Tuesday, December 14, 2010


At Starbucks this morning, the woman in front of me proceeded to order twelve different complicated beverages, from a clipboard. NO NO NOOOO OH MY GOD COME OOOONNN. Who does that, at 9:45 a.m., in everybody's way? So I smiled pleasantly at nothing while irradiating the girl with my eyes. Beaming hatred down on this woman, seething and writhing internally because I had to wait on my mocha. Five whole minutes! Maybe six! HAAATE.

Then the sixty-something woman behind us both touched Clipboard on the arm, and sweetly volunteered to help her carry the three trays of beverages to her car, in the pounding December rain.

Okay, Universe, I get it. Take a breath, unclench. Look up. Be Zen. Christmas is coming.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Put your glad rags on

I don't have much to add, to any eulogizing of Tom Bosley--he had a good run, a large part of which he spent portraying a nice dad on a sitcom encoded into my DNA and that of many of my thirty-to-forty-something peers. Linda Holmes, over on the NPR blog Monkey See, says what I would only more gracefully; I was especially taken with this bit:

There's always some temptation to put disclaimers on a remembrance of a TV
actor, as if some apology is in order for thinking fondly of something you spent hundreds of hours enjoying as a kid instead of spending all your time
mourning obscure actors appearing in the truly great plays of the world.

May you rest in peace, Mr. C...and now let me pull this back to focus on a more personal memory. Coincidentally, the Hub cable network (revamped Discovery Kids, I guess) has been airing family fare all week, including ancient sitcoms from the pilot on. So I came home one night this week to faded, Chuck-Cunningham-era 1974 episodes of Happy Days, when Fonzie sported a grey windbreaker (I KNOW!), and the credits went like this:

Bill Haley! Oh my god, the sound of that jukebox working: the coin dropping down, the flip of the 45, the needle crackling into place*...and then the drummer just tears it up, man.

*We used to make fun of my Grammy, Sis and I, when she'd offer us change for "the nickelodeon." Now I look at this entire sentence and can imagine that, if I have any readers under 21, I might as well be writing about hoopskirts and Conestoga wagons.

Anyway. It makes my eyes well up, because in 1974, when my parents were still married and Sis was an infant, my mother took a "ceramics" class one night a week. It wasn't throwing clay on a wheel, but the kind where she and the other (presumably frustrated) suburban ladies chose from molded forms and painted their own color schemes. We had multiple garden gnomes and mushroom-patterned kitchen canisters and the like, for a while there. So, once a week Mom got a night off and Dad would "babysit," what modern child-having persons might call "parenting."

I don't remember whether I went to bed on those nights with adequate nutrition (unlikely), or brushed teeth (less so). But I do know that, whatever my bedtime was supposed to be, my dad let me stay up until, oh, 8:02. Through the Happy Days credits, and we would dance. Rockabilly swing dancing to Bill Haley and the Comets; he'd twirl me around, spin me in and out like a yo-yo, jiving in front of the television. We would seriously cut a rug--the harvest-gold shag that carpeted our sunken living room, in fact. Me and my dad, rockin'. I was four years old.

"This is a show about when Daddy was a boy," I can remember him telling me. He must have loved it; the protagonist was even named "Richie." I'm not sure when I started to suspect that Happy Days was not quite a documentary lens on the 50s, what with Fonzie and the shark-jumping and Mork and what have you. I watched it through to the bitter end, though, into the 80s, when Ron Howard wanted out and so the writers packed Richie Cunningham off to Vietnam, what the hell, and then there was Arnold's and...pizza? and the little girl from Poltergeist. And the finale with Joanie and Chachi's big wedding. Okay then. I bet Joanie got to dance with her dad then, man. Unfair.

It's a sweet memory, though, even as it stings. My mom used to harrangue my dad for his tendency to get me "all wound up," in her terms, immediately before bedtime: rasslin', or various furniture-jumping acrobatics. "Rich. Rich! You're getting her all wound up!" I'm sure frenetic swing-dancing also qualifies, as something unlikely to send a preschooler off to restful slumber. But it's the only time I can remember dancing with my father, and I know I'm lucky just to have that.

Okay, an antidote to The Maudlin: here's Bill Haley and co. in a live performance at breakneck speed. It's not entirely clear what this show is from the notes, and even less clear why there are several little girls (and their apparently grown partners) dancing their asses off in front of the band. But look at them go! Talk about rug-cutting. If the band slows down, we'll yell for more...but it doesn't look like there's any chance of that happening.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Our appliances were also that color

My Grammy suffered from a congenital inability to tell a joke. She could be witty, or quick with a biting remark...but the formal structure of setup-beat-punchline eluded her all her life. Her attempts at scripted levity all went something like this: "A man walks into a bar, and the bartender says...no, wait. A priest! A priest goes into a bar...and also one of those...um...rabbis! A priest and a rabbi, and the bartender says...no, no, that's wrong. No, wait: first the priest says...oh, hell. I've screwed it all up."

So she was funny, in a way, with these epic, backtracking stories--just never in the manner she intended. You had to give her credit, really, for soldiering on. A couple of her weird non-sequitur punchlines became family jokes in and of themselves, a quick shorthand we'd repeat like a hilarious mantra. The most famous of these came about in front of all her coworkers at the UW budget office. The joke itself was a hairy old chestnut indeed, about the world's cheapest hit man, Artie, plying his trade as a bargain-rate strangler. Stop me if you've--no, never mind. Suffice to say, Artie does his thing and the next day's headlines read:


Well, Grammy tried to tell this one to her colleagues, and I can only imagine the narrative weaving around towards its inevitable end. But she got there, eventually, and said: "So, the next day in the paper, all the headlines read...

(pregnant pause)


Well. Blank faces all around. Interestingly, Grammy could remember this humiliation and repeat it to us later, as a personal anecdote; her mental block was exclusive to telling a proper joke in the first place.

And this one became legend, somehow. I've been saying "avocados-three-for-a-dollar" reflexively for probably 30 years, at the slightest prompting: both when I botch a story of my own, and every time I see a little mesh bag of avocados (with a much higher price tag) at the supermarket. It's part of my family lexicon. We have to say it; it's ingrained, like "Jinx! Buy me a Coke!"

This is my own longwinded meandering way to wonder if any of y'all are watching Fringe as avidly as I am? Because in last week's episode, set in the blighted alternate universe (not watching? just...go with it), Olivia marveled that Frank had procured apparently rare and precious avocados for their dinner. "Where did you get them? How much?" she asked dubiously...and you KNOW what I shouted at the teevee with absolute delight. Hi, Grammy! Miss you!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I wasn't afraid of the typical stuff, as a kid. A girl in my Brownie troop lived half a block from a cemetery, and we'd ride our bikes through the place and admire the more ornate headstones, sitting on the ones that had benches, distributing the tiny weedy daisies that grew in the lawn on the plots that seemed wanting. I had no worries about ghosts. I don't plan to be buried, but I figure you could do worse than to have a couple of dopey third-graders disrupting your Eternal Rest while wobbling around on their Schwinns and reciting selections from their favorite Bill Cosby albums. (Heather Lerwick--where are you now? If ever you Google yourself, surely this will be the weirdest hit!)

But I wasn't fearless. Oh, I had very specific and deeply held anxieties, over which I lay awake in dread on many a night. Would you like to hear about them? The three things that haunted my dreams and stirred me to helpless panic? Come scootch over here real close, and look upon the first face of terror:

That guy. That guy!

What is the deal, with the Cat in the Hat? Come on, he is PETRIFYING! He just shows up, while your mom is away, and she didn't even lock the door so he just COMES IN and starts WRECKING the place. Balancing shit! Spilling shit! Letting a pair of Things run amok! Strewing wanton chaos and mess in his wake!

Okay: my mom was a compulsive neat freak, taking her own anxieties out on dirt with furious aggression. We wiped out the sink after each use, played with one toy at a time, and knew to open the fridge with a sleeve pulled down to prevent fingerprints on the handle. She's mellowed considerably since then, thank Prozac...but there was a time when the slightest mess provoked her displeasure, and if mama ain't happy...well. Cat-induced mayhem boded ill.

And so at a tender age I was vaguely afraid of the Cat in the Hat, worried he'd show up to get ME into terrible trouble some rainy afternoon. (Although this line from the Wikipedia plot summary is splendid: The Cat's antics are vainly opposed by the family pet, a sapient and articulate fish.) On some level, I understood that a gigantic, bipedal, English-speaking cat sporting a stripey chapeau was...unlikely. (Thank heavens I wasn't subjected to Mike Myers's mutant visage as a kid; that gives me nightmares now.) But I soon had new demons to dread:

AAAAAAAAAAHHH! Laurel and Hardy! Coming with pickaxes, yet, to DESTROY YOUR HOME. (Yes, Mecklenburg, I can hear you laughing from here.) They were a silent menace that played on an overhead screen at the local Shakey's Pizza, accompanied by jaunty-funereal organ music as they smashed china and furniture and upright pianos to smithereens. Laurel and Hardy were real, if consigned to the realm of Olde Things, and I found them completely terrifying. All right, all right: the Cat in the Hat was a drawing...but these two maniacs could still possibly appear on your doorstep and tear the house down around you, giggling wordlessly, blinking their tiny black evil eyes. Laurel and Hardy: shudder. In a college film seminar, I had to watch "Big Business," and was hard-pressed to explain why I was peeking through my fingers in American Film Comedy. Not funny not funny not funny. Not.

Even less funny? Ohh, dude. Look at THIS:

OH MY GOD, NO. I was nine years old when 1941 came out, probably old enough to know better...but holy mother, look at that poster. That particular poster, in the back of some comic book or magazine I had, scared the bejesus out of me. SO MUCH DESTRUCTION. They are FIRING UPON the amusement park! Normally a fun place! They're blowing up the movie theatre showing DUMBO! That house, at the end, ruined and pulverized and pushed off the cliff into the sea! Merry Christmas! Ha ha ha! Wheeeee!

Oh dear lord, I could not handle it. Still can't; never seen it all the way through. The whole reason I started this post was because this blasted-ass terrible movie popped up on cable this evening, and I was lulled into false complacency by the merry jitterbugging in the USO. Before they SMASHED THE ENTIRE TOWN TO FLAMING SMITHEREENS, and I realized what I was watching and fumbled for the remote, whimpering into my mac and cheese. Not funny!

Also, now I am prone to wondering if there is a homeowners' insurance clause for Wanton Cinematic Mayhem. Acts of Laurel and Hardy?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Suzy Dorm-maker

It seems to come earlier every year, doesn't it? We're only in mid-July, but this week I got to indulge in one of my most favorite and hallowed annual traditions: perusing the current Bed Bath & Beyond flier, College Prep edition.

I've been analyzing my deep fondness for this publication all week, trying to sort out why--twenty years past outfitting a dorm room--I remain hypnotized by the exhaustive matchy-matchiness. The matching! Everything coordinated with everything else! Stuff bundled together in thematic sets: the towels that go with the duvet that complements the desk lamp, shower caddy, and collapsible laundry hamper. Plus two reversible accent pillows!

Maybe it's because we didn't do that, when I went off to college. Do people do that, now, collect the entire striped or polka-dotted Dorm Room in a Box and ship it off? (Did they do then?) I trundled off to Sarah Lawrence with a particle-board footlocker and the Laura Ashley knockoff comforter my mother gave me when I was 13. I hadn't chosen it: she and my grandmother had gotten a wild hair, I guess, and redid Sis's and my rooms with new linens one random afternoon. I remember that I found the cornflower-blue quilt with its teensy garlands of flowers a little twee; I was jealous of Sis's set, which had grids and squares in different grays, with deep burgundy accents, very modern, Totally 80s.

Everything else, I amassed piecemeal: milk crates, the obligatory Indian bedspread, a wooden rack from the Village Tower Records (!) to hold my cassette tapes (!!). That very first night in the dorm, I realized that I hadn't even packed a pillow. I bought one during a tour of SoHo the next day, and managed to get it shut in the doors of the 6 local on the way home. Stand clear of the closing doors. Yeah, honey, that means you. Yes, it's a wonder I survived.

At any rate, I didn't (and don't) really need a pink chrome wastebasket, let alone one that matched my blowdryer. I was perfectly content developing my own sense of style, instead of buying it in a kit. So why do I find the damn catalog so compelling?

Maybe it's the idea of starting completely fresh, acquiring a room and a life and a personality ready-made for your convenience...like a Witness Protection program of housewares. I occasionally dream about college, still, and in most of these dreams I'm not even taking classes or racing to some forgotten final; I'm moving in. I'm putting my books on the shelves, finding a sunny corner for the Venus flytrap I bought at the Woolworth's. It's all about the anticipation, nesting while I wait for My Future to begin on Monday.

Although...now that I've said that, I realize: a Venus flytrap? (Yes, I had one!) Strands of Christmas lights, a carved incense burner? Even in dreams, my stuff, my self, deliberately doesn't match. It might be easy to purchase a coordinated fantasy to inhabit, an identity in a color scheme...but even in my deepest subconscious, I'm not actually doing it. Better, after all, to keep fiddling with it all through the decades, building myself brick by brick by red sofa by thrift-store picture frame.

Where can I get a Venus flytrap, these days?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The will to go forth

Miss me?

I have excuses, oh, plenty of them and all boring as hell, I'm sure: I was readjusting to the antidepressants. I got sucked down the Facebook vortex with everyone else--why contemplate an entire blog post when I could blurt out a single sentence? I got a new job. My cat was sick. I turned 40. Beneath all of these is the simpler and even more boring excuse, in which I just...didn't...feel like it. Didn't feel like writing, didn't have sufficient motivation to put one paragraph in front of the other.

In recent months, and even the past two weeks, the world felt a tad bit worse, in fact: randomly cruel, though not explicitly to me. Several friends lost parents. One friend lost a child, a happily anticipated baby that simply stopped, halfway to term. And I grieved for these friends, recognizing but unable to alleviate their pain, and ohmygod what was the point of anything, anyway? This sucks. Life sucks!

And then one of these bereaved wrote in her own blog, posted about the progress of her grief: she was still devastated, and heartsick, and she was...out of peanut butter. Also lunchmeat. Also cheese. She was bereft, still doing some daily crying...but she had to gather her wits and her Kleenex and make a Costco run, because, you know, the kids needed sandwiches.

I'm not doing it justice, what that story did to me--how moving I found it, how beautifully banal that task. Costco! Death and heartbreak and a brick of Kraft singles, because no matter how painful or poignant or random fate can be, eventually you have to get up. Run the errands, feed the family, write it down.

It reiterated the philosopy about death that I've privately held for some time: that, if you wake up in the morning, if you're still Here, then there must be something left in this world that you're supposed to do. Originally I attached some pretty noble/vain aspirations to myself, out of this...but at 40, I've allowed that perhaps My True Purpose On This Earth is not necessarily to cure cancer, or attain the Presidency, or even write that blockbuster bestseller that gets me on Oprah. Maybe my purpose is smaller in scope, or meant to be taken a day at a time. Maybe today's task is only to put something between two slices of bread. Nourish someone. Nourish myself. Find the words, write it down. Tomorrow, maybe it'll be something else.

Anyway, I'm back. I thought: if she can do it, I can. If my friends and loved ones can push through their own respective sorrows, keep thinking and writing, can move and inspire me...well, I have nothing much to complain about, do I? Life is heartrending, and hilarious, and Warren Zevon was right: Enjoy every sandwich. So. I'm trying.

* * * * *
I let my yard go completely to pot, last summer. We had a ridiculous heat wave, a streak of 100-plus-degree days that roasted everything in the garden, including the Endless Summer hydrangea I'd nursed along for several years. This spring, it remained resolute, nothing but twigs, D-E-D dead. So I let the whole planting bed go to hell, figuring I'd rent a rototiller this fall, tear everything down to dirt, resod the lawn, start over.

One evening last week, when I got home from work, something caught my eye from the front porch. A glimmer of blue among the weeds: