Time In A Bottle

So I had a picture of me at 45 posted on Mirth’s About page.  It was a good picture – especially for someone who’s never been photogenic — taken on that birthday at the library where I worked.  Husband had sent a big beautiful bouquet via the trendiest and most expensive florist in town (we must have been fighting bitterly, or I must have been particularly bitchy or depressed; he at any rate atoned for many sins with that fabulous flourish of flowers. We women are a shallow lot).  An impressed co-worker took the photo, and had a gift for the medium. It was a good picture.

cropped missy
That Was Then

But that portrait is now 12 years old – this, in the day of the hourly-updated social-media Selfie.  How did 12 years happen? And I claim to be a woman who doesn’t palaver about her age, who doesn’t dress like a chicklet or giggle like an ingénue or flounce like a cheerleader, a woman who tries to man up to the ravages of time and say, “This is what 57 looks like.”

That in itself is vain, of course, but I tell myself it’s a mature sort of vanity.  “Not too bad for 57” is a fairly modest self-assessment.  One might even call it “humble.”  One might even say, “How pathetic!”

Yet my 57 apparently screams Senior Citizen – and not just to the clerk at McDonald’s, who automatically offers me a free small coffee and warns me in a loud overly-enunciated voice about the dangers of its temperature. Interesting, that as Old People we’re treated once again like children.

Cue the Circle of Life soundtrack.

What’s a handful of years, at this point in life?  Nothing, really – but the assumption, based upon gray hair, that I’m a decade or two older than I am makes me want to mutter naughty words (and I’m a person who flips off other drivers below the dashboard so they won’t see me. Pointless? Perhaps. But, that way, they’re not so apt to pull out a gun and shoot my ass).

This Is Now
This Is Now

I’m still 35 inside, after all. Why don’t people see that?

I got off on this tangent because a co-worker of rather advanced age is retiring and offered to give advice about social security and pensions and retirement options and Medicare and insurance supplements.  Granted, that’s akin to sharing details of the indignities of age-related hemorrhoids or thick yellow toenails or newly-vigorous nose hair. But she meant well, and sent a lunch invitation out to everyone she considered Old.

Far be it from me to turn down a free lunch.

Husband and I get those dinner invitations from financial planners all the time now, too – sit through a scintillating three-hour retirement presentation, share your bank account information with us, and we’ll treat you to an all-you-can-eat deep-fried buffet at the Pig & Trough!

We do turn down those free dinners.

And the impotence remedies – why did the great Google overlords decide that I needed to see adds for motorized vacuum erection aids every time I log on to the internet?  Has “Missy” ever even remotely been an androgynous name?  Or do marketers figure that the way to reach older dysfunctional men is through their older dissatisfied wives?

Some Things Improve With Age

Those marketers don’t realize that when older women are dissatisfied it’s most generally with themselves; husbands are just an easy target.

You see? I’m not always unkind to mine. I can make an expensive-flowers sort of public gesture on occasion.

The picture on my driver’s license is old, too – and almost as good as the one with the flowers. I’d lucked into a trial 15-year renewal term that Colorado has since abandoned, probably because of experiences like mine:  I waltzed into the Motor Vehicle Department awhile ago to update it and was flagged as an imposter by a nervous young clerk.  “I’m sorry. I can’t renew this. It isn’t you,” said she.  “Excuse me?” said me.  “The computer doesn’t recognize you. This is a forgery.”

In due time her supervisor arrived. He looked at me, looked at the license, and then looked at the clerk.  He pointed to my head and said, “Gray hair.” He pointed to the license and said, “Brown hair. Work with me, here.”

I got the renewal, and even got to keep the old picture for another few years.  It’s proving to be a mixed blessing: a bank teller last week checked my ID and said, “Gosh! You looked really good with dark hair!”

Her day will come. I hummed The Circle of Life at her.

By The Pricking

I’ve heard that death by freezing isn’t such a bad way to go. Still, it was hard to watch it happen from the warmth and comfort of my home. It also took a lot longer than I’d anticipated, giving me far too much time for guilty second thoughts as I watched precious life seep slowly away. Later, there was the frozen corpse to deal with – I had to have at it with a hacksaw out there in the back yard, hoping the neighbors wouldn’t notice. It was straight from FARGO.

Look Homeward, Angel.
Look Homeward, Angel.

Husband has been very nice to me since I hauled that heavy hulking cactus outside in a fit of pique and left it to die. He has not been thorny or prickly or sharp or mean, and it’s a damned good thing. He’d likely end up out there in a snowbank, too – it’s been a long winter.

OK, OK, it’s arguably spring now (although we had an inch of snow on Mother’s Day). Winter in May sent me back to these half-finished February thoughts.

It was Husband’s cactus, really, and I had no right to kill it. But it fell on me one time too many as I moved it to sweep the floor. Wedged itself into my neck and back and dumped desert potting soil (read, “hundreds of tiny rocks”) all over the room. And its resident spider ended up down my shirt.

I’d been after that spider for years; squashing him was worth his burrowing in my bra beforehand. He’d spin cobwebs all over the ceiling-high cactus, cobwebs that were impossible to brush away given the inch-long spikes and spines. While I am not a woman who lives to clean, cobwebs draped through the kitchen collecting visible grease and dust got to me.

I am sure that your kitchen is free of grease and dust and cobwebs. You never have to scrub the haze of old bacon fat off the cupboards over your stove. You scour the underside of your range hood every Saturday morning, right after you pull the refrigerator out from its niche to vacuum behind and beneath it with a special attachment you ordered just for that particular cleaning job. Inside that fridge, I bet you’ve never had a jar of sun-dried tomatoes grow half an inch of mold tucked away there on the bottom shelf behind last year’s mostly-empty bottles of BBQ sauce and that weird jam your neighbor made. I bet you never find dark wet unidentifiable produce in your vegetable drawers. You never have chronic dark smudges on kitchen drawers where dirty fingers rub, or lacquered dribbles of unknown origin below the counter where your can opener sits. You probably even clean your can opener. You don’t know what the death throes of a potato smell like, never having had one roll to the back of your cupboard and rot.

Yes, that's a wall of wine corks.  And now I've started down the basement staircase.
Yes, that’s a wall of wine corks. And now I’ve started down the basement staircase.

But I digress.

This is a picture of the cactus in his salad days, when he was green in judgment and decided to outgrow the height of his kitchen. For ten or twelve years, we hauled him outside every spring and back inside every fall. He’d put out tall brave shoots during the summer which I had to heartlessly amputate in order to fit him back into the house for the winter. We’ve no room for a large unfriendly cactus indoors. He blocked the kitchen heating duct and threatened passersby and started encroaching on the back entrance. It was very bad Feng Shui.

I seem to have become more-than-usually prickly of late. Perhaps the cactus is haunting me (next time I see that dermatologist, she’ll be pulling out thorns).   Husband, if he were feeling brave, would no doubt agree, especially after the fight we had last night.

Husband meant well, without a doubt. His intentions were good – or not so good, since the fight involved ordering me some lingerie. I know, I know — every gray-haired middle-aged matron should be so lucky as to have a husband of thirty years who still wants to buy her lingerie. Since catalogs of ladies’ undergarments tend to be fussy and complicated things, he warily approached me waving the size chart.

Goldie Hawn I ain't.
Goldie Hawn I ain’t.

A perfectly reasonable and even admirable course of action, say all you males. The horror, the horror! say all you females — at least those of you who carry around an extra 15 or 20 pounds. I died a thousand deaths at a work wellness event lately when a perky young size 4 nurse came at me with a tape measure; I am certainly not going to report those results to Husband. My hope is always that he thinks of me as I was at 25. That is how I think of him, after all. Reality and the harsh light of day are overrated. Tape measures are overrated, too.

So I will take a lesson from the murdered cactus, lest I too be pitched summarily out into the cold. I will watch my barbed tongue and my prickly temper and my thorny disposition. I will not bristle at Husband, at least when he is most vulnerable and trying to be kind. I may even finally lose the fifteen or twenty pounds and eliminate that sharp and needling source of pain (but that’s far too straightforward a solution).

Thanks for reading! Missy
Thanks for reading!

Six Feet, But Not Under Yet

In the end, it was hardly worth shaving my legs so damned carefully for (yes, I just ended a sentence with a preposition. Lighten up). I’d even re-painted my chipped toenail polish and pumiced the gnarly parts of my feet. They were, to quote my dad, as smooth and soft as a baby’s rear end (he’d never say “ass” in front of women and children). My various parts – all over a half-century old, now; how did that happen? — were all prepped and propped, as presentable as possible.

You, I am sure, have no gnarly parts. You certainly would never admit to them publicly. You’re a little horrified that I did so. You’re trying to bleach from your brain the stain of my tired callused feet.

Gnarly feet, but a gnarlier floor.  I can at least fix the floor.
Gnarly feet, but a gnarlier floor. I can at least fix the floor.

For what that flurry of fussing, you wonder? A new lover? A clandestine noontime tryst? An unprecedented urge to please the long-suffering husband?

All that primping was, alas, for a dermatologist, who consequently spent a cursory four minutes casually and perhaps even disinterestedly glancing over my limbs before pronouncing me free of lurking danger.

That’s it? That’s the formal full-body skin cancer screening I’d been dreading for a month?

While checking in for my 10:30 AM appointment, a sun-leathered old lady elbowed me out of the way and declared that she was there for a 10:40 AM one with the same physician. I gave her a pitying look, since she was most certainly in error — exploring The Wonder Of Me would surely take the doctor more than ten minutes.

It didn’t. That’s what I get for casting pitying looks.

Feet at Work:  Standing desk = ugly comfy shoes
Feet at Work: Standing desk = ugly comfy shoes

I’d never been to a dermatologist before, and was expecting a minute inspection of my every curve and crevice under harsh lighting and a magnifying glass, with tsk-tsking over various and sundry imperfections. And, hey – I was a new patient. I wanted attention. I wanted a bonding experience. I wanted advice on maintaining my natural beauty. I even wanted a lecture on UV damage and the proper use of sunscreen – I’ve always relied on authority figures for salutary scolding (self-discipline has never been my forte). I hoped for encouragement and, pathetically, perhaps a token compliment if I were lucky, some hint that I was holding up reasonably well given the ripeness of my years. I was also fully prepared to fork over big bucks for the upscale skin care products I was sure she’d be huckstering.

I didn’t even get a chance to crack the joke I had at the ready – something about my chronically red Irish nose and the chronic Irish penchant for drink. I wasn’t able to mention that weird little rash that lives on my leg. I couldn’t point out the peculiar peeling inside my ear. These things, I discovered, are fascinating only to me.

I can’t even pay someone to care.

What bothers me most is the heartless corporate stinginess of it all, the cattle-call ticking-clock impersonal approach to my person. Would it have killed her to have called me by name as I stood there before her, vulnerable and naked but for a stupid little smock? Chat me up a little before you ask me to take my clothes off. Take a moment to actually see me. Pretend to be generous with your time and attention. Feign interest. Act like it’s not about the money. Even hookers know to do that.

Or so I hear.

It’s been a week for open-handed generosity. Take this, for instance:

Dear Staff,

In Recognition of Staff Appreciation Week, please help yourselves to ONE ice cream sandwich in the staff lounge!

Thanks for all that you do.

Working Feet: Who else refinishes floors in ballet flats?
Working Feet: Who else refinishes floors in ballet flats?

I did not add the emphasis to ONE. It was part of my employer’s heartfelt expression of gratitude. How can one little word, even in bold capital letters, be so irritating? Spare me the pointing reprimanding finger, lest I point a finger at you in return. I wanted so badly to go downstairs and stuff a dozen ice cream sandwiches into my face. I wanted to sit there in the employee lounge and eat ice cream sandwiches slowly and deliberately, one after another, putting my gnarly feet on the table and leaving a big sticky pile of wrappers there. I wanted to write #2! on an ice cream sandwich with black Sharpie and waltz through the office waving the package.

Instead, in protest, I refused to go and claim my treat. That showed ‘em, by God.  I’m not that desperate for recognition (usually).  I don’t need their 12-for-$3 Walmart artificially-flavored vanilla ice cream sandwiches — twenty-five grudging cents of appreciation.

I want generosity. I want open hands and open hearts, and open minds if I can get them. And of course I want it both ways — who doesn’t? I resent having to spend big money on my professionals, yet I want my professionals to spend big money on me. I want the precious gifts of time and attention, but a fat wad of cash would be nice, too.

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes. Walt Whitman wanted it both ways, too; I’m at least in good company. And I bet his feet were gnarlier than mine, what with all that hale-fellow-well-met tromping around he did.

Thanks for reading! Missy
Thanks for reading!

All the Uses of This World

Finding life weary, stale, flat and unprofitable?  Your iPhone can help! Dig out those hot pictures taken five years ago when you worked as a stripper (you can say “exotic dancer” if you like that spin around the pole better) and sue some rich old fart for grabbing your butt after hiring you for the late-night party escort services you were willing to provide!

I'm shocked, shocked to find that  gambling is going on here!
I’m shocked, shocked to find that
gambling is going on here!

After all, you thought he wanted to discuss Hamlet. He paid you and those two other adult entertainment industry workers to do a close reading of Elizabethan drama. You suggested Act I, Scene II. Imagine your horror when he chose to act out scenes of his own devising! Imagine your dismay at being forced to take pictures of his passion play with other women!

Perhaps you felt slighted by being cast in the role of voyeur/photographer. It could have been you in those photos, head pressed against an old man’s crotch by a hand he tried to keep from trembling as he stood there in his ill-fitting power suit smelling of Gold Bond and trying to look virile or at least rich. It could have been you gazing lasciviously into the camera, eyes closed and mouth invitingly open, as he pawed at your breasts from behind, sending you into seeming ecstasies.

After all, you played the game right. You made eyes at the owner of that football franchise and said, “Oh, baby, you make me so hot,” and he believed you, the foolish old goat. You even touched his withered old wang when he told you to. The other girls did the work that night, but you had to waggle that thing around for a minute or two. The pay was not nearly enough.

The lawsuit reads like a low-budget garage porn script: Defendant JERRY JONES intentionally, knowingly, and forcibly rubbed and/or grabbed Plaintiff’s buttocks multiple times. Defendant JERRY JONES performed these acts without the consent of Plaintiff.

“Defendant Jerry Jones intentionally, knowingly, and forcibly rubbed and/or grabbed Plaintiff’s buttocks multiple times. Defendant Jerry Jones performed these acts without the consent of Plaintiff.”    This, BTW, is a picture of Plaintiff.

Or so you decide five years later, claiming that you suffered severe emotional distress and demanding more than $1 million in damages for sexual assault from the Dallas Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones.

This gives sexual assault a bad name.

Perhaps I should rephrase that. That was a “misrepresentation,” as are those graphic photos, according to Jones. How, though, can a picture misrepresent what it pictures? There you are, in front of God and everybody, hands planted firmly on that woman’s bosoms (my grandmother called them bosoms), giving the camera what you hope is a powerful leer.   You don’t deny that it’s you, and you don’t deny the occasion – yet you say the photo is a misrepresentation of what really happened. Right. You were playing Hamlet to the stripper’s Ophelia, and perhaps did some libidinous ad libbing.

I like a good, clean, explicit sexual assault, myself.

She hastens to add, “ . . . you know, where good is eminently good and evil is entirely evil and innocence is unsullied and guilt is permanently stained and there are white hats and black hats to help you keep everything straight.”

I had a coffee shop waitressing job when I was about 15 (and a very young and naïve 15 I was. I was earnest and plain and flat-chested and studious and shy and anxious to please. Haven’t changed much, come to think of it – but the passage of 40 years has added a pleasant protective cynicism to the mix, and shyness became boring long ago). I was a good and hard-working waitress. One morning, early in my career, a regular customer slapped me on the butt as I bent over a table to clean it. He chuckled in a jovial Hail Fellow Well Met fashion. I was mortified, which just made him chuckle more. I went to the woman who hired me for advice. “Oh,” said she, “the tips are better when you let them do that.”

An extra quarter was not worth it, even back in the early 1970s. I quit, and never told my parents why. In truth, it probably had more to do with the ugly uniform than with Butt Slapper; I had a hopeless crush on the coffee shop owner’s son, and sought to show myself to advantage.

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.          R&J, Act 2, Scene 1
That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.    R&J, Act 2, Scene 1

Then there was Thigh Patter, for whom I babysat for the princely sum of 50 cents an hour. He was usually zonked out on Darvon that he washed down with vodka by the water glassful; I always dreaded his taking me home. One late night enroute to my house he said that he had something he had to discuss with me and drove to the parking lot down behind the building he worked in on Main Street. Not a soul was around. It was dark. He smelled of Gold Bond and booze. He shut the car off. He explained that it was a serious matter, and that he didn’t wish to have to tell my parents about it. He said that he was missing a lot of his prescription pain pills, and thought I might have taken them.   He said it was OK if I had, but that he needed to know. He then added that his wife was missing an opal ring, and he wondered if I might have taken that, too, “by mistake.” Shocked, I protested my innocence, whereupon he patted my thigh and told me what a lovely young thing I was becoming. I said, “I WANT TO GO HOME RIGHT NOW,” and something in my tone must have penetrated his opiate alcoholic stupor, because he started the car and took me there without further ado. I believe that that “something” was, “My father will rip your lungs out if he ever gets wind of this.”

I never told my parents why I quit that job, either. And now it doesn’t matter – Thigh Patter died a long unpleasant death years ago, so my father is spared the need to defend my honor now (he wouldn’t have stopped at the lungs, either). Really, it was just a half-assed grope by a drunk and clammy hand at a thigh securely encased in denim. But time hovered for a moment on the edge of something unpleasant, there in that parking lot. For all my innocence, I knew that it was very wrong and somehow shameful. For him, rather than me.

–because I was not “asking for it” in either instance. I was a kid in an ugly uniform wearing white Top Siders and ankle socks and a training bra. I was an exhausted underpaid babysitter just wanting to go home, knowing that the lousy $3.00 check I’d been paid with was bound to bounce like the rest of them.

So innocent, and yet not.
When smut was good clean fun.

Were I a professional stripper hired as a high-priced party escort for the evening, the “asking for it” question becomes more difficult to answer.  Am I allowed, five years later, to claim assault for the general pawing  and prodding that comes with strip-tease territory? Have I any right to complain that I get groped after taking off my clothes for money and displaying my goodies with a giggle? Where does that leave the scores of women who actually are assaulted, who suffer real harm but have no  lawyers ready and willing to prostitute themselves for publicity and profit?

Don’t tell me that this woman is an assault victim. She’s the victim of greed and ignorance and some swarmy lawyer, who in turn is victimizing the owner of the football franchise – who of course deserves all he gets and more.   We should give them all guns and let them shoot it out like a cleansing old Western, perhaps at the Cowboys stadium, during half time. The Dallas Cheerleaders wear white hats, after all, and can play the good guys.

Thanks for reading! Missy
Thanks for reading!

The Great and Powerful Parmigiana

“God was really watching out for me,” says my friend (weakly) from her hospital bed in the critical care unit. “I’m so very grateful to Him.”

I bite my tongue until it bleeds. Seriously. I suddenly have that distinctive taste of copper in my mouth. I’m almost afraid to smile for fear my teeth will resemble those of a vampire replete with satisfaction. My rage is blood red as well. I want to slap her.

But it’s bad form to slap a friend who’s hooked up to tubes and monitors in traction and who has a broken vertebrae in her neck, 7 stitches in her forehead, a bad concussion and a dislocated shoulder. At least that’s what the medical people have found so far.

It could be worse. It could be raining.
It could be worse.
It could be raining.

All this demonstrates the loving protection of an almighty Father? Somebody should call social services at once.

“Yes,” she sighs, “if God hadn’t put my niece between me and that guardrail, I’d have pitched over into the river and drowned.” The drowning part is probably not an exaggeration. The Cache la Poudre is currently in flood stage, greedily claiming the lives of flatlanders seeking thrills on Colorado rivers. My friend, though, was merely pedaling along a downhill stretch of a local bike trail.

Clearly, God prefers Friend’s Niece to Friend: Niece survived the accident with only a few scratches.  A miracle!

It comes as no surprise to me that God plays favorites. He’s done it since the world began (some, what, 6,000 years ago?). His Chosen People are actually gorgeous young blonds like Niece, with nary a pious bone in their toned and tanned bodies. Stoutly devout middle-aged matrons are a dime a dozen; God goes for the shiksas (just like my college friend Eli. When he left home, his parents put $70,000 in trust for him, free and clear the moment he married a nice Jewish girl. And this was back in the early 80s. Last I knew, he was still broke and happily lusting after Scandinavians. You’ve got to admire a man of principle, especially at the expense of that kind of principal).

We're off to see the Wizard!
We’re off to see the Wizard!

If my friend considers herself truly blessed for having had her wings so cruelly clipped, I suppose that’s all that matters. But surely we ought to get PETA involved in this. We’re chickens stacked in factory farm crates who actually believe that we’re free range and that Old McDonald loves us. We’re featherbrained animals, and could use some ethical treatment.

I’m no theologian, and while I’m clever, I’m not really very smart. So I’ve decided that the only way to understand God and his Inscrutable Plan is to consider Him a vegetable — what my friend would be now if she hadn’t been wearing a helmet (she has styrofoam to thank, not divine intervention).

At some point after creating the universe He did some bad drugs or suffered a seizure or crashed His bicycle or developed dementia and wound up helpless in bed, immortality providing an eternal life-support system. Perhaps, instead of holding God responsible for the mess the world is in, I should feel sorry for Him. He has turned into a turnip.

I'm here for you.
I’m here for you.

Periodically, I decide to be an informed citizen and keep up with the news in order to understand what’s going on around the globe. There’s not much Mirth out there. I read the paper and am paralyzed with hopelessness and helplessness. I stop writing, even grocery lists (what’s the point?). I brood and stare at my navel. I scowl at Husband when he says it’s a navel he admires, too. I scowl at Husband for breathing.   But I’d scowl at him for not breathing, too – he can’t win.

So I’ve decided that there will be no more headlines for Missy unless they’re like this one: GOD APPEARS IN EGGPLANT; LINE CHEF SLICES UP SALVATION.

Jermarcus Brady of Gino’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge, LA, was prepping parmigiana recently when he found that the moving finger had writ on a chunk of eggplant he’d just cut. There it was, a message from God.

I'm here for you.
“I’m Brian of Nazareth!”

Except that all it says is, “GOD.” What kind of pointless message is that? Some sort of narcissistic tagging, is all. He at least could have gotten personal and etched “God + Jermarcus” in a heart or something. Give the man something personal, for crissakes. Something upon which to fix his faith.

Yet eggplant is enough for Jermarcus, who says he is religious and has suffered some tough times. Adds he, “He’s showing me that ‘hey, I’m real,’ and that’s the only thing I can depend on.”

Did he eat that eggplant, I wonder? You can always depend on Eggplant Parmigiana when you see it on a menu. Communion is communion, after all. The body of Christ never tasted so good – breadcrumbed and fried and drenched in melted cheese and marinara sauce.

God, it seems, has presented himself as an eggplant before. Back in 2007, Felicia Teske of Pennsylvania offered eBay shoppers her own slice of heaven (vacuum-sealed and flash-frozen) for $1,000 plus $20 shipping. The divine handwriting is clearly different than what’s on Jermarcus’ eggplant, but with God all things are possible. I tried without success to find out if Felicia’s eggplant icon ever sold. I like to think that it’s still nestled in among her freezer-burned boxes of chopped spinach and that old dried out ham bone she never did get around to using for soup.

No, I'm Brian of Nazareth!
“No, I’m Brian of Nazareth!”

God sends me messages all the time, of course. I can’t button my jeans, He’s telling me to put the fork down. I wake up with a headache, He’s pointing to that extra glass of wine the night before. I get a pink disconnect notice from the utilities company, He’s reminding me to pay the damned bills on time. My car won’t start, He’s demonstrating the importance of neglected maintenance. I get it.

He’s even appeared to me as a vegetable: the pommes frites at Larkburger, dredged in coarse salt and drizzled with truffle oil, served so hot they sizzle on your tongue. Now, that’s a god I’m hungry for.

Thanks for reading! Missy
Thanks for reading!