Sunday, December 31, 2006

Spells for the New Year

Once a friend of mine explained to our writing workshop class about an exercise that her therapist had given her in loving herself and exercising the pain of self-hatred. She had to spend five minutes a day in front of the mirror and say, I love you, I love you so much, self! All of us in workshop were a grim and surly lot (why else would we be in a graduate fiction class?), and we all laughed. It would take copious amounts of alcohol for any of us to remotely like ourselves, much less love. Loving herself had been my friend's new year's resolution, and she'd been unable to even work herself up to a mild infatuation by March.

As a child, I loved resolutions -- they appealed to my sense of the clean slate. I would stop day dreaming so much, I would clean my room more, I'd stop losing things, I would try not to look like such a ragamuffin all the time. None of those lasted past a week because change is either a slow and miraculous thing, the road to Damascus stuff where you're struck down and blinded or for the rest of us, a day by day gruel to change our habits. The slightest vow, taken seriously, can change your life and bring out all the demons that keep us from what we want. So when I make effort for change, I know I'm in from a wild ride. I haven't made a resolution in years unless you count casting a few good luck spells to bring in happy energy. When I look in the mirror, I don't try and love myself, but I do try to squint a little bit as to see more myself in a kinder light if not a clearer one.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I want to confess as best I can, but my heart is void. The void is a mirror. I see my face and feel loathing and horror. I live now in a world of ghosts, a prisoner in my dreams." The Seventh Seal

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Little Miss Sunshine

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy New Year's Eve! I'll be posting hangover cures tomorrow. Be safe and careful tonight!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Medium of Hope and Despair

Once I overheard a man in a bar wearing a hat that said "Oilfield Trash" say to his friend, I don't know why my wife kicked me out. All that happened was I had a girl in my house who I watched masturbate on my couch. That ain't cheating. George Jones was playing on the jukebox, "The King Is Dead, Yabba Dabba Do" for the fourth time that night and Oilfield Trash's friend said, If that son of a bitch plays that song again, I'll knock his teeth out. Said friend only had a couple of teeth himself, and I'm guessing he wasn't too concerned for the welfare of the remaining two. In my limited experience, you don't want to play too fast and loose with people who have had considerable amounts of teeth knocked out -- they always have the upperhand that not giving a shit gives a person. I stayed quiet and drank my Shinerbock, trying not to draw notice to myself. A waitress cried into the one pay phone at the end of the bar about not being able to make rent that month. It was that kind of place, the kind where there isn't even a phone for employees to use for free.

This bar had been the sight of an infamous fight that had ended with someone's nose shoved into his brain on a toilet seat. He died, and the guy who did it walked, earning him considerable badass street cred. That boy is rough, one of the regulars said, speaking of the incident. Best not to tumble with him. Oilfield Trash agreed. Man, I wish I could fucking get back to my regular wife. I didn't do anything wrong. A random woman, I kid you not, suggested he take his case to the People's Court. This was not a sarcasm. I thought about what Judge Wapner might make of this scene and smiled, a small smile to myself, that couldn't be construed as such, merely an expression one makes when there is nothing left to say.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Black and white is the medium of hope and despair." Robert Frank

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: The Ugly One With The Jewels -- Laurie Anderson

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Saturday! I hope everyone is gearing up for the hell that is New Year's Eve. Stay safe!

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Vows I Had Written

The worst wedding I ever attended wasn't my own. It was right after my would-be big day. I'd taken the liberty of writing the sermon since the preacher who had been made clergy through an ad in the back of Rolling Stone wasn't going to, and I found myself leaning toward a lot of Shakespearean cliche and yawn-inducing sentiments about forever and ever. He had a book of ceremonies he'd delivered before, but I didn't like any of them as they were all too sappy and way too heavy-handed with the Kahil Gibran, we are trees growing together/apart/ winds dance between us -- you get the idea. Mine wasn't terrible, but it certainly wasn't my most convincing work of fiction, and the best thing you could say about it was that the whole thing came in under ten minutes which was good because Mr. Rolling Stone forgot to tell the congregation to sit down. The wedding after that one was the worst one -- my then-beloved's ex-fiance and her new husband, a Japanese man named Aki who broke out in huge ringworm-like sores when he drank which was often had their ceremony a few months later. To add to the incestous horror, I had dated the bride's brother, who was also there. Who says I don't know how to have a good time?

So I sat in the pew, feeling fat and stupid and sexless, wishing myself dead, having made a wrong turn myself and already knowing it. I'd picked out a shapeless royal blue tent of a dress with a Peter Pan collar and the dress kept sliding off my shoulders. I sat there, sick dying smile plastered to my face, when the same preacher began reading the vows. The vows that I had written, word for dumbass word. I had known the bride a little bit, a quiet beautiful woman who kept to herself, one of those women that men love more for what she doesn't say than what she does. By the reception, I felt ready for obliteration as her brother skulked around, drinking like a fiend and the groom had already broken out in the ringworm marks. A table full of dullards said how wonderful they thought the vows were, how well-written. The bride told us that it was a tradition in his family for every groom to drink until he couldn't stand at the reception, and that the bride's wedding night was spent making sure he didn't choke on his own vomit. It wasn't the ending I would have chosen for the night, but hey, I'd already gotten to write a lot of the script.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"How strange when an illusion dies. It's as though you've lost a child. " Judy Garland

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: The Velvet Underground at Max's Kansas City -- Velvet Underground

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Family Redefined

In Gore Vidal's new memoir, he states that he feels compelled in every piece of nonfiction to describe where he is writing from, the lay of the proverbial land. I'm sitting at my dad's old desk, surrounded by Snoopy figurines I have purchased for him over the years, two in Halloween attire, and one in a plane surrounded by Woodstocks who ride on the wings like an episode of Peanuts meets the Twilight Zone. If I look up from my furious typing (ha!), there is a map of the world with push pins in places that my mother travelled and a poster of Tony Soprano from Season One that says, Family Redefined. There's a yoga ball to the side should I feel compelled to roll around the floor and try and regain/maintain my girlish figure. Should I need to research the history of aviation, I'm in luck -- volume after volume exists, all the Time Life books, Jane's Fighting Aircraft, and The Lore of Flight. There are pictures of my family all around and some of me in high school where I wish someone had explained the importance of eyebrow plucking. Alas, such is life!

I suppose where you write changes what you write -- at my home, I have a very private office in which I have surrounded myself with things I love and find beautiful or arresting, objects that push me into the past. At my dead parents' house, I find that I think even more about the past because the artifacts are all around me. And the house is haunted -- lights flicker, stereos turn on and off at will, and I hear the sound of windchimes day and night. And Tony Soprano watches over me as I write, his entire family in the background, both the living and the dead, whispering in his ear what has happened before and what will happen in the future.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"You let somebody move in with you, you make all these little compromises to smooth things along, and the next thing you know, you're on some macrobiotic diet and you're listening to Joni Mitchell." 200 Cigarettes

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: 200 Cigarettes -- this is by far my favorite New Year's Eve movie ever!

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Thursday! Sissy Lynn, pictured above, is my sister's dog. The t-shirt she wears was a gift from me in an attempt to turn her into a goth despite her propensity for the pink collar.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Nothing Found In Nature

Once a friend of mine and I got lost going to Detroit's Mexicantown, a two-block strip consisting of an excellent bakery, a few Mexican restaurants, and various stores selling candles and sundries. When I mean lost, I mean for almost two hours. My friend drove, and I put on make-up. It's always like that -- I don't like to waste time in my house putting on my "face" as my elderly babysitter Betsy used to refer to the process, and I find that putting on eyeliner while going over bumps relaxes me. By the time we made it to the restaurant that day, I resembled David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust incarnation, and even though it was in the day and we were only going there for tamales, we ended up ordering beautiful flourescent-colored margaritas, the bright green color of candy, nothing found in nature, and we sipped deeply from them and found solace there. When I pushed myself away from the table to go to the restroom, I was drunk enough to think I looked great in three shades of eyeshadow that sparkled in the light coming in from the high window. Alas, when I woke up from the nap I took when I got home to sleep off the drink and the exhaustion of what should have been a fifteen minute trip that took hours, I noticed how everything had run together, like a child's watercolor.

For years, I never touched make-up, never thought about it. In the same way I used to tout my feminist ways by not wearing a bra (at barely a hundred pounds during that time, no one even noticed the "political" statement I was making), I didn't want to change the way I looked. I also eschewed sunglasses, sun lotion, or any self-protective measures besides carrying a gun. But times changed, and I changed and started wearing make-up for fun. I'm not an artist and have no creative aspirations save for the page. I can't make things beautiful like many of my friends, can't grow things or cook. And sometimes I need a face to meet the faces, a face that is like my own, but different. I still do my make-up when someone else is driving and in this way, my landscape shifts as I passively watch the miles go by as someone else decides where we are going and how fast we will get there.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"The man is fiction; the mask is real." Paul Theroux

Cocktail Hour

Drinking dvd suggestion: Sopranos (Sixth Season) is out! I have been a very good girl and Santa delivered with the box set.
Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Do You Have Your Xanax?

There's a Raymond Carver story where a character proclaims something to the effect that it's the day after Christmas and he hopes he never sees another one. I can't say the same, although I understand the sentiment. Christmas is a mini-post-partum depression followed by the horror of New Year's Eve. Don't even get me started. One of the most interesting new year's celebrations I hosted ended with one of my exes in my clothing hamper basket that rested in the bathroom of my then-apartment. Why, my friends asked, are you in the hamper? Because I like it here, he said. I feel okay here. He was well into his cups by then and surrounded by my dirty clothes. So there was that. Also that was the night I found out one of my other exes hanged himself in his parents' house. Sometimes there is not enough booze in the world to make a difference. I don't remember my response, only that I was drying a fork at the time, a cheap tiny fork that I had bought after my break-up with Hamper Boy while I was out divorce shopping, replacing all the shit that I had lost because I didn't have the heart to demand it back. All I've ever mostly wanted in the division of the things are my clothes and my computer. So that fork remains in my memory, but I don't remember if I cried or if I said anything or if I pretended that I didn't hear. I do remember pouring myself another drink -- who says one shot of vodka in a glass of orange juice is enough? If a little is good, more is better -- three shots seemed about right.

There's always a time in gatherings and drinking when things switch to the dark side, as the movie Sideways posits it. Don't drink too much, Miles -- Do you have your xanax? I don't want you to switch to the dark side! I try not to do this, but I fear the holidays have a way of encouraging it. The man that died had been troubled and brilliant, and I had loved him deeply despite the fact that I didn't have to look for evidence of his chronic philandering; I had to ignore it. If there had been any room in the clothes hamper, I might have been there after a few more drinks. The holidays would soon be over -- the casualty list was long. Once a long-time mentor and friend that my friend Hank and I both adored killed himself on Christmas. I wondered why and Hank replied, You never know how much pain someone is feeling. In the case of our mentor, the pain had been physical. That's something everyone understands and forgives, I suppose. The rest of us are left to keep lifting our glasses until we collapse, only to start all over again.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

“After that first trout I was alone in there. But I didn't know it until later.” Richard Brautigan

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: The Squid and the Whale

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Tuesday! Hope everyone had a really lovely holiday!

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Journey Is All

Merry Christmas, dear readers! I've been writing this blog for nearly nine months, long enough to have a child or write a historical treatise, long enough for me to learn to cook or knit or garden or understand art history. Needless to say, I have done none of the above except write the blog. As a Taurus, I share a single-mindedness with several dangerous and not-so-dangerous crackpots like Jim Jones, Adolf Hitler, and Sigmund Freud, or coded more positively, a passion like the late James Brown, with whom I share my birthday. In the great documentary Hands On A Hardbody about a contest where people have to keep one hand on a truck for days to win it, the opening quote is "The destination is nothing, the journey is all . . . "

So I'd like to thank all my dear readers for coming along for the journey. It's been a revelation to me as much as anything else and every day I start without a clue about how I'm going to untangle my weary mind. The results haven't always been pretty. My mother used to ask me when I was wearing something particularly hideo in the my teenage years (in my defense it was the eighties so the choices were limited), Are you trying to make yourself look bad? Even though this wasn't great for fashion, it sometimes happens in writing and the writer is grateful for it, the way you're grateful for something real happening, no matter if it's good or bad. Like the pilot said on my last flight to the lone star state said, It's been a bumpy ride. There wasn't anything I could do about it. Dear readers, I can only apologize for the bumpiness and say that I hoped you have enjoyed the ride so far, the way you might enjoy a good rollercoaster. Paul Theroux, the great travel writer, once told a story about being a young man in a foreign country, strapped for money. A stranger loaned him some, and Paul T. asked for his address so he could pay him back. The stranger said, It's a small world. We'll meet again. What could be sweeter than that idea? Here's to meeting now and again, in this world and the next.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

Here's two great James Brown quotes:

"Thank God that I had the ability to understand that I had a different beat and that I was a drummer."

"Die on your feet, don't live on your knees."

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Sentimental Mood John Coltrane

Benedictions and Maledictions

I was so sad to hear that the godfather of soul, Mr. James Brown, died early this morning. I loved his music, especially "Black and Proud" and "Sex Machine." His music has been written about and praised by many, and I feel no different. But more than that, he was a great and crazy spirit, doing splits on stage well into his sixties. Damn! That's something to aspire to, to live each day with the same joy and energy of your youth. The obituary I read said that he died with a "longtime friend" at his bedside. We should all be so lucky to pass into the next world with someone we love telling us everything is going to be all right. Rest in Peace, to the hardest working man in show business!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Dead Can See Everything

Cemeteries have always relaxed me and last Christmas Eve, I visited my friend Hank's grave. It's a pretty fair hike from my deceased parents' house, right off of a road named Joy. That's the thing about Christmas in Texas -- it's almost always warm enough for outdoor activities. I stood there for a good bit and tried to think happy thoughts about the year. It wasn't easy. The proverbial attitude of gratitude usually pales in front of tombstones. There were Christmas flowers by his stone and decorations in the chain-link fence blowing in the wind as if placed by central casting. But they weren't -- I suspect his lovely mother put them there and perhaps some other visitors as well. The place had a beautiful forlorn quality, and I found myself warming to it and was grateful for the time and the peace. I thought about how every time Hank would pass a cemetery, he'd yell "Hi, dead people" out the window in a gleeful way, happy to acknowledge their presence.

My parents urns rest in their old bedroom on top of the dresser they shared for as long as I can remember. The dresser holds old clothes and bathing suits, their wedding cake topper, some stray jewelry. I don't mind having them close even though it gives some people the creeps. Hell, our house always did. As a child, I'd bring my friends over only to have my mother say, You want to see a snake? None of them believed her when she said she had a live one in the kitchen. They learned when the rattlesnake struck the top of its container, usually a diaper pail. Or she'd show them the frozen ones in the freezer. I think it's safe to say that she wasn't like all the other mothers. The kids soon found out that spending time with my dad was far safer and might include a short plane ride or two. Now I sleep in their old room and can wake up and tell them anything I want, although I suspect they know far too much already if that whole the dead can see everything holds true. My friend Angela always joked that she hoped God was doing some big-time editing for her grandparents, and I can only hope for the same in my case. The years have passed and everything changes and nothing changes, and I find myself saying, How can it be another Christmas Eve? In this way, I know I have grown up because when you're a child, it can never come fast enough.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"But Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me." Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands." Isaiah 49:14-16

Cocktail Hour

Christmas Eve drink suggestion: Combine champagne with a tiny splash of scotch and sugar. It's a lovely combination and perfect for opening presents.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone! The picture idea was stolen from the cover of Paris Match featuring Monica Belluci. I love her and love that someone over the age of 25 is featured in such a beautiful provocative way! Thanks to my wonderful sister Beth for shooting the picture -- she's always pushing me to be brave. Society often encourages women to shut down all their sexuality at a certain age. One of my women students once said to me, I've learned about writing, but I also have watched what you wear and your jewelery and I have decided not to cut my hair just because I have recently turned forty and that's what everyone says you should do. Alas, liberation comes in all forms!

Break The Ice With Teacher's Scotch

This is the brand of scotch mentioned in Raymond Carver's fabulous story "Gazebo" that begins "In the morning she licks Teachers off my belly and by the afternoon, she's trying to throw herself out the window." Groovy story, groovy ad, what more is there to want?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Thank You Anyhow, Bang, Bang

I once saw a television show documenting a few couples and ex-couples who had paid 2000 dollars to do a weekend-long retreat called Total Honesty therapy. They paid this money in order to be given a "safe" place to express what they thought of each other. The couples expressed everything they had been "holding back." Sweet Jesus. One woman begged her ex to go with her for closure, that most misguided of concepts, the only real closure being death and even then you're still talking to the person, the only difference is that the dead seldom answer except through freaky signs like lights flickering and whatnot. For her money and trouble, the woman was treated to such bon mots like her ex yelling, I resent your nose. The woman did have a large nose, but short of cutting it off to spite her face, there didn't seem a gosh dang thing she could do about it. After many more mean comments about her physical and emotional state, he told her that he liked the way she sang in the shower, but since he wasn't going to be hearing it anymore, he'd prefer not to think about it. After a lot of crying (mostly her -- hell, I'd be weeping had I shelled out a couple thousand to be told one horrible thing after another), they were instructed to hit each other with pillows to work out aggression. Not since my granddaddy gave me his one and only birthday gift to me, a hideous blow-up clown you could punch, had there been such a smoking hot idea.

So you won't see me advocating total honesty or punching or clowns. I'm fearful of two of those things -- I don't mind punching so much, though. I haven't hit anyone in years, but the last time I did I was dressed as Medusa. I walked up and punched a vicious little twerp who had been making fun of someone I really liked. I didn't have to pay any money, and somehow I think despite the costume and not saying anything, I was more honest than I had been in a very long time.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Giving me a new idea is like handing a cretin a loaded gun, but I do thank you anyhow, bang, bang." Philip K. Dick

Cocktail Hour

My suggestion for the perfect pre-Christmas Eve dinner: Martinis (my preference is for vodka, which I know is a purist violation, but alas, I'm not a purist) and fondue. Fondue is the most perfect food in the world since it's small, takes a long time to eat, and is totally non-intimidating. And strawberries in chocolate for dessert!

Benedictions and Maledictions

Dear readers, if you are so inclined, please check out my cousin Jay's blog -- there's a Christmas memory about my daddy's boyhood (his Uncle Don) that my dear cousin Jay has written in his kind, funny, sweet way. Thanks, Cousin Jay!

Go Champale!

What's not to love about a drink that is "just pennies more than beer?" And so festive! I think I'm going to see if I can find a big vat of it and do some damage. After playing tennis, of course. Happy Friday night!

Children Are Gifts From God

My sister used to make "treats" for my mother to eat when she came home from work, things like half oranges decorated with peanut butter smiley faces or slices of bologna covered with fruit loops. She'd present these creations with great joy and my mother would pretend to like them as they came from a good place, the same kind of love that your kitty shows when it leaves you a rat. My mother came declare that my sister had to eat the creations she made. No Rachel Ray, she quickly found out that what looked good didn't always live up to the dream, and she stopped and might just be the only person more phobic about cooking than I am.

We're always doing this, creating things and choosing things for others, things they may love or not love. Writing is no different. John Cheever once said that he wanted an agent that loved his work, praised his sexual prowess, and had a stranglehold on the bank. Now there's an honest statement! We almost always laugh when a child says something honest -- I can remember a friend of mine getting married and her flower girl asking her if she was pregnant. When my friend said no, the little girl said, So you just let yourself get fat? I once saw a sign that said, Children Are Gifts From God and His Way of Laughing. Clearly. That little flower girl will be the one in a writing workshop years from now, saying, I don't think you've earned that ending. But, in the end, who does?

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I've been to prison once, I've been married - twice. I was once drafted by Lyndon Johnson and had to live in shit-ass Mexico for 21/2 years for no reason. I've had my eye socket punched in, a kidney taken out and I got a bone-chip in my ankle that's never gonna heal. I've seen some pretty shitty situations in my life, but nothing has ever sucked more ass than this!" Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa on being Santa

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: No Sleep Till Brooklyn Beastie Boys

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Friday! Thanks for all the sweet wishes for my health! Take good care of yourselves over as the holiday approaches with all its delights!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Scotch and the Single Girl

As promised, the first of my favorite ads from the 70s, possibly the coolest decade ever. The fact that I haven't changed my hairstyle really since then does not figure into the equation. Really. It doesn't. Hang in there, dear Christmas friends, and don't get too stressed!

It's A Wonderful Life

When your day starts with a quick diagnosis of strep throat, followed by a shot of antibiotics, followed by manic errands including but not limited to the post office (in addition to mailing packages, a letter from the IRS -- oh joy!), Target, the pharmacy, news that your favorite bookstore parrot died (see memorial below) and so on, you'd think it would be a bad day. But it wasn't. My physician assistant is kind and funny and even gave me a lolipop after my shot. She's seen me through a few things and always tells me to be a big girl so I try. The woman giving the shot made me laugh and checked on me in that vastly reassuring way (How you doing, honey?) because the medicine, thick evil liquid that it was, doesn't enter the body with any speed. No Nurse Ratched action with the whole, See did that hurt? Or worse, I haven't done anything yet so how can you hurt? Or my favorite, It's all over, how could it have hurt? I left feeling a little worse for the wear but in good cheer and then to the pharmacy for cough medicine. The cough medicine wasn't ready so I bought a bottle of Dayquil which I kept dropping as I fumbled for my CVS card. Honey, don't worry, the cashier said. Take your time. Even though she had lots of customers and stress, she laughed with me and said, I hope you feel better, sweetheart. You know, you look like Marissa Tomei. When I laughed and said she was sweet, she said, You do! You go look at you! My dad loved Marissa Tomei, and I considered it a sign from him.

The first time I had strep throat I was working as a lifeguard. My dad had to call in sick for me at the pool where I worked, and he called in sick to work to take me to the doctor and took care of me all day. My friend Angela and I used to laugh about finding a man like our dads, saying that they didn't make that model anymore, as if they were really great sturdy cars that had been replaced by a steady diet of IROCs and Pintos, maybe a DeLorian here and there. But I can't say I believe it really. I could barely string two words together yesterday and yet everyone was kind even in the hurried Christmas rush. Okay, maybe it isn't exactly It's A Wonderful Life when the day ends with a random crazy in a bar, yelling Nice ass, honey! As Richard Brautigan says in one of his poems, so much is gained and lost with those two words. But I felt the Christmas spirit all day, and I wouldn't have it hit me any other way even if I could choose.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he? " It's A Wonderful Life

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: "Merry Christmas From the Family" Robert Earl Keen -- this is quite possibly the best Christmas song in the world!

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Thursday!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Dopey's Memorial

As I mentioned in my list of six strange things about myself, Dopey (Second Story's bookstore parrot) was the only animal I like. Make that liked. As I was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping today, I saw that Dopey had died this month after a long and happy life of telling customers "hello," "shut up," and "I want your food." I loved that guy! Here's a picture of his memorial. Rest in peace, Dopey!

A Mixed Tape Without Any Marvin Gaye

The other day when I was brave enough to get my hair cut a teeny-tiny bit (that's right good people, I agreed to long layers, thereby updating my Ted Bundy victim look from the 70s by a little, opting for a more current 70s style which I love -- thanks Stacey!), my friend and I laughed about how you can always tell gifts from exes to your beloved because they exude an aura of evil. Okay, I concede that I might be overstating the case here, but damned if I don't know who something is from without being told and can get the creeps from an inantimate object all the same. I once dated someone who had a bag full of mixed tapes women had made him and some that he had made for other women. They rolled around on the floorboard of his car, some containing truly horrible songs, many I'm sorry to say had a lot of Peter Gabriel on them. People assume I like Peter Gabriel because he once wrote a crappy whiney song about Anne Sexton where he bleats over and over again, Looking for mercy street, looking for mercy street until the listener wishes he'd find the fucking street and shut up. Chicks are supposed to dig that sort of sad sack crap in the same way we're supposed to love Coldplay because of the moody British rocker saying things that don't make a lick of sense, but he says them with an accent which is supposed to count for being deep. It makes one long for the high school years when Bad Company's "Feel Like Making Love" was all you needed.

Strangely enough, most women distance themselves from their current beloved's past, an impossible task if you ask me. I once had a student who had all the stuff from his one true love (a woman who was not his wife -- how did I know this? -- Well, I'm mildly psychic and many of his essays started, I hate my wife so much . . . ) in a locked safety deposit box so his wife wouldn't burn it. This strikes me as sad, sadder than being forced to listen to a mixed tape without any Marvin Gaye on it. Our pasts give the present weight and none of us are without an odd menagarie of things that meant something at one time. I even have stuff from my old boyfriend's ex-girlfriends (one of the stranger moments in that relationship was being given a ton of clothes by one of my exes that women had left over at his house -- I wanted to throw them out, but I liked too many of them so practicality won over jealously). Perhaps the strangest object I have from someone else's love is a box of body paints from the early eighties, all in colors not found in nature. The box with a turquoise unicorn on it says, Try something new! Take a chance with a new love! The paints have dried up, never have been used. I feel an odd tenderness toward it and saved it from being thrown out. The box, while dated with its puff paint garish color scheme is dated, the sentiment, one can hope, never will be.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Everything is bad including me,/ But being bad is good policy,/ It protects me from your past,/ 'till your memory's gone at last/ Everything is bad including me. " Reverend Horton Heat

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: What Happened Was

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I found a great book with drink ads from the 70s in it and will be posting them off and on all week for your viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Isn't Over Yet

Christmas is coming, and for me that means long stretches of watching The Sopranos and eating small bits of treats that the neighbors bring over. If you eat HALF a cookie, you are not eating the entire cookie and even if you eat four or five HALF cookies, you have not gorged yourself on cookies because you're only eating bits and pieces which as anybody knows, does not have as many calories, much like food you eat in a picnic setting does not have any calories at all. Apply this to drinking as well -- I often prefer to split drinks with people as to not be drinking an entire mind-altering, calorie-laden concotion. This is my Christmas survival guide. The other part involves purchasing some really fantastic novel or memoir that you've wanted to read, preferably something depressing so that you are wrapped up in a far more horrible world than the one you frequent. One of my favorite Christmas memories is reading Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker, a novel about female genital mutilation. I have to admit that Walker's later novels have lost me a little bit, but the early ones are tremendous. I would not, however, recommend the accompanying video for anyone but the most stout of heart.

With a week until the holiday, I find myself thinking about shopping (which, of course, is easier than doing it) and hoping for the Christmas spirit to find me. When I was in the seventh grade, one of my friends said she'd lost all the fun of Christmas, didn't even want to think about the holiday. I knew her family was very poor even by my standards which were not high. Stoic that she was, she didn't mention that her mother's cancer had returned. There's a great Dolly Parton song, "Hard Candy Christmas" which I love that sums up her situation. So there's another thing for Christmas -- Dolly Parton music, which I adore, sad and broken and pure that it is. Settle back with your half-cookies and half-drinks and watch Tony Soprano go through his days in New Jersey. Good things are bound to happen. As Tony says when he hears an enemy has had a heart attack, Merry Christmas -- drinks for everyone! It's not the Christmas spirit, but it'll work in a pinch.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I try to teach my heart not to want things it can't have. " Alice Walker

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: The Bargain Store Dolly Parton

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Party Is Over

At parties of yore, I'd often have a few drinks and be persuaded (read egged on) to do a special dance that I invented called the vulture. I adopted it from Snoopy's pose as a vulture, and I would perch on my tiptoes and bring my hands in the air and look deranged as if I were going after my dead prey. This wasn't too hard for me. I'd been a gymnast for several years and had practice at perching on my toes. One can't imagine how exciting it was to be the center of such aclaim and intrigue. Do the vulture, my friends would yell, and I would demure at first. You don't want to see that, I'd say. Come on, Michelle. The vulture, the vulture. All right, I'd tell them, and go into a fugue state as if preparing to recite a long poem, like Frost's "After Apple-Picking." And then, there I'd be, on my toes, as a vulture.

I haven't done the vulture in years, and there's only a few friends who remember it, not near as many who remember me trying to do a striptease after several tequila shots one hot summer night in Texas. I did not black out and so in fact am not spared the actual memory of this either, and this will teach me either to drink more or less tequila in future similiar circumstances. Memory is a strange and lonely thing, I think, and constantly changing to be what we need it to be. You never know when the party is over and if you had a good time until you're viewing it from the future, like a vulture, hoping to get what you need to keep going.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I have a death wish, but I direct it at others." The Opposite of Sex

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: The Opposite of Sex

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Monday!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

The worst gift someone I knew received was a bunch of work-out clothes and a step aerobics video. The gift was from her dad and when she was opening them he said, Now you can do something about that ass of yours. Merry Christmas, baby! Gifts are a reflection of ourselves, our feelings, who we are, and our sense of the other person -- it's a lot to pin on something you pick up while manically searching Target on the Thursday before Christmas. New couples are in a particular bind having to face the Where are we in the relationship question? A student once told me she received a scrapbook from her boyfriend forecasting every event of their lives together and even putting pictures of their "children" (computer-simulated versions of what these gremlins might look like) and ending with matching tombstones. I suppose now that you can buy coffins at Costco, a dreary journey in a dreary place (who can possibly face those industrial-sized jars of peanut butter?), he could have even gone so far as to put a down payment on their future.

Although when you've been with someone a long time, it's still tough -- you've run out of all the cool stuff that you know they'll love. I once had a boyfriend who bought multiple copies of The Love Poems of Kenneth Patchen for gifts. Every time he saw one used, he'd purchase it to squirrel away for his next new love even while with his current love, i.e., me. The poems are all about how Patchen's wife is the only one for him and other such pablum. I have my copy that I received with great excitement, especially when he said he needed to take it back so he could write something "personal" in it. My heart leapt with joy. Something personal! Mind you, this was a man of few words so any words were welcome. I took the book back and sat down on my bed to read it. It said "Enjoy." That's it. I shook off my disappointment and laughed out loud. Enjoy, indeed. I hope everyone who got a copy did and does. Who says you can't step into the same river twice?

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"It's strange how the simple things in life go on while we become more difficult." Richard Brautigan

Cocktail Hour

I never realized how lovely tequila could be since most of my early experience was with El Torro! And those horrible bottles of mix with tequila already in them. I'm all for time-saving devices, but this is drinking, people! Have you no pride? If you're that eager to get the drink down your gullet, you need to reevaluate your priorities. This said, I never realized that certain tequilas could be sipped as they are so very smooth. My suggestion for this is Milagro. It means miracle in Spanish, and I'm not inclined to disagree.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Something About The Metal

First impressions scare me. I'm stiff and inarticulate and speak in phrases that are slightly less natural than a Beckett play, or I'm totally manic and start talking as if I've had a hit of nitrous oxide and say things like, I think I'm getting a sty in my eye, I mean it feels like it, and it will swell up and there's nothing you can do about it although my mother used to rub a gold wedding band on it and that seemed to help, something about the metal and I once had homecoming pictures taken with a sty and it was awful . . . You get the idea. And of course, there's no getting over the joy of making a total ass of yourself. My sister speaks in charming malopropisms from time to time, and she said to me once upon my meeting someone-- You sounded artistic. I took it as a compliment until I realized she meant autistic. It seems to me that maybe I should go for full-blown loop de loo next time and start speaking only in Lou Reed lyrics.

When it comes down to it, the sensation brings back the thrills of high school when one's self-absorption and self-scrutiny and loathing are at an all-time high. I once got asked out on a date on a post-it note. The sender asked me to check a box if I wanted to go to dinner with him. If you're thinking this happened when I was really young, you would be wrong. The man in question was in his forties; I was in my twenties. His note gave me three options: Yes, I would like to go to dinner, No, I hate stinky you and please do not get near me anymore, and Maybe, I would like to torture you and drag this thing out for a long time. Did I check a box? Of course! In the end, I didn't check the box that turned out to be the nature of the relationship, but it was a first impression and damned if I didn't want it to be a good one.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Actually it only takes me one drink to get drunk. The trouble is I can't remember if it's the thirteenth or fourteenth." George Burns

Cocktail Hour

First Impression

1 ounce Midori
1 ounce Kahlua
1 ounce Frangelico

Pour the ingredients, then strain into an old-fashioned glass and serve.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Saturday!

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Rules Of Engagement

What one notices while watching The Rules of Engagement, an interminable documentary about David Koresh and the Branch Davidians' final days (an enterprise best undertaken when one is drunk) is that David Koresh is no Jim Jones. He may be able to stockpile weapons, but who in Texas can't say that? David Koresh strikes me as the one guy in high school that you can remember almost nothing about -- he is neither handsome nor homely, not particularly smart or stupid, and although he seemed to have a penchant for terrible tank tops, in all other ways he seems pretty normal. So, I asked myself, as I watched the ATF swarm the Branch Davidian compound, how has he convinced several people to hole up with him and die in, of all places, Waco? When asked, most of them spoke of the book of Revelation, the wildest book of the Bible, all those rivers of blood and whatnot.

Many things have been a revelation to me, particularly my first margarita made with blue curaçao. David Koresh, while having a wicked cool sense of humor even after being shot (there's a great monologue he performs while bleeding in front of a video camera about how he can't keep the ladies away because he is one foxy dude, the white man's version of back these hoes off me and let a player play!), was not a man I'd count on for information concerning the end times or any other revelations, biblical or secular. The bits of sermons he gives are uninspired drivel, but perhaps this is part of the appeal. In an age where it's all bells and whistles, the Branch Davidians were old school, right down to the scary homemade clothes. Even the film that involves all that death and guns and Texas is deathly dull. Even so, I felt myself warming to him by the end. Make no mistake -- I'm a Jim Jones girl. By the end, JJ had dismissed the Bible entirely, had a full-blown love affair with every painkiller under the sun, and was sleeping with lots of the women and men in his congregation. In other words, full-bore crazy. I like that in a cult leader. But I also liked David Koresh in the end, his unassuming ways, those houses full of AK-47s. He was, it seemed, an original g.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"There comes a time in every woman's life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne." Bette Davis

Cocktail Hour

Drinking Scotch Suggestion: Dalwhinnie on the rocks

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Everything Else That's Wrong

Here's some flash fiction for your Thursday reading!

First appeared in Medicinal Purposes

Everything Else That's Wrong

While mopping the kitchen floor, Annie saw a water moccasin pushing its way through the air-conditioning vent above the kitchen table. The vent dangled from one loose screw, allowing Annie a clear view of the snake's progress and making her regret all the times she'd thought about fixing it but didn't. Forty minutes before, her husband Ray had sat under that vent, eating sliced jalapeños from a chipped blue bowl and drinking coffee. Their daughter Rae Ann sat across from him, picking at her pancakes and complaining about not being chosen for the fourth-grade square dance show.

"I didn't even get a second chance." Rae Ann pushed her pancakes away.

"Nobody will remember the square dance in a few weeks," Annie said, her hands resting in the pockets of her loose sun dress. She felt tired even though she'd slept through the night.

"You didn't eat anything," Ray said.

"Not hungry," Annie said.

"You have to force yourself," Ray said. "You going to be all right here?" He stood up and pushed his chair under the table.

Three weeks earlier, Annie had been in the hospital for a day because she'd blacked out while drinking. She knew Ray didn't want to leave her alone. Annie didn't look him in the eye, staring instead at the "Ray" stitched on his shirt. He'd worked as a telephone repairman for as long as she'd known him.

"I got a lot to do," Annie said, thinking of her list.

Now the house was completely quiet except for the sound of the snake bumping against the loose grate. Smelling the snake before she saw it, its rotting odor barely concealed by the Pine-Sol, she'd assumed a small animal had crawled under the house and died. A trickle of sweat rolled down her side, its coldness making her jump.

She thought about getting one of Ray's shotguns out from the closet, but she'd never used it before. Instead, she grabbed a bb gun rifle her cousin's son kept at the house so he could shoot cans off the pier into the lake when he visited years ago. She'd line up the empties and let him have at it, while she and the cousin sat at the kitchen table, the cousin complaining about her lack of a sex life. Annie didn't understand at the time because she'd only been married a year and couldn't keep Ray off her.

Annie got as close to the vent as she could, took careful aim, and managed to peg the snake on the corner of its triangular-shaped head, but the shot didn't seem to be slowing the snake’s gradual entry into the house. She thought about calling Ray, but it could take hours to track him down. She ran outside into the sticky heat, the grass tall enough to scratch her calves, to the trailer next door. She knocked until Joe answered. Almost always home, Joe was a part-time mechanic who got partial disability on account of a garage door falling on him at work three years ago, which nearly broke his back.

"Come with me," she said. "There's a water moccasin in my vent."

"Let me get my shoes on," he said. He looked as if he'd been sleeping, his hair plastered to one side of his face, his t-shirt wrinkled.

"I tried to get it with a bb gun, but nothing happened."

"You just made him mad," Joe said, slipping on his boots and grabbing a pistol from under his couch cushion. On his way out the door, he took his hat from the top of the television, a ball cap advertising Wharton's Feed and Seed.

When they got back to the house, the snake had pushed the rusty grate to the floor and managed to drop to the table.

Joe knocked the snake off the table with his gun and jumped back as the snake struck at his boots. "Man, this is one mean son of a bitch," Joe said. "With water moccasins, once they got ahold of you, they don't let go."

He took aim and killed the snake on the first try, leaving a huge hole in the linoleum. The gun made a loud sound in the kitchen, startling Annie even though she braced herself for it.
Afterward, she could smell smoke.

"I've wanted to kill something for a long time," Joe said. They stared at the snake writhing around in jerky movements before stopping completely.

"Get a towel," Joe said. "We got to save this to show Ray."

"You don't think there are any more in there, do you?" Annie asked, looking at the hole.

"Hard to tell. That bastard is huge," Joe said, sitting down at the table. Annie brought an old raggedy towel from the hall closet and threw it over the snake's body, trying to cover it up completely.

"It's going to be a bad summer. I can hardly stand to think about it," Annie said.

"You got anything to drink?" Joe asked, wiping his face with his forearm. "My tooth is killing me."

"You seen somebody about that?" she asked. Reaching into the cabinet, she pulled two small glass tumblers from the top shelf. Even though Ray had tried to clear out the entire house after she got out of the hospital, she knew there was a bottle of Jack Daniels in the back pantry. Even before anyone started to notice how much she was drinking, she'd been hiding bottles as insurance. She poured Joe a glass of whiskey with water, orange juice for herself.

"Can't afford to. He'll tell me everything else that's wrong with me," Joe said, massaging his cheek.

Annie sat staring at Joe's glass, remembering the first time she'd ever had a drink. It had been on her honeymoon. Ray was thirty-seven to her nineteen, and they'd never slept together. He'd given her a glass of champagne before he touched her, and everything felt okay even though it wasn't. They'd made reservations at a motel called the Oasis Lodge in Tyler. Because of the name, she thought it would be beautiful, but it turned out to be a dump with a huge neon sign, the Lodge part burned out, only Oasis lit. Since it was the weekend of the Rose Festival, all the rooms in the town were rented, and she'd tried not to cry as they checked in with an old man followed around by a diapered poodle. Two glasses of champagne later, she couldn't remember why she'd been upset. After sex she was still drunk and lay on the bed bleeding a little, the room spinning, watching Oasis blink in and out of focus through the curtains she'd tried to close earlier and couldn't.

"You look like you could use one," Joe said."I shouldn't," she said, taking a sip from her orange juice. It was the first time ever she could remember not having a drink with Joe during his sporadic morning visits. She looked at the suncatcher on the window, a butterfly she'd painted herself.

"You're not pregnant, are you?"

"No," she said.

"Then what is it?" He took off his cap and rubbed his forehead.

"Too hot," she said. She didn't want to tell Joe about blacking out and ending up in the hospital for a day. She thought about what the doctor said, about how she needed to lay off the drinking or the tremors in her hands would get worse and the dry-heaving would be all the time, not just late at night, that this blackout was just a small taste of what would be a slow, painful death if she continued. A week before the hospital, Annie had quit her part-time job at the library because most of the time she wasn't able to help people find the books they wanted. Her head hurt. It was getting to be too much. "I hope we get that storm they were talking about on the tv."

"Those guys don't know what's going to happen," he said. "I could check my barometer."

"You want to come over tonight for dinner?" Annie asked.

Joe shook his head. "I got a date," he said.
Annie smiled. Joe had sworn off women two years ago when his wife left him, taking his two kids to her mother's house.

"I thought you'd given up," Annie said.

"You should see how this girl is built. We're going to the Blade and Wing to see Little Creek."
Little Creek was an awful local band that mangled lots of Willie and Waylon. She'd been with Ray and Joe to see them once, hardly able to bear it as they sang, "She's a good-hearted woman in love with a good-timin' man," a song she usually liked. The Blade and Wing had been packed that night, and she spent most of the evening pressed up near the men's bathroom, the door wide open half the time, everyone able to see men doing their business. It was hard not to stare at a stranger, too drunk to care who saw him in his full urinal glory.

Joe sat his empty glass down. "You want me to take that bastard out to the porch?"

"Please. I can't stand to have it so close."

After Joe left, she rinsed out his glass and put it in the dishwasher. She looked at the hole on the floor. She'd been trying to finish her list of things to do, the day chopped into thirty minute increments that kept her from sinking into the long hours. She didn't know how much it would cost to fix the hole in the floor, and there was no guarantee that other snakes wouldn't find their way into the house. It was out of her control.

She took a fresh glass out of the cupboard, sat down, and poured a drink, looking out the picture window. Even though she'd been seeing the same view for years, it was still beautiful. A light breeze rustled through the tops of the tall trees, and some kids were playing on an old tire swing, seeing who could jump the furthest into the lake. She imagined splashing into the deep water and pushing against the bottom of the lake until the rush of air hit her lungs, making her glad to be alive. She knew that the anticipation of that feeling would keep the kids jumping long after they got tired and cold.

About an hour later, Ray called.

"How are you feeling honey? Having a good day?"

"I feel wonderful," she said.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I don't know how many ideas I've done with poor Charlie Brown lying in bed. "Sometimes I lie awake at night in bed and I ask, Is it all worth it?' " And then a voice says, "Who are you talking to?" And another voice says, "You mean: to whom are you talking?" And Charlie Brown says, "No wonder I lie awake at night." Charles Shultz

Cocktail Hour

Drinking cartoon special suggestion: A Charlie Brown Christmas

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Thursday! And birthday wishes to my dear friend Keith!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Seventies Kind of Hostess

At a recent gathering at my hacienda, one of my friends exclaimed, You have the bachelor's refrigerator. Your freezer is ninety percent booze, ten percent ice. What can I say? The bottom part isn't much better -- Dr. Peppers, cherries, olives, tiny cans of champagne, bottled water, stray beers from six packs that people brought over and almost finished. I'm no cook and can't even fix myself a darned quesadilla, as Napoleon Dynamite's grandmother suggests to him when she leaves him for a couple of days. My diet hasn't changed much since I was fifteen -- Dr. Pepper for breakfast, cereal and/or apples for lunch, chocolate, some truly unhealthy entrees when I go out to eat. Christmas is great for someone like me -- treats galore! The fact that I inherited my dad's metabolism which means I look at food and gain weight and am no longer training to be the next Mary Lou Retton (four hours in a gym a day isn't conducive to a life, much less a writing career) means that scarcity of food in my house is kind of a good thing.

That said, I love to play hostess. It's a very seventies kind of hostess that I am, the one that brings out strong drinks and tiny food. I have clothes I would wear only at home for a party, impractical things that don't make any sense in the real world. What can I say? I don't make any sense in the real world! Given a choice between something beautiful and something that fits, I'll take the beautiful thing every single time, thinking I can transform myself into it, make myself bigger or smaller, and sometimes it works, the fantasy becomes a bubble which floats for much longer than you expect it will.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world. What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?" Oscar Wilde

Cocktail Hour


1 ounce of silver tequila
1 ounce of creme de menthe
1 ounce of heavy cream

Shake and serve chilled as a martini.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Dear Lovely Readers,

A million thanks for your kind comments yesterday! I am so grateful for all the support I received. I was a little afraid of writing about the rape, but I kept hearing the first line in my head, and I knew I was doomed. Once you get the first line, you have everything! I wish that I could say that more noble reasons informed my decision, but there you have it. And as a side note, I hate the added burden of stigma that haunts many victims of sexual violence and is perpetuated by silence on the subject. I took a women's literature class years ago in which a woman who had escaped from an oppressive Muslim home (her words, not mine!) used to say, I cannot be silent any longer; I must speak and launch into whatever comment she had. This and Who is this Billy Joel man person? elicited many giggles from the class, but I came to appreciate her smart comments. I, too, feel it is time not to be silent any longer. As an associate of Tony Soprano's said to him about his panic attacks and subsequent visits to his psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi, There's no stigmata anymore, Tony. This malapropism never fails to make me laugh, and while there is always a stigmata involving such sexual violence, I hope that the stigma falls away, and if a story is a crack of light, then so be it.

In answer to some of the questions about the dying dolphin's fate, I certainly don't mind the violent suggestions for my little evil ex-friend, in fact, I think of him fondly, dying slowly of some painful disease rotting him to the core of his being, but scarring or a car running over him works as well! In all seriousness, I have been forced into forgiveness, which isn't as much fun, but I assume his life has not worked out for him if his performance as a dying dolphin was any example of the places he might go. I did not report him at the time out of fear and shame, and in large part because I felt whatever happened to me, I had somehow "brought" on myself. Thank goodness that I eventually got the sense God gave a goat and stopped believing that horseshit! Again, thanks for your kindness! Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Thing That Hurt The Most

As an undergraduate in a modern dance class, I had to watch my rapist perform a solo dance number to the sound of dolphins crying. He himself was portraying a dying dolphin and the idea if you will was that the other dolphins were trying to save him but he could only save himself and he did not and instead screamed the last minute of the performance, a minute being a very long time under such circumstances. This is the kind of bizarre scenario that people mean when they say, You can't make this shit up or It's a small world after all. The other students gazed in a state of shock and/or awe and wondered if they were witnessing genius or lunacy. Most of the others in the class had chosen to work in groups for the final, dancing to painful medleys off of tapes like The Best of Kenny G! I had signed up for the modern dance class because it would fulfill my physical education requirement (we had four), and I thought it might be fun in that Martha Graham/Twyla Tharp sort of way. As they say, it's a free country and my rapist must have thought the same thing.

Said rapist was an ex-boyfriend of mine who had broken into my parents' house with my one pair of pantyhose over his head, fed our German Shephard a Gainsburger to ensure her silence, stole some electrical tape out of my dad's garage and attacked me as I stepped out of the bathroom after taking a shower. I did not know it was him until it was over, and he pulled the electrical tape off my mouth. That, oddly, was the thing that hurt the most. I could feel the tape for years. Nobody knew what happened, and we had many of the same friends, so I was, upon occassion, in his company by chance. The strange thing about the attack was that I didn't fear him but I began to fear everything else. When something traumatic happens to you, you may understand it, but your body never does. The chemicals change as a result of shock. So there I was in class, surrounded mostly by women and the one asswipe on the dance floor, twirling like a dervish to portray his death as a dolphin. You cannot make this shit up. I clapped at the end like everyone else, not because I had enjoyed it, but because it was over.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"It is when power is wedded to chronic fear that it becomes formidable." Eric Hoffer

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Turn Out the Stars Bill Evans

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Roll Over and Play Dead

On my seventeenth birthday, my former preacher's son, little Buddy, showed up drunk out of his mind on cheap vodka with a copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club for me. I took the tape from Little Buddy (what we called him to distinguish him from his father, Brother Buddy) and set him down at a table where my then boyfriend's very liberal mother was giving us all wine coolers. Little Buddy already had an alcohol level that would rival Robert Downey Jr. but he took a margarita-flavored Bartles and James and went to town. A few minutes later, he was urinating with the door open in the main bathroom, a bad sign early in any evening. As a group, we decided to take him away from the booze so we put him in the car where he puked out the window every few minutes. Who says drinking isn't romantic? This was a boy who a mere few years before had debated me in a ULS competition about whether alcohol should be advertised on television and came up with the most gruesome pictures of victims of cyrohsis of the liver. With the fevor only seen in his dad's dull but heartfelt and earnest sermons, he told us that these pictures should be on every bottle of alcohol. Perhaps, I thought now, a picture of Little Buddy vomiting in the breeze would do.

We took him to the wife of the town alcoholic for strategies to sober him up -- she did all the traditional stuff, bread and water, coffee. But she'd been married to a drunk for so long that she knew there wasn't much to do except let him sleep it off. He should roll over and play dead, she said in a flat voice. That meant we'd have to take him home drunk. All of us were afraid of Brother Buddy. He had that creepy inbred way of small town preachers, that fire from the hills, and he'd been a big boozer in his day and had no use for the weakness of the bottle now. Our plan was to sneak Little Buddy inside and run. No such luck. Brother Buddy stood on the porch, lights blazing, waiting for his son's return. We told him Buddy had shown up to us that way, and we didn't give him anything, which was true, save for one lousy wine cooler. Little Buddy tried to hug me goodnight, but Brother Buddy ordered him inside where he promptly vomited all over the entry to the house. I hope you like the music, Little Buddy yelled. I was glad to see he wasn't playing dead yet like our friend's mother suggested. There'd be plenty of time for that later when everything was out of his system.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Any minute now, something will happen." Raymond Carver, "Drinking While Driving"

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Deconstructing Harry

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Monday!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Don't Sugarcoat It For Me!

One of my friends went on a date with a psychologist who treated the morbidly obese, some of whom were bedridden, many on their way to the bed on a rascal device (ie, a motorized scooter), those considering gastric bypass, and so on. It's about choices, the psychologist said. You have to make them see how they have created themselves and have the power to undo it. No surprise, the psychologist was a tiny little dude who picked at his entree, a vegetable medley livened up by tofu. And I also treat their families, he continued. It's our job to adapt to them, not the other way around. My friend did not share this view -- You mean if someone eats themselves into a stupor and has to wash themselves with a rag on a stick, we have to accomodate them? He speared a piece of tofu and said, Yes. Anything less is unfair and unkind. You won't be surprised when I tell you this was their one and only date.

So it was presented to me in the after date dissection, a dating ritual even more important than the date itself. If the date was another night in suck city, the date dissection becomes a date autopsy -- why did the the potential love die on the vine? For Mr. Tiny Dude and my friend, the answer was easy -- they didn't agree on the question of personal responsibility. My friend, a tough customer under the best of circumstances, said she didn't want some tofu-eating babyman who coddled fatties for a living. Don't sugarcoat it for me, I said, and laughed. It's all about choices, she said. But love is not a choice and nobody has to accomodate it. You won't get more room on the plane or an extra helping of dessert. In fact, you may lose your appetite altogether, and you won't mind a bit.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Why was I born handsome instead of rich?" Ralphie on The Sopranos

Cocktail Hour

White Christmas

1 glass of champagne
1 splash of cognac
1 sugarcube

Serve chilled with a strawberry garnish.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Sunday! Dear readers, thank you for all the comments. Keep your heads up in the Christmas rush!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Up Against The Wall

I've often debated the benefits of therapy with friends, sometimes for, mostly against, but as the saying goes, there are no aetheists in foxholes, and when my back is against the wall, I often suggest it to people in pain, not because I think it will help, only because I hope it will, much the same way a non-religious person prays -- with desperation and little to no faith. I once turned to a counselling center for a particular issue (I was getting to where I didn't want to leave my apartment which seemed a little too Howard Hughes for my taste, and I could fast-forward to the day where I'd be draping Kleenex over every available surface and letting myself go, as in go slowly or even worse, quickly mad) and had to take a test to see how crazy I was. The test consisted of hundreds of questions, and even I in my agitated, broken state knew how to answer, questions like Do you see your face on national magazines? Unless you're Cindy Crawford, I assume you're sane if you check no.

I'm a therapist's nightmare; this much I know. Like my worst students, I radiate the aura of not wanting to be there, looking around for the exit like someone in the grip of the delirium tremens. Like many writers, I'm afraid to analyze the source of my material for fear of "ruining" it. I had a moment of true panic when I read Jane Smiley, author of the brilliant book A Thousand Acres, write in Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Novel, that after she rid her life of conflict, she found herself unable to write. Smiley said she protected herself from this fate in many ways -- no drinking, no drugs, no crazy ego -- and still. As for me, I've never had much luck with ridding my life of conflict or much of the other stuff, so I guess I don't have to be nervous. As for me, I got over my trauma without too many visits. For me, it was a mercy that almost all insurance eventually runs out, and you're left on your own to cast your bread upon the waters, wander the desert, or leave your apartment, your head down braced against what might happen next.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I've been in psychotherapy for fifteen years. If it doesn't work by next year, I'm going to Lourdes." Woody Allen

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: The Thin Man

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Saturday!

Friday, December 08, 2006

We Are All Connected By Pain

One of my friends used to date a poet named Mike who when not stunning his system senseless with boilermakers, wrote some great essays about when he first started to drink like he meant it (age 12) and some odd abstract poetry, most of which dealt with getting eaten alive by women (lots of fish imagery was employed to this end) or about devoting himself to the writing life, which he compared to a sect of medieval monks who beat themselves with little sticks and whatnot to remember Christ, not in that bullshit go to church once a week way, he said, but really remember. By Boilermaker Two, he'd really warm his hands to this idea. I wish I could be one of those fucking monks, man. They knew what was what. Boilermaker Three: I need one of those sticks with thorns on it. We are all connected by pain. That's the only way we know someone. If they leave you and you still feel pain, you will always be connected. Like so much in life, I couldn't tell if what he said was genius or booze-fueled crazy, but I listened and liked the sound of it. I'd be hard-pressed when he asked if he could mail-order a stick with which to beat himself. When I said I didn't think monks did that anymore, he'd turn foul. Of course they do, Michelle. What do you think they do all day? I didn't want to fight with someone so impassioned, so I dropped it. I didn't point out that Trappist monks spent a fair bit of their time making beer and cheese, and I'm sure God liked that as much as the hairshirt behavior.

My friend and Mike broke up -- their relationship had been doomed from its conception given the dramatic difference in expectations. She hadn't expected so much gloom and so many boilermakers; he had wanted someone fun, he said, weird considering his fixation on the masochistic monks. If all this wasn't enough, they went to see Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives together, their last date. It's one of my favorite Woody Allen films, but it's not ideal for a romantic evening out. It's all about the deep horrors of certain marriages, and its one of the last vehicles for Mia Farrow, Woody's extremely estranged ex-wife. Woody and Mia said awful things to one another in the film, things that must have been straight from the last days of their torture rack relationship. Maybe Mike was onto something with that connected by pain thing. At any rate, nobody needed to get a little stick to inflict torment on themselves. Words work just as well.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I’ll play it now and tell you what it is later." Miles Davis

Cocktail Hour

Sicilian Kiss

1/2 Amaretto
1/2 Southern Comfort

Serve chilled in a martini glass.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Gary Indiana Is Beautiful At Night

I'm drawn to stories of violent self-transformation, the kind of thing that makes you both cringe and admire in the same breath, but I'm even more drawn to stories about people who cannot escape themselves, the ones whose identities are set early and morph as they may over time, never really change. This thought came to mind the other day as I was listening to the Jackson Five singing "Merry Christmas, Baby," Michael's voice the truest in every sense, more adult than an adult, more child than any child, and I could see his dismal future forecast over time, the heart-wrenching abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, his adoration by white people whom he did not threaten, the betrayal he experienced at those same hands, the probably all true accusations about the ill-conceived Neverland and his special friends, and finally his self-imposed exile. I suppose these thoughts seem grim with given the happy nature of the song, but the song itself is sad, holiday wishes from an insular family with a tyrant at the helm, and I liked the song more for its depth and did not change the channel as I am wont to do with Christmas music, except for any Karen Carpenter Christmas tune (same reason), and "Feed the World." (I cannot help it; I am a child of the eighties as much as it pains me to admit this fact.)

Of course, the nature of hell is to perpetuate itself, to keep you drawn in and reciting the same script, each act played out with the talent of a high school drama club, but alas played out all the same. Once I was considering something stupid (ha -- I could start every story with that line), and my friend Hank asked me if I really enjoyed being a cliche or did I think I could surprise myself with something else. I'd already experienced a fair degree of shame over the thought and now I was also a cliche?! If nothing else, this snapped me back into what I considered a more prudent course of action. I once saw a tape of Michael Jackson rehearsing as a young boy -- he looked like and had the moves of Al Green. In the background, his father was screaming at him to do it one more time, to get it right. I suppose, that, like most nights, was a long one.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"This is hell,/ but I planned it, I sawed it,/ I nailed it, and I/ will live in it until it kills me." Alan Dugan, "Love Song: I and Thou"

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Shinebox The Gourds

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy snowy Thursday!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

How To Sleep Alone

When I was newly single, my dear friend Shawn and I went to play Putt Putt golf on one very hot Texas afternoon. I'd only played once before and never since and my score was not good, so not good that I made Shawn promise to take the number to his grave. He promptly threatened to tell everyone because he is a writer and that's how writers are. I am as guilty as anyone else and consider myself coming from a long tradition of charming blabbermouths -- according to the one of the few biographical materials available on Raymond Carver, he was known to repeat everything, not in a malicious way, mind you. Let's face it -- it's hard to resist a good story. And as Oscar Wilde once said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Still, I want my Putt Putt score kept private.

Shawn and I had many good laughs in those days about my new free state -- we once saw a book for children titled, How To Sleep Alone. In it, it had bedtime rituals for those children transitioning out of the family bed into a bed for one, presumably just in time for the parents to resume their severely truncated sex life and give little Skippy a brother or sister, and the child received a gold star for every night he or she successfully slept without anyone else. Shawn joked that he should buy the book for me. I would have done well with the gold stars -- I responded to that sort of system for years, being a good girl at heart or at least so afraid of being bad that I couldn't bring myself to do anything but. Years passed, things changed or the years changed me. I wrote a story about not being able to sleep alone, a story in which the narrator who might resemble me a tiny little bit puts herself in a lot of danger and misery because of this fact. Maybe she just needed the right book.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Most people go through life dreading they'll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They've already passed their test in life. They're aristocrats." Diane Arbus

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Kinsey

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Birthday to my dear friend Shawn! All love to Bamms from your eternal Pebbles!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Drinking Cocktails With Lee Krasner

For Christmas one year, my friend Angela gave me a container of Chinese fortune sticks, billed as "The Oldest Known Method of Fortune Telling in the World." The sticks resemble skinny blood-stained tongue decompressors with writing on them. Most of the fortunes range from mildly ominous to downright awful. Every now and again, a good one pops out of the can like today: "A friend has traveled far and from this you will both benefit." It's better than yesterday's: "Someone you trust is a secret enemy." The sticks are For Ages 8 and Up, the kind of toy that I'd put in the category of my favorite children's books like one about Jackson Pollock that has illustrations of a very pissed off looking Pollock painting, drinking cocktails with Lee Krasner, and disturbing people with his work. The language is hysterical -- Some people may feel upset! It's not exactly Hop On Pop, thank God. And it also reminds me of my other favorite, a book for second graders on the Kennedy assassination that teaches kids to sound out conspiracy. It's objects like these that give me faith in the future.

And, of course, the fortune telling sticks are a nod to that vast expanse ahead of us that we cannot know except in hints from the next world. I took a meditation class once, the point of it being that we stay in the present moment and send loving thoughts to ourself and others. This was a while ago, and I couldn't focus on the present at all. I kept thinking about what I was going to do that night which was going out for drinks with friends and what I might order -- I had a propensity for screwdrivers in those days, before my stomach ulcer made orange juice verbotten. Then the teacher said, Take those loving thoughts and focus them on someone you really hate. This is an advanced form of yoga meditation, she told us, something that would help heal the world. I forget the name for this, but I tried it. Weirdly, it was easier to conjure up these feelings than the vague loving sentiments for people for which I already felt fondness. That was the only class in meditation I ever took, but I think about it sometimes, my mind as scrambled as any Pollock painting, wishing for the end of the day where we'd go out for drinks with Lee Krasner, the future and the past bleeding together, the way it is and always will be.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Men do not mirror themselves in running water, they mirror themselves in still water. Only what is still can still the stillness of other things." Chuang Tzu

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Songs for Lovers Chet Baker

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, December 04, 2006

No Hell So Awful As A Self-Inflicted One

Downstairs in my kitchen I have a fake snake in a fake crystal punch bowl full of water. The punch bowl, recently washed, had held a vat of champagne punch, a deceptive concoction that tastes like heaven itself. Most punch falls under the nasty concoction category -- the kind of gross ice-cream laden crap that gets trotted out for weddings and whatnot, that nobody wants to drink until that one wily relative spikes it with so much alcohol that taste is beside the pont. Not so with this ambrosia -- you drink and drink and never think anything is happening, so much so that the hangover is demonic. Alas, no hell so awful as a self-inflicted one! My snake's directions tell me that if I set it in water for 96 hours, it will grow to 600 times its size. Mr. Fake Snake has the markings of a coral snake, a beautiful and deadly creature. Coral snakes don't have a rattle to scare you; they don't smell like rotting flesh to warn you. Mr. Fake Snake is even worse -- there's not any movement except for its slow water absorbtion. Like a corpse, he will move when you don't expect it.

I once read years ago that you're young when you expect surprises to be good ones, old when you expect them to be bad. Sad to say, I transitioned into old, there was some turning that I can't pinpoint, some moment when I became full of dread rather than hope. I trace the seed of this feeling back to my deep hatred of new year's eve. By the time December rolls around, I feel comfortable in the old year, I have reconciled my mind to it. I do not want a new year! I do not want to write a different date on checks, do not want to leave what I have grown to love or at least just be friends with to use the expression that men all over the world despise -- Let's just be friends, or I value our friendship too much to ruin it with a romance. But so it goes. The year and the surprises keep coming, whether I like it or not. Even though I greet them with a face that resembles the famous picture of J.D. Salinger (his I just want to be left alone shot after Franny and Zooey fame), I have to say that many of them are good. If not, I have a snake downstairs to ward off any harm. He lives in a punch bowl, and he grows every day, so much so that there won't be room for anything else, and I will take him out and see what uses I can find for him. People are always telling me I need a pet.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Do you know what I was smiling at? You wrote down that you were a writer by profession. It sounded to me like the loveliest euphemism I had ever heard. When was writing ever your profession? It's never been anything but your religion." J.D. Salinger

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: The Best of Leadbelly

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Monday to all! If you missed yesterday's post, check out my dear friend Hank's YouTube appearance under this section on Sunday.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

One Visit Will Convince You

After my dad died, I spent an enormous amount of time glued in front of the television watching Six Feet Under. I had to teach, of course, and keep up a minimum of personal hygiene, had to move into a new place (I'd signed a lease the day before he died), and deal with the endless stream of paperwork and new duties relating to his death, but when I remember that time, I remember being cold and tired and watching Six Feet Under, the great HBO show about a family that runs a mortuary. I could relate to lots of characters on the show -- David, an uptight gay man, the son who stays and takes on a family duty to the business that he doesn't entirely love, Claire, the youngest, an artist in training, Brenda, the love interest for the oldest son Nate, a sex/drug addicted headcase with an IQ out the roof, and her brother Billy, my favorite character, another artist with lots of issues. I'd watch the show and feel, if not better, than less bad. I wasn't expected to smile or enjoy myself -- the show, while being very funny, didn't sugarcoat misery and for that, I was grateful. Perhaps one of the insult to injury parts of having something bad happen to you is the duty you feel to assure everyone that everything is okay, that you're okay, and that everything will be fine.

The show ended, of course, as a show about death pretty much has to, with a death of a main character and the deaths of all the characters projected into the future. By the time it did, I was through the worst of the initial dark period of my own grief. When I see reruns now, I think about that time and sometimes I even miss it. When the worst of anything is over, you're left with the dull pain of ordinary time, the deep ruts of despair that replace raw shock. Once I passed a psychic's house with a neon sign that said, One Visit Will Convince You. Of what, who knew? Sometimes the here and now is as much as you can understand, sometimes not even that.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Through intense desire, I wander through samsara." Tibetan Book of the Dead

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Prime

Benedictions and Maledicitons

Special thanks to Hank's beautiful mother, Donna B., for writing me about this brief clip of Hank on YouTube. Nobody adored technology like Hank did -- I know he'd be thrilled!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Nothing Bad Happens In This Story

One particularly painful (not that there are a lot of ha ha moments in the entire book) of John Cheever's published journals starts: The gin bottle. The gin bottle. This is too painful to record. And yet he does. The book is a trainwreck, an early literary version of Breaking Bonaduce except with an articulate, almost always financially strapped writer of short stories instead of a highly paid former child actor at the helm, giving us a guided tour of his hell. Cheever's oldest son wrote the forward for the book -- he discusses the decision to publish these extraordinarly personal papers, a decision his father agreed with (with the condition that they appear only after his death), and how it wasn't exactly a trip to the shore to see his father's love affairs with the mulititudes played out, his rather unflattering view of his wife, and the deep desolation that haunted him, in large part due to drinking and trying not to drink. Many of the passages are comi-tragic -- ie, I tried to hold off drinking and made it (a victory) until eleven! (that's eleven in the morning). He had a leg up on his fellow writer James Dickey -- Dickey's biographer recounts that Dickey and his wife were often too drunk to take the children to school in the morning as their habit was to start in with the booze at six or seven, a cocktail with which to greet the sunrise.

And so the pages go, many moments of sadness and isolation, the lies that coil in one's heart, all recorded and published, confirming for me that we no more pick our subjects than we do our eye color. For years, I was told to lighten up with my subject matter, to be happier on the page. My dear friend and hairdresser Stacey can confirm that my hair will not under any condition turn blonde without severe damage (we tried to do a face frame with two blonde streaks -- I loved them, but alas they did not love me) and so it goes for the writing life. Cheever claims that writing is a dangerous business, and I am inclined to agree: you are awake which is neither good nor bad, only painful and joyful. My mother once picked up a hitchhiker that she thought was crippled, but when he got into the car, she realized his crutches were a prop and that he could walk. Nothing bad happens in this story. She drove him to where he needed to go, and he got out and resumed the pretense with the crutches. Sinister as he appeared with a black trench coat and a fake ailment perhaps the reality was more innocent; he was a broken man and wanted to warn people.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Absolute candor does not suit me, but I will come as close as possible to describing this chain of events." John Cheever

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Saturday!