Monday, May 14, 2018

Exercise App Bitches

My physical therapist wanted me to log into an app for my exercises. Big brother has been reimagined.

This morning, I watched the app do my exercises.

"Get ready," said a disembodied voice with an English accent.

Why an English accent? Why not a guy with a French accent?

"Begin," she said and a video of a minion woman lying on a massage table ran in what seemed like extra-slow motion. I watched her stretch for a few minutes.

I just might be willing to lie down to stretch for a guy with a French accent.

I watched the minion stretch. Was she even moving? It was like watching grass grow.

"Take a rest," she said.

Thank you. I could use a rest. I went to bed late last night because Nick was sick and I stayed up and watched him cough and be nauseated. Then, when he trundled down the steps at 5:00 this morning, I woke up after four and a half hours of sleep, not enough to be cheerful to the new voice in my life with the English accent.

"Begin," she said again. 

"Fuck off," I replied. Nick looked up and then returned to his show. He understood the generic attitude toward the new world order at only 6:27 in the morning.

Then, while she directed her minion to stretch her lower trunk in Matrix-style slow motion, I let the dog out and stood at the screen to take a deep breath of morning air. I wondered if the hummingbirds finished drinking their sugar and were ready for a refill. A shot of sugar water sounded good about then. I'd already made Nick an omelet, cleaned the litter box, and taken out the garbage.

"Take a rest," she said as if I didn't really deserve one.

This woman was a nag, a fucking nag. And if I imagined correctly, she spoke using resting bitch face. How is it that I could picture a woman's face when I couldn't even see her and I was only listening to her voice?

Because I could.

Still, that one hamstring stretch, the one where I was supposed to straighten my leg and lean toward a flexed foot, that one looked like it would be a relief.

So, I did that stretch, but just on one side, and not in the perfect pose that my slow-motion minion model showed me. I never looked like the pictures that they showed in exercise programs.

Did you ever look between your elbows when you were doing one of those planks they showed on Pinterest? They really should show those things in an accurate way, from my perspective, with my clothes dragging the floor, my belly wobbling, and my calves quivering. Don't forget the beads of sweat that popped out and dripped down my face in a strange path. I was used to tears taking a certain route down my face. And if I were planking for an audience, the physical therapist would most certainly hover over me telling me to breathe when there was only a half a pint of air left in my squinched up lungs while I held my abs, under the wobbly belly, as tight as a drum.

Yeah, under all the loose folds of skin, I'm ripped, completely ripped. So are you, right?

I really hoped that the camera wasn't enabled during my use of this app. If the physical therapist could only see my selfie camera at work, she'd have seen me at the bottom of the screen, tap-tap-tapping away at my computer.

"Good job," my Brit woman exclaimed in a bored voice.

Why couldn't she sound like she meant it? Why did she have to talk in that tone of voice that said that even if I did lie down on the floor with all the dog hair I should have vacuumed yesterday, it would never have been good enough for her because of the way I really looked in my baggy clothes and my baggy skin? And she was going to make sure my physical therapist knew it. She must be related to the naggy-voiced computer woman at the grocery store who told me how to use the self-checkout lane when I was just a bit too slow at scanning that next item.

The bitches.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Looking Into the Deep

I've been having trouble lately. I have. It's an imbalance in my life, not a catastrophe. But still...

So, last night, before I fell asleep, I asked for help. Some time in the early morning, I dreamed I found a kind man living on a boat on the river. He wasn't named, but he was Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad. He held my hand and it was warm and it helped. I leaned against his chest and it was so warm and comforting. I listened for the rumble of his belly.

He was a brown man.

He didn't rush me. I leaned there against him until I was almost filled up again. He just stood and let me lean on him. When I held up one hand, he held it.

Oh, I needed that.

I needed to be held and comforted. I really did. Thank you.

Then, I laid down on the platform at the back of his boat and looked into the water. Once in a while, I spit to see trout rise from the cool deep. They ate my spit. Ew.

We used to do that at the Marina at Rough River in Kentucky, spit into the water to see carp come up, curious about whether there were treats. We spit bits of our ice cream into the water for them. They were languid, well-fed fish, happy for the extra sweetness. Can fish taste sweetness?

This water was clearer than the water at Rough River. It was like our rivers here, a little bit tannin, but clear to the bottom. Still, it was amazing how the trout were camouflaged until they weren't.

After I looked at the fish, I read some of the books on the boat. There wasn't much stuff onboard except books. Books piled on shelves, sat in boxes, and on tables, all the knowledge in the Universe. The boat was bigger than it had at first seemed, a simple fishing boat with a small covered cabin. But I didn't feel crowded when I went inside.

It was heaven, as many books as I could read.

Suddenly, there were other children there, all curious about what I was reading. Icarus. Wasn't he the guy who flew too close to the sun and it melted the wax holding his feathers together?

One of the kids decided to look it up online instead of the big dictionary on the table. When he clicked the word on his phone, a white bird the size of a man unfolded his wings somewhere on shore. He was malevolent and with the quick reference, could find us where we hid.

More importantly, he could find the book.

The book in my hands began to crumble to dust.

Desperately, I went back to reading before it was completely gone. Some of the words were saved, but it was too late for most of the book.

We needed to read, to read as much as we could of the existing books because the ones that weren't being read crumbled into dust. The unused words disappeared. Without the books, chaos would come.

Shakespeare, Gilgamesh, Faulkner, The Odyssey, even Lindy West, Walter Kamau Bell, David George Haskell. One by one, the books began to flake apart and disintegrate.

Some of the kids didn't want to read. I read as fast as I could. Civilization depended on it.

And then I woke up, wishing I had more time to lean against the man's warm chest, to hold his hand, to look into the deep of the water, to read what seemed like infinite books before they crumbled away in my hands.

I had asked for God's help. That was it. That was the message. Hold hands, look into the deep, read.

Good message.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Grandma's Coffee Cup

I'm running a writing workshop on Friday for the kids I tutor.

I realized that I'm doing it for me when one of the props I felt I must bring was my grandma's coffee cup. Yes, I will be the one writing about that cup. No one else will choose it. No one else would pick it out of a lineup of good candidates. What could you possibly say about an old coffee cup?

These kids were raised using mugs not cups, big mugs that could host dirt and a hearty petunia, stainless steel skinny mugs designed to slip into their car's cup holder, heavy mugs with photos of T-ball players who have since grown up, awkward and colorful mugs with swirly patterns and the word 'peace' painted on each side, mugs with snarky comments printed on them that have long since stopped making them laugh. These kids might not even recognize a low-rise porcelain cup, one that contained barely a measured cup, with a delicate white handle that you have to pinch between your thumb and forefinger to use.

Those kids don't remember that pink and white porcelain cup set on a saucer for meals of homegrown beans, tomatoes, corn, watermelon, and blackberry cobbler. Those kids won't know that the cup with an unstained twin means a moment or two, unrushed, at the dining table for a heart-to-heart in between planting, weeding, picking, snipping, snapping, and canning homegrown fruits and vegetables. A cup of tea and a salad lunch with Grandma was an event, not fancy, but a lesson in feeding yourself the freshest food that mattered to your body. It could begin with laughter and end with tears, the good kind, the kind of tears that melted your heart, made you feel pressed into the red and white softness of Grandma's favorite cotton dress.

That cup was the first washed and the first to be set back on the table with its saucer, always ready for the next moment when it was needed. That cup was witness to Grandma's long life, almost the beginning and almost to the end. I'm not exactly sure when Grandpa gave Grandma her good set of dishes, the ones with a farm scene in the center and acorns around the edges, but she used it every day that I was there. I use them now. I like to think that Grandma wouldn't mind that I use one of the tiny bowls to feed the kitten, or that I brought up the chipped dessert plate to use first to see if it would tolerate the dishwasher or go pale and craze in its heat. I haven't chipped or broken one yet, thankfully.

When I pack for the writing workshop, I'll bring a birdhouse that was never offered to the birds, a dried starfish, a Ball jar, a sand dollar, a pine cone, Gumby, and a bowl of fruit. But I know, when I pack up that cup and saucer to go to the workshop, it is not for my students to ponder. It will be for me. With that porcelain cup, I'll remember a worn red and white dress that smelled of Jergen's lotion, a white apron, a vegetable garden with a single row of sunflowers and dahlias, a watermelon so ripe it cracks open when it's tapped, a large tin tub, a toilet that rocked a little when you sat on it, a kitchen that smelled of coffee, bacon, and homemade bread, a house with a shaded front porch, a porch with a swing that creaked, a wooden screen door that screeched when it was opened and slapped shut again, flyswatters, a long ash hanging from Grandpa's cigarette, a short front lawn so that Uncle Buddy could stop in his car on the wrong side of the road without getting out, hang his tanned left arm out of the driver's-side window, shade his bright blue eyes, and talk without any other cars honking him away. I can remember the horses that stood in the field across the road, the way they swished their tails and reached for the taller, tender grass across the barbed wire fence. I can remember a whole lifetime ago, to a time that I was the same age as these kids I pretend to teach.

So what? So what if I'm running a workshop intended solely for me?

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, April 20, 2018

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up

Here I am.

I'm sore. I'm tired. I feel like sitting on the couch and watching TV.

I'm turning into one of those old women who fall. I hate being the woman who falls. Last Sunday, I missed a step that I'd always thought would trip me some day.

I was at church. There was a chair and I thought I'd take a load off, so I put my right hand on the back of it in case it skittered away from under me as I turned to sit.

I forgot about the odd half step in front of it and instead of sitting or even turning, I rocked that chair backward on two legs and proceeded to splay over it.

Great, an embarrassing moment.

Then, the pain hit.

Did you ever notice that for a hard fall, it takes more time for pain to arrive? What is that? Is my brain temporarily out of service? Do hard knocks take longer to traverse my neural pathways? Do I have clutz's block?

"Are you okay?" a half dozen voices said in unison.

"I, I, I ... just give me a minute," I said as the bell of pain continued to chime. I sat there with my mouth open and my eyes unfocused.

When the chair had rocked backward, the seat had come up deep under my right breast and made contact at my right rib. I dropped my left hand to the floor and over-extended my ring and middle fingers. Wait, I needed my middle finger for important driving messages. And my right knee hit the edge of the step.

Finally, the pain subsided enough for me to say something.

"Sh...," I edited half way through a non-church word. "That felt like a mammogram!"

Everybody laughed. My right breast had just encountered the same kind of smash and pull maneuver that a sadistic technician had once performed on it during a procedure that left me sore for a couple of weeks.

I sat very still for a bit while people tut-tutted over me and repeated their question. Finally, I got up slowly and said, "I'm okay now. Thank you."

I hate being the center of that kind of attention. Then, I shuffled to the back of the sanctuary and sat down for the services, fiddling with a little bottle of Aleve that I had in my bag for just such gymnastic adventures at the altar. I endured while a few more people patted me on the shoulder as they moved toward their places. I pulled out gum. I don't have grandkids, but I keep gum in my purse for long sermons. The kids around me love this. I have learned to chew without actually looking like I'm masticating. It's a gift. I'll show you how if you want.The kids are never that great at being discreet and I think the minister is on to me.

I kept my head down and bolted home right after the benediction. There was no way I could stay and chat.

When I got home, I brought Mike into the bathroom with me while I looked for evidence of my self-abuse.


Seriously? My middle finger felt like it might be broken and even went numb as Mike poked and prodded like a TV doctor.

"I don't feel anything broken."

"Well then, look at this."

To hell with my middle finger and my sore knee. I lifted my right arm to show him the rib where I landed on the edge of the chair.


It just looked like I was flashing him the high beams with my arm raised in the air. He raised one eyebrow. I hate when he does that.

"I really did hit it. Hard."

"I have no doubt you did, but I don't think you broke a rib. Does it hurt when you breathe?" He even sounded like a TV doctor

"No. Not at all, but it hurts when I reach for anything or bounce."

"So don't reach for anything or bounce," he said.

"Thank you, Doctor Mike."

"No problem. Do you want me to look at your knee?"

"No, it's just sore, not flattened by a truck."

"Ice and Aleve, then."

"Got it," I muttered. I finally lowered my shirt, as if a bruise might have appeared while we still talked.


Then, I spent the next four days trying to keep from reaching or bouncing. Or being compressed. All week, people seemed to want to hug me. It was impossible. I lived on a regimen of Aleve and ice until last night when I thought I could feel a little less swelling in my rib and remembered less often that I had squashed a melon.

That night, I dreamed that my right breast was six inches longer than the other one. I woke up from this very realistic dream after sleeping only four hours. When I prepared to get into the shower, I happened to look in the mirror again.

I had a black and purple bruise the size of my open hand almost completely hidden under all that fluff. When Doctor Mike got home, I brought him back into the bathroom to show him evidence of my pain.

"The stupid bruises always appears when it's starting to feel better."

"Wow. That really looks like someone is abusing you."

"Yeah, that would be me."

And he hugged me, but not too tightly.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Truth Revealed in Your Crystal Ball

I don't have enough time to do any bit of writing justice today. I resent that. I find myself thinking as if I'm talking with candor to my students:

Be prepared. Unless you're part of the 1%, your dreams will be crushed. What about all that joy with which you contemplated your future? Useless, all of it. Forget hope. Forget the American dream of working hard at what you love and earning money at it. Just resign yourself doing drudge work that looks a little like what you used to like to do in your free time so that you can earn enough money to get by.

There's an inverse relationship between how much you like your job and how much money you can make. That's because nobody wants to do the truly crappy jobs, so they pay better. You can earn a decent living driving a garbage truck. Did you know that? Then, because you're unhappy, you can leave people's garbage strewn about the highway and drag the bin half way down the road in an act of weekly passive aggression because the kid put it in the wrong spot and you don't want to bother leaving a note. Nobody can read your writing anyway and you can't spell. But you can earn a decent living driving garbage.

Wait. You should check the color of your skin. There may be corollaries to that inverse relationship. If you have dark skin and smooth hair, you might earn more money doing what you don't like to do because your parents began to grill you in the second grade to get your math facts right and told you that an A- is as good as an F. No worries. If you play your cards right, you'll become a low-level manager at a fortune 500 company with a slightly larger dumpster-sized cubicle. You'll wonder why your workers stare right through you when you try your parents' management skills on them. You won't be any happier, but you'll have some money to spend on your misery.

If you have dark skin and curly hair, you're pretty much fucked because our current President makes it okay to keep you in shackles. You'll be harassed more often by teachers. You'll be accused of crimes you didn't commit. You'll be imprisoned more often. You might even get arrested while waiting for a friend too long in front of a store or shot in your own car by a police officer who believes you stole that car because he could never afford it even though your wife and child are inside it with you.

If you're a woman, you'll earn only three-quarters what your male cohorts will earn. If you confront your bosses, they'll tell you that the men have families to support and secretly call you a bitch when you leave the room. You'll have to learn how to dance away from the guy who you know will stick his fingers under your skirt if he thinks no one else can see. If you work full time and are married, you'll do most of the chores at home anyway because that's what you're supposed to do. Be smart, marry a man who knows how to plug in a vacuum cleaner and load a washing machine. Then, leave the cat puke lying in his shoe for a while and see what happens. Throw a red sweater in with his underwear and T-shirts a few weeks after the honeymoon and let him imagine wearing pink underwear until it fades. If he does the laundry after that, you're set for life. Then, without much effort, you'll have converted the home to a more equal place. If he yells at you, file for divorce without waiting to see if he'd change a diaper. That shit is not funny in the home.

And if you're a privileged white male, you still have to work. You have to make more money than your wife to be considered a real man. Don't even think of being a stay-at-home dad. The real word for that is 'unemployed.' You'll have to learn to fall down and not cry. You'll have to go to college when robots take over your manufacturing job and the mines become more automated. Even after you get a degree in computer science, you'll have to work ten hours a day in a warehouse containing a hundred and fifty cubicles each with a footprint smaller than a dumpster.

There will always be that guy who opens your lunch in the refrigerator in the break room and steals your cookie. There's that guy who interrupts you every time you have a bright and shining idea at the brainstorming meeting, then tries to pass it off as his own later in the meeting. It'll work and if you complain, you'll look like you're whining. There will always be someone who switches his broken chair for yours or his sticky keyboard or some other nonsense that the company handed out without caring if it worked or not. There will always be coffee so black there's an oil sheen on the top and a group-passive-agressive play over who makes the next pot.

There will always be a guy on the way to work who tailgates so tightly that you wonder what an airbag tastes like and you wonder how your very existence in the line of cars has become an annoyance to a person you never met in real life.

This is your future, that time you spend in your car, in your cubicle, on your couch in front of a television screen when the day's penance is paid. This is what you are destined to become. Welcome to the real world, asshole.

Yeah, I'm not sure it's a good idea for me to be honest with my students today. Candor is not always appreciated but it is an SAT word you need to memorize.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, April 2, 2018

Ringworm with Teeth and Extra Chores

You'd think that when school called a late-start, your day as a mom would be easier. Well, I can guarantee you that it wasn't.

This morning, well after some kids were already waiting outside for the bus to come, we got that text that pinged all three phones at once.

Late start. Yay! It snowed a little and we're still not done with winter. It was just a two-hour delay, but it was our only snow day this year. Yay! We all thought as we slowed into snow-day routine without thinking of the ramifications of a two-hour delayed start.

First, everyone was already awake and half ready for school and work. This meant that there was no true added value to anyone except Nick who watched Jim Gaffigan on TV for an hour and a half after he got out of the shower. He'll have to make up the school work anyway. It's not a zero sum gain. It's a lose-lose even though he won't recognize it as such.

When the students lose time in school, everyone has to work harder to make it up before testing happens. Stress will go up incrementally.

As for me, I still had to nag about the garbage and the recyclables, extra since I thought he might miss the garbage truck if he waited to take it out. I still had to talk about homework status and studying for the SAT. I still had to announce the hurry-ups and the better-get-goings, only this time, they happened almost twice. Remember, we were pretty far into our routine the first time before we got the late-start texts.

I still had to make lunch, but I also had to make Nick a coffee because he said he might fall back to sleep for a while if I didn't. At the last minute, he announced that his lunch was too small. Too small. Too big. Every day I do the same thing and I still get it wrong. I had to scramble to make it right. That boy is this close to making his own lunches. This close.

Then, I had to do an extra load of laundry because the school informed Nick that the gym has a ringworm infection and his gym clothes might be infected.


So, I'm running the dryer on extra-hot. Then, I'm going to run the clothes through the washer again just in case.

I hate having fungus, parasites, viruses, shit like that in my house. I get started looking at the Internet and get seriously grossed out. Those things have teeth? Since when do fungi have teeth? Sometimes those pictures don't actually match the search criteria, but some kind of microscopic worm with teeth is what I'd expect to see when I looked up ringworm and so there it was, along with photos of the worst case of ringworm ever seen. I can't unsee that.

Don't look that shit up on the Internet. Just don't do it.

So now, everyone has departed. The laundry is drying and almost ready for round two. I've already had my cup of coffee for the day. And I'm an hour and a half behind in my morning schedule.

See what I mean?

You get awarded with a late-start day for snow and you end up somehow doing more work rather than less. Plus, the image of that worm with the four teeth is going to gnaw its way through your brain all day as you try to get back on track.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Alien Kale Invasion

I just finished eating one of my junk-in-the-back-of-the-fridge omelettes. It was so good, I have to brag about it. Eggs, butter, sausage, spinach, tomato, onion, mushroom, and kale. Yes, I added kale.

See, I resolved to throw away less food. So almost every day, I eat some kind of junk from the back of the fridge. The other day, I made hot dog soup.

Even Nick admitted that it was delicious, all those little bits of leftover food thrown in together with a couple of diced hot dogs and some beef broth.

Here's the thing - when I look through the back of the fridge, it doesn't always look so great. Kale, for example. I have never looked at kale without first thinking of the original 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' movie. That stuff does not look like normal food. Remember at the end of the movie when the doctor saw the pods in the back of the truck on the highway? Yeah, when I look in the back of my fridge and find old kale, I see that scene all over again. Every single time.

Endive too. It's all those veins.

I try not to think of the veins when I slice the tough stem out of the kale. If I do, I just try to imagine my surgery is to assist the good doctor in his attempt to eliminate the pods.

But then, I cook it and eat it.

Onions, butter, leftover meat from dinner are all okay, but some vegetables, when you look at them closely, don't pass the alien invasion test.

Asparagus. The tight little bunch of pods at the tip of a long reach. What plant do you know that grows that way? And the white ones? I can't even make myself buy the white asparagus.

And with enough asparagus, there's that pee smell afterward. You know what I mean. You're half way through a pee shiver the next morning when that smell wafts up to you. Not you. No, that smell is not you. It's an alien smell, an awful smell that means you've been taken in by the alien asparagus but you just don't know it yet.

There was a show on the cable the other night, something about aliens living among us. I didn't even watch it. I knew, just like when I stared at that bunch of kale at the back of the fridge, that if I watched too long, something would shiver, just a subtle shift so I could see the alien life right here on the couch with me. Who was my husband Mike anyway? Where did he really come from?

One of those curly leaves at the back of the fridge would roll into a tentacle for an instant, stretch out, and grab me by the face. Then it would slowly drag the whole bunch of kale toward my mouth and make me swallow it all in one bite.

Then, I would be an alien too. Never trust a woman who likes kale.

Thank you for listening, jules