If Nixon could have an enemies list, why can’t I?

I’ve written about it before, and if I weren’t too lazy, I could find it and link it. It is my mother’s knack for sorting the good eggs from the bad’ns.

This skill has been on my mind, because in today’s universe, or maybe it’s the California-tinged corner of the universe where I now reside, I’m not sure that’s considered a skill anymore. Somehow, it seems, it’s not politically correct or otherwise not cricket to call a person who whiles away their days behaving in a douchey manner a douchebag.

It used to be that if you called someone who stole your lunch money, called you names, pulled your hair or otherwise fucked you up in the schoolyard, a jerk and said you didn’t like him, you’d be an astute observer of human behavior. Now, there are bullying programs to try to reach the behavior and educate the assholes to stop being assholes.

The good guys, the victims, they are exhorted to not be judgmental, to examine their own behaviors, to show compassion and help teach the wayward fuckwads.

Yeah, here’s another idea, can’t I just tell you to fuck off and leave me alone?

Probably not hard to surmise that even as I approach half a century and think about how I want to live the waning minutes I have left, I still want to call a bully out for his horseshit. (By the way, my iPad just spellchecked that last word with an option of horses-hit. Trying using that in a sentence.)

Back to my mom, Pat. She was in many many many ways extraordinarily shy and/or reserved. She ate cold steak rather than “cause a scene” and send poorly prepared food back at a restaurant.

I witnessed her getting taken advantage of by the more sly and calculating and assertive in the world. For years at the school where she taught, a cadre of politically well-connected and outspoken teachers ruled the hallways. The rest of the teachers had extra bus and lunch room duty and no chance for any of the work that might garner extra pay. The power elite kept those gigs to themselves.

Over the years, she lost pooled sick time to slackers, while she herself literally never took a day of leave. OK, there was the one day, when my brother had appendicitis in Moscow, but that was only on account of the time difference for the frantic phone calls with our Russian-speaking family dentist to the embassy.

But, all at the same time, she was outspoken about injustice and bullshit when it was pervasive and hurt others. No underdog could have a stronger advocate in their corner to stare down anything from serious evil (like testifying in court for a student scheduling and physically abused) to petty misdemeanor.

In the latter category, I think she won this battle, but the memory is hazy.

For a school awards banquet one night, she was one of the teachers on the set up and decoration committee of parents and teachers. A couple of local moms, wanting to gussy up the auditorium had a brilliant idea — beautiful fresh flowers arranged in sprays and bouquets around the area. The source of the posies was none other than the neighboring cemetery. Their rationale, and by god it was the definition of rationalizing bad behavior, they wouldn’t be missed since the funeral was over and people had gone home.

Not being down with grave robbing and desecration and just general shittiness, I think old Pat succeeded in shaming them to put every stem back where it came from, in the dark.

Ironically, I wrote all of the above the day before M. was an invited speaker at a local high school tech club. In a swanky auditorium at the swanky community center in the swanky town, it appeared that the students had done everything themselves — from professional looking brochures, queuing up all A/V in advance and executing it behind the speakers and behind the scenes, and getting snacks catered by a local restaurant. At the end, they presented M. with a gift, a lovely orchid that was clearly alive, thriving and not stolen from a graveyard.

Anyway, I wish we could go back to the days of not pretending that we are all on the same page. Some people are not bothering to use facts when they argue factually. Some people like to blame and finger point. And some people are just fucking assholes, and we should be allowed, nay encouraged, to call them out.

Big asshole (Karl Rove) or small (line cutters and annoying colleagues), I know who you are and I’m not above calling a spade a spade.

More on money, but not mine

After a 20+ “career,” or something like a career, I guess the kids call them “jobs,” working in non-profits and grant management, I ended up in a strange little niche. Instead of looking for money, I help give it away.

The environment is greater than first world conditions, it's privilege and quality of life and life-work balance.

Smack dab in the world of the richies, my poor self works.

Life is literally a buffet, at least on some days of the week. And, almost every damn day, having been trained as the accomplice to my mother's many capers, I have to squash deep down the desire to tuck a free bagel or yogurt or two, wrapped in a reused plastic bag, into my purse.

Allah will provide

Growing up I had an a mythical or maybe horrific relationship with money and finances. It was a semi-idealistic view, but with an undercurrent of mixed messages and vague dread.

The basics were covered. Food, clothing, shelter, yup, we had them. So I didn't want. At least I didn't identify with the kids in the government-subsided apartments in town or the ones who carried their tattered meal cards that promised hot food every day. I had my ham and cheese sandwich on white bread and an apple, thank you very much, I was good.

Yet, I wanted. I knew my pants might get tighter and shorter for a few more months than the better dressed girls growing alongside me. Some of the same designer labels hugged my back and backside except in my case the labels were cut out or over-imprinted with another designer name — The House of Irregular.

I never noticed at home, but when I went out and ate at friends' houses, there was variety we didn't have. Or maybe freshness. Much of my gastronomical intake was from a chest freezer in the basement loaded down with day old bread and treats from the bakery outlet and meat bought in bulk and repackaged in plastic wrap in suitable meal chunks.

Ground beef was stretched across multiple days in various disguises. Burgers, chopped with onions and spices, mixed with mac and cheese, sloppy joes and fabulous taco fiestas, a new an exciting food idea in our white bread town.

It wasn't until adulthood that I understood the magnitude of my mother's feeding five kids, maintaining a household, paying for the house and all on a public school teacher's salary. I cannot type that we were poor, because that betrays what an incredible job Pat had done keeping us afloat. But, we weren't rich.

The climate on these issues was hot and cold. We didn't talk about money. Grown up stuff was solely my mother's domain, and she felt no compunction about keeping the details under her hat.

However, at a moment's notice, an unexpected squall would kick up and the lack of money would rush to the forefront of the drama. Want the coat with the little extra design and worst of all retail, first-run tag? Better run for cover before the barrage of “Who do you think I am?” “Who do you think you are?” “I work so hard, and you kids don't appreciate me.” “I work my fingers to the bone for you.” “You just take, take and think money grows on trees.”

Worst of all: “Fine. If that's what you want, you can decide. I'll just go without a coat this year, if it's that important to you.” Followed by silence. A thick, ominous silence.

Speaking of coats, Pat rocked a red dress coat with a real fur collar on special occasions, like holidays and church. On ordinary days, she'd wear the kind of ordinary, drab jackets and “car coats” that got folks through New England winters, and she wasn't opposed to wearing a hand-me-up from one of her own children. I have a dim recollection of Elmer's glue, the collar and tragedy that had my mother soaking and scrubbing fur for days. That dress coat had to survive another year, and by god she'd make it happen.

Good at math and figures and observant, I started to piece together the situation. But, money was an abstract concept for me about which I hadn't learned to manage. I only learned there wasn't enough.

The vague dread lingers in adulthood.

I seemed to have inherited Pat's knack for money management. In fact, I pretty much have made a living largely because of that knack, managing million-dollar budgets for other people.

I can make some calculations in my head. I know the logic of compounded interest. Putting together a contract or grant or spending plan is more muscle memory at this point in my career. I literally made four times what I put into my first condo when I sold it. Car dealers don't intimidate me, they are a game.

Still in all, I worry about money. Sometimes rationally. Sometimes not. I dream of having the kind of nest egg that negates any possibility of concern. Hedge fund billions.

I remain a thousandaire.

However, my mother's lessons end at one crucial point. My whole lifetime, or maybe not the first few years before my dad died, Pat scrimped and saved for survival. Only in her later years, with a paid off mortgage, a remodeled house thanks to a well-insured fire, five grown children with their own jobs and homes, a pension and a scattered but flush shoebox of investments, she still scrimped and saved as though it was for survival.

Her final years were Campbell soup, and they could have been caviar.

Worry as I might about cash, I don't live in privation.

I used Pat's money, my small inheritance, to buy a new car, finance a move cross-country, help create a settled household for my partner, who had less than me growing up. I shopped and paid off debt and created a new chapter in my life, but with a jumble of happiness, anger and bitterness.

If I had realized how much she would leave behind, I would have angrily tried to shake loose her self-induced deprivation. It's a remaining regret I have for not having done more before she died.

So, today, I worry, but I talk myself through it. I may not have a nest egg, or this week even much in my savings account. But, I have a comfortable life. My only debt I couldn't pay off in a minute is my car and our house. It's worked out in worst times than these, I remind myself.

Maybe the future will require cheese sandwiches and raman noodles again. Worry? Yes. But to live and live well and as best as I can, that is imperative. Otherwise, what's the fucking point?

Nothing to see here

I just don't feel rant-y enough these days, which I think is the death of interesting. Probably a horrible Rorschach of my twisted psyche that I equate anger with interesting.

Let's face it though. Puppies and rainbows just don't grab the headlines like massacres.

The fantastic part of the week was my aunt's visit. M. and I were both proud to show off our little house, our little town, our little lives.

My aunt revitalized me to pay tribute (or tithe) to the dearly departed Pat and try to capture something of her indelible mark on the planet. I had completely forgotten what may indeed be the punchline of one of the best little bits of her house fire saga.

After my mother's house burned just about to the ground, the phoenix rose. Well maybe it wasn't to the ground. The walls and roof were still there, but where decades of life and possessions were accumulated there now lay smoldering ruins. I honestly didn't know dishes, kitchen cabinets and food could all melt and fuse together into one unrecognizable mass dripping from the walls Dali-style.

The days after were baby steps of rebuilding. Until all is lost, you really do not understand how much you take for granted just getting through a day. Underwear, for example. When your house burns down, all you got left in that department is the smoky set of drawers on your backside. One pair of undies while everyone around you can cavalierly put on another pair without waiting for the wash cycle to spin down.

I twisted Pat's arm at Walmart. We didn't just pick up a jumbo pack of multi-colored cotton panties in her size. We picked up two. I think I coerced her into somewhere in the range of a full two weeks' of freshness.

My aunt took her to CVS for sundries. Sundries turned out to be a carefully chosen shade of lipstick and a more impulsive canned ham. The canned ham was punchline enough in the story, and you could end it there.

But, this week, my aunt reminded me of the next tier of that story. The tier that makes the story soar just a little bit higher, and reminded me of how a house fire does destroy damn near everything.

One thing you can't tell from movies or TV shows or news reports about fire is that it smells. Everything smells. Like a barbecue pit of hickory and mesquite, smoke crawls into every space.

The house smells. The air in the neighborhood smells. The clothes on you when you walk away from blaze smell. Smoke gets in your hair, your skin. The odor is pervasive. It doesn't wash out instantly. Especially so if you haven't yet gotten all of the new clothes to wear that you might need and you're making do with what you got.

Pat smelled. Behind her back, my brother took to calling her “Old Smokey.”

So, there they are in CVS examining the lipsticks, my mom and my aunt, her sister.

My aunt began to sense a little unease in the crowd in the store. People in the store had begun to smell smoke and report it to management. There was the bustle and hum of a building panic and emergency effort.

Pat looked at lipstick colors.

As they went to check out at the register, the store was beginning to enact it's safety plan and evacuate the customers. In perhaps the greatest single moment of understatement in the history of the world, Pat left the store saying, “Don't worry, it's just me.”

If I never been born

I totally missed my usual Ides of March tribute to my dear, old Pat. If she had seen this March’s birthday, she would have been 83. She’s never that far from my thoughts, Pat, mostly when I’m doing something wacky.

Recently she’s been in my thoughts, because while we never specifically talked about birth control–hell I’m still waiting for someone to take me aside and explain the facts of life–I think she’d have much to say about Rick Santorum, the Catholic church and the country’s “progressive” conversations on contraception that will ensure we move back to circa 1956.

Seriously, the national dialog has backslid into a parallel universe where medicine hasn’t changed and women are just gals waiting on husbands to save them from spinsterhood or sluttiness.

For some reason, I flashed back over 30 years to a classic Pat moment of logic clashing with the status quo.

I’ve written before about a certain friend I had back from junior high to high school past college into adult life. For ease of reference, I’ll call her Sally Mae. Now old Sally Mae caused a great deal of friction between my mater and me. Pat never liked her, and I didnt really understand until I got all growed up and had problems of my own with her.

One of the ironic aspects of Sally Mae’s and my friendship was how her mother always thought of me as a bad influence. I was a special kind of bad influence as far as school kids go. I got pretty good grades in the highest level classes. At the time I didn’t swear or drink, and my biggest hobby was reading.

Still and all, Sally Mae’s Ma didn’t trust me. She didn’t cotton to my book learning. In retrospect, I also think she thought my vocabulary was kind of uppity, which was maybe understandable given that my 12-year-old self knew more words than her. She bristled like a wet cat one of the first times I was in their house and asked where there books were. I had never been in a house without any book shelves.

Non sequitur alert: I just thought of a downside of dating in the age of tablet computers. How the hell can you just someone new if their bookshelf is virtual? You’d never have the early warning of standing in an apartment and coming upon an entire collection of Ayn Rand.

In addition to distrusting my precocious self, Sally Mae’s Ma was suspicious of my mother, because she worked and by necessity left us alone some of the time. Not for very long, mind you, since Pat was a school teacher precisely because it let her be home when her kids were.

Like a few people in our town, I think Sally Mae’s mother would have been more comfortable if instead of raising us kids to be smart and take care of ourselves, Pat just found another husband and settled herself down.

Now when I look back at that time in my life, I realize that my mother probably didn’t dislike Sally Mae as much as our fights might have indicated otherwise. Nope, I think she just knew that the family of my bestest best friend was more conservative, more bigoted and more narrow than anyone I had known to date. And by god or by nagging, she had to try to protect me from my choice in friends.

All of this relates to the current state of women’s choice and contraception through one particular day, a day in which my mother came home from the grocery store spitting with rage. Pat was apoplectic. Purple with anger. All kinds of heated. She could barely sputter out the reason.

Pat had run into Sally Mae’s mother at the store. Over the aisles of canned goods and produce they had an interesting tĂȘte-a-tĂȘte.

Now getting back to my being a bad influence and my whole family being suspect, the ironic twist is how much trouble Sally Mae and her brothers were able to attract. Their mother worried about the evils in the outside world, but overlooked the demons under her roof. For example, her darling daughter used me as a foil to hide that at 15/16 she was dating a 20+ hippie with his own apartment and van. Her special friend was a friend of her oldest brother.

Today, at the age of 48, my oldest brother still wouldn’t let me date one of his friends, let alone spend the night at his apartment or drive around in his van.

At 19 one brother in Sally Mae’s family got his girlfriend pregnant.

A mother of three boys herself, Pat, in the grocery store aisles bumped into Sally Mae’s mom and offered her sympathy for the trouble in which the kids had found themselves. I wish I had a transcript of what went down after that, but I know Pat came home enraged.

What I do know is that Sally Mae’s mother brushed aside any notion of trouble and started talking about the upcoming wedding. And, Pat, logical, unconventional, and now I realize radical Pat, told her that they shouldn’t ruin their lives. They shouldn’t marry so young, because they “had to.” The kids had choices and as the adult, Sally Mae’s mother should know that and help them make the right choice.

Words were exchanged. Much more than that, I don’t know. I’m almost certain my mother’s sanity and morals were both brought into question.

The wedding happened. So did the inevitable divorce.

Thanks to my mother’s politics, or practicality, Sally Mae’s mother took a closer watch of me. Nonetheless, her daughter lost her virginity years before I did. (Cruelly and sadly, Sally Mae told stories about me, implying to our friends that I had done all of the things that were in fact her secrets. Who knows what she told her mother.)

Now, 30 years later or so, it’s stunning to me that this conversation is still happening. Instead of more choices, we have the same or less. And narrow-minded people still get away with calling women sluts.

Not writing and writing

I guess it’s summertime and I’m busy going on adventures, like whitewater rafting, walking to the beach and barbecue. And, of course, there is my most recurring adventure, sitting on the couch and getting fat.

I’ve had some ideas for things to write here. I could write about the full on anxiety and trembling I felt whitewater rafting when the full force of my first experience on the Nile came back and I started feeling irrationally and overwhelming phobic. I could write about Dr.Laura and how I learned about her epic fail from a chat with a homeless dude named Larry in Berkeley.

I could write about my experience concocting an evening outing for work that turned into my own little amusing performance art piece in which with a little help from some friends I brought a crowd with some uptight and overeducated folks to a veritable hippie street party. I could write about the mundane, or maybe the way in which I still feel like an abused spouse in the workplace, even as I only get positive reinforcement in this job.

Or, I could do what I’ve been doing and not write.

For over a year, I’ve been naval gazing and hang wringing and other body part manipulating in a pretty unspectacular, boring cave of writer’s block. Someone asked me seriously, genuinely, strongly why do I write, or more why do I feel compelled to write. Further, he told me I didn’t have to write and I certainly didn’t have to validate myself through self-flagellation at a keyboard.

It struck home, and I haven’t gotten full on unstuck. Combine that with the sinking feeling that the books I loved as a little girl are a technology with a cloudy future. Being an author was never an easy row to hoe, now with the state of publishing it seems worse than dirt farming.

This week, or more last week, though, I was reminded by life one of the reasons I do want to write. Not to be all cliched and philosophical at the same time, but sharing stories is kind of what it’s always been about humanity wise.

A good friend, someone who I feel would have been a great friend had I not fled Boston, lost her mom. For the past year or so, she’s been keeping house and cooking meals and taking care of her mother however she needed. She emailed me a few days before when her mom was in a bad state after a stroke and then a series of strokes. The inevitable happened on Thursday.

Now, on the side of the country I left, she’s gone through the busy flurry of wakes and a funeral and having folks back to the house and making food and eating and storing food. No doubt, she’s functioning on autopilot and in the coming months she’ll feel intensely the change in the universe from not having to worry any more about her mother’s fragility and missing the place where her mother used to be.

I have the kernel of the idea about my mother, Pat, and me, and a few shallow chapters on my ‘puter, because story telling keeps us sane and keeps us knowing we aren’t alone. Not only would I get to exercise my demons by writing them down, but just maybe a reader would dig it and breath a little easier.

I can’t do anything to help my friend out but talk on the phone. I told her about my small smoking binge for the months that followed Pat’s funeral. It felt OK when she, having quit years ago, told me she and her brothers had been having a smoke on the stoop. For both of us, I think, there’s something cathartic in knowing someone else did the exact same thing.

The other day, I took a day off of work for no reason and with no plan. Ultimately, I wandered the aisles of Target and Daiso, a Japanese store with housewares and junk. It was relaxing to have absolutely no agenda. I came home with new underpants and various things for the house.

I laughed out loud in one department of a department store. A middle-aged woman and an older woman, crooked from osteoporosis, stood side by side in front of a shelf if empty bins. The older woman was examining a little plastic storage bin, carefully considering the possible purchase. The other woman, who really could only have been her daughter, questioned why she could possibly need it.

“You never can have enough storage, you know.”

The retort was quick and exasperated, “Yes, you can. Especially when you have no where to put it.”

I smiled a friendly head nod, as I passed by them in the aisle.

The dialog and its tone were so familiar, so comfortable. Among friends and strangers, I’m sensitive to all of the daughters and all of the mothers living through the last phase of their relationships. It’s a tough rite of passage, frustrating and rewarding.

On top of losing my mother, there are also a thousand ways in which I remember the Pat I did know and have in my life. I almost wrote on Twitter the other day that I can’t pass doll house furniture without quashing the urge to pick something up for her.

I wish now I could get some of her inspired and surprising creativity.

For example, I know she could help with another thing I could write about–a friend with breast cancer. She’s an unlikely friend, in that we’re not contemporaries (in fact she’s the same age as my uncle) and lives in Washington, DC. Still and all, we are long-distance coworkers who have swapped stories and realized some kinship, including strong-charactered mothers, and sharp, wicked senses of humor that have caused almost as much trouble as laughter.

As the contemporary of my aunt and uncle and from the generation about which Gail Collins writes, she’s straight up first generation feminist and solidly liberal. The pink ribbons, pink everything else and what Barbara Ehrenreich bitches about for its infantilism leaves her flat.

As does the notion that she should be a docile and placid patient, as opposed to the pugnacious fighter in her soul. I pity the poor oncologist or radiologist who doesn’t take the time to explain enough.

I want to send her something, especially post surgery and going into her second chemotherapy treatment, when she’s talking wig shopping and whether to go down to the army base for a $10 head shave from the barber there (apparently that’s a real option). If Pat were here, we could brainstorm. No doubt she’d come up with an off-the-wall scheme or some bizarre conglomeration of bargains and nonsense. Maybe she’d loan her a hat.

At gift-giving moments like this one, I always imagine the crazy, ragtag, assembled over weeks gift basket, which in my memories was colossally large, that Pat put together for a retiring colleague.

She didn’t leave behind blueprints for how to do such projects proud. I need those skills and those plans now, with one friend sick and another grieving.

At the same time, I need to remember all of the fights and frustration, big and small, with Pat or with life, including all of the many indignities she described as holding her back in life. If I remember the thousand things that made her great and the thousand things that made her troubled, i might have a story. I definitely would have a reason to not become complacent,

My life ain’t bad, But, somewhere there is still a gnawing. Maybe the words will escape some day, late to help my friends, but in time for some one else.

I'm not a mother but I had one

In full disclosure, I loves me an internet dustup. For some reason other people’s fucked-up-edness makes me feel calmer about my own fucked-up-ed petty self.

Also, in full disclosure, on the side of people ascribing violence to words, I have my own history that keeps me picking sides. Somewhere in Boston, someone probably gives himself a rousing pat on the back now and again for getting me shitcanned for writing those words. Maybe hearing that I landed softly (I got fucking lemon trees in my yard, and they ain’t even metaphorical), he figures he played a role in helping me on to a new life. But, I will never forget/forgive being sent to see a psychiatrist because of words, you know the creative writing type.

This thing going on in the mommy-land “tweets’ of Twitter is described by THE key player here. Basically, she wrote on Twitter “If I smother my 3 year old…is it really a crime.” In other words, using the newfangled computer machines, she said something about a million twenty mothers of toddlers have wondered, thought, said or silently hummed in some way or another.

But, in another side of the Twitter universe, another mom, or maybe it was really a group of mothers, a posse if you will, got worried. It’s unclear and hard to play detective and sleuth through the disparate threads. I think some comments were deleted, and nothing from the “#storystraight” crowd really elucidates what happened. Mostly, I gather, the person in the middle is not an asshole. Fair enough.

Anyway, one way or another some cops showed up to make sure the mom was not really hell bent on smothering. How much would that suck? Seriously, you can speculate on the worseness of dead babies all you want, but a knock on the door from the po po looking for some answers is a major night dampener. Your average non-crime committing person is going to feel like his/her parade has been peed on majorly.

But, really, it’s not about what did or didn’t happen that has led to the gibberish that I am now writing. Nope. I mean, sure, as someone who was accused of being a “risk” of workplace violence because of a non-actual threat, you know because “risk” isn’t nebulous and shit filled at all, I imagine it’s clear where I might fall in this train wreck. Here’s the brief version, fucking learn how to read and don’t assume other people think like you, people.

So, here’s my point. Reading up on the Twitter controversy prompted me to delve into and read up on various mommy blogs just out of curiosity. There seems to essentially be two types — rainbow, unicorn, love vomiting joy and everybody else.

I don’t know what age I was, but for some reason or another, Pat and I ended up having a conversation about her early days as a mother. In the suburban town of the late ’50s, she sounded from what she said like an interloper, a Margaret Mead among the natives observing. By the time of the conversation, I think each of us, Pat and I, had read some Betty Friedan. I read it, but my mother had lived it. She had stories of neighbors taking diet pills and “mothers little helpers.” Of some woman who came back after some time away and never talked about the electroshock treatments. Fun stuff.

For Pat, her sanity, she said, was knowing that as soon as everyone of us kiddies were in school she’d be jumping back into the workforce. Of course, fate intervened on that little plan, and she was in the workforce sooner rather than later the sole parent and breadwinner and widow. The jury is still out on what that entry into working meant for her sanity.

Pat, as a mom, when I was a kid, as a teacher, when I became aware of her work and involvement at the school where she taught, and as an adult, when I reached a point where she’d talk with me grown-up like, she taught me to distrust any mother or family where everything is too nice. Real families don’t talk like 1950s television.

Erma Bombeck became a household name because of moms like my mom. As did Peg Bracken and her answer to the Joys of Cooking. Foibles and frustrations, right?

So here, literally 50 plus years later, judging by the ages of Pat’s first spawn, the same “fluffy” that Friedan wrote about is getting fueled and hyped and computerized. Now, there is a backlash, I guess, from a younger generation. It’s weirdly retro.

I was/am puzzled by the number of Twitter and ‘blog comments that basically question why a mother would ever say those mean words. There’s a lot of talk about vulgarity and cracks made about how words affect the little munchkins and good parenting and bad language and shock over the implied violence. A lot of clucking and tsk’ing, basically. I just don’t get it.

I don’t understand the mommy blogs that never complain. I don’t understand the grown people with names like Yummykins and Angelhocks and MySweetPatootieSweetie and no sense of ironic detachment. My world of comfort doesn’t start with Ann Geddes. She creeps me out.
Lh Flower08

Nope. Give me women like Diane Arbus every time.
Diane Arbus 03

‘Course, what this all boils down to is it’s probably good and right that I have not bred.

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Almost Hollywood

As M. and I have been majorly occupied with scouting houses, I’ve been waiting irrationally for a sign. I mean with housing costs so high (about as high as my fear of commitment), you don’t want to be eating government cheese on a granite countertop in a cozy nook of a regretted purchase.

Actually, we found a condo with a small back yard, a seemingly non-retarded Homeowners’ Association at reasonable rates and a huge garage the current dwellers have tricked out with a work bench and some fitness junk. I can totally grok inside my mind’s eye my crafting away on the work bench getting all artsy messy, while M. does manly pull-ups on the rings suspended from the ceiling. Totally doable, livable, if we got a fair price.

But, it’s definitely, definitively, qualifiedly, certifiably the suburbs. The second to last house on the border between upper, upper middle-class, braggable school districts and the genuine capital-G ghetto. We dig that juxtaposition actually. But, the true and true, red, white and blue, ‘burbs. We still could call that place home.

We scratched our heads and thought about what would a couple of double-income no kids folks like us need with pure suburbia. Maybe, there was another niche between the city and the suburbs, and M. thought one up — THE SEA. The actual ocean, that she devil, not the bay that gives the Bay Area its name, tamed with landfills and split-level ranches and developments. No, the wild cliffs and not at all pacific Pacific Ocean side of the coast. The full on left coast, she is a wild mistress, the sea.

Monday, we dined on fried sea food at this little burg just south of SF on the ocean side of the Peninsula called Pacifica and had ourselves a look around.

Plug the town Pacifica into a search engine, Google it, as the young might say, and the single most prominent characteristic would be fog. Like John Carpenter’s The Fog. (The good one from 1980, not the crappy one that M. and I saw together at the moving picture shows this millenium.) But, presumably, without the leprous, revenge-seeking ghosts, although I’ll have to read up on town history.

I thought the movie might have been shot there. Some places nearby definitely and the “Northern California town” with ocean and fog could have been a whole lot of places. But, in my research, I realized something better. In fact, flipping through Youtube.com, I realized how I’m living in the midst of film greatness all around me.

One of the world’s best fucking movies ever was filmed up and down the places I go every week. And, the ultimate scene was filmed in the backyard of the town we are considering. I love this movie and through it I realized I came to appreciate Pat’s quirks and how there was more going on inside that head than mere teacher/mother white-bread complacency. It was the only movie I remember her quoting or retelling.

Harold and Maude, Hal Ashby’s masterpiece. I have it downloading on iTunes right now, because I realized I should own it (which I may have done on VHS, but my tape player is far, far gone and possibly still sitting in a Boston comedian’s den or family room).

The cliffs to which Harold sacrifices his Porsche hearse very well could become my view in a daily commute.

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Pat's Day, not quite the patron saint

On or about every March 15, I suppose I’ll have a little mix of angry, sad, resigned and resolved all in one, rattling my brain, for possibly forever.

Had Pat lived, she would have been a well-ripened 79. But, she never made it that far. Nope, she gave up the ghost, as the cliche runs, a while back. She didn’t even make it to 73, but she came close.

It makes me angry, and probably always will, because it seemed so avoidable. Maybe it wasn’t, though. Maybe she was sick deep in her body, which was telling her an inevitable truth that she was due to pass from the living. Or, maybe, she had stopped taking care of herself and generally giving a fuck so hadn’t bothered to take proper care.

I don’t understand why, but I wish a professional had made the call, not Pat herself. Even if it ended the same way, somehow there’d be a greater sense of closure. An epilogue, a coda to a life that was lived. In a teeny walled off corner of the neurons in my thinking brain space, I kind of regret we didn’t pursue an autopsy. Then again, I realize it makes no practical difference, and how I feel six years later is not how I felt then.

The sadness is just the uninteresting, inevitable, old-as-time-itself human longing for those who have gone. If Pat were here, I could introduce her to M. Maybe she’d notice we laugh and smile together and be happy.

If Pat were here, she could laughingly disapprove of my California life, my checkered employment, my hair, my weight, my clothes, my writing, my comedy, my world travels. She would worry about me, and maybe, secretly celebrate the things I have done, the woman that I am.

But the resignation and the resolve, actually have a strange brightness. They are what makes me try and do what I do now. I keep plugging at a life in which people compliment me or comment that I haven’t thrown in the towel to age. I can still get a little hope, a charge, complete and childish fun from stupid shit. Sheer unbridled goofiness is the antidote I have and the concession I won’t make in my own mortality.

At 44, I pimped my new ride with reflective stickers and scoot around town shouting “Whee” in my head at a whopping 15 miles/hour or less.

The funny thing is I learned that kind of play from Pat herself. She could throw her back into child-like fun, and she had that irrepressibly non-conformist streak that I came by genetically. Only, somewhere after being forced to retire, and some time after her life’s sorrows just made her life heavy and hard, Pat forgot about having fun. She still had a wicked wit and wore a crazy bright hat to warm her head, but she stopped saying “Wheeeeeee.”

So, this weekend, this week, have yourself a little Pat moment. Tell a joke. Tell a story. Play a prank. Make something fun. Paddle a ball. Laugh. And, most of all don’t not do something in order to avoid looking foolish. Go ahead. Look foolish. Rent Harold and Maude. Thumb your nose at hypocrites and modern-day Pharisees. Persevere with wit and elan.

Somewhere in the universe, an energy field still holds the Parkside Avenue paddle ball record. Everyone should leave behind such a memory.


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