozer, as it exists here in the Republic of Blog (aka ROB). He explains, “Schmoozing as defined by is the ability 'to converse casually, especially in order to gain an advantage or make a social connection'... If you look at the award logo, you will see that it is refered to as the 'Blogging Community Involvement Award'... I think the spirit of this award is best reflected by that thought...Through your blogging social skills, you have encouraged us, informed us, amused us and most importantly helped us to meet others and to expand our social circle in the blogging community."

And with that, I felt eversomuch better, to the point that I took Groom upstairs for a spin on the wheel (where he was subsequently heard chanting, “One dollar! One dollar! One dollar!”). Mos’ def’, the bloom is not off the rose, eight years into our gig.

Now, with renewed focus, I realize that it is my job to pass on the compliment and identify five bloggers who, in my estimation, are Big Ole Schmoozers. This, to me, means I need to find five writers whose blog cribs feel unusually hospitable, whose joints make readers feel welcome and impart a particular sense of togetherness and community, whose spaces make readers want to step up and participate and converse. Another way to cast this would be to identify five bloggers whose comment sections are comprised of more than a single response from the blogger’s mother which reads, “I guess I never really did understand you, JoJo. And if you think any part of this story you wrote about my wig falling into the basket of Body of Christ crackers during Communion is funny, then you’re grounded. I don’t care if you’re thirty-four. Get to your room, and no phone privileges for a week. And you can forget about chaperoning the Prom next year, too!”

Rather, the schmoozer blogger inspires comments with content, comments of reader interaction—you know, vigorous commenting simply because the blog’s visitors have been sufficiently moved by the writing on the site to put a piece of themselves out there.

At this juncture, you can start the drumroll and sound the fanfare. I would, *clears throat and opens envelope*, now like to award these five writers as some of the best schmoozers I read, and if any of you five are so inspired, you can grab the Schmoozer banner and pass on the tagging. Otherwise, just sit back and pat your backs in a gentle, soothing motion of schmoozage.

1. It’s gotta be Diesel. Diesel combines humor, fine writing, and shameless self-promotion into a most charming package. Where else can you read about the world’s scariest motel, buy a blog-specific t-shirt, and participate in captioning some excellent Photoshopped pictures? Nowhere, my friends. Nowhere but Dieselville. Plus, I’m pretty sure Diesel needs more stuff for his sidebars, so maybe the Schmoozer banner can help with that.

2. I have to shout out to That Chick Over There. Here in the Midwest, folks like the word “hoot,” and she is one. A hoot, I mean. Not a folks. Well, she is a folk, but that’s not what I’m driving at. Since Chick is a Southerner, though, I’m not sure “hoot” is the best description for her and her writing…I feel that more colorful phrasing is required, to acknowledge her life below the Mason-Dixon Line; so let’s just say she’s funnier than a two-headed dog do-si-doing at a clowns’ barn dance. However we put it, all I know is that her open letters (“Dear woman in the burgundy mini-van in the furthest left lane on Interstate 40,…”), her posts about her piss-ant neighbors, and her recent good-old-fashioned serial of posts about her meeting and marrying her husband…well, they’ve got a slew of us readers hooked.

3. The comment section of Hearts in San Francisco’s blog is a regular tupperware party. Hosts of folks check in to read Hearts' latest rousing messages about ethics and the right way to be in the world, or to roll their eyes at the latest sub-letters next door, or to admire her turns of phrase (a recent post ended with “Why does every errant hedgeborn canker blossom end up living right next door to me?", which pleased me no end). Pretty much, I think Hearts should go into politics. She gets me standing up in front of my monitor, pounding my fist in the air. One time I broke a picture on the wall doing that, but it wasn’t her fault. Now my computer and I go into an open, empty room before I jump over to her blog. It’s safer that way.

4. Because it would make any good Minnesotan blush to be publicly honored with anything, I have to say Dorky Dad. He tells stories of mishap while camping that make all of us readers certain he should never even utter the word “tent” again, much less get into one. Fortunately, he has a worthy partner in mosquito-bitten-tentpole-in-the-skullishness in his lovely wife, who occasionally has her input into this funny blog on Wife Wednesdays.

5, And finally, I must acknowledge that I get a special feeling—not just from the Lemondrop I’m drinking, either—when I visit Jen’s blog. The whole business of getting shivers while reading something? Jen’s writing does that for me. She mixes it up with posts about her work with the homeless, her hopes for an expat life with her family, and everyday slices of life, like getting a manicure. Everyone who reads Jen’s blog regularly ends up feeling inspired by her sense of social justice, but not because she’s preachy or self-righteous. She is one woman, following her choices in life, and her readers can’t wait to find out what comes next.

So thank you, Dear Schmoozers, for helping to create that really weird thing that is community with the land of the blogs. You not only make it a great place to visit; you also make Blogland a place many people want to live.

…which, now that I think about that, is kind of sad and scary. I mean, get a life already.

(warning: I’ll be cleaning out my Meme Closet in the next few weeks here; I recently noticed that I have about five of ‘em sitting in mothballs, awaiting a good dusting off)

Friday, July 13, 2007

"If a Tree Falls in the Backyard, Does It Make a Sound If Only the Mail Carrier Is There to Hear It?"

Now, first off, I'm not complainin'.
But the skies around here have been pretty unstable lately, with words like "low pressure system" and "cold front" being bandied about by the weatherheads. Translation: it's blessedly cool and lovely...but it's also raining in eight-minute-spates about five times each day. That, too, is good and fine. We likes the water here in garden country.

However, the other day, the Weather God got into a bit of a snit and stirred up a day of seriously-strong wind gusts. Exhibit A: I was attemtping to exit my favorite coffee shop, iced hazelnut latte in paw, when I was suddenly, completely, literally unable to push the door open. I turned my back to the door, even, and put my legs behind it. No luck. I couldn't budge the door even a fraction, as it was held shut by the wind.

Fortuitously, a nice woman, her skirt tossed up over her ears (thank heavens she opted to wear her knickers that windy morning, even if they were of the dingey grey granny variety), blew up to the building and worked the door from the other side. Our combined female might finally did the job.

Still skeptical about the force of the gusts? I give you, then, Exhibit B (formerly known as Our Park-Like Backyard):

Yea, so we gusted home that day from the coffee shop and various errand runnings, only to discover that one of our lovely trees had dramatically toppled onto our neighbors' fence. According to all laws of Nature, of course, it was predestined that the fence be spankin' new, the screws barely dry, the paint barely drilled in. The only witness to the blowdown was the mail carrier, who was still breathless and awed as he recounted the moment of "tiiiimmmmbbber" to us; later that evening, he began a continued stalking of the downed tree when he drove by it several times, his wife in tow, before ultimately converting his mail truck into a tour bus that he now uses to shuttle passengers down the alley on a daily schedule of 1 p.m, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. (his microphoned commentary of "The Mighty Arbor met its fate under dour skies on July 10th, in the year of Our Lord two-thousand-ought-ought-seven" is already wearing on us).

So now we have a little disaster in the backyard, and I don't mean The Wee Niblet pouting on the swing mid-afternoon, when his needs for a nap and a snack combine to make him a fearsome beast. No, I mean we have this big, dead, formerly luscious tree laying like a passed-out sorority girl, unconscious atop our recently-transplanted raspberry canes.

And I find that

I mourn the loss of the tire swing that hung from its branches.

I mourn the loss of the knotted climbing rope that led neighborhood children up the bark.

I mourn the loss--deep in my gut--of the tree itself, for the whole thing, even that which still stands upright, has to come down, and its corpse must undergo a complete hack-job. Quite out of proportion to the event itself, I mourn the death of this glorious old behemoth. I am profoundly, even mawkishly, sad.

But even more deeply and profoundly, I mourn the clean-up estimate dropped with a loud clang onto our checkbook today by the local tree service. That's got my heart hurting more than anything, for our bank account had already been severely depleted by the recent big road trip and rental of the U-Haul. And now this new bill looms larger than any sale of Hummels and vintage Rosenthal china (my mom bought it in France in 1960, and we have 88 pieces of it, and it's not at all foofy, and you know you want it!) can recoup.

*big sigh of financial woe*

The Children would so have enjoyed college, too.

Without a college education, they'll be virtually useless, right? Sans degree, I'm pretty sure they'll never be able to support us handsomely in our dotage, and isn't that the point of progeny?

Thus, the sign on my front lawn needs to change from "Hummels for Sale" to "Children for Sale." One of them can just about push the vacuum, and the other is able to laze in the bathtub for an hour and a half without supplemental oxygen. Clearly, they are valuable additions to any household that almost needs vacuuming and is short on air. I'll even toss in a discount if you buy both kids AND the Rosenthal china, 'k? Like five dollars off.

So here's the deal: you buy 'em; you send 'em to college; and then you send 'em back here to Ma and Pa. By then, we may have just about paid off the damn tree debt.

But you can keep the china.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Photo: Groom strums a plaintive ballad on a balalaika my mom purchased in Russia in 1961; the ditty is entitled "I've Been Hauling Other People's Boxes in 103 Degree Heat for Days, and It Sucks"

"Hummels for Sale"

Holy crap.

And I when I type crap, I mean stuff and stuff and puffin'-more-stuff--a veritable excess of possessions. Buying, arranging, and eventually shedding stuff, it would seem, is my genetic legacy; indeed, I have the innate tendency to hoard and collect roaring through my veins.

Actually, I've realized in the last two weeks that my hoarding inclinations are pale and watered-down compared to those of my sister and mother--both of whom we helped move/unpack during our big road trip around The West.

There are upsides to helping someone else deal with crap; I mean, there is no emotional attachment to the items, so it's easy to declare, "You really don't need those fake silk flowers. Like, REALLY don't. Ain't no one who do. Let me just trot them to the Goodwill bin for you, all righty? And that copy of Macbeth you had to read your freshman year of college, in 1953? Yea, we can get that damn spot out, too. To the bin with it all!"

The downsides, of course, are readily apparent: you're spending your hours going through someone else's accumulations, through dozens and dozens of boxes that represent the physical manifestation of someone else's needs and desires. Invariably, these hours also tick away during a heat wave and/or when your young children just want to be at the pool instead of being good sports about understanding that their auntie or grandma has a hoarding pathology that requires she be talked gently and at length out of owning 15 wooden spoons, when, in fact, she doesn't cook at all and has absolutely no stew to stir.

In sum, while it's always a pleasure to spend time with loved ones, Groom and I are plain tapped out right now when it comes to handling other people's crap. Seeing what my sister and mother, individually, were going through, in terms of panic attacks and tears and sheer overwhelmage, well, it was an object lesson for me, and I have now returned to Minnesota with a new resolved to de-stuff-ify, inasmuch as I can while basking in the full sunshine of the Little Kid Years, a time of Transformers and baby dolls and puzzles and Candyland under every footstep.

Here, now, on my honor, I resolve to engage actively in a war against my innate genetic programming. I promise to be a tiny bit less of a hoarder. No, reawwy. I pwomise.

And I've already taken steps in that direction. Two days ago, Groom and I returned from our Western trip followed by a U-Haul of family heirloom furniture and even a few knicknacks, which I am generally against on principle (*sigh*...but it was Baccarat crystal purchased almost fifty years ago in France, and it gives good hand when I pick it up and let it nestle in my palm, so what could I do? Say no?). We're trying to consider the new influx of crap into our house as more of an upgrade than an invasion. And to our credit, we no sooner had carried the new things into the house than we excreted an admirable amount of old junk out the back door--good-bye, old box springs in the basement; arrivederci, stack of rusty trunks; au revoir, old, stained garage sale chairs; sayonara, college textbooks.

Yup, the household has undergone a physical and karmic balancing in the last 36 hours, since we got home. I have the smelly armpits to prove it. Balancing is not delicate work.

And at this moment of half-past-midnight, when I'm not caught up in carrying boxes or muttering about materialism and the sheer mental toll exacted by *things*, I can afford a little sentimentality. I think about the furniture that we just drove across North Dakota from Montana, and I realize it's come home, in its way. My mother, her father, her grandparents, all of them spent major chunks of their lives in southern Minnesota, and after the older generations passed away, my mom inherited some fine pieces of furniture, moving them then to Montana, where she lived after marrying.

As the seasons continue to turn, my mom now finds herself living in a small seniors apartment in California, no longer craving the comfort of things. And so it has fallen to us, her children, to inherit the table our great-grandfather read at, the china cabinet dusted by our grandmother, the claw-foot table that held a Christmas cactus in the 1880's, a splitting from which I still water every week. In coming back to Minnesota, the furniture has completed a loop of generations and locales and eras. Even though it's just stuff, I feel something for it and for the sense of continuity and connectedness it gives me to people I never knew.

Ultimately, I have the opportunity to know them through their possessions and through the awareness that I am touching what they touched, that my children are running their hands along the surfaces that Minerva and Orange Scott touched 120 years ago, that Julian and Mildred touched 70 years ago, that Maxine and Donald touched 35 years ago.

So we hauled

the pastor's chair, and

the library table, and

the music bureau, and

the claw-foot table, and

the humpback chest, cursing the effort all the way. But now that they're settled in and have had their midnight snack, I find myself looking upon them with fondness and appreciation.

Should these things ever leave my life, that's okay. On a certain level, it would be a relief. They're just things, and, moreover, I can't be too burdened by the weight of responsibility for other people's memories.

On the other hand, they come from My People, my posse, my ancestral homies, and this physical reminder of who they were is powerful and affirming.

But if I ever try to convince you that fake silk flowers are a necessary part of my decorating, you are hereby invited to grab me by the shouders and administer a firm shake. Better yet, grab one of my 15 wooden spoons and whack me silly.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

"Bizarro Profession"

I am a bibliophile who wants to throttle most librarians.

This, of course, keeps me in a constant and heightened state of conflict, as I rely heavily on libraries and read several books a week. I want my books. I need my books. But I don't like most of the people in charge of my books; they are crabby and often snappish and need a good bitch slap.

Here's the rub: librarians love information and books and periodicals and cataloguing, but they really don't like people. Yet their job is one, essentially, of customer know, helping people all day.

So pretty much, the librarian behind the counter is an intellectual, an introvert who just wants to absorb factoids and be left alone to stroke, repetitively, the long braid thrown over her shoulder while memorizing the order of the English monarchs. And then she wants to spend the second half of her shift reading her manga before biking home to eat a solitary meal of lentil soup with grated cheese on top.

Invariably, as the librarian strokes her braid and bones up on her anime, I walk in. You know, wanting books and stuff. And my need pisses her off. And then she heaves her bulk out of the rolling chair to show me where I can find the Civil War Magic Tree House book, stomping, sighing loudly, never making eye contact.

The librarians and me? We've missed a lot of potential precious moments together, due to the whole attitude issue. No matter what kind of bookish small-talk I throw out there ("Aren't we all excited for the new Harry Potter?"), I know Librarian and I will never be running towards each other in slow motion across a flower-strewn meadow, arms extended.

In the town where I live, it got to the point where I actually filled out a comment card about the librarians in the children's area, noting briefly, "Maybe the library could staff the children's area with workers who actually like children." Shortly after dropping this card into the comment box, I took my stack of about 40 books--for both the kids and me, enough to last three weeks--up to the Circulation Desk, whereupon the checker-outer dude rolled his eyes at the size of the stack, snickered with a co-worker at how ludicrous our reading intentions were, and then, handing me the foot-long receipt at the end, snarked, "Make sure they're all back on time."

My reaction to this is to think, "What? You're pissy because my kids will grow up saying 'Our house was always full of stacks of books that we were expected to read'? Or is it because I've disrupted the quiet order of your day by coming to this public place and drawn you out of your reveries about The Renaissance Festival?"

And right about here? Yea, the bitch slap.

My ongoing librarian issues were highlighted yesterday here in Billings, my childhood town in Montana. Needing to check email while we're on this road trip, I went to the public library. And I had the audacity to ask the man at the Computer Service Desk if I could, devil that I am, use a computer to get onto the modern thing called "Internet."

Such a query opened the floodgates of resentment and discontent that plague this profession full of Garbo-like professionals, who just "vant to be alone." The little man, who looked amazingly like Larry "Bud" Melman of the David Letterman show, reared up out of his desk, reaching his full height of Jocelyn's Clavicle, and exclaimed, "Well, as you can see, all the computers are being used. I just signed up someone else before you, too, so I can't even begin to tell you when you can get onto one."

"Really?" said I. "You have no general sense of when any of these ten people have to be off their computers? Are there any time restrictions?"

"Well, everyone gets an hour, and we do have that registration system over there, where you can make a reservation for the next open computer, but other than that, no, I really can't tell you."

Realizing that bitch slapping a 60-year-old white-haired man who was a foot shorter than I would yield little in gratification and a great deal in court fees, I tried the talking thing some more.

"Just to be clear: I can go to this station right here and sign up for the next open terminal? And it will give me a time that I can get onto that terminal?"

"Yes, yes, yes. That's what I said. Here, I can walk you through it, as it seems awfully hard for you. Now, do you have a library card?"

In an attempt to move towards Dr. Phil's principles of honest and open communication, I responded with, "Actually, I don't. See I'm from out of town. But is there some way.."


Keeping my bitchslappers glued to my sides, I warmed up a little with, "You'll have to pardon me, as we don't know each other in the slightest. But you don't want to get me started in a 'who reads the most books' contest here, because I'll win and would have won by age eleven. Also, I came here today, to the public library, where you offer free Internet access, to get on the Internet. All I need is five minutes to check my email. See, I've driven here from Minnesota to help my 72-year-old mother empty 115 boxes and a household of furniture out of a 120 degree storage locker, sort through it, arrange a garage sale, and distribute heirloom items to my siblings. And, see, my brother lives in Portugal and has sent me an email, telling me if he wants my dead father's music bureau or not. Exactly where am I in error here in wanting to access that message from him before we load up the trailer tomorrow?"

Keep in mind, this was just a shot over the bow. Given any more provocation, I'd have had him in a half-nelson and talked low and mean in his pasty ear until his spit dried up and he begged for mercy.

Luckily for his neck and his saliva, he backed down and offered to help me sign up for a terminal, so long as, he noted threatingly, I kept in mind that each terminal was individually named (The Sweetwater; The Poplar; The Rosebud) and made sure only to log-on to my assigned terminal. As I sat for the next twenty minutes, reading a book, waiting for my turn on my assigned terminal, The Maple, I watched him berate and harangue the next three people who also were interested in gaining free Internet access.

And eventually,

I got my turn,

read the email,

shared my terminal with a woman who had logged on earlier in the day to print an article and then, getting home, realized the article had only half printed, so she came back to try it again, only to be scolded by Larry "Bud" Librarian for trying to sneak in a second session in the same day, when the rules clearly state that every patron is only allowed one session per day,

and, after logging off, I stuffed that little, bespectacled troll of a librarian into The DC Comics Encyclopaedia. There the pint-sized Mister Mxyzptlk, Superman's nemesis, ushered Librarian into a whole new world of control games when he pounced on Larry "Bud" to give him the noogie of a lifetime, promising only to let up if and when Librarian could pronounce "Myxzptlk" backwards while simultaneously checking in overdue items and forgiving the fines.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

“Honey, I Can Tell Something’s Bugging You”

In college, I had a friend who was gifted nostrilly. I mean, he had some seriously large nostrils. Some nights, to wow The Crowd at dinner, he would take a quarter and stick it up one of his nostrils.

At this juncture, some of you are probably thinking, “Yea, big deal. I stick quarters up my nose everyday, in a very particular and private kind of consumeristic self gratification.” But read on, Mugsy; I mean he’d stick a quarter up his nose, not sideways, but straight on—with good old George Washington and his fake teeth facing directly down to the floor. Then he could just leave the quarter hanging in there, a little booger shelf. In short, his nostril was pretty much the same circumference as a quarter…hence my assertion that he was uniquely gifted in the nostril department. Personally, I’d be hard pressed to get an almond up my nose, much less make it serviceable.

Don’t start assuming this type of stuff is on my mind all the time. I do sometimes have thoughts about books (don’t get me started on Horton and how he heard a Who that one time!), and occasionally I take a look at a newspaper and think, “Anne Coulter. Wow, you crazy beyotch. Keep saying mean things about that John Edwards; donations to his campaign skyrocket every time you call him a faggot.” So, see, I’m a deep thinker about many, many subjects.

But today I will admit I am musing, in focused fashion, on the awesome capabilities of orifices. Go ahead: insert your bawdy joke here. I’ve made about ten and deleted them all while typing this for I am, you see, very, very couth, in addition to being a deep thinker.

Now let’s move on. I’m thinking about orifices because our latest travel adventure required that my Groomeo have a gaping hole in his head, and not just his yammering maw. Rather, this adventure required that he have a really accessible and welcoming ear canal—that he be aurally gifted. I’d never noticed it before The Ear Event, but he really does have a good-sized cave up there, above his ear lobe.

To backpedal a bit: after a luscious week in Colorado, where we saw lots of folks, biked, avoided the Spirulina WheatGrass Soy Protein Shakes, had terrific trail runs (heat and prickly pear notwithstanding)…

...and got the kids out in a canoe…

…we quit the state and headed for Wyoming, where we garumphed around for the last couple of days. The change in terrain brought the camera out, even at 75 mphs…

…and after camping under a very fertile cottonwood tree one night outside of Casper (where the most curious little monkey roamed our campground)...

...we struck camp the next morning, during which The Event took place. Get this: a bug flew into Groom’s ear--and tunneled in for the duration.

Throughout the day, his hearing was plagued by loud fluttering sounds and burblings (which I posited was the noise a bug makes as it lays eggs, which, after gestation, would turn into a winged migration that would exit through his nose and mouth). First, he tried flushing it out with copious amounts of water poured into his ear canal. No luck. So then I broke out the tweezers, testing our love as I maneuvered past clumps of ear wax to extract any living thing. Sadly, our efforts were a bust. So we carried on with the day…

...toodling, amidst our mountain of car-crap, over to Thermopolis, where we visited the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. Our 4-year-old Niblet melted in the heat during the tour, to the point that he proclaimed “That was vewy boring for me” minutes after having seen Stegosaurus vertebrae (uh, the plastic model isn't to scale, btw)…

…but Girl was able to appreciate an Allosaurus footprint when she saw one.

During all this, with scary-alien-brainsucker-bug still alive in his skull, Groom went for a sweaty run, ate a hamburger, and hung in there gamely for 8.5 hours before announcing, “I think we need to go find a doctor.”

Turns out, the Thermopolis hospital, in a town of about 3,000 souls, has bug-in-ear experienced docs who greeted my beau with a reassuring, “Oh, we see this all the time.” (I suppose if you’re a rancher who lassos little dogies while riding horseback in the chapparal for sixty years, the bugs do have ample opportunity to score the hole in one of your ear canal.)

So the White Coats stuck a water pick in Groom’s ear and started flushing. Hmmm, said they. More flushing. Bigger HMMMMs. Then a very long, narrow tweezers came into play, and, as the gathered staff looked on, gasping and murmuring, THIS bit of horror…

…was eventually extracted from my true love’s ear, very much alive and aflutter. The docs gave him his trophy in a container, where it continues to flap its wings, even now, two days later.

To get rid of remnant moth dust in his ear, the professionals flushed the canal a few more times and left him with this homespun prescription: “Tonight or tomorrow morning, put a few drops of cooking oil into your ear, and that’ll clean you out real good, son.”

Since it’s been very hot (still 95 degrees at 8 p.m.), and since we were heading into Yellowstone Park the next day, where restaurants were scarce, I saw a way to make my groom’s huge and inviting ear hole into something functional at last. We needed to carbo-load before taking on Old Faithful, so I let the vegetable oil heat up in his ear…

…and then fried up some mini-donuts in the oil and ear wax.


Boy howdy, but Krispy Kreme ain’t got nothin’ on us.