Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Purls Before Swine

I’m going to make a confession that may shock folks who haven’t known me very long. But those of you who fall into that category are still in the heady throes of claiming to love me no matter what, so I’m sure you’ll take it as just another grain of my salt:

I knit.

And I like it.

And I’m actually quite good.

That last part should come as no surprise, even to those in the heady throes. Because even you folks know by now that this girl’s pretty much good at everything she does. By which I don’t mean to imply that I’m All-Powerful or anything. I just don’t Do things I’m not Good at. Or that I don’t Enjoy. But in general, if I like something, I do it, and if I do it then I’m actually quite good. Which brings me very nicely around to the B plot of this story…

The Kid and I have been off-and-on for about 16 months now. On, mostly, and off for a few three-week stints here and there. By now I’ve gotten used to the times when he decides he ought to pick on someone his own size, and more or less come to expect his return. So have my friends. Even the ones who never met him. When I call to report that it’s over again, this time for real, they just say “Okay. Sure.” There’ll come a day when he really means it, or I get sick of it, or I meet some rich old dude while he's out dogging around, but for now, well, I like him. And I think he'd testify that he's no exception to my "If I like something" rule.

The last three-week stint was in October. Three days before it happened, I’d revealed my worsted secret to my best friend up here and she asked how come I don’t do it anymore. I said I didn’t know. I said knitting was something else from my old life that I put away when I left – along with television, square meals, and the paperback Shakespeares I used to buy obsessively and even read (the Yale Complete is one thing, Erin, but who needs seven copies of the Pelican King Lear?). The conversation did get me thinking about having another go, but at the same time the whole idea made me tense. After all, every time I try turning on the television I get so wound up I have to go tearing out for a two-hour drive with the radio blaring (and, as I usually discover when I come home, the TV on). Every time I try to grocery-shop like a real person I feel like Robin Williams in Moscow Over the Hudson, overwhelmed by all the things there are to choose from, none of which seem like food to me anymore. And the last time I was in the old house I packed up all the Shakespeare for GoodWill.

My friend (she was the Bartender in this story, by the way) suggested I ease back into it with a sweater for her four-year-old son. It was a good idea, and I just might get around to doing it someday. But if I was going to take another stab with the needles, I didn’t know if it might be my last. In my other life I made One Perfect Sweater for everyone I love – including my mother (now deceased) and my husband (now divorced). That’s a lot of sense-memory in my muscles to work out while sitting still, especially for a girl who doesn’t so much watch the TV anymore. So I decided that, if I have only one more Perfect Stab in me, I might as well go ahead and stab the newest person on the list of Folks I Love.

Yeah. I admitted a long time ago I love that goddamn Kid. Not in a big-fat-shreepy, skipping-through-the-daisies, happily-forever-after kind of way. But in a he-is-who-he-is-and-I-know-who-he-is-and-I-love-him-for-being-that-and-bringing-me-safely-back-to-earth-when-I-was-spinning kind of way. And everything he’s done in those three-week stints or otherwise, everything everybody thinks I ought to get So Pissed about, I don’t. Because I knew exactly who he was when I picked him up, and he has never changed. When the stripes come out, you can’t exactly get pissed at the cat for being a tiger, you know what I’m saying?

So I went ahead and found a pattern I liked and ordered the yarn for it in his size, figuring if we went Off we’d be back On again by Christmas. Or, if the latest three-week stint happened to coincide with Christmas, then we'd be On again by his birthday a month later. (He’s going to be 25, can you believe it? My little boy is really growing up.)

Then, three days after I placed the order he Did Something that finally got me Pissed.

I won’t get into what it was. Suffice to say it was Something he promised he wouldn’t do again after I didn’t get So Pissed about the first time, and it wasn’t so much what he did as the manner in which he allowed me to find out. The little shit. I really believed we were Done For Good that time – even if nobody else did. But while I was deciding whether to cancel the order or make the goddamn sweater for myself, the box arrived. And while I was deciding whether to return it or make the goddamn sweater for myself, three weeks went by. And three weeks seems to be the magic number around here. So when he came back, I said yes, and I went ahead and made the goddamn sweater in his size.

Turns out knitting is just like riding a bike (something I don't particularly like, or do, or excel at, as it happens). I cranked out that goddamn sweater in a week – and it would’ve been six days if the pattern I bought hadn’t sucked so much ass that I had to spend the whole first day deciphering and re-writing it. It would’ve been five days if I’d ever knitted in the round before but I hadn’t, so I had to spend the whole second day getting it all twisted and tearing it out and starting over. It would’ve been four days if I hadn’t been so unhappy with the neck and had to spend the last day tearing it out and starting it over four times. Finally, though, it was finished. And it was The Most Perfect Sweater I’ve ever made.

But it was too small.

It was just my size, as a matter of fact.

And when I tried it on, I looked just like Angie Dickinson…

…except, you know, with Farrah Fawcett hair.

I almost kept it. But then I remembered that if I was going to wear it I’d also have to wear some, you know, pants. Which I didn't think would look anywhere near as cute. So I decided to give it to him after all, which meant I'd have to block it up to size.

For those of you who don’t knit, blocking means wetting the finished sweater and pinning it down while it dries to force it to take on the measurements you want. I’d never done it before. And I was scared. I mean, I’m not afraid to stretch the truth for the sake of a story – that’s the whole point of a story, after all – but stretching The Most Perfect Sweater I’ve Ever Made is something else entirely. And I’m not tall-tale-telling when I say there was not a flaw in this goddamn thing. It was cabled and ribbed and moss-stitched without a single stitch dropped or row mis-counted. It was handmade-looking without being grandmother-looking. And it was all done in the round, so there were no side-seams or weird bulges at the armpits. It was downright fucking sexy just laying in a pile on the mattress, if I do say so myself. 

It. Was. Perfect.

And I had to dunk it in a sinkful of water and roll it up in a towel and walk on it and then stick it with a bunch of pins.

Took me two weeks to get up the nerve. Kept putting it on and trying to talk myself into keeping it. But then he’d come over and walk right by it without knowing it was his, and I’d picture how much sexier it would look with him inside. Even if he didn’t agree with that idea, I knew how warm it would keep him in the ice-shack, so I wouldn’t have to worry about him freezing his tiny little hairy ass off anymore. And yes, I thought about how – if he didn’t declare it queer and throw it out – it just might be something he’d have to remember me by, after we finally declare ourselves Finished With Each Other For Good. After thinking all of that, I couldn’t keep it. Every time I'd put it on, I'd only be reminded that I’d pussied out.

So I finally just held my breath and did it. Dunked it in a sinkful of water and rolled it up in a towel and walked on it and pinned it to the mattress and waited three long days for it to dry…

…and it came out even more perfect than it was before.

A bit too big now, perhaps, but he’s a growing boy. Ten pounds in the last few months alone. And I forgot that when the sweater stretched, the neck would stretch out too, and that's a problem, but I figured he’d wear turtlenecks with it and that would make it look all right. All in all, I declared my Blocking Debut and possible Knitting Swan Song a success. I folded it up and put it on the shelf while I waited for it to be close enough to Christmas that I could just nonchalantly toss it at him when he happened to come over. And then, well…

We finally declared ourselves Finished With Each Other For Good.

Not in an ugly way. Just in a this-has-gone-on-long-enough, and-we’ve-both-got-issues-we-can’t-get-over, so-let’s-end-it-while-we-can-still-be-friends kind of way. And we are friends. We ended it at 3:00 last Wednesday morning, ran into each other at the bar that night, and had as much fun together as we ever have. More than we've sometimes had, what with all our Issues we Can't Get Over and everything. Nobody else there would’ve noticed anything different about us. But I knew, so I’d brought his pool cue with me, which I’ve had since February. And when he came out to the car to pick it up I tossed the sweater at him, too.

“Here,” I said. “I made this for you. Merry Christmas.”

“You made it?” he asked.


And that was it. I don’t even remember if he said thank you, but he probably did. He always does. He’s actually very polite and respectful, despite what people say.

I told my friends the Kid and I were Really Over This Time and they did not believe me. To be honest, I’ve cried wolf about this damn dog so many times, I wasn’t certain I believed me either. So I decided to stay out of the bar. Because he and I are like junk food to one another: keep it out of the cupboards and we go without just fine, but put it within arm’s reach and before you know it the whole bag of Oreos is gone. So I stayed out of the bar all weekend. And next weekend's Christmas. And the weekend after that is New Year’s Eve. And by the weekend after that it will have been four weeks and voila. Spell broken. Really done. And if I know him like I think I do, that goddamn sweater’ll stay in his truck until he junks it and then, if I'm very lucky, he'll throw it on the floor of his closet for the dog to throw up on. I just assumed I’d never see it on him after all.

So imagine my surprise when I checked my facebook before going to bed one night and I saw this…

…in an album labeled “Ugly Sweater Party 2011.”

Teach me to give something sacred to a Dog, I tell you what.

I was right, though. The little shit does look sexy in it, even if it is a bit too big. And I'm not even pissed, because if he thinks it's ugly then he's a fucking moron, which he's not. If I know him like I think I do, he doesn't own another sweater, and this one was still on the seat of his truck when he pulled into the party, so he put it on. If I know him like I think I do, he didn't even have the balls to tell them where it came from. And if I know him like I think I do, he left it there. If he's smart, though -- which I know he is -- he'll tell me everyone admired the sweater and yelled at him for wearing it to an Ugly Sweater Party. Even if he has to, you know, lie.*

For my part, I'll give him this: that neck is totally fucked up. But the Kid knows what I mean when I say it's the little flaw that makes perfection possible. So I'm going to be standing by my claim.

And if I see him at the bar tonight, I’m going to be licking my palm and smacking him in the forehead so fucking hard that he falls down. Then when he’s down I’m gonna kick him in the nuts. And when he doubles over to grab his nuts, I’m gonna stomp on his bad knee and kick him in the sore spot on his back. Then I’m gonna get down on one knee and sneer "Who's old now, motherfucker!?" in his ear. If he cries uncle loud enough, I might see fit to let him keep his hat.

You know, I've never been a fan of the Mixed Martial Arts, but I’m starting to get the feeling I might like it. And if I like doing it half as much as I'm enjoying this little fantasy right now?

I’d probably be really, really good.

*Post Script 12/19/12: I was right about everything in that paragraph except this: he didn't leave it there. He doesn't wear it -- he's not a sweater person, really -- but he brought it home. And, after leaving it on the floor of his bedroom for a month or so, he folded it up and put it in the box in the back of his closet with the gun he built when he was twelve and the old blue ribbons and the picture of the fish he caught that summer with his dad...

Oh, and Post-Post Script?

He and I are still not Really Done.

Unless we are.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I Don't Garden, Either

I don’t cook.

I used to cook. For a few years there I tried to do everything I imagined a grown-up girl’s supposed to do. I bought a house. I got married. I cooked. I even watered a goddamn plant once in a while, despite my lifelong aversion to all things horticult. But the marriage ended in divorce, the house is in foreclosure, and the plants died anyway. Good thing I never went so far as to have the goddamn babies.

Anyway, I didn’t suck at cooking, and people even thought I liked it. People gave me kitchen accoutrements for Christmas, came to my dinner parties, raved about my mustard-crusted rabbit (which I realize sounds like Urban Dictionary slang for a venereal disease, but I’m really talking about the Easter Bunny here). The best part of the process for me, though, was dancing around the kitchen with the music blaring, drinking beer. I could’ve much more happily ordered pizza, tapped a keg, and called it done.

Since I put away adultish things, I’ve quit all that. At some point in the past two years I did remember just how much I love to bake – but that’s a different thing completely, and a story for another time (everyone swears I make the best apple pie they’ve ever tasted and someday, if you’re good, I’ll tell you how). But as far as cooking real food goes, I’ve reverted to the Real Me, who thinks of it along the same lines as church: something she might watch on TV for the bizarro factor, but nothing she’d get off her ass to actually do. In both cases, these days, she’d just wind up burning the motherfucker down.

Which doesn’t mean that I don’t still have strong opinions.

Anyone who’s seen me watching football or America’s Funniest Home Videos – or church, for that matter – knows that I can get up on the couch and shout at the TV with the best of them. Quarterback sneak at the 14-yard line when you’re up by 25? WHY ARE YOU RISKING HIS KNEE AGAIN!? Handing the piñata stick to the jacked-up four-year-old? ARE YOU LOOKING TO TAKE IT IN THE NUTS!? God wants all of us to be millionaires? BUT DOESN’T THAT MEAN JESUS ISN'T GONNA LOVE US ANYMORE!?  

So it was hard for me at Dad’s last week when he was watching Bobby Flay on the Today Show. Bobby Flay, as far as I’m concerned, is another motherfucker that deserves to be burned down – but Dad’s been sick, so I was trying to keep my Strong Opinions to myself. Which was no small feat, because Strong Opinion #1 was that the segment should’ve been called Bobby Flay Queers Up Thanksgiving Dinner.

Yes, I know I’m not supposed to use that word unless it defines me. But who's to say it doesn’t? After all, I’m not married anymore; I’m a grown-up girl and I can say and do whatever I want. That word meant something else before it got co-opted by bigots, and what it meant is exactly what Bobby Flay was doing to that turkey.

No. Not that.

Now, I know there are different opinions about stuffing. They’re wrong, but I didn't open that can of worms (it’s called “stuffing” for a reason and if you want to call it “dressing” you can pour it over “salad”  – there, I'm done). I kept my mouth shut when, instead of carving it up proper, he took the breast right off the bird and cut it into steak-sized chunks. I said nothing when he put the dark meat back in the roasting pan and braised it off (because who needs to serve the whole bird to a hungry crowd at the same time anyway, right?). I even bit my tongue when he poured some watery ginger-Thai sauce over the breast chunks instead of gravy (because he is Bobby Flay, after all: if he knew how to make a proper gravy he wouldn’t be braising off the dark meat in the roasting pan). But then he started on the side dishes, and that’s when I stood up on the couch.

Fresh blackberries in your cranberry sauce? FUCK YOU!

It’s not about queering up the cranberries, motherfucker, it’s just an asshole thing to do. Hell, it’s an asshole thing to even say. Fresh blackberries are in season for a week and a half in August. Even then they cost $5 for a half a pint, and – if you buy them in the grocery store – are just a tease. Some of us grew up machete-ing our way through a half-acre of brambles that sprouted when some random bird pooped in our yard. Some of us remember emerging at the end of those August weeks all sunburnt and juice-stained, thorn-scratched and mosquito-bit, stuffed with all the berries that were so verge-of-rotten ripe they squished when you picked ‘em, and looking forward to a couple months of our mother’s jam and pie. I don’t think I’ve had blackberry pie in at least twenty-five years, but in our house it was always served with vanilla ice cream, and the rule was that when it was gone, you were allowed to pick up your dessert plates and lick them off.

You don’t come up with a rule like that by buying them in November and fucking ‘em in a pot with goddamn cranberries.

The next day, over our non-queered-up Thanksgiving dinner – at which I daintily wolfed down the (non-braised) turkey wing with my grown-up hands – I was still bitching about Bobby Flay, confident that those who also remember machete-ing the half-acre, not to mention the jam and the plate-licking, would understand how Strong my Opinions about blackberries are. I knew they’d get it when I said I don’t even buy them when they are in season. I just visit them, pat the package, and walk away. I may be nostalgic and Opinionated, but I’m not dumb enough to spend $5 a cup on some watered-down imitation of the Truth we used to get out of our backyard by the gallon, and for free.

“What you should do,” my brother said, “is spring for the five bucks, bring ‘em home, and throw ‘em in the yard.”

He was right. I mean, he’d’ve been righter if he’d said “fuck ‘em in the yard” instead of “throw ‘em,” but my brother has a three-year-old; he has Strong Opinions about things like diapers, Disney Princesses, and Fuck.

But anyway, he was right, and it got me thinking: just because they pick ‘em green and ship ‘em cold and by the time they get to you they taste like ass, that doesn’t mean they aren’t the same seeds on the inside. If I sprung for the five bucks right now – what with the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having (in between equally unseasonable nor’easters) – I might just have my very first unfruitful, picker-laden bush-sprouts in the spring!

Of course, the point of this whole diatribe to begin with was that blackberries aren’t in season now. So they probably don’t cost five dollars anymore. Plus, I got laid off on November first and – due to a combination of my being a Good Daughter and a Little Bit Of A Flake – my unemployment still has not kicked in. I am so turn-pocket poor these days I’m considering bagging out on one of my pool teams just to save the 1/4 tank of gas it takes for the round trip from the ass-end of creation where I live to what passes for civilization in these parts. How could I justify the expense? I mean, I’ve only been living at the ass-end of creation for eighteen months: nowhere near long enough to make spending $10 on something I’m gonna fuck in the yard sound like a bargain. It’s not like I grew up here, for god’s sake.

So last night I was lamenting all of this to my Best Friend In The Whole Entire World. She lives in Connecticut these days, but it’s not like she grew up there, either: she’s poor, too (plus she still has a sense of humor, and a soul), so she understood my predicament completely.

“You could eat them first,” she said, “and spit the seeds out in the yard. That way you would at least get a treat.”

Or I could—”


This girl’s been my best friend since 1990. She knew exactly what I was going to say.

“Oh come on,” I said. “I’ve been living at the ass-end of creation for eighteen months now. Don’t you think it’s about time I took a shit in the yard?”

“Go ahead if you want to,” she conceded. “I’m just saying I don’t think blackberry seeds go through a person like they do a bird. You might want to spit the seeds out first, then poop on top of them. Just remind me never to eat blackberries from your house if you do.”

I’m still mulling it over. I don’t know, though. I mean, I’d have to make the long trek to the grocery store, spend too much money on one special ingredient, do stuff to it, then wait patiently for time and temperature to turn it into something I can actually eat. And what did I tell you when I started this whole story?

I don’t cook.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Curse

As gal’s go, I’m not what you call Regular. Never have been.

Yes, my friends, that is a metaphor. But no, I’m not talking about poop.

I didn’t even become an official Gal till I was almost 16 years old, and for five years or so after that it was hit or miss. Mostly miss, unless I planned a camping trip or something. Or made the mistake of stepping on an airplane. In which case It would hit me like a ton of bricks. Fortunately I didn’t start doing the sorts of things that make a gal keep track of calendars until I was almost 21, so at least I didn’t have to do Lunatic Math.

After that, It would hit me every couple months. Or I’d skip two, then go two in a row (which always pissed me off), then skip two more. I didn't mind it, but it was hard to plan for. And during what I like to think of as my wild-oats phase (for which read: most the ‘90s), I pretty much got in the habit of buying pregnancy tests whenever I bought condoms. Just, you know, so I could get to sleep at night while waiting for It to hit.

Then I got married.

I stopped buying condoms and got one of those plug-things in my arm. It made me fat, no fun at all, and (after a year or so) a marginally-Regular Gal at last. All of which pissed me off enough, you can imagine. But when it killed my sex drive, too, I ripped it out.

After another year or so I was back to my Irregular old tricks, but by then – well, let’s just say it was like living those first five years of officialdom over again: no pregnancy tests or Lunatic Math necessary. Just to be extra-double-sure, though, I went and got myself an IUD. Poor little device. Sat there for years like a kid wearing a catcher’s mitt in the cheap seats, hoping against hope for a chance to field a ball.

Then the seventh-inning stretch came, and I ran.

Single again (for all intents and purposes), I entered Wild Oats Phase Two and fell back into lockstep. Condoms, pregnancy test, sleep at night, etc. Because honestly, in the whole time that wee device was suited up on my behalf, it’d only had one quick cup of coffee in the majors, and I wasn’t about to let the World Series ride on its ability to play.

But Phase Two only lasted for a month. Because while I was in the throes of it, I met Some People. And before long, Some People and I weren’t Meeting any other people. We never Agreed Upon such a Momentous Thing because that would be too much like having a Real Conversation, which Some People and I have always refused to dobut I wasn't, and he wasn't. We weren't.

So I trusted the catcher’s mitt in the cheap seats to field the flies.

By this time, of course since about 2009 or so I'm about as Irregular as a gal can be and still call herself a Gal. It misses more than It hits me, as a rule. And even when It does connect, It's more like a drop-bunt than a grand-slam. I chalk it up to the fact that I work out a lot. But because I do, I know my body well enough to know that the catcher’s mitt is doing its job. There came a point this summer I got so used to It missing that I sort of forgot It was even supposed to hit. Until I had a doctor’s appointment recently. And they asked me when it last had. And I did Lunatic Math… 

And figured out It hadn't hit since early May.

Well, you know, sure. I mean, yeah, big fat gulp and everything. But like I say: I’ve had this body for a while now; I really think I’d be able to tell if it started sprouting a spare. Besides, I have enough to worry about these days – the divorce and the house and my impending layoff and Dad in the hospital and writer's block and everything. So I did a quick scan of the stands, reassured myself that the catcher’s mitt hadn’t budged from its position, and chalked the whole thing up to I’m-Forty-Fucking-Two-For-God’s-Sake-And-I’ve-Avoided-Slipping-On-This-Particular-Banana-Peel-For-Twenty-Six-Years-So-It’s-Just-Not-Something-That’s-Going-To-Happen-To-Me-Now

It never even occurred to me to mention it to Some People.

Not then. And not over the past few weeks. Not when I spontaneously quit smoking because the idea just started to seem gross. Or when I gained a little weight (because that’s just the smoking, right?). Or when I started craving salsa suddenly, on everything (because it’s okay for a girl to eat something besides apples and chicken breasts once in a while, dammit!). Or when just smelling the salt in the salsa made my calves swell up to seven times their size (I figure that’s a normal physical reaction for a gal who hasn’t eaten processed food since April 2010). Or when the swelling made my knees ache (hey man, I walk seven miles a day when I can, and I work out a lot). Or when I managed to put away three pounds of chocolate in two hours on that Sunday afternoon (no people – let alone Some People – need to bear witness to that). Or even when I finally started going a little nuts (although, to be fair, Some People couldn’t help but notice that).

But then one night I slipped and mentioned the no-hitter. By mistake, you understand. I didn’t Mean To. I just sort of, kind of, offhandedly, in passing, did. All I said was “not since May” and changed the subject. La la la... Then two days later I told Some People to fuck off until they were ready to Talk.

Christ. That poor Kid. I swear to god. Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, this hot mess had to clomp her boots into his.

Well, to make a long story short, it seems that little mention broke the curse. First, though, I got even nutsier without ever consciously acknowledging the elephant in the cheap seats. And while I wouldn’t say Some People came around looking for crazy, they were certainly there to field it when it fell. For a week or two or whatever it was. Until, out of the blue, It finally hit me. 

Which, you know, explains the swelling and the craving and the knee-pain and the nuts. I’m just so out of practice with It, I forgot.




I hadn’t told anyone about the not-since-May stuff, but everybody heard about October. People I work with. People I’m friends with. People I barely know. Even – and especially – Some People. I told Some People It finally hit me just as offhandedly as I'd mentioned the five-month miss. With half-assed apologies for the pop flies I lobbed in his direction, unexpressed gratitude for the expert (if awkward) fielding, and a very clearly spelled-out, keep-it-if-it-kills-me vow to bench the hot mess for a little while. 

After all, considering the wild card I've turned out to be in that particular major-league game…

It seems the only Regular thing to do.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

How Many Licks?

I smoked a bunch of cigarettes, okay?

I lasted three and a half weeks. That isn’t bad. Then I took a cosmic licking and the marshmallow center of my hard candy shell came out like a pop star in Provincetown on the 4th of July.

Like a vengeance, in other words.

And also not much of a surprise.

I don’t think I’ll get into much detail about the cosmic licking. Let’s just say that filing for divorce after a year and a half of chasing paperwork takes an anti-climactic five seconds to do, costs $120 you probably should’ve thought about ahead of time, and elicits unwelcome congratulations from everyone you tell, even when you’re only telling by way of an explanation as to why you’re not your usual eat-a-peach, the-world’s-my-oyster self.

Well, not from everyone you tell. It doesn't elicit any response at all from some people – Some People whom you decided not to tell but accidentally included anyway on the “I just finally, officially filed for divorce” text message that was supposed to only go to out-of-staters. You deserved that deafening silence, though. Because you hadn’t told Some People anything else about the divorce (or the marriage, or much of anything else about your past, for that matter) up to this point, anyway, so you can’t blame them if they don’t know what to say. Come to think of it, they probably deserve credit for at least not offering knee-jerk, cliché congratulations.

Also? Sigmund would probably say that slip was no accident, after all. But what does he know about texting, anyway? He’s been dead since, like, rotary dialing was cutting edge.

And then the bank — 

Let's see. How can I put this so you’ll understand how frustrating these past few months have been, without getting into the sordid details of how our quail-size nest-egg got all scrambled...? Aha! 

A. Bank of America is an elephant.

B. Everyone who works for them is blind.

I wanted to carry that analogy a little farther. There’s a joke in there about climbing trees and ropes and walls, I know there is. Plus something about dung beetles, I’m sure. But I promised myself I’d post this before I went to bed, and I can’t reach either of them from where I’m sitting at the moment. Not that anyone would notice if I didn’t. But still. I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. And, well, you know…

So that happened, and then what else? Oh, yeah.

By way of distraction, I went out with a couple friends that night. To the biker bar in Arundel where I work. And found out that the guy who asked me for my number last week – the guy who was supposed to at least distract me from the damn Kid for a while – is actually already dating someone else.

So I shot him, lit myself a cigarette from the smoking barrel of my gun, pushed through the double-swinging saloon doors and strode off in my cowboy boots into the night.

No, no. I'm joking, of course. I don't really wear cowboy boots, sillies. I wear Fryes.

Really, I lasted two whole more days after that. Two twitchy, weepy, five-(then-six-then-seven)-pounds-overweight days, over which I developed a nasty habit of sending increasingly-crazy-sounding text messages to Some People who still Did Not Respond until finally I cracked and called him.

Them, I mean. Some People. You know: Them.

They didn’t answer, and that’s when I cracked. Skittered downstairs for the spare pack in the freezer, grabbed the big fireplace lighter off the counter by the candles, ran out to the front step and smoked before I had a chance to change my mind.

Six cigarettes. Right in a row. Onetwothreefourfivesix just like that.

And then?

Some People called.

I don’t think I’ll get into much detail about the conversation. Except to say that it was very wet, satisfyingly productive, and it cured the crazy nasty habit for a while.

Just like the cough I had to put up with all over again for the next few days.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I Quit Smoking Two Weeks Ago…

…and I’m a little tense.

The problem is, I haven’t got a single vice left. I am goddamn perfect now, what can I say?

It’s true: I quit eating junk food (as a habit, anyway) for New Year’s 2010; I quit watching television when I moved to Maine that spring; I quit drinking when I got arrested in October; and I quit smoking two weeks ago. Plus I told the Kid to go to hell last weekend, so I haven’t even—

Hm. A more astute Yours Truly might have seen a cause-and-effect relationship between those last two things before she saw them lined up side by side. Ah well. It’s the Kid’s fault I quit smoking anyway. So even if the fit I threw in his direction was nicotine-induced, his hairy little ass was asking for it.

See, I’ve been smoking off and on for twenty years – and by “off and on,” I mean “always,” just “in varying amounts.” And actually, I lied: it’s been twenty-one years. Nope. I lied again: it’s twenty-two. Smoked my first Camel Light hanging out my college dorm window in November of my senior year, all by myself. I’d always been a pain in the ass, lecturing and crusading against the nasty habit – I even made a collage of Surgeon Generals Warnings cut out of magazine ads and hung it on my dorm room wall (this, when we were actually required to have ash trays in our rooms) – but suddenly, for reasons I didn’t understand,* I wanted one. And for obvious reasons I didn’t want my friends to know.

*I have recently figured out the reason: From the minute I wake up to the minute I go to bed, I am always – but always – doing something with my mouth. I don’t eat much but I drink constantly, chew gum, smoke cigarettes. I suck on my fingers if there’s nothing else around. And then, when I go to sleep, I grind my teeth. I don’t need Dr. Freud to diagnose this full-blown oral fixation, but if there’s an explanation for it I think I’ll just leave that Dog where it Lies.

My friends found out soon enough, and over the years I went from Camel Lights to Camel Filters to Camel Non-Filters (!), to Marlboro Lights to Marlboro Ultra Lights to Newports. Yet, somehow, I never thought of myself as a Smoker with a capital S until last summer, when I started buying Marlboro Menthol Light 100s by the carton and lighting my first one when I rolled out of bed at five a.m.

I think it was the “Marlboro Menthol Light 100s” shit that clinched the deal. That’s a mouthful and a half, man. I had to slow down and think about it every time I ordered up a carton. And half the time it still came out all wrong.

Coincidentally, this Year of Smoking Dangerously lines up almost exactly with the time I’ve known The Kid, but it’s got nothing to do with him. In fact, he thinks it’s nasty, and he used to hassle me about it all the time. I summarily ignored him, though, because he (redneck alert!) chews tobacco. Which’ll kill him just as surely, with the added plus of gradual disfigurement to boot. But at least he does chew wintergreen, so our nasty habits are matchingly minty fresh.

He gave me so much shit, though, that without thinking about it I gradually stopped smoking around him. I’d go out for one at the bar, but not at the house if he was here. I’d smoke on my way home from his place, but not on my way over. And even though I made sure there was always an empty soda bottle in the armrest of my car for his post-coital fix, I wouldn’t satisfy my own until I’d seen him safely in his door. Then I’d chain-smoke for the half-hour it takes me to drive home.

And I would love it.

But then one day this happened:

I don’t remember when this was, but it was early-ish and it was already dark, yet warm enough for me to be relaxing in the yard, so it had to have been sometime late last spring. I was out there doing nothing but staring at the stars and smoking cigarettes when my cell phone started playing “Folsom Prison Blues.”

“What are you doing!?”

That’s what the Kid always says when he calls. Nine times out of ten the answer is either “getting out of the shower” or “listening to music and dancing around,” so I was actually a little excited to get to say something different for a change.

“I’m outside,” I said. “Staring at the stars and smoking cigarettes.”


He honked it out when I was barely finished speaking – like: “Eh! Wrong answer!” I laughed.

“Gross yourself!” I said. “At least I don’t spit brown drool all over the place!”

“At least I don’t stink!”

Ouch. Somehow, in twenty-two years, I’d never thought about it quite that way before. He stunned me speechless.

“Yeah, okay,” I finally said. “You got me there.”

“Ha!” He was so proud of himself. The little shit. “See? Now come get me! Let’s go up to the bar and shoot some pool!”

So I did and we did. I had a shower first, though. Brushed my teeth. And at the bar I didn’t go out for a cigarette all night. But boy did I love lighting one as soon as he was safely in his door.

I didn’t get to chain-smoke for half an hour, though, because I wasn’t half a mile down the road before he called and asked me to come back.

“But I didn’t smoke all night!” I said. “And now I stink!”

Well, it turns out he doesn’t really care all that much after all.

The whole thing got me thinking, though, and it simmered for a while. It simmered through a phase of smoking twice as much, because I’m a grownup and I can do what I want, dammit. It simmered through a phase of smoking in front of the Kid after all, because who the fuck does he think he is, anyway? It simmered through a phase of being grossed out by what people smell like when they come back in from smoking – and then going out to smoke myself. And finally, it simmered through a phase of examining my skin in the mirror and wondering if I might look less like the Marlboro Man if I divorced myself from the Menthol Light 100s.

And then, two weeks ago, I up and quit. Didn’t decide to, didn’t mean to, it just happened. Woke up at five a.m. on Thursday, September 8, rolled outside with a cup of coffee, lit a smoke, and stared at it, wondering why anyone would want to do such an odd, disgusting thing. Especially someone who works out for two hours every day and walks seven miles whenever she can. Someone who doesn’t eat junk food or drink alcohol or watch TV. Someone who’s lucky enough to know this Kid who thinks it’s gross, and who’d very much like to see how he turns out.

I didn’t tell anybody for a while. I didn’t want to make a general announcement till it stuck. But I think it has, now. I can tell because – even without the junk food – I’ve managed to gain back the seven pounds I lost when I quit drinking. I’ll get rid of them, though. Two hours a day, remember. Seven miles when I can. And in the meantime, well, I’m sure no one will notice. Those seven pounds are mostly in my ass, after all. And I did tell that damn Kid to go to hell.

In the meantime, I’ve turned on the television. A girl’s gotta have a vice, and America’s Funniest Home Videos is all I’ve got. Besides, something tells me that a good swift kick in the nuts is exactly what Dr. Freud would order.

If he wasn’t so darn busy smoking cigars.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Silly Rabbit

These days, the Kid has a motorcycle. He didn’t have one when I met him—although he claimed, in a fit of trying to impress me, he had two, but really zero is how many motorcycles that Kid had (don’t tell him I said that, though; he doesn’t think I know). That was a completely different Kid from the one I’ve grown to love, however.  He really does have a motorcycle now. And I, in a convoluted sort of way, helped get it for him.

The bike’s a custom chopper. I had to ask him three times over the course of two weeks before I finally understood just what that meant, but now I know (at least I think I know): a custom chopper isn’t any kind of bike, specifically. It’s something somebody built for themselves, from scratch. But the Kid didn’t build his bike himself. He traded for it.

See, the Kid used to have a four-wheeler. That’s the thing I really helped him get. A friend was selling it in February and he absolutely had to have it, so while I moved heaven, he moved earth, we set it up. Got it. Loved it. Rode it daily. Then absolutely had to trade it for the bike in June.

Kids these days, I swear to god. As my dear, departed mother used to say: I’m so glad I never had any that lived.

If I’m being honest, though? That’s one of the things I love the most about this Kid: He’s just like me. Wherever he is, all he wants is to be somewhere else. He wishes it were summer when it’s winter (except for the heat) and dreams about ice-racing in July. He wants a 4-wheeler when he has a snowmobile, and wants a motorcycle when he’s got an ATV. When he’s in the bar he flits from the pool table to the dance floor, from one table to another, from the front step to the outdoor smoking area and back. Every airplane that flies overhead, he doesn’t care where it might be going, he wants on it. Just exactly like I’ve always done. Like Johnny Cash in Folsom Prison pining for the train. He changes jobs more often than I change underwear (although there is one constant calling that he always dreams of making work), and he goes through girls like paper towels.

So he had the 4-wheeler and he wanted the bike, but he couldn’t make a simple trade because the guy with the bike didn’t want a 4-wheeler. He wanted a snowmobile. So the Kid found a snowmobile. But the guy with the snowmobile didn’t want a 4-wheeler, either. He wanted a mo-tar bike. So the Kid found a mo-tar bike and the guy with the mo-tar bike did want a 4-wheeler!

For those of you who’ve never heard the word before (like me): a mo-tar bike is a dirtbike that’s been converted to street-legality. I only had to ask that question once. It was the ugliest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. Told the Kid that under no circumstances was he allowed to keep it if he ever wanted to see me naked again. So we both spent the next two weeks on tenterhooks for different reasons, afraid the whole thing might fall through and he’d be stuck with the mechanical equivalent of a cold shower. The day it all fell into place was so exciting. Happy, banner day for both of us. I even got a hug out of the Kid. I had to tell him to do it, but still. Kid doesn’t hug. Doesn’t kiss much, either. Says it’s cuz he doesn’t like it, but the truth is that he’s scared to get too close. Just like me. Don’t tell him I said it, though. He doesn’t think I know.

The bike was in okay shape when he got it, but it needed work, and the Kid asked if he could borrow my spare computer so he could go online and order parts. Since we met he hasn’t had a computer. He only ever used to go on facebook at my house. I’d forget sometimes and send him messages, then lie in bed and watch him read them at my desk. But my dad gave me a computer for my birthday, so I didn’t really need the little laptop anymore. I didn’t give it to him (hear that, Kid? I do still want it back, you know), but I said he could use it for as long as he needs. So in a convoluted way, I not only helped him get the bike: I fixed it, too.

Sort of.

Bike still doesn’t work 100%. And it works exactly 0% in the rain. Kid told me a story about how he rode the bike up to the bar one rainy night and it broke down on him on the way home.

“I had to push it all the way from JDs!”

I didn’t think that sounded all that bad. JDs is a store, and from there to his house is just a couple miles. Sure, it was raining. Sure, it was late. But he’s young, he’s strong, and even though he’d been at the bar, he doesn’t drink. Not really. Not usually. Not then, at least. So big whoop if he had to walk a little ways. Am I right? I walk seven miles almost every day for fun, and he’s 18 years younger than me. It will hardly kill him to walk two, even if he is pushing a bike. He’s not supposed to be riding the damn thing after dark on his learner’s permit, anyway. The little shit.

“From JD’s!” he practically squealed. “All the way here!”

So I made ooh-ah, poor-you noises like I was actually his girlfriend or something, and I asked him if he got the problem fixed.

“Naw,” he said. “I just don’t take it out if there’s even the slightest chance of rain.”

That fucking Kid is just like me, I swear to god.

So anyway, a few weeks later, after we pretended not to celebrate the first anniversary of our first night together, I had a passing attack of the we-might-actually-still-be-friends-in-six-more-months-etceteras and asked him if he'd find a bike for me. You know, since I’d helped him get and fix this one and everything. I didn’t need anything special, I said. Something he could get for nothing and fix up over the winter months. Something safe that I could ride to work if I’m still in Maine next spring. Or something I could Steve-McQueen my ass out of here on if I’m not. He asked me what, specifically, I wanted, and I hemmed and hawed because I know I can’t have what I really want (yes, I’m still talking about motorcycles, people). He said he’d look around and think about it, and we left it at that.

Then yesterday, a mutual friend of ours stopped in where I work to say hello. This friend recently dumped his bike and broke his collarbone, so we talked about that for a while. Talked about the new bike he got to replace the old one. And in a fit of excitement at the whole idea, I blurted out “I might be getting my own bike in the spring! The Kid’s looking into it for me!”

“Well,” our Friend said. “As long as it runs better than his!”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I said.

I’ve gotten used to this small-town gossip mill. I figured someone probably saw the Kid pushing his bike that night and told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on. My gut reaction was, as always, to leap to the Kid's defense.

“It has a little problem in the rain,” I said. “He’s working on it.”

“Did he tell you he stopped by my house that night?”

“Well… No.”

“Yeah,” our Friend went on, “he pounded on my door at 12:30 at night. My girlfriend was staying over with her dog, and her dog scared the shit out of him. He asked if he could leave his bike at my house, and she gave him a ride home.”

I know this probably sounds odd to you. I know it probably sounds like the Kid's still telling stories to me after all, but it's not. There’s a perfectly logical reason why the he mightn’t’ve mentioned to me that he’d stopped by the Friend’s. I won’t get into what that reason is – maybe some other time, in code or something – but trust me: it makes perfectly reasonable sense. To me. And to the Kid. ‘Cuz he’s just like me. And that's all that really matters in the end.

“But your house isn’t any closer to JDs than his," I asked the Friend. "Why would he go to your house instead of just going home?”

“Would you want to push that thing up that hill?”

Ah, the hill… the Kid’s road is named after the goddamn hill, for crying out loud! How could I have forgotten about that? So that’s why he got so squeaky about pushing it all the way home!

Except, you know, he didn’t.

But you know what, Kid? 

For future reference? 

When I say I don't believe something you tell me, it isn't always because someone squealed.

Sometimes it's because you're just like me, so I just Know .

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Taking a Gamble on a Little Sorrow

I did go back to the Pigpen, obviously. It took me two weeks to work up my nerve (it’s a big one, that’s why it took so long), but I did. There was nobody there again (there often isn’t; you’ll get used to that), so I played pool by myself for a while, and was sitting outside on the picnic table smoking with the Owner (who I don’t think I knew was the Owner at the time) when the Kid showed up.

“You’re back!” he hollered across the parking lot to me as he walked in from his truck. I don’t remember my reply, but I’m sure it was something wise-ass, and I'm sure he does.

“Watch out for that one,” said the Owner when the Kid had gone inside. “He sleeps with all the single women who come in here."

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” I said. "I’m a big girl; I can spot ‘em. Plus he’s like twelve. And even if he wasn’t – or I was – he wouldn’t be getting anywhere near this with that goatee.”

See what I mean? My ass is so wise it oughta have its own advice column.

I don’t know how much time passed, but I know we hadn’t finished smoking yet before that goatee got stuck back out the door.

“You shootin’?” it hollered.

“Which one of us you talkin’ to?” I hollered back.


“Yeah, I’m shootin’.” 

I tossed my butt in the bucket and stood up.

“Watch out for him,” the Owner said. “I’m serious.”

“Don’t worry,” I waved him off. “I got this. Kid’s in fucking diapers, for chrissake.”

The Owner laughed.

So I went in and the Kid and I shot pool all night. As far as I remember no one else ever showed up, and when I left he walked me to my car.

“I had fun,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “I had fun, too.”

And then I got in my car and drove away.

It was a few weeks again before I went back for a third time (but it wasn't about working up the big old nerve this time: I just had Business to Attend to Elsewhere), and the same thing happened. Kid showed up, we shot all night, he walked me to my car.

“I had fun.”

“I had fun, too.”

“A bunch of us – the Guide and his Girlfriend and those guys, remember? – always come in here on Wednesday nights. You should come by, it's fun.”

“Oh, I don’t know about Wednesdays.”

I wasn’t trying to be coy. I innocently believed (as I still do, almost nine months later) that I was close to finishing the book, and didn’t think I should be going out on school nights.

“Well, what nights will you be here?”

“What night is this?”


“Probably Friday, then. But I don’t know...”

And I got in my car and drove away.

Yeah, you got me. That time I was trying to be coy. How did I do?

So the next time I went back it was a Wednesday, and—

Oh, shut it.

—the Guide and his Girlfriend were there when I arrived. I apologized for my behavior last time, they didn't think it was all that big a deal, and we hung out for a few hours before the Kid showed up.

“I almost didn’t come,” he said, “because you said you wouldn’t be here.”

Oh yeah, right.

So we played pool and got flirty, and at one point when I couldn’t decide what shot to take he said: “Shoot the two-six. It’s the perfect combination, like your blue eyes and my green eyes.”

Because the 2-ball’s blue, you see, and the 6-ball is green.

I lowered my cue stick, turned around, and gagged.

“Did you seriously just say that to me?”

He laughed.

“I bet you thought I didn’t notice, huh?”

Oh, yeah, that’s why I'm gagging. Cocky little shit.

“Twenty-two-year-old studmuffin,” the Guide’s Girlfriend whispered wryly in my ear. I don’t think she heard the thing about the 2-ball, but she'd been around him long enough. She knew.

“Is that how old he is?” I asked her.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Something like that.”

So the next time I went back his way, I asked him.

“How old are you, Kid?”


“Oh, well then,” I laughed over my shoulder and I went outside to smoke. But I came back, and at the end of the night he walked to my car again.

“I had fun,” he said.

“I had fun, too."

Then I decided it was time to end it.

"We do have fun together, you and I," I said. "And we probably would have a lot of fun.”

If you know what I mean.

“But do you have any idea how old I am?”

Because, not to toot my own or anything, but the Faustian bargain I seem to have struck with the universe this year is: you do your damnedest to bury me, and I will get younger- and younger-looking with every ball of shit you throw. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to be 27 again – not for all the outsourced jobs in China. But getting occasionally mistaken for it is not a bad condolence prize when you're knee-deep in Satan scat. You know?

He shrugged.

“I’m forty-one.”

“So?” He shrugged again. “Not like it'd be statutory.”

I laughed. Hard.

And then I got in my car and drove away.

I stayed away on purpose this time. I knew what I was thinking, and I didn’t think I should be, so I guess you could say I was working down the big old nerve. But my sister and her family came to visit in the meantime, and I told my brother-in-law about the Kid and his statutory line.

“Well played, Kid!” he said, with a big grin. Then the family went to York Beach for the day, and when they came home in the evening he pulled me aside.

“You know, Erin,” he said, “I’ve been thinking about that Kid of yours, and I think you should go for it. You’re hot right now [thank you, Satan], and he’s obviously hot for you. You’re going to be fifty soon—”

“Excuse me!? I’m forty-one!”

“Well, you know what I mean: it’s out there [thank you, Sally], and then it will be gross. You might as well. A man would do it in a heartbeat, and he’d be getting high-fives all around.”

My sister came in at that point and we brought her up to speed.

“Yeah,” she said. “I know you, Erin. You’re going to do it eventually. Every time you see him will be a night of deciding not to, until one night you get drunk enough, or horny enough, and give in. You might as well take control of it while you still can.”


Well, in the absence of a mother, I guess that’s as close to Official Permission as a girl can get. Not that she needs it. She is almost fifty, after all.

All right, then, I decided that I would. 

But not that weekend. That weekend I had my motorcycle lessons, and I really shouldn't stay out late or drink.

So on Saturday—

Didn’t I tell you shut it once already? Shut it again.

—I got on a motorcycle for the first time and was too excited to sit still. I wanted to go to the biker bar (have I mentioned that the Pigpen is a biker bar? It sort of is) and talk about it. The Kid was there, we were very flirty, and everyone warned me to stay away. Even the Bartender.

“Hey Bartender,” I asked her once over a cigarette. “That Kid's hitting on me pretty hard. Should I hit that?”

“No.” she said. “He sleeps with everyone.”

“Okay,” I said. “I won’t.” But I didn't mean it.

When I went back in the bar and he came over, I said “I think you're a dog.” It was supposed to be a prelude to a conversation, but when he heard it he put his tail between his legs and ran away!

I chased him.

“No,” I said. “What I mean is, that’s a good thing. You are who you are and I am who I am: we’re obviously never getting married. But we do have fun together, so why shouldn’t we have more? As long as we both know that’s all it is.”

There was a lot more said than that, but the rest of that business is none of yours.

And so we did.

I was late for my motorcycle road test the next morning, but I passed it, which is why I'll never forget the date: September 4th. Just over eight months ago as I write this, and we still do have an awful lot of fun. We’re not Together, and we never will be, but he makes me happy. And although I don't presume to speak for him, eight months is a long time in dog-years; I don't think he would've hung up his collar if I didn't make him a little happy, too. Other people don't understand what we're doing, and the things they say sometimes come close to fucking it all up, but then we take a breather and start again. We make each others lives just a little less wild. For now, for as long as it lasts. Until he meets some tender sweet young thing who makes him happier, or I meet some rich old coot and decide to pull an Anna Nicole before Satan comes calling for his chips. Or else till I turn fifty and it’s gross. Because as my mother’s alter-ego, Janis Joplin, used to say:

And so while we can, the Kid and I, we do.