Monday, March 29, 2010
Just wanted to let you know that we had friends and family in from out of town this weekend and had to entertain. Passover starts tonight and there are seders tonight and tomorrow. I'm getting out of tonight's seder to the horror of my family because I teach a night class on Mondays and refuse to cancel it just to sit in nauseated, irritated agony with 250 old people in the rec room of my grandparents' temple eating kosher prison food. I hate Passover. And last night, I lost my temper with my family, their friends and pretty much everyone who came in contact with me because I hate Passover that much. So give me a couple days to finish the story of Le Spam.
Thursday, March 25, 2010

Le Spam

I have never told you about the summer of my french exchange student Clarice. I think this is because I've never wanted to publicly admit that I corrupted an innocent Parisian 15 year old and sent her back to France with a new found hatred of America, yet an unexpected passion for that most American of abominations - Spam.

Tenth grade was probably not my best year. I still have my journals outlining 1988-89 in agonizing detail. I aspired to be a juvenile delinquent, but lacking the guts to actually do anything immoral or illegal, I just decided to hang around with people who did and be a delinquent by association. Luckily this panned out nicely and succeeded in my attending two separate high schools that year (which I'd also done the previous year in 9th grade) and in getting kicked out of the second one all together after several suspensions. I wish I could say I got suspended for something exciting, but alas, it was for refusing to dress out in gym class and then for refusing to go to gym class period. I've always had a phobia of gym anything. My best friend that year was an 8th grader who had already been to rehab and had hair that can only be described as calico. The great irony in her life was that her usually absent and emotionally unavailable mother wrote parenting books for a living. I guess she was so busy writing books about parenting that she forgot to actually parent and thus let her daughter run wild all over town with me, who actually did attempt to parent her, but to no avail. That was why she was so much fun.

I dyed my hair purple that year. I threw gigantic parties in my basement when my parents were away, where people smoked and drank and had sex, while I did none of those things, but watched in amusement and delight at others who did. I too had little supervision because my parents worked all the time and had mysterious meetings in "The City" (New York because we lived in Riverbank at this time).I read filthy, dirty books like 9 1/2 Weeks and The Story of O, along with all the nasty Sleeping Beauty trilogy and anything involving bondage that I could get my hands on. Do not ask me why I was so into the idea of bondage at 15 years old. I have no idea. Luckily, I outgrew this. I attempted to make out with several boys, then got scared and froze up, earning myself a reputation as "frigid" and a "dick tease" so I'm not sure how I thought I could ever be into bondage if I couldn't even kiss with tongue. The rest of my time I spent in unrequited love with one skateboarder or another while listening to The Smiths. I remember The Cure's "Disintegration" came out at the end of 10th grade and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. I listened to it over and over and over and over while crying about boys who didn't and would never love me.

And around the same time that "Disintegration" came out, I decided that I needed a change. I realized that I was depressed and dissatisfied with my life and myself and the person I was becoming. I needed to do two things to fix my life.

I needed to have sex and I needed to go to France.

If I could go to France and have sex there, then all the better. Then I learned that french men were uncircumcised, and while I had never seen any kind of a penis and really didn't know cut from uncut, it still sounded like something horrifying, so I scrapped the sex with a french boy plan and went back to my original idea, which was have sex with a skater and then go to France.


I truly believed that losing my virginity and seeing the Eiffel Tower would be the cure for all my ills and when I get an idea in my head, I become very determined to see it through. I'm still like that now and I was like that at 15.

For me, going to France would be far easier than having sex, so I took care of the France idea first.

After being removed from my first school of tenth grade for an incident which I will not go into here, because it is just way too long and elaborate, my parents asked me where I wanted to go. I had 2 choices. I could go to Tara Reid's school in New Jersey for wayward teens, or I could go to the Waldorf school. I chose for Waldorf School for 2 excellent reasons. Reason 1 - the cutest skater boy from the abandoned parking lot where all the skaters boys skated in town went there and I wanted to steal him away from his girlfriend who had a big nose and wrote bad poetry. Reason 2 - it had a very pretty campus with brooks, forests and bridges and this delighted me. Mostly, it was Reason 1.

When I got to the Waldorf School I was in for a rude awakening. Half of the class was in Europe. In Waldorf Schools, half of the tenth grade year is spent either in France, Switzerland or Germany, doing an exchange. Half of the class leaves the first half of the year and the second half leaves the second half of the year. Then, the next year, the European student from their host family comes and spends half a year in America. Which country depends on which foreign language the student chose to take. I had been taking French since 7th grade and since I had my "All Pear" from Morocco. I had gotten in on the whole deal too late and would not be doing an exchange. This made me very jealous.

I was also jealous because the Waldorf kids, all of whom had exotic names and hippies for parents, were smarter, more cultured and far more unselfconscious and self-assured than any other kids I'd ever encountered. It was terribly intimidating and the schoolwork they were doing was far too advanced for me. The only thing I could do was art and I took quickly to handwork and recorder playing.

I don't think I need to tell you that my plan with the skater didn't work out either.

But France. I always had France. I needed to do an exchange too.

My school informed me that I was not eligible for a traditional exchange, but that I might benefit from a non-school affiliated summer exchange. This was right before they expelled me, forcing me to attend Tara Reid's School for Wayward Teens in New Jersey, for summer school in order to not have to repeat the 10th grade. Expelled for not dressing out in gym class. Is there anything more ridiculous than that? Is there?

My french teacher had received a letter from a friend who lived in Paris who had a 15 year old daughter who did not attend a Waldorf school, but loved the idea of a summer exchange and wanted to come to New York for a month in the summer. She wanted to know if there were any students whose families might be interested in hosting her. In return, that student could return with her daughter to France and spend the last month of summer in France, when the family would be going en vacances a la plage. The student would get two weeks in Paris and 2 weeks at their beach house. My french teacher thought this would be a good option for me. Of course, this was before she knew I was going to be expelled, or else I'm sure she wouldn't have offered.

I thought it was fate. I said I wanted to go to France and Poof! The perfect chance to go to France appeared right in front of me just comme ca.

"Since this is not affiliated with the school, you have to set it up," my french teacher told me.

I immediately wrote a letter in my best possible bad french, to Clarice, the woman's daughter. Then I went home and told my parents (not asked, told) that a french girl was coming to live with us and that I was going back to France with her for the month of August, and to this they shrugged and said fine.

Magnifique.

The reason my parents said fine was because they were busy. We were about to be rich beyond our wildest dreams. By the time I turned 16 in November, they told me, that we were going to be so rich that I could hire whatever band I wanted to play at my Sweet 16 party.

"The Cure?" I asked.

"Of course!" they said.

And all the time they were spending away would have been worth it because they could retire. We would live in a mansion in Saddle River, have a Rolls Royce with a driver and shop in the fanciest boutiques. We could have a yacht and go and do and eat wherever we wanted. This was going to be the deal to end all deals. It really was. They had put so much into it.

Tragically what they had put so much into was everything we had into an advanced fee scam having to do with a non-existent ship full of non-existent batteries and electronics from China, but we wouldn't know that for a while. When I told my parents about France they were still in the "we're going to be multi-millionaires" phase, so they thought my spending a month in France was perfectly affordable. Hell, they said I could fly there on the Concord.

Clarice and I became fast pen pals, sending weekly post cards back and forth across the Atlantic in desperate Franglais, gushing about all the adventures we were going to have and how we would be the best of amies.

Go to France. Check.

Next item on my to-do list - Have Sex.

I figured if the Universe had dropped France in my lap, surely a ready and willing boy would show up just as easily.

Naturally I was correct in this matter.

One day I met a boy at the library who was absolutely disgusting and knew it and was so involved in animal rights activism that he consented to allow medical testing on himself in order to save animals. He was covered in any number of burns, abrasions and incisions and regularly doused in chemicals. His eyes were perpetually red and swollen. He decided to set me up with a friend of his, whom he swore was perfect for me.

We met, we liked one another, and to make a very long story short, I decided to buck up and get over my fear of french kissing (I was going to France after all) and just dive right in the whole fooling around thing. By the time school ended and just before summer school began, I had my first real boyfriend and had seen a penis.

Life was better than good. Life could not get any better. So yeah, I had to go to summer school every day, but when I got home I had a boyfriend who gave me hickeys! I had parents who were going to be multi-millionaires, like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Rich, I had my french exchange student coming very shortly AND I was going to France for the month of August. Because the money was coming in any day now, my mom even took me on a shopping spree at the Paramus Mall, so not only was I going to France, I was going to France wearing Banana Republic. Life was so great I practically stopped listening to The Smiths. This was the best summer of my entire life. I still hadn't had sex yet, but we were working up to that. The hickeys held me over in the meantime.

Pretty soon Clarice arrived. We went to pick her up at JFK on a hot, weekday afternoon and I remember feeling a little disappointed. She was kind of nerdy. She was kind of dumpy and frumpy in real life; short and mousy, with bad coloring and weird clothes. She wore a wide brimmed black hat that reminded me Boy George, like someone who was trying to be cool, but wasn't doing it right. Clarice was not my idea of a stylish french girl. I think I expected her to be a bit more gamine perhaps. More french. My idea of french girls was that they were chic, sophisticated, worldly, sexy and certainly not dumpy and nerdy. I wanted this girl to teach me all about wine and cigarettes and deviant sex (because duh, it's France) and here she was all timid and weak chinned. She was astonished that I had a boyfriend and said she'd never had wine. She didn't even drink coffee. Just my luck, I thought. I ended up with a french Mormon. She wanted to play board games, read strange french comic books and horror of horrors, she wanted to go to McDonalds. This ruled out any and all hopes for a possible first, and very french sounding, lesbian experience too. God. Of course I'd get the one french goody-goody who was no fun whatsoever.

Now looking back, I have tremendous compassion for this poor girl. No innocent from a foreign country should ever have to travel out of their home country for the first time, hoping to discover America and end up tossed into the mix of my family. It's just too much to handle. When I was 15 though, I didn't exactly get this in the way that I do now.

When I was 15, my parents were only 33 and 35. That alone must have been surprising to Clarice. My parents were kids themselves and looked it and acted like it. At the time we lived in an enormous house, a mansion practically, that had very little actual furniture. Most of our rooms were empty. We had beds and my mother had salvaged some office furniture when her former partner had become a fugitive and abandoned his office. This we put in our living room. Our living room kind of looked like an office lobby and as this was the 80s, it was all mauve and dove grey. We were used to living with no furniture. We'd get some soon when the deal came through, so we weren't concerned, but Clarice, I'm sure thought it was odd.

My grandfather lived with us. He was a tobacco chewing, redneck to the core truck driver who hauled produce up from the South in his tractor trailer, which he parked at the flea market. He then sold that produce door to door in some of the area's worst neighborhoods, out of the back of his pickup. A lot of the time my mother and I were recruited to ride along and help him. I hated this. My mother delighted in it. This too, must have been disconcerting to Clarice. I overheard her whispering to her mother in anguished french one night on the telephone that "THEY SELL WATERMELONS TO AFRICANS!" And, well, yes we did. And also cantaloupes. Sometimes corn.

In addition to my grandfather a Puerto Rican couple who spoke no English lived with us when no one in our home spoke a word of Spanish. Diego and Nury were getting married and planning to have their reception in our backyard. We were paying because we were going to be fabulously wealthy. Every day Diego and Nury drove me to summer school in the back of a work van that had no seats. Then they'd come back and pick me up in it too and all the way we'd listen to Spanish radio and not have a conversation since we couldn't understand one another. Every day was the same with Diego and Nury. They'd drive me, then come home and make a pot of rice and beans. Every day it was a different flavor. We had a choice of: chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, sardine, green olive or plain rice and beans. And we ate it without complaint every single day, except my grandfather who refused to eat any "Spic Shit" like them beans and rice motherfuckers, and fried up a can of spam, which the rest of us would eat with the beans and rice in varying flavors. Often, we'd melt white American cheese on the spam and slap it between two slices of white toast with a little French's mustard and call it day. Of course we washed this down with the most American of American drinks - Grape Nehi. Aww yeah.

Now see, this was my life. I was used to living in a nearly empty house with office furniture. I was used to selling watermelons out of the back of a pick-up, riding to school in a work van with no seats, living with people who spoke no English and eating nothing but Puerto Rican food and white trash food while Diego and Nury competed with my grandfather for the radio. They wanted the AM Salsa station. He wanted Conway Twitty, so all day long it was back and forth Salsa and Country.

I think I neglected to mention that my boyfriend had a black mohawk, several piercings, including in his nose and was the drummer for a band called "Grinch" whose claim to fame was an original song called "Jodie's Poodle." They had a small cult following in our county. Most of the time my boyfriend and I were attached by our mouths to one another's necks.

All of these things were simply too much for Clarice to bear. The poor girl suffered a severe nervous breakdown. Because of her nervous breakdown, my brilliant ass decided that on top of everything else, that what Clarice really needed, was a trip to Millpond. This did not end well.

To be Continued....(but not much longer)
Monday, March 15, 2010

My Family's Medicine Cabinet


This morning I thought it might be fun to take you on a tour of my family's medicine cabinet. It will be a short tour. There are only six items. I mean, there could be seven if you counted the ear candles, but I decided those weren't exactly medicine and more a form of sick entertainment.

My family doesn't believe in doctors. I am not included in this. I love doctors. I practically have Munchausen's syndrome, I love the doctor's office so much. The reason I love to go to the doctor is because it feels both luxurious and defiant to me because as a child, I was never taken because my parents don't believe in doctors. I never even had vaccines until a few years ago when I went to college. My parents and my mother's mother think that doctors are part of some vast conspiracy to make people sick on purpose (I think the Bilderbergs are making them do it to control the population or something) so that they can continue to make money off of sick people and of course the big pharmaceuticals are part of it too. Modern medicine is a scheme designed to kill people and profit off of them at the same time. Doctors are evil and can't be trusted and none of them know a thing anyway. Doctors make you sick instead of healing you. Never mind the millions of people whose lives have been saved or prolonged due to medicine and drugs. Forget all those sick kids who got to get well and grow up and all the infertile people who got to have children. Ignore the fact that we've pretty much wiped out things like polio and small pox which used to be devastating. Or what about the fact that without modern medicine, I would have probably ended up in an institution from my hyper-thyroidism a couple years ago until I had a heart attack from it and died crazy at a young age? A simple procedure, discovered by doctors, fixed me in a couple short months and now I'm fine. But nope, doctors are evil.

And according to my family, you can basically cure anything with the above six items.

My family believes in magic bullet, miracle cure-alls. It can't be a combination of factors that lead to healing. It can't simply be the natural course of healing. No way. It's always some miracle cure that's often some simple item that the government or doctors or drug companies have somehow suppressed knowledge of in order to keep people sick and dependent on more expensive drugs.

The first miracle cure-all my family discovered was tea tree oil. For years my mother put it on everything. Our entire house reeked of turpentine from it and my mother has a very funny accent so when she says it, it sounds like "TEAtree AWL." As in "You need ta put some of this TEAtree AWL on your (yeast infection, canker sore, male pattern baldness etc.)"

ST 37 came from Memere Marie. She buys it at Walmart, but it's important to understand that you must specifically ask for it at the pharmacy. They hide it behind the counter. Memere puts this on EVERYTHING although the box says it's a medicinal mouth rinse. The last time I was at her house I slammed my hand in a cabinet and she went running for the ST 37 and some cotton balls. She is convinced that no matter what you've done to yourself, if you put ST 37 on it, it will heal overnight. You lost your arm in a combine accident? No problem. Put some ST 37 on the stump and in the morning, you'll have grown a whole new arm. A better arm even. She swears she cured someone of Lyme Disease from a deer tick bite, by soaking the rash in ST 37.

This year my mother discovered oregano oil from the Eyebrow People, who swear by it, and obviously one should always take medical advice from a bunch of 20 somethings with lines cut in their heads. My mother embraced oregano oil like it was the elixir of life itself. Every time I went to her house it was oregano oil this and oregano oil that. If anyone so much as sneezed in her house she was shoveling clear, yellow, pizza scented capsules down their throats. IT CURES EVERYTHING. I wouldn't be surprised if she doesn't have shingles at all, but instead has a blistering rash caused by oregano toxicity. It seems that oregano oil has become the new tea tree oil.

My family has been obsessed with raw apple cider vinegar forever. It also cures pretty much everything. Tuberculosis, pancreatic cancer. Yeah, just take a spoonful of apple cider vinegar. I've had heartburn for my entire life. My mother swears apple cider vinegar cures it. I tried it. My heartburn got worse. It felt like something was eating a hole straight through my chest. Because adding acid to more acid is going to neutralize the acid? I see the logic there.

With my mother's current bout of shingles (or we think since she refuses to go to the doctor for the rash) she believes she has cured herself by soaking the blisters in apple cider vinegar and by taking Tagamet. Yet Tagamet is an actual drug, made by an actual drug company. She makes an exception. The reason why is because she found some article somewhere on the Internet that said something about Tagamet (an antacid) being miraculously discovered to be a immune booster and good for shingles and of course the drug companies suppressed this valuable information in order to promote the more effective antivirals like Valtex and Famvir (which actually work well against herpes infections like shingles). So because Tagamet is part of a conspiracy and its use can somehow be deemed subversive, my mother has decided that taking Tagamet is an act of defiance against The Man of Big Pharma and is therefore ok. By taking Tagamet for likely shingles, she is really sticking it to the big drug companies. She's not taking their Valtrex when she can take some heartburn meds from Walgreens instead! She's practically a revolutionary. And guess what? Of course she has declared it a miracle cure. The shingles were practically gone in less than 24 hours after her first tablet.

Half of the stuff I think she contributes to miracle cures is just the illness or injury clearing up on its own in the normal amount of time.

Last on this list is Bova Cream. I don't know what it is. It sounds like something for cows. Memere Marie swears by this one too. She sends it to everyone in the family after writing all over it in Sharpie "DO NOT GET IN EYES." Apparently something awful can happen if you get Bova Cream in your eyes, but I don't know what it is. I've been tempted to rub it into my cornea just to see what might happen. I mean, if I blinded myself I could always add a few drops of tea tree oil, rinse my eyes with ST 37, pop some oregano oil pills, down a spoonful of apple cider vinegar and then take a Tagamet and I'd probably restore my sight instantly. Right?

Try these remedies at your own risk, and if they don't work you can always pour straight peroxide into your ears.
Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Real Orange County

A commenter suggested that I watch the Real Housewives of Orange County and I thought I'd share this tidbit with you. I only watched one episode and it was something about some girls dressing up to go to a party at the Playboy Mansion. The show couldn't hold my attention. I can't watch reality shows that follow people around. I think I need more of a plot structure in order to keep me interested. I can't focus on people wandering around aimlessly acting like fools. I need there to be some sort of specific goal that they're working towards, even if it's a stupid goal.

But another reason I don't watch the Housewives is because I don't have to. My life here isn't all that different. Even better, my husband has close relatives who actually live in Coto de Caza, the neighborhood where the OC Housewives is filmed. I've been there many times. My Husband is originally from Orange County. When I met him he lived in San Francisco, but he was born and raised in Orange County. His entire family still lives there, so we try to go once or twice a year to visit. I wish we could go more. I actually like the area a lot and would absolutely live there. They have the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen. Living in flat Florida, I'm fascinated by beaches with rocks and cliffs. And seals!! I can't get over the seals.

Orange County has its share of orange women with fake boobs and tacky tracksuits, but so does South Florida. In fact, I'm shocked they haven't made a Real Housewives of Palm Beach County yet.

But you want to know about Coto de Caza. First off, it reminds me a lot of a desert version of where I used to work. It's beautiful and full of beautiful people and beautiful houses with zero lot lines. I've never understood the zero lot line thing. If you have a zillion dollar home why would you want it so close to other zillion dollar homes? I'd want a yard. That said, the houses are gorgeous and there are horse trails beside the roads. The neighborhood itself is gigantic and has gated communities inside of other gated communities. Most of the homes have luscious rose gardens. Roses don't grow here, so that's another thing I love about Southern California. Outside of the neighborhood is the absolute best Mexican restaurant I have been to in my life ( we also have a bit of a dearth of good Mexican down here). It's called Jalapenos and if you're ever in the area, it's in a strip mall and you must go. But anyway.

Of course I had to ask husband's relatives (and my relatives too now) about the Housewives. Apparently there's plenty of drama in the neighborhood at all times. The show isn't making that up. The producers asked my husband's cousin if he would be on an episode teaching one of the sons to play a sport. He refused because he said the kid was an idiot and he didn't want to be associated with those people. I guess there's like a main housewife on the show? Well, the relatives tell me she's a huge bitch and causes a scene wherever she goes and is one of those "Don't You Know Who I am?" kinds of people who takes a massive entourage with her just to go to the convenience store. She causes a lot of disruption in the neighborhood with the filming and diva-esque behavior. Our relatives say that once she decided to attend their church and caused a big scene there too. Everyone tries to avoid her.

Whenever we go out there to visit, and we're in Coto (as they call it), I always hope I'll see them filming the show, but I never have. It's pretty quiet.

The strangest thing that has ever happened though was last May when we went for a BBQ, we parked our rental car on the street and when we came out there was a slice of bologna stuck to our back bumper. Just a random slice of deli meat stuck on our car. I really wonder how that happened. If it had been a taco from Jalapenos, I would have eaten it.

Writing this is really making me miss California. We are going to have plan a trip to go back out there as soon as school gets out in May. I wish I could live there. Universe, are you listening to me? I want to live in Orange County. Soon. Ok?

(And the picture above - I took it from the car while we were waiting in line at the gate. I thought it might come in handy one day.)
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Well, you may be wondering at the lack of posts. I have a good explanation. We've all been very sick. Then I decided to go on Spring Break, which basically translates to me lying on my couch reading books, watching movies and coughing out my very soul. I feel like someone in a tuberculosis sanatorium. I have a great aunt who had to go live at one of those by the way. I've always wanted to know more about it. But before I digress any further, sickness has been rampant. I'm still not better, but I have to go back to work Monday so I had better muster up some semblance of good health.

My mother is very sick too. She has shingles, which is a bad, bad thing. That means very few people have been to Casa dei Sogni. That means no stories. I, for one, am actually banned from the home until my mother receives clearance from the doctor that she is no longer contagious. Why, you ask. Because I am one of those freaks who never had chicken pox. I have no idea why, but I never had them and I've never had a vaccine, so that isn't the reason. If you've never had chicken pox, you can get them from someone with shingles. As everyone knows, getting adult chicken pox can be extremely unpleasant and possibly dangerous. We are hoping that I'll be able to go back in a week or two. Just think of all the stories I'm missing!! It nearly sends me into a panic. Now, my sister had chicken pox, so I ask, how is it possible that I've never had them? I don't get it. I really don't. I mean, I'm not asking for chicken pox obviously, but I just want to know how I never got them because this is really inconvenient.

I missed Chastity's wedding, but I got a report from the rest of the family. It sounds like a small, nice affair with no drama and she's on her honeymoon now. I haven't heard from her. I think it's best that the Universe intervened and rendered me unable to attend. I think it would have stressed me out too much.

Because I've turned into a shut-in, I don't have much to write about. I could give you some reality recaps, like how on earth could Jake have chosen Vienna? My God, she's hideous and cross eyed and I know he has no personality, but really, if he wanted a girl like that he certainly didn't need to go on TV to find her. All he had to do was stop in at any strip club during day shift and he would have found Vienna's aplenty. And some Desirees, Shantays, Moniques and Serenitys too.

Today I watched a rerun of Clean House's Messiest House in America 3 and oh dear, the drama. You already know of my love for Hoarders, but Hoarders is all politically correct and sensitive and they bring in psychologists. Clean House is better because instead of all the mental health professionals they bring in some gay guys and a stereotypical sassy black woman to get the job done. I also like that they try to sell as much of the stuff as possible, which seems like a good use for it, but I can't help but thinking that the people who buy it are probably hoarders too and then it just contributes to the cycle of junk for someone else. So the people from Messiest House 3 really need to meet the people from the Wife Swap that I discussed last week because the level of crazy is about equal, though different. Sharon Baglien and her daughter Brigitte lived with so much mess that they couldn't move around in their home. The ceiling actually cracked from the weight of the crap in the attic. There were rats everywhere. Every square centimeter of their house was stuffed with junk and they were in total denial. Well, the mom was. The daughter wasn't as bad and wanted help, but the mother was really abusive and bullied the daughter, who showed some hoarding tendencies herself. Brigitte was only 20, so she's young, but she's lived like this for her entire life. Both mother and daughter threw fits throughout the show and during the big, clean house reveal at the end, the mother threw a fit and stormed off. She wouldn't return to finish the rest of the show. It was astounding to me, but of course I understand. She had anxiety without her stuff. It was too much for her to comprehend. A change that sudden and that drastic scared her. But still. The whole thing was incredibly disturbing to watch (although I certainly did watch it) and like the Wife Swap episode, it left me with a lot of lingering feelings and questions. How do people get like this? Why? How do they not see what they're doing? I wondered where Brigitte's father was and if his absence had anything to do with the hoarding. Did he leave because of it? Or did it start after he left as a way of dealing with the pain of a breakup or death? At one point Sharon mentioned a younger sister who died of cancer. Was the hoarding maybe a symptom of her grief over that, in that she couldn't deal with loss, so she symbolically holds on to objects? Does that somehow give her a sense of control over her grief? The show never addressed these issues, but I wanted to know. I want to know what makes people this way because I have relatives who are hoarders too and I want to feel more compassion for them instead of frustration.

I've always had a terror that I would end up that way, consumed by garbage and junk. I worry about myself at times. I catch myself not getting rid of things that I ought, although my house is clean and organized. Still, once in a while I'll buy something or receive a gift and never ever use it because if I use it, then it will be gone. I can't tell you how many times I've done this, knowing how ridiculous it is. I won't burn candles or use the fancy soaps. Sometimes I'll buy nice jelly and not eat it for the same reason. I grew up seeing my grandmother do this. She still has the same candles in her house. The things are older than me and the wax has gone mushy and sticky with age, but she'll never burn them. I asked her why once and she said if she burned them she wouldn't have them anymore.

But periodically I get fed up with myself and purge everything. I sell a lot of my old stuff, mostly books and clothes. I take food to the food bank if I notice myself accumulating too much. I try very consciously not to acquire too much crap, but sometimes I still slip up. I have to remind myself that the fancy soap is made to be used and that not having it anymore means I enjoyed it, which is its purpose and that it has to make room for new stuff. I also remind myself that memories are not stored in objects. The memories are in me and I can write them down. I don't need a thing to remember. I am the thing.

Sigh. But at least Ali is going to be the new Bachelorette, right? Just kidding. I need to get out of the house.
Friday, March 05, 2010

Reefer Madness, Composition Style


I am an expert on marijuana. I know everything about it. I know how to grow it, where to grow it, things you can make out of it, how to cook with it, the countries it's legal in, the countries it's not legal in, how they have pot cafes in Holland. I know where it was first cultivated and smoked and its medicinal uses and how Rastafarians use it as part of their religion. I can tell you all about the marijuana clinics in California, medical marijuana, non-violent drug offenders in prison for marijuana. I know even more about the movement to legalize marijuana. I am a veritable weed genius.

Did I get this way because I smoke? NO. Am I some kind of marijuana aficionado? Most certainly not. How then, am I such an expert on all things cannabis? Because my students will not stop writing papers about it. The same papers about it, for that matter.

This is my third year teaching college composition and without fail, in every single class I have the same exact student who writes the same exact weed paper every single semester, over and over and over. It's like I'm grading papers in that movie "Groundhog Day."

Sometimes I'll have three or four carbon copies of that same student all in one class. They're all the same. Sure, maybe one will be taller or shorter, maybe a different race, though usually they're white males. I've had the student appear as the occasional female though too. Once in a while, the pot head student is African American or Hispanic, but less often. No matter what physical form the student takes, he or she is still the same.

This student lives to get high. He loves getting high so much that he can't come to class without being stoned out of his mind. Then, when he gets to class, he doodles marijuana leaves on his notebook cover. Usually though, he doesn't have a notebook or a pen, so he borrows a pen from a classmate and proceeds to sketch pot leaves on his jeans, his bare skin, the desk top or the soles of his shoes. Sometimes he will embellish the sketch with a bad rendering of Bob Marley's profile, maybe some flames, a bong or some joins. Particularly adept sketchers graduate from doodling the simple leaves to the more complex buds. Those who aren't such great artists will opt instead to just write synonyms for marijuana, both slang and otherwise on any blank space where cannibis sativa, hemp power, weed, bud etc. will fit.

As a teacher, I have to be careful what words I use, in whatever context. Joint (as in pain), roll, smoke, high, blunt, weed (as in plants in the yard), bake, bud etc. will all elicit reactions which can vary between secret "in the know" snickers and Beavis and Butthead like comments of "dude she said blunt" huh huh huh, to all out enthusiastic high fives.

Everything is about getting high. There's no other point to life for these students. Why they even come to class at all is beyond me. It really is, because they never, ever hand anything in and if we do group work in class, they look blankly around, stare at the ceiling and then tell me they have a sudden doctor's appointment and have to leave. This is after they've arrived to class anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes late already. Yet still they come.

I think they're waiting for my last assignment, the argument paper involving research. See, my other papers are more along the lines of personal essays on varying topics, but the argument paper, I generally let them choose. The stoner student lives for this assignment. This is where they can write the pot paper. Or rather, steal the pot paper off the Internet and proudly turn it in as their own. I catch a lot of my pot heads plagiarizing. Some of them are smarter than others and, because of their ardor for THC, they'll actually sit down and for the first time write me an impassioned, detailed and thoroughly knowledgeable essay on why marijuana must be made legal immediately. The papers are never that good and they all use the same top 3 Google search results as sources, so they're all, as I said earlier, exactly the same. But still. And the saddest part of all is that every single one of the students who writes (or steals) this paper, thinks they are so original and that they are the only person clever enough and brave enough to take on the man and the establishment of stuffy old English professors and write about something as subversive as smoking pot. Like no one else ever thought of this before them and it's as if they enrolled in college just so they could write this paper. I can just imagine them sitting in high school day dreaming about the day they graduate so they can go on to college and write a paper all about pot. Because, dude man, you can DO that in college and they can't suspend you or anything. It's like freedom of speech or something. (That myth is right up there with the one about how in college you don't have to go to class. You just have to take the tests.)

Last semester I had a stoner who liked literature. He liked reading, but he only read Hunter S. Thompson, because dude, he like DID DRUGS and wrote about it and I guess there's nothing cooler than that. I explained to him that writers doing drugs and writing about it didn't end in the 60s and that he should check out some more contemporary stuff. Or how about some cool post-modern writers who are just as trippy as Thompson, without having to resort to hallucinogenics to find their imaginations? I tried to turn him to some cooler stuff than that same old, hackneyed Beat shit the stoner students love because someone told them it had drugs in it. I mean, some of that stuff is great, but it's not great just because it has drugs, you know?

Anyway, this student attempted to write all of his papers about smoking weed. His personal essay was about how he had no motivation and no job and his greatest joy was smoking weed. The Process paper was about how to roll a joint and the Compare/ Contrast involved the pros and cons of two different varieties of bud. I kept making him redo the papers with more appropriate topics, but he just loved to write about getting high and didn't care. I had the students then write a paper about plagiarism and guess what he wrote in his paper? I kid you not, he wrote about how he has a lucrative business selling essays to other students so he can get drug money. Can you get any dumber than that - than admitting in writing to a teacher that you write and sell papers so you can buy a quarter? Good Lord, I tell you.

I have a student now who is a laughingstock. He fits all of the above profile. I had to take him aside and talk to him about consistently coming to class stoned to oblivion. I explained to him that my class is so short that surely he can wait until AFTER class to get high, that way he's more fully present and engaged in learning. I also said that if you can't wait an hour to get stoned, then maybe you want to take a good look at yourself and realize that you could have a really serious drug addiction.

"But Miss," he said, "You don't understand. I'm not getting high before class."

We went round and round for a moment on this one.

"I'm not saying I'm not getting high. I AM getting high, just not before class."

I asked him to explain because this made no sense.

"I get high when I wake up in the morning. It's just really good weed Miss."

Yeah, I gotta love my job. At least he gets points for honesty, right?

And this semester I've banned the pot essay on the grounds that it's just unoriginal and cliche and too easy to steal. Let's see what happens and what they come up with to write about with their favorite option gone. What's left in their worlds without weed?
Thursday, March 04, 2010

Wife Swap

Sometimes when you're sick and all you can do is lie on the couch and cough and gasp for breath through a nose so swollen and plugged with snot, the one thing that will really make you feel better is to watch some crazy assed shit on television. So that is exactly what I did.

Today I treated myself to an hour of "Wife Swap" from 2007 and in this hour I think I may have actually gotten sicker. I could not believe what I saw.

First there was a normal, clean, educated and friendly San Francisco family. These were people I could be friends with. They swapped with a family from Iowa that was so batshit out of their freaking minds that I can't believe they even exist. Alas, they do.

The Haigwoods lived in total filth and squalor on a farm in BFE in the Iowa that I clearly did not visit during my summer there. I thought Iowa was an idyllic paradise, but for these people, it looked positively medieval (in a bad way, not in a cute Ren Fest way). So, apparently, they don't believe in cleaning. EVER. Their toilet was literally black and staying that way because cleaning products are bad and cleaning is bad and if you clean you're going to die or something. But that's not all. They eat a totally raw diet, but they eat raw meat and raw eggs. They let it rot in mason jars because they believe that bacteria is good. These people ate RAW CHICKEN. They snacked on RAW EGGS. Plain raw eggs. They made their own kefir and because they were totally rigid and fanatical, part of their plan involved eating every two hours. They set alarms for the middle of the night so they'd wake up and drink their rotten, homemade kefir. Can you imagine? They also didn't bathe or wash. They'd handle farm animals and raw meat and not wash their hands even.

I really can't describe what this house looked like. They need to be on "Hoarders" next.

Naturally, the poor woman from San Francisco freaked when she saw how they lived and tried to get them to see some sense. Of course they didn't.

The one thing I noticed was that these people were, obviously, very emotionally unstable. They were totally neurotic. The father had a nervous breakdown and fell sobbing on his mucked up bathroom floor because they were asked to eat in a restaurant and go off their diet. The producers of the show needed call the men in white coats right there. The poor kids were absolute head cases. The boy went into hysterics. The girl convinced herself she was dying from foreign contaminants from being forced to go out into the real world. They were the sickliest, most maladjusted, whipped dog teenagers I've ever seen. I think the boy is going to end up mutilating prostitutes at remote highway rest areas across the Midwest in a few years. This is definitely the makings of a serial killer. You mark my words. This kid is going to be eating people raw before long.

Of all the weird things I've seen people come up with, this had to be it. This really was it. These were the strangest people I have ever seen and that is saying a lot.

I haven't been able to get them out of my head all day. I had to start googling around and apparently, after the show originally aired, a bunch of people called Child Protective Services on them and they came out and investigated. And you know what they said? It was fine. CPS said it was ok for people to live like that. I couldn't believe it. So if it's ok for people to live like that and force their kids to live in filth and eat raw chicken, then how bad must the conditions be for the kids who they do decide to put into foster care? Really, because I can't imagine much worse than what I saw on Wife Swap. I really can't. And did I mention that the kids don't go to school? They just do farm work. This doesn't surprise me at all. I mean, in school they would be exposed to the toxic outside influences of health, cleanliness and cooked food and maybe even fun.

Good Lord. I'm so traumatized.

It reminded me of that blog I told you about a couple weeks ago where the young Quiverfull couple lived on nothing in a tiny, dirty apartment and ate a bunch of fermented stuff all made in a crockpot in order to save money. That girl isn't as bad as these people, but she's young yet. I could see her thinking the Haigwoods were pretty cool. She shut down her blog by the way. I don't know why, but I suspect too many people were calling her out on endangering her kids (because she was) and it got too uncomfortable. I was kind of hoping the Wife Swap family had a blog, but they probably think the computer is poisonous or maybe their kids would use it to communicate with the outside world or something terrible like that.

What is with these people with these extremist, radical lifestyles? What makes these ideas appeal to them in the first place? What could make someone all of a sudden be like "You know, raw chicken HAS to be better. And you know what else, it has to be better if you let it rot in a mason jar for four months. In fact, this is the secret to life. Raw, rotten chicken."

It seems that all of these people from the Haigwoods, to the poor blogger with her crockpot, to my stepmother Louise, to scores of fundamentalists and Quiverfullers and various other fringy, loony groups out there are all ruled by one thing - Fear. They are petrified of everything. They live in a perpetual state of anxiety. I think that all of these people are actually suffering from a form of OCD. They are scared of the world, which is the obsession part, so they concoct strange habits, rituals and rigid, inflexible lifestyles in order to protect and buffer themselves from the world that they fear. That's the compulsion part. It's no different than obsessive hand washing. The mechanism behind it is the same. Fear = Anxiety = Weird Behavior to Try to Counteract Anxiety Which Never Works so Behavior Escalates. It's just on a grander scale. It's just crazy.

Please let me get better soon so I can get up off the couch and watch something more productive, because after Wife Swap, I think I must have watched fifty shows about Nostradamus and how the world is going to end here in the next few years. I would like to know when the History Channel turned into the Doomsday Prophecies from Varying Whack Jobs Throughout the Millennia Channel. Can someone tell me when this happened and how this is history all of a sudden?

If you'd like to read about the Wife Swap loons here is an article.

If you'd like to watch a portion of this insanity start here and then just search for "Wife Swap Raw Meat Family" and you'll find other clips from the show. You will die. I am not kidding you.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sick

I'm sick. I'll be back when I can get out of bed for more than five minutes.

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