On Top of Cake Mountain

One random blob of earwax, and life goes right to hell.

I’ve just emerged from four days in bed – no, not with some tall dark handsome stranger who happened to be in the market for a middle-aged matron with ear canal hygiene challenges (although we are admittedly a hot commodity). I wasn’t even in bed with Husband, although he fluttered around solicitously for the duration, convinced that I had a brain tumor and bracing himself for the long mirthless road ahead.

I, too, was made in 1958

Existence is a fine and dangerous line to tread, especially when robbed of balance.  In the morning, I have a plugged-up ear. By nighttime the ear is clear, but I cannot stand or walk or turn my head without the floor moving up to meet the ceiling and the room sliding sideways out of focus.

Is this my reward for seeking pro-active medical care?

Well, yes: I trade minor inconvenience for total incapacitation. But I learn a valuable life lesson: Whiners never win. Don’t complain about things like earwax.

It’s another touch of divine sadism – here we are, made in God’s image, yet we suffer humiliations like ingrown toenails and nose hair and constipation. I very much doubt that God has ever had halitosis or earwax buildup. If we’re his spit and image, then he was surely peering through a glass darkly on that sixth day. Maybe nearsightedness is something he shares with us.

The medical visit starts innocently enough – routine test results, reviewed by a doctor I’d not met before. I mention the plugged ear with more than a little mortification and an apology. I know, I know – why on earth should I apologize? But I do. I am ashamed of the gross dross of my humanity. She offers to irrigate my ears and proceeds to flush them out with the single-minded over-zealous enthusiasm of a dominatrix. I swear she had a riding crop in her back pocket.

Madame Doctor then insists on showing me all the goop, as if I were potty training and it were my poop. I decide she is expecting gratitude and so shower her with praise, lest she try and have another go at me. “Thank you, Sir. May I have another?”

cake mountainHer irrigation instrument looked a lot like the Special Frosting Extruder in the Play-Doh Sweet Shoppe Cake Mountain Playset that hit the market this past Christmas – another hot commodity.

The whole concept is bizarre – for $19.95, you get a white plastic fake cake shape that children decorate with blobs of inedible Play-Doh “frosting.” Why not just give the kid some real frosting? They even sell that in cans, like Play-Doh, if you’re not the baking type (the ingredients are probably very similar). A couple of graham crackers, a jug of Betty Crocker vanilla and a spatula, and you’ve got a happy child who’s mastering a valuable life skill (ostensibly “How to Cook,” but “How to Satisfy a Sweet Tooth” works, too).

Here’s the thing: How did the Sweet Shoppe Cake Mountain Special Frosting Extruder make it all the way to market?  Look at him!

Phallic Play-Doh
Bad to the Bone

First, he went through the fantasy phase, where imaginative Hasbro developers pitched the concept to their executives. Next, he survived a rigorous field-testing process, where engineers and artists hardened the details of his physique. Then, he was formally taken in by the corporate office and passed on to the manufacturing side for dissemination. Finally, the marketing folks designed his seductive packaging.

No-one ever noticed that the Cake Mountain Sweet Shoppe Special Frosting Extruder works nights as a sex toy?

Kids reveling in their fleeting days of innocence won’t find the Special Frosting Extruder unsettling. But puberty provides a different perspective on things. Even my repressed prudish mother-in-law (and repressed prudery grants an innocence, of sorts) would eye that plastic penis warily.

She is dead, so I can afford bold talk. I still use her as my benchmark for having stepped beyond the pale of conventional ethics and taste and morality. She pursed her lips into a tight white line of disapproval at my earlier reference to S&M, for instance (and that’s hard for a dead woman to do, so you know she was really moved). And I can just see her beaming at a beloved grandchild on Christmas morning before noticing the Play-Doh dildo present in his chubby little hand and turning to me, his mother, with a horrified expression.

Son #2 once stuffed his ear full of Play-Doh (I can’t really afford bold talk, here, but will risk it anyway – Son #2 doesn’t see MIRTH and probably won’t until I’ve joined my mother-in-law, by which time it really won’t matter). He was young at the time, but not that young. He didn’t confess this to me for several days, by which time the Play-Doh had hardened into a plug, which scared him. We were visiting my parents at the time, far away from home – finding a rural doctor who’d see a stranger immediately was quite an adventure (fortunately my father has “drag,” as my brother puts it). The doctor did something I hadn’t thought to do: He looked into the kid’s other ear. “Ah ha!” said he. “ I see we have a matched set!”

This won't hurt a bit.
This won’t hurt a bit.

That was my first experience with ear flushing. No wonder my kid hated it. At the time, I thought it was a very just punishment, and a base part of me enjoyed watching him suffer. I was suffering, too, in a different way – the proud mother of a kid who for some inexplicable reason chose to push Play-Doh deeply into his ears in front of my own parents, who raised me to raise him better.

I wonder if Play-Doh still smells the same? And if, after mashing the colors up together, it still turns that awful purplish gray color? Does it leave the same weird coating on your hands? I might have to get me a Sweet Shoppe Cake Mountain Playset and find out.

Getting my hands on a Special Frosting Extruder has nothing to do with it.

Thanks for reading! Missy
Thanks for reading!






Straining After Cuteness

I was accused of doing just that by a favorite faithful reader after I used “tail” instead of “tale” in my last post, referring to the story of a beloved stuffed mouse. Yeah, it was an eye-roller, although I prefer to think of it as playful. And I didn’t stick in a bright winking emoticon or superfluous quotation marks or irritating asterisks to announce that I was messing around – I trusted you to know that.

Husband doesn’t appreciate it when I mess around, either, but he was more tactful than Retired English Professor; he has more at stake. “You might just have a typo at the end there, Missy – you used tail for tale. Or was that deliberate?” Husband, hoping to get lucky at some point, is always careful not to push his luck.

We all strain after cuteness in our anxious bids for attention (with the possible exception of Retired English Professor). Take my neighbor Betty the Avon Lady, for instance. For starters, she has Betty the Avon Lady emblazoned on both sides of her car.

Betty1The holiday season may be over, but Betty has just added another inflatable Santa to her seasonal front-yard display – this one riding a motorcycle (I figure she hit a good after-Christmas sale). Harley Santa is parked right beside a huge inflatable snowman and large inflatable snow globe that in turn contains three more inflatable snowmen (lit from below at night), near an inflatable teddy bear in a Santa hat and an inflatable reindeer wearing a wreath. These figures are all cleverly arranged to direct the eye to the reason for the season, a near-life-size crèche surrounded by moving light-up wire reindeer and another group of three inflatable snowmen. A cast-concrete angel under the birdbath lends a note of solemnity to the scene, and the Star of the East casts color-changing LEDs over the manger (which for the other 10 months of the year stores disreputable lawn equipment).

The crèche in Betty’s yard stands out because it is not inflatable. Too risky, I suppose – a blow-up doll wouldn’t really do for Mary.

Ha! Even an irreverent heretical sacrilegious lapsed-Catholic like me can apparently feel some need for conventional decency. How interesting! I even cringed a little as I wrote that. Too many bathtub Madonnas where I grew up. Too many May Day processionals. Too many Hail Mary penances and prayers for intercession. We girls all aspired to be Mary – she was the ultimate Cinderella (and the only whiff of estrogen in that testosterone-drenched church).

betty2I once hoped rather passionately to find a religious vocation (too many romantic nun novels at a young and impressionable age. Bet you didn’t know that romantic nun novels even existed). I even went to daily mass for a week or so, until I realized that the tired old priest was only going through the early-morning motions and the black-mustached Italian widows down front were just gossiping and waiting for the service to end so they could scuttle outside for a smoke. Even the vile-smelling homeless guy in the back was only there to get warm. I went to God’s house to find Him, but discovered that He’s an absentee landlord.

Worse, the Italian widows pinched my cheeks until I cried. Those old ladies were holy terrors in their high heels and black lace mantillas, wearing too much rouge and bright red lipstick. And did I mention chin whiskers? I would stare in morbid fascination while they pinched me.

Then again, maybe they pinched me because I was staring in morbid fascination at their chin whiskers. Time grants a different perspective on things.

Betty the Avon Lady does not have chin whiskers, although she does favor Obama is the Anti-Christ bumper stickers, which I stare at in the same sort of horror. Her house is on a corner lot. Her side yard features a 10-foot inflatable dog in a Santa hat that moves his head and wags his tail. He’s accompanied by a chorus line of inflatable raccoons, a penguin with an inflatable igloo, an elephant, and Snoopy siting on his trademark doghouse. Santa hats on everyone unify the theme.

Betty3When I’m depressed in the dreary dark of winter (and this is a near-constant), I have only to walk past Betty’s house for a cure. Best of all is catching it when the power is off – then, everything crowded into that small yard is slumped in tragic puddles of nylon like the wet Wicked Witch of the West. It looks like mass murder took place. It needs yellow police tape and chalk lines. Betty could offer that tableau in February, a segue into her blow-up pastel bunny rabbits in the spring. Christmas, then a crime scene, then Easter: that’s the Christ story in a nutshell, anyway (and that sentence, my friends, strains after cuteness.  At least I’m aware of my sins).

I live in a place – thank Allah and Jehovah and Zeus! — where neither our homeowners’ association nor our father in heaven takes such things seriously. Betty’s yard may be an affront to good taste, but it’s not an affront to God, who after all made her in his own image (i.e., apparently tacky as hell). Her exuberant tribute to the holiday season is not heresy. It’s kitsch. We needn’t stone her. But we might poke a discreet hole or two in a few of those snowmen, come March.

Thanks for reading! Missy
Thanks for reading!

A Few of my Favorite Things

The Christmas ornaments I faithfully unpack every December are fraught with enough emotional baggage to choke the holiday spirit out of the heartiest reveler (never me to begin with). That’s not all bad, of course – Feelings Are Good, or so the self-helpists say. But is it any wonder that, by December 27, I’ve shrouded them again in the same old tissue paper winding sheets and laid them back to rest in their Rubbermaid vault beneath the staircase in the cellar?

If Husband pre-deceases me, that’s doubtless where his ashes will end up.   I will haul him out every year, stick a bow on his urn, and tuck him under the tree as yet another remembrance of things past: Merry Maudlin Christmas.

“Oh dear, dear, dear.”

My Grammy Gould special edition ornaments are splendid. Blessed with boundless creativity, limited resources, great good humor, a needle and thread and some glue, she crafted all sorts of priceless seasonal treasures. Pride of place on my tree every year goes to three peanut-shell birds with yellow felt beaks, perched in a nest crocheted of bright green yarn and glued jauntily to a clothespin with a sprig of festive plastic greenery.

“My soul and body!”

Then there’s the soft-sculpture Mrs. Santa portrait that looks a great deal like Grammy herself, a little worse for the wear after landing on a lit candle a few years ago. The wicker backing blackened and burned, but the front survived – nary a run in that pantyhose face, and I was able to artfully rearrange the fluffy cotton hair to cover some scorching (women do that sort of thing all the time, after all: Hey! If I wear bright lipstick, no-one will notice the big zit pulsing on my chin). Mrs. Santa hangs every year on the door of my refrigerator, right at eye level. I find myself wanting to smile and politely say hello to her whenever I need access.

“Watch out for your neck!”

Arguably my favorite, another cluster of birds is cunningly crafted from a bright yellow man’s work glove, the cuff cleverly turned up to create a nest for each fledgling finger. A few glued-on feathers, a felt-tip marker beak, another sprig of plastic greenery and the bulging slightly crazed wide-set googley eyes that were Grammy’s trademark – it’s a masterpiece that makes me laugh and cry at once.

It’s an ornament from my grandmother O’Brien that always triggers tears, though. Some years, I can’t even bring myself to unwrap it. The thing itself isn’t much – a flat cheap gold-tone wreath dated 1983, dating from my second Colorado Christmas (read, “still far away from home, where I would certainly have been had I cared about the loving family that raised me”). The wreath tucks into a pocket in a card that isn’t much, either. But Gramma wrote me a perfect careful little note in her perfect careful little script and slipped it into the fold behind that ornament. She must have used damned fine paper, since it hasn’t yellowed a bit in 31 years. The ink is a fresh as if it flowed yesterday, the words clarion clear. Just as creative, in her own way, as my Grammy Gould, my Gramma O’Brien crafted some subtle Irish melodrama to span the decades and haunt me  forever (for my own good, and possibly hers):

POB3Each year as you hang this Christmas ornament on your tree, think of me, and say a little prayer for me.

Love, Gramma

This year, after a fortifying glass of wine (OK, maybe two or three – it takes a long time to get the tree up and decorated), I took that card out of its envelope (a big blue ribbon is taped for Husband’s benefit on the front, to cover the Missy & Boyfriend written there) and a dried-out old Happy Holidays sticker fell to the floor.

Gramma apparently did some covering up of her own – that sticker had blocked someone else’s signature on the card: Joy & Murray Hall. Who in hell are Joy and Murray Hall, and what place have they in this intense personal communion with my dead grandmother?

She re-gifted that ornament, the cagey old bird. And she did it so well that I was deceived for three decades. This year, my tears were tears of laughter.

So perhaps next season I can unpack all that angst-laden stuff with a happier heart (provided of course that Husband isn’t yet stored with it)– the tarnished personalized star from my own childhood, the popsicle stick Rudolf made by Son #1, the doily angel featuring the face of Son #2 at about age 4, the baby Jesus clothespin resting on some raffia in a toilet paper tube crib, the 1940’s set of weirdly-tinted plastic angels from my dad’s boyhood home, the hand-painted ceramics my mom ordered annually from an artist friend, and the little stuffed mouse in a Santa hat that my kids named Squeak, bestowed a speech impediment upon, and made part of the family.

“Gimme Teese”

But Squeak is a story unto himself — who am I kidding? He’s never been packed away. Son #1 got him in third grade as a door prize, and he’s been set on a pedestal in our house ever since.  Quite literally.  His is a tail for another time, though, one that reminds us that Christmas is essentially a whimsical season of the heart.

Thanks for reading! Missy
Thanks for reading!