Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Film You Love




One summer I watched almost nothing but Ingmar Bergman films, the man Woody Allen calls "the only true genius in cinema today." I was depressed about my personal life (a statement now which seems absolutely stupid given the really depressing things that were around the corner), and instead of subjecting myself to a bunch of vapid comedies in hopes of laughing myself out of the blues, I decided to go the other way. Every few nights, I'd sit in the dark and watch something even sadder than my life, something that oddly made me feel okay. Ever the avoider, I found it a relief to let myself be. Lost in something between a trance and a dream, I floated around another world, one so different than mine which consisted of a car that seldom worked, a crappy apartment with an air-conditioning unit that sounded like a 747 taking off, and a job answering phones and getting yelled at for stapling documents "incorrectly." I didn't want to be in that world; I wanted to be in a world of love and death, of drama and secrets, of thick Swedish sadness rather than boring Texas malaise. I wanted out of an office where people frequently said things like, Howdy girly! and TGIF! without a trace of irony.

When bad things started to happen, I found myself nostalgic for that summer, the way that Woody Allen's character is nostalgic for the night that he and Mia Farrow (I have to think they were playing themselves in "Husbands and Wives" near the end of a marriage and what a nightmare that must have been) skipped a faculty party, walked in Central Park, and went home and watched "Wild Strawberries." I love this scene in "Husbands and Wives," love the way that we clutch to moments, so perfect and fleeting. I thought about the moments of love I had experienced and dreamed that the future would hold more. I thought about how death comes down the mountain for all of us, just like in "The Seventh Seal," thought about how it would be as a light slowly dimming, something to watch, like the last frame of a film that you have loved, that has changed you without your leaving your house.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The demons are innumerable, arrive at the most inappropriate times and create panic and terror... but I have learned that if I can master the negative forces and harness them to my chariot, then they can work to my advantage.... Lilies often grow out of carcasses' arseholes." Ingmar Bergman

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Cries and Whispers

Benedictions and Maledictions
Rest in peace, Ingmar Bergman!

Monday, July 30, 2007

An Ending Nobody Could Debate




I once ended a relationship by dropping my boyfriend's VCR off of a balcony. As I watched it crash three stories to land in many pieces by his apartment complex pool, I knew I had done the right thing. He stared at it, wondering if I might try to go for his computer next. I'd already accidentally (really!) dumped a glass of Dr. Pepper on it so it worked sporadically at best and the H key did not work at all. You'd be amazed at how often you need an H! At any rate, the theatrical end to this wretched love affair served as definitive punctuation, an ending that nobody could debate, no more on again/off again bullshit. I also took back my St. Christopher medal (those were the days when everyone wore them) and noted with dismay that it had begun to tarnish which I did not blame on the cheapness of its parts but rather the evil evil nature of my boyfriend and his wicked ways. I have never ended anything quite like that again -- most endings are vague at best, given my nonconfrontational personality, with lots of parts undone, like an SAT test that doesn't have many of the ovals colored. I believe this is more like most people's lives work -- endings that don't really feel like endings, strings everywhere, moments where you don't know if you've finished the story or not.

I got into a debate with a friend about a movie the other day, the kind of movie I love where the dialogue and characters are excellent and not much happens. My friend insisted that the movie was not telling the most interesting story it could tell, and I admired it in large part for not catering to the demands that the heroine end up with a man (she doesn't), a resolution to her daddy issues (anyone I know who has daddy issues never resolves them and the men they are with pay, pay, pay), or any other dilemma that her life presents. My favorite movies are kind of like the best days -- ones where you're moving along, being entertained, saying real things and laughing a lot. If a VCR has to die, that's fine, but most days I'd rather just put in a tape and call it a night.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Every good painter paints what he is." Jackson Pollock

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Confessions of a Pop Group Style Council

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Black Stain Underneath It




I hurt myself. A lot. Not on purpose, mind you. I know a lot of people who do that as well, the cutting, the burning, the works. This happens all the time and what used to be student memoirs about eating disorders and alcohol abuse have turned into even sadder tales of self-injury and heroin over the years. All about avoiding the big pain, the one that eats at us all the time. The fear of having our lives slip away into the ether without love or fame or money or whatever we crave. I'm always coming up against it, having it try to break me. My mother told me it was genetic, this clumsiness, that I would grow out of it. Just as I am still waiting to shed my baby fat, I'm starting to think it's not going to happen. I slam windows on my fingers, fall a lot. One of my nails on my left hand has a black stain underneath it, dried blood, that looks, if you squint, like a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty. My dad used to laugh when I'd spill things all over my clothes and say, First time out with the new mouth? I'd laugh as well, and he expanded his joke to include feet and hands.

I know a few people like me, people who wear bruises like jewelry. They change colors like mood rings before they leave us, unaffected as before. But I once had a friend who fell off a bus, the top step of one. She bruised her thigh so bad that it stayed discolored for years. I think of her often, my oldest friend in the world, a girl a lot like me except that she married an abusive asshole (note use of clinical term), had children with him, and damn near lost her mind as a result. She was one of the loveliest children I knew, beautiful and free, afraid of nothing. I feared almost everything, cautious to the point of lunacy. But I got out of my situation and she perpetuated hers for years. I'd see her around my hometown when I returned, bruised and battered, so thin as to appear ill. I'd hug her frail injured body, once so lovely and try and wish her healthy. But what could I do with my own bruises so apparent and all my fault? Nothing except tell her I had missed her and mean it in more ways than the obvious one.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If you haven't cried, your eyes can't be beautiful." Sophia Loren

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

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Dogs Of Their Youth




The other day I read about a cat who was raised in a hospice. Oscar, death kitty extraordinaire, can predict when a patient is going to die. When the patient gets close to the final hours, Oscar finds them and lies on them until they have passed into the next world, making me think my great grandmother Mimi might have been onto something when she said that cats sucked the soul out you. She used to make the sign of the cross when she saw a cat on the horizon, even at our sweet senile pet Paintbrush who had so lost her mind that she sat by her cat bowl for hours, waiting for dinner when she'd already been fed. Sometimes my mother would give in and give Paintbrush even more food which she'd nibble at, a confused look in her eyes as to why she wasn't hungry. A lot of people in the geriatric psych ward that was connected to the social work center that used to employ me had the same belief system as Mimi, making pet therapy day a real joy, people screaming, terrified of the one lone cat that was supposed to make them feel better. The real accomplishment the cat served was killing rats in the kitchen. For this I gave much thanks. The pet therapy dog fared a little better, although the mentally challenged adults that were intermingled in the dementia clinic would get overexcited and scream for the better part of an hour until Fido took his leave. The dementia patients would pet Fido, often calling him names of dogs from their youth.

As for the death kitty, the nurses use Oscar's skills to notify the family that there loved one's time has come. He doesn't cuddle up to anyone else, just the dying. Nobody knows how Oscar obtained his skill, although he has received an award commending him for his work. He's a tiny little thing if his picture is to be trusted, running toward what so many of us flee. Often those last hours aren't as peaceful as they are rumored to be, a slipping off in a morphine haze. There's a lot of jerking and the famed death rattle, bodies that resist the end, transitions being so difficult at times. But I like to think that Oscar makes it better, even if that's just a fantasy. After all, the end must be full of wild visions. And what's the harm of one little friend to blanket you at long last, the hard work of this world finally done.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"All my humor is based upon destruction and despair. If the whole world were tranquil, without disease and violence, I'd be standing on the breadline right in back of J. Edgar Hoover. " Lenny Bruce

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: The Night of the Hunter

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Saturday!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Except When I'm Not






Once I saw Jim Belushi on a night-time talk show, appearing to be a little stoned. His successes, such as they are, were being enumerated (remember About Last Night anyone?) and then he was asked about his brother John. "John was the boss of the family because he made the most money and supported everyone. Now I am." This frankness seemed to surprise the interviewer and made me think about the late, great John Belushi in that predictable way that everyone remembers him -- so talented, so funny, so absolutely addicted to everything bad for him. And nobody to tell him no, of course, because he's the boss of his parents, his siblings, his wife. That's the way it is when the divide from where you came from and where you end up are so great. Jim B. continued to talk at length, laughing a lot about the miseries of his growing up in that way that people do when they've got some distance and can see how funny everything is. I like this way of dealing with things, of turning pain into something else because as Jesus said about the poor, pain is always with us. There's never a shortage as with so many things and if the plethora of self-help books (The Secret being the most egregious offender at the moment --you want something -- imagine it's yours! You want to lose weight -- don't look at fat people! This kind of stupidity makes me want to stab someone and since I am visualizing it, maybe it will happen!) is any indication, nobody ever lost money underestimating the misery of people and the lengths we'll go to change it.

And, of course, there's the tabloid darling of the moment, Lindsay Lohan and her struggles. Clearly, she's in the John Belushi role with her family, the sole supporter, the one that has all the hopes pinned on her like some leaden weight that threatens to sink her, addictions by the score already, that deep sense of loneliness that permeates from her, demons all around. I'm not surprised by the public's lack of sympathy for her -- we imagine how well we'd do with all that money, beauty, opportunity, how we wouldn't fuck up or run away or snort enough cocaine to satisfy all the members of Fleetwood Mac in the seventies. We wouldn't want to get out of our own head, wouldn't want to quiet the voices telling us what to do at every minute, the pressure to be on all the time. No, we'd be a good boss if that were our role. We'd never get out of control and tell ourselves that we deserve another drink or some chemical relief because of all the stress. Nope, I've never done that. Been devoted to nothing but truth and beauty, except when I'm not. At least that's what my publicist would say.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I give so much pleasure to so many people. Why can I not get some pleasure for myself? " John Belushi

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Secret Girl Molly Bruce Jacobs

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Someone Else Might Be Around





A friend of mine described seeing something new on her boyfriend's mantle and being terrified that a girl had given it to him. She was madly in love with a man who I will refer to as Dufus (D for short). D often went missing for weeks on end only offering what I refer to as a "tard story." A tard story is a genre most often seen on COPS when someone starts out with a crack pipe in his shirt and says, "The fucked up shit is that it's not my shirt, I was just wearing it and I was a long way from home in New Jersey where I didn't have clothes and my brother lives there . . . " D's tard stories were considerably terser -- "I was building a fence" could serve to secure his whereabouts for a month or so. When he told her it was a gift from his brother-in-law, she sighed in relief and exclaimed how lovely the new object was. "It's a titty," D said. "He got it in Padre." My friend looked at said titty and indeed it was was, complete with a straw in the nipple should one want to enjoy his favorite beverage in this festive glass/ conversation piece/ object d'art. It reminded her of the fake breasts they give you in the gynecologist office to teach you how to palpitate your breasts for lumps except for the drinking straw business. "But I was so happy," she told me. "He hadn't been with anyone else."

Well, where to start? Robert Frost would say, Weep for the little things that could make them glad! I would say that it's a really depressing night when a replica of a breast that your beloved refers to as a "titty" seems like a victory. And of course, there's the fear we live in that someone else might be around or about past loves and the gifts they have bestowed, sometimes a museum's worth. I knew someone who "accidentally" broke everything her boyfriend's ex had given him. I asked her how she knew what to break. "You just know. It has an energy. And you know what, I don't even mind cleaning up the mess," she said. Once a boyfriend gave me a bunch of clothes that his various ex-loves had left behind. He didn't seem to understand how bizarre this was, and I didn't have the heart to tell him. As tempted to throw the whole pile out, I didn't. There was a beautiful red sweater that fit me better than anything ever had before, and I wore it until it started to unravel.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Look, even bad years are pretty good years I think." Robert Downey, Jr.

Cocktail Hour
Drinking essay collection suggestion: Things I Like About America Poe Ballantine

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday! Thanks to everyone for all the sweet comments yesterday!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tell Me What You Need




The other day a mentally-challenged dwarf (this is descriptive, not perjorative) started yelling at me to "move my ass," grunting and pointing at where I was and then motioning to the line for food. He wasn't making a bit of sense so I just stood there and looked at him, not the reaction he wanted. Finally I moved forward and he left, huffing and cursing. I smiled and wondered what the hell had happened. I hadn't been blocking any door or impeding his teeny-tiny Billy Barty progress to the outside world. Then it occured to me that I used to apologize. A lot. For my very existence. Sorry I'm breathing near you, where you might want to breathe sort of thing. That in my past life, I would have said, I'm so sorry, please tell me where to go, how high to jump, tell me what you need. Now I'd rather eat a meal without salt (for those who know me, that's saying something -- I salt everything including bread and my sister has suggested that perhaps I should just carry around a salt lick, like a deer and save some time) than say I'm sorry when I'm not.

The dwarf had an enlarged head, a condition known as hydrocephalus or water on the brain. When I was a lifeguard, one of the little girls who was dumped off at the pool all day (a practice many parents employed as a form of virtually free daycare) had this condition. She was in charge of her younger siblings, one of them being a beautiful partially paralyzed five year old. At one point, the beautiful sibling inched her way into the water and almost drowned before I realized what was happening and went in for her. Sitting there, she was in less than three feet of water, a side of the pool that we almost never monitored because nothing ever happened. I carried her to the guardhouse and asked her sister what happened, why when I set her down, she would wobble and not stand. She explained that she'd been beaten so badly at home that she couldn't walk anymore. I looked at both the little girls, one with an enlarged head the shape of an egg and the other who could barely move, both with parents straight out of Hades, I imagined. What would they ever do? I'm so so sorry, I said, but unlike the way I usually said it in those days, I meant it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“I don't run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run toward it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet." Nadia Comaneci

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Solitaire Amie Liuu

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Forgive The Expression






One of the endless writing workshop debates along with Can you start a story with a dream? and Did you earn that ending? and Why is reading this so boring I think I'm going to gouge my eyes out? is how to write about sex. Most of the time I favor the jump cut approach to anything direct -- And then the next morning with all that behind them . . . But the truth is that sometimes a sex scene is necessary to the story and as much as I am loathe to write it, I find myself, well, if you will forgive the expression, forced into a corner. My favorite sex scene that I've written involves a narrator who finds herself in a strange bed with a small blood stain on the sheets. She's left to speculate how it got there and finds herself in dark waters pretty fast, that of becoming a corpse in her mind, sheet over her head, all the demons that drove her to this horrible setting all in place the next morning on the drive home. I didn't write the story that way to start, I left out the dried blood and the dialogue even as I knew I'd have to write it.

If you find yourself avoiding writing a scene for fear of its inherent difficulty, you know it's going to be the scene that makes the story work, the one you will take you the longest to write and will require the most from you. For me, this is most often involves a terrible intimacy between characters, a moment when the mask drops and everything is revealed. Most of these scenes would be considered failures in the world of erotica -- there's not much happiness to be seen, not much bodice ripping, and then they rode away on a cloud of love stuff. Let's face it, in real life we take off our own clothes more often than not. But the horror of exposure, the risk, the sadness, that's sex as I understand it on the page where there's only words which is the least of it in real life.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Writing is the opposite of sex. It's only good when it's over." Hunter S. Thompson

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Graceland Paul Simon

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, July 23, 2007

She Wears It Everywhere




Walking down the street the other day with a friend, he happened upon someone he knew, a tall girl with a small python coiled around her neck. My friend couldn't remember her name and did not make introductions, not that I would have noticed. While they made small talk about a trip she was supposed to take, I looked at her neck. I thought it was a snake, then a necklace, then a snake, and so on. It was brown, like a piece of beautiful polished wood, eyes the color of watermelon Jolly Ranchers. I couldn't take my eyes off her neck, watching for signs of movement. She made her exit to a nearby clothing store to look for a new outfit. I said, "Great necklace," going with my it looks so real it's fake logic. She smiled a little and left when my friend said, "That's real, you know. She wears it everywhere. I didn't even notice it until you said something. I think she's a little creepy." When someone is hanging out with me and thinks someone is "a little creepy," you know things have taken a dark turn.

The whole thing got me to thinking -- how the hell do you try on clothes with a python around your neck? Thought about all the things I'd worn around my neck, the phases I'd been through from the delicate (tiny translucent cubes suspended by invisible thread) and the more durable (a fishing lure, a cross with a knife in it, my bullet) and what I wanted to say about myself, why I wore what I did. How invisible things hung from all our necks, things that moved and changed and threatened to strangle us at every turn. About instinct, about how I knew what the snake was until I talked myself out of it. Love is a lot like that, so still sometimes you think it's something else, so real sometimes you couldn't imagine you'd ever doubted it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"He did not know what love was. And he did not know what good it was. But he knew he carried it around with him, a scabrous spot of rot, of contagion, for which there was no cure. "Harry Crews

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Volver

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Borderline




I didn't set out to write a pathetic character, per se. Didn't think she had more problems than anyone else, had loneliness and pain, but who doesn't? Self-medicated a bit, had some close personal relationships she shouldn't. Someone who was not me, even though everyone would think she was. That's what a good story does, of course. Plays with those expectations. When I was young, I read the confessionals and when my high school teacher said that they stripped the mask off their writing, made it real, I replied that I thought presenting a stripped mask was as much of a mask as all the others. This is me, believe me, you know the routine. And parts of it are, the important parts. That's what makes it so risky.

Didn't help that when I workshopped the story, I showed up with a huge black eye, looking really worse for the wear after a night of self-medicating it. Looked like my character in fact! What a coincidence! No matter that a child had given me the black eye after playing My Pretty Ponies, a wicked head butt and presto, two weeks of bruises every color of the rainbow. And a story about a mildly abused woman to present the next day. Sure you ran into a door. Sure you were "playing with ponies." I waited for a response to my story, the moment of truth every writer fears, my head on the chopping block. You, dear reader, can write what happens next.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"“No greater grief than to remember days of gladness when sorrow is at hand.” Friedrich von Schiller

Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story collection suggestion: I Am Having An Adventure Perri Klass

Benedictions and Maledictions
Much peace and love to the family of Tammy Faye and to her beautiful spirit which exists now as it ever did.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

One Enchanted Evening



The weirdest date I ever had included the man who would eventually break into my house and rape me and a mutual friend of ours who had such a disturbingly strong attachment to the my rapist (whom I will refer to by his initial K as that is his real initial) that he invited himself on our New Year's Eve date. K and I were going to see Fatal Attraction (my friend Hank used to say when something was very obvious, self-service humor, make up your own joke -- this situation applies) and then I was going to serve spaghetti in my parents' house as a "romantic" night as they were going to be out of town. Now I understand that anything involving me cooking does not constitute anything remotely romantic unless one considers nursing someone through food poisoning romantic. But at the time, I had high hopes and had procured a can of Ragu, my mother had cooked some hamburger meat, and all I had to do was boil spaghetti. Our mutual friend found out about the plan and begged to be in the waiter in this dinner scenario that was becoming less "One Enchanted Evening" and more "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" I cringed at the thought, tried to talk everyone out of it, but K thought it was inspired (We can include everyone!), and I wanted to cry at the thought of yet another date devolving into talk that included way too many Monty Python references.

I saw Fatal Attraction with both of them at the tiny theater where I'd seen seen almost every movie, the one where I'd go as a child after I'd collected exactly one hundred pennies and handed them over in a ziploc bag, dumping them on the counter, ashamed that the clerk would have to count them, but happy to be getting my ticket and going inside to see such classics as My Secret Admirer and Zapped! The dark provided comfort then, shade from the terrible Texas heat, a respite from the constant droning worry in my head. That night was no different. I loved the movie and admired the Glenn Close character, her wild lifestyle, her scary single woman apartment in New York, the creepy all white wardrobe. While I understood the point of the movie was to make her look pathetic and act as a warning against infidelity (even then I understood the film's purpose was to convey that all those dull, conventional choices were actually the right ones, ie, a metaphor for the growing AIDS epidemic), it didn't work on me. I thought about the excitement of the characters' lives, the way they careened into disaster with excellent outfits. I thought about going home and having K's closest friend serve us our spaghetti dressed in a fake tuxedo dickie collar he had obtained for the occasion. About how my parents would come home and ask if the spaghetti had been a hit. I'd lie, of course, say that everything went great. And what I didn't know is that it had, that everything was fine then in ways that it wouldn't be later. But like in Fatal Attraction, it's when everything is quiet, even boring, that trouble is brewing in ways that you don't understand but will be made to, in the worst possible ways, ways you can't even imagine in your grimmest dreams.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"My traveling companions are ghosts and empty sockets/ I'm looking at ghosts and empties/ But I have reason to believe that/ we will all be received/ I'm going to Graceland." Paul Simon

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Office Space

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Saturday!

Friday, July 20, 2007

We Can't See It






One of my friends used to intone, All anxiety is godlessness. This made me feel, well, how to put it -- bad, shitty, just plain awful. I spent a lot of my waking life anxious in those days and didn't want to think that my relationship with God fed into this constant stream of feeling stressed out and strung out, bouts of too much emotion coupled with not enough, leaving me fluctuating from hysterical mess to zombie. This anxiety idea comes straight from Christian Science, illness being the spiritual plane manifesting on the physical one. I don't know much more about the religion except that my friend Hank once went into one of their reading rooms and took the personality test which told him that he was a ball of black toxic energy, pure Grade A evil. He could not have been happier with this diagnosis and went around all proud for months. Who else could say that had officially been declared a black toxic cloud of evil? I never took the test, fearful that I wouldn't do as well as he did.

Last night I watched Tammy Faye on Larry King, a heartbreaking sight, all sixty-five pounds of her, She shared her favorite Bible verse and as chance would have it, it's my favorite as well, the one about being handicapped on all sides, but not left alone, the one about experiencing a little of the death of Jesus every single day, the one about all things working together except that we can't see it. I have this taped to my refrigerator, right next to a postcard that reads, Trailer Park Tramp -- One Man Was Not Enough! I look at the verse, and it gives me comfort when things are rough, more comfort than some pat bullshit about anxiety being the absence of God. And I'm glad to have something in common with Tammy Faye. In her dying days, she is telling people to find peace and joy. No hellfire and brimstone, no scary end times stuff, just Heaven where I'm guessing the Jerry Falwells of the world will be in a separate room away from everyone else. Sad to leave the world, no doubt, because it's been one wild ride for her, lots of ups and downs, but as my mother used to comfort us when things got strange, it was never boring.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Be gentle to all, stern with yourself." St. Theresa

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Let It Be The Replacements


Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

My Trip That Would Never Happen





When we were in the fifth grade, my best friend Melissa sewed an entire army of Care Bears. Her mother would buy the patterns at Wal-Mart, stuff them with cotton, and Melissa would stitch them up. They were ugly little guys, splayed out all over her bed in their pastel glory. She didn't care much about them when they were done -- she was always onto the next one. I loved watching her work on them, face aglow with concentration. I didn't have anything I loved doing that much. Most of my young life had been about external pressure, the ways one could please others. The Care Bears served no such function. We didn't play with them or imagine lives for them unlike our mutual friend K's collection of glass penguins which we were certain came alive at night. When we sat around and watched "All in the Family" or "Maude," Melissa would pull out her latest and darn him up, sometimes poking the little dude through his eyes or mouth. But the one that was hurt never said a word. When Melissa would finish, she'd flip the new one up in the air and then set him aside, his flat, slightly lumpy body joining all the others. "I'm done," Melissa would announce. "Onto the next."

I wasn't terribly maternal as a child and couldn't even do as much stitching as Melissa. My only creation was a latchhook for my grandmother of a giraffe. It's hideously ugly, and I still have it in a small green suitcase that I've had since I was a child. I used the suitcase for my attempts at running away. Of course, I never got further than the door; I couldn't imagine how I'd exist in the evil world all alone! But I loved the ritual of packing for my trip that would never happen, loved picking out the few items I'd need on the road. I thought about all the things that couldn't move, like the Care Bears. And how they'd be wasted space on any trip. Even then, I realized you had to travel light, taking only what was essential. But something I loved, that glow of concentration, getting lost in the task at hand, I wanted that. That was worth the whole suitcase and anything you could put in it.


Michelle's Spell of the Day
"It's a suicide pace and today is a good day to die." Steve Prefontaine

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: The Last Days of Disco

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Extremely Lucky, Prone To Vanity




I once dated a man with a raging eating disorder which I thought was unfair, given that's usually the girl's role in the relationship, and I felt something crucial had been usurped, taken away, gone bye-bye. I'd watch him pick at his dinner, usually something at the Chinese Garden of Beautiful Earthly and Heavenly Delights (perhaps the longest name of any restaurant) and retire to the bathroom for an uncomfortably long time while I sat looking at my placemat, the usual ones with the Chinese horoscope on them. I don't know how many times I read that I was a pig with beautiful loyal friends (true!) and a tendency toward marital strife. (umm, also probably true!) This never served to cheer me up -- in the western horoscope, I'm a bull -- another stubborn chunky animal without much luck in love. Nobody wants to be a pig in the Chinese horoscope; most people want to be dragons, which my then-boyfriend was. I read all about him while he fought his demons in the bathroom -- extremely lucky, prone to vanity. I'd pick at my egg foo young and wait for his return, eyes red-rimmed, and a little white around the gills. Under normal circumstances, he looked like a Rodin sculpture come to life; I was way out of my league, and I knew it. But during the sad time after dinner and before the bill, he looked like what fresh hell is this? come to life. He'd buck up in time for the mandatory chat with the owner who loved him and gave him an odd assortment of gifts from time to time -- xerox coupons, a jade bracelet charm, a hat with a leperchaun on it with the inscription, The Fightin Irish! I was just thankful that he could eat in public -- many of my female friends with eating disorders had strict rules about this (no eating on dates, no eating in public, no eating after six, you get the picture), much to the irritation of the men they dated. Any garden of earthly or heavenly delights was out for them.

The relationship did not last all that long, but my memory of those dinners did. I thought back to his room with a scale front and center flanked by pieces of notebook paper listing his morning weight and evening weight, day to day progress. I'd had my moments of diet misery just like every other woman my age, but this was something beyond me. He could sketch, my then-boyfriend, lovely figures of lushness and life. These drawings covered the room, pinned to the walls and dripping from the desk onto the floor. I'd try to look at them instead of the sheet listing all the weights, but well, I'm no artist. I kept going back to the most disturbing thing in the room, thinking about the way the dying light looked through the paper-thin curtains, the list of weight fluctuations fluttering, blown this way and that by the one fan in the room that never stopped.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"You go back to the old things, make them new." John Coltrane

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Bitch's Brew Miles Davis

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Things You'll Never See Again




Maximum Clearance

I have a lot of dubious honors to my name, one being that I'm probably in a very select minority of people who has ever travelled for a very long time to see the Hobo Museum somewhere in the hinterlands of Iowa. I got tricked into this trip, kidnapped if you will, lured by promises of fun and excitement and I quote, "things you'll never see again." I often accuse the male gender of exaggeration along with a few other minor crimes (despite my love of Andrea Dworkin, I actually adore men), but in this case, the man in question was correct if not about the fun and excitement part (unless you count the diner in Iowa where they looked at us like aliens -- I credit this to a rather substantial age difference and the fact that I was dressed all in black), but about what I would never see again. The Hobo Museum resides off a tiny side street, manned by one surly teenager who takes the fifty cent entry fee and instructs you to turn on the lights when you get into the one room and turn them off when you leave. My then-boyfriend and I entered the dark room, only to be greeted by various hobo artifacts, signs instructing one how to speak hobo language, and a brief history of hobo life, illustrated on posterboards that had been stuck up to the wall with tacks.

I believe in being a good sport so I took a look around. Don't know a damn thing about hobos or trains, I quickly realized. Didn't know much about anything. The trip was near the end of the relationship, a kind of rage against the dying of the light stuff. I thought about all the seemingly wholesome people in Iowa, all the farmers and shopkeepers and kids we saw, thought about how simple their lives must be in comparison, the whole bullshit self-pity party one has when one can. I sat on the edge of the hobo stage and buried my face in my hands. Thought about the trains in the distance, about how there's always another one coming whether you're ready or not. The room was still dim and gray even with all the lights on. There wasn't much to see but we stayed as long as we could as to not hurt anyone's feelings.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Art is the only way to run away without leaving home." Twyla Tharp

Cocktail Hour
Drinking reading suggestion: Dry Augusten Burroughs

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, July 16, 2007

You Will Never Walk Again


Here's the last installment. Thanks for staying with it!

"Mark called," Josh says, when I walk in the door. I set down my purse and collapse onto the couch. "Where have you been all day?"
"Shopping for Christmas presents. I don’t want to do it all last-minute," I say.

"Me neither," Josh says. "But it always turns out like that." He’s drinking a Rolling Rock and watching Fight Club. Brad Pitt is telling Edward Norton what he is not. I wish someone would tell me what I am, but then again, maybe not.

"You want to go out tonight?" I ask, expecting a no, but Josh surprises me by getting his coat. I look at the caller id and see Mark’s number and some strange numbers, ones that could be anyone, Coley calling from her parents’ house, Kevin calling from his trip with the wifey, telemarketers, people dialing the wrong person. Despite the cold, Josh and I decide to walk to Nolan’s, a bar a couple of blocks away. It’s deader than usual inside, but it’s somewhere different. Nobody knows where we are and can’t drop by. Someone has already put up Christmas decorations, big red stocking hung on the bar with employees names in gold glitter on their white tops. Our waitress brings us whatever we want and we sit without talking while the snow comes down, covering everything and making it look cleaner and more beautiful, like a Christmas scene. We don’t have to get up for anything so we don’t. You will never walk again, I think, except it doesn’t have the ominous ring that it did when we were children, and I know we will walk again, if only to return home.


Michelle's Spell of the Day

You know, all writers are vampires and ... they'll look around and they watch you when you're not even thinking they're watching you and they'll slip stuff in.” James Gandolfini

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Celebrity Skin Hole

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Monday!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

My Secret Power




Here's the second part of Something To Do In Bed. Thanks again for reading!
Nobody would dare leave a key under a rock where I live. But it was a lucky guess for me, thinking Kevin and his wife would be out of town for the holiday and the key wouldn’t be all that hard to find. It’s freezing cold this Friday after Thanksgiving, the kind of day where you can see your every exhale, and I fumble with the key and let myself inside Kevin’s house. Someone (the wife perhaps, a pragmatist in all things financial) has set the heat on sixty. I turn it up to eighty, damned if I’m going to suffer while I’m in here and look in the kitchen where the liquor is liable to be, find a bottle of scotch, J&B, a truly depressing detail to learn about Kevin, someone who makes five times my salary drinking something so cheap, no single malts here!), and pour a shot into a coffee mug that says Upper Peninsula on a snowy blue background.

What do I expect to find? Now that I have done something I never expected to do, I realize there’s not a line a person won’t cross depending on the circumstances.
Pictures of Kevin’s children line the hallway, both in college at the University of Michigan, a mere hour away in Ann Arbor and an entire world away from Detroit. The boy looks a lot like Kevin and I struggle to remember his name. The girl is only seven years younger than me and fat, a Jenny Craig heartbreak. Christopher, that’s the boy.
The silence in the house makes me nervous so I turn on the television in the bedroom set to CNN, no shock there. I wonder if they stay up late, watching way past the possibility of sex. Kevin never did say much about his marriage, only that things had gone flat, a soda left open without a cap. The bathroom gleamed as if it had been sterilized and the only trace of humanity was an open clothes hamper. I dig out the clothes, all the wife’s, and look at the sizes. Nothing extraordinary, sixes and eights, a woman who has kept her figure hostage by years of portion control. I lay them out on the bed like a puzzle and tell myself that I will not look at the bra size. I’m not a masochist.
"Hello," I hear a voice say. It’s not Kevin or the wife and it’s a male voice. Christopher. I take another slug of scotch and try to think. I could hide under the bed, but how would I get out? And what do I do with all his mother’s clothes around the room? He’s going to walk back here sooner or later.
"Why is it so hot in here?" Christopher asks. I can hear him dialing the heat down. He heads toward the direction of the noise, the television I just had to have on. I could kick myself in the ass sometimes. There’s no time to hide so I push the clothes into a small pile and kick them under the bed. I don’t want to look totally crazy.
"Who are you?" Christopher asks. He’s taking off his jacket, a puffy blue number and a blue sweatshirt on underneath, and another shirt sticking out from the sweatshirt. His mother, no doubt, taught him the importance of layering when it’s cold. "I didn’t think Becky was supposed to be back until tomorrow," he says.
Becky, the Jenny Craig heartbreak. He thinks I’m one of her friends. There is a God and He loves me. "She isn’t. She told me that I could come here if I had trouble at home over the holidays," I say. "My parents are getting a divorce and there’s lots of yelling."
"Yeah, I get that. My mom and dad never yell, but they’re always on the verge of divorce," Christopher says. "I see you found the booze."
"It’s my secret power," I say.
"Mine too, finely honed since my days in Junior High," he says. He heads to the kitchen for a glass and comes back and pours a shot. We clink glasses, and he grimaces as the first sip goes down. He’s not the drinker he made himself out to be, I’m guessing. If he gets enough of this down, I’ll be able to ask lots of questions.
"How can you tell if you’re parents are on the verge of divorce if they never yell or anything?" I ask.
"They don’t speak to each other. At all. My mother does everything without ever once addressing my dad. He’s gone all the time anyway. Work and shit."
"Must be tough," I say. I lean against the pillow and pour another shot. "Is this weekend away supposed to improve their marriage?"
"They do this every Thanksgiving. Get together at this stupid bed and breakfast in Gaylord and hang out with their old friends. Very Big Chill. I went once and almost died of boredom." Christopher arranges himself on the pillow next to me and looks at the television. It’s a huge bed. Two people could sleep here all night and never touch each other. "So what’s going on in the world?"
"Damned if I know. I just had it on so I wouldn’t feel so alone," I say. I look up and there’s a repeat of Larry King interviewing Christopher Reeve about his accident on the horse that left him paralyzed. That’s one of my worst fears, not being able to move. As a child, I read the famous Christian book about the young girl diving in the water and breaking her neck, being trapped on a Stryker Frame for days. Josh and I sometimes played that game. Do you want to see the ceiling or the floor? That was the question that started our doctor - patient dialogues. One of us would be responsible for breaking the news to the other -- you will never walk again.
"So how do you know Becky?" Christopher asks. "Most of her friends don’t look like you. She’s been a real disappointment in the younger sister’s hot friends department until now."
I smile. How the fuck do I know Becky? My urban college experience was a world away from the lovely dorms of the University of Michigan. I don’t know a fucking thing about Becky as Kevin never mentioned her, not even so much as her name. He seemed prouder of Christopher, a boy who played football and was going to major in political science, a sure sign that he would follow his dad’s path into law school. It’s getting colder in the room so I slip underneath the comforter.

"We had a psychology class together," I say. "Abnormal."
"That’s supposed to be a tough one," he says. He brings the bottle into bed and gets beneath the comforter. "My parents won’t be back until Sunday, thank God. I’m thinking of having a party with some of my old high school buddies tomorrow night. You want to come? Becky will be here," he says.
"Maybe," I say. He pours more scotch for both of us. Larry King asks Christopher Reeve when he knew something was wrong, and Christopher Reeve says as soon as I hit the ground. If all things were that clear!
What little light from the outside has faded. The room fills with shadows, and I roll over onto my side. "So what do people call you -- Chris or Christopher?"
"Depends on the person," he says, removing his sweatshirt. He’s got a U of M t-shirt underneath, and I can see his erection as he struggles to get free of his layers. "You should make yourself comfortable," he says, pointing to my bulky sweater.
"I don’t have anything on underneath it," I say. "I don’t think your dad would want to catch you in his bed with a half-naked girl, sipping his scotch and watching television."
"Who said anything about watching television," Christopher says. "My parents are gone. We can do anything we want."
I take off my sweater and throw it on the floor on top of the wife’s clothes, the pile sticking out from where I tried to jam them underneath the bed before I realized the bed had drawers underneath it for storing things out of sight. I’m glad I wore a good bra even if I couldn’t imagine the occasion for it. It’s one that unhooks in the front, and Christopher puts down his drink on the nightstand, careful to use the coaster, and unhooks the latch with the precision of a surgeon.

Even though he’s young, I can tell this is not his first rodeo and am relieved. He pulls a condom out of his wallet, the kind of thing only an optimistic boy in his twenties would have on hand, and the entire time I am thinking that I am finally in Kevin’s bed. That had been one of his main rules that I hated, that I would never be in his house. When it’s over and Christopher has gotten out of bed to flush the used condom in the connecting master bedroom bathroom, I look at his wife’s bra-size, the detail I swore I would spare myself. It’s unexceptional, and I think why do I care?
By the time Christopher returns, walking naked around the room, like the young are prone to do, no body shame plaguing him, I’m dressed. "Will you come to the party?" he asks. I, of course, will not. By the time he asks Becky for my name, he’ll realize I’m not anyone she knows by the blank look on her fat face. What will he think then?
"I’d love to," I say. "Now that I know you live here."
"Are you going to be all right at home?" he asks, touching the side of my face. Christopher, I imagine, is much sweeter than his father. "You could hang out here with me."
"I have to go back. My parents want me where they can keep an eye on me," I say. I’m a little unsteady on my feet, but I make my way out of the bedroom, through the snow, into my car, and out into the dying light of evening, Friday night at the beginning, still early enough for lots of things to happen.
Michelle's Spell of the Day

"A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space. " Gloria Steinem

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Highway 61 Bob Dylan

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Ceiling Or The Floor













Here's the next installment of the novella. Thanks for reading!

The Ceiling or the Floor

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I pose for an artist who draws me as the subject for an advertisement for a battered women’s shelter downtown that affiliates itself with the Planned Parenthood for which I work.

"Curl up into yourself," the artist tells me. "You need to look like you’ve been hurt."

I do what he says and pretend that I am an actress, projecting prolonged misery, the Hedda Nussbaum of Detroit, take stage directions from the other counselors, none of whom wanted to be the subject of this particular crusade even though the artist assured us that nobody would be able to recognize the subject once he was through with her. "I take what I see and make it a lot worse," he says, although I do not think he will have to try that hard with me. Tired, hungover, the days before this one have not been kind. I close my eyes like I’ve been hit and don’t want to see what’s coming next. As the only white person at work today, I got volunteered for this bizarre modeling job because the black women didn’t want to perpetuate the stereotype of the violent black man.

Weirdly enough, I never got to be a white person on Thanksgiving as a girl -- my long dark hair and brown eyes made me a natural choice for an Indian, as we used to say in those politically incorrect days. Pilgrims and Indians alike would sit down and cut out construction paper turkeys and pumpkins. That was third grade, the year my teacher’s son hanged himself in a far away dorm room, sunny and warm. Our teacher had deliberate ways and said things like, if you aren’t a neat person, you shouldn’t even consider loose-leaf paper. She said, I’d allow my daughter to use it, but not my son. Despite my parents’ relative prosperity, I had an unkempt look about me, the haggard aura of a woman with one too many children and no help, the women I see every day now. My mother dressed me in the cutest outfits that she bought with the money she made at the hospital, and yet I was still a child of torn nails, stringy hair, and I could see her son, hanging from the rafters of his dorm room, ending a lifetime of messes and disappointment while I marked quizzes for his mother, me being the smartest girl in the room, all evidence to the contrary.

Thanksgiving day, I wake up and check my e-mail first thing, and there is no return message from Kevin which gets me thinking about what he might have meant by the roses on the doorstep last week and maybe like all men, he is fucking with my head for the pleasure of it and then I look at Mark, my new boyfriend of sorts, asleep in my bed and wonder how long it will be until he wakes up and leaves.

Coley, my brother’s ex-girlfriend and current lover, companion, and most accurately whore has already made her exit to visit her parents for Thanksgiving. I could hear her moving around the stale air of our place as I rested in bed with a screaming headache, feeling too wretched to sleep and too exhausted to take something that would make the pain go away. Mark and I drank a fair amount of grapefruit juice and vodka while watching Last Temptation of Christ, a movie neither of us had bothered to see when it came out to all that outrage. In fact, it’s a real yawn and would be intolerable without being drunk or stoned. We toasted to seeing the new millennium, the year 2000, and I thought about all the panic over Y2K and how it was good that nothing happened because I had nary a bottle of water stored, much less massive amounts of supplies. The whole scene reminded me of the tornado shelters Josh and I used to build in the bathroom, every surface lined with pillows and blankets, a flashlight, some candles. We’d do this in childhood at the slightest hint of rain because there was so much that we couldn’t protect each other from, and sometimes it was nice to pretend that the threat was an impersonal one.

Eventually, I walk into the kitchen and start the morning ritual, thinking how thankful I am that there is no work for me today. Need does not go on vacation, one of my college instructors you used to say, but I sure the hell can.

"So are you and Coley back on?" I ask. Josh makes himself some coffee and sits in his t-shirt and boxers, his uniform for his days off from teaching high school.

"I wouldn’t say that."

"What would you say?" I ask, knowing that a direct question will not get me an answer.

"Nothing," Josh says. "What are we going to do for food today? I don‘t think anything is going to be open around here. Remember last year -- not even the Chinese places."

"Big Boy is open. The Big Boy is always open," I say, referring to a chain restaurant who has a plump boy in checked suspenders depicted by a statue much like a low-rent Ronald McDonald.
I hear Mark moving around. "So he stayed," Josh says.

"He’s going now," I say. "I’m sure he has somewhere else he wants to be." I think about how screwed I am if he doesn’t.

Before Josh and I leave for the Big Boy, our parents call and ask me what I’m thankful for this year since I’m the one who had the misfortune of answering the phone, and I doubt they want to know the real list, the start of which is that they didn’t make good on their promise to move back to Detroit. They still haven’t been apprised of Josh’s carved smile that resides below his real mouth, healed from this summer, but never to be changed. When you feel bad, my mother said, take a piece of paper and write all your feelings on it and rip it up because no one wants to hear about it. Instead, I thought my nerves were pieces of paper and I could imagine that my heart wrote on them and hid them deep in my body and that if I ever had a breakdown, my nerves would be read by doctors who would be horrified by my thoughts.

"Josh, are you ready to leave?" I ask. I need some food before my stomach turns on me and decides that it’s going to heave everything that isn’t in it.

We drive to the Big Boy, a short trip, and a large woman waits on us and walks on her tiptoes as she takes our order to the kitchen, a burger for Josh, chicken sandwich for me. I’m trying for as bland as possible to settle things down.

"When are Mom and Dad coming for Christmas? Or are we supposed to come to them?" Josh asks. He’s ordered coffee and has guzzled two cups already. Clearly, I’m not the only one who had too much to drink last night.

"They don’t know yet. Surprise attack," I say. I open a package of crackers while we wait. Before long, there are crumbs all over me because I’m shaking.

"Do you remember that Thanksgiving Dad got the video camera and videotaped dinner and made us watch it that night?" Josh asks.

"Well, that’s what I’m most thankful for this year. Not having to live through something and then see it right after," I say. The food takes a long time in coming, and we sit in silence with everyone else who isn’t in a hurry to go anywhere else.


Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Someone may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it." Steve Prefontaine


Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Some Girls Rolling Stones

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Saturday!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Territory I Knew


Going over this fence, I managed to get no less than six bruises. What started out as a good idea seemed less smart as I nearly impaled myself. I was stuck in the middle -- couldn't go back to where I was or forward to where I wanted to go. No shock there -- this was territory I knew. Why did I have to climb over the fence? Well, I wasn't supposed to be there. Damn, another situation that made way too much sense to me. I got my dress unstuck and crawled down into the grass. Metaphors are like that -- totally obvious when you're in pain and peril.

I almost never lie around in the grass. But here it's good because the fence reminded me of The Omen which cheers me up a lot. Not like the spate of dumbass horror movies that came after, not that I want to name names, but does Saturday the 14th ring any bells? And I didn't really have time to think about bugs and other creatures in the grass, especially a random squirrel or something that could really put the fear of God in me. I'd have to go back over, but I wasn't thinking about that. I was in the moment, thinking about the shot. The bruises hadn't formed yet, but they would, big round ones in the shape of ringworms. So maybe I was right about the dangers of nature all along. Of course, I'd never blame the metal spikes, the ones that protect even as they harm.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I can only say that my roots are in humor, and even in the heavier work the humor tends to lend a greater credibility, a feel of real life. " William Peter Blatty

Cocktail Hour

Drinking Friday the 13th party suggestion:

Shinerbock (the best beer ever -- from Texas, yeah buddy!)
A bunch of horror movies
A person who can cook

Benedictions and Maledictions

Be safe, my sweethearts, on Friday the 13th!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Dusty White Ceramic Castle


For the few years when I lived with other living things, I had two fish named Jean Paul and Simone. They were clownfish, the only kind my then-husband and I could afford. We longed for the beautiful expensive salt water dudes, but alas, we had a budget -- no more than five dollars on any fish and an old crappy tank that we'd pulled out of the dumpster behind our apartment, not the salt water paradise that one might have desired. Given these constraints, the clownfish were it unless we wanted to get some feeder fish, the kind that you give to bigger fish for a little snack. That was even a little depressing for me, so I gained an affection for the little guys with their festive black stripes. And what better names for happy fish than Jean Paul and Simone? I do love a good existential misery contained in a tank!

The thing we wanted most for our tank was a castle so the fishies could swim through it, like a magical kingdom. But none of the fish stores carried them. Complaining about this lack of castles one day at my parents' house, my dad went out to the garage and brought out a dusty white ceramic castle, just like I'd been imagining. We set it up in the tank and Jean Paul took to living there for long periods of time, so much so that we sometimes thought he'd died. It was better than his other activity -- attacking Simone over and over again, until she looked shredded. I couldn't believe it: they were supposed to be friends! Jean Paul was a big meanie pants. He couldn't be trusted. Simone died; she bled to death from his repeated abuse. I should have remembered that the real Jean Paul and Simone never lived together for good reasons, probably also involving blood. Jean Paul swam around after Simone's death, stayed in the top turret of his castle. The little bastard did not appear to be in mourning, not at all. Then he leapt out of the opening of the tank (the lid didn't fit anymore -- things in the garbage rarely live up the grace and perfection of our original conception!) and died. I got home one afternoon and saw his lifeless body on the couch. Maybe he really was sorry for what he did. Or bored. The castle, while beautiful, was kind of a one trick pony.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"To catch a husband is an art; to hold him is a job." Simone de Beauvoir

Cocktail Hour

Drinking short story collection: Family Dancing David Leavitt

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Go Away So I Can Talk To You


I know a man I've never met. I know what he likes, where he's working, how his daughter is enjoying her vacation, and a lot of other mundane facts that I won't relate. I'll call him Tom because that's his name, at least that's what an entire table of his friends called him. They set up a cell phone in the middle of the table and put their good buddy Tom on speaker mode so that they could all yell at the device and Tom could talk to them, as if on cb, sounding as if he were Candy Cane on that godforsaken movie Joyride. Although my time in the sushi restaurant was far worse than being chased by a psychotic trucker. The people at the table were what we used to call yuppies, and they obviously didn't like each other all that much given that they kept Tom on the line for thirty minutes. How do I know? I timed them, dear readers, with my own cell phone, mercifully silent. I wanted to go over and tell them that the staff looked as if they wanted to take their knives to their throats, and I would not tattle on them if they did, would in fact help hide the bodies. But I'm no diplomat so I merely took notes about their conversation (hideously dull, I'm sorry to say) and enjoyed my Marlon Brando sushi rolls, possibly the best sushi in my mind, not having experienced a lot of sushi, but enough to know that Marlon would approve that his namesake roll was so good.

So I'm trying to be kind, trying to think happy thoughts about the group. Perhaps Tom was on his deathbed and couldn't be there except as they say in spirit and on that fricking cb-like speaker. And I contemplate the power of an absence. Sometimes an off-stage presence holds more allure than someone who is there. And I hadn't thought about a cb radio in some time. I used to love playing with them in the seventies, making up a handle, and rattling on about nonsense. My friends and I would talk to each other on them, forcing ourselves to hide and then speak through machines. Go away so I can talk to you, we'd say to each other. We never had anything earth-shattering to relate through the devices, but what fun we had, talking to someone we knew but couldn't see anymore.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If we are not our brother's keeper, at least let us not be his executioner." Marlon Brando

Cocktail Hour
Drinking poetry suggestion: In Watermelon Sugar Richard Brautigan

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

It's Your Funeral


I once saw an exhibit of pictures that were head shots of people who were about to be killed by Pol Pot's henchmen. There were row and row of these agonizing final day documents in a museum basement. I don't remember anything else I saw that day. The people in the pictures knew what fate awaited them and some had even had funerals for themselves before the fact, before they were brought in for the last installment of that horrific ordeal. Their friends wrote poems, brought food. Such a brave fact in the face of such inevitability gave me more pause than even the photographs.

I thought about that fact for a long time, having a funeral that you could see, knowing that your death was just days away. Some of my friends have admitted to me that they fantasize about their funerals more than a wedding. At least I know I'll have a funeral, joked one. I want to know how much people will miss me, said another. I've never thought much about mine -- mostly I want people to have a good time and barring that, eating and drinking until they're sick, lots of music that I like (my last chance to torture friends with particular songs that nobody but me likes!), no going to hell preaching, and I want it to wrap up fast. The new fashion is to have a life celebration, a funeral that you have when you're close to the end. I won't be having one of those, I'm afraid. Unlike the people in the photographs who went to their deaths with their eyes wide open out of the necessity of the times, the camera recording everything, I don't want to know what awaits me on the other side. Got enough to work out on this one, including museum installations of people who didn't have that luxury.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I ain't got much education, but I got some sense." Loretta Lynn

Cocktail Hour

The Muse

1 glass of lemonade
1 shot of melon liqueur
1 shot of raspberry vodka
Serve over ice.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Nothing But A Woman In Common


I once told a friend's boyfriend that he should go ahead and kill himself if he didn't want to live, that he should put himself out of our collective misery. Later that night, I feared I'd been a little harsh. My father had been dead for two weeks, and I was a little on edge, thinking about all the jerks who lived forever and guzzling the truly excellent margaritas at Joe T. Garcias, possibly the best Mexican restaurant on earth. It was my friend's birthday and the boyfriend showed up, talking about how he hated living and wished he'd been born when he could ride the earth on a horse or fight a war, a popular war, not like Vietnam, but something like on Band of Brothers. Those television wars are always a cozier alternative than a real one, right? Given my rather nonconfrontational nature, I almost let this go, but he pushed on, saying that he should do himself in because he was a waste of flesh. Yes, I said, a death gleam in my eye. The planet has limited resources. I think you should. Die.

So I lost my shot at working for a suicide hotline, I see that now. And some points in Heaven given that I tried to spit on him as he walked by my chair on his way to the bar. The perfect little girl I'd been had died with my dad and if that douchebag wanted a war, I'd be glad to provide him one. I never saw this person again, though. My friend and he broke up. She started dating a man I adore, for whom I have endless respect. The new boyfriend did see my nemesis, though. They talked for a little while in the way of men who have nothing but a woman in common do. My name got brought up. Everyone liked me except the one who lives in Detroit. That city does bad things to a person, the old boyfriend said. The new one laughed. She loves me. It's always good to know someone from Detroit, he told him. You never know when you're going to need the firepower.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"People are all I take seriously. Therefore, I have nothing but sympathy for how people behave - and nothing but laughter to console them with." John Irving


Cocktail Hour
Drinking art criticism book: The Coming Apocalypse Greg Bottoms

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

You Can Have Anything You Want


So I'm walking down the street with a friend after buying a notebook with a picture of Che Guevara on it, not the iconic image of Che on the motorcycle but Che with a happy, bemused expression on his face and I'm thinking that Baby Grouchie can also use this notebook and be the envy of all his little friends when this strange man with a French accent stops me. He looks at my friend and says, Am I not better looking than you, richer than you, and why is she (at this moment he points at my forehead) not with me? I laughed and my friend laughed (he has as much interest in women as I have in math), and the man tries to kiss me on the cheek. At this point I'm thinking he's mentally challenged, totally deranged, or truly disturbed -- it's hard to tell the difference sometimes. You can have anything you want, he yells at me as I trot off into the distance. Anything!

The whole incident put me in mind of the Betty Specials, the high school theater group that was made up solely of mentally challenged kids who would put on a series of skits every year for the entire high school. Think Saturday Night Live in hell with even worse scripts. The Specials as they were called for short would bask in the attentive glow of our presence while we were threatened within an inch of our young lives if we made fun of them. The themes as I recall tended toward fairy tales, making wishes, and playing with beach balls. One horrible moment consisted of a group of them throwing around a red beach ball, yelling Bouncy Bouncy Ball! over and over again until one of them said, If you could have anything you want, what would it be? The person who was supposed to answer forgot her lines and looked troubled. On the street, I felt like her. What in God's name would I say to the Kissing Bandit? I looked down at Che for help while he smoked his cigar, looking at me as if he were about to laugh, the most revolutionary act there is.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
“Silence is argument carried out by other means." Che Guevara

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Exile on Main Street Rolling Stones

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

If It Doesn't Go Away


When my sister and I want to be obnoxious which is almost all the time, we yell out, it's 10:10, make a wish, even when it is not anywhere close. There's some superstition about those numbers being lucky, and of course, when I see those numbers appear, I spend the whole minute tallying up everything I would like to happen -- Please God, give me massive amounts of publications, let my hair look better today, give me more publications, let me write well today, oh, and world peace, no more bloody conflict and remember God, I did not even vote for George Bush as governor of Texas, I voted for Ann Richards and that should count in my favor! This is as close to the world of numbers as I get -- I'm almost phobic about them and when someone starts on a tangent about the beauty of numbers, I get nervous, thinking about how I can't even balance my checkbook. There's no beauty in my checkbook --it's mostly tiny scribbled notes about stories and random bits of conversation that I've overheard; to note, Would you see someone about this rash? If it doesn't go away . . . I hate that son of a bitch I'm married to . . . He tricked me into marrying him by saying he was done with that whore . . . These are worlds into which I have partial entry by merit of my bat-like hearing!

Despite living in Detroit for a decade, I've never played the numbers and have almost no memory for them, but I still remember my childhood phone number and will probably do so when I forget everything else - 325-7229. This combination of numbers keeps coming up in various forms in my life, three being my lucky number given that I was born on the third. Luck is such a strange thing! I'm a lucky person in so many ways, spectacularly unlucky in others. I think about what Hank used to quote, If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all. The other day, I saw an old friend who I hadn't seen in years, and we saw a double rainbow. What luck that is supposed to represent! My friend said, It's lucky seeing you again. The last time before that I saw a rainbow was the first anniversary of my dad's death. The sky glowed with color, prisms of it that wouldn't last long, but what sad fleeting beauty lit up that morning.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The mark of great sportsmen is not how good they are at their best, but how good they are their worst." Martina Navratilova

Cocktail Hour
Drinking book suggestion: Don't Drink The Water Woody Allen

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Saturday! Have a lucky 7/07/2007!

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Easy Casual Banter Of A Friday Afternoon


For a brief period in my life, I fulfilled my fantasy of girl reporter. I wasn't good at it -- I had an old-fashioned camera that gave me the prop of seriousness without any talent. I didn't weigh much in those days, but my heart had already grown burdened and weary, much like I imagined veteran reporters to be. Since I was the youngest staff member, my boss sent me to the places nobody else wanted to go and those places became me. To note, I dealt with each and every elderly person who barraged the newspaper with phone calls about a story they wanted to tell. I'd often find myself hostage in an airless houses nodding over yellowed newspaper clippings. I interviewed a felon who needed a kidney, a Pizza Hut employee who had been cheated out of a hundred dollars by a sleight of hand artist. The world, so full of treachery, had much need and not a lot of softness.

The guy who had my job before me had taken off for Alaska. Someone peeled his name off his work station with a flourish and said, Someday we'll be doing this to you. It wasn't a place that encouraged nostalgia. Still, I loved its strange particulars, the break room with its ancient vending machine and dinky window looking out at the parking lot, the time cards we'd stamp every morning and night, the easy casual banter of a Friday afternoon. Loved developing photographs late into the evening, bathed in the glow of red light and chemicals, pulling up negative after negative, curious as to what would appear, what I had captured, what had captured me.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"When people say there is too much violence in my books, what they are saying is there is too much reality in life. " Joyce Carol Oates

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Add It Up Violent Femmes

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Demands Of Travel


While applying for my passport, I studied the crappy photograph from my last one, a time in which eyebrow maintenance was a concept as foreign as Sanskrit and waited while the postal worker checked to make sure I'd filled out my forms correctly. When did you get divorced? she asked. I had absolutely no idea and had to think back to an approximate. There was a red-haired Russian woman filling out her form and said, That's wonderful. I don't think I'll ever forget mine. You're very lucky. She struggled over her forms because she had to do a special expedite and only had three checks left. I have to get everything perfect. I cannot mess this up. Man, that's the position I was usually in, driving around on an empty tank of gas without directions. The postal worker took my pictures, a hideous grueling activity in the morning and said, You can come in every ten years and see what you look like in comparison, holding my new picture to my old one. That, the Russian woman said, is a form of cruelty. But I felt pretty good -- I'd used enough make up not to be horrified and fared well next to the undefined teenager I once was. And it had been well over ten years.

But the fact was that I'd never once used the first passport. The world of travel my mother had imagined for me when she paid for it hadn't materialized, bending to the demands of a different kind of life, a circumscribed one of enclosed spaces. I got to thinking about the whole relentless march of time thing and where I might find myself in ten years, what I might be doing. All I could hope is that I'd have been somewhere exotic, making the whole get my ass out of bed and fill out forms thing worthwhile. Alas the mind is pretty exotic and the demands of travel rigorous, but perhaps the lure of something beyond what I have seen will sing a siren song louder than anything I can already imagine.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I have a hot memory, but I know I've forgotten many things, too, just squashed things in favor of survival. " Iggy Pop

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Summer Stock Judy Garland

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Summer Of Love


Once I found a bunch of notes written by a pregnant teenager in a used copy of The White Album (and yes, the copy was an actual album) that I purchased a record store called Forever Young. The notes detailed the tortured relationship that the girl had with the father of her unborn child -- she alternated listening to Dear Prudence and Helter Skelter as ways of feeling close to him. This was her only way as he'd taken off a few weeks before; he was MIA and despite her desperate pleas for his return, I'm guessing he stayed that way. I can't find the notes anymore, another casualty in a long list of things that I vowed to keep and didn't. Yet I can still see the girlish handwriting that crowded the notepaper and the date at the corner, June 15, 1967, the year my parents got married, the summer of love.

I could imagine her summer -- the summer of the consequences of love. Nonetheless, I envied her given that I was in the 80s, a decade that I then loathed and now feel the warm glow of nostalgia for, no surprise there. But all I could see at the time, was that all my values were tied up in the two decades -- feminism had all but died, money was a god, and Reagan was in office. I had been the one fifth grader who voted for Mondale in the mock election at my school -- my teacher said, 29 for Reagan and Michelle for Mondale. AIDS had already started its grim trajectory. We had birth control and legalized abortion, but the summer of free love, for all intents and purposes, was over. I hung on to my unknown friend's notes as a witness for a different time, but almost everything gets lost over time no matter how hard we try to be careful.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle." Apocalypse Now

Cocktail Hour
Drinking documentary suggestion: Wild Man Blues

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Independence Day!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Almost Independence Day


My dad once set himself on fire with a Roman Candle. This was the seventies and he had a rocking mustache, green polyester pants, and the sense to throw himself in Possum Kingdom Lake to put himself out. I've always hated firecrackers and many of my young fourth of July's were spent sobbing as the vile things exploded all around while my mother told me to get a grip on myself. After I was raped, I hated it even more. Loud noises are nobody's friend! Consuming massive amounts of hot dogs and barbecue while blowing tons of money on explosives does not seem like the ideal way to celebrate independence so I go for a more measured approach -- rocking in fetal position in my room until the day is over. The last time I went out for an "event" on the fourth was to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (long story about how I was tricked into going -- too painful to go into that story; repression is our friend!) where I consumed massive amounts of gin and tonics, ignored most of the food, and tried to make the best of a bad situation. Isn't this great? I said to my then-beloved who replied, Not really. I can think of about ten places I'd rather be right now. He had also been tricked and had grown surly and resentful, retreating into a silence so loud that one couldn't help but hear only that. Making the best of a bad situation wasn't his thing. Well into my cups, I believe I said something like, You can be a real asshole and he replied, Yeah, and?

So here I am, contemplating all the things I'd like to be liberated from and can only think that they mostly exist in my own head, the very worst place for things to be. I won't be doing anything symbolic tomorrow, won't be ridding myself of any of my chains. For the first time in a long time, I'm happy where I am. Happy might be overstating it, of course. Let's not go crazy! But when the sky lights up with color, I'll watch from wherever I happen to be and if I can only hear what's going on from a distance, that'll be enough for me.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"My show is my statement. What I have to say is on the screen. My life is my own. I don't want to talk about my private self. Why should I?" Flip Wilson

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Venus

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, July 02, 2007

A Special Place In Hell


Yesterday I sat writing with a pen that looks like a needle -- you depress it and red ink comes out, the metaphorical blood on the page. I like my needle pen because it keeps me in mind of the task at hand, no less than mining a vein to get to something pure. The pen came as a bonus gift when I bought Carrie, one of my favorite horror movies of all time. I love the embryonic Sissy Spacek and her crazy mother with the huge crucifix in the trailer. It's the ideal revenge fantasy for people like me who were out of place, awkward teenage girls, hoping like crazy that things would change and when they didn't, taking matters into her own hands and destroying everything. It trumps the rash of stalker movies that came after, the ones where almost everyone was dead except a final girl, the one tomboyish character with a unisex name who lived to tell the tale, dazed by the horrors she'd seen, vowing never to go camping again. Come to think of that, I could relate to that scenario as well, even if the only horrors I'd seen while camping were rattlesnakes and Everclear poured into empty High Karate or Polo bottles for safe and undetected transport. You really haven't lived until someone says, The Everclear is in the High Karate, Southern Comfort in the Polo. There's a special place in hell where one is forced to drink liquor laced with the dregs of cheap cologne.
But some of the scariest movies ever are the ones where the danger comes from the inside -- ie, the babysitter movie where she's getting obscene, threatening phone calls and the police deliver the haunting line after tracing the line -- The phone call is coming from inside the house!. I am also partial to a good devil-child movie or a good possession movie. It's in these movies we see ourselves most clearly, the ways we wish harm on ourselves and others without thought and blame unseen forces. In our everyday existence, we live with our pettiness, our casual cruelty, and dubious motives as if we are safe, as if they don't exist. Of course, any horror fan knows that it's just a matter of time before things become uncovered and start to wreak havoc. Good thing I have my blood red pen to write it all down, keep a record of sadness and despair, evil and good, and failing anything that dramatic, the banality of my days, since there's a good chance that anything scary is coming from inside the house.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"He decided he'd told the artist enough of his business. Artists were all right in their place but he didn't like them poking their noses in the affairs of regular people." Flannery O'Connor, "Parker's Back"

Cocktail Hour

Drinking music suggestion: Live at Fillmore East Allman Brothers

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Monday!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Only You Can Stop This From Happening



Once upon a time I sat crying in a church doorway on a crowded city street. A group of Amish men passed by, a parade of Amish, and they snuck furtive glances at my semi-hysterical, sobbing self. Some were old, some in the prime of their lives, some young boys, and I comforted myself with the stories they might tell each other about why I had obviously broken down in a public place without the good sense to find a bathroom in which to cry. I thought of myself as a cautionary tale -- See what happens in a secular lifestyle! The big city will leave you cold and strung out like garbage on the side of the street! To my credit, I managed with heroic effort to pull myself together before I made more of a jerk out of myself in front of a myriad of people on bikes, trying to win some race. Not one of my finer stoic moments, that's for sure. I thought of all the self-help slogans I'd heard lately, but one in particular mocked me -- And you are somebody! Yes, I thought, somebody who is a real dumbass.

One of my favorite pulp novels details the adventures of a priest who does a street ministry for beautiful women junkies, having had his heartstrings tugged by one who got out of prison and begged for his help, only to overdose but had the presence of mind to leave a note safety-pinned to her bra that said, Only you, Father John, can stop this from happening to others. What's not to love -- heroin, New York City, Bellevue, a burned out priest on the edge of losing his faith, damsels in distress? What can I say? This formula works for me. While I read it, I thought about that day on the street. I wasn't trying to win a race, wasn't living all that plain and simple as the Amish pride themselves. I was living complicated and strung out, like so many people on the edges of something, trying like anything to regain my composure and failing, my faith, slipping in and out of the distance like a radio station I couldn't quite pick up for the time being even though I knew it was there and always would be, even if I couldn't hear it at that moment.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Progress means eliminating one thing and accepting another." B. R. Sridhar

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Conversations With Other Women

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Sunday!