Sunday, September 30, 2007

Yours, Mine, Ours

A friend of mine used to keep gifts and pictures related to his ex-girlfriends in boxes decorated with their names -- a serial monogamist, the boxes lined his closet like tiny little coffins, each one smaller than the last. His last love told him he'd have to get rid of the boxes which he refused. His past, he contended, was contained and refined to its essence. Unlike Bluebeard's infamous room, he'd taken care to put his past loves into a Dewey Decimal system of trinkets and tokens. I liked this idea -- it appealed to my sense of order. But instead of a box for every love, I decided that one box would do and spent a lot of time looking for something perfect, not too big (how much of the past do you want to drag around?) and not too small. The box I chose, a simple leather black box with a handle, serves as a repository of the past, instructions and cautions, like a pilot's black box, pinging up against the reality of the present. My friend's girlfriend left him after pilfering all his boxes one night and his past became hers, like a phantom limb, a pain that she couldn't see and couldn't medicate. And, of course, she became a box for someone else to worry about.

And the past carries that weight, yours, mine, ours, romances and friendships gone awry, gone away, just gone. We lose whole afternoons to it, all those missteps and petty miseries, the things we said and should not have, the things we did not and might have made a difference. But what's a writer to do? Spend entire days stepping back into that pool, the deep end if possible, taking stock and telling myself that it will all be fine, that I have gained as much as I have lost, that I would change nothing, no regrets right?, the Edith Piaf thing and I can't even think of her without being sad so there's so much for that, but that's not the story you're telling yourself today, the story we all tell ourselves for as long as we can, that things will be better, that they have to be better, this time, next year, no matter what the black box, the thing that identifies the living and the dead on planes, the recording that tells you what went wrong in the final minutes, that thing, says.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I think you have to pay for love with bitter tears." Edith Piaf

Cocktail Hour
The Swimming Pool

Freeze champagne into teeny-tiny ice cubes. I use ones shaped like the state of Texas to be festive, but any ice-cube tray will do. Put these little friends into a glass of champagne. Garnish with a chocolate-covered strawberry.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Places I Can't Show You

Here's the last part. Have a great weekend!

Working as a model for Ford at the annual Detroit car show was not how I expected to spend the first week of January, but alas, it is. Coley does this every year, but couldn’t handle all the standing, the early mornings, the late nights in her delicate condition. Josh has been in high-avoidance mode, staring at the television for hours, not even reading very much and not speaking at all. The grim feeling of winter has officially set in, just when we’re close to the days getting longer again. In a gesture of goodwill or sadism, she gave me the name of her boss and I interviewed in a room with hundreds of pictures of girls in all sorts of poses plastered on almost every inch of the thin wood paneling. The interview consisted of an extra skinny woman in nude pantyhose looking me up and down and saying, You’ll do just fine. I have lots of girls who are uglier than you are doing the car show.

You’re the type who makes up real well and you seem to understand foundation. Her complexion had deep pockmarks from acne scars and she’d caked on so much base that it looked as if she were wearing a mask. I felt positively unmarked, not an emotion I experience often.

The money, for one week of standing around and kissing journalists’ asses, is about what I make in two months at Planned Parenthood. With three weeks vacation stored up, it seemed like I could not not do it, given how the chance fell into my lap. Our parents would take Josh and me to the car show when we were young, something both of us found deadly dull, an activity made tolerable only by the dinner at Pizza Pappolis that followed. I imagine the best-case scenario, the one where I’m dressed in elegant gowns, the time passing quickly. I try to get some sleep the night before, abstain from drinking. I figure looking beautiful for so long might wear me out.

The first day all the girls go in a shuttle to Windsor for dress fittings. About fifteen minutes from downtown, it’s easy to get over the border. Windsor affords a beautiful view of Detroit, but not much else except a drunken hang-out for nineteen year olds, thanks to a lower drinking age and a ton of strip clubs, referred to by the wittier Detroiters as the Windsor Ballet, the suburban white men who are far too terrified to go to Eight Mile and see the same performances locally.

As we ride through Windsor, I think about the times Kevin and I came across the border to ensure that his wife wouldn’t see us. I see the restaurant we always went to, Spago, a beautiful Italian place with waiters that said, It is my pleasure, all the time and knew which kinds of scotch to recommend. Most of the girls on the bus know each other from last year and waste no time in complaining about having the same boss again this year, a high-strung Ford employee named David Levine. For now, though, we are stuck with the woman who hired me in the front of the bus, putting clear nail polish on the run in her pantyhose, probably the same pair she was wearing when she interviewed me. Her legs are skinny enough to be a thin woman’s arms. She’s along to decide what we will all wear. She gives instructions like, Don’t talk too much. You are to be seen at the car show, not heard.

We pull into an unlikely-looking strip mall and are led down the hallway to a room of dresses that would look at place in some cross between a ballroom and a legalized brothel. We are required to pick out five so I try to figure out what will be most comfortable. Turns out nothing looks uncomplicated except some light pastels and I think I’ve found the perfect ones until the skinny boss comes over and says, "Something darker might suit you." She picks out a five black dresses and says, "You should always wear the black ones. They look good with your complexion."
Turns out, she wants all the girls to stick to one color for the whole week, something she calls a signature, and refers to us by our colors. I make friends with Yellow because she’s standing near me and together, we could make a bumblebee.

After about an hour when the newness of the surroundings wears off, I begin to realize why this job pays so well. The boredom sets in and the music loop starts to repeat itself, containing only one decent song, Etta James singing "At Last" with such heartbreaking clarity that I can barely believe that such music can exist in this generic setting, Cobo Hall, the fist of Joe Lewis sticking out of the snow which has not melted from the blizzard and the city of Detroit that does not plow the streets, making each encounter with another car a stand-off of sorts, a fight for the one lane that has managed to get moved through snow. Yellow and I talk when David Levine isn’t directly watching us, and I find out her name is Kara. She’s also a social worker at a place I did my internship at, a group home owned by the state’s branch of Mental Health/Mental Retardation. I wonder if car show modeling is the fallback job for all underpaid state employees.

The day before the car show, I picked up my antibiotics at work and everyone told me how lucky I was to have the week off. I didn’t relate what I was doing because it seemed inane, even to me. Who would pay me to stand around and drape myself over the occasional car? No one with any sense, that’s for damn sure. The antibiotics upset my stomach, and I have to work at keeping everything down because it needs to work its way through my system, just like I tell everyone that comes into Planned Parenthood. I take the sheet that I hand out at least a few times a week, big bold all caps bantering each page of instruction -- The Rate of Your Recovery Is Up to You. I don’t want to fuck up and have none of this count. The biggest problem most people have is either having sex while infected, not allowing the infection heal or stopping the pills when the symptoms stop, but before all the medicine is gone. One thing you learn in my position is the simple fact that nobody ever wants to take all the medicine.

When I get home from the long days, I don’t feel like anything, not even a drink which scares me a little. What if my desire is gone? Could standing around being nice to assholes all day kill your soul? The girls are mostly veterans from last year, falling into easy conversation about men, make-up and money, more complaints than compliments. Only one of the girls is married, a child bride from the looks of it, too young to offer champagne to the journalists, becoming even more of an ornament than she already is. We are trained to be friendly, but not overly so as to lose our mystique.

I think of my first job at K-Mart, all of sixteen and ready to make money to be buy all of the things I thought I’d die without. I’d already starting having sex with someone that was not my father and was overwhelmed by all the things one needed to make it perfect. The day after training at K-Mart, I worked in the pit of hell for retail -- exchanges and returns, a place where nobody got what they wanted. Even so, I was glad to be away from home, and I smiled until a ratty woman brandished a black lace teddy from the Jacqueline Smith line at me, claiming it had never been worn and she didn’t have a receipt, but she deserved a full cash refund. A used sanitary napkin attached to the crotch, I told her that such a refund wasn’t possible without proof of purchase. Look, she said, I know you’re probably new to this job and a little on the stupid side to boot, but do I look like the kind of woman who would wear something like this? She pulled up her shirt and pointed at the pronounced stretch marks that ran across her stomach. There’s more, she said, in places I can’t show you.

I nodded, gave her a full refund, took the dried bloody pad from the crotch and put it in her hand with the money. And somehow, standing around in a get up that makes a bridesmaid look tasteful, I think this is more exhausting and slightly less clean.

I take the medicine for my urinary tract infection, like a good girl, forcing the unpleasant horse pills down after snapping them in half between my index finger and thumb. I haven’t slept with anyone in over two weeks, a veritable record for me. My relationship with Mark is dead and gone, the relationship having given way to entropy with unreturned e-mail and cell phone calls. This job has also allowed me to lose weight, the long hours and standing, no real breaks except for after the waves of journalist sweep through, when we are allowed to go to the kitchen and take the leftover food off the plates. I eat enough not to faint. The waitresses serve huge platters of shrimp, quiche, and desserts, exquisite foods, most of which end up in the trash.

All during the car show, I imagine that I see Kevin, given that he works for GM, but it’s almost exclusively journalists who are deadly dull and intent on gorging themselves on free snacks while downing light beer. They all seemed depressing and ill-dressed and my long hours in stupid outfits do not make me like anyone any better. On the last day of the car show, I do see Kevin and his son Christopher. The chickens have come home to roost. Christopher motions to his dad and says, I’ll be right back. I can’t leave the car I’m assigned to and I don’t know if I would if I could. Part of me wants to know if he’s figured out I’m not one of his sister’s friends.

"Hi, Mystery Girl," he says.

"I’m not supposed to talk," I say, looking for the horrible David Levine who chews our asses each night about everything.

"You’re getting paid to be beautiful," he says. "That makes sense."

"Shit, I guess," I say. "This is it, though. Tomorrow all the make-up comes off and I turn back into a pumpkin."

What are you really?" Christopher asks. He notices me looking around and says, "I don’t want to disturb you for much longer, so here’s my cell -- do you have a cell that I can plug the number into?"

I laugh and gesture to my skin-tight dress with nary a pocket. "Just write it down."
"Where will you put it?" he asks, fishing a card out of his overstuffed wallet and writing the number on it. "Don’t lose it, okay? I want you to call me."

"Sure thing," I say, tucking the number between my breasts where it will stay until I take the dress off.

"Call me tonight," he says. I knew he wouldn’t ask my name since we’d slept together, it would be humiliating for both of us. I watch Kevin pretending to look at a car and wondering why his son was talking to me. Things are turning out even more complicated than I had imagined and better in some ways. Even though it doesn’t look like Kevin was coming back, I could insinuate myself into their family if I wanted. Right now, I am a dead, beautiful thing standing by a car and as odious as this job is, part of me will miss the ease of being something most people only see and dismiss as part of the landscape.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"What I aspired to be and was not, comforts me." Joyce Carol Oates

Cocktail Hour
Drinking novel suggestion: American Appetites Joyce Carol Oates

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

That Most Detroit Of Fashions

Here's the second installment. Thanks for reading!

The Rate of Your Recovery Is Up To You

When I get home, Coley’s car is parked on the street, and I am glad she didn’t take my spot. She did not spend Christmas with us, even though she insists she is having his child whether he likes it or not. It’s still plenty early to do something about it, but I’m not going to try and reason with a crazy pregnant woman who already hates me because she feels I have an unnaturally close relationship to Josh. This astute observation comes from not even knowing the half of it.

"How is the little mother?" I ask, setting the vodka on the table, happy to feel the tablets start to kill the pain. "Will you be staying for cocktails?"

Coley cranks up the volume on the television and they are showing fireworks in places where the new year has already started.

"I could use a drink," Coley says, not looking at me. I wonder if she’s changed her mind about the baby. "But I’ll be damned if I give you the satisfaction. Don’t let me stop you, though."

As if she could. I have an urinary tract infection, no date, and a night of Detroit gunfire to look forward to while stowed up with the unhappiest couple ever.

"Why don’t you have a date?" Coley ask. She does not have the easy pregnant glow that some women do. Instead she looks ragged and pale, as if all her energy is going into trying not to vomit. It will be, if it continues, a difficult pregnancy. Coley looks at me for a long moment. "You’re not my favorite person, let’s get that straight. But maybe we should call a truce."

"For the baby’s sake?" I put my hand to my heart. "That’s so precious. Since we’re in truce mode, can I ask you something? Do you really think Josh can handle having a child?" I refrain that I am still Josh’s legal guardian according to the state of Michigan.

"No," Coley says.

"Then why?" I ask.

"I want things to change for me," she says. "I’m bored sick with graduate school and work. And Steve," she says, referencing her older boyfriend that sent her running to Josh on Devil’s Night. Even I have to admit she is the most beautiful of Josh’s girlfriends and from the sounds of it, probably the least sexually inhibited, a potent combination, but not enough to make him want a baby.

"Where is Josh?" I ask.

"The thought of food makes me ill. Except pears. Pears sound okay. So he’s going to pick up some dinner and pears."

"It’s starting to get bad out there. I hope he makes it home before it gets really terrible," I say.

Coley puts her hand to her stomach and closes her eyes. "How bad is it now?" she asks.

"It’s getting hard to see," I say, which is true enough. And it’s only going to get worse.

New Year’s Eve comes and goes. I drink my way through most of it, watch the ball drop, and listen to people shooting guns from midnight until one to celebrate the new year, welcome it in that most Detroit of fashions. As I arrange cds in alphabetical order, Coley having gone to bed early and Josh hard following, I wish myself a happy new year, thinking how strange it is that I’ve lived to see another one.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"When I was in New York, I longed for Europe. When in Europe, I wanted to be in New York. I'm never where I want to be." Woody Allen

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music selection: Teenager of the Year Frank Black

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Rate Of Recovery Is Up To You

Dear readers,

I'll be printing the next installment of my novella, Something To Do In Bed, for the next few days. Thanks so much for reading!

The Rate of Your Recovery Is Up To You

It’s the last day of 2000, and I’m buying a bottle of Stoli, some decent champagne, oil for my car because the light came on again, and a package of urinary tract infection pain relief tablets to hold me over until I go back to work and get a prescription for antibiotics on my lunch break. I confess that this is not the first time I’ve had these particular items on my shopping list. This state of affairs, unfortunately, does not bode well for the coming year -- the old idea about how what you spend New Year’s eve doing will determine how you will use your time next year. The guy behind me in line reeks of cheap beer and has fashioned a hanky emblazoned with a faded Confederate flag around his head. There are two people working the counter, the line inching forward at a slow rate while people fumble for their coupons and CVS cards, and Confederate Hanky Man mumbles behind me, talking the air or to me, I can’t tell.

I feel as if I’m going to scream since all I want to do is rip open the pack of tablets, take a few so the burning will cease. I continue to stand, calm and bland, while I think how nice it would feel to take a knife to something or someone. The only thing that makes my misery bearable is what makes all misery bearable, the fact that it will end, that the pain will be dealt with, that soon the infection itself will go away. I would take a deep breath to calm myself, if not for the rancid odor in the air.

Confederate Hanky Man gets the male Indian clerk who refuses to sell him beer because he’s drunk, a stupid rule if there ever was one because who else would buy beer that nasty? There is a big security cup over the lid of Jaegermeister so no one can walk away with it, press the licorice-tasting poison into their pants and cruise.
"Sir, I am smelling beer all around you. You have been in this state in here before, and we cannot break the law."

Confederate Hanky starts to yell. "What about my fucking American rights? Do you know what that means?"

The black woman’s counter opens, and I put my stuff down, looking at my choices as if I weren’t me and thinking how pathetic it all must seem -- the oil, the champagne, the pills. Hanky Man continues to carry on and the clerk asks for my id for the champagne. I need to get outside, take the pills, put the oil in my car, and get home before the predicted blizzard blows in. Already, a small hard snow has started to fall.

I get outside, pop the pills out of their blister packs, feeling better just knowing relief is on its way, and put gloves on to deal with my car, a Polynesian metallic green Geo Storm, the one thing I got from my divorce. It’s paid off, but I know that it won’t run forever, and I’ll be in a car lot soon enough, the thought of which makes me squirm.

As I’m putting the oil into my car, Confederate Hanky Man leaves CVS, beer and Jaeger in hand. Apparently, his rights got him what he wanted. I see him lurching toward my car and will the oil to go in faster.

"You let things get that bad, huh?" CHM says.

I smile with my teeth. "Yeah, nearly let it die." Years of social work has prepared me for these discussions.

"That’s pretty fucking irresponsible," he says, popping open a beer.

Opening the second bottle of oil, I give Hanky Man a look meant to convey deep hatred which he seems to mistake for lust.

"You know, you’re a real pretty girl. Too bad you’re infected," Hanky says, obviously not drunk enough not to notice my purchases. I let the oil run into the car until only about a fourth of the bottle is left, and I take it off the car and throw it on him.

"What the fuck?" he yells. I close the hood and get into my car. As I drive away, I can hear him yelling cunt, the storm obscuring my view of him and his oil-doused head. My mother would be appalled; she is unfailingly polite to everyone, no matter what. She didn’t believe that being sick made acting poorly acceptable.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. " Johnny Cash

Cocktail Hour
Drinking novel suggestion: The Passion of Alice Stephanie Grant

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Kitschy Madness Of It All

I have driven through Gary, Indiana in many different states for many different reasons, some of them ecstatic, others more like life's dreary hour business, but I never cease to forget that it's the hometown of Michael Jackson, the genesis of the Jackson Five, that strange fever dream of America. It's quite possibly one of the ugliest places I have seen, which I admit endears it to me -- I'm one of those Charlie Brown Christmas tree types. I'd pick dying industrial beauty over nature any old day; this applies with everything. Dear God, my sister will exclaim when I pick something out that I think it wonderful, Salvation Army city! I knew you'd like it. Sometimes I'll see someone wearing a t-shirt that says something really douchebaggy like I Don't Have a Drinking Problem; I Have A Working Problem and my heart will lift, and I will know I am among my people. But what happens when you get too far away from all that?

Well, I just read an interview with a thirteen year old Michael Jackson from a compilation of articles from an edgy seventies magazine called Crawdaddy. Michael seemed quiet and tentative in his answers; his father Joseph within earshot, calling out things for the interviewer to put in the story. The Jacksons had just left Gary for California, that great big mess of craziness. I never saw the appeal of that state until I met a girl who lived their with her punk musician boyfriend in L.A. and said, We're into the kitschy madness of it all. Then I got it. You can find a way to live damn near anywhere if you're looking at the right angle. Michael agreed that California was nice, that his house was nice, and that he enjoyed painting and that he liked to watch things, not have a say in them. He must have felt awfully far away from where he began -- such loneliness in his answers! The interviewer framed the piece by asking if success had spoiled Michael and concluded that it had not. There is no hint of the debacle his life is to become, the friends he would lose, suffering all around. But if you go to Gary, Indiana, you can see where it all started. There's a religion that believes when something bad happens to you, you return to the place and reclaim your soul. But many of us are too far away to make that journey and our soul doesn't heal, not really, and you do the best with what you have left, and maybe sometimes you don't want what you've lost especially if it's trapped somewhere so cold and bleak.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans." Woody Allen

Cocktail Hour
Liquid Smoke

1 glass of champagne
1 shot of peach schnapps
1 shot of pear vodka

Serve chilled.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, September 24, 2007

In Fighting Trim

The most vivid picture I ever saw in my early years was the famous one of the woman in a pool of blood on her knees in a hotel room, wire hanger at her side, having died trying to give herself an abortion. This picture appeared in Our Bodies, Ourselves, (and still does in the new editions) and did more to keep me away from sex than a thousand abstinence campaigns ever could. While I grew up in a time of legal abortion, my fear of pregnancy was intense, and I could imagine being driven to such extremes. Of course, AIDS was on its way as well, making an already fraught activity even more scary. I knew someone with AIDS before I was twenty -- he'd married despite his affliction only to be left because in the words of his wife, "He didn't die fast enough." She'd lost a lot of weight, in fighting trim to date again and asked me if I was pregnant when we saw each other in a chance encounter on campus. I'd gained some weight given that I was eating like a maniac out of depression and loneliness, being married at the time and thinking maybe I shouldn't be. "God no," I said. And then lost twenty pounds and got a divorce myself. It's strange how much a chance comment can change your life.

One of the earliest memories I have of my mother getting ready to go out for the evening involved her lying on the bed, zipping her jeans with a wire hanger. These were the seventies and jeans weren't doing their job if they didn't look as if they'd been painted on the body. She and her friends laughed as they drank Wild Turkey and prepared for a night on the town. As they sat around and ate and gossiped, I don't remember anyone talking about how much she hated how she looked. Her generation did not seem to suffer from the intense body hatred that would be the legacy of mine. Our Bodies, Ourselves didn't even have a section on eating disorders or self-mutilation yet. It was all about getting out of abusive relationships with other people, not about what happens when you absorb enough abuse and turn it inward. And that creepy abortion shot with the wire hanger. I think about that woman sometimes, how alone we are in our problems, what extreme actions we take when we feel cornered. And my mother and her friends laughing as they used their hangers and tried to suck in enough to get into their jeans. About how one thing can be so scary one minute, so benign the next.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us all without words?" Marcel Marceau

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Patti Rocks

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Girl With The Long Black Hair

No rose without thorns, but many a thorn without rose. Schopenhauer said that, I think, something I picked up in my Psychology of Ethics class, a tough course taught by a man dying of AIDS. I loved the class; the professor, a brilliant man, hated it given that no student would talk except me. I could feel his frustration all during the semester which he gave voice to on the last day. "You have been the worst fucking class ever. Getting you to do anything is like milking a rat. Except for the girl with the long black hair." The other students looked at me with a mild hatred, the goody-two shoes once again, a role that I would grow to loathe. Once a friend of mine called me "homely." When I took offense, he said, "But you do like to stay home. You're not wild and crazy." Giving him the definition of homely would have merely proved his point. I did, at times, spend my days copying the dictionary. I'd like to use the fact that Malcolm X did this as well as some kind of cool credential, but alas, he was in prison at the time and well, I was in Mineral Wells, Texas and could have done other things like gotten tanked up on Quaaludes and gone to Possum Kingdom Lake.

But as with all things, there was a turning point. I became less enchanted with the scant rewards for being nice, studious, quiet. I suppose we all get sick of the traps we create for ourselves and long for something new. Started to feel like an actor who had outgrown a solid, but confining role. So I changed, got a few more thorns. Some of them hurt others; most hurt me. My old professor died a few years after our horrible class; he probably wouldn't recognize me now. But maybe he would. I remember much of what he said, all that ethics and morality and our dim persistence in face of the eventual bleak outcome. And our essence doesn't change all that much no matter what we do. And I still have long reddish black hair even after all these years even if I have to dye it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." Lou Reed

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Show Me Your Tears Frank Black and the Catholics

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

That Which Is Seen

Dear readers,

Here's the Saturday photographs. The theme is folk art, part of a series about found religious objects. Happy Saturday!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Opium Was My Mother's Favorite Perfume

Dear readers,

A 500 word version of my essay, "The Ceiling or the Floor" is being published on today. This is the edited version -- a longer version is in the works! Thanks so much for reading.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Do not linger too long in desolate ground." The Art of War

Cocktail Hour
Drinking mini-series suggestion: Roots (It's been reissued on dvd.)

Benedictions and Maledictions: Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

No Debts

While having some ability to forgive others, I still struggle with it, that long tunnel of having come to turns with something only to find out that you have not, that you really harbor a grudge in your heart, that you in fact are upset, not just a little upset, but really upset, upset enough to perseverate on the argument or slight for days and days, creating an identity out of it, making it my little friend. But I have known people who could outdo me on this score and really take someone to task. My dear friend Hank generally wrote poems and letters to this end; I have found myself at the end of that gun a few times as has everyone he knew. My great anti-homage from Hank was his blues song, "Detroit Woman." It took to task me and everyone I'd ever dated. I received it as my Christmas present one year as did everyone else we knew. So much, I thought with bitterness in my heart, for the season of love and joy.

My grandfather was a charismatic, violent man with a propensity for outbursts, Jack Daniels, and twirling his pistol around late into the night. The concept of mercy was as foreign and exotic to him as the take-out Chinese food my mother sometimes bought from Polynesian Gardens, the only restaurant in town that did not serve chicken-fried steak as its main dish. He forgave no debts and his quality of fairness had more to do with some indignant second rate vigilante hopped up on meth than any spiritual precept. I did not learn about mercy and forgiveness from him. But he often said, You have the same shoes to get glad in that you got mad in. It was one of his favorite tidbits, usually when someone was pouting. The spirit was get the fuck over it, but in truth, it was good advice for forgiving. To some degree, we choose how we feel about most situations and our perceptions rule the day. "Detroit Woman" is one of my favorites off that particular Hank cd now. I failed to see the humor in it at the time, but these days I listen every so often and smile, think about his relentless quality and how it stayed with him in this world always and no doubt into the next one.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If you take a lie and allow your desire for the truth, you'll end up with some truth - not fact, but something that gets you closer to the truth. That's what we want. " Denis Johnson

Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story collection suggestion: Drastic Maud Casey

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Infertility, Jealousy, Slavery and Exile

When I was young, I often heard the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, of sacrificing what you love for God and then not having to because you are willing to do it. This story is one close to my heart, the whole lose your life to gain it thing which I understand instinctively as a writer -- all writers know the heartbreak of having to get rid of things you love in your work, of a calling that demands copious amounts of your time and blood. But the side story of Hagar and Sarah wasn't one that got referenced a lot, the story of infertility and jealousy and slavery and exile. Before Isaac, Abraham had a child with Hagar named Ishmael, and Sarah so consumed with misery over her own inability to produce an heir until late in her life, drove them away.

As a grown woman, I think about that one just as much, the way that our lots in life make us feel sad and jealous about someone else being so much luckier, giving way to massive amounts of schadenfreude when something bad happens to our object of envy. I once tripped in the hall; I'm always falling everywhere no matter what the shoes or the landscape and someone said to me, Serves you right for wearing those high heels all the time. I'd seen her often, a squat woman with the kind of suitcase on wheels that you see flight attendants wheeling through airports. I'm the kind of person who carries everything in a bag and shit is constantly falling out; I lose things left and right. I envy the organized and the light -- I will never wheel a bag or be a person who says, I only need lipstick and a credit card! I saw the woman who made the comment again; her bag had opened and papers flew everywhere, like confetti in a parade, the careful giving way to the ecstatic at least for the moment.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"In every person we meet there's this little piece of God in them and that's who you talk to. And that's the only person that you allow to talk to you. When something else is speaking, you walk away from that. If it's not good, if it's not love, you walk away from it." Terrence Howard

Cocktail Hour
Drinking make-up suggestion: Urban Decay's eyeshadow -- Uzi is my favorite at this moment.

Benedictions and Maledictions
My Aunt Barb, my dad's older sister, died yesterday. She was a big part of my younger days, all those summer trips to Wichita, and I remember visiting her and my Uncle Mac and their dog Snookums like it was yesterday. They had the happiest marriage I can remember witnessing in my youth, totally enthralled with each other and they'd been married forever! Uncle Mac died years ago and I'd like to imagine that today is a very happy day for both of them, reunited at long last. And my deepest condolences to my wonderful cousins, Mike and Pat, and their families.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Black Lights

Years ago, one of my dearest friends came to visit me for a few days. After several late into the night discussions about our respective loves (sufficed to say, there have been a few personnel changes since then, the term another friend of ours used in lieu of break-up), we started to laugh hysterically. It's so much easier to have a friend, she said. I don't stand around in the shower thinking, "Am I being the very best best friend I can be? Is there anyone else who would be better? How long can this friendship last?" We concluded that our only goal was not to be talking about the same thing this time, next year. As is true to my sunny happy disposition, I believe that most romantic relationships have a Sisyphean quality to them, the pain of having the same fight over and over again. The fight changes depending on the couple, but once you start having it, it's all variations on a theme from there. You love your writing more than me (bingo, pal!), You can't commit (hey, I'm the same astrological sign as George Clooney and he's had a very long relationship with his pop-bellied pig, Max, until his recent death), and from my side, You don't understand my life (in retrospect, this seems a tall order for anyone -- who can truly understand someone's constant fear and misery, the state I was in at that time), and You don't do enough, don't love me enough, don't fill in whatever blank I had at the time. Add to that all the garbage you bring from the last person who didn't love you enough or loved you too much or abused your goodwill and sent you to listening to Janis Joplin's "Ball and Chain" every single day for a year. Not that I know anyone like that.

It all seems so dreary, there on the page in black and white. Muhammad Ali said the toughest fight he ever had was with his first wife. And I think about my pact with my friend to change our conversation. Hoping that time itself would change everything. But we had to change ourselves and get sick of carrying the same fucking rocks up the same fucking hill. What I know about relationships can be boiled down to this: we have a deep ability to persist in matters of the heart despite repeat damage, inevitable decay, and ill fits. We want to believe in change and that loves returns. But it doesn't, not really. What does happen is that we can get hit long enough and hard enough that we start to see stars. Boxers call this the black lights. You can't see anything but what's right in front of you. I suppose that's as good a place to start as any.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
A fighter never knows when it's the last bell. He doesn't want to face that.” Sugar Ray Leonard

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Burnin' John Lee Hooker

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Birthday to Mr. James Gandolfini, Tony Soprano, Original G! Whether you're Tony, Jim Jones, Ernest H., or anybody else, you're the coolest ever!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Eternity In Our Hearts

A friend of mine and I go to the psychic fair every year, one held in a big sports expo center so instead of basketball, there are tables offering everything from aura photographs (mine is bright gold -- I have a picture -- I would have guessed black, but alas no) to energy work. I love to look at the belly dancing costumes (never would I purchase one, but I like the idea of it), touch all the crystal balls and stones. I have one on my desk right now which is an opalite, said to foster love, passion, loyalty and faithfulness. I bought because I liked the color, which changes depending on the light, a beautiful translucent globe. Sometimes I imagine I can see things in it, about the future of which I am fearful, about the past that still haunts. But my favorite part of the fair is looking for a psychic. My friend and I cruise the stations at least three times before we settle on someone. Pick the one that looks the craziest, he says. The very most nuts! I agree -- this is probably as good a strategy as any. I used to use it to pick men to date which meant, if nothing else, I'd never be bored.

Years ago, I was going through an incredibly painful protracted break-up, the kind that breaks your heart, kills your spirit, and means that you'll lose at least half of your books in the division of things. I picked a psychic that year whose speciality was reading animal teeth, claws, and cards. Next to her cardboard table sat a Raggedy Ann doll that had been painted black with shoe polish and had pins stuck all over her. The woman herself was enormous and her dreads were coming unravelled. I knew I had my psychic as soon as I passed her. I told her about my situation -- things were bad and I didn't have time to dilly dally with someone telling me that I'd been Cleopatra in a past life or that I was going to have two children with the man of my dreams. She gave me a potion which I still have. The instructions were clear -- two drops a day into something he was drinking for two weeks. This should ease the transition, she said. Still, it will pretty much suck, or so the animal teeth indicated. She pointed to the throw. It didn't look like anything to me. Nothing did at that point. I thanked her for her time and took my bottle. She told me it wouldn't taste like anything, and it didn't. I drank it myself, little by little.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“They're on edge, disquieted, off balance. What a short time we're on this Earth.” David Chase

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Rescuing Patty Hearst Virginia Holman

Benedictions and Maledictions
Congratulations to The Sopranos for their wins -- writing, directing, and best show! Of course, I think all the actors should have won, especially Mr. James Gandolfini, but I'm happy for the top honors! Happy Monday!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Of Departure And Arrival

I've always loved stories about being trapped, Rapunzel letting her hair down, Scheherazade spinning story after story to save her life, Bluebeard's curious new wife waiting for her brothers to save her from sure death at the hands of her husband. Because let's face it, we're all a little trapped -- by the past, by our choices, by the limitations of our minds, bodies, by money, by energy or lack thereof. Recently on an airplane, I heard a passenger getting irate with the stewardess who finally snapped and said, I only have two hands. Look around. There's a lot of people who feel just as bad as you do. Which was the truth. There were people trying to keep babies from crying and young children from flipping out from sheer boredom, there were people who looked ill and tired, the look of the airport, of departure and arrival, people trying to make conversation, people trying to avoid it. I often write letters on planes as it takes my mind off the immediate bad feeling and the strange setting usually opens me up in ways that I otherwise would not. In the strange, ironic way of life, I am free in this way to tell the truth, to write people things about myself that I could never say in person.

When I was a child, I rode in one-seater airplanes with my dad all the time. He'd put me in the part of the plane reserved for the luggage -- being a skinny child who hated to eat, I stayed under the baggage weight of eighty pounds right up until my teenage years. I loved being in the luggage area, right behind my dad who flew wherever we wanted to go. It was such a small space to be tucked into, but I didn't mind. I kept up a continual patter of conversation over the engine's roar. I already knew all about the front of the plane, the black box with all the flight information, the controls. The one time my dad let me take over the controls, I sent us right into a nosedive. He laughed and pulled us out. I was never afraid; there wasn't much he couldn't fix. I didn't feel trapped then, just protected. Even though I couldn't move much, there wasn't anywhere I wanted to go.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Of what is past, or passing, or to come." William Butler Yeats

Cocktail Hour
Drinking television show suggestion: Tell Me You Love Me It's a little depressing, not big on the ha has! and very sexually graphic, but realistic enough to make you squirm a bit as you watch, enough to need a drink.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Emmy's Night! Good luck to all The Sopranos cast! And a special shout out from Baby Grouchie goes to his special friend, Whitey the Bear! Happy Sunday to all!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

When You Are The Camera

Here's some more shots from the photograph series. Hope you're having a very happy Saturday!

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Beginnings Of A Bruise

Happy Friday to all! Here's the poem for the day. I'll be back tomorrow with Saturday pictures and Sunday for writing.

First Date

On long car trips, my sister would suck
her finger and try to touch me with it. Stop it,
I’d say, inching as far as I could toward the opposite
door. She’d quit for a few minutes before brandishing
the finger again, ready for another round. I’d yell, She’s trying
it again
. My mother would turn to the backseat and say, Cut
it out
. My sister would pop her finger back into her mouth, waiting
for another chance. Don’t, I’d say, it’s disgusting.

Stuck in the backseat of my date’s car after he told me
we weren’t going to the movies, I wanted to say
the same thing as he stuck his tongue in my ear and kissed
my neck so hard I found myself struggling to get away, but
there wasn’t anywhere to go so I smiled and counted
the minutes until he promised my parents he’d have me
home. When I got back, my mother asked if I had
a good time. I nodded and made for my room as she
pointed out that I had something on my neck. It looks
like blush, she said. I went to the bathroom and soaped
up my face, removing all traces of make-up, but the spot
remained, the beginnings of a bruise that could not be washed off.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
Isn't life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves? Andy Warhol

Cocktail Hour
Drinking literary journal suggestion:

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

You Don't Drink Alone

A friend asked me for advice about vodka the other day and I said I thought as far as new vodkas went, Titos from Texas (distilled in Austin) was quite good and tasted like water which is what you want from vodka, something smooth and perfect. You don't, he said in mock horror, drink alone, do you? My friends have never gotten along so hot; there will be no cult for me in this lifetime. The closest I can get to having them all in the same room is celebrating some good writing news and even in my fantasies, I see myself trying to keep them from setting each other on fire and stuff like that, shit that brings a party down. So they don't like to imagine that I'm sharing cocktails with other people; they'd rather think of me as a bottomed out lush, slugging straight from the bottle than with their enemies being social. No, of course I don't, I told my friend. He smiled until I said, The dead are always with me. I never know if you're kidding or not, he said. And why would he? I'm a fiction writer after all. Timing is everything.

Pictured here, I'm with Santa Nino de Atocha with whom I have an uneasy relationship. Once a beloved bought me a shrine to him, the kind you plug into a wall and it shocked me, and I never really forgave it. The irony being that the Nino's speciality is forgiving the unforgivable. There's so many things I have failed at and badly, so many ways I have let myself and others down at the worst possible times. I suppose this is how we all feel at times, full of regret and sorrow for what we have done and what we have failed to do as the Catholic mass says. I suppose this is why the Nino is so daunting, his little incarnation imbued with such power, the power to forgive, to cease with judgment, to take off the hair shirt. Of course, I see him everywhere and he's often portrayed near water, imploring us to drink the purest thing on earth, forgiveness. It's not Titos, but I can use a glass now and then with a friend in a strange brown cape who doesn't say much but never leaves.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"He who is only just is cruel. Who on earth could live were all judged justly?" Lord Byron

Cocktail Hour
Drinking novel suggestion: Song of Solomon Toni Morrison

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday! Excellent news from my dear friend Shawn -- I have been living oh so well and my fantasy has come true -- James Gandolfini is going to play the cult leader Jim Jones on an HBO mini-series! Oh happy day!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

One Wall Made Of Windows

The man who murdered my godmother gave me a wedding present she had purchased for me days before her death. Nobody knew he had killed her at that point, but my family suspected (he made it look like a suicide). Nonetheless, when he called with the offer of the present, my soon-to-betrothed and eventually like everyone else soon-to-be divorced drove during a thunderstorm late into the evening to her old house to pick this gift up. She met this creepy dude in the personal ads (this was years before the internet and and its other little friends) and there was something of a stigma attached to this sort of behavior, an aura of desperation that had forced you into writing what I consider the most difficult form, your life and needs meted out in a tiny little box designed to lure your true love. I do not know what she wrote, but I do know that I adored her. As a child, she'd hold me for hours and tell me about how I'd have to beat the boys off with sticks. She'd tell me about her students, ones who didn't have enough money for soap, who came from homes where they were beat and burnt and hurt beyond all reason. To speak to a child as if she were an adult about real things is, I think, the greatest gift. She'd been through the ringer, shock treatments for depression, pills, hands bandaged and ragged from washing them so much. She did not hide this from me, and I was not afraid.

But I was afraid driving through the storm with someone I was way too young to marry to pick up God only knows what from a man my daddy called Ace. Daddy was not a sarcastic man and this was as close as he got to insult. I stepped inside the huge house she had, one wall entirely made of windows, and started to shiver after I saw the clown doll that Ace had given her for her birthday. She'd been so happy to find him, even if his tastes in presents was a little off! That clown looked as friendly as John Wayne Gacy, and Ace handed over the present. We took our leave without a moment's hesitation. She and Ace had recently married in a secret ceremony nobody was invited to, and she signed the card from both of them. I opened the package right away, and it wasn't like any other gift she'd ever given me. Most of those had been beautiful dresses or jewelry. This was a white hand-held blender. Right then, I realized that marriage was going to be a lot harder than I thought. I tried to use it in honor of her, but cooking is not my thing. I kept her card, the last bits of her writing I have. But what happened to the blender, those sharp blades that I cut myself on one too many times, is anyone's guess.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I was right not to be afraid of any thief but myself, who will end by leaving me nothing." Katherine Anne Porter

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Food and Loathing Betsy Lerner

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Another Limited Commodity From The Dead

My mother used to make lists all the time, lists of things she had done, needed to buy, operations she had gone through (even her "brief medical history" list that she carried to various doctor's appointments was not anywhere near brief), money she didn't have (each of these ended with a "in the hole" section marked in blood red), and more optimistically places she wanted to go and things she needed to do. I found one of these recently titled "Company Menu" (she always titled her list) that listed all sorts of things that I could never make in her tiny child-like writing which always struck me, if writing can have a personality, as tense and sad and a little tentative, a side of herself she almost never showed. The list fell out of a pad of paper she'd given me many years ago because the color of the paper annoyed her. The pad contains "XTREME Colors!" according to its front cover, and she'd bought it because she was always losing her lists in her her purse and knew she'd be able to see the loud pinks, purples, blues, and greens. "Now they just fucking get on my nerves," she said. "But maybe you'd like them?" I took them, of course. I love paper of all sorts and have stationary from almost everywhere I've ever been, my only collecting compulsion. Delighted, she passed off her bad paper onto me, and I've had it in my top desk drawer for a very long time, hesitant to use it because, let's face it, I like the story and am loathe to part with yet another limited commodity from the dead.

But the other day, I needed to make a grocery shopping list (I hate this activity so very much) and thought about my mother and how she would approve of her paper being something of use instead of stale decoration and that's how I came across her again, once more in the world of the living. I could see her making her lists and imagine that's one of my biggest heritages from her. Nobody loves a list more than me! I remember what I was doing this day six years ago -- everyone does. My love life was in a shambles, my car wasn't working, and then the world exploded and changed. People I loved were still alive for the most part and like that song that always gets played at second weddings, "The Best Is Yet To Come," I wasn't buying it for a minute. These past six years have brought more horror to the world in the form of endless war, more damage, more misery. As for me, they haven't brought the kind of clarity and wisdom to my life that I had hoped for, the supposed spoils of living through hard times. But if I bring out one of those colored sheets of paper, maybe I can make a list, not of what I think I need, but of what I have which is so much more than I deserve. I'd like to be the kind of person who doesn't need to write it all down to know it, but I can't imagine my life any other way.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I've had a wonderful and terrible life. I wouldn't cry for myself, would you?" Tennessee Williams

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Memoirs Tennessee Williams

Benedictions and Maledictions
In Memoriam, September 11, 2001.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Diamonds From His Wedding Band

While many of my friends are buzzing about Britney Spears' godawful attempt at a comeback (in the interest of full disclosure, I watched her performance before changing the channel and yes, it was a train wreck, but hey, I'm not going to criticize given that I can't sing, dance, and don't have the body I had five years ago either and don't even have the excuse of having birthed two children -- no, my flaws are all about twinkies, booze, and a deep hatred of core exercises), I spent my night crying over Alive Day Memories, a documentary produced by my beloved James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano to me). He interviewed ten Iraq vets who suffered serious injuries, mostly amputations, a closed head injury, some post-traumatic stress cases. As in most effective documentaries, Mr. Gandolfini took himself out of the equation and let the subjects speak for themselves.

Staying out of the minefield of whether or not we should be in Iraq, the soldiers talked about their alive days, the day they almost died. All sustained serious injuries, most spending massive amounts of time in Walter Reed, multiple surgeries, fears about the future. Some memorable moments -- the solider who lost both his eyes -- one socket had too much scar tissue to support a prosthetic eye, but the other one contained a blue-colored eye lined with diamonds from his wedding band. His injury had destroyed not only his sight, but his marriage and this was his homage to both and the fake eye he liked the best and wore the most. (He had a few of them.) One soldier had her arm and shoulder blown off and talked about not being able to look at her injury for weeks, that if she didn't look at it, she'd be the same person she was before. But she wasn't. "I'm another amputee from the war," she said. "I don't know if anyone will want to love or marry me. I don't know if I had children, whether they'd accept me." One soldier said that her hometown had a way of "sucking you inside it and not letting go." She claimed that there were two ways to get out -- marry someone from another state or the military. "I got lucky," she said. "Some people my age are stuck her with two or three kids for their whole lives." She'd lost one leg and thought she'd never dance again, but she did with the help of several shots of vodka in a bar where line-dancing had not gone out of vogue. It was her comeback. Unlike Britney's comeback at the VMAs, not many people had been watching, some hoping for the best, many hoping for her to fail. She had the support of the tiny crowd that had gathered, and she sang loud, no forgetting the words for her. The writer Andre Dubus said he never heard anyone use the word grateful until he lost the use of his legs. Would you still go if you knew what you know now?, Mr. Gandolfini asked one of the soldiers who had lost both of his legs and one arm. I was pursuing my goal, he said. But if I could get my legs back, I'd pursue my other goals instead. He looked at the floor, as if trying to remember what those were, but he quickly said, I'm grateful that I have one of my hands, though. If I didn't, I'd be totally worthless. The garish scenes from the VMAs had all but faded from my mind by this point, the excess and decadence that serves to make us feel that we can never have enough, and for this, I was also grateful.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive." Josphine Hart

Cocktail Hour
Drinking documentary suggestion: Alive Day Memories

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Let The Dead Bury The Dead

I forget almost nothing, especially the Bible stories that my babysitter Betsy told me. She'd read to me, my sister, and my friend K, mostly the words of Christ in red. There is something violent and understated about the Bible, something that scares you and comforts you all at the same time. So much dark and so much light trapped in the same people. And you had to forgive from what I could tell even as a child, which, let's face it, is so hard under the best of circumstances. How many times do we believe we have let go of something only to be laid low by the pain again? How many bodies do we insist on carrying around, their rotting carcasses killing our own souls? I once knew a child who died by suffocating to death in an abandoned refrigerator. I think of him often, that lack of air in such a small space, waiting to be found before it was too late. And so it is with our own minds, trying hard to find our way out.

The best advice I ever got about love was from a teeny-tiny professor (speciality -- the Victorians) who reminded me of my mother in her physical appearance and energy. "You've got to give people the vices of their virtues," she said. This seemed an incredibly compassionate and wise statement from a woman who normally said things like, Get tough or get out. This is not an office for wuss babies! Even though she was barely five feet tall, her words packed a punch. Damn, I didn't want to be a wuss baby! No sir. But I think of her words often, and I try to be more understanding. It's better than being trapped. Still, sometimes I can't help it and I crawl somewhere I shouldn't, somewhere dangerous and best left alone and pray that I can find my way out before it kills me.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people." Annie Leibovitz

Cocktail Hour
Here's my Sunday suggestion -- a beautiful Bloody Mary with a little beer friend! Baby Grouchie drank some of this beer, just so you know.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Through A Glass Darkly

Hello Readers! I'm still working on the photograph series. This part of it is all about people viewed through various scrims. I love that word, scrim and heard it first on the great fashion documentary "Unzipped." For the new few weeks, I'll be reserving Saturdays for pictures. I'll be back with writing tomorrow! Happy Saturday, my dears!

Friday, September 07, 2007

I Speak For Myself

In the corner of my childhood home, there's a tombstone for my great grandmother, a beautiful piece of black granite shaped like a heart that says, Dearest Beloved. I grew up with it given that it never got put by her grave; by the time her other relatives had shipped this stone, my parents had purchased another one, strangely enough at the same funeral home that handled their services. While many people found the tombstone creepy (lots of Addams Family jokes, a show I loved because the characters were rich and eccentric instead of poor and pinned down), I found it soothing. My parents rarely got rid of anything -- I go back home and can see to the beginning of time, my time on earth anyway. We love our lore, and I am no different.

Sometimes I think back to my childhood, that lost world. Auden says that if you make it to twenty-five, you've survived the worst life has to offer and everything is better from there. This, of course, was when he wasn't asking if "anyone would mind too terribly giving him a blow-job." This question springs from the man who wrote the beautiful line, "lay your human head on my faithless arm" and "about suffering, the old masters were never wrong." Ah, we are so many things at once! Brilliant, crass, hopeful, and despairing. Usually, we are just trying to get by and hold it together without breaking down in sobs. Okay, I speak for myself on this one. But we are miracles too. There's a spider in the corner of my room as I write, and I am loathe to kill it. Maybe it's Charlotte! Probably it's just an ordinary spider, spinning a web that will fall apart way too soon. But it's my spider and I love it and that's good enough for now.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I was in a cave and I needed to draw some pictures on the wall about what my journey was, and that drive, that need, led me to acting." Harvey Keitel

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: On The Couch Lorraine Bracco

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

No One Was Watching

I'm one fourth French, which has been a real cross for me to endure. My mother's relatives such as they are drink way too much, throw things at each other, and make sarcastic remarks about your most vulnerable traits. To note: "Your ass is too big for your body, he he! It looks like an ass of an African person!" Let me tell you, this sounds even better in a combination of broken English and French. Hey, I already went through that torture in junior high school! So it surprises me not at all that lots of French people love Jerry Lewis who so far as I can tell is a talentless hack who despite getting sicker and more bloated every year, insisted on that godforsaken depressing marathon with those poor kids afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy. Must they be inflicted with him as well?!

But I digress. Recently, he called someone an "illiterate fag" and used the work fuck on air. I'm not so worried about the last offense -- I'm guessing hearing the word fuck is the least of Jerry's Kids' problems. But the word fag is one of those that always sets people off. We used it a lot in the eighties, along with queer, as in "That's so queer!" It wasn't directed at gay people, per se, and neither was the word fag, but I never could get behind it. A large portion of my friends in those days were closeted gay men, and it broke my heart when they'd use it to prove they weren't, trying to pass. And I can still see straight guys engaged in their homoerotic raptures, hitting each other and calling each other fags. They loved each other, you see, and had no other way to express it. But I can't really defend old Jerry. I think he was drunk and that no one was watching. But a camera caught him as cameras are want to do in this age. He also said that women comics irritated him in 2000; he looked at them "as producing baby machines." I'm not politically correct in the least, but come on! I suppose the telethon will continue with that drunken asshole at the helm. By definition a telethon goes on and on, of course, way past the point of reason and there's something a little too accurate in the definition this year.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“My weaknesses... I wish I could come up with something. I'd probably have the same pause if you asked me what my strengths are. Maybe they're the same thing.” Al Pacino

Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story collection suggestion: The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel Amy Hempel

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy birthday to my dear friend Karen! Here's to the happiest day ever!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Tragedy and Comedy Masks

I once took a psychology of death and dying class and at the start of every class period my teacher would announce that after this class, we'd all have two less hours of our life to live. It was a sobering way to start the day, and the class elicited strong emotions which is a nice way of saying that mostly everyone thought everyone else was an asshole. I, like many others, couldn't understand the enormity of the subject and made glib assumptions about how people should deal. I'd been around a fair amount of death, but still. During the course, I went through a sad romantic break-up, the kind of grief that stays in a locked box of the heart, thumping around like a bad engine. I saw my beloved everywhere. Soon he would be dead, but I didn't know that, of course. He hanged himself in his parents' house, ending his eternal debate about whether his life and art were worthwhile. A young man, he'd made the most dramatic statement he could.

And so goes the Owen Wilson saga, another comic actor plagued with hosts of demons that drove him to a suicide attempt. Everyone is shocked, of course, because his talent was in hiding his pain. So much of art is that, the seemingly simple transformation that makes people believe everything is fine, funny, not so bad. It takes a lot of bullshit to keep this going, a lot of energy and time and brilliance and sorrow and you get eaten and your soul begins to rot and die even as it's struggling to keep going. Because there's always two sides, the comedy/tragedy masks that show up in so many bedrooms and on necklaces. People wear so many things around their necks! We shouldn't be surprised when those things begin to strangle them.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“It's funny how it usually works out that I end up dying. It sort of works out, because by the time I die, I'm usually tired of working on that particular movie, so I look forward to it." - about how a lot of his characters end up dying. Owen Wilson

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Bottle Rocket

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

You Can Never Be Too Careful

"With your coloring, you should be an actress," the doctor said, standing behind the counter at the urgent care after hours clinic I found myself in for a raging sinus infection that had been laying me low for weeks. "Let her in first," he said. I felt terrible; there was a huge lobby of ill people who had managed to get there before me, and I am many things, but I am not a cutter in line! But I felt so weak and sick, I smiled and took my seat for a few minutes before being called into a small examination room decorated with a ragged Santa figurine and a fake breast that you could palpate to learn how to check yourself for lumps. Cold and tired, I kept my coat on and fell asleep, butcher paper crinkling beneath me. Two hours later, the doctor entered the room, asking if I regularly checked my breasts for lumps (I didn't) and handing me the fake one as a learning experience. He then started bitching about how much he hated working all the time to pay off his student loans and how exhausted he was. I didn't know what to do with the breast so I pretended to study it for all those cancers that hid deep in its center. "You can never be too careful," he said, taking it out of my hand. Then he gave me a bunch of free samples for my infection as I had no health benefits as an adjunct professor. "You deserve a lot more than these. Come back if you ever want to visit." The whole thing, I had to say, was mighty odd, even for me.

I drove home late into the night. Almost Christmas, I tried to appreciate the beauty of the lights and decorations as I drove the long distance (work consisted of going far afield in those days to whatever campus I was assigned), fearing my car would die. As fate would have it, this would be my last semester as an adjunct. In desperate need of money, I took over a class of hooligans, kids so bad that two other teachers had fled and an armed guard was placed at the door. Teaching way too many classes at odd hours took its toll. Almost always sick, almost always tired, I never saw my then boyfriend and my social life consisted of eating dinner alone and watching rerums of Beverly Hills 90210. Trapped in the heart of Detroit winter, I envied their problems that always got resolved by the end of the hour. Mine dragged on and on, like the infection that wouldn't go away, no matter how many free samples I took. I acted like everything was fine, of course. The doctor had been right in his own way about my calling.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. Yes, yes, it's the most comical thing in the world." Samuel Beckett

Cocktail Hour
Drinking novel suggestion: Goodnight Texas William J. Cobb

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, September 03, 2007

No Suggestion Of The Outside

I once made a tuna casserole, my efforts possibly creating one of the nastiest concoctions ever. I didn't know what I was doing so I threw a bunch of stuff from my then-boyfriend's cabinets together and hoped for the best. I was young and full of hope. The best didn't happen. The canned meat taste (I had included some deviled ham for flavor -- loud doesn't even begin to describe its peculiar taste) overwhelmed the other ingredients as canned meat is wont to do. The potato chips burned; the rest remained a soggy mess. My then-boyfriend couldn't even look at the thing. My heart felt heavy with yet another failure. "This fucking sucks, Michelle," he said, ever the diplomat. I had just started working nights as a desk clerk and hadn't slept in days; my body refused to adjust. I dumped the entire thing over his balcony, hoping not to hit any unsuspecting victim, wanting to get it out of my bleary sight.

A copy of Be Here Now sat open on my boyfriend's nightstand on Terrible Tuna Night. I looked around the room, a windowless studio apartment with no suggestion of the outside. The kitchen was the bedroom was the living room. The only place you could escape was to the bathroom if you had a fight. The place was all broken windows and shattered security lights. The kind of place you didn't want to be, but there you were. I wondered what Ram Dass might have to say about where I was. But I couldn't find a lightbulb for the lamp which had burned out, couldn't even find my night reading light. The night seemed to drag on forever, and I still couldn't sleep. But I was there, in the perpetual now, trying to believe that darkness might have as much to teach me as anything else, even if I couldn't name it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If you think you're free, there's no escape possible." Ram Dass

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Hot Rats Frank Zappa

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Labor Day!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Nothing Keeping Us Together

Here's the last part! Thanks for reading!

In the car, it’s difficult to think of safe topics. I have done my best to block my parents’ lives from my mind, tuned out and flipped through magazines during their weekly phone calls. Now I try to recollect what they do in their relatively early retirement. The radio blares on easy listening station and Neil Diamond sings about being a solitary man. Lucky Neil.

"Does anyone need more heat?" Father asks.

"Are you feeling anything back there?"

"I’m comfortable," Mother says, managing to make the word comfortable sound like a threat.

I give my Father a thumbs up signal, everything’s fine here, no worries, it’s all good, a phrase that gets bandied about at work, especially after a major snafu.

I signal to Josh with my eyes -- what gives? I’m still not entirely used to the fact that his face doesn’t have much of a range of expression after the cutting so I resort to our childhood hand signals -- one finger means yes, two means no. It’s a yes, I think, as he lifts his middle finger right behind my parents’ heads, both of them too engrossed by the snow and traffic to notice.
We walk into the restaurant, and I am flooded with memories of Kevin and I here and wish that somehow I could magically transform this occasion into that one.

"So do you know what you want?" Father asks, after the waiter takes our drink orders, vodka martinis for me and Josh, scotch for Father, and a glass of white wine for Mother. "You two work so hard for almost nothing, you should order what you want."

"I can do anything," I say. "It doesn’t make that much difference to me."

"I think we should all get a fried lobster. Isn’t that the point of this place?" Mother asks.

"They’re expensive," Josh says. "And there’s not that much to them."

"We can order some other things too. Mother is right. I love the idea of a deep-battered lobster," Father says.

I’m feeling a little battered about now and can only hope the waiter arrives with the drinks in a hurry. I’d put my head in a vat of vodka at this point.

"So how is school?" Father asks. "Has your injury made a difference in your ability to teach over-privileged little shits or do they accept you as differently-abled?"

"Nobody says anything," Josh says. He’s picking at his nails and mumbling under his breath.

"And the ghetto, Josette? Still enjoying helping the Negro?"

"I believe the term in African-American, Daddy. And I see all races of people. You don’t have to be black to get pregnant," I say, thinking of Coley.

Our drinks come, and we all start into the bread basket. Time, I do believe, has officially stopped. So here we are in the paradise . . .

Father touches my knee under the table, and I give him a smile before moving away. It’s always this way. As he drinks, he gets happier and less able to control himself. Mother’s mouth becomes a tighter and tighter line and her wine remains mostly untouched unlike my drink which is almost gone. Same goes for Josh.

"You two can certainly put them back," Mother says. She doesn’t say anything about Father’s scotch which is drained to the bottom. He motions to the waiter for a second round and orders the fried lobsters.

"So are there any serious romantic interests for either one of you?" Mother asks.

I look at Josh. "No," he says. "Unless Josette wants to tell you about her boyfriend."

"That’s over," I say. "There was nothing keeping us together."

"I hope you didn’t sleep with him right away, Josette. That’s a fatal error when it comes to men."

"It wasn’t that kind of thing," I say. "He wasn’t really all that available."

Josh laughs a little, a small snorting sound. "Some men don’t want all the drama of a relationship," he says.

"But drama happen anyway unless you’re sleeping with a potted plant," I say.

"Better just to sleep with someone who is potted," Josh says.

"You two, behave," Mother says. "We’re not even to the appetizers yet."

"Do they give you an appetite?" I ask. I’m starting to feel drunk, thank God.

"Something needs to," Father says. "You look like you’ve been liberated from the camps by the Americans." He holds up my wrist. "Look at this tiny little wrist. You look like you did when you were a child."

"Stop," Mother says. "She’s fine. Would you rather her be a huge thing like your mother? Thank God she didn’t get those genes."

"Josh, I just want to tell you, you’re still my beautiful boy," Father says. He’s drunk, too, I’m starting to see. "You can cut yourself all over, and you’re still going to be perfect."

"Just like it is when we’re together," Mother says. "I like that feeling. It’s so strange to imagine that your father and I created all of this."

"Not that difficult," I say.

After Mother and Father drop us off and take off into the night for their bed and breakfast, I kick off my shoes to collapse onto the couch, using my coat as a blanket.

"Are you cold?" Josh asks.

I tell him I’m fine, but he retrieves an eggplant colored blanket from Banana Republic, removes my coat, and tucks me into it.

"Three more days," Josh says, like he’s talking about prison sentences that he can’t commute. I think of time with our parents as more like community-service -- being at a place you don’t want to be, doing something nobody wants to do, everyone pretending how glad they are to have you there.

Josh sits on the chair next to the couch and gazes at the television that isn’t turned on. I think of the set from our childhood, an enormous number that took about fifteen minutes to see a picture, usually Jimmy Carter in a greenish tint. By the time Reagan came on the scene, Father had made a fair amount of money, and we’d ditched the old one for something that you didn’t have to wait for. My father once told me that I did not have to deal with decay, one could actually eradicate it. All evidence to the contrary.

"You look great tonight," Josh says. "I wish it had just been us. The fried lobster," he says, trailing off.

It was not lost on me that Father had spent more than a third of our monthly rent on this dinner, what with four fried lobsters and drinks, Father getting progressively drunker, toasting to his beautiful children, telling Josh -- you couldn’t fuck yourself up if you tried, you’re always going to be my beautiful boy."

"Better that Father should pay," I say. "It’s about the only thing that makes these nights endurable."

"That and that they end," Josh says.

"There’s room on the couch," I say. "I could make room for you."

He lies down next to me and neither of us says a word. We only turned on one light when we came in, enough to make our way through the dark to where we landed. I didn’t even bother to light my novena candles, and now I wish there was some light flickering on the walls, making patterns to distract us from the dark. I knew Josh had an erection, impossible to ignore lying so close to him. I tossed my leg over it and pretended not to notice when he started to move. The room started to spin until I thought I might be sick from all that I had swallowed down without thought, eating until I couldn’t stand it. I had unbuttoned my skirt to release the pressure, a decision I felt I might regret.

"This doesn’t count, right?" Josh ask.

"Not if we stop where we are," I say. He slips his hand down the back of my skirt and retracts it. He gets up and says. "I’m calling it a night," As he walks to his bedroom, I watch him, thinking how his face looks almost normal in this dim light.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Vertigo is the conflict between the fear of falling and the desire to fall." Salman Rushdie

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: The Year of the Dog

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!