A presidential proposal 

What if, instead of doing away with the Electoral College – which, for some of us anyway, lies just beyond the grasp of understanding and, twice already in my limited time as a voter, has elected an entirely different President than the one chosen by the people – we instead make the losing candidate Vice President? Hear me out. No one pays much attention to Vice Presidential candidates anyway (exception: Sarah Palin), and it should force both major parties to work together. Win-win.

In order for this to work properly, President and Vice-President should probably be handcuffed together, at least for the first 100 days of office. President would still get to choose the country’s agenda and announce bathroom breaks and pick the bedtime story for the presidential turndown service, but Vice President would have the immediate right to veto each decision. So I think both parties would learn pretty quick how to work together to pick the best bedtime stories and policy decisions to lead our nation. 

Maybe handcuffs are too chafing and instead we go with an oversized, two-headed sweater (or pantsuit, bathing suit, etc. depending on season and occasion). At least twice a day, and then once a week for conjugal visits, the President and Vice President would be allowed to leave one another’s side, though should be monitored closely as you would any flight risk.

Who knows what love might blossom, Stockholm Syndrome-style, in such close quarters. There would be no more secrets, though admittedly forced closeness does not seem the cure for acrimonious marriages. There might be murder plots, but at least they’d be the first to know. The idea is more to benefit the American people anyway by allowing both sides to have a voice on every issue so we don’t have this aggravating pendulum swing every 4-8 years, which inevitably results in one very unhappy party. If two people must sacrifice their freedom and mental well being in order for this to happen, why shouldn’t it be the two who took up so much of our own time and precious life force over the last 1.5 years/forever?

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90 years young

That dream I had about tiny delicious sandwiches at my grandmother’s birthday party did not come true, though I did get many compliments on my kugelis. 

Kugelis is a dish that involves peeling and grating five pounds of potatoes with the nubbiest, most painful side of the grater. As such, each batch contains a little bit of human flesh as well as a pound of bacon with the fat undrained, a stick of butter, and several other, less horrifying ingredients. Once it bakes for about an hour, you serve it warm with a dollop of sour cream and are fortified to work the fields for many hours. That’s what my ancestors did anyway, so years ago I had my grandmother show me how to make kugelis, and even though I wrote each step down on a sheet of yellow lined paper and managed not to lose it, something got lost in translation and I had to go to the internet for my current recipe.

Throughout my grandmother’s 90th birthday party, she kept speaking to me in Lithuanian, a language I do not understand. She does this more and more lately, especially when she’s flustered, and it reminds me of her own mother, who lived to 94 and reverted to her native language steadily so that by the very end she never spoke English. When my great-grandmother used to speak to me in Lithuanian, I would smile and nod and usually this worked, although if my grandmother caught us she admonished with a “Mama, speak English!” Now that my grandmother speaks to me in a language I don’t understand, the smiles and nods don’t work as well and I have to say, as gently as possible, “In English?” I can see the corrections embarrass her.

My grandmother hit her party stride around the Happy Birthday Song, which the mixed crowd sang in English and Lithuanian. The Lithuanian version had a lot more verses, with long gaps in between, and at one point I made eye contact with my sister and felt laughter start to bubble up and decided it best not to look at her anymore. You may remember how I fussed over a music playlist last week, and that worked out fine and all, but the surprise hit was a guest who showed up with an accordion and tambourine. I dreamt about tiny delicious sandwiches that don’t even exist and then a living dream walked through the front door!

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The accordion player led the birthday songs and played some more while my grandmother sat and sang alongside him. The song was not in English, but it sounded sad or maybe just sincere. My grandmother sang beautifully in a high, confident voice and I remembered how much I love listening to her.

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There was plenty of music and too much food and as the last guests left, I said goodbye to my husband and felt loneliness like an itch I never seem to be able to scratch. But just like ten years ago and her 80th birthday party, the after-party was maybe the best part. My grandmother changed into pajamas and rejoined us while my daughters played some Lord of the Flies game with balloons and we listened to more music. My husband had put away most of the food and washed dishes and other relatives helped too, so cleanup was not too bad. 

The next morning, we reconvened and I put records on her old stereo console that still works, though I’ll admit reservations shoving the bent two-pronged plug in the wall and again when the speakers whimpered and crackled like a dying man’s cough.

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My grandmother handed me the official album for the 1984 Summer Olympics and told me to play it and my youngest rocked out to Loverboy because she is still in pajamas and buzzed on room temperature ginger ale. My grandmother said “How come you didn’t play music like this yesterday?” and I don’t know if she means music kids go nuts to or Loverboy or if she just wishes the party was still happening. She instructed us to leave the streamers up and the balloons get corralled in a corner, though they will shrink by the day.

My grandmother tells my girls that the next time we have a party at her house, she will not be there and my youngest asks where she’ll be. She tells them when my great-grandmother was very old, they had a party and she came downstairs and danced awhile and then retired to her room. My little sister went upstairs to find her and my great-grandmother told her the same thing about not being at the next party, and sure enough she died within the year. I remind my grandmother that she’s been planning her own funeral for the last 10 years and she laughs.

Before my girls and I leave, my grandmother pulls flowers from various bouquets and fastens them with a piece of ribbon and tells me to stop at the cemetery and leave them on my mother’s grave. I can hardly refuse this request, though before we pull out of her driveway she also tells me “Please do not vote for that Hillary.” So you don’t always get what you wish for, even at 90. Maybe we get very few wishes over a lifetime and foolishly use them up when we’re young. I know I love watching my youngest daughter’s face before she blows out candles or flips a coin in a fountain, her face earnest with concentration and belief. I can’t remember the last time I’ve blown out candles or thrown a coin in a fountain.

After we back out of my grandmother’s driveway and pull away, I honk and watch as she gets smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror. Once we round a corner, I look back and my daughters turn around even though we know she won’t be there.

Heading into the Eye of the Storm

Patsy Cline, Taylor Swift and Michael Jackson stand awkwardly in separate corners for the first 15 minutes of the party. Then the Alan Parsons Project and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass show up and there aren’t  enough corners so I guess you could say that’s when things got cooking. Oh, and Sam Cooke was there too, of course. 



When planning a party for a 90 year-old grandmother or anyone, really, music is key. I could fill a playlist with standards from the 40s, but I don’t remember her listening to what I think of as old people music. When my brother and I were kids, she took us to Montgomery Ward’s on a Friday night to help her pick out records. It had a music and electronics department upstairs with moody lighting and sonorous acoustics. We flipped through albums but generally picked whichever one was hottest and spent the rest of the weekend listening to it over and over again on her walnut record console, a swanky piece of furniture. 

My grandmother’s living room is where I first heard the Thriller album in its entirety. It’s where we pushed her glass covered coffee table to the side so we could dance to Eddie Rabbit’s I Love A Rainy Night and ABBA’s Super Trooper. (I’m a little embarrassed to admit these things but not really.) Maybe I wasn’t a fan of Kenny Rogers or Dolly Parton, but Islands in the Stream won me over. My brother played his new Fat Boys album for her and she kept an open mind, but she didn’t buy that one for herself. 

Actually, she wasn’t buying any music for herself. We binge-listened to an album over the course of a weekend and then she packed it carefully into a box, along with Levis jeans and whatever else worked as currency in the early 80s Eastern Bloc, and then shipped it off to distant relatives I never met and never will.

I finally sat down yesterday and combed through apple music playlists to cull a party mix worthy of my grandmother’s eclectic and open-minded musical tastes. And because a party isn’t just about the birthday girl, I included hits I know other family members will enjoy. She still comments appreciatively on some of my daughters’ favorite songs when we listen in the car. That’s where I’ve been testing out this party list in shuffle mode and find I love it all. 

This has been the surprise hit for me, a sweet little oasis in the angst of party planning, the calm before the storm. I could have listened to any of these songs at any time, but they had no context individually or even as part of another more generic playlist. Only in this more personal playlist do I feel each song so deeply I crank it up to feel it deeper. I catch myself thinking how much better music was in the 60s and 70s, how much more effort they put into each song, how rich and satisfying the sound. Sometimes it feels good to get good and old. 

The party isn’t for a few more days, and who knows if the ipad and wireless speaker setup will work as planned. It isn’t necessarily easier than the good old days of playing a record and flipping it over. My grandmother still has the record player console and a few albums that will work in a pinch. It’s not really about the music anyway but who we’re with when it plays. 

It’s going to be awkward when these guys show up because we’ll all basically be wearing the same outfit.

Synchronicity

In the dream I hear there’s an urgent recall on all scarab bracelets purchased 15 years ago and rush to my jewelry box to find mine, not worn in many years, with one of its plastic scarabs cracked in the center. I see a tiny winged insect climb out. It is too flat and its tail bends up like a coat hook. When it starts flying around the room, I have the mind to take a picture and fumble with my phone just like in real life. I can see on screen how fantastical the bug looks, how shaggy its coat and cartoonishly big its eyes are (oh how I would love access to the camera roll from my dreams). I’m afraid to let it outside because it’s too cold. Later, the rest of the scarabs on my bracelet hatch regular bugs, all mismatched, plain and thus horrible. My husband flings the bracelet out the door. 

Dreams about scarab beetles can signify metamorphosis. Jung once had an overly controlled, rational patient who shared a dream she’d had the night before about a golden scarab and then they both heard a tapping sound at the window. It was a real golden scarab beetle and Jung opened the window and said to his patient “Here is your scarab.” The patient had a spiritual breakthrough and Jung had one too. He spent much of his practice marveling at synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence, and applied it to his therapeutic techniques.

Once I decided I was going to write about the scarab dream, I went to my jewelry box to see if I still had the bracelet and was surprised to find it was a watch. The subconscious can forget things too. I remember now it was a birthday or Christmas gift from my husband. The vague watch face tells me the battery died at either 9:20 or 10:20, offering a clue as to why I may have stopped wearing it. The undersides of the scarabs are curved and hollow, unscathed. They have not nor will they ever hatch bugs, exotic or plain.

 

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At lunch yesterday, I checked email in my car and found one about an unexpected refund. When I went to turn on my car, it only made a clicking sound and I spent almost the same amount of money on an auto club membership and new battery, both things I needed but had been putting off. I missed a couple hours of work and will use leave I’ve known will not roll over if I don’t use it by the end of the year. When I texted my husband about the unexpected refund and costs he wrote back “easy come, easy go.” I wrote back “karma”.

Last week I bought tickets online for a Roger Waters concert and paid what I  knew had to be a mistake. It turns out the price was missing a whole digit, so it’s safe to say someone lost their job over that one. Once the ticketing company noticed the error, they charged the difference to our credit cards and now, a week later, sent an email around saying “you know, that wasn’t really fair, was it?” They refunded the difference. They even threw in free parking to really make us feel horrible or happy, depending on how guilty our conscience.

Easy come, easy go, Karma.

I’m excited to go to this concert with my husband, even though it’s not until next summer. We’ve only recently started making time to see shows or concerts together and Pink Floyd is my desert island band. I never got to see them when they toured in the late 80s without Roger Waters. If you wait long enough, it all fits together like a puzzle, but you have to keep track of the pieces, taking time to put them away in the right box so it’s all there when you need it.

 

 

 

 

90 year old napkins

My grandmother turns 90 soon and to celebrate, we’re throwing a party that will send her to an early grave. Just kidding, 60 would have been an early grave. This party might send me to one, and that would be early but also deserved. 

When my grandmother turned 80, we threw her a big catered affair, attended by a great number of friends who are not invited this time because they are dead. It was quite a party, I’m telling you. 

A lot changes in a decade, especially once you make past 80. She said to me the other day on the phone while we were in an actual fight over this party “You don’t know what it’s like to be 90.” What could I say?

I forget sometimes that she’s not 80 anymore. She got all worked up before that party too. She’s a perfectionist and a worrier and a real force to be reckoned with. I remember spending a day driving around with her to shop for party supplies and how tiny the glass of wine seemed at dinner, how ordering another seemed pointless because that wasn’t going to do it either.

And then an hour before her party started, a kitchen cabinet fell off its hinge and smacked her in the head. She was okay – just a little shaken up – but another family member remarked later it had been like a Wizard of Oz moment. Before the head bonk, her party loomed like a terrorizing tornado. After the head bonk, the air felt oddly tranquil, my grandmother sedate in silver sequined slippers.

The fight her and I got in about this party, like most fights, wasn’t really about the party. It was about something that will be hard to remember 10 years from now. Already it seems silly and sad that I chose to get upset and react. Usually when I talk to her, I keep my emotions in a separate box, locked from the inside, and they understand well enough to lay low. This time Hurt Feelings heard me on the phone and said “I’m hungry.” Righteous Indignation heard and said “Yeah me too…let’s go ask for a snack.” 

Probably my lowest point in the argument with my 90 year old grandmother was when I told her we probably shouldn’t be planning this party in the first place. We should have just taken her somewhere nice for dinner instead. She never asked for a party in the first place, but it was already too late to call off and cruel of me to say, even though we both knew it was true. 

I had a dream about the party the other night. It was something about tiny, delicious sandwiches and I hadn’t ordered enough. Good lord, I am not a party planner. I don’t even like parties when all I have to do is show up. But I said to a friend a few weeks ago, before things got so crazy, that the difference between this party and her 80th is I’m sober now. Theoretically I have more energy and focus, though much less free time. I just wanted my gift to my grandmother to be a nice party. I am not giving up. 

Yesterday I called to go over some details with her. She told me she picked up napkins specifically for a 90th birthday party. I asked where on earth she found those and half-jokingly she said “I don’t even want to talk about it..this is all your fault.” She then talked about wanting to make this special cranberry cake she used to make all the time and last made for her 80th birthday party. I told her not to buy any more anything for the party and to skip the cake and put her feet up instead.

The difference between 80 years old and 90 years old seems to be less physical and mental stamina to do all the things you still think you should be able to do. I told her about my dream and the tiny, delicious sandwiches being just out of reach and she laughed and said “See, you worry too much too.”

Before we got off the phone, she got in a quick reminder that I shouldn’t vote for the candidate I’ve known I’d vote for since I was a little girl. Righteous Indignation paced behind the closed door but did not come out. (Hurt Feelings was stuffing her face with tiny, delicious sandwiches.)

My grandmother’s party is just before the election. Some moments I don’t know how we’re going to make it, how it’s possibly going to work out that either side will be happy with the outcome. The divide between perspectives is so vast it’s like we’re looking at two completely different landscapes.

If I think back to her 80th party and the days leading up to it, it felt the same then. And that party turned out wonderful overall. Because, my god, nothing is ever perfect, but we have to look at the big picture and remember it’s about the people at the party. When my grandmother complained about the state of her yard, I said no one is coming to this party for the view or the food or decorations. They’re coming to see and spend time with you, to offer congratulations and well wishes on turning 90 years old. 

Happy Little Clown

One of the men in writing class belches loudly, repeatedly. He does not say “excuse me” or otherwise acknowledge he has done anything unusual other than an occasional accompanying “oof.” 

This reminds me of my husband’s favorite episode of Naked and Afraid where a couple, in their desperation and deep hunger, catches and eats a skunk that has just  eaten a rotten lizard. Afterwards, the couple erupts in incessant, painful belches, the man even leaning into a tree to better let them out.

This seems a good a time as any to confess my irrational fear that one day I will be forced to go on Naked and Afraid as a contestant. In childhood, I had a similar discomfort around skydiving, a resigned wariness that one day somebody would confront me with a parachute and waiver form and force me onto a nearby, quietly idling plane. I would not like to skydive or have a terrible case of the lizard belches, and so I keep a professional, compassionate demeanor towards my belching classmate. I do not make eye contact with anyone else in the class during these belching spells. 

The class is taught by a clown. Oh, did I not mention that before? Oh funny thing, must have slipped my mind. He doesn’t come dressed as one, sadly, but it was mentioned on the slip jacket of his book that he passed around, plus I already knew because I looked him up online before signing up for the class. It was not a deterrent, though my husband thought maybe it should be. 

“I think secretly you want to be a clown,” he said because it was Saturday evening and we’d both had naps and were feeling jaunty. 

“I do not want to be a clown,” I said. 

“You’re awfully fascinated with them,” he mumbled. 

I was about to argue when it all came rushing like an end-of-life flash: The bright red 78 record about a happy little clown named Squee Gee that I played so loud and often my mother yelled up the stairs “ENOUGH!” Or the cat I picked from the shelter for his bright nose and puff of white fur across his chest like a ruffle and silly – some would say clownish – demeanor. My favorite TV show is about a clown, though he is not joyful or intentionally funny. I also wrote a short story once about a man coming out as a clown to his parents on Thanksgiving and this very blog has its own tag for ‘clowns’ which will get attached to this post, perpetuating a problem. 

So maybe I do have a thing for clowns, but I do not want to be a clown. I do not want to perform and dance around for people, joyously or menacingly, especially not for children. I do not want to wear grease paint or itchy wigs, though the big shoes seem pretty comfortable. I definitely do not want to work with balloons, which make me nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs or me in a room with a belching classmate. 

“Look, I can’t help it that my teacher is a clown,” I said to my husband a little too testily. 

“And there we have it,” he said, “a line straight out of an after school special.”

Non-breakable (with normal use, whatever that is)

The Creepiest Thing – a Halloween(ish) piece on Waltbox

Not to brag, but we were on the creepy clown bandwagon since John Wayne Gacy Jr. ruined clowns for everyone. Click below to read a guest piece on Waltbox and be sure and follow his blog so you don’t miss out on any creepy good fun through the rest of the month and stellar writing year-round.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otx49Ko3fxw

Clowns are pretty much automatically creepy. But what about a clown who does lots of very bad things, then paints a portrait of your spouse? Kristen of byebyebeer is the next guest poster of the season with this creepy piece about a creepy thing that is very creepy. Yikes! The Creepiest Thing from byebyebeer The creepiest thing I […]

via The Creepiest Thing — waltbox

Dag life

At the winter dance I won a prize for Best American Accent, though mine was the only one in the room. Being hammered on Passion Pop, a sickeningly sweet drink I luckily could not find when I returned to the US, added showers of confetti and glitter to the memory I’m sure were not there.

 

The prize was a gift certificate for a clothing shop in town catering to women over 70 or anyone in need of obscenely large packages of tube socks. Someone called it a “dag” shop and I figured out what that meant without google, which had not been invented anyway. You could buy lace trimmed handkerchiefs and bobbie pins or those slippery, translucent scarves to cover hair curlers, but I had a dickens of a time finding something, anything, to buy with my major award.

 

Dag was an affectionately insulting term I learned while living in Australia. It refers to someone or something that is unapologetically unfashionable and is maybe the American equivalent of Dork, though it derives from Daglock, or the dung-cake lock of wool around the hindquarters of a sheep, which we call Dingleberry over here, though not often. Language is heady, complicated business.

 

I fell in with a crowd that may have been described as dags, mild misfits less concerned about social status than I was accustomed to. I was recruited by the leader in the restroom in a case of mistaken identity (naturally). My doppelganger lives in Australia, you see, and the leader splashed sink water over the stall door thinking I was her and then recoiled in horror when she realized I was the new exchange student. And so she apologized and we became fast friends and she invited me to sit with her and her friends at lunch. Come to think of it, I also met my best friend from elementary school in eerily similar circumstances, so restrooms might just be where I make meaningful connections.

I spent the next six months feeling loved and accepted by a group of three girls and two boys. Sleepovers were always co-ed and we stayed up late watching Friday night videos, a novelty since I had grown up with MTV and took them for granted. They took me to my first concert in Sydney – Roxcette – though I didn’t care one way or another about the music. I remember my Australian friends as fresh faced and funny, innocent in many ways my American friends and I were not. I was tight lipped about my own past because it felt good to start over and be someone I should have been all along.

Although it had been sweltering July when I left the US, the east coast of Australia was in its own mild state of winter. I remember boarding the plane in a sweater and jeans and not believing they would be necessary. Everything was a mild shock to the system once I got off that plane.The house where I lived smelled like the strange, sweet oils and soaps my host mother used. A new cat curled up on my bed every night. Just beyond the house was a quaint town center with a cricket pitch and of course the dag shop and a chemist where I was forced to choose from an unfamiliar, exciting array of shampoos. The first time I ordered a hamburger I wasn’t sure I would like it with fried egg and beets, but oh I did. I took tea with my milk and sugar instead of coffee. My world had turned upside down and I fell madly in love.

What I probably fell in love with was my old self in new surroundings. As an American, I was a curiosity to others, a novelty, but to myself I was the only familiar thing around. I became my own source of comfort and expanded to become gregarious and chaste and found these traits suited me. When I returned to the US, I wondered for a long time if I wasn’t born on the wrong side of the planet. Had my doppelganger been unhappy in Australia? I found myself wishing I’d thought to ask her. We could have worked something out before my visa expired.

In recovery speak, they call that pulling a geographic. It’s when you hit the reset button by fleeing your current surroundings and it’s not supposed to work, but it did for me that one time. Of course, it didn’t really because I had to return home. The other kind of reset is much harder and takes time, often decades, and sometimes tedious effort.  Many, many years later I feel it from sobriety and middle age, a deepening comfort and sense that all we really need to do is click our heels to come home.

 

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Me in one of the shirts I picked out at the dag shop. I still miss that damn cat.

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