my sister

Matilda Part I

Figure 1: Matilly, age 6, heading for swimming lessons

Being that my girl turns ten in two days, I am thinking I should mark this. A decade of Matilda.

Here is one little story of her that pleases me so much.

My sister and I took Matilda to Target a couple days ago. She loves shopping, see, and she loves toys and she loves to tell me all the things she wants. This is not the thing that I want to note, it just makes her my child and a girl in America and whatever else.

We were in the stationery/card aisle and a pack of college girls wearing U of M swimming/diving jackets walked by. Like, big giant amazon swimmer girls, all blond. This Target we were at is always full of college kids. Anyway, my sister said, “Hey, Tilda. Those girls? Those girls are swimmers in college. They are even better swimmers than the ones in high school. Even better than Sid.

Sid = her older cousin who swims for his high school team and kicks ass at 500 freestyle and also can drive a car and always makes her laugh, ergo, God.

Anyway, so what I did after my sister said that was dart away, because I knew what would happen next and Jesus, I am such a wimpy introvert. My sister came and found me a minute later.

“She’s talking to those girls!” Kristin said. “She just bellied right up to them and told them she’s a swimmer, too. And now they’re asking her what team she’s on and her best strokes and stuff! I can’t believe her!”

I shook my head. “Of course she was gonna do that,” I said. “You didn’t know that? She’s a total Adrian like that. She’s always barging up to strangers and striking up conversations. It totally freaks me out.”

“I know!” my sister said. “But it’s totally awesome.”

Of course it is awesome. It’s pretty cool to have a kid who can do things that you find unbelievably difficult. A kid that you admire. And that is just one way I admire her.

On My Suburban Wonderland

So, on our street we have that one house where there’s a couple who hate kids and you can’t even breathe on their lawn and they are assholes and nobody likes them. It’s a man and a woman and we refer to them as “Dick” and “Bitch.”

As in: “Oh no, Pablo’s running straight for Dick and Bitch’s house to crap! Stop him!”

Anyway, what fuels life for Dick and Bitch is one part Miller Lite, one part cigarettes and one part bitterness. Bitch is the kinda lady who gets home from her job (she’s probably, like, the manager of Service or Parts at a car dealership, and you can just imagine her being a stickler about rules and everyone counting down the days until she retires) and lights a cig and then gets on her cell phone and stomps around her yard watering all her perfect plants. She, like, HATE-waters them, though, because she’s not gliding about her lawn in a relaxed way, sighing and barefoot, but in a way that shows she kind of HATES the plants for requiring all the goddamn water.

Then she goes inside and gets loaded with Dick, who hasn’t had a job in years. He also hasn’t had any teeth in years.

Bitch only then comes outside if one of Sid or Owen’s* wiffleballs lands in her perfect grass. (Which I’m surprised isn’t covered in land-mines.) Then she launches out holding her Miller Lite to bitch her face off.

After Bitch is done, well, BITCHING, Dick sometimes slithers out when he’s fully in his cups to apologize for the missus and Sid and Owen sit there and marvel at how he can speak with no teeth while my brother-in-law Jeff stands in the background and waits for Bitch to come back out so he can tell her what-for. Jeff doesn’t tolerate Bitch’s bitchiness when it comes to his sons.

Anyway, they suck and are fuckfaces but that’s not the story. The story is that Sid fell asleep on the sofa on Superbowl Sunday and was woken up at 4 am by ambulance lights flashing through the window. He looks to see Dick being wheeled out on a stretcher. Then the ambulance beat it and Bitch went and followed it in her car.

(Bitch’s car is a WHITE sport utility vehicle that she washes every week. Of course it is, you’re saying.)

My sister calls me up the next morning.

“Did you hear what happened to Dick and Bitch?” she asks. Then tells me what Sid saw, reports that Bitch and her white SUV have returned home, sans Dick. Then she suggests that Adrian and me should keep our eyes open and see if we can get the scoop. She thinks Dick maybe had a heart attack. I wonder if Bitch just shot him dead.

“But then she would be arrested, right?” my sister asks. “I would have gone over there to ask if he was okay but I don’t know her name.”

I told her that that’s what you get when you’re the Neighborhood Dick & Bitch. Nobody knows your real name or bothers to ask if your husband dropped dead.

The story might end there, with some moral about ‘being neighborly’ and blah. Except, I’m a pretty indifferent neighbor and don’t really do much to foster community beyond the people I know or am already related to. I’m a big fan of benign indifference when it comes to my neighbors and I work at it really hard. Our houses are very close together, you see.

But! Then my extroverted husband was outside shoveling snow and stuff and he somehow ran into Dick, who was miraculously recovered and was also shoveling snow. Of course, Adrian bellied right up to Dick and got the whole story, which was some garbled nonsense about him having a fever and passing out in the bathroom – Huh? How’d That Happen? – and then?


Then he actually discovered their True Names.

*pause for reverential cooing*

Which I will not reveal, lest the universe crack open or Hellboy’s horns grow back to full strength.

*Sid & Owen = nephews, age 17 and 13, respectively

On Telling People Stuff

My sister and I have this thing – it’s like a talent, or a curse – where people we don’t know well tell us all kinds juicy, insane stuff about themselves.

Neither of us can figure out what it is about us that makes people talk and talk and talk to us, but they do. They just slop our troughs with everything they can think of. And then sometimes they decide we are their best friends, because we’ve stood there and absorbed all this errant information without recoiling in horror.

When I have worked at normal jobs, this always happens. I show up for work and then the telling starts. It’s fine at first, sometimes annoying, but also seems completely crazy to me. I view workplaces as hostile environments, not settings in which to disclose my sordid past or display my tender spots. Maybe the whole world doesn’t work this way?

I guess the thing is, though, that if you are one of those people who just blows your personal wad on people you’ve just met, you should check first to see if the person you’re unloading unto is me or my sister. Because there is a porous membrane between us as far as data exchange goes. What she knows, I know, and vice versa. And I’m a writer, with this blog, see. So. Yeah. Beware.

My Thrift Store Days, Part I

I kind of miss working at the thrift store. It was probably the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had.

When I quit my Real Adult Teaching Job to ‘be a writer’ – what a lark, huh? – I decided to get a regular part-time job. Meaning, something I could brainlessly do and easily leave at work when I punched out. Something with an actual time clock, too. Something that I could organize all my free time around. So I started working at Nameless Thrift Store. And found I really loved it. The stuff I dug through was insane and riveting and the people I worked with were lovely and amusing.

I was pregnant with Matilda while I worked there and one day, I pulled aside a Boppy pillow to buy, but seconds later, one of the guys working the donation door came over and chucked it in the trash.

“Hey! I was going to buy that!” I yelled.

“No, you’re not,” he said. “I saw the tweakers who donated it. You don’t want your baby anywhere near that shit.”

It boggled the mind the kinds of things people would drag all the way to the thrift store to get the tax receipt, when most of their stuff was no better than trash. Given the mental state of some of these people, you had to wonder how they managed to bag and box up their junk and actually make it to the store in one piece. They didn’t exactly look like the kind of people who saved their receipts for itemized deductions. Or even filed their taxes in the first place.

The next few posts will be excerpted from Secondhand Nation, a zine my sister and I once created, and will be devoted to our thrift store experiences (of course, my sister worked at Nameless Thrift Store! we do everything together!)

Next up: a list of things you never need to donate to a thrift store, in case you are brainless…

On Shoes

So, my sister and I are extremely vain people. We were discussing this recently. Neither of us are vain enough, for, say, getting our nails done on a weekly basis, or shopping at a mall with regularity. Both of us strive to just be fall-out-of-bed beautiful, because all that TRYING? TRYING is very unattractive.

In case you need High School Shorthand, Kristin was the waify 95-lb. girl in a giant rugby shirt and leggings. I was the bedheady mess in Levis and flannel.

As you age, you can no longer pull off that naturally-gorgeous-just-woke-up-no-make-up thing. You sag, you wrinkle, your hair gets gray. Baggy butchy clothes don’t make you look tousled and sexy but just dumpy. Leggings are something the 14-year-old who babysits your kids wears.

To look at either of us, you wouldn’t guess we obsess over our clothing. I spend 99% of my life in jeans and t-shirts and hoodies and Converse. In the summer I wear skirts and and t-shirts and flip-flops. My sister’s the same, except she has to go work for a living in an office and wear Awful Womany Office Wear. On the occasions that I must present myself to the public, I have a lot of consternation. Like, if I’m going to teach a class, I want to look like I know what’s going on, not like I showed up at The Loft to fix a plumbing problem.

My sister can pull off girly quite well. She used to have a pink bedroom. She wore gold jewelry, even. But I cannot tolerate a lot of frippery and girlishness. When you have your father’s goat-herding physique, you must streamline. Therefore my clothing tends to be dull and boring. Not a lot of whimsical prints or trendy styles. I buy a lot of A-line dresses and white t-shirts.

For this reason, shoes are very important to me. I spend a lot of time hunting for them online and in stores. Not just because of comfort. But because when everything I wear is shapeless and blah, the shoes can tell a different story.

Like – look! Swedish clogs! I’m taller, suddenly!
Ooh, platform slip-ons!
Boots that zip up the back!
Little wedgies with bells on the straps!
Beautiful wooden-heeled Frye sandals that some idiot at Savers priced at $12!

What these shoes say:  See, I’m not a boring old momma in a shapeless A-line dress! I’m fancy! I used to be kind of cool! Boys used to like me! See! It’s not over yet! 

A few weeks ago, I was in the car doing the after school drop-off with this set of sisters we know, Ava and Lucy. One day, they were fighting the whole time and when we dropped them off, Matilda, an only child, was marveling at this. I tried to sell my whole idea of how being an only child is better again, by saying that I used to fight with my sister all the time, too, and felt bad because people said she was prettier than me.

“No offense, Mom,” Matilda said. “But neither you or your sister are that attractive. I mean, you both have GRAY HAIR.”