A Shovel Full

Sunday was adrift in flowing snow — particularly pleasant since none of us had to go anywhere.  Five strong able-bodied adults spent the day in my cozy little house watching the sidewalks fill up frostily with snow.

The sidewalks across the street filled up, too.  We take care of that yard for its absentee owners, primarily to placate the Persnickety Puritanical Pursed-Lipped Person who lives beside it and reports imagined violations of city code the moment he imagines them.  We in the neighborhood all have lengthy shaming records with the local Nuisance Division (weeds blemishing the bluegrass, secret spurge in the pansies, leaves left right in the gutter, old newspapers moldering in the driveway).

At about 2:00 PM, we all agreed that it was pointless to shovel since the snow had miles to go.

At about 8:00 PM, the snow was lovely, dark and deep and the skies were clear.  Our sidewalks were not.  No-one had thought to go out there and shovel.  So I did.

Now, I actually like to shovel sidewalks (blame a long cold New England childhood.  Nothing will ever beat the pleasure of trooping downstairs on chilly winter mornings to stand over the dining room furnace vent in my long flannel nightgown, feeling the skirt billow out with warmth and the cast iron grate bake my feet).  I’d planned all day to get outside and shovel.  And it was a beautiful night — nearly-full moon, no wind, quiet sparkling stars.

I was happy; this wasn’t one of my deliberate martyrdoms.  I confess with shame that I do stage those (secretly) on occasion.

Son #2 was the first to hear the scraping.  He opened his window and said, “Gee, Mom, I usually do the shoveling.  Don’t you want me to take care of that?”

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  He should simply have either ignored me or come out to help — without making me ask.  And if one usually does the shoveling, why did one choose not to do so this time?  Does having usually done it excuse you from ever having to do it again?  I bit my tongue and assured him that I was perfectly fine.  I was, indeed, perfectly fine.

Son #1 then put in an appearance in the doorway.  He was barefoot and rumpled and wearing pajamas, since he works the night shift and sleeps at weird hours.  “Um, Mom, wouldn’t you like some help out there?  You don’t have to do that by yourself.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong again.  Spare me the vague self-comforting third-person offer.  And I was, indeed, enjoying doing it by myself.

Girlfriend of Son #1 stayed away, rightly, to avoid being wronged.

Husband then came to the door and said, rather crossly, “What are you doing?  How am I supposed to enjoy watching hockey in here if you’re out there shoveling?”

It was a brilliant passive-aggressive move, really, since he got to be mad at me for the fact that he didn’t do the walks and then expected me to reassure him that he needn’t feel guilty about lounging inside with a drink in one hand and the remote control in the other.  You’ve got to admire adroit skill, in whatever the realm.  He rocked.

And he made me think.  I hate that.  I am heartily sick of personal growth; I want to start coasting.  But, having been misunderstood by them all, I had a Moment out there in the moonlight.

My mom martyrdoms?  No different than their shovel shambling.  All those heavy sighs as I lug towers of dirty laundry downstairs?  They’ve heard them.    My pained expression as I empty the overfull over-fragrant kitchen trash?  They’ve seen it.  The set of my jaw as I scrub rotting raw chicken juice off the floor when that trash bag leaks?  They’ve noticed.  The grim way I deal with the grime of male pee all over the bathroom?  The pee-ers perceived it.  My grudging approach to piles of paperwork?  My message of resentment has been sent and re-sent.  I can’t blame them for practicing passive aggression when I’m just as guilty of it.

Can I?

Yet, if I purge myself of all these pleasant vices, I will bore myself and everyone else to death.

Won’t I?

How’s that for warped and whimsical reasoning?



Transparency, My Ass

My ass is, of course, one reason I don’t buy into the whole trendy Transparency thing.  A sheer thing on a lovely young thing can be a lovely thing.  On me?  Let’s add some layers.  Opaque layers.  Flowing, flattering, non-form-fitting ones.

If one more blog expert or self-help success guru assures me that he is Totally Transparent, I fear that I will bed him in his lair and shout, “Yes, you are indeed totally transparent.  I see right through you – your motives, your manipulations, and your mealy-mouthed tricks to lure the sucker into the sale.”

Nota Bene:   “to bed in his lair” does not mean “to take to bed.”  I must learn to be more (or should that be less?) transparent in my word choices.

And since when does “transparent” mean “honest?”

Old-school snake oil salesmen are, at least, honest in their way.  They know they’re conning you, you know they’re conning you, and for many obscure reasons the whole trick is slick and smooth and satisfying.  When the beautiful woman behind the cosmetics counter talks me into buying a $60 jar of face cream guaranteed to make me look ten years younger, we both know that it’s a crock of shit.  Or, rather, a crock of overpriced moisturizer that gives me $60 worth of optimism and confidence and luxurious hope.  I could accomplish the same thing with a jug of Vaseline and a positive affirmation or two, but it wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

New-school snake oil leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  Since when does breakfast cereal need to advertise its Authenticity?  Does my beer need to tell me it’s Authentic Beer?  I will know in one sip if it’s one of those carb-and-calorie-conscious beer-flavored seltzers (I live in a micro-brew town; we’re allowed to get uppity about such things).

So while I’m advised to offer you, my reader, Total Transparency and Total Authenticity, I choose to toss those both into the Total Honesty trash.

If I practiced Total Honesty, I’d have no job, no husband, no friends, and no family.  If I began at dinner tonight, for instance, I’d have to tell my husband that I will divorce him one day because he pushes his food around on his plate like his father did.  What good could that possibly do?  It would ruin the beautiful manicotti that’s baking in the oven and spoil the nice Chianti that’s waiting to be opened.  And then he’d be compelled to tell me that I shovel food in like a peasant and that I ought to pause occasionally and chew.  The evening would not end well.

Artful Deception is what civilizes and saves us.

My authentic, transparent self is what stares at me in the bathroom mirror every morning under lights that are much too bright.  It ain’t that pretty at all (yes, I’m an eternal Warren Zevon fan).  It has red puffy eyes and rumpled spiky hair and fuzzy teeth and deep pillow wrinkles that don’t disappear until noon and dark circles and zits and the occasional whisker.   It needs a hot shower and hot coffee.  It needs some artful deception.  It needs to artfully deceive itself into mustering the courage to face another day.

If I were totally honest with myself about myself, I’d never get out of bed.  I’d be bedded in my own lair.


Jaw Narrative

The petite perky receptionist at the orthodontist’s office smiled up at me through her braces (Will Work for Orthodontia) and said, “OK, now, I’m going to give you a little homework assignment, but don’t you worry!  We don’t want you to stress over it at all – we won’t grade you on it!”

I looked around the office, packed with awkward metal-mouthed youngsters, and understood her default choice of script.  But, really, I’m a matron.  I could be her mother.  She might consider me at least a peer.

I do try not to harbor prejudice against petite perky little women half my age just because they’re petite and perky and half my age.  But it goes hard with me, especially the “we are peers” thing.  There surely have to be some perks for wrinkles and grey hair and bifocals and what they used to call “liver spots.”

I remember being fascinated as a kid by those vague magazine advertisements for Porcelana Cream.  What were liver spots?  How did they harm you?  Did it mean your liver was bad?  Was Porcelana Cream, then, something that ladies who secretly drank turned to when trying to cover their tracks?  In that case, might I surmise that the woman I babysat for was a closet drunk, since she had Porcelana in her medicine cabinet?

I was a babysitter who pondered things (and who nosed through medicine cabinets).  Feminine deodorants, for instance.  Those same magazines had lots of obscure glossy ads for solutions to “embarrassing personal problems.”  What personal problems?  The lady I babysat for had feminine deodorant in stock, too.  Even the directions on the spray can were vague:  “apply to affected area.”  One’s feet, I supposed.  Perhaps women’s feet were a greater source of olfactory embarrassment than men’s.  Or perhaps women’s underarms – really feminine types needed a really feminine deodorant to use there.

I was not particularly feminine, so I decided that the world was a puzzling place and that I didn’t need to worry about it.

I do have to worry about my homework assignment, though, which is to write  MISSY’S JAW NARRATIVE.  The receptionist gave me a sheet with that printed at the top (capital letters hers).  The orthodontist wants to know IN MY OWN WORDS (capital letters again hers) what I think my problem is.  Guess I can’t get mom to write my paper for me this time.

Eileen54So I shall tell him that I was hiking in the mountains last summer, feeling vigorous and outdoorsy and strong and athletic (none of which actually describes me), ready to launch into my best Julie Andrews.

I flung open my arms, began belting “The hills are alive . . ,” and tripped over a tree root, hitting the earth like a felled cow.  I broke my fall with my right ear, on a rock.  Since then, my left jaw has not been happy.

Now, there are those who are delighted to find that I can’t open my mouth, but I find it somewhat frustrating.  So I will write up my little essay and blame bifocals and cheap ill-fitting hiking boots and inattention and maybe liver spots for my injury, and then acknowledge the obvious fact that no-one over the age of fifty should really be allowed outside, anyway.








Night Fever

So I’ve written about reaching into my desk drawer for a Chapstick and applying a glue stick to my lips instead.  This morning, I very nearly swallowed an earplug instead of my multivitamin, which is similar in size and shape.  I caught myself at the last moment only because the ear plug is florescent orange and squidgy.

I arrived at work today and realized I’d forgotten my vitamin.  This happens more frequently than not, so I keep a stash of them in my bag.  The earplug was thrown in there with them because I suffered through four hours of bad karaoke last Friday night.

Now, my ideal Friday night involves wrapping up in my ratty old red bathrobe and drinking too much red wine (at home, mind you).  But my husband’s favorite cousin came to visit. He has a prestigious PhD in an esoteric field and tenure at a major university; you’d never guess that his secret vice is singing karaoke.  Does this make him well-rounded and interesting, or just peculiar?  He can at least belt out a song really well.  When he comes to visit, there is nothing he’d rather do than hit every karaoke place in the area and cart us along with him for moral support (my kids would sooner chew their own feet off, like foxes in a trap).

This time he found a bar way up the canyon, since he’s a Facebook friend of the KJ who works there (yes, KJ rather than DJ.  They say you can keep aging at bay if you learn one new thing a day; there’s your daily dose).

While not exactly a biker joint, it was definitely not the sort of place where you admit to having a doctorate in anything.

It’s a bar where you dress down, you don’t cop an attitude, you drink Bud Lite, and you don’t make eye contact with the heavily tattooed young man wearing carbines in his earlobes and attaching the full metal ketchup/mustard/napkin holders to them to entertain the crowd.

It’s a bar where, every 20 minutes, most of the patrons file outside for a Marlboro 100 or an unfiltered Camel.

It’s a bar where unaccompanied hard-drinking ladies dance together in a group.  It’s a bar where, if one of those women grabs you by the hand and tells you to get up and dance, you do so (I’d not danced with a bunch of drunken floozies for decades—it was actually kind of fun.  My husband knew better than to take pictures).

It’s a bar where everyone knows each other really well and conversation pauses slightly when Outsiders arrive.

It’s a bar where, while we were there, one heavy-set flushed florid gentleman completed the Chow Down Challenge:  Eat a pound of French fries and a 5-decker, 2 1/2 pound hamburger with 6 slices of cheese and 6 slices of bacon in an hour and get it for free, along with a commemorative T-shirt and your photo on the Wall of Glory and lots of applause.

It’s a bar just like the dark dingy smelly seedy comfy blue-collar New England ones wherein I cut my drinking teeth.

I as Designated Driver took pleasure in watching the clock tick and noting details like these all evening.  I also wore earplugs.  I took pleasure in the earplugs, too.

My personal purgatory (my fear is that the Powers That Be tailor these things individually) will involve sitting through an eternity of karaoke — without earplugs, if I’m on the hell-leaning side rather than the heaven-inclined one.  It strikes me as rather sad and silly and pathetic and lonely.  All those VOICE wannabees slouch up to the microphone and stare at the teleprompter and sing at least half a tone flat in inaudible whispers or piercing shouts.  Some stand rock still, moving only their lips, while others have jive moves down which you know they practice at length at home in the bathroom mirror. Very few can carry a tune and fewer still are sober. Good ones like my cousin-in-law are few and far between.

Yet, for many, it’s perhaps their chance at creative expression, their quest for art and beauty, their shot at redemption.  Who am I to criticize?

I just don’t want to have to listen to them.

They don’t want to listen to me, either.

I got up and did a notably awful Linda Ronstadt, complete with a jive move to try and cover up coming in a measure too early at one point.  If in doubt, do that Saturday Night Fever disco-arm thing.



Crotchety About Mine

“Oh, honestly,” said the woman on the trail, grabbing her frothing Rottweiler by the collar and pulling him away from me so I could continue unmolested on my hike.  As we passed, she squatted down and nuzzled the drooling dog like a lover, whispering endearments that ended with, “She doesn’t like Baby Wuggums, does she?”

Baby Wuggums had come tear-assing around the isolated woodland corner, no owner in site and no leash despite a state park law.  He bypassed my husband and cornered me, accurately singling me out as the weakling in the herd.   I froze as he circled me – I don’t like dogs, and they know it.  Wuggums took advantage of my vulnerability and stuck his slimy nose in my crotch, where it stayed until his owner waddled down the trail, leash hanging in her hand.

Dogs Must Be On Leash“He’s just a big lunkhead!” she called, gaily.  “He won’t hurt you!  Come here, Baby Doll!!”

Baby Doll sat there, tense and poised on his haunches, eying my tender throat and daring me to move.  I chose not to.

“You can go on ahead, honey!” she laughed at me, still a good twelve feet away.  “He’s OK!”  Wuggums did not remove his steely gaze from me, and I tried my damnedest not to appear threatening – as if my standing there frozen in terror could remotely seem aggressive.

“Please get your dog away from me,” I asked, in a sweet and friendly fashion.  That’s when she became impatient, flouncing over in exasperation to catch him just as he lunged for me, veins popping in his neck.

I would have let the whole thing go, but she rolled her eyes at me.

Now, I can tell from the back of his head when my husband rolls his eyes at me.  I can tell from the next room when my kids do.  There is nothing that pushes me over the edge faster than a rolling eyeball.

I let out a string of invective that would make a sailor blush, something I’m able to use to great effect since I look like a meek mealy-mouthed mild-mannered librarian.  Alas, I could finish up with nothing more powerful than “ . . . and . . . and . . . I’ll report you to the park ranger!”

Whereupon she told me to get a life, and moved on.  Now, this is the sort of thing I can brood about for days (which probably has something to do with my hypertension).  But I decided to let it go and move on myself – it was too lovely a morning to stew.

A mile or so farther down the path, a beautiful big buck went bounding across the field.  My husband and I were doing that tiresome yuppie-nature-appreciation thing, admiring the symmetry of his leaps and the beauty of his movements and the wonder of it all, when two does noisily followed him.  The does were not graceful – they were running headlong in terror.  There at their heels was Baby Wuggums – I knew him by his neon green high-tech expensive collar.

Where I grew up, they shoot dogs that run deer, and no questions are ever asked.  For the first time in my life, I wished that I had a goddamned gun – and knew how to use it, and had it with me.

But I’d have had to shoot Wuggums’ woman, too.  And even for eye-rolling, she (arguably) didn’t deserve that.


I realize that I risk losing my fledgling readership by admitting that I am not a Dog Person.  While I might be forgiven for raging bleeding-heart liberalism, only an anti-American baby-hating atheistic socialist could object to having Baby Wuggums’ snout stuck between her legs.