For what it’s worth

My mother sees dead pets.

She’s fairly bitter about it, as if the specters of our pets past have nothing better to do in their afterlife than deliberately plague her. I don’t see what the problem is (aside from the whole “my dead pets are haunting me thing,” of course). Seems to me a ghost cat would be less trouble than my mother’s three alive-and-biting ones, but what do I know?

She’s been seeing dead things for as long as I can remember, and while I’m not above conceding the existence of the supernatural, I am inclined to ask my mother to pass the crack pipe she’s smoking. Somehow, seeing Princess Aura Roo, our ten years-gone Siamese, playing hide and seek under the kitchen table is a bit too fantastic to let pass.

My own paranormal experiences have been less vivid to say the least, though not for lack of trying. I spent hours circling a planchette over the Ouija board my mother gave me, hoping in some childish wonder that my invisible friend Possum might find his voice in it.

Looking back, the Ouija board seems like something of an odd gift to give a seven year-old, though I never did get so much as a twitch out of the thing. But then again, I buried it in the basement six months after receiving it, not coincidentally following my first viewing of The Exorcist.

The movie freaked me out enough that I took a very Smokey the Bear approach to keeping our home Captain Howdy-free. Burying the spirit board was easy enough; my mother, no so much.

It wasn’t my mother that I wanted to bury so much as it was her china set. You wouldn’t think to look at it that it was the devil’s china; the pattern was obnoxious in a 70s sort of way and covered with a rose-colored floral pattern. It was ugly, yes, but nothing to sprinkle holy water over.

But there I was, slack jawed, bug eyed and repeating “It’s only a movie,” as I rocked back and forth on the couch when I came face to face with a horrifying connection: the exact same mug that I was drinking hot chocolate out of was also in the on-screen hands of Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist.

And just one flight of stairs away from her in the movie was a ravaged, screaming, demon-seething Linda Blair, who as far I was concerned at the time, may as well have been standing directly behind me dribbling vomit and holding the matching saucer and serving tray.

The connection was too close to home for my liking. Not that my mother cared. She got that giggly, self-amused look when I told her of my “Only You Can Prevent Demonic Possession” campaign – the same look I’d seen the previous year as she presented me with a stuffed vulture when I was quarantined with scarlet fever.

I suspect she considered the creepy coincidence her own satanic seal of approval. In fact, she had actually stood up in the theatre when she and my father first saw The Exorcist in ’73 and announced with glee, “Those are my dishes!” The crowd was too busy fainting and crying and covering their eyes at the time to much care, but with me she had a new audience.

So no, she had no intention of throwing the china set away, she would not donate it to charity, and if I wanted water at bedtime, I’d drink it in the mug she gave to me and like it.

I’d eye that miserable china mug in the twilight of my room every night and shudder. As the night hours wore on, I’d envision the clicking of our cats’ claws on the hard wood floor as the scratching of Pazuzu, every door shutting became the slam of a possessed girl’s convulsions. I’d go off to school the following day a twitchy mess and it wasn’t long before I was regularly performing the Rites of Exorcism on my dolls, just in case.

Perhaps it was finding my favorite doll fastened to a wooden pinball game, arms and legs roped to the frame with pink ribbons that prompted my mother to swap my mug for a shiny new plastic drinking glass. It had Garfield on it as I recall, fat and happy.

My mother eventually upgraded her china set, too, and for this I am grateful because while I came to appreciate The Exorcist over time, I never could get used to those damn dishes. They remain packed in the basement where they belong, alongside worn scratching posts and cat beds that my mother refuses to dispose of. The spirit board I lost track of years ago, but I think it’s a safe guess that my mother knows exactly where it is.

Make me lose control

I’m thinking of ending every conversation with, “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” It’s enigmatic enough to cause confusion, but specific enough to convey that I’m right, the conversation is over and it’s time to move along.

At least, I hope it is, because I’m rapidly finding it is impossible to be both a misanthrope and a bride.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned by wiser people. Not that it mattered, I guess. Warnings have never had much effect, mainly because I tend to think conventional rules don’t apply to me.

This isn’t as wonderfully narcissistic as it sounds, believe me. Usually it means I’m the .01 percent who catches swine flu after a flu shot or whose laptop battery explodes when it gets too hot. This is partly why I refuse to jump out of a plane: clearly I’d be the one deploying a spare tire instead of a parachute.

It stood to reason in my silly little brain then that I’d be in the minority when it came to planning my wedding – that I’d be the one to blissfully walk down the aisle without ever having had to stamp my feet, roll my eyes or sharpen my chef’s knife.

My first indication that my logic was a bit tricky was upon hearing the sentence “You’re engaged.” It wasn’t so much the words themselves; it was the extended emphasis on “you” that drew the word out like a mildly unpleasant flavor of taffy. My casual acquaintance rolled it around in her mouth for a while and finally spit out an implied question mark as if she wasn’t quite sure what she’d ingested.

Her friend nodded in wonder: could such a thing really be true?

What’s the proper etiquette in a situation like that? I’m guessing I won’t win any nods from Emily Post for responding in a similar fashion with, “Indeed. You’re married.”

Of course, the opposite of incredulity – mind bending girly shrieks delivered by near strangers – can be just as intolerable. Not that I object to genuine well wishes and congratulations, mind you. It’s the insistence that I must suddenly become the new BFF of every woman in a 50-mile radius just because we all wear a diamond ring on the same finger.

My ring seems to have inadvertently granted me passage to some secret den of married women who are all-too-eager to share advice and opinions. Their familiarity quite honestly creeps me out, especially when women who have historically gone out of their way to avoid me now corner me in public bathrooms to ask if I’ll be wearing a corset under my wedding gown.

When I admit I haven’t even gone dress shopping yet – let alone selected what I’ll be wearing under it – they begin to froth. Apparently I should have been dress shopping long before my guy proposed.

They ask if I have at least registered at theknot.com.

In fact, I have. I even went so far as creating a cute little profile for myself and several idea boards with my favorite color schemes. But then theknot automatically generated a “to do” list based on the wedding date that was quite literally 783 items long, and that was just for the first three months. I stopped logging in after that.

It’s not enough for the Wedding Club ladies, of course. They block my attempts to wash my hands and proceed to extract every conceivable wedding detail out of me, not because they truly want to hear my ideas, but because they want to bludgeon me reasons with why their weddings were either far better or far worse… and then upsell the services of family members, pets and the homeless man down the street who would be all-to-willing to participate in my wedding.

By the time they’re done, I’m usually limp and muttering incoherently in the corner, hands still unwashed and twitching gently. I can only be grateful that I’ll never be admitted into the Motherhood Club, which, I’m told, is far more brutal.

Still, even store clerks seem to want in on the wedding fun. Just the other day the checkout girl at Target complimented my ring. She had a lovely engagement ring of her own, but that didn’t stop her from asking if she could try mine on.

“Can I try your ring on?” is not a question I’m accustomed to hearing at Target. There, the only questions I want to hear are if I have any coupons, or if I require a bag for my jug of Jim Beam. I could only blink in response.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “There are video cameras everywhere here.”

As if that made it okay. I’ve ceased using credit cards at Target because I don’t trust them with my meager banking information; even Tiffany & Co. has an elaborate process involving velvet trays and notarized documents, and that’s just to have the ring steam cleaned. I was not about to play ring toss with a complete stranger.

“I’m sorry, but I haven’t taken it off since my guy proposed,” I said. She had the audacity to look annoyed, and didn’t give me a bag for my jug of Jim Beam.

Sigh. These are not the droids you’re looking for. These are not the droids you’re looking for.

What a wonderful world

Nature hates me.

Actually, I think it’s safe to say that nature and I hate each other equally – the net result of more than 30 years of mutual antagonizing. It is something of a dichotomy considering my soft spot for neopaganism and strong preference for organics, but that’s where my affection ends. I just can’t love something that has tried to kill me on more than one occasion.

Nature nearly won when I was five years-old, too. Back then, allergy testing happened only after your throat swelled shut – which pretty much meant that if you were allergic to anything, you walked around in a snotty, itchy fog.

That’s why my parents never thought twice about bringing a live Christmas tree into our home that year. My instant wheezing hardly stopped anyone from decorating that wafting tower of moldy wretchedness, myself included. What did we know? It was a tree, we covered it with ornaments, draped it in lights and garland; these are the things you do during the holidays.

I was so entranced by the tree, I immediately curled up under it to gaze through the branches and hopefully catch site of Disney’s Chip or Dale. And that’s exactly where my parents found me an hour or so later – coated with a fine dusting of dropped pine needles, covered in hives, and violently gasping for breath.

A hasty trip to the ER, several hits of epinephrine, and a pocketful of steroids later, and my parents wisely decided to relocate the holiday tree to the front lawn. I wasn’t even allowed out of the car upon checking out of intensive car, and I still recall pressing my face against the chilly glass window in misery as I watched my father wrestle the tree out the front door to prop it up in front of the house with several wooden planks.

We’d only recently moved into that house, and the land was so new that sod hadn’t even been laid for the front lawn. All that stood in front of the house was an expanse of dirt and that damn tree in the middle of it all, a silent, but deadly, enemy.

Benedryl and Albuterol became my best friends over time. Still, even the drugs couldn’t protect me enough from the elements that I didn’t become that wheezy, gimpy kid who dreaded the track and field portion of gym class.

I can only hope that regulations have been put on gym teachers these days the way they have on employers in the U.S., because back then my junior high gym class was more sweatshop than educational institution. Spring would roll around and we’d be forced at whistle point to run laps around the outdoor track all period long. I’d be lapped five, six, seven times by the majority of my classmates while I stumbled on the outskirts of the pack with the fat kids, struggling for air and dodging bits of pollen that wafted in the breeze.

Not that it mattered to the teacher. To keep us moving she’d clap her hands, widen her eyes and yell so viciously that her eyelids would fold over themselves. You’d regularly catch her manually flipping them into place after a particularly nasty tirade and quietly hope that one day she’d finally burst something that couldn’t be flipped back.

It’s a fair wonder then that I ever agreed to visit our friends’ cabin in the Michigan woods with my guy recently. My allergies have decreased over the years to be sure, but they’re certainly not abated completely. And my general avoidance of nature has made “roughing it”, to me, sharing a bathroom and foregoing the use of my blow dryer.

Still, I find that alcohol makes a lovely chaser to Benedryl, and I was assured that our friends’ cabin was more Pottery Barn catalog than Survivalist magazine.

And truly, the weekend home is lovely with its vaulted ceilings, skylights and hard wood floors. Even its location, tucked into the woods and just steps away from Lake Michigan, couldn’t be more desirable. Not that it stopped me from surveying my surroundings upon pulling into the driveway and declaring, “That’s a lot of … trees.”

My guy patted my head in a bemused way and quickly grabbed the arsenal of liquor we’d disguised as a hostess gift. Clearly, I’d be the one doing the heavy drinking that weekend.

Perhaps it’s all my time at the gym these days, or maybe the antihistamine-vodka combination is a true wonder drug, because for all my near death experiences in the past, I found that my guy and I had an amazing time in the woods with our friends. I hiked, gathered branches, sat in front of a roaring fire pit and waded through Lake Michigan’s waves with hardly a sniffle and only a few girly freakouts… Until I got home, that is.

Within 24 hours, five giant welts cropped up on my body, all red and hard and seething with the kind of toxins that both itch and cause panic attacks. The welts were too random and widespread to be of the contact dermatitis variety, which left me to conclude that nature had dropped some sort of vile insects onto me and allowed them to run rampant on my unsuspecting body.

Fortunately, I had the world’s greatest paranoia-inducing resource at my fingertips: the internet. Google should really insist upon user prescreens before revealing search results, much the same way porn sites confirm that you’re of porn-viewing age and mind before hurtling videos of Cleveland steamers and blumpkins at you.

I’m certain asking questions such as, “Are you really sure you want to see these images?” and “Are you currently in a state of irrational panic that might cause you to make snap decisions, like handing your guy a magnifying glass and asking him to search you for ticks?” would save countless individuals from night terrors and humiliation.

Of course, it might also help if that person’s partner didn’t pretend to dig a tick out of their leg and remind them of the spider face scene in the movie The Believers. That could just be me, though.

The good news is that I’ve self-diagnosed my welts as the hysterical reaction to chigger bites, and not deer ticks or perhaps a wacky version of stigmata. The bad news is that it took a bottle of calamine lotion and Jack Daniels to get there.

Nature: 5,873,632. Me: 0.

Maybe I’m amazed

I have always said, “I’m not that girl.”

Of course, I’ve typically said it after doing something especially girly and dumb, like eating my way through a block of cheese and bag of tortilla chips during a Jane Austen film festival, and then vowing to take the stairs all the following week to “make up for it.”

I’m not entirely sure who “that” girl was ever supposed to be really – perhaps some odd amalgam of Bridget Jones and Marlo Thomas – but I clearly need to reevaluate my litmus test on girlish behavior. Because when I find myself making that very proclamation just yesterday after cooing over a color combo of purple and pink, I think it’s safe to say I am indeed becoming that girl.

It’s a confusing contradiction for me, though it certainly explains why I’m suddenly considering once-absurd concepts like idea boards and very nearly taking out a parade of street-crossing geese when the light catches my finger in a certain way.

For all my Bukowski reading, whiskey drinking, and stabby thinking, I find myself in entirely new waters that I’ve always quietly admired from a distance but never truly thought I’d experience: I’m engaged to be married.

The very idea makes me giddy and swoony and whatever else those lovely Jane Austen girls did when they’d found their one love, though unlike them I have the smiling hand of reality to smack me into place and keep my newfound girlish curiosities from usurping what’s left of my brain.

Frankly, we can essentially thank my father for that. My guy and I actually started discussing marriage seriously about six months ago, and in keeping with conventional wisdom of sorts, my guy decided it was only proper to ask my father for his permission to marry me.

He went into their lunch appointment anxious and excited; he left slightly bewildered. My father hadn’t objected to the request at all, quite the contrary: When my guy had worked up the nerve to respectfully ask to marry me, my father bellowed “Great! Take her!” and promptly dug into his fish and chips as though handing over his first-born daughter was no different than handing over the keys to a car you’re desperate to sell.

Not that either of us expected a celebratory party over announcing that we were, for all practical purposes “pre” engaged, but a general “good for you!” pat on the back would have been nice. My guy even went so far as to tell my dad when he planning to officially pop the question … which my father, much to my annoyance, forgot.

He likely never even heard my guy tell him the date to begin with, which only served to make my intense grilling all the more futile. Every week or so I’d call my dad to beg for anything, a number, a day, a sign of the zodiac … any bit of information that would clue me in on when my guy would indeed propose.

That may have been when “that” girl started to take over.

I certainly never expected to be the girl who would scrutinize a calendar to determine possible proposal days, or the girl who checked her ring size three times a day, or who lingered over bride magazines in the grocery store.

Then again, I also never thought I’d be the girl to want nothing more than to come home and be with her guy, to share every moment with him and want to inspire him the same way her does her. Which may explain why I started crying when presented with that little blue Tiffany & Co. box last Saturday night.

Funny how the one thing I’d been hoping for and looking forward to was the last thing I expected that night. My guy’s elaborate cloak and dagger routine had me convinced I wouldn’t be seeing a ring until Labor Day weekend, so our dinner out that night seemed no different than any other.

In hindsight, I can see that my guy may have too eagerly agreed with my suggestion that we dress up for dinner, and that the staff at Ruth Chris seemed far too excited to see us when we arrived, but in the moment all I really knew was that I couldn’t be happier to be out with my guy.

And then, between courses, as my guy and I poked and laughed and chatted, the room was silenced by the start of a violin. Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” moved closer to our table, and as the familiar melody washed over me, I looked to my guy.

“Are you ready for this?” he asks, and reaches into his jacket pocket as my eyes fill with tears and I realize that finally, truly, we’re about to make official our commitment to each other.

I’d like to say that I remember exactly what my guy said to me, or what the next song the violinist played for us was, but in the moment of his sliding the ring onto my finger, all I can clearly see his him holding my hand. I doubt I’ve ever felt more certain of anything than I did right then as I looked back at him and just said, “yes,” over and over again.

And later, as we floated out of the restaurant, high on compliments and good wishes from the staff and patrons, we decided to call our families to share our good news.

My father, true to form, interrupted me as I started to tell him that I was now engaged to be married, and launched into details about his day working on his new car in the garage. I finally had to yell, “Shut up! I’m engaged!” at the top of my lungs, to which he replied, “Well congratulations, it’s about time. Now, put your guy on the phone so that I can welcome him to our certifiably insane family, and tell him all about my new tig welder.”

My dad knows how to celebrate. Note to self: do not, under any circumstances, let dad assist in the wedding plans. That is clearly a job for that girl.

Saturday in the park

Question: Is bleeding onto my guy’s lips considered sexy, or just gross?

Watch enough late-night cable, and just about anything is considered sexy: vomiting, vampires, dirty waffles and whatever other fetish HBO declares cool.

Frankly, vampires just don’t do it for me. Their heady, tortured existence was annoying even before the vampire became a metaphor for teenage angst – and now that their pasty, god-help-me sparkly faces are plastered on every billboard, it’s all I can do to keep from retching at the site.

Not that I’m not a fan of dramatic teen angst. I just prefer mine in a John Hughes-Cameron Crowe candy shell – where brooding is replaced by rebellion and everyone gets laid in the end.

That doesn’t stop me from drinking my own blood, of course – though I suppose “drinking” is an overstatement. I certainly haven’t succumbed to the absurdity of dribbling platelets into a wine glass and tossing them back as though they were Patron. I’m old school – or perhaps compulsive is more accurate – in that I absently chew on the inside of my cheek when I’m occupied or thinking and subsequently suck the residual blood from the gouges.

The repulsiveness is not lost on me, which is why I typically carry gum as a preventative measure. No one likes to look like an aggressive terrier with a chew toy, least of all me, especially since it thwarts my attempts to assure my guy that I’m not completely nuts.

Somehow though, he’s always a contender in the “How wacky is your girl?” game that he plays with his friends. I’ve never witnessed this bastion of male bonding in person of course, no chick ever will, but from the tales I’ve heard, I imagine it resembles a sporting event complete with back slapping, guffaws, and oddly-placed pride.

It has the makings of a “Your mama” joke, really, only instead of being “so old, she knew Burger King when he was still a prince”, it becomes, “My girl so is wacky that she orders onions on a burger, but picks them off because she only wanted their ‘essence’.”

(Yep, my guy won with that one.)

My guy assures me that the game, on his end at least, is played with love. And I believe him, because he would have run screaming from the room long ago at the sight of my intricate games of Tetris, played not on a computer but in the drawers containing my spice jars, or the way I manipulate time and keep our bedroom 20 minutes in the future, if he didn’t have some deep affection for me.

That was all before I bled on his mouth, though. Nothing says “I love you” more than a mouthful of secondhand blood when you go in for a kiss. It’s almost as sexy as my allergy medicine-induced nosebleeds.

I could see the “What has she done now?” question floating in my guy’s eyes as he slowly backed away, likely expecting there to be a corpse in my trunk that we’d need to dispose of later.

I ran to the bathroom in a fit of mortification to confirm that yes, I had indeed gnawed a hole in my lip during my long, chewing gum free, drive. If I could even remember doing it, I would have tried to explain myself better.

Instead, all I could offer my guy was an embarrassed shrug, a swift rinse with Listerine, and the promise to continually give him more ways to win at “How wacky is your girl?”.

It’s the least I can do.

With my crooked little grin

“You’re doing it wrong!”

Clearly, the 15 year-old in me wants to kick my ass. I stopped listening to her years ago, but every so often she rears her little Sun-Inned head to scoff at what I choose to indulge, or eschew, now.

This is, of course, the same “me” who was arrested in high school. I’d like to say it wasn’t my proudest moment, but let’s face it: a police escort at 15 gives a suburban chick an edge in certain circles.

I fancied my own edge like my denim jacket: frayed, undeniably cool and something of a badge of honor, and I wore both with equal pride. My jacket, which was covered in autographs from the rock stars I loved, I could pull off. The edge? Not so much.

For starters, I wasn’t so much arrested as I was detained. And it certainly wasn’t for anything as “cool” as smoking in the park after curfew (I tried – and had an asthma attack) or defacing school property (I tried – and broke the tip off my only pencil).

My grasp on anything cool was shaky at best, which made being a freshman only slightly better being a captive at a North Korean detention camp. And if you went to my high school, the distinction between the two is a fuzzy line.

Most of my early rebellion was culled by watching my friends, who probably didn’t know any better than I did, but lacked my reserve. They’d all learned to ditch class by their second week of school, and by the end of the first semester had detailed routes to make it to Garden Market, the local between/after class hangout for the cool, without being caught by the resident school narcs.

I envied their daring but hesitated to follow suit. Consequences were important to me even then, and I had to find the right motivation before I’d commit a teen crime.

That motivation came in the form of music, or, more specifically, musicians. I was very new to the music scene then, and hadn’t yet developed my knack for conning my way onto a tour bus under the guise of journalism. Instead, I relied on meet & greets to accost my favorite stars with teddy bears and teen adoration, and when I learned that a band I worshipped would be signing autographs at a local record store one afternoon, I had just the incentive I needed to launch my life of cool crime. I quickly made a plan to skip sixth and seventh periods and walk to the store.

Leaving the school grounds was easier than I thought, which made the upset stomach I’d been suffering from all day seem all the more embarrassing. My anxiety often took physical tolls on me, usually in the form of a hot blush or nervous cuticle picking. That day it spiked to all new highs, and I probably could have had the nurse send me home legitimately had I not been so determined to see my delinquency through.

I covertly dashed through a side door and through the back alley to Garden Market. Rather than take the obvious direct route to the record store, which would have had me walking down a main thoroughfare, exposed and likely emitting a neon glow that screamed “Truant!” I decided to cut through the park and take side streets.

The park, of course, was a haven for delinquents. They’d camp out on benches smoking and sneering at children on the playground, and would eventually head to darkened woods to make out. Needless to say, the park was routinely patrolled by local police.

None of this occurred to me as I giddily danced my way through the woods and onto the park’s sidewalk. I was confident I was in the clear, and instead fantasized that the lead singer of the band I was about to meet would ask me to coffee to talk about poetry. (Yes, there may have been a picture of a unicorn hanging in my locker, if that’s any indication of my naïveté at the time.)

“You there! I need to see your ID now!”

The loud voice jarred me out of my fantasy and sent me into instant panic mode. An actual police officer was standing behind me and he definitely didn’t resemble the last officer I could recall seeing in person, that being the “stranger danger” policeman who spoke to my kindergarten class.

My school ID was back in my locker, along with my senses and the bottle of Tums I desperately needed. I lied and told the officer that I had been legitimately excused for a doctor appointment. The feeble excuse carried no weight, and I was promptly deposited in the back of his police car while he radioed the school admin office.

The back “seat” of the car was hard molded plastic and murder on my bony freshman butt. Murder was the first thing on my mind then – it was what I assumed my parents would do when they learned of my arrest, and what I planned to do to my school-ditching friends who neglected to warn me about the truant sting set up in the park.

The officer started the car, and rather than taking me to a police station or home, drove me back to school. There, he released me from the car, grabbed my upper arm as though I was anyone other than a very lame girl in over her head in the cool pool, and escorted me through the school and to the admin office.

Classes were letting out right then, making my police escort a public display. Eyes widened as my classmates saw The Law dragging me through the hall, and rumors quickly spread about what I could possibly have done.

Vandalism was the biggest rumor, accompanied by vague whispers of drug sales and fights. Wisely, I kept my mouth shut about the truth and accepted my subsequent detention like a pro.

I’ve since ceased caring about cool while simultaneously growing more adept at ditching. Of course, it’s now called “blowing off work,” and it’s what I was doing the other night when 15 year-old me felt the need to chime in.

I was standing on the VIP deck at what was once called World Music Theatre and is now named after some random bank. More than 40,000 people stared back at me – the most I’ve seen at this outdoor theatre since the 80s. The only thing separating me from the main stage was a railing, and for all practical purposes, the night was perfect … despite the fact that I was at a country concert.

My former self whined in my ear, annoyed because my guy and I had, just a few weeks before, turned down the opportunity to hang out with the same band I had been “arrested” for skipping class to see. I had stopped caring about that band long ago when their music ceased being good, not that 15 year-old me cared. A country concert? Where is the cool in that?

Priorities change with age – as does the definition of cool. I’ve managed to figure them both out finally, and while the concert may not have been rock n’ roll enough for me at 15, it most definitely rocked for me now.

And now, a few summer pics:

A view from our VIP seats

The Grimm Taylor gang
My guy's band Grimm Taylor at Summerfest
Going hillbilly for the NASCAR show
Just us. Together.

lovely

Good times never seem so good

I’m finding that as I get older, it’s best to not leave me to my own devices – I simply can’t be trusted to not initiate a chain reaction of stupidity. There once was a time when I could pass my fumblings off as the quirks of a writer. And they were cute then, really: I could spend an afternoon running errands, never noticing the giant tear in the back of my pants that exposed skull and crossbones-adorned panties and legitimately claim I was just caught up in my head mentally writing my book.

Sure, people giggled and pointed, but more indulgently than maliciously, much the same way you do at the zoo when a baby giraffe falls over or a monkey bellyflops out of a tree.

Nature, sadly, is no longer a suitable excuse for me. Which leaves me to assume I’m either losing IQ points (likely the result of watching too many episodes of The Girls Next Door) or my motor skills are deteriorating with age.

I certainly don’t blame alcohol. Not that I credit it for setting me on any straight path, but it does pour more color into my life. In fact, a recent trip to New Orleans found my guy and I at an absinthe bar on lower Decatur Street in the French Quarter one night, sampling various imports from France.

The bar itself – Pravda – offers a murky nod to communism and Bolshevik Russia with its deep red walls, gothic décor and random propaganda scattered throughout. Locals can be seen skulking in the corners, while the few tourists who wander in are typically eye-rolled out after ordering flames on their American-brand absinthe.

The good stuff is hidden below the bar in a few dusty bottles that are brought out only after expressing genuine interest and saying a few unofficial magic words. Once the curtain was lifted, so to speak, my guy and I found ourselves being served lushly aromatic imports described as “lyrical” with “nice opacity.” After two glasses each, we danced our way to Jackson Square where I suddenly found myself taking close-up pictures of wrought iron fences and wanting to lick the sky.

Clearly, alcohol is not the problem for me.

Yet here I sit with a giant bandage on my ass wondering where I went wrong.

It’s all my fault, of course. I’ve had a penchant for men’s razors for the past 10 years or so, when I got sick of trying to shave my legs through protective grates and islands of sticky foam. Sure the pink handles and pictures of the mood goddess are nice and all, but I’ll forego all the girly trimmings in favor of rows upon rows of exposed blades with names like “mach turbo skin razing force.”

Consequently, my legs are always silky smooth. This time though, my ass somehow got in the way.

I still don’t know what happened exactly. I let my razor-clad hand drop from my leg that was propped on the edge of the tub, I twisted, I leaned, I dragged a four-bladed razor across the supple skin of my ass and suddenly there was more carnage in my shower than in Ed Gein’s living room.

It was like one of those ridiculous “As Seen On TV” commercials where a spokesperson demonstrates how their product will solve the challenges of daily living. Countless times I’ve bellowed things like, “WHO has that much trouble cracking an egg?” and “Is it THAT hard to clip your nails?” and nestled into the couch secure in the knowledge that I way far too smart to ever be the moron with a gaping ass wound.

Once again my guy had to ingest his laughter when I came to him, this time dripping and bleeding and pleading for help in dressing a wound there was no way I’d ever be able to hide.

Many women will wax on about wanting intimacy in their relationships. To these empty-headed bims intimacy is snuggle time, and cooed terms of endearment after boxed wine and a romantic comedy. To me, intimacy is letting my poor guy help apply antibiotic gel to my self-inflicted ass gash.

Clearly, living with me is nonstop fun.

My “to-do” list for the day now includes purchasing a girly pink razor with protective coating and grates and staying away from my stapler … God only knows what I could inadvertently affix to myself.

And now, a few pics from New Orleans…

Jackson Square at night

Photography under the influence

Pre-absinthe
Burbon Street
Along the river after Cafe Du Monde
Every moment in NOLA is amazing.

Nothing else seems to matter

I could almost smell the Sun-In and Doritos.

The sweetly noxious scent of my ‘tween years poured from my car radio as Janet Jackson’s “When I Think of You” played. Buddy Holly has the same effect on my dad, though he tends to recall grass clippings and gunpowder. I envy that in a way; he can revel in the scent of adventure at the sounds of a  rock n’ roll pioneer whereas I’m forced to inhale naïve desperation every time a ridiculous synth-pop song plays.

Damn the 80s, and XM radio for forcing me to remember them. Tthere is very little about that decade that could ever be so refreshing to remember, least of all my youth.

I spent the summer of ’86 slathered in Coppertone oil, my nacho cheese-stained fingers eagerly flipping through Seventeen magazine. That’s where I got the idea to start using Sun-In, and at the time it seemed a good one. Rarely did I leave the house without multiple spritzes singeing my scalp and it wasn’t long before Yahoo Serious decided to capitalize on my look. I guess it didn’t help that I also took a crimping iron to my hair on most days.

It could have been worse, I suppose. I could have given in to the temptation to get a perm, or I could have cut my own bangs. My friend Renee did both that summer, and the result was unfortunate. We spent an entire afternoon at the drug store near my house searching for a barrette, a bow, a headband – anything to wrangle that nightmare into place. I talked her into buying a bottle of Sun-In as well. Needless to say, we’re no longer in touch.

My efforts might have been somewhat misguided, but you can’t say I didn’t try. I layered neons, cuffed my Esprit pants, flipped my pink Izod collar and I somehow still came out looking as though I’d been run over by a street sweeper.

It forced me to dread my family’s annual 4th of July trek, not because I didn’t want to go, but because I had a litany of fashion-related fears. My family was about to pack up the car with burger-making supplies, brownies, pies, blankets, bathing suits, explosives, and liquor to head to a place I knew only as “the country,” and all I could do was panic.

Seventeen never really explained how to actually live in your clothing – white pants were definitely not made for bike riding; there was no way my hair was getting near lake water, no matter how rapidly it dehydrated; and I seriously doubted my teal mascara would hold up under regular misting of mosquito repellant.

Not that I had anyone to impress, of course. “The country” was several acres of nature-ridden land my grandfather owned somewhere south of Chicago. He built a four-bedroom house off the lake, fashioned a beach, and opened it to the extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins for regular gatherings.

We’d all grill and hike and go for rides on the back of my grandfather’s giant lawnmower, and at night my cousins and I would sneak wine coolers out of the icebox while my dad blew things up. I had no idea how I was going to do any of that under the weight of what I considered my fashion responsibility. My mother likely regretted ever buying me that first copy of Seventeen as she tried desperately to get me to put on a pair old shorts before we left that morning.

I was a ‘tween. I didn’t have words for the confusion, the wild urge to be “cool” or the conflicting impulse to be a kid. All I had was a page ripped from my current fashion bible with a picture of the girl I longed to be. Even if it meant wearing leggings, a denim skirt, oversize button-front shirt and ropes of fake pearls into the woods on a 100-degree day.

My mother relented to my pleas, but only with my agreement to a compromise: That I pack a bag with shorts and a t-shirt “just in case.”

Fair enough. I added my Walkman, a couple magazines and a bottle of Love’s Baby Soft perfume and was on my way.

My cousins were already running wild when we arrived. Their eyes widened as I gingerly navigated my way across the gravel driveway to the house. It was the farthest thing from a runway as I could get, but I maintained what shaky composure I had until I made it to our bedroom, where I threw my bag on the bed in frustration.

This “cool” thing was not easy. The entire family was outside readying gear to go fishing, leaving me to roam the house alone. Seventeen could cure my pimples and instruct me on eye shadow application, but it offered nothing to cure my loneliness.

I wandered into one of the bedrooms in back. We never really used the house during the winter months, and over the years it began to serve as depot for the entire family’s excess stuff. That particular room was overrun with boxes and with nothing better to do, I started rummaging.

Most of it was junk – stuffed animals, old clothing, the usual surplus from growing families. One box on the dresser caught my eye. Piles of magazines spilled out, their glossy covers beckoning to be opened. I brightened a bit; there was nothing like the thrill of discovering a new magazine to make my day.

I grabbed a stack and stretched out on the bed with a bag of Doritos at my side. They were the Snack Food of the Gods as far as I was concerned, and I never read anything without them. Something about the combination of a magazine and the salty tang of cheese and crunchy corn equaled bliss in my little ‘tween world, and for the first time all morning, I had hope that the day might improve.

A few pages past the cover and I knew instantly that this was not the typical fashion magazine. My biggest clue, of course, was that none of the women were wearing clothing. Fate had indeed smiled on me that morning, because I had inadvertently stumbled across an expansive collection of Playboy magazines from the ’60s and ’70s.

What shocked me most about the magazines was not the lack of clothing – I’d been watching grade B horror movies for years before then, and topless women were nothing new – it was how relaxed, comfortable and happy the women all looked.

Each page held something different to marvel at. Look! There’s a woman on a bicycle – and she’s wearing shorts! Look! There’s a woman fixing a car – she’s getting dirty and she’s happy about it!

Obviously, the concept of erotica was lost on me.

I only saw gorgeous women doing everyday things without any fashion hindrances. No labels, no hang ups, just fun. And in one unforgettable instant, Playboy magazine taught me the most important lesson of my burgeoning life: That less is most definitely more.

Cheers from outside interrupted my page-turning. My cousin had just caught a fish and was holding it up with pride. Suddenly, that bag my mom had made me pack seemed less distasteful. If the women in Playboy could run around outside without the layers of clothing and still look beautiful, so could I.

With my makeup washed off, hair in a ponytail, and last year’s gym uniform on, I ran outside to join my family. They never knew what inspired the dramatic change, but on that particular day, there were no complaints.

It’s funny now how much impact that day had. Eventually I gave up my bottle of Sun-In, learned to temper fashion with reality, and to this day I still forgo most makeup.

Admittedly, I do still love Doritos and a good magazine, and may now have an uncontrollable (though not inexplicable) lust for lingerie, but of all the challenges the 80s threw at me, I guess that’s not such a bad fate after all.

Viva Las Vegas!

I miss Vegas. Mornings just don’t seem right without a mimosa, palm trees, and learning I’m an “Instant Spin Winner”. Sigh.

Needless to say, the Vegas trip was a success! A few notes:

1) To the staff at the Maryland Parkway Barnes & Noble: Thank you for all your help in making the book signing a tremendous success!

2) To my new Michael Kors purse from the Forum shops at Ceasar’s Palace: Had that sparkly “super scatter” reel not magically spun in my favor, we would never have been brought together.

3) To the Deal or No Deal slot machine at the MGM Grand Casino: Why did you turn on me? Why?

4) To my bank: Can I propose a new slogan for you? You can be the Bank With a Heart … if only you’ll have a bank error in my favor. Could you maybe just forget all those withdrawls? Please?

5) To my guy: I hope your thumb heals in time for NOLA.

And now, a few of my favorite pics:

Morning Neurosis book signing at Barnes & Noble Vegas.
My handsome man and I.
Me and The Purse.
Dinner at Mesa Grill.
New York New York, our hotel.
Relaxing after a long morning of mimosas and slots.
Us and the strip.

Walking on sunshine

I miss Jazzercise. It’s ridiculous and stupid, I know, but I have a soft spot in my heart for workouts from the 80s. Were my gym to launch a “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” style class, I’d be in the front row.

Sure, Richard Simmons is more creepy than kitschy at this point, but I’ve yet to see anyone quite so enthused about bouncing around to pop tune knock-offs in the name of physical fitness (aside from Christian Bale, of course).

Everyone at my gym is just so serious. Class titles include words like “strike!” and “power kick!” and “cardio attack!” to describe whatever punishing routine attendees are in for, and are lead by militant fascists whose limbs resemble knotted lengths of rope wrapped around tree trunks.

Having my ass kicked is not my idea of a fun workout. Give me an hour of grapevines, chasses, step-ball-changes, toe touches, hip rocks and knee lifts and I’m a happy chick. You can’t not laugh when you’re busting out jazz hands.

The closest my gym will come to channeling Denise Austin or Jane Fonda is their oxymoronic “salsa funk” class. It’s billed as delivering an intense cardio workout, core training, and basic salsa skills in a fun, welcoming setting, which, after poking my head into a class one evening, I have to doubt. The room was packed with people: half of them were desperately limping along as the instructor barked out instructions while the other half looked pissed off that their view to the mirror was blocked. I quickly hustled my way to the treadmills.

Life would be so much easier if I could just catch a thyroid disorder. The good kind, mind you – the kind that puts your metabolism into hyperdrive, not the kind that makes dark hairs sprout from your chin and adds pounds quicker than a deep fried Twinkie.

Not that any thyroid disorder is particularly “good”, I do understand that, but I’d be willing to accept things like an increased heart rate and jitters if they enabled me to bypass the scene at the gym.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy working out, I just resent the experience. My gym in particular takes fitness to Orwellian levels by offering their own blood lab where you can have your fitness level determined from the inside out. It’s especially creepy when the technicians, decked out in official-looking white coats, set up shop in the hallway and say things like, “Learn what your doctor won’t tell you,” and “Let your blood speak for you.”

I’m not sure what exactly my blood would say for me, aside from the fact that I’ve likely had too much whiskey, and I can’t say I really care to find out.

Despite my refusal to assimilate, I seem to be doing something right. My recent trek to buy a bathing suit for Las Vegas did not end with anyone in tears, from me, to my guy, to the sales clerks. I wish I could say as much for the woman in the changing room next to me: after 20 minutes of snapping, grunting, tugging, and cursing, she finally emerged wearing a neon yellow “tankini” that the salesgirl instantly proclaimed “Worth the effort,” thus winning my award for Best Euphemism of the Day.

Whatever works, I suppose.

As for me, I’ll be the one keeping my blood to myself and dutifully jogging away on the treadmill to the sounds of Katrina and the Waves and Huey Lewis, dreaming of the day when my gym resembles the set from the movie Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and I can don my legwarmers without fear of public ridicule.

PS – my Morning Neurosis “rowdier than the typical book signing” book tour stops in Las Vegas this Sunday, April 11. I’ll be at the Barnes & Noble on Maryland Parkway from 7-9 pm. Join me for rock n’ roll stories, and later, shots at the hotel bar!

Essayist, author, podcaster, and general misanthrope. Official blog of lightly fictionalized musings and general word vomit. Visit www.juliettemiranda.com for additional info.