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: