Pat Day 2017

I think I fucked up last year, and didn’t write.  But every year on dear old Pat’s anniversary, the anniversary of when she was born, the legendary Ides of March, I think of the old gal.  In this episode of remembrance of things past I mostly am thinking about the conversations I would have had if she were to still wander around planet earth. (I think I just subjunctived the shit out of that sentence.)

The first conversation is all about crafts.  I ridiculously bought myself a button maker to make little pins like thes
I suspect the desire for this little gadget was straight up recapture of the 1970s I never had.  I always wanted whatever the toy version was back in the olden days.  I think it might have been this Button Factory. Although, circa 1978 seems past my peaked pique interest.

Getting back to Pat and crafts more generally, though. Kindred spirits to crafty Pat stroll the hallways of my work. The knitters among my colleagues have of late left the shadows. We gather during the workday and create knitting circles during lunches.

(Completely tangentially, I should disclose that Pat’s own crafty daughter, the person typing this sentence, may have held a little sway in bringing the crafters into the sunshine. )

One knitter spouted a surprising reflection of Pat to me.  She said that there is value in using your hands, having a hobby, an outlet that wasn’t the thought-heavy essence of our daily work. Not everything can be reading and thinking and computers and communication and using your brainiest bits of brain.

Instead, things were solvable by not dwelling on them.  The best of a good hobby is that it takes you out of whatever the thing that you might be doing or might supposed to be doing and puts you somewhere else.  If your hands are busy for a little while that’s all that matters.  Then, while making something homey and crafty, your brain gets to rest and fight another day.

Pat would have nodded in agreement.  One of my favorite Pat quotes in reference to someone going through a bad patch of depression and struggle and maybe a soupçon of intoxicating substance — “She thinks too much.  She needs a hobby.”  It was that simple.

Given half a chance, Pat would have tried to bring a junkie to Jo-Ann Fabrics or Michael’s and had them pick out something to do with their hands.

Which brings me to thing number two that I’d be talking with Pat about if she were here — The scourge that is Donald J. Trump.  The knitting circle at my work and the pussy hat phenomenon, doubtless come from the same place — Scores of woman with hands and a need to do something, anything to make something, create something, build something in the face of the nihilist president.

My aunt and my sister and I have each and all wondered: What the hell would Pat say about Trump?

She’d probably throw herself deeply into doll house making, maybe making the Capitol dome, the real one already miniaturized in moral authority, wee little unethical congress.  Maybe a miniature Capitol dome would be too redundant.  Or, maybe a  White House, tiny and to scale of what real grown up governing looks like, something in line with Trump’s tiny vision, one-inch scale.

And as she built, she’d be ranting.  Each shingle on the miniature roof would be another grumble. Kellyanne Conway would be angrily painted furniture and wrapping paper cum wallpaper.  Betsy DeVos might warrant her own wing or maybe a wall.  She’d build a wall, little bricks glued together to ease the pain of a woman ignorant of how education works being in charge of the whole enchilada.  Schoolteacher Pat would be, in her word, livid.

Maybe this year’s Pat day is about Pat the ultimate maker.  And, now, in the dark days of the most fucked up presidency, the maker spirit is living.  When protests arise out of nowhere.  When knit stocking caps, and really the homespun warmth of DIY, are the cultural fashion gracing the New Yorker magazine.  When everyone is not sure what to do, but they just start doing, because to do nothing is worse.  When strangers speak up, band together, share, write postcards together, share congressional phone numbers on Facebook, march, walk, make signs, rally, write words in the sand on the beach, that’s DIY, that’s maker, that’s crafts.

The best of making shit with your hands is knowing that you can. We can all build a movement.  My next pussy hat will be made for my mother.

I’m pretty sure Donald J. Trump has never built anything with his own tiny digits.  And maybe for just that alone, Pat would never have trusted him.

Mother’s Day, Pat and life is so damned tough


I completely fucked up and didn’t write my annual tribute you on Pat’s Day, March 15, her erstwhile birthday. So, on the hallmark-iest of days, I’ll write about Pat and how much I particularly wish she were here today, right now, this week of all weeks. And, I will provide a tribute in a pic of her favorite meal.

In the way, way, way back days, Pat taught “special needs” kids. In those days of the 60s, 70s and 80s, that euphemism was used for students who had things like dyslexia or couldn’t sit still. They were normal kids with learning disabilities and rode the regular long bus not the short variety. Instead, the short bus riders were called mentally deficient or most often retarded.

Now it’s a slur, and then it was an adjective.

So, back in those dark days, my town, the same one in which Pat taught, was actually not bad in handling kids who were developmentally delayed or had an intellectual disability. I’m not sure of the best words to use. Anyway, according to what my mother and her friends told me, and my own experience, there were students from nearby towns joining our schools,nand for a few hours a day or week, the handicapped kids were “mainstreamed” into our classes. Pat was besties with Debbie, who taught, or in some cases just managed, the classroom in their school where these kids were the rest of the time, and Pat would help that class, too.

She affectionately and without a shred of malice–seriously it was a different fucking decade–called them her “retreads.”

Because I was me–a dorky, lumpen, possibly doughy little girl, who far, far preferred reading and writing to actually talking with people, and because I was for better or worse Pat’s baby and shadow in so much of her teaching life, which chronologically coincided with my schooling life, my mom had a plan. She put the word out to her teacher friends to use me in classrooms, as peer and friend to the kids getting their mainstream swerve on when I was in class.

Doubtlessly if asked, my mother would have said wryly that I actually belonged with the intellectually disabled.

It would have been a crime of capital proportions if I was anything but friendly and respectful to these other kids. I think one disparagement would have pushed Pat over the line from threatening a physical beating to actually doing it. So I was on a first name basis with kids with all sorts of issues — cerebral palsy, what was probably autism, Tourette’s Syndrome, Down’s, Fragile X–all of the things that could get them beaten up by the bullies.

I also learned from Pat and her friend Debbie some pretty horrible tales of mistreatment for these kids. Teacher Debbie, for example, reported physical abuse, then fostered, then adopted a friendly little boy whose dad (or step dad) would daily try to beat some sense into him. When we became adults, my mother long retired, he would great my mother by name in the local grocery store where he worked with a big smile and wave.

I was taught to just not be an asshole, and (mostly) I kept my mortification of being in with these kids in check and genuinely tried to tutor and be a friend.
Pat championed these kids. She really championed any kid who had it rough. Broken-heartedly, she also helped abused kids, including testifying in court for a poor little dude who came to her for help, which led to the revelation that he was being sexually abused.

As a side visual — there was a lot about Pat that was more grandmotherly than motherly in appearance. With her cap of sometimes untamed curly hair, big glasses and panty hose, standing all of 5-foot-2, she was not a MILF. She was kindly and comfortable to the kids, and undoubtedly they cried in her soft arms more than I ever did. I never really talked with her about sex, since that seemed so out of her area of expertise, so I can only imagine how desperate the little boy was who came to her with a health issue involving the most private of his parts.

Why am I thinking of all of this on Mother’s Day? Because this week, more than many a week, maybe ever a week, I would love to hear what Pat would say. 
In my daily life, because I am still the little girl who Pat made befriend developmentally disadvantaged folks, I chatted with a guy around my age who could only handle minimal tasks and mostly talked about baseball. He has been a fixture of my morning routine for years, greeting me with a smile and “Good Morning, Sunshine,” and I talked to him like I was taught normally to people with intellectual disabilities in a place where some people ignored him.

He was arrested this week, accused of child molestation, and then his home was searched, and they say they found child porn. After the news broke, I found out through people who knew him better than me, that at least on paper, he was not actually one of Debbie’s “retreads.” Because of the labeling and terrible situations years ago (and probably still), his mom never wanted him to be one of those short-bus kids.

So who knows what has happened, and whether anything is true. Innocent until proven otherwise. In the newspaper, he’s a grown man. But assuredly he wasn’t on the same page intellectually with most men his age. He’s sitting in jail, where certainly he will be broken if only because of his own stubborn adherence to his own daily routine.

But, he may have done one of the worst crimes you can commit.

So I wish I could hear from Pat. I wish I could hear her heart, the ferocious defender of the less fortunate. I wish I could hear her professionally, the teacher for decades of so many kids with so many problems. Where would her feelings fall? What would she say? I need her help to understand a fucked up, monstrous, horrible, bad thing. I want my mommy.

Wee tim’rous beastie, go fuck yourself

 

 I am a wreck.

I am not Bobby Burns, writing an ode despairing man’s cruel dominion over nature.  Nope, I want the mouses dead.  Dead. Dead.  Stiff, widowed, toes up.  I want patricide, matricide, infanticide, generations of you wriggling, poohing, dirty things off the mortal cool.  Anything short of moribund or better post mortem is not enough.

Somewhere in the universe if there is energy or spirit left lingering from the living soul that was my mother Pat, she is laughing loud and long at my misery.  It’s a cosmic joke begun decades ago as she cursed my very soul for her four-legged mini tormentors.

In New England, mouse are a different beast, methinks.  In the deep cold of winter, a field mouse might poke its nose into your home and sojourn there in the warmth and light with food at hand.  It’s Club Med for sure for mice in February.  

Quickly after discovery, you can box up your food, set a few traps, and the mouse Biarritz the murine spa is shut down for good.  All guests leave through the same exit, a broken neck from one late snack at the mousetrap buffet.   The episode ends and after a little cleaning, it’s a forgotten nuisance.

Periodically, not every winter but some, Pat’s house was host to a field mouse or to coming in from the cold.  They scared the ever-;pvomg shit out of her.

There were only two scenarios in my life where I can remember my mother channeling olympic speed.  The first was actually kind of wonderfully heroic.  She had at one time in her life passed the Red Cross rescue swimming certifications, and summers at the beach she’d sit in the sandchair circle with the other mothers.  But as soon as a kid seemed to have drifted out deep toward actual danger, she’d sprint to the water’s edge ready for action.

The second scenario is the point of these words.  Faced with a small rodent in her home, she could leap to a chair or countertop with an NBA-worthy vertical or run from the room in a burst of speed.  Arguably, it was the most helpless and weak that she had ever seemed to me.  Cowed by a three-inch flash of gray fur, squeezing under the counter.

When she lived alone, Pat could steel herself to buy, bait and set traps.  But there was no way in hell she’d go near the trap again, lest it had successfully fallen a victim.  Even a dead mouse was too much to bear.

She’d call me insistently to come and empty the traps.  

One day, I did my daughterly duty and came by to empty her mouse traps.  I was given a bag, a shovel and no furhter instructions.  When the very dead mouse was in the bag, which was then closed and rolled down on the top, thoroughly sealed, I went to ask my dear mother what was next.

The bag dangled in my hand, and she Usain Bolted from the room.  She ran to the bathroom and in one move, she jumped on the toilet and slammed the door. Through the closed door she screamed.  Then she screamed at me, Hysterically, she accused me of tormenting her and exercising acts of extreme cruelty.  In her version of the story, I was throwing multiple dead mice at her as she defenselessly cried for help.

It was then that she cursed me.  She accused me of bringing the mouse with me solely to hurt her.  

So here I am today.  The California mice have me beat.  They aren’t Bobby Burns’ mouse shivering I the track of his plough.  They aren’t New England field mice looking for respite from cruel winter weather.  They  are bad roommates who move in without lease or notice and shit on the floor.

I’m doing everything to clean up.  I have spent three days in a homemade hazmat suit of long sleeves coupled with rubber gloves and a bandana pulling out every corner and nook vacuuming up mountains of pellets of pooh. I’ve loaded the washing machine with loads of pillows, blankets, clothes, napkins, towels, everything that may have been touched by their creepy, dirty paws.  

A professional wildlife eradicator guy has set traps and plugged some holes.  He’s taped up a duct that was likely a mouse highway to our inside from the outside.  He’s toured our garage, our yard and crawled the full length and breadth of our crawlspace under the house leaving bait and traps.

We are having our carpets cleaned and getting help overturning every remaining place where they might have been.

The haD been An unfortunate moment in which we uncovered a nest that had me screaming horror film shrieks.  But mostly I’ve been maintaining.  Head down, I’ve been doing what needs to get done.

Until tonight.  I found my favorite measuring cup and glass bowls sprinkled with feces.  As I rinsed and threw them into the dishwasher I gagged and began to cry, completely undone.

I just want them gone.  I want this over.  I want everything to be clean again.  I want the anxiety as I peek around the corners of the room as I type this entry to subside.

And I wish my mother was here, because I am sure she wouldn’t stop gleefully laughing at my rodent driven madness.

Pat 2015

I’ve been thinking about my mom, but I can’t figure out the angle here.  Well, there’s the anniversary of her day of birth.  But, maybe it’s this:  After getting my perfomance reviewed at work — corporate America’s annual dance or bloodletting depending on how you are doing–I keep wondering if she’d be happy or pissed at me.

First week of the month, I was going full-on existential postal.  I can’t think much about where I am in life before I start thinking of all the places that I am not.  I am not rich, famous and beautiful, and I’d be good at all three, goddamnit, so I should be.  The crisis du month, though, was the triple-decker pileup of my birthday, my performance review and this thing at my place of toil that I can’t describe but involves sharing stuff about yourself.  

Amid the self-loathing caused by age and excess self reflection, I had a fleeting thought about my mother. A point I will get to after I set it up with too much detail.

Some days, I think I confound some of my coworkers.  The environment of my paycheck generation is well-educated and high performing. It definitely charts about the curve by most definitions, or it’s proof positive that with the right motivation and circumstances, and money to pay for it, anyone can get a graduate degree.  There’s a metric ton of letters after people’s names.

I was too desirous of money and the associated purchases — groceries and rent mainly — to stick around ivied halls any longer than I had to do to get my bachelor’s.  I wasn’t burning for any more learning of the formal sort circa 1985.

From 1985 almost to the day she died, Pat, my mother, reminded me I could still go to grad school.  I let her down on that decision for decades.

Today, I am docorate-less and masters-less in a sea of masters and doctors.  I have more years of relevant experience than many, though, so I hold my own with common sense and moxie.  Hence the confounding, I just don’t defer to not knowing shit, because there’s a lot of shit I know even without the sheepskin to prove it.  

it’s a bit like the end of the Wizard of Oz; I grant myself a doctorate of thinkology.

Now here’s where Pat comes in… That woman worked hard, year after year, helping to educate other people’s kids.  That hard work full on cramped the woman’s style.  Some of the other teachers and the school administrators crushed a bit of her creative sparkle. She was a little pounded down.  By retirement, she was caved in by it all.

She indoctrinated me into a fear about work.  A fear that you could lose your job for many types of infractions.  She had near perfect attendance over years and years.  She carried out all of the side jobs and extra tasks asked of teachers with nary a complaint — bus duty, after hours tutoring, grading papers on her own time, mentoring young teachers and helping with banquets and school events in the evenings.

I learned and listened and I have almost perfect attendance and do a lot of good citizeny extras at work.  But try as I might I can’t bury my non-conformist tendencies.  I am a good worker bee in a happy hive, but I’m a square peg in a round-holed world.

Problem is, I like it.

So, I work in a job that is easy for me.  I sacrifice some pay and will likely never have a good title, but I know everyone in the building.  My days are laid out with honkingly wide swathes of leeway and not a lot of  having my clocked punched by somebody else.

It’s a trade off.  It’s a choice.  And, it’s a little bit of anxiety.  If I got the gig where I got the pay that meant I have to manage stuff, I might fail.  I might have to leave my sneakers at home.  I might have to be at my desk for geometrically larger periods of time than I am now.

I think Pat might see the genius of my choice.  For good benefits and a not awful paycheck, the man isn’t keepnmg me down and the thoughts inside my head are free to breathe.

Outwardly, she’d tell me to do more.  She’d ask about promotions and growth opportunities.  She’d worry. 

Or maybe she’d smile.

Arts or crafts

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I think there is one core part of my being that potentially makes me a truly shitty “writer.” I like to do too many things, most of which are not writing.

My fatal flaw is a wide streak of dilettante.

Dilettante has a shitty ring to it, of course, what with it’s negative connotations of shallowness and lack of ability. On a high self esteem day, I might argue that I can write the shit out of a sentence. Even on a weak day though I can claim knowledge of basic sentence structure and grammar.

Evidence? I just consciously re-wrote the sentence above to be TWO sentences. I know that kind of shit.

I consider writing an art. I aspire to be an artist.

My soul, however, values craft. I went to journalism school rather than a creative writing program for that one word. Craft. I may not have the soul of an artist.

I could blame my mother, Pat. Not in a Freudian way, although like all modern day people I can cite a whole lot of ways the woman from whom I emerged left her indelible marks. Turnabout is fair play, I left my mark when she had her fourth Cesarian.

My mother believed, truly believed, like a religion, like a creed, Pat believed in hobbies. She believed in crafts. My mother raised my sister and me to bake, to sew, to knit, to decoratively paint, to buy kits from stores like Michael’s and Joann’s Fabric, to try to make something. We were makers way before making was a thing, a phenomenon.

I made this website.

The first bathroom I ever saw with a sponged walls was not in a plush restaurant with warm terra cotta tones. It was our home bathroom the day Pat stripped the wall paper and tried something new.

Way, way, way back in the wayback machine of time, I didn’t know that people bought mittens at stores. I thought they had pointy tops and thumbs and came from four pointy knitting needles whose double-sides became stealth weapons of surprise when discovered between couch cushions. I thought that mittens were always made from variegated yarn. In hindsight, variegated yarn is the best defense (short of double-pointed needles) against children and a winter of multiple lost mittens.

Making things is so damn satisfying. After reading instructions and following a pattern or free-styling a new recipe, you have something. You have in your hand a tangible product of your toil.

The photo at the top is a knitted pig made in pieces from a hemp and cotton blend yarn and then stuffed and sewn together. I made it.

Satisfyingly, over a few episodes of binge watching the BBC’s Cumberbatch-tastic version of Sherlock, I had a cuddly toy.

(I kind of like Martin Freeman, as John Watson, a bit more than the admittedly heart- and other-throbbing Benedict Cumberbatch. Maybe it’s the frequent assumptions of his own gay attraction to the Cumberbatch. Or maybe it’s that his name is easier to pronounce.)

Writing is not as satisfying. I re-read stuff I have sweated, and I don’t see adorable stuffed pig. I see words that fail to say what I mean. I see editing and mistakes and just nothing.

I will re-read this post and thing “meh.”

I will pour blood from my fingertips in confession or joy, or maybe I will create some thought that hasn’t yet been created in the universe. It will sit never better than just OK in my heart.

In crafts, I can critique and think of small changes to make the next attempt better. In writing, in art, I am I own worst critic. I will allow a vague smile at the occasional turn of phrase.

At this point in my life, I have at least learned to take praise with a simple “thank you” rather than a full on assault suggesting that the utterer of said praise is an utter moron for liking what I produced. I’ve had times on stages or in front of crowds where I have thought to myself, fleetingly, “Yeah, I got this…”

Writing is lonely. I prefer to be physically alone in the house or at least in another room from people, including the one who agreed to marry me. I cannot watch TV and write. I cannot listen to the news, podcasts and some types of music. I cannot do it as easily as I can do so many other things, and I can’t do it with distractions and pop ups of computer notifications calling.

I distrust myself to ever do what I want in my heart to do well. With crafts, I can find forgiveness in small defects and see the larger whole.

In short, I need to get working on the teddy bear I’ve started with fuzzy baby blanket yarn. It’s variegated in various shades of brown. Let’s consider it an homage to Pat and the dozens of mittens made a long, long time ago.

Pat was a maker.

I am my mother, Act 2

Caringtoday Somewhere, sometime, some place, maybe in the 1960s or 1970s, my mother was told she had arthritis. That is all I know.
She never had the balled up knuckles of rheumatoid arthritis, and she mostly complained that walking hurt. I think there may have been an X-ray, or maybe just a Marcus Welby-style MD probing her knees and hips and thighs and ankles and declaring that her joints were wearing down to nubs of bone against bone without the juicy lubrication of cartilage.

In other words, she probably had something similar to what today’s modern medicine has declared for me. The doctor’s email called it “severe osteoarthritis of the left hip.” I walk funny, and it hurts as I limp and lurch across the floor.

One could note that it absolutely a cosmic joke that I now have the mobility issues and pain with which Pat soldiered on for many years. She stubbornly got no medical help, popping NSAIDs sporadically and occasionally and begrudgingly using a cane she dug up from some closet and hacked at herself with a saw to whittle it to the right height.

In her final years, I accompanied her grocery shopping, where she maintained a death grip for stability on the handle of a grocery cart. Each year getting in and out of my car was an affront and an admonition to buy a better, more suitable model. Although, the yellow VW Beetle seemed to work OK.

We argued that she should see a doctor. They, the doctors, she said, told her there was no point, there was nothing they could do. A dubious claim, but maybe true in the 1960s. We argued over at least taking over the counter painkillers. For a while I convinced her to stay on a routine of taking Ibuprofen rather than waiting for the pain to get too bad for it to help. But, then, she would forget to eat while taking the pills and the upset stomach would outweigh the pain in her legs, and she would stop taking anything.

She did confide on a regular visit that she was afraid to drive, because the pain in her legs was weakening her ability to control them. I went along with the face-saving story that the car was itself not working correctly.

I was a nag, a scold, a worrier. I tried to help with solutions, like suggesting a walker, a horrifying prop that would scream to the world that she had become an old lady. I would bring over different brands of drugs and did constant reading up on what doses would be the most effective and how to take them. In the end, I would (mostly) allow her to complain of the pain without my comments and try to get her outside in the world to keep her muscles moving. I always let her steer the grocery cart.

So here I am. I am now admonishing myself, when I stubbornly decide to ignore the pain. Because of the years I trailed her grocery cart cum walker, I still use a basket or let M. steer the cart. I don’t like admitting that my walking has gotten pretty bad, rarely without at least a limp.

In turns I hide the pain or I complain, just as my mother before me.

But the medical establishment has shown me the picture of my hip, and it truly is not a healthy looking joint. My right hip shows up on film cheerily with a nice round femoral head curving into the acetabulum of my pelvis surrounded by desirable puffy white clouds of cartilage. The picture of my left hips is dull shades of gray and black shadows without spaces of white and with an uncomfortable looking angle. The surgeon tells me I may have been born this way — slightly off balance and prone to have the cartilage wear away in a grating gate.

Bad genes or congenital deformity or the gods laughing at those moments of impatience when I rushed my own mother along or had her out walking longer than was comfortable.

My future is plastic and titanium. The plan is a total hip arthroplasty, as the medical people say, or a total hip replacement in my world. They will saw off the bone at the top of my leg, and jam in a modern machine. It scares the shit out of me, at the same time I am intrigued by the cyborg dimension of it all and the prospect of walking pain free. The recovery sounds like a bitch, and I will not buy the fanny pack the medical guide suggestions for those dark days when I walk with a walker.

When I become better, stronger, faster, more metallic and unable to travel through airport security, I will not be my mother. Pat was not a robot.

Healthbase Zimmer Total Hip Replacement Implant Components

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I am my mother, Act 1

HitlerPortrait Gandhi
I’m not sure, but I think one thing that was crazy about my relationship with my mother, Pat, besides calling her Pat far too frequently, was knowing a great deal about her trials, tribulations and occasional successes at work. Maybe other people write their parent’s job performance reviews?

Because of this knowledge, I know that I am as equally fucked up as her in a distinct way. As employees we are beloved and hated in crazy polar opposites, in melodramatic huge shifts. She had people who were Shakespearean ne’er-do-wells looking to score points with kings (or superintendents) off of Pat’s guileless and unprotected flanks. She championed the good and got hurt by the bad.

I knew of the love. She had friends who became my teachers. She had students who were my peers. They adored her (albeit weirdly brisk and aloof) warmth. They gushed about how great a teacher she was and how she had transformed lives with patience and care. She literally gave clothes and peanut butter sandwiches to those without them. If her version of history has any accuracy (she was not one for laser focus in her storytelling), she helped boost the career of a new teacher who was labeled by the aforementioned ne’er-do-wells as an odd duck who maybe shouldn’t be near kids. That teacher turned out to be one of the most memorable science teachers in our town, ultimately still remembered by her own grandchildren years after his initial hazing.

Pat had enemies, though. There were fellow teachers who hated her focus on old-school techniques that had proven successful and took draconian steps in enlisting administration to force her to conform to new education trends. Both her shyness and her quirky sense of humor made her colleagues uncomfortable, I gather, and they would relish opportunities to make fun of her. She was also for many years a sole representative of what is now a normal state, a single, working mom.

As an absolutely unwavering advocate for the children she taught, she also had a fair amount of complaints from parents. The saddest case was when she was brought into court to testify that a junior high student told her that something was wrong, and she and her friend the school nurse helped him get treatment for a sexually transmitted disease. She was devastated by the rock and a hard place of saving a kid from child abuse at home, but then helping the courts send him into the chaos and uncertainty of foster care.

On bus duty, she was thrown into a shouting match with a threatening dad, who resorted to dirty names, because she wouldn’t let his spawn off the bus. A fact of modern life with a prevalence of custody battles and other perils is that parents must notify schools if they are to change the routine or pick up their children outside of the prearranged plans. Pat took the name calling and the screaming unwilling to be bullied into sending a kid into the hands of a screaming maniac without knowing for sure if he was indeed dear old dad. At least in a calmer moment, he called to apologize.

So, right then, what the fuck is the point I am feebly making about myself?

I have enemies. Well, I don’t have enemies, since I’d have to give a bit more of a fuck to gin up the passion to hate certain people. But enemies have me. Some people just don’t dig the groove I be laying down.

My true exemplar of attracting the wrong kind of attention in the work place was, of course, the great employment drama of July 2004. July is now and forever a wonderful month of the sweet trumping the bitter. In 2004, I found out scientifically from a therapist that I am not a psychopath and essentially got a paid year off from office life, and now I live in a town that does July 4 like it’s 1970. Eventually, I even got to hear the end of my own story and of my vindication. Done in by a co-worker who wanted me done in, who himself was ultimately found out and done in. Karma is a good thing, and one of us now sells real estate.

But all of the above is history, and with the Grateful Dead coming up in iTunes while I sit in a surfer town down the coast from the city where hippies once ruled, I must be here now!

Modern day Silicon Valley is where I have had the privilege of meeting my first Californian-flavored antagonist. Better yet, I got to find out how hard she was gunning for me as she exited the door, moving away to a place in which our paths likely will never cross again. In the grand scheme of things, I weather the dark side much better now. Still and all, some people just don’t like me and what stands me apart from the crowd, they have the need to tell me.

Like my mother before me, I took it. I listened. I refused to assume the worst until the worst was done. Thankfully, and perhaps because of Pat’s and my own stories, over the past couple of years I never quite got sucked into the dark vortex. I mean for me I full on walked a path that Gandhi himself would have said “holy fuckballs, you are have saint-like patience.” OK, he probably would have said something wise in Hindi or Gujarati, and he might not have said holy fuckballs or made a saint reference, but he could have. (My computer spell checked that as duckbills. Oh ‘puter, you don’t know me.)

In the end, the final act, right before the credits rolled, I thought we had come to a late in the movie understanding, a cathartic understanding that bygones could and would be bygones. That life had moved on and there would be a golden sunset, as enemies hugged and forgot why they had ever fought.

I am an idiot.

The last scene was instead a monolog of vindictiveness. I was told that I am a manipulator extraordinaire, a genius of subterfuge, flatteringly the only person in a long and storied life and career who had ever acted unkindly or stabbed a back so deeply. I am clearly super human by the amount of credit for cruelty I was given. My favorite line, since it was one of those moments when someone is talking that you just have to not burst out in laughter lest you get cracked in the face, was the following bit of twisted logic:

I figured out who you are. You’re the kind of person who makes themselves indispensable, who really works hard to get management to like their work, and then you can do know wrong. You are indispensable and they trust you and you then use that to get to them and they listen. You used that against me.

So, wait, I almost blurted, you fucking hate me, because I’m competent?

For a little while I have sat with this tale and the criticisms lobbed that were lobbed at my head. I weighed it all and felt sad that a fellow human was clearly hurt and had misunderstood so much so completely. Chump that I am, I tried to explain myself while effusing out piles of empathy.

In the end, I told the story to someone who knows us both. Someone who is also one of the least dramatic or prone to hyperbole I know. The final word that hadn’t occurred to me about my situation, but that I had always considered whenever Pat was similarly embroiled, some humans are mean. Just mean, malevolent souls.

And, I happily walk away knowing, I am just not that mean.

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The other Mother’s Day

I was reading that it is never ever St. Patty’s Day on March 17. But, today is March 15, and Patty’s Day it is, the erstwhile day of birth of my old, and not quite sainted mother.

Erstwhile, perhaps, because can you celebrate birthdays when the guest of honor no longer stomps the earth?

So many reasons to think of my mother, Pat, today. Not the least of which is being there for the funeral of M.’s mother. The ceremony, the prayers, the food, the people, the rituals so different. Yet the similarities so deep.

Both M. and I grew up with just one parent. My dad died when I was four. His dad and mom split when he was a kid and then dad died young. Now we are both orphans together.

Like for my mother’s wake, a wave of older people came by for M.’s mother. So many people identifying as friends, explaining who they were, where they lived, how lives intersected. For both women, the presence of these mourners spoke to affections and warmth and relationships that we, as children, did not know. Shading into depth the women we knew only as mom, but they knew as a friend.

Comic relief: My favorite old broad who came by to say goodbye to M.’s mom, walked up to him, and I’m told said to him, “If you don’t remember who I am, I will slap your face.”

I hope a long line of people drops by my remaining body to call me friend in the end. Of course, I hope more to have more years of partying it up and making and having friends.

M. and I have talked about our mothers. It seems to me that they were both gentle people bruised by unexpected circumstances and tragedies big and small. Each woman was shy and reserved, sometimes too passive, sometimes just bound to get the smallest piece of pie, shortest straw or dealt the unlucky hand.

Each of them squirreled away pennies, sacrificing their own wants, for their kids.

Consequently, M. and I each rail against an imagined fate, louder, stronger, more resolute than the women who raised us. We don’t save money for cake tomorrow. We buy cake today and enjoy it with gusto.

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Holy shit, I wanted this one to be funny and light. As the kids say — FAIL.

Here’s the manifesto to put the morose and melodramatic bullshit behind.

Every month of March, every year, hell every freaking day, I want to remember and climb on the hand offered to me. Our mother’s didn’t die in vain. Our mother’s didn’t live lives of privation for no reason. Precisely because our mother’s didn’t have every opportunity and real life undercut their dreams, we will live ours.

Don’t wait. Don’t stop. Don’t allow worry and anxiety to be roadblocks.

Dream and more importantly act.

Hate your fucking job? Leave.

Landlord sucks? Move.

Tired of the cold and snow? Relocate.

Today, and I hope every day, if I don’t fucking laugh at least once, I haven’t done it right.

For both our mother’s, who weren’t given the chances to do it all, we will try to cram in the fun we can in the days we have left. Misery is not an option.

It ought to be a holiday

Every year, well more frequently than that, I think about my mother. I think about her on the Ides of March, the portentous day in which Brutus stabbed Caesar and my mother was born. Not the same year, mind you, as I’m not tapping this out on my ancient Roman computer.

Actually, it was portent upon portent for old Pat. She was born on the Ides of March the year of the stock market crash for the Great Depression. She was meant for great things.

So, another anniversary rolls around.

I like to remember the ways in which Pat stood out from the crowd. Or in my warped and selfish and self-absorbed brain, the ways in which Pat affected me and stood out from the crowd.

Today’s memory is tied to the current season of my manual toil. OK, typing and sitting at a desk isn’t manual labor, but some days it grinds you just the same. I got callouses on my tappy type finger tips.

At work these days the pesky little papers (now computer files) that once a year worker drones planet-wide, or at least U.S.-wide, bemoan are due — the annual performance reviews. The neat little report where you and your boss get to write out how you’re “meeting expectations” and otherwise doing what a cog does when one is employed.

You say to yourself right about now, I can hear you breathing and thinking, you say, but how does that relate to Pat. Surely, she was not your boss, apart from the sense in which we are all subordinates to our mothers.

Well, here’s the thing. I might be one of the only people rambling around that has written their own performance “self reports” for the decades that I have been employed as a grown up adult, who got their start years before they were allowed to work.

Pat, enmeshed in some heavy duty politics and just short of Brutus-like backstabbing in my town’s school system, turned her typewriter over to her precocious daughter one fine day and asked for her help in word smithing her review. She had to describe her classroom contributions, and since she floated around helping learning disabled kids within other people’s classrooms, she had to talk about that too.

By nature, she was a mix of fierceness on some opinions and topics (ahem, Catholic molesters) and shy reticence on a whole lot more. She complained to those nearest and dearest, but she was way too polite to complain to anyone or anything with any authority, including a cashier at a convenient store. (Although, the school teacher might pop out at any time if said cashier couldn’t do the math to make simple change.)

Real humility, not the false stuff that often passes for humility, was part of her core, and she could not find any words at all to describe what she contributed. She knew what she did, but she couldn’t spin it to advertise her brand.

I could do that for her and with some nudging to not get carried away with florid prose extolling her greatness, together we spoke about her patience with kids in the classroom. Her vast experience. Her gentle but persistent nature. Her true and deep caring for children and learning and education. Her mastery of basic skills and pedagogies and learning methods. That she could set and meet goals until the sun rose and set a hundred years.

She was a champion to a whole lot of kids fumbling in classrooms with dyslexia, a host of other syndromes and disorders, and simply poor study skills.

Pat was also a drill sergeant. No misplaced modifiers, misspellings (which I incidentally just mistyped), prepositions dangling at a sentence’s end, no math not shown happened on her watch. For the stuff where there is a right and wrong way to do it, by god she was going to teach you the right way or die trying.

All of her skills, the ones that made strangers come up to me in high school and beyond and say they knew my mother and that she was great, they were in her heart effortlessly as a teacher.

But, she did suck at telling management what was up. I helped do that for her. I was a kid and it was a fun writing assignment and in truth I had no feel for the politics or fear of the consequences, so I could write without inhibition. She could not. It became an annual ritual in her later years of work.

Now, about a thousand years later, or maybe just shy of that, I have to do the same kind of reports for myself.

So, I sit at my desk and return to the game that I had done at my mother’s typewriter. I right fast and furiously, and I have learned how to advertise my own brand but temper it with a soupçon of self-reflection. I allow for the things I do not know, and I hammer out my strengths. I find the notes of self improvement that are surmountable and demonstrate my good attitude.

I try very hard not to by cynical. But, for that to happen, I do not dwell, I do not agonize. If I spend over 15 minutes on the thing, at about 10 minutes in, I walk away until my head is in the game and I give it only 5 minutes more.

It’s impossible to tell your boss that in addition to my 25-30 years of doing the things for myself, I might have done 10 years more. We breeze through the things, the virtual online handshake is done and another year will pass.

And my highest proof of mastery were the words of my attorney, the one I hired on account of my work at the time not really feeling the love, the labor lawyer who helped me out of a jam. That besuited gentleman pulled all of my Human Resources records out of the belly of the employment beast, and he went through each paper with the loving care that an hourly fee will get you.

Upon sage and learned analysis, he proclaimed that while many a person had come through his office doors with a sad story to tell about the workplace, almost all of them had some marks in their permanent records. But my file, the years of reviews and meetings, they were a pristine and glimmering example. He said in all his years of lawyering he had never seen such stellar performance reviews.