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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Don't Hang Up!



I hope Santa Claus brings me that soda-making machine for Christmas.  I always try to put some new technology on my holiday list in efforts to stay current.  We live in a space age world. If I want to continue drinking my favorite beverages, I need to keep up with the times.  In the not so distant future, this privilege could be taken from us. We may be forced to hydrate differently.  You think I'm joking around.  I'm not.  Well maybe I am, but only a little.

Last year, St. Nick brought me a fancy cell phone.  It was purple, and I love purple.  My old telephone was really great, but I can't live in the past.  This new one is black, which is visually unimpressive.  Still, I've made considerable progress figuring out how to use this subtle, yet fascinating device.  It's eleven months later, and I make calls pretty confidently now.  Sometimes, I turn the "Talking Lady" feature on, by accident.  I think you're supposed to use this option when you're driving, but I love it all the time!  It's like having a kindly robot secretary.

If someday you decide to get a phone like mine, remember to slide your finger across the face of the equipment in response to the music.  My natural reflex is to bang on things repeatedly when I want something to happen.  It's so weird to do things this other quiet way.

Daniel, the young technician at the Verizon store, told me that I have one of the finest communication gadgets in all the land!  He said that I can watch a movie on my phone if I want.  And play games.  He helped me transfer my contact information, which was very nice of him.  Daniel has over 400 contacts in his phone.  He has friends and family all over the country!  And when he's not working, he is communicating with them constantly.  I wanted to ask him if he ever planned on moving out of his parents' basement, but something deep inside told me that I already knew the answer.

With all those friends, you'd think Daniel would have been more chatty.  Maybe he was just exhausted from all the conversations he's been having. I waited patiently as he applied my screen protector with the precision of a Swiss jeweler. I was never so bored in all my life. I looked around for something to watch or do. There was nothing - in a room filled with nothingness. He already had my phone, so that wasn't even an option. I stared at a toddler for a few minutes, and he stared back until he became uncomfortable. Man, if I was him, I'd head straight for that display rack of car chargers and adapters. I'd knock everything off those two shelves by the window. I'd run around until I hit my head on the pointy edge of the counter. At least then, I could crawl back into my stroller and cry myself to sleep.

I peppered Danny Boy with questions to help pass the time:

Are you gonna eat lunch at your desk, or do they make you go to your car?
Have any girls ever worked here?
Can me and Dave use your bathroom?
What'd you get your mom for Christmas?

Thank God we were there on a slow day.  During peak mobile communication season, Daniel told me there'd be fifteen people waiting outside when the doors opened.  Like the saddest concert you've ever attended.  I know phones are important, but that's really depressing.  I'd rather wait on the longest Starbucks line in history.  At least, you get to drink something with whipped cream when you get to the counter.

When it was finally time to leave, Daniel gave me a flyer for a class called Phone School.  He told me I could come back if I feel like it.  He didn't act like he cared if I did or not.  For $65.00, I could learn all about apps, whatever they are.  He made them sound stupid, but maybe it was just his attitude.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Pants of Least Resistance


Thank God for fat pants!  I'm so happy to be wearing them right now.  I put away a ton of Thanksgiving stuffing yesterday, and I'm looking forward to some delicious leftovers this evening.  I don't want anything to discourage me from eating everything that seems like a good idea this weekend.  We still have so much ham!

I'm also breaking in a backup pair that should be ready by Christmas.  The holidays are right around the corner.  Physical discomfort due to overeating and its subsequent self-loathing can last for several days.  I want to be clean and comfortable when I try to sit on the floor and open my presents next month.

Just in case you're wondering, my fat pants are jeans.  I'm not a total animal.  They close with a zipper, which makes me feel more civilized.  Oh, I have elastic fat pants.  I call them workout clothes.  I rarely make it to the gym when I wear them.  But they sure are forgiving when I tie on a feedbag at the diner.

When I was a teenager, I wore my jeans as if they'd been surgically grafted onto my skin.  That was the style!  Think sausage casing.  I'd lay down on my bed, take a deep breath and squeeze everything in with all my strength.  I started carrying a small needlenose pliers with me wherever I went.  Just in case I had to use a public bathroom, and my zipper was uncooperative once I peed.  I just carried it.  In my hand. Nothing could fit in my pockets.  The contents of my pants were already stretched beyond capacity.

I read an article recently that suggested it's dangerous to wear trousers that are too tight.  Back pain, fainting, blurred vision.  These are serious health problems.  I wouldn't experience any of these difficulties if I stayed in my nightgown all day, but sometimes I need to go out.  I have kids.

Fortunately, today is a vacation day and I'm spending it in my fat pants.  Until it's time to put my pajamas back on.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gimme a Bouncy C!


Music can be such a unifying experience.  David and I have fun introducing the boys to all different kinds of grooves and genres, but they're still grossly underdeveloped as far as their musical identities go.  Desmond will insist he's a Frank Zappa fan because his father took him to a tribute show last year.  He actually got to see a girl barfing outside the venue!  I can hear Brother singing along with the Saturday Night Fever album when he's upstairs making rubber band bracelets.  They blast the Cars, Candy-O as if they've discovered life on other planets.  It's very cute.  Who knows what kind of styles they will embrace as they get older?  In good times and bad, music provides the soundtrack of our lives!

My parents both enjoyed listening to the radio, but that was the extent of their musical ability.  I'm not even sure why music was encouraged in our home.  It's not like my folks thought careers as musicians actually occurred in real life.  That sort of thing only happened on TV.  They just didn't have that kind of imagination.  I am certain, however, that my mother was determined to find me something to do that didn't involve boys.

When I was eight years old, my Christmas present was a ply-wood chord organ. This gift was secured by redeeming the S&H green stamps that Mom had saved for eighteen months.  I taught myself to play all the songs from the booklet that came with the keyboard.  Twinkle, Twinkle and Little Brown Jug were among the highlights of my melodious repertoire.  For almost a year, I drove Big Mare crazy with my incessant Farfisa beat.

*******

Gene Dall knew a guy whose mother had died, leaving behind a broken down player piano.  He wanted the thing gone to make room for a mirrored wall unit and a fish tank.  Free sounded like a great price for an instrument upgrade. Without even seeing its condition, my father agreed to take the full-sized giant off his hands.  Dad knew another guy with a truck.  For $80.00, he made arrangements to have the pianola dropped off at the house, like a set of gently used encyclopedias.  Or somebody's colicky baby.

On the morning of the upright's arrival, three dudes larger than I'd ever imagined possible here on Earth, showed up on our street along with the sun. They laid out ramps and carried the grieving behemoth into the house.  They groaned and perspired under the weight of this monstrous piece of furniture.

"Can I get you fellas anything to drink? my mother asked the movers.
"That'd be real nice, ma'am," the biggest one replied, once his breath had returned to normal.  He untied a filthy bandana from around his neck and mopped his brow with it.  An oblong watermark remained on the kitchen paneling where his back rested momentarily.
"You'll have to forgive me," Mom offered politely.  "I have no beer.  Just whiskey."
It wasn't quite nine o'clock yet.  The foreman cleared their schedule, and the men stayed for lunch.  Thank God, ours was the first delivery of the day.

*******

So just like that, we owned a real piano!  But the poor thing was in terrible condition. My father enlisted the help of a professional to bring the salvaged piece of equipment back to life.  Joe Monty was a curious cat that my Dad knew from the neighborhood. I'm not sure what line of work Joe was in, but he had a very impressive bag of burglary tools that he brought with him the day he came to address our musical problems.

Joe Monty was one of the most mysterious individuals I had ever met.   I'd only seen him at the Starling, playing piano or taking up real estate on a barstool. He'd nurse a beer and circle his horses in the Racing Form, holding the paper an inch away from his nose.  He was a nice enough man, although he never seemed able to look anyone in the face.  Perhaps this was due to the fact that he was practically blind.  His glasses were so thick, they made his eyes bulge like a creepy goldfish.  Or maybe he owed people money.  Now that I think of it, that might have been a more realistic explanation.

It was so weird to observe Joe Monty outside of his natural habitat.  One evening when the boys were little, we took them to a pizzeria near the mall for dinner. Rory's Pre-K teacher was there waiting tables, and it completely blew the boys' minds.  It felt just like that.

Mr. Monty looked as though he might not actually have a place to live, but I wouldn't know.  I was just a kid.  He did have a wife, however, and her name was Cookie.  Cookie weighed more than three hundred pounds, and she was painfully shy.  She occasionally came to listen to Joe play, down at the bar.  He was a spirited performer, and you could tell they really loved each other.  It was extremely gross.  Joe smelled like a dirty ashtray, perhaps because he flicked the remains of his cigarette directly into the pocket of his coat.  He could have been anywhere between 40 and 85 years old. Cookie's age was not apparent, either. She may not even have been a real lady.

Joe Monty tuned the old upright for us several times a year.  My mother always made spaghetti and meat sauce whenever he came over.  His visits made us terribly uneasy, but Mom always sent him home with an extra plate for his lovely bride. Ick and yuck.

*******

After that initial check-up, I started taking lessons almost immediately.  My piano teacher was a middle-aged gentleman who serviced home appliances for a living. Tommy Carr had a dusty makeshift studio in the basement of his home on Crosby Avenue in the Bronx.  I remember his business cards:
                                                                   
                                                                   Tommy Carr
                                                   Piano Lessons and Stove Repair
                                                                  Free Estimates

He wrote my appointment on the back of the card every week, so I wouldn't forget.

Mr. Carr cut quite a figure of musicianly decrepitude. He wore bowling shirts, gold chains and wing-tipped dress shoes.  Cigarettes dangled from his lips, as if they were part of his face. His smoker's cough was the stuff of advanced clinical studies.

Every Wednesday evening, my Dad drove me to my piano lesson.  He'd promptly fall asleep on a rickety wooden folding chair in the hallway, amidst the broken air-conditioners and stereo components.  Sometimes, the snoring was so loud, we could hear it over the sound of my mistakes, even with the door shut.

You could tell that Mr. Carr felt the music right down to his black nylon socks.  He played every kind of instrument he could get his hands on and devoured them all. Like Prince, only with zero sex appeal.  When it came to music, he couldn't help himself.  It was clear that he loved playing so much, he'd do anything just to be able to keep it in his life.  Even if it meant that he had to stick his head inside ovens every day, just to make ends meet.

*******

Joe Monty and Tommy Car weren't rock stars.  They were, however, the unlikely ambassadors of a whole new world of self-expression for me.  I don't think I'd have left either of these gentlemen alone with my children, but that's a different story entirely.

I've been teaching the boys to play piano for almost two years.  I've gotta admit, they've learned quite a bit under my rigorous tutelage.  Of course, reminding them to practice every day can be monotonous.  I didn't enjoy practicing all the time, either. But I'm so glad I know how to play.  It makes me feel connected to music in a very privileged way.

These boys have no idea how much chicks love musicians.  I hope someday they'll thank me.  And if not, maybe their girlfriends will.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Mask of False Bravado


I've been wanting to write about my mother's eyebrows for the longest time.  I felt certain that exploring this memory would be a very gratifying exercise.  But when I sat with my thoughts and jotted the details down, everything that I could remember, there wasn't as much as I'd hoped.  Several false starts, and that was about it.  I was disappointed.  I could have sworn there was more.

Sometimes, I try to rush the writing and push it along before it's ready.  I get impatient because I love the thrill of knowing I've chosen an interesting topic to share and try to explain.  Each new idea takes me to exciting places.  I dream on paper about the future.  I return to the past and still, I see new things.  And I just keep seeing those eyebrows.

Well actually, there were no eyebrows.  Big Mare had singed them off so many times lighting cigarettes at the stove, they just quit growing back. Instead, she applied them carefully using a refillable pencil that came in a slender gold case.

Mom wasn't much for cosmetics.  Some lipstick, maybe.  She wore mascara at my wedding, and it was really weird.  She preferred a naturally angry look that intimidated people immediately.  Her face depended on her eyebrows to help convey a variety of aggressive expressions.  They hung at hostile angles across her forehead, like deadly brown boomerangs.  My mother was the Royal Queen of Implied Communication, and her eyebrows seemed to say, "Watch out!  This one can fight."

Perhaps that's the big reveal and the reason why there wasn't much to go on, pulling this piece together.  Big Mare was a terrible fighter.  Sure, she had those acrimonious eyebrows, and they were supposed to keep everyone in line.  But behind them, she was just a big mess of emotions. And that might be what I loved the most.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Girl of 100 Lists



I am the girl of 100 lists.
From what shall I wear to who I have kissed.
Check patterns off, let nothing be missed.
Sing I to myself and my 100 lists.

Like many girls my age, I learned everything I needed to know about life from Belinda Carlisle. Take fabulous vacations! Waterski! Learn to lip-synch better!  Those irrepressible Go-Go's; they got so much done in a day! And you know why, don't you?  Because they made lists.

I do declare... I am the Girl of 100 Lists!  Every morning to help me get crackin', I drink some carefully orchestrated coffee and prepare the List Du Jour.  Lists help me stay organized and feel successful.  I like to use paper that has lines and a comfortable pen. Sometimes I try to match my little pen to my coffee cup, even though it's very distracting and slows me down from getting actual things accomplished.  Still, it's fun and I dare say, enchanting.

Sure, there are days when the list can be pretty tedious.  
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Other times, challenges are everywhere! 
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Occasionally, I put stuff on my list that is already happening.  This way, I get to cross it off right away.  I just love progress!
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When I make my lists, it's like I'm saying to the world, "Hey, World!  Look at me! I
am making a list here!"  It's THAT powerful a feeling.

Lots of successful people make lists.  Santa Claus,
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Led Zeppelin,
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God,
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And me!
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Clan of the Cave Bear


I believe in my heart that I was destined to become a drug-addicted alcoholic.  It isn't necessary that I recognize whether I was genetically predisposed or biologically vulnerable to this condition.  I just wonder if my environment had anything to do with it.  Probably.

On the day I was born, I was one of many infants in the nursery, I'm sure.  If the doctor had suggested to my mother, "This one's gonna be a junkie.  You still want her?" Big Mare would not have hesitated. "I don't care.  Give me my baby."  I would have said the same thing.  Children are loved before they are known to anyone. My folks bought diapers and formula, and they took me home from the hospital. Aunts and uncles came over to admire me, and everyone went up to the roof to drink Rheingolds.

My sister, Judy and I were raised on the jagged edges of my parents' rocky relationship. I wish I could say that I carefully watched the way my father behaved, but he wasn't around enough for me to do much evaluating.  Gene Dall worked, and us girls were Big Mare's responsibility.

Every six to ten days, however, Dad got so blind drunk that he couldn't find his way home from wherever he was.  The telephone rang, and Mom would try to establish his whereabouts based on his hazy descriptions of buildings and cross streets.  She didn't drive, but she'd do her best to secure him a ride.  Some nights, there were no phone calls at all.  Eventually, he'd just bounce down the subway stairs and wobble toward the house.

Big Mare fed and showered my father and put him into bed.  She stationed us kids at the bottom of the landing, in case he wandered toward the bathroom and fell down the stairs.  If we heard the floorboards creak, we'd call to her and she'd fly up the steps. Judy and I took turns; she read books, and I drew pictures.  We listened carefully for the snoring to start.  Then, we could go back to watching TV.  My mother spent the rest of the night calling back everyone she'd contacted earlier in the evening, wondering if they'd seen him.  "The bastard's home," she'd say.  "I'm disgusted."

During our household's hangover period which could last anywhere between 12 and 36 hours, Dad went back to work and returned home for meals and sleep, as usual. Mom berated him mercilessly, to which he responded with stony silence.  For several days after that, she pretended to ignore him which is a ridiculous approach to use on someone who prefers to not communicate.  Eventually she just gave up and things returned to the way they were.

It was clear that Big Mare was in charge.  She was the one I watched and examined closely.  I studied her reactions to the way my father carried himself.  She was mad and frustrated and frightened and angry.  I'm not sure if I mentioned how mad she was.  She was very, very mad.

As a little girl, I sought my mother's approval constantly.  I wished that I could make her happy.  Nothing worked.  She was so focused on my father, and he was her sorrow. She had decided that no matter what she did, he would never love her enough to change. This must have been a terrible disappointment.  I'm certain that he had no idea what she was going through.  She could not explain herself, and it wouldn't have mattered to him anyway.

For as long as I can recall, it seemed like a necessary component was missing in my life.  I don't know what that something was, but it created a black and cavernous hole, deep within me.  I filled the emptiness with drugs and alcohol.  Unfortunately, that was the only reliable idea I had, and it did make me feel better for a very long time.

When I reflect on portions of my life, it feels like I have been two people.  Of course, I realize there is only one Mary.  I am She, and we are the same Her.  I enjoy thinking about my experiences, even the rough stuff.  It is true that the darkest side of human behavior is dangerously illuminating territory.  Therefore, I celebrate my memories. It's only because I am sober that I'm able to understand how purposeful each moment was in creating who I am.  I'm okay with everything because I'm okay.

Big Mare used to ask me, "Why do you go to these meetings and shoot your mouth off? You tell everybody your goddamn business.  They don't need to know who you were and what you did."  She wanted to forget, and I understood why.
"Mom, I've gotta be honest," I'd say to her.  "I can't pretend I'm not a junkie.  I don't ever want to go back to the way it was."
"Listen, I understand the drink, but not the drugs," she'd boast.  This blanket statement was meant to highlight her selective open-mindedness.  We had plenty of heavy drinkers in our family, but none of them were alcoholics.  They said so themselves, and they would know, right?

I appreciate that I remember so many things, ugly things that suggest a different kind of life than the one I have.  I love to talk about all the stuff I'm figuring out as I continue to evolve.  I think it's important to say what I feel.  At times, the trick is trying to establish what it is that I'm actually feeling.  I am not even marginally qualified to give advice, but I can share my experience, strength and hope.  I enjoy listening when other folks explore their own emotional journeys.  We have lots in common, and sharing is the key. It is possible to recover from childhood and choices and addiction and be returned gently to the world.  It is not easy, but it can be done. Why wouldn't I want to talk about that?

"Someday, I'll write a book," I'd tell my mother.  "And I'm gonna dedicate it to you."
"Do me a favor," she'd offer.  "Wait until after I'm dead, so I don't die of embarrassment."