Friday, February 19, 2010

Things I have killed

I find myself sitting on the couch ,watching "Celebrity Rehab with Dr.Drew" and blubbering like a fool. Like Chili's and Us Weekly, it is one of my not so secret vices that I indulge weekly thanks to TIVO. This season is particularly compelling, and I am embarrassed to admit that  I feel emotionally drained at the end of each episode. One might expect the show to move the audience to tears with the tragic circumstances of each participant.They are some broken people who may never be whole, but that isn't what made me cry.As with some unexpected flatulence,I blame the dog.
One of the more tragic of the celebs had to put her dog,Max, to sleep in the middle of her rehab stint. Watching her crouched on the floor in the vet's office,feeding her blind, emaciated ancient pug his last meal, a pint of Haagen Daz, the pug that she'd kept alive for months by sheer will,  brought me back to every experience I have had like that. Granted, I am lucky that I haven't experienced the shock of unexpected  human death, so I have nothing to compare it to. I do know that putting pets to sleep is the worst thing I have ever had to do.
I had my first experience with it in my early twenties. Long story short, we had decided to take the day off and have one of the magic brownies in the freezer for breakfast. By noon everything was appropriately fuzzy wuzzy, except the barking dog, Pirate, next door. Unbeknownst to us, his barking had also irked our cat, Shirley.She was trying to find some peace and quiet and tried to jump in through what she thought was an open kitchen window. She hit the glass and fell into the cement recess below,probably ten feet.I saw it happen and watched her run away. I actually thought something stupid like "wow, they really do land on their feet" and stumbled inside.She didn't look like she was hurt and made no noise to indicate that anything was wrong. She and must have hit her head on the edge of the recess as she went down because, about twenty minutes later, she came crawling in the half open front door,  yowling frantically and dragging her back half behind her. We were  still very high, but we managed to put her in the car and rush her to the local vet. He looked just like Freddie Mercury.He knew that we were high. He examined her and told us that she had a fractured skull. He said we could spend  two grand for a hospital stay that would surely become six or seven  grand, and leave us with a brain damaged cat, or we could put her to sleep. We chose the latter. Cost aside, Shirley barely liked to be touched, so being strapped down and  inserted with tubes didn't seem like a very nice option for her. My friend left the room, and I was charged with signing the paper that gave them permisission to kill Shirley.My hand shook violently as I carefully scrawled my signature,  the one I had practiced for all the autographs I would have to sign when I made it in Hollywood. As the tears dripped on to the form,I remember thinking what an awful responsibility is was to sign away a life, and yet  how grateful I was to be able to choose it, for all parties involved .At least we weren't relegated to smashing her with rocks to put her out of her misery. She got to die quickly and hopefully didn't suffer too much while her stoned caretakers frantically searched for the car keys.
A few months later, I was taking out the trash.I saw the smallest kitten I had ever seen foraging in the compost pile in the back lot next door. I got some food and water and coaxed him toward our back porch. He was very timid and not too bright. He  always ran when I would try to watch him eat,but after awhile he started growing so I knew he was going to be okay.We named him something cutesy that I can't remember like Wally.He brought a friend home that we named Scooter and installed a cat door so they could  come in and out.We had no idea that racoons and every cat for a four blocks would also join us for meals,or that Wally and Scooter would slowly work their way into the bedrooms while we were out.We would come home and find filthy  little hairy imprints on the comforter where two naughty cats had just been napping.The spots were still warm.
Months passed and I didn't see Wally. Scooter came and went and seemed fine. I figured Wally had found a better set up and moved on. One morning I went into the kitchen and there was Wally, lying down in the middle of the kitchen floor.He was emaciated and a little matted,and he grown up so much in those months he was gone. I gingerly walked by him, thinking he would bolt, but he just sat. In fact, he sat there all morning just watching me. I almost tripped over him many times in going about my daily business, and he never flinched.He even let me pet him. I was thrilled that he had come around but also knew that something wasn't right.I gave him food, but he wasn't hungry.This went on for a week until I decided to take him to the vet. I went to see Dr. Reina on Melrose. Handsome and passionate, he was like the vet from a romance novel. Dark chin length hair,smoldeirng dark eyes and a slight speech impediment that made him stutter ever so slightly. He couldn't hold eye contact for very long.He struck me as  someone who was comfortable with animals and dealt with people out of sheer necessity. I was instantly smitten. He took one look at Wally and said that it was probably Leukemia. He did a blood test.It came back positive. Wally had to be put down, right then. He asked if I wanted to be in the room, and though the idea of being alone in a room with my fantasy vet was appealing, I just couldn't. He nodded,pursed his  is big beautiful lips and patted my shoulder reassuringly.He took Wally,who was too tired to protest and went into the  next room.It was so unexpected and probably the biggest regret I have to date. I fled in tears and drove away while Wally died in the arms of some wonderful handsome stranger that day. Scooter also tested postive for Leukemia and I took him to the same vet. He was feral so they had to take care of his demise privately.
The next one happened three years  later.I was living with my sister in West LA, and we found a cat on the roof of our parking structure.He was asleep in the sun, but he looked so beat up,we thought he was dead. He wasn't and, after some coaxing, gladly followed us upstairs to our apartment. We named him Bob. He was a scrawny mess, with one tooth, exposed skin and matted chocolate brown hair.His tongue was perpetually stuck between his lips. We had two other cats at the time, and I tried to incorporate him into the mix to get him back to some sort of healthy state. My sister said that, for the cats,  it was probably like taking in a wretched old homeless guy. He was sloppy and smelly and didn't flush properly.At mealtimes, he tried to eat all three dishes of food at once and would run from one dish to the next pushing the other cats out of the way.To my surprise, my twleve pound bruiser, Claude, anxiously watched him eat up all the food and did nothing.Bob was also a loud licker and was always chewing furiously on some part of his anatomy. Within a week,  it became clear that he was not long for this world.He started pooping uncontrollably and bumping into everyting.The Westside Animal Hospital vet took one look at him and said it was his time to go. She said Bob appeared to have lived a very hard life and was lucky to have spent his last days under our roof.This time, I stayed. They put in the i.v  and taped it to his gnarled front leg. She gave me a few minutes with him. I petted him and told him that he was a good boy and that he was loved. He meowed his crusty old dude meow and butted his patchy balding head into my trembling hand.The vet returned, ready to give him the injection.Bob was still pushing his head into my hand and purring like a buzz saw.I patted his back and tried to seem  cheery. The vet pushed in the plunger, and Bob was gone .He just fell over dead.No struggle, no whimpering, no longing looks- boom, dead. She asked if I wanted the ashes, and I declined. I took home the empty carrier feeling awful.The other cats were happy to have things back to normal, but little did they know that their time would also come soon enough.
Ten hairy,vomit filled, cat litter strewn years later, Claude was fourteen or so and Sweet P, my fluffy spaced out kitty was probably ten. I had just gotten engaged and was also about three months pregnant.Claude had been getting skinny, and I took him to the vet.Dr. Baum said it was the early stages of  kidney failure. He lasted a month and a half with medication and subcutaneous fluids.Two days before he died, he stopped eating and stopped getting up. I called a few mobile vets who could come to the house and do it in the comfort of our home. I chose the least expensive one because the others had offered satin lined,poetry inscribed,gold plated urn options that I just didn't want. The moblie vet that I  chose only cost three hundred dollars. Dr.Jordan was a bespectacled African American guy who arrived with his nurse.They both wore white uniforms. They had a box and an instrument bag and wore compassionate faces.It happened pretty much the way it had with Bob, and Claude went just as quickly.After he was officially dead,the vet gently wrapped Claude up in the towel he had been lying on and put him in the cardboard box. He packed up his things and casually asked me if I liked music.Fighting hysteria at the loss of  my fur child of thirteen years, I nodded,lower lip trembling.  It seemed an odd question and, before  I knew it, he handed me a sheet of paper with information about dealing with the death of a pet and a cd. On the cover of the cd was a picture of two guys playing instruments. One of them was the Dr. Jordan. I looked up at him and was at a loss for words.He was networking between lethal injections. I was stunned but also gratfeul and thanked him for the cd.  They took Claude's body and cremated it.I curled up on the couch and sobbed. Finding Nemo was on and I fell asleep to the sound of Albert Brooks' voice. I picked it up his ashes a week later.They have been sitting on my dresser ever since. I have yet to listen to the cd.
The last experience was  with Sweet P, which was almost three years ago. It was March.I was about to have child number two.She got old quickly in the year after Claude died, and one Wednesday started acting like Wally, sitting in odd places despite the chaos of a small child and a busy house.I called a mobile vet,Brian, who came out and said that she was probably dehydrated.The next day she was outright lethargic.I called a different vet, suspecting that the first guy had missed something.He was to come at nine am on Saturday. Sweet P had a stroke in the middle of the night.I woke at six a.m. to find her spasming next to her litter box,unable to walk.Her eyes were blood red and one pupil was enlarged.She was in terrible shape so I called the mobile vet again, waking him up, and asked him to come right away. He came immediately and put her to sleep as the sun rose. Eight hundred dollars later, she was gone. My husband and I stood clinging to each other sobbing  while Big sang nursery rhymes in the other room.
Each time I have had to do this,it has cut me to the bone. I look at our cat,Milo, who has twelve more years to go,  if he is lucky, and wonder how he will leave this world. It will likely be in the office of Dr. Reina, my fantasy vet, who is just as handsome these twenty years later, but a little more grey. I get to look forward to our yearly check ups and odd colds so I can spend three minutes in the presence of someone who is truly gifted with animals. If Milo has to be put to sleep, I hope mine will be the last face he sees.
I also think of how ludicrous it is that, in a country where half of us own a cat or a dog we consider to be part of our family, countless numbers of healthy adoptable animals get euthanized every day.I think of  the poor souls whose job it is to round up the meowing and barking frightened masses and herd them into cages to be gassed or smothered or injected with poison, all for simply existing. I vow to change this in some way before my time is up.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

She's Come Undone.....

I think my favorite book is considered by many to be straight up chick-lit, with as much cultural relevance as Desperate Housewives, primarily because I was introduced to it by Oprah Winfrey. Well, if the book that I love made me sob piteously and feel closer to a protagonist than I had felt since reading "Good times, Bad times" by James Kirkwood( my number two choice),and moved me as much as "Watership Down" had when I read it the first time, then I am one bona fide chick amongst millions.

I grew up surrounded by books and found my own interest in reading to be a bit limited compared to my family. As a kid, I was voracious. I read all of the "Little House on the Prairie" books and all of the "Chronicles of Narnia" at the urging of my mother, who refused to let me read Judy Blume unless I had tackled the aforementioned successfully. I am grateful now, but then it was a task to get through the endless prairie fires and great battles on the other side of the wardrobe to the part about slam books and girls with scoliosis cutting of their hair. I then read every Judy Blume book except "Wifey", every S.E. Hinton novel,"Clooney" "A Day No Pigs Would Die", every Paul Zindel book- the list is too long to remember. Even with all those books under my pre teen  literary belt, I still felt like they were all too main stream to count.I felt I should have been reading more literature.
Admittedly, I never grew to love many of the classics that we were forced to read in school quite as much as I thought I should. The Bible was excruciating."Wuthering Heights" dragged on, " Tess of the D’Urbervilles" was devastating, “The Sun Also Rises" was difficult to identify with the bullfighting, "Lolita" was a bit creepy but brilliant, “Grapes of Wrath" was bleak,"1984" was frightening, “Lord of the Flies" convinced me that I would be Piggy if it ever came to pass. Great books, but not sure I could call them my favorites. "Catcher in the Rye","Sophies Choice","To Kill a Mockingbird"- all amazing books as well, and I remember where I was when I read each one of them. They left a deeper impression than the Bronte sisters or even Shakespeare did, because the experience of reading them was, well, easy. I never had to stop and re-read the text to understand what the author was trying to say. Perhaps it was the mundane task of analysis in English Literature in tenth grade that turned me off the classics, but I always felt that the business of reading was more subjective than anything. To have Mr. Stone, my sixth foot five emaciated and perpetually "ahhhh"ing between ideas English teacher tell me definitively the meaning of the subtext annoyed me. How did he know what the author meant? Did he write it? Is all subtext intentional? I get that it was an exercise for us to try and look for deeper meaning, but I never really enjoyed it. I tend to be a "you either get it or you don't" kind of gal.

Now, as I mentioned, my favorite book is an original Oprah Book Club choice, and while I understand why a lot of people think her selections are not always the greatest books, I don't quite understand why an author would deny her the pleasure of making their book her next selection. Most of you probably remember when Jonathan Franzen said that Oprah had "picked some good books, but she's picked enough schmaltzy, one-dimensional ones that I cringe, myself, even though I think she's really smart and she's really fighting the good fight." He then said that his was a “hard book for that audience." (This according to Wikipedia)

Well, Miss O Thing uninvited him from the show and despite the multiple public and private apologies, he never saw the inside of Harpo Studios. He probably didn’t really care since the book did well without her endorsement, but he did thank her when he accepted the National Book Award that year, which was well after she had already written him off.

He got some overt criticism from his peers:

New York Times Verlyn Klinkenborg said "lurking behind Mr. Franzen's rejection of Ms. Winfrey is an elemental distrust of readers, except for the ones he designates."

Andre Dubus III added, "It is so elitist it offends me deeply. The assumption that high art is not for the masses, that they won't understand it and they don't deserve it – I find that reprehensible. Is that a judgment on the audience? Or on the books in whose company he would be?"

Others accused Franzen of sexism asking "Is it misogyny, do you think, or class prejudice, or worse?"(This too, from Wikipedia).

A lot of people agreed with him, though, but mostly those who consider themselves the literati and probably looked down on Oprah's picks as mass marketed pseudo intellectual female driven nonsense already. I will say, I felt a little exposed when reading the books with her gigantic seal of approval on the cover. It seemed, well, unseemly to have something as profound and prestigious as reading being turned into a vehicle for her latest passion. Again, I love many of the books I have read at her urging, but there is a hesitation to crow about it.Franzen was actually quite compelling in his bravery in not simply appeasing the most powerful woman in America. But I assume he isn't writing a book so he can keep his day job. Isn't it an author's dream to have a best seller? Perhaps the Oprah route felt like a cheat, that maybe he would have been haunted by the fact that he would have never known if it could have made it on its own merits.

Ultimately it is his choice, but I guess it illustrates out how much our cultural perspectives have changed.

A friend of mine had occasion to dine with a famous director, a knighted British actor and their culturally elite posse. She is marvelously adept and talking to everyone and can talk up or talk down depending on the audience. She was a bit nervous to attend because she was certain to be outclassed by the dinner guests.
She had a wonderful time and told me later that the bulk of the conversation was spent discussing the current season of American Idol. I was secretly appalled, almost out of habit, because my family, while certainly not elitist, hadn't yet come around to appreciate much television beyond "Masterpiece Theater". I guess I assumed that culturally relevant people had all sorts of culturally relevant conversations about, well, culturally relevant things. I never would have guessed that American Idol would dominate the conversation at that dinner party.

Now, I would hope it wouldn't be all pretentious and annoyingly relevant either. Those people are the worst. I am reminded of the time an artist friend of mine and I were at party with "artistic types”. It looked like a hooker's funeral with all the ripped fishnets and smudged black eyeliner. I think I was wearing a beret. My friend, who wasn't exactly a social butterfly, attempted to enter a conversation about his favorite architect, a real passion of his, and was promptly and icily corrected on the pronunciation of the architect's name. He was visibly shocked by this and was silenced for the rest of the evening. I am sure that he came across as the brooding angry type to the other guests, but he was simply undone by the smarminess of the remark. His offender was a rumpled, navy blazer wearing, scruffy, over indulged type who was waiting for his moment to pounce. A classless prick.

I do think that true class is being able to hang with anyone and not feel the need to remind them of where you or they stand all the time. Perhaps my friend’s mispronunciation was a result of growing up in a town where no one had ever heard of the architect, where his artistic interests were not only being discouraged, but actively channeled in the direction of vocational school. Perhaps he took his GED and got the hell out of there to find his way as an artist. Does he not deserve to sit at the same table as an insipid Gitane smoking, Rhode Island School of Design graduate who has done nothing but live off his trust fund and hang out with equally insipid famous people?

Snobbery is on the wane. There isn't a place for it in such a multicultural world. Who is to say that one woman's sari isn't as pretty as another woman's Tory Burch tunic?

I, for one, was unable to get through "The Corrections”. I found it reluctant to engage me. Perhaps a result of reading too many Oprah picks that tend to drag their readers by the hair from page one. I was also a lot less cynical and a lot more sentimental back then.After five years of marriage and two children, I can say with certainty that the opposite is true today, so perhaps it will be my new favorite book.

Then I can strut around with it tucked under my arm, pontificating like Mr. Howl and sneering at the sea of James Patterson novels around me, chin forward, an intellectual at last.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

and I can't get you out of my head.....


"call me Mr. Flintstone, I can make your bed me Mr. Flintstone,I can make your bed rock.."...wafted from the speakers in my husband's car the other day. I looked over to find him singing along enthusiastically with, perhaps, the lamest song I have ever heard. If there were a hint of irony in any of the lyrics between the absurd choruses, I might understand why it plays every ten minutes on the radio:

"She Got That Good Good,
She Michael Jackson Bad,
I'm Attracted To Her, For Her Attractive Ass,
And Now We Murderers, Because We Killed Time,
I Knock Her Lights Out, And She Still Shine,
I Hate To See Her Go, But I Love To Watch Her Leave
But I Keep Her Running Back And Forth
Soccer Team
Cold As A Winter Day,
Hot As A Summer's Eve,
Young Money Thieves
Steal Your Love And Leave "

Where is Steve Allen when you need him. I would pay lots of money to see him do that song spoken word style. The Summer's Eve is funny because it isn't supposed to be, but the rest of it is makes me simply think "douche bag", which isn't normally my preferred put down. The truly ironic part about this song is that LilWayne, the singer of this verse, was sued by the Rolling Stone's publisher:
"The lawsuit cites lyrical comparisons like the Stones’ original chorus “But don’t play with me, ’cause you’re playing with fire,” and Wayne’s line “But you can’t blame me if I set this stage on fire.”
In the lawsuit, Abkco, the publisher, says that the public might assume the Rolling Stones approve of Wayne’s uses of “explicit, sexist and offensive language.”

Excuse me? Have you heard the song "Brown Sugar"? Well, how about reading the lyrics. I did today, for the first time, and was a bit surprised:

"Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
Sold in a market down in New Orleans
Scarred old slaver knows he's doing alright
Hear him with the women just around midnight
Brown sugar how come you taste so good?
Brown sugar just like a young girl should
Drums beating, cold English blood runs hot
Lady of the house wonderin' when it's gonna stop
House boy knows that he's doing alright
You shoulda heard him just around midnight
Brown sugar how come you taste so good, now?
Brown sugar just like a young girl should, now
Ah, get along, brown sugar how come you taste so good, baby?
Ah, got me feelin' now, brown sugar just like a black girl should
I bet your mama was a tent show queen
And all her boyfriends were sweet sixteen
I'm no schoolboy but I know what I like
You shoulda heard me just around midnight
Brown sugar how come you taste so good, baby?
Ah, brown sugar just like a young girl should, yeah
I said yeah, yeah, yeah, woo
How come come you taste so good?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, woo
Just like a...just like a black girl should
Yeah, yeah, yeah, woo"

Perhaps it is the "woo" and the end of each "yeah yeah yeah", but if I were African American, I might not like this song too much. If it were Simon and Garfunkel singing it, the content might not seem as glorified, but combined with Mick's gyrating and Keith's guitar licks, it's anything but a condemnation. It will never be the same song for me, and I have gyrated aplenty to many a "yeah,yeah, yeah WOO" in total ignorance because I couldn't understand the lyrics. I can't help but like The Stones because the music is really good. Maybe I can sing different lyrics-maybe lyrics about how much I like brown sugar:

"Hawaiian born ship bound for New Orleans,
Bought a five pound bag at Fifth and Queen,
Tweaked out sales clerk is doing alright,
Gonna bake my ass off just around midnight,
Brown sugar how come you taste so good?
Brown sugar, just like I knew you would...
Yeah,yeah,yeah WOO
Ima butter my muffin goooood....
yeah,yeah,yeah, WOO
Just like a fat girl should...."

I know, not nearly as fun as the original, but once you become a parent, you make a lot of changes to lyrics. I have taken the song “Bad Mamma Jamma" which says "she's got all the curves a man likes" and turned it into “she’s got all the curls her dad likes" because my kids love this song. I can't teach them the actual lyrics for fear that we have a "Little Miss Sunshine" scenario at school someday soon. Aside from the inappropriate lyrics, it feels strange to promote music to my kids that is actively raunchy or sexist. I intend to continue playing The Rolling Stones, but when they get older I may mention that I don't think The Stones had the right as white British dudes to riff on the Black slave experience with impunity. I realize that it was released decades ago.I just can't believe that they weren't somewhat aware of the significance of the lyrics, though they are hardly the moral compass of rock and roll.

It is their constitutional right to write it, play it and sing it as often as they'd like and those of us who don't like it can write some letters and try and get Tipper Gore and her Parents Music Resource Center involved( don't panic, liberal friends, I'm being facetious)but it speaks to the issue of free speech. If we don't like it,our option is to turn it off, which is a fine option. But what about the stuff you can't turn off or tune out?

While I am all for our rights as Americans, I am of the opinion that the free speech thing has gone a bit too far in some respects( don't panic liberal parents, I am still a fan of the First Amendment). While Larry Flynt has kept us all in disgusting, debasing images of naked women, he has consequently defended our right to print whatever we damn well please.So we are in his debt on the one hand. On the other hand,  I don't think it is acceptable for a merchant to display "Anal Bondage" magazine in the front window of his cash register stand( an actual experience) directly in the eye line of everyone under four feet tall. Unless the store services a large population of little people, they must be marketing their products to very young children. My children, to be specific, and that isn't okay with me. I can't imagine that a photograph depicting a mostly nude woman tied up with her nether region up in the air is going to have anything but a negative impact on someone who is four years old. It is akin to a corrupted file that got past the virus software and will eventually damage the internal mechanism.

We must agree as a society that everything we see is imprinted in our brain, forever. Certain images that I have seen or had described to me with respect to sexual slavery, animal abuse, factory farming- you name it, they are there forever and often rear their ugly but truthful heads at inopportune moments. Nothing kills a romantic evening quicker than a flashback of a little girl describing her ordeal at the hands of her rapist adoptive father.Thanks Oprah....

What about the preponderance of violent or overly sexual song lyrics, gory video games and accessible pornographic imagery?It has been an issue for years and while it would be nice to be able to say that there is no relationship between what we see and how we behave,  any parent can tell you that after their kids watch something on television, they basically incorporate it into their fantasy play. Mine become Cinderella, or Belle, or an ugly step sister on occasion.They are little sponges that soak it up and spit it out, which is why it is so important to monitor what goes in.
I actively dread the middle school years because that is when sex comes into the picture. Over exposure to sexual imagery and content has forever changed the landscape of teenage relationships. I remember the day that Patrick Vagnenius (an eighth grader with an unfortunate surname) brought "Beaver Hunt" to school and showed all of us a series of close up photographs of women's crotches clad in Bermuda shorts with a triangle cut out to reveal extremely au naturel vaginas.It looked like a bunch of ewoks peeking through a plaid window panel to my naive sixth grade eyes, but the boys sure thought it was groovy. It was called the "Bermuda Triangle" edition. This was twenty eight years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday.  Every time I see a pair of Bermuda shorts, I revisit those images. Thanks, Patrick,and how gross and unnecessary for a thirteen year old boy to be reading such a strange magazine. What exactly is the appeal of such a spread( sorry, bad pun)?And what did he think when he finally got a look at a real live lady part?

Certain imagery really should stay behind the brown paper wrapper where people have to seek it out. A friend of mine had a very strict father growing up.She, the only girl, wasn't allowed to platonically date,wear make up or dress provocatively in any way shape or form.One day, when she was about thirteen, she found his porn stash under his bed and, after reading it, scrawled "Daddy's little girl" all over it in black ink.The weirdest part is that it was never mentioned.We can assume that it was discovered at some point and that the culprit was fairly obvious,but what exactly do you say in that situation? Why Daddy looks at porn isn't something that can really successfully be explained to an average thirteen year old girl because they really aren't supposed to be exposed to that sort of thing just yet.While I have nothing against the concept of pornography, in practice it can create too many expectations about what sex is supposed to be.

On a similar but entirely repulsive note, when I was bartending once, some of my clients were passing around a picture and giggling. I was clearing their table and asked what they were looking at. They told me I didn't want to know, and I persisted, thinking ,what could be so bad?What they showed me is permanently burned into my brain, and I almost threw them out of the bar. I won't burden you with a detailed description, but what kind of people carry around and share a photo of someone having sex with his dog? Again, I suppose it is their right to look at whatever they want, as I don't think viewing bestiality is a felony yet, but have a little respect for other people who don't choose to corrupt their brains with something that is entirely useless and flat out damaging. I walked around for weeks glaring at every guy I saw walking his dog. They probably thought I was giving them the stink eye because they didn't pick up their dog's poop, but I was simply disgusted with every last one of them.

I have gotten wiser in my old age and made conscious choices not to view or hear things that I think are vile.I don't mean the news, though if you watch Fox, it is pretty vile, or world events.I just mean,base,ugly,nasty shit that has no place in my life. I am not saying that it isn't okay for people to act out their twisted fantasies with each other or engage in consensual freakinshness.Adults can do what they please, with other adults, because this is America ,Goddamit, but do the rest of us really have to know about it? Must our smallest citizens be inundated with explicit material that is way beyond their comprehension? We all plan on living well into out seventies, so let's allow the kids to be kids at least until they can vote and then it's anyone's game.Hopefully, by then they have learned what took me thirty five years to learn- protect yourself ,because what you look at and hear and experience makes you who you are. It is called Too Much Information,and that applies to songs, magazines and most conversations, overheard and otherwise.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thanksgiving in January

 My husband's talents have made us a nice life. My children benefit from his efforts daily with private school, extracurricular ballet, swimming. They have every toy known to man and they are engaging and confident. They are excellent restaurant diners, because we have been able to practice a lot, and generally polite and well behaved. When they are less than polite and well behaved, I worry if we have been too easy on them. Do they need to know that they are insanely lucky and that most children will never eat/watch/play with a tenth of what they do on a daily basis? I think of my own childhood, which was also charmed, despite an early divorce and the fact that we moved a lot. Then I remembered Chicken Skin Jim.

Now, before I elaborate, I should mention that, while we never went hungry or without the basics, we were usually the least wealthy family in most of the places we lived. We were solidly middle class but lived in some pretty fabulous places just before they became regular subjects of Robin Leach's on air worship of the almighty dollar, so the spectrum of wealth was astonishing. In Aspen, where I lived until I was ten, the disparity wasn't as evident. Jet owners mingled with housekeepers and a good time was had by all.

Post divorce landed us in a series of rentals. First there was the house in Woody Creek with loft bedrooms and Hunter Thompson supposedly lurking around nearby. Then there was the gigantic converted barn smack in the middle of Red Mountain, one of the primest pieces of real estate on earth. After that, an enormous blue Victorian in town, with a woman down the street who taught me how to play backgammon. The last place we lived, before we left the state was a housing development in Carbondale, the first of its kind I imagine, where each house was identical to the next and had just enough space between them to walk through without brushing against either building. And then somewhere in between was the trailer park.

Now, the trailer park was in Aspen proper, so it was sort of kitschy, maybe like Malibu trailer parks might seem now. But it was still a trailer park in the Colorado Mountains. We spend one entire summer in a three bedroom one bathroom trailer with a prefab kitchen and a tiny living room. It even had a teensy yard for our trampoline. My sister and I loved it because it was like every Barbie Dream Van we had ever lusted after.

My Mother was not so thrilled, for obvious reasons, not to mention that it was right around the time that Ted Bundy escaped from the local courthouse and fled. My mother spent that summer in terror. We were blissfully unaware of what he was all about, and spent the summer jumping on the trampoline and making blueberry smoothies.

We befriended a girl who lived a few trailers away. Her name was Tamara, and she looked exactly like the stereotypical trailer park red head: chubby and freckled with carrot colored hair. We could have been sisters. She was high strung and lived with her Grandparents, who were extremely religious. If she, a girl of eight, was caught putting tennis balls in her shirt to look like "boobies", she was punished. I don't think she was beaten, but she got grounded for the silliest things. This fascinated us since we rarely got punished for anything, and the tennis balls would have made my Mother laugh.

Tamara would hang out at our trailer all the time. Things seemed sort of normal until she would say something alarming, and my Mother would be sent into a tailspin. One afternoon she was making us blueberry smoothies and Tamara wandered in. She asked what we were up to, and we showed her the blender. She looked quizzical and said “What’s a blueberry?".

We all stared at her and then at one another. How to, it is a berry that is, well, blue....

How could she have gone through eight years of life and never encountered a blueberry? Jelly? Pancakes? Muffins? Ice cream? Yogurt? Pie? We were baffled. It's not like we were making lychee smoothies or kombuchka blends or something exotic and foreign. It was a blueberry.

In time, we grew tired of Tamara and her histrionics. She was very sensitive and difficult to play with since she was an only child who spent a lot of time alone. My sister and I had each other and had many other friends to play with that summer and mind you, we were eight and ten. She became a nuisance after awhile. Our solution, so as not to be cruel, was this: when she called, we would answer the telephone and say "Mike's Pizza? Can I help you?” Whoever wasn't talking would simulate pizza parlor sounds in the background, like a jukebox or other customers ordering food. I was particularly good and doing the "nyar nyar nyar nyar" of the guitar portion of whatever song was supposedly playing at the time. She knew it was us. She was unrelenting. So were we. This went on for days until she finally stopped calling or dropping by.

We moved to another house a few weeks later. And never saw her again. Not my finest moment aa a  human being, I know. Tamara, if you are reading this, I am truly sorry that I hurt your feelings and that I posed all twelve of the dolls in your room to have only their middle fingers up when you weren't looking.

She was not our only stray child that summer. There was a slight, pale dazed looking kid named Jim who lived at the other end of the trailer park. He had an older brother that was always in trouble with local police. Jim must have been left alone a lot because right around meal time he would appear at the screen door and silently press his face against the tiny squares. My Mother would be making dinner and asking us to help by throwing away the stuff she couldn't use. He would sit on the couch and watch her.

"Hey girls, who wants to throw out these carrot skins?” Before anyone could move Jim would shout out "I'LL EAT IT!!” This applied to everything that we threw away. Most of the time my Mother would humor him (and I am certain that she fed him an actual meal on many occasions) and hand whatever it was over.
One evening, my Mother was making something with chicken and had a handful of skins that needed to be thrown out. Jim was in his usual spot. When she said “who wants to give these chicken skins to the cat?"
Jim hollered “I’LL EAT IT!!". My Mother paused and said, kindly," Well, I don't know, Jim, these are chicken skins. I don't think you are going to want to eat these...” He looked carefully at the contents of the bowl she was carrying and reluctantly agreed.

From that day forth, he was known in our trailer as Chicken Skin Jim. Not to his face, of course, but we well fed, well educated, overly indulged children thought that it was hilarious that he would volunteer to eat chicken skin. I am pretty sure that it didn't occur to me until much later how hungry he must have been, which explains why my Mother so desperately hated living there, with everyone around us living so close to the edge. I imagine it must bring up mixed feelings when you expose your kids to a life that they would probably never choose to live. We knew that the trailer park was temporary, but Jim probably never left until he joined his older brother's exploits. I realized much later in gazing at my preschool photo that, aside from noticing that I am about to cry,there is half of another child lurking in the background. Upon close inspection, it is Chicken Skin Jim, silently peering into the camera over my right shoulder. An eternal  reminder, I suppose, that life is harder for most that it has been for me.

I am deeply grateful to my parents for allowing me a charmed life and to my husband for giving our girls that same opportunity. After all, there before the grace of whatever-runs-this-place go all of us.