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.