Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Surveying the Wreckage

Can you spare a few seconds to minimize my problems?
--Bruce Eric Kaplan

I heard from two of my favorite long-distance friends this week, Walter in Austin, and Elle in NYC, both of whom asked me what I'd been up to this summer -- and the only real answer I could give was Computer Crashes. It's extremely boring to write about, and to hear about, but starting in April, there's been nothing but one tech system collapse after another.

Since April, my entire life has been largely given over to an endless series of hardware, software, and web disasters -- some of it routine aging, and some of it old-school viruses. It's consumed more or less every minute of every day -- when I haven't been actively engaged in trying to find someone to fix it (an experience I liken to climbing a stairway that's falling out from under you as you grasp for the next step  -- I think that's an actual scene in The Money Pit) -- I've just been barely keeping the lid on a chronic low-grade fury. On the rare occasions I haven't been actively engaged in obsessive and failed problem-solving, I've still had this nagging pain at the back of my mind -- the feeling you get when you're sure you left a burner on, or lost your keys. I feel like that every minute of every day, and I have since April.

Somewhere in between all that, I moved, and I went to my day job everyday, and I got my parents to all their doctors' appointments, took in some stray dogs and kept them fed, had a couple mini-relationships, ate wonderful meals with my friends, and the usual routine daily stuff.

I read about a dozen books -- mostly in denial about the one I had planned to spend the summer writing  -- there's a line in one of them (I think it's All Over the Map), where the author reminds herself that she shouldn't be confusing consuming art (movies, books, etc) with making art.

I didn't need a reminder. Writing is the one creative thing I do, and the impulse to do it just dried up without a reliable means to preserve it. And nothing feels reliable. What I hate most in the world is A. being beholden to someone, and B. being forced to count on somebody else to fix something I can't. The physical realities of moving (no, I can't, in fact carry a sofa) was already enough to send my rainman into a spin, and the tech collapse just happened to coincide with it.

Every time I sit down at a keyboard, I become more or less reliant on the kindness of strangers. I know nothing about computers outside of the on/off button. When they die, they're dead until I can find someone to revive them. The same is true of websites. I can't code. I'm not a designer. I can barely take a picture and load it. I miss the days of IT departments and IT-guys at the other end of the line, 24/7. I am always at someone else's mercy. I am a dinosaur. The kids just a few years behind me grew up living online -- they can code and design and lay out in their sleep -- I grew up writing actual letters. On paper. Like an animal.

Today, I finally managed to cobble together what few resurrected files there are from the last ten years, and inventory them, to see where I stand. These are just the file names. Sometimes they correspond to that week's headline, sometimes they're just what I wrote to be able to find them later.

Here's what's left:
2002 May 2 In Style
2002 May 23 Adult Swim
2002 June6 Hot Property
2002 June 20 Waterloo
2002 July 18 My New Boyfriend
2002 Aug1.GoToTheMattresses
2002 Aug8. Pret a Porter
2002 Aug22 Guerilla Gardening
2002 Sep 12 Everything Must Go 
2002 Oct 17 An Awkward Age
2002 Holidays. The Gift of Porn.

2003 thru 2006 are blanks. Unrecoverable. I did write during those four years, but there's not much evidence of it.

The electronic trail picks back up slightly in 2007.
2007 Aug 8 Blackberry Adam
2007 Nov8 Travis Dies

That's it for 2007.

There's a slightly better record of 2008:
2008 March 20 craigslist
2008 Oct 30 RingToss
2008 Nov 13 Strangers with Candy
2008 Nov WuTang
2008 Dec 11 Sorority BreakIn
2008 Dec 18 Mom's Santas

2009 Feb 12 FosterRob
2009 March 26 The Bubble
2009 Apr 9 Colonoscopy
2009 Aug20 Funnelcake

2010 Feb 11 The Ghost of 94
2010 March 4 Mr. Edwards
2010 March 11 My First Car.

That's it.
That's all there is.
26 columns. In ten years. For 2009 and 2010 at least there's a blog version of a lot of what I've written, but those are not what I'd commit to print -- which comes an endless series of revisions later. The best line I remember from a college English class was Dr. Lucas quoting (I think) Hemingway, "It flows from no one's head in perfect form." Something like that. In the facebook/twitter/blog era, everyone "fancies themselves" a Writer, but hardly anybody fancies themselves an Editor. That's my day job though. I spend far more of my life editing than I do writing, and most of the blogs barely constitute a rough draft.

Somewhere in there is maybe a head start on a book, but there's definitely not a book. The last one was 14 chapters, comprised of 64 columns. In truth, it does NOT stand the test of time. And I had put a lot of work towards this one (originally due out in October 2010) being better -- or at least, better organized and less dated.

Most of that work is gone. Nobody's going to come in and push a few buttons and restore those archives or even the software that would read it, if it could be restored. What little could be saved has been saved. There are a few extra paper copies the Intern unearthed last Spring, but he barely made a dent. They're just ashes now, electronic rubble. Detritus.

Another book I read this summer is Meghan Daum's Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House. The title gives you the general gist (and I'll probably write more about it later). Miraculously, I still have a beat-up copy of her first novel, The Quality of Life Report -- and I say miraculously, not because it isn't good (it is) -- but because I probably read and reviewed a 100 books that year (2003), and of those, I kept maybe a half dozen. I've kept up with her work sporadically ever since, but started paying attention again when the new book came out, which is when I found  her site -- which mostly filled me with the white-hot rage of envy. Her work is neatly categorized -- there are her articles, her books, her blog. It's the site I'm angry I do not have. I don't know who I'm angry at, exactly, and that just makes me madder. Granted, she has the asset of having contributed to the meticulously-archived LA Times, but I worked for Village fucking Voice, so the truth is, I have no real excuse as to why my organizational and web skills never kept up with those of other writers working at roughly my age and volume. I had good mentors and trainers. Now I think, Life Would Be Perfect if I had that Site.

So I have spent a lot of this summer angry and frustrated. (That isn't new, by the way. I can see from those few 2002 columns it happened a lot more often then than now.) It's an endless game of whack-a-mole. One machine gets replaced, and then it's time for new software, which doesn't work with the old printer, which then has to be pitched because now they can't communicate on the new server anyway. Round and round.

Most of the time, this Spring notwithstanding, I'm a happy person -- occasionally undone, like everybody is, by too much work and not enough time to do it -- but generally content. I have a great life, populated by wonderful people, and even in a rare phase of misery like this one, I always know how lucky that makes me, and I always try to reserve a small corner of my shriveled, pissed-off little heart to be grateful for that. I am pretty sure this week's ulcer flare-up has more to do with barely-suppressed hate than it does with anything I ate. My BFF asked today if I'd noticed that my ankles are swelling -- I hadn't, but I imagine all those pools of rage had to go somewhere. I have noticed my face looks exactly like it did the summer I had to take steroids for an injury, only I'm not taking any. (It's so awful you get that sense that even good friends don't know what to say, because what they're thinking is, "I wonder if...she knows she looks like that...Should I maybe say something?" Or would the messenger just get killed.)  I know I haven't felt good, physically, since I moved, and I don't think it was the move that did it -- it was The Crash.

There will be a new book. Hopefully. It won't be this year though, and it'll probably be a lot different than the one I started out to write, and that may be a good or bad thing. By the time I finish it, it might be the sort of thing you buy on a microchip and plug into your left temple for all I know. We've established I'm not exactly at the tech vanguard.

I'll probably spend some time loading those 26 relics that do exist into a format people can see. I'll back them up a little more carefully, since they're all I have to show for the last ten years.

Over time -- with a new computer and some new software equal to the task -- I'll probably become more sanguine. My family home burned to the ground halfway through college, and while it was heartbreaking at the time, I don't really miss the access to all that overwrought adolescent poetry and would-be novels. 

This time out, I'm not rebuilding my house, or my life -- there's no real flood or fire -- I'm just missing the stories, the chronicles, the records. I'm sure they're around here somewhere.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

In Rejection

For 48 hours or so now, my Ulcers have been in full-on revolt -- possibly in response to Sunday night's WhiteTrashPicnic -- but I don't want to believe it's true.

For someone with a somewhat "delicate constitution," I pride myself on having quite the cast-iron stomach. Funnelcakes. Meat-on-a-stick. Even semi-annual White Castles. (See also More Things That Are In My Stomach.)

I don't eat a whole lot of junk food, I rarely eat fast food, so when I do indulge in things-that-are-bad-for-me, I am reminded of what my pal Leo always says, "Sometimes honey, ya just gotta fall back on your immune system." So I do, and it rarely lets me down. 

Right now though, it's betraying me. I have a searing pain in my stomach that only flares up every five to ten years. These episodes usually clear up with heavy doses of drugs, but if they don't, it means I'll have to go back in for another scope, and I'll do anything I can to avoid that. I figured out early on the myths and realities of ulcers -- I can eat all the spicy food I want, for example, but I can't have coffee. Not ever. I prefer red wine to white, but can only tolerate it (or any alcohol, for that matter) in very small doses. I'd like to drink more -- I practically turned pro in college -- I just can't.

I tried all kinds of new things at Sunday's picnic, and I liked almost all of it. But I'm willing to cede the possibility that I might be paying for it now, or as our friend Ann observed (the one whose kidneys I worried about all last summer): "Your poor little locavore body is kicking back the velveeta!" All I know is, her hanky-pankys and onion dip were delicious, and I refuse to believe I can't have more of them at the next picnic.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Back to Bad

I took my stepdad to see Winter's Bone for Father's Day. It was good, but he didn't have a good time, mostly because he couldn't hear it.

That led to unfortunate sequences where he would interrupt some nuanced, evocative moment onscreen to yell into my right ear, for example, "WHY ARE THEY PUNCHING HER?" (I know he thought he was whispering, God love 'im.)

I would try to explain, as succinctly as possible, something like, "THEY DON'T WANT HER THERE," (which, admittedly, probably wasn't that helpful).

I thought he would like it, not because it's a Sundance indie-darling, but because I thought he'd find the depiction the unrelenting poverty and meth-deviled Ozarks to be eerily reminiscent of what's become of my hometown, where he now lives. (Now, as to why I thought that would entertain him, I'm not sure.)

I like dark movies, although over the years, I've developed patience for the fact that not everyone enjoys them as much as I do. I learned that the hard way the time I took an entire row of movie-lovers to see Bad Lieutenant -- and they didn't all leave the theater as movie-lovers. Granted, we all could've done with seeing a little less of Harvey Keitel naked, but beyond that, the reviews were decidedly mixed. Or as Linda put it, "whyyyyyyyyy.... why would someone make that movie?! And whyyyyyy did you make us watch it? Bad lieutenant. Bad! Bad!"

I usually pre-screen a lot of movies for her now and I told her under no circumstances was she to see Winter's Bone. But somehow, the good reviews got the best of her curiosity I guess and she went anyway. This was her text:
"I saw that GREAT movie (your words), and found it dark and haunting (as you said) -- No redeeming value that I could find. Poor girl goes from a barely tolerable situation to worse and then back to bad (funny how back to bad was such a relief!" )

My response was, "I. Told. You. So."

But I have to admit, she has a pretty good future ahead of her as a movie critic, as that's as good a review as I've seen of both the plot and the main character.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ambien and Fireworks

The pharmacist at the DiscoKroger really didn't want to let me pick up my Ambien without an ID today. I suspect she was even less inclined when she saw the contents of my basket, which consisted of two lemons and a lot of fireworks. Something about the look on my face must've conveyed to her that things would not go well if she made me walk back home to fetch my driver's license. (I might've found a new home for those sparklers, one not to her liking.)

I couldn't possibly walk another block out of my way today. I am definitely a summer girl, not a winter girl -- but I have my limits -- and this week's heat has done me in.

As much as I love all the fairs and fests and cookouts and picnics this time of year, it requires a lot of coordination.

For example, I have to balance the need to hydrate against a refusal to go near a Porta-Potty. (I take that back: I have been inside the Porta-Potties at a few Swanky McSwankerton parties -- but those are real bathrooms with real doors and real plumbing -- they just happen to be mounted on trailers parked in the middle of verdant pastures. They have flowers and candles, and mostly I just go in them to take pictures...which is sometimes frowned on.) If I have reason to believe there will not be indoor plumbing that meets with my fastidious approval at any venue (whether it's a disgusting bar or a music festival), I go before I leave home. Barbara Walters has always said the secret to her longevity and success is her capacity for never going to the bathroom, and I think, in this one area, I can match her. If there is a story to be had, it is unlikely I will miss it because I was in the restroom.

In this heat, however, it wouldn't take anyone long to dehydrate... further complicated by the fact that I don't sweat. Neither does my Mom. It's a genetic thing. There's a name for it, but basically, we're like pigs. We don't sweat, we just overheat until we pass out. My former manservant, HopSing, used to always chide me for this comparison, "why can't you say 'we're like gazelles?'" or anything that would call to mind a more pleasant image than hogs, but my answer was always that I don't know anything about gazelles. I bet they do sweat. But I know pigs do not. As a kid, I was often in charge of hosing them down whenever we had to transport them from Point A to Point B if it was hot out. If they had to be moved very far, it meant a very early start to the day. I have also been hosed down a time or two myself, as has my Mom.

Then there's the shoes. I prefer to walk everywhere in the summer, but that's balanced against my vanity and my need to wear cute shoes. Walking is much easier than struggling for parking spaces and fighting traffic -- but it's impossible to find attractive footwear that can go the distance.

Last night was fine at the rubber-chicken/drinking-for-charity dinner -- I wore kitten heels and parked across the street from the hotel. Because it all could have hardly mattered less once we got inside and realized a drag queen was wearing the same dress I was. That never happens. Although we speculated later that she must have gotten three or four and sewn them together, or that perhaps she rented hers from Fayette Tent and Awning -- and they planned to have a wedding (or a funeral) underneath it later.

The next day's Fest was equally blistering, but conveniently, there was a margarita booth. Sure, they were $437,000 each, but darn well worth it. It was a crazy-long hike, but at least the shoe-problem was solved in that attendance at this particular fest was predominantly lesbian -- stereotypically, but perhaps not unfairly, not known for their discriminating footwear choices. Comfortable shoes were entirely the dress-code mandate of the day, and my 24-year-old Birkenstocks held up just fine, and easily translated later to an afternoon of artsy picnics, followed by late-night burgers at a bar.

I have a lot of indoor plans for July 4th weekend, but I'll do my best to be a good sport for the outdoor stuff too -- how else would I get to overhear parade conversation like Chef Tom's comment yesterday, reflecting on band days, "why did we elect 13 cheerleaders every year? Because at least one always got pregnant."

I just hope somebody's standing by with a hose. (Somebody always is.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Buy the Organic Lemons

I don't typically buy Organic, for about a million reasons, although I probably seem like the typical target demographic (pretentious and food-obsessed).

But I gotta say, now that I've made the switch to organic lemons, I don't think I'll go back. I got a half dozen the other day for homemade Lemonade and they're approximately twice as good as regular lemons.

I was explaining this, with probably unreasonable evangelistic zeal, last night when the BFF came over for dinner. In fact, they're so good, that when she pointed out "we have been talking about these lemons for twelve minutes straight," I wasn't even surprised. To be fair, she agreed with me about their delicious characteristics, but I'm sure they didn't merit twelve "let me tell you more about Jesus" minutes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


"Where there was good food, there were usually good people. When I made food, I made a tribe."
--Kim Severson, Spoon Fed  

I realized last night, as my friends cooked up the plans for a marvelous white-trash picnic next weekend, that I'm a bit of an outcast when it comes to childhood food memories. As they waxed rhapsodic about everything from Beanie-Weenies to Miracle Whip, I felt decidedly left out, with almost nothing to contribute to the conversation or the culinary landscape.

We did not grow up in a processed-food house. I never tasted boxed Mac n Cheese until I got to college, and I hated it. I still remember all those little Rival/West Bend electric hot-pots clogging the communal sinks on Yerkes Third, all of them coated with neon-orange cheese-like powder residue. It was not a good memory. I don't want to imply any high-horse though -- I didn't try my first White Castle until college either. One of the fraternities hosted "Slider Night" and Jeff Seaman bought me my very first sackful, and I loved them. I still eat them once or twice a year.

But I have never (knowingly) eaten Velveeta (though it's possible it's been served to me). Fried baloney sandwiches made an occasional appearance in the kitchen growing up (as did Spam), but I was not a fan. Vienna sausages were sometimes packed in the "beach bag" that went to the pool with us, and I would eat them only when light-headed from hunger, and if I didn't have "my own money" to spend on the outrageously-priced but utterly superior pool concessions. (I was more than happy to eat junk food, just not packed from home. The stigma!)

I had fish sticks only one time, when my tween-BFF Cat had a group of us over for a slumber party. Cat's mom was a bit of an anomaly in our social circle -- a divorced, single, working-Mom -- and it must've been a financial strain for her to feed an extra set of mouths on any given addition to her own six kids (they were a good Catholic family, if you didn't count The Divorce). At the time, however, I was oblivious to those socioeconomic nuances and divided my friends' moms into two camps: Good Cooks, and Bad Cooks. She was a Bad Cook, because I didn't like the fish sticks (this was more than balanced by the fact that she was, however, a "cool Mom," because she insisted we all call her by her first name.) The other girls were drowning theirs in ketchup, which was quickly running out -- at which point, Marie took the bottle to the tap, added water, and pronounced, "There. More ketchup." Which I promptly pronounced, "Grossssss" and "the most disgusting thing I've ever seen" (I grew up on a farm, where I witnessed all manner of disgusting things every day, so that was obviously not true.) I can only cite the power of tween peer pressure when I think back to that meal and my unforgivable and simultaneous lapse of both manners and common decency. I was raised better than that, and I certainly knew to be appropriately grateful when someone went to the trouble to feed you, even if it wasn't to your taste.

My parents were -- and are -- tragically unCool, but they could absolutely cook and we had an endless supply of fresh/seasonal/local long before it was a fashionable trend. When my urban aunts and uncles would visit, they would fill up coolers with my grandmother's home-grown meat and vegetables, prompting me to ask them, on more than one occasion, "Geeeeeeez, don't they have grocery stores where you live?" I didn't think they were going all Alice Waters (not that I knew who she was), I just thought they were mooches. (And, in retrospect, I was probably somewhat right.)

That kind of surplus of food wasn't that unusual for a small town -- nearly every family (except maybe Cat's) had farm or garden staples to draw on. What my parents had that was unusual were extraordinary palates. I suspect if we had shown any signs of being picky eaters, they might have smothered us in our sleep. Any dish we could find in a restaurant, my Mom could come home and replicate after only one or two tries. And since there were no restaurants to speak of in our town (if you don't count Jerry's and TruckTown, which were admittedly awesome, but occasional treats), we often hit the road in search of something to eat.

The best thing that ever happened to us was our parents' best friends moving to New Orleans, where we then spent every Vacation.

It is a miracle I didn't explode on those trips, which were really just eating expeditions as far as I was concerned (I had long since grown to dislike this particular Family, and especially their daughter, who became My Arch-Nemesis... but that's another story). On any given day, we might wander the French Quarter for a muffuletta, followed by beignets; pick up some cayenne-injected fried chicken or a po' boy on the way home; and then spread newspapers on the picnic table that night for an outdoor crawfish boil. If it was Monday, we had red beans and rice for supper instead. Except for the beignets, nearly everything we ate in New Orleans --French, Spanish, Cajun, Creole -- worked its way into my parents' repertoire. I am sure we were the only house with a giant jar of homemade olive salad at the back of our fridge and I know we were the only kids who had muffulettas (substituted with pita bread) with our Saturday cartoons, because that was shopping day, and it was an easy sandwich for Mom to throw together while she put away the groceries.

Photo of a muffuletta I made a few weeks ago for Mom's birthday dinner, courtesy Chef Tom

That is not to say we didn't have our guilty pleasures (Chef Boyardee pizza!) or that we didn't eat the usual 70s era mainstays (meatloaf, mashed potatoes, pot roasts, Jello salads, and so on) -- but we never had TV dinners, and not much came out of a box or a can. My Mom has since said that wasn't out of any food snobbery -- most of the time, we couldn't actually afford that kind of "convenience" fare when real food was so much cheaper to make. 

But I am very much looking forward to this Picnic. I have appointed myself Dairy Princess, and I am going to make one of my Mom's cheeseballs -- they are demanded at every shower, wedding, and funeral within a hundred miles. I know Amy Sedaris is famous for hers, but I think my Mom's recipe is better.

My favorite line from last night's reveries came from our friend Margueritte who said, "We always had Spam in the house and Dad always has cans of Vienna Sausages and Beanie Weenies under the seat on his bass boat." Because that's just poetry.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Last Meal

It's after 7 on a Tuesday; I'm still at the office; and I just got a text asking "what is your all time fave thing to eat? Last meal kind of fave."

I msg'd back that it was such a good question, I'd have to think about it. And I am thinking about it right now. I'll probably think about it all night.

The last meal I've had today is a bag of Lay's Cajun Herb & Spice chips. Partly because I have company staying at my house this week, I have kidded myself that I would make it home for lunch and dinner the last couple days, when, in fact, I haven't made it home for either, and they have had to fend for themselves -- only part of what's making me the world's worst hostess (thanks to a weekend brunch, at least there's a well-stocked fridge so no one will starve to death). Instead of making it home (or at least meeting the guests out for a decent meal), I've plowed through until starvation strikes, at which point I've walked to the boyz-in-the-hood grocery down the street for the aforementioned Cajun chips (they also stock "Family Condom" -- you can almost make out the signage in this photo -- porn; and a mystifying array of handbags -- that picture was taken as quickly and unobtrusively as possible). They are very pleasant and gracious there, though my fellow shoppers often eye me suspiciously -- as if cash-into-food transactions are not the type of business that is meant to be conducted there, and I am somehow intruding.

Even though these chips are very, very addictive -- they are most definitely not my favorite thing to eat -- and now I am hoping (more than usual) I do not get hit by a bus, because I would HATE for them to be my Last Meal.

For now, I cannot believe that I can't actually name my favorite food (of course funnelcakes would be somewhere on a Top 20 List, and so would meat on a stick -- but no, they're not actually my favorite foods).

If I knew my last meal was going to be my Last Meal (say, like Diddy in Monster's Ball), I just wouldn't eat anything, because my inner Rainman and claustrophobia would replace my hunger with panic and I can't eat during a panic attack, or even if I suspect I might have a panic attack. (My toothpicks!) Some people eat when they're stressed or nervous or upset -- but those are times when I starve -- I only really eat when I'm content and calm and happy (so according to my wardrobe, I am having a summer of bliss... and in order for more of my clothes to fit, I'm going to need someone to break my heart).

It really is a great question though, and I am going to have to think about the answer.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Strawberries and Super-Kegels

The best-laid plans often go awry, which is what somehow happened with tomorrow's brunch, that accidentally kicked off today.

 If I'd bothered to check my messages, I would've seen three in a row from my sailor in the middle of the night last night (who's now retiring and therefore says he gets a new name) that said, first, "I completely forgot about the brunch! I'm so sorry!" followed by "Wait...when is it? Maybe it's Sunday. Wow, that was close," followed by, "No wait, it's tomorrow. Wow, even closer," followed by... him pulling into the driveway this morning at the appointed hour, with a biggg bag of ice, exactly as directed, just on the wrong day.

I glanced across the porch swing to my BFF, Sooz, from my 30s (who's in town this weekend), and had a moment of panic. What is today anyway? I asked her, just as he walked up the sidewalk with an increasingly puzzled look on his face, that he said later probably conveyed something like, Boy-this-party-really-isn't-working-out. (It really didn't look like much of a "brunch" -- just some Starbucks cups and a few empty cans of Mountain Dew.)

As we sorted out the details, I served up a quick lunch, followed by an impromptu dessert of macaroons and the day's fresh fruit (really fresh, from this morning's farmers' market, which I knew meant it had to be Saturday. Saddened by the fact that I couldn't smother it in freshly-whipped cream (thanks to his sudden, and if you ask me, affected, aversion to dairy), I contented myself with a light dusting of homemade vanilla sugar (sigh).

Sooz then departed for her afternoon wine tasting with some friends, and he and I sat on the porch eating, drinking, and desultorily surveying the foot-traffic.

We were in the middle of a rigorous intellectual debate that included moral relativism, impulse control, and the merits of Ukrainian fat versus Italian fat... until the girl-next-door made the mistake of cutting through my front yard. "Hey, are you her neighbor?" he asked her politely, as I cringed visibly -- having just told him I go out of my way to never meet neighbors because it might not work out and then you're stuck living next to them. Which I'm sure is why he did it. (He knows I'd rather die than spontaneously meet strangers, not because I'm inherently unfriendly, but just because I'm painfully shy and socially backward. It didn't slow him down, and in fact, I think encouraged him, as if to say, "See! Look how easy this is.")

And I admit I have to admire his social fearlessness, which uncovered, over the next 20 minutes, the fact that her wedding photographers are friends of mine; her husband is European, with an excellent golf handicap; they met at law school out west (not one of the flashier Ivy Leagues, but one of the more subtle ones I knew to be highly regarded); she agrees with me about the distinctions defining good movies vs. entertaining movies; they're both avid fans of David and Amy Sedaris; they've been hoping to find some gays since they moved here from L.A., but haven't yet; and when I apologized for intruding on her Saturday, she admitted she shares my neighborly reticence-slash-phobias... so, before I even realized the words were out of my mouth, we were inviting them to brunch, and she was headed down the street to watch soccer at a friend's house.

She really was a delight, and despite living next door, I would never have met her any other way than the sailor, home from the sea, introducing us. 

I told him as much, to which he responded, with mock dismay,  "Man, I got the impression she isn't bringing anything tomorrow."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Fair to Remember

"What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams? "
"Keep it to yourself."
--Broadcast News 
I always spend the first weekend in June at the Catholic County Fair. It isn't a well-organized expedition, and it's always a little surprising how many people I run into there every year without any kind of plan whatsoever -- though it's fair to say my whereabouts are pretty well-known during this event, and were, even before the advent of social media tracking devices (this year, as in all years, I hooked up with my college big-sister -- and she doesn't even have facebook or twitter to coordinate, even if we had a plan).

There's something about that that just makes the cotton candy all the sweeter -- the relative spontaneity of a day at the fair. 

While the menfolk were dispatched to secure funnelcakes and the like, Phoef and I wandered around the Rummage Sale -- where we immediately happened upon these treasures that made us wish we'd thought to bring the good cameras.

It gave us some pause to consider the good Catholic family that gave up their SuperKegel (Phoef had the guts to take it out of the box and it basically looked like a thigh-master; I refused to touch it);  the sample case for the LoEstrin birth control pills that perhaps Mom had handed off to the kiddies as a change-purse before it ended up in the "Donate to the Church" bin; and the "Draw Poker," so Dad's cigar can have a great draw.
I thought I had scored a supreme moment of irony when I found a vintage hardcover edition of The Thornbirds at last year's sale, but that was nothing.

Clearly, my work there was done. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Six Feet Under

My Dad isn't preoccupied with death so much as he is obsessed with his theoretical funeral, or more specifically, burial (since he doesn't want a funeral). More specifically than that, he's mostly obsessed with finding a method that doesn't cost any money. ("That's how they get ya.") He's always thought funerals are something of a predatory, exploitative process, and now apparently that's extended to the interment process as well.

By now, he's exhausted most of the conventional approaches. He started out with the idea that he'd donate his body to Science. Then he had a chat with "Science" (after his triple-bypass surgery) and they didn't seem all that interested. It seems (via his interpretation -- I have not done the research) that "cadaver programs" mostly want the whole hog, as it were, and that might or might not have accommodated his wishes as an organ donor (and that might or might not have been information he obtained in a post-anesthetic fog).

His next big idea was cremation, til he found out the cost... and more importantly, that it was a lot more than one of his neighbors had paid to have his St. Bernard disposed of, which offended his sense of fair market value since he calculated the size and effort involved would be approximately the same. His next question -- "it's a big oven; why can't you just slide me in next to a German Shepherd or something? Not a poodle, I mean, a real dog..." -- was apparently not taken seriously. If you can imagine.

His latest plan -- which he called me up to tell me about last night -- somehow involves my Uncles, a backhoe, a cargo trailer, and a quilt. (Which is, come to think of it, roughly the same fate that met all of our family dogs).

I explained that Yes, "green funerals," are an option (I remember Nate had one on Six Feet Under). I think they involve shrouds and nature preserves, and they're available in some states, but probably not ours.  (They also cost about maybe half the price of something more "traditional," but they're not FREE.) I added that our state, like all states, has very specific laws about how to dispose of dead bodies. You can't even bury a cat in your backyard -- though of course, people do -- but I'm not sure The Law would turn such a good-natured blind eye if you planted Grandma behind the garage.

He was indignant, of course, and a rant followed as to the proper purview of the state and law enforcement.

I just hope it doesn't come up for a while. I thought his new energy for the subject might be predicated on his upcoming annual cardio visit (an occasion he always prepares for by eating an Annual Salad), but No, it turns out the scar tissue from his bypass is "bothering" him, and I think has manifested in his mind as something potentially fatal. (I'm not being dismissive -- but he had a headache for a year that he refused to see a doctor about because he was certain it was "The Big C" -- and it turned out to be a sinus infection. Which outraged him. "I have never had a sinus infection," he protested -- as if that somehow innoculated him -- and the doctor's response was, "well, you have one now." (Of course, if it had been a brain tumor, which is what he was sure he had, I'm not sure how avoiding the doctor's office would've improved the prognosis any -- in much the same manner that I've noticed my car doesn't spontaneously heal itself whenever it's making a funny noise and I just turn up the radio to drown it out.)

Not to worry, he explained. It's all under control.

He's discussed this mysterious scar-ailment at some length with my Uncles -- both of whom admittedly practice a good bit of veterinary medicine on the side -- neither of whom went to med school. I just hope they don't decide to operate on him.

Artist Michelle Bellemare may be onto something, with this piece, entitled "Casket," found via the Torontoist's, Art You Love, But Probably Can't Afford

I have all of his DNR instructions of course. We are not a sentimental family, and as he's pointed out to his surgeon, he's afraid to get so much as a cough or sniffle in front of me for fear I'll have him put to sleep, "Well, Dad wouldn't want to suffer. He wouldn't want to be kept alive like this. With NYQuil!" (He jokes about hiding his Timex at the hospital, since that's the "estate" I'm so eager to "inherit," once I "pull the plug.")

All I know is, I draw the line at digging the hole.