Travel Lessons

Here are some things I learned on my vacation, for what they’re worth.

Drugs and blogging do not mix.

Being in the mountains is lonely.

I am lucky to be alive.

People are easily swayed by a pretty face.

I was invited on a trip with a local community college anthropology club. I’m a geek, so that’s the kind of vacation I like. I jumped at the chance. There were 11 of us. 7 women and 4 men in a van/bus thing creeping around the mountains near the border of Colorado and Arizona. We had quite an age spread, the youngest being around 22 and the oldest being well into his 60s.

One young guy who was a liberal whacko needed the smack-down put on him a couple times (I love the smackdown). He kept talking about people deserving to get killed or put away forever. Remember the Hmong guy in Wisconsin who killed the hunters?  The one who he says harassed him? This guy on our trip said if the hunters had harassed the Hmong hunter, then they deserved to get shot. And remember the story about they guy who forgot his toddler in his car while he went to work? The child died, but our young turk thought the father should be locked up, “People can’t forget about kids. That’s insane. He had to know that kid was in the car. He deserves to be punished.”

My immediate response was to suggest that finding your baby dead in the back seat of your car was probably a pretty harsh punishment for the guy. And to suggest that verbal harassment probably didn’t deserve the death penalty. We had this sort of goofy relationship where I asked if he had never done anything stupid, made a bad judgment, but gotten lucky and not been punished. He had never done anything THAT stupid, he was pretty sure.  I got to know him better over our trip, and ladies and gentlemen, he had too done things that stupid.  But I didn’t kill him.

I sometimes worry about getting killed or having some huge terrible consequence come of a moment of stupidity. My first night in the mountains reminded me just how dumb and lucky I am.

We had just finished a harrowing and stomach churning ride up to Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde is right on the mountainous border between New Mexico and Colorado. As the name suggests, it is a mesa (a table, or a mountain with a flat top instead of a point). Driving in the mountains is stunningly beautiful, death-defying and full of all the wrong kinds of motion. If I kept my eyes directly on the horizon, I could keep my headache and nausea in check. Mostly. But we drove all day. And by the time we arrived, I was exhausted. All I wanted was a place to lay down that didn’t move or look over a steep gorge.

We dropped our stuff off at the rooms and had orders to meet back at the (still stale and full of effluvia) van in five minutes, to go down to the lodge for a meeting. I emptied my bladder, dumped out my stuff (a compulsion of mine), brushed my teeth and headed back to the van. I climbed in and noticed it was only half full. This wasn’t a mandatory meeting. I had an awkward moment while I considered the impression I would be giving if i looked into the van, checked head-count and declined to go. I went with them to the lodge, figuring I could walk back to the hotel/cabin place after a polite few minutes.

I was draggin’. When we got to the lightly peopled and somewhat odd bar (it was more like a portable wedding bar than anything else), I could hardly even be politely social. I was plain old tired. I confessed my error in judgment and said I’d just mosey up the mountain and back to my little hotel room, the key to which was in my pocket. Right.

So, it’s dark now. And misting lightly. Surprisingly cold for late May. The next morning we’d wake up to snow, as it turns out.  I could see the road we came down from our cabin on. I started walking up it, back the way we came. I could see a row of cabins around the curve of the road, but there was a grassy patch with a path right through it. That path goes right towards the first row of cabins without going the long distance along the curve of the road.. I decided I’d cut through the grass and between the cabins, to come out in front of that row.

Halfway up the path I realize a few important things. First, I have no idea if this is the only row of cabins, maybe there are more rows beyond the curve. Second, I have no clear recollection what our room number is. Third, the number isn’t printed on the key (security reasons). Fourth, aren’t there things called mountain lions which live in the mountains? And don’t they sometimes eat people?  And wouldn’t that big dark opening under the cabin to my left be a perfect den for one to pounce out of?  Yes, and yes, and yes.

I keep walking because maybe I’ll recognize the row of cabins and I’ll hear the people who didn’t go to the bar meeting. Plus, it’s a long way to walk back. And as I pop out between the cabins, it’s very well lit and totally generic. Looks like every other row of cabins up and down the mountain. And damn! It’s cold! I decide the least I need is the room number. I’ll have to go back and ask for it.

Couple problems. First, coming out of the bright row of cabins into the mountain path darkness, I cannot see the path. I came up it two minutes ago, but it has disappeared. If I look off to the side of where it should be, it pops out, but when I look for it, it goes away. It’s like I’m in a dream.  Secondly, it’s slippery and cold. I look to a spot just alongside where the path should be.  Walking down it, I start to berate myself. Why, oh why and I so stupid?  Why?

When I slip and fall in the icy drizzle on the side of the mountain and am eaten or not by the mountain predators, won’t people think I was asking for it by venturing out in the dark drizzle alone? Yes they will. But if I live through this, I will not say such callous things about those who die from lack of better judgment.  I decide I will also be grateful for my life and not do stupid things again. The mountain has mercy on me and I make it back to the lodge.

Looking back, I think I must have had altitude-induced hardening of the brain because I actually made this trip twice, returning after I checked the room number with my crew in the bar and realizing that there are many identical rows of cabins and since I have no idea what the system is, the room number doesn’t help me.

The second time I went up two rows of cabins and ran into the proverbial mountain lodge maintenance man, you know, the one who kills people in the movies, whose truck had actually driven by me on my way back to the lodge the first time. He had a box of wrenches and a truck with some reassuring maintenance-ish thing on the side.  I fessed up to him that I couldn’t find my cabin.  He offered to drive me back to the lodge after he fixed the shower in the unit I was in front of.  His truck looked warm and dry.  I declined.

I headed between the cabins back into dark.

Ahem… Awkward

Is it me?  Or is going to the dentist kind of a private thing?  I think of it as more invasive than a gynocological exam.  That may be why I haven’t been for a year or two.  They never should have told me I had such great teeth that I didn’t need to come in every 6 months, I could come in every 9 months to a year.  Wooohooo!  I went a little overboard on the whole deal.

Which is fine.  It isn’t even so terrible going to the dentist nowadays.  When I was a kid, we’d walk up to Dr. Bussen’s office.  Good God, it was like going into the 50s.  The equipment was old, he was old, his fingers were fat, his breath smelled like what I can only call Dental Carrion.  And in the strange karmic-cosmic-ironic-poetic-justice way that childhood has of making sense, it was on the same block as the candy store (have I waxed nostalgic about Roith’s Pharmacy and Kenny’s Market?). I digress.

I have this appointment tomorrow.  And I have this house-guest from Libya.  He just finished dentistry school in his country.  He’s been asking since he got here (2 months) if he can accompany one of us to the dentist’s office while he’s here.  I tried to throw him off the scent by telling him about the neighbor boys’ appointments (both brothers in one fell swoop), but alas, he wants to come with me tomorrow.

Alls I’m saying is it kind of makes me a little icked out.  I can’t say why, but it does.  He better not ask if he can prod my teeth in any way.  Because he can’t.  I’m willing to bet that by 2pm tomorrow I will know why I felt uneasy abou this.  Yeeesh.  I’ll get back to you.

Vet 2

The girls behind the counter laughed when I said the cat had outsmarted me and she wouldn’t be coming to her appointment because I couldn’t find her.  They said that it wasn’t the first time they had heard that story, not to worry about it.  We’d just move straight onto the appointment for Moses whose only avoidance strategy was to drop 40 percent of his long white hair onto me.  The vet was handsome in a shell-shocked sort of way (could have been in awe of my furry beauty).

I like to preface my Moses appointments with veterinarians by explaining that “Moses is his own man.” That helps explain the pine-tar in his fur, the spiderwebs in his whiskers, the all around dirtiness and frequent skanky smell of him.  We love him because of and in spite of these things.  But we have excused ourselves from responsibility for his general cleanliness.

He had fleas.  I knew this.  It’s an annual problem with Moses.  Never the other cats.  Just him.  Comes from eating out of, and sleeping in the compost pile (he’s got a weakness for bananas and cantaloupe, swear to god), rolling in the dirt and hunting wild game.  He’s his own man.

When we were discussing which options would be best, the doctor seemed pretty sold on a product called Frontline.  You take the little vial for stuff and apply it to the base of the back of the neck, sort of between the shoulder blades of the animal.  It soaks in and kills fleas for months at a time.  It’s perfectly safe, he said.  I thought about if I’d be comfortable using a mosquito repellent that could soak into my skin and kill bugs for a month…

I wasn’t convinced.  He wanted me to treat Moses and all the other cats once a month for the rest of the summer and fall (until the first freeze).  I explained that the last time I treated my cats with the poison-oil-on-the-skin stuff that it gave Moses dark thoughts.  Because it did.  I have told this to veterinarians in the past and they seemed to get it.  I did some research on-line and found lots of complaints about neurological problems in cats treated with this stuff (5 years ago).

Brown-eyed-shell-shocked-white-coated Doctor looked at me blankly.  No more than blankly.  It may have been fear I saw in his face.  But it wasn’t for Moses.  “I don’t know what that means really, dark thoughts. Can you tell me about his behavior?”

He didn’t know what that meant.  He didn’t know about Moses being his own man, either.  He asked if I thought Moses might be around enough that I could treat him once a month.  For those who don’t understand our relationship with Moses:  He spends the night outside, he spends most of the days outside.  He comes inside to eat, sit on any newspaper or book that looks like it is taking our attention, roll around nudging our toes with his nose until we pet him with our feet, and to climb into bed with whoever is still in bed after the door gets opened in the morning.

That last little habit seems to be related to the itchy welts my husband gets around his ankles a couple weeks of the year.  They don’t bother me, but fleas love Andy.  I got the treatments and treated the cat.  He seems happier, no dark thoughts.  And no fleas, either.

Veterinary Moral Superiority

This is really a story about people, not about animals.  You know how I feel about pet stories.

I love animals.  With a few caveats.  I don’t love birds very much.  I don’t love animals with more than 4 legs.  My dislike increases as the number of legs increases, with the possible exception of octopuses, (octopum, octopae, octopi).  I don’t like the wet parts of animals, no matter how many furry feet they have.  This turns out to be hard to explain to dogs. But I digress.

I like animals so much that I have living in my house right now four cats and 3 birds.  Two of those birds are sitting on a clutch of eggs.  It’s too many animals, not even legal.  But we manage.  And they make us laugh.  To my mind, an animal pays the rent by either becoming food, making food, killing rodents, lowering my blood pressure, warming my lap or my feet, purring in my ear at night, making me laugh, alerting me to trouble or helping me break the ice with strangers.

It’s gotten to the point where I feel real dread going to the vet with my animals.  I can’t take the judgment.  The vet yesterday was classic.  I should have known it was going to be bad the day I made the appointment.  I decided I could save some time and trouble by scheduling two kitties one right after the other.  What have I always said about feeling clever?  Feeling clever is the first warning sign of impending humiliation.

Babykitty is our fat cat.  She’s morbidly obese, bus-stop fat.  Grossly overweight.  But not altogether stupid.  She completely outsmarted me.  She hid her plus-sized self somewhere in the house, and didn’t even come when I poured food noisily into the food dishes.  I didn’t find her until I returned from the appointment.  By that point she was lounging casually on the third floor. No I am not clever.

Although I did avoid having to explain to the vet that I understand the health risks of having an overweight pet and that I knew her life expectancy was shortened.  Also I didn’t have to decline tooth cleaning for the cat and feel like a negligent pet owner and listen to a lecture about gingival health in cats.  I didn’t have to explain that we bought immunizations in Wisconsin (except for Rabies) and for 40 bucks had already done the distemper and other annual shots for 4 cats.

It’s not just that I’m cheap, and it’s not that I can’t afford to have the vet give the shots and clean her teeth.  It’s that the 4 hundred bucks seems like it is so much better spent on feeding the poor or clothing the naked than on immunizing and cleaning the teeth of a domestic animal whose only real purpose is to amuse me.  World peace?  Global warming?  Overpopulation?

When did there start being a moral imperative to do weight control and dental care on cats in addition to birth control, palliative care and contagious disease prevention?

Flying Drug-free

I am a phobic flier. I am armpit-pricklingly sure I am about to die.

I start to get nervous before I leave home. One way I cope with this is I do not look at my itinerary until the last possible moment. I’ve never bought my own plane ticket, usually a man in my life takes care of that (isn’t that old-fashioned and cute?). That man knows my schedule and tells me the day and approximate time of day I will fly.

It doesn’t seem weird to me until people start asking me, “So when do you leave on Monday?” and I have to answer, “I don’t know, it’s in the afternoon.”

When the car hits the exit for the airport, my stomach starts to hurt and I have to pee. I ignore these warning signs. I know it’s irrational, I’ve read the books. I know the whole the-drive-to-the-airport-is-the-most-dangerous-part-of-your-trip deal. I’m phobic, not stupid. All that ever did for me was make me nervous about driving.

In the airport my face starts to feel numb, and my hands and feet start to sweat. It’s weird. I feel like I’m about to be in really big trouble, and there’s no escaping it. And once I’m at the airport, there is no escaping it. I kind of like going through security. Kind of like being scanned, taking off my shoes, etc. That feels to me like a sort of momentary reprieve from my ugly fate. I suppose I’m the ideal customer. I actually hope they find something dangerous on me. Hope they pull me into a room and strip-search me. Hope they pull up my dossier on the all-seeing-bush-o-tron and deny me entrance onto the plane. But they never do. This is about the time I like to take my Ativan.

On the plane, I still have to pee, even if I already went in the airport. And my stomach is full of prehistoric butterflies from hell. My feet sweat more, my hands get clammy. Once the Ativan hits my system, I feel like I’m going to die, but well, aren’t we all? And probably I’ll be asleep. I doze and stare into space. I shop the sky-mall and find things I really, really need. It seems unfair that such important and wonderful things are only available on a plane. Aside from some pestering little terrified homunculus whining in my ear about tin tubes carrying people way up in the sky, and what a long way it would be to have to fall, I’m pretty calm.

My last flight was drug free. Jodi from Normandale (who is both brilliant and kind) offered to sit next to me and hold my hand. She hardly had to at all. We talked a little about our kids and schools. I warned her that I would be counting while we took off and for a while after that and would only be able to answer questions with numbers.

There were only a couple of questions she had to answer about , “What was that noise? Why is it doing that? Are we on the wing? ” Jodi was a trooper. “No, we’re not right by the wing. That noise was the blahblah system, they were just testing it, they do it all the time. Doesn’t it sound kind of like a dog barking?”

She lied about the wing. Probably figured I’d obsess about it if I knew. I had way more important things to obsess about than the wing. I counted to 400 while we took off. If I lost my place, I had to start over. It got me through take-off without blubbering. I wanted to write on the computer while I flew, but every time I went to bend over to get my laptop, I’d get hit between the eyes with dizziness and nausea. I had to sit back and close my eyes.

Eventually I was able to get the laptop by reaching down without lowering my head. I pulled up some photos of my last trip. Jodi had me tell her about my trip, my kids, my neighborhood, my schooling. We talked politics and religion and the demography of the suburbs and the city.

I used the bathroom once, whereupon Jodi said I was very brave. She was way afraid to use a plane bathroom because she was afraid she’d get sucked out of the plane. Thanks a lot Jodi.

As we approached the (lovely and wonderful, sweet-smelling and wholesome) Twin Cities, the pilot announced that there were “A few thunderstorms in and around the Twin Cities area. We’ll be shifting our approach just a bit on account of those storms. Flight attendants, I’m going to ask you to be seated and fasten your seat-belts.”

I started deep breathing (in through the nose, out through the nose as well) and counting with my eyes closed. I did these things while holding on to my seat. The back of my seat. I had my hands on the back of my seat, my head bowed, my elbows bent. I was covering my ears with my arms.

It turns out those pesky storms were in the process of eating Hugo and a pieces of suburban MSP. Andy says he was watching the plane on the computer, so he’d know when to come and get me. He saw it heading for the airport one minute, then turn 90 degrees, and 90 degrees again. We were avoiding tornadoes.

It was so, so loud. And so vibratious. And so long. I breathed. I counted, but backwards. If I lost my place, I had to start over at the last number I could clearly remember. This time I have no idea how far I counted. I think I started at 400. I couldn’t tell exactly when we landed, it was all so bumpy. But eventually we slowed and Jodi patted my hand.

That’s when the trembling started. I couldn’t get my hands or legs to stay still. I should have been elated to be on the ground, but I was upset. I was sure I was going to cry. Jodi asked if I was OK and I nodded. The guy across the aisle from me kept looking at me like he was worried. I tried to be busy gathering my things, but the more stuff I had on my lap (purse, laptop) the more obvious it was that I was not at all OK.

Cassie (also from Normandale), two seats down from the worried guy looked over and said, “Hey Lisa, you did it! And you seem much better than before we left.”

Worried man looked at her and said, “Are you you kidding? Look at her. She’s shaking all over. She’s not better than anything. Are you OK?”

I nodded, but I was afraid I might cry. People being nice when I’m upset always makes me want to cry. Then where would we be? “I, I, I don’tliketofly.” I told him quickly.

“Oh well, you did fine.” He insisted I get off the plane before him. He was very nice.

I didn’t cry until I got into the truck with Andy, but I only cried like, two tears. I don’t have a good theory about why I didn’t get really upset until it was all over. I suppose there’s a technical reason. Since I am never traveling again, we have no need to think about what I will do next time.

In case you forgot, “It Is OK, Many Things Do Not Fly. Rocks, Trees, Sticks…” Me.

OMG 3

Our latest weird interactions have revolved around the fact that he seems to not have typical inhibitions. This is not cultural. It’s him. It isn’t a Latino deal. A few times I’ve walked by when he’s in the bathroom peeing. He doesn’t close the door. Everyone pees, I know. But every visitor I’ve had has made sure they close the door securely when they do it. The norm is to use the bathroom closest to the bedroom they are staying in (and close the door). When he didn’t close the door to the bathroom he shares with Jasper, it sort of amused me. It more than sort of disturbed Jasper.

When he used the main floor bathroom (just off the living room) and left the door open, I found it surprisingly disconcerting. To walk into the living room and realize there is a man (who isn’t even my kin) in the next room urinating is weird. But like usual, I tried to talk my self out of it. What’s the big deal. He obviously feels completely at home here. That’s great. It means I haven’t come off as nearly as stressed as I feel. Good for me.

But after the third time I went to use said bathroom and sat upon a wet toilet seat, I couldn’t stop obsessing about how it was all wrong. I’d hear him go into the bathroom and I’d start obsessing, he shouldn’t be in that bathroom, he should be closing the door, he should be lifting the seat, he should aim, he should clean up his mess… And I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to tell him that it wasn’t OK to pee on my seat and on my floor. I even know how to say “aim” in Spanish.

I have boys. I’m not easily shocked. That said, what’s the right way to bring urinary etiquette up with a 21 year old man? Why did I care? If it embarrassed him, good! But for some stupid reason, I was too embarrassed to bring it up. So I fussed and festered and fumed (and diligently checked the seat and floor before I used the toilet). I got to be like a dog. You know how they can be sitting peacefully and then the dog satellite passes by, and their heads jerk up? And their ears prick up? I could be visiting neighbors and suddenly hear this guy go into the downstairs bathroom back at my house, that’s how obsessed I got.

My boy-raising experience has prepared my to not be surprised by things that turn up during laundry or room cleanings. While cleaning the room of someone who shall remain nameless, I found a book under the mattress that made me chuckle. It was “Lesbian Vampire Tales”. I threw it onto the charity pile (because the poor deserve bad porn just as much as anyone else). But Roberto happened by soon after and immediately zeroed in on it. He picked it up and asked (no glint in his eye, no bashful smile) if he could read it. I smiled and said, “Sure, I bet it will be pretty interesting.”, knowing that both lesbian and vampire translate quite directly.

For weeks after he picked up the book, he could be found sitting in front of the fire in the living room, Lesbian Vampire book in hand, pencil, notepad, two Spanish dictionaries and an English dictionary at the ready. He read, wrote, flipped pages and muttered to himself. I checked out his list which was usually parked on the footstool by the fire: moan, nipple, thighs, take-off, arch… He was getting the gist of the story.

I always tried to answer his questions as if it were the most normal thing in the world for this 21 year old house guest to be asking his 38 year old host-mom about whatever the word or phrase might be (“toe-curling, making out”). I never like to make people feel ashamed, but sometimes I wish they’d just do it themselves. I felt like the conversation about precocious puberty in American girls could have been treading on thin ice, but I wasn’t sure until he started to talk about when he got his semens, and when his cousins got theirs. I could easily have gone the rest of my natural life without ever hearing about his semens or what it meant for someone to actually get them. Clearly an what my friend Maggie would call an OverShare.
When I taught English I prided myself on teaching all the body parts to my adult students. If it made me uncomfortable, it was important enough that I just pushed ahead anyway. So even if I got creeped out by Roberto sitting in one chair reading the lesbian vampire tales, and Jasper next to him reading Japanese comic books , I just went on making dinner. They were both reading. Good for them.

Then I cleaned out the bathroom closet and what should pop out from between some linens but a little red book with the title, “1001 Ways to Drive a Man Wild in Bed and Satisfy Him Every Time” or something close to that. Thinking that how to satisfy him seems like it would be a pretty short chapter, not an entire book, I didn’t put it into my reading pile. It went into another charity pile. This time I put it face-down in the hall. I didn’t really want to have to explain it to anyone who happened by while I was cleaning.

Later in the day Roberto came up to me with the book in hand, “May I read this?” I looked up and winced, “Well yeah, but I bet it’s pretty stupid.” to which he responded, “But I like so much to learn the things.” He was headed back upstairs when a thought occurred to me,” Roberto, maybe don’t read it in front of Jasper, OK?” He seemed puzzled, “OK, sure…” And then another thought occurred to me, “And I think you shouldn’t bring it to work with you.” This made more sense to him and he headed up the stairs again. But then he had a thought, “I brought the other book with me (biting lezzies), but I only read it on the bus.”

He teaches in an elementary school. But the fact that he rides the school bus to school sort of escaped me. I started to try to explain to him that if he read a book on the (city) bus about satisfying a man every time, he might get attention he didn’t want. He looked at me blankly when I said I thought he shouldn’t read it on the bus. “No? Why?” If he were anyone else, I would have thought he was yanking my chain.

“Don’t read it on the bus, just trust me.”

After I realized that he was probably talking about the school bus, I felt better about telling him I couldn’t explain it further, but that he shouldn’t do it. (Note to self: look up Spanish word for “creepy”.)

I think the final thing that snapped me was when he started to get his bus money from the family change jar. What a petty and stupid thing. But once I latched onto it, I couldn’t let it go. The first time he asked if I had some quarters, I tipped over the change jar and handed him his 50 cents. I thought it was a one time deal. Over the next 7 days every time he left the house, he’d tip the change jar and get his bus fare.

I started to get resentful. I could hear the change jar from across the house, from the back yard. My hearing became more acute, almost bat-like. I complained to my friend. I was not just bothered about the fact that he was harvesting all the quarters from the jar, but I was bothered by the kind of person I was becoming. It was making me crazy.

Diane said, “He’s taking your money. That’s a boundary. You have to have boundaries.” But how could I bring it up without calling him a thief? “Move the jar.” Diane is a genius. I moved the jar to the third floor. Two days later he came looking for me.”Um, Lisa? Where it is the change jar?”

I had to say, “Roberto, you have to pay for your own bus ride. You can’t take money every day for your bus. ” He looked confused. I got him fifty cents from my purse and said he had to get his own change from now on. “Where I can get the change?” We talked about banks and stores. During the whole discussion, his brow never unfurrowed. I felt like a miserly biddy.

But now he’s gone. Every day at 4pm I watch the neighbor kids get off the bus and I have no sense of dread. He stopped by the other day to pick up some things and he stayed just long enough, which was not long at all. Watching him leave was like watching a whole flock of chickens, a couple goats, a pig, a bat and a dog all head back out to the barnyard where they belonged. I was happy.

Meeting minutes, my style

I used to be the treasurer of a newly formed Parent Teacher Association. My son’s high school. The fact that I was treasurer should give you pause. It gave me pause, but they really needed someone. These are the kind of minutes I take at meetings, be forewarned. It’s been long enough since the meeting, I think I can put these out to the world.

I’m trainable enough to have changed all the names.

I was feeling, I don’t know… Bored and oppressed by this group of well intentioned, but totally boring and self-important parents, of whom I am a member. It’s just that I’m a short-timer, since my son is graduating in June. So I was having trouble getting worked up about whether they meet in the south shelter or the north shelter for the annuual welcome picnic. I think there were a dozen emails back and forth about which corner of park so far away as to be nearer to Wisconsin than to St. Paul. Which park got almost no discussion.

Also, I was less than rapt by the discussion of whether the school was going to provide appetizers or cake after graduation. I think it was the comment from the Edina mom that sent me into my own la-la land,

“Well, did we explain to them about how we discussed the time-frame of graduation, and little kids, and why we thought cake and coffee would be enough?”

Yes, it turns out, we had discussed this with them. They didn’t care. Like me. They wanted appetizers and They are the School Administration, so they win. But watching this poor Edina mom’s forehead furrow in puzzlement and concern about the issue was just too much for me.

I started to analyze the people there. No not analyze. Judge. No, critique. Observe. Whatever I was doing, I was looking really busy:

There’s the lovely girl with a fabulous 17 year old body that she is sure is hers for all eternity. She did nothing other than look beautiful and sullen and spoiled. She didn’t deserve my critique. I heard her saying, “Hmmmph. I’m so pretty. My mother bores me. I wish she didn’t flirt with Mister Biskits (highest ranking school official in attendance). Hmmph. Does this shirt make my boobs look good? Of course it does. Everything does. How’s my hair? It makes me want to pout. But first I need to fling it from side to side a little. There. Now I am going to feel sorry for myself. Hmmph”

Then there was the face painting woman whose eyebrows look like she had painted them on herself in an attempt to look surprised all the time, or like she got botox. But judging by her hair, which I thought was wet from the shower, but did not dry over the course of a nice long meeting, so I am now suspecting was greasy… Well it doesn’t jibe with the botox type, so I think they were just painted on. But why so high up? It seems to say,

“Hey! whaddya know? I can’t hear you! But I’d like to be the communications director. Surprised? Me too!”
She is also hard of hearing. I am empathetic, but part of me is really bothered by her hearing loss. I need to think about this. Is it that I think she’s not listening to me, in addition to not hearing me? I don’t know. Probably a way of distancing myself from the possibility of that happening to me. Which it almost surely will. That hearing loss may be one of the reasons she seems mildly autistic to me.
And the lawyer in a very clingy bright pink shirt and a lovely grey suit had beautiful brown eyes once upon a time, before her hair started falling out and distracting me from them. But now her interesting shape, with one breast popping out of her unsupportive bra and the other not, and her interesting big belly with a belt cinched around it? Those things made it almost impossible for me to pay proper attention to her lovely string of pearls. Plus, this particular woman almost always looks really concerned, but speaks with a lack of affect that unnerves me when paired with the aforementioned look of concern. It comes across as,

“I am really worried and tired, yet excited about Valleyfair and the oceans of money we might make. But at the same time, I am confused about it.” While she discusses the fund raiser at Valley Fair.

I have little to say about the woman who came in late with her daughter. I suspect she felt almost as bored and superior as I did. But you never know. Maybe I was giving her too much credit based on her natural hair color, her skinny little ankles, classic pumps and her Land’s End clothes. Her daughter also got points for not dying her light brown, hair-colored hair, even if she absolutely made no secret of her boredom. They both give the vibe of,

“We’re not here to impress you. We’re listening. Our clothes are just revealing enough to let you know we are women. My daughter will flash cleavage, but she will immediately hike up her shirt to cover it. That’s how it’s done. I care so little that I can wear pumps without hose or a tan, my tiny ankles do all the talking.”

The Edina mom, who looks eerily like a character from Deep space 9, (Odo) is probably a really nice person. She dresses impeccably, has lots of makeup on, but it looks not too obvious, except whatever she has done to her eyebrows to make them go away. She always finds a way to work Edina into the conversation, which bugs me just a little. But then again, don’t I always try to work St. Paul into every conversation?

I should cut her slack. She graduated from my high school. Plus it seems like she’d be willing to take one for the team, if by taking one for the team, one meant giving head to Mister Bizkits. Her unabashed adoration and flirting with him totally gives me the creeps. “Ma-aark, are you going to work all night again? be Up all night? You don’t really sleep, do you Mark? You worrrrk all the time, and it is so very sexy. You’d fit right in in Edina.”

Mean, mean mean. And Nathaniel? (the secretary) Well he acts just disgusted enough to get a pass from me on the meanness. He behaves himself, and he’s the only guy most of the time. What could I say, the guy drove me to the last two meetings after I went totally AWOL because I couldn’t find parking two meetings ago.

And he does a great job of seeming to float above it all. Except when he fires off an email to every god damned person on earth, smearing the administration with feces. But I think he’s learned his lesson. He appears to say,

“I’m here. I’m dutiful. I don’t want to make trouble, but could you repeat that? Spell it? I’m not trying to stir things up, but don’t fuck with me because I’m secretly a tightly wound can of whoop-ass.”

And Sarah. Don’t have much bitching to do about her. Her new highlights looked good. I always get the feeling that her eyelashes are stuck to her eyelids. That her eyes are somehow stuck open. Wide open. But she’s good, doesn’t seem full of herself, that buys her lots of mercy.

Rachel. Oh Rachel. What can I say that isn’t too, too mean? Her shoes were cute. Her legs were meaty, and her thighs were white and big. I wish I had that sort of acceptance of my body. I wish I could say,

“these are my legs, these are my thighs, you know you wanted to see more of them, so here they are. I shaved so I could wear this skirt so you could look at the place where my thighs push together when I cross my legs, the tightly smashed space where my thighs cuddle with each other under this flimsy piece of demim. I think I’ll sit across from the only male present in the room.”

I wish I had that confidence, so if I say anything about her, it will be transparent jealousy. Instead of of her great comfort, I say something like,

“These are my thighs. These are my legs. Don’t they make skirts longer than full length? I will shave in the summer, just so when something peeks out, it isn’t hairy in addition to being pale, veiny and flabby. You might love to see it, but only in the dark, and we both know that. I think I’ll sit right along side the only male in the room. Well, until mister Biskits comes in, then I’ll start hiking up my skirt because Republicans are easier to seduce, and it’s fun to make him uncomfortable. ”

It’s good I’m getting out of there, because it’s affecting my mental health. I think I’m going to need therapy to get rid of all these voices in my head.

Happy Damn Halloween

I used to love Halloween. I love costumes and the excuse to wear them. I loved all the little princesses and spidermen, all the knights and ninjas. I still love them. But this year it almost wasn’t worth it. What is wrong with me? I got really mad. But maybe I get mad every year. It’s just starting to occur to me that I love the idea of Halloween. Not the reality. Or maybe I love suburban Halloween.

Let’s go over what I loved about tonight’s Halloween and see if it adds up to doing it next year or not, shall we?

My neighbor Terry will certainly not agree with me. I will say, “I’m sick of caravans of kids I don’t know getting driven to my house without costumes. I’m sick of their two bags (for my little brother, he’s in the car), their mom smoking and talking on her cell phone in the running car. I’m sick of teenagers and adults without any costumes, snapping their gum and holding out their bag like me giving them candy is the law.”

Terry would say, “Lisa, what’s the big deal. You’re giving them a 20 cent candy bar. Coming to your house and demanding candy on their own terms makes them feel like they have control in a world where they feel like they have no power. Couldn’t you just give them the candy and not be mad? You still have so much more than any kid whose parents feel compelled to bus him into your neighborhood. More than any group of teenagers.”

He’d be right, of course. I’d sigh and say, “Thanks Terry, for being the voice of kindness and bliss again. You’re right, I guess. It’s just a freaking candy bar. What do I feel like I gain by telling the costume-free teenagers to keep on moving if they don’t have either a costume or a really good story? What’s my problem?”

Then I’d ask what he gave out for halloween and he’d say, “We didn’t do trick-or-treats. We turned out the lights and watched a movie.” He frequently outsmarts me by taking both the high and the low road.

So I’m talking myself down from a ledge, here. I have no right to be upset at the Suburban idling for 30 minutes in front of my house while the dozen kids who piled out of it go trick-or-treating. I am trying not to pass judgment on the mom rolling down the window of her car, driving slowly down Holly Avenue, following her kid. When she says, “Latte! Don’t you cut through that grass. Use the stairs. Latte! You hear me?”

I’m only reporting what I saw and heard. Latte had a princess costume on. She was adorable.

But there’s one mom who sent her three kids up to my door while she sat in her car, driving from house to house. I have passed judgment her. Only one of her kids had a costume. Two girls and a boy, it was. The boy was gorgeous. Huge anime style brown eyes, milk chocolate skin and cherub cheeks. He was probably around 8 years old. I grabbed my candy and started to chat, as I do with all the hollow wieners. “Hey buddy, where’s your costume?What are you?” It was cold enough tonight, about half the kids opened up their parkas to display spiderman or ninja clad chests.

This kid tilted his head back like a baby bird and said, “Bweeeeeeeeh!” while looking me in the eye. I’m sure you’d handle this better than I when it happens to you. Quickly I thought about whether this kid was retarded, messing with me or giving me a clue to his identity. I was starting to see that he didn’t have a costume (but the younger kids get a pass from me, because it’s their parents’ job to make sure they have a costume). My answer to his weird response was, “Yeah… OK kid, but what are you?”

He kept right on looking at me, dead in the eye, not cracking a smile. But this time he clamped both hands over his ears. As he did this, his mom rolled down the car window, and yelled, “He can’t hear you, he’s totally deaf.” Ok, he’s deaf. I am so dumb. So totally cloddish and stupid. I looked at his sister who was maybe 12, “So what is he?”

She looked at me and said, “He ain’t anything, he deaf. He can’t hear you.” The middle girl, piped up, “I’m a kitty!”, and showed me her ears.

Maybe you all went to planet deaf child, but I was still fixated on planet Halloween. The boy had figured out what I wanted to know by his sister’s reaction. He started to tug his shirt out from under his jacket, still looking at me, but smiling now.

I should tell you right now, in the interest of full disclosure, I had three pieces of candy in my bowl. I gave one right up to the kitty while I checked out the boy’s shirt (which didn’t look like a costume to me, but I was feeling not up to the task of evaluating the situation). The older girl without the costume got nothing and I gave the deaf boy two pieces. I immediately decided that was the wrong thing to do. But it was too late.

My decision was reinforced by the reaction of the little boy. He grabbed the candy, held it up to his face and looked at his sister. He stuck his tongue out and did a little “ha ha” dance at his sister.

What kind of fucked up world do we live in? I’ll take responsibility for not immediately recognizing what must be a universal symbol for deaf. I’ll take responsibility and beg forgiveness for taking my anger at the mom on the girl. And I do feel bad about doing that. It won’t happen again. I’ll try harder.

But what kind of mom dumps her three kids off in a strange neighborhood on Halloween without costumes? Not so good of a mom, OK. But one of those kids is profoundly deaf and she’s sending him without a costume to go ask strangers for candy? While she sits in her car? What the hell is that? She can’t paint an eyeliner mustache on the kid? Give him a football helmet? She can’t park the car and walk with the kid from door to door? Jesus.

A group of teenagers I did not know smashed the pumpkins of the 3 and 5 year old next door. Those teenagers headed to my house for candy, although they knew I saw them. I hollered at them and warned the other side neighbors not to give them candy. When my neighbor boys came home, they cried. They couldn’t even begin to understand anything except that their pumpkin was smashed right on their own porch.

After that, I walked down and looked to see how much longer Halloween was going to last. My entire street was awash in head and tail lights crawling along with their kids. I’m watching a movie next year. Fer real.

I think I’m so damned Clever

We’ve got this house guest. He’s sweet. I think. I mean, I hope he’s sweet and these misunderstandings we keep having are all due to the language and culture barrier. But anyway. I started to get hives today, so I think I need to talk about it. Just between us, right?

Our guy doesn’t like veggies. At all. We’re trying hard to eat more veggies, and we buy a lot of them. We use them to supplement the stuff we call food, such as meat and potatoes. We actually have been trying to eat them as if they are food, which for a while made us feel kind of clever. Bad move. Never feel clever. You are not clever, neither am I. Feeling clever is just a prelude to feeling stupid. Remember that.

That and a 12 step program will take you pretty far. And my 12 stepping friends, don’t think I can’t tell this is a perfect time to accept the things I cannot change or change the things I can. I know, but I’m still working my program. I’m starting again tomorrow.

We continued to eat our vegetables, and serve them to our guest. He’s a long-term guest, so we kinda figure he might as well get used to it. What I, as the primary cook in the house neglected to consider seriously enough was how annoying other people can be in tiny (petty torments) but repetitive ways. So when he picked the garden-fresh green beans out of the pad thai, no big deal.

When he ate none of the marinated garden tomatoes with cucumber slices and summer squash medallions, it hurt just a little. I asked him if he liked any vegetables. He said, “some”. When he picked the olives and lettuce out of his bean burrito, it was starting to annoy me. I asked him, “What vegetables do you eat?” because it seemed that I was going to throw a lot of vegetables away figuring this out. He liked broccoli! What luck for me. The shipment from Farm in the City came yesterday and it had beautiful broccoli in it.

I served him a garlicky rice dish with lime, and some broccoli. When I served him the rice he pushed it away and said it tasted “extrange”. Then he tried to use the new vocab words I had taught him just minutes before. Unfortunately enough for both of us, I taught him both “nasty” and “gross”. Neither of which were appropriate for the situation. I had to tell him (with a great big American Mom smile, and a spatula pointed at him for emphasis) that you never tell the host mom that her food is nasty. Never. He should feel free to tell his friends at school the next day, but the only acceptable thing to tell your host mom is that it’s delicious, but you are allergic to garlic. He was sorry.

He ate the teensy flower tops off the broccoli and left the pencil-sized stems on the plate with the rice. He pushed the plate away and made himself some fried eggs.
Grrrr. This was starting to make me mad. Never let petty torments make you mad. It merely feeds the torments and drains you of crucial IQ points. Paradoxically you will have surges of feeling clever. You are not clever. I am not clever. We are average. And vulnerable.
Dinner tonight was a pesto pasta with harvest vegetables. Fresh basil pesto, garden green beans, garden carrots, mushrooms, and chicken breast sauteed in onion and garlic. Oh yeah, and aslo, broccoli picked yesterday. But I couldn’t stand the thought of him biting the teeny tops off the broccoli. I couldn’t stand it. The idea of what dinner was going to be like was giving me hives. Serious hives.

He was going to pick out everything but the chicken and the pasta. And say nothing. And pick out the all chicken pieces from the serving dish for himself. This was making me mental. But as I was cutting up veggies (every slice making me stupider while I dwelt on this issue), I was inspired.

I know! I’ll just chop this broccoli up with the chopper into pieces too small for him to pick out! Then he’ll have to eat them! I laughed a Snidely Whiplash laugh as I chopped up the broccoli.

I took pictures of the aftermath. I am not clever.

I’m just so busy…

I wrote this weeks ago, before I left for England, before my mom’s house had sold, before before. Isn’t it nice when you can feel better about things? After they’re over? Isn’t it nice?

Now looking back just a little while later, I think it’s funny and not all that significant that the word Executor looks a job title that should involve a black hood and an implement of death. For a while there, every time I saw the word, I thought of it as a harbinger of doom.

Don’t you just hate it when people say they’re so busy. Of course we’re busy. That’s our job. We’re all busy. But right now I am the kind of busy that eats my brain. I can’t write, can’t clean, can’t sit and chat, can’t walk aimlessly around the neighborhood, can’t bake… It sucks.

I’m just sending a message out to all the people who love me, and those who don’t but watch my blog anyway. You know who you are, and I love you inspite of yourself.
I’m executor in my mother’s estate. Executor is a job you couldn’t pay me enough to do. Lots of paperwork, complex legal stuff, and inevitably hurt feelings. I heard about a book once, before anyone I loved was sick. It talked about how to deal with death and the minutia and maxnutia of what is left over afterwords (if you’re wondering if maxnutia is a word, I encourage you to look it up).

I didn’t pay close enough attention to that book or its author or title at the time. And when I started to look for it, I couldn’t find it. So I’ve been muddling through. I’m not good at it, I hate it and I can’t quit. It has taken me a really long time (two years in October). I’m still not done.

There has to be a better way, but I hope I never have to figure out what it is.

In most cases there is a capable surviving spouse who can handle the estate, but in my mom’s case that wasn’t so. Her husband’s limited English and financial mismanagement were serious enough that she decided I would be a better bet. Imagine that.

The worst part of estate management is hard for me to choose. It’s either the headache I get when I start to think about the hierarchy of repayment priority and how that order affects the total amount that will end up going to each divisee in the will, or else it’s the way that dealing with money and property brings out the weakness in people involved. The people who are financially retarded don’t pull their shit together and see the light. The people who drink too much don’t lay off the hooch until it’s all dealt with. The the agoraphobes don’t just set aside their need for their own personal kingdom for a couple months.

And most importantly, I don’t become systematic and organized. I don’t become a good project manager. I’m just me, with a mouth too quick and a brain too slow. With chaos that is almost certainly medicatable reigning in my head. Damn, Damnm Damn.