Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fred the Magnificent

I really don't know if anyone ever bothered to name our high school mascot, which is an enormous winged green British dragon, but I believed that he should be called something pithily ordinary, like Fred. I always thought we had the coolest, baddest mascot in the known universe regardless, being a D&D'er, Tolkien fan, and nerd in general. Good-looking dragons, particularly that specific type, are a little difficult to find. Over the years, whenever I've encountered an especially good objet d'whatever of a British dragon, I've bought it.

That's how I ended up with my very own Fred.

Back in my misspent youth, I worked the admissions table for a quarterly new age and psychic fair in the Big City. There's a lot of crossover with the Ren Faire crowd, including vendors, especially in the colder months when outdoor stuff isn't happening; this typically means that someone will pop up with decent dragons. The year that the original promoter sold the show, at his last event, all of the old vendors who'd fallen away to attrition or whatever came back for one final hurrah. With them came an artist who sells "shoulder dragons" at things like Dragon*Con in Atlanta. If you're enough into the Nerd Herd, you know what that means...if not, well, it's sort of like having Jimmy Choo show up to peddle his wares at the local Macy's, i.e., a little out of that league.

I bought two of the dragons; one was purple and orange and just a pretty color, but Fred was a little more loaded with meaning. They weren't cheap, either- if she hadn't been selling them under her usual Con price, I couldn't have afforded one of them, let alone two. Fred is green with glints of gold braid and glitter, our school colors. My older Airedale, Sister, got hold of the orange dragon when she was a puppy and surreptitiously ate it. Fred, however, survived and has sat in a position of honor atop my living room bookcase for about eight years.

If Fred was laid down, his wire ligatures squished flat from nose to tail, he'd be about a foot long. With his head tilted up and his tail crooked, he's probably eight inches or so, and can be about four inches tall if his neck is bent all the way up. Fred is, however, a piece of jewelry, because he's an enormous ornamental pin. I have a lot of jewelry, but Fred is easily the largest piece I've ever owned. I don't wear him a lot.

When I was a junior in high school, we campaigned a friend of mine for state office in Beta Club. I had a life-sized duck hand puppet that I carried around the room bearing campaign buttons and the plastic leis we were giving away with his name spelled out in florets we'd carefully attached with staples. The best reaction to it the whole week was a German exchange student who walked up and asked, "Vas es 'duck'?" (What is duck?) I explained it was to get attention for our candidate, very common in American politics.

Fred has a similar function. At some point this year, he will officially come out of retirement to serve an actual purpose: to draw attention to my high school's band, for which I am currently the alumni representative to the band boosters. For our first performance yesterday, it was just too hot to wear him, so I opted instead for an expensive artisanal dragon pendant I've had for several years, but Fred will be doing his thing when the weather cools down.

If you'll be in South Central Kentucky doing the band circuit this fall, look for a woman with a large green dragon on her shoulder- it's probably me (and Fred).

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Go Away Kid, Ya Bother Me

I'm preparing my very first band contest as an adult-the last time I did this, I was marching, and it was November 1, 1986, at the state preliminaries in the Big City. I said I'd go, so I will, but I do so feeling a little apprehensive.

My father felt that band was a useless, ridiculous endeavor, and the only reason he let me stay in the band was that he believed it was an "easy A" to add to my grade point average. He held the whole activity in contempt and although I marched from the eighth grade through my senior year, aside from the football games at which he was team doctor, he never saw us perform until the last general competition of my senior year- and that was only because my mother forced him to go.

When I was a freshman, after we were dismissed following halftime, I dared approach him on the sideline to ask about an injury in the first half. He was so nasty to me that the band director, who was a patient and whose aunt was one of Dad's secretaries, came up and gently led me away. The worst part was that no matter the lengths to which I went to hide it, because of that people knew. People now knew, without a doubt, that my father thought I was unworthy of his attention, or even civility. I made up all sorts of reasons why it was my fault, and I never made the mistake of speaking to my father in public again. When word reached my mother, he snapped exasperatedly, "She shouldn't have tried to speak to me. I was working."

My father is a fine physician- I learned to compartmentalize him in this way as a child- but he was not an engaged or affectionate parent until I was in my thirties. I was afraid of him for a number of reasons, and had I not found a fellow-traveler in similar straits, I would've never survived high school.

Something became fairly clear to me last night that brought this back in sharp focus. I realize that there will be several people of my acquaintance floating around today at this competition who will be working. Believe me, I know that, I understand that, and I don't need to have it explained to me in words of one syllable. I wouldn't dare disrupt what amounts to their livelihood, and I have an extremely good memory. Not only do I remember Dad biting my head off, I remember the tightly-wrapped anxiety and focus of our band director on competition days. I'm just not that stupid, folks, although several days ago there was a casual conversation in which a "see ya there" was exchanged...and now it's evolved into a flat, "I'm working."

It stung, but also for another reason. Having straight male friends is tricky because sometimes, you, the female buddy, are going to get shoved onto the periphery while they're in hot romantic pursuit of someone else. It's going to happen, but it's been my experience that the tone of your conversations suddenly change and...well, even if the female in question is not in direct physical evidence for whatever reason, your friend is no longer available to you. He especially evaporates if there's any chance that he might be seen in public with you, thereby "sending the wrong signal" that he's already attached to a woman. You pays your money, you takes your chances, I guess- but I've spent too much of my life being stuffed into a closet like this by friends and boyfriends alike to be comfortable with it.

It probably got to me a little more than it should've because I was tired and it has been a long week. I'm still a little wounded this morning because I take rejection of whatever kind personally. In friendship there should be respect, and I suppose it bothers me more profoundly because I've suffered from that dismissive rejection so often and so long.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Little Help Here?

Many years ago, a single male math professor was hired by the college. Upon his arrival, a cabal formed to get him married off to an acceptable young lady. He was introduced around to the available female employees of the college, and he lit, fortunately, upon a girl in the library with whom he got on like the proverbial house on fire. I was at their silver anniversary party a few years ago...he's still a math professor, and she still works in the library. He comes over to have lunch and play Spades with her every day. They have a daughter and by all accounts, a happy and very companionable marriage.

The bachelors are thin on the ground these days, though. When I was hired, I was about a year away from ending my engagement. I was still stubbornly clinging to the thin shreds of the relationship when 9/11 hit. I'd just endured an emotionally trying tour of the British Isles with my then-fiance' and a group of the community college system's students. As a faculty member, I was thoroughly mortified by his behavior toward me, and within a couple of months, I was simply too exhausted from keeping up appearances to continue.

Over the ensuing years, I've dated a little. I've had a few relationships that lasted a handful of months to years. In the end, however, I'm moderately independent, in addition to being a little too credentialed, overweight, and a bit unusual in my tastes and hobbies. It makes me a bit of a hard sell on dating websites...and I'm just not the kind to get out and meet people. Sure, I can go to band boosters and hang out back home until I'm blue in the face, but I'm just not a people-y type person. It gets a little lonely sometimes.

Maybe it would've all been simpler if the Ad-Hoc Marry-off the Single Faculty Committee had still been operational about the time my engagement collapsed, or maybe not. I'm not entirely sure I want to get married, but I do know that I hate being alone. Is that entirely insane? Sometimes I wonder...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sister Mary Bathtowels Explains It All For You

During my "I'm Going to Throw Myself Off of a Cliff" phase my senior year of high school, I took a wild notion that if I had to live without Hopkins, I'd just hie myself off to the nearest convent. While the band was on the road for the statewide marching contest over Halloween weekend, I improvised a costume using most of the towels in our hotel room...witness the advent of Sister Mary Bathtowels.

Sister Mary Bathtowels sounded like our English Lit teacher and made sarcastic sanctimonious pronouncements from time to time. She popped up at the unlikeliest times, around lunch or during class meetings, or at quick recall tournaments. She was a character I inhabited, much like the four hour period during Homecoming when I channelled Hopkins so effectively that I was awarded the dance ticket prize at lunchtime- with a sincere request from the faculty that I drop character, because I was scaring them.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I fought with my parents over whether or not I could actually enter the convent. Two of my second cousins had flunked out of a Carmelite house in New Mexico when I was child, so they weren't too thrilled with the idea- and besides, I would've made one truly lousy nun. In this, I defer to their better judgement, as they were right and I was going nuts.

I have a picture of the good sister somewhere, although I know that a few of my friends do as well. A copy was supposed to be sent to Hopkins at That Place, for emphasis about how bad things had become in his absence. It probably never got sent, since I was not in charge of that endeavor.

Our sage Poli Sci teacher sat me down for a little Come-to-Jesus about the whole mess after she got wind of it. She arched an accusatory eyebrow at me and deadpanned, "If you go into a convent, child, what happens if he comes back?" Excellent question, crisis averted as I sat there at the corner of her desk letting it sink in. She went on to tell me that she knew it was the most difficult thing I'd ever done, and that being on your own is never easy. She'd known us both, exceedingly well, throughout our high school careers. She also knew I was in full-on nuclear meltdown without him, and did everything in her power to keep me from totally losing it.

Sister Mary Bathtowels offered up a lot of prayer that year, even though she was too young to realize that sometimes the answer you get is at great variance with the one you wanted. She's still too stubborn to accept it with any degree of humility. As I said before, I would've made one significantly lousy nun...

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Sometimes, when I'm restless, I wander. Since I live in an area far removed from most shopping venues, I've got to drive about 75 miles, minimum, to reach decent shopping. I've gone to the town closest to Ft. Knox, also to the city where I went to college at dear old SFU, and down to the small city where both my godparents and Hopkins reside- which has the advantage of being in another time zone, an hour behind where I live, i.e., that's an extra hour of shopping time. It's also all parkway and interstate going down, so a desolate but quick trip on the whole.

After work on Saturday, I thought I might go abroad for a few hours, and chose rather haphazardly to head South. This involves some elaborate planning once I arrive- while I realize that I'm in zero danger of encountering Hopkins in T.J. Maxx, it's adjacent to a corporate bookstore containing a cafe frequented by the local technorati. I usually come in from the north end of the parking lot, sweep past the bookstore, and recon the cars as I head for T.J.'s. If there are no Scion xBs in the lot, I'm pretty well in the clear. If I spot any, there's no chance in Hades I'm going in the bookstore. Yes, Hopkins is the proud owner of a Toyota Crackerbox...

Same thing goes for Target- it's right across the street and I don't know if he's ever in there, but it's not a chance I'm willing to take. A couple of trips ago, there was an xB in the Target parking lot, so I left without running that errand. I stopped at a WalMart on the way back to the town where I live.

This stems from a couple of incidents in the last several months. I have seen him...and I've surprised myself at how fast I could neatly pivot and leave without being spotted.

Childish though it is, I live in terror of bumping into him somewhere, given that the last time we ran into each other by accident, it was a total disaster. I have never blogged about it until now, and I rarely discuss it. I'd given up on him, and I'd become engaged to someone else...he saw me, with that two-carat solitaire plastered to my left hand. Before I could speak, he turned on his heel and walked away...and out of my life, until May 15, 2010.

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you may realize the scope of this event. That was the third time I'd lost him; I wanted to immediately crawl in a hole and die.

It's not that I haven't kept up with him- it's that we had not communicated directly with one another for about eighteen years. I had consciously pushed it down into myself as far as I could, until he sank into the coma...and it all came tearing back through me with an almost primal force. There is a trite expression that it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all- well, the loss of love is one of the most agonizing experiences one can ever have. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

You can imagine that I have no desire to randomly appear, since it all went so hideously wrong that long ago December evening in the Smalltownland Pizza Hut. Largely for that reason, I entertain no real expectation that he will ever consent to see me again, and if that is indeed the case, I have to live with that decision.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Fail First" Prescribing and Why It Does Not Work

Recent news stories have highlighted the practice of "fail first" or "step therapy" required under insurance companies' drug formularies. My father is a general practitioner and formerly an employee of the FDA- one of his particular interests is pharmacology. I've proven an interesting subject in this regard, because I have a lot of weird drug reactions, some of which might stem from a closed head injury when I was about four.

I cannot, for example, take any ephedra-based medications. This is problematic because I have chronic, debilitating environmental allergies. I am allergic to trees, grass, dust, mold...just about anything that might be making the air a little crunchier than normal. I don't respond to most over-the-counter allergy meds other than Benadryl, which everyone knows has the unfortunate side effect of sedation. I refused a hit of acid once in college because I can hallucinate quite nicely on something as ordinary as Sudafed.

Dad had an argument on the phone one day with some woman in India who kept telling him that Claritin and Clarinex are the same drug (they're not), because my insurer wanted to keep me on the cheaper, over-the-counter Claritin; believe me, if it worked, I'd take it, but I take the way more expensive Clarinex because it doesn't. Dad finally blew his cool and explained, as he had to me at my request, the chemical differences between the two drugs to the nice Indian lady. I was approved to continue on the more expensive Clarinex. I can just hear him, his anger rising, outlining the organic chemistry involved over the phone. He was still upset when I talked to him.

I also use Nasonex, a nasal steroid, which is, unlike Clarinex which is second-tier and $80 for three months' worth through mail-order, a third-tier drug. It's $120 every three months, if they approve you for it. Dad's still getting a few samples here and there, so I'm not switching back to one of the older inhalers until I'm forced. I can't afford the $120 for Nasonex, you see. I can't do without a nasal steriod, either. My insurance doesn't cover allergy testing and I haven't taken shots since I was about twenty-five- after having them twice a week from the time I was two until I rolled off of my parents' insurance in graduate school.

"Fail first" or "step therapy" is a classic case of insurers trying to dictate the practice of medicine to the people who actually practice it, something my father foreshadowed many years ago when a large HMO used to call during dinner to badger him about joining their network. He refused, his refusals growing louder and more colorful with each call. "Rationed care!" he'd bellow after he hung up, stalking through the house. "The &!*% insurance companies are going to force us into their version of socialized medicine! I didn't go to medical school to be told how to treat my patients by some idiot with a business degree!"

I haven't always gotten along with my father, to say the least. However, he's an outstanding, careful, and conscientious physician. I took those tirades very much to heart, little knowing that I'd be at the center of such battles over what seem to be simple allergy medications. My allergies, however, are so severe that they require very careful medication protocols; to my insurer, though, I'm just costing them too much money.

The point, I guess, is that insurance companies should leave the practice of medicine to medical professionals, and not second-guess their prescribing to the point that patients' health is endangered. I was in respiratory failure for nearly two years, and without Clarinex and Nasonex, I cannot breathe. I think that's sort of an important thing, don't you?

That's All of Tara You'll Ever Get

I once engaged in a pitched battle with the elementary school librarian over whether or not she would permit me to read Gone With the Wind when I was in the eighth grade. Her contention was that it was "inappropriate" because it contained "language" (Rhett's parting line in the movie and book are a little different, but both contain the same expletive). I won that round, which I regretted when I was assigned to her sister's freshman English class the following year.

At any rate, everyone remembers the turnip scene and the "tomorrow is another day" scene. The one that always stuck in my mind was when Scarlett hurls the dirt clod at the former overseer (who is threatening to buy Tara after The War), exclaiming as it hits him: "That's all of Tara you'll ever get!" I could identify with that, because Mom's people struggled to hang onto their property after the War devastated them financially. Scarlett's pathological desire to keep Tara intact isn't particularly shocking if you grew up in the South.

My sister and I are heirs to a thousand acre farm in the western half of the state that has been in our family since it was given to us as a Revolutionary War service grant in the late Eighteenth Century. It has never left the direct line of descent- which passes through no less than Robert E. Lee's great aunt. Our family is old, and venerable in the musty, somewhat stuffy Southern sense. With this farm comes a moral obligation to keep it intact, within the family, but neither my sister nor I have any children.

What in the blue blazes am *I* going to do with a farm?

I've always known, subconsciously, that the day was coming on which I'd have to ask that question. Our youngest uncle occupies the house on our farm, while his farm, which is another thousand acres and one that was purchased in the Nineteenth Century after the finances recovered, is right across the road- "across the road" is a little deceptive, too, since the driveway to the house from the road is nearly a mile long. Luckily, that's going to my two male first cousins, both of whom already actively farm. My mother has offered the opinion that at some point, we should engage one or both of them as our farm managers- or sell the farm to them.

Once, I got a wild hair to drive over (it's two hours away from Smalltownland and almost four from where I currently live) and show the farm to a friend of mine. I'd really had it with his making fun of how I could quote genealogy and explain without really thinking about it how certain families in Smalltownland are related: I wanted to show him what it all really means. I hauled him out in the middle of the driveway, opened my arms wide and said, "As far as the eye can see, all of this is ours. It has been ours since the end of the American Revolution. One day, half of it will be mine."

He still refers to it as my "Lion King" moment.

Just what I'm going to do with it, exactly, is a mystery. All I know is that it's not leaving the family. I saw someone else's legacy sold to satisfy his father's selfishness...and I am damned if I let go of mine without a fight.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Oreo Flambe'

Last night, I happened to go home for a band booster meeting, and lo and behold, there was Greg. Greg, who christened me "The Big One". Greg, who was instigator and/or participant in most of the pranks for which a certain group of us became mildly legendary in the history of our band... Greg, who along with the other three band guys who graduated with him, wept bitter tears as he hugged me the night that they graduated (they were in Hopkins' class)...

Greg is in band boosters. He is a band parent.

I walked up just before the meeting started, folded my arms across my chest, and glared down at him until he looked up- and then did that startled chair-hop for which he's been famous since we were kids.

I'd posted something on Facebook last week about flaming Oreos, because of a specific incident that took place on a trip to Kings' Island outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. One of the women who is now a booster swiped an Oreo out of our room, coated it with hairspray, set it on fire, and then dropped it in the toilet to see how long it took for the flames to go out as it spiraled down.

Greg was walking by me as I told Oreo Girl's son this story, and I caught him by the sleeve. "Not so fast. That's the trip where you and the other boys rappelled down the side of the hotel on a rope of sheets. It was the director's new wife's first trip with us. She nearly had a nervous breakdown, remember? And what about Governor Collins' inauguration? The matched boxer shorts? My best friend still talks about the ones Russ had." (They had little hearts all over them and were printed with a dirty slogan.)

"Or the night that y'all were in our bathtub. It wouldn't drain and your socks were purple because I dyed my hair earlier and the director made me wash it out. I still remember the look on your face when he ripped the shower curtain back and demanded to know what you were doing there. Remember what you said?" I looked at Oreo Girl's son and mimed soaping up: " 'Taking a shower!' "

He slapped me on the back and laughed. Oreo Girl rolled her eyes at her son and told him, "Don't get any ideas!"

I failed to mention that her mother was the velvet hammer of chaperons on these trips- all we had to hear was the familiar tone of her voice echoing through the door of her hotel room as we fruitlessly attempted to sneak past: "Girrr-ls!" It was always followed by the thunder of little feet as we raced to get back to our own room before we were caught. Most of the time we made it.

One of my all-time favorites involved the sweetest girl in the whole band, who is a faculty wife at a prominent SEC school these days. She was the nicest, kindest person you'd ever want to meet, and the fact that she got in on this was pretty exceptional: she had straight waist-length hair, and we decided that we would pool our makeup and fix her up to look like Boy George in the heyday of Culture Club while we were on an overnight trip. Naturally, the band director saw the lights on in our room and...

"You girls, OPEN THAT DOOR! It is after lights out! OPEN THIS DOOR NOW!"

We sent "Boy Georgette" to open the door.

Now, our band director thought that she was a cross between Gidget and The Virgin Mary. The look of utter horror on his face when she let him in was enough to tell us that we had crossed the line. "MY GOD, what have they DONE to you?" is what he actually said.

What we'd done was pile makeup on her otherwise cosmetics-free face and braid toilet paper into her hair- it wasn't as if we'd been taking drugs or anything (FYI, we were not allowed to curse, color our hair, paint our nails, or chew gum while representing the band, let alone do anything more illicit than throw Gummi Bears at each other on the bus). The effect was enough to put him into DTs. He backed out of our hotel room proclaiming, "You WILL get that off of her and you WILL go to sleep! RIGHT. THIS. MINUTE," closing with the ever-ominous, "Don't make me come back here tonight!"

Those were the days. Seriously, the best time of my life, because I had friends, we did stupid stuff, and it got me away from the misery of my everyday existence. Seeing Greg again makes me long for my lack of cynicism and it also let me know that there's still something left of that teenage girl who could muster up a smile, be in on the joke, and be a part of something. She and I have been too long estranged; it's time I invited her to come out and breathe again.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Shoes, OMG, SHOES!

Several years ago, my best friend, two of her friends from North Carolina, and I headed out to Charleston, South Carolina, for Fourth of July weekend. All four of us were expert shoppers, but the problem was that one of the girls was facing a lease penalty for having not driven her compact car enough. She insisted on driving, although we'd been offered my best friend's now-husband's SUV instead (and this was before gas prices went through the roof, too). The four of us, with all of our stuff, wedged into the little car and took off- with some of our things inside, because we couldn't get it all into the trunk. That was going.

One of the girls had just gone through a nasty breakup- the perfect pretext for some no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners shopping, although none of us really needed the excuse. It was pretty inevitable that we'd go home with more than we'd brought.

It was hotter than the hinges as it so often is in Charleston, but this did not deter us. Since I'm a plus-size gal, I didn't figure I'd be buying any clothing because the boutiques just don't run to that, but I thought I might end up with some shoes. I think I bought some jewelry, and a t-shirt for my father's upcoming birthday, but that was about it...but the breakup girl dropped some serious cash on three or four pairs of high-end shoes. In fact, everybody bought shoes except me- that's something I still can't quite explain, either.

This is the worst part: on Sunday morning, we hiked out in search of brunch. Just as we reached the Episcopal church, the breakup girl stopped stock-still and screeched, "I just stepped in something! In my NEW sandals!!!" The sandals had cost a mint, and now she was holding up the offending footwear like a dead rat. "WHAT IS IT???" she squealed, waving the hapless shoe. I calmly walked over, grasped her firmly by the arm, and told her to stop it. "You don't want to get that on yourself," I explained, noting the hay clumped between the heel and sole, "because that's a horse apple."

She stared at me blankly for a couple of seconds before it sank in. She listed dangerously to one side before we dragged her up onto the portico of the church, out of the heat. My best friend produced a packet of baby wipes and began cleaning the shoe. Its owner, however, still looked like she might pass out- and then it just got to her. She threw up. So, summing up: it's a hundred degrees, humid, we've got Mr. Ed's leavings on a pricey shoe, and someone just barfed on the steps of a well-known Colonial-era church...what a great way to end your vacation in the Sunny South!

We were pretty grim on the way back home, with even more stuff crammed into the interior because of the shopping trophies...accompanied by a quiet, constant recitative of, "Horse sandals...hundred and fifty dollars...HORSE APPLE..."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Daddy Brought the Shotgun

A wedding back home brought back a few memories, and highlighted something about which my mother was actually wrong. In her family, there've been a few shotgun weddings followed within seven or eight months by the birth of a new cousin- and both her nephew and great-nephew are still very much married to the mothers of those children. However, my mother used to insist, when the odd peer would march off to the altar with Daddy in hot pursuit, that marriages contracted under those circumstances would never last.

I can name three off the top of my head that have, for more than twenty years each. I would've killed all three husbands as soon as looked at them in high school, but they've all grown up to be decent men and good fathers. I don't think that they ever had it easy, but one thing they did have to do was grow up quickly and do it together. They've defied the odds and they're still married, unlike many of our peers who married strictly by choice and on a non-imperative schedule.

...and they have good kids. Nice kids. Decent, well-behaved kids.

I just thought it was interesting, anecdotally, anyway. And, well, Mom was wrong...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Self-Rescuing Princess: Rebooted

I'm also not entirely sure what it is, a bad planetary alignment (if you believe in that kind of thing), the changing seasons, the overly hot weather- whatever the cause, breakups are making the rounds at the moment. I'm in pretty good company. Overall, yes, I'm upset. My stress is through the roof. I'm just at a point in my life that if it happens, it happens, if it doesn't- well, I don't think anyone relishes being alone, but I'll probably survive.

One of the reasons I have the education that I do is because my father firmly believed that I'd never find anyone to marry. When my sister got married a few years ago, he actually informed a tableful of his medical school classmates at the reception that he'd "never have to go through this again", i.e., I would never marry, absolving him of participation in another wedding. I'd be a liar if I said I hadn't entertained the notion out of pure spite more than once...but I'm not reckless enough to follow through on it. Even with the current divorce statistics, I'm not of the school that believes in 'starter marriages' or calling it quits over trivial matters, ergo I would never marry anyone without thoroughly considering the consequences.

So I'm sitting here in my living room with an Airedale in my lap and another at my feet, without a clue about what the future holds for me romantically, if anything (I'm also simply too tired to worry about it). At any rate, anybody who's not speaking up for himself had better do it presently, because we're just not getting any was pointed out on the occasion of my most recent birthday. Carpe diem, because tempus fugit more quickly than we seem to register.

Thanks for the Mammaries

I was sitting in Biscuitville (a breakfast restaurant that hasn't yet made inroads in the great Bluegrass State) in Furniture City, North Carolina, with my best friend and another friend of ours when a story came through on the TV news about a nursing mother being asked by a bailiff to leave a courtroom in Arkansas for breastfeeding in public (this is quite legal in Arkansas).

This sparked a conversation on the subject of breastfeeding, public or otherwise. My point, as always, is, well, that's why female mammals have breasts- they're not strictly ornamental (sorry, guys). The biological function is to provide sustenance for the young of the species- so, why do we have such a huge hangup about it?

Now, I'm from the South; I'm also old enough to think that there is a certain etiquette to breastfeeding in public, which was another aspect of the conversation. However, I don't think it's appropriate for anyone to march up to a mother who is in the process of feeding her infant and start throwing a fit at her. This will call far more attention to it, especially if the mother was being discreet, and also upset the baby. If you've never been around a hungry, angry baby- well, you just haven't been to WalMart on Saturday, have you? Yelling in the immediate vicinity of a baby in said state is a BAD IDEA and will lead to high-pitched, sustained screaming and a mass of dirty looks from everyone within a three block radius.

We set a precedent in Kentucky just a few years ago when two cases of a similar nature popped up within a very short period of time. One was in a fast-food place, and the other was in a moderately-priced sit-down restaurant; in both cases, the mothers had covered themselves and the babies with blankets, and the respective managers asked them to cease, move to the bathroom, or leave. I'm not a mother, but the idea of feeding my child where other people have relieved themselves is repugnant, plus, here again, breastfeeding in public is NOT against the law. Lawsuits were filed. The La Leche League got involved. Public apologies were issued. Then it all died down and will probably remain largely ignored until it happens again...

As someone who has to wear a bra the engineering of which is slightly less complicated than the Large Hadron Supercollider, I can tell you that breasts were not evolutionarily intended as fun for those of us who have to haul them around on a daily basis. Let's not lose our religion over their true purpose, okay?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Fear Factor

Ever since junior high, when I began to get a feel for the ground rules of teenage social mores, I have had a single, overriding fear in life: of being humiliated for allowing myself to feel anything.

As an illustration, consider the disastrous dance I attended in seventh grade, where the well-intentioned man who would be my math and reading teacher the following year basically grabbed a microphone and badgered guys to dance with me- it was mortifying, being bid out to the popular boys on the football team as what most people perceived as a joke. Looking back, it was something like the bucket-of-blood scene out of "Carrie"...I'm not a horror movie buff, but I identified with that moment a little too closely. Because I had been held up for similar ridicule, I understood how she felt- I just didn't have a way of expressing it. I guess it's a good thing for everybody that I don't have the power of pyrokinesis, eh? The following year, when a boy did actually like me and ask me to dance of his own volition, the same teacher came out on the dance floor and conversed with us through a couple of furtive attempts at slow dances. Naturally, it scared the boy away.

It set a tone that persists even today, so long after the fact. Funny what we imprint on that stays with us all our lives, because I'd rather die than be embarrassed like that again.

What I mean is this: I learned way back then is that it's considered comical for a "brainy girl", especially one who has a weight problem like mine, to be interested in anyone. It doesn't matter if that person is another "brainy" kid, a star athlete, another band nerd, or a simple country guy whose main interest is repairing tractors, it's funny for some reason- to everyone, that is, but me. When I figured it out, I also registered that I was expected to remain emotionally blank in all aspects of my life, a perfect little grade-making robot who wasn't supposed to feel anything.

I channelled it all into band and dance, because I had no other outlets; overstepping those boundaries would result in censure. I would be thought a fool, because everyone knows that fat, smart girls have no feelings...or none about which anyone wants to know.

So here I am, revisiting that dark territory, having never completely escaped its snares. I'm still waiting for the moment in which I might be allowed to feel something without a devastating backwash of burning humiliation, but I may be dead of old age long before it arrives.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fool Me Once

There is nothing worse than destroyed trust, unless, perhaps, it's the annihilation of hope; a combination of the two is a complete sucker punch. I'd like to know the motive, but at the same time, it really doesn't matter. In light of the past few days, maybe it's karmic justice for the collapse of my latest relationship...

Back in the realm of simple concepts, how about this one: don't lie to me. I am a fundamentally and sometimes brutally honest person, particularly with myself. I have very few illusions about anything- but nothing permanently destroys my opinion of somebody faster than catching them in an untruth. This also wasn't just a little white lie, it was a fulminatingly evil story cut from whole cloth.

I've spent my life trying to help people. I despise being the 'bad guy', especially when it's unavoidable. Being gulled, and deliberately so, over something that matters so much to me is way beyond my limit. From this point forward, nothing that is said to me by this individual will be considered credible without outside verification.

Whatever the logic, the damage is done. Next time, fair warning: I come out with my sword drawn.

Monday, August 2, 2010

No Drama. No Kidding.

I think this captures my frustration level over the band fundraising issues back home right now. I just got off the phone with the assistant director, who is someone I've known all my life. I don't know where this devolved, but when I get an e-mail from somebody else I know telling me that they've heard that the fundraising needs have been exaggerated- I can quote the figures. Furthermore, I'm not impressed and/or scared. I don't know how much is in the booster account, and I don't care, as long as that, combined with the alumni push, makes up enough cash to field what is shaping up as a hugely innovative show this year.

Even if there's an overage, let's just say that I already know about the concert attire thing and that's probably going to be our next project. We need to get the competition show fielded and traveling first. If you have an ulterior motive or an overwhelming taste for drama, an expert drama queen died in 1996 and left me his mantle. He taught me how to cut through this back in the day and I owe it to him, to everyone else with whom we marched, and to the current crop of bandies to bring it. Don't make me beat you with my sparkly rifle; it belonged to Stacy and I still have it.

I'm normally about as fierce as a bunny slipper, but there are a few things about which I advise you to not get in my way:
1. My family, especially my sister
2. Hopkins
3. animal rescue

There is no need to overcomplicate is an ultra-simple concept. The band needs money, we're going to raise money and give it to, yes, you guessed it, the band. We are encouraging that money be sent to the high school, checks memoed to the band account. It doesn't have to pass through anybody else's hands that way. If you could march and play an instrument at the same time, you are capable of working through this logic. You should also be aware in case you have forgotten it that it's ONE BAND. ONE PURPOSE. Everything else is immaterial. If you've lost that focus, you need to get it back. Now.

I've Seen it All in a Small Town

My section leader just coughed up almost $200 for timpani heads for our marching band at my request. Now, there were days I could've strangled him to death on sight when we were in high school, but the most gut-wrenching thing I remember is when his senior-year girlfriend wanted him to quit band. We had to be squirrelly as hell about it; the director wrote him into the show anyway. We invited him to come watch band camp, just up the street from his house. It was the first football game that finally broke him: I remember him following us down to the school after halftime, and his going into a closed-door conversation with the director. When he emerged, he was One Of Us; we closed rank and it was never mentioned again.

I've known him since we were in diapers. He pulled my hair EVERY day in kindergarten to the point that we had to sit up front in story circle on either side of the teacher, Miss Margie. I reminded him of that the night that he graduated. There are some fairly hair-raising stories I could tell about him, but I'll refrain. What I will say is that he is the finest musician to ever come out of our high school, and I am totally impressed with his willingness to give back to the program. Mind you, I expect no less.

Which brings me to the philosophical thought du jour: there's nothing wrong with where we're from- yes, it's a small town, and it had its good and bad points. I knew I could count on him because a) band is forever and b) our mommas raised us right. In context, the people with whom we grew up are a known quantity; we blaze our own trails, though, sometimes right on across the county line. If you're worried overmuch about "what people will think/say", remember this: back home, you'll know who said it, and you shouldn't be afraid to throw it back on them. (Sticks and stones, folks- I am the ninja master of the snapback, and I did live back there for five years myself after grad school.) You're still one hell of a lot safer in the bosom of Smalltownland with 'your people' than living somewhere 'off'...and I believe, with all my heart, that despite its flaws, it's a great place to raise a family. I wish I had one to raise- if I did, I'd be back like a shot.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Kate Winslet Voiceover in my Head

The Holiday is a cute little movie that I like a lot, and Kate Winslet has this soliloquy at the beginning where she addresses a lot of things, including breakups and her character's problem, unrequited love. It's on continuous loop in my brain right now, which may have something to do with the massive headache I've got.

I was dating a great guy, previously blogged about as The Boyfriend. He really is a great guy, for whom I have the utmost respect (yes, I know how trite it sounds, but for those of you who do actually know me well, you know I'm not being trite) - but I've been a little screwy of late and it just wasn't fair to him at all to keep dragging him around in the wake of it. In consequence, I will probably die alone and be eaten by wild dogs. That will be my own damn fault.

My stress always manifests in a tangible way, and I was walking around belching quietly while my stomach launched its protest...and I wondered if an ulcer might suddenly opt to put in a guest appearance- I haven't eaten since this morning, so my friend Ralph is not getting a shot at this. My shoulders knotted, and, the coup de grace, the knee that I shattered in high school tightened up to the point that I'm limping. Then there's this headache.

Tomorrow I'll feel like I was beaten with an axe handle.

Okay, I still haven't slept, so I'm tired, punchy, sore and depressed. Why does doing the right thing usually suck so much? My momma always said that what's easy isn't right and what's right is never easy.

I always hate admitting that my mother was right about things...