Saturday, April 27, 2013

Battling Back the Bell Curve

I’ve never been a fan of bowling. What is bowling, anyway? A person in slippery shoes  rolls a ball down a lane to knock over some pins. It is called a “sport”, yet there are no opponents making it more difficult, the pins don’t move, and you don’t even have to go down there to get your ball back- it simply “reappears”. That’s not a sport. Even if you can drink beer while doing it. 

When I was a kid, my dad took us all on Saturdays to the local alley to play bowling. I was not impressed. I was bored. It was too loud. Everyone was fat and way too excited about what wasn’t happening. When my dad joined a league and bought a ball and had his name engraved on it, I was horrified. His official status as My Hero was now overshadowed by the image of him working on his spin, which he could never get right, even though THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NO VARIABLES IN THE GAME. Not even wind. 

As you can see, bowling and I are not friends.

I’m reluctant to admit this, but I went bowling with some friends a while back (it was probably raining), and I was having a marginally good time. Then, somewhere around the fourth frame, I had this moment: I stood there at the top of that lane, cradling my 8-pound pink ball in both hands, staring at those pins- and time stopped. I thought about the whole of my life and all of the things I’d done and all the great people I’d met, and how everything conspired to bring me to my current circumstances. It was magical and zen-like and strange, the hairs on the back of my neck all stood up and I imagined that this frame was somehow going to be a metaphor for my whole life. Really- that’s what I thought.

So when I brought that ball back and sent it down the alley, I fully expected a strike. I expected those pins to careen and shatter as if they’d been hit by a blazing pink rocket. I expected to turn to my cheering friends and tell them about the enormity of what had just happened. What I did not expect was a 7. 

A 7. In school, 7 out of 10 is a “C”, is average, is the middle of the bell curve, is what I’ve strived my entire life NOT to be. But there it was, right there. Or maybe it was the wind.

My life is a 7-pin frame. Fuck you, bowling. I still hate you. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wanna See My Forks?

Last year I went through a pretty heavy break up. In this break up I lost the kitchen table and the spare bed. Really not that big a deal in my mind, until my parents decided to come to visit me for Thanksgiving. Then it became a HUGE deal that I had neither a bed for them, nor a table upon which to eat dinner. Because, apparently, parents can be pretty needy when it comes to things like sleeping and eating.

I had to think fast. I didn't have extra money to spend on "furniture." That's a grown-up thing to spend money on, and I was busy spending it on things like Movies On Demand and wine (shh- lonely). So I decided it'd be a great idea to call Rent-A-Center. And yes- THEY HAD BEDS AND KITCHEN TABLES FOR RENT! Problem solved.

When I called them they asked for the phone numbers of 4 references. Really, Rent-A-Center? Because I own both a house and a car, and I'm fairly certain nobody made any phone calls to check if I'd be ok with these items. So with large amounts of scoff I gave them two stupid friends and then my parents and my boss at work, and politely asked them not to call either my parents or my boss, because what kind of loser rents a bed and a table, and has Rent-A-Center calling about them? Of course, they called both my parents AND my boss to ask if I was a responsible person.

I very quickly received phone calls from my parents and my boss asking if I had recently developed a meth problem or did I need to borrow some money. Awesome. Now my parents think I'm a loser who can't keep a girlfriend or furniture.  When they came to visit they brought me a bunch of other things they though I'd need. Like forks. Many, many forks. Mom- the population of my house has just decreased by half. I get by on 2 a week now. Then I wondered if she thought that having extra forks would make me more attractive to potential girlfriends. As in, "I live in a world of abundance, ladies. Just open the drawer and see."

It's one year later and now I own (own, own, OWN!) both a spare bed and a kitchen table. And a new dishwasher to wash all my forks in. Abundance, I tell you. Abundance!

Friday, November 2, 2012

When Innocence Is Obliterated

A night of storytelling at the BedpostConfession Show

This is an excerpt from a story that I hope to write into a show about the Beautiful Ridiculous of my life.  Disclaimer: do not watch this at work!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Rings of Saturn

Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun, and is the second largest, behind Jupiter. Saturn has several rings that became visible when Galileo invented the first telescope in 1610. From far away the rings look like beautiful solid hoops. But in fact, the rings are made out of dust, rocks and ice that clump together and break apart as they revolve around the yellow planet. This is what we learned about Saturn in the 4th grade.

In the fourth grade, I lived in Omaha, Nebraska. Science class was taught by Mrs. Payne, and you better not make a joke about that or you were going to the principle’s office. Mrs. Payne was famous not only for her name, but also for the little spit balls she’d get on her lip when she talked. They’d go up and down with her mouth, and we’d all sit there staring at them and wondering why she didn’t wipe them off and if that was going to happen to us when we became elderly 40 year-olds.

By the fourth grade, most of us had been in the same class for a couple years. We sat through insects and the food groups and the solar system together. We could all predict what everyone brought for lunch everyday. We knew that while Mrs. Payne flung her spit balls up and down, Renee Wagner was gonna ask too many questions, Matt Torsky was going to smell like pee, and Dawn Sykora was going to pick her scabs and eat them. Yawn. There was nothing new under our sun. 

And then one day after the Christmas break, Becky Stout showed up in our class. Her family moved to our district from some faraway place called Georgia. We only knew how far away it was because Mrs. Payne pulled down the giant map and pointed it out with her big wooden poker. Georgia was way over there and purple, and Nebraska was here and blue, and Becky was dropped down into our midst wearing a pair of overalls and speaking with a southern drawl that was as exotic to us as caviar. We didn’t understand, and we were all instantly intrigued. 

While most new kids would be shy and quiet, Becky was a firecracker from the get-go. She entertained us with her stories of Georgia roaches “so big you could put a saddle on ‘em.” She wondered why we didn’t have grits in the cafeteria. Um, because we don’t even know what grits are. When she said “Go Big Red” the word red grew into a three syllable word and there was a little kick at the end. She called her dad “daddy” and her mom “momma”. She always smelled like french fries. She could penny-drop like a god. We couldn’t stop looking at her or listening to her; we couldn’t stay away from her. She was a giant, charismatic shiny object in our tiny midwest lives of bologna sandwiches and orange drink. We were drawn, by gravity, to this little girl who magically appeared in our universe. And like the rings of Saturn, we, little chunks of ice and dust and rock, began to orbit around her. 

Our school days grew brighter. It was like someone finally changed a 300 watt light bulb that’d been burned out for a long time. Fourth grade was suddenly more than braces and unfortunate hair cuts; we all fell into mad crush with Becky, and it made us all insanely happy, as only irrational love can do.  Everyone always knew where she was and what she was doing, and we all clambered like hungry little beetles to be involved as much as possible. We hung around and hung on and became a collective love-struck herd that followed her wherever she went. Poor Becky. We must’ve been overwhelming, with our desperate desire to suck from her everything that was different from ourselves. But she endured us all with patience, generosity and joy, which made us love her even more.

Becky’s momma was a gospel singer who used to sing back-up for Elvis. Mary Lou Stout even had her own record and Becky gave us all a copy of it. It was called, “I’m Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs.” We all took our copies home, and to the horror of our parents, played the shit out of that twangy little 45. It must be good music, right? It came from Becky. By March, we knew all the words and would sit on the playground singing, “when Jesus says to me well done, I’ll lay down my soul my battles are won. I’ll walk dem golden stairs when I die” in our finest god-fearing Georgia accents. The Nebraskan suburbs had never heard such a thing. Becky sat in the middle of it all, singing along, watching us bump into and climb over each other as we struggled to stay close to her, our yellow planet Saturn, our new reason for coming to school every day.

And then, just as quickly as she appeared, she vanished. Her daddy was transferred back to Georgia, and in an instant, she was gone- leaving us alone in the midwest with just some records and vague ideas about salvation to prove she was ever there. There was mass heartbreak and blank staring, lots of whining. Someone unscrewed the light bulb and threw it to shatter on the hall floor. We were blasted out of our reverie, our orbit, our seemingly solid new collective purpose as Becky Stout disciples and wanna-be Georgians - to revert back to what we used to be: just some old pieces of ice and rock, floating around without much purpose, sitting at our grey desks with our unfortunate haircuts, watching spit balls and eating scabs. 

How does the second largest planet just up and leave the universe?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Spend Money On Quality Lotion

This morning I was cleaning my ears with a Q-tip. I stuck it into my right ear like I always do and wiggled it around in there, and I guess I hit someplace I'd never hit before, because I got lost in thought. Really deep thought. About the hand lotion that I could see in the cabinet. Why does the pump always make that hissing noise when it rises back up? It sounds like a child exhaling and I both enjoy it and am  creeped out by it. Should I have spent more on quality lotion, instead of this crap? Who thought the brand name "Up & Up" was a good idea?  I was thinking so hard about this hand lotion that I stuck the next Q-tip into my left nostril. Not lying.

What the fuck happened? After 40 years of cleaning my ears I'd suddenly gotten it wrong. I looked up to the mirror to catch my hand directing a cotton fluff stick into my nose and have never felt more absurd, unless you count the time I chipped my front tooth while I was pretty drunk and decided it was a good idea to file it down with my nail file.

So- pay attention people! Get out of your heads and into your ears, or your teeth, or whatever else you're actually doing. Or Seeing. Or hearing. Later today I sat on a patio at a coffee shop and made a conscious effort to pay attention. And I was rewarded with the sound of giant oak trees banging their acorns onto the roof and the deck around me while the birds argued about the weather.

Also, does anyone else laugh when they see the words "Up & Up" on a tampon box?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Polish Falcon

I just got back from a week-long trip to Buffalo, New York. This is where my family is from, and every year, my parents drive from Arizona, where they now live, to Buffalo, and stay for a month to visit with the relatives. I haven't been there since we moved away when I was very young. So this summer I decided to fly to meet them there for a week, and see just what all this family shit was about.

The first night I played cards with 20 of my mom's cousins. I haven't been in a room with that many people who were all related to me since my Christening. This time, I didn't cry, and had on pants. I drank a lot of beer, because that's what I do sometimes (lots of times). So when we all sat around the table to play Scat (google this awesome card game), I apparently began to drop the F-bomb, and light-heartedly refer to my elderly Polish Catholic relatives as bitches.  As in, "Scat, BITCHES, I win!" I can be fairly impressive in public.

I stayed in a condo with my parents. They get it from a friend every year. It had many figurines.

The whispering can get really loud from these things when you're drunk and in a strange place at night. I tried to avoid all the tiny porcelain-faced staring, and not break anything.

There are a lot of funeral homes in Buffalo. Like freakishly too many. I saw more funeral homes and cemeteries than schools. This was my favorite:

Is this a question? Yes, you are gone.

The best part of the trip, the genuine surprise, was how great my whole big crazy Polish family is. I see now where I came from: a bunch of folks who sit in their screened-in garages, and drink beer and play cards and eat wonderful homemade food and shout above the chaos of an enormous family, and enjoy every minute of it, even when they have a gout flare-up. These are my people. I've always been a little leery of my Polish heritage; it comes with so many unflattering preconceived prejudices. But after this trip, I gladly embrace it. Pollocks are cool, BITCHES!

This is my mom (left), and Aunt Marge in front of the Polish Falcon. Be jealous.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

How We Built Things When We Were Children

When I was 8 we used to play in the garden- we made roads by dragging our fingers through the dirt- giant circles around the geraniums, the onions. Our Matchbox cars would power around and over jumps on their way to Nashville or wherever the Dukes of Hazard lived. Vroom noises and crashes where there were no victims except the occasional unlucky spider. We made houses out of cardboard dad had in the garage. The old Pall Mall boxes would wilt down in the wet soil. The popsicle stick roofs would tip off in the wind, but we didn't care. This is how we built things when we were children. There was no permanent tragedy, nothing that couldn't be refashioned under the geraniums tomorrow.

When I was 8, home plate was a worn place in the grass- where only the dirt showed through. First base was the pyracantha bush that grew berries in the summer and would catch your shirt with its thorny branches if you did more than brush by it with an open hand. Second base was the birch tree- the one that was missing most of its paper skin around the middle where we'd grab for safety from desperate tags. Third base was a glove, or a hat. We all hated third base because it moved. Third base was fickle, but could take a good slide. This is how we built things when we were children. In our backyards with what we had, with rules that were understood.

When I was 8, we colored with crayons. Dad brought us home reams of heavy white paper from his job and we all had clipboards on which to design our masterpieces. Landscapes or cars or hot air balloons- all filled with happy people and sunshine and butterflies. Even the car pictures had butterflies. Because this is how we built things when we were children- out of purple and burnt sienna and gold and silver. Out of sunshine and forever smiles.