Saturday, June 30, 2007

Ill-Fated Lovers That Would Always End Up Together

One of the first stories I ever got published was about a heartbroken ballerina with an eating disorder of sorts who went on a mysterious date that didn't change her life. It was as good as it sounds, and I can see how my lack of knowledge of ballet (a childhood crush on Mikhail Barishinikov doesn't count for much) and my desire to thinly veil reality (I was heartbroken beyond belief) worked to create something that while stilted and artificial, still had some effectiveness. I had labored over that story, draft after draft, until I came up with some lines that shown through the pretentious set-up and inexperience. When I read it, I didn't cringe all the way through so I knew I had made some progress.

For a couple of years after my grandfather died, my mother's mother lived with my family. My mother and her mother did not get along so well, but my grandmother was partially deaf from being beaten by my grandfather and always medicated with a cocktail of booze and cigarettes, those terrific anecdotes to strong emotion, and she read Barbara Cartland romances by the grocery bag that my rich best friend schlepped over after she'd finished them. I can still see her, sitting in a haze of smoke and reading about those ill-fated lovers who would always end up together. She never read anything I wrote -- even at a young age, she found me a little depressing. But I daresay the ballerina story would have done something for her. After all, she made an appearance in it, near the end, where she's reading cards, regular playing ones, at the kitchen table, all those queens and kings telling her about the future. The cards were thin and worn, some of them almost see-through, and you could tell that she would never switch decks, that the magic was in those cards, the ones she'd been dealt and would deal to tell you what would happen next.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"How strange are the tricks of memory, which, often hazy as a dream about the most important events of a man's life, religiously preserve the merest trifles. " Richard Burton

Cocktail Hour
Drinking novel suggestion: Free Food For Millionaires Min Jin Lee

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Saturday! Rest in peace, Joel Siegel!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Potions Waiting To Be Concocted

The entire night during my last Day of the Dead party, I could smell burning hair, my own. I'd gotten too close to a Holy Death candle while waiting for people to show up and had to put myself out. A friend of mine and I decided to put this shindig on and everyone was late, think Martha Plimpton in 200 Cigarettes, and we decided that if nobody did show up, we'd have a lot of Doritos and guacamole on our hands, not to mention all the food for the dead people I'd made (the only time I cook -- flan for my mother, pistachio pudding for Hank, and circus peanuts for daddy), and many potions waiting to be concocted. By the time I started to think that maybe buying the tarantula pinata had been an unnecessary, frivolous expense, people began to flood in, more than I had expected and they all wanted their tarot cards read. Because I had on a dress that was more costume than outfit, people thought I could tell them their futures.

I don't have any gifts as a psychic or even a hostess, except that I can make a good drink, and I'm kind of an optimist at even the worst of times, maybe only the worst of times. With my burnt hair and dress designed like snakeskin, I laid out the cards many a time, gave the happiest reads I could, given whatever had been dealt. John Lee Hooker played on the stereo -- It serves you right to suffer, serves you right to be alone . . . The night wore on, the night to honor the dead. Their candles burned. Nobody touched their food. Nothing got disturbed or broken, not even the tarantula pinata waiting to spill its contents to someone willing to hit it hard enough, in just the right way.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“When you are already in Detroit, you don't have to take a bus to get there.” Ram Dass

Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story collection suggestion: Sam the Cat Matthew Klam

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Walking Stick For Emphasis

Years ago, I taught a class where one of the students stayed perched on his chair for the entire period, like a bird ready to take flight. L (not his real initial) often wore a red cape to class and ate copious amounts of pixie sticks during my lectures, sometimes so fast he'd choke on the sugary powder and sputter like an engine in the water about to leave the harbor. I couldn't get mad despite the disruption -- a large part of my interest in the class rests on what L might do on any given day. Sometimes it got a little too interesting like when he started burning himself with cigarettes during break, prompting the other students to come in, yelling, L is burning himself with cigarettes. I walked out to see what I could do, but he'd already stopped and was prepared to resume his usual perched position. I saw the two angry marks on his arm, a testament to what I have no idea, and asked if I could do anything. Nope, he said, lining up his pixie sticks. I like to eat them in order, he said. All grape, all strawberry, and so on. I didn't know how he could stand the pain -- even I could smell the burning flesh from a distance.

Despite having a high capacity for drama and pain, L wasn't the greatest writer and opted to do a huge final presentation in hopes of raising his grade. He showed a video from PETA of a rabbit's vivisection which caused a student of mine who had recently lost his dog to a car accident to sob. The rest of the class tried not to heave as the minutes stretched out, one terrible thing after another happening to monkeys, bunnies, and other creatures. L had his cape on that day and had added a walking stick for emphasis, hitting the desk while defending animals. I didn't hear much of his speech given the general pandemonium in the classroom. But I kept my sights on his self-inflicted burn marks. They looked like eyes, the kind that belong on a doll that stares at you no matter where in the room you move.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I don't think about art when I'm working. I try to think about life." Jean-Michel Basquiat

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: The Chronic Dr. Dre

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday! Thanks to my newest commenter on the kind words about the photographs! I'm not sure how it works -- I'm pretty new to photography, but I love it. Get a lot of inspiration from Dare Wright, the woman who wrote The Lonely Doll books.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

More Blue Velvet Than Blue Violets

My parents were not prudes, but one of the most mortifying moments of my life came in the form of watching the movie Rush with them. Don't get me wrong -- it's a great movie. What's not to love about a movie where the badass Greg Allman plays a drug dealer in his evil scary way, hair down to his shoulders, mean as my Grandpa Charlie coming off a three day bender? Well, there was one particuarly inventive graphic sex scene between the main characters that seemed to last forever and my mother kept saying, What's he doing to her, Michelle? Despite having skin the color of cocaine, I seldom blush and those who have seen it have seen something akin to Haley's comet in frequency. But I blushed then and wished like hell they'd go back to a graphic drug scene or someone getting beaten to move us along. The other time that things really went to pot in this way was when they had accidentally rented Blue Velvet instead of Blue Violets, a sweet romantic comedy involving sailing. So important to read the box, yes?
My parents never discussed sex with me, thank the Lord, and my "sex talk" consisted of some vague ramblings about matters of reputation and once when I was going to the mall in Ft. Worth with a friend asking if I "had anything with me." Like what? My mother blushed at this point, said something about protection starting with a "c" and I realized she thought we might be having sex. My friend was gay, albeit closeted if dying a yellow streak in your jet black hair and listening to nothing but Berlin and Depeche Mode could be considered closeted, and even I knew that sex was as likely as a hot air balloon ride that afternoon. We were going to the mall where he'd buy my birthday present, a copy of Stephen King's Eyes Of A Dragon, with a brilliant cover the color of a green midori cocktail. I had to laugh at my mother's assumption about the afternoon. There would be other outings with other people that were a lot more Blue Velvet than Blue Violets, but for that afternoon, the scariest choice I had to make was what to order at the Catfish King. There were a lot of choices on the menu, but they all were made of the same thing, a food that could be served up more ways than I'd ever imagined.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Sex is hardly ever just about sex." Shirley MacLaine
Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Chloe In The Afternoon
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

That's Really Funny

The semester after I broke up with a long-term love, I had the dismal task of teaching a class with seven (yes, seven) boys with the same name as my ex. It's a common name, a biblical one, and to have an entire team of people with variations on this theme was proof that God did have a sense of humor, that irony is not solely a literary convention, and perhaps the deepest most true thing I know about life -- you cannot get away from yourself, no matter what the hell you do, and you can't get away from your exes either. I'm still friends with this person after a fashion and when he delivered my birthday present, he had his mouth shot up with Novocaine from one of his near constant dental visits after many years of utter dental neglect and said, If you want to, you can punch me now because I won't feel it. I know you wanted to lots of times in the past, something both funny and sad and maybe a little bit true, because, let's face it, the only funny things are the sad true ones.

In retrospect, you can often say anything and everything about a situation once it's over which makes an ending both bitter and sweet. Years ago, I could laugh over damn near anything, often to the point where I felt sick to my stomach. Now I'm more the kind of person who recognizes humor, who says, That's really funny while nodding and trying to figure out what makes it funny. But it's futile in the end You can name things thinking that you own them, that you understand them, but in the end they own you and surround you, invisible staves that you don't know are there until you run into them and hurt yourself. And try and find it funny.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists?” he wondered. “In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.” Woody Allen

Cocktail Hour
Drinking essay suggestion: Mere Anarchy Woody Allen

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Roads Like Ice

There are dead fish flies hanging on my office window. They come every year for a few weeks, living for a day and breeding like mad before reaching the end of things. They don't bite you, but people hate them because of the smell their dead bodies make, the way they slicken the roads like ice. Having grown up in a place where the beasties are far less innocuous, I don't mind them so much. I can sit and watch them for many a minute, safe and protected behind glass as if seeing some spectacular movie play out. This fascination speaks to my high tolerance for repetition -- Fish Flies Are Out! Fish Flies Year One. Fish Flies Dance On Window.

When fish fly season comes every June, these insects cover the buildings, so much so that the houses appear to be moving. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, beautiful and repulsive, otherworldly. One night during the worst of it a couple of years ago, I went out to eat at a place that was covered with the creatures. Sitting at a table with my friends, we watched them cover the window to the point that you couldn't see out. They looked like moving blankets and they looked like snow, never like themselves except when one was alone. You have to look closely not to be deceived! I took some leftover food home from that night, toting my take-out container through the assault of their bodies which seemed like an eerie kind of storm. 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, the valuable sullied by a creature that had made a strange journey to a cold place where it would die but remain intact, as if nothing had ever happened.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"It is not enough to conquer; one must know how to seduce." Voltaire
Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Tattoo You Rolling Stones
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday! Thanks to everyone for the incredibly kind and thoughtful comments on "Dead Girl, Live Boy." You guys (note the Detroit influence instead of the Texas y'all) are the very best!

Life Is Short -- Get A Divorce

Not so long ago, a lawyer in Chicago put up ads saying, Life Is Short -- Get A Divorce. The ads contained an attractive man and woman in various stages of undress and upset people so much that they had to be removed from billboards. People's objections went along the lines of the fact that the billboards trivialized marriage (hard to believe that a convention that can take place in Vegas performed by an Elvis impersonator could be trivialized!) and that they were signs of a society gone to pot, a society in which the old could be shed for the new without a second thought. I didn't get my divorce for any reasons having to do with boredom, and I suppose most people don't. Most people I know can only break up with someone by gnawing their own arm off, losing vital bits of their identity and soul. At the very least, they aren't swayed by a billboard. The fact that it threatens couples interest me far more than any kind of effect it might have on someone actually considering the act.

I don't know where all the zero body fat men in Calvin Klein underpants were after my divorce like on the billboard-- my first post-divorce date offer came from a man at work that people referred to as Shamu (after the killer whale) who said, I've got a buy one get one free coupon to the Golden Corral. Ever on a diet in those days, I did not eat at places that were named after animals troughs if I could help it. I had to decline. I had to sit at home and evaluate my options -- Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice, movie or book, deal or no fricking deal. I did not imagine my life would become magically glamorous, and it didn't. But I did become a pariah to many a couple who feared contagion (a valid fear given that break-ups tend to beget break-ups) and became a friend to those who might be considering something else than the love that had turned to tedium in their own lives. I was no billboard and never will be, but when you're looking for a message, you'll take what you can get.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"One man's remorse is another's reminiscence." Gerald Bath

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: The Black Rider Tom Waits

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Saturday, June 23, 2007

All Sales Final

Here's the last installment of the story!

I pick my way to the door, trying not to ruin my black high heels or slip on ice. On the porch there is a bouquet of red roses lay, their heads as dark as blood against the snow. I smile, thinking Mark is already turning out to be an ideal distraction from Kevin. I pick up the roses, Here she is, Miss America, and step over threshold like the bride of Satan, dressed all in black with blood red flowers, Josh following. By the time I look at the card, I stop smiling. The handwriting belongs to Kevin -- Saw these and thought of you -- and I think I might vomit. All that rich party food seems to be stuck in the back of my throat.

"Shouldn’t you get those in water before they die?" Josh asks.

I sit down at the kitchen table and start to break the necks of the roses one by one, tossing their heads in the garbage.
"I think they’ve been out in the cold too long already," I say, a few stray petals littering the floor as I continue to pull the bouquet apart.

Josh’s therapist has proclaimed our family toxic, a word that gets used so much that it has lost its power to shock. Language, like everything else, gets old, starts to mean something else, like a pair of sagging breasts that used to thrill. Today the therapist asks what my life would be like without any chemicals and I think I would feel like a chained dog, forced to circle the same territory until someone gets home and then it’s only a slightly bigger area to roam and perhaps you’re guarded with an electronic fence that’s shocked you so badly that you don’t even need a chain anymore. You become the chain. I shrug and say that I would feel pretty good, like the world was my oyster, only that I was never in an r month, thinking about the warnings against eating them raw during the summer. She wanted to say, cut the bullshit, Josette and I could have almost loved her if she had, but instead she said, Joking and sarcasm are defenses against strong emotion.

To which I say nothing, not wanting to get trapped by my own words. I think of an old ad from the seventies, a Kodak one aimed at housewives, trying to get them to understand the importance of their role in documenting family history -- when you are the camera and the camera is you. I do not know why this comes to mind, but it does, and I suspect that someone else would know and that’s the point of this uncomfortable office with its sagging chairs, the de riguer Kleenex box positioned on a table between me and Josh, the box decorated with a orange crocheted outfit, probably made by a grateful patient, accompanied with a note -- Thank you for healing me, now I am well enough to make crocheted gifts for friends and family, even samplers with helpful sayings. I look around the office, really look, and notice that everything in this place is disconnected and ugly and realize that’s because nobody knows the therapist, her job being a dumping ground, and these are all projections of what someone might like. She does that part of her job well, staying invisible. I scan her bookshelf -- all the classics, Man Against Himself, The Courage to Create, some truly awful Leo Buscaglia
books (perhaps a gift, I think, in a fit of generosity), Trauma and Recovery.

The first time our entire family went to therapy was the last year Josh was in college and almost didn’t finish because his mutilations had gotten out of control. College, our escape, turned out to be what Josh and I referred to as a big old less than, our term for something longed for and found terribly wanting. Father bitched about having to pay some Jewish crackpot to pick us apart even though the family therapist appeared thoroughly Protestant, dressing in outfits that would have been best described as a cross between David Koresh and Davy Jones. I thought of him, looking at us all with exhaustion when we wouldn’t talk, which was much of the time. Just like now. Even without the censure of our parents being in the room, Josh and I would make the worst interview, one that even Barbara Walters couldn’t revive. And I don’t like being called out on my behavior, given that Josh is the one that landed us here with his latest slashing. The truth about the Vicodan, the Fiorcett, the Tylenol Three, the Xanax, the Valium, the Darvocette, the Percodan, the Demerol is a simple one -- I hate to swallow almost anything, especially pills, because I have a terrible fear of choking and yet I swallow more shit than anyone I know. I fear things that have already happened and things that might happen and things that most certainly will happen. A few blocks from our place, a fundamentalist church puts up a sign with different sayings each week to scare people into their doors. From this week -- There Is No Stop, Drop, and Roll in Hell. Sitting here without anything to distract me from myself, I think don’t I know it.

I, like most people, do not take much pleasure in doing the right thing. I take pleasure in getting off the hook, the eleventh hour save, in mercy. After therapy, I drop Josh back at the apartment and head downtown for the voodoo store, Knight Light. I need to sort out the Mark/Kevin situation and this is as good a way as any. Knight Light, a small place, the size of someone’s living room, is crammed with hundreds of candles and ointments, holy water, roots, herbs -- John the Conqueror, Queen of the Meadow, Devil’s Shoestring, Grains of Paradise. One of my coworkers told me about this place a year ago and I come here once a month, oftener if I have serious problems like now since those fucking roses arrived on my doorstep. The first time I came in to the shop, I bought so many candles, Sunshine, the main candle dresser, asked if I was a church, mistaking me for someone buying for a representative for a cut-rate Catholic parish who couldn’t afford the upscale church-sanctioned supply shops, but the question itself made me smile, imagining my body as the stations of the cross, each consumed with a particular bit of suffering.

I make my way through the crack addicts that linger by the door, the living dead, modern day zombies that sometimes haunt my dreams. The snow from last night makes the city look cleaner and also sadder somehow. I shake the excess from my boots as I enter the store, the smells from the various oils rising from glass burners, each one with a different purpose, lemongrass for money, honeysuckle for protection. No matter how many times I have seen this place, I never get tired of it. A statue of Jesus, trapped in a dry-cleaning bag, retails for 49.99 and underneath the statue a sign reads, All Sales Final, a bargain price for the Almighty, to be sure.

"Beautiful Josette," Sunshine, the main candle dresser says, when I walk in and rushes over to give me a hug. "You looking good today. Lord, it’s good to see someone I like." I do not like touching anyone that I’m not having sex with and even then it’s iffy, but I try to let myself feel it, not rush away like I am wont to do.

I pick an empty box from the back and take off my coat.

"You need something special?" Sunshine asks.

"Man trouble. I just got a new one and the old one came back," I say, on my knees now so I can inspect the lower shelves.

"Ain’t that always the way. Honey came back even after I dropped him and his stuff off at the shelter, saying he couldn’t live without me." Honey, Sunshine’s long-time live-in boyfriend, from the pictures Sunshine has on her laptop, appears to be the whitest man in all of Detroit, and I cannot help but feel deep pity for him even though he’s a registered sex offender who keeps losing jobs when people find out about his past via the Internet where he is required to stay posted for years as such. Between his ill-fitting clothes, cross-eyes, and great financial and emotional dependence on Sunshine, Honey is always in his hour of need. Sunshine manages to keep the faith despite everything, which keeps me returning to this place. That and the stripped-down honesty of everything -- people spending what little extra money they have on various instruments of hope. And nothing is too strange to be addressed -- there are a row of penis-shaped candles that you rub with oil to get control of your lover or to obtain money. I have not resorted to this yet.

Knight Light, lodged between a liquor store and a human hair outlet, appears itself to be a dream, an oasis of fiction in an otherwise bleak landscape. Even Sunshine herself is a partial fiction -- after she was gang-raped by a group of men who debated for an hour if they would kill her or let her go -- she promised she wouldn’t report them and she did, causing her to have to change her name, and she chose Sunshine. I think of the Bible verse on the table where she pours oil on the candles -- The light shines in the darkness and the darkness knows it not.
"Which one do you want?" she asks.

"I don’t know," I say, scanning the shelves lined with saints, with requests for protection, for health, for love, for clarity. On the other side, there are candles for revenge -- destroy everything, doom, double reversible (to throw a hex back to a person who threw one on you). The rules of voodoo caution against too much of the bad, though -- for everything you do, it comes back to you threefold.

"The old one is married."

"You love him," she says. I hate how transparent I am.

I put some novena candles in my box, and Sunshine starts to dress them, carving deep into the top so that the oils can soak into the body completely. She sprinkles incense and glitter and confetti on them, prays over them. I read the prayer on the Lady of Lourdes candle -- Cast a merciful glance upon those who are suffering, their lips constantly pressed against life’s bitter cup. I could use a merciful glance -- I put that one in the box, thinking yeah, a merciful glance might be nice.

I get home and set the candles up in my bedroom and living room, thinking about what I want and if it matters in the long run. Josh seems to be taking a nap, so I turn on the television and look for distraction when Coley, strolls out of his bedroom.

"Back so soon," I say. "Did you leave something here? Your brain, perhaps?" Today she’s dressed in one of Josh’s button-up shirts he wears to work and nothing else.

"Josette, I was afraid I might not get to see you. I thought you might be at work, saving the world from venereal disease or not at work, spreading it," Coley says. Her eyes look so smudged with make-up that I wonder about the last time she’s washed her face.

I flip through the channels -- fake jewels can be purchased on one station, a pasta strainer on another, movies no one wanted to see when they were made, reruns of shows from the not-so-distant past. I want to call Kevin, but no good can come from it. Why do I want something so bad for me? My stash of pills calls to me, and I think it‘s an emergency (my mother used to say to me and Josh, don‘t do anything unless it‘s an emergency and even then, you want to think about it) and far better for me than getting back into the demands of an affair.

Coley returns to Josh’s bedroom after using the bathroom, and I take a Fiorcette and wash it down with a shot of vodka. I go into the bathroom to brush my teeth and notice Coley’s amethyst nose ring soaking in the lid of our rubbing alcohol. Nothing on me is pierced, not even my ears. What would it feel like to have something sharp go through your flesh so deeply that you could wear something in the hole for the rest of your life? I can hear Josh and Coley laughing in his bedroom, and I put my toothbrush back in its holder next to Josh’s.

Josh’s computer sits in the living room, and I turn it on. In the time it takes to boot, I think of the perfect message to send Kevin. I know this course of action will only lead to more misery, more pain, but I cannot stop myself. At least I’m not calling him. I send him one line -- What do you want from me? It’s an honest question. And for once, I wouldn’t mind getting an honest answer. I have an e-mail from Mark, asking me when I want to get together again. Somewhere between right now and never, so I call him and see if he’ll meet me here now. It doesn’t matter that Josh is home since he’s with Coley, and I can hear them having sex.

"Do you want to go out or stay where you are?" Mark asks.

The logical thing would be to leave Josh and Coley here alone, but there is nowhere I can think of that I want to be. I tell him to come over, and we’ll decide. But I already know the answer. I don’t want to leave. For Josh’s birthday parties, my parents always took us to the same place, Casa Bonita, a Mexican restaurant that attempted to be an upscale Chuck E. Cheese with lots of games for children. The food tasted awful, but that wasn’t the point. The place contained a waterfall and video games, skeet ball and air hockey. I never noticed any of that, though. In the back of the restaurant, I’d go to a room the size of a closet. It was the fake prison, with rubber bars on which I would climb. No matter where else I might go, I’d always end up there, seeing how far the rubber bars would stretch, and what I could do without leaving the room.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"If I had my life to live over again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner." Tallulah Bankhead

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Let's Groove Earth, Wind, and Fire

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Saturday!

Friday, June 22, 2007

This Could Be You

Here's part two! Thanks for reading!

Dead Girl, Live Boy

"Fuck, I forgot," Josh says, slamming his book bag on the kitchen table.

"Forgot what?"

"The headmaster’s dinner party."

I sit down at the table, a blue and white retro piece that looks like it came out of someone’s sweet grandmother’s kitchen. The tiny orange gourds I bought for Halloween have started to rot and cave in on themselves so I toss them in our trash. Josh pours a beer into a tiny juice glass and slugs it like a shot. I get a Sprite in an attempt to sober up from this afternoon.

"I don’t want to go," Josh says.

"So don’t."

"I have to. That little prick demands attendance."

"Say you’re sick," I say. "You look sick." Considering Josh took a razorblade and mutilated his face this summer, I’m guessing his absence might be one people would welcome.

"I don’t want to get lose my job. Why don’t you want to come with me?" Josh has finished his first beer and is onto the next, a local concoction called Third Coast.
"You can’t get fired," I say, seeing an entire night of polite social chitchat stretched before me. I think of the old joke -- what are the only two reasons you can get fired from a teaching job -- a dead girl or a live boy.

"Come on, Josette. I never ask you to do anything."

That’s not exactly true. I have to attend a therapy session once a month with Josh, that once being tomorrow. Josh goes to therapy every week, but the woman he sees after he ended up in the hospital for carving a smile underneath his mouth insists that I attend with him part of the time to address family dynamic issues. I cannot express how long fifty minutes can be under these circumstances.

Except in comparison to the headmaster’s party where time appears to have stopped altogether. Despite my afternoon reprieve from work at Planned Parenthood (the last girl I saw was pregnant despite her prescription for the pill which she thought you took each time you had sex), the drinking and fucking that replaced it, I feel entirely too exhausted for this affair, everyone dressed in what we used to refer to as Sunday best. They all seem to be discussing food allergies and nannies, the places they wished they could afford to send their children to school. I think about Mark the bartender, also a law student at University of Detroit Mercy (a third string program which almost lets me forgive the law thing) saying that ignorance of the law does not lessen the consequences for breaking it, meaning I knew this party would be a pain in the ass and even if I didn‘t, I’m stuck. At least nobody corners me and asks me about Josh’s face -- that’s one good thing about the constraints of politeness. Two months into teaching, he is like everyone else who has suffered in a visible way -- the badly burned, the scarred, those born with a port wine mark. People can adjust to anything.

I drink as much as I can without looking like an asshole, saying little, yes, I’m Josh’s sister, isn’t it cold for this early in the season, the food is just terrific. After a while, I’m left alone to sit and stare outside the big living room window, a floor to ceiling design when it starts to snow, big flakes so beautiful that they look fake. A bunny hops into the snowscape as if placed by central casting. People notice what’s happening and make their excuses to leave before the roads start getting bad, relieved as anything to be freed by the weather, and I try to remember whether seeing a lone rabbit is good luck or bad, if I am supposed to make a wish and blew it again by not thinking fast enough.

Settling into the passenger’s seat, riding through the snowstorm, I think how beautiful and peaceful everything is, even with the sirens from the city howling in the distance. Josh drives without expression, and I look at his face that is sporadically illuminated by streetlights and feel like I did when we were children, traveling in the back seat of my dad’s blue Cadillac after he’d made his money, like we were special and protected from the squalor and sadness of the world. We’d ride with him to pick Mother up from the hospital where she worked second shift on the oncology floor and sometimes we’d get to run around the lobby, buying Whachamacallit bars from the vending machine. There is nothing like a hospital at night to convince you that morning might be a terrible thing. The radio plays Miles Davis, something from his early days that sounds like it has always existed.

"Thanks for not making me suffer alone," Josh says as we pull into the driveway.

"Wouldn’t dream of it," I say. For me, there has never been a time when I haven’t been around Josh in some way except when I was married. It surprises people that I was anyone’s wife and even when I speak of it, I never feel it was quite real myself. I was deeply in love when I got married, just not, unfortunately, to my husband. We married at the courthouse, nobody we knew around, just a blank empty space where everyone we knew might have been had if circumstances were different. I told Josh, over the phone, like the coward I am. Josh hung up on me and sent me an e-mail the next day that had an attachment about a man who’d stabbed his girlfriend to death and buried her alive. She’d crawled out of her grave and arranged to break into a house and call 911 before passing out. She lived. This, Josh wrote, could be you. It was the most optimistic thing anyone had said to me in months.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Beauty. The power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a husband." Ambrose Bierce

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Stomp The Brothers Johnson

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Late Into The Evening

Years ago, I attended a writing conference in west Texas, the kind of conference where everyone drinks all the time and "forgets" to wear their wedding rings. Many of the participants were a rough bunch, the kind of men who make jokes about Tailhook and didn't see anything wrong with Clayton Williams' suggestion that if a women was being raped that she should just "lie back and enjoy it." My friends and I were drinking margaritas late into the first evening in the big ballroom that had been decorated with chili pepper lights and sombreros. George Jones on the jukebox, singing "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Late into the evening, I declined the offer of another drink, a rare act of self-control. I was delivering a paper the next morning on some bullshit about workshop structure and needed what little wits about me that I could collect. One of my companions, a deeply alcoholic dude named Will said, How did you do that? I didn't have a clue what he was talking about until he said, Turn down a drink. Just stop. I could never do that.

I looked at him, saw that he was serious, and shrugged my shoulders. Mostly glib, a whole lot irritating, fairly handsome, Will exuded an ease that seemed completely natural, but in fact was almost always chemically enhanced. I didn't think of him as an alcoholic -- to me, alcoholics were people like my Grandpa Charlie who drove around tossing beer bottles out of his window and kicking anyone's ass who so much as looked at him. But at that moment, I could see into his soul a little bit, the loss of control that had begun to bleed into his life. I forget almost everything else about that conference, all the fake intimacies and promises to write about this or that subject, the drivel people talk about because there's no other common ground. But I remember the moment with Will; we did not speak of the subject ever again. Like a secret SOS, it drifted into the ether, never to be addressed, not really, but it was heard, and I suppose that's something.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Life in Lubbock, Texas, taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you're going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love." Butch Hancock

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Sorry, Haters

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My Body, My Hello Kitty

In my long list of dubious honors that include many more participation ribbons than anything red, white, or blue (remember those godforsaken participation ribbons -- orange is the color of failure!), I would have to admit that I was an officer in a Hello Kitty club in the third grade. My friend K, a flaming queen by age five, had decided that we needed a devotion to our favorite new icon. We called ourselves Friends of Hello Kitty! and our main activity, besides gossiping, was working on sticker books. We'd hide out as far as the teachers would allow us to go, our doings as clandestine and serious as a Black Panther's meeting and dissect what made Hello Kitty so special. We'd been fans of Snoopy for as long as we could remember and had lusted after a Disco Snoopy which cost way too much in K's catalogue of doll clothes, and we'd dream about having the fifteen dollars needed to send away for the John Travolta Snoopy, the Snoopy we could make dance. But Hello Kitty was even cooler and more rare -- the most we could find were a couple of erasers at the local Hallmark where the old biddy who ran the place watched us with a death glare to make sure we didn't steal anything. Now Hello Kitty is everywhere, although I only have a few t-shirts with her on them as an ode to my former glory. We, I might point out, Friends of Hello Kitty!, were there from the beginning.
Various writers have pointed out that part of the genius of Hello Kitty is that she has no mouth and therefore cannot speak. There are those who would say that this makes her a perfect female in our patriarchal culture. The only form of expression she has is her outfits which take her various places -- the beach or school or Tokyo or Madrid. I'm a little less cynical on the nature of her popularity. She's beloved because you never know what she's feeling, no smile or frownie face or pout. She's the affable friend, the one who listens to your sorrows. She goes about her days with a certain kind of grace; she can be dressed for any occasion in a flash. Never tired or worried, she can provide comfort in any situation. She adorns women and children alike, dressed as we would like to be dressed, telling the world in an instant where we'd be if we could be anywhere but here.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I dress for women and undress for men." Angie Dickinson
Cocktail Hour
Drinking novel suggestion: White Noise Don DeLillo
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, June 18, 2007

All The Things I'll Miss About Myself

I once knew a writer in one of the few writing groups I ever was a part of whose first drafts were all touched by God and needed no editing. Scarily brilliant, eerie, and perfect. This state of affairs seemed extremely unfair except that she had other problems that included but were not limited to a child she didn't like all that much, a third husband who hadn't turned out any better than the first two, and a deep aversion to regular hair washing. She spoke the truth all the time, whether it was a good idea or not, and once said about forgetting workshop, I got busy shovelling dog shit. What the fuck do you want from me? I can still see her, hand on hip, t-shirt that said Jenny Craig Is A Bitch. She had never had a weight problem so this seemed an odd choice for her venom, but there you have it. I couldn't help but like her, try as I might not to, try as she might to make me not. She made me laugh even when she made me cringe, having that peculiar instinct for the faultlines of people's egos and going for them with a vengeance. I knew I had made significant progress as a writer when she said, I was dreading reading your story and thought boring, fucking boring and then I was shocked as shit that it wasn't. It didn't seem like you at all. It was so good. Coming from her, it felt as if I'd won the Pulitzer.
When people ask me if writer's groups are a good idea, I come back to this experience which was a doozy. We'd often meet at her house as she was afraid to leave it and watch the roaches scurry on the floor. They were so bad that we'd have to appoint someone to keep watch over the snacks and make sure they didn't invade anything we'd brought as they were always dropping from the cabinets and whatnot. I suppose it goes without saying that she was not remotely together enough to make it to a store. I hate grocery stores. All those people and food. God! I was in my early twenties at this point, my workshop friend in her late thirties. You're going to love your thirties, Michelle. I make list of all the things I'll miss about myself when I die. I was dying to see her list, but she never gave up the goods. Some things are private, she'd say. Do you have a Tampax? I am so fucking miserable right now. You wouldn't believe, she'd start, and I'd wonder what the hell could be on the list that was more private than what she'd already revealed. What I did know that it was probably a first draft and more brilliant than anything I'd be writing.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The supreme happiness in life is the conviction of being loved not for yourself, but in spite of yourself." Victor Hugo
Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Tumble Home Amy Hempel
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Behind This Earthly Veil

The last time I saw my dad, it was three weeks before he would die. Leaving my apartment to make the long drive back from Michigan to Texas, my neighbor had cornered him to look at her bloody eye. The inside of her cornea had filled up with blood like some godawful horror movie eye where she hit herself with a broomstick while dusting out her storage unit. "Do you think I'm in danger?" she asked him. "Should I go to the hospital?" People were forever asking my dad questions like this -- he had that stable, comforting look. The week before she'd shown him her gums. They were infected from the denture adhesive she'd used after her teeth fell out from a medication she'd been prescribed for another affliction. Dear Lord, the woman did not have good luck! My neighbor was my dad's age, in her fifties, but seemed as if she were of a different generation entirely, maybe more like Marie, the ninety-five year old above me who was routinely leaving her stove on and burning her clothes. I used to joke that her son had to escape from the nursing home he was in to come see her. Marie had style, though, and would yell, chic, chic out her window when she liked the outfits I wore to work.
In a few weeks, I'd scheduled to move out of that building that I referred to as The Misery for reasons that should now be all too obvious. My dad would be leaving as well, for whatever lies behind this earthly veil. He spent his last two weeks on a business trip which made me think of when I was a little girl. My parents wouldn't tell me when my dad was going to be away because I'd get too upset and stop eating entirely. And when he was away, I wouldn't eat, my own little hunger strike. He'd often bring back medically-themed gifts to assuage my sadness at his absence. The irony now being I imagine him away on a business trip all the time, not gone entirely, but out of range, as a comfort rather than a misery, perspective being everything and nothing all at the same time.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Still I have not got used to it. /My mind can still form to that chair him/ whom no chair holds." Mary Karr
Cocktail Hour
Drinking documentary suggestion: Shot In The Dark
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

An Insult And Compliment

Recently, someone called me an eloquent self-absorbed whiner. Of course, I don't know who this person is because he or she didn't give an identity, the wonders of the anonymous comment function on my blog, something I am loathe to give up given that most anonymous comments are kind or interesting. I don't mind this one because although I have been called self-absorbed and most certainly consider myself a whiner at times (who can take any of her complaints seriously in a world where the dead and wounded are coming home from war at an astounding, horrible rate?), I have never been called eloquent. Charming, sometimes, funny, every now and again, but eloquent?! Never! It's not in my nature. I'm too clumsy and high-strung for anything resembling elegance or eloquence to come my way. I can barely dress myself without some huge mistake, can't speak without stumbling over my words, and would prefer to hide at home than face the slings and arrows of something as prosaic as grocery shopping. I consider some of this genetic -- take my dad, the nicest man in the world, but a little clumsy at times. Once he was driving along with my friend Hank and pointed out a big plane. Hank said that he couldn't see it. Hank, my dad said, slapping him on the back, you must be blind as a bat! Hank, I might point out, was legally blind and starting laughing hysterically. The only time Hank saw something in the car was when I nearly backed into someone. Even I saw that one, Michelle, he said. Not really shaken by much, he was the perfect passenger for someone with my truly vile driving skills.

Erica Jong writes that as people we get a thousand love letters or compliments and remember the few horrible notes from crazy people about how terrible we are. There's a lot of truth to this statement. In her book, Seducing the Demon, she talks about having a one night stand with Martha Stewart's husband and getting maligned for this act for years. During the one night stand, the husband talked incessantly about Martha and what she made him do, all the chores and the misery. This is what a lot of adultery is like I imagine, the kind of thing where the other person looms so large that he or she might as well be in the room. Erica did not have much fun during or after, when she was cast into the role of evil other woman. It's a role I'm sure she'd been cast in before with or without cause, an insult and compliment all rolled together. She got screwed twice, but in the end, she wrote about that awful night at the Frankfurt Book Fair and got the last say. Eloquence can give a person the final word, I think, even for the self-absorbed, maybe especially for us.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The lion and the calf shall lie down together but the calf won't get much sleep." Woody Allen

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: How To Save Your Own Life Erica Jong

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Saturday!

Hi From Baby Grouchie!

Hi from Baby Grouchie and one of his many friends who resemble him! He's coming along with his great stories about his adventures and will be posting very soon, maybe on father's day since he doesn't have a father and well, that's a source of interest and material for him.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Our Unfinished Stories

Deep in the doldrums of summer, my friend Hank and I would often take refuge in the KFC buffet. There was almost never anybody at the buffet which explains why they stopped offering it, but back then we'd eat and discuss our unfinished stories. There's two schools of thought about this -- that writers should never talk about the work while the work is in process. To talk about it spoils it, releases the need to tell it. The other school of thought is that it's good to get feedback, no matter what. I'd like to add a third way of looking at things. Hank and I would talk about our plots and characters, and we'd offer each other such uniformly hideous suggestions about what to do next (stoned, no doubt, on the copious amount of grease in the food we'd just sucked down) that by the end of the meal, both of us would have been forced to think of something better for fear we might have to resort to the idea offered. Maybe you could make your character a clown school drop-out, one of us might say. You never read anything about clown school, not really. Or we'd resort to smart-ass mode -- How about a car chase? A lovable character named Gramps? We each had projects that were never going to work -- mine was a novel about a born-again evangelical bulimic whose life had taken a bad turn, his was Yellow Leg: The Incontinent Wolf, a long poem written in entirely in couplets about well, you can figure it out.

When we wore out our ideas for the imaginary world, we'd turn to the real one, which in its own way, was just as complicated as our stories. R never changes her clothes before our dates anymore. She just wears what she was wearing to softball practice. Do you think that's a bad sign or is she just comfortable with me now? Bad sign, I'd say, reading the remnants of my mashed potatoes as if they were tea leaves. Or maybe not, I'd backpedal, could be really good. Hank grinned before finishing off his coleslaw. You're right. Maybe I ought to take it as a compliment. Two weeks later she'd left him for someone she'd met at softball practice. You know even when you don't. That became a poem for him, "When Anne Stopped Changing," (I came up with the title on the next KFC visit) which contained the great line -- What, you never thought anything stupid? I've thought so many stupid things, but some of my favorites are ones where I was stuffing my face on my very favorite fast food, dreaming of fiction and life, the two things becoming one and the same by the time we dumped garbage off our trays and entered into the harsh sunlight once again.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I'd rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not." Kurt Cobain

Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story suggestion: Welcome To The Arrow-Catcher Fair Lewis Nordan

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Lost World

Haven't posted any poetry in some time, so here's the latest. A happy take on a happy subject -- my specialty, right?

The Lost World

I knew them too, the wife that remained loyal
to her husband, a pedophile mortician
who lived next door to us. He’s in prison
now, and she lives alone in the house, she says,
without irony, that love built. All those years
of dealing with dead bodies, violating live ones
and for what? Things are hard for her – not
a widow or divorced. She still visits him, although
it is a long trip, tough to make, even and especially
after all these years. I suppose, it is safe to say, that she, like
everyone else I know, imagined something a little different.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen. Die knowing something. You are not here long." Walker Evans

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: The Father Of All Sorrows Tom Bissell

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Ward For The Uninsured

I woke up thinking about the time I had tried to exercise using Campell's soup cans as dumbbells (a helpful suggestion from Redbook for getting those pesky biceps in shape) and had broken out in large red welts all over my chest and neck from holiday anxiety and general malaise, the death of my spirit, and about four too many servings of turtle cheesecake a day chased with Dr. Pepper. My heart was broken as I wanted to be home, as in with my family, and I was not, I was with my soon-to-be betrothed's family and they were pieces of work. This should have been home sweet home but it was not, and I was beginning to the get the idea that things were not going to work out for me, not one little bit, and like a real fool, I could not or would not get off the ride. Such is life! I wore a large cross on a piece of cheap suede for protection against the situation, like one of the priests from The Exorcists and did not realize that I was in fact allergic to the suede which served to further irritate the welts and hives, making them bleed from time to time without warning. So there I was with one can of Chicken Noodle, one of Tomato, and praying to God that nobody would see me alternately bleeding, sweating, and then pigging out. Given what else had happened in the house, I shouldn't have worried. Had anybody spotted me, I assure you that they wouldn't have thought twice.

Had I been deep into writing at this time, all the activity, including my own misery would have served as a consolation. Looking back, I think of my favorite scene -- where an aunt, her boyfriend, and his ex-wife all showed up for Thanksgiving dinner three hours late, all hopped up on speed, the grandmother yelling, You're all on drugs! Look at you! Hell, they'd all have to be on drugs to be in the configuration they were. The aunt and the ex-wife looked like twins, both dressed in crocheted dresses that revealed a lot of nonexistent cleavage given that they were skeletal. He was my husband, the ex said. Nothing changes that! I will go with him to every holiday. Whoa nelly! For a brief moment, I felt thankful to be me. Which I guess is the point of the holiday. It wasn't the moment of gratitude and grace that I'd given up expecting, but then again, it never is.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"If you throw a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will leap out to save itself. If you put a frog in a pot and turn the heat up by degrees, it will die." American proverb

Cocktail Hour
Drinking novel suggestion: Black and White Dani Shapiro

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

The Sirens On The Street

The first Detroit sirens I ever heard were over the phone. I was talking to my then-boyfriend and could here in the noise from the street through the open window. Still stuck in Texas, sirens made me think of cities, of a certain urban loneliness, and that sound alone shaped more of what I knew I was going to then anything else could. When I got there, I started a very different life. In Texas I had run each day on the streets, hot as it was, which was like an oven until December and then it became a slightly cooler oven. The street I lived after was not conducive to running at all, and I found that I did not miss it, did not miss communing with all that godforsaken nature, did not miss being hooted at by men with clearly nothing better to do than yell disturbing comments out their truck windows, and did not miss the masochistic act of forcing myself to pretend for all the world as though I was the kind of person who enjoyed it, who hit that runner's high. The best I could muster most days was not wanting to kill myself before and during. I suspect this is not what people mean by an endorphin rush.

Since the early years, I have run outside during a few stretches, particularly during times of deep stress and tension. Despite all my previous complaints, there is one good thing about the practice -- it's so miserable that it makes your mental miseries disappear. This brief respite from the endless loop of anxiety that can play in your mind, well, this break is worth it. When I do run, I try to appreciate what's around me, as difficult as that is. There's a leaf, there's a puddle, there's a man not wearing a shirt who should really consider wearing a shirt. But the only thing that really gets my attention is still the sound of a siren, the wail that is different from any other. I say a prayer for whatever crisis is happening. I try to get out of the way. But the sirens on the street, well, most of the time I can't tell if they're behind me or in front of me.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I thought, I'm not going to parade my defects, my history of being a spiritual cripple, out in front of a lot of other people. But once in a while I'd write a little more—I would just hear the voices." Denis Johnson

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: High Fidelity

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy birthday to my dear friend Robin!

Monday, June 11, 2007

You Will Make Friends From Enemies

One of the great fortunes and misfortunes of any life is that we are stuck with ourselves, for better or for worse, as the old wedding vow goes and despite our attempts to change, we are met in the face of our own perpetual resistance. Unlike with marriage, you cannot divorce yourself, throw yourself's bags on the street, or even take some time apart to "think about how you got here." Today my fortune out of the Chinese Fortune Sticks container reads, You will soon make friends from enemies. This bit of writing on a miniature tongue depressor does not cheer my heart -- I have a few enemies and would like to keep them that way as a constant source of irritation, like sores I can't stop worrying. But if the prediction is true, and they are to become my friends, they will understand me as well as anyone does, particularly the plethora of qualities I try to keep hidden about myself. And I would understand their flaws. One would hope that this quality of knowing would make us more generous with one another, but this seems as likely as winning the big stuffed animal at a carnival game. I know some people do as I see them lugging around gigantic prizes along with their cotton candy. But this person is never me. I am the person with the cotton candy in her hair, on her clothes, the syrup from the grape snow-cone staining my clothes.
One of my favorite pictures is of the Heidelburg Project, a famous outsider art installation located on a cluster of houses in Detroit. The picture features a doll's head sticking up behind a tree trunk. The doll looks so real that people often ask who she is and some people think it's me hiding behind the tree with just my hair and eyes showing. I remember the day I took the photo -- the sun shone down with a vigor not common to the time of year, the grass seemed so green, that color so often associated with envy. The doll's head has been worn down by weather; it has grown hideous from exposure. Such is its lot! No child will drag it back inside the house and love it and so I do.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"There were people who could start new lives and people who couldn't." Judith Rossner
Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Debaser The Pixies
Benedictions and Maledictions
Okay, so the ride is over! The Sopranos ended and for the record, I loved the ending, the fade to black. I know some people wanted a bloodbath, but isn't it far worse to have to live? And Journey never sounded so good!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

You Will Not See The Shadows

I have never lived without a television and am one of those people who puts it on for "noise," the sort of constant droning that drowns out other scary sounds, the sounds of being alone and on guard. I have done this to a greater or lesser degree for as long as I can remember. When people tell me how great it feels to get rid of their television, I compliment them, tell them how silence is so healthy and real and allows you to think big, authentic thoughts and then I go home and turn on my television. I don't watch much compared to a lot of people I know -- my only regular shows are HBO ones; even though I have a tremendous deal of patience for improbable situations and bad dialogue (hey, story of my life!), I find a lot of it crap that I can't even stomach. And I don't really watch the news except when visitors come to Detroit and mostly I do this to make them nervous on account of the way the most heinous crimes are thrown together with sweet human interests stories, ala A Pet Can Help Cure Your Depression! and Make A Great Barbecue This Memorial Day! But I do get sucked into a variety of unlikely moments -- a movie of the week about a bulimic dancer can hold as much interest for me as Chekhov. After all, any secret life compels you, no matter what the form. I can't get fat, I can't get fat, I will dance as fast as I can. You get the idea.

Today The Sopranos ends its ten year run, and my sadness is great. A decade is something that you can't dismiss. I've been in Detroit for almost one, a city that has shaped me. And suffice to say, the show has as well. My parents loved it, and one of the last memories of my father was watching the end of Season Five, where Tony scrambles back to his house after meeting with Johnny Sack and the Feds show up. Tony makes it back to safety while Van Morrison's "Glad Tidings" plays in the background. This could have been the end of the show, but it's not that kind of show. There would be many more brutal turns of the screw before Tony makes it to wherever his final resting point in the series will be. Even so, no matter what happens tonight, I'll always think of Tony running through the snow to the only home he has, safe from those who would wish him harm, safe from his inevitable death, if only for a little while.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Keep your eyes on the sun and you will not see the shadows." Aboriginal proverb

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Get Behind Me Satan The White Stripes

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Real Pit Of Trash And Snakes

The first time I made it to the UP in Michigan, I visited the Shipwreck Museum. When I came to Detroit, I had no idea of what "up north" meant -- Detroit was as far up north as I could even imagine! Anyway, as much as I love wrecks and am a trainwreck myself, I can't say that I got all that much out of the museum except a semi-permanent version of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" playing over and over in my head and a few postcards that some unlucky people had the misfortune of receiving. I ate my first pastie on this trip, a grim little concoction stuffed with meat that I savored as much as I could which was not at all. But I did think about the museum after, the sign that read "Why We Ask You Not To Touch," the artifacts that people had retrieved, that damn Gordon Lightfoot song.

Lots of things sink to the bottom of a lake. I've never been one of those athletic types that wanted to plunge into the depths and find what lies beneath the surface. The largest body of water I grew up near was Possum Kingdom Lake, a real pit of trash and snakes, and although I had heard rumors of man-sized catfish swimming its depths, I had no desire to see them, let alone risk the bends and whatnot. I'm a person prone to panic and without much common sense. But thank God some people can dive deep and see the trash and treasure, letting the rest of us know what others have lost along the way.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"What few people know is that Lake Superior stays so cold that drowned bodies never make it to the surface." Jim Harrison

Cocktail Hour

Bada Bing

Drink whatever soothes you for the final episode!

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Saturday! The VERY last Sopranos ever tomorrow!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Long Sleeves Year Around

I often ask students to write prompts, one of my favorites being whose head they'd like to see on a platter, a spin-off of old John the Baptist who had a pretty tough end of things, not that being out in the forest surviving on locusts and honey sounds like a real relaxing prelude to his untimely demise. I suppose prophets have always had it a little rough, knowing more than the rest of us. I've been known to whip out a prediction or two at times and that rare combination of insight, premonition, and sheer dumb luck isn't any fun either like the time I wrote an innocent greeting card to someone thanking them for their friendship and had a sudden flash that the friendship would die soon, that I would grow to loathe this person, a rare condition for me, but a condition nonetheless.

But I digress only to come around again -- sometimes my students surprise me with this prompt. Not with their deep hatred of certain people as we all detest someone at some point, but that the head that many of them want on a platter the most is their own. This insight is not lost on me, particularly in the succinct way that my students often convey it -- from I wish I could stop doing dumbass things like not paying my car insurance and then crashing my car to I hate when I burn myself with a curling iron, but I can't help it and now I have to wear long sleeves year around. I believe that what we do to others is often wrong, but karma generally takes care of those situations. What wounds our souls the most are the self-betrayals, the small and large sins we commit against ourselves, the self-imposed hells that we create. We live in them until we're ready to move on, taking with us the baggage that we can't seem to lose, no matter how much we pretend it's not ours.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I have had my fun even if I ain't gonna get well no more." Howlin' Wolf

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Permanent Midnight

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Friday! Two more days until The Sopranos!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Very Definition Of A Victim Soul

Linda Santo, Audrey Santo's mother, the girl who is arguably the most famous victim soul of our time, prayed that her child would be a saint before she was born. When Audrey was three, she lapsed into a coma-like state known as akinetic mutism after a swimming accident. On August 9, 1987, Audrey fell backyard into a swimming pool. She suffered massive hypoxia: the oxygen supply to her brain was cut off for several minutes, killing numerous brain cells. According to the thousands of pilgrims that come to see her in her home in Massachusetts, Audrey has the power to take their pain and illness, the very definition of a victim soul. Linda Santos' prayer, as it was, had been answered, albeit in a very different way than perhaps she'd imagined. That's hardcore -- most parents I know pray that their children will act saintly from time to time -- not kill each other or paint the walls with magic markers.

The concept of the victim soul is a relatively obscure concept in which a person takes on someone else's distress. On a mystical plane, this appears to work even though one can debate the morality and ethics of such a situation. But more interesting to me is how often we desire to perform this act or have it performed for us. I'd do anything to take your pain or Help me not feel this way. We offer our stories, we offer sex, pills, food; we offer love. We say I'd do anything to change this for you. But would we? Some things last far longer than they really do, some suffering is forever and a day. The immediate pain is one thing, but what about the long, tedious backlash that accompanies it? It's one thing to nail yourself to a cross, another to cry tears of blood while waiting for that which is to come or lamenting about that which has already past.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Answered prayers cause more tears than unanswered ones." Saint Theresa

Cocktail Hour

Drinking novella collection suggestion: The Woman Lit By Fireflies Jim Harrison

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Thursday, everyone! The last Sopranos episode is almost here!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Night Of Violence, Cigars, And Jack Daniels

For years my friends and I would spend hours in the video store, trying to pick a Friday night movie. Nobody could agree on anything so we'd cruise the same racks over and over, the way I enjoyed hanging on the refrigerator door, hoping that something I did not buy would appear, dismayed as hell that the same rotting jar of mustard was there. "Don't you want to see When Harry Met Sally again?: someone would ask to which another diplomat in the group would reply, "Fuck that shit; let's watch The Great Escape." Man, all I wanted to do was escape whatever off-brand video store was eating up our time. Eventually a decision would be made, born of desperation and a deep need for a drink, and we'd all head back to someone's apartment to watch the movie and curse the person who chose it if it turned out bad. My friend Hank came up with the idea of movie probation -- for a real howler, a person could lose their choosing rights for weeks. I agree with this completely -- one of my friends once suggested a long, turgid movie called Joe Gould's Secret because someone gave it a good review at the Onion. I have little to no idea what his secret was, but by the end, I felt as if I'd been lobotomized in some subtle way. Movie probation time, baby! Blame someone at the Onion if you will, but probation all the same.
Years later, Hank would institute an all boys kung-fu night. This truly sucked as I had dated many of the gentleman who would hang out at Hank's not-so-well appointed apartment for a night of violence, cigars, and Jack Daniels. Okay, so this left some time open for more interesting pursuits like looking around Bath and Body Works and wondering if Wild Honeysuckle Bliss lotion would be better than Moonlit Path. I was nothing if not wildly ambitious. I tried to get the skinny on these godforsaken kung-fu nights, but nothing was revealed except that they had to search far and wide for more kung-fu movies as they'd seen a lot of them. The fallback was the camp classic, Curse of the Queerwolf. I can only say that it helps if you have copious amounts of alcohol to accompany this gem. But sometimes they'd rent things in other languages; subtitles didn't bother them. What was being said was often a mystery, but the violence was not. That is a language, for better or worse, that we all understand.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence.” Alice Walker

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Moanin' At Moonlight Howlin' Wolf

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

You Press The Button; We Do The Rest

Once when I was being photographed on a street corner, a man with a brown spider tattoo covering half his face, leaned out his truck window and offered to take me home. As far as approaches to getting a date go, this ranks up there as one of the worst. He kept yelling at me until the light turned green and cars honking behind him moved him along. Mr. Spider-Face Pants had an awful menacing aura, one that said I have a lot of bodies in my crawl space. I did not dilly dally on the street after that encounter. Taking and posing for pictures requires nerves of steel, and barring that, a few strong martinis. After all, you never know what's going to work and furthermore what will be revealed -- too much, not enough, something lovely or tragic or miserable.

Now I wonder about the tattoo, about where he got the design, and who had the talent and patience to fulfill his wish. I didn't know if he ever wanted to wash it off and start over, to be himself again without the vivid markings. But perhaps that's the point -- to let people know who you are without saying a word. Such is the power of a photograph. It tells people something that you cannot. We carry them around in our wallets, frame them in our homes. We put them on refrigerator doors pinned up by magnets from places we've been and may never go again, those tiny reminders of times that were joyous at least in memory.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Most dolls belong to little girls and live in houses. But this one was different. She lived in the woods. She didn't belong to anyone, but she had more friends than she could count." Dare Wright

Cocktail Hour

Drinking documentary suggestion: What Remains

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Art Of Losing

My first childhood crush was a boy who lived next door named Lance, a name I have only heard on soap operas since then, but that I really like given its rather dramatic sound and the fact that it is also a verb. Our first date, if you will, consisted of me accompanying his mother to watch him play basketball. Lance's team lost, and when he walked to the locker room before the long ride home in their VW van, his mother said to me, You have to be really nice to him since his team lost. Boys don't take losing well. I did not know it at the time, but truer words were never spoken. Lance pouted a bit as we jostled in the back of the van. His mother, although a sage in matters of the heart, was a terrible driver. I felt bad that Lance had lost the game, but I was thrilled to be riding home with him all the same, even as we narrowly avoided death or car sickness from hitting so many potholes. I made him laugh a few times, and the pouting ended. I began to see my niche for all eternity -- cheerleader for the damned.

There are a lot of people who say that failure is a gift. If so, I'd like to return it for something a little different -- compassion or wisdom or, barring those options, a nice fondue set. But I suppose there's something about being forced to accept that some losses are inevitable, permanent, absolute. Once in high school, an English teacher asked us what we liked about the idea of death. This was my kind of classroom! No subject proved too bleak. I said that it gave value to everything else, that without an end, all things lost their luster. Someone else said the the idea of death was one thing, but the reality probably sucked. Most of us had lost small things already and had already begun to feel nostalgic for them. What we didn't know was that this feeling of being homesick, for wanting what was already fleeting, well, that would never end, that our lives would be defined by what we were and would never be again.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"With dynasties of negative constructions darkening and dying all around you . . please come flying." Elizabeth Bishop

Cocktail Hour

Drinking short story collection suggestion: Without Feathers Woody Allen

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Monday!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

You Can Never Be Sure Of Anything

Here's the last installment of the story. Thanks for reading for the last couple of days!

Saturday at work passes without much time to think about how shitty I feel and by the time I get out, the streets are alive with energy, helicopters already circling as I leave work. Devil’s Night, the only unique Detroit holiday, has now been deemed Angel’s Night, a night where everything is patrolled by all available means. Billboards with halos plead with people to act well and not start fires. Winter will be here soon, and I drive home listening to Billie Holiday sing "I Cover the Waterfront." Maybe I could drive by Kevin’s house, even though I’m nowhere near it. When I do it, which is more often than I’d care to admit, I feel like I’m falling and can’t stop, like a dream that I can’t wake up from.

At the stop light right before I get home, there’s a recovering crack addict named Victor who sells wands of tiny cheap chiclets and party-size M&Ms to support the halfway house in which he lives. Sometimes he falls off and has to come back, but he’s an almost permanent fixture, come rain, come shine, with his bad teeth and his sad smile. I give him a dollar every day and in return get a gum wand, not wanting the calories from the M&Ms. The wands litter my car, making me feel like a low-rent Glenda in some hellish version of "The Wizard of Oz." If I could make anything happen with these, what would it be? Sometimes I open the wands and dump the gum in my mouth, not the highest quality stuff and it loses its sugary flavor in about a minute.

"God bless you, pretty baby," Victor says, handing me a gum wand. "You on your way home?"

"Something like that," I say, still toying with the idea of cruising by Kevin’s.

"Pretty thing like you probably has someone waiting," Victor says. The light changes, and I have to move, but I give him my dollar and wave. He waves back, a little salute, before turning to the next batch of cars that might be interested in what he has to offer.

To my credit, I do not go by Kevin’s. Did you hear that Kevin? I did not even so much as swing by 33 Lochmoor, a street that sounds like a Scottish bog, or the name of a mental ward, not out of goodness or wisdom, but exhaustion. The pointless of it struck me as if I’d been hit hard. I broke his rules, and I’m out forever. These rules were unspoken, of course, as almost everything important is. We relied on subtexts, the words behind the words, the way someone can say I love you and mean don't hate me, I’m never going to be any better than this, the way someone can say, you are beautiful, meaning I could use a blowjob. Well, at least that’s what I think it means. You can never be sure of anything, really.

Coley has changed out of her Jackie Kennedy outfit and into one of mine, a black halter dress, something I haven’t worn since going on a date with Kevin. She looks good, filling it out in all the right places.

"Moving in?" I ask.

"I didn’t feel like driving home," she says. She puts her feet up underneath her, like a kitten, a hateful evil kitten.

"Aren’t you afraid your car is going to be torched tonight?" I ask, setting down my purse, an ugly big black bad that holds way too much shit.

"Going to set me on fire, are you?" she asks.

"Someone needs to," I say. I sit on the couch. "Seriously, you’d better be careful. I only have liability. If anything happens, I’m screwed."

"I’m not afraid," Coley says. "I don’t even have insurance. I only get it when I have to renew my license."

I look around for Josh, but he’s nowhere around, although I hear the sound of water running so I assume he’s in the shower. I should have been a private investigator, quick as I am. Now I know they had sex.

"You know, Josh will always look like that," I say. I motion at the bookcase that holds a bottle of tequila that I’ve cleverly turned into a bar. I’m usually not a fan of the really harsh stuff, but sometimes you need a shot of something that burns.

"No, I’ve had enough," Coley says. "What do you mean, always look like that?"

"His face. It can’t be fixed," I say. I mix the tequila with a little lime juice from the fridge while Coley follows my every movement.

"I assumed that the scars would eventually fade. That or surgery."

"He severed a tendon. He’s always going to be fucked-up looking. Sad, isn’t it?" I take my shot and feel it all the way down.

"But I’m really impressed that you’re a big enough person to see to the real Josh, the person deep within and that you don’t care how people will view you when you go out with him. I bet he’s even ready for marriage now. When you dated him, it was just too early. My parents would be thrilled to see him settled. Of course, they don’t know about the cut, but there are worse things."

Coley doesn’t say anything. Her fake brain is still on the coffee table, like some truly unique centerpiece for a party nobody’s going to attend.

"So why were you crying last night?" I ask. The tequila goes down a little easier with each sip.

"For humanity, Josette. For your sorry fucked-up self. Still seeing Kevin?"

"No," I say. "You still fucking the old lawyer or have you moved on?" I can hear the water stop running. Josh will be out any minute.

"I’m actually lying about Josh. His face will change. It’ll look worse as he ages. That’s what the new shrink says, anyway. She says he’s lucky he’s not dead. Of course, that’s an opinion," I say.

Coley takes her brain and gathers her Jackie Kennedy outfit into a CVS sack. "Maybe you’re right about the car. Being Devil’s Night and all. I should come back another time."

"Feel free to keep the dress," I say. "Feel free to never bring it back." I like it, but I’m willing to part with it if it means not seeing her again. It’s my own little sacrifice for Josh.

Josh steps out of the bathroom, and I’m still shocked by his face. I keep expecting it to go back to normal, despite what I told Coley.

"Where’s Coley?" he asks. "I thought she was going to stay and hang out. We’d ordered pizza from Mama Rosa’s."

"She didn’t look like she felt well," I say. He seems mildly disappointed, but not enough to call her and ask her to come back. "Plus, she didn’t have any insurance. What if something happened to her car? She wouldn’t have any way to get around."

We have a small balcony that we can sit on and so we do. After all, there’s a pizza across the street being made just for us. I can probably stomach whatever Coley chose to put on top of it.

"I wish you hadn’t opened the door last night," Josh said. He’d had about half his drink, and it was almost time to pick up the pizza. The police were thick on the streets, the sky the color of a crack vial. It would be dark soon. Tomorrow would be Halloween, a day where you could be anybody you wanted.

"What else was I supposed to do? She was knocking," I say.

"Do what I always do. Pretend you’re not here."

Josh got up to get the pizza. He would go into the restaurant and wait for the person behind the counter to find which white box was his. People would stare at him, some would assume he had a costume on, that he was going to a party later. No matter what anyone thought, he’d have to pay like everyone else for what he wanted.

I watched him cross the street, hands in his pockets, head against the wind. I wanted to call out to him, to tell him that I’d go in his place, that he didn’t need to face anything else. But I didn’t. The lights from the patrol cars swirled yellow in the impending darkness. For the past two years, the Devil’s Night arsonists had been brought under a lot more control than when I was child and things were really scary. As much as I hate to admit it, I miss the Devil’s nights of old, the entire city on fire and nobody able to stop it from burning.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Place conspires with the artist. We are surrounded by our own story." Eudora Welty

Cocktail Hour

Drinking novel suggestion: Willard and His Bowling Trophies Richard Brautigan

Benedictions and Malediction

Happy Sunday! My beloved Pistons fought the good fight. Next year!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Gypsies, Witches, And Vampires

Part Two!

I wake up in the morning, just hung over as I’d imagined. Since it’s Saturday, we’re allowed to wear jeans to work, and I pick out a pair that I imagine looks all right and put on my Satan’s School for Girl’s t-shirt, since it’s the closest to a Halloween costume as I’m going to get. Some of my more energetic colleagues will no doubt make a serious effort to be something other than what they are, alas no one as politically incorrect as our darling Coley, asleep on the couch, wrapped in my brother’s arms. I see the scene as soon as I stumble out of the bathroom, prepared to choke down some codeine aspirin and Coke and hurry out the door. If nothing else, I am not usually late to work, no matter how frayed things get around the edges.

I watch my brother holding Coley in her pink suit, stripped of pillbox hat and fake brain, enabling her to get closer to Josh. I stare at them for a minute, trying to remember how they got together and why they broke up. I recall that Coley had the misfortune of having dinner with my parents on one of their Detroit visits, something she took as a prelude to Josh popping the proverbial question, but in fact was a prelude to a big old nothing, another Christmas come and gone and only a vintage London Fog trench coat to show for it. Coley, I wanted to say at the time, I feel your pain, as if to channel good old Bill Clinton, but I don’t feel anyone’s pain, not even my own.

"I’m awake, Josette," Coley says, not moving from Josh’s clutch. "Stop staring at us."

I gather a few glasses from the coffee table, set them in the sin, and look at Coley despite her wish, face smeared with make-up and eyes unintentionally smoky from the worn mascara, looking vaguely post-connubial, although I would be surprised if they had sex, especially given that they did not retire to Josh’s bedroom for reasons that are all about the way things look, which is sometimes exactly the way things are.

Driving to work, a stray hair falls into one of my contacts, and I struggle to drive and get it out at the same time. My mother’s lover’s wife taught me the perfect technique for removing something caught in your eye -- you pull the lid down slowly and move the object to the side where it will gradually fall out with your tears. You have to do this with a great deal of patience and like all things that work, it’s not what you want to do. I want to rub as hard as I can, to make it worse because my tolerance for pain was so low I saw no way of understanding that I can bear it for a minute instead of performing frantic movements that can only make things worse, possibly cause real damage. And because of my long eyelashes, no small amount of shit gets caught in my eyes. At a certain length, a lash stops being protective and starts bringing more stuff in itself. Kevin once said I had eyelashes that reminded him of tarantulas.

This memory seems to evaporate, leaving me with a strange sense of wonder for the debris of my life, like looking through an old jewelry box and being amazed that all of this once meant something to you, most of which was picked out by other people for special occasions, hoping you would like it, that you would wear a chain around your neck with something beautiful weighting it down, making it worth something. And because I drive past so many pawnshops in the city, one with an African-American version of Betty Boop, promising to pay top dollar cash money for gold or diamonds, I think about how many half-lives a piece of jewelry might have, how something so small that you paid so dearly for could be worth so little in the end. A swastika has been spray painted next to the black Betty, graffiti that has been there for almost as long as I’ve been driving this route.

At work, I have the office no one else wanted. Because I didn’t want to share, it was the only way, to take what no one else would fight for. Hence my office, a feng-shui nightmare, a rapist’s dream. I can hear almost nothing from the other parts of the building, and no one can hear anything happening in mine. What I can hear are the sounds of the street, but with no windows, so I can only imagine what is going on, as if I am blind.

I finger the yellowed leaves of my ivy plant, dying in a delicate blue-flowered antique teacup. One of my clients (part of the push for more respectful, if not accurate, language -- patient used to be the word, royally fucked might be the most accurate) brought it to me to cheer things up around the room (it's a dreary place, this I know, having done nothing to make it my own because it isn), a thank you present for the free samples that I gave her so she wouldn’t have to make her boyfriend come in and take a test for the same sexually transmitted infection that she had since she knew he didn’t have the twenty-three dollars for the test. She’d been using his ex-girlfriend’s vibrator and had started to feel a burning "down there." Almost none of the clients ever use clinical words for their bodies, something I understand, that being how painful it is to tell someone what’s wrong with you and how it happened. Precision is nobody’s friend, no matter how many memos we get at work about being careful about our language, that it matters whether we say something was not a live birth as opposed to an abortion. We ask woman how many times they’ve been pregnant, how many deliveries. The difference between the two numbers can be staggering.

Even so, we are instructed to never judge, although many in the office have faces that betray them. Today I see my co-workers, dressed up as gypsies, witches, and vampires, outfits thrown together from things they already had. It doesn’t take much to change how people see you. I say hello to everyone, I act like I have an ordinary life, I share nothing about myself with anyone. Years of pretending has put me in good stead. When a woman and her friend come in and tell me a sad tale of birth control gone wrong, she tells me that she likes the way her breasts look in the first month of pregnancy before she has the abortion, that they stay that way about two weeks after the abortion, and that she had a nice white man who would pay her five hundred dollars to suck on them in that condition. These sessions usually lasted about an hour. What’s an hour, she says. It’s nothing. Five hundred dollars is a month’s rent.

Her friend looks at her with bewilderment. "Why’d you let that good deal get away?"

Such rationalizations aren’t lost on me.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"It involves an almost fatalistic sense of loss. Nothing will ever stay the same." Pete Hamill, on living in New York City

Cocktail Hour

Drinking memoir suggestion: A Piece Of Cake Cupcake Brown

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Saturday! Go Pistons!