Thursday, October 26, 2006

Blue skies gray

I’m longing for the sweet summers of childhood already. Somehow, this past summer seemed to fly by too quickly. I hardly felt like I did enough sticky, sweaty, outdoorsy things; I didn’t go outdoor swimming or even intentionally run through any lawn sprinklers while I was walking the dog.

This summer 2006 wasn’t unusually cool either. We had several white-hot days with zero relative humidity; I think my garden dried up and died twice this summer. I wore ratty t-shirts and sports bras to and from work so I could put on my fresh office costume once I got into the air conditioning. I also remember walking to the train at 6 pm and searing my nostrils on the oven self-clean cycle air emanating off the sidewalks. It was so hot I couldn’t sweat until I stopped walking.

But I didn’t go to any street festivals, neighborhood fairs, or ethnic music fests. I didn’t even make it to a single farmers’ market. I missed our neighborhood block party because I worked that weekend, which is a shame because they usually invite the high-flying Jesse White Tumblers, who absolutely rule.

I heard someone say the other day that the region you are born into is what your body is acclimatized to for life. I’ve never heard that before, and I have no idea if there’s anything scientific about it, but it felt true. I yearn for Kentucky’s weather most of the year. In the summer, I remember my parents’ huge yard and hearing the motors of lawn mowers on all our neighbors’ grass. I laid and watched cottony cumulus clouds make shapes and whisper away. I ate grape popsicles and turned my lips purple (and my teeth, and my tongue). I rode bikes or ran alongside with the neighborhood kids when I was super-little, but then I got older, and I fell out of the cool group. Oh well. I still got to lie on the back porch and eat popsicles and listen to the cicadas scream in the giant tulip poplars. That means summer. Running barefoot and peeling open tulip poplar seeds, using last year’s magnolia pods as grenades, throwing whirly-gigs in the air and watching them helicopter down.

When I was about four, I had a resale shop yellow bikini. The top was ruched like a stretchy 70’s hippy dress, and it was printed with tiny flowers sprigged on it. I loved that bikini. I thought I was such a sexy grown-up swim girl when I wore it, like the big girls at the pool. I also loved running through the sprinkler in our back yard, way down over the slope where the tomato garden grew before the plants were surrendered to the squirrels and rabbits. Dad would set up an extra long hose and stretch the sprinkler all the way to the back of the property, and I’d run back and forth, inventing challenges that involved passing the water spray at certain angles.

I hated it when Dad cut the grass though. When the cut blades got wet they stuck to my bare skin and itched and felt clumpy. I’d beg Dad not to cut the grass, that it was OK for it to grow long so I could go run through the sprinkler without sticky grass. It didn’t work.

On a particular yellow bikini summer day, Dad cut the grass. I knew it, but I didn’t care—I needed to run through the water. My mom helped me put on my bikini, and I kept pulling the top down to where it felt most comfortable, which was just a little above waist height. My mom kept pulling the bikini top back up, and she said, “No, it doesn’t go there. Wear it here.” I hated it there. It felt so awkward.

“No, it feels better here,” and I’d yank it back down.

My Dad or my Mom—I can’t remember which—said, “But Christine, now people can see your breasts.”

I remember I couldn’t have cared less about showing my breasts. I’m sure I didn’t know what that meant since I was nowhere near to having them anyway, but I think I let them win and hitched it up over my chest so that they’d let me go out. There’s a picture of me that I’m positive is from that day since I’m wearing grass clippings. Dad stands above me to take the picture, and I’m half-grinning like an imp with my chin tucked down and looking up at him through my eyelashes. I think I’m holding a towel in a bunch in my hands down by my hips. My face was posed like this in most photographs because I was scared of the flash on the camera, as a result, I always look like I’m remorselessly about to steal candy in those old family photos from the 70’s.

And now, winter is seeping into Chicago. Today is a yucky, damp, rainy day with too much cold wind for the drizzle to be tolerable. It’s just yuck. The obvious difference between my childhood and adult weather is that Kentucky’s winters are milder than Chicago’s. Maybe I didn’t enjoy this past summer in every watermelon soaked slice because I’ve been dreading the return of winter. I don’t know why. Last year’s wasn’t so particularly bad, and there’s no indication that this one should be so awful, but I feel put upon that the heavy, wet snow that turns to oil-slicked black mush is on its way.

Coincidentally, I had a library reference request today for Christmas lights, even though I’ve thought of nothing but “Please spare me the agony of this winter” for weeks. For hours I sang “O Christmas Tree” to myself after finding the information my client needed. “Your boughs are green through summer’s glow, and do not fade in winter’s snow.” I used to sing that song in the summer to the straight row of pine trees that lined the back of our yard. I’d lie on the aged accumulation of long pine needles and sing songs about their enduring majesty. I think they listened.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"Keep your chin down," or, "hold your chin up"

Sometimes, my Tuesdays don’t go like I plan them. Ever since this fall’s TV line-up started, most of my evenings (days and weeks also?) have revolved around the careful orchestration and execution of a television-watching strategy. Yes, it’s lame, but I’m going through a socially withdrawn phase at the moment--this is just temporarily symptomatic. Soon I’ll be back to reading romance novels obsessively and tempering them with As I Lay Dying to ease my elitist conscience.

Tuesday is my day off from television, however. There’s nothing on I feel the most remote commitment to on TV, so I use Tuesdays for laundry and dishes and things I should have done a week ago but figured I could put off until next Tuesday. Things like back-up my e-mail to my hard drive, which I haven’t done in at least a month. Things like burn that R. Kelly CD I borrowed that I’ve been saying I’d do for a month.

Two weeks ago, on a Thursday, not a Tuesday, I got a phone call at work. I thought it was my vet. My cat was having even more teeth removed, and I anxiously expected a call with a surgical update, including the number of teeth extracted. The magic number turned out to be three. He now has one canine left, and it makes me laugh every time he meows. He’d look like a pirate if I made him an eye patch.

But it wasn’t the vet who called; it was Jonas. I was surprised. I was so surprised, I was quite rude to Jonas and said, “You’re not who I was expecting.” His feelings were hurt, but I bet he wouldn’t admit it.

He told me, “Hey, I’m calling for a favor. A couple of weeks ago I got my nose broken in a boxing match.”

“Oh my god! That’s terrible!”

“Well, I’m getting it fixed on Tuesday, and I wondered if you could pick me up from the hospital.”

“Of course,” said.

He told me, “It’s on your way home from work, and I’ll be done at six exactly, so you can swing by and just grab me when you get out of work for the day.”

I thought: “Surgery doesn’t really work that way. Nothing ever happens on time, and you don’t just cruise into the hospital to retrieve someone who was recently anesthetized.”

I said: “OK.”

The Monday before, I got nervous about the schedule. I arranged to go to work early, leave by 4:30 pm, and be waiting in the hospital lobby with my fluffy British novel (Vince and Joy, described on the dust jacket as High Fidelity meets Bridget Jones’ Diary, much more like the latter, not much like the former, except there *was* a guy in it who I guess listened to music.).

Last Tuesday arrived. I was nervous and on edge. Sure, I wasn’t the one undergoing nasal reconstructive surgery three weeks after I had my nose broken in a white-collar boxing match, but as described in a previous e-mail exchange I shared here, timed schedules where things happen at allotted intervals really freak me out. I’m not really known for my casual, breezy grace. My intimates know me better by my levels of panicked-ness.

With the exception of the part of the day where I left at 4:30, everything did not go according to plan. I massively overestimated how far away the hospital was from my office. I also significantly overestimated the traffic congestion between my office and this hospital. Being so early—it was about 5:30 at this point—I called my husband who works nearby and asked if I could pick him up from his office. We circled around the neighborhood until we found a doughnut slash ice cream shop where we could park for free and eat snacks that will one day necessitate our own visits to the hospital. I sat my cell phone on the table, and waved my fingers at it like a commanding hypnotist, shouting “Ring!” I was eager to do my patient retrieval duties and get home to unscheduled non-events.

At last, at 6:30, the phone finally rings. “Is this Christine?” asks a mysterious woman.

“Yes I am.”

“And are you Jonas’ ride home from the hospital?”

“Yes I am.”

“Well, he’s just now about to come out of surgery. He’s not going to be ready to go home until 7:30 or 7:45.”

I think my face turned blue. It felt blue. It felt empty and tingly, just like the calories in all that ice cream I finished a half hour before. Another hour trapped on scheduled event island? Irritating, slightly expected, survivable.

I drove dear Matthew home so that he could walk our poor dog, and I hopped back in the car to head back to the hospital, surmising I’d still have time to read about Vince and Joy’s English romance escapades.

And I did. In spades.

I called from the designated patient pick-up zone to the designated recovery nurse’s hotline, and was told to keep waiting, that they’d get him down to me in a little while. The poor nurse sounded so anxious for inconveniencing me. Of course I wasn’t really discommoded by the hospital waiting, that’s what friends do, pick them up from broken noses, but I am a little nuts so I really was psychologically inconvenienced. But I never told her that of course. I will admit A LOT of crazy things to total strangers at chance encounters, but I would never confirm something bad a person was thinking about me if it caused them discomfort. I was all telephone smiles to the friendly nurse.

I waited and waited, got another call from the nurse that they’d be right down, and waited longer. Logically, I knew that this was exactly how retrieving a sedated person from a large hospital would be, but I did wish it were over already.

And then, through the parting sliding glass doors, they appeared, Jonas slumped in a wheelchair and pushed by a nurse in navy blue and white uniform. And I was shocked. Somehow, Jonas didn’t look like I expected. I knew they were rebuilding his nose, but I imagined movie plastic surgery like in LA Confidential when the girl with the plastic bandage and tape over her nose with black circles under her eyes tells the guy, “Mister, it’s not what you think.” I’ve seen enough Dr. 90210 episodes though that I probably should have done a better job guessing what he’d really look like. And once I asked an EMT what his “most ER moment was in real life,” and I know from experience now that medical reality and medical fiction are a gulf of human emotions apart.

Jonas was a bandaged human with guts blood and medical accessories sticking out. Huge swabs of thick cotton gauze swaddled his nose, taped down securely in several layers. Blood was already accumulating where normal noses would have been dripping snot, staining the gauze pillow under his wrapped nose a watery red. Two thin white tubes with little valves on the ends curled out from his bandaged nostrils like Salvador Dali’s swooping waxed mustache. Behind the gauze and tape, his face was already swollen, and his eyes were unfocused from the anesthesia. “Christine, thank you so much for coming to get me. I’m so sorry you had to wait for me.”

My heart broke in sympathy. He sounded exactly like a drugged-up, nasal-bandaged Jonas would sound—thin, wispy, deflated. “There but for the grace of god go I,” I couldn’t help thinking, over and over. All those times I begged my parents for cosmetic surgery to reduce my ponderously sized proboscis, bless them for never giving in. All those times I’ve bonked my giant nose on inanimate objects thrown into my path by wicked circumstance, thank you, nose, for never breaking. And for that one time I actually got into a fight in high school, thank you, mean girl, for not actually getting near my face. “There but for the grace of god go I.”

I got Jonas home last Tuesday, but only barely. At one point, when he insisted on walking down the sidewalk by himself, I saw him stagger and grip a wrought-iron fence. I thought, “If I can just get him through the gate to his yard, and then if he falls down, he’ll be safe, and I can go get help.” I like to plan for misfortune when I can.

Last Tuesday didn’t exactly happen according to plan. My hope is that tonight, my fresh and new Tuesday, will not involve any calls from hospitals, broken bones, or bloody bandages. Smelly laundry and dirty dishes have taken on a quiet simplicity I can newly appreciate. Thank you for the perspective, Jonas. My life isn't so bad after all.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Because I’m five again

Last night, I actually fell out of bed.

I had drifted into a very deep sleep, but my body was pushing my mind back up to semi-consciousness. Sleep Christine felt boiling hot under the covers. So my sleep-premise was that I needed to get some of my body out from under the covers to vent, and I needed to physically move my body off the hot-spot on the mattress that my own overheated body had created. However, my movement became complicated.

A few years ago, when my back pain that turned out to be a mild form of arthritis started ramping up, I bought one of those space age foam mattress pads that sits on top of your regular earth-based mattress. Somehow, this mattress pad always migrates to my side of the bed, leaving my husband on the original mattress, and draping my side of the bed with an over-hanging curl of space age foam shelf.

I suspect that this mattress pad migration is the result of my getting out of bed far more frequently than my husband. He gets into bed and stays there. I get into bed, and I get up to go to the bathroom, I get up because I forgot to fill the tank on my humidifier, I get up because I need a glass of water, I get up to see if my husband is still watching TV, I get up to go to the bathroom again, and so on. I presume that each time I roll out of my side of the bed, I’m taking a tiny slice of the mattress pad over the edge with me, which accumulates gradually into my extra twelve inches of foam hanging over the bed. I don’t mind it very much, and my husband has said he prefers the bed without the mattress pad, so every couple of months we take apart the sleep system completely and start over with the pad back in place, but we mostly leave it the way it is.

Last night, as I half-asleep wiggled out from under some of the blankets, I also half-asleep decided I needed to be lying on my stomach at the very edge of the bed for optimal cool air exposure. In my somnambulant state, however, I miscalculated the actual edge of the bed because of the bed-shelf illusion created by the draped foam pad. As I rolled into stomach plus edge position, I felt my body slowly give way to gravity, fading to my left, and I fell into a pile of books, magazines, a suitcase, some laundry, and lots of extension cords. I hit hard with my left knee and hip on the floor, and my back must have bumped the dresser. The rest of me stopped on the poky corners and edges of all that stuff.

I instantly knew what happened, but I was still only partially awake. I climbed out of a heap on the floor, staggering to my feet like a fake drunk in a movie, and lurched out into the living room. “I just fell out of bed,” I said to my husband.

“Oh, is that what that sound was?”

“Yeah. It hurt like a bitch too.”

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Just another car ride

"I'm really glad we went to Indian buffet tonight. That was nice."

"Oh my god! Did you just fart?"


"It's like, chewy!"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How professional wrestling is just like an office

I've been watching professional wrestling off and on for ten years now.
When Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) was an independent
organization that toured small arenas, I was an avid fan, and Matthew
and I only ever missed one event in Chicago. I pouted and whined about
that missed mayhem for months, "I can't believe we missed the
Pay-Per-View taping in Villa Park."

Mathew said, "There, there, next time we'll make it."

It's my husband that brought me to wrestling, unwillingly. He was a
dedicated fan as a child and teenager, and as he matured into an
academic adult, he began to study the media of wrestling as a professor
of communication. I came along for the ride. Sometimes I got
interested in single wrestlers or a tag-team like I would get
interested in a professional athlete or sports team (Love Randy
Johnson, love the Buccaneers, don't follow the rest), and sometimes my
interest flagged and I wouldn't watch with him for a while. I'd sit
with my book on the couch and read while he gave me a play-by-play
account, and I'd roll my eyes and tell him to quit pestering me if he
wanted me to sit with him.

Tonight, as I read my fourth romance novel, he watched WWE. I glanced
up occasionally, and I saw something I'd noticed before but never fully
comprehended: professional wrestling is just like an office. The
people with the most seniority are the least nimble, least willing to
do hard work, least willing to help a new person succeed where they are
waning, and least able to see their irrelevance.

The new people do all the work, "paying their dues." They put in the
extra effort to get every gritty job done, even when it means letting a
sweaty, arthritic old man fall on top of you and get credit for winning
the match although really he couldn't keep up with your stamina. The
new people have all the best tricks, know how to jump off the top rope
in moves the old guys never used to imagine. They threaten their
bodies with the hard cement floor to get noticed in the company and
advance. They're too naive to worry that their strength and health and
fearlessness will sustain them long enough until they become the
top-billing act and pull the most seniority.

When Ben Stein worked for Nixon, he demanded to have a couch and a TV
in his office. He said that to understand what to write in speeches
for the president, he had to understand the hopes and fears of the
general public. He found that mindset televised in soap operas which
he watched laying on the couch at work. The soaps' writers knew their
audience, and through the writers, Ben stein knew them as well.

And so goes professional wrestling. Script-writers who plot out each
story line and angle know what their viewers want to see--media that
dramatizes their real experiences and simultaneously provides the
fantasy outlet for all their frustrations with their lives and the
world. Even when I'm not looking for a reflection of my life in
popular media, I find it seeking me out, now in the guise of professional
wrestlers, huffing and puffing each other to the mat in a submission
hold, sweating through the daily power struggle between new and old.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A telling exchange, via e-mail

M: Only go with me to our friend’s house tonight if it is actually not going to cause you to freak out about time.

C: it is going to cause me to freak out about time. don't you know me? only people who know me from when i used to hide the freak out or who know i used to freak out but whom i didn't tell why i was freaking out would think that a trip to the far west would not freak me out for time.

M: I wanted to give you the chance to pretend that it would only be a
minor freak out. You know, you could say something like, "Oh, there is
just a little too much for me to do tonight but I wish I could go."
And then you'd freak out while I was gone and then I'd get back and
you'd say, "I freaked out a little while you were gone but I'm okay
now." And that way you could have the best of all worlds, you'd freak
out, I'd know you were freaking out, you'd know I know, but you'd also
have the appearance of somebody who is not freaking out and that would
make you be more in control so the freak out wouldn't be so bad.

Or something like that.

I know you're freaking out but I'll remind you of what I always remind you of, we will be okay and there is a long time between now and tomorrow when we leave. It's not like we have a flight that we have to be up for at 5:30 in the morning and you don't have to mentally prepare yourself for a harsh weekend of cold-weather camping. This weekend everyone is going to be focusing on the wedding, we just have to show up and get hair cuts.