Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Billie Joe McAllister/Richard Cory

In early 1977, I was 11 and madly in love with Robbie Benson, straight from the pages of "Tiger Beat" magazine. Somehow all my begging wrangled my getting dropped off at a theater by myself to see Benson's '76 movie "Ode to Billie Joe," based on the '67 Bobbie Gentry song. I completely did NOT get the theme of the movie, which (unlike the song) was that Billie Joe had jumped off the bridge in shame because he was gay! (My mom had to, after reading reviews of the movie, explain it to me afterward when I asked her.) Even at 11, I just thought Billie Joe and the (female) narrator of the song had broken off their relationship (very traumatic at that age, no need for "gay" to intensify it) and that Billie Joe never could fit in and had a sense of malaise about life in general. (In '77, "malaise" was actually a common term in pop culture thanks to a recent Jimmy Carter speech.) I think, despite my misunderstanding of the movie, that my initial 11-year-old emotional perception of the song was right.



---------------------------------------------------------

And then later, in college, I read Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Richard Cory" of 1897:

WHENEVER Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.



and heard Simon and Garfunkel's corresponding '60s song...



The same exact "Billie Joe" sensation that I'd felt 8 or 9 years earlier. The same loneliness and "malaise" of spirit. I'm both Billie Joe and his girlfriend, and Richard Cory and the envious townsman watching him. Made me incredibly sad, but also gave me a sense of "belonging" to the overarching spirit of sadness permeating the universe. Other people have felt sad like I have felt sad. It felt good in its way to experience, second-hand. The sense of being outside of it and watching others commenting on it. The only difficulty is... sometimes you get drawn back in, to where the whole thing isn't second-hand any more and you find that you've just descended into the actual maelstrom yet again.

-------------------------------------------------------

Speaking of suicide: I woke up a couple of days ago utterly sick of all the constant struggle for everything, wondering wildly how I could go out: "I have about $1500 in the bank. I'll go back and get a hotel room in New York City and spend my last days there." But the second that thought occurred to me, then a second thought immediately occurred to me: "If I go back and get a hotel room in New York, then the city's going to put me in a really great mood and I won't feel like dying any more and then I'll just be alive and completely out of money." Oh Jesus. The stupidity of the Dilemma made me laugh.

Hitler for the Holidays


Thanksgiving conversation topic: My mom had read that a poll of high schoolers said that Jesus was the guest they'd most like to have at their Thanksgiving table. I immediately rolled my eyes: "JESUS? They all just said that!" So everybody jumped on me for being mean! I actually do think Jesus would be an interesting dinner guest, but not, I'm sure, for the same reasons as the high schoolers! (I'd be trying to get out of him if he really was the Son o' God, or if he was just crazy and/or a good talker.)

Then my sister-in-law said she'd want her great-aunt or something. I initially subdued another eye roll, but lost all control when the 8-year-old nephew said that -- of all the people in the world -- he wanted his cousin (who lives in NY).

Me: "That's just corny!" (I have to train this kid early!) :)
Sis-in-law: "That's not corny, that's sweet!"
Me: [rolling, rolling, rolling]

Anyway, I picked, off the top of my head, Joan Crawford and Ted Hughes. (Hey, at least not corny!)

My mom picked her grandfather and...Hitler!! Now, I couldn't argue with that -- it really would be interesting to have her Commie grandfather who had to leave Germany in '33 because of Hitler AND HITLER to dinner! Hitler, as with Jesus, another extreme figure; the fascination for me would be to try to figure the guy out: Is he practicing his hypnotic stare on anyone? Is he slipping in anti-Semitic remarks to the conversation? What if he gets pissed off about something, say if the turkey's overcooked? (Oh wait, he was a vegetarian...Will we get a lecture about the turkey?) Does he chew with his mouth open? Does he undo his pants after all the vegetables and go to sleep on the couch?

Just fine, thanks.


Over Thanksgiving, I realized that I'd reached an absolute nadir when my mom asked me, in all sincerity: "So, how's your plant doing?"

I used to at least have a CAT that people trying to make conversation could ask about! :)

I'd better take care of the plant, because when that goes it's pretty much down to, "How's that piece of cheese I saw lying on your counter a couple of months ago?"

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Getting Shit

I "Like" Sarah Palin on Facebook, and just now went to her page to read her latest:

"My fellow Americans in all 57 states, the time has changed for come. With our country founded more than 20 centuries ago, we have much to celebrate – from the FBI’s 100 days to the reforms that bring greater inefficiencies to our health care system. We know that countries like Europe are willing to stand with us in our fight to halt the rise of privacy, and Israel is a strong friend of Israel’s. And let’s face it, everybody knows that it makes no sense that you send a kid to the emergency room for a treatable illness like asthma and they end up taking up a hospital bed. It costs, when, if you, they just gave, you gave them treatment early, and they got some treatment, and ah, a breathalyzer, or an inhalator. I mean, not a breathalyzer, ah, I don’t know what the term is in Austrian for that…"

I was shocked! I knew I didn't always agree with her intellectually, but this time it seemed as if she'd gone absolutely off her rocker! (Or else that her Facebook page had been hacked.) As it turned out, the above quotes are all from BARACK OBAMA. Not in one massive paragraph like that, but they're a series of quotes all by Obama, with links (that I clicked to check) to prove that he said them. After I got over my initial shock at the above on the Palin page, I read on:

"Of course, the paragraph above is based on a series of misstatements and verbal gaffes made by Barack Obama (I didn’t have enough time to do one for Joe Biden). YouTube links are provided just in case you doubt the accuracy of these all too human slips-of-the-tongue. If you can’t remember hearing about them, that’s because for the most part the media didn’t consider them newsworthy. I have no complaint about that. Everybody makes the occasional verbal gaffe – even news anchors."

She has a great point. Sarah Palin has been given nothing but shit by every news outlet sans Fox for every slip of the tongue. While Barack Obama, every bit as inexperienced as she from the onset, has been given nothing but the royal treatment, DESPITE his gaffes.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Transistor


I got my very first radio when I was 9. It looked like this, maybe 5-by-3 inches. The very first song I heard on it: "Song Sung Blue" by Neil Diamond. While walking up Rebecca Street in Iowa Park, Texas, trying madly to get it tuned in.

I just now looked up the song on YouTube. First found Diamond singing it on a German TV show, looking pretentiously solemn and making up some words as he went along, plus having creepily long fingernails (I've never understood that latter habit in allegedly straight men... Completely pimpy and/or gay. Joan Crawford's second husband Franchot Tone also wore his nails long.) Then found a more straightforward version, but... what the hell. Here's the pretentious, long-finger-nailed version.

The One That Got Away

Poem by Richard Sassoon (Plath's love before Ted):

RAINBOW

On my plot of earth nothing but dandelions
turning to seed - actually the dandelion, as it's
an asexual thing, purely itself, immutable -
while my neighbors' wild poppies are blossoming,
one more seemingly every hour. Those
magnificent orange-red, origami-like petals
will soon be dropping away and scattering
everywhere, a festival of crinkled hue and cry,
while the little grey parachutes, dandelion
seeds, fly off hither and thither to naturalize,
even spiritualize, the tidy lawns of expensively
cared for, non-indigenous bright green grasses.

That common, sexless life eternal... the exotic
life-sex-and-death ... skillfully creative and
quite banal arts and the artificial too - this
very moment my own vital-mortal spirit is
bowing down to honor them all - finite
details, quickly here and then never so,
conjured with their own conjuring conjurers
(seer, seen, and seeing suddenly made one again
briefly) out of the vast unknowable, never itself
even born: the only ever-infinite mystery...

O!-
how my red heart expanding is laughing at this small,
pale white, wrinkled face about to become a skeleton's
skull with holes where the bright blue eyes now
are turning tearful, like two earth-bounded
heavens clouding to lavish all the living
worlds with rain... and rain and rain...
while the sun yet shines so the ultimate symbol
of all, the rainbow, there and not there, appears...

-------------------------------------------------------------------

And speaking of poppies, here's Plath on October 27, 1962, her birthday, 3-1/2 months before she died (the date of Sassoon's poem is unknown):

POPPIES IN OCTOBER

Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.
Nor the woman in the ambulance
Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly --

A gift, a love gift
Utterly unasked for
By a sky

Palely and flamily
Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes
Dulled to a halt under bowlers.

O my God, what am I
That these late mouths should cry open
In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.

---------------------------------------------------------------

I'd always thought of Sassoon as being pretentious. Knowing nothing about him other than what Plath had written in her mid-'50s journals (slight, artistic, Gallic, rich, decadent -- the alleged "mistresses" and spankings and whatnot). I'd never known that he was an actual writer (or painter). Knowing Plath as I thought I knew her via her work, I assumed that Ted Hughes was, "of course," the "ultimate mate" for her, given her overt hero-worship and apparent love of extremes. Upon my first reading of the Sassoon poem above, I immediately focused on what I initially (knee-jerkingly) considered his "wishy-washy"-ness, phrases like "to naturalize, even spiritualize" and "non-indigenous." And then his admiration for the "asexuality" of the dandelion... But here's the thing: Sassoon's poem is actually subtle and thoughtful, considering the value of both the dandelion and the poppy -- and of being and not-being -- and not judging either, but just wondering at the mystery of both. His thoughts seem purely his own.

Hughes, on the other hand, while one of my favorite poets, and an obviously skilled and deep-feeling one (the only poet who has ever made me cry), seems spiritually rough and clumsy in comparison. Hughes's language/thought is heavily invested in the heartily physical, and in raw acts practiced in the natural world; and when he goes inward, he reaches immediately for the mythological, hardly ever trusting his own thoughts. A search for human-crafted patterns of thought and behavior stretching back thousands of years. Interesting. But not ORIGINAL. Or truly indicative of the actual range of human (not animal) thought. He doesn't think for himself.

I can't, of course, judge Sassoon's thought-patterns and/or self based on one poem. But his poem above is "merciful." It's open and accepting of VARIOUS patterns found in the universe. Not just focused on the black-and-white, allegedly "fixed" and destructive patterns that Hughes tends to feel guide everyone's destiny. Plath's work -- and, I assume, psyche -- despite the extremities of emotion, actually veers between the two philosophies; while being drawn to the darker side and thus influenced by Ted's harshly deterministic, uber-negative world view, her creative work is actually a lot more open and receptive and similar in thought -- the simultaneous existence of mercy with horror -- to Richard Sassoon's.

I think the hyper-positive fake world of 1950s America got the better of her. Plath was good at her constructed role in that society, but inwardly distrusted it deeply since her own actual dark thoughts were not the thoughts that were being thrust upon her. And so she turned to their opposite -- Hughes and his various, usually tragic, mythologies posing in the guise of "reality," which, it turned out, are equally as false. In her work -- in her purest of selves -- she mistrusted this falseness instinctively. In her life, she did/could not. In real life, Hughes, after her repressed upbringing that she refused to go back to, seemed like her only option.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Journals of Sylvia Plath


I've got two versions of Plath's journals. The first, Ted-edited and released in '82, I'd read long ago; the second is the unabridged 2000 version (well, "unabridged" meaning everything up to the last 2 volumes, written close to her death, that Ted lost/destroyed), at 700-odd pages, nearly double the length of the first one. I'd glanced through it over the years, but there really is a lot of plain old boring stuff in there: It had obviously been drilled into her head that "real writers" always used plenty of concrete "place" details, which she dutifully notes ad infinitum. As she does her constant sinus problems. (For all of her constant claims of vitality, she really seemed to have been physically sick a lot.) And, up until her time in Boston with Ted after their marriage, there's a lot of too-literary self-consciousness that gets a bit tiresome.

Here she is to former flame Richard Sassoon, who is living in Paris and refusing to see her, from an unmailed letter of March 6, 1956: "...More than anything else in the world I want to bear you a son and I go about full with the darkness of my flame, like Phedre, forbidden by what auster pudeur, what fierte?" A mere four days later, she writes of Ted Hughes, whom she had met at a party back in February and who is still hanging around Cambridge: "And again the dark eats at me: the fear of being crushed in a huge dark machine, sucked dry by the grinding indifferent millstones of circumstance. He is at a party now, I know; with some girl. My face burns, and I am turning to ash, like the apples of sodom and gomorrah."

Oh brother. But, hey, she's 23! :) (And she definitely, brilliantly got rid of the extraneous stuff in her work post '58.) RE Richard and Ted: I was unaware of the extent of the emotional overlap between them. She met Ted at the famous St. Botolph's party in late February of '56 (the one where she bit his cheek, he stole her hairband, etc.). But up until mid-April of '56 she was still writing (unmailed) lengthy letters to Richard, begging him to see her. By mid-June of '56 -- a mere 2 months later -- she had married Ted! Hard to think of "Ted Hughes" as a rebound, but... the man was a rebound! And by the time they're living in Boston in '58, she's writing in her journal, "DO NOT SHOW ANY [poems] TO TED" and "Don't tell Ted my problems." Still glorifying him ("there is no one as wonderful") but in everyday terms, making decisions to keep important emotional things from him. (Similarly, I'd always wondered why, a couple of years later, in '61 I think it was, she had to drive HERSELF to the hospital when it was time for her appendectomy! That's not exactly a warm and loving relationship. They might have been spiritual soul-mates of sorts, but...who doesn't drive their mate to the hospital?? Come on. Mundane as it might be, that's still a part of it all.)

Anyway, I'm up to December '59 now, and the last few months have been, finally, extremely revelatory, thanks to Plath's psychiatric sessions with Dr. Ruth Beuscher: [re her mother, Plath's caps] "WHY DON'T I FEEL SHE LOVES ME? WHAT DO I EXPECT BY 'LOVE' FROM HER? WHAT IS IT I DON'T GET THAT MAKES ME CRY? I think I have always felt she uses me as an extension of herself; that when I commit suicide, or try to, it is a 'shame' to her, an accusation: which it was, of course. An accusation that her love was defective.... I felt if I didn't write nobody would accept me as a human being. Writing, then, was a substitute for myself: if you don't love me, love my writing & love me for my writing. It is also much more: a way of ordering and reordering the chaos of experience."

Wow. No more kid stuff.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Without Mercy, the Rains Continued

by David St. John
The New Yorker, 11/8/2010


There had been
A microphone hidden

Beneath the bed
Of course I didn't realize it

At the time & in fact
Didn't know for years

Until one day a standard
Khaki book mailer

Arrived & within it
An old

Stained cassette tape
Simply labelled in black marker

"Him / Me / September, 1975"
& as I listened I knew something

Had been asked of me
Across the years & loneliness

To which I simply responded
With the same barely audible

Silence that I had chosen then

LeSueur Baby Peas are a few of my favorite things...


My mother called me today to ask what time I wanted her to pick me up on Thursday, Thanksgiving, the feast being held at her house. (She lives 2 miles away; I don't have a car.)

Mom: "The Game [Cowboys, of course] starts at 3, so your brother will be over before then..."
Me: "Well, just fetch me before the game. Any time. I don't care."
Mom: "I know you like to sleep late..."
Me: "MA! ANY TIME! Well, any time after noon. Between noon and three."
Mom: "I'll be cooking before 3..."
Me: "MA! Any time that you're not cooking between noon and three."

That settled, I had to make sure of two things very important in order for me to be truly Thankful at Thanksgiving: Canned cranberry sauce. And canned LeSueur baby peas. I was myself just at the grocery store earlier this week, but I forgot about getting them. And, sans car, it's a hassle for me to go back. So I had to make sure... Seriously, there's been a Thanksgiving or two where no one remembered these important canned goods, and I had to eat weird home-made, chunky cranberry "anti-sauce" and "green-bean casserole" or something. No more of that craziness!

Me: "Did you get the canned cranberry sauce and the LeSueur baby peas?"
Mom: "Yes, of course I remembered your cranberry sauce. But are you sure you still like those peas? I heated up a can for the boys [little nephews] earlier, and they wouldn't eat them. But when I made them some frozen peas, they loved..."
Me: "MAAAAAA! LeSUEUR BABY PEAS! Those boys have weird tastes in food. I don't care what they like. No frozen peas! LeSUEUR BABY PEAS! It's Thanksgiving!"
Mom: "When you get here, you better just appreciate what's on the table."
Me: "Are you going to have turkey?"
Mom: "Yes."
Me: "Are you going to have mashed potatoes?"
Mom: "Yes."
Me: "All I want are 4 things at Thanksgiving: turkey, mashed potatoes, my cranberry sauce, and my LeSueur baby peas! And I'll appreciate all of them!"
Mom: "OK, OK."

Flashed me back to the only Thanksgiving dinner that my first girlfriend and I shared together, back in '89 or '90 or something. We went shopping together for all the food (I was impressed that she -- Miss Club Queen -- actually knew how to cook a turkey!). But when we got back out to the supermarket parking lot, I realized that we'd forgotten... you guessed it -- the LeSUEUR BABY PEAS! It was only a day or so before Thanksgiving, and the store was a madhouse. We'd already suffered through crowds and long check-out lines. The sane thing to do would be just to go on home, sans peas. My ex insisted on doing just that. I tried to be calm and explain it to her, but she refused to see reason. At which point I had to start yelling at her: "I'm not getting in this car and we're not having a Thanksgiving unless we go back in for the LeSUEUR BABY PEAS!" People in the parking lot stared. My ex stared. We, not speaking then or for hours later, went back into the store for the goddamn peas.

I'm serious -- those peas make a Thanksgiving! :) Why? They are very small and firm -- non-mushy like other canned peas -- and tasty, and they mix perfectly with the mashed potatoes when you have a big forkful of mashed potatoes and then squush it into the peas and lift up the forkful and eat them all mixed together. It's just very satisfying!

Oh, and Joan Crawford's real name is "Lucille LeSueur" -- but that, of course, is just a weird side-note! ;p

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hardly


The night I cried so hard
The neighbor slammed his window, hard
I shot my hard pillow
To remember who I'd hardly (never) known



My New $60 Winter Wardrobe



I just spent nearly 2 hours deciding what kind of Keds and what color sweatpants/shirts to order online. I finally have a tiny bit of extra money in the bank, and am booked up work-wise for at least the next two weeks, which means that now January AND February rent/bills are covered. And I am therefore free to buy KEDS and stay-at-home-doing-freelance-work SWEATCLOTHES!

My sudden desperate need to shop came about because of a "fashion emergency" that I experienced several days ago. I.e., I wanted to go for a long, brisk walk and and didn't feel like putting on a regular shirt and shoes to exercise, yet the only sweatshirts I had to wear were UT- and Cowboys-oriented: burnt orange and blue colors. The problem? The only sneakers I had to wear were my bright red Keds and my red/black Vans. Which don't match burnt orange or blue! A stupid dilemma, but... a dilemma nonetheless.

Then a day or so later came the time when I just needed to stay home to do freelance stuff, so I just wanted to pull on a pair of sweatpants and feel comfortable while I worked. Well, when I left Joisey to move back home, I had to wastefully throw away 2 of my 3 pairs of sweatpants because they wouldn't fit in the last suitcase. I'd already boxed up and mailed home my one crappy pair, which was, this week, all I had left to wear. They're, like, 10 years old, and men's sweatpants, and baggy, saggy, and draggy, plus mopey and dopey. And droopy. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and was extremely dismayed. And vowed right then and there that I could not spend the fall/winter doing work at home clad only, day after day after day, in this one pair of hideous sweatpants that would make me cringe and/or cry every time I passed a mirror.

So, with the shoe-color and sweatpants dilemmas in mind, and, once again, finally figuring out that I didn't have to actually try to get on a bus anywhere to search random stores but, rather, could just "magically" shop online... I went $60-worth-of NUTS! WOOOoooooooo! First, ordered a classic pair of black Keds (guaranteed to match any shade of sweatshirt). Then the tougher part was... "What color of sweatpants and sweatshirts?" Pants, not really that tough: black and light gray. And WOMEN'S style!

But then came the shirt-decision -- and this is what took so ridiculously long: "OK, if I'm wearing black or gray sweatpants, then what would look best with those... I already have a bright red hoodie, so I don't need more red... Not gray, too drab with the pants... I wish they had a plum... Well, here's "maroon," which in the picture looks "plum," but I just know it's really going to be maroon...I hate maroon. And here's "cardinal" -- the definition of "cardinal" is a bright red, but in the picture it looks "plum." I really want "plum"... Ended up gambling on "cardinal." And then also picked a nice forest green. The latter not good with the black sweatpants, but good with the gray sweatpants and my eyes and my jeans...(I do so want to be able to gaze into my own eyes as I pass the full-length mirror in my apt on my way to the bathroom and think, "Wow, girl, that forest-green sweatshirt really makes your eyes POP!")

Good lord, this went on and on! Another thing making the decisions hard was the fact that the Hanes site had 3 different styles of hoodies! What the hell is the difference between the "Beefy" and the "Comfort" and the "Relaxed"? The descriptions didn't really explain...

At any rate, I did it. It's done. For the next 3 months of cold weather in Austin, I can at last feel secure in either walking about in public or walking about in my home -- my choice! -- knowing that I'm appropriately color-coordinated.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Marinade (aka, "make SOMETHING!")

I don't like bland, meager frozen dinners. I do like greasy fast food (Arby's, Long John Silver's, McDonald's), but I always feel crappy after scarfing it down.

At 45 and single, I finally realized that the only time I'm going to get a home-cooked meal is exactly 2 times a year, at my mother's on Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Birthdays, we all go out.)

After years and years of just buying mainly frozen food from the grocery store, I've finally started sporadically planning out slightly heartier menus just for myself out of boredom and necessity: One is boneless chicken breasts and broccoli. The chicken breasts are already bought boneless -- there's no work there except the very mild "creativity" of tossing them in a marinade of some sort, usually squirts of Italian dressing, a day beforehand before throwing them in the oven. The head of broccoli, steam it in a pot. Then dip the steamed florets into a butter/lemon sauce. The result is darn satisfying. (Much moreso than the random 2-minute microwave dinner.)

Also satisfying is buying a pound of raw hamburger meat for $4 and frying it up. That cheap pound makes a lot of stuff! For me, I divide the mass of flesh into two parts: One half, I shape and spice with salt/pepper/bbq sauce and fry up into two patties -- I eat one at the time, save the other to heat up later in the week. The second half, I chop up in the skillet, adding taco powder, and use later in the week to fill either crunchy corn or soft flour tacos.

Boneless chicken and ground hamburger meat, however simplistic, are nonetheless good for my psyche when I buy and cook them because I've had some sort of hand in the cooking/flavoring myself.

Will I ever reach a delicious level of cooking similar to my mother's Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas beef roll-ups? I highly doubt it. But in the meantime, during the rest of the year, I do now, at the age of 45, feel the need to make an effort to feed myself something a little better than Michelina's $1 frozen lasagna or mac-n-cheese meals.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rain. 1932.

Hoops

Playground dynamics: Earlier this week, I went out to a nearby basketball court with my 8- and 5-year-old nephews. With the three of us, it was mainly GOOFball, lots of taking turns at mostly wayward, awkward tosses and subsequent fetching of the ball from the bordering street. Also lots of grumping by the 5-year-old if we didn't give him the ball an equal number of times.

Then a friend of the 8-year-old's from school showed up. He didn't speak to anyone, just nodded and smiled and jumped in the game. That was my cue to go sit down and let the boys play. It was apparent that the neighbor-kid knew what he was doing (he could dribble and actually shoot accurately), so it naturally turned into him versus my two nephews. The 5-year-old nephew at this point was still in the game. He could chase after a loose ball and get it to his older brother, at least, even though the two older boys were the dominant ones.

But then... a towering hulk of a figure showed up. OK, not that towering. But kind of. It was another neighbor-kid who was, however, about 10 years old and thus more tall and bulky and coordinated than any of the squirts already out there. Like the earlier kid, he just kind of nodded at everyone else and grabbed the ball and started playing. Without any verbal communication that I could hear, the teams readjusted accordingly: It was now the Big Guy versus my 8-year-old nephew and the other 8-year-old. This game was suddenly a lot more physical and "serious" -- lots of dribbling, stealing the ball, bumping, actual rebounding. My 5-year-old nephew immediately saw that he was out of his element with the Big Boys and, after hanging back on the court for a few minutes with a sad, frustrated face, quietly left and came over to where I was sitting with Oma. (Oma then took him to the field to kick around the soccer ball we'd also brought. Your Oma's always going to be nice to you.)

The Big Boys played on, the Biggest Boy pretty much out-hustling and physically dominating the other two. (Soon my nephew, the less aggressive of the two 8-year-olds, wasn't looking too happy either, especially when his teammate started to mildly chastise him for not going after the ball more aggressively. Soon after, his mother/my sis-in-law came to pick the nephews up. I wonder how long he would have lasted otherwise.)

For me, it was interesting to see how my nephews' personalities and behavior adjusted during the course of the 45 minutes or so, ranging from the initial permissive female environment of "our aunt is playing basketball with us" -- where they could show off and/or whine -- to, ultimately, the much tougher, straightforward all-male environment where they knew, instinctively, to "put up or shut up." Baby males interacting. It was fascinating.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Skooter Skillz (aka "only connect...FOUR!")


Out the blue today around noon my mom called me up and asked if I wanted to come over and hang out with the nephews, ages 5 and 8. ("Oma" regularly gets them every Monday and Tuesday after school, but today had 'em all day 'cause their mom, a teacher, had a work day, while the kids all over town were off.)

Having just woken up, I was feeling a bit sluggish, but... could not turn down a chance to get out of the house (aka "one-room apt") in this pretty fall weather, plus I just always like being around the smarty little 'phews.

Here's what I learned today:
(1) I can kick an 8-year-old's little ass at "Connect Four"! YES! Three times in a row! Woooooo! Very good for my ego.
(2) I'm a retard when it comes to riding a Razor scooter. The four of us -- Oma, me, 8-year-old T, and 5-year-old T -- went for a long walk around the nicely landscaped walking paths surrounding my mom's housing development. We brought the scooter and bike along. The 8-year-old showed off on the scooter before grabbing the bike and taking off. Then my 69-year-old mother jumped on the Razor and also showed us how it was done. (Turns out she had a scooter as a kid on the Mean Sidewalks of Germany back in the '40s. You never forget, obviously, how to ride a scooter! Damn, woman!)

So now, just me and the 5-year-old were left with our skooter skillz unproven. We eyed each other. "Get on, T!" I encouraged helpfully. "No, YOU get on, Aunt Steffie!" "No, you can go." "No, YOU go!"

Me [jumping on the scooter]: "OK! Watch me!" [Scooter wobbles forward a few inches. I can't keep my balance. I jump off.] "OK, I wasn't ready. Now watch!" [wobble-wobble-tip, I jump off]

T. then grabs the scooter and jumps on. Same tipping-over problems as me. When HE gets frustrated, though, his Oma rescues him and pushes him along while he cruises... chortling as he tells Oma to try to run me -- now walking ahead on the path -- over.

Oma: "You don't really want to run Aunt Steffie over."
T: "No really. Let's run her over [heh-heh-heh]!"

Well, I still had Connect Four to feel victorious about once we got home... Plus some newfangled "fizzy" Kool-Aid to drink.


Monday, November 08, 2010

Wevill Wednesday


November 10
DAVID WEVILL, with Michael McGriff
7:30 pm Ransom Center Prothro Theatre

Professor Emeritus Wevill, the heart of the poetry program for MCW and the Department of English for many years who is now retired, will read from his new collected works, To Build My Shadow A Fire, out this year from Truman State University Press. The book was edited by his former student, the poet Michael McGriff, recent Lannan Fellowship winner. Mike and David will also discuss their work together as poet and editor.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Raisins

When I drink more than 7 beers in a night, then I:
(1) Stay up way too late. The beer/cigs fuel me way beyond the time I actually first feel tired. (I think staying up 'til 4am, as a freelancer, works out OK. But after 4am completely throws off anything I wanted/needed to do the next day.)
(2) Smoke a pack a day (as opposed to the 6 or 7 cigs a day otherwise).
(3) Don't even get up at all the next day. Just lie there and watch TV. (Even to the point of not checking my e-mails when I know I might have info from a freelance boss.)
(4) Crave junky, greasy food.
(5) Blog and Facebook and e-mail while blotto, which leads to guilt and remorse and mental (to add to the physical) depression the next day.

Today was the opposite of a hangover day. I didn't drink at all the night before (although I did stay up reading 'til 5am--old New Yorkers and a Plath bio). I got up at noon, took a brisk 2-mile walk in this beautiful weather, came home and started right in on freelance work, worked for a total of exactly 8 hours (breaking every couple of hours for relatively nutritious, light frozen dins and some football-watching -- poor Dallas...). In other words: A Productive Day.

Hmmm. Now which make me feel better? Crappy/Yucky Days or Productive Days? And what is, 90% of the time, the cause of the Crappy/Yucky Days??

Here's the thing, though: I really don't have much mental, emotional, or physical stimulation in my life right now. Working on my Joan site is still fun after all these years, but... I almost always drink like a fish while I do it! And drinking is certainly time-passing and fun -- in the couple-of-hour interval before you have one too many and cross over into anger and/or self-pity and start taking it out on everyone you know out in Internet-land! So it's a dilemma -- On the one hand, I'm leading a pretty barren life right now in many ways, and there really is little for me to do for "fun" and relaxation but drink... On the other hand, though, last night and today when I read a lot and took a long walk and then worked a lot, that also felt good. AND had no bad repercussions (rather, the opposite). THAT is the kicker, the thing I have to remember, I suppose: "Think about tomorrow." That's kind of a new one for me.

I was raised very conservatively (to put it mildly). And while I've always stayed within a certain framework of "respectability" (being gainfully employed -- until lately!, not sleeping around, getting degrees), I've also been constantly rebelling against being told what to do and having to "make nice" with people when I didn't feel like it. A direct result of being completely repressed as a kid. And also, I figured out later, a direct result of constantly moving when I was a kid. Since nothing was permanent, I didn't have to establish ties and relationships. There was always going to be a new place, new people, so I didn't have to make an attempt to respect and/or understand where I was or the people I was with at the time.

While I've never in my life been fired from a job, there were plenty of times when I've quit a job in a huff because I thought my boss was an idiot or a phony. There were plenty of times when I acted disdainfully and dismissively toward a poetry professor for not "getting" my work, even when he or she was trying to TEACH me something. I've picked fights with and stopped speaking to DOZENS of people over the years for petty reasons; my good friend Brian is one example -- He and I co-edited a local literary magazine for years; we co-hosted a bi-weekly poetry group for the same amount of time. He was/is a great, very intelligent, very supportive, and very successful guy. After he moved, I sent him and his new family Christmas cards for a couple of years, but never got one in return, although he kept in touch in other ways, sending good wishes and articles he'd written, etc. But one year I decided, "Fuck it, he doesn't send me Christmas cards so I'm not his friend any more."

Well, while all of the above self-centered behavior might make you feel fine and bold and self-righteous when you're 20 or 25 or 30 or 35... At 45, it's really not fine-feeling any more. It's moving along into the area of "simply unsustainable." Not to mention "drab and lonely."

I always wanted utter intellectual "purity" -- I wanted to be "right." Not for the sake of getting my way and persuading others via force of personality... Not at all. I'm fascinated by charmers (who isn't?), but I also see through them almost immediately and then start hating them for their phoniness. I never wanted to be someone like that. I always wanted to be intellectually rigorous. I wanted to really KNOW things, however unpleasant, and then wanted others to be forced to acknowledge the "truths" as well, myself and other people's subsequent opinions of me be damned. It's a really hard line to take and to live by.

I'm never going to be a yes-person. Ever, ever. And I'm still always, by nature, going to be trying to get at the root and core of things. But, damn, I'm going to have to lighten up a little if I want a better middle/old age than the constant clashes of my younger years. Maybe keep thinking the things I think (what other choice do I have in that matter?), but then not act on them or say them out loud/write them...especially not when I'm drunk?? I think "especially not when I'm drunk" is the key! I do believe that "in vino veritas" --- that's probably why I like drinking. It tends to edit out the gray areas and condense things to an essence: "I realllllllllllllllly love you!" "I realllllllllllllllly hate you!" "This and this and this was done to me and I'm realllllllllllllllly unloved!" Well, truth is, the "essence" of anything, its concentration in purest form, is merely a fraction of the entire entity. The sun's core, for example, is only 25% of its radius.

And also, who, to continue with the "vino" analogy, really likes raisins or thinks that the raisin is the true meaning of the grape? Huh, huh? :) I think that's what I've been doing for something like 30 years now: Unintentionally seeking, and therefore getting, the raisin of everything, when in fact what I really sought and wanted was the wine.



Thursday, November 04, 2010

Today's headline: Attempt at a Life Stymied By Bad Sandwich


In my attempt at establishing some sort of getting-out-of-my-one-room-apartment routine (aside from grocery shopping and getting my hair cut), I thought today, with its absolutely gorgeous crisp fall Austin weather, would be a perfect time to walk to the cafe about 3/4-mile down the street for the first time and get a sandwich and pick up the local weekly paper (with the idea of making this a regular fun Thursday treat for myself). I'd been eyeing the place for the past 4 months, since I've moved into this neighborhood. It looks funky (the kind of place I used to like to go to), and it was neat that there was outdoor seating, where I always saw people hanging out.

Why didn't I check it out before now? Oh, a combination of heat-lethargy and depression and poverty, basically! But today the weather was 70-ish, I'd been working hard on a good-paying freelance job all week, I was feeling mildly sassy...

When I got inside the place, it smelled and looked great! I love the smell of coffee (though I don't like the taste of it) and I love wood floors, and band flyers in the windows, and the local free rags stacked up just inside the door. It was about 3 in the afternoon, not a peak hour, but the cafe was about half-full. A few couples, some people singly on computers.

And, I noted for future reference, they sell beer and stay open 'til midnight! About 9 years ago, I wrote almost my entire screenplay at a similar cafe, now closed, that used to be located just a few blocks up the street. At the former place, I'd go early for their poetry readings one night a week, notebook in hand, then stay after for the next 4 or 5 hours writing furiously, pumped up by the reading and Heineken and atmosphere. I didn't feel weird sitting there by myself because I was busy WRITING... (Not just for affect, I was really doing work!)

I'll have to keep the "future reference" in mind. Maybe night-time drinking and writing will be nice there, but... That sandwich I got there this afternoon SUCKED! AND it cost over $8!!

I wanted roast beef, but they were out, so I just got a chicken on focaccia bread... Which looked NOTHING like the picture I have up here! The smushed-bread completely dwarfed the from-a-frozen-bag-of-chicken-wedges-tasting meat... I'm serious: That couldn't have been fresh chicken. And every bite I took rendered up mainly bread, very little chicken. (I finally opened up the sandwich to look: I think there were 4 "chicken" wedges in there.) It was nasty. Worse than a shrink-wrapped bologna/American cheese/wilted iceberg lettuce sandwich you'd pick up in the fridge of a convenience store. The only difference being, the convenience-store sandwich costs $3.95 and you already know that you're in for crap, but you're just buying it because you're desperately hungry at that moment and don't have access to any other source of food. PLUS, you certainly didn't go to the convenience store looking to TREAT yourself!

But $8.00 for a crap-sandwich (and a little one at that)? Somethin' just ain't right! To put this $8 sandwich in context: A BIG, fresh, fully-packed sandwich at the famous Katz's in NYC (Katz's also has a branch in Austin -- the owner lives here now) costs $7.95. A BIG, fresh, fully-packed sandwich at my local Weehawken, NJ, deli costs $6.95. And by "BIG" I mean TRIPLE the size of this local indignity!

In a similar vein, just a few blocks away from this cafe, a little trailer set up shop in a parking lot about a month ago, offering burgers and steak sandwiches... In my quest to participate in local fast-food cuisine (and mainly because I don't have a car to go anywhere else), I stopped by last weekend to get what I thought would be a good, greasy burger combo... Burger, fries, and can of Coke. Out of a trailer in a parking lot. $7.50. Yes, $7.50. (Let me again put this in context: In NYC, one of the most expensive cities in the world, the same combo served up in a million greasy spoons, costs $5.95.) OK. I paid the $7.50, got home, bit into the burger... Aside from being really low-grade hamburger meat and not tasting like anything, it was frigging pink inside! I had to pull the meat out and go broil it before I could even eat it.

WTF. Seriously. And here's exactly what I think the "F" is: Austin prides itself on being "hip." And one aspect of being "hip" is "eating from trailers in parking lots and at funky cafes" and then telling everyone how GREAT the food is there. You know, if my sandwich or burger-combo had cost $4 or $5, I probably wouldn't be mentioning it here. As with the convenience-store shrink-wrapped bologna sandwich, I'd just shrug it off and think that I was desperate for food at the moment and I got what I paid for. But what I cannot fathom, and cannot stand, is the local ethos of bragging about eating at "funky" places whose food actually sucks. And paying $8 for the "privilege" of being able to say you ate at the crappy place. Emperor has no clothes, man.

I experienced the same insane psychological phenomenon when I lived in San Francisco, attending grad school, in the mid-1990s: The college refused to allow corporate (cheap) fast-food restaurants like Wendy's, McDonald's, etc. in their food court. Instead, local food servers provided lunch. Their food was awful (worse than corporate fast-food chains) and cost, even back in the '90s, $6 or $7 for a meal, but, hey, at least it was local. I suppose, if you were PC enough, you could feel superior, in a ridiculous way not based on any actual gastronomic or economic criteria, for eating it...

Here's what I like about New York/New Jersey: You pay $7 for a sandwich, you get a fuckin' big, good sandwich. If $7 seems a bit much, at least the food was good and you're full for the next 8 hours or so. If you buy a gyro combo or a burger combo from a street grill or a greasy spoon for $6 or $7, it's edible and, with the gyro/rice/salad at least, you get enough to last you for 2 meals. It's not this sucky "small portion/high price/bad food/but we feel we should say we like it" scam. Ugh.

OK, so my attempt at an addition to my meager "routine" failed! Cute place, terrible sandwich, won't ever eat there again on a Thursday afternoon. Too bad. I was looking forward to liking it.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Sandra Theme Song

The Mavericks - O, What A Thrill

"Words fail me... I want to console you..."

Staples

I'm kind of a disordered person who, nonetheless, has an admiration and need for order and who can be extremely "ordered" when the occasion calls for it. (A prime example is my Joan Crawford website -- I'm obsessed with gathering as much info as possible AND organizing it in a logical manner. Another example is when I had to pack up all my stuff and move back to Austin from Weehawken: I actually wrote out a schedule of what I would get accomplished my last week -- aside from "packing days" and "toting stuff to post office days," I also wrote down exactly when I would pay my last visit to NYC, when I would get my last slice of pizza at my Weehawken pizza joint, etc.)

Right now, with my random freelance work that I do from home, I never have a set spending budget that I can plan against. Or a set time schedule to do anything. I definitely don't mind being able to stay up as late as I want, or sleep as late as I want. But the downside is: Without hours of "duty," then the hours of free time don't seem as sweet, and are also infused with an underlying layer of anxiety -- "When will the next work come in?" etc. And with no set budget, I feel that I can't ever spend ANY money.

In my 4 months at my one-room apartment subsisting on freelance work, I have, however, established TWO "rituals": One is getting my hair cut every 6 weeks. The other is going grocery shopping every 10 days. The "10 days" is based on when, smoking a pack a day, my carton of cigarettes runs out! (A carton is $56 at the grocery store; $5.60 a pack. If I buy a pack at the nearby beer store, it's $6.50. I'm not a horrible cheapskate, but a whole extra dollar a pack seems incredibly wasteful.) The "every 10 days" also turns out to correspond pretty neatly with how much food I'm able to carry home via bus and on foot from the grocery store. About $50 worth.

The staples that I always seem to end up getting every 10 days:

hamburger meat (I usually fry up 2 burgers and use the rest to make tacos)
tortillas
cheddar cheese
Borden slices of Swiss cheese
1 can refried beans
1 can tuna
sandwich meat (turkey pastrami)
head of lettuce/onion/radishes/tomato/2 avocados/2 baking potatos
bananas/apples
Minute Maid orange juice
2 Red Baron "Pizza by the Slice"
1 El Charrito Queso Meal
1 Banquet Turkey Meal
1 Stouffer's Turkey Panini
1 Lean Pockets Philly Steak & Cheese
1 can of soup (Campbell's bean bacon or split pea)
tortilla chips

And then there are variables that I might get every other time: bagels, cream cheese, boneless chicken breasts, broccoli, Beenie-Weenies, hot dogs or corn-dogs, various condiments, white and rye bread, Ranch Style beans, black beans, Ruffles or Chee-tos, Stouffer's lasagna, Michelina's mac-n-cheese, frozen fries or tater tots, pickles, cereal.

Reading it over, it might initially seem like a stupid diet, but it's actually pretty good and varied for me, a non-cook on a non-eating-out budget! It's turned out, shopping every 10 days, to be $150 a month for food -- $5 a day! The only thing I did differently back when I had money (pre-2008) was eat out a lot more, and let my fresh meat and produce go to waste. In my cost-conscious state now, I'm intentionally making an effort to eat the damn hamburger meat and fruit/veggies before they go bad. Treats: Ordering out for a pizza one time a month; walking to get a breakfast taco or some fast food once a week. (Not having a car makes not getting fast food constantly easy.)

In NYC, I ate a lot better. There were so many delis around with full salad bars and a variety of chicken and fish, it was easy to walk a block or so and get some nutritious food every day for lunch or dinner. Here, I'm home all the time and have to make a conscious effort to PLAN to get some healthy food and vitamins in me! (i.e., if I eat a frozen meal or a fried hamburger for dinner, then I try to have had a salad for lunch or some fruit for breakfast -- doesn't always work out like that, and my body can tell the difference if I've just eaten crap all day)