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.

Writing class

I’m taking a class in writing. It’s very Jungian. And at this point, I think Jung is jungk. It’s pretty. It’s poetic and allegorical, but it seems like mysticism, which I find interesting, but rarely helpful. Watch this space for evidence that I am “writing through my shadow”. Or not.

Oh I’m no fun at all. I’m a sceptic.

But I’m very in touch with my inner voice, I can say that much. Sometimes I am too in touch with it.

I think most people get annoyed when they are around people who are in neck braces or who have bad acne or are deformed, smelly or just plain ugly. It sticks in their well tended brain like sand under a wheel. They don’t even know it. But I’m very conscious of that voice that says,

“A doctor. She’s a doctor. I should have been a doctor. Why couldn’t I have my act together enough to be a doctor? Having you around will surely make me feel like a loser. Get thee gone, doctor.” Probably I could never be a doctor because of all the space in my head being taken up with running monologue.

“neck-brace-can’t-turn-his-head-whiplash-car-accident-insurance-settlement-either-in-pain-or running-a-scam-either-way-not-my-kind-of-people” how mean of me. I try not to listen to that voice.

or it says,

“Oooh when you lived in Texas, eh? So you’re the kind of person who moves around?Hmm. Remind me not to bond with you.” I know wonderful people who have moved to and from my home base. Something about it still threatens me. My inner voice calls them “the moving kind of people.”

or dumber yet,

“A writer, eh? Please, oh please don’t make me listen while you read out loud. Writers are so smug. Ick.” This is both self-loathing and stupid. Nonetheless, it pops out.
A lot of times my inner voice is wrong. But it never shuts up. I usually try to tune it out, but we both know that it gets through despite my best intentions (see blogs about race). I think my inner voice is what some people think of as their devil on their shoulder or better yet, their shadow.

Back to the writing class. It was taught by a a woman I can only describ as a plus-sized, dramatic lesbian motivational speaker from the butch-intellectual-spiritual-guide synod. Really interesting to listen to and watch. And she was primed to dip us into the waters of our true self and universal wholeness. I should be more grateful.
What I will heretofor refer to as “My Shadow” pricked up its little pointy, shadowy ears and sneered upon hearing the following quotes:

“Namaste” Pretty much only Indian people can say namaste without gagging me.

“I’m so totally serious. My shadow is totally threatened by this class.” This, from a lovely freckel-faced mother of two in a baseball cap.
“The shadow always brings a gift” This from my dynamic teacher.

“don’t be surprised if your shadow rears its ugly head because of you taking this class. It happens all the time. Sometime during the course, your shadow will make itself known. I like to prepare people for this, so they’re ready. So if you find yourself having trouble in the next 6 weeks with relationships or work… Don’t panic. It’s just your shadow feeling surly because you’re taking this class.”

I know you’ll be amazed at this: Sometime during the course of the class, some people did have relationship trouble. Some had work trouble; some had both. Coincidence? If that makes you feel better, fine. But the shadow knows the truth. And just try to shut it up.

Poop, the first

Here in the Morgan household we have a longstanding tradition of hosting foreigners in our home for months or years at a time. My all time favorites were a pair of sisters. They stayed for 2 years. We still miss them. They came over to meet us for just about a half an hour the first time. We knew when they left that they’d be wonderful guests and we invited them to stay.

They’re beautiful girls, still. Dark hair and skin and eyes. Lovely shiny black hair in quantities that made me want to weep. Quantities that, when they tried to do my hair, would have them asking, “But Flaquita, where’s the rest of your hair?”. Flaquita was my nickname. It means Skinny, but it’s the diminuitive and affectionate.

I think (and this is just my theory) that when you’re indigenous looking (and they were), in a culture that looks down on the indigenos, in order to verify you are not low-class, you need to be extra proper. Which they were. Very polite, always asking permission for things and giving great latitude to each other and the rest of the family when it came to personal matters.

One sister needed to return to Peru to help with something in the family. The other stayed here. During this time she and I grew pretty familiar with each other. So familiar, in fact, that I felt like I could play a little joke on her. One of my favorite jokes.

I’m not really a practical joker. I don’t like jokes that startle me, scare me, get me wet or make me look stupid. But somewhere in my armor, there’s a chink. Having to do with poop. I love fake poop. I’m a connoisseur of fake poops. I have no fewer than 4 of them. I have cat, dog, raccoon and a generic turd. The dog and the raccoon are the best.

Usually I reserve them for people working at my house. Guys like electricians or carpenters. They take off their coats and set them down and I just leave a little pile there, and wait for them to notice. By the time they notice, sometimes I’m not even home anymore. But it always makes me laugh if I hear them holler, “What the…Aww. No… Man!”

I laugh so hard sometimes I almost wet myself. With real pee. It’s very base humor. Immature, unsophisticated and silly. Not my best me. But me nonetheless.

So while Aly was out one day, I went up and put the highest quality poop on the middle of her bed. I went back downstairs and promptly forgot about it. When she got back it was hours later. I had no recollection of what I’d done.
She went upstairs and was gone about a half an hour before she came back down. Her face was grave. I was clueless. “Aly, what’s wrong?”

“Lisa I need to talk to you.”

“Sure, honey, what’s wrong?”

“Can you come upstairs and talk to me for just a minute?”

I followed. Worried. Did one of the kids go through her stuff? Was she pregnant? What?

“Lisa, we’re so grateful to be here. I don’t want you to think I’m complaining. I am going to take care of everything. I only think you should know what has happened. Don’t be scared.”

Shit. Maybe there’s a huge bug in her… Oh no. The Poop. It isn’t funny. Humor sometimes doesn’t translate cross-culturally. Especially not poop. Her face is not annoyed or just grossed out. It’s deeply troubled. I am such a clod. What is wrong with me?

When we got to her room, I stopped her. “Aly, I’m sorry. I know what’s wrong. And it’s my fault. It isn’t real. It’s a joke. ” She registered none of what I was saying. As I reached out and picked up the poop she looked mortified. “It’s not real, look.” I brought it to my mouth and clacked it against my teeth. Illustrative, effective, but not reassuring to her. I was not digging my self out. She was not cracking any kind of smile. Yeeesh, I am so not cool.
She was mad, or maybe troubled is a better word. I got called down stairs by one of the kids, and left saying, “Sorry. It was a dumb joke. I don’t know what I was thinking.” I wish I’d thought to have blamed one of my boys. I’m not good on my feet like that.

She came down later. We talked, and she expressed her puzzlement with why that kind of thing would be funny. She was really worried that an animal had come in through a window (her door was shut when she left and when she returned), or that one of the pets was sick or some other real badness had gone down..

Months later, when Zach went to Lima, Peru and spent a month there, we talked and came up with a reason why poop humor doesn’t translate. It goes like this: Here, we have laws forbidding people from leaving their dog poop on the grass. People actually carry little bags around and pick up their dog doo and throw it in the trash. Stray dogs don’t wander around. Stray people rarely wander around in residential neighborhoods.

There are public toilets. And almost all toilets accept not only human waste, but also the toilet paper. In most parts of Latin America, dirty toilet paper goes in the bathroom trash.
We don’t come in contact with real poop very often unless we have small children. Even then, it’s pretty well contained and dealt with quickly. So it’s funny. It’s gross, but in a pretty abstract way. For many people in the world, poop isn’t a joke. It’s smelly, infectious, common and disgusting.

And if I think about it, real poop isn’t funny at all. It’s gross. And Aly had the last laugh because my cheeks still burn when I think about her worried face and apologetic manner. I am such trash.

superficial me

Went to a PTA meeting last night. The Principal and Assistant were there giving a little Q&A session. I’ve had not-so-great interactions with these gentlemen lately, so I was inclined to listen with forked ears.

They came into the room. 7:15 at night. They had been in school working since 8 that morning. Almost 12 hours they’d been working. Immediately I noticed their clothes. Principal in a black ribbed sweater. Not a pill or cat hair in sight. Collar of his checked shirt still crisp. His pants looked like he just picked them up from the cleaner’s. Silver hair cut short and styled like a magazine model. He looked like a million bucks.

The AP, same deal, but he was in shades of tan and beige. Not so succinct or decisive of colors, but again, totally wrinkle, pill, fray and stain free. His hair was a little weird, bordering on a mullet, and crispy with some kind of product.

But here’s my confession to you: I liked them better because they dressed so well. I felt like they were doing me a little favor by dressing so nice and looking so well groomed. I wanted to listen to them more, watch them talk. I feel that way about all sorts of people and their clothes.

I try to ignore it, but I bet I’m nicer to people who are all done up. And anyone who knows me knows that I’m the last one to care about if my socks match my outfit or even each-other. Hmmm. Oportunity for growth. Either get over it, or start dressing accordingly. I’ve gotta think about this.

Just Because It’s True…

 

I keep trying to explain to my kids that just because something is true, doesn’t mean you have to say it. Not only do you not have to say it, sometimes you absolutely should NOT say it. I understand the urge to purge. I have a major problem disconnecting my thoughts, however fleeting or stupid, from my speech. Sometimes I figure people will forget the stupid things I say, but I know better.

 

There’s a family in my neighborhood who has a small child, a girl. She looks uncannily like Gary Busey. Go look up Gary Busey right now, and see if you think it was a mistake of me to tell the mother her daughter looks like this guy(I’ll wait). In my defense, come and look at their Christmas card (photo of the kids) and see if it isn’t the truth. Also, I really didn’t think of what I was saying, ie, “Wow, she looks just like Gary Busey!” as being an insult. That was a mistake on my part, I think.

 

I was at book club a while ago and I had another slip-up. Thank god I’m a woman, or I think by now I’d be seriously a pariah in the neighborhood. One of the women at book club was newly pregnant. At a book club meeting, she had a lovely red, low-cut shirt. She had the kind of breasts that can only be gotten from pregnancy, plastic surgery or comic-book superheroines. She is a lovely woman, very pretty, but she was obviously walking the line between , “Check out my awesome new boobs!” and “Is this shirt too revealing?” She wore the shirt (and we’re all so glad she did). I stopped her on my way out and told her, “Your cleavage is fabulous.” It was true.

 

I don’t know if I regret it, but I didn’t need to say it.

My sister’s daughter looked very much like Rick Moranis at a certain age. It’s passing, but maybe I never should have pointed it out. It’s an issue.

 

The thing is, you can’t un-say things. And if you’re me, the things that flit through your mind are not always fit for public consumption. Even if they’re true. Sometimes the truth changes, but what you said doesn’t go away. The way you say it would probably have been better if you had written it, put it away and looked at it again the next day. Because for some things, the more true it is, the worse it is to have someone speak it out loud.

 

Part 2 of Why I Am No Fun

I realized a few things while I was traveling that I hadn’t consciously understood before. One was that I’ve spent my adult life accumulating things and systems in order to prevent unpleasantness. Call these creature comforts or the trappings of an unhealthy mind… They aren’t accidents.

I live in the kind of neighborhood where the cops come if your party is too loud. I live here on purpose and if your party wakes me up in the middle of the night, I will call the cops. Then I will sleep, and when I wake up, my mental health will be relatively more stable. I may plot your death while I wait for the authorities, I may seethe at your nerve for treating my front yard like an extension of whatever bar you stumbled out of. But in the end I will know you are an idiot and the law is on my side.

The parties in Banos started at about 11am and quit around 4 or 5am. Easter is an especially big party weekend. The house across the park from our hotel inflated an enormous (two story tall) beer bottle every evening and started playing the dance grooves in the late morning. “Hoy es la Noche del Sexo” was the theme song except when it was “Borrachos Hasta La Amanecer” (these are songs about Jesus rising from the dead, but with a heavy backbeat). The idea of calling the cops was utterly ridiculous for two reasons. For one, there were cops on every corner, armed police all over the place, tapping their feet to the beat.

For another, the idea of offending someone else with your music is simply not on the menu of things to get upset about in Ecuador. Beggars in your restaurant harassing your patrons? Yes. Drunkards fighting over the last tender morsel of cuy? Yes. Armed robbery and picking pockets? Call the cops. Indigenous people fighting the latest trade agreement by blocking off the main roads? They’re on it. Music? Give me a break.

In Ecuador loud is the name of the game. People walk up and down the streets singing out their wares or their pleas for your charity. The dogs roam in packs and have gang-warfare at night. Loud gang warfare. And even the dogs that walk on a leash along side the armed guards for the various hotels and hostels are encouraged to bark a lot. It keeps the guards on the night shift awake, plus it sets off the car alarms. If your car is not parked inside a locked parking facility, it most surely has an alarm. Those alarms seem to be working pretty well, or pretty hard anyway, because they’re always sounding. Roosters start anticipating the sunrise at about 3am, even in the city.

Drivers honk their horn in a conversational way to let you know they are about to pass you on a steep mountain pass. They honk at entire throngs of people because they recognize one person. They honk because you’re blond. They honk because you’re going too slow, because they’re going to run you down as you try to cross the street, or because they want you to go ahead and cross (sucker). It’s a different world.

And don’t even talk to me about earplugs. They are worthless for two reasons: one, they make it possible for bad guys to sneak up on you without you noticing, and two, they expand in your ears and make you feel like your head is going to very quietly explode. Don’t think I haven’t tried the obvious on that front.

At home, my computer is in a room away from other people because I am very private about what I’m writing until it’s done. Even after it’s done, I must send it quickly because I immediately think it’s crap. I am unable to write in front of people. So I don’t.

I also don’t like to do internet research with another person watching. I do a lot of internet research. My daily research is another peak at my potential mental troubles. Since I do a pretty good job at researching until I feel reassured, no one needs to know what I’m worried about.

But in Ecuador there are Internet Cafes. Internet Cafes have all the computers facing the main desk. So if you need for some reason to search “shistosomiasis” or “travel induced constipation” or “water-borne intestinal parasites” or maybe even “noise ordinances in Baños” or“Baños holy week festivities”, your research will be up on the screen for all to see. And all the websites seem to have banner headlines like “Do You Have Shistosomiasis?” or “Don’t be Embarrased About Constipation!”

Just because I’m wondering about symptoms of shistosomiasis doesn’t mean I think my kids or I have it (pretty sure after some research that we don’t). I’m doing research and it’s nobody’s damned business why. It makes me feel better, OK?

So not only was my trip a period of sleep deprivation and nausea, but I couldn’t even deal with the stress by writing about it (Well, I do have a little notebook) or researching it. I might do it again, but not for fun, and not anytime really soon.

Why I Am No Fun. Part 1

I hate to travel.

This is a character defect, a flaw in my personality and one of the many ways I am lacking. It isn’t just a distaste for someone else’s sheets. It isn’t jingoistic love of my homeland. It’s a deep seated fear and anxiety which is glimpse at the mental illness that would be mine but for the grace of god (at this moment). I’m almost dysfunctionally anxious. But not quite. I also have a weak stomach. Nausea and various stomach ailments are regular traveling companions. I struggle against these things, and therefore I do travel on occasion, because I think people should. And also because there are some foods I really want to try. To understand the depth of my distaste for travel you have to know a few things. I’m going to share them with you, but you can’t tell anyone, and don’t be afraid to hang out with me or invite me to your homeland. Agreed?

I just want to make sure we’re clear. I went. I flew. I flew far away from home and then I rode in busses. I used strange bathrooms, ate strange foods and took strange taxis. I spoke in a foreign language for 18 days and rinsed my toothbrush in bottled water. We mixed with the local people ate where they ate and took lots of pictures. So get off my case that I wouldn’t ride in the teleferico (that horrible little cage they slid across on a wire from one edge of a canyon to another). Leave me alone that I didn’t want to drive the 3 hours to Puyo and see the gateway to the jungle. Cut me some slack for not taking a day or two to ride the bus to the coast and take a (retch) boat to the Galapagos. I can only do so much.

I am very prone to motion sickness. More than three passes on a playground swing and I am ready to barf. Driving as a passenger almost anywhere involves a fixed stare at the horizon. Do not ask me to look for something inside the vehicle while it is moving, or I will be toast for the rest of the trip. Traveling by train is tough unless I am facing front and looking out the window. It makes me sick, but it’s not as bad as travelling in an airplane. Take-off and landing are devices of torture which leave me sick for the rest of the day, and maybe the following day. The headache takes at least 24 hours to pass. The nausea is gone in a couple of hours.

Unfortunately, all travel seems to involve not only motion, but lots of motion, in long stretches and short bursts. I especially hate traveling in the mountains. But mountains are beautiful! That’s where people go! And that’s where we went. To the Andes, in Ecuador. We flew, took taxis, rode in death-trap-barf-o-riffic busses. Every trip seems to involve not just the intial voyage, but lots of mini-trips to make sure we’re getting the most of our vacation.

I didn’t have fun. I don’t like to travel. I. Don’t. Like. It. Be my friend anyway, OK?. I will probably leave home again but only if people promise not to try to make me travel while I travel. That’s just mean. I will go. I will land. I will take a taxi to my hotel and from there, I will walk or ride horseback to the grocery store, which is my favorite part of any travelling anyway. I will eat new food and talk to new people, maybe visit some stores and it will make me happy. And that which does not make me happy will surely make me write.

Caperucita Roja

There are two low moments that come to me when I think about our trip to Ecuador. There were others, and there were great moments, too, but they’re just not all that interesting. The lowest of the low moments had more to do with being trapped with my immediate family for almost 3 weeks and being unable to just walk out on them.

But the beggar girl who shamed me stands out as a moment I still can’t shake and can’t quite figure out.

Beggars, mendigos, huerfanos, gente de la calle. Without exception they were indigenas, the descendants of Atahualpa and his brother. Inca people. Dark skinned, dark eyed and very short, they have barrel chests, flat backs and beautiful hooked noses. They have black, straight hair and strong hands. Most of the indigenas wear wool skirts or pants and oddly enough, many of them wear fedoras, both the men and the women. Don’t get me wrong, not all of the indigenas were street people. Most were going about their workaday lives with babies tied to their backs or at their breast. But all of the street people were indigenas or mestizos (mixed with the descendents of Spanish slaves from Africa).

The wool skirts and pants in the street beggars were filthy. The faces of the children and the adults were sunburned, maybe wind burned, but clearly too long exposed to the elements. Their faces were smudged, the creases in their hands, traced by the settled in grime. Sometimes they had deformities of the hands of feet, and maybe just token teeth, especially the older ones.

Children in the street. My god, every block had two or three children begging, selling candy or shining shoes. Or just sitting against a building, maybe with a younger brother or sister in their lap. Young children, sleeping in doorways with their arms over their eyes. And it didn’t even break my heart. I shut down after the first two days. Those first two days, I wanted to explain to each one why I couldn’t give them anything when I happened to be out of change. I apologized to them, begged forgiveness and felt bad for each one.

It can only really fully enter your brain for a couple of days, I think. If you are raw enough to see it for how horrible it really is, unable to shut it out, you might never be right again. Or maybe you are the superhuman blessed with both empathy and strength. I am not. I could feel my own brain deciding to not think about this if I was going to be available for my family. Sometimes it got through. But I surprised myself with how much I could ignore.

They’re such beautiful children, with their white teeth and beautiful skin. Filthy in an almost Dickensian way, but still cherubic and lovely. And sad, and tired and hungry for real food. If they have any food it is either a 3 liter bottle of pop or a box of candy they are selling. Wise in ways children shouldn’t have to be wise. Able to pick out a sucker from a mile away. But you have to see them, to walk among them, or rather, to wade through them for a couple days to understand even the little bit I understood.

I wanted to be able to share this part of the country with the people back home. But I read in The Book (the Rough Guide to Ecuador) that it is rude to take pictures without asking permission (claro que si). And that usually if you offer a small amount of money, locals will gladly consent to being photographed. While we were eating lunch in some restaurant, a little girl came in and started to work the crowd before the staff drove her away. She looked like she was maybe 8 or maybe 10 years old. With a filthy wool skirt and a red felt shawl clutched around her shoulders. She looked like a caricature of a little street urchin. Almost too perfect. I wanted to take her picture, but she was shooed away by the staff at the restaurant.

So when the orphan girl came into the ice cream shop with her cup of pennies the next day, and started to beg in the typical whiney voice that is like a parody of someone begging; when she met my eye, I walked over to her. Thinking back, she probably wasn’t an orphan and it might not have even been the same girl. Whatever, I offered her 50 cents to let me take her picture. She looked down at her feet, and back at me and shook her head no. She looked sad, but resolute. No. She never spoke after I asked her for a picture, just kept shaking her head.

I squatted down beside her. I looked her in the eyes, and tried to sweet-talk her. She looked at me back and stood her ground. She stared at me. I had this notion of hypnotizing her with my blue eyes, and she did have the look of a person worried they were being charmed. Fascinated, but worried. Blue eyed, silver-tongued devils like me are exceptionally rare in Ecuador.

Maybe someone warned her away from gringo perverts who want to take your picture. I told her we’d stay right there and I’d let her see the picture when it was done. Nope. I have to say that after you offer a kid money to take her picture and she says no, the more you cajole, the worse you feel. I started to feel like a pervert. No longer was I trying to expose the plight of these kids. She wasn’t a beautiful little child of god anymore. I was turning into a perverted carnival barker who wanted to exploit this little ragamuffin for all she was worth. And 50 cents, for god’s sake! What was wrong with me?

I blushed, took my ice-cream cone and left her with the 50 cents. She was beautiful, you’ll just have to trust me.