Tag Archives: Humor

There’s Always One

wrenchToday in the car I was behind a school bus. The kids looked young – maybe 4th graders – probably off to day camp. A bunch of boys were in the back seats. Aren’t they always? These are the kids that want to feel older, cooler. At the stop light one of them peeked around his seat and waved at me. I smiled back and they all started elbowing each other and laughing and pointing to him and who knows what they were saying.

This reminded me of a time when I was in grad school in the 80s and I was walking towards a pack of middle school boys who were murmuring and kind of circling and then one of them pulled away from the group and came walking towards me with a wrench fastened onto his crotch. He was swaggering and thrusting his hips out and the rest of the bunch were laughing and saying things like, Oh man and Holy shit! And when we got close to each other I looked at the kid and without batting an eyelash said, If you ever want to have children you might not want to do that. He look shocked and thrilled and embarrassed and in love. And he swaggered back to his posse and they were grunting and hooting and shuffling around like a herd of buffalo.

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time around adolescent boys. I worked in a residential treatment center for emotionally troubled youth ages 12-16. I taught at an all boys high school. I grew up with 3 brothers. Boys individually are completely different than boys in a group. And in a group there is always one kid who will do the ridiculous or stupid or scary thing that all the rest of them may want to do or not want to do or hope no one does.

I wonder about those kids. Do they grow up to be CEOs or bank robbers? Rebels just for kicks? Are they dads with boys just like them? Do they become the ones who make all the social plans? Or do they get tired of being The One. Do they become quiet and drink a lot? Are they just average, rarely noticed, unrecognizable at class reunions?

I know there are girls like this too, but it’s more obvious with boys. I was never The One. But I remember in Middle School a girl who was in a much cooler crowd than me wrote in my autograph book (yes, we had autograph books – why I don’t know – maybe I’m so old the Yearbook hadn’t been invented), you are a blast at sleepovers.

Why in the world would she write that? First, I think I went to one sleepover that she was at and I can’t imagine how I even got invited. And secondly, I was not a risk taker, wore ugly glasses, had old lady pajamas, and never made it up past 11:00. If anything, I was the one trying to fly under the radar. Just smart enough, just funny enough, just enough friends, without being noticed too much. Certainly not The One and not even The Two or The Three.

And that hasn’t changed much. It’s probably why this writing thing is so damn hard. Those of you flying under the radar for a lifetime know what I mean. You have to be The One when you write. And when you publish, you have to come out of hiding (and by this I mean hiding in plain sight as in your day job or family  or common citizen type-stuff) and move your plane right into the line of fire.

This is the struggle – part of it at least. The other part, well that’s just getting my butt in the chair and doing the daily work. Maybe after enough days at it, enough hard work, you just morph into The One. I should try to find out.

Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
I been feeling it since 1966, now
Might’ve had your fill, but you feel it still
Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
Let me kick it like it’s 1986, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still
-Portugal the Man

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And It Stoned Me To My Soul

writer

Today I have a day off and I want to write.

So I emptied and loaded the dishwasher, watched 2 cooking shows, finished the last chapter of Trans Atlantic, looked up recipes for vegan caesar salad dressing which led to trying to find recipes for inspiring lentil casseroles (an oxymoron?), which took me to to a bookcase near the CDs and I wonder how did Van Morrison wind up next to the High School Musical soundtrack? Now I’m thinking about picking up a pair of winter pants that have been at the dry cleaners since January and taking 2 epic fail bras back to the store or buying some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

I’ve been wanting to start a puzzle and I need to find some paperwork for my Flexible Spending Account and I have a couple loads of dirty clothes that are going to solidify into the shape of the laundry basket if I don’t do them soon. Plus, the dogs haven’t barked in over an hour so I should probably put a mirror in front of their muzzles to make sure it fogs up. Or maybe I’ll get lucky and a telemarketer will call.

It’s brutal. The blank page.

Divine inspiration is scarce.  And no matter what they say, just showing up is not 80% of the work. Because you can show up and just stare at that white empty space and feel like you’re going to choke on the saliva that’s turning to dust in your throat. Or you can pull up an old half-started manuscript and watch the words start to cyclone into something indecipherable and you know you are faking this as clearly and truly as you know you will never sky dive or eat a bug. You will be voted off the island before you even get there.

And then after a lot of angst and decay of the soul you just write something. Even if it sucks. Even it it’s offensive or a lie or barely makes sense. You just stop snarling and spitting into the wind and put your gory beat up self out there. It’s not pretty. It’s not as satisfying as Ben & Jerry’s. But it plugs up a hole or two. It makes the day feel like it’s your day. And then you can listen to Van Morrison with a clear heart.

And I shall watch the ferry-boats
And they’ll get high
On a bluer ocean
Against tomorrow’s sky
And I will never grow so old again
-Van Morrison

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Working 9-5

9 to 5

When I graduated from college I started the job search. There was no living in my parent’s basement. There was no backpacking through Europe. I knew I had to work. With a double major in English and Sociology, I really wanted to become a famous novelist but had a backup plan of saving the world. The prospect of writing a novel was a thousand times more terrifying than saving the world so I looked for nonprofit jobs and anything that seemed remotely brave and sacrificing.

There was no internet, so my strategy was to cut out little ads from the Boston Globe, arrange them on a sheet of yellow legal paper and stare, looking for a sign. I should have recognized the giant sneeze that sent the ads scattering to the floor as a sign. Wrong direction. Go with the writing.

But instead I started interviewing. In preparation I went home to Syracuse and my mom gave me her Dey Brothers charge card so I could buy something other than t-shirts and jeans. I came home with an Evan-Picone suit jacket and skirt and a London Fog raincoat. My mother almost went into shock, not just at the price tag, but at the fact that I had any style or taste. But that’s a whole mother-daughter story for another time.

My first interview was at an all boys Catholic School in the North End of Boston. I didn’t have a teaching certification and had never taught, but neither of those was a requirement for Catholic schools. There were two priests and a lay teacher who looked stern and priest-like. The interview lasted about 20 minutes. but felt like 2 hours. They were looking for someone to teach juniors and seniors English Literature, American Literature, Sociology, Psychology and Criminology. And they wanted this person to teach freshmen Western Civilization as well. There was one planning period a day except 2 days a week you would have to cover study hall. The average class size was 27 and the study hall was for 45 or so juniors and seniors. Boys. 45 junior and senior boys.

They asked me how I would teach abortion. They told me women weren’t paid as much as men. I was sweating profusely. It was August and that Evan-Picone suit was wool. At the end of the interview I shook everyone’s hand, walked out of the school to the parking lot and found my keys locked inside my car. I teared up, swore, and went back inside to face my inquisitors. They were in the same room, their heads bowed together, murmuring about me no doubt. With no AAA, no idea who to call in the middle of the day, I did the only thing I could do. I asked for a coat hanger.

They found one, and then followed me out to the parking lot to watch as I untwisted the metal, made a long straight rod with a hook at the end, and broke into my car. Eyebrows were raised, odd noises emitted from the back of their collective throats. I pulled out of that parking lot at a dangerously high speed, ready to take off the suit, bra, the matching pumps, right in the car and drive naked through a Dairy Queen for a sundae.

I got the job.

And so began the wold of work for me. I’ve been at it ever since. Jumping from job to job, never quite saving the world, writing in fits and spurts on the side but never finishing that novel. Structure is good, money is good, but putting aside one’s dreams, well that takes its toll. There are, however, stories. Lots of them. And they percolate, inform, get me to write now and then, shape my outlook and days.

You are, after all, the stories you tell. I have so many from my work. More probably from childhood. A lifetime of stories. Don’t we all have a lifetime of stories?

 

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This Old House

Fixer Upper
Today we are having some work done on the house.

If you own a home, you know what a scary sentence this is. Strangers invade, banging, sawing, talking in code about things you know will cost more money. Things start, then stop and you’re not sure why. Music you would never listen to is turned up to cover the sarcasm and  pissing contests that ensue. And you have to ride it out. You are at their mercy. You hold your breath, pray to the gods of renovation that in the end it turns out alright. That your bank account is not completely empty and your house settles back to its old self after all the upheaval and violation.

Today I’m surrounded by all the crap in my coat closet so a construction guy can climb into my attic and put in a vent. It’s amazing how much there is in the coat closet besides coats. That’s the other thing that happens when you start these kind of projects. You uncover more. You find something else you’ve been ignoring that really needs attention. Like the hoarding problem you’ve been hiding in the closet. The stockpile of grocery bags you buy so you don’t use plastic but then forget to bring to the store, so you buy more and forget those. The binoculars you thought you would use to look at birds in your yard. The cans of Spray Starch without their tops next to an underutilized iron. And all the board games from the ghost of Christmas Past.

When you write, it’s like this. You are working on something. You bang and saw and go at it. But it just uncovers something else that’s weak or broken or needs attention. And you don’t want to go there. It’s overwhelming. Why can’t you just put the vent in? Why do you need to clean out the closet too? And then fix the leaky faucets and nail in the step into your TV room so no one breaks their neck and figure out why the light over the basement stairs is flickering on and off like Gus the firefly?

Because it’s never finished. Never, ever.

You just keep at it, until, well I don’t know exactly until when. Because I’ve never finished anything. Nothing’s ready to send out. Nothing’s done, or good enough, or safe. I just keep trying to fix the leaky faucet, or more accurately, stick a bucket underneath and leave it for awhile.

OK, enough of this metaphor. But seriously, what do you do when your writing is an endless fixer upper?

 

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Howlings

o-WICKED-WITCH-OF-THE-WEST-facebook

The witches are stirring the pot. Stirring, stirring.

Our screen door blew off, screaming and kicking, dangling by a chain.

The dog escaped like Houdini from a hidden hole in the backyard fence.

5 candy bars have disappeared from the trick-or-treaters basket.

We ran out of milk in the middle of making pancakes.

Friends are coming tonight and I swear a tornado hit the kitchen and dining room.

My 15-year-old wants a nose ring.

Stirring, stirring…

I feel like Dorothy, trapped inside the witch’s crystal ball. Life swirls around me. is it Kansas or Oz? Are there ghosts in the cupboards? Zombies on the living room couch?

We are the House of the Full-Size Bars. Swarms of children wearing neon glow necklaces and dressed like Olaf or Donald Trump will storm the front steps. Adolescents in black hoodies will push pillowcases at me and grunt. Pumpkin beer will flow down our street behind parents and crazy uncles let loose for the night. No one will notice the screen door has flown the coop. No one will recognize the hag at the door dressed in mom jeans.

The witches are stirring the pot and I can’t decide – drink from the cauldron or not? Roll the crystal ball off the table and watch it shatter? Run away with a warlock and get a tattoo? Clip the single blood red rose left clinging to its thorny branch and clamp it between my teeth? Go all day without a shower?

Loosen the hinges of your soul tonight, even just a little. Watch the corners of the room for creeping shadows and thorny dustballs. Blacken a tooth, wear a gypsy shawl, turn your underwear inside out, juggle pumpkins and bananas and a thorny rose. Ride on the back of your Swifter and scatter candy corn across the moon.

It’s Halloween. Do you want to howl with me?

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I Shall Wear the Bottoms of my Trousers Rolled

e74cd0b699ff04ed2d01dff3ca86736dAnother birthday here and gone. Essentially nothing has changed. The same wish list that’s scribbled in my high school journals persists:

1) Have better posture

2) Loose weight

3) Become a Broadway star

4) Figure out the meaning of life.

Is it weird that I think a few of these things are still possible?

I saw someone the other day who I hadn’t seen in at least 20 years. She claimed I hadn’t changed a bit. Should I feel good about this? They say as you get older you don’t care what people think about you but I find that just isn’t true. I still can’t go out of the house without mascara. I am getting more, not less socially awkward. And just the other day my daughter and I saw two old ladies wearing sequined baseball caps and ordering Tuna Melts at the local Newport Creamery. Adorable, yes, but if I start wearing sequins to Newport Creamery just put me in the nursing home.

On the other hand, I do feel less pressure to complete a sentence when I’m talking. People just nod and carry on. There is a certain fog that rolls in at my age, not always unpleasant.

But I do feel a bit untethered. My sense of home has unraveled. I have no bucket list to speak of. There is no plan for retirement and no driving goals.

Except reading. I can’t stop reading. (The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, anyone? Holy crap!)

And then there is the writing. Which is about so many things, like time and faith and luck. And at my age you realize more acutely than in earlier years, that these things do in fact, run out.

But I am pessimistically optimistic or optimistically pessimistic, depending on the day. And what this means for someone my age, is that you just keep at it. We are, after all, if not Broadway stars, shining stars.

So here’s to birthdays coming and going. Shine on.

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Arch Enemies

images-4When I take my teenage girls shopping for shoes they inevitably wind up in the clearance section trying on every pair of high heels they can find. And if you’ve never been in the clearance section checking out the heels, they tend to be a) the highest heels legally available in this country, b) made of animal print, neon shellac coating, or woven straw, c) adorned with zippers, chains, lace, leather straps, whips (No, no whips, that just came out), and d) so pointy in the toe you could open a can of cream corn with them (if you had that inclination).

They parade around in these shoes, well, actually, they kind of shuffle around, showing them off to each other, laughing, posing in mirrors, and then finding higher, more outrageous looking heels to try.

At times it reminds me of when they were little and played dress up. My youngest in particular loved this and lived in a Little Mermaid costume her entire third year. Other times they look strangely like drag queens, doing something they simply can’t resist with hyped up attitude, daring, playfulness and an underlying sense of crossing into forbidden territory.

I know I am supposed to hate high heels. They were designed by a sadistic man. They are terrible for your feet, legs, back, shoulders, boobs, ear lobes, frontal lobes, well, everything. You can’t really run in them or walk quickly or sometimes even walk. Just because you see it on TV does not mean it is so. And after a few hours in them your feet need CPR and an oxygen tank. And maybe they are even a feminist issue, adding to the objectification of women, placing beauty over pain.

Yet there’s something about them. And it isn’t just because they make your legs sexy, which they can do (but don’t do for everyone, buyer beware). They represent things or maybe just the possibility of things. Sex. Youth. Power. Beauty. Mystery. Elegance. Class. Femininity. Can shoes do all that?

Women are labeled by their love of shoes. Every women is supposed to be obsessed with them. I actually had a neurologist tell me to go buy myself a nice pair of shoes to take care of my foot pain (this was before someone smarter than him found out that the bones in my feet were eroded by Rheumatoid Arthritis). Men use this as a put-down. You women and your shoes. It falls into categories like: women are obsessed with shopping, woman have to have their pedi-manis. Translation: women are silly, not serious.

But shoes can be empowering. Shoes can make you feel happy, sexy, strong, balanced, put-together, in-the-know. It could be a pair of heels or a pair of hiking boots. I am never going to own a coffee mug that proclaims “shoe love is true love” or have a glittery high heel dangling from my key chain, but I respect the shoe. The shoe is full of stories. Complex, beautiful, cautionary, amazing stories. What’s not to love?

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