Sunday, December 30, 2007

Evil Princess Cuts Obnoxious Tourists

Cousin Bella and I have long been fascinated and weirdly obsessed/ horrified by Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center since it opened when I was eight and she was two and our families dragged us there every single year, because, as you may recall from the previous post, the Holland side of the family won't go anywhere else other than Disney for vacation. My parents, coming from other families, don't share this habit and aren't Disney people at all, but I went on vacation with my grandparents and aunt and uncle every year, so that's how I got sucked into the Holland Disney Vortex.

Bella grew up and carried on the Holland tradition, taking it to a whole new level by actually moving permanently to Orlando at one point and working at Disney World and for this I think the Hollands all want her revered as a saint. SHE WORKED AT DISNEY. Bella is now called alum and things like former cast member. She knows inside secrets. I confess reluctantly to being fascinated by this aspect of my dear cousin as well.

My beloved first cousin/ best friend and I know the ins and out of the Magic Kingdom and we like it ok, but aren't as spectacularly impressed with it as we were when we were little and all I wanted in the whole world was to meet Snow White and all Bella wanted in the whole world was to be Tinkerbell and fly to the castle on a zip line. Mommom Jewel still refers to us as Snowy and Tink. (So add that to my list of nicknames along with Pinky, Hackie and Grilled Cheese.) The Magic Kingdom is all rides based on movies for children - a big cartoon come to life. That's fine and well when you're five, but as Bella and I grew up we started using all our free passes that she got for working there to go to EPCOT.

EPCOT's a lot more complicated of a place. Most people hate it and it's really the misfit of all the Disney parks. It's kind of awkward and weird and I think all the tourists use it as the place to walk around when they can't think of anything else to do on the last day of their vacation and they still have a day left on their Park Hopper pass. Back when it opened EPCOT was supposed to be some kind of experimental city type of deal, but I never did see how that could be. As kids we didn't like it because it was educational. A lot of the rides used to be like little cars or boats through an animated Natural History museum, which we admitted was better than the actual Natural History museum, but still, it was a museum whether the cave men moved or not. Most of EPCOT's attractions weren't based on motion pictures, but there were an awful lot of films and kids found them to be hideously, painfully, screamingly dull.

Twenty something years later, EPCOT became very endearing and sort of sad to us. Like most of our family members, EPCOT got stuck in the 80s. Metaphorically it was still wearing its OP shorts and flipping up the collars on it's Izod shirts while rockin' out to some J. Giles Band. It had become, Bella and I realized, a great big monument to out of touch, painfully nerdy, white Americans. This pretty much also sums up the Holland Family as well.

EPCOT has two sections - the big museumy area where all the rides are educational (though, thank God, less so now than before) and the World Showcase which is a long curved road divided up into spaces about the size of a city block dedicated to different countries with lots of shops and restaurants and people wearing traditional costumes. The big deal here is that a lot of visitors go to the World Showcase to get ripping drunk because they serve alcohol from all the different countries in the shops and restaurants. There are only two rides in the World Showcase.

On this past trip, after Bella and I recovered from Holiday on Sand, we decided to spend an entire twelve hours dedicated to EPCOT. We hadn't been in a few years and we wanted to shop for overpriced junk that we didn't need in the World Showcase stores while eating poor quality, Americanized versions of native cuisine. We also wanted to see what changes had been made in the park and along the way offer up our own ideas for EPCOT's improvement.

The first thing we noticed was that the gigantic golfball called Spaceship Earth was under construction. This is the attraction that defines riding through an animatronic museum. That's all it is. I think it's supposed to be the history of communication or something. It's a little unclear and it's obviously behind the times, so thank the good Lord they are updating it. It starts out with cave men scratching on cave walls and ends, I kid you not, with a family sitting on a shag rug watching one of those TVs that we used to have that is in a wood veneer cabinet and is an entire piece of furniture. Technology has definitely advanced a lot further than this ride. I think in the "Living Room of the Future" they have a push button phone and that is a big deal. They talk about things like the "modern miracle - the toaster!" as bored visitors glide by in their little carts, messing with their iPhones in the dark until the ride is over. The best part was that there are all these warning everywhere not to ride this ride if you are scared of the dark. Man, let me tell you, if Spaceship Earth scares you, you got some serious problems.

After that we went to the Living Seas which used to be a big aquarium with all kinds of cool sea creatures, but is now dedicated to the excessive merchandising of "Finding Nemo" and Princess Ariel crap. Bella and I probably would have been into this when we were in kindergarten, but we wanted to see the manatees and they were gone, probably dumped into a drainage canal outside of Kissimmee, and replaced by some holographic talking fish that I desperately wanted to holographic Great White Shark to devour so that they would shut the hell up.

Now this brings me to another observation about Disney. This Princess shit is huge and it needs to end now before I have a daughter and she thinks I am an abusive parent and calls up Child Protective Services because I will not shell out $50 plus dollars on an ill fitting, unflattering, neon meringue, tangle of tulle and sequins princess costume so that she can parade around a theme park, dragging a train of stained, peed on, trampled on material behind her like some homeless, cracked out Jonbenet type, screaming until she's hoarse, for a picture with Mickey. I'm not doing it. Mark my words. I will be a mean mom.

For those of you who have not recently been to Disney, the big deal is to purchase these costumes, which are all frighteningly tacky and look like they were designed by RuPaul and Sigfried and Roy and make children look like washed up, schizophrenic Vegas showgirls who are now homeless, so that the children can indulge in this bizarre fantasy that they are the characters from the movies as they ride rides based on the movies and then throw tantrums in the gift shops to buy more stuff based on the movies. Mostly boys are exempt from this, although I did see a couple of pirate costumes, but I have a feeling those little boys will grow up to design elaborate stage sets for Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals. I guess Disney wants every little girl to feel like she is a princess. As a kid, I would have been totally into this, but luckily such foolish mania did not exist and all of my childhood pictures from Disney show me in pink, yellow and green diamond patterned bell bottoms or Garanimals.

I don't want to bust out the Feminism on you all, because for the most part, I'm pretty laid back about things, but I thought we had advanced a lot further than fairy tale princesses as positive female role models. Is this all we have for little girls to look up to? I mean, I realize that Hillary Clinton costumes wouldn't be as dramatic and I can't quite picture throngs of four year olds flying on the Dumbo ride wearing power suits and pearls, but still. I just can not get comfortable with this princess obsession. Something about these princesses with their tiny waists, bad taste in dresses, and huge praying mantis eyes creeps me out. Plus, the plot of all the films are little more than Princess gets saved by her man. Sure the princesses are clever and sweet and overcome mild adversity and blah blah, but ultimately, they're just gold diggers trying to marry a prince so they can wear the same fancy dress every single day and sit in the castle singing to mice and birds and doing nothing else. I don't want my daughter to think like that and I despise merchandising aimed at children that makes them feel that if they don't have some stupid, expensive thing that their parents don't love them and that they don't fit in.

Besides that, the majority of these girls don't look very princessy. The saddest thing I've ever seen is a dumpy, snot nosed kid from rural Mississippi crammed into a too small, Tinkerbell tutu with a melted Mickey head ice cream bar melted all down the front of it, scuffing her untied, Dollar General sneakers on the asphalt while her be-mulleted parents drag her off towards Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. As they say in Millpond "That shit ain't right."

But back to EPCOT. Bella and I tired of the educational section of EPCOT and after we rode Soarin', which is kinda cool I admit, especially the aromatherapy part, we decided to go buy some junk we didn't need and eat some fake international cuisine.

World Showcase is not exactly an accurate representation of the World. Mostly, it showcases countries where white people come from or where white people like to visit or at the very least that white people from rural areas have heard of. The countries are very pretty and look like film sets; folk tale stereotypes of politeness, white-washed, clean and made acceptable to xenophobic Americans, but dammit, there's something kind of nice about it at the same time, and plus, you can buy British KitKats in England and those are far better than the ones we have here and China makes a damned good version of sweet 'n' sour chicken.

As I strode though the eerie perfectness it occurred to me that they should expand the World Showcase. They need to have some new countries, or perhaps more authentic experiences of the countries they already have. For instance, all the french people in Faux France are creepy nice, like Stepford French, and they all smell like Guerlain perfume. Personally I enjoyed the brusque service in Vrai France and I totally understood why the servers in France were the way they were and loved that they didn't have to shamelessly kiss ass for tips the way servers in America do which spawns a hateful resentment that causes servers to write blogs which become wildly popular because people just hate waiting on other people. Making all the imported french students they have working in Faux France smile and be all waxy perfect is just cruel because I know deep down Annick and Bertrand want to shove a hot plate of steak frites right down the throats of every rude, fanny pack, mouse ear wearing asshole that parlez-vous his way down their pretend cobble stone streets under their mini Tour Eiffel.

Likewise, I suspect the rosy cheeked, corseted German maidens and their lederhosed counterparts agree. I'd like to see, instead of Hansel and Gretel selling cuckoo clocks, some Bauhaus architecture and icy blonde men wearing turtlenecks who hate our American asses. I'd also like to see a German fetish shop. Some of the freakiest porn in the world comes from Germany and you can be assured that whenever you hear some completely sick, twisted news story that it either happened in Germany or Florida, so why not combine the two and have Germany IN Florida? Imagine the deviant possibilities for a second.

EPCOT also features a China pavilion which is honestly beautiful with lots of gold dragons and lotus ponds, but it's totally Mulan. They should make it like real China and sell snakes and frogs in the market and they should have small children working in mock sweatshops making toxic products that are way cheaper than the products in all the other countries, but will actually kill you eventually. They could even have a mini-Tianenman Square where you could get your picture taken posing as if a life sized tank is about to run you over. Then you could watch a demonstration on human rights violations followed by a long explanation of Capitalist Communism (control people and make lots of money at the same time!). After that you could get thrown out, but not before they go through all of your bags to make sure you weren't spying.

Mexico is also way too perfect. It's actually my favorite country in EPCOT, mostly because it has a boat ride through a plastic jungle and a big paper mache volcano that erupts orange lights. There's a restaurant where you can dine under the volcano as the little boats pass and as a child Bella and I would have given our lives to eat there, just because it was SO different from all the Red Lobsters we had been to, which, incidentally were the only restaurants we had been to. Our families did not approve of such frivolity and always yelled at us saying:

"You don't need to eat in no danged Mexico. It's a rip off and it's not even as good as Red Lobster!"

Once, several years ago Bella and I, in an act of sheer defiance, actually ate at Mexico right under that volcano and it was one of the defining moments of our lives. The whole time we laughed wickedly at ourselves and repeated: "We're eating in Mexico!!!!! Bwahahahahaha!!" And yes, it was a little better than a Red Lobster, though not significantly.

Disney's Mexico is clean, minus donkey shows and cockfights and Montezuma's revenge. It kind of reminds me of the Acapulco they arrived at at the end of every Love Boat episode. What if EPCOT made their Mexico a little dustier, threw in a few tarantulas, corrupt cops who preyed on tourists and maybe a little mini-Tijuana where all the employees were trying to escape and cross over the borders into all the other countries for humiliating, low paying jobs? Then it might be more realistic.

I wandered through Norway looking at trolls, I bought a change purse in Japan where Japanese girls dressed as Geishas sold Sanrio and cut open oysters to reveal cultured pearls. We ate some authentically Chinese chow mein and sweet 'n' sour in China and strolled down to England where a Beatles cover band sang outside of a pub and a tea shop that sold Mickey tea sets. I got my KitKats and I thought of all the countries in the world that weren't represented here. How about Africa? I guess that caught up with Disney and they realized eventually that they had to do something to include Black people so they just gave them their own entire park (Animal Kingdom) and then threw in India there as well because Indian people are brown too. But that still leaves a lot of ethnic groups and cultures disenfranchised by the World Showcase. I began to have very non-politically correct thoughts.

What if, I mused, we had an Axis of Evil EPCOT to kind of counter all the Disney chirpy charm? Sometimes all that scrubbed raw, glittering perfectness actually irks me. It makes me crave edginess, violence and trash. My World Showcase would have Iran, Cuba, Afghanistan, North Korea and an America without Ben Franklins and Betsy Ross's serving apple pies.

In EPCOT Iran there would be huge paintings of Ahmadinejad (I have no idea how to spell it), no homosexuals and guests would not be allowed to say anything or eat ice cream. In Cuba there would be a thrill ride where you pretend to escape on a raft through rough seas, smuggled in by corrupt Americans who take all of your money, as you are chased by the Cuban military.

Next, for EPCOT Afghanistan, women would have to don burkhas to enter and there could be a stoning demonstration. Park visitors could engage in mock fights using old Soviet and American weapons and ride the explosive new roller coaster Al Quaeda Training Camp! There would be no food, lots of disease, begging children and women setting themselves on fire. Visitors who experience motion sickness, heart problems, back problems or emotional instability should refrain from visiting EPCOT Afghanistan.

In North Korea you could have a government minder following you all around as you looked for food and were continually told that just around the corner there was a bountiful feast, although you would never find it because there is actually no food. Then you could sit in on a nuclear bomb test before you tried to escape over the border without being shot. It would be like an obstacle course.

EPCOT America would be the best. It would be a big trailer park and a Walmart and all the employees would be ignorant, militant and unhealthy. The restaurants would serve nothing but processed foods like Hamburger Helper and boxed mac and cheese. The entertainment would be bothering all the other countries and sitting around bitching about the government. Fox News would play on big TVs mounted inside the Walmart.

I hope this doesn't come as a big disappointment to the Hollands, but I just don't think I have much of a future as an Imagineer.

If you aren't tired of Disney I have some links for you where you can learn more interesting facts about the history, the parks and the proposed improvements. Feel free to email me if you are visiting because I swear to the Baby Jesus, that I could now be considered an expert, and please, Disney Thought Police do not come after me and kick my ass for writing this stuff. You know I still love you right? Hail Mickey!

HERE is a blog by someone who loves EPCOT as much as me and Bella and no, he isn't a relative though he certainly could be with this level of devotion.

HERE is another blog that is exceptionally well written and explores Disney's methods and means for designing unique spaces. It also has a lot of history, trivia and interesting facts, as well as a bazillion other Disney related links. I linked to his EPCOT category, but you might like the current posts as well.

Finally, this great lady wrote a hilarious book of essays, one of which is from the perspective of a parent forced to get her kid the princess costume. I was peeing in my pants. The whole book cracked me up and I wrote to the author, who, lo and behold, wrote me back a real, personalized letter. I was so excited. I love when people write me back (ahem Pioneer Woman, you are still on my list, I don't care if your behind was on CNN or not). Buy Celia Rivenbark's book Here. You'll love it. I am currently terrified that I may have inadvertently, accidentally plagiarized her in my summation of the princess thing, so if I did, I swear it was not on purpose and I read her book way back in September so any similarity is purely coincidental and the result of me and Ms. Rivenbark simply agreeing on the subject.
Saturday, December 29, 2007

Holiday On Sand

Normally in stories the author is supposed to wait until the end to reveal the moral or the life lesson the reader is to have learned. Most of the time it's actually best to not reveal the lesson at all and to let the reader figure it out on his or her own. I'm going to break the rules and just come right out with the lesson before we begin. Please take my advice. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I learned the hard way so you don't have to.

Never. I repeat, NEVER, pretend that you want to buy a timeshare when you don't just so you can get free stuff.

You know our plan backfired as these sorts of plans always do. The reader sees this coming long before the characters in the story and this is probably because the characters want so desperately to believe in something too good to be true that they suspend their own disbelief. In this case it was for the potential to receive a free breakfast and a $120 Visa giftcard.

After the madness and nudity which marked our boat parade party, my cousin Bella and I drove up to Orlando to stay at her parents' timeshare at the Val-You Vac-YAY-tion timeshare resort. Now before I get into how Bella and I ended up being faced with a three hour long seminar, I need to say a few words about timeshares.

Bella is my cousin on my biological father's side of the family. One day I will draw you a flow chart to explain how I am related to everyone, but that day is not today, so for now be satisfied with this. I have no relationship with my biological father who is some sort of fanatical, fundamentalist baptist preacher/ missionary type and who has five children and a wife who is in hospice care for cancer right now, which is very sad to me in the way that it is sad when I see the same stories about total strangers on TV, but no more. Although I don't know my father, I know his whole wonderful family and love them to death. Mommom Jewel is his mother and I have two uncles who are twins and they are the fathers of my dear cousins, of whom Bella is one. This family's last name is Holland. Got it?

The Holland side of the family, God bless them every one, is strangely afflicted with an obsession for timeshare properties. The Hollands are planners. I get my perfectionism and maniacal fixation with scheduling and lists from these obsessive compulsive relatives, and when I say OCD I am not kidding around. Bella is one of those freaks you see on TV who has to count everything 44 times and it takes her hours to leave the house because she must complete a circuit of rituals which involves staring at things to make sure they aren't turned on (lights, the oven etc.) or overflowing (the sink and the toilet). Then she has to pinch all the candle wicks to make sure they aren't lit even though they have never once been lit ever. I guess there is the possibility that someone else could have lit them just to screw with her and I've even considered lighting all the candles just to make her compulsion at least a little more logical and worthwhile.

Part of the Hollands' OCD is that they all have to go on vacation to the exact same places every year. These two places are Williamsburg, Virginia and Disney World. On occasion, my grandparents will venture off to exotic locales such as Branson, Missouri and Myrtle Beach, but for the most part it's knickers or mouse ears. The Hollands are also the sorts of people who only eat at low-end chain restaurants and any member of the family can give you a detailed rundown on the differences between the Millpond Applebee's and the Applebee's in the Orlando area.

Being very regimented folk, the Hollands all bought timeshares. Timeshares are fantastic for people who like to visit the exact same places every single year, repeating the exact same vacation in perpetuity. And yes I know that timeshare owners often trade dates and locations and get to visit other places, but not the Hollands. They are all about consistency.

This year something happened so that Bella's parents, Aunt Deenie and Uncle Byron, could not visit their Orlando timeshare. Since Bella moved back to Millpond last year, we haven't had bonding time, so we decided to use the timeshare and go to Disney and carry on the Holland tradition (I swear they are trying to break some of record. I can see it now in the Guinness book).

"World Record for Family Who Has Visited Disney The Most - The Holland Family, Millpond, Deep South, USA"

Bella and I opted to help them out with this.

On our first evening in Orlando, at the lovely Val-You Vac-YAY-tion Timeshare resort, we found an invitation under the door of our suite which expalined to us in all capitals with many exclamation points that we were invited to a free breakfast buffet and were entitled to a FREEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! $120 Visa giftcard if we attended a brief tour of their new model and filled out a survey.

Well, hot dang, we thought. That's easy money and you all know I will go to great lengths for free food. It seemed stupid not to sign up. We even made reservations and started figuring out how we were going to spend our easy fortune.

The next morning Bella and I showed up on time at the "Welcome Center" which was in a strip mall next to a tanning salon and a mortgage place that looked to be going out of business. Across the pot-holed parking lot was a Hardees.

Once inside, a woman with a voice like Harvey Firestein, who wore a Christmas sweater all adangle with brooches and ornaments, some of which played songs, signed us in and sent us over to the breakfast buffet. The room looked like a bleak combination of an old bank branch and a cult indoctrination center. There were fold-out metal chairs and card tables decorated with paper Santas. It was all quite church basement. We looked for the buffet but found nothing but a nearly empty box of doughnuts, a thermos of coffee and a pitcher of watery Tang. There was a bulk sized can of generic coffee creamer powder and someone had spilled it and then drizzled some coffee on top of that so that the table was slicked with a sticky, tan mud.

We asked Harvey Firestein lady where the buffet was.

"Right there," she growled, pointing to the doughnuts and Tang.

"That's not a buffet," said Bella, who let me tell you, knows her way around a buffet. The girl can eat like that Japanese guy who slams down 102 hot dogs every July fourth.

"I think they think it is," I offered.

I could tell Bella was getting low blood sugar. She was pissed because she had imagined Belgian waffles, an omelette station, hotel pans loaded with greasy bacon and sausage links and something that she could shake a spray can of whipped cream on top of.

"That's the buffet," repeated Harvey Firestein woman, whose name was Marlene, but pronounced as MAWL-een in her New York accent.

MAWL-een then left us, yelling as she fled, for someone to turn up the music because "Sleigh Ride" was playing and it was her favorite Holiday song.

"Be-cawz it's lovely weatha fuh a sleigh roid togetha with yo!!!" Mawl-een bellowed.

I plucked a munchkin from the almost empty carton.

A short Indian man with brown teeth approached. He was wearing a bad suit, a wide tie and patent leather ankle boots that zipped on the side (do they still make those?) and he had a disastrous, oily comb-over which began, I think, at his left shoulder and swooped up and over the back of his head, covering his right ear and creeping down to some undisclosed location beneath his brown, polyester jacket. Everything about the man was the color of the mud on the table made from the spilled creamer and bad coffee. He was many shades of beige. Except his teeth. They looked a lot like a Hershey bar. With almonds.

The Indian man sized us up instantly and we could tell he knew we weren't qualified to buy a timeshare.

"You are wanting a timeshare?" he asked.

"Yes I am!" I replied with a great, forced enthusiasm.

"Me too!" said Bella.

"Yes!" I said, "We each want our own timeshare!"

The Indian timeshare salesman eyed us suspiciously.

"You will see the model first then and sit for an approximately three and one half hour presentation, followed by a second tour of the model, a survey, then we can qualify you for mortgage right here and sign contract. You should be finished by 6:30pm and then we give you $120 Visa gift card."

Bella and I looked at each other. I considered a warm glass of grainy Tang.

"You are really interested in buying timeshares?" asked the salesman.

We exchanged another glance and Bella decided to try Plan B - throw a fit.

"Excuse me, but when we received the invitation to attend and when I made the reservations for this I was told there would be a breakfast buffet, a short tour, a 15 minute presentation and then I could just fill out a survey if I wanted to and then I got my gift card and could go and this is ridiculous. We had plans to go to Epcot!"

The man pointed to the "breakfast buffet."

"THAT is NOT a breakfast buffet!" Bella continued, "That is some munchkins and Tang!!"

The thought passed through my mind that Bella was definitely worthy of her pimp cup now.

The salesman went and got a guy named "Mike" whom we supposed was a manager and Bella went on her tirade to him.

This lasted about five minutes but to me it seemed like at least 20 and during that time I finished off the doughnut holes and had a styrofoam cup of Tang.

Bella and Mike went back and forth. Bella accused the Val-You V of misrepresentation, and Mike accused her of not being serious and then when that didn't work they started to bargain. He said we could stay for two hours. Bella stuck hard at fifteen minutes and demanded they order us some take-out from IHOP. Mike declined.

Finally, Bella and I left with our prize. Mike was hard to bargain with so Bella took what she could get and gave up. They wouldn't give us the Visa card, but probably to get rid of us once and for all, they shoved a crinkled envelope in Bella's hands which held two tickets to Sahara Stars - Holiday on Sand, featuring Camel-ganza and a real, live Unicorn.

"Are we really going to this thing?" I asked.

"It's FREE FOOD, and a live unicorn," Bella said.

"There's no such thing as unicorns."

"Well, there's Camel-ganza too."

"Because how could we pass up something called 'Holiday on Sand' featuring Camel-ganza?"

Well, obviously we couldn't and obviously Bella had not learned her lesson regarding free food from the breakfast buffet.

That evening we arrived at Sahara Stars, which is a very cheezy dinner theater type of production, along the lines of Medieval Times, except with a pseudo-Arabic theme. Picture a lot of scimitars and flying carpets, genie and lamp imagery, blonde belly dancers with huge fake boobs and all of this with an extremely non-muslim Christmas theme. While watching all this you eat not kebabs and pita, which might have been pretty good, but your choice of chicken tenders, char-broiled burger or penne marinara, all served with a side of shoe string fries, even the penne marinara. You also get unlimited refills on Pepsi, 7-Up, chocolate milk and purple drink. For dessert we had red and green "holiday" Jell-o or chocolate pudding cup. Yum.

The show was so unintentionally funny that we couldn't eat because we were afraid we would accidentally choke to death on a chicken finger. It derived its hilarity from the fact that it took itself very seriously despite the fact that it was atrociously ridiculously bad. It involved a lot of fireballs, smoke machines, multi-colored lasers, guys who really wished they were David Copperfield and most of the show took place on horseback in a big, circus-like ring with a sand floor. Periodically the horses would poop and a bunch of stage hands would clamor out into the ring to sweep it up. This was the best part of the show. The children in the audience loved it. There was also a fake sword fight, more lasers, a guy dressed in black bloomers and a vest with no shirt underneath it, who was the villain and he rode a black horse and stole one of the blonde belly-dancers right off the back of her white horse and carried her off somewhere so that the hero, who wore white bloomers and a gold vest and rode a palomino horse had to save her. This was all set to some music that sounded like Enigma if Enigma had come from the United Arab Emirates and were hairdressers who all played synthesizers. After this melodrama ended, happily thank God, it was time for Camel-ganza.

About fifteen camels, wearing their own satin vests and tassled bridles were led into the ring to more Arabic techno music and strobe lights. The camels then circled around, bowed a few times, pranced a bit self-consciously, pooped and left. A fake thunderstorm followed with laser lightning and the camels returned, this time being ridden by the belly dancer girls. They paraded again and Camel-ganza ended leaving Bella and I very glad we hadn't missed such a spectacle. It almost brought tears to my eyes.

Suddenly, the theater went dark and silent. Some people in the audience believed that something had gone wrong with the show, but they were just trying to build tension and anticipation for........THE UNICORN.

A disembodied, very deep voice began to speak as the ring filled with smoke from a fog machine. Lots of people coughed.

"For centuries this mystical creature, shrouded in mystery, was sought after by men from all around the world. Believed to posess magical healing properties and the ability to purify man's very soul, the unicorn has lived in the shadows avoiding capture and immortalized in artistic masterpieces, though never before seen by human eyes UNTIL NOW!!!"

The techno music pumped again.

"For the first time ever the mystical unicorn appears!" DUNH DUNH DUNH

The audience began to clap to the Arabic techno music, but slightly off beat and pink, purple and blue lights illuminated the smoke.

A small, slightly overweight, white mare stepped tentatively through the smoke and lights into the ring of sand. On her forehead they had somehow managed to affix a long horn that bobbed and flexed as the horse dipped her head with each step. It didn't look real.

"They did not do that to that poor horse," Bella whispered.

"I think they did," I replied.

Bella and I then began to speak for the horse, cracking ourselves up as we asked in desperation why we (as the horse) weren't good enough as we were without a stupid horn glued on our heads.

The real live unicorn trotted around the ring while a woman in an I Dream of Jeanie costume made histrionic gestures from the center of the ring. The unicorn ended by rearing up on her hind legs and departing back into the shadows from whence she came. The disembodied voice came back and promised us that our souls were now cleansed.

Since the unicorn purified us, we were ready for the big Holiday on Sand finale. Everyone -horses, camels, genies, belly dancers, sultans and sheikhs and of course the unicorn all came out and ran around to Manheim Steamroller for about ten minutes as foam snowflakes fell onto the faux-Saharan stage set. Holiday on Sand ended with Santa being pulled across the sand in a flying carpet shaped sleigh pulled by camels.

We gave them a standing ovation.

Now readers, I have already told you the moral of this story, but looking back with a week or so's worth of distance, I think maybe, just maybe, it may have been worth it to pretend that we wanted to buy timeshare property in order to receive two free tickets to a show as rare, as powerful, as emotionally moving and as truly magical as Sahara Stars, Holiday on Sand featuring Camel-ganza.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Different Kind of Christmas Tree

Merry Christmas From Los Angeles

I just wanted you all to know that I flew out to LA on Friday to spend Christmas with my parents and in-laws who also live in the area, so I may not be around as much for the next few days, though I assure you, I have plenty to write about. We've been busy getting ready for Christmas and sight-seeing so I haven't had time or good enough Internet access to write you a proper story or two. One of those stories is about how I may be the only person in the world who is not a Disney employee who has visited both Disney World and Disney Land this week. Luckily no one died yesterday at Disney Land. I am completely Disneyed-out, officially. If I hear one more corny song or see one more bouncing, dancing, gigantic animal I am going to have some kind of a seizure.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.
Thursday, December 20, 2007

I Visit Africa, But The One Without Warlords and Mosquito-Born Illness

The point of posting this picture is decidedly not to show you my vacation photos, because honestly who cares about seeing the boring vacation photos of a total stranger? I mean, I probably would but I am nosy and voyeuristic that way, but I don't expect you to. I went to Disney's Animal Kingdom the other day because as you know I love me some animals and I've always wanted to go on safari except I would never fly all that way to Africa because I hate long flights and I would never want to go somewhere where everything can potentially kill you and where everything gives you dysentary. I took this lovely picture with the intention of photographing a beautiful landscape with animals in it that I could use as my desktop wallpaper. When I got the picture home and looked at it in real size I noticed that in my attempt to take this lovely pastoral scene, I had inadvertently captured a zebra magnificently mid-poo. His tail is up and you can easily see the poo on its way to the ground. Click on the picture and zoom in if you must. I didn't resize it specifically so you too could enjoy the results of my sad and feeble attempt to take a nice, tasteful photograph. Then as luck would have it, on the very day, at the very moment that I decided to set foot in this amusement park, there was a small and mysterious ruckus occurring. Later we learned that This had happened. Someone died on a ride while I was there. Of course because of the scary, manufactured perfectness that is Disney, no one ever would have known while actually at the park. They were frighteningly efficient at covering everything up and maintaining the air of perfectitude (I am convinced that they train Disney employees in North Korea). I was taking pictures of the very ride where the person was dead, right as the person died and a police man came up to me, calling me "Princess" and herded me ever so gently away from the area. At the time I didn't get why and his gentleness was such that I didn't even realize I was being guided away, but now I know it was because he didn't want me to get a picture of a body being carried off a roller coaster. And I was thinking, man that really sucks. Imagine going to Disney for Christmas and having your relative die on a ride. That's awful. I feel really sorry for that family.

Everyone's Favorite Cup

It wouldn't have been right not to include everyone's favorite cup. Being the real Polly Prissy Pants at the party I of course would have preferred big glass mugs of hot chocolate overflowing with puffs of whipped cream, but my relatives are clearly more into the gin and juice. God bless 'em.

This Was My Favorite Boat From the Boat Parade

It was really pretty in real life and you might not be able to tell here, but it was actually on a sailboat and was entirely covered in lights. I bet it would have been neat to get to ride on it. SJ proposed that next year instead of having a party that all the poets get together and make our own boat to enter in the boat parade and while she may have been joking, I think it's a good idea and I have resolved to do exactly that. I think I can't go through life without having been in a parade at least once, especially a boat parade.

Behave Yourselves and Look at Some Pictures While I Pack for Los Angeles

I just want you all to know for your information that this is a piece of artwork that I have created my own self. I know that's hard to believe, that I did this on my own, but I did. I started with a picture of the skinless horse, but it had a bunch of people and nonsense in the background so I began to color them out and then I got really artistic and added some color and then I just went completely overboard with my artisticness and added in 2 more statues standing on the horse's back. This is why I failed out of art school, because while I desperately wanted to be an artist (mostly so I could live a bohemian artist's life which I imagined was very glamorous when I was 18), I have no actual artistic talent.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Greetings From Val-You Vac-YAY-tion

OK so I got seriously slack and didn't write for four days but let me tell you, I had a good reason. I am in recovery. First from the party I attempted to have and second because at the moment I am writing to you from the spiffy third floor lobby of my cousin's timeshare at the Val-You Vac-YAY-tion Resort in freezing cold Orlando, Florida where it appears that the entire stretch pant wearing, Hamburger Helper eating Midwest portion of the US has descended this week to see parades at Disney World. I'm not kidding you. I think entire Ohio towns are completely deserted and several trailer parks in lower Delaware are empty. Orlando scares me, but I am here to gather my wits once again after a weekend with Aunt Kiki's daughter and my sister, her new beau Rusty Brad, and everyone who has ever worked at the Rusty Badge at some point.

The Party

I had really wanted to have a beautiful, classy Christmas party this year. My parents left me with a fabulous house on the water, complete with a fireplace and a gas stove and every possible amenity for having perfect parties. Saturday was the night of the annual boat parade in my city and it's so festive to sit outside and watch all kinds of boats, from sea kayaks, outrigger canoes, fishing boats and sailboats to gazillion dollar yachts, all decorated and gliding down the canal. I decided I would have a boat parade party. At the same time my sister decided that she too would have a boat parade party. Her idea of a party and my idea of a party are very different things.

I invited all of my intellectual poet friends from school. They're the kind of people who bring lovely gift baskets and wear lacy party dresses and behave themselves. A wild night for them is an argument about Foucault vs. Fish, and by Fish I mean Stanley not tuna. If my friends get really wild they might compose a poem with a mild innuendo deeply encoded. They might even enjamb.

My wonderful cousin Fallon, Aunt Kiki's daughter, also decided to come down and I was excited to see her because I hadn't gotten together with her in a while and she's unbelievably fun and rivals even me in her storytelling abilities. She just can't write so she has to tell me the stories and then I have to write them down. Remind me to tell you about her friends who live in a storage facility sometime.

My sister invited all of her friends from the Rusty Badge, the beachfront dive bar where she tends bar. A wild night for them involves public nudity, a brawl, an arrest, a trip to the emergency room and stitches. In a few short years it will also involve cirrhosis of the liver, but they don't seem to care. This group of people includes a mix of Irishmen from the Southside of Boston (at one part of the evening I swore I was in a Matt Damon, Ben Affleck movie), a couple random old men, social outcast potential stalker guys, two or three dudes with sunburns and mullets, 27 flamboyantly homosexual servers, innumerable slutty girls, an old lady, several frat boys and a menage a quatre of middle aged swingers who nobody knew but who got into the jacuzzi and stayed there until 3am. My sister has inherited from my parents the penchant for freak attraction that I have tried to resist for the past 34 years.

One of my sisters gay friends is now one of my favorite people on earth. His name is Stevie Gay Brawn and he wears tight tee shirts, cut offs and work boots. He has a fetish for old men who look like Santa Claus, which creeps me out more than you can imagine (its just sacreligious to imagine Santa with his pants down, I'm sorry), but I can forgive that because Stevie Gay Brawn brought me not only a large chafing dish of steak, but my very own SNOW MACHINE!!!!!! My party was complete, I thought. I had a snow machine to blow foam all across my parents' backyard and hopefully not do permanent damage to the pool filter and I could spin around and blink soap out of my eyes and pretend that I was in the Green Mountains of Vermont instead of in 85 degrees with 100% humidity.

I put a pot of mulled cider on the stove, made popcorn and set out the dips and candy canes. I lit candles and the whole house smelled like cinnamon and fuzzy baby reindeer. I swear we even had a smores making set with skewers and sterno and I was ready to sip virgin eggnog and toast marshmallows with my friends while watching the boats.

This lasted for about two minutes and then people started getting naked. Then they jumped in the pool. One girl fell down twice and I just knew she had cracked her skull open and that was the end of my parents' homeowner's insurance. Girls were running around in thongs, people were trying to have sex with each other, gay men were turning straight and all hell just ripped loose. Someone turned off my tasteful Christmas mix and replaced it with Flo Rida and pretty soon Fallon was showing all my poet friends how to do The Cyclone. Somewhere in all this, my sister's new beau, Rusty Brad, showed us all why she likes him so much and I'll just leave it at that. My eyes burned. There was a lot of pink and hair. I don't want to think about it.

My other cousin also flew down from Millpond for the occasion and she brought her Pimp goblet which is a huge black glass that says PIMP across it in rhinestones, because my relatives are full of class and sophistication that way. The problem was after she got a little too low low low low she couldn't get back up up up up. She barfed and passed out and missed most of the excitement.

Oh my Lord, Readers I was mortified.

The poets left. I think I have no friends left at school except now they have seen for themselves that all the crap I write about is actually true.

The next morning we woke up and there was fruit all over the backyard. I have no idea where it came from because we didn't serve any fruit, but Bomboclaat was running around the patio collecting grapes and melon balls and I prayed they weren't alcohol soaked because I can just hear the conversation now.

"Mom, we had a wild party in your house and somehow Bomboclaat got alcohol poisoning from eating some fruit that was on the patio even though we didn't have fruit."

So yeah. Also, Fallon showed everyone the new tattoo she has on the inside of her lip which says her name, so in case she forgets it she can pull her lip down to her chin and read it upside down and backwards in a mirror. At one point in the night I asked her something, I forget what and she looked at me with total seriousness and said:

"I am Kiki's daughter."

That answers it all.

At some other point in the evening I think I may have told my sister that she needs to go to rehab and I think I may have also mentioned to one of the thong girls that she should consider acquiring a little dignity and self respect and not run around stranger's homes with her ass hanging out. I don't care if that's the best way to see all of her tramp stamp or not. You shouldn't take your clothes off at Christmas parties. Ever.

Am I really related to these people?

And dammit it all, I never got to make smores.

Val-You Vac-YAY-tion Timeshare Resort

On Sunday Miss Millpond Pimp Cup was driving to Orlando to stay in her parents, my aunt and uncle's, timeshare at the Val-You Vac-YAY-tion Resort, so clearly needing a value vacation myself, I too drove up.

I have to go eat dinner of one of the apparently 7900 Red Lobsters in this beautiful city, so I can't tell you the rest of the story.

Tomorrow or the next day though I will be certain to give you the inside scoop on all the horrors of Disney World and the people who go to it, as well as the story of how my cousin and I got screwed by trying to pretend like we wanted to buy a timeshare to get free stuff. This story involves a unicorn.

No, for real. A unicorn.

Man, I can't get that Flo Rida song out of my head now.
Friday, December 14, 2007

I Want to Light My Whole Head On Fire With This

This blonde is not me and looks nothing like me, however she is the perfect illustration of what I would have killed for when I was eight (see below). Somehow seeing this as an adult, I'm having trouble understanding what caused me such a thrill as a child. For one, it looks incredibly heavy and dangerous. I can't even begin to think about gobs of hot wax dropping onto my scalp. Man, I thought getting a wad of pink bazooka stuck in my pony tail was a pain to get out (peanut butter works great for getting gum out of hair by the way) so hardened candle wax must be damned near impossible. I'd love to see the stats from Stockholm emergency rooms on December 13th on how many girls got third degree burns on their heads from this. At the very least, December 14th must be a big day for Swedish hair dressers because I think the only solution to getting the wax out of one's hair would be cutting it out. I bet towards late December, many the Swedish maiden ends up with a pixie cut. Before I forget picture courtesy of some Catholic web site. I don't want a raging priest coming after me yelling "You stole that picture of that swedish girl with a wreath on her head from our web site and now you're going to hell Wide Lawns girl!!!"

Christmas Hoopla? Are You Sure?

I don't do memes. I hate freakin' memes. I don't even know how to pronounce the word because I've never heard anyone say it out loud. I do not approve of memes. I have only done one once in my life to be nice to someone.

I have a bit of a theory as to the popularity of memes. I think people do them because 1. they can't think of stuff to write about, so the meme serves as a little writing exercise to get them thinking and 2. memes make people feel like they're famous, being interviewed like a celebrity.

I imagine very ordinary people doing memes, typing away while envisioning themselves wearing Dior sunglasses and a fur stole with some fembot reporter from Entertainment Tonight desperately hanging on, waiting for the answer to the crucial question - Vanilla or Chocolate????? Which is it?? Come on!!! I need to know which ice cream you prefer!! This is urgent!!

So I don't like memes and I ignore them when I'm tagged, but somehow someone got to me and I felt like being generous and kind, because it's Christmas Dammit! And I didn't want to seem like one of those aloof famous bloggers (ok, yeah I know I'm not famous) who won't answer emails, ahem.

Nicrogers tagged me. Echhhhhh. I considered ignoring this like I ignore all the others, but ehhhnnnnn, it's Christmas dammit and my relatives, at least 75 of them have forwarded me the same stupid Christmas meme in my email already, so I figured I would be kind and generous for once and just do the blasted thing on here so my 75 relatives would leave me alone and so I could be nice to Nic. Ehhhnnnn.

Nic's thing is called a Christmas Hoopla and I was all like, for real? Are you sure it should be called that? I looked up the definition of Hoopla and this is what I found:

"speech or writing intended to mislead or to obscure an issue. "

Umm. Ok. I was supposed to write 12 random facts about me and Christmas, but I have to mislead. I could mislead you by saying that I LOVE CHRISTMAS!!!! I AM FULL OF HOLIDAY CHEER!!!

I'm going to stop complaining and just do the thing already.

12 Damned Things About Me and Christmas

1. I have never had eggnog. He has though.

2. For many, many years I refused to even celebrate it at all.

3. I don't dream very much but when I do I have one recurring nightmare that it is Christmas and no one has done anything. No presents, no tree, no food and I have to rush at the last minute on Christmas Eve to try to save Christmas on my own but when I get to the store the shelves are bare and the store is closing. I always wake up with a heavy, awful sadness. I always thought it was about me being a perfectionist but my therapist said it was a dream about being disappointed in other people and on the way home in the car I cried because I can't cry in front of other people, except the time JG made me cry in class by introducing me to the poem "Song" by Bridget Pegeen Kelly.

4. The reason I refused to celebrate Christmas was because of an incident I refer to as "The Jew Bastard Christmas." I wrote it down many years ago when I didn't have enough distance. I think I'll revise it and post it for you guys.

5. A few years ago I went to Millpond without telling Mommom Jewel. I wanted to surprise her for Christmas. I took 2 pink plastic flamingos and went in the middle of the night and put them in her yard with wreaths around their necks and when she woke up she found them out there and didn't know who did it. I kept her in suspense until that night, when I called her from her own doorstep. In the middle of the conversation I knocked on her door and she got all mad because someone was banging on her damned door and she had to get off the phone. But it was me.

6. When my great grandmother Mama Ethel was alive she used to make a goose every Christmas because my Uncle Bull would shoot them. Goose is good. One day I'd like to have Christmases at my house and make a goose too.

7. Last year was the first time that anyone in my family ever wrapped a present. My sister and I were amazed.

8. My favorite carol is the one that goes "GLOR or or or or or or or or or or or or or or or IA"

9. I am obsessed with nativity scenes. I secretly draw them in my notebooks this time of year.

10. When I was little we had this set of encyclopedias from 1960 and under the Christmas entry there was a paragraph with very stereotypical pictures of how Christmas is celebrated around the world. My absolute favorite was Sweden and I would have killed someone, literally killed someone, when I was eight to have worn a wreath with lit candles on top of my head. To this day I adore all things swedish. My husband actually took me on a date to IKEA because I love Sweden so much and I bought all sorts of lingonberry products. Tragically at IKEA they do not sell wreathy candle head dresses. Probably because Amerians would set themselves on fire with such a contraption. Can you even imagine? I would burn Casa dei Sogni to the ground. By the way, guess where I'm finally getting to go next summer? Yup. That's right. Sweden.

11. I met my husband at a Christmas party 5 years ago today.

12. Remind me to tell you about the time I made it snow on Christmas and how Uncle Bull decided we weren't having Christmas dinner so we had a BBQ in the snow, got drunk on Uncle Bull's signature drink the "Who's Your Daddy" and played cards instead. So not Swedish.

13. For Christmas could you all not tag me for anything ever again?

Oh crap, I'm supposed to tag people. My demented brain wanted to tag all Jewish bloggers. I don't want to tag anyone. I know I'm not supposed to do that. I know. But Nic, it is a miracle I did this at all, which shows my devotion to you in and of itself.

Merry Christmas.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I just wanted to share a few things with you this afternoon and later, I will probably, although I'm not guaranteeing this, write a proper story.

I have the next several weeks off to live the life of a housewife, so today I decided to make a pot of homemade chicken soup exactly the way my Jewish grandmother Savta makes it. Yes, I have three grandmothers. Savta doesn't get in armed robberies, she doesn't dream up elaborate conspiracies and she doesn't live in Millpond. She lives with my grandfather Saba, in a community for old Jewish people who like to spy on one another and tell the rabbi if someone else breaks the sabbath. Savta is a little old lady who wears her hair in a bun, has never even tried on a pair of pants and would drop dead if she ate something that wasn't kosher. She makes really good soup and taught me how to make it which is what I'm doing now.

That's really it about the soup.

Yesterday I saw a nekkid man at McDonalds.

I was driving to school and I was stopped at a light next to a McDonalds on the other side of the bridge that connects the Island to Basura proper and there, outside on those concrete tables they have in front of some McDonaldses sat a pretty ordinary looking man, maybe around 50. Something caught my eye and I said to myself "That man looks like he's not wearing any pants"


I do not know what a nekkid man was doing sitting outside of McDonalds and why no one else seemed to have noticed, but there he was just as plain as day drinking orange juice through a straw without a stitch of fabric covering his body. And then because he totally wanted to make my day, before the light turned green, the nekkid man stood up in all of his nekkid glory and exposed himself casually to all the people stopped at that traffic light and I saw his entire bare bottom and butt crack and then before I saw some other things the light changed and I drove away.

The whole rest of the ride all I could think about was what happened after I drove away. I wonder if he put some clothes on. I wonder if he got arrested. I wonder what he was thinking.

I was delighted that I got to see this sight, because I am sick in the head and am immediately drawn to anything strange and out of the ordinary no matter how deviant. I often think that I should have gone into journalism. Whenever I hear of something terrible, unusual or exciting happening I immediately want to go and see it and look at it and if possible, also mess with it. I can't help myself. Maybe I could spin this quality in future job interviews. I could chirp things like:

"I have a natural curiosity and a passion for discovering the unknown!!"

Later yesterday when I got home I found the the Former Mormon, who is still here indefinitely, wheeling an enormous sculpture into the house on a hand truck. When I got inside the house I discovered that the piece he was wheeling in was one of many and that the living room of Casa Dei Sogni resembled a gallery of the gaudy. There are sculptures everywhere. None of them are wearing clothes. One is a statue of a woman who is almost as tall as I am and she appears to be dragging a giant fish behind her.

My favorite sculpture is the one he was wheeling in as I arrived. It is of a large, prancing horse.

The horse has no skin. You can see all of its bones and muscles and the piece of art is geniusly entitled: Anatom-equus. I just love that name. I mean if I was on the fence about buying a statue of a skinless horse and couldn't make up my mind, a name like Anatom-equus would totally sell me. Why do people want statues of things without skin? This is going to keep me up at night.

Just now I went to skim the foam from my pot of soup and the Former Mormon, sans Claude, was hopping around the kitchen trying to take bites from my lunch as he was in the middle of a crisis. Yesterday morning he locked himself out of his bedroom and we had to practically remove the door from its hinges to get him back in and rescue my sister's cat.

Oh, I forgot to mention that my sister's asshole cat is here too now. The freak magnet pulled it in as well.

I can't stand my sister's cat. She found it in a dumpster in Ohio, drugged it and drove it all the way down here. It's long haired and solid grey and looks like a lynx. It hates everyone and everything and is essentially a feral cat that is now declawed and living indoors. It's mean. Once it cornered me in her kitchen and you can't even approach it without it snarling and hissing.

The cat ended up at Casa DS because my sister is not allowed to have cats in her apartment. The maintenance man at her building busted her and told the landlord. When questioned, my sister said she was merely watching someone else's cat for a day and then packed him up and brought him over here, where all misfit, freakish and unwanted things inevitably end up.

Canela was displeased. Canela is a nice, friendly, quiet little cat and when she saw Puss, for that is the beast's name, she immediately turned herself into a bottle brush and prepared to open a can of her own special brand of kitty whoop ass on him. Puss is petrified of her, which is hilarious because he's like three times her size. Bomboclaat decided to get in on the action and back up his girl, so now we've got Bomboclaat and Canela vs. Puss and about every fifteen minutes the fur flies.

Canela and Puss avoid one another as best as they can, but then I think they get bored and being feline drama queens, they sit a few feet from one another and make ungodly noises in what can only be described as a cat yo' mama contest. Eventually though, someone will cross a line and say something unforgivable and it will get physical, at which point Bomboclaat has to intervene and then Bomboclaat and Canela chase Puss through the house. I don't even need a TV. I should charge entry and let people bet on them.

But back to the Former Mormon. So yesterday morning he locked himself out of his room with Puss trapped inside. Today he has again locked something in something else without keys and I can't figure out what, but it appears to be a terrible crisis, for which he grabbed a slice of cake in his hand and went flying out of the house when I told him where to find the nearest Home Depot. He said he had to buy bolt cutters.

God help us. Or me, actually. God help me. Please.

And also, my cousin Fallon, winner of the amateur contest at her local, Central Florida, red neck strip club, TWO WEEKS IN A ROW, is coming to see me for the weekend tomorrow.

I think I need to go take some pictures for you all. How can I allow you, my dear readers, to go on without seeing the skinless horse?
Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mommom Wears Airwalks?

Everyone wanted to know what shoes Mommom finally got. I called her. She decided to have fun and go with the plaid.

Here are Mommom Jewel's new shoes. Very Christmas-y, and although they are probably intended for teenagers, I can see where these are actually really practical and comfortable for an 80 year old lady too.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Can Someone Tell Me How to Turn This Thing Off?

I wish I knew how to deactivate the freak magnet installed in the foyer of Casa Dei Sogni because all I want now that I'm done with school, is just a little peace and rest before I go out to LA and meet the West Coast entourage I'm sure my parents have acquired by now.

The Former Mormon has been staying here for over a week and I'm not sure when he's leaving. Most of the time the Former Mormon (FM from now on) is my favorite of my parents' friends. He's quiet, which is more than I can say for any of the others, but he does have some unusual habits. Generally I like his unusual habits, but this week I'd love some privacy I guess.

My parents met the FM at least ten years ago, possibly longer, when they were trying to get themselves involved in a complicated bartering thing. They had bought a few loads of closeout crap that they couldn't sell and were stuck with so they got the brilliant idea that maybe they could just trade the merchandise for other things they needed and get rid of it that way. It was better than nothing. The FM was all about the bartering system, which he used to find places to stay in exchange for some pieces of hideous, reproduction artwork. My parents are huge fans of hideous, reproduction artwork and of people who need places to stay randomly and without warning, so this was a great match.

FM was a bachelor when my parents first let him stay at our house in exchange for a Botero print in a rather rococco gold frame. As a traveling art salesman, FM wasn't really from anywhere and didn't exactly have a home of his own. He liked to keep moving. He stayed wherever he was and lived out of an old duffel bag he got when he went on mission 20 years before. My parents' house proved the perfect place to stay for several weeks at a time. It was comfortable, no one noticed what anyone else did, the FM just blended in with the constant flow of people through the front and back doors, and my mother cooked good. Her meatloaf and fried chicken dinners reminded him of growing up in Utah.

Like the best former Mormons, FM is from Utah. Until he was 20 he was very serious about his faith but one day while in Los Angeles on mission work, the young LDS missionary was converted by another kind of missionary - a Scientology fanatic, and he had his first e-meter reading. FM became a Scientologist, but he still didn't drink alcohol or coffee. He got excommunicated from the LDS church, so he figured he may as well have sex, but he just couldn't bring himself to try a cup of Maxwell House. To this day I've never once seen him have anything in the mornings but Postem.

For some time, the FM practiced Scientology. Now those who know me in real life understand immediately why I love the FM so much. I am obsessed with cult-like bizarre religions. Mormonism and Scientology are two of my favorites so you can see where someone who has been BOTH of these things, a Mormon AND a Scientologist, would fascinate me beyond measure. The only thing that could have made him more interesting to me would be if he had also been a member of the People's Temple, but I guess that would mean he might not be here to tell me about it. The FM gave up Scientology because it was just too expensive, but he still believes that L. Ron and Joseph Smith are two of the greatest men who have ever lived. FM and I have had many debates about why Rudolf Steiner must also be included. For one, Steiner didn't try to impregnate any Whores of Babylon with the Antichrist, but the FM insists that this was just a big misunderstanding. Likewise the whole missing tablets from the Angel Moroni thing. Also - big misunderstanding. I think it's all pure insanity.

From Scientology the FM progressed into a more generic, less affiliated New Age spiritual path that involved things like meditation, sage smudging, misappropriated Native American rituals, goddess worship and astral projection, combined with occasional aura photography, wheatgrass juice fasts, tai chi and telepathy. He stayed in a lot of people's houses in California until he met my parents and decided to stay at their house more often than anyone else's.

The first time I ever met the Former Mormon, he was in the lotus position on our living room sofa, barefoot, yet wearing a suit, burning nag champa and chanting like a Tuvan throat singer. Well, he was attempting to chant like a Tuvan throat singer, I should say. He sounded like he had a terrible larynx condition. Also, his feet stunk, which I think may have been the actual reason for the nag champa, but the incense wasn't strong enough so the living room smelled like a combination of a head shop and a locker room. The best part was the suit, because all the FM is most definitely former in his Mormonism, he still looks pretty current in that faith. The FM looks extraordinarily clean cut and wears a suit (the same one), scuffy loafers and black knee socks even when it's hot. His light hair is cut short, parted and combed neatly to one side and he is always closely shaven.

I always enjoy the FMs visits. I really do. I love when he talks to my spirit guides on the other side and when he channels spirits in our dining room and flamboyantly does automatic writing while I'm trying to watch Seinfield reruns. I like all these quirks, but I have a problem with two things. First the FMis a terrible grazer who eats everything in the refrigerator, usually while standing in front of it. If he actually closes the door and prepares food he makes tremendous, cataclysmic messes in the kitchen which he does not clean up. He also refuses to shower and instead takes a bath every few days, leaving a dirt ring in the tub that turns my stomach.

The other thing about the FM that drives me insane is his best friend Claude. Claude is a total mystery. My dad calls him "that skinny guy" which is an apt description. Claude is so thin that he looks spindly, and he has long, wiry grey hair and a long, wiry grey beard to go with it. He wears beads and prefers to go around in a loin cloth, but when he must conform to society's standards he wears a tee shirt and a pair of khaki shorts tied together with a piece of rope. No one knows where Claude lives or is from or if he's a former or even current anything. He just appears out of nowhere wherever the FM happens to be, which is often, at my parents' house. It's like a New Age buy one get one free. You get the FM and Claude comes too.

Claude is far stranger than the FM could ever hope to be. Nothing he says makes sense. One day Claude was sitting in our backyard and I asked him how he was and he said:

"Purple like wild geese at sunset over the war torn hills of East Moravia, drinking mead under starlight, the wild mead of summer meadows. Hark, the snow colored buffalo comes."

Claude's big claim to fame is that he is a breatharian. He tells people he doesn't eat. He lives off of air. Clearly this is a whopping line of bullshit because you'd die if you lived on air and if it really worked every rich woman in the city of Basura would become a breatharian immediately. Claude just likes to brag to people that he is so enlightened that he doesn't need food, and yes, he is incredibly scrawny, so it's vaguely believable, however I have seen him eat on numerous occasions. The truth is that Claude does not eat...unless it's someone else's food and someone else is paying for it. That's it. Pure and simple. Claude is a mooch in the disguise of a yogi or a shaman or whatever he's calling it.

He's also wildly entertaining and the combination of Claude and the FM have brought me hours of weirdly funny conversation that actually manages to interest me and hold my attention. Because of this I can forgive the eating of all my snacks and the making of terrible messes. I can even forgive Claude and the Former Mormon for bringing down TWA Flight 800.

Yes, the truth is out and now we can all know what really happened to that doomed flight to Paris in July of 1996. There's been a lot of speculation and rampant conspiracy theories. Eye witnesses on the ground swear they saw a missile hit the plane. The FBI allegedly covered it up and said there was a spark in the center fuel tank. Readers, that's not at all what happened to that plane. Claude and the Former Mormon accidentally brought it down and they feel horrible about the whole thing and have repented.

In the summer of '96 the FM and Claude managed to score an empty beach house on Long Island where they were staying in exchange for some fake Chagalls. They decided to do an experiment wherein they would meditate and fast for three solid days until they opened up a vortex to a parallel universe, which they then intended to crawl through, enabling themselves to time travel and to harness the laws of the space time continuum, essentially making physics their bitch. They hypothesized that Long Island was the ideal location because they were close to Montauk and if you know any basic conspiracy theory you surely know about the vortex that some scientists accidentally opened there already, which supposedly allowed Big Foot to enter into our world. Look, don't ask me. I know this shit is ridiculous. I'm not making it up. It's on

Claude and FM meditated and meditated and that wasn't working so they ate some peyote and meditated for a few more days until finally one evening, just after sunset, the force of their combined psychic powers unleashed a great rush of energy which they had not foreseen. The vortex opened a rift in the fabric of time and space and a fireball rose up from Long Island Sound and ran straight into TWA Flight 800, causing it to explode. So what those people saw was not a missile at all. It was Claude and the Former Mormon.

They felt terrible. Their guilt was unbearable, and the worst part was that because of the bad karma left in the area from the Montauk project, the damned vortex they opened up refused to close, taking poor JFK, Jr. into it as well. You remember how for a while there were all those doomed flights taking off from JFK airport and crashing off of Long Island? Now you know why. The whole time Claude and the FM were working hard to close the vortex again, but this proved very difficult. Eventually, like a wound, the vortex healed so it's now safe to fly in that area once more.

Luckily, before any more people were killed, the FM was saved somewhat by the love of a good woman. He met a woman who is an artist and a belly dancer who spins fire. Their wedding was like a small Burning Man with cake and favors. My dad was their Best Man. FM's wife seems to have stabilized him a bit. They have two children too and one is named Venus Aphrodite Second Planet, which seems excessively redundant to me, but she is very cute and FM loves being a father. Next year when their son turns four he will start practicing Reiki. They still move around a lot, but a little less. The family is somewhere in the South West at the moment, Sedona perhaps, while the FM travels for business.

FM has developed his business considerably and has gone from bartering reproductions to selling and brokering actual artwork. I think anyway. It's still hideous and he still travels and he has still managed to end up at Casa Dei Sogni with Claude for over a week now. The other day FM had an almost life sized, bronze sculpture of a man on a rearing horse out in the front yard trying to sell it to someone. He's got a mother of pearl table stored in the garage too next to a bust of Paris Hilton hand carved from marble. It's very avant garde. Or something.

I guess I had better go check on Claude and the FM right now. I hear chanting and I don't want any plane crashes before Christmas.

The Central Location of the Freak Magnet

This is it readers - this is where the freak magnet rests in the foyer of the house. What? You thought Casa Dei Sogni was a name I made up for the house? Nope. It's really called that. It's mosaiced right onto the freak magnet, which my parents apparently forgot to deactivate when they went back to Los Angeles after Thanksgiving.
Monday, December 10, 2007

Mommom Jewel Kicks Ass Again, Without Aunt Janey This Time

Yesterday I called Mommom Jewel on the phone. I try to call my grandmothers in Millpond every week or two, mostly because it gets them to get up out of the easy chair to go answer the phone which is bolted into the kitchen wall so that if a tornado came the only thing that would be left in place would be that telephone on that wall. Neither one of my grandmothers have cordless phones, voice mail, cell phones or even those old school kinds of answering machines with the gravelly cassette tapes inside. It would be too much for them to have to contend with, so they stay firmly stuck in the 70s (the Nixon part of the 70s) and they're very happy there.

When I get ready to call my grandmothers I have to psych myself out because both of them have identical issues. First they don't shut up. They answer the phone with a "Hello" and literally just launch into a very long conversation about whatever is on their minds. I don't even think it matters who is on the other end so I can only imagine what its like when telmarketers from the Phillippines call. I guess they get treated to the same endlessly detailed stories about who died in Millpond last week, as I do.

Mostly my grandmothers tell me who died since I talked to them last. After that they tell me who is going to die and of what disease followed by their elaborate theories of how the diseased individual contracted the illness they are about to die from. Memere Marie favors government conspiracy theories. She believes that crop dusters fly over rural areas and spray the sparse populations of country folk living in those areas with pathogens. The crop dusters are piloted by the Masons. Sometimes its the Illuminati or shadowy figures from the World Bank. All I can say is THANK GOD this woman has no Internet access or we would have to institutionalize her.

Mommom Jewel blames every disease in Millpond on New Jersey. New Jersey is killing the residents of Millpond. Yes, you heard me right. To Mommom Jewel New Jersey is the equivalent of the lowest ring of the Inferno. The Devil himself lives somewhere outside of Trenton and from his home there he looks down South towards little Millpond and plots its destruction. According to Mommom Jewel all of the factories and industries in New Jersey spew filth and toxins into the air which are carried due South by very specific air currents that end in Millpond, dumping all of the pollution right onto Main Street to mutate the DNA of everyone in town so that they will all die of cancer. There may be some truth in this, but she overlooks the local cattle and chicken factory farms that produce their fair share of carcinogenic poisons too.

Usually I stagger my phone calls. I'll call Memere Marie one week and Mommom Jewel the next. I can't really take them both in the same week, plus since they only live a couple miles from one another, their news is the same and I'll have to hear it twice. For instance, I could call Memere Marie and she'd say:

"Last week Mildred Kleinhopper died. She was 87 years old, God rest her soul. She was a fighter."

To which I would reply that I already knew all about it because Mommom Jewel had alread told me in great detail how Mildred suffered and had bleeding sores all over her head but loved Jesus til the very end anyway, but then Memere Marie, not wanting to be topped would have to tell me even more gory details about Mildred's death, completely ignoring the fact that I have no idea who Mildred even was and don't want to know about her convulsions and morphine hallucinations. Then, and I am sadly not kidding about this, Memere would have to follow up our conversation by clipping, circling and sending me the obituaries of the dead people she told me about who I don't even know. Presumably this is to prove that she was telling the truth. I have no idea.

This week was Mommom Jewel's turn for a phone call and I was all ready to hear about who New Jersey had murdered most recently. I mentally prepared myself and dialed her number. The first time Pop Byron answered the phone which was odd because he is on oxygen and can't get around very well. He never talks on the phone because he is too frail, so I was kind of glad to hear his voice for once.

"Pop," I asked, "Where's Mommom?"

"Oh, she's got herself into a little situation so she can't come to the phone. She's got a police officer and a reporter from the Millpond Chronicle over here interviewing her. She said you'll have to call her back."

"What?? Is she ok?"

"Yeah she's all right. Your grandmother was in an armed robbery this morning."

"OH MY GOD!!!!"

"I'll have to let her tell you about it. I've got to get back to my chair sweetheart. Give her a call back in about an hour or so and they ought to be gone by then."

The he just hung up leaving me to freak out and wonder what happened for an hour. I'm imagining all sorts of terrible scenarios - gun shots, people bleeding, explosions of glass. By the time the hour was up I had envisioned a scene from a big budget, summer action movie involving a car chase, undercover asassins and someone with a microchip containing government secrets who was being chased by three guys with automatic weapons and trailed by another guy who was a jewel thief trying to make his last big heist before he retires.

I called back and Mommom answered the phone.

"Mommom, oh my God are you ok??"

"My durned eye won't quit waterin'. It's about to drive me out of my mind. I got that cataract surgery two weeks ago and then Dr. Hasheen or whatever his name is took a vacation to Iran and I have to wait 'til he gets back to see what's the matter and that nurse they got over there at that office tries to tell me there ain't nothin' wrong with it and I said to her if your eye wouldn't quit waterin' like mine is I bet you'd be singing a whole different tune Missy. Now who goes to Iran on vacation? I don't care if he's from there or not. Anyone with any sense in their head knows better than to go over to that I-Ran with that lunatic I-ma-leek-hee-jock -"

"I'm not talking about your eye! Pop told me you were in an armed robbery!!"

"Well, yes I was. Are you callin' long distance?"

Mommom Jewel is very concerned about people making long distance phone calls. I have tried to explain to her a million times about how cell phones work but she tells me they're dangerous.

"They make them things in New Jersey you know."

"ARE YOU OK?" I repeated.

"Well I'm talking to you aren't I?" she said.

It took a long time to get this story out of her, so I will retell it for you because Mommom Jewel's version would cause your eyes to water as badly as hers after getting cataract surgery from an Iranian.

That morning Mommom Jewel went to Payless to get herself a new pair of flats to wear with the polyester slacks she ordered from the Sears catalog last month. I will cut out all the parts about how she had to scrape ice off the car when yesterday it was 70 degrees because New Jersey is causing the weather to go awry and how she also had to get my cousin's kids some shoes for Christmas but she couldn't find the paper she had written their sizes down on so now she'll have to go back a second time and she didn't really want to do that. I will also leave out the 15 minute exposition on the smell of Payless and how all of them smell the same bad way and she knows the bad smell originates in China and she wishes she didn't have to buy shoes made in stinkin' China, but Payless has the best prices and selection.

In the aisle of Payless Mommom Jewel, with her waterin' eye, could not decide on brown flats or black flats. Then there was also a very cute pair of plaid flats with a bottom like a sneaker and they were on sale so she thought they might be really cute, but she couldn't make up her mind. She set all of the choices out on the floor and weighed the possibilities of each one.

Mommom Jewel tried on the black flats and considered all of the things she had to wear with them. Then she moved on to the brown flats and they were tight although they were the same size as the black ones, so she retried the black ones with socks and without socks. She got up to get a sales person to help her reach a larger size from the shelf (she's very short, unlike her granddaughter).

Mommom Jewel looked around the entire store for a salesperson and they were all gone, which irritated her because when she came into the store there were at least four people working. She called out and thought she heard a racket coming from the back, but no one came out to help her, which just figured because obviously these people took no pride in their work at all. They had made a terrible mess all over the check-out counter. Mommom Jewel made a mental note to write a letter to the regional manager to tell him how awful this Payless store was being run.

She went back to her aisle and continued trying to decide which shoes to get. A couple seconds later a large, young man walked briskly down the very aisle she had spread out her shoe selection in. He stopped in his tracks when he saw her, as if very surprised.

"Do you work here?" Mommom Jewel wanted to know.

"No," said the man.

"Well I can't find a gosh durned sales person in this place," Mommom complained.

She then recounted that the man looked at her in total disbelief as if she had monkeys flying out of her behind. This is a direct quote.

"I didn't know anyone was here," said the man.

"Well I seen four or five people when I come in but I can't find a soul now. That always happens. Whenever you need somebody, ain't nobody to be found. I'm writing a letter."

The man looked mildly amused and astonished.

"Can you get me down a pair of them brown flats and a pair of them black flats in the size six?" Mommom Jewel asked the man.

The man got her down the shoes. He looked at her and shook his head.

"Thank you young man. You have a Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas ma'am."

The man left the store in what seemed a big hurry. Mommom Jewel supposed he had somewhere to be and was late. She heard tires squealing outside the store and thought how ridiculous it was the way young people were driving these days. He was probably driving one of them SOBs.

Mommom tried on the size sixes and was admiring her left foot, pointing it towards the mirror as if she were an 80 year old prima ballerina, when ten police cars roared into the parking lot, erupting with officers who stormed the store, weapons drawn.

Mommom Jewel threw her arms in the air as one cop grabbed her and led her outside.

"Do you need an ambulance ma'am?" he asked.

"Miraculously no, although you just about gave me a heart attack! What is the matter with you people? What's going on?"

Mommom Jewel learned then that she had been in and completely oblivious to an armed robbery.

Having been so caught up in trying to decide which shoes to get, Mommom Jewel never heard when a gunman entered the store and locked the employees in the backroom while he emptied the cash register and store safe. Since Mommom Jewel was so quiet and since there were no other customers in the store, the robber didn't know she was there until he had finished. He ran into her on his way out and realizing that she was totally unaware of what had transpired, he first thought she was senile and/ or crazy and secondly he thought he had really lucked out and would get away. When Mommom Jewel went to the register to look for an employee to get the shoes for her, the robber was in the back taking the contents of the safe, which accounts them not seeing each other sooner and also explains the big mess Mommom saw at the counter. The employees locked in the backroom had hit a panic button, which alerted the police that a robbery was underway.

The best part of the story is that since Mommom Jewel had not been frightened or panicked like the employees, she was able to give a very accurate and detailed description of the thief, which the employees were not. Based on her description the police knew who to look for and the man was caught later that day trying to rob a dairy mart.

The best part of the story for Mommom Jewel, besides getting to be in the local paper and besides having something to talk about other than who died and of what, was that it turned out that the man was from New Jersey.

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