Thursday, May 19, 2005

Existential Questioning of Life Direction

I lay in bed this morning with every intention of going through the "Groundhog Day" morning production:

  • 6:00 a.m. elliptical
  • 40 minutes of clumsy huffing while balancing the paper, reading in spinach order--front page, Metro, save Style for last. Front page is a little bit boring, skip to the op-ed page, rarely read the editorials. Favorite op-ed writers, E.J. Dionne, Richard Cohen (don't like him but I like his opinions)--those are the standouts.
  • Then come upstairs to the ceaseless demand station manned by 2 1/2 year old son Ian. "Mommy I want..." Lots of things. "Milk on cereal, change channel, change diaper, get dressed, come here, another piece of toast, sippy, I don't like 'Arthur,' Nick hit me...."
  • My response(s), "Ian, Daisy is still sleeping, go sit down, Nick change the channel! Is it on PBS? He doesn't like 'Zoom,' he wants 'Teletubbies'..."
  • Shower, delight in new shower stand with organized cleansing products, soap effectively dripping water off through the slotted holes in the triangular shelves, a moment of bliss in the satisfaction of wrangling order out of former chaos, brief thoughts of bathroom guests thinking, "This is such an organized, pleasant bathroom. I feel like I'm in a hotel!"
  • Back to reality, dry off, face the clothes gauntlet. Slide the closet door. Unsatisfactory, skirt-heavy closet filled with black clothes, all the no-brainer outfits are rump-sprung or I don't like them anymore; the awful transitional season of endless spring where it's supposed to be warm and 70 degrees, and yet it persists in hovering in the 50's and 60's so every warm weather outfit becomes a dare; a bad gamble. If I wear this, I will be freezing all day. If I wear that, the perspiration will cut through the cement layer of Dry Idea and create a soggy, odiforous film on my underarm.

I decide, completely spontaneously, to stay home. Once you make that decision, it is like an entire planet has been lifted from your chest. "I will not go in today. I will stay home." I had to leave work early yesterday because my nanny had an appointment. I brought my work home on a thumb drive, as well as a plastic bucket full of paperwork, so why go in? I can "work from home," the stepchild of the office world. The thing no one believes. Yeah right, "work" from home. NOT.

When I say it, though, I usually mean it. But something has happened to me of late. That free floating depression-edged anxiety about "what am I doing with my life?" That old saw. I had gone through a professional invasion-of-the-body-snatchers of late and been a "busy girl." Busy all the time, working to meet deadlines, reveling in being counted on, getting things done and then all of a sudden, about 3 days ago, I woke up from the office hypnosis and remembered that I didn't want to be an office drone. I had bought into the whole thing wholesale.

I was a working gal, listening to a radio morning program on the drive to work, knowing all the "talent," laughing at repeated "bits" like "10 questions," that a listener has to answer and of course it gets raunchy, "How many sex toys do you have," and all that. And I sit in my car on the Beltway (the BELTWAY!), which I swore my whole life I would never drive to work, headed for 270--the wretched Interstate that heads toward Pennsylvania or something, drinking coffee out of a metal thermal mug and that's when the Life Camera peered into my windshield from the aerial helicopter shot and I saw myself, sitting in my car, a horrendous numbered stereotype--office pawn, drone, plebe. And it's not what I want.

But I'm afraid of being a "stay-at-home-mom" too. That term makes me want to puke. I remember the first time I heard it, it sounded like heaven on earth. My friend's wife, who is independently wealthy, was the first person I ever heard utter those words. I, naively, asked, "What do you do?" And a beatific smile crossed her face and she said, "I'm a stay-at-home- mom." Back then, that was like saying you had just won the lottery--just pulled the wool over everyone's eyes and managed the mean hat trick of being able to afford to stay home with the pups. A life of Gap stretch pants, jogging strollers, distracted purpose, endless coffee, tepees, macaroni and cheese, refrigerator magnets, construction paper, Elmer's glue, early meatloaf dinners--a wholesome, relaxing, fulfilling life. And the fact that we could not "swing it" made me something I try never to be: bitter. It was the Holy Grail and it was so far out of my reach.

To be continued...

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Retro Slut

I work in a pink granite office building that was unceremoniously plopped on the ancestral breeding ground of a community of Canada geese. By unceremoniously, I mean that there appears to have been little foresight or spirituality connected to the placement and execution of the building. It has a random feel, like it's not pointing in the right direction; it's at odds with nature; the geese are confused; and if they just moved it slightly to the right or the left, then the building would be in synch.

Inside, my office building looks like a set from "L.A. Law," all cherry wood, hushed lighting and faux green marble floors. The guards are sweet, daft islanders with heavy accents, friendly smiles and barely concealed desires to be in other climates far, far away. Like me.

My office is inhabited by a cast of characters, like all offices. We have the black Lucille Ball, because every white person has a black counterpart and Lucille Ball is no exception. We have the black Leslie Uggams, which is redundant because Leslie Uggams is already black, and we have Retro Slut who is white and a very "foxy" little lady. By "foxy," I mean in its most relevant form, as a positive, descriptive moniker of the 1970's, a decade Retro Slut is scrupulously recreating.

Retro Slut has voluminous, pre-Raphaelite, natural blond curls, that she voluntarily dyes black, and a perfect, absolutely topnotch, yoga butt. It is the equivalent of a symmetrical, upturned nose (circa: every Sandra Dee film made in the 1960's), except it's a butt. She is probably a Size Zero and wears copious amounts of black mascara--Maybelline Great Lash?--and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm all about the mascara, but that's where our similarities end.

She shops for her '70's attire at "vintage" clothing stores, which I can't comprehend because the correct definition of "vintage" is something to do with the 1930's or 1940's, or any other decade I can't personally recall. I wasn't old in the '70's, I was a child-- a small child for the majority of the decade-- however I can't quite process that clothes from a decade that I remember could be classified, stored and sold as "vintage."

Here's the real rub: when you remember a decade, and someone is faithfully trying to recreate it fashionwise, it's easy to bust them on exactly what they think is cool from then, now. Case in point: the poncho. It wasn't cool then, or if it was, it was so brief and such an understandable mistake that we can just get on with it, but it was never, ever meant to be resurrected. Also, the ghetto-style, leather, billed cap: no. It was always dorky; it was always one of the Jackson Five's coordinated costume accessories; it was not meant for historical syndication. And yet, Retro Slut, with the yoga butt and the dyed black Pre-Raphaelite curls, wears the billed leather "pimp" hat in concert with Daisy Duke tops accented with elastic puffy sleeves.

I remember my blue striped halter top. I do. I loved it. I also loved my gingham, blue and white body suit with the too-large lapels and eyelet cuffs that I proudly combined with elephant-flare, hip-hugger, faded blue jeans. How cool was I? Not very. I wore that get-up to a new-school visit and the teacher asked the class, "Who would like to escort Zelda around for the day?" To which there was one reply, from a fellow nerd who took pity on me and decided to weather the stigma of squiring around a dork for the day.

But I digress, and perhaps it is my own tremendously bad memories of '70's clothes that causes me to be so exacting about Retro Slut (RS). Or maybe it's that she looks liked she rolled Jodie Foster for some of her hooker outfits from "Taxi Driver." Not sure. In any event, fall is the season to avoid RS. Because that's when the leopard-print, plush, swing coat [from Saks Fifth Avenue!] shakes off the mothballs and makes a scruffy appearance, not unlike Grizzabella during the climax of "Cats." That would be the pathetic slut-cat in "Cats," wearing the bedraggled coat, whilst singing the song we all wished we really hated, but when played--on Muzak at Safeway or on music boxes in giant malls--causes small, involuntary, emotive spasms. "Memory," originally sung on Broadway by Betty Buckley, who, for the uninitiated, played the second mom on "Eight is Enough" after the first mom, John Travolta's ladylove, died of cancer. I was really young in the '70's, just a little precocious.

But perhaps Retro Slut's piece de resistance is a suede "vintage" skirt, that is made up of buckskin colored swaths of suede, sewn together in decorative bias cuts. The only problem is, suede takes on the oil of its many fingered wearers, resulting in a look that is like buckskin a squaw wore in 1843. However, this skirt looks more like flesh, like the flesh the serial killer in "Silence of the Lambs" peeled off his victims, tanned and sewed into macabre homage vestments. So, when Retro Slut wears the psycho-killer, oily-pawed suede skirt and the black leather pimp cap, on top of the blond tresses so cruelly flattened with shoe polish black dye, I get a little frightened of her and all the things that are causing her to make these errant fashion judgments.

In addition, Retro Slut drives a shitkicker, white, low slung Toyota with two bumper stickers: "Beaver Power" and "Lick Bush." Those kinds of "feminist" statements, that are meant to demystify our, I don't know, enigmatic vaginas, and make us seem more powerful, make me embarrassed to be a woman. They make me want to hide, because what man, in exercising his dominance over the entire world would say, "Dicks Rule!" or "Lick my...."? No man. Because men just know, inherently, that penis enhancement is achieved through needlessly exercising power over oil-rich countries in the name of freedom. On second thought, maybe a girl's dumb emancipating bumper sticker is not so bad. Or maybe it is.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Monday, Monday

I am at work overlooking an impromptu goose preserve. I just recently emerged through the windtunnel/looking glass phenomenon known as "the weekend." You know it. The painful crawl to Friday, all the heartbreaking excitement that leads up to it: Tuesday is not Monday; Wednesday is "hump" day and the day when the "Food" section is in the paper; Thursday is ALMOST THERE, and Friday is dreadful "casual" day, which means I spend at least 30 minutes longer trying to look insouciant, like I just "threw on a pair of jeans," when in fact I fingered every item in my closet and felt fat and weird in all of it--saddlebags oozing from the sides of the jeans, an unruly stomach, an unflattering V-crease in the jeans. I try to hide it all with the new "fashionable" tunics they sell at Old Navy. Am I dressing too young for my age?
I went to Target (aka "church") yesterday after a "Betty Blue" catatonic haze sort of morning with les enfants. Four unadulterated hours with two under 3's and one very charming 7 year old. The Better Half went on one of his two tried and true Sunday morning routes: Home Depot (aka Home Despot) or the Asian food market. The Asian food market won out because, inexplicably, it was very important to have lots and lots and lots of cilantro on hand. Sometimes he brings back white bony fish with gnarled sharp bones only an Asian food mart would have--probably snakefish or eye of knute--and then asks me to whip something up with it. Weird, white, smelly, bone-in fish that's kind of greasy and not the sort of antiseptic smooth American germinated fare I am accustomed to. So now we have lots of cilantro, mushy pears, a pineapple, and an enormous wad of exuberantly fresh ginger in the house. The pineapple looks like we have Spongebob's house on the counter. My best friend confided in me today that she doesn't like Spongebob. I said, "But we ARE Spongebob." She said, "I don't care. I don't want to watch it. We do it better."

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My House is Now Pottery Barn Compliant

A potentially traumatic trip to Target (see previous post) yielded three excellent purchases. Target produces knockoffs of stuff you need but can't afford from Pottery Barn. The Pottery Barn catalogue comes and I drool over the magical compartmentalized wainscoted furniture, reminiscent of some imaginary, organized WASPy cottage--all clean American lines, laminated, buffed, classic. It is a catalogue of things you somehow want even though you don't really want them. What I really like is the velvet Boho furniture, fringed lamps, and richly hued Persian carpets at a boutique near my house. It looks like a 1930's salon in Bloomsbury, but Pottery Barn still holds me in thrall, like the fresh faced popular girl in 7th grade you don't really like, but you want to like you. Irrational needs and wants. So Target has tapped in to that pedestrian desire we all have to possess formulaic, derivative styles of furniture that recall eras and lifestyles rather than exhibiting original, organic senses of style. When we buy Pottery Barn, we're buying into that Ralph Lauren ethic that the clothes will somehow make us a Newport, polo playing, yachting swell without the fuss of inheriting a vast fortune and being naturally aristocratic. What I like about the Pottery Barn catalogue is the way everything has a place and kids' rooms are all mesermerizing spaces with infinite cubbies and gingham lined baskets to contain all the naughty, nasty, overwhelming chaos of our lives. If I just had walls and walls of whitewashed, wainscoted shelves with coordinating, softly lined baskets to hold all the clutter and mayhem, then I would be a better, more complete person. That's it. So Target has these great knockoffs and I bought a small white chest to put in the bathroom, to hold the toilet paper and bathtoys that had been cohabitating in an unsightly melange inside the hand-me-down white plastic baby tub with the shaggy oval of astroturf lining to keep baby from slipping. It is a tiny bathroom with a pedestal sink (another bow to The Barn) and a sheer shower curtain with artfully placed leaves--people always ask if it came from The Barn, but it didn't. I paid $35 for it at Linens 'n Things back when I didn't have $35 to spare. My second Target purchase was a tempered shower stand. That is perhaps the piece de resistance. Since our last one went kaput we could not locate another one anywhere. But now the lines of Johnson's Baby Shampoo, Bedhead Control Freak, and supersize jugs of Aveda Rosemary shampoo have a place to call home--the clever, slotted, white plastic shelves of a corner shower stand. The feeling of bliss and organized splendor was sublime. My final purchase was a 15 space organizer cubby--white--to put by the front door for all those little shoes (of my three munchkins). These were formerly stacked up in a dreadful pile, like bodies in a mass grave, on a narrow antique shaving stand. It was all wrong, it was messy, bad feng shui--but now the shoes are all carefully segregated, burrowed into tidy, exclusive compartments. Small white Nikes with pink socks tucked into them sit neatly, perfectly, in a preordained little stall--a hive of docile, well placed shoes with blue racing stripes, red appliqued cherries and tiny white whooshes adorning them. All is well.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Betty the Loon

Meanwhile...back at the impromtu goose preserve. My son tried to feed Cap'n Crunch to the new Japanese fighter fish we got yesterday. Buying the fish took three trips, two for my husband and one for me. My trip resulted in a parking lot skirmish that almost caused me to cry and shelve the whole trip. But then I remembered that retail therapy was the whole purpose of the trip. This was, as referenced earlier (in previous post "Monday, Monday,") after my "Betty Blue" morning wherein the ceasless demands of my merry band of wild Indians resulted in me craving the comforting confines of a straight jacket. I was in Frances Farmer territory--not on the brink. Brink sounds too delicate for the state I was in. I was in a nether world of ever-graying sanity, the moors and trappings and delicate infrastructure of the webs and wires that separate me from the nuthouse inmates were starting to unravel. Like your thumb separates you from the primates, we all have intricate inner workings meant to keep us on an even keel. These were eroding at a dizzying pace. Anyway, Sunday morning with the wee ones was not halycon. I started talking to myself--ALWAYS a bad sign--in that caustic, nutfarm, Mommy Dearest/Betty the Loon kind of way. Like, "I used to have a LIFE before this..." kind of crazy martyr bitch stuff. I couched most of it, but some of the battery acid seeped out. My eldest son (7) looked unfazed, as in: Mommy is acting like a kook again. I rationalize it by thinking that I am really preparing him for life in the real world which is dominated by crazy women. He's at the PhD level now. My husband came back from large Asian mart and patted my shoulder as I sat on the couch in post-lobotomy stage and said, "Come back from where you are. I need you." I must have looked scary because normally he would have just shoved a passle of white bags filled with overly fresh, reasonably priced produce in my face and gone back out for the rest. Leonard Woolf used to doggedly ascend the stairs to Virginia's room with a glass of milk on a tray. It drove her nuts, but I think of it that way sometimes--like I have a keeper. PTL.

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  • Self-Aggrandizing Slut
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