We Care About Teeth

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I always walk with my head down. It’s part low self-esteem and part amateur anthropology. I do it because I’m fascinated with stuff that gets left behind. 

I had this habit since I was a child. Back then, I remember a lot more garbage in general.  People used to toss fast food bags, beer bottles, and unwanted detritus out the window as if the world was their dumpster.  Mostly, I remember the shiny brown tangled cassette tape freed from its casings and blowing in the wind like angry Lo Mein. Then CD’s came along.  I don’t remember them being tossed as much as cassette tapes.  Maybe it’s because they were far pricier than their temperamental ill-designed predecessor. Today, music garbage is nonexistent, it’s yet another victim of the digital age.   

Back in the day, cigarette butts made up the bulk of the treasures awaiting my inspection on the asphalt.  Not so much today.  Smokers, for the most part, have been conditioned to carry on their misdeed in a designated area and when they are done they are to put the butts in a squat metal contraption that looks like it was designed to encapsulate a gnome.

 

Today the most ubiquitous trash is plastic tooth flossers.  I am baffled by these.  When I first spied these odd little specimens, I thought they were the work of one individual.  Yet, I kept finding them in different towns, by railroad tracks, in the library parking lot.  Could I have a dental obsessed stalker?  The answer came when I went on vacation. Lo and behold, those little plastic suckers were all over the ground in that part of the country too.  I realized then that these flossers replaced the cigarette butts.

 

What I wonder is who is using these?  Do they have a trove of them on their person at all times or do they pick up a few on the way out the door like car keys?  And do they pick their teeth out in the open?  In front of everyone?  I’m just curious because it seems to me flossing is on par with toenail clipping.  Sure, you could do it in public, but is it really a spectator sport?    Finally, I wonder is this a new phenomenon? Maybe people were always this gum-health obsessed but the old school floss without the plastic handle just disappeared in the wind like dandelion fronds.   

 

Shout Out Drugs

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When your kids are young, you have a lot of control over who they choose as friends -because they are the children of your friends.  As they get older, this safe method of controlled interaction falls by the wayside.  They pick their friends, not you.  And to add insult to injury, they decide social events and socializing in general are best executed in your absence. 

This seemed to come up on me suddenly.  I took note of the erosion of control I had but it didn’t really hit home until my son decided one ordinary Friday that he was going with his friends and just needed to be dropped off.

Dropped off?  You mean somewhere not on our street? You mean out in the world?   You mean I’m supposed to stop the car, you get out, and I drive away?

I needed Valium.

As a parent you know this day is coming. And let’s be honest, there were times you fantasized about this day. There were days your kids established residence in the crack of your ass and the idea of them wandering out into the world without you seemed like a five star resort vacation.

But then they actually do it!

Good God, you think, did you prepare them enough?  I mean you talked about marijuana, but at the time they were making a Lego dinosaur.   You talked about the dangers of unprotected and casual sex but that was after a particularly saucy episode of Scooby Doo.  But now, this all seems too real. The rubber is hitting the road.  The poop is hitting the fan.  The jig is up!

As my husband pulled the car to the curb to let my son out, I looked out at the throng of teenage primordial ooze before us and I had one last bit of advice.  My son, sensing a percolating smother volcano, jumped out of the car and was now about ten feet away.  Desperate and undaunted, I shouted after him, “Don’t do heroin!”

My husband shook his head in dismay but not in disbelief.

I settled back in the passenger seat and confessed, “I saw an episode about heroin on Sixty Minutes.”

“I’m not sure you had to tell him about that now,”  he said.

“I did.  I do have to tell him now.”

 

The Pet Equation

Math has always been my mortal enemy.  I’m not sure Math can say the same about me.  I’m not a worthy adversary, I think I would be more properly classified as a petty nuisance. 

Math always confounded me with its hard and fast rules and its inflexibility.  Word problems used to cause me the most consternation.  The situation presented seemed ripe for creativity and yet the correct course of action was multiplication or its drab ilk.  Take the iconic two speeding trains leaving a station and which would arrive first.  I always preferred to delve into the question like:  Who was on the trains? Where were they going?  Why were they in such a hurry to leave?   Were they lovers divided by a war torn country?  Were the trains speeding away because of plague, or even better, a zombie apocalypse?   I always thought these unanswered questions were far, far better and more satisfying than any calculations about rate and time and distance. I once pointed this out to my Math teacher who decided his best course of action was to remove me from advanced math.    

As I’ve gotten older and word problems have become all but a distant memory, I have found use for the simplicity and irrefutable truth of the math equation.  The rich life experience which has led me to this conclusion is pet fish. 

Fish suck.  They are bar none the worst pet that there is. Fish are supposed to be a low maintenance pet but that is a big misconception.  An aquarium is really a rectangular pool of chemically balanced water for you to throw your money into. You must calculate the proper PH, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, the amount of food pellets, the temperature, the salinity… the list goes on and on. PH too low, buy this, Nitrite problem, buy that. The fish have Ich, there’s a $remedy$.  Mind you, this is all to keep a 99 cent fish (who doesn’t offer an iota of affection to you) alive.  And here’s another oddity, we eat fish.  Pets in general don’t make the menu- except fish.  So when a fish dies you are either throwing good food or good money down the toilet.   

In fact, death is the bulk of the pet fish experience. Aquariums are in a perpetual cycle of death.  You become painfully aware of the warning signs.  A troubled fish may start swimming vertically as if revving up to spring out of the tank in some aquatic hari kari and then losing its nerve at the last second and swimming back to the bottom. Next, it resembles a self-propelled elbow macaroni.  Finally the poor bastard gives up the ghost, but your work is not done.  You have to scoop out the corpse quickly or you are going to have an awkward conversation with little Timmy about cannibalism and how Swimmy’s friends will eat his dying or dead corpse cuz that’s just how affectionate fish are. 

Here is where the black and white simplicity and irrefutable wonders of Mathematics comes into play.

This is an equation that I developed for my kids to ponder every time there’s a free fish prize at a carnival or every time we go to the pet store to buy my legitimate pet some food.

Kids + Fish (reduced to its simplest form) = an expensive box of wet stink.

This gives rise to my theorem that can apply to any pet that your child desires.

The Love > Stink.

The love you receive from said pet must be greater than the stink that emanates from the animal.  Thus, no hamsters, spiders, lizards, rats, turtles, AND ESPECIALLY FISH can be tolerated in my household.

Now dogs are more than welcome in my house because:

The love > Stink   every day and twice on Sundays. 

 

Worry

Yesterday I wandered into T.J. Maxx to my favorite part, the Home section, and this is what I found on a shelf.  I took a pic of it because I’m a bit demented.  First, I will testify that I didn’t do it.  If I had done it, I can assure you (pardon the pun) that I would have chosen a word with more panache. Second, I don’t think a rascally shopper did it either.  There were no other letters in the aisle.  It appears this is what remained after a mish mash of startup inventory  and a busy weekend.  It was a thoughtless display with unintended consequences.   

The whole thing just reminded me why I don’t like letters and words as décor.  I always think it’s weird when people have words like Laugh, Celebrate, Family resting on shelves. It’s kinda like when you drive by a restaurant and the word EAT is propped up in huge letters on the top of the building.  That’s not usually the signal that quality food is being served, instead the sign seems to communicate that servings at this locale require an edict in order to be consumed.

What happens when the word CELEBRATE gets dusty on the shelf or perhaps a little cobweb forms in the holes of the “B”?  What if you are having a rough day and something tragic happens to you and staring down at you from a shelf is the word LAUGH?  Maybe you don’t feel like laughing, maybe that day you have to put a book in front of the “L” and the “A” and just leave UGH.  I think there are many days that décor like this can mock you, and I don’t have time to adjust my tchotchkes to suit my mood.   

If I had to choose a word to put on my mantle, one that I could be secure fits my every day I would choose WORRY.  Worry is my credo. It’s my raison d’etre. It is what I am best at. I could even fashion one of those wood paneled signs and get a whole theme going.  In swirly turquoise letters it would read “Start Worrying.  Details to Follow.”

I find that worrying is a great coping mechanism and I believe I get the same solace from imagining worse case scenarios as some people get from dusty wooden block letters that proclaim FAMILY.  I like to really dig deep into a situation, swim around in it.  Years ago when we lived in a house with an open lot next door someone bought the lot and started building.  Of course I worried tremendously about our privacy.  I worried that their kids might be bullies.  I worried that the parents might be unreasonable and a true pain in the arse to live near. This is all reasonable.  But no, I didn’t stop there.  I’m no amateur, I’m a world class woe factory.   Once the crew started working I worried that they would kidnap my children and sell them into sexual slavery. I like to voice my concerns to my husband.  Someday he will be sainted.  Soon the house was built and the new neighbors moved in.  They were delightful people.  No one was harmed or enslaved in the making of their dream home, and I was more than thrilled that the only consequence of my new neighbors was that I had to invest in some new shades.        

 

The Decency Backlash

Decency may have suffered a blow last week, but it may not have been a death blow.

Despite the oppressive malaise of mid-January, I forced myself out of pajamas into mascara and went grocery shopping.  The ice that made a thick sheet over sidewalks and driveways was just beginning to melt. The sun, though, was still missing.  I believe it was going on day nine.

I trudged behind my cart, joyless and devoid of optimism. I made my way past produce and around the deli where I took a sharp turn into natural foods.  A man about the same age as me was stocking organic yogurts.  I had to excuse myself as he was in the way of my desired kefir. He asked the polite, perfunctory question How you doing?

Being physically and temperamentally incapable of manufacturing mirth I responded with an obligatory but dishonest, I’m alright.

“Just alright?”  He responded, pulling himself out of the refrigerated case with much more concern than quality customer service merited.

It felt like he was ready to listen and either I looked like a serious sorry sack or something else was afoot. “Yeah.”  I lied as I didn’t want to get into my whole mid-life existential crisis aggravated by a sprained foot here in front of the nut milks. “This weather has really got me down.”

Satisfied with my answer, we ended our abrupt exchange and I pushed my cart down the canned goods aisle.  Later when I was at the checkout and unloading my items onto the beltway, he approached again.  He held up his phone for me to see that the weather was improving and the sun was scheduled for an appearance soon.

I thanked him.  It was a heartfelt gesture even if it seemed out of sync with most grocery store interactions.  I left a bit puzzled, but feeling slightly better.

Later, I mentioned this odd anecdote to my son as I was driving him home.  He hypothesized that the man was hitting on me, which is the lens through which a teenage boy might view everything.  I don’t think that was it.  First, I think I wear Mom like some people wear jeans, and secondly it just didn’t feel like that.  I later told my husband this story, a man much more familiar with my feminine wiles, and he completely agreed the man was not hitting on me.  He offered the explanation that it was probably extra special customer service because I have been identified as a loyal but pain in the ass customer who has no time for coupons and no regard for sale items.  (To be fair the manager did once give me four dollars out of his own pocket because I complained about sour smelling salami.)

But I think it’s something completely different.  I think it’s decency backlash.  I think 2016 left all of us a bit bruised.  I think we as individuals will pull the reins back and make an effort to be more decent to each other, even if our leaders fail to demonstrate a way.

 

 

Beware of the Banana


I almost took a picture of a homeless man. And it wouldn’t have been of the empathetic National Geographic kind.  It would’ve been the self-indulgent kind.  It started off innocent enough.   I encountered this fella on a city side street, not far from the library.  He was scruffy, but not in an outstanding way.  He had Einstein hair, a baggy pair of khakis, a Walgreens bag, and he was eating a banana. At first glance, he fit in with the locals. There’s a college nearby that hosts many harried academics who forgo meticulous grooming for the pursuit of the higher mind so the only thing that stuck out about this chap was the banana. And let’s face it, banana consumption is comedy gold.  Somewhere between the garish yellow and the simian similarity- dignity is lost and any trace of seriousness is transfigured to silliness. This is why I love gorilla suits and never eat bananas in public.  The light turned green and I never had a chance to unearth my phone from the bowels of my handbag.  All night long I put banana eating and blogging in the writing rock tumbler.

The next day I drove the same route and there was the same man, on the same corner.  It was blogging serendipity.  Was he eating a banana?  Yes! What “fruituitous” serendipity. This was the best of luck.  Then I noticed that he still had the same Walgreens bag.  It sagged with the weight of its contents which were now visible, a browning bunch of bananas.  Something was amiss.

This was a homeless man.  My God, I had almost taken a picture of a homeless man.  Am I the kind of person who takes pictures of  homeless people for the amusement of others?  What a sickening thought. The light turned green and I drove away ashamed of myself.

Every time that I write I learn something.  Sometimes it’s about writing, sometimes it’s about myself, and sometimes it’s about the world.  This was the trifecta. I do not write to denigrate other people, I do not want to be someone who finds amusement in the misfortune of another, and I do not want to forgo my moral character in the pursuit of content.

That is a New Year’s Resolution I will work hard to keep. That and wearing a gorilla suit with some regularity.    

Writing Stumbling Block #1

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Family is one of my biggest impediments to my writing.   I ask that my family not read anything I write.  In fact, my husband has never read a word that I’ve written, and I would like to keep it that way.  It’s not that I exact revenge on my loved ones by recording and embellishing their flaws and foibles, but they are in there. Of course, they are part of my experiences.  I cannot create while I worry about their reactions or my guilt.

I think people who don’t write don’t really understand writing. They probably do not cultivate the voices they hear in their heads, let alone admit to having them. They probably do not hoard and catalog moments, details, and phrases that stick onto writers as if they are giant Velcro poster boards that wander through life.  It takes a level of practiced and skilled derangement to create characters. People I know do end up in my writing, but they show up in fragments and composites.  My stories are a mosaic of everything I have experienced.

Another aspect of creativity that non-writers may not understand is that sometimes writers just pull things out of thin air. Sometimes I write a scene and I have no idea how it got on the page or where it came from.  It’s like there’s an invisible jet stream of ideas coursing over our heads and if you are still, quiet, and listening you might be lucky enough to hear it.

I don’t want my loved ones to read something and then wonder what the hell is wrong with me.  I wonder that about writers sometimes.  Does Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone Girl, belly up to the Thanksgiving turkey while her family discusses how they never knew what a sick fuck she was? Does her husband upon finishing the novel decide it best to be the one to carve the bird while he declares from now on the Flynn’s are a plastic flatware family?

If you met Stephen King would you agree with everything he says not so much because you find him delightful, but because you were so terrified by Salem’s Lot that you had to remove your copy from your house and throw it in a commercial dumpster?

Inspiration is hard.  Writing when I should be living is hard.  The fear that I may hurt someone I love is paralyzing.  That’s why I tell my family that writing makes me happy, and if you love me, don’t read what I write.

The Christmas Creep

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I feel rushed.  It’s a week before Thanksgiving and I feel like I need to go Christmas shopping. What the hell happened?  Shouldn’t I be thinking about gravy and butternut squash?  Shouldn’t I be buying plastic gloves for when I shove my hand up a dead bird’s ass?

You know, I blame this whole mess on the same people who brought you the scary clown epidemic.  You don’t hear much from those fellas anymore, do ya? There’s a reason.  They are Christmas shopping or Christmas shoplifting or whatever the unhinged do when the season strikes.

See the problem is – it’s Christmas already.  It was Christmas in September so naturally Halloween got pushed back to late July. The gainfully unemployed with a penchant for mischief and vagrancy  are now in possession of  a rubber mask, long pleasant evenings, and an unattractive three month waiting period.  And so I bring you the scary clown epidemic sponsored by Macys, Walmart, Bestbuy and all the other retailers who dragged out Christmas trees while you still were wearing shorts.

It’s the Christmas Creep, whether he’s in a rubber mask or in retail. And apparently, at least one of them is a vegetarian because Thanksgiving is all but forgotten in this madness.

 

Arse Ascending

On my way to and from my home, I pass something peculiar that I have never seen before.  It’s a pair of stuffed jeans placed on a step ladder on the edge of a driveway.  The ladder is not near anything, there’s not anything near it to reach up to. The jeans are stuffed to look lifelike but there’s no upper torso. It’s an arse on a ladder.

At first I thought it was a serendipitous placement of refuse and the weekly visit of the sanitation truck would be the end of it, but weeks went by and still it remained. It’s not like the winter wind blew the items like that. The legs are stuffed into the boots and they are securely fastened to the step ladder.  This is a deliberate arrangement.

It’s a butt, a butt going up but nonetheless not one of the most revered parts of the body.  Usually if you are only selecting one part, the ass isn’t top choice. Is it finished? Or is it a work in progress? When I drive by it, I slow down to search for any clues about what it means.  On closer inspection, I noticed that the rubber boots are floral.  I always  roll on by with more questions than answers.  Is this a political statement? Why doesn’t someone want those cute wellies?  Is this definitive proof that Pinterest jumped the shark?

What’s even stranger is that this isn’t the only out of place ladder that I have come across lately.  In the catalog of the store named after a ceramic farm building is two other ladders. One is white, well-worn and splattered with paint.  You would think it would be in a photo selling paints, but it isn’t.  It’s carefully placed against a wall by a window in a beautifully furnished room complete with fresh flowers on the coffee table. There are no rollers, paint cans or drop cloths or anything to lead one to believe the room’s a work in progress.

The only explanation is that the rickety ladder adds a certain panache to the room that a ladderless room could not otherwise achieve. I’m not convinced. Surely this room is not designed for anyone superstitious or anyone with children.  I’m even going to hazard a guess that no one with friends who like to tip a few back would welcome this “attractive nuisance” in their humble home. Is it a subliminal message from the company that you are never fully done decorating?  I just don’t get it.

A few pages later in the same catalog there’s another ladder.  This one is sadly not as rustic, but it’s for sale.  It’s a decorative ladder, I think, because the heaviest thing on it is a scarf. The rungs don’t seem too spacious either so a black wire basket is attached to the bottom to lend it more functionality. Neither the basket nor the ladder look like they required expert craftsmanship, but I suppose $263.00 is a small price to pay to be part of the ladder trend.

I think the ladders are part of a larger trend that has befuddled me for some time.  People want to look like they live in a workshop, a factory of sorts.  Reclaimed, recycled, reused.  Old barn doors are haute couture. Warped oars on a wall are avant-garde.  Shelves that look like plumbing pipes can fetch a handsome price.  Expensive plush chairs are armed with working rusty little wheels that can amputate toes.  Lighting of the same variety found in a warehouse are proudly peddled for exorbitant sums.

I just don’t get it.  The same people who purchase these things would scoff at my neighbor’s ladder arrangement, but I think the arse on the ladder might just be the message the decorating world needs.

Tech No

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I don’t like computers; I like pencils, tall and sharp Ticonderogas with enough eraser on top to really go after a big mistake.  I like the sound of paper. I like the satisfying scratch of crossing something off a list.  I’m quite convinced my printer is in league with Satan. And to be completely honest, my laptop gives me diarrhea.

And so, I am often at the mercy of my husband and my son.  They come to my rescue with incredulity and annoyance at my lack of knowledge and efficiency. “How could you not know this?” they ask.

Why don’t I know this!  I don’t know this because I spent the last ten years wiping asses and making pancakes.  I don’t know this because it wasn’t covered on Blues Clues.  It wasn’t an integral part of carpools.   I leaned all the way out.  That’s why I don’t know it!

Of course, I can’t tell them that because I might have to save the file to a pdf or post a link or some garbage like that. Instead I smile and try to see how and where their fingers landed when they produced this technological magic.

Maybe Sheryl Sandberg who wrote Lean In should expand her generosity to moms who stayed home.  It could be like the kind of training prisoners get when they reenter the world. A reintegration program.  This is how adults talk to one another.  This is a sampling of a non-animated television series. This is a small stylish hand bag.  And this is what happened with computers.