Saturday, July 30, 2011

Nasty Assed Recipes - 19 Pukes and Counting

I am ashamed to admit that I have an ongoing train-wreck kind of fascination with the Duggars. You know, they're the Jesus freaks out in Arkansas with the nineteen kids (and apparently counting). They're the Quiverfull movement's poster family and they have a show on TLC, which I can not get enough of, though I have no idea why because nothing ever happens on any episode. They just show them being happy having almost twenty kids and it's totally obvious that the show is highly contrived and edited and that as soon as those cameras stop rolling I'm pretty sure old Jim Bob starts whooping everybody's ass and acting like the tyrant he surely believes God intends him to be as head of that household. I know damn well that the show is whitewashed to make them look all sweet and happy and that in twenty years or possibly less, one of those nineteen kids is going to break free and write a tell-all and I'm going to be the first to eat it up.

What I'm not going to eat up is any of the Duggar family's recipes. God help these people. I mean that. Really. They have a web site and on it is a recipes page and it is a treasure trove of nasty-assery. They are from Arkansas after all and that's the state where I  encountered some of the worst nasty recipes I'd ever seen. Check it out here. I'm scared to copy and paste any of the actual recipes because they have all kinds of copyrights, though why I have no idea. Basically, it looks like the nineteen kids are being raised on processed garbage and a whole lot of canned soup. Tater-tot casserole? Are you kidding me? A soup where the base is ranch dressing? Gag. There's also a lot of Velveeta going on, as one would expect.

Dear Duggars, God does not want you to eat like this. It is a sin to mix hash browns with mushroom soup and then put cornflakes on top of them. The Baby Jesus cries whenever you feed your kids a casserole.
Friday, July 29, 2011

Carrot Nose

I'm one of those people who loves to criticize what other parents do with their children. I was especially fond of this activity before I had a baby and I've only been humbled slightly. I'm still convinced my baby is perfect and much better than everyone else's.

(The whole paragraph above is JUST KIDDING.)


I'm the last of my friends to reproduce and before I had a child, I'd look a numerous pictures of my friends' and relatives' kids and wonder why so many of their babies had yellow noses.

"It's from feeding them orange foods," my mom told me.

My sister and I were particularly fond of looking at some of our white trash cousins' kids with their little orange beaks and talking about how our cousins were so stupid that they didn't even have the sense to quit feeding their babies orange foods even when their little noses took on the hue of a duck's bill.

I once almost lost a friend because I asked her why her son's nose was such a sunny shade of gold. She was deeply insulted that I noticed and said something.

"It's from carrots!" she snapped.

"So why don't you stop feeding him carrots?" I asked, meaning it innocently.

She rolled her eyes as if to say "You freaking idiot. Just wait until you have a baby and then ask me that dumb ass question again."

I spent so much time criticizing other parents for turning their kids' noses orangey-yellow that I am now convinced that the Universe is about to punish me by doing the same thing to my baby, who, of course, only wants to eat foods ridiculously high in beta-carotene. Of course she does.

The condition I fear is called carotenemia. It sounds like carrot-anemia, which sounds terminal, but from what I've read, babies generally don't die from orange noses. They just look like snowmen. The foods babies like the most contain a lot of beta-carotene and sometimes they eat a lot of it and sometimes their systems can't filter it all out like ours can and it colors their skin. It's most noticeable on the nose.

Every morning, I get up and we go through a routine of nursing, changing, dressing and nose-checking. Is it orange yet? Is that a hint of yellow? Maybe it's just the light. Then I look again. Then I get the flashlight (no, I'm joking). So far, we're good. No orange nose. For now.

Our children come to humble us. Their purpose is to prove to us that we, when we think we have all the answers, really don't know jack. They are here to make fools of us for every prideful, know-it-all thing we said before we had kids and they are here to continually kick the sandcastles of our expectations for them into the outgoing tide. But I'm prepared, because I know my karma's just waiting to kick my ass and that's why Baby Lawns is about to learn to love her some peas. And spinach, and broccoli, green beans and well, basically anything that isn't orange. But watch, she'll be the first baby to end up with a green nose.
Thursday, July 28, 2011

Disaster in the Park


When it was all said and done I sent my friend a text that said "We need cocktails."

Her reply: "You're telling me. It's like instant punishment for even THINKING about fun."

Last night I was so excited to go to a local event that just started here in Ft. Lauderdale called Gourmet in the Park where all of the trendy food trucks so popular in Miami head up our way so all of us here in Broward can see what the fuss is all about. Couldn't wait to go because I've heard so much about these trucks and really, I haven't done all that much in public in the past nine months. Now the baby is getting to the point where she likes going out, so I'm starting to venture forth and discover a new kind of social life for myself. I thought this would be a good event to attend. It's outside, we can walk around and we could come and go on our own schedule. Plus, grilled cheeses, nachos, cupcakes, burgers, BBQ!! I was ready for some grease and sugar.

My sister went with her baby too. It took us a good twenty minutes to jam the double stroller into her trunk. We'd never folded the thing up before and it's the size of a golf cart and we probably should have read the manual, but whatever.

Gourmet in the Park is at Esplanade Park on the New River in downtown Ft. Lauderdale. It's a lovely location across from the Museum of Science where the IMAX theater is and is close to Las Olas Boulevard and the downtown area where all the clubs are. I haven't been to that part of town in ages.

My husband went there straight from work and we all met up with a friend of mine, J, who has a baby, a six year old and a little wiry-haired dog. Little did I know what a recipe for disaster four children and a dog could be.

But let's discuss the actual event first. The good thing is that it was cloudy and therefore less hot than it would have been with sun even in the evening. The bad thing is everything else.

My friend explained the problem perfectly. The food trucks are a victim of their own success. The event was too crowded for the cooks in the trucks to handle the number of orders they were getting. There were several trucks, but not enough to handle several thousand hungry people at once and really, those trucks aren't meant to serve such throngs coming at them all at one time. The lines were ridiculous and the trucks were all clearly in the weeds, taking more orders than they could get out. This caused a situation where there were two long lines for the starved - one to place your order and one to actually wait for your food to come out. Waits at each truck were averaging around an hour. For a four hour event with many trucks to visit, it just wasn't possible to sample much of anything except standing in line and I didn't see anyone who wasn't aggravated. Worst of all, I didn't see anyone actually eating anything and Gourmet in the Park is supposed to be about food! My husband and my friend's husband thought maybe the beer line would be faster because there was nothing to prepare, but the beer line was over 200 people long.

I can't write about this evening without discussing the live music. I love the idea of live music at festivals, but the band they had playing last night just didn't fit the crowd. People who eat a lunch trucks are pretty hip types overall and the band was like something out of a Christopher Guest movie. My husband asked me what was up with the Peter, Paul and Mary cover band and I said I thought it was a scene from A Mighty Wind. Maybe next time they can get something a little more, well, festive? Current?

I really wanted to support the food trucks and I was dying for something delicious, but it was just too crowded and you know, I have bread, butter and cheese at home. Why wait an hour in the humidity for a grilled cheese sandwich? It wasn't worth it, so my sister and I decided to leave and on the way home we stopped at Chipotle and had dinner done in all of about five minutes. On the way home, both babies decided to have nuclear meltdowns in their car seats. Once home, Baby Lawns decided to pee in her crib (don't ask and yes it was my fault), spit up and then poop immediately after I'd given her a bath and after all that my husband still wasn't home, so I called him and he described a scene of chaos and devastation that made me very glad I left when I did.


Since we drove separately, my husband had to go back to our friend's house to get his car. It was a 15 minute walk away and my sister and I had parked easily for five dollars at the park. Husband and his friend went back to our friend's house. My friend J wanted to stay and try to get some food and her husband told her that he wanted her to have a good time and that he would take their two kids home. My husband went with him. They were going to entertain the two kids and have a quick beer before my husband came home to me. Well, this didn't happen because on the way home, the six year old, who had had a cupcake, became violently ill all over himself. There was vomit. There was diarrhea. It wasn't pleasant. Two men, a baby, a sick child and a dog. It sounds like a scene from a bad comedy. My husband said it was like The Hangover if The Hangover had been a kids movie and the way he tells it, I'm surprised there wasn't a tiger involved too. J's Husband panicked and called J to come home while he tried to corral the sick son in the bathroom, but he didn't get him there in time before he puked all over a foot stool in their living room. My husband ended up hiding in the kitchen trying to entertain their baby boy, who naturally freaked because he was in the company of a total stranger and his mom was nowhere around. While my husband was trying to get the baby to stop screaming and while J's husband was trying to tend to puky poop boy, the dog decides to jump up on the foot stool and lick the throw up. Of course the dog then got vomit in its paws and tracked it all over the carpet and my husband couldn't stop it because he was trying to deal with our friends' angry baby.


Poor J had just gotten some food and a beer when her husband called, so she rushed home to put everything back together again and when she arrived, my poor husband finally came home where he took a much needed shower and then cooked himself three shrimp tacos from stuff we already had.


In all, the night was a total disaster. No one got to eat any food from the trucks and the only person who did (the six year old) came down with a nasty case of food poisoning. I think the next time they have Gourmet in the Park, I'll invite J and her husband over, get a case of Stella, make everyone grilled cheeses and whip up a batch of cupcakes right here at home. Where it's safe.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wednesday

This summer has been pretty uneventful. You know, I'm still trying to get my house in order. We finally finished all of our building inspections and passed them and now we're getting a fence and a yard together instead of a pile of dirt. We have a bunch of little, piddly annoying things left to do, but in all, it's totally habitable. I even have a nice porch where I have a pepper plant and some mint and basil and I've been loving being able to go out there and pick mint for my iced tea. Nothing is more refreshing in this heat than iced tea with lemon and mint and it has made me so happy. It's the little things, as they say.

Next week we're going on vacation. Baby Lawns is going to Millpond, among other places. She'll take her first plane ride, plus a ferry ride, plus a long car ride. We're going to Millpond to see the family, then to New Jersey to see friends and then we're off to Rhode Island to see family on my husband's side and I am beyond excited about that because I've always wanted to see the New England coast in the summer (mainly because of lobsters). We'll be gone over two weeks and I think it's going to be a big adventure. Traveling with a baby. Hmm. I was nervous and then I decided not to be because my baby is pretty flexible and easy going and seems to actually like being out and about and seeing the world. I also keep telling myself that I really don't need to pack a bazillion things because I am not going to a third world country and there are Targets in the Northeast. Imagine that. I can just buy whatever I forget or need. Miraculous, isn't it?

I have been all up in a book for the past couple weeks. People kept telling me to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and it just didn't sound like something I'd be into. Finally, I read a sample of it just to see and wow, just wow wow wow. A reader described this book to me as stunning and devastating and I can't think of any better adjectives. You have to read this book. I'm not kidding you. It was on many top ten lists this year and for very good reason and it's stories like this that actually make me believe in God. Yeah, it's that good.

For people who have already read about Henrietta and her HeLa cells, another book I think you'd enjoy is Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. I had to read this for school, had zero interest and complained about having to read it until I actually read it. Again, what could be so interesting about a Hmong child with epilepsy? I thought I'd hate it, but I loved it and it shares many similar themes as Henrietta Lacks' story. Read them both right now and you'll be glad you did.

I finally broke down and bobbed my hair that I'd been complaining about and I really love it. I got a layered bob this time and it's not flat and it's not giving me a hard time with styling. I got some of those decorative headbands that seem to be all the rage now and I'm liking that look too. Maybe I'll just keep it short from now on and break the endless hair-hating cycle.

This fall it looks like I'm going to be teaching a memoir class in West Palm Beach. It's a fun class, not one of those for credit, college classes. If you're in the area and interested, email me and I'll give you the information. There will be two, six week classes. One starts in September and the other in November and they'll be great because, well, I am the teacher of course!

That's about it. Not much else has been going on around here, although there was some kind of elaborate crime scene behind my house Saturday evening and no one knows what on earth happened.

I discovered a new blog that I liked because he linked to me last week. You must read Wag the Dad. This is my kind of parenting blog and he cusses more than I do. I found myself wondering if he's hot. I bet he is.


That's all I got for you all today. The baby is asleep, my house is almost presentable and that means I can watch some of the trash I have on my DVR, and without getting off on a rant, is it me or is this summer's TV just sucking total ass? I am so disappointed in Curb Your Enthusiasm so far and that used to be my favorite show. Likewise with True Blood. Sultry vampires can't make me over look this fairy land crap - I don't care how many times Eric takes off his shirt or how many steamy lesbian sex scenes they throw in.


So, anyone with book recommendations, tips on traveling with babies, new blogs I need to read or TV shows that don't suck? Please comment. Yes, I am comment whoring. I'm lonely as hell over here with the RSS broken and my traffic down. Give me some love people.
Monday, July 25, 2011

Daddies - The Blondes of Baby Care

My husband has been walking around lately in a daze that he calls being "Yoga Stoned."

The other day he changed the lightbulb in our bedroom and couldn't figure out why the bedside lamp still wasn't working. It works now. This morning I plugged it back in.

On Saturday morning, he took Baby Lawns all morning because they needed to play together and I had a bunch of stuff to do to get ready for a baby shower I was helping host. He took her swimming and then got her re-dressed nicely and brought her home for her nap. When she woke up from her nap, her crib and her onesie were soaked with pee. I mean it looked like a grown man had stood there and just peed all over the place in there. We've had diaper leaks but nothing this dramatic. Major clean-up was in order. When I picked the baby up I saw that she wasn't wearing a diaper. Daddy had done such a good job of dressing her, but he missed the most important thing.

Later on I asked him about it and he said "Oh, yeah. I forgot they have to wear those things."

Umm yeah. She's not potty trained just yet Da-Da.

Luckily the mess was easily cleaned up and no harm was done, but I had quite a good laugh over it.

And by the way, the title of this post was coined by my husband. God bless him.
Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why You Should Never Have a Pet Skunk - Part of My Sixteenth Summer

Last week I got into a discussion with my sister and brother-in-law regarding the existence of skunks in South Florida. We're not sure if there are any here. Up North, the stink of skunk drifting in through an open window is as much a part of a summer night as the flash of a lightning bug or a train's distant whistle, but here we've never smelled it. Maybe it's because we live on an island, yes an actual island accessed only by bridge and surrounded by water, and no skunks have been brave enough to make the swim across. Maybe there are skunks out west where it's more wooded, though I've never seen nor smelled one out there either. My brother-in-law thought perhaps there could be skunks in the densely forested state park down the road where there are thousands of raccoons and God knows what else creeping around. Still, no smell.

I do know of at least one skunk though, that lived in South Florida.

I've never been one for exotic pets (see my run-in with a pet snake here) and I've never understood people who wanted anything more than a dog or a cat. Growing up in the country, I always knew of folks who had pet raccoons, squirrels and the like. Usually these pets were the result of someone finding an injured or orphaned baby animal and rescuing it. A boy I was in love with in kindergarten, and by in love I mean I chased him around the playground trying to make him kiss me, had a pet flying squirrel. His mom even brought it in to show our class for show and tell. I was not particularly impressed. Give me a pile of purring kittens any day. I even knew a girl who claimed to have a pet skunk at home as well, but I never saw actual evidence of its existence and frankly, I didn't want to. Eww.

My mother is not like me when it comes to animals. I can barely stand a dog, but my mother has always loved having a mess of animals and by the time I was sixteen my mother had acquired three monkeys (Rhesus Macaques if you were wondering). They lived in a large cage we had built alongside our house. It was zoo-like in nature with perches and swings, a kiddie pool and a little covered house for them to go inside when it rained or if they needed a moment to themselves. Everyone loved coming over to my parents' house to marvel over the monkeys, but as with the flying squirrel and other exotic pets I had encountered thus far, I was not impressed. I didn't like the monkeys at all.

My roommates however, were quite fond of getting high and trekking over to my parents' house to laugh at the monkeys. Apparently monkeys are even more amusing when one is completely baked.

Now, as luck would have it, our junky little house sat in a neighborhood across from a mall. It was one of those malls which had once been the place to be in town, but had since gone terribly downhill. Many shops were vacant or closing and the big chains had been replaced by junk stores that looked like they'd be more at home in a flea market. In the back of the mall though, there was a pet store specializing in the very exotic pets I couldn't stand. The place was dark, so when you'd walk in from the sunny outside you'd find yourself temporarily blinded, standing in a fetid blackness that reeked of ammonia soaked cedar chips, your ears filled with a cacophony of skittering, cheeping, croaking and bubbling. Once your eyes adjusted you'd see a wall of fish tanks, all edged with algae and needing to be scrubbed and cages upon cages of smelly desperate things that needed to be in the wild instead of in a deteriorating mall running on wheels that led nowhere or burning on heated rocks under artificial suns. It was no kind of life for any living thing and I didn't like going to the pet store, but the reason for our frequent visits was that this pet store sold monkey chow and my mother was always asking us to pick it up for her on our way over.

It always seemed unusual to me that this store sold monkey chow. I had (and still have) never known anyone besides my mother who kept monkeys as pets, so I wondered how it could have been profitable for a store to sell their food. Are there that many people who have monkeys?

One day, on one of our excursions to procure monkey chow for my mother, my boyfriend David spotted a new exotic pet. David liked the idea of unexpected animals. He was exactly the sort of person who'd like to have something like an enormous and terrifying lizard or snake, or for that matter a damned monkey, just so he could go out in public with it and shock people. More than loving the companionship of the pet, David loved the idea of being known as the guy with the enormous and terrifying lizard or snake or monkey or whatever.

But lots of people had pythons and iguanas that they took out and about, because as everyone knows animals just love live music, especially Industrial. No one, as David surmised, had a skunk. As soon as he saw the skunk huddled in its cage, David fell very much in love with the idea of being known as "that guy with the skunk." He could not live another day unless he could be "that guy with the skunk." Sadly, I had no interest in being the girlfriend of "that guy with the skunk" and the whole thing made me profoundly uncomfortable in a way that I couldn't properly articulate at the time. I just knew it was a bad idea and that I didn't like it.

"Look, we already have cats and we barely remember to feed them," I said.

Just the week before, Jim had found a pregnant tortoise shell cat that he named Wondercat Aura Rainbow Sugar Magnolia Scarlet Begonia Elf. Wondercat for short. Seeing that this name was idiotic on many levels, I renamed the cat Sarah and then had to compromise with Jim with the name of Sarah the Wondercat. Sarah was about to give birth in my bedroom closet at any minute. We were certain to have a number of kittens running around, so why did we need a skunk on top of that?


My boyfriend was able to talk me into anything. He had enticed me to smoke pot, try hallucinogens and he even convinced me that he needed a pet skunk, although convince isn't particularly accurate. I wasn't convinced so much as resigned.


The skunk cost three hundred dollars. Three hundred dollars happened to be the exact amount of money that David had left to last him for the rest of the summer. I had seventeen dollars left from a twenty my dad had given me out of pity two weeks earlier, so together we had a total of three hundred seventeen dollars. We had to pay rent, utilities and most importantly, we had to eat. Neither of us had a job though we were actively searching. By actively searching I mean we were talking about how we needed jobs. David applied at The Gap and I asked a couple places if they were hiring. They weren't. Neither was The Gap.


So using all of our money to buy a skunk was a great idea obviously and really, you know, it wasn't all of our money anyway. We'd have seventeen dollars left. David was convinced that we could strategically invest the ten, five and two ones in some kind of drug deal and make a killing. If we were super lucky, we'd have thirty four dollars when all was said and done.

That never happened.

What did happen was we left the pet store with a skunk in a cardboard cat carrier, took it home and locked it in the salmon colored bathroom with some cat food and a dish of water while we took my mother her monkey chow. David named him Squiggy.


When we came back and David tried to get the skunk to, I presume, cuddle with him, the skunk viciously attacked him from its hiding spot behind the toilet and try as he might, the skunk wouldn't warm up to him.


"At least it's de-smelled," I said and that was really the most optimistic thing I'd said in probably a year, so it took a magnificent amount of effort for me to get it out.


I had no plans to go near the skunk. Squiggy caused me what I guess was cognitive dissonance and that was the same sense I had about the monkeys. I hated these animals on one level. They were icky, foul smelling and frightening. Both the monkeys and the skunk had dangerous teeth and nails. On the other hand though, I felt a terrible empathy for the captive animals. I pitied them with a pity so visceral that if I didn't consciously repress it, I could bring myself to tears imagining how the animals felt caged and forced to live at the whims of humans.


Our roommate Jim had an impressive collection of videos to watch when high or tripping. He had lots of old cartoons, Fritz the Cat, obscure anime and fantasy films like The Dark Crystal. Among his collection was a movie called Fantastic Planet, an animated film from France about a planet where the native species of giants kept humans as their pets. I really loved this movie and I tried to explain to my boyfriend, who had just spent every last cent of his money on a skunk, how the skunk probably felt a lot like the human pets on an alien planet felt. My breath, however, was wasted.


I can't say that David didn't put a valiant effort into taming his skunk. He did. He spent hours in that bathroom trying to get the thing to act like a cat. But skunks aren't cats. They aren't domestic animals and the skunk never managed to see us as something other than a threat. Each time we tried to approach it, the skunk would growl and hiss and come at us. The thing reminded me very much of a badger.


"This isn't working out very well," I observed to David.


He didn't know what to do.


"Can you return it?" I asked.


"I don't think so. It's an animal, not a pair of pants that doesn't fit right, you know."


I urged him to try, to call the pet store, but he didn't want to give up. We had only had the skunk for a weekend, albeit an extremely long and tiresome weekend.


David decided that his last ditch effort at taming Squiggy would be to cram him back in the cardboard carrier and take him to my mother, who had a way with animals and might be able to do something with him. She too tried with no success. At the end of two days spent with the skunk in her guest bathroom, wreaking all kinds of havoc, she said she'd take the skunk back to the pet store if we didn't.


"Just leave it on the counter and walk out if they won't return it," she advised.


We crammed Squiggy back in the carrier and drove to the pet store. In the end, after all sorts of haggling, David managed to return the skunk for a partial refund of one hundred and fifty dollars. To me, the pessimist, he had wasted half of his money on a senseless whim, but to him, the optimist, he had managed to get half of his money back. That night he used it to buy drugs, ironically another kind of skunk, which he intended to sell, so again we were left with my seventeen dollars. 

But at least we no longer had a skunk in our bathroom and while my boyfriend wouldn't be known as "that guy with the skunk" at least he could say he was "that guy who HAD a skunk" however briefly, which counts for something.


Funniest thing though. The other night my husband and I were driving down the beach road in front of the state park. We had the windows rolled down to catch the sea breeze and what did we smell? I kid you not.
Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pushers

*
A policeman comes to my third grade classroom with a suitcase full of drugs. They aren't real drugs, just plastic ones to show us so we know what drugs look like if someone tries to give them to us. There's a big green leaf, pastel colored tablets, a sheet of paper all crisscrossed into squares and each square is printed with Mighty Mouse. He shows us capsules, baggies of powder, baggies of what looks like the oregano at the pizza place in town and all of these things seem so different, especially the needle that looks like the one my doctor uses to give me booster shots, that it seems weird to me that they can all be labeled under the same category, but they are all drugs.

I don't quite get what drugs are, just that they are bad. I'm uncertain what they do, but the policeman makes it clear that as we get bigger, and that's going to be pretty soon, there are going to be people he calls pushers and dealers and they're going to want us to do these drugs (how does someone do a leaf?). These people might want us to get other kids to do the drugs too and then the pushers might want us to sell drugs and give them all the money.

Never do this, the policeman tells us. If a pusher tries to talk to you, you just turn around and run as fast as you can in the other direction and tell a grown up.

I have nightmares about pushers and dealers. In my dreams they look like different kinds of monsters and just as the policeman told us, they are lurking around schools, slithering around the flagpole and clawing their way up the fence that surrounds my elementary. They try to make me do drugs. They're clutching my clothes and trying to shove fistfuls of caplets into my mouth and sticking me with needles. In the dreams, I always break free and run because I always do as I'm told.

I never forget what the policeman told me. Drugs are bad. Don't do drugs. Bad people do drugs. I listen to the cop.

**
My father tries to scare me before I visit my mother on the weekends. He warns me about her.

"She's a drug dealer," he says, "and so is her husband. You better be careful and never let her give you drugs. If she does drugs in front of you, you call home immediately because that's very dangerous."

This seems impossible. How can my mother be a drug dealer? My mother hangs around schools and tries to get kids -? No. It's absurd.

I never see my mother with any of the things in the suitcase the policeman brought to my classroom. I never see her around schoolyards. So why would my father say something like that?

***

I look of course, because that's the way I am. Cautious. But I never see any pushers around my school.

Maybe it happens in middle school I think, in fifth grade. I never see any pushers around my middle school either. I never hear of anyone being approached. I never hear about anybody trying to give a kid drugs. Nothing like this ever happens, so what was the police man talking about? Why would he try to scare little kids like that?

****

I know my mother isn't a drug dealer. When I'm eleven and I go to live with her in New York she's trying to start a cosmetic company. I tell her how my father tried to scare me and tried to tell me she was a drug dealer.

"I sold pot when I was younger," she says and I'm shocked. I know what pot is. Like cigarettes. That was the big green leaf in the suitcase and the oregano in the baggie.

"So it was true?"

"Yes, but that was a long time ago when you were really little and I did it because I was desperate until I got busted and went to jail."

I think about this for a long time and there is a lot I want to know.

"When you sold pot did you hang around schools and get little kids to do drugs?"

"What? What kind of question is that?"

I explain the policeman.

"That is ridiculous. I've never heard of anybody doing that. People just sell to grown-ups they know who want to do drugs. They don't try to recruit little kids. Maybe in Harlem in gangs or something, but not in Millpond. Please."

*****

My mother tells me her stories. I'm a teenager now and she never hides anything from me. She also tells me that drugs are the worst things you can do.

"If I ever catch you doing drugs, I swear to God I will beat your ass. I will make you go to public school and I'll call the cops and make them take you to jail. Don't you ever do what I did. I made the worst mistakes of my life so I could spare you from having to make them yourself. People who do drugs are losers. Drugs will ruin your whole entire life."

"Would you stop it. I would never do drugs," I say.

I don't know anyone who does drugs. What kind of high school kids do drugs, I wonder. Why would my mom even think to say something like that to me? Only people in the inner cities do drugs. That's what that artist is spray painting "Crack Kills" all over the city. I see his murals on the way into the city when we go get Chinese on the weekends. The message definitely isn't meant for people like me.

******

I don't go on my tenth grade class's overnight trip. They go river rafting and camping in the woods upstate and I don't want to go because I'm scared I'll get my period or that I'll have to poop in the woods and the boy I like will be there and I would die if I had to poop around him. I'd rather just stay home and read and my mother doesn't mind because she thinks river rafting is dangerous and camping is stupid.

When I get to school Monday morning after the trip something bad has happened. The administrators are all talking. They take all thirty of us tenth graders (it's a small school) out of class and make us sit silently in our homeroom. I ask the girl next to me what happened.

"A bunch of people got caught smoking pot on the trip and nobody will rat and say how many people were involved and who brought it," she whispers.

I am as shocked as if she had told me that on the school trip they all got naked in the woods and sacrificed a goat to the devil. A bunch of rich white kids from the suburbs smoking pot?

The entire class except for me and two other girls who are really nerdy and have no friends because all they do is play cello and go to math club get suspended for two days. They send everyone home.

Later it dawns on me that I've been naive. The cool girls sneak off campus at lunch. The prettiest girl in my class is named Alexia and she'll always smile a sly grin at her friends and tell them she's wearing green underwear today. Once I asked her what that was supposed to mean and they all laughed in my face.

Green underwear. Everyone in my class except me and the math club girls wore green underwear, right there, right under their clothes and I never even knew it.

*******

I love David. I love him more than anything in the entire world and I am so lucky to finally have a boyfriend. He tells me he has smoked pot before.

"That's crazy," I say, "What's wrong with you? You'll ruin your whole life. I have an aunt who does it and she's a mess. A policeman came to school when I was little and told us all about drugs and you know what? I was smart and I listened to him. Drugs will kill you."

"You're such a goody goody. It's just pot. It's no big deal. It's not even as bad as getting drunk."
 

"I don't do that either," I say.

"Of course you don't goody goody." 

*******


We move to Florida and David and I still love each other. We're still together. We talk as much as our parents will allow us to run up the long distance and I go from class to class at my new school filling notebooks with letters to him. I wonder if my teachers think I'm actually paying attention and taking notes. David writes me too and sends me sketches and paintings he does. He's going to be an artist.


"That's why I have to do acid," he tells me on the phone one night. 


It's the weekend and he's about to go to a party where he and his friends are going to trip.


Mighty Mouse, I remember. I beg him not to do it.


"My uncle did that and ended up running naked down the highway thinking he was Jesus and they had to put him in a mental institution. He's still crazy. That stuff's dangerous."


I know about acid, LSD from books. I read all the beats because it's cool and they all did drugs in the 60s. I even read Ken Kesey. I read a lot of Tom Robbins now too and all of his characters are always doing acid, but those books are so silly, like fairy tales. They aren't real and I know that. In real life, acid is a terrible thing. Terrible. I try to tell David stories about people whose minds get stuck that way but he laughs at me and I start to tell him a story about this guy who lived next to Aunt Kiki who did so much acid that his mind turned to hot, chewed bubblegum. He lived with his mother and had constant flashbacks so he never knew what was real and what wasn't. He once told me that Linda Evans was talking to him and telling him to travel to California to be with her on Dynasty. 

David doesn't want to listen to me and the next night he calls to tell me how wonderful the acid trip was.


"See, you were wrong. I didn't get stuck that way."


********
For Christmas I get a plane ticket to go back to New York to visit David. He's done acid a bunch of times, mushrooms too and he smokes pot a lot now when last summer he didn't.


"It's my senior year! I have to have fun!" he says.


He tells me all the time that I'm no fun at all. I'm no fun and I'm all the way in Florida now. He could forget me so easily. He could make me alone in an instant.


It snows on Christmas Eve and I want to cry because in a week I'll have to go back to Florida where it's flat, dry and hot.


David's friends pick us up. It's early evening and they want to get high before their parents make them go to family gatherings and midnight mass. The only place to go is the Grand Union parking lot, where they roll a joint because Jim can't find his pipe, but then he does and they pack a bowl too.


"I want you to smoke for me." David says.


I look out the car window at snow falling sideways through an orange shaft of streetlight.


"Please, come on. The snow is so pretty when you're stoned."


I think of the policeman. The pushers never showed up around any school I went to. Nothing was how he said it was. What if smoking pot really was no big deal?


Everyone in the car is laughing. Santa is ringing his bell in front of the automatic doors of the grocery store.


"We can go look at Christmas lights," David says.


"You don't even get high your first time anyway," Scott mentions from the front seat.


"You'll feel so amazingly connected," Jim adds.


"I want you to smoke for me as my Christmas present," David says.


"Ok!!" I say and I sound unusually enthusiastic, "Yes! Merry Christmas, I'll do it!"


I feel like an idiot holding the joint. I never even tried a cigarette, so how do you hold the thing? Like a cigarette? In movies people smoking pot kind of pinch the end of it between their thumb and index finger. Do I do it like that? I feel stupid.


"I'll shotgun you," David says, pushing his mouth over mine and smoking pot is like a long, acrid kiss.


*******


After I quit school, I spend that spring living at David's house. His parents don't care. His dad spends most of his time at an apartment he has in Florida and his mom is a nurse who works late anyway. They aren't strict about anything and David's dad, I find out, used to traffic marijuana all over the world. When David was little he played soccer in Jamaica with Bob Marley's kids. That's the kind of dealer his dad was.


So we smoke. It's easy to fake if I don't feel like it but sure, sometimes I inhale too. I'll cough because it burns so bad and feel lightheaded and hungry. Sometimes we'll get stoned and paint and I like that. David says it makes him creative. I don't feel like it makes me anything.


He wants to do acid again and he wants me to do it too but I draw the line there. When Jim's parents go out of town and we plan an acid party there, I refuse and then I get the goody goody lecture again, but I don't give in and while they trip I make food and watch videos of old Twilight Zones until I fall asleep.


**********


"But we have our own house now," David tells me.


We're sprawled out naked on our mattress and I'm face down because the green light is on and I still feel shy around him sometimes. 


"I'm scared though," I say, "I don't know what it'll do to me."


"It'll make you feel good and open up your mind. You're so scared of everything and close minded. You need it."


Jim has managed to score some red mesc down in Hollywood at a bar where a Grateful Dead cover band plays and David wants us all to do it.


"It's like acid right?" I ask.


"Yeah. But it makes you laugh more. You're so sad. It'll make you happy."


"My parents would kill me."


"You don't need your parents controlling you any more. You're sixteen years old and we live on our own, at least for the summer and no one can tell you what to do."


I don't tell him that this isn't exactly true.

We smoke a joint. I think this might appease him, but he keeps on saying we have to trip together if we're in love.


"I'm going to get it and you're going to take it and afterwards you're going to thank me so much and we're going to have so much fun. I'm so excited!" David practically squeals.


It dissolves so fast that I don't have time to spit it out when I change my mind and David says something about a rabbit hole that even then strikes me as cliche, but it's too late to get annoyed.


David takes two and as he reaches into the bag I notice that the little balls of mescaline look like exactly like Nerds.


I think of the policeman.


"Some drugs look like candy. The pushers'll try to trick you and tell you it is. It's just candy, they'll say. But it isn't and you need to say no and run as fast as you can in the other direction."
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Help! My RSS is Broken!

It has been brought to my attention that my RSS is broken and my posts are not showing up in people's feeds, leading them to think I've quit writing. This has caused me tremendous despair and I don't know how to fix it.

I knew something was up when all of a sudden my traffic dropped by literally half for no apparent reason. I was writing. I didn't do anything offensive. I couldn't understand what the hell had happened until several readers alerted me to the situation.

I'm posting this to see if anyone can help me get it fixed. Obviously the people who need to know I'm still writing won't see it since it won't show up in their feeds, but in case anyone decided to visit the actual site, I'm trying to let everyone know when there's a new post via facebook and Twitter. That's about the best I can do. Is there another way of contacting readers that I might be missing? 

I hope we can get this problem solved soon because I'm feeling lonely over here.

The Old House


I did something spontaneous the other day when I was out running errands. I was in the area, so I decided, after 21 years, to see if I remembered how to get to the old house and I managed to find it and snap a picture, although it looks much different now.

That's never been a good neighborhood. Maybe once it was, back in the 60s I'd imagine. It was bad back then and it still is now. It's a cheap rent kind of place. There have always been a lot of fresh immigrants sharing cramped quarters. Old people live in many of the homes. They're the types who bought the houses back when they were new and never left, even as the cul-de-sacs and courts crumbled into ruin around them - the chain link fences rusting, walls staining scab-colored from sprinklers, grass dying and roofs never being replaced. When we lived there the neighborhood was largely Hispanic but now it seems to be Haitian, though I saw a good sprinkling of white trash too. I guess anyone who's poor moves in. I'm pretty sure there's gang activity.

Our house though, was nicer than we left it. Someone is trying. Look, they planted some little ornamental palms. When we lived there, the yard was mostly dirt, but part of the front yard is now covered in sod. That trim is new too. The house was all white when I was sixteen and now it's pale yellow with accents the color of Gulden's Spicy mustard. The summer of 1990, that poor house looked like it had never been painted. It certainly wasn't a crisp, intentional white. It was a faded and streaked with grey and mud kind of non-color that was closer to newspaper than actual white paint.

You can tell how tiny the place is. You walk right into a living room and you immediately find yourself facing a sliver of kitchen (the refrigerator was practically in the living room), no bigger than a hallway and that leads back to a Florida room that was so dilapidated and filled with old junk that Aunt Kiki, always a hoarder, promised to come pick up eventually and never did.

If you stand in the living room, on the terrazzo floor, and look to your left you'll see that about four steps away is a door that opens into one of the bedrooms. Jim and Scott slept in there on futon cushions and stacks of blankets. 

The next door back is where David and I slept. We agreed to pay more rent so we could have the room with the window unit AC and we were closer to the one bathroom, which had that canned salmon colored tile so popular back in the 60s. The bathroom was so small you could hardly turn around in it. Right outside the bathroom and across from our bedroom is a linen closet. I don't remember us having much in the way of linen, but I'm sure we crammed our sandy beach towels in there.


And what is so special about this house? Nothing. Only that it is the first place I ever tried to live on my own.
Friday, July 08, 2011

My Sixteenth Summer - Part 1 of Sorts. The Basic Set-Up

It was twenty-one years ago now, the summer I was sixteen which is now gone forever. When you're sixteen you never think about how you will never be sixteen again and that you will never have a sixteenth summer ever again. At least I didn't, because when you're sixteen you live only in that moment and that moment is made up of many little moments and you are living in all of them at once. You are kissing your boyfriend in a room dimly lit with a green light bulb. You are finding a pregnant cat and it is having kittens in your closet. You are turning in cans for change and stealing from your parents' penny jar to get money for a hot dog at 7-11. You have found a way to climb onto the roof of your house to watch orange clouds float across a black sky. Sitting on top of a slide you are too big for, but which still seems very high, you paste a tiny square of paper on the tip of your tongue and you are terrified, but this may be where it all begins.

It had been Aunt Kiki's house and she had lived there, in the flat, hot neighborhood near where they housed the Goodyear Blimp, for two years with her much younger boyfriend. Aunt Kiki had left her husband for the boy, who had been 18 to her 26 when they met in Millpond and ran off together to Florida. She had left her children for him, then worked as a cocktail waitress on a riverboat cruise. He tried to go to community college. First he wanted to be a fireman and then it was airplane mechanics before they got into a fight where he gave her a black eye and drove the pick-up back to Millpond in the middle of the night. Aunt Kiki sublet us her house, without her landlord, a 70 year old Cuban man, knowing. She hadn't wanted to break her lease. I have no idea where she went or what she did, but she didn't go too far because she came back a few times to get high with us and she must have found another place because after a month or so she reappeared and took back her two cats.

The lease ended in September. Aunt Kiki's breakup happened around Mid-May. This was the same time my parents broke their own lease on a stylishly furnished mauve and grey ranch house in a posh suburb with A+ schools and moved to a pink beach cottage on the water. It had wood plank ceilings, room for a monkey cage on the side and a galley kitchen. Since I'd dropped out of high school in the winter anyway, the great school district no longer mattered and my parents were way more beach than planned community on drained swamp anyway.


My parents were not happy with me. Since dropping out of school I had proceeded to do next to nothing except fly to New York a few times for extended visits with the boyfriend I had tragically left behind when we moved. In between those visits, he flew down to see me, on his parents' dime, whenever he could get off from school, as he was finishing his senior year. When we weren't together I spent my time running up a long distance bill and playing Super Mario 2. I had no job, no drivers license and no GED. That same winter, that same boyfriend had also, in the snowy parking lot of a Grand Union on Christmas Eve, introduced me to smoking pot, as if I needed any greater lack of motivation.

We were going to spend the summer together. It was going to happen. We wouldn't be apart again.


"You can't live in my new house with your boyfriend all summer long," my mother said, "It's not happening."

"Move in with him. Get your own place together," Aunt Kiki advised when I called her in tears, "Take my place so I don't have to break the lease."


"She'll never let me, " I said.

"Yes she will. She doesn't care about you being with your boyfriend. She just doesn't want you two laying up in her new house getting in her shit all summer."


Aunt Kiki knew her older sister well.

But there was no way we could afford the rent on the place.We had to figure something out.


That something was my boyfriend's band. They called themselves The Acid Farmers and had never played outside of his garage, but they were a band nonetheless, at least to themselves. The Acid Farmers consisted of my boyfriend David, his surly friend Scott whose father had his fifteen minutes of fame when he helped arrest Son of Sam, a guy named Dave who looked like an eighteen year old George Washington and Jim. Jim wasn't exactly part of the band, but he liked to jam, so whenever they "practiced" Jim would come over and "jam" with them on whatever he could find (a plastic recorder, bongos, impossible to play Pan flute, garbage cans).

Jim was already in his mid-20s, so he was much older than the rest of us. He lived with his parents who were never home, so his house was a great pot smoking destination that previous winter. We all thought Jim was really cool. Jim thought he was really cool too. He told everyone he was an elf. He regularly attended Rainbow Gatherings and drum circles and wore tattered, tie-dyed clothes made from hemp with jagged crystals hanging from twine around his neck. He had turned himself into every possible hippie stereotype in existence. He had an irritating habit of announcing to strangers that "we're all part of one big world!" Servers, the people who worked in drive-thrus, toll booth operators and really anyone with whom Jim came in contact would be treated to this.


The plan was for the band to come down to Florida for the summer and to stay out the rest of Aunt Kiki's lease before heading back to New York for the winter. My boyfriend and Scott were starting community college back home in September. Jim was just going back to his parents' house and Dave, being the oddly responsible one in the group was going to Columbia. Dave's parents wouldn't let him come to live in Florida for the summer because they actually required their son to have a job, so Dave only came down to visit for a couple weeks. I didn't know what the hell I was going to do after this was all over, but back then my brain was physically incapable of perceiving anything in the future tense.


We crammed into Aunt Kiki's former rental. It was in a bad neighborhood and in squalid disrepair, but we didn't care. We had our own place for the summer. I was sixteen and living on my own. I shared a bedroom with David and it was nothing but a mattress on a floor, an African drum he'd brought down from home and a tape player on which we listened repeatedly to poorly copied Butthole Surfers albums while we got high and had sex. Within hours of taking up residence (our additional roomies being a thriving colony of palmetto bugs and wolf spiders) we replaced every clear light bulb in the house with a colored one, leaving the coveted black light for the common area of the living room for maximum trippiness. We loved anything glow in the dark. 


The plan was to expand our consciousness, which was a euphemism for do drugs. That was their plan though, not mine. My plan was to be with my boyfriend all summer. I didn't even like smoking pot and I only did it because if I didn't, David and his friends would call me uptight and a goody goody. Drugs scared me, but being dumped and left alone without any friends scared me worse because I had no other prospects. I had no income, no school, no transportation and my parents didn't even want me living with them and when you find yourself with nothing but a boy, you cling to the boy like he's a branch in a flood because you think it will help you stay afloat, that it will keep you from drowning. You don't realize the currents are pulling the branch too and that it's going under, that the branch isn't saving your life. It's pulling you down.
Thursday, July 07, 2011

Even More Summer Reading

I've continued nicely with my voracious reading thanks to the miracle known as the Kindle App for iPhone (it's free no less!). This makes it possible for me to wake up in the middle of the night and read my books on my phone in pitch darkness while I nurse the baby or suffer from insomnia. It's amazing. Somehow the Kindle and the phone sync up so both devices always know which page I'm on so I can seamlessly switch back and forth. It's incredible I tell you. I feel like I'm living in The Jetsons. I may as well have a flying car.

Anyway, I've been reading a lot and I have four books to recommend. Now, a note here. I read more books than I recommend, so if you just read my blog posts you'd probably get the idea that I love every single book I read. Not the case. I don't bring up the books I don't like. I figure there's no point in me telling you about books that aren't worth reading and I don't want to hurt the feelings of any authors who have google alerts set up on themselves.

Summer reading for a lot of people consists of fun books that often don't require a great intellectual investment. Other times we want to indulge in something a little trashier or flashier. For me, I always want to read something sordid and I hadn't in a while so I decided it was finally time to read Diablo Cody's memoir Candy Girl, about her year as a stripper/ sex worker in Minneapolis. You might remember Diablo Cody when she won her much deserved Oscar for Juno. She also writes the TV show the United States of Tara. Juno was an exceptionally well written and beautifully thought out movie and that quality of writing is present in Cody's memoir as well, although the subject matter is considerably and delightfully less wholesome. Let me be honest - this book is totally nasty in the best possible way and I loved every second of it. Cody starts out working a dull office job and becomes a stripper on a lark to ease her boredom, get a thrill and make some extra money. Of all people, I understand. I wanted to read this book to see if her experiences in a strip club were anything like mine and the answer is, well, kinda. She was braver than I was and strapped on the lucite platforms without a second thought, whereas I managed to stay behind a cash register calling cabs for drunks, cashing out dancers and snipping cigars. Cody immersed herself in the world of strippers, while I remained a peripheral observer. Her stories are better than mine, but after all, she got her degree from the University of Iowa and I just went to the summer program. I kind of see her as me, but on metaphorical steroids. Therefore, if you like my strip club stories, you will freaking LOVE Diablo Cody's. I certainly did. And can I just get all English major-y? This girl has a way with language. You can hear it in the dialogue in Juno, but I think her writing really shines when you can read her exposition. The metaphors, the connections and comparisons. Hot damn. I'm jealous. I think I'd like to make out with her. I hope she writes more non-fiction books.


My next book is My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe, and is another memoir ( I'm sorry but I just prefer the true stories). Howe is a self-described WASP from Boston who went to boarding school and edits at the very prestigious and quirky Paris Review under George Plimpton. Howe has married into a traditional Korean family and his ambitious and fabulously educated lawyer wife wants to repay her family's sacrifices for her by helping her mother open a Korean deli in Brooklyn. The premise sold me immediately and the fact that the book is literary and hilarious at the same time kept me hooked. This book is fantastic and just darling. It's a well rounded piece of writing, with Howe switching back and forth between the two opposite worlds he inhabits - the Paris Review and the deli. What I loved about My Korean Deli was the way Howe wrote kindly of those around him when he so easily could have diminished everyone into caricatures and stereotypes. Yes the people in his world are funny and strange and often exasperating, but they are also real human beings and full of complexity. Howe has a talent for making his reader love and empathize with every single character he describes and he is an expert with dialogue. I especially loved reading the dialogue he wrote for George Plimpton, a man who has never been ineloquent, if that is even a word. It had never occurred to me that I might find the ins and outs of running a Korean deli at all interesting, but a good writer like Howe can make any topic riveting. If you like when Margaret Cho makes fun of her mother, you will appreciate this memoir. If you like the Paris Review you will also enjoy it. If you just like a good, light hearted, fresh read you will love My Korean Deli as much as I did. I'd also like to add that if I were a TV executive, which I am not possibly because I actually have a clue of what people would like to see on television, I'd be optioning this one as fast as I could. It would make a delightful sit-com, that is if they didn't change everything and ruin it like TV people always do.


I was super excited to read the next book I'm recommending for summer reading this week. Having been a Laura Ingalls Wilder obsessed pre-adolescent, I was all over The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure, who shared my exact ardor for the Little House and my exact hatred for anything related to that blasphemous TV show. See above where I state that TV shows ruin everything and never get it right (some kind named Albert addicted to Dr. Baker's morphine? Gag). Apparently my pioneer dreams were in good company and I was not the only little girl who longed to soak her toes in Plum Creek and let her sun bonnet dangle down her back. As an adult and another Iowa grad, McClure seeks to understand and rediscover Laura Ingalls Wilder, both the fictional heroine and the real woman. The book is at once a personal quest, a partial biography and a literary and social criticism of the Little House phenomenon. It's serious writing, but with definite funny parts. Other parts are sad or reflective and all of The Wilder Life is compelling. I read it in two days but ithout a baby, I would have read it in an afternoon because I found it just that informative and entertaining. Still, when I finished I was left wanting more. Although I really loved this book, had it been mine I would have fleshed it out more and taken it further. Though I understand it wasn't feasible for this author, I would have really enjoyed a more crazy experiment type of memoir, a la AJ Jacobs, where the writer maybe would have tried to really live the pioneer life. I know I'm not about to do something like that, but damn I know I'd read a book where someone did. I love crazy experiment memoirs. Are you surprised that I was a serious fan of Frontier House? I was actually kind of surprised that McClure never mentioned the show as she surely would have been into it as much as I was.  If you loved the Little House book (not the god damned show) as much as I did and if you were left wondering about the inconsistencies and missing years in the book, you too will love The Wilder Life.

Yes! I actually read fiction once in a while. I love reading fiction, just not writing it. My cousin Bella asked for a historical fiction book for her birthday, which is today, and I knew just the book for her. Hannah Tinti's The Good Thief was recommended to me by my friend Emma who loved it so much she ended up interviewing the author. It's creepy, gothic and has a great mystery. I don't want to spoil any of it, so I'll just say that it's well written and involves an orphan with an unknown past. Just get it. You'll love it. I think Bella will too and I've instructed her to give it to my grandmother when she finishes the book I sent to her.


And Husband is reading...


Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey. It's about how great exercise is for curing all that ails your mind. Exercise will make you smarter and fix your ADD. Now if only running could hold my attention. Hmm.

And...

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. I told him to read this. It's about memory and those people who can memorize ridiculous amounts of information and then win memory competitions. I find this sort of thing fascinating and I tried some of the techniques in this book. Unfortunately they didn't work for me because I have the attention span of a puppy. I have an extraordinary memory but it's fickle and my mind will only remember what it wants, which is why studying has always been a useless and boring waste of my time. That said, I still liked this book, which I heard about by listening to an interview with Foer on NPR.


Hope I've given you some good reads to keep you busy. Any suggestions for me for next time?
Wednesday, July 06, 2011

That Summer

The good news is that Baby Lawns is sleeping a little better these days. I have no idea why, but she's averaging only two or three wake-ups a night and they are mostly brief. This has improved my life quite a bit. She's also taking two very long naps per day in her crib, which has freed up a little time for me to clean and cook and read a ton of books or take naps as necessary. It's not such a bad life.

It's summer, but in Florida our summers tend to take on the bleak abandoned tone of a northern winter, except that it's hot as blazes and now the rainy season has finally started, so that means humidity and mosquitoes and a lot of staying inside. Summer here is quiet and boring. Things will pick up more come October when it cools off, dries up and the tourists come back.

Sometimes I forget it's summer since we don't have a lot of distinction between seasons here. I used to track the rhythm of the year by semesters, but I no longer have that either, so I almost forgot it was the peak of summer and when it's summer, I tend to become nostalgic for summers past. Summers are so easily categorized and seem to have much more clear demarcations than the other seasons. Perhaps this comes from a life of summer vacations. There is a set beginning of summer when school lets out and a distinct end, with such a sad feeling of closure, when school starts back up again and we've gotten out our black, post Labor Day shoes.

This time of year I'll find myself sitting around and thinking about this summer and that summer and the summer that...  But mostly I think about the summer when I was sixteen and I made so many bad decisions that it almost seemed there were no more bad decisions left to be made. I've never written about that summer or those bad decisions. I've never told you about moving out of my parents' house to live with my boyfriend and his friends. I've omitted the story about the pet skunk, the LSD and the dead kittens. I should tell you about the babies that didn't or might have made it and you need to know about how we ran out on checks at Denny's, begged for cash on Duval Street in Key West after sleeping in a park with junkies and schizophrenics and then stole a wallet with drugs in it so we could split a can of Dinty Moore beef stew. There was a lot of blood that summer. There were wild birds with men's faces made from clouds in the night skies. We ate dinner at 7-11 when we were lucky. I got caught by my parents. On Tuesday nights I sulked through GED classes with a group of inmates bused in from prison. That was the only time I wore shoes and I couldn't get a job or a driver's license or keep a friend that summer either. Many things confused me because I didn't understand the way the world worked at all. I didn't understand the contradictions of adulthood. I should have learned a lot that summer, but I don't think I learned a thing. In June I thought I had all the answers but by August I found myself broke, lonely, ashamed and filled with questions that no one older than me could answer. The biggest question was this: What had I done? What could I do?

I think it's time to tell these tales.
Friday, July 01, 2011

For Sophia

I took my Barbies with me when I visited my mother every other weekend and for six weeks in the summer. Every two weeks I'd pack a small suitcase for myself with a couple of outfits, toothbrush etc. as if I were going on a mini-vacation (and in many ways my visits with my mother were a vacation) and then I'd pack up my Barbies with several outfits for them, all impossible to get on, as well as numerous pairs of tiny shoes of the sort that were always getting lost.

I had two Barbies. One of them was old. Someone had given her to me but I can't remember who and I bet she'd be worth a fortune now, but she probably ended up in a yard sale bin once I hit puberty. That Barbie I named Christine and she had a very 1960s look to her with winged out eyeliner and platinum hair that had once probably been styled to look like Marilyn Monroe's. By the time Christine came to me, her hair had dreaded up into one big mat and no amount of pink plastic combing could undo it.

I liked the second Barbie much less. Her name changed depending on who I played with. She was a Malibu Barbie and looked like a stripper although I had no idea at the time what a stripper was or looked like. When I grew up and got a job at a real strip club one of my first thoughts upon seeing the dancers was that I bet all of them as little girls had really loved their Malibu Barbies much more than I had. Malibu Barbie always stole Ken from 1960s Barbie and if I had the luck to be playing with Dawn from across the street, she'd make them have sex in the upstairs, sky-lit bedroom of the Barbie Dream House. So see, even though I didn't know what an exotic dancer was, there was still an inherent sense of sluttiness in Malibu Barbie. It was so much so that if I was so unfortunate to be playing with the chunky Mennonite girl who also lived across the street, instead of Dawn her naughty neighbor, I didn't even get Malibu Barbie out of the toy box.

At the peak of my Barbie years my mother moved into a mostly black neighborhood and I immediately made friends with all the little black girls, whom I found fascinating with their beaded braids, fancy names and crazy mad double dutch skills. I never could get the hang of that, but I loved watching them and listening to the accompanying rhymes. I was jealous of the black girls. I believed that they lived in worlds of fun louder and more brightly colored than my own. None of them had parents who were together either but somehow this fact seemed less of a big deal in their lives than it did in mine. I envied their apparent lack of court appointed this and that and custody disputes, but when I saw what the black girls had to play with I nearly choked on my covetousness. 

The black girls all played with black Barbies. They had dolls who looked as they did, while all I had was two skanky blondes I couldn't relate to but played with anyway because that was all I had. 

I grew up in the pre-diversity days as a little white girl who didn't fit the beauty ideal for little white girls and I knew it. All the princesses were blonde, except Snow White and she was obviously my favorite. I couldn't get over the fact that she even had brown eyes. Snow White was the lone brunette in a fairytale universe of flaxen haired, sky eyed damsels in distress. Every book, every movie depicted Aryan heroines who looked nothing like me. There were no dolls with my complexion and so I had to settle for tow-headed baby dolls, all of them so pale that my basement playroom looked like a Swedish orphanage.

The message wasn't subtle even though it was never stated in words. If you aren't a blue eyed blonde, you're ugly. There was no place for skinny, scabby, brown haired girls with eyes the color of cola, knobby knees and dirty feet. I was ugly. Brown was ugly. Try to make a pleasant simile. Brown as blank. What comes to mind? Mud? Poop? Old Shoes? You can only compare brown to chocolate so many times you know. See. There aren't a lot of brown things that are beautiful and that proved it. I was brown so I was ugly. If I weren't ugly, they'd make dolls that looked like me and swarthy brunettes would be allowed castles and crowns too without having to be named Snow White as if to say "Hey I may have black hair, but look! I'm so white, it's my name! I swear! Look how white I am! Like snow."

Yeah well, I felt about as pure and white as snow that the dogs tinkled on.

But black girls. Wow. They had black Barbies. Albeit, the Black Barbies had white features like narrow, pert noses and thin lips. They also had silky, flowing white girl hair. I actually asked my friend Lucinda about that.

"Lucinda, why does your Barbie got white people hair even though she's black?"

"Duh," Lucinda replied, "My Barbie got her a perm. She use relaxer so she gots straight hair."

Made sense. Lucinda's mom's boyfriend was always giving her cash to go her hair did too and Lucinda's mom came out of the beauty parlor with hair as flat as mine.


But still, smooth hair, skinny lips and ski-jump noses aside, the black girls were doing a lot better than I was in the doll department. At least their Barbies looked pretty close to them.


I lost the genetic lotto I supposed. We couldn't all look like Briar Rose and after all, the teensy glass slipper only fit on one special foot.


But I was a take charge kind of kid, even back then. I've always believed that if things aren't the way you want, you have the power the change things. That was why I took a black permanent marker to Malibu Barbie's hair. I wanted brown but we didn't have a black marker and in the end the results were less than desirable. Malibu Barbie ended up looking like the vampire lady that hosted the Saturday afternoon horror movies on Channel Five with her white streaked, inky black locks.


After that summer, after I'd gone back home to my grandparents' house and gone back to playing with my old crowd of white girls and all of our blonde babies, my grandmother took me to a local department store.


It was in the fall. She had important errands to run and she allowed me to go look in the toy section of the store as long as I stayed there and acted right while she shopped. I was a good girl anyway. I knew not to ask for anything, throw a fit or run off with strangers. It had long since been drilled into my head that only terrible children, awful, rotten children asked for toys in stores and I came to believe that to want something was a sin right up there in heinousness as premeditated murder, so I was all prepared to simply look at the toys and play quietly with things not in packages until my grandmother came to get me.


But all this was before I saw the Italian Barbie.


Italian Barbie was total glamor. She had big earrings and wore a sheer, peasant top tucked into a silky skirt the colors of the Italian flag. She had a big purse and hot yellow pumps, but what I could not believe, what I could not get over was this. Italian Barbie wasn't a black girl and yet, there she was with a gorgeous head of dark brown hair Just   Like   Mine.  No, and it gets better. She had brown eyes (with blue eyeshadow even) and a tan, Mediterranean complexion that looked like my skin at the end of a long summer spent splashing in my grandparents' pool. This couldn't be happening.


I spent my entire half hour of freedom, alone in the toy section sitting on the dusty floor holding Italian Barbie's box, just staring at her.


I had to have this Barbie. It was a matter of life and death. I couldn't continue to breathe and eat and sleep and go to school or even play if I did not have this Barbie who looked like me. But how could I ask for her when I wasn't allowed to want things? What if someone else bought her? What if she was the only Barbie like this in existence and I missed out on having her because she was meant for me. That was all there was to it. She was my Barbie.


"Look at this beautiful Barbie. She looks like me," I told my grandmother who appeared utterly unmoved by the plastic brunette.


"Hmm. She looks like Sophia Loren."


"Who?"


"A movie star from a while back."


And that was the end of it.


Although I was not allowed to want things or to ask for them, there was one small loophole in this rule. I could make a Christmas list and I always made it before my birthday so as to loot as much crap that I wanted between Halloween and New Years. That year I wrote one thing on the list.  ITALIAN BARBIE.


My birthday rolled around and did I get the Italian Barbie? No I most certainly did not. I don't know what I got but it was probably clothes or something idiotic like that and I was despondent over it. They'd probably forgotten or maybe my family wanted me to play with blonde dolls. Maybe I was right and there was only one Italian Barbie and now she was gone. By Christmas I gave up hope. I didn't want to set myself up for disappointment.


But you know what? My family knew. They understood. I don't know why Italian Barbie didn't come for my birthday but it no longer mattered when I found her beneath our tree. I can't remember a single other present I got that year or a single other thing about that day except that gorgeous, dusky Barbie with her smoky eyes and glossy dark hair. She was finally mine. Finally I had my proof that brown haired, brown eyed girls could be beautiful too and maybe I'd grow up to be pretty one day even though my hair would never glow like corn silk.


I named Italian Barbie Sophia, after Sophia Loren of course, even though I didn't know much about her. I thought Sophia was a lovely name and perfect.


I played with Sophia for many years. She suffered an unfortunate accident in the jaws of our Pomeranian, which left her with one mangled arm, but it wasn't a big deal. I loved her more because those of us with scars of all kinds are even more beautiful for having lived and survived, even if our hair is brown and even if we don't conform to what someone else says is pretty.


This story is dedicated with love to my friend Kira who loved when I told her this story and who encouraged me to write it down. Kira is one of the most beautiful people I have ever met.


(And for fun, if you'd like to see a picture of Italian Barbie you can see her here. I couldn't find a picture that I could legally use and paste into the post.)

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