Archive | April, 2011

Neighbors and Naked Barbies

25 Apr

I like to sit on the deck looking at my garden. Some people find gardening relaxing. I’ve found that looking at the garden is actually much more relaxing than working in the garden. I particularly like to look at the garden in the morning and especially on significant days. So, it’s no surprise that Easter morning found me sitting on the step of my deck sipping a mug of hot tea while I surveyed my yard. What was surprising was the sight of three naked Barbies playing on the neighbor’s swing set, which sits just on their side of the property line.

My daughter’s Best Friend lives in the naked-Barbies-on-the-swing-set house. In fact, the naked Barbies are hers. I wasn’t so much surprised to see the Barbies as I was surprised to see them on the swing set. They had been lounging on the chaise in our gazebo for the past week or so. Saturday night we had celebrated Passover with friends of ours we seldom see. They have a daughter who is close in age to ours. When these two meet, they form that fast, frenetic bond that only children who rarely play together achieve, as if they need to pack years’ worth of activity into three hours or so. In the maelstrom of their interaction, the Barbies somehow went from the chaise lounge to the slide and whatever you call that thing that two kids swing on facing each other.

I smiled when I saw the Barbies and I knew Best Friend’s mother would smile, too. We have informally vowed to leave the area between our houses fenceless so things like naked Barbies on swing sets can happen while the children flow freely from one yard to the other.

These are the best kind of neighbors. I consider them my reward because I also live near the worst kind of neighbor. Best Friend lives directly behind us. Worst Neighbor lives next door. Worst Neighbor bought the house and moved in with his wife and son. Every couple that has lived in the house has divorced and it wasn’t long before Mrs. Worst Neighbor and their child skipped out of the country.

So now I live next door to Mr. Single Worst Neighbor. Given the current real estate market and the fact that he lives in “The Divorce House,” I’m pretty sure we’re in it for the long haul with Worst Neighbor.

Worst Neighbor, being single, neglects many things in his house, most notably his dog. I’m sure the dog was purchased to appease Mrs. Worst Neighbor but as the dog is the Worst Dog, the purchase was for naught.  We’ll call Worst Neighbor’s dog “Lucy,” because that is her name and I don’t care about protecting her privacy.

Frankly, Lucy doesn’t need privacy. She’s the neighborhood tramp. One particularly difficult day, I was pouring out my troubles in a phone call with my best friend. As we dished and drank our coffee I was beginning to chipper up, until I spied Lucy on my back deck and my own dog on Lucy. “I’ve gotta go!” I said, “Pogo’s humping the bitch from next door.” I separated the dogs and returned Lucy to her home. She was out and about soon afterward. Pogo lay whining in his cage.

In an attempt to contain his canine strumpet, Worst Neighbor installed an electric fence, but did it himself and did it wrong. Lucy continued to roam the streets, looking for love. Last year, Worst Neighbor finally had her spayed and I held out some hope for a more peaceful life for us and for Lucy. It was a dark and stormy night when my hopes were dashed. Really. It was dark and stormy. It was night. And there was Lucy, whining at my back door. I called Worst Neighbor. He asked me to hold on to her while he finished having dinner with friends. We don’t call him about Lucy anymore. We call Animal Control. Maybe Worst Neighbor and Lucy will be getting divorced soon.

Much as Worst Neighbor vexes us now, he is not the Worst Neighbor Ever. I believe that honor goes to the neighbors whose back porch rotted after years of neglect. With no safe way of getting from their back door to the garbage dumpster, they simply dropped their trash out the door into the yard where it accumulated. Eventually, of course, it attracted vermin, which were then attracted to the warmth in our house. I found them frolicking in the laundry hamper one memorable morning. Exterminators and health department officials got involved.

My husband insists even they are not the Worst Neighbors Ever. To his mind, the Worst Neighbor Ever was the woman who lived in the apartment next door to his in graduate school. Or, I should say, “women,” as the person in question clearly suffered from multiple personality disorder. Every other night, just about 2 am, she would argue with herself, screaming and railing. Eventually, she would kick herself out of the apartment, slamming the heavy metal door on herself and waking the entire building.

Sleep deprived, my husband called the landlord, who refused to believe him. Out of desperation and sleep-deprivation, my husband took to calling the landlord every time the women next door kicked themselves out. The landlord caught on eventually, answering the phone and immediately hanging up, but never evicted the woman/women. My husband moved out six months early but his middle-of-the-night phoning binge established a life-long habit of relieving pent-up frustration through creative, albeit hostile, retribution.

Lately, the Best Neighbors have been dropping hints about moving, mumbling such selfish nonsense as needing a guest room for visiting grandparents. Our declining property values have forestalled what is probably inevitable, but Mrs. Best Neighbor assures me that they are taking us with them when they move. I hope this is true. I am far too old to discover what could be worse than living next to a promiscuous pooch, a vermin farm or the local psych ward.

In the meantime, I’ll sit on my deck, survey my quarter acre of the American Dream and ponder where the naked Barbies will pop up next.


I See London

11 Apr

Lately, my daughter has been asking about embarrassing moments.  “Mama,” she said, “what was your most embarrassing moment?” I don’t embarrass easily, so I had to think hard. I recalled a truly embarrassing incident in fourth grade when a teacher wouldn’t allow anyone to use the bathroom. I really had to go; the teacher really wouldn’t let me. I waited until lunch period, but we weren’t allowed to use the bathroom at lunch either. So, I got in the lunch line. My bladder reached the end of the line just when I did. I wet my underpants, copiously, as I handed my lunch money to the cafeteria lady.  I understand my dad come to school and ripped the teacher a new one. I take great satisfaction in this.

My daughter, however, was not satisfied. Apparently, wetting my pants more than forty years ago isn’t embarrassing enough. She wanted something more up-to-date, so she supplied it.

You need to understand that I am on a first name basis with my pharmacist. These things happen when you’re on the auto-refill until eternity program. For some reason known only to the god of chaos, my prescriptions auto-refill on different days. For some other reason, known only to the god of reason, this cannot be changed so that I can maintain my version of sanity with a once-monthly visit to “Chris.” Until the planets align, I am at the pharmacy counter at Target a minimum of two times per month.

Last week’s toothache and antibiotics to cure it required an additional visit to Chris. He’s a pleasant guy, always ready to answer a question. As I chatted with Chris about drug interactions and other pharmacy-related topics, I heard my daughter say, “Ewwww!!!”

“What is it,” I asked?

“That!” she said, and pointed to the latest Target flyer. I admit to feeling a little awkward explaining pretty lingerie to my daughter in front of Chris. But I thought I had it covered when I told her that some women like to wear pretty underwear and reminded her that she, in fact, likes to have things like princesses and ponies on her undies.  She didn’t let the subject go, though.

“My mommy doesn’t wear panties sometimes,” she said to Chris.

I had no idea what she was referring to. Really. Honestly. So I said the first plausible thing that came to mind.

“That was only once when I had to run down to the laundry room to get some, Sweetie.” “Sweetie” was the only publicly acceptable name I could think of for her at the time.

Somehow, Chris filled my prescription without looking at me. I managed to pay for it without looking at him.

Two days ago, I remembered what she was talking about.

“Mommy,” the evil mistress of embarrassment said, “you went commando at the Y.”

And she’s right. I did indeed go commando at the Y. See, I can get my kids to school with everything they need from lunches and homework to water bottles and notes to the teacher. Me? Not so much. I am usually stuffing my stuff into my gym bag as I push the kids toward the car. Frequently, I find myself missing some essential workout ingredient. One day—and it really was just one day—I finished my shower and reached into my bag to find no underwear. I looked right, I looked left, then pulled my pants on and got my GI-Joe self home as quickly as possible.

My mother would have been appalled. What if, God forbid, I had been in an accident on the way home? What if I had been grievously injured? What if I had been taken to the hospital where the doctors cut away my pants to find that I had not just failed to wear nice underwear but had failed to wear underwear at all?

Many mothers have the same rule mine did—wear your nicest panties when you go out because you never know when you’ll be in a terrible car accident. My best friend’s mother had that rule. Naturally, my best friend was in an automobile accident on a low-laundry day. She blessed her luck that she wasn’t grievously injured else the doctors would cut away her pants to find her wearing her husband’s tidy whities.

Sometimes wearing panties can be a source of embarrassment. Another friend prides herself on her appearance in public. No gnarly sweats and socks with Birkenstocks for her. She undoubtedly wears nice panties when she goes out. Sometimes she wears them in surprising places. Once, in a hurry, she grabbed a pair of pants from the laundry basket. She tossed them on and ran out the door. At the grocery store, she felt as if she stepped on something once or twice, but thought nothing of it until the third time. She looked down to find a pair of panties peeking out of the leg of her pants. It says something about my friend that she was embarrassed not only about the panties but by the fact that they were her everyday plain old white ones. I have another friend who is as frazzled on her way to workout as I am. She found herself at dance class once with her underwear on over her workout pants.

Wearing thongs is particularly problematic. My best friend reports that her daughter believes women over fifty should not wear thongs. Apparently, we are supposed to suffer VPL in our yoga pants. I gave up thongs with yoga-type pants a few years ago, when I bent down to retrieve something while wearing a pair of lovely pale pink sweat pants. A man standing behind me, who I thought was a gentleman, remarked, “I thought thongs were no longer fashionable with you girls.” My daughter doesn’t believe anyone should wear thongs. I’m following her advice these days.

About three days after I started the antibiotics for my tooth, the phone rang. Though I didn’t recognize the number, I answered anyway. It was Chris, the pharmacist, wondering how I was doing on the antibiotic. I’m betting that isn’t all he was wondering.

Let Me Take You To Funky Town

4 Apr

It had to happen eventually. I’ve been riding pretty high on this writing thing. Every week, I told myself, I would write 1,000 words. I would get them written and published without fail. I set my deadline: Monday before noon. It’s been about six months now and I’ve achieved my goal every week. Copious pats on the back for me.

Then, this week rolled around and shoved me right into the writer’s block wall. I’m not really surprised. I kind of felt it coming early in the week. “What will I write about,” I asked myself. “Hell if I know,” I told myself. “Maybe I’ll write about what goes on inside my brain,” I thought, then realized there wasn’t enough going on to fill 1,000 words. There wasn’t enough going on to fill the back of a Target receipt.

I’ve gotten to Saturday and wondered what I would write for Monday many times. I’ve always come up with something. Maybe not what I originally intended, or how I originally intended, but generally, Saturday ends with me set on Monday’s topic. Not this week. At the end of the day on Saturday all I knew was that “Camelot,” the new series on Starz, looks like it might be good, though Joseph Fiennes looks really silly bald.

This week, though, it was Sunday night and I still didn’t know what to write. It became our dinner table conversation.

“What should I write about?” I asked.

“Write about me and my friends,” my daughter said.

“Did it already.”

“Pets!,” she said. “Write about pets.”

“Done,” I said.

Not to be deterred, she said, “Houses. Write about houses and how they protect you.”

“I try to write about funny things.”

“Oh,” she said. “It has to be funny?” That ruled out houses in her mind though I had considered writing about how I coped with a portion of Spring Break by allowing her to string yarn all over the house.

“Write about condoms,” my son said.

“I have,” I told him. “You came up in it.”

He offered suggestions for a number of truly obscene things about which I could write. I informed him that my mother’s cousin reads my blogs. He shut up.

I turned to my husband, who had said nothing throughout the children’s suggest-o-rama, though I did see him hide his head in his hands over one or two of our son’s suggestions. He looked at me and without saying a word, I knew that he knew the problem.

“I’m in a funk,” I said, “and it’s not very funny to write about being depressed.”

The conversation turned to lethargy, which is a fancy word for feeling so tired that you just want to stay in bed forever even though you aren’t really tired and you know you’re not tired but somehow getting out of bed just seems impossible. I mentioned that antidepressants can actually give some depressed people the energy they need to off themselves. I am already on antidepressants so there’re no worries about that here.

My neighbor calls our house “The Fun House.” I know she means that I don’t care if the kids paint or build a blanket fortress in the family room or tie the house up with yarn. But, to me, it’s a pretty good description of the atmosphere in our house. Things are a little wonky, often outrageous, definitely not normal and that’s fine by us. So, I laughed full and loud when my son described how I could commit suicide without leaving the bed by having our cat nap on my face.

While I’m in no danger of taking the feline express to the afterlife, I am most decidedly down. I’m sure its primary cause is the whole morbidly underemployed thing and the now-due student loans that are part of my economy-induced nightmare. There are also a number of other factors inhibiting my ability to maintain my generally cheerful-ish demeanor.

First, there’s my health. You know how people will go on about the problems they are having in their lives and you don’t know what to say and so eventually you wind up saying something lame like “Well, at least you have your health”? Well, I don’t have my health. Now it’s not like I’m really, really sick. I don’t need a benefit for me. (Wait . . .a benefit might help pay off those loans.) No, I’m not gravely ill. I have a nagging respiratory infection of some sort with one of those coughs that doesn’t bother you until someone makes you laugh and then you wind up hacking up a chunk of lung. And a toothache. I have never had a toothache in my life. Now I have a toothache. And a pulled groin muscle. What the heck is that about? I’m not a linebacker. How do I rate a groin pull?

Ordinarily, I’d be running and laughing to cope with my troubles. Can’t run, because I’m still resting and rehabbing the offending muscle. Can’t laugh without paroxysmal coughing.  I thought I might garden away the blues, so I decided to clean out the garden beds. Seeing all those little green and purple shoots sticking through the soil would surely improve my mood.

Gardening didn’t improve my mood at all. On the contrary. with every dead grass whacked back and every dried-up leaf pulled, I was more and more convinced that it was time to move into a nice little townhouse. It was sounding better and better in my mind until I got to the selling the house we already own part. Then I got to the packing up everything we have part and the part where the movers somehow misplace the box containing all of my shoes. I went inside for a cup of tea. The garden beds looked better, but my pity party continued.

With laughing, running and gardening put out to pasture, all that was left was reading. Usually, reading helps me relax. Lately, though, reading is just making me feel terrible. It started with “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss. I am thoroughly enjoying the story and its imaginative setting. There are just enough fantasy elements to remove the story from reality but not so much as to overwhelm the narrative. It is, in short, wholly imaginative and beautifully crafted. And it makes me feel completely inadequate as a writer. When I tell my husband this, he tells me I am being ridiculous and that, if I were a full-time writer who started full-time writing when I was in my twenties and who had someone to take care of everything else, I would be writing wholly imaginative, beautifully crafted fiction.

He’s right, of course. I am a mom, a wife, a teacher, a dog trainer, a cat wrangler, a gardener, a runner and a writer who somehow managed to write more than 1,000 words despite a week-long bout of the blues.

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