Raised in a House Full of Females

Last night, I took 14-yr-old JackMan to Publix because after three hours of drumline practice he had a hankering for a chicken tender sub. As we were pulling out of our neighborhood road onto the main drag, a white station wagon turned into the ‘hood, right past us.

T: Ew, that was that pervert Byron who works at Publix. You know, the one with the big ol’ thick square glasses? He lives three doors down from the Testa’s old place.

J: Why did you call him a perv?

T: Well, whenever you buy feminine hygiene products, he won’t touch the boxes, except with two fingers, by the corners. You can tell it’s excruciating for him.

J: That doesn’t make him pervy.

T: Hey, it’s weird. It reeks of weirdness. Take my word for it.

J: Maybe so, but a pervert is someone who likes to sniff girls’ panties—stuff like that. No, he's the exact opposite.

T: I guess you’re right.

J: But, still, we should go when he’s working and load the cart up with Kotex and Tampax. Oh, and Midol.

T: We could throw in some Summer’s Eve and FDS too. Boy, that would really freak him out.

J: Yeah!

Let Freedom Ring

And my air conditioner is busted.

What are they really seeking?

B'Bye Mean Old Bastard

Every old suburban neighborhood has one--the legendary geezer with a riding mower, whose lawn means more to him than his mama (god rest her soul). Though he seems to be nowhere around, let some kid on a bike swerve enough to bend a blade of his grass, and he'll come running from the wood shed with a BB gun.

Our Mr. Baker is gone now, and his little house is going too.

Don't worry; he didn't die. He just sold out to the folks at McMansion.


Some Gals Have All The Luck

Remember my neighbor—the one Biggy lusts after because she squeegees the driveway and rakes the yard? I realize this might be confusing, since he has a crush on Sam now, but I’m talking about the better half of the young couple down the street. We’ll call her K.

K just had her second baby, last week, while we were at the beach. Big deal, right? Ordinarily, I wouldn’t care about this news—certainly not enough to report on it. After all, I’ve had four of them, and few women these days can top that.

What’s interesting, however, is that K is special. God makes the rest of us suffer through pregnancy and its aftermath, but, for some reason, K was chosen to be spared. Pregnancy #2 was a repeat of the first: She was on the pill and never knew she was knocked up until five months after the fact.

No puking up Saltines, no throbbing rivers of blue veins in her breasts, no cravings for Kraft macaroni-n-cheese mixed with canned artichoke hearts, no Regan-like mood swings, no crying in the dressing room mirror at Motherhood—no clue someone had taken up residence in her body. Four months and a little glow later, the beautiful, perfectly-healthy infant pops out like toast (buttered, no less), and Mom is served breakfast in bed.

So I come back from my run last night, and Biggy and Lo are standing in Young Couple’s driveway with the proud papa. I stop, hoping to hear that K has hemorrhoids, but this is how the conversation goes:

Tania: So how’s everyone doing?

Proud Pop: Great. Perfect.

Tania: Getting any sleep?

Proud Pop: The baby sleeps through the night. And K’s already lost all the weight.

I give him the finger, turn up my iPod, and jog on up the hill.

While the Cat's Away, The Mice Will...Uh...Work

Earlier, over at minus-five, I read Sarah's story of the handy-man hand-out and so decided to tell part two of Sam the Wife. It's an embarrassing tale, especially considering my effusive praise before and considering, as well, how regularly I find myself thusly screwed. It's never exactly the same way; I mean, I vary the ways I allow myself to take it up the--

Anyway, a bit of background/clarification:

About five or six weeks before our Fripp trip (free work retreat), I arranged for Sam to take care of the house. I told her, too, that I was going to try to save a little money out of my allowance (Yes, another blog for another day) and get her to clean some for me. I hoped to save a couple of hundred dollars. As it turned out, I managed to squirrel away only half that amount (thanks to Father's Day!), and I let her know. Before we left, then, I reiterated, "Just do $100 worth of work--ten hours, because that's all the money I have." To which she responded, "What needs to be done most?"

Together we decided that she could clean the three bathrooms. All I do is disinfect the sink and the areas our tender parts touch. I tend not to mop floors, clean baseboards, or wipe down blinds, and I hardly ever scrub the shower walls or doors. We both knew that between the five years of grime I'd allowed to build up and her tendency to clean with toothpicks, it would probably require three hours per bath.

Sam charges $10 an hour for whatever she does, whether she's digging a cellar or polishing a doorknob (in addition to her base rate for house/pet-sitting, which is $30 per day). Always thinking of others, I reminded her, "Please don't do ANYTHING outside. Greg's not paying for this; I am."

As indicated in my last post, when our family arrived home, it looked like Hazel, Alice, and Edward Scissorhands had joined forces under the supervision of Nurse Ratched. Inside and out was spic-n-span. High from the 409 fumes, I discovered a note on the counter from Sam, telling me she'd done a lot of extra work and how I could pay her for it later. No rush.

I walked up the street to her house with a check for the $320 we'd agreed on (dogs/cleaning). It was about 10 p.m by then, and my emotions were all ajumble: exhaustion from the long drive, with its several rounds of The Quiet Game, which always ends with Lo kicking and sobbing and JackMan taunting the "cheating freakwad"; elation from coming home to the new house Summer Santa had brought us; and confusion about money owed.

What was she thinking? Did she not GET the part where I had only been able to save twenty dollars a week and what that says about my financial situation? When she came to the door, I asked her straight out: "How much extra, exactly?" No answer. She kept mumbling stuff like..."a LOT of work...let your conscience be your guide..."

But she didn't have much confidence in my conscience. The next day, after I got home from work, I went to the mailbox and found a four-page itemized list of all the chores she'd taken it upon herself to do, which included cleaning the toilet brushes and their holders, bleaching the bird shit off the bench by the walkway outside, and sanitizing the two large Waste Management trash cans. She even cleaned the pimento cheese and peanut butter out of the buttons on the remote (OK, that I'd pay for). At the bottom of the list was a bill for the balance: $400. For a grand total of $720. ( I know you can add; I'll keep repeating the total, though, until I believe it.)

I thought I was going to throw up. I still might.

I'm thinking about going over there tonight while she's asleep--pruning her shrubs, washing her car, and planting some squash and tomatoes in her backyard.

How much do you think I could charge?


The Wife He Never Had

While we were at Fripp, our neighbor Sam (Mary Alice) house-sat for us. I've known Sam for 13 years, seeing as how I lived in another house on this same street when I was married before (a future blog).

Sam is a jane-of-all-trades and makes her living as a pet-sitter, cleaning lady, painter, construction worker, landscaper, and soothsayer. I used to refer to her house as "the commune" because she lived with all her exes: her ex-husband, his mother, his sister, and the sister's husband. The ex-husband eventually married again and moved out, and his sister's husband died year before last. Now it's just the three women, so it doesn't qualify as a commune, unless you count the five cats and the hedgehog.

Because she told me, I know she's in her fifties, but she's one of those people you can't pin an age on. From my front door, if you see her in her own yard, she looks like a girl, with her long white braid and cut-off painter's pants. She loves animals and people equally, she is honest and loyal, and she can clean like nobody's business (She's OCD, hence the scrubbing involves such implements as toothbrushes, Q-tips, and popsicle sticks).

If it sounds like I have a crush on Sam, you should have heard the rest of my clan last night upon our arrival home. It was like Christmas, only instead of, "Look at the skates Santa brought me," it was all: "Did you see the floor in the pantry?!" and "She got the egg yolk off the wall!" and "Hey, I didn't know that grout was white!"

They dragged me from room to room, showing me the spotlessness. Biggy kept saying, "I can't believe she's not married. She should be someone's wife." This morning, gazing out the sparkling living room windows, he actually confessed, "I'm seeing Sam in a whole new light."

I've got news for him; she can also caulk a tub and shingle a roof. She's an artist (pastels and watercolors) and pianist too.

He'll have to fight me for her.

How To Dispose of the Body

Lo, feeding the deer one more time before leaving Fripp.


Friday Nostalgia

In honor of the dolphins we've been seeing here at Fripp, I'd like to remember "Flipper." This show only ran from 1964-1968, so I must have been watching years of reruns. Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, Flipper, and Daktari comprised my own 1960's version of Animal Planet.


Yesterday, Biggy, Georgie, and I took kayaks to Turtle Island (about a 2-minute paddle). Biggy, who’d already scoped it out on Wednesday, proceeded to give us a bogus tour of the three-jillion-year-old driftwood fossils and Captain Hook’s tractor. When some guy cruised by us on a four-wheeler, our guide shouted that we must ‘hide from the natives—all cannibals,’ at which point I suggested he leave us out of his “Lost” fantasies.

(Long beat of silence)

T: I know you have a come-back to that.

B: Yeah, but why ruin our vacation?


Beauties and the Beach

Blue, Lo, and Georgie

Here's the Beast. After a long day in the surf.


Quick Notes from Fripp

This is a picture of Georgie I took Saturday morning before we left for the beach. She's been asking for a new bed since we went to Ikea New Years Day. Begging hasn't worked so far, so she is suddenly claiming her own bed is too uncomfortable. It hurts her back and elbows, and makes her hairline ache. So committed is she to her mission, she began a vigil of sleeping on the futon couch in the sunroom every night last week just to prove her point. That couch, by the way, is so uncomfortable, no one even SITS on it. Let's hear it for a teenager's perseverance!

By the way, while putting in a Sex and the City dvd tonight, I discovered a tiny area where the laptop was picking up someone's signal. If I hold the machine at a certain angle, the bars come and go, and that's how I'm posting tonight.

While I have it, then, here is the view from the front porch at Fripp:

And from the back deck:


Your Mother Is In The Car!

We’re at the beach again, this time, Fripp Island, SC, for the annual Portfolio Center Staff Retreat. I never thought I’d grow to love the low country the way I love the gulf coast, but it has finally happened. All these years of good/crazy memories—so many stories. If you lack for stories, try sharing a beach house for a week with the folks you work with and their families.

No Internet again, though, so I had to ride the monkey bike to the only office on the island with a dsl connection. In other words, I’m sitting in a little hole in the wall, because I’m a FREAK, when I should have my toes in the sand. And all I really have today, is a brief snippet of conversation:

Yesterday, my first-batch kids and I—Blue, Georgie, and JackMan—drove to Super WalMart in Beaufort (an experience in itself), a 45-minute trek, mind you, for groceries. We were listening to Counting Crows, the only cd we could all agree on.

Blue: If Adam Duritz asked me to marry him today, I would.

Georgie: Duh. Me too.

Blue: The first thing I’d do is get him to write a song for me.


Blue: Yeah, true. The second thing.


Friday Nostalgia

A big Beverly Hillbillies fan as a child, I made a reference to Jethrine in my poem "A History of the Body," from Karaoke Funeral. The twelve-part poem, which chronicles the journey toward accepting my body (yeah, right), has several generally well-known pop-culture references, as well as a couple of other obscure ones from the 80's. I realized it was risky to include the dated references, but I chose to go ahead. I figured my own peers would "get it" for sure, and the younguns could either consider the context or look it up.

But for today's nostalgia, I'm doing the work. I'm listing said references in order, indicating which section of the poem they occur in. I'll post the poem in its entirety too. Why not? It's my blog.

'A History Of The Body' Primer:

Section 1:
WalMart--Discount Behemoth

Possum--a nomadic, nocturnal marsupial that eats garbage and cat food.

Section 4:
Cambridge--A diet in formula powder guaranteed to cause paralysis if you stay on it for more than a day.

Boo Radley--Scout's ghostly but harmless neighbor in "To Kill A Mockingbird." Think Sloth from The Goonies.

Section 5:
Aerobics--an 80's exercise phenomenon, synonymous with Jane Fonda, responsible for the current boom in arthritis pharmaceuticals.

Fudge Jumbles--an 80's snack phenomenon, puked up in mass by bulimics all over the country.

Thin Mints--Girl Scout Crack

Section 6:
Lucy and Ethel--refers to the episode of the 50's I Love Lucy sit-com where Lucy and Ethel work in a chocolate factory and end up cramming chocolates in their mouths because they can't box them fast enough. Dream or nightmare?

Ricky Ricardo--Lucy's hapless hubby.

Section 7:
Jethrine--Jethro's super-sized sister, duh. Played by Max Baer, who played Jethro.

Section 8:
Venus--Roman name for Greek goddess Aphrodite, born of sea foam and notorious for her affairs with mortal men.

Helen--According to Greek mythology, the most beautiful woman in the world. Caused the Trojan War.

Section 9:
anchovy--a stinky little fish, and pizza topping.

Section 10:
Clermont-- 'round back, in the basement. Your granny can strip here.



When John left me for a twenty-year-old
smooth and unlined as new road,
the thing I worried about most
wasn’t working at Wal-Mart, or the children
who walked around like three clenched fists,
but my birth-ravaged body, its stretch marks
like tire tracks, the belly split wide
and stitched into a leather purse,
the sad flattened possums of my breasts.
Who’d love me now?


Kathy won’t wear anything but overalls
until she drops five more pounds,
is starting to look like a sack of herself.
At the bakery, I’m trying to decide between bagel and scone
as if I were declaring my major. She pinches
the punched dough of her waist, tells me
a bagel counts as three bread exchanges.


In the outdoor amphitheater, music
like privilege, catered picnics on folding tables,
the women look lovely
and thinner in candlelight, at dusk,
holding long elegant crystal stems.
The line for the restroom is endless as discontent,
but there’s one empty stall.
Perched above the toilet clogged with vomit,
I see red press-on nails scattered on the floor.
Judging by the contents floating
in the bowl between my knees—shreds
of romaine, whole croutons, chicken,
and marzipan—I’d contend
someone first picked off the nails like petals
so she wouldn’t tear her throat.


Having learned too early ways the female anatomy
can accommodate a man, I vowed
I’d never grow a woman’s body, stalled puberty
with a diet of Cambridge and canned peaches
until I was fifteen, until one night, sitting in front of the t.v.
with a bowl of dill pickle chips and a fork,
I watched “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
And as Scout took Boo Radley’s hand in hers,
I forgot myself, bled.


Our seventh mile, Kathy and I see the girl again,
maybe nineteen, with an I-mean-business-
in-any-weather expression, her brisk clip
almost a jog. No matter what time of day
we run, she’s out, like a defiant tongue,
lapping the neighborhood, and just as soft,
now, as when we first saw her, months ago.
We did the same in college—
swimming, biking, aerobics and, in-between,
quick batches of Fudge Jumbles, Thin Mints.
We say it together: “Walking herself fat.”


My birthday coming up fast,
I walk around crying, have bad dreams:
last night, the conveyor-belt-gone-haywire
Lucy episode, with Kathy as Ethel.
The chocolates had stamped on them
all the years left of our lives, speeding by.
We had to eat them or lose them forever,
and some man out of sight was laughing,
Ricky Ricardo, or maybe John.


Beri phones early, wakes me, and I can’t tell
if she’s crying or just recovering from a bout
of morning sickness. She asks what exercise
I did when I was pregnant, says her knees
look like bean bags, her husband called her Jethrine.
I remember the names, how my bed grew larger
the longer I was with-child, becoming an ocean
where I floated each night, alone and untouched.
I recommend walking, describe some simple calisthenics,
then hang up quickly, divining only to the walls,
“The man is already shopping.”


Greg’s “old” college buddies are in town
for the weekend—Christy and Sara and Todd.
A stream of mail preceded the visit, sexy
post cards addressed to “Love Chunk” and “Sweet Buns”
that ooze at me from his dresser.
They’ve gone out this evening to “catch up,”
and five years older than he is, I’m trying hard
to be an adult. But I envision Venus and Helen,
only younger. I picture a double date—
Greg & Christy, Todd & Sara.
Or Greg & Sara. All night alone
I do inventory: four lines under my left eye,
one new dimple on my ass.


When I was nineteen, I lay on the cool familiar
flat of Tom Valley’s bed, having nothing more
to offer, and he with nothing else to gain, when he
stated as matter-of-factly as if he’d found a penny,
“You have a beautiful body.” Even as I felt
near-perfect for those few unparalleled seconds,
in the next my vision cleared: Liar, Flatterer, Idiot.
My smell filled the room like leftover pizza. Anchovy.


I love to go to the Clermont,
“Atlanta’s oldest gentlemen’s club,”
Where dancers never die or retire
but simply grow closer to the ground
as they strip on the bar, fondle
the ceiling for balance.
Blondie, star of the show, is fifty-two.
Patina black skin, permed platinum fall
framing the cauldron of her middle,
she’s famous for crushing beer cans,
five dollars a turn, between her breasts.
She packs both hands full of slack flesh and nipple
and stretches, pulls them like taffy,
before the wreck and aluminum crunch.


I know Greg loves me:
He takes ballroom dancing, took my kids
to the fair. And I love him in a way
that is healthier, covered by insurance.
but neither he nor my therapist can cure
this need to fill the crisper drawer
with perfect peaches and grapefruits.
Or that other nightmare, where life
is one big orgy and they’re about to pick teams.


She has my sister’s blond hair and blue eyes,
the same long limbs I always envied.
But the tenacious hand that holds her spoon is mine,
and my square hips keep her planted.
Looking up from the bowl of whipped cream
she calls fruit salad, my daughter asks,
“Will I be pretty as you when I grow up?”
I take a deep breath: strawberries and sugar.
“Baby,” I say, “you are going to be magnificent.”


To All PC Alumni: Wish You Were Here

Tonight, I'm timing critiques, which means it's my job to make sure the panels run on schedule. Designers tend to be quite earnest and long-winded, in my experience--unlike, say, writers. I'm bored as crap, so here are some photos of the goings-on. I'll let you know if anyone cries.

Big-Ass Panel for the Bridge Projects

These guys clean up nicely, I have to say.

What's with the slackers STILL working on projects with 15 minutes till show time? You had eleven weeks, ladies.

Maria--ever the drama queen.

Keith, working hard at the front desk, earning the big bucks.

After all that pain and suffering, the projects go in the slush pile for judging.

Mary and Audrey, gossiping about minus-five.

My very scientific system for timing the panels. Since "the accident," I can't remember anything without stickies.

Look what Craig the writer brought me!

Hey kids, your mama doesn't live here! Clean up after yourselves.

Famous Quotes

A student asked me to proof a book she's working on, and in it was this gem:

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don't know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”
--Anais Nin


Critique Week Mayhem

Portfolio Center students are down to the wire, with today and tomorrow being the final days of critiques, and the upper quarter peeps scheduled for the prized end-time slots. So I come in this morning expecting extreme diligence, and this is the scene at "the big table," where those celebrated upperclassmen preside. They claim to be working on posters and wine labels.



Starbucks Observations

This morning, Hank asked me to meet him at Starbucks to talk about some PC website stuff without all the usual interruptions of critique-week-student-crises. He was late, of course, caught in intervals on his way down the hall, up the stairs, and out the door of the school. Not only that, but once he arrived, no fewer than three students, an instructor, and an alum "stopped by" for lattes. Needless to say, we accomplished not-much.

While I waited for him, I had an opportunity to people watch, which meant the usual visual assaults: a woman in black pants with a bright green geometric pattern--pants that should only be worn to Junior League or book club meetings; a middle-aged Eric Clapton wannabe, sporting poetry hair and a white short-sleeved tee shirt with a vest; a variety of smug businessmen sweating off their mystic tans in their Brooks Bros.; and this guy in the photo, certainly off his meds, who sat outside all morning, styling his hair with an Ace pocket comb and his own snot. I shit-you-not.



Straight out of Biggy's mouth: "Look how cute Timmy is. I think I love him."

The Test Results Are In

I don't even know what to say. Obviously, I need some help.


All-Lo Weekend

To move that staple pic on down the page, I thought I'd go ahead and post a couple of post-trauma photos, showing what a trouper she is.

Lola, Racky, and Maverick, telling Blue the whole dog-bite tale.

Right before she left to WATCH the BMX race she'd planned to participate in today. (Note her neck is as red as her shoulders.)

Turkey and Dressing

This morning, we had to clean the wound and change the bandages. But only after the chocolate donuts.

About Me

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Writer, teacher, student, mom.

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