The sad part, for me, when I look at this photo of two immensely lovely women exchanging rings and making a life-long and public commitment to each other, is the fact that you can’t see I was wearing some seriously kick-ass earrings.
It’s official. Although I’ve been fighting off encroaching fine lines for several years now, and although I’ve been crochety for far longer than that, I’ve always maintained I’m still “young” (or, more recently, “young-ish”).
But now, the sham has been revealed. Undeniably, I is old.
I know this for sure because, just the other day, I found myself kvetching about “kids these days” and how they have “no respect.” I believe I even shook my fist at the heavens.
In short, at some point when my jowls were sinking deep into a hand of pinochle, and I asked Edna to pass me another one of those hard candies I keep in the jar in my living room (“in case the boys come ’round”), my spirit donned a pair of black knee socks and sandals and went out to mow the lawn. My chi became geriatric.
What caused my sudden heaval into John McCain’s peer group? Students, of course. Or, as we call them at The Home: them bratty ingrates who wouldn’t know proper treatment of their elders if it whupped them upside the head.
Case in point:
For the last few years, I’ve taken it upon myself to create a publication for my college’s English department. The point of this publication is to celebrate student writing–to gather together a representative sampling of the best student work from the year and, after editing it so that it’s actually readable, putting it out in paper (and, this year, blog) editions, with the sum effect being, “Look, random readers: some of our students are able to write in complete sentences!” What’s more, some of them do it with style and intelligence.
So I spend each academic year urging my colleagues to gather the best of their students’ writing (with their signed consent) and submit it to me; at the end of the academic year, when I lay breathless and heaving from grading and reading and administering final exams for my own students, I gather a small committee to read all the submissions and select the best of the pretty-good. We end up with about 150 pages of text, which I then, to signal the start of my “summer vacation,” edit and format. This takes me weeks. I am a sucka that way. Eventually, I send the final proof to the print shop, where we run a couple hundred copies; this year, I also put together a blog site of this publication.
The whole point is to honor students’ efforts, right? That’s what my youthful spirit used to tell me.
This summer, though.
There’s this student–not one of mine. I’ve never seen or met her. It can stay that way. Chosen for inclusion in the final publication, her essay was written in our department’s advanced composition class, which is generally devoted to the finer points of research writing and citation style. However, some instructors also include other modes of essays, in this case a personal interview. So this student–let’s call her Krusty–wrote up a report of an interview she did. It was an interesting read, on a topic that tapped into a modern-day issue of widespread importance. For the purposes of this post, let’s pretend that issue is Prejudice Against Clowns and that she interviewed someone with a bulbous red nose, in full make-up (not Amy Winehouse, interestingly enough).
For me, her essay was simply one of 30 that made the cut…until the trickle of emails began, picked up here midstream:
From: >>> “Krusty” 06/06/08 8:05 AM >>>
is the student web publication out yet?
From: Jocelyn [mailto:happy email@example.com] Sent: Fri 6/6/2008 9:25 PM
Subject: RE: Essay Submission________________________________
Yes. I sent out the link to the entire campus (students, employees,
and faculty) a few days ago. Here it is again:
From: >>> “Krusty” 06/08/08 6:30 PM >>>
why was the title of my paper changed
From: Jocelyn [mailto: slightly-bewildered firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Sun 6/8/2008 9:03 PM
Subject: RE: Essay Submission
Okay, I just looked at your paper again to see what you meant. Yea, we added the colon plus the words “An Interview” because it was the only submission from Comp II that wasn’t a research paper, and readers of the Comp II work would be expecting a research paper, so to avoid their confusion, we clarified with stating it was an interview. Basically, your paper was different from the others in that section,and we wanted people to know that; that’s why the title now reads “Sending in the Clowns: An Interview” instead of “Sending in the Clowns.”
From: >>> “Krusty” 06/13/08 9:21 AM >>>
well i really dont like the title… can you change it to “sending in the clowns” an interview by Krusty ?
From: Jocelyn [mailto: just here to accommodate you email@example.com] Sent: Fri 6/13/2008 2:24 PM
Subject: RE: Essay Submission————————–
From: >>> “Krusty” 06/14/08 7:45 AM >>>
i am very angry that the title was changed without my consent
From: Jocelyn Pihlaja [mailto: are we serious here? firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Sat 6/14/2008 10:22 PM
Subject: RE: Essay Submission________________________________
I can change it on the blog, but it’s too late on the paper copy, which has already gone to the printers.
We were simply trying to honor you with including your work. Editorial changes are part of any publication. I already changed the title to what you suggested (which, basically, consisted of getting rid of a colon and hitting return) on the blog; I’ll be glad to take your paper
off the site entirely, if that makes you feel better. It’s too late on the print copies, but if the title is too distressing, you have the choice of not sharing the paper publication with people you know, at least.
Having two clarifying words added to an essay seems to be overwhelming any good feelings you might have about this honor. I’m very sorry such a small thing has become the focus of your thoughts; I hope at some point you can appreciate that your work was even selected.
From: >>> “Krusty” 06/20/08 9:08 AM >>>
From: Jocelyn [mailto: it’s all I can do to keep from throttling you email@example.com] Sent: Fri 6/20/2008 11:11 AM
Subject: RE: Essay Submission________________________________
From: >>> “Krusty” 06/21/08 7:47 AM >>>
the paper is a profile… not an interview.
You are a very rude woman. And yes, the title does bother me because the title i gave my work had meaning. and it is too bad that you cant take feelings into consideration without writing an insulting letter. I am not stupid and i do understand why you changed it. But there was a better way to have done it and kept more of the original title. But i suppose i can not expect someone who doesnt deal with being a clown to understand how much the title means to myself and others to have.
Krusty, I’m extremely confused. Extremely. I just reread what I wrote and can’t see what’s striking you as rude there. I was serious–not sarcastic–about being willing to remove the paper from the site, if it’s distressing you. I also was serious that I’m very, very sorry you’re not feeling honored or getting enjoyment out of your paper being selected.
Tone very often gets lost in email, as yours have felt quite aggressive and overly-strong to me, but I’ve been trying to read them as though you’re simply trying communicate your feelings and not attack someone who was putting together a project intended to promote and celebrate
student work. That I’ve become a lightning rod for your reaction continues to surprise me.
As a sidenote, since you don’t know me, it is presumptuous for you to assume you know anything about what clown training I might have participated in or have undergone in my life, by the way. And I don’t mean for that to sound rude but rather corrective of an overstepping of bounds.
As I step back and try to review your concerns objectively, I find myself still stymied as to why you feel the title change impacted its effect. Your paper was titled by you as “Sending in the Clowns.” The title in the publication was “Sending in the Clowns: An Interview.” I guess where we’re butting opinions is that I just don’t see–nor does anyone I’ve asked during this exchange of emails–how adding “An Interview” compromises the meaning or impact of the title. And after you expressed your unhappiness with that title, I changed it immediately on the Web site so that it reads “Sending in the Clowns” An Interview by Krusty. I did what you had asked, yet you’re even more angry.
I can own the fact that I did something that made you angry. But you’re the one who’s in charge of her own reactions beyond that. Truly, I’m not trying to be rude, but I’m also really trying not to let your reaction take over something that was meant very innocently and that I’ve rectified to the best of my ability.
From: Jocelyn [mailto: I can’t tell you how done I am here firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Fri 6/21/2008 2:34 PM
Subject: RE: Essay Submission________________________________
Oh. I asked your instructor, before putting together the publication, what genre the paper should be labeled, and she said it was “an interview.” I’ll change it on the Website, if you want, to “a profile.”
That has been the last I’ve heard of her (’til she stumbles across this post, and I’m forced to hire Kevin Costner to be My Bodyguard). I’m choosing to take her radio silence as a sign that she ultimately was awed and amazed by my continued calmness in the face of her obsessive and over-zealous pursuit of this issue. At this moment, she is doubtlessly holed up in a wood-paneled basement, below Mom and Dad’s den, scribbling furiously in her journal about the deep regret and shame she feels for the way she dared to communicate with a perfect stranger, one who is, even more, an instructor at the college she attends.
Yea. That’s the ticket. She’s terribly sorry that she turned me into an aged harpie who goes around croaking about “those bobby soxers and their dangerous long-haired music.”
Were hers the only example, I could put the story to bed and muse on it there, as I rub Ben-Gay into my aching joints. But the truth is, she’s one of many. College teachers are regularly receiving inappropriate communication like this…all…the…I-spent-how-many-years-in-graduate-school-and-now-put-in-50-hours-a-week-holding-nervous-hands-and-being-supportive-of-students-who-complain-when-they-receive-a-9/10-on-an-assignment-just-to-have-you-crap-on-me-like-this? time.
Fortunately, 84% of the other students redeem the lot and give me faith that there’s something to this slagging away in the Inspiring Minds Mines. However, when it’s 2 a.m., and I’m up leafing through my albums of WWII (the good old days), I start to think
early retirement can never be overrated.
There’s a bit of a rub, of course, since I’m our household’s breadwinner. Someone needs to eat the sh** so we can eat the bacon, right?
Behold this joyful noise, though:
Inspired by my grumblings about ruff-necked performers who cram into VW’s and have Internet access, Groom has determined to up his unicycle training and infiltrate the circus…
…where he will not only earn us a glittery paycheck,
he’ll also be perfectly positioned
roll some serious treadmarks onto the clowns.
My marriage succeeds on many levels. Groom lets me sleep big many muches, when I need it. Groom cooks me food and sets out large plates. Groom laughs hard when I’m mean and small and petty.
Even better, Groom and I have spent many-an-easy hour making lists of “Famous People Jocelyn Gets to Sleep With If She Ever Encounters Them in the Febreze Aisle at the Target, and They Happen to Proposition Her There.” I know many marriages have this List; such Lists can provide mental comfort–an emotional escape hatch–to those who feel that commitment somehow closed doors, snipped options, and dug the first foot of the grave.
For me, I don’t think The List is about that, though, as every inch of Groom’s 6′ 3″ frame is hot and tasty, like a Wendy’s Double Classic Burger without Pickles. I’m completed by my commitment to him.
Don’t I maybe need something new to talk about at family gatherings, when we all meet year- after-endless year, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our glasses of lemonade, staring at the lake, whiffling on about the weather? Wouldn’t it make for a memorable holiday reunion with Great-Aunt Ruthie if I could announce that, thanks to Groom dropping me off at the talk show host’s condo in Santa Monica, I shared afternoon delight with Jon Stewart? Wouldn’t that put some stuffing into yet another limp family Thanksgiving?
Truly, my List of Possible Celebrity Bangs doesn’t reach so high. I get nothing from mainstream hotties like Brad Pitt, save a small annoyance at his slanted Oklahoman vowels, one that leaves me wondering, “Is he really talking about a pin, or did he mean a pen?” Sit up straighter, Bradley, and speak righter. And stop wearing those silly newsboy hats.
No, I go for a more off-beat, quirky, intelligent, full-voweled kind of appeal. Give me crooner Lyle Lovett or producer Don Was or interviewer Charlie Rose over leading man Shia LeBeouf and his wispy faux-brooding any day.
But more than anyone? I would like to have Michael Kenneth Williams “meet me by the Febreze” at–how do you say it?–exactly this very minute, pulling behind him a fold-away bed and a cart full of candles and perhaps Cesaria Evora in the flesh (except she is required to turn away and examine the paper towels as she serenades us, for she has a mug so scary that it could suck the oxygen right out of a conflagration even as searing as mine and Michael’s).
If you have never seen HBO’s The Wire and basked in the multi-faceted brilliance of my Michael’s turn as Omar, Killer with a Code, then you have not only missed out on “One of the Ten Reasons to Still Love Television,” but you have missed out on previewing my next date, and how else can you seal your approval onto the man who will be plying me with a 2002 cabernet just beyond the hand brooms and bleach?
That he plays a homosexual on The Wire is irrelevant to my attraction; just ask either of my Prom dates in high school, both of whom have since gone on to post-Jocelyn loves named Scott and Jason. I like to think I helped define their course.
But my Michael? Groom agrees: he’s already coursing.
When Evora’s final note dies away, and the candles sputter their last, and the shelf-stockers stop their blushing, I’ll aright myself, hitch up my garters, run one last tender finger over Michael’s scar, and tromp off to meet Groom over by the clearance grills.
Although I’ll have mopped up what I can with the available dryer sheets, a clean-up will most definitely be needed on Aisle 12.
Sure, there have been a lot of contenders over the years: words, books, swizzle sticks, a solid foundation garment. Each of these has served as a tool in its own right, opening doors for me and then, three hours later, getting me tossed right back out. But they’ve done the job.
Occasionally, as well, I’ve overcome my esoteric tendencies and turned my bleary eyes towards implements that can be wielded for practical purposes:
Indeed, I’ve always had my arsenal of little helpers (shout out to Vicodan!), those things that I grab when I need help getting through the unforgiving hour, when I’ve used my one phone call and I’m still stuck for bail.
In the last months, though, I’ve had to expand my repertoire of what I’ll latch onto in a moment of need as our household, specifically our backyard, has descended into a state of low rentitude that makes even Brett Butler recoil in horror:
First, there was the red compost bin that occupies more square footage than our bathroom. Then we added in the tetherball pole for good measure (works great as a stake upon which to dry my jerky after a good bear kill). Not yet satisfied, we broke up an uneven backyard pathway with a sledgehammer, thus birthing our third child, little Gravel Heap, before I started to add in the stacks of railroad ties that had formerly lined our enormous vegetable garden.
Because Groom had hernia surgery 6 weeks ago, he has been unable to help with any of the manual labor around the yard this summer, which is par for the course because he’s an enormous lady’s blouse even when he’s fit. His “unusual weakness” and “need to recover” relegated me to the role of Participant in the Scottish Highlands’ Strongman Competition, wherein I would heft up a railroad tie on end and then, plugging my body underneath it, heave the thing end-over-end whilst grunting to all onlookers, “Away an bile yer heid, ye baw bags! I mae be an Auldjin, and am’fair peched, but I’m crakin’ here!” Somewheres around when I was threatening the gathered gawkers with a fierce “cuddy lug,” we also added in the two black plastic compost bins, which were meant to replace the original red eyesore…but when the two bins didn’t handle half of Red’s innards, we ended up keeping all three, which has me extremely dischuffed.
Once all of the ties had added to the fray of ghetto garbage piles, I was ready to up my game and start digging kabluminous holes across the yard, uniformly seven inches deep (don’t ask me to name the tool I’m using for that measurement; I’m a demure lass)…
Oh, yes, it will help me crawl up the walk when I am whupped. For that, I love it.
Even better, Wikipedia reports of The Mattock: “The shaft is often heavier than the head, sometimes possessing twice the mass and density of a baseball bat.”
At night, I dream of The Mattock. It cuts; it slices; it dices; it eases my lot. For The Mattock, I would sacrifice from my Tool Holster the swizzle stick–a puny, flaccid lad, in comparison.
And, yes, that’s my big man leg in that photo. Get snotty about it, and I’ll clench your wee walnut head bewteen my calves and make pesto out of your brain. That cracking sound you hear just before blacking out? That’s the sound of the Jocelyn working on the chain gang.
The adventure continues and concludes in this installment, which ranges from ruins to Kaluha (words which also sum up my current existence). See how travel broadened this broad?
After a few days in Belize, my sister, some other Peace Corps volunteers, Cute John, and I rented a “taxi” to take us to Tikal, Guatemala to see some Mayan ruins. Alwyn, our driver, didn’t want more than five people in his car, for the roads are nearly non-existent, and, as Carol Brady would have, he feared for his station wagon. Pointing out that Cute John was spun from nothing more than clouds, fairy wings, and cotton candy, we unwisely coerced Alwyn to allow a sixth in the car.
Tikal was 65 km (let’s call that 39 miles, roughly) from our starting point that day. It was a four-hour drive. To amuse ourselves, we ran through our repertoires of “theme songs from every tv show aired since 1970.” Only Cagney & Lacey stumped the crowd. As I’ve asked myself nearly every day since my adolescence, Where’s Tyne Daly when you need her?
My favorite moment of this journey was when the station wagon got stuck in a rut in from of 10 Guatemalan lads–lazing on the edge of a village well–just as we all reached the high point of the All in the Family theme song “Those Were the Days,” doing our best Edith Bunker impersonations. Jaws around the well dropped, and we set back Central American/North American relations hundreds of years, putting a particular strain on the coffee trade (you no longer have to ask yourselves, “Why can I only get an inferior cup of Sumatran java these days?” After hearing our singing, Guatemalans were thrown into a decades-long bean harvesting paralysis.)
Tikal itself is amazing. We hiked all over the ruins, ending with Temple IV, a building that loomed several hundred feet into the sky, reachable only by maneuvering a series of sideways ladders and grasping at tree roots. I nearly wept at the top for fear of the descent.
Fortunately, right then a group of senior citizens came huffing and puffing around the corner. I eyed them quizzically and asked, “Do you, by chance, know an alternate route down?” They did. All it involved was shuffleboard, ice sculptures, and me sitting on my tush and sliding down the hill).
Dusty and sweaty, we had lunch, bargained at the market, and began the drive home.
Oh. Did I forget to mention that this was the first weekend this particular border crossing between Guatemala and Belize had been open in some time? There’d been a ban because groups of banditos had been attacking tourist vehicles and “molesting” (in all fashion) gringos?
This concern was firmly tucked into the back of our collective head as we started the drive home at dusk. On the worst possible stretch of sheltered road, Alwyn, our driver, slammed on the brakes and yelled, “I smell gas!” Without another word, he hopped out of the car, dove beneath it, jumped out, ran to a nearby shack, and came back with a pan and a bar of soap. What an odd time for a sponge bath, Alwyn.
It turned out we had two dime-sized holes in the gas tack, holes that had been worn through when the tank came into repeated contact with the road as it worked through the ruts that day. Our supply of gas was in rapid leak all over the road. Keeping his head, and smelling of an Irish Spring, Alwyn went to work ripping apart the bar of soap and shoving it into the holes.
Villagers from miles around gathered quietly, silently, in a removed circle around us, watching, sharpening their knives, eyeing our flesh and firing up their barbeques. Cute John prepared to sacrifice his life in defense of the five gringas in his company from the line of men that slowly started snaking its way towards us. He, in other words, plotted the straightest line between himself and the camouflage of the jungle, knowing he could outrun us all.
In truth, we merely felt intimidated, and Alwyn saved the gas and the day. And I had a reflective moment of realizing my imagination was alive and turning cartwheels. We got home safely, gratefully.
The next Monday, Kirsten, Cute John, and I got back on another bus to return north to Corozal. During that bus ride, I finished reading GONE WITH THE WIND for the 32nd time. They all die, by the way. On the way back to Corozal, we spent an afternoon in the smoky, polluted capital, Belize City, where, as we tromped around, I missed squashing a dead rat that lay near a burning garbage heap. Good times.
For the rest of that week, once we got back to Kirsten’s house in Corozal, we visited my sister’s schools, where she was a teacher trainer. Cute John missed out on one day’s school visit, as he was vomiting blood all day, the kind of vomiting that tests the limits of one’s attractiveness.
The kids in the schools were a scream; the teachers were barely adequate. At the first school we went to, the teacher wasn’t in the classroom with her nine 3 and 4-year-olds. She was making herself some popcorn in a nearby building. As far as school supplies went, the only toys or creative materials any classroom enjoyed had been sent down by my sister’s friends and family. But what you can’t do with a little paper and tape…
At the end of the week, we accompanied one of Kirsten’s schools on a field trip to a resort called Don Quixote’s. A few of the kids, after much coaxing, would get into the water of the swimming pool there, on the top step of the shallow end. None would go into the nearby sea. Culturally, there is a fear of being wet, as it leads to sure death, apparently. My sister had already learned that, on the days it was raining, she didn’t even need to get up and visit her schools, as no one would be there.
Towards the end of the trip, Cute John went to Antigua, Guatemala, where the sight of his smile and the smell of his minty breath stopped traffic. My sister and I went to Chetumal, Mexico, where I got a cheap hammock and a wheelbarrow-sized bottle of Kaluha. From there, I took a bus alone back to Cancun and found the myriad “hey, baby” come-ons helped me decide to spend some quality time in my hotel room. In Belize, groups of men hanging out on the corner are known as the Leaky Tire Brigade because of the zzzekkksy “SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS” noise they make when a female walks by. By the end, I was able to advise my sister that, upon her return to the States, her biggest adjustment wouldn’t be to the vast amounts of produce available in the shiny grocery stores but rather to not being noticed and commented upon with every step in public.
Ultimately, on my last night there, as sweated and scratched at bug bites, I had an epiphany. my biggest point of pride from the whole trip was this: due to a sorry bit of mis-packing back in the States, I had done it all without deodorant.
Guess who not only has 50 research papers to grade in the next week but also has the honor of serving as a witness in a big ole lesbian wedding extravaganzapalooza this weekend? I even get to give a toast at the reception (something along the lines of “May you always wear the same size and, therefore, enjoy double the wardrobe from this day forth”).
While I’m off grading and toasting, I leave you with the first installation of a travelogue written in 1990, when I was 22 and traveled to Belize to visit my sister, Kirsten, during her first tour as a volunteer in the Peace Corps. What you’ll read here is my 22-year-old voice, typed directly from a letter I sent out upon my return.
By the way, although most of my weeks in Central America were spent in Belize, I actually flew into and out of Cancun, as plane fare was drastically cheaper to that tourist spot. So don’t be confused: even though there should be, there’s no Cancun, Belize.
Here ya go:
As I sit here wilting in a Cancun hotel, it seems as good a time as any to record my recent adventures. Actually, Kirsten asked me to compose some thoughts about my visit to Belize, thoughts that might supplement her less-objective observations. Seeing as she’s the sister who used to sit on me and engage her unwilling sibling in “let’s-see-who-can-slap-the-hardest” fights, I’ll comply with her request. Childhood conditioning sticks.
I flew into Cancun on February 19 and was met by our favorite Peace Corps volunteer. I’d been told by Mom that Kirsten’s hair was falling out due to the anti-malarial pills she had to take; my sigh of relief that she didn’t resemble Don Rickles was audible. You’ll be happy to know that our near 3-year absence from each other didn’t keep us from settling down in front of the t.v. as soon as we hit the hotel. We spent two nights in a gorgeous tourist haven on the beach, swam in that unnaturally aqua and clear sea, wandered the markets, drank the two twelve-packs of pop I brought on the plane as a gift, and, uh, watched t.v. Kirsten speaks Spanish like a native–all the cab drivers told us–so don’t let her beg off otherwise.
1990: The year when glasses frames and hoop earrings were literally interchangeable. Let’s all congratulate my sister, at this juncture, for getting contact lenses and leaving those specs behind. The earrings, however? Totally Beyonce in 2008. I was ahead of my time.
We also spent a rather depressing hour and a half at Cancun’s Hard Rock Cafe, stuck at the same table with a Canadian named Larry, a sorry and recently-separated 34-year-old chain smoker who wanted nothing more than to “party with some babes.” Unfortunately, Kirsten and I had to go back to the hotel and, you know, watch t.v.
Bravely, I wore a long white skirt to the Hard Rock, a place where the nachos have been known to attack lesser womenswear. The gladiator sandals I’m wearing, though? Totally Lindsay Lohan in 2008. Seriously, these photos are convincing me that I was a fashion visionary.
On the third day, a college buddy of mine, John (Juan) flew down to escape the boredom of a post-B.A. pastry chef’s position. We three hopped a taxi to Playa del Carmen, ate pizza, and then jumped on a boat to Cozumel, a little island town that, despite being overrun with gringos, feels like Mexico. We ate dinner at Carlos & Charlie’s, the type of tourist restaurant where, if you don’t seal your lips, you’re apt to find a tap of wine shoved down your throat. Kirsten charmed yet another waiter with her accent; I hear the pitter-patter of little accents already. The tables at Carlos & Charlie’s have butcher paper and chalk laid out for the customers’ doodling pleasure, so, somewhere in Mexico is a piece of paper that proclaims “Mi hermana habla espanol muy bien.” Look for it.
The next day, we taxied out to a resort/beach place for the day where Kirst and I snorkeled for the first time, shrieking with delight after we got over our initial fear of the big, bad fish right there, brushing up against us. We don’t even eat ’em, much less submerge our faces where they, um, do, you know, their business. John disappeared with a book for several hours, reappearing with tawdry tales of flirtation not fit for mixed company. That night we took our su8nburns to Neptuno, “the” disco, and shook our booties while the waiters shook their heads. They played “The Lambada” a kazillion times (the natives are wild for it, but because that dance has some barkin’ choreography, not a one can actually reproduce the moves they’ve seen in the video). I’m pretty sure if “The Twist” were spun at the disco, and Chubby Checker was yodeling away, yet everyone stood rock still, fingers snapping, agreeing “Muy groovy tune, Chubby.”
Finally, it was Friday, and we were ready to ease into Belize. To be honest, I don’t really remember what happened that day–it’s all a nightmarish jumble of hellish bush rides and bruised buttocks. What I do recall is surprise, surprise that there is a definite demarcation between Mexico and Belize (and, as I was later to find, Guatemala). Contrary to my expectations of “Central America as A Country,” we had to stop on each side of the border, fill out forms, go through customs, and get our passports stamped. It was in marked contrast to traveling in Europe, where the countries all seem to mesh together. And there’s a marked change in the look and feel of each country, althoug separated by only 10 feet. Many Belizian homes resemble the Clampetts’ shack before Jed struck Texas Tea, so you can imagine my relief when Kirsten told the bus driver to pull over in front of a relatively-palatial house. Indeed, Kirsten’s Belizian home is pretty nice, if you don’t mind only one sink in the place (in the bathroom; a kitchen sink is overrated), no hot water, and minimal water pressure. Sometimes I’d hold the handle down for a flush for so long that I’d have to go again before the bowl had emptied or refilled. Bathing in her house is best accomplished by heating a pot of water on the stove and adding that to a big bucket of cold water; it is a process called “mixing.” The next step is to take a little bowl, scoop it into the mix, and dump it over your head. I smelled of slightly-rancid yum on this trip.
Because my pal John reads this blog, I have carefully selected this photo of him for inclusion. He’s still that damn cute, even when–especially when!–he washes his unmentionables in the shower, as we had to in Belize.
The day after we got to Kirsten’s house in Corozal, we leapt joyfully back onto another thumpity bus and headed south to Cayo District where a couple other Peace Corps volunteers are stationed. We ate that night at an ex-British soldier’s restaurant where I tried my first Belizian beer and, indirectly, my first extended coupling with the toilet. It soon passed, in a manner of speaking, but it put a damper on the reggae/soca dance we attended that night. All of the songs at the dance were at least half an hour long, which not only gave us an aerobic workout but also allowed me to go have a squat and then come back to twirl, all during the same tune.
Up next: we run out of gas.
I have a friend of a friend.
It could happen. I might have a friend, like from Cub Scouts, and this friend might talk to a bartender sometimes, and after about four vodka tonics, my Cubby Scouty friend suddenly has a new shot-pouring, swizzle-sticking “friend” blurrily weaving around there behind the expanse of oak. See?
Chant it with me: we are all part of a vast and thrumming–a harmonically converging–interconnectedness of spirits. We are all just friends who haven’t met yet.
Especially when Cub Scouts and vodka are involved.
So Friend of Friend is single, sans kids, which means he actually has time to sit and stare and partake in self-exploration. Were he twelve, this would mean he enjoys many-a-private-diddle.
Oh, all right. Even though he’s in his late thirties, I suspect it still often means that he’s using his vast personal time to, em, wet a tube sock.
However, sometimes free time and self-exploration take another form, something woven into ancient cultures and traditions, something sprung from the very heartbeat of the earth. Sometimes Friend of Friend gets on a plane and flies to a place where he might find himself.
Sometimes Friend of Friend goes. on. a. Vision. Quest.
…and pays hecka lot of money to Vision Quest Company, Inc. for the chance to sit next to a fire, amongst the trees of Oregon, unmoving, fasting, pondering, awakening, for five days.
Indeed, for a substantial fee, Friend of Friend bought himself an experience that can be had in my backyard, for free. I have trees. I have a fire pit. I am always happy to strap people to a bench, as well, and refuse them food. Even better, I toothpick their eyes open and make them watch me eat a steak-dangling-from-a-string right there in front of them. I wear ear plugs as I do this, to block out their intestinal growls and pleading mewls. In fact, I have replicated the entire “Vision Quest Enriched By External Torture” experience on several occasions, for well beyond that pansy “five day” stretch. If the wind is blowing the right direction, and the yard’s squirrels are otherwise occupied giving each other Mary Kay facials, I can make a steak-on-a-string last for a full week.
But okay. Friend of Friend needed to pay the money to make the experience “authentic.” So there he was, in Oregon, staring at the fire, letting his mind drift, getting hungrier and hungrier, and whaddya know? ‘Round about Day 3, the hallucinations began; as it turns out, hunger is the new peyote.
Most Vision Quest participants welcome the hallucinations, for it is through them that life direction is revealed when their Animal Guardian decloaks. Modern Man will pay big bucks for an Animal Guardian. Look at what that sod Alec Wildenstein put up with in a wife, just to keep a cat nearby.
Curiously, for Friend of Friend, no Animal Guardian revealed itself. Could it be that his Vision Quest fee would have been better spent on the purchase of a really gnarly home theatre system?
Fortunately, just as despair–and the dream of an Arby’s Beef ‘N Cheddar–threatened the success of the quest, Friend of Friend began to channel,
The surreal images wafting through his brain started to align into some kind of sense. For some time, he had been seeing a queen. Then the king. Then their son. The entire family sent messages of jubilation; they were flush with victory. They were Friend of Friend’s Guardians– not animals. Nay. Royals.
At the end of the five days, Friend of Friend emerged from the wilderness, greeted the civilized world by gulping down a dozen Krispy Kremes, and then, simultaneously cleansed and sugar-buzzed, analyzed his hallucinatory revelations.
It was easy, really.
Clearly, he was meant
–had always been destined–
to play in the World Series of Professional Poker.
His vision complete, and with $1500 still burning a hole in his wallet, Friend of Friend promptly entered the first qualifying tournament. With his Guardian Queen, King, and Jack (Daniels) by his side while he plays the circuit, he is a shoe-in for the finals.
As Celine, Penn, Sigfried, Carrot Top, Blue Man, Wayne Newton, and thousands of gals teetering around in pasties and enormous head dresses well know, all the best quests end in Vegas, the city where bruised hope staggers back to the hotel at dawn in search of a cheap buffet.
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Sorry for the “filler” post; it’s been a particularly packed week, with softball games, kids at camp, friend visiting, gardening, and crazed online students. At this very minute, my ass is doing a weird locked ‘n screaming thing–I’ve been on it so long this morning in front of the computer, grading discussion postings and “reading logs.”
Later today, though, I have an ass-ectomy scheduled, so that should alleviate my woe.
In my youth, a popular comic strip drawn by Stan Lynde called Rick O’Shay ran in the Billings Gazette. Oh, didn’t we chuckle at the exploits of that sheriff and the ragbag crew that staggered across the panels of his life. Lawsy, but we chortled at the antics of O’Shay’s preciously-monikered friends and colleagues in the Western town of Conniption: “Hipshot Percussion,” “Basil Metabolism,” “Quyat Burp,” and, of course, the Native-American “Crazy Quilt. ”
We could hardly wait for the 4:00 a.m. thump on the front porch that signaled the paper boy had delivered our daily dose of cowboy cartooning. Up we shot from our waterbeds, hurtling the Etch-A-Sketch, leaping the Clue gameboard, somersaulting the Lincoln Logs in our quest to be the first to scan that day’s strip. Would Crazy Quilt win the affections Chief Crazy Neck’s daughter Moonglow? Would Stan Lynde have managed to showcase the word “howsomever” in an entirely new way?
This was big stuff for us small fry.
Thus, you can imagine our excitement when a local Rick O’Shay contest was announced. Children from across our arid burg were invited to dress up as their favorite characters from the strip and submit to judging. The winner would win a plaque-ish thing and an interview on the local news. Because Sheriff Rick O’Shay admired nothing more than plaques and news, we knew our participation would please him.
Of course, when one is four years old, as I was at the time, one’s “favorite character” often amounts to “what Mom wants to dress her kid in.” Turns out, Mom had a feather and swimsuit that were itching for an outing, and in this fashion, my character was chosen.
Clearly, my heroic brother, who once held up both hands to stop oncoming traffic on a busy street so that I might cross safely, would be
My five-year-old sister, with her love of shimmying to the tunes of Donny Osmond and organizing girls into teams for popsicle-eating contests, was a natural for the owner of the town’s dancehall:
Gaye Abandon, or, more precisely,
“Madame” Gaye Abandon
For me? Well, Mom had the swimsuit. She had the feather. She understood there was a strip involved. Somehow sensing my future love of pouring shots and sitting on laps, she decked me out as
Despite my innate sense of modesty, I’ll have you know, friends, that the town of Billings had a Conniption over me. They melted at the sight of a four-year-old streetwalker, so full of promise, with her whole career in front of her. Particularly when my convincing whoreishness was contextualized during the judging, I was a standout: so fresh compared to those hardened 12-year-olds…so Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby…so able to rock the look of garter and heels and locket, the look of a girl who means to communicate “You can have me for ten minutes for twenty dollars; the back seat’s fine. And do you have any Barbies or an Easy-Bake oven?”
Stop running away at the sight of this title, ya scaredy-blogger.
Really. I’m done exhausting and exhuming the story of my grandma and dad. But at this point, before I move back to the usual programming of posts that detail how Jessica Alba is somehow like a Shamrock Shake–and other random pop culturized profundities that are, in truth, what actually occupy my brain–I thought I’d squeeze one more drop out of this family tale.
By now, it’s not much more than a vanity project. Interestingly, the vanity has come about because–and hold your mullet here, Wayne!–I’ve actually learned how to use our scanner, and therefore I am veddy, veddy proud of my small, delicate, “copy-button”-pushing finger, the one what has bravely helped a host of old family photos to become computer friendly. Honest to Edison, before these past weeks, when I’d use pre-2004 photos on my blog, I’d just prop them up on the counter out on the back porch and take pictures of them that way. Good, old-fashioned digitization and all.
So as long as I’m feeling flush with pride over my techno-smarts, and so long as I’m struggling to grade the work of 90 online summer students and therefore have smallish writing time, and so long as we’re pondering family and how its members resonate through the generations, I thought I’d provide this mini-album of photos.
My dad? Was talented and pragmatic and gentle and awesome. My eight-year-old girl, who is talented in her own fashion but not necessarily musically, is doing her best to occasionally hit the right note and sporadically find the dominant beat. But she LOVES her music, as did my dad. And she’s definitely pragmatic and gentle and awesome.
Look at these two Beethovens, in photos taken decades apart. Legacy, indeed.
There’s Wee Niblet Paco Dinko, the five-year-old here in the house. As resident goofa$$, he is clearly mine. But how, exactly, can he be traced back to my dad and that serious branch of the family?