It seemed apt after tonight’s….what would you call it?
BowWow: I am about to lose my fucking shit.
Minnie: Take it easy. What’s the problem?
BowWow: The election! It’s making me bite my fucking tail. I can’t stand it!
Minnie: I thought you were a Trump supporter. You should be happy. He’s been reading from the TelePromptr really good lately.
BowWow: That dick? I don’t support him. Well, I did. Sort of. But then I saw a Humane Society ad on TV that said a “Donald Trump presidency would be a threat to animals everywhere.”
Minnie: You remember the exact quote?
BowWow: No. The writing lady looked it up. But I saw it on TV. Jesus H. I’m an animal. It hit me where I live. You know? Shit.
Minnie: The people are never going to let anything happen to you, BowWow. It doesn’t matter who is President.
BowWow: Yeah. I know…
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We bought a bunny and named him Peter because, well, that’s what people call their bunnies. He lived in a cage in the garage but we always kept the door open so he could see outside and feel the sun on his face. His cage had all of the things one would put in a cage to make a bunny feel cozy and loved, like mounds of bedding and water dripping from a tube that clipped on the side of the cage. We fed him lettuce and scraps from green beans we shucked for dinner. We took him out of his cage to hop in the yard and our little girl would pet him and follow him in his hopping. But then, for a reason I can’t remember, we fed him hamburger one night and it changed everything. He stepped over into a different kind of existence, watchful and always anticipating something more than what he got. His stare became disarming and that was when we stopped calling him a bunny and realized he was a rabbit. And that, once, somewhere, long ago, his kind had been wild and he hadn’t forgotten.
Watching football on TV and getting nostalgic about when we used to actually go to Packer games and then remembering this. It’s all true.
“If I was a big tall guy, would I be a looming, space-taking, oblivious asshole or would I be nice?” I asked the question of no one in particular but my husband was within earshot. “Oh, you’d be nice.”
I had just crumpled my ticket to the football game in my hand like it was a gum wrapper I was about to throw out the window of the car if I was so inclined which I’m not. I never litter. Never.
It started with the giant men in line to get into Lambeau Field. Big men with big parkas, hunting pants on, and boots thick as bricks. Each of them took up triple human space – their own physical bodies, their extraordinary garb, and their auras fueled by Miller Lite, begging the question, what is the point of drinking a light beer when you are already giant?
We waited in…
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This is the mascara that my mother used. After she put on her foundation and powder and a bit of rouge and sometimes a wee beauty mark if she was feeling extra sharp, she’d bring the tray up to her lips and spit on the mascara cake. Then she’d move the brush back and forth until it was loaded with mascara and then she’d have at it with her eyelashes.
She sat at a vanity table while she put on her make-up and sometimes I sat on my folks’ bed and watched. It was there I learned the order of things.
Several years ago, I wrote an essay about going to my father’s house after my mother died. And, not surprisingly now, looking back, make-up played an outsized role in my reaction to her death. In the essay, I refer to the tiny red mascara box and the mascara cake that required a squirt of spit. So, I read this essay to my writers’ workshop on Tuesday and it wasn’t until I read the words out loud that I realized that this bit of fact, this cultural reference from the 50’s, was likely unknown to the people listening.
This was eye-opening, so to speak.
I am an older woman writing. And the metaphors and images that are in my mental inventory, the Volkswagen with the engine in the rear and the trunk in the front, the seams on my nylons that were never straight, the Kotex I threaded through an elastic belt I wore for five days every month, all of these things are cultural references from another century.
I am agape at that.
My grandmother was born in the century before the last century. I knew and loved a person who was born in 1884 and now it is 2020. That’s a span of 136 years. It’s brain-frying to ponder, if you ask me. But I am pondering it, nonetheless.
The choice is then to find a more current metaphor or to explain more about the tiny red box of mascara and, of course, I am choosing the latter. Because that is where I’m tied, that is where I’m anchored, sitting on the bed in my mother’s bedroom, watching her put on her make-up, learning the order of things. That’s the story I tell.
Anxiety, self-doubt, accomplishment, laughter, fear, loathing, it was just your run-of-the-mill pandemic, presidential- coup-on-the-horizon kind of week. We are, you all realize, getting to the point where nothing really fazes us. It’s not numbness. I don’t think we’re numb. I think we have extremely developed impending doom muscles. It’s a shame we’ve had to develop them, but we’ll be glad in the end.
I read an essay to a group of people via Zoom last night. I’ve done this before for my writers’ workshop but this was different since it was part of an event involving eight other writers whose pieces interpreting specific photographs were selected in a competition. So it felt formal but it wasn’t which goes to what my daughter has been saying – Zoom oddly feels more intimate than an actual meeting. I think it’s the closeness of the faces. I read third so after I was done and there was a bathroom break, I made a drink and listened to everyone else’s work and it was lovely.
We asked our son to come over tomorrow to change a light bulb. He’s tall and the light fixture is up high but it feels like an incident that might go in our file later, you know, as evidence of our declining capabilities. When you get older you start thinking of these queer little things, like did you mow the lawn in straight lines and the like.
We bought an RV. And in so doing, we may have also lost our minds. It’s a 22′ camper, super cute inside, like a little rolling lake cabin. It’s where I’m planning to live out my lifetime dream of a Travels with Charley existence. Before we bought it, we looked at a camper van – think Amazon delivery truck – which was about four feet wide with a Murphy bed made of plywood hooked to the wall. It also had a cartridge toilet which I thought was clever, just unlock the ‘cartridge’ and roll it like a suitcase to, say, a pit toilet or wherever and dumping it, so slick. But I soured on the cartridge idea the more I thought about it – rolling through a campground with my little “suitcase.”
I’m looking forward to winter since I gave up on my garden weeks ago and now just want it covered with snow. This is the part of the year when I have my annual reckoning about what a terrible gardener I am and when I come to hate the dependency of plants, their incessant neediness. The outrageously prolific zucchinis are done (I think, I don’t want to look) and the petunias are all dying and I’m glad. It’s time to move on.
At the age of 89, my dad went to the Taco Bell in his small town for the first time. He stood in line for a good while, waiting his turn while a group of teenagers rattled off their excruciatingly detailed orders, and then shuffled up to the counter.
“What do you recommend?” he asked the cashier as if he was in a supper club inquiring about that night’s special. It might have been the first time that he’d ever stood at a fast food counter.
This was my dad branching out. My mother had died several months before, taking with her all the “we should just eat at home” admonishments that she carried in her purse like a roll of peppermint Lifesavers. It was her reflex, honed by years of practice growing up in the Depression. If you were hungry, there were always apples in the fruit cellar. She never said this out loud. I just knew this was what she was thinking.
After she died, my dad kept everything in his house and his life the same except for tiny things like going to Taco Bell. He started getting invited to dinner and established his signature dish, a cheesecake made out of the box with a graham cracker crust and cherry topping. He made it for us when we came to visit along with turkey loaf and instant mashed potatoes.
My dad learned to email in the year after my mother died. He would tell me about his bowling score and how he had gotten a cheaper deal on his internet. He never actually said he was lonely, but I figured he had to be, having been married to my mother for 64 years. So, every few months, my two younger kids, both teenagers, would come with me on the six-hour drive to see him.
“How about we go out to eat, Dad?”
I knew it was a long shot, but we’d already plowed through his specialties the night before. But he said yes right away! And then he said that there was a Chinese restaurant in town, and he had never been there. I remembered the dozens of times, more than that probably, that my mother heated up chop suey from a can and made rice which we ate with butter and sugar. It wasn’t one of her finest dishes, but it kept us alive which was the point of much of her cooking. That’s a mother’s love if you ask me.
At the Chinese restaurant, we sat in a booth with padded seats covered in red vinyl. My son sat next to my dad and I sat across from them with my daughter. We were something of an unusual sight in my dad’s small town, my kids both Hispanic, adopted from Nicaragua years before, and me and my dad as white as the Michigan countryside in deep winter.
When he was younger and more prone to judgements, I would have been uncomfortable sitting in a booth in a Chinese restaurant with my dad and my kids, but now he was mellow, about me, my kids, about dinner, about everything. He seemed to be a different man than the dad I had known growing up. I guess that’s what age does to a person, smooths them out and helps them relax in the world.
It took a long time to decide what to order. The menus were heavy, leather-covered, with a dozen plastic coated pages and we each read each page intently, not wanting to miss an opportunity to have this once in a lifetime Chinese meal be exceptional.
“What do you suppose sweet and sour pork is?”
The guilelessness of the question almost brought tears to my eyes. My son explained, that being his favorite dish and exactly what he was going to order, and then went on to say that everyone should order something different and we would all share what we had.
So, then, of course, my dad asked, “What do you recommend?” and my son pointed to something on the menu, I don’t remember what, and my dad pointed to the same thing when the waitress came for our order. He seemed pleased with himself for ordering something he’d never eaten or even heard of before. There was a look of satisfaction, maybe a little devil-may-care, like there was still some derring-do left in the old guy. It made me want to laugh loud with happiness.
While we waited for our dinners, we studied the paper placemats, each of us trying to find the animal in the Chinese Zodiac for the year we were born. I found mine right away – the Year of the Rat. Then my kids found theirs – both the Year of the Rabbit, born in the same year five months apart, the magic of adoption. My dad ran his old fingers on his placemat, bending over to look harder at the years listed for each of the Zodiac’s twelve animals. It took a while to realize that his birth year wasn’t on the placemat.
“I’m too old to be here,” he said. “I guess I have to make up my own year. I’ll be the Year of the Bird. How about that?”
That was our last visit. Maybe it was his last time branching out. I don’t know. That year, the year between when my mother died and when he died, well, that was my father’s Year of the Bird. He took flight, not far and not for long, but flight just the same. And once in a while I took a tiny flight with him.
This essay was selected as one of nine essays for a contest called a Picture and a Thousand Words. You can find all the winners along with the photographs P1K.
It’s amazing how little time it takes for the crazy to become normal.
You can be having a completely normal life and then, boom, stuff starts happening. The right rear burner on your stove quits working. The front door only locks from the inside. Your boyfriend leaves notes on your car threatening suicide. Your defroster doesn’t work so your car windows frost inside and you have to use a scraper on them while you are driving. Police come to your door and ask unpleasant questions. You stay up all night worrying about something bad happening. You don’t know what the bad thing is, it could be anything. The bad thing floats around the room like a three-day old balloon.
Pretty soon, you are driving around town with the back seat of your car crammed with old newspapers and magazines, gum wrappers from bubblegum chewed ten years ago, mittens still wet…
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I’ve clutched enough pearls to sink a ship. I’ve also gone so high when others have gone low that I’ve floated on the air stream with the birdies. We created a murmuration, which, for those of you unaware, is a spectacular sight in nature, but entertaining only, not effective. In other words, while us high flyers were busy murmuring, the bad guys were stealing our cheese.
And so it goes now. We, the murmurers, are posting memes about the tragic departure of Ruth Bader Ginsburg while the bad guys are packing up her office so the new gal can move in. They care not that they are doing precisely what they proclaimed four years ago to be an unthinkable, un-democratic action – moving forward with a Supreme Court nomination weeks before an election. And that’s what gets us.
The cheese-stealers don’t give a fuck if we disapprove. They couldn’t care less if we say they are liars, that they are hypocritical and dishonorable, that they are violating their Boy Scout oaths left and right. We, of course, would feel terrible if anyone said such things to us. We would be mortified.
We have to get over it. We have to get over our delicate selves. We have to stop imagining that the Republicans in charge somehow share our ethical framework. (They may but I’ve not seen any evidence lately.) We have to give up on their being impressed with our outrage. They won’t be. They’ve got our cheese and they’re running down the hall with it.
So the choice for us is to run faster, block the exits, trick them into dropping their cheese loads to take a rest. We need to be smart, strong, and relentless or, as one meme put it, now that with are Ruth-less, we need to be ruthless. I agree with that. But we need to be ruthless in the pursuit of fair play and equity. And ruthless in getting every eligible voter to the polls and having their vote count on Election Day. We have to keep up the moral outrage even if we look like a bunch of schoolmarms distressed at the bullies on the playground. No moral outrage = resignation. We can’t have that.
Free, open elections are the great fear of the Republican Party. Voting is the water that will melt the Wicked Witch of the West and Republicans know it. That’s why they’ve pursued a path of voter suppression all across the country. It’s happened a wee stitch at a time and now voter suppression lies like a heavy, wet woolen blanket over every state in the Union. It doesn’t have to be this way.
It’s time to do whatever it was we were waiting to do if we had more nerve or more time or more money. You know what those things are, I don’t have to make a list. Don’t wait is all I’m asking. Start tomorrow morning doing one thing to change what’s happening. Just one, and then another. We have 43 days.
Don’t let these thieves steal our country.
Not that many places are unforgettable but I think Nome is. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll ever be back. What I’ve collected up this week by way of stones and stories will have to do. I’ve thought about that the whole time, telling myself to make every minute count.
It’s Friday so here’s my round-up from this unusual week:
A town’s ugliness can be beautiful. Nome is worn and full of rust. The weather knocks the paint off everything; snow and ice wear down doorways and windows. Everything has seen better days, if only a few of them before winter made new things old. Abandoned vehicles and boats are littered about; the reason given is that there is no way to dispose of them and that is true. Everything here has to be flown or shipped in or out. No road goes to Nome from anywhere else.
There is a group of five Native people who stand at the entrance to our hotel night and day. They drink and they live outside. Sometimes they come inside the hotel to use the bathroom and then they go outside again and take up their posts by the door but they never do anything except say hello. Meanwhile, every person we talk to laments the terrible alcoholism present in Nome. Yesterday, a local leader told me that one out of four kids has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. My mouth hung open for a full minute. What happens now, I asked. No answer.
Richard Beneville is the mayor of Nome. He is a 73-year old former stage actor from New York who moved to Alaska to dry out. He is also gay. He told us his life story in a meeting with our small group – how his acting career hit the skids because of his drinking and how his family engineered an intervention that sent him to Anchorage. From there, he took a job running a department store in Barrow. He told us he got off the plane in Barrow, not realizing that he was going to the edge of the Arctic Ocean, dressed in a trench coat that was flapping in the wind and a gray fedora. Later, he moved to Nome. He has a speaking voice that can reach the cheap seats and he breaks into song every third paragraph.
Great contentment can come from just surrendering to one’s circumstances. Take this hotel, for instance. It would have one star. I think you get one star for being open, so it would have that star. But it wouldn’t have any of the other stars. Except as we’ve learned the ways of the hotel, we’ve improved our existence. Learning about clean towel night was a breakthrough.
So was figuring out if we gave the desk clerk $5, he would get us two ice cold Diet Cokes and two clean glasses crammed with ice. And never having to worry about maid service messing with our stuff since there isn’t any maid service. It’s just us. We are the maids. Or not.
The sky is the same everywhere but it looks bigger here, especially if there are little roads to travel to look for musk ox.
Time spent with Native people has been golden. Our meetings have been arranged and so they are intentional. These are not brief exchanges on a street corner; our interactions with Native people have been sit-down affairs, serious but full of humor and goodwill. We have been good listeners but not afraid to ask questions. The Native people we have spent time with – Anna, Lisa, Colleen, and Sarah – talked about their lives in ways important to them. Today, Sarah, an elder in Teller, showed us her stamp collection from when she was in 9th grade. Earlier, she showed us a manuscript of stories her blind brother had dictated to her 19 years before. We listened to what they wanted to tell us and let ourselves sink into being with them.
At Sarah’s today, we ate salmon spread on crackers and looked out her window to the village and further out to the inlet of the Bering Sea. Sarah didn’t want us to take pictures of her so I have a photo of Sarah’s window to offer. This is the part of her world she let us see.