June 15, 2019

shovels and rakes and implements of construction

A sonic screwdriver
would have weighed less.
There were four of us out there this morning patching up the road leading to our little mountain-cabin neighborhood.  Last weekend brought record flash rainfall and unforeseen road damage, the kind that needs immediate attention lest things go pear-shaped.

We were all members of the property owners' association board.  It stands to reason.  Anyone who volunteers to be on a board of directors is a known masochist and a born sucker.

I volunteered to help but very quickly realized this gesture was all heart and very, very little actual muscle.  I was the short, scrawny girl among three strong men, two of whom have worked construction all their lives and one of whom owns six shovels.  If we had been the Department of Transportation, there's no question I would have been the one holding the "SLOW" sign for traffic.

Instead, we were the Department of Volunteer Half-Assed Road Patchers With No Hard-Hats.  It doesn't make a good acronym.

The experience was educational, though.  I learned how to shovel gravel into the back of an ATV without hitting anyone in the face with flying pebbles.  I learned how to spot road damage and threats and determine where repairs are needed.  I learned that some people are demented assholes of such breathtaking saturation that they will stop their vehicle and climb out holding their ash tray, intentionally dump fifty cigarette butts into a pothole, then get back into their vehicle and drive away.

My first job was wielding the tamper packing-down stick thingie on the layers of asphalt patch.  It's supposed to be used in such a way that a person brings it down flat and it makes a satisfying, muted "thud" and compacts the tar stuff.  I managed to make it bounce with kickback and clink and scrape and cause the construction guys to wince.  I got worse with practice.  Once, I lost my balance and fell.

I showed marginally increased adeptness with a gravel rake.

Asphalt cold patch comes in bags and it is the coolest substance in the known Universe.  It's just a mixture of fine gravel and tar, but when you dump it out, it crawls by itself and looks like creeping black, shiny organic matter that exercises sentience and oozes into the needed shape with very little coaxing.  It would have made an excellent villain in a Tom Baker episode of Dr. Who.

It was hard work, and I don't mean the physical labor.  I mean the search inside myself for humility.  I was the weak one today, all the more sensitive to being patronized after this week's news that I'm not getting a field-based promotion.  I felt like a child this morning, playing with plastic rakes and shovels while three kindly dads looked on and let me do enough to gain a sense that I was contributing, lest I feel left out.  They all had to go behind me and re-do my work to make it right, better, done.  It was hard, not letting tears well up.  It was hard, not injuring myself trying to stubbornly match them muscle for muscle to prove I have worth.

And credit is due them, because when I lifted the fifty-pound bags of Dr. Who asphalt patch out of the back of the ATV and carried them, no one tried to take them out of my hands.  No one said, "Here, let me get that," not even when I was struggling and wheezing.  My comparative weakness was an objective thing, but that didn't stop our board president from trying to the very end to teach me the right way to tamp down a road patch.  He finished tamping when I couldn't lift the tool any more, but he didn't give up on me.

So there's something honest about these blisters on my hands and these sore muscles, and in the bond we formed this morning, working together.  They don't know I'm crazy, because being mentally ill doesn't matter when you're working from the heart.  And I might be a weakling, but I was there.  I showed up.

Epilogue:

I got tar stains on my white t-shirt.  I went on Amazon to look for some tar stain remover.  They have some.  I have questions.


June 14, 2019

what it is like to sell a computer

Last night, I sold a computer.  It was The Kid's old gaming machine.  The listing had languished on Craigslist for over six months, so I lowered the price to fire sale territory and immediately got a hit.

She said she would come to my house at 7:00.  She arrived at 6:40.

At 8:15, we were still standing in my driveway, talking.

That is not true.  She was talking.  I was listening.  I was barefoot.

I'm Southern.  There was nothing I could do.  I was helplessly bound by my upbringing and at the mercy of the lady's oxygen levels and eventual need for sleep.  Neither of those saved me, though.  The Kid came home from his dad's house and she was forced to back her truck out of the driveway.  Thankfully, she had the grace to end the conversation at that point.  Her husband had called a few minutes before to ask if she was dead in a ditch somewhere; even so, I had little difficulty envisioning her driving back up to finish what she was saying.

I learned much.  I know things now.

I know about all of her medical problems and that she carries her medications around with her in a large, clear purse, to make the point.  She frequently sends photos of the clear medicine purse to her insurance company because she is trying to convince them that she needs a surgery and they will not pay for it.

She and her husband work for some real estate investor people who deal with repossessed homes.  They go in and get stuff left behind after the owners or tenants or squatters have been kicked out.  They pack things up in boxes.  Sometimes they help themselves to nicer items.  Now they have four hand mixers and three Kindles that actually still work.  They have a Sunbeam stand mixer from the 1950s, back when they made things to last.  They are lucky because the hallway in their six-hundred square-foot singlewide is lined with closets.

I know about every dog she has ever owned, beginning in her girlhood, and how each dog suffered and died.  One of her Rottweilers killed ducks because its previous owners used to give it toy ducks from PetSmart.  Another Rottweiler was named Hank when they rescued him from the shelter, but they named him Chewy instead because, she explained, "You can't name a dog Hank that ain't got balls."  Chewy is afraid of cats.  She had a Shih Tzu that had a stroke and bit its own tail off.  She carried the dog and the tail to the vet.

I know that her son once spiked a laptop like a football onto a concrete paver and the laptop still worked.

I even know that her brother-in-law is terrified of midget clowns and will go to the circus with them and wait outside.

Midget clowns.

I sold the computer.

June 12, 2019

colored balls

I'm not sure how to write about not getting the job I wanted and was all but assured I would get. 

The thoughts and feelings are jostled and milled like the colored plastic balls in the kid-filled pit at a McDonald's PlayPlace.  The red ones are fiery rage that would raze all the land.  The yellow ones are meekness and sorrow for my inferiority.  The green ones are acceptance and irrational hope for change in the future.  The blue ones are relief that the waiting is, at least, over.

The white ones are the surreal suspension, the stunned disbelief.

The black ones scare me.

June 9, 2019

inside where it's dry

It's late Sunday morning and loads of people around me are shaking out their umbrellas under the covered porches outside their churches' vestibules, propping them in corners, finding their usual seats in pews and an intensified sense of the word "sanctuary".

I'm not there, though.  I'm at home, engaging in my normal late weekend morning activity of trying like mad to find things to do, to stave off depression and existential despair.  Sitting and "being" is just not something I can do.

Add my current layer of waiting to hear about the job and you can see that running away mentally is my only option.

In between re-washing the laundry I started yesterday and then forgot and let sit and go sour, putting together a puzzle, cooking a very weird paleo pancake, and assembling a recumbent bike from parts, I got shaky and realized I needed to eat.  The weird pancake was hours ago.

I have bacon-wrapped asparagus here beside my laptop.  I've stolen The Kid's lap desk for the duration.  It's large enough to serve as a banquet table for twenty guests.

I've visited Facebook and read things, some of them a second time.  I've popped in on blogs.  I've checked the weather again and regretted my current lack of a well-appointed boat.  Old Navy has nothing new.

Now I'm clicking on "Other Bookmarks" in Chrome and looking down the list, and there is nothing to see here.  The list is useless to me.

I have a site where I can get wallpapers for my desktop background.  (That reminds me of something else I can do:  My ring tone is driving P.J. nuts; I need to find a new one.)  But I don't need any wallpaper today.

I have three links to medical providers.  I could go look at test results from a year ago and feel smug that they looked good.

I have three links to my public library's digital online services, which are spread out in a bizarre fashion because part of it has been outsourced to a third party and part is still in-county.  That doesn't matter.  Typically, anything I search for is unavailable.

I have links for checking to see how many people have read my blog.  I haven't used these in months.  There's also a link to a site that has some Java script that I can use to keep it from counting me as a hit.

I have links to project ideas, like sewing a new cover for an Ikea Poang chair.  I even bought the fabric.  A year and a half ago.

I have six recipe links.  One is for bacon-wrapped asparagus.

I have links to sites that occasionally need money from me, like the pet insurance people and the people who manage The Kid's cafeteria funds for school. 

I have Neil Gaiman's MasterClass bookmarked.  I've only taken two lessons.  I don't feel I deserve to have the likes of him speaking to me.

The rest are links to job search sites, and that's a sore subject at the moment.  Lately I've visited them out of rote habit, compulsively, every day, every five minutes, every time something in my current work environment hits a nerve.  Or five minutes.  Whichever is the lesser interval.

I feel like I've read the whole Internet and there is nothing to see here.  I wonder what would happen if I got rid of all my bookmarks and made a bunch of new ones using random web sites.  No, I don't wonder that.  I wouldn't read them.  My mind is as closed today as my bookmarks are dry.  And outside, it's raining.

June 7, 2019

sky

the sky is pregnant
rolling thunder comes before
shedding life-water

the glitter sparkle interview

I had prepared for almost everything.  Name three strengths and three weaknesses.  Why do you want this positionWhat assets would you bring to it?  But stupidly, I forgot to prepare an answer for one question, one that they always ask in a job interview.

"Assume you were working with a difficult co-worker, someone you didn't like, someone who didn't like you, but you had to work with them closely anyway.  How would you deal with that?"

I probably would have handled the question better if I hadn't been half-stoned.  I was on a pain pill that day, for reasons unrelated to the interview, combined with an anxiolytic that was related to the interview, and everything was cosmic peace and unicorn-fart rainbow glitter in my brain.  It beat the hell out of finger-wringing nervousness and square breathing, but I doubt it served me during the actual critical hour of making an impression and providing shrewd, stellar, knock-'em-out answers.

I also would have handled the question better if I wasn't in that exact situation right now and more or less completely failing to cope with it.  It's been eating at me for a year.

"Fuck that, that's why I want this job.  I'm trying to run away from a situation exactly like that," I didn't say.

"It doesn't matter, we're all going to die anyway," I didn't say, though this was sound advice given by a friend.

"I break shit and throw things.  I blow things up.  I bend large metal objects over my knee.  I send co-workers invoices for wasting my time," I didn't say.

Instead I stood on the table and placed a hand over my heart, extended my other arm into the air, and waxed Shakespearean as I held forth about the virtues of self-control, one's inability to exert any control whatsoever on the world and the individuals around them, and the need for one to always look on the inside for the change they want to see, the resources they can harness to render such scenarios bearable and even, at times, positive.

At least, I said that stuff, sitting in my chair across from five scrutinizing stares.

At least, I think I said that stuff, through the glitter.

I wonder if they know you suck at that, said the glitter.

Later, I realized that even that was bullshit, because I'm super-experienced at it.  I deal with someone else difficult who is up in my life, who never leaves, who can walk into the room and bug the shit out of me and nearly incapacitate me with no warning.  I can't lock the door and I can't carve out a secret hiding place.  He's male.  I don't understand that.  The thing that lives in the back of my head that emerges in times of intense stress, pressure, pain, anything that triggers a desire to escape, is some asshole guy.  He walks around whispering of annihilation, and he is someone I don't like and someone who doesn't like me, and I have to work with him closely anyway.

How do I deal with that?  I just do, that's how.  I can do it.  I do do it.

"I've run away from toxic, corrosive people before, just to escape.  I've done it more than once.  I don't handle it worth a shit," I didn't say in the interview.

Don't tell them, said the glitter.

I am waiting for the call, to find out whether I got the job.

If you don't, you're trapped, says Asshole Guy.

I am waiting for the call, to find out whether I got the job.

Waiting sucks the greasy, smoking, lousy, boil-covered cock of Satan.  I do not like waiting.

June 2, 2019

i'm not running from destiny or anything else

Me:  "Hey, have you poured enough coffee into your temple yet?"

P.J.:  "What's 'enough coffee'?"

Me:  "Enough to help your system absorb, say, something disturbing."

P.J.:  "I'm reading the news, aren't I?"

Me:  "Yeah.  Um, I need to tell you something."

P.J.:  "Let me take another pull at the coffee.  This sounds ominous."

Me:  "Okay.  This is hard.  Um.  Okay, you know I said I was going to go walking this morning, because it would still be cool, since I took yesterday as my day off."

P.J.:  "Yeee-eees?"

Me:  "I did.  I went walking.  I went up through town and got a lot of steps in.  And it was nice and cool.  Lovely, really.  A little breeze w-- "

P.J.:  "When do you get to the part that requires the necessity of coffee?"

Me:  "I'm getting there.  I'm getting there.  So, yeah.  I was walking ... "

P.J.:  "You said that."

Me:  "... and I crossed the street after I passed the Methodist church, because I wanted the people pulling into the parking lot to see me smiling, so they would know that I was happier not having to sit in a stuffy Sunday School classroom and -- "

P.J.:  "Lille .... "

Me:  "Okay.  Fine.  So I crossed the street and I was in front of the old mill, the part that's a coffee shop now, and, um ... I mean, there was a good song on, and ... I, um, sort of started jogging."

P.J.:  *spews coffee across dining room*

Me:  "It was just for a short distance, I promise!  Just to the grocery store, right there.  It wasn't far!"

P.J.:  "It's happening."

Me:  "NO!  It's not happening.  I swear.  It's not!"

P.J.:  "You're going to be one of them.  You're turning into a runner."

Me:  "I am not a runner!  I'm not!  It just happened, I don't know why, I think I was wondering if it would make the steps go faster, my body did it on its own, I didn't get tired like I normally w-- "

*slaps hand over mouth, eyes wide with horror*

P.J.:  "See?  See?  'The lady doth protest too much, methinks.'  I knew it.  I knew this would happen."

Me:  "Is it a disease?  Is this a disease process?  You hear about it all the time.  But I didn't even enjoy it.  I didn't.  I promise I'm going to only walk from now on.  No jogging bits in there."

P.J.:  "You just said 'bits'.  That's plural."

Me:  "Um.  It hypothetically might have happened twice."

P.J.:  "Oh my god.  That's day four of 'couch potato to 5K'.  Oh, fuck.  You're lost."

************

None of that happened.

Except the jogging.

June 1, 2019

arms flung wide

I was in a public place with my sister.  No, not the one I've met only once, and not the self-righteous fundamentalist zealot who condemned me for harming The Kid by removing her essential influence from his life.  This was the sister who was in my life the most, the one who alternated physical and verbal abuse with attempts to be sisterly, a poisonous recipe for deep reinforcement that leaves a child a confused and complicit victim.  The least likely sister you'd see beside me in a public place.

It doesn't matter why we were outside under a sheltered porch in the midst of a milling crowd of people, in a city, perhaps on a Saturday.  These things seldom matter in dreams.

It does matter that I was tolerating her presence as an equal because I had a purpose for being in that place that did not involve her.  I was fully adult and fully capable of bluntly stating I was off, and turning and walking away.  It does matter that she was powerless in that moment and had no say.

That isn't why the dream is haunting me.

I walked away because I realized I had to find my car.  The crowd parted for me as I sought it, trying to remember on which Victorian-yet-modern street I had parked.  I had just looked at my watch and realized that P.J. had told me our friends were visiting from 4:00 to 5:30, and that it was 5:15 and a fifteen-minute drive home.  I found the car.  I sped.  I dreaded what I would find.  I dreaded what I might not find.

They were outside bidding their farewells when I arrived, holding a blue cooler and an umbrella and some wrapped-up leftovers.  I leaped from the driver's seat of the car and ran to them both, flinging my arms around their necks and bursting into tears, great sobs of relief-yet-sorrow.  They were surprised at the strength of my feelings, so intense that I thought my chest would burst, and that I would show all that love and desperation openly, but they both hugged me close anyway because they knew why.

And then they climbed into their car and drove away.

And I awoke with tears flowing.

I don't believe that dreams are a gateway to any predictive mechanism, whether supernatural or leading to some astute cluster of brain cells responsible for intuition and pattern recognition.

I do believe dreams are a bullet train that can plow straight through defense mechanisms and arrive at stark confrontation with how we really feel, what we really think, what we know that we don't want to know.

We saw these friends a week ago, a visit years overdue.  I threw hugs around their necks and acted appropriately in the social moment.  But it would seem that deep in my brain, in a place only a dream could reach, there was also heart-wrenching fear that it could be the last time we saw them, that we were late and catching the tail end of their lives, that we had been neglectful and poor stewards of the treasure of their friendship.

Death.  Time.  Space.  Attrition.  How many people do we lose?  Why do we live our lives in fear of spreading ourselves too thin?  Why do we apply logic and measuring spoons and ought-to and should-only to our own beating hearts?  Do we do it to drown out the greater, stronger fears we refuse to feel?

That is why the dream is haunting me.

I still want to cry.  I still want to fling my arms around their necks and let my heart pound with love.  I still can't stuff back into its subconscious hiding place the awareness that no heart beats forever.

May 29, 2019

resting sweeney todd face



Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd
His skin was pale and his eye was odd
He shaved the faces of gentlemen
Who never thereafter were heard of again
He trod a path that few have trod
Did Sweeney Todd
The demon barber of Fleet Street ....




One of The Kid's dances earlier in May was to the Ballad of Sweeney Todd, and the creepy-ass factor made it my favorite, even though it wasn't exactly performed by advanced students.

I found the song on Spotify and have listened to it 87,092 times in the last twenty-four hours.  No, you may not borrow my time machine.  Doing this tends to get a song into a person's head.  It might be a permanent condition.  I'll let you know.

And what if none of their souls were saved?
They went to their maker impeccably shaved

I walked through Home Depot at lunch today, first to find a bathroom and then to find a broom.  Apparently, when I smashed the shit out of Juicy Brutus last fall ... we'll say the integrity of that broom was compromised.  P.J. and I decided we just want a plain old straw and wood-handled broom, the kind that lasts forever and won't rust or unscrew or miss a spider.

Sweeney was smooth, Sweeney was subtle
Sweeney would blink, and rats would scuttle

Walking around with Sweeney Todd in my head and a simple broom in my hand, my face wore the same deadpan, murderous expression The Kid's did during the dance.  It's that kind of song.

The man in the John Deere hat smirked at me in the self-checkout line and drawled, "What're you going to do with that broom?"

I was so deeply into my part that instead of my typical nervous laugh and smile when in the midst of social awkwardness, I turned my demon-expression face on him like stone and said slowly, "My car broke down."

He suddenly became very interested in the act of purchasing his five-gallon bucket of primer.

What kind of question even was that, you over-bold chauvinistic crust-munch?

Tomorrow, I'll wear black to work.

And in the meantime, I'll just leave this here.  I've not posted a picture of The Kid before, but the video quality is woefully pixelated, so I think he'll be safe.  I wish they would have allowed him to hold up a straight razor at the end.




May 27, 2019

i hope scorpions eat your mailbox

On the nineteenth day of walking, I went out earlier and pushed hard, before the oven out there finished preheating and my skin became acquainted with the Maillard reaction.

I was on our street, nearly home, when I noticed that a neighbor's mailbox door had come off on one side, the joint rusted through and the nut and bolt presumably crumbled into flaky decay, lying in whatever that decorative leafy plant stuff is they have around the base of the post.  The last mail delivery must have dealt the death blow.

I thought about walking home and, just for some extra steps and while no one was awake yet and looking, grabbing a new, fresh bit of hardware and coming back up the street and repairing it.

If it had been Mr. Preston's house, I would have.  Mr. Preston has had two heart attacks and walks up and down our street per doctor's orders with no leash in his hand because he lost his dog, Baby, years ago and will never finish grieving for her.  His wife Kathy is a sweet dear, retired from teaching first grade.  I would have fixed their mailbox.

But I realized this mailbox belonged to the house of the family that practically lives in our local Huge-Ass Baptist Church, which I always call Six Flags Over Jesus.  Seriously, this place has annex campuses because it's too big, and a soccer field, and a corporate-looking logo and t-shirts and shit.  And these people are the ones who kept their kids far, far away from us starting the day we moved into the neighborhood eleven years ago, because Teh Gay Germs.  Their two little girls were playing ball in the next yard while we carried up boxes and came to meet us, all freckles and friendliness.  They were playing again the next evening and when they saw me walking to my car, they picked up their ball and quickly walked home, sometimes glancing behind them in confused fear.

When I pass one of the parents in my car and wave, something everyone does here on our street, they look away and pretend not to see me.  I wave anyway.

I do.  I wave at them anyway.  But I did say earlier that I've lost some kindness.  Fuck 'em and their decrepit mailbox, I decided.  I walked on, home, into our delicious gay air conditioning, and resumed my gay lifestyle.

May 26, 2019

my birkenstock is the great equalizer

Rly? You're selling these?
On the eighteenth day of walking, I put my sneakers on at sunrise; the day promised to be a scorcher, even here in the mountains, and I wanted to slip out into cool morning air to defy the forecast.  In the end, however, I opted for a later morning walk in the heavy, sweaty sunlight because the early morning turned out to be too gnatty.

Let's pause for a vocabulary lesson.


Natty v. Gnatty:

Natty:  Neat, smart, crisp, and fashionable, pertaining to clothing.  His zoot suit and fedora were positively natty, in stark contrast to his anomalous Air Jordans.

Gnatty:  Characterized by an excess of gnats.  Her Lab mix scratched on the door to be let in after its morning piss 'n' poo and she opened the door to let the dog in and there was a little swarm of roughly fifty gnats in the vicinity of its asshole, which was known to be full of stars.

I don't want to hear your bitching about cannot-unthink, because I cannot unsee and that is way worse.

I'm growing weary of the gnat theme in my life.

I think I know what I'm going to do about the header now.  I'm going to remove "gastric bypass" and replace it with "insect life", because I just realized that most of my blog is actually about bugs and spiders.

(Yes, I know the difference between arachnids, myriapods, true six-legged insects, and the like.  I don't think it's important to heed these distinctions.  They all look the same once they're squished.  My Birkenstock is the great equalizer.  Good luck counting the legs.)

May 22, 2019

really disgusting things

Since I bared my soul yesterday, I may as well continue down that trail. 

On the fifteenth day of walking, I listened to the Verdi Requiem mass and learned several rules for avoiding Really Disgusting Things.



Rule One

Typically, Rule One is supposed to be the most important of all rules.  I'm not sure this qualifies, but it's worth stating first: 

When the Universe has taught you that gnats can fly up your nose, do not walk along the road with your mouth open, pretending to be the soprano in "Libera Me".

Rule Two

"Tuba Mirum" can be a persuasive defense against blaring brass music.

Our organization is about to switch telephone systems.  This means all new phones everywhere, everyone's phone number changing, and new music that people on hold must endure.  For years, we've had saxophone-y elevator music and people are sick of it.

My boss happens to be in charge of selecting the new stuff.  He chose something he really likes.  And when I called in to test the new phone system and heard it for the first time, it very nearly blew out the ear drum of my soul.  It sounds like the jaunty jazz-swing tune played by the local brass quartet at your town's Fourth of July celebration, except you're too close to the stage and it's so loud you can taste it.

There followed a conversation in which he refused to budge on this and I pulled out all the stops.  I begged.  I pointed out that the loud trumpets are like taking an irate caller and sticking them in an orange room.  I pleaded.  I threatened his family.  I told him his taste is objectively terrible.  I offered to wash his car.  I offered to wash his feet with my hair.

That music qualifies as a Really Disgusting Thing.  I even had a nightmare about it last night.

What I failed to do was to play "Tuba Mirum" for him and say, "Hey, you know what they're symbolizing with all those trumpets?"  And he would have said, "What?" and I would have said, "THE FUCKING WRATH OF GOD, MAN.  The Wrath of God."

Rule Three:  I was wrong and there really is a purpose for thong underwear, because everything seems to want to go there anyway when you walk a meaningful distance.  Even boyshorts.

Rule Four:  Cameras should be set up in the break room any time an as-yet-unidentified co-worker manifests a habit of reheating fish for lunch.  Appropriate measures* should be taken.

Rule Five:  Never, ever, ever look inside your ear buds.

Rule Six:  There is no Rule Six.


*Redacted due to federal legal precedent regarding self-incrimination.  Even the press will not want to publish the photos.

May 21, 2019

for all the years

On the fourteenth day of walking, I wrote this in my head.  Also, a gnat flew up my right nasal passage.  It was a low-carb gnat, so this wasn't a problem, because I was engrossed in the writing and in musing over the parting words after the concert Saturday night, when Kate looked me in the eye and said, "Seriously, for all the years, thanks.  Thanks for being there."


*************

… you wake up one day and suddenly, everybody in the world wants to meet you.  But you soon find out they don’t want to meet you; they want you to meet them.”  -- Fannie Flagg, Welcome to the World, Baby Girl


1999
“Hey Amy … drive carefully.  Be careful.”

I heard Kate Campbell perform the songs from Rosaryville before I had my hands on the album.  She sang on a stage in the corner of the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, while handmade tamales were being served at the bar in the back.  I ignored the tamales because I was a fan.  I was a fan in a room full of fans, all of us sitting uncomfortably in our gray-green folding chairs, transfixed by the superhuman woman wielding a Gibson guitar.  She was singing “In My Mother’s House”, a song that felt to us like a glimpse into her life.  We got to imagine her going to homecoming in high school.  We got to see her parents’ dining room, a turkey on the table.

Being a fan sure did feel an awful lot like love.

Then the third verse … “Everyone sees what they want to see / But I’m just a girl who used to sing in my mother’s house.”

In that moment, I was certain those words had been written just for me.  They punched me under the ribs and took my breath.  She was telling me to back off.  She was resigning from office, climbing down from the pedestal, pushing me away with two strong arms.  Not letting me see what I wanted to see.

I wanted to see someone who loved me back.

What was it like to be the sort of fan who appreciates an artist’s work and comes to hear it time and time again because she knows she will be enriched and uplifted?  The one who could think about borborygmi and the tamales while Kate was in the room?  I envied that fan.  I was too intense, ascribing significance to every word and glance and nuance.

Later, I would play the CD in the car and sing along perfectly with the lush harmony of the bridge, then fast-forward through the third verse, let go of the button, and resume singing, hearing what I wanted to hear.

A fan is a stalker who builds a good, sturdy fence and keeps the gate locked from the outside.  I have attended thirty-two performances to hear Kate sing.  By now, this amounts to publicly permissible stalking.

But no, that’s not quite it.

A fan is a hungry heart holding out her hands for alms.  I used to sit and wait for Kate to look my way, and when she did, the house lights were turned down low and she couldn’t see my pleading eyes, willing her to somehow know me, lift me from her pedestal on high and make me important and valuable.  I wasn’t the only one.  I could spot them around me in a room.  We fans were the radiant ones with our hearts in our eyes.  We watched Kate but did not see her.  We saw what we wanted to see.

But no, that’s not quite it, either.

Acts of kindness.  Acts of understanding, even unwitting mercy.  Going out of the way to come have breakfast, and her husband Ira paying for it.  A private cassette tape I have protected for two decades.  A funeral plant and hand-written letters.  Driving me to my car in a dark parking lot, for safety.  A smile and the peace sign.  A quiet conversation with friends after my divorce, asking if we were all right.  Infinite patience in the numerous times when I could not make my feet walk away from her presence and carry me home.  Because no fan is composed entirely of need.

Acts of kindness.  Acts of caring.  A basket of Oreos nestled in a bandanna.  The last Biscuitville t-shirt left at the corporate office that was too small and had to serve as wall-hung memorabilia.  Miles driven around town to put up posters advertising a concert.  Wide-armed hugs given.  They were not a sacrifice to a goddess.  They were hand-picked clover flowers clutched into a bunch by a child’s hand and held out proudly, purely.  Because no artist is devoid of need.

Creation needs a beholder and the creator needs the care of hearts and hands along the way.  The luck in the finding is mutual.

I cannot know what I have given her back beyond cookies and a t-shirt, but I know that Kate’s influence has shaped me, to an extent that only a pleading-eyed fan could be shaped.  Her stories are likely responsible for the day last year when I rebuked and reported a white co-worker for using the worst of racial slurs and a black co-worker, wounded by the incident, grasped my hands in hers and thanked me for standing up.  But for Kate, I would not have visited the Civil Rights Museum and stood, weeping and overwhelmed, on that balcony at the Lorraine Motel.  But for Kate’s art, I might choose to sit inert and useless against this dark time.  I would not be a fan who opened her heart wide for all the years and let in the riches she poured out for alms, words and ideas that leave no room for hate.

For all the years.

Being a fan sure does feel an awful lot like love.

2019
“Hey, Kate … drive carefully.  Be careful.”

May 16, 2019

fingerprints

One.

I sat in the wooden auditorium chair, waiting for the dances to start, watching people stand up while other people scooted past them to fill empty seats.  I cleaned the fingerprints off my glasses with the hem of my dress and put them back on my face.

For someone who professes general disinterest in, if not disdain for, the creative arts, I'm intensely emotional during performances.  It's similar to the way I cry at the weddings of people I don't know, even ones in movies.

I had nine dances worth of The Feels behind me when The Kid, who is verbally open with us but also carries his dad's impassive, poker-faced presentation, started dancing to "Words Fail" from Dear Evan Hansen and showing passion on his face while he danced, and there was nothing but my already-tattered Kleenex to catch the streaming tears.  Then I stopped trying to catch them because there were too many.  Some tears were pride and some were more pride and some were watching and knowing his dance teacher can draw something out of him that I cannot.

Two.

I put my hand on his teacher's arm and stopped her in the hall, during intermission, even though I knew she had four thousand other things to rush off and do.  "He's not doing the moves right," I blurted out.  She wasn't sure what to say and looked at me, waiting.  "He's not doing the moves right any more.  He's dancing now," I said.

Three.

The dance program at the school is almost exclusively female.  There are four boys this semester; there were five last winter.  I watch the girls dance.  Some are heavy and most are confident and the cast is well-integrated racially.  They dance and I involuntarily begin counting the things I am good at, or want to believe I am good at, and I notice this and decide I'm doing it because I am no longer young and because I can't dance.

The girls are in costumes, every one the same.  They're dressed in same-ness.  I know that each is different, each is a waking fingerprint life, but I see them through a fly's eye.  I am not the hundreds of single myth-lie teenage girl I see in front of me, dancing.  I never became her.  I was too busy proving that I didn't have to.  I was too busy looking away.

Four.

I grumbled to myself as I walked about the contents of the mall shopping bag ... two dress shirts, a pair of pants, yet another belt for the dance performance ... he keeps growing ... right up the point where I stopped short because I couldn't walk through Sears.  I stood before the monolith of lowered gating and plywood boards and 'STORE CLOSED' signs, and I stared.  I walked closer and saw that teenagers had come by and traced words in the dust between the metal bars.  Some of them were too foul for even me.  I poked my index finger through and made a single fingerprint of regard in the dust, and turned and went downstairs.

I didn't take the escalator because it was making strange clicking sounds.  It's in disrepair.

At the bottom of the stairs, I was jarred again.  The play area where The Kid once crawled and climbed and laughed was empty.  It wasn't closed for business, but the same shiny plastic bed-and-pillow and over-sized banana slices and bunch-of-grapes slide now have patches of dirty black duct tape where holes were mended.  It was a Tuesday during lunch and the place should have been teeming with parents and strollers.  There were no little Velcro-strap shoes or inside-out socks in the cubbies.



Standing there and looking at taped-up fake fruit, it was the first time I've allowed myself to feel grief for his lost childhood.  If you ask me, I'll tell you that I don't miss those days in the least, that I finally get to sleep at night, sleep in on Saturdays, reason with the child.  Now I know that if you keep asking me, if you press me, if you break me, you'll hear all the stories from that play area at the mall.  They'll come gushing out.

That night, I told him the one about the dementors and the plastic sword from when he was two.  It was the moment I knew he was meant to be a lawyer.  And he remembered.

Time has moved on and I have seen the cruelty Time can visit upon a son.  That is why my heart catches in my chest when I see that Time has left The Kid dancing.

May 13, 2019

stretching

I am not a spider.
On the seventh day of walking, the weather was gorgeous.  We had to cancel much-anticipated weekend plans because of shitty weather with lightning and fog and things flying through the air, so today, just to mock us, it was all blue-sky-with-puffy-clouds and verdant-everything and dragonflies landing on sturdy, bobbing blades of Johnson grass.

It was what StepBet calls a "stretch day", where you have to walk fifteen-zillion steps above your already aerial goal in order to not lose your money and get a curt e-mail informing you you're a loser.

I walked all over town and ended up back at the park, making laps to nudge up the number on the Archbracelet.

It was breezy, and children were playing, and I remembered a line from a poem written by a fellow student in poetry class in college:

" ... I say a quick child will chase all this chatter away."

I only remember two things from that poetry class.  One is that line, written by Renee or Rachel or something, and the other is that the men's bathroom across the hall was renowned for its ostensible bounty of glory holes.

I rounded the corner of the sidewalk and breeziness became a strong wind.  It blew my hair back and felt glorious under the deep blue sky, so I held my arms out and spread my fingers and lifted my chin, and felt the might of the wind, and then realized a couple at the park was staring at me with quizzical looks, so I pretended I was stretching instead and kept walking.

The wind thing happened again later, but this time, no one was watching.

Please don't get the wrong idea.  I hate the outdoors.  I despise the outdoors.  It has spiders.

May 11, 2019

thinking in the rain

I'm not the only person who has ever gone for a walk in the rain.  I might be, however, the only person in a given radius, measured in leagues, who has gone for a walk in the rain because she wanted to walk along the main roads over in town and the rain would mean that all of the other walkers and joggers who normally infest those pathways like ants wouldn't be there and she wouldn't have to cope with the social situations introduced by their presence.

What do you do if you're walking faster than someone and you come up behind them?  Do you speak before you pass them?  What's the correct berth?  What if someone's jogging past at the same time?  Do you make eye contact with that person?  What if they're wearing sunglasses?  If there are ear buds, do you wave or nod or ignore?  Are you allowed to make the sign of the cross if they're wearing a fanny pack, or is that rude?

I care about all of these things far more than I cared what anyone who noticed me thought this morning as I set out, up my drowsy street, in the downpour.

On the sixth day of walking, I learned things, most of which were nose-oriented.

I learned that a person who goes walking in the rain needs to accept that her nose is going to be wet and slippery and her sunglasses (worn to render her incognito, ostrich-style) will either slide to the tip of her nose or will have to be pushed so far up its bridge that they will promptly fog up.

I learned that wet blue t-shirts are as see-through as white ones.

I learned that I was right about no one else being crazy enough to walk in town this morning.

I learned that when a truck pulling a trailer full of lawn equipment drives by you, the smell of gasoline it leaves behind is strong.

I learned that someone must have fixed the little clock tower sitting in the corner of the park because now the bells chime in tune on the hour.

I learned that a used baby diaper tossed into the woods can be smelled for one hundred and thirty-seven steps.

I learned that I hate Wet Sock just as much now as I ever did, even more than people who throw used baby diapers into the woods when no one is looking.

I learned that rain can feel refreshing.

I learned that when I feel an artificial brava of "yeah, so what?" when I'm walking, I don't clench my thumbs in my fists.

I learned what it feels like to be a bicyclist on the side of the stretch of road that doesn't have a sidewalk, knowing how the people driving their cars past you feel about your presence there, but that empathy doesn't budge how I feel about the hordes of bicyclists who gather in our town square several times a week and ride on our streets, taking up more than half of the road and breaking every traffic law imaginable, all while maintaining a smug attitude (there are local online forums full of Smug) and looking like insects in their tight clothes and helmets and weird eyewear and taking up every parking space even remotely near the park so parents can't bring their children to play there.

Every year, Town Hall sends out a survey asking what we residents would like to see happen.  They receive five thousand surveys back that grumble about how yard waste pick-up in the spring would be rather nice and then go on to scream in large block letters about ridding the town of the Bicycle Menace that plagues it.  Nothing is ever done because there isn't money for bike trails and no law enforcement gets involved when the bicycles are so thick that they block the main road and traffic backs up for half a mile.

This only fuels our anger when we are motorists.  Middle fingers are extended and profane insults are hurled out of car windows.  Everyone is in the right.  It plays out like a miniature Israeli-Palestinian conflict, simmering wishes for injury and misfortune to come to the other, but without actual bombs.

As I walked in the rain this morning, I was passed by a lone cyclist, and without meaning to I raised my hand in greeting, because he was another crazy person out in the rain.  I arrived home a triumphant, soggy traitor and lay out my clothes in the laundry room to dry.

May 10, 2019

the soldier's walk

lovely, dark and deep
On this day, the fifth day of walking, I clenched my thumbs in both hands.  I walked like a soldier, long strides, too fast.  I marched.  And tears welled.

On this day, three days after I cleaned up the garbage, I retraced my steps and found it all.

Twenty-one new pieces of trash along both sides of my beloved elm-canopied side road.

I'm counting the plastic McDonald's tea cup and the lid-with-straw-still-inside as two things because they were five meters apart.

I am powerless.  I can't protect the trees.  I can't preserve the whisper-green beauty hovering over me.  There are people who will only cast their gazes and garbage onto the ground, and will never look up and see it.

May 8, 2019

sentient spiders and snake oil

On the third day of walking, I looked over at the wooden bridge spanning the creek, the bridge that I normally avoid because spiders, and saw two women coming down the steps, having crossed it.  They sat down on the steps to talk.  I viewed this as an opportunity to be seized.


I walked up to them and said, "Excuse me, may I cross?"  They said things like, "Sure, yeah, of course," and stood up to let me by.  And because I'm currently hypomanic, I blurted out, "Usually I don't go on this bridge because I'm afraid of imaginary spider webs, but you just broke them all for me," and they didn't say anything else, so I kept walking, right through the single long spinneret that was waiting for me, freshly minted by a sentient spider who knew I was coming.

I'm kind of miffed that the two women didn't acknowledge my yelp, but now that I consider it, I probably would have ignored me, too.

I am so tired of orphaned raccoons and ginormous snakes and psychic spiders being in my life.

I came home from work and The Kid and I set about cleaning up the basement (I may or may not have threatened to pour motor oil on his laptop keyboard to motivate this behavior).  I reached down to pick up an empty water bottle lying on the floor beside the TV stand, and saw a head retract in surprise.

The Kid had his dad on speakerphone at that moment, who heard the sudden onset of "FUCKFUCKFUCK THERE'SASNAKE THERE'SAFUCKINGSNAKEBACKTHERE ASNAKE FUCK ASNAKE SHITSHIT A SN *sound of running up flight of stairs* AKE P.J. THERE'SASNAKE AFUCKINGSNAKEINTHEBASEMENT BEHINDTHETVSTAND SNAKE AFUCKINGSNAKE SHITFUCK SNAKE SNAKE ...."

His dad was laughing.  We'll settle up on that later.  Oh, yes.

P.J. is the person you want beside you in a crisis.  She's amazing.  She's made of steel and keeps calm and rational.  While I was gibbering, she was planning, and once again, we ended up with tongs, because of course we did.  "Kid, find me a box," she said.  Then with more urgency:  "Box.  Box.  Box!  BOX!  BOX!"  And then there was a strange dance where I was trying to catch the head of a very, very pissed-off snake in some tongs while P.J. was frantically blocking its access to the space behind the bookcases, which would have led to someone keeping vigil and me seriously losing face to a friend who's really into guns by asking to borrow at least three.

The snake started to go back there, and that's when P.J. grabbed it by the tail and held on tight.  It wrapped around her hand but kept trying to flee.  I never realized how strong snakes are.  I was trying to pull it out with tongs but making little progress, and I must have made it even angrier because then it oozed something sticky or snake-oily out of its tail, all over P.J.'s hands.

This is how it goes.  Whatever-it-is always pisses on her.

So now the snake was slippery and I had to get serious with the tongs, and we managed to pull it out, but I wasn't very close to the head and it could have bitten me, so we hurriedly threw it into the box The Kid had produced and slammed the lid onto it, and a second later realized that he had brought us a banker's box and there were two huge oval holes in the sides for handles and the snake was about to slither out of one of them.

Please know The Kid really is incredibly intelligent.  I blame the chaos of the moment.

We grabbed the tongs and a nearby folder and somehow hoisted the box with the lid held down with our thumbs and the tongs and folder pressed against the holes, and carried it down the driveway and across the street.  We dumped the snake out in the same spot as the raccoons, and by "dumped the snake out" I mean "Lille threw everything in her hands up in the air and it landed all over the ground and she ran away and turned and watched".

P.J. had to kick the box a bit.  Then she used a stick to try to get the snake to slither into the woods and I was screaming "WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?" and she stopped because the snake was coiled up like a garden hose at Home Depot before you've used it and gotten it all dirty and kinked up, and it clearly wasn't going anywhere.

We walked home.

The spider today, on the bridge, was the Universe bending near and whispering in my ear, "I can get you.  I can get you any time I want."

May 7, 2019

please don't let anybody see me

I would have titled this post "what the fuck is wrong with people?" but that's unoriginal because the question has been asked - justifiably - many, many times by other bloggers.

I wasn't just hiding my right thumb today.  I was wincing each time a car passed by on my canopied road, fervently hoping that it wasn't a co-worker who would notice me and report me to our press guy and then I'd be in the newsletter with a surreptitious picture the co-worker took with their phone and there would be heaps of praise and, worse, attention.

I wanted to be the invisible person from our bathroom.

I did what I never followed through on last fall.  I only cleaned up the part in the shade, where the trees begin in earnest and where there's less traffic.  My beloved, beautiful stretch of road.  And it's a good thing, because I filled up the trash bag with things that made me very glad I was wearing my new cheap-ass gardening gloves.

The worst part was walking outside by the windows of my department's offices when I was finished.  Scurrying is more like it.  Just past that bit is where the dumpster is located.

If someone kicked off a really random scavenger hunt that looked something like this ....

- A full length of unraveled cassette tape
- A rear wheel from an old wheelchair
- A plastic hotel room key card with MARSHALL written on the back in Sharpie
- Four used hot sauce packets lying in perfectly-measured equal intervals
- One of those foam things you use to separate your toes when painting your nails
- The hand-turn wheel piece from a Sit 'n' Spin

... I would win that summabitch.

Yes, really!  A Sit 'n' Spin.  Most of this was like the 1980s threw up all over the street, except for the hot sauce packets, which looked to be of recent vintage. 

The wheelchair wheel wouldn't fit in the bag.

May 6, 2019

the happening place to be

I've returned, canopy of elm branches.  I walk beneath you, gladly.

I've returned after ignoring you all winter, never drawn by bleakness, barrenness, absence.  I missed the icy wind tunnel and your crows, but I prefer this, today.  The spring birds are a cacophony.

My knees are older now.  They notice the difference between the cambers of the curb and the pavement.

Some of your branches bend so low that I feel embraced.  I have a photograph of a hug with a hand clasped around the side of my shoulder, and today I feel the way that photograph makes me feel when I see the I-belong-I-am-loved and take it in.

The smell of honeysuckle is strong, but I cannot see the vines.

Walking is an impatient thing, until I reach the line of your shade.  I was told I walk like a soldier, long stride, too fast.

Walking is a tense thing.  Out of habit, I clench my thumb into my right hand, not to slug someone in self-defense, but to hide, to bear the pressure of being see-able.  I am exposed.  I always walk with my thumb tucked in.

In the shady honeysuckle hug, I consciously relax my hand and open it.  I straighten my middle-aged back to stand taller and I slow my pace.

I am not running away.  I walk beneath you, slowly.