Saturday, April 19, 2014

I Do

It's been a rough few years.
Starting with the loss of my job (hence the "underemployed" bit), followed by my son's illness, and a fire in my home.  Then the long, difficult (and then shocking, sudden) death of my mother from cancer.  The first three of these events were duly and therapeutically chronicled here, in previous posts.  And so was my mother's illness, at the beginning, before it became beyond my skills as a writer to turn it into entertainment.
But  now - a few weeks later - my psyche is beginning to see a little daylight, helped along by our spring rituals and celebrations which remind us that there is light at the end of every tunnel (since, otherwise, they'd be caves), and even in Chicago the weather is cooperating. 
All that being said, amidst all the doctors and medicines and hospitals and grief, life has not been without its moments of levity.
Father Carlos comes to mind.
Father Carlos is the parish priest who said my mother's funeral mass, which all sounded like this:
"OW!oor? Foddoor, hooOOoo art in HAY-ben? halooooed be thigh nay-em..."
An accent?  But from where?  Certainly no place where there's anybody named "Carlos".  A speech defect?  Perhaps.  Fortunately, my mother's name was Maria, a word he said beautifully.  Which I appreciated very much.
But, later, in the car on the way home, a discussion of Father Carlos' diction led to my husband's recollection of our wedding.  "Have you told the story of our wedding on your blog yet?"
Not until now, dear.
A little background.  When my husband and I decided to get married, we chose to elope.  A simple civil ceremony.  There were several factors in favor of our eschewing a traditional wedding:
  1. We both think weddings are a big waste of time and money;
  2. My husband is older than my parents, and I'll thank you not to psychoanalyze that;
  3. We had been living together for several years, which made the whole white dress/father-gives-you-away routine more than a little ridiculous;
  4. And I would like to ask my daughter to please ignore everything I've just said.
Further complicating the situation was the fact that my husband was (reluctantly) a highly-placed civil servant.  This meant that we had to seek a marriage ceremony outside of the jurisdiction of our county of residence.
We decided upon Waukegan (Lord knows why), the county seat of Lake County, Illinois.  We would spend a Friday night in a local hotel, get married the next morning, and drive back to Chicago, where we would then inform our friends and family about our newly-legalized state of cohabitation.  Over and done.  The bards would sing of it for centuries.
What actually happened was:
  1. Our hotel room overlooked the Zion nuclear power plant;
  2. On Saturday mornings, the Waukegan county courthouse plays host to a plethora of criminal types, in handcuffs and chains, rounded up the night before in North Chicago;
  3. And to young farm couples, also seeking the state's blessing on their unions;
  4. Many of which apparently had begun about six months previously;
  5. We were married by a person named Judge Smart (this name is not fictional);
  6. Who had a speech defect;
  7. And that brings us full circle to Father Carlos.
* * *
Our wedding:
"I'm going to wead this weawwy fast, because I have so many cwiminals to pwocess today."
(Elmer Fudd!)
"Do you take this woman to be your wawfuwwy-wedded wife?"
(Don't laugh!)
"With this wing, I thee wed."
(Okay.  Laugh.)
* * *
Afterwards, I called my mother.
"Mom!  I just got married!"
"What?!  To who?"
Aah, Mom.
* * *
Not a fairy tale, but a cartoon... 
...but they still wivved happiwy ever after.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I Forgot

I am so sorry.

With all the crazy things going on in my life accelerating what I have come to accept as a predisposition to senility, it completely slipped my mind to make fun of the Sochi Olympics.

A serious oversight.  The Sochi Winter Olympics, if for no other reason than they were in Sochi, were  - overall - really very silly.  But I have a soft spot in my heart for Russians, and not merely for the fact that, according to my stats, a significant percentage of visitors to my blog are from Russian porn sites.  No, I love Russia because they have given the world:
  1. Tchaikovsky;
  2. Nesting dolls;
  3. A reason for James Bond movies;
  4. Vodka; and
  5. Vladimir Putin. 
I'm not kidding about Putin.  Is this guy a hoot, or what?  What other world leader has the coglioni to be photographed - naked to the waist - stalking tigers, equipped with nothing more than a humongous semiautomatic weapon?  Certainly not Queen Elizabeth, David Cameron, Barak Obama, Angela Merkel, or Bill Clinton (well, maybe Bill Clinton at one time, but it would have been a buzz-kill).  And Vladimir has not been loathe to publicly demonstrate his remarkable skills at judo, flying a fighter jet, hang gliding, scuba diving, and riding a giant (albeit three-wheeler) motorcycle.

Overcompensating?  Hardly.  And for what?*  This bad-ass dude is not afraid to show his softer side, playing piano (sort of) and singing (sort of) "Blueberry Hill" (an interesting selection) at a charity event, bringing the likes of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell (who?) to their feet in awe and admiration.

A worthy achievement.  What is more endearing than a singing troglodyte?  Give that man a cookie!

Russia has also given the world the Sochi Winter Olympics, and has actually managed to pull it off (sort of), in spite of such oddities as:
  1. A ban on yogurt;
  2. A display of quaint, provincial Russian homophobia (perhaps related to yogurt?  not sure);
  3. Gazillions of stray dogs (all the rage in world-class resort cities);
  4. Signage in hotel bathrooms advising visitors (from other planets?) not to fish in the toilets; and
  5. A distinct lack of winter.
But who needs snow, when you can have an Opening Ceremony with the recurring theme of, "Something That Would Eat You in a Nightmare"?
I admit that I pretty much stopped watching the Sochi Olympics after being subjected to one-too-many (two) interviews with members of the U.S. Women's Figure Skating Team.
In the end, though, it is worth noting that, despite my man Vlad's fairly obvious aversion to "non-traditional" (for cossacks) displays of affection, the U.S. snow boarders clearly did not get the memo. 
For the record, neither did Tchaikovsky.

*Don't answer that!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Metaphor Material

It came in an email from my son, who was quoting his friend, Nick:

"I'm so glad that Russia invaded Crimea.  Otherwise, I wouldn't have metaphor material to explain how much March totally fucking sucked."

I am not privy to what is happening in Nick's life that invites a comparison to the Russian invasion.  (Or threatened invasion, or planned invasion, or "peace-keeping force" - whatever.  We've seen this movie before.  I think I know how it ends.)  What I find interesting here is the proposed use of current events and - similarly - popular culture as a kind of source material, which is vastly preferable to just getting depressed.

For me, it ushers in a whole new way of looking at the world.  For the last four years, I have tended to regard world events as potential blog posts.  Now I can use them to build my metaphor repertoire, which takes much less time and effort.

A brief review of the grammar involved, from Merriam-Webster Online:

Metaphor - A figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money).

It is, by the way, very important not to use the words "like" or "as" in a metaphor.  If you do, the figure of speech is called a "simile".  I remember that from my 6th grade English class.

Example of a simile:  "That's as redundant as a butt implant on a Kardashian."   

Example of a metaphor:  "The housing market was a media-fueled, ever-increasing Kardashian butt, just waiting to collapse."
Get it?  Although the housing-market/Kardashian-butt metaphor may be a false one, since Kardashians have magic potions and shamans that will forever render them suitable for the cover of People Magazine.

One very famous metaphor is from Shakespeare's "As You Like It":

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances..."

Now let's try it with a (sort of) current event:
"All the world's George Washington Bridge;
And all the men and women drivers merely citizens who sincerely regret ever voting for Chris Christie;
They need to pee, and so search for exits..."
Wow.  What doesn't that describe?
A metaphor can be thought of a way to express universal experiences, without using culture-specific references.  For example, my son (obviously inspired by Nick) texted me:
"Today was a Crimean invasion kind of day."
And I knew exactly what he meant.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Love Story

The 3rd of March.  Spring should be in the air.  The reduced circumstances of my underemployment dictates my mode of transportation, so I am shivering on a train platform on the way to visit my mother in the hospital.  Travel time:  three hours, one way.
It is 2 degrees outside and the guy standing next to me is wearing:
  1. a fur vest;
  2. a ninja mask; and
  3. a sword.
Dude.  Really?
Of course, the ninja mask could simply be a measure against the gripping cold, and the sword is sheathed.  So I'm not worried.  Yet.
Fortunately, the ninja does not board the same train that I do.  But a better fate awaits me.  On my train is a couple of obstreperous BFFs (what is the correct plural form of an initialism?) who are having a conversation:
"Did you see that shit?"
"Yeah, they got a lot of new colors, and shit."
"And designer prints, and shit!"
"Guess who called me last night?"
"Oh, not him again!  Shit!  What did he say?"
"He was giving me attitude, and shit."
"Yeah, and I told him to have some respect, and shit."
"Yeah.  Shit."
Sitting next to the more presentable of the two young ladies is a young man, dressed in a fashion that could only be described as "classic Ali G".  He is engaging in a conversation on his cell phone:
"Fuck, man, I gotta get off this phone.  Yeah, I fuckin' know, man.  Yeah, man, you know I don't fuck with you, man!  You're my only fuckin' friend, man.  Yeah, I fuckin' hear you, man.  Fuck, man, yeah.  I gotta get off this fuckin' phone, man, now!  I'll call you fuckin' later.  From my work phone.  When you see that 800 number?  That's me, man."
He hangs up.  Leaving me to wonder where he could possibly be gainfully employed.  And if he makes more money than I do.
The young lady next to him says brightly, "Well, that's settled!"
Which sets off an intense and - dare I surmise? - decidedly flirtatious conversation.  In my fantasy world (see previous post), fuckin' love is born.  And shit.
"Hey, I fuckin' love you!"
"That's good!  'Cuz I'm all pregnant, and shit."
The wedding:
"Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?"
"I fuckin' do, man!"
"And do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?"
"Shit, yeah!"
And the scion of this splendid pairing:
"Daddy's fuckin' little baby girl!"
"DaDa!  Shit!"
On a frigid morning during the worst winter in Chicago history - and these are no idle words - this is warming the cockles of my heart.
Can my hands and feet be far behind?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Alternative Realities

After watching me almost get hit by a car for the umpteenth time, my cousin Vita commented, "You live in your mind."  This is true, though not for the reason she surmises.
Bless her heart, my cousin Vita thinks I am utterly brilliant and that I wander about in life entertaining deep thoughts.  The truth is far more mundane:  I live in my mind because I'm fairly useless in other places.  My social skills leave others to suspect a not insignificant presence of high-functioning autism.  I have the emotional IQ of rutabaga.  And, though I confess to considering myself far more intelligent than I actually am, I would not describe myself as quick-witted.
Quite the opposite.  Especially verbally.  As clumsy verbally as I am physically, when faced with the unexpected, I am often left speechless or incoherent, not a good thing.  My brain fogs up like a windshield, and I must patiently wait until it clears in order to replay and reflect upon what has happened to me.  Thus, the blessing and the curse of my life is that much of it is lived in retrospect.
This is why I write.  I am a much better communicator after The Chicago Manual of Style has been consulted.
It's the life of Walter Mitty, the inspiration for "dream sequences" in film.  It's the salvation of the oppressed, and the last defense of the powerless.  Including the underemployed.  It is difficult to work in an environment far under one's abilities, or to go from a position of power - and hence respect and/or intimidation - to being the "low man on the totem pole" (a quaint Americanism, meaning "loser"), upon whose head the frustrations of modern society is relentlessly and summarily dumped.
The only escape is to conjure an alternative reality, usually too late to have any effect on the present one, but therapeutic to the worn spirit, and with the potential for effective revenge.
Especially, if you publish it.  And, mama, that's where the fun is.
Here is how it works.  I offer my readers two examples, both from a single workday last week:
A youngish, handsome man of obvious authority and possible abilities came into my office.  Upon being asked to fill out a registration form, he became surly, grudgingly scrawling a few words on the page, and slamming down both the paper and the writing implement as close to my face as he could get, without slapping me.  Clearly, he considered himself above such a common and degrading task, and wished to demonstrate his dissatisfaction to someone, though - aside from texting and accepting phone calls during his visit with the doctor - he was reasonably pleasant and polite to the rest of the staff.
Reading his registration, I noticed that, next to "Occupation" he had written "Circus clown".
Now, this is what I did:  nothing.  I sat there in mute misery because - damn it! - my feelings were hurt.  I'm sure he meant no personal insult.  Or maybe he did.  I can never figure out shit like that.
Start the alternative reality...
"Mr. Jones, I have a question about your registration."
"Where is your nose?"
"My nose?"  (Idiotically pointing to the one on his face.)
"Your red nose.  You say here that you are a circus clown.  Circus clowns generally employ large, round, red artificial noses.  Do you have it with you?"
(Short silence)  "I wrote that because the registration is stupid"
"Ah, I see!  You are a great wit.  But to what end?  I assure you, sir, that I am but a serf of those far more powerful, yet somehow dumber, than I am.  Perhaps you could choose a way to express your discontent to them directly?"
"I'll send them an email."
"A very good idea.  I would like you to make the wasted effort.  Because do you think - for one moment - in your tiny, little mind, that anyone in this company with the least modicum of authority would actually take your email seriously?  And slap their foreheads and gasp, "My God!  we're DICKS!" while hurriedly revising company policy - shamed, as they would be, by your regrettable experience?"
"I don't even know what the fuck you're talking about."
"Which doesn't surprise me."
* * *
A few years ago, coinciding with the reign of Mayor Rahm "Bicycles & Fro-Yo" Emanuel, the Metropolitan Rail Corporation of Chicago introduced "quiet cars".  A good idea, in theory, quiet cars are the second-to-the-first and penultimate cars on rush-hour trains, where people can read, sleep, and rest their nerves without danger of disturbance from their fellow commuters.
I hate them.  I am usually quiet on trains.  But I like the option.
After my imbroglio with the circus clown, it was time to go home.   I left the office at 6:30 pm, to catch a late train.  The late trains are seldom crowded, so I settled in with my book and martini-to-go, leaving my backpack on the seat beside me.
As the train got closer to departure, it became crowded.  Suddenly, somebody sat next to me, squarely on my backpack.  I noticed his white cane.  "Sorry!" he said, as I shifted the pack to the floor.  "No, sorry, my fault," I answered.  "I was just being oblivious."  And went back to reading my book.
A few seconds later, though, a man with one of those full-on beards that remind me - not fondly - of  '60s folk singers, approached us.  He leaned over and said, softly, to the blind man,
"I just wanted to let you know that you're on a quiet car."
"No, it isn't!" I piped up, loudly, emboldened by the six ounces or so of vodka provided me by the station barkeep.  "That's only rush hours.  This isn't rush hour."
A shadow of doubt crossed his face, and he went away, shaking his scruffy little head.
Start the alternative reality...
"Listen, dorkwad, even if it were a quiet car, which it isn't, do you think you could possibly stand all the noise this guy is making until you got to your pathetic suburb?"
(Perhaps, that would have been a bit harsh.  Maybe, simply:)
"Oh.  Sorry.  Is there a 'no-stupid' car where we could go?"
Much better. 
I love this.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Left Eyebrow

I recently celebrated a birthday. 
My 58th, for those of you with prurient interests.  And this morning, I couldn't find my left eyebrow.
Oh, there were vestiges of what I assumed was once an eyebrow situated a few inches over my left eye.  But as I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, the hand holding the brow-powder brush hovering hopefully in approach to my forehead, for the life of me I couldn't tell where to put it.  So I unearthed a mascara-like thing and brushed some in the general vicinity of where my eyebrow used to be.  With more or less gratifying results.  An eyebrow, of sorts, slowly emerged.  It had quietly and gradually gone grey over the last few years, in inelegant patches, and had finally given up the ghost, never to adorn my face again without serious cosmetic intervention. 
One morning, you just get up and notice stuff like this, and the scary part is you didn't notice it the day before.  
Of course, my right eyebrow is still maddeningly discernible, defiantly remaining apparent over my right eye, gently mocking its unfortunate sister, and wantonly destroying any claims to a pleasing symmetry left to my countenance.
So now I am adding brow mascara to my daily makeup routine.  Not a big change, in and of itself, but sadly indicative of the state to which I've arrived.  A quick inventory reveals that there are quite a lot of cosmetic items which I now feel are absolutely necessary to use on a daily basis in order to make myself presentable in polite company.  Too many.  It creeps up on you, this need for something more, until your dresser looks like a drugstore and you find that you routinely carry a minimum of four tubes of lipstick in your purse.  I long for the days when I felt beautiful just wearing Cherry Chapstick.
Which would be childhood.  When I was a child, I would just spring out of bed, happy to greet the day and get away from my parents.  A bath was all that was necessary in the way of a beauty treatment.  My childhood essentials were simple and few:
  1. Soap;
  2. A comb;
  3. A toothbrush;
  4. Shampoo;
  5. Shiny shoes.
Somewhere in my eleventh year, I started craving cosmetic enhancement.  These were limited, for most girl-children born north of the Mason-Dixon Line, to re-purposed items commonly found in the family medicine cabinet and/or refrigerator, and used with subterfuge.  Among such items were:
  1. Chapstick;
  2. Vaseline (furtively applied to the eyelashes, with a toothbrush.  I quickly learned not to use my own toothbrush);
  3. Koolaid (unconstituted, as lipstain);
  4. Lemons (to bleach hair);
  5. Johnson's Baby Powder.
(Author's note:  Putting lemon juice on your hair will not make it blonde.  It will only make it sticky and attractive to insects.  I know.)
Soon thereafter, I had to up my game, as I found myself facing stiff competition from girls who had observable breasts.  I added to my repertoire: 
  1. Lipgloss (carefully removed before going home);
  2. Clearasil;
  3. Concealer, for the acne not responding to the Clearasil;
  4. Nail polish (somehow socially acceptable on girls of any age);
  5. Deodorant.
During my high school and college years, still lacking observable breasts and feeling sadly deficient, I started using:
  1. Blush;
  2. Mascara;
  3. Eyeshadow (purple, it was the '70s);
  4. Perfume;
  5. Tweezers.
(Another author's note:  Girls with observable breasts do not need to wear makeup.   Ever.)
In my twenties, I went through an angry feminist phase, and stopped using cosmetics altogether.  I stopped shaving my legs, too.  Miraculously, I managed to land a husband in spite of this.  Looking back, I see it was a good thing, since we were then entering a new age where husbands were expected to observe their wives during childbirth.  However, in my mid-twenties, upon realization that Revlon and Earth Shoes were mutually exclusive, I revived my makeup collection, and added to all of the above:
  1. Haircuts;
  2. Henna;
  3. Eyeliner;
  4. A miniature Slinky (worn as jewelry, it was the '80s).
By the time I turned 30, alpha hydroxy acids had been discovered, and not a moment too soon.  I was definitely noticing some cracks in the visage.  So began a regimen of:
  1. Daycream;
  2. Nightcream;
  3. Facial masks.
I spent my forties seeing little need for change in my beauty rituals, unaware that the attention I was calling to myself was being given mostly in sympathy.  However, something must have penetrated my fog of denial because I started buying:
  1. Foundation;
  2. Retinol;
  3. Eyebrow pencils;
  4. Armani.
I am now in my fifties, and - let me tell you - it's no picnic.  The mirror does not lie to you in your fifties, and neither does your scale.  Neither do employers, and it has been a struggle to remain gainfully employed, an essential factor in affording Armani.  My chronic state of underemployment, a hallmark of this decade of my life, makes the expenditure of funds on 30-plus beauty products (in need of regular replenishment) somewhat senseless.  However, there is a benefit in being older, if wiser.  I have come to accept that beauty, in the conventional sense of the word, will never be available to me from a bottle or tube. 
It probably never was. 
The best I can hope for now is to retain a remarkable resemblance to the human female.  To that end, I've become a big fan of:
  1. Pedicures;
  2. Visine;
  3. Hair products;
  4. Spandex.
And now brow mascara.  Being seen in public with one eyebrow is simply not acceptable. Until I submit to the necessity of having my brows dyed by a professional on a regular basis (eyebrow dye is illegal in the United States, the fools), brow mascara will just have to do.  Along with brow powder, brow pencil, and my special little spoolie brow-brush.  In a gallant quest to avoid frightening small children, it  took me twenty minutes to put on my makeup this morning, fifteen of which should have been spent back in bed playing with the "snooze" button.  I think this signals a definite shift in my priorities.
That is not to say that I'm giving up.  I will never be the old lady in sweatpants, universally ignored by salesclerks and maitre d's, wearing makeup only at Christmas and funerals.  I believe in a personal responsibility to society.
And the right to two eyebrows. 
What I am saying is that I'm drawing the line.  I am just not willing to spend any more time or effort or money than I already do in the pursuit of what has become the unattainable.  Less is, almost always, more.  If I ever again feel an irresistible need to improve my appearance, I know what my next purchase should be.
A bottle of Xanax.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Famous Last Words

"We are ready for the snow." 
- Mayor Kasim Reed
Atlanta, Georgia
Let's take a quiz. 
Where are we?
  • People stranded in the vehicles for more than 24 hours;
  • Gridlocked highways;
  • Cars abandoned;
  • The National Guard activated;
  • Helicopters searching for stranded victims.
We are in/on:
  1. Alaska;
  2. Mars;
  3. Yakutsk;
  4. Tierra del Fuego;
  5. Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Number 5 is correct, as you've probably heard.  Atlanta, a city located in the southern part of the United States, received a record-breaking snowfall (1-day total) of 2.6 inches of snow last Tuesday.
And caved.
Here was my initial reaction, as a Chicagoan:
Are you freaking kidding me?  My grandmother could have walked through 2.6 inches of snow.  In high heels.  Throw down some kitty litter.  Wear a hat.  Buy a fucking shovel.
(Uncharitable?  Yes.  But it has been colder in Chicago than in Alaska, Siberia, and some places on Mars, and I feel I've earned the right to be cranky.)
However, with that out of the way, I will say that my sympathy definitely lies with the victims of this catastrophe, both the beleaguered political leaders and the afflicted citizens.  At least the governor has taken responsibility for the situation, which is refreshing after listening to Chris Christie (what kind of name is that?) for the last few weeks.  Moreover, there seems to be a growing consensus among Atlanta's leadership that perhaps they should start taking weather reports a bit more seriously.
Good idea.  Somebody's got their head in the game.
The director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency has been accused of activating the state's emergency response system six hours too late, and admits his mistake.  I, on the other hand, think his reaction was entirely reasonable, for these reasons:
  1. Only 3-4 inches of snow was predicted to fall;
  2. No person in their right mind would declare a state of emergency for three inches of snow.  Anywhere.  On the planet;
  3. Atlanta is a city with the sixth highest literacy rate in the United States, which means that its denizens are probably educated enough to read/listen to a weather report, comprehend it, and take appropriate measures.
Which, apparently, they did.  Sort of.  Network news stories were full of stories about people stocking up on food and water in advance of the storm, which - if the obesity statistics for the state of Georgia are correct - could be considered a missed opportunity. 
Of course, the real problem wasn't the snow, it was the ice, and it is my bitter experience that there is no safe way of maneuvering on ice, aside from sporting some serious mountaineering gear.  Unfortunately, it apparently occurred to surprisingly few Atlantans that maybe driving on an icy roads isn't quite the thing to do, if you can possibly avoid it.  But many people are complete idiots when it comes to their cars, especially so in modern cities like Atlanta where "car culture" has been described as "deeply ingrained".
There's a price to pay for everything.
Southerners don't have a monopoly on stupid.  I recall a conversation I had, a few years ago, with my boss, a young lady given to going stockingless and stiletto-shod through the Chicago winter:
"Aren't your feet cold?"
"Not in my car."
"But don't you think it's dangerous to walk on the ice in those shoes?"
"I don't walk on ice."
"But sometimes you can't avoid it."
"I only walk from my apartment to my car, and from my car to the office."
"It's probably a good idea to dress weather-appropriate, especially in the winter."
"I have a car."
"But if your car breaks down?"
"I have a phone."
"But what if your car breaks down, and you run out of gas because you've kept the car running in order to stay warm, and hypothermia sets in and causes mental confusion, which - in your case - would be almost impossible to identify, and in your confused state you freeze to death?"
I did not actually say this last, mainly because I could see that I was getting the same results one gets when trying to teach a pig to sing.  My boss simply could not foresee any problem, in any circumstance, not remedied by being in her car.  I'm sure some hapless citizen of Atlanta, after last Tuesday, might have another famous last word for her: