Thursday, February 26, 2009

More Food Questions!

Jeez, I should start a food blog or something. Chiada asked me a really interesting question and it triggered a big memory for me about an old friend, that is food related.

"I'd like to know what kind of foods you regularly eat, how you got to eat those foods, how eating those foods makes you feel, if you've lost any weight, do you have energy from what you eat, etc. I've been eating about 70% raw vegetarian in the last 6 weeks and I feel awesome, yet I'm constantly searching the 'Net for more info. So, I'd just like to hear your personal experiences with food and what works best for you and why."

You know, I don't know if I regularly eat any one kind of food and I think that's the key. What works best for me is eating a constant variety. I try to eat locally as much as possible which means a lot of fish, tropical fruit and greens which grow well down here. For the last few weeks I've been eating tons of berries because Florida berries just came in season. I like my food to be as close to its natural state as possible. But I also eat meat and chicken and many other things too. I really believe that variety is important.

I always have a pitcher of iced green tea of some sort in my fridge and I drink it all day, unsweetened. That took some getting used to, but now I don't miss the sugar. That sounds healthy, but then I'll go and eat brie on apple slices or something later. I also can't get enough roasted golden beets and I make brown rice every couple days in my rice cooker. Another thing I make a lot is roasted, sliced sweet potatoes. I toss them in olive oil and sprinkle with salt, cinnamon and cayenne pepper and then roast until crispy on the outside. One of my favorite things to eat is chicken salad with dried cranberries and walnuts.

I haven't really gained or lost any significant amounts of weight. I lost that five pounds I was complaining about last week, but five pounds could just be water. I am five six and weigh 130 pounds. I'm pretty average sized. I wear a size six and I'm happy with that. I have always been very energetic.

So you say you are doing about 70% raw vegetarian. That has to be pretty difficult to maintain and I'm going to be honest with you about this. Long term, I don't know if that's healthy or realistic. Sometimes when people say that it makes them feel so good I kind of wonder if the reason why is because maybe before they weren't eating that amount of fruits and vegetables. Maybe excluding everything else leaves more room for the fruits and vegs they weren't getting before and that's why they feel better. My doctor, who is a real doctor who takes a holistic approach (think Dr. Weil) says that too much raw food is actually really hard on your digestion and not always good and that heat can often break down fibers and chemicals in foods that make even more nutrients available. It's just something to consider. You have to do what's right for you and ask your doctor about it.

In all of my experiences with people who maintain extreme diets long term, I have observed that there is always something else going on with them that has nothing to do with food. I've known a lot of women who were obsessed with the purity of their food and with eliminating large food groups from their diets. All of them had gone through emotional traumas and many had been sexually abused. They were all perfectionists and all of them had relationship problems that went way beyond food. The one thing they all had in common was that they believed that food, or lack thereof, could be a magic bullet that saved them from all of their problems. No matter how perfect or pure your diet is, it will never solve all of your problems.

The people I know who have maintained extreme diets (as I call them) have used their diets as a distraction. They sometimes use the way they eat to make themselves feel better than others who eat less purely. They bestow a crazed faith in their diets that reminds me of the fervor of Evangelicals slain by the spirit. No matter what they eat, what they cut out of their diets - they still aren't happy. Nothing is ever good enough or pure enough so they keep cutting and cutting things that they are allowed to eat.

I had a friend who, when we first met, ate a regular diet. She was fine. She thought she had health issues, but they weren't anything serious or unusual and she never sought medical treatment. She loved animals. She decided to be a vegetarian. She thought being a vegetarian would solve everything and was the right thing to do. From there she became a vegan. Then she couldn't eat anything that was an exploitive crop. Then she couldn't eat anything with packaging because that was bad for the environment. After that she felt that just being a vegan wasn't cutting it. Suddenly cooked food was what had been causing her problems, so she went raw vegan. She had issues with raw veganism because she was buying vegetables and fruits in the store. This wasn't pure enough either. She felt like the raw vegan food was too heavy and that it was extremely unhealthy and fattening. Her problems still hadn't gone away. It had to be her diet. She began foraging. But then she was eating greens and she decided greens weren't healthy. She wanted to be a fruitarian. She became a fruitarian, but still felt badly because she was buying fruits a lot of the time. Then she realized her problem was that she was eating fruits mixed together like in fruit salads or fruit smoothies and this was really bad for you. She aspired to only eat "mono-fruit" or one fruit at a time. There would be no packaging, no cutting and no waste. She'd eat the fruit out of hand and toss the seeds back to the earth. But then this wasn't ok either. She then decided that the only way to be a perfect fruitarian was to eat fruit that had fallen from trees. The problem was we lived in New York and there weren't a lot of fruit trees in the area and there was also that big problem known as winter. Erica (that was her name), was distraught. She felt like she was doing the wrong thing and she would cry because of the guilt she felt when she ate two different kinds of fruit at once or if she had to buy fruit in a store. She used to say all the time about how if she were really pure that she could be a breatharian - a person who didn't need to eat and could live off of air. There were people like that, she believed and they were perfect. If she could just not eat anything her problems would be solved. Finally her parents intervened and she was taken out of school and hospitalized. Some of our classmates said she was having a terrible time in treatment because she refused to eat anything. A few years later another friend told me he had seen Erica squatting in an abandoned building in New York City. I often wonder if she is ok or if she has died.

Erica was an extreme case, but she isn't the only person I've seen who has started off on an innocent vegetarian diet and ended up with an extreme diet. Vegetarianism is the marijuana, the gateway drug, of extreme eating if you go into it trying to solve something within yourself. I think some people get a high from cutting things out of their diets and then when the high wears off they want to cut out more things but the high always wears off and the problems are still there. You have to know when to stop and you have to be realistic about the way you eat. You can't expect that not eating certain things are going to fix you inside or out. Of course in some cases, such as food allergies, celiac or lactose intolerance, cutting out some things WILL help you but you should get tested, get a doctor's advice and strive for balance. There's a difference between switching to soy milk in your coffee and eating only fruit fallen from trees. Be reasonable with how you eat. Allow yourself indulgences. Don't let your diet isolate you from meaningful human interaction and enjoyment of life. Never think that foods or lack of certain foods can cure depression, relationship problems, addictions, mental illness or anything else.

Eat high quality foods that haven't been messed with. If you don't know what that means read Michael Pollan. It's all about balance and variety and simplicity. Love everything that goes in your mouth. Don't waste. If you eat animals, respect them and prepare them with care. Don't eat too much at one time and don't eat too much of any one thing.

It's all about balance and moderation.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Food Questions First

I'm going to start answering some of your questions.

"I was wondering what kind of bread you eat. I know the stuff made with rice flour is like a rock. I am very interested in your gluten-free experiences."

I've kind of just stopped eating bread. The other day I had a cheeseburger on top of some salad instead of on a roll. I stopped eating sandwiches and switched to salads and that's probably healthier anyway. I eat hummus, cheeses, spreads and things like tuna and chicken salad on rice crackers or Blue Diamond Pecan Thins, which are exceptionally yummy.

My other bread alternative is Yoki Pao de Queijo. This is a Brazilian staple. Of course they probably make homemade cheese puffs in Brazil, but I like the Yoki mix. Because of the great diversity we have here in South Florida, all Publix stores have a Brazilian section, so these are always available to me and, made with tapioca, they are naturally gluten free. They have a wonderful, glutenous, stretchy, chewy texture and are crispy on the outside. I absolutely love them. Husband spent a lot of time in Brazil and is very familiar with the culture and cuisine and he introduced these things to me way back when even when I could eat bread. He learned that a way to improve the mix is to make it with milk instead of water and to add a handful of sharp, grated cheese. I don't always add extra cheese, but it doesn't hurt. Once the cheese puffs are done I split them open and make little sandwiches with them. Or I just eat them plain because they are yummy on their own too.

Once we experimented with a gluten free sandwich bread mix from Whole Foods and that was really good too, but I got sick afterwards. I don't know if it was the bread or something else. It may have been a coincidence. In any event, it tasted pretty good when it came out of the oven, but I put a lot of butter on it. Husband said it was gross. I liked it.

Other than that, I don't care that much about bread. I confess that a couple weeks ago I had a slice of pizza but it freaked me out and I only ate half of it. I didn't get sick at the time, but I don't want to chance it.

Maria asked me if I could recommend some good cookbooks for a starter cook and I definitely can. I have never gone wrong with a single recipe from the Barefoot Contessa. All of her recipes that I've tried have been simply explained and have turned out perfectly. I am less happy with her Paris cookbook because it has a lot of foods in it that I don't really like, but I have practically worn my Barefoot Contessa Family Style and Parties to shreds.

After that my second favorite cookbook, and I almost hate to admit this, is Everyday Italian. I have made so much fun of Giada deLaurentiis over the years - the way she looks like a bobble head, how annoyingly perfect she is, her porny soundtrack and weirdly erotic closeups of her hands as well as the way she always seems so pissed off and uncomfortable on "The Today Show." I especially loved making fun of how mad she seemed to be about being pregnant and how on one episode she almost had a heart attack when Ann Curry handed her an actual, live baby and made her hold it. At my old job we used to watch her show in the office and we called her "Big Head." The woman really has a big head on an eeny weeny body. She looks like every South Florida trophy wife; anorexic, with a big fake rack and a Tang tinted tan, but dammit, the girl can cook. And all of her recipes are exactly the sorts of things that I most enjoy eating. I've made most of the recipes in Everyday Italian and they've all been easy and came out well. Some of them, like her caponata, I make regularly. At the moment I've been coveting her new book Giada's Kitchen, but instead of buying it I've been getting the recipes free off the Food Network.

I hope these suggestions have helped.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Love, In Bulk

My friends call my husband "Perfect Husband" and he pretty much is. Why he loves me so much I will never understand. He is patient, kind and soft spoken. He is nice to the cat, works hard and gets me nice perfume for Valentine's Day. He is, generally, perfect. He does, however, have one flaw that many of my friends don't know about.

My husband is obsessed with Costco.

His Costco obsession has caused much consternation in our relationship, especially when we first got married. If you don't live with someone before marriage and then you find yourself suddenly living with and married to someone, that first year can be a little jarring and that year we had some knock down, drag outs over Costco. Since then, I've learned to choose my battles a little better and I know that I will not win against the mighty purveyor of Kirkland, so I surrendered. It just wasn't worth it. Plus, Costco has good cheese and yes, the meat is cheaper.

When Husband and I first met, he lived in San Francisco and didn't have a car. Still, he'd take a taxi to Costco every couple of months. I wasn't around him and didn't think much of it. I was in love so I overlooked the fact that he used the front entry of his studio apartment for storing items purchased in bulk. My love wasn't so blind when he moved here and started using OUR front entry as a storage area for items bought in bulk. I began to find paper towels, 27 rolls of them, under the bed. There were boxes of cereal and granola bars on the book shelves with the books. We even had a ten pound bag of candied almonds shoved under the couch because it wouldn't fit in the pantry. The pantry had long since been filled with fifteen pound bags of rice and restaurant sized spice containers. This was profoundly upsetting to me.

At first he wanted me to go to Costco with him, and I tried but something about those high ceilings, the echoing warehouse acoustics, the swarms of discount shoppers and the row upon three story high row of gigantic products, sent me into a full blown panic attack. This seemed to hurt Husband to his very core. Maybe he had made a mistake in choosing his soul mate. How could he have married a woman who has a serious meltdown before he's even done showing his membership card at the front door?

I began to wonder why this seemingly perfect man I'd married was so fixated on buying huge amounts of nougat, white bar towels, frozen broccoli florets and six heads of romaine lettuce at one time. Why did he need a 30 pack of hot pockets? Where did he think we were going to store this stuff in a 950 square foot apartment? He built shelves in the spare room, but still, there just wasn't enough room. I wondered why he thought we needed so much stuff. He said the deals were better there, that the quality of Costco's products were superior and that he didn't like to run out of things. My counter argument was that yes, there were some good products and yes you could get a decent deal, but how much of a deal are you getting when you end up wasting a lot of good food because two people, one of whom is extremely neurotic about her eating habits, simply can not consume the amounts Costco sells before the food spoils or expires?

But Costco is a good company, Husband argued. They treat their employees well in a way that sets an important precedent for other companies. We need to support that.

No, I'd argue back. Costco causes waste: overspending and overeating. I don't want to support that. Huge companies like Costco that fly in produce and other food items and products from overseas hurt local economies and are bad for the environment.

We went round and round. A few times I caught him hiding his Costco goods in the trunk of the car. Other times he caught me secretly enjoying things he'd bought at Costco and called me out. We were stuck in a vicious cycle, fighting over a bulk warehouse.

Finally one day at the very same time, Husband and I each had an epiphany. We were extremely lucky to be fighting about Costco. It meant that we had nothing real or serious to fight about. We didn't have to worry about finances, infidelity, lies, addiction or any of the big, scary things that a lot of other couples deal with. Essentially we were really fighting about having too much stuff, which is a much better situation to be in than fighting over not having enough stuff. Our life was so full of abundance. There was no reason to fight. Husband stopped going to Costco so much and I started to enjoy the things he bought there. We achieved a balance where we buy certain things there that we know won't go to waste and slowly we fell into a rhythm. Husband does the Costco shopping and I go to the regular grocery store and the farmer's markets. We don't fight about Costco anymore. Still, I think it's really weird that when we travel, along with other sightseeing, Husband likes to check out the Costcos in other cities. I also find it amusing that earlier this year when we were thinking of moving, that we had to research only cities within a fifteen mile radius of a Costco. I wasn't really embarrassed when my cousin wanted to get my husband a Costco tee shirt for Christmas, because by now everyone has just accepted his quirk and we love him dearly for it.

This past weekend something big happened. I returned to Costco with my husband. I went because I thought it might be nice to see what they had. I hadn't been in a few years after all. I like this aged Irish cheddar they have and I wanted a salmon to cook for my grandparents. I thought it might be fun. Miraculously, I didn't have a panic attack this time, not even when I saw the checkout line stretching back to the gallon sized containers of spinach dip and a creepily pink lobster spread. I felt very zen and at peace with the world. I could do this Costco thing and I could do it even more because it meant a lot to the person I love most.

Then I talked to someone in line. I'm genetically programmed to do this. For several generations people in my family have been unable to refrain from talking to complete strangers in checkout lines. Naturally, I had to look in this woman's cart to see what she was getting. The cart was filled with party trays of ham and cheese pinwheels, chicken tenders, cold cuts, huge cookie trays, croissant sandwiches and shrimp cocktail. It looked like she was getting ready for a major celebration.

"Oh, you're having a party!" I said.

"No," said the woman, panting as she heaved the chicken tender tray onto the conveyor belt.


"I get these party platters to feed my kid all week," the woman said, wiping sweat off her forehead, "Works great. I never have to cook."

"Ohhh. That's...great."

"Yeah, I tell everybody to do it. If you got a kid this is the way to go!"

And then, miraculously, I managed to shut up. I'm not even going to say anything now except that I reconfirmed exactly why I hate Costco. But still, I will go for the man I love because I made a commitment. And maybe a little bit for the buffalo flavored tortilla chips.

For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health I promise to love, honor and cherish and buy 30 rolls of toilet paper, seven gallons of hummus and crackers in a box the size of a Mini-Cooper.

Open Question Mardi Gras

Today is Mardi Gras. When I was little, growing up in Mommom Jewel and Pop Byron's little white ranch house, we always had pancakes and sausage for dinner on Fat Tuesday. We used to pour cane syrup all over our plates, which may be why to this day I don't like maple syrup. I think I never acquired the taste for it in childhood, so now it tastes strange and horrible to me. Tonight I'm recreating this dinner with some gluten free mix. It sounds worse than it is. All of the gluten free food tastes good.

After I let my classes out this afternoon my spring break begins. I don't have to be back to work until the 9th and I fully intend to celebrate. Of course I still have some touch ups to do on the thesis and I have to write a thesis document, but that's not a big deal. This weekend I'll be heading over to the Gulf Coast for Spring Training! I'm pretty excited about that. I've lived in Florida forever and have never seen a Spring Training baseball game. I promise I will take and post pictures. I'll also visit Sanibel Island, go shelling and enjoy some fresh, local seafood and beach time. It will be just Husband and me on a little, much needed vacation. Husband needs it more than me. He hasn't had one day off in an entire year and I plan on stuffing him with ice cream and making him lie around doing nothing.

I also plan on generating a lot of writing while I have more free time. I haven't been so good about that lately. Since you guys have helped me so much in the past, I'd like you to help me again. This will be fun. Think of some things you'd like to ask me. What do you want to hear about? What do you wonder about me? What topics would you find interesting? Do you wonder what I think about a certain topic? Do you want me to give you advice on something? (I don't necessarily advise this one.) If you were to interview me what questions would you ask? Go ahead and ask, just keep it clean, polite and within reason , in the comments section. I'll go through the questions and attempt to answer the ones I like best and I will try to answer as many as possible. Try to be very original.

This exercise really works for generating ideas and making me write out of my comfort zone, which is really important for growth as a writer. We did several exercises like this in class last summer in Iowa and I found it extremely helpful when people asked me questions about my life. It ended up uncovering many, many long forgotten memories and being forced to write something that someone else wanted to hear about, made me write about things I may not ordinarily have wanted to on my own. Of course in Iowa, this was done on a smaller scale, with only a couple of people. Here, it will be on a bigger scale with less reciprocation, but I think it will work for me.

Happy Mardi Gras! May you be the one to find the baby hidden in the King Cake.
Monday, February 23, 2009

Proof of My Raging OCD

I have a confession to make. I am obsessed with looking into other people's refrigerators. I have no idea why. It's the strangest thing. As soon as I walk into someone else's house the first thing I want to do is to go look and see what's in their fridge. Of course, this is strange and you can't really do that most of the time so I'll always find myself looking for a way to sneak a peek. I love when my hosts tell me to get my own drink or when I offer to help with dinner and they ask me to retrieve something from the crisper. I also find myself looking into other people's grocery carts and I always feel like other shoppers are purchasing better foods than I am, so maybe my fridge obsession is something like that. Maybe I'm trying to see if I'm normal or maybe I just love food so much that I hope to make a new, exciting discovery. Perhaps, I'm just nuts. Last year in a writing workshop the teacher told us you can tell a lot about people by the contents of their purses, fridges, cabinets etc. and that we should use those types of things as cues in our writing to make our characters more real. This, I think, is also part of my fridge peeping. I feel like I get to know people through their food. Lately a bunch of other bloggers have posted pictures of the insides of their refrigerators. Naturally I found this very exciting and wanted to get in on the action. Above is my refrigerator. I don't know what you can tell about me from it, except that I have raging OCD. Look at how I line everything up. It drives me insane if things aren't like that. My fridge is pretty much the opposite of Stephanie Klein's. She has a huge, fancy refrigerator that is jam packed with condiments and some big Le Crueset dutch oven thing. Whiskey Marie also posted the contents of her ice box. She had way more stuff than me as well. Recently, Miss Kitty even got a new refrigerator, posting both pictures of the old one and the new one. Very exciting for me. So, look into my refrigerator all you want. Maybe you will learn something about me.
Friday, February 20, 2009

Some Letters of Complaint

Yesterday I was going through a box of old letters and writings and I found a letter I had received from Wendy's in 1997, which had two coupons in it that expired in 1998. The letter was a response to a letter I sent to Wendy's telling them how utterly vile the Wendy's closest to my house in Atlanta was. Now what business I had going to Wendy's back then, I have no idea, but I remember going and it being so horrifyingly filthy that for some reason my twenty-four year old self was compelled to write the corporation a letter. This seems strange because I'm not and have never been the sort of person to write a complaint letter. And even funnier, I didn't use the coupons they sent me.

The whole thing got me to thinking about what kinds of complaint letters I would write now. Here they are:

Dear Wendy's,

You are still gross. In a moment of desperation I got a baked potato at the Wendy's at my school and it was gross. I still can't look at your chili without thinking about severed fingers.



Dear Writers of Lost,

This week's episode was easily the lamest ever. It was as bad as Nikki and Paolo. My students could have written a tighter and more compelling, and significantly less cheesy plot line than that. For that matter, if Whiskey Marie and I got together with a pitcher of Margaritas, a monkey and a tray of brownies I am convinced that we could have done a better job too. We probably would have given the smoke monster a sex scene. But come on, Writers of Lost - how does Ben get on the plane all beat to hell with his arm in a sling and not one person bat an eyelash over it? This just wouldn't happen. Someone would have been like "Dude, what happened to you?" It probably would have been Hurley. Also, how can Kate be all like "Don't ask me what I did with Aaron this kid you're related to" and Jack just say "Ok, let's make out and then we'll get up in the morning with no sense of urgency whatsoever and have fancy orange juice." ??? How? Who would do that? The whole thing with the proxy and the shoes - stupid. Obviously you don't have to crash a damned plane to get on and off the island every time. Ben used to have a submarine didn't he? Jeez, Writers of Lost. You had better just be messing with us and next week had better make more sense.



Dear Marshalls and TJ Maxx,

For years I've loved you, but now we're breaking up. You have gotten too full of yourself and it's not working between us anymore because of your ego. The other day I went looking for a new purse. For many, many years you've been my source of cheap, cute purses that were all under thirty dollars. Of course I found several adorable handbags that I would have loved to have purchased had they not cost one hundred dollars and over. I even found the most darling, patent leather little clutch that looked like it came from Rampage and should have cost about ten dollars. It was $89.99. I don't come to your store for Michael Kors, Betsy Johnson, Marc Jacobs and some Italian crap I've never heard of but is still expensive. It's not fair Marshalls and TJ Maxx. People come to your stores for affordable items, not luxury couture. It's a cruel tease because when you're rifling though the bag section and you find the perfect selection you look at the price tag excitedly expecting a deal and then you are shocked and horrified to see that in Marshalls or TJ Maxx that something costs $289.99. I don't care if it used to cost twice that. It's not a deal and I don't like to be tricked like that. You suck.



Dear American Idol,

You have jumped the shark. You have sunk to new levels of cheesiness and stupidity. Are your producers subbing for the real writers of Lost, by the way? The mansion was stupid. The new format is stupid. Don't you know that a show is done whenever you add to the cast? Now, I kind of like the new judge. I like her better than Paula actually. Mostly I like her because she's not all strung out on Vicodin and actually makes sense when she speaks and I think she looks exactly like the pot dealing mom from Weeds, but still. Think of all the shows who added new cast members. When it happens, they're done. It means they've gotten stale and desperate. You may as well have had Paula get pregnant. But you know what American Idol, I will still watch you because I can't help getting sucked in by your crack baby stories. I'll watch because of the guy who is clearly Robert Downey Jr.'s secret love child, who lost his wife. I'll watch because I'm looking forward to hearing him spend the next several weeks singing Celine Dion songs and I'll cry because he lost his wife, which you will not let me forget and will hammer into my skull every single episode until May.



Your letters of complaint may go in the comments section.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Big Nort's Trophy Wife (maybe)

Big Nort just got out of jail and now he's going to be on a reality show. And that's sort of my fault, because when the casting director called with an offer, I persuaded him that life as a reality star might be his best option.

I haven't seen Big Nort since about 1991 or '92. Back then we lived in a small, pink house on the beach. We lived next door to Casa Azul where Big Nort lived with some other drug dealers. Years later when the boys went into foreclosure from their legal troubles my mother ended up buying that house and we moved there. But back then, Big Nort was just a big, 'roided out kid and he and his friends had the life. They lived in a nice (not a mansion, but nice) house on the Intracoastal. Living on the waterway made it easier to smuggle drugs in off of boats and from what I hear they had quite the set up going.

Living in the pink house, we tried to avoid our drug smuggling neighbors as much as we could, but we were on friendly terms. I don't mean we were going for ice cream cones with them, but whenever we were both taking out the trash we'd smile and wave. We weren't too bothered by the fact that they were quite obviously drug dealers. Every neighborhood in South Florida is pretty much guaranteed to have a drug dealer or two. It's just how life is down here and you accept it. The boys next door certainly weren't doing anything new.

By and by the leader of next door's operation somehow got busted. I don't know the details. This led to Big Nort and his friend also getting busted in an elaborate sting operation that went down in the parking lot of an old mall. The whole thing was filmed for the TV show COPS, which had just come out at the time.

One night, my parents and I were sitting in the family room watching COPS when lo and behold we see Big Nort on the show getting arrested. Then he assaulted a police officer and ran away from the scene on foot. Helicopters chased him over a fence, across a golf course and through a bad neighborhood. The drama was unbelievable. We were on the edge of our seats. Our next door neighbor was on COPS!! Finally they set the dogs after him and the dogs took him down. Then Big Nort resisted arrest, assaulted another officer and even hit one of the dogs! We were in shock. It's just not every day that your next door neighbor is on COPS.

Big Nort was in a world of trouble, but according to him he didn't end up going to jail for the incident. I can't see how, but apparently, some very big lawyers saw the case on the show and offered him free assistance and got him off.

Then he went to jail for something else, which just seems like a total waste to me.

Now Big Nort is finally out of jail for the something else. He's trying to rebuild his life and figure out what to do. Obviously the guy has a bad reputation, but he says he's reformed and that he's a new person. He was young, stupid and greedy back then, but now he's in his forties and he wants to settle down.

Of course the first place he came after they unlocked his cell was my parents' house. My mother and father ran into him somewhere, recognized him as our old neighbor, struck up a conversation and invited him over. Now he's there practically every day.

The first day I saw him, I didn't recognize him and in fact, I barely remembered him. I just saw this huge, scary guy in the house and felt uneasy. Big Nort is definitely big, heavily tattooed and looks like someone carved him out of a jagged chunk of rough granite. His eyes are pale blue and his hair has gone silver and he looks just... hardened. I ran into him in Whole Foods the other day and I almost had a heart attack because he's really scary.

Last week I was cooking at my parents' house and Big Nort came over and struck up a conversation with me about how he had been down in Miami with some friends and had been approached by a casting director for a VH1 reality show coming up that was called "Trophy Wife." He played me a voice mail from the casting director and it sounded like they really wanted him.

"I don't know," Big Nort said.

"I think it's a fantastic opportunity and you have nothing to lose," I told him, "I really think you should be open to the possibility. You never know what could happen from this."

I continued to encourage Big Nort to go on the show where he would be among the suitors of a former Playboy model who apparently caused a ruckus on the Rock of Love Bus or something. I am really proud to say that I have never once watched Rock of Love or its bus and I'd like it to stay that way. I did, however, love the Saturday Night Live spoof of it.

Last night I was at my parents' house again and at 10:30 at night the doorbell rings and it's Big Nort with his big news. He's flying to LA this weekend for the final casting of "Trophy Wife." He took my advice and he's going to be on the show.

"I'm gonna win it," he says.

We'll see.

Here's the show's My Space page. It looks super classy, just like all VH1 reality shows.


Overwhelmingly, people said that I was not in the wrong, but for some reason I still feel badly and even though many of you said that I was right a lot of you brought up the fact that perhaps the old man was doing this for pride and perhaps the handicapped plate wasn't for him. Maybe it was for his wife or for the sake of being politically correct, his life partner. I honestly hadn't thought of these things and when you brought them up to me, I felt worse.

At the same time, there's something else going on in this story. When it happened I was out of my mind with nerves. I was so terrified of getting those test results back and learning that I had tissue damage from Lupus or that I would never be able to safely have children that I was totally wigging out. Additionally, because of living here and having worked in restaurants here and definitely because of my old job I am very used to old people being mean. I think this puts me on the defensive when I shouldn't be.

Since I have to go to the doctor a lot, I'm around old people a lot. Usually I'm the youngest person in the waiting room and I always get questions like "Are you waiting for someone?" and "Why would someone so young need to be here?" I hate those questions. Then I have to explain and then I hear things like "What did you do to yourself to get that so young?" or the nicer version "Oh my God how tragic in someone your age." But I always ignore it. But it still bothers me.

So, even though a lot of you said I was right, I still feel like I was wrong and I'm going donate to a suitable charity since there is no other way to make amends in this situation. I know some of you will say that throwing money around isn't really an apology, but I felt like since I can't apologize or make up for this personally, that a personal sacrifice that could help someone else was my best option. The charity I'm going to donate to is a group at my grandmother's church that assists seniors who have lost their spouses and seniors who are very poor. My grandfather felt very strongly about this group and I've been donating to them all year since his death. I feel like this is the right thing to do and my grandmother's church isn't some holy rolling, bigoted kind of nonsense. They have a gay pastor and a female pastor and part of their belief is a strong dedication to relief work in their immediate community with no evangelizing. I can get behind that.

Also, someone was actually so offended that they unfollowed this blog because of yesterday's post. Really? I think that was silly because it should have been obvious that I had good intentions and did not cuss the old man or give him the finger back. I actually thought he didn't see the spot and I wanted to make sure he did. And surely I have said a lot worse on here than that I felt badly about an incident with a parking spot. Some people love to be offended. I swear to God.

PS. Someone else asked if I thanked the man and yes, I did. I thanked him profusely, but I'm not sure if he heard me.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Curb Your Cadillac

Ok, enough poetry. I have got to stop getting into fights with old people. I don't mean to, of course. I'm not the fighting type, but I just keep making old people mad.

Living in South Florida means dealing with a lot of old people. Mostly they're rich, old white people from New York who come down here for the winter or who have retired here permanently. We have special communities for them all to gather where no children are allowed and there are senior centers and senior clubs and senior discounts everywhere. South Florida is very friendly to the elderly. Sometimes the elderly are just not very friendly to the rest of us.

A lot of times I know exactly where they're coming from. I know how annoying people can be and after 70 something years of dealing with other human beings I guess you'd get sick of people's crap. But then I think, these old people are lucky, privileged old people who came from a generation that did a lot of mean, wrong things and they liked that world and are pissed that it's not still that way for them.

Everyone down here complains about old people's driving. That's really a bit of a cliche now and I don't really care. That's what passing is for. Old people being rude in public seems to be more my issue.

But the other day, on the way to the doctor's office I had an incident with a little, old man. I'm not sure if I was wrong or if he was wrong or what, but it honestly felt like I was filming a scene from "Curb Your Enthusiasm." So I'm going to tell you what happened and what I did and then you tell me if I was being an idiot. If the majority of people tell me I was wrong I will apologize and make a donation to a charity that helps the elderly. Ok?

I had to go to the doctor last Friday. My doctor's office is in a hospital that has lots of offices and a very small parking lot. The big parking lot is for the Emergency Room and you can't park there if it's not an emergency. Understandable. But, it's really hard to find a space. I drove around for fifteen minutes. I felt like I was at school. Couldn't find a space.

Finally, it's two minutes past my appointment time and I spot a couple who appear to be leaving and begin to creep behind them. Of course they cut in between some cars to get to the next lane, causing me to have to drive all the way around in a circle to get back to them. By the time I get to the space I notice a little old man in a huge white Cadillac has beat me to the space and has his blinker on. Well, that happens. He got there faster. It's fair. But no! The old man has a handicapped license plate!

Oh no, I thought. The poor little old man didn't see the free handicapped spots and now he's going to have to struggle across this parking lot to the door and he might have a heart attack or something. I have to tell him, I thought.

I beeped the horn and rolled down the window. He rolled down his window and gave me the finger. Well, I understand this too because he probably thought I was going to bitch about him taking my spot.

"Sir! Sir!" I called, "There's a free handicapped spot by the door!"

Half into the parking spot the little old man stepped out of his Cadillac and came over to my car.


So, he's hard of hearing.

I repeated myself.

"I KNOW!" yelled the little old man.

"You saw the handicapped spaces free?" I asked.

"Of course I saw them. I'm not blind."

"So why don't you park there?"

"I don't want to park there!"

"Why not?"

Because if you had a handicapped plate why on earth would you not want to take advantage of the good spot by the door that was free?? What is the sense in having the plate??

"My handicapped plate does not mean I have to park in a handicapped space. It means I have a choice!! I can park in the handicapped space if I want to!!"

"But, " I said, "That's not fair, because there are free handicapped spaces and only one regular space."

"It's not my problem," replied the old man.

"That's mean!!"


I took a deep breath.

"I want you to go park in the handicapped space because you can and I can't and because I've been driving around this parking lot for over fifteen minutes now and I can't find a parking space and I'm going to be late for my appointment."

"That's what you want?? FINE! FINE!"

The old man stormed off, got into his Cadillac, backed out and then went and parked in the free handicapped space by the door. I pulled into the spot.

Then I felt terrible. Was I being a jerk? What if the old man got himself all worked up and had a stroke or something and it was all my fault? Yet, I still feel like he should have parked in the handicapped spot. If the parking lot wasn't packed I obviously wouldn't have cared, but it wasn't. There was one regular spot and a couple free handicapped spots.

So was I being an idiot? Was I wrong? Should I have just let it go and waited for another space to open up? Or was I right and should I send this post to Larry David?
Monday, February 16, 2009

Ok, A Poem

Here is a poem I just wrote for my thesis. It's still in its first draft phase, so it's likely to change. I wrote it when I was feeling really sad about my grandfather and then that turned into thinking about everyone who ever died and friends I had who died young.
If you don't like it, don't worry. Poetry won't be a regular feature on here, I swear.

Lanterns Hanging From the Bridge

A man I know nearly drowned at the beach,
but was revived. For years he couldn’t stand
the taste of salt. He told me
the dead are underwater, that every death
is a drowning. There is a light at the surface
and we are all pulling toward it.

He made me think the dead lived beneath the sea,
sleeping in the dark, deep ocean trenches,
that at night they rose – the mist streaming
from hot rocks. I believed they gathered,
inches from the breaking waves,
to reach toward the full moon.

Often I cross the inlet bridge,
where on winter nights the shrimpers
crouch on jetties with dip nets,
flashlights. I imagine hanging
a bright lantern into the water, that the spirits
of everyone I ever lost rush toward it
like brine shrimp hauled forward
on incoming tides; that I am the light
that called them back.


Ok, so I've had all sorts of wildness going on as of late and I'm going to fill you in on where I've been.

Mainly, I've been working on my thesis. It's a collection of poetry designed to drive me completely out of my mind. It's not even very long, but my God, I've spent entire days working and reworking nothing more than a half a page of text. Poetry is maddening like that. The funny thing is that my poetry is so vastly different from what I write on here that you wouldn't even think the same person wrote it, and in a way, it isn't the same me. So, when I'm focused on poetry it's kind of hard for me to get out of that mindset and into the point of view that I get in when I blog. It's hard to explain, but in order for me to write poetry I have to force myself into an almost trance-like state where (I know this sounds nutty) I visualize a hole cut into the back of my head into which something divine then delivers the poems to me. Insane. I know. Poets are crazy. If you would like to read one of my poems let me know in the comments and I'll be brave and post one so that then you all can be like: "Where are the strippers? Where are the smelly dogs and the schizophrenic relatives? She couldn't possibly have written this."

So I've been thesis writing. It's due this week.

But other things have been happening too...

1. My carpal tunnel flared up wickedly for the first time in almost two years. When it does I have to take a break from typing and write by hand. I do special exercises and alternate heat and ice and it generally goes away in a few days. It did. I'm ok now.

2. My health has been an issue for a while and since last summer it had gotten pretty bad. I made some radical lifestyle changes which were really for the better. My continuing pilates classes are really helping. Well, I had to get about ten bazillion blood tests done last week. At one point they removed so much blood from me that it made me ill and I had to eat ice cream (great excuse). I was a complete wreck worrying about how bad the tests were going to come out because I'd been having some odd symptoms and they were testing me for things that could potentially kill me. I was absolutely freaking out. Also, the tests would tell me if I could safely have children and I was really preparing myself for the rheumatologist to tell me bad news. Finally, Friday morning came and the results were good. No active signs of disease or any kind or inflammation and no active Lupus, most importantly. Even my autoimmune thyroid disease is in remission. If I so choose I can safely have children, so now I don't have to worry about accidentally getting pregnant and the guilt I would feel if I did. The strange symptoms I occasionally have are the result of some mild radiation damage and/or accidentally eating gluten. Since I stopped the gluten three months ago the antibody levels in my blood have gone down dramatically. Honestly, I feel like this is a miracle. And you know, now that I think about it, I think I sensed that I was better because my hair stopped falling out, for the first time in a long time my fingernails grew and I got that cold sore. The cold sore signified that my immune system wasn't wildly overactive anymore.

3. My Uncle Garble, the schizophrenic one, has decided that "he has murder in his heart" now and that he wants to kill my mother and Aunt Kiki (his sisters). Luckily this isn't a threat because he lives in Millpond and never leaves his trailer. He just sends them wacky, disturbing letters.

4. Eating like an asshole - let me show you how. I gained five pounds in the past month, even with the pilates. So unfair. I really need to get back on track. I think I was stress eating, which is not ok and I also think that being healthy and actually feeling better again made my appetite come back with a vengeance. So, I need discipline and I need to cut the shit. Maybe we can eat better together.

5. Pilates! Yay! I am pleased to report that while I have still not farted in class that A. someone else did once and I managed not to laugh and B. I almost peed on myself once, but luckily didn't. I can't express to you how much I like pilates. I think the teachers really help. They remind me of my teachers from high school health class. They're a married couple who are frighteningly positive and patient and who give lots of high fives. At least twenty times throughout each class they say to "give yourself a hug because you deserve it!" And I do, because dammit I'm a good person and people like me.

6. I had the best Valentine's Day ever. My husband got me this perfume, and I am in rapture over it and I don't even like perfume very much. I LOVE the way this smells and I love Jo Malone over all. I think her fragrances are really original and different from all the other perfumes you find in department stores. I got Husband some shirts and best of all - I got him a travel neti pot that's small and made of plastic so it's not heavy in a suitcase. Now, when he travels he doesn't have to have a stuffy nose. If only he could refrain from dripping hot sinus water on me afterwards.

7. I happened upon a gold mine. I found my old journals from high school. I will be posting some of the more hilarious entries very soon.

That's it. Later this week we'll also talk about my American Idol obsession and how Big Nort finally got out of jail. Maybe I'll also tell you about how Canela came to be my cat, since I posted her cute picture last week.

I hope you're all happy and well.
Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kitty in a Drawer

I've been really busy trying to get my thesis done. Then I hurt my hand, so I'm giving you this shameless kitty picture instead of a story today. This is my kitty. In my underwear drawer. I believe that she's clearly aware of her own cuteness in the drawer and is doing this on purpose to get Greenies.
Sunday, February 08, 2009

What Happened to My Sister - Part 9????? Seriously??

I can't even believe I'm writing this, but at this point I think I could believe anything.

Apparently, there have been recent developments in the whole Brad saga. If you are new, here is a link to the first part of the long story. The rest of the story is in the October archives. For those of you who remember - well, Brad's at it again.

I am clearly a moron because when I wrote about Brad I tried to write with sympathy. I guess somewhere along the way, maybe Brad had conned me too. He'd conned me into thinking he was just some pathetic guy with some mental problems who'd fallen in love and wanted to impress a girl. WRONG. I shouldn't have given Brad the benefit of the doubt of that one. I thought maybe the incident with my sister was a first time thing with him, but alas, it appears to be part of a much larger, much scarier problem. Brad is a sociopath with no conscience who has a pattern of preying upon women and he needs to be stopped.

My sister has been in contact with one of Brad's latest marks, a girl name Elise who lives a couple towns over from Brad in Rhode Island. Yeah, Brad lives in Warwick, Rhode Island, so if any of you single female readers live there be really careful who you date. This guy is very dangerous.

Elise had been dating Brad for a couple of months. Like my sister, she said she was a bartender and a single mom who was going through a divorce from a well off husband. She also came from a wealthy family and she was probably feeling a little vulnerable when Brad showed up to sweep her off her feet. He told her that he lived down here in South Florida! He said he worked for the city and that his cousin owned a restaurant and he tended bar there for fun. He also had all sorts of investments and was a big shot and at one point he told her he owned a tiki bar on the beach and sent her pictures of it, but the picture turned out to be a picture my sister had taken of him in Mexico on the trip she ended up paying for. He made up all sorts of names of friends and on several occasions told Elise this story about babysitting for a friend's child to help her out because the friend was a single mom too.

So Brad would pretend like he was coming up to Rhode Island to visit Elise, but in reality he was just taking a taxi or getting a ride from a couple towns over, because he wasn't even supposed to be driving because he has no license due to his DUIs. Nice. He would call Elise and tell her he was in Florida, when really he was less than twenty miles away and she believed it. When he was "in town from Florida" he stayed at Elise's place and drove her car and everything. She even gave him her keys. After Elise read my account of the story on here, when my sister gave her the link, Elise called my sister in horror.

"He shit all over my couch!!" she said.

I guess Brad has some kind of strange disturbed habit of shitting on his prey's property? I can't even begin to analyze that one. There are levels of psychosis that my brain can't even comprehend.

While Brad visited Elise, he would take her to all sorts of great places to eat. The thing was, he wasn't paying. He was either using stolen credit cards or just plain skipping out on the bills. Elise found this out when she went alone to a restaurant they had visited. She was turned away because the credit card Brad used to pay for their dinner was stolen and their meal charged back to the restaurant, flagged as stolen. Elise was horrified, but she already had a weird gut feeling about Brad and started checking into things.

One thing that hadn't sat well with Elise was that Brad kept trying to get personal information about her. One night he offered to set up online banking and direct deposit for her and asked her for all of her information. Luckily she didn't give it to him.

One night Elise says that Brad called her by another woman's name and she blew up. According to Elise, she confronted and questioned Brad about everything he claimed. He got violent with her and pushed her at which point she kicked him out and ended things. Then a few days later she felt bad and told him they could still be friends if he ever came to town.

Around this time is when she and my sister started talking and comparing stories. My sister confirmed all of Elise's suspicions, which really scared Elise because Brad still had her keys and wouldn't return them. My sister urged Elise to call Brad's mother and gave her the number.

Elise told Brad's mother that she had talked to my sister and when she explained to Brad's mom that Brad had been lying to her, Brad's mother burst into tears. She promised Elise that she would get the keys and send them.

The keys never showed up. Now why in the hell Elise didn't just change her locks I don't know. Elise, sweetie, if you're reading this, CHANGE YOUR LOCKS. I did. My sister even moved so this guy couldn't find her. He is that scary, ok?

Elise called back and Brad's mom was very short with her.

Then, Elise went to more and more local restaurants that had flagged her for skipping out. She called Brad's mother again and said that Brad had to go pay these tabs because he had ruined her reputation and humiliated her. In one restaurant an employee knew of Brad and told Elise more information about him. The employee knew a girl who had also gotten sucked in by Brad's stories and cons. He had been abusive and manipulative and had gotten the girl pregnant. We assumed she hadn't kept the baby.

For some reason Elise had a weird suspicion that Brad had a kid so she asked his mother who confirmed it. Brad has a three year old son. We don't know if this is the same child. It could be that the other girl had an abortion and this is a different girl, or it could be the same girl. No one knows.

This means that Brad had a 1 1/2 to 2 year old baby when he was working on my sister. This fucker reproduced. I feel infinitely sorry for this child.

We don't know what Brad is doing, but his mother promised Elise that she would send her a check to cover all the restaurant tabs. As of the last time my sister talked to her, Elise hadn't received a cent. You may recall that Brad's parents, who get the enabler award of the century, paid off my sister. I wonder how many times they've done it before and how many more times they'll bail him out of trouble. It makes me ill and I don't understand how Brad doesn't have warrants out for his arrest. Maybe he does. I hope he ends up in jail where he belongs. Elise, by the way, believes that he strings along several women at once.

Someone needs to call Dateline. I'm not kidding.
Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Pull of the Freak Magnet Catches Michael Bolton

I'm so ashamed of myself. I don't know how I could have forgotten this. Let's blame the fact that I'm working so diligently on my thesis, because if I weren't my mind would be functioning and I wouldn't have totally overlooked one of the best parts of Jade's story (scroll down). No, for real. When you hear this you're going to be all like: "How could you have possibly forgotten that Wide Lawns?"

Right after Rocco Boccaforte dumped Jade and right before Jade roped in her current husband, the sixty-something year old billion-heir, Jade dated Michael Bolton. This Michael Bolton (go on you know you want to look at his picture).

Not only did Jade date Michael Bolton, she brought him over to my parents' house for Sunday dinner where we fed him Italian food and my sister got him drunk. I kid you not. I have hung out with the man who sang that song "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" that your mom loves. My mom does anyway.

I didn't know that the night before Jade had picked up Michael Bolton at a local club. He was in town for a golf weekend of some sort. I just knew that I was standing in my parents' living room when some blond guy with a bad sunburn walked in with Jade and an enormous black man who appeared to be a body guard (because of course you need a body guard when going to my parents' house because my family will attack). He came right up and introduced himself to me as "Mike" and I was all like "Nice to meet you blond guy with bad sunburn."

I went back to cooking dinner but then I noticed that there was a major commotion going on outside on the patio and a minute later my mother came flying inside in a fluster.

"OH MY GOD. DID YOU SEE HIM????" she gasped.

"Who?" I asked, as I cut radishes.

"HOLY SHIT IT'S MICHAEL BOLTON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

"Oh yeah?" I said nonchalantly.


My mother was completely losing her shit because Michael Bolton was in her house and was going to stay for manicotti.

Now, just so you know, I am way too cool to ever like Michael Bolton. For the record. I do not like Michael Bolton's music, ok? And don't ever let it get around that I do, but I have to admit that inside I was a little bit "Holy Crap it's Michael Bolton" too, except that my version of the "Holy Crap" was based on Michael Bolton's status as an ironic, pop culture reference in one of my favorite movies of all time, "Office Space."

So because I am far too cool to ever like Michael Bolton, I pretended as if I didn't care a whit that he was joining us for dinner. Except I really did.

Jade had definitely scored, I thought. Michael Bolton is a good looking older man and yes, I know he's cheezy, especially compared to other famous people, but when you compare famous people to regular people, Michael Bolton comes out as pretty damned hot. He was a hell of a lot hotter, nicer and more interesting than a morbidly obese, loud-mouthed, crude, wanna-be mobster. And Michael Bolton was really into her. This was right before his reunion with Nicolette Sheridan, by the way. I thought this was fantastic and what a way to show up someone who dumped you, right? How cool would it be to call up someone who broke your heart and get to say that you didn't like them anyway because now you were dating someone FAMOUS? I would have loved to have done that and Jade could have, but she didn't.

Michael Bolton must have thought we were a bunch of jackasses because everyone was fawning over him. My sister made him martinis and my mom stuffed him with food. My sister's then boyfriend took a picture with him and sent it to his mom who was a big fan and then Michael Bolton actually got on the phone and talked to my sister's then boyfriend's mom. He was really nice like that.

Of course I was the idiot of the evening because whenever I am within hearing distance of a famous person I am always guaranteed to make an ass of myself. I just can't help it.

"Michael Bolton," I said, "I just need to ask you one thing."

"Sure," said Michael Bolton.

"Have you ever seen Office Space?"

Michael Bolton chuckled and turned away.

We could interpret the chuckle in two ways. Either he had seen it and was not amused and was sick of people asking him about it OR he had no idea what the hell I was talking about and didn't want to press it any further. I'm guessing it was the first option.

But really, Michael Bolton couldn't have been nicer. Or redder. Boy did Michael Bolton have a wicked sunburn. Did he not understand that blonds need to wear their sunscreen as thick as cream cheese on a bagel down here?

Jade had a brief fling with Michael Bolton, in which time she did it with Michael Bolton. Though I couldn't get her to kiss and tell I did manage to coax out of her that Michael Bolton was at least a good lay. This really gave Jade a lot of extra points in my book because I am obsessed with stories about regular people doing it with celebrities.

But then, Jade decided she wasn't interested in Michael Bolton. Just like that. He called her and called her. He even called her from a show in Romania. I am fully convinced that Jade could have married Michael Bolton, but nope. She wasn't interested. By then she'd started hooking up with her billion-heir.

Not two weeks after Jade decided she didn't want to be Michael Bolton's girlfriend I read in the tabloids that he was back with Nicolette. I've often wondered if Jade broke his heart and drove him back to the Desperate Housewife, but I guess we'll never know.

Hey, have any of you ever slept with a famous person? If you have, you have to tell me about it.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Merle and the Fetus Christmas Letter - Part 2

I apologize for the delay, but on a positive note, I got done a lot of the stuff I needed to get done and I wrote a whole entire poem this morning, so that means I can blog again and finish telling you about Merle.

In our last installment, Merle, my Jesus Freak Calvinist across the street neighbor was looking for a wife. The problem was that potential wives were few and far between. Merle insisted on a perfectly "godly" woman, whatever that meant to him. He couldn't find one that suited him. The potential wife needed to be a virgin, have never worked and needed to still be under the care of her parents. She couldn't have been all out in the real world getting contaminated by things like jobs and rap music. He wanted someone essentially dumb and innocent I think. She had to go to church pretty much constantly, be active in church related service, able to cook and bear children and willing to have as many children "as the Lord willed" which translates into she must be willing to be a Christian brood mare who refuses all forms of birth control, even that rhythm method those heathen Catholics use.

Merle always went on and on and on about purity and how important it was that he find a pure woman. He hoped for someone who'd been homeschooled because that would add to her purity. Basically it sounded to me like what Merle wanted was a girl who had been locked away from everything until her wedding day when Merle could take her as his own property and continue to keep her locked away. Then they could have a bunch of kids and shelter them from reality too. I don't really see the sense in all this. I think I even recall Jesus saying something about people not really being all that pure if they've just been cloistered and never tested, but what the hell do I know. I was just living across the street having premarital sex, watching HBO and listening to the mainstream radio, the flames of Hell already licking at my toes.

His own mother thought Merle was crazy. I loved Merle's mom, so a story about Merle just wouldn't be complete without including Leona. Leona was a constant source of embarassment and shame to her son. You see, while a lot of the boys in the Christian boarding house had been brainwashed by their parents and grandparents into being religious fanatics and it wasn't really their fault, Merle had chosen his beliefs on his own. His family (gasp) was totally secular and not in the least bit religious. Leona was a little tiny thing with long, dyed black vampire hair. She always wore loud, red and black outfits with gigantic, 70s style sunglasses. She was brash and opinionated, but in a fun way and she was an outspoken feminist who thought her son treated women like a caveman. They fought constantly. I adored this woman. She liked to get on Merle's nerves by dancing in public places to whatever music was playing. Merle was like those people in "Footloose." Dancing was bad.

So yeah. Add to the list that Merle's future wife couldn't have ever danced.

With all these requirements I didn't think Merle could ever find a girl who would fit his specifications. He told me that the Lord would provide.

Well, the Lord did. Somebody from church knew somebody who had a daughter. She was twenty and had been holed up in a well known Christian college in the Deep South for the past two years, but not to worry, she was chaperoned constantly when in the presence of men and had signed a virgin contract with her dad years before. She even wore a special ring.

It troubled Merle that Merrilee went to college. Why would a truly godly woman go to school? Why would a woman of the Lord, who knew her place was really in the home, bother to get a useless education, even if it was at a Christian school? The reason was that when she finished high school (at a super private church school that had about six students in the graduating class and was not, thank God, accredited) the Christian college offered her a scholarship. Having no prospects for marriage at home, her parents advised her that at school she would have better luck finding a good husband and that learning about The Bible locked in this compound of a college would be a good way to bide her time until Mr. Right came along. So she went and studied art and Jesus and the art of Jesus.

Merle could live with that. Studying art was ok because then as a housewife Merrilee could draw and paint or do crafts to occupy her time. He thought it was an acceptable discipline. I've often wondered what studying art at a Christian college entails. I think it's probably akin to studying art in Iran. They probably blackout the body parts in pictures of famous works of art in textbooks. The drawing classes are probably all gender segregated and they probably just sketch pictures of other women in long, high collared dresses. Later I saw some of Merrilee's drawings. While technically good, they were copies of photographs of things like white tigers, Persian kittens, unicorns and sad looking African children with flies on their faces.

Merle arranged his courtship with Merrilee's father. Then he informed her, by letter, that they were now courting. He sent her a picture and several more letters. He even sent her a care package of items from his life so she'd get to know him. This was all very medieval to me. Any normal woman, I thought, would get a letter from a strange man telling her that she was now his girlfriend and go straight to the police. The fact that Merrilee was delighted about this confirmed the fact that she was probably Merle's soul mate. I never did understand these people.

When Merrilee sent Merle her picture I finally realized what had attracted Merle to religion in the first place. Merrilee was very pretty. In the non-Jesus world Merle would never in ten bazillion years ever have a chance with a girl who looked like Merrilee. Never. Even if he was the last man on earth after a nuclear holocaust and she was the last woman, would a girl like this ever have sex with Merle outside of a severely religious community. Religion therefore, gave Merle the possibility of actually getting laid, whereas in normal reality this never would have happened. It's ironic isn't it?

Merrilee was a dead ringer for Hilary Swank. So picture Hilary Swank madly in love with Kip from "Napoleon Dynamite" and you will have the perfect image of this couple, who were now a couple in spite of the fact that they had never met.

After three letters Merle was shopping for the engagement ring. She sent him drawings and photographs and wrote him long letters about God. He did the same. Whenever he would write a letter he'd bring it over for me to look at first. I schooled him on how to be romantic. It was a little like Cyrano except that I wasn't in love with Merrilee.

Merrilee came home for a holiday break and she and Merle finally met. I feared what would become of this meeting. I thought maybe she'd get a load of what Merle looked like and run screaming back to the Christian college. Miraculously, she didn't. I know, I couldn't believe it. God is truly an awesome God, y'all. No wonder Merle loved Him so much. For a week Merle and Merrilee went on chaperoned dates with her parents. They were never, ever alone and they were never allowed to touch. By the end of the week they agreed they definitely wanted to get married.

The problem was Merrilee was trapped at school and had some kind of contract with the school where she couldn't leave because she had to work off her scholarship. It was some complicated arrangment that I never understood. Add to that that dating was prohibited and the school is surrounded by high walls, gates and armed guards so the outside world can't get in, and Merrilee felt like she was serving a jail sentence.

Merle began to take out his wrath on the Christian College. They were Baptists afterall and didn't follow the doctrine of predestination, which Merrilee did. Why she went to a school that didn't preach her exact beliefs I have no idea. These people are weird. Anyway, you've probably heard about this school and its notorious security. It's a big deal in the Evangelical world from what I'm told and parents send their kids there specifically because of the strict rules and constant supervision. From the way I've heard the place described it sounds like 1984. That means that by even exchanging letters with Merle, Merrilee was breaking school rules big time. I don't know how she got away with it. I guess she was a rebel. Merle hated the school and wanted to get her out of it.

Finally he decided, after taking me to go pick out her engagement ring, which had rubies because of the line in Proverbs about a good woman being more precious than rubies, that he needed to break Merrilee out of the school, rush her back to Atlanta and marry her. I admit that this was all very exciting to me and also quite scandalous. Merrilee's father had given Merle permission to drive his daughter back home without a chaperone. Can you even imagine?

I'm not exactly clear on the details of how it all worked out, but I think Merrilee got permission from the school to go on an outing in town with some minders and other girls. I think Merle essentially pulled up and Merrilee jumped in, to the horror of her handlers and classmates. I think Merrilee's parents talked the school into forgiving Merrilee's debt and to send back her belongings. All of it was a bit of a blur to me.

In any case they were engaged and married very quickly which meant that Merle had to move out of his boarding house. He rented a duplex a couple streets over while they looked for a larger house in the neighborhood to buy. In the meantime I befriended Merrilee and taught her how to cook, since she didn't know a lot about that. I showed her how to be a housewife and from time to time she and I would go to Chick-fil-a and get biscuits for breakfast. She was dumb as a stone, but perhaps the nicest girl I've ever met. I genuinely liked her, although she got on my nerves a lot with the whole submitting to her husband nonsense. She couldn't help it.

Merle and Merrilee seemed like really happy newlyweds. Merle bossed her around something awful, but Merrilee didn't know the difference. Pretty soon they found a house in the neighborhood and painted it very bright, primary colors. I never understood why they wanted a red, yellow and blue bungalow, but the neighborhood was funky like that anyway so it fit. They also acquired several cats and if you didn't know they were Jesus freaks you'd have sworn the house was inhabited by a pack of hippies. They were happy and pretty soon they were pregnant.

They have been pregnant every year since. I don't think Merrilee has had a year off from pregnancy since. I wonder how many kids they'll end up with. I almost think they'll be like those people who have seventeen kids whose names all start with J. They'll have to get a bus to go anywhere.

Mr. and Mrs. Merle have five children so far, all pretty close in age. The oldest is seven and the youngest was just born. It wouldn't surprise me if they're already pregnant again. All of the kids are homeschooled and apparently headed for Jesus Camp, as the creepy Christmas letter informs of their deep and abiding love for the unborn.

The lines that really got me were these:

"Never has a child shown so much love for fetuses. His passion for unborn babies inspires his daily artwork. Never has a six year old boy loved embryos as much as X. ... X could look at pictures of fetuses and embryos all day long."

And of course the child had decorated the Christmas letter with drawings (that were actually really good, but still) of the ten stages of fetal development. I guarantee you the kids all go around with big pieces of tape across the mouths too (anyone see "Jesus Camp"?)

I'm creeped out still. Is it really healthy for kids to be that obsessed with "the unborn?" When I was six I was really into Snow White. I'm just saying.
Monday, February 02, 2009
I just wanted to let you know that I am really busy until Wednesday. I have thirty pages of a novel due tonight and my thesis was supposed to be due this week as well. I was going to work on everything this past weekend but my cousin came to visit unexpectedly and I hadn't seen her since the summer.

I promise you that the second I finish my work that I will finish telling you all about Merle's romance. I haven't forgotten you and I thank you all so much for your patience. Also, Happy Groundhog Day. Here in Florida he did not see his shadow.

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