Monday, December 24, 2007

Bible Stuff

Friday night at dinner, a friend of mine was talking about Bible-related conflict at his job. I won't go into detail, but Bibles play a part in the business they conduct at this workplace. So this guy, Ervin, picked up one of the office Bibles and used it as a flat surface on which to write a note, and somebody got pissed. He shouldn't do that, he was told, because it's desecrating the Bible.

Ervin furrowed his brow and thought. How do you know it's desecrating the Bible? He asked. How do you know this Bible's not conferring special righteousness to this note I'm writing?

Later on he got yelled at for putting his coffee cup on a Bible, and his response was pretty much the same. The Bible is a holy document, he said. Maybe it's having a beneficial influence upon my coffee instead of being corrupted by it.

I was interested in his reasoning because of a speaker at a local church service I went to a few weeks ago. This speaker, Dr. Rocco Errico, has spent his life studying the language and culture of Jesus. He's done some translation from Biblical writings in Aramaic into English. Now, I'm not saying that I think Dr. Errico would think it's okay to use Bibles as coasters, but I think he does believe that the Bible as we know it is distorted from its original meaning.

Assuming that the Bibles in Ervin's office are the King James Version, can you really say they're the word of God? The folks who originally told those Biblical stories did not speak the Shakespearian English featured in the KJV. Jesus' people (none of whom were blond or blue-eyed) spoke Aramaic, and sometimes the act of translation is clumsy work. From Aramaic, Biblical writings were translated into Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and the KJV was translated from those languages. Think of it like this - if you photocopy a page and make a photocopy of that and photocopy the last one again, each time you wind up with a slightly more distorted reproduction of the original.

Take into account that the meaning of Biblical writings may have been distorted to begin with, then think about how hard it has become for speakers of English to understand the kind of English used in the KJV. When's the last time you heard somebody say, "My brother knew his wife and begat a son?"

I admire people who say they've read the Bible cover to cover, but at the same time I feel sorry for them because they spent so much time reading something they probably don't understand. Because it's so hard to understand, people wind up fabricating ideas about what's right and wrong according to the Bible. Like, they replace the commandment about "Thou Shalt Not Kill" with "Thou shalt not put cups of coffee on the Bible."
Photo: There's still some flowery color outside Deep Roots Market, even though we're well into hothouse poinsettia season.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Homage to Ridgeway Road

There have been moments this season when I wanted to defect to a Muslim country governed by Sharia law - anything to escape the onslaught of Christmas crapola.

Though I'm not exactly a sutras thumper, I am Buddhist in my religious practice. Yet I can't escape this Santa-loving Christmas culture I was raised in, both because of my family and because it's the dominant culture here.

Maybe I shouldn't exclusively blame the Christians, because Santa's not a Biblical figure. In fact, he smacks of paganism, which in my mind is mostly pretty cool except where he's concerned.

I loathe Santa-based Christmas activities. Every year when someone suggests organizing Secret Santa proceedings, I have to suppress the urge to go cross-eyed and clutch at the wall. And at the inevitable Dirty Santa parties, I need four or five extra drinks, and even then it's all I can do to hang on - being jolly is out of the question.

And now that I'm an adult, I don't groove on the gift-giving aspect of Christmas, because now I see it for what it always really was: a way to assuage the consciences of family members who gave you nothing but a hard time all year long. I hate the desperate feeling I get when trying to shop for people who I'm related to, because there's a 75 percent chance I'm going to get them something they don't want. Just because we're related doesn't mean we know each other well enough to buy for each other. There's always the gift card, but when retailers invented the gift card they really envisioned a gift for themselves. Inevitably, the receiver of this gift will have to overspend the value on the gift card, or not use the random number of cents left on it after a purchase. Yet it's considered gauche to just give money as a gift at Christmas.

There's that old saying "It's the thought that counts," which is supposed to make people feel better when they've struck out with gift giving and getting. It's not acceptable for adults to make each other construction paper cards with original poetry written inside - what's expected is that you spend money on useless merchandise to in order to prove that your thought counts. You must make a sacrifice to a retailer to prove you love someone else, even if you can't afford it and your gift is destined to be held up to others as an example of feeble, and to go under the tree at a Dirty Santa party next year.

There are a lot of other unreasonable expectations at Christmas. Like, you must leave your home and spend days traveling back and forth to the homes of others, and once you arrive there you must pretend to be festive no matter how tired you are from all the Christmas frenzy. If you don't feelings will be hurt. You will have committed sacrilege, and your relatives will commit suicide from the emotional wound you inflict. Jesus will weep and the Devil will rejoice.

There's one thing I love about Christmas, however. It's the Christmas light orb orgy that goes on in the neighborhood around Ridgeway Road between Friendly and Market. I believe that's the Sunset Hills neighborhood, but I'm not sure. If you haven't seen it, GO! It could pass for the second coming, or a mushroom-fueled hallucination. I really admire how all those neighbors got together to stage this thing. I respect how they're able to string those Christmas-light-wrapped chicken-wire globes so high up in the trees. And really, something like this light display is what we need this time of year. Many of us are settling in to the blues of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and of maxing out credit cards so others won't be able to tell how poor we are by our gift giving. The days are short, the nights are long, and the stress is high. What we really need is something amazing to make us feel wonder again, like we did in front of the Christmas tree as kids. The Ridgeway Road display makes me feel like that.
Forgive the non-seasonal picture. I took this photo of my neighbor's cat back before it got too cold for indoor plants to be outside.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Beefcake Bardem Channels Phantasm Horror Guy

Javier Bardem, the star of No Country for Old Men, is arguably the hottest man alive. But I think it's pretty obvious he schooled himself in how to be un-sexy by modeling his performance upon that of Angus Scrimm, who portrayed The Tall Man in Don Coscarelli's Phantasm movies. Compare these photos. Clearly Bardem copied Scrimm's hairstyle, scowl, and general air of cold, existential menace.

No Country for Old Men is a Coen Brothers adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name. It's a gritty story of believable characters in events following a drug deal and shootout. It opened last week, and the acting in it smokes. Phantasm is a cheesy 1979 horror flick which requires a lot of what Samuel Taylor Coleridge might call "willing suspension of disbelief," and the acting in it is silly. But both movies are completely absorbing because they feature an omnipotent bad guy who comes from an entirely different and more advanced plane of badness.

Bardem is a master of finding roles that uglify him. I guess he doesn't want to capitalize upon his God-given gifts and have an easy beefcake life (like Brad Pitt). That's admirable but frustrating for us ladies. He gets his head waxed and wears a fake paunch for Mondays in the Sun, potrays a homosexual in Before Night Falls, a bedridden quadriplegic in Mar Adentro. The only film I've seen him in which features him sexy is The Dancer Upstairs, though I haven't seen him in Love in the Time of Cholera yet.

I don't know much about Scrimm, but I have to admit his Tall Man character is my favorite horror movie villain. It's been a long time since I've seen the orginal Phantasm and seeing No Country has made me want to rent it again soon.

No Country is the best Coen brothers movie since Miller's Crossing, in my opinion. I think this the first time I've seen a movie that stayed so true to the book from which it was adapted.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ford Granada, Afro Sheen tan

Wells' grandmother was an alcoholic who liked to do two things when she drank: Take off all her clothes and drive around town in her Ford Granada. Wow, you might be thinking. That's pretty bad. Well, it gets worse.

Picture this: very small southern town in a dry county, circa 1980. In this place, ten-year-old Wells was on a Little League team. His team had a game one evening. The sun was still up. The stands were full of people, including Well's dad, and the game was underway. The sound of squealing tires and a collision made everybody whip round to look at the top of the hill. A Ford Granada had hit a telephone pole.

Can you imagine the horror Wells' dad felt when he saw his mother-in-law's car wrecked like that, and heard wailing start from within it? He ran up the hill to the roadway, just like everybody else in the stands. The kids playing ball were the last to notice, but pretty soon they followed suit.

By the time Wells arrived on the scene, a crowd had formed around the car. His naked grandmother was in the driver's seat screaming "David, David, hold me!" at his father.

She wasn't seriously hurt. In fact, that accident probably did more damage to Wells and his dad. What does a man do with his mother-in-law in a situation like this? How does a young boy recover from seeing his mother's mother naked? When he's one of many seeing her that way at the same time? And she's goofy drunk and asking his dad to hold her?

I used to pick on Wells in elementary school because I thought he was such a prim and proper stuffed shirt. We became friends in high school and he told me this story about himself, which I think explains a lot. When you have such a loose family member, you tend to react by becoming uptight.

When we were sixteen, Wells and I were both guests of the Yearly family during their stay at a time-share condo in Myrtle Beach. We were in school and good friends with Cath Yearly. Since Wells had his car (mid-70s VW bug) there, we hatched a plan to sneak out after her parents went to bed one night. At the last minute Cath chickened out, perhaps because her parents weren't as far away as ours were.

It was fantastic. That was my first unsupervised-riding-around with a friend experience. We went to a convenience store and bought a number of Hostess products, some candy bars, a Coke and a Yoohoo. We cruised around and yelled at people. At last I could fearlessly snack between meals and be rude and loud with impunity.

The next day we went out and bought Afro-Sheen, a Black haircare product, even though we are both white. Wells swore that Afro-Sheen slathered onto the skin would yield the best tan. This was in an era before people worried so much about skin cancer and wrinkles, and all the white people at school had a different arcane recipe for tanning lotion. Roma, another friend of ours, liked to sun in a mixture of salt, butter, and lemon juice.

Blowing sand stuck to the Afro Sheen and made for a gritty sunbathing experience, but indeed, I got a hell of a tan.

In the fall, Wells and Blake rolled up to my house in the VW bug and we went cruising. There was a rusted-out hole in the back seat floorboard. I don't remember whose idea this was, but we collected some wire clothes hangers from my closets. We took them to the mall to experiment with trying to make sparks fly out behind the car by dragging the hangers along the pavement through the floorboard hole. It sort of worked, but it mostly just made an annoying sound.

"I've got an idea," Wells said. He pulled into a parking space along the perimeter of the mall parking lot and popped the hood. (The trunk was in the front of his car). When he slammed it back down, he had what looked like a stumpy yet substantial metal pipe in his hand. It was part of the jack.

"Try this," he said.

Blake and I took turns. The jack was much harder to hold onto but it created a much more satisfying show of sparks, which more people were likely to see because the noise it made turned so many heads. It was kind of like millions of nails across millions of blackboards and it rang out throughout the acres of mall parking lot. We cruised around like that for a satisfying while, until Wells remembered that he had a small gas tank leak, and the gas tank might be too close to our sparking action.

I have to get drunk to have that much fun these days.

I skipped my high school reunion, and I really hate it because Cath told me Wells was there. I haven't seen him since my freshman year of college.

Oh well. Wells, if you're out there and you recognize yourself in here, e-mail me. Remind me of details I've forgotten. Hope you're well.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Insidious TV

Think about the people you watch on TV - in the reality shows, the crime dramas, the sitcoms that are supposed to mirror real life. What's one HUGE life activity (besides going to the bathroom) that people on TV never engage in?

You almost never seeing them watch TV. But we watch them on it. What they're doing is so worthy of our attention we'll hand over our time and attention to worship how interesting they are, which is kind of like us admitting we're a bunch of boring assholes. I think it sneakily robs us of our self-esteem.

Some people have self-control where TV is concerned, but I don't. It's like I go into the living room behind my own back and sit down with the remote. Then I wonder, "How did I get here?" Then I can't get up, because the TV fires up the passive and lazy section of my brain, and I veg out and watch stuff I hate, hating myself for doing it.

I gave my TV away in graduate school because my addiction to the O.J. Simpson trial was interfering with other aspects of my life, like studying, socializing, and riding my bike. I have no ability to resist the temptations of the machine, so I had to get it out of the house. I was TVless for about 12 years, then I moved in with Wyatt, who has one that dominates the room. It's like it's staring at you, silent but overbearing, subliminally suggesting that you turn it on.

But now Wyatt and I are thinking about quitting the TV habit - well, pretty much. Without cable, his TV can pick up one fuzzy local station, which is usually what we have with our basic cable package anyway. It goes out every few weeks, and we have to call to schedule a repair visit, and we have to be home within a nice long time frame in case the repair person comes by and needs to get in, and then that person won't show, so we schedule another repair time, and the problem is always with the box outside anyway. It's just too much damn trouble and not worth the paltry sum we pay for it.

However, it seems like ever time we get it fixed, we wind up with a deluxe channel we're not paying for. Once it was Spike, and I became a major TV junkie on episodes of Most Extreme Challenge and reruns of CSI. Another time it was VH1 Classic, and we both became addicted to watching the music videos of our youth and documentaries about groups who really don't deserve the attention. As great as that stuff is for a while, it still keeps you from making the best of your time in the here and now.

Lately I've realized that that these extra channels might not be an accident. Maybe they're giving us the good stuff on and off so we'll get addicted and upgrade to a more expensive cable package. It's insidious.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Devil's Tramping Ground

Wyatt and I had a misadventure at the Devil's Tramping Ground on Halloween night. We went to bed at 8 p.m., got up at 2 a.m., and drove down into Chatham County. There's a clearing in the woods there where legends say Satan paces and does all his plotting against humanity. I planned to burn a sacrificial fire there, of a nature I will explain later.

The DTG is in a deeply rural area. We were disappointed to see that a car was parked on the side of the road at the head of the path to it. We didn't want to face an awkward situation with those folks, so we pulled off the road near the parked car to turn around and go home. We could see faint orange light from a dying fire in the middle of the DTG clearing.

Then I realized there was movement in the back seat of the parked car. My breath caught when I saw a sweatshirt-hooded face in the window, agape, almost like the mask the killer wears in the Scream movies, except he had glasses on. I guess we woke him up and he was squinting in our headlights, trying to see. Wyatt and I laughed about it after we peeled out of there and got over being spooked.

Now I'm going to explain why I needed to have a secluded bonfire.

Up until recently, I must have harbored a subconscious belief that someone would one day write a book about me, and so I should keep all the letters anyone ever wrote me and all the journal entries I ever penned. One can amass a huge pile of paper if one starts at age 13 and continues until late 30-something. Especially if one is a girl - for some reason, girls are letter-writing fiends in their teens.

Now that I'm living with someone else and confronting serious space issues, I've decided to get rid of this burden I've hauled from address to address since I was 18 - at least all of the stuff from 7th grade through college. But I don't know how. A paper shredder would choke on it. There's a statewide burn ban at all parks and camping facilities. The only option I could come up with was to trespass onto private property, even though it meant we might crowd the Devil.

At first I was going to re-read all this paper before I ripped it out and bagged it up, but that was no fun. Most of my journal entries were about angst and malaise, a brooding, boring mess. I never wrote about the fun exciting things that happened because I told and re-told the stories worth telling so much I got sick of them.

What was most interesting were the letters from other people. When you go back and look at first-hand accounts of the past, it makes you realize the problems you and others had back in your tender youth have come back again and again in different outfits. That a person's character doesn't really change. I was looking at a 1992 letter from Lindstrom and realized, hey, he's always done that - pine for love and then break up with his perfectly good new girl because he doesn't believe she loves him for the right reasons.

I also realized that my social scene was awash with brilliant, funny writers. So in deciding that these documents were worthless, I rediscovered their value. But I'm still ready to let them go.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Energy Vampires

One of the things we've talked about in massage school is the concept of the Energy Vampire. While this term may inspire some to roll their eyes and others to hum the theme to the Twilight Zone or the X-Files, it's actually a very common phenomenon. I was skeptical myself to begin with, but recent events have made me a believer. Perhaps another, more common term for the Energy Vampire is the Passive-Aggressive Pain in the Ass. A similar personality is the Manipulative Pain in the Ass.

Energy vampires, it was explained to us at orientation, are people who complicate the day-to-day workings of class or work in tiny ways. What they do doesn't look serious on the surface, but over the course of months or years they cost other people a lot of time and energy. Such a person might be chronically late. It's not much of a disruption, but when someone walks in to work or class late, they have to be acknowledged, accommodated, and caught up on what's going on. It causes a distraction from the flow of events. It requires that this person get special attention.

Then Dallas, one of my classmates, started talking about her ex-boyfriend being a self-professed Energy Vampire. She described him as mysterious character - somehow he's always able to outwit her in an argument, she said, and she doesn't understand how he does it. (Perhaps he has a Phd in manipulative). And after they broke up, he called her and told her a big lie about how she owed him hundreds of dollars because he hadn't been paying toward their joint membership and now the gym wanted the money. I believe this ploy was as much about having an excuse to call and harass her as it was to get money out of her.

I didn't think much about what she was saying at first, but then she said something like, "I really want to help him, you know. Because I'm a good person." Then I remembered. I know several other people who are able to rein and saddle others that way. Energy Vampires carry on like they're needy and helpless in order to get control of someone else. They get you hooked on a false sense of responsibility. And in many cases it's not a genuine sense of responsibility, because you act on it out of a desire to feel noble. The neediness isn't real, and the desire to "help" isn't real either, but they're both essential ingredients in addictive drama. I've dated some Energy Vampires myself.

There was a big Energy Vampire event in class last week. I spent a lot of my weekend thinking about it and feeling stupid for doing so.

We had a special seminar, which included members of other massage classes, so there were some people we didn't know in the room. Toward the end of the day, the instructor gave a presentation about individual projects we'd just completed, and analyzed each student's work for the class. In the middle of it, a girl I didn't know spoke out in a loud, scornful voice. "Well, if you're going to just do this, is it okay if those of us who aren't interested leave? Cause, you know, I'm just not feeling it."

I could feel outrage welling up in me, and I didn't want it, but I could not resist giving in to emotional involvement in this situation. The instructor engaged the "Not feelin' it" girl in a discussion about free will and school policies regarding make up work for missed class time. "Not feeling it" left the room after one or two more assy statements.

Those statements are translated here:


I resented the fact that this student/teacher conflict had to include me and everybody else in the room. I didn't even know "Not feelin' it," and yet I was covered up in emotional ick because I was helpless to keep myself from getting sucked into her emotional vortex. I'm pissed off because I'm still stirred up enough about it to write this long-assed entry. I'm enraged because it's reminded me of other events when I've been directly or indirectly manipulated by an Energy Vampire. I thought I was the only one so afflicted, but today I found out it affected everyone in my class pretty much the same way.

I need some guidance about how to become Energy Vampire-proof.
I wrote about a similar topic in my post "Exorcism and Julius Ceasar" here.
I don't know what those red flowers are, but bless them for blooming in spite of this drought.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Siblings and so on

One of my massage school classmates told a story about herself during one of the ice-breaking activities we had when class first started. Volga said that throughout her entire childhood, her older sister told her that she (Volga) was adopted. Volga said she was totally convinced what her sister said was true, until her mother got so tired of this nonsense she dragged Volga out to meet the doctor who delivered her. She was fourteen before she realized she was actually related to the people who raised her.

Siblings are hell.

That story reminded me of one that Airy told me. (Airy was the woman who gave me my cat, Lyle). Airy said she grew up with four brothers and sisters and they were all pretty close in age. At the time of this event, they were all under the age of nine. Their mom was single, had three jobs, and thus had to come up with some innovative parenting shortcuts to eliminate some of the child-based drama in the household. For example:

One day Airy hatched a plan to get her older brother in trouble with Mom. Step one was to pick on him until he became enraged enough to chase her. Step two was to act scared and run into the kitchen where Mom was, and presumably Mom would come to Airy's rescue and yell at older brother or worse. In other words, Airy laid out some rope for older brother to hang himself with, and he grabbed it up with relish. He chased her into the kitchen and grabbed a steak knife to menace her with while shouting about his intent to kill her.

Here's where events took an unpredictable turn. Airy and brother were running circles around Mom when Mom grabbed Airy's arm and held it against the counter. "I've got her," Mom told brother. "Go ahead. If you cut her across this vein here along her arm, she'll bleed to death."

Brother stood as if he'd just been whacked with a baseball bat. Airy saw her life flash before her eyes.

"Hurry up," Mom said. "She's struggling and I won't be able to hold her much longer."

Brother started to cry. "But I don't want her to die," he wailed.

Airy, realizing she was going to live, started breathing again. They left Mom the hell alone for the rest of the day.

I've been slack with posting entries this month because of two things: I started massage school two weeks ago and began a wheat, dairy, and sugar-free diet at about the same time.

Everybody in my massage class is pretty cool, and I enjoy the classes, which right now include Anatomy I and Swedish Massage I. It's refreshing because it's such a departure from all of the things I've done in the past - which was get English degrees by reading and writing about abstract concepts, and working jobs which were all about thinking, talking, and/or writing. This is very visceral and non-abstract. We're learning the scientific names for body parts and practicing massage strokes on each other.

Since I can't afford health insurance yet and am concerned about maintaining my health so I won't need a doctor, I deemed it necessary to adhere to the recommendations of the allergist who identified the shitload of things I'm allergic to: wheat, dairy, yeast, beef, pork, and various weeds and molds. I decided to kick sugar, too. It feels like I'm fasting. There is almost nothing in the regular grocery store that I can eat because wheat and sugar are in almost everything. My allergies are better, but I'm tired a lot because I'm starving. I'm so tired of brown rice, salads, and dirty dishes.

I'm disappointed because the second series of Permaculture classes I need to take have been cancelled. Also because I haven't been able to engineer my own Permaculture-style garden. I had a small gardening project in a planter on our balcony, but when the building was pressure-washed recently, the planter was inundated with bleachy water. Most of the plants lived, but I don't think we'll be eating food grown in there again.

This is a boring entry but I feel the need to evaluate what I'm doing with this page and I figured I'd do it out loud, so to speak. Originally I planned to write all my entries about different themes in Permaculture and how they relate to my life, but I gave up on that before I started. I tried doing a theme-based web log once before and couldn't stick to it. I'm more productive with unstructured output, but on the other hand I think I cost myself readers by being so random.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

middle age is a strange country

I was examining the $1 sale rack at Gail's Consignments shop the other day, and a couple of other women were in there trying on clothes.
"Ooh! Wait til you see this!" said the woman in the dressing room. She presented herself shortly thereafter.
"Oh girl, you wrong," said her friend. "It's cute, but you wrong. That dress makes you look like a ho."
The woman in the dress protested, insisting that the dress would be the Platonic ideal of Saturday night outfits once accessorized correctly. (I'm paraphrasing.) I pretended I wasn't paying attention to their conversation, but then her friend looked over and asked me what I thought.

It was indeed a cute as hell dress and she looked great in it, but it was an example of a dilemma I feel caught on the horns of myself here lately. The dress, a sleek, sleeveless black chiffon affair, came to about mid-thigh. The woman wearing it, though she had a great figure and good legs, looked to be in her forties, and I suspected she was somebody who looks younger than she is. And I'm just not sure of what the cutoff age for short dresses is.

Ageing boomers on daytime talk shows will rave on about how fifty is the new thirty or some such shit, and how women should wear what they want at whatever age they are. I agree. But I also think many of the short skirted, over-made up women who are getting their age on look vain and silly. They look like they are hanging on to youth with bleeding fingernails. Ageing gracefully does not mean managing to pass as young, in my mind, so I gave all my short skirts to Goodwill. I'm just not comfortable in them anymore. I'm not a rock star, so it's not appropriate for my social milleu.

I told them I liked the dress, but I asked the wearer if she was sucking in her gut at all. She admitted she was. I advised her to find something more comfortable, because sucking in your gut gets old. But she turned to look at herself in the mirror, without holding her gut in, and I couldn't see any difference. That woman and that dress looked like they belonged together. She did not look like an oldster who was trying too hard. I really hated to hear her friend talk her out of buying it. But I understood that the clash of the woman's age with the dress caught my eye, and it would the eyes of others too. And those folks might run their mouths, and who wants to deal with that while trying to have fun on a Saturday night?

And isn't it interesting how it's much more tactful for a friend to say "That dress makes you look like a ho" than it is to say "You're too old for that look."

Middle age is a strange country.


Wyatt and I went to Chattanooga over Labor Day weekend. This drought has turned Fall Creek Falls into Fall Creek Dribble, as evidenced in the above photo.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

back lot death match

I was unsure of what ethical action was called for in this situation. I could hear the cicada stutter intermittently, and went to investigate. When I found it upside down in the monkey grass I tried to brush aside a strand, but shouted when said blade of grass turned to look at me with chilling praying mantis eyeballs that seemed to be saying "You're next."

I used a stick to put some distance between these insects, but then Rodrigo pointed out that I was depriving the praying mantis of lunch. I guess I unconsciously sided with the cicada because they aren't as creepy as mantises. But this one clearly wasn't long for the world anyway, since it couldn't fly or even crawl right side up, so what was the harm in leaving it to the mantis?

Rodrigo wanted to see what kind of gruesome action would continue between these two. He tried to pick up the mantis and get it interested in the cicada again, but the mantis was too upset about being interrupted and too slippery be put anywhere. I pictured it going for Rodrigo's eyes and was relieved when he got bored and went inside.

I came inside too and listened to the periodic death throes of the cicada for about an hour. Then I went outside to check on things and sure enough, the mantis was hanging upside down on a pot full of my dianthus flowers and feasting on the cicada's face. What bothered me was how long it was taking for the cicada to die. I asked myself questions like: Aren't we ethically bound to end suffering? What's the PETA position on insect life? Should I just stomp them both?

In the end I left them alone to their fates, though I can't say I didn't interfere. I sat out there in the hot ass sun for about 15 minutes trying to get Wyatt's new digital camera to focus on these guys, which it would do, but then go blurry when I took the photo. I used much profanity and took many frames trying to get this shot. I probably prolonged the cicada's suffering, I'm realizing just now, because the mantis kept stopping to look at me every time I moved.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Viva Lyle!

This is Lyle. He got a shave down yesterday at the vet, so he looks like he's lost ten pounds. He's also still quite sleepy from anesthesia.

Lately I've been thinking about the woman who gave me Lyle. I was in my early 20's and Airy was a couple of years older. We worked together in a medical supply factory. She told me about her new kitten; he had changed her life and she didn't understand how she ever did without him. It made me want to get one, despite the fact that cats make me sneeze and get bloodshot eyes. Several weeks later, Airy said she wanted to give me her cat. I went over one night after work and got him, though with grave reservations. I didn't know if I could handle this responsibility, this kind of long-term commitment, this kind of threat to my immune system.

Airy loved Lyle. But her home was her castle. She'd gotten married young and moved out of her mom's house into her husband's. That turned into a crazy situation and when Airy left, she left with the clothes on her back and not much else. So she worked really hard to save up enough money to make it on her own and have a nicely furnished apartment - the first space in her life that was truly hers. Lyle was shredding her furniture and she couldn't take it anymore.

I'm assuming that's what the problem was, because she didn't really say and I know that shredding is what Lyle started to do immediately at my place. He ruined the spines of my LP records and all the books on the lower shelves of my bookcase. He gutted the padded rails on my waterbed. He took the upholstery off a love seat. There was no sense getting mad about it either. He liked getting chased around the house and spanked, and would claw something loudly whenever he got bored and wanted some action. Many's the time I threatened to take him to the pound.

There were times when he got fleas and I couldn't afford flea-killer spray, so I got fleas too. Lyle hated to be brushed, and there were times when his long fur got so matted that shelf-like clumps on his ass became his litterbox. He has to be sedated before he can be properly groomed, and I spent money on vets and grooming when I could barely pay bills.

But I wish I could find Airy so I could tell her thank you, thank you, thank you so much for giving me this cat. He's got the greatest bossy personality and he keeps my feet warm in winter and his eyes are beautiful because he looks like he's wearing eyeliner and he's such a loving, affectionate entity who's seen me through the tumult of the last 15 years, virtually all of my post-college life. I looooooooove him.

Yesterday the vet gave Lyle a clean bill of health. He's 15 and he has feline immunodeficiency virus, or FIV, a disease similar to HIV in humans. Unfortunately I found out about the disease and had him tested for it while my other cat, Lyria, was dying from it two years ago - she was only 9. I still at times get tearful when I see black cats because they remind me of her.

So now every time I take Lyle to the vet for maintenance, I'm worried that they'll find something wrong with him. But this time the vet said his blood work shows that he's actually in really good shape for a catso his age.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Here in the south, there has been great cultural innovation in the realm of contractions: I mean the single words cobbled together out of two, like can't for cannot, won't for will not, and shouldn't for should not.

Today we'll look at the word "whont'cha", a contraction of why don't you. The Microsoft Word spell check function lights up red underneath it.

"Whont'cha stop and get some beer on your way over?"
"Whont'cha do me a favor and shut up?

Last week I went back to my hometown to do Reflexology treatments for my grandmother and her sister Fabiola. It took some time because Fabiola has a touch of Alzhiemer's and kept forgetting that she'd just been called to come over. I did their feet, and then they wanted to go out to lunch. We went to the cafe downtown. I have fond memories of going in there after school to buy hot dogs when I was about 12. The owner of the café, Ray, was always asleep in the corner booth.

Ray's dead now and somebody else is running the cafe. Seems like it's painted with lighter colors now but other than that I think it's pretty much the same - same upholstered swivel stools at the bar and same brown formica table tops. Fabiola started to reminisce about Ray. It was interesting because in all my experiences of him he was boring, seeing as how he was mostly unconscious and all. But she remembers him differently.

They used to work together, but then Ray left the mill to run the cafe. Fabiola said she used to go in now and again for coffee or a burger to go, and he'd ring her up, give her her change and say, "Baby, whont'cha slip your old man a pill?"

Here are the things I loved about that story:
a. It cast Ray, who I knew as the grease-spattered town narcoleptic, in a surprising role as player.
b. It was clear in the way she related the story that Fabiola didn't mind being hit on and found it entertaining.
c. It showcases southern verbal culture, for example, "whont'cha."

I roared with laughter. I've heard rumors that back in their day, my grandmother and her sisters turned a lot of male heads. I've heard that my grandmother played a mean guitar before she got married and used to perform, with a friend of hers, at local events. I asked her why she doesn't play anymore and she said my dad and my uncle dragged her guitar around like a toy when they were little until there was nothing of it left. My brother told me she stopped because our grandfather was a musician too, one who was perhaps jealous because his wife was a better singer/guitar player than he was, so she gave it up to save his feelings.

There's hints here and there that they lived deeply textured, interesting lives, that they would have been people I would have chosen for my friends. That they could sell the movie rights to their life stories.

But they don't part with their stories very often, and that makes me sad.
Photo Credit: Wyatt

Monday, August 6, 2007

My head feels like a rotten melon

I mean I have a headache, toothache, some kind of ear issue that makes me reel like a drunk if I tilt my head the wrong way, and my eyes are sore. So my head feels on the inside what I imagine the fermenting, hot, nasty mess on the inside of a rotting watermelon would feel like. I do not mean that the exterior of my head feels squishy to others. Yet.

Wyatt and I won't be buying any houses and I'll continue to garden in the planter on the balcony. I haven't had any nibbles on the end of my employment line, which I have baited with many resumes and online applications. So if I don't get any action soon I plan to go to massage school this fall.

I've been trying to settle in to our place and make it mine as well as Wyatt's. It's not easy moving into somebody else's space. You tend to feel like it's always going to be the other person's. I have also found that you tend to feel like any space that used to be yours is still at least a little yours. The other day Shalluck and I saw painters going in to my old condo unit, which I recently sold. Shalluck must have seen me scowl, because he said, "So is it kind of like seeing your old boyfriend out with another girl?" Indeed I found that a very accurate analogy.

Today I was setting up my desk in the office/guest bedroom and I found some notecards with writing prompts I made up when I was a teacher. The notecards have the first line of an advice column letter written on them, and students were to finish the letter the way they thought the writer would have. Truly motivated students also wrote a response to the request for advice.

OK - Here are some of the prompts - feel free to finish any of these letters and post them in the comments section.

Dear Marlene,
My mom won't let me put nail polish on my eyelids.

Dear Marlene,
I was trapped under five tons of jellybeans six months ago. I've been trying to eat my way out, but I'm sick of jellybeans and I still have two tons to go before I see daylight.

Dear Marlene,
Every day when I go to school, a dragon burns up my homework before I can turn it in.

Dear Marlene,
I can't stop eating crayons.

Dear Marlene,
Bat wings are growing out of the sides of my head, and I'm too embarrased to go to the doctor.

Dear Marlene,
My grandmother gave me a jacket made of thumbtacks for my birthday. It will hurt her feelings if I don't wear it, but it makes me bleed and it's uncomfortable.

Dear Marlene,
Please advice me on the ethics involved here - my father wants a shrunken human head for Father's day.

Dear Marlene,
My mother will only buy me shoes made of taffy.
The above scene is along a trail near the New River.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

New River

There’s nothing like a canoe trip to put a strain on a relationship.

Neither Wyatt nor I have much experience with boats. We took a four-hour trip down the New River last Sunday, and the fact that we finished it without cursing each other or threatening to move out gives me faith that our marriage is solid.

I’ve seen other people steer canoes, but I couldn’t communicate what I’ve seen to Wyatt. I couldn’t understand why when I’d call out “There’s a rock!” we’d head right for it and hit it. I found myself trying to steer from the front by switching sides with the paddle and paddling harder. I got cranky and pissed off. I was unpleasant.

So then we switched places, and I found I wasn’t any better off because Wyatt is quite a bit larger than I am. His weight in the front, and the fact that I couldn’t see around him, made things difficult. In fact, it made things worse, and we started floating in circles. So on top of being frustrated, I was embarrassed. And when Wyatt started offering me tips on how to row more effectively, I thought I would burst a blood vessel.

We switched places again and things went a little better. The countryside up there is beautiful. There’s an awful lot of development going on, though. It's no fun to look at new construction when you're supposed to be out in the wilderness.

I’m thankful that Wyatt is much more patient and gracious than I am, and has the ability to take off the frustration-tinted glasses and see reality in a non-negatively charged fashion. “We did well, considering we didn’t know what we were doing and it was our first time,” he said, and that inspired me to relax a little. I realized, hey, we’re out of town, we don’t know anybody here, nobody’s here to criticize or evaluate our canoe performance. Why was I being such a perfectionist? I don’t know, but I think I do it a lot. At a subconscious level, I believe scouts from professional teams are evaluating me as I do all things, and I feel compelled to get super-serious about everything from doing the dishes to finding the most efficient route to drive across town.

There was a full moon Saturday night, and lights from fireflies winked in the silvery darkness at the campground. The camp ground was full, but with quiet folks thankfully. The sound of the river made for a flawless sleep.

I love this flower we saw on the bank. If anybody can tell me what it is, let me know.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Now I know why people join monasteries. A monastery is like a rehab program to get people off hysteria. It’s ironic how stress, anxiety, and bad feelings in general can get you to quit the mindfulness practices that are supposed to help you deal with those things. Daily life conspires to wear down mindfulness habits, it seems.

It’s so much easier to keep up good habits when you’re not challenged. And when things go bad and you fall off the wagon of meditation and so forth, that gives you one more thing to feel crummy about.

I skipped belly dance class last night because I was too busy entertaining gloom. I'm justifying it by telling myself that perhaps, in fact, my gloom needs to be fully honored, and if I suppress or ignore the gloom it will ambush me later.

This water slider is one of a tribe of water sliders living in one of the pools in the stream in Fisher Park. I love the way their shadows on the stream bottom are the shape of the dimples they make on the water and not their feet.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Jake's house and other photos

This is the kind of yard I'd like to have. Pesticide and fertilizer in one efficient package that also lays eggs. Not that this one can lay eggs. It's a rooster. But he does have a lady friend.

I keep going by to see my friend Jake, the owner of this chicken and this yard, but he's never home. He's got the ultimate lifestyle in many ways, as far as I'm concerned. Jake lives in the thick of town - he can walk to Jack's Corner and First Carolina Deli on Spring Garden Street. He could even walk to Bestway on Walker Avenue if he didn't mind lugging his groceries home that far.

A lot of Jake's food comes from the back of his lot. He's building a sauna to the left just out of the picture and there's a hellacious stack of firewood stacked along the fence you see - it's out of view to the right.

I can't believe the size of those chard leaves. Double click on the garden photo to enlarge it and get the full effect.

As you can see, Jake also has some chickens in his yard. They eat the bugs from the garden and provide friendly company while he's out there working. He gets a few eggs out of the deal, too.

Jake gets attached to his chickens.

Which is unfortunate, because characters like this one here keep picking them off. Nothing like rounding the fence to find a hawk standing in the remains of your favorite fowl.

But I don't think this one is the guilty party, because it lives in Fisher Park and probably lives off baby squirrels or something.

Activity was heavy in the beehive next to his front porch.

One night we were eating dinner on the porch and insomniac bees kept flying out to bounce around the porch light. Jake suddenly leaned over and said, "Hey, is there a bee on my head?"

Sure enough, there was. It was meandering around, exploring Jake's cranium, and it appeared to be too interested in the adventure to want to leave soon.

"Yes," I told Jake. He told me to take a deep breath and blow the bee off his head. At first I refused. "It'll sting you," I said. But he insisted. "If you blow really hard on it, it'll slide right off." I did as he requested. The bee didn't budge, but I saw its little hind end dip to make contact with Jake's skull. The whining commenced pretty soon after that.

These baby swallows were not feeling photogenic. They were creating a ruckus, but the minute I started taking pictures they hunkered down and got quiet. I guess it was rude of me to use a flash on them.

They live under a Wendover Avenue bridge. They're swallows, and their parents flock around with a bunch of other swallows there. They all make nests out of mud and they're feisty - they like to dive-bomb the heads of visitors.

I include this next photo because it shows the phenomenal amount of shit these birds can produce. They can make another nest out of that pile of doo.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

carrots on sticks

Well, I was planning to enjoy a few laid-back weeks of unemployment, where I would take some non-credit classes, ponder my next career move, and enjoy some hysteria-free space in which to do long-term planning and make decisions. I will (hopefully) sell my home later this week. I need to pay off some bills and begin contributing to Wyatt’s upkeep on his place, but I envisioned having enough money to buy myself some time.

Current conditions forbid any such thing. “Nay, foolish mortal,” the fates chided. “Thou shalt not leave hysteria behind.”

At the very least, I need to get a part-time job just to pay for my own health insurance. And last week, my realtor showed us a house we’d like to be able to pounce on. But that’s going to be hard if I don’t have an income. A full-time one. Quick.

Last night Wyatt and I figured out that I need to get a job making $10 an hour for the house purchase to be a viable idea, seeing as how we’ll once again have two house payments until this place sells. But after my first attempts at job searching, it looks to me that jobs either pay minimum wage or the kind of salaries I can’t get unless I return to careers I don’t want any more. This house we saw has become a torturous carrot on a stick, which is flaunting itself in a tantalizing dance just out of our reach.

My better judgment tells me this dilemma is just more devil talking. That if we bent over backwards and sacrificed more peace of mind to get that place, we’d become obsessed with redoing the bathroom or the kitchen or ripping out the carpet or any number of other things. This is a classic game that people play with their own minds. There’s always another carrot on a stick. A discussion that Roja and I had about this game is chronicled in an earlier entry here.

I would miss all the people who live in this building if we left. I love having a social life, but not if it means I’ll have to make plans and drive somewhere to see people, so neighbors under the same roof are what have maintained my social health since I left home. I need people I can just bump into and chat with, and a move to a house in a new neighborhood could lead to a lonely existence.

On the other hand, the prospective new house has a yard. One that I could do grand Permaculture experiments in. Wyatt could make himself a chipping green, too. And if we wanted to install some photovoltaic cells or replacement windows, we could, without having to take it to the homeowner’s board and wait forever while the request got bogged down in a quagmire of discussion. If we get a leak, we can either fix it or not, but it won’t involve negotiating with the upstairs resident, or insurance companies who want to haggle about who’s at fault.

In my search for better methods of conducting life, I’ve visited intentional communities like Twin Oaks, Shadowlake Village, and Earthaven. Twin Oaks is pretty much what most people think of as a commune, and Shadowlake Village is a co-housing community. Earthaven is an eco-village, a community based on principals of sustainable living. I felt really at home in those places, and still feel wistful about what it might be like to live someplace like that. But I thought no, I could never live in a situation like this, because I can’t get along with other people well enough. I don’t want to be bothered with all of those meetings and endless sessions of discussion.

So I wound up here, in this unintentional community, with people from very different backgrounds and ways of doing things. While this affords me the kind of diversity I enjoy in life, it also creates some real problems. For example, people disagree about whether or not it’s okay to let dogs shit on the lawn or leave garbage by their back doors for days on end, and that makes for lots of trouble. I wound up serving on the Homeowner’s Association board because some things were pissing me off, and I got stressed out during clashes with another board member. It’s like I joined a commune in spite of myself and without many of the benefits.

We have no process for building – wide communication, other than the fact that board meeting minutes are posted in the entryways if people want to read them. Few homeowners turn up for our annual meeting. We have no process for conflict resolution if there are hard feelings about anything. And I believe we need to have such processes for life to really be good here, but I don’t know how to go about setting something like that up. People aren’t used to such, and unless they go into a living situation with an existing commitment to a process, they won’t buy into it.

Would living in a house in a neighborhood really be much different? Either way, my peace of mind is compromised. I can't get that house out of my head.
The photo up top is of dew in a spider web strung between sprigs of juniper in a yard down the street.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Bad Dreams

Ever since my last temp assignment ended, I’ve been gloomy and plagued by bad dreams.

Wednesday I dreamed I was having a phone conversation with a friend whose husband is in the hospital. He’s been sick a long time, and as soon as I picked up the phone in my dream and heard her voice I became so afraid she was going to tell me he was dead or dying that I stopped dreaming and woke up.

Thursday, I once again dreamed myself into a movie sequel. I loved the move 28 Days Later, but now I probably won’t go see 28 Weeks Later because of this dream. I was holed up in a building with a bunch of other people and zombies were outside. It was like Sean of the Dead, because I wanted to get all the people and food barricaded up on the top floor of the pub or maybe hotel where we were trapped. The people in that movie failed in thier endeavor, as I remember, but I thought, this is my dream, so I can avoid their mistakes.

I was trying to scheme ways to make our position more secure because I was afraid the zombies would come through the windows or find some other way in, and I was frustrated with the other people because they kept going outside. There were some foxes outside, too, and was pretty sure they had the zombie disease because they were out in broad daylight and not afraid of people. Sure enough I went out on a porch to tell somebody to come back in and I got scratched on the hand by one of the zombie foxes. Immediately, my hand swelled up tight as a basketball. I thought, shit, now I’m going to turn on these folks just like the character Sex Machine did in From Dusk til Dawn. I resolved not to make the mistake he did – I told everybody I thought I was infected and instructed them to shoot me the minute I started to change. But nobody seemed too worried. I, however, was stressed out enough to wake up.

On Friday I did have a real conversation with the friend whose husband is in the hospital, and learned that while he did almost die, he’s doing much better now. I was so relieved. If I hadn’t chickened out on those dreams and had stuck with the whole storyline, they might have turned out okay. I’m wondering if this has a larger meaning, something that applies to my waking life.
If I can choose to wake up because I'm so upset by what's happening in dreams, why can't I just dream a happy ending?

I took the above photo at Esalen when I was there a few years ago. I've run out of recent, local pictures, but I hope to stock up this week.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Devil Talking

I’ve been so sad and blue
Ever since you bid the Prozac fairy adieu

Every time my mother speaks to me here lately, I hear the voice of Satan. She needs a visit from the Prozac fairy, but she’s rolled up the welcome mat for antidepressants and thrown it in the Dumpster. Now that she’s given her prescription up, she’s making me need pharmaceutical help.

It’s put me in quite a dilemma. I used to be a very anti-Western medication person. Now that I’ve spent some time as a teacher, however, I love Ritalin and Adderall. Many’s the day I lived in fear that this or that child would not take his/her medication that morning. I respect parents who want to try something different for their children, but it sure does make life chaotic in the classroom when somebody’s frontal lobe is not on. And now that my mother has gone from being a delightful good old girl to a person who shows up unannounced and ruins my weekend, I think she should be required by law to go back on Prozac.

Because the demon is communicable. “Baby, she sends you into orbit,” Wyatt told me last night after patiently hearing me rant about my mother’s latest visit. Men can’t understand the way certain statements or insinuations from their mothers can stick to women like Napalm.

When my mom was on Prozac, she always called before she came by. She was fun. I liked taking her places and introducing her to my friends. But now, it’s almost as if she’s grown radar to detect the times when Wyatt and I least need visitors, and she executes a pop-in. Her social skills are suffering. At a cookout here it came up in conversation that one of the people in attendance was from Columbia. My mother asked the woman if any of her relatives had been shot in the drug war. When I told her that I’d found a buyer for my condo, which I considered good news because I had moved in with my husband and no longer needed it and its mortgage payment every month, she started to sniffle and called the news sad.

I thought my mom had exorcised all her demons during the time that she was medicated because she went to great lengths to do so. I’m all about non-pharmaceutical, alternative therapy methods (like EdxTM, Energy Medicine, EMDR, and Emotional Freedom Techniques). I believe they’ve helped me a lot, and assumed they had helped her too. But the way my mom has reverted fills me with dismay – maybe it was all snake oil after all. Sunday she really went to my ass right after I’d given her a Reflexology treatment and did a Blue Medicine Buddha visualization for her.

I feel partly to blame for my mother’s deteriorating mental health. Earlier this year I quit my full-time teaching job and began temping. Apparently she believes I am not worried enough about my situation, and she wants to worry about it for me and encourage me to worry more. What she’s worked up about most recently is, she wants me to take another teaching job. One that’s about a 45 minute drive away for me, and would put me in close proximity to her home. I would also be working with her best friend, if I took said job. In other words, I might as well just crawl back into the womb. Is anybody else about to have an anxiety attack thinking about those conditions?

I am scared about the future, but getting more scared almost never makes scared people make better decisions. Hysteria is not a good place to be making decisions from. But hysteria always wants to be surrounded by more hysteria.

I’m really disappointed about the fact that my mother’s ability to be cool was so dependent upon a drug created and marketed by a pharmaceutical company. I’m also disappointed that I haven’t found alternative treatments for my own asthma – when I was working full time I didn’t have time to visit an acupuncturist or cook all the time to support a diet free of all my food intolerances, and now I can’t afford to.

Maybe I should just go back to work in the school system, eat carb and sugar-laden cafeteria food every day, forget about herbal remedies and Permaculture, decide that Yoga and Belly Dancing are foolish wastes of my time, get on some Prozac myself and watch TV until bedtime every night.

But I’ll be damned if I do. I guess I have to respect my mother’s choices too.
The crepe myrtle blossoms at Ham's Lakeside are looking good, aren't they?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Mangoes, Hayble’s Hearth, Michael Chabon

Thursday my uncle Tiberius was bringing my grandmother and her sister by for reflexology treatments and to go out to dinner. I told him beforehand that Wyatt wouldn’t be home until 5:30 or 6:00 pm, and I assumed that this would communicate the fact that I intended to wait for Wyatt to go with us.

But Tiberius shows up at 5:00. I open the door. “Come on,” he says. “They’re waiting in the car.”

“But Wyatt’s not home yet,” I said.

“Well, THEY’RE HUNGRY,” he said. From his tone I knew he meant business. I knew that what really mattered was that he was hungry. Generally my uncle is my favorite relative but there have been times when we’ve almost come to blows. The Botsfords are famous for having hard heads, especially when the male of the species is hungry. I call it PMS – pre meal syndrome. Tiberius and my father both become red-eyed devils when the blood sugar starts to drop. You can set your watch by it. When the sarcastic remarks and the amazing inflexibility begin, you are somewhere within 45 minutes of meal time.

I was afraid Tiberius was going to get really get pissy, but I pictured Wyatt coming home to an empty house and eating a lonely PB&J in front of the TV, wondering if I’d left him or been kidnapped. I told Tiberius to go out and tell the girls that I had snacks waiting for them.

He attempted to put on a veneer of well-adjustedness, and went out to retrieve his mom and aunt, while I sliced the mangoes. Can you imagine being 80+ years old and never having eaten a mango? They loved the Hell out of it. Declared it better than cantaloupe. Tiberius sulked a little and ate corn chips instead. To make him feel better I did his feet first.

Taking that introductory Reflexology class was the best thing I ever did. These are all people who’ve got all the basic items they need, so they’re hard to buy for. They can all bake their own cakes and cook dinner better than I could for them. They’re also the kind of people who’d feel uncomfortable getting a full-body massage. But they loved getting their feet treated, even though Tiberius wouldn’t admit it. And they’re all people who so deserve a treat.

There was a lot of conversation going on during the foot massages. So much for my concentration and Blue Medicine Buddha healing chants. The atmosphere was much more like that of a small-town beauty shop than a spa, which is I guess is to be expected since both women are of the generation that came of age getting their hair set once a week in a room full of gossiping neighbors, and that’s still how they do their hair.

Usually my grandmother Botsford is content to sit and let Tiberius and others do all the talking, but this was one occasion she reminded me that I love her personality.

She says, “Verona, it seems like it wasn’t too many days ago when you was just a little girl.”


Then she says, “Now you’re getting to be an old woman.”

I say, “Hey! That’s mean!”

She says, “Well at least I’m not by myself.”

Wyatt came home as I was finishing up my aunt’s feet, and after that we went to our favorite country cooking place, Hayble’s Hearth on Spring Garden Street. I had fried chicken livers drowned in Texas Pete. It was fabulous.

I got my mom a book for mother’s day, and last week she loaned it to me. I read it this week, so here’s my brief review.

There are no good stopping places in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. You get lassoed on the first page and held captive until you finish.

The main character is a fairly standard noir style detective. He’s a drunk and he gets knocked out a lot. He’s full of wiseass remarks, as is everyone else that inhabits this alternate universe where a Jewish settlement was given provisional status along the Alaska coast in and around Sitka beginning in 1948. Everyone in this story, except for a few outsiders, is Jewish. The folks in this book call each other Jew constantly. Now if you inhabited a society where everyone was Jewish, why would you even have to waste the energy of pointing out individual people as Jews? And even though I’m not Jewish, I’m also not a total dumbass – I can remember what kind of setting I’m reading about from page to page, so I don’t need to be reminded either. So why is every other word Jew? And every fifth word Yid?

Aside from that, I loved this book. It was like one of the magic books the Ashe character in the movie “Army of Darkness” encountered in the evil cemetery. The one that physically grabbed him with a gnarled hand and dragged his struggling person inside. It was almost unpleasant being in the thrall of a story so much. I got up in the morning, made breakfast, read the book. Left for work, read the book for the three minutes before the shift began. Read at break and during lunch, and when I got home. Wore my eyes out on it. There’s a couple of questions I have about what happened at the end – a couple of things bothered me, but I don’t want to bring them up and spoil the whole story before you read it.
The photo up top is of cilantro and johnny-jump ups blooming together on my balcony.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Solstice Celebration - Who are these men?

The Solstice Celebration at the Arboretum on Thursday was endlessly entertaining. First off, I saw this man, who said he was a reporter, interview these belly dancers. Take a look at his crotch. When I was a reporter, I made it a point to keep the sex toys on the inside of my clothes when I was interviewing people. Is this bottled water boner a 3-D Freudian slip? If you have to, click on the picture to enlarge it so you can truly appreciate the effect.

Aside from the fact that he was pointing at these girls with an object gripped in his crotch, I was unsettled when I heard him quote the Bible and ask them to give thier takes on that particular verse. I would have dashed into the woods were that me, but these girls seemed to respond with grace.

This guy here was the best thing about the whole event for me. Sorry we couldn't get a better photo. Click to enlarge this one, too - there's a can of Sprite on this guy's head, and he's dirty dancing with a belly dancer who's not visible. On top of the Sprite can, there's a little plastic cup turned upside down. He kept both perfectly balanced as he ground his way down to the ground and back up again, a total showoff. But I respect it all day long. I want Wyatt to take dance lessons from this character.

It was fun to see so many people dressed up in costumes enjoying themselves. I saw a lot of people there from totally separate arenas in my life, some of whom I never would have dreamed I'd see at something like this - where people blow bubbles and dress up in wings. I loved the drum circle Wyatt and I watched. Even if I couldn't hear it it would have been entertaining because the drummers were enjoying themselves so much.

I wish we could do this kind of thing more often. I don't think I've ever been to a city event that was so totally non-commercial, unpretentious, and lighthearted.

Monday, June 18, 2007

In the wake of gaseous emissions

My job requires a certain amount of mental focus, and any time mental focus is required you get a certain amount of brain rebellion. Last week while at work I took notes on the topics my wandering mind encountered during a period of less than an hour:

Revenge I’d like to get
The nature of cynicism
My family
My teeth
Sustainable agriculture
Should my Mom take vitamin B supplements?
I might as well just get up and get some Cheetos
Guilt about Cheetos consumption
Healthy diets
Rice Steamers

Why is it so hard for the brain to simply do one thing? Multi-tasking is uncomfortable, but not doing it is almost impossible over any length of time.

I can see some other people from where I sit, which is in the back of the room. One morning before the shift started I heard and saw a conversation up ahead between a lady and two men on the row in front of her. She was showing off a box of Crunch and Munch she’d just purchased. “Now I’m not going to be able to concentrate for the sound of you crunching,” one of the men said. His buddy smiled and nodded. The buddy, we’ll call him Constantine, has Leonid Brezhnev eyebrows and a forearms furred with razorwire-like loops of dark hair.

As we came back to work after lunch, I told my neighbor that Constantine looks like he should be a character in a movie. “A mafia movie,” she agreed.

Then during the shift I was plagued by mental images of the lady with the Crunch ‘n’ Munch pouring the contents of her box over the forearms of Constantine. Almost none of the kernels reached the floor. They attached themselves to the wool on his arms. Then he held his arms over his head with a grin, as if victorious.

Now what the hell kind of purpose does such thinking serve? You’d think evolution would have eliminated all of the members of the human family tree who spent valuable brain energy on such pointless things – that saber-toothed tigers or jaguars would have gotten them all before they were able to reproduce.

Another day after lunch somebody in the rows to my right farted. It such an unabashed, Platonic ideal of a fart that it struck me not as a fart, but as somebody trying to produce the perfect sound of farting by artificial means. It was loud and started and stopped about three times. I waited several seconds before I leaned over to my neighbor and said, “What was that?” Maybe somebody had flopped down into a vinyl office chair too hard. But no. My neighbor confirmed that it was indeed a fart. So then I glanced over there to see if I could figure out who it came from, and met the angry eyes of a man with an expression on his face that said, “Don’t EVEN be thinking it was me who did that.” I had to shut my eyes tight and remember to breathe deep, even breaths to keep from screaming with laughter.

So I wasted valuable brain time imagining the other things that could produce such a noise. I imagined a silverback gorilla sneaking silently into the room and ripping a couch cushion in half lengthwise. A couch cushion with a really sturdy fabric and dense foam that made the gorilla stop ripping, get a better grip, and start again three times.

My other neighbor said the fart was more like somebody making repeated attempts to start a hand cranked lawn mower.
Love me the hell out of some Mimosa blossoms this time of year, like those featured above. Saw them outside the GSO Farmer's Curb Market, where I astonished myself by purchasing beets. I'm trying to eat locally and in season a la Barbara Kingsolver in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Even though the tone of it makes me a little ill - she's so cheerful. Anyway, it was a further astonishment to find that if you boil them first and then stir-fry them with apples (which unfortunately came from Harris Teeter and probably originated in California), they are not bad.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Some Weird Ideas of Hot

When repulsive and attractive meet in the same package, it makes for an interesting kind of sexy.

On Thursday night, I went with Wyatt and Faye to the Empire Room downtown to see Los Straitjackets. This photo came from their web site. I’d never seen them before and when they came out in suits, ties, and Mexican wrestling masks, it was mesmerizing. They do manic surf guitar. They have choreographed moves and play with absolute precision. They rehash cover songs with such passion it’s like they’ve been buffed new again.

The wrestling masks remind me of the professional wrestlers I used to hate seeing on TV when I was a kid. The wrestling shows came on Saturday afternoon after all the cartoons were over, and they meant that not only was there nothing fun left to watch, but the day was getting old. I find wrestlers in masks repulsive. But when you put the mask on a man who’s wearing a suit and tie, it’s a totally different effect. It borders on tantalizingly kinky. It brings to mind all kinds of (totally theoretical, after all, I am married) questions. If you made out with, say, this guy after the show, would he remove his jacket or the mask first? Or something else? Would a mask like that be restrictive in the initial stages of smooching, and just when in the process of making out would it cease to be exciting and need to come off? If a man like that is capable of such precision and focus while playing guitar, can we assume those skills transfer to other areas, like in bed?

I guess part of what makes it sexy is that the mask conceals the man’s face – it makes you think, there’s not telling how good looking that guy might be under there, and that makes him more sexy than any good looking guy could be. A ski mask might have the same effect for other people, but to me that’s too close to scary. The wrestling mask has a sense of humor.

I’m mainly thinking of Daddy-O Grande, because he was on the stage closest to where I was standing. He's in the silver and blue mask. On the other end of the stage was Pedro Del Mar, whose Creature From the Black Lagoon mask is too silly to be sexy in my opinion.

A large man named Big Sandy performed in the songs requiring vocals. He was also a study in repulsive and attractive at once. A bit of a lardass with an obnoxious habit of slapping women on the behind, he had some really smooth moves onstage and he was a compelling singer. He came out into the crowd during an instrumental number and I was seized by an intense urge to sneak over and pinch his ass. But I would have had to get approval from Wyatt for that, and the music was too loud for such discussions, so I deemed it too much trouble. I couldn't get Faye to do it either.

It’s funny how what some people find repulsive, others find sexy. Years ago I was good friends with a graduate of the Barnum and Baily Circus Clown College. Since clowns scare the shit out of me, I made it clear I never ever wanted to see him in costume. But then he called one day after performing at a kid’s birthday party, and wanted to know if I had any Noxema because he needed it to remove his makeup. I didn’t have any either, but I offered to take him to the drug store to get some. Suddenly it occurred to me that it might be really funny to see the cashier’s reaction if he purchased a box of condoms too. I told him to put his wig back on.

My plan backfired. I found I didn’t want to be seen riding around with a clown. He didn’t have his contacts in, and he was so blind that once we got in the store, I had to guide him down the isle to the condom section. I sure as hell didn’t want to be seen with a condom buying clown. I showed him to the condom rack and was in such a hurry to get out of there that I sprinted right into large stranger and almost fell. I missed the moment when my clown friend plopped the Noxema and condoms down on the counter because I was busy apologizing.

After all that, he told me a really disturbing story about an old girlfriend: She was always trying to get him to wear his clown outfit to bed. He was horrified by the suggestion because in his mind there was honor and dignity and sober reputation to uphold in clownhood. He took his avocation as seriously as if he’d taken a Hippocratic oath for clowns. His refusal to experiment with the recreational possibilities of clown gear became a real problem in their relationship.

That story made my skin crawl.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Belly Dancing Kicks Yoga’s Ass

Chi Kung and Yoga are meditative practices designed to quiet the circus of thought which takes place in people’s heads. As somebody who has a particular addiction to thinking, I decided to get involved with these things. But much of the time I wind up being angry at myself for not being able to stop thinking, or with the instructor because she so often warns us to “watch the mind.” I’d like to have some peace and quiet outside my head if I can’t have it on the inside, thanks.

So one night last week Roja invited me to go to a Belly Dance class with her. I reluctantly agreed. I tried it once before, years ago, but I got so freaked out by the big mirror on the classroom wall that I didn’t go back. I didn’t want to see myself struggle, especially since no one else appeared to be.

But this time, I guess since I’ve had recent experience with Yoga and Chi Kung, I had a whole new experience with Belly Dance. (Mind you, I’m not any better at it, but in this class setting it’s easier to avoid looking at the mirror). Whereas it’s up to my own diligence to end the thinking with Yoga and Tai Chi, in Belly Dance there’s an added deterrent: The second my awareness moves out of my body and up into my head for the thinking festival, I find I can’t do the moves. It can be as simple as a thought like “Hey, this isn’t so bad; I can do this,” and suddenly I can’t do it any more. Sometimes in meditation I realize I’ve been lost in pointless thought for as much as five minutes. In Belly Dance I can tell immediately when I’ve lapsed into thought because suddenly I look and feel like a dumbass.

I can trace some of the stupidest things I’ve ever done back to too much thinking. Too much thinking makes you use logic where you should have used common sense, and makes you rationalize doing dumb things. Really, decisions in life aren’t that hard if you think a little and intuit a little at the same time. But if I’m stressed or I have too much time on my hands, I’ll overanalyze something into a disaster. Otis, a friend of mine who’s in recovery, said alcoholics have do something similar: They overcomplicate things in general and constantly come up with grand storylines about what’s going on in their lives and why. He said his grandmother used to make fun of him because of the answers he’d give when she asked him simple questions. “She’d say, ‘Ask you what time it is and you tell me how to make a watch,’” he said.

I think for entertainment. I need it as a distraction, and I think my addiction to thinking is kind of like Otis’ problem with alcohol. Maybe both problems are the same - perhaps Otis drank because he was trying to shut his head up. Now that I think about it, the basis of our friendship was that we got together to share our grand schemes for the future and encourage each other in those grand schemes. We were enabling each other in escapism instead of encouraging each other to enjoy our lives as they are.

If you learn how to be uncomfortable with life as it is, I think it’s very hard to ever unlearn it. Maybe the reason for that is that sometimes people start to take it personally when things aren’t perfect. They make a transition in their heads from “there is a problem” to “I am a problem,” and then they have to justify why they’re a problem. They don’t want to throw up their hands and say, well I just suck. But at the same time, they do, deep down, underneath all the thinking games or the alcohol or the compulsive shopping or whatever, believe that they are just assholes and that’s really what the problem is. And they’ll do anything do distract themselves from facing that belief.

So then on Wednesday this week, Wyatt and I went to look at a house. You know I’ve been Jonesing for a yard because I want to experiment with Permaculture gardening techniques. Been making big plans, I have. Afterwards I ran into Roja, and she’s in a similar place in that she wants to buy a bigger unit in the building. We talked about all that, and then she reminded me of something important. “I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with buying a house right now,” I said, and she said, “It’s something to focus on.”

Of course. That’s the way I am, and I had forgotten it. I need an upcoming project in the works at all times so my head will have plenty of scheming and planning to do. Roja said that’s the same reason she wants to move, too, because she’s not happy at work, and while she’s at work she can think about what to do to a new place. But if you seek your entertainment that way, you stay overextended. I, for one, need to attend so some pressing dental expenses instead of buy a house. It hasn’t been that long since I finished working on my unit and put it up for sale. Roja just recently finished painting her own place. If we take on new projects, we won’t have had time to enjoy the fruits of our labors. But would we enjoy such time anyway, or would we get antsy and dream up even more projects?

Roja also reminded me of the Law of Conservation of Problems and Assholes, which I wrote about in an earlier entry. If you’re happy at home and with your social life, being happy at work too might rip a hole in the universe. There must be a balance of good and bad in all things. There will always be things to be unhappy about, and if you can’t accept that and react to unpleasantness by thinking too much, shopping, drinking, or undue fretting, it’s just stupid. But just try not doing it.

It’s not like I’m going to quit Yoga. I do get a lot out of the classes. But I think the Belly Dancing/Yoga combination is going to really supercharge my pursuit of enlightenment. I’ll have to drop Chi Kung for a few weeks because of scheduling conflicts, but I want to continue that too.
What a great goal: to complete the project of kicking the addiction to goals. Wish me luck.

The photo up top is of a statue very similar to one which was stolen from the yard here several weeks ago. There's a reward for information leading to its recovery.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Got shotgun, shells?

I don’t know what this is, maybe it’s a heron or a crane, but I took about 30 pictures of it and only got one good one. It kept looking at me head on, and that’s not a photogenic look for most birds. Maybe it was purposefully not cooperating because it was sick of Spoleto Arts Festival tourists who descended upon Charleston last weekend. I didn’t attend Spoleto events, but I did hear some restaurant workers comment about the crowd it brought into area eateries. Sven, my friend Claudine’s husband, went on at length about an elderly customer who had a hairdo that was a beehive on top and a pompadour in front. He said it looked like she’d rubbed Aim toothpaste into her eyebrows, too.

I’ve had a few days off here lately. I looked forward to this and made elaborate plans for what I would do with my days, but so far I’ve just been wasting my time being hideously blue.

Yesterday I was surfing different online seed catalogs, and I ordered a bunch of seeds I don’t have space to plant anywhere. I’m still excited about it, though. I also printed out the plans for a solar greenhouse. I filed them away with the rest of my someday garden stuff. Damn, I’m getting on in years. By the time I get around to having a yard, I’ll be too arthritic to get around in it. Or I’ll be working two jobs to pay the mortgage and won’t have time to garden. Sigh. The negativity fairy is keeping me company today.

I wish that instead of going to graduate school, I had lived for a couple of years in an intentional community. I could have learned about a lot of the things I wish I knew more about now, like cooking, self-sufficiency, getting along with other people in decision making situations. On the other hand, if I hadn’t gone to graduate school, I’d never have met Claudine, who has been a great friend. Wyatt and I stayed with Claudine and her family in Charleston last weekend.

One night after a few beers and gin and gingers, (okay wait, here I need to endorse Blenheim’s “hot” ginger ale – it really ramps up the normal gin and ginger drink), we started talking about the fate of the world. Claudine said her dad has been nagging her because she doesn’t have a shotgun or enough ammo for the gun she does have. He’s retired military, and he’s convinced that a day is coming when people won’t be able to get things they want and need and the lawless looting and terrorizing will commence. He wants Claudine to have a better plan for how to deal with that day when it arrives.

So in my alcohol addled mind during this conversation, I was trying to sort some things out. Does the fact that Claudine’s dad is a former military man make him a more or less credible source on the subject of the fall of civilization? Hmm. Things have been pretty stable for a long time; it’s hard to imagine that changing. But then again, think about how hard 9/11 was on the country and the economy. Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to destabilize society after all. An earthquake on the New Madrid fault happening at the same time as a big hurricane hitting shore could cripple the country for a while. Or what about that blackout in New York a few years ago? I bet that could happen again without anybody even trying.

I guess it’s impossible to tell what’s going to happen or gauge the best way to prepare for it. And it’s probably the case that a lot of people obsess about the coming fall because they’re just sick of the way things are and they’re hoping that their own fortunes might change if there were a shakeup. Others would just absolutely love having the excuse to shoot people under the pretense of protecting a stash of canned goods.