Friday, March 24, 2017

Three and a Quarter Outrageous Things

I am the kind of woman you don't really want talking to your children. I'm a bad influence. Really.

The other day, I got my copy of Jenny Lawson's new doodle book in the mail. You Are Here. I proceeded to draw the me-dot on the title page with the little arrow and the crazy maze around the me-dot and then I added a Jenny dot, imagining that we were both there, somehow, making a connection. Jenny's an artist and I am not and it showed but still, it made me happy. There's something about doodling in a book that is illicit and wonderful.

See, what did I tell you? I find myself telling kids that I like graffiti and marginalia in library books, but only if it's good stuff, only if it adds to the situation. Actually, I hate graffiti that denigrates anyone or claims a spot as a drug drop or or just tags a business with ugly spray-painted words like 'fuck' or 'shit.' Can't these people be a little more creative with their curses? And I hate, absolutely detest when people edit library books or write stuff in the margins as if they are the better author. Write your own book, ass-wipe.

I told you I was a bad influence.

So, I thumbed through Jenny's book, pausing at the cat page at which point Blitz jumped up onto the book and pressed his butt onto the page. I tried to take a picture of the irony with my phone, but Blitz batted at my hand and jumped off exactly as the fake-shutter sound clicked. All I got was a blur. You couldn't even see the page or the cute striped and spotted pajamas my kitten wears.

Then, I flipped some pages again. It said "YOUR TURN." On the previous page, Jenny advised that I should write down five outrageous things that I've done.

Did my mother put you up to this, Jenny?

Four things popped immediately to mind, not necessarily in this order.

First, I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back in one day. Sixteen and a half miles. I carried two cans of Dr. Pepper and two Snickers bars in my pockets. I wore a pair of Keds tennis shoes. I made it out alive.

Don't you hate when you're playing truth or dare and someone picks truth and you tell them they have to admit to the most outrageous thing they've ever done and they end up bragging about something like that?

I do too.

But here's the thing. It did feel outrageous. It was stupid because I was so incredibly thirsty on my way back out. If not for the occasional spigot, I would have been in a world of hurt. And the next day, I had to sit in an airplane for six hours to return from my business trip/Grand Canyon hike and my calves seized up completely. I had done a total of zero hours of training to prepare for this hike. So, when the seat belt sign went off and we were allowed to exit the plane, I had to do it on tiptoes because my heels absolutely would not stretch flat to touch the floor. That night, I saw that I had ten tiny bruises under my toenails because they hadn't been cut short enough for my Keds. One of those toenails almost fell off it became so separated from the nail bed. It still grows in a little wonky, as if the hike permanently shifted the nail to an odd angle.

Yeah, when you hear that whole story, it really is a little outrageous, isn't it? Now go read Girl in the Woods where a woman hikes thirty miles a day through the desert and mountains to go from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. Now tell me my sixteen and a half miles, my Dr. Pepper, and my Snickers bars weren't inordinately ridiculous.

So, number two of the outrageous thing I did. Hmm.

The Grateful Dead concert on the beach in Santa Barbara California when I was twenty-three...

Oh, I can not tell you about that. I've only ever told one person the whole story, though by today's TMI standards, by Amy Shumer standards, I'm a colossal bore. 

Someday I will tell you that story, but I think I need to be fifteen years further along my timeline to when people won't believe me any more. Have you ever noticed how old ladies get very very innocent as they get older. Or rather, our perception of them does. No, they couldn't possibly have been to Woodstock or participated in the gay 20s or been a fan of Betty Friedan or Erika Jong. I remember getting embarrassed by the relative fluff of a romance novel my grandma gave me when she was done with it. Grandma, how could you? I could never get through watching an R-rated movie in the same theater with my mother without falling apart either. But I refuse to get totally innocent when I go gray.

Fuck that. I did things.

But I'm not going to tell you about Santa Barbara, not yet. Nick is only sixteen. He's pretty mature, but he's not ready to hear the truth about his mother. Not yet.

So, I couldn't write about the Grateful Dead concert into Jenny's book. I just couldn't. What if somebody read it? What if I forgot I wrote it and donated the book and someone connected that story to the real me?

You know, I really am a little bit boring about sex. Sorry. I just am.

So, onto number three.

There was the time I ran the team marathon with my Lockheed crew in Central Park. Yes, I think I can tell you this. Each of us ran our 2.6 miles and overall, we did pretty poorly. I was never a fast runner, so I slowed the whole crew down into obscurity. Did they really think we were going to win?

Yet it was a gorgeous day in New York City, the springtime that happens one day and is over the next. Blue sky. Sun. A cool breeze. And Tom brought a couple of six packs of beer. Tom brought beer to every event. Tom also tended to moon the women in the group and fall over after consuming his six packs and he would just lie there with his pants down, giggling, while the rest of us tried to figure out who was going to drive him home and who was going to follow along in his car.

That afternoon, I was in no condition to drive Tom's car home either and I learned a cruel truth about businesses near Central Park only after I realized I had no money left to spend. Many of them absolutely will not let you use their bathrooms unless you buy something.

Well, fuck.

You guessed it. I peed behind a bush in Central Park when I was twenty-four years old.


Then, for number four, I could tell you about the time moments before I had back surgery. They'd given me some kind of heavy narcotic but this happened before they anesthetized me completely. I told dirty jokes while lying nearly naked on the operating table, filthy jokes, jokes I could only tell after having four or five beers with my girlfriends.

Here's what I remember. They rolled me into the room on a gurney. Then, six people used the sheet under me to lift me onto the operating table. It was frigid there. They told me that the cold kept bacteria from growing.  I asked for a blanket. Instead, they started pulling the gown away from my body. Then, they injected something into my IV drip and suddenly I was no longer afraid or cold. Embarrassed?

Why the hell would I be embarrassed? I felt as though I'd peed myself. Did I pee myself? It didn't matter.

You know, I'm not entirely certain if I peed myself or not.

Then, I asked my gorgeous young doctor if I could tell him a joke. He said, "Why not?"

It was the one about the penis and the tennis shoe. Everyone laughed.

Then I asked them if they knew why bunnies didn't make any noise when they had sex. When I told them, they laughed again.

Hell, I was good. Maybe I should do standup.

Michael Jackson's other glove?

Another laugh.

A nurse said, "Doctor, shouldn't we get on with it?"

She looked kind of stern behind her mask, as if I'd had too much to drink in a public place.

But my sweet doctor said, "Do we have to?" He had such beautiful eyes.

Then, the anesthesiologist leaned upside down over my face and asked me to count backward from one hundred. It was all so very funny. I counted to 98 before my eyes rolled into the back of my head. I was still giggling to myself when I silently reached 96.

The next day, the doctor walked into my room and told me a filthy joke before he told me my surgery went very well. My mother had arrived and sat upright at my bedside.

When he left, she said, "That was completely unprofessional. Do you have any idea why he'd think to tell you nasty jokes?"

And I said, "I have no idea."

There you have it, three and a quarter outrageous things I did.What have you done? Are you willing to admit the truth?

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kitten Time

Here's a quickie. When I wake up in the morning, I usually sit at my desk for a few minutes and jot down my list of stuff I have to do, try to remember what day it is, and generally get organized.

Lately, that meditative time, the only time I set aside for myself, has been altered, significantly.

Instead of focusing on how stiff my shoulder is, how my eyes are still bleary, what I was dreaming just now, and what I face in the day, I sit at my desk with my pen in hand and try to figure out how to write in a notebook that is shielded almost completely by cat butt and cat paws.

Blitz sits on my notebook, believing with his whole heart that this is the time in the morning during which I devote both hands and sometimes my cheek to petting him and telling him what a good baby he is. It's all about Blitz time, nothing else to do but sit here on this clean sheet of paper and bat around that long stick I brought for him to play with.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, March 17, 2017

Books I Loved Lately

It's been a long time since I told you what I'm reading. I didn't mean to neglect you. I just got out of the habit for some reason. There are some amazing books out there that you need to know about.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield is a great book for teenagers or anybody else who has a difficult goal in life that they want to achieve. I'm listening to the audiobook. I like listening to his voice. Hadfield talks about how he was lucky enough and prepared enough to actually become an astronaut. He also talks about NASA methodology. Sweat the small stuff. The small stuff can kill you. Acknowledge your mistakes and dissect them so you can learn from them. Plan for what will go wrong. Watch your attitude. It's a pilot pun. He couldn't help himself.

The thing I like about Hadfield's book is that it has made me rethink how to get to my goals. It's cheerful, not preachy at all and his example inspires me. He has the attitude we try to instill into our Boy Scouts. You know - trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, kind. You know the type of man I'm talking about.

As I listen to him describe his experiences, I can imagine as he looks through his visor and sees the Universe, right there beside him.

I always wanted to see the Earth from space. I realized a couple years ago that I probably wouldn't have done all that well. I get motion sickness sometimes. What do they do with puke on the inside of a space suit? Can they vent it into space? I get carsick in the back of a van. I get air sick on turbulent flights, but I never get seasick. It could be the horizon. And I was too excited the one time I was in a helicopter to do anything but laugh and cry with happiness. That pilot bobbed all the hell over the place when he realized how much I loved flying. Not a moment of motion sickness. Go figure.

I'm also a little claustrophobic. Three people in a tin can? Nope. It wouldn't work. Just picture me dancing around the house, trying to get out of Mike's dry suit shirt when it squeezed me around the neck just a little bit too tightly when I was getting ready for a kayak trip. I'm okay in elevators, unless people are packed in like sardines. But squeeze me into a tube like a cave or an MRI and I'm counting breaths, closing my eyes, and imagining how I'm floating out on the ocean.

No, I wouldn't have been a good astronaut, as much as I'd like to have seen that view, the Earth, a blue, green, and white jewel on a bed of black velvet space.

Hadfield's book could inspire a teenage boy who isn't sure he can see his own future. I'm buying copies for kids I know. I'd buy a copy for Nick if I thought he'd even open the book. It is so damned sad to me that I can love books so vehemently when he has such a lackluster response to them.

The other book I love is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. The hard part is that he dies in the end. This man was a neurosurgeon and he was also a poet. It was a beautiful book about living and about dying. It confirmed for me yet again that the human body is a miracle of minute mechanisms and that death is, well, inevitable.

Don't you hate trying to write something beautiful about something beautiful? It's harder knowing that Kalanithi died and if there is life after death, he could be practically looking over my shoulder as I write. What's another word for profound? How can I write about the human body when I haven't studied the human body in so long? What are the details about this book that I loved so much? I can't just say it made me laugh and cry. I can't if I imagine he's right there, wondering what I'm going to type next.

Dead people plague me. I had a bullying boss once who died of pancreatic cancer after I quit being her minion. If there is life after death, this woman knows just exactly what a bitch I believed her to be. She could possibly have the gratification of knowing the anguish she put me through. I worked so hard for her never to see it. So, if Paul Kalanithi is floating out there somewhere, I hope he's not critiquing my critique. I gave up poetry years ago.

And dudes, I listened to Beowulf translated and read by Seamus Heaney. This book is a video game! I tried, I really tried, to get Nick to listen to it with me on our way to school, but I'm giving him have a choice in more arenas. I know, right? I want him to love books on his own now that I've run as far with him as I could. We read hundreds of books together. But he said no to Beowulf. How can you hate reading so much that you don't want to listen to a book on tape that's basically a run through a video game, weapons, armor, battles, and celebrating afterward all included? Of all the classic books I was supposed to read, Beowulf was one of the easiest.

That's all for now. My wish for you is to have enough time to sit down and read a whole book this weekend. Or listen to one.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Mouse in a Duffel Bag

I hate when I sit down at my computer and get distracted by social media. There are articles that people have shared, irritated posts I want to comment on, and photos of people's kids having fun. Lately, the March for Science has some amazing entries and I've been inspired by them, but every time I comment on one, I get notifications for every other person who says the same thing that a couple of dozen other people already said. If all I have to write is "Absolutely!" then maybe I should forgo the effort.

"Me too."

"Good luck."


"I agree."

Any of those should just be deleted before I press the post button. There's also a time, when about three people have told similar stories in detail, that adding my own story to their story is just narcissistic. And yet, I persist in a lame attempt at social network validation. It might be more effective if I called a friend and asked her to lunch. She'd confirm that I'm actually a pretty funky woman, but she likes me anyway.

Isn't there something productive I could do instead?

Right. I already did productive. I washed sheets and did a load of dishes. I mostly cleared my desk of stuff I don't use.

Plus, I cleaned up after a mouse. What a butt-load of work it is to clean up after a mouse.
Last night, Nick came out of karate angry because his gloves and helmet smelled like piss. I had noticed during the week that Blitz stood on the karate bag for an hour or two. I thought it was just the cat bonding, rolling around in the sweat of a boy he loved. Nope. It was definitely a mouse. I hate that smell. It makes me think of the truck we just donated, a thing that still operated fairly well, but was actually so smelly that Boy Scouts couldn't stand to sit in it. Did you ever smell a carload of teenage boys? This truck smelled worse than that.

Last night, I confirmed that the whole karate bag was fouled by sticking my nose into it and taking a deep breath. Yup. Piss. I sniffed again and theorized, based on the smell, that it was a rodent and not a cat who was at fault. I didn't linger over the smell, but set aside the bag to deal with in the morning.

Can you get the hantavirus from smelling fresh mouse piss? Can you get it from wearing a pissy helmet on your head?

This morning, I gingerly took everything out of Nick's karate bag. I should have used gloves and a gas mask. Seven socks. Seven. A gob of stickers glommed together. One pair of foamy nunchuks. Two pair of bamboo nunchuks. I had hit myself in the head, multiple times, trying Nick's bamboo nunchuks when he first showed me what he was learning. A jock strap and cup. There are things a mom should never have to do. Handling this was one of them. Three mechanical and two #2 pencils. The receipt for his second brown belt test. Two identical patches dated 2013. Two punch cards. An outdated EpiPen. Two inhalers. An eraser with pencil-sized holes bored all the way through. A mouth guard in a ratty Ziploc bag. A foam helmet. Two new sparring gloves. His gi, top and bottom. And his brown belt with three black stripes taped onto the end.

Again, I used the sniff test. One sparring glove smelled putrid. I just bought them last month when Nick's hands finally grew. The helmet was definitely pissy. The foam nunchuks and one of bamboo ones smelled pretty gnarly. The jock strap was ripe, but that was Nick, totally Nick. The olfactory bulb in my sinuses is a wonder. Why the hell did nature think I needed to be able to distinguish between crotch, cat piss, and mouse piss?

Oh, the joy of being a mom.

I filled a bucket with Nature's Miracle, almost fully concentrated, and began to wipe down or soak anything that couldn't be thrown into the washer, wearing rubber gloves almost to my elbows. Then, I threw the gi, the duffel, the brown belt, the jock strap, and seven socks into the washer with another strong dose of Nature's Miracle. After that, the mouth guard went into a pot of boiling water.

This mouse had the piss scared out of him while Blitz stood on the karate bag and pawed at and rolled on the sparring glove where he hid.  That glove couldn't just be wiped down. It was soaked in 'scared the piss out of me' piss. Could I distinguish between the piss of a frightened mouse and a happy one? I'd almost guarantee that I could. Almost.

I have no intention of proving that one in a lab.

In the end, I still had to throw out the new sparring gloves, the helmet, the foamy nunchuks, three socks, and the duffle bag because the smell was just too pervasive even after all the washing I could manage. I also threw out four mechanical and two #2 pencils, an outdated EpiPen, and a glob of stickers glommed together. I kept the eraser with the holes in it. I don't know why, but I figured it didn't smell so it was okay. Maybe I kept it because it was an art piece that every child has created in his lifetime.

When I was done, I wanted to steam clean the floor where the duffle bag had sat. I bleached the bucket that soaked the pissy stuff that couldn't roll around in the washer. I wanted to bleach the bathroom and utility room floors and then shower and scrub my skin until I was pink, but I was interrupted.

I was standing in my kitchen when the cat came running in and stared at the floor by the dishwasher. No big deal there. Cats were always running past me and staring at stuff. Then, what I thought was a gray toy mouse but was in fact a real mouse ran across the floor and under the oven.

I screamed.

"There's a mouse under the oven!" I yelled. Suddenly, Mike and Nick were in front of me, armed with an arsenal of airsoft guns and head lamps. I ran to get a broom to poke at the creature. Usually, when there's a mouse in the house, I let the dog and the cats help me hunt it down and I capture it in an old plastic container. Usually, Teddy and I drive a ways down the road to the horse field and let it go free. Not this time. I had to clean the hell out of stuff that would never come clean. I'd inhaled so much mouse piss that it felt like I still had piss lining my sinuses. I'd had to throw stuff away. I just bought those sparring gloves. And my house still felt dirty!

This time I cheered as Mike shot the shit out of that little sucker with Nick's airsoft gun.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Mike's Superpower

Mike has a superpower. I hate it.

I was brought up to follow directions. Even when they aren't particularly good for me, I tend to follow directions. Sounds good, right? It's an admirable trait that threatened spankings as a child made for a better adult, right?


I realized how dangerous this trait was when I was a cute teenager on my own beginning to date. It was not easy but I began to say no, just a little bit. After college, I moved to New Jersey, just outside New York City where protecting yourself was difficult even without this trap of doing whatever every Tom, Dick, and Harry told me to do. It was there that I began to get angry, to fight back. I am certain that if I hadn't, I wouldn't be here now.

I still struggle. When people catch me unawares, I almost automatically submit.

"Hey, will you stay up all night at the lock-in with a hundred sweaty teenagers this Friday night?"

"Sure. What time should I be there?" is my automatic response if I don't plan an answer ahead of time.  

I practice saying no. I manage to put myself out of range of the questioners, avoiding the PTSA leaders stalking me at school functions. I've practiced saying, "I'm sorry. I've got a packed schedule right now. I'm very busy volunteering in other places." And then I can talk for fifteen minutes straight on what I'm currently signed up to do.

I'm going to practice a little more right here.

Right now, I'm working on Citizenship in the Community with a dozen Boy Scouts. So far, I've spent three hours sitting with noisy argumentative boys and at least as many hours in preparation. If you need to know how to play the game of Sorry or Texas hold 'em poker with a Citizenship in the Community theme, I can tell you. On Wednesdays, I tutor students in Language Arts. I like that one. Cancel everything else and I'd still enjoy sitting down with these students. I routinely edit for two or more writers as they bring me their work. I generally like that part too, except when they say they need it by Friday and I'll be losing sleep to get it done. I'm also a part of a letter-writing campaign with an Indivisibles group that isn't even in my district. Oh, I belong with this group because they are my community, but it's hard to be effective outside my district. Still, I'm writing letters to the editor and managing templates so other writers have a place to start from when they sit down at the page. This is getting harder because it's a different kind of writing entirely. I have to get my facts straight. I have to write reasonable responses to crazy governmental actions. It's exhausting and I'm not sure how much longer I can do it.

There are a handful of people I would say 'yes' to for nearly anything, but I still practice that phrase, 'I'll check my calendar' so I don't get caught up the way I did the year after my son left the elementary school and I ended up working with two classes to write and bind 87 unique books, one by each child, and me.

So, I practice saying no.

But Mike has an in. Next week, I'm helping him run the VanDeGraff generator at the elementary school science fair. Why? Because he said he was going. In fact, he's going to two elementary schools this spring and I'm going to be there with him, hair on fire, fingers tingling. To his credit, he didn't even ask me to help, but I volunteered before he ended his story of how the second school contacted him. I hate getting zapped. I really do.

Mike has a special power, though. When I am about to go to sleep, he makes suggestions. All it takes is a comment on his part and there I go, doing exactly what I am told.

"You're going to stay up too late watching the news tonight, aren't you, and then you'll wake up at four in the morning." He said this last night. He was chatty, commiserating with me. I know it was commentary, a joke between him and, well, him. I've asked him before to tell me I'm going to sleep until I'm done, but he has a wild hair now and then and says it anyway. I don't think it's funny. At that hour, I'm tired. I'm suggestive. I most often, despite my best interests, do exactly what he believes is simply a joke. But it's just not funny.

This morning, I woke at 3:59am.

I'm not kidding. I was less than a minute early.

Thank you for listening, jb