Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bring it

Across the aisle of the bus, a father and his ten-year-old daughter are engaged in a vigorous round of Slug Bug. "Oh, it's ON!" declared dad, enthusiastically walloping the kid with his newspaper after being first to spot a rusty green vintage Volkswagen.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Dear Abbie

The first time I read Martha Cat's song for all the cats who had gone before, last year, I got a little misty. So I'm not ashamed to say that yesterday, when I learned that Martha herself had moved on to join their ranks, I sat in my office and cried like a little baby. I don't care if it IS a blog written by a cat; it's haunting and lovely and I wept for real. Godspeed, brave pirate Martha. Poor Abbie; poor Abbie-and-Martha's Guy.

How is it that pets affect us so deeply? I have loved and grieved for more than a dozen, just in my lifetime, and it gets no easier with repetition. The only time I've ever heard my father sob openly was when he finally put down his adored 16-year-old dog. I've been breathlessly following the sagas of several post-Katrina pet rescues out of New Orleans--Poppy's multitude of cats, Blake Bailey's lone, cranky one--and feeling slightly guilty for it, because, hello, THE PEOPLE. I know. I know. Maybe the tide of human misery is so vast, so unfathomable, that zeroing in on somebody's sodden tabby is an ever-so-slightly more manageable point of entry into knowing the crisis. I have cats, so I understand how vulnerable they are, how dependent on me, how I couldn't explain an emergency to them. I am unable to even imagine trying to save human friends and family, trying to salvage entire lives from murky, moldering ruin. I have to avert my eyes, throw money at the Red Cross to make it bearable. Kitties, at least, I get.

This poem by Franz Wright ran in the New Yorker in December 2003, right around the time I had to put one of my cats down after her own losing battle with pancreatitis. Petunia. I read it and read it and read it, finally pasted it into the sloppy longhand journal I keep for myself. Last night, I read it again.

On the Death of a Cat

In life, death
was nothing
to you: I am

willing to wager
my soul that it
simply never occurred

to your nightmareless
mind, while sleep
was everything

(see it raised
to an infinite
power and perfection)--no death

in you then, so now
how even less. Dear stealth
of innocence

licked polished
to an evil
lustre, little

milk fang, whiskered


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Vanity, thy name is...probably "Taffy" or something

I stopped for gas on the way to work. At the next pump, a woman, maybe mid-to-late 20s, was filling up her station wagon. She had a vanity license plate: IMAQT. I suppose that IMA GRN WMN W SUM DGNTY N SLF RSPCT is, after all, too many letters.

GOD, it irked me. I snorted with disgust at the plate; I gave QT the stink-eye as she pulled out of the station (hogging both lanes of the driveway) and tootled merrily on her way, oblivious.

I don't know. I believe that "cutie" should be reserved for kittens, children under the age of eight, and those little tofu ice-cream sammiches. Maybe also the occupant of the Death Cab. It just struck me as such a juvenile, precious way to identify yourself to the world. This is the statement you most wish to make to strangers? Your primary quality as a presumably educated, accomplished adult engaged with the world is...your adorability?

I guess it says as much about me, the FURY that this chick's stupid vanity plate provoked in me. Logically, I understand that there is not a finite quantity of self-esteem in the world...but when some dingbat is romping around, advertising more than her fair share of glib, twee the hell are the rest of us poor slobs supposed to get through the day? I ask you.

I know, I know: GRMPY-ASS BTCH, also too many letters.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ain't that a kick in the head?

Whew. Thanks for joining me on the Emotional Baggage Carousel, there; let's move on. Listen up, Internets--now that I've been given permission, I can announce: Sis done ketched herself a man!

The Future Mr. Sis is good-lookin', kind, thoughtful, funny, and obviously a brave man indeed. He proposed to her on the beach, in Kauai: got down on one knee and presented her with a sapphire, which he chose as both his birthstone and because it reminded him of the Aegean sea over which they shared their first vacation together...whooo, y'all. Sis has a stronger constitution than I, 'cause I just swooned and bonked my head on the monitor. You go, The Future Mr. Sis!

I could tell you stories, about The Future Mr. Sis's many indications that he will be an excellent Mr. Sis and a fine bro-in-law...but I've got to save something for the toast, so I'll just share one: When Sis broke her ankle two years ago, and was miserable and housebound, forced to wear the lone pair of Target sweatpants that would fit over her external ankle cage; when she had both a weepy outlook and gross weepy surgical incisions; when she was going completely stir-crazy on a diet of Judge Joe Brown, painkillers and Pixy Stix...

...The Future Mr. Sis rented a wheelchair and pushed Sis all over the Puyallup Fair, so that she could pet horsies and mock handicrafts and consume her annual corndog and Fisher fair scone, just as God intended.

And that, boys and girls? Is love.

So happy for you both!

Monday, September 19, 2005

You'll never know, dear

Darcy and I tried to sign up, this weekend, for a session in one of NPR's StoryCorps mobile recording booths. The Seattle outpost was, sadly, overbooked. But we poked around the website and examined their brochure, which lists some helpful topics and questions to get an interview flowing: How did you meet your spouse? What was your first date like? Can you sing me some of the songs you used to sing to me when I was little?

That last one. "I could do this with my mom," I said. "She'd sing 'You Are My Sunshine,' and then the last 10 minutes would consist of me sobbing uncontrollably into the microphone."

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You'll never know, dear, how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away

My mom can't sing. This doesn't prevent her from rockin' the karaoke mike after a couple of mojitos, but she pretty successfully evades any particular key, and has a distracting tendency to misremember song lyrics--nothing as entertaining as "scuse me while I kiss this guy," but swapping articles and pronouns just enough to irk the obsessive types who KNOW ALL THE WORDS, MOM.

But when I was very little, she'd try to sing me to sleep. "You Are My Sunshine." It's one of my earliest memories, predating the birth of my sister; I can't be more than two and a half, three years old. We're at Grandma's, Mama lying down with me on the green twin bed in the guest room, hoping to lull me into a nap. (I was extremely nap-resistant, as a tot--ironic, now that I practically need a gallon of coffee and a neck brace just to remain moderately alert and upright in staff meetings.)

The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
And I hung my head and cried

My mother was scarcely more than a child herself; at 19 she'd gone directly from her parents' house to her husband's. At 22 she had me. My dad was likewise young and relatively foresight-free, working strange hours at blue-collar jobs: delivering milk, driving a gravel truck. He had his first affair before I was born; my mother discovered it after Thanksgiving dinner, heavily pregnant with me.

I'll always love you and make you happy
If you will only say the same
But if you leave me to love another
You'll regret it all some day

So we retreated to Grandma and Grandpa's a lot, in the days of my parents' marriage. It was pure prime spoiling, for me, beloved and indulged as the first grandchild; I can't imagine what it was like for Mom, lying with her baby in her childhood room, trying to figure out how to save her own life.

Except--that song. I don't remember any traditional lullabies or nursery rhymes...just "You Are My Sunshine," and while she sang it out of love, I remember being aware on some level that... damn. That's a brutally sad song. It's a plea, to a dark and overcast heaven. The speaker dreams of joy...and wakes bereft, alone. A grownup cries, in that song. I remember recognizing that; it was the time I first understood, however vaguely, that there were some hurts that couldn't be healed with a bandaid, a kiss, a cookie. That I could do nothing in the face of distant, adult grief and longing. That my mama was vulnerable to sorrows I could see but not begin to name.

You told me once, dear, you really loved me
And no one else could come between
But now you've left me, and love another
You have shattered all my dreams.

I own several recordings of "You Are My Sunshine," wildly different. There's Norman Blake's weedy, reedy version on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack; better still is Ray Charles' duet with his chief Raelett, Margie Hendrix, who magnificently, blisteringly roars that last verse until you half hope the cheating bastard comes crawling back sorry. I can listen to these with impunity; I can holler along with Margie and feel straight-up righteous.

Just don't let my mama sing it to me, man. We've all moved on and I'm thirty-odd years grown past it...but that, I could not take.

* * * * *

However did we all survive without Google? Just stumbling through the days, wondering all kinds of shit but never, ever being able to find it out? Thus: "You Are My Sunshine,"written by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell, is one of the official state songs of Louisiana; Davis used it in all his campaign appearances in his successful run for governor. Here are two verses I, and probably you, have never heard.

Louisiana, my Louisiana,
The place where I was born
White fields of cotton, green fields of clover
The best fishing and long tall corn

Crawfish gumbo and jambalaya
The biggest shrimp and sugar cane
The finest oysters and sweet strawberries
From Toledo Bend to New Orleans.

New Orleans. Well. I think I'll just pluck out my heart and roast it on a little spit, before I tuck in to bed. Criminy.

What can brown do for you?

Yup, I've fiddled with the template; I'm no programmer and so all changes are undertaken VE. RY. SLOW. LY. and with much previewing and saving and cursing and accidentally deleting and hunting for the correct HTML color codes that will render less like "poop" and more like "Brach's Neapolitan caramel chews." Which for some reason you cannot examine on their web site, but which you can still scoop out of a giant bin at the grocery store. And thank God.

Anyway. New stuff to look at:
  • I bumped into my old buddy Georgia this summer at a party; hadn't seen her since our days at our previous employer, Craphole Industries. She is a mad, mad, mad lady who has no patience for all y'all and your bullshit...but she's off to Hawaii on the company nickel, and that has sort of cheered her right the fuck up.
  • PostSecret--haunting, hilarious and devastating, frequently all at once. It's like Found magazine combined with psychic mind-reading powers. Tell everyone.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A strong foundation

I have two white bras, a sports bra and a plain reg'lar. I grabbed the wrong one this morning and was mid-commute (and pre-coffee) before I figured out that I was bound into the more medievally armored of the two. the event that, mid-edit, I need to leap up and perform some jumping jacks...or a volley of roundhouse kicks ("How! Many times! Have I told you! No! Passive! Voice!") ...I am all set.

Monday, September 12, 2005

On "pep"

Two things have prompted this post: one, Darcy's daughter, Babs, starting middle school last week. (She's attending Hamilton, a classic brick pile that, as luck would have it, my mom likewise attended some years past. I told Babs this, to which she exclaimed "God, how old IS it?" which of course I immediately repeated to Mom with some amusement. Heh.) And two, over Labor Day weekend, finding and sorting through a random sack of old photos I'd taken, with my first crappy Kodak DISC camera, during my own middle-school years.

This was the early 80s, so sartorial and tonsorial missteps abound; apparently I once owned a Pac-Man t-shirt. However, my greasy hair stubbornly resisted all my attempts to reset it into the feathered helmet only the salon professional could achieve. I blithely chucked the worst examples, the pictures of classmates I no longer recognized and step-relations I no longer cared to. But the essence of "junior high" has lingered in my mind, this week.

I remember not liking the building--finding its sterile, bureaucratic 1960s architecture dumpy, after the comparatively new charms of my then-modern, modular, colorful elementary school. And I had fears: of changing for gym; of the complexities of combination locks; of the multitude of little thugs and thugettes who picked on me. (And in hindsight, I wonder: how many of my tormentors are dead? Jailed? Parents of kids older now than we were then? I feel a lot of pity, now, for kids who petrified me at the time.)

I loved things, too, though: changing classes, a stack of excitingly varied textbooks. It was like a dry run at High School, at teenhood. In sixth grade, I began to give a shit about fashion, about my cherished lavender "Mr. Rags" pullover hoodie and the right novelty laces to put through my (absolutely REQUIRED) Nikes. I discovered nail polish. I met Holly.

I had yet to be a cynic. So I was invested in school antics; I roller-skated in the gym and made mocking song dedications of syrupy pop hits ("The Girl is Mine," anyone?), on Activity Days. I also remember standing around in cafeteria dances, while two or three of the boldest kids breakdanced--ha! I'd dress up for thematic spirit days, in sixth grade; I remember sporting a huge purple clown wig, even, for one "school colors" event.

The pictures show some of this: me and my pals, clowning and shrieking in the cafeteria, basic anarchic horseplay on the days when this or that teacher (or all of them) gave up for an hour. There was a set of pics from "Fifties Day"--girls in poodle skirts and saddle shoes, chiffon scarves drooping around our ponytails. I remember well: I didn't have a skirt. So I cuffed my jeans, over bobby sox and Keds, wore a men's white shirt and the obligatory ponytail...and a set of Beatle buttons. I claimed I was "ahead of my time." I remember this so well; I truly thought I was clever, not to mention hot shit. There was a by-homeroom contest for best outfit, and I thought I was IT...and of course lost out to blonde, tiny, popular Marci Cook, who had a perfect poodle skirt, pearls, a matching cardigan, like some freaking Teen Angel. An important lesson learned, actually: for the next seven years, the Marci Cooks are going to win, every single time. Hang in there, little brainiac nerd-girl, "ahead of your time." It gets a lot better, in 20 years.

So. By high school, I'd learned this lesson enough times that I didn't care; I read books during pep assemblies, deliberately, MEANINGFULLY bored, or skipped out of them when I could. Spirit was LLLAAAAAAAAME and I was counting the days.

But I still do remember that first pep assembly, the lone annual one they treated us to in middle school, back when district budget cuts meant we didn't even have sports teams to root for. In sixth grade, I didn't know that they had the EXACT SAME assembly every year...and so I was thrilled, stunned, amazed--jumping around in the stands, probably wearing my purple wig--and I was purely AWESTRUCK when the multiple double-doors on the south side of the gym burst open, and the Garfield High marching band and cheerleaders from up the street came pouring in. This--THIS!--was what teenagers did; THIS was how it was going to be! The band seemed glamourous to me in their purple uniforms, white plastic spats and feathered toques. They played "Tequila," which I'd never heard; I had to catch up with my savvier classmates, shrieking the one-word refrain (did I know what tequila WAS? so very sheltered). The cheerleaders led us in the "two bits" cheer, and for that moment I was utterly invested.

I really like her, now, that funny, dorky little girl, that 11-year-old naif; it's taken me a long time to get back to her, back to the point where I run around in a flowered wool hat the minute it's cold enough; where I have more Halloween and Christmas decorations than a grown person should; where there is in fact room in my life for both the eye-rolling cynic and the besotted, giddy fangirl. I feel very generous towards her, lately--towards me and all my selves, jockeying for position in front of a cheap camera and in my expansive life. Check me out--I contain multitudes.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Four fried chickens and a Coke

Which actually sounds pretty good right now, seeing as how it's That Time of the Month again.

Anyway. I need a Hurricane Katrina break, overwhelmed and appalled by the horror taking place in the Gulf states. Please give what you can to the relief organization of your choice; thank you; thus endeth the PSA. Moving on...

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the release of The Blues Brothers movie. I hadn't thought about it in a long time, but reading the excellent special coverage in the Chicago Sun-Times has brought the "mission from God" back to me quite vividly. I realize now that it's one of a triumvirate of movies I've seen, in all or in part, probably 40 or 50 times, and from which I can quote reams of dialogue and even mime some of the stage directions (the others? Sixteen Candles and A Christmas Story; make of that what you will), like the dance everyone does in front of Ray's Music Exchange. I can still shake a tailfeather with moderate conviction.

I couldn't tell you how many times I rented it or watched it at someone else's house in middle or high school. We'd put it on like a party game, reciting the lines along with the characters and trying to count the number of police cars destroyed in the climactic chase scene (the Sun-Times suggests around 60).

It's such a weird little movie, alternating between outrageous sight gags and deadpan wit, legendary blues performers and moments of gleeful, delirious destruction. The special anniversary coverage is crammed with fun tidbits. For example, I've said for years that I'm going to keep driving my pink, paid-for 1996 Hyundai "until it disintegrates like the Bluesmobile"; apparently that particular effect tooka mechanic months to rig up. Or: the famous chase in the mall took place in a shopping center that had already closed. Apparently the producers stocked the ghost mall with merchandise ("Do you have the Miss Piggy?") for the express purpose of ecstatically running it over.

The mall scene, man! During my years of academia I worked for a chain bookstore in several different malls, and Christmas was always our most excruciating time, beset for extended hours by deranged shoppers who never set foot in a bookstore the other 364 days of the year but were trying to fulfil Aunt Fanny's request RIGHT NOW, BITCH and wouldn't take no for an answer. I never got punched, during the Christmas rush, but I'm sure it was only a matter of time. Anyway. We also sold videos, and above the cashwrap area was a television on which we constantly played whatever flick Disney was pushing hardest, that season, in a continuous loop. I don't remember whose idea it was, but one year a friend and I, at our respective limits, rented "The Blues Brothers" and, on Christmas Eve day, queued up just the mall scene and set it to repeat. Just the mall, Jake and Elwood plowing through the Sunglass Hut and the supermarket and the Toys R Us, endlessly decimating that fucking mall, directly overhead as we processed last-minute freaked-out shoppers until our hands went numb. It played for nearly three hours before the manager noticed and made us shut it off. Good times.

So. A surprisingly persistent, pervasive little musical action-comedy, that...a love letter to Chicago blues and to a Chicago that largely doesn't exist, any longer. Dan Aykroyd has said that he'd intended it as something of a time capsule, that way: a vehicle to preserve the city and the artists and their music, to share them with a wider audience while he could (with a generous dollop of slapstick and crashing to make it go down easy, I guess). I wouldn't have thought of it this way, before, but...thanks to Aykroyd's efforts, an eleven-year-old white girl in Licton Springs, Seattle knew who Cab Calloway was, and liked it. Thanks, Dan--you done good, sir.