26 March 2005

Good cop

I am as bewildered as anyone else to have discovered that I am suddenly Good With Children. I never used to be, but somewhere along life's way my body chemistry mutated and all of a sudden they flock to me.

When did this happen?

Like most people, I had a pretty rough time in middle school. I was overweight and poor, I wore glasses and hand-me-down plaid bell-bottoms (in 1986). I was smart, but I hated the other kids in school so much that I made it a practice to skip every Friday, which led to me receiving my first and only D -- in art. Hell, I probably would have gotten a low grade anyway -- I suck at drawing. But it was mostly because we did weekly projects that were always handed in on Fridays, and I always skipped Fridays, so I never finished any projects.

I don't care. It was worth it. Those were my mental health days. Children in middle school need mental health days more than anyone.

So throughout my adulthood I have looked back on those years and remembered how much I hated other kids at that age and drawn the conclusion that I still did. Babies were fine (who doesn't love babies?) and toddlers were ok -- although I always stood around awkwardly, afraid to touch or pick them up -- but once they reached the Age of Unreason (puberty) I wanted nothing to do with them.

One of my major reservations about the idea of having a kid has always been that some day... some day... the kid would have to be a 7th and then an 8th grader. And I'd hate to be responsible for another kid having to go through that. Also, I want to be nowhere near that. Yeeks. Gives me hives just thinking about it.


Here I am, stage managing this play with all these kids who are in elementary school and middle school and high school, and I am shocked, shocked to discover that I am suddenly Good With Kids.

Without even trying, they love me. They come up and sit on my lap (the little ones, I mean), throng around me after rehearsal, and tell me their funny stories.

I'm just being grown up old me, and they love me. What the hell happened here?

Of course, I love it. Desperately. It is somehow stitching me back up inside where I used to hold all my old wounds from puberty. Suddenly this age group finds me funny and nice, and I'm blown away.

I think I know what's going on. I think I've become the crazy aunt.

When I was a kid, I always had somebody -- a teacher, a family friend, an aunt, whatever -- who was a cool, funny grownup. Someone who broke the rules, and didn't tell me what -- or how -- to be. Who seemed gently amused and indulgent about the whole charade of adolescence. Who somehow held out the promise that there was something better waiting for me, that adulthood was good, and fun, and worth the crap I had to put up with as a kid.

As Anne Lamott wrote about teenagers in her latest book, Plan B, "they need adults who have stayed alive and vital, adults they wouldn't mind growing up to be."

My question is this: Is it my non-Mom status that makes me this groovy grownup to them? And would having a child of my own cause me to automatically forfeit this status? Because I like this place I'm in, and I don't want to give it up.

I'm kind of the good cop of grownups to them, and I'm finding it very rewarding.

20 March 2005

O Captain My Captain

Moving back to your hometown after fifteen years' absence naturally means encountering nostalgia and memory on a nearly daily basis. You drive to work, and you pass your old elementary school, the first restaurant you worked in, the place where a pick-up truck ran you off the road on your 12-speed bike into a gravel driveway. And that's just the first half-mile.

After some time, you start to think about what ever happened to all those people you used to know from the growing-up days, and if any of them are still around. Of course the inclination is to think of these people as frozen in time from the last time you saw them -- older and wiser, perhaps, but not fundamentally different. If anything, you imagine they will be just like they were when you knew them, only more so.

And sometimes you run into them, and things are different, and the same, and cool in a way you could never have anticipated.

Today was the reading for the winners of the writing contest that I entered and won some time ago. I was pretty happy to have been a winner, never having entered such a thing before, but I wasn't making too big a deal about it. I didn't even tell my family, and told my husband he didn't have to come see me read, so I went alone.

The reading was held in the bookstore at the mall, which wouldn't have been my first choice, but, as you may have noticed, I'm not in charge around here. There were already a ton of people there when I walked in, and I inched my way up to the podium to sign in with the organizers.

I had managed to stay reasonably stress-free about the whole Public Reading thing because (1) I didn't think there would be that many people there, and (2) I'm used to public speaking. I was misleading myself on both these points because (1) there were tons of people there, and (2) I've never read any of My Own Writing in public before. Turns out this makes a difference. Oh well, live and learn.

I sat down, after picking up the program that was placed on my reserved seat. I was horrified to scan the order of readers and find that I was listed last. The organizer approached me just then and introduced herself, saying how excited she was to hear my thingy. Said she had lobbied for my piece to be last so that we would "end with a bang."

I hoped this would be a good thing.

But before my palms can start sweating in earnest, I notice another name on the list, just above mine. D----- C------, my old Honors English teacher from high school. I mean, that teacher. The one that really mattered.

She was the one who told me to apply to the Breadloaf Young Writers' Conference my senior year. I got in, and she drove me up to Middlebury, Vermont, that weekend in her red convertible, with the top down on a glorious New England spring day. I can't do justice to the shade of green of the fields around the campus that week in May, or how it felt to be in a college setting for the first time, and to be considered bright and promising. On the last day of the conference, I went exploring in the woods with a guy I had developed one of those lightning-quick teenage crushes on. We wandered for an hour or two past a rushing, tumbling mountain stream that was just feeling the spring rush of meltwater, ducked for cover during a sudden thunderstorm, then suddenly emerged onto a field of brilliant green lawn, sparkling from the brief, intense rainfall, and looked up to see a double rainbow in the sky.

It was like that.

She took me once that winter to see a play -- I forget what the production was -- and during intermission, as we mingled with the hardy throng of winter theater-goers, she suddenly grabbed my arm and urgently whispered Do you know who that is??? I didn't recognise him at first, but I was already a huge fan of Edward Gorey, and she was brazen enough to grab me by the elbow and steer me over to him to introduce ourselves and pay our respects to the man.

How lucky am I?

When it was time to choose our topics for our term papers, she went around the room (our chairs were, of course, in a circle), peered in each of our eyes for a few seconds, and then pronounced which subject she thought we would most like to research, based on what she knew about us, and how we wrote.

My friend Ariel, she told her Sartre. Ariel was instantly turned on. That cool freaky art chick Andrea, she told her to report on Dada and its adherents. That was also an overnight success. Me, she said to me, Yeats.

Man, was she right.

So we reconnected. And we saw each other read our own work in public. And we promised to get together soon to catch up.

I guess leaving the house once in a while really does have its merits.

Natural high

I'm having a hard time coming up with stories to tell these last couple of days because my life is officially consumed by the play I'm stage managing, which I don't know why that should come as a surprise to me, because what the funk. I've done this sorta thing before. But it always somehow manages to take me by surprise when it reaches this fever pitch of intensity and 24-7-ness.

I kind of looked around the other day and noticed that I don't have a real live day off until the show goes up next month and I was like Oh Yeah... That's right... This is the part that sucks. Of course it's also occasionally crazily exhilarating and I suck up the Mach 3 energy level of the kids and it takes me hours to come down after rehearsal like I'm on the greatest coke jag ever. I was honestly at the bar the other night after rehearsal, drumming my hands on the bar obsessively, kind of happily muttering lyrics to myself, and twitching my head around from side to side. It was fun, and I sure didn't miss the part where your teeth grind and you can't keep your goddamn mouth shut for all the tremendously brilliant things you have to say, but I bet the bartender thought twice about serving me.

And then there are days like today, where I want to shove my fist far back into somebody's skull and squeeze out the last drops of humanity from their black little heart. I name no names, of course, being the soul of discretion that I am. But let me assure you, poisonous hate arrows were spewing out of my eyes today that could have stunned a wookie. I got over it.

And hey! When the hell did I get conned into a job where I have homework again? I just spent five hours going over insanely boring yet vital minutae for this play, and my cat was all what the fuck, man? It's so clearly MY alloted time, like four and a half hours ago!

And that is my long-winded explanation for why I have not written in a couple of days. Because I am too discreet to write all the very funny things that are going on at work with any specificity. And I am alternately tired and wired and stream-of-consciousness and disjointed. As you can clearly see. So, sorry for the very diary-ish post, I'll try to go back to writing funny little stories soon.

10 March 2005

Doctor Fever

Just because I'm a little flushed and a little sore, I suddenly have rheumatic fever? People, please.

Anyway, I'm still sick from this strep-ish thing, even though I feel a million miles better than I did Sunday morning, but just because I looked a little flushed at work today they sent me home early (must be the first time I ever got reluctantly sent home from work) and this evening my mother and father call me to tell me I have to go to the doctor post haste and get my hands on some antibiotics because what our family does when they get strep as adults is they get rheumatic fever.

Why wasn't I told this before?

You gotta understand, my family's sense of handing down the old oral tradition is less than robust. Filling out medical histories has always been like throwing darts at a medical chart for me, because conversations with my parents about the deaths of their parents usually go something like:

Me: So Aunt E died of a stroke, right?

Mom: Or cancer. I'm not really sure.

Me: But Granny died of emphysema.

Mom: It was really the diabetes that did her in.

Me: Gran had diabetes?

Mom: Or was it a stroke?


Me: So Grandad died of a heart attack, right?

Dad: Well, a stroke. He might have thrown in a heart attack there, too. He always overdid things. Anyway, it killed him.

Me: Yes, I noticed. But did he have a heart condition?

Dad: Well, he drank a lot.

Me: Yes, but...

Dad: Or was it diabetes?


And so the lore is passed down to the next generation.

But they're sure about the rheumatic fever, and I'm all tell me another one. Isn't that what sweet little Beth died from in Little Women? And don't we have laws against that sort of thing now? Or at least vaccines? Isn't it a vestige of a bygone day, like trenchmouth, or pleurisy?

It kept Dad in bed for six weeks when he was in the navy. It causes permanent heart damage. It is probably why all my joints are aching, my mother insists.

My instinct is that they're all crying wolf, that they've finally gotten their story straight so they're sticking with it, no matter how brightly the commissioner shines that bare bulb into their faces in the interrogation room, but I'm throwing my hands up.

I'll go. I'll go to the doctor tomorrow and take antibiotics.

Do I want permanent heart damage, my mother asks?

No, Mom, of course not. I'll go to the doctor. She'll fix it.

Mom says little Beth died of scarlet fever, not rheumatic fever, but what does she know? Maybe it was the diabetes that really did her in.

07 March 2005

Speaking in tongues

Damn kids. Last week, it seemed like half the cast of the show I'm stage managing was virulently ill in some way -- strep throat, bronchitis, you name it, they hacked it. Of course, they all came to rehearsal anyway, silly little over-dedicated nibs. So I knew I'd contract something, and since I used to get strep fortnightly as a kid, I guessed it would be strep again, my old buddy old pal.

God, I love being right.

I'll refrain from itemizing all the parts of me that ache, mostly because I don't think I can stay awake that long. But it sure does hurt all over, especially back there in the back of my throat. I even had a dream today that I called my old pediatrician (Dr. Hazard, I kid you not) and told him to take out my tonsils. He said OK, but that the ice cream afterwards would cost me extra. I said lay it on me. Then I got all weepy about losing my tonsils, who had been with me through so much, and Dr. Hazard was all, sic transit gloria mundi.

In my dream, I understood him, but I had to check online later, because I don't really know Latin. I know some Greek, but again, only seem to remember scraps of it in fever dreams, like when I dream I'm Demosthenes. Which I do, sometimes.

What I do know is real, and not the sweaty product of a fever dream, is that the phone rang this morning, and a woman said into my answering maching that I had won the writing contest I entered back around the end of December. I just called her back to confirm it, and it turns out I did in fact beat out about 500 other folks for the chance to read out loud at a Barnes and Noble in a couple of Sundays. I think some prize money is involved too, but I'm too dehydrated to remember.

If you're interested, I rewrote this for submission. A few of you seemed to like it, and so did I. The way I wrote it here, it's a true story. I changed the names and a few telling details for the contest. But hey, if some of my more pointed references reach the ears of some of my more pointy-headed relatives, so be it. Que sera sera. C'est la vie. Comme ci, comme ca. Tempus fugit.

I think I have to go back to bed.

04 March 2005

His girl Friday

Today was all about cars. I woke up this morning filled with that particular fortitude that enables one to spend an entire day at the DMV, the inspection garage down the street, and then on your knees in the snow and slush taking the plates off of one beast and putting them on another.

These days are rare, and must be seized.

We got the title to the Subaru last night (much to my surprise, as no cash has yet changed hands -- this girl is maybe a little too mellow for her own good), the same day that I received the necessary forms from my brilliant insurance company, so today was the day to make an honest car out of her.

I was very excited to be saving a little scratch by transferring the plates from our gorgeous old Volvo to the young whippersnapper Subaru, but as always the sales tax on a thousand-dollar car is based on some insane hermit's idea of what the car is actually worth, so they made me pretend I had payed more than twice what I had (or will) and pay the sales tax on that figure. Curses.

Then I cruised on home with my shiny new registration, got out my screwdriver and pliers, and commenced to shave all the skin off my knuckles trying to get the plates off the (somewhat slightly rusted) Volvo. Big fun. I finally made Matt use his superior boy muscles to pry the damn things loose. Once the plates were in place, it was off to get inspected. There's a seven-day "grace period," but let's be serious. If I didn't do it today, I'd forget about it until the moment I saw flashing blue lights in my rear view mirror.

So I motored on out to the garage that my beautiful mechanics had recommended for inspections. It turned out to be run by a lovely bunch of young Middle-Eastern men who very sweetly ushered me to the sunniest seat in their waiting room, complimented me on my big soulful blue eyes, and then offered to make me coffee.

After about a half hour I was invited into the shop to discuss the results with Joe, the hunky head mechanic. I gathered my newspaper and my purse and hustled past the large-print sign that insisted no customers were allowed in the shop.

The Subaru passed. Apparently, so did I, because the you have beautiful eyes gambit suddenly got ratcheted way, way up while we were in the shop. (Imagine an extremely thick, hunky accent on hunky Joe's part.)

Joe: So do you drink?

Me: What?! Yes, I guess so.

Joe: Don't I know you from (seedy danceclub near my house that I have never set foot in)?

Me: No, no, I don't really go out much.

Joe: I know I know you from somewhere. You are beautiful. I know.

Me: Well, thank you, that's very nice of you, but I don't think we've met.

Joe: You married?

Me: Yes.

Joe: How many boyfriends you have?

Me: (smiling slightly) None, I don't do that.

Joe: I'm married, I have six girlfriends. One for every day of the week but Friday. You know what day today is?

Me: (smiling widely) Friday?

Joe: So I am free today!

Laughing, I get into my car, and Joe blows me a little kiss. I drive away, trying to drum up some sense of annoyance and outrage, but really, I just can't stop grinning.

01 March 2005

Oral pleasure

Yep, it snowed last night. Again. It snowed. Another 8 inches.

It was supposed to be just 2 to 4 inches followed by rain, by they lie, lie, lie. Lies and deceit, that's what they give me. Nothing but lies and deceit.

I drove home from rehearsal last night through the worst of the snowfall and high winds, and I was foolishly driving a very nice high school freshman girl home at the same time. Now, if I had been alone, I would have been white-knuckling it all the way, freaking out and making faintly Beeker-ish noises to myself (MEEEP! MEEEP-MEEEEP!). As it was I had to force myself to be all cheerful and calm, saying shit like "well, this is really somethin', huh?" trying to chuckle heartily and make some reassuring dimples magically appear on my cheeks as I go cheerfully skidding into the oncoming traffic.

There's nothing quite like driving a very young person around (for whom you are suddenly legally responsible) to make you painfully aware of the mechanical and safety deficiencies of your thousand-dollar-car. Oh, that clicking noise you hear near the front wheels? Oh, no, dear, that's certainly not my CV joint about to shatter into a million pieces! Anything but! That inspection sticker with the big capital "R" prominently displayed in the center? Gosh no, that doesn't stand for "Rejected!" Where did you hear that? It, um, I think it stands for "Right on!" And that excessive skidding? Well, I can tell you that has absolutely nothing to do with bald tires. No siree! Is your seatbelt fastened? Can you see my dimples? Reassuring, aren't they?

This winter is really starting to get to me.

So tonight I had a little culinary therapy. It's my favorite kind of therapy, especially if you count mixing dirty martinis as a culinary skill. After soothing my nerves with a delicious martini with extra olives and a bowl of roasted cashews (very 1950's, but really, you should try. there's a reason such things were popular) I shucked a half a dozen littleneck clams and placed them, on the half-shell, in a neat little circle on a small, fancifully decorated plate, garnished with a dab of cocktail sauce and a lemon wedge. Then I broiled up a lovely bit of fresh cod (and on Cape Cod, it had damn well better be fresh) with just salt, pepper, lemon, and olive oil. A little pile of long-grained brown rice steeped in saffron and garlic on the side, and we are good to go.

If you ever need to remind yourself that yes, one day it will be summer, and there will be sunshine, and traffic, and seagulls, and tourists, and seasonal workers speaking a babel of languages on the beaches, and the singular aroma of suntan lotion and hot baked sand mingling in your nostrils, just slurp down a few littleneck clams on the half-shell. They are exquisitely tasty this time of year, and you deserve it. (They also cost about a quarter a clam if you buy them at the fish market and shuck them yourself.) That's summertime, baby, right there. In your mouth. On your tongue. Oooooh, heaven.

But don't forget the martini. Even heaven needs a little help.