I've definitely played it safe. The worst thing I do is cuss on an anonymous blog. Big whoop. In real life there is very little cussing, unless I'm with my sister and then there is nothing but cussing. Every now and then, like once every five years, I will actually finish a glass of wine, but this is the extent of any wild behavior on my part. Cussing and finishing two entire glasses of wine in an entire decade. Wow. I can hardly bear the excitement of writing about it.
But then finally, last Friday I found a way that I, safe, NPR-listening to, poetry reading little me, could finally commit the ultimate act of rebellion against my entire family, even my parents and that was hard let me tell you. I went to see Barack Obama. Yeah you heard me. That's right. THEE Barack Obama, Senator from Illinois. I saw him.
My extended family is generally a bunch of gun toting, ultra-right wing, conservative, big government hating individuals. My parents aren't because they aren't really anything. They defy all categories. They just don't prefer Barack Obama because, well I'm not exactly sure why to tell you the truth. My mom said he was inexperienced, but she loves Reverand Wright and wants to go to Chicago to see him. We just can't discuss politics in terms of my parents because they defy all logic and are too complicated and I don't think either of them vote anyway. So on one side of my family we have the rural, hunting crowd. On the other side we have the Israelis and though I rarely discuss politics with them either, I can pretty much bet that they don't like Barack Obama either, so by going to see him in person, I have covered all the necessary grounds for rebelling against everyone in my family and am pretty much set for the rest of my life. I can hear my family now:
"We never had any trouble with her as a teenager. She was such a good girl - came home on time, never ran with a wild crowd. She was the picture of innocence but then when she was 34..." At this point they will sigh and look down and act like they're wiping tears away. "she went and saw Barack Obama. We have no idea what went wrong. It must have been that university."
Now before you all, my readers, get your tighty whiteys all mangled in your butt cracks about this too, let me state very clearly that I am not endorsing Barack Obama at all. I've told you all before that I am a Moderate. I haven't decided who I want to vote for yet, but I did decide that during this election that I want to see as many of the candidates in real life as is possible. I want to hear them speak in a setting where I can't change the channel. I also want to write about seeing them for you.
It's more than just that though. This is a historic election. I don't remember any other election in my lifetime ever feeling this important or this urgent to so many people. Never has a woman or a black man had a real chance at becoming president. This is some big stuff and I don't want to look back when I'm old and say that I never got to see any of it except on TV. I don't want to experience my life or history as a series of two dimensional images on a screen. I want to live it. I want to really be there and see things happening. I want to take opportunities to meet people who are different from me and who have had other experiences. I want to get involved when things are happening. Because of that, when I heard Barack Obama was in town on Friday when I was free, I decided to go and I am going to tell you all about it. But first I have to tell you about how I just about got arrested at Wal-Mart on the way.
Husband got this genius idea that we would go and have Chinese for lunch on the way. Chinese food is not a favorite of mine. It doesn't sit well with my sensitive stomach so about five minutes after we left the restaurant and started heading for the stadium where Obama was to speak, my stomach started to hurt and I knew things would not be pleasant for me.
"I need some Imodium," I said, "We need to stop at a pharmacy."
Husband said I should stop at Wal-Mart because it was close and he said the Imodium would be cheaper there. I told him I was boycotting Wal-Mart because I hate everything about it. Husband asked me if I liked having diarrhea more than I hated Wal-Mart and I had to concede.
I hate Wal-Mart. I hate everything about the place. I even hate how it smells. I hate the colors, the way the store is set up, the crap they sell, the people in line in front of me, the checkout people. I hate it all. I hate Wal-Mart.
I chose the shortest checkout line. When I do this there is inevitably a problem which makes the line that really looked like it was the shortest, turn into the absolute longest. I should pick the longest line but I never learn. An old lady in front of me decided that this was the best possible time to throw a hissy fit over, and I kid you freakin' not, a single box of chocolate covered cinnamon altoids which cost a whopping $1.75. For those of you who have not been here, old people losing their shit over the prices of things which aren't all that expensive to begin with, and yelling and screaming at store/ restaurant/ gated community employees is a very common occurance of life in South Florida. Generally I tune it out. That day my stomach hurt so I really wanted to take the tin of chocolate covered cinnamon altoids from the woman and smack her in the face with it. The checkout girl did too.
The old lady yelled. Management was called. It all ended with the old lady throwing the altoids tin and storming out of the store still yelling something about how they were on clearance and how could Wal-Mart get away with selling candy for $1.75 on clearance and what is the world coming to. Did I mention that my stomach still hurt? It did.
After finally getting my Imodium I was so excited to actually take it that on my way out the door I took it out of the bag, threw out the bag and opened the medicine right as I was going out the door. Of course the alarm went off. Of course it did.
The greeter, a 98 year old man with so many liver spots that he looked like he was part wildcat, sprung into action. He jumped in front of me with his arms out to prevent me from going out the door.
"YOU STOP RIGHT THERE!!!!" he yelled in a hoarse, Brooklyn accent, "Where do you think you're going? I need to see the receipt."
Naturally I threw it away along with the bag, and oh, my stomach - it still hurt. Meanwhile like six people walk out the door carrying flat screen TVs and X-boxes, but it is me, Miss Diarrhea Medicine who gets accosted by the greeter.
I explain the situation to the greeter. He is not sympathetic. He thinks I am stealing Imodium.
"Do you seriously think-" I start.
"Don't get lippy with me. People get embarassed to buy that all the time and think they can just come in here and steal. Well I got news for ya-"
I think his goal was to embarass me as much as possible here as punishment.
"Let me see if I can find the receipt."
I started to dig through my purse hoping I didn't throw out the receipt. Sometimes I stuff them into my wallet. Ok, a lot of times I stuff them into my wallet. You should have seen the the amount of receipts I pulled out of my purse looking for the Imodium receipt. I have a problem. It's like I'm a bird trying to find pieces of paper to build a nest with or something. I could have built twenty nests. I could have wall papered a large restroom with all the receipts I had in there. I had receipts from last Christmas. Christmas of '06! But did I have the most recent diarrhea medicine receipt? Of course not.
"You need to clean that out young lady," the greeter said.
He began to call for help. I was afraid he was going to call Security or the police. About seven more people walked out with flat screen TVs. Eight rednecks carried out an above ground pool.
Finally I got my checkout girl to vouch for me. Her name was Shontisha and she did not speak. She kind of reminded me of Silent Bob. She was Silent Shontisha. Before I had tried to joke with her to add levity to the situation of the altoid maniac yelling in her face, as if Silent Shontisha makes the prices at Wal-Mart. I thought joking around and making fun of altoid lady would make Silent Shontisha feel like not everyone in the world was a jackass and maybe she would smile. Not so. Silent Shontisha was not amused by my tomfoolery. Silent Shontisha did not think I was as funny as I thought I was. She didn't even crack a smile. She really didn't crack a smile when the militant greeter bothered her.
"Did this girl buy diarrhea medicine from you?" he asked.
Silent Shontisha made a gesture which involved a modified "talk to the hand" sort of swipe and then rolled her eyes and turned her back to him. He took it as a "yes that stupid ass bitch bought some diarrhea medicine from me now leave me alone."
Mortified, I left Wal-Mart and took my Imodium as we drove the rest of the way to the stadium where Barack Obama was speaking.
"I told you I hate Wal-Mart," I told Husband.
Once we got to the stadium it was about 9,000 degrees Celsius outside with 129% humidity. I about had a heat stroke getting to the front door and when we got to the entrance they weren't letting anyone in so Husband and I and literally thousands of people had to stand outside in the hot sun and wait until well past the time when doors were supposed to open before the doors actually opened. Luckily I saw a friend from school who brought her kids so I had someone else to talk to. The crowd was really well behaved considering that we were broiling and they wouldn't let us inside.
Then what seemed like a Biblical plague of dragonflies descended upon us and thousands of the insects swooped and darted above us and flew into people's faces and hair. It was very strange, yet a little funny because the dragonflies caused a mild panic as people tried to dodge them. Birds followed the dragonflies, so then we had people dodging dragonflies and dragonflies trying to dodge the birds that were trying to eat them all in 9,000 degree heat. I tell you, it was some good times.
But that's not all. Suddenly the sky darkened and a cool wind blew. This was good because it was only 1,000 degrees now. This was also bad because it was about to storm and because all around us we could see bolts of lightning striking. I began to imagine a terrible scenario where all these people who were so excited to see Barack Obama ended up getting hit by lightning. Thank God this didn't happen and thank God they finally started letting people in. There was a lot of security so it took a while to get through it and really get inside. Once in there was general seating so it was like a stampede to get to any seats and very disorganized. People were arguing and the ushers weren't letting people sit in certain areas and then inexplicably changing their minds and letting people sit there afterall, so this caused some hurt feelings.
One thing I noticed was that a lot of people had made very nice signs and they all had the signs confiscated on the way in which made the people who made the signs very sad and disappointed. I felt really badly for them because they obviously put a lot of effort into the signs.
I talked to the people around me when we sat down and I talked to people in line outside. I overheard conversations. I really observed the crowd, which was a balanced mix of many races and not just, as some people think, mostly Black people. My friend from school that I waited in line with is Black and she was so excited. She wanted her sons to be there to see Barack Obama and from what I observed I realized that Barack Obama is a huge, big deal to Black people because he gives them a legitimate, well-earned, male role model to be proud of. He breaks the stereotypes of rappers and athletes and shows that Black people can achieve in other ways besides performing for others, which is what rappers and athletes are ultimately doing, and not that there's anything wrong with being a successful musician or athlete at all, but just that there should be other great possibilities too. So in this way Barack Obama really does give a lot of people hope and I think he will continue to whether or not he becomes president, and that alone is a very good thing. It made me feel happy and proud too to see so many other people happy and proud because I know that through their history as a culture there has been a lot of sadness and shame that never should have happened.
We waited forever. We enjoyed a salsa-ish jam band whom my cousin who jumped out of a plane on acid loves, and we really liked a steel drum orchestra. Then we waited some more. Some local politicians came out. Senator Wexler, who is great because he went on Colbert and said cocaine and prostitutes were fun, spoke a little. Then we waited even longer. Thank heavens we brought books to read.
I saw something that really bothered me though. Remember how I said people had their signs taken away? Well I saw that they were giving out different signs, but that the only people who could have signs were the people who were directly behind the podium, meaning the people who would be seen on camera. That kind of sucked in my book because it was really fake and contrived. They gave all the people in that section printed out blue signs and then they very deliberately gave some other people fake homemade signs!!! And they placed them strategically in places where they would be seen on camera at even intervals so they wouldn't be too close together. It really annoyed the crap out of me that they did this. I don't think they even used the signs they had confiscated at the door. I think they were just fake homemade signs that they handed out to people who didn't even make them to make it look like they made them. I began to feel cynical and like politics is all such bullshit.
Finally after all this Barack Obama came out and my first, blink, impression was that he needs a good meal. Barack Obama is tall and skinny. I guess that means he's in good shape, but he looked like he needed something to eat. Senator Obama, are you eating enough on the campaign trail? He was also friendly, smiling and confident. He spoke for a long time about hope and change. Of course. He said things I liked and things that got on my nerves. He said the same things he had said in other speeches and tailored some of them to Florida. For instance, he mentioned standardized tests and how it was wrong for teachers to teach to the test. His advisors I'm sure told him about the whole FCAT controversy we have here. To me, it seemed like a planted, very brief comment to get the crowd to roar, which it did.
Barack Obama is pleasant to listen to. He has a beautiful speaking voice, and oh my God is the man good looking in real life. For real, Barack is pretty hot. I'm not sure how politicians are supposed to seem or if my own mental image of a politician is the result of cultural brainwashing. I've seen other politicians. Last year I sat in on the senate in DC and saw several. I have to say that in comparison, Barack Obama seemed to me more like a movie star. This is something I need to consider more before I present a written analysis of why I thought that and what it means to me, so I won't do it here just yet. I'll just present my objective observations for now. Another thing I can say is that he was able to hold my attention even when he said things that I didn't 100% agree with and that he spoke like a real person, meaning very conversational. Halfway through I realized I had forgotten about my stomach hurting. Maybe it was just the Imodium finally kicking in. Barack Obama also, I realized, had mentioned some issues that made me pretty hopeful too and I left feeling very glad that I had gone. I'm glad that I got to see an event like this in real life because it was very different than what we see on TV.
So that's it. I'll post pictures for you later. Please do not get into some wild, political debates in my comments section because that was not the point of this post at all.
John McCain - you're next. When are you coming to speak down here and can it please be on my day off?
In addition to discovering the new Pink Flamingos Starbucks this morning I also received the oddest and most random email from my mother (who never emails me by the way) ever. It went like this:
Last night I ran into Suge Knight at the Peninsula. We had a wonderful time together. He is nothing like they say. He was very soft, kind and respectful.
My mom is hanging with Suge Knight at the Peninsula Hotel? Fo' real? Is this possible? Is this my life? My mother is hanging with the founder of Death Row Records? Lord have mercy. I knew it though. I always said my mother was a Rap star with her gigantic purses and her bus. So yeah, readers in Los Angeles, if you happen to see any blonde women in their early 50s dangling by their ankles from hotel windows please do me a favor and call 911 because that will be my mom and I would just really appreciate it. Thanks.
I'm anxiously awaiting my mom's first hit single "I Got a Big Ass Purse and Bus, Bitch."
As you know, or if you don't I'm reminding you now, I am back living at my parents' house until at least next October because they went back to Los Angeles where their other house is. Jesus Christ I can't believe I just wrote that sentence. How pretentious is that? Their other house. God help me. But that's the situation. It's not one of those Rich White People summer home kinda deals though. It's more of a my-parents-are-unstable-and-up-and-move-houses-quite-suddenly-kinda situation really.
Things are different here at Casa dei Sogni. The last time I moved over here for a long span of time I was enamored with the grill and the bathtub. When I'm not living at my parents' house I have my own apartment but alas it has no grill and no bathtub that a grown human being could ever fit in. I also only have 1 normal TV and it's in my living room. I still love the grill and the tub aplenty, but my newest obsession is the whole TV in the bedroom, which allows one to watch TV shows while lying in bed. Wow. Who knew that such things existed?
I've always been fairly opposed to TV in the bedroom. This is clearly because I am an idiot and had no idea what I was talking about at all. I was being one of those snobs who says they don't watch much TV, but secretly I was longing desperately to lay among a mountain of pillows and watch the E! Channel.
I'm like this with food too. Yesterday I ate a vegan quinoa salad and for a snack I had grapes. Inside my soul was crying out for tater tots. Before bed I ate two chewable acidophilus tablets. They were not cookies. I tried to imagine that they were, but I just couldn't do it. Not even my imagination can stretch that far.
Now with the TV in the bedroom thing I've taken my extreme food neurosis (which is that I am afraid everything I eat will give me terrible diseases) to a whole new level and officially proved to myself that I am, as they say in the South, a bit touched. Two new (at least to me I mean) television programs have brought me to this realization.
The first new show that I have on my TiVo is "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives". My Uncle Byron introduced me to this nonsense while I was in Millpond a few weeks ago and I came straight home and set up a season recording. This show redefines the concept of eating like a fucking asshole. It takes asshole consumption to extremes I didn't even know were possible. And yet I watch. I love to see the show's host Guy eating battered, deep fried cheeseburgers and drinking cheesecake milkshakes. Everwhere he goes he pretty much eats something battered and fried. If it's not fried it contains ass-loads of butter. If it's not butter it's cream and dump-trucks full of sugar. I have never seen an episode where anything is healthy. In fact, they go to great lengths to never mention the word healthy and to eat as poorly as is humanly possible. And I freaking love it. It's like the dirtiest, nastiest, triple XXX, hardcore porn and I watch it like a pervert in the back of a run-down theater with a sticky floor, waiting for money shots of melted cheese shooting out of the bun of a double chili dog when Guy bites into it and pools and clots of melted ice cream overflowing from sundae dishes.
But afterwards I feel so...so dirty inside. So guilty. So needing of the type of bodily and spiritual purification that can only come from the punishing tone of a British Dominatrix of Nutrition like Gillian McKeith. And so I turn back to my TiVo where I have faithfully recorded from the BBC America, "You Are What You Eat."
This show would never fly in the US, although I think we really need a show like it. I'm supposing that most of you haven't heard of it. I hadn't. My TiVo decided I would like it, I guess after I made it feel soiled and naughty by making it record "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives." I've even got my cousin and sister hooked on it now. Basically what it is is this hard-core nutritionist who takes no shit from fat people, has interventions with overweight people who eat like the biggest fucking assholes I have ever seen in my entire life. The people are pretty much going to die and are suffering from a world of health problems because of the way they eat, so Gillian comes in and gives them what for about it. In every show she makes the people look at all the food they consume in an entire week in all of it's oily, sickeningly sweet glory piled up on a table. The people are always horrifed at their own gluttony. I always am too. This part makes me feel all superior and good about myself because I imagine Gillian being very pleased with my acidophilus tablets and quinoa salads. I feel less dirty than before after this.
Then she tests their blood, sends them for colonics and best of all, she makes them give poo samples. Afterwards she berates their poo mercilessly. I love this. I myself have never personally berated anyone's poo, but there have been a few times in public restrooms where I have certainly wanted to scream out "WHAT IN THE HELL DID YOU EAT?? MY GOD! THE PLACE SHOULD BE EVACUATED!!!" But I assure you I have never done this. Yet.
Now are there any American shows where someone could ever utter the words "Your shit was absolutely disgusting!" No. For this alone I love "You Are What You Eat."
After the poo inspection Gillian brings a new table out laden with a bounty of beautiful raw vegetables and things I have never heard of like pulses. I had to look that one up. I guess in England a pulse is what Americans call a legume. Then I laugh at aubergines and courgettes. Why this cracks me up I'll never know. I love how in England they call things by different names that seem funny to me. Gillian makes the overweight people eat all sorts of things they don't like. One of her sample meals is some raw spinach leaves and for dessert a lovely squeeze of lemon. Well, it's a little more than that, but not much. The people are always quite distraught at this point. Often I feel for them. Sometimes they freak out over things I consider normal - like tofu. Then I don't feel for them.
Eight weeks later on Gillian's plan of diet and exercise the people always look significantly better. This is because the producers of the show have sent them for haircuts after starving them to death for two months. They always show them with bangs and new outfits that look like they came from Chico's, which is obviously going to look a world better than the before pictures where they have to wear a bathing suit and look like they just rolled out of bed after a week of the flu. Even if they didn't lose a pound the haircut and outfit alone would be an improvement. They also make them smile in contrast to their scowling before pictures. Then, in a very rehearsed end segment the people who have apparently lost three dress sizes talk very stiffly about how they have so much more energy now that they eat mung beans for breakfast. They are lying. I can tell that inside their heads they are all thinking the same thing.
"I can't wait for this skinny, sodding whore to get out of here with her camera crew so I can go to the nearest chip shop."
Then the show ends with some awful comment like "Alice weighed a ghastly 23 Stone. She was so large she could have been Stone Henge but now after Eight Weeks of Gillian's plan Alice feels so much better and now weighs only 20 Stone! Hurray Alice!"
The whole stone measuring system confused me a lot. I couldn't figure it out but then I looked it up. I think a stone is like 15 pounds or so. I remember being confused about this in Bridget Jones' Diary too.
As strange as it may be to watch these two shows back to back as I do, I think it's working for me in a way because on one hand I get the vicarious, icky-sticky, x-rated joys of salty, greasy, tempura-y food that is guaranteed to kill you, but before I have a chance to get out of bed and go downstairs looking for an Oreo or a Capri-Sun in the middle of the night, I watch the other show and see what eating like that will do to you and imagine someone making scathing comments about my poop, which is a surefire deterrent. But the shows work for me in whatever odd, neurotic way and they're both incredibly entertaining and if they cease to be, I have a TV in bed and can find something else to watch.
So I decided to let Canela show me what she wanted. She jumped off the bed and I followed. She rolled around on the floor and chirped and looked cute. Then she took a very meandering path to the stairs and started meowing while looking down the stairs. Pretty much what she wanted was for me to walk her down the stairs so she could patrol the whole downstairs of the house. I gave in. We didn't find anything amiss so then she wanted me to walk her back up the stairs and by that point I was wide awake so we watched TV and she sat on me and purred.
Husband and I have given this careful consideration and we think the mystery is solved. Canela is just a little anxious. She is bothering me because I am her person. She lived with me for five years before Husband came along and moved in with us. She adores him, but when all is said and done she is my girl alone. I guess she doesn't feel comfortable bothering him. Lucky me.
Canela is anxious because we left her for a week and then immediately brought her over to my parents' house where her best friend Bomboclaat no longer resides. She is worried because she is used to him being here and he isn't. His bed sat empty next to our bed and I think it was freaking her out and she wanted to go look for him. Now, we washed it all out, put the bedding from her bed into it and let her move in. She currently sleeps in it all day and seems to have accepted Bomboclaat's absence.
Another problem is that Canela has a brain the size of an almond and just simply can not grasp the concept of stairs and after all the times she has stayed here, can't comprehend how to get up and down stairs by herself. So I think in the middle of the night she was seeing Bomboclaat's bed empty and thinking we forgot him downstairs, then she wanted to go downstairs and look for him but couldn't get downstairs without me assisting her, so she had to wake me up. I know, it's so complicated. To remedy this situation we have been training her to go up and down the stairs by herself, offering treats at the top and bottom and going slowly up and down to model how one comes up and down the stairs. We had a small set-back when she slipped and fell, but she is fine and I think she might be learning, although it's really funny to watch. She won't just walk up or down. She has to run full speed for some reason.
To relieve Canela's anxiety we have been spending a lot of time with her during the day, playing with her and cuddling her a lot more than usual. We are also playing fetch and catch with her before bed to wear her out, which seems to work.
So that, I think, is the sources of the problem. Last night I managed to get a full night's sleep and when I woke up this morning a little kitty was curled up at the foot of the bed, sleeping happily too. So I decided to poke her and pull her hair.
No, just kidding. I gave her a kiss.
Tara's mother, who was also my cousin, although I called her my aunt, was the sort of mother who canned her own vegetables and jellies and who let us drink Kool-Aid, play in the sprinkler and stay up late. I loved going to Tara's house and sometimes I would stay for several days on end. I also need to add that Tara had an Easy-Bake Oven and did not mind taking her Barbies outside and getting them extremely muddy. This was the epitome of fun.
When Tara and I got to middle school something happened and she became different. We were never in the same classes because she was at a lower level than I was, but when we passed in the halls we never even spoke. Later I learned that she had endured a terrible trauma, which I won't detail here. At the same time I was enduring my own trauma, living with my stepmother and biological father and these collective problems caused us to stop being the muddy, jelly-sticky little girls who tore through the peach orchard screaming at imaginary terrors. Because before Middle School the only terrors in our lives were made up. Then suddenly, we were growing up and the things that scared us became very real and very horrible and because neither of us had words to express what we were going through and because each of us thought the other led the perfect life, we never shared our stories and we never talked again.
I was 20 and lived in Atlanta when Tara got married. She was almost a year older than me, so she was 21, which to me was appallingly young to be getting married. At 20 I was at the peak of my bohemian, wannabe artist, never get married phase and although I was a high-school dropout I fancied myself as quite the intellectual because I read a book every few months. I was an asshole. I heard about the wedding through relatives and then to my surprise Tara actually sent me an invitation and I went to her wedding.
Tara made a lovely bride, but all brides are lovely. I had a really good time at her wedding, but it was definitely your average Millpond wedding - pot luck and held in the fire house. Everyone wore jeans and there was a keg, but that drained pretty fast so some boys (my cousins, all of whom look like Kid Rock) took off in a truck to make a beer run and on the way back they hit a deer which they put in the bed of the truck with the beer to later skin and butcher. Then everyone line danced to Billy Ray Cyrus playing on a boom box and when the beer ran out again we all left. The after-party was in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
I didn't talk to Tara after that, but I always sent her Christmas cards. She got a job working for the state making Xerox copies. Mommom Jewel reminded me of this often as I went from working in a hotel to a collection agency to a pottery studio to a kindergarten.
"Your cousin Tara's got a good job workin' for the state. She makes Xerox copies. You could do that too you know but you just want to run around like you do," Mommom Jewel would say. Repeatedly.
I never told her that if I ever had to work for the state in Millpond doing nothing but making Xeroxes all day long for hours on end that I would surely start pulling out my hair by the roots and biting chunks out of my own arms. Tara and I had taken very different paths in life apparently. By the time we were 26 she had four little boys.
I decided to go see Tara. I have a better understanding of what happened to her. I wanted to see her children and reconnect with her.
Tara is still married. I don't know her husband, but everyone says he's a good guy and I wanted to spend some time with them. They live in a buttercream colored house, still way out in the country, surrounded by sorghum fields and dark, piney woodlands. There are no other houses around and when pulling into Tara's driveway the first thing that came to mind was that this was the sort of place where people get abducted by aliens. I was glad it wasn't night.
A gun case figured prominently in the living room. Someone had customized the gun case with airbrushed pictures of wolves and bucks with a confederate flag waving in the background. The kids weren't there. A framed Nascar poster hung on the wall. Tara was quiet. Her hair was permed and she looked too skinny. She still bit her nails. I wondered how she got the bruise on her wrist.
"Where's Dean?" I asked (Dean is her husband).
"Dean took the boys 'coon hunting with Big George," she said.
"Oh," I said, hoping very fervently that she mean Rac-coons. The confederate gun case scared me.
"Who's Big George?" I wanted to know.
"He lives up the road. He's a 'coon hunter."
I wondered if 'coon hunting was a profession. I asked what they did with the 'coons, praying she wouldn't say that they ate them.
"Or sometimes we just hang them on the walls," she added.
Then she showed me the den where one wall was covered in raccoon skins. Luckily I was saved from having to compliment the raccoon wall because a pregnant teenager knocked on the screen door in the kitchen and we had to go let her in.
"Tara, you know when them boys is supposed to get back?" asked the pregnant teenager.
Tara didn't know.
"'Cuz I got cravins and Big George took the truck so I can't go into town and get some Krystal burgers!"
The pregnant teenager left on foot. We invited her in, but she declined our offer. Tara told me her name was Misty and she was Big George's 18 year old girlfriend. The baby wasn't Big George's. Big George had started dating her when she was already 3 months along and had been broken up with the baby's father for a couple months already.
"How old is Big George?" I asked.
The next half hour was tense and awkward because Tara and I had nothing to talk about at all and she is very reserved. I would ask her questions and she would only say "yeah" or "no." I couldn't get anything out of her and I felt like she didn't want me there. Her life looked depressing to me, but maybe it isn't to her. I couldn't tell because she seemed so robotic and devoid of expression. I found it all, honestly, very troubling and I didn't want to come off as being a snob, but I think that's how she saw me anyway. I left Millpond. I got educated. I don't have kids. I live far away. I don't make Xeroxes for the state. I am threatening, but I don't want to be.
"Do you remember when I stepped on the snake?"
"Yeah," she said.
"Did your mom teach you to can? I used to love her blackberry jam. She was good at getting all the seeds out."
"We used to have a lot a fun didn't we?"
I couldn't take it. I still don't know what to make of it. I left before the sun set and on the drive back into town I thought about how I must seem very foreign to her. Maybe I make her sad because I remind her of a time that was stolen from her too soon. Maybe she makes me sad for the same reason. I hope that she is not as unhappy as she seemed.
Before I go on to the pizza lunch story I have to digress and tell you about Ray's eating habits. Ray, who is almost 80 and in way better shape than me, as I said will eat ANYTHING and like it. Whenever we go out he eats everyone's leftovers right from their plates - pizza crusts, the onions we pick off our salads, the lemon slices from our iced tea and the stripped bones of our baby back ribs. I've never seen anything like it. One time he came home from working on his farm (he is a farmer who raises race horses, chickens, corn, soy beans and green peppers) to get some lunch. He found a small margarine container in the refrigerator that had some leftovers in it, which he heated up and ate with saltines. Later that evening, thinking about how good his lunch was, he asked Memere Marie what she had cooked and put in the margarine container. She thought for a moment.
"I don't know what you're talking about Ray," she replied.
"Well, it was kind of like a stew," Ray said, "But then I thought it might be a pate' although I did heat it up and you're not supposed to heat up pate' are you? It was just delicious. I was hoping you'd make it again."
Memere thought some more.
"Oh dear God Ray. You've eaten a can of Nine Lives!"
That morning she had fed the cats a half a can and saved the other half for their dinner in the margarine container and Ray ate it.
"You're kidding! It was delicious!"
Since then, Ray has often, when in a pinch, opened up a can of wet food for himself, which he eats, just like pate', and spreads on crackers. He has since stopped heating it up and says his favorite flavor is Ocean Dinner. I do not recommend that you attempt eating cat food yourself.
But last Saturday we did not, thank the blessed Lord, eat cat food. We had pizza. The first thing Memere did when she saw me was to call me a "little shit" and then make all sorts of accusations about what I'm doing on the computer. She has never in her life even touched a computer, yet she claims to know all about them. I'm not sure what she thinks the Internet is, being that she has never seen it, but she is convinced that every single thing you do on it is completely public and that there's nothing but child molesters on it.
"Well I guess I'm safe then, being that I'm an adult and child molesters aren't interested in me," I replied.
The second thing Memere did was call me a "Smart Ass SOB" and I confess this may be somewhat accurate.
After the pizza arrived my mother started talking about some of my recent accomplishments.
"Are those Liberals at that university giving you any problems?" Memere asked me totally out of the blue.
This caught me off guard.
"What?" I asked.
"Those Liberals. Don't try to tell me they aren't. I know what kind of left-wing radical nonsense goes on at those colleges. I see it on Fox News and I said to myself it's a good thing no one in the family's been to one of those places. Except you. I think in this day and age it's best to stay away from the universities. They don't teach a damn thing anyway. So I'm just interested in what kind of problems the Liberals are giving you."
I had no words.
"Or," Memere continued, lowering her voice dramatically, "Are YOU a Liberal?"
She said this in a tone that stated quite emphatically that if the answer were "yes" that she would instantly get up from the table, walk home and never speak to me or love me ever again until I registered as a Republican.
While I was more than a little tempted to tell Memere that just the previous week I had flung my bra into a bonfire on campus before praising Allah and performing "The Vagina Monologues" buck naked with "Fuck Bush!" painted across my braless boobs, I resisted the temptation and instead just told her about the Al Qaeda training camp that all English majors, especially Poetry MFAs are required to attend before graduation. No, I'm just kidding. I didn't do that either. But oh how I wanted to.
"Memere," I said, "I am not always Liberal but I am not a Conservative either, and while this may disappoint you, I am registered as an Independent. I'm a Moderate. I see good and bad things in both sides. I try to stay balanced. Some things I'm really Liberal about, but every now and then I get pretty Conservative too, but I refuse to subscribe to any ideology. In my life, and in my job and situation, I feel that this would be irresponsible. I think that politics should bring people together to make the country better for everyone, not tear people apart and make them fight."
The color drained from her face. Apparently, in addition to being the only member of the family to go to one of them universities I am also the only person to ever betray the Republican party with my heinous disloyalty. She turned to my mother.
"She's voting for Obama! Did you hear that!!!" Memere told my mother as if I couldn't hear her.
Ray turned to me.
"Are you done with that lemon in your iced tea?" he asked, "Because I'll eat it if you don't want it."
I don't talk politics with my family in Millpond. I can't. I will never convince them of anything and it will only cause fights and misunderstandings because they don't share the same worldview or understanding as I do and most of their political leanings are very uninformed and based on emotions which stem from the fear that their very isolated and narrow way of life might be threatened by invasions of people who are different from them, and by that I don't mean immigrants. I mean people from universities too. You can't argue with that.
You can, however, make fun of it on the Internet for all the child molesters to read.
I must first offer a heartfelt, sincere apology to the owners, trainers, handlers and fans of Eight Belles for killing her. We didn't mean to do it. We certainly don't kill horses on purpose. It just happens. It's part of the Holland Family Horse Curse.
As you all know my grandfather is gravely ill. He is so ill that there was the possibility of my not being able to even see him at all. He had been in the hospital all week. They try to keep him at home as much as possible, but sometimes his condition gets so bad that they have to take him to the hospital. For weeks now he has thought it was the Eisenhower era and if anyone tries to tell him otherwise he gets mad. He has a brain tumor that is causing dementia. Now you can imagine how scary it would be for you to swear it was the mid 1950s yet all around you are people not dressed like it's the 50s, wearing clothes that aren't from the 50s and driving cars and using computers that are definitely not from the 50s. It's a bad situation. Add to the dementia that he is frail, skeletal and sick from chemo and radiation and you can understand what we're dealing with.
But Pop wasn't always like this. He had a long career in the military. He's a General. He went to War College. When he was younger he was a tall, imposing man with a very commanding presence. He rode a motorcycle to work and came home every night and drank a few beers. He liked fried seafood and his favorite thing to do was to watch sports. His favorite sport was horse racing. When I was little and lived with Mommom Jewel and Pop Byron I always wanted to be close to Pop, but he was always watching sports and I hated sports. Except horse racing. Horse racing was about the only sport I could stand and it appealed to me because the horses were pretty, the jockeys wore brightly colored outfits and at the end they wreathed the horses in hundreds of flowers. I loved it. So whenever horse racing was on I could sit with Pop and we would pick a horse to root for and we would cheer and yell until Mommom Jewel would yell from the kitchen for us to shut up. It's one of my favorite childhood memories.
Every year Pop and I looked forward to the Kentucky Derby and we always said that one day we would get to go. I got a book from the library all about it and learned the names of all the winners and I daydreamed near constantly about wearing a gigantic hat with 25 pastel, satin bows hanging off it along with seven yards of Belgian lace, a tall ship and a bird's nest with real eggs in it. If you know me now I'll bet you can still imagine me wanting to go to the Kentucky Derby just so I could wear a completely out of control hat and sip mint juleps. To this day, I've never had a mint julep. I'm saving it for the remote possibility that I might actually get to go to Louisville. You never know.
When I was around seven or eight years old I developed a ridiculous obsession with wanting to be a jockey. It looked like a really cool occupation and I desperately wanted a career that involved wearing colorful silk jumpsuits and a little cap. Clearly I am all about hats. Obviously I had no idea what being a jockey was actually like ("Seabiscuit" hadn't yet been made) and I didn't know that I would, in a few years, grow to be way to tall for that to ever be a possibility. In the innocent meantime I fantasied about riding winning race horses and practiced by riding my very own thoroughbred, black, vinyl footstool that my grandparents called "the hassock" and beating the living hell out of it with a wooden spoon, because as you can imagine, footstools don't exactly run very fast. You have to really whip them to get them to even budge, especially when the race track is in your grandparents' wood paneled family room with a green shag rug.
One summer, around the time of my jockey obsession Pop started taking me to the horsetrack and letting me stay up way too late betting on horses. Mommom did not approve, so she said we couldn't bet anymore and she started coming with us to make sure we weren't gambling behind her back. Just for fun we would pick horses anyway and by God if every time we didn't bet real money the horses we picked would win. This proved too tempting for Mommom Jewel. We were missing out on good money, so she reversed her stance on gambling and decided to place a bet.
"Just this once," she said, "And then we're taking the money and going home. I'm just betting this one time because I really like this horse."
Mommom went and put money down on the horse we all liked.
Halfway through the race the horse was leading. We were going to win again, but then something happened and the horse tripped and fell. The other horses trampled past it and when the race was over our horse still didn't get up. An ambulance came and took the jockey away and some men walked onto the track, looked at our horse and then a few minutes later another man came out with a gun and shot our horse. It was extremely traumatic and thus began the Holland Family Horse Curse.
After that we stopped going to the track. Later that summer I got the chance to ride a horse, was thrown and ended up in the hospital with a concussion. I decided that being a jockey was no longer a viable career option and decided instead to be a famous portrait painter who marries a foreign prince, because that was way more realistic.
During this time we lived in a little white ranch house with green shutters that was out in the country. At the end of our road was a horse pasture and every night after dinner Mommom would give me carrots and apples and I would go to the split rail fence and call the horses, who would all trot over to me for treats. My favorite was a Palomino who had a long blonde tail that trailed out behind him when he ran. That October, on one of those misty, dreary Fall days when it's just starting to get chilly in Millpond, the horses all jumped the fence and escaped. I was home with a bad cold and looked out the picture window to see all of the horses galloping joyfully down our street.
The horses turned and ran through a newly planted rye field, kicking up dust. They ran in a wide circle, led by the Palomino and then they ran far up the road. The next day we learned that the Palomino, in his last moments of freedom, had run straight into the path of a Buick. The horse was killed and the driver of the Buick, a pilot from Baltimore on his way to the airport to fly to Paris, died instantly. After that the farmer moved all the horses, sold the pasture and a developer came in and built boxy tract homes where the pasture once stood.
I got older. We stopped watching horse races. I went to live with my biological father and his wife for a short time. Then I went to live with the parents I have now and we moved far away to New York where there were no horses. I never returned to the track. I forgot the Kentucky Derby, the hats, the mint juleps and the wreaths of 500 red roses and soon I was so tall that I would tower over any jockey. Because I now wanted to be a portrait painter I spent a lot of my time with a starter set of acrylics and small canvases, but I never painted horses.
This year it was a coincidence that the weekend I went to Millpond to see Pop was the weekend of the Kentucky Derby. Pop's doctor released him from the hospital Friday and we did't know if he would be well enough for me to visit on Saturday. We waited all day and my aunt talked to Mommom and convinced her to let me come over. I got there a half hour before the Kentucky Derby.
Pop looked bad. Mommom warned me that he wouldn't know me, that he gets tired and agitated and that he has severe dementia so not to be upset when he forgot who I was. None of this happened. He said my name.
"You came to see me!" he said, "It's Derby day! Do you remember when you were little and we'd watch it and you'd ride the hassock?"
Pop was completely lucid. Mommom brightened up.
"Let's pick a horse," I said, "For old times sake."
"I'm not picking a horse," Mommom said.
"Don't you remember what happened last time I picked a horse? They came out and shot it!"
Then Husband, Cousin Bella and I told Mommom how stupid and superstitious she was being and how that was 25 years ago and they would never kill a horse right on the track in this day and age, especially during the biggest horse race in the world in front of millions of viewers. We told her how now they treat the horses as well as Olympic athletes and have advanced medical technology.
"Well, all right," Mommom said.
We liked Eight Belles. Black horses have always been my favorite and we had to root for the only girl in the race. She was the underdog and and she was beautiful; fast as any colt. We unanimously rooted for Eight Belles. And she won second place.
The camera focused on Big Brown's win and then there was a horse down on the track after the race ended. It looked black.
"What on earth happened?" we asked.
Something was wrong with Eight Belles. No one said anything. A few minutes later we found out that they had, indeed, in front of millions of people, euthanized a horse, our horse, right on the track. It really happened. It was our fault. We all sat there for a minute not quite knowing what to do and worrying that this would upset Pop too much. This was supposed to be our moment where we relived old times, where we cheered and we were happy again, where we forgot that Pop was so sick. It was supposed to be like when I was a child and when Pop was a tall, strong healthy man who barked orders at Corporals. Our horse was supposed to win and now she was dead and none of us wanted to say anything or acknowledge what had happened because we didn't want to upset Pop and we didn't know if he realized that the horse had died or not.
"These things happen," Pop said.
I tried very hard not to cry, because it's true. These things happen. But before she died, she still won second place and that is definitely something.
Pop stayed lucid. Before we left he said my name again.
"I love you so much," he said.
"I love you so much too Pop."
And then we left.
I can't end the story here. It was too disturbing of a thing to happen. I tried to find meaning because I guess I am too superstitious, but Pop was right. These things happen.
This reminded me of a conversation I had with Pop last summer when he was first diagnosed with lung cancer. I had been upset and had called him.
"Don't worry about me. I'm an old man," Pop told me, "This is what happens when you get old. You go to the doctor every damn day, everything starts to hurt and nothing works like it used to and the world has changed so much that you don't know where or what anything is anymore. I'm old. Old people get sick. That's just what happens and it's a normal part of life. So don't you spend your time worrying about me. I'll be fine. You just worry about yourself and go have fun and remember to do as much as you can while you're young. You let me worry about me and no matter what I love you."
And so I have tried to remember that. Old men get sick. Racehorses break their legs. These things happen. But you can count on me never ever picking another horse ever again.
I would like to thank everyone for sending their travel tips. I used as many of them as I could and as a result did manage to see pretty much every major attraction in Philadelphia in one day. Yes, one day. My visit to Philadelphia lasted one day, but I was gone for almost a week galavanting all up and down the East Coast. I have to confess to you that I wasn't on vacation and that this trip was emotionally very difficult for me. I went back to Millpond, my hometown to visit my grandfather and tell him I loved him for what might be the last time. Because I knew how hard that would be I added in the day up in Philadelphia as a special treat, because even in sad times, or perhaps especially in sad times we all need special treats.
While I was away I had many adventures and witnessed all sorts of bizarre behavior coming from my family members which you all will get to hear about for the rest of the week. There's so much to tell that one post just won't do it and I'm still exhausted. It was a hard trip for me, but also beautiful and full of moments that I needed to experience.
In other news my parents have gone back to Los Angeles (WITH BOMBOCLAAT!), stopping halfway through to trade in the old bus and get a new one (do not even ask me) and I got home in the middle of the night last night and proceeded to move back into Casa Dei Sogni.
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