theicingonthecrazycake

When life hands you lemons, toss them in the trash and eat cake

Archive for the tag “fiction”

First Love – Part 1

Bea: 10 a.m., May 26, 2000

She heard a ding. She had a new email in her inbox. It had no subject line.

Bea,
 Indy died early this morning.
 Dad

She ran to the bathroom, hid in one of the stalls and cried. Public crying was frowned upon at her high-pressure, male-dominated job at an equity research firm. She could hear someone in the stall next to her puking, no doubt a victim of last night’s raucous party hosted by the coke-snorting traders on the fifth floor. She crouched on the toilet seat and tried to figure out if she was more upset by her dad’s sucky method of communication or the death of her first love.

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

Bea: 1985

That spring, Bea started the great Push for a Dog Campaign with George and Mabel. She had already shown conscientious animal ownership by keeping a goldfish alive for nearly five years (unheard of among goldfish enthusiasts!) and nurturing her one-legged finch, Captain Hook, for seven years. And then there were the gerbils, which could go either way in the animal care plus and minus columns (but she was leaning more toward the PLUS side of things). It wasn’t her fault: Troy Henson swore the two gerbils he sold to Bea were females, but after 14 hairless, maggot-like creatures appeared in the cage two months later, Bea had serious doubts about Troy’s gender-determining abilities. She found out years later that he had become Tory Henson, after a sex reassignment operation, and was a hedge fund manager in NYC, having given up his/her dreams of being a rodent entrepreneur.

Once Mabel banished the gerbil breeding factory from the house, selling the surviving 12 to the local pet store (four were consumed by papa gerbil, a vision that years of therapy had yet to erase from her sister Meg’s psyche), Bea started campaigning for a dog. Dogs didn’t swim listlessly around in algae-encrusted prisons or hop around on one foot inside a tiny cage. They didn’t procreate like rabbits and then slap their young between two slices of bread and eat them for lunch. They were protectors of the family, tail-wagging packages of unconditional love.

Mabel and George did not want a dog; to them, a dog was a flea-filled, shed-a-holic germ factory that had no place in their home with its white-washed walls, gleaming hardwoods and expensive china. However, after incessant begging and pleading from Bea, they struck a deal with her: Do your research, find a low-maintenance dog and we may consider it.

Bea always played by the rules. She purchased The Encyclopedia of Canines and dog-eared the pages of breeds she suspected would meet Mabel and George’s approval: small dogs that didn’t consume and then defecate 40 pounds of kibble each week; dogs that needed less exercise than Greyhounds and Labradors; family-friendly, courageous dogs that would most undoubtedly save Timmy after he fell into the well.

Bea proudly showed Mabel the marked pages one afternoon, following a particularly long research session.

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50 shades of shameful, mindless escapism

There was an interesting editorial in The New York Times‘ regular Room for Debate feature last week. In particular, I was drawn to YA author Matt de la Pena’s part of the debate, where he quoted author Franz Kafka’s assertion that a book should wake us up with a blow to the head. He concluded that folks – due in no small part to their gerbil-sized technology-addicted attention spans – are mostly reading crappy, non-literary fiction in lieu of books that force them to think about and face their inner melancholy. And why? Because readers prefer a mindless escape, and ultimately, a way to reach a deeper sleep. No blow to the head needed, thankyouverymuch.

I doubt Kafka has read – unless he’s been reincarnated as a middle-age New Jersey housewife – the bestselling, taking-the-world-by-storm-oh-my-god-they’re-going-to-turn-it-into-a-movie Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. I do, however, wonder what part of his body would be struck should he miraculously be able to read it. His head? Maybe not.

Anyway, Pena’s editorial was timely, as I had just put down the first installment of the trilogy – 200 smutty pages into it – to let my English major, William Faulkner and Edith Wharton-loving mind breathe for a moment and read something smart, like the paper version of the Times…my Sunday guilty pleasure.

Little did my innocent mind (almost as innocent as the 22-year-old narrator Anastasia Steele’s virginal world-view before meeting Christian Grey – sadist extraordinaire, billionaire mogul at the age of 28, and apparently the most gorgeous man in the world) know at the time is that it would get shamefully sucked into the 50 Shades trilogy, much like Anastasia gets sucked into Christian’s orgasmic world of exotic sports cars, helicopters and spankings. This series became my guilty pleasure for six painfully insufferable yet pleasurable days. I stand here (relieved? embarrassed? assessing my woefully inadequate sex life and bank account?) done with all 1,500 delicious, horribly written pages, replete (yes, that word is used like 6,000 times in the last installment of the trilogy) with insipid dialogue and a wildly implausible plot line. Yes, Kafka, this trilogy lodged a much-needed escapist blow to my head (and perhaps libido) – a blow that I must confess left me awake and alive, yet stupid (I feel like I just smoked 42 joints back to back to back and had part of my frontal lobe removed).

Speaking of libido, I can’t not talk about The Sex – which sometimes is “vanilla” (Christian Grey’s word, not mine), while other times borders on law-breaking S&M fantasies played out in the “Red Room of Pain” – that has every Christian group and stodgy librarian’s puritan panties in a wad. (And let’s NOT get started on the feminist outrage over this book; it takes two to tango – Anastasia knew what she was getting herself into.)

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The Job Interview – Parts 2 and 3

Continued from Part 1.

***

Part 2

A balding man in a rumpled gray suit shows me into a large conference room. He has bags under his glassy, empty eyes, which are framed by a mono-brow. He seems ambivalent, bored, robotic.

He leans in close – too close for my one-foot personal boundary rule and not far enough way for me to avoid a whiff of halitosis – and says “I’m the HR Manager, Dick Dickensheets.”

Think bad horrible ugly catastrophic thoughts, like exploding nuclear bombs and dead kittens, I think to myself. Do not laugh. Do NOT laugh.

“We’ll get started just as soon as Sage Green, our Marketing Director, arrives. In the meantime, would you like something to drink?”

Shit. Dead kittens, dead kittens, dead kittens. No, not helping. Men who wear capri pants, men who wear capri pants, men who wear capri pants. Okay, I can breathe now.

I think about asking for vodka on the rocks, but ask opt for water instead. I want him to get out of the room quickly so I can release a roar of pent-up laughter.

He exits the room, leaving a lingering trail of bad breath, and after a 30-second fit of giggles, I sit at the conference room table, tapping my fingers against the glass top and anxiously wondering whether my face is visibly blue based on my Spanx-induced oxygen deprivation.

Two minutes later, Dick arrives with Sage. Alarm bells go off – “runrunrunaway” they shrilly chime in unison. At first glance, I realize that Sage could be a man or woman or in the middle of a sex-reassignment surgery; a foreboding sense of dread about this interview starts to wash over my body.

It is wearing a tight-fitting pantsuit and a skinny tie – both in tropical fruit colors – with a crisp white shirt to pull it all together. Its hair is short, but not too short, fashionably slicked back, as shiny as a freshly waxed beamer and framing a semi-feminine face. Waxed eyebrows? Maybe – could go either way (they do provide a stark contrast to Mr. Dickensheets unpruned mono-brow). There is no visible 5’oclock shadow, although a curious bit of fuzz adorning its upper lip looks like a burgeoning caterpillar. Oxfords with laces and a slight heel. No make-up, wait is that eyelin…

“Hi Beatrice,” it says, interrupting my thoughts. It shakes my hand and says “Great to meet you,” sounding like Lauren Bacall or Kathleen Turner after smoking a carton of cigarettes.

“Good morning, Misterissus Green,” I slur, hoping he is too distracted by my muffin top to notice my poor enunciation. “You can call me Bea.”

“Well Bea, let’s get started, shall we?” Sage says in its raspy voice.

***

Part 3

The jump from the third-floor bathroom window has left my knees bruised and my panty-hose in shreds, but otherwise my body seems to be in working order. I glance up at the mangled, dangling window screen and then look over at the crushed shrubbery I had landed in, realizing – as I survey the large, packed parking lot – that I don’t remember where I parked my car.

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The Job Interview – Part 1

After months of unemployment, isolated from all the living except for a cat, dog, goldfish and orchid, I had taken to wearing sweatpants every day and eating copious amounts of Cheetos. So while it was surprising when I finally got a job interview, it was not surprising that none of my business-appropriate attire fit. Well, my clothes “fit” – after squeezing into three pairs of Spanx and deciding that muffin top was not only acceptable, it was the new sexy.

On the humid, rainy morning of the interview it takes me 27 minutes and 32 seconds to dress myself in 14 layers of spandex and an interview suit. I check my hair and make-up in the hall mirror (hair looks like an already-bad 80’s perm gone horribly awry and makeup is melting), pop half a benzo and head out to my soon-to-be-repossessed car

Driving the 20 miles to the interview, my mind is humming while my makeup continues to slide off my face and onto my neck. This company manufactures the rubber stoppers that are put on chair legs to prevent floor damage. I will be interviewing for the Senior Copywriter position; if selected, I would oversee production of the quarterly rubber-chair-stopper (RCS) catalog, including writing all the copy. Did you know that RCSs come in 325 different colors, and 75 different sizes? And more recently, they had become available in eco-friendly, sustainable materials, like recycled plastic, bamboo, cork, soybeans and bio-combustible cornstarch? (Don’t ask, I don’t know what the hell the cornstarch stuff is either, which given Murphy’s stupid Law, I will be asked about in the interview.) Six materials X 325 colors X 75 different sizes = a lot of scintillating copy to write.

I had applied for this job in a fit of Resume Drunk Dialing.

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The Bulgarian Princess – Part 3

This is the third and final installment of this story. Read Parts 1 and 2 if you haven’t done so already and want this to make sense. Or maybe you don’t want to read those parts, and that’s fine. OR, maybe you want to read them out-of-order, which is also great. Enjoy!

***

After more than eight years of marriage, I thought we, including my brother, would have grown to like her. Wishful thinking is a dangerous thing, kind of like chain-smoking Marlboro Reds for 40 years and expecting that the CT scan will reveal the unsullied lungs of a newborn. Their marriage was a mess due to my brother’s recent job loss, a house in foreclosure, and her refusal to seek legitimate employment in lieu of her current money-making hobbies: performing body painting at nudist resorts, chauffeuring my seven-year-old niece to local beauty pageants, and black market trafficking Levis jeans in Eastern Europe. The Bank of My Dad kept them out of a cardboard box and her in designer duds and platinum-blonde hair extensions.

As Fall fell upon us that year, I started to dread the looming holidays. I concluded that I would rather shove a meat thermometer into my eyeball than spend another family gathering drowning in the palpable tension created by two married people who hate each other. (No, I’m not talking about my parents, they might actually like each other, on most days.)

On Turkey Day, they arrived at my parents’ house, the location of the Dad ATM machine. This year, the machine screen displayed “Out of Order.” Perhaps my dad’s spine reappeared because the turkey still had 30 minutes to go and he was two-thirds of the way through a bottle of Bordeaux – or maybe he valued his retirement savings far more than her pedicures and Coach bags.

News of the ATM malfunction did not go over well. Panicked and shocked, they locked themselves in one of the spare bedrooms.

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The Bulgarian Princess – Part 2

Continued from Part 1:

After the fake-marriage divorce was final six months later, my brother proposed. My father’s only comment was “Your brother in store for a lifetime of misery.” That would make a great greeting card, I thought. I must remember to pitch this to the Hallmark people. She asked my dad for $5,000 as an engagement gift. As we would find out during the next several years, gifts for anniversaries, birthdays, Christian and Jewish holidays, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Mother’s Day, and even Arbor Day, involved cash, flashy jewelry or designer handbags per Bulgarian customs dating back thousands of years. Does she think we’re that stupid? said my dad, as he sat hunched over his desk writing another check.

On their wedding day, my mother fainted when the Bulgarian Princess marched down the aisle in a corseted dress with a skirt (and price tag) larger than the Louisiana Purchase. My mom came to with the aid of smelling salts just as my older sister showed up halfway through the homily, teetering down the aisle in stilettos, which hit the marble tiles with a clack clack clack that echoed as far back as the vestibule. She plopped herself down beside me in the pew and whispered, “I guess I got the time wrong,” her breath reeking of bourbon.

As far as we could tell, the Princess had not worked since she arrived in the states; she had met my brother while loitering outside the pharmaceutical lab where he worked. She was attracted to men in white coats like a lion to an innocent, unsuspecting gazelle that had stopped to take a sip from the watering hole. She once told me, “I am not a alone job girl like you, or how you say, career? My most greatest dream is to be mudder and marry American, how do you say, doocter?” Mudder I soon figured out was not a quaint term for a horse-stall mucker or archeologist; she became pregnant two months after the wedding and six days after my brother started medical school. Mudderhood was on the horizon, whether any of us liked it or not.

To be continued…

Writing classes and swamps

First off, for anyone who has taken a writing workshop or wants to take a writing workshop or is a writer or just wants to laugh, may I suggest Jincy Willet’s novel The Writing Class? I peed my panties within the first 10 pages. Hilarious, and a great mood lifter for my depressed inner artist.

I finished my literal writing class this week and I’m sad to see it end. What a zany group of people whose superlative writing skills humbled me. We spent the last class eating enough sugary treats to send a herd of six-year-olds into tasmanian-devil-like hyperactivity, and took breaks between the gorging to do yoga poses. There wasn’t a lot of talk about writing, it was just a party of sorts. A way to say good-bye to each other, after baring our writing souls to one another for three months.

Our little gaggle of writers was like The Breakfast Club. But instead of jocks, princesses, brains, basket-cases (besides me) and criminals, we had the the hilariously sarcastic I’ll-give-David-Sedaris-a-run-for-his-money-one-day writers (for an example, PLEASE read this gem written by one of my classmates); the serious, pensive writers who wrote gorgeous dialogue or mind-blowing descriptions (or both, which made me insanely jealous); poet-like novelists whose work demanded to be read aloud and those writers who took the stereotypical narrative and threw it upside down on its head; writers of layered prose chock full of similes and metaphors, and the minimalist writers whose economy of words made my jaw drop in awe. And our instructor — a young, recent MFA graduate — created such a relaxed, loose, raise-your-freak-flag-and-you-won’t-be-judged environment. I owe him a lot for getting me to write again and encouraging me, even though some weeks I brought some truly shitty stuff to class. Thank you, Mark.

I have to admit, though, I feel raw post-class for a couple of reasons. I can sit here and write about mental illness and breakups and vaginas without a second thought — safe within a somewhat anonymous blog persona. But…when forced to read my fiction face-to-face in front of a group of artists who are going to offer feedback, I am terrified. Well, rather, was terrified. The band-aid has been ripped off, however, not without some pain.

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Crazypants – Part 2

**Continued from Crazypants Part 1.

Just one month ago, the first sentence on Bea’s first page of a new life was punctuated with happiness. After three years of dating, she and Sam were getting married in just 11 days, on a farm in Vermont. The invitations had been mailed, her organic-farm-appropriate wedding gown altered. Everything was set. They just had to show up and say I do.

Before she met Sam, her friends and family had pretty much written her off as either a lesbian or a spinster.

In the dark ages, Bea’s mother would remind her, an unmarried 35-year-old woman would’ve been burned at the stake by now. Unmarried people at your age were considered to be witches. Or insane.

Bea wasn’t sure what high school her mother had attended, but apparently they used Grimm’s Fairy Tales as history textbooks.

At the urging of a friend, she signed up for one of those online 42,000-points-of-compatibility dating sites and met Sam. He courted her with precision and pursued her relentlessly. She silently swooned but played hard to get. They fell in love, and dated long distance for the course of the entire relationship. Sure, they both brought Samsonite-sized baggage to the table, but Bea was confident that, with time, they could condense the issues into a simple carry-on bag.

He eventually proposed. She said yes, maybe not because it was what she wanted to do but because it was what she was supposed to do. The prospect of being tied to a pile of sticks and set aflame scared the crap out of her.

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Crazypants – Part 1

It is 9 a.m. on Halloween. Bea’s mind is racing with wild thoughts and neurotic indictments that she has been unable to turn off for years. Bea’s sister calls this phenomenon the elves in her head: Santa’s little helpers that hammer and yammer and build toys day and night, regardless of whether it is December or June.

All the elves have indulged in triple espressos this morning. This is not a good thing.

I’m not crazy, Bea thinks. Okay, maybe I’m crazy. Or wait, maybe I’m not: Are truly crazy people even aware of their craziness? Well, I’m aware, so that makes me not crazy, right?

The group is in a circle, seated on uncomfortable folding chairs. Some people are in varying states of psychotropic-drug-induced stupor, while others are nervously rubbing worry stones or picking at their ragged cuticles with the focused intensity of a neurosurgeon digging into a patient’s cerebral cortex. It is Bea’s first day in the outpatient program. She is terrified.

A skeletal brunette sits directly across the circle from Bea. Her eyes are drooping, and she is drooling on herself. Bea watches as the window-shades of her eyelids close. Saliva oozing from the corners of her mouth quickly turns from bubbling brook to white-river rapids.

Okay, so now it’s time for goal-setting, says our perky group therapist, who has impossibly white teeth and a smiley face button pinned to her Easter-egg colored blouse. Not only what you want to get out of the program today, but what you’re going to do when you go home tonight. For those of you who are new today, we do this every morning when you arrive and every afternoon before you go home. Why don’t we start with you? she says loudly, as her eyes turn toward the salivating skeleton.

She awakes with a start. Um, my goal. Um. My goal for what?

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