Sunday, November 30, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Because very few people in Hungary had telephones in their homes at that time, I would leave my address on the chalkboard after our final class if I really clicked with a group of students (that seems so foolish to me now). On a Saturday about a month later, there was a knock on my door. I opened the peep "hatch," and seeing nothing, I closed it and went about my business (the alcoholic couple who lived next door had a grandson who like to liked to play knock-knock ditch). And then another knock. I did the same thing, my annoyance plainly visible and audible, and then a high-pitched but gruff voice, "Hi! It's me. Zoltan." Looking down, I saw him, bundled up against the cold, a stocking cap with a pom-pom on top almost covering his eyes. Embarassed but happy to see him, I invited him in and my boyfriend and I offered him a drink. He asked if we had any tea, so I put the kettle on. The apartment was insanely small and I remember worrying that he was going to burn his face on the stove as he chatted with me in the kitchen standing very close to the open flame.
Zoltan stayed for six hours that day. We learned a lot about his life. He lived with his mother. He was a door-to-door salesman of children's books, and before that, of doorknobs (I kid you not). He loved working, meeting new people, and he loved his mother. He said he was thirty years old. As he got more comfortable, his cheery conversation took an ugly turn. He asked if we had met any Roma people (aka, Gypsies) since living in Budapest. We said, no, we didn't think so. "Well, it's not like you'd be able to tell these days," he suddenly fumed. He then went off on a tirade. His hatred was palpable, coming off him in waves. He turned red, he slammed his small fists against the arms of the chair. He hated them for stealing Hungarian jobs, for being given preference in housing (because the Communists had wanted to keep these nomadic people in one place), for breathing the same air as him. I feigned sleepiness, I didn't offer him more tea, I started drinking beer, but he didn't take the hint. He raved for three hours. He never came back.
Friday, November 28, 2008
And Jacky Caffrey shouted to look, there was another and she leaned back and the garters were blue to match on account of the transparent and they all saw it and they all shouted to look, look, there it was and she leaned back ever so far to see the fireworks and something queer was flying through the air, a soft thing, to and fro, dark. And she saw a long Roman candle going up over the trees, up, up, and, in the tense hush, they were all breathless with excitement as it went higher and higher and she had to lean back more and more to look up after it, high, high, almost out of sight, and her face was suffused with a divine, an entrancing blush from straining back and he could see her other things too, nainsook knickers, the fabric that caresses the skin, better than those other pettiwidth, the green, four and eleven, on account of being white and she let him and she saw that he saw and then it went so high it went out of sight a moment and she was trembling in every limb from being bent so far back that he had a full view high up above her knee where no-one ever not even on the swing or wading and she wasn't ashamed and he wasn't either to look in that immodest way like that because he couldn't resist the sight of the wondrous revealment half offered like those skirtdancers behaving so immodest before gentlemen looking and he kept on looking, looking. She would fain have cried to him chokingly, held out her snowy slender arms to him to come, to feel his lips laid on her white brow, the cry of a young girl's love, a little strangled cry, wrung from her, that cry that has rung through the ages. And then a rocket sprang and bang shot blind blank and O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! they were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lovely, O, soft, sweet, soft!
James Joyce, Ulysses
A ghoulish repast as your stomach continues to work on that pie. The perfect digestif!
(Sorry, it won't embed.) And a shout out to CT who showed this to me.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Of Plimoth Plantation
These words of William Bradford contain the entirety of my mixed feelings about the "discovery" of this part of the New World. I read a large portion of this work every year with my students and I always find myself hating and begrudgingly admiring Bradford and his crew.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Sonata in Red
"On a field, Sable, the letter A, Gules."
NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, The Scarlet Letter
Timmons Adam was upwards
of sixty-eight years old retired
from being a teller at J.R. Potts bank
when he came in the cafe
the first time alone
after living in town his whole life
he and his wife were married
long enough they both knew
they didn't like each other
also knew there wasn't anything
they could do to do
anything about it
so they waited it out
she kept a short leash
we figured she figured
if she didn't want anything
to do with him
nobody else could either
watched a lot of TV
it was a miracle
she died first
he buried her in her own
opened up all the curtains
let some air
blow in the house
Boys he sed the minute he walked in
it's a A for Adam red-letter day
I done read the will
believe I inherited
my own family estate
gentlemen the drinks are on me
we all got a fresh cup of coffee that day
came from then on
almost the rest of his life
right out of bed
for coffee and breakfast
smiling like the sunshine
down to the cafe
wearing a black suitcoat and bow tie
mostly bright red
about every single day
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
One need not be a Chamber -- to be Haunted --
One need not be a House --
The Brain has Corridors -- surpassing
Material Place --
Far safer, of a Midnight Meeting
Than its interior Confronting --
That Cooler Host.
Far safer, through an Abbey gallop,
The Stones a'chase --
Than Unarmed, one's own self encounter --
In lonesome Place --
Ourself behind ourself concealed --
Should startle most --
Assassin hid in our Apartment
Be Horror's least.
The Body -- borrows a Revolver --
He bolts the Door --
O'erlooking a superior spectre --
This poem gives me the chills -- "Ourself behind ourself
concealed" -- could anything be more terrifying?
Monday, November 24, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
As you know, I grew up in a very small town. We did, however, have a "taxi" service in town, but nobody ever used it. In the first place, it wasn't listed in the phonebook or anything; it was more a word of mouth business. Secondly, it was owned and operated by the Zerfus family. (My dad actually had to take the taxi to work once when I accidentally drained the battery in his truck by leaving the door ajar after making a hasty exit from a makeout session with my boyfriend in the garage... but that's a story for another time.) The Zerfuses were a freakish family, even by the standards of our town, which had more than its share of families with skeleton-stuffed closets, my own included. But the Zerfuses left their closet door open -- unpardonable.
They lived about two blocks away from me, on the other side of the cemetery, in a white ranch house that looked like any other house in the neighborhood except for its peeling paint, its trash-strewn, unmowed yard and the torn red drapes that hung in the picture window. Otis Senior was never home. He practically lived at the American Legion. When it was closed, he drove around the town for hours at a time in his very old dark green Plymouth Fury III with the word "Taxi" spelled out in duct tape on the side. Mrs. Zerfus (whose first name I never knew, nor did anybody else for that matter) was insanely, wretchedly obese and practically a recluse. She could occasionally be seen riding shotgun with her husband when they went grocery shopping in the next town. Their only child, Otis Jr. (the main character of this story), was anywhere from 20 to 30 years old and was well known to be clinically insane.
My only personal experience with Otie Jr. was when I was in sixth grade. I had some girls over for a slumber party. We had just watched Halloween on HBO (my dad was working until 1 a.m. and the temptation to watch R rated movies was far too great to be overcome) and thought we would give ourselves a thrill by very quickly pulling open the drapes on our large picture window to see if the glowing gravestone in the cemetery across the street was putting on its show. Instead of ghastly, glowing granite, we saw Otie's face pressed up against the glass of the window, a glowering look in his eyes. Chaos ensued as we screamed, ran in circles, and randomly slapped and punched each other as we scrambled for the safety of the basement. Four girls called their parents and went home immediately.
Otie's insanity was further demonstrated by his habit of standing in the cemetery in the middle of the night, Bible in hand, scream-preaching about the moral dangers of the use of marijuana until the cops came to take him home. I can't remember a word he said, but I will never forget the sound of his comically high-pitched voice; nor will I forget the image of his massive, shadowy form (he stood about 6'2" and weighed almost 300 pounds) as he stood amongst the stones, his long greasy black hair dripping across his pasty white face.
One day The Richland Observer contained a most interesting birth announcement: To Otis Sr. and Mrs. (?) Zerfus, a baby girl. This was definitely news in our town; what were they doing having another kid with a full-grown boy living at home as it was, for Christ's sake? Lots of jokes also circulated about what it would look like to see those two in the sex act, a most distasteful image, I must admit. About a month after the birth, my dad was at the Legion having a drink with his buddy Larry when the door opened and in walked Otis Sr. A guy at the end of the bar yelled out, "Hey! There's the new daddy! How's that baby doin'?" Without batting an eyelash, Otis Sr. took a seat at the opposite end of the bar, and yelled back, "Why don't you ask the boy? It's his."
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Was this part of some child's toy from a far less uptight era (what with its sharpness, guaranteed lead content, and swallowability)? Was it a talisman of some kind? Did the previous owner bring it, find it? This needs a story! Sounds like a job for Bev or Eva (no pressure, ladies).
Friday, November 21, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I've never been a "cat person." When I was young, my mother had a black angora named Samson who taught me to respect and sort of hate cats. I find their unpredictability disturbing and I don't really like anything that poops in a box, especially a box which I have to clean every day. But they can be cuddly in the wintertime and I was missing having an animal, so I decided to take the plunge into cat "ownership" (as if!).
Upon arriving at the pound, I was disappointed to find they only had two cats "ready to go." If I was going to do this, I didn't need time to talk myself out of it. Unfortunately, one of the little buggers was off getting de-buggered, but I took him sight unseen after the hunky dogcatcher/poundkeeper assured me he was a nice kitty. The other feline was there but he was already over three months old and looked like a full grown cat next to the newly-weaned precious babies with whom he was housed. I tried to approach him, he hissed and ran away. Hunky dogcatcher assured me he really was a great cat but needed a firm and gentle approach; he demonstrated this for me on frightened feline (and for a minute I wished myself a cat) and I could hear this cat purring even as he looked at me in terror. I'm sure my head was muddled from standing so near perfect poundkeeper, but I giggled and agreed to take him, too. I was to return in two days to pick up them up -- if nothing else, I'd get to see Dave (?) Doug (?) Mike (?) again...
Two days later, after much primping and preening, I arrived at the pound to pick up my new wards. "Elvis" (the newly-castrated) was adorable and sweet and tiny. "Mikey" (the terrified hissing purring mess) was completely tense and entirely pissed off. I wrote the check, said my fond farewells to delicious dogcatcher, and off we went. The ride home was noisy (all Mikey) and sounded like I was killing a large opera singer with a butter knife.
Upon arriving home to two overly excited children, Mikey scrambled, still screaming, upstairs, under my bed, where he remained for the next four weeks. Elvis toddled out of his crate, hopped in my oldest son's lap and fell asleep.
The first order of business was names. No way in hell was I going to have two cats named Elvis and Mikey. After seriously considering Pontius and Pilate, we decided on Cain and Abel. They are half brothers, one litter apart, and their personalities seemed perfectly suited. The second order of business was to make Cain love me. I felt foolish for taking this psych case of a cat in the first place, but I also felt it would be a major accomplishment to have this creature trust me. I spent the next four weeks on my knees, squeezed half under my bed, tempting him with tuna fish (the smell of which makes me gag). I tried everything, including expensive toys. I even had my crazy neighbor (;-) come over to help. As the owner of four fairly normal cats, I thought she would be of some help. Her advice? 1. Give him a bath (yeah, right; I'm not an idiot) and 2. Just force the fucker and hold him tight and love him. She left bleeding. I even called sexy animal control officer/cat whisperer to the scene. (Seeing him on his knees in my bedroom will make the next 13 or so years well worth it). His advice? The same: gentle but firm.
Just when I was about to give him back, Cain decided to come around. It started with a small nuzzle in the middle of the night and very slowly progressed to creepy-watching-me-as-I-slept to sleeping on me (but tearing off in a fit when I awoke).
Cain is now solely MY cat and I adore him. He lives in self-imposed exile in the cellar during the day, but once those noisy kids go to bed, he is cuddled up on my lap and won't tolerate anybody touching him but me. As weird as this sounds, I count this as one of the greatest achievements of my life. And I hate cats.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Gary used to be the black sheep in our family; now he's the family hero. Maybe because he had the audacity to run away with the circus, but more likely because, true to his word, he really never did go back home and we love a stubborn personality. His status in the family peaked when he was trampled by a bull elephant during a training session in the mid-80's and had to spend the next year in the hospital and in rehab. We love a dumb shit, too.
Duane the bathtub! I'm dwowning!
My mom died when I was seven. Those of you who know me know that I am not morbidly sentimental about this -- it happened and it was sad and of course I still think of it, but this is not a sob story. It's a ghost story and in a strange way, it's a nice companion piece to my earlier post, "Mother's Love."
Anyway, about one month before she died, we had moved to a new, larger small town in Wisconsin where my dad had gotten a better paying job as a refrigeration specialist at an ice cream factory (seriously, people, you cannot imagine how many friends you have when your dad works at an ice cream factory. But that would come later.) We were temporarily living in an apartment across the highway from the factory. She died quite unexpectedly and there we were -- me in a new town, awkwardly trying to make friends in an already-established group of second graders, my dad working a new job while trying to learn his role as "Mom" -- and both of us dealing with a fresh and painful grief. We had been the Cleavers in our life before she died. We lived in a white house with three large gardens and shrubs which my dad trimmed into geometrical shapes. I remember Mom handing him his lunchbox every morning as she kissed him goodbye and greeting him every evening with a brandy and seven. She was always there to meet my bus after school, always had dinner made by 5:30. And after she was gone, life seemed strange indeed. We were living in a noisy apartment on a highway, Dad was working swing shifts, my next oldest sibling had just left for college, dinners were burned and now featured Spam and instant au gratin potatoes. I had to spend a lot of time alone until we could find a babysitter so the rules on days when he worked till 4:00 were as follows: come home from school, unlock apartment door, lock apartment door, turn on TV and wait for Dad. And don't open that damn door for anybody, you hear?
About two weeks into this new life of ours, I got home and did exactly as directed; I was getting used to it. But on this day 4:00 came and went, and then 4:15, and then 4:20, and then 4:25. And then hysterical crying, and then some screaming. Of course, in my heart, I knew he was dead. And I would have to live alone in that apartment and I would have to cook all my own meals and nobody would ever tuck me in again, and... KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK! WHAT?! AND NOW MR. STRANGERDANGER IS AT MY DOOR! AND HE'S GOING TO KNOCK THE DOOR DOWN AND KILL ME WITH AN AXE AND THEN WE'LL ALL BE DEAD!!!! The knocking and crying continued for a few minutes and then there came shouting (a stranger's voice -- LET ME IN! UNLOCK THE DOOR!) and then hysterical, terrified shrieking. And then the door unlocked and opened and my dad walked in and I almost evaporated with relief and happiness. The neighbor had heard me crying and it was he who had been trying to get me to open the door, poor guy. Anyway, as I sobbed into my dad's tight hug, I remember him saying, "I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry..." over and over. It was a pretty intense afternoon.
Years passed and we never spoke of this. Actually, I hadn't thought of it much until he brought it up one night as we drank coffee before he left for work. During the summers as a teenager, I used to stay up until my dad went to work when he worked the overnight shift or I would wake early to see him when he got home. We had our best conversations at these times and if nothing else we would watch CNN or Johnny Carson together. I don't know why he chose this particular night to bring up this memory, but without warning he asked, "Hey. Do you remember that time I got home late right after your mother died and you were so upset?"
"Yeah." (Christ, who wouldn't?)
"Do you know why I was late?"
"I had gone to the liquor store and got chatting with a guy and I forgot."
"That was a rotten thing to do."
"It's okay. We ended up okay."
"Do you know what happened that night when I went to bed?"
And this is why I believe in ghosts. Apparently, he had just gotten into bed and had not yet fallen asleep. He said the mattress started gently shaking. He got out of bed to stand on the floor and it stopped. He got back in and it started shaking again, harder and harder. He said he was terrified. The mattress started shaking so violently, in fact, that he was thrown out of bed and against the wall. Then it all stopped and he spent the rest of the night on the sofa, scared out of his mind. He said he knew it was my mom, and he knew she was pissed at him.
So why does this make me believe in ghosts? It's not even my own experience, after all. Well, I don't believe out of a misplaced, sentimental notion that my mom would care so much about me that she would traverse the unknown realm between the living and the dead just to protect me and punish those who might cause me pain. It would be nice to believe that, but... This story made me believe in ghosts because my father, a World War II veteran and the most fearless man I've ever met, was terrified and shaky just telling me about it six years after the fact. He was a sceptic in the extreme and didn't have time for any of "that nonsense."
"I never forgot that, you know," he said, squinting at the wall through the snaking smoke of his cigarette. "And I've never been late getting home or picking you up since then. You probably don't know that, but I haven't been late once with you, not for anything."
And this is why I believe in ghosts.
**Disclaimer: my father became an overnight alcoholic after my mother passed. He drank a quart of brandy and a fifth of schnapps a day at his worst. Fortunately, he would later go on to conquer this demon. I realize, however, he may have been drunk and had a vivid dream that still left him frightened years later -- but if that's all you can think, then you've missed the point of my story.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Monday, November 17, 2008
Anyway, on Saturday (after an incredible massage -- he's a massage therapist) we went to Boston's South End for some bar hopping. I thought I'd share the places we went and what we drank -- I think we ate but I can't remember. He keeps me in touch with the city dweller I used to be.
Stop #1: Gaslight Beverages: R ordered the Edith Piaf and I ordered L'acolyte (when I ordered it, I simply asked for the Acolyte -- the bartender said, "Oh, you mean "lah-co-leet?" Whatever... the thing with the French brandy in it, lady.) Check out the menu for the ingredients -- they were delicious. The bar looked like a silver jewelry tray. Highly recommended, snobby staff notwithstanding.
Stop #2: Rocca Beverages: R ordered the Strata #6 while I had a nice sangria. Fabulous interior, nice staff, awesome ladies' room.
Stop #3: Banq Beverages: We both ordered Dragonfires (I think... Dragon somethings... things were getting fuzzy at this point). The hands-down coolest interior of any restaurant I've ever seen. It's like a cave but nicer and with toilets. Way too many bartenders -- all women, all bosomy, wearing black tank tops -- hmm... interesting for the four straight men who were there, at least.
Stop #4: Club Cafe Beverages: R had the French Martini and I had the Lime Drop. I vaguely remember eating nachos. Our waitress was a bitch.
Stop #5: Border's Beverages: I had the Eggnog Latte and R had a dry cappucino. Much needed coffee break after all that imbibing and a windy walk. This was our last stop.
We won't see each other again for a few months, I'm sure. But it doesn't matter, even if we don't talk once between now and then. We pick up right where we left off.
Rodrigo, you're the best!
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Here are some of mine: all the coffee cup handles in my cupboard have to point to the right, I have to make my bed so that I lie in between the bright side of the pattern on the sheets, and I count everything in increments of 12 (the number of seconds I curl my eyelashes, stairs, sidewalk squares, M&M's [which I also eat by color]).
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
I know it is completely unpractical (although I have two small sons, we rarely do anything out of doors. It will never drive us to a skiing trip or convey us to whitewater rafting adventures.). It is better on gas than I had expected but I know it is environmentally irresponsible -- and I really DO care about the environment -- you should see my recycling contribution every two weeks! I'm not a litterbug and I almost never pour turpentine down the sewer grate at the base of our driveway.
But here's the thing. When I test drove this vehicle and felt the purr of her engine beneath me, that was it. Maybe it's because I'm short, maybe it's because I learned how to drive on a Chevy Silverado and this is somehow related to regaining my youth or being like my father. I don't know. I just love it. I come up with random excuses to go to the store and cruise the beach instead.
It is undeniably superficial, materialistic, wasteful and selfish to love driving my 'Ho as much as I do. The first song I played on her amazing soundsystem was Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself for Loving You." Whenever someone jokingly comments on how it's too big "for a girl of your size" or gives me a hard time at work for my horrible parking job, I apologize profusely. I admit to my weakness. Unlike my friend, Beverly, who feels the wonderful pull to be peevishly bad, I feel a compulsion to please, to confess, to prostrate myself, guilt stricken, in front of the judging hordes (who probably don't even exist and aren't judging at all but I'm paranoid, too).
But enough. Here's a video that I love. The truth hurts:
On my way to work, I pass a man in a new red Chevy Silverado (extended cab, full-size bed, chrome package) heading in the opposite direction. If I leave the house at 7:02 every day, I'm sure to see him. Even one minute earlier or later, and we miss each other. He waves to me, and recently I've started waving back.
Why does he do this? Because I also drive a Chevy behemoth? Is he flirting? It seems strange to say this, but I look forward to this every day. I know from the Nascar stickers that I see in my rearview mirror that we would have little to nothing in common, but I like this strange, gas-guzzling connection we have. It's just a friendly thing to do in an unfriendly world.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Friday, November 7, 2008
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Okay, have any of you had the misfortune to see this show? And we wonder why our kids can't compete. The worst part is that it's like kid crack -- they would snort this show if it came in powder form (so keep that in mind if you need time to make dinner or empty the dishwasher or run screaming in circles in your backyard).
Here are the thoughts of someone who agrees with me (an old post but he describes the exact episode that is making me insane).
Behold the horror!
Okay, I could turn the TV off -- but then what would I do?
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
I just finished reading (okay, perusing over the course of the last two months), Umberto Eco's On Ugliness, given to me by a friend on my birthday. Check it out if you get the chance. Thanks to this book, I have a new favorite artist Franz von Stuck. Thought I'd share the wealth.