Sunday, October 24, 2010

church pews and beer gardens

round to the left, round to the right swings my stool on this soggy day. the counter is too far away from my stool, by the way, but both are bolted down. so i lean forward to reach my stale coffee, reaching back ever so often to make sure my underwear isn't trying to escape my jeans. it would be indecent on a sunday. only my right earphone works, and motown's finest aren't doing much to cover the after-church clatter. catholics, i bet. they need a release after 60 minutes of the eucharist's speak only when spoken to policy. imposed piety seems contrary to being filled with the spirit, in my opinion. though no one has asked for it yet.

i went to catholic church sometimes as a kid, with my grandmother...nanni, as we call her in italian. i always forgot that half-curtsey thing catholics do when they get to the bench behind the bench they're going to sit in, and i'm pretty sure a time or two i ran right into nanni's rear end because i wasn't paying attention. immaculate conception church had the slickest benches, and i was always glad when nanni chose a near-empty one. that way i could slide back and forth, back and forth, while she stood and kneeled, stood and kneeled, all the while repeating amens and also with yous. i would read the church program, too, but only to gauge how quickly father federico (was that his name?) would get to the wafer part. i wasn't a catholic, so mom forbid me from communion, but i liked to watch nanni receive hers. not long after we sat down she would pull goodies from her liz claiborne purse. she got a new one every christmas from my well-off aunt in north carolina. old lady purses have lots of zipper pockets, as if designers know there are granddaughters to keep busy during mass. nanni kept baggies of crackers or cookies and a pencil and paper so i'd behave while she went up front to sing in the choir, which would hold my attention for a minute or two because i liked to watch her sing — head tilted back, mouth open like a baby bird waiting to be fed.

mom let me go to catholic church with nanni every great once in a while. otherwise i was at freewill baptist along with most of mom's side of the family. baptist church was pretty rock n roll, at least in the 80s. that's the last decade i went regularly. you could walk in late without getting dirty looks, or any looks, because the more the merrier. you could walk in 13 and pregnant, too, like that one girl. you could bring your illegitimate kids without being the talk of the congregation because, unlike catholics, baptists don't believe the rhythm method is the only way. it's just the usual way. and it usually doesn't work for long. there was no program to follow in baptist church, either. you never knew what you'd get. no imposed silence, for sure. if 5 baby cousins weren't screaming or aunt anna wasn't yelling "praise jesus! praise ya lord!" or mom wasn't threatening kev and i for fighting across the bench, then ol' preacher bright was sure to be jumping like a firecracker up front, face flushed bright as the chanel red on his fashionable daughter-in-law's lips.

the sundays of my youth were spent in buildings of worship. the sundays of my adulthood are often spent writing. it's a good day for it. i moved to memphis imagining myself spending many evenings with my laptop, late into the night if the words were good to me. snuggled up in a comfy chair in a dark, homey coffeehouse. i've yet to find that place here. my options are bright and loud joints, or not-as-bright but still unwelcoming joints. bummer. the only way to find peace and quiet in a coffee shop here is to get there before most of the city wakes up. and why didn't i? last night wasn't a rager. i left the bar and headed home while the rest of my crew went on to a house party. i didn't have it in me. i rarely do. get there late, leave early. all the good stuff happens in the middle anyway.

so i ended my big saturday night out at 10:30. as soon as i closed the front door i peeled the layers of my cute goin' out getup, put on my pjs, kissed and hugged three happy dogs, then mopped the kitchen and picked up the mess kaiser had pulled from the bathroom trash can, a habit he took up about a year ago, after many years of doing nearly nothing cantankerous. from puppyhood to about a year old, he ate duct tape, furniture parts, and the bible. if i were catholic i'd probably owe a hundred hail marys as penitence for that one. instead, as i threw tissue scraps and the hairball i pulled from the bathtub drain back into the trash, i counted my blessings.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

keepin it real.

i spend a lot of time at the coffee shop. not bc i want to, but bc i have a gift certificate. free is better than paying to get screwed by whole foods. who sets their prices? some fatcat in a fancy office, totally disconnected from the people who would love to afford to shop there? makes me wonder if there isn't some collusion between the government and the health food industry...keep the prices high so the healthy folks die of starvation. then the oligarchy can go on, unchallenged, bc all that's left are brains pickled by the freaky chemicals they put in cheap food to keep it shelf stable for eons. what on earth would we do if we had to walk all the way to our cars and drive a few miles to the store every time we run out of food? how unmodern. nope. we are thankful for preservatives, fillers, hydrogenated oils, and colorants that keep our food supply plastic-y and pretty. my tummy is growling. or snarling. hmm.

today the coffee shop smells like spoiled milk. the other day it smelled like urine. lots of olfactory pleasures in this joint, and no anonymity. sometimes i just don't want to see anyone i know. must be the northerner in me. i'm not from the north, but north of here. i get my attitude from my mom's side of the family. they give no bullshit. they will take it, but only from people they care about. they keep it real, and they know what's important. you know how goldfish supposedly grow larger the bigger their pond? well, hearts are the exact opposite: the smaller the pond, the more room the heart has to grow in it.

i'm watching a little girl dressed in pink cowboy boots, argyle tights, and a paisley skirt play on the floor. every time i walk past, she stares at me with her barn-owl eyes, and i wink and smile at her. there's something incredibly endearing about little girls with sagging, sloppy ponytails and mismatched outfits. they don't care what anyone thinks, because they don't even know they have that option yet. some adults manage to hold on to that childlike lack of awareness, too. i used to work with one. karen would walk in the door at 6 am, ready to whistle while she worked and tell every single customer to "have a beautiful day." i came in ready to eat crumbs from the muffin box and go home. we didn't work well together. piles of coffee grounds and bagel bits followed her like the cloud of dust that followed pigpen from charlie brown. i spent most of my shift behind her with a wet rag and a scowl...when i wasn't cavorting with my favorite customers. there are few things i enjoy as much as a sarcastic exchange. i don't get enough of it these days, and back then i even got paid to do it. those were beautiful days, indeed.

once karen told a story about walking through a parking garage, singing out loud to herself, and how the police stopped her to see if she was on drugs. god forbid someone be blissful without them, right. karen was just being herself, and that's what i liked best about her. i bet she never knew that i admired her, cause i sure didn't know how to show it. don't tell anyone, but i really like people who get on my nerves.

i hear karen is in colorado now. closer to the clouds, it's fitting. i hope she still sings out loud just because she feels like it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

hairdos and chivalry.

this week i've been walking instead of running, because i'm coughing a lot and figure my respiratory system could use a rest. i like walking because it's easier than running. i dislike it for the same reason.

so i switch off days with the dogs on my walks. one day joker goes. the next, kaiser and phaedra. today as i walked out with joker, leaving behind two sets of sad, sad puppy dog eyes, i thought right now that part-time boyfriend would come in handy. add dog walking to the list of reaching things high up and lifting heavy stuff. he'd get extra points for offering to pick up that jar of vicks i keep forgetting. i will cough all night again tonight. it's okay. it distracts me from the other things that keep me awake.

i think it was on my tuesday walk when i felt my ponytail swinging behind me. i walked a little harder so it would swing more. it felt nice. it was one of those teeny moments that change absolutely nothing about life, except they make you think everything's gonna be okay.

i love anything that reminds me of being a kid, and ponytails do. i don't hate being an adult, mind you. i just lament the way adults get it all wrong. we act like kids in ways we shouldn't, and when we should remember the happy-go-lucky kid in us, we forget.

there are lots of pictures of me with ponytails when i was little. big, black ringlets spilling from rubber bands with ribbons tied around them. i bet my ponytail swung like crazy the time i ran from joe h., the child molester who flashed my friends and i when we were playing across the street from my house in stealey. i'll never forget looking up at the bushes by the brick garage next to chris swaney's yard, and seeing that tall, thin man with the deep set eyes and dark circles. i ran like my life depended on it, because at that moment i really thought it did. my brother ran, too, except he ran after joe. he was throwing rocks, still dressed in his orange and white little league uniform. at 12 years old my brother didn't think twice, not for a second, about defending me, even against a grown man. when i got home, my dad grabbed the wooden club he kept in the downstairs closet and drove off up that steep alley hill like his life depended on it...because to him, it did. i remember the look in his eyes. it was one of the few times in life i've felt terrified.

joe didn't hurt anyone that day, and eventually he ended up in jail. he gave me a good scare, though. i remember sitting in the front yard, maybe weeks later, holding onto the railing at the bottom of the steps because i was afraid to be too far from the house. it took a while for me to play in the neighborhood without expecting to look up and see him.

i didn't intend to write about joe tonight, or ever. how odd that my ponytail pondering took me to a frightening memory. there's actually a lot of good in that day, though. it makes me remember there is honor in the world, and it's right there where you always knew it was. it's in other places, too. i hope. if it brought me a jar of vicks tonight i'd be convinced.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

hindsight is pretty, pretty.

yesterday i was just sittin' here pondering stuff ...if pondering were my job, i could buy my brain a vacation and everybody i like tons of awesome shit they don't need... then i caught myself feeling like i'd been told something perplexing...and i had, it's just that i'd told it to myself. i think i even made a face. or maybe it sounds better that way. i told myself that i'm losing my fire, and i didn't like it a bit. do you ever look back on how badass you used to be? i do.

i'm jealous of the 20-something me. what a go-getter. that's what nick called me. when i lived in new york and realized my boss was a scammer, i quit one day and got kicked out of my free apartment the next, with no new job waiting and nowhere to live... nick came to my rescue. drove to the city, packed up my things in his suv and whisked me across the bridge to jersey city. he took me for sushi that night and told me how impressed he was with my ambition and how far he thought i'd go in life. with that in mind, every day i'd go back to manhattan to look for work, stay all day, then take a bus from the port authority back to jersey at hours of the night i later learned were not safe for a girl to be walking alone. nick gave me his apartment and stayed with his parents next door, where i was invited to sunday dinners. it was like something out of the movies...all the family packed together at a long table in a small kitchen, reaching over each other to fill their never-ending glasses of red wine and pile plates with pasta, meatballs, crusty bread, and hunks of hard, bitter cheese. nick took me in as a favor to his longtime friend, dr. b., my old boss in west virginia. dr. b. was young and charming and always tan. he had a black belt in tae kwan do, raised pit bulls, told dirty jokes to his old lady patients in the exam room, and had an affinity for the word fuck. my aunt, his office manager, cringed every time he said it, which only made him say it more, always preceded by a karate kick and "gina, my friend, you need to lighten up." i was his assistant until the summer i went to florida to visit two of my high school buddies.

two weeks later i was not on a plane back to west virginia and my job, but in a porsche on the way to hilton head island with my brother's high school friend i'd caught up with at a wedding a few weeks earlier in my hometown. i stayed with him for a few weeks. every morning i'd drop him off at work and spend the rest of the day driving the porsche around the island or cleaning house with annie lenox blasting on his fancy speaker system or making brownies or walking his german shepherd puppy. the day he asked me to move in is the day i called my friend in myrtle beach and said party's over, get me outta here. so she did. i went back to living with my parents. we never once talked about those few weeks. i'd guess it was discussed plenty before i came home, at least between my brother and my mom, because dad is mostly silent when he's angry, and my brother is mostly frightening, so to this day i'm okay with that particular lapse in communication.

in those days i knew exactly what i wanted and exactly what i didn't want, and tolerated no diversion from either. those lines tend to blur with age. but who says we can't draw them again? a very wise friend, who has an arsenal of dead-on maxims that she seems to whip right outta her pocket in a moment's notice, says this:

if you don't like what you're getting, then change what you're doing.

...word, my girl.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

girl's best friend.

mornin', life. i've been awake since before my alarm went off at 8:30. my dogs said so. it's payback for kicking them out of my bed. when i only had 2 dogs, they slept in my bed...sprawled across most of it, the brown one curled up with his head on the pillow, the slightly brachycephalic one snoring like a grown man, both at some point ending up upside down, hind legs flopped to the sides, doggie private parts in all their glory. i would be curled up in the round-about 12 inches of bed they allowed me. it was an unspoken deal: you give us the human bed, we let you sleep as long as you want. we've had lots of these deals, now that i think about it: you pet us, both of us at once, or we bark. you walk us over here to sniff this invisible thing in the grass, or we pull you there anyway. you let us dig this hole to china in your yard, or we'll lay our noses in your lap and look super sad all day while you try to work. they sure know their way around a bribe. freakin' four-legged mobsters.

when joker came along, i took back my bed. can't say i sleep much better, but at least i'm not washing the bed linens 3 times a week. kaiser and phaedra have taught him well, though. two months in and he already knew the nose in the lap trick, lookin' up at me with those "please love me" anyone could have been mean to him is beyond me. he's sweet as pie. lives for affection. he couldn't have ended up in a better place for it, too. kaiser and phaedra have been with me for a decade, and i've never stopped hugging and kissing them. my dogs have showed me, in the ever-so-teeniest way, how parents must feel. i get why my mom and dad have never stop hugging and kissing me. when you love something that much, you can't help yourself, even when the object of your affection is wiggling its way out of your arms, even when it makes your life so damn complicated.

when i first took joker in, i figured adding one more wouldn't be that hard. turns out i feel like it's three 50+-pound dogs versus one 100-lb girl. i can't keep up financially or physically or logistically. i have always said that my dogs have taught me a lot about love, and maybe joker is doing just that. except this time the lesson is about letting go. that's part of love, after all — the part i'm the worst at. if i had a grain of sand for every time i've been told i'm a glutton for punishment, i could build my own beach. things always work out for me, it just takes longer than the universally agreed-upon period of time — there is one of those, isn't there? hmm.

lately i have started to wonder if what's best for me and what's best for joker are in fact not one in the same. so now i struggle with making a real effort to find him a home. except every time i think of it, the tears are quick to follow. it just feels wrong to give him up, because that's not the example i grew up with or the path i've taken — you don't give up just because it's hard...right? not exactly. knowing when to say i've given enough is one of the hardest decisions ever.

this may be the first time i've been truly aware that love is selfish. you can't hold on just because your heart tells you so. my comfort in all of this is knowing i've gotten through letting go before, in situations i thought i'd never get over. i always did. when i'm not mad at myself, i'm pretty damn proud of me. i realize that, just as my heart can trip me up, so can my eyes: i've always looked at people who seem so untouched by their emotions, and felt envious of them. they never cry, they never talk about what hurts them, they never allow themselves to be vulnerable. i've looked at them and thought i should be like that. except i don't really want to be, nor do i think there's much strength to be found in declaring yourself the winner of battles you've never allowed yourself to fight.

maybe joker will stay with us, maybe he won't. my biggest concern has to be about him being loved, not about me loving him. lesson (being) learned...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

what it is[n't].

things that don't sound okay, but are.

  1. being sick of yourself. you get sick of other people you like, so why can't you be sick of yourself? i hear of solutions to stop being sick of yourself. but solutions are for problem-solvers, and i hate math. i'd rather make art of it.
  2. being jaded. it just means you've had a big 'ol handful of life experience, and a bunch of it has showed you just how ultimately self-serving people are, and that the best way to avoid disappointment is to dole out trust as if it were literally pieces of your godawful squishy heart. webster's uses the word "surfeit" in the definition of jaded. i like that. it sounds shakespearian.
  3. being angry when you can't be hopeful. sometimes hope gets stuck in your craw, probably somewhere behind all the bullshit you swallow on a daily basis. so until the hope can crawl up out of that mess, it's ok to be salty. in fact, it'll probably get you a few dates. everyone loves a challenge.
  4. being impractical. the world needs dreamers and wishers. even the ones who are occasionally (or often) mired in dead ends and disappointments that tend to accompany their heart-over-head decisions. i hear they write about it, and save the problem-solving for someone else.