Friday, July 31, 2009

Update and Possible Solution

I just brought Canela home from the vet. They were very positive and though she has only 25% kidney function, they said there are things that can be done. She got fluids and is not dehydrated and does not have a fever. Her spirits are great and she has a big appetite. All of these are good signs. She gets to have wet food now, mixed with pumpkin, cat grass and probiotic powder, which they said has catnip in it to make cats love it and she went crazy when I opened the sachet, so this is apparently true. She ate like a horse.

I told the vet my problem about my grandmother and the vet, who needs to be sainted immediately, said Canela can stay there so that I can go be with Mommom. They will monitor her, feed her what she needs and give her the medication properly. They will groom her, play with her and keep her out of the cage most of the day. They also have 24 hour care, which is really good. Honestly, they will probably take better care of her than I would. This way I know that if anything changes or happens that it will be taken care of immediately. This will give me the peace of mind that I need in order to go be with my grandmother, who also needs me.

I'm still not thrilled about any of this. Believe me. This has been very hard. But I feel a little better. I feel less like a horrible person.

My grandmother told me she is dying of a broken heart and it can't be fixed. What can I do with that? And please don't tell me stories about perfectly healthy people dying soon after their spouses. Of course I've heard these stories. Of course I realize that may be happening. This is what everyone tells me when I tell them about Mommom. How is telling me that supposed to make me feel better? Or her? Likewise to the people who asked me about my health and then when I told them, they responded by telling me horror stories about people they knew who died young of what it looks like I have. What the hell is wrong with people? Jesus Christ.

Maybe I need to do another day of no consequences post soon, but I don't want to drum up bad energy.

But thank you for your continued prayers and well wishes for both my kitty and my grandmother. I really, really appreciate it and I do believe that prayer and the sending of good energies works.

Canela says hi. She's sitting in the window slashing her tail at lizards in the yard. She looks healthy, but she's mad that her butt is all wet and sticky. Bless her little kitty heart. They had to give her an enema and I think things got messy, so they gave her a bath, but she still kind of stinks.

Not Such a Good Day

I need a collective prayer from the Internet today. I need something really good to happen. I need some miracles.

Last week Mommom Jewel had a heart attack. I couldn't get up there immediately because I had to finish out the class I'm teaching. Tickets were really expensive so Husband I decided to drive up for a week or ten days or so to be with her.

Now Canela is very sick. She is staying at the animal hospital right now and the cost has been unimaginable, but I'm really just concerned about my beautiful, beloved little kitty.

My heart is broken and I'm sick with worry about my grandmother and my cat and then I feel guilty because I don't want to leave Canela here alone with a cat sitter, because God knows what will happen if I'm not here to watch her and then how could I be so awful to not go see my sick grandmother because of a cat. Yet, in my heart the two loves and worries and fears for both of them seem almost equal. But how can they be? How can I equate my grandmother with a cat? I feel like a terrible person and I don't have a solution. I don't want to have to choose between them. I feel like a horrible person if I don't go see my grandmother and I feel like a horrible person leaving a sick cat. I can't see a solution and taking Canela on the roadtrip with us is not an option, so forget that.

Please say a prayer for my grandmother, for Canela and for me and if you have a solution or any ideas, please let me know.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Runner, The Walker, The Fetus and The Cross

Every neighborhood has its Boo Radley, the crazy person who lives down the street who all the kids are scared of. The crazy person is sometimes misunderstood, often just terrifying and is usually the subject of many a dare, as in "I dare you to ride your bike past their house and knock on the door and then run away." But no one ever does it.

I've mentioned the crazy people who live near my apartment. There's the scary, one eyed man and the schizophrenic who collects junk and rides around in his beat up car that is wall-papered with stickers.

In my parents' old neighborhood there was a man everyone called "Fetus." Fetus lived alone and of course his house was in terrible disrepair. He had a screened in porch that was sagging and full of holes. He never cut his yard or trimmed his hedges. Kids were petrified of him and with good reason. Fetus, who looked exactly like when Crispin Glover played Andy Warhol in the Doors movie, left his house on foot every single morning except Sunday, carrying an enormous homemade sign with pictures of fetuses on it. He'd carry the sign, which was obviously very homemade and quite disturbing, several miles down A1A, then up a major street, over another huge intersection, where he'd finally make his way to an abortion clinic. He'd stand outside of the abortion clinic all day long looking ominous. What made the whole thing even worse was the way Fetus dressed. He had two pairs of pants. I'm guessing he called them slacks. Both were high-waisted, polyester flares that were too short in the ankles. One pair was maroon and the other was forest green. He wore these with short sleeved, polyester dress shirts, also circa 1968, which he buttoned up to the very top. There was something very sinister about these outfits and he projected a distinctly Norman Bates-ish vibe, except he looked like Crispin Glover's Andy Warhol as I already said.

But the one thing I can say about Fetus is that he was certainly committed to his cause. I would see him every single day, except Sunday, toting his sign up and down the street and standing in front of the abortion clinic, which I had honestly never known was an abortion clinic. It was called a "Family Planning Center" which always struck me as a slightly unsettling euphemism for some reason. I can't quite put my finger on why I found it unsettling and it has nothing to do with my political beliefs. Maybe it was just Fetus standing out there with that damned sign. It looked like he'd had the thing forever and it wasn't much more than a big piece of poster board stapled onto a yard stick and reinforced into stiffness with layers and layers of yellowing packing tape. That sign just screamed insanity.

Periodically I'll see another nut case around town. This one is an old black guy, dressed similarly to Fetus, who drags a gigantic cross on his back up and down the highway. I don't know where he lives, but I've often wondered if he and Fetus were friends. It seems like they would be, though I suspect Fetus would scoff at the man with the cross. You see, it's one thing to drag around a real, wooden, crucifixion-scale cross on your back, but it's another thing when the cross has a wheel. That's just cheating. I think Fetus would agree with me on this one. I'm sure Jesus would have loved a wheel on his cross as he staggered down the Via Dolorosa with blood dripping in his eyes and a bunch of jeering Romans whipping him.

You know what's really odd, is that back in Millpond there was a Cross Man too. I've also seen Cross Men throughout Georgia and I've heard of them being in other places in the South as well. It must be a thing. Some sort of club that gives lunatics something to do, sort of how hamsters like to run in a wheel. I'll bet there's even a special store or a catalogue of some sort where you can order your own cross with a wheel. They probably come in different weights or finishes. Maybe they even offer flashy rims for the wheel so you can really pimp your cross.

My parents' nieghborhood, where I've been staying all summer while my parents RV around the country, has its fair share of the crazy too. Unfortunately we're losing the madam, Velva Haux. The recession has hit her hard and men just aren't paying thirty grand a night to fly high-klass hookers to New Jersey anymore. The last I heard, things were so bad that Velva wasn't just sending her girls out, she was personally serving her clients. Velva has now sold her house and moved to an apartment. It's nearby so I still might run into her while she's buying Rock Star in the 7-11.

Luckily we still have our two other neighborhood nuts to scare the children. The Runner and The Walker are Basura del Este institutions. I can't imagine the place without these two women.

I see The Runner every single day, all over town. I've seen her in the next town over. She covers a lot of miles and so does The Walker, but they never seem to overlap. Maybe they've got something worked out between them where one doesn't infringe on the other's territory.

The Runner looks to be close to sixty. She's bone thin like raw chicken wings. Her skin looks like a used tea-bag. I don't think this woman knows that sunscreen exists, and with the amount of time she spends out in the Florida sun, it is a miracle that she has not exploded in melanoma by now. Her hair is bleached platinum and fried so that it's now the texture of a 1970s, shag toilet seat cover. She wears a hot pink visor, tiny pink running shorts and a cropped tank to show off her abs which I'm sure would be impressive if you could seem them through the shadow cast by her enormous breast implants. These things are the size of musk melons. I imagine she got them around the time breast implants first came out. They're uneven, look hard as rocks and they've fallen considerably. I'm sure this woman's constant running hasn't helped things. She's so small that she doesn't have a lot of skin to spare anyway. Factor in the eight hours a day of jogging (at least) that this woman does and I don't know, honestly how the elastins in her skin haven't cried uncle by now and just given up. It is a miracle that one of this woman's breasts hasn't torn off and gone rolling down the asphalt. Any day now I expect this to happen. Tourists on their way over to the beach will run screaming thinking the implant is some kind of monster jellyfish escaping the ocean and I'll have to explain that no, it's just a calcified bag of old silicone that's finally ripped lose from a sixty-year old exercise addict. We all knew it would happen one day, I'd say. The neighbors would all nod sadly and we'd look at the implant which would have by now rolled into the gutter, covered in sand and bits of palm frond.

But it's not just that The Runner runs all day every day, even in the pouring rain. It's that she does it with a double jogging stroller. Often the stroller is empty and this creates a very disturbing image. It always makes me think that once there were children in there, but that they fell out a few miles back and The Runner, in her state of apparent oblivion (runner's high perhaps?) never noticed. I imagine two toddlers skinned up with gravel embedded in their knees, screaming alone in the bike lane.

Sometimes though, the stroller is not empty. Occasionally its passenger is the most pathetic Bichon Frisee I've ever seen. Tongue lolling out of its mouth, panting raggedly, it looks like it's experiencing simultaneous motion sickness and heat stroke. I know this dog often asks itself how the hell it ended up in this position. I wish someone would drive by and snatch it out of that stroller.

Even more disturbing though is when there's an actual child in the stroller. Sometimes there is. I don't know if the child is The Runner's or not. It might be a grandchild. She could have become a mother later in life or maybe she's borrowing someone else's kid so she can add some extra weight to her lengthy workouts. The child is a tow-headed boy. I've never seen the child awake. He's always slumped over unnaturally in a manner that makes me suspect she drugs the child so he won't cry and beg her to just stop, for once, to just stop running and take him home and for the love of God give him some Apple Juice and let him watch Dora like a normal child. I fear that in twenty years this child will be dumping the bodies of prostitutes in construction sites.

The Walker gives The Runner some competition in the loony department. The Walker is well into her seventies and in very good shape. She's also wiry, but you can tell that it's not because she's an exercise addict like The Runner. She does nothing but walk, and I'll bet twenty miles a day at least, but her motives aren't the same as The Runner's. I'll bet fitness never once crossed her mind. The Walker just wanders, almost ghost-like, aimlessly, everywhere. It's haunting really. She seems like she's looking for something.

Every morning The Walker gets up and decks herself out in her finest. She wears sundresses, flowy chiffon, printed things and colorful high heels. She adds matching jewelry, hair accessories. She slathers on makeup, a lot of it, including eyelashes, rouge and red lipstick. She wears oversized sunglasses. Sometimes she wears a big hat, but other times she goes bareheaded into the noon sun, her long, thin black hair wound up in a high coil, the shape of a tower of soft serve resting in a cake cone, exactly in the middle of her head. She looks rather well put together, if a little cheap and tacky, but this is South Florida so cheap and tacky is standard. The shoes get me. They're high. Sometimes wedges, sometimes full stilettos. None of them can be comfortable, yet she leaves her house and walks eight to ten hours a day in them. Her feet must be so gnarled and twisted. I don't know how she does it. I would love to ask her.

I know she takes breaks. I've seen her resting on bus benches, but more often she stops in furniture stores, where she'll sit in the Air Conditioning on plush leather couches until she is asked to leave. I know this because I've seen it happen more than once. When my mother asked me to accompany her to several furniture stores as she decorated the living room, we saw The Walker several times. Once, we ran into her sitting on a patio furniture display in the garden section of Target.

"She's everywhere," my mother said.

It kind of felt like she was following us. Or maybe we were following her.
Saturday, July 25, 2009

Morrison's Cafeteria - A Eulogy


When my parents started packing up our house, and I knew it was for real, we were really moving to Florida, the first positive thought I had about the whole thing was that at least we could eat at Morrison's Cafeteria whenever we wanted.

Before we moved to South Florida, we'd drive down at least once a year. I made the drive down 95 so many times I began to measure our progress towards the Sunshine State by landmarks. There was the bridge tunnel and Aunt Sarah's Pancake House in Virginia where we always stopped for breakfast for dinner. Then there was South of the Border; first the miles of ridiculous neon billboards and then the actual giant sombrero itself. Next came the stench of methane rich swamps and paper mills outside of Savannah, which woke me up in the wee small hours of the morning when everyone else, save whomever was driving that shift, slept though Georgia. Spanish moss appeared, bearding the trees along the highway by the "Welcome to Florida" sign just before Jacksonville. Right after that I'd start to count the armadillos crushed in the highway's shoulders and by then everyone would be blinking awake, wanting coffee, so it would be time to stop at a rest area where we kids would have the first of many freshly squeezed orange juices. My grandfather would sling a red net sack of grapefruits over his shoulder and maybe pick up a Goo-Goo Cluster for later and we'd keep on heading South, almost until the road ended, unless we were lucky enough to be stopping at Disney first, which was rare. We usually made it to Broward County in time for lunch and the first place we'd have to go was Morrison's Cafeteria. We would have been planning this lunch from the time the car pulled out of the driveway, asking one another halfway through North Carolina what we were going to have. I'd pray that when we got there they'd just be pulling a tray of apple dumplings out of the oven. My mother always hoped for chicken and dumplings, but the turkey and dressing was just as good and so was the hand carved roast beef. My sister held a firm commitment to their batter fried shrimp, which she called "skrimp" because she was the littlest. But really, everything at Morrison's was good. You couldn't stick to one favorite.

You'll have to take my word for it though because Morrison's closed in the 90s. Some of them were bought up by the inferior Piccadilly Cafeteria and others were torn down or remodeled into Best Buys or Pier Ones. Many of our favorite Morrison's were in malls which had once thrived; the same types of malls that had had Woolworth's with old fashioned lunch counters right in the stores. These were the malls of my childhood where it always felt so glamorous to stroll over the terrazzo floors, past fountains where people tossed pennies, to shop at J.C. Penney's or Burdines, another Florida institution now history. Burdines always seemed so fancy. When I was little I used to dream about one day buying a prom dress there, straight off the racks of pastel taffeta.

While we usually couldn't afford shopping sprees in high-end department stores, we could always get whatever we wanted at Morrison's. Even if you got everything: desserts, a salad, three sides instead of two with your entree - it never added up to more than about seven dollars a person, if even that. And when you stepped into that cafeteria line and grabbed your tray, still warm and a little damp from the dishwasher, you got the sense that you could have things. Morrison's meant accessible abundance. Plucking plastic wrapped slices of triple-layer coconut cake, monkey dishes of potato salad and jewel-toned cubes of Jell-o off the line made you feel exactly like you'd won a shopping spree on a game show. As I pointed to the crispy, cob shaped sticks of corn bread, the well-done end of the prime rib I wanted and having these things handed to me, with an unquestioning smile by the aproned, hair-netted servers behind the plexi-glass shield guarding the food, I was a young queen. No matter who you were, at Morrison's you were royalty. If you wanted something special, like a breast portion when there were only thighs left, they'd get it for you and actually deliver it to your table when it was ready.

I am lucky to have been underweight until my mid-twenties, when Morrison's finally went under. This way, I never had to worry about calories, fat or carbs as I pushed my tray along the three, parallel metal bars towards the cash register at the end of the line. Desserts were first. I guess they did this to tempt you and to get you to spend more, though desserts were all only about a dollar. Maybe if they put them at the end, people would look at their already loaded trays and opt out, but at the beginning, when you're starving, you're more likely to reach out and grab the first items offered. I never skipped dessert at Morrison's. I lived for their apple dumplings, but their thick, moist slices of cake and hot peach cobbler were just as good. Often I'd agonize over which to choose. Did I want yellow cake with chocolate frosting or that yummy spice cake? And oh my goodness they have blueberry pie today too! A lot of times my mother and I would agree to each get a different dessert so we could split them and try both.

Salads were second, and typical to Southern home cooking, a salad could mean anything as long as it was cold. I stuck with the coleslaw before the line meandered towards the entrees, dished out or sliced by hand. We had several favorites. At one point we went to Morrison's so much that we knew which specials they made on which days of the week. If we felt like fried fish we had to go on Fridays. Saturday afternoons were for fried chicken, which was also good. I was particularly fond of their baked chicken, smothered in an orange-scented gravy that went unbelievably well with Morrison's unrivaled macaroni and cheese. Though I've tried a million recipes, I've never replicated Morrison's perfect combination of soft elbows in mild white sauce hidden under a carpet of browned cheddar. There is nothing better, period. And then, looking down at my tray of frosting, mayonnaise, gravy and cheese, I'd feel suddenly guilty and ask for a dish of stewed green beans just to say I ate my vegetables, but I didn't enjoy them any less. I think they boiled them with ham hocks and lots of black pepper.

Breads were next. Looking back on this, it seems sort of strange to me that once people regularly ate bread with meals. Now, in a carb-phobic world, bread with a meal feels decadent, gluttonous and flat out insane. There was a time though when a meal without bread was unheard of. I certainly didn't skip it at Morrison's where a two-inch thick plank of grilled (on both sides) garlic toast was thirty five cents. It was soaked in salty butter and cooked like a grilled cheese sandwich, minus cheese; crunchy, greasy heaven, especially when you dragged it around your plate, mopping up the citrusy gravy from the baked chicken. But there were steamy, blueberry muffins, corn sticks, parker house rolls dusted with flour and drizzled with melted butter and pillowy slices of warm cinnamon raisin bread too. How could a person choose? It was almost unfair. Luckily, you always knew you could go back soon, tomorrow even if you really wanted to, so you never really felt like you had to miss out on anything. Morrison's wasn't like Christmas, only coming once a year. It made every day into a holiday.

I have so many memories of Morrison's. Even the drink station, where I could hold my amber, plastic cup up to a lever, unleashing an avalanche of crushed ice before serving myself unlimited refills of sweet tea, gave me a thrill. I remember the employees, who worked there for years until they dished out the last dishes of glazed carrots and topped the last slices of rare roast beef with golf-ball shaped potatoes, paprika orange in au jus. After we moved here permanently, we knew them by name. They knew our favorites. They even knew when to wish us a Happy Birthday and they didn't forget. I've always wondered what happened to them and where they went when the building, whose ornate port-de-cochere gave it a wonderful illusion of grandeur, was bulldozed.

I drive by the old location a lot. It's near where the Whole Foods is now. I think there's some kind of electronics store, maybe a jewelers there now. I've never been to any of these places. I've never needed them.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What Are They Doing to Mommom Millpond's Boob??

As you may remember, I've been collecting pictures from my childhood from everywhere I can find them, and scanning them in for posterity. Most of them are pretty ordinary, but recently I found this odd picture in a box of old photos and it is definitely one of my favorite finds of the Summer of 2009 Great Scan Project. I couldn't not share this with you. I mean, look at it. Look closely at this photograph. Here we have an old man and a young woman apparently feeling up an old woman at Christmas, and apparently preventing her from having the drink in front of her or a slice of mincemeat pie over to the left there.

I wish I could act like I don't know who these people are, but I am all too familiar. Allow me to introduce my great grandparents and my mom. The back of the picture said that this was taken at Christmas of 1981. It is at the home of my great-grand parents, Poppop Henry and the unfortunatly named Mommom Millpond. They always had Christmas at their house because they had a wood paneled rec room that had a pool table and a bar and they used to actually serve the food on the pool table. Because I come from fancy folk.

I can't believe I haven't introduced you all to my great-grandparents yet, because Lord knows they were some characters. Mommom Millpond is (was?) Memere Marie's mother and Poppop Henry was her second husband and therefore Memere Marie's step-father. I never met my real great-grandfather. His name was Robert, but I'm pretty sure it was ro-BEAR, because that's french for Robert. Things didn't go very well between Mommom Millpond and ro-BEAR. I once heard that he burnt the house down and all the kids got sent to orphanages. Memere Marie was raised by an aunt and uncle in upstate New York. Apparently, Mommom Millpond, whose name was Geraldine, although people who weren't her grandkids called her Peggy, was a very wild woman. I don't know how someone gets Peggy out of Geraldine, but people called one another strange things back then. Take Dot for example. Growing up Memere Marie didn't know her mother, who had somehow made it to Millpond and married Poppop Henry. He owned the town junkyard. Memere Marie met her husband, my mother's father (Poppop June) because he worked at Poppop Henry's junkyard. When Memere Marie turned eighteen she wanted to meet her mother (Mommom Millpond) so she came to Millpond to visit. She ended up falling in love, staying and getting married. Are you confused yet? I know. If only people in my family could have had normal relationships and stayed in them it might have been simpler to explain who I'm related to and how and why, but then I wouldn't have anything to write about.

When they were little, my mother and her siblings named their two grandmothers after the places where they lived. They named them this against their wills. Mommom Peggy became Mommom Millpond because she lived in Millpond in an old house in the colored section of town near the junkyard (in the 70s they moved to the fancy new house off the highway with the rec room and paneling). Mommom Ethel (their dad's mom) was named Mommom Elmwood because she lived at a crossroads, not even a town, called Elmwood. Mommom Ethel was single, so there was no Poppop Elmwood to go with her. She had had a husband, also not my grandfather's father, for a short time. The kids called him Poppop Jones and my mother describes him as the most wonderful man, but he died suddenly at a very young age. I never got to meet him. My grandfather never knew who his father was and Mommom Ethel never revealed the truth, even on her death bed. Poppop June was named after the doctor who delivered him, which means that two generations later, I am named after a country doctor from the Eastern Shore who probably delivered more livestock than actual human beings.

But anyway, back to Mommom Millpond and Poppop Henry. When I was little they lived in the wood paneled house pictured above. I hated going to their house because it stunk. They had two mean German Shepherds that had to be locked away when people came over because they were junkyard dogs who would kill and eat anyone besides Poppop Henry and Mommom Millpond. The male was black and brown and the female was all white and dog hair was all over everything. The offensive odor of their home was a complicated blend with top notes of dirty dog, blended with subtle hints of casserole, rancid oil and Emeraude. There was an after-smell of generic decay, and possibly dog pee. It was awful. I can still smell it if I think hard, but I don't want to.

Mommom Millpond had a unique decorating style. If you've ever been to a Mexican dollar store or have an Italian or Puerto Rican grandmother who lived on Staten Island in the 70s and 80s you're probably familiar with it. I call it Bucca di Beppo chic. My great grandparents had a gold velvet sofa. Their color scheme was an odd Rasta-like combination of red, gold, green and black. There were numerous Catholic shrines throughout the house, elaborately displayed with spot lights, stage-like red velvet curtains and statues of saints painted in life-like colors. There was one where you could flip a switch and it would cry real tears. Plastic vines abundant with soft, hollow rubber grapes wound around the archways and over the gilt frames of reproductions of Italian Renaissance masterpieces on velvet. There was a lot of velvet in that home. And fringe. Mommom Millpond liked fringe. She also really liked angels, so there were many of them in paintings, hanging on the walls, on elaborate plaster urns. The whole house was one great monument to horrifically bad taste Catholic style and it occurred to me as an adult looking back, that the crying saint wept over the hideousness of her surroundings. As a child, I didn't understand why my great-grandparents' house looked like this. I remember feeling a great unease and an unusual sense of perhaps theater. One time I had a nightmare where Mommom Millpond and Poppop Henry's house was a ride at Disney World where I rode slowly through each room in a small cart that wove silently around the ottomans, slowing down as it glided past the shrines, pivoting so that its rider could get a look at the Last Supper cast in the bordello-like glow of the red glass sconces on either side of it. That dream was so unsettling.

Mommom Millpond kept crucifixes in every room. She seemed to like them the bloodier the better - Jesus, rare as a sirloin. Perhaps these added to the horror I felt about visiting my great grandparents. She also planted plastic flowers in the ground outside her house, to save her time gardening, so that they would always look perfect, maybe. I don't know if anyone ever asked her why she did this. The plastic leaves and petals faded in the sun and I remember driving by their house after a blizzard and seeing the stiff fake blooms dusted over with snow and bent from tiny icicles. All these things bothered me.

Poppop Henry bothered me too. He was a gigantic old perv. While Mommom Millpond decorated the house with her kitschy relics of white trash Catholicism, Poppop Henry took over when it came to the rec room. Jesus and Mary were strictly banned. It seemed like Mommom and Poppop had some kind of agreement about this, where he could do what he wanted in the rec room as long as it didn't cross over into the rest of the house where the portraits of the Pope could see the sin. Where the rest of the house was Vatican City, that rec room was Vegas Baby. Running a junkyard for several decades, Poppop Henry had amassed a collection of strange, sexual artifacts. He liked anything with a showgirl or a titty on it: lamps, neon signs, old cigarette machines and beer advertisements. He had an entire closet full of vintage porn and posters of pin-ups papered its walls. I used to stand in front of it and open the door for quick seconds. It was as if I felt like that closet ,with all those dirty magazines and pictures, would hurt me if I looked in there too long, but at the same time I had a vague sense that maybe it would be a little bit of a good hurt, though terrifying. Poppop Henry had a slot machine and a roulette wheel. He had any number of stupid, nasty toys and nick-nacks like a wind-up penis that jumped and spun across the tabletop and a statue of an Indian chief with a huge erection. My favorite, and I am ashamed to admit this, was a set of drinking glasses. When empty the glasses depicted various busty models in bikinis. When filled with a cold drink, the bathing suits would mysteriously vanish, revealing naked women. I could never get over that - completely naked women and they had tan lines, obscenely large nipples and dark, fluffy patches of pubic hair between their legs. Like the closet, I wanted to look at the glasses all the time, as they dripped condensation all over the coyly posed women, but it felt so terribly wrong and I didn't want someone to catch me staring. The longing was almost painful.

And I am sure that when this picture was being taken, that little me, at seven years old was nearby, perhaps peeking into the stacks of 1960s Playboys or trying to sneak a glimpse of bare breasts on a novelty glass. I love how Poppop Henry in this photo, is wearing a completely red outfit from head to toe. I guarantee you he was wearing red leather, zip-up ankle boots to match. Now who on earth would wear a completely red outfit? I suppose it was Christmas and all, but still. And really, I have to address the elephant in the room. What are they doing to Mommom Millpond's boob?

Is it what it looks like? Are they squeezing the old woman's breast through her shirt? Could that be? I mean, Poppop Henry, as I said, was a filthy old lech, but my mother? She wouldn't do that to her own grandmother, would she? It has to be something else. Maybe they're laying their hands on her to heal her. Maybe it's an illusion and what looks like her boob is something white that they're holding up in front of her. I have no idea. Mommom Millpond was around eighty years old when this was taken, so maybe they're helping her out, picking her boob up off the floor so she wouldn't step on it and hurt herself. Lord knows.

All I know is that I'm so grateful that I come from such a long line of ridiculously free spirited, half crazy (sometimes whole crazy), hilarious individuals and that I got to know so many of them and their stories.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bulge - Part 2

Rich had to bring in his friend Joe, who was a little older than Rich, meaning he was close to twenty-five. Joe had his head shaved and looked like a bouncer. He wore a tight black shirt that said STAFF. Whenever I see these shirts my mind can't help but do a word association sort of thing and the word "Infection" always pops right into my head.

Joe was excited. He was effing pumped man. Joe just wanted us to know how much fitness means to him. So much so that he's got his Nana in Jersey City, who's 89 by the way, working out on a Nordic Track he bought for her on eBay. She's never felt better.

It was time to get down to serious business. We had to be weighed and measured. They needed to calculate our body fat with some strange machine that you hold out in front of you. It then does nothing. You do nothing. Your arms start to hurt and then the machine beeps out a percentage that only personal trainers can read.

I am going to be one hundred percent honest with you about my size. I am exactly 5'6 1/2" tall and I weigh about 132 pounds right now. I am a nice, average, healthy size. I am not skin and bones, but I'm not fat. My husband would kill me if I gave out his measurements, but I will tell you that he is pretty average sized and he believes he could lose a couple pounds. His weight is at an all time high, but nothing emergency level. I thought they were going to tell me that I was fine and my husband needed to lose weight.

But no. Oh no.

My husband doesn't weigh enough apparently and I need to lose forty pounds.

In gym world it seems that men need to pack on as much weight in muscle as they can possibly hold, while women need to just waste away until they weigh as much as birds or air.

I think the only thing that could get my body to lose forty pounds is terminal illness and that is not funny and I didn't mean it to be. I am far too tall for it to ever be ok to weight ninety pounds. The last time I weighed ninety pounds I was in the seventh grade and four inches shorter and the school was sending notes home to my mother about eating disorders and malnutrition. The only ninety pound grown woman I know right now is under five feet tall and she's still skinny.

Rich and Joe began devising a plan to get Husband to swell while I withered. It wasn't fair and I was truly offended. When I protested, Joe showed me a chart with weights and heights and something that looked like emergency threat levels. There were about five levels, one being famine victim and five being person who needs to be lifted out of bed with a crane and on the Discovery Channel. I was at four, which was HIGH RISK!!! Threat level Creamsicle. At my gargantuan weight I am apparently at risk for cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, kidney failure, psoriasis, gall stones, cankles, seven chins and being ostracized from society, yet strangely there was no mention of the illness I actually have, so I guess that was from all that agricultural waste I grew up near after all.

Joe looked at me as if he were about to tell me I had three months left to live and I had better get my affairs in order right now.

"You're seriously at risk. You need to lose this forty pounds," he said, "and I want you to know, I don't do this for the money. I do this because I just like to help people. You know I need to help people like you be healthy."

I was speechless. Someone asked me if I put myself through this in order to write about it and this is the point in the story where the answer to that question became yes. It hadn't been. I wanted to know how to use the machines, but it became apparent that I was part of some bizarrely scripted piece of fitness performance art, so I figured I'd just go with it and eventually maybe they'd show me how to use the machines and either way, I was going to write about this.

While Joe was crying over my health crisis, Rich apologized for having to eat his dinner in front of us.

"But this is a good time to talk about nutrition," he added.

"I know all about nutrition. I have a near perfect diet and when I'm not eating properly I know it. I'm not one of those people who comes in here thinking KFC is healthy because it's chicken, ok?" I said.

Joe and Rich exchanged looks and laughed at me sarcastically.

"You eat dairy?"

"Some," I admit.

They laugh.

"Perfect diet huh?" Rich chuckled.

Meanwhile, Rich, and I am not making this up, was heating up a pile of yellow rice, black beans, fried plantains and carnitas AFTER he had already heated up and was eating in front of us while telling us that dairy was not ok, a pile of cheese smothered nachos. For real. And yes I pointed this out. He mumbled some kind of excuse about a fourteen hour workday and not having time and blah blah. Rich lost all credibility, especially when he downed a bottle of corn syrup and chemical filled red Gatorade. I also pointed this out. His answer was electrolytes, blah blah blah.

"So you should drink coconut water. It's all natural, has no coloring, no sugar and more electrolytes than sports drinks." Touche.

"What did you eat before you came?" Joe asked, diverting attention from Rich's 14,599 calorie fat dripping dinner.

"Smoked turkey on a rice cake," I said.

"That's it??"

Then they told me something that is actually true - that it's good to eat six little meals per day. I already knew this. And yes, they were also probably right about dairy. I should cut back on dairy, being that I'm not a baby cow. I've often said that the only thing standing between me and a size four is a wheel of brie. But I have a thing for dairy and I think it's because I can't eat wheat, so I feel like I have to have something, you know? Still, they were right, but then they were very much not right to tell me this while eating it right in front of me.

"You need to start in with protein shakes. Whey protein."

"It's DAIRY!!" I said.

"Make it with water or soy milk."

"NO, whey is dairy."

"No it isn't it's whey."

"Um, whey is dairy. It's the water separated from the curds during the cheese making process."

They didn't understand this. One more point for me.

Finally they turned to Husband and asked if we were ready to make a committment to our health and sign up for $1700.00 worth of personal training sessions.

"We need to discuss it, but how about giving us a session so we can see what it's like."

This is when Rich and Joe, seeing that we were cheapskate, yuppie assholes who just wanted a free session with no intent to buy personal training packages, decided to kill us.

First they separated us. Rich took me and Husband went with Joe.

Rich made me first run on the treadmill. This was ok, but he kept turning it up. I remembered the Beavis and Butthead episode where they went to the gym and went flying off the treadmill and into a wall. I imagined myself plastered to the mirror behind me, the mirror splintered around my flattened body. But it wasn't that bad.

Really, I think it was the squats that broke my spirit. He kept making me do them. In front of other people who were definitely laughing. Thinking I was a coordinated person, he tried to make me do squats against the wall with a ball behing my back, but I fell over and over and over because I am not a normal person. I am a spazz. And of course I found it all hysterically funny and Rich didn't. He tried to get me to do Sumo Squats, and the name of these alone had me cracking up. Then Sumo Squats with weights. Then something with the ball again. After that he put me on some kind of leg pressing machine with so much weight on it that I felt some part of my knee literally unhinge. After about twenty minutes I thought I might need to call 911. I felt nauseous. The bathroom at Bulge always smells like barf, and now I knew why. Personal trainers were making people throw up.

Can this be healthy though? I mean, why is it necessary to vomit to get a good workout? Is it because you shed a few extra calories in the process?

Finally, Rich had me on my back, which was somewhat of a relief, but then he was making me do something terrible, which I can't even describe, but it involved him putting my leg over my head and a crunch. By then the only crunch I ever wanted to experience again was in a fresh bag of black pepper kettle chips.

"You're getting red," Rich said, "Great."

He said this while he had me doing something called "fire hydrants" where one imitates a dog peeing. I was red because I was utterly mortified. I was red because I was so weak at this point that Rich had to help me lift my leg and was all up in my crotchal area in an obscenely intimate fashion, while I felt like a sixteen year old, arthritic hound who can no longer cock its leg to mark its territory and must be helped by its owner. People, it wasn't pretty. Did I add that my ass was covered with sweat and my cute little yoga pants were stained so it looked like I wet myself? Because they were.

Forty-five minutes and only one machine later, Husband reappeared looking like he'd gone through a week of enhanced interrogation.

He literally had to help me down the stairs and into the car, while stumbling himself.

"I think I might die," I said.

He groaned.

"Please tell me Joe showed you how to use the machines," I said, "Because Rich only had me on some leg thing and I'm so delirious now that I don't know what it was. It was medieval. That's what it was."

"I was going to ask you the same thing."

"No machines?"

"Nope."

"They did this on purpose."

I couldn't walk for four days. I began to think maybe I had severely damaged something and might be seriously injured. I literally couldn't get up and down from the toilet without shuddering in cold sweat agony. Husband wasn't much better. I couldn't bend any joint on my body and so began walking in a manner I called "Robot Frankenstein."

If our session with a personal trainer was designed to make us want to buy expensive packages for more of the same torture, humiliation and general spirit-breaking, it was counter-productive. The hard sell tactics made us mad. The trainers had no credibility and then hurt us so badly that I would never want to give someone money to do that to me. I'd have to be a masochist. I know the whole "no pain no gain" mantra and I know that to get results one must feel some discomfort, but really, I'd prefer to just move and have fun in the spirit of being healthy and not by being motivated by shame and self loathing, where I feel I have to suffer to the point of dry heaving and not being able to sit down to pee, in order to meet some kind of arbitrary fitness goal. The funny thing was, before the "session" we had been going almost every day and felt great. Afterwards, it took us a week to go back to the gym because it took us that long to recover. It didn't make logical sense to me.

Husband I have gone back to our trusty circuit, which Joe and Rich poo-pooed, saying it wouldn't get results. Of course the other patrons still can't read the signs and we still get aggravated with them, but this is working for us and I don't see myself wanting a personal trainer any time soon. At least not one who eats carnitas and doesn't know whey comes from milk.
Friday, July 17, 2009

Bulge

Recently, my husband and I joined a new gym and a personal trainer there tried to kill us.

The gym, which I'll call "Bulge" because that's really what it should be called instead of its actual name, was running a too good to be true special - membership for ten dollars a month. We had to sign up for that.

Husband and I felt we had indulged a bit too much lately. To put it delicately, we had not been meeting our fitness goals and we felt that the obligation of gym membership would get us in gear, especially when we only had to shell out ten dollars a month.

There are fancy gyms in town. In South Florida there are fancy gyms everywhere and they are full of bulimic trophy wives, keyed up lawyers, white collar criminals, former reality TV participants and seventy year old men who drive Lamborghinis and take injections of Human Growth Hormone. These gyms have valet parking, eighty dollar a session Pilates classes, hot yoga, cucumber water, spray tanning and hell, they practically lift the weights for you. They don't allow fat people in gyms like this. Everyone who goes to these gyms was definitely picked first for teams in middle school gym class. There are also a lot of mirrors so that you can admire how ripped and cut and defined you are as you lift your wheat grass shot to your collagen bloated lips. Everyone is white, even the Hispanic people. I have phobias of places like this.

Bulge is about six steps below the fancy gyms, but you can tell it really wishes it were a fancy gym. Bulge is where the wannabes work out: the strippers who aspire to one day become trophy wives, the drug dealers who want to look like rappers, the people who weren't classy enough for reality shows, a bunch of Guidos from New Jersey who want nothing more than to make some money in white collar crime, but just don't have the smarts. They all look like they head over straight from some boiler room telemarketing operation. Most of the guys at Bulge are so roided out that they look like their skin is about to split open.

The people watching at Bulge is unrivaled. I love it. In addition to the usual gym rat types, the low membership rate (ten dollars a month, can you believe it?) attracts a lot of really weird characters. I'd like to be the first to tell you all that David Carradine is still alive. And he's working out at Bulge wearing cut-offs, a silky tank top and flip flops. His work out consists of standing under a pull up bar. Sometimes he holds onto it and looks at the ceiling, but mostly he just stands there.

Bulge is huge. I swear the place must have been a former Sam's Club or something, so it can be a little overwhelming. They have it decorated in neon colors and pump techno music at club level decibels. Most of it sounds to me like the climax scene of a sci-fi action film and when I'm running on the treadmill it makes me feel as if both Alien and Predator are coming for me and I'm trying to get away. When I'm done I always feel mildly traumatized, but maybe that's from the big screen TVs, all of which are permanently set to VH-1. I try desperately not to look, but I can't help it. My eyes are drawn to the sets, especially now that Ricki Lake is doing Charm School.

One thing I've noticed about the gym is that people just hang out there. I'm not sure exactly what they're thinking, but it appears that Bulge is the ghetto version of Starbucks and instead of macchiatos everyone drinks cookies and creme flavored Muscle Milk. I'm not kidding you. The place is always crowded and a good half of the people there aren't working out. I have literally seen people walk in wearing gym clothes, with a towel tossed over their shoulder to stand around and talk to other people for an hour, watching strangers sweating their asses off on the eliptical. Then they drink an energy drink (they have this new one that comes in a can that looks exactly like motor oil) and leave without ever having burned a calorie.

My sister, who spends far more time in the gym than I ever will, has also witnessed this phenomenon. She reports that there is a group of voluptuous women who arrive at the gym nearly every morning, all suited up and looking like they're ready to go. When they get to the gym they sit on the weight benches and exercise bikes and eat candy. They don't even eat Luna bars and try to look healthy. These women sit on the gym equipment eating straight up 7-11 candy. I'm talking Now & Laters, boxes of Nerds, Circus Peanuts and movie theater sized cartons of Whoppers. I'm honestly shocked that they don't go whole hog and bring in the 64 ounce Big Gulp of Mountain Dew to wash it down. They sit and gossip about who got who pregnant, while shooting my sister dirty looks, like her skinny ass is in their way. My sister and I have had numerous conversations trying to understand what exactly it is these women think they're doing and we finally figured it out. The women are going to the gym. That's it. Going. They are AT the gym. When they're done they can tell everyone that they went to the gym. In fact, they GO to the gym every day. It's not a lie. They really do.

So Husband and I, we just love Bulge. We love going, although at first we didn't know what to do. Luckily Bulge has a circuit. It's like "Curves" where you go around a big circle of different weight machines. There's a timer and every minute you switch stations. In between each machine you stand on a block and perform some sort of extremely awkward movement where you feel incredibly stupid and not sure if you're doing it right for another minute, before, to your absolute relief, the minute is over and you can move on to another machine. The whole ordeal takes about forty minutes, after which we then move on to the treadmills and try to do as much cardio as we can before we begin wheezing and having chest pains. This is our workout regimen. It makes us feel better about ourselves for having done it.

The problem is that people don't respect the circuit and just use the machines all haphazardly and out of order and they don't switch when the minute is over. This has to be because they can't read because I swear there are at the very least, thirty large, bright signs pasted all over the circuit area that say if you aren't doing the circuit to stay off of these machines and that the same exact machines are located in the other part of the gym. The signs are regularly ignored. No one does the circuit except us and we are very rigid people who like order and structure, so this disturbs our whole world. It's very upsetting. It drives me absolutely insane, but I'm scared to mention the rules because every person who breaks the rules could easily and swiftly kick my ass.

We began to think that maybe we were the ones doing something wrong.

"We get a free session with a trainer for signing up," Husband said, "Maybe we should use it and the trainer can show us how to use the machine and do everything right."

I agreed.

The next Tuesday night we arrived at the personal trainer's office five minutes early, all ready to go. What we thought was going to be a friendly tour of the facility with some demonstrations, was in fact something far more sinister. You see, Bulge's ten dollar membership is a ploy to lure you in. Once they've hooked you with that, they stop at nothing and I mean nothing, to get you to buy expensive, non-refundable packages of personal training sessions. The tactics are similar in persistence to time share sales. The "free session with a personal trainer" isn't really. It's a two hour long sales pitch/ guilt trip/ ego destroyer designed to break you down, to make you cry and to make you beg them to let you give them your money if only they will turn your blubbery, cellulite pocked, muffin topped pathetic self into one of the almost beautiful people; almost hot enough to pass for the kind of person who could afford to go to the fancy gym with the valet parking.

The trainer looked like a college freshman, a sophomore at the oldest. He was like one of my students and was wearing a tight Ed Hardy knock off tee shirt. Ed Hardy is bad on its own, but Ed Hardy knock off is about as low as you can get. The trainer's name was Rich and he handed us two long forms to fill out asking us all sorts of personal questions about our fitness habits, ideals and our body image.

Rich clapped. He was one of those people who claps and rubs their hands together a lot when they talk and punctuate most of their sentences with "OK!!" and "YEAH!!"

"OK!! So what are your fitness goals?"

"We just want to come to the gym," I said.

"You have a big reunion? Wedding? Vacation?"

"Nope."

"Nothing?"

"Nope."

"OK!! You need something to motivate you. Come up with something."

"I just want to exercise a few times a week because it's healthy."

"OK!! How much weight are you looking to lose?"

"None."

Rich stared at me blankly. For a second the techno stopped pumping through the walls and I heard crickets.

"Excuse me," he said.

"None, I don't want to lose any weight. I just want to be healthy. If I lose weight in the being healthy process then fine. My goal is not weight loss. I just want to be in good shape."

"OK!! You don't want to look hot for your husband?"

I nudged Husband to defend me.

"You know," Husband said, "It's not about that. We already find one another attractive. We just want to be healthy."

Rich became flabbergasted. He had to turn to his script, where he started telling us how a personal trainer could help our sex life. In a couple months we'd start seeing abs and muscles and looking hot.

"All right, so whatever, that's fine," I said.

Clearly, we weren't falling in line. Rich had to take his approach up a notch. He had to make us feel really badly about ourselves if this was ever going to work. We just had too much confidence and self assurance. So far we had been in his office for ten minutes and he hadn't even come close to actually taking us out to the equipment and showing us how it might actually be used in order to obtain these defined abs and toned arms that were supposed to improve our sex life, which had to be bad now being that we didn't have toned abs and defined whatevers, because you know, people who aren't hot apparently can't have good sex. You knew that right?

Rich then switched into Super Hard Sell mode.

To be continued...
Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Parent Papparazzi

It's a teaching day for me, but I wanted to share a brief tidbit from my parents, who, as you may know, are currently camped out on their bus on a Malibu beachfront. They're traveling around the country by RV this summer and have been in LA for the past two weeks. I asked them to please report all celebrity sightings. Last week they spotted Jessica Simpson having a lunch interview at the Beverly Hills Hotel where she was drinking a Diet Coke and wearing no makeup. My dad managed to snap a picture of her and I thought she looked stunningly gorgeous with no makeup on. Sort of how Jane Magazine used to do "makeunders" on people and they always looked fresher.

"She is not in the least bit fat," reports my mother.

This morning my father called me whispering. I could barely hear him.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"We're having breakfast at this hole in the wall place in Malibu and Sean Penn just walked in!!"

"NO!"

"YES!" my dad whispered.

"Don't take a picture of him or he'll kick your ass," I warned.

Later my mom explained that Sean Penn appeared to be having breakfast with his mom and that he looked like a big dirt bag and was not someone she would ever want to be seen in public with. I understand, but I loved his acting in "Milk." Such a good film.

Also sighted in the past week were Shirley Maclaine leaving a Ralph's grocery store and Lesley Anne Warren who I wouldn't know if she beat me over the head with an expensive purse. At the celebrity wedding my mom had her picture taken with the guy who played Charlotte's husband on Sex & The City. He was also Hurley's imaginary, evil alter ego on Lost and was briefly on 24 and a ton of other stuff. My mom said he was really nice and they talked for a long time about how he survived cancer. I was touched.

That's all for now, but I bet by tomorrow my mom will be drinking cocktails with Russell Brand (I'm reading his memoir right now and it's really funny).

Friday, July 10, 2009

Wide Lawns and Tere-Tere Have a Psychic Connection

You are never going to believe this. I have had a documentable psychic experience. YES!!!!!

My dear friend, who also has a blog, early today wrote a post on her blog about the time she and I visited a fancy hotel in Miami and spent a good 20 minutes frolicking in the fancy bathroom, which was very similar to the bathroom of the Ritz in San Francisco. I hadn't read her post. I had no idea that she wrote about this at all, yet I felt an overwhelming desire to write my story about the Ritz bathroom this afternoon. HAND TO GOD. We wrote on the same topic on the same day without even knowing it. We have a connection. I'm very excited to be seeing her both tomorrow and Sunday where perhaps we will have to practice telekinesis and remote viewing next.

Poopin' At the Ritz


For almost three years, Husband I had a long distance relationship. He lived in San Francisco and we met when he came to Florida on vacation. At first, he had a more flexible travel schedule than I did. He also had a lot of frequent flier miles that he could exchange for free flights to Florida, so he visited me three times before I was able to make it across the country to see where he lived.

When you're in a long distance relationship, you're forced into a more instant form of intimacy than you are in a traditional dating situation. When you date someone in your own proximity, you go out for a couple hours then you go home. Then you do it again. You have time to yourself. You move through the stages of dating more slowly, gradually working your way up to sleep overs, then sleep overs where you spend a good part of the next day together and then before you know it you're spending a couple days at a time together before going home which then leads up to the first big milestone in any new relationship: the weekend away. By the time you get to the weekend away, you're usually pretty well acquainted and comfortable with one another. In other words, you've come to an acceptance that the other person poops, though you're not at the stage of actually discussing it or admitting that you do it and you absolutely haven't yet farted in front of each other. That comes later, though not much later given that the weekend away goes well.

In a long distance relationship, one doesn't have the luxury of such privacy. You go to visit each other and you're stuck with the other person for the whole entire duration of the trip. At some point you're going to have to go to the bathroom. For neurotic anal retentives like me, this is cause for major anxiety.

Before I met my husband, I once spent a weekend away with a man I didn't know as well as I should have. I liked him very much and I didn't want him to know that I pooped, although he was a doctor so I'm sure he figured it out. One day I will tell you the whole story of this weekend, because lord knows, it is a story. For the entire weekend I prayed that I wouldn't have to go to the bathroom and in order to ensure that this wouldn't happen, I took what I called pre-emptive Imodium each morning when I didn't even have diarrhea. I definitely didn't have to go to the bathroom. For about three weeks after the trip had ended.

I also used to pride myself on the fact that I made it through elementary school, middle school and high school without ever going in the school bathroom. I have a colon of steel. Many a long car ride home have I suffered in order to avoid the humiliation of public restrooms. I just can't stand it.

Husband's first visits were short and miraculously I didn't have to go while he was around. Another time, he stayed longer but I was at my parents' house where there were multiple bathrooms. I would poo in brief installments in their bathroom, always using the excuse that I "had to get something" or "was looking for something." Once I used the excuse that I just had to have a shower. This always works nicely because you can run the water, poop really quickly, take a shower and by the time you're done the smell has usually dissipated. The problem is that you end up taking oddly timed showers and, if you're on the weekend away, the other person may mistake this as a romantic overture and ask to join you, which is really awkward.

I was going to San Francisco for ten days. Pre-emptive Imodium was not an option for that length of time. At the time of my first trip out there, my husband lived with two other young guys in an apartment that wasn't that big. It was really a two bedroom, but Husband turned the old-fashioned dining room, with its french doors, into his bedroom (he hung curtains over the panes). There was only one bathroom for all these boys and guess where it was? In the middle of the living room. Right there. In an old building with thin walls, a door that wouldn't close all the way, even when latched. Had I known this before arriving in San Francisco, I may not be married right now.

During the days, everyone went to work. I would pray to please, just let me have to go while they were all out. Please. But this didn't work because my body hates me. It's the Murphy's Law of Elimination. You'll always have to go at the time when it is least convenient. At home alone you can strain and strain with no results, but the second you're in the middle of an important meeting your stomach will begin to rumble. Stuck in traffic with no rest area in sight? Time to go. My biggest laxative is the lack of a bathroom.

While Husband worked, I used to entertain myself sightseeing. My first day in San Francisco, I walked a block up the hill to have tea at the Ritz Carlton, which was very posh and very lovely. Before I nibbled my cucumber sandwiches I went to the powder room to wash my hands and it was like the pearly gates of Heaven opened. I felt like Dorothy in the Emerald City. The bathroom in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton was so sumptuous, so perfect in every way that I thought the Wizard lived in one of the stalls. To call them stalls is really an insult. They were water closets. They were practically their own studio apartments. They had real doors. The walls were attached to both the ceiling and floor and were totally soundproof. Picture a toilet in an elevator and you have some clue as to the level of privacy and enclosure offered here. You could play a trumpet in one of those little closets and the person in the stall next to you wouldn't be able to hear it. But not only were these bathrooms private, they also smelled good - like tangerines and angels. There were lavish floral arrangements on the marble counters, real towels, wicker baskets, expensive soaps and hand cream that turned your skin into satin. I wanted to live in the Ritz Carlton restroom.

The next night the boys were home making dinner when nature called. Thinking fast, I told them I needed to get some fresh air. I'd take a quick walk and be right back. They needed half and half and I'd pick some up at the corner store so I could have coffee after dinner. I sprinted up Powell Street, right into the lobby of the Ritz where I headed in the bathroom of my dreams and did my business without event. I picked up the cream on the way home and was back in less than ten minutes, utterly relieved. It worked spectacularly. No one knew the difference. No one knew I was poopin' at the Ritz.

I visited the Ritz Carlton's bathroom several times during that trip. Utterly grateful for its existence, I went back over and over on my subsequent trips out to California. Pretty soon Husband and I became closer and more and more comfortable. Pretty soon he realized that I did go to the bathroom and that I was a human being with a working digestive tract. He still loved me. But this didn't help the roommate situation. I still couldn't go when they were around.

One day Husband asked me if I was leaving for these mysterious walks in order to use the bathroom.

"Yes," I confessed, "Yes I am."

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"The Ritz Carlton. I'm pooping at the Ritz Carlton. They have a really nice bathroom. Really. If you could see it, you'd understand."

By now my future husband knew I was nuts, but one day we were out on a walk and he got to see for himself. After he went he understood. After that he became my accomplice. If I had to go while his roommates were home, I'd signal to him and he'd actually go with me, just because the Ritz lobby and bathroom were that pleasant.

I visited again on New Years Eve. The roommates threw a huge party. The small apartment was filled with people who had "broken the seal." The one little bathroom in the middle of the living room had a line. Of course this was the best time for me to get diarrhea. Of course it was. I had never run up Powell Street faster. Never. When I got to the hotel, it was lit with candles and Christmas lights. It glittered. The building had never looked more regal, more imposing or grand. It was like taking a crap at the White House. No, it was like pooping at the Parthenon during the golden age of Athens. Had I not been gripped with stomach cramps, it would have taken my very breath away. Inside there was a big party with several dignitaries and who did I see but former San Francisco Mayor, Willie Brown, all decked out in his tux doing a meet and greet. He came right up to me and shook my hand!

"Happy New Years, young lady," he said.

What a memory that was.

Soon Husband moved out and got his own apartment. By that point we were well past the farting in front of one another stage and I no longer needed the security of a five star hotel powder room. Still sometimes, I'd wander back because I missed it in there with that fancy soap and hand cream. It was like old times.

I haven't been back to San Francisco in almost two years, but I miss it and the next time I return, I'll stop in and see my old friend the Ritz bathroom. If you happen to be there, stop by and tell it I said hello. Once you walk through the door, you'll understand too.
Thursday, July 09, 2009

Living in Muddy Waters' Scary Story

Hey, I've got to go teach today (well tonight too) and I'm all one with the Universe again after having my second round of acupuncture. Who knew sticking needles on the insides of one's fingers could feel so good? So, while I'm working, how about going and visiting Living in Muddy Waters this afternoon? She's currently writing the best story ever. It's very spooky, very scary and has a frustrating level of suspense that will make you obsessively click the link to her site to see if she's continued the story yet. It's divine torture. The story involves a serial killer, dead prostitutes, ghosts, two psychics and I freaking love it. Love it, I tell you. Nothing better than a scary story, especially when it's true.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Time My Cousin Tried To Kill Me - Happy Birthday Bella

Today, July 7th is my first cousin and best friend Bella's birthday and to honor her special day I'm going to tell you about the time she tried to kill me. OK, perhaps that is an exaggeration. It wasn't premeditated murder. In a court of law it might not even be considered manslaughter, had the situation come to trial, which thankfully it did not. What happened is that Bella, in her zeal to remain alive, was willing to use me as bait; was willing then to let me die in her place when it came right down to it.

A few years ago, on a beautiful summer day, Bella and I found ourselves in a boat in the middle of the ocean with a bunch of cool people. Both of us, being highly neurotic individuals, did not want the cool people on the boat with us to know that neither of us were as cool as they were. At first things went well. Now I will tell you that both my cousin and I have a deathly terror of the sea. We both enjoy boats just fine when they are piddling down the Intracoastal. We like them even more when they are affixed to a track and gliding through animatronic pirates and dogs wagging keys in their robotic mouths. Both of us were a bit on edge that afternoon, on the big power boat, blazing through the surf, a fan-shaped fountain of spray erupting in our wake.

It was a hot day. Everyone wore bathing suits. I wore my prized pale yellow bikini with monkeys on it, which is now nine years old and needs to go in the garbage. I haven't worn it since this day, but I can't get rid of it for some reason. Where will I ever find a bathing suit with monkeys on it ever again? I keep thinking I'll find a use for it, like maybe one day I'll get into quilting, learn to sew, and make a giant, waterproof throw. A pool throw perhaps, for when the water's cold. Because that could work, right? And it could be patched together with squares from all the pilled-up seats of all my old bathing suits.

But yes, we were all wearing bathing suits and mine was already well past its prime. As I said, it was a really hot summer day. We decided to stop the boat in the middle of the ocean, literally miles from the shoreline, above a thousand feet (at the very least) of opaque blue water, in four foot swells, which didn't look very large from the deck of the forty foot boat until it stopped and then all of a sudden the stomach-roiling rocking began. Internally, I began to panic. A million terrible images bubbled into my mind: seasickness, sharks, man o wars, barracudas, cellulite, drifting to Bimini and perhaps the biggest terrible thing of all - not looking cool around cool people. Half of the cool people wanted to (gulp) jump off the boat and into the water. The other cool people wanted to sit on the boat and have cocktails.

I weighed my options. Bella weighed her options. It is a well known fact that the cool girls are adventurous. They go rock climbing and bungee jumping. They can drive stick and love upside down roller coasters. Cool girls are fearless risk takers. Well, I'm not a fearless risk taker and neither is Bella, in spite of what she'll tell you about how much she loves the Sky Coaster. When it comes to the ocean, both of us are wary. My theory on this is that in a past life we died together in a terrible shipwreck, but who knows. Although we are afraid of the ocean, both of us really wanted to be the cool girls.

Too often I am labeled as the party-pooping pain in the ass who can't have a good time and who is scared of everything. This day, I just didn't want to be that. I wanted to be that bungee jumping, motorcycle riding without a helmet kind of girl for once. I wanted to jump off of that boat into the blue abyss and so did Bella. We had to do it. We had to conquer our fear and save face.

Bella went first because she is a tad braver than I am. Then, because she did it I had absolutely no choice but to hold my breath and jump in. The water was freezing miles from shore. God only knows what sea predators were swimming beside me and beneath me. The water was so dark, there was no way I'd ever know until I was crammed halfway down the maw of a starving Tiger Shark. I was already seeing my own reenactment on a Shark Week documentary about Florida attacks and I hoped they'd at least get a skinny actress to play the dying me flailing around in the red water.

To make matters worse, those four foot swells created eight foot wells. From the boat, the chop only served to make one mildly queasy. From above, the waves didn't look like much. That all changed once you were actually in the water, with nothing to hold onto and nowhere to stand up. I was treading for dear life and so was Bella but I wasn't even thinking about her. Naturally we were with a bunch of boys who thought nothing of any of this and were practically playing Marco Polo while I half drowned.

When I jumped in the water, I was too panicked to realize that the sheer force of my jump, combined with the waves and current, had all conspired to rip my bathing suit bottoms clean off of my body. I only wear tie bottoms, because these, I've concluded squish the hips the least, thereby making one look less fat in them. Somehow both sides of my tie bottoms came untied at once. The current was strong that day. It felt like we'd managed to stop right in the middle of the Gulf Stream itself and now it was quickly carrying away my bikini bottom with the monkeys on it. I was completely bare assed and panicking and going to die in the ocean and they were going to find my body naked from the waist down, in South Carolina, since that was where the Gulf Stream would probably carry me.

I was South of the boat and the current was pulling my bathing suit bottoms toward, but actually past, the boat. Frantically I dog paddled, half naked, my big white ass shining in the sun for everyone on the boat to see quite clearly, to try to catch my bottom half. Everyone on the boat shouted and pointed. Finally, out of breath, I made it to the boat's swim ladder, where I tried to hold on for a second. I thought if I could hold on, maybe I could get stable and maybe the bottoms would float by again and I could lunge out and get them if I could just get one of the long strings. There wasn't a lot of logic in this thinking, but I had just exposed myself to several people and was floundering in a thousand feet of salt water which was violently tossing me around and washing over my head.

At the same time, Bella was having her own crisis. Wrapped up in her own terror, Bella failed to notice my bare ass and saw only my screaming and desperate race to get to the boat ladder. In her mind this could only mean one thing. There was a Great White Shark. We were its appetizer sampler platter, much like the one at the Olive Garden that comes with fried raviolis AND mozzarella sticks. Bella was going to be a Great White's fried ravioli!!!! She was going to die!!!

Bella's mind went blank. Her fight or flight kicked in and she practically flew up out of the water like a sailfish, running across those four foot swells to get back to that boat ladder to climb to safety. She thought of nothing else but her escape from the non-existent shark that she assumed I was screaming about. She didn't see my bathing sut bottoms bobbing away and she entirely missed my gigantic bare ass looming before her on the boat ladder. Bella was in survival mode and I was in her way.

My tiny cousin, who I tower almost a full seven inches over, literally grabbed me by the hair and jerked me back. Then, she slammed both of her hands against my chest, hurling me back into the waves, this time face up, so everyone who had now already seen my behind, could get a nice detailed shot of my crotch. Once I was out of the way, having become Bella's human shield to an imaginary shark, she scrambled up the ladder and back into the boat. That's when she looked down and saw that I was half naked and by now in hysterics.

At this point in the story, the boat's captain had retrieved my bikini bottoms with a gaff hook, and everyone found this wildly amusing. Except me. I was still stuck bare assed in the ocean being laughed at. I had to hang on to the edge of the boat until Bella could come with a beach towel to shield everyone from another gratuitous crotch shot. That did nothing, by the way, to block the view of my ass to the boys who were still in the water.

So much for trying to be the cool girls. The whole ride back in we had to listen to recountings of Bella's mad scramble up the ladder and descriptions of not just my face when I realized my bottoms were off, but also how my butt looked tossed around in the waves. No one knew Bella had such strength in such a little body. No one knew she'd be willing to sacrifice her dear cousin to sharks in order to save her own ass.

Bella it is for stories like these that I love you so much. Happy 29th Birthday!
Monday, July 06, 2009

My Newly Updated Links

I'd like to direct you to my newly updated links list over in the side bar. Because I am a lazy procrastinator, I've been meaning to do this for at least two years. Something happened today that finally made me sit my ass down and do it, but I don't know what it was. In any event, there are now links to sites I regularly read, be they for cat pictures, possible sightings of Champ (God please let them catch a lake monster), J. Crew outfits, stuff about Japan, recipes that don't suck, good writing, having something interesting to say, cracking me up at least twice or architectural drawings of chicken coops. I'd like to say it's all there, but I guarantee you I forgot someone that I didn't mean to. If I forgot you, please don't have hurt feelings. In another two years I will hopefully remember to include your link. In the meantime, if you know of any other brilliant blogs or places where I can look at recent UFO sightings, leave me a comment and let me know. Almost every single blog on the list is something that someone else told me to check out at some point.
Tomorrow's story contains these elements. Can you guess what it will be about? There's only one person who truly knows the answer to this question, and that is my cousin Bella.
Sunday, July 05, 2009

Cats With Mohawks

As I mentioned, we're back staying at my parents' house (bathtub and BBQ!!!) for the summer while they RV around the country. They're having a great time. They've already been to Millpond and Washington DC (where they had a drink with Laura Ingraham of all people, right before she hosted O'Reilly the day after Michael Jackson's demise). From there they went to Aspen, then to Vegas and now they've parked the bus on a bluff in Malibu. Today, they're attending an honest to God celebrity wedding. It just doesn't get any cooler than my parents, I swear. I'm really happy for them having all these adventures and I promise if they have any exciting encounters with famous people that I'll report immediately. But that's not what this post is about. It's about cats with mohawks.

When we stay here at Casa dei Sogni, we bring our kitty Canela too. Canela loves having a big airy house to roam around in. When we were here last year, we were often startled, sometimes out of a dead sleep, by Canela howling and hissing like something possessed. It happened almost every day. One day Husband told me there was a black cat with a mohawk outside the back door and that Canela was fighting with it through the glass. This cat, with its fierce hair-do, was Pepper, the neighbor's cat who is lucky and gets to go outside. Pepper is the boss of the street and liked to come over and taunt and tease poor Canela, the unlucky indoor cat, who subsequently grew her own mohawk because she can be fierce and scary too. This went on every single day until we went back to our apartment last fall.

This summer, we wondered if it would happen again; if Pepper could smell Canela here or if she could somehow know Canela had returned. Friday it happened. Once again, the two mohawked cats were throwing themselves against a pane of glass, shrieking like two Tasmanian Devils. And the sick thing about it, was that I was excited. I was all like: "Yes!! Pepper's back! Cat fights!" What the hell is wrong with me that I find this behavior mildly amusing to the point where I guiltily look forward to it? I guess if the cats seemed like they were suffering or if they were harming themselves it would be different, but I swear these two really enjoy talking smack to one another and hitting the glass with their paws. I think it makes them feel like bad asses. Canela sits and waits at the door for Pepper to come and when it seems like they get out of control I open the door and shoo Pepper away. I also toss her the occasional Greenie because she's a cute kitty too. I'm not all evil. Am I?

As Promised, Potato Salad Picture


Here is the finished result of the potato salad I made for the neighbor's BBQ last night. It was quite a hit. I mean, it has bacon in it after all. You know how people get over bacon. I certainly liked it. I can even venture to say that this potato salad is better than the Pioneer Woman's potato salad and I'd like to challenge Pioneer Woman to a friendly, lighthearted little Potato Salad Throwdown, Bobby Flay style. Now don't get me wrong. I've made and thoroughly enjoyed some of her recipes, but not her nasty potato salad. I may not have a fancy camera or the patience to measure my ingredients and take pictures of every single, God forsaken minute step of a recipe, like she does, but I'm telling you people, I can make a better potato salad. So anyone who's made her recipe, make mine and tell me if it's not a million times better. Of course if she'd like to invite me out to her ranch to pick blackberries and make it for her in person like a real throwdown, I'm not saying I wouldn't accept the challenge. You know what I mean? But I think she'd be too scared. I mean, bacon. It has bacon in it.

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