theicingonthecrazycake

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

Archive for the tag “memoir”

Counting

We count. We are human and we can’t help ourselves.

We count calories. We count pounds gained and lost. We count our ages and birthdays past and future, freckles and wrinkles and sprouting gray hairs. We count the growing acreage of cellulite on our asses and thighs.

We count the hours we’ve slept, or not slept. We count out pills and vitamins each morning, we count the hours until daylight or dusk. We count out change to the cashier. We count out strangers based on first impressions, because their looks, education, speech and/or color don’t match our expectations.

We, needy humans that we are, tend to count on each other more than we count on ourselves. We can count on sometimes having only ourselves on whom to rely. We can count on feeling alone. We can count on the fact that no one person can fill every void in our souls and psyches.

We count transgressions against us, but sometimes, we don’t count the number of grudges we hold. We count the number of dollars in our bank accounts, and sometimes – well, oftentimes — we unfairly compare ourselves to people with higher pay and bigger houses. Which, count on it, only makes us feel like shit.

We count through the seasons, the days until Thanksgiving or Christmas or that three-day weekend. We count the number of vacation days we have, but we rarely count the number of vacation days we’ve already used and what we did, because we are too preoccupied with counting off the days until the next one.

We count our inadequacies, but do we use the same arithmetic to count our talents and good deeds? We count out people who, in our eyes have fucked up or screwed us over, but do we count the number of those people who eventually rise from the ashes?

We count the ex-lovers, the mistakes and the losses, the number of friends and lovers we’ve left behind (or left us behind) and the enemies we’ve gained. We count the days since the expiration date on those relationships, and count the days until we’re “supposed” to feel better about it all. But how often do we count the friends we do have, the lovers who have taught us so much? The love we gain and give back to the universe? The blessings bestowed upon us?

Counting will make you miserable. You see, we don’t count the days until our death, the number of breaths we have left, because we can’t. If we’re too busy counting anything and everything – counting the roses instead of stopping to smell them – it’s literally impossible to live in the simple arithmetic of now.

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Be afraid, be very afraid, of your iPad

I have rediscovered the Eden of my youth: The library. I can’t afford my ridiculously expensive Kindle habit, among a lot of other things, as my job grinds to a halt in 60 days. (The expense of my Kindle-downloading habit got to the point where I think being a coke-addict would’ve been cheaper.) And that’s good – austerity has made me creative and far more grateful for what truly matters in this life. Put a roof over my head and feed me and give me a way to take care of my pets, and I need little else…

…well, except for books. I cannot live without books. I not only want books, but I truly need them.

So I have decided in order to afford this need/want, I will never pay for a book again, if I can help it.

Last Friday, I went to the Rochambeau branch of the Providence Community Library system and got a library membership. I was as giddy as a little girl whose daddy just bought her a pony. The minute I walked through the door, the smell hit me: the smell of books. Lots and lots and lots of books. Hey mother ship, thanks for calling me home.

That musty, dusty, papery smell took me back to my childhood, where I would spend hours in the public library, carefully choosing my little jewels, the hardcovers and paperbacks that I would take home and read for hours on end, escaping the battleground that existed outside my bedroom door.

So how many books can I check out at a time? I asked the librarian at the circulation desk.

You can check out 99 books at time, she said.

Really?!? I replied with a gleam in my eye, raising my voice well above the library whisper threshold.

She looked scared. She should be. Because there will be a time when I will damn well check out 99 books at once, even if I have to attach a UHaul to the back of my car to cart them home.

This time, though, I checked out four books and two DVDs. Is it scary that it’s now Tuesday, and I’ve finished reading three of the books? And that I’m headed back to the library after I finish this post for more of the same? No wonder I don’t have a job lined up or a boyfriend…

But I digress.

One of the books I checked out – and devoured – last week was Robopocalypse. Although this is pegged as a science fiction book (I’m not a fan of the genre), I would say it’s a horror story instead. It’s a narrative of the near extinction of humankind following a robot uprising and subsequent war. I won’t tell you who wins, but I will tell you to read this book if you want to enjoy an almost guilt-free good yarn. And do it while your laptop, smartphone, tablet, even car, are TURNED OFF and your lights are TURNED ON. Read it in book form, not on your e-reader. Please, heed my warning.

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First Love – Part 2

Continued from First Love – Part 1

Note from author: The conclusion of this story may be a bit of a downer for a Friday… but try to look at the black comedy aspect of it. At the very least – laugh at my dysfunctional family – and love them dearly like I do. I would be a really lousy writer, otherwise.

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Mabel: 7 p.m., May 15, 2000

Mabel had been so busy lately with the fundraiser for her anti-abortion non-profit. And with leading the group who said the daily rosary outside the local Planned Parenthood clinic, she had been working long hours and could barely make it home in time to make dinner for George and feed the dog.

Speaking of Indy, feeding him had become irrelevant. She came home most nights to find the food untouched from the night before. Taking him out for walks had become a chore, too. Sometimes she used a towel as a sling, fashioning it under his stomach to hold him up while he peed.

Lately, George had started talking about putting Indy to sleep, using phrases like “quality of life” and “it’s the most humane thing to do.” She refused to listen; killing the dog was just wrong. Sure, she was worried, but he was old and nature would eventually take its course. George could be so infuriating; he always chose the quick fix and never wanted to get his hands dirty. She shuddered to think what would’ve happened if she had not married him. It was her lot in life to keep him in line and, well, prevent him from killing living things, like the dog or the rose bushes out back.

Mabel had just arrived home after another hectic day outside the clinic. She dropped her purse on the counter and propped up the signs, with pictures of dead fetuses and the tagline “Choose Life,” against the kitchen wall. George was at the table, nursing a cocktail and doing the New York Times crossword, no doubt waiting for dinner to be served (which at this point seemed unappetizing, as he glanced at Mabel’s signs). The doorbell rang; it was their neighbor Mr. Langston, holding a soaked and traumatized mass of fur in his arms

He wandered into my backyard and fell into the pool. I had to fish him out with one of those pool nets, he said, depositing the dog into Mabel’s arms.

Unfazed, Mabel said thanks, shut the door and went into the kitchen.

George pounded his fist on the kitchen table, upsetting his cocktail glass and spraying scotch on one of the doily place mats.

Dammit, Mabel, it’s time, he just basically tried to off himself in the neighbor’s pool. I think it’s time to go see Dr. Maxwell.

Ignoring George, Mabel cradled the wet dog in her arms and headed to the bathroom, to wash the chlorine out of his fur.

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George: Dawn, May 26, 2000

George was exhausted. He had been up all night. He had searched his medicine cabinet for the right combination of drugs, added water to form it into a paste and shoved it down the dog’s throat. Indy had been thrashing and crying out in pain all night; he didn’t put up a fight when George pried open his jaws and administered the lethal dose. George had wanted the vet to put him down weeks ago, but Mabel was against it. Now George’s Jack Kevorkian hat was planted firmly on top of his balding head, as Mabel slept soundly in the bedroom.

Euthanasia is wrong, it’s not God’s plan, argued Mabel when George had first brought it up two weeks ago.

Never mind she doesn’t think animals have souls, so what the fuck does God have to do with it? George thought. Jesus, if I get to the point where I have to be held up to urinate, just pull the plug.

His mind wandered back to Mabel, as he gently scratched the dog’s back. She had been a study in contradictions and stubbornness during their 35-year marriage. He had resigned himself to it, at times even laughing at the idiocy of it all. However, now, in the present, it made him angry. There was no humor to be found in killing the family dog with a cocktail of drug samples given to him by pharmaceutical reps, when it would’ve been far more humane to do it at the vet’s office. But this was his only choice right now.

He held the dog’s head in his lap, as both his and Indy’s crying and shaking began to subside.

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George and Mabel: 3 p.m., May 26, 2000

Okay, so I need to dig the hole at least four feet deep and wrap him in how many trash bags? George bellowed through the receiver at the Health Department rep. He refused to admit that his hearing was beginning to go.

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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.

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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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Welcome mats and doormats

Yesterday I approached my Meals on Wheels route with a heavy heart. I can’t explain it. I think it was because that damn Bon Iver song “Skinny Love” was playing on the radio as I pulled out of the food distribution center. That song makes me sad. I fumbled with the dial, trying to find Bananarama or something else stupid and peppy and retro. Nope, Bauhaus was playing for fuck’s sake. Radio. Turned. Off.

I ruminated about my mood as I drove to my first meal drop-off. I decided it was because I felt like an empty vessel – and today of all days I needed to be shooting compassionate and patient pixie dust out of my ass. These people relied on me. Yet, I had nothing to give. As my wise friend Karen says to me when I’m facing a difficult task or visit home: “Just send your better self. Just for this one thing. It will get you through it.” So I tried to summon my better self, but I wasn’t sure if she was the one driving the car at the moment.

My first drop-off  was easy – I just had to put the food in the cooler, as was the case with the following two deliveries. No human interaction required, yet I still cried in my car between these easy drop-offs. Better self, where are you? I asked myself.

Next on the list: Ed. Sometimes he waited outside for his food, sunning himself on the back deck; other days he left a cooler for me. With twinkly blue eyes and ruddy Irish skin, he reminds me of my grandfather, had my grandfather lived to see his late 70s, instead of only his early 60s.

I pulled up to his house and headed to the back of the house. The cooler was there on the back deck, in place of Ed. Alas, there was no ice, and I’m not allowed to leave the food in the cooler unless it contains an ice-pack.

I knocked.

“Who is it?” said a gruff voice.

“It’s Meals on Wheels,” my better self cheerfully shouted through the closed door.

“What a glorious voice,” he said as he opened the back door.

I handed him his his meal and asked, “How are you doing today, Ed?”

“Tired. I just woke up. But my day just got better the minute I saw you. You look like a damn movie star. A movie star! It should be a crime to be as pretty as you are.”

Taken off guard, I squeaked, “You know, Ed, I was having a difficult morning, and you just made my day.” Putting my hand on my chest I said with less-squeaky conviction, “I will carry your compliment in my heart all day long. Thank you. You have a great day yourself.”

I practically skipped back to my car, with tears in my eyes but a big grin on my face. Yeah, yeah, Ed is practically blind, which probably makes my bovine-sized thighs look super-model svelte, but perhaps he can sense inner beauty. Or maybe I am pretty. Huh. Foreign concept for me.

After a few more easy stops, I reached Meg’s house. She always tries to give me something: brownies, eggplant, earrings, necklaces, a wooden angel. She won’t take no for an answer. We chatted for awhile and then she showed me her garden, as if for the first time, even through she shows it to me every time I visit her. I don’t mind. I like gardens. Besides, it’s a testament to her strength: 88 years old with a bad leg, she spends hours out in her garden, tending to the tomatoes and zucchini and beans.

“I have something for you,” she said, grabbing my hand and leading me out to the garage.

“Meg, I can’t possibly take anything else from you, you have been more than generous,” I argued.

She opened the garage and presented me with an empty Kmart shopping cart.

“I grabbed this when the store down the street closed. I’ve got no use for it, in fact I have an identical one in the basement.”

I stifled a laugh. A shopping cart? Too bad she didn’t have a job or boyfriend waiting for me in the garage.

“Meg, you are so sweet. I can’t possibly take this. I live on the third floor, in a 500 square foot apartment.”

She signed resignedly and said okay. I hugged her and walked down the driveway giggling to myself. “See you next week,” I shouted over my shoulder.

As the morning rolled by, I visited with two other of my favorites, and managed to coax another one of the clients outside her door. She usually leaves the door open just wide enough for me to slip the food through. Victory.

My better self finally emerged, due in no small part to the welcome mat that always seems to be put out for me. Whether I visit with these people or am left with a cooler (but no person) to deliver to, I feel welcome, needed, maybe even loved.

However, my day wasn’t over yet. On an afternoon walk with my dog, I would find out that the welcome mat doesn’t exist in some people’s lives; instead they seek to treat others like doormats. These days, I prefer actively stepping over the threshold of the welcome mat, not being the passive doormat. And the Cruella De Vil who tangled with me yesterday afternoon was met with my better, non-doormat self’s smart mouth and a sense of new-found confidence.

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Moonrise Kingdom and writing clogs

I haven’t written all week: No blog, no fiction, not even a grocery list. It was not the best week, especially down in the trenches of the soon-to-be-unemployed. I had a couple of hand grenades launched my way, including a brief and polite rejection letter from Brown, where I had applied for a Marketing Manager position in their Continuing Education department. I networked my ass off for that job, and still, it got me nowhere.

This week, instead of full-steam-ahead productivity, I wallowed. I danced under the disco ball at my very own (and sparsely attended) pity party. I read. I slept. I didn’t clean my kitchen. The cat is peeved about the overall state of his litter box. I guess I got a little depressed. I did, on a good note, see my doctor (and find out my cholesterol numbers rival those of a Powerball jackpot, and thus, I will be visiting a nutritionist tomorrow). I did Pilates. I did Meals on Wheels, delivering 19 meals all by myself to a bunch of people who were happy to see me. So there was good among the bad, and I have to accept that this is LIFE. Up and down and all around. Keep plugging along.

But the writing still wouldn’t come. I couldn’t even lift my fingers to the keyboard, I couldn’t grasp a pen or even look at a blank piece of paper. Until Friday afternoon, when I played hooky and went to the movies.

Thank you Wes Anderson for pulling me out of my cloggy funk. Thank you for making Moonrise Kingdom. It is brilliant. It is funny. It is heartfelt, bittersweet, life-affirming. It reminds me of an innocent, simpler time and the endless world that seems to spread out ahead of us in our youth, where we can do anything, be anything, unencumbered by the nagging self-doubt, anxiety and baggage that plagues us in adulthood and tends to hold us back.

It also reminded me of a writing prompt from my fiction workshop: Start off with the words “I remember” and go from there. I’ve already done this prompt, but Moonrise Kingdom inspired me to do again, this time focusing on my childhood and adolescence. My reasons are selfish, I suppose. I want to find that innocence. I want to go back and remember the good and the bad. But most of all, I want to figure out when the break happened. When did I cross over the bridge, from guileless childhood to the sometimes cruel/sometimes beautiful reality of the adult world? Or did I ever have a naive, innocent time during my youth? I don’t know if there was ever a bridge to cross.

I Remember

I remember sledding down a hill in Durham, laughing so hard that my smile seemed to split open my face while my cheeks turned crimson in the cold. I remember the move from North Carolina to Florida; I rode with my dad in his beat-up neon-green VW Rabbit, while my mother and brother followed behind us in a rust-colored Monte Carlo. I remember my dad flicking cigarette after cigarette butt out of the window, chain-smoking his way through four states, from mountains to swamps, smoking to the soundtrack of the kerplunk, kerplunk, kerplunk of the tires hitting the highway seams. I remember the unrelenting damp heat of Florida, juxtaposed to the drier mountain-and-ocean-buffered Carolina heat, It hit me like an unexpected slap, leaving hand-prints on my soul and scrambling my brains like eggs on a searing sidewalk.

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The Job Interview – Parts 2 and 3

Continued from Part 1.

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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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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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