February 26, 2009

Simone


In years past, I have gone down to the French Quarter on Mardi Gras Day and paraded around incognito, usually dressed as a fairy or something that allowed me to wear a flowing dress and lots of makeup. Despite what the rest of the world believes, Mardi Gras is not all boobs and beads. Mardi Gras is a day to let your alter ego burst forth and shine through and, for some people, that means lifting your shirt in public so that drunken fraternity boys and old men engaging in frotteurism can pelt you with cheap plastic beads.

 

But, for most of us locals, it means people watching, meeting old friends, and acting like a fool for a day.

 

Back when I used to drink, I would, after having a few beers in me, tell people my name was Simone. I would tell this to new people and also people who knew me already, and they, knowing that I tended to get mean as the night wore on, would just take the easy route and not argue. In my mind, Simone was exotic and beautiful. Instead of a plain girl from the suburbs, Simone was mysterious and daring. She was a gypsy and a poet and wasn’t afraid to live her life as she saw fit.

 

On the other hand, Claire was scared, insecure and generally consumed with self-loathing. Simone was that part of me who came out only when I drank enough to forget how much I hated myself. After I got sober, Simone went into hiding for a while. Without my bottled courage, Simone stayed deep inside and just when I thought she might be gone forever, Mardi Gras 2002 rolled around and she came out with a vengeance.

 

I would love to say that I went on a meditative retreat with my swami and tapped into an abyss of self love, but I would be lying. I realized instead, that if I painted my face entirely and dressed completely different than normal, then I could parade around on Mardi Gras Day and be whoever I wanted, and that’s when Simone came back. I was, for one day a year, stunningly beautiful, alluringly mysterious and completely not the Claire who is me for the other 364 days of the year.

 

This year, Mardi Gras was quiet. Simone is still there, but instead of parading around with wings and fairy dust, Max and I walked our neighborhood and looked for ant piles. My little boy, just like me, does not like parades and big crowds, and so, Simone will just have to wait a few years until she can come out again to play. Besides, there is no greater joy than hearing my little boy tell me he loves me and climb into my arms after a long day of ant hunting. Simone pales in comparison.

 

February 17, 2009

You're a nice girl, but...

The other day, Mike was driving me to the airport for a business trip. I felt uncharacteristically calm as my usual MO is anxiety before a trip. You know the free floating kind that sometimes erupts into misdirected anger…generally at Mike. Yet, he continues to taxi me to the airport for these trips.  He has the patience of a saint and is easily the most forgiving man I have ever met.

 

We were tooling along the highway and he started telling me a story. It is a story I have heard many times before, but after so many years you run out of new material and you just tell each other the same story over and over again. I imagine when we are in our 70s sitting in an assisted living facility our son will visit us and think we are old and senile because we tell each other the same stories over and over again when in reality, we do that now and it is not the result of dementia.

 

This particular story he was telling is a good one. He and some friend whose name I can’t remember met a couple of girls while on vacation in Florida. He and this friend, let’s call him Peabody (all of Mike’s childhood friends have odd names and I have learned not to question this because someone did once confirm the existence of a friend named Eebazabba) were around 18 at the time and the girls, who were from Alabama, were on vacation with their families. Mike and Peabody took such a liking to these girls that they actually went to visit them. Mike’s Dad rented a Dodge Colt for them to drive to Montgomery or Mobile or someplace like that, so they could once again see the girls they liked.

 

Like all stories Mike tells, there was more to the story like how there was a gas crisis and the girl’s father had to siphon gas out of his Cadillac so they could actually drive. No doubt, he gladly did this to get these boys away from his little Princess, but Mike argues that point insisting he, at least, was a perfect gentleman. There was also an offshoot about Peabody punching the hood of the rented Colt and Mike then punching Peabody because he knew his Dad was going to be pissed.

 

My first reaction to hearing this story for the 50th time was to mock Mike for not only his silly little crush, but for still romanticizing it some 30 years later. Yes, I am that kind of wife. My husband patiently drives his irrationally angry and anxiety-ridden wife to the airport and she responds by ridiculing him. But, for some reason, on this particular trip down memory lane, I kept my mouth shut and instead of teasing him for being kind and lovingly human, I decided to be the same and share a story with him that I never shared before.

 

When I was 14 I went to Navarre Beach with a girlfriend and her family. They gave us remarkable freedom and we met a couple of boys one night on the beach. They boy I ended up talking to was a kid named Cal. He too was from Alabama and he was a nice boy. I was, looking back, a pretty young girl, but my self-esteem was somewhere near the floor and the fact that this boy was paying attention to me and was nice to me was mind boggling. When it was time to leave Florida, I was crushed. I wanted to exchange addresses and numbers with Cal so we could keep in touch, but he logically noted that we lived 2 states apart and would likely never see each other again.

 

Still, I was crushed. For the entire 5 hour car ride back to New Orleans, I quietly wept into my sweatshirt sleeve. No doubt the family I was with thought I was deranged or possessed, but they politely declined to comment on my weepiness. I just couldn’t stand that I had connected with this boy and was never going to see him again.

 

This next part gets a little weird. When I got back home I still could not stop thinking about this boy so I walked a ½ a mile to the pay phone at the Schwegmann’s Grocery Store, called information and got the phone number and address of Cal in Alabama. I can’t remember why I didn’t call. I suppose fear of verbal rejection or not enough quarters for a long distance call, but I did write him a letter. I am sure I tried to sound like it was the most normal thing in the world to stalk him from 2 states away before the invention of the internet and perhaps I even dotted the “i” in my name with a heart. The amazing this is that he actually wrote me back. I think this letter was something like a nervous, “wow, how did you find my address?” and “you are a nice girl, but…”

 

I had really forgotten about this incident and my inability to let go of this boy and how he made me feel. My heart healed quickly and no doubt I moved on to the next cute boy as young girls do, but telling the story again to Mike made me realize something about myself that I had forgotten. I like people. I like to hold the people I meet in my heart and keep them near. I don’t like to lose the people I meet. Over the years, as I have “matured,” I have learned to feign indifference about people I care about who either move away or don’t care as much about me. I have taken that heart I so carelessly wore on my sleeve and tucked it away. I have compartmentalized my emotions and learned the socially appropriate amount of care and concern I am supposed to show.

 

And, I have gotten so good at it that I almost made fun of my husband for not being indifferent. You see, if I had met my husband in Florida when I was 14, he would have rented a car and driven to see me. He would have given me his number and his address and been inappropriately expressive and possessive. He would have shown genuine interest in me and my feelings. He would have never forgotten me and would be telling stories about me 30 years later.

 

In my pained and pointed efforts to not seem like a clingy stalker, I almost forgot that sometimes, I just want to openly and honestly love my fellow human beings. I want to hug too long and cry when people move away. I want to put it all out there and not fear being mocked. I want to be like Mike. Or, at the very least, openly admire him for having the courage to do what I have forgotten how.

February 10, 2009

Random Ramblings About My Husband

My husband is different from me in many ways. He does these things that I think are completely bizarre. For instance, he asks people for directions. Sure, that’s not weird, but I am telling you, he asks EVERYONE for directions to EVERYTHING. If we walk into a giant chain supermarket in a new city, he will ask the cashier where the tomatoes are. I mean, for heaven’s sake, is it really that hard to look at either end of the store and see which one has the produce? When I call him on this, he says, get this, that he likes to talk to people??? What the fuck? Shouldn't he have disclosed this to me BEFORE we got married?

You see, I do not like to talk to people and will go to great lengths to avoid small talk. When I arrive home in the car, I look down and walk briskly until I have one foot in the front door. Then, and only then, will I look up and see if any neighbors are out. Then, I can give a wave as I enter the house. I appear friendly, but there will be NO small talk. I do not care that there was a gas leak or that Herman is getting new siding.

My husband, on the other hand, is like a loose dog that ran out the open front gate and is visiting every yard in a 20 block radius. He will spend hours roaming the neighborhood talking to anyone about the traffic, the weather, the cost of living, politics, religion, how much you paid for your house, how much we paid for our house, what kind of air freshener you use, why our brand is better, and the list goes on forever. The man can talk about nothing for hours on end. It is strangely revolting.

I have heard him call his friend Terry in Witchita Falls and talk to him for over 30 minutes about the weather. The weather. Yes, I am serious. I once stood around staring into space for an hour wishing a meteorite would land on my head listening to him talk to a random stranger on our street about politics. Or maybe it was religion. I do not know because I refused to make eye contact with the stranger or listen to anything that either of them said. It was my own private mutiny.

Most people dread the Jehovah’s Witness people coming to the front door. Not my husband. He welcomes them in the front door and it is they who are begging to leave, shouting “God Bless Yous” over their shoulders as they try to escape his grasp. Again, he says he just likes to talk to people and that he likes people.

This is completely baffling to me. I have already walked to the other side of the street feigning distraction to avoid talking to a relative.

The thing is, people love my husband. He always gets free stuff, he gets free deserts in restaurants, he finagles better rates out of sales people, and everyone in our neighborhood, I am sure, feels sorry for him because his wife is so stand offish. I have never been upgraded to a better room or received a complimentary appetizer, but this is commonplace for my husband.

He is a total throw back to the days of yore. In fact, sometimes I think he might actually be 78 and just in good shape. After all of us who are “technologically advanced” forget how to have actual conversations with actual human beings, my husband will be a sought after expert and resource. People will hire him to come in and teach the workers the basics of human interaction that takes place in real life as opposed to email or IMing.

For now, I will continue to do as much as I possibly can from my laptop, and while he may not know how to use Facebook and he may still think the Internet is baffling, let’s face it, in a post-apocalyptic world, I want my husband on my team.

 

February 4, 2009

How Hard Can It Be?

I have decided that I am going to post to my blog once per week. I originally was going to post everyday, but that was when I was young and na├»ve (last year) when I first started the blog and thought to myself, “How hard can it be?”

Those 5 words have caused me great pain in my life. I said those words to myself when I got pregnant, when my husband and I decided to buy and renovate our old house, when I decided to start running and when I decided to break my son of the pacifier habit. And just about all of those events have nearly broken me in half.

My last blog entry (Deep Fried Broken Heart, 2/2/09) is about my sister. I sent it to her, I suppose as a twisted and bizarre Valentine, and she liked it, although she protests and says she isn’t that harsh (she is) and that I exaggerated (I did.) Her terse email to me was something like this, “I like it, it was good. You should be writing a book, or at the very least become a columnist for a newspaper or something.”

Um, yeah. Sure, I’ll just fire up Monster.com and type in “newspaper columnist” and see the thousands of job opening appear on the page. I saw Marley and Me, I know that the only way to get a job as a newspaper columnist is to marry Jennifer Aniston and get a rowdy yellow lab. Even then, he didn’t seem very happy with his situation, now did he? Ingrate.

I figured, maybe Angelle is right, maybe it is something I could do “at the very least.” I typed “How to be a newspaper columnist” into Google and my laptop actually laughed at me. Really. The mouse guffawed and the F & G keys giggled. I can’t even tell you what the USB port did because it was wildly inappropriate.

The search revealed some nonsense about research and listings of editors and resumes and all kinds of other stuff that seems hard and time consuming and not immediately gratifying at all. But, at the bottom of the list it said to start a blog and, get this, post to it on a regular basis, like every week. Hmph. I can do that. After all, how hard can it be?

 

 

February 2, 2009

Deep Fried Broken Heart

After Hurricane Katrina flooded my sister's home with 10 feet of water, I discovered I could use her horrible misfortune to my advantage. I know, it's terrible isn't it? Still, bear with me, it's not like I stole her kidneys while she was distracted and doubled over with grief and confusion. You see, she lost her kitchen and was forced to use the kitchen of a FEMA trailer. If you have never been inside of a FEMA trailer, it's okay. Just reach back in your brain for the memory of the Barbie RV. Got it? Now strip it of Ken, Barbie and anything resembling a high end appliance and voila, you have a FEMA trailer kitchen picture, actual size.

My sister, Angelle, is a fabulous cook. She is the kind of person who not only has a crock pot, but actually uses it for something other than queso dip at parties. She has figured out how to actually cook whole meals in that silly little pot that I thought was just an over sized warmer. So, when that whore Katrina stole her beautiful kitchen and all her beautiful appliances, I struck. The conversation went something like this...

"Hey Ange, how are you?"

"Fine," she conceded with slight hesitation, "What do you want?"

I stop here. No, she wasn't hoodwinked. She has known me my entire life. She used to tell my other sister Alice that she was an over-achieving retarded person. Alice believed for longer than she should have that she had an IQ of 100, but simply applied herself harder than others. Angelle could smell my deal-making right over the phone. After all, she is the older sister.

So, I got right to it, "Ang, you have a need and I have a need and I think we can meet each other's needs. I need to learn how to cook and you need a kitchen."

And so, monthly cooking at my house became a regular thing. Angelle and my other sister Emily would come over and we would make massive quantities of meat balls, meat loaf and always some random chicken dish to freeze and serve as dinner throughout the coming weeks. After each session, Angelle would give a stern list of orders - "You need to get a set of fucking pot holders, for God's sake." Or, "Jesus Christ Claire, don't you have a bigger bowl?" Or, my personal favorite, which was a commentary on the concrete sink my husband made, his first actually, "What the hell, why is the drain opening so small? Tell Mike to make it bigger, we need a drain that can take something bigger than a fucking tampon."

I know I am making my sister out to sound like some kind of verbally abusive drill sergeant, but she's not. She is very funny and it is the post-Katrina tourette's syndrome that we all had that makes her sound that way.

As we met each month, my kitchen became more and more usable. I got pot holders, a big bolw, a meat pounder thing, and a crock pot. I got the non-stick aluminum foil (who knew there was such a thing?) and freezer bags versus just plan bags (again, who knew?) We had this train moving and slowly but surely I learned a little bit about cooking and eventually Angelle made it back into her house and into her own kitchen. We continued to cook every couple of months, mainly because it was fun. Angelle didn't need me anymore, but I needed her. I was still, and frankly, still am mystified by the convection oven setting on on my oven. To this day, I don't know what I am supposed to do with my roll of regular aluminum foil.

This past summer, Angelle moved away. She, like so many of us in Post-Katrina New Orleans, was done. She had enough of the bullshit and the bureaucracy and not having street lights and not getting any road home money and said goodbye to us and the city that the world has forgotten, or worse, just doesn't know how to fix. She moved up to Seattle where the air is clear and the schools are good and the buildings don't have permanent water lines. And, grudgingly, I am happy for her.

For a few months, we haven't cooked at all. Emily and I, the only 2 sisters left in the city, the only 2 in the family whose houses didn't flood, have wandered around in a haze, missing Angelle and wondering how we could cook without her. Finally, after eating Spaghetti and Ragu for 6 nights straight, I called Em and said we need to cook.

Last Friday, we embarked on our first cooking day since Angelle left. As a third, we invited my friend Tiffany. She is a good cook and a good sport. In spite of having a hurt leg, she came over and fried up 15 pounds of chicken nuggets. Yes, you read right, 15 fucking pounds. We made BBQ beef, meatballs and chicken kiev as well. We could have made stink bug soup and it would not have covered the fried chicken smell. As Emily said, at least it covers up the dog smell, but, in reality, it just smells like we deep fried a dog.

It was a success and we will eat well for the next month. But, still, I miss the running commentary on my kitchen and its lack of basic necessities. Sure, we managed to spill used frying oil on my dog last Friday and that was fun, but, something was missing. Someone was missing. And while I am happy for her new life in a real city, I miss the expletive-peppered chiding for not having basic kitchen equipment.