Archive | December, 2010

Flash!

27 Dec

One of my favorite members of The Justice League is The Flash. I like his attitude, his sense of humor, and his ridiculously inflated ego hiding what is probably a mountain of insecurity. I identify.

I have sentimental feelings for The Flash, too. It wasn’t until I had children that I discovered The Justice League. Our son began watching the show as a young boy and pulled my husband and I along for the ride. Before long, the three of us were avid Batman fans and had decided Superman was a wuss. (He visits Lex Luthor in the hospital, for crying out loud!) When we discovered our daughter loved The Justice League, too, we were overjoyed. About four years ago, we spent an entire week at the beach, playing in the sand by day and watching Justice League episodes by night. At four, our daughter didn’t get the names all quite right. Wonder Woman was “Woman Lady” and The Flash was “Fast.”

I was reminded of my fond feelings for The Flash recently by my cousin. We were having hors d’oeuvres and cocktails on Christmas Eve. This particular cousin happens to be about my age. Actually, I have a whole passel of cousins who are just about my age, give or take two years, but I share a special experience with this one.

My cousin reminded me that perverts just really seem to like me. Naturally, she didn’t come out and say, “Wow, Janice, perverts really like you.” She was reminiscing about one particular summer in her hometown in New Jersey. My family was visiting her family. Between the two families there were four girls: me and my sister, my cousin and her sister.

We were young teenagers that summer, my sister the oldest and my cousin the youngest. The four of us went for a walk in the woods behind my cousins’ house. As we were walking, we heard a voice saying, “Girls! Oh, girls!” We looked around, not sure where the voice was coming from. “Girls! Over here, girls!” We finally located the source of the voice. It was a young man, naked, inviting us to check out his natural endowments in the wooded natural setting. I recall being astounded, then laughing and running away. My cousin recalls the same. My sister claims not to remember any of it.

Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of my experience with perverts. In college, I joined a sorority. One early summer evening, I was standing near my bedroom window, applying my makeup in preparation for the weekly trip to “The Bars.” I saw a flashing light out of the corner of my eye. I looked into the parking lot below, saw nothing of consequence, and turned back to my making up. Again, the light flashed into my window. Again, I looked down into the parking lot. This time, I saw something of consequence. I saw a hand wrapped around a “unit,” hand busily at work. I did not see a face, as the hand and unit were “spotlighted” by a flashlight. I screamed, then called the police.

The Urbana police responded to the call. Oh, how they responded to the call. Summer evenings at the sorority were spent sitting on the front porch. A number of my sisters were sitting on our porch, as were sisters at the house next door and the house next door to that. Two police cruisers pulled up to the house. I was already on the porch, waiting for them to come up to the house and take my statement. Did they come up to the house? NO! They stood on the curb conversing with each other loudly, like this:

Cop from second car, getting out of his cruiser, assessing the situation: “So, we got someone pullin’ his pud?”

Cop from first car, acknowledging pud pulling: “Yeah, this young lady (indicates me) reports he’s out back shaking his snake.”

They did not find the pud-pulling, snake shaker. I don’t think they even tried. Probably, he was one of their own, sent out on slow nights to stir up some entertainment on sorority row.

I was much older the next time I was flashed. Some few years ago, my neighbor and I developed a walking habit. We went together to motivate each other and we went at night because that was the only time we could go together. We walked in good weather and in bad and we walked every night. We walked in our neighborhood, past houses full of families just like ours.

One night, we heard someone calling to us. We looked to where the sound was coming from and saw nothing. Then we heard the sound again, from the same spot and this time saw a naked man. We were surprised because one doesn’t expect to find a naked man on a walk at night. Mostly, though, we were surprised because it was freezing out. The man ran as soon as he realized we had seen him and we said, “Hey, come back! Don’t run away!” Poor guy. Probably looking to shock and intimidate and the best we could give him was sarcasm.

I’ve read that there aren’t as many females compelled to expose themselves as men because there are so many legal outlets for women inclined toward exhibitionism. Stripping, for instance. And, isn’t it just like a woman to find a practical outlet for her compulsion? Take off your clothes in public and get paid for it without getting arrested. That’s a neat trick.

Actually, my neighbor takes off his clothes in public and never gets arrested for it though what he does should be a crime. Every summer, as soon as the temperature goes over 80, this guy is outside shirtless. I’m no prude. Alexander Skarsgaard without a shirt? I’m all over that. But, we’re talking the Pillsbury Dough boy’s older, flabbier brother here.

I should probably pretend I’m appalled, rather than just repulsed, and see if I can get the neighbor to keep his shirt on when he’s outside. After all, my daughter is only eight years old. She should be given as many years as possible before she has to put up with men flashing their bits of pasty white flesh her way. Right now, the only flashing she needs to see is in Justice League reruns.

Potty Mouth

20 Dec

I really like the movie, “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” It’s a sweet movie starring Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell that follows the love stories of four (more?) couples. Some time ago, I suggested it as a good family movie to watch with my adult sibs, my mom and dad and my grandmother. Everyone was on board for watching the movie. It started and, within two minutes, my mother was so offended she had her arms crossed over her chest and her lips firmly set in a pinched, hard line.

I forgot that the first five minutes of dialogue consist of one word, the “F” word, repeated many times, in many variations, as Hugh Grant’s character realizes he’s overslept and is about to be very late for a friend’s wedding. I identified with the opening scene, finding it very real. My mom found it really distressing and immediately labeled the film, “Dirty.” I recall she glowered at me. I knew I was f . . .acing an angry mother.

My mother didn’t swear much. I swear a lot. Actually, I swear a lot less than I used to. Working in a preschool will do that to you. I have to admit to thinking it’s pretty funny when a four-year-old looks in her backpack and says, “Sh-t!” Her companion then says, “What’s wrong?” “I left my indoor shoes at home,” she says. But, being the roll model that I am, I have always said, “We don’t say those words in school. Can you think of a better word to use when you’re frustrated?”

My problem is that I can’t think of a better word to use when I’m frustrated. The “S” word is perfect for those times when you just want to kick yourself in the behind for doing something stupid, like forgetting your indoor shoes. It’s a short word, so you get it over and move on quickly. It has an opening sound that you can draw out as long as you want and then a completely satisfying final consonant. Indeed, a very useful word.

As much as she hated swearing, my mother wasn’t above using it herself. She had some creative constructions, but my clearest memory of her swearing was over a sewing project. She was making a dress for either my sister or me. There was a particularly difficult seam that was refusing to cooperate. She sewed it and tore it out at least three times. Finally, she got it right, only to discover she had sewn the garment to her own. What did she say? She said, “Shit!”

I would have said the “F” word. While I find the “S” word quite useful, the “F” word is my go-to word for extreme frustration and/or pain. Accidentally poking myself with a pin will get the “S” word out of me. Sewing something to my own clothing by mistake after trying to get the darn thing right for an hour? That’s going to get the “F” word out of me every time.

I’m also not likely to say “darn.” I use the “D” word, usually when referring to our cat, Oliver. Oliver is the worst cat who ever lived. Oliver wants only canned food and he wants it three times each day. If he does not get his canned food when he wants it, he breaks something. He has broken three teapots, numerous plates and bowls and all but two out of 12 coffee mugs. I call him, “the damn cat.”

I used to call him “the god-damned cat.” I stopped using “god damn” some time ago, realizing it could be offensive to some of my more religious friends who frown upon taking God’s name in vain. But, I’ve been rethinking my line of reasoning. I seem to recall learning that no one knows God’s name. If no one knows his name, then how can one take his name in vain? I’m not buying that God’s name is “God.” That’s like saying my dog’s name is “Dog.” If I found out that God’s name was “Fred,” then I could say “the Fred-damned cat” and my friends who worship Fred would be quite right in being offended.

My father believes that he knows God’s name. He told me, “It’s Harold.” “Harold?” I said. “Yes, you know, ‘Harold be thy name’.” “It’s ‘hallowed’, Dad,” I said. He was not deterred. Nothing, I have found, can keep a dad from making a Dad Joke. Having failed with Hallowed Harold, my dad said, “His middle name is ‘Andy’.” Almost afraid to ask, I said, “How’s that, Dad?” My dad began singing, “And he walks with me . . .”

Naturally, my children have used swear words and it is invariably blamed on me. My husband claims not to swear. I know he does, but I do it more, so he hides behind my foul mouth. The impact of my potty mouth was brought home to me in a stop at McDonald’s. It was summer. I was in the drive thru, unhappily waiting for a Happy Meal. My then four-year-old son had gotten wise to my “McDonald’s is closed” ploy. The food was not ready, so I was told to pull ahead and wait. First, however, I let the little old lady cross in front of my car to her own. The guy in the car behind me laid on his horn. I, ever mature as we know, shouted out my window, “What should I do, run her over?” He, even more mature than I, said, “Yeah!” to which I said, “Oh, go f— yourself.” From the back seat, my son added, “Yeah, you go f— your goat.” How he knew the man had a goat, I will never know.

Since then, I have tried to curb my evil ways, but tell my children that certain words are “adult” words and that, when they are adults, they can choose to use them. My son, almost an adult now, practices on an hourly basis, throwing in some really disgusting phrases that, while they contain no profanity, are, well, really disgusting. I have learned to ignore him.

My daughter brought me up short the other day when she asked, “Mommy, are you a pussy?” I choked back my immediate response and said, “Oh, dear, you must never use that word” and explained why. The first thing that came to my mind, though, was, “Hell, no! Mommy is hard core!”

Christmas Melts Down

13 Dec

Andy Williams is a liar. According to his famous Christmas tune, this is “the most wonderful time of the year, with kids jingle belling and everyone telling you ‘be of good cheer’.”

Be of good cheer, my sweet behind, Andy. Tell it to my dog. The poor thing just had to “do his business” with a 50 mile-per-hour North wind blowing straight up his nostrils. In Naperville, the wind is whipping down the former plains. So, no, Mr. Williams, I wouldn’t call this time of year wonderful.

My idea of a wonderful time of year is late May. The irises and roses are blooming in my garden. Last year, for the first time, a climbing rose I’ve allowed to grow despite never producing a bloom, bloomed in a profusion of cherry red. It was gloriously beautiful against the deep purple of the iris my dad gave me when we moved here.

I brought the rose with me from a prior garden. Actually, I brought a lot of roses from the old house to this garden. They grow like weeds for me. Within a week of planting at the new house, every one of my roses was gone, sheared to the ground by the local gang, Hell’s Bunnies.

Naperville rabbits are a rapacious lot. Whatever went into the ground went into them, thorns and all. I imagined them hopping around the neighborhood, my roses hanging from their bloody bunny mouths. I planted again, they ate again. I planted, they ate. Plant, eat. Plant, eat. Finally, I gave up on roses. I researched. I found plants that both grow like weeds and are poisonous to rabbits.

I was content with my garden full of noxious flora. Then, one day two years after moving here, I noticed a rose growing at the back of one of the beds. I left it, knowing the hellions would be through to mow it down shortly. They didn’t come. The Circle of Life seemed to have finally found its way to my yard. Now, where there once were fat, juicy bunnies by the hundreds, there is the occasional rabbit and the more than occasional hawk.

The rose grew undisturbed as I showered it with neglect. I left it alone. It did nothing. I thought I had acquired another teenager. But then this year, it bloomed. Lots and lots of fluffy, fragrant blooms, each as red as the bunny blood I imagine spilled by the neighborhood predators.

The rose has long since gone dormant. The apple trees are right now being whipped around by a blizzard force wind. The ornamental grasses are bent in half by it. I fear for my beautiful Japanese maple.

The weather sucks. I’m freezing. I’ve got the house to decorate, presents to buy, presents to make, meals to plan, cookies to cut out and cakes to bake. Because I’m not earning any money, all of this has to be done with masking tape, yarn and bag of flour.

I could handle all of the Christmas pressure with my usual aplomb, if I had a usual aplomb. Instead, I handle it with my annual Christmas Meltdown.

The Christmas Meltdown usually occurs on the day the house gets decorated. Every year, beginning in about September, one of the children will want to know when we will be decorating the Christmas tree. My daughter will ask me if we can finally have Christmas lights on our house like everyone else. I point out to her that we have luminaria in our driveway at Hanukkah, but apparently real flames are not garish enough.

Finally, the day will come when we have ushered Hanukkah out the door and Christmas decorating can begin. This year, I prepared my family for Christmas Decorating Day. I gave them a schedule of the day’s events. My family would be coming for lunch to see our tree. We need to get the tree set up before they come, I said.  We need to get the lights on. We need to put the ornaments on.

No one remembered. I decided, in my usual mature way, that I would do everything myself. Christmas is an ideal time to become a martyr, I reasoned. Reason went out the window when I couldn’t get the Christmas tree box from the basement by myself. I would have to ask one of them for help. I went with the son, as the husband was nowhere to be found.

With the tree box in the living room, I began the Christmas Mood preparations. I was, after all, creating a lifetime of memories for my children. I set my laptop to Pandora’s “Swinging Christmas” station and started putting the tree together. My son came through the room, rolled his eyes and said, “You’re NOT listening to Jazz Christmas songs.” He didn’t wait for a reply. My husband wouldn’t know what I was listening to. He was sitting less than 10 feet away, working at his own laptop, wearing his $400 noise-cancelling headphones.

I was undaunted, though. I had my eyes on that lifetime of Christmas memories prize. Then my daughter danced through the room, pronounced the undecorated tree “ugly” and pirouetted away. “She’s right,” I thought. “It’s ugly. Christmas is ugly. I’m ugly.”

I did what any Christmas-crazed overwhelmed woman would do. I got in my car and drove to my happy place. There was no line, so once I had my tall, skim, no-whip hot chocolate, I drove to my other happy place. I sat in the car, in the rain, staring out at the prairie wetlands. I cried. I cried and drank my hot chocolate until I felt like an idiot. Then, I drove back home. Meltdown accomplished; Christmas pressure released.

No, this is not my most wonderful time of the year. My son, though, is down with Andy. He loves winter.

“It’s blowing fifty miles an hour out there,” I said to him recently.

“Yeah!” he said. “This is great weather.”

“Prove it,” I said. “Go outside and then tell me this is great weather.” He grabs at any chance to show Mom how wrong she is so he ran out onto the deck. Realizing his shirt was on inside out, he took it off, did his best impersonation of Captain America and put the shirt back on. He came back in the house, still warm. By this time, I was laughing out loud.

The weather outside is frightful, but as long as I can laugh out loud now and then, it may not be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can be just fine.

Oy, Tannenbaum

6 Dec

I am old enough to be my daughter’s best friend’s grandmother. This does not humble me, but it proves that certain arguments are ageless. You see, the mother of said best friend, separated from me by a generation, has the same memory of why we had artificial Christmas trees growing up: our parents had one of the worst fights we can recall while shopping for the tree. The next year and every year after, our families each had a fake tree.

I remember something about a very cold night and a JayCees tree sale in a parking lot. I can picture my mother vividly: pursed lips, dagger-flinging eyes, her arms crossed tightly over her body, purse clutched to her stomach as she stomped to the car. I remember being very cold and the trees being very imperfect. My mother was from Georgia and liked everything just so. You do the math.

I had real Christmas trees once I was on my own. Granted, most of them were pretty “Charley-Browny,” scraggly things that I somehow managed to convince myself looked pretty good covered with pink and aqua glass balls and tiny white lights. Hey, it was the 80s.

Once I was married, the combined incomes meant bigger, nicer Christmas trees. Our first Christmas, we lived in the heart of the city and shopped like big city Christmas tree shoppers. We went to a local garden center and bought a beautiful balsam fir after just a few minutes of blissfully agreeable tree inspection. The garden center then delivered the tree and set it up exactly where we wanted it. Where was the fighting?

The next year, we no longer lived near the magic garden center with the incredible Christmas-tree-setting-up elves, but we found a nice lot and bought a nice tree. We took it home. It was then that I realized something I should have known all along. My husband had no idea what to do with a Christmas tree. Of course not, he’s Jewish. Why would he know? The year before, his lack of Christmas knowledge wasn’t an issue. Without the magic tree elves, though, it was pushed to the fore. I was on my own in Christmas tree setting up.

While I felt sorry for myself, married to the Christmas clueless, my friends and relatives had the opposite problem. Their husbands thought they knew everything.

Consider the woman who reports that every year, for many years, her husband would insist that their giant tree would fit into the discount marketer Christmas tree stand. Most people who have Christmas trees have this stand. I believe it is made in China at a wok factory. Every October, the wok factories in China retrofit thousands of woks, painting them bright red, adding green legs and three eyebolts and selling them to unsuspecting Americans for $12.95. My friend’s husband would insist that the tree would fit in the stand, that the tree would not fall over. My friend would say “It will fall over.” My friend would take bets. Her husband would put up the tree, balance it, and then the two of them would watch it come down, at first slowly, then with increasing velocity. My friend would laugh uproariously. Her husband would curse.

My sister’s family regularly put a tree at least 12 feet wide into the wok every year. Why? Because a proper Christmas tree stand, one that will safely hold up a tree more than 6 feet tall, costs at least $100 and has things like Army-grade straps and ratcheting gears. My sister now owns one. So does my bet-taking friend. I have another friend whose husband nails their wok stand to a large piece of plywood, hoping to stave off the military Christmas tree stand. It’s only a matter of time, though. Their trees are often 15 feet tall.

Over the years, it became clear to me that, if we had a tree or we didn’t, my husband would be fine. There would be no gaping hole in his December if a large evergreen were not sacrificed in the interest of holiday décor. With my typical maturity, I decided to pout. Well, I thought, if it isn’t important to him, then I’ll just do it without him.

One year, my son and I accompanied my sister’s family on their annual “Cut your own” foray. It was fun. I have a terrific picture of my brother-in-law helping my son cut down a tree. Another year, Mr. Christmas Clueless came with us. Naturally, that was the coldest year since we’d begun cutting our own tree. On the way to the lot, our son came down with a fever. But, he didn’t want to leave without a tree. So, we got him to the car, laid him down on the back seat and brought pre-cut trees to the car for him to select.

Though I had gotten my husband back into the selection process, I still didn’t have a Christmas-savvy set up assistant. I was still on my own in struggling with the wok, testing the strands of lights, replacing burnt out bulbs, etc., etc., etc. The pity party continued.

Then the pre-lit tree was invented. I swallowed my real-tree insistence and bought one. I was in Christmas purgatory. Not quite heaven, because my husband still thought the tree was just “nice,” but no longer in the hell of setting it up all by myself.

Last year, the lights failed. No biggie, I thought, I’ll take the old ones off and put new ones on. That’ll be cheaper than buying a whole new tree. And, it was. Though I lost an entire day and a few ounces of skin as I clipped away the wires, scratching my arms on every branch. The tree looked pretty good with its colorful new lights.

This year, I realized, I had been released from the tyranny of the pre-lit tree. Though they are convenient, pre-lits are also expensive. If you’ve got one, you’re going to use it. And you’re going to have the same tree every year. The exact same branches in the exact same places at exactly the same height.  Every year. This year, I can buy a real tree if I want to. And maybe I will. I know my husband won’t argue. In fact, he’ll probably say it’s “nice.”

Copywrite © 2010 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

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