Monday, March 31, 2008

The Same Story Over Again

Two years ago to this day, I started this blog without a clue where it might go or what I might have to say. I almost never wrote nonfiction before I did this because I didn't know how to appropriate my life for that purpose -- like the popular children's book, my days seemed to be a series of unfortunate events with a lot of comic interludes and some wonderful bits of joy. Stories and poems seemed to be it for me. I could assume someone else's voice (albeit at times a thinly veiled autobiographical one), but never my own. In the eighties, those long ago days of big hair and moody music, there was a lot of talk about owning things -- possessions, feelings, your truth. My truth was that I was happy to own a few books and some clothes. As for my feelings, who else would they belong to? So far as I could tell, nobody was lining up for a dose of my particular gloompot ways.

Once someone I have grown to deeply dislike said, You're telling the same story over again. I said, So what? To which he replied, Well, I know how you hate to repeat yourself. But he didn't know me at all. I love to repeat the same stories over again, warm my hands to them like a campfire that never goes out. We don't have that many stories really -- the same sorts of things tend to happen to us over and over, ala Jungian synchronicity or kismet or whatever force you want to credit. And the truth is that I have a deep fond feeling for the events that have made me who I am, even the bad stuff. Sufficed to say, I would not wish to relive much of the past. But I kind of do on the blog. I guess I'm owning something or owning up to something, coming to terms, all those expressions for that nebulous act of accepting complicity for your life. In the picture, I'm holding one of my favorite pictures I've ever taken, a brick building with a simple cross and block lettering -- Here's Hope. It brings to mind that even in tremendous suffering there is something else, that one good element in Pandora's box. You can find it anywhere, even on the side of a building in Detroit, maybe especially there.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I always do make a back story for myself, but I'm not sure how necessary it is. I just like to." Gena Rowlands

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Christiane F.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Good Part Of Life

One can rewrite history pretty easily -- the loveliest man in the world becomes a jackass who exhibited sociopathic tendencies from the moment I knew him, a harmless way to blow off steam becomes a massive crippling addiction that nearly killed me and your old embarrassing cds become something your ex-boyfriend left behind. Let's face it -- the past holds a lot of sway, all those roles that we played and can't quite release. And so our tendency to glamorize or demonize those stretches of time depends on what we need; a marker of how far we've come or a sad reminder of how far we have fallen. As a child, I thought a lot of about killing time, desperate to rush to the good part of life. But time kills us, not the other way around, and like the mortician said of my dad's teeth after his plane crash, in death, they are perfectly preserved and can survive even the hottest fire. It's life that ruins them.

During pilates this morning (yes, I'm a douchebag, so be it), the instructor complimented me on my flexibility. She's a doll who always makes me smile by saying, You're doing awesome, ladies! when in fact, we are struggling to roll around with a giant ball in some approximation of a push-up. And I never tire of the flexibility compliment -- years as a gymnast has provided some reward! But more than that, I think it's the emotional quality that makes me the happiest; the way I've learned to be a little less rigid about certain things. Make no mistake -- I still have a way of holding a grudge, still try to kill time when I feel upset or stymied. But now the past, fluid as a rhythmic gymnast's ribbon, flows behind me and before me, and I think of it as something lovely and hopeful, part of the routine, but not the whole thing.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I was an escapee of childhood. I always wanted to grow up." Uma Thurman

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Two Days In Paris

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Friday, March 28, 2008

It's A Man's World

Some friendly debates you have over and over, like whether men and women can just be friends (I hold to the idea that they can, despite all evidence to the contrary) or whether you'd rather be famous or rich (to quote Ralphie from The Sopranos -- Why was I born handsome instead of rich?). In this day and age, the discussion can take the turn of whether men or women have a worse deal. Used to be this wasn't even a thought; women have a raw deal given all the sexual violence, injustice in earning power, the pervasive beauty fascism of the culture spawning eating disorders, plastic surgery, and so on not to mention whole childbirth bullshit. But while I still think the great James Brown is right (It's a man's world, baby!), I'll risk the possible revocation of my NOW membership card and say that I think men have it tough as well.

To note: the rise in male eating disorders in the last few years, the economic difficulties that make supporting a family damn near impossible, the trauma of war. Paul Shrader (director of one of my favorite movies, Affliction) addresses this male identity issue in his first film, Blue Collar. Harder than hell to get (Thomas Video when I return it), it's a brilliant gem set in my fair city of Detroit in the late 70s. Three men attempt to get money from a factory system determined to squelch them in an attempt to keep the trains on time. Masculinity for two of the characters means supporting their families which they can't really do well and for one providing a break of booze, drugs, and women as a bas relief to the grueling mundanity of their existences. Nothing good happens during the movie for any of them and a truly ghastly end comes for the one without a traditional bulwark. Detroit, the factories, the despair -- it's all on camera. As for male bonding, the dudes sit around and drink. (Hey, it's my favorite form of bonding so no harm there.) But they have to part ways given certain plot issues and when it comes time for them to go their own ways, they are left without the usual arsenal of gestures of parting. But in the most Detroit moment of the movie, the two remaining guys are standing out in the parking lot and exchange open beers as a symbol of trust and love. Like communion, they drink deeply from the same proverbial cups until they are in their cups without a way out.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Write something, even if it's just a suicide note." Gore Vidal

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: The Odd Couple Gnarls Barkley

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Floor Sample

Floor Sample

My friend's daughter asks me
to take her hostage, to hold her
so she can't be free. I've played
this game before, I think. Do you
make boys sleep near the window
so you can push them out if you
don't like them?, she asks me when
she plays dress up in my clothes.
When I get older, I'm going to be
mean because I can and not love
anyone. Or at least let them know.
Then they'll be my hostages. She's
small for her age, but wears my clothes
well, as if they were made for her.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"You may not know it, but at the far end of despair, there is a white clearing where one is almost happy." Joan Baez

Cocktail Hour
Drinking novel suggestion: American Studies Mark Merliss

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

American Beauty

My favorite resignation speech in any movie is the one the Kevin Spacey character gives in American Beauty: "My job consists of basically masking my contempt for the assholes in charge, and, at least once a day, retiring to the men's room so I can jerk off while I fantasize about a life that doesn't so closely resemble Hell." It's probably the last great movie in recent history about the suburbs, that well-manicured version of purgatory. If you can't tell, I've had quite a day and am signing off for now with hopes of working on my memoir tomorrow (four pages a day! in theory at least) and writing another blog. Hope you're having a very happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Detroit Proper

I've seen three major Detroit events on television, all while exercising. I'm not sure what that says about me or Detroit, but here they are in the order they happened: Coleman Young's funeral, Rosa Park's funeral, and the arraignment of Kwame Kilpatrick. It's cold as all billy hell here today (see snow photo and grim sign), but I still have to say that things are well. My dad once bought me a pin at the Henry Ford Museum that says, Life Is Better In Detroit! While the I once flashed red, the batteries have now worn out, but I have the pin all the same. It's a little more fitting without all the glitz of a blinking I and still just as true.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Swearing is an art form. You can express yourself much more exactly, much more succinctly, with properly used curse words." Coleman Young

Cocktail Hour
Drinking vodka suggestion: Cold River Vodka

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Lord Of The Flies

Last night while cleaning house, I saw one of the many competitions that exist on the hell that is VH1 -- So Your Child Is A Star. Hosted by the one and only Danny Bonaduce, this special delight includes the ultimate in stage parents pushing their little tykes to fame and fortune. Every week, one gets picked off like some modern-day Lord Of The Flies bullshit, and Danny, usually in his element in humiliating situations, even has the good sense to look embarrassed while he delivers his shtick, the mean middle-aged child star dude saying, Welcome To Hollywood in the campiest tone ever after offering his verdicts on performances that would be at home at my old high school's talent show. (To the talent show's credit, though, you could always count on someone hammering out a passable version of the theme song to "Hill Street Blues" on the piano and some overdeveloped girl in a too-tight leotard tumbling to "Highway To Hell.") Danny's eyes betray him, though, and seem to say, Get me the fuck out of this mess and Why did my wife leave me? There's the predictable catfights among the parents, the predictable overwrought talk about how this is the dream, the dream, man and if it doesn't work, nothing will.

But even more than the banal horror of this particular mess, I noticed that most reality shows now follow this format -- a bunch of stagy performances followed by a weed out that makes the Gong Show look like the ultimate in compassion. At least on The Gong Show, some asshole banged a gong when you started to suck. That was it. No tearing you apart, making you feel even worse about wanting fame or love or God help you, a night with Brett Michaels where you "rock his world." You either had it or you didn't when the gong sounded. No one lasted very long and no one expected you to last. No camera followed you to the car to watch you cry over your lost talent, your youth, your dreams. I thought we had a connection! There was grace or at least a modicum of it, as much as you can get with a gong involved.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"You can play a shoestring if you're sincere." John Coltrane

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion:Desire Bob Dylan

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter! I'm sitting here thinking about how happy I am for so many things -- my wonderful sister, dearest friends, people whose stories I read as I go through my week. Since the season of contemplating sadness and suffering is ending and we enter ordinary time, I cannot help but feel so very lucky. And much thanks to my dear friend Angela for her early birthday present of a GPS. I've never been able to get anywhere myself, so it's nice to have a voice to tell me where to go whenever I find myself lost in the darkness and even more often lost in the light.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won't stay there." Clarence W. Hall

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Candy Girl Diablo Cody

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Easter! I will be displaying happy little Easter toys later!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

In The Valley Of The Dry Bones

Hi readers! Here are the Saturday pictures. Hope you're having a good Easter weekend!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Urban Gardens

I've always loved urban gardens, those small patches of life among the gorgeous, depressing, ruined details of cities. There's something about the juxtaposition of this tiny attempt at life, a nod to natural beauty, that always makes me feel better. They remind me that there's always part of us that's growing and undamaged, no matter how bad things get, no matter how much misery we experience. Like the one lone Bible quote I have taped to my refrigerator, the one about being knocked down, but never knocked out, the one about experiencing the death of Jesus a little each day in order to experience the joy of his return.

We lost a lot of things we think we cannot do without in our life: our friends and family, our health, looks, money, dreams. We sacrifice a lot to the altars of our need. Make a lot of compromises when we said we wouldn't. So we die a little every single day, our own Good Fridays in the making. But we cannot kill the hope of redemption. Like the cans that litter the sides of the highways now that the snow has melted, we glisten in the sun even as we doubt our worth and hope for someone to pick us up and remind us that we're still worth something, no matter how many times we've been discarded.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen." Thomas Merton

Cocktail Hour
Drinking Lenten reading suggestion: The Seeds Of Holiness Thomas Merton

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Good Friday!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

There's Been A Big Story

My one and only attempt at collaborative writing was in the seventh grade. My friend K (not his real initial) and I decided in a burst of boredom, ambition, and access to my dad's old Tandy computer to write a story about yearbook camp (an event we were looking forward to in high school -- if this doesn't tell you all you need to know about the sad desolate nature of my social life, nothing will). We created not-so-thinly veiled portraits of our friends and enemies while my mother's creepy-ass portraits of tribal warriors from New Zealand stared down at us. For inspiration, we'd pace and shake our tornado bottles (plastic bottles filled with water and dishwashing soap -- shake and you'd have a tornado) in the small space off the garage that served as an office. If we'd lived in a town with a Chinese restaurant that delivered, we'd probably have tried to order take-out and settle in for the night, like they did on all the old newspaper shows; there's been a big story and we're going to be here all night!

Our final product, a real exercise in wish fulfilment, makes me laugh now. Our enemies suffered horribly under such fine writing as "Charles couldn't get head if he drew it himself" while our friends made plans to meet their new beloveds at Star Trek conventions. I ended up with the hot yearbook teacher (he didn't exist -- a figure draw solely from the imaginative powers of me and K) and K ended up with a girl (the one real bit of fiction in the piece). By the end, we were pissed as hell at each other; there'd been a lot of push/pull in terms of sentences. Plus, K wanted to illustrate the whole thing and decorate it with stickers which I thought would trivialize the power of our sentences. But it got done and as I watched page after page print off on the slow dot-matrix printer, I felt nothing but pride. Neither of us ever attended yearbook camp; I was "dating" my high school English teacher, and K had become obsessed with listening to George Michael, decorating his room, and pretending to be straight. We had a lot more to learn about writing fiction, but we were both becoming pretty skilled at living it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I'll play it and tell you what it is later." Miles Davis

Cocktail Hour
Drinking novel suggestion: Tweak Nic Scheff

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy first day of spring!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Most of my earliest friendships were with boys who would turn out to be gay which makes a lot of sense given that I was an introspective little girl with a mordant sense of humor. We got along because of our essential otherness combined with the fact that there was not a shot in hell that the more mainstream cliques would accept me -- the boy with the arms truncated by his mother's taking thalidomide during her pregnancy was considered more attractive as a buddy given my awkward social bearing. I understood the truth of these relationships often before the boys did -- that my friends would end up with other men as would I. But we played a lot of let's pretend about the future, about marriages. It was possible to be all things to all people in these conversations, but for anyone listening closely, it would be impossible not to discern that my friends didn't care as much about having sex with a woman as they did the design of her dress.

All relationships contain secrets, pockets of mystery that imbue them with a glow, the breathless allure of romance and rumpled sheets in the afternoon. We have loads we cannot say. But sometimes the weight of what cannot be said falls hard upon your world and that world becomes claustrophobic. A few of my friendships have suffered this fate -- the sense of the dying of the light because of the distance between what is know and what is discussed is so vast. I suppose romances suffer these perils as well -- while the common myth is something about love means never having to say you're sorry. And perhaps perfect love doesn't. The kind that exists in heaven and whatnot. That kind. Here on earth, I suppose we're all sorry sometimes, for the things that have been said and for that which cannot be uttered.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Most of the songs I sing have that blues feeling in it. They have that sorry feeling. And I don't know what I'm sorry about. I don't." Etta James

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Here, My Dear Marvin Gaye

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Children On Their Birthdays

Hi guys! I'm recovering from my night with those evil little dolls today. I hope you're having a great Tuesday! Thanks so much for all the well wishes and kind words. I'd like to send a happy birthday wish to my dearest Stacey and to my beloved Hank, wherever his spirit may roam.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"You want to see my scar? Don't make me laugh, though, I'll crack it open." Margaret Atwood

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Inside Deep Throat

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Irish Blessing

May the light of heaven shine on your grave.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all! I shall come at you with a special treat with some doll friends later this afternoon. Hope you're having a great one!

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious." Edna O'Brien

Cocktail Hour

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

An Insurance Claim Being Filed

Revisited the site of my broken kneecap the other day -- the Galleria in Dallas. I hadn't been there since the dreaded day I tried to save my marriage with an ill-advised attempt at fun and frolic in the form of a day off for ice-skating. Lived in Texas my whole life. File this under dumb fucking ideas for the ages. My friend Hank said, Why not use sex? I hear an insurance claim being filed. I hear a call from the emergency room. Like in all kung-fu movies, the blind dude turned out to be prescient and it wasn't long before my sorry ass was calling from the emergency room of some dinky hospital, fulfilling prophecy just like in days of yore. My marriage died a few months later of what I like to think were natural causes with no acrimony (best to save that for later relationships which were a lot more, umm, troubled) and my knee healed without any help from doctors except for some delightful painkiller prescriptions. Nobody could believe it.

So there I was this week, cold blasting off the same ice-rink, drinking and eating right next to it. Everyone looked so fricking happy in their little skating outfits and whatnot. I could see the spot where I went down for the count, the ramp on which I'd been rolled out since I couldn't walk. It all seemed so benign. But leave it to me to find the telling detail. While walking out, I saw an entire display of children's artwork about being sexually abused with their notes about what it meant. Having had a couple of drinks, I knew I had to write everything down or forget it. So I sat down and went to work, causing my best friend to say, It isn't all depressing! Look at the butterflies next to it. The beautiful topiary! I laughed and said, Some people believe butterflies are spirits of dead children. She laughed and so did I. The rich people around took brief notice of me crawling around the floor, getting the words down right. I guess there are some places where I'm always destined to be floored.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The future is that shirt. The future is Saturday night." Saturday Night Fever

Cocktail Hour
Drinking television suggestion: Season finale of The Wire (It was quite good. Plan on writing about it later this week.)

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Palm Sunday!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Dirty End Of Winter

Hi readers! Here's some pictures of my beloved city. Hope you're doing well on this gray day at the dirty end of winter. Happy Saturday!

Peace On This Earth

In this picture, I wear my mother's tiger's eye ring. It screams 1975, but the stone is timeless and supposed to bring grounding to any situation. I need grounding, being a person prone to anxiety and sadness, worry over the meaningless and trivial. But I also strive for health as much as anyone with my personality can and when I was getting a massage the other day, the woman giving it said, You're exactly where you should be. So I tried to take that to heart. It seems as true as anything else. It was far better than my first massage many years ago where the woman said, You have a lot of negative energy. I need many more pink candles to protect me. Damn, if I'm radiating misery, you're going to need a lot more than some dinky pink candles.

The tiger's eye stone's reputed curative powers include healing wounds, bruises, and is supposed to help alleviate pain. I wear it from time to time, my legacy from my beautiful troubled mother whom never found much peace on this earth. I wish I could go back and talk to her sometimes, but then again I don't know exactly what I would say. There are some forms of love that words cannot convey, some wounds that won't be healed, no matter what the stone, no matter how powerful the force. I suppose I am exactly where I should be, not at home in the world, looking to the next with hope and fear, with a stone on my finger and one in my throat.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Sometimes my funniest stories have come from my blackest despair." Erica Jong

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Sick Girl Amy Silverstein

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Hello readers! Thanks so much for reading the very long story. I'm going to post some pictures today and come back at you Friday and Saturday with regular post. Hope you're having a great Thursday!

We Prophesy In Part

Finally, the end of it! Thanks for sticking with it!

Before he gets up to read, Jeff tells me that he's more afraid of looking nervous than of being nervous. But I'm nervous for him, and I find myself mouthing the words as he says them: And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

And I think about Paul and his clearly delineated life, the before and after of seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus and how he made sure everyone knew what had changed him. My own life has its before and after and not even my closest friends know about it.

Now Krista stands where I stood last night, looking radiant in a traditional wedding dress, and I remember how she'd confessed that marrying Leland wasn't about love, that love was too complicated, but that he was stability and how everything in her life and this ceremony conspires to that end, from her father giving her away and then assuming the position of minister. But I also remember that right before she met Leland, she'd called Jeff drunk one night a little over a year ago and told him that something horrible had happened, but she never said what. I can hear Jeff reading: For we know in part and we prophesy in part.

When her father pronounces Krista and Leland as man and wife, Jeff does something people have been doing at weddings for years, but it catches me more off guard than anything he's ever done. He cries. I start to panic because I'm not good at comforting people. I know how to arrange things so they look better, but it's not the same thing.

People start filing out of the church, and I look at Jeff. He's just sitting there, tears running down his face, looking at the wedding program.

"It's going to be okay," I say, taking his arm in mine. I sit there with him watching everyone leave, whispering comforting phrases that could mean anything, acting as if they make sense, and I believe them.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Song writing is about getting the demon out of me. It's like being possessed. You try to go to sleep, but the song won't let you." John Lennon

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Beautiful Boy David Sheff

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cokes And Donuts

Here's the penultimate installment. Thanks for reading!

I wake to another gray slushy bitter cold day with no sun. Last night in my dreams, my mother asked me to put a tarantula in the freezer, and I forgot to seal the jar tightly. A few hours later, I went to get a snack from the refrigerator and the tarantula had escaped from the freezer and was crawling around near the salad crisper, a little worse for the wear but not dead.

When Jeff pulls up to my house, he lays on the horn until I come out. I start to give him grief about this, but I can tell he's in no mood by the way he's mumbling about not being able to see through his fogged windshield.

I situate myself in the trashmobile and grab a towel from his laundry basket, putting it over the seat to make sure I don't get any dirt or food on my dress, then say: "I could stop breathing."


"It might help," I say, pointing.

"Doubtful," he says, offering his first smile. "You look good." I'm wearing my one formal winter dress, off-white with an empress waist, and my hair is piled on top of my head, held together by gold chopsticks.

"You look like hell," I say, although he doesn't by any normal standard. I've known Jeff long enough to forget how beautiful he is, which takes some doing. Strangely enough, I've never felt more than friendship toward him. I wonder if it's some self-protective reflex that keeps me from falling for someone more attractive than I am.

"What did you do last night?" I poke at his suit, a faded gray that looks slightly worn and elegant at the same time.

"Sat around and looked at back issues of Playboy. I thought about Joy."

I start to hum Paul Simon's "One Trick Pony."

He laughs. "You want to see a movie tonight?"

"I've got plans." I don't, but I also don't feel like tromping around in the cold with Mr. Gloomy Boy.

"Nuh uh," he says.

"Uh huh."

"What?" He scratches his nose with a gloved hand and I almost say someone's thinking about you, but I don't, knowing that line of thought can't go anywhere good.

"The same thing I always do," I say, looking out the window at the people on the streets, their faces covered against the wind.

"You're turning down a date with a hot guy like me so you can sit in your apartment and watch the snow?"

I shrug. It's funny how sometimes doing things you don't want to do is considered a move toward health, sometimes a move away from it.

He turns and looks at me for a long moment with what seems like real admiration and says: "You're way worse off than I am."

"I am so not way worse off."

We stop to get Cokes and donuts, and I begin to feel better. I wake up every morning sick to my stomach, which would scare most women, but it's a state I find oddly reassuring. The day tends to get better from there.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I hope there's a tinge of disgrace about me. Hopefully, I have one good scandal left in me." Dianna Rigg

Cocktail Hour
Drinking Easter appetizer suggestion: Pigs in a blanket

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Monday, March 10, 2008

So Much For Signs

Here's the next installment. Thanks so much for reading!

After she takes over, the rest of the rehearsal goes smoothly until Jeff reads his passage, sounding as if he's part of a third-grade learning group. He stumbles almost every other word, reverses lines, and generally can't get a rhythm going. When he finishes even I'm relieved, as if he'd negotiated some particularly rickety bridge.

"God, I botched that one. I felt like my tongue had blown up, or I was drunk or something."

"You know what they say. Bad rehearsal, good performance." I pat his arm.

"Let's get out of here," he says. We sneak off into the night, leaving everybody without saying good-bye, something I don't approve of as a rule, but I'm willing to make exceptions now and then.

It's gotten even colder outside which I didn't think was possible. Until the car warms up, my lungs hurt and every breath takes considerable effort. As we drive back into the city, I think about the first time I saw it, how it seemed like hell itself with its smoke stacks and burnt-out buildings. In one of the neighborhoods, I saw a man urinating on a house in the middle of the afternoon. So much for signs.

"Long night," I say. "I don't know how we're going to make it in the morning."

"God," he says. "I feel terrible. I just kept thinking about Joy tonight. If this is love, I wouldn't wish it on anyone, not even you." He brushes his hair out of his face. "But you're too tough for that, right?"

"That's for me to know and for me to know."

Truth: I've been in love once.

It was a few years ago and if I had to explain it, I would say the experience was like being bit by a rare spider I've read about. When this particular spider bites you, you don't feel it at first, but a rash eventually spreads all over your body, little by little for the rest of your life. There's nothing to done. It affects you by degrees, but the reality of it is that you have the rash until you die.
Even now, I see hints of him everywhere in the subtle features of strangers. Even now, this man visits my dreams and I'm ashamed at how happy I am to see him.
With him, none of the usual questions like where do you see this going? mattered. During that time, my prayers weren't focused on good things happening, but only on bad things not happening.

And in our brief time together, he slept around so much I didn't have to look for evidence, I had to ignore it. I was as pathetic as I've ever been and didn't care. I read books written by prostitutes about becoming a better lover. One thing I remember from the books is the principle of acting "as if." If you don't want to have sex, act as if you do and pretty soon you won't be acting anymore. Talk to his penis and pretend you are addressing a person that is like your lover, but needier. Act as if you like giving blow jobs and you will eventually learn to relax and enjoy it.

Okay, so it's not The Song of Solomon. But the thing was this: I was trying to learn how to please him. I would have done anything he wanted, but in the end, he wanted the one thing I couldn't give him: resistance.

What's to say? I believed in that man like a religion and when he left me, the question wasn't who next, but what next. When he left me, I didn't think I could stand the loneliness, but I've learned.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"No matter how many miles a man may travel, he will never get ahead of himself." George Ade

Cocktail Hour
Drinking novel suggestion: Texasville Larry McMurtry

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Get Closer

Here's the next installment. Thanks for reading!

"Well. I'm waiting," he says, leaning back in the pew, his long legs stretched out as far as they'll go.

"Work is okay," I say, stifling a yawn.

"Hey, I've got an idea." He sits up and grabs my hand. "Why don't we get married?"

"That's the liquor talking," I say, sending us both laughing because of the lack of it.

"Come on, it would work. You know me better than anyone."
"All the more reason not to marry you." I look at the altar, noting the flurry of activity of the members of the wedding party, feeling completely detached.

"Okay, if you won't marry me, how do I get Joy back?" Jeff asks.

I take a sip of green punch and make a face. "Give it time. She might get tired of life sans Jeff Davis. Your charms, your not-quite-funny-enough jokes."

"I really blew it, huh? I guess whatever I do doesn't matter," he says, sticking out his lip, a classic pose of petulance and powerlessness.

"Next time you should go along with what she wants. She waited as long as she could for you to decide to get serious. Sometimes you have to do things you're not completely sure of, with the faith you will eventually be sure."

He looks down at his hands. "I could never do that," he says, as if I'd asked him to perform brain surgery. "But now I'm ready to give her what she wanted."

That's exactly it -- wanted. What he refuses to understand is this: there's a window for these things. It's like begging for a Barbie Dream House when you're seven and having someone give it to you when you're thirteen. It loses something.

When the rehearsal actually does start, Krista's father states that for the bride to go through the rehearsal will jinx the wedding and since I'm one of the few woman present not in the wedding, I have to stand next to Leland and go through the ceremony.

Unfortunately, her father works part-time as a minister and is in charge of organizing everything and putting people in their places. He keeps calling Krista Sister, which is really working my nerves. This is the man who gave her a book titled Narrow Make My Bed, a guide to maintaining celibacy in a collegiate setting. What he didn't know is that she hadn't succeeded in maintaining celibacy in a high school setting.

"Hold her hand, young man," Krista's father says. "Sister, tell your young man to get in closer. We can't do the rehearsal properly if he's not going to mark it out."

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I was nauseous and tingly all over. I was either in love or I had smallpox." Woody Allen

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Greatest Hits The Brothers Johnson

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Married To Joy

Hi readers! Here's the fourth installment. I'm going to post the last sections on Sunday and Monday. Pictures on beautiful Detroit on Tuesday. I know you guys are dying for more bleak scenes from the city. Who the hell isn't?Hope you're having a great weekend!

"How was your dinner? What did you think of the toasts?" Krista asks, having made her way back to us.

"I practically had to hold Jeff back from making one. He's really hyped on marriage right now."
Krista knows about Joy, of course; anyone who's been around Jeff for ten minutes knows. She ruffles his hair in a maternal way.

"Just between us, marriage means knowing whose bed I'm waking up in," she says.

On the subject of Joy's appeal, it would be an understatement to say that I don't get it. She was lovely, but so were his last four girlfriends. If you put pictures of them in a book, it would look like a page out of the Ford modelling catalog. The one before Joy bore a striking resemblance to Kim Novak and had a Ph.D. in genetics. When she started telling me what eye color she and Jeff's children would have, I knew she was not long for Jeff's world.

My own standards are none too high these days.

Once a friend of mine rented an apartment whose management listed "hot and cold running water" under amenities.

What I'm saying is that you can't take anything for granted.

After Krista leaves again, we watch a middle-aged couple clearly engaged in a fight of some sort and the woman keeps saying, "I don't ask that much from you, and you can't even do this one little thing." She repeats this phrase until it becomes a litany.

I look at Jeff. "Maybe we're lucky," I say.

"If I were married to Joy, it wouldn't be that way."

"You only want it because you can't have it. If Joy were to come walking through that door saying 'I'll marry you,' you'd be ecstatic for about ten minutes before you'd be all Mr. Second Thoughts."

"Would not."

"Would too."

And we keep on like children until we notice that most everyone else has gone into the sanctuary.

"Time to move," I say, pushing myself away from the table.

We find a pew, waiting for everything to start. I'm cold and uncomfortable sitting on the hard wood. It seems the pianist hasn't gotten here, and I'm completely drained, wishing I was back home.

"Enough," Jeff says, holding his hand up. "I'm sick to death of Jeff Davis. How are you? Who's heart have you been breaking?" He looks me in the eye, an attempt to appear earnest about my well-being.

What's there to say? My love life hardly warrants that particular title anymore.

"No one special," I say.

"How's work?" he asks, not giving up quite yet.

Work is something I don't want to talk about either. I'm a decorator with a local company; we're sort of this low-rent version of Martha Stewart. The company functions under the premise that eighty percent of decorating means disguising what isn't working. The other twenty percent consists of adding something the person would have never thought of that pulls everything together in a dramatic but not overbearing fashion. It's not, as they say, rocket science. It is what comes after a degree in fashion design followed by a series of menial jobs, some half-ass forays into corporate America, and a year in graduate school deciding that I didn't want to be in graduate school.

When people find out what I do, they always want to see my place. What they don't know is that I live surrounded by white walls. I've been giving my possessions away, one by one because they've lost all their charm. You could write a book on what my apartment lacks. What my apartment does have is beautiful windows in the living room. When it snows, I sit on the couch and pretend I'm in a gigantic snow-globe, white flakes swirling all around me.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I want to be happy; why do I do things that make me unhappy?" Paul Schrader

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Blue Collar

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Saturday!

Friday, March 07, 2008

No Chances

Third installment. Thanks for reading! Stay out of the cold today if you can!

After filling our plates with chicken and mashed potatoes, we settle back at our table and watch everyone. As people take seats, there seems to be some subtle, unspoken rule about who sits where and why, and it makes me glad we're far enough back not to matter.

"I forgot what a production these things are," I say.

Jeff nods, forks a green bean, and makes a yum-yum gesture, rubbing his stomach.
Krista is running behind schedule. Most of my other college friends got married in the four year period after graduation and for a while, every time I turned around, there was another engraved invitation in the mail from parents I'd never met, imploring me to join in a celebration of love or to witness a holy union or something to that effect. I wonder if there's some sort of correlation between the type of wording a couple uses and how long the marriage lasts.

When I start to say something about this, Jeff manages to work the subject back to Joy. Tonight he's like one of those toy boomerangs; it doesn't matter where you try to throw it, it always finds its way back to the beginning. I say "toy" because what a lot of people don't know is that most real boomerangs are used as weapons and don't come back; they stick in the victim.

"What gets me," he says, "is how fast it all was. Just like that," he snaps, "Joy was gone. She never gave me a chance."

Concerning Joy's rapid departure, well, it didn't seem all that quick to me. The few times I'd seen her in those last months they were together, she had this desperate look, the look people get when they feel themselves slipping off something they've been holding onto with all their energy and can't anymore. She wanted more than his vague promises; she wanted a ring.

"Never?" I ask. "No chances?"

He shakes his head.

Jeff's situation reminds me of a joke. A man sits on a roof as water rises. A lifeboat comes to rescue him, but he sends it on, telling the rescue crew to go save other people because he has a relationship with God and when things get bad, God will give him a sign. Then another life boat comes followed by another, but the man ignores them both. When the flood threatens to overtake him, he yells, "God why didn't you let me know I was in trouble?" God answers, "Didn't you see the lifeboats?"

I saw each chance float past Jeff like those plastic ducks at carnivals. Remember that game where children stand and look into the pool, select one, and get the toy that matches the number written on the bottom of the duck? When I saw Jeff floundering, I wanted to say, Pick one up and you get a prize, there's no skill in this game, you just have to be there, that's the point.

After dinner, someone decides the bridal party should make toasts to Krista and Leland, centered on the idea of what marriage means. There's no alcohol at this dinner, so we're toasting with lime punch that nobody actually likes, but everybody feels they must serve for these occasions.

"Here's to the last night you'll ever spend alone. That's what marriage means to me." This comes from the best man, Leland's brother, Steve, who wears a turquoise shirt and bolo tie, not a good look for him, to be sure.

"When I met my wife, I heard music when we kissed," another groomsman says, raising his glass and spilling a little of the punch onto the paper tablecloth.

"I always hear music," I whisper to Jeff. "Usually the soundtrack to The Omen."

He rolls his eyes. "Can't you be serious?"

"I am serious," I say, feigning hurt. "I always hear the soundtrack to The Omen."
One of Leland's relatives gives me the evil eye, and I shut up.

"Ha ha," Jeff says, laughing like Nelson Muntz off The Simpsons.

Another evil eye, this one for Jeff.

After the toasts, everybody starts to mingle, except us. It reminds me of those times in church when the preacher made you turn around and greet your neighbor with a hug or handshake. I would sit in my pew and pretend to be digging something out of my purse. It wasn't that I couldn't be bothered to greet my neighbor; it's that I didn't want to touch anyone because of that awkward feeling when you let go and you're left looking at the person with nothing to say.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"When choosing between two evils, I always like to take the one I've never tried before." Mae West

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Phrenology Roots

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Here's the second part fo the story. Thanks for reading!

When we walk in the side entrance of the church, I don't recognize anyone. Decorated with leftover Christmas bulbs spray-painted gold and little green bows, the room appears to be victim to an arts and crafts project gone awry, the work of a maniac with a glue gun. We stand awkwardly, like girls waiting for someone to ask them to dance, a pose that suggests a need for rescuing, a hand on the back leading you to the floor.

"Do you think we could have found someone else's rehearsal?" I ask.

"This has to be it," Jeff says, looking around.

After some whispered deliberation, we choose a back table, and I spot Krista. We haven't seen her much since she moved three years ago to attend graduate school at the University of North Texas to study music. That part of the plan didn't work out so well because, while being really good by most standards, she wasn't at all prepared for the rigors of a school that competes with Juilliard for students. Now she's marrying a music education major named Leland that she met there. I lived in Texas for three years when I was a teenager and don't remember meeting one Leland. What I do remember is this: my mother went through a phase where she froze rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and scorpions and used them to make paperweights. Every time I would get something out of the freezer, it would be lined with jars of these creatures. The small ones died quickly, but the larger snakes were put in the deep freeze and could hibernate indefinitely. You never knew what might still be moving around in there.

As for what happened to Krista, it's anybody's guess. Less than two years ago, she was, by her own estimation, sleeping with almost everybody at the Kerrville Folk Festival and out of her mind on any number of mind-altering drugs. Now she plays piano for the church where Leland works as both the choir director and youth minister. Whenever people talk about the impossibility of changing, I think about Krista and wonder how long her new lifestyle will last. This is the same woman who walked into our dorm living room area after spending the night in a new boyfriend's room and announced, "I had me a virgin last night."

I've seen her once since she's moved back. A week before Christmas she invited me and Jeff over to meet Leland and her new cat Eggroll, and we watched Eggroll's big trick, which was drinking Mountain Dew out of a coffee cup. We spent more time trying to keep the other cats off the Christmas tree and watching Eggroll perform than we did getting to know Leland, who wasn't much of a talker. The whole situation was uncomfortable. We didn't have that much in common anymore, and Leland, while not the most perceptive person I've ever met, instinctively sensed that Jeff had been more than a friend to Krista and sort of hated him for it. For her part, Krista seemed not to recall any of her past -- it reminded me of that terrible movie where Goldie Hawn plays a rich woman who suffers from amnesia and a guy who works for her tells her she's really his wife and convinces her to take care of his children and clean his house. When Jeff asked for a beer and Krista mumbled something about not drinking anymore, we made a quick escape.

After a few awkward minutes pass, Krista sees us and walks over to our table.
"Look at you two. So sophisticated." We're both overdressed for the casual buffet that rehearsal dinner turned out to be. Most people are wearing jeans and sweaters, some with reindeers, snowflakes. I loathe decorated sweaters. They seem inherently sad, the province of children and old people.

"So how's the bride?" Jeff asks.

"Fat. I've been doing nothing but eating at these showers and dinners. Tell me I haven't gained any weight. Please."

"You're positively beautiful. Bony, I would say." He pokes her in the side. "You could stand to put on a few pounds."

She does look quite beautiful with her curly red hair and porcelain complexion. She's one of those short, extremely voluptuous women who make me feel like some sort of deranged praying mantis. Jeff claims she's one of the few hedonists he knows. I don't know if that's true, but she is one of the very few women with whom he's slept who still speaks to him. I give her credit. Jeff does not end things well.
"Do you guys have everything you need? Are you mixing?" Krista asks, picking a piece of lint off her black velvet pantsuit.

"Go gorgeous. Do the bride thing."

"Thanks for keeping this one company," she says.

"He's nothing but trouble."

"I know," she says in a way that means she most certainly does.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The sun doesn't forgive/ It looks and keeps going." Margaret Atwood

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Discipline Janet Jackson

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Other Twenty Percent

Hi readers! For the next few days I'm going to post my story, "The Other Twenty Percent." It first appeared in Baltimore Review.

The Other Twenty Percent

"You know what dating feels like?" Jeff asks. He's going to tell me, and there's nothing I can do about it. We're on our way to a rehearsal dinner for an old college friend. Jeff's in the wedding; he's reading Paul's famous verses on love. I'm just along for the ride.

"It feels," he says, "like I'm a foreigner who understands the language well enough to get by, but not enough to get any of the jokes. I mean, I've got this polite smile plastered on my face the entire time, and I can't wait to get home where I don't have to fake it anymore. You know?"

I know.

It's been three months since Joy left him, and he's still talking about it. No one has made him stop, least of all me. It's like drinking; you have to want to quit. From all I can see, Jeff is nowhere near wanting.

"Things," I say, "will have to get worse before they get really bad."

He settles back into his seat, his fingers clutching the steering wheel in an attempt to avert disaster on the icy Detroit streets while navigating from a hand-drawn map, inconveniently shrunk to fit on the back of the rehearsal dinner invitation. I'm no help. I've lived here since I started college nine years ago and still get lost all the time.

"You're a real ray of sunshine," he says. "Remind me why I called."

"Because you didn't want to come alone. Because I'm the only single woman you know. Because you hate weddings. Is that enough?" I shift in my seat, trying to get comfortable, kicking a Coke can beneath my feet.

As we drive downtown, steam rises from grates on the street, giving the city a foggy, dream-like feeling. I read graffiti on the underpasses of bridges and attempt to categorize: political - - "No Justice. No Peace. New BPP," "Silence = Death," the personal - - "Richard Owens eats it," and the du rigueur - - "You Suck," and silently wonder what happened to drawing hearts with arrows through them.
"All right, already. Will you look at the map? Make sure we're going in the right direction." Jeff says.

I take the invitation off his lap and turn on the overhead light. "Okay, I've realized something."

"Yes?" Jeff asks, waiting, drumming his fingers.

"Looks like we're right where we're supposed to be," I lie, letting the map drop, hoping he doesn't ask me anything else I can't figure out.

When we walk in the side entrance of the church, I don't recognize anyone. Decorated with leftover Christmas bulbs spray-painted gold and little green bows, the room appears to be victim to an arts and crafts project gone awry, the work of a maniac with a glue gun. We stand awkwardly, like girls waiting for someone to ask them to dance, a pose that suggests a need for rescuing, a hand on the back leading you to the floor.

"Do you think we could have found someone else's rehearsal?" I ask.

"This has to be it," Jeff says, looking around.

After some whispered deliberation, we choose a back table, and I spot Krista. We haven't seen her much since she moved three years ago to attend graduate school at the University of North Texas to study music. That part of the plan didn't work out so well because, while being really good by most standards, she wasn't at all prepared for the rigors of a school that competes with Juilliard for students. Now she's marrying a music education major named Leland that she met there. I lived in Texas for three years when I was a teenager and don't remember meeting one Leland. What I do remember is this: my mother went through a phase where she froze rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and scorpions and used them to make paperweights. Every time I would get something out of the freezer, it would be lined with jars of these creatures. The small ones died quickly, but the larger snakes were put in the deep freeze and could hibernate indefinitely. You never knew what might still be moving around in there.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Sometimes God has to break your heart to open it." Jay Bakker

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: I Put A Spell On You Nina Simone

Benedictions and Maledictions
Detroit schools closed today. All except MINE! Snow days everywhere. Hope you guys had a happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Jury Duty

Two words: JURY DUTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I'll be back tomorrow since I did not get picked for the jury. God, and I seem so stable. Happy Tuesday everyone!

Monday, March 03, 2008

To His Coy Mistress In Detroit

Hi readers! Today has been a doozy, so I'm going to post a poem that appeared first in Freefall and call it a day. Hope you're having a good Monday!

To His Coy Mistress in Detroit

Some guy in line at CVS starts
babbling about the end times, rapture,
yelling, Do you want the news?
Do you see how everything is going
to hell? The checker says, Fool, look
around you. The end times already
come and gone in Detroit, and we still
here. I hand her the vodka that I’ve
been clutching as if it might save me,
if from myself if nothing else. End
times, the checker says, I heard that
one before. Men always saying some
shit to get you into bed, and I shake
my head and say, don’t I know it.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"What you resist persists." Carl Jung

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: The Hungry Years William Leith

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Big White Bed

I used to bury my dolls in the backyard for fun. I wasn't much for tucking them into make-believe beds or telling them stories. They got to be dead which I thought made them cooler than other dolls. My mother did not agree and told me if I didn't start digging them up, there would be no new dolls, and that it wasn't healthy to make so many little gravestones. Didn't I have anything better to do while she was at work? So I started telling my sister that her dolls were dead, gone, in the next world. This didn't win me any mental health awards either.

One of my friends used to tie her Barbies to the dining room table so that they could be rescued by a prince. "They're going to be waiting a long time," I said. "Let's leave their dumb asses there." Even as a most impractical child in many ways, I did have a pragmatic side that came out in the strangest of circumstances. It was around the time that Fleetwood Mac's Rumours came out and my thought was that we should put them all in a big white bed, like the band members in the Rolling Stone cover. The way I saw it was that they could do what they wanted. Everyone else I knew did, whether it was socially acceptable or not. I'd think about this as I stole sips of alcohol at parties from unsuspecting drunks who had turned their backs on their glasses a little too long. This is what a party meant to me in those days-- dressing up in some frilly ass dress that I hated and taking what you could when nobody was looking. So little changes over time.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Either you deal with what is the reality, or you can be sure that the reality is going to deal with you." Alex Haley

Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Margot at the Wedding

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, March 01, 2008