Sunday, October 31, 2004

I'd even smell their feet. Really, I would.

It happens every year, so I don't know why I'm surprised.

What we want: Trick-or-treaters. Bring 'em on! Cute little kids in bunny outfits and witch's hats and painted cardboard boxes. Big kids dressed up like vampires or Britney Spears (do they still listen to Britney? I'm a few years behind). It doesn't matter what they wear, just as long as they are there.

What we start with: Candy. Lots of candy. A whole big bowl of candy, plus a bunch of Pixie Stix I bought on a whim, trying to be original amid the sea of Hershey's miniatures out there.

What we fear: Running out of candy and having to give out year-old Chanukah gelt, or little bags of cashews. Or else raid Mermaid Girl's candy stash, and you can just imagine what the consequences of that would be.

What we get:

5:00 PM:
Mermaid Girl and her three pals: one fairy, one Snow White, one Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz, and one "Sleeping Beauty fairy" with wings and tiara (guess which one was ours?), topping off their matching plastic pumpkins after an afternoon hitting up the local merchants at the neighborhood downtown trick-or-treat event.

6:00 PM:
Our next-door neighbors and their 6-month-old baby, who is dressed as a pumpkin and has the cheeks of one, too. Mermaid Girl and RW are trick-or-treating around the corner and miss this big event. I give the parents candy and tell them to enjoy the last year they'll be able to eat it themselves.

6:30 PM:
Three teenagers, dressed as a princess, soldier, and scary monster (with scary mask), respectively. Mermaid Girl is home by then; she opens the door and prepares to hand out candy, but is paralyzed by the scary mask. I urge the teenagers to take some themselves out of the bowl Mermaid Girl is rigidly holding in front of her. They exclaim over the Pixie Sticks, tell Mermaid Girl she's cute, and leave.

6:45 PM:
The 9-year-old from down the street (vampire) and a friend of hers (something in big Afro wig, not sure who or what). Mermaid Girl holds out the bowl again, speechless, probably terrified by bloody vampire makeup. Vampire and Afro Kid daintily pick one piece each, despite our urgings to take more.

7:15 PM:
Mermaid Girl is finished with her dinner of Halloween candy (a family tradition from my childhood; my mom swears that our dentist recommended it as a way to finish off the candy faster) and is deep in bedtime-stalling mode. RW is comatose from a weekend spent getting out the vote, and also from all the chocolate she's sampled.

I go out to the porch to admire our lighted Jack-o-lanterns in the dark, and hear voices! Festive, cheerful, young voices! I run inside and sound the joyous alarm. "Trick-or-treaters!" I cry. "They're coming! I heard them!" We man our posts and wait. I peek out the window, just in time to see them walk right past our house and down the street.

Without even thinking, I'm out the door and on the porch again. "Hey!" I yell down the street. "What's wrong with our house? We've got candy! Good candy! Hey, come back!"

There's no reply.

What we have now: A bowl three-fourths full of candy. A table littered with candy wrappers. About seventeen thousand Pixie Stix. And the unsettling, curmudgeonly sense that Halloween just isn't what it used to be.

Or maybe we should just move to Jo's neighborhood. Yikes!

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Knock Knock

Mr. or Ms. Infrequent Voter at Door or on Apartment Buzzer: Who's there?

Me: Me, elswhere Booland, your neighbor, and my cute 4-year-old daughter. We're working on a get-out-the-vote effort for the upcoming election. Can I ask if you've decided who you're going to vote for on Tuesday?

Them: Yes, I've pretty much decided.

Mermaid Girl: Who are you voting for?

Me: Ssh! [this is my least favorite part but it's in the script and I asked. I think I'm not going to any more, though]: Okay, well, of course you don't have to tell me this if you don't want to, but, um, can I ask who you're planning to vote for?

Mermaid Girl: Who are they voting for? Who are they voting for?

Them: Oh, I'm definitely voting for Kerry.

Mermaid Girl: I have a bag of seashells. I got them for my birthday.

Me: That's great! I'm out on the Leave No Voter Behind effort with MoveOn Pac [why don't I say this in the first place? Don't know. It's not like it's a big secret. Another thing I'll do differently next time.] This election is going to be really close, but if we get everyone out to vote we can defeat George Bush. Do you need a ride or any other help getting to the polling place?

Them: No, that's fine.

Me: Okay, great. [coming on to my second-least-favorite part] Can I ask if you know what time you're planning to vote on Tuesday?

Them [sounding doubtful, but dutifully answering]: Um, after work, I guess.

Me [feeling completely idiotic at this point, but what the hell? What's to lose?]: Okay, great. When you go to the polls, would you mind looking for the MoveOn volunteer near the polling station, and checking in? Then we can cross you off our list. [off our list? Off our LIST?? I would be totally creeped out by that if someone said it to me. Forget it. I'm not saying that any more. The election day volunteers can just get the info off the voter rolls so they can call the people who haven't voted yet on Tuesday morning and bug them while I'm teaching 4th graders how to look stuff up.]

Them [saying anything at this point to get rid of me]: Sure, sure.

Mermaid Girl: I'm bored. Can I have your pen?

Me: Great! Thanks. Have a good evening!

Mermaid Girl writes a series of elaborate and indecipherable notes on scrap paper with my pen while I frantically circle codes on my assignment sheet with the stub of pencil I got from her in exchange.

Repeat about twenty times, with minor variations, and you have our Thursday evening.

I'm supposed to ask for phone numbers and e-mails but I just can't bring myself to. I just want them to vote. RW is even more principled: she wants them to vote even if they're voting for Bush, God love her. The only phone number I got was for one woman who wanted to know how late the polls were open, because she's going out of town until Tuesday evening and wants to vote when she gets back. I told her I'd find out for her and call her back, and I did.

That woman had asked for an absentee ballot in plenty of time, but never got one. Which also happened to several of RW's artsy college students who are first-time voters and likely Kerry supporters. I'm not saying there's a conspiracy or anything, but still. I have to wonder.

There was one other woman who was kind of vague about the whole thing, including when the election was happening. I infused my spiel with extra urgency and pep for her. She liked Sarah, which helped.
Aside from those two, the whole evening was pretty pointless. Our neighborhood's such a hotbed of progressivism I was astonished at the one person RW encountered who said she was voting for Bush. Give her points for courage and individuality, anyway.

But there were those two. The whole idea is that every single voter counts, the state's really close, Gore won by 500 votes or so in Florida, oh blah blah if you're on the same mailing lists as me you've heard it all before.

It is seductive, though. RW went to the rally this morning a lowly volunteer, and came back a precinct leader (Mermaid Girl and I were home watching Dora the Explora). I'm her only subordinate volunteer so far. Well, me and the Girl. (Actually a 4-year-old is the best possible companion/accessory for political doorbelling; I recommend everyone bring one along. And despite occasional lapses from the script, mine was a trouper, especially once she realized that the whole shebang was a great way to delay bedtime.)

So I'll be going out tomorrow with another list before trick-or-treating and reporting back to my spouse. Wish me luck. (Hey, maybe they'll give me candy!)

This post was brought to you courtesy of the end of Daylight Savings Time. We now return to our regularly scheduled chaos.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Anomalies Come in Threes

As if the Series and the lunar eclipse weren't enough, the entire overscheduled, under-politicized Booland family went to a MoveOn meeting tonight.

It was that darned Michael Moore-- he wrote to me and RW yesterday and told us we're in a battleground state and that the election is more important than our laundry. And like brainless robots, we believed him! We read his e-mail, turned to each other, and said "Let's just call the number." Actually, I think I said it. It's been about a decade since I volunteered for anything more exciting than the synagogue childcare co-op, but such is the power of one well-written, well-timed piece of political spam.

So, we called the number and the perky MoveOn person invited us to this meeting tonight. We brought Mermaid Girl because what else were we going to do with her? RW skipped yoga. We even paid for parking. Mermaid Girl was all excited about the prospect of a big meeting to get rid of George Bush, since she knows a cool song on the topic, but once we were there she became extremely wiggly and floppy and goofy and climbed all over us until, in desperation, I dug a stray American Girl catalog out of my bag and flung it at her. She was immediately mesmerized and stayed glued to it for the rest of the meeting.

We had been hiding the very existence of the whole American Girl Doll phenomenon. She didn't even know there was such a thing.

If I end up buying her a hundred-dollar historical doll, with even more expensive furniture and accessories, I am blaming George Bush. (Note to stray BlogExplosion surfers: this is a joke! Joke! Not like we have $100 for a doll, anyway.)

We barely escaped signing up as precinct leaders, which would have been about a 25-hour time commitment, plus requiring one of us to be at the polls from 6 AM to 8 PM on Tuesday. As it is, we're signed up as Active Team Members or something fancy-schmancy like that. I may end up taking part of Tuesday off after all, as well as going door to door and attending some big rally this weekend (oy-- it's been so long since I thought rallies were fun).One woman from near our neighborhood said she could be a precinct leader except that she has a two-month-old baby, and we told her we'd help her out, so now I really feel committed.

Mermaid Girl was two months old four years ago. I remember being home with her--I had Tuesday afternoons off back then so RW could teach a class--and listening to the reports on NPR and bouncing her on my lap, chanting "Gore won Florida! Gore won Florida!" Because we all knew Florida was the key.

All of which is to say that I may be busy with all this activism and not writing much for the next week.

See you on the other side.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Lyrics Unveiled!

So many urgent things to write about: Civil liberties are being trampled willy-nilly; there's that pesky election (Michael Moore wrote to me! Me! Well, me and a couple hunndred thousand other people); Halloween is coming, with attendant candy and costume angst; it will be followed immediately by the 50,000 word death-march; I caved in to my bandwagon-jumping tendencies and joined BlogExplosion (hi surfers!); and of course there is the ongoing Haloscan debacle.

But first--a break for song lyrics, so that all may hail the lyrical acumen of WordsRock (a/k/a Suzanne) and DBTE (a/k/a my little brother- hi, kid!). Between the two of them, they managed to identify all the lyrics in the post below.

In order of appearance:

"About the Weather," 10,000 Maniacs Incidentally, one of the jauntiest songs ever written about depression.

"I Often Dream of Trains," Robyn Hitchcock This was the trickiest one. And yes, DBTE, it is indeed masterful, and I did find it independently. Well, it was via a mix tape, but not one of yours. Though you can take the credit for enlarging my musical horizons in many other ways.

"Here Comes the Rain Again," The Eurythmics Soundtrack of my college years. Ah, the '80's!

"Can't Stand the Rain," Tina Turner
. Also on The Commitments soundtrack.

Book recommendations coming soon.

Please use Old Comments to comment! Still! For lo, this Haloscan craziness, it doth persist.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Eep! Eep! Help!

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

But only use the Old Comments, OK? Because the regular Haloscan comments disappear after 4 months unless you pay them money, it turns out. I didn't know that when I did their quick 'n' easy signup, and now I'm freaked out and want to uninstall it. But I haven't figured out how to yet, and it's time for bed. So please, pretty please, just use the "old comments," because I love every comment I get and want to keep them all forever.

I am so freaked out about this. I know it's not such a big thing in the greater scheme of things, but I have no sense of proportion. I feel like someone just told me they were taking my, I don't know, taking my old letters from college away. But when I try to sort out my Blogger template and figure out where the HaloScan code is, my head starts to spin.

If anyone knows how to uninstall HaloScan, could you please let me know?

But only using the old comments. Or you could e-mail me at elswhere at s c n dot o r g.


Saturday, October 23, 2004

Autumn in Seattle: A Post in Song Lyrics

by elswhere "Do I Ever Have an Original Thought in my Frickin HEAD?" Lastname, who adapted/swiped the idea from the lovely and talented jilbur.

The color of the sky, as far as I can see, is cold gray. Lift my head from the pillow and just fall again. With a shiver in my bones just thinking, about the weather. The summer turns to winter overnight. The leaves fall so suddenly, the sun sets at four o'clock, exactly what I'm dreading. Here comes the rain again, raining in my head like a tragedy. Can't stand the rain.

In a shameless bid for comments, I've left unidentified the artists and titles associated with the four lyrics plagiarized quoted above. If you can identify even one, I'll... I'll... thank you. And link to you! And recommend a book to you! And if you can identify all four, I'll write a special post for you and tell all my friends how great you are. Don't have any cool stuff to send, a la Kate. Drat. Going to sit under a sun lamp now.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

NaNoWriMo: The Countdown Begins

NaNoWriMo starts in 12 days.

I think I have an outline. It's the most boring of the several ideas that sprang to mind, but it is the easiest. With 50,000 words to write in 30 days, there's no time to mess around with research or even much plot construction. Maybe I'll be more ambitious next year.

A couple of links for fellow frantic novelists:

Erik Benson has created a downloadable NaNoWriMo Report Card in Excel spreadsheet form; you plug in your word count and time spent writing every day and see how you're doing in relation to your overall goal.

Blogger has a NaNoBlogMo site for people who are blogging their novels. The submission guidelines suggest that
A separate blog dedicated to the writing process is best, but personal blogs that are just obsessed with NaNoWriMo for a month are good too.
You have to have a Blogger account for the NaNoBlogMo deal, it looks like, (Bleah. Sorry.) but even if you don't submit your own it's inspiring to see all the others. I haven't submitted this blog yet and don't plan to start a separate blog just for the novel project. But I'll probably post parts of it.

It might suck, though. No time to mess around with editing, either. Or much other blogging, for that matter.

But it'll be fun!


Um, right??

Monday, October 18, 2004

The Story of My Life My Cat

Have I ever mentioned that we have the most neurotic cat in the world?

No? Well, gather 'round, Gentle Readers, this is juicier than it at first appears.

Shy Kitty [not his real name, but heck, everyone else has a pseudonym, why shouldn't he?] is the least sociable member of our family. This may very well be my fault: despite being a lifelong cat person, a combination of family allergies and rental rules left me without feline companionship from the ages of 7 to 26, so I didn't really know what I was doing when someone gave me this little kitten they'd found.

You want the whole story? It wasn't "someone," it was RW and her then-girlfriend, let's call her [more pseudonyms!] TheaterGirl. [I played a large part in getting them together, but that's another story for another time, thank God.] RW, TheaterGirl, and RW's two cats [both since sadly deceased] were all living together in a small apartment when TheaterGirl went to the Safeway one day and came back with a 6-week-old kitten from a box of kittens someone was giving away. She fell in love. This little striped kitty was so adorable, so smart, so tiny.. please, ma hon, can't we keep him?

RW thought not, and her cats thought not even more emphatically, so the two human members of the household cast around their circle of friends for some sucker kind-heared, cat-loving soul upon whom they could foist the kitty. And they lit upon... me! Single, heartbroken [another long, long story for another time], living in a studio apartment with a "no pets" clause--what could be better?

I saw the kitty. I loved the kitty. I took the kitty to live with me, rental clause be damned. The kitty proceeded to spend every night tearing the place up, burrowing under my covers and nipping at me, and crying. I continued to be heartbroken and I think perhaps did not properly bond with the kitty in his youth, though I did try my best. The kitty ended up being something of a silent loner, even when we moved to another place with other pets and people and he became an indoor/outdoor cat [please don't write to yell at me about the outdoor-cat business; he kept jumping out the windows and running out the door, demanding to be outside, and finally I got him his shots and a collar and made it official].

Some three years later, RW and TheaterGirl broke up, and a shockingly short time later RW and I became an item. [I was not the cause of the breakup. Honest. I was an innocent bystander. RW and I were not even glimmers in each others' eyes. We weren't even each other's type. Oh, wait, right, back to the cat.] RW began spending nights at my place. Shy, silent, loner kitty was not used to me having company and would come nuzzle around us and snuggle down in between us, whereupon RW would engage him in conversation by meowing at him. She'd meow, he'd meow, she'd meow, he'd meow; I'd ask "What'd he say? What'd he say??"

So: long story short [hmm... not that short, I see. This was going to be a brief post, but I got sidetracked]: My silent, antisocial cat became a loud, meowing, demanding, antisocial cat, and continues to be so today. He is 12 years old, skinnier than ever, and not as spry as he used to be, but for an outdoor kitty he is doing all right. When I moved in with RW seven years ago, he became her cat too, which seemed to indicate a sort of cosmic feline justice in the universe, since really it's because of her that I had him in the first place.

Our next-door neighbor, The Renovator, expressed concern about Shy Kitty's skinniness a few weeks ago, and spurred by that and by my own guilt at not having taken him to the vet for longer than I care to admit, I took him in and had him checked out. They gave me some medicine to sprinkle on his food for his arthritis; did some bloodwork, which turned out fine; and gave him his long-overdue shots.

Part of Shy Kitty's weirdness is this meowing-at-the-door-and-then-refusing-to-come-in thing. He's done it for years, but it seems to be getting worse. The other night he was sitting out in the rain yowling and yowling and then refusing to come in. I tried, I coaxed, but nothing doing, so I started getting Mermaid Girl some dinner.

Suddenly: a knock at the door. "Mama!" cried Mermaid Girl, but no: it was the Renovator from next door.

Me: "Oh, hi, Renovator, how's it going?"

Renovator: "Fine, fine. I just wanted to let you know-- did you know your cat's outside, crying to come in?"

I told him I knew, and that the cat wouldn't come in when I offered.

Then he asked if I'd taken him to the vet. I told him I had. He asked if the cat was okay. I told him the vet said the cat's fine.

He left. I had the disturbing feeling that he's aching to call the SPCA on me. He already thinks we're total slugs for not maintaining our yard.

Shy Kitty, do you want to get me in trouble? Do you want to catch pneumonia? Why, oh why, won't you come in out of the rain?

Sunday, October 17, 2004

O, Parenthood! O, Maturity!

It's been a Slow Blogging Zone here in Booland, lately-- one parent after another has been visiting. This weekend it was my dad, and in search of diversion and fun during this rainy, gloomy weekend we all dragged ourselves merrily (or not so merrily) to the Gay Film Festival (yes! For a sing-along version of "Mary Poppins." My dad was a very good sport about it), and the new Downtown Library, and the exciting deli near our house with the pastrami flown in from New York. Since my dad is also flown in from New York there was a certain lack of point to this last one, but I think he felt he had a duty to vet it and see if the deli food in this Godforsaken outpost was of sufficiently authentic quality for his daughter to consume. It got relatively high marks, in spite of the friendly but clueless server neglecting to bring Russian dressing, and asking us if we wanted our rye bread toasted. [No! No! Never! Never toast the rye bread! And take away that mayonnaise!]

In between jolly outings, we entertained each other at home. Generally this consisted of sitting around in the living room ignoring each other, while my dad played the piano or read the book I'd foisted upon him, I read the mystery novel RW has finally relinquished to me, RW bustled about being productive, and Mermaid Girl drew on things and hummed to herself. Periodically we roused ourselves to these various effects:
1) My dad would try to engage Mermaid Girl, and she would snub him
2) RW would try to engage my dad, and he would ask "What?"
3) I would try do show off my parenting prowess, and Mermaid Girl would snub me as my dad watched.

It was an episode of type (3) that brings me to this post.

RW and I hardly ever place restrictions on what Mermaid Girl can do or where she can do it, but we recently instituted a new rule: Mermaid Girl is no longer allowed to draw on or cut up pieces of paper on the living room floor. This is not as Draconian as it sounds: she has a big table to work on in the living room, and she can do whatever she wants in her own room. Our house is small and cluttered enough as it is, and we were tired of picking up stray markers and marker caps and tiny snippets of paper.

So, Mermaid Girl hates this rule and "forgets" it at every opportunity. Saturday morning she was absorbed in markering on the floor when I suddenly snapped to and said, "Mermaid Girl, remember the rule."

Mermaid Girl continued markering as if nothing had happened. So I got down into her face, all the while thinking: Great! Force a big confrontation in front of my dad! So either Mermaid Girl, or I, or both of us will lose face! Fun, fun, fun!

"Mermaid Girl," I continued reasonably, revealing none of my inner panic (ha! ha!), "You need to draw on the table, or in your room, or stop drawing. Remember the rule about drawing on the floor."

Mermaid Girl, still drawing and not looking up: "No! Can't you see I'm busy! That rule is a stupid baby poopy diaper rule!"

My dad: continues reading, seemingly oblivious, though my paranoia-driven psychic abilities enable me to discern that he's really thinking "I can't believe how they spoil that kid. And the mouth on her!"

I repeat my firm, clear inanity about the rule, following up [as all good parenting books advise] with an immediate consequence: I grab one of the many pieces of paper Mermaid Girl is working on and announce that I'm taking it to her room, where she'll be able to draw on the floor to her heart's content.

Mermaid Girl follows me, shrieking and crying. I am thrilled that we are now at least battling in private. We get as far as RW's and my bedroom, which is actually sort of a closet/hallway between the living room and Mermaid Girl's room--very cozy and attachment-parent-esque, but not the ideal arrangement in terms of privacy, especially now that she's getting older. She splays herself on the floor and yells at me for a while. I toss the piece of paper through the open doorway into her room. She shrieks that she wants to be alone, and slams the door on me. I return to the living room to the sound of her sobs, and take up my book, saying something dumb to my dad about how she'll be fine.

A couple of minutes later, Mermaid Girl re-emerges, much cheered up. In fact, she's chuckling in an obvious and maniacal fashion.

"I did something in your room," she announces to me.

"Hmm, okay, sweetie," I yawn, turning a page.

"You are going to learn a lesson," she says. "You will see."

"Fine," I say. "I guess I'll find out later."

"Yes. You'll be sorry you did that mean thing to me." Chuckle, chuckle.

"Yeah, could be." A sudden thought snaps my head out of my book. "Wait-- did you ruin any of my stuff?"

"No!" She looks shocked and stops chuckling.

"Oh, okay, then." I go back to reading.

Mermaid Girl picks up a toy my dad brought for her, a propeller-and-balloon contraption that, set up properly, will soar into the air and bore a nice circular mark on a ceiling tile before plummeting back to Earth, emitting a piercing whistle all the while. "Mommy, will you blow up the ballon on this for me?"

"Sure, hon, hand it over." I'm about to blow up the balloon when I'm struck by inspiration. "Oh, you know what?" I say casually, "You know that thing you did, the one that's going to teach me a lesson? Before I do this for you, why don't you go into the bedroom and fix that?" This is a gamble, since she could refuse and then I'd have to refuse to blow up the balloon and technically, since I just told her I'd do it, she'd feel entitled to have another tantrum, and we'd be right back where we started.

But she agrees and trots into the bedroom, returning with a dignified mien and a determinedly neutral expression on her face.

"I took your socks out of the garbage," she says sweetly.

"Oh, good," I say, maintaining my own poker face with the greatest effort. I blow up the balloon. My dad turns a page. The propeller thing shrieks and thwacks the ceiling once again. Mermaid Girl claps her hands in delight.

It's moments like this that make it all worthwhile.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

And she's growing her hair, too

Should I be worried that Mermaid Girl's current favorite lullabies are 500 Miles and Angel From Montgomery?

And what does it say about me as a parent that I sang them to her in the first place?

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Teetering on the Brink: Now Updated!

Oh, I am so tempted. The peer pressure is getting to me.

But: no plot whatsoever in mind. Or rather, six or seven, which is worse.

And... and... what about my blog? Writing 1,667 words a day, I'd have no time to blog! I just got started with this thing!

I think I will wait it out this year after all. And do it next year. Next year! Next year in NaNoWriMo Land!

Let me know how it goes, O Brave Ones.

Updated to Add: I'm in. Couldn't withstand Anna's brutal arm-twisting.

Good Lord, what have I done?

Renaissance Woman's Diet Alternatives

The East Beach Diet:
No sugar except ice cream; drink a glass of water every time you have a negative body image thought.

The North Beach Diet: No carbs unless they taste good.

The Northwest Beach Diet: Eat whatever you want; drink V-8 instead of orange juice; feel virtuous*.

The West Beach Diet: Aah, screw it**.

*This one is actually my contribution

**And this one, amazingly, must be credited to RW's mom, who in the past has been a zealous proponent of many diet fads, including
this notorious hoax.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Our Newest Family Member

Here she is-- what the yellow Mack truck helped to buy.

RW found her on Craig's List and we picked her up yesterday. Mermaid Girl has named her Claire, but agreed that we can call her Twinkie as a nickname. The interior is just like Putt-Putt, the van we rented this summer.

Tomorrow I call the insurance company to pick up the totalled Red Car, a/k/a/ Dead Car Walking.

Camping ho! Posted by Hello

Monday, October 11, 2004

Maybe we should have named her Madison

Perhaps subconsciously inspired by this event, I dreamed last night that Mir, Anna, and I all got together to hang out, along with our children. I think we went to the park.

In reality--especially since we live in three different corners of the country--this will probably never happen. But you two might like to know that we all had a fine time. The kids got along, too, as well as I can recall.

At the end of the day, as we were getting into our separate cars to go home, I realized that for the entire afternoon we'd been calling the children by their blog aliases, and I still didn't know their real names.

I woke up wondering if I should be calling my own kid by an alias. I always figured her name is so common that it's unlikely anyone unwanted would happen upon this site by searching for it, but on a whim I asked her if she wanted a nickname on my blog. and (surprise, surprise) she does.

So, be it now proclaimed that my offspring hereafter shall be known on this website as...[drumroll, please]

Mermaid Girl.

Not what I would've picked, but hey, I can see it has a certain something.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

I've Got You Under My Skin


This is my October Blogging for Books entry. This month's theme: Insanity. The instructions were: "For this Blogging for Books, write about a time you were pushed to the brink of insanity (figuratively or literally), and how you lived to tell the tale."

I. Among the Singing Danes

October 1989. Ein Gedi, Israel. Palestinians and Israelis were fighting each other. Lefties and Jews were yelling at me. I couldn’t stand my mom, who was the only person I knew within a thousand miles. I’d been out of college for a year and had no idea what to do next. I was in miserable, not-quite-requited love with a woman in England. I’d spent the summer working at a cannery in Alaska, garnering enough money for this trip as well as a nasty case of carpal tunnel syndrome. I could barely hold a pencil, much less write to anyone. My skin was tightening and flaking and looked like crud. I was in pain or discomfort at every moment. It was hot. I was running out of things to read.

I was at a Danish-run psoriasis clinic in the middle of the desert.

Every morning I woke up in the youth hostel dormitory and pulled on the same loose shirt and skirt; it was painful to wear tighter clothes. I loaded up my backpack: sheet; towel; water bottle; book; giganto tub of skin cream.

At breakfast, a pack of irascible old Israeli ladies invariably took advantage of the free buffet by making themselves sandwiches for lunch, which they wrapped in paper napkins and stuffed into their purses. They urged me to do it too. When I expressed qualms, they yelled at me. “Go on! Everyone does it! Here!” and to my mortification, they would force a hard-boiled egg into my hand, ignoring the glares of the young Arab guy who worked at the hostel.

After breakfast, I walked the half-mile along the road to the beach, past the resort area where families and old people took their vacations, to the women’s section of the fenced-in psoriasis clinic. I took off my clothes, slathered myself with cream, and lay down naked on my sheet.

It was the least sexy nude beach in history. The cream-slathering was a chore, like putting Destin on a baby, if the baby’s 5 feet tall and the Desitin goes all over. Thanks to the carpal tunnel syndrome, I had to slather with my bad hand. It was uncomfortably hot. There were flies. The regime was very specific: I was supposed to stay in the sun, re-slather every couple of hours, and soak in the sea four times a day. My skin was cracked and dry and inflamed. The Dead Sea is the saltiest body of water in the world. It hurt.

A few dozen cheerful Danes were there too. Why shouldn’t they be cheerful? They were in sunny Israel, unaccompanied by any neurotic mothers; their skin was getting better; they had generous national health insurance; most of them knew each other from past clinic stints. They were friendly and tried to remember to speak English around me, but we never got much past pleasant surface chats.

I felt isolated beyond any language difference, withdrawing inward from my skin and my surroundings. Everything seemed distant: old ladies scrabbling over breakfast; Danes breaking into spontaneous song as they bobbed in the salty water; the families on the beach, the backpackers at the hostel, the soldiers hitchhiking on the road: all of it was like a film running on the other side of a frosted window. Meanwhile, my real life—my friends from college, who I missed desperately; the cannery where I’d worked 100-hour weeks all summer; and especially, especially, the woman I’d left in England— played in an endless Technicolor loop inside my head.

II: Mom, the Middle East, and Me

My mother had many excellent reasons for immigrating to Israel: she was getting in touch with her Jewish heritage after growing up assimilated; the climate was good for her own severe psoriasis; she needed a change from suburban New Jersey. By her own account, she also had the notion (since thankfully abandoned) that I would follow her to the Promised Land and would somehow thereby stop being a lesbian; fortunately, I didn’t know about that theory at the time.

I was, frankly, happy to see her go. We’d had a turbulent time during my adolescence, and 6,000 miles was barely far enough away as far as I was concerned. If a confluence of health and religious reasons had mandated that she move to, oh, Mars, that would’ve been even better. Still, she was my mom, and after a year or so, I thought I should visit her in Tel Aviv.

The Palestinian uprising now known as the First Intifada was in full force, and Israel was highly unpopular among liberals and progressives. Like most of my non-Jewish friends, I was an anti-war/lefty type. It felt like everyone—my progressive pals and my more traditional Jewish friends and relatives—wanted to pick a fight about Israel, and somehow they all thought that a Jewish lesbian feminist peacenik with an Israeli mother was the perfect person to hold accountable for the entire Middle East situation. I found myself arguing with everyone, whatever their viewpoint, and hated it.

Which didn’t help my relationship with my mother, either.

From the start, the visit was a less than roaring success. I didn’t speak Hebrew. Carpal tunnel syndrome crippled my good hand. A London stopover had left me heartsick; my British flame was involved with someone else, but I couldn’t get over her, and seeing her again just made it worse. What I needed was long midnight talks with friends. What I got was my mom, brimming with equal parts Zionist zeal and empty-nest neediness. For one long week, we shared her one-room apartment in a new immigrants’ housing complex. Even her breathing felt oppressive.

She did try. She took me around to visit the beach in Tel Aviv and the Old City in Jerusalem, and pretended not to notice that I was avoiding her when I slept late into the morning. And when my own psoriasis flared up, she drove me to the Dead Sea, and the Danish clinic.

The clinic was a model of Scandinavian pragmatism: The Danish government figured it was cheaper to ship their worst psoriasis patients to the Dead Sea, with its strong sunlight and mineral-rich air and water, for a few weeks a year, than to treat them as hospital in-patients in cold, gray Denmark. Non-Danes with severe psoriasis were welcome too, if they provided their own linens and found their own lodgings (the Danish patients stayed at guest houses at a nearby kibbutz).

By “severe psoriasis,” I don’t mean a little irritated patch of skin or dandruff. Severe, chronic psoriasis can cover over 50% of the skin area, and can be debilitating. The skin forms flaky plaques, gets inflamed, tightens up like drying plaster-of-Paris, and stays that way unless it’s treated aggressively with ultraviolet light, topical steroids, or stronger medication. Many people get panicky or depressed during a flare-up. In the worst cases, patients have to be hospitalized. It looks gross, too. Think “The Singing Detective.”

That’s the kind of psoriasis my mom has, and that most of the Danish clinic patients had. And mine was heading that way when my mom dropped me off at the youth hostel near the Ein Gedi clinic.

III. The Drive

I can see now that my mom wasn’t having the easiest time either. She’d moved to a completely different culture, thousands of miles from family and friends. She didn’t know the language or even the alphabet. She was divorced in a place where family was everything. She didn’t have a job or a permanent place to live. Her new country was in a state of war. Her own health was not great. And her daughter, visiting at last, was acting hostile and distant.

So, being a basically decent person and loving parent, she sends her daughter away for her health (and to avoid strangling her), and goes to visit her after a week to see how she’s doing. She even takes her out for dinner, at a hotel nearby.

I don’t know who brought up the Palestinian issue on the ride back to the hostel. Maybe it was me; I was only 23 and too dumb to keep my mouth shut. Maybe it was my mom, spoiling for a fight. All I remember is my mother explaining to me, in the most patronizing of tones, that of course Palestinians had a primitive society.

I took the bait. “Primitive!”

“Yes, primitive,” my mom said evenly, like someone teaching a slow child.

No one can get under my skin like my mom. “You’re a racist! That’s an incredibly racist thing to say!”

My mother slammed on the brake. “Get out of this car!” she said.

“Fine!” I got out and slammed the door. She drove away. I stormed down the road, not looking back.

This was no film viewed through a window; everything was suddenly in clear, sharp focus. My mom, my mother, my mommy, had abandoned me in the desert. As the sound of the car’s motor faded into the distance, my fury ebbed, leaving me scared and completely unmoored.

All I could see was endless sand, a few scrubby little plants, and the empty road. The sun was still up, but not for long. How far were we from the hotel? From the youth hostel? I wasn’t sure. Maybe I could hitchhike back, I thought. But there were no cars in sight.

Part of me was sure that my mother would come back, that she wouldn’t just leave me there. Weren’t there wild animals in the desert at night? I told myself not to be melodramatic. But she had been furious; and she was far from stable at the best of times. There was no way to know. I kept walking.

I saw the bundle not more than a dozen yards away. I couldn’t imagine who had left it by the roadside, or why. I picked it up. There was a dirty shirt, which I let drop, and a book, in English.

The title sounded vaguely familiar; I thought I’d seen a review of it, back home. It was a sympathetic study of the lives of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, written by an Israeli Jew. I didn’t believe in God, but it felt like someone must have known I needed this. It wasn’t that I was desperate to learn more about the Palestinian situation; all I wanted was to know that someone felt the same way I did, that I wasn’t completely alone.

I was standing there, reading, when my mother pulled up a few minutes later. I got in the car. We didn’t talk much. She drove me back to the hostel. I held onto the book like a talisman.

V. Later

My skin got better for a few weeks, then deteriorated during my trip through Europe. I recuperated at my dad’s house in New York for six months before moving to Seattle. Within a week of my move, I joined a Jewish peace organization.

Eventually I stopped pining over the woman in England. My first friend in Seattle was a smart, funny librarian of Danish ancestry. After six years of friendship, we hooked up romantically. We are still together.

My mom still lives in Israel. We can still drive each other crazy, literally and figuratively, but we’ve made some peace over the years. She joined the Tel Aviv branch of P-FLAG and led the joyous hora dancing at my wedding to my partner six years ago. And we did agree, finally, not to fight about Israel any more.

And the book? It’s called The Yellow Road, by David Grossman. I read it; it was pretty good. Then I must have passed it on to someone. I don’t have it any more, and I have no way of knowing how it came to be lying on that desert roadside. But I’ll always be grateful to the student or soldier or hitchhiker who left it there.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Love Of Car

One more thing, while I'm putting off writing the dreaded Workshop Handouts:

Sarah heard us talking about the car tonight at dinner; we were discussing which of us should be driving it while it's in its current fragile state, so that we can tell the adjusters which office parking lot to go to to look at it.

"No!" she cried, on hearing the phrase "look at the car." "Don't sell Red Car! I love Red Car!" [We are so imaginative about naming our cars: we have Red Car and White Car.]

I explained to her about the accident, and about how it would cost more to fix Red Car than to buy another one, and a little about insurance and how it works, and about how we hadn't wanted this, and it wasn't our fault, it was the truck driver's fault, but that maybe now we would have some money to buy a van.

"Noooo! I don't want a van! I hate vans! Don't sell Red Car! I don't want you to sell Red Car!" She burst into tears, real huge heaving sobs, as if, I don't know, as if someone was dying, or candy had been banned forever and replaced by brown rice. Then she ran into her room and closed the door and said she wanted to be alone.

She sobbed deeply for, I swear, 15 minutes, which is a long time. We finally got her calmed down with many hugs, and a reminder that she's going to be getting a new [pink!] booster seat for White Car soon. She did perk up when she realized that we weren't getting rid of everything in Red Car, that we'd be keeping all the cassette tapes and toys that have piled up in there. "Even the garbage!" RW said, and Sarah laughed, a little hysterically, and repeated it to me: "Even the garbage! That's funny, Mommy, right? Even the garbage!"

She was like this, or even worse, two years ago, when we sold the old green Volvo to buy White Car. For months afterwards, she would point out green Volvos on the street and say wistfully, "That looks like Green Car! I miss Green Car."

My family never even had a car until I was five; all this car-love is mystifying to me. I guess it's just part of the Great Circle of Life. Or something.

A series of unfortunate events

1. I'm taking my mom to the airport tomorrow. It was a good visit, though maybe long enough for both of us.

2. Tomorrow I also have to finish preparing for the workshop I'm leading on Saturday.
I'm supposed to be working on it at this very moment, but I have a tendency to procrastinate.

3. The honeymoon is over: tonight Sarah told me I wasn't her favorite mom, because I won't play the Barbie game with her like Grandma does, never mind that RW won't play it either. I knew I shouldn't have written that post.

4. That little fender-bender I got into on Monday? Much bigger deal than it originally appeared. The hatchback door was damaged as well as the fender. The car may be totalled; i.e. the repairs would cost more than the car is worth. The Vanagon ahead of me was also damaged, it now emerges, which turns Vanagon Woman from a witness into another claimant. And it turns out I was supposed to file a police report right away. Two claims adjusters will be trying to call me tomorrow, while I am running around to airports and conferences and such. This could mean that:(a) we end up with some money for a Vanagon of our own, or (b) we are ensnarled in an insurance nightmare for the forseeable future. Or (b) followed by (a). Or (b) followed by more (b), with frantic search for other witnesses, followed by miniscule amount of money with which we must buy the second car we need to keep our household running.

5. The cat appears to have fleas, but when, oh when, will I have time to chase him down and drive him to the vet? And if I don't, will Sarah be flea-bitten forever?

6. The oysters are all gone.

7. My "bulleted list" and "numbered list" shortcuts have disappeared from Blogger. WTF?

Waiting for the other tiny ballet slipper to drop

I don't want to jinx things, but... Sarah has been being really, really nice to me for the last couple of weeks.

Here's an example: generally she's still asleep when I leave in the morning, but this morning I was in the bathroom and heard a little voice outside the door asking "Who's in there?"

I thought she was gonna start fussing that she needed to use the bathroom RIGHT AWAY and I should get out NOW. She has been known to do such things. But when I answered, in trembling voice, "It's Mommy, I'll be out soon!" she said, "Mommy! I like you! I'm glad you're here!" When I emerged, she flung her arms around me. But she wasn't all clingy; she just seemed genuinely happy. She even told me she liked my shoes!

Tonight, for no reason whatsoever, she gave me her Madeline necklace. I should keep it, she insisted. I thanked her profusely and told her she could have it back if she changed her mind. (I didn't tell her the little Madeline medallion isn't quite my style.) And she's been feeding me bits of her meals, the way she used to do back when she was a toddler. And she does stuff I ask her to do, like clean up her toys, without fussing. She even chose to ride home with me, not RW, when we drove back from a friend's house in two cars the other night. It's spooky.

I can't help worrying that she's somehow worried about me; she can be very solicitous when I'm unhappy, and I don't want her to feel like she has to take care of me or any adult. But I haven't been particularly unhappy lately; things in general (car crashes notwithstanding) have been all right. So I don't think that's it.

My mom thinks that her intrusion into the household has bumped me up in the pecking order. RW's theory is that my stock has been rising in comparison with hers, since she's working full-time now and is less available to Sarah than she used to be, while I'm just as available as I ever was, if not more so, since I'm making an effort to pick her up a little early from day care now that she's there five days a week.

So then I worried that Sarah was being extra-sweet to me as a subtle jab at RW, or at my mom. (Not that she isn't kind and sensitive, but she does have a Machievellian side. We don't have to worry that she'll be a picked-on little nerd girl like we both were.) But RW, who has spent more time with Sarah over the past 4+ years than anyone on the planet, said she didn't think that was it, either, and I decided to take her word for it.

So I am trying to simply be grateful for this turn of events and not to get weirded out by it. When Sarah kisses and hugs me and tells me I'm the greatest, the best, the most wonderful mommy, and she loves me even more than Barbie, I try to take her words and her love into my heart and just feel them and let them stay there. I figure, when she becomes an adolescent and decides that everything we do is stupid, I can think of these times, and remember that somewhere inside her is that 4-year-old who felt that way, and not take it so hard.

Or, who knows-- I may be looking back nostalgically on this post by next week, as a screaming tantrum against all things Mommy rages in the background.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Back from vacation, with a sickening crunch

I was just sitting there this morning, in the traffic snarl not-so-fondly referred to as the Mercer Mess, waiting for the light to change so I could slowly, slowly merge onto the highway. I was running late to work but trying not to let it get to me. Instead, I was daydreaming about the maroon Vanagon in front of me. It would be great if we had a van like that...RW keeps talking about buying one...this one is probably newer than whatever we'd get, though... wonder how much it cost... hey, how come I'm MOVING? How come I'm still moving even though I'm pulling frantically on the emergency brake? How come I'm... crashing into that Vanagon, ever so slowly, accompanied by a horrible unidentifiable crunching sound, as if I'm being pushed by an inexorable force, as if there's A GREAT BIG YELLOW MACK TRUCK BEHIND ME PLOWING INTO ME???

You can probably guess why.

The light changed. The Vanagon pulled into a nearby parking lot. I pulled in next to it. The humungous yelllow Mack truck pulled over to the right-hand lane, blocking all the cars behind it.

The nice woman in the Vanagon got out and looked at her fender. "I'm okay," she said. "Are you okay? Oh, look, your fender's kind of hanging off, there."

"Paper," I said. "Paper. A piece of paper. Does anyone have a pen and a piece of paper?" All I could remember is that you're supposed to write down insurance information. The Vanagon woman gave me some paper and a very nice purple pen, which she said I could keep. I proceeded to write down everyone's license plate number and vehicle color, as a theraputic exercise.

The truck driver bounded out of his monstrosity. "Hey," he called in the general direction of me and my tiny red Honda Civic. "Where on earth did you come from?"

"I was right there," I said. "In front of your truck." ("She was!" said the wonderful Vanagon woman.)

"I didn't even see you!" He sounded vaguely offended, like I'd snuck in front of him on purpose to trick him into rear-ending me.

"Not everyone's an SUV, you know," I snarked.

"I hear ya. I drive a motorcycle, myself." For some reason, this didn't endear him to me.

The Vanagon woman gave me her phone number and excused herself to drive her friend to the airport. The idiot truck driver gave me his insurance number and continued protesting as I wrote it down that he hadn't seen me, just the van in front of me, just hadn't seen me at all, blah blah blah blah arrogant idiot blah. He did remember to throw a token "I'm sorry" into the mix about five minutes on, but the general gist was sort of injured shock, like, What was I doing, driving such a tiny little car around on the streets? Didn't I know people could get hurt that way?

"Look," he continued. "My cab's just so big, there, there's no way I could see you at all. Just look at it." He sounded proud of it, like it was a prize sow. Or something even less savory.

"Yeah, well, I guess that's a problem," I remarked.

"Not really," he said huffily.

"Um. It is for me." (And if this reads like a painfully obvious retort, imagine how it felt to say it. Reader, I cringed. But I was compelled despite myself, as if.. as if... as if the words were being dragged out of my mouth by a yellow Mack truck with a cab the size of Montana.)

We exchanged a few more pleasantries, and then he bounded into his giganto-truck and revved 'er up. I kicked at the remains of my rear fender, called work, called RW to freak out, and then left too, unreasonably infuriated that, after crunching into me as if I wasn't there, he was now ahead of me on the highway. It didn't seem right.

Positive things that came out of this terrifying experience:
1) I had a really good excuse for being late to work.
2) The company that employs Mack Truck Idiot will pay to replace the fender, which was slightly scraped already, though not nearly the hazard that it is now.
3) I now have a nice purple pen. But I will probably call Vanagon Woman and send it back.

Monday, October 04, 2004

One last link before bedtime--Now Updated!

As a charter member of the "Dykes Who Like Show Tunes" brigade at the Gay Pride Parade (Our motto: "Why should gay men have all the fun?") I fell over at this.

God, I miss the subway. I guess I could sing show tunes in the car next time I'm stuck in traffic on I-90, but I just don't think it would be the same.

Updated to add:

I too had my doubts about this story, until I read this follow-up post. I don't remember there being that many aggressive fundamentalists on the subway, but I haven't been on it for a long, long time. (*sigh*)

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Why I could never keep kosher

(Meaning, I hasten to add, no disrespect to anyone reading this who does so.)

In a word: Oysters.

There are other reasons. The whole two-sets-of-dishes aspect, for one, would be a big pain. And I would be sad to never have real bacon or a cheese steak again. But oysters-- that's the deal-breaker.

It's not just oysters. I do have a thing for shellfish of all kinds. Once, for a birthday--maybe my 10th--I was taken out for dinner and told I could order anything I wanted. I ordered three shrimp cocktails. I can still see the waitress bearing them in triumphally on their platter, twelve huge curving shrimp-tails hooked around a big dish of cocktail sauce. That was one of the best meals of my life.

But collectively, the meals and snacks I had this weekend, in our little barely-furnished one-room state-park cabin near the sea (bring your own cooler, bring your own propane stove, no cooking inside the cabin) might have it beat.

On the way to the coast, we stopped in South Bend and bought a quart-- a quart!-- of fresh shucked oysters (and they were cheap!). We put them in the cooler on ice. Whenever I felt a little peckish--between walks to the sea and trips to the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center* and the piles of books we plowed through with nothing else to distract us--I opened up the cooler, speared a couple of oysters, squeezed a lemon over them, and-- aahh. Yum.

We bought another quart on the way home. Think I'll have some now.

*Thanks to which I now know more about loading a dugout canoe than I ever thought possible.