Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Foreclosed Without Purchase"

It was the yapping that yanked me to consciousness.

Bad doggie woke me.

Curse the bad doggie.

But what doggie? All previous yappers had met their fate as Main Ingredient in Jocelyn’s Yippy Puppy Stew (oft-requested at local potlucks). So what was this odd barking noise that was killing my snooze?

New doggie.

Across the alley.

In the rental house.

Before I adulticized and became a homo-wner, I had no sense of the fear that the word “rental” could strike into a mid-life, quietly-contented heart. When I was a renter, during the Jagermeister Years, I never had the faintest notion that my lack of investment in a neighborhood, or in the quality of life of those around me, might be a bother. Parties were my right, as was coming and going at 2 a.m., car tires grinding in the gravel. Life was all just me and my peeps, doin’ our bang thang. Rhythm was a dancer, and my days were all about good vibrations. That my vibrations resonated sloppily onto anyone else in the two-block radius was so far beyond unthinkable that it took the light from Unthinkable two thousand years to reach my orbit.

But now. I live in my sweet place with sweet neighbors, and we like our family-life vibe and our quiet.

Not so much the renters. In the four years that we’ve lived next to the rental, we’ve witnessed the sad family with Abusive Daddy, he who hollered at his kids that they were “worthless f**ks”. We’ve had the Snaggle-Toothies, telemarketers who smoked out by the garbage can on Sundays (game day!) while dressed in full Vikings football regalia. We’ve had Baby Daddy, who broke up with his girlfriend right about the week their baby, Liberty, was born.

The latest, them responsible for Yapping Doggie Stewmeat, are five 18-year-old boys, all on the cusp of their first term at college.

The yappy wake-up happened about a month ago, on a day when the first of the lads was moving in to the house with the help of his father, sister, and BroBuddy. Trying not to be passive/aggressive, I straightforwardly and, in a psychologically-healthy manner, channeled my peevishness into a carefully-phrased note (“I don’t mean for us to get off on the wrong foot here, but it seems fair to let you know that your dog, while perfectly happy when you’re around, seems to get loudly and unrelentingly distressed in your absence…and if there’s anything we all can do to help with training or making your dog feel more comfortable during the long hours that you are out of the house, do let us know”), which I then tacked to their screen door with a bloody, cyanide-laced dart.

Twenty minutes later, First Boy and his posse—burping up eggs and waffles--pulled up, ready to continue to unload the moving truck. I was working in our garden, hugging the carrots a bit, which gave me a fine vantage point from which to watch the reading of the note, which spun them from bewilderment to incredulity to defensiveness. Right as they rounded the corner to “Geez, what a bitch” territory, I stood up, startling them all, and hied across the alley. I introduced myself as their new penpal and started gladhanding and gerrymandering and do-si-do-ing. Before you know it, we learned that First Lad, a thick-necked creature named Kyle, was entering the fire fighting program at the college where I teach. All his impending roommates, too, would be attending what I like to call my college.

Kyle looked distinctly nervous when I pointed out that I teach a range of required classes that would be hard for all five members of the rental to avoid during their college careers.

Quickly, he assured me that Yippy Doggie Stewmeat was only in town for the day and would be returning to his hometown that night. But, er, one of the other guys would, um, hem, haw, be bringing his dog in a few weeks, when the whole crew moved in.

Then he turned and ran.

After that day, we had two more weeks of blessed quiet, as the rental remained empty, save for Kyle’s futon, lava lamp, and keg-o-liter.


The college term started this past Monday, which meant those far-thinking boys were here in town, in full occupancy, the weekend before.

When we were out of town.

Unable to enforce the idea of No Trespassing, You Frat-Boy Wannabe RatAsses.

Thus, when we pulled up Sunday evening, spent and craving noodles, it surprised us to see our tetherball pole leaning awkwardly as it did. Groom, wide-eyed, started wondering aloud what might have happened to it. But since I’ve taught college kids for 18 years, my gaze immediately shifted to the rental, which lay there stolidly, feigning innocence.

“Looks like someone might have backed a car into it,” I noted, loading and locking another cyanide dart. “Or maybe, it looks like about 200 pounds of simpleton decided to challenge 190 pounds of shirtless drunk to a match.”

Agitated, we unpacked the car and muttered about our intention of stomping over there and cracking some heads, realizing, of course, that tempered feelings find better reception. So I began mulling, trying to find the right forceful language that also struck a chord of diplomacy, so that the next 12 months wouldn’t lapse into an impasse and climate of increasing hostility, wherein our cars are urinated upon every night at 3 a.m. and our sunflowers mauled and scattered around the alley before the lads segue to synchronized beer dives into our compost bin.

As I fought down the pissed-off-ishness, my next door neighbor, Mike, spotted me in the yard. “God, I felt like such a jerk,” he called out.

“What? Why? What’re you talking about?”

As it turns out, neighbors on all sides had become alarmed when the crew of big boys entered our yard during the weekend and started whaling on our tetherball pole, whipping at the rope and ball with a flurry of profanities as they played game after game. Mike was finally the one to go up to the boys and ask, “Do you guys, uh, have permission to be here doing this?”

Why yes, he was told, Jocelyn had told them it was fine. They were in Jocelyn’s class at the college. We all were friends. They had my explicit permission.

While a part of me admired the chutzpah in this audacious response, the bigger part of me immediately began slicing up each lad into stew-meat-sized chunks and adding them to the simmering pot.

So I shifted my mulling into high gear. I lost sleep that night. In a riveting inner monologue that lasted from 1:14 a.m. ‘til 2:24 a.m., I called each renter’s mother and advised her that her son needed her, that she should come right away and stay for some weeks, that she should bring all of her Oprah’s book club selections along and read them aloud to her respective son while simultaneously ruffling his curly head and changing the sheets on his bed--sniffing them for any hint of a spew--that the neighbor lady across the alley would love to share recipes (and phone numbers) with her, ending the entire visit with a firm and public embrace between concerned neighbor lady and college-boy mother.

After a few days of stewing the boys in my mental Dutch oven, I decided to let it go. However, I’m on alert now, crouching at the windows and observing every late-night brake screeching and cigarette butt randomly tossed into the alley. With one small incident, they’ve made me The Crazy Lady With Calloused Patellas.

I give them time. My list of infringements will lengthen. I have the landlord’s phone number.

But best of all: even though I have no one named Kyle in any of my classes this semester, there’s always Spring term.

As it turns out, I can be a very—almost unreasonably, crazily—hard grader. And with all the f-bombs being dropped out in the yard over at the rental, I find myself constantly thinking “F” this and “F” that. “'F’ Kyle” is rather stuck in my head..

Quite elegantly, grades for Spring term will be posted just when the lease across the alley runs out. Bon Foyage.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Lord of the Borax"

Ever since the execrable Laundry Elf Massacre of 2006,

my lot has gotten much harder.

Effing Dishwasher Dwarves and Vaccum Chimeras and their insatiable need for random beheadings and household domination.

Their bloodlust has resulted in constant heaps of wrinkled fabric splayed across the carpet, awaiting my attention.

Effing, effing, effing.

The creatures are mythical, as is the notion of a clean home.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

“Dear ObaMcCain: Good Luck Targeting This”

I’m sitting on the ground next to an elementary school, the backs of my legs tickled by grass.

I’m watching a crew of five-year-olds play soccer. One of them is mine. He’s kicking a red ball and scratching at his scalp, leading me to think some adult in his life should see that he bathes.

My husband is three miles away, sitting with grass tickling the backs of his legs, too.

He’s watching a crew of eight-year-olds play soccer.

We do this four nights a week.

We own a mini-van.

We are soccer moms.

It is only the fact that I am wearing lacey underwear (midnight black with a fetching rosette) and reading William Trevor short stories that reminds me soccer mom-ing is simply my day job for a few fleeting years.

I am more than the sum of car keys and cleats.

Clearly, I am also someone with saucy undies and a good book.

Which makes me, like, complex.

Friday, August 15, 2008

"The Day of Your Life"

Patriotism tires me; xenophobia makes my eyes cross. Doping is poop on a Triscuit.

So I should be able to bypass them Olympiciacites that are being broadcast on the talking box, right?

Not so much.

Every night of late, the fam has been gathering on our full-sized bed in the master bedroom and watching the images being thrown through the air from Beijing. As much as I don't really care who wins what, the media coverage does manage to scoop me up and dangle me from its pinch . As a result, I find myself a fan of much-decorated American swimmer Michael Phelps. So does Girl, who asserted the other night that someone in our family needs to marry him, the man with the most gold--since Mommy clearly didn’t when she was choosing a mate.

Ever the giver, Wee Niblet piped up immediately and offered to marry the swim master, stipulating that his willingness rested on getting permission to call his new husband "Michael Phelpicannia" during their duration of their relationship. This being less demanding than a vow to "honor and obey," I fully anticipate a poolside ceremony in 20 years, an occasion that will certainly merit the purchase of a spectacular mother-of-the-groom bespangled tankini.

The kids built an Airplane to Beijing, which they have been flying to various sporting events this week. All of the stuffed animals pictured here are currently residing in The Olympic Village. The big blue bunny in the front (Snurkle) is rooming with French swimmer Alain Bernard; Snurkle begins each day by yanking Alain's Speedo to his ears and giving him an atomic wedgie.

Indeed, our household finds itself carried away with enthusiasm for certain of the athletes, those who seem awed and moved by their exceptional fortune. In addition to lapping up His Phelpicannia, I didn't hate the U.S. men's gymnastics team for fighting its way to a bronze medal--and then being delighted and humbled to have achieved that "mere" third place.

Yup, in the face of these public triumphs, I prickle up with goosebumps, despite myself.

As I ponder why that is, I've realized that it feels a privilege to witness another human being's best day of life, someone's perfect moment of realizing potential, a person's cresting the arc of training and talent. Cynicism drops away, and I am affected as I watch an athlete’s heart skip a beat from sheer joy.

All of this got me thinking, of course, about what the “day of my life” has been so far. Sure, I dropped out of the U.S. Junior Olympic archery team’s training program at age 5, just before I actually took up the sport or ever picked up a bow, so my day of life is less than Olympic in scope. However, I’ve still relished my own moments of primal excitement, of serendipitious vicissitude. Sifting through the candidates has proven, too, that I am Phelpicannian, for I have a host of golden moments to draw from.

There was, for example:

**The day in preschool when Mrs. Ungafu took us, her widdle midgies, on a field trip to the local potato chip factory, and we each got a free bag of chips at the end. Yea, you read me right: free chips.

**The day in kindergarten when Mrs. Jacobsen, my teacher, forced me to use scissors with my right hand, even though I’m a leftie; tearing the scissors from my left paw and shoving them into my right, she instructed, “Only the Devil’s Children use their left hands.” Salvaging the day, I promptly called upon my winged minions and fast-tracked her to the bowels of my daddy’s crib. Good times in Hell that night, feasting upon the scrawny flesh of a biddy with a beehive.

**The day in second grade when I graduated from being a Brownie Scout to a full-fledged Girl Scout. There, in the cafeteria of Rocky Elementary, I took several joyous steps over the cardboard bridge that symbolized my journey. While that sounds really cool and has undoubtedly created veomous envy in you, Gentle Reader, I haven't yet sprung the big part: the bridge was covered with tinfoil and looked like real, live, breathing silver. And my feet touched that glamourous stuff.

**The day my sister and I had to go to Boulder Elementary and get some vaccinations, and she cried and gnashed and wailed the whole time, from the car to the nurse's office and back into the car again, while I welded my mouth shut, grittily sucked up the dosages, and calmly stroked the welt on my arm during the ride home. My bravery was such that Clint Eastwood was tempted to call me that afternoon to pass on his hearty congratulations.

Except he was too busy filming Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

But otherwise, he would have called, and that made for a killer great day.

**At this point in my memory-mining, things go silent for a few years. It was junior high, after all. There were no unexpected moments of glory. Oh, wait, there was the time my Earth Science teacher put my name on the board and announced to all his classes that I had the highest score that semester of any of his students. Then big, dumb David Zimdars came back from being sick (should've gotten his vaccinations) and took a make-up test, which meant the Earth Science teacher had to find his eraser. Ultimately, these were the medal-free years.

**In high school, though, I had a few zingy days, particularly the first time I entered a forensics competition (that's "speech" to the non-oratorial, unextemporaneous layperson), and, as a complete novice, I won the thing. I believe I was wearing clogs. Yet my words overcame all questionable sartorial choices, and I won the thing. I still thrill at the memory. But whenever I mentally review that day, I always shod my feet in these Betsey Johnson heels, instead, thus upping the frisson.

**I felt more than a frisson when, during my senior year of high school, I tromped to the mailbox one day in December and discovered there a thick envelope of admission from my first-choice college, a fairly competitive place. With great clarity, I recall ripping through the white paper, heart in throat, and reading the hoped-for words. Even with a second-place score in 8th grade Earth Science, I had made the cut! (big, dumb rat bastard David Zimdars went on to Stanford, where I'm pretty sure he failed their freshman-level Earth Science course).

**More great days in life came during college, days full of reggae and Russian lit and martini shakers and frisbees and The Cure and "Physics for Poets" (during which a solid foundation in Earth Science provided not one whit of aid) and sledding on cafeteria trays and watching the sun rise before bed. Those four years were sheer Phelpicannia.

**Beyond college came life in Minneapolis and Thursday evenings dancing at a The Saloon, just me, my galpal, and 45 of our favorite gay couples. Each Thursday's sweat session ended with a 1 a.m. trip through the Wendy's drive-thru for excessively good chicken nuggets (appeal enhanced by the coating of vodka on our tongues).

**Life Olympics went marathon during graduate school, years when my spine wasn't tingling but rather slumped over books and papers. There was, however, a solo road trip during that time where my car's alternator died, and a kind, bearded samaritan with bare feet managed--at 7 o'clock on a Sunday night, when all other mechanics were off duty--to jerry-rig a solution for the waning battery by using the pop top from a soda can. His MacGuyverish efforts caused in me whole-body jubilation.

**For the rest of my twenties and into my early thirties, pedantic days were uplifted by travel (particularly a warm chocolate croissant I licked dry in a train station in Budapest on an impossibly early morning), by hiking up mountainsides, and by unexpected pick-up lines (one man claimed himself "smitten," which caused even my toes to flush; another--a musician--simply stopped by my table between sets and casusally tossed off a "Don't go anywhere now").

**Some of you might remind me, right about here, that I've had children, and wouldn't the days of their birth qualify as unusually stellar? Hell no. You are twelve kinds a fool if you think I'm going to claim that passing a tetherball, including its rope and pole, out of my body in one ripping bowel movement was an instance of delectation. I will concede, however, that a visit to the Hemherroid Doctor a year after my daughter's birth, during which he and I became intimately acquainted, and I looked up at him with beseeching eyes, silently begging him just to lance the goiter that grew from me as a tail, resulted in a moment of exuberance. The large Jamaican physician gave me a good probe and then said, to our collective relief, "Why, it had gotten so bad on its own that it went ahead and burst! What you have here is already completely deflated." That, my cringeing friends, is what I call an unexpected bonanza.

Admittedly, though, each of these moments of remarkability pales in comparison to one twinkle that sparkled above all others.

Once a-pime, newly into dating a fella, I lay in his bed, leafing through a book, rubbing my foot over my calf, feeling content. The fella had hopped across the hall for a quick trip to the bathroom.

As he re-entered the room, he announced, "Brrrr. My feet are cold."

Absently, I responded, "Why's that?"

"Because you. knocked. my. socks. off. Ever since our first date, my feet have been coooooooold."

Some time later, when I recovered from my swoon,

I adopted Niblet's attitude towards Michael Phelps:

Naturally, I had to marry someone so capable of turning my dross into gold.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"My Mom's Visiting from California, and I'm Busy Chauffeuring Her and the Kids Around Town to Clang in the the Trolley, Toot in the Train, Bob in the Lake, Strike (Out) in the Bowling Alley, and Gnosh on Sweet Treats, So I Haven't a Breaf in My Body Left for the Blogging I Really Want to Do--All of Which, In Sum, Means I'm Quickly Tossing Out a Poem I Love, One That Captures My Current August Zing"

Indeed, this poem has a summertime feeling for me--bright and cornucopial and ticking along.

I'd like to fancy myself the woman in this poem, but the truth is I'm more the lucky fool.

THE RED PORSCHE By Charles Bukowski

it feels good
to be driven about in a red
by a woman better-
read than I
it feels good
to be driven about in a red
by a woman who can explain
things about
music to

it feels good
to be driven about in a red
by a woman who buys
things for my refrigerator
and my
cherries, plums, lettuce, celery,
green onions, brown onions,
eggs, muffins, long
chilis, brown sugar,
Italian seasoning, oregano, white
wine vinegar, pompeian olive oil
and red

I like being driven about
in a red porsche
while I smoke cigarettes in
gentle languor.

I'm lucky. I've always been
even when I was starving to death
the bands were playing for
but the red porsche is very nice
and she is
too, and I've learned to feel good when
I feel good.

it's better to be driven around in a
red porsche
than to own
one. the luck of the fool is

Monday, August 04, 2008

"Feeling All Oogie Inside, With Nary An Assist From Mr. Daniels, Mr. Jack Daniels"

It's a little sobering to realize that my advancing age means I get as excited about flowers and gardens as I used to get about a Long Island Iced Tea. The bliss formerly proffered by a glass containing shots of tequila, rum, gin, triple sec, vodka, and a widdle splash of Cocoa-Cola is now matched, shot for shot, by nasturtiums, shasta daisies, black-eyed Susans, salvia, and zinneas.

I've always been a cheap date, but it seems I've downgraded to a status fondly known amongst empty-walleted Johns as "free."

But check it, Zeppo:

We put in this garden a couple of summers ago, and now it owns me. I hover around this garden like Perez Hilton around Zac Efron--all hepped up and fawning in a way that exceeds anything rational. But look, honeys: those tall purple salvia in the front? We started them from seeds last April. Now look how they've grown up and are taking care of us in our dotage. Plus, for fun, we can call them "salivas." Now that's a flower that gives and then gives some more.

Garden Zac is just as attractive in the sideview, eh? You know you rather want those scarlet snapdragons (also started from seed) to reach out and nip you in the privates.

In the expanded profile, you can see how we, in a step towards de-Clampettification, had the house painted this summer. Gone is the lead-laden paint of 1934. Me brane radder mees it.

Just as good is the crazy shade garden that is lush with moistness, thriving sans sunlight, much like Dita Von Teese.

Remember my old pal and favorite tool--no, not Andrew Dice Clay--but the mattock? I dug and I dug and I dug, and then I laid down and cried, and then I squared my shoulders and dug some more, and then I played Freecell, and then I dug until a single cow came home, and then I slaughtered and butchered and grilled it, all while still digging. Oh, Poopsie, didn't I dig. Eventually, I had made a gloriously large trench out back, one that awaited Groom's overlay of pavers. Last week, when the family was staying down in St. Paul for the week, His Groomitude took the bus back to Duluth a couple of days early, just so he could pave for two days straight. But now we have a red brick road, which makes me want to dance down it with Diana Ross, each of us in search of a heart.

Near the new pathway, sunflowers flourish, amidst zinneas that are 2.5 feet tall. Hey, all of you urban types? If, next time you're shooting the breeze with your co-workers in those painful five minutes before the meeting starts, you want to sound well-versed in subjects beyond how hot the city gets in August, try bringing up the fact that you once saw a 2.5-foot tall zinnea. It's awe-inspiring enough to stop that blowhard Cavendish short, just as he's launching into another tale of "my amazing sub par 18-holes last weekend." Here's the plan: the second you hear him mention the golf course, you start sputtering about gargantuan zinnias. At the very least, everyone in the room will be so bewildered, they'll shut the hey up for once.

Increasing my bliss is the development of new gardens (the spot featured here is where the tree that blew down in a huge windstorm last year used to be rooted; we had a pile of woodchips that needed moving and a ton of compost and trench-remnant dirt to spread, and Little Mound here has pitched in with the effort). This gardeninal development was only made possible by my sainted aunt and uncle, who have these past few days kindly included our kids in their annual Camp Grandma and Grandpa Too week at their lake home. While the kids make tie-dyed pillowcases and eat one-too-many Little Smokies, Groom and I have been savoring the rare and wondrous phenomenon known as Being Alone in the House. Before knuckling down on the toting around of dirt and compost, we took a day for an extended date (not so free), during which, and do read into this as much as you like, GutterHeads, I ate all sorts of beef tips.

All that broken-up former sidewalk that we sledge-hammered to make room for the new pavers? They've become garden castle walls, ready to shelter new shade perennials. By the way, if anything on my blog ever offends you, I urge you to be the first to cast a stone; we always need more to ring the forts of flowers. Huck away, Sawyer.

With edible flowers growing on the deck, any salad is just a clipping away from pizazz. So says Gordon Ramsey. Except he says, "Fuck all of you idiotic fuckers if you don't know to put a fucking nasturtium on a fucking even-an-idiot-could-do-it dinner salad."

With gardens built, and Groomeo off at his slushy "I need a job outside of the house to go to occasionally, lest I stab the children" retail gig, I've admired the flowers again before heading inside to download new tunes, work on getting Fall term classes ready, and, in general, squeeze every last bit of succulence out of

a free date with myself.

(yea, GutterHeads, I hear ya).