Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Kitchen Therapy - I Finally Get a Job

I believe the Universe rewarded Cat and me for refusing to work for someone like Big Jim or the scary woman in the small, brick house, because not a week later we both got jobs. I have tried and tried to remember what Cat's job was. I can't remember with any certainty, but I think she may have worked in a skate shop or a bike shop possibly. I could be wrong, but it really doesn't matter. She got a job. I got a job.

Throughout all of this destitution and agony over finding a job, I also had a sort of boyfriend and a sort of break up. I don't write about him because we're still friends now, so I'm going to leave him out of this story as much as possible. He and I were having serious eighteen year old relationship drama at the time. I was essentially on my own, however, one weekend his parents came up to visit and his mom had a friend who lived in Atlanta. Though we were not really very together at the time, for some reason and I can't remember why, he took me with his parents to go see his mom's friend. She worked in a big, fancy hotel in the catering department, but had an administrative position. As I devoured her cheese and cracker plate, between mouthfuls, I told her how I wanted to cook and she promised to get me an entry-level position in the hotel's kitchen. This was on a Sunday.

The next day, that Monday morning, someone from the hotel's HR department called me for an interview. I took the bus to the hotel, had a brief interview in which I managed not to say anything idiotic, then filled out volumes of paperwork. The day after that they called to tell me I was hired and needed to go for a drug test and if I passed that I could come in for new hire orientation the next week and then start work. I would be making an entire $6.50 an hour. Six dollars and fifty entire cents an hour. I was going to be rich. Crazy rich. I got out a calculator and started determining how much my future paychecks would be and what I would buy with them.

Naturally, I passed my drug test, but not without much stress and anxiety over it. I believed that because my roommates smoked so much pot that it had somehow soaked into my skin and contaminated my hair and blood sort of like a contact high. I decided that if I drank a lot of water before the test that it would dilute any possible roommate, contact, drug exposure.

Then I had to go for an all day, eight hour, agonizing, worse than school, new hire orientation. It was torture. We had to do role playing exercises about sexual harassment. Then we had to fill out even more paperwork and then we had to learn about all the opulent, beautiful public places in the hotel where we were not allowed to be seen by guests. And then, because the hotel had a large number of Japanese business men as guests, we had to learn several Japanese customs and words in case we should ever encounter any of them. This made no sense to me because they had just finished telling us about how guests shouldn't see us. I think after that they gave us some sandwiches and then we filled out more paperwork. Finally, it ended and I was fitted for my uniform. I would start work the following Tuesday.

And then they showed me my schedule and I almost wished I had taken the job strutting across Big Jim's mirrored stage to Travis Tritt. I had to be at work at 7am. I worked 7 to 3. 7am in the morning!!! That was pretty close to when I usually rolled into bed and now I had to be at work. That meant I had to be up way earlier than that because I had to catch the bus and then the train and then another bus to get to the hotel. After that I had to get my uniform and go to the employee locker room to get dressed. Then I had to clock in and out before 7am with a little credit card thing they had given me. This was going to suck, I thought, but at least they were paying me $6.50 an hour to do it.

I ended up having to get up at 5:30 to catch the 5:45 bus up to the train station. The train ride was pleasant and not crowded at that hour and the bus at the other end was always on time. At least I never had to worry about clothes because my uniforms were ready for me at work each morning. At the end of my shift I just had to turn in my dirty clothes, they'd wash and press them for me and I'd pick them up the next day. That part was really easy and I liked my chef's outfit. It made me feel important. I liked my mandarin collar and my checkered pants. Since I already wore a sturdy and broken in pair of Doc Martens, I had the perfect kitchen footwear.

The hat was an issue though. The hat.

Everyone who worked in the kitchen was required to wear a ridiculous looking paper hat. The hat looked like a tall souffle dish. It was the stupidest looking and most impractical thing I had ever seen. The hats were all too big for my small head, so they would constantly slide down over my ears and into my eyes. I hated the hats. I knew I looked like an idiot wearing them. It was so bad that the Executive Chef, an old, towering Austrian man, sort of giggled when he saw me in the hat. He took my hat into his office and stapled it to make it smaller, but it was still stupid. On my first day, as I fumbled and stumbled through the kitchen trying to learn where and what everything was, I kept running into things that knocked the hat off my head. I had a hard time navigating the extra foot in height that it gave me.

I would be working at first as a prep cook in the hotel's restaurant/ room service kitchen and I would be the only girl. I was, by far, the youngest employee with the least amount of experience. My first day was spent trying to remember the names of herbs and equipment. It was like being in a foreign country where you don't speak the language.

The first word I learned was gazpacho.

The hotel's Sous Chef was in charge of the restaurant/ room service kitchen where I worked. His name was Dave and he was really nice and understanding of my overwhelming ignorance. This man's patience with me was an extraordinary act of divine grace.

"No, not chevre. This is chervil," he would say.

The first thing he taught me to make was gazpacho.

"There''s no cooking involved. It's just a lot of blending," he said.

Together we made five gallons of gazpacho and he even let me try it! I didn't think I would like something that was essentially, to me, pureed salsa, but wow. It was so much more than pureed salsa. Chef Dave even let me eat an entire bowl of it for lunch and it was then that I realized, maybe this was the job for me. There was free food. There was even a huge tray of bacon which sat under a heat lamp and whenever I wanted, Dave told me I could sneak a piece if I was hungry. I worked at a place where I could have free bacon. God loved me. We even had an employee cafeteria that had a constant stock of baked potatoes, so if I wanted a break, I could just go and have free baked potatoes whenever I wanted and I could put whatever I wanted on them. I had two on my first day, along with the bacon and gazpacho.

After Chef Dave and I finished the gazpacho and I wrote down the recipe so that I could make it on my own, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. I had made five gallons of cold tomato soup. I covered the container with plastic wrap and stood on a step stool to store it on the top shelf of the walk-in. I was already throwing around kitchen-y sounding words like walk-in.

The next thing Chef Dave wanted me to do was to pit a can of kalamata olives. But this was a tremendous can that contained at least 5,385 tiny, salty, oily, nasty purpley looking olives.

"Go into the walk-in, get the can from where it's chilling on the shelf, bring it out here and I'll show you how to pit these olives," Chef Dave said.

The walk-in was unpleasantly cold. I wondered why the olives needed to be in there in the first place. They were on the second shelf down from the top, so I had to get out the stool again and of course the gigantic can of olives was pushed all the way back almost to the wall and of course there were seventy five other things in front of them, which necessitated my having to rearrange and pull and haul and put in a ridiculous effort to get this stupid can of stupid olives off the stupid shelf. It hadn't been easy for me to lift the five gallons of gazpacho to the top shelf. It had required a small and generous act of God for me to get the gazpacho up there and somewhere in my frustration, I had decided to just half ass it and not really center the gazpacho on the top shelf or to make sure that it was steady. The jostling and shoving that I committed trying to get the olives off of the lower shelf had added to the already precarious instability of the gazpacho above me, so when I finally gave the last heave to the can of olives, I set the entire shelf a-wobble, setting off one of the largest workplace catastrophes in history.

The entire five gallon container of not-very-well-plastic-wrapped gazpacho tipped over, unleashing a deluge of spicy, cold tomato soup directly on top of my head and everything else in the walk-in. I was completely covered. It was like a vegan version of the famous scene in "Carrie" when they pour the pig blood on her. No part of my body was free of gazpacho. My entire, crisply laundered chef's uniform was red-orange. Soup soaked under the tongue and laces of my boots and squelched between my toes. The walk-in looked like a tomato terrorist had detonated a vegetable bomb.

There just isn't a word to describe how mortified I was. I knew I was getting fired, but I couldn't hide in the walk-in forever. I had to go out and face my fate and tell Chef Dave what had happened.

He looked at me and covered his mouth with his hand. He was quiet for a moment. I was crying, but you couldn't tell because the tears were obscured by soup. Chef Dave blinked a few times and continued to stand there. The other chefs came to see what had happened and all of them burst out laughing. The dishwashers rushed to me with towels for my face and hands, but that did little.

Chef Dave didn't fire me, but he made me shower and change into a fresh outfit. Then I had to clean the walk-in, which was cold and miserable. I had to take every single thing out, wipe down every surface, mop and scrub. It took hours. Three 'o' clock came and went and I was nowhere near going home. Once I had it spotless I thought I could go home, but Chef Dave informed me that he still needed the olives pitted and that I would have to make a new vat of gazpacho. I made it home after eight pm. On my first day I had worked thirteen hours and had eaten probably an equal number of bacon slices.

And I had to be there to do it all over again at 7 the next morning.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cat's Happy Ending

I realized I should let you know what happened to Cat. The last time I talked to her was about five years or so ago. I looked her up, found an email address and wrote. I was so happy to hear from her. She wrote me back almost immediately. Some time after the whole strip club incident Cat got a job, but I can't remember what it was. I have wracked my brain and can't remember. A few months later we got into a tiff over a boy and she ended up leaving Atlanta. A couple years later she was back in town for a visit, hunted me down and came to see me at work. I saw her one other time after that when she was in town again. We lost touch. So I was thrilled when she wrote me back. I didn't know what to expect. You'll all be thrilled to know that Cat ended up just fine. More than fine.

I don't want to give out too many details, but Cat lives in the Pacific Northwest. She is married and a mommy. She went to school and became a midwife. In addition to that she's a yoga teacher. She lives a peaceful, balanced and creative life and she brings babies into the world. There is no happier ending.

I haven't spoken to her since. She was hugely pregnant when last we wrote and I know after the baby arrived she got extra-busy. Her email address no longer works. I can't find a new one and she isn't on Facebook, so let's just take a moment and send Cat some collective good energy, wherever she is, for doing so well for herself. She deserves it.
Sunday, September 20, 2009

Kitchen Therapy - The End of the Detour

* Sorry I'm taking so long. My dad came in town this week, I took on another class at the last minute and I was celebrating the Jewish holidays. Happy New Year everyone!*

Cat and I stood outside in the rain for a few seconds to get our bearings. To me, the whole scene inside the little brick house was something out of a horror movie. I trembled with relief that we had made it out alive and that the women in there, plus the small Asian man, hadn't ripped us apart and eaten our limbs raw.

"Let's cross the street and catch the bus back home," I said.

"Are you kidding me? Are you being uptight again? Jeez!" Cat huffed.

"What? We could have been murdered in there!!"

"No we could not have. Please. You're being dramatic."

"I am not!" I said, "And you were just as scared as I was!"

"Please. Those idiots don't scare me at all. I walked out because that bitch steals all the money. I'm not giving someone seventy percent of what I make and I'm not cleaning up after a bunch of weirdos jerking off. But that doesn't mean I was scared."

"OK, so what do you propose then?"

"We're going to the Buck Wild. It's just a couple bus stops down. If it wasn't raining we could walk, but I don't want my hair to get any wetter than it is. It's knotting up."

She fluffed her burgundy dreads.

"You mean you still want to strip?"

"Of course."

We caught the next bus, rode it a few stops down and jumped off in front of the Buck Wild's parking lot. The strip club was housed in a large building that looked like it once may have been a warehouse. It had a huge sign with flashing yellow lights exploding off in every direction and a big, neon cowgirl with a spinning lasso of hot pink glowing gas. The Buck Wild was a Country Western themed topless dancing establishment and not exactly one of the classiest places around.

"Ugghh, Why here?" I asked, "This place is white trash. We could at least try the Glitter Club. It always has limos parked outside."

"I can't go there dumb ass. It's too fancy. They only hire super models and plus, I have to tell you something - I'm underage and I heard through the grapevine that this place won't check IDs too thoroughly."

"You're eighteen!"

"Well, actually I'm, umm, seventeen. I'll be eighteen in October, which is close I know, yeah, but I need money now and I can't wait 'til my birthday, so just shut up, ok?"

Inside, the place was so dark I couldn't see at first. The mirrors, lights and roaring Southern Rock disoriented me and I was freezing from the air conditioning hitting my wet skin. I gathered my raincoat more closely to me.

Cat found a manager. He was a short, skinny man with a belt buckle the size of a dish of grits. His long hair parted in the middle and feathered out to the sides. He led us up three stairs, past a brass railing and unclipped a velvet rope that was so matted with dust that it wasn't even maroon anymore. It was grey. The long-haired man led us through some dark curtains and into a small, oval room with a kidney shaped loveseat and a brass coffee table with a spotty glass top. My mother would have had a fit if she saw that table top. One of the things we had fought over at home was drink rings and splotches on the glass tables. I hated how she always nagged and followed me from room to room with windex and paper towels, constantly bitching at me to wipe up. She should have seen all the rings on this table, I thought.

"This is our champagne room," the man said.

I went to sit down on the loveseat.

"Hey!" he said, "There's no sitting down on the job, not unless you've got a customer paying for every second of your time. That ain't how it works around here. My girls hustle. You dance at the Buck Wild you better be able to sell lap dances."

"Oh, sorry, So, why are we are in here?" I asked meekly.

"I ain't hiring either one of you without a private dance. I need to see if you can work it. See what your asses and tits look like 'fore I make my decision. You got to audition for Big Jim 'fore you can go Buck Wild."

I caught myself before I blurted out that he certainly didn't look very big to me.

"Big" Jim sat down on the loveseat with his arms crossed in front of him and his legs spread wide open, though I didn't know how he could manage not to rip his jeans, they were so tight.

Cat and I looked at each other bewildered.

"What do we do?" Cat asked.

"Number one thing is take them coats off. Show Big Jim whatcha got."

We slid our coats off and tossed them onto the couch. Big Jim looked us up and down, stood up and spun us around. He poked and pinched at each of us, surveying every curve and edge of our bodies, trying to gauge what we were worth. He smiled and snickered, told us what we already knew. I was too skinny and Cat was too fat. He liked Cat's tattoo and at the same time liked that I had none.

"You two is two opposite types and that's good 'cause we got to keep all kindsa looks. Me, I like the blondes with the big busts and I like a skinny black bitch with a high ass ever once in a while, but you know, ever man's got he's own look he likes that he'll pay for."

Cat and I were quiet.

"You," Big Jim went on, pointing to me, "You got that innocent look. You shave your pussy, you'll make a God damned fortune 'cause you got the body of a twelve year old. You need to wear a school girl outfit, suck a lollipop. They'll go crazy. Don't wear a mess of makeup either. You want to look like a little girl. They pay big time for that shit. I ain't never understood it myself, but a lotta men go crazy for it."

"How about me?" Cat asked.

"We get a big biker crowd. They'll love you even if you got the body of a 35 year old. Don't make no difference to them."

Big Jim clapped his hands and plunked back down on the couch.

"DJs about to play a new song. Now I gotta see each of you dance to a whole song. Show me how you do a lapdance. A whole song."

I had no idea what a lapdance even was. I had never been in a strip club before. I was barely eighteen myself and certainly hadn't had an opportunity to frequent anywhere where people danced naked for money.

"Do you know what it is?" I whispered in Cat's ear.


"So you go first," I said.

When the next song started Cat hesitated. She stood in front of Big Jim for several seconds, staring blankly at him before something jarred her suddenly into motion as if she were some kind of electronic toy and someone had flipped her switch to perform. There she was, dreads whipping around to some stupid country song neither of us had ever heard before. As she danced, she kept her eyes closed. This is what I remember the most. Cat danced with her eyes closed. I remember that and that it was the longest song I have ever had to stand through. And that as I learned what a lapdance was, I also learned who Cat was - not the tough, bitchy, critical, supposed free spirit with her crotch pierced and not the reincarnation of Janis at all. All of that pretense disappeared as she grinded over Big Jim, eyes screwed shut to blind herself from what she was doing. That bad ass bravado was gone and in its place there was a seventeen year old fat girl without a dad, who had been forced to raise her little sisters and who wanted something more exciting, more romantic, more adventurous than life in some cold, industrial shit hole town in upstate New York. The girl dancing in front of me wanted someone to think she was pretty and she wanted to take care of her for once.

By the time I was eighteen, I had seen a lot of sad things. I had seen more sad, sorry sights by that age than most kids have and I never got desensitized to them, but the sight of Cat, the underaged, homeless runaway who wrote the lines to beat poems on her army bag, shaking her ass in the face of Big Jim, the manager of the Buck Wild, was one of the saddest things I had ever seen.

I grabbed her by the hair, almost by the scruff of her neck, just as the song ended.

"Cat, STOP."

I threw my own coat on, covering my ridiculous lingerie and wrapped her own jacket around her like a blanket. She was confused at first and then looked at me, her green eyes enormous with surprise.

"The song ain't over!" Big Jim protested.

"We're leaving!" I said.

"We are?" Cat asked.

"Yes, now come on!"

I hauled Cat out by the arm, but she never resisted. She just followed.

I didn't say anything until we got to the bus stop.

"I'm not letting you do that. That man was disgusting and that place will kill your spirit and I'm going to tell you right now that I will never do that. I will never sell my ass for money. I mean it. I will scrub toilets or work at Burger King, but I will never ever strip."

Cat was looking down the road off in the opposite direction. She shrugged.

We didn't speak until we got home.

"I'm just hungry," Cat sighd.

"I'll make grilled cheeses. Grilled cheeses are really, really good."

As we crunched through the buttery crust we let ourselves laugh a little about why he was called "Big Jim" but then it felt too soon and too gross and wasn't really funny.

"I need a bath," Cat said, "Come sit with me."

"No," I said, "I'm going to stay out here and read Maria's vegan cookbook and think."

I flipped through the pages of lentil burger recipes and millet casseroles to forget about the things I'd seen that day. I skimmed the foreign ingredients. Tumeric. Coriander. I wondered what these things were. Seitan? I didn't know what any of it was, but again, it was food and even the thought of dishes I had never heard of inspired and comforted me. I had about forty dollars left and it wouldn't last much longer, especially if I had to share with Cat. We'd be hungry again in a week or two.

And I still didn't have a job.

More to come...
Friday, September 11, 2009

Kitchen Therapy -Part 3 A Detour of Sorts

***** I have been wanting to write this story for a very long time. Honestly, this section could probably stand on its own as its own story and it's probably not all that necessary to the Kitchen Therapy story, except chronologically. I could probably skip it entirely without changing my story of learning to cook in the hotel or I could relegate it to a few sentences - Cat and I went to audition in a strip club because we were desperate for cash. I could do that. But this moment was so huge for me, so life defining. I remember every single detail of it, the trauma of it, so vividly. For years I've thought about writing about this one day, or part of a day really, but have found myself unable to. I once tried to make a poem out of it, but that didn't work either. So I'm going to slow the story down a bit, which will make it go on longer and have more parts and some people will hate that, but I also hope that some people will love that too and that you'll stick around and come along for the ride because I need to write about this. Come on, get on the bus. It's the summer of 1992 and MARTA fare is just a dollar.*********

Dog met some drum circle pagans in Little Five Points and moved in with them. She got a job, but I don't remember what it was. She spent her free time braless or naked all together, having sex with the drummers, male and female.

Cat was different though. She stayed with us and didn't get a job. She had sex with no one although she did one night end up at the home of my roommate's Jamaican weed dealer and there was a girl there who did piercings. For free, in front of everyone, she jammed a needle through a part of Cat's nether regions and then with pliers inserted a small, silver hoop.

"I passed out," Cat would recount.

Then she'd pull down her jeans and show everyone her new jewelry. This fascinated me. No one I knew would ever so readily display themselves. I was so modest that neither of my two boyfriends to date had ever seen me completely naked in the light. But here was this girl who would just expose herself for anyone.

I learned that Cat, with her loud raspy voice, was from Buffalo. She had little sisters, a mom and no dad. Had just graduated high school. Was an A student. With her stained red dreads, full figure and freckles, she imagined herself the reincarnation of Janis Joplin, carried a copied cassette of her songs in her frayed army bag, which she had written all over in black Sharpie. Lines from songs and poems. A few symbols. An Eldridge Cleaver quote.

"God, you're uptight," she'd tell me.

She dragged me around by my arm, from room to room in our apartment, outside to the park, down the street, throught the aisles of Winn Dixie. We had an old clawfoot tub in our apartment, with no shower, though we tried unsuccessfully to attach a rubber hose with a shower head to the faucet so that we could at least rinse our hair (it kept falling off). Cat would ask me to keep her company while she soaked and I would perch up on the toilet, amazed at the way her gigantic breasts would rise up in the water and float. She used my shampoo and conditioner, which was quickly running out, so I conserved by only washing my hair every three days and wearing a hat when it got greasy. Then, when she finished her bath, I'd hand her a towel.

"Dry my back off for me," she'd demand and I would.

"You're such a freak," she told me.

"You're so weird. You need to loosen up. Why are you so weird?" she said.

One night I ran to my room, where I slept on a mildewy mattress that I'd literally dragged up from the rain soaked bulk garbage pick-up in front of the DAR building a few blocks down Piedmont. I sprayed the thing daily with Lysol, but could never get the stink out of it. On that mattress, where you could feel every single rusty spring, I scribbled out a fervent poem - an Ode to Cat. But I never showed it to her.

"I'm starving," she said one morning, "Give me one of your ramens. I like the Oriental flavor."

I only had two left. I had no money. I gave her the ramen noodles.

I may not have had American money, but I did have a small, metal box of foreign money. My dad traveled around the world working on different deals. He always brought me back the strangest, most wonderful presents. When he went to Brazil, he brought me back a preserved Piranha on a stick. I had a geode from the Andes, toilet paper from Poland, carved wooden boxes from Germany and some goose liver from Hungary, among other things. No matter where he would go he'd bring me back a bill or two of money from that place and I collected it in this small, metal box, like a recipe box. I had money from Cuba and East Germany from before the wall came down. I had money from pretty much everywhere in Europe, Taiwan, South America and Africa. The box was full.

And because I was desperate and mad at my parents I took my whole box down to the bank and cashed every bit of it in for American dollars. All of those memories gone, save for the Cuban and East German currencies which they wouldn't take, in exchange for $87.23. I remember the exact amount. Then I remember going to Winn Dixie and spending exactly half of it on food and the memory is so vivid that I can tell you exactly what I bought. Cheese puffs. Chek grape soda. A loaf of whole wheat bread, butter and Kraft singles. I bought a couple boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix, butter and milk. Then I bought chocolate Quik to go in the milk. Peanut butter. Smuckers strawberry preserves. Granny smith apples, hard, sour and out of season, iceberg lettuce, italian salad dressing and a box of frozen broccoli spears.

I came home and made corn muffins in my roommate's pan.

"I need a job," I said, sandwiching a half inch thick cube of cold butter between two halves of a muffin.

"I'm going to strip," Cat replied, "It's the easiest money there is. You just dance, show your tits and you get cash."

She spread the Creative Loafing (a weekly Atlanta paper) on the kitchen table and flipped to the back where the want ads were.

"Lingerie modeling. That's even better. Look at this one," she said.

"What's that?"

"It's better. You just wear lingerie and walk around and guys come and pay you. It's not like a strip club where you have to dance on stage or anything. I think it's more private."

It sounded easy.

"This place on Cheshire Bridge is hiring. We can go by tomorrow afternoon," she said.

I sighed and ate another muffin.

It poured the next day, torrential monsoons of summer rain that backed up the gutters and storm drains, along with the traffic. My stomach hurt and we slept in past noon.

"Come on, get some makeup on," Cat said, "And I need to use your eyeliner and lipstick."

She said this as she was already smearing my darkest stick of red over her mouth.

"I don't know what to wear," I said.

"Lingerie. I know you have it."


"I borrowed some of your underwear and I saw it in your suitcase."

Having no furniture, except for the mattress from the DAR's garbage, I kept everything I couldn't hang up in a suitcase I'd lifted from my parents' garage when I took off months before.

"Oh that, yeah. I should wear that? A white corset and garters?"

"Duh, it's lingerie modeling."

I'd only worn it once a year earlier. My boyfriend had bought the get-up for me, but it was too small, horribly itchy and it took forever to get in and out of, with the row of endless tiny hooks up its white, satin spine. I felt stupid in it. My only stockings had a run and the garters constantly popped open, sending the hose slinking down to my ankles.

"What do I wear over it?"

"Jesus Christ, don't you know anything? A coat."

"It's summer!"

"It's pouring rain."


And I did it. I had a black raincoat I'd found at a thrift store, so I slid it over my shoulders. Once Cat was ready, in her own black bra and my black underwear, which were too small for her, covered in one of Ian's oversized jackets, we rode the bus to one of the smuttiest, seediest areas of Atlanta.

"This is it?" I asked,"It's a house."

But of course this was it because it was a little A-frame brick house, under a billboard for a strip club and set back a bit from the road against some tangled pines whose needles reminded me of barbed wire, but it was a little A-frame brick house that had a huge white sign with red, cursive lettering over the front door. "Lingerie Modeling. Gorgeous Ladies." It was punctuated with a plump valentine heart.

Once we clamored off of the bus, back into the storm, we dashed, in our Salvation Army high heels, across the wet, muddy yard and up to the front door, which was locked. It had a buzzer with a crude intercom and a peephole. I felt someone looking at us.

"What do you want?" a voice sizzled out of the box.

"Jobs," Cat announced. She cleared her throat. "We're here for jobs."

"Hold on."

A tiny Asian man let us in and then we were in someone's grandmother's living room from the 70s, complete with a couch pocked with rust-colored cabbage rose print fabric and a shag rug that looked like the underside of a stray dog. There were even two easy chairs that were so old that they tilted off to one side like they'd had furniture's equivalent of a stroke. The velvet cushions were flattened, sanded and faded down the centers in lighter, duller places the shape of people. Five women sat in this living room, three on the couch and two on the floor, all with boxes of Church's fried chicken and all stared intently at a small, black and white television set, filled with static, which periodically sneezed out a few seconds of image. They were trying to watch a soap and I had the sudden urge to grab the rabbit ears and adjust them for them.

"I have a special power," I stammered, "if I stand here and hold onto it, the picture'll come in."

I'd always done this trick growing up. As long as I held the antennae, the picture was clear. When I let go, the picture disappeared back into a blizzard of static. I imagined them hiring me to stand there and hold them all day so these women could watch their stories in their entirety.

"BITCH! Get yo hands off that TV Set!!!!!! Who you think you is ho?" thundered the one, black girl, who wore a leopard cat suit and a blonde wig.

"La'Shelle shut the fuck up you dumb ass trick," said a scabby goth in thigh high boots with platform toes that reminded me of a horse's hoof.

"All y'all better shut up and let me watch my god damned show 'fore I knock y'all out." said a chunky blonde.

The two Asian girls on the floor, who looked to be all of about twelve years old, giggled and tittered and said something to each other that no one could understand, except the tiny Asian man, who scolded them causing them to abruptly shut up.

"What do you all want?" asked the goth.

"We saw you were hiring and we came to apply," Cat said.

This caused them all to pretty much have hysterics.

"Yeah, umm, go ahead and fill out an application!!" the blonde snorted.

"What the fuck are you stupid fucking whores laughing at now God dammit?"

The women went silent, as a much older woman, like my grandmother older, hollered at them.

The woman was terrifying. She had a beehive and a housecoat with cats on it. Cats romping over a background of pink roses. She wore turquoise eyeshadow and had a voice like sand. She looked like the angry old, nicotine stained hags that slopped grits graveyard shift at the Majestic Diner, but here, it appeared she was the boss.

"You're fat" She poked Cat in the sternum.

"And you're god damned skinny as fucking hell," she said poking me.

Then she turned to her girls, and pointing at me said "Where's this bitch's titties? Anybody seen her titties? I think she lost 'em. Baby doll, you leave your titties home today or somethin"?"

I didn't know what to say.

"Jesus Christ, I'm joking. You're hired. Let me tell you how this shit's gonna work."

It was to me as if she spit her words into a gigantic blender and set it to liquefy. Nothing made sense. I couldn't hear. I couldn't understand. Clean towels. Plenty of lotion. Clean pussy. No touching. 70% to the house. Credit Cards. Cash. Checks. Talk Sweet. The lotion again. Condoms. Condoms?? Clean up. Clean up what?

Cat spoke up.

"So dudes come in here and they pick which one of us they want and we take them back in a private room and dance around, get naked and they jack off and when they're done we clean it up and they pay us and you take most of it? Is that it?"

No one spoke.

"Fuck that shit," she said and I was never so happy to have her yank my arm out the front door and back into the rain.

More later (this story is so dang long)....
Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Kitchen Therapy - Part 2

I deserved to get fired. As much as I wish I had been a responsible, plucky eighteen year old fighting to make her way alone in the big, bad world, I was a moron like most eighteen year olds.

I got fired because I wanted to hang out with my friends. Their idea of a good time was to eat Indian food then all do acid and turn out the lights in the apartment, cut open glow sticks and spin around wildly so that the surely highly toxic glowing liquid would splatter every surface. Then we would all undulate dreamily to some My Bloody Valentine, dazzled by our own coolness, pretending we were floating in space, because that's kind of what it looked like. I guess what it would look like if space were green rather. It is important to note here that while I ate Indian food with gusto that I did not do acid or smoke pot or do Ecstacy with my friends and roommates. I was not a drug user. I was too scared and wary of being out of control to ever try such nonsense. I heard the stories about people thinking they could fly and jumping out of fifteen story windows and I took these stories very much to heart. One of the strangest things about young me is that I was the biggest, prudest goody-goody you ever met, but I couldn't stand to hang around with others of my same, boring ilk. I was attracted to the wrong crowd. I loved hanging around with the cool kids who did drugs, but I never succumbed to any peer pressure. Actually, there was no peer pressure. I can't think of a single time when anyone ever pressured me to do drugs with them. No one really cared if I altered my mind or not and I was strange enough on my own without drugs. They may have needed LSD as an excuse to twirl around with glow sticks and dance in the middle of the street in a thunderstorm, but not me.

And that's what they did my cool roommates and friends and at the time this was more fun than I ever imagined possible. It was way more fun than slicing cake for assholes until one in the morning, so one evening when my bi-polar roommate came home from his current job of driving an icecream truck (this lasted all of about one week by the way) with some acid, I decided to just not go to work that night. Then I decided to call and say I had Diabetes and was in Diabetic shock and had to stay home and eat sugar to recover. I'm not kidding you. I actually said that.

The next week the same thing happened and the last time had been so much fun that I decided I couldn't bear to miss another night which began at a cafe, progressed to our apartment, proceeded to the rolling hills on the South end of Piedmont Park, then ended up back at our apartment where we had installed some red lightbulbs to make it even trippier and where we wound down our fun by listening to Billie Holiday and acting like we knew French. If I had to miss that, I felt like I might just die, so I decided to skip work again. Logically, I knew I couldn't use the diabetes excuse again and what are the odds that I would have come up with another life threatening disease so soon? This time I decided to just go ahead and not call at all. Because I was responsible that way.

That's what got me fired.

And I was really fine with that, at least for a couple days until I realized that I was hungry and had no money to buy food and pay the next month's rent. Ramen noodles were a quarter a package back then so I pretty much lived on them. Sometimes Maria, my roommate, would share her macaroni and cheese with me. She was kind and generous, but I felt guilty always eating her food. I used to walk down to the Winn Dixie, which is now the Midtown Trader Joe's, and walk the aisles imagining the day when I could buy groceries.

I dreamed of food. I liked standing in front of the jelly display looking at the bright colors inside the glossy glass jars. I remembered how when I was little my grandparents always had three or four different flavors of preserves in their refrigerator, how my mother made me peanutbutter and concord grape jam sandwiches. I wanted apple jelly on buttered toast. The cereal aisle seduced me. I loved Oatbake, Chex and Cheerios. Rice Krispies with banana and a drift of glittering sugar. Even the dairy case was alluring with all those clear plastic bricks of cheese. There were so many kinds I had never had. I wanted a grilled cheese, soaked in butter, with stretchy muenster. I found it so calming to wander the Winn Dixie looking at food. It was air conditioned, organized, everything in categories. There was order to the grocery store and I liked that even if all I could afford was an apple and some soup. One day, I thought, one day I would have enough money to buy a carton of brown eggs and a pack of bacon, maybe even English muffins and orange juice. Strawberry preserves. Seedless blackberry jam. Apple butter.

I thought of little besides food. I don't remember a time in my life where I have ever been as truly hungry as I was back then. One night my roommate brought home her leftovers from dinner and gave them to me. It was spinach fettucini with a pesto cream sauce with broccoli and walnuts. There was even a side of garlic toast. When I had eaten it all I took the empty styrofoam container onto the fire escape in the dark where no one could see me and I stood there and licked up every bit of sauce until the container looked as if it hadn't been used. That is what dogs do when you give them table scraps.

I rode the bus. I had never owned a car and could never have afforded one so I walked where I could and rode the bus, though bus fare equalled four packs of ramen - four meals. I thought of everything in terms of meals and the price of meals. I constantly negotiated. One day I walked all the way from my apartment on 14th Street to Pharr Road in Buckhead via Peachtree Street. This, dear readers, is a very, very long way and it was in the middle of a scorching Atlanta summer. I did this to look for jobs. I applied everywhere and was turned down everywhere. I remember my big dream was to work at Pier One. They weren't hiring. After that I wanted to work at a bookstore. They said I wasn't qualified.

"You don't have a high school degree," they said, "We need people who know how to read, who know about books."

"I have a GED!! I read books all the time. I write stories! You don't understand!" I protested.

"I'm sorry, we're not hiring."

"You have a sign on the door."

"We filled the position."

Regretting my terrible, terrible stupidity that got me fired, I spent every day looking for work and thinking about food.

On the bus one day I sat next to a chef. I knew he was a chef because of his outfit. He must have been going to work.

"That must be fun," I said.

"What?" said the chef. In an accent. Instantly I was in love with this man. Food and an accent. Wow.

"Cooking. Like for a job. Is it fun?"

He looked at me as if I were insane.

"What do you make?" I asked.

"You like food?"

"Are you kidding?" I said, "I LIVE for food. All I want is food. All the time. I just love me some food. I even like looking at food that's how much I love food."

"What kind of food are you loving so much then?" asked the chef.

"Oh lord, all kinds. Like macaroni and cheese and fried chicken and red velvet cake, with pecans. I hate when people leave them off. Red velvet has got to have pecans. And cream cheese frosting, which is also good on chocolate cake but a lot people don't know that. I know it though. And roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, cole slaw, and oh SPAGHETTI. Fettucini alfredo. Boiled crabs. No! Shrimp cocktail. Nachos and guacamole. Soup. Anything with honey mustard on it. You know what I love? Rice pudding. I freaking love rice pudding. And raisin toast. Let me think what else. CORN BREAD. PICKLES. Turkey and dressing, but no giblets, they're gross and FRIED FISH. My friend's mom makes this scalloped potato and ham casserole -"

"Ok, ok. You just liking this American food. This food you people here in the South eat. This is not always so good. There is a world of other food you need to try. You would love."

"I know!" I said.

"You know? You don't know."

"I collect cookbooks. Or I did anyway, when I had money or people would give them to me. I like to look at cookbooks in the bookstore and magazines in the grocery store. One day I'm going to have a subscription. I like looking at all the fancy food pictures, but I've never really tried it."

"You should," said the chef, "You have a great passion for food. You just never try good food."

"I can't afford it. I don't have a job. One day."

"How old are you?"

"Eighteen. I mean eighteen and a half. I'll be nineteen soon."

"So young. And skinny. You should learn to cook. Cook for a job. Like me."

Miraculously, I didn't say it, but my first thought was that, yes, yes I should cook for a job like him because then at least I'd be able to eat.

"That would probably be a lot of fun," I said, "but I don't think anybody'd hire me."

"Maybe try some day."

The chef got off the bus. I exited a few stops later and continued my job search. I didn't try any restaurants.

When I got home that night, my roommate Ian, the guy who wouldn't take his meds, who had driven an icecream truck for one week, who was now shoveling crap and hosing down cages at an animal shelter, had picked up two homeless girls who described themselves as "hobo backpacking gypsy adventuresses." They called themselves Cat and Dog. I thought they were the coolest, most beautiful girls I had ever seen.

"We want live here in Atlanta for a while before we move on," they explained.

"We're out of money," said Cat.

"We want to get jobs, see if we want to stay," said Dog.

"Or not. Whatever," said Cat.

"Good luck with that," I said, "I've been looking for a job for a few weeks and nobody's hiring. It's awful."

"So strip!" said Cat.

"Are you crazy??" I said, "No way."

But inside, I considered it.

To Be Continued....
Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Kitchen Therapy - How I Became a Cook, With A Dose of Cold Blooded Murder

Yesterday Husband and I cooked all day long. We got up in the morning to a spotless kitchen. Every glass, pot, lid and dish was clean, dried and put away. Within three hours the kitchen was obliterated. You have never seen such a mess, but by sunset, our refrigerator was packed, our freezer stocked with soups and pre-portioned meals. You could smell the garlic, stock and white wine reductions from outside. I'm surprised the neighbors weren't beating down our doors for a taste. I'm now convinced that there's a special section in Heaven that smells like the ancho chili wet rub my husband made for his carne asada.

By evening we had made a pot of vegetable beef soup, a pot of vegetarian black bean soup, lime cilantro rice, ancho grilled chicken and steak and a pasta dish which involved Italian sausage, broccoli, hot red peppers, a frightening amount of garlic and ricotta cheese. We were both a mess. It will be days before I stop smelling like garlic, I'm sure, but we were calm and contented. Earlier that day we hadn't been. I had woken up on the wrong side of the bed and had been crabby and mean. Husband and I had gotten into a fight over a doughnut. Don't ask. It's a good thing. I've mentioned this before, that when we fight it's always over something trivial like Costco or doughnuts or never over big, real, important things like money, infidelity, drugs or gambling. I see this as a very, very positive sign that life is good for us. But nevertheless, I was crabby and pissed because I wanted that damned last doughnut. It was meant for me! I stewed over that doughnut until we dragged out the stock pots and I started chopping.

Cooking is my therapy. Cooking calms me down. Writing is definitely not my therapy. A lot of people ask me if it is and the answer is most definitely not. The introspection and constant analysis of my own life, plus the trance like melancholia required for me to write poetry make me need therapy. Often, I don't find writing calming at all. Like right now. As I write this, I am not particularly calm. Sometimes writing works me into a frenzy even. But not cooking. Cooking is peaceful. All that chopping and stirring, the whole rhythm of cooking eases my stress. If I'm nervous all I have to do is start making a salad, or a soup, or a cake. Anything really.

I didn't always realize how therapeutic cooking could be. As you may know, my first career, long before I ever imagined myself as a teacher, was as a cook in a very fancy hotel in Atlanta. They hired me, based on a fluke recommendation from my friend's mom's friend who worked at the same hotel in another department and I had zero experience in the kitchen. I loved cooking though, or rather the idea of it. When I was little I spent every single warm day outside stirring up dirt soups and clay canapes topped with stones. I always loved reading cook books. It's just that my idea of cooking amounted to getting fancy by adding broccoli florets to my ramen noodles.

I was eighteen when I got the job at the hotel. Up until then, things hadn't been going so well for me. The years of 1991/92 hadn't treated me kindly at all. I had attempted college in the Fall of '91 and it didn't go well. I returned to Florida, dejected and disappointed. My parents weren't thrilled with me either and we fought constantly that winter until it culminated in my getting thrown out of their house. With nowhere to go, I fled to my Aunt Kiki who had four children by then (two of whom were babies) and a drug addicted second husband who wouldn't get out of bed and get a job. Things were bad. The seven of us were crammed in a tiny townhouse and I slept on the couch. One day I'll probably write a memoir about all this and go into more detail, but for now I'm making a long story short to make the point that when I was eighteen my life sucked and some of it was my fault and some of it wasn't and cooking saved me.

I could not stay at Aunt Kiki's house for long, so when some of my friends told me they were packing up and moving to Atlanta, I jumped on board. Mind you, I had never even visited Atlanta before making this decision, but it was a place to go. I needed a place to go and one appeared before me, so I took it as a sign. I figured I was meant to be in Atlanta, and looking back on it all so many years later, I was right. Moving to Atlanta on a whim at eighteen years old may sound like an impulsive decision, like something that would not turn out well in the end, but really, it was the first good decision I had made in ages. Maybe ever.

In Atlanta, with only a suitcase of clothes and a couple of notebooks to write in, I lived in an apartment with three other people. One of them was my frustrated boyfriend. One was a self-hating Jewish bi-polar who wouldn't take his Lithium (or bathe) who aspired to be a Muslim extremist. Or a communist. Sometimes both. Our fourth roommate was a gorgeous Mexican bi-sexual with Lupus. I loved her. She was my saving grace that summer, but she left in August for her freshman year at Tulane. We lost touch after that and as she shares a name with at least 1/4 of the Latinas in the Southeast, locating her has been impossible thus far. Somewhere along the way, we managed to acquire a litter of kittens as well.

For those who live in Atlanta who would like to take the Wide Lawns Star Tour and see my former homes, our apartment was located prominently on the Northeast corner of 14th Street and Piedmont Ave overlooking the entrance to Piedmont Park. The building is old, beautiful and L shaped with a dry fountain in the yard. Back then rent was cheap ass. I remember that my portion was only eighty dollars per month. I bet that rent in that building now is in the thousands. Also, gas was eighty-five cents a gallon in Georgia at the time. Can you even imagine?

So we arrive in Atlanta and I don't have that whopping eighty dollars for rent so I have to find a job. Back in Florida I had worked for the past seven months or so as a telephone survey operator, but I wanted something more glamorous. I wanted to be a waitress. Why I don't know. It was a lifelong dream. As a toddler I'd go around with a pencil and a notepad scribbling down people's "orders." It seemed like fun. I thought it was going to be great when I got a job as a coffee shop waitress in Buckhead. By the end of my first shift of serving cake and cappucino I realized that, in fact, it was not.

I am not meant to be a server in a restaurant. I have no patience for people asking me to get them things. In a past life I think I was a princess because every time someone asks me to wait on them I become very appalled and indignant like "HOW DARE YOU?" This attitude doesn't translate well for waitresses and I knew this, yet still everytime someone asked me for a triple shot, skim latte ristretto with whipped cream on the side and two packets of Equal my first reaction was always, without fail, to want to tell them to go fuck themselves. I can't help it. Most of the time I was able to restrain myself. Sometimes not. Customer service is not my strong point.

My attitude was only one trait of many that made me ill suited for life as a server. I'm also clumsy. I regularly spilled drinks all across tables. I cost the coffee shop a lot in customer's dry cleaning bills. I also got orders wrong. I always mixed up the Chocolate Orgasm cake with the Dark Chocolate Sin cake and then when customers would point this out to me, of course I'd get irritated and want to cuss them out for not just eating it anyway. I mean, Jesus Christ, how many different ways can chocolate cake taste anyway?

So many people complained about me that the owners(quickly) decided that my surliness was of a rare type best suited for what restaurants call "Back of the House" work. This means that I was such a raging asshole that I had to be shut away in the kitchen away from contact with other human beings. I was like a quarantined rabid raccoon. It was best. In a coffee shop there wasn't a lot of back of the house stuff to do. I sliced cakes and pastries and put them on plates and then topped them with ice cream and whipped cream, the occasional shake of confectioners sugar and a sprig of mint. I sliced fruit and washed berries. I'd make the occasional cup of fancy coffee if our lovely, tranny barista had run down to the corner to argue with her lover on the pay phone, as this was in the pre-cell phone era.

But still, I was an eighteen year old with a chip on her shoulder. Something was bound to happen. I was bound to get fired and naturally, I did.

To be Continued...
Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A Tale of Two Tubs

I do not approve of the Cialis commercials and I felt the sudden need to share my aggravation. For those of you who, like my husband, can not abide by a single commercial and TiVo everything so you can fast forward through the ads, Cialis is a drug like Viagra, for erectile dysfunction. Cialis is the company that makes the ads which always conclude with the happy couple outside, in the middle of nowhere sitting side by side in old time, claw footed, cast iron bath tubs with no apparent plumbing anywhere in sight. The tubs have been on the beach, overlooking a lake, in the woods and in a meadow. It's always sunset. I guess it could be sunrise, but for some reason I always think of sunset.

These commercials irritate me to no end. They make no sense. Usually they start with an older gentleman and his lady friend. The people are never very old. They sort of just hint at oldness and they always, even the token African American couple, look like the sorts of people who live in fancy country club communities where they play golf, complain to the HOA about everything, attend secret swinger's parties and drink from the time they get up in the morning.

So these very country-clubbish folk are always about to get busy when someone interrupts them, meaning that business time must be postponed. If this happened in real life the people would be way more annoyed than they are. In the commercial they know everything is going to be ok because the man took Cialis, which means his weiner will work for the next day and a half and they can just do it later. I don't really know how realistic this is. Personally, I'd like to see the man trying to deal with his erection as his family or some rude, unannounced guests show up. Surely there would be some awkwardness.

Unfortunately I know because I have been in this exact same position and I am still traumatized by it.

One evening a few years ago I made the absolute, God awful, unforgettable mistake of showing up unannounced to my grandparents' house and catching them in the middle of some sort of activity. I don't know exactly what it was, but it was activity, and I don't want to consider it any further than that. There is not a word in the English language for how awkward and horrible this moment was for everyone involved.

I'd like to see something like this depicted in the Cialis commercials.

After the interruption, the commercials show the happy couple engaged in all sorts of non-sexual activity looking perfectly ok that they were cock-blocked by their grandkids. Then they end up outside in a pair of separate bathtubs with no plumbing, relaxing in the water looking at some kind of lovely view.

I have never understood the bathtubs. Why the tubs? Why two separate tubs? The ridiculousness of this is unfathomable. Who in the world of advertising came up with this nonsense and how does it suggest sex? Because it has to be trying to suggest sex. I get that obviously the commercials have to be subtle and that they can't show some people getting all nekkid and crazy all up on one another. Of course not and I'm really glad for this. I don't want to see that. I don't want your children to see that. But to put the couple in separate bath tubs outside just doesn't suggest anything logical. Why not just show the couple, fully clothed, sitting outside with their arms around one another smiling coyly? Show them hugging contentedly. Let them walk arm in arm. But separate bathtubs??? Who has ever done that? Where on this planet are there two, identical, side by side claw foot bath tubs in the middle of nowhere without any pipes or faucets? The only answer I can come up with is that if this scenario exists, that the only place it could be is some kind of a scrap yard.

Taking a bath separate from my loved one, yet right beside them, is not my idea of a good time. In fact, the fact that these people would want to do this suggests to me that the Cialis is actually not working.

"Honey, the kids are gone. Let's do it now!"

"Ehnn. No. I think I'd rather just go in the woods and lay in a bathtub. By myself, if you don't mind. I mean, you can sit in your own tub right beside mine, if you want, but make sure you stay on your side."

Back in undergrad I took a class all about advertising and all we did was analyze print ads and commercials. Turns out, pretty much everything is nothing but sex. Advertisers use all kinds of codes for sex in order to appeal to horn dog consumers. Most of it is subliminal, or at least subtle, but once you know what to look for it's completely obvious. I wrote a paper on a mascara ad that featured a prominent photo of a black stiletto heel. It was obviously phallic. The message was this: buy this mascara, fix yourself up and you will get some action. Get our mascara = Get Laid. I got really good at distilling ads down to their basic, most primal, filthy and pornographic messages. In fact, I confess that I got a little addicted to it.

Yet the Cialis ad stumps me. The only thing I can come up with is that the tubs are a phallic symbol. That's obvious with their elongated, twinkie-like shape. They have water in them and water in ads means sex for some reason. Usually though the water in sexy ads is erupting or splashing out of or onto something. The Cialis tubs are eerily still. Maybe it's the cast iron. Take Cialis and your ding dong will be as hard as a bath tub? Could that be it? And why are there two? And why are the couple kept separate by several inches of cold, inpenetrable metal? This is the very opposite of sexy and suggestive.

Readers, I just don't get it. Apparently, I'm not alone. the Cialis commercials bugged me so much that I actually looked it up. Turns out, lots of people have wondered the same thing. What is the meaning of the bath tubs in the Cialis commercials? There is much speculation, yet no one that I found had been able to come up with any convincing explanation. There is, however, much hilarity to be found in the many interpretations. My personal favorite analysis of the Cialis dilemma comes from Larry No. Larry is as confused about these ads as I am and he's pretty funny. I wish he wrote more.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009

An Illustration of the Event

Here is a picture of my hair dying event on the dock the other day. That's my cousin Fallon's arm there wielding the Revlon. That's, obviously, my perfectly spherical head. I really do have the roundest head. I look like an apple on a neck. You can even see the Target bag and the water, which is my favorite part. It was blistering hot outside, like ridiculously hot. A couple minutes later, out of nowhere, it began to rain as it is wont to do down here in the tropics. Then we had to take cover on the patio where I stood very still on an old dog towel in mortal fear of spilling hair dye on the marble floor. It was very stressful. In the end my hair ended up looking perfect and not being green or falling out in large clumps. All for $2.99.


Over the weekend I had my cousin Fallon color my hair for me. I'd been putting it off forever. I've been blaming the recession, but my own good sense is also part of it. I no longer wish to spend large sums of money getting my hair done. I just don't. It's idiotic. I have better uses for my cash and my time.

For a long time I've dreaded getting my hair done as much as I dread dental cleanings. I don't like to sit there and wait for the dye to sit and then wait for them to blow out my hair. I don't have time for it, yet, I wanted my hair to look nice, so I endured the time in the stylist's swiveling chair and I paid the astronomical fees and I didn't look much different. I pretty much have no hair style. It's one length, usually that length is shoulder, and it parts on the side. That's it. Straight, boring, plain brown hair and that's how I like it. I'm notoriously horrible at styling my own hair, so I keep it as simple as is humanly possible without looking Amish (although we know I love the Amish, so that might not be so bad either). My hair is also uncooperative. Both straight and coarse, it laughs at attempts to braid, curl or even just to hold it back with a bobby pin. My two options are thus: down or pony tail. I'm ok with this. Really.

What I am not ok with is looking like a skunk, which I do if I don't color my hair every couple months. I have a big grey patch over my right ear. It's very obvious and not at all glamorous and Stacey London-ish. Once I had my hair pulled back and a student asked me if I'd been painting.

"No," I said,"Why?"

"It looks like you may have gotten some paint in your hair," he said.

And it did. It looked exactly like someone brushed white paint over part of my head. Not attractive. It makes me feel old. Not Lauren Hutton, still hot and modeling for J Crew old, but old like I live alone in a trailer wearing nothing but housecoats and keeping several wild dogs.

Fallon and I went to Target and got hair dye. She colors her own hair and her hair is the exact same dark, reddish brown color as mine, so she showed me which dye to get. Then we went outside on the dock to apply it to my stubborn head of hair.

I need to digress for a second to tell you why we were on a dock. We were on a dock because of my mother's unhealthy relationship with marble. Her whole house is flippin' marble. Porous, expensive, easily stained, very light colored marble. When I stay here I live in mortal fear of ruining my mother's marble and then having to 1. face her ire when she returns and finds it and 2. having to pay to replace it. Immediately upon buying the $2.99 box of dark brown Revlon hair dye, I had a vision of said dark brown hair dye Jackson Pollocked all over the expensive, pale stone. And then I had a vision of my own mother strangling me. I decided that we should go out on the dock to color my hair. The dock is already dark brown and it's far from any marble. It seemed the safest place on the property. In about two minutes I also realized that it was the hottest and then it started to rain, which really made things interesting.

But back to the hair dye itself. I generally don't trust do it oneself beauty treatments of any kind. I know someone who can give herself a perfect french manicure, but I tried it and ended up looking like a five year old who got into some white-out. I've heard stories from friends about home perms that burnt their hair completely off of their scalps. My sister once decided to wax her own moustache at home with some kind of cold wax kit she found at Walgreens. She ended up ripping the skin from her upper lip and part of her nose. It tooks weeks to heal.

I even bought a Ped Egg and couldn't use the damned thing. It seemed like a good idea, that Ped Egg. I wanted soft feet and I thought it could keep me busy while I watched TV, you know, give me something to do. I could just grate away at my feet as if they were wheels of Reggiano Parmigiana. But no. While the Ped Egg seems like a good idea, it suffers from a tragic design flaw. If you hold it at any angle other than perfectly upright, which is impossible to do when you are sanding your own calloused soles, a fine and abundant dust of dead skin snows down and coats everything within a ten foot radius with your DNA. It's gross and messy.

So I'm wary of home beauty products. While Fallon mixed the dye in its little, plastic bottle, I fretted and I finally realized where my heart pounding fear was coming from.

Like most things, this is my mother's fault. When I was five my mother had an unfortunate hair dying accident. Memere Marie helped. I will never, ever forget it.

I hadn't seen my mother in a while. She'd been in Florida, a mysterious place I had never visited, but where I knew oranges and coconut patties came from and where Disney was. Both Snow White and my mother lived in Florida. I believed that they knew one another.

But my mother wasn't exactly living the life of a fairy tale princess down South. She was becoming more of a Disco Queen and she had waist length, perfectly straight, center parted, bleach blonde hair. It was a look that had suited her well as a pot smoking hippie up in the countryside of Millpond. It looked great with her smock tops and earth shoes. She wore bell bottoms and went barefoot, while carrying a large crocheted sack of a purse. My mother was a Southern Rock kind of a girl, who suddenly, in Florida, landed herself in a BeeGees dominated world. It was a world glittered with disco balls. It gave her a Saturday Night Fever and she needed a new look and a new beginning. She wasn't a little Millpond Hic anymore. She was a diva and needed to look like one, but even more than that, she wanted to look like a Jewish diva.

My mother had recently met and fallen wildly, uncontrollably in love with the man who would become my father. He was Israeli and came from a devout, Jewish family. He told her he would marry a Jewish girl and they would raise Jewish children. There were no Jews in Millpond, Lord knows and she didn't know a thing about the religion, but as soon as he told her that she acquired a taste for bagels and lox and began to imagine herself tacking mezuzahs on doorframes. She would do anything it took to marry this man and she would turn into his ideal woman, even if it meant a total overhaul of everything she had ever been and ever known.

For one thing, Jewish women were brunettes. He liked brunettes. When they met he had been dating a real, honest to God princess and she had rivers of black hair that my mother coveted. My mother decided that while learning the Torah would be the most difficult thing about becoming Jewish, that dying her light hair dark would be easy. She decided to do that first and she'd do it on a weekend away so that she could surprise him when she stepped off the plane in Florida, magically transformed into a dusky Mediterranean beauty.

My mother came to Millpond for the weekend and picked me up at my grandparents' house where I lived at the time. She had her same, blonde hair. It was the only way I had ever known her. We went to my mother's parents' house for the weekend. Poppop June was off at the town Pub, but Memere Marie was home. She cooked for us. I remember this because she always made baked potatoes and I called them "brownies." They were my favorite food. The whole night my mother gushed about her new love. He sounded like the most perfect man in the world. She said they were meant to be together and that she wanted to make herself beautiful for him. She had to dye her hair.

Since she had always colored her own hair and had never been to a salon, she went to the pharmacy and bought some dark brown dye (just like I did). She came home to her parents' house and Memere Marie helped her. Memere Marie has always done her own hair too. She still does. The woman has never been to a salon and she cuts her hair with a terrifying straight razor that looks like a murder weapon. For the whole 35 years that I have been alive my grandmother has never once ever even subtly altered her appearance. She looks exactly the same. She doesn't even age. I swear, I think she's a Highlander.

Back then my grandparents still lived in the small, red Cape Cod that my mother had grown up in. There was a sky blue, tiled bathroom. It always smelled like Eves and Aquanet. I don't know how my grandmother didn't set herself on fire smoking and spraying her hair in there. It also seemed like she always had a box of kittens in that bathroom too, nursing and kneading at some stray mother cat that had appeared on the front step. My grandmother has also always been a cat rescuer. It's like they know where to find her. Just like I don't know how my grandmother didn't ignite her bouffant with tobacco cinders, I also don't know how the kittens didn't suffocate from the CFCs and cigarette smoke. Somehow things always turned out ok in that bathroom. Except of course, for my mother's hair.

I couldn't handle the smell of cigarettes and hair dye so I lolled around on Aunt Kiki's bed. Aunt Kiki was about seventeen at the time and still lived at home for the most part. At least, she still had a bedroom. It was always a mess with clothes everywhere and a birdcage in one corner needing to be cleaned. A large, round Japanese paper lantern hung from the ceiling like a dim moon and I loved this strange, luminous sphere. What I really loved though, was Aunt Kiki's headboard. It fascinated me. It was just a regular, cheap, fake wood headboard. There was nothing unusual about it at all in its natural state. Aunt Kiki though had completely covered it in a bizarre and surely unsanitary mosaic of wads of chewed gum. A consumate sugar addict, Aunt Kiki was never without candy. For this I adored her. She always gave me a candy I don't remember the name of. They were little balls of candy coated chocolate and they came in red, green and yellow. I seem to recall a malty taste. When she wasn't nibbling on these or smarties, Aunt Kiki was never without gum. All kinds. She chewed Juicy Fruit, Double Mint and Fruit Stripes. She liked Big Red and the new kind of gum with the bursting liquid centers. She couldn't resist a gumball machine and blew bubbles the size of my head with Bazooka. Due to the variety, her headboard was a rainbow of nickel sized gobs. When you got close to them you could still faintly smell their fruity or minty flavors. As a five year old, this wasn't disgusting. It was magical. My aunt wasn't a lazy slob - she was a goddess. And while my grandmother helped my mother turn herself into one of God's Chosen, I marveled at the gum wads and tried to count them, except I couldn't count that high. I occupied myself with this for some time until I heard screams coming from the bathroom.


"Oh Christ Almighty!!"

I ran to see and found my mother standing before the tiny, steamed medicine cabinet mirror with a head of damp, green hair. Her once golden locks were now the color of a stagnant pond in parts. Most of her hair was a darker, Christmas tree green, but it was streaked lighter in sections. She looked more like she came from the depths of the Bay rather than from Jerusalem; a Sea Witch instead of a Semite.

My mother had dyed her hair green.

I looked again. It was true. She was hysterical. My grandmother was confounded. They blow dried it and without moisture, it's true verdancy shown under the heat lamp. My mother had green hair.

It was not the subtle green of blondes who've spent too long in the deep end. It wasn't a shadow of green or a faint patina. Strangers upon seeing it wouldn't blame it on their glasses or the flourescent lighting. This green was undeniable, Barnum and Bailey, 7-Up can, in your face, screaming lime, apple, hundred dollar, Jolly Rancher Green Green Green. It was a public spectacle waiting to happen.

I don't remember the rest, but what happened was this. My mother wrapped her head in scarves. She dropped me off Sunday evening when her visitation was over and caught the next flight back to Florida be-turbaned. The next morning she went straight to a salon and had it corrected, emerging later the brunette she had imagined herself.

As a child, I drew my life. Each week my grandfather bought me drawing pads of thin, shiny paper upon which I colored and sketched with pencils and crayons. Before I learned to write, I drew comic book style serials depicting the world and people around me. For months I couldn't get the image of my green hair mother out of my head. For months I drew portraits of her with flowing, green tresses. I even remember the color crayon I used: Pine. Every green thing I saw reminded me of my green headed mother.

I saw her a short time later at Christmas. Her hair was winged and feathered, a glossy panther black. Gone were her smock tops and baggy jeans. She wore a sleek, velveteen track suit with heels and a web of gold chains around her neck. One bore the charm of a Hebrew letter. To me, it looked like a small animal, maybe a goat. I could never see it as anything other than a small head with legs and a straight body. She was married less than a month later, but that is an entirely different story.

This is the story of how my mother dyed her hair green and how I thought, back on that dock, that the same thing was going to happen to me.

It didn't.

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