Be My Friend? Look, Here’s My Allowance!

 Yesterday I seem to have invited everybody in my entire Contact list to be my ‘Friend on Facebook’ talk about embarrassing, since some of my contacts are famous people. Like Gloria Steinem. And Garrison Keillor I think maybe. And the POPE! and the Center for Wart Removal in Atlanta, and OK yes I’m making it up about the Pope and the Wart Lab but not the others. I HAVE these addresses but I never use them – or I use them only sparingly.

For example when I was younger, see photo, that’s me in the chair sobbing, no of course not, that’s me the mother, sorrowing over the first haircut… When I was younger my mom died at a party right in front of us all just as we were toasting her birthday, and this highly shocking event caused me in the 2 or 3 years following her death to do all kinds of odd things: Like wearing hats, I think to channel her old jauntiness. Like CRYING while giving speeches that were suppose to be light and funny, making the whole audience cry too, talk about your Typhoid Mary. And like writing letters to famous people.

I wrote to Ronald Reagan and sent him the column I did about him when I saw him in Concord NH. I wrote to the Prince of Wales after seeing him at the 350 birthday of Harvard. I remember sitting in the Yard looking up at all those ivy leaves declining like Latin nouns down the sides of the old buildings and thinking ‘Damn you Ten Thousand Men of Harvard, why did you keep my kind out for like 99 % of your history?’

I wrote to Garrison Keillor when I applied to be the first Journalist in Space. I had mentioned him in my application essay and have always kinda figured that’s why I got to the final 40 in that contest.

I even wrote to the great John Updike when I read a short story of his in the New Yorker that made it apparent his mum had died too. I sent him a condolence note and a copy of the column I wrote about Cal’s dramatic death – that was my mom’s name, ‘Cal’, as jaunty a name as she was a person, a cigarette held tight in her teeth as she took the corners on two-wheels to get us to that convent school she enrolled us in by mistake where she was in a fight with the nuns from DAY ONE.

And they all wrote back, these famous characters: Ronnie R. wrote right back. The future King of England did too or at least His Honor Lord High-Fanny of the Royal Equerry wrote on his behalf. And Garrison Keillor and John Updike sent actual postcards, John Updike’s saying a thing so nice about my writing it pulled me up out of obscurity like the wave of the Bibbity Bobbity Boo wand of Cinderella’s fairy godmother. In fact just last month he had another story in the New Yorker, this one so beautiful I was forced to write him again and what do you think? Another postcard came, as gracious as the first.

Now 15 years had passed between my first letter to him and my second, that’s how careful I am. And I wouldn’t DREAM of writing to the Pope even if I had his email address, and the same goes for Lord High-Fanny who gave me some serious attitude in his letter just because my column said Prince Charlie wore the academic hood of his alma mater whereas in fact he wears the robes of the University of Wales just because he like OWNS Wales or some insignificant thing like that.

Gloria Steinem though? Gloria’s address I was saving for a special occasion, like offering myself to come be the jester at the next Inter-Galactic Women’s Conference. And now – agony!- my girl has called her girl if you can call an Address Book a girl and I seem to have asked her to be my friend on Facebook! The Queen gets invited to the worker bee’s after school party, Aaargh I could die! But, on the other hand in the last 24 hours I’ve heard from people I haven’t seen in decade and have admired their pictures and have written on their walls so why be embarrassed? Because really we’re ALL members of the Class of ’08, right? So really, why NOT write in each other’s yearbooks?

Thy Belly is Like a Sheaf of Wheat

I just joined Facebook. Had to scroll down a million times to get to my birth year. Thought about putting ‘1910’ just for grins as Kevin Bacon keeps saying in the movie Diner and hey you can be old but you can still wear a hat is all I can say, even if it does make you look like Will Rogers.

 (That’s me in my hat up top with Andrea M. who came to Barnes & Noble to see me at a book signing in 2003 and has been a dear friend to me ever since. )

When you wear a hat people think that you’re a nice, jaunty, what-the-hell kind of a person which you have to at least PRETEND to be in life sometimes God knows God knows, especially at book signings when decent people hurry by eyes averted thinking ‘How shameless ! Peddling her wares in public!’

Speaking of public peddling I find it so sad to watch those prostitutes on the HBO series. They look so lonely out on their street corners with who knows what kind of a nut ready to pick them up and treat them to who know what kind of crazy violence… And then there’s all that holding in of their stomachs they have to do all the time.

When I was a girl in my 20s as I believe all female people in their 20s are (girls that is, mere girls and innocent in their hearts no matter what crazy mistakes they have made already and the 20s are the years for mistakes eh?)  Whe I was a girl we wore pants so tight you could hardly swallow, never mind breathe. They had wide Ace bandages for waistbands and they cinched even the ribcage – moved from the solar plexus clear down past the tummy and hips, like corsets of old,  all the way down til you got to the knee when they flared so much the cuffs completely covered your shoes, as well as any apple cores, car keys, small children you may have dropped onto the floor around you.

Now, as I seem to have just written somewhere we get to all wear pants that are actually roomy at the waist because  bellies are all right again <!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–> and THANK YOU DEAR JESUS FOR THAT or whatever perhaps-female deity is in charge of fashion trends up on the Heavenly runway. The clothes are bigger all around now and today you buy a size 10 pant and by God isn’t it designed for a little tummy! I never thought I would see it but the aesthetic is actually changing back to what it always was. Why? Because women are meant to have curves. Just look at one of the most erotic love poems ever written, that being the Song of Songs Which is Solomon’s: “Thy belly is like a sheaf of wheat,” the lover says to his beloved and he means it as a compliment and there by gosh is a thing that can help us ALL reach for the bread basket because hey it’s Sunday and the summer is just gittin’ started and (I know you can sense it too) hats off to the electoral  process there’s a new time comin’ soon!

 

Peachy Keen: Dirty Pictures?

Here’s a shocker, found right in the pages of the June Vanity Fair and why don’t I say here that the column I wrote about it appears at the top of the Home Page (I will do this at the start of every weekend from now on: post a little more here at Exit Only about whatever topic the week’s column deals with.) This week’s is about things going in and out of style in general and about a new elderflower drink called Delice Du Sureau by Maison St. Germain in particular – it’s also about absinthe, such a kick-ass drink it was outlawed all over the place for decades and decades and also blamed for being practically psychotropic, which basically means you think your shoes are talking to you.

This picture just stuns you when you come upon it, which the folks brewing happily away at Maison St. Germain very well know it will do since they made the ad an actual postcard that you can tear out send in the mail to anyone at all except maybe your old teacher and your clergyman because look how shocking:

Or maybe it’s not shocking so much as it compelling, because it so thoroughly hijacks your attention in just the way the dark center of the flower does with the bee; in just the manner the dark nipple on its paler field of breast summons the infant.

It compels us because it’s familiar. The  bottom looks framed in this way looks like a perfect peach, like aswelling, bifurcated, which when you think about it is a design repeated all over the body and in both genders. In the womb, you grow a bud and you grow two pillows. Nature has already tossed the dice to make you male or female and after a while the differentiation begins: If you’re a girl, the bud stays small and the pillows rise to cover it. If you’re a boy the bud grows and the pillows flank it.

So here’s to our common roots. God made us male and female. Male and female created he us. Now as Rodney King said,  WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?!

Hide-a-Key

I love my post office, not just because it’s so neat and compact, so Neo-classically civic in that built-in-the-1930s way, but because it’s such a beehive of activity. Outside this place it I have had my fender bumped, been bitten by a swan and seen an elegantly dressed lady pull back her head like a snake and spit! into the bushes. Once I even got propositioned there by a man 20 years my junior. (It happens, ask any woman who smiles a lot. It says nothing about us and everything about Testosterone and the bald truth that Nookie-Hope Springs Eternal in the breasts of those roiling with it.)

I live in the Aleutian Islands, of course. I say that so you won’t try going to Post Office and wrecking things for the cheery 50-something man I’m going to tell you about now: He was bounding up the steps just as I was bounding down when I ran into a woman I know who stopped me mid-bound on the third step. As I stood talking with her and facing back up the steps in the direction of the Post office’s broad façade, I saw this man suddenly shoot straight up in the air, sweep his hand long the lintel over one of the windows and land with a look of immense satisfaction on his face.

“What did you just do?” I asked him.

“I keep my the key to my Post Office Box up there. This way I never have to worry about forgetting it!”

Now how adorable is that ? Just when you’re thinking everyone is lost in cynicism and mistrust along comes a sweet Jack-in-the-Box of a guy like this. It’s what I love about life on this earth.

And now if you’ll promise to respect his privacy and not swipe his key and steal all his mail I’ll show you a picture of my Post Office, which I harvested just now by Image-Googling the name of my town in the Aleutians and the word “Neo-classical.”

And Whoops! what do you think came up as well? A Neo-classical picture of ME in the tub after a long day’s writing, where hey I mean you can totally SEE why the young guy hit on me, eh? A babe all right, even WITHOUT my Wonder Bra on!

Eyes in My Eyes

For the past four days I’ve been in New Orleans where I found myself so completely out of my element that when a young woman kept calling me “ma’am” I took it for sarcasm.

I was trying to book an appointment through her and was confused about the billing process and so fumbled along with many questions.

“Yes MA’AM”, “No MA’AM”, “Whatever you want to do MA’AM” she said until I got so rattled I flat-out asked if she was annoyed with me.

“Annoyed?! No MA’AM!”

“Really? Because up where I come from nobody calls you Ma’am unless they’re trying not to call you something worse.”

Now it was her turn. “Really?!” she said. And her friend behind the counter chimed in: “If our mothers ever caught us failing to say ‘Ma’am’ we would get plain smacked!”

And that’s how it was for my whole time in New Orleans: I was in a world wholly new to me and found myself thinking again and again of what all my best teachers said to me in the years from 2000 to 2002 when I was studying to be a massage therapist: “What you think it is, it isn’t,” they’d say. “Be humble and before you lay hands on that body before you summon total attention and pray God he send eyes into your hands so you can ‘see’ what’s really there.” In other words, summon all your knowledge, leave your ego at the door and your fine notions too of how You Wonderful You, will bring the healing.

It’s advice not much different from what I have had from the people I most respect most in my primary career as a newspaper columnist. They too say you never can SEE a thing right when you first look at it. You can’t, either because you’re a little nervous, or a little rushed, or else you think you already KNOW what the story is or again you’re too enamored of the notion that Insightful You will bring understanding where understanding has been lacking…

I went to New Orleans for “We Have Not Forgotten,” the Katrina-based conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and in these last days have looked at things I never thought to see in this country. Thirty-four months after the storm I saw a man struggling to control his tears as he spoke to us, even though as a public school principal in that hardest hit area of St. Bernard Parish he has likely told these stories of loss a thousand times.

At least I think I saw him struggling. I wasn’t a foot away from him as he spoke.

Later, after we’d left him and were lunching hugely at Dooky Chase’s amazing Creole/ Soul Food eatery, I stepped outside into a sudden rainstorm. A brick housing project across the street was being razed and I looked at the sea of dark-red rubble dotted with the brightly colored remains: a bright lawn chair here, a splayed umbrella there. The rain drummed hard, both there and on the street and on the small patched-over houses next to Dooky’s and I looked and looked – for nine, ten, twelve minutes – and knew finally what I would have to do: I would have to come back here again, pray for eyes in my hands and eyes in my eyes, then roll up my sleeves and start in helping.

(Education at every level was affected.)

Happy Anniversary

Well it’s my wedding anniversary today and here I am about as far away as I can be from my man, at this conference that made my bottom hurt with sitting all day through the great programming put on my the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. I talked to him on the phone at around 9pm but it’s not the same of course. This is the first time we’ve ever been apart on a June 20 and it feels sad here at five minutes to midnight, so I thought I might post something I wrote about him a few years back:

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Dave Barry wrote a column once about women festooning their houses with candles you can’t burn, wastebaskets you can’t throw trash in, and frilly pillows and shams you must never sleep on. Why do they do this? Because they’re crazy, he says.

Now Dave Barry is a smart and funny man, but he’s wrong this time. We women don’t do this to our homes because we’re crazy. We do it to say, “This is mine.”

I read somewhere that most women just assume the inside of the house is theirs, and so mark it, as any cat or dog would do; and I have to say, it makes sense to me. After all, we’re the ones who pick up the place day to day, who furnish it and clean it – far more often than our male partners do, especially during playoff seasons. And studies show that even women working full-time jobs STILL do the lion’s share of work around the house. No wonder we come to feel the place is ours and begin taking it over, room by candle-filled room.

My man claims I do this According to him I have gone through our whole house leaving little pyramids and piles of my own invention on every surface. Once, he pointed to the rickety cane-seated chair in our bedroom where he parks his pants nights. “This little chair,” he said sadly. “In this whole house it’s all I have left.”

So OK, MAYBE I’ve frilled things up some around here too. When we first moved here, I did our room over in candles and lacy shams myself.

“Isn’t this awfully… feminine for a man’s bedroom?” his mom asked in that certain mom-in-law way. (“His bedroom!” I thought but did not say out loud. “This is my bedroom, into which he gets invited nights!” (I mean, isn’t that the fun of it on a certain level?))

All right so I’ll admit I’ve sometimes taken the whole House Beautiful thing a bit far. I think of the night I was trying to sleep in this very bedroom, as my mate followed one ballgame on the radio while monitoring another ballgame on TV – only the video portion to that ballgame was blacked out in our area, causing the screen to be filled with wild and staticky scribbles.

“Hang something over that thing before I lose my mind!” I finally yelled. And when he got up and did that, covering the screen with an ugly beach towel, I screeched again. “No, no! A pretty towel, that matches the decor!”

He shot me a deadpan look, whisked the towel off the TV and let the scribbles at me.

So I lost that round, I guess. But I figure if a person understands that any house really belongs to the one who cleans its bathrooms, she can afford to lose a round here and there.

Anyway, I won a round just last week, when I decided to pay some bills in the bedroom. I so set a card table up among the candles and the lacy shams and pulled up to it the nearest chair.

My husband just shook his head on coming home that night and seeing me sitting in it.

“There goes my one chair,” he said wistfully. “Good-bye, little chair!”

It was adorable. And I like the guy, somehow, even though he’s never once cleaned the bathroom. He can bring in four extra radios and catch five broadcasts at once, if that’s what he wants. He has that sweetness, see.

Call me crazy, Dave Barry, but you find a sweet man like that and you just feel like inviting him into your bedroom.

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And there it is: an old love offering for David Marotta who took my youth, my tiny waist and my last name too. We’ve had a lot of fun though haven’t we Dave? Here’s to 38 more with a man out standing in his field!

But CAN there Be Too Many Really?

Trying to get to New Orleans for the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists this morning, I find out at the airport that the flight’s been canceled but am kept occupied by some lively talk from the woman behind me in the LONG lone line to get to the What Now counter. She is trying to get down to New Orleans too, for a family reunion she says: “I’ve been to Louisiana, Mississippi all over the South and back seeing family but I have NEVER been out of the country! Next thing I get back I’m gonna get a PASSPORT, see some of those Caribbean islands before I reach my big never-mind-which birthday….

Because I am FREE now, my boy’s grown!!”

“Ah nice,” I say and ask how old he is and she says 22.

“Be sure he votes!”

“OH yeah!” she says and after a bit adds that she loves that Hillary Clinton. “I mean what a classy lady! I hope she’s lyin’ around in her pajamas now, sending people to bring her coffee, bring her tea. She said some things that last speech just gave me some food for thought!”

“I know, I love her too.” I said. “ The National Enquirer says he’s still cheating on her though – and they’re pretty careful what they print, having been sued so many time in the past so you know it’s maybe true.. “

“WHO’S cheating?!” she says with a sudden fierceness.

“That loser husband of hers who ruined everything.”

“HE won’t change!” she snorts. “Some men just do that.”

“I guess.”

“My man, for example, a photographer, birthday parties, weddings, reunions . Out all the time I’m thinkin’ ‘Oh he works so hard!’ Come to find out he’s photographing strippers for those websites they have!”

“And he didn’t tell you huh and that’s why you’re mad?”

“It wasn’t that! This stuff? I said ‘Uh UH, no WAY with that nonsense? All kinda front-to-back and such? ‘Oh no you don’t and live in this house!’ I said to him. I mean too many vaginas, come on!”

And so children, there it is: Your thought for the day that might even lead back to poor Hillary and her lost cause. A thought for you, and for me, and for every other person in line at the Jet Blue ticket counter.

Thanks From a Seventh Grade Class

This is the sweet letter I just got from a 7th grade class from Arkansas whom our honorary son Gary brought to Boston and New York for an extended field trip – a really extended six-day, Iron Man kind of field trip and how he found the vision and the energy to plan it I don’t know.

Here in the Boston area he took the kids out on the Freedom Trail, to the Kennedy Museum, to Concord and Lexington, to the Boston Common, to Atwood’s Tavern to hear artist/author Matt Tavares talk on the making of his book Lady Liberty, to tour Phillips Andover AND Harvard AND Yale before it was on to Manhattan for more sites and sounds beyond my ken.

Ah but I was the lucky one: I was their first ‘presenter.’ As soon as they’d dropped their bags in their hotel rooms they gathered to hear my talk. I gave each student a copy of my very first book I Thought He Was a Speed Bump, a read-‘em-in-any-order account of life with small children and chock full of the great things little children say, with chapter titles such as “When Will DAD Become a Woman?” and “I’m Not Naked, I’m Wearing My Penis!”

My talk was about how anyone can write if they can get to that joyous state where everything seems cool and interesting. I thought the story Kaela mentions here about the hamster and the two photos would work well for opening with and so had the pictures blown up big and stuck on foamcore and weren’t they a darling audience as they looked and listened and laughed. I’m not exactly sure where the little originals of those two pictures are but I’ll see if I can put my hands on them and post them tonight.

In the meantime here at the bottom is a Christmas Day ’07 picture…

…of their teacher, Mr. Gary De Young, who came into our family in 7th grade and more than any other kid hangin’ around this place kept me company making the dinner. He’s also smart, that Gary: he was asked to give the big Honors Day address on graduating from UMass Amherst some six or seven year ago; AND so universally beloved by the women of my alma mater, nearby awesome Smith College, that at Commencement, which by the way was the last Commencement of our wonderful then-President Ruth Simmons, he got cheered as much as anyone by the 500-plus members of that graduating class.

So here’s to you, Gar. And as for you, sweet Kaela, I would LOVE to come down to your school in the Delta anytime – just invite me – and I’ll bring 30 copies of my second book Vacationing in My Driveway, just as sweet and funny as Speed Bump and together we’ll all try to get into that same joyous state where everything seems cool and interesting. Because I’m pretty sure that’s where God wants us to be, every single day, enjoying this world and feeling grateful.

Jeremy Bentham Goes to Head of the Class

 

Talk about your fun time! Uncle Ed and I attended a book discussion group in Story Chapel at the famous Mount Auburn Cemetery founded back in a day when most people just buried each other out back. OK well that’s not really true: there were church-yards and there were potters fields but the Mount Auburn Cemetery of Cambridge Massachusetts was the first place to offer public burial in a tranquil park-like atmosphere where a person could think on the loved one laid to rest there and on the great cycle of nature too.

 

As it happens the great cycle of nature was actually the topic at hand; the group was discussing Mark Harris’s Grave Matters, a book about ‘green burial’ which means basically “Hold the formaldehyde honey ’cause ah’m a-goin’ back to nature and the quicker the better!” – and the discussers there gathered were so cool and fascinating I fell in love at once though the feeling may not have been mutual because not only did we get there late, Uncle Ed thumping down the quiet chapel aisle to the beat of his cane and me offering six kinds of body language that said So sorry! Oh dear! etc but we hadn’t even read the book.

 

Plus with all of us gathered round this very large table and our voices curling upward in that tall space like smoke from so many votive candles, Uncle Ed somehow turned deaf as a haddock. “I CAN”T HEAR A THING!” he faced me and boomed, the only male in the reverent feminine stillness. “Jeez, keep it down!” I wanted to say but how could I when I love him so much and he’s 88 in November (even though things can get a little dicey sometimes as when an extremely heavy 20-year-old male waddled into the doctor’s office where the two of us were cooling our heels. “It sure is a b-i-i-i-i-g country!” Ed said that time and in that same clarion voice.

 

The group talked about all the options for dealing with one’s remains When The Time Comes and I can say more about that another time. For now though let’s give a big shout-out to philosopher Jeremy Bentham who Ed and I now know had his body forever preserved upon his death in 1832. It rests in a glass chamber at University College in London with a nice wax head replacing his actual head (Don’t ask! Another botched job by the nip-and-tuck men!) Here it is now anyway and heck maybe I’ll go this route myself. The gloves give a playful Mickey Mouse feel to the whole thing and c’mon, who doesn’t look good in a hat?

 

 

Mystifed. The Kid Was Mystified.

(for all you young’uns: THIS is a harp.)

An Aubuchon Hardware store, one of 130 in the New York New England area, in its 100th years of service to the public. I walk in to encounter a pleasant looking youth who asks if he can help me.

“Sure can! I need a harp.”

“A hop?” he says and I think to myself This is good old New Hamshah, and I still have to pronounce those pesky R’s? “Oh I’m sorry H-A-R-P, the basis for any lamp.”

“Hmmm,” he says again, looking puzzled. “We don’t carry those I don’t think.”

“Are you sure? Because you know most hardware stores do.”

He leads me to the lamps aisle where there are little desk lamps, utility lamps etc. “See?”

“But they wouldn’t be HERE, exactly,” I say.

Still he doesn’t think they have them so I give up and say I also need some spray paint.

“THAT I can do!” he says with his nice smile and off we go to the spray paint aisle where I begin studying the labels of two brands of white enamel spray paint Good on wood, good on metal, the really big printing on the front says,

“Hmmm, but t I need this stuff to spray on ceramic,”

“Ceramic?”:

“Yeah you know, like a pitcher-and-bowl set,” I say realizing there is NO chance he will know what this is, 100 years and more removed as we are now from the time when people had chamber pots and pitcher-and-bowl sets in their bedrooms. Sure enough , he looks pleasantly fuddled so “Can I spray this stuff on, like, china?” I ask.

“I really don’t know a thing about paint,” he says.

“Do you know how to read?” I say, though I am not at all grouchy – just incapable of reading the very tiny print on the back .

“Well I’m only 16 of course. I figure I have my whole life ahead of me, “ he says with a wink. He takes the can and reads it – but alas even then we remain mystified in Aisle Twelve.

“Hey it’s OK, I’ll just take this one.” I say. “Now let’s go back to the front of the store. I forgot I need finials for two lamps.”

“Finials! Another VO-cab word!” he shouts gleefully. “What are finials?”

“Well a finial is an ornamental element found atop a thing. Like the knob on your ladder-back chair, for example, or at the foot of he stairs the little sculpted element on your newel post…”.

“Newel post?”

“Or the decorative thing on the top of a cupola even.”

“Cupola?” But just then comes striding along the lady 60 who has worked here for decades.

“I need a harp and some finials,” I say.

“Of course,” she smiles and leads me straight to a corner of Aisle Two where I find it all: harps, finials, even risers and I buy them all from her and my spray paint besides after she has walked me up to the counter, where the boy takes of his apron and gives me a big happy wave as together we exit the store and cross the parking lot in the warm June sun.

…and these children, these are finials.