Wednesday, August 5, 2015

High Life

Oh, Facebook! With your rich depictions of family togetherness - perched united,  arms latched, white teeth newly emancipated from exceptional orthodonture.  From the balconies and sand beaches of eternity your familial love reaches me. I can just tell you're eating organic produce. Such is your anti-inflammatory radiance. You play instruments and speak foreign languages. I'm sure you have exceptional math skills. You jet ski and picnic and see concerts together on lawns, white wine shared with friends.

"We have to create more memories with our children!"' I holler toward the bathroom where Vild is powdering his nose. Downstairs Louis plays hour seven on the Advanced Gun Violence, 2015 edition, that we bought him for Christmas.

We decide to go camping. We have a tiny vintage trailer that is quite adorable, though a work in progress. It has served us well as a wee bunk house/club house for us grown-ups. It even worked as a sleepover house for our kids until we realized the internet reached out there unsupervised.  Of ancillary benefit,  the camper has partially scratched the paranoid-isolationist itch in Vild. He can stuff that thing full of bug-out bags and I don't have to endure a back-hoe digging up my yard to bury an empty 5000 gallon water tank for us to live in. Everybody wins.

But, we've never tried to sleep four giants in it at one time. The closest we've gotten was when Vild, Louis and  I parked on the rear half-acre of our backyard. In other words, we could still shit inside our own house.  That, and the 5'11" teenager wasn't there to mock and belittle us, while consuming additional oxygen in the small space.

I have a subscription to Tin Can Tourist, a magazine devoted to vintage trailers. I have a Pinterest board to hoard all things small house and camper. I have another board committed to delicious camping meals. The whole thing appeals to my need to have control over a small bit of something. I can't manage our actual house or the people in it, but 75 square feet I can handle. At least theoretically.

I hit the internet with all the vigor that my two bars of connection can give me. I pick out campsites from the hundreds of state parks, drilling down into the zillions of campsites at each park. I look at single images for the right hint at shade and privacy. I look for parks that have a feature to delight my whole family. I find ones with deep, clear swimming holes, fed by waterfalls where you can jump from any number of smooth rock ledges at differing heights to accommodate every level of daring-doo, beginner to drunken frat boy. I pick places with amazing hikes that culminate in crazy views. All the better to pose moss-toothed with my family.

We leave on a Friday, later than we had planned because of Vild's work, it can't be helped, so we don't arrive at the campsite until 9:30 PM, in the pitch dark, with our adorably small but now, in this setting, monstrous rig. Everyone at the neighboring campsites are already peacefully toasting marshmallows and sipping their last hot beverage as I attempt to back the trailer in, threading it's jackknife between a fixed fire ring and a tree. It's the very tree I selected from the site photos as desirable to camp beneath. My kids are tired and hungry from what turned into a nine hour drive. They've burned through the last of the empty carbs they consumed in the late afternoon. Vild is trying to tell me how to back it up, nevermind I'm the only person in the relationship that has ever actually backed the thing up, successfully or otherwise. Of the two people in the relationship only one has been through bus driver training. That person is not the one giving helpful advise through my window.

Backing up a trailer in the dark uses parts of my brain that may be just the tiniest bit flabby from early marijuana use. It still works, but I have to really focus, think things through - if I turn the wheel this way, it goes that way. Less is more. Mirrors and neck-craning - the quiet campsite is now having dinner and a show.

Parked, I have to get dinner on and fast. Luckily, because I had prepared perfectly, and for weeks in advance, I have kababs marinating in the cooler. I have salad. I have corn. I have a somewhat lame folding table. I have a quick-starting fire stick. I have a lighter. I have frosty beers and lemonade. I cook on the unfamiliar fire ring while Vild prepares the camper, which he feels I've overpacked.

I need to mention here that Vild did a genius job of attaching a solar panel to the roof of the camper so we could have a few off-grid lights and a fan, regardless of the amenities of the site. This is his quasi-bunker, don't forget and he's hoping we'll all have to poop in the middle of the night, forcing us to use the five-gallon cat litter box he's provided, this so he can be vindicated for a number of other worse ideas. I've made no promises.

That's when the light rain begins to fall. Right as we are tucking into our well-planned meal, the table starts sinking into the soft earth beneath and it's a bit like eating on the deck of the Titanic.

The drizzle turns to showers, which turn overnight into a spate. But we are tucked safely into our wee camper. The teenager has opted out and is sleeping stretched out in the van. The rain continues all night and lessons only slightly by morning, and not in time to prevent the closing of the swimming hole due to inclement weather and high waters. We all walk over to the natural attraction to grimly confirm that  it is everything it was promised to be. Smooth, rocky, crystalline and perfect. But now also closed to the public. Access areas are roped off with signs warning of its dangers. We dip cautious f-you ankles into the cold water, grey skies overhead. Dark clouds mounting.

I get back to the campsite and we, meaning I, gather the dishes and pots from the morning meal of eggs, hash browns, bacon, good coffee served with real cream, orange juice for the kids. I head to the bath house to do dishes. I realize as I'm standing at the utility sink that I'm doing the exact same thing I do at home, except at a less accommodating sink. I'm picking cooked egg out of the tiny drain hole as a consideration for the next mom, who will be doing her family's dishes in the shit house.

We repack everything, now wet, into the giant rubbermaid boxes and load it back into the rig. There will be no hiking in what is now a steady, pounding rain. We head for our next campsite, farther south, and hope that an early arrival and a new locale will provide better weather and the opportunity to be the people watching the late-comers arrive, smug in our one night of experience.

Onto campsite number two, three hours away. Another beautiful spot with the promise of gorges and radical views. But now it's pouring. Not cute, cinematic rain, but drenching, epic, origin-story waters. The beautiful, handmade awning I made for the camper, polka dotted, with scalloped edges, was now providing the only ten square feet of dryish space outside the camper. But it's quaint 12 oz. duck cloth is no match for the monsoon and soon enough is filled and swelled and so weighted down with water that it looks like an old man's scrotum, pendulous, with a gout of water at it's sagging center.

We were doomed to stay inside the trailer. I made hot chocolate on the propane stovetop. The fan ran and the gas burners served to keep the inside relatively dry and comfortable. We decided to take naps with books. Make the best of it. Let it pass.

I haul my overweight carcass onto the shelf which is the top bunk. The kids are below. Vild opts for the teenager's post in the van. It's then, with my face inches from the aluminum roof, closed like a coffin lid, that I realize that Vild's solar panel, though thoughtful, has severely compromised the thin aluminum skin of the '67 Fleetwing. The roof seams, deeply saturated by the twenty-seven hours of constant rain are beginning to maw under the weight of the giant solar panel. Water drips in a steady flow directly onto my face and neck which is only inches from the roof.

I shimmy my cold meat over the ledge and swing down, careful not to kick my daughter's teeth out in the enclosed space. I dash to the van, unlinked, a few feet away. I inform Vild that we are taking on water. After a quick internal inspection he confirms that my bedding is indeed wet and sponging toward soaked. He plans to go topside to investigate the source. That's when the rain really kicked it into deluge territory.  I can't find the ponchos that I bought and know I packed in the trailer. It's too late for them anyway. We pull the swamped awning down.  I offer Vild my cupped hands, he stirrups his muddy boot into them and swings himself up on the roof. The rain is hammering the roof and splashing up into his face. I can't hear him well over the din of the downpour.

"What?!" I yell up to him.
"The hammer. Get the hammer!" I get the hammer out of the bottom drawer. He proceeds to rip the solar panel from the struts mounted to the roof. Then the struts come flying from his direction. He's cussing up his own weather front. I'm so wet my cleavage is actually behaving like a gutter system, channelling the water from the top of my head directly into the top of my pants. I decide to think of it as land-swimming. In my brilliant packing I remembered athletes foot cream, but not a tarp.

Always take a tarp camping. Always. Always take a tarp camping. Whether used for shade or dry seating, a raincoat, dry bag, or in this case, roofing - always take a tarp camping. We had no tarp. I have maybe four of them in my garage of varying sizes. None in the caravan. After all, I figured, we had a camper, with an awning. Why would we need a tarp?

We do a quick, angry inventory, Vild and I competing to see who can be more pissed and inconvenienced by this series of events. What we have available to us instead of duct tape and a tarp, is a can of Fix-a-flat, and two red, dollar-store plastic tablecloths, each about 1 mil. in thickness. Plastic tissue paper, in essence. Meant only to cover over the bird shit at the public picnic table, not intended to become a water barrier in a survival situation.

I toss up the Fix-a-flat and Vild starts hosing down the seams with the cloudy foam that immediately turns to liquid, a toxic milk that rains down on me along with sheets of water that continue to pour off the roof. Vild spreads the tablecloths over the roof, on top of the noxious water-soluble tire mending agent which has no effect other than to turn the interior of the camper into a four man mobile huffing chamber. He is yelling at me to hand him things that he needs, none of which we have, so I am handing him a ridiculous number of poor substitutes in the form of spatulas and clothesline.

At the zenith, I scream up at him, "WELL, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?!!"
And he shouts down, "SCHICKEL, YOUR JOB RIGHT NOW IS TO STAND THERE AND SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

Meanwhile the kids are on the lower bunk, reading. I half expect them to ask us to keep it down.
They are waiting patiently for the whole thing to be over so I can get dinner started.

There was another bath house nearby. Things of beauty, these bath houses. Hot water and hand dryers.

I parked my corpse under the nozzle of that shower and pressed the timer button about eighteen times. Then I went and sat under the motion-sensitive hand dryer, flapping my arms at it to keep the thing blowing the hot air of hope onto my flattened hair.

We never left the campsite. Never hiked. Never swam. I'd brought a light-up frisbee and little badminton racquets. I had envisioned fireflies and talking around warm, blanket-y campfires. I'd planned for waterfall swims and bottles of beer, our skin smelling of sunscreen and bug spray. Instead we drove nine hours from our home to once again be illuminated by iPhone screens. I got to do harder cooking and cleaning with fewer amenities.

On the ride home, my phone rang. It was my friend who was minding the house. The power had been shut off. She was in a panic that she'd done something to cause it. Nope, we'd not paid the bill. It being the Thursday before the fourth of July, the Illuminating Company was happy to take my payment, but could provide no one to turn the power back on until Monday.

We pull up to the house at dark. By now I am an expert at backing the rig up without lights. The house is dry and Vild turns on the solar lights that he's also rigged at home. The cooler is still packed so we refresh the ice from the ice-maker before it melts. We drag our bedding back up to our king-sized bed. We gather outside and cook leftovers on our grill and sit around our backyard fire pit, toasting marshmallows. We have fireflies. Our friend rolls in from out of town, and stays in our perfectly outfitted camper, solo, as God intended. I put up the awning and we all drink beer beneath its delicate shade. We eat great leftovers. We are dry. We are home. We survive the power outage in high style. We are perfectly prepared.

I've got vacation pictures, too, Facebook. They look like this:


















Tuesday, May 20, 2014

In That Which We Revel


The psychic wind picks up and throws the trash around inside my head. When this mighty, grimy wind blows, I either get really focused and calm in it's center, with a clear view of the sky from within, or I start spinning with it until it throws me down in a cornfield somewhere.

I'm working my ass off. That's the bottom line. I'm trying to do something entrepreneurial and it's really great and very painful. All my creative energy has been pouring into that lately, and while the reviews have been fantastic, it's failing at the box office.

So much of the time I feel exactly right, like I'm on the path. But also, a ton of time, I'm just an unholy cunt. I cannot manage the volume. The incoming is coming in hot, as they say on the racetrack. While at the same time the outpouring is ever so slowly sloughing away all the tender bits.

There are so many needs coming at me so fast, I'm like a sloppy plate spinner. I just keep swiping everything into further motion, keep it from crashing noisily to the ground. I've broken a bunch of plates, too many.  But I also keep many of them going, and some days it feels like a miracle.

My team is really good. The family under this roof is doing really well. We yell at each other too much. But we also all pile in bed together and watch movies and swim, and fart around. I like all them noisy  plates. That's some good news for my weather forecast. But shit, goddam, they take a lot of energy.  Sometimes what they require from me is not available, either because of time, or because of mood, or because of money, and then I feel guilty and incapable and lost.

I'm full of love, but also despair. These two are dance partners. They hold each other tight and spin each other around, sometimes awkwardly, like prom dates and sometimes with great beauty, Ginger and Astair.

Through it all I make furniture with my friend. We have a good time, mostly, when we're not broken from heavy lifting of one kind or another. Our joints ache and we are stiff, while it seems the rest of the world is free to pursue it's own flexibility to it's oily, limberest best. "You have to make time for yourself," they say in chorus. And to them I raise a crooked, gnarled knuckle on a special finger with very little sensation left in it.

I stood in line behind a woman and her kids in a equestrian store today, and watched as her girls kept forgetting things and adding them to the bill. They were buying new bridles and boots and whatever the fuck else, and I watched as the mom handed over her credit card without so much as a twitch when the bill was fourteen hundred dollars. When the daughter added one more something, I nearly beat them to death with the nine dollar crop I was buying for Lily's birthday.

It's May, which means it's time for me to hurt myself with a cake plate. Last year I gouged my cornea in the effort. This year my humiliation came early, in April, in the form of a rapid onset stomach virus that found me shitting into a plastic convention center bag in the passenger seat of our van as we sped down the highway toward home, so acute was it's onset. You can't really say you have a relationship until you've shat in a bag in front of your husband.

People around me are marvelous, and also hurting. There are pockets of hurt in every direction. And in the lining of these pockets, some rich satin; beautiful, worn stuff you can only see when it's been turned inside out.

Things make me cry when I see them on Facebook. They are meant to, and I am only too happy to oblige. "I come from a long line of watering cans," a friend said to me once, and I wanted to take him in my arms.

I'm so happy to be going to my reunion, to the boarding school where so many things began for me, where I really came on-line. The people I will see that weekend, are the same ones who were there when I came into a world that I was made to understood was to be mine. Just as it was theirs. A humor and tenderness tethers us to one another, and I cannot wait to hook onto their line for the night.

In the meantime there is more work, and more hurt, and beauty. Spring asserts itself and we get out of it's way. We make room for new growth by removing the dried, tangled remnants of winter. We plant things out of faith. Faith in nature, I find, never fails to deliver. Green insists on pushing it's way through the openings. Cracks and dirty, forgotten places offer a place to root. Sunshine curls it's beckoning finger. Things unfurl and reach.

My children were born in this month of insistence. A bush out front seems to bloom on the 21st of this month every year, Lily's birthday. I didn't plan it that way, it was here before we were, but I can't help but wonder if it had it's own plan, and was laying in wait. It's a strange, mangled thing, not exactly beautiful, growing lopsided and rangy, but it has this one trick, this brief, violent explosion of color.  I cannot deny it this one song.

So onward. Toward the frantic, hedonistic summer in which the pots fill to overflowing, and the pool goes from brown to green, then blue, then green again, all summer long. We dip and leave our wet towels all over everything, forever. Mildew grows like everything else and leaves it's fecund imprint on anything that dares stop moving.

You will know me by the sound of my sewing machine, that rumbles on through the months, issuing it's own growth. You will find me by the sound of my laughter, the trail of my tears, the cracking of my knuckles, and my sailor's curse. I don't know how it all works out. But I will look for you too, in that burst, that crack, that delicate interior. We will see each other there and know one another, nod and sway together until the needle lifts and plays it all over again.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

"Quick and Easy Room Updates", they lied. "Ombre Paint Your Bedroom", they cried.




I just listened to Jean Kilbourne speak intelligently about women and their unrealistic portrayal in advertising. And while I never tire of seeing how many ways we can airbrush murderous scenes of skinny, naked women drinking beer from a cock while being lanced with a stiletto heel to the neck, I have to say, I've noticed a more disturbing trend, in the trafficking of unrealistic house porn to those who lay in bed, predated upon by Pinterest and Buzzfeed.

Cheerfully recommending that I ombre paint is not that different from sex trafficking. Both prey on the innocent, the gullible, the open-hearted naiveté of it's victims.  Both lead to demoralization of prey while predators profit.

If I were to Ombre paint my bedroom, first I'd have to clean it. Which is not, in itself, unreasonable. But in my case, it involves the solving of too many little problems that I have neither the money, nor the creative mojo to solve. My creative mojo, which is formidable, is being used up right now by every other aching, needy part of my life. I've got more things needing my attention right now than perhaps any other time in my history, including when my kids were toddlers, and that, as I've said before, was like being pecked to death by hens.

We're all stupidly busy. Who gives a shit, am I right? Indeed. But then don't talk to me about Ombre painting my bedroom as if the only thing that stands between me and it is the nourishment of an organic kale salad. There is no Amish community of helpers, awaiting my call to bucket and brush.

Ombre paint the bedroom, they mock.

I would have to detangle the cords, and look under the bed. Wipe down my bedside tables, move the dog crate and find a place for that burg of papers. I'd have to locate a proper light source, and in the meantime fix the vacuum to get up all the dust, which collects like mohair on the edges of the rug. There are cups that need to go downstairs and probably a cereal bowl under precious' side of the bed.

I'd have to drive to Home Depot, probably with my kids, who will squabble and want things that are bad for them, but I'll have to buy them in order to have the time to pick out the perfect ombre paint shades.  Nothing could go wrong there. Needing to pick five chromatically gradated shades of a color that will look good in the very poor lighting of my bedroom is definitely in the wheelhouse of someone pressed for time and without their reading glasses.

I'll have to move the king-sized bed, with the too many wrong-sized blankets, probably without help, if Vildy's not in town, and drag it against a wall in the very narrow hallway. When everything is out of the room and my five shades of paint are lined up, each with their own pan and roller and brush, and all the tarps that I've remembered to purchase are laid out on the floor, then I will begin the painting and edge-blurring of the darkest color, nearest the floor. That will dissolve, no doubt beautifully, into the next color, which I will have picked like a suburban Renoir from the Martha Stewart collection, where the collusion only continues with the sadistic proffering of false hope.  All these colors will blend and morph like clouds being blown apart by a gentle zephyr. And then, my too hastily purchased matchstick shades will miraculously turn into perfect window treatments and my bedding will respond in kind.

When I have humped every dilapidated, overused piece of shit from the hallway back into my bedroom, and I've touched every rubber band, orphaned penny and broken bit of headphone. When I've heaved four bags of trash into the already overfilled can, then I will be at my leisure to make dinner for everyone while the paint dries.

The ripple effect of this project will have resonated throughout the house and the kids will have taken the opportunity, while my attention was diverted, to use every dish from the cupboards and leave them like a derelict easter egg hunt about the house and in the sink. Chocolate-milk glasses and petrified cereal will make it impossible for me to make dinner without first drill-sargeanting the children through a clean-up or angrily cleaning it up myself. Both options equally disheartening and momentum killing. I will be exhausted by this point and my weak back will begin to moan in despair. I will be cranky. Really, very cranky and un-fun. My sense of humor will have been abandoned somewhere in the checkout line of the Home Depot hours earlier. The guilt of being the un-fun one will begin to seep into my cell structure. I will steep in regret.

By this time I will see what a horrible mistake I've made in paint colors, the winter light having anemically petered out of my bedroom, revealing the harsh boarders, and garish blending of my misguided paint-choices.

To suggest airily that this is a room "fix" is the meanest, most mocking, finger wagging hoax I can imagine. The fix is in, that much I know. The "fix" for this room is to make it a room belonging to someone else entirely. Someone who has control over their environment, either with money, or personnel, or lots and lots of free time. And the only people who really, truly deserve such rooms are the people who have none of those things and probably never will.

I am old enough and formed enough to see beneath the veil of sexism.  But the promise of symmetry  and order in the home is a reckless pimp whose false betrothal lures me still. I'm am drawn to the airbrushed beauty of fruit bowls and thoughtful display, repurposed filing systems, boots and hats all in a row on up-cycled hooks made from doorknobs.

The bedroom is a sanctuary. Insofar as it receives my wrecked, humiliated body in a tangle of ancient pillows and yellowed sheets at the end of the day, I agree. In its humble, familiar embrace I can rely. With its arms around me I can further peruse the images that make me resent it more deeply, as I sink into a drooling slumber.