Sunday, January 31, 2010

It's Fun To Be at the Y-M-C-A

And in my quest to get rid of the excess, I've learned that the locker room is the great un-equalizer.

Whereas some things in life put us on a level playing field, like, "place your feet in the stirrups and scoot on down," the locker room at my local Y is a never ending tableau of what once was, what is now and what will never be.

Most men would be alternately aroused and appalled; I am analytical as I stand in front of the mirror blow drying my hair, smack dab in the middle of a blatant reflection of the cruel continuum of aging. Opposite ends of the spectrum stand on either side. Like the old-time Vargas drawings in Playboy magazine, the gal on my left in simply stunning; picture perky breasts, with perfectly pink nipples. Hard to tell about the gal on my right, as her nipples have gone south, for all of the remaining seasons of her life. If there's one good thing about being slightly-less-than-moderately-endowed, it is that gravity is my friend.

Gal on the left, bends over to dry her hair, straightens back up, her dark blond locks, skimming her bare shoulders. She is, in fact, bare all over. With a body like that, I would be too --as often as possible. Gorgeous breasts, tiny waist, slim hips, long legs --- a few too many ornaments for my taste though. Talk about gilding the lily! She has an earring in her nipple and one in her...well, I can't for the life of me figure out how she works around that particular piece of jewelry.

Not that I'm staring or anything. Women who are naked in the locker room train their eyes straight ahead. If someone walks up to you bare butt naked, no matter what, your eyes stay on their face. But, one doesn't usually have the opportunity to stand right next to a specimen worthy of a Sports Illustrated cover!

Maybe I should just tell her. Maybe I shouldn't try to ignore her flaunting, trouncing and hair tossing. Maybe I should just come right out with what I'm thinking. Would it be inappropriate to say,

"excuse me. I just have to tell you that you have an absolutely beautiful body?"

Probably. Probably just as inappropriate as me saying to the woman on my right,

"my God, how did that happen?" as she pulls up her parachute panties, and slowly backs up, aiming for the plastic bench with the handles, to sit down, catch her breath and put on her socks.

This makes me miss my mother.

Not that my mom was large, far from it, she was fairly trim, and quite voluptuous all her life, a source of competitive pride. She brought me a pair of hand me down jeans, when she came for a visit once. She pulled them out of the suitcase and said,

"These pants are too big for me. But now that I see your behind, I'm not sure you can get into them."

She was tactful that way. And even though she wasn't rich, she had a lot of class, and took great pride in her appearance, heaven forbid that she'd dress like an old lady. She did need help with her socks though, not being able to reach her toes anymore. Seeing the little old ladies at the Y, slowly getting in and out of the pool, walking so carefully, so as not to fall, shampooing with arthritic fingers through fine, gray hair, fumbling for hooks on unreachable bra backs and sitting down with heavy sighs; so much effort just to get dressed. Studying them, through furtive glances, makes me miss my mother so damn much.

Nothing prepares you for how sad it feels to be an orphan. I find myself gravitating towards elderly women in the check out line, hoping one of them might ask me to carry out a sack of their groceries. When I catch a glimpse of a gray haired woman with a blunt-cut bob, I turn automatically, like the rooting reflex of a newborn baby, when the softness and scent of it's mama is near. Loss is a mean spirited bastard, jabbing us at the most random times and places -- something about a person's voice, their silhouette, the shape of their hands, the contour of their eyes, reminding us of the one who's missing, subtle as a sucker punch. I saw a man in Washington D.C. last week, who reminded me so much of my brother Garrett, I found myself transfixed, ignoring the chatter and noisy bus boys. It was like, if I focused hard enough, my memory could laser a layer of Garrett on top of him, like a hologram---and for an instant, one fleeting instant, I might be able to really see him. Even though I could not touch him, I could be in his presence again. Maybe Garrett was there, in that noontime D.C. diner, nudging me, "Hey, don't forget about me..." who knows?

My mother survived loss by not dwelling on it. And she always had a man around to help her make it through the night. She was a magnet for men from the time she was about 14. She was married four times, with many a tryst in between. Even after my step father died, (who lasted the longest with her, 22 years) it wasn't too long before she had Paco.

It was my brother Don, who remarked, "why is it, that I stop by to visit my 63 year old, widowed mother only to find some wetback asleep on her couch, and yet, I am not the least bit surprised ?"

Lest you be offended by my use of the term"wetback" I mean it in the nicest way. Some of our family's best friends are wetbacks. Growing up in Texas and New Mexico, long before the FOX TV's "Border Wars" my gringo family was meshed with the descendants of wetbacks who got the hell out of Saltillo, Mexico before Pancho Villa rode in to take over their hacienda. My stepfather was first generation Mexican American, and let me tell you, I doubt his parents checked in with the INS once they got to Texas. Their seven children, all born in America, went on to become WWII veterans, nurses, engineers, and auto workers among other occupations --and I think they all paid taxes.

Paco, on the other hand, waded across the Rio Grande himself and became my mother's cause celeb. Fifteen years her junior, he stayed with her in one capacity or another, for nineteen years, even up until her death; as her boyfriend, her sixth child, her stubborn pupil, (who never did learn English) her gardener, her maintenance man and never ending source of consternation, proving to be, in the end, one of the truest friends she 'd ever known. When she had a stroke at 82, in the hospital for months, Paco would stop in to see her on his way to work and often late at night. We wouldn't have known, if not for the nurses telling us.

When it was time to go see her at the funeral home, Paco met us at my brother Don's. "Patricio, venido con migo," he asked my son Pat, to ride with him in the pick-up which my mother had filled out the loan papers for. Paco wailed at the sight of her in the white casket, sobbing and crying out loud.

"Bever-leeee.." he cried and laid his head on her chest. It was killing the rest of us to witness this. Then, he stopped abruptly. He wiped his eyes on his handkerchief, blew his nose, patted her folded hands, took a deep breath and stepped away from the casket.


That was it, he was done. It was one of the most gut wrenching, yet comical things I've ever seen; legendary now, in our family history.

And as much as we routinely questioned her judgment, when all was said and done, my 82 year old mama left behind four kids, ten grand children, six great grandchildren and a lover turned lifetime companion weeping at her funeral. A man who loved her with all of his heart. I think, "gee, I should be so lucky." She probably thought, "there's three more where he came from." Unlike her daughter, who is confident in all things except men, my mother had not one gram of self-doubt with the male species. Much like, I suspect, the flouncy, bouncy blond exhibitionist in the locker room. My mother thrived on the adoration of the many, I'm seeking the affection of the one. Just one. One good man. Surely there's got to be one left somewhere !

It sure as hell isn't "Plays Guitar" the New Year's Eve mauler. Wait til you hear what he said to me...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Dose of My Own Medicine

Well boys and girls,

The reason I called myself a hypocrite for being , in my own words...
"a fearful blob of discouragement" the other day was partially because I wrote a treatise a few years back on how I would steadfastly "refuse" to succumb to fear. Those bold ass statements have come around once again to bite me in the ass because I was not, at that low ebb, living up to my own words --hence feeling hypocritical.

But I guess you could say,

...sometimes we just get down.

Understatement of the year, huh? Hell, I can even say understatement of the decade, we're less than a month in.

But I have devoted so much of my writing to overcoming, coping, surviving, that "victor, not victim" shit, that when I'm racing through that dark, narrow log ride of fear, I'm ashamed to admit it. I am afraid to yield even one molecule to that seeping doubt, which spreads like kudzu vines in the south, wrapping their steely sprouts around my mind...

"maybe I won't make it as a writer, maybe I'll never lose this twenty pounds, maybe I won't meet a great guy and fall in love, maybe Obama won't be able to solve all the world's problems, maybe I'll always be broke, maybe bad things will happen to my family... (as if divorce, bankruptcy, a child with an incurable disease, job loss, loss of a brother, two other brothers with cancer, dad in the slammer for sex crimes, having to scoop up a dead possum in the yard with a shovel cause their ain't no man in my life to help me run the farm!!! if this isn't enough?)

But I've drunk the Kool-Aid. I've read enough books about the power of positive thinking, "The Secret", the Bible, I've even smudged my house to dispell evil spirits. My friend Michelle says "your word is your wand" meaning what you say will surely come to pass. And so I will share with you the words I wrote five years ago, when I was at a critically low ebb, and I will try to take a dose of my own medicine.

I call it Loafers From the Sky and I wrote this in April 2005.

It’s been a bit of a rough go.

In the past five years, I’ve gotten divorced, been laid off twice, and filed for bankruptcy, once. My ex-husband came out of the closet and then went in-- to prison, for various and sordid sex crimes. My eldest son was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, which wrings out my heart every time it twists up his gut. I lost my brother, unexpectedly, and met the love of my life at his funeral, even more unexpectedly, and then painfully learned that bad timing can trump even fate. Through all of this though, financial and professional peril, life and death and life altering events, the sweetest joys, the most devastating sorrows, through all of this drama, I’ve steered the mother ship. I have four children--who are now practically grown, the youngest is fifteen. They are wise beyond their years. And they are wise asses, incredibly funny, resilient, remarkable and ordinary in the very best ways possible.

After my most recent lay off, which is more terrifying than the last one, since I am now the sole provider for this “little family that could,” I was heading back from an appointment with my tax guy and I called a good friend to ease his mind that I was solvent, for at least a month. I’d scheduled an appointment with the taxman right away--knowing I was going to need the tax refund this year more than ever. After he’d filed my taxes electronically, in about fifteen seconds flat, saying, “sorry, you have fewer deductions and more income this year, so your tax return is considerably less than last year. And, sorry to hear about your job loss. That will be $300 please,” I headed out to the car, grateful for the promise of at least some money coming in. I called my lawyer friend, who counseled me through the first lay-off.

“I feel like I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop,” I whined.

“Darlin', it’s already dropped,” he chuckled.

“Yeah, but somebody’s got an unlimited supply of loafers,” I fired back without hesitation.

No sooner had I uttered those words than I thought, “WAIT!” Do over. I need to rethink this.

I was NOT set upon this earth to be the poster child for hard luck stories. I am not a lifetime member of the “Tragedy R Us” club. I am reminded of the baptismal vows we recite every time a baby is sprinkled with holy water, “do you reject Satan and all his empty promises?” and we solemnly affirm, “I do.”

And, I do.

I say this now, for the record and for all time: “I reject you, tragedy. I mock you, pain and loneliness. I denounce you, lifetime of sadness. I challenge you, fear.”

Because my life is not about fear.

Fear of the bill collector, the tax accessor, the car mechanic, the disease merchant or the devil. Fear of the sometimes screaming, aching, violent loneliness that stands at the edge of my mind,wagging its hateful finger, saying, “you will always be alone, you will always be alone, YOU will always be alone.”

Because I am not.

I have the bill collectors.

And my children, who share my blood, my dreams, my perverted sense of humor, my journey, my neurosis, my triumphs, tragedies, my money or lack thereof, my car and my dog.

And I have my friends, who humor me, love me, scold me and cajole me so that my life is not about fear.

It’s not about frantically, desperately proving my worthiness on paper, retrieving every morsel of written communication I’ve ever earned a dime from to parade in front of prospective check signers, hoping that soon, very soon, they will be dumping my data into their data bank, so I can, once again, live the good life of automatic deposit. Nice, as that may be, my life, my time on this planet is about far, far more than this temporary Titanic.

My life is about love.
absolute boundless love, selfless and selfish love --
the flicker of desire, no matter how fleeting, and being brave enough to feel it.
friend love, the “I’ll carry the torch and help you through the dark” or
“I’ll hold the flashlight while you connect the jumper cables” kind of love,
and the eternal flame of maternal love, from mine and to mine, with the bedrock truth that this brand of love stands for all time.

And peace,
my life is about peace.
The peace that comes from understanding that my time on earth is not about fear.
It’s about the wisdom and grace, the humor and compassion which cascades and covers us in radiant warmth, when we share our human condition, helping us laugh to keep from crying, because we are indeed, not alone.

I am not alone.

The cable guy is at the door and he wants a check.

So, I wrote that five years ago. My mother has passed since then. Pete the 14-year-old "King of Dogs" has passed and we have Libby, "The Replacement Dog" now. Indeed, we have a new health crisis with my brother Don, I've dated a few more duds and I'm mostly broke as a joke. But the friends remain ever strong, the kids--phenomenal. And here's why I'm not feeling so scared tonight:
  • I have three new offers for Friday night movie dates.
  • My friend Kit says next time he's in town, he'll pour the wine while I drive.
  • Linda says, "just eat cookies."
  • Amy's on the prowl for men for me to date.
  • My friend's dad Rene' is back from Haiti, sad, but safe.
  • My friend's son Michael, is making remarkable progress and they'll bring him out of the coma in coming days.
  • My brother Don's cancer is responding AMAZINGLY well to the chemo. His tumors have shrunk some 90%.
Who am I to be afraid?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Who'd Sign Up for This?

Can you hear me now?

I know it's been a while. But everything I've had to say the past couple of weeks has been so downbeat, I figured I'd give you a break.

And even though I appreciated the sweet comments from Anonymous on my Christmas Eve story, in which he compared my gesture of Peace, Goodwill Toward That Man, to Leonard Cohen lyrics, "...that's how the light gets in," I'm not feeling very illuminated right now.

The new decade has gotten off to a dark start -in the world and in my heart.

The magnitude of human suffering in Haiti makes 96% of our lame complaints seem trivial to the point of, anyone who's caught belly aching about routine hassles should be sent to Haiti to dig through the rubble with a spoon. Yet, all things being relative, the crisis that impacts us the most, is the one which hits closest to home. I have two good friends who've had family members narrowly escape death in recent days --the kind of thing that makes me rush home for a group hug with my kids and my dog.

One friend's step-dad was near the epicenter of the earthquake. He's Haitian, but has lived and practiced medicine in St. Louis for decades. He still goes to Haiti every year to take medicine and supplies to a small clinic he operates there. He was unaccounted for, of course, for some time after the earthquake, to the terror of his family here. When he was able to report that he was alive, he was far from well, as he had immediately turned his attention to administering aid to the injured, which must be like putting a turniquet on an elephant with its head chopped off. After several days, his relatives there insisted he get out of Haiti. With escaped prisoners roaming the countryside, they felt it unsafe for him at his remote clinic. He is 86.

Another good friend has been keeping a bedside vigil in the ICU, where his 23-year-old son remains in a coma from a terrible car accident. They believe he must have hit a patch of ice on the freeway, his car spun around and was hit head-on by another car. The impact pushed his vehicle up on the guard rail, where it teetered, dangling off the edge of the overpass, dangerously close to falling to the deck below. Can you imagine seeing that video over and over again on the TVs in the ER, where they'd been escorted by the police who came knocking at the door at 2:00 A.M.? But, thanks to God and medical miracles, he's making steady progress everyday. It will be a long and difficult recovery --with many issues yet to be revealed, much less, resolved.

Now, one might (emphasis on "might") argue that instead of bad luck, these people had good luck; the 86 year old doc survived the earthquake, the fact that the 23-year-old is still alive is nothing short of miraculous -- one could say they're lucky-- if they're feeling all spiritually jiggy with it.

But I'm not. Not this week, not right now. The bastards have got me down. (Don't even get me started on politics) Between my brother battling cancer and close friends who are going through so much pain and fear, the world just feels damn hateful. The dingy gray sky, which has doggedly hung, with fits and starts of misty rain and fog, over the St. Louis skyline for the past week is the same color as my mood: dingy gray.

I was driving to the movie Friday night, alone. I couldn't find anybody to go, so I went by myself. I do this more often than I care to admit, part of my schict you know, being impervious to feeling lonely. Besides, when you go by yourself, you can scarf down popcorn, you don't have to share it and you don't have to worry if the other person likes the movie or not. Of course, there's nobody to hold hands with either.

So, I'm driving along, quite literally shrouded in fog, and that narrow passage felt like my life, my path, my journey. Barely able to see five feet in front of me, there was darkness, misty rain, and danger all around. The local cops are like cockroaches along the baseboards and I had taken my glass of wine in a Dixie cup from the house. So I was on the lookout for the fuzz -- and praying. (Don't worry, I see the paradox here, but believe me, I was not intoxicated. I had stopped at home to change out of my work clothes and let the dog out. Who wants to throw out a perfectly good glass of wine?)

I'm driving and I'm praying. You know, that short one which goes; "please, please, please God."

I was praying for my friend's son, praying for the people of Haiti, praying for my own kids' safety, praying for my brother. But I felt like a hypocrite because I was praying from a place of fear -- a sniveling, cynical, weary, fearful blob of discouragement.

My mother would be ashamed of me.

Not that she was a holy roller, but because she had a backbone of steel. Right after Rick was arrested, when the enormity of the responsibility piled up on me, usually when I was folding a pile of laundry in the basement, I’d call my mom and ruin her day.

"So what's going on?" she'd ask.

A thousand miles away, we both knew she couldn’t fix what was wrong. She couldn’t fill in the empty spaces with a solution or a blank check or a cure, when I’d pause during the conversation and she knew my silence meant tears. I’d take a deep breath and attempt to disguise the sound of my snotty nose. No matter, the burden of what I was dealing with at that given moment traveled instantly across four states, like a pus-filled lump in the phone line. She couldn’t pop the blister and she couldn’t fill the void; her heart was simply broken for me, as mine was broken for my kids, having been dealt such a hurtful blow by their father. Hesitating, trying to hold back the tears, she'd nudge me, “go ahead, honey” and I’d keep talking. I'd say all the things to her that I could not say to anyone else, not anyone. And then, when I was emotionally spent, calmed down, my pressure valve relieved enough to make it through another day, she’d add, you can’t get tired now, baby.”

So, maybe that's it. She's not around anymore to allow me to vent and recover, to tell me "you just gotta keep on keeping on."

Who then will step in to cover my vent? It's times like these which remind me that "little Miss Impervious" ain't so tough. Wonder what dating site I'd go to, to find someone who'd understand?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Alas, the Excess

Quick! Somebody call 9-1-1!

I’m stuck in the dressing room at Macy’s with a boa constrictor “body shaper” squashing my boobs and it’s not moving up or down !

I’m as serious as a heart attack.

How in the hell do women wear these things? I’d gone into the foundations dressing room with about 15 of these various "enhancers", (the artist formerly known as "girdle") to see if I could rein in some of my girth for an important client meeting the next day. I’d bought a new sweater and a sassy short skirt and I didn’t want to look like Homer Simpson.

I was lucky to get out of Macy’s alive.

How in the hell do women wear these things? I tried on the kind which are just bottoms, which is like stepping into a garden hose. It holds in your gut and poofs out your butt. I tried just the tops, which smooth out the bra roll, and prop up your breasts, much like wearing a hot water bottle. Then, I tried the “all in one” which theoretically you put on over your head, then smooth it all the way down, over your “excess” and then hold in place with a handy little hook and eye fastener in the crotch. This keeps it from popping back up like a window shade pulled too tight.

This, friends, is where I got in BIG trouble. I swear to God I thought I was going to be forced to call the Macy’s clerk to the rescue (if a person could find one) to help me out of this damn contraption! Except I couldn’t stop laughing. I was laughing like a fool, laughing out loud, all by myself, the only woman in the fitting rooms. Laughing like when you’re on a scary ride at the amusement park, laughing in the face of danger, because I had the enhancer wadded up under my arms and I couldn’t reach between my shoulder blades to yank it down. And with the back stuck, of course, the front was stuck too. If dressing rooms had cameras, I could have been an instant, global YouTube phenomenon. Think about your wettest, tightest one-piece swimsuit on the hottest, most muggy day of the century, and maybe you’re nine months pregnant.

Okay, my belly doesn’t quite look like that. It’s not that solid. It’s more, you know, jiggly, which unless you’re Santa Claus, is not particularly appealing. And in my continuing quest for love, (and to look ten pounds lighter for an important pitch meetingthe next day) I figured what I couldn’t fix over a few months, I could fix with $50.

Apparently not. It’s back to the gym, back to the diet, back to the same damn January resolve I've had for years! Better than facing asphyxiation from your girdle though. I'm standing there in the dressing room, with the body shaper snapping me in the face, as I finally tug and pull it back over my head, thinking, what in the world would you do on a date? If you went to the ladies room, the guy would be sitting in an empty restaurant by the time you secured that hook and eye crotch closure. What would happen if you’re casually drinking a glass of wine, you cross your legs the wrong way and "boing" the damn thing snaps? Even more frightening, what happens if it's "the night?”

You’re back at his house, you go into his bathroom,

“I’ll be just a minute....”

Then ten minutes later you’re screaming for the jaws of life.


Or, you simply attempt to extricate yourself the spandex torture chamber on your own, desperate combing through the new fella's medicine chest in search of baby powder, or Vaseline, knowing full well that the increased anxiety over not being able to get out of your girdle is making your body swell up like someone’s guilty finger after they snuck on someone else’s engagement ring!

I threw caution to the wind and didn’t even wear control-top panty hose for my date on New Year’s Eve. Nope, I wore a short dress, leggings and boots, none of which came off at any time during this nice respectable date, with a reasonably respectable guy. It was my second date with “Looks Like Paul McCartney With Grey Hair and Plays Guitar.” New Year’s Eve is a precariously bad night for just a second date, but he was game and so was I, neither of us wanting to be the odd man out at somebody’s party, come midnight. This time last year I was paired up with another single mom having dinner with a married couple, friends of ours. Grateful as I was to not be a total loser on New Year’s Eve, I vowed that would be the last time I'd be another woman’s safety date on the second most significant date night of year.

No such angst this New Year's Eve. Guitar Man and I went to a party given by one of my best girlfriend’s, who has been seeing her on-line beau for about 14 months! Success can come from Internet dating! So can weirdness. In a true moment of the perils of on-line personals, we stepped into her living room and she exclaimed,

“Oh my God! John! John, right? I know you!”

To which he replied, “Wow....I know you, too! Where do I know you from.....?”

It was slightly awkward. I’m thinking for a second, then leaned over, whispering to her sister,

“Has she had sex with this guy?”

To which her sister busted a gut, because we both knew this would be most unlikely for her sister, the good girl. Still, the question hung in the air for a moment, like fish you fried two days ago. Imagine showing up at a party thinking you’ve just drug in someone’s reject! Can the world get any smaller? Even with 20,000 flavors to choose from, isn’t it amazing how we tend to gravitate toward that comforting, familiar, plain-old-vanilla who lives right around the corner?

Turns out that’s precisely where he knew her from, a neighborhood coffee shop, where he'd hit on her a few times.

“But she didn’t want to go out with me,” he confided later, making me feel worse, like I was stupid enough TO go out with him. (This would be verified later.)

They’d also bumped into each other at a couple of parent/teacher conferences as well. Both avid gardeners, somehow they’d struck of a conversation over the kind of grass you don’t smoke. I find this reassuring, that it’s still possible to meet someone somewhere other than the Internet, although the only people I ever met at parent teacher conferences were pissed off teachers.

Practical as it may be, the proof of partnering via the Internet remains to be seen. Guitar Man and I did have a nice time -- we laughed, he was at ease with everybody, conversant and engaging. We drank champagne, and kicked off the New Year with a nice kiss. It’s when he said, “I’d like to rip your clothes off” that it became a bit much.When do men grow up? I ask you? When do some men grow up? I suppose I should be flattered, I didn’t have to spend $50 on a body shaper.

He was a bit much all the way around though, really. Anyone who has Beanie Babies on his dashboard and asked if I had any weed on our first date, well, what can I say? I was giving him the benefit of the doubt on the second date and, okay, I'll admit it, I was a wee bit desperate. We rang in the New Year and I promptly set him out, just like the Christmas tree and the leftover cheesecake I kicked to the curb.

It's high time I got my house in order -- my youngest child is twenty years old and the "baby weight" excuse expired about 19 years ago. A gal can’t feel truly confident about this whole dating deal if she’s toting around twenty extra pounds. You can't really hide it, of tuck it, or stuff in or squash it. The hard, cold fact is; the reason women buy rubberized garments to reduce their buns and hide their rolls, is because they’ve eaten too many buns and rolls. I know this. Who on the planet does not know this?

So, with the conviction of someone who's just been spared a hanging, I am declaring war on my fat. You may mock me six months from now, but that’s okay, I’m putting it out there. Me and my excess are going back to the gym. And this time I have real incentive. My eldest son is getting married next fall. I met the future in-laws last month and dammit Gumby, they’re thin.

I’ve got nine months to look dazzling, instead of avoiding the wedding photographer like someone with the croup. And who knows? There might even be a man in the picture.