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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

So Much On My Mind That It's Criminal

In 2013 the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year was selfie, the photo taken of one by oneself with a smartphone or webcam and usually shared via social media. That same year, a runner-up was binge-watching. I do not do the former, but I have done the latter, and I have done it often. Selfies always make me look terrible and I hate them. I look tired, old, and as if I have an enormous face. Binge-watching has never done me a bit of harm; that is, until today.

First, a bit of exposition. Some of you may recall that the Dept. gave up cable quite a while ago, and now we live on regular broadcast digital and a Roku, which brings us Jared's Netflix. I've found that I really don't miss anything, especially now that I've found a few new shows to watch. One of them has an actor whose character I like, and it has turned into a Mini-Obsession of sorts, especially now that Daniel Day-Lewis has retreated back into the Gaping Void Of His Creative Space And Marriage. Anyway, the show is Criminal Minds, the character is Dr. Spencer Reid, and the actor is Matthew Gray Gubler.

Here he is with sunglasses and the tously hair, and a little bit of a five o'clock shadow happening.

He's a fan of the messy-haired, but kind of  "Just got off the soccer field, but it won't take me long to get cleaned up before we go out" look.



He's got kind of a "Daniel Day-Lewis Meets Johnny Depp Meets Rob Lowe" thing going on, and I like it.

His character is very awkward and nerdy, however, and brilliant, of course, and he gets debilitating migraines.  (Aha! say all my Readers.) The big thing is, of course, his looks. He has quite a few of the Necessaries: 1. Pretty 2. Longer Hair 3. Slender 4. Great Mouth.

Sigh.

Good Heavens. If he had a British accent, I'd be in tears every time I watched that show.

But I digress.

I had no negative side effects, as I said before, from binge-watching Criminal Minds with MGG in the past, even though it is a terribly and horrifically violent and bloody show. (Honestly, I have no idea how I am able to watch it. It's truly sickening.) The past few days, however, I have watched it a lot. A LOT. There were some episodes that I hadn't even seen before, and last night I watched very late into the night.

But I still woke up early to take the Prius in to get some recall work and an oil change. The place had generously provided all kinds of coffees and teas and some doughnuts. I had a bottle of water. I was playing against my Maryland friend Leanne in Words with Friends on my phone to pass the time. Suddenly, the elderly lady to my left took an absolutely enormous bite out of her jelly doughnut. Huge red clots dropped down through her fingers and onto her pants. My stomach lurched just a little. She grabbed her napkins and began wiping, wiping, wiping, trying so hard to get rid of the evidence of what had happened. The whole napkin was stained with red now. My stomach felt a little queasy, so I looked away and tried to get Lady Macbeth's famous speech out of my head. I turned toward the television and took a sip of water.

On the screen were obscenely large slabs of raw, red meat. The chef (Bobby Flay) selected a long steel knife and carefully sliced away several cuts. The sound was muted, so all I heard was a service tech, who was explaining something to another woman sitting across from me. As the knife continued slicing, I heard, "We didn't find him in there, no, but we found evidence that he'd been there, all right. There was some hair, some shavings, and some other things all balled up. Those kinds of things can clog up the works pretty well. The harsh winter brings them out, and then they need to find a place to hide out and stay warm." Horrified, I was glad to hear the jingle that told me it was my turn to play a word. I played lye for a decent amount of points, then glanced back up at the television. Big chunks of raw meat were being ground up, and then, a quick cut to shots of sloppy burgers dripping with ketchup. My stomach clenched, and I frowned, suddenly suspicious.

I began to observe the staff as they bustled around, smiling at every single person they encountered. No one came near a door without one of Them opening it for the person to walk through. They were so obsequious and eager that it was creepy. Just what kind of place was this? Why were all the people in the waiting room women? Was I the only one who couldn't hear the TV? And why did it take so long for my iPhone to connect to their free WiFi?

But these were questions for another time.  My car was done, and I had to go.  They held the doors open for me, and waved me out, smiling all the time.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Poor, Dear, Silly Spring, Preparing Her Annual Surprise!--Wallace Stevens

It is with great pleasure that I am able to say Spring Is Here In NEO. Rick takes full responsibility for the brief return to Winter a while back, caused by him putting all the snow shovels away despite my warnings. (It was that night that the snow fell, too!) Yesterday, Easter, was full of sunshine, warm breeze, birdsong, and lots of trash talk during the front-yard wiffle ball and kickball games at my sister Patti's house. All eleventy thousand of us were there, and St. Patsy was in her glory.

On Saturday Rick and I had spent part of that Springy day evaluating the yard. My chives are up, along with my French tarragon, spicy oregano, and sage. The thyme, which had sprawled out into half of the plot, had not fared as well. I pulled it all up but a softball-sized clump which looked sickly and sad. I guess we'll see what happens. Both pond fish, Frigidaire-Ziploc and Tina, had managed to survive the winter and were sluggishly moving about in the cold, brackish water. "I know just how you feel," I told them.

It makes me feel silly and a little ashamed to say that this was a tough winter for me. After all, what did I have to do but wake up, eventually get dressed, and putter around, occasionally running some errands? Did I have to go to work every single day, brave the cold, shovel the snow, wrangle little kids to daycare, worry about anything, really? No. Honestly, I didn't. I had the life of A Kept Woman, by and large, and I could stay at home in the warmth and drink warm things and keep things tidy and cuddle the cats and read and wait for Rick to come home. How tough is that?

But as soon as Spring began its slow approach, I felt restless. It was almost instinctive, inborn, a genetic urge that made me feel a slight irritation. A sort of undercurrent, a thrumming, started in my nerves. I felt trapped and cornered. I wanted to drive, get away, go away, see something, do something. I needed to travel, to jaunt away for a bit. You know how if you have an old plant that starts doing poorly for no reason, you give the bottom of the pot a good knock and it shakes it up a bit, and it snaps to? That's what a road trip can do for me. It gets me snapped out of my post-winter funk.

So, I'm headed out tomorrow to see a friend in Maryland. It has been a million years since we've spent time together, but I have a feeling that we'll be able to pick up right where we left off. That's the great thing about friendships. Like herbs in a garden, the strongest ones can lie fallow under the worst conditions, but be vibrant and alive when the sun shines warmly again.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Be Not Proud

Two things occurred to me this week at entirely separate times, both involving some very sad news I received on Monday. A colleague of mine from teaching died on Monday. She was one of the truly good people I ever knew. She was kind, helpful, a devoted teacher, and an adoring mother to her two little children. She was only thirty-one years old. As soon as I heard of her death, I was overwhelmed with a deep sadness. And all I could manage to distill out of all of my emotions was the fact that It Just Wasn't Fair.

That's when I realized that, when it comes to Death, I am a child. I am fearful of losing those I love, and when confronted with Death, I want to turn around and go the other way, and quickly too, because I also feel like I want to throw up. I didn't really experience Death when I was growing up. My dad's parents were already gone by the time I was three, and no one close to me died when I was little. We didn't have pets, either, until I was much older, so I didn't even have a pet to experience Death with. Of course, there is absolutely a chance that there was a death that I simply don't recall. Much of my childhood seems and feels blurry to me, partly because I spent 85% of it reading library books, and partly because I operated on a "need to know" basis. As in "Mom or Dad will tell me what I need to know."

I often wish that our culture had a healthier view of Death. In many Eastern cultures, for example, Death is viewed as a higher plane of existence--not an ending, but a beginning, an even more perfect form of consciousness. I have a lot of ambiguity regarding Death. The idea of a Heaven of some sort is comforting, but I don't really think it exists. It bothers me, the Not Knowing. And I hate the whole social aspect of a Death. When my father died, I was outraged that we--the bereaved family--had to do anything. Why on earth would anyone expect us to receive visitors when our father and, for my mother, her husband had just died? How could we stand there and talk to people, many of whom I did not even know? And my mother started worrying about feeding them, and where we could do that, and yada yada yada. I could barely function. I could still see my father lying there in the emergency room, the sheets tightly tucked around him, nothing showing but his head. (It was only weeks later when it dawned on me that his chest was cracked open in their efforts to revive him. We wouldn't have wanted to see that.) Funerals are brutal things. They're like bridal and baby showers: they're full of good intention on both sides, but they are terrible things for both sides. I can't bring myself to go to funerals, "showings" (there's a horrifying term, right?), any of that. I feel like, one less person means the family can get the hell out of there a few minutes earlier and grieve in private. At the very least, they can rest. I went to the funeral of a former student once, a friend of Jared's too. It was so terribly sad. But Jared was a mess. He got to the casket and broke down, then started choking and retching. He hadn't wanted to go to the casket, but the mom insisted.

The second thing I realized came as a result of sitting in the oral surgeon's waiting room while St. Patsy had her tooth pulled. Quite a few mothers were there with their children, and the kids ranged in age from about five up to seventeen. I leafed through a few magazines as I waited, but some of the mothers merely sat there and nagged their kids. One gorgeous little boy named Andre got a nonstop diatribe from his mother that sounded so nasty and hateful that I almost burst into tears. She reprimanded him about his shoes, the volume of his electronic game, the fact that he sounded "too grown", how dirty he got, the way he talked about his grandmother, and all manner of things. Each time she spat something nasty his way, he looked up at her, puzzled and a little sad. So every time I caught his eye, I smiled or winked. Another mother was there with her two kids, a boy and girl, who looked to be eleven and twelve. She clearly wanted an audience, so she said audacious things to and about her kids, their schools, their behaviour, their father, and whatever she could to get a laugh. She soon started picking at every single thing they said, pouncing on mispronounced words, grammar mistakes, anything they said incorrectly. But instead of merely correcting them, she repeated their error and added 'huh?' at the end of it. For example, "So you already seen the movie, huh?" When her daughter would blush in embarrassment, she would say, "Why ya turnin' red?" It was awful.

I thought about these poor kids, trapped in a life with these parents. What were they learning? What would they grow up to be? I thought about all the people who want to be thought of as pro-lifers, who want every single baby to be born into the world, no matter what. I wondered if they ever saw parenting like this and realized that they were wishing it on an innocent child. And I still think that every single anti-choice hardliner should have to spend a week with a child welfare social worker and a police officer who investigates child abuse claims. They should have to see what life some babies are born into.

I was sitting there, in that office, and I thought about my former colleague and how she so much deserved to be alive. She was a wonderful, loving, devoted parent. Those women are here, and she is not. And it all makes me sick.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

And Here I Thought My Spring Cleaning Was All Done

A few minor changes have been or will be made to the Dept. site, and I wanted to let you know what was happening. Some of it is basic Housecleaning, some is accommodating my Sloth, and some is merely practicality.

A. Commenting: A few of you miss the Comments section being called "Brainstorms." Well, me too! One morning, I devoted hours to my template, trying to troubleshoot it, googling like crazy and trying to learn some HTML coding on the fly to fix it. Ever since Google bought Blogger, they aren't too interested in servicing the platform at all, so we are left to our own devices. Anyway, after noodling about forever, I happened upon a notice that this is what GoogleBlogger calls "An Outstanding Issue." In other words, it's still broken, they don't know why, and they aren't fixing it thus far.

Next, I had changed my Comments policy to accept Anonymous commenters. A few people had contacted me to let me know that they wanted to ring in, but for some reason, they had been unable and did not want to bother setting up a shadow GoogleBlogger account. I am so sorry to say that I Will No Longer Be Allowing Anonymous Commenters. Every day since the exact moment I switched (and, no, I am not kidding), my blog has been flooded with junk comments which are simply commerce bots hawking their crap. The built-in spam filter has been doing a great job, but all the comments come to my private email inbox, and it's a pain. So, since the larger concern is outweighing the few people who claimed they wanted to join in, I've scotched Anonymous comments.

B. Sidebar Elements: I usually change my sidebar elements every time I do a new post. It's very time-consuming, and I wonder if anyone really pays attention. Could you let me know if you do, and if you actively engage with any of the elements? Then I'd know which to keep and which I can let go or keep static.

C. Email Subscriptions: Google also now owns Feedburner, my subscription service facilitator. It's--in a word--erratic. As with Blogger, Google isn't really interested in maintaining or servicing Feedburner, and it shows. I will be switching email service providers soon. Those of you who experienced the glitches in March with my daily postings know how badly the email service screwed up. It's all very frustrating, and it takes a lot of time and effort. I have time, but I detest mucking around with this sort of thing because I fear that everything I do could have fatal repercussions, to what I've already done, to my blog, to my subscribers/readers, to my computer, to the world. Each keystroke is fraught with peril. So. Fraught.

D. Feedback: In Comments, please offer any suggestions you have for anything regarding the Dept., whether it be color scheme, content, or layout. Sometimes, I can't get a fresh view on it because I'm consumed by the work of it. What do you like, dislike, want more of, want less of? I can't promise I'll act upon it because, after all, I have to love it, whatever it is that I put here.

As always, Dearest Readers, thank you.

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Friday, April 04, 2014

What's In A Name? Dollar Store Scents Coin A Few Choice Ones

Lucky for you, Dearest Readers, that my travels lately have once again taken me to a Dollar Store. I am in search of an odd-sized bottle to replace an under-the-sink soap dispenser in the kitchen that somehow got broken. The manufacturer only has the newer model in stock now, so we are left to scrounge around and find something that will work. So far, no luck, but my latest foray into cheapo stores has at least provided me with blog fodder.

Did you know that you don't have to spend a fortune on perfume? Your local Dollar Emporium has many fine scents available at the low, low price of One Dollar. Let me present them to you.

Perhaps you want to remember your Youth. Those days when Mother loomed large in your life. When her advice and admonitions helped you remember what it took to grow up to be The Kind Of Woman Who Would Make Her Proud. For you, may I suggest:

Some women want to project a pleasant, nonthreatening demeanor. They don't want to be a sexy siren; they merely want to convey a kind femininity. Yes, they want to say, I'm a woman, and I'm easy to get along with and somebody's mom. I have extra Kleenex in my purse, and I volunteer at the school twice a week. If you need me to stop and pick up an extra bag of ice on my way to your party, just ask! No worries! This, then, is the perfume gift for her:

She's unabashedly a redhaired, freckle-faced lass who comes from a long line of Catholics. Her brothers and uncles are all policemen, except for Uncle Casey, who's a priest, and three of the women in her family are nuns. She can out-cuss and out-drink all the other women on the block, but they don't care because she has a heart of gold. And now there's a perfume just for her:

Let's say that your mother sent you to Fat Camp where you lost fifty-three pounds and found your breasts and a waist. Now that you're tanned and slimmer, and all those days of swimming have bleached out your hair into a shimmery blond, the boys back at Verizon Co. High School, Inc. are taking notice. You are getting the big rush, and how! Before the twerking starts, you might want to dab a little of this on your neck and wrists:

Gentlemen, consider your needs met as well at your local Dollar Superstore. Allow me, if you will, to showcase just a few.

Men, what is it that you want--and I mean REALLY WANT--from your deodorant body spray? Do you want an odor-killing formulation? Do you want a lady-killing scent? Well then, do I have something just for you:

Dude! Are you, like, totally over all the phony smelling GMO colognes out there? Like, do the American sensibilities offend you with their constant homage to chemicals and forgetting the earth and our environment? If you could, would you totally smell like...oh, I don't know, the earth, and herbs, and nature? Right on. Dude! I feel you, and so does this cologne, which is French for like black tarragon, which is like decomposing herbs. I know, right?

Hey, guys. R u tired of hearing everyone get on you about ur speling? If everyone noes what you mean, then whats the big deal? If ur not gunna be a english teacher then who cares? They'res more important things too worry about then this. Besides which their's even a colone that proves its no big deal. Hear it is:

You know, Dearest Readers, I do these things so that you don't have to.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

And So It Continues


Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Yesterday I chortled in my Joy as the temperature reached a perfectly Springlike 55 and, one by one, I opened wide one window in each room for a good Airing Out. Once the sun reached its noon acme in a Crayola cornflower sky, I was already feeling its warmth radiating underneath my skin and effervescing in my veins. Soon, the Urge came upon me, primitive and tribal, an instinct so deeply inborn that it could not be shaken off or ignored. I was dressed, I was made up and tressed, I was energized by the glorious weather. Like all the women in my family, I was driven now to do One Thing, and One Thing Only.

I was going to clean my house.

How ridiculous, I know. But we simply Cannot Help It. All of us are doomed to behave in this way, and I have no idea why. I can absolutely guarantee you that, had I called either of my sisters yesterday and, if they had the day off work, they were cleaning their houses. It's a sickness. (We also wait until the hottest and most humid day of the summer occurs and then we get down on our hands and knees and scrub the kitchen floor. We call each other, too. I call Patti, and I say, "Hi, what are you doing?" "Oh, I'm down here scrubbing this awful floor," she says. "ME TOO!" I yell into the phone. "What's wrong with us?" Patti asks. "Call Susan and ask her," I say.)

My particular routine is to start in the kitchen and work from there. The stove always slows me down because, unlike many people who own a black and stainless (HA!) steel stove, I actually use mine. I had been ignoring it since Christmas, just giving it a cursory swipe now and again. There it stood, a hulking mess of meal-making memories and olive oil freckles. If only stoves were as affordable as microwaves, I'd get rid of this...this thing and buy a new one. I hate it like I hate my uncooperative can opener. It's still usable and useful, but I want desperately to get rid of it and get a new one. Junking this one is wasteful and dumb, however, so I have to soldier on, silently resenting it all the while.

My spirits remained lifted, however, by continuing to open windows as I moved along. Small challenges were no match for me and my dustrag and Pledge. My leather furniture gleamed, my tables glowed with a soft sheen like moonlight in the forest. The velvety cabernet sauvignon we had last weekend will never be forgotten, thanks to me saving the lovely bottle and adding it to our display. Pictures look brighter and sharper now. Our Vermeer reproduction is relieved of its mantle of dust. I smile a little as I clean up the fireplace area, hoping against hope that we have seen our last fire for the season.

The Season, by the way, meaning Winter, has lasted six months here in NEO. We had our first snowstorm in mid-October, and we had one a few days ago on March 29th. This had better be It. (Or what? What am I prepared to Do About It? Sigh. I don't know, but it won't be Pleasant.)

Here's a Thing, though. A Thing I thought would get way better once the boys moved out, but it hasn't gotten better, really, not by much. Cleaning the bathroom is still a shitfully thankless job, there I said it, and it had to be said. First of all, my bathroom is about as big as a closet. Cleaning the toilet, therefore, is a very intimate experience, and it is not made any better by the fact that A Male Person uses it. Why is it that men cannot--at some point in their Business--grab a wad of toilet paper and wipe the rim of the toilet? Because holy crap! You know? Or is it just me/us?

And boy, did I get sucked in to using this product. The ScrubbyBubble brush thingy. I like the idea that I don't have some icky toilet brush hanging around, but these paperwad brushy doodads are getting ridiculous. They don't really scrub, they fall apart when you wrench them off the big row they come in, and now, they have a new "heavy duty" one that, when you try to wrestle one away from its compatriots, it's almost impossible, thanks to the plasticky scrubby insert that makes it heavy duty. I almost sprained my wrist! Then I bought one of those industrial looking solid cakes that hangs in the toilet to constantly clean the bowl. I put that baby right in the flow of the water so that each time there is a flush, the clean can swirl all over the place. But Marlowe wanders in and likes to chew on it and moves it around.

Marlowe is what my students would have called "a hater."

Speaking of the cats, my mother doesn't read this blog unless she is visiting my aunt in Gettysburg, and she isn't right now, so let me just say this: C A T   H A I R. It is ruining my life. My mother would say, "Well, Nance, you signed up for it when you got those cats." So. What. Did I sign up for burping and farting contests when I had two kids? Anyway.

The cat hair would not be Such An Issue if they were not so patently stupid about being brushed. Let me ask you this: if you lay down and someone came over, spoke softly and lovingly to you, and then proceeded to rub your back and brush your hair for half an hour, would you act like IT WAS A HUGE IMPOSITION AND GET UP AND WALK ALL OVER THE PLACE AND HIDE UNDER CHAIRS AND TABLES AND MAKE THAT SOMEONE FOLLOW YOU ALL BENT OVER UNTIL IT BECAME SOMETHING LIKE A SCENE IN A MOVIE ABOUT INSANE PEOPLE? Just asking. Because I have to vacuum my bed. Did you read that incredulously?   I HAVE TO VACUUM.    MY BED.

It took me all day to clean my house. I did not sit down. Rick came home, took off his work boots, came into the living room, sat down and said--this is a direct quote--"Wow. The kitchen looks nice. You cleaned it today."

Today's forecast is for 64 degrees and partly cloudy. I think I will take a little drive and enjoy my day. After all, my house is clean.
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