Sunday, November 25, 2012

If I Seem A Little Strange...

The great physicists may have discovered gravity, the theory of relativity and that whole thing about an object in motion, but they've left out one of the most reliable laws of the universe.

If you go out looking like shit you will see someone you know.

And the degree to which you look like shit will determine how much you don't want to see the person you're about to run into.

For example, if you run into Walgreens with your greasy hair wound up in a pony tail holder, messy bun catastrophe and an underground zit on your nose that you've been trying in vain to pop all day until you look like you're about to guide a sleigh through fog, you WILL see your ex-boyfriend and his gorgeous, skinny and probably Brazilian new wife and you WILL be holding a box of super-absorbency tampons. 

I hate seeing people I know in public. Even if I adore you, I will still be uncomfortable seeing you in the grocery store. I can't tell you how many times I have avoided people that I genuinely like because I don't want to make small talk on a street corner. There are two reasons for this. One is that I don't like being caught off guard and two is that I am socially inept so I need a lot of mental preparation before conversing or I will probably say or do something awkward and inappropriate. And I guess three is that I probably look like shit.

Case in point, last week I got bored and went to the mall for God knows what reason, and I kid you not, I must have seen pretty much everyone that I know there. You cannot imagine how bad I looked. No makeup, dirty hair, muffin top jeans, crappy tee shirt. I looked like I should have been working on a car engine, but no, there I was, shopping. Naturally, everyone that I saw looked fabulous and had combed their hair before they left the house. I bet everyone who saw me thought the same thing.

Thank God she's shopping. Maybe she'll get some new clothes and while she's at it, how about a stop at the MAC counter for a makeover. Lord have mercy.

My poor sister has one of the worst seeing your ex out in public stories of all time.

She ran into the guy she lost her virginity to, who is now grown up, hot and successful, at a restaurant. She was two months post partum, and well, that's about all I need to say. She was nursing in public, then the baby began to scream and I mean SCREAM, because it knew of course that her ex had just walked in, because babies are evil like that. Then the baby shit and spit up and at that time the ex decided to come over and talk to my poor sister, whose boob was practically lying in her pasta bowl and of course she hadn't lost the baby weight or had time to touch up her roots and forget trying to put makeup on. There was nothing nice about this situation and what made it worse was that the ex was there with his new wife who was stunning and 85 pounds and had a mane of hair that looked like something out of a Pantene commercial and you could just hear her thinking "Wow, he took HER virginity? He must have felt sorry for her."

The worst is unexpectedly running into someone with whom you've had sex or been intimate.

All I wanted was a god damned burrito, but right when I walked in the door who do I see but the Toe Sucker. The Toe Sucker was this guy I briefly dated forever ago, but whom I can never forget, for obvious reasons. I didn't have sex with him, but we did hook up, as they say, a few times and although he was kind of nice, we just weren't a good match (I don't like to suck toes). But there he was hovering open mouthed over a steak burrito as if it were a freshly pedicured foot and he too was there with his new lover, who was definitely prettier than me (aren't they always?) and all I could think about was that he was probably going to go home and lick her to her ankles so before he could even say hello, which he was about to, I suddenly lost my appetite, turned and walked right out.

People probably think I'm unfriendly. I'm not. I just can't handle chatting in Publix with people who've seen me naked and there's nothing worse than standing there with the new wife glaring at you when you can't get stop thinking "I've fucked your husband." Unless you hate her and then it's a little fun. Not that this has happened to me. Ahem. I can just imagine it.

I was even a little unnerved at seeing my doctor in yoga class last week, although it was somewhat of a comfort in case I happened to drop dead, which is a likely scenario and it was also a little comforting knowing that your doctor can bust out a bad ass hand stand. But still. This man has held my uterus. He's had more of his hand up my vagina than my husband. I don't want him judging my downward facing dog, ya know?

Once I ran into a guy who had truly, deeply done me wrong. Led me on with lies, promised to call, never did, gave me the run around after seducing me when I was really innocent. He was on his way to his wedding rehearsal. He was having it at the country club where I worked, because this is me and this is what happens to me. So alarmed was I, that I took my lunch break and went and bought a new shirt. I don't even think he recognized me when he saw me but at least he wasn't all like, oh look I'm getting married and there goes some girl in a shirt she spilled coffee all over this morning.

And if you happen to run into an ex in, say, I don't know, Target, when you look like total hell you can swiftly hide in the makeup department and try on a few samples to spiff yourself up. I'm not, of course, saying that this has actually happened to me, again. I'm just saying that maybe if it did happen, maybe you could do that. Even though they kind of discourage you from opening up the makeup in the Target cosmetics department. 

"IT'S AN EMERGENCY! MY EX IS HERE WITH HIS NEW GIRLFRIEND!" I said. I mean, I WOULD say were I ever in that unfortunate situation. I like to think they'd understand because haven't we all been there? No? We haven't? It's just me?

So if you see me out and I flee, please know it's not because I don't like you, but probably because I like you a lot, or I once liked you very much or maybe even once I loved you. It is because I want you to like me and if you saw me or talked to me, maybe deep down I fear you wouldn't.

Gay Apparel

There’s no other time of year when people dress more ridiculously than the Christmas season. It’s so bad that I have a theory. From Black Friday through New Year’s, the fashion police are on vacation. There’s no other explanation for the fact that suddenly, normally conservative individuals who spend the rest of the year in jeans and solid color tops, decide that garish, red and green plaid pants are perfectly acceptable to wear to the grocery store. But forget just plaid, of which there is a plenty in December. Plaid is downright plain in comparison to some folks’ idea of festive attire. Sequins, rickrack, bows, both grosgrain and satin, velvet, appliques, glitter and lots of it, gold braid, silver braid, bright buttons, rhinestones, giant crystals, you’ll see it all at Christmas. And you’ll see it all on one outfit. Repeatedly.  

People like to dress crazy at Christmastime. There are probably a lot of reasons for this. Hey, we decorate our front doors, our dining room tables. We drag swags of greenery through banisters and plug in electric candles to brighten our windows. We bring trees in from outside and decorate them. Some people even decorate their cars. Yuppies always have a wreath ( a real one of course with a tasteful red bow) wired onto the front grill of their Land Rover and rednecks tend to favor antlers for their pickups. So if we’re decorating everything else for Christmas, why not ourselves? 

 I’m guilty. I’ve worn some ridiculous shit at Christmas and I’ve done it with a straight face and without a shred of irony. My reasons were varied. It’s partly not my fault. I come from a tacky family, so I get my propensity for hideous, holiday-wear honestly. It’s practically part of my DNA. I fall prey to both sentimentality and marketing, a lethal combination, especially at yuletide, and if that weren’t toxic enough, my perfectionism will kick in and I’ll decide that Christmas won’t be right unless I am properly decked out. 

 Here’s how it usually happens. My birthday is right before Thanksgiving, when the stores are getting ready to go full swing into Christmas Blitzkrieg. That means I’ll usually have a couple hundred extra bucks from my grandparents and parents and that money will start to burn a hole in my pocket. Inevitably, I will end up at the mall and then it’s all over. Once I go up an escalator, there’s no hope for me, my money or any remaining shred of good taste I might have ever had. The gigantic ornaments, the Shaq sized gingerbread men dancing from the rafters, the seventy foot, fiberglass Christmas tree in the atrium, the hip remix of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” blaring out of Pottery Barn, the sweet smell of eggnog lattes frothing up at Starbucks. I get sensory overload. My brain can’t function normally. And it’s bliss. Some junkies get their high from heroin, but I get mine from The Galleria. 

 There’s got to be something about the lighting in the stores that makes the clothes look better and I’ve sworn for years that they have magical mirrors in the dressing rooms of women’s clothing retailers that make you look particularly skinny. Whatever it is, the dresses and sweaters, the pants, blouses, cardis and camis all look irresistible, both on and off. Stacks of cashmere pullovers are so lushly dyed that you can practically taste their fruity colors. Every glittery, gleaming embellishment transforms what would normally be considered tacky even in New Jersey into festive. I begin to imagine detailed scenarios in which I am wearing those exact capris – the satin ones with the glitter stars all over them, with that exact, white angora sweater and that sequined beret and those silver pumps (with real bells! that actually ring!) and I am at the greatest Christmas cocktail party of all time, peppermint martini in one hand, sleigh shaped cookie in the other and I can actually see myself with my head thrown back in peals of laughter with a small crowd gathered around me, rapt at whatever hilarious story I’m regaling and I am the life of this party, this greatest Christmas cocktail party of all time, because I am wearing this outfit. And that’s how I end up losing my birthday money every year. If only I were born in the summer. 

 It all started with a pair of red and green plaid, flannel, stirrup pants. They were my first Christmas clothes. The first I bought for myself anyway. I was twenty and I’d decided that year that I was old enough now to start celebrating Christmas on my own terms, by which I meant that I would do it the right way and not fuck it up like my family did every year, and I really had no idea what I was actually going to do, so I started at The Gap.

I followed the pants up with a red velvet, scoop necked tee and I thought that wasn't quite enough, so I bought the same top again in emerald green. To wear with the plaid stirrup pants. And I thought Christmas was going to be perfect and naturally it wasn't. I spent the holiday in Arkansas, God help me, with my ex fiance's sister's in-laws, most of whom were wearing Christmas attire of their own, including the men, because who wouldn't love a tie printed with both red nosed reindeer and beer mugs? They were racist football fanatics who ate canned asparagus and I had nothing in common with any of them, which goes without saying, so that Christmas was a little lonely for me, but at least I was well dressed. I thought I was anyway.

I have a picture of myself from the year after that. I often look at this picture of me, standing in my old apartment in Atlanta and wonder what the fuck I was thinking. Both about the pink carpeting and floral wallpaper I once loved and about my Christmas outfit. The dress was expensive. I'll give it that. It was a Brooks Brothers. My mom bought it, herself a victim of Christmas Wardrobe Insanity (I'm pretty sure that's a real disorder that should be included in the next DSM). The dress is real velvet and by real velvet I mean that it isn't the stretchy velour stuff found ubiquitously on sweatsuits in TJ Maxx. You know, the classy kind that say things like "Princess" and "Hottie" across the ass? Real velvet is coarser, stiffer. It seems to absorb all light around it, which is probably why, in the dress, which my mother described as "burgundy" in color, I look as pale as a frozen, water-logged corpse. Real velvet is also heavy. I can't remember what ever happened to that dress or where I ended up wearing it, but I do remember that it weighed at least thirty pounds and I also remember that when I put it on, all high-necked, long sleeved, thirty pounds of it draping to the floor, I felt elegant, Dickensian, Joyce-ian (if that's a word). I could have gone to that party in "The Dead" and eaten a steamed pudding and caroled around a piano in my imagination. I didn't. I think that was the year my fiance's mom turned the mashed potatoes into glue and his grandmother got drunk on vodka and tonics and cussed everyone out before staggering upstairs to bed.

It's the same every year. I've worn drop-waisted, peter pan collared abominations that I've tried to repress my memories of. Christmas of '99 will forever be the year I thought an angora cardigan was a good idea. I looked like a terrified cat all fuzzed out in that thing, not to mention, I was allergic to it and as soon as I put it on my eyes began to water, my throat constricted and I couldn't stop sneezing. Seriously, I sneezed so many times that people stopped saying "bless you." I had to take a Benadryl that caused me to pass out, but still I wouldn't take the damned thing off. IT WAS FESTIVE!

Psychotherapy encourages the neurotic to seek the sources of their issues in childhood. If I look back, I think my predisposition for holiday attire started with my grandmother. She wore either red or green polyester slacks (because you can't call these things pants) during the Christmas season. She had an entire barrel, I kid you not, in her cellar (not a basement, this is my grandmother we're talking about here, it's a cellar dammit) of Christmas sweaters and tucked away in her jewelry box, was another box, a box within a box, that contained her Christmas brooches. She had bells that dinged and Bakelite holly and wreaths with matching clip-on earrings. I thought they were the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. I couldn't wait to grow up so I could wear my own Christmas jewelry.

I'm not proud of this, but I have my own box now. One year when I was about twenty-two maybe, I bought a gingerbread man pin. He was my gateway bauble. From there I picked up a wreath, some holly earrings, a few other odds and ends at the Dollar Store, because naturally the Dollar Store is a great place to buy tasteful jewelry. I hang my head when I tell you that I also found ornament earrings and that I've worn them with the gingerbread man pin at the same time. A word of advice - learn from my mistakes. Do not try to emulate your grandmother's choices in fashion. Or anyone else's grandmother.

By the time I hit 28, I decided to class it up. I'd broken up with the fiance by then (he'd moved on with a girl who wouldn't be caught dead in plaid taffeta). Maybe we can blame my Christmas outfit that year on the trauma of a broken heart, but really, is there any excuse for high-waisted, side zipped, black velvet, palazzo pants? Damn you Ann Taylor for tricking me into thinking that these pants, also weighing more than our holiday turkey, were chic and age appropriate, especially when combined with a red, black, white and silver plaid (again with the plaid, will I ever learn?) wrap-around blouse with elaborate cuffs and a collar with a wing-span to rival a condor's. This was a stupid looking get-up. It would have worked if I were a Westchester, WASP matriarch, nearing 60 and named Mitzi, but clearly I wasn't and I certainly wasn't going to any chi-chi Christmas champagne buffets in the Hamptons. No, I wore my palazzo pants to my aunt and uncle's split level ranch in Smyrna, Delaware that year. Overdressed? Maybe a little. My relatives all had on elastic waisted jeans, Reeboks and sweatshirts with snowmen on them. Everyone else was wearing red turtlenecks. They pretended not to notice what I had on. I was from Florida after all. People down there are a little strange. You've seen the news stories, haven't you?

That was the year my Uncle Butch got engaged on Christmas Eve to a woman we will call Tammy, because I don't like the name Tammy. "Tammy" had one of those mushroom haircuts that people's mom's get and she really took the fruitcake when it came to Christmas clothes. She was the queen of the ugly Christmas sweater. She was like a walking Christmas tree she had so many ornaments hanging off her cardigan, under which she wore a gingerbread man print turtleneck. She had snowmen sewn onto her jeans, little present shaped earrings. I swear, the bitch even put antlers on her shoes. Something wasn't right with this woman, I thought and I call her a bitch because, well, she was. Less than a year after being married to my uncle she ran off with another man. That and she was one of those people who refuse to share their recipes. I hate that. Moral of the story? Don't trust people in Christmas clothes. Lesson learned.

But is it? Did I really learn my lesson? In my heart I know that Christmas isn't about clothes. Outfits don't make a holiday or make it better as much as I'd like to think they would. Oh were it only that easy though. I'm guilty still and maybe that's how, this very weekend, I ended up with a red sequined tank, the likes of which I'd never slip on outside of December. This time of year though, I can't seem to shake the feeling that everything needs a little glitter. Even me.
Friday, November 23, 2012

Everything But a Bitch

I always thought my grandmother was such a bitch.

She looked like Elizabeth Taylor and smoked Eves, drank a full glass of white milk at every meal and was appalled when I wouldn't touch the stuff. She was a hot headed Republican with an opinion on everything and her opinion, you could pretty much bet, was different than yours and you were wrong and she was going to tell you how and why you were whether you wanted to hear it or not.

I didn't like when she babysat me because she was an awful cook. There was never anything to eat at her house except everything I didn't like: tuna fish, green peppers, macaroni salad. When she'd run into the dairy mart for a packet of cigarettes, she'd leave me locked in her Cadillac, which reeked of ashtray and Jean Nate.

When I was a kid, it always seemed like my grandmother was pissed off at one thing or another. She didn't play with me like my other grandmother. She didn't bake. She had too many pets. She didn't host a lot of warm, family get-togethers. Her house was cluttered, a little tacky. She spent a lot of time sighing, smoking and looking out the kitchen window while she stood over the sink.

I didn't understand my grandparents' divorce. I lacked the empathy, as a child, to imagine how it must have felt to be married to an alcoholic and a cheat for 27 years, to have five children, four who lived, with a man who had more fun in bars with drunks and young sluts than with his own family. I didn't know then how she must have felt when he left with a pregnant twenty-year old and moved into an apartment a few miles away to start a second family when he was already a grandfather. Small town schadenfreude added insult to her injury. I once heard someone say of my grandmother that she was the most beautiful woman in town, and then, that she knew it. There were people who were glad to see her humiliated, people who'd always been jealous of her elegance. That made it worse for her.

But I just thought my grandmother was cold, snippy, bossy, a little stuck up, not anything like a grandmother ought to be. I know differently now.

Our families teach us what to be, what not to be. My grandfather, her ex-husband, who was a wonderful grandfather even though he was a shit husband, taught me not to drink, not to wander, not to chase a good time, but to stick close to home and family. Those are big things. I'm grateful.

My grandmother though, she taught me about grace. Real grace. And for such a bitch, she taught me a hell of a lot about love and acceptance. That was a huge thing. There is nothing bigger.   

No surprise that things didn't work out with my grandfather and his second wife. Neither of them were the best candidates to parent their baby daughter. She was too young to be a mother and he was too old to be a father again. She wanted to party and when she ran off and left him with the baby he couldn't be a full time parent because he had to work. My grandfather was a trucker. You can't haul a toddler across country in the cab of a semi. 

That's where my mom stepped in. She wanted more children. Back then she hadn't even regained custody of me and she dreamed of babies. She wanted to adopt or find a surrogate to carry another child for her because, at twenty, before she met my adopted dad, she'd impulsively had her tubes tied by an unethical doctor. She couldn't afford the reversal. Doctors scared her anyway. But she longed for a family now; a big raucous family of kids playing in every room. My mother took in her father's daughter, her baby half-sister to raise as her own. That's how my sister is my aunt.

My mom's siblings accepted this. My new sister played with my cousins (they were all the same age anyway) and we kids packed together. I was the oldest so I bossed the little ones around and if they got on my nerves or got in my stuff, when no one was looking I'd smack them around a little and tell them scary stories so they'd have nightmares. I liked my little sister.

Holidays though. Birthdays. Sunday dinners. They were the problem. The rest of us, my cousins and me, were my grandmother's real grandkids - the ones she babysat and left in the car, the ones she gave twenty-five dollars to, flattened inside a card every birthday and Christmas. My sister though, she wasn't a real grandkid. She was my grandmother's ex-husband's love child with a twenty year old drunk whore that he left her for.

Most women wouldn't be able to handle that. I don't know if I could deal with my daughter adopting her own half sister under such circumstances and my grandmother was more than a little ticked at my mom for doing it. Understandably, she didn't want any part of it. Her divorce was settled. She'd found a job after being a housewife for the past thirty years. She'd started dating again. My grandmother wanted a fresh start without any reminders of her painful past.

My mother says she knew it was never going to work, that my sister would never have a chance at really being a part of the family unless my grandmother could accept her as one of her grandchildren. We couldn't very well go visit my grandmother on Christmas Eve, like we did every year, eating her disgusting giblet stuffing, if we had to leave my sister somewhere else because my grandmother couldn't bear the sight of her and we couldn't punish my grandmother, who, Lord knows, had been punished enough already and totally undeservedly, by refusing to visit her unless she caved.

But my grandmother was not a woman without a heart. She loved children, in her own weird, milk-forcing, impatient way. She was a deeply nurturing woman under her veil of hairspray and cigarette smoke. She took in every wounded animal (she still does at 79). She cared for her schizophrenic son, her daughter in prison, her other daughter who struggled with addiction. 

So this is what my mother did.

It was almost Christmas. She had shopping to do. She called up my grandmother.

"Mom," she said, "I'm dropping the kids off at your house so I can run into town and get some things done. I'll be there in ten minutes."


But my mom hung up on her and put us in the car and off she drove to my grandmother's house.

"Thanks, Mom!" my mother called after she'd practically shoved us in the front door.

My grandmother yelled at her from the front doorway.


My mom pretended she didn't hear and kept on driving, right out of the driveway, down the street and straight into town.

She came back a couple hours later, not sure what she'd find, but hopeful.

My grandmother opened the door with a scowl. She didn't say hello, or anything. She raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips.

"Well?" my mom asked.

My grandmother led her to the kitchen. My sister was happily  drinking milk and eating a sandwich. She pointed at my grandmother.

"Mommom!" she said.

"So?" my mom asked.

"She's an ugly little thing, isn't she? Looks just like your father," my grandmother said. She winked at my mom and smiled.

From that day on, my grandmother was my sister's grandmother too. She never forgot her birthday. She treated her exactly as she treated the rest of us. When my grandfather died, it was my grandmother who called my sister, then fifteen, to tell her. My sister still calls her Mommom, and she is, in every sense, my sister's grandmother.

Now that is grace. That is a setting an example. Rising above your circumstances and doing the right thing, the human thing, the loving thing? My grandmother will show you how it's done.
Because my grandmother is everything but a bitch.          

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