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The Closet Superhero

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My entire life I’ve had extraordinarily vivid, realistic dreams.  They are almost entirely in living color.  They occur almost exclusively through my point of view; I don’t see myself in my dreams.  They are almost always cinematically perfect; dramatic cut-away shots of action taking place out of my view which I can still see and hear and understand.  They are almost always breathtaking and vibrant in their realism.  They are almost always unbelievably detailed; extraneous background sounds, smells and textures appropriate to the setting.  They are almost always ingrained in my consciousness upon waking.

Most of the dreams worthy of my morning remembrance, and there are many, almost always involve water.  Lots and lots of water.

And the ones fitting these descriptions are almost always…absolutely terrifying.

I do not drown in these dreams.  But there is a recurrent theme, or thread, running through all of them.  I end up in some sort of building; a warehouse, a house, a shed, an apartment building, a barn…which eventually becomes submerged in hundreds if not thousands of feet of water.  Water rarely enters these buildings save for the leaking which comes through the closed windows and doors.  There is air for me to breathe.  Life is normal inside these buildings.  But only inside.

I’ve had this same type of dream for at least twenty years, a couple of times a year, roughly six months apart.  They are definitely cyclical.  Cyclical to what, I’m not sure.

The last water dream I had was about five months ago.  It went as follows:

It was a summer night, early evening, in Chicago.  I had been to the beach and was walking home.  While I am usually the only person in my dreams, I don’t always feel alone…I know there are other people around I simply cannot see them, but I can usually hear them.  I could hear children laughing and playing in the streets.  It was hot, and I was sweating.  I was very anxious to get home.  I could smell popcorn nearby and realized I was very hungry.  I was wearing flip-flops and my feet ached.  I had a beach towel around my neck and was carrying a bag with a book inside.  I was walking toward the apartment on North Broadway I used to live in alone, at a time when that area was probably not considered the safest place for a woman to live in alone.

A few blocks from home I looked West and noticed huge, billowing, undulating black clouds forming and rolling Eastward.  The wind became strong enough for me to have to brace myself against light posts and buildings to avoid falling down.  I stopped in an inset doorway of a little shop and looked South, and noticed the same types of ominous clouds rolling in from the South meeting up with the clouds from the West where they converged over my head…then the same from the North, and the East.  I was one block from my apartment.  I heard no other people at this point, and there was no sound at all coming from the hurricane force winds.  Complete silence except for my heavy breathing.

I reached the double doors to my building and walked up to the 5th floor.  It was indeed my apartment in every way that I remember it in real life, except in real life that apartment was on the 1st floor, not the 5th.  I put my things down and stood in the dim light trying to catch my breath.  There was no sound anywhere save for my breathing.  I went to the stove and turned on the kettle to make tea.  I pulled my hair back into a ponytail and tried to make sense of the weather outside.  I couldn’t.

I went to the window facing South, and there it was far off in the distance…the wall of water, a hundred feet high.

I began hyperventilating.  I opened the window and now there was no wind, not even a breeze.  Roiling clouds overhead.  Utter silence.  But it was coming.  The black wall of water was moving toward me slowly and steadily, swallowing and making invisible everything in its path.

I started screaming to warn people of its approach, but there were no people to warn.

I was alone.  When I looked again at the street below cars were askew all over as if left there in a mass exodus.  I then realized that everyone knew of its approach but me and had gone to a safe place.

I somehow knew it was futile to try to leave.  So I got a teabag out of the cabinet and put it in my mug and poured the not quite hot enough water into it.  I started humming The Beatles’ “Michelle” under my breath.  And I kept walking to the window to see how close the wall was getting.

Within minutes it was across the street.  I could see it engulf the Walgreen’s, the video store, the bus stop.  It was relentless.

I closed the window and backed up facing it until I was against the living room wall.  Twenty feet, ten feet, five…….and then it slowly pressed up against the glass.  I could see into the rippling blackness which was held at bay only by some thin panes of glass, some wooden doors and some bricks and mortar.  I turned my head to the left and watched it lumber past another window, and then another until the dim sunlight was completely extinguished.  The electricity was still on.  Life was normal inside.

I moved in slow motion toward the kitchen again and stared at the bottom of the back door leading to the porch.  And I stared, and stared, until finally trickles of water started seeping in.  Then the same from one window, and another.  The windows and doors never broke or burst open, they simply…leaked.  A gentle, monotonous reminder of what existed outside.

And then I woke up.

What is happening to me now physically as I write this, is a controlled panic.  I’m breathing fast, my heart is racing, my head is pounding and my legs are shaking ever so subtly.  I’m trying to make myself calm.  It is difficult to write this out as I have.

I have analyzed these dreams at great length.  I believe their meaning goes beyond any simplistic Freudian explanation of repressed sexuality, or extreme stress literally burying me in over my head.

Nope, I’ve come to realize that about every six months or so I quite simply need the shit scared out of me.  Fear is a very real and true motivating force in my life.  I have worked extremely hard at controlling and containing fear since I was young.  I abhor being fearful.  I feel that strength and courage are two of the most admirable attributes of personal character.  And fear is an all-encompassing hindrance to attaining those qualities I so admire.

For me, I truly believe that my subconscious tests me in this way.  I’m one of those people who wonders often:  Would I run into the burning building to save a child while others run away?  Would I stand up to an attacker in defense of my own life or the life of someone I love or care about?  Would I do it for a stranger?  Would I think about it?  Or would it simply be an instinct one way or another?  I like to think I could truly be brave, put fear aside, take action at the risk of my own peril to help myself or anyone else.  I want to be that person.

I want to be strong, and brave, with a disregard for fear.  I want to make brave and strong and bold choices in my life which ultimately have a positive impact on myself and those around me.  I don’t want to be reckless.  I want courage.  Courage of conviction and personal truth.  These are character strengths I strive for and goals I have tried to reach since I was a teenager.  I’ve had only moderate success with these things, but I’m trying.

One of my favorite movies is “Defending Your Life” with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep.  It’s kind of a hokey comedy about some people who die and discover that you don’t go straight to Heaven or Hell, but instead to a type of courthouse where you have to prove to a panel of judges that you lived your life without fear to the best of your ability.  A prosecutor awaits to show you examples of how you instead let fear run your life.  Hence, you must defend it.  If you can prove you made at least continual efforts at true courage in all aspects of your life – even if unsuccessful – whether it was to run into a burning building to save someone or took a calculated risk in the stock market in an effort to better your future or stood up to the playground bully…you move on.  If you can’t prove you lived your life without fear and with courage, you go back and start all over until you get it right.  If you have to go back too many times, eh…you get thrown out as unworthy of progressing to the next phase of existence.

The message of that hokey little movie struck a chord with me years ago and stays with me.

And I think that’s what these dreams are about.

For years I’d wake up from these dreams with dread, in a cold, dripping sweat…crying and gasping for air.  I’d have to turn on every light within reach, rinse my face, and it could take an hour or more to convince myself it wasn’t real, it wasn’t happening, so strong was their impact. Now, I wake up from them still breathing hard, but no sweat, no lights on, no water in the face.  In a matter of seconds I know it’s not real.

In the past, within the dreams themselves, I’d scream and try in vain to run, begging for someone to save me.  Crying for help.  Desperate.  Terrorized.  Unable to react in any way other than a primal version of myself. Now, I still breathe hard, my heart pounds, I feel clausterphobic…but I at least try to warn other people. I make tea, albeit not very hot tea.  I now watch in controlled, panicked silence instead of unchecked, mindless hysteria as the wall approaches.  I now make a concerted effort to be brave.

I don’t know.  That’s how I choose to interpret these dreams.  I suppose they could occur due to simple hormone fluctuations, the time of year, what I’ve seen on the news, sexual repression, the sometimes overwhelming nature of day-to-day life.  I suppose.  But I doubt it.

I think my subconscious self is wayyyyy more intelligent than my conscious self.  And I think oh, twice a year or so I put myself to a “test”.  Yes, that’s what I choose to believe.  And I’m passing with higher and higher marks the older I get.  At this pace I should be ready to prove my inner bravery to myself when I turn 80.  And that’s okay.  So long as I get there.

I’m due for one of these dreams pretty soon, within the next couple of months most likely if history continues to repeat itself.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.  If this time I sit on the couch reading Cosmo and sipping a glass of Pinot Noir as the wall of water encases the world around me, I just might buy the cape.  Not the full body-hugging jump suit with the “C” for courage on the chest or the black, knee-high patent leather high-heeled boots or the mask or anything.

…it’s a deep, rich and blue satin.  It’s pretty and shiny.

I really want that cape.

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“Dipshit” is the new “30”

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By the time this entry is posted it will be my birthday.  And I will be 43 years old.

This one is hitting me kind of hard for some reason. I’m not really sure why….

Ohhhh wait.  I know why.

Because DAMN it sure is close to 45.

Which is pretty damn close to 50.

It’s all so pathetically cliché; I don’t feel like I’m 43.

I don’t feel like I was born in the flipping 60’s.

I don’t feel like I should need bifocals (which I absolutely do).

I don’t feel like I should be in peri-menopause.

I don’t feel like I should be getting night-sweats for no apparent reason – to the point I wake up dialing 911 for the fire department to douse the INFERNO that is surely raging in my bed.

I don’t feel like crazy, wiry gray hairs should be popping up all over my body.

I don’t feel like working out at least five times a week should enable me to only sort of maintain my current physique instead of actively improving it like it would have even five years ago.

I don’t feel like when I dance in my living room my kids and nieces should recoil in horror and embarrassment and beg me to stop because I look like a such a dork, when I know damn well I look cool.

I don’t feel like it should be necessary to don a huge floppy hat any time I’m near sunlight so that my ever-increasingly sensitive skin doesn’t literally sizzle with Shar Pei sized wrinkles.

I don’t feel like I should preemptively start adding “Bran” to my diet to stave off the “irregularities” I hear about in people my age on those God-forsaken daytime commercials.

I don’t feel like my back and my knees should periodically give out on me…when I’m SITTING DOWN.

You get the picture.

I know.  Small potatoes.  Nitpicky stuff.  I have no real complaints.  That’s a lie, I do.  But I’m trying to keep them in perspective.  I have the love of family and friends and three wonderful children, and I love them back.  I recognize this post is excruciatingly petty.  I’m nothing if not self-aware.  I don’t know…I guess 43 just seems like a crossing-over into the permanent “I could be your Mother” category.  It’s inane.  Believe me, I know.

Honestly, the last time I had a problem with an age was when I turned…wait for it…………. 27.  What a dipshit I was.

“Oh I’m so sad…I’m almost 30 and I haven’t won an Oscar yet, or written my novel, or been skydiving…”.  Puh-leeze.

I still haven’t done those things.  Oi.

If I could go back and visit my 27-year-old self, I’d say “Hey, Dipshit, look…” and I’d show her the course of my life up to this point.  Then I’d ask her, “Would you really change anything?  Really?”

My 27-year-old self would ponder thoughtfully (after the near-stroke and freak-out of seeing my squinting, profusely sweating, hunched over future self) and say, “Are you fucking kidding me?  Yes!  Yes!!!  Hell YES!!!….Wait, where are you going, Grandma?  The “Golden Girls” isn’t on for another hour!  Come back here!  Are you DEAF too….wait….!!!”

My future self would have been walking out the door into the time portal upon hearing that and flipping my past self the bird.  I don’t think I’d appreciate being the victim of my own caustic, taunting sense of humor.

And also because while I’d change a lot, and I mean a LOT about the course my life would take, 27-year-olds who are depressed about some day turning 30 are really just stupid.

Did I mention I have less patience now too?

I hope in sixteen years I can come back here, still relatively happy and healthy, and write about what a dipshit I am right now.

That would be pretty cool.  Yeah, here’s hoping.

15 Minutes

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A long time ago, in a lifetime far, far away…I was 14 years old.  It was an unusually warm, October day during my Freshman year in High School.  I was a cheerleader and we were practicing on the football field.  I distinctly remember being hot wearing the white, short-sleeve, wool sweater with the big blue “R” on it.  It was snug, and scratchy – being wool – and fairly uncomfortable.  We had been warned by our coach not to wash the sweaters or skirts, or to get them soaking wet, ever, or they would shrink to a Barbie doll size and we’d have to pay for them.  They could only be dry-cleaned.  They were cute, old-school uniforms…complete with pleated white and blue upper-thigh-high skirts and yes…saddle shoes.  Boy, how I hated those clown shoes.

I only lived about five blocks from the school, and three blocks from the football field.  Practice that day was right after school and it was still fairly light outside when it ended.  I should have been home within a few minutes, but I had forgotten one of my books in my locker.  I ran back to the school, got my book, and walked out.  It had been a really beautiful day.  It was one of those Fall afternoons when the nearly setting sun glowed enormous and orange, and the warmth made the scent of the season’s change hang potently in the air.  It was my favorite season.

But in the ten minutes it took for me to run back to school, retrieve my book and walk out again – thick, dark, puffy clouds had gathered low in the sky.  I had no coat, no umbrella and the raindrops were beginning to fall.  Huge, round, cold raindrops.

Before I even reached the street it began to pour.  A hard, steady fall of cartoonishly-splashy drops.  I started to run.  And panic.  I was carrying my math book, and even though the very word “math” made my muscles tighten in tandem with heart-palpitating dread, I didn’t want my book to be ruined.

However, the real panic was reserved for my cheerleading uniform.

************************

My coach, well she was an…odd woman.  She was also my English teacher.  I didn’t much care for her, and she didn’t much care for me.  She was hard on me both in class and in practices.  She made “examples” of me in class, and not in a good way.  The most recent talking-down from her had come in class when she made me stand up and display my hands in order to show everyone that nail polish should never be chipped and old-looking like mine was.  Another was when she read one of my journal entries to the class as an example of “how not to write”.  She made us write in those things every, damn day.  The horror.  And one day she asked us to write about what animal we’d most like to be and why.

I felt like she was sitting at home drunk and thinking up crazy shit for us to write about and it annoyed me.  I’d been a “writer” literally my whole life, so I wrote what I thought was a brilliant thesis on how I’d be a “seal”, and explained why.  It was ridiculous, albeit I felt very well-supported and elaborated upon.

She knew I was writing it as a joke, and a joke on her at that.  Still, she couldn’t prove it.  What animal would you be…puh-leeze…so juvenile. Regardless of my convictions as to her lack of teaching skills, she then had me read it in front of the class.  Everyone laughed at the flowery language I used to describe how much I’d enjoy having warm blubber, eating live fish and swimming simultaneously, being able to dive to great depths with a single breath and how I felt in a past-life I might have been one.  She told the class it was disingenuous, it hadn’t come from the heart.  What did she know?  Maybe I really LOVED seals.  Eh…she rightly called me out.  I rolled my eyes and couldn’t have cared less.  I liked making people laugh so it was a win-win for me:  they laughed and she couldn’t embarrass me.  So…we had that kind of relationship.

Still, I was a good girl, and my uniform couldn’t get soaking wet.  Or she’d have my ass.

**************************

I crossed the campus and reached the street.  My heart was beating wildly, I was panicking.  I could feel the uniform clinging to me with its scratchy wooliness.  I couldn’t see any cars or people on the street at all.  It was like everyone had advance notice of the torrential downpour but me.  I ran and ran, thinking to myself that the less soaking wet it got the better.  I ran through puddles I tried in vain to avoid, then slipped and almost killed myself trying to jump over one up onto a curb.  My meticulously permed and then blow-dried-to-perfection hair was now just long, wet curls.  I was whining aloud periodically…”Shit!…oh come on…Shit!”.

I ran two blocks that way.  So scared of what would happen to my uniform, my book, that I’d get in trouble, that my parents would have to pay for new ones.  When I got to the beginning of the third block…I stopped at the park which still exists at the end of the street I grew up on, close to the football field.

I just stood there.  Breathing heavily.  Book held loosely in my right hand down at my side.  I brushed the drenched hair from my forehead, put my left hand on my hip and leaned on my right leg.  I remember it all so clearly.  Then I shook my head, leaned forward and yelled out “HAH!”  I think it was to the Gods.

Then…I let go.  I just had to let it go…the stress and panic of ruining my book and my uniform.  There was nothing I could do about it.  I had no control.  I simply had to let it go.  And when I did I felt so, incredibly…happy.

The rain was cold but I wasn’t.  I felt warm and I felt liberated.  I was alone on the street, possibly in all the world; just me and the rain and everything else that ever was.

I ran some more, toward nothing really.  Not toward home or school or shelter of any kind.  I walked in circles.  It suddenly felt so good to be drenched and free of my immediate worries.  I felt strong.  I began jumping around.  I jumped with both feet into a puddle sending mud and muck up my legs, inside of my hideous shoes.  I laughed out loud.  I yelled aloud at no one, and no one could hear me.  I felt powerful.  I wiped the rain away from my eyes and realized I was breathless from laughter.

I stood in front of the park and looked down my street with its big orange-leaved maples hanging over on either side touching at their tops to create a beautiful tunnel.  And then I walked…straight down the middle of the pavement.  No people, no one.  I felt free.  I carried my book close to my chest with my right hand and I swear to you I could not stop giggling.  I zig-zagged back and forth between each side of the street, up onto the sidewalk and back to the middle of the street.  No one was watching me.  No one could hear me.  I was alone, and I loved it.  I walked back to the park and then started to run again.

Mid-way down the first of two blocks toward my home I stopped and leaned over with hands on my knees, book under my right armpit, to catch my breath.  Water was running off of my face and the back of my neck in a torrent.  The pelting water from above was loud…I couldn’t hear anything but its pounding on the ground and parked cars on the street around me.  It felt like minutes, but in probably only a few seconds I lifted my head and looked up, still breathing hard.

There was a familiar car right in front of me.  I hadn’t heard it approach at all.  It had stopped and not hit me, which was nice.  I didn’t flinch.  I didn’t stand up.  I squinted through the sheet of water and insanely fast-moving windshield-wipers to see if I could determine who was driving it.  It was my Mom.  She beeped and held her hands up as if to say “Get in the car!”

I knew she or my Dad would come looking for me.  Still, I didn’t want anyone poking through this bubble I was floating in.  I walked to the passenger side window and she leaned over and slowly rolled it down.

“Hi!”  I exclaimed, smiling.

“Oh my God, get in the car!” she yelled.

“No…please…please.  Let me just run home.  It’s okay.  I want to.” I pleaded.

My Mom sighed, irritated that water was pouring into the car.

“What?  No, you’ll get soaked…and sick!”

I shrugged and said “Too late.”

I expected my mother, usually very forceful when it came to protecting my health, to protest and demand that I get inside.  But she didn’t.

She paused and said, “You’re crazy.  But okay.”

I love her so much for that.

I smiled and walked past her car as she slowly drove the opposite way.  I turned and watched her round the corner and drive out of sight.

Then I ran again.  I kept going until I got to the grade school across the street from my house.  I walked up onto the black-top of the school yard and looked West.  As torrential downpours are wont to do, they come on hard and fast…and abruptly end.  The rain was slowing and it was clear with an orange glow on the horizon.  It made me feel sad.  I didn’t want it to stop.  I didn’t want the moment to end.

I turned and looked at my yellow-bricked house with the crab apple tree in front.  I tilted my head.  It looked a little different to me somehow.  Smaller.  Suddenly…impermanent.  As the rain subsided to a drizzle, I crossed the street and went inside.

************************

All told, from leaving my school to walking through my front door, it was about fifteen minutes of my life.

But it was the first time I remember having the feeling of surrendering to a higher power, of having no choice but to let go of expectations and fear and consequences.  It was the first time I remember truly feeling free, and feeling alone in the world.  It was the first time I remember feeling peaceful and joyous amidst “chaos”.

There have been countless, much more important and life-changing fifteen minutes I’ve lived through.

But of all the fifteen minutes in all of my life, I remember very few with such clarity.

It was fifteen minutes of nothing.  But it meant everything.

What I wouldn’t give right now, nearly 29 years later, to be able to achieve that letting-go moment once again.

I’ve thought of that afternoon many times during the course of my life.  It’s stayed with me.  In some small way, it began to change how I viewed my life and my place in the world from that point forward.  I felt bigger, less afraid.  More…grown-up.  And it reinforces for me to this day that sometimes the smallest things make the biggest difference.

I will always encourage my children to experience those kinds of moments, but I know you cannot manufacture an indelible memory.  They simply…happen.  They spring forth from nothingness into somethingness.

I’m betting my mother remembers very little, or nothing, of that afternoon.  Other than me possibly recounting it to her at some point, she’d have no reason to remember it.

I can tell you that I look very forward to the day when each of my children asks me, “Mom, do you remember that afternoon…you know, when I……?”  I’ll think back and try to remember, shake my head and say sweetly, “Nope”.

But I’ll smile, my heart will swell, and I’ll hope they had their fifteen minutes running in the rain.

******************************

Then again…maybe my mother smiled to herself as she watched me in the rear-view mirror.

Snips-and-Snails-and…Oh, COME ON!!!

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In general I’ve never really been a “girlie-girl”.  When I was young I didn’t really like to play with Barbies very much.  I didn’t really like to play “house”, although I remember playing it fairly often.  I used to like to play “office”.  Yeah, I don’t know…kind of strange, but whatever.   I don’t particularly remember liking dressing up in flowery clothes much, although I know I certainly did at times.

The “stand-out” toy I got as a kid was not a doll or dress-up clothes, it was “Electronic Battleship”, baby – still the coolest game ever.  I collected Star Wars cards.  As a teenager I wore very little makeup and still don’t wear much.  Never liked the color pink.  I always hated spending time on my hair.  To this day I kind of dread going to get my hair cut as I don’t much like the whole “salon” experience; it seems like a waste of time and the minute I sit down I can’t wait to get out of there.  I dislike immensely the process of shopping for clothes – and while I definitely appreciate flattering, feminine clothing – I simply don’t want to go through the process of acquiring it.

My sister, younger than me by 2 1/2 years, was and still is, basically the opposite….pretty “girlie”…loves to shop, loves cute clothes, likes pink…the whole-nine.

Hmmm… I realize I’m sounding pretty “butch” here, but I don’t feeeeel that way and I don’t think I come across that way to people (pipe-down, peanut gallery…).  I’ve just rarely bought into the whole “this is how you should be a girl/woman” thing.  In high school I remember saying to myself  “If guys don’t think I’m pretty in a flannel, skin-tight Jordache jeans and a massively huge, low-maintenance perm – screw ’em”.

My point is, I’m no princess. Which is inherently a very good thing as I am the mother to three boys; ages 6, 4 and 3.

My sister, well she ended up with three girls.

Perfect!

Destiny would deal the perfect cards for each of us; the gendered children who would best suit our personalities and strengths.

Or DID it??

So the other day I’m sitting at the table with the boys eating pizza, (literally the only food-group all three of them will eat simultaneously).  Here is the conversation that followed:

THE PLAYERS:  Mom (me), Boogs (6 yrs old), Bubs (4 yrs old) and Boo (3 yrs old):

BOO:  Hey Boogs…do you like DIARRHEA on your pizza?

ME:  WHOA!  Whoa…disgusting.  Stop.  We don’t say that, especially at the table.  And you better never say that out in public.

BOO:  Sorry Mommy.  (giggles by all three as I glare).

BUBS:  ME!  I like poo pizza!

ME:  Hey!  I said knock it off!  (silence).

BOOGS:  Did you guys just hear that fart? (Boys belly-laugh….there was no gaseous emission from anyone within a 100 yard radius).

ME:  You know what, that’s IT!  (I stand up menacingly)…Are you trying to make me sick?  We do NOT talk like that in this house.  That’s it, do you UNDERSTAND?!   Tell me OUT LOUD that you understand!

ALL:  (mutterings of yeah, sure, ok).

ME:  (I walk to the sink to rinse my dish).  Just gross.

BOOGS:  Mom, you should have seen Bubs’ poop today, it was HUGE!  (They all laugh).

ME:  (My back is to them and I am now laughing, but am hiding it).  Wha…what???  First of all, why the hell are you even looking at his poo?  I don’t understand, that’s just weird.  Stop doing that.   That’s number one.  Number two…yeah, ok, while we’re at it…from now on going pee is “No. 1”, and going poop is “No. 2”.  That’s what we should say because you’re all clearly obsessed with poo.  Now stop it.  (I shake my head.  There is silence).

BOO:  “No. 2” is poop, Mommy? (asked in the angelic, high-pitched voice that betrays his true intentions).

ME:  (Exasperated).  Yes…Boo.

BOO:  Oh, I want two pieces of pizza cuz then it would be poo-pizza!

ALL BOYS:  (Uproarious laughter.  In the time it took me to walk from the sink to the table in order for me to become menacing again, I heard the words:  Poo, fart, burp and diarrhea).

ME:  You’re all done.  Get outta here!  Goodbye, leave the table.  Go to the naughty-spot. No more pizza, ever.

ALL BOYS:  (Moans and groans….general “sorry’s”).

ME:  (As they run away wrestling each other…)  Why are you LIKE THIS??  (shaking my head to myself and muttering)…GOD…why….Poo pizza…what the……WHY are you so GROSS all the time?  Come ON!!!! 

And they ARE.  Despite my Herculean best efforts, more often than not they say gross things, make gross noises imitating gross things, laugh at almost exclusively gross sounds and discussion, interject gross words into almost every sentence they utter, and in general…are just – the lovers of all words and sounds that have anything to do with gross bodily fluids or emissions.

It’s not like their father or I use these words, really, ever.  I’m not saying we have never used them, but almost never…and almost certainly never in the context in which they use them.

It’s like they were born with this defective micro-chip in their brains that dictates the words and noises that fly out of their mouths must have something to do with burps or butts.

Now I’m not saying that girls don’t have their fair-share of fun at the expense of flatulence and related things.  They do, we do.  But it’s usually not so BRAZEN.  Girls say and do those things, but they tend to laugh about it in more “hushed” tones, among themselves.  My boys will burp and shout over to our sweet, elderly woman neighbor, “Hey, did you hear THAT!?”  They’re proud of it.  It’s like a badge of honor for them.  It’s like a scarlet letter on my chest for me…”B”…for “Bad Mommy”.

I’ll be honest, I don’t get it.  When I was a kid if I made some noise out of one end or the other in front of anyone, I might have laughed uncomfortably, but only because what the hell else could I do…I couldn’t crawl under a rock of shame like I really wanted to.  It happens, we’re human beings – “machines” – and we inadvertently release…exhaust.  I get that.

But for fuck’s sake.  COME ON!!!!

Until I had my three boys I never knew how different boys and girls really were.

Look, overall I much prefer playing outside with my boys and pretending I’m Darth Vader chasing them around the swing-set than sitting around “playing house”. But today I was at Boogs’ baseball game talking to two other mothers.   Each of them had a sweet little girl.  The little girls were sitting quietly and talking about their pretty dresses and sandals, while my two younger boys were picking up their little lawn chairs and thrusting them at each other with “Hi-YAH!”-quasi-kung-fu voices.  Then Boo, my three-year old, said gleefully and loudly through a smile, “I burped Mommy!”.

I shook my head, rolled my eyes and shrugged my shoulders and said to one mother through gritted teeth, “Arggghhh…I just want to take them home and put cute little pink dresses on them for a few hours and have a tea party.  Would that be bad???”

One mother said in all seriousness with a loud whisper, “No.  Uh-uh, it wouldn’t be bad.  They won’t even remember it.  Just do it.”

I kind of stared off into the distance with a dreamy look on my face and said in an I’m-considering-it sort of way…”Huh…”

That or I could simply wait for them to outgrow the gross-boy stuff.

……………sigh…………..

That’s never going to happen, is it.  IS IT?!?

They’ll all be home at lunch time and it will all begin again after I innocently squirt detergent into the dishwasher or squeeze the ketchup bottle or slide a chair on the floor or I utter the words “one” or “two”….and one of them will say:  “Hey Mommy, did you hear that (insert your preferred emission here)”.

Cue uproarious laughter from the boys.  Cue high-blood pressure for me.

Perhaps I should have worn more pink as a kid.

Perhaps THEY should.  Yessssssss…(just for a couple of hours).

Shhh…they’ll never remember it.  Right?

Ohhhh…(whining)……COME ON???


You Herd It Here First.

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Life is hard.

Very hard.

Even for the most fortunate among us, it… is… hard.

For the “most fortunate” of us…all the money, all the opportunities…earned or given…, all the hard work, breaks, intelligence, first chances and second chances, windfalls and blind-stupid-stupid luck that any one person might have…life is still hard.

I believe that.

Having all of those things even in spades does not make a person immune from sadness, anger, heartbreak, loss, death, tragedy, mistakes…or regret.  Maybe it helps sometimes, but it doesn’t make them immune.

I am not one of the “most fortunate” among us.  And neither are most people I know.  I consider myself  and my circle to be in the “very fortunate” category.  We are fortunate, but not excessively fortunate in terms of worldy things….we are comfortable.  We have enough of what is considered “good”, enough so that our families can live well; not “want” for anything we need, and usually not want for anything we want.

We have homes.  We have food.  We have employment.  We have a good education.  We have doctors.  We have friends.  We have love.  We have opportunities afforded to us through our own hard work, and sometimes given to us through the most fortunate or equally fortunate network of people we meet while living our lives.  These things give us comfort while we try very hard to deal with and endure the hardships that are simply a part of being  –  human.  And so we are comfortable.

But I wonder often, very often, what it would be like to be one of the “least fortunate” among us.

We all know what poverty is, but have you actually seen it with your own eyes?  Known anyone who… has lived in it, or tried in vain to move past it, or begged-borrowed-and-stolen to break free of it? 

We all know what bad-luck means, but have you actually known anyone who… has suffered through seemingly unending streaks of it? 

We all know what a lack of an education means, but are you friends with or personally involved with anyone who… has received a very bad one, or very little, or none at all? 

We all know what a job is, but do you know anyone who… has lost one and cannot find another to support his family, or who despite their best efforts is unable to keep one, or who is not qualified to earn one, or who has never seen an example of a respectable one?

We all know what a home is, but do you know anyone who… lives transiently, or lives in a shelter, or finds shelter on the street, or simply “exists” nowhere at all?

We all know what food is, but do you know anyone who… doesn’t have the means to buy it, or grow it, or must beg for it, or who is hungry as a permanent state-of-being?

We all know what health care means, but do you know anyone young or old who…has no means with which to see a doctor, or receive check-ups, or pay for the simplest of medicines? 

We all know what love means, but do you know anyone who… has repeatedly lost it or who never had it to begin with or has been betrayed by it to the point that they essentially can’t conceive of or remember what it means…at all?

Do you know anyone in your life for whom the answer to all of these questions is………… “yes”?

I don’t.

Now let me ask you this:  do you think about those real, flesh-and-blood human beings?  Do you think about them?  Have you ever tried to empathize with what it would feel like to answer “yes” to just one…one…of those questions?  What about two of them?  Three??

I do.

And I’d like to think the majority of people do.  To what degree our empathy shapes our beliefs and actions varies, of course, due to our own personal circumstances.  But your average, every-day, healthy cynicism aside…I think most of us as individuals, when asked to picture walking a mile in the shoes of the least fortunate, feel compassion.  I believe it truly pains the overwhelming majority of us to see other human beings in anguish, desperation and need.  I believe that to be true, literally…for nearly every single person.

I believe that one-on-one, human beings have an instinctual desire to do right by each other.  To literally care for one another and act on it in ways that are measurable.  And I believe that one-on-one, there is no enemy in the person in need – and no enemy in the person who wants for nothing.

Imagine you’re on a street, alone.  Save for one other person…you know the one…the one for whom all the answers to those questions is “yes”.  It’s you and him and the lamp-post.  No matter your political affiliation, race, creed, upbringing, social standing…I truly believe that no matter who you are it would be nearly impossible to fight against your instinct to see that person as a human being who needs help.  And your gut tells you to do just that – help.  Care.

But oh my God…how is it that our innate desire to truly “take care” gets so unbelievably screwed-up when we amass as collectives?

Why does that happen?

Some say The Rapture is coming.  On May 21, 2011 to be exact. The day that God will literally call up the “believing” and “worthy” of us…and leave the rest of us sorry-bastards here to fend for ourselves against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse…something like that.

But I don’t know.  Something about that smells a little fishy.  Soooo… God will call to Heaven the “individuals” who He deems righteous enough to warrant it?  Seems simple enough, albeit very time-consuming.  But will God judge us on our merits as an individual?  Or, rather, will he judge us on our merits as a collective?  Very often, these two things do not mesh.  There is the individual.  And then there is….the herd.

Herd Mentality:  The inability or refusal to listen to one’s own instinct or ‘gut feeling’ but to instead follow the majority for fear of being wrong, ostracized or ridiculed.

I believe in God.  I can’t say I haven’t gone through my rough-patches with Him…if “rough patch” includes not believing in him at all at different points in my life (cymbal crash…”Don’t forget to tip your waitress on the way out!”)…..

But seriously folks, I do believe in God.  I also believe that he surely isn’t fooled by the fair-weather philanthropist who gives at the office, but who throws up a little in his mouth at the very thought of supporting the people who answer “yes to all of the above” in any meaningful, long-term, societal way.  His gut might tell him what’s-what, what is right and true and good.  So he appeases that gut with his generous contribution as an individual.  What though, does that philanthropist support as part of his “herd”?

Does his herd frown upon the downtrodden, the weak, the strong-but-unlucky, the indigent, the poor?  Or does his herd put forth into the world the same amount of compassion stirring in his gut?

All I’m saying is that I believe God is efficient.  Come The Rapture, I’m thinking he will look at the the herds as opposed to the individuals.  Courage and convictions are only truly righteous when what you feel in your soul is made known to the world, regardless of the consequences of what others may think.

In my humble opinion.

If you think this is all a thinly veiled cautionary metaphor of  political malpractice regarding oh say, something like the Tea Party….come on.  ((laughing, snorting))… That is only a coincidence.

Ugh.  That’s not true.  It’s not true at all.  I’m lying.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry!

Trying…..to keep…..it inside………..

I THINK MAYBE GOD MIGHT SUCK THE ENTIRE “TEA PARTY” UP

WITH A VACUUM CLEANER ON

MAY 21st!!!!

((Exhale, exhale…..whew)).  There, I’ve said it.  I know.  It wasn’t very nice.  I am sorry.  I just had to say it.  It’s been trying to BUST outta me for a week now…..lemme catch my breath.  Hold…on…..hold….on….

Okay.  Again, I’m so sorry.

I’m hoping that God has a sense of humor.  Or at the very least appreciates lame attempts at it.  Or at the very, VERY least, you know, maybe likes the Lib-herd a little and I’ll be able to blog to you come Sunday.

Then again…..I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t push my luck right now.

Off-Topic Tuesday: “The Gym” and the Embarrassing Things That Can Happen in Them.

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I love working out.  I’ve been working out regularly (5-6 days a week) for over a year and a half now.  Sometimes I go by myself, sometimes I take my kids because they love to go to the child-care center  (and why wouldn’t they, it’s like a damn Chuck E. Cheese in there).

There are many “regulars”, people I see all the time.  We’re friendly and when I don’t see them I wonder why they aren’t there.  I am friendly with some of the trainers and they’ve JUST about given up asking me if I want a session with them for the very nominal fee of $300 Gazillion dollars an hour. I chat with people.  It’s a camaraderie.

When I can’t work out, I become…ornery.  It’s like a high; endorphins to be exact.  I almost always leave the gym feeling 100 times better than when I went in.

But sometimes when you least expect it, it’s…it’s….stressful.

I’m just going to cut to the chase.  Here are some embarrassing things can happen to people at the gym:

FALLING OFF THE MACHINES:  Mostly on treadmills, but also on the ellipticals.  (Not so much on the bikes, you know, cuz you’re sitting down).  It’s possible to go cartoon-flying off the back of a treadmill or more likely, when you try to slow down and think it’s stopping – but it’s not.  Then you can fall off.  Same with ellipticals. And of course everyone pretends not to notice, but some go home and write about it on their blog.  

  • FULL DISCLOSURE:  Recently I fell off an elliptical when I was fumbling around with my iPod and trying to grab my towel at the same time.  I was going pretty hard, lost my balance and fell off the side onto my ass.  I’m pretty sure you can find this on YouTube by searching:  “What a Dipshit”

SPIT-TAKES:  You know, it’s not easy to literally run, bike or elliptical your ass off and drink water at the same time.  You need to be very coordinated, making sure that your bobbing-motion times well with getting the bottle-opening to your mouth in a seamless fashion.  When that doesn’t happen….well, let the “Three’s Company”-style-spit-taking commence.  Or maybe it just goes down the wrong pipe, so coughing and choking ensue.  And if you’re moving fast…the situation can snowball…which means you might get to the perform the Olympic-caliber combo called the “Double-Gag-Choke-Spit-Half-Gaynor-With-A Wipeout”.  

  • FULL DISCLOSURE:  I once mis-timed my bobbing-motion with the water bottle so badly, that not only did I spill half the bottle all over myself, but I choked so hard on the little that actually went into my mouth, I nearly barfed.  I’m pretty sure you can find this on YouTube by searching:  “What a Dipshit”.

ELECTRONICA-GYMNASIOSUM:  “Electronica-Gymnasiosum” is what I define as “The spastic, un-coordinated grabbing of hand-held electronic devices which results in the random, unexpected winging of iPhones, iPods and the like while on a moving exercise machine”.   It’s a combination of losing your balance, possibly hitting the ear-phone cord which acts as a catapult… and maybe sweating, which causes the electronic devices to become slippery.   You’re moving along nicely, listening to Led Zeppelin, and the next thing you know you innocently pick up your iPhone and try to text your friend, you lose your balance, hit the ear-phone-catapult-cord and suddenly your device is gone and someone 10 feet away yells out “What…the…FUCK!”                   

  • FULL DISCLOSURE:  Recently I had a really bad itch on my right thigh.  I tried to ignore it so I could hold onto the handles of the elliptical machine, but it got so annoying that I got pissed and released the right handle, then forcefully brought my right hand down to scratch my thigh – I’m thinking with the force of a jack hammer.  My iPod was then catapulted backward two rows (“…what the FUCK!”) and the earphones ripped out of my ears sending them to the machine next to me, and I lost my balance.  I was, however, able to prevent completely falling off – and hung onto the machine by grabbing the left handle with just the thumb and forefinger on my left hand (the Half-Gaynor).  I’m pretty sure you can find this on YouTube by searching:  “What a Dipshit”.

These are just a few.  I really could write all day about the embarrassing things that happen to people at the gym.

Or just to…people like…me…at the gym.

Dang.  Can you get royalties from YouTube?

A Rose By Any Other Name, Would Smell…Really Inconvenient.

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********************************************

SCENE

THE SETTING:   A Sales Manager’s Office

TIME OF DAY:  4:30 p.m.

SCENE:  A brisk, wintry day in January.  A mid-level Sales Manager is preparing to interview a man for an open sales position.  He is tired.  He hasn’t looked at this latest resume, no time.  He is harried.  He is cold…intermittent heat in his office all day.  His assistant pages him to alert him that his next interview is in two minutes. Sales Manager is annoyed.  This is his fourth interview of the day.  The three previous candidates looked good on paper, but lacked that certain “something” needed in sales.  He had no reason to believe this candidate would be any different.  A storm is brewing outside and he’s concerned about getting out before all the roads get snowed in.  He turns around and bangs on the floor-board radiator in the hopes it will jump-start.  He rifles through the haphazard paperwork on his desk looking for this latest resume.  He can’t find it.  He runs his hand through his hair and straightens his tie just as a knock comes at his door.  His assistant opens it slowly, peeks in, smiles at Sales Manager and ushers in No. 4.

ASSISTANT:  Good Afternoon… Let me know if you need anything.  (She smiles, nods her head at No. 4 and walks out shutting the door behind her).

SALES MANAGER (Genially holding out his hand although it is apparent through his fidgeting and sighing that he is tired and can’t wait for this interview to be over.):   Hello.  I’m Hugh Jass, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

NO. 4 (reaching to shake hands):  Hello, Mr. Jass, also a pleasure.  I’m Phil McCracken.

(The two men stare at each other for a moment.  Without so much as a blink, they high-five and move directly into a complicated, syncopated hand-shake incorporating chest-bumps, clapping and an ass-slapping flourish at the end).

SALES MANAGER (pages his assistant, she comes into the office):  Mr. McCracken, please follow my assistant, Jenna Talia, to Human Resources.  You’re hired.

END SCENE

**********************************************

I don’t know.  Call me crazy, but I have to believe that there really is a secret organization for the Phil’s and Hugh’s in the world.  Let’s call it, oh…A.I.M. (The “Alliance for Inconvenient Monikers”).    Haven’t we all met people who, upon being told their name, we think “Oh, DAMN!  Shit…I’m sorry, man”.  Haven’t we all met a Mike Hunt or a Ben Dover or a Sandy Beech or an Anita Bath?  Don’t these people DESERVE such an alliance…an unwritten and unspoken brotherhood complete with a secret handshake – that binds all of those poor sons-of-bitches together in unity, helping each other along through life?

I don’t know about you but when I was thinking of names for my three sons, I not only thought about how their first and last names would sound together and if it would even remotely sound ridiculous, but I also determined what their initials would spell out.  I really didn’t want them walking into a board-room some day with something like “ASS” or “DIC” or “TIT” monogrammed into their shirt cuffs.

As a parent the very first thing we do to either enable or hinder our child’s success upon their very birth is to give them…a name.

I think it’s entirely possible that George and Barbara might have really, REALLY liked the name “Harry”.  But I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here in saying that there very likely wouldn’t have been a Bush-43in the White House had they saddled him with it.  Can you imagine Jim Lehrer introducing Al Gore in the first debate, and then following that up with an introduction to “Harry Bush”?  I don’t think even the Supreme Court would’ve handed him the election on a silver platter with that business going on.

In politics and news reporting there are some really “interesting” names:

  • Reince Priebus – RNC Chair (Is he a car?)
  • John Boehner – Speaker of the House (pronounced BAY-ner.  Yeah, riigghhht).
  • Rick Santorum (To be fair, it only became “odd” after someone disliked him enough to give his last name a “new meaning”.  You can look it up on Wikipedia here.
  • Wolf Blitzer – Journalist
  • Stone Phillips – Journalist
  • Saxby Chambliss – U.S. Senator, Georgia (sounds like a dessert wine)

Now, in case you don’t believe me and think that this is a frivolous post…check these out:

Wow…just, Wow.

These examples are fairly extreme, of course.  I’m sure that most parents think of the life-long consequences of their choices in naming their children and try to ensure them the best possible start in life.  (Okay, maybe not Richard Swett’s…his parents CLEARLY hated him).

And let’s not forget the melting pot that is America and the varied ethnicities that comprise our society.  Ethnocentric names can be befuddling to many people; their pronunciations are difficult and foreign-y and invariably the unintended translation or connotations that come attached to many of them can have…unintended consequences.

For most of us, we go through our lives with the names we’re given.  Sure as an adult you have the option to legally change your name to something more palatable to yourself and society in general.  However, once you’ve gotten to a point in your life where you’re able to make that decision…isn’t it a point of honor to keep that name?  You’ve probably been teased, laughed at, bullied, shunned…and just maybe it’s helped you to become a better person.  Tougher.  Stronger.  Proud in the face of scrutiny.  All because of what someone else decided you’d be “called”.

How can you blame a person for something that was ostensibly given to them with love…without their consent…and bound to them through legality?  Ah…but kids can be cruel.

But adults can be more cruel.

Oh…and adults can be stupid.

I am continually dumbfounded when I listen to conservative talk-radio (yes, I listen to it – shudder – because I believe if I’m going to disagree with something I should have a pretty thorough basis for that disagreement – though I’d prefer an axe-sharpened stick-in-the-eye), or watch Fox News (see previous parenthetical explanation but add an additional shudder) and I’m still hearing “Barack HUSSEIN Obama”, or the elimination of his first name altogether and being referred to as “B. HUSSEIN Obama”.

Barack.  Hussein.  Obama.   Uh huh.

Why? Because in post-9/11 America, Barack Hussein Obama is the ethnic equivalent to Hugh Jass?

Yes, of course.  But also…and this is where my analysis breaks-down to the level of a stoned teenage boy… because they’re TOOLS.

Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, …just to name several, have referred to President Obama as “Barack HUSSEIN  Obama” or “B. Hussein Obama” and/or endorsed the views of others who say or draw attention to his middle name – in order to imply it’s hidden meaning;  i.e…..solidify it’s nefarious implications.  It made me sick the first time I heard it bandied-about during the 2008 election and continues to do so to this day.

As we all know, and certainly now that the long-form birth certificate has been disclosed, “Hussein” was the middle name given to the President as a teeny-weeny-tiny newborn baby, by his parents.  In the state of Hawaii.  Where he was born.

While we’re focusing predominantly on “Hussein” here, don’t even get me started on “Barack”.  The Far Right also goes-off on the fact that Obama used to refer to himself as “Barry” for a period in his younger days.  Are you kidding me?  Wouldn’t YOU?

YOUNG BARACK:  Hey, man, nice to meet you.  I’m Barack.

RANDOM AMERICAN PERSON:  Ba…what?

YOUNG BARACK:  Barack.  Pronounced Bu-Rock.

RANDOM AMERICAN PERSON:  How’s that spelled?  Like “barracks”?

YOUNG BARACK:  Ah, screw it.  Just call me Barry.

And need I really go into the “Obama/Osama” train-wreck?  I think we know where I’d go with that….

That Barack “Hussein” Obama has so joyfully and with gusto been inserted into the lexicon of Right-Wing pundits and politicians in such a casual way is a testament only to their disdain for the audience in which they cater to.  These pundits know – know –  that his middle name has not proven to be a declaration of Obama’s faith or proof of foreign loyalties; but they also know that their listening public wants to believe those things are true nonetheless.  In our post-9/11 world these talking-heads have used fear of all things Muslim as a rallying cry to attempt the ushering in of sanctioned racial-profiling…and loathing of all things Muslim as a justification for that fear.  Oh, they’d tell you differently.  “What?  What’s the problem?  His middle name IS Hussein.  It’s his name.  Why can’t we say it?!”

Yes, well…the Far-Right certainly can.  They can emphasize HUSSEIN; a name he was born with, a name he had no choice in choosing and could never erase from its original existence even if he wanted to.  They can certainly do that.  And they can certainly choose to believe that it’s relevant to their cause of de-legitimizing a President whom they already abhor for a thousand different perceived reasons from A (let’s start with Alinsky…) to Z (anti-Zionism)Yes they can.

But for most of us who watch Fox News only under duress (it’s the only T.V. in front of me at the gym) and/or to keep abreast of opposing viewpoints no matter how frequently repugnant…it’s like watching a sociological experiment gone horribly awry.  To me these leaders of Right-Wing thought, who use their very public pulpits in order to foment hatred and distrust amongst so many millions of people with the simple utterance of one middle-name, wellthey’re simply bottom-feeders dredging up the red-meat to shove into the mouths of their listeners. 

They were most likely the bullies on the playground who relentlessly tormented and teased Hugh Jass and Phil McCracken til they cried, as opposed to simply acknowledging their unfortunate cross to bear and moving past it.  Because highlighting what they know doesn’t really matter, while at the same time convincing other people that it DOES matter…creates fear.  Which creates power.  Saying “Hussein” even casually is all they have to do keep fear and suspicion ever-present in the minds of those who crave it.

The only thing that could possibly light a bigger, more superficial fire under the asses of the crazy Right-Wing in this country would be if “Barack Ramadan-A-Ding-Dong Obama” appeared on the long-form birth certificate.

There are many legitimate reasons to oppose this President if you are a Conservative.  Hell, there are legitimate reasons to oppose some of what this President does in the eyes of a Liberal.  So why continue to foist upon listeners and viewers such name-based fear-baiting and disdain for someone they are never going to like or vote for anyway??  Because they’re the playground bullies who grew up lucky enough to stand in front of a microphone?  Because creating unwarranted, superficial fear in others gives them power?  Because when they can make someone Arab-enough it makes them feel instantly superior?  Because they’re tools?

I’m pretty sure the answer is:  all of the above.

One thing is clear, in 2008 – despite the best efforts of these people – the country elected President Obama.

Now I’m not positive, but in one back-stage inauguration photo I’m pretty sure I can make-out Obama giving an ass-slapping-with-a-flourish to a guy in the shadows.

Too bad that guy remains nameless.

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