Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hollyhocks on the Prairie


This is one of my favorite Iowa pictures. These hollyhocks were growing along a fence and in the background you can see the prairie meadows and corn fields scrolling towards the horizon. I could so live there.

Waterspout

This picture was taken July 5th, the day before I left. We went to the beach (this was when Bella and her friend were visiting and Fallon was also down) and another dream of mine came true. I've always wanted to see a tornado, except I've always felt guilty about wanting to see a tornado, so I would always add in the small print to my wish to see a tornado that it had to be far way and that it had to not cause any damage, because I wouldn't want to kill anyone or destroy anyone's property with my frivolous desires to see wild weather. Lo and behold here comes a water spout. If you don't know what that is, it's just a tornado that happens over water, so that then instead of sucking up dust and debris, it sucks up water. It's pretty cool, I have to tell you. Of course since I've never seen one I about lost my shit when this thing came twisting down out of the sky like an eel caught on a hook. I was very excited. I took about a hundred pictures and screamed and yelled about it and no one else was interested in it at all. Maybe I should be a storm chaser. Oh, and how beautiful is our sea water here?

World Series Picture

This doesn't look like much, but it's a picture of the World Series taken with my dad's phone. I didn't have a camera back then. This was before I was married and I only got a camera when I got married, which was an excellent use of wedding money that I have never regretted. I just know you all like pictures, so I'm going to post a few today for you. I've been slacking on the pictures lately.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How to Get Jobs and World Series Tickets

It's difficult for people with my soon to be had degree to get jobs as creative writing professors, which is exactly what I want to do when I graduate. There aren't many jobs available. The jobs available are sometimes in places where you might not want to live (south-eastern Kentucky anyone?). The good jobs, at the schools you've heard of and in cities with good places to eat, people say are nearly impossible to get. I hear people at school every day sitting around saying how they won't get a job and how they'll have to teach middle school and move in with their parents and they don't know why they even tried in the first place and they'll never get anything published and oh the world should end. I even heard it in Iowa.

Last semester, towards the end of class the teacher had us go around the room and clearly state our goals for after graduation.

"Teach high school, live outside Miami. I mean, I'd like something better but this is just realistic."

"I don't know, maybe teach community college."

"If I can get the internship at the publishing company, which I don't think I will, maybe I'd be able to get a job in New York at one of the smaller publishing companies, but I doubt it because it's so competitive."

"I'm gonna go back to my old job at Chili's and try to get some stuff published in the meantime, but I don't think I will because the program here just isn't prestigious and we're competing with Iowa and people from Iowa can't even get jobs."

Then we came to me.

"I want to publish more pieces this year, blow everyone away at MLA, have tons of job offers, get a job teaching creative writing in San Francisco and publish a book which will become a best-seller and get me on Oprah," I said.

The class erupted in laughter. People were on the floor, slapping their knees and tears were flying out of their eyes. They were all laughing at me. This isn't the first time this has happened. Every time a teacher makes us introduce ourselves and say what we want to do with our degree I say the same thing and the whole class goes into convulsions of hysterics about it and laughs at me.

Fuck them.

My teacher turned to me and said:

"If anyone can will this to happen for herself it will be you."

And she's right.

Since I've been a child I've been able to will things to happen in my favor. Remember the other day when I mentioned Randy Pausch and living your childhood dreams? I'm going to tell you how I do it. It may take a few posts, but I think it's important, because I meet way too many people, the majority of people really, who are negative, self-defeating, have excuses for everything and won't even try. I think a large part of why I am able to manifest so much in my life is simply because I try when most people are complaining. Somebody, I forget who, said a large part of success is just showing up. Writers call this "staying in the room." I show up and I stay in the damned room, while everyone else is outside the room bitching about how they shouldn't even try because nothing's going to happen for them anyway. They're right of course, because if you don't try you are guaranteed your expected results.

Let me give you a few small examples of times when I have willed my dreams to come true so you can see what I'm talking about.

Back in the late 90s when I lived in Atlanta I dreamed of working at a particular private school that had vegetable gardens, outside classrooms, pet goats and made art with the children. It was the most beautiful school I had ever seen and I had no qualifications to work there. I called several times and there were never job openings. There wasn't much I could do there anyway, being totally unskilled and uneducated. One day a family came into the job I had and they wore tee shirts from the school. I mentioned how much I wanted to work there and how much I admired the school. The mother said she helped with hiring and that they had a teacher's aid position open and told me who to call, saying that she had referred me. I called and got an interview with the kindergarten teachers who needed an aid.

I completely blew the interview. I had a doctor's appointment that morning and the doctor kept me late. Then there was traffic on 85 and I was over an hour late for the interview. It was not good at all. I was so nervous, because I knew I looked bad already, that I was awkward and made an ass of myself.

I knew I didn't get the job and I was miserable. I had one shot at my dream job and I screwed it up. They called me a few days later to tell me that I did not get the job, which I knew already, and that they had given it to a man.

Well, I thought, there is always the possibility of another position opening up at another time, so I carefully wrote the school a very long letter, thanking them for the interview, apologizing and explaining why I was late. I even got the doctor to write a note saying it was her fault, because it was, and then I told them all about how much I wanted to work there and why and I wrote it articulately and in a way that I didn't sound like a lunatic. I talked about how I liked how they cooked with the children and then in detail, talked about how I liked to cook and things I would like to cook with the students there. I ended it saying that if another position opened up that I hoped they would consider me.

I didn't hear anything.

A couple weeks later I went to my friend M's house. M, who is a frequent reader and commenter here, lived near the school. We had dinner on her front porch and then she french braided my hair. We decided to take a walk through the summer night and we walked past the school, which made me kind of sad.

"M," I said, "I wish I had gotten the job there."

"You will!" she said.

And then all of a sudden, I knew I would.

"You're right! I am getting the job there!" I said, "I am going to work there!"

I kid you not, the next day I got a phone call. The kindergarten teacher told me that the man they hired decided not to take the job after all and that because of my letter they reconsidered and decided to offer me the position. Of course I took it, and I got to cook all those things I said I wanted to cook with the children and the job set me on the path to becoming the teacher that I am now.

Some people would say this was supernatural. Maybe it was "The Secret" or something. I don't really think it was that. I think it was that I had a very clear image of what I wanted and when I saw the family with the shirts from the school I wasn't afraid to clearly tell them what I wanted to. I find that when you tell people what you want, a lot of the time they are willing to help you. Then, I took the time to write the letter, outlining exactly why I wanted the job and what I would do once I had it and explaining how thankful I was to get the interview. Gratitude will get you far with people. I always write thank you notes. I think I just felt so passionately about that job and saw myself in it so clearly that when they read the letter I had conveyed my desire so concretely, that they knew I was the right choice. But then again, the guy did mysteriously not take the job, making room for me and one could say that the family could have worn different shirts that day and I never would have known their affiliation with the school, so who knows.

A few years ago the Florida Marlins made it to the World Series. I have a list of things I wanted to do before I died and going to the World Series was on it, so when I heard that some of the games would be here, I decided I had to go and there was no negotiating. I was going to the World Series and that was that. Except, I wasn't about to spend thousands of dollars on bad seats. It wasn't worth all that.

Instead I told every single person I saw that I wanted to go the World Series. I mean everyone. I told people at school, my parents' friends, total strangers - everyone. I talked about it constantly. I told everyone I already knew and of course they thought I was nuts.

"I am going to the World Series," I said.

One night I was sitting in class and I got a text from my dad that said to come home immediately because we were going to the World Series. I said I had an emergency and had to leave class and I sped home to meet up with my dad who had not only tickets, but GOOD tickets. Really good tickets, and he was taking me because he knew how desperately I wanted to go and how important it was to me.

My dad got the tickets from his friend who had several tickets already but then got even better tickets. He remembered me yammering on about how I wanted to go to the World Series and said that if this poor girl wanted to go to the World Series that badly then he should give us two of his extra tickets so I could have my dream.

The World Series was everything I imagined it would be. We ate hot dogs, we sang, we stretched, we ducked foul balls and we had the best time. I actually started to cry during "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" because I was so happy to have realized this dream. The Marlins won that night and went on to win the whole series. There were fireworks, people were screaming and jumping up and down and it was my dream in real life and I would never have been there if I hadn't bugged the shit out of every single person I knew about how much I wanted to go. If I hadn't made such an impression on my dad's friend with how much it meant to me to go to the World Series, he wouldn't have remembered me when he had extra tickets. So because of that, not only did I get to go, I went for free.

Another time I amazed my coworkers at my old job. We were sitting around the office being bored and out of the blue I said that I would do anything, ANYTHING for some fresh chocolate chip cookies. Not 15 seconds later an old man walked in with a bag of fresh, hot chocolate chip cookies, causing everyone to just about damn near fall out on the floor. I have no explanation for this one. This was clearly supernatural. The other two weren't. Know what you want and then don't shut up about it until you get it. If you want cookies, they appear magically in my presence.
Monday, July 28, 2008

Planes Do Not Crash, Girl 34 Survives

On Saturday morning a small commuter jet from Cedar Rapids to Chicago did not crash in perfect flying conditions. All thirty something passengers and two crew members survived the uneventful flight.

Also Saturday morning an American Airlines 767 from Chicago to Miami did not crash either, in spite of some mild turbulence as the plane made its descent over the Everglades. After landing the pilot described the flight as "pretty routine" and "not much to speak of." Everyone on board arrived safely and on time in Miami.

"I'm just so happy to finally be home," says a young woman, 34, who declined to give her name, "I really thought the flights would be a lot worse than they were. I imagined a fiery death for myself at 37,000 feet, but you know, nothing is ever as bad as I imagine it to be."

When asked what she planned to do now that she was safely home, the young woman commented that she was on her way to get some gelato, noting that her favorite flavors were pistachio, coconut and chocolate, and that afterwards she was going to get some rest for a couple days and leave her porch light on all night long on purpose just because she could.
Friday, July 25, 2008

Last Day in Iowa!

I get to go home tomorrow and I'm definitely ready. Seven days a week of writing for three straight weeks has exhausted me. Going car free has given me a lot of energy though. I love walking everywhere. Unfortunately this isn't exactly possible at home, but I'm going to try to work something out where I walk more and drive less. Florida is difficult. It was designed for cars, everything is far, it's so freaking hot and there are no bushy trees to provide shade from the sun like there are here. That makes walking in South Florida a major ordeal and plus, where I live, there isn't a lot to walk to, except the beach.

But anyway, I'm about to start crapping blood again because I have to fly on the small plane again to get from Cedar Rapids to Chicago. I hate it. I don't like flying on big planes either, but small planes are even worse. This thing was the size of a curling iron. Then I start to get superstitious about it. I saw that this morning a Qantas plane had an explosion so I think, well there can't be two air problems or disasters a day apart. What are the odds? So that means I'm ok, right? Please say it does. Then my rational side kicks in and goes "It's a half an hour of your life. You're gonna work yourself into a frenzy over a half an hour? You can do anything for a half an hour." And I'll get back on that curling iron and make it to Chicago just fine, I'm sure. The weather report looks good for tomorrow.

I just can't wait to get home and do not much of anything for a little while. I want to go swimming and grill and take a bath and eat some seafood.

I've had so much growth in my writing and in my self since I've been here that I can't wait to get writing at home and finish up some of the projects I started here. So I can't die in a plane crash. I am not going to die in a plane crash. I have thousands of things left to do in life and I refuse to die before I publish a book. That's not happening.

Randy Pausch died today. I feel the need to mention that because Randy Pausch is part of the reason why I came here to Iowa in the first place. His mission was to tell everyone how to live their dreams and I am one of those people who is all about living some dreams. I was kind of doing it already, but when my husband showed me his Last Lecture I got a good kick in the butt from it and decided that I had more to do and more dreams to create.

To me, it's not just living your childhood dreams. You have to keep on making up more and more dreams as you go through life and living all of them too. When I was a child I dreamed of being a waittress. I guess I didn't have much ambition, but when I was little being a waittress seemed insanely glamourous to me. I used to carry a pad around and take people's orders all the time.

I'm proud to say that I achieved this dream. I became a waittress and I royally sucked fucking ass at it. I was the worst waittress ever in the history of waittresses. I was an asshole, impatient, clumsy and I hated every one of the customers. I spilled things. I was a spaz with the trays. I forgot who ordered what. I sucked. I never made any tips and I learned that being a waittress was not what I thought it was when I was four. But I did it and in the course learned that where I wanted to be was in the back of the house, as they say in restaurants. That was partly how I came to learn to cook.

Then I just kept making up more and more dreams and living them out. I'm still doing it.

One of my dreams, which Randy Pausch helped me see through, was to study writing at Iowa, the best writing school in the entire world. This was impossible. The Writer's Workshop accepts 15 people a year out of thousands of applicants. It's expensive, hard and wouldn't work in my life, but I said I wanted to go. Then Husband found out that they have a summer program and any dumb ass like me could go and study with all the same faculty, plus some extras who were all famous writers who had graduated from here, and then I scraped and wished and prayed for the money to go and I stuck it on my cheezy ass vision board and within days I was going to Iowa. Me. And while I wasn't in the real Iowa Writer's Workshop I was pretty damned close, workshopping, studying, reading and writing just like the real students do and it was more incredible than I ever thought. And guess what, all of my teachers have in some way, told me that I am good, which was worth more than anything else - that some of the best writers in the world took my work seriously.

So wow. I got to do this. I think when I get home, since I will NOT die in a plane crash, that I will tell you some of the other stories of how I made my dreams come true, because I did make them come true. Nothing supernatural happened. I worked and you can too.

After I get done in the pool I'll tell you many more stories.
Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Mystery - Solved

Ok, I had to do some detective work here and I now know what was happening to the corn. I went into the Handimart or the Handiquik (I can't remember what it was called) using the excuse of getting water. I asked the guy behind the counter. He was about 16 and had spiky hair.

"What exactly was going on with that corn outside that you had to make a sign?" I asked.

He started sighing and huffing and puffing and rolling his eyes.

"Well, " he started, "Ughhh, it's so stupid, at like two in the morning these drunk ASSHOLES, frat boys, come by and pull it up and beat each other over the head with it."

"Are you kidding me?" I asked.

"No, it's so dumb."

"They beat one another over the head with it?"

"Uh huh, yeah and they have sword fights and stuff with it."

"That is so stupid."

"I know right."

It is. Can you just picture a bunch of drunken frat guys beating one another over the head with uprooted corn?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008
I can write about corn signs and batty landladies. I can talk about my stupid looking bad haircuts, but it seems that I have a hard time writing about the things that hurt me, as if I just want to make other people laugh and I’m glad to do it at my own expense, but I’m terrified of making people cry; even more scared of making myself cry. Here in Iowa I learned all about not using vague descriptives and always finding the most unexpected metaphors and the most concrete nouns and I learned that my writing has to make me cry and I have to be brave and write about my hurt and not try to be the class clown all the time writing just to make people laugh so that ultimately they will love me.

That’s what everyone wants ultimately – for everyone to love them, and I have written a lot about the people who do love me, but not so much about the people who don’t. There are a lot of people who don’t love me, and there are a few whose love I don’t deserve. Those are the ones that make me think I might cry if I wrote about them. And I am petrified of crying, or of people knowing that I cry or of people seeing me as anything other than light, charming and funny. I’ve based a whole life on being that charming, funny, silly girl who doesn’t cry. And then I sob for hours when I see a show about a polar bear swimming for miles looking for an ice floe to rest upon, finding nothing but saltwater and drowning from exhaustion.

I had picked up Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty in the O’Hare bookstore because it told the story of two writers who ultimately became hugely successful and who became friends in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop right here where I am in Iowa City. When I read about Lucy and Ann, the ant and the grasshopper, hare to tortoise, I became unbearably sad and realized I was ready to write about A. I was her Lucy Grealy. I destroyed our friendship.

At some point I told myself I would never write about this because if I did A would be upset. She would say I was being an exhibitionist, that I told the story wrong, that I painted myself more favorably, that I humiliated her. Perhaps she would be right. I know I couldn’t write it without lying by omission, and so I won’t write our story at all. I will only write about how very much I love her.

I am confident that she has never read anything I’ve written. I don’t think she could bear to and she would, I imagine, be disgusted at every word, because that is how much I think she hates me. I don’t really know. Worse than hate, she may have forgotten me altogether. I’m sure months pass, years even when she doesn’t think of me at all, but that is not the case with me. I think of A almost every day. I’ve been thinking about her several times a day since reading the book and being here in Iowa.

Sometimes it is with deep regret at my own stupidity and my own insecurity and lack of character which led to the end of our friendship. We had been friends for over a decade when it happened. We met when we were twelve and last spoke when we were twenty-four. She ended it with a letter, which I always suspected her therapist instructed her to write. I imagined the scene where she spent an entire appointment complaining about my constant phone calls, my stinging comments whenever something good happened to her and did not also happen to me, how I behaved inappropriately around others because I simply didn’t know better. I thought she might throw in how she had grown; educated and well-traveled she was now beginning a career while I, with my GED had no resume, no degrees and couldn’t keep up with an intellectual conversation. Then I imagined the therapist talking about how people grow apart and how childhood friendships often must end in adulthood and how she had to cut me off. A letter would be the best way. End it swiftly and utterly, the therapist would say. She would explain to A that I needed consequences for my behavior (I suspect this was correct) and that if A continued her friendship with me that I would continue to torment her, to sap her energy becoming more and more toxic and difficult to purge from her life. I am making all of this up. Maybe it didn’t happen that way at all, but I still have the letter.

We wrote long, rambling, tragically angsty, often ridiculously funny letters throughout our friendship. I have most of the ones she sent me when we were apart, which was most of the time, and I get them down from their box in the closet and read them. I feel like writing her back. I could. I know her address. I know where she is most of the time. She isn’t hard to track and has lived in the same house for a long time. I think she will probably live there for the rest of her life. But the reality of this situation is that I can not write her back and I will not write her back unless she were to write me a new letter.

When I’m not regretful I am hopeful. As teenagers we fought all the time. I probably started every argument we ever had, in all fairness, but we would fight and stop speaking sometimes for months or weeks at a time. My hopeful, idealistic self convinces me that this is just another one of those incidents, one that lasted ten years, but still a temporary hiatus in what will be a lifelong friendship, what HAS to be a lifelong friendship, because no one has ever loved a friend like we loved one another. Or I did anyway. And I think one day we will laugh about this and then we’ll cry because we wasted ten years and missed milestones and then we’ll laugh again because we used to laugh all the time. When I’m hopeful I’m still fifteen.

I wish that I could say – A, I am sorry, but forgive me because I was young and insecure and every horrible moment I created was based in my feelings of worthlessness because I believed I was unlovable and my want was like a tantrum. What I wanted was to be like you and I felt the world cheated me out of the opportunities you had and that I should have them too.

I want her to know that now I am her equal, that I have accomplishments too and because I’ve been able to haul myself up out of my misery and worthlessness, I’m not so insecure these days. I’m just as educated as she is. I’ve reclaimed Paris as my own. I have a husband who loves me a thousand more times than I deserve, and because of this I’ve created myself as this funny, charming, silly girl, full of self-deprecation and self-help. I throw fabulous dinner parties, belong to a book club and there are many, many people who think I’m fun and interesting. I do all the same things she does like shop at Ikea, pay too much for flavored sea salts to make recipes I read about in Saveur, and read the New York Times. I’m planning a trip to Napa. I’d also like to throw in that I’m a published writer. I’d like her to know that, but that would be bragging, wouldn’t it and would that mean that maybe I haven’t changed so much at all?

I’m still competitive, just not as often and not in such a raw, despairing way. I don’t need that arena to act out my feelings of not-good-enough anymore. I’ve given that up. I confess that I read her husband’s blog. Paranoid, I don’t read it too often because I don’t want him or her to see that I’m reading it. Mostly I just wait for him to post pictures of her, which he rarely does, and then I look at them for a long, long time. But not too long because they might know. But then not long enough. She looks exactly the same. I don’t know if I look the same or not. I try to determine if she’s happy from the pictures. I want her to be happy. I want to lie about the fact that I examined one of the pictures to determine if I was still thinner than she was. I concluded that we are the exact same size, and then I was miserable that I compared myself to her again after a decade of missing her and making wishes about her.

One of the wishes is that I would run into her. I played this one out a few different ways. Most of the ways have her being happy to see me. We hug. There are tears and apologies and we must have tea and tea becomes dinner. The restaurant closes and we are still there. We leave intertwined. We used to walk that way all the time singing, so we begin to sing again, remembering the words to “Just Like Heaven.” We go home and talk until the sun comes up and at some point in the night I am brushing her hair which crackles with static. There are many reasons why this could never happen and they are all my fault and they are a part of the story that I would not get right.

Comparing is my worst habit. I did compare myself to her. That was my tragic flaw, or one of my tragic flaws in all of this. White trash, uneducated, unsophisticated and ignorant, I never measured up. I still compare. I have compared every single female friend I’ve made since her, to her and none of them have measured up exactly, because there is just A.

Another wish is that she is reading this now. This too is impossible. There’s no way she could know about it. Not that I know of anyway. There is also no chance that she has read this and doesn’t know it’s me. If you’ve ever known me there is no anonymity. But I wish for her to find it and read it. I am writing this for her.

I wish for the Hollywood ending to this story because in every romantic comedy there is a time when the characters are separated. The audience sees no hope for them to ever be together again. The situation is beyond repair and we fear all is lost, though really we know they are destined to be together, they have to be together. Our definition of love and good depends on their reunion and then after grid-lock, a high speed chase ensues. One races toward the other. She is getting on the plane. They see each other at the gate. Don’t leave. You see, it was all a misunderstanding and I love you. Yes, I love you and I have always loved you. I loved you from the moment I saw you and admit, you love me too and we are meant to be together. Please come back to me. Please I was an idiot and now I know I was wrong. I knew then. I knew the second I was away from you that all I ever wanted was to be your friend.

There are credits. Everyone in the theater moves towards the exit. The movie is over. You pull me out of my seat and we are swimming upstream through the bodies. We move in the opposite direction toward the stage, because the theater used to be a real theater with a stage and red velvet curtains, and then we are dancing on the stage. You lead. I am clumsy, but we are dancing across the blackness and the disappearing words. We laugh and dance.

Oh A, I am good enough now. I’m good. Look at how good I am.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Happy Birthday to Tere!

I can't forget my dear friend's birthday. Go on over and wish Tere a Happy Birthday. Every single one of you. She needs lots of good wishes. I'll be checking her site for your comments and I'll spank you if you don't leave her one.

PLEASE!!!! LEAVE IT ALONE!

So last night I was walking home (loving this whole no car lifestyle) and I passed the local gas station. I don't know what kind of gas station this was, but the big local chain is disturbingly named the Kum & Go. I don't know about that name. It doesn't give me a good feeling for several reasons. I wonder what the person who came up with that was thinking quite honestly.

First of all, one of my biggest pet peeves ever, ever, ever is when people spell words with a K that ought to be spelled with a C. I hate it. It's annoying, cutesy and stupid and dammit, who decided that a K is cuter than a C anyway? Why? When I see words like Kountry Kitchen and Kiddie Kamp I want to smack the krap out of someone. What makes it worse is when the K is backwards a la the Toys R Us logo who I blame for starting that shit. Dyslexic people everywhere should rise up against the unfair cute-ification of their disorder and cry out that writing letters backwards isn't an adorable childhood trait! It's a serious disorder which affects millions of people!

At least the Kum & Go's K is facing the right direction. The K here, I don't get it. Spelled correctly I guess the gas station's name would be Cum & Go which brings us into some treacherous territory. Think of the customers who would see that as a command. Imagine the toilet paper they'd go through in the men's bathroom. All kinds of seedy people would think the gas station was a massage parlor, a peep show or a brothel. Perhaps the owner thought the K would fix that because obviously Kum is not the same thing as Cum.

But I think the gas station in the picture above was of a different gas station. A mobile maybe? I can't recall. That's not important. What's important is that this gas station has corn growing in front of it and that there is an angry cardboard sign imploring you to leave that corn the hell alone. Let's do a quick close reading of this sign, because it did, I confess, confuse me.

First off there is corn and it is growing at a gas station. While this is unusual to me, it wasn't that bad. The corn is pretty and makes for nice landscaping and lately I've been on a kick where I think people should use their land to grow food instead of ornamentals. You all know I'm weird like that.

Now the rule is that whenever there is a sign telling you not to do something it is because some jackass has done that very thing the sign warns you against. Apparently someone has not left this corn alone.

The PLEASE!!!! implies some serious frustration on the sign maker's part. This gives me the impression that someone had been messing repeatedly with the corn and would not stop messing with the corn despite numerous admonitions.

The sign could have said "Please don't touch the corn" "Don't walk on the corn" "Don't pick the corn" etc. But the sign doesn't say that and word choice is important. My suggestions for what the sign could have said instead are all pretty low key requests that all say that in case you might be thinking about messing with this corn just don't and all will be ok. The corn needs to grow. If you drive over it, stomp on it or pull on it it can't grow, so don't do these things.

That's not the tone of the sign at all though. The sign is upset. It begs you to PLEASE!!!! LEAVE THE CORN ALONE. The tone of the sign brings to mind a person in agony - FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PEOPLE LEAVE THE CORN ALONE!!!! JUST LEAVE THAT CORN ALONE!!!!!!!!!

For someone to be in this degree of agony over this corn I infer that there were a series of events involved where the corn was molested. I'm interested in the words "Leave the corn alone." That makes me think the corn had a lot of unwanted company. "Leave X alone" is kind of a colloquialism. I've often heard it used in situations like "leave that roadkill carcass alone kids" "leave your grandmother's wig alone, that is not a toy" or the ever popular "leave your pee-pee alone, we are in public for god's sakes." That last one has never been directed at me of course because I always leave my pee-pee alone in public. So whenever you tell someone to leave something alone it is always in a situation where someone is bothering/ playing with some thing that ought not be and they just will not stop.

What was happening to this corn, readers? What? Who would not leave corn alone and why? Were people so struck upon seeing corn growing at a gas station CORN AT A GAS STATION! IMAGINE!! that they lost all good sense and didn't know how to act? Was that it? Or was there something more sinister going on? Some ill-advised fraternity hazing ritual perhaps? I shudder to think. In fact, I shuddered thinking about it all night. What suffering has this corn endured?

Then at 5 this morning we had a terrible thunderstorm with 70 mile an hour winds, which is hurricane strength I'll have you know, and there was hail and tornado sirens were going off and the hackneyed freight train noise (storms you are so cliche, please find a new noise to make, ok? I am totally over freight trains having been through four hurricanes in the past four years). I opened the door and stood looking out at the trees bending, the lashing powerlines and the constant flashes of lightning and I found myself thinking rather unexpectedly.

"I wonder how that cardboard sign held up in this mess. And I hope the corn made it through."

The Countdown Begins

I'll be home in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. I'm getting really homesick. As much as I love Iowa City and I do because it's magically charming, has more culture packed into about a five block area than you could ever imagine and isn't lacking in freshly prepared fine food, I just miss crazy assed South Florida. Mainly I miss it because I miss my husband and the cat. If they were here I think I might be able to stay and find my own little house on the prairie just fine, but they aren't and I need them with me.

But then I started missing mangoes and avocadoes, the beach, the coconut palms, Miami in all its hot pink lipstick and turquoise platform shod glory. I miss hearing people speak Spanish. I haven't heard a foreign language in 3 weeks. It's a little odd for me. I'm not used to English being the only language. At home it's just one of many ways to name things. Oddly enough there are a ton of ethnic restaurants here, and good ones. I've eaten everything from Ethiopian to Indian during my stay. I miss my island life with all the lunatics. I miss my job and my school. I really miss the grill and the bathtub, both of which will be used as soon as I get home Saturday. I can't wait to be home. I want to throw a big party and invite everyone I know. I want to force feed my sister who I fear is too skinny without me there. This is a problem I don't have, having consumed most of Iowa City. I'm scared to step on the scale.

I've been writing like a maniac, seven days a week. Last week it was all poetry, but I've done a ton of memoir and discovered some significant memories. The hair story started out in one of my workshops as a free write. I have several others that I'll share with you once I finish them. I came up with a lot of beginnings, and that was my goal. This week I'm doing more memoir work. I've discovered that while I love writing fiction and poetry that what I most love and what others most love is when I make my own life into some kind of meaningful story. I definitely think my writing has become more vivid, more creative and more profound since I've been here. I've also read so many new authors and poets that my right eyeball turned red and almost fell out last week. The left one was fine.

Petunia hasn't bothered me. I did notice that she came in yesterday while I was out and placed a bunch of plastic bags folded into triangles on the kitchen counter. I also have a stinky stench in my place that I can't find the source of and I fear she will blame me for it. I suspect something might be dead and I want no part of it. If we were in Florida the dead something would be a human being, but here it's probably a mouse or something.

I'm already in a panic about flying on the small plane again, but if it took me home I'd fly a cropduster to Chicago.
Monday, July 14, 2008

The Story of How I Ended Up With a Fe-Mulle-tino

Before I left for Iowa I got a haircut and lopped off a good ten inches of my hair, ending up with a pretty snazzy little bob. If you find a recent picture of Gwyneth Paltrow it looks like her latest cut. Getting a haircut was difficult for me. It had been since December since I even had a little trim and by late June I looked like I was about to audition for the FLDS polygamist cult. What is up with those women's hair by the way? I know they can't cut their hair, but I don't think the Bible has any passages referring to foot high bouffants and french braids. Those bouffants really get me. Everytime I see those women on TV I can't even concentrate because the hairdos get me all worked up and confused and I can't think of anything else but why they do their hair that way and how they get it to stand up like that and why they all have to have the exact same style. I find that perhaps even stranger than a man having 87 wives. I mean, I can understand completely how a man would justify that, but I just don't comprehend why those 87 wives all need that stupid hair. I just looked it up and this girl's article kind of explains it. Apparently they think that high hair makes them look different from each other. Someone needs to tell them that's not quite working out as planned.

In any event my hair looked a sight. It was long and ratty on the ends and had a skunk stripe of white painted from my forehead back to my right ear. Still, I procrastinated the haircut. There were several reasons.

The first reason was that the guy who cuts my hair is expensive and he does my sister's hair and I see him all around town so he would know if I cheated on him and I would feel evil. Plus, no one does color like this guy. I save up to go to him.

I was pissed at him though. He likes my sister more than he likes me so I'm wildly jealous. He likes her because she goes drinking with him and I don't drink which makes him mistake me for being prim and conservative so whenever he does my hair he's all professional. Then my sister'll come back from his salon with all sorts of outrageous tales of debauchery that he told her and I feel like I got ripped off. For instance, the last time she got her roots done he told her this very involved tale about a man who identifies himself as straight who goes to the anonymous gay sex beach and pays strangers to pee on him. I just think it's deeply unfair that I don't get to hear stories about people who like to be peed on. And all because I don't drink. I've got news for Mr. Hairdresser - drinking has little to do with one's inner freakiness and I am about the farthest thing from conservative. The next time I get a touch-up on my color I expect to hear about some golden showers, or at the very least something involving some light bondage.

But those weren't even the main reasons. Really, I have a slight phobia of cutting my hair, and even though it's shorter now, it honestly isn't drastically different. Since I was about fourteen my hair has been consistently straight and side parted. Once when I was eighteen I temporarily lost my good senses and let a drunken super-model cut bangs (she was my room-mate, I wanted to be cool and chic like she was) and I had to spend a year growing out the disaster than resulted. No one told me that girls with perfectly round faces can't pull off bangs. Since then however, my hair has been different lengths, but it's always been one length, bang-less and straight. It parts on the side but every now and then I'll get crazy and actually part it in the middle. The truth is, I just don't like to jack around with my 'do. It's way too dangerous.

My hair phobia began when I was eleven and it's all my mother's fault. God bless her, but she's squarely to blame for this neuroses. Ironically, she has the same problem, and her hair phobia is a million times worse. She rarely gets a professional cut and her color is Nice & Easy. She says she doesn't like to cut her hair because when she was little Memere Marie made her wear a boyish pixie cut with razored bangs less than an inch across her forehead. All she wanted was long hair, so now that she's grown, by God she has long hair. How strange is it then that when her mother forced a dreadful haircut on her that she turned right around and did the same thing to me? Except instead of a pixie cut, which might have looked mod and gamine, my mother forced upon me a mullet of the very worst kind which was neither mod nor gamine and could only be described as severe white trash.

The mullet is one thing if the person with it actually wants their hair to look like that, and I'm assuming that they do. Individuals who actually like the short on top long in the back or the STLB for short, can really rock the mullet in the right circumstances. It takes a special kind of confidence of course. The kind of confidence that comes from a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon enjoyed at the State Fair in between the Travis Tritt concert and the stock car races. I'm just not that kind of girl.

When I was eleven, pre-mullet, I moved to Riverbank, New York to live with my parents. After a long fight my mother, who had lost custody of me when I was a baby, finally got me back. The problem was that I had been raised in Millpond, which my mother viewed as hopelessly lacking in style. She was in denial about her own lack of style. This was in 1985. The mullet was taking over America in various incarnations. Every demographic had it's own interpretation of the STLB, from the swooping Flock of Seagulls, New Wave mullet, to the more subtle, Sun-Inned mullets sported by Jamz wearing lifeguard types. The mullet was everywhere in the mid-80s. Back then it wasn't just a staple of rednecks, banished to the dirtiest recesses of the trailer park. The mullet was mainstream definitely, but it wasn't particularly classy.

New Jersey mall girls and the tackiest Japs all adored variations on the mullet in 1985. These girls really made the style their own by spiral perming the long part and teasing and spraying their bangs to heights which seemed to defy the laws of physics. I often used to joke that New Jersey had its own hole in the ozone layer from all the aerosol hairspray used by its residents, both male and female (remember Bon Jovi? In 1985 every lowlife in Jersey wanted to look like Jon).

My mom looked to the Japs for style. I forgive her for this. She didn't know any better because she too was from Millpond. She looked up to upper middle class jewish people and believed that because they had money and lived in big Tudor houses on Long Island that they knew what was in style. Having a redneck weakness for anything sparkly or studded, she loved the Japs' bejewelled, acid-washed jean jackets, their puffy painted sweatshirts and stirrup pants worn with rhinestone encrusted sneakers. Like the Japs I think my mom mistook embellishment for expensive and expensive for classy. I knew otherwise.

Real rich people were preppy and understated. They wore Izod shirts with the collars flipped up, rugby shirts, argyle sweaters. Rich girls skipped around in keds or kilts (but God forbid not at the same time) and they wore their hair long or bobbed and often with bangs they curled under neatly with a curling iron. Sometimes they wore thin headbands or barettes of big, velvet bows. As this was 1985, the big lace collar and the Laura Ashley, drop-waisted, calico dress were also quite popular with the truly wealthy. Those Japs were new money but a girl in a Lands End turtleneck was old money, country club material and that's what I wanted to be.

That's how the popular girls in Millpond dressed. Their fathers were doctors or big landowners around town. They were preppy, wore starter strings of pearls and would die before they'd get a perm or a mullet. I wanted to be like them.

Riverbank wasn't much different. The town is still home to some of the stuffiest WASPs in New York afterall and those who don't live there have definitely strolled Main Street for antiques on the weekend at least once. Riverbank's elite were also ripped from the pages of the preppy handbook. My mother didn't get it. She interpreted these people as nerds and frumps. She equated the preppy look I desperately longed for as backwards and old fashioned and everything she hated about Millpond and blamed my preference for prep on having been raised in Millpond and not for miraculously being the only person in the history of our family born with good taste. She decided that to celebrate my liberation from the hick town that I needed a serious makeover and she modeled me after the Long Island Japs that she considered stylish and wealthy.

I didn't love the stirrup pants and the Camp Beverly Hills sweat shirts. Keds would have been better than the pink and grey, high top, LA Gear sneakers that were as quilted as moon boots, but I supposed I could live with it since my mother relented and bought me a strawberry scented Swatch. Honestly, I would have gone to school in my training bra and panties if it meant I could have that Swatch. I used to sit in Life Science and sniff it. I wore it until the frosted pink band turned yellow and it had long since lost its sweet smell.

But my mother didn't stop at the leggings and oversized shirts. She hated my hair. It was long and straight with flat blangs that wouldn't lie straight, but split greasily in the middle and I'll admit I was definitely in that awkward ugly stage pre-puberty. My hair was ugly, but so was everything else on me. The cutest haircut in the world wouldn't have helped significantly because I just wasn't a pretty girl at that age.

I know that my mother meant well. She wanted me to start off the 7th grade at my new school, Riverbank Junior High, looking slick. After all, I had a blank slate. No one knew what a hopeless loser I had been in Millpond. No one knew my nickname was Horsehead or that I was branded a "Scum" by the popular girls in my hometown. I could make a new start. I could even be a popular girl here and put all that small town bull shit behind me. It's just that my mother thought the Japs were popular here and discounted the power, built up over generations, of the old money WASPs. If she really wanted me to be popular she would have done better dialing up L.L. Bean, but bless her heart she just didn't get how hiking clothes could ever be more desirable than a turquoise fringed shell suit.

Shell suit firmly zipped (with matching, oversized slouchy socks) I still needed a new hairdo, my mother insisted. But here's the thing. Although my mother really wanted to emulate her idea of wealth, we didn't have a lot of money at all back then. We rented a house from some Indian people and it was a nice house, but we couldn't even afford furniture. I know it had been a struggle to buy me those new clothes and that Swatch and we had to be frugal so I couldn't go to a fancy salon. But a haircut is a haircut, my mother thought, and if you tell the stylist what you want it ends up the same whether you pay a hundred dollars for it or twenty-five. Right?

Riverbank had a poor section of town. My grandfather sold watermelons in the public housing sections so we were all familiar with the low income side of the tracks. There was a thriving Puerto Rican community in town and they were friendly and good customers to my grandfather's produce peddling. He and my mother called them "Porta-Rickans." My mother, also a peddler, knew of a beauty shop and took me there for my makeover.

Now you may know that the Latino community has always enthusiastically embraced the mullet, often taking the style to new and more extreme lengths. They just really took the mullet and ran with it and back in the 80s no Latino male would go out of the house without his perfectly moussed mullet, curls glistening black down to the high, tight waist of his parachute pants. The length and height of the mullet back then was truly the measure of the Latino man. Latino women too adored the style, theirs differing little from the male version except perhaps in the ruffles and frills of bangs.

Many of the Puerto Rican residents of Riverbank did not speak English, but we were lucky enough to find a stylist who knew a few words. I sat in the swiveling chair and Imeldys, the hairdresser, snapped the vinyl cape around my neck and spun me towards the mirror. Her own mullet, dyed marroon, sparkled under the flourescent lights.

"Make her in style," my mother said, "Make her look hot!"

Imeldys nodded.

"I want her to have a spiral perm," my mother added.

Imeldys and her assistant began rolling my long hair tightly in rows and rows of skinny curlers which snapped shut with black rubber elastics. My scalp prickled and pulled and then they doused my head in strong chemicals which smelled like skunk and cat pee and floor cleaner. The chemicals ran down the back of my neck as I steamed under the hot dryer wearing a plastic shower cap and every inch of my head itched and reeked and fumed from the permanent wave solution. I was terrified that when they unravelled my hair that it would have all dissolved and would fall out in clumps, but looking back, that may have been better.

Imeldys rinsed the perm solution from my hair and set to work shaping my new, wet curls, which hung in perfect ringlets, into the "hot" "in-style" look my mother requested. She snipped and sheared. I couldn't see and looked to my mother who pursed her lips and nodded in silent approval. And then Imeldys turned on the electric clippers. She buzzed and shaved. I knew no good could come of this. No hairstyle that I wanted involved buzzing and shaving, so I began to protest.

"No! Let her finish. Hold still. You can't stop her halfway through!" my mother said.

I cried silently, trapped in the stylist's chair, knowing that something terrible was happening to my head and that I was powerless to stop it. The results were worse than anything I could imagine. After blow-drying, teasing, curling with a hot iron and extensively spraying, Imeldys revealed my new look and I began to sob uncontrollably, which upset her. She was proud of her creativity and had done some of her best work.

My hair, while still long and now frizzed out with wooly curls in the back, was less than an inch long on top. These short wisps were spiked and gradually got longer as they neared my forehead. I had no bangs to speak of. Even if I had tried to paste down some of the spikes they wouldn't have created an impressive fringe. My hair was so short on top that you could see the white criss-crosses of my scalp. The sides were worse. The hair above my ears was shorn down, velvety smooth as the head of a marine in boot camp. Imeldys has wielded her buzzer artistically, not merely stopping here. She had shaved bare, 3 thin, parallel, straight lines symmetrically on each side over my ears, so not only did I have half of my head shaved, I also had patterns running through the micro-millimeter that was left of it. My hair cut and perm was too horrible to bear.

"It's adorable!" my mother exclaimed.

She said I would be the most popular girl in school. I was cool. I had spiked hair! This haircut was hot and wild. The problem was that I wasn't hot or wild at all. I was shy, reclusive, bookish and timid. I couldn't rock a Puerto-Rican mullet by any stretch of the imagination. Most of my life I just wanted to blend in and not be noticed. I never wanted to draw attention to myself, but with this haircut that was impossible. People stared at me in public, probably wondering what awful parent could do that to a child. I began to try to come up with excuses and thought maybe I could say I had been in a bad fire that had burned off most of the top and sides of my hair and had burned three symmetrical lines above my ears. Maybe I could say it was a lawnmower accident. It looked like a lawnmower accident. I considered angling for sympathy because I definitely thought I deserved it, by saying I had brain surgery and my hair was finally growing back. A surgeon would have probably done a classier job than Imeldys though. Or, I could just say I was Puerto Rican. Unfortunately I couldn't even say "Hola" even though the Puerto Rican clique in school would have been the kindest to me in my shorn state.

Kids teased me. It was worse than Millpond because here I was the new girl AND a freak on top of that. I just couldn't win. I tried everything to mash my hair flat but most days it knotted and tangled, smashed in some places and stuck straight up in others. I made no efforts to style it and just prayed it would grow out. By that summer it had progressed enough that I could cut the back short enough to meet up a little closer to the top and sides. It would be almost two and a half more years before it all evened out and began to retain some semblance of a respectable hairstyle and when it finally did I declared absolutely that this would never happen again, and it hasn't, except for the brief foray into bangs sixteen years ago, which will also never happen again.

I wish I had pictures for you, but I was so hideous and so ashamed of my appearance that few pictures, if any, actually exist of the catastrophe. I ran from cameras until I was about seventeen because I wanted no record of my ugliness. Now though, I kind of wish I could find a picture of it just to laugh at, just to show you that something so awful actually happened. Maybe when I get home I'll search the boxes of old pictures and see if there's even a glimpse of the world's worst mullet, but I doubt there is.

In the meantime, check out Mullet Junky. Look under femullets and mulletinos and you can at least get a good idea of how it looked.

Feel free to share your own hair disaster tales in the comments section. Bad hair makes for some of the most hilarious stories ever. Better yet, extra credit for posting pictures of your own hideous coiffures on your own blogs. Link back to me or alert everyone in my comments section so we can all go see it and commiserate and so I know you did it and don't miss out. I know I'm not alone here. I know some of you all had mullets too.
Friday, July 11, 2008

We Are Not in South Florida Anymore

No readers, we are not in South Florida anymore. I think I am in the opposite of South Florida and I mean this as a compliment.

I have not seen a set of fake tits in a week. Nor have I seen eighty year old women with twenty-five year olds' bodies and outfits which are inappropriate for their ages.

There are no old men greasing themselves into leather jeans to go hunting for recent high school graduates. I have seen nary a strip club. I think a strip club in these parts would be taken for a group who gets together to refinish old, wooden furniture. They might do this while reading poetry. Even the Dairy Queen here has a bookshelf. I mean that as a compliment too.

Little happens in Iowa (also good). I have four channels (all local) on my TV and before I go to bed I've taken to watching the local news. It lulls me to sleep, unlike the news in Florida which gives me heartburn.

Here there is of course, news regarding the aftermath of the flood. A sinkhole has opened up on one of the main roads. The bridge is damaged. Someone at the University has received a big grant. The library reopened. The other day the big news story was that the corn is not as high as it ought to be this time of year. People were very concerned. The next day they followed up and said that some corn would be ready by next week, but please, enjoy the corn in moderation so that everyone can have a little. I imagined everyone watching nodding and promising that they would because people here are impossibly nice like that.

I was at the greasy diner up the street Monday afternoon having a cheeseburger and fries at the counter. A guy next to me had some little fried discs and I asked what they were.

"Babycakes," said the man.

I said they looked good and I'd get them next time.

"They are good, you want some?" he asked.

"You mean do I want to order some now? No, I'll wait."

"No," said the guy, "There are too many, I couldn't possibly eat them all. Let's share these."

The man gave me food off his own plate.

In South Florida things would have played out much differently.

The man would have been upset.

"Whatchoo lookin at my food for bitch??" the man would have said, "You gotta problem with my fuckin' food? Mind your own business! I'll cut you!"

I can't believe that I ate food from a stranger's plate. I actually teared up at the generosity and kindness of the babycake man (they are little crisp coins of shredded potato and onion by the way). This man will make sure that next week when the first corn is ready, that he saves plenty for his neighbor.

I read the local newspapers too, while still following my papers from home and catching up on local news thanks to Rick (thanks Rick!). The contrast is startling.

The Iowa City paper is about 2 1/2 pages long and almost heartwarming in its simplicity. It talks about flood relief and community events. There's a police blotter, which is hilarious. It appears that the only thing people get arrested for here is public drunkeness and I'm assuming this is college kids. Someone got their car towed when they were pulled over and discovered to be driving on a suspended license. Another poor soul was not only drunk in public, but also had a nickel bag of weed in his pocket. At home I think the police would have let him go, relieved that he didn't have eighteen human teeth and machete like a guy that was arrested this week back home.

In Miami the news can make you downright suicidal. Every week South Florida is included on some new "worst of" list. The housing market is hopeless. A studio apartment sells for six million dollars now and 97% of homeowners are going into foreclosure. Children get shot by stray bullets almost every week. Little children. Immigrants wash up. Some get to stay. The rest get sent back. Rafts sink. Boats collide in canals. Tourists drown in rip currents. There are sea lice, a con man has made off with 40 million dollars from the wealthy residents of a yacht club and a man is bit by a rattlesnack in the garden department of a national chain store. Car jackings rock a quiet community. Three are dead in a fiery crash in South Miami. A serial killer stalks women at the mall. This is life in South Florida.

Then today I pick up the local Iowa paper and read that there has been a grisly murder. Here. I'm shocked of course. Horrified too and a little intrigued when I read that the deceased was a circus employee and he was brutally stabbed to death in a shopping mall. Good lord, I thought. This sounds like something that would happen at home. Then I read on and suddenly it all made sense. You can read it for yourself here. I know this sounds like some weird nonsense I would make up but it isn't. A carnie's ex-wife followed him to Iowa from, guess where, and stabbed him to death in a mall. They probably haven't had a murder in half a century around here and then the murderer ends up having come all the way from where else, but Florida. It's like a little piece of home, away from home. Thanks Florida for making me proud one more time.

But at least it all makes me feel a little less homesick.
Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bugged

I thought I would be able to get away without seeing Petunia for at least a few days but this morning she was doing yardwork outside my door. I opened the door and almost passed out in fright when I saw Petunia bent over some purple cone flower completely swathed in black veils. She looked like a Sicilian widow. Her outfit was like a beekeeper's outfit, except it was all black. Black netting covered her face, swooped down over her caftan and obscured her arms. It almost looked like an odd semblance of a Halloween costume.

"There's too many bugs," she explained.

It's true. There are a lot of bugs around here. I figure that's the trade off for the lush greenery. We have to share the trees and shrubs and flower beds with the insects. Last night my nose felt dry, so of course I picked it (oh shut up you know you pick your nose too and I was alone at least) and I kid you not I pulled out a dead bug. I had a dead gnat living all up inside my nostril for God knows how long.

"I have to wear this to keep the bugs off," Petunia said.

Ok. Whatever. I think she's just crazy. I've decided to ignore her. I don't have a real lease so I don't think all those landlord laws apply. I set some traps and I can tell that she has not been in here and I refuse to tie the scarf on the damned door so she'll never know if I'm really here or not and it might deter her from coming in. I'm not really worried about her. I'm here to write, not deal with batty old ladies who want to get all in my business.

But she has a point about those bugs. Last night we had a sunset so magnificent it rivaled those in the tropics. I stood outside mesmerized by the streaks of coral and violet and smiled breathlessly at the shadows of flowers in the twilight lit by the tiny lanterns of fireflies and it was all so beautiful that I opened my mouth to breathe in this clean, prairie air and I ended up with a mouthful of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes invaded my ears, flew up my nose and crowded for a space in my ears. I started jumping and spitting and swatting, coughing, and sputtering until it got so bad I said "Oh to hell with this sunset" and went inside.

In Millpond, which is built over a swamp, locals have a saying that the mosquitoes there are so bad they'll carry you off.

The mosquitoes in Iowa could, 100%, with little effort carry me off. I don't know where they'd take me but a swarm of them could easily transport me. This gave me a brilliant idea. What if I could train a group of these things to pick me and carry me where I need to go. Instead of walking six miles a day the mosquitoes could just lift me up and fly me to class. Later they could pick me up and fly me to dinner. Afterwards they could carry me back up the hill to Petunia's house. How great would that be to have domesticated mosquitoes? It's not so far fetched. We ride horses and get them to pull things around for us, don't we? The way I look at it mosquitoes serve no purpose except to feed spiders who serve no purpose except to eat mosquitoes, so what sense does all that make? These mosquitoes need a job.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Red Scarf

We need to talk about my landlady. My apartment is in the bottom of a large house and Petunia, the owner, lives upstairs where it sounds as if she tap dances on stilts all night while cooking bacon. My apartment smells day and night like a smokehouse because of her incessant bacon cooking up there. I swear she has bacon for every meal.

Petunia is the kind of older lady who wears caftans and turbans. She has a distinct Mrs. Roper vibe going on and she wears the mothbally perfume of old house in the folds of her muumuus. None of these things particularly bother me.

It's been over a decade since I rented anything and even longer since I had to deal with an actual landlord of any kind. But although it's been a while since I've been a tenant I certainly don't remember my landlords being so, well, involved.

Petunia showed me all around when I got here. This is where this is. If you need towels look here, but quickly the tour dissolved into a lecture and a set of detailed instructions. I shouldn't call them instructions. That's entirely too polite and understated. They were rules. Rules for which any slight deviation was implied to carry serious consequences. Don't do this. Make sure you do that. Never ever... Always. There were a lot of them. Accompanying each rule was a sign and some of them were things I would never do anyway - Do Not Wash Underwear in Sink!!!! The signs have many exclamation points. Some of the signs warned me against things I wanted to do, such as use the oven. I can not use the oven. There are signs on every light and every door instructing me when I can turn things on and off and open and close. Some things must never be opened. Others must never be turned on. Some things have to be turned on and off at precise times.

I got the sense that Petunia thinks I'm a 19 year old college student who has never lived on my own, never owned properties and never, apparently, turned lights on and off before. The whole porch light has got me in a tizzy. I can't understand the logic of the porch light rule.

I have to turn it on before I leave even if it's in the daytime. Then when I come home I have to turn it off before going to bed so it doesn't shine in the neighbor's bedroom. This makes sense.

My first night Petunia came banging on my door at 10:30pm when I was in bed. I go to bed early. I got all up out of bed and found Petunia standing angrily outside.

"I told you not to turn the porch light off until you go to bed."

I thought she meant just make sure I don't forget to turn it off before I go to bed. This makes sense. I misheard. She did not say BEFORE. She said WHEN. Ok. But I was in bed and the light was off so what did it matter?

I hadn't turned the porch light on at all. I left in the afternoon. I returned well before sunset, so I didn't turn the porch light on because I didn't need it. This was wrong.

The next day Petunia instructed me not to talk to anyone about renting here because she was renting to me for cheap because of the floods and she didn't want anyone to know about it. I explained that I don't discuss things like that with people and then she went into a long story about how cheap I am getting this place for and she usually rents it for 3 times more (trust me she does not. No one in their right mind would pay 3 times this for this place I assure you, unless it was on Central Park West or Russian Hill). Then she started asking me probing questions. I know they were all designed to see if I had money or had married well because she wanted to know how I could afford to take 3 weeks out of my life to come to the midwest to do something as frivolous as write for 21 days straight.

Yesterday I awoke to much banging and slamming outside the window. A chipmunk was caught in a metal trap outside. Petunia is trapping adorable little chipmunks!!! I was horrified an asked her about it and she went on and on about how she hates chipmunks. How could someone hate chipmunks? I asked what she did with them and she said I didn't want to know. This is really not ok with me. I don't want to live beneath a chipmunk murderer. I said she should get a cat. She said her neighbor was allergic. Please. The neighbor in question has 2 sheepdogs and who cares if a neighbor is allergic to cats? It's the neighbor. They don't live here.

Then the toilet clogged up. I picked up the plunger to plunge the toilet and a dripping mass of poo and pee soaked toilet paper fell out onto the floor nearly causing me cardiac arrest. Someone had used it before and not cleaned it out and had just set it on the floor so when I picked it up this bacteria boulder had fallen out. I flew upstairs and made her come down and she proceeded to yell at me for cleaning the plunger out on the floor and not in the toilet and she could not understand that the stuff was already in the plunger and when I picked it up it fell out and all that pee and poo on the floor did not belong to me, hence my germaphobe panic. She couldn't get it and continued to yell at me over this. I made her plunge the toilet and clean it all up with bleach and then she started blaming me for clogging the toilet up saying it had never happened before. Obviously it had! I was so irritated.

Ten minutes after this was over Petunia came back banging on my door. In her hand was a red scarf. She told me she wants me to tie the red scarf to my doorknob so she knows when I'm not here so she can come in without bothering me. I said it would bother me even if I wasn't here. Dear God. I asked what she needed to come in for. She said in case she needed to do things. What could she possibly need to do? I may as well tack a sign on the door saying "Please rob me, I'm not here!" or for Petunia herself "Petunia, please come rifle through my things so you can figure out how much they cost and if I'm up to no good!"

When I came home last night she had tied the scarf to the door herself.
Monday, July 07, 2008

I'm in Iowa!!

I can't believe this but I am writing from Iowa City! I made it here yesterday, having survived a connection in a tiny plane (what I consider to be a tiny plane anyway) from Chicago to Cedar Rapids. I'll be here for 3 weeks doing nothing but writing. I already had my first class last night and I was deliriously sleepy because I had to get up at 3am to catch my flight out of Miami.

I was immediately enchanted with Iowa City. It's beautiful! It's like Pleasantville. There was this interesting sense of familiarity I had as soon as I got here and I realized it's a lot like other places I've lived - a little like Riverbank, New York, a whole lot like Millpond and something like parts of Atlanta, but it's definitely not Southern. The best description I can give Iowa City is if you crossed Millpond with San Francisco, which is an odd combination sort of like if you bred a chihuahua with a siamese cat. And guess what? I'm not going to starve to death. There's a wonderful grocery store/ co-op. One of you told me about it and I thank you. I went yesterday and stocked up my apartment. Because...I have an apartment! It even has a fake woodstove with authentic fake fire and fake wood in it and everything. I'll take a picture of the view for you. It's beautiful.

For the time I'm here I've decided to walk everywhere no matter the distance. I want to go car free. It's not possible in Florida, but here it's the best option and I love walking. Last night I walked right past a Dairy Queen. Naturally I had to stop. On the way home from my class I saw five bunnies. We don't have those in South Florida. his morning I saw a chipmunk. At dusk the fireflies come out. I haven't seen fireflies in years. I almost cried from happiness and the relief of being away from all the crap and drama of my relatives. I don't mean to be mean by saying that. I love my family more than anything, but they wear me out and I need a break. My dear husband is not included in that, by the way. I miss him dreadfully, but as we used to have a long distance relationship anyway I'm used to being away from him and we don't have one those relationships where we can't do anything separately. We actually encourgage a great deal of independence in one another, which I feel is healthy for us.

It's just that my family makes me worry and with all the mess my sister has been going through, I need a change of scenery to get it all off my mind. I'm sure she probably does too, but since some asshole stole all her money and got her fired from her job she had to find a new job and work a lot to make up for the loss and can't go anywhere. It's very unfair. I wish I had a million dollars and I could send her on vacation.

So I have a lot of things to do this morning, which means that I will write all about my trip here and post pictures a bit later. I just wanted to say hello and let you know I got in ok. I hope you all had a great holiday.
Saturday, July 05, 2008

Proof

Someone challenged the authenticity of my patriotic truck photo, saying the picture wasn't mine and that it's been around for a year and that I make things up. That annoyed me. So I offer you proof. This is the first picture I took before the truck started backing out. I took this from my car as I was looking for a parking space at Publix. This is actually the first picture. I was farther back than the other one. This one came out blurry but you can see it is part of a sequence and that this one is an original, not resized and still with the digital camera's file name. How much more proof do you need? My God. I don't need to make stuff up living here and this truck, as I said, has been around a while so naturally someone else is certain to have photographed it besides me. I took the pictures. Now apologize.
Thursday, July 03, 2008

Happy Fourth of July!


The individuals who own this truck that I saw today at Publix would like to wish you and yours a Happy Independence Day. The thing is, I've seen this truck around town several times since the week of September 11th, 2001 and it has always been like this. This isn't just for the Fourth. These people are serious about being patriotic dammit. I've had the pleasure of seeing this truck at night and there are two strong spotlights lying in the bed of the truck which shine two columns of light, representing the twin towers I'm assuming, up into the night sky. They also serve to illuminate the flags a little more. The people who own this truck are not playing around. I've often wondered about them - wondered if they lost a loved one in the attacks, wondered if they had a family member serving in the military or if they just really love America. I have no idea. I did see a woman and a boy of about thirteen get in. The woman looked pretty much like you'd imagine. Go ahead and imagine what a woman who would drive this truck would look like. Did you do it? Ok, that's exactly what she looked like. Sometimes at night the truck blares patriotic music out of it, but not always. This afternoon it was quiet, but I'll bet if it goes for a ride tomorrow it'll be playing something about being proud to be an American. I don't know about this here truck, but I took a picture of it because I knew it was going to be about the most patriotic Fourth of July type of thing I'd see between today and tomorrow and I wanted to share it. A lot of effort obviously went into it. I hope you like it.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
So I've done a lot of thinking and I know this will disappoint a lot of you but I've decided that I don't want to write about what happened to my sister. I feel terrible about what she's going through and I don't want her story portrayed as cheap gossip. It feels wrong to me to do that to her.

Long story short she was taken by a con man, someone I knew had a lot of problems and that I tried repeatedly to warn her about. It is absolutely tragic what happened to her and because so many of her friends and family members read this I don't want to cheapen it or get facts wrong or humiliate her in any way.

Still, I want good to come out of her suffering. I want this to serve not only as a lesson to her but as a lesson to a lot of people, because it really can happen to anyone and a con job can take many forms, some more subtle than what happened to her. In some cases the con man may be trying to gain control over a person and not be after money at all. Sometimes it's about money and control and if you fall prey you can ruin your life.

I am an extraordinary judge of character, but I wasn't always. It took me a long time and a lot of suffering to finally figure out how to read people well enough not to get involved with people who would ultimately hurt me. Observing the people around me, I've noticed that my skills are rare. Reading other people's blogs I've often found the same thing.

Because of this I'm preparing a post for you about red flags and about how to spot a jackass, con man, abuser or just plain loser. You need to learn to spot these people immediately and get them out of your life before they do you harm. My advice can relate to friendships, romantic relationships or business relationships. I hope you will come back when the post is up and that from what happened to my sister, we'll be able to prevent this crap from happening to someone else.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Funeral, Part 4 - Lunch

After the internment at the cemetery (scroll on down)we went back to the church where the Ladies Aid Society of Millpond Methodist had arranged for us the most lovely, perfect, post-funeral luncheon. I was almost moved to tears at the sight of all the yellow table cloths, wildflower bouquets on every table and the L-shaped buffet of every single traditional Southern dish you have ever heard of. They were all there and for a moment I felt ashamed of how enthusiastic I was about seeing them all there. When people die I often feel guilty eating. Of course I still eat anyway, but I feel awful about it as if I'm supposed to show my grief by going on a hunger strike and doing nothing but lying in bed moaning in sorrow. My grief, I have found, has not been exactly like that. At least not yet. I think if my husband died it might be, but let's hope that doesn't happen until we have been married for 58 years like Mommom and Pop.

In the South funerals are all about food. One is expected to eat at funerals and to eat a lot. Instead of my strange belief that one should show grief by not eating (I think in a past life I was a Bengali widow), in the South one's love of the deceased can be measured in the amount one consumes at the funeral. I can definitely say that Pop was loved a lot.

Food and funerals go hand in hand. Whenever someone dies I immediately start thinking of what to cook. I'm not alone in this, at least not in Millpond and every other southern town. When Pop died the entire female population of Millpond, along with some of my male cousins who only BBQ, turned on the stove. For many it was only to boil the water for the Jell-O salad, but still, the stove was used. Judging from the amount of covered dishes at the funeral luncheon the shelves at the Piggly Wiggly had to have been bare.

All my life I thought this was how it was done everywhere in the world. When someone dies you bring food to their family and you want to try to bring more and better food than anyone else. It's a little competitive. I once brought an entire pot of soup, two quiches, chicken salad and a coconut cake to a family in Atlanta. Apparently though, this doesn't happen everywhere.

A dear friend of mine lost her mother recently. Her family lives in Chicago so I imagined a huge, Eastern European style spread at their funeral. As bad taste as it was I had to ask about her funeral food since it was the same week as Pops and she seemed to be ok with my asking. She said she had to have it catered. I gasped in horror. A CATERED FUNERAL???? My lands. My poor friend who just lost her dear mother had to go to all the stress to have an event catered! This would have been an utter travesty in the south. No one would let something like that happen and had any southerners been there they would have been deeply offended that no one brought anything to the mourning family. How could people be so heartless and selfish to not bring food to these people, a southerner would have said. I decided to be offended for my friend's family.

"Well, someone did bring a bag of Tostitos and a jar of queso dip," my friend said.

Good God.

We had so much food at Pop's funeral that there would have been plenty for my friend's mother's funeral. It makes me sad to think of catered deli trays and I wish I really could have shared. We did after all, have 29 hams.

Do you all remember the episode of Good Times where the dad died and people brought over so many hams they didn't know what to do with them all? This was also the episode where Florida broke the punch bowl and said "DAMN DAMN DAMN!!!" and also the best Good Times episode ever. Well, we had so many hams that it was just like on the show. We were practically giving the hams away as door prizes.

In addition to 29 hams we also had more fried chicken than I have ever seen in one place. I'm not kidding. I really have never seen this much fried chicken. We also had at least 15 different varieties of Jell-o salad, nine thousand casseroles and just as many different kinds of desserts. There were of course collard greens, three bean salads, several macaroni and potato salad variations, green beans and all kinds of wonderful creations made from vegetables picked out of people's gardens.

When I saw all this food I just said "Oh to hell with it, I'm eating." So I poured myself a big old glass of sweet tea and headed for the buffet line.

Bella was not amused. Poor Bella. She had been on the Atkins Diet for over a month in an emergency attempt to lose weight before a reunion with the long lost love of her life later this summer. After their horrible breakup and after graduating from college and getting an office job she became less active than she had been and gained a couple extra pounds. She may or may not have eaten like an asshole a few times too many, and she just got older and slowed down. Happens to the best of us. Out of nowhere Bella's ex, the love of her life, called and said he couldn't stop thinking about her and wanted to see her. I understand where he's coming from. I wish you all could know Bella. She is hilarious, charming, has a great sense of style and is a damn lot of fun. I can completely understand someone being so smitten with her that he still thinks about her four years after their tragic breakup which was all his fault by the way. Bella said they could meet at the end of the summer and she knew she had to make a choice. The love of her life or the other love of her life - fettucino alfredo. She and the fettucini parted ways. It was a bad breakup, but she managed to leave Alfredo for grilled chicken salad and hard boiled eggs. Things were going well.

When I saw Bella she looked fantastic and had already dropped two sizes. She said she hadn't had any cravings and was doing fine and had broken her deadly carb addiction, the likes of which I had never encountered. I almost thought she'd have the DTs if she gave up tortellini. I mean, this girl loved pasta. But she was fine. Until the funeral luncheon.

Bella was livid because there was not a single thing there she could eat. Everything was breaded and full of fat and carbs. Plus Myrtle Fitch had made her famous macaroni and cheese and everyone was shuddering with delight over it and Bella knew how good it was. It was like taking an alcoholic into a bar, bless her heart. I felt terrible.

There wasn't all that much I could eat either. This was at the beginning of my gluten-free experiment and I am ashamed to confess that when confronted with fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and a homemade Coca-Cola cake (the kind without marshmallows which is the best kind) I decided I didn't care if I had stomach problems. That's a terrible way to think and I'm a rotten role model, so please don't be like me.

So poor Bella was ready to hurt someone and she sat and sulked until Memere Marie got a hold of her. I found this kind of amusing in a sick, sadistic way. Memere Marie came to Pop's funeral to show her support. Remember, she is my mother's mother who also lives in Millpond. She has known Mommom Jewel and Pop Byron since they were all teenagers, and Memere's husband Ray (he eats cat food) actually played on the Millpond High School Football team with Pop.

Now until this point I have refrained from referring to any of the funeral food as "Nasty-Assed" and this is because I am being incredibly polite and gracious. Normally I would have been all over those casseroles and Jell-o molds, but I told myself that this food was prepared with so much love and selflessness that if I made fun of a bite of it that I would burn in Hell until I was the exact size and texture of a pork rind. It was difficult, let me tell you. I saw things done with cream of mushroom soup that should be crimes against humanity.

Memere Marie though, she lives for Nasty-Assed Recipes. I feel the need to capitalize that for some reason. Memere adores all sorts of ritz cracker topped, velveeta smothered, Jell-o jiggly nasty-assery so she was in her element at that luncheon. But she had to compare all of it to her own versions, especially the green bean casserole and poor Bella who made the mistake of asking her what was in a certain dish got treated to a long lecture about how Memere makes it compared to how this version was made and how maybe the next time she makes it she might add some celery too and how her friend Connie used to make a little bit different but she didn't like it as much because Connie wasn't a good cook and this version was decent, but not like hers, which was far better except for the lack of celery. Bella, in her hypoglycemic, carb-craving misery looked like she was going to grow snakes out of head having to listen to this. Did I mention that the dish in question was an orange Jell-o concoction with pineapple and Cool-Whip? So naturally one can see how celery would obviously improve that.

Bella was ready to leave fairly quickly, which was fine with me, but first I needed to mingle a little to see all the millions of cousins I hadn't seen since I was little.

Someone asked me in the comments if I ended up talking to my biological father. The answer is that I did not. I did, however, meet two of his daughters, my half sisters. I wish I could report more sordidly about them, but I only saw them for a couple of minutes. The oldest one, who is 24 I think, seems like a bit of a mess. She had a friend drive her and then she left before the luncheon. I've talked to her on the phone before and she's, well, let's just say she claims to be living quite the bohemian lifestyle and has rejected the whole religious cult thing. She plays violin in a rock band. I thought she was very pretty; her hair especially fascinated me. It was strawberry blond and curled like she was from Texas. I always wanted big Texas beauty pageant hair so I liked it. She was only around for a few minutes. The second sister who is around 20-22 was much plainer. She was tall and very skinny and looked exactly like her mother looked when she and Ronald first got married. The resemblance was absolutely uncanny, but she was very friendly and introduced herself to me and she was dressed normal and seemed cheerful. I guess I had expected them to be wearing calico prairie dresses with pouffed sleeves. I think both of them grew up, moved out and gave up the Baptist cult lifestyle and this is a profound relief to me. I hope these poor girls have a chance at a normal life.

The whole time people kept coming up to me and asking me about my mother. I know what they were really asking was if she still sold drugs and if she was in prison or running a cat house and if I was in on it too. I could tell by their tone. Then, inevitably they would say I looked so much like my mother. This is not true. Certain features yes, but when you compare a picture of me and a picture of my mother at the same age there are clearly distinct differences, so it annoys the crap out of me to hear this over and over. Frankly I look a lot more like Memere Marie at this age than I do my mother, but no one listens to me. I just want to look like myself.

Everyone asked me about my husband too. They were wondering if he was a drug dealer too and what kind of drugs he sells. Remember, everyone in Millpond thinks Florida is nothing but drugs and immigrants and immigrants on drugs, so if I live in Florida then I must be a drug dealer too and so must my husband, who is probably an immigrant. It's like one big scene out of Scarface down here. Just last week I made a ruckus at The Forge and I have to go soon because the tigers chained up out in the yard need me to toss them a raw ribeye. After that I'm going to shine my automatic weapons collection before I go meet some Colombians with my latest shipment.

Before we left Bella and I spotted one of our cousins who was smokin' hot. This is really gross of us we know, but we would like to plea redneck on this one and that means you can express opinions on the hotness of your own cousins. We had never seen this hot cousin before and he was a little older, mid-40s maybe and dressed in full military garb which added to the hotness naturally. His tag read "Holland" so we knew he was related to us and he looked exactly like Pop, causing us to wonder if he was Pop's secret love child perhaps.

Sergeant Smokin' knew who I was.

"Do you remember me?" he asked in a most effeminate voice.

"I'm so sorry, I don't," I answered.

He said he was my cousin Louis Lafayette Holland and he was obviously, unquestionably homosexual.

"How is your Aunt Kiki?" he asked.

Well if there was any doubt as to his homosexuality before there was none now. Aunt Kiki was the official hag of Millpond with my mom being the vice-hag. I had no idea I had a cousin on the Holland side who was friends with Aunt Kiki.

"I used to run around with Kiki and your mom," he said.

I had no idea. I am so ashamed that I said my own cousin who is clearly gay was hot. He is though. My hairdresser would kill to get his hands on this man in uniform.

Later Bella asked her mom about him.

"Is Louis Lafayette gay?" she asked.

"No, he's just soft-spoken," my aunt said.

MmmHmm.

"He has a wife and children," she added.

Oh my. I have a feeling there is some pretty extensive not asking and not telling going on. I keep forgetting to call Aunt Kiki to ask her about him. He told me to tell her hello.

I also discovered that I have a bunch of punk rockabilly cousins. Woo-Hoo! That was pretty cool. My cousin Peanut and his sister Stella used to play with me in the pool all summer and we lost touch. I nearly didn't recognize them when they came in. Peanut has a jet-black mohawk and had a pack of Pall-Malls rolled up in his tee shirt sleeve. He was wearing rolled up jeans, boots and had a chain wallet. Peanut is a tattoo artist and Stella who had purple spikey hair and wears dresses from the 40s has a beauty parlor next door. Both of them are covered in tattoos and piercing. I was so proud my cousins grew up this way. This is a million times better than the life of single wides and stock car races I had imagined for them. I should have known though because we have a pretty strong creative gene running through the family.

By the time I had talked to everyone at the luncheon actual snakes were hissing out of Bella's head and she was ready to get back to her parents house so she could tear up a summer sausage and some colby-jack. In the car on the way I got a call from my sister back in Florida.

"Someone cleaned out my bank accounts," she said.

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