Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Running Off With the Amish

I'm staying home all day and doing laundry. At some point I might get around to scrubbing the tub and then I'm going to make a taco salad for dinner. If I can get my ass to the store for some buttermilk I intend to make a small chocolate cake and slather it with cream cheese frosting. I don't know how much of that I'll get done and I don't really care. I'd like to spend my last days of '08 relaxing and procrastinating. I wanted to tell you all more about my trip though, while I'm waiting for the laundry to dry.

My trip wasn't all bad, of course. One of the highlights was a visit to the Amish market. Outside of Millpond there is a thriving Amish community and the Amish have a big market that's open on Tuesdays and Fridays. For many years my mother's father, my Poppop June, owned a produce stand at the Amish market, so when I was growing up I spent a lot of time there. At the same time my grandfather lived on a road where an Amish family would drive through each week in their buggy and sell baked goods and each week we would buy pies and raisin bread that was covered in about an inch of white icing.

I grew up seeing Amish people fairly regularly. They would come to the grocery store periodically and you could always see their buggies with the big orange triangles on the backs rolling up and down the country roads. I've even seen Amish women at the beach picking beach plums to make jelly out of. When I was little I was desperately jealous of the Amish girls. More than anything I wanted to escape my life of white trash infighting to go off and live in what I imagined to be "Little House on the Prairie" come to life. I liked how the Amish girls dressed in dresses with wide skirts, just below the knee and little ankle boots. I don't know where the Amish get their fabrics. Maybe they make them themselves, but whatever they make their dresses out of is just beautiful. I've heard people say that the Amish just wear all black and that they're really solemn, but this isn't my experience of them. The women and girls wear dresses made of something that almost resembles taffetta, though slightly less shiny. It's some kind of very durable material, yet it has a luminous quality and looks oddly comfortable and the colors are these brilliant, saturated jewel tones like emerald, cobalt, violet and cranberry. They're really pretty, especially the blue. The only thing I haven't seen them wear are patterned materials.

During this trip I noticed that the Amish aren't exactly unhip. Many of their dresses were sporting the empire waist, pleats and a very pretty bell sleeve that's very stylish now. I could have put on one of these dresses and gone to school and no one would have thought I was dressed oddly or out of place in the slightest.

When I was little though, what I really wanted to wear was a bonnet. I also wanted to ride in a horse drawn buggy. It just seemed like the Amish really had it made. They only had to go to school until the eighth grade. The kids seemed to be able to have fun and they didn't have to deal with all the crap that I did like parents in jail, bitter custody battles, remarriages and strange patch work families. Plus, they got to eat all those delicious baked goods all the time. At one point I vaguely recall becoming disenchanted when someone told me that the Amish beat their children with sticks, but during this trip, when I visited the Amish market I felt a lot like I did when I was little. I wanted to run off with the Amish again.

It was partly the pretty dresses and bonnets, a little bit the buggies which they have all hitched up in a special buggy parking lot, and it also had a lot to do with the baked goods. Mostly it was because the Amish are just so nice and I happened to visit the market with BOTH of my grandmothers and they were ganging up on me. Naturally this would cause anyone to want to escape to the world of a nonviolent, notably quiet and isolated sect.

I noticed some interesting things that escaped me as a child. One thing that I never knew was that the Amish don't speak English to one another, but they speak perfect, nonaccented English to outsiders. I did some research and learned that they have their own dialect and it sounds very unusual, unlike any other language I've ever heard. It's derived from German but to me it didn't sound like German. Another thing I noticed is that people are always saying that the Amish shun outsiders and are unfriendly. Maybe certain groups do, but these Amish were incredibly friendly and outgoing and smiled constantly.

Teenagers work at the market. It's mostly girls but they have some boys too to do the heavy lifting types of tasks. The girls cook and serve all the food and they were right there making pretzels, cakes, cookies, pies and roasted meats. They all just seemed so happy and so satisfied doing productive work and knowing that they were creating products that were well made with lots of integrity. They acted like regular teenagers too! They were all laughing and joking and teasing one another as they worked and weren't stoic and serious at all, and all the girls were so pretty and blonde and rosy cheeked. At one point I saw one of them texting on a cell phone, which was quite shocking but then I realized what was going on. All the teens who work at the market must be there during their year of rumspringa, the year where they get to experience secular things before they make their lifelong committment to be Amish and give all that up. Well, they seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot and they seemed like really normal (just happier) teenagers.

I got really hungry at the market but most of the foods I couldn't have, which made me a little sad. Still there was the wonderful meat and one of the Amish girls, who had these enormous blue eyes, excitedly asked if she could get me something. I explained to her that I can't have wheat and guess what. Amish people certainly know what wheat is in, unlike the servers at Red Lobster and Panera, ahem. And you know what else? It didn't give the Amish girl a moment of pause at all. She didn't start commenting about how awful it must be to not be able to eat wheat and she never said she'd just die if she couldn't eat wheat and she never asked me what on earth do I eat, like most people do when I tell them.

Now at the roasted meat stand they put the meat on sandwiches (which look insanely good) so when I said I couldn't have wheat the Amish girl said she would find me a container to put some meat in and that she would get me a knife and fork and that I would still be able to enjoy it and off she sprinted to get it done for me. A few second later she came back with a container and utensils and even a napkin and then she gave me extra pork loin to make up for the lack of bread. Then she smiled this gigantic, bright smile and said she knew I would love my lunch and that she hoped I had a really Merry Christmas. I hadn't had anyone be so nice to me in so long, especially while eating out or shopping, that I actually got all choked up.

Isn't that sad though? When I thought about it later I thought how sad it is that because someone showed me simple kindness and compassion, which should be customary everywhere, that I was so moved by its unusualness, that it made me cry. People in service positions, in stores, restaurants or wherever should always be that sincerelely sweet and friendly and accomodating, but they aren't at all. I

think living down here someone is rude to me at least once every day, and I understand why and let them get away with it. Most people in service positions are rude because their customers are rude and mean to them. They're rude because they have bosses who are unfair, impatient and unsupportive. Customers down here are rude because they're from New Jersey. Just kidding. I'm not sure why the customers down here are so rude. I might explore that in its own post one day.

I find myself so fearful of being a rude customer that I go way far out of my way to be really nice to service people, but even that doesn't usually work, and when I find a server or a clerk or someone in a store who is genuinely kind and offers me good service I usually make a big fuss and compliment them to their boss if I can because I want to reward this. But then I think, isn't that how they're supposed to be? Shouldn't the rude employees be the rare, strange ones, not the nice ones?

In the end I managed to control myself and not run off with the Amish. I resisted the forbidden allure of cinnamon raisin bread with white icing, horses, farmhouses and bonnets. But if one day I disappear suddenly, the first place they should look for me is Lancaster County (nowhere near where I was, but if I run off with the Amish I don't want to live in Millpond).

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas in a Bus

I spent my entire Christmas in a bus heading down the East Coast. And I was glad. This was easily one of the worst Christmases of my entire life. I've had some bad Christmases - notably the "Jew Bastard Christmas" and the "Red Bugs Christmas." There was also the "I Have the Flu and My Fiance is Cheating On Me Christmas." Now I can add to those bad Christmases, "The Bus Christmas."

I should have known, but my optimism got the best of me. I should have known that going to Millpond for two weeks straight wasn't the brightest move on my part, as was the idea of spending Christmas away from my husband. Very bad move.

It was ok for a couple days. I had a really great time when I went up to see Bella outside of Philadelphia. I think things started to get really bad when Mommom Jewel rearranged all of her plans because she didn't believe I was actually coming in spite of the fact that I reassured her 785 times that indeed I was actually coming.

She was the reason I was coming in the first place! You see, 2008 was a year when I became a little too aware of the fact that everyone is dying and it freaked me out a little. Death was everywhere this year. As a matter of fact, 2008 fucking sucked a big one and I'm glad it's over. But anyway, I realized I wasn't going to have my grandmothers for much longer. I knew Mommom Jewel was grieving and lonely and that this first Christmas without Pop was going to be agony for her, so I thought maybe I could be there for her. Maybe I could spend some quality time with both of my grandmothers and my other family members and create some beautiful memories. Visions of perfect Christmases danced in my head and I decided that I would sacrifice being away from my husband and my home to be there for my grandmothers since there won't be many more Christmases with them. My heart was in the right place, I think.

The problem was that my family is a pack of nut cases and that sometimes, living so far away from them, I tend to gloss over this in my mind and romanticize and idealize this.

"Oh, they're just quirky and funny," I tell myself, "They're charming and quaint."

So what happens is that I will romanticize and idealize and work myself into a state of expectant bliss where I imagine that everything is going to be perfect and wonderful and coated with a light dusting of snow. The reality of the situation is that no one else shares my vision, I get disappointed, no one cooperates with me and my extended family members all act like a pack of lunatics and are far from quirky and charming.

The original plan was that I was going to stay at Mommom Jewel's condo with her and that I would keep her company and we would do Christmas crafts and I would take her places and have fun with her. This would have been great if Mommom Jewel would have believed I was coming and stayed put for an extra day. But no. She couldn't trust me and because of that she was stubborn and went up and stayed with my Aunt and Uncle in their coal heated, rural home at the crossroads. You all know what happened next because I already wrote about it. It made for a really awkward and uncomfortable situation and my feelings were hurt because she refused to believe that I was even coming.

Because I would not stay at my aunt and uncle's, I stayed in the bus with my parents, which was actually kind of fun. I had a nice bed and a TV and was put up in style. HOWEVER it was at Memere Marie's house and she made it very clear that she was barely tolerating having us there and that we were eating too much and using too much water and that the septic tank was going to back up, she was sure of it, and that when we took showers the water pump made too much noise. Also, my bizarre dietary needs were a pain in her ass and besides that she hates Christmas and didn't want any part of it and wished we'd get over wanting to have Christmas because we were stressing her out. Since Christmas was stressing her out she refused to invite anyone over and if we wanted to see our other relatives we'd have to go their houses because she certainly wasn't going to have them over to her house.

But those other relatives are Grinches and Scrooges too, so they didn't want to see us. Uncle Garble lost his mind and refused to even pick up the phone and Uncle Bull only conceded to make his ribs because I asked him to and because, as my mother says, he wanted to show off his recipe and brag about himself. He only stayed for about a half an hour Christmas Eve anyway before he went home and went to bed. That was all we saw of him. Personally, I think he is depressed over his divorce and in poor health because he's drastically overweight and refuses to take the medications the doctor prescribed for his various ailments, which are pretty serious. It made me really sad.

Each morning I got up and listened to Memere Marie bitch and complain. Afterwards, I'd drive up to my aunt and uncle's to pick up Mommom Jewel so that I could listen to her bitch and complain as well as go off on angry tirades about me and how I've chosen to live my life. When it got dark I would head back to Millpond where I could hear another version of the same thing from Memere Marie.

Every day I was subjected to various xenophobic, racist, irrational, paranoid, homophobic rants from both of them which were not based in any logic or fact whatsoever. I'm not saying this because I'm the far left, bra burning Liberal they think I am. I'm not. I've heard many a loony leftist and I've also heard several, beautifully articulated and very reasonable Conservative arguments. I've also heard crazy Conservatives and sensible, compassionate and well spoken Liberals. I make a huge effort to be fair and to listen to all sides and I remain steadfastly moderate, which I'm very proud of. But my grandmothers were both just fucking crazy and knew not of what they were speaking.

I ignore my family. This is the only thing that really works. I will not change their minds about anything and they try to purposely pick fights with me. One of my personal favorites was when Mommom Jewel told me that the private insurance companies were right in refusing me coverage for my chronic, incurable disease and that if I had followed a more righteous path and held a real job I wouldn't have to worry about insurance because the company would have provided it for me. I mentioned grad school and she said it was a waste of time to spend all that time and money to write stories and poems. I wanted to poke her with a stick when she said that to me.

"Why should the rest of us have to pay for your stupid choices in life?" she said.

I may as well be on welfare according to her. I told her I was going to drop out of school in that case, get divorced and then go get pregnant by a black man. After that I said I was going to move in with some gay guys and practice Wicca. She was not amused.

There are other things. There are family problems I choose not to write about, which may sound shocking to you all. I know it seems like I write about everything here, but I don't. Sometimes I think to myself, if only I did write about it all you'd never believe it. But there are other things weighing on my family that contributed to this Christmas being pretty awful.

I tried to give my grandmothers a pass, especially Mommom Jewel, who is mourning. I ignored it for a week. I tried to laugh them off, but all it once it got to me. I realized that my grandmothers were actually being pretty abusive and I realized that they always had been kind of, well...mean. I told Memere Marie to be nice to me because I sacrificed being with my husband to be with her because I don't get to see her a lot and because I wanted to create memories of her. Her reply was horrible and she said it in front of my mother.

"I didn't ask you to come up here. I hate Christmas and I don't want to have any Christmas memories."

That was it for us. Of course my mother hadn't been spared Memere's wrath either. She was putting up with the same crap as I was, only not from Mommom Jewel, because she's not related to her. We were really sad and no one was being nice and I was starving to death so we decided we'd force Memere Marie into doing Christmas Eve (we'd cook, but that pissed her off too), then I'd take Mommom Jewel on my own to Christmas Eve midnight service and then we'd head back to Florida Christmas day because obviously we weren't wanted in Millpond.

And that is exactly what we did and exactly how I ended up spending Christmas on a bus.

I decided that I am absolved of all guilt and obligation. I will never feel badly about spending another Christmas away from Millpond and I will never spend another holiday away from my husband.

I'm really glad to be home and I hope that those of you who celebrate Christmas had a better one than I did.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Uncle Bull

My mother and grandmother made me call my Uncle Bull this evening and ask him to make BBQ for Christmas dinner. They said if either of them asked he'd say no just to spite them, but apparently he likes me more than anyone else in the family and will do whatever I ask. I had no idea. Perhaps this is because he and I have the same name, although he doesn't go by it and goes by Bull instead. I go by it. Maybe he likes me because I laugh at his jokes and eat his food and play with his cats. I don't know. In any event he told me he would make me some smoked meat.

I adore my Uncle Bull. He is exactly like my grandfather Poppop June, the one we're both named for (who went by June and not his actual name either. I'm the only one with this damned name who actually uses it). Poppop June died 11 years ago. He was a truck driver and had a produce stand for years. Uncle Bull paints trucks and is a grass roots political activist. He's been written up everywhere and has been on the national news and is semi-famous, at least around here. In Millpond, he's extremely famous. Now he's thinking about getting into politics, but I don't think he has the most pure past, so I shudder to think what could happen if he really ran. Also, he has a BBQ business - the Slap Your Eyeball Catering Company.

Uncle Bull's divorce was final last week and I only just found out his wife had left him. My first reaction was "thank heavens." No one liked his wife Debbie. Debbie was awful and I'm glad she's gone, although the marriage was quite brief. The last Christmas I was up here, I think in '04, they got engaged. It was incredibly romantic. Uncle Bull looks like Santa Claus, except without a beard, so every year for the past decade he's been Millpond's Santa. He wears a fake beard.

Now in addition to being Santa, a political activist, a truck painter and a meat smoker, Uncle Bull is also a cat rescuer. We are a cat family. Everyone in my family has cats and rescues cats and loves cats, so I come by my cat fanaticism honestly, but Uncle Bull has surpassed me, my mother, Aunt Kiki and even Memere Marie in the cat department. He can not resist a stray cat, and definitely not a pregnant stray cat so he always has kittens around. He usually has upwards of about 15 to 20 cats. Sometimes more. Rarely less. He names and adores and would live and die for every one of them.

Well, this one Christmas - the Christmas he got engaged to Debbie, he was asked to deliver some Christmas kittens, dressed as Santa Claus, to two poor little girls who wanted nothing more than kittens for Christmas. Uncle Bull checked out the family and then delivered the Christmas kittens on Christmas Eve dressed as Santa and the little girls learned that miracles really can happen on Christmas. I was deeply touched by this story. Debbie had to drive him and park down the road so the little girls wouldn't see the car. Uncle Bull even got up on their roof with a string of sleigh bells and tapped around up there like reindeer. He really played it up. Anyway, when he left and went back to the car, he told Debbie to get out that he wanted to show her something. Then, dressed as Santa, he got down on one knee, opened up the ring box and proposed. Now how romantic is that?

But that's not all.

We were all waiting back at his house for them and when they got home there were more surprises. Uncle Bull asked Debbie to go out in the garage and get a frozen goose out of the deep freeze because he wanted to show my mom what he'd shot the week before, but this was just a trick. When Debbie went back to the garage she found a brand new convertible just for her with a big, red bow on it.

Then we all celebrated. Debbie had known we were all coming over but she didn't know she was getting engaged or getting a car that night. She had cooked and Uncle Bull had cooked and Debbie had made the most fantastic dip I've ever had in my entire life. It was some kind of hot, spicy, melted cheese, shrimp dip kind of a deal that you dipped Fritos in. I just about ate the entire pot. This was the best dip I had ever had. I could not get enough of this dip. It was like licking God. I had to have the recipe.

"Debbie, this is the best dip I've ever had, could you please give me your recipe?" I asked.

"No," she replied, "I don't give out my recipes."

I was appalled. I thought to myself, how is this bitch going to get a diamond and a new car, not to mention my uncle, all on the same night and then act all uppity about her damned shrimp dip recipe? Fuck her.

I hate people who won't give out their recipes. Something is seriously wrong with people who keep recipes secret. There's no good reason for it and the only reason I can come up with is ego. She wouldn't want me to make her recipe and take credit for it, but Jeez, I live in Florida a thousand miles away for Pete's sakes. If I'd made it and someone asked me I'd certainly say the recipe came from my uncle's wife. But who cares? I guaran-damn-tee you that she did not make that recipe up. In fact, I am certain of it because after years of searching I found the recipe and it's right here on Cooks.com and is called Zippy Dip. So there. Now all y'all can make it. Except this recipe calls for canned shrimp which we all know is an absolute abomination. Use fresh cooked, deveined, chopped and chilled shrimp instead. Or better yet, chop up some lobster meat, then die and go to heaven. No, but for real. Make the dip. The jack hole who wrote the recipe calls it chili cheese, but they mean pepper jack.

So anyway, that whole thing made me not like Debbie as much as I wanted to. Then, later on when we were having our traditional Christmas Eve, french people Catholic dinner of seafood gratin Memere and Debbie got into it over some breadsticks. I don't remember exactly what could have happened here, but they got into an awful disagreement over breadsticks which neither ever got over. To this day they can't stand one another and it was all over breadsticks.

Now can you imagine a woman who has just gotten engaged and gotten a new car with a red bow on it being this rude over petty things to the family she is about to marry into? It was definitely a red flag.

I didn't even get to the Christmas sweaters. Debbie could have been the poster child for Ugly Christmas Sweaters. Really, I have to be truthful here. It wasn't just Christmas sweaters. Debbie had coordinated matching outfits for every holiday. She had Halloween, Valentines and St. Patrick's sweaters too. I think I saw a picture of her once in a Fourth of July shorts set, but mostly Debbie was famous for her large collection of Christmas sweaters (and vests). The woman looked like a walking Christmas tree. She even had sweaters with real lights on them and full scale ornaments hanging from the collar and sleeves. I don't know about you, but I just have a really hard time with garments that blink and/ or jingle. Her sweaters were a bit intense for my tastes and the thing is, she wasn't trying to be funny. She thought her Christmas sweaters were legitimate fashion statements. Her felt vest with velcro gingerbread men and small plaid pockets filled with real mini candy-canes was a piece of art.

Things went downhill pretty soon after the wedding. I don't know what happened, but what I heard is that she took off with some man from DC and moved to Northern Virginia, but felt bad so she decided to stay married to Uncle Bull so he could still get health insurance benefits from her work. They had to split up the cats. That must have been a mess. I bet that tore up Uncle Bull way more than his separation from Debbie. I wonder how they decided who got which ones.

I just remember that after Katrina, Uncle Bull went on a rescue mission to Mississippi and New Orleans and there was a news story about him and in the news story there he was, driving a tractor trailer with a cab full of cats in crates because he couldn't bear to be away from them and decided to bring them along, because the first thing any displaced hurricane victim wants to see is a man with a truck full of bottled water and screaming, peeing, terrified cats in cages. But that's the kind of man Uncle Bull is. The kind who'd take his cats along in a truck on a relief mission, and you just have to love him for it. I do. Debbie, apparently, didn't.

I think she was ungrateful. I also think he's better off without her.

Recently he started dating some new woman who decided that since she is religious that she wouldn't give up the goods for Uncle Bull until he got a real divorce. I don't know the new honey, but I kind of have to side with her. I wouldn't date a married, separated man who was staying with someone for health insurance either. Uncle Bull did the right thing though and went ahead and got his divorce. A week later he decided he didn't really want to date the new woman, so now he's single and only has half his cats. My cousin Beau (his son, the line man) moved back in with him and brought his girlfriend and to my knowledge they didn't bring any additional cats.

So now Uncle Bull is single again and tomorrow and the next day he's on Santa duty. When I called him he got all soft and sweet with me and said he'd love to make me some ribs and pork and he might even smoke some chicken too.

"I'll be over a little later because I gotta be Santa," he said.

"For kids?" my mom asked in the background.

"No," he said, "For grown women. I get 'em to sit on my lap and then I show 'em my candycane."

Because that's the kind of man he is.
I'm driving back down to Millpond today for Christmas with everyone. Uncle Bull has promised to make us some of his BBQ which he says will cause your tongue to fly out and slap your eyeball. It's really cold. I am about to freeze to death. I had to bring some jars of salsa into the house so they wouldn't freeze and the kitty's water out on the porch turned into a solid block of ice. I'm not used to this sort of thing living down in the tropics.

Today is the first full day of winter. Yesterday was the shortest day of the year and this got me to thinking some more about holiday greetings and how there are so many holidays at this time of year. Chanukah started last night too and I think tonight I'm going to surprise my dad and make him latkes here in Millpond. I don't want to say "Merry Christmas" to strangers. I want to recognize that I live in a country that is changing for the better - a country where all kinds of people can believe whatever they want and that's ok. I don't want to take the Christ out of Christmas for Christians and sometimes I feel like Christians can get a bad rap, but at the same time I know there are lots of people who aren't Christian and they shouldn't have to feel left out in their own country either.

So I've devised a new holiday greeting for all of you, because I know (and am thrilled) that I have readers from many parts of the world and belief systems. My new holiday greeting is good for everyone and captures the essence of essentially what all these holidays are ultimately about. Please take my holiday greeting and use it even if it sounds corny and I think we can start a trend.

Dear readers, this holiday season I wish you all light in the darkness.

And along with that, I wish for you all to be lights in the darkness.
Friday, December 19, 2008
I'm enjoying a day of nothing at Bella's house with her lunatic cat who just dragged a paper bag all the way through the house stopping with it in every room. The weather is just awful - freezing and pouring. I went out shopping earlier and stopped at Panera for lunch. Oh dear me.

I specifically told the girl at the register that I could not have wheat and to let me know if I ordered anything with wheat in it. I got a salad and a cup of vegetable soup.

"There are no wheat products in the soup, right?" I asked.

"No, but you might want to get a different salad because the one you got has nuts."

"What kind?"

"Plain pecans."

"Plain nuts don't have wheat in them," I said.

"Oh, I thought they did."

I should have known right there.

"I know the salad is ok, but I'm concerned about the soup."

"There is no wheat in the soup."

Soup comes. I take a bite and guess what? Soup is filled with little round pastas. The soup is a veritable wheat stew. I spit it out, take it back up to the counter and a small melee ensues. They get out a big book. Finally it is agreed upon that I can have tomato soup. Then they give it to me with no spoon.

Alas.

Something similar happened to me last night at the Dead Lobster. I told the server and she was all like:

"Well you are totally fine. We don't have any wheat on the menu."

"What?" I said.

Obviously this is deeply false. I guess she was picturing like stalks and sheaths of wheat.

"Bread is wheat. Breaded fried stuff is wheat. Flour is wheat," I explained.

"For real?" said the server.

"For real."

Are people really this ignorant and disconnected from the things they eat that people seriously don't know that pasta and bread and flour are made out of wheat? Is this possible? Can people honestly be that stupid? I have a hard time believing that, but then again...

In other news I've been captivated by three new blog discoveries that I'd like to share with you here.

Living in Muddy Waters is a preacher's wife. Normally this wouldn't be exceptionally exciting to me, but there was just something about her blog that miraculously held my attention and that's so rare. I want to be her friend after hearing about all the crap she has to put up with.

Because Emily Says So is funny, sweet and sort of not sweet and talks about bacon and cats a lot. She lives in Minneapolis which makes me so happy because if I ever have to move there I will have two funny bloggers to force to be my friends. Emily and Whiskey Marie. I should fix them up. There's little to no chance that I'll ever have to move there though.

Modern Philodoxos is a very pretty, very witty exotic dancer who also miraculously really held my attention. Again, that's saying a lot.

I found all of these bloggers because they left comments, so if you'd like me to read your blog too, leave me a comment so I know you exist. I'm friendly like that. I like interaction. Sometimes I don't have time to read everyone all the time, but I really do make an effort to read the blogs of as many commenters as I can and many of them have become long time favorites of mine.

So enjoy and send these ladies some love from me.
Thursday, December 18, 2008

Civilization

I'm sitting in a coffee shop with wi-fi!! I've returned somewhat to civilization, having taken a solo road trip this morning to the civilized edge of the Northeast, over the Mason Dixon. Once you cross that line there are Starbucks and Trader Joes and it's quite a bit colder. Bella lives here in a suburb of Philadelphia. Perhaps that's giving away a lot, but it doesn't matter if anyone knows where I am or even who I am. I don't mind. I like it up here. Philadelphia is a great city. I'd live here.

In any event, I managed to escape Millpond for a long weekend before Christmas and I definitely needed it. Millpond was getting to me. I was starting to get contrary and whiny. I have to pick her up in a little while, so for the time being you're getting the rare short post. Once I get back to her place I'll be able to write every day. I also have some work to do. I'm editing the story about A that I wrote in Iowa and sending it off. Wish it luck. By the way, dear readers. I'd like to thank you. I've had two pieces that began as blog posts on here published this year in major, high paying publications under my real name and I wouldn't have been able to do that without all of your support and feedback. So thank you. Thank you a lot, because it was my dream to be a published writer and now I am and I didn't do that alone. You guys gave me confidence and your comments let me know which pieces are worth editing and polishing and turning into real essays and I can't even express my gratitude to you all for that. Keep commenting! I've also had a piece which could have been a blog post, but wasn't, published in a Christmas anthology that's getting great reviews. Yay!

But none of this has anything to do with the green bean casserole commercial.

I hate the green bean casserole commercial. Have you all seen it? It's a snowy evening. A mother takes a green bean casserole out of the oven and places it on her windowsill to cool. Then, the pine tree outside the window has the gall, the absolute balls, to open the window, reach its dirty assed branch into the house, grab a spoon while no one's looking and take a scoop out of the green bean casserole. After it, I guess eats the green bean casserole it turns into a Christmas tree. End of commercial.

Much is wrong with this green bean casserole commercial. First and foremost it is a commercial for green bean casserole. Second, the tree is rude. Third, the commercial implies that green bean casserole is magical. Fourth, it's just creepy that a tree would want to eat green bean casserole and its branch grosses me out, as does the scoop of grean bean casserole it steals, all slick with grey mushroom soup. Yuck.

I once took a class where all we did was analyze advertisements of all different kinds to get to the root of what they were trying to say. Most ads are sexist and pornographic at heart. Pretty much every ad boils down to this one message: If you buy this you will get laid.

Clearly this is going on with the green bean casserole commercial. The pine tree is an obvious phallic symbol. I think once it eats the green bean casserole, cooked by a woman of course, it "grows" into a colorful Christmas tree. I don't know about you, but I think I might be offended. Someone needs to call a Women's Studies department somewhere so we can start protests against the alleged, implied dick hardening properties of green bean casserole. I really think Campbells is trying to imply that if we ladies cook our men some green bean casserole that they'll instantly get wood. Get it? Wood = Tree. Totally obvious. Green bean casserole is clearly X-rated.

As if that weren't bad enough, I think this tree is way out of line. How dare it steal green bean casserole? The nerve. If some dirty tree branch reached into my window like that it would see the sharp side of an axe pretty damned fast. Think of all the dirty things that live in trees. Birds nests! How about lice? Don't even get me started on the filth in squirrel's nests and what about animal poop? There's definitely animal poop in that tree somewhere. I know there is.

Next, I can assure you, from years and years of experience with green bean casserole that it isn't magical. I sure wish it were, but it's not. Green bean casserole is not magical. It can't transform anything except waistlines. My mom and grandmothers always make it and no one ever wants to eat it except them and it kind of gets shoved to the back of the casserole buffet.

So, I hate the stupid green bean casserole commercial. Every time it comes on and interrupts my Dateline and investigative reports kind of shows it makes me mad. I can't wait until Christmas is over so I don't have to see it anymore.

You know what other commercial I can't stand? Cristy Lane's greatest hits. My parents and Memere Marie have been forcing me to watch Fox News and at every last commercial break I have to hear Cristy Lane singing about angels and "the man from Galilee" and the real meaning of Christmas in these hard times, which confuses me because I think they're talking about now, except the commercial was obviously filmed around 1982. Maybe there was a recession then too (I'm not old enough to remember clearly) and they decided now that we're in another one that they should trot the Cristy Lane commercial back out and see if it sticks. The funniest part is that Memere Marie loves the commercial and sings along with it whenever it comes on. I understand though. She and Cristy have the same hair. My parents have threatened to buy me the three cd box set of Christy Lane's Greatest Hits for Christmas. I just know I'm going to find it in my stocking Christmas morning. If you've never heard of Cristy or heard her angelic voice, do yourself a favor and go to her website and check it out. I swear it's not a Saturday Night Live skit, although it should be. I'll bet that Kristen Wiig could do an excellent Cristy. If I had my dream job as writer on that show I would write that skit.

I have to go pick Bella up at work now, but I'll write some more for you later.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Where I am, in the "Real" America

This has certainly been a week. Readers, my family is insane. I knew this in theory of course, but I'm really seeing it in all its naked glory right now.

I seem to have arrived in Millpond at perhaps not the best possible time for anyone. I'm almost regretting this trip to be honest with you.

For one, Bella has had an incident with a bat.

The other night a bat got loose inside of my cousin Bella's apartment and she ran screaming hysterically around for several minutes trying to get away from it. Finally she ran downstairs where the people who live below her were about to call 911. They thought someone was murdering her and that she was running from someone with a knife. She explained it was just a bat. No, not a baseball bat, a bat bat. An animal. The neighbors (two girls) and Bella went back upstairs to see about the bat, which they managed to kill with an accounting text book, but not before Pepper, Bella's hellcat tabby got ahold of it and the bat bit him. Pepper, being a young cat, was not vaccinated. This commenced a round of hysterical calls to Animal Control who said Bella had to keep the bat in a jar in the refrigerator until they could come get it for testing. The cat had to go to the emergency vet and be placed in quarantine until the bat could be tested for rabies. Bella was distraught. She imagined her death with a foaming mouth like Edgar Allen Poe. She imagined losing two cats two Christmases in a row (her other cat died last Christmas). She became morose. We waited every day for the call from Animal Control, because if the bat was postive for rabies then Pepper would have to be put to sleep. Luckily, the test came back today and the bat was negative. Thank heavens. So that's over. Now, once Bella passes her accounting final tonight, I can go up to see her and have a relaxing weekend.

I was supposed to be staying with my aunt and uncle a little north of here. I was supposed to go to their house yesterday and sleep over for a few days because Mommom Jewel, who is not doing well in her grief, could not bear to stay alone in her apartment and went to stay with my aunt and uncle until January. Why I don't know.

I should have known better. I really should have. I packed all my stuff into my rental car with the optimism of someone who has brain damage and drove 45 minutes north of Millpond to my aunt and uncle's house expecting Lord knows what. I was promised my own room and a place to make food and I expected some cleanliness.

When I got there I found Alice's Restaurant. You all ever see that movie? Apparently my relatives are hoarders. They are the sorts of people who just stack shit everywhere. All over - stacks of newspapers and magazines from 1987 and crates and boxes and bags of shit and since it's Christmas, the shit they have stacked everywhere had Christmas decorations on it. They decorated their clutter.

I remember this house from my childhood, but not like this. I have fond memories. I remember in 1979 when my young, newlywed, childless aunt and uncle moved into this house, which is so far out in the country that I was a bit alarmed actually. It's in the town which is not actually a town as we conceive of a town, but is rather more of a crossroads with some houses vaguely near it. I'm pretty sure I saw the Devil sitting out on the corner waiting to buy people's souls to make them famous blues musicians. I'm not in Mississippi, but it certainly looks like it here. You know how you see movies about the Delta and there's these old shacks on the roadsides with people with no teeth picking on banjoes on collapsing front porches? This is what it looks like.

Since 1979 my aunt and uncle have apparently done nothing to their home. At all. Including clean it. Actually, this is a deeply untrue lie. They have done a couple things to their home, but this occurred in the mid-80s. At some point in the last thirty years they have also placed stick-on wallpaper borders around a couple of their ceilings. They have also had two children who are now grown and moved out.

My relatives heat their home with a coal stove that frightens me. It coughs out black dust which settles on every surface, including the piles of clutter which are decorated for Christmas. There is a big coal scuttle on the floor and a pile of coal in the backyard which scares me a bit too. It's very Cinderella. I admit that it feels pretty nice to stand next to the stove though, but I think this is because the rest of the house, meaning anything more than ten feet away from the stove is about forty degrees. I'd have to sleep in my parka.

I was not to have my own room because the room I was going to have is filled with hoarded refuse and there is no bed. I was supposed to sleep in a full sized bed with my grandmother. I had some concern here.

Next I went to see if there was anything I could eat, already knowing the answer would be a resounding "are you fucking crazy?" I did not expect what I found in my relatives' refrigerator.

I think hoarders often hoard food too. I noticed they had spices in their cabinet where the glass bottles had yellowed and the old, greyish blue McCormick labels were peeling off. They haven't made those labels in over twenty years. Readers, a word of advice if any of you are doing this - spices only last a year or so. If you have greyish blue labels on your McCormick spices throw them out immediately. Your spice cabinet shouldn't resemble a time capsule.

But the refrigerator was worse. Now, they don't have grocery stores all over the place here and the ones they do have aren't especially well equipped. Going food shopping is a major outing for my family, so it doesn't happen often and when it does they go to Sam's. Of course. They have to buy in bulk. Unfortunately, it's not a surprise then that this branch of my family tree struggles with severe obesity. Because they have severe obesity and because they eat ass rotting shit Sam's Choice food products they're not only obese, they're plagued with health problems. On one hand I'm like what the fuck do they expect? On the other hand, I guess they're doing the best they can. They're ignorant but even if they weren't ignorant they still don't have a lot of choices. But then again, sometimes I kind of think they do have choices because there are fresh and frozen vegetables available. I've eaten fine at Memere's house because she cooks from scratch. So I don't really know.

What I do know is that when I opened this refrigerator I was confronted by my worst food fears. Cool Whip, huge tubs of margarine, processed american cheese food product, baloney, hot dogs, squeeze cheese, artifically flavored and colored and MSG dusted everything. I couldn't find a single fruit or vegetable. Not one. Nothing was fresh. Nothing was real. Nothing was the color of real food. Nothing was gluten-free at all and there was so much packed into this poor, straining 30 year old refrigerator that there was no way I could get myself some stuff and store it in there. Plus, that would feel very weird and imposing to me. I'd b drawing too much attention to myself.

Then I got kind of mad because I hate hearing my family complain all the time about how fat and unhealthy they are. Also, as an aside here, I need to add that they think I'm sickeningly thin and ask me everytime I see them if I've gotten help for my anorexia.

I pulled out the crisper drawer and guess what was inside. Cookies, Chips Ahoy and some crap I've never heard of and there were so many cookies in there that there was no room for a head of lettuce or some carrots, God forbid. You know why the cookies were in there? Duh. Because it's a "crisper" so the cookies will stay "crisp."

I was about to have a panic attack. I had to very politely explain that it wouldn't be comfortable for anyone if I stayed there and that I couldn't impose all of my snotty high maintence nonsense on my family. I said I would sleep with my parents in the bus and that I would come up every single day to visit with my grandmother and take her places. I think she understood, but I feel terrible.

I'm conflicted here. I don't want to be a yuppie snob and I don't want to hurt my family's feelings. They're nice people. They just have a really different lifestyle than I do. I feel guilty but dammit, I miss my Whole Foods and my Starbucks and my J Crew cardigans. I just need to get somewhere away from all these guns and pickups to a quiet place where I can listen to NPR, where I can be with the other brainwashed University left wing liberals, where we can all have long discussions about what Silliman has written on his blog, over cups of chai which are not as good as the chai one of us had on the ashram he visited in India last summer while he was on sabbatical. I need to have dinner parties and book club meetings and play with my friends' adopted Chinese daughters. I need a place where my iphone gets wireless so I can download poetry podcasts and "The Moth" and look at things that end in .org. I need to be in the Fake America again where I can be as pretentious as I want and no one will notice. Here, I'm not even doing ironic very well. I just don't fit in. Here's a prime example.

In the Super-Walmart the other day I thought I was being polite as I checked out. I took my bag, smiled cheerily at the cashier and said:

"Happy Holidays!"

"Umm," replied the cashier, "We say Merry Christmas here."

Well excuse me.

Merry Fucking God Damned Christmas then.
Sunday, December 14, 2008

My Week

Honestly, I don't really know where to begin. I think it all started last Friday, meaning nine days ago last Friday. Every day since then has been a big sloppy chaos stew and I don't even know where the hell I am. Oh, right. I'm in Millpond. That's why I'm borrowing this computer with an air card to write this for you all. That's why my weird accent has resurfaced. Just this morning I mentioned that I really needed to go to the post office to buy stay-imps for my Christmas cards. But how did I get here in this Internet dead zone? What about the hair extension lady and the rappers and the thing that happened at the mall?

Let's go back in time and start last Friday and see how far we get. Bear with me here.

Last Friday (9 days ago, as opposed to this past Friday 2 days ago which we will also get to)

My husband has had an ongoing sinus infection for the past 2 1/2 years which he refuses to go to the doctor about. Instead, he has become, as my friend Emma observed, the Robert Downey, Jr. of homeopathic medicine. His latest obsession to clear his clogged nostrils is a little device called a Neti Pot. It's like a cute little teapot from which you pour warm salt water directly up your nose. You pour it into one nostril, tily your head and it flies out the other. It's the most horrifying, disgusting thing I've ever seen. My husband is obsessed with pouring water into his nose and watching it come out the other side along with a bunch of snot, which he then inspects for signs of infection removal. It's so vile. I made a rule that he can only do it in the shower when I'm not in it with him and that I can't see or hear anything having to do with the Neti Pot because it makes me want to barf.

Now, another thing about the Neti Pot is that sometimes not all the water comes out. Some of it gets stuck in your sinus cavities so you have to do special exercises that make you look like a jackass to get the rest of it to come out.

But let's get to last Friday. Husband came home from work and Neti Potted in the shower for like the 15th time that day. We had plans to go to dinner in a restaurant at the mall with my parents.

So we go to the mall. We are at the mall walking around waiting for my parents. M parents are taking forever. I call them and my mother says they are getting in the car. Five minutes later she calls back to say that the famous rapper "Revenge" (not his real name) has pulled up at their house in a boat so they can't come to dinner. I am aggravated. Part of my aggravation is that I have a life where my parents are continually distracted by rappers I've never heard of. Husband and I decided that we didn't want to eat there afterall so he goes to return the pager to the restaurant. While he does that I go to the Sees Candy stand which we only have at Christmas and buy Husband his favorite candy which he can never get except at Christmas. He returns to find me sitting on a bench with his gift. When he sees his gift he is so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude that he bends down in the mall to give me a hug and a kiss. The bending action, mimicking the Neti Pot exercises which he forgot to do because we were in a hurry, dislodges a hot torrent of trapped sinus water which erupts onto my head and face and continues to pour out, in the middle of the mall, all down the front of my shirt and pants. And it had snot in it. And I was covered in it. My husband exploded hot sinus water all over me in a public place. You can not imagine my horror. I felt like I was on Nickelodeon getting slimed. The Neti Pot is officially on notice.

Last Saturday

Homework and grading.

Last Sunday

Velva Haux invites us to dinner at her house. When we get there, there are pit bulls, hookers and johns everywhere eating spaghetti. Also there is the woman who does hair extensions for all the hookers, because you can not, you simply can not be a high class hooker in South Florida without a proper hairweave. The hairweave lady looks like she's been kicked out of the Hells Angels and has an unfortunate disaster of a facelift which has placed her ears on level with her jawbones. Besides that, she is a plus sized woman wearing a size 2 pair of acid washed jeans and an X-Small keyhole, spandex tube top. While we were there she kept messing with my mother's hair and then mentioning that she needed to raise $5,000 to fix her bad facelift. At the same time she also said my hair was thin (it is so not thin at all) and that I need some kind of double hair weave, to which I replied that I actually like my hair short and blunt cut like Cleopatra and that it looks this way on purpose, not by some tragic accident at the beauty parlor. Then, I see the hair weave lady on Velva Haux's kitchen computer where she asks me how to spell Loxahatchee because she wants to look up boar hog hunting trips up there in the Everglades. She's really into hunting boar hogs. This got me to wondering if that's where she gets the hair for her weaves, because one of the hookers, in trying to get me to get extensions, made me feel her hair and I swear it felt exactly like boar hog bristles.

While we were eating dinner my parents' new best friend, the rapper Revenge arrives with his stunning Australian girlfriend Pansy. Just two days earlier my father had met Revenge at the car dealership and they had apparently really hit it off. Now, this guy's real name isn't Revenge. It's something else. I had never heard of him but you might have. I kind of took to him actually.

Revenge is petrified of dogs. Terrified. Of course on his album covers there are tons of pit pulls and references to pit bulls, but in real life the man loves cats and cowers, trembling if a dog comes near him. He's like those people on Maury Povich who have irrational fears of things like clowns and birds and pieces of paper, so Velva had to put up all of her rescued pit bulls before Revenge and Pansy could come in. Once I met Revenge he began to grow on me. He loves cats and ice cream sundaes. He's quite literary.

"I just want to be happy and write happy, inspiring music," Revenge explained, "But the audiences and the record labels don't like it. I have to put on this act like I'm this big, mean tough guy, but that's not me at all."

He sort of reminds me of the elf in Rudolph who really wants to be a dentist.

"I just want to rap about cats and ice cream and Pansy," Revenge went on.

And Pansy, his Australian girlfriend, is just darling.

Monday

Final exams, lunch and shopping with Emma.

Tuesday

After school I go to my parents house for a cup of coffee and find my mother looking like Rapunzel. She has been talked into getting voluminous, platinum hair extensions by the boar hog lady. Her hair now shimmers to her waist in pale golden, stripperish cascades. She looks like Britney Spears.

But that's not all.

"You have to take me to the plastic surgeon's office," she says.

"I have to what?"

My mother was getting Botox and Rejuvederm injections and some other kind of injection and then some kind of laser and then some kind of flashing light treatment that grows collagen. Dear God.

"Velva told me he's an artist," my mother tells me.

The cosmetic surgeon's office is decorated with geodes and mardi gras garlands advertising some sort of poker game. I feel like I've taken an elevator into the late 80s. The surgeon is wearing yellow, green and purple scrubs and looks like a giant King Cake. I half expect him to toss beads at me. His assistant, an Israeli girl who seems like she's straight from the Ahava kiosk at the mall, starts in on the typical Israeli hard-sell tactics, so I assume he pays her on commission. By the time the Israeli is through my mother is getting thirteen needles full of shit injected in her face and I'm in the room watching Cirque du Soleil on a small TV and helping out. At one point I swore that earlier in the day someone had actually slipped me some acid and I was having a bad trip and that none of this was real.

"You need Botox on your forehead," the Israeli tells me.

I so do not, just like I don't have thin hair.

But look, I give credit where it's due. You know I'm honest like that. I thought my mother was a gorgeos woman before. Normally I think women should just age gracefully, but at the same time, as long as you don't end up looking like that Cat Lady or David Gest, I don't care what people want to do to themselves. So look, I was horrified that my mother wanted to do this, but in the end, she did end up looking pretty damned good, so what can I say?

I can say three things.

1. I do not need Botox in my forehead and I don't have thin hair either.

2. My mother is beautiful no matter what.

3. The cosmetic surgeon wants to be a professional poker player which explains his outfit and the decor in his office. I can't make this stuff up. Do not accuse me of making things up because I don't have this advanced of an imagination.

Wednesday

I don't actually remember this day at all. Either nothing happened at all or something so traumatic happened that the day has been erased from my memory completely.

Thursday

We pack all day for our road trip to Millpond and it pours rain. We finally decide to leave early Friday morning.

Friday

I awake puking violently and having diarrhea and want to absolutely die. I have caught the stomach big making the rounds in my husband's office. We are scheduled to leave. So what do I do? I decide to suck it up and leave anyway so my family doesn't think I'm a pain in the ass and a neurotic head case. We are, after all, in a large, luxurious, rock star type of motorhome. I figure I can hurl in there as well as anywhere else and there's a bathroom and a nice bed. By Fort Pierce I am convinced that my death is imminent. Blood is coming out of my mouth and ass. Everything on my body hurts. This is it, I think. I'm going to die in a bus somewhere in central Florida. This is fantastic. My father offers to turn around and take me home and I decline because I am a bleeding martyr.

By one that afternoon my mother spots the world's greatest Ross next to a Super Walmart off of I-95 in Sattellite Beach, so we stop.

"Come into Ross with me," my mother urges.

I am bleeding out of my ass and dry heaving, yet my mother somehow persuades me to shop in Ross. Again, I am not making this up.

The Ross appears to have miraculous healing properties. I'm not kidding you. The place is like Lourdes or that place in Yugoslavia that I can't spell. Medj-something. The second I set foot in that Ross something came over me. I began to feel better. The rows of $3.99 shirts took my fever down. $78.00 later, which included a Nine West shift dress and a Donna Karan cardigan for $23.00 with the orginal price tag for $169.00, made me positively euphoric. Perhaps I was not going to die after all.

Next we walked over to the Super Walmart to get some food and I got some medicine and Vitamin Water for my dehydration. On the way back to the bus I look up and see what looks like the Sydney Opera House flying through the sky.

"What in the hell is that?" I ask.

"What the fuck?" says my mother.

So we stand there for a minute gaping at this thing flying through the sky getting closer and closer and trying to figure out what in the hell it is, when finally I realize that what this thing is, is the Space Shuttle strapped onto a 747, flying home to Kennedy Space Center and I am getting to see it. I frantically try to get a picture of it, but of course my camera decides to run out of batteries and the iphone can't zoom in well enough, so I couldn't get a good picture for you all, but at least I got to see it really well. Later we saw it on the news and I was all like "I saw that!!"

Then I felt a little more better.

By later that night nothing was coming out of my body and everything was staying where it needed to stay, but I still couldn't eat and was still dehydrated. I had a very good night's sleep.

Saturday

This is yesterday. We get up and keep driving. All day long we watch the ID channel and I learn all about horrific murders, kidnappings, con artists, serial killers, and forensic pathology. I could work for CSI now as much of these shows as we watched on the way up. I am loving the motor home. It really makes a long trip seem shorter, especially when you're sick. I was so grateful. I can't even tell you. I'm also reading a good book which helped.

By about four yesterday afternoon I began to get really hungry, so I definitely was getting better. My mom cooked me some chicken and potatoes which I ate and then immediately felt horrible again. But nothing came out. It all stayed in, I just felt like shit. I think it was because I was so empty because after about two hours I felt ok again.

We arrived at Memere Marie's house at around eight at night and I was so happy to be here, way out in the country. We went inside and she had cooked me a huge pot of soup and when I had a bowl of it I felt instantly healed and better. Then I had a bowl of ice cream with bananas on it and I was really better. We talked for the rest of the night and then I went to bed with a nice, warm feeling inside.

Later Saturday Night

The RV has two rooms. I sleep on the couch which has a fold out bed. There is a frosted glass door dividing my parents' bedroom from the living room part where I sleep. I'm trying to sleep. I think I hear a noise. Then another noise. I pray that it is not what I think it is. I pray the noise is one of he dogs doing something - Bombaclaat humping something. I pray with all my soul that ten feet away from me my parents are not having sex. I put on the TV. I cover my head with pillows. I think of other things. Like the time Bella heard our grandparents having sex, which is really terrible too. I worry I may not recover from this trauma and realize that I can't live like this.

I consider going in the house, but in the house I run the risk of walking in on my 80 year old grandmother having sex with her 80 year old husband Ray. This already happened to me once in my life and that was too much. I still have PTSD flashbacks about it. I don't know why I had to be born into such a family of blatant horn dogs.

I watch a show about a man who stole peoples' identities and took out fake mortgages. I watched it with three pillows on my head.

Sunday, Today!

Today we got up and I ate soup for breakfast, then we went to my cousin Alexis' daughter's fourth birthday party at the bowling alley, where I, incidentally, bowled a strike, thank you. A legitimate strike without bumpers or throwing the ball between my legs like the little kids. Alexis is Aunt Kiki's oldest daughter. She lives up here and is a single mom to a little girl with Type 1 diabetes who is the cutest little child. I could chew on her ears she's so cute. I gave her a stuffed polar bear and she hugged me and demanded to know my last name and who I was riding with. I have no idea what she meant.

Pretty soon we got hungry and went for chicken dinner at a restaurant by the side of a desolate highway that is actually in the middle of nowhere. It's Sunday and in this part of the world that means chicken and dumplings. For me, since I can't eat gluten anymore, it means fish dinner. This restaurant was absolute Deliverance, but Lord was the food ever good. I knew I was home when the waittress asked me this question:

"Sweeterunsweet?"

Oh, I was home.

"Mixted" I replied, because here, that is a word and it can refer to both people and tea. Don't ask.

They even had pretzel salad on the menu. For real. And no I did not get it. Pretzels have gluten.

Then we drove back from the middle of nowhere to the edge of nowhere and went to the historic reenactment church service, where I learned that Millpond is getting a little more progressive.

Outside of Millpond there is a beautifull restored, one room church. For many years my ancestors, poor farmers in the area, went to this church. My great grandmother Ella actually went to school there as a child, when the building doubled as church and school. She was born in 1893. Every year they have a special Christmas service where they open the church, which has no electricity at all, fire up the woodstove, put up a big cedar tree cut down from the nearby woods and swath the rafters in pine boughs and holly. Then they proceed to have a usually disturbing, Confederate, Civil War reenactment type of deal. After that there's singing and hot cider, which is nice. But this year, they did away entirely with the creepy Civil War reenactment crap and replaced it with a lovely little church service where the pastor got weepy as he read the Christmas story from the Bible and then we sang all three verses of Silent Night in the glow of kerosene lamps as the spiced cider mulled on the woodstove. It was absolutely magical.

I am home. It is Christmas. I know all three verses to Silent Night by heart and can sing them without the hymnal. I had a cup of hot cider afterwards and I felt that wonderful feeling of being so happy and so sad at the same time.

I am home and it's Christmas.
Thursday, December 11, 2008

Packing

I finally just finished grading. I feel like I've been hit by a bus. Then run over by a few kids on bikes. Then beaten by thugs with baseball bats. Then rained on. I'm just unbearably tired and achy. I worry this is my disease acting up again, but I'm trying not to think about that.

After I finished grading I started packing. I'm leaving for Millpond either tonight or tomorrow and of course I'm way over-packing because it's cold up there people! I might freeze to death if I don't take the 17 sweaters that I bought back in 1995 when I lived in Atlanta.

I'm very brave readers. I've actually agreed to drive to Millpond with my parents in their RV. I did this for a few reasons. The first reason was that if I didn't fly I could take far more crap with me. Far more. I could practically take everything I own and that makes me very happy. I like choices when I travel. The second reason was that if I drove with them I just knew I'd have something to write about.

We'll see.
Monday, December 08, 2008

Almost Done With Finals

Once I finish grading all of these papers and get the grades turned in I swear to you I will return with a vengeance, because I just have to tell you about the boar hunting hair extension lady and the thing that happened to me at the mall. Thanks for your patience.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
I have to administer my first final exam of the season today and then I will go on to my last class. I'm not really giving them an actual test. I just check portfolios of writing and then we have a fun awards ceremony, eat candy and take a class picture. It's fun. It provides closure and we satisfy the requirement of having to meet during the final exam period.

I have a headache that feels like someone is driving a railroad spike through my temple and I have a crap ton of work and errands to do.

That is why I've decided to blog a little this morning before I become a productive member of society once more.

One week from today I am leaving for Millpond where I will stay until New Years at the homes of various relatives like some sort of vagabond. I'll also be spending a lot of time alone because I have to write my thesis which is due January 15th and is a collection of memoir poems and prosish things that defy genre about my childhood growing up out in the country, in the drowned valley of the Susquehanna, near a low swampy marsh, in a landscape puddled with lakes (actual lines from the thesis by the way). Maybe that will give you a better idea of where I'm going, but maybe not. It doesn't matter.

The trip promises to be interesting. My relatives are acting up.

The other day Aunt Kiki, who lives in Florida, called my mother in hysterics because my Uncle Garble is losing his mind again. Aunt Kiki thinks we need to have him institutionalized and that he might hurt someone or himself.

Please refresh your memory about Uncle Garble here.

Uncle Garble and his Irish Traveler family have a long, detailed and intimate relationship with the crazy. It's part of their routine. They're probably running out of money. The welfare people might be looking too hard for jobs that they can all do, so it was bound to happen that someone in his clan would lose it. I guess it was his turn, although out of the whole lot of them, I think he might be the closest one to legitimately insane.

None of us except Aunt Kiki are bothered about it.

The whole thing started last week when my mother called Uncle Garble and said we were coming up for Christmas.

"Well don't come see me, because I don't want to see you," Uncle Garble told her.

"Why not?" my mother asked.

"I'm tired of people and I don't want to see you or anyone else and I don't want anything to do with anyone," he replied.

This was a little strange, but not exceptionally strange from him. You expect him to come up with off the wall shit like this. It's just who he is.

Normally though he and my mom write a lot of letters back and forth and talk every few weeks, but now he's decided he doesn't want that anymore, so whatever. My mom wasn't bothered by it. She knows how he is.

Uncle Garble is so strange that eleven years ago, at his father's funeral, he walked up to the casket, took off his eyeglasses and put them on my dead grandfather. Then he looked at them, took them back off and put them back on himself. After that he removed his hat and put that on the body, didn't like that either, removed the hat and put it back on his own head. It was so weird that in the midst of our tears, those of us who saw the whole procedure couldn't help but bust out laughing.

Personally, I'm relieved that Uncle Garble doesn't want anything to do with us. This saves me from wasting an afternoon to go to his nasty-assed trailer, only to sit there awkwardly and attempt to make small talk with people who don't have a full set of teeth between them and who, I kid you not, were furious about Obama's plan to "redistribute the wealth" and give free handouts to people who don't work. EXCUSE ME??? Really? Because I think they were talking about themselves. If that were true, that Obama were giving free handouts to people who didn't work, you'd think this bunch would be his biggest supporters. They'd be first in line at the check cashing store. And being that these jackasses don't have any wealth to redistribute I have no earthly idea what they were worried about.

But Uncle Garble is resisting treatment and refusing to go to the mental hospital. Aunt Kiki is worried. My mother said it's all jsut part of the plan. If he refuses to go, it makes him look crazier and it's more believable.

So that's one part of the story of my relatives.

The other part is that my other uncle, Uncle Bull, is separated from his wife, which is a story in and of itself.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Blehh. It's final's week for me if you've been wondering where I was. I didn't die from turkey overdose. I also wanted to spend time with my relatives that were in from out of town and then of course I procrastinated a bunch of important work that I had to do.

I did get the chance to observe some interesting drama over the weekend though.

Saturday night we were at my parents' house playing "Cathphrase" and watching movies with our guests. The movie ended around 1 am so Husband and I left. As soon as we got in the car a police man drove up. We thought it was our friend the cop who often patrols my parents' neighborhood and that he was stopping by to see if we were still up. We got out of the car and went up to the cop car.

It wasn't our friend. We explained that we thought it was and he said he was called there on a domestic dispute.

"Well it wasn't here because we were watching movies. We don't have domestic disputes," I said.

"No, it's the house next door," said the cop.

Oh jeez, I thought. What now?

My parents' next door neighbor is a whack job. His name is Lupo Lama and he looks exactly like a wolf man. He's Sicilian and has been divorced for a little over three years, so he lives all by himself in an enormous, gargantuan mansion where he always keeps the hurricane shutters closed. I've been over there a few times and he always shows off his stuffed lion. He has a real, taxidermied male lion on the landing of his grand staircase. It looks like something straight out of the Museum of Natural History and it has the biggest set of balls hanging off it. He always tells me how it cost him two hundred thousand dollars and I always wonder how a lion could have such big balls and why in the hell someone would pay that much money for a stuffed, dead animal to lord over their stairs. I can't think of a bigger waste of money. I find it even creepier than mounted deer heads.

Lupo is in his late 60s. All of his kids are grown. The youngest is in college and just moved out. His ex-wife lost her mind, lost a ton of weight and started hanging out in biker bars where she got a much younger boyfriend and left him. They had an ugly divorce and then he started dating this woman that we all called Charo because that's who she looked and acted like. After the hurricane, the ex wife got jealous that Lupo had a girlfriend and while the electric was off and we had a curfew, somehow this woman snuck in to the house and attacked Lupo and Charo with a butched knife. Charo escaped and ran down the street calling 911, but Lupo got stabbed in the back and shoulder. He ended up being ok, but the wife got carted off to the loony bin. It was a mess.

He dumped Charo a little while later and now every time I see him he's with a new latina woman. He dates latinas exclusively and his requirement is apparently that they all be crazy. Over the summer he tried to date a Jewish woman who lived at my old place of employment, but she proved far too normal and broke up with him fairly quickly. I can't say as that I blame her. Unlike most of the old ruch men around here Lupo dates a little closer to his own age, so all of his girlfriends are not only Hispanic and insane, they're also older. I always thought the rich old men would have fewer problems if they just went with women their own age, but Lupo Lama proves me wrong. He has just as many problems with the older ladies as his friends do with the nineteen year olds.

Apparently he was having a big problem Saturday night.

Another cop car pulled up in a couple of minutes with an older Hispanic woman in the backseat. The cop explained that she had just been let out of jail and needed to return to Lupo's house to get some things that she left there but that he wasn't home.

The night before Thanksgiving, Lupo and this woman had gone on a date to Olive Juice, the local martini bar popular with old men and trashy whores. This was their first date in real life. They had met on the Internet and Lupo had flown the woman in from California where she lived. She thought this meant they were engaged. At Olive Juice Lupo ran into a woman he was friends with and the new woman got jealous and attacked Lupo and his friend. Like actually attacked them. The bar called the police and then the woman attacked a police officer, so they arrested her and took her to jail for several counts of assault and who knows what else. She got out Saturday night and somehow managed to get the cops to drive her over to Lupo's house to get her suitcase and purse and return ticket.

The woman got out of the police car and instantly began causing a scene right there in the middle of the street at 1 in the morning after she had just got out of jail. She accused Lupo of doing this to her on purpose and swore he was inside and was trying to steal her things.

Lupo wasn't even home. She started with me first, begging me, very dramatically to call him. I told her I didn't have his number. She didn't believe me. Then she went to my husband and he tried to call Lupo for her, but there was no answer.

By that time my mother came out into the street and we filled her in on what was happening. The woman began screaming and howling about how she had no place to sleep and no credit cards and no money and nowhere to go and how Lupo had her purse and she had nothing and how she thought Lupo was a murderer who was trying to kill her.

Her story was that she had flown in, they went to Lupo's house and she knew immediately when she got there that he was a murderer so she really wanted to leave, which is why she suggested they go to a bar. Yet, she didn't take her purse. My mom called her out on this.

"Why would you leave your purse at a murderer's house??"

"I don't know! I don't know!" the woman cried, "I was so scared! I was under his power! He has powers."

Yeah ok. Lupo Lama definitely isn't a murderer and he really doesn't have any special powers. Plus, we already knew the woman was batshit.

Then the woman started begging us all for money.

"I knew this was coming," I muttered, because I did.

"I don't know you and I'm not giving you anything," my mom said.

"Please let me stay with you!" the woman said, "I know you husband. I see him Wednesday, the thirty three year old man!! I see him in his car and he say to come Thanksgiving. He is friend of mine!"

"You just got out of jail! I'm not letting you stay with me. I don't know you and I'm not getting involved in your shit, and by the way, my husband is almost sixty," my mom told her.

"I will be on the streets!!!"

"Well that should teach you not to fly across the country for men you meet on the Internet!"

It got loud. The woman wailed and howled and then pissed the cops off again by blaming them for all of this.

Pretty soon Lupo called my husband back and said he was at Olive Juice and would come home to give the woman her stuff but only if the cops stayed because this woman was so crazy that he didn't want to be alone with her. They stayed.

It all ended well. I don't know where the woman went, because we left, but I hope she got a flight back to California.

The next day my dad told my mom she should have let her stay.

"Are you crazy?" my mom said.

"But she thought I was thirty-three!!" my dad laughed, "I love her."

I think Lupo Lama needs to stop dating before he ends up dead. Talk about red flags. Wow. I haven't had that much drama in years.
Saturday, November 29, 2008

More on Thanksgiving

So when I left off yesterday we hadn't even eaten yet and the hookers hadn't shown up. Hookers are usually late like that anyway.

Abe Kirchner came. Ive been talking about him for years. He always has a lot for me to write about, being perpetually involved in situations he shouldn't. He's in his sixties. His ex-wife the whore Brazilian Gabriella also came, but they weren't together. Before I continue, I need to give a little recent backstory on each of them.

Since the summer Abe has had the hots for my sister who is 26. He hangs out at her bar. He asks her to dinner, texts her. This will be important to the story later.

Gabriella on the other hand, is newly single, having broken up with her divorce lawyer Andre Lefkowitz whom she lived with for three years following her divorce to Abe. She is currently working as an escort but won't admit it, though it's pretty damned obvious. Gabby doesn't bother me that much. She's extremely cheerful and stupid and entertaining. My sister though, hates the ground Gabby walks on. This situation is made worse by the fact that Gabby can't remember my sister's name and inexplicably calls her Melanie instead. This enrages my sister. I think it's funny.

Abe brought his daughter Tiffani with him. She lives in California, is 23 and looks exactly like a young Pamela Anderson, complete with the boobs and all. She's the sweetest girl in the most tragic way. When you look at her you can just see how her only role models were the whores her dad brought home and how she turned herself into one of them because she knew that's what her dad admired. Perhaps though, I am the only person who sees these things. Tiffani is a wild, partying maniac and Abe, a wild partying maniac in his own right, can't stand to see all the traits he loves in other women, reflected back at him in his own daughter. This makes for disasters whenever the two of them are together.

Tiffani and my sister had been doing shots all night and were approaching Dutch Pickens levels of tore-upness.

At one point my dad, who had been grilling lamb (I know on Thanksgiving, right?) felt like he needed a quick shower to get the smoke off. He announced that he would be back in ten minutes, that he was going to take a shower. Tiffani heard him wrong and thought he said "take a shot" to which she replied that she'd take one too. Abe just about near came unglued, because he had heard my dad right and thought that his daughter was going to take a shower with my father. As if my mother wouldn't have knocked the shit out of her before the water even got hot.

A scene followed. Abe threw a fit and dragged his daughter out the door (not exactly literally) and said the night was officially over and that he wasn't going to have his daughter taking a shower with his friend. The absurd irony was utterly lost on him. Recall that he has been hitting on my sister, a mere three years older than Tiffani, and the daughter of his friend too. So what the hell? Perhaps he holds his own daughter to a different standard. My best explanation is that people I know are fucking crazy and that's all there is to it.

By then the hookers were finally here and we could dig in to the buffet.

Readers, I am pleased to introduce you once again to the lovely Velva Haux. Go read about her, and then come back.

Velva Haux lives across the canal from my parents in a grand, Key West style mansion. She runs an escort service and claims to be a former Playboy bunny from the early 80s. When we first met her last year she was married to a violent, abusive juice head named Tony, but now they are in the middle of a nasty divorce. In the past year Velva and my parents have become better friends because when Velva left Tony she ran to LA and entrenched herself in Kabbalah, like Madonna. She called my parents and started hanging out with them in LA when she wasn't studying Torah and keeping kosher. To show her devotion she got some Hebrew tattoos on her neck and always wears a red string.

Now I'm not going to dis Velva Haux too much here, because she's grown on me and I, surprisingly, don't usually judge sex workers as much as I judge everyone else (there are exceptions though). Velva doesn't get on my nerves as much as she used to because she's calmed down a lot since she's gotten rid of Tony. She also has a new boyfriend named Thor who looks exactly like a Viking superhero. We are all (male and female, gay and straight alike) totally in love with this man. Thor may well be the nicest guy in the world. He is a social worker who deals with addicts and he doesn't drink or smoke or anything. Plus, he rescues pit bulls from dog fighting rings. My parents have been helping him socialize a severely abused dog, but that's its own post. It also doesn't hurt that he looks like a better looking Matthew McConaughey. I don't care about that though. Thor is just a damned good person and you can tell it as soon as you meet him.

Thor and Velva brought a battalion of hookers and their boyfriends with them. There was a lot of lips and tits, collagen and silicone bouncing and jiggling around our Thanksgiving table. All the straight guys got excited and all the gay guys didn't notice because they were too busy drooling over Thor. It was hysterical.

In addition to all this, we had my orthodox cousins and grandparents here and my grandparents brought a Morroccan caterer with them who made lamb tagine and a dump truck's worth of baba ghanoush. It was her fault I got that freaking green, stench assed hilba all over my hands. I didn't mind the woman. She was really nice and so was her smoked eggplant spread, but hilba is this horrible green shit they eat in the Middle East that stinks so bad that I really can't describe the odor. I googled it and the only description I could find was that it was a pungent herb. Pungent my ass. A broken down subway car, packed with construction workers at the end of a long day, in hundred degree heat, smells a lot better than hilba. And I got it on my hands. I nearly washed my epidermis off trying to get rid of the smell, but I still reek.

The best part of our Thanksgiving though was the banjo player. Thor's dad is a very famous banjo player and he was down, so he brought his banjo and gave us our own private show, complete with folktales in between and stories about the history of the instrument and the music he plays. It was beautiful. It sounded like the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack. I have to admit that I have a deep, deep love of Appalachian folk music. It reminds me of the grandfather I'm named for. It reminds me of driving through the mountains in his truck, so when I heard the music it was like he was visiting from the afterlife for a little while, like his spirit was coming out of the banjo.

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