My Dad

My dad is the most imperfectly perfect person that I have ever known.

When I was 17 years old, I told him that I wanted to see a therapist and he sent me to see a psychic.  In Santa Monica, an hour down the 405 from home.  Named Odgenous.  A psychic.  In Santa Monica.  Named Odgenous.  All because I told him that I needed therapy.  Which is not at all ironic.

One time my car was broken into outside of my dad’s condo off of Melrose Blvd.  He told me to call 411.  I asked him if he thought that they would know who broke into my car.  He said that they might.

There was that Christmas that the cat, Murray, caught on fire.

Dad said to put some Neosporin on him.

My dad was unemployed for almost a year at some point during the late 80s.  He wanted us to call him Mr. Mom.  So, Mr. Mom, Sister, and I were driving around running errands one day and sister and I were being unusually awful.  It might have been because she, seven years my junior, was allowed to ride in the front seat that day.  Which was pretty much the biggest insult ever, gave me indigestion, and caused me to do this weird sneeze-burp thing in the backseat of the car after a bout of shouting with Sister as we pulled back up to the front of the house.

“SITDOWNSTOPITTURNAROUNDSHUTUP!” bellowed Mr. Mom.

And then we just laughed.  Sister and I, cautiously at first, and then Dad, too.  It was glorious.

Dad liked to take me to work with him in the summers when I was out of school.  He would tell me how proud he was of me and I would think carefully about what I would wear to the office.  Most times, I would plan it all out and lay my clothes out the night before.  If Dad wasn’t available to take me to Marie Calendar’s for lunch, some of the ladies from his office would.  And that was amaze because I would pick up all kinds of fashion tips from them.  Which I don’t think has served me well in later life but, when I was fourteen, was a golden gift.

On a trip to San Diego in the summer of 1992 my dad said, “I’m gay.”

“That’s fucking weird,” I said.  “I love you, Dad.”

That’s just how it was.

Once, riding through North Seattle with Sister and me, Dad shouted, “That’s a homeless man and he’s reading a homeless newspaper!”  With the window down. At a stop light as we were stopped right in front of said man.

Dad shelled peanuts with me underneath a fig tree on Mesa Ave when I was little, before Sister was born.  And gave me ice cream sandwiches in the back seat of Mom’s Chevy Nova on the nights that Mom and I went to pick him up from school after his law classes. He gave me an itty bitty sapphire ring, and put it onto my little finger, at my Kindergarten graduation.

He also hired a stripper for one of my mom’s birthdays.  The male kind.  Of stripper. Not birthday.  It was the female kind of birthday.

And he loved listening to Donna Summer whilst sunbathing.  My love of music comes from my dad, really.  Especially the 70s tunes.  The Mammas and Pappas.  “Revolver”.  “Tusk”.  No matter how poor we were, we always had good music and a great stereo.  Tower speakers bigger than me at one point.  I blame my secret crush on Lindsey Buckingham on my dad.  That, and my secret wish to sing along to the ‘Harold and Maude’ soundtrack with Cat Stevens.  Who is no longer called Cat Stevens.  But, whatevs.  Semantics.

One time, I got an F in Physical Education class.  It was an elective.  And the elective was Weight Lifting.  I got an F.  Because I was a 15 year old girl.  I wanted to take tennis with my friend Carolyn, but not enough people had enrolled so the class was cancelled and we were pushed into Weight Lifting.  With a bunch of weird Junior and Senior boys.  With mustaches (kind of).

So, I failed the class.  Probably because I got my period or something.  And my dad wanted to talk with me about it.  Not the period part because that would have been super bizarre, but the failing the class part.

“You know,” he said.  “You can’t have a nice house with a nice view like this if you fail your classes.”  The view from our backyard, looking out over the valley, was amazing.  “But you should know that I’ll always love you, no matter what.  Even if you become a hooker.”

To date, I have not hooked.  But, I have had quite an adventure.

I have lived in all the corners of this country.  And I have engaged in my fair share of hobnobbery with intellectuals and bar flies alike.  I have driven through these here Southern United States at least once and ate some spectacular cheese grits in Savannah.  I’ve karaoked when I shouldn’t have.  I aced Grad school and I helped the child in my life understand why Cyndi Lauper is completely awesome.  I have fallen down more times than I’d like to admit but I keep getting up. And every time that I do I hear my dad say, just like when I fell off of my bike and skinned my knee for the first time, “There.  That’s happened now.  It won’t happen again.  It’s over and out of the way.  Keep going.”  I have seen some amazing and mundane things and I have taken a picture where and when I should have.

All the while, I’ve traveled with the tokens that my dad has given me: a silver dollar in a leather pouch in the console of my car and, once, a bag full of marbles: “Just drop these out of your window while you’re driving if anyone gets too close.  It works.  I mean it.”  The marbles were a gift he gave me just before my virgin cross-country drive from LA to Boston.  I shit you not.

Imperfectly perfect.

My dad.

Dad

Online Dateastrophe, Episode One

He seemed decent enough.  Employed.  Full-time.  He advertised himself as an “Idea Man” who came up with ideas for reality shows and pitched them to the networks.  He seemed swanky: all Madmen-y in the way that he wrote about his collection of vintage suits and fedoras.  He claimed that he bought his clothing from the places where they stored old movie costumes and I was all like, “Ooooh, that’s way cooler than shopping at Aardvarks!”  He could spell and use punctuation properly, which, me being a very educated bibliophile, was alluring.  His profile pictures were artsy, but not annoyingly so.  His name was Terry and his online profile said that he was 5’7″.

For our first date, he took me to sushi in Downtown Los Angeles and we had a view of the sky line at sunset.  Which totally made up for the fact that (a) he was 20 minutes late and that (b) he spilled a glass of ice water all over me once we were finally seated at our table.  I chalked it up to first-date jitters and the blinding dazzle of my beauty.  But, I should have known better.

Terry gave me a first date present: a beautiful oxblood, sequined scarf that, coincidentally, matched the Hobo clutch that I was carrying that night.  Dinner, post-ice water spillage, was excellent and, after, we wandered through the otherwise empty Downtown streets, arm in arm.  He said something to me about “walking with a beautiful girl on a beautiful night” and my heart got all pitter-pattery because, well, it had been awhile.  At his 5’7″, we were the same height: I had considered wearing flats that night, so that he’d be taller, but on account of that I wasn’t going to sacrifice my outfit to accommodate some dude I was just meeting, I wore heels.  Modest ones.

He had taken the subway Downtown that night and, after visiting one of those Olde Tyme speakeasies located behind the kitchen and under the delivery ramp of a Rat Pack restaurant, I drove him home.  It was unconventional, I know.  But, he bought me my very first mint julep at that Olde Tyme speakeasy, so why not?  I mean, it came in a tin drinking vessel and had a tin straw/spoon thing in it that allowed you to suck up your booze without the nuisance of the stray ice cube or mint leaf!  Some people call that a Slurpee straw.  I call it classy.  So I drove him home.  But, I should have known better.

For our second date, he took me to dinner at an Indian joint.  With a coupon.  That he was very vocal about.  Which is fine, I guess: dating is expensive.  He drove that night, though, and was very gallant about opening the doors of his brand new VW bug for me.  Yep.  VW bug.  New.  Decidedly not vintage.  Not Madmen-y at all.  Terry had to crane his head all the way to his right to talk to me as he drove, I noticed, because his seat was pulled almost all the way up to the dash.  And I was all like, “Huh.  Guess he likes a close drive.”

It was a good meal though and after the coupon dinner, we walked a couple of blocks to a local Hollywood cigar bar.  It was all jazzy and people were all scattin’ and riffin’ and smokin’ and I loved it all!  How fucking cool was I?!  Smoking my first cigar with this cat, Terry, who wore an olive green mohair jacket and a slightly more olive-y green ascot while dudes got their jazz on all around us.

After the cigar and after the jazz, walking back to his car, arm in arm, I couldn’t help but notice that we were the same height.  I was wearing flats that time.  And I was all like, “Huh.”

Terry, it seemed, was shrinking.

For our third date, he invited me over for dinner and he cooked for me.  He suggested that I bring my dog, Mr. SoHo, with me to his house.  You know, so that I would feel safe?  Also, because my dog could play with his dog, Tweety.  A French Bulldog.  Named Tweety.  Terry, a grown-ass man, had a tiny dog named Tweety.

Which was all well and good, but Mr. SoHo wasn’t having any of it.  Because, my gentleman dog straight-up peed on the entrance to Terry’s house.  Right there on the door frame.  Mr. SoHo never, ever peed indoors ever (because he’s a gentleman!) so the fact that he did it just then was a very, very bad sign.  Cleary, Mr. SoHo was omnipotently prescient and I should have paid attention: good dog, bad sign.  I dismissed it because I wanted just another one of those fancy cocktails that Terry had made a pitcher of.  But, I should have known better.

Note to Self: Never dismiss your dog’s cue for another glass of booze.  The decision to do so will end badly.

Our fourth date was a trip to the lazarium for a show about how the Life as We Know It might spontaneous end due to shifts in planetary alignments, but probably it won’t.  And that was cool.  But what wasn’t cool?  Was how Terry got all angsty about how we might not get the exact seats that he wanted us to sit in because some kids might get them instead and how he grabbed my arm and pulled me, racing, through the auditorium while knocking a kid or two ever so gently to the side.  Also not cool?  I was taller than him on that date.  And I was wearing flip-flops.  Once again, I was all like, “Huh.”

We had a couple more dates after that because, well, I could have done worse.  But, I totally should have known better.

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A Text Conversation for Your Reading Pleasure:

Me: “I’m really sorry to ask this in text, but why was I taller than you in our last date?”

Terry: “Did you know that Science has proved that men who are 5’7″ or taller are more respected in the workplace.”

Me: “No.  I did not know that.  What does that mean for you?”

Terry: “It means that my shoes make me taller.”

Me: “Oh.”

Terry: “While we’re at it, I have (undisclosed illness, out of respect).  I know it’s early days for us, but (undisclosed illness, out of respect) can be a deal-breaker for some.  Thoughts?”

Me: “No!  Not a deal-breaker at all!  What am I?  An asshole?” (insert non-asshole-ish emoticon here)

*******************

And because I am not an asshole, our dating game continued.

And I introduced him to my bestie Joy.  Who is amazing.  And so smart.  And just enough of a trouble-maker, like me, to keep things super fun.  Also?  She’s insanely gorgeous.  And if I didn’t totally love her, I would totally hate her furiously for her ridiculous beauty and, even worse, for her outrageously genuine personality and contagious sense of humor.

So there we were, Joy, me, Terry, and some other guy that I knew from work who said that he wanted to go out that night, at the Formosa Cafe.  Terry had shown up late (again!) and had been dropped off in his very own brand new VW Bug by “a friend” to whom he had given a kiss before he got out of the car.  I know this because I was watching his every move through the window at the bar.  Which is not weird at all.

Joy wore her hearing aids that night but took them out at some point because of all the ambient noise, which distracted her.

“So,” Terry said.  “Cochlear implants.  Thoughts, Joy?”

“Yeah,” she said.  “I don’t want them.”

“But how could you not?!  You’re missing so much!”

“I don’t think I am,” she said.

I sat with my mouth agape.  Terry was drunk.  He had arrived drunk.  Hence, the drop-off.  He said he had been enjoying “ice cream sundaes” with his “bro” and his “nephew” earlier in the day which could have been true if he really meant that he’d been getting sloshed with his roommate and Tweety the Frenchie.

“Uh, Terry?” I said.

“But, you would get so much more out of life!  Don’t you want to be on the Right Side of History?”

“I don’t think that I’m on the Wrong Side,” she said.  “My life is great!  I have wonderful children and a great education and …”

“You have children?!” he shouted.

“You don’t have to shout, Terry.  She can read your lips just fine” I said.

“Lemme see pictures!” He said.

And so Joy showed him pictures of her three beautiful children and then he said,

“Are they adopted?!  They don’t even look like you!  What are they?!  Filipino?!  You are blonde!  How could these children be yours?!  These are just some little random Filipino children that you photographed somewhere over in Korea Town!!”

“You better slow your roll, Man,” said the other guy that I knew from work who said that he wanted to go out that night, who might have been half Filipino.

“They are mine.  Straight outta’ my vagina,” she said.

“Uh, Terry?” I said.

“You know what would be great?!” he shouted even louder in the general direction of Joy.  “A show about a house full of deaf models!  And we’ll get them cochlear implants!  I could totally pitch that!  I could totally get that shit produced!  A whole bunch of beautiful, deaf models that we introduce to the world through the gift of hearing!  Joy, what do you think?” he asked all shout-y like.

“I think you’re gross,” she said.

We let Terry walk home alone from the bar that night.

He looked at me, standing at the crosswalk outside of the Formosa Cafe and said, “I thought that you were going to give me a ride.”

I looked right back at him and said, “I thought that you weren’t going to be an asshole.  I guess we both lose.”

Joy and I sat around the fire pit at my mom’s house later that night telling tales about Terry at The Formosa Cafe.

“And he couldn’t even good hugs!,” Joy said.  “His arms were too short!”

“Well, that explains why his seat in the car was pulled up so close to the dash,” I said.

“Yeah!” Joy said, “He hugged me when we met and was all like ‘Ugh, I can’t reach all the way around you because my arms are too short!'”

“And, he even had the lifts in his shoes tonight, too.  Which, you know, should have given him a little more lift.  He was his full 5’7″, as advertised” I said.

“He’s a T-Rex, Christina,” Joy said.  “With little arms that can’t reach all the way around.  And he has a chick name.  And he drives a chick car.”

“When he’s not too drunk to drive himself,” I said, tossing the rest of my wine back.

I sent Terry a text the next day to let him know that I wouldn’t be seeing him again.  Which may have been slightly dick-ish of me.  But, he had re-defined “dick-ish” as I knew it so I didn’t feel too bad about it.

Because I don’t care about shortness, as long as a dude’s honest about it.  Or short arms, really.  For the same reason.  Or about (undisclosed illness, out of respect) because you can’t always help the cards that you’re dealt.  Or about guys with girl names who drive stereotypically feminine cars or who have small dogs named ‘Tweety’.  To each their own.

What I do care about is dishonesty and general assholery.  And what I won’t tolerate is rudeness toward those that I love.  For me, it’s never okay to show up drunk to an outing and get all shout-y about creating a reality television show inspired by my friend’s hearing loss and non-desire to get a cochlear implant before you go on to accuse her of not really being the mother to her three fantastic children, children that you categorize as apart from us white Los Angelenos and who, you decide, live in some segregated, other part of Los Angeles.  Called Korea Town.  When the children in question are deemed by you to be Filipino.  Those are different countries, you know.

And so I never saw Short Terry, his mohair, his ascot, or his dog Tweety again.  Or the other guy that I knew from work who said that he wanted to go out that night.  But I did see Joy again.  Lots.  And we did go to the Formosa Cafe again.  Without Terry.  And we looked awesome.  And we laughed, as we always do.

MeAndJoy

PS: Did you get the part where my dog peed on Terry’s front door?  Yeah.  Dogs know.

PPS: Also?  When discussing the merit and possible value of cochlear implants in a bar, the hearing person should not consider himself an expert on the subject.  Probably the deaf girl at the table is the expert.

The Experimental Child: an Ode to All First-borns (My Mom Totally Made Me Write This)

A real, actual conversation had with my mother this very evening:

Me: And how is So-and-So?

Mom: She’s great!  Happy!  Very, very good.  And, you know, when you get a chance you should really reach out to her kids.  They’re pretty cool.  You would like them.

Me: You know I don’t have a close relationship with … anyone.

Mom: I know, but Stephanie is so neat and Terri is so much fun and Anna, well … she’s just fucked-up, but still …

Me: It’s because Anna’s the first-born, Mom.  The first-born is always fucked-up.  Like me.  Which is why I don’t have any friends.  I’m a fucked-up, friendless, first-born.

Mom: You are not!

Me: I am, Mom.  I’m the Experimental Child.  Friendless.  It’s pretty much like being a leper in Old Testament times.  But with more limbs and skin and stuff.  Or were the lepers mostly in the New Testament?

Mom: I don’t know, Honey.  Does it matter?

Me: What if the lepers have a cocktail party and they think about inviting me but then they don’t because I’ve gotten their historical origin wrong and then people hear about it and then they, literally, start saying things like, ‘The lepers don’t even want to hang out with you!’  That would be just the worst, Mom!  That would be, like, social suicide!

Mom: But, Honey, you don’t have a social circle.  Social suicide would be impossible.

Me: I know.

Mom: We did make most of our mistakes with you, though …

Me: Yeah, for like seven years before Sister came along.

Mom: (laughing) Yeah, like the time … I’ll never forget!  The time that man came by with the pony and we had your picture taken and you had that terrible face on you!

Me: Yeah, just like that.  The man, the pony, and my terrible face.

Mom: (laughing still)  But you didn’t always look like that, you know!

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Here is a picture of my terrible face on that random man’s pony:

Horsey

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And here’s another one, but with a hat.  Same terrible face, but accessorized:

Horsey2

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And here’s why my face was so terrible:

Once Upon a Time in a Land called Eagle Rock, California there was a little, red-headed, first-born child named Christina.  She lived with her mom and dad in a little house with a wrought-iron fence in the middle of Los Angles County.  And, one day, for some reason, there was a random man walking down the street with a pony.  The man also happened to have a cowboy (or, cowgirl) costume just the right size for a small child.  The man went door-to-door offering to take pictures of children, in the costume, on his pony.  I imagine he charged somewhere in the neighborhood of about two dollars for his services.  Christina’s dad might tell you that it was more like ten dollars because he always likes to class things up, but who really remembers?  The camera, that’s who.  The camera remembers.

And so to Christina’s parent’s door he came a’knockin’.  And he was all like, “You wanna’ picture of your kid on my pony?  She can wear this costume.  Look!  I’ve got a red hat!”

And my parents were all like, “Hells yeah we do!”

And he was all like, “It will cost you two dollars.”

And they were all like, “Well, we’ve got some laundry quarters that we can give you.”

And he was all like, “Word.”

And they were all like, “Here’s our only child, Strange Man Walking Down the Street with a Pony and Some Small-sized Western Wear in the Middle of the City!  Get her onto that pony and into that costume!  Take our girl’s picture!  Yeah, just take her from our arms and prop her on up there!”

And so onto the pony little Christina went.

Fortunately, she looked really good dressed up as a twee cowgirl in a red hat.  But you can see in her eyes that something was slightly amiss.

Because, I imagine, that I was all like, “Who is this man and why did my parents give me to him?  This vest is totes itchy and this pony seems a bit wobbly.  Like, he might fall over any minute.  It’s hot out here.  And we’re in the middle of the city!  Why is this man walking down the street with a pony in urban Los Angeles?!  Mom, can you please just give this pony some water and an apple and, Dad, can we just go down to the taco truck, have some dinner, and call it a night?”

But, no.  No, they couldn’t.  Because what’s better than a picture of your kid on a random pony taken by a random man?  Especially when you live in Eagle Rock, CA?  It’s not like we got out to the countryside very often.

To be fair, it was the ’70’s and things were different back then.  Like the Oil Crisis.  And professional athletes without steroids.  And Archie Bunker.

I think this is a fair representation of when my fucked-up-edness began, as seen through the eye of a camera.  Right there, on that random guy’s pony, in the middle of urban Los Angeles.  I mean, you can see it in the proof.  It’s like I’m saying, Sure, I’ll pose for you but I’ll never trust anyone ever again.  I don’t even like this hat.  It pushes my bangs down too far.  You know that my mom cut these bangs for me, right?  And I’m only putting my chin on my hand like this because I’m thinking about how I’ll get my revenge 38 years from now.  Also, if you ever come to my house again, Random Man, I will cut you.  Leave the pony, take the camera.

You know, I love my parents.  Beyond words.  And I have pretty much always felt safe with them, loved by them.  But it seems pretty clear that something went really wrong in my formation on that day with the strange man, the pony, and the weird costume. Which might explain why Halloween always causes me a great amount of anxiety.  And why I think that horses are beautiful only from a distance.  And why I never trust cameras.

Here’s another picture taken of me a year later.  Yeah, even in the arms of my gorgeous mother, I’m still angry and confrontational toward the lens:

MistrustingMom

And that’s why I don’t have close relationships.

Health (& My) Insurance

I had a wart on my face.

And I never thought of myself as a vain person but having a wart on my face changed my thoughts about myself.  A wart.  On my face.  And not having much other than my face to get me by: the wart was a big deal.  Not okay.

In grad school, I had excellent insurance.  Even in undergrad, I never worried.  I paid a lot for it and never used it except for the occasional and University-required immunization and/or tetanus shot (most often caused by stepping on rusty bottle caps at assorted college-type parties), but I never really thought about health insurance much because, as young and healthy as I was then, I never really needed it.  For that, I was fortunate.

Plus, the Government paid for it then.

They remind me about it every month now.

Creeping up on 40 changes things, though, I think.  Or, I guess.  I feel.  So does spending a year in Florida working at Walmart.  With a Master’s degree.  Without health insurance.

“You count those pills so fast!”, she said.

“You think so?” I asked.

“How you do that?” the other girl asked.

“Do what?”

“Count the pills like that?”

“Well, I just count them by fives rather than individually,” I said.

“I never thought of that!” she said, slapping the other girl somewhere in the mid-section, almost like a sucker-punch, and then moving on to find some other pills to count out.

In Florida the sun is constant, the Gulf is warm and clear, the poached eggs are always under-done, and most people have trouble with basic math.

Working in the Pharmacy at Walmart is the worst of all.  Which is where I was, counting out little blue ED pills, by the fives (because, yes, there are that many Old Fuckers in Florida).  Without the benefit of my own health insurance.  Because I could only get a part-time job in the Pharmacy at the local Walmart.  With my ability to count things in multiples I totally should have been full-time.  No one else recognized that in me, though.

Back in Cali, a few months later, things were better in the sense that the poached eggs were actually poached and that I didn’t have to count by fives anymore.  The Ocean in SoCal has a whole bunch of tar and hypodermic needles in it, sure, but, mostly, it just depends on the beach that you go to.  You gotta’ just pay attention to the tides because there’s always another, cleaner beach up North.  Better surf, less needles.

And in Cali, there is always opportunity.  Much like the opportunity I got to move to Washington.

Where everyone hates Californians.

Which is fine with me because, hey, even though I grew up there, it doesn’t mean that I’m from there.  Even though I sort of am.  From Boston, too.  But who needs to know about that?

In any event, a few years after grad school, a couple of states later, and one opportunity as a full-time-benefited employee of the Natural Food Store, I got me some health insurance.  Finally!

It only cost thirty bucks a month!  And even though I had it, I never needed to use it!  I paid for it for three years without using it, ever!  Until I got a wart on my face.  Which was, like, $1,080-ish into my policy and I only went to a doctor because, you know: wart on my face.

I’m way too pretty for that kind of nonsense.

So, after some gentle reassurance from the Dermatologist, a bit of cutting and just a tad of cauterizing (yes, I did smell my own burning flesh), me and my temporarily-numb and un-warty face lived happily ever after.  Until the bill came:

WartBill

My newly-smooth face and I had to pay another $418.95 toward my own health.

Which wouldn’t have been so bad, I guess, had I not just also gone to the Lady Doctor to get my feminine bits checked out:

“When was your last exam?” The Doctor asked.

“Uh, two or three years ago,” I said, my knees clamped together and all of my shivering masses shrouded underneath a giant paper “gown”.

“You are a couple of years early then.  You only need a Well-Woman Exam once every five years.  Don’t you know that?”

“No,” I said.  “No, I don’t know that.  No one sent me a letter or a text or an email or Facebooked me about this.  No one told me that I only ever needed to get my vagina checked out once every five years.”

Shivering in my paper towel, I said, “I’m almost 40, you know.  And my hormones are weird.  And I have insurance so can’t you please just take a peek and let me know what’s going on and forget about the five-year rule?  My vagina is unhappy and requires a professional opinion.  I have insurance!”

“I don’t know that your insurance will cover this visit,” the Doctor said.

Every once in awhile, when I get really heated, especially when someone won’t do what I want them to do, my voice drops down an octave and my eyes get unusually blue.  This mostly has to do with a kind of rage that, rather than being projected in shouts, radiates outward from inside me in a way that can best be compared to a really, really serious version of Sigourney-Weaver-as-Gatekeeper-in-Ghostbusters.  Except way less sexy:

“Please perform my exam,” I said solidly and succinctly.  “I need to know the state of my health.”

I may or may not have uttered, “Zuul.”  I’m not sure.

So, the doctor did her doctor stuff.

And I got another bill.

The visit and exam was $180.00.

My insurance covered $65.00 of it.

Strong as Horses (version 2.0; up through age 17)

Great Grandma had an RCA lighter that she used to light every cigarette.

It was the kind etched with a spotted terrier in front of a gramophone.  A simple Zippo.  And, after she died, Dad hung onto it and then he gave it to me.  “She was the only source of love in my life, then,” he said.  He gave me the only thing that she left to him that I know of.  An RCA Zippo.

“She lifted her hand when she saw me, in the hospital.  She was supposed to be dying, and she saw me, and she waved”, my dad told me one night, in between pints at a bar in Boston.  “She waved at me.  She did.  She always called me ‘Chrissy’.”

Great Grandma had Apache cheekbones.  And black hair.  In all of the pictures that I ever saw of her, she had full lips and deep eyes and the kind of eyebrows that made you second guess whatever it was that you’d just said to her.  And, I imagine, she had a great laugh.  She didn’t do it very often, I think.  But when she did it, when she really laughed, it was probably something to remember.

My mom’s family sat wrapped up in a ranch, I think.  I asked her about it often but she never said all that much, except for the part where she chased bulls in their pen and then got knocked around a bit in her pink dress.

Before going to ‘pack her way through Europe:

“Grace called me a ‘whore’ when I was 16, right before my next birthday, and so I went to college as soon as I could and I was 18.  I went to Europe right after college,” she said.  “I used my own money.”

My mother just took off.  She, delicate in her words and thoughts, just took off.  To Europe.

***********************

My Aunt Bobbie was only 15 years older than me and she took me to see Return of the Jedi on the big screen at the mall after she took me for great, greasy burgers first.  She was a terrible driver.  I jerked helplessly to and fro in the front seat as she shifted around, through simple stops.  I spilled my milkshake in her car during a fast-stop at a corner.  She’d gotten a run in her hose and wiped clear nail polish on it to stop it from spreading somewhere along Colorado Boulevard, as she shifted down from third gear into second.  She was fantastic and I adored her, even with the runs in her stockings.

Dad only had two sisters and while Aunt Trish was intermittently locked-up under psychiatric care, Aunt Bobbie always came to me.

Aunt Bobbie gave me a Bible in the early 1980s and wrote, “This is like a toothbrush.  Use it just a little bit every day,” on the inscription page.  And so I did, for very many days.  Like a toothbrush.  Revelations was my favorite.  Prescience.

*************************

1992: my father came out in West Hollywood that summer and Bobbie went the way of my not-much-used bible; evaporated into the periphery.  She had become Born Again.  And she didn’t agree with us.  Or, she wasn’t allowed to.

She wouldn’t talk to me anymore.

Aunt Trish was probably, still, had just been, or was just about to be, under professional care right about then.  Again.

The Day of the Week, According to my Pillbox

Vitamin B-12. Vitamin D (4,000 iu). A raw multi, 2 of ’em. A probiotic. Milk Thistle, to protect my liver (’cause I come from a long line of liquor-likers, and I like it me’self). Fish oil.  Primrose seed oil.  Spirulina.  Glucosamine.  Everyday.

I had to buy myself one of those weekly pill case/dispenser/travel tote/organizer things recently.  Mostly, it was so that I would be able to remind myself to hit my pills regularly.  Because, like any B-12 deficient, liquor-liking kid, I forget things sometimes.

So, I keep the pillbox in my backpack with my laptop.  It’s the kind most often used for sight-challenged elderlies with joint issues: each day of the week is LARGELY (with giant Ms and huge Fs) lettered and just the slightest tap on each day’s tab pops the door up, allowing whomever to access the pills.  Which is super handy.  Except for when a vagrant falls down into me on the train to work and hits my bag just so and, unknowingly, somehow, unlocks one of my days (again, LARGELY lettered) and all of my pills fall down into the cavern of my backpack and then I have to fish them out.  Which happens.

**********************

I caught myself losing a word.  Pronunciation.  And definition.  I couldn’t find it.  But I knew that I knew it.  And how to properly place it.  I was trying to make a sentence, and I couldn’t.

*********************

We had this stupid team-building work exercise the other day where we had to pick a specific colored candy out of a bowl.  There were three of them.  Three colors.  I picked the color about travel destinations.  I said that the Oregon Coast was my favorite–because my family spent years there, always at Christmas, which for me, was great because I was a SoCal kid and it was lovely to see the fog wrapping around the rocks on the beach the way that it did, and there was that time with the construction paper Christmas tree and my sister’s fingers being pecked-off by the seagulls–but that my Dream Vacation is Barcelona, which may or may not have something to do with Hemingway and then I said:

Because it’s all about that Iceberg.  You know?  The top 10% of it is what we tell and the rest of that 90% is all under water, but is really about our shared experience and it’s that thing that we don’t really need to ever talk about.  Because we all know all about it. Right?

And they all looked at me, jaws slung.

***********************

On Mondays, I take an extra D.

On Tuesdays, I read.

On Wednesday, I take an extra B-12.  In the morning, in traffic.

On Thursday, I don’t do much.

On Friday, I take myself to lunch and have a pint or two.

On Saturday, recently, I take my dog with me for a two-mile walk along Soos Creek.

On Sunday, I go back to work.

(Kiss Off) Driving Highway 101

I read a quick post in The Stranger the other day about how a woman in Georgia was shot by her husband’s gun.  Not on purpose.  He wasn’t even awake.  But, he slept with a gun nestled into the bed next to him and, in his sleep, he jostled and the gun went off and she got shot.  And I remembered myself sleeping next to a guy who kept a gun in our bed.  Not in Georgia, but in Florida.  Which is kind of the same.  I thought about how I was glad that I never got shot.  And about how I was glad that I didn’t sleep in that gunned bed with him for long.

There are two direct routes from Los Angeles to Seattle.  One is to take I-5 all the way up.  The other is to take the 101.  I-5 is quicker.  But, at points and for a long stretch, the air smells like sick cows and rotten garlic.  The 101 can be windy and twist-y and slow when the road merges for miles and miles and you get stuck behind an RV somewhere up near Big Sur.  And it gets and foggy and dark and you begin to worry about all those signs warning you about random moose and bears jumping and rocks falling into the road because you begin to realize, meandering around up there in the dark, that those are real things that could actually happen and that your Hyundai might not really protect you enough.

I’ve taken them both.  Both routes.  And, given the opportunity again, I’ll take the most dangerous one the next time.  Again.

*********************

“Don’t take 101, Sister!” I IM’d her just a week before her journey up to Seattle.

“I’m taking 101.  It will be good for my soul and for my thoughts.”

“Okay.  Then promise you won’t drive it at night by yourself!”

“I promise.”

“And get a road-side safety kit for your car!  The kind with flares!”

“I already asked Santa for one, don’t worry.”

“And make sure that you have chains for your car!”

“Okay, Sister.  Sheesh!”

“And text me every night when you get to where you’re going to!”

“Stop it.”

*********************

The cliffs dropped off as soon as you stepped up to the ledge of Big Sur and you thought about the Dharma Bums and wondered where they’d stashed their packs and your right hand itched a bit with what you wanted to write and you remembered that time that you went up to Lowell, MA to see Kerouac’s scroll and you wondered whatever had happened to that copy of On the Road that you had loaned to that friend of yours who never gave that copy back to you.  Your mom gave you that for your 16th birthday.  And it had a lovely inscription in it.  You wondered if and why your thoughts had become too cliche and as you stood there, looking out toward the Pacific with your jeans tucked too high into your weird Pirate-type boots with your hands in your pockets, you picked out a coin, tossed it out and over and thought of the best joke you’d heard lately:

What do you call cheese that doesn’t belong to you?

Nacho cheese.

And you hung your head low, because that shit is just pathetic.

*********************

The wind in Oregon hits like a fresh, chilly breeze in November and Sister says,

“Remember the Sneaker waves?!”

I look at her.

“The Sneaker waves!” she laughs. “We had to watch out for the Sneaker waves in Bandon and Seaside!”

“I never lost any of my sneakers,” I said.  “But you did almost lose your fingers to the Oregon gulls and there was that other time where you fell off of that Oregon horse …”

And we laugh, singing “Kiss Off” in the car

One, one, one ’cause you left me and

Two, two, two for my family and

Three, three, three for my heartaches and

Four, four, four for my headache and

Five, five, five for my lonely and  

Six, six, six for my sorrow and 

Seven, seven for no tomorrow and

Eight, eight I forget what eight was for and 

Nine, nine for a lost God and 

Ten, ten, ten, ten for everything

Everything, everything, everything

That was the first song that my sister and I ever sang together in the car.  I was 16 and she was nine.  We drove together in my Jeep.  She held a portable yellow Sony cassette player in her lap.  It had my Violent Femmes cassette tape in it.  And we learned how to harmonize our way through the Hollywood Hills together, singing that damn fucking song.  We sung it really well together, still, 20 years later

Everything, everything, everything

They do it all the time.  Do it all the time.  Do it all the time.  Do it all the time.

*********************

Boston to Seattle is pretty, too.  Cratered deserts and snaking lakes and bits of Earth all patch-worked together, looking out of 36 C, flying in the right direction.

*******************

This time, Sister drove.  And I held my left arm out the window, reaching back toward California, my head perched just above my shoulder.  My cigarette dropped out 150 feet away and the wind hit my nape, blowing my hair toward my crown at 70 miles an hour and I just waved, my right arm holding onto the passenger-side headrest.

And I caught my breath.

Driving backward on 101, pushing the hair out of my eyes, reaching toward the Volume knob and turning it up to 10.

Swimming in Greece

I was a fearless child.  I never got training wheels.  I never wore floaties in the pool.  I could swim before I could walk.  And I walked pretty early.   I laced up my skates and I hit the pavement without any kind of protective gear.  I had lots of skinned knees and elbows from falls, but I never fell the same way twice.

“This has happened now,” my dad said on the first day that I learned how to ride my bike.  I pedaled down the driveway, all by myself, those first few seconds of riding a two-wheeler all on my own, and then fell down onto the cement.  “This has happened now,” he said.  “And it will never happen again.  You have fallen for the first time.  It’s over now and you’re okay.  You’re okay.”  He held my hand and held my head on his shoulder.

Growing up by the beach, in Santa Barbara, I hit those waves hard.  Usually, there were several of us kids in the water.  There were several of us kids in the water.  Usually.  On my best day, I would duck under the breaking waves and pop up on the backside to watch the wave swell and crest toward the shore.  On some days, I would catch a wave and ride it in to shore.  On my almost worst day I got pummeled pretty hard and got dragged along the sand underneath a pretty brutal wave.  I opened my eyes for a second and saw gray: the sand churning up into the wave, Earth and Water all angry with each other.  On my very worst day, I got hit real hard, got lost under the waves, couldn’t breathe, and almost couldn’t find my way back up.  I opened my eyes again, underwater, it hurt, and I moved toward the light.

I breathed again.

Years later, I lettered in Swim.  Swim team.  My dad bought me a school jacket for that patch.  I missed a race once because I couldn’t hear the coach call the meet.  But, I had great shoulders.

******************************

The shores of Athens, Greece were littered with cigarette butts.  I don’t know if it was from all the Greek smokers, if they came up with the tide from the cruise ships, or if all the currents met at that one place and mingled up into the sand together, but the beach was covered in butts.  We still call it Butt Beach.  It was our second day in Greece.  Mostly, the filters read ‘Marlboro’.  But, we didn’t care.  Not really.  Because we had never seen sapphire water like that before.

*****************************

She called me from waist-deep in the water, “C’mon!”

“I can’t!” I yelled out.

“C’mon!” she said.  “We’re in Greece!”

“Sister!” I shouted, “That’s all the more reason! There are monsters in that water!  Not like the ones I learned about it Marine Biology! Monsters from Mythology!  Plus,” as my words got washed away by a breaking wave, “I don’t swim in water I can’t see through!”

And she said something that sort of sounded like But you’re a swimmer! or Let’s go! or whatever and then she took off into the Sea.  I shouted something like But I’m scared of that water! Our mom sat in a chair under an umbrella and I looked back at her, wondering.  It was only for a second.  She had food to eat and some water to drink.  I looked again at my sister, just a head and arms moving through the water.  Our mom lit a cigarette and my toes sunk deeper into the Grecian shore.  My sister moved away from me.

“Sister!”

Our mom picked up an apple and bit into it.

“Sister!  Sister!” as she swam away from me.

******************************

The water held me.  The water in Greece holds better than the water in Southern California.  Something about salt.  The water held me and I moved toward her, fast.  I had forgotten that I could do that.  And there weren’t many waves.  I watched her tread the Sea as I kept moving.

“You see?” she laughed when I got there.

“See what?” I was angry.

“Turn around,” she kept laughing.  “Look.”

“Look at what?  At what?!  WHAT?!”

“Look!” she said, smacking me in the back and turning me around.  “Look!  And stop being such an asshole!”

I splashed water back toward her face.  And saw how far I was away from shore.  I pulled my feet up and grabbed them with my hands.  The water was black where we were.  “I’m scared, Sister.  I’m scared.”

“You’re okay,” she said and she grabbed my hand.

“I’m about 10 seconds away from a panic attack.”

“You never had a panic attack in your life.”

The water below me was black.

“You’re a swimmer.”

Something about salt, and we floated.  I kicked out my feet, and began to move toward shore holding my sister’s hand.  I side-stroked back to Athens with her.

The water held half of me.  I rolled onto my back, one hand holding onto my sister, and I looked up toward the sky, closing my eyes, feeling the Sea holding me up top.  I tipped my head over toward her and she said

I got you to swim out far.

My head rolled back and the water drained from my ear.  I flipped around, gripped tightly onto my sister’s hand for just a moment, and then dove down

and let go

into the dark water

my head under water

in Greece.

 IMG_20150103_210321

Karaoke Whore

I was Glinda the Good Witch of the North in my fifth grade production of The Wizard of Oz and I was fabulous.

The school had no real costume budget and I wore an old prom dress loaned to me by one of my mom’s co-workers.  Fortunately, it was the 80s and the dress was made mostly of layers upon layers upon layers upon layers of the kind of netting most commonly found in the form of a simple wedding veil, sparkled-up with discoball-like bits of glitter and rhinestones.  I wore a tiara, too.  I was the perfect Glinda.  I was ten years old, swathed in miles of white net and bedazzled with bits of plastic that refracted stage lighting and pulsed, perfectly, to the medley of my solo.

Oh, yeah, I sang a solo.  And if you’ve ever seen the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, you’d know that Glinda gets a solo.  It goes like this:

Come out, come out wherever you are

And meet the young lady who fell from a star …

Glinda sings this chorus to the Munchkins who are scared and cowering after Dorothy’s house falls on the Wicked Witch of the East and smashes her to smithereens and witch pulp.  All of her, except, of course, for her slippers.  Which were given to Dorothy by Glinda at their introduction and we all know what happens with the slippers and the tapping-three-times and this is boring and totally not the point.  The point is that I was fabulous.  And that I sang my solo to the fifth grade munchkins with a grace that no other could match.  I’m told that my solo was given a standing ovation.  I didn’t see any standing ovation but, then again, I had the bright light of stardom in my eyes.  Or, maybe, it was the glittered netting of that dress.  In any event, some shit or other was in my eyes and it was bright, and it was wonderful, and I was a star.

Said stardom translated, loosely, to karaoke at some point in my 20s which may or may not have coincided with my legal ability to drink alcohol.  In public places.  Where karaoke is readily available.

Here is a list of great karaoke songs to sing:

“One Way or Another”, Blondie (good in establishments with graffitied walls)

“Only the Good Die Young,” Billy Joel (good in establishments with neon Pabst signs)

“Come on Eileen,” Dexy’s Midnight Runners (good for weird retro Fraternity crowds)

“Mean,” Taylor Swift (good for crowds with Bachelorette parties in attendance)

“Dancing Queen,” ABBA (who doesn’t love a good Scandinavian Disco song?!)

“Red, Red Wine,” Neil Diamond (I don’t think that I should have to explain this)

“Livin’ on a Prayer,” Bon Jovi (works anywhere, anytime, always)

Here is a list of awful karaoke songs to sing:

“Love Shack,” The B-52s (this, really, is just never a good idea)

“Ice Ice Baby,” Vanilla Ice (only works if you’re actually rockin’ the shaved eyebrow)

“My Heart Will Go On,” Celine Dion (what’s wrong with you?)

“Folsom Prison Blues”, Johnny Cash (if you aren’t the Man in Black, you’re an asshole)

“Your Song,” Elton John (keep reading … )

“My Favorite Mistake,” Sheryl Crow (no real human person can actually sing this)

“Bohemian Rapsody,” Queen (Freddie Mercury just rolled over in his grave)

So, one time in Boston, years and years away from my Karaoke Whore days, I found myself in a bar with The Guy.  And it was Karaoke night.  And if memory serves, I had sought out this kind of adventure.  Purposely.  It had something to do with being able to legally drink in public establishments, I’m sure.

“But I wanna sing you a soonnng!”

He just looked at me, smiled. “Okay, go sing then,” he said.

“OK!!  I will!  I will sing you a song so you won’t be grumpy!” I shouted in between sips of my delicious Boston cocktail.

And you can tell everybody that this is your song …

How wonderful life is while you’re in the world.

So, yeah, I did that.  It was like I had never put the microphone down, never stepped off the stage, never wiped the glittery discoball madness out of my eyes.  But I seemed to have forgotten that I wasn’t that 10 years old anymore.  Or even that early 20-something anymore.  I was pushing 40.  And I was pushing ridiculousness.

For a quick moment, I thought I could pull it off.  I was Glinda once upon a time, after all.  And I could Karaoke it up with the best of ’em back in the late 90s.  In my mind, I was incredible: no other Karaoke-r could match me that night.  I was the best Boston had seen in ages!  In reality, I sounded like a broken bassoon.  I know this because The Guy iPhoned it and put that video all up in the iCloud.

Which was both cruel and unusual.

Why do you have that?!” I demanded, the morning after, pointing ferociously at his iPhone video of me karaoke-ing.

“Baby, no one ever sang to me before,” he said, smiling.

“But it’s so awful and embarrassing!” I shouted.

“Baby, no on ever sang to me before,” he said again, laughing this time.

And sitting in the dental chair tonight, the Hygienist asked me why I don’t sing anymore.

“Because my voice is gone.”

“Why?” she asked.

“So many reasons, probably,” I said.

“But, what happened?”

“I just can’t hit those notes anymore,” I said.  “I sound terrible singing what I used to sing.”

“So, you’re lower now?”

“Maybe?” I asked.

“Well, that’s okay!  You can still sing then!  Just a bit lower, this time ’round” she said.

And I looked up toward that Hygienist’s light, as she looked down into my teeth, and I could see nothing else, and it felt much like my memory of being Glinda.

“So, you’re saying there’s still a chance?”

Glinda

An Oven That Wouldn’t Close & Other Thanksgiving Bits

My dad’s thumb got cut in half on Thanksgiving one year. We were living in the last house that my parents bought together, the house that I grew up in, mostly, the house that my sister grew up in, definitely, the house that had an oven that wouldn’t close properly.

The upper oven door would always remain slightly ajar at the base, just an inch or two, the hinge a bit wonky, and wouldn’t allow us a properly oven-baked meal most times.  On Thanksgiving that year, neither of my parents were willing to risk a mediocre-roasted turkey and so my dad, not handy at fixing anything at all ever, decided that Thanksgiving day would be the most opportune time to fix that pesky oven.  Some minutes just before putting the beautifully dressed bird into the oven, my dad pulled that oven door down toward him a bit, grabbed the bottom corners of that door, yanked at the hinges just a bit, took one step back, the door freed, and stood there.  Doing nothing except holding that door.  All six-foot-two-inches of my dad just stood there, holding a detached bit of oven, looking straight ahead, saying nothing.

A moment or two beyond his still nothingness, I saw him, in one swift move, set the door down onto the kitchen table and yank his left hand back toward himself.  Another couple of moments after that, not speaking at all after setting the oven door onto the table, my father silently and quickly walked into the living room and laid down on the couch.

My mom rushed over to the couch and kneeled down next to my dad, offering him a dish towel.

A beat skipped and I ran into the living room behind my mom.  Peering over the back of the couch, into my dad’s stark white face, his eyes wide open and his pupils dilated, I asked, “Dad, are you okay?”

He looked at me very calmly (I expected some sort of rage, or at least a loud voice), “No, Kiddo,” he laughed.  “No, Kiddo, I am not okay.”

Because when my dad had yanked that oven door out of its frame, the door’s hinge (with about 300 pounds of pressure behind it) had snapped out of its socket and landed squarely on top of my dad’s thumb.  And when he had yanked his left hand back, out from under that hinge, his thumb had been sliced in half.

And so that was the Thanksgiving that Dad went to the Emergency Room.

There was that Thanksgiving and there was the Thanksgiving that my mom had a terrible flu (which she caught from me: hey, kids are hazardous to parental health) but managed to cook an amazing meal anyway in between bouts of vomiting and there was the Thanksgiving that we girls went to Sacramento without my dad and I ended up bringing a pregnant cat back home to LA with us.  That later had kittens.  Which had more kittens.  Which had even more kittens.  And, speaking of cats, there was that Christmas that our other cat, Murray, caught on fire (just a little Neosporin and he was fine).  But, I digress.

So, I don’t remember if we even had a turkey that year, the upper oven door set aside with just the tiniest bit of Dad blood on its corner, but I do remember that the china was beautifully set, the linens nicely folded, the silver perfectly polished, and the crystal glasses set neatly just above the linens, to the left.  And I remember that my dad came home after a few hours, bandaged, but no worse for wear.

Probably, we still had a proper Thanksgiving dinner.  My mom probably kept all of the cooking going, as she always has, and kept the warm food on reserve, as she always has.  I have no idea where my sister was during all of this.  At that point in my life, she was more annoying to me than anything else and I only remember that my dad came back home again and that we were all together and that everything was okay toward the end of the evening.  Because that’s always what it was about.

In Boston, I spent years away from Thanksgiving.  Which is always ironic to me because I was living in the Pilgrim Place.  Near that great rock (which is so small, actually) cleft into the shore of Massachusetts Bay, I spent the holidays away; across patches of farmland and a great quilted dessert and beyond the red-clay cliffs that live between the coasts.

But every year that I was away, every year, I would call home.  I would be with a friend or a family or at Temple Bar on Massachusetts Avenue, with its red velvet curtains, and I would call.  Frost would be frosting outside in Boston and, outside in LA, the leaves would be just turning.

“It’s so cold!” Mom would say.

“How cold, Mom?” I’d ask.

“Fifties, probably!”

And I would just laugh at her, tugging on my gloves as I held the phone between my shoulder and my smile.

“Dad still have both his thumbs?” I’d ask.

“I think so. Chris!” she’d yell. “You still have all your fingers?”  I’d hear some sort of mumbling slur in the background, “He’s still got ’em all,” she’d say.  “And the oven is working just fine,” she’d say.

I could smell my mom’s cooking, then. I missed it.  And the air in California in November: just a hint of fireplace and just the slightest touch of leaves under foot, as much as they could be back there.  And my sister would get on the phone, “Our parents are crazy.”  I’d laugh, looking into the window of that restaurant in Porter Square, looking at my lonely meal on that fancy bar, and I’d say, “But they’re ours.”  I could hear her breathe, hear the dimples forming into her smile, “Yeah,” she’d sigh.  “Yeah, they are.”

“Is Dad staying at the house tonight?” I asked my sister.

“I think so,” she said.  “I think he’s driving back home tomorrow.  He’s staying in your room tonight.”

“Good,” I said.  “That’s good.”