Betty Duffy

(Amateur)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The lot marked out for me is my delight.

The weather turns cool, and I want to run. It’s seasonal, the cross country season being in the Fall, so many years of my life spent garumphing through the hills and woods, leaves crunching underfoot. Distance running is my favorite sport. I ran through high school, through college, then I coached it for a year during that very brief stint I spent teaching high school English. I was in the best shape of my life that year because my husband and I were engaged, and I would forget to eat all the time, and I’d run with the girls in the afternoon, then meet my husband for walks at night, clocking about nine miles a day.

That didn’t last, because there was a baby, and another one, et cetera. And these days, not only am I heavier, but my knees, oh my knees. They hurt. After I’d had two kids, the Head Cross Country Coach contacted me to see if I wanted to come back, and I showed up at a practice, two weeks post-partum, with my babies in a double baby jogger, and made an ass of myself. Fortunately, my uterus didn’t fall out on the road, but my walk two feet/ crawl two feet performance didn’t get me the job. And after five kids, my body is so far gone…it’s embarrassing to describe some of the issues I have with running.

So, fine. Running was never the thing I was going to do with my life. I was never much of a competitor anyway. It was just the joy of going from point A to point B on my own two feet with lots of beautiful scenery along the way. It provided me with many happy memories, so of course, it’s something I wanted for my son, and I signed him up for Cross Country at his first opportunity.

He hates it. He hates running, and I keep trying to tell him, “This is what you were born to do.” He has the aptitude, and I want for him what I couldn’t have. But he hates it. He’s the only boy on the team, for one thing, while all of his friends are playing football. And the girls on the team are at their chubby and awkward stage, so my son shows up and he can skip faster and longer than they can sprint, but he hates it. And after he completes his commitment to the team this year, I’m going to drop it.

Lately, I have been praying that God will remove all ambition from my heart. I’m exhausted, having spent the better part of the past year lamenting that I am the jack of all trades, master of none, and that I’m never going to be more than an amateur at anything--amateur Christian, amateur mother, amateur writer, amateur runner. In a couple weeks I will celebrate my 35th birthday. It was to have been the year in which I go pro or die. “Amateurs practice until they get it right; professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.” Death, apparently, it is. I’m still getting things wrong.

I have, among other things, transferred my former ambitions to my children.

The pro-family standard, “Every child is a gift from God,” always sort of rubbed me the wrong way, because of course children are a gift from God, but I’ve wanted to insist that they’re also an all-encompassing responsibility and challenge. Sometimes kids are difficult, they have problems, and perhaps in rejecting the cliché, I embraced an opposing non-truth that kids require my fixing, and in order to fix them, it helps to make them into someone to whom I can relate, someone a little more like myself…

Henceforth, this one shall be called runner; that one, writer; this one is destined for blithe motherhood, etc.—each one a perfect fulfillment of the partial hopes I once held for myself. And of course they all will be dazzling little Christians.

My poor children—how will they survive their mother? Via a series of circumstances this summer, which have made it clear to me that I need to pray like hell for the innocence and safety of my children, I have once again taken up the daily Rosary. Like an ocean liner making its wide arc in the water, I have noticed a few internal shifts, and if I haven’t talked about God much on the blog lately, it’s because change is difficult.

When I’m in the middle of writing something, it's annoying when my husband asks, “What are you writing?” because I don’t know what I’m writing. I don’t know what God is doing to me. I’m just trying to bend a few things into shape, and one of those things in the forge is the kind of mother I want to be. I do not want to be the melancholy artiste who’s always trying to recreate her own children, or worse, the melancholy artiste who ignores her children in favor of her flights of fancy.

Whatever is going to happen, in terms of my incumbent hopes for myself or my kids, it’s not going to be a trial. It’s not going to come about by yearning, by fantasy or by force; it will happen with the same combination of labor and grace with which each one of these children have come into my life. And if it doesn’t happen at all, it doesn’t happen.

My brother-in-law asked me this weekend if I have plans to publish anything besides a blog, and I answered, truly free of regret, “It’s not my time” (and it may never be). It feels good to accept that, and to accept my kids exactly as they are with their attendant interests, disinterests, strengths and weaknesses. It feels good to make loving them my first priority, and doing what I love its own reward. I might as well allow my kids the same opportunity of pursuing what they love too. My friend, Karly, recently pointed out to me that the root of the word amateur, is love. Of course…for love… what better reason is there to do anything?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Cure for Amish Moods

The Amish mood came upon me earlier in the week, when my baby wandered out towards the street, and my imagination did a number on me in terms of what could have happened to him in a worst case scenario. And in my heart of hearts, I felt a flourishing sense of resentment towards the vehicles passing my house.

Why do there have to be cars anyway? Why do they have to be on my road? Why do I have to live with anxiety about teenage drivers and children on bicycles and babies who can walk but cannot discern inherent danger? All the important things about my life, like keeping my children safe and alive, would be easier if the world weren’t so darned advanced.

I realize my stance is full of flaws and naivete. I realize that I have benefited in a number of ways from modernity, for example in the blanket effect of mass vaccination, and in the light bulbs and electronic devices which enlighten and enable these words. Still, I called my friend who has her finger in every pie, the one who knows how to purchase raw milk and cheap organic chickens on the invisible market, who can find cleaning ladies and mother’s helpers who only charge 8 dollars an hour. She’s my Amish connection, and she had mentioned a piece of real estate buried thick in the heart of Amish country, just about twenty minutes from my house.

“It has a natural gas well,” she said, which I have since learned costs about 45 K to dig, and insures, alongside a water well, a lifetime of self-sufficiency. Also the house sits on five fully fenced acres with three outbuildings. “It is Amish,” she went on, “So you’d have to wire it, which would be an expense, but they’re only asking 150K for it.

This conversation took place several weeks ago, and I hadn’t thought much about it, because what’s not to love about where we’re living? Our house is the house that the three little piggies built—brick walls that are at least a foot thick. It’s not going anywhere, and we have five acres and outbuildings and we’re close to town, which is convenient. But close to town means traffic, and people and danger—which is precisely what’s not to love during this interval when the baby doesn’t know what lurks just one toddle in the wrong direction.

So I followed my friend on the maze of roads, past rivers and woods, and giant combines kicking up dust as they bring in the corn and tidy fields for the winter. We passed double-wides with many cars parked in spacious yards, and came to a settlement of tidy, white clapboard houses on acreages with no cars in the driveway. The roads narrowed so that the very few cars passing had to slow down and pull to the side.

We pulled into the driveway of her friend, Pauline’s, and I waited outside while she went in to ask for directions. The curtains parted on the window, and a little Amish boy stood there staring, alongside his little dog. I suppose it’s not every day that two mini-vans full of English children and women in sunglasses park in his driveway. My children stuck their heads out the window of the car and waved. The little boy waved back.

Down the street a group of children played baseball in the skirts, suspenders and bonnets that set them apart from the world. And further down the road, Amish men in straw hats pushed logs through the sawmill.

In the summertime, a couple of Amish had set up a strawberry stand at the local Denny’s. They sold large baskets of berries for five dollars apiece, and when I asked for two baskets and took out a twenty to pay for them, the man took my twenty, not even attempting to make change, and said, “For twenty dollars you get five baskets.” He had such a friendly smile and shrewd business acumen, I couldn’t say no. And when I got in the car with a crate full of berries, my husband said, “You just got taken.” But I didn’t care. The guy was Amish.

My friend has said that it takes time to earn the trust of the Amish. They will want to know your business. They will watch you from afar for a long time, and slowly, they may become your friend. But even then, it will be a long time, if ever, before they enter your home socially.

If I already feel isolated from my friends and civilization by virtue of my vocation and its limitations, what would it be like to be an alien in a community like this, even more isolated by distance? I hate the feeling of being watched and measured. Second to unconditional safety, it’s unconditional community I’m after. It would be foolish to imagine that the Amish would treat me like one of them.

My friend came out from Pauline’s and approached my car window. “The house sold yesterday, for 75K, to a niece of the owners. Can you believe that? It’s HALF of what they were asking. I knew they did that—ask a lot of money if you’re English—but they come down if you’re Amish. We can still drive by it though. Do you want to?”

Of course I did. It was around the corner. We’d come this far.

Picture, if you will, Green Gables; a white clapboard house with a pitched roofline, gingerbread trim, and a green tin roof. Picture a post and beam barn of rugged hand-hewn pine. Picture horses drinking from a spring, a porch swing among the lilacs and free range chickens crossing the road with impunity because cars never pass. Picture white fence lines and an uncluttered horizon that will never sparkle with the lights of a Walmart or the twenty-four hour surveillance lanterns of an apartment complex. Picture perfection with a gas well (something I never knew I wanted) and a price-tag to make a poor woman swoon. That, my friends, is what I'm not getting.

An Elegy for Feminism?

Susan Faludi wrote recently in Harper’s Magazine what read to me like an elegy for feminism (American Electra: Feminism’s Ritual Matricide, October 2010). Regarding chronic disagreements within the National Organization for Women between second and third wave feminists, Faludi notes that the women’s movement has been unable to pass from one generation to the next a coherent legacy: “At the core of America’s most fruitful political movement resides a perpetual barrenness.”

This barrenness moves both forward and backward in time, as feminists who came of age in the seventies (second wavers) look down their noses at third wavers (my generation) who seem too intent to vent on their blogs about fashion and illicit sex to have any interest in organizing together to elicit change. And of course the third wavers think their mother’s generation is too stodgy, humorless and rigid to be relevant any more.

The article is worth the price of admission for someone whose interest is watching the contortions of feminism from the outside. It brings to mind a favorite saying from my friends at Darwin Catholic, “most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Still in an Amish Mood, but now with a Dose of Self-Righteousness

A friend of mine lives at a YMCA camp where her husband is director. The grounds are hidden in the woods, and bordered by a river. She’s living the life, making bread, keeping chickens, home-schooling the kids.

We went to their house today, strolled along the river bed, where the water was low, so the boys could wade up to their knees looking for shells in the morning light. A spring bubbled out of the woods and flowed down into the river, and there, the boys worked on making bridges and dams. The baby was so dirty, I took off his clothes and let him crawl around in the mud naked and happy as a clam, and I thought to myself, “Why don’t we do this every day?” I know the places we can go to let it happen, but we don’t go.

Sometimes families come to the camp and spend the weekend doing ropes courses and archery, living in yurts and eating in the mess hall. My friend overheard a father on the last day of his visit lamenting, “Now back to real life.” It sounded so inevitable, so defeated, and also, to my friend, for whom this IS real life, just plain wrong.

I was feeling sort of self-righteous about it, as she told me the story, since I was there, living real life in the cool spring alongside her, but come noon, we’d be going back to real life as well. Back to our habits and lethargies, me and my computer, a twitchy conversation with my husband, and my gosh, must we go back to the grocery again today?

My friend lives her life so disconnected from media and news, she has never heard of Glenn Beck or the Tea Party Movement. I felt a bit envious of the choices she had made, the liberty she was so busy exercising, she had no time to consider losing.

And I wondered why it is that real life, for most people, is so disconnected from things like creek beds and Sycamore trees. Why do we prefer the expensive education of taking kids to the Children’s Museum, waiting in line to dip our fingers into a chlorinated plastic indoor faux-river? And what’s a river doing in a museum anyway, as though it’s some foreign extinct object like a dinosaur?

I detect in myself a bit of fear regarding the pursuit of reality. We are afraid of muddy creek beds, demon undercurrents, and tiny bacteria that might migrate from hands to our children’s mouths; afraid of sweaty armpits and bug bites, and dirty handprints on our new jeans; afraid of liberty, freedom from the technological monkeys on our backs, pundits and fanatics, and edging the driveway. Maybe we’re afraid that if we’re hidden in the woods with our children, no one would be there to see us being good parents and concerned citizens, so we choose instead, a real life that’s full of falsehood.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

In an Amish Mood...

***
Oh, the Pioneer Fair is going on today, just a hop, skip and a jump away from our house, and the kids can't get enough of it. I took them yesterday. Husband took them today. We never tire of seeing people dressed up for the 1870s, stirring hand-dyed yarn in big cauldrons over an open fire, and men in suspenders whittling sticks.

My daughter wanted to do the cakewalk, and she went around a couple times while the hammered dulcimer played, but she had no luck. So I sent the boys out, because, "Your sister wants to win a cake, so you guys are going to walk," and they were a little grouchy about it, but by golly, if there is one thing having a bunch of kids is good for, it's dominating the cakewalk. With her brothers at her side, her odds of winning increased to something like 90%.

Unluckily for all of us, however, it was biggest brother who won, and when he went to make his cake selection, of all the homemade goods on the table, he chose the Duncan Hines yellow cake with canned frosting.

***
This morning my husband asked me if I'm still in my Amish mood today. Because if I am, he's going to wait until tomorrow to tell me that we're getting Satellite TV.

***
Friends were over not long ago, sitting on our porch late in the evening talking about the evils of technology. She holds up her little cell phone and says, "I don't need a smart phone. This phone does everything I need it to do. It takes messages, and I can make calls. It's just right."

He says, "But does it fart?"

She says, "No, but my husband has an app for that."


***
There are so many reasons to live in Indiana. Particularly this time of year, with it's breezy, sunny days, Dali clouds, and whistling cornfields. It can make you think that anything is possible. So I've signed up for a 5K. Here's where I run:
video


***
Went to the grocery yesterday and the guy in front of me had difficulty making change, so I had plenty of time to put my groceries on the belt before the check-out guy could tell me he needed my cart in order to begin loading it. I hate getting into that catch 22, where we're just looking at each other, and he can't go on because the bags are all full, and he needs to load up, but I can't give him my cart because there are more groceries in it and there's no room on the belt to unload them.

But while the man in front of me made change to the last penny, I got to arrange all my groceries like a puzzle on the conveyor belt so that cereal boxes were stacked several feet high, on top of the paper towels, and all my frozen goods were together, and my bread was at the back of the line so that, once bagged, it would be the last thing on the cart, rather than smashed at the bottom.

And I believe the check-out guy caught my OCD, or else we just had the good fortune of matching the right associate with the right customer, because as he loaded my groceries into the cart, he too, lovingly organized the boxes of cereal to fit the cart like a game of Tetris. It all worked so smoothly, and the check-out guy moved so deliberately, he gave me the chills.

I don't remember the last time I walked out of Wal-mart feeling sort of warm and fuzzy, as though the words "customer convenience" and "quality assurance" had any meaning.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Blogging on Fashion

When we were little, my sister, cousins and I wrote a fashion magazine to send back and forth to each other. Come to Betty Beguiles, where I'm guest-blogging today while Betty B. is on her babymoon, and I will tell you all about it (includes funny pictures...of my sister).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pants: a Man-fiesta!

I'm going to (charitably) suggest that my husband dress like this.

Can't tell you how much fun I had reading the comments on Simcha Fisher's Pants: a Manifesto.

Profile: old men on bikes

***
There are a lot of them in our town, and by and large, I find them rather cute. My 80 year-old next door neighbor invited us over one day to get a closer look at his new three wheeled moped. He’d put a checkered flag decal under the windshield, and bungeed a crate on the back so that he can drive it to Walmart and buy milk. When he drives by, he beeps his little horn.

***
There are a couple of farmers, I would guess they are widowed, or maybe their wives are after them to improve their health. They ride together single file on old fashioned bikes with upright handle bars, both of them dressed in wranglers and cowboy boots with stiff-billed agro-corn baseball caps.

***
There’s a bicycling group in town that meets at the park across the street to unload their ten-speeds from their bike-racks and tour the country roads. These are the suburban guys who used to be in shape, maybe making a last go on that belly before all is lost. They dress in spandex shorts and neon tops and do stretches before they put on their helmets. Not the cutest dudes on bikes (they shave their legs, for heaven’s sake, as though it’s going to make a difference on wind resistance when they’re carting around twenty pounds of gut), but they crack me up anyway.

***
This is not a local profile, but I did have a recurring nightmare when I was in grade school that when the school bus dropped me off at home, my dad would be standing in the driveway wearing bike shorts. It was worse than the nightmare of walking into my classroom without pants.

***
There are always a number of older men riding bikes who have most likely had DUIs. You know them because they are not enjoying their bikes.


***
I’m not sure if it counts as a bike because it’s really more of a motorized wheelchair that looks like a scooter, but there’s an old man who drives his moto-chair-scooter thing on the road. It moves maybe one mph faster than a pedestrian so he’s put a raised yellow flag on the back to indicate that he’s a slow-moving vehicle. I love it when I find myself behind him on the road, especially when I’m late picking up my kids.

***
I guess that's all I have to say about old men on bikes. But this song does comes to mind:


My favorite part is at 1:26


Also, this:

The Nutty Professor

I don’t know. Maybe I’m not a very good driver. I’ve never had a speeding ticket, but I keep finding myself driving around town at night without my headlights. And, I’ve had a few near misses. There was the thing with the dog, and today I nearly ran over an old man on a bike.

I could attempt to relieve myself of culpability by pointing out that this man is sort of eccentric, the kind of guy who might be a nutty professor, or a member of the homeless gentry. He wears round spectacles and hangs out at the library near the circulation desk so that he can talk to whoever comes through to check out books. He looks at the books in your stack, and strikes up a dialogue, or a monologue actually, because he’s the resident expert on absolutely everything. I have spoken with him in the past on organic beekeeping, “The Fighting Sullivans,” and Alice McDermott.

In any case, I need to say that the reason I almost ran over him is because he was reading a book…while riding a bicycle. Indeed, if he had been manning the larger vehicle, he would have run over me.

These days, it’s not so uncommon to see people walking around looking down at their blackberries while they push their groceries out to the car. My husband spends a lot of time in airports and he says that almost everyone you see now spends their wait texting or reading on a smartphone. But not that long ago, to see someone reading anything while doing something else was the exception.

I had a weird friend in high school who used to insist that she was capable of reading a book while driving. She played viola too—not while driving—but that tells you the kind of person she was—absolutely discontent with the mainstream. I never actually saw her read and drive. I really think she just said so in order to make people uncomfortable.

A friend of ours in our old neighborhood could every-so-often be seen walking the sidewalks for fresh air with his nose buried in a book. I remember very specifically calling my husband to my window to say, “Check out Bob. He’s reading while walking.”

“It appears that he is.” And we watched him until he had passed by our house.

I like reading as much as the next person, but reading while walking, riding a bike, driving…it’s sort of weird, I think. I could very easily turn this post into a diatribe on people walking, driving and biking while using their personal electronic devices, but it’s almost too obvious. Put the suckers down. It’s the old man that’s on my mind, anyway. Having spared him his life this afternoon, I saw him this evening in sort of an unexpected place.

In a small town, people stand out. I drive through the same intersections each day, several times a day, and after awhile you begin to take note of people’s habits and way of living. Some people are more obvious than others.

There is a three way intersection where one road Ts with another, and right on top of that T is sort of a ramshackle house where a group of hecklers regularly gathers on the front porch. They are all men with longish hair and sunburned skin. One of them has no legs. They sit out there at all hours of the day with coolers of Nat-lite and red soda pop and yell at the people passing by, saying things like, “You call that a *@%#-ing stop?!” They make kissy faces to the women, or say things that only they can hear and then explode in uproarious laughter.

At this intersection, I tend to avoid eye contact, or pretend I’m engaged in an index finger debate with the other drivers at the intersection over who has the right of way.

Today when I passed by, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, something out of sync with the scene. Up on the porch, along with the peanut gallery, was the bike-riding reader. He sat there with his legs crossed one over the other and his palms pressed together under his chin. He appeared to be talking about something in his typically serious mode, and the long-haired men sat around him, almost—though not quite—looking sober.

You never know what brings people together. Maybe it was the booze that made the nutty professor nutty, and maybe it’s the booze that has lured him up onto the peanut gallery porch. Or maybe, when a man in round spectacles strikes up a conversation with you about whatever the hell is on his mind that day, it is just really hard to not to listen. In any case, his gray hair and pale skin made him look like sort of an angel up there amongst all that hair. And for the first time ever, when passing that house, I have wondered what the porch sitters had to say.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mathematically Challenged

I’ve been thinking about third-grade Math. I might as well come out of the closet and admit that I’m home-schooling one of my kids this year, the one who came home from school one day last year with 25 unfinished ditto sheets that he was supposed to have completed that day. I thought that was a little much for a kid with a few manual dexterity issues, so this year, we have done not a single worksheet. Not one. What we have done is try to memorize things, beginning with Math facts.

I don’t know what kind of brains both the child and I have, being that we are both completely incapable of remembering that 7+8=15. I used to get good grades in Calculus once upon a time, but I have always done addition facts on my fingers, and so does the boy. He has memorized three very long poems, however. I read him a stanza, and he doesn’t need to hear it twice before he’s got it in his head. He’s quite amazing that way. But knowing by heart the various sums of the numbers between one and ten are just not within our reach.

I was thinking about this whole concept recently in my sleep, because that seems to be the only time my brain is functioning lately. Indeed the current hour is some time in the middle of the night, and I had to get out my bed to write this, because I won’t remember it tomorrow. I was thinking about how words are relational. How they connote images and concepts that relate to one another in graphic ways, and by graphic I mean that I could draw several horizontal lines indicating the plot points of a novel and show how when the tension rises within one character, it might drop in another. Relational.

I was just having this dream, and in my REMs I could see a staff of music, and could hear the music written on it at the same time. I have never in my life written a piece of music, though this has happened to me before that I think I’m writing music in my sleep and when I wake up, I cannot remember the notes I saw on the staff. I wake up thinking I must have some subconscious genius inside writing music, but hell if the genius doesn’t dissipate as soon as I’m conscious.

Anyway, I do remember this: There was a cello line, these lower grumblings in eighths and sixteenths that cut off when the treble piano line interrupted. And the treble was actually two separate themes, a duet that moved up the scale with a crescendo, climaxed, then shifted back to that bass line on the cello.

Maybe you followed that, maybe you didn’t. But I was trying to think of pieces that sound similar, maybe something I’ve played in the past. It sounded so familiar. What was it? And then I realized, that the piece resembled nothing so much as the short story I’d read right before I feel asleep. It was John Cheever, “The Jewels of the Cabots.” It began with a sort of neurotic and comical male narrator, who then told a story about a woman he once dated and her mother. The end of the story went back to the male narrator, and I can see now that the music in my dream was some sort of echo of the voices in that story.

If I can graph the plot of a story on a musical staff, writing music being an inherently mathematical endeavor, there has to be a better way to see the graphic relationships between single digit numbers. When those numbers keep showing up, without rhyme or reason on the other side of a shuffled deck of flash cards, however, those relationships completely defy me.

Also, it seems like I used to know a way to graph patterns like this one:

His cheek fur grows in a whirlpool. I wonder if it will do that when he has whiskers. (And by cheek fur, I really do mean the cheek on his face. I just realized that this picture could be mistaken for the other kind of cheek.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Three not-so-sexy stories

My husband and I dropped the kids off at Mom and Dad’s Saturday night and kept on driving all the way to Cincinnati to go out on the town. We don’t plan our dates very well. I always think I want to go to the symphony or something, but can’t commit to buying tickets, so when we get a babysitter, we always blow quite a bit of time deciding what we’re going to do. There was a movie we wanted to see, and near the movie theater there were several restaurants. So we walked up and down the street, checking out the plates in the sidewalk seating until we saw some food that looked good to us, and the restaurant happened to be right next to the movie theater, so it was also convenient.

We walked inside to put our name in, and saw a restaurant review hanging in the breezeway that called this particular restaurant, “Sexy Bistro.”

“I think we came to the right place.”

“We’ll fit right in.”

I don’t know if it’s a Cincinnati thing, or just particular to the clientele at this restaurant—trying to live up to Sexy Bistro’s reputation and décor--but our fellow diners were dressed to kill. Short skirts have made a return, it seems, since the last time I was out on the town. All around the bar, the skirts ended right below the bum, and men stood next to their dates with a territorial hand placed on the women’s backs.

For what it’s worth, the clothes were not club-clothes; they were designer labels. These people were expensive, and getting a closer look, they were also rather mature. Most of them over fifty, I’d say, which might have given my husband and I the upper hand where sexiness is concerned, except that with our last minute planning, I made a last minute fashion decision to leave my high heels behind and wear Birkenstocks and jeans. I have too much Indiana in my blood to walk around town in a pair of high heels and jeans. Someone might think I’m trying too hard (which doesn’t mean I don’t love foolish shoes—I’m just too chicken to wear them most of the time).

It was foolish, however, to think that anyone would have noticed. The hostess greeted us with a plunging v-neck mini dress and stiletto heels, then led us to our table next to an obnoxious blow-hard and his two bored companions. Blow-hard had hair plugs and spiffy glasses, and talked about his recent divorce settlement. He cussed a lot, and described the hot younger women he hoped to date, and made his companions look at their food and take embarrassed sips of their Chardonnay.

At the table on the other side of us, two froggy-face men in suede shoes, Cabana shirts, and jeans cut for college kids sat with women in the same get-up as the hostess. I had been thinking that the thirties were a difficult age, as a sense of panic sets in about fulfilling one’s potential before it’s too late. But I’ve never seen the fifties looking so difficult, everyone trying so hard to hold it together, interrupting their dinners to hug friends they see across the patio, making a scene to let everyone know they’re still in demand.

I felt like I’d seen all of these scenes before, like these people were on a movie set acting out the role of the bitter divorcee and the shamelessly flirtatious bartender—everyone playing a part that in the movie would have been played by someone thirty years younger. And in spite of the lycra skirts and diamonds, in spite of the braggadocio in the breezeway, this bistro really wasn’t very sexy at all.



***
I went to my book club Thursday, at a Mexican restaurant on the East Side of Indianapolis, in my old neighborhood. The restaurant has really good salsa, and for that reason, enjoys a robust patronage, but it’s located in a derelict strip mall with a seedy history. Several years ago, the owner of a lingerie store in the Mall was arrested for prostituting her live “models.” The area has undergone multiple sting operations over the years, resulting in a startling number of arrests.

Nevertheless, Thursday night, my friends and I sat on the patio of the restaurant, which faces a rather run down motel and the backside of a Taco Bell. We were discussing “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” and life. Shortly, I noticed a man and a woman walking up the alley together. They looked like a regular couple in shorts, sleeveless shirts, a couple tattoos here and there, and white tennis shoes. Her blond hair was in a pony tail, his grayish hair was buzzed, and they might have passed for a married couple taking a walk on a late summer evening, except that her walk was a little off, with swiveling hips and a rhythmic dip of her shoulders. She kept looking behind her, as though she were waiting for someone, and muttering under her breath in a way that suggested she was not in conversation with her companion, but rather, was stoned.

Shortly, a man with a middle-class demeanor, driving a nice white pick-up truck pulled up to the walking couple and said to the woman, “Hi, Gorgeous.” The two men spoke quietly to each other, and the woman walked to the other side of the truck and got into the passenger seat, hugged the driver passionately, and they drove off.

The man with the buzz cut, went back to his apartment across the street and played fetch with his dog in the front yard for a minute or two, before going inside. Occasionally, he would come back out the door, throw a couple sticks for the dog, as though he were waiting for someone, and then go back inside.

I don’t see this kind of thing very often. A woman used to meet dates on the church steps across the street from our old house, but I could always make myself doubt that she was a prostitute. Maybe she really was just meeting a friend. This time, I had no doubts that while we discussed our book and ate quesadillas and tamales, a woman was being sold.

About a half-hour passed before the white truck returned, bringing the woman back.


***
Sunday, after Mass at my parents’ rural parish, the kids wanted to play on the playground across the street. There’s a covered corkscrew slide on the playground that spins around and down for a couple of stories. My son went in the top of the slide, and I waited for it to spit him out the bottom, but it took longer than it should have. He had stopped himself inside, and when he finally came out, he looked a little spooked.

“There’s a terrible picture in there,” he said and went on to describe what he had seen. I hushed him so the little kids wouldn’t hear, though just about all of them had already been down the slide. It just so happens that this kid knows how to read so he could put the pieces together.

I climbed up into the slide to see what he had seen and read, and there was, written in sharpee, a pretty graphic diorama of a particular sex act with some words telling how it’s done.


***
I like to think that I’m not easily scandalized by the earthier aspects of humanity. In its proper context, I believe that sex is important and good and is a part of life that every human being has to learn to navigate in accordance with their vocation. People say that the way they navigate these issues is no one else’s business, and yet the things people do in their bedrooms have a way of getting out.

I know that men have been buying and discarding women since the beginning of time. It happens in the upper classes and the lower ones; among the old, and among the young. I’m aware the sometimes women are privy to this game, and encourage it in the ways in which they dress, and in what they’re willing to offer for sale. I know there are adult worlds where anything goes, where people’s bedroom behaviors could exceed the limits of my imagination—and when that world reaches out from wherever it hides and stings one of my babies (in a place where babies should be safe, right under their mother’s nose), I feel myself becoming a bit of a prude. I feel myself wanting go into those bedrooms, and those sexy bistros, and those back alleys to turn over a few tables. You are sick, Culture. You are sick, sick, sick.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

It's Been a Zoo Around Here

I need to write this down, so that I can recognize how fun it really is that every fifty days or so, I am awakened in the middle of the night by a breeze blowing over my face and the blinds rustling on the window over our bed. I think maybe a storm is blowing in, so I reach over my head in a state of semi-sleep and shut the window. When the breeze continues to blow, I snap to alert, because I then know without a doubt that another bat has entered the house and is circling and diving over our bed, coming so close this time, as to nearly brush my nose.

I have come across mice in the middle of the night, and screamed—it’s so cliché but so inevitable. With a bat, one becomes very quiet, because one has pulled whatever she can find over her head to cover her hair. Everyone knows that if the bat gets into your hair, it’s all over. This movement wakes my husband who likes to tuck the comforter around every corner of his body (excepting his feet), and I have grabbed the comforter from his nooks with great force. When he ascertains why I have done so, he then joins me under the comforter, until we work out a plan for shooing the bat back out the window.

We will stand up in unison, holding the comforter over both of our heads while I open the window, and he removes the screen, then we will fight over who gets to cover their heads with the comforter as we both scramble into the corner of the room furthest from the window. Once we work out who needs the comforter more (me, since he has less hair), he will bat at the bat with the screen he now holds, and I will hover in the corner until the bat makes its exit, or we have achieved a kill. All of this dancing and swatting and cowering will be done in our underwear, which, I suppose, is the fun part.

When bats land on something, they become invisible. I don’t know how they do it, but one second they’re flying with an unmistakable wingspan, and the next they’re smaller than a mouse, a little dark petal on the flowered curtains. In the past, we’ve mistaken a bat’s silence for his exit, and then I’ve discovered it in the morning, soaking in my kitchen sink. One time I found a decayed bat trapped between the window pane and the storm window. Once my husband used a tennis racket and aced it out the window. This time, he swatted it down onto our bed, where it lay there, trapped on our mattress under the screen.

There is a bat IN OUR BED.

So I get the salad spinner bowl, of course, and a cookie sheet, and lift the screen while simultaneously trapping the bat in the salad spinner, then I slide the cookie sheet underneath the overturned bowl and carry the bat outside, set the sheet on the ground, kick off the bowl and run inside. See? It’s fun.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

An Almost Tragedy

On Monday I ran over my dog. It’s just the way life works that should I dare to give utterance to the ugly thought that I sort of wish I didn’t have a dang dog, I should very soon have the opportunity to test the sentiment, and when I threw the car in reverse to go pick up a kid, and heard a squashing sound like an aluminum drum crumpling under my tires, I could already feel the blood draining from my limbs and the vomit in the crook of my throat. On sunny days, the dog has been known to climb into the shadow under my rear bumper when the car is parked in the driveway.

I got out of the car, and there he was under there, splay-legged and smelling like fecal matter, not moving, not blinking, just trapped under the axle, and I thought he was too stunned to cry, if not dead already. I would have to jack up the car to get him out of there, because I wasn’t about to run him over again trying to move it, and since my husband was already half-way to Cleveland, the nearest help for something like jacking up the car to salvage the remains of your pet dog was an hour away at my parents’ house.

Added to the tragedy, was the fact that my little boy would be sitting in the hallway at his new preschool with his backpack on and his knees pulled up to his chin waiting for a mommy who wouldn’t arrive because she was taking care of some nasty business at home. I ran inside to call the school.

Last week another mother had offered to share a ride occasionally, and I had turned her down, because I’ve never sent a kid to preschool before, and only put this one in because somehow in the tangle of being the fourth of five kids, he hasn’t learned his ABCs, and I myself am a bit tired of singing it. Dare I say, I’ve felt too guilty about him even being there to let another mother drive him home? But on the phone, she came to mind, and when I told the girls in the pre-school office why-for I needed them to arrange this favor, we all broke out in tears.

When you consider having taken the life of a creature in your care, a creature about whom you’ve occasionally entertained ambivalent feelings, you also consider the horrific potentiality of losing the other lives in your care, lives about whom you feel no ambiguity, but rather a passionate protectiveness, and you want to gather all those people unto you right then and there and account for everyone. Is everyone ok? Who else have I harmed? Little boy in the hallway, I’m talking to you.

I called my parents, and gave them a sobbing report of what I had done, and what I needed from them, which was their presence, and a sturdy jack, as soon as they could possibly make it, and was there any chance at all that by fate, their travel towards my house was already underway? Did they not have errands to run today? But they didn’t. They were quite at home, and I hung up, leaving them feeling pretty terrible for my sake really, because I don’t think anyone would have dreamed I was capable of such emotion for a dog.

Back outside, I knelt down beside the car, to offer my assurance to my dying friend that I really didn’t have ambivalent feelings for him at all, but that indeed I care deeply for his life, and his gnawing teeth, and the holes in the yard, and the black hairs in the corner of my kitchen floor. Friend, I’m here for you. But when I looked under the car, he wasn’t there.

This is where the story gets really annoying, like reading a terrifying work of fiction that sends shock waves of adrenaline through my system only to end with the words, “..but then I woke up.” Why, when presented with the offering of tragedy am I subtly disappointed by a happy ending? Not disappointed for the life of my dog, who was now sitting in the back seat of my car like a newly risen Lazarus, his tongue out and dripping with a relative doggy smile. But what a dumb story—that I have once again sounded the alarm to anyone who would give heed—when what really happened is that the crushing sound was his toenails scrunching against the gravel in order to miss the tires altogether. Sure, he had dropped a little turd in fear, but my concern that his intestines lay open on the driveway was apparently unfounded.

Cheers to the dog.

I ran inside to call everyone back. The girls in the office were relieved. My parents turned their car around and went back home. I made it to the preschool, actually, in plenty of time, and my little boy was no worse for wear. He had cut and pasted a number of Apples bearing the letter A to a paper tree. And my ride sharing friend gave me her cell number, so that I can reach her in a pinch, should I ever run over my dog again.

The End

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I'm a fart-bookinator by nature, but...

***
I took my oldest to “Shoe Sensation” yesterday, the only shoe store in town to replace his holy high tops (holy as in dog-chewed and rotten, not venerable) before his first Cross Country practice. The kid goes through shoes very quickly, the hightops only six months old and I hated paying thirty bucks for shoes for him when I know if I wait long enough something will turn up at Goodwill.

But we didn’t have the luxury of waiting for a bargain this time and I bought the shoes, which he didn’t particularly like because they didn’t light up or have Velcro straps, and he went to practice to run, and the boy can run; light on his feet, long stride, and scrawny because he has so much energy and there are not enough calories in the day to feed it.

His brothers were jealous of his shoes. Everybody wants new shoes, not second-hand or hand-me-down rejects. Everyone wants full-price, new smelling shoes. They want to go to Shoe Sensation, and it comes out of the four-year-old’s mouth like this: “When can I go to Shoezination?”

These boys are sort of word-smithy. When they want to make a semi-truck honk his horn, it’s not enough for them to start jerking their forearms up and down like a piston out the window in the universal signal for “Honk your horn!” They have to “Honketize” it. This afternoon, one of the boys had a pretty thick book, which, when he flipped through the pages really fast made a conspicuous sound, and was henceforth named the “fart-bookinator.”

All these –ators and –izers sound so threatening, rhyming as they do with words like “detonator” and “Vaporize.” And now “Shoezination”—I like it, as a term for what they put their shoes through in an average day, so that they end up looking like this:



***
On words, I realized this morning that there is an entire vocabulary that I have acquired since I began blogging, words like doubtless, disconsolate and luddite, words I never use in my every day speech because they sit on the tongue like a bad cold, all those Ds and Ls that somehow look very commanding when they are written out. "Of course, I'm a luddite by nature, but..." --no I am not a luddite by nature. I didn't even know what a luddite was until I started reading blogs, where everyone is a "luddite by nature, but..."