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Life In Paris

 

800px-Lesdeuxmagots

NOTE: I wrote this a few years ago, when Matilda was younger and before I published any books. Because clearly, publishing books makes you the High Priestess of Regal Glamour.

Whenever I get upset with myself, the hurrying-around doing dull errands, the mess in the house, the slopped-together meals of cereal on the couch, the ugly clothes I wear constantly, I beat myself with a stick I like to call “Life In Paris.”

Let’s apply this concept.

Last week, we went out to eat at Ember’s. My daughter Matilda wanted pancakes and my husband and I were too tired/lazy to make them at home. (Also, she wanted bacon and we had no bacon.) After we ate our crappy meal at Ember’s, which was actually quite delicious, we went home and I put on a pair of clean pajama pants and went to bed in the shirt I wore today.

When I woke up, I put on a bra under my shirt I had slept in and replaced the pajama pants with the jeans I’d wore the previous day. I splashed water on my face and brushed my teeth. Then I hustled Matilda through dressing and breakfast (whole wheat English muffin with rhubarb-strawberry jam and a shot of blueberry juice). Then I dumped her and the rest of the kids on our block at school and burned rubber over to the grocery, wearing no make-up, forgetting the reusable bags, to return milk bottles* and get more milk for my coffee.

Now, what’s wrong with all of that, you say? I’ve had that morning often myself, you think.

Enter the Life In Paris. If I were having my Life in Paris, I would not take my child to Ember’s to eat pancakes. In Paris, we have crepes, which I make with total and complete magnanimity, as I’m a Parisian woman! Just as it’s in my nature to fuck an older, uglier man who is shorter than me, so is making crepes without breaking a sweat.

In Paris, I would not leave the house wearing a shirt that’s been recycled continuously in three different instances. I would not leave the house without styling my hair or wearing make-up.** I would not wear junky, flat-bottomed snow boots and ill-fitting, thrice-worn denim.

Furthermore, in Paris I would not drive to some ugly, all-purpose grocery store where the food is bland and indistinct and the counter man in the meat department has no more expertise in meat than the $7 bucks-an-hour cashier. No, in Paris, I would market at individual shops that offered premium food know-how – fromagerie, patisserie, charcuterie, boulangerie – and after learning about the provenance of my purchases, I would put on my Chanel sunglasses, exit the store and clack down cobblestone streets in heels. My feet would not blister or ache. I would buy fruits from a vendor every day. I would buy my paper from a gnarled old man in a newstand and peruse it while I nibbled on a pan au chocolat. Because there’s no way I would not have coffee at home with a plastic coffee maker.

Non, belles amies! I would be having cafe au lait in a charming bistro before I went to work at my glamourous job at a publishing house. I would be wearing a frilly silk blouse with lots of lovely necklaces. I would have jewelry custom-made that didn’t come from a thrift store. And of course, I wouldn’t be fat. My bra and panties would match. My daughter would toddle off to school on a bus – such lovely public transport! – and I would meet her at home for a lunch of dressed greens and roast duck.

Isn’t Life in Paris is beautiful? Life in Paris doesn’t involve scraping one’s windshield, or picking up dog shit with a shovel in the backyard. Life in Paris features shoes with smart heels, and clothing made of silk and wool. No synthetics allowed in Paris! Life in Paris doesn’t include a trip to the health club to stand on a machine for a requisite 45 minutes to remove flab. In Paris, we flutter over long, picturesque sidewalks, holding our berets to our heads, as we jet to meet our lovers in bistros in the rain! This type of exercise isn’t labeled such. It doesn’t exert, you see. Besides, should your body have the audacity to store adipose, which I don’t believe is actually possible within the 16th arrondissement, such tasteless flab would be run out on a rail by a mob holding stalks of artichokes.

Why I let this stick abuse me so, I don’t know. I went to France on my honeymoon, with a phrasebook and not much else. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I didn’t like France very much at all. We drove from north to south, in a rented car, going down the autoroute at high speeds only to be stalled out by our lack of language skills in small towns. Adrian found the whole place in need of some spackle.

“It’s like they rebuilt everything that got destroyed in World War II,” he said, as we drove through a cloverleaf in some small town with too many vowels and x’s in the name. “But they only rebuilt it once.”

In France, I could mimic my phrasebook and get a response that sounded like someone sucking on marshmallows. About all the French I have left from that puny guidebook has been used in this essay. All of this left me feeling like France is some club I can’t be a member of – is that what life is all about? About letting junior-high notions of exclusivity ruin your day? I can’t help it that I’m provincial and my province doesn’t have lavender fields or couture houses. We have a local foodshed, but only for 5 months of the year. The rest of the time, life here is slogging through snow muck up to one’s ankles or dragging a large plastic garbage bin to the curb at 9:30 at night or picking around superstores with an oversize shopping cart or watching pay-per-view movies versus hoofing it to the art cinema. Anais Nin couldn’t land in my life and grab the reins. There are not enough satin lampshades or casks of wine in the cellar or opportunities to watch burlesque shows.

Maybe I just need a Life In Akron, Ohio stick? Maybe I don’t need a stick at all?


 

*Back then I used to buy milk in reuseable bottles but our grocery doesn’t carry that brand anymore. Of course it doesn’t.

**I don’t do this anymore. I put on make-up because I’m a vain motherfucking 40-year-old.

 

 

 

In Between Days

 

Figure 1. Exactly.

Figure 1. Exactly.

 

Here we are poised on the ragged end of summer. I’m caught between routine and leisure.

There’s too much on my mind. I have been sick for several days but I’m feeling on the mend.

Still, I can’t do anything but read.

(And write smutty fan fiction. For some reason, I expel a whole bunch of that stuff prior to doing the Published Writing. Clearing the pipes.)


 

Figure 4. Pablo and Gonzo cuddle time.

Figure 2. Pablo and Gonzo cuddle time.

 

My dog is a champion cuddler. I was told this morning that I am not a champion cuddler.

“You lay next to me and read, but you don’t cuddle,” said Matilda.

“I’m the best cuddler in this whole family,” said Adrian.

“Did you know that the name ‘Pablo’ is actually Spanish for ‘excellent cuddler?'” asked Pablo.


 

fresh desk

Figure 3. What my desk looks like when I clean it quarterly.

 

My office is getting new windows. This means violence is being done to my bookshelves and desk. No access allowed to that room. Probably I should have picked out a clean outfit today?

I wonder if the vintage table cloths we currently use as curtains will still cover the new windows?

My office is not an exciting place. I might buy a couch for it once the dumbass remodeling is finished.*


 

Figure 4. Heh.

Figure 4. Heh.

 

One thing I like about reading fan fiction is how baldly it can show the writer’s fantasies. I also don’t like it for that reason, especially when I read things that sound like they’ve been produced by some kind of software designed to sound “sexy.” That makes me feel sad for the person; that they’ve not developed their own erotic glossary, so to speak. That the images they’ve decided signal ‘sexy’ are stock images and worn metaphors.

Silky, throbbing, shuddering, dewy… etc.

Come on, man. Don’t let others speak for you!

There are specific things you learn about a person when you have sex with them. They are not usually sexual or erotic. That was one of the main draws about sex for me back when I was a youth. I just wanted to SEE what the guy would DO. What he’d look like. What would HAPPEN if I did x or y. A kind of curiosity that hasn’t left me, even though I’m married and monogamous and boring.


 

Figure 5. My kid, Matilda. Sorry you have to go to Gross Middle School, honey

Figure 5. My kid, Matilda. Sorry you have to go to Gross Middle School, honey

 

My daughter had middle school orientation yesterday. Her middle school smelled like floor cleaner and onions. The onions part is from body odor, I’m quite certain.

Middle school is populated with lots of kids who don’t realize they should now start bathing with more frequency.

I think all middle school building signs should say: “Welcome to _____________ Middle School: No One Wants To Be Here, So Let’s Just Get This Over With.”

The nice thing about her middle school, though? It still has a library. And a librarian. And there were some really good books on the shelves. More than I can say for her goddamn elementary school.

*sighs for 15 minutes*


Figure 6. Oh, thanks, Norman.

Figure 6. Oh, thanks, Norman.

 

Next Wednesday, I turn 40.

It doesn’t feel that old. Yet: you are OLD when you are 40. But I wrote this when I turned 37 and it still is true.

I keep waiting to transform into someone grown-up and responsible.

I keep waiting to, like, somehow need religion.

I keep waiting to become this person who is demure and discreet and appropriate.

But I’m 40 and that’s not happening. So I guess now I just say, what?

Fuck It All

Stop telling me what’s what, World

I’m half-way to death so give up on me becoming Proper already

I’m having Devil’s Food cake with coconut pecan frosting for my birthday. Later, once this dumbass remodeling** is done, I’m taking Adrian to Italy for a week to celebrate my oldness.

 

 

 

 

 

*This dumbass remodeling is scheduled to be finished exactly never.
**I know. I KNOW.

The Blond Boy

Figure 1: The Baby Reedus. Who isn't really blond.

Figure 1: The Baby Reedus. Who isn’t really blond. BUT THE HANDS

 

Once there was a girl who went to Colombia to study during college. Not Columbia, the college in NYC. Colombia, the country where all the cocaine comes from.

Anyway. She went there to study Spanish, or something, but she couldn’t concentrate. Colombia, being tropical, has no seasons. So the leaves never turned and the sun never left and the cues that sent her inside to study every autumn were not there.

She had also just ended a long relationship with her college boyfriend. She was kind of a wreck.

Anyway, a month into the experience, she was better. Happier. One week, she found herself just outside the city of Paipa, with several other guys. They were doing a field study of the town. They were supposed to interview local people about the economy. Or something.

Mostly, the girl just smoked cigarettes and ate hamburgers and avoided work. She was sharing a room with a boy. A blond boy. He was attractive. A little weird. He told these really long meandering stories that she was never sure about. Sure if he’d get to the point. After a while she learned that he never got to the point she expected him to get at, so she came to really enjoy listening to him talk.

There were hot springs in the town of Paipa. A lot of tourists came there for that reason. Though the girl and her group of classmates were supposed to be trekking through the town, getting to the bottom of the town’s urban/rural issues, mostly they just went to the hot springs during the day and got drunk at night.

One day, after sitting in the hot springs all afternoon, they were all too lazy to locate the city library or municipal building. So they took a cab back to their hotel, all through the countryside, where they saw two giant double rainbows, spanning the fields. The girl was sitting on the blond boy’s lap, and his hand was slipping under her shirt, up her back. Just moving up and down where no one could see. It made her so happy. She was so relaxed, she almost fell asleep, but of course she didn’t. Hard to fall asleep while you’re teetering over the skinny thighs of a boy.

She was the last to get back to their room, because she had a message at the hotel desk to read. When she opened the door to her room, the blond boy was there and he took her hand and pulled her into the room and turned off the light and he put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her. Said, “Welcome home, honey.”

Then they spent the rest of the afternoon, naked. Until evening, when the other guys got hungry and wanted to go out to eat. When they all ate, she worked hard not to smile at the blond boy too much, or look at him too long. Everyone knew what was going on, but she didn’t want to admit to it.

One morning, while she showered, there was only cold water. Shortages of power made such things commonplace. She came out of the shower in her towel, gasping. He was lying on the bed, in his own towel, smiling.

“Could hear you moaning,” he said. “It was cold, wasn’t it?”

She lay on her own bed. Far from him. Too worn out from the freezing experience to speak. And it was day, so they didn’t get naked. Except for that first day, they always did it at night, after drinking. She was shy about leaving her bed to go to his, otherwise.

The blond boy did things like lay on the bed with his shoes on. Watching Sports Center. He liked taking pictures. He had curly hair. He let the girl wear his jeans and didn’t care that her ass stretched them out. He was slow and gentle and just one inch shy of awkward when he made his sex moves. He was very serious when he was naked.

The girl liked all of this well enough, but the fact remained that what people are like when they take off their clothes is usually a big indicator of what they are like in life. If they are not syncing with you unclothed, even if it might feel good at times, then things might be trouble later.

Trouble. Or just a whole lot of rubbing for a little warmth.

She remembers his hands that day in the cab, with the rainbow. He did the same thing again, weeks later, on a night bus to the Ecuadorian coast. Soft, up and down, slipping between her shirt and the top of her jeans. Shy and slow.

There are people that you meet, that are good and nice and mean well. They might look pretty or handsome. They might feel good to touch. But they are just not the right size for you. Not the key that clicks into place. Not bad people. Good people. Though not quite right.

But still. They can be like a balm to sore places, tender parts of you that need love and soothing. A portent of what good might come. A hint. A whisper.

His hands were so kind. She sometimes remembers them, whenever she’s taking a shower, now, in her normal adult life, and the hot water runs out.

 

The Excellent Kissing Boy

Figure 1: Little Baby Reedus. This has nothing to do with anything.

Figure 1: Little Baby Reedus. This has nothing to do with anything.

 

The Excellent Kissing Boy was like all of the boyfriends of my youth. Kind of unloved and from a shitty family life and always smoking, always with a lighter in his pocket. Didn’t talk too much. Even after we started being together, he didn’t talk. He was very slow. Deliberate. I thought this was on purpose, back then. Like he had a plan. Or he was just stoic and unspeakably cool. Now I’m thinking he was scared shitless. I was a year older than him.

He played the guitar. Very well. He had the entire basement as his bedroom and I’d go over there and he’d play the guitar for like, 2 hours straight, while I sat on his bed. Upstairs, there was either nobody home or his drunk mother was passed out in front of the TV. Clearly there was a lot going on here.

You might think my boyfriend’s drunk mother upstairs was one of the main things on my mind. But she never came downstairs, even when she was ambulatory. She even let us smoke in the house, because she smoked herself. Kind of depressing, but I didn’t question it.

What was always on my mind was that I wanted to make out with him, but I was too shy. I couldn’t figure out a smooth way of doing that. I mean, it probably didn’t matter, how I inserted myself into his face – he always kissed me back and stuff. But at the time, the whole ballet of how you came to intersect with another person’s body really mattered. Would it be an accident or intentional? Did I seem too aloof or too eager? I couldn’t get it right.

All I know is that I listened to him play so much guitar my head nearly exploded in frustration.

But one weekend, I was brave, because he was playing his guitar on his bed and I sat beside him while he played chords along with Deep Purple (or Led Zeppelin? Who the fuck knows. Some old-ass 70’s band.) And then, I did whatever move it was, I can’t remember. Like, I put my hand on his thigh or head on his shoulder – those were my moves back then; pretty suave, I know – and we ended up making out.

Two things you need to know.

One: he always had MTV on when I came over. Back when MTV actually showed videos. He sometimes had the sound on (so he could play along with the music) but sometimes he just left the TV on mute and it was the only light in the room. Which was convenient make-out mood lighting, I guess.

Two: As you might surmise from his moniker, The Excellent Kissing Boy was a champion maker-outer. Like, it was just pure enjoyment for me to kiss him. Once either of us got up the nerve to make a move, we could kiss for HOURS. And he was the last boy I’d ever be with that wasn’t hustling us through the paces, trying to move the ball, if you will, gain yardage toward a proverbial touchdown. He never prodded or pushed or shoved. It was all super chaste and above-the-waist. He was, now that I think about it, like the perfect YA boyfriend. He was broken and talented but at the end of the day, he just wanted to take off my shirt and kiss me forever and ever. After being a guitar genius for several hours.

Of course, I couldn’t see that at the time as okay. As maybe something to do with his own internal struggle or lack of confidence or part of all the gross shit happening in his house with his fucked-up family. Of course I took it to mean he didn’t like me or didn’t want to do ‘it’ or that my hair was bad or something dumb like that. I was used to having to deflect and defend against sex stuff I didn’t want and once I found a guy who lacked such ambitions, of course I couldn’t just be, you know, happy about it.

Okay, back to the story. We’re making out. My shirt’s off, his flannel’s off, but he’s still wearing his t-shirt. And at one point, the videos on MTV stop and there’s this special on. It’s about Satanic references and heavy metal music. And we hear these preachers talking about how the music is making kids have sex and go to hell, and we both look up from each other and stare at the TV. Seriously, we were a perfect example of what those religious freaks wanted to happen; it was like they’d hoped they’d intercept young kids like us from immoral premarital sex or whatever. Obviously, this was kind of a buzzkill. After a while, we both sat up, disentangled from each other, leaned back against the wall, our legs in Levi’s hanging over the edge of the bed, his flannel in a ball between us. Him, lighting a cigarette, raking his long hair out of his eyes. Me, hypnotized by the television, grabbing the smoke from him for a drag and crossing my arms over myself in bra. The TV shouting damnation at us one minute and blasting Alice Cooper the next. I think I went home soon after the show ended. No more making out.

I ended up dumping the Excellent Kissing Boy not longer after.  Two days after he got suspended from school for smoking, in fact. Because I liked Another Boy. I was kind of fickle like that, in those days.

I don’t know if there’s a point to all of this. But I liked remembering it.

 

 

On Music Lessons

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Recently, I watched my husband and two other guys heave the piano out of our house and into storage and I felt this total happiness at its exit, much like when the piano falls into the sea at the end of that movie The Piano, except not the part where Holly Hunter goes down with it. Which is a pretty strong metaphor for how I have been feeling about this piano, I will grant you, but seems to fit in a diluted sense.

I played the piano for a long time. Like, I started in 2nd grade. And played until I was a senior in high school. And then I did a few semesters in college. That seems like a long time to do something that one is fair-to-middling at. But I guess life is just continual editing, right?

I was happy to see the piano go, even though it was the one I learned on. An upright mahogany thing. The bench which kept the music is long gone and when Matilda started her lessons, she used a chair, which I always thought was wrong.

Anyway. I was glad to see it go because harping on Matilda to PRACTICE PIANO was burning my life right out. It gave me flashbacks of my own mother harassing me constantly to do the same. And I hated practicing. And I hated showing up at lessons ill-prepared. It was like a weekly dose of shame. You know, an extra dose on top of the regular helpings I got growing up.

My sister and I were made to take piano because our maternal grandmother was a very talented musician, hence, thus, therefore, ergo, so should all her descendants be talented as such. My mother and her siblings were also subjected to this generational hazing. Nobody except my aunt, really, held a candle to my grandmother, who was a symphony cellist, and a choir mistress and an instructor in violin and piano, as well.

(ASIDE. My grandmother was a Weird Music Person. You know that Music People are Weird. Like Theater People, they have A Thing. And this Thing makes them all weird and focused on music all the time. You know, right? It’s not A Bad Thing. It’s just a Weird Thing I don’t have. I have other Weird Things. Anyway.)

My dad thought this frog-marching to piano lessons was a good plan; in the refugee camp where he grew up, his parents only had money for his eldest brother to take violin lessons, and when Sam was a musical wash-out, that was it for the rest of the Mesrobian children. Nice, economical handling of the problem, if you ask me. But my father, as he is about weddings and church, remained romantically attached to those lost music lessons. He’d lie on the sofa and read the newspaper while my sister and I clanked up and down the keyboard, as if this sounded like heavenly angel harmonies or something.

My problem wasn’t that I hated piano forever. Eventually I came to enjoy musical interpretation. Indeed, that was my only talent. My first teacher was not a stickler for classical training. She played in bars and did improvisation and was a showstopper, I’m told. But my hand position under her tutelage nearly gave my second teacher a stroke. Under Marcia, my second teacher, I was sentenced to play Hanon and hold tennis balls under my palms and do all sorts of finger exercises that would account for my ridiculously short pinkie.

It wasn’t all bad. I got a little better. I learned some Chopin from Marcia. And more Chopin as well as Beethoven, from my third teacher, Mona, who was less strict and rigorous and more about moods and dynamics and playing to my strengths, which did not include theory or grace notes.

Recently, my mother said, “I wish you’d done more with your piano.”

And I kind of looked at her, like, Really?

Because, what more did she want? More than a decade of being merely ‘okay’ at doing something? Was I supposed to play piano in bars and give lessons to shitty kids like me with bad hand position? Or did she really think I was going to magically become a lady Vladimir Horowitz or something?

And I wonder, truly, if kids that have Talent, do they have more enjoyment than I did as a kid? Are they drawn to instruments, noodling around making noise on them and what not? Or does that Talent only come after so much parental pressure is applied, like how you come to get good dental hygiene by ceaselessly banging on about regular brushing and flossing?

I only know that I was never forced to write stories. I did it all on my own. Was often interrupted, in fact, by my parents bugging me to play piano or do some other dumb thing.

I hate the idea of interrupting my kid to do some other dumb thing. Like, practice piano. Is this because I’m at heart a very lazy parent? I think that’s part of it. I also think that there should be something there; some joy, some glazed befuddlement on my daughter’s face when I catch her doing something she loves – currently that’s drawing. But maybe I’m being idealistic. And transposing my own shit onto her.

It could also be that our piano resided in my office. Another invasion into my space. A very negative invasion, which involved hollering and tears and bargaining and ugh. Gross.

Adrian, incidentally, never took music lessons. He’s also way romantic about listening to his girls noodle about on the piano. Which I only did to lure Matilda into practicing. And I didn’t like that because it felt like a trick.

And now I don’t have to resort to such cajoling and tricks, because the fucking thing’s in storage, indefinitely, and why can’t I just feel relief that it’s gone and we’re moving on, instead of sitting here curating yet another guilt and grief over something left undone?