Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tammy Part 3

"Be good for Tammy. Don't be a pain in the ass. Give her a chance. She's had a hard life," my mother told me.

"But do you have to leave? Can't you just stay home tonight?"

"No, don't be crazy. We have a big meeting with the Hungarian. Don't you want us to be rich?"

"I guess so, but I don't want you to leave. Can I go with you?"

"It's a school night and we just can't be bringing a kid along. We need to look like professionals. We got you a nanny so we could leave you home. We're trying to make money for you - so you can shop at Esprit and have a big birthday party at the skating rink with a live band, maybe even Madonna. We'll be rich enough to hire Madonna to come play at your birthday party. So please don't be a pain in the ass."

"She's not a nanny."

"Sure she is. Ask her to make you some peanut butter cookies. Watch a movie on HBO or something."

"The cable got turned off again."

"So that's exactly why you have to stop giving me a hard time and stay here with Tammy while we go to this meeting. Don't be scared of her. You're being ridiculous, like people from Millpond who're scared of everyone and everything that's different from them. You don't want to be like people from Millpond do you?"

My mother could always manipulate me that way. She knew it was the one thing that would get me every time because the last thing I wanted to be was an ignorant hick from Millpond. Her other secret weapon to get me to do what she wanted was to tell me I was exactly like my father. She meant my biological father, who I hadn't heard from since the Spring before. His new baby was already a few months old.

"Fine," I said.

I stared out the wide picture window in our bare living room as the Mercedes backed out and disappeared down our street.

"I'll bet you play with yourself a lot," Tammy said, coming up the stairs from her lair on the dark, ground floor.

"When I was your age I played with myself all day long. Just be careful you don't tear it off. Why don't you run in the kitchen and get me a Hi-C," she went on.

"You can get whatever you want. You don't have to ask us to do it."

"I told you to get me a Hi-C."

"I can't open up the cans myself."

"Well it's a good time to learn, ain't it?"

"My mom told me to ask you to make peanut butter cookies."

"I don't feel like it tonight. Maybe I'll make some next week."

"Are you going to cook us any dinner?"

"Nah. Not tonight. Make yourself a box of macaroni and cheese. Make two boxes so I can have one too."

"A whole box?"

"I told you all I was hungry since I had the kid."

"I thought you were supposed to cook."

"Look, I've only been here two days. I gotta get used to everything. I can't just come in and start cooking and cleaning. Jeez. You know what it's like to ride a train for three days straight? I bet you don't."

"I've never been on a train."

"Well see, that's why you don't know. So let me rest and you go ahead and open up that Hi-C and make the macaroni and cheese."

After we ate, Tammy announced that she was getting out of the house.

"It's dark," I said, "and you don't have a car. Where are you going to go?"

"I don't need no car. I just want to see the sights."

"There aren't any sights. Just houses and woods. And it's dark."

"Your dad took me up to the quickie mart and I seen a bar across the street. I'm gonna check it out. I need to meet some friends."

"You're supposed to baby-sit me."

"You're almost twelve. You don't need no babysitter. Go play with yourself while I'm gone. I won't be more than two or three hours. Keep the door locked and don't let nobody in."

I started reading Anne of Green Gables while Tammy was gone, and just as she said, she rang the doorbell two or three hours later.

"See," she said, "I told you, you'd be fine."

I wondered why I had even let her back in.

I didn't tell my mother because I didn't want to be a pain in the ass. She was gone most of the time anyway. She came home from mysterious meetings with the Hungarian and his associates in the city, long after I'd gone to bed. When I got up early for school my parents would be in bed. I'd get home around four in the afternoon to find Tammy on the couch in front of the TV (we did have one old sofa in the den). I'd make myself a snack and hide in my room imagining that I was a spirited orphan on Prince Edward Island wearing dresses with puffed sleeves. Once it got dark, Tammy'd leave again on foot for Mr. Rips, where she'd sit and drink for a couple hours. She told me she was making a lot of friends.

About a week later I missed the bus. I walked down the street and Francine and her younger brother weren't there. I saw the yellow end of the bus turning up the hill and out of our neighborhood, too far away for the driver to see me even if I ran. I'd never make it. I couldn't wake my parents up and make them drive me to school. They'd be furious. They'd gotten in late again and were tired. My mother had specified that I was not to be a pain in the ass and a kid who misses the bus seemed to me like a pain in the ass. We weren't doing anything in school anyway. The teachers barely noticed me in class. The kids at my new school ignored me and at lunch I sat alone with a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips until band practice where I struggled to figure out how to play my clarinet. It seemed like I was the only one who couldn't catch up and my fingers were too small to cover the holes on the stupid thing anyway. It wouldn't matter if I missed a day, so I walked back home.

"What are you doing back?" Tammy asked.

"There's no school today. School's canceled."

"How come?"

"There was a flood."

"Oh, ok. Well I'm going back to bed."

I watched TV until my parents woke up around eleven.

"Why are you home?" my mother inquired.

I told her about the flood.

"I see. Ok."

Tammy shuffled into the kitchen where we were.

"You all working today?" she asked my mother.

"No."

"Can you take me shopping? I need to get some new clothes. It's getting cold and I don't have no shoes."

"I don't have a lot of money right now, so I can't get you a lot. Don't be expecting anything fancy. I spent all my money trying to get this one in school clothes."

"I don't need no money from you. I just need you to take me."

My mother took her to Bradlees, which was a discount department store popular in the Northeast back then. It was a lot like a crappy Target, but where we did most of our shopping.

"Ok, just get a couple things," my mom said, "Then once the deal comes through we can go shopping again."

"I told you, I don't need any money. Now be quiet and come on," Tammy said.

She spied a pink sweatshirt.

"You think this would look good on me?" she asked.

"Sure," my mother replied.

Tammy ripped the tag off with her teeth and stuffed the sweatshirt down the front of her leggings. She continued this way through the aisles, stopping, considering sweat pants and acrylic sweaters, even a few pairs of socks. In the shoe section she hid behind the racks, discarded her old flip flops and exchanged them for a pair of black lace ups.

"You want anything?" she asked my mother, who proceeded to point out a pair of stirrup pants and a beige angora pull over. Tammy rolled them up and hid them under her bosom.

That was it, I thought. We were all going to prison. We were going to get arrested and then the police would find out that I had lied about school being closed and they would put me in a juvenile detention center. Everything my biological father had said about me was true. I was a criminal exactly like my mother and when I got arrested right along with her he'd know he made the right decision in disowning me. I started to cry.

"What in the hell is wrong with you?" my mother asked, "Stop crying. You're drawing attention to us. Be quiet."

"This is against the law!" I rasped, "We're going to go to jail. Make her stop. Make her stop this right now."

My mother dragged me out of the store before anyone heard with Tammy complaining that she wasn't done. A clerk stopped and asked if we had found everything ok.

"Yes, we were just looking," my mother said.

In the car I began to sob.

"What ails her?" Tammy asked.

"Stop crying. We don't have any money and Tammy needed clothes. It's getting cold. You want her to freeze?"

"But stealing is wrong! You're going to go to jail again and then I won't have anywhere to live."

"I didn't steal anything, Tammy did and look, everything is fine. No one got arrested."

"But stealing is against the law!!! Stealing is wrong."

"Stealing from people is wrong," my mother replied.

"Stealing from a big store doesn't hurt nobody," Tammy added.

"Look," my mother said, "When the deal comes through nobody'll steal anything, ok? We'll all have money and we'll go shopping and pay for everything. Does that make you happy?"

When we got home my stepfather was waiting.

"The school called," he said, "They wanted to know why she was absent today."

My mother looked at me, puzzled.

He continued.

"I told them she wasn't there because of the flood and they informed me that there was no flood."

"Yes there was," I said.

"Who told you there was a flood?" my mother asked.

"Francine," I lied.

"She did? So if I call Francine's mother right now, she'll tell me that she kept Francine home today because of a flood? Because I'm calling her. Call information and get Francine's mother's number," my mother directed my stepfather.

"What's her last name?" he said.

"Did you lie about school being closed today?" my mother asked.

I looked down at the floor.

"I'm going to ask you one more time. Did you lie to me about school being closed?"

"Yes," I said and then erupted into a hysteria of sobs and snot.

"You're sitting in the car throwing a fit at me and Tammy for shoplifting, when we were just doing what we had to do and all the while you were lying about school being closed? You got some nerve. You. Are. Just. Like. Your. Father. Devious, just like him."

My parents instructed Tammy to pick me up and shut me in my room while they decided on a punishment, but I fought her, twisting and flailing in her arms, making myself a dad weight so that she had to drag me.

"NO! I am NOT going to my room. You don't even know anything, none of you! You don't know what she does every single night and I HATE HER!! Tammy walks to Mr. Rips and leaves me alone every single night!!!!!!"

"What?" my mother asked, "Tammy, you go to Mr. Rips that bar up the street?"

"I do not. Don't listen to her. You already seen she's a liar. She lies all the time. She don't like me and she'd just being a brat. She need an ass whipping."

"I'll show you an ass whipping you pig!!"

And with that I kicked Tammy's shins as hard as I could and stomped on her stolen, new shoes trying to scuff and ruin them. I tore at her new, pink sweatshirt, trying to rip it so she couldn't wear it because stealing was wrong and she didn't deserve to have anything if she shoplifted. It took all three of them to get me to my room and then I locked them out and tried to push the screens out of the window so I could climb down the drainpipe and escape. I'd hitchhike down the New Jersey Turnpike back to Millpond where I'd live with Mommom Jewel. The screens though, wouldn't pop loose from the window frames, so I was stuck. My next option was to call the 700 Club and ask for Jesus to save me from all of this.

To be continued...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tammy Part 2

Even the dog knew something was terribly wrong. That's why he went after this person (because it couldn't possibly be Tammy and it kind of looked like a man)'s ankles like a canine weed whacker.

The person standing on our landing didn't flinch when the pomeranian attacked. She (He?) merely looked down, far down because she was well over six feet tall, with an expression of pity and bewilderment. She made a noise that was a combination cough/ snort and then bellowed with a voice that had truly missed its calling. She should have been a pig caller.

"IF ONE OF YOU DOESN'T GET THIS DANGED DOG OFF MY FEET I'M ABOUT TO DROP KICK THE SON OF A BITCH!"

My mother swiped the dog into her arms and out of harm's way. I scanned her face for a sign of how she felt about this individual. I looked at my father. What were they thinking? How had they brought this person home?

"Aren't you going to say hi to Tammy?" my mother asked.

She turned to Tammy and in a stage whisper explained to her that I was shy kid, but I'd get over it. Tammy grunted.

Tammy was as wide, deep and squarely built as a refrigerator and she stood a head taller than one. My mother, who was a chunky five seven and a half, looked trim, petite and delicate beside my new "nanny." Tammy wore a pair of tight, faded zebra print leggings. The elastic had given way and the ankle seams unraveled, dangling black strings over Tammy's feet, each the size of a hearty chuck roast and clad in tattered, Dollar Store flip flops. For a top, Tammy sported a Quiet Riot tee shirt as faded and full of pills and holes as her leggings. She had cut it herself into a half shirt, which exposed her overflowing gut that was as white as raw pizza dough and rutted with screaming red, vertical stretch marks. Her face was worse. Most of it was covered by her shaggy, frizzed, bleach blonde hair. Black roots grew to the tops of her ears. It looked like at some point she may have had bangs, but they had grown out months ago and hung to the top of her ruddy nose. She had a complexion the color of raw chicken. I didn't want to get near her because she looked like she stunk and I was terrified of what she might have in the two, straining black garbage bags she swung in each fat hand. Later she'd explain that she didn't have luggage so she just threw her stuff in some lawn bags and hopped on the Amtrak.

My parents showed her to her room. She'd have the small bedroom off the den on the bottom level. We had a bed for her in there, along with a card table covered with a bed sheet. My mother had made sure she had a portable radio and an alarm clock, but other than that, the room was pretty spare. Tammy didn't seem to mind.

"You people got anything to eat?" she asked.

My mother made spaghetti that night. Tammy went back for seconds and thirds, half a loaf of garlic bread quickly disappearing from her loaded plate. We offered her salad, but she declined, saying she didn't want to fill up on lettuce and tomatoes, and then went back to scrape the bottom of the stock pot for the last bites of meat sauce. When she was done she asked if we had any ice cream. Since we didn't, my dad ran to the convenience store, taking Tammy with him so she could familiarize herself with her new surroundings. While they were gone I asked my mother what had happened.

"She's umm..." my mother thought a second, "She's just a little different. She'll be fine. She was really poor in Utah and couldn't afford clothes. She'll get some now. You can't judge a person because of their clothes. It's what's inside that counts and you know that, so keep your mouth shut and don't hurt her feelings. She just needs to adjust."

Tammy ate two pints of Haagen Dazs by herself as we sat in the den watching a Gallagher special on TV. Back then we had this old TV which had barely survived the U-Haul flood that had ruined our furniture. As if it were possessed by demons, the television would switch channels on its own and often the volume would rise and fall dramatically. To fix it we had to smack the side of it. That would usually do the trick. We explained that to Tammy and when the picture went out just as Gallagher smashed a whole watermelon, she got up and hit the TV so hard that it fell off its stand and knocked over a pony tail plant and my mother's prized ceramic giraffe. She apologized as my mother ran for the vaccum and my father jumped up to put the set upright again.

"I'm still hungry. You got any chips or anything? After having my son last month I can't seem to stop eating. I think its because I'm supposed to be breast feeding or something," Tammy announced.

"You have a one month old son?" my mother asked.

"Yeah. The Mormon's took him from me, excommunicated me. They put him up for adoption and said I couldn't come back unless I got married, but I ain't about to get married."

"How could they take him away from you?" my mother asked.

"My parents sent me to a special Mormon home for unwed mothers and they convinced me to put him up. I was probably brainwashed but I didn't know who the dad was so I figured maybe it was for the best. Then I could get the hell out of that shit hole of a state Utah. Didn't need some baby weighing me down. But my damn titties are still leaking and I can't stop eating. I thought they'd have dried up by now. Man, I'm hungry. Did you say if you had some chips or not?"

A week later I kicked Tammy in her shins.

To be continued...

Ow, My Finger Hurts

Readers, I apologize for leaving you hanging. Here's the situation...

We finally got our Internet fixed. It was a long ordeal. Someone had to come to our apartment to actually fix it, as the problem was apparently more complicated than originally thought. It's finally fixed and will stop going on and off. It's also now faster, so I don't feel like I'm back in 1995 anymore.

Secondly, and this is probably a bigger hindrance to my writing than anything else - I had finger surgery. And it hurts. Pretty soon I'm hoping it will stop hurting. Typing is not fun. I knew this was going to happen so I made sure I got an lots of other typing done ahead of time, but that all took so long that I didn't get to write more of the story. I know this is cruel. Maybe one of you could sign up to take dictation from me. And ow. This hurts to type right now. Ow.

But because of the finger surgery I will suffer through a brief public service announcement. Stay out of the sun and go to a dermatologist regularly. If you ever see weird looking spots on your body do not second guess yourself and do not listen to all of your relatives who tell you it's really nothing and that you are and have always been a hypochondriac. Go to the doctor and get it checked out. And frost yourself with sunscreen as if you were a birthday cake. If you don't, you will have to get finger surgery and then you won't be able to write stories. Thank you.

Ow.

Ow.

Ok, if this thing stops hurting I'll finish the story later.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tammy Part 1

Even at eleven I thought it odd that my mother would take out an ad for a housekeeper/ nanny. We weren't rich back then and my mother didn't exactly work, at least not in the traditional sense, but my parents believed that if you wanted to be rich you had to do what rich people did and rich people had housekeepers and nannies. You had to appear rich, my father said, because if an opportunity came along and you looked like a schlep you’d never get anywhere. People wouldn’t take you seriously. The outside of the house was more important than the inside, because that was what people saw, so we had a leased Mercedes in the driveway of the split level ranch we rented from an Indian business man, twenty miles outside of the city on the edge of a wooded reservoir, while inside, the house was pretty much empty. We couldn’t afford furniture. Most rooms in our house were empty except for the kitchen. Our table and chairs were actually discarded patio furniture that my mother had foraged from someone’s trash the summer before and we slept on mattresses on the floor.

"When we moved up from Florida," my mother explained, "the U-Haul flooded and all of our furniture got ruined. But don't even worry about it. This next deal we're working on's gonna come through big time and then we'll move out of this place and get a mansion anyway."

"So why furnish this place, right?" my father added.

"Yeah, we're moving and then you'll see some furniture," my mother said.

They talked a lot about what the new furniture in the mansion was going to look like. My mother dreamed about something called a pit couch. She wanted to do everything in white, mauve and light gray.

"Mirrored walls," my father would chime in.

"Black lacquer furniture with gold trim," she'd add.

She wanted a dining room table made purely out of glass.

My parents were deal makers. They'd never worked office jobs, retail or service. They were entrepreneurs who hustled together. Their motto was “if you work too hard then you’re too busy to make any money.” My father said that office jobs with weekly paychecks, health insurance deducted from the net each week, were a waste of time for pussy-whipped schmucks and the last thing he would ever be was a pussy-whipped schmuck. My mother loved this about him.

My parents always had several deals working at once. It was like a numbers game because most of the deals were scams or bullshit or just never ended up coming through. Once in a while though, they’d get a decent pay off and we’d live well for a few weeks, often too well. My parents would go out for lavish dinners in the city at Le Cote Basque or Tavern on the Green, popping bottle after bottle of Perrier Jouet. My mother splurged on a silver, fox coat at Sax and the Mercedes 500, navy blue with tan interior, appeared in the driveway, replacing our Buick. They’d spend everything before they could even think about furniture and then we’d be right back where we started.

When my mother placed the ad for the nanny/ housekeeper, my parents were in the middle of putting together a deal to manufacture and sell green lipstick. Their fledgling company already sold press-on nails, but now they wanted to venture into makeup, starting with lipstick, which was cheap and easy to manufacture they said. Plus, they'd discovered something no one else had. Mood lipstick, as they called it, started out crayon green and was supposed to magically change color based on a woman’s individual body chemistry, creating a custom color unique as the woman herself. It looked to me like the lipstick instantly turned a garish, hooker-ish fuchsia, the exact same shade on each person who tried it, but my parents insisted that it was genuinely different on everyone and it was going to be gigantic. Mood Lips was going to take the cosmetic industry by storm, making traditional lipsticks obsolete.

A week before placing the ad, my mother decided that the green lipstick needed a better tube – something as different and innovative as the product inside. An Israeli at a falafel joint in the city had shown them a special lipstick tube made by a Hungarian in New Jersey, who had a cosmetics factory. Instead of a cap, this tube had a flip top operated by a small slide. You slid a tab up and the lid opened. Slide it back down and the lid closed. My parents went to see the Hungarian, who lived in Short Hills and wore Armani suits. The Hungarian impressed them. He owned a chain of women’s clothing stores, each with its own cosmetic counter that sold a line of makeup and skin care products named after his wife. He had recently taken his company public and the stock was taking off. He had even been written about in the Wall Street Journal. This was the time for my parents to get in. They’d be millionaires within weeks. The Hungarian even wanted my mother to work with him, so she’d have to get a nanny for the child of course and she shouldn’t worry about the cost of that because she’d have so much money so quickly that she’d be able to give the nanny a raise.

My parents were in. On the way home they called a real estate agent to show them mansions for sale in Saddle River. My father swore that if they hadn’t driven up in the Mercedes that this would never have happened because the Hungarian wouldn’t have taken them seriously. Success comes to the people who look successful. My mother immediately went home and placed the ad in the New York Times. She was going to have a housekeeper and a nanny and the day after she placed her ad she found another ad. I never knew if she answered Tammy’s ad or if Tammy answered our ad.

“Good Mormon girl from Utah seeks live-in childcare position in New York area. Can cook and sew, loves children. Friendly, attractive and quiet. Would love to be a part of your family.”

“She told me she cooks real good,” my mother told me, “and those Mormons are raised from birth to take care of a house and kids. I could tell from talking to her. She can cook and make her own clothes. Aren’t you excited?”

I imagined a willowy blonde in a puff sleeved prairie dress kneading bread all over our kitchen counters, and I confess that I did kind of find that exciting because that was how I wished my mother was.

Until Tammy arrived from Utah, my parents left me alone. I'd come home from school, let myself in and boil a pack of ramen noodles or stir together a box of macaroni and cheese. Then I'd sit in the kitchen, at the table that was supposed to be on someone's deck or patio, and make long distance calls which lasted for hours, to kids I'd gone to school with back in Millpond. I made my life sound glamorous and exotic, telling them how I went to Broadway shows every weekend in a limousine and how on the first day I was already sitting at the popular kids table at school. Of course none of this was true. I didn't have any friends in New York yet unless you counted Francine, the girl at my bus stop.

Francine wore a hard plastic body brace because she had scoliosis. It was padded and the color of the congealed fat on the top of cold, chicken soup. She had insisted on showing it to me as we waited for the bus on the first day of school. All Francine talked about was her scoliosis and her upcoming Bat Mitzvah. It sounded like she practically lived at Hebrew School. She was horrified that my parents weren't sending me to study Talmud and that I hadn't been checked for curvature of the spine myself. Francine and I just didn't have a lot in common and other than her I had no other choices for friends.

As the sun went down behind the rows of trees in our backyard, I'd drop my dirty dishes in the sink and then sit on my parents' bed watching TV until they got home from working with the Hungarian.

"I promise you won't be alone much longer. Tammy's getting here this weekend!" my mother told me, late one night.

"She is?"

"Yes, and she's going to cook and clean. Just wait. She'll sew all your clothes. She's a Mormon you know. Mormons love kids. I talked to her on the phone today."

"You did?"

"Yes and she told me her specialties are tacos and peanut butter cookies!"

"I love those!"

"She can't wait to get here and meet you. Aren't you excited? You're going to have your own nanny. Do you know how lucky you are?"

I nodded because my mother expected me to, but honestly I didn't really know if I was lucky or not. Still a nanny would at least be interesting. Children in story books had nannies, so I found the idea somewhat appealing. I would have rather had my mother around, but if my parents were going to be multi-millionaires, and my mother had to work for the Hungarian in order for that to happen, then I couldn't exactly be complaining, could I?

I didn't know what a Mormon was. It sounded Amish to me and I always wanted to be Amish. Maybe Tammy the Mormon would play with me at the lake and help me with my homework. I'd tried to get my mother to go over a worksheet with me but she waved her hand, with its press-on nails, and said she'd never been good in school and it all looked like Chinese to her. Plus, I was smart. I'd been in gifted and talented so why couldn't I do it myself? Maybe Tammy would have been good in school and would understand how to do Pre-Algebra and Life Science. Maybe she'd read Judy Blume books with me and we could watch the Cosby's together.

The next time my mother asked me if I was excited about Tammy, I actually was.

"She's taking the Amtrak cross country. Utah's far away so she's been on the train two days already. We got to pick her up at the station tomorrow."

I could barely sleep. The anticipation drove me crazy. I couldn't concentrate on "Deenie" and I tossed and turned trying to decide if I should wear a skirt because that's what Mormons liked. What if Tammy saw my hair and hated it and wanted to go back to Utah? What if Mormons beat their kids and she wanted to beat me? What if she was really nice and then she thought my parents were crazy? I thought of every possible scenario until the sun rose and I got up to watch Saturday morning cartoons.

Later that afternoon my parents went to pick Tammy up in the city at Grand Central Station.

"You have to stay home because we need room in the car for all of her suitcases," they said.

I pictured the Mercedes laden with tacos, peanutbutter cookies, suitcases of calico jumpers, the Book of Mormon and a sewing machine and reluctantly, I agreed to stay home and wait.

A few hours later, Tammy burst through the door and stood on the landing of our split level ranch between the first and second floors, as my dog, a small red pomeranian went after her ankles, intent on drawing blood.

To be continued...

You will never believe this. Of course on Saturday after I got done writing about prune juice and poop, the damned Internet went out again. Apparently it's not compatible with rain and it was stormy last week. Now it's finally back again, but not before I left you with a three day mental image of me after a strong laxative. Lovely, isn't it?

Ok, so we need to segue into the next story. Your last story was about the night when I finally left Millpond at 11 years old and went to live with the parents I call my mother and father now. I never talked to my biological father again, although you may recall that I saw him at my grandfather's funeral last June and wrote all about it. My stepmother died of cancer last year. A bitch to the end, she left instructions that I was not to attend her funeral or be mentioned in her obituary. I wouldn't have wanted either. But still, can you imagine being on your deathbed and making a request like that?

I got to have ice cream, living in New York with my new parents. Often on the weekends that first summer we'd go into the city and eat at a hole in the wall Chinese place on the Upper East Side. It used to be a sit-down place, but now it's only take-out. The food is still amazing. If I have readers in New York who'd like to try it, the place is called The Szechuan Kitchen and it's somewhere around 77th and 1st Avenue, I think. I'd never had Chinese food before, so it was a big deal to me. Other times we'd head down to the Village for Mamoun's Falafel and there was also the infamous Greek souvlaki joint where my parents repeatedly tricked me into eating lamb pitas telling me they were beef. I don't think it's there anymore. Gelato San Martin on Columbus closed within a year after my arrival in New York.


It was a good summer. I don't remember a lot of it. I spent most of my time exploring the woods and lake behind our house. For the first time I had my own dog and a tuxedo cat. I was getting to know my mother that summer, because until then I'd really only seen her here and there for a weekend at a time or a few weeks during the summers. Now I had her all the time.

I learned pretty quickly that my mother, who was only 29 at the time, was no June Cleaver. A lot of times, she didn't really feel like a mother, but more like a sort of friend. My parents were a huge, complicated mystery and I spent that first summer just trying to figure them out. I wasn't very successful.

In mid-September, I started seventh grade at Riverbank Junior High. I had to go to my new school with a mullet. To read this story in order, go read this post about how I got a mullet. A week after school started, Tammy came to live with us and everything changed.
Saturday, March 21, 2009

Learn From My Mistakes

Me: Wow!! I never knew prune juice tasted so good! Yum, this prune juice is just absolutely delicious. I LOVE THIS PRUNE JUICE! Let me get another glass. Why isn't this more popular? This stuff is great! I'm shocked that more people aren't drinking it. I think I need a THIRD glass of prune juice!

Rainy Saturday

My Internet has been out for three days and it's finally back on!! Yay! Now I can write a new story without having to go to a public place or my parents' house. What should I write about? Let me think about this some and as we're having another lovely, rainy spring day, I'll settle down with the laptop and some coffee and dredge up a memory for you all this afternoon. I just got caught in the rain, so I need to change and take the blow dryer to myself.

On an unrelated note, I have to share a gratuitous cat story...

Whenever Canela hears rain splattering against the windows she gets a panicked look in her eyes, crouches low to the ground and runs to hide under the bed until the rain stops. This always cracks me up because I honestly think in her little almond sized brain, that she believes she is going to get soaked unless she takes shelter and that she doesn't realize she's inside. Bless her heart.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sugar, Part 3

New York City rose glittering from the opposite bank of the Hudson River. It was a bonfire of buildings; flashes of unexpected greens, blues, white heat. The offices and high rises were jagged as flames, lifting and falling across the skyline. The city smoked and steamed, domed in a high orange haze that seemed to keep the night away. I rolled down the Buick's backseat window and smelled sulfur, jet fuel, fish and the exhaust of the bug splattered Greyhound bus that throttled across the George Washington Bridge ahead of us.

"Why is the traffic so bad?" I asked when we slowed to a crawl.

"It's Friday night. People are going into the city to party," my mother explained.

"Hold still and you can feel the bridge move under us," my stepfather said.

For a moment we were quiet. The Buick shifted slightly. It bobbed as the wind swayed the spans.

We passed under the high arches of two enormous towers; megaliths of steel lattice, linking swags of cable. We sped along the river bank on what I would come to learn was the West Side Highway. My stepfather swung the car down a side street and soon we were stuck in gridlock surrounded by a long linking chain of yellow cabs, honking and braking.

"Put on WBLS," my mother said.

My stepfather tuned the car's radio and soon they both sang along with Marvin Gaye in the front seat as I stretched as far as I could out of the back window to see the city surrounding me. We passed brightly lit Korean groceries with yellow awnings, where outside their front doors waxy green apples shined beside piles of glossy black cherries, citrus pyramids and bouquets of daisies dyed unnaturally blue. On one corner couples sat at marble topped tables, on wire chairs at an outdoor cafe, biting into napoleons, cream puffs and eclairs, the pastry shattering under their teeth into buttery crumbs on their plates. People were everywhere. All kinds of people. A man in a turban smoked a pipe under a streetlight as four giggling girls walked by, all of them dressed in black and fuchsia crinolines with wide lace bows wrapped around their heads. They looked like Madonna. Against buildings, kids not much older than me did "the worm" on flattened carboard boxes to music popping out of boom boxes. We ran red lights and several rights and lefts later my stepfather pointed out the trees of Central Park, then the statue in the center of Columbus Circle, which we went around three times before we found a parking space.

My mother held my hand and led me down a crowded sidewalk.

"Where are we going?"

"You'll see. Don't worry. You'll love it."

The line at Gelato San Martin wound out the open, glass front doors, melting into a puddle of people in front of the narrow, two story, Art Deco storefront. The building was pure white marble and chrome. Turquoise and hot pink neon piping lit up the arched, palladian windows through which I could see men, women and children digging plastic spoons into clear cups and big waffle cones of ice cream.

"We're getting ice cream?!"

"Gelato," my stepfather said.

"Gelato? What's gelato?"

"A special kind of ice cream fron Italy. It's better than ice cream. It's softer and creamier and tastes better."

"Really? What kinds of flavors?"

"All kinds. They have flavors you never even dreamed of. Wait 'til you get inside. You're never going to believe it."

And I didn't.

At the Dairy Queen they just had vanilla and chocolate. At my grandparents' house we'd get Butter Almond or the tri-color brick of Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry. Once in a while my grandfather'd get a wild hair and splurge on a half gallon of Mint Chip. I didn't even know that there were other ice cream flavors outside of those few, but at Gelato San Martin I discovered an entire universe of frozen sweetness.

The freezer case, manned by a team of at least twenty young Italian men scraping the gelato into cones and cups with metal paddles, stretched the entire length of the building and was divided into two distinct sections - one side for gelato and one side for sorbet. My mother explained to me that the gelato had milk and the sorbet did not.

First I explored the gelatos, all soft, cream-muted pastels flavored with various combinations of chocolates, nuts, coffee and liqueurs. I considered coffee for its naughty, adults-only feel. I wondered if my mother and stepfather would let me have it.

"If that's what you want, then of course," they said.

"You can have whatever you want," my mother added.

"Really? Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"Anything?"

"Anything. Yes. It's just ice cream."

"And I can have anything I want?"

My stepfather laughed.

"You'll love this then. You can mix flavors. You don't have to just get one. If you want three kinds you can get three kinds in one cup."

I couldn't even speak. I had to inspect the sorbets and when I peered into the case I just wanted to stand there and look inside it all night long. The luminous tubs of iced fruits shimmered under the glass: sun colored mango, summer-green kiwi stippled with shiny black seeds, a saturated, sure-to-stain red raspberry swirled next to a mambo of pinky-orange guava. I couldn't choose. There was blueberry, a pale pink peach, spiced pear, sour apple, ruby grapefruit and snowy white lemon.

And I could have whatever I wanted.

Shyly, I requested a cup of kiwi and raspberry, chosen by color. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever tasted. The sorbet was tart and sweet, velvety. I loved the crunch of tiny kiwi seeds, the way the deep green and red fruit puree melted into a froth of little bubbles on the edge of my spoon.

We ate our sorbet and gelato as we wandered the Upper West Side on that humid, June night. I tried to take it all in - the buildings with their uniformed doormen, the boutiques, Chinese take-outs, 24 hour cookie shops and gourmet grocery stores. I stared alternately into my cup and up at the skyscrapers.

"Can we come back and get this again sometime?" I asked.

"We can come whenever you want."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Space Shuttle!

While I finish up your story (the ending takes a while because that has to be the best written part) and while I work and go to school and make money and scrub my toilet and attempt to control my insane cat, I give you a photograph I took last night of the space shuttle Discovery taking off. I live about three hours from the Kennedy Space Center, so this was a highly unusual sight from down here. I've only been able to see it one other time and that was around 1990 or 91. We were lucky to have a really clear night. Also, I think the timing of the launch, around sunset helped us to see it too because the glare of the daytime sun didn't obscure it and because the sunset reflected nicely off the vapors. It was a really beautiful and fascinating sight. What you see here, I believe, is the trail from the rocket boosters which separate first and the cloud of vapors created from the separation of the fuel tank. The picture is taken from my parents' backyard where we were enjoying Sunday dinner on the back patio. My mother was convinced the space shuttle had exploded, but I knew it was fine because you could actually see it moving through the sky as a tiny orange dot, like a little star. Here is an article about the launch and the mission if you're interested.
Friday, March 13, 2009

Sugar, Part 2

For the first eleven years of my life the custody battle between my mother and father pulled and tore at my childhood. I was like a wad of chewed gum stuck between the sole of a sneaker and a black expanse of hot asphalt. Family court governed my life, dictating where I'd be on certain weekends or summer months. For a while I enjoyed Tuesday night dinners with my mother. Then suddenly the privilege was gone. When my mother took me to get my ears pierced, I ended up on the stand like a nine year old felon, testifying that it had been my idea, not my mother's and that she hadn't coerced me into the peridot studs at all. The same thing happened when once, against my father's wishes, my mother took me to a hair salon during one of her prescribed visitations and I'd requested bangs. My father didn't approve of bangs, earrings, ice cream sundaes or my mother. By the time my stepmother became pregnant with their first child, at the beginning of my sixth grade year, my father didn't approve of me either.

In the ten years since my mother had lost custody of me, she'd worked on growing up. She married. Together, she and my stepfather tried to make a life together. They called themselves entrepreneurs. My grandparents, with eye rolls, called them dreamers and said the two of them needed to settle down and get real jobs - jobs with weekly paychecks and benefits, in offices or car dealerships, respectable places. Still, the two of them planned and fantasized, imagining ideas for new businesses and products, some of them which came to fruition and some that never quite worked out. A few ideas had even landed them temporarily in jail, which did little for my mother's case that she was a fit mother. But by the time my stepmother was pregnant, and I was in the sixth grade, lonely and starving most of the time, while Louise and my father decorated the nursery, my mother and stepfather appeared to have settled down.

They'd moved to New York, a half hour outside of the city, where they started a cosmetics company in hopes of getting in early on the new press-on nails craze. They'd made some money with a mail order business a year earlier where they imported a Romanian face cream guaranteed to erase fine lines and wrinkles.

"And it's a hundred percent all natural ingredients," my mother would say, "Look, you can even eat it."

Then she'd unscrew the lid on the glossy black container, swirl her finger into the grainy, pinkish lotion as if it were marshmallow fluff and pop a glob of Eastern European wrinkle cream in her mouth.

"Tastes great, you want some?"

I never tried it, despite the fact that it looked like frosting.

With a house and a husband and even a dog and a cat, bolstered by the popularity of "Active-Length Fancy Fingers" in french manicure, my mother felt she finally had a good shot at winning back custody. I was old enough to tell the judge that I'd had enough of life with my controlling, fanatical father and his sour new wife. My mother could afford a lawyer and maybe my father would be more willing to let me go, now that he was looking forward to a new baby that he could more easily mold to his specifications. I pictured a plain, bang-less girl, pale and bare-eared, completely free from the burdens of a sweet tooth.

Enraged upon receiving my mother's motion for custody, my father dropped me off at his parents' house, saying he'd had enough of me. I promptly came down with a stomach virus that sent me to the hospital with a 105 degree fever and kept me out of school for over two weeks. It was so bad that the pediatrician placed me on a bland diet for a month, where I could eat little more than plain cream of wheat, saltines, broth, mashed bananas and weak tea.

My father signed away his parental rights.

"I am no longer her father," he said in court the day of the hearing.

The judge tried to arrange visitation.

"I said I'm no longer her father. Why would I want visitation with a kid that isn't mine? She's a stranger to me now. She's dead to me."

"Sir, don't you think you're being a bit extreme? This child is your daughter. Her mother has already said that you're free to have as much visitation with her as you'd like with no restrictions," the judge, unfamiliar with my father's indignant rages, attempted to reason.

"I said no."

My stepmother, almost full term, patted her stomach and smiled her thin- lipped, close-mouthed smirk.

And then it was over. A few weeks after the hearing, school ended and my new parents came to pick me up, to take me home.

My grandparents helped them load my few things into the back of their Buick. I didn't have much, just two fabric suitcases in garish floral patterns and a cardboard box containing my threadbare teddy bear, greying baby blanket, Laura Ingalls books and a music box in the shape of a windmill that wheezed out "Sunrise, Sunset" when you lifted its hinged roof.

"You can take her off the bland diet," my grandmother told my mother before we left for the long drive to New York, "She's doing a lot better now."

The tract homes and abandoned farmhouses of my home town grew further apart until we drove north through bleak farmland. Monstrous irrigators perched in fields misting new corn and soybean crops and soon these gave way to strangely named highway exits (like Secaucus and Cranbury Twp),the Molly Pitcher rest area and the imposing toll booths of the congested northeast corridor.

I didn't know a lot about where I was going and I didn't care. I was glad to be leaving my hometown. New York to me, was glamour. They filmed soap operas there. New York had Broadway and fashion shows. It was on maps and on TV. People wore shirts declaring how much they loved it. New York was going to be different.

Both of my biological parents had ruined any chance for me to lead a normal life in Millpond. In a small town like that, my mother would always be a drug dealing criminal, now married to, God forbid, a Jew from a foreign country, which may have actually been a worse offense than selling some weed and pills years earlier. My father was a tyrannical, hypocritical religious zealot. Most people in town realized he was half crazy. This is not the kind of lineage that wins an eleven year old a prime spot at the popular kids’ lunch table. For my entire middle school career thus far, I had been relegated to retard-table exile, where I sat quietly, not eating, breathing through my mouth, trying to ignore the stench of Grade D institutional cooking.

But now I would live in New York where no one would know about my former father. They wouldn’t have any idea that my mother had an old criminal record. With my new name, they wouldn’t know that my stepfather hadn’t always been my father. We would look like every other normal family and I would have two parents who were actually married to each other. I could already see myself at my new school nibbling Ring Dings in the cafeteria, wearing lip gloss, laughing with the popular girls at their table.

We stopped at a Bob's Big Boy on the New Jersey Turnpike for grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken noodle soup. I slept for the rest of the drive until my stepfather reached over into the backseat, one hand still on the wheel, to pat my thigh.

"Wake up, we're getting ready to cross the George Washington Bridge," he said.

I sat up, brushed my bangs away from my damp forehead and blinked.

"Where are we going?"

"To the city for a surprise," my mother told me.

I glanced at the dashboard clock.

"It's almost midnight. Don't we have to go home and go to bed?"

I had never been up that late and I certainly hadn't gone anywhere for a surprise in the middle of the night. My stepfather chuckled.

"This is the city that never sleeps Sugar."

To be continued again...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sugar

We never had dessert. My father and stepmother, religious fanatics, lumped sweets with Michael Jackson, low cut blouses and cocktails; sinful frippery that must be avoided. Temptation to eat sugary treats would just lead to other, unthinkable forms of temptation best avoided. The devil hid in pink frosted cupcakes, it seemed. For a long time I actually believed that the Dairy Queen in town, which sat across the street from the high school and was only open between Memorial Day and Labor Day, was the Devil's actual house.

Still, I longed desperately for a Peanut Buster Parfait, which my friend had told me was the best thing she'd ever eaten in her life, though I would have been equally as thrilled with plain vanilla soft serve, it's top swirled into a Q, nestled into a paper wrapped cake cone. Sometimes we drove past the Dairy Queen where pick-up trucks loaded with sticky kids packed the parking lot on summer nights and I'd gaze through the car windows at the long lines of people waiting at the window under tall fluorescent lights where bats and swallows darted after moths drawn by the glow. I'd watch large women tented in house coats and long haired boys in cut off shorts carrying armfuls of dipped cones and sundaes back to their friends and families waiting in hot cars and I would want ice cream so desperately that often I would imagine rolling down the windows of my father's Ford Escort and jumping out of the moving car into traffic to steal someone's banana split. Id' have to steal it, since I didn't have any money to buy one.

As we drove past the Dairy Queen, probably on our way back from some tedious errand or Bible Study I would concentrate hard, trying to telepathically will my father to stop, to make him suddenly crave ice cream with an intensity impossible to deny.

"You want ice cream. Stop at the Dairy Queen. You can taste the ice cream. You want it. You must have it. You will stop at the Dairy Queen," I'd think at him.

It never worked. I blamed it on my stepmother who always watched her figure so she wouldn't get fat like my real mother had. I imagined her sending thought interference to block my messages.

"Never stop at Dairy Queen. Do not give in to temptation," I imagined her thinking.

Sometimes I got lucky. On the rare occasions we'd visit relatives, I could get away with a sliver of dry cake spackled with canned frosting. We didn't see my father's parents often. They didn't like my stepmother and thought she and my father were too harsh and strict with me, so I hardly got to see them after Daddy married Louise at the end of my fourth grade year. When I did get to go to my grandparents' house the first thing I'd do was run to their avocado green refrigerator and open the freezer door to see what kind of ice cream they had. My grandfather and I both had the same favorite: Breyer's Butter Almond.

"Hold on and I'll fix you a dish," my grandfather would say to me.

Then he'd dig it out of the carton with a soup spoon.

My father didn't enjoy restaurants, but on very special occasions he'd consent to dining out. He'd comb his dark hair sharply over to one side, tack a wide tie to his short sleeved dress shirt while Louise threw on the same, kelly green dress she bought for their honeymoon and which she always wore. Then we'd go to a colonial themed inn where the T-bones came with lipstick colored, spiced apple rings and unlimited trips to the salad bar. All through dinner I'd roll chickpeas across my plate and peek at other tables shoveling seven layer anvils of chocolate cake into their mouths and I would pray that this would be the time my father might make an exception. Then the waiter would come.

"Coffee or dessert?"

And the answer would always be the same.

"No, thank you. We'll just take the check."

There' still Thanksgiving, I'd tell myself. No matter where we went on Thanksgiving, I could always get away with an isosceles of Mrs. Smith's pumpkin pie, rabidly foaming at the crust with Cool Whip, which I scraped away. I didn't much like pumpkin pie, especially not ready made and straight from the grocer's freezer. The factory crimped crust never failed to burn and the filling always cracked in a fault line of pumpkin custard that wept syrup and condensation. It wasn't the most appetizing dessert, but it had sugar. It was, at least, a little sweetness amid the bitter.

"I want to come live with you," I whispered to my real mother over the telephone, "Let me come live with you in New York."

"Don't you worry," she told me,"I'm working on it. I'm working on getting you away from them."


To be continued...
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Garbage Eaters

A man was in the dumpster. He scared me when I went to take the trash out before I locked up the studio for the evening. It wasn't Clyde, the drunk who regularly shit himself in the alley between where I worked and the bakery next door and it wasn't Darius, the schizophrenic whose hair was one huge, spoon shaped dreadlock. I was used to seeing them shuffling around behind my work looking for something the restaurants all up and down the street had tossed out. I went back inside and told my coworkers.

"One of the homeless guys?"

"No," I said, "He was like our age and clean cut. He had a long beard and a nice haircut. He was wearing shorts and a button up shirt."

We looked outside and the guy was gone.

"Hmm," my coworker said, shrugging, "Probably a hippie from Little Five Points looking for something to sell."

"Maybe he was an artist looking for found objects to make a collage," someone else suggested.

Living in the middle of Atlanta during the mid-90s I saw all types. I worked in a paint your own pottery studio which sat on the corner of what was then the most chic, hippest intersection in the city. The corner, with its boutiques, galleries, cafes and art studios along with the many bars in the neighborhood, attracted constant large and diverse crowds. You just never knew who you might see and what they might be doing. Because of this, we quickly forgot the guy in the dumpster.

A couple days later, running errands around Midtown, I saw the guy with the nice haircut and the long beard again and this time he was riding a bike with a large wooden box strapped to the back of it. Again he wore cargo shorts with a buttoned shirt. His hiking boots were new and really the only thing unusual about him was his beard, which was so long and bushy that it blew over one shoulder as he pedaled. Pretty soon I started seeing young, good looking young men with nice haircuts and long beards riding bikes all over Atlanta. Something was going on, I thought.

One slow afternoon, one of the young guys with the nice haircuts and long beard came into my work. He was incredibly good looking with big, blue eyes and light brown hair.

"Excuse me," he said, "Would it be ok with you if I could please use your bathroom?"

"Well, normally it's just for customers, but since it's slow today I don't really mind as long as you don't make a mess."

"Thank you. I really appreciate it. Thank you very much."

The cute guy with the long beard was in the bathroom forever. Great, I thought. He came in here to take a big dump which is going to stink the place up and probably clog the toilet for the seventh time this month. Fantastic. Better yet, he was probably shooting heroin or something in there.

Some time later he came out, thanked me again and left. He'd locked his bike up on the rack on the sidewalk outside our front door.

When I went in the bathroom, hesitantly because I was scared of what I might find in there, I discovered that the cute guy with the nice haircut and the long beard had completely cleaned and scrubbed the toilet, sink and mirror with the sponge and cleaning products we kept in the cabinet beneath the sink. This was miraculous because it spared me from having to do it. I hated cleaning the bathroom at work. Our studio was small, but it got insanely busy and with one, unisex toilet it often got pretty gross in there. People would practically have ticker tape parades with wet toilet paper and it seemed that everyone who peed had some sort of issue which prevented them from actually peeing in the toilet and instead made them pee on and around the toilet. I don't even want to talk about some of the poop related incidents we had in that bathroom. But now, out of nowhere, a good looking young man had come, as if from Heaven, and had cleaned the bathroom for me. I hoped he came back!

I was in luck. He returned every day for a couple weeks. We sold sodas and juices out of a small refrigerator and no one ever took inventory, so every time he'd come in, I'd give him a free drink for cleaning the bathroom. He spoke to me as little as possible and every day he asked me permission to use the bathroom, even though it had quickly become obvious that of course he could use the bathroom. Several nights thereafter, my coworkers or I would catch him in the dumpster out back. Every time someone would see him digging through the trash, he'd apologize shyly and jump onto his bike and speed away. It was the weirdest thing. But I didn't care because he was cleaning the nasty work bathroom. I'd pretty much excuse anything for someone to clean a toilet for me.

I wasn't the only person noticing these strange young men with long beards riding their bikes all over town.

"Have you see the clean cut young men with the long beards?" everyone was asking.

"Yeah, they all look the same and they ride bikes all over town!"

"They dig in dumpsters!"

"For what?"

No one knew.

Everyone wondered what they were doing. They certainly didn't look dirty or homeless. The guy who cleaned my work bathroom was exceptionally polite, demure even, if a young man can be demure. Although he seemed extremely unusual and mysterious, he didn't seem crazy.

Then they disappeared.

Suddenly, all the handsome young men with their nice haircuts and long beards rode their bikes out of town and never returned. As I drove through Atlanta I'd look for them. I almost kind of had a crush on the guy who had cleaned my work bathroom and when he stopped coming I have to admit I was a little bit disappointed. I didn't want to go back to Windexing pee off the sides of the bowl. More than that though, I wanted to know who these guys were and what was going on with them.

As with most things that appear briefly and then disappear from my life, I soon forgot the young men with nice haircuts and long beards. About a year or so later I finally found out who they were and what they were doing when 20/20 (I think, it may have been Dateline or 48 Hours) ran a story about a cult they called "The Garbage Eaters."

"I know them!!" I shouted when the story came on, "That's them! That's the guys with nice haircuts and long beards!"

They were a cult, also called The Roberts Group or The Brethren. Apparently they didn't call themselves anything. These names were given to them by outsiders who saw them or families who had lost their relatives to the cult. The show went on to interview distraught relatives of cult members who had disappeared suddenly and had run off with the nomadic group, cutting all ties with their families as the cult's leader required. Many parents had lost their sons and daughters. There were girls too, but they either lived and traveled separately from the men or they just stayed inside and avoided contact with the outside world.

The young men with the nice haircuts and long beards were brainwashed religious fanatics who believed they were living the simplest, godliest life possible. Meanwhile their families hearts were broken. Most of their parents searched futilely for their sons and daughters and refused to give up. The group was fairly small and moved so often that no one could find them. They camped in wooded areas, squatted in abandoned buildings or made deals with people who'd rent out temporary spaces for them. Believing aceticism to be the closest path to Jesus, the Garbage Eaters foraged for food and usable goods in dumpsters. This part seemed odd to me because it was obvious that their clothes and boots were new and good quality. It looked like they bought them somewhere to me.

Then it got stranger.

The family of Don Busweiler told their story. He owned a store and a clothing line called "Pervert" in South Beach. A few years earlier, before I'd moved to Atlanta, my then boyfriend had known him. I remembered him telling me about his friend with the "Pervert" clothes all the time. He was only a couple years older than me and had been really successful, starting his own business in his early 20s. He'd been a big deal on South Beach. And he'd run off and joined a cult where he dug through trash? Really? And his parents had no idea where he was? What makes a person do something so radically strange and extreme like that? I wondered if the guy who cleaned my work bathroom had been Don Busweiler.

Even if it hadn't been him, the young man with the nice haircut and long beard had been someone's missing son. Somewhere his family wondered where he was and for a short time I had the answer. For a little while, I could have told his family exactly where to find their lost child.

Sometimes this haunts me.
Monday, March 09, 2009

Why I Love Cats

A full mysterious week of cat drool later, Canela is perfectly fine and totally unfazed. Whatever troubled her is gone. Nothing whatsoever is wrong with her. Nothing.

This is why I love cats. They're just such pains in the asses and they really seem to enjoy it. Canela just soaked up (literally and figuratively) all the Greenies, catnip, blanket beds and whatever else I gave her to make her feel better last week. Then, this morning she got in bed with me and bit me so hard on the arm that she broke the skin. For no reason. She had food and ice cubes and everything her little feline heart could possibly desire. Husband thinks she bit me because she doesn't understand daylight savings time and that he threw her off schedule getting up (to her) an hour earlier and that maybe she thought I should be up too. I think this theory would make more sense if it were Fall and we had turned the time back making me seem like I was in bed longer, but honestly I don't know. Maybe she bit me for fun. That's how cats are you know.

Cats can be such little shits. Here's a perfect example. Back when I lived in Atlanta I had a cat named Blackie ( I know, very original) who was an indoor/ outdoor cat. He constantly got into trouble. This cat had eighteen lives. I have never in my life had more problems with a cat. He ate poisonous wild onions, got hit by a car, got stuck under the crawlspace in the house for two days and yes I did check there and no he didn't come out, and he got stung by a wasp causing his paw to swell up like a black velvet boxing glove. Once Blackie even got stuck five stories up in a towering, hundred year old magnolia that sat across the street in the lawn of the Christian Boarding House. This is when I learned, as my cat's wails echoed clear to the Georgia Tech campus, that firemen do not really rescue cats from trees. This is also when I learned that you should not put a step ladder on the slanted roof of a house and that sometimes, while cats will cause huge, embarassing scenes when they are stuck in treetops, that if you ignore them sometimes they'll get the nerve up to come down on their own.

I really loved this cat. Blackie, for all this trouble, really was one of my favorite cats. I'll never forget the image of him, all prowl and panthery, racing up the street in a hailstorm because he'd ignored my calls earlier when I'd heard thunder and tried to get him in. He used to take walks with me, following me up and down the street. But still, Blackie was a shit.

One night I was sitting in my living room watching TV with Blackie purring beside me on the couch. All of a sudden he leapt to his feet and began the lurching, gulping retch to cough up a hairball.

"BLACKIE NOOOOO!" I shouted.

I had already cleaned up enough cat barf from my carpets and furniture and I knew this one would be bad because Blackie had a full stomach. I scooped him up and tossed him (gently) out the front door to puke outside.

About a half hour later I heard him meowing on the front step to come back in. I got up, opened the door and there, in the driveway I discovered that the hood of my car was completely covered in dripping piles of cat yack.

And that, dear readers, is why you just have to love cats.
Friday, March 06, 2009

Hey Neighbor!

Speaking of baseball... I forgot to tell you that this guy, troubled baseball player Miguel Tejada, has now moved into my parents' neighborhood and for the past month, whenever he's in town, there's been a major disruption of traffic. One day a few weeks ago they shut down the entire road for all the news vans and papparazzi. I give him a month before he ends up at my parents house with all the other washed up, has been, never were, wanna-be D-List celebrities. He can be best friends with the guy who wrote "Who Let the Dogs Out" and maybe Vanilla Ice will drive down from Palm Beach county and hang out too. Picture courtesy of this Fox News article.
Thursday, March 05, 2009

My Living Room Is Not Complete

On the way out of town I spotted this classy Scarface rug and I wanted it bad, but my mean husband said it wouldn't match our decor and that he was actually holding out for a Notorious B.I.G. rug, which he believes would go better with our sofa.

The Horror! (Not Safe for Work)


This was so not ok. I just wanted to watch a movie in the hotel room. I wanted the thrill of watching a movie on a TV that was not yet out on DVD. So scrolling through the available options like Slumdog Millionaire and Frost/Nixon I come across THIS. Really. This looks like some kind of a bad joke, but I assure you, this was indeed real. Someone out there is actually into this. I'm not denying old people their sexuality, I'm just saying it kind of really freaks me out a little that it's being fetishized. The best parts of this are the hunch, the orthopedic shoes and of course, the cane. The cane is really what makes this hot. Also that plastic grocery bag. Really sexy. Needless to say, I ordered Frost/Nixon.

More Baseball


This is my favorite picture from Sunday's game. I wasn't that close, so I had to zoom in with the camera, but I like how intent all the players look. I have no idea who any of them are, but later I learned that they made the rookies and the minor league guys who were trying out for the big team stand up against the fence to block the cold wind for the regular players. I thought that was funny.

Holy Lord That is a Huge Diamond

On Sunday we went to see the Twins play the Red Sox. This game wasn't as good as Friday's because there wasn't a lot of scoring or suspense and it was freezing outside. Also the Twins lost. We also sat next to some drunk guy from Boston who would not shut up and was bothering everyone around him, including us. We got to sit with all the players' families, including their wives and let me tell you - this was an interesting experience. Baseball salaries are clearly recession proof. Get a load of this girl's ring. I had to take one of those stealth cell phone photos of it. It was just that big and outrageous. And she was clearly holding it up, right? I mean, who sits like that? I have no idea whose wife she was, but I'm guessing somebody serious with rocks like that. And she was all of about 23. I haven't seen diamonds that huge on a girl that young and skinny since my old job. It really brought back memories for me. Husband's theory is that she was a stripper who made it big.

More Vacation Photos!


This is Sanibel Island where we first had dinner at a great place called Sweet Melissa's on Friday night. Then we went back Saturday to go to the beach. It was too cold to go in the water, but walking on the beach was beautiful and we saw dolphins and shorebirds. So to all of you Northerners stuck in the cold, grey slush of late winter longing for the tropics, I give you this picture of white beaches and turquoise seas to look at and wish yourself here. It's like a little free vacation, right here in a blog!
Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Spring Training!


On Friday afternoon we went to see the Twins play the Yankees. It was a great game with a lot of suspense, which I like. My Minnesotan readers will be pleased to know that the Twins won. Unfortunately A-Rod wasn't playing (they're calling him A-Roid now). Of course I had all sorts of fantasies about seeing Madonna in the stands, but alas. It was not to be. I realized that I like Spring Training games a lot better than games in the regular season. There's something about the casual atmosphere that makes it feel more authentic and real. When you go to the big games during the regular season it feels overwhelming. With the over the top announcers, instant replays on Imax sized video screens, ten dollar hot dogs and seats so high up in the stands that the players look like ants, sometimes I feel like I may as well have just stayed home and watched it on TV. The huge high-tech stadiums distance me from the actual experience of the game. But Spring Training is the opposite. Tickets are cheap and pretty easy to come by. The stands are small so you can see what's going on. The players aren't announced with a blaring theme song. There are no instant replays so you actually have to pay attention to the game. There's a good chance of catching a foul ball hit into the stands and a snack of hot dogs and peanuts won't cause you to go into foreclosure. Spring Training is kind of like what I think baseball must have been like in the old days, and I love that.

Sick Kitty


Here's the sick girl. Husband made her a drool-proof bed out of some old ratty towels on top of our coffee table. Presumably this location was so she could watch TV? In any case, the drool situation is resolving nicely and Kitty has eaten well today. Love his sneakers in the background there.
As soon as I got back from my trip I returned to a sick kitty. Canela was ill and was drooling excessively all over the place. I took her to the vet and they couldn't find anything really wrong and surmised that she may have eaten something off or that she may have a mouth sore.

"She's not telling us what the problem is," were the vet's exact words. Don't even get me started on that one.

I had to take her home and observe her for the past two days. Yesterday the drooling was less and today it seems to be nearly gone. I also had to deworm her. I have no idea where she got worms from but the vet said I could have brought them in on my clothes or something.

So the past two days I've been fawning over a sick kitty and wiping up a lot of cat spit. Now that things have calmed down I'm going to work on some schoolwork and hopefully by the end of the day I'll have my vacation pictures up for your enjoyment.
Monday, March 02, 2009

More Answers to Reader Questions

"Any fast foods that you will eat?"

As a matter of fact, yes. I am extremely fond of Chick-fil-A on the east coast and In-N-Out burger on the west coast. Both companies, I feel, have a lot of integrity and high quality food. Plus, the food tastes really, really good.

"And as far as questions go, I would like to hear about the monkey. That is, if you haven't blogged about that already and I'm just too new to the game to have read that post. :)"

Oh that damned monkey. At one point we actually ended up with three monkeys. Right now, like literally, right now, I am working on a serious piece about the monkey and when it came into our lives. I considered posting parts of it on here, however, its tone is very different from a blog post and the more I write of this piece the darker it gets. I am also extremely uncomfortable with the possibility of my mother reading it. Normally she reads everything I write and enjoys it, but I feel that the monkey story may have a little too much analysis of her personal issues at the time and that she may not be ok with reading my take on the situation. I could be wrong. It's a hard thing for me to write about though because you think a monkey story should be lighthearted and funny, but the more I write the more I see the monkey as an almost tragic situation. The monkey story just wants to be sad. Maybe if you guys beg me enough I'll post an excerpt from it.

"Where in the world do you want to go most?"

This changes a lot. It used to be Paris, but Bella and I went. Over the weekend I talked to some relatives a lot about Italy and then I wanted to go there. I think if I had unlimited money and time that right now the first place I would go would be Japan. I'd like to go now and stay until the cherry blossoms come out. I want to tour Japanese gardens. I love them. We have a Japanese garden here that I love visiting. I was actually thinking of going this week and taking some pictures for you. I also like the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco. One of my favorite blogs is "Blue Lotus" because she lives in Japan and takes gorgeous pictures, many of which involve food.

"Wide Lawns: What do you think is the most valuable gift your upbringing has given you?"

My mother and I answer this differently. She'd tell you that my upbringing has made me versatile and easily adaptable. I think it's often the opposite. In many ways my upbringing has made me rigid, neurotic and resistant to change.

There are two gifts my upbringing has given me. One of them is an almost limitless supply of things to write about. The other is that I got to see firsthand what abusing drugs and alcohol can do to you. For me this wasn't theoretical knowledge. It was too real. Because of the things I saw I developed an unholy fear of addiction that has caused me to never drink more than one drink at a time, to never try a cigarette and to avoid drugs. I have the addiction gene on both sides. I know that if I did let myself go that I could lose control and destroy my whole life like so many of my relatives.

"What injustice in the world would you like most to correct?"

This is the hardest question to answer. I thought about this for a long time and I want to correct whatever has hurt the most people for the longest time. There are so many injustices though. If I said one thing, I'd leave out something else.

The causes I support and do the most work for have to do with children, education and nutrition. I want single teenagers and single women of any age who are ill equipped to adequately raise a child to stop purposefully getting pregnant thinking that a baby will love them unconditionally, that a baby will fill their voids or that a baby will get a man to love them. I want men to stop impregnating and taking advantage of these women and girls and to stop abandoning their children once they do get these women pregnant. I want people to stop using their children as the currency in their own dysfunctional romantic relationships. It makes me sick and I think it's probably the largest social problem facing our country right now. We're creating millions of children whose lives will be filled with chaos, abandonment, potential abuse and a lot of instability at best and it breaks my heart.

I'd like to take all of those children and give them to some nice gay couples to adopt.

Because the way we've treated gay people makes me sick too. I want gay people to be able to get married and to freely adopt children. I want gay couples to have the same rights as other couples, especially when it comes to adoption. Trust me, there were many times in my life that I would have loved to have had two mommies or daddies as long as they were stable, kind and loved me. Gay people don't take reproduction for granted. For gay people, having a child is always planned and expected. The child is always wanted and never accidental or a cavalier decision. I don't understand the kind of thinking that leads people to believe that an uneducated sixteen year old who had a one night stand could possibly be a better parent than two grown men in a committed relationship. That is injustice.

You know what else is an injustice? That rich people have access to the best quality, most nutritious and freshest foods while poor people have to do their grocery shopping at 7-11 because grocery stores won't build in bad areas. I understand why, but that doesn't make it ok. It enrages me that the most impoverished people are often the most overweight and that the foods they eat, because that's all that's available, are the foods that will cause them the most health problems.

Another injustice is our education system. It sucks. A lot of teachers suck too. Many administrators suck. Parents really suck. Most of the kids that do so poorly in school, fail to thrive in an educational environment because their lives are filled with so much anxiety and chaos that school is the least of their priorities. See my first point above. What really sucks is that the best, most experienced teachers get the privilege of teaching in the fancy, rich areas, while the worst teachers or just the newest and least experienced teachers get the hardest jobs in the toughest, urban schools where the students are poor, malnourished and come from violent and unstable homes. It creates a horrible, vicious cycle. It makes me mad.

I could go on indefinitely about injustice, so I had better go on to another question.

"Do you want to have kids? All your posts previous to the recent health related one made it seem like you didn't want kids ever."

Hmm. Are you one of my relatives in disguise? Just kidding. I've been getting this question from the family a lot. I'm very conflicted about having kids. Sometimes I want children and then I read Mommy Blogs.

In theory I'd like to have kids because there are many things about kids that I love and enjoy and I have qualities that would make me a good mother.

Then I think of how so much can go wrong with kids these days and how I could avoid all of it by not having one. While there are things that would make me a good mother, I have other traits that would make me a terrible mother. I'm critical, perfectionistic and a raging germ freak. I fear that I may not be able to handle a sick child. With my phobia of vomit what would I do if my kid threw up?

All I hear are people talking about how difficult raising children is. Why would I want to put myself through that?

Then I see beautiful little babies and they're so cute and so funny and I think, how could I deny myself that joy?

Then I read Mommy blogs. Mommy Blogs have been the single best source of birth control I've ever found. Mommy Blogs make child rearing sound like a living hell. I read some of the posts and all I can think of is how glad I am that I haven't bred. Between the constant diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders, fights with lactation fanatics, digging shit out of the butts of constipated toddlers with a table spoon, IKEA tantrums, bizarre picky eating habits, swallowing disorders, ADHD, nasty other mothers, near constant stomach viruses and sinus infections, sleepless nights and cracked nipples - why the fuck would I ever want to put myself through that? So once every six months a kid who wants a cookie will lisp that he or she loves me? You know what, the cat loves me. I don't need to create another human being to feel needed and important because it depends on me for its very survival. My ego is fine without that.

My biggest fear though, the one that trumps the stomach bugs, the snot noses, crying jags at three in the morning and all of it, is autism. I am petrified of having a child with autism. I've known a lot of families with autistic kids on varying ends of the spectrum. I've worked with autistic kids and you know what - I have to be honest and politically incorrect here and admit that I don't feel I could handle it. I don't think I could provide an autistic child with what he or she needed. I know there are so many parents who say their lives have been blessed with their autistic children, and maybe they have and maybe I can't know because I haven't been in their position, but I just don't think I'm that strong or that noble. Maybe I could rise to the occasion but I don't want to find out that I couldn't.

Autism is a subject that really interests me. I want to know what's causing so much of it and why. I feel like something is going on. They say it isn't the vaccines, but then, what is it? Why are so many children autistic? And not just autistic but special needs in general? Again, look at the Mommy Blogs. Most (or at least many) of the Mommy Bloggers have special needs kids. Some probably began writing their blogs after learning that their kids were special. Blogging was their way of venting and reaching out to a larger community for help. I get that. I don't condemn it. But I've also noticed a large number of Mommy Bloggers who started their blogs before or when they were pregnant and had no clue they were about to give birth to a kid with issues of some kind. So what's up with that? It has to be, logically, that there's just a damned high rate of special needs kids being born all of a sudden and that the odds are not in my favor.

But then I see cute little babies and think of how great it would be to have children and how wonderful it would be if they were healthy and then I just feel so conflicted. So that's my answer. I'm scared to have children.

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