Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Equal and Opposite Reaction

Little Sister is three years my junior. Because she considers herself more worldly (having always been more popular than I) and she's married, she seems to think this entitles her to airing her grievances/delivering the catalog of my sins whenever she's feeling peckish over the holidays. The air of superiority is thick enough to set one's teeth immediately on edge.

She cornered me Christmas morning in our bathroom at Chez Airedaleparent. Yet again, she's declared herself my editor-slash-censor; I received the Canonical List of Those Things About Which I Shall Not Write in the coming year due to her opinion of their relative levels of egregiousness.

In the fine old tradition of older siblings, naturally, I'm ignoring it. Since I was standing there applying my makeup, there was no chance I could cut and run during this little diatribe. She concluded with all the offenses I've committed toward our parents, including a little gracenote about how I'd offended our father by posting a Facebook status a week or so ago that he was sick. I finally lost my temper about halfway through that particularly stinging insult and said, without turning toward her or altering my facial expression, "Of course I didn't know. He's only my father." With that, I threw the last item back into my makeup bag, zipped it, and walked out the door.

The night before, I mentioned that Hopkins' younger sister was worried about the condition of the roads and its effect on her travel plans for the holidays, and she snapped at me, apropos of nothing, "You need to not worry about his family. Stop talking about her. Now. I don't want to hear it." Oh, if I really felt like slinging dirt here, I could, but I was so taken aback that I pulled up short. I was just so angry and exhausted that I let her flay me alive.

Seriously, though, whaaaat? When is this her business? It was an aside that I'd picked up from my Facebook feed. I was equally glad that Wayne didn't have to work on Christmas, because he's in satellite TV installation and frankly, we'd had about three inches of snow when this conversation took place (we've had probably seven or eight inches altogether, but it's warmed up twice and melted the bottom layers, making the total depth less than that). I stood there, gritting my teeth, sincerely wishing I'd picked Wayne for smalltalk instead.

FTR, last I noticed, R. and her children had crossed the state line safely today and were en route to Smalltownland, a remaining distance of roughly sixty miles, give or take. Perhaps in Little Sister's estimation, I shouldn't give a $#*!, but I do. I've liked the girl ever since she was roughly the same age as her youngest is now. Whatever my sister's logic for cutting me up over it, I'm damned if I let her dictate about what or whom I care.

Since it was snowing again today, I didn't dare depart the Chez for my house, lest my mother have the proverbial conniption. I'm going tomorrow come Hell or high water, but by God I'm hiding from the Nearest and Dearest until I can make good my escape...before anybody else tries to tell me what to think, say, or do. You'd think they'd have figured out exactly how useless that is by now, though, wouldn't you?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What Do You See?

When I was a sophomore in high school, the Superfecta of All Hideous Things happened:
  1. The dog/crying towel I'd had since I was an infant died in December
  2. My aunt lost her battle with cancer at the end of February
  3. My beloved maternal grandmother died of a stroke at the beginning of March
  4. and, the boy I'd been dating since the previous fall dumped me four days after my grandmother's funeral, resulting in:
  5. My suddenly having no date for the prom

The only good thing to come out of any of this, other than not having to go to the prom with Jeff, who was kind of a twit at 17 (later, as an adult, he was my best Brownie Mom when I was a Girl Scout leader), was that my folks got me a new dog.

Sunny was a Smooth Fox Terrier, unlike my previous dog, who was a Wire Fox Terrier. She was supposed to be the family dog, but I immediately latched onto her and claimed her as mine. I spent all of my spare time at home playing with the new dog, napping with the new dog; well, you get the idea. She was about a year old already, well-past the puppy stage, but I didn't care. My grandmother had owned a Smooth Fox named Kitty when she was about the same age, who went everywhere with her. I decided that Sunny would be my Kitty.

She had some quirky little behaviors that came out over time, the longer we had her. The first Christmas she was with us, we noticed that she loved to go into the living room to listen to Dad's records of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Christmas carols. Sometimes, she'd just disappear and we'd find her curled up in one of the formal wingbacked chairs, watching the lights on the tree. She never disturbed the gifts, tore up ornaments, or made a mess...she just sat there and watched the tree.

My father was quite a shutterbug, so when I asked for a 35mm camera for my birthday, I got one, and it was a pretty nice one, too. It was a step up from the 110 I'd had, and the little 126 cube-flash camera that had been my mother's that I had before it. I was allowed to take as much film as I wanted, and my folks would get it developed without making me pay for it. One day, during the holidays, I got an extremely good picture of Sunny settled into the living room. It became my conversation-starter with new friends in college; I'd hand them the picture and ask them if they could tell what it was a picture of...invariably, they'd say it was a photo of the Christmas tree.

You had to look closely, but it was actually a picture of my dog. Sunny had gone into the living room after my parents had laid out our "Santa" gifts in the wingbacked chairs and burrowed down between mine. They were undisturbed except for the small brown-and-white dog planted artistically dead center- she looked like a stuffed toy. She was just so pretty, sitting there in the middle of my stuff.

I recently ran across a small envelope of pictures from college, including one of my senior dorm room. There, on the shelf directly above my head, is the picture of Sunny. That's how I choose to remember her, long before she became old and cranky, when she was still my reasonably happy little dog.

Friday, December 24, 2010

I (heart) My Bathroom

My mother designed the Chez herself, and as a particularly tall woman for her era (5'10", at a time when most women were 5'3" or shorter), she made one decision for which I have always been thankful:

In the 'big bathroom', which is huge in comparison to most bathrooms prior to the 1990s, when they took on epic scale in new home construction, there is an extra-long bathtub...and it has a sloped reclining surface at the back end. Mom has a bad back, and her logic was that in the days before in-home Jacuzzi bathtubs and so forth, she could soak in a hot bath.

I have a slight sciatic nerve pinch that plays up after I walk or stand on hard surfaces for long periods of time. Last night, I had to make Mom's last-minute WalMart run amongst the frantic Christmas crowds. By the time I got back to Chez Airedaleparent, my left hip was throbbing- two hours of marching around Wally World didn't do me any favors.

It was around 11:00 by the time we got all of the groceries stored, but I dragged myself up and ran a tubful of hot water anyway. Today, my sister and brother-in-law will arrive and I won't have a moment's downtime between the gift wrapping and cooking for the next seventy-two hours. It was my last chance to commune, uninterrupted, with my favorite bathtub.

If I am ever lucky enough to own a home, I'll definitely look into installing a tub like it. The old standard 1950s number in my current house is one of the most uncomfortable bathtubs in the world, leading to its primary use as a shower. Of all the things in the Chez, it's probably the cleverest fixture here...

Nixon Christmas

Many years ago, a friend of my sister's who had a rare molecular-genetic disorder died on Christmas morning.

One of their classmates phoned on our unlisted home phone number, and the call was intercepted around 6:00 a.m. by our father. Determined to not let it "ruin Christmas", our parents elected to conceal the information from her- but not from me. I was told. I disagreed with their decision; I knew she would implode like the aftermath of a supernova when they did tell her.

Our paternal grandmother was still alive then. Dad, a still photography buff, had never taken to videotaping, although the many foibles of our childhood are more than adequately recorded on old 8mm film from his little handheld movie camera. Since there was no video, Dad decided to make audiotapes to mail to his mother in Phoenix. This led to weird running commentary on the gifts, the dogs' behavior, and general activities. He also taped the conversation during the meal, from the blessing of the food until the tape ran out.

For a couple of hours, we gritted our teeth and opened gifts; I gave an Oscar-worthy performance of 'happy family Christmas' until the last scrap of torn giftwrap went into the trash bag. Dad shut off the tape recorder and in his best physician-informing-the-family voice, announced, "Matt died this morning."

They probably heard my sister's screams in the next county over. She burst into tears, and still screaming, bolted for our shared bathroom upstairs. I heard the lock click firmly into place as I returned the kitchen phone to its receiver- Mom and Dad had taken it and my father's office line off their hooks so no one could call until they were ready to tell her the news themselves.

We didn't see her again until it was time for dinner. Understandably, everybody was pretty subdued. Dad noted Matt's death as the audiotaping resumed, and we had to fight to come up with any conversation around the table. Until the dog fight started, that is...

At the time, our parents had our first Papillon, Didi; Ethel, Didi's half-Cocker Spaniel daughter, and Sunny, my ancient, belligerent, blind and deaf Fox Terrier. Sunny hated everyone and everything in the world except her people. At some point, she perceived that Ethel was jockeying for prime begging rights under the table, and WHAM!

For an old, sick, obese dog, she moved remarkably fast. Dad jumped out of his chair and tried to separate the dogs, and Sunny mistook his hand for something other than what it was- she clamped down on his right palm and refused to let go. Dad was a.) a Navy brat, and b.) in NROTC for three years, so yes, he can curse like a sailor, a talent which he suddenly invoked at the top of his lungs. He stomped out of the dining room trailing blood from a laceration that was probably about three inches long- Dad is right-handed and doctors do a lot with their hands. It was NOT good.

In the ensuing silence, I realized there was a faint whirring sound, and looked down in horror. The tape was still running. In my best Republican National Committee fashion, I shut off the recorder, rewound the tape several minutes, and didn't restart it until Daddy returned a little more composed.

It was the perfect capstone to the Worst Christmas in Living Memory at Our House.

The denouement is as follows: my sister's friends, who normally would never have been let into the house on Christmas, were allowed to come sit with her until after midnight. They were still in their late teens, most of them sophomores in college at the time, so it was an especially hard blow. Matt was the first of their classmates to die. His obituary is in the side table in the guest room, where my sister stays whenever she's visiting.

My grandmother also inquired about the gap in the tape in her next letter to me. I gave her some disingenuous reply, although when asked later by one of my aunts, to whom she had also mentioned it, I told the entire story. Nobody wants their mother to know how fluently they can swear, especially on Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

She Gave Me a Pen

Growing up, I was largely broke as a joke. I got a small allowance about which I got quite squirrelly at spreading very thin, and had brief, sporadic seasonal jobs with the local jeweler and florist. One of my other small enterprises occurred every year around Christmas: the Annual Selling of the Parasitic Plant.

That's right, kids, I'd go mistletoe-spotting and then drag my father out into the woods to shoot it down out of trees for me.

Given that the little packets of mistletoe that the local dimestore sold ran about a dollar a pop, by underselling them at fifty cents for a bigger clump, I could make a right tidy profit. (I guess I'm lucky that my father didn't make me pay him back for the ammunition it took to get it harvested.) I'd learned in junior high that if I personally stood under a clump of mistletoe the size of, say, a head of broccoli, it wouldn't do any good- but that didn't stop my profiting from others' belief in its properties.

For those who got the small, inexpensive gifts I gave at Christmas in high school, well, that's how I paid for them. I was hoofing it especially hard at Christmas in 1985, because I had several graduation presents to purchase the following spring and one of them cost more than others (the engraved Cross pen that went to Hopkins).

During late November, after marching band competition season concluded and when I had more time on Saturdays, I'd sit at the kitchen table, carefully cutting off little pieces of mistletoe and tying them with red, green, and silver ribbons. As December approached, I'd bag up my efforts and haul them off to school to sell to anyone willing to part with two quarters.

I was making a neat profit in '85, with only one minor setback: that's the year I was shacked up with Hopkins, i.e., we were sharing a locker. This had already led to some rather embarrassing moments, like the day he accidentally dumped out my band practice clothes in the floor during a class change, or the afternoon that a compass fell out and almost skewered my foot- but none quite so awkward as the bag of mistletoe. I'd been careful to conceal my little enterprise, lest he think the presence of the offending plant be directed toward the sixteen year-old approximation of seduction- but, as luck would have it, a strong yank on our somewhat stubborn locker door dumped a paper-sackful of mistletoe on the hallway carpet.

I was probably ten feet away when it rolled out, in all its glory.

If you've never seen somebody go from blanched to flaming blush in under three seconds, it's scary. I also don't know who was actually more mortified, him or me- I think this one was pretty much a dead heat.

Since things like this generally left me tongue-tied and miserable, I didn't even try to explain; I just dropped to the floor and began sweeping the tiny bundles into the sack. I rolled the top down tightly, tossed it back into the locker, jammed my books into my designated space (the locker floor), and walked away very quickly.

I managed to eventually compose myself enough to retrieve the mistletoe without further incident, although it did put a bit of a damper on my sales since I didn't dare store the inventory there after that. Between that, my jobs, and the bare scrapings of my allowance left over after I paid for dance or movie tickets, I did manage a few sort of okay graduation gifts. As I said, the greatest fruit of this labor was the pen.

A couple of years later, I was mortified when I finally saw the movie "Say Anything" and heard the line everyone remembers from it: I gave her my heart, and she gave me...a pen.

I promise I've become more adept at gift-giving since then, and none of my current efforts are funded by the sale of mistletoe.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Let it Snow

I love snow, though, as long as I don't have to go anywhere in it, and no one about whom I care does, either. It's beautiful, magical in its own way.

There was a moment, a few years ago, that proved a sad little deal breaker in a relationship for which I had high hopes...one for which my parents had some vague hope, too. I was dating an attorney from Tennessee whose family owns the controlling interest in a small banking corporation in the area where I live. I could tell that he was fond enough of me, but it never, well, you know, went anywhere.

As usual, the easy default is to blame my weight, which I think is part of it, anyway. I tried not to let it prey on me until one night, while I was in the city where he lived for a jazz concert, an acquaintance with whom a friend had once tried to fix him up blurted incredulously, upon being introduced to me, "Oh, you're here together." It hit me hard. She was shocked to think that I could possibly be the competition.

But I intuited this before...

A couple of weeks earlier, I'd met him for dinner at a little place in the small town, not unlike the one I'm from, where his mother was born. As we were walking out to our cars (the bank board had convened in town for an all-day meeting) in the late autumn darkness, it started to flurry.

Being a dork, and ever so slightly romantic (yet loath to show it, lest I look like a fool), I let myself get a bit giddy, spinning a small circle and looking up into the sparkling snowflakes. My reverie didn't last long. It was dragged back to reality with the leaden demand, "What are you doing?"

I managed to rein it in, glad that the darkness hid the dull flush of embarrassment creeping up past the collar of my coat.

And I knew...it was the beginning of the end.

One of the ridiculous romantic notions I'd always entertained, from childhood, was that falling snow had the ability to make anybody look pretty- that it had this magical quality that might transfigure even those of us who feel homely and awkward most of the time into nearly attractive beings. That feeling died that night.

Girls like me don't get to keep the lawyer anyway, you know. Not that it matters, really.

Sometimes I still watch the snow swirling in the street lights and wish I still believed. Maybe it works for other people, just not for me.

Next Time, Bring Your Own Vodka

My cousin Lucifer, whose visit with the Davidson County Corrections folks in Nashville last year was the subject of an earlier blog, turned up on my porch last night. This is after I told him repeatedly over the phone that I had to be at work early today and did not want him to stop by.

He has a little hearing problem, especially when he's less than sober, and he was considerably LESS than sober. He was deposited on my porch with the help of our intrepid police force, who threatened him with a DUI until he said he was just trying to get to my place to sleep it off on the couch. The only problem is that I know something that they didn't: he doesn't go to sleep right away when he's drunk. He wants to drink some more so he can pass out.

I would prefer it if he did his passing out elsewhere. He has a habit of letting himself out either late at night or in the wee, small hours of the morning, which has resulted in his letting my dogs out. Since the yard's not fenced, this is a problem. Due to his refusal to leave, my Airedales were crated overnight against the possibility of his drunkenly liberating them.

It wasn't a misplaced precaution. There's a trick to catching the lock on the side door, and he doesn't know it. As I was shoving him out this morning so I could get ready for work, I noticed that the latch wasn't caught. I'd already found evidence that he'd gotten up from the sofa and had a few drinks during the night, so I wasn't too shocked when I found that he'd rifled through the liquor cabinet and stolen both a fifth of vodka and a fifth of tequila. I think he probably went out overnight and stashed them in the car, hoping I wouldn't notice until after he'd left. At least he was too drunk to get all the way to the back for the bottle of boutique, small-distillery single-malt Scotch that I brought back from my last trip to Scotland. Just trust me on this- that would constitute a felony. Literally.

About forty dollars' worth of booze and a sleepless night were the price of getting rid of him for the time being. Years ago, I caught him trying to take my credit cards, so the first thing I do when he foists his presence off on me is hide my purse and any firearms that are immediately to hand.

When he was playing ball for Old Man Fulmer down at Tennessee, I'm sure these 'madcap drunken antics' were considered par for the course. Thing is, though, Lucifer is now 35. This routine is past stale, and I also noticed that he had his Nissan employee badge clipped to his waistband when he staggered through the door. When he's sober, he works for them as a design engineer, at which he's really quite talented- but the former qualifier sort of obviates the latter. Last night, he was in a local bar (he phoned me three times) trying to pick up a girl from Ohio who made the mistake of insulting Michigan football, which, God help U of M, is where he got his masters' in engineering. Ferris State is the guilty party on his bachelors', and we here at the community college were responsible for his automotive tech diploma and ASE certification...after he quit Tennessee eight weeks shy of finishing his English degree.

Encouraging him to go to detox is useless. While he was incarcerated the last time, he was put in the jail's detox program and forced to attend AA meetings, emphasis on "forced". You can guess how well that worked...his eyes were bright pink and swimming when I turned on my porch light.

I've really hit my limit. I can't drunk-sit him anymore. I wish the fuzz would get wise to his slick, fast-talking BS and lock him up again. That way he'd have somewhere to stay and I wouldn't have to worry about my liquor or my dogs disappearing.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sandpainting

Whenever the Dalai Lama visits a place, he is preceded by a small group of monks who construct a sand mandala prior to his visit. After his departure, the mandala is ceremonially dismantled, the sand gathered up into a silk bundle. The bundle is taken to a nearby body of moving water, preferably a river or large stream, where it is released back into nature.

Sometimes, our relationships resemble the sand mandala by default. We assemble them carefully, and when the time comes, we dismantle them and offer their basic elements back whence they originated.

About a year ago, I began putting together a figurative sand mandala. It was born of memory, and took shape over the course of several months before it fixed in place on May 15th. It only survived a couple of months before the lines of the figures began to blur, and I found myself frantically sweeping at the edges, trying to keep the image from distorting into an indistinct lump.

Around midsummer, it became obvious that it was a fruitless chore. I put far more effort into avoiding the impending disruption of this fragile thing than was merited; it was superficial, something transient that represented a long-abandoned reality. It's December now, and a year has passed from the first moments when I gathered the elements together to the point at which my little stab at recapturing something I wish I'd never lost was no more than a pile of sand.

It slipped through my fingers against my will, but grasping at sand never yields much. I'm torn between sweeping what's left of it up and pouring it away, or jealously guarding the vague remains. In many ways, I am as much the sand as the keeper of it, allowed to slip away again.

The third time is the charm. It's time to accept my irrelevance, fold my tent, and nurse my bruised feelings for the last time. Well, that's what I tell myself, anyway.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Bright Lights of Home

When the time came to go home for the break at Christmas of my freshman year of college, I expected it to be the typical annual family endurance contest to which I'd always been accustomed. Without a car of my own, I desperately hoped that my best friend would rescue me during the bleak, cold weeks before we returned to our respective campuses.

My father's idea of decorating the house for the holidays consisted of a wreath on either side of the double front door, under the carriage lamps, and another small wreath on the door at the side porch. I'd long admired the homes with small, twinkling white lights on the bare trees and clear-bulbed electrical candles in the windows, but my father eschewed these things as overkill. Unable to mount my annual campaign from far away at dear old SFU, I expected things to be exactly as usual.

As my mother turned onto our street, I beheld a jam-packed yard with standing Christmas decorations, one of which was an angelic choir that was wired for sound. Santa and his reindeer adorned the lady's rooftop. While Mom lamented the traffic snarls it caused, we took a slow circuit of the streets so I could see our other neighbors' decorations. The Chez faces the top of the circle drive; I was admiring some rustic log reindeer and a hand-painted creche when my mother stopped the car opposite our house. Confused by this, I turned to look forward.

Thousands of tiny white lights glittered on the trees lining the driveway and the front walk. Electric candles blazed in all of the front windows, except my sister's room, which was directly above the front door: in her window, there was a miniature Christmas tree with white lights. The wreaths still hung to either side of the door under the carriage lamps, but now there were matching brass hunting horns on each door.

When I was small, before things soured, I decided that my father could turn the night and stars on and off. I would dance by the back door and chant, "Daddy, do! Daddy, DO!", demanding that he perform his magical feat. I was probably no more than three then, so it took him fifteen years to make another stab at it.

My father would have rather died a thousand deaths than to say that he'd missed me at all, and yet here was this strange testament that despite all the misery that had passed between us, my emotionally repressed male parent might actually love me. Much like the letters sent by our Cocker Spaniel (who mysteriously shared his handwriting) when I was studying abroad a few years later, he'd executed an elaborately planned gesture instead of simply telling me.

Anyone who thinks I'm obtuse needs to back up and take a long, hard look at Dr. AiredaleParent. That's where I learned it, and he's a pro.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Um...Soylent...Green???

Yesterday, I stayed home from work with what turned out to be a migraine. Usually when these hit, I can't read or watch television, so I have to find simple, uncomplicated tasks to perform when I'm not trying to sleep it off. I decided that I'd clean out the freezer a bit.

Ice cream is the worst. I like ice cream, but I don't eat it that often. I prefer chocolate, but I keep vanilla on hand for the dogs. I'd allowed a couple of partial containers to get a bit freezer-burned, so I dragged them out into the sink to thaw. This was a national brand that touts its "natural ingredients", so I expected it to melt into a milk-like consistency so I could pour the contents out before throwing away the cartons.

Wrong.

About three hours later, what I had was a viscous, gelatinous semi-solid glop that sort of scared me. So I guess that's what all these rosins and stabilizing agents do...if the milk used is skim (this wasn't diet ice cream) it probably needs something to give it a little body, but this bordered on ridiculous. This wasn't food; there was a reenactment of The Blob going on in my kitchen sink!

Ever since my parents put me in SFU's nutrition class behavior-modification diet in grad school, I've been an avid label-reader, but I just didn't realize how much gummy crap there was in this ice cream or what it actually did under certain conditions like, say, melting. If it won't melt to a completely fluid state, my first thought is that it's just this side of indigestible. Being from the country and having taken part in more than one church ice cream social in my lifetime, I know that most ice cream should be comprised of the following: milk, eggs, sugar, and flavoring, with rock salt and ice used in the ice cream freezer's outer compartment to bring it to a solid state.

Nowhere in my experience does a homemade ice cream recipe include, say, guar gum. There are some things we just weren't meant to eat, people, and I strongly suspect that guar gum is one of 'em- where would you even GET guar gum for home cooking? Oh, wait. You don't need it when you make your own.

Dr. AiredaleParent worked for the FDA as a manufacturing inspector before he went to med school- that means he's the guy who checked for rat poop and spider eggs in food and drug manufacturing plants. He can still quote the permissible insect particulate matter percentages for ketchup off the top of his head, so you can imagine that I've heard a lot about what's in our food. My favorite teacher, Marie Bloyd, also insisted that I read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, the novel that galvanized Teddy Roosevelt to push Congress for regulatory oversight of the food and drug industries. After reading it, I hit Dad up with about a million questions...which is how I was able to gross out one of my least-favorite English teachers as she prepared to wolf down a hamburger.

I also cook, which is why all these bizarre expanders and stabilizers offend me. If I don't know what an ingredient is, chances are most other people won't either. It's food, not a chemistry experiment! After the pet food protein scandals, one of my Airedales developed a skin condition related to grains in dog food, so I also started reading dog food labels really closely (I switched to an expensive grain-free brand that's made mostly from duck and brown rice. Yes, my dogs eat better than I do). If I wouldn't eat it, you guessed it, people, I'm not gonna feed it to my dogs. Little did I realize when I reached that conclusion that this would include ice cream intended for humans. You learn something new every day!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Green Wool Christmas

Sporting the school coat about three weeks after I got it


There were three things I prized above all else in school, all of which symbolized my belonging (when I knew, instinctively, that I was in so many ways a misfit): my class ring (which I paid for, by selling Art Carved class rings at school for my occasional employer, the local jewelry store), my letterman's sweater (for Academic Team), and my green wool varsity coat.

The green coat was the epitome of "it"...anybody could buy one, sure, but you had to be in a recognized school organization that issued letters for it to be "worth" anything, in terms of the high school pecking order. I joined the marching band in eighth grade, and my parents refused to buy me a school coat until the following year because they were expensive, my father loathed the band as a nerd organization (Daddy was a hardshelled jock), and they were worried I'd quit.

During the first half of my freshman year, I felt like a total loser, wearing whatever jacket or coat came to hand in the cooler part of the band competition season because I somehow didn't rate a 'real' coat, i.e., the school's official emerald green varsity coat. I began my campaign early: we drove past Coaches' Corner, the local sporting goods shop operated by the high school coaches and purveyor of official school apparel, every time we went to the high school. I'd point at the window display and tell my mother: "You have to order my coat early or it won't get here in time! That's all I want for Christmas this year. I don't want anything else. PUHLEEEZE! I look like a dork every time the band goes somewhere because I don't have one. I feel like a FREAK! MOM, I HAVE TO HAVE A SCHOOL COAT!!!"

It's a wonder she didn't strangle me before Halloween.

I still remember how much the coat cost; I knew I was getting it because I had to be measured for it before it was ordered from the manufacturer with that year's December lot (it was a popular gift for most high school students and too expensive to be given any other time of year)
: $85. That was a lot of money in 1983, and that was before the custom options like having a patch of my name made, plus the band patch, plus a small temporary letter until I received to my official band letter as a sophomore...it ended up being more than a hundred dollars.

The greatest shock of all was that when I opened the giant suit box that contained it on Christmas morning, the patches were not attached. I panicked. How was I supposed to wear it if the emblems weren't on it?

My father, with whom my relationship at best was strained, left the room and returned with a large spool of heavy-duty green thread and a darning needle. "You can't have it cleaned with the letters on it; they'll have to be taken off and put back on every time. I'm going to show you how to do it." I knew my father could sew; he is, after all, a physician and trained to perform surgery. What I did not know, until that moment, was that he'd learned to attach his own varsity letters growing up because my grandmother didn't sew. I sat beside him on the living room couch for over an hour, learning the neat, firm-but-removable whipstitch that was best for applying the patches without damaging the tightly-woven wool of the jacket. (Dad often recounts his bitter disappointment the year he wanted the Red Ryder Air Rifle for Christmas. His family was poor, so he got a cheaper Daisey BB gun. When A Christmas Story came out, the mystery surrounding his relenting over the expensive green coat was suddenly resolved.)

The strangest part is that while my father seemed to ignore or decry my involvement with the band, it was always he, even though he'd taught me how to do it myself, who removed and reapplied the patches to my coat each time it went to the dry cleaner. The task increased steadily in length as I continued through high school, adding to that walking advertisement of my achievements.

While I was at college the summer before my senior year, someone imparted to me one of the cardinal rules of college life: you can't wear your high school letterman's jacket after you graduate. It marks you out as a hick. My freshman year at SFU, my mother bought me a new winter coat, an L.L. Bean ski jacket like everyone else had. I felt nondescript. I blended into the background. I faded away.

When I was fourteen, though, that coat was all I ever wanted- and I proved my parents wrong. I wore it everywhere. I only had four other coats the whole time I was in high school: a lavender Members Only jacket (hey, it was the Eighties!), a blue denim jacket, a black Calvin Klein denim jacket, and the dress coat I was supposed to wear to church...if Mom didn't catch me before I got out the door on Sunday, though, I just took my varsity jacket.

Giving up my school coat was the real end of high school. I can't even look at it anymore. The day will come when I have to take it out of my parents' basement, and that will be the end of something else- something I dread. Something I want to postpone indefinitely, and something that will catch up to me no matter how far or fast I run from it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Learning to Fly

When I was twenty-one, my parents sent me to school in England for an entire summer. My father, who has not been on an airplane since he was approximately that age, told me to get blind drunk the minute we were airborne because he didn't want to write me for Valium. With that piece of advice, I boarded a nonstop trans-Atlantic flight from the Greater Cincinnati Airport to Gatwick, outside of London. I stayed both wide-awake and cold sober the entire time, unable to read or focus enough to play cards with the other students in my group. I remember that the in-flight movie was a Tom Hanks- Meg Ryan flop called Joe Versus the Volcano.

All through the summer, we followed the news on Armed Forces Radio, the BBC, and in the Times about the escalation of hostilities in the Persian Gulf. On the day that American troops crossed the Kuwaiti border, we flew home amid tight airport security...eleven years prior to 9/11. We were held in a debriefing area after we cleared security in Cincinnati, because of one student in my group: Ayser, the daughter of an SFU professor, a quiet, shy Muslim girl who worked in the university library part-time.

Her only crime was that she was born in Tehran. Her parents, like many other educated and intellectual people, fled Iran in the face of the religious revolution there. Some of her family settled in London, where her male relatives had kept close watch on her to ensure that she followed proper Islamic social mores, and also because they'd found a suitable Persian boy for her to marry. Because of these things, she spent more time with her relatives while we were in England than with the rest of the students. We found it a bit odd, but we accepted it as part of her culture. She was a nice, well-brought-up, intelligent person, Westernized in her dress and interactions with us, but still rooted in her family's traditionalist views of social interaction (especially between the sexes).

As we stood in the security screening lines for our return flight, two policewomen approached and took Ayser out of the queue. The SFU students immediately realized what was happening and began protesting loudly- I'd been standing in front of Ayser and demanded to know where they were taking her. One of the policewomen told me, pointedly, "Get back in line, or you'll be pulled out, too," adding, "All of you." Later, in the boarding area, Ayser was returned to us, crying and hysterical. She'd been strip-searched, she said, bitterly, "for looking 'foreign'." It was an extreme violation for someone of her background. Logically, we knew there'd been no way around it- she was a naturalized American citizen from Iran who'd been followed by the authorities throughout her stay in the U.K., and who was known to have met repeatedly with many people of Iranian descent in London. That was twenty years ago. It still upsets me to think about it- she was as American as I am, but she was singled out for having a Middle Eastern name and appearance.

I flew again last summer to present at a conference in Washington, D.C. . Although I'd heard that an underwire bra might set off the security gates, I wore one anyway. Now they're reporting that the new full-body scanners will pick up the underwire and touch off a strip search, along with things like wearing a skirt. Seriously? I wore a skirt to and from D.C.- when I flew routinely for job interviews in 2000, I was often met by the deans or other officials from the colleges where I was interviewing- and I did not then, nor do I now, own a pantsuit. I look like a Weeble in slacks, so I don't wear them. Period. I flew in a skirt suit. I have to hand it to the guys who are flying commando in their kilts as a form of protest; I'd rather be locked in a trunk with rabid weasels than deal with an insulted kilt-wearing man.

So, just in time for the busiest flying season of the year, a new slowdown and something else to upset the traveling public. Even if I've got to deal with Family Togetherness for three solid days, at least I'm staying home.

Monday, November 22, 2010

It Must Be the Whiskey Talking

The holidays at Chez Airedaleparent can get, in a word, ugly. Last Christmas found me drinking steadily beginning around noon, with the meal due to hit the table around five o'clock in the afternoon. Since I'm the primary cook for this deal, it wasn't pretty, and also since I largely gave up drinking after my little romance with Mr. McAlcohol in college, it was exceptional. Something was definitely wrong when my best friend phoned about two o'clock and I hissed, ominously: "You'd better get over here now, I've been drinking since twelve!"

She and her husband showed up very shortly thereafter, both wearing concerned expressions.

I don't remember exactly what had transpired, but there's a good chance that it was either some criticism of the food preparations by one or more parent and/or complaints from my sister, who only dislodged herself from her iPhone between phone calls from a particularly needy girlfriend to swipe Dad's bourbon. My brother-in-law basically hid in the family room watching sports and keeping a low profile; ever since the year that SFU barely lost its Thanksgiving football game in the final seconds while I cursed and waved a paring knife over my head, he avoids me while I'm cooking.

One of the mitigating factors is that Dr. Airedaleparent decided to accuse me of giving his precious Maker's Mark (if you know your bourbons, then you know it's overrated, anyway) to my friends, after he found an empty fifth in the kitchen trash. I glared at him, pointed to the doorway, and ordered him out of the kitchen with the following threat: "I did NOT serve your bourbon to anybody. Go ask your other child where it went, and furthermore, if you want to eat sometime THIS MONTH, you will get out of here and let me finish cooking!"

As far as I'm concerned, having dealt with this since I reached the legal drinking age, it's strictly Bring Your Own Bourbon at the Chez- because I don't want to be yelled at. Fat lot of good it did, right? Seriously, I'd rather cart a fifth of bourbon back and forth from my home sixty miles away than answer to these accusations.

If you're thinking that this sounds like a lot of liquor, this is the South. We drink on all major holidays- today, for example, being the one known as "Monday". The day begins with Bloody Marys (I'm allergic to tomato juice, so I don't drink in the morning) and escalates to beer by midday, followed by bourbon just before supper, and concluding with three or four bottles of Riesling during the meal. The catch with the wine is that Daddy can drink two to three bottles by himself, so we drink like a bunch of fish to keep him from it.

A few years ago, at the wedding of a friend's son, Dad, who was about seventy-five at the time, was out in the parking lot drinking with a bunch of my classmates. The only thing he could remember later was "The bottle had some kind of a bird on it," and it wasn't Old Crow or Wild Turkey. I figured out by process of elimination that the Twins, a former Secret Service Agent and an Air Marshal, had come up with a bottle of Fighting Cock. I don't know which bothered me more: that my father delivered those two (the age difference), or that they didn't know better about their whiskey. It's scenes like these that have prompted the flurry of comparisons to $#*! My Dad Says -the eponymous dad being another crusty old doctor from Kentucky...

I love my parents. I know that the holidays we have are numbered, but that doesn't change the fact that a lot of alcohol helps make "togetherness" a bit more palatable.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When Everything Else is Burned Away

A childhood friend recently mused about the nature of regret. Oh, God, how I know regret...and I can look to the moments when I might've made decisions that would've obviated a lot of it- but the painful moments are the ones from which I've learned. Granted, there have been small victories and little shreds of joy here and there that have punctuated my life, but the darker moments linger in my hair and clothing like some kind of demonic cigarette smoke.

One of the moments I should've claimed, and didn't, was on the screened back porch at a friend's house- a "move", fatally interrupted by someone else in attendance at the gathering, the crashing awkwardness that followed sending us frantically scattering inside to our respective corners. I don't know if it would've ultimately made a difference, had that kiss connected. I do know that it has left me with a huge pang of regret that's followed me for twenty-five years now. I remember standing at the kitchen counter, ringed by my girlfriends (chattering questions about whether or not the suspected "move" had taken place), furtively slicing a hunk of cheese and refusing to look up as the whiplike phalanx of boys passed through the room and then back out of it.

I must've looked like I'd had acid thrown on my face, because it certainly burned like it. The other party chose to hole up in the half-bath for quite some time, until filibustered out by a few fellow Teenage Republicans. Clever critters that they were, despite the earlier failure and still eager to 'help', everyone piled into the hostess's living room to watch a Steven Wright special on television. It was a massive pre-arranged fruit-basket bingo to which neither he nor I was invited- people were jumping off and on the sofa and rearranging themselves carefully until we were squashed into the same corner together. I am not quite sure, to this day, which of us was the more embarrassed, because it was pretty much a dead heat.

I could've made cow-eyes (and felt ridiculous doing it, since I was notoriously 'serious'). I could've thrown myself at him. Instead, I tried the opposite tack of digging a hole to China through the couch, and ended up moving to other seating across the room. It wasn't for want of attraction, it was my overweening need to preserve him from further discomfort. I just wish now that I'd had the guts to make him really uncomfortable; who knows. It's the what-if's that will eventually drive you insane.

Months later, on the opposite bookend of that school year, I sat on the porch railing at a graduation party, quietly counting down the short succession of hours that remained in our grasp, knowing that the evening was going to present me with a few more regrets for my ever-increasing catalog of them.

I made light of it several months ago in Graduation Night: The Wrath of Big Bird, because in the midst of an evening that was absolute hell-on-Earth for me, something funny did happen. It was the thing that I've clung to that kept it from being a night of total devastation. In many ways, my life ended as dawn was breaking the next day- and I had no choice other than to continue, alone. There are people about whom I care deeply, folks who I love, and friends I cherish, but there is a small part of me that will always compartmentalize that disconnect.

It was this time of year, you see, when autumn is waning steadily into winter...when the world dies, and lies dormant. I wonder, how much of me will never recover?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Shall...we...play...a...game?

For most of you who are hardcore geeks, you already know about the opening of TRON:Legacy on December 17th. We've waited 28 years since the original TRON, and needless to say, the programming languages, software, and hardware have advanced significantly in the interim. If you have no idea whatsoever about what you just read, here's a thumbnail:

In TRON, a hacker gets distilled into a codestream and sucked into a virtual world, where he has to battle to stay alive. TRON:Legacy finds him cyberjacked back into this world, his son follows to try to save him and ends up doing battle in his father's stead. The whole thing takes place in this digital realm. So if you thought "The Matrix" was trippy, well...this brackets that trippiness and trumps it, on the Geek Factor alone.

The title of the blog is drawn from another early cyberdrama, Wargames, in which World War III is almost triggered by a young hacker. He disarms Armageddon by introducing a stalemate into the software. Stalemate is something I know about- and it's an appropriate reference.

I just issued another invitation to Hopkins that I expect to be ignored or rejected. TRON:Legacy will open in the Big City, and I plan to see it at least twice or three times, in one day or over the course of two consecutive days, just to be sure I didn't miss anything. I am circling the geek wagons, meaning that the next person to receive this invitation is none other than the hapless Wayne, my escort to Weird Al back in the summer. I just think this is something you should experience with your Geek Clique...'cause this is some serious Geek turf here.

When the original TRON came out, I was thirteen and totally uninterested in computers. I never in my wildest imagination expected to end up in a field dominated by electronic information, and I certainly never thought I'd have to learn a programming language. Can you tell my crystal ball was a little screwed up? I had yet to cross the threshold of our high school, too, where I ran smack into Hopkins again for the first time since Kindergarten, and began learning, as a means of being able to communicate with him, about computers. That eventually led to the brief period during which I was a minor player in the White Hat hacking culture at SFU, and brought me alongside to full-on geek cred.

Now, with TRON:Legacy about to launch, my life revolves around computers. I'm immersed in the technology, straddling the consumer techs but not dropping off into hardcore programming languages (hello, Hopkins, O God of Linux). I can spit game, but I know when to quit, too. I'm not in that league, but I run a close enough parallel to really REALLY want to see this movie.

Unlike the concert, though, I WILL go to this by myself if I must. I just don't want to. I'm willing to modify my plans for viewing location just to be among my tribe to see it. Anyway, no, it's still not a date, dude...but jeebus, won't you think about it this time???

Friday, November 12, 2010

Music to (Your) Ears

I have what can be best described as eclectic taste in music. My father is an operamane, so I grew up with all the great high operas blaring through the house at night on a regular basis. He also sang in the light opera company at Big Municipal U. during his three years there, so he was also a huge Gilbert and Sullivan freak, hence the topic of my undergraduate thesis at SFU on W.S. Gilbert and my general lack of shock when Topsy-Turvy came out, revealing that Sir Arthur Sullivan (composer of "Onward, Christian Soldiers", for which Queen Victoria knighted him) was morally bankrupt. The opera thing helped a lot during quick recall tournaments, most notably one of our television appearances when we happened to catch an opera-based speed round.

Our nanny/babysitter introduced me to funk, particularly Soul Train, which we watched religiously every Saturday along with American Bandstand, followed later that night by the cultural portion of the evening: Lawrence Welk. As I got older, the brother of one of my English teachers introduced me to Blondie and Pat Benatar. In high school, there were the New Wave bands, and finally, Goth music like Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure. If you were to check my iPod playlists, you'd find a little of everything- including the Ohio State University marching band playing their arrangement of "Malaguena Salerosa", later co-opted, significantly improved, and made legendary by The Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps.

I can, will, and do listen to almost anything. There are even three or four country songs on Ye Olde MP3 player...but no house music. Nope, not a fan.

Hopkins and I have a lot in common, but musical taste is not one of those things, apart from a healthily geeky obsession with Weird Al. Some of the stuff he listens to is a little hard to take...there was the entire Pink Floyd era when I was seriously worried about him, and in retrospect, it probably bears some relationship to what I was told today. He's taken up what I consider a pretty disconcerting immersion in house music, particularly ambient trance. Why, God, WHY? Trance is something I outgrew as I moved out of a major depression in my early thirties, and now I can't stand it. Then this morning, during a casual conversation with a colleague, I found out why this aberration has occurred: gaming.

WELL, DUH. I am now officially, utterly out of gaming with a vengeance and I am feeling just mortally stupid. It's nothing to do with taste, it's everything to do with greater gaming acumen. The rhythm of trance is exceptionally well-suited (so I was told) to gaming, particularly multiple-user online games. Since this is where he feels most at home these days, it follows that he'd be looking for music that best enhances his gaming skills.

So, yeah, like looking for the perfect kick-a$$ exercise music or Music to Type By (my typing teacher favored John Philip Sousa and Russian marches), gamers are up to the same thing. Maybe he's not as far gone as I thought, although next time the iPod shuffles up "Learning to Fly", I'll have a slightly different take on it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Element of Surprise

In response to my blog about being alone for Thanksgiving, I've gotten a handful of invitations to spend the holiday proper with various folks in my circle of acquaintance.

One of those involved materializing somewhere that might send someone a) into convulsions and/or b) running into the night.

I don't like sneaking up on people. This would be an epic blindside of the first water and very nearly intriguing enough to consider...and if the deadly silence stretches out any further, I may just do it out of spite.

Ah, spite. Spite can be a great motivator in my life where certain people are concerned. I'm annoyed enough right now that my usual safeguards are easily circumvented, but the downside is that throughout my life, I've endured the stress of smiling across the holiday table when I'd just as soon run screaming from the room myself. Why borrow trouble?

The temptation to engage the opponent is strong, but my cowardice and unwillingness to be put, or to put someone else, on the spot is stronger. In the end, I am avoiding two friends to preserve the solitude of one of them; they're siblings, you see, and I cannot go and remain on neutral ground via reason of invitation. He'll be pissed, period.

Then again, I have to ask: "Do I care? Pissed would be an emotional response. It might be fun to see if he can fight it down."

A little passive-aggressive for my tastes...but I'm getting there faster than I care to admit. Do I dare expose children to the Tour de Sarcasm that will follow? Probably not a good idea. Tempting though it is to engage in geekbaiting (and I will prevail), I'd better just let it go. I have other invitations that won't provoke so much ire, or evoke as much drama.

That gets us past Thanksgiving. By Christmas, I might follow through.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Son of SuperToilet

In the sweeping need to "Go Green", as it were, the college decided in its august wisdom to install energy-saving lights and water-saving plumbing fixtures. The lights have been pretty interesting; as one of my colleagues has observed, if one's students are sitting still taking an exam and the instructor is quietly grading papers, et cetera, the lights (which are triggered by motion sensors) may just randomly shut off mid-test. Imagine what that's like if you're in a night class? This is what's politely referred to as "The Law of Unintended Consequences".

One of the other things no one took into account when Honeywell (the contractor and arbiter of this sea change) pitched all of this was that the toilets, which have an automatic flush feature, will flush repeatedly of their own accord while one is using them. That's pretty disconcerting, let me tell you, because it doesn't take more than a twitch of the nose to trigger a flush. One of the two toilets in the ladies' faculty/staff bathroom in my building is so hair trigger that nobody wants to use it...and it flushes about every ten seconds. How is that saving water? Besides, it feels like a violation of some kind every time it happens.

The other downside to this little innovation is that before we were relocated for our building's renovation, we were given new water-saving toilets, but ones without the automatic flush mechanism. Because every other bathroom on campus has the RoboToilets, and we didn't, people would frequently fail to flush- simply because they were conditioned that it wasn't necessary anymore. Along with photocopier repair, IT troubleshooting, and psychological counseling of workstudy students, toilet maintenance was something for which library school left me sadly unprepared...

Oh, so when we move back to our building post-renovation, we will have, along with expanded bathrooms, our very own RoboToilets. Having grown weary of what she terms an "unwanted sitzbath", my supervisor has figured out a simple dodge (if only I could remember it!): putting a piece of toilet paper over the sensor. Necessity is truly the mother of invention, after all...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Home (Alone) For The Holidays

I never realized that I'd come to appreciate celebrating holidays on the actual date like normal people.

When I was in high school, one of my erstwhile beaux had a brother whose job forced him to work on Thanksgiving...so the family modified their celebrations around his schedule. I found it a bit weird, but that year, I went to both of their family Thanksgiving dinners AND ours...and I was pretty turkeyed out by the time it was all said and done. The point of the holiday is to get together with your family, so I guess whether you can actually meet on the appointed Thursday isn't relevant in the grand scheme of things- just keep in mind that Everything in the Known Universe grinds to a total halt on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It's kind of tough to be single and living alone on the "family holidays", when your family isn't prepared to celebrate them the day of. My sister has a really crappy job schedule that, ever since she's worked there, has pretty well precluded our having a normal family holiday- oh, and did I mention that it's a little depressing that her in-laws live in Denver, and my brother-in-law is a stickler for observing the accurate "Married People Family Holiday Trade-off"? While it sucked that there was a blizzard in Denver that shut down the airport a couple of years ago, I'll be honest and admit that I was relieved that the cancelled flights resulted in their presence at our family table for Christmas.

However, for numerous consecutive Thanksgivings and Christmases now, I've rolled around my house in Lake Redneckville by myself because my folks were waiting for my sister so we could have the 'whole family' for the traditional celebrations. I was mortified when one of my friends from work realized that I was alone for the actual holidays and invited me to a 'lonely people holiday thing' at his church...and I was also really embarrassed by the idea of going to Cracker Barrel for Thanksgiving because it would've been clear at my table for one that I had nowhere else to go- so I stayed home, watched DVDs, and waited for my cue to head to Smalltownland to cook on the appointed 'more convenient' day.

This is when being independent and careerist scares the hell out of me. No husband, no children, aging parents, and a sister who informed me on the day she married that she 'had a family of her own now'...and it really, truly frightens me. I love my pets, but social conditioning kind of inculcates the idea that one is supposed to spend the holidays with one's family.

I remember the Easter following my sister's near-fatal car accident, when I was trapped at SFU by our parents' nursing of her and my car-lessness. Having burned all my contacts the previous semester getting home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I turned to a distant cousin who happened to be going back to my mother's home county. I felt like a fool when I telephoned my aunt to ask if it was okay for me to come to their house for Easter. Even though I know that I could probably pack up and go to my mother's people, that lone Easter was enough to convince me that I didn't want to impose myself on them for another holiday ever again.

It's silly. I know it is. I'm just dreading it, that's all- in a couple of weeks, when I have nowhere to be. I guess I'd better lay in a few good DVDs in advance, so I'll have something to do until it's time to drive over and start cooking, two days after the fact.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bully for You

The child of a friend was recently targeted by a bully at school. Based on her mother's description of the incident, it was jealousy over a boy, and possibly because the bully's behavior is gradually isolating her from her former friends- other kids' parents are forbidding them from social contact with her as her nasty behavior escalates. The problem seems to have resolved itself after a trying several days, when the victim finally confronted her tormentor. Let's hope it stays that way, and that the bully realizes what she's doing to herself before it's too late.

Ah, it brings back the bad old days. How well I remember, and as bullying expert Jodee Blanco writes, 'a bully never remembers, but the victim never forgets'. My bully has been a teacher back home for a number of years now, and yes, I have a long memory. Hopkins' bully is a successful attorney in another state, the perfect outlet for her vicious personality and intelligence.

My bully's M.O. was pretty simple: she was overweight, but I was more overweight than she. In addition, I was nerdy in an era before it was considered acceptable or cool, and my upbringing had been strangely sheltered- so to deflect attention from her own weight problem, she singled me out for ridicule by her clique. One of the boys in the group was goaded into asking me, in seventh grade, if I was a lesbian because I didn't go steady with anybody...and even though I was reputedly brainy, I had to go home and ask my parents what that meant. We didn't discuss such things at our house, you see, and so it was a good twenty-four hours before I could angrily confront Eric and tell him that no, I like boys.

The same year, a different boy from the same cadre gave me his spare football jersey to wear on the eve of a big game, which in junior high is a HUGE deal.

The next day, he quietly cornered me after everyone else had gone outside for gym to ask for it back. He was polite and apologetic, and even explained that the Queen Bee had told him I was so uncool that he'd be excommunicated should he allow me to keep the jersey. I took it off, folded it, and forked it over, somehow managing to contain my misery until he left the room. Our homeroom teacher, Mr. Shively, witnessed the whole thing from the doorway...and he let me cut gym that day so I could recover before anyone saw me.

These are things I wish I could forget- and it didn't stop when we moved up to high school- but I can tell you exactly when it did: the first semester of my junior year. She laid into me while I was lying in the floor of Washington County High School with a shattered kneecap, and I snapped...in front of her mother, among others. Not that she didn't keep trying after that; it just didn't work anymore. During our senior year, as she was cranking up for a spoiler, I turned to her and said, "I've been to college, and it's enough to know that you. don't. matter. Get out of my face."

I've seen her twice since we graduated, once at our five year reunion, and also when she asked for my help with a graduate research paper. That's it. We really don't exist in each others' worlds anymore.

As for Hopkins' bully, Nemesis, I dedicated an earlier blog to her antics- if you missed it the first time, it's Frenemies. She and I attended SFU together, where she avenged herself spectacularly upon me for drawing her off her intended victim. I haven't seen her since college...although I might at their twenty-fifth reunion next year. God, I hope not; she'll either show up to gloat or decide it's beneath her, if I don't miss my guess. Honestly, I could care less. I witnessed her nosedive from grace in college, and with it, her fangs being drawn out.

If you think that bullies "grow out of it", guess again, too. I co-presented this past summer on adult workplace bullying, also known as "mobbing", at a national conference. Bullies don't grow out of it, they just change context- and although the presentation track, and our presentation in particular, were blasted by an ultra right-wing group as whiny and immature (i.e., bullying doesn't exist among adults, just spinelessness, so pull up your big girl panties and deal with it)- I assure you, it does exist. A bully will seek out victims and an opportune forum; unfortunately, they also tend to float into management positions where their behavior is rewarded.

There've been those who've tried to bully me in adulthood. It meets with...eh...resistance. That's better than what follows if it persists, because then it becomes fury. Too many kids have killed themselves after being bullied lately, so I think it's past time to speak out. It's a real problem, and one that stays with you all your life. I should know.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Life is Real, Life is Earnest

I'm going to keep this one short.

I've mentioned previously that I work with a camp for children affected by HIV/AIDS. Not all of them are HIV+, but some are. When you are involved with a camp for children with medical issues, you have to be emotionally prepared for the fact that not all of them will reach their majority.

One of the girls I've known since she was very small died on Sunday. I received word today. She was fourteen. She was a freshman in high school. She will never go to a prom. She will never get married. She will never have children. All of those things are denied to her. She was still a child.

Tell the people that you care about that you love them, because the day will come when you can't. Show them that you care while you still have time. Life is a gift, and longevity is a goal...but it's not a guarantee.

Monday, November 1, 2010

This is Why I'm _Airedale_Girl...

This morning, I was drawn to my kitchen by a robocall from one of our senatorial candidates from Kentucky- yes, the one whose campaign adherents stomped the young woman from MoveOn.org on the head- and while I was there, I checked my iPhone, because it was hooked up to the charger.

We have this lousy voice-recognition software at work that translates voicemail into text, which then posts in our e-mail. It reads a lot like badly-dubbed foreign language films look: that is to say, it's gibberish for the most part. I did recognize that my caller was a volunteer with the local animal welfare group, and that she was trying to convey the presence of an Airedale Terrier at the county animal shelter. I immediately pulled the shelter's number up on my phone and called.

Misty, the shelter secretary, has known me for about four years. She recognizes my voice, because we have, shall we say, an "Airedale overpopulation problem" in this county. She told me yes, they had a young male Airedale with a long tail, picked up on Halloween by the assistant animal control officer. I said I'd hurry, get ready for work, and come on out to verify him before making a rescue commitment.

I got there, poked my head in, and Misty said, "He's outside in the kennel on the left side." (I told you she knows me. I'm out there a LOT.)

I rounded the corner and my heart sank. Halfway down the kennels was a young male purebred Airedale with a natural (undocked) tail and a really bad haircut. I walked up and put my hand to the chain link fencing- he bounded forward, wagging his tail, and licked my fingers...and I was angry. People do this all the time around here- turn a dog loose and que sera, sera, especially in that area of the county. I have a pretty good idea because of where he was picked up, which of my egregious backyard breeders is responsible for his presence...and although I'm sorely tempted to go wring his neck, I can't.

Several phone calls and an adoption contract later, if the owner does not materialize to claim this Aireboy by Saturday, he will be the custody of my group, Airedale Terrier Rescue and Adoption, Inc.

Every day, I am thankful that our breed is not terribly popular, like Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, or Bassets. I have friends who rescue those breeds and while our intake is steady, theirs is vast. I have seen things in rescue that I hoped never to witness firsthand. I have rejoiced at the closure of two puppy mills near me that were cranking out Airedales hand-over-fist, but then I get e-mails like the one that dropped last night: a woman in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky, wanting a young, unspayed Airedale bitch.

My response was simple: my group neuters all of its Airedales. If you are interested in breeding (God help us!) Airedale Terriers, please contact the Airedale Terrier Club of America for an appropriate referral to a show breeder. There's no money in Airedales, especially not in this part of the country, but try convincing some people of that- much as I love these dogs, we don't NEED another breeder in Kentucky. The fact that I have taken in as many as I have, in a limited section of Kentucky in the last four years, is concrete proof that we don't.

So I'll keep rescuing Airedales and helping out the other groups as I can, while holding out a vain hope that someday, people will understand that dogs are not livestock. They are feeling, sentient beings who need love and care, not a cash crop for sale to the person with the fattest wallet.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The "F Word"

No, it's not what you're thinking. I'm talking about the other one: FAT.

After a vicious, bigoted blog post on Marie Claire's website by one of their freelancers, Maura Kelly, I was so angry that it was as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of my world. Not only had I recommended that my library subscribe to Marie Claire as a casual reading title (because they crank out at least one or two legitimate journalistic articles per month), I'd been mildly gratified a few months ago when they began publishing a regular column about trying to be stylish when you're a plus-size...and then they turned around and published that trash.

Maura Kelly would've been horsewhipped through the streets had her screed been about people of color or those with developmental differences- so why are she and her editors so seemingly shocked at the visceral response to her little jeremiad about people of size?

The irony is that the day this hit the media, before it became a widespread subject of discussion, I'd had a long talk with a colleague about the American obsession with looks. What makes it interesting is that she's from Germany, and her perspective is very different. She marvels at how much emphasis we place on appearance versus substance, and how intellect is devalued in American culture. We talked about old ladies in bikinis on the beaches of Europe, when a girl who wears a size 9 slaps a t-shirt on over her swimsuit in the U.S. to "hide her 'fat rolls'". We wondered why, in the Land of Plenty, self-denial and self-punishment are considered noble...and then Ms. Kelly's little ode to sizeism hit the ether.

I can remember going to New York for a training seminar for a very expensive, grant-funded database several years ago and being mortified when the woman assigned to sit next to me on the flight back to Cincinnati demanded to be seated elsewhere. At the time, I was much smaller than I am now- and I overheard her telling the flight attendant that fat people are disgusting and smelly, and she would vomit if they made her sit next to me. I'd just come from a boutique hotel where my fat, smelly self was staying on the same floor as Gwyneth Paltrow, who never batted an eyelash when I rode the elevator with her a few times- yet some girl in her twenties, which I also was at the time, was too delicate and refined to be trapped next to me on an airplane. People like Maura Kelly exist, and in their zeal to "help" the fat among us realize our hideousness, they aren't subtle about it. In fact, they have the manners of a rabid ferret on crack. Maybe she was afraid I'd sit on her or something. I don't know. I don't care. What I do know is that her mind was as narrow as her ass.

Not long ago, a well-dressed man and his son passed me in Target and I overheard the father make a seriously nasty remark about me. Being a career academic, I'm never far from my business card case, so I whipped one out, walked over, and handed it to him. Clearly printed, immediately below my name, is a single word: "Professor". Despite my lowliness on the Great Chain of Being according to him, I refused to accept it. See, not only am I disgusting and smelly due to my size, I'm also stupid...according to stereotype, that is. Yeah, they made me a full professor because I'm a moron. I just thought I'd share that with this gentleman, right in front of his son (who, by the way, was overweight).

Then there's the double standard: why is it that people aren't offended when a fat male character has a thin, hot girlfriend or wife on TV or in the movies? Oh, wait. Men can be fat...women can't, without censure. I remember bringing this point up to one of my boyfriends in college when he made issue of my weight mid-breakup speech, since I'd just lost eighty pounds on a liquid-fasting diet. I told him he was extremely fat, too, so why was MY weight the issue? He shrugged and said, "I don't know. Guys can be fat; that's just the way it is." When he generously offered that I'd made a good start (EIGHTY POUNDS), I, as my mother is wont to say, "slapped him so hard that his teeth rattled". A couple of years later, when he'd ballooned to almost four hundred pounds, and the girl for whom he'd left me dumped him for someone else, I had no sympathy when he told me she'd made an issue of his weight gain. Hmmm.

Once, when giving a guest lecture to a communications class about "passing" (passing for white), I wrote the following words on the whiteboard before I began: 'twentysomething', 'white', 'librarian', and 'fat'. I asked the class, up front, which of them wasn't true, taking a show of hands for each word. When I got to 'fat', they cringed, and I said, "Oh, come on, guys, it's the other 'F word'- it's only bad if you give it that context!" Of the four words, the one that wasn't true of me was 'white'- my paternal grandmother was Cherokee, although I am very pale-complected and have blue eyes. I've never forgotten how they squirmed, though, when I reached the word fat. Most of them were conditioned to think of it as impolite, if not outright rude (this is, after all, the South). I explained that I'd rather be called fat than obese, a word that conveys an unpleasant, almost greasy texture.

Kelly's excuse, that she has issues with fat people because she's a recovering anorexic, doesn't cut ice with me- particularly because my sister was anorexic as a young adult, as were several of my friends in high school and college. If she has that much hatred in her system, she needs a shrink. Period.

Most of my adult life, I've heard it said that discrimination against fat people is the "last safe prejudice"...maybe it's not as safe as it used to be...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lawn Art

The advent of William Shatner's new sitcom, "S*** My Dad Says" has brought forth a flurry of remarks from my friends that "OMG, that guy sounds just like your dad AND the character is a crusty old doctor!" Yes, this is the legacy of Dr. AiredaleParent: otherwise known throughout the South as "Open mouth, insert foot," or "Hoof-in-mouth disease". All of our friends bore witness to it at some point; Little Sister and I perfected a certain mortified vanishing technique for whenever Daddy's mouth got the better of him. The end result is that I don't put up with it from any other doctor, and have, on a couple of notable occasions, handed an eminent physician his head on a silver platter. I ain't skeert.

Last night, I was talking with one of the other coordinators from my Airedale Terrier rescue group, and the subject of the concrete Airedales he's been selling as a fundraiser came up. This brought to mind my father's strong aversion to lawn ornaments; in fact, Dad just has a strong aversion to lawns, period, which I think stems from his having mowed a lot of grass with one of those old manual push-mowers as a teenager.

There have been numerous incidents involving a jeremiad by Dad about lawn ornaments, particularly of the plastic or concrete varieties. His hatred of pink plastic lawn flamingos led to his late medical partner planting a couple in our front yard during a blizzard...in order to pull that off, he had to con a relative who owned the local dime store into digging around in the store's attic in the dead of winter. My father retaliated with something George hated: ball-shaped blue glass Christmas ornaments, strewn upon a prized blue spruce in their front yard. Although George passed away in March, 2000, I think the flamingos are still somewhere in the garage at Chez Airedaleparent, and I was an adult before I figured out the coarse joke behind the Christmas ornaments.

Another time, he went off about those concrete pillars that support mirrored glass "gazing balls", while visiting my godmother's parents. Mom had noticed something on the way in that Dad had obviously missed: the Oliphants had that very lawn ornament in the center of their front yard. She tried in vain for a couple of minutes to derail my father from the topic, without success. My godfather, who is a cousin of Dad's, later communicated that Dad was no longer welcome at his in-laws' house. Nobody except Daddy wondered why.

Flash forward to the era when I was at State Flagship U., about ten miles up the road from Carpenter's Dish Barn, a major source of concrete lawn ornamentation in the Great Bluegrass State. Following a visit to me at school, Dad, who'd noticed Carpenter's wide array of objets d'concrete, lit into the general hideousness of concrete lawn geese in front of my aunt. Again, Mom and I were in possession of a crucial piece of knowledge that Dad lacked: my aunt had two life-size concrete geese flanking the garage door at their house, for which she had made (Dad was particularly scathing on this point) seasonally-appropriate outfits. As usual, he ignored our attempts to draw him off the subject.

My step-cousin went to SFU, too, so my aunt knew about Carpenter's. On the way out the door that night, she pressed $40 into my hand and hissed, "I want you to get your daddy his very own concrete goose the next time you're on the way home from school!" I dutifully drove out and had two men from the concrete yard help heft the bloody thing into my trunk; concrete geese are quite dense and therefore also very heavy. I hauled the goose a hundred miles, and with my sister's help, transferred it to a wheelbarrow and from there, onto the center of the patio wall in our back yard. The dinner table sits next to a large window, and from Dad's place, the goose was carefully situated in his direct line-of-sight.

During dinner that night, Dad turned to his left to speak to me, and spotted the dark silhouette on the wall. "What the HELL is that?" he screeched, rising to flip on the patio light. He stood for a second, staring in horror at the enormous grey waterfowl perched on the wall; he turned and demanded, "WHY is there a $#@&&!* concrete goose on my patio?"

I didn't even look up when my mother said, "It's a gift from your sister-in-law. She has two just like it at the farm."

My father turned off the porch light and returned to the table. I thought I'd find a small pile of rubble out there the next day, but the goose remained miraculously intact. I returned to SFU, duly reported to my aunt that I'd given Dad the bird...and expected to hear from my mother any day that he'd heaved it off the cliff behind the house.

What I failed to mention is that Dad does have a sense of humor and will occasionally admit, by default, that he's screwed up. The next time I came home, not only was the goose still there (it is STILL there, to this day, twenty-three years later), he'd painted it metallic gold. He said if we had to have a tacky concrete lawn ornament, we might as well go all the way- and he has refrained from comment about other peoples' choices in lawn decoration ever since. I guess he's afraid of what might turn up in his yard as a result.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Girl With the Green Hair

Long, long ago, in a lifetime far, far away, I had purple hair...for about fifteen minutes until the band director caught me and made me wash it out before the color set.

In the intervening years, I discovered artificial hairpieces. Most of the ones I have match my natural color, although I had a couple that I wore to work on a regular basis that had blue and purple, respectively, mixed in with my chestnut brown. I've worn electroshock pony-puffs, a clip-on ponytail, crimps, braids, you name it...because I just can't bring myself to torture my hair as much as I used to in high school.

See, back then, product was my friend. Unlike my peers, my mother would not allow me to get a perm. Everything death-defying that my hair did, it did with a quantity of mousse, gel, and freeze spray, aided and abetted by curlers and/or a curling iron. It's a wonder I wasn't bald by the time I was twenty. Although my hair was extremely short on one side, if I left it alone, the center section was chin-length and angled. Usually I curled it and teased it out, but some days when I didn't have time or wasn't feeling the urge to stand in front of the mirror for an hour, I just brushed it out straight and let it hang punkily across my right jawline.

Several weeks ago, I lit upon the idea of having a pair of yarn ponyfalls made to match the school colors so I could wear them to the state marching band championship, which happens to fall during Halloween weekend. When I didn't hear from the crafter who was making them, I panicked a little and ordered a set of regular synthetic-hair ponyfalls in a combination of platinum blonde, lime green, and emerald green...also, technically, the school colors. I hope at least one or the other arrives in time- so if you happen to be at Papa John's Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky during KMEA finals on October 30th, look for the fortyish woman with the long green hair...and stop by to tell me 'hi'.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Last of the {Lukewarm?} Lovers

I have a patent inability to flirt. I am crappy at it, and I always end up feeling like a complete fool.

All kidding aside, I lack the a$$-kissing gene, and I seriously lack the flirtation gene as well. I think it's probably a function of my intellect...I was this preternaturally adult child, conversing with grown-ups in a way that made them supremely uncomfortable. In fact, anytime I see a child character drawn up that way in modern literature, they usually turn out to be little sociopaths...hmm... At any rate, when I was two, I could order from a menu on my own, but flash forward to impending adolescence and- with hormones came a dearth of aptitude, in my case.

It's truly hypocritical of me to snark too much about Hopkins' ineptitude in this area, because I think the combined awkwardness of the pair of us was enough to keep everyone in our high school in apoplectic giggling fits for three years. (I am sitting here with a dull flush creeping up my neck as I type. Yes, it's that embarrassing to even think about it.) I've written before that I pulled a full-on Carol Burnett and went headfirst down the stairs at my parents' house the last time I saw him...and I'm allegedly poised under normal circumstances. Allegedly.

This is so intensely awful that I can't watch it aped theatrically. I hate Laura's abjection in The Glass Menagerie because I've been there...watching Wesley Wyndham-Pryce suffer quietly on Angel cut a little close. Anytime the nerdy character tries to flirt, well, as in art, so in life. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to kind of fall into step with someone, but otherwise- I make myself look like a total jackass.

So yeah, I guess that's one of the overarching reasons that I end up lodged squarely in the role of 'Girl Friday'...because I can't do 'smoldering temptress' without going up in flames.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Letter and the Spirit

Since Hopkins is lately grown silent (as he is wont to do), I generally write to him once a week and wait to see if anything I've written piques his interest enough for him to reply. Often as not, well, zero response, and it doesn't surprise me. Most of what I write to him is in regard to technological things, sometimes verging over into my physics hobby, although I probably sound like a raging moron then- he's actually a brilliant physicist, despite having not finished slogging through academe. I try not to get too personal- because trust me, we lived in each other's pockets for almost three years- and I also know, instinctively, that personal is a guarantee that the e-mail goes to trash in under a nanosecond. I'm too old and I've known him too long to pull any punches, though. I write what I want to and don't worry too much about whether or not it offends him- I know, and I know he knows, that there's a subtext to all the thousands of things I don't write, or ask. I'm still sitting here, waiting for him to tell me. I'll be waiting a long, long time, folks. That's just how it was, is, and evermore shall be.

Which brought me to thinking about following the letter of what was said versus continuing in the full spirit of intent.

Where he was concerned, I followed the letter, but not the intent. I did as he asked; I didn't wait. I forced myself to behave as if (even as much as I could not accept that) he was gone for good the moment he left for Johns Hopkins. I've owned the consequences of it since 1986. I did as I was asked, but not as I believed, and it was not a wise decision.

Here are a few observations on various sins of omission:


It's always preferable to undercommit than to make plans with someone, when your intention is to cut them as short as possible- i.e., throwing somebody a bone isn't very nice.


Another example: don't get somebody's hopes up and then vanish when you get cold feet. Don't ask someone to do something and then not give them a means of following up to confirm- just don't ask.

Also, don't make promises that you can't or won't keep. If you honestly can't follow through, that's different, but promising something that you had no plans to do at all is cruel.

Oh, and here's the piece de resistance: guys, don't ask a girl for her number if you never plan to use it. It sends the wrong message. See, she thought you might be interested, when you were, see above, throwing her a bone. It's pretty unkind. Just take my word for it. If you ask for my number, then call me...or spare me the embarrassment of realizing you never meant to.