Monday, December 31, 2007

Friends We've Lost

My favorite New Year's Eve card consists of a picture of a highway with a bunch of detour signs with resolutions on them -- pay off debt, lose weight, end long overstagnating dead end relationship, and so on. Roads going to nowhere implicit in the card's message. Well, I come to the end of 2007 with a terrible sore throat and no resolutions of which to speak. The new year always brings about hope that this one will be better than the last one, that we'll come to the end of it with more to show for our efforts. And maybe we will and maybe we won't. But no matter! If nothing else, if you're reading this, you've survived another year without ending up on the dead people list that play incessantly on the television -- ie, Friends We've Lost sort of thing. And that's something. Be well, be safe, and I will return tomorrow with hangover cures abounding!

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"To hell with whatever is coming next. That's where I've been and that's where I'm staying." Judy Garland

Cocktail Hour
Champagne all day, people! It's New Year's Eve!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy wishes for the last day of 2007!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Legend Of Fallen Rock

Went to Woody's the other day, the Quonset hut turned bar that me and my friends went to directly after Hank's funeral almost five years ago and had a burger and a Shinerbock, not exactly health food, and listened to all the people around talk. "You know all the shit you don't want to do? I'm the guy who does it," said a big old boy in a ten gallon. I did not try to speculate what that meant because sometimes you just know that things ain't good. The waitress had a t-shirt on that said, I'm sure you're a nice person, but I don't really want to find out. She lit a cigarette and carried on a conversation with two guys at the bar. "I got one shirt that says Angel and one that says Princess. I thought about getting the one that said Diva, but I ain't much of a diva so I let that one stay." "Sounds about right," said one of her companions. "Ain't never met a woman that didn't think she was a princess of some sort."

Which got me to thinking about the legend of fallen rock right down the road, one of those classic hokey stories about how two lovers were kept apart by evil parents because the girl had Indian blood (depending on whose telling the story, you get a different tribe each time -- most popular being Cherokee) and how she killed herself by throwing herself off this rock cliff onto the highway and now you can get hit by rocks that her ghost lobs at people she deems assholes. Lots of people get hit by rocks on that road, so much so that they have a sign as if that's going to help your ass if a rock is coming at your car. By the time I had finished my burger, as if on cue, the waitress was telling the guys about having, you guessed it, being the descendant of a Cherokee princess and how that made her special. More special than what, I don't know. The tribes around here have hard lives, lots of early death and poverty. But we all crave glamour in all its forms, even if it means a ghost who can throw rocks at people we don't like as they drive down a road that leads, if not to nowhere, then somewhere close.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The dream I needed most was the dream that most frightened me." Sherman Alexie

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Redneck Riveria Dennis Covington

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Flying Saucer

Hi readers! Here are your Saturday pictures of one of my favorite bars in Ft. Worth. If you're ever in Sundance Square, this is the place to go. Happy Saturday!

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Secret Lives Of Girls

One of the girls in my high school had an abortion which became public knowledge much the same way my sleeping with a male friend (and by sleeping, I mean sharing a bed, nothing more) at my babysitter's house became known to all the other elementary school kids -- I told a trusted companion who blabbed my news everywhere. What I didn't mention was that a) the boy I slept with was as gay as gay could be and b) we took shifts staying awake to guard against Leland, the evil teenage son of said babysitter who tried many a time to "play little games" with us, ala a garden variety pedophile of whom was said that if he was smart, he could have been really dangerous. But alas, this story has a strange ending -- Leland raped his sister and from this very shallow gene pool, a child was born. Which in my conservative Texas town was to most people's way of thinking preferable to abortion. And so we return to the girl, a real snot with a mean streak the size of the Rio Grande, and people were thrilled to have this to use against her. While I couldn't stand Leslie (yes, that's her real name), I didn't have the heart to taunt her like the other girls. She became a Carrie-like figure, reviled in the locker room, until one of our teachers sat us all down and had a talk with us, so coded I couldn't figure out what the hell she was saying except that we'd all better stop being such little bitches and cool it with Leslie.

It was the late eighties, and we had a nursery in our high school for the children of students. I thought this fairly progressive given that our sex education consisted of being shown large slides of genitals infected with everything from herpes to warts. And so the secret lives of the girls became public sometimes. Thought back to what I considered my secrets and how I mostly never told anything because I didn't want the schoolyard taunting of my friends that I had received for the larger part of a year in elementary school. I knew about sex and knew about the consequences (say what you will about positive sex education, but the pictures of the slides are in my mind to this day). But the most horrific part of the whole equation was this -- how people judged you for what you did under the cover of darkness and the memory of that burning long after, like embers from a fire you couldn't entirely douse.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I paint what I like, when I like, and where I like." David Hockney

Cocktail Hour
Drinking sociological study suggestion: Rapunzel's Daughters: What Women's Hair Tells Us About Women's Lives Rose Weitz

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Morning After

The other night while stopping into 7-11 to use the restroom, I just beat a strung out dude with a needle in his hand heading into what Archie Bunker so succinctly referred to as the "turlet," while singing a very off-key version of The Commodores "Brick House," that staple of all weddings. My companions never made it to the bathroom which was in full use after Mr. Brick House, the only sounds coming out of the door being a strange groaning. I bought some aspirin and hangover chasers (made in Detroit, folks! where optimism over bodily destruction and the ability to do something about it reign supreme) to prepare for the morning after what might be a night of heavy Christmas partying. I went to the counter where my sister was buying a National Enquirer which back in the day used to be reserved for tales of the bat boys and Gene Dixon predictions about the future which in those long ago years was the early nineties as distant as the moon, but now is reserved for the crassest of celebrity gossip, focusing on super scary pictures of cellulite (a favorite for us civilians no doubt) and other prurient tales. This one featured Chasity Bono, daughter of Sonny and Cher. Bulked Up By Thirty Pounds! screamed the headline.

"I think she gained all that weight because she hates herself being gay and all, but she can't do nothing about it," said the cashier, a real porker himself. I wanted to ask if that's how he had gained his weight, but kept silent. "And her mother has really gone overboard with the plastic surgery," he continued. "Women got to age naturally." Hangover chasers, National Enquirer, and a solid dose of philosophy, plus a Commodores serenade -- Damn, I had hit the jackpot. The night was still young and the weather mild, the way of a Texas winter. I thought back to watching the Sonny and Cher show when I was a little girl and how they used to bring Chasity out at the end of the night, a tiny little baby with her whole life in front of her. Nothing bad had happened; her father had not skied into a tree and her mother had not become tabloid fodder. Her personal life didn't warrant the opinions of homophobic 7-11 clerks, and I could still hear "Brick House" and not instantly recoil at the thought of another drunken wedding party where no matter what you did the night before to prevent it, there would be consequences.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Don't take your toys inside just because it's raining." Cher

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Floor Sample Julia Cameron

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Early Glow Of Love

I saw an ad the other day -- Kids Eat Free At Hooters! I laughed out loud at the thought of it until I remembered that one of my neighbors in Texas, a single mom of a little boy, who went on her first date in years to this place which claims to have "excellent wings." The man took her and her son to Hooters and bought them t-shirts. "It was so magical, Michelle. I never had anyone pay for an entire date before." She brought out the commemorative t-shirts for my inspection, one adult for her, one child-sized for her son. "See! I'm going to marry him." Dear reader, she did marry him. And they still go to Hooters, even though I imagine her son is too old to take advantage of eating free off the children's menu.

Another friend was over during this early glow of love for my neighbor and said, "Don't you think that can damage a child?" And I said no, not really. I don't see how a bunch of skimpily dressed women can be that big of a deal. "Don't you find it depressing?" I thought about it, thought about how lonely my neighbor had been. Love is hard to find under the best of circumstances and hers were not the best -- a propensity for jello shots and unemployment, her food stamps were frequently cut off, leaving them with nothing to eat, not even some excellent wings. And truth was I didn't find it much more depressing than a score of other dating stories I had heard, and my neighbor was the only one with t-shirts to prove where she'd been.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"There's a great relief when you accept the way it is, even if it's not very nice; because the only real misery is not wanting it to be like that." Ajahn Sumedho

Cocktail Hour
Drinking perfume suggestion: Covet

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! I'm glad to say that Santa has brought me everything I wanted (lots of gift certificates to Half-Priced Books, also known as Heaven on Earth, lotions and potions, Beatles cds, the last season of The Sopranos (thank you Jesus, Joseph, and Mary!), some beautiful books, new camera stuff for the blog, and I even watched Bad Santa again! My dear friend Shawn and my students are fond of telling me that I look like Lauren Graham (best known for The Gilmore Girls -- damn, I wish I looked like her.) In Bad Santa, she's Billy Bob's love interest who the child in the story believes is "Mrs. Santa's Sister." So I'm wishing you all the happiest day and lots of love from me to you, not Mrs. Santa because that would be too easy, but Mrs. Santa's Sister! I love and treasure you all, and your kind words keep me going all year long.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Great Christmas Memories From Childhood

Many of my mother's childhood Christmas memories involved sitting with her dog in a locked truck while her parents drank themselves sick at a bar. She waited for toys that never came and was lucky to get a hamburger at the end of the night which she shared with her dog since he was starving as well. Knowing this always made me feel awful -- I have great Christmas memories from my childhood, even the ones that depressed my parents; my favorite was going to K-Mart on Christmas Eve and getting to pick out my own present because "Santa was sick." I didn't mind; I thought it was quite a late night shopping adventure. We had a budget of five dollars and went to town. And my other favorite was the year that my dad bought a racetrack for me and my sister and said, "Santa got confused and thought there was a little boy who lived here." My dad played with the racetrack all day!

Christmas brings out a lot of desperation and sadness in people, that I haven't done what I need to do, I've forgotten people, I don't like sending cards, worries over presents, suppressed and not so suppressed family tensions, and nostalgia for Christmas past. And nobody can probably do much worse than my grandparents who couldn't usually manage to buy a doll and sometimes had to pawn things around that time of year just to keep going. So with that in mind, my only Christmas wish is this -- that all the people I know and love know how much I adore them, appreciate them, and hope they get what they want. I've been given so very much in this life and don't need anything else. Except more time to do all those things to let everyone know.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Anyone can have a merry Christmas. All it takes is a little love." Linus from Peanuts

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie and drink suggestion: Shinerbock and Bad Santa -- nothing better to pass the time on this day

Benedictions and Maledictions
Merry Christmas Eve to all!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Gift For The Whole Family

The worst gift I ever got was an old bowl of chocolates infested by ants. Wrapped and under the tree, the ants had made their way out of the snowflake-themed paper and had set up camp underneath the Christmas tree. I always played Santa every year, having a keen eye for who had more gifts than others and keeping the flow of them relatively even. Open another! I might say to someone who had three million presents while someone else would only get something every other turn. There's an art to making it look like everybody gets as much as everyone else! Not true in life, but we do what we can at Christmas where illusion is prized over cold hard reality. So there I was, dressed in a Santa Baby t-shirt and skirt, I kept feeling something biting me. Nothing is biting you, Michelle, my mother said. Do your job! So I kept giving out presents, getting stung.

Finally, the offending gift was unwrapped, ants everywhere. It was a gift for the whole family so I gave it to my dad, who had less gifts than everyone else and he opened it and dropped it on the floor. I told you I was getting bit, I said, glaring at my mother. She laughed. Guess you were right, she said. I bet it's a hundred years old, probably passed from Christmas to Christmas. She brought out a bottle of Raid and sprayed a little. Let's get to the rest of it, she said. You're still Santa. The rest of the night was ribbons and bows, me ever vigilant for ants. Those bastards get into everything! The next morning, the tree looked barren, the sad truth of Christmas morning when you open on Christmas Eve. I didn't have a job anymore, just these little sores from the night before, the aftermath of the worst regifting in the world.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I've been a pretty lucky guy. Reckless enough to have a good time, not so reckless that I ended up in jail." Charlie Wilson

Cocktail Hour
Drinking morning suggestion: It's the holidays -- Hello, peach bellinis!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday! And much love and support to our old family friends, the Trimbles, on their loss of Barb, beloved wife and mother whose funeral is today. She was always so kind and funny -- she will be missed sorely. Rest in peace, dearest Barb!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

Girl With A Loaded Gun

Iris Chang wrote the Rape of Nanking, a book about well, rape, the plunder of thousands of women and beheading of many men, the systematic and little explored massacre of the Chinese by the Japanese Imperial Army. It spent ten weeks on the bestseller list. Her book was the first to document this atrocity. Like any dedicated writer, she started on her next couple of books, one about the Bataan death march. This is a girl clearly after my own heart! But the terrible news is despite her success that her psyche collapsed under the weight of her own depression and the sadness of the stories she told and she killed herself. Which begs the question -- do we pick our subjects or do they pick us? And if it is as I believe that they pick us, what are we to do if our subject matter is a tad on the bleak side?

As a child, I was periodically grounded from books. By books, I mean the ones I checked out at the library that gave me nightmares -- the worst offender was the sermons of Cotton Mather. No more Cotton Mather for you, Shelley, my mother would say. You will stick to whatever kiddie books the librarian gives you. I, being bad, got around this prohibition. I'd cry and say, Yes, Mother, you're right. No more books about witches and being burned at the stake. No more sermons about hell. I'll read Rebecca of Littlebrook Farm. Promise! And with my eyes aglow with good intentions, I'd go off to the library with Daddy every Saturday and get around the matronizing librarians of Boyce Ditto and cruise over to the adult section, looking for my old friends, like a junkie waiting for his man. My mind never gave me any peace. It wanted what it wanted! Years later, I would find my subject matter or it found me. I can't say that I'm glad for it, but I'm not sad either. As a child, one of my favorite pictures was a lone woman on a city street at night, skyscrapers all around her. It spoke of danger and romance, glamour. It spoke of a kind of lonely that I wanted. The stories that I began to tell weren't the Rape of Nanking, but the stories of women I know who have suffered violence at the hands of men and sometimes found ways to turn it on themselves. We have been given guns of all sorts, and if we're lucky, we know where to aim.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I had considered running away, but I will never escape my thoughts or agonies in my mind." Iris Chang (from the third and final draft of her suicide note)

Cocktail Hour
Drinking holiday song suggestion: Feed The World (what can I say, I'm a child of the 80s! I love this song!)

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Dear readers,
I spent a large part of today lying by a trashcan at Detroit Metro, hoping not to lose my place near the outlet. By large part, I mean eight hours. You will be glad to know that I did not cry, pout, or shout as I know that Santa is watching. Anyhoo, I'm going to give it a rest for tonight and come at you tomorrow. Be well and don't get near a terminal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Life I Didn't Imagine

It plays out like a movie except the dialogue isn't that great, and like my mother said of actors she didn't like, I always find myself playing the same part. Someone let my dead father into my house last night, and I was glad that he stayed for a few hours, downstairs on my couch. I wonder if he's watching too, sad that things haven't turned out, well, a little brighter. It's Christmas, and I give money to a man who is collecting for homeless veterans outside the post office in the gray cold snow with a styrofoam cup. I know it's the holidays now. What are we to do with all we have wasted and spent? I try and change the channel, but there is no remote. It's all right in my face.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"If I knew what the picture was going to be like I wouldn’t make it. It was almost like it was made already.. the challenge is more about trying to make what you can’t think of." Cindy Sherman

Cocktail Hour
Drinking coffee table book suggestion: Jazz William Claxton

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hit The Wrong Spot

I once read that we are defined by what we hate, and I fucking hope not because if so I'm defined by the tedium of my mind, the emptiness of my morals, and a deep unaccountable dislike of Enya and any music used in massage rooms, that la la la bullshit that is supposed to remind you of running mountain streams, but instead reminds me that my toilet needs to be fixed and is inhabited by Satan. And that reminds me of all the people I dislike, a teeny-tiny group, but still. Okay, two people. Maybe three. And then I'm reminded that I have to forgive them because I picked a religion that demands it and I wish I'd thought about it and how difficult that would be instead of being mesmerized by the beautiful tragedy of it -- the incense, the monstrances, the blood of Christ, the priests and their fluffly ninety fifty hairdos. I loved those hairdos and felt a deep joy at my baptism when I saw them all standing there, looking like Sylvio from the Sopranos, not Little Stevie from the E Street Band. Man, all that aquanet and the presence of God to boot! But back to the point, hate is a hard thing to rid one's self of and I have a temper that runs like pressure points -- hit the wrong spot and you're going to get a reaction that's far different and longer lasting than you might have expected.

So I'm thinking about my least favorite Bible story, the story of the prodigal son and how to rewrite it. It's not that I don't think the prodigal should be forgiven -- he should. But what about the other brother, the one that stayed and busted his ass and didn't end up in twenty-eight rehabs, forcing his parents' to take out another mortgage on their house, wandering the streets looking for him, worried sick that he would be dead in a crackhouse. Okay, I updated it. That's kind of my thing. After the big party for the bad dude who squandered, why not have a big party for the other brother? I'm told that it's a metaphor about how God forgives us and yeah, that's groovy. I'm all about that and Lord knows, I need a lot of forgivness all the time. Hate is a hard thing to hold onto, that embittered resentment. We're always so sure that everyone gets so much more than we do and it eats our hearts. But sometimes you have to make yourself at home and pull down a plate. After all, we consume so much -- what's a little piece of ourselves if it makes us feel better every now and again? Why not, as they say, have a party?

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I made a wasteland of everything I touched." Raymond Carver

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Greatest Palace Music Bonnie Prince Billy

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Dairy Queen Cups And Firecracker Stands

When I was a child, my mother used to go in the middle of the night to a psychic in a trailer tucked away between Mineral Wells and Weatherford. My sister and I waited out in the car while she had her cards read. Black as pitch, I could still see what was around me -- The Morning Dew Hair Salon (also a trailer), the roads littered with Dairy Queen cups and firecracker stands. The stands were everywhere -- it seemed as if one might never know when the impulse to blow something up would hit. We couldn't go to the psychic in the daylight; many of the local religious thought it the devil's work, that Satan lived in the trailer. Damn, I figured Satan being Satan would choose somewhere a little better appointed than Pheasant Run Valley (why do the most demoralized down and out places have such pretentious names suggestive of old money?), but no matter. My mother had issue with a coworker named Melba. Melba had given me a shirt with an armadillo on it one Christmas and a clown with a brick in it instead of stuffing. I thought her a little odd, but not anybody dangerous. My mother was not so sure. She bought a candle to burn from the psychic and hoped for relief from the internecine politics, from the poison of an office devoted to Palomino horse magazines. It didn't seem like a dangerous place, but it was. In addition to being a secretary there, my mother also cleaned the offices on the weekends for extra money and had found a homeless man living in the little-used upstairs area. A woman had been bound with her own bra and raped in the early morning hours behind the office, left to be found by the first person to enter the building. Melba seemed the least of the worries, but you could, my mother believed, never be too careful.

Because of my mother's propensity for snakes, many of the locals thought she was an actual witch which gave me a little street cred. But mostly I tried to hide my humble upbringing as did everyone I knew who ranged from middle-class to poor. We aspired to look better than we were, and I can remember getting a pair of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans for Christmas one year and wearing them every single day in hopes that people would notice I had something special. Instead, someone said in that most loving way, "Aren't you ever going to change your pants, you bitch?" Got to love middle school! But now the culture has shifted in an interesting way -- I see people younger than me try to make their social class lower than it is, to play up a supposed poverty and low-rent living as a kind of glamour. Somebody one of my friends dated, a real asshole I believe is the official term for this particular person, always went around saying that he wanted to be poor, that he hated that his family had sent him to college when all he wanted was to sit around in a trailer and drink PBR. I know which one I'd send him to if I could -- the trailer in the middle of nowhere where Satan was supposed to live. He could get a good crystal meth connection and sit around doing the drug that people refer to as "the Devil's dandruff." If that isn't enough to make him feel like he's hit rock bottom, I'm sure I could loan him my old Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, just in case he wanted something special to wear.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I was blessed with a gift. It's a gift and a curse. It never ends." Dan Fogelberg

Cocktail Hour
Drinking photography book suggestion: Annie Lebovitz: A Life, 1991-2005

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Anne's Famous Black And White Dress

One of my favorite biographies of all time is of the poet Anne Sexton. I read it years ago in graduate school when it came out to a lot of controversy. The biographer, Diane Middlebrook, had complete access to Sexton's recorded psychiatric sessions, something that gave a lot of people pause. This wasn't someone's journals or letters; it was something so private that perhaps even one as wonderful and glorious and gaudy as Anne was might not want known. The decision, made by her oldest daughter, Linda, created a brilliant book. Haunting and provocative, Anne was as complex as one of her poems. I've always been a Sexton fan -- the drama of her life seems wonderful to me. Multiple lovers, many gin and tonics, pills for days, an end in the car wrapped in a fur coat, a suicide that had been telegraphed for a long time. But the book did not glamorize. It gave her depth, faults, beauty, and tragedy. This was the woman who had written about her uterus, about masturbation, about abortion long before other people felt they could. She wouldn't have wanted a coat of sugar poured on her life. The biography documented those she had loved and harmed. It did not make her into a saint of poetry or anything else. The cover picture alone tells a complicated story -- the black and white reading dress, drink in one hand, cigarette in the other, smiling through the pain.

I know many people who deify the dead. Such is our impulse. The dead hold their pull, their lure. We forget their imperfections, how many fights we got into, the faults of character that made us cringe. A framed airbrushed picture of someone you loved in the prime of his or her life cannot piss you off. To Anne Sexton's daughter's immense credit, she supported the biography. More often a family gives access to a biographer only to hate the final result, particularly if it's true. That's why telling the truth (when you're not using it to be an asshole -- one of my favorite lines from people after they say something hideously cutting, I was just being honest!) is such a revolutionary act. It can make the dead live again, if only from the pages. And there's nothing better for a writer than that.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I don't think there is anything wrong with white space. I don't think it's a problem to have a blank wall." Annie Leibovitz

Cocktail Hour
Drinking biography suggestion: Anne Sexton by Diane Middlebrook

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday! Rest in peace to Diane Middlebrook!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cards, Presents, And Cheer

I usually do pictures on Saturday, but I'm working on a big photography project that I will be posting next Saturday. Instead, I'm going to take today to thank my nearest and dearest for Christmas cards and presents and cheer. You guys are the very best! And pose the question to all y'all -- favorite Christmas presents to give or get? Any specific ones that really made you happy?

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"When people say, 'She's got everything', I've got one answer - I haven't had tomorrow. " Elizabeth Taylor

Cocktail Hour
Drinking gift suggestion: Ritzenhoff stemware

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Saturday!

Friday, December 14, 2007

We Could Not Find Our Jackets

A friend of mine who spent a considerable amount of time creating sacriligious performance art had a boyfriend who liked to dress as a woman and kept begging her to lose more weight. She looked like walking death by anyone's standards, but he continued to buy her clothes a few sizes too small as "encouragement." By their second Christmas together, things were not pretty. She'd already crucified herself dressed in a corset twice that season at some basement theater. This performance utilized the dulcet tunes of Marilyn Manson, a bucket of fake blood, and unaccountably a small poodle named Vito. After the performance, we all (the group of friends who had endured this debacle needed a drink or five) retired to their house to exchange Christmas gifts -- she'd bought him a drum set; he bought her two hundred dollars' worth of very small lingerie. She threw the Victoria Secret gift box in his face. "This is a gift for you asshole." Nobody said a word, but we all went out into the night with great rapidity. Their fights were public and legendary, and we could not find our jackets soon enough.

Which brings us to the Christmas gift-giving dilemma to one's beloved. I have never minded the gift of lingerie, but some women I know find it to be cause for hanging around this time of year. And what to give someone you just started dating or would like to date or have dated and don't date anymore?! I spent a lot of time cruising around the wretched mini-mall in Denton with Hank amongst the dogs playing poker art series and clowns on black velvet, looking for the perfect thing for our love objects, friends, and family. We rarely got out of it in less than two hours, seldom with anything good. "Do you think fill in the blank with new love would like fill in the blank with ugly terrible gift?" Hank would ask. "Better than lingerie," I'd say, making us cast back to the night of the mock crucifixion that was followed by a real one, a party, as Lenny Bruce would say, that got really out of hand.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time." Thomas Merton

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Contemplating The Engine Room Mike Watt

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Living And The Dead, The Harmful From The Nourishing

Here's the last part!

When we got back to Texas, I went to a Bible study with Stacey that night. Austin was going to a bar to watch the Dallas Stars play. I asked him which bar he was going to so we could hook up later. Sadly, the bar in question was Hooters to which I replied, "I've had enough of other women's boobs for a while," still pissed off about not getting a Valentine's Day present. On our way to the class, Stacey hit me over the head with the Good Book, telling me that I deserved better.

"Jackson asked me out for tonight," Stacey says. Jackson is the sports editor in her office. I met him once, a middle-aged guy without kids. He's left food on her desk for six months, snacks like animal crackers. Stacey enjoys these treats, but hasn't pushed for more. Unlike me, the more Stacey likes someone, the more reluctant she is to date him.

"And?" I ask.

"I haven't answered yet. He e-mailed me, and asked me if I wanted to see Last Picture Show."

"That's your favorite. Like in his house? Like alone for the evening?"
"I'm assuming. Unless you know of a theater that shows movie that are almost thirty years old." She's trying hard to be cool about this whole thing, but her face erupts into a smile.

I try to remember how long it's been since I was excited about a night with someone.
Then I sit and watch Stacey pick at her food as if it might hurt her and am reminded that I have to feed Homey soon. I wonder why the snake won't eat dead food. Perhaps because it cannot answer the question why it, the food, died. I also suspect that it only senses the food when it, the food, moves since snakes don't see the way we do. And therein lies the question -- how do you distinguish between the living and the dead, the harmful from the nourishing?

Riding through the decommissioned army base in town, I wipe sweat off my forehead and watch a tarantula run across the street. My mother used to collect them and freeze them and decorate the house with them in clear-cast molds. Stacey navigates the roads, trying to find her last interview for the day. She's supposed to talk to a man who needs a liver transplant. I'm along for the ride, hanging my arm outside her car window, feeling it burn. We pass an old tower that I used to go to with my first boyfriend to make out on the weekends. The ground is rumored to be littered with land mines, which only added to the adventure.

The liver man lives next to the petting zoo where I spent one junior high field trip. I remember the guide telling us that if we put our fingers out, the calves would suck on them. When everyone had their fingers in the calves' mouths, one of the boys that worked at the petting zoo said, "They'll suck on anything" in a dreamy voice. Everyone tore their fingers away.

"You going to wait out here?" Stacey asks.

"Yeah. I'm going to circle ads and maybe we can go by one of the houses that allows pets." I roll down all the windows, lean back the seat, and start to look at one of Stacey's papers.

Stacey glances back one last time before collecting her notebook and camera. "You sure you're up for the heat?"

"I'm fine," I say, the same thing I said the first time I had sex with Austin on a large rock at Possum Kingdom Lake. Something felt wrong, but I didn't see until the next day that I'd been stung by dozens of little ants all over my back. By the middle of the day, I had a fever and chills. The bites left scars, distant constellations that I can see only when someone else holds up a mirror.

After a few hours of looking at places I don't want to live, Stacey drops me off at home. I get my mail, hoping for the check from my brother. Just when I was imagining how good it would feel to pay off all my bills, Claudine and her damn goats had to come screw up my life. Now I have to piss some of that money away on security deposits, pet deposits, and hook-up fees. The check from my brother is nowhere to be seen, but I find an envelope addressed to someone who used to live here marked child support information enclosed. A mailer stamped sexually explicit material inside is addressed to Austin care of me. He gets more and more of these packages in the mail, making me wonder what I'm doing wrong. The one thing that comes to mind is that he has only one kidney which makes him kind of a lightweight where drinking is concerned and sometimes after four or five beers he can't get it up. This experience proves traumatic for both of us because he feels like an asshole, and I feel like an asshole because I can't do anything to make him understand that I don't really care. I toss the box aside without opening it, but I'm ashamed to admit that I've given in to the temptation to look before, shocked only by the volume of breasts a man can see without getting bored.

The only other letter is from my gynecology clinic. I think back to my pap smear a few weeks ago. In the waiting room, I had a direct view of a retarded teenage boy sprawled on the only couch. He kept his hand down his pants and complained about the heat to his grandmother who read the paper and grunted. Now I'm wondering if there's something my insurance wouldn't pay, one more person dunning me for money. But it's a letter telling me that I have chlamydia and that I need to go back to the clinic and get the scrip for the drugs to treat it before it becomes something serious. I think about all the meanings serious can have, good and bad, before I set the letter aside in a pile with all my other outstanding debts, bills that keep coming. I'm not sure how I'm going to pay.

After a Dr. Pepper, I manage to get Homey into the small carrying cage in which he made his first journey to my house. I do this by coaxing him with a stick. I fear him, and I will not feed him. The phone rings as I close the door of the cage. Austin? Does he somehow sense what I'm doing? I let the machine pick up.

"Hey, it's me. You're right. I've decided to give love a chance," Stacey says. "I called to ask if I could borrow your necklace. I mean, what the hell. Call me if you get this in time."

Stacey sounds young and happy. I think that she deserves somebody nice, but I also want to tell her be careful. I put Homey in the passenger seat of my car and pray that the rattlesnake farm is open. The hours are erratic at best. That first and only time I was there, I clutched at my mother as we walked in the door. In the corner, a rattlesnake rattled and scared me and I grabbed onto my mother's shoulders, a woman five inches shorter than I am, a woman whose entire body had been decimated by cancer. It breaks me now to think about it.

My mother and I came to the farm because she was looking for a rattlesnake in clear-cast for a birthday gift for one of her nurses. The owner, a big old boy named Garland, told her that he didn't get too many of those anymore because a lot of people who used to do that had cancer from the acetone used to make the molds. There are so many terrible things that nobody tells you about. And I stood there thinking, the thing she loved is killing her and it's too late to go back and be careful.

"How much will you give me for this?" I ask Garland when I arrive, Homey in tow. Garland looks exactly the way I remember him, except he wears a sterling silver rattle around his neck. Homey and I barely made it through the door before the end of the day, but we're here and I'm going to make a deal.

"He's a pretty thing. You might be able to get more for him at one of the pet shops in Ft. Worth."

The thought of riding with Homey all the way to Ft. Worth is more than I can stand. "I want him gone now."

"Let me see what I can do," he says. He reaches down and picks up Homey's cage to get a closer look. I lean toward the cage, while Garland touches him through the wire bars.

"I can give you a hundred. Will that be enough?"

It's true that I'm clutching the handle of Homey's cage so tight that my hand hurts, but I let that son of a bitch go.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Spector is a good guy, but he's a nut. Ha, ha, ha! You know, I love him, but he's unpredictable. He's OK as long as he don't drink." Ike Turner

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Riding High Jerry Jeff Walker

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday! RIP to Ike Turner!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Eight Murders In One Month

After three hours of pretending to file student loan applications, I tell my boss that I have cramps and need to go home. It's the perfect excuse because they can come on at any time and disappear just as quickly. Nobody's doing much anyway because the summer drains all energy from the days, leaving the nights for mayhem. During the worst heat wave in the 70s, Mineral Wells had eight murders in one month. Things seems slower now, but who knows how long that will last?

One of the secretaries is reading people's tea leaves and telling them the future from the shapes the leaves make. You have to drink the tea, turn your cup upside down, twirl the saucer three times, and see what have images formed. As much as I want my future, I can't stomach the taste.

So, I meet my best friend Stacey at El Matador. She doesn't eat, but if you can look past that, she's the perfect lunch companion. El Matador sits between the Salvation Army and JoAnn's Fabrics in the Golden Triangle Plaza, a run-down strip mall next to the Baker Hotel, a huge building that used to be a spa for celebrities many many years ago. It's strange to imagine this town being a place that people wanted to visit instead of a place in which the unlucky managed to get stuck.
"Can't you get rid of the damn thing? Let him deal with his own snake for a while," Stacey says. Tired from the heat, she slumps in her chair. This makes her look like a little girl, even wearing what she calls her "Lois Lane" outfit for her job at the Mineral Wells Index. One of her responsibilities is to take pictures of car and boat accidents, something she likes for the metaphorical value, if not the actual activity itself. The actual work pains Stacey because her last boyfriend died in a motorcycle accident on Highway 281 a few years ago, and she can't see an accident without thinking about that one.

She shakes grains of rice off her fork and puts about three up to her mouth. If she ever ate everything that was on her plate, it would take hours. I don't know how she does it. If something is good, I tend to want more even if it ends up making me sick in the end.

"I can't. He's counting on me." Two tables away, a group of boys make farting noises with their arms. I start to smile, despite myself.

"Don't those bastards ever die?" she asks.

"All I know is that I told Austin I would take care of him. He doesn't have any other options."

"That boy of yours ain't worth a kiss my ass," she says. She puts down her fork to slow down her eating. "You should sell the snake, take the apartment over the bookstore, and try to find a better job."

I suspect she doesn't like Austin because of his pornography obsession which I also find objectionable, but not for the same reasons. Last Valentine's Day, I took him to New Orleans to see Jimmy Buffet, running up my last credit card with any room on it. He didn't get me anything because he'd just ordered nearly a thousand dollars worth of porn off the Internet and was broke. We stayed at a hotel in Baton Rouge, where he confessed that he didn't know if he could ever tell me that he loved me. If this story has a happy ending, I'll be as surprised as you are.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I guess we're going to be here for a while. Best to get used to each other." Lou Reed

Cocktail Hour
Drinking champagne suggestion: Gruet

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Birthday to my dear friend Robert, who all y'all (Texas use of plural) know as my ex-husband as identified in his thoughtful comments every now and again! Hope it's a great one!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

All The Meanings Serious Can Have

Hi readers! I'm printing a story that first appeared in Blue Mesa Review for the next few days. I'll be back on my regular schedule once this wicked, wicked semester is over!

All the Meanings Serious Can Have

I have made myself uncomfortable for men, but there are limits.

Right now, my boyfriend Austin is with his best friend, also named Austin, on an all summer canoe trip down the Brazos River, Brazos meaning the arms of God. In this particular case, God's arms are full of branches and snakes and old tires. While he is gone, I am stuck with Austin's 6'3" boa constricter named Homey. I hate Homey and his glass tank and I especially hate that in three days I will have to feed Homey a live rat which will have to fall from my fingers unless I can convince some stupid/brave person to do it for me.

The canoe trip is an excuse for Austin and Little Austin (which is not a witty penis metaphor, but rather the way to distinguish his short best friend) to share private time, which essentially means they've been on a running drunk for somewhere near a month and show no signs of coming home until the very last minute, that minute being the day they register for their last year at the community college where I work as a financial aid officer. Austin has called once, asking "Will you feed my snake? You're the only one who can do it," which would have been flattering if he hadn't been talking about an actual snake who eats living rats, something else I loathe. All his other friends have visited them on the river at least once, but I have not been invited. I am eight years older than Austin. On a good day, I feel wild and reckless and on a bad day, I feel like Bobbie Dunne, a two-hundred pound Mineral Wells legend who works at the Howdy Doody and tries to lure younger men into her bed by telling them she has a new air-conditioner at home.

Pushing the snooze button, I roll over hoping to wake up in time for work. Sometimes I think I make this stuff up, but there's Homey's cage. I see it every morning.

I wake up the second time, hot and sweaty even though I only have one thin sheet over me because the wall unit isn't able to keep up with the July heat. What's worse is that in three weeks I will have to leave this shithole rent house and find another that won't be too expensive. The landlord, a masseuse/aromatherapist named Claudine left a note on the door, telling me that my lease would not be renewed because the house she moved to would not allow her three goats inside the city limits and had fined her $100 per goat each month. Claudine suffers from the illusion that her problems interest other people in such a compelling fashion that her victims will forget that they are being sodomized without proper lubrication. I have looked at other places, but they all require extensive deposits or stink like cat urine. The one place I could imagine living sits above a used bookstore on the town square, but will not allow Homey.

It's Friday, and I think about calling in, but I've already used most of my sick days and will have to take vacation time for my move. I push myself out of my waterbed, into the shower, and out the door, trying not to think about the fact that I've got to get in a hot, smelly 1978 Ford Grenada to drive twenty minutes to a job that doesn't pay me enough to get a new car.

The sunlight is so bright it hurts, and I decide to stop and get a Coke on my way. I figure I'm already running so late, what's another five minutes going to do? My brother says this attitude accounts for my credit card debt and that I must weigh every financial decision, even if the amount of money seems insignificant. My brother's one goal in life was to get away from this town, which he has already achieved by becoming a high-paid lawyer in Singapore. He offered to send me a check for $7,000 to pay off my debt, which try as I might, I can't seem to chip away because of interest and late fees. I wanted to avoid this fate, but finally called him last week and said, go ahead and I'll pay you back at $300 per month until nothing's left. Nothing, unfortunately, being the best I can hope for.

With money on my mind, I drive past the Brazos River Rattlesnake Farm, a place that announces itself with hand-painted signs advertising "Live Snakes, Next Exit." I'm wondering how much money they would give me for Homey, as they are in the business of buying rattlesnakes at $4 per pound, maybe more for exotic ones like Homey. When I mentioned this as a possible alternative for Homey in Austin's absence, Austin said he would rather sell his snake to strangers than see it sold to the rattlesnake farm where it would live out its days in a pit with many other snakes. Homey is special, Austin said, and I found myself in the peculiar and alarming position of being murderously jealous of a snake.

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 just before she overdosed on my dead uncle's morphine in an attempt to smother the pain caused by the operation. 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.

Another time, Austin and Little Austin 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 Austin and Little Austin were 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
"Dreaming about being an actress is more exciting then being one." Marilyn Monroe

Cocktail Hour
Drinking manifesto reading suggestion: Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti

Benedictions and Maledicitons
Happy Tuesday! Be careful in the ice!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hail Damage

When Party of Five was in its heyday, my friend Shawn used to tease me about being like Jennifer Love Hewitt. Pebbles Love Brooks, he'd say, knowing how irritating I found her vapid presence. How can you like someone who insists on being referred to as "Love?" These are the central mysteries of life, I suppose. And she's thin and has naturally large breasts -- this is the devil's work. But now that she's been photographed on a vacation in a bikini that shows, stay with me now, that she has a bit of a stomach and some cellulite (or as my friend Angela refers to it, hail damage, a term I love) on her rear, I've softened quite a bit given the general nastiness of the coverage. Don't people understand that actresses are airbrushed within an inch of their lives and know how to pose for the camera in ways that will make them look good? And even the most beautiful can take a bad picture? This is the woman that gave us I Know What You Did Last Summer. Show some respect!

Seriously, I think this is the sort of thing that helps perpetuate a culture of eating disorders, misery, body shame, and spending a considerable amount of time financing a billion dollar diet industry or putting our heads in the toilet. Super sexy, I know, and so kind to the teeth. To Love's credit, she stood up for herself and told everyone essentially to fuck off. She's on a television show now that I've never seen, The Ghost Whisperer, where she talks to the dead for those in need. All the critics predicted it would be a huge bomb, but it's been on for years and the ratings are quite good. I guess we're all dead in some ways, trying to regain what's been lost to time, gravity, the relentless amounts of poison we accept while sucking in our guts and pretending that we're not hurt by any of it, not one little bit.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Here I am trying to live, or rather, I am trying to teach the death within me how to live." Jean Cocteau

Cocktail Hour

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Anything People

The other day as I cruised around Target in a daze looking for wrapping paper, I heard a woman talking to her friend about her little girl's birthday party. If I don't get enough Dora bags, everyone is going to be fucking pissed. I'm so stressed, I could die. It's different bullshit every year and God forbid you forget anything, because all the other mothers are on your ass, talking shit about you. It occurred to me how hard and lonely motherhood must be in a time where you can be ostracized for not throwing a perfect birthday party. All I remember about my childhood birthday parties was that we had a Betty Crocker cake and hauled out the old Pin the Tail on the Donkey game. And it was fine and nobody felt bad about not getting some stupid gift bag filled with worthless commercial crap.

A few days ago, I was watching the very first episode of Sesame Street that came with a disclaimer that it might not be appropriate for pre-schoolers now. I don't know why except that they might learn something that doesn't fit into our politically correct rosy-colored view of the world that we feed children now lest they gain an understanding that no, teamwork doesn't solve all problems (there's one kid stuck with all the work in any group work situation), that we probably can't "do it together!" -- the Middle East anyone? (one of my first political memories was of Sadat being murdered -- leading to the chant "Sadat got shot!"), and that William doesn't want a doll because it will as the book says, "make him a better father," but it will probably indicate that he'll be designing the clothes I'll be buying for the next twenty years. As I watched all the characters I remembered from my childhood, I thought about how much I'd longed to live on Sesame Street which was essentially a benign ghetto populated with good and bad characters that all had quirks and liked to count a lot. Of course, my favorite character was Oscar the Grouch -- no surprise there. He liked to make people upset and lived in trash. What was there not to love? But if I had to be anyone, it would be one of the Anything People. They were socks without anything on them, and when you woke up that morning, you told a man what you wanted to be and he put things on you that let you be that person, even if no one else thought you should.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Uh uh. Sorry, Slimy, time for sleep now. So close your eyes and dream of all the wonderful Trash that's yet to come." Oscar the Grouch

Cocktail Hour
Drinking documentary suggestion: The Devil's Playground

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Michigan Seems Like A Dream To Me Now

Hi Readers! Thanks again on all the great feedback on the novella. Here are your Saturday pictures. Happy Saturday to all!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Drinks That Tastes Like Candy

I still work at Planned Parenthood, and it suits me even if others come and go. I don’t go out much anymore, but when I do, it’s to a bar near my house, a place that Kevin and I went once or twice, called The Blue Goose. Nobody really expected me to quit with all the Looking for Mr. Goodbar activity, and I’m glad to say that I don’t disappoint, but I’m more careful these days. It’s not like I’m looking for the big love, but company can be all right, something to pass the time.

Everyone in the Goose looks beat to hell, a hard-drinking place that doesn’t cater to the upscale crowds that want drinks that taste like candy. When fish fly season comes every June, these insects cover the buildings, so much so that they houses appear to be moving. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, beautiful and repulsive, otherworldly. I went one night and took some leftover food home. When I went to the fridge the next day, one lone fish fly sat on top of the Styrofoam box, clinging from the night before. I wanted the food, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat it. I had to throw the entire thing away.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Technique is what you fall back on when you run out of inspiration." Rudolf Nureyev
Cocktail Hour
Drinking documentary suggestion: I Am An Animal

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Builder Of Boys, Makers Of Men

Here's the second installment. Tomorrow will be the end of the novella. Thanks so much for sticking with it all this time. You guys are the best!

I’m still alive, if not entirely well, which is more than I can say for my father. Liver cancer, no real surprise, but excruciating. He looked like the pictures that health teachers show you to counteract all those sexy ads that conspire to sell you the demon rum. What I’m saying is that he looked bad, then worse, then worse still, and then he was gone, a closed casket. At my grandfather’s funeral, my mother had put a lock of her hair in his coffin, telling us that she wanted part of her to be buried with him, she loved him that much. But isn’t that always true, whether we want it to be or not?

Josh and I flew to Atlanta for the funeral, and I fretted over the extra post 9/11 airport security, my illegally procured Vicodan stored in an Altoid box. That and Father’s leftovers got me through the worst of it before Roman got busted and I had to lay off, waiting for the rare dental procedure to provide access. Perhaps this is for the best -- I no longer have the physical tolerance for the abuse I once visited upon my body.

Josh and I no longer live together, that’s another thing. When Father died, Josh got better, stopped mutilating himself, and stayed on medication most of the time. His prep school did a round of lay-offs because of the flagging Detroit economy and Josh found himself back at Notre Dame, Builders of Boys, Makers of Men, or so says their sign outside the school. So back where he started and said he’d never return. Like the Fathers, his life is one devoid of women and the pleasures of the flesh, which, for him, have never been entirely pleasures.

At any rate, my main reason for living with him evaporated, and I could not come to terms with all that had happened to me there, and I got sick of living in Josh’s perpetual mess so I found a small townhouse by Lake St. Clair, a body of water that is beautiful in all seasons, but as polluted as a septic tank and unfit for swimming. Not that it’s warm enough to swim in and even with global warming, one is seldom tempted. I did see Coley and a little girl in a park near it once, and I waved at them. She did not seem happy to see me so I walked back to my place and never returned. I suppose she is afraid that I will tell Josh and that maybe he would want to be part of his child’s life. Or maybe, more accurately, she is afraid that he wouldn’t. Either way, it’s in her interest to maintain whatever illusion suits her at the moment, just like all the rest of us. She looked so much older that day in the park, and I wonder if I did too. It’s hard to know that about yourself since you age so subtly, day by day, year by year. What can I say? I look like myself, only a little worse for the wear.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"To destroy is always the first step in any creation." e. e. cummings

Cocktail Hour
Drinking snack suggestion: Pigs in a Blanket -- live with it people; I am, sad as it is, from the south!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Many happy birthday wishes and much love to my dear friend Shawn!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Corpus Christi, Mustang Island, Laguna Madre

Dear readers,
I have taken you along with me through my novella, which you have graciously read. As with writing it, I reach the last chapter with the great pleasure of completion and a tinge of sadness for leaving this world in which I spent so much time. I still remember finishing this particular piece of writing when the Superbowl was in Detroit. During the course of the game, I had the flash that Josette would end up five years in the future for the last few pages of it and went upstairs to write it. For the next three days, you'll get the final installment. Thanks for all the kind words and comments along the way!

Builders of Boys, Makers of Men

I was hypnotized once at a bar with a college girlfriend. The bar, Moonrakers, sat a mile away from the beach and the owner set out peanuts soaked with jalapeno juice to keep everyone drinking. Not that we needed help -- spring break at South Padre Island in Texas did not promote moderation, even before it became the popular destination it is today what with the Girls Gone Wild videotapes. I don’t know why I went -- I think it was at the recommendation of the David Koresh-like therapist who said that some time away might from Detroit be beneficial to all family members and while the sun and ocean might appear ill-advised for someone as fair as I am, the ocean itself was, for lack of a more accurate word, magical, what with the girls shaving their legs in the Gulf of Mexico and wild horses running free. Even the names of the places were beautiful -- Corpus Christi, Mustang Island, Laguna Madre.

The hypnotist didn’t make us do the usual tricks, quacking like a duck or kissing people we didn’t know. We’d all done quite enough of the latter for a lifetime. Instead, he asked us what our greatest fear was -- my friend said spiders, which I knew to be true and here we were in Texas, home of thousands of spiders that couldn’t exist in Michigan’s climate, black widows and brown recluses and tarantulas, and I thought her brave. I said champagne corks, an answer, that according to witnesses, made everyone laugh. I remember nothing of the actual event beyond being forced onto the stage. The funny part is that champagne corks terrify me -- I have to leave the room when a bottle is being opened and cover my eyes even when I’m in the other room. I have always hated weddings for this reason.

When I got back to my seat, the show was over and a young guy said to me, You must have had a pretty easy life if a loud popping sound is all it takes to scare you. He began to hit the table with his open palms. I didn’t flinch, and after a few minutes of getting louder and louder, he reached over and broke my jaw. He tried to run out, but a man in a green jacket that had a map of Vietnam on it with "We Were Winning When I Left" embroidered over the map, took after him and beat him until he didn’t get up off the floor. I tried to thank the guy, but someone had already called an ambulance and was rushing me toward it. He didn’t have but one tooth left in his head, and I suppose that’s what he meant when he said it was nothing, he didn’t have anything to lose.

The important thing in life, I think, is not to flinch. I’m still glad I didn’t, although the jaw gives me trouble to this day. I suppose if I’d given him the fear he wanted, we’d have had sex that night or been friends. But what about respect? What about pride in one’s self? I’d already given up a lot and as everyone knows, you can sometimes do things on vacation that would never be possible in your real life. I suppose that’s what I was for Kevin, a vacation from his real life, and when I showed him Josh’s blood on the walls, he flinched and realized that his vacation wasn’t going as planned. I never forgave him the weakness and even now, five years later, I still see fear and disgust in his eyes. I had to wipe those walls. Not him.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I'm not usually where I think I am. It's kind of spooky." Laurie Anderson

Cocktail Hour
Drinking gift suggestion: Witch Ball -- these are great glass objects designed to protect against evil spirits -- I have four; I guess a fair amount of people feel that I need them!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

He Blames Us For Everything

One of my best friends in high school lived in a HUD house on the edge of the decommissioned army base in my hometown. Her family was poor, so poor that she got to pick out clothes for back to school shopping and put them on layaway where they would stay and become her Christmas presents if she was lucky. She'd visit the clothes during the fall, hoping. Some years the gifts would return back to the store and all the installment plan would be forfeited. This was the other extreme from my very best friend who had an actual Saturday Night Fever pinball machine in her rec room, along with two arcade games -- Ms. Pacman and Frogger. I never saw the inside of the HUD house -- her parents, although they loved me because I was a good influence (dear God, if they only knew!), never let strangers inside. My friend's dad was a Vietnam Vet and had many issues with Asians -- the irony being that he married a Vietnamese woman who spoke almost no English and didn't allow the children to speak anything other than English. "We get into trouble if people harass us for being non-whites," my friend would say. "He blames us for everything, even when my brother got beaten up by a bunch of rednecks."

A lot of Asians lived in Mineral Wells given the times -- groups known as "boat people" flocked from Laos and Cambodia to seek refuge. But the racism and poverty was hard -- the typical knowledge of Asian culture was LaChoy, a horrible chop suey mixed (their slogan was "LaChoy makes Chinese swing American!") that my sister and I would beg my mother not to fix for dinner. We'd cry, and she'd tell us to "fucking expand your narrow little horizons." And she'd force us to visit the boat people at Christmas at the Lutheran church who set up shelters for them to show us how lucky we were to get toys and whatnot. I thought about my two friends, how different their lives were. My poor friend was beautiful and my rich friend was not. I was nothing -- poor but not dirt poor, okay-looking but not stunning. On LaChoy nights, I'd pick at what was on my plate, hating it, while my mother told me that it could be worse, that I could have nothing.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Always make the audience suffer as much as possible." Alfred Hitchcock

Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story collection suggestion: Nobody Belongs Here More Than You Miranda July

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, December 03, 2007

All That Offering

I have few truly rare traits -- most of my tastes are mainstream; I don't do anything weird or daring or exciting, don't participate in extreme anything, don't venture far from my comfort zones, such as they are. But I suspect I am one of the few people who enjoys cleaning up after a party more than the party itself. There's something deeply lonely about a place that has been returned to itself, the house resuming its usual manor with a sigh when all the people are gone, the leftovers swimming in grease and uneaten misery, the drinks almost all gone except the truly vile ones that even the hard-core lushes can't stomach. You are generally left to do a post-mortem with the other people who have stayed to wipe down the house, do the dishes, clean up the glass. And, of course, this is when the truly excellent gossip begins -- So and so hates her husband! Did you see how she didn't sit next to him all night? God, I give it two months. You get the idea. And then, Man we drank all that -- dear God!

There are people who never speculate about other people, who refuse to talk about the intricacies of human behavior out of respect for the boundaries of good taste. As a person who has drank Everclear out of a Polo bottle, this kind of delicacy is out of my grasp. I can't get comfortable in the living room that nobody sits in, or I can't really appreciate the show towels that people have in their bathrooms for nobody to use. I tend to be a straight, no chaser kind of girl. As a child, my parents would dress me in frilly little gowns and ask me to serve snacks to the guests. I hated it, all that offering. But as time went on and the night got later, I'd drink the remnants of whatever the guests had left behind before moving onto the next thing. And the night would become more magical, and I would begin to talk as if given a potion that made anything possible, even my wishes as I blew out the candles that signalled the party was over.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I don't want to say anything because I know I am unable to protect you from the harm that I see." Camille Claudel

Cocktail Hour
I speak often of my old buddy Hank on this blog. Here's an essay of his, "The Faults Of Other People," that can be accessed through this link:

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Christmas In Michigan

Hi readers! This is my lovely sister Beth and me in Frankenmuth, home of Bronner's, the largest Christmas store in the world! We arrived during a snowstorm which was loads of fun. I'm stil enough of a Texan to adore the snow. And I ate myself sick on the chicken dinners so there you have it. I'll be writing more tomorrow when I recover from my food hangover.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Everybody has a gun in their car in Detroit." Jim Harrison

Cocktail Hour
Drinking chocolate suggestion: Frankenmuth fudge chocolate sampler -- especially candy cane and orange creamsicle!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Christmas In An Ice Storm

Hi readers! I'm out Christmas shopping in Frankenmuth (check out the setting in The Walking Man blog -- he attended his son's wedding here last weekend and posted a picture of himself there, dressed to the nines! I'll be doing a regular post tonight. Happy Sunday, dears!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Life In Detroit Is Worth Living

Hi readers! Happy Saturday! Here's some Detroit Christmas shopping ideas -- the tile is from Pewabic Pottery, the Pistons merchandise is from Target, and the guns are from Urban Outfitters. A special rest in peace to Evel Kneival, a true icon from my long ago childhood.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Close To Twilight

Last night one of my dear friends started a story about the night before Thanksgiving with "After the tequila debacle, . . . " and I realized all over again why I love my friends. My worst drinking debacle involved a vodka martini served in something that resembled a large soup-bowl like vat, and I had ordered a sandwich named after Patti Smith and before I could take one bite of my Patti which was basically a ham and cheese and had nothing to do with Jesus saving or not saving me for my sins, I was talking about the crucifixion which is not a good sign given that it was early, not even close to twilight, and there would soon be vomit in my hair, the hallmark of a real sex goddess, one of those ancient beauty secrets nobody mentions. I had all the appeal of one of those body suits from the late eighties/early nineties that were intended to make you look like your shirt was ever-so tight and tucked in, but in fact gave you horrible wedgies and the crotch snaps undid with a fair amount of regularity which left you looking like a fool until you made it to the bathroom to readjust. Until it happened again.

As for fashion in those long ago jumpsuit days, I once wore a belt as a shirt -- when you are as flat-chested as I am, this is not the difficulty it might seem, teamed it with a black blazer and combat boots. Those were the days of Thunderbird and Mad Dog and trying to be a militant feminist in a world of Reagan and Texas and the beginnings of Snapple and life as we know it was beginning to unravel. Love was around, but there was already a scarcity economy -- nothing would be enough. But I had my friends, those complicated souls so full of history already. And their stories which sometimes began, After the tequila debacle . . . We were nowhere near Barstow, but there's always a desert, and we all spend time there in various altered states of love, drugs, money, hope, and sometimes we are amazed at how alive it is because nothing prepares us for what we will find. We know of the desolation, but few tell of anything else.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I wouldn't recommend sex, drugs or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me." Hunter S. Thompson

Cocktail Hour
Drinking tequila suggestion: Herrudura Silver

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What Everyone Calls The Real World

The other day a student dozed in my class as if he were on an airplane, head back, eyes closed, drool slipping out of the side of his mouth. Back in my younger days, I would have kicked him or hit his desk or said wake up and get out, but now I don't care at all and let him sleep until he woke himself up by slipping out of his desk and falling on his pile of books much to the laughter of his fellow classmates. Punished by the sin instead of for, just as God intends, and he asked a few questions, all of which had just been answered while he dreamt of God knows what. I said, Skippy (not his real name), You were in sleepytime when I addressed that which is why everyone is laughing. But I don't blame you -- I'm bored by myself too. I'd sleep through me as well. He got visibly angry, a strange reaction since I thought my response was fairly self-deprecating and true. I've been teaching long enough to know that I'm not God's gift. At best I'm a white elephant present that's been passed around the party a few beats too long.

Sometimes I'd like to divorce myself or at least get a temporary restraining order. I've been doing the same thing long enough to feel like a stripper on her last shift at the Bada Bing, twirling around the same pole, asking the same questions to the same audience. Did I miss anything? No, we sat around and braided each other's hair. Etc. There's only so much you can say. But lest you think I don't love my students, that's not the case. I adore them. What I hate is myself, playing in a role less engaging and longer running than Cats. Someone, not a teacher, told me the other day that I should love my job, that I was shaping the future. This self-righteous asshole got my death stare. I used to use it in class when I wanted to bring in order, but now I find it's better suited for my own purposes in what everyone calls the real world. But when you find yourself in a classroom with all the pain and sadness teaching writing brings in both you and your students, it doesn't get much realer than that.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"When I'm in Europe, I'd rather be in New York and when I'm in New York, I'd rather be in Europe. I'm never happy where I am." Woody Allen

Cocktail Hour
Drinking scotch suggestion: Oban

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday! Congratulations to my Pistons for trouncing Cleveland last night at the Palace! And a special hello to my lovely friend Nina!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Call And Response

As I was sitting here thinking about what the hell to write today, it was suggested to me by Cardinal Spellman, a semi-regular commenter, that I should steal the questionnaire from The Walking Man's blog and answer the questions. Thanks Mark for saving me again. So God does answer prayers about what to write! Here goes -- I'll be back at you tomorrow with a regular post about the past, misery, funny times, and blood.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
nothing to do, nowhere to be, a book I really want to read

2. What is your greatest fear?
losing my sense of humor because of some awful trauma

3. Which living person do you most admire?
I admire many people, but if you know someone long enough, you get out of that stage and that turns into love which isn't really admiration.

4. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

5. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
being judgmental -- bullshit holier than thou attitude, that sort of thing

6. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
being right and political correctness ranks up there

7. On what occasion do you lie?
Why would I be truthful about that one?

8. What do you dislike most about your appearance?
Where to begin?

9. What is your greatest regret?
not one, but several, built up over time, waste, lack of planning

10. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
I will never ever tell!

11. Which talent would you most like to have?

12. What is your current state of mind?

13. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I'd tone down the anxiety and relax.

14. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

15. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
a book

16. What is your most treasured possession?
first edition of Franny and Zooey

17. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
doing something stupid to screw up my friendships

18. Where would you like to live?
despite all the negative publicity, the D is just fine

19. What is your most marked characteristic?
I'm pretty relentless, stubborn, have a photographic memory for useless information, terrible one for things that count.

20. Who are your favorite writers?
Raymond Carver, Amy Hempel, Larry McMurtry, John Updike, Augusten Burroughs, Caroline Knapp, Dorothy Allison, too many to count

21. Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Isadora Wing

22. Who are your heroes in real life?
writers and artists

23. What is it that you most dislike?
lack of generosity in people

24. What is your motto?
"Drinking and poetry -- what else is there that counts?" Richard Burton

25. Favorite journey?
all of them are interesting in their own ways

26. What do you value most in your friends?
compassion and forgiveness, sense of humor

27. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
usually bad ones, like "Fuck that shit."

28. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Marvin Gaye except without his enormous talent

29. What is your greatest extravagance?
clothes and champagne

30. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
I'd make them live again, sort of a Reanimator fantasy.

31. What is your favorite occupation?

32. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

33. What is the quality you most like in a man?
guarded optimism

34. How would you like to die?
painlessly and laughing

35. If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
I'd try to come back as myself and do it better.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I've always taken 'The Wizard of Oz' very seriously, you know. I believe in the idea of the rainbow. And I've spent my entire life trying to get over it.” Judy Garland

Cocktail Hour
Drinking documentary suggestion: Deliver Us From Evil

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday! Thanks so much for all the suggestions on the story!