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Friday, October 24, 2014

I'll Need You to Rebel in an Orderly and Dignified Fashion

From February of 2012, whilst I prepare for the spicy debauchery of Chiloween with Molly and Erin this Saturday.  What's that?  What's 'Chiloween'?  Oh, honey, just the best-decorated chili contest ever!  

I’ve written of my son before: the way he paid the electric bill at the tender and mature age of four, how I saved him from a life of droopy-drawered ridiculosity.

The time I listened in on him and his cousin’s late-night cabin whisperings.

But did I tell you about the time he rebelled?

Honestly, there’s not a lot to rebel against with me. I’m a listener. There weren’t rules so much as there were firmly held suggestions (the toilet seat remains in the “down” position when not in use, Cool Whip is not a condiment, young ladies who treat your mother with disdain are not really dating material).

The Boy bandied the words “liberal” and “hippie” about as if they were bad things. Meanwhile, aside from the aforementioned electric-bill debacle, I cooked from scratch (most of the time), cleaned (quite often) and was open to anything he wanted to talk about (always).

Eventually, of course, he began to get hormonal on me.

In subtle ways, he changed. But it wasn’t until I got into his truck that I realized how much.

A truck! Let us look at this first. A truck. In Minneapolis, a lovely area with mature trees and sidewalks. While the need for a pick-up truck was not clear to me, I played along.

You want a truck? Knock yourself out.

Where were we going the first time I got into it? I toss my purse in first, climb up into the cab of the truck, make a remark about the height of the vehicle. He smiles proudly and we tear off down the street as I am buckling up.

“Hey there, Mario Amphetamine! We’re law-abiding people!”

He takes his foot off the gas momentarily.

“That’s more like it!” I enthuse. With the departure of the G-forces, I peel my spine off the back of the seat. Secretly fearful I will find discarded condoms or evidence of Communism, I am careful about where I look.

One doesn’t want to learn too much too soon.

Dylan clicks around on his stereo, a piece of electronics that outclasses my first three sound systems in the same way that a house is an improvement over seeking shelter in a bush.

“You’ll like this,” he says, smiling. He turns it up to levels The Who would approve of.

But I don’t. It’s a twangy, predictable slice of Country Western music that I have a particular dislike for. Raised on swing and big band, my father was also partial to Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, and, so help me, Conway Twitty.

I know what Country Western music is, and this ain’t it.

I grimace and say nothing.

“Did you see my gun rack?”

I turn around. Sure enough, there it is. This is where the rifles go.

“You got a lot of use for that?” I say.

He shrugs, smiling. “Deer hunting.”

I nod. We’re very much alike, but we’re also quite different.

That’s what you get for procreating.

“I’m thinking of getting a cowboy hat,” he says.


The scales, as they say, fall from my eyes. I smile at him. “I know what you’re doing,” I say.

He turns, briefly, squints at me: Oh, yeah?

“You’re rebelling!”


“You’re rebelling! You, all rebellious with your two kinds of music – that’s right! Country AND Western! – and the hunting and the gun rack! You’re rebelling against your liberal mother!” I smile at him, secure in my interpretation.

He looks horrified.

I lean over, pinch the available cheek. “Oh, you are just so adorable! Yes, you are! Yes, you are just so adorable!”

He pulls away, shakes me off him, laughingly tells me that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

But we both know that I do.

You know? He never did get that hat.

But he never misses deer season.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Unexpected Company, 1970; or The Man on the Couch

Because there are new readers -- and because, dagnabit, I'm unreasonably busy at the moment -- a post from last year (and the year before), wherein I recount the first of three scary stories...

Scary Story Number One in the countdown to Halloween...

Unexpected Company, 1970; or The Man on the Couch

In the same way that trailers are not known for their excellent plumbing or their ability to stay earthbound in a stiff wind, they are also not known for being soundproof; and I was awakened one night by a shift in the usual nocturnal noises. I was a light sleeper, the result of sharing a bed with my sister, who wet it until she was six. There are few things as distressing as waking in a puddle of someone else’s urine.

I looked at the clock next to the bed: 12:20. Dad was at a gig. Mom should either be in the living room, watching TV, vodka gimlet on the coffee-table, or in the back bedroom, listening to talk radio, vodka gimlet on the nightstand. I could hear neither the TV nor the radio.

I pushed Karen’s leg off me and she snorted in her sleep. “If I tole you once,” she droned, “I tole you a t’ousan…” Her muttering collapsed into a snore.

I got out of bed and opened the door. My mother was dead-set against children creeping around the house at night. We were allowed up only if we had to “p, p, or p” -- pee, poop, or puke. Anything else could wait until the morning. Mother enforced this rule by making waffles, sloppily, the first available weekend and requiring that the offender do the dishes. In our house, this was a good deterrent.

I had just entered my parents’ half-closed bedroom door at the far end of the trailer when I heard the sound of a man’s voice behind me. It was not my father’s.

I turned toward it, then back to my parents’ room. I pushed open the door. The radio on the nightstand was on, the ice in the vodka gimlet was melting, iridescently, but where was my mother? I heard the voice again, coming from the living room.

“Come ‘ere!”

I was suddenly aware of my blood moving through my veins, pudding-thick. I didn’t know this man’s voice. I didn’t like its tone.

I got on my hands and knees and crept down the hall toward the voice. All of the rooms were on my left: the bathroom, mine and Karen’s room, our brother Kevin’s, and then the living room.

I pause, less than a foot from the living room. The drapes are closed. The only light in the room filters in from the streetlights through the sheers behind the couch.

My mother is standing just inside the living room. I can almost touch her, but I don’t. She is staring in the direction of the couch.

The outline of a man’s head is framed against the window. It is dark enough in the room that he is all outline, no details. He is sitting on our couch, smoking a cigarette.

“Come sit by me.”

“No, thank you,” my mother says. There is a tremble in her voice I have never heard before.

“I said, come ‘ere!” the man says, louder. His voice is slurred. I raise my hand to my mouth, afraid I will cry out. I don’t want him to know I am here.

“And I said, no, thank you,” my mother says. She does sit, though, in the chair just to the left of the entry into the living room. I can no longer see her. On my hands and knees, I move in as far as I dare. I can make out her profile. Fear leaches the iron from my blood, and I am wide-eyed and boneless.

“I was in ‘Nam,” he says.

“I see,” my mother says.

The man on the couch leans forward. “I died,” he said. “I DIED. They putta metal plate in my head, man, an’ I don’t know why --” he trails off. There is silence as he lifts a bottle out of the shadow of his lap and takes a long drink. I feel nauseous. The only phone is in the kitchen, and it’s on the other side of the living room. The back door cannot be opened without making noise. The windows are louvered six-inch slats.

The man on the couch suddenly shouts. “I DIED!”

“I’m sorry,” my mother says, quietly.

“She’s sorry,” he slurs, head slumping forward. “I died f’yer sins,” he mutters. He raises the bottle to his lips, tips his head, then the bottle. Framed by the streetlight through the window behind him, he looks as if he’s been cut out of black construction paper.

The absence of sound presses on my eardrums. I fight the urge to swallow, afraid he will hear it.

Finally my mother speaks. “Thank you,” she says.

The man on the couch takes another long drink, belches loudly and drinks again. I finally dare to swallow, imagining that the sound of his own swallowing will drown mine out. The man on the couch tucks his bottle between his legs. He raises his arms.

“We c’n do innythin we wan’ ‘ere,” he slurs. “This MY worl’. I died, goddamit. I died, an’ now –“ He spreads his arms grandly, and his head flops backward. “I am the TIME WIZARD.”

“Oh,” my mother says. Her voice is very soft.

I watch his arms move, their silhouettes against the windows, in what I imagine to be karate moves. Suddenly he stops, his arms raised above his head. He takes a deep breath. Time stops as the world waits for what will come next.

“I’m the TIME WIZARD!” he shouts. “This MY worl’, an’ wha’ we do ‘ere, stays ‘ere, unnerstan’? Y’unnerstan’? We c’n do wevver we wan’. We ca’go f’ard. We ca’ go bakkard.” His hands weave a scrolling tapestry of drunkenness and delusion in the air. He reminds me of footage of Charles Manson.

“Forward and backward?” my mother says. “In time?”

“Wevver. In time, yeah,” he says.

“And what do you have in mind?” my mother says. Her voice sounds calm and patient – and familiar. I’ve heard this tone before. In the deep black of the trailer, my fear steps back. My mother has a plan.

“Innythin’. We ca’…” he trails off, confused.

His head drops forward again, and I watch the lit end of his cigarette as he grinds his fist into his temple.

His head snaps up abruptly. “I diddit fer YOU, man! I died fer YOU. I served my COUNTRY, goddammit!” He is breathing heavily, and my hands begin to shake. I shove them under my knees, sitting on them. I think of my father on the stage of the Crow Bar on the other side of town. I imagine he is half-way through their version of “Born to be Wild”, a leather aviator’s hat on his head, smiling.

The man on the couch raises his bottle and drinks. The hand with the bottle drops into his lap. The hand with the cigarette appears. His pupils and the end of his nose glow as he inhales. “I diddit fer you.”

In the darkness, my mother speaks. “Of course you did.” Her voice is friendly, almost conspiratorial. “You served your country. You’re goddam right. You’re a hero. And believe me, I appreciate everything you’ve done“ – she stops – “ I’m sorry. I didn’t catch your name.”

The man is staring drunkenly in the direction of my mother. “Uh. Mark,” he says. Her request for his name has caught him off-guard. He lifts the bottle to his lips and drinks.

“Mark,” she continues. Her voice is warm and firm, slow and kind, as if speaking to a child. “I appreciate the sacrifices you made. You’ve suffered. I hear it in your voice. You think I don’t know that? Do you think I don’t know that, Mark? You’re a hero, Mark. A hero. But do you get any credit? No. They got ya comin’ and goin’, don’t they, Mark? Comin’ and goin’.”

Mark has been completely still since my mother started talking. He now bobs his head slowly, and I find myself nodding, too. “Comin’ an’ goin’,” he repeats.

“That’s right, Mark. But we know, don’t we? You’re goddam right we do. You soldiers don’t get the respect you deserve.” She pauses. “I’ve learned a lot tonight. But, Mark, I have to tell you: you know, I work in the morning. You didn’t call first…”

Mark nods heavily at this. It’s true. He didn’t call. His silhouette loses its edges as he slumps drunkenly forward.

My mother raises her right arm into the air. “Here’s to calling first next time, huh, Mark?” Mark’s head snaps up. “Come on, Mark!” she says. “Raise yer drink! To the good ol’ USA! I’ll drink to that!”

My mother brings an imaginary drink to her lips and knocks it back. Mark raises his bottle. “Ahl drinka tha’!”, he bawls. He puts the bottle to his lips and drinks deeply.

“Chin up, Mark! Rally the troops!”

“Ahl drinka tha’!” He drinks again. He belches loudly.

“’scuse me,” he says.

My mother stands. “I’m glad we met. You know, we almost didn’t meet, do you know that?” She rises from her chair and walks to the front door. She opens it and looks to the form on the couch.

“I appreciate everything you’ve done. I really do. You’re all right in my book, Mark. Yes, you are. Now you make sure that you drink plenty of water before you go to bed tonight, you’ll do that for me, won’t you?”

I am in awe of my mother.

Mark stands drunkenly, nodding, patting the couch absentmindedly for fallen keys or coins, makes sure he’s leaving with everything he came in with. He stumbles against the coffee table, and she catches him as he crashes into the railing around the dining room. She pushes him toward the door as if they are jostling in line for seconds. She pushes him out the front door and on to the front steps.

In the hall doorway, I stand, rubbing the shag-carpet indentations on my knees. I feel ridiculously relieved. Mark is gone.

“You have a restful night now,” my mother says, shutting the door. “Don’t be a stranger,” she calls.

“Hey,” he yells. My mother opens the door a crack.

“Hey,” he slurs. “Hey, hey. Ah jus’ wanna –“

“You’re welcome,” my mother says. She shuts the door and locks it.

She turns, with an enormous sigh. Seeing me in the hallway, she cocks her head quizzically; and I say what all us kids say when we are caught out of bed after lights out:

“I had to poop.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Well It’s Just a Good Thing I’m Here, That’s All I’m Saying

I hate to brag – despite being the possessor of an “innie”, all my own toes, and a bank account numbering in the tens – but I recently saved the life of a stranger.

Or at least a leg. 

Look at him.  He is staring, this young man, into the face of a device.  You know the device.  Everyone’s talking about them.  You can stare at them and walk into traffic and not miss an update or an invitation to a Happy Hour.

It’s the end of the day, and I am stopped at the cross walk, waiting for the light.  I look – as is my wont – in both directions several times.  The Nicollet Mall is closed to all but buses and taxis.  Because of this, many pedestrians lose their natural-born fear of things much faster than themselves.

But not this gal.  Not ol’ Pearl. 

The young man across the street, however, seems to have been born without this fear. 

I watch from the curb as he approaches from the other side.   Brain-deep in his phone, I can see that in the next five, six steps, he’s going to be in the street.

I look up the street in time to see a hard-pedaling bike bearing down.

A bike messenger. 

Holy Hannah.


Bike Messenger has the light.  There’s no reason for him to stop. 

I look forward as Mr. Distracted steps onto Nicollet.

“LOOK OUT!”   It’s the loudest I’ve been this year.

The man with the phone looks up.  “What?”

Bike man swerves, just a bit, and speeds on.  “DUDE!”  And then, a moment later, “THANKS, LADY!”

Mr. Distracted says nothing.

But I smile anyway.  Because I didn’t do it for the thanks.

I did it because I didn’t want to witness the crash.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I Just Keep Thinking of Those Gauchos

Some things never go out of style. A black pencil skirt, for example. Buy a good lined skirt, try not to gain any weight, and you’re going to get a lot of use out of it.

But some things kinda came and went, didn’t they? Is there a Nehru jacket in your closet? A dashiki? A pair of gauchos? (Which amuses me to this day, as I believe a “gaucho” is Spanish for “cowboy”, in which case I may not have a pair of gauchos in my closet but would certainly entertain the idea of adopting a couple – for altruistic purposes, of course.)

I told someone once that I would wholeheartedly endorse a work uniform; and I’m still up for it. Hell – I’m thinking of doing it without it being a requirement. Would anyone notice if I were to, say, come in to work every day in a blue skirt, a white blouse, and maybe a scarf around my neck, just for a bit of “look-how-I’ve-dressed-this-up” jauntiness?

But it’s not just clothing. Even foods seem to have eras. At one time in the U.S. every fast food joint had a “potato bar”. Chili on your tater? Cheese? Sour cream? Jellied eel? Hey!  Just how much crap can you pile on a tuber, anyway?

That reminds me:  when was the last time we had fondue? Don’t you think it’s time?

We get bored, I think. How else to explain that this year’s “teal” is different than last year’s “aquamarine” or that the square-toed sturdiness of a Birkenstock differs from the square-toed sturdiness of a pair of Börns?

Or maybe it’s not boredom. Maybe it’s the need to be able to judge others based solely on having the right shade of blue on. Or maybe it’s a way of generating year-over-year profit.

Either way, I’m thinking a nice, proletariat “work uniform” never goes out of style.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I'll Be Awake by Noon -- Talk to Me Then

“Did you have a good weekend? You all ready for work?”

Well, no. As a matter of fact, I’m not.

I would love to tell you that I am. Ready for work, that is. But the truth is, I am woefully unprepared.

I meant to be. I meant to be ready. But there was watching movies I'd already seen on Friday night. And then there was the washing and folding bonanza that was Saturday. There was the writing, the cooking, the refrigerator detailing, the transporting of the cats to their tap-dancing lessons.

Would you believe I completely forgot to leave time to get worked up about being a productive member of corporate America?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m one punctual and competent SOB; but I’m no good at that “You all ready for work?” question. It just doesn’t seem that there’s a good answer to it.

Small talk is not my forte.

I should work on having prepared answers.

“Work? I’m at work?”

“Ready for work? Oh, now, yeah. I can’t remember what they called it, but the doctors said that I can continue with my regular routine as long as I use a hand sanitizer and don't – oh, shoot – have you seen my face mask?”

“Yep! All ready for work! Say, could you cover for me for a couple hours this afternoon? The police – well, the less you know the better; but now that they’ve got the court order they’re going to take that sample whether I like it or not.”

It’s so important to have a good attitude, don’t you think?

Happy Monday, everyone.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Bus Stop: 24th and Nicollet; or Turns Out, I Look Pretty Suspicious

Sometimes, nothing happens.  And sometimes, it seems that everything happens at once.  For the next several Fridays, I’m going to be posting on my recent time at a bus stop in Minneapolis.  Having missed one bus by mere minutes – there it goes! – I stood and waited for almost 30 minutes for the next one.

Come stand next to me, won’t you, and we’ll wait together. 

I’d gone to George’s directly after work, part of one of those “I need to see you” aspects of a true friendship; and now, the light about 30 minutes from failing, I am standing on the corner, ready to go home.

I take a good look around. 

This is certainly a savory little area, I think.

A blend of small, home-y restaurants, bars with four-hour Happy Hours, people shouting into cell phones, there are taxis and buses and dog walkers and children. 

It is not until around 6:00 that the demographics begin to change. 

Dressed in an olive-colored pencil skirt, an amethyst shirt, cream fitted jacket and black heels, I do not stand out downtown, but with the traffic beginning to thin on this Tuesday afternoon, I am beginning to stand out at the bus stop in front of the McDonald’s.

A man in a Scarface jacket, pants belted around his knees waddles past me.  He is slender, young, his hair plaited into exuberant braids, a Medusa in the Hood look that not everyone can carry off.  He pulls fries out of what seems to be an endless bag of fries.

I lick my lips.

My visit to George’s had not included dinner. 

I watch his hand dip into the McDonald’s bag.  I watch enviously.

I consider asking for a fry.

I remember that I have a bit of string cheese in my lunch bag.

It’s amazing how often I have string cheese in my lunch bag.

I set my purse down on the bus stop bench, start digging for the cheese.  Out of the corner of my eye, Braid-y backs away from me.

Hmm.  Plastic bag, big Tupperware, little Tupperware, stray dollar bill, the packet of vitamins I had forgotten to take – there it is!

Triumphant, I pull the cheese out of the bag.

I look up to find the young man with the braids staring at me, a cluster of fries in his hand, forgotten.

What had he thought I was digging for?

I grin sheepishly at him, hold the cheese up.  “String cheese,” I say. 

Smiling, the man with the fries shakes his head, wanders to the other end of the bus stop.

There’s some weird people waitin’ for the bus. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Shhh. Everyone Will Want One.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Run was a good couple months ago, but still...

Ring!  Ring-ring!

“Good morn – aftern – um, morning.  This is Pearl.”

There is laughter on the other end.  “You don’t know what’s going on, do you?”

“I don’t have to know what’s going on.  I’m at work. “

“Oh, you workers,” Mary  chuckles indulgently .  “Guess what I’m doing.”

Thoughts ranging from “walking the dog” to “pooping”, a long-running gag between us, run through my head.  A group heading into a meeting pass my desk and I decide to play it safe.  “I don’t know,” I say.  “Walking the dog?”

Mary laughs, a tad giddily, if you ask me.  “Packing for Sturgis!”

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally begins this weekend, and Mary and Jon and another couple have tuned up their Harleys, cleaned their leathers and are heading west.

“That should be a pretty light luggage rack.”

I can hear Mary grinning over the phone.  “Nope,” she says.  “This year I’m going to bring shirts and a bra.”

“What, and buck years of tradition?”

“The people of South Dakota have done nothing that would result in being forced to gawp at my aging breasts.”

“You’re too hard on yourself,” I say.  “Your breasts don’t look a day over 47.”

“I’m 46.”

There is a brief, if staged, silence.  “Those were some hard years,” I say.

“Why you little…”

“Why I oughta…”

We grin at each other.  It’s over the phone, but we’re professionals.

“So why did I call?” she says.

“You want to stop by with dessert tonight.”

“Hmmm.  No, that’s not it.  Oh, I know!  Remember when I lost a fingernail in the turkey that one year?”

Who could forget?  Half-way through a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at Mary’s house some dozen or so years ago, Mary announced that she had lost a false fingernail.  She believed it may have become part of the stuffing.

Amazingly, no one found it.

“I still have nightmares,” I say.

“Well, I did it again.  Only this time, I lost a Band-Aid.  At a cleaning job.”

I laugh.

“Yep,” she says.  “It could be anywhere.  Do you think I should call?”

“And what, tell them you believe you left a used Band-Aid somewhere?”


“Maybe they could put it in the mail for you.”

“Hey, now, we don’t talk like that.”

There is a moment of silence.  “Maybe I should call her on her lunch hour, just to let her know that if she finds a mystery Band-Aid that it’s mine.  It’s probably best to be honest about it.”

“It’s hard to know what to do when you’ve left something like that behind.”

The line goes silent as we consider the social ramifications behind a lost Band-Aid.

“OK,” she says, conversation over.  “I gotta go.”

“Gonna walk the dog?”

“Nope,” Mary says.  “I gotta poop.”