Time After Time

I’m currently the bologna in a Colorado sandwich.

I’m aware makes no sense, so don’t scrutinize it too closely. Cutting through my nonsense, what I’m saying is that I’m currently in Minnesota, having recently come back from a kamikaze weekend in Colorado. And tomorrow, the family and I are taking off for, you guessed it, Colorado.

Compared to my opening statement, that makes lots of sense, right?

Here’s the deal:

Last weekend, a good friend of mine from college who lives outside of Boulder, CO (she’s in the sassy orange halter top in the photo here) was the recipient of a suprise 40th birthday party. Her husband, knowing how wiley she is, threw the party six weeks before her actual birthday; in addition to that, he went through all sorts of machinations, created tangles of lies, and even went so far as to fake a phone call or two in her presence…and if that isn’t the definition of a loving relationship, I don’t know what is.

Because my college years were a floodlit time in my life–when everything seemed heightened and special and life changing and full of promise–making the trip to Colorado for a patio-top restaurant party to honor this friend seemed well worth the effort. Of course, since I was so busy being all floodlit and stuff, I ended up majoring in English in college and then becoming a teacher, which means I now don’t make enough money to pay for such a boondoggle weekend myself. Enter My Benefactress (the brunette in the photo–and if you want to say anything about her like “nice rack,” go ahead. She can take it), the pal who funded the trip. In my defense, I would like to stress that, although she paid for plane fare, car rental, and hotel room, I did shell out on a $6.00 toll road, thus carrying my weight.

The party was gratifyingly fun, the after party back at their house even more so. Stir in some good meals, a lovely run up Boulder Creek canyon one morning, and my introduction to a new drink called a Dark and Stormy (check it, cocktail fiends: put some ice in a glass, squeeze some lime over it, toss in a shot or two of rum, top it with ginger brew [non-alcoholic…kind of a ginger soda pop, available at co-ops or organic food type shops], and, if you’ve got it, mash up some fresh ginger and stir it in, too), and the weekend was outrageously happy making.

I also considered it a scouting mission for the upcoming family road trip. Yup, we’re leaving on Monday, the 18th, and will be driving a huge loop around the West for almost three weeks. First, we’ll head down to Austin, MN, where I used to live, for a visit with a sainted friend; then we’ll head through Iowa into Nebraska, where we’ll stop over in Lincoln for many hours of play in the tremendous children’s museum there (seriously, this is the third time we’ve worked that museum into our trip plans), eventually meandering into Colorado, where we’ll see all sorts of friends in Denver and Boulder (including my sister, freshly back in Denver after her two years in Guatemala); after that, it’s up through Wyoming, stopping to see my great-aunt in Cody, and then heaving over, bravely, for a glimpse of boiling mud pots in Yellowstone Park; after all this, we’ll drive to Billings to help my mom clean out her storage locker there (she’s now a Californian) before we hire a trailer to help us haul our storage locker spoils across North Dakota and back to Minnesota. At that point, we’ll collapse in a heap and stare at the new furniture in despair, as it’s not like we actually have room for it. But how very fun to go get it!

Indeedy, I’ve just been to Colorado, and now I’m heading there again. I do so love the shortness of breath and leathery skin I get while there, you see.

So I’ll be trying to post from the road and check in occasionally. But my trolling through your blogs, which has already taken a hit this summer since I’m never in my office, which is where all the best computer loafing takes place, may suffer even more.

However, I have little copies of each of your avatars framed and hanging in a shrine in the corner of my dining room, and I’m hiring a neighbor kid to come light the candles and incense in your honor twice a week, so I’m certain you’ll still feel the lurve, even in my absence.

Gotta go get the motor runnin’ now.

And, even though I do intend to keep posting with my usual regular irregularity, if you start to miss the feeling of Jocelyn Holding Forth, just come here and gaze upon this photo

The sight of me, mid-monologue, is certain to quash any wistful pangs you might be feeling. I’m here for ya like that.

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“If You Get My Drift”

As a teacher of writing, my life is full of unexpected chortles; sometimes, I get to chortle when students with visible thongs and bra straps complain about not being taken seriously. Other times, I get to chortle because students write crap without thinking about what they’re putting on the paper.

I’ve documented this phenomenon in a previous post, but them students, they just keep coughing up new gems for me. And now that I’ve been on summer break for a few weeks, I’ve gotten all melancholy and find myself pining for some crap writing (y’all bloggers aren’t doing the job for me, so tone down the polished rhetoric, would you?). At such junctures, I breathe deeply, do a couple yoga poses, and then take a look at the cover of my gradebook, which is littered with phrases from student papers, jotted down as I wipe tears of chortle from my eyes.

For your edification, then, I offer up three student dookies:

On a final exam, one fine young 17-year-old wrote: “My grandpa is Norwegian, married to a woman who is half-Norwegian, so every Christmas we have lutefisk and Swedish meatballs…”

Shall we presume she thinks Norwegians are Swedish? Even further, I’ll bet she thinks Canadians are Americans who live in a region with better beer and more talented improv comedians.

Final exams also yielded this unproofread delight:

“I spent a lot of time in my swimming suite…”

…leaving me certain that I have been rooked my whole life; I mean, every time I’ve gone swimming, there has been only one measly pool–okay, maybe with a hot tub on the side (aka Bacteria Stew)–but a whole suite of pools? With valet and room service and a minibar? And really fluffy towels? And thick Turkish robes? And 148 channels? And a blow dryer? And how dangerous and futile is that: blow drying one’s hair whilst in the pool? Can I just swim all night, from pool to pool, marveling at how the children are asleep in one pool, but I’m still awake and watching Weeds over in mine?

Lastly, I was sorry to read that the family of one of my students is imbued with a thread of obsequiousness:

“My uncle Roger is syncophantic.”

Interestingly, this student’s paper, up until this point, had been about her uncle’s struggle with hearing voices, suffering from depression, and waging a war with mental illness. But suddenly, with spell-checker plugging in its guess at how to spell something like “schizophrenic,” her uncle’s problem became more benign; at worst, he was crippled by the illness of being an overly-attentive “yes” man.

—————————–
Ah, I’m feeling much better now, having reviewed those. It’s possible I might now find the heart to go outside and drink a mojito in the sunshine. And if I ever write about that experience in a composition class, I’ll be sure to tickle the instructor by typing about “how affective a German drink can be for relinquishing in a lounge chere.”

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“The New Meth…Wait, No, Even More Addictive Than That: The New Chocolate

About fifteen years ago, I took up cross-stitching for all of two months. Single and childless, I was looking for a hobby, and the idea of handiwork tapped in to my desire to share pursuits, outside of grinding corn and sitting in straight-backed chairs in my whale-bone corset, with my colonial ancesors. So I got a hoop and some floss and started making all those little X-s into pictures.

After two months, I had a moment of awakening: I didn’t actually have a need in my life for little stitched pictures to–what?–frame. Plus, sitting inside under artificial light with my head bent in the height of summer struck me as one of my dumber notions, as well.

I decided it was time to lift my head and venture out into the sunshine. Whilst under the rays, shading my eyes, I peered around for a new hobby.

For awhile, I occupied myself with lacing a pair of snowshoes. Again, though, my head was bent, my neck was sore, and who can watch the Oscars in their full glory that way? So then I made a lot of mixed tapes. Inside. In the middle of the night.

From reading to handiwork, my natural hobbirific inclinations have always taken me back to the world of dim lights and head-bent posture, which leaves me feeling I could have been one hell of a hooker.

The good news is that I have recently decided to ride an entirely new hobbyhorse, and this time, I can keep my head held high and throw my shoulders back–drawing in the daylight–as I slap the reins and dig in my heels.

Friends, I’ve decided to use my spare time to become litigious.

Yes, I know there are plenty of lawsuits out there already. But they are often frivolous, ultimately effecting no great societal change. I aim to come up with real challenges to the law, the results of which will overthrow our current ways of thinking. I am a revolutionary.

Instead of buying hoops and embroidery floss, my new hobby requires only imagination, the faintest acquaintance with the law, and a burning desire for undeserved money. I have all three.

Having sent in my dues and registration to the national organization, The LSS (Litigious System Suckers), I am ready to roll.

Specifically, for my first project, I will be suing Universal Studios, the parent company (read: having the deepest pockets) overseeing the production of the current television show Battlestar Galactica. My beef is this: one episode at a time, the writers and actors of this program are giving me an ulcer. As the groom and I lurch through the first season on DVD, I find my stomach in knots, clenching, releasing, flopping over. Universal should be held financially accountable–do we not all agree?–for not only the ulcer developing in my stomach but also, perhaps more importantly, for my lost sleep (which then affects job performance) and shredded cuticles (a lifetime’s supply of free manicures at the spa of my choice seems a fair settlement).

Universal, your show is killing me. Even worse, you’ve made it so addictive that I am beyond helping myself. My ailments have become your responsibility, so pay up. And if you won’t, I’ll turn my attentions to the Sci-Fi channel, which airs the show. Short and simple: someone is going down.

This lawsuit will not be completely straightforward, of course, as there are many subtleties beyond getting Universal to pay for my cocktail of ulcer medications (brain flash: maybe a cocktail would be just the medicine!). For example, my husband, normally a steady, calm fellow, actually imagined himself, as he ran a weekly trail race the other day, being chased by Galactica’s villains: the Cylons. As Groom dodged amongst the birches and pines, slogging away in the mud, he envisioned himself in peril from those vengeaful robots, to the point that he finished the race wet and exhausted. We are, therefore, going to need for Universal to pay for the drycleaning of his running clothes, a new bar of green-tea-infused soap (okay, for me) to rinse the mud away, and, um, a new pair of running shoes while they’re at it.

Oh, and, I, uhhhhhhh, have had to shriek sometimes during stressful scenes in the show, and so my, em, ears hurt. But if Universal were to give me a dazzling pair of diamond earrings, my ears would feel eversomuch better.

Plus, the show has engendered in me a strong desire to pilot a Viper or a Cylon raider, so flying lessons would seem in order. And maybe a trip to another planet (tourist class is fine). And, er, in a few episodes they drink some gnarly-looking green liqueur, so I’ll need a bottle of that…and some expensive cigars labeled “Last in this Planetary System”…and maybe a few of those cute tank tops the CAG pilots wear. Oops, and Edward James Olmos has some seriously awe-inspiring skin going on; to allay my fears of experiencing similar acne scars, only a lifetime supply of Proactiv Solution will do.

But really, being a reasonable woman and realizing this lawsuit is only a hobby, that should do it. Oh, wait, I guess I could also use a telephone with a cord. I don’t have one of those, but apparently they do once the universe has been colonized in the future. How modernistic it would be of me to have the only house on the block that contains a phone with a cord that hooks into the wall!

And if Universal agrees to settle out of court and save us all on legal fees, I’ll be more than glad to return to my cross-stitching just long enough to produce a little something to hang on the office wall of the CEO of Universal Studios:


Clearly, cross-stitching this would be a complicated project, hard to fit in between all my new hobbies of getting manicures, taking flying lessons, and holding cocktail parties,

but no thanks are necessary, Universal;

it’s the least I can do.

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A Basic Civil Right: Being Scatalogical


“A Basic Civil Right: Being Scatalogical”

What is it about little boys?

Why are the colon and its emissions so profoundly, continually hilarious to wee males?

These days, my four-year-old (who, in his defense, is heavily under the influence of a cadre of neighborhood seven-year-old fellas) toodles around the house, absentmindedly singing a little ditty of his own composition:

“I’m a poopy head/I’m a poop-poopy-pooper/I’m a poopy head
Hey, Mom? / You’re a poopy-pooper, too/We’re all poop”

Sure, it’s charming enough, and I’d wipe a quiet tear from my eye if Jordin from American Idol belted it out on her first album,

but, really? Enough with the fecal talk, okay?

There’s just something about testosterone + humor that unerringly = da butt.

Case in point:

Last night, I was reading a book to the kids called Hello USA! It’s a dumb Hello Kitty book, but we’re stretching here in the house to meet our seven-year-old daughter’s fascination with maps, continents, oceans–all things social studyish, in fact–and Hello Kitty has been workin’ the geography for us this week.


The book goes through each of the 50 states (get this: PLUS D.C.! Bonus!), giving little factoids about each one. I now know that

the Mid-America Windmill Museum is in Kendallville, Indiana

the Brown Thrasher is the state bird of Georgia

the pop-up toaster was invented in 1919 in Stillwater, Minnesota

the world’s largest buffalo sculpture is in Jamestown, North Dakota

the world’s first alpine chairlift was built in 1936 in the world’s first ski resort in Sun Valley, Idaho

and the octopi found in Puget Sound are the world’s largest

The whimsical overview of Americana crashed and burned, though, when we got to Alabama. On that page, I no sooner read the words “Birmingham Civil Rights Institute” than I was interrupted with

“You said toot!”

Giggles ensued. And again, “Mom said toot!”

And again with the toot. And again.

Plus one more.

A few minutes after the intial joy and amusement, “institoot” permanently entered the family vernacular; see, each night, after I get the kids into bed, they holler out for their pappy (who is generally downstairs wilting some bok choy and broiling some marinated flank steak on skewers) that it is time for him to come upstairs for squeezes and smooches. Of late, the kiddles have decided to beckon him not with a resounding “DAAAAAADDDDY,” but rather by calling out for him with some cool-sounding word. To wit, they have been heard bellering “Onomatopoeia” to get him to come upstairs these last weeks. However, as of last night, thanks to The Kitty of Helloishness, the Girl has started hollering–yes, quite fun–“Okefenokee.” But the Wee Niblet?

Yea, he now just wails “Institoooooooot.”

Go, Birmingham. Go, civil rights. Go, Da Butt.

Makin’ Martin Luther King, Jr. proud,
I remain,

The Wincing Mother of a Boy
—————————————-

Oh, and hey, Jazz, this is reason 478 why you can be glad you didn’t have kids.

And male readers? ‘Fess up: you never have stopped finding this stuff to be the pinnacle of humor, have you? I mean, I shouldn’t wait, with breath bated, for this “phase” to fade away, right? Realistically, the lad will be pretty much tuned into the poop channel ’round the clock for the next three decades, ja?

If that’s the case, I have one word: crap.

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Squeak

“Squeak”

(the only good mouse has a single testicle)

When I was in college, I sometimes had to miss class, and not always because I was hung over or because Hart to Hart was on tv (I loved the way Max the butler said, “When dey met, it was moida” in the opening credits).

Sometimes, I had to miss class because, while tripping along to the English building, musing about how Milton was a genius of a poet (or, more accurately, about how Chuck Woolery was a genius of a gameshow host), I would encounter a squirrel along the pathway.

And if there was a squirrel on the path, Milton and Chuck be damned. I was going no further. In fact, my body would switch directions fairly dramatically, as I hastened back to the dorm, away from Nut-Cheeked, Fluffy-Tailed Evil.

I have this little borderline phobia, you see. It involves all rodents and even a few members of the polecat family (watch this space for an upcoming post about my life with a ferret).

For me, this phobia works not only as a personal shriek-inducer but also as a general character-tester. Some people learn that I have this deep-seated and profound fear, and they think it’s funny—a chance to put me in situations where I come face-to-face with the thing that petrifies me most: “Hey, look, Joce, here in this shoebox full of fossils; it’s a mouse skeleton. Come hold the skull!”

Such people have no place in my life, and, due to their willful cruelty, I make certain my dense and chewy molasses cookies never cross their lips.

Then there are those who understand that fear is not a thing to be mocked, that fear does not have to be rational to be real, and that they don’t need to be the instrument of my gradual desensitization: “Hey, look, Joce, here in the kitchen. I’ve just let loose a mole for our mutual fun. Now, you try to catch it with this colander, and if you do, you’ll have faced your fear, thereby diffusing it, which means you’ll never again have to avoid the hamster section of the pet store!”

Rather, the Wise Samaritans accept that a very specific fear is a part of who I am; they become my benign enablers, and they are amply rewarded with molasses cookies AND butter-rich chocolate-chip scones for their tolerance. In my worldview, fear, whether legitimate or irrational, deserves respect. Those compassionate enough to get that a magazine photo of a gerbil elicits in me weak knees, shortened breath, and choked screams, well, they get their laundry folded for life.

Don’t get me wrong—I hate to feel crippled by anything, fear especially. My intellectual mind is well aware that a mouse or bat won’t really crawl down my throat while I sleep, and a rat won’t actually swim up through the toilet hole while I’m, em, evacuating, but, as it turns out, my intellectual mind is very rarely at the helm.

In my better moments, those rare seconds when intellect has grabbed hold of the wheel, I have tried to get to the roots of this thing, to see if I can figure out why I’m petrified by small, timid furballs.

Well

I remember when I was five, while my mom watched General Hospital in the background, seeing a fuzzy blur (“It’s a bumble bee,” I yelled) whip into a mousetrap that we had set in our house. The trap caught Stuart Little but didn’t kill him immediately, as it only snapped onto his leg, and for some moments afterward, I stood, rapt, as that mouse dragged the trap around behind him until finally petering out, tortured beyond any interpretation of the Geneva Convention, even an interpretation with the breadth and convenience of George W. Bush’s. Moreover, to this day, I can never hear the surname “Quartermaine” without needing to whimper a bit with rodential anxiety (and I don’t mean just because the actor who plays Alan Quartermaine is a total weasel).


As well

I remember when I first started reading the Little House on the Prairie books, and I encountered the scene where Pa woke up in the middle of the night with a mouse gnawing at his hair, ostensibly gathering material for a nest (in actuality, this minion was planting an early pioneer version of a mouse GPS device into Pa’s scalp, so the Mouse King could track Pa’s every movement as he plowed; with such technology, the mouse kingdom would know the second the corn harvest was in, by Jehosephat). In the book, Pa roused from sleep and grabbed the busy mouse from his head and tossed it into the wall, where they found it, dead, the next morning. As Pa casually tossed the corpse out into a field, the Mouse King despaired of ever again finding such an easy target for his machinations. But then that simple Grace Ingalls came of age, and she was all new fodder for the Mouse King’s evil plots (well chronicled in the tome These Happy Mousey Years).

Even further

I remember being around age ten and wearing a pair of sassy bamboo flip-flops when I stepped out the back door of my friend Carol Darnielle’s house, right onto flattened mouse remnants that the cat had been playing with.

Oh, and to answer your question: YES, mouse husk does stick, quite determinedly, to the bottom of a flip-flop, even when you hop around on that flip-flop, screaming, for a few minutes before trying to rub the mouse off the bottom by scraping the flip-flop against the edge of a concrete step. When, at frigging last, the mouse jelly releases its grip, it is not, even in a famine, something you want to spread on your sandwich for lunch.

But wait

I remember our neighbor Randy Rupert bringing his two guinea pigs outside one day in their cage and leaving them on the sidelines in the blistering August sun as we all played cops ‘n robbers. Some hours later, we discovered they’d gotten horribly sunburned—not pink, but red, piggies going “ouch, ouch, ouch” all the way home. And they did go Home, to the big guinea pig cage in the sky, later that night, when they died from their neglectful roasting.

You need more?

I remember taking on the flattering burden of hamster-sitting my next-door neighbor and great pal Lisa Mackin’s two fluffballs, while her family took off for a long weekend in Vegas. I did not love the hamsters, but I was still at a point where I could be in a room with them, if they were caged. And I was willing, for the friendship, to go to her house every day in her absence and throw food into their habitat. Much more than friendship was required, however, when I went over the third day, only to discover Big Hamster sitting and smirking inside the carcass of Smaller Hamster, wiping its bloody chops.

Seriously.

I’d never been gladder to have a big brother than that day, when mine did the clean-up for me, as I dry-heaved in our bathroom back home.

When Lisa came back from Vegas and tried to gift me with a stuffed animal from Circus, Circus (mercifully, not a hamster), I had to refuse, on the grounds that I was a Pet Killer and deserved no swag.

Honestly, this litany could go on and on. I could take you on a trip down my memory’s Rodent Avenue and tell you tales of two white mice living in the wall by my waterbed when I was a teen…of me hovering under a dining room table, screaming with my cousins while my uncles shoeboxed a bat against the wall…of my dorm room freshman year (imagine me there, having skipped class, tuning in to Chuck Woolery on Love Connection in an effort to decrease my elevated “squirrel on path” heart rate), where my reverie was disrupted by a mouse in the garbage can…and I could take you back through this already-recounted story of calling the police when a bat flew into my house and started trying on outfits for the prom…I could take you to my aunt’s house in South Dakota where mice run in the walls and perch on the edge of the bathtub…and I will take you, in a future post, into our kitchen, where a rat set up shop for some weeks, leaving feces in the drawer under the stove and developing an affection for bananas…

Summarized, though, my point is this: people have called this fear “irrational” or have acted dismissively towards it, and I get that, logically, a rodent ain’t gonna kill me. But I would argue, dear Judge and Jury, that there is clear, comprehensive evidence that I am entitled to yelp, even cringe, when I see the cover of a Littles children book.


I have earned my fear.

And before I leave you to fret about every little rustling in your cupboards, let me tack on this post-script: I started writing this post more than a month ago, but never got back to finishing it or posting it. There was a reason–a new agitation yet to come.

Four days ago, it actually stopped raining, Praise Noah, for a brief period. So I jumped out onto the deck, eager to set up shop at the lovely glass table there. I would blog; I would sip a frosty beverage; I would lounge, at least for seven minutes until the next downpour. In full tra-la-la mode, I noted that the sun was actually shining and so ducked my head and torso up inside the closed patio umbrella, which is what it takes to open the huge thing. Wreathed inside it, in the darkness, I pushed on the innards, and the umbrella popped open.

It also took all of two seconds for my ennervated heart to pop open. There, on the table, having narrowly missed landing in my hair (becoming entwined there for all of eternity, gradually gnawing away at my scalp), was a bat. At first it crawled along the tabletop dopily, drowsy and bewildered, muttering, “Duh? Where umbrella haven go?”

Then Satan appeared in its eyes, and it gained focus and purpose

as it climbed into my open, screaming maw

and slowly crawled down my esophagus.

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Take a Spelling Test? Or Apply for a Promotion?

“Take a Spelling Test? Or Apply for a Promotion?”

You cannot think this was easy.

Yes, that’s me in the back there, sandwiched between future cheerleaders. (As long as we’re all here together, can we stop a moment to admire the costly and chic backdrop used in this photograph? Too bad it didn’t occur to the photographer to zoom in a little, thereby cutting the overhead lights out of the shot. Och, look at me going on about this, when perhaps the framing of the shot was a very intentional artistic statement about how illuminating young minds are…)

So there I am: Jocelyn the Redwood, Precociously Pubescent Sixth Grader–the one in the white Polyester ‘Z Me cowl-necked shirt…in the “born for square dancing” red skirt…sportin’ them “if I were Native-American, these would be flesh-toned” nylons…towering supremely in my platform wedges.

Even better, take a moment to admire my glasses. You could take the triplets sledding on those babies, couldn’t you? And my hair…a soft-serve artist at the Dairy Queen worked many hours coming up with the prototype for that ‘do (“Jes’ a little swirl here on the sides, and we’ll call it feathered!”).


And, honey? The boobies. Tacked there on the front? They don’t show up so well in that class photo without the use of your Stalker Magnifying Glass, but trust me, they had not only made a reservation but had been checked in and using room service for two years by the time this picture was taken. Bane of my angst-addled existence, they were. (I know, I know. I was wretched and ungrateful. Who knew then they’d come in so very handy thirty years later? I mean, nowadays I can prop a snack on them, carry it around for a couple of hours, and then dig in when I’m getting peckish. And when I’m doing laundry? I can just toss a folded towel or two on the old rack and then head up to the linen closet, hands-free. If only I could get them to answer the cell phone while I’m driving).

At any rate, I did, indeed, find myself locked in some serious hormonal havoc–light inches ahead of my peers–for four or five years there. In 4th grade, I reached my adult height; in 5th grade, I could buy booze without getting carded; and by the time this picture was taken in 6th grade, I was well able to stand in for our teacher, Mrs. Surwill, if ever she was suddenly struck down by The Epizudy and had to take the afternoon off. I could literally fill her shoes: after a quick scan of the lesson plan, I could, realizing it was music time, break out some hand drums and lead my classmates through a quick “ta-ta-ti-ti-ta” and then announce it was time for social studies and a review of cultural geography before having everyone work on their diaramas of the marketplaces of South America.

Finally, at the end of the day, I could carpool everyone home in my two-toned station wagon.

———————-

The truth is that, even though I could just sit on the bullies to make them shut up, these years of looking like the mother of three when I really just wanted to play H-O-R-S-E at the basketball hoop and whoop it up during flashlight tag…well, they sucked. Certainly, I had my group of friends, remained a “smiley people pleaser” (as my mother aptly described me), and earned good grades. But my insides often hurt in ways that even the boobies couldn’t cover.

I felt the freak.

All the other kids were in that stage of unofficial dating–the whole “will you go with me?” time of life, which basically entailed everyone else whispering things like “They’re going with each other, so it’s okay” when Darrin and Andrea sat together on the same seat in the back of the school bus. Every six days or so, the “going together” couples would break up, mix up, and emerge reconfigured, Darrin now with Deanne and Andrea now with John.

It was all so frickin’ glamorous.

But I, with my intimidating height of 5′ 6″ and shouldering the boobies as I did, was sidelined during these social machinations, an observer of them, a cataloguer of them, but never a participant. I’ll spare you the litany of the resultant self-esteem issues, but if you want to bandy about some words like “weight issues” and “would date anyone who seemed to like her, all three of ’em” and “shopped to fill a void” here, I’ll wait.

Humdeedum.

Fingers tapping.

Tra-la-toodley-doo. “First, when there’s nothin’, but a slow, glowing dream/That your fears seemed to hide, deep insiiiiiiiide your mind…What a feelin’! I have rhythm now!”

Oh, huh, bwah? You back now? Are we ready to move on?

Okay, so my point was something about suckwadage–the cruelty of it all, the injustice of being “developed” when everyone else was still turning cartwheels in their Garanimals–some sort of blather like that, right?

In all truth, there was actually a deeper cruelty in my late elementary years, and it proved that my character had yet to catch up to my body’s maturity. You see, one day I had the chance to join The Club of the Going Togethers. And I froze. For so long, my greatest dream had been to be going with someone because, for the love of Dancing with the Stars, it was what everyone was doing. If only someone, anyone, would ask me to go steady, then all my long years of existence would be validated and take on new meaning.

On that day, out of the blue, geeky, pencil-necked Robert Clark (in the class photo: front row, middle, striped shirt) suddenly leaned over during math time and whispered furtively, “Do you want to go with me?”

And I tell you, I froze. There was no “Um, sure” at the ready, no “gosh, yea” to be squeaked out. Rather, my internal monologue went something like “Ah, cripes, not you, Robert Clark. When this whole going with someone deal has played out in my mind, it’s not you who’s doing the asking. It’s someone, you know, taller–someone who can match me at tetherball, even. At the very least, it’s someone who likes the Hardy Boys or has a ten-speed. It’s never been you.”

Paralyzed with shock and dismay, I tossed out the clever rejoinder of “Huh?” I may have even gestured toward my ear with the international “I can’t seem to hear right now” sign.

So the brave, kind lad asked again, a little louder.

At this point, I did a very eleven-year-old thing: I crudely seized the opportunity for power, to feel myself moved up a tier in the social hierarchy on someone else’s shoulders; I looked him in the eye, wrinkled my brow in disgust, and, smirking, shook my head, silently telegraphing a vehement “No way, loser” his direction.

Needless to say, he never asked again, even though that night I rethought my hasty reaction and prayed for the fabled Second Chance. Good for him: he didn’t give it. Nor did anyone else in the sixth grade–or the seventh, or eighth–give me even a first.

Even though I know better now, I still like to think they were just afeared of The Boobies.

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Neither Hero Nor Saint


In 1906, my maternal grandfather picked up a typewriter and threw it at the principal of his high school. He was 14.

Shortly thereafter, he left his hometown in southern Minnesota and made his way to Montana, where he found work as a “hired hand”–a cowboy, in more romantic terms. With the help of his horse, Pickles, my grandpa Julian roped, herded, sang, and ultimately homesteaded a plot of land outside of Wolf Point.

And then, in 1917, he followed the call of war, leaving Montana for training in Washington state and ultimately service on the battlefields of Europe. There, family lore has it, his eagerness and quick feet earned him a job delivering messages on the front lines; his proximity to constant explosions resulted in diminished hearing, something that plagued him the rest of his life.

At the close of World War I, Julian returned to Montana and his homestead, until family obligations (taking care of his mother after his father’s death) pulled him back to Minnesota. With his days as a cowboy and a soldier behind him, the rest of my grandfather’s life must have felt anticlimactic. Certainly, he married. He fathered five children during the Depression and the early days of World War II. He became a rural mail carrier.

He also became an alcoholic, one who used a leather strap and his fists on his wife and children in his fits of rage. He taught them capitulation, powerlessness, and patterns of passive-aggressiveness that still play out, generations later.

As a grandfather, he was kind. I remember sitting on his lap, reading the comics with him; I remember having to yell my words to him to be heard. I remember his fondness for me. Even more clearly, I remember some years later being fifteen, at a party, and catching a whiff of whisky. My knees buckled with the rapid, sensory memory of “Grandpa.”

When I was eight, he was found dead in the kitchen, having outlived my grandmother (she, a decade younger than he, had passed away a year before; my mother and aunt can never forgive themselves for always believing that she would get some “good” years, some “free” years after his death…for surely he would die first–but then he didn’t). At his time of death, he was in his pajamas; he was alone.

More profoundly than these stock details, squirreled away in my memory, I remember my mother’s tears, the trauma in her voice, as she told me about the time her dad’s drunken rage reached a new height. He not only went after the kids, but he tore after their mother, chasing her and hitting her with a broom, until he finally turned over the dining room hutch. My mother fled the house, hoping to find help for her mother from the neighbors, who were good friends. As my sobbing mother hammered on their door, she saw them looking out the window at her and then retreating, closing the curtains and willfully turning a blind eye to the violence and chaos next door. In that moment, a certain faith–in community, in neighborliness, in the willingness to stand up for what was right–shriveled inside my mom. And back at home, the rage continued, unabated.

Such is it, therefore, that when I think of my grandfather, I remember him in his full human complexity, through his adventures, his work, his service, his kindness, his temper, his fallibility.

On this national day of remembrance, I don’t need to vaunt my grandfather as a hero. I don’t commend him for his “sacrifice” of military service–although I think it was a valid career choice for those years of his life, one that counts as a contribution (in the same way that I think that my sister, who has taught the academically-unprepared kids of inner city gangbangers, contributes to making a difference…or the nurse who sang to my newborn as she danced him down the corridor to me for a feeding on his first night of life made a difference…or the undiluted passion of Paul Wellstone made a difference).

But the truth is that my grandpa Julian was just a man, one who created momentum in his life through a violent act, who was trained into the violent ways of a bloody war, and who then used a convergence of tendency and training to elicit a flinch, a cowering, a hand held up to shield a blow.

As I look at all the flags hung so high on this Memorial Day, I think, with a perverse kind of affection, of whisky and bombs and poker and loudly-told stories and jokes. He is in my memory, this grandfather of mine.

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“The New Joy of…Cooking”

There’s no better way to challenge the loyalty of one’s readership than to post a recipe.

I could, therefore, entitle this post something Sally Fieldlian like, “You DO like me, right? You WILL come back, even though I’m posting a recipe? I promise it will be just this once, and I won’t weep hysterically and wipe my snot on your shoulder, if only you promise to return one day, when the recipes have gone away.”

But the asparagus furor that arose out of my last post made me want to provide some specifics about one of the backbones of my springtime diet: nearly-broiled asparagus. If you, too, love that green stuff so fervently that even the funky urine odor an hour after eating it doesn’t dissuade you, then this recipe is for you.

First, you’re going to need a baking sheet, the kind of big ole rectangular pan you could hit Simon Cowell in the chest with terrifically hard and then take away imprints of his chest hair tufts for posterity. Now, this pan doesn’t have to be huge-huge (damage can be done to Cowell even with a moderate-sized pan), but you want it big enough that it could double as a clown shoe in a pinch.

Then you’re going to need at least a pound of asparagus–because, really, who eats less than that? And to tell you true, if you live in the Land of the Wild Jocelyn, you’d do well to start out with at least two pounds. Some fine folks, home after a long day’s work at The Company, standing in the kitchen with good posture, wearing a tailored suit, might look at the stack of stalks and think, “Oh, good, we’ve enough for the whole family. Lovely.” Here in our household of unemployment, slouching and t-shirts, though, we are realists and know there ain’t no way the yowling kids are going to eat, willingly, this particular green food (since it doesn’t say “Shrek” on it), so the prep-chant goes: “Screw their nutrition. More for us!”

Your next step will be therapeutic, as there is snapping involved–from tempers to stalks. Pick up each stalk and, as you did as a child with your Barbies (when witnessing adults would mutter, “Hem, er, Dahmer. Jeffrey Dahmer?”), hold each stalk by its “legs” and then, at the natural breaking point, snap off its “head.” Remember when you decapitated your Skipper doll and never again found her noggin? That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Indeed, each stalk can be gently and steadily bent–violent movements are not actually necessary–until it hits the point of breakage. A man named Peter did just such work on my heart when I was in my early 30’s. The stalk, or the Jocelyn, hardly needs to realized what’s happening to it, until the moment of irrevocable and devastating impact.

Okay, now it’s Artistic Expression time. Discard the tough ends that you’ve just broken off (if you have an enemy, perhaps named Peter, put them in his pillowcase while he’s away on a trip to Vegas for two weeks) and then artfully arrange the lovely asparagus heads/bodies on the baking sheet. I sometimes do a hatchmark dealie, wherein I line up four spears and then lay a fifth across it diagonally; this also helps Groom and me keep a running tally of how many spears there are, so fisticuffs don’t ensue at mealtime. But you go crazy; get creative; make a portrait of your grandmother riding a unicycle out of the stuff.

Somewhere in the middle of all this fun, you can turn on the oven to, honest to Emeril, 500 bangin’ degrees. If you have a smoke detector in the house, this would be a good time to go take the batteries out. I’ll wait.

No, seriously. Go do it. The smoke is going to be hack-worthy.

Okay. So you’ve got them babies on the pan. Now you need to take out some of your really expensive ultra-extra-non-Paris-Hilton-but-rather-still-a-virgin olive oil and, placing a finger over the opening (there are more, really crude, Paris Hilton jokes here, but I’ll spare you. Just think “finger” and “opening.” Yes, my work here is done), drizzle it over all the spears. Or you can just use your cheap, years-old streetwalker olive oil. Whatever you’ve got.

Now comes the philosophical section of the recipe: what is life without spice? Life, and food, are significantly diminished without it, all the less for their bleak, uninterrupted sameness. Translation: add some salt and pepper. If you have any character at all, make it freshly-ground pepper, not just pre-ground flakes from a can. Splurge, honey, and buy some peppercorns. You are so worth it.

Hang on. We’re ready to rock. Open the oven, slam in the pan of goodies, close the oven, lean back against the kitchen counter, and pick up your beer again. If you use a timer, set it for five minutes. If you don’t use a timer, then sing the “ABC” song about 7 times. Or once through the extended dance remix of “Tainted Love” would work.

After five minutes, put on a big ole silicon oven mitt and a gas mask (or, at the least, safety goggles) and open up the oven. Reach in like the hero you are and shake that baking sheet–hokey pokey all those stalks so that their left feet and right arms are in a big tangle. I watched my kids play Twister the other day, and it was pretty much the same–limbs everywhere; all I know is that this step involves some sort of analogy to a kids’ game. So go ahead and liken this process to, em, Clue Junior, and then close the door and back away slowly, reaching around blindly for your beer as you wipe the smoke out of your eyes.

Set the timer for another five minutes, or sing “Stairway to Heaven” while musing about how poorly all those formerly-hot classic rock stars have aged. Ah, Robert Plant, we hardly know ye.

After the final chorus, or when the beeper goes off, put on all your gear again, and head in to the inferno one final time for The Extraction.

Toss the pan onto the countertop or the burners of your stove. Head to the fridge and take out some feta cheese. There are no substitutions here, so don’t even try to sprinkle some cheddar on the Holy Stalks. Jesus Marimba, could you not plan ahead for once in your life and have actually bought the feta? Presuming you want to stay on my good side, you’ll just have the damn feta and won’t dither about in front of the cheese drawer, trying to find something to fool me with. And this is no time to get distracted by those old tupperware containers on the back of the shelf. Yes, that is mold you see; yes, those are the refried beans you opened when Clinton was still in the White–and the dog–house. But there’s piping asparagus awaiting you, so hop to!

Plate your half of the spears, angling for one or two extra when your friend/spouse/partner isn’t looking (“Hey, check out that, er, UPS truck backing up to the neighbors’ garage! Why are they filling it with all their electronic equipment? Could it be a heist? Maybe you need to do something…”). Crumble the feta, liberally (always the best approach, in cooking, morals, and politics), all over your spears.

Set the timer again, this time for two minutes. Or hum “Hit Me, Baby, One More Time.” See if you can beat my record and eat your entire plateful in that time.

By the way, asparagus fangs hanging out at the buzzer DO still qualify as “eaten.”

I’ve also heard of people eating their food in a leisurely fashion. Suit yourself, ya delicate little poncey poodle. The rest of us will just sink our heads into the feedbag and make some indelicate chomping noises for awhile here.

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Nine Plus a Spare (agus)

“Nine Plus a Spare (agus)”
Some weeks back, my good pal Dorky Dad (whom, in the weirdness that is Bloggerworld, I wouldn’t know if I ran over with my scooter in front of the Dairy Queen, but whom I nevertheless dote upon) tagged me for the most straightforward meme ever. No “tell us your top five brushes with the law”; no “from least to most important, rank the international issues that make you wince”; no “if you had a million dollars, what kind of house would you build” kind of stuff to this meme. Jehosephat, no.
This meme is mercifully simple and pretty much allows the tagee to reveal or exclude–mental photo of me: quivering with the power–just about anything. The meme is this, in the shell of a nut: tell us ten things about yourself.
Honey, I do this before 8 a.m. to strangers passing by the fire hydrant outside my house. Ten things about me? The workers at my favorite Caribou Coffee could tell you ten things about me in the time it takes them to make a skinny hazelnut latte (large, that is; if you ordered a medium, they could probably only squeak out Eight Points of Jocelyn Trivia before adding the final dollop of foam).
I’m hardly shy when it comes to personal disclosure.
Which may be why people blush so much in my presence.
Is it wrong that I greet the mail carrier with “Kee-ripes, but I’m bloated today”?
Or that I toss off a quick, “Hey, so I’ve actually been legally blind since the age of 7. I still thank Ben Franklin for those bifocals!” to my son’s preschool teacher as I hang up his backpack?
Surely, my lack of boundaries might be why patrons of the Barnes & Noble shimmy backwards, discomfited, when I edge up to them and randomly start an unsolicited sentence with “…and so when I was 35, my mom divorced my dad. Yea, after 40 years of marriage. And the next morning, after she had the papers served on him, she went and got a nose job. She was 67! You feel me?” C’mon, without an opener like that, how else could I pave the way for a new friendship, made right there in the self-help section?
So, hmmm, jes’ to mess with you, let’s call this meme “Ten Things About Jocelyn, Nine of Which are True, and One of Which Only Is in Her Dreams.” You can try to ferret out the lie, and more power to you with that.
1) I only saw STAR WARS because my dad told me to. I was ten in 1977, and he came up to me one day and suggested, “I’ve been hearing a lot about this movie–sounds like a good one for you kids.” So I went to it, and my recollections of that seminal film, even a day later, went along the lines of “It was in space or something, and they shot some stuff. At the start, these words scrolled backwards, kind of, across the screen at the start, and I got all dizzy. Oh, and there was a desert planet with some robot things on it. One of them beeped a lot.”
2) I sometimes think the only thing that could lure me to abandoning chocolate is asparagus. I set a timer tonight for two minutes and managed to eat seventeen broiled-with-feta-on-top asparagus spears by the time the beeper went off. Admittedly, two were still hanging out of my mouth like fangs at the end, but my point was made.
3) I can still sing all the lyrics to Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” without missing a word. If you don’t know who Rick Springfield is, do the words “Dr. Noah Drake” help clear things up? If the answer is still no, I’m not sure you and I can ever really, really take it to the next level.

4) I once ran out of gas in the middle of Wyoming, where there are three gas stations, and had to walk along the highway until two scruballs stopped their pick-up to offer me a ride. Wanting my parents to one day see me again, I refused their offer but handed them a twenty-dollar bill and threw myself on their gas-retrieving mercy. Ten minutes they were back, and they only asked me once as they helped me refuel if I would like to play miniature golf with them later in Casper.
5) When I was 24, I started dating a 40-year-old. We were together for six years. He was really into tai chi and owned a Nordic Trak. We grilled a lot of chicken together, and for one spate, we both got addicted to playing Wolfenstein and Duke Nukem. I mean, my stars, but that first-person shooter business knocked the liberal arts education right out of me!
6) I reached my adult height in fourth grade. My breasts grew along with my legs.
No, I did not just type that my breasts grew on my legs. That would be freakish. Read more slowly, ya skimmer.
7) I am not a high school graduate (no GED either), yet I am a graduate school graduate.
8) I lived in Denmark with a host family for the summer before my senior year of high school–in the home of a single mother with three young boys. Every time I would draw a bath and slowly ease in, a pounding would start on the bathroom door, followed, in Danish, by the words, “I have to pee! I have to pee!”
9) I once had a pixie cut that, in my deluded mind, made me look like Pat Benatar having love on a battlefield. When I added in a skirt that looked like it had dishtowels hanging from it and a pair of those fingerless gloves from “We Belong,” the look was complete.
10) When I volunteer in my daughter’s first-grade class, I play a little internal game called “What Will Their Futures Hold?” with all the Girl’s classmates. I’m pretty sure I’m right about that brassy Audrey, in particular, who will be–I soothsay–pregnant in ten years. It probably wouldn’t be right of me to pull her mother aside, though, to pass on that prediction, right? Even though it might be helpful to have a heads-up and all.
——————-
Mostly true, plus one lie.
Thanks for the tag, Dorky Dad. I’ll be sure to run you over accidentally on my scooter next time I’m in your neck of Minnesota.
Note to self: buy Vespa.

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Junior’s Cause/Effect Essay

I take my evening beverage very seriously. Once the sun begins its descent, I start the long unwind to bedtime with a beer or glass of wine. Lest you despair that I’m in a rut, do know that I’ve recently seen the wisdom of adding vodka to the repertoire. I mean, really, can a stool stand on only two legs? It takes three, right? Let’s just call vodka, in our special buddy-buddy bloggerspeak, “Jocelyn’s Third Leg.” You have my permission to use that in your posts (for example: “I had the kind of cottonmouth that morning, during the Long Walk of Shame back to my apartment, that only comes from having swallowed copious amounts of Jocelyn’s Third Leg the night before…”).

Generally, then, when I’m tucking the kids in, it’s with drink in hand. Since I don’t wear a watch, it’s only fair that I get my choice of alternate accessory, right? I tote my beer bottle with all the ease of a red-plaid Swatch on the wrist, truth be told. To up the bling factor of my favorite accessory, I’m considering inventing a Cocktail Hip-Holster, studded with rhinestones [patent pending].

In lieu of Holster, though, I currently just use Hand. Hand holds the bottle while I help the kids with flossing, brushing, getting into jammies. Hand is a well-balanced, reliable individual; Hand is my righthand man, metaphorically…but not literally, as I tend to grip with the left.

There is no better testament to the kind of devoted mother I am than the fact that I do order Hand to set down the beer or wine when it’s time for us (Hand and me) to climb onto the kids’ beds and read If You Take a Mouse to School or Sideways Tales from Wayside School. See, I have this annoying moral dictate that if I ever spill the Gewurtztraminer on the dinosaur sheets, I’ll have to–frick–change them before letting the kid sleep on them. And I do so hate heaving my bulk towards the linen closet. So Hand leaves the drink on the vanity whilst I read.

Last week, there was a night when I had a glimpse into the long-term consequences of Hand’s habits. The Wee Niblet, naked and therefore rightfully giddy, took a notion to play “Monster” as we prepped for bed. My assigned role was to be Da Monster, snarling and gesturing as wildly as a full beer bottle would allow, dashing around after the nekkid lad. Up and down the hall he ran, shrieking with mock fear, as I quasimodoed after him, fully engaged in simultaneous kid carousing and beer protection.
As is my wont, however, I had some meta-discourse going in my noggin as I thrashed to and fro on the Persian rug, gnashing my rotting and smelly Monster teeth. I began imagining how Niblet’s freshman composition essays might read in fifteen years, when he one day taps into his personal experiences to support some larger point:
“What I recall best from my early years was my mother–a monster of a woman–chasing me around the house, as I fled from her, naked and terrorized; so clearly, I still remember how she roared at me to get to bed, her omnipresent beer in hand (always the priority), even when she tackled me to the floor in a fearsome rage.”
His hard-knock life story might just win him an A, moreso than any “…and my family was really nice, and we ate a lot of chicken and sometimes yogurt too, and I liked my tricycle with the little bell on it” narrative ever could. As a teacher of freshman composition, I know this. We are suckers for adversity overcome.So a high five to you, Hand, for your role in getting the Niblet into graduate school one day. Keep on tipping those bottles and glasses for the cause of Higher Education.

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