December 18, 2006

There! That'll Show 'Em!

It’s only one week until Christmas and I’m just finishing up my Christmas cards. I find it remarkable that I’m even sending them this year, so don’t judge my tardiness. However, I also find it interesting that lots of people I know don’t even send Christmas cards … ever. OK, I can understand why the Jew doesn’t (I send him one anyway), but it seems so unusual to me that people, lots of people, don’t send Christmas cards.

While I think giving and receiving Christmas cards is one of the season’s simple pleasures, there are people like, let’s call her “Mildred,” who take the whole Christmas card business way too seriously. She comes from the old school of hand-writing notes in each and every one of the cards she sends out. A nice tradition, if you have the sensibilities to keep things simple and concise. Mildred doesn’t believe in simple and concise when it comes to Christmas cards. If someone sends her a card that simply says, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” along with their signature, she is offended to the point where she will punish them by not sending her card to them. It is quite obvious to her that someone who doesn’t write a detailed description of everything that has happened to them throughout the past year doesn’t care enough about her to deserve one of her cards.

On the other hand, Mildred hems and haws every year over how much effort she will put into the Christmas cards she sends to others – the others that deserve one, that is. Even with her dwindling list of deserving recipients she complains about having to write all those letters and notes, by hand. She doesn’t understand that greeting cards are designed to express the sentiment she is trying to convey without her having to come up with and write the words herself. She doesn’t understand that Christmas cards are merely a gesture of goodwill and remembrance. She doesn’t understand that if she wants to send Christmas cards, no matter how simple or detailed, it should be done with a happy heart, and if she can’t do it with a happy heart she should just chuck the whole damn project!

So with the example of Mildred to my benefit, I send out my simple, yet beautiful cards to those most near and dear to my heart. I don’t take any pride or shame in the number of cards I send out. I don’t generically send the same letter to everyone I know, sharing the same news, in the same way to each and every one of them. I send a card to those I like and don’t send one to those I don’t like. Christmas is a time of cheer, not of toiling over who is worthy to receive a card, or over the content of the enclosed note. Christmas cards (or lack thereof) should not be used as a punishment or reward from the giver. They’re Christmas cards, for crying out loud.

For all of you who don’t send cards because you choose not to, I’m going to send you one of mine, just because I want to send you one. For those of you who include a ten-page hand-written letter in your card to me, I will send you one of mine with the one-phrase sentiment I usually include in my cards. To Mildred and all those out there just like her I say, lighten up. Don’t judge people on something so meaningless as a Christmas card. And don’t think your Christmas card carries a whole lot of weight with others.

Remember, Jesus is disappointed when you use Christmas cards as a weapon.

December 13, 2006

HoHoHo-ing Through The Holidays

This holiday season is especially hard for me and my family because of the loss of my brother in August. Not only will we notice the large physical absence (as he took up space that equalled to six feet, five inches tall and the width of the jolly green giant), we'll miss his little holiday hijinx. For example, when Boyfriend and I have my family over for a pre-Christmas holiday cheer evening of drinks, dinner, and general milling about, my brother would secretly go over to our Nativity scene, hide the baby Jesus somewhere behind a shepherd, and replace him with a sheep in the crib. He claimed it was not yet Christmas and Jesus shouldn't be featured in the scene until Christmas Day. At my parents' house on Christmas Day he would be donned in a bright green crocheted necktie (a gift I made for him many years ago as a joke) and Frosty The Snowman socks, and would inevitably take a ribbon and bow from one of his gifts and tie it around his head, either as a little bonnet or as an especially fancy sweatband. He was a playful little fella, that's for sure.

Trying to get in the spirit of things has been difficult, to say the least. I miss my brother in his splendor, and I miss the way he drove me nuts. It's also very difficult to stand by in my own grief and watch the other people in my family suffer through their grief too.

In spite of succeeding in decorating the house and trimming the tree, I've felt little holiday spirit so far. It doesn't help that it's December 13th in Minnesota and not only do we not have snow, but temperatures are up into the mid 40s - downright balmy. What the hell?

But today after I got home from work I filled the CD changer with Christmas music and commenced to make some Christmas cookies. First on the list was Madeleines. I've never made them before, and from the looks and taste of what I made, I may never make them again. So much for the nutty-flavored cookies. Then I made my traditional Cream Wafers (which can be found in the Betty Crocker Cookie Book). I fell in love with these cookies when my grandma made them years ago. It's taken me many years to get them just right. A marble cutting board and a marble rolling pin help in keeping the dough chilled, and I finally got it through my thick skull that instead of spreading the filling onto these incredibly short (as in flaky) and delicate cookies with a knife, it's much better to squirt the filling with a pastry bag.

As I was processing, chilling, rolling, cutting, baking, and squirting my little heart out, Neil Diamond was belting out Oh Holy Night and the Hallelujah Chorus, Ertha Kit was teasing with Santa Baby, and Bing Crosby was crooning White Christmas. I do believe I got into the Christmas spirit there for a minute.

Could it be that life actually goes on after someone you love dies? Yes, in one form or another it does. I had a fairly festive evening proven by Christmas tunes echoing in my mind and flour all over the front of my shirt. Tomorrow I might actually sit down and address some Christmas cards, damn it.

Maybe I'm being a big baby about all this death stuff, or maybe this is something that everyone has gone through and just never let me in on the big secret about how hard it is. Whatever the case may be, I am determined to at least fake my way through this holiday sans my little brother.

As I look around and see the stockings hung by the chimney with care, the tinsel twinkling on the glorious Christmas tree, and the candle flames flickering, something isn't quite right.

I think there needs to be a sheep in baby Jesus' crib, and all will be right with the universe.

December 09, 2006

Commercialized Christmas

By now we’re all busy shopping for those perfect Christmas gifts for everyone near and dear to our hearts. That is, of course unless you don’t celebrate Christmas, which is really too bad because it is such fun. In my search for things whimsical and wonderful I came across some ideas that are a disgrace to the concept of capitalism. I mean really, preying on the desperation of those trying to find something for the person who has everything. How far will they go to pick the pockets of their countrymen? Have they no shame?

First on the list is the whole star-naming racket. Basically you send in your money, anywhere from $24.95 to $139.95, and have a star named after whomever you give the gift. You’re provided with a stellar map showing exactly where your star is, so you can look for it on those clear nights. How romantic, gazing into the starlight with the one so thoughtful to give you the gift. Until you realize it’s really stupid to even try to find the star shown on the map, because you probably can’t even see it with the naked eye anyway. That’s assuming your stellar map is not an exact replica of every other stellar map they’ve sent to all the other hopeless romantics who thought this idea so brilliant. Upon further investigation, I found this, which states very clearly that many of these star naming sites state very clearly that this is a novelty item. Stars aren’t officially named Meredith from Minnesota or Grandma Olga from North Dakota. Basically, when you have a star named for someone, you are buying an expensive piece of paper which means nothing. Lots of people realize this from the beginning, but there are far too many who don’t.

Along the same lines as star naming is the incredible opportunity to buy real estate … on the moon. Yes, you can actually own an acre ($29.99 - $59.99), or even a whole city (from $2,150.00 to $1,155,427.00), on the moon. This website goes into great detail regarding the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Moon Treaty of 1984, justifying the legitimacy of the sale of this lunar land. The variations in price per acre of land are contingent upon how much effort they have to go through to prepare the gift package itself. For example, if you want to have the deed to your lunar real estate to be framed, you must purchase the $59.99 acre of land. Mind you, you can buy the same acre of land for $39.99 with an unframed deed. And that same piece of land again would cost only $29.99 if you get an unframed deed and fill in your own name on the deed when you receive the paperwork. Coming soon: property for sale on Mars, Venus, and Jupiter’s moon.

The most disturbing gift idea I found was that of LifeGem diamonds. Apparently, you can send the cremains of your dead relative to this place and they will extract the carbon from the ashes. Then they heat that carbon until it turns into graphite. They then take the graphite and place it in a diamond press, which mimics the “awesome forces deep within the earth,” which translates into heat and pressure. The heated and pressurized graphite morphs into a beautiful LifeGem diamond. Now, not only can they extract carbon from the cremated remains of your beloved wife, husband, child, parent, pet, etc, they can extract carbon from a lock of hair, which means that loved one doesn’t even have to be cremated, or even dead, to become immortalized into a precious stone. Prices range from $3,499.00 (1/4 carat) to $24,999.00 (one carat) and they come in many beautiful colors. Ick. Can you imagine having dead Grammy hanging from a chain around your neck? And I seriously pity the person who would spend that much money on turning dead Fido into a sparkling diamond.

The competition for the most touching, the most romantic, and most unique gift of all time continues. You can buy someone the moon and stars, or create a diamond out of your own carbon for your honey to wear forever. Call me an unsentimental shrew, but I’m giving Boyfriend a screaming Slingshot Monkey toy for Christmas.

November 30, 2006

I Did It!

Well, despite my negligence in posting on this blog every day as challenged with NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) I remain extremely proud of myself as I am an official winner of the NaNoWriMo challenge. Yes, I have written a 50,000-word (and then some) novel in a period of thirty days. After several rewrites you will see it in bookstores all over the country. Give me about ten years to get that all worked out.

I never thought I could do it. But now that I know I can, I look forward to next year's challenge. Thanks to all the people at NaNoWriMo for making so much work so much fun.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

November 21, 2006

An Age-Old Ponderance

A chicken and an egg were laying in bed. The chicken had a blissfully satisfied look on its face while laying back and smoking a cigarette. The egg was agitated and annoyed. While angrily pulling the sheet up and rolling over the egg said, "Well, I guess we finally answered that question!"

November 17, 2006

The Mane Event

I've always liked Martha Stewart. I used to tape her pre-prison show every day, and watch it in the evenings to relieve the stresses of the day. The music between segments was so soothing, as was her voice, no matter if she was polishing silver or harvesting home-grown potatoes. She had great guests who had creative ideas and taught us how to execute them. Martha made me want to be a good homemaker. She made me want to cook to my heart's content. She made me want to hand-craft every gift I would ever give to another person. She was an inspiration.

During Martha's days as caged heat, something changed. I don't know if something happened to her, or if the people who took charge of the company in her absence decided it was payback time. Martha's lovely show turned into a live talk show that is anything but inspiring. Her website took a turn for the worse. And I became completely bereft when I was recently paging through the November issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine. Imagine my shock to see Martha Stewart serving her guests Thanksgiving dinner in ... a horse barn.

I'm sure it was presented for us to think, "oh look, how quirky and unique." It's a damn horse barn! Have you ever been in a horse barn? There's dust and dirt, hay and oats abash. They're full of horse poop. And flies are swarming because they love to wallow in horse poop. Wouldn't it be easier to deter poopy-legged flies if one served Thanksgiving dinner in, say, a dining room? I suppose Martha would scrub the horse barn thoroughly before serving food in it, but still, I don't think I'd enjoy a full Thanksgiving meal with Mr. Ed whinnying in the background. It would remind me that I'm in a horse barn. Who would even suggest serving a holiday meal in a horse barn?! I'm so disappointed.

So what's next? Will we be spending our champaign and shrimp cocktail Christmas Eve in the chicken coop? Will we be delighted and amused to join Martha in her glorious Turkey Hill home for a New Year's Eve cocktail party while the alpacas traipse through the house, mingling freely with the other guests?

I believe she has completely lost her mind. Next thing we know Marc Morrone will be lecturing on the finer points of beastiality.

November 15, 2006

Ebony And Ivory

It seems that lately I've been overwhelmed with the horrific state of our planet, and most disturbingly our country. I am finally convinced that we are, indeed, becoming more stupid with every passing year. In certain circles it is acceptable to say words like "ax" instead of "ask." It's a fashion statement for young men to wear their pants below their butts and for young women to bare all rolls of fat on their bodies. Little children are fighting like pit bulls while their parents and other adults cheer them on. While the hip-hop, gansta, whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it culture has grated on my last nerve and makes me throw up in my mouth a little, the lily-whites ain’t exactly making this country proud either.

This handsome young man is the “Property of Jolene,” according to the tattoo across his forehead. What a lucky girl! Above his right eye is tattooed “Skin,” and above the left, “Head.” As you can see his is giving up the pure white look for an all-blue appearance. Doesn’t that make him colored?

Cause for concern is this guy, whose tattoo really caught my eye. “Reject.” Clever, concise, and probably very appropriate. His signage gives onlookers ample warning as to what they’re dealing with.

Here’s a beauty. He’s looking kind of sassy with his smirk and cocked head. Look very closely at the tattoos masquerading as eyebrows:

This guy is just sad. He’s like a cartoon. I pity him. He looks like a grown-up shaken baby. Poor guy. Let’s have a pool on who can guess his IQ. I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 10.

And may I present to you, the Devil. This has got to be the most frightening-looking creature I have ever laid eyes on. Where did it all go wrong, scary man? He’s another of our friends in the Aryan Brotherhood with the tattoos “Aryan” and “Honor” above his eyes, and a swastika on his throat. Really, I think this guy is channeling Satan himself. The pointy-looking ears and glowing red eyes make him look even more demonic.

So let's all hold hands and celebrate diversity!

(Mug shots courtesy of The Smoking Gun.)

November 14, 2006

Writer's Block

I’ve been feeling so ashamed that I haven’t posted a blog a day for NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). I thought it would be much easier than NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but there were many glitches to be had as I lost my Blogger editor's toolbar and eventually had to switch to Beta. I’d also really like to know what the people at my day job have done to my work computer to prevent Blogger from operating properly. Clever little bastards think they’re going to keep me from working on personal writings? All they can do is keep me from posting. Which, of course, is the main objective this month, so I guess they win. I’m having a little better luck posting from my home computer, but I don’t get to play with that until after 5:00 p.m. I’d much rather be posting blog entries on company time than on my own personal time. Who wouldn’t?

As for NaNoWriMo, I’ve been making steady headway, but am sorely short of the 23,338 words I should have written by now. I’m finding it isn’t really so hard to write 1667 words a day if I actually sit down and write them. Thinking about them isn’t enough. Wishing I had time to write them down isn’t enough either. I have to actually put all those words on the computer screen for a legal count. However, my word count is consistent with my region’s average word count. Does that mean those of us in Minnesota are complete slugs when it comes to sitting at the computer and writing a novel? Or are our fingers just too stiff from the cold to actually type? I, and the average Minnesota NaNoWriMo participant, am short about 17,000 words. I am still determined to write 50,000 before the end of the month.

What makes all this writing interesting is actually making it public. For example, I’ll post this entry on my blog and people will read it. A few months from now, or even a few days, I’ll read it again and will be all embarrassed that I thought it was ever worthy to post on the internets. It’s a very stupid entry right now, and it will seem more stupid in the future. With NaNoWriMo, I can write as much stupid stuff as I want, and no one will ever have to see it if I don’t want them to.

So here’s my question: How many times do you have to read and rewrite something to finally be satisfied that it’s not stupid? If a piece of writing is stupid, and there is no one to read it, should the author be embarrassed? Does it remain stupid until you get a masters degree in fine arts? Is an author ever really satisfied with his/her writing?

What’s the point? Why do I even bother participating in NaNoWriMo if I know that anything I attempt to write will flow onto my screen with the inspiration of many muses only to look like horse hooey when I read it three days later? My rewrites will also be inspired and poetic, yet those too will turn to shit in the span of three days. Tell me, does this frustration occur in all writers, or do I just suck?

November 13, 2006

Give Little Yippy A Spin

So, I’m in the card store looking for that perfect sympathy card for an old family friend whose wife died and I see a category of cards entitled “Sympathy-Pet.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. The picture on the front was a colored drawing of animals - a horse, a turtle, a cat, a dog, etc. - with wings, flying in the clouds. Like little animal angels. On the inside it said, “May the memories of your special friend remain with you forever. So sorry for your loss.”

Special friend? If you refer to an animal as your special friend rather than your dog, your cat, or your pet, you really ought to get out more and take in some human socialization. Also, if you spend money on and send a card like that, you are a serious enabler and should seek some counseling. But that’s just my opinion.

I’m reminded of the time I attended a family reunion. We were all getting together in honor of my great grandma, Lucy. She was well into her 90s, and someone figured we better have one last crack at getting five generations together before she died. And so we did. We were all having a marvelous time, eating, drinking, and laughing. Great Grandma Lucy was having a lovely time too, even though she had no idea who all these people were, or why they kept coming up to her, one by one, holding her hand, and talking to her like a child. Yes, five generations of a family. Quite impressive. Of course with all those people you know that at least one of them had to bring the family dog along for the festivities.

It was one of those little dogs. You know, the kind that thinks it's so tough when it chases squirrels. The kind with high-pitched, yippy barks that make you want to rip your ears right off your head and plunge hot pokers into the holes that remain. Such an adorable little creature. Well, my cousin Diane thought so, and so did her kids.

After having a nice picnic lunch on the lawn of the nursing home, Diane and her kids decided that, instead of talking to family members who had traveled far to be together, they would take Little Yippy across the street to the playground. Some of the other children went along also, to play on the jungle gym and to swing or slide. The rest of us did what we were there to do – shouting at Grandma Lucy so she could actually hear our explanations of how we were related, and catching up with other family members while grazing on left over brownies, cookies, and other various sweet snacks brought to the pot luck.

All of the sudden there was a blood curdling scream, followed by “Oh my God! Oh my God!,” and much wailing. Those of us on the nursing home lawn experienced adrenaline shock as we sprang up from our picnic benches to see which of the children had been impaled. There was a car on the road and the old lady driver and her equally old passenger were getting out, seeing the damage they had caused. It was the dog. They hit the dog. The little, yippy dog. We were all relieved that the kids were all right. But Diane was completely devastated, as were her children.

My brother walked over to the scene of the accident, and saw that the dog was still breathing, but not too regularly. He knew it would be dead soon, and stepped back while Diane and her screaming children got their grief out. Little Yippy listened to them bargaining with God to let her live, and then took her last breath. Diane and her children, as well as the other dumbstruck kids that were playing in the park, walked back to the nursing home lawn. Diane could not be consoled.

Meanwhile, my brother thought the dog should probably be dealt with and volunteered to take it to the town veterinarian’s office. He got a garbage bag from his car, and wedged the edge of the bag underneath Little Yippy in an attempt to not touch her (out of respect, I’m sure!). Little Yippy was flipped down to the bottom of the bag. Satisfied that the dog was safely contained, my brother gave the bag a spin, tied it up, threw it into the trunk of his car, and went on his way to the veterinarian’s office.

Whether Diane's incessant screaming was due to the fact that her Little Yippy was so stupid to wildly run into traffic, or that she had no control whatsoever over her precious little pet, we won’t ever know. What we do know is she threw a major wet blanket on what would otherwise be a pleasant family gathering on the nursing home lawn. Yes, the mood was certainly ruined, not by the death of a dog, but by the hysterics displayed by Diane.

Boyfriend and I were sitting at one of the picnic tables rolling our eyes over the theatrics Diane was displaying while my grandpa was shuffling with his walker behind us. Then Grandpa paused and turned to walk the other way. We heard him mumble, “I better not get too close to the road.”

November 07, 2006

Higher Education, Part II

Boyfriend and I went to our 2nd and final session of Writing a Novel Later In Life. The lady on disability and the ghost writer wannabe failed to show up, so there were only four of us in class. Angry sheet metal worker/musician/song writer/political/religious guy and radical, too-controversial-to-be-published-in-the-U.S. guy seem to be as serious about writing a novel as Boyfriend and I.

Yeah, we're serious. We're so serious we're attending a continuing education class rather than earning a degree in the arts or journalism. But again, I have to say that the little old man who taught the class was cute as a button and so proud of his novel. I also have to say again I felt inspired listening to him tell his story.

It was also especially adorable when he told of his conundrum, when writing the novel, of getting his main characters to fall in love at first sight - in the setting of a concentration camp. In his whisper of a voice he told us his secret. "I had to make it a sexual attraction." There's just something really strange about hearing an oldster talking about sexual attractions. It made me a little uncomfortable, but Dr. Author seemed rather proud that he pulled it off. He read an exerpt from his book about the "stirrings" experienced by his female character, a woman dying from starvation and brutality in a concentration camp, when she first laid eyes on the handsome U.S. officer. I've never been close to death, but it seems to me that "stirrings" would be pretty unlikely under those circumstances, and if they did occur, they would be quite an annoyance. But according to Dr. Author, sexual attraction can and did happen in a character in the throes of Nazi Germany, dying, and feeling pretty darn bad.

We had the opportunity to buy his book as he brought a few copies with him to class. I felt kind of bad not buying one, as the poor guy is self-published and this class was probably some kind of promotional gig for him to sell books.

I think Dr. Author liked me the most of all his students. All four of us. I think he knew I romanticize the idea of being a writer, and he was proud to be living proof to me that one can indeed become a writer, even when one is entering the twilight of his life. I felt an encouragement from him that was unspoken. I know if I ever do write a novel, or have any story form published, I'll try to locate him and tell him that I did it. He'll probably never remember me, but it will make him feel good to know that he and his story mattered to me, and helped me on my way to success. I can only hope that I'll be able to write about "stirrings" when I'm his age.

November 06, 2006

You Too

I like U2 as a band okay, but this Bono character is something else. I remembering seeing U2 in concert way back in the '80s at an intimate venue, and even then I thought Bono was way too full of himself. Now he thinks he's got all this influence over the American public because he's a big, old rock star. People pay big money to hear him sing, not to get on his political soap box. This little tidbit was sent to me, and filled me with hope.

At a U2 concert in Glasgow , Bono asked the audience for some quiet. Then, in the silence, he started to slowly clap his hands, once every 3 seconds.

Holding the audience spellbound, he said softly into the microphone "Every time I clap my hands, a child in Africa dies."

A voice near the front pierced the silence;

"Well, stop fuckin' doin' it then."

November 05, 2006

Mr. Grinch

Did I ever tell you about the time I tried out for the high school choir?

Everyone knows about high school choirs and bands. It was (and still is) my feeling that the kids in band and choir were much cooler than the athletes, which just goes to show you what a nerd I was (and still am).

My story begins back in middle school where we were required to be in either band or choir. I chose choir because I was already taking private piano lessons and figured that was enough practicing to deal with. Everyone knows that instruments require practicing at home, and a half hour a day on the piano was enough for me. Choir didn’t require at-home practicing. It was enough that those songs stayed in your head day in and day out.

So I’m in Mr. Carson’s choir throughout 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. Mr. Carson was a complete idiot and couldn’t carry a tune in a bushel basket. I remember once being in choir class going over the songs we were going to present at the Christmas concert. He made us all look like idiots because he couldn’t read the words to Oh Holy Night:

Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world, in sin and error pining…

But Mr. Carson, obvious pagan that he was, told the entire choir that the word was “pinning.” “In sin and error pinning.” Of course we had to do it his way to get the good grade. I felt like such an idiot at that concert, up there on stage in front of all the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and various local townspeople, saying not only the wrong word but a word that doesn’t even rhyme. I made sure to tell my parents that I indeed knew the correct words of the song.

So, after three years of dopey Mr. Carson and one year sans choir, I decided in my junior year of high school I wanted to join the high school choir. Not only would it be an easy credit in the liberal arts, I would be able to spend quality time with my secret crushes. Both of them were a year older than I, and I would have done anything to be able to go on the annual choir trip with them.

The thing is, you had to try out for the choir. Choir class wasn’t about learning how to sing like it was in middle school, it was all about making the director look good at the concerts. The director could never actually look good, as he was the obvious inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ Grinch. He had a long, hangy face like The Grinch and he was evil like The Grinch. On top of all that, he smelled like a wet ashtray. In order to be in the choir, to go on the trips, to be close and personal with my secret crushes in order to flirt with and otherwise impress them, I had to pass the muster with The Grinch.

My friend Nadie and I decided to sign up for tryouts together. We walked into the choir room one Tuesday afternoon, and there at the piano sat The Grinch. He directed us to stand on opposite sides of the piano facing him, and asked if we knew the first two lines of Swanee River. Of course! Who doesn’t know the words to Swanee River? I could almost feel one of my secret crushes holding my hand in the bus on the choir trip. Swanee River. Sure, I knew the words. What I didn’t realize was that The Grinch chose that particular song for tryouts for its intervals of thirds, and most importantly, the dreaded octive skip between Swa and Nee.

The Grinch played the intro, and Nadie and I started to sing together. We got the words right, but he made us do it again. “Way down upon the Swa – Nee River, far far away.” Again. “Way down upon the Swa – Nee River, far far away.” One more time. “Way down upon the Swa – Nee River, far far away.” Something wasn’t right. The Grinch’s face turned Grinchier, and he asked us to do it separately. Nadie was first. The Grinch responded to her performance with, “fine.” Then it was my turn. “Way down upon the Swa – Nee…” I knew right then I was dead. I missed that octive by a half step. I was flat. My “far far away,” quivered in my throat as I saw, in my mind’s eye, the choir trip bus pull out of the parking lot without me. The Grinch heard me flat. Nadie heard me flat. I heard me flat. But The Grinch made me do it one more time. And once again, I was flat.

Because my mother thought it important for me to have extra curricular activities, and because I was just too damn flat to become part of The Grinch’s precious choir, I pretty much had to become a dumb tennis jock. I became very good friends with both of my secret crushes despite not being in choir. But to this day I’ve never been comfortable with singing out loud where anyone can hear me. I’m the flat one.

The Grinch died this past summer. As a tribute to him and all he meant to me and the development of my self-esteem, I recently went to his grave and smiled. Out loud, in front of God and all the dead people, I belted out Swanee River. And I hit that octive clean, and clear as a bell.

November 03, 2006

Who Remembers You?

Sick people, dead people, and funerals seem to be the theme lately. I can’t help but have the melodic quote running through my head frequently throughout the day: “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Yikes.

Death brings out the best and worst in people, but most interestingly of all, it brings people out of the woodwork. My parents received a note of condolence a couple of weeks after my brother died, handmade from a recycled religious greeting card. It informed them that a Mass would be offered up in memory of my brother. The sender also wrote a short paragraph describing a memory she had of my brother. Before closing the note she wrote, “Meredith, where are you?” It was from my best friend in grade school.

I was touched that she sent my parents a card, and even more touched that she was interested in my whereabouts. I’ve thought of her many times throughout the years, wondering what became of her. When my parents gave me the condolence card I felt compelled to write her a letter.

I was surprised to discover (from the return address label) that she had married; I figured her to be the type to become a cloistered nun. We attended Catholic grade school together, but went our separate ways when we entered public school in seventh grade. I don’t remember spending time with her throughout middle school and high school, nor do I remember even seeing her around. For all I know, she could have gone to a completely different high school than I did.

We were doomed to be nerds from the start. However, as we grew we chose different paths. I’m sure Jean would be horrified to learn of the life I lived as a young adult, smoking, drinking, and dirty dancing at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. I engaged in premarital sex on more than one occasion. And yes, I even used swear words. While my lifestyle has toned down a bit, I can safely say that it is probably still a bit more brazen than Jean’s has ever been.

She responded to the letter I sent her, hand-written on notepaper of a religious nature. She told me of her mother recently becoming ill. She also told me of her marriage and how they adopted a nine-year-old child, whom she home-schooled. Her child is seventeen now, and “is seeing a young man.” The daughter can spend time with her “young man” in the presence of family members. Such different lives we have, yet I feel a desire to continue contact with Jean. I’m a little afraid she would disapprove of what I’ve been and what I’ve become, despite the drearily average lifestyle of my middle age. (Except I still swear on a daily basis.)

Why am I drawn to communication with a person with whom I have very little in common? Why do I feel that pursuing a renewed relationship with Jean will provide me with some kind of comfort?

I’ll write another letter, just for fun. I don’t need to ask the psychological and metaphysical questions right now. Such a funny little person Jean was back in grade school. She was peculiar to me back then too. But she was my friend. And without old childhood friends, our memories would be so lonely.

November 01, 2006

Happy Halloween

Halloween was a marvelous evening had by all in our neighborhood. There was actually a windchill factor going on, but we saw many bundled up ghosts, goblins, and ghouls, a few lame hockey players (kids in their athletic uniforms), and tons of characters we couldn't even identify. They were having a blast begging for candy, and the parents were having a blast out in the street watching over their little beggars while schweeling to keep warm.

I heard tales of the Doggy Halloween Ball, which I was unfortunately unable to attend because A) I'm not a dog, and B) I don't own a dog. However, I was able to procure photos of some of the attendees.

I hope your Halloween was fun.

October 31, 2006

Higher Education, Part I

Boyfriend and I are taking a community education class titled Writing a Novel Later in Life. It isn’t time consuming in that the entire course consists of two sessions of one hour each. It’s not a drain on our finances either - $15 each. “Why not?” we asked each other. “It will give us an excuse to get out of the house.”

We’ve both had aspirations of writing a novel, but I would say we are hardly “later in life” as the course title suggests. Come to find out, Boyfriend actually has a story to tell. I just want to quit my job with hopes of becoming the next Stephen King or Danielle Steele.

I had no expectations regarding the course content. What could the instructor possibly have to say in a total of two hours that would inspire me to become a novelist overnight? With half of the two-session course is over, and I can safely say, “not much.”

I don’t mean to speak negatively about the kindly retired psychologist who successfully wrote and published a 450-page novel in his 60s. Kudos, Dr. Author! Really, I think his efforts and relative success are impressive. But there are some factors in this continuing education experience that seem almost comical.

For instance, Dr. Author can barely speak above a whisper, which is usual for a man as hard of hearing as he is. A good thing for him: there are only six of us in class. The small class size is somewhat of a relief to me in that we won’t have to break into small groups to discuss anything. I’ve always hated that teaching technique and attributed it to laziness on the teacher’s part.

The class members are quite varied too. We range in age from 30 to 75. One woman made sure we all knew she is on disability, and she talked to the instructor as if he was a retarded child. There is a man who just found a Canadian publisher for his novel; apparently his work is just so controversial no publisher in the United States would dare touch it. Another guy is a sheet metal worker/musician/song writer who wants to write a novel based on his extreme political and religious opinions. Another woman has aspirations of becoming a ghost writer. What that entails I’m not really sure, but I believe people ought write and take credit for their own work, bad or good. Then there’s me and Boyfriend, who just want a jump start into a realm of art about which we’ve both fantasized.

We spent the hour listening to the instructor tell his story. The course could have been titled How I Did It. He seems very proud of his book, as he brought a copy of it with him and held it up several times for us to see. I can’t say this is a class as much as it is a man telling a story about how he wrote a novel later in life. I am fairly certain I will know no more about the technicalities of writing a novel after listening to his story than I did before I signed up.

Listening to this soft-spoken man did stir something in me, though. He has a passion for his story and had the balls to put it on paper and publish it himself. I admire him for doing that. And seeing the pride in his eyes when he talks about his accomplishment made me feel privileged – like how I would feel if my grandpa was telling me a secret. I’m happy to be one with whom he is sharing his story.

At the starting block of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I am indeed inspired just a tad further by the instructor who spoke to us last night. Next week we meet again. What he’ll talk about then is completely beyond me. In fact, he asked his class of six that topics we would like him to cover in the next session. Maybe we should just break into small groups.

October 30, 2006


I smell like Parmesan cheese. This can't be good.

October 26, 2006

Max, I'm Ready For My Close-Up

It looks like Alex Kuczynski, New York Times writer, is trying to start a new trend. Aging authentically. She saw the light when a Restylane treatment to her lip had gone bad. The most unfortunate part of the story is the fact that she was conflicted over whether to go to the "skin-rejuvenating session" with her plastic surgeon or to the funeral of a close friend. See the story here.

People, women in particular, have been capitvated by beauty for centuries. Mascara was once composed of metal and ore in ancient Egypt. Lipsticks were made from crushed beetles. Ground semi-precious stones were used as eye shadow. While technology has progressed, the notion that a painted face is beautiful remains the same.

Make-up is just the beginning when it comes to beauty. We dye our hair, bleach our teeth, wax our brows, paint our nails, sandblast our skin, and extract and inject fat into our bodies. In addition, what began as an attempt to look beautiful has mutated into the attitude that looking beautiful is looking young. Apparently wrinkles and grey hair are not beautiful, because they make us look old. Here's a newsflash: you are old.

I'm not what I would call a beautiful person, but I'm certainly not a dog by any means. I weigh within the healthy guidelines for my height, even though my thighs are starting to have the appearance of cottage cheese. My hair is thick and full of curls, but has been steadily turning grey since I was sixteen years old. I have crow's feet by my eyes and surprise lines on my forehead. When I tell people my age, they believe me.

As sad as it is to see 85-year-old women at the beauty shop getting their very thin hair dyed jet black, I think it's even sadder that women more than half their age are falling into the expensive obsession of cosmetic surgery.

The thing of it is, all the trouble and expense people go through to maintain, recapture, or create youth and beauty will probably bite them in the ass someday, just like it did Alex Kuczynski. If I can just emphasize - all this fuss doesn't stop you from aging. Pinned back facial skin and botoxed lips just look freakish. Reminds me of Nora Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard and the hell she went through trying to turn back the hands of time.

Old can be beautiful too. Or it can look like this if you have enough money and priorities that are completely out of whack:

October 25, 2006

The Writer Within Wants Out

OK, so now that I’ve officially decided to unofficially partake in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) beginning November 1st, I find there is a new thing called NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), also commencing November 1st. I really like the sound of NaBloPoMo. Say it fast three times. It’s also another good challenge. But is it really possible to write a 50,000-word novel in the thirty days of November and commit to posting on a blog every day for the same thirty days? Yikes. Am I allowed to do some cross-over?

I can hear the cheers from my readers, relieved that they may finally turn to me every single day in November and see a new post. A brand new post. Every day. I still don’t think it’s possible.

All of this writing could be a very good distraction from the demands of every day life. Can I ignore the fact that Boyfriend is struggling with his cancer-riddled mother just so I can get out 1000 more words? Can I leave that grape on the kitchen floor, even though I stepped on it two days ago, to concentrate on my new blog post? And really, how important is paying the bills when you’ve got the stress of character development nagging at you? The answers to these questions in November: Yes; Yes; Not.

Including today, I have seven days to prepare. Seven days to spin around in circles. Seven days to worry about what to write more than how to write it, which in turn will prevent any ideas from coming into my head at all. Seven days to wonder if this will make me a better writer or merely a better typist.

Interesting or not, there will be a novel in the works and every attempt made to post in my blog each day during November. I’m so proud of this undertaking, even though just thinking about it makes me want to take a nap.

October 16, 2006

Way To Warp Your Kid

This is just wrong on so many levels. Details can be found on this website. The concept is simple. Your baby is comforted by human touch. You have better things to do than to comfort your baby with your own touch, so you fork out $34.95 and buy a stuffed hand designed to mimic human contact.

First of all, it reminds me of those monkey tests conducted about thirty years ago. Orphaned monkeys were put in a cage with a fur-covered milk bottle (or some such thing) and one that wasn't fur-covered. When the baby monkey was in distress, it would go to the fur-covered bottle for warmth and comfort. But we aren't talking monkeys here. These are human infants fooled into believing their parent is close by, when indeed they are off doing more important things, or better yet, getting the beauty sleep they deserve.

So what, you may ask. If the baby is comforted for the greater part of the time, great. But can you just imagine what it would be like to be sound asleep with your mother cradling your little head and to wake up and find not a loving mother, but a severed hand? Where did the rest of mom go?!

They go one step further and say this severed, stuffed hand can "pick up your scent." So not only is the baby getting tactile messages that you're near, but olfactory ones as well. Baby gets the double whammy and is even more confused. Besides, I would think that if the hand can pick up the parent's scent, it will pick up the baby's scent just as easily. Parent's scent would be overridden by baby's scent eventually, as I assume the baby will spend more time having contact with the hand than the parent would. Therefore, the scent argument is bogus.

Marketers of this item say it's also reassurance for absent parents. "If you must go away for a long period of time, leave a Zaky and a loving note to your partner that says something like: 'I am leaving my hand so our baby feels my touch until I return...'" The problem with this theory is in the statement "baby feels my touch..." which is completely false. Sadly, there are parents out there who get sucked into this kind of marketing in order to relieve any kind of guilt they may feel for being absent.

Then we come to dependency issues. Every child you've ever known has become attached to one thing or another, be it a blanket, a stuffed animal, etc. Imagine little toddler walking around the house clinging to Thing Addams for comfort. A swatch of flannel blanket can be tucked into a kindergartener's pocket on the first day of school. A stuffed animal can be taken for show-and-tell. Imagine the ridicule received by the poor kid who needs to have the fake hand resting on his head during nap time.

Interesting warnings that come with this product too. "• The Zaky is NOT A TOY (I would love for them to define exactly what it is.) • Do not use it on or around the face • DO NOT leave your child unattended while using the Zaky (contradicts the whole sales pitch, no?) • Discontinue its use IMMEDIATELY if any seam is not intact • Do not share the Zaky among babies to prevent contamination • Consult the medical personnel when using it with a sick child."

I say nay to the Zaky. (What the hell kind of name is that anyway?) Speaking as a former baby, I can safely say that a severed hand in my crib would have definitely left permanent emotional scars on my delicate psyche. Providing comfort, as well as emotional scars, is the job of the parents.

October 11, 2006

The Open Road

Oprah Winfrey thought it would be delightfully quirky to head out onto the open highways for an old-fashioned, regular-people, drive-yourself kind of vacation. While reading about these adventures on her website, I couldn't help but feel embarrassed for Oprah as she ineffectively tries to convince America that she is the same as the rest of us.

Off they go - Oprah, her friend Gayle, and their road crew of eighteen - on the highways and byways of America. Here are some interesting things we find out about our little down-home Oprah:

"There are a few aspects of driving Oprah says she doesn't like. She says she has "interstate anxiety," "unpaved road anxiety" and "merging anxiety." Oprah also explains a few of the other things she doesn't really like—night driving, merging and driving over bridges. Gayle is quick to add a few other of Oprah's road dislikes. "She doesn't like to pass trucks. She doesn't like curves. And Oprah doesn't like going across bridges, trucks, highways or bumpy roads," Gayle says."

I ask you, what is the fun of a road trip if you are going to have a panic attack every time you get behind the wheel? Interstate anxiety? Merging anxiety? Doesn't like curves, bridges, trucks, or bumpy roads? What, in the concept of a road trip, doesn't freak this woman out? And if she is that freaked out, why would she do it?

Here are some other little factoids about Oprah that we found out during her travels that make her so incredibly "Paris Hilton:"

"As they got out on the open road, Oprah did something in the desert she hadn't done since 1983. She pumped her own gas…with a little help from the attendant at the station."

The only other person I know who doesn’t pump her own gas is Faux Ma, and that’s only because Faux Pa thinks it’s man’s work. I am fairly certain, however, that Faux Ma has pumped her own gas more recently than 1983. Another reason to disbelieve Oprah’s down-to-earth persona.

"Just outside of Dodge City, Oprah had a breakthrough of sorts as the Impala was stuck for miles behind a slow-moving orange semi. "I see why people give people the finger now. All these years I never understood why people are always so frustrated. Because you're in the wrong damn lane, people!" she said. "Four days ago I was saying, 'What is road rage? Why can't you just move with the flow, people? Now it's like, 'Sheesh, you no-driving so-and-sos.'"

What is road rage?! Does this woman live in a damn vacuum?

"Part of the experience Oprah says she wanted on this trip was to experience the road just like everybody else in America, with no celebrity treatment."

No celebrity treatment, except she has a crew of eighteen following her around! She has her trainer along on this trip to make sure she doesn’t eat the wrong food. I don’t even have (or want) a trainer, much less need to take a road trip with one. The only way Oprah Winfrey could experience life on the road as a normal person would be if she went under cover and did all of the documenting herself. No cameras. No “crew.”

"So instead of driving into the entrance at the Wynn reserved for the rich and famous, Oprah and Gayle drove right up to the valet entrance…and a hastily assembled paparazzi line. And, just like everybody else, there is the occasional snag checking in. After about 20 minutes, they finally sorted it all out and Oprah and Gayle had their room. "I see that this normal way of doing things is very time consuming, isn't it?" Oprah says."

A snag? I doubt it. It was probably a matter of, “I’m sorry Ms. Winfrey, but we don’t have a deluxe suite including Jacuzzi and wet bar in our hotel, only a double queen with cable TV.” OK, except they stayed at the Wynn in Las Vegas, which, I believe, won’t let anyone but a celebrity through their doors. Celebrities and whales. Oprah certainly had that covered.

What I found most distasteful and rude was the fact that Oprah, Gayle, and their little entourage decided it would be fun to crash a couple of weddings. I can’t even tell you how angry I would be to have some self-absorbed attention hound come and try to upstage me at my own wedding - especially one that wasn’t invited. What kind of nerve would it take to do something like that? If she weren’t Oprah Almighty would she even have considered crashing a wedding? If she weren’t Oprah Almighty, would she have been escorted out of the reception?

This whole “adventure” had by Oprah and her pal Gayle was nothing but a lame attempt to convince America that she is a regular person while she proves she is nothing but a spoiled brat rich enough to do anything she pleases. She can talk all she wants about being a poor, abused girl from the ghetto, but I’ll never be convinced that she cares anything about the people who gave her the pedestal on which she stands until she learns to practice some humility.

And Gayle, why the long face? Yikes.

October 04, 2006

What's In A Name?

Whatever has become of the name Mary? Or what about John? When I was in grade school the most exotic name in my class was Doreen. How flamboyant!

Today's parents aren't looking for good, solid names anymore. They are searching for the poetic and symbolic. I think some names are chosen simply to make the point that they, the parents, are indeed grown-ups, which in fact many are not. Below is a list of some names I've encountered. How would you like to be the little kindergartener who has to identify his or her macaroni art with some of these names? How do they learn to spell them?

Tashanti Lon'Ya

And my personal favorite: Lovely Fantasia

September 27, 2006

See That Girl In Hell? That Would Be Me.

The verdict is in. I took the test (link below) and I've been doomed to the 8th Level of Hell. This is what my eternity holds:

The wretched King Minos has decided your fate. His tale wraps around his body 8 times.

The sweet light no longer strikes against your eyes. Your shade has been banished to... the Eigth Level of Hell - the Malebolge!

Eigth Level of Hell - the Malebolge
Many and varied sinners suffer eternally in the multi-leveled Malebolge, an ampitheatre-shapped pit of despair Wholly of stone and of an iron colour: Those guilty of fraudulence and malice; the seducers and pimps, who are whipped by horned demons; the hypocrites, who struggle to walk in lead-lined cloaks; the barraters, who are ducked in boiling pitch by demons known as the Malebranche. The simonists, wedged into stone holes, and whose feet are licked by flames, kick and writhe desperately. The magicians, diviners, fortune tellers, and panderers are all here, as are the thieves. Some wallow in human excrement. Serpents writhe and wrap around men, sometimes fusing into each other. Bodies are torn apart. When you arrive, you will want to put your hands over your ears because of the lamentations of the sinners here, who are afflicted with scabs like leprosy, and lay sick on the ground, furiously scratching their skin off with their nails. Indeed, justice divine doth smite them with its hammer.

Take the test: Dante's Inferno Test

September 25, 2006

In The Wake Of The Reaper

Death. It’s not a subject people want to talk about, and it certainly isn’t one about which I profess to be an expert. But it’s hitting me like a ton of bricks lately.

Six weeks ago my brother died at the age of thirty-nine. It wasn’t a traumatic death, nor was he sick. Okay, I take all that back. His death has been very traumatic, and he was suffering from something unforeseen, even by his doctor. He just tipped over as a result of massive pulmonary embolism – blood clots of the lungs.

I’ve been doing a lot of crying these past few weeks. I only had thirty-nine years to get to know him and happy memories make me miss him to tears. Not only must I endure my own grieving, but I also have to bear the grief of my family. It is almost too much to tolerate, and yet we all manage to see the sunrise day after day. It doesn't seem fair that the sun is rising without my brother being around to see it.

Only within the past week have I found the slightest motivation to redevelop a daily routine for myself. The experts say routine is a good way to heal and to affirm our own lives, so I must be on the right track.

Just when I have assured myself that living my own life is not disrespectful to my brother’s loss of it, Boyfriend tells me his mother has cancer. This is not only the time I must pick up the shattered remains of myself, but I now have to go through another traumatic life experience, watching Boyfriend process the fact that his mother may be dying.

Things have definitely been put into perspective in the last six weeks. Not much gets me riled. I'm tolerant. I'm insightful. I'm empathetic. Will my edge ever resurface from beneath this all-loving persona that has taken over my body? The angry little me couldn’t have disappeared simply due to a couple of life-altering occurrences, could it? I miss seeing the stupidity in people while I behave calmly tolerant. Instead of angst I engage in and embrace serene thoughts of divine purpose and afterlife.

Have life’s recent events made me a better person? Or have I failed in being authentic to my impatient and cynical self as a result of some sentimental glitch in my circuitry?

Damn these mysteries of life.

August 13, 2006

Our State Fair Is The Best State Fair

The countdown continues. Only eleven days until the commencement of the Minnesota State Fair. We received an insert in the Sunday paper containing information on all the fun things to do at the fair, and this lovely woman was on the front of it. Yow. Although Pronto Pups (otherwise known as corn dogs, Poncho Dogs, and hot dog on a stick) are a necessary staple to one's State Fair diet, this picture is just a little strange. The woman has an odd, wild look in her eyes, like she is about to embark on some orgasmic experience while eating the Pronto Pup. Of course the phallic nature of the Pronto Pup doesn't help much. Boyfriend said, "Well, at least her lips aren't wrapped around it, and there's no mayonnaise running down her chin." God! We all know that mayonnaise has nothing to do with Pronto Pups, but ketchup does, which might even be a worse visual than the one Boyfriend suggested.

Getting past the picture of the crazed weiner-eating woman I browsed through the insert and was pleasantly surprised to see this:

I long for the good old days of fairs and carnivals, as I mentioned previously, and this is a small compromise on the part of the carnival that I can accept. Bring on the human oddities! In our politically correct society I’m not supposed to want to look at the “freaks,” so I’ll settle instead for a little fire eating, sword swallowing, contorting, and optical illusions such as Cobra Girl.

FYI, the freaks of the Ringling Brother’s et. al. circus didn’t appreciate the government restricting their participation in the circus. When it became politically incorrect to gawk at people with no limbs, pointed heads, or hairy dog faces the freaks were left to fend for themselves in a world that was conditioned to merely gawk at them. They were unemployable everywhere but the circus. They were treated and compensated very well in their employment with the circus, and basically spat upon those who deemed their livelihood politically incorrect. So you see, we’ve actually done them a disservice in deleting them from the carnival/circus experience.

On a lighter note, I’ve decided to join the carnival as the new gorilla girl, Zambora. Remember her? She was a beautiful and bodacious woman scantily clad in a leopard-skin bikini who would, before your very eyes, turn into a ferocious, 900-pound gorilla. I think I’d be perfect for the job.

August 01, 2006

Bad Boys And Butterflies

Twenty-four more days until the commencement of the 2006 Minnesota State Fair. It’s only the best state fair in the entire nation. Everyone should experience the Minnesota State Fair at least once in their lifetime; everyone in Minnesota should get to the fair at least once a year.

As much as I love the fair, I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed in its lack of stagnancy. Things are changing when they really don’t have to. That makes me feel uncomfortable and, well, old. Ye Old Mill – the tunnel of love as it were – has been in operation for a hundred years in the same building, with the same boats, and most probably the same water circulating as when it was first constructed. That’s how it should be. The State Fair grounds are filled with historical buildings that should by no means ever change in either their construction or their contents. Because when they change, they are different. And everyone knows that when it comes to the State Fair, different is bad.

Here’s what’s bugging me most about the latest in State Fair board wacky decision-making. They have condemned (or rather, had the fire department condemn) the building which houses the Penny Arcade. Not that stupid arcade by the DNR building, the real Penny Arcade. The one that’s been there for, like, eighty years. This Penny Arcade had the best stuff in it, like the mechanical fortune teller in a glass box, penny flip-card movies, coin engraving machines, and those cool photo booths. The State Fair bought the building from the Penny Arcade owners and their license to operate the arcade has not been renewed.

The demise of the Penny Arcade is just another step toward the goal of candy-asses everywhere to transform fairs and carnivals into kinder and gentler venues of entertainment. Try to deny it when you pass by the Penny Arcade building this year. Instead of seeing century-old nudie movie machines and groups of giggling girls cramming themselves into one tiny cubicle of a photo booth, you will see butterflies. Yes, butterflies. Hundreds of live butterflies people actually pay money to commune with. Well, it’s just the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Communing with insects. Who would pay money to do that? However, I can see paying money to the mechanical Madame Mysterio for her predictions of my future.

Where’s the spirit of the carnival? Where there used to be debauchery there is now a brightly-lit information center. Where there used to be the tent of human oddities (or, dare I say, freaks?) there is a European, finely-engineered thrill ride. Where there used to be the dilapidated Matterhorn ride pimped by a grimy, long-haired, tattooed, undernourished, smoking, drinking, little-girl-grabbing carney there is a college boy in a perfectly laundered pique polo shirt taking tickets to another European, finely-engineered thrill ride. Where’s the motordrome? Where are the sword swallower, fire eater, fat man, the midget lady, and Lobster Boy? They have been shunned by the politically correct. They have been driven out by the soccer moms who oppose exposing their children to danger and fright. The government has decided that the carnival, the circus, the fairgrounds, and even the Penny Arcade must be attractive, clean, safe, and non-threatening. We are witnessing the demise of the scary clown. And where’s the dark side of life if the scary clown is dead?

Well, I survived the transition from combines, tractors, and other farm implements to ATVs, lawn mowers, and I-Have-A-Tiny-Penis-So-I-Need-A-Big-Ass-Truck vehicles on Machinery Hill. I adjusted to the renaming of the “Hippodrome” to the “Coliseum” (which this year is now the “Lee and Rose Warner Coliseum,” but that’s a whole ‘nother blog entry!). I endured all the political shenanigans pulled throughout the last forty-plus years I’ve been attending the Minnesota State Fair. Therefore, chances are pretty good that I will survive the replacement of carnival history in the Penny Arcade with butterflies.

With all of my disgust aside, I can hardly wait for the fair. Despite its attempts at cleanliness and modesty, there is still a dirty underbelly throughout, which I love. I can, in my mind, smell the hot grease in the air, and taste those Tom Thumb Donuts and Pronto Pups. I’ll even get a thrill on one of those European, finely-engineered thrill rides. You can bet the rent that I won’t be paying attention to the caterpillars, cocoons, or butterflies. While I grieve the loss of the Penny Arcade, I’ll search the midway for that one remaining carney with quilted black pants and silver rings that adorn his grease-smeared hands as he becons me to ride the one remaining wreck of a ride – the ride that plays classic rock from its speakers rather than rap or hip-hop. There’s nothing like a good ride from a dirty carney to get your mind off butterflies.

Meet me at Fairchild.

July 31, 2006

Saint Mother And The Holy Land

Much to my surprise, Faux Ma has stepped up to the plate and is being active in the selling of the Faux home. They’ve lived there for thirty-four years, and despite talking for the last five years about moving for the sake of the ever-declining mobility of Faux Pa, the wheels of moving elsewhere are actually turning now that their neighborhood is officially diverse.

This segment of their lives is proving to be more than challenging for Boyfriend and me. While it is definitely taking a toll on Faux Ma, to watch her struggle through this process is annoying and frustrating.

First came Faux Ma’s realization that the office carpet looked shabby. She decided she needed to replace it before the house went up for sale and asked the realtor what color she should make it. Of course the answer was beige. I can completely understand that. I can’t completely understand why the carpet had to be replaced in the first place, but I suppose that wasn’t for me to decide. She assured us more than once that the realtor was the one who chose the beige color. We all know that she would have chosen beige herself, but she seemed to feel ashamed of that fact and repeatedly blamed the boring carpet color on the realtor.

The carpet store rep said the room had to be cleared of any furniture, of course. There is a hide-a-bed in that room, and The Fauxs decided to pay the carpet installers $30 to move that piece of furniture to avoid herniating themselves. When the carpet installers picked up the couch, they forgot it was a hide-a-bed and the mattress frame flung itself into the wall, making a very nice hole. The carpet installers went on to install the carpet with the hide-a-bed remaining in the room, moving it as needed to get the carpet installed. The carpet store sent someone out to repair the wall at their expense and the room looks lovely. However, Faux Ma is demanding that her $30 furniture moving fee be refunded, because she believes they didn’t really move the couch. Well, yes they did. They moved it right through her wall. They moved it several times to get the carpet down. The couch had been moved. Faux Ma insists that none of that counts, and she would pay only if the couch had been moved out of the room. Boyfriend and I tried to explain that she is paying the fee for not having the room cleared of furniture. She said she isn’t finished with them yet, and won’t be until she gets her $30 back.

Faux Ma then told us how she’s been busy painting the foundation of the house – how she has to dig away the dirt to paint beneath ground level. I asked her if the realtor suggested she do that, and she said no, she just thought it should be done. What isn’t being done is the downsizing necessary for them to move into a smaller dwelling. There are bundles and bundles of old magazines that have never been thrown out or recycled. There are boxes and boxes of old Christmas cards – not vintage Christmas cards, just old ones kept for the purpose of knowing who sent one that year and who didn’t. There are grocery bags upon grocery bags filled with newspapers. And that's just the trash.

There are cupboards and closets and trunks filled with “special” things like the plastic canvas Kleenex box cover that “Mother made.” Faux Ma had a tumultuous relationship with her mother. However, when Mother died Faux Ma took it upon herself to canonize her. Things that belonged to or were made by Mother (and Mother could make everything from lye soap to origami toads) are not to be thrown away or given away to strangers. Such an act is unspeakable.

There are also things like old wagon wheels that came from the farm, another sanctity that must not be blasphemed. The farm – the hell hole Faux Ma couldn’t wait from which to flee and which rendered Faux Pa emasculated by his father. The farm, originally Faux Pa’s father’s, and later occupied by the Fauxs, was cause of nothing but strife, anxiety, and frustration. Of course, once they moved from the farm to a city in an entirely different state, the farm, like Saint Mother, was canonized and determined to be a place of holiness. Anything that came from the farm goes into the same pile as anything that came from Saint Mother. All of these items act as tokens of both survival and of defeat.

For now Boyfriend and I are keeping our distance from this portion of the Faux’s journey. The tension level is high. Faux Pa is retreating into a stupor of silence, while Faux Ma is fine-tuning her skills as a passive-aggressive. This form of behavior takes the edge off the feelings of inferiority she has in situations where she is completely uninformed and unreceptive to advice. Because Faux Pa is practically catatonic in the chaos of selling their home, Boyfriend will be the target of Faux Ma’s passive-aggressive behavior.

I think we’re ready for the possibility of being shunned by the Fauxs for our sassy suggestions and our impatience with their inability to throw anything away. I’m already on the shit list because I rejected the thirty-year-old electric bun warmer offered to me by Faux Ma. After all, “it belonged to Mother.”

July 27, 2006

Haunting The Earwax With A Giant Penis By Order Of The Devil

Things I learned today:

1. There is a restaurant in Chicago called The Earwax Café.

Earwax Café? Why not the Eye Matter Deli? Or the Boogar Bar? Earwax Café sounds disgusting, but from the looks of the website, it is a rather groovy place, providing dinner and a movie.

2. There is such a thing called Cotard’s syndrome. The sufferer believes s/he is dead, and often tests his/her mortality by trying to commit suicide.

If I thought I was dead, instead of testing my mortality I’d do more ghostly things, like moving things around on my coworkers’ desks, shrieking in that ghastly, angsty way that ghosts are known to do, or tripping people. In a nutshell, if I thought I was dead, I would essentially believe myself to be invisible, and the fun I could have with that is immeasurable.

3. According to the religion of Scientology: “Human beings are comprised of three parts: mind, body and thetan (pronounced thay’-ten).” (Quote found on

Thetan? Isn’t that a sissy name for the devil?

4. Mushrooms don’t always look like the ones you find in the grocery store.

We have, growing in our garden, very large phallic-looking mushrooms. At first glance I thought it rather cool to have unintentionally produced fungi looking so life-like, but then wondered if we are zoned to display such obscenities in the openness of our back yard.

This ends today's list of fun facts to know and tell.

July 25, 2006

Mental As All Get Up

Lyrics of the day: “I’d like to take your inner child and kick its little ass.” Thanks to The Eagles, I have some reassurance that I’m not the only one who thinks people should take responsibility for themselves, even if that means a little shock therapy to hurl emotions back to a time prior to trauma. Take charge, people! Life is a lot tougher when other people are calling the shots. Guess what? You get to call all the shots in your adult life! Get over it!

With that said I am transported to a time when a friend of mine decided she should see a psychiatrist regarding, well, I’m not actually sure what inspired her to see a psychiatrist. She was incredibly shallow and I can’t imagine that she would have any insights or take part in any emotional self-examination which would motivate a visit to a shrink. But she must have experience some type of emotional discomfort and consulted a professional. She called me the evening of her second visit.

“I went to see the shrink today.”
“How did it go?”
“Fine. I took a long test last week and today we talked about my scores.”
“Yeah? What were they like?”
“The doctor said I’m a borderline schizophrenic.”
“Wow, borderline schizophrenic huh? Did he prescribe any drugs?”
“When are you going to see him next?”
“I don’t think I will. He wants me to go back, but now that I know I have something I can blame everything on that.”
“But if you know there’s something wrong with you, don’t you want to fix it?”
“I’ve been okay until now; I can live with it.”

Later we discovered her mother was schizophrenic and her father committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. My friend was the one who found him.

I haven’t seen this friend in about fifteen years. We had a parting of the ways when she got married. She ended up having two children – very ugly children from what I’ve heard. She gained about seventy-five pounds and got divorced. When I think of her now, I wonder if she will become the purple, bloated, dead person in the closed garage with the car engine running simply because she never took control of her life by treating her mental illness. And even though her children are ugly, I hope they have enough sense to get the help they will most definitely need considering the gene pool from whence they sprang. Because we all know, there’s nothing worse than being ugly and crazy.

July 22, 2006

There Goes The Neighborhood

Where can I begin to tell the tale of the Faux’s housing situation? It is a tale worth telling, simply because it is a situation which brings out the characters of Faux Ma and Faux Pa to the fullest. As you know, we aren’t normally privy to their personals, such as their feelings, their general health and health history, or their opinions regarding matters of greater depth than gas prices and gardening techniques. But in the circumstance of the ever-changing neighborhood, they find it hard to contain their true selves while expressing current happenings.

I think it’s best to start with an incident last winter when Boyfriend and I were visiting his parents at their house. They were telling us about how their neighborhood, as they have known it for decades, is changing. Lots of the people they have known for years and years are now dying, being committed to insane asylums, or moving into housing more convenient for oldsters. It’s not so bad that these people are leaving the neighborhood (although they’ll be missed), but other people are actually moving into the houses once occupied by “regular people.”

First came the Tibetans. I’m not sure how Faux Ma and Faux Pa knew they were Tibetans, but that’s what they are known as in the House of Faux. Then came Carrie, a woman who insulted Faux Ma by telling her the interior of their house should be more colorful. Apparently Carrie had been adulterating one of the old neighbors’ homes by painting the interior vibrant colors. (Faux Ma believes that the interior walls of a home that are anything but white or eggshell will never sell. She mentioned that fact knowing I decorate my home in a style similar to Carrie, with interior walls ranging from gold to brick red.) Then there arrived more new neighbors, the Ecuadorians, who ended up right next door to the Fauxs.

To review: we have The Tibetans, The Ecuadorians, and Carrie. Once this information had been relayed to Boyfriend and me, Faux Ma looked me right in the eye and asked, “Are things diverse in your neighborhood?” I was stunned. Like, stunned. I didn’t know how to answer her question. I stumbled with the only response I could muster, “Diverse?” Faux Ma specified her question by saying, “I don’t mean your Germans and Swedes.” As my eyes grew wider I looked to Boyfriend, and with a facetious grin he said, “she means your coloreds.” He and I broke into laughter while the mocking humor of Boyfriend’s statement was completely lost on the Faux parents. They saw nothing funny about their concern over the ethnic heritage of their new neighbors.

About a month ago Boyfriend placed his biweekly call to his parents and they informed him that yet another of the neighborhood homes had been sold. Faux Ma saw the new neighbors and informed Boyfriend that they are “blacker than black.” They aren’t Africans, which you might expect to her to say in the spirit of her previous labeling of Tibetans and Ecuadorians. They aren’t African-Americans. They aren’t even Black. They are “blacker than black.” Yikes. I guess they’re black. Like, really, really black.

So now, in the presence of Tibetans, Ecuadorians, Carrie-Caucasian-But-Insulting, and Blacker-Than-Blacks, Faux Ma made the announcement that it is really time to get serious about finding a new place to live. They’ve been half-heartedly looking at townhomes for years in view of Faux Pa’s declining ability to ambulate, but now it’s become more than a matter of convenience. It’s a matter of fear and disdain.

Up until now I’ve overlooked the bigoted attitudes that sneak out of Faux Ma and Faux Pa once in a while. Their opinions of anyone who is different from them (racially, occupationally, religiously, politically, fashionably, etc.) are so outrageous they’re laughable.

But I’ve stopped laughing. There is something much more serious with which to contend, now that a realtor has been named and the search for oldster housing has begun in earnest. Boyfriend informed me that they are looking for townhomes in neighboring areas to us. While we have always lived in the same metropolitan area, it was nice to know they were at least a half-hour’s drive away. Now it is possible they could be ten minutes away, or less. They actually looked at a place not more than one mile from our house.

Best case scenario, they’ll settle upon something outside my fifteen-mile radius comfort zone. Worst case scenario, I’ll be talking to my neighbors, discussing the diminishing property values since those dang North Dakotan immigrants moved in.

July 16, 2006

Captain Jack Vs. Zorro

It's hot out - AND YOU NEED A POOL!! (Inside joke for those of you in the Twin Cities area who are familiar with the Watson's TV commercials.) Yes, very hot, and we don't have a pool. What better time to head off to the local movie theater and take in a good film? After all, most theaters keep their temperatures around 62 with a pleasant draft of the brisk air blowing on you at all times.

Boyfriend and I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man's Chest. We also rented some movies to view in the comfort of our 78 degree home (much more comfortable than the aforementioned breezy theater), one of which was The Legend of Zorro.

After seeing both movies, I was compelled to decide which of the characters, Zorro or Captain Jack Sparrow, would be my love interest du jour. Sorry, Boyfriend, you know you're the love of my life, but a girl needs a movie boyfriend too. Besides, I know you have deep desires for Catherine Zeta-Jones and that you've been thinking of her nonstop since we watched Zorro. Who knows, you might have been lusting after that Elizabeth character in Pirates too. So there. Now I feel justified to continue with my assessments of Captain Jack Sparrow and Zorro.

Both embody the element of adventure, which very desireable. Who could be bored around either one of them? Both also have a sense of fashion I like, although I think Jack beats out Zorro on this one. While I love the cape and mask of Zorro, he was actually wearing pointy cowboy boots (something I will never tolerate on a man), and that overgrown Moe hairdo looks greasy and annoying. (Yes, Moe, as in the stooge.) I've never been a fan of dreadlocks, but Captain Jack keeps his dread-like hair contained in the very fabulous head scarf thing at all times. Jack also wears those sexy over-the-knee boots which would never be referred to as "shit kickers" as the pointy cowboy boots often are. Jack also has the jewelry on his side, wearing rings on every finger. He's flashy and flamboyant, where Zorro is dark and mysterious.

Then there is the sex-appeal category. Zorro looks like he's going to eat off the face of his kissing partner, where Jack displays an urgent, yet non-aggressive kissing style. Neither is wussy or "tender" about kissing. Both mean business, which I like, but at the end of a serious make-out session, I prefer to have retained my face.

What I really feel the need to assess, however, is the overall character of each man. Zorro is the savior of the world. He fights for justice. He is good, his opponents are evil. He is flawless in his ability to overcome obstacles. Jack, on the other hand, is the savior of himself. He fights only when there is no other way out of a situation. He basically covers his own ass, and his opponents are those, good or evil, who get in the way of his getting what he wants. He bumbles through fights, but nevertheless always finds his way clear of danger in the end. Bottom line, Zorro is for the greater good, Captain Jack is for himself.

The results: Zorro gets one point for the cape and mask. Jack gets two points for the bangles and boots, and another point for the eye liner. Zorro gets one point for kissing, only because he can probably be trained to not eat off his partner's face. Jack gets two points for kissing. Zorro gets one point for being altruistic and for the greater good. Jack gets twenty points for running a bad-ass ship and stopping at nothing to get what he wants.

Zorro - 3. Captain Jack - 25.

So, while Zorro is out saving the world from evil and destruction, Jack and I will be sailing on his dilapidated ship, drinking rum, making out, looking for treasures, and saving our own respective asses from dead guys with squid faces. Sounds dreamy. Really, I'm serious. Yo ho.

July 12, 2006

Can You Teach It To Decoupage?

My God, I just realized that I live in the wrong city. Chicago is where I ought to be. Where else would any woman want to be, if it can offer you a Crafty Beaver?

Mine is anything but crafty. It’s warm and cuddly, according to Boyfriend, but far from crafty. It never learned how to make a Popsicle stick house or a pinch pot. It can’t knit, crochet, or sew. It can’t braid or macramé. It can’t weave a basket or string beads into a necklace. The fact that I never even knew a beaver could be crafty leaves me feeling quite inadequate and ashamed.

I need to plan a trip to one of the Crafty Beaver stores in the Chicago area. Perhaps they can provide me with the tools I need to train my craft-challenged beaver. Maybe they have workshops! I would be so proud if I could fold an origami swan without using my hands. Wish me luck!