Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Today's Rant: Patience is a virtue. Don't honk at me.

Woman on the verge.  I am doing my motherfucking best to keep it together.  I get really really batshit manic at Christmas because I'm really excited about it all.  <getting shit done! bake shop wrap bake shop wrap drink drink drink drink drink>  Other times, I’m low at Christmas and it's all I can do to come out of my room.  We’ll set those times aside for now. 

This Christmas is the first time I have had a full-time job since my first kid was born 19 years ago.  Let me tell you it was a LOT easier putting Christmas together when I wasn't working full time.  (Outside the home.)   But I will tell you that my Christmases were pretty fucking far out when I didn't get to have to be away from home for almost twelve hours every day.   

I may have mentioned that I love my job, but it has definitely compromised my ability to put Christmas together in a timely manner.  And that’s . . . okay.  Gratitude moment:  I have several people who know how to shop, wrap and bake.  It is comforting to see my girls (19 and 17) learn to put Christmas together for themselves.  They get to decide what they think is important and do it.   They are getting along so well it's scary.  My oldest, always somewhat distant and scornful (hmm, I wonder where she gets it), has been downright loving, smiling, engaging.  The other night, they spontaneously jumped in the car to go on a shopping run for art supplies.  They even grabbed their 12-year-old brother, who was only too happy to be included.  I keep teasing them that they are replicants of their former selves, like in Bladerunner, and they just smile softly to themselves.  Tacit agreement.  They feel it, too.

I get off work early today.  Reluctantly, I am in my car by 2:00.  No excuse to dodge my chores, no defense of fatigue to avoid the inevitable.    The usual hour-plus commute home takes half the time.  Holiday traffic?  I guess they're not going my way today. 

Stop at the spa for a gift card for my sister.  Every year we go to have a hot tub and a sauna.  A side trip on her extended visit from across the country  I reluctantly exit the freeway to reach the chic-est part of the chic-est town.  I simply loathe everything about it.  Materialism pretending to be soulful and spiritual.  Indulgences for the new millennium.  The irony is thick, palpable, my scorn is oily and black.  I dodge what I know must be pitying judgment from the staff, who wear the right clothes and chant and meditate and anoint themselves with homeopathic unguents that smell of earth.   But I do love the wood tubs, the little rooms with New Age music piped in.   And the sauna, the annual challenge of besting the heat with stern resilience.  Ritual, galvanizing endorphins.   

On to my favorite grocery --Trader Joe's.  Whole Foods mentality at discount prices.  The racist versions of the brand name depending on the kind of cuisine.  Trader Ming, Trader Giuseppe.  Chalkboards with artsy lettering, glib descriptions.  My daughter longs to draw the labels.  She wants to get paid to doodle.  On quiet days I stop to consider the possibilities.   I am allowed to experiment.  If my choices fail to satisfy, I am entitled to return and refund.  But I would never admit such a defeat.  This failure would be my fault.  For example, I never liked goat cheese.  It's a flaw I freely admit.  

Today though (the Friday before the day before the night before the main event), the store is packed beyond my efforts to negotiate it.  My mental preparation to stay calm and in the moment dissolves within seconds of negotiating the produce aisle.  Still, I am nice.  Kind. Indulgent.  I let people cut in, I wait while they figure out which fucking kind of lettuce to buy.  Arugula is spicy, I want to tell them, but they haven't asked, so I will wait and see if they do.  I volunteer nothing.  I am an empty vessel, a blank slate.  I wear my serenity like a cloak.  I protect it as it protects me.

Repeat the mantras I have developed over time in my own personal anger management workshop . . . <everyone's doing the best they can, this too shall pass, we will get there eventually> . . . .  Follow the rules, cart down the right side, keep out of the way, smile and yield apologetically.  Inwardly grimace at the many (most?  all?) who don’t reciprocate.  Rules have always outlined my consciousness, irritation at those who don't feel that compunction shade the content.  

I hold it together till the checkout.  The clerk has a sense of humor, we border on flirting, but settle for banter.  Once again I have forgotten my bags.  I do the paperbag walk of shame as I wheel my cart past the bell ringers, gritting my teeth as I lie that I don't carry cash. 

At last I reach my car, which I have stationed in quite possibly the farthest spot in the section of the elephantine parking lot designated as Trader Joe's despite its proximity to Wal-Mart.  I transfer my brown paper bags from the cart to the hatchback.  I have hit the wall.  My husband calls and I answer.  He asks whether I've left and I tell him that I'm still in the parking lot, but I am coming home.  I need to be home.  I need to be done with this.  I need to touch base.  He understands.  

Seat belt strapped, I sit quietly for a moment before turning the key.  Verge of tears, deep breath, steady.  I only recognize the wall after I’ve hit it, just as I only recognize PMS after my period has begun.  In retrospect.  As if precognition would have helped.  I am destined to play out my Greek tragedy.  Unavoidable melt-downs.  Too little, too late.

I put the car in reverse and look over my shoulder.  Such a blind spot.  I slowly release the brake and roll backward out of my space.  The horn behinds me alerts me to my folly.  My heart jumps, my pulse pounds.  Not a friendly tap.  A hard palm leaning on the belly of the steering wheel.  I am backing out of a spot that the car behind me is waiting for.  Like an Escher print, we are caught in an infinite loop.  Of the two of us, only I recognize the futile irony.  He wants my spot, yet is unwilling to yield the space I need to make that possible.

I continue to roll back.  What should I do, I ask myself.  I need to get out.  He needs to get in.  Why is this such a problem?  I do not understand.  Blind confusion.  As I turn the wheel to pull forward, I hear a growl begin that ends in a sob.  “Fucking motherfucker!  What the fuck to you expect me to do?  Goddamnit!”  My window is half open; several shoppers overhear my spasm.  This is how I know that once again I have let the holidays break me. 

I follow the rules.  I give all the quarter I can.  I take prisoners.  I play nice.  And still I don’t get the break.  Still I don’t feel the love.  Every year at holiday time, every fucking day of the year for that matter.  I need you to hear this.  People of Earth.  Don't fucking honk at me as I pull out of the spot you are waiting for.  It’s not your fault.  You do not know what you are doing.  You do not know with whom you are dealing.  You don't know that I have a tire iron in my hatchback.  You don’t know that I would rather beat myself with it than confront you.   Enjoy your oblivious holiday.  That is all.  Carry on.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Today's Rant/Rave: Shopping

Life is short.  See Chagall first.
Most people are writing about Christmas right now, and of course, Christmas shopping is a good blog topic.  I hate Christmas shopping even more than regular shopping.  Basically I hate any kind of shopping.  I get "mall brain" before we've even parked the car.  "Mall brain" is like the shopping version of "museum brain."  That's a phrase I developed for that overload you get when you've taken the family on a Sunday outing to the museum and it gets to be 3:45 or so and you've just had it.  There's just too much art.  It's just too much to look at.  After a while it's not fun anymore.  So I always head to the moderns first, then the impressionists.  I'm sure you have your order as well.  For once my OCD does not require me to begin with the cave art and proceeding in chronological order.  

Where was I?  Oh yes, mall brain.  Shopping.  Right.  I hate clothes shopping and I'll tell you why:
1.  Three-way mirrors.  
2.  No money.  
3.  Nothing looks good.  
4.  Three-way mirrors.  

[Ed. note:  No doubt some of you love Marshalls and that is great for you.  When you write a blog about how much you love Marshalls,  I promise not to come over and comment about how much I hate Marshalls if you'll refrain from telling me how much you love Marshalls on my blog about how much I hate it.  How's that for a deal?  Better than the one you'll get at Marshalls, I daresay.]

Shopping at Marshalls is a battle.  First, I am already stressed before I set foot inside the place because there is some incipient life event that is necessitating this clusterfuck.  An alliance is forming (wedding, baptism, bris), an alliance is about to be formed (job interview), an alliance has ended (funeral).  And I suppose a bris is also ending the alliance between a foreskin and a penis.   In any case, there is a change in the human condition that is challenging my ability to accept it.  Mostly because it requires new clothes.  Cue Henry David Thoreau.  Head to Marshalls.

If there were enough lead time, I would have scored a deal at Goodwill, because I would have had the time and the patience required by that sort of shopping (fishing) expedition.  Don't ask me why I prefer the Goodwill experience, so similar to Marshalls, yet so different. Maybe it's the comfort of other people's clothes.  Someone chose this item once, someone thought it was a good idea.  Or maybe their mother did.  But times changed, waistlines grew and the owner moved on.  Their clothing ended up here.  For me to pass up or to choose to buy for 6.99.

This is what I see when I think "shopping."
At Marshalls, there is similar disarray, linoleum floors, multitudes of racks, horrible lighting.  Discount prices on brand name clothes, so the shoppers are aware of fashion, but at the mercy of the merchandisers.  They want name brands, but not at name brand prices, so that makes them both shallow and cheap.  Double fail.  And apparently they love to shop.  So we have absolutely nothing in common.

Shopping makes me feel stabby.
I paw through the clothes, the racks of ugliness.  Where is the plain cream-colored jersey shell that is all that stands between me and that job?  Where is the black wool dress in a size 16?  How could my uncle have the nerve to die on the East Coast in December.   I have no winter dress clothes any more because where I live it is never cold enough for that.  I push my way through the racks, slam the hangers down the poles, giving each item a scornful, cursory glance.  Begging the clothes to be what I want, fighting with them, disgusted by them.  Enraged that I have to be wasting my time on this futile, tiresome quest.  I could instead be running with my dog on the trail to the bay.  I could instead be howling the blues, slapping my guitar,  pretending to be Bonnie Raitt, or at least on tour as one of her back-up singers.  I could instead be having a Breaking Bad marathon with my teens because we love it so much and their dad would hate it if he knew that we watched it.  Because any of those things are going to do me way more good than looking for the blouse I will never find despite my nightmarish scavenger hunt through Marshalls.  Basically because situationally appropriate clothes I like in a size that fits at a price I can afford just. DO. NOT. EXIST. 

Turns out I was supposed to reinvent myself this week.  I completely fucking forgot.  And now there's no time because I can't afford Ann Taylor or Bloomingdale's.  So after a miserable hour, I heave a huge sigh and leave Marshalls empty-handed, just as I knew I would, talking to myself like the crazy woman waiting outside the store with her cat in a shopping cart.  Only she is dressed way better than I am. 

There *is* one kind of shopping I like.  In my view, the only good kind of shopping is food shopping.  Even if I can't afford it, I'm pretty sure no matter what I get, I will like it and it will be the right size.  Even if it's expensive, it's still a great price compared to what I am forced to spend on clothes I don't want, hate wearing, and can't wait to take off.

*Now* we're cooking with gas like Sylvia Plath
I love to shop for food.   I love the farmers market, the fancy cheese shop, the Chinese bakery, even the supermarket.  I draw the line at Costco, though.  Costco makes me feel anxious because there are so many other things to look at besides food.  For example--clothes.)

Food is my companion, my ally, my muse.  I love to think about it, to smell it, to taste it. I love to read about it (except on Facebook at Thanksgiving--check out my blog post about that).  I love to plan how I'm going to make it, what wine I'm going to drink with it, how it's going to look, how much the people around me are going to love it and love me for making it.

I don't get anything even remotely like that kind of gratification from clothes.   I infinitely prefer food.   And who could blame me?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Guest Blog! Frenchie, the Burlesque Diva

I have more online friends than real ones.  Mostly because I am terrified of social situations.  Delusions of grandeur at the keyboard, massive insecurity anywhere else.  But I have met some awesome people online.  Some I have known for over a decade.  Like Frenchie Renard.   She has graciously agreed to give us a peep into her life as a burlesque queen.  She wouldn't do this for just anyone, you know.  But she loves me.  And of course, I'm kind of a big deal.  

(That's really her in the photo.  Real.  And fabulous.)

Alors, ladies and gentlemen, mesdames et messieurs! Permittez-moi de vous présenter la belle française--Frenchie!  


There’s only one stand-up mirror backstage, so we either take turns or try to cram two-at-a-time to administer glitter lipstick or check the positioning of a pastie. Brashly flouting the warning in capital letters on the bottles, we share mascara, spirit gum, body glitter and various props.  

LPM stretches out on the floor behind the queue of burlesque performers at the mirror, while CPPP checks the tackiness of the glue spread over her nipples. It’s cold backstage, and it takes the adhesive awhile to stick to her pasties.  For this routine they are heart-shaped and bedazzled within an inch.  Every performer is her own costume designer and choreographer and most of their creations are simply breathtaking.  Tricks and tips are traded and coos of appreciation for other’s handiwork are liberally offered.  It’s some kind of craft fair, I tell you.

I unpack my suitcase of its be-sequined and beaded and be-fringed contents, changing from my street clothes into a red thong ($3 at Target!) onto which I’d painstakingly sewed rhinestone loops and black fringe only the night before. There are many clever tricks in burlesque costuming we use to frame our best features and for our “problem areas”, to distract from while delighting the eye.

CPPP, who is a size 20, wears a corset that emphasizes her generous curves. VV wears heavy jewels and other accessories up top to de-emphasize her pear-ish figure. My issue is my belly, but with my aged dancer’s legs and enormous-yet-perky breasts, a little distraction goes a long way.  I apply my pasties and wait for the glue to dry, looking around at the other performers in their various costuming stages.  

Confidence is sexy.
Every age is represented here, every body shape and level of fitness.  Each performer has her own look, her own style, and her own portion of a captive and worshipful audience.  Our emcee this evening, CV, is a veteran of Vegas shows, Broadway and the theater life that goes along with that background.  She personifies the word “vivacious” in a manner rarely seen in real life.  Resplendent in a hot pink corset and tutu ensemble, she warms up her vocals while checking the set-list.

I sort of backed-in to the world of burlesque, if you’re wondering how a 43-year old fat mother of five with a broken back ended up on stage in a 6 -foot samba headdress, clad in only a thong and strategically-placed stretch sequin, shaking her ample behind.

Earlier this year I held a breast cancer fundraiser and hired drag queens, burlesque queens and roller derby girls to entertain.  It was Heaven.  The head burlesque queen, VV, mentioned that beginner burlesque classes were being offered the next month.  As a birthday present to myself, I signed up.  Six months later, I am samba dancing on stage, everything jiggling and heaving in a way that elicits whistles and cheers from the (mostly female) audience.  I have a FB page and a little over 300 “fans” of my character.  I fucking love it.  My teenaged girls were a little embarrassed at first, but once they got a load of the costumes, they were all-in.  They’ve accompanied me to several photo shoots and have hatched plans for their future burlesque routines.

What is the appeal of burlesque?  It’s more than a free boob show, for starters. It’s a completely DIY, freelance hobby that boasts a wonderfully supportive and non-competitive female community.  Everyone is welcome and massively encouraged.  Stripping is rarely considered an empowering activity, unless it’s more tease than strip (no technical nudity is allowed in burlesque) and no money changes hands. As CV likes to say, we’re involved in illegitimate theater, but theater nonetheless.  

Bachelorette parties and birthdays are regular (and especially rowdy) audience members.  The men present are almost always accompanied by females, no lone creeps that I’ve seen so far.  Most of the performers are married or in relationships, their significant others are usually helping out with the show in some capacity, or sitting together in the VIP section setting up video cameras, or fetching whiskey for their lady.

The stage kitten, who picks up the burlesque droppings on stage and has ardent fans of her own, helps me into my corset and zips up my dress.  I’m going full classic burlesque for this act: long black gloves, a beehive wig, a gorgeous red formal gown, Cuban heel stockings, glitter heels and a heaving black boa.  I feel amazing and can’t wait to get on stage.

xoxo Frenchie