Thursday, August 31, 2006

Live Snakes, Next Exit

I have been to the snake farm once, years ago with my mother after she got out of the hospital for an extensive operation to remove a large nest of malignant tumors. Dust had settled on everything in the shop -- the stuffed snakes, the rattlesnake jewelry, the tanks -- so much so that I couldn't tell what was living and what was dead. Upon seeing my fear, the owner saddled up to me and said, Darling, you got nothing to worry about. The only living snakes you can't see are in those boxes over there. The boxes sat in the corner with a big rock anchoring them down, caution! written across the front of the old cardboard. Mesmerized by the slight motion of the boxes, I nearly pissed myself when a kitten ran across my foot. Also charming: underneath a tank of copperheads by the cash register, two potbellied pigs slept side by side in a box, oblivious to the fact that they would soon be dead, which is probably a good way to be. You, of course, are free to believe anything you want. The owner, a big old boy named Garland, also showed off a snakeskin used on "The X-Files." It's a beaut, he said. I had to sew three skins together. The thing took up half a wall.

Another time, an ex-boyfriend of mine went to the snake farm in the winter and sat on a bunch of crates and talked to the owner for a solid half hour before asking, So where are the rattlesnakes? Well, you guessed it, they were hybernating in the very crates that he was sitting on. I do not know which is worse -- the sound of the rattles or the hybernating menace right under you, silent and waiting for the spring.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Are you happy, Ari, or is this madness that is going to turn on me in a moment?" Lloyd on Entourage

Cocktail Hour

Make traditional vodka martinis and garnish them with olives stuffed with sardines. (You can buy these olives pre-made.)

Benedictions and Maledictions

For Jason -- to make your Halloween better, you need to spread it out over a few days -- a Halloween week as it were so there isn't so much pressure on the day. Each day should have a Halloween activity -- haunted houses, gorging on candy, dressing up, having a party, etc. I will include specific ideas all during the month of October. The idea is to have sort of a rolling party so that expectation stays low, but you're always doing something fun.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

No Way Out

One of the most disturbing weddings I ever attended had the names of me and my most recent ex everywhere -- the matchbooks, napkins, balloons, posters. This coincidence, the bride and groom having identical names of me and my ex right down to the spelling, gave me pause. I couldn't turn around with seeing something marked. I went to this horrid event because one of my closest friends was the maid of honor -- I had only a fleeting acquaintance with the bride and virtually none with the groom, a man loathed by all at the wedding, except the bride. The affair, an expensive one at a huge hotel, included the standard horrible rendition of a Disney song during the wedding, sung so poorly it was my first smile of the evening. From that point on, I determined that this was comedy, not tragedy, and should be treated as such. It was hard to remember that, though, when I heard "The Wind Beneath My Wings" for the fifth time at the reception. Some sufferings are just too much -- I would have settled for a good Doobie Brothers cover band after the third time.

I sat next to the maid of honor's boyfriend, who I was supposed to keep company, and made sarcastic remarks to entertain myself. I had a boyfriend at the time who had his monthly National Guard weekend during the blessed event and did I envy him his excuse. He was a sweet man who claimed he'd rather be with me than go play soldier, and I almost couldn't recognize him in his army fatigues when he left for these weekends, the transformation was so complete. The bride, an unpleasant unattractive woman with a laugh that sounded like a cackle, was determined to make this fairy tale day the best one of her life. She'd just recovered from her third abortion (the husband found out and cried himself sick the day John Candy died -- the events were forever locked in his mind) and had stopped sleeping with all her exes in anticipation of her rebirth as a wife. Michelle the Bride had so much make-up on that she looked every bit the drag queen as she came down the aisle and she spent a lot of time at the reception telling everyone how she was going to fuck her new beloved in the limo even though she was staying at the hotel she'd had her wedding in, just like in a popular movie of the time, No Way Out, which starred Sean Young and Kevin Costner in a very hot sex scene that I in no way, shape, or form wanted to imagine the newlyweds reenacting. This, Michelle the Bride said, is the happiest fucking day of my fucking life at the end of the night in the bridal suite where she would start her time as a wife. Things are going to be different, she said. I'm different. One of the bridesmaids had turned on the television, and I kid you not, Uncle Buck starring John Candy was playing. I turned the channel and there was Only the Lonely, another John Candy vehicle. So much for the new life.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I looked at him and he looked at me and we both wondered how something so ugly and sad could happen between two people who never argued except over the use of the subjunctive." Mrs. Harris

Cocktail Hour

Wedding Bells

1 glass of champagne
1 splash of peach schnapps
1 splash of orange juice

Serve chilled and garnish with a cherry.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Conscious Pain and Suffering

A man with no legs gave me and my sister
a hundred dollars when my dad crashed
a plane into a power line. I watched him
ride around the neighborhood, his wheel-
chair so silent that you didn’t know where
he was going until he arrived. Sometimes he’d
do a black panther salute to the Texas sun, a
Vietnam Veteran ball cap to protect his head.
It’s not like you’d imagine. He didn’t lose
his legs during the war. A doctor amputated
his good leg, still having to take the one gone
to diabetes. A week before my father died,
the man’s wheelchair slid into a ditch where
he remained for over an hour. I wasn’t there,
but I can still see my dad pulling a big man out
of a hole, before the heat became too much to bear,
knowing there would be even hotter days ahead.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How Long Things Last

I once helped on a Humanity for Habitat build. If you read that sentence, you might imagine that I'm a charitable type person who spends a lot of time and energy helping those less fortunate. Wrong, bat breath, as my father used to say. The reason I was there on that fateful Saturday morning was that my friend Angela (a chapter director for said organization) rousted my comfortably sleeping self from her guest bedroom one Saturday morning when I was visiting. As I saw my time in the guest bedroom rapidly coming to a sad end, I dressed and got ready to go. Since I don't have any practical skills and couldn't so much as build a nest for Snoopy's little friend Woodstock, I would move rocks to help get the foundation clear. Mindless tedious work has never bothered me; in fact, I thrive on it which helps me a great deal as a writer. What did worry me was that the building site had dislodged a nest of rattlesnakes. I kept a wary eye peeled for those bad boys. Even though I was introduced as Angela's "best friend from Detroit" (a place Texans associate with crime and biting cold), I didn't fall into the Christian volunteer group. I spent my time with the community service volunteers (after all, I was in the same boat -- it wasn't as if I was there of my own free will).

As much as I had resisted the morning's work, I found I enjoyed it. I learned how to use a power saw (a very kind man taught me) and found a love for power tools, depsite the looks of fear in everyone's eyes. I heard stories that could have come out of those wretched Chicken Soup for the Soul books -- the worst was one about a suicidal nitwit who shot himself in the head, blinded himself and now went around telling people how he could see more blind with his heart than the ever did with his eyes. Yikes! But we left around lunch time, and I was thrilled to see part of the house built -- my work seldom gives me any kind of instant gratification. After all, I had worked with my hands, avoided snakes, and made some new friends who had just narrowly avoided prison (now there was a story of faith I could get behind!). I looked at the booklet for the maintenance of the new place -- How Long Things Last and wondered if I would ever need such information. Ang and I went to lunch and had beautiful jewel-like margaritas, and I felt like Jimmy Carter, Habitat's most famous volunteer. When I was a child, I'd watch Jimmy on our old television. The tint of the screen was green and Jimmy never appeared much more than a shadow, but I loved his comforting voice. He was a man who tried to do good, and he didn't have to shoot himself in the head to get to that point. There might be hope for me yet.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I'm a radical feminist, not the fun kind." Andrea Dworkin

Drinking Movie Suggestion: The Deer Hunter

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Poetrylist:


Not knowing I was pregnant, I took
a drink before my friend’s funeral,
two in fact, without food, a medicine
for the soul. Sometimes I wish
I were drunk all the time, truth bubbling
to the surface and evaporating before you
can feel it, like the type of love that leaves
you giddy while it last. The church bled
flowers, and I didn’t bleed anything. I
can tell you this -- I have taken in too
many things that I shouldn’t and nothing
lasts long enough except the wounds
that keep reopening no matter how
careful I am which is not very ever.

Monday, August 28, 2006

In Texas, You're On Your Own

On long car rides, my sister Beth would suck her finger for a long time and then take it out of her mouth and try to put it on me. I had never sucked my finger (a child of the binky (pacifier) method, it had been some painful days for my parents when I either a) lost my favorite binky and b) had to give up my binky for good so they never used one for Beth) and subsequently I suffered in horror of what I referred to as the "grody finger." My dad found the entire thing comical, my mother told us to shut-up if we didn't want to get it when we got home and tried to engage us in a thrilling game of "who can be quiet the longest." There was no prize for winning so it didn't last long. The grody finger resumed its evil course toward my body.

We'd get in the car often just to drive around -- it was a way of getting out of the house and seeing things like possums crossing the road or armordillos (these animals were usually splattered on the side of the road because they were slow and carriers of leprosy so people didn't mind hitting them). My mother would stop the car to catch the random tarantuala with the pickle jars she kept in the truck for just such a use. I would both dread and love these rides through the dark Texas night -- if I close my eyes, they seem to be both happening right now and a dream. Sometimes it was so dark that you couldn't see anything except the headlights coming toward you.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"What I know is Texas. In Texas, you're on your own."

Drinking movie suggestion: Blood Simple

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Birthday to my wonderful sister, Beth!

Happy Birthday to Beth!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Sound of Your Own Voice

The difference between perception and reality may never be so great as when one is watching karaoke. This sad sadistic art form came about during my life, although I am relieved to say that I made it through my painful high school years without hearing so much as a word about it. I come to this with a severe disadvantage, of course, being that I have a horrible voice, singing (especially) and speaking, and hearing myself recorded pains me. Nobody, I suppose, likes the sound of their own voice, save for a few of my exes -- kidding! For the most part, life has been good in this respect -- I have watched karoake with varying degrees of wonder and horror -- the best was an eastern european man who dressed in a white suit and did a great Sinatra, down to the gestures and facial tics. He performed six of Old Blue Eye's best before giving up the stage. There's not much to say about the worst -- you can imagine it and like the old detective writer says about the worst, it's far darker than you can imagine and someone is always willing to give you money for it.

Karoake, much like Halloween, is a chance to be a different more thrilling self which explains why people flip through the thick songbooks of possibilities with the intensity most often seen while taking an SAT or GRE. I overheard a girl once say, It has to be perfect for me. Huh? It seems an unlikely venue for perfection -- an indifferent crowd, lyrics streaming in front of you on a prompter, the cheesy backdrop music. I understood, though, that this was a defining moment, late in the evening. The person who might do Joplin's "Ball and Chain" was a considerably different girl than one who might sing Madonna's "Lucky Star." I've been asked to do karoake once years ago-- by the wife of someone who was trying to get me to consider an affair. She had a determined way and kept battering me and a couple other people to back her up on the Stones' "Ruby Tuesday." Did she know the secret desires of her husband's heart? I felt pressured, given it was late in the evening, I was into my cups, but not far enough, and knew all the words to that particular song. Who doesn't? I got up on stage and sang as loud as I could. Afterward she said, You might be pretty, but you sing for shit. People agreed after that I should be a tambourine girl should I ever decide to take the stage again.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Then my friend offered me a drink for us to share /And that was all that I needed." The White Stripes


1 glass of champagne
2 ounces of cranberry juice

Serve chilled, garnished with a slice of lemon.

Benedictions and Maledictions

In answer to Trouble Man about where to take dates in Detroit:

I'd say that there are lots of good restaurants -- Mosaic (for atmosphere -- very Sex and the City with a beautiful bar), any of the Greek restaurants in Greektown, Spago (in Windsor) for Italian food and great service to start. I'll add to this list every week until I exhaust all the possibilities. Also, I'll write an entry on date ideas. Anyone who has a start to this, please feel free to comment. Jason, I'm dwelling on your Halloween curse. I'm going to figure out a way for you to have better Halloweens as this is a serious issue.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Men Act and Women Appear

I once attended a Halloween party where a beautiful young girl was dressed as Jackie Kennedy on that fateful day in Dallas, pink suit, pillbox hat, blood-spattered clothes, fake brain around her neck with a string. We were close to Dallas at the time, a place that has never really washed the stigma of Oswald off itself entirely, and I wondered what her story could possibly be. She had a much older man at her side, and it was clear they were in a fight, the kind of tense party truce where couples aren't getting along, but they've already accepted an invitation and feel stuck, with the party, with each other, with life itself. The girl became the opening image for one of my stories -- I tried to imagine her relationship with the date and the worst possible ending for both of them, where you feel equal sympathy for both their positions, no easy task. I gave the man a dead wife and a beautiful teenage daughter; I gave her a haunted violent past that she chooses to reveal that night. The story turned out to be about ghosts, but of course, I didn't know that as I was writing it -- all I knew was that it was Halloween in Houston, Texas and the city would still be in a swamp-like heat wave and the decorations would act as props for their own melodrama.

Anyone who knows me knows my great love for Halloween. It's not something I can explain except to say that it's during my favorite season -- fall. And it's a day in which you are able to express parts of yourself that are usually buried. I have been all sorts of things for the great day -- as a child, I was a devil, a princess, Snow White. I have been a woodland spirit, a Playboy bunny, and Medusa. My mother used to ask me a question every year before the day -- Do you want to be scary or pretty? It was years before I figured out I could be both.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"When women let their hair down, it means either sexiness or craziness or death, the three by Victorian times having become virtually synonymous. " Margaret Atwood

Beautiful Ghost

1 3/4 ounces of Vodka
5 ounces of orange juice
2/3 ounce of Galliano

Serve over crushed ice.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Men Act and Women Appear

I have asked you what you are thinking
and you say nothing. We are both sad
because that is true. Once upon a time
you'd make something up. Love bestows
newness, life takes it away. We become
more ourselves each passing year, lonelier,
less willing to change. What is there
to say? I don't need rescuing from myself
anymore. How does it feel to be out of work?

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Day We Called It A Night

One of the big challenges of growing up in a pit of hell like Mineral Wells, Texas was finding something to occupy the violet hours besides driving around the car wash for the hundredth time or spending copious amounts of time a the Dairy Queen. Dating in such limited circumstances proved to be a very circumscribed activity -- one was limited to a fancy dinner at K-Bobs, the one steakhouse in town (think Ponderosa quality) or to drive to a franchise restaurant in the neighboring city of Weatherford. My friends and I were always scheming to come up with something to do and new ways to fix people up. My friend Angela Dawn and I fancied ourselves pseudo-hippies, twenty years too late, and listened to my mother's Steppenwolf record a lot, especially the slow melodic ballads about the pusherman and loving odes to pot use.

Once we went so far as to turn off all the lights in my parents' house, light a ton of candles, put on the what we imagined was the most seductive Steppenwolf song in hopes of matchmaking for my friend and another mutual friend. We sat in another darkened room while the magic happened in the living room. It didn't. The victim of our fix-up fled into the night, after comparing the night to a live version of Fatal Attraction, a movie that had just come out and was attempting to scare people into monogamy. There's so many of those that try to convince us that our sorry lives are good -- at least Glenn Close isn't dressed all in white and calling my home, threatening to boil my bunny! I have it really really good! As my friend Hank was fond of saying, You keep telling yourself that, cowboy (he always used cowboy, even when the subject was a woman). We attempted to comfort our friend with the time-honored out -- it's him, not you. He was overwhelmed by his feelings (yeah, feelings of fear and terror), he'll come around. All around us, candles glowed, music played. We listened as John Kay implored the government not to step on the grass. We had pulled out all the stops! Maybe we could get him to Possum Kingdom Lake next week -- we had a lot more ideas to discuss before we gave up and called it a night.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Drink wine to remember, swill gin to forget and blame the world for the peace that you haven't found yet." John Kay, Steppenwolf

Drinking music suggestion for Friday: It's Martini Time! Reverend Horton Heat

Benedictions and Maledictions

Thanks to everyone for all the great recent comments! And I agree with all the flower stuff -- especially the idea of a wildflower arrangement. They're very long-lasting and beautiful, a rare combination if there ever was one.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Ceiling or the Floor

As a child, I had a terrible fear of being in an accident that would leave me paralyzed. I blame this fear in part on one of my favorite childhood books, Joni, by a woman who had been paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident. If you grew up in the seventies, you probably recall seeing her on one of the several morning news shows, drawing pictures of horses and other nature scenes with a pencil she held in her mouth. I loved the book for its searing honesty -- at nine years old, I saw it as a contemporary version of Job, which keeps getting rewritten these days in much weaker forms like Why Bad Things Happen to Good People (I've always wanted to do a version called -- Why Do Assholes Have All the Luck?). Joni explored the depths of human misery, the railing against God, the loneliness of affliction. I read it again and again in those days and took deep comfort from her musings on the Stryker frame, a device that sandwiches a patient so that the patient can't move -- you can either look at the ceiling or the floor when you're on it and nurses flip you every few hours to avoid bedsores.

I bought another copy a few years ago, interested in whether it would still hold sway over me. It did. Redemption and acceptance, the calling cards of change, came slowly for Joni, not that magical moment of big turnaround that people are always looking for, myself included. My favorite writing rejection of all time said, You are a good writer, but there is no redemption here. I've often thought I would love that for my epitaph. But I don't believe it. I think redemption happens all the time, in the least likely places. We're all on Stryker frames of some sort at times, feeling trapped and at the mercy of forces beyond our control. One of my favorite childhood games when I was alone was to pretend that I'd gotten on a swing and was paralyzed. I couldn't stop myself from going back and forth. But after a while, a doctor would arrive and say, There's been a miracle! You can walk again. I'd stop myself, hitting the ground with varying degrees of roughness, only to get on the swing and start everything over again.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"When the axe came to the forest the trees said the handle is one of us. " Alice Walker

Short Story Collection Suggestion: Trash by Dorothy Allison

Drink recipes will resume in time for the weekend!

Benedictions and Maledictions

First published in Staplegun


I don’t even like boobs, my friend’s boyfriend said to anyone
who would listen. “What a waste.” She wandered by
in her black push-up gown, not speaking as he poured
more Rum and Coke, more Rum than Coke. I thought
back to my mother’s friend who drank the same thing.
She’d sit in our kitchen for hours and once, looking at me
in my leotard before gymnastics practice, said, “You
have great legs. Too bad your top part doesn’t match.”
She let me sip some of her drink that night, but it
was so sweet that I couldn’t drink enough to enjoy it.
Nothing much changed over the years, but I know enough
to nod and smile when the boyfriend says, “You have
great legs. It’s like something you’d see in a magazine.”
I pretend like I’m drinking what he is, but he’s too drunk
to realize I’ve switched to something with bite, something
that tastes like it could really hurt you if you let it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Future's Uncertain and the End Is Always Near

When I was in high school, there was a weird little dude who used to get tanked up on nobody knows what and hit the Jack in the Box and the Sonic in various states of inebriation, stand on the tables, and yell, I am the fucking Lizard King. This sad homage to Jim Morrison would continue until one of the teenagers behind the counter called Johnny Law to take him out. The Lizard King of Mineral Wells was no Morrison -- instead of the leather pants, he had some ripped up Toughskins (harder to get the chicks with that look!) and a complexion that resembled the surface of the moon from a bad case of cystic acne. Sometimes he'd go shirtless, but it wasn't the real Lizard King's shirtless, it was more like I'm auditioning for an extra in the concentration camp scenes shirtless. I'd hang out at these places myself on weekend nights -- Sonic being the home of tater tots and all things good and holy and Jack in the Box was a place of intrigue ever since a high school girl shot another girl in the foot with her daddy's rifle in their bathroom. Such were the days of our lives.

I kind of wished the Lizard King wasn't so touched and could include some Morrison lyrics in his performance to make it a little zippier. Lots of kids in high school had the paperback that listed every Doors song and it was guarded with the kind of attention one might reserve for a first edition Blake or at least the good sex scenes in The Godfather. I never got into The Doors with the kind of love that I had for, say, Bobby Dylan or the Gap Band. There were songs, though, that worked in a hypnotic way and lyrics that you didn't have to have the book to know -- the future's uncertain and the end is always near. The valedictorian of our class quoted that at graduation which thrilled me a thousand times more than some inspirational card shit might. When the mysterious tarot reader in the picture approached me in a bar, I thought of the lyric and said, why not? He asked no questions, there was no small talk, save for asking my name. He read the cards in a lovely mild Russian accent, and I was floored at the accuracy. After the reading, my mind drifted back to those long ago days when "Twin Peaks" was on television. I felt as if I'd stepped into the show. Would the Lizard King appear, twenty years older, two thousand miles from my hometown? I was beginning to think he might.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Come away with me and we will live on a desert island, he said./ I said, I am a desert island." Margaret Atwood

Drinking Music Selection for the Day: Say It Live and Loud, Live In Dallas -- James Brown

Benedictions and Maledictions

In answer to Trouble Man's flower question:

First, I never think flowers are cliche. I love flowers and most (not all, but most) women I know do as well. Even if the woman you're sending them to doesn't love them, she'll appreciate the gesture and let you know what she prefers in the future. But for the sake of argument, let's say she loves flowers. What kind of flowers should you send? I'll say right off that there is no bad flower. I've never received an arrangement that I didn't love. But some people are pickier so you should try to cater the flowers to the woman's personality. Roses are beautiful (some of them don't last long) and classic -- red is the symbol of love. I adore roses given that they are also related to St. Theresa, the Little Flower, but some people might feel red roses are too intense early on so you might go with another color -- yellow for friendship, purple for love at first sight, salmon for respect, pink for infatuation. I'm also a fan of roses so red they look black -- this type is called Midnight Magic. If the woman in question is more unusual, you might go for another flower -- orchids are gorgeous (and expensive), a lily arrangement is beautiful and tends to last longer than other flowers, tulips are very spring-like and innocent, daisies are very youthful and lovely. Some people would say to stay clear of carnations (the "filler" flower) and mums (too funeral-like). I like both those flowers, but I see the sense of that advice. My feeling is that whatever you send will be happily received. I send my friends flowers for birthdays and sometimes just because if I know they like them, and they always seem to arrive when the person needs them the most. I credit St. Theresa for that phenomenon. If anybody wants to add more on this subject on the comment boards, please feel free!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

You've Come A Long Way Baby!

My ex-mother-in-law Joyce used to pose the spouses and significant others of her children on the outside of pictures so that if they got divorced, it would be easy to cut them out of group photographs. My friend Angela noticed this peculiar action when she went over there one day and saw that the framed pictures looked "strange." Her practice, one shared by Hitler and Stalin, didn't make much sense to me given that the you can't really ever change the past, to quote old Willy Faulkner, the past isn't ever gone no matter how many fricking exacto knives you employ. She'd sit at her table, drinking Diet Coke after Diet Coke (or so she said -- she had a huge gas station thermal mug and would exit with it to the closet to put God knows what in it) and return to smoke Virginia Slim after Virginia Slim -- You've Come A Long Way, Baby! -- and bitch about how awful her life was, how ungrateful her children were, and how her husband didn't love her anymore.

Midway into the rant, Joyce would threaten to get her gun and blow her fucking brains out, do you understand my pain, I want to die. Man, I understood and I wanted to run away. The sadness in the house radiated like a toothache, sometimes throbbing, sometimes mild, always there waiting to make you notice it. Her own mother had an innocent granny look, but I knew her to be evil as well. She did the opposite of the picture thing -- she had huge blown-up wedding pictures of her children and refused to take them down, even after nasty divorces. The wicked granny would say, You made a mistake, you old cow, and damned if I'm going to let you forget it. Nothing like a mother's love, right? I broke out into huge hives during each holiday, whether spent with Joyce or the granny and when she handed me a tooth fairy doll for whenever I had a child, I could feel the hives get more intense. The doll, hideous green-color, knitted to contain a child's tooth, went way under the bed where nobody would ever find it, not even a magical spirit that could take what you'd lost and replace it with gold.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"How many hearts have felt their world stand still?" Marvin Gaye, If I Should Die Tonight

Wake Up Little Suzy

2 ounces of vodka
a pinch of ginseng
1 ounce of lemon juice

Benedictions and Maledictions

Hope Chest for the Contemporary Single Girl

You start out hopeful, that's a given.
You dress better, say smarter things.
Hide the Prozac, the Paxil, the little
pills to take the edge off. You won't
be needing those little friends! Marvel
at how the dust on your computer sparkles.
How could you have missed this beauty?
You wait for those three words that will
change your everything, not "where's
the remote" or "get off me." The day
will come. Now someone else can plan
your elaborate yet tasteful funeral instead
of you dying alone eaten by your cats.
See -- everything does work out in the end!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Paris, Texas

Being a person who loves clothes and costumes as much as say crack addicts love crack, I can say that I hate mimes, particularly the violent Parisian variety with their disturbing outfits and evil ways. They rival clowns for sheer horror level. Who, I ask you, studies to be a mime? In my life, I'm fortunate not to see many of these types walking about, miming about time and mocking me. The closest I ever get is witnessing a fashion disaster or two, an unfortunate use of stripes (I like them okay, but I urge you, dear readers, to wear them sparingly now that they are back in style and never with a nautical theme less one invoke Shirley Temple's masterpiece "On the Good Ship Lolipop"), especially as visible long socks (God help us all) and people miming things in a cross between stage whisper and sign language when someone is in the room who isn't supposed to hear.

I have been mocked in a mime-like fashion recently at DFW Airport (a nightmare- sized place bigger than the entire island of Manhattan) by an extremely skinny deaf/mute girl with bright red braids framing both sides of her face. She made her companions laugh by imitating my movements, sticking her extremely flat ass out to imitate my, umm, not so flat one, throwing her braids back, and easing into her seat the way I do. My sister noticed it first, then I did and had to laugh. That little bitch had me down! What could I do? I pouted in my seat, wearing my new Hello Kitty t-shirt, and she imitated that too! She signed something to her friends, and I caught her eye. I gave her a death glare to end all death glares. She looked at me as if she'd just woken up and did not return my stare. That was the end of the show. Alas, there are some looks that scare even would-be mimes. She'd never make it in Paris.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"You can be up to your boobies in white satin, with gardenias in your hair and no sugar cane for miles, but you can still be working on a plantation. " Billie Holiday

Music for drinking: The Complete Billie Holiday box set (Verve Edition -- it's the most depressing)

Benedictions and Maledictions


So once again hope is marred.
You are not what you thought
you would be. I saw a man
take a cookie off a rattlesnake’s
head without harm. When he
dared to kiss it, the snake kissed
back. Risk is an emergency room
full of people with their hearts
in their hands, thinking they might
have been luckier this time.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

If She Wasn't My Mother's Favorite

My mother had a tarantula named Sophia that she kept in an old fish tank that had been decorated with a couple of geodes and had a screen over the top. The screen didn’t cover the entire top – there was a hole in the lefthand corner, right under one of the geodes. My mother assured me that there was no way in billy hell that Sophia could get out, but I knew otherwise. I’d watch Sophia for long minutes, her evil ways, and pray that she would stay put. My first paying job was to gather grasshoppers for Sophia to eat, a dime a piece, and I did so with great success for most of the year. Sophia, to her credit stayed in her grim tank for a long time, with occassional forays out onto my mother’s arm.

The day I had so long predicted came, though, and Sophia was nowhere to be found for three long days. It was during this time that I developed a love for high heels. At night, I imagined Sophia crawling all over my body before I woke up and screamed. But I found her hanging on my mother’s closet on the third day and went outside to tell the adults. My mother didn’t believe me because of my calm delivery of the news. I told her to go look and see for herself and got on my bike and rode off until I was sure Sophia would be back to her home. Did my mother now see the flaw in the screen given the recent events? No, she deemed it a fluke. The screen was fine. How many times could a spider make the great escape? I spent a long time looking at her once she was back, wondering where she’d gone that nobody would know about and did she like being so free? The other tarantulas in the house were in the freezer, waiting to be molded into decorations. I wanted to tell her it could be worse if she wasn't my mother's favorite.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"After the first death, there is no other." Dylan Thomas

Champagne Sangria

1/2 bottle of champagne
cut fruits (apples, oranges, cherries, etc) sitting in orange juice cut with water

Mix and serve chilled.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Sunday to all!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Why We Ask You Not To Touch

I once went to a museum devoted to shipwrecks. It was my first time to go Up North, something I didn't understand when I moved to Detroit as I thought Detroit was as far north as one could go. "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot played over and over (rock out!) while one toured the remains of ships that had died on the rocks. A sign read "Why We Ask You Not To Touch" and implored the visitors not to fondle the wreckage as over time it would break down because of the natural acids and oils on people's hands.

I didn't touch anything, although I wanted to after I read the sign. My eyes had started to weary of so much damage, and I couldn't wait to get going and eat some of that great Up North food. Okay, maybe not so much with the food. In truth, I couldn't take much more of the Edmund Fitzgerald song. My mother used to play Mr. Lightfoot all the time, especially "Sundown." It beat those nightmare afternoons of Buffy St. Marie albums, but didn't hold a candle to Simon and Garfunkel. I couldn't touch my mother's records either, but I listened to them when they came on, like magic for twenty minutes at a time before someone had to turn the thing over, replace the needle, and wait for everything to start up again.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"This wound, which has reopened, is still bleeding." Saint Padre Pio

Shipwreck Picnic

1 bottle of champagne
pate and crackers
chocolate-covered strawberries

Benedictions and Maledictions

Gurnee Days in Waukegan

There are always fireworks, that's
a given and the horrible night surrounds
us. It's summer, after all, and what's
all that heat without an explosion? In
the bar, people leaf through the karoake
selection book while the dj plays "Girls,
Girls, Girls," not Motley Crue's best,
but it will do in a pinch. Not everything
can be "Shout at the Devil." A man, looking
like a beat-up Greg Allman, takes the floor,
and sings a song to his very short girlfriend
who can't stand without a cane. The song
is about water, holy water, and how it heals,
and one is supposed to take it as a metaphor
for the healing power of love. Not everything
is lost on me! The drinks aren't great, but
they're drinks. One takes what one can get
and one smiles, takes a big sip, relaxes into
the booth before the next explosion outside.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Plants Do Amazing Things

First off, I would like to thank the wonderful Sparacino Ristorante 6966 W. North, Chicago, (773) 836-2089 for this shot. It's a beautiful place to eat and the food is amazing. Go there. Eat something. Do not skip dessert -- especially the molten chocolate lava cake.

When my friend Angela worked at the Four Seasons Hotel and Resort, Gary Bussey checked in one night. He asked for two rooms, one for him and one for his spirit (it was the anniversary of his motorcycle accident) and the rooms were to have tons and tons of plants in them so that he could breathe. Angela checked him in and he said, Speak up. You have one of those creepy museum voices and then started whispering like a maniac in imitation. Angela has a gorgeous voice, one that therapists and phone sex operators everywhere would kill for, but the whole incident made me laugh. Gary Bussey checked his room, said they were not enough plants and he couldn't breathe, did they understand the gravity of the situation?

I'm not much for plants to breathe or otherwise. Growing up in the seventies, one knows that you have to talk to plants as well as feed and water them to make them grow. Cut flowers, that's something I have energy for! I once saw a flower that smelled like rotting meat. The outside was beautiful, more beautiful than any flower I'd ever seen. The smell made you step back. I always thought of plants as static, but not anymore. One had amazed me. Maybe Gary was onto something.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I never have taken a picture I've intended. They're always better or worse." Diane Arbus

Michelle's Magic Mojito

2 shots of lemon rum
2 shots of tonic
1 dash of organic sugarcane

Serve over crushed ice.

Benedictions and Maledictions

In answer to Bonnie's question about what makes a great photograph -- Being a modern girl through and through, photography is my favorite visual art form. I dabble in it myself (I'm not very good), but I admire photographers. My friend Keith is an excellent one! And my favorite photographer of all time is Diane Arbus. She took pictures of nudist colonies, dwarfs, people in horrible and strange settings. As for what makes a photograph great, there are two things. First, I love the beautiful fashion photography -- the gorgeous images in magazines, the pictures of people that make you want to go out and buy clothes now! But more importantly, I love the picture that isn't necessarily flattering -- the picture that reveals something private and unexpected about the subject, that breaks open the eye. If anybody has ideas about this, please feel free to post on the comment board.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Men Don't Protect You Anymore

Years ago, I went to an art museum exhibit which contained a small room of Jenny Holzer installations, slogans written on marble benches and light displays that mimicked advertisements, disturbing thoughts like Murder Has Its Sexual Side and Men Don't Protect You Anymore. I was there with my then-boyfriend and a couple of our male friends -- all my friends were men in those days. The exhibit, titled Survival Series, kept me riveted for many minutes after the others had left. I can't remember their reactions to it but I'm sure they purported to like it. They were the kind of men who claimed to love women, to be feminists, to be evolved. I would find out in years to come (either the hard way through personal experience or through rumor and eventually prison sentence) that they all were the kind of men discussed in the exhibit -- sexually violent, cruel douchebags with whom one would do well to avoid having an Alan Alda film festival.

Didn't know that at the time, though, couldn't even imagine it although there were glimpses, mean practical jokes they played, strands of casual meanness in their conversations. What can I say? I lived in a town where a boy stabbed a cheerleader he had lusted over secretly almost fifty times. After leaving his room filled with slasher movie posters with knife cuts all over them and he broke into her bedroom and said, I love you , you bitch, I love you so much that I'm going to kill you. These guys, by comparsion, seemed all right. But the secret violence in the recesses of a heart that doesn't know itself can be pretty godawful. I stayed in that exhibit room for a long time --the rest of the museum which was for the most part western-themed didn't compel me. How could the wide open spaces of old west compared to a small dark room with brightly-lit slogans of pain forecasting the future?

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"With bleeding inside the head, there's a metallic taste in the back of the throat." Jenny Holzer

Bleeding Hearts

2 parts pink lemonade
1 part Barcardi limon
a dash of sugar
a splash of lemon

Serve chilled as a martini and a sugar rim.

Benedictions and Maledictions

To Hopeless in Bloomfield Hills -- First off, I agree with Robin -- keep your head up! No one judges a person more harshly than that person herself. I think it's important to keep perspective. You've been in this affair for three years -- one or two months of indecision about what to do is not going to make any difference in the scheme of things. You need to be as kind to yourself as possible, step back from the situation, and not get hysterical about it. That said, think of yourself as another person -- what would you tell her? Chances are that you're extremely attached to this man (no one continues doing the work of having an affair without being attached), and I'm sure he feels the same way about you. But realistically, what's the most likely outcome for the long-term? He doesn't want you to think about this because he's invested in the day to day status quo. If you do this, you might find yourself naturally drifting away from him in a more organic way than the cold turkey route. There's more than one way to make progress, no matter how you feel about the method. Please keep checking in -- we're all sending good thoughts your way!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Words of Christ in Red

When I was a wee one, I had a lovely babysitter named Betsy, a grandmotherly figure who watched me, my sister, and my friend Kurt on many Friday and Saturday nights. Our respective parents would drop us off for the night at Betsy's house, a falling down two bedroom on the other side of town next to the Church of the Nazarene. We'd all sit around and watch Dukes of Hazzard or Hee-Haw (Hee-Haw ran back to back with Lawrence Welk) and eat pancakes with Karo syrup for supper. Betsy could be persuaded at times to read us Bible stories out of the King James, not the kiddie Living Bible and we'd all have a good laugh over all the sex and violence in the Old Testament. We were less interested in the Words of Christ in Red portion of the New Testatment. It was, in a word, ideal.

No rose without thorn, however, as Schopenhauer might say and alas no Betsy without her touched grandson Leland, a true wonder to behold. He'd entered his teenage years and had become more and more frightening in his efforts to terrorize us kids. One night we were watching Lawrence Welk before dinner, and I kept calling him Dick Clark, which sent us into the predictable giggles. Kurt decided we should all give speeches before dinner on a makeshift podium that was a pink plastic flower suspended in water in a huge pickle jar. Betsy had these jars all over the house for decoration. After our speeches, Leland breezed into the tv room from God knows where and asked what we little fuckers were doing. We told him and he said, You want to see Dick Clark, here's Dick Clark and pulled down his pants. We ran to tell Betsy, he left the house in her old Pinto, and that night we sat down for our meal and thanked God for his many blessings. You have to forgive him, Betsy told us. He's not right in the head. Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do, I thought, and then I thought, that asshole knows exactly what he's doing. The night loomed ahead of us, nobody with a clue what surprise might happen next.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Gloom, despair and agony on me!/Deep dark depression, excessive misery!/If it weren't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all!/Gloom, despair and agony on me!" Hee-Haw chorus, sung by Buck Owens

After Hours

1 part raspberry vodka
1 part orange juice
champagne floater

Benedictions and Maledictions

In answer to Robin's question -- Gauguin did try to kill himself, but wasn't successful. He died a a long painful death due to syphyllis (good times!). I think artists and writers have a bent toward self-destruction because of a lot of factors -- brain chemistry, the difficulties of becoming successful, the difficulties of dealing with success once it's happened, and on and on. Also, there's always the fear of having nothing left to say. That's driven many to literal or slow suicide. Of course, I think that's also part of the romantic mythology of creation. There are many creative types who don't drink, drug, go crazy with love, or do anything destructive and work better for it. That said, I always think that art brings painful and exciting ideas and emotions close to the surface.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Untroubled Paradise

My mother's favorite painter was Paul Gauguin and those moody, strange tropical paradises hung in her bedroom, two framed posters that I bought for her birthday when I was a teenager, until she died. I didn't know anything about Paul Gaugin except that he was a genius and could paint one hell of a mango. When I got older, I learned his story, that he had left his wife, four children, and job as a banker for the South Pacific to live where he could "eat only fruit and fish for free." (The free part is how you know he was an artist even before he became successful.) He'd been a weekend painter before the move, his weekend painter friends being Van Gogh and Cezanne. In Tahiti, he took many girls to be his mistress and the most famous one that he painted over and over had a name that meant "untroubled paradise."

One cannot live in paradise, which I suppose is the point of it. His young mistress suffered night terrors and miscarriages and being infected with venereal disease by the great painter. The island was far away from everything he knew and so it became the thing he knew. My mother's bedroom became her sick room, became softer and softer to cushion the increasing difficulty of her life. There were tiny stuffed animals surrounding her television, prayer cards on the dresser, sweatshirts in the closet. It wasn't at all like her near the end, the her she had been. The most violent transformations can take place anywhere. But the Gauguin reproductions remained, a remnant of the old life, a paradise framed with bamboo. It wasn't untroubled, but something of it had lasted.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I shut my eyes in order to see. " Paul Gauguin

Untroubled Paradise

1 shot of mango vodka
1 shot of raspberry vodka
1 splash of raspberry liqueuer

Serve chilled in a martini glass.

Benedictions and Maledictions

The Heat Outside

At the baths in Hot Springs, a skinny woman
in a sheet tells me she passed out her mother’s face
on flyers, begging people to pray that she would live.
I made a thousand copies and stood on the corner
until they were gone.
We lay in on top of tables like corpses,
waiting for the hot towels, placed wherever we hurt.
The attendant gives us hot water to drink, and we
stomach what we can, hoping to make our insides match
the heat outside. Before long, we gather our things. The woman
asks me to hand her a huge black purse. I was tired
of not having enough room for all my garbage
, she says
with the saddest smile. It’s lighter than I would have
imagined, a deflated thing she slings over her shoulder
out of habit before she starts off for whatever might be next.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Inside the Wax Museum

Michelle's Spell of the Day

Spider Bite

2 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce of Malibu coconut rum
1/2 triple sec
2 drops Angostura Bitters

Benedictions and Maledictions

Inside the Wax Museum

The House of Torture didn’t seem, well,
that frightening the second time through,
the wax figures, not at all real, except
for their eyes that followed you around
like your fears. You pass a man covered
in ants, one on a rack and you think
about all the things you wish you hadn’t
done, about all the hope people had for you.
Time changes everything except those old
fears that persist like love, only changing
their object, always returning you to yourself,
a place you understand, something that could scare
you no matter how many times you’d been there.

Happy Birthday To You!

Happy Birthday to my best friend, Angela! Here's a picture of us at a Detroit bar called Tudges many years ago.

A regular posting will come later today!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

If It Doesn't Go Away

I don't have any tattoos, being a bit of a baby about the whole pain thing. Also, I might have had the only mother on the planet who said, I think a small tattoo looks nice. Maybe you should get one. What kind of fun rebellion is that? I did try to give myself a henna tattoo once. My friend Angela got a home henna kit as a Christmas present and one night we determined that we would give ourselves tattoos and that they would look good, at least for the promised few weeks. I've always wanted an armband, so I picked my design and Ang painted it on in teeny-tiny strokes. She lined the design with adhesive surgical tape so that the henna wouldn't bleed. I slept with the drying henna and the tape. In the morning, I peeled everything off only to find that the henna had barely left a trace.

Angela's didn't work either. She'd tried for the back tattoo but the henna was old. We didn't know you had to have fresh henna and heat (like a blow dryer) to make it work. I did have a little memento of the experience -- a huge rash from the tape that ringed around my arm, both above and below where the design was supposed to be. It stayed for six months, much longer than I imagined the tattoo would be there and it burned and itched all the time. Would you go to the doctor? I'd ask people, with no intention of telling my humiliating tale of stupidity. If it doesn't go away, most of them would say, looking at their hands, hoping it wasn't catching.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

Tattoo You

2 ounces of vodka
a splash of Midori liqueur
garnish with melon

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Live on Sunset Strip

I had an old friend that tells the same story for every situation, the one involving some lab rats who got shocked every time they got food and the ones that only got shocked intermittently when they pulled the food lever. The ones who got shocked intermittently went crazy, of course. The first time I heard this story, I found myself nodding as if that explained some things. I found myself less entranced after I discovered she’d been sleeping with my then-boyfriend intermittently for a year. I asked her why and it was a rhetorical question, the kind of thing that you might ask God about, mad but not expecting a straight answer.

Because I wanted to, she said. We were watching Richard Pryor's Live On Sunset Strip, the scene where he becomes the crack pipe and his wife and Jim Brown are telling him he's got to give up the drugs, but the pipe is telling him no, not to listen to them. I've always loved this scene and like lots of good things, it's linked to a bad thing. I don't respond to her answer because what is there to say? The damage, as they say, is done. I thought about her rat parable and prayed to God that she wouldn't try to use it to demonstrate a point. There are some things that can't be forgiven and the rat parable is one of them. Onscreen, Richard has to blow himself up freebasing to find out how much everyone loves him. He gets choked up at the end, starts to tear up. He's burnt, but he's alive. He's hurting, but grateful to know what he does.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Everyone carries around his own monsters." Richard Pryor

The Damage

2 ounces of Stoli Coffee vodka
1 splash of Stoli Vanilla vodka

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Saturday!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Midnight Came and Went

My friend Amy broke up with a man named Buddy Earl about a week before Valentine's Day many a long year ago. She had met the vile Buddy Earl at The Red Rose, the bar used in the movie Boys Don't Cry. It's just as nice in real life as portrayed on the screen. We'd go there from time to time to see a blues band named Swine Cadillac play -- the lead player had a wicked way with the guitar and a gut the size of Milwaukee. The whole thing would have been something to see if one could have seen through the smoke. Buddy Earl appeared through a cloud and in a midsummer night's dream moment, Amy became entranced. Her friends, however, did not. Amy had a party, a come and meet Buddy Earl party, and the Budman did not show. Midnight came and went and one and two -- equal parts despair, anger, rationalization, and finally exhaustion took turns playing to an increasingly smaller house. When Buddy finally did show up to a party months later, he tried to sell the host a new long distance plan and drank everything in reach, achieving saucemonster status in a room of fairly heavy drinkers.

Buddy Earl did not last. Amy threw a Valentine's Day party after she kicked him out of her apartment -- she paid for him to get his car fixed so he could drive away. She sent out invitations, calling the event the anti VD party to end all parties. The night started rough -- Hank and I found out that a dear friend's mother had died and everyone else seemed to have gone through a recent break-up. A short man named James kept following me around, telling me how he'd never even known he was short until he was about fifteen and did I want to learn how to make pancakes? I did not, and if the shake of my head wasn't enough, my friend Priscilla said, She will never touch your pancakes in a particularly icy tone. Amy ended up confessing her love for Hank, saying, I'm black and you're blind. We understand each other. Hank pined for our friend whose mother had just died. It might have been February, but some asshole came and sprinkled a lot of midsummer night's dream stardust and cruised. Happy Anti VD Day indeed.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

Almost Halloween

1 part vodka
1 part apple martini mix
1 splash of butterscotch schnapps

Serve as a martini.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Friday everyone! Poetry will return next week.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Summer Would Be Ending Soon

According to Chinese lore, August is the month where dead spirits roam the earth in search of a body to possess. Do not, my mother's friend Sue used to say, ever ever astral project in August. She'd shake her head at the folly of those stupid enough to attempt such a thing during the dead roaming the earth month, those who could lose their bodies to some hungry ghost. Sue would then light up a cigarette and ask for some herbal tea to calm her nerves. I hated tea, but I'd force down a little so that she could read my leaves after I overturned my cup and spun it on a saucer where the leaves would make indecipherable patterns. I see a long future, Sue would say. I was only seven so this gave me some comfort. The rest is kind of unclear except that your love life will be very complicated.

Man, that sucked. I had drunk something other than Dr. Pepper only to hear that I had a long future and a complicated love life. Right then, I had a crush on the boy next door which seemed to be going nowhere. Couldn't she have thrown in something about a letter from a distant country at least? Or living in interesting times, something that everyone is almost bound to do? I wanted to hear about how I would live in New York City and wear beautiful coats and work in a huge office building well into the night. That was the most romantic thought I could imagine. Instead, I lived in a town where people's idea of fun was putting a cookie on a rattlesnake's head and trying to snatch it off without getting bit. I sat at the table for a long time, looking at my leaves, trying to discern the future from the murky bits. They seemed to be going in every direction. It was August, and summer would be ending soon, I thought, as I washed the plate clean.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"If you're going to make a mistake, make it a doozy." Billie Jean King

The Billie Jean King

2 ounces of Gatorade mixed with 2 ounces of vodka

Serve as a martini. The Gatorade helps with the hangover by providing electrolytes.

Benedictions and Maledictions

In answer to Jim's questions about who watches soap operas:

I don't watch traditional soap operas anymore, but I still have a fondness for "All My Children" and recognize the characters when I see it on television since they haven't changed since my birth for the most part. I think a lot of things are at work with a soap opera -- for me, any story that doesn't end (family saga especially) is interesting. I tend to attach to characters as if they were real and part of my family. (That might explain an ugly 90210 addiction for a few years.) It doesn't matter how good or bad the show is, the serial nature of it keeps me enthralled. As for other factors, some scholars suggest that soap operas are the only arena in which women's emotions are taken as seriously by men. Since nobody works on soap operas, they all have time for this kind of drama. I also think people are inherently starved for stories and drama and in a fragmented, disjointed age, the irony is that television provides grounding. I can turn on "All My Children" and see the same stories and in many cases, the same actors, that my great grandmother watched so many years ago.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

All Dressed Up With Nowhere To Go

I look like my dad's mother, so much so that dying relatives have mistaken me for her or the ghost of her, depending on how long they've been on the morphine drip. I don't have much memory of her save for the summer trips my dad, sister, and I (my mother wisely opted out) took to see her in Kansas and one hellish six week stay at our house where she watched the Oliver North scandal unfold every day on television, interrupting my stories as we used to call soap operas back in the south. I, like all brilliant people, loved All My Children and hope to teach at Pine Valley University someday since none of the teachers there every seem to do anything but hang out in the student union. One night during her stay, my sister and I were at the dinner table, calling each other dorks and then telling each other how dorky the other was when Grandmother Brooks looked up from her ham and said, My God, you wouldn't call someone a darky, would you? I had never even heard the term until then, but Beth and I broke into laughter at her horror and misunderstanding.

There was certainly a dark side to my dad's family, but unlike my mother's, it wasn't obvious. No one brandished guns or drank, no one screamed at anyone that they had fucked up my life forever, you stupid bitch, or broke dinner plates when it was that time of the month. My dad's family seemed to function without a ripple or a hug or a raised voice. When we'd go for our summer visit, Beth and I would stay in the basement almost the entire time with a bunch of Barbies until dinner. I'd dress Barbie for all sorts of special events and then tell her that she wasn't going anywhere because she was evil. She'd be all dressed up with nowhere to go, as they say. I'd lay her in my grandmother's old case surrounded by tissue paper, like a plush coffin. That's what you deserve, you dumbass, I'd say, smiling. I'd be dressed beautifully, given that Grandmother didn't like children looking bad, especially the one that looked like her. You play so nicely, Michelle, Grandmother would say after coming down and making sure none of her dolls had been damaged. Barbie is sleeping, I'd say, thinking she's dead and you are attending her funeral. I guess Barbie had somewhere to go after all.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"There is not a word of dialogue in that story that either of us ever said, yet it's a true story." Amy Hempel

Chocolate-Covered Cherry Shake

1 shot of vodka
1 shot of Kahlua
2 shots of Godiva liqueor
3 cherries
1 scoop of ice-cream

Blend into a milkshake

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Dream Cruise Month!

First published in Cairn:

Dream Cruise

Working on his antique car, it exploded,
and he lay suspended between life
and death for months until he woke to what
remained. Before he went deaf from the pain
medication, he’d heard a few people say,
Wouldn’t it have been better if . . . He could
finish the thought, but instead drifted off into
visions of cars stretched for miles, him behind
the wheel of his gleaming machine, the envy
of everyone sitting on the side of Woodward Avenue,
a glittering mirage that they could only glimpse
for a moment before he became indistinguishable
from all the lucky ones that were driving the same road.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

When One Must, One Can

Every writer called upon to read in front of an audience has rituals for warding off nerves. Usually this involves wearing certain clothes, bringing good luck charms, and drinking enough alcohol to tranquilize a small elephant. Writers by nature are not performers (why become a writer if you can act?) and fear crowds. When the poet Charles Bukowski had to get in front of a live audience, particularly an academic one, he'd say, "I see a lot of typers in this room, but no writers. There's only one poet in town and that's me." Nothing like a little diplomacy to get the evening rolling. Anne Sexton blew kisses to the crowd (read, a few vodka tonics prior to performance and many after) and Raymond Carver spoke so inaudibly at times that the audience could hear nothing. He was so beloved, however, nobody had the heart to tell him to speak up.

My first reading was on top of a bar called Cool Beans. It was a windy night, and the microphone kept hitting me in the face. I made the mistake of being very sober doing the performance and reading a story that wasn't all that great, one of my first published stories, "What to Eat, What to Wear." It was about a ballet dancer who was dating someone she didn't like and pining over someone who had left her. It was, I'm afraid, the best thing I had. These were the years that "In Living Color" played on television and one of the characters would say about any experience, no matter how trivial, wrote a song about it, want to hear it, here it goes and launch into an impromptu blues song. I kept this in mind as I read and somehow everything became funny, the clink of glasses in the crowd, the song of the coffee grinder periodically firing up, the train going through town, drowning me out for a couple of minutes. I finished, the wind picked up, the microphone hit me one last time in the face. Someone in the crowd sent me a drink. I lifted it up in salute and promptly spilled it all over myself. I was a typer all right, but I was getting there.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"The female is skilled at betrayal and torture and damnation. Never envy a man his lady. Behind it all lays a living hell. " Charles Bukowski

Performance Art

1 part vodka
1 splash of vermouth
garnish with olives stuffed with jalepeno peppers

Serve chilled.

Benedictions and Maledictions

In answer to Trouble Man's question from yesterday -- What are your guilty pleasures?

I have many pleasures that could be described as guilty, although I find that I don't feel guilty all that much. I watch certain television shows over and over. (Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under) Right now, it's Entourage. I'm totally enthralled by the agent, Ari (Hug it out, bitch!), his assistant Lloyd, and Kevin Dillon (Matt Dillon's brother) playing Johnny Chase, Aka Johnny Drama. I think it's safe to say that champagne also serves as a guilty pleasure.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Thing I Feared Is Upon Me

My grandfather on my mother's side kept a pistol underneath his pillow and one in his truck at all times. When he was riding around the back streets of Granbury, Texas, he would brandish it out the window and yell, Does anyone want to take Charlie on? Anyone? No one, shockingly, wanted to take on a drunk, violent fiftysomething guy with firearms. During the times I was left in his and my grandmother's care (and those times were few as I was good at faking stomach ailments to get out of visits), he'd ride around throwing glass beer bottles on the side of the road and yell, Motherfucker! as they hit the ground and shattered. The people who weren't terrified to utter his name said he was quite a character, the only assessment that seemed neutral. Behind closed doors, I heard someone once call him a rattlesnake, a hanging offense had he hearing enough to comprehend. All that hard living had left him partially deaf.

My mother, while terrified of her father, loved rattlesnakes. She saw nothing strange about having them as pets or freezing them for decorations. The decorations served as a tremendous source of income -- they were very popular in Texas about the time everyone was hanging up photographs of oil derricks at sunset in their homes. That, I thought, was some fucked up shit, the snakes and ugly oil derrick shots. I vowed that after I left the house, I would never deal in snakes again. I was wrong, of course. You run away from things to find that they are you in the end. Why else would you have to run? The last time I saw a rattlesnake in the wild, I thought the world had stopped and for a moment it had. The thing I feared is upon me, I thought, and smiled. I clutched my chest so hard that I left claw marks right near my heart.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Lies began to coil in my heart and call it home." Raymond Carver, "Wenas Ridge"

Break from weekend drinking book suggestion: The Glass House by Jeanette Walls

Benedictions and Maledictions

Today's poem was written by the late Hank D. Ballenger, Poet Laureate of Mineral Wells High School (I kid you not, that was his official title during and after high school)

First published in Pearl:

Out With An Ex-Girlfriend

"What you and I need
is a good woman . . .
Well, a bad woman.
Here's to a woman
good at being bad."

I agree with her
and offer a toast
to professional
heartbreakers. "Amen.
No more amateurs."

The rules are simple:
No talking about
the ones we're with now
but no being nice
about ones before.

I'm not really sure
why the two of us
do this to ourselves,
this session of Truth
and Consequences.

I asked her one time.
She bought us two shots.
And said, "Well hell, Hank,
I'd marry you, if
I weren't so damn queer."

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Good Girl

There was a time a few years ago when women started wearing tiny horse shoes around their neck (I believe Carrie on Sex and the City started the trend). I'd see these horse shoes everywhere, some plain, some sparkling with diamonds, some facing up and some down. I worried about the women wearing the ones facing down, all their good luck leaching out toward their breasts and onto the floor. I'm going to say something that will cause people to gasp -- I hate animals, even and maybe especially, horses. I don't even know the plot of Black Beauty and the only time I have ever used the term is referring to speed. But I have a fondness for all things symbolic and the luck of the horse shoe strikes me as true.

I found a real horse shoe right after I had sex with someone for the first time. Like most women, I wanted something to commemorate the experience and so I kept my eyes on the ground during the hike back to the house. After picking it up and examining it for a while, I decided to keep it. I also saw a cow skull that had been picked clean by vultures, but I didn't have the strength to carry it for the remaining two miles. In a life of losing many things I said I never would, of ruining things that I swore to take care of, the horse shoe has stayed with me all this time. It's sturdy and hasn't broken during all my moves. I keep it on a bookcase, pointed upward, of course, lest my luck run out.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"After living in the dark for so long a glimpse of light can make you giddy. Strange thoughts come into your head and you better think them. Is there a secret message right in front of you and you're not reading it? Is this your last chance? Are you gonna take it? Or are you going to the grave with unlived lives in your veins?"
- The Good Girl

Drinking movie suggestion: The Good Girl
This is a movie written by Mike White (of Chuck and Buck fame), and it's brilliant and funny.

Benedictions and Maledictions

We Turn From the Joy of Living to Remembrances of the Dead

Even a drowned
wasp can sting,
provided you chance
upon it in the exact
right position. Like
most things, this is
only a matter of time.

Friday, August 04, 2006

You're The Writer

I didn't write my dad's obituary, and nobody suggested that I do it. I half-expected that I would given that I'm often tapped for that sort of thing -- eulogies, legal letters, work assignments, love notes (more frequently now, love e-mails) for friends to their beloved or would-be beloved, and even (gasp!) wedding poetry -- my first wedding poem I wrote was at the age of 16 and mostly plagiarized from "Dover Beach." You're the writer, people say, all with a tone that implies I know what I'm doing and should be able to whip something up on short notice. I know I'm living up to the dream when someone says, Oooh, put that down, that sounds good and not so much when someone says, Umm, maybe I'll do it myself. The obits (two were run for my dad -- one hometown, one major local paper) cost per word so brevity was a friend. My dear friend Angela typed out a bare bones version and e-mailed it to the papers. To keep the cost under a hundred dollars, my dad's life was reduced to two small paragraphs. Not to complain. That, I imagine, is a lot more than many people get.

When someone dies suddenly, one can hardly make a sentence. I know many things about my dad, almost none of which I can articulate. Sometimes a person is whole and undamaged in a way that makes them impossible to describe. I know my dad's last days were spent at an airshow, that he had returned home after a long trip. That as soon as I knew he'd gotten home safely, I went to sleep instead of talking on the phone to him. Thought there'd be plenty of time for that later. He and my sister went out to dinner where he had a fajita salad with no sour cream because he did not want to "bloat up" or so he told a rather overweight waitress, much to my sister's mortification. He was young, healthy, the kind of person you say has never been sick a day in his life. He'd had his bad times, as we all do, but he'd never been a troubled person, full of regret and sadness, wishing for something that wasn't. He'd gone to work that final day, two long years ago, and I like to believe he'd felt happy, all that blue sky ahead of him. That's not the kind of thing you can write in an obituary.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"And I was yet aware that this was only a moment, that the world waited outside, hungry as a tiger, and that trouble stretched above us, longer than the sky." James Baldwin

Friday's Sorrowful Mystery

one shot of vodka
one shot of Kahlua
one shot of Starbucks coffee liqueur

Serve chilled as a martini.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Wells, Nevada

There were dwarves on scooters, you say,
and a chicken in the middle of the diner
that you could buy food for with dimes.
This was not that long ago and yet all our
parents have died since then, and we are
lost to each other. The dwarves scared
me, you say, how fast they whipped around,
like they owned the place. Weren’t they
afraid of falling off or hurting someone?
You take another sip of beer. Maybe,
I say, they didn’t think anything bad could
happen since they’d been there for a long
time. I’m telling you something, but you’re
somewhere else already, maybe Nevada.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Tibetan Book of the Dead

For a couple of years, I worked in a social work center dementia clinic on the border of Detroit. It was the kind of place untouched by time -- even in the late 90s, we used typewriters (and gallons of wite-out, my boss' equivalent of we were poor, but we were always clean). It was Office Space meets The Snake Pit, with a dash of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Some of our clients had been around forever, some predicatble nuts like Dolores S., a woman always convinced that people were watching her and that she needed our handyman (a semi-handy college student) to come out and change her porch lightbulbs (the better for the watchers to see her perhaps?) and the scary situations (two dementia cases wandering out and hailing a taxi into the city, gone for hours). The dementia clinic sat below the social work center and in the afternoons after finishing the billing (I always let people run way way behind on their bills which were endless and mind-boggling), I'd hang over the railing and watch the aides work with the clients (patients were now clients, only the wanderguards strapped to their arms and the alarms at every door remained the same), singing songs and playing with dolls. (A common side effect of Alzheimers is the belief that inantimate objects are real -- I fear this makes me mildly symptomatic as I talk to things as if they had a soul -- Hello, Mr. Toothbrush, Hello Baby Grouchie, well, you get the idea). The Tibetans believe that inantimate objects carry souls -- the word for this eludes me. Every afternoon, one woman would yell that her baby was dead, did we understand her. She'd shake her doll and stomp on it, then she'd let loose with a string of curses that would make anyone blush. (Another side effect of dementia -- women often become violent and start swearing -- I also fear that I have this symptom even at my relatively youngish age).

We'd often get people serving community service to "help" with the work. By the time most of them saw the working arrangments, they wanted to go back to serve time or at least pick up trash off the side of the road. One guy said that spending an hour at Calvary made him want to "get fucked up really bad, man." He asked me if it gave me the creeps to see old people every day, out of their minds. "The wave of the future," I said. "We all end up that way." I smiled the kind of evil smile that I reserved for those I felt needed it. But by the end of the day or week or month, the volunteers got to leave. Their sentence was for something bad they did and they paid it and it was over. As for me, I stayed on without a plan. I walked in the doors every day of my own free will, or as free as a person who desperately needed money would ever be, and each day I walked out, no wanderguard attached to me, but sometimes I tripped the alarm anyway, causing a small commotion before I left.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"In the hungry ghost realm there is a tremendous feeling of richness, a gathering of a lot of possessions . . . And this makes us more hungry, more deprived, because people derive pleasure not from possessing alone but from searching." The Tibetan Book of the Dead

Hungry Ghost

2 shots of vodka
1 glass of 7up

Serve over crushed ice and garnish with a cherry for a bloody festivity!

Benedictions and Maledictions

To Trouble Man -- Glad to be of help! Keep us posted on how things go. As for the type of tequila, I'm partial to Silver Heradura myself.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Fade To Black

There are few things more humiliating than having a dog shit on you while you sleep. The dog who did this to me is long dead, Pepper, my grandmother’s black poodle, the low-energy dog that nobody liked, that ate and slept and had no trace of personality. Pepper was frequently contrasted to Peppi, my mother's dog that died from the exhausting pursuit of the neighbors' German Shepherd while the Shepherd was in heat. At least he lived up until the end, my mother would say, defending Peppi. At any rate, it was Pepper who climbed up on my skinny little back and defecated without waking me up. My daddy started screaming when he saw me the next morning, yelling, don't roll over while my mother laughed until she couldn't breathe. I always thought that t-shirt looked like shit, she said. After Mother snapped from stress a few years later, she formed a theory that a demon had forced Pepper to hover above my back and perform his surprise.

Waking up has never been my thing. My mother used to say that as a baby I'd cry upon waking and cry when I went to sleep. Not much has changed, I'm afraid. The world has never seemed like a kind and wondrous place upon first glance. I can't say having a small dog shit on you helps with this kind of neurotic anxiety. That said, I don't sleep on my stomach anymore. My mother, dead for the better part of the the last decade, would say this was wise. You never know what might drop on you from above. Of course, there's still whatever is underneath the bed, the thing all children fear, some so much that they won't stick one little toe over the edge.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"My life has been incredible. I don't believe a word of it." Katherine Anne Porter

Mel Gibson's Hail Mary

2 shots of gin
1 glass of tonic water
1/2 of a whole lemon/1/2 of a whole lime

After squeezing juice from the lemon and lime, drop into the class. Serve over crushed ice.

Benedictions and Maledictions

Dear Trouble Man,

I have to agree with AP on this one. Fade to black and make sure that you get all your important stuff out of the house (if you live together) before you make your move. (Once you're done with "the talk," you'll give away damn near anything to get out under good terms and get screwed out of your best stuff -- bye, bye Woody Allen print for me!) There is absolutely no good way to break up with someone. (although fax, e-mail, post-it notes, and having a friend tell your used to be beloved rate pretty low) The person being left will always be unhappy with you and the method, provided they want to stay with you. You're asking me if you should do a slow leave -- I call this method "the parachute." It's when you leave someone in such a subtle, slow way that the person doesn't even realize it fully.
I have no moral problem with the parachute, but it takes a long time and the person is still pretty upset. I think it's probably safe to say that having a long talk is easier than changing your address and patterns in a way that rivals the slowness of the U.S. pulling troops out of Vietnam.

I've never known any break-up to be entirely mutual. If you feel as if she's a holding pattern, then she deserves better as well. And you can do better -- better not being a more interesting, lively, more attractive person -- better being someone you are both in love with and love. I have known scores of people who have convinced themselves that the situations they are in are "better than nothing," but in my experience, nothing is just fine if you're not appreciative and thrilled with what you have. As for the friendship question, I have remained friends with almost all my exes. My break-up methods, by and large, have sucked. I wish I was the kind of person I described in the above paragraph, an above the board, cut and cauturize kind of girl. But alas, I'm nostalgic for the smallest things and break-ups wreak havoc on me. But I still adore (okay, mostly adore) my exes and would have much less writing material and richness of life without them. As for a drink, the El Paso Tumbleweed will work just fine. For courage, one needs a strong shot!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Boynton's Morocco

There are an endless set of bizarre existential questions that people ask each other, ranging from the rather pedestrian personality ones (If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? My answer, a weeping willow as they are beautiful and hideously destructive, clogging up every available septic tank system around) to the more complex ones (If you had to choose between blindness and deafness, which would you choose? Deafness, given that I love to talk too much and being deaf would kill my social life in that way, but there are many things I'd probably prefer not to see). My favorite question, though, is one that I didn't hear until I was in my twenties. If you came to a wall and you couldn't get over it or under it and you had to stay where you were, what would you do? Of course, the wall is death and your response to it is your way of dealing with mortality. My first answer was that I'd set up shop, make myself comfortable, build all sorts of things around the wall, decorate it, and use it to help me sleep. My friends, two beautiful twins who had asked the question, laughed and said I was the first person to answer it that way. Most people charged the wall or ran away from it, pretended it wasn't there, but that the wall in the question inspired a lot of fear and misery.

I understand the pretend part. One of my crackpot romantic theories is that at the end of every long-term relationship, a couple takes a trip together to get away (the obstensible reason is to have those endless state of the union talks, you're doing this and I'm not getting that and you know, all the predictable horrors, the ways we mangle each other) from the reality of ending. I will never say that a break-up is like a death -- I've experienced both and can say that while breaking up with someone is horribly painful, it pales in comparison to never having a chance to change things. But it is a death of sorts, the death of hope, of a planned life, and maybe most painfully, the death of a shared past, the language of marriage. I have done this type of trip, as have many of my friends. The places are different and usually quite indicative of the nature of the relationship -- mine have tended toward road trips, one to the Lawrence Welk Museum (our relationship sucks, let's polka!), while my friends have gone to many an exotic place -- San Francisco, London, New York. But my favorite is my friend David Boynton. When his marriage was ending, his wealthy in-laws sent he and his wife to Morocco to work things out. I've always liked the sound of Morocco, but he came back more miserable than before. In a far-away city where things were both glittering and rotting, he came to the realization that his wife, despite all his best efforts, was going to leave him. Morocco means land of God in some languages, in some languages it's only a name. I suppose it depends who is interpreting.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Sometimes we have the absolute certainty that there's something inside us that's so hideous and monstrous that if we ever search it out we won't be able to stand looking at it. But it's when we're willing to come face to face with that demon that we face the angel." - Hubert Selby, Jr.

Boynton's Morocco

2 shots of expensive rum over ice
2 parts regret

Benedictions and Maledictions

In answer to whatever happened to my friend Robin, mentioned in earlier blogs:

The sad truth is that I don't know. We lost touch after college in that way of friendships based on chance meetings and similar surroundings. I adored Robin for her honest way -- the scary ability she had to see into the world long before I did. Her habits were such that they probably have changed, or she is dead. Or maybe in rehab with that politically-correct, love everyone Mel Gibson! I hate that guy and Braveheart totally sucked. I could not and would not ever force myself to see The Passion of Christ, even while deeply drunk and/or stoned, the way I saw The Last Temptation of Christ, also a crappy movie.

Someone Who Stays When Others Leave

I've always adored corndog sports movies, the kind of manipulative crap that revolves around a few key plot points -- a deeply talented, totally gorgeous, preferably poor (think Jared Leto in Prefontaine) athlete works his way from the bottom to become somebody. Through fault or no fault of his or her own, he or she loses the spark, the thrill, and subsequently the crown. After a crucial turnaround (think of Nadia C. losing weight and resuming with her meany-pants coach Bela to get her groove back), he or she becomes a star again, recaptures the promise. Add some lesbian locker room action (Personal Best), some outside political drama (Mark Spitz gone missing during the murder of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics), or just bad luck and shitty weather (Mitch Gaylord pouting and shirtless in the rain during American Anthem), and you've got me hooked.

For years, I competed as a gymnast but the best I ever did was second place on a rather uninspired floor routine at the Texas State Championships. I clung to the ribbon (the only one I was likely to get that mattered) until I started to date a boy who was an extremely talented gymnast. He wasn't straight, but we had many emotional moments that included the exchange of overwraught notes that included every sports cliche written in various locker rooms for inspiration. (A winner is someone who stays when others leave, Victory isn't everything, it's the only thing -- umm, you get the idea.) I gave him my ribbon when I gave up the sport -- I was too tall, too bored, and too tired of not eating to continue. I knew I didn't have the spark, and that I wasn't destined to be anybody, much less somebody. My pseudo-boyfriend, however, had the most important thing in all the movies and according to many coaches -- heart, that elusive ability to keep going when everything seems bleak. He also had a devastating smile, the kind I have never seen before or since. It expressed so many things at once, all the pain of his tremendously difficult life (he also had the requisite sports movie poverty which in reality wasn't so great), the sadness of his family, and still the ever-continued openness in the face of a lot of jerks. He smiled with his eyes, a heart-breaking smile, and as all the great cliches go, you had to see it to believe it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Pictures must be miraculous." Mark Rothko

Cherry Dr. Pepper

1 Dr. Pepper
1 cherry
1 shot of cherry juice

Serve over crushed ice. (Hey, it's Monday. If you've been drinking all the spells, you need to heal your liver! Dr. Pepper will help.)

Benedictions and Maledictions

Smaller, Darker

The streets are not yours or mine.
We pauset at atrocity, catch our
breaths, buy things we love to discard.
Mark Rothko took to smaller, darker
paintings until he overdosed, not
the most interesting way to die, but there
you have it. I've given you something
to wear around your neck. If you
drown, don't say that I didn't warn you.