23 May 2008

The Bridges of Yard Sale County

First of all, thank God for friends who don’t let you get away with getting all dramatic.

Y’all are right. I’m in the right place at the right time, and really, aren’t we always in the right place, even when it sucks? I’m just a little bored, trying to be okay with the decision to stop helping people as a career, and also little embarrassed by my last post. I kind of feel like the high school girl who stayed up all night writing dark and dramatic poems in her journal and then turned it in to the High School literary magazine in a fit of poor, poor judgment. I also like to call this feeling “Vicious PMS.” You can see more of my work in this medium in such classics as "Late Night Nonsense Argument with Husband," "Ridiculously Rigid Toddler Rules, " and the timeless "OMiGod That Commercial Was SO SAD, Where Are the Tissues."


I have a twitch in my right thumb. It is driving me crazy, this thumb flicking about on its own.


YARD SALE LIST! That’s what “YS List” stands for. I was going to make a list of yard sales and drag Bird around town tomorrow morning, buying other people’s castoffs and making promises to refinish/ re cover/ rewire. (That last one is funny, I’ve never rewired anything. But I have promised.) I’m not really going to make a YS list—my parents are coming in from Indiana for the weekend. But at one point I sure thought I was.

Here’s a yard sale story for you:

I grew up in an Indiana town divided right down the middle by two-lane Highway 36, also known as Main Street. Highway 36 will take you all the way to Colorado, eventually, but about an hour or so down the road from my hometown is Rockville, home of the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival. It is also the covered bridge capital OF THE WORLD. In your sappy face, Madison County.

If you have either a Tom Petty song or an REM song in your head after reading that last paragraph, dude, so do I. And we are totally old.

The festival is corny and crafty, and most years I never made it all the way to Rockville to walk around the town square and eat caramel apples and browse the nine hundred varieties of cutesy scarecrows made of straw and burlap. My main event was the drive from my town to Rockville along Highway 36, a long straight country drive in the early fall under a fat blue sky. And what could make that scene more appealing than the rural residents of three Central Indiana Counties dragging their crazy-assed junk to the side of a skinny old highway, ready to haggle over old handmade quilts, ridiculously kitschy furniture, driftwood lamps and broken electronics? And some of them even sold homemade gooseberry pie. I loved it. It was like a holiday to me.

I went year after year, sometimes dragging a college friend along, sometimes my mom, sometimes just me alone. I started to realize that some of the yard-salers were setting the same stuff out, year after year. I developed favorites (the gooseberry pie ladies, for example) and ventured down other county roads for even kookier loot and sometimes spookier people. I found the sweet spots, the hidden treasure, the stacks of embroidered pillowcases and ugly landscape paintings.

One year I took Beardog with me, during the period of his life where he went everywhere I went. We were a stinky, hair-covered team, me blowing down the highway singing at the tops of my lungs in the sunshine with the windows down, Beardog exhibiting the excellent dog quality of not complaining about loud singing, both of us hopping in and out of the car whenever something looked interesting.

I was haggling with a wiry old man in a lawn chair behind a long train of card tables over some old camera or belt buckle or brooch, and I looked down to find my sweet floofy dog freely pissing all over a cardboard box full of For Sale Junk—a $1 your-choice bin sort of thing that was stashed under the table separating me and the man with the overpriced broken radios. Having no idea how many precious $1 items were housed in that box, and being at the end of the day’s cash, I ended our negotiation and walked Beardog swiftly back to our car and drove away. I don’t know if anyone ever noticed the piss-box.

I’ve always felt a little guilty and a little victorious about that.

In closing, let's talk about what happens when you edit that story:

I went to a yard sale.

My dog pissed on a box of junk.

I kept quiet and left in a hurry.

22 May 2008

YS List

There’s something written on my calendar for tomorrow that says “YS list.”

I have no idea what it means. But I wrote it earlier in the week—earlier in the month?—for that day specifically and I’m wracking my brain trying to remember what I’m supposed to do about it.

I’ll spend all day tomorrow totally spooked that someone will come flying at me demanding my YS list, and I will be grievously unprepared.

x x x x

I got a cut and color yesterday. The answer to “how does the miracle $15 haircut lady make a living?” has been answered: color. It’s cheaper there than at most places, but writing that check still made me catch my breath.

x x x x

Today at work I was coming up with a title for a sewing demonstration DVD, and I was making this huge long list of related words and concepts in a stream-of-consciousness way. I just looked back over it, and one of the words I listed was “demon-sew.” As in Demonstrate + Sew.

But now I’m picturing black, wispy demons with horns and jaggedy wings trying to thread sewing machines and pricking their thumbs.

Now there’s a way to sell a sewing machine.

x x x x

Birdy is the fricking potty training queen. She is also at a stage in her social scene where lots of the kids in her daycare class have pregnant mamas or new babies in their lives, and she spends most of her free time walking around with a baby stuffed in her shirt, asking you if you want to touch her tummy.

It makes people kind of uncomfortable to see a pregnant toddler.

x x x x

I have a photo of her as my monitor’s wallpaper at work, and I’m staring at it right now, missing her like fucking crazy. This week has been long. And boring. As shit. And what’s that? Oh, two hours? I have TWO MORE HOURS to fill in this day, and nothing to fill them with. Doing nothing is far less fun when you have nothing to put off in order to do the nothing, if that makes sense.

I was teary about this job yesterday morning. There has been very little work for me in this past week, and I feel over-payed and under-needed. I miss having people call me and ask for help, and being able to say, “I will help you.” I miss knowing what to do. I miss procrastination; right now it’s just boredom.

And also, nothing interesting has happened to me during my eight-hour workdays in the last month. No crazy hillbillies, no bad hollers, no weird roadside shit. No weird requests or desperate pleas. No profound life lessons or cautions. No more squirrely feeling in the pit of my stomach, it’s true, but also no feeling in the pit of my stomach.

20 May 2008


I’ve been absent, I know. I’m surprised you even came on over and knocked on my door since it seems like I’m never around, but here I am.

Part of the reason for my absence is that I sit at a little desk and stare at a computer screen and think about words all day, so I don’t really feel like doing that when I get home.

Another part of the reason is that my dear Granddad died at the end of a long, frail, thin road on May 6th, and we were home in Indiana for a chunk of days around his funeral, and spent another chunk of days foraging for food and not putting away our suitcases when we returned to Tennessee.

And also, I didn’t really know how to talk about it.

My Granddad was… my Granddad. A sturdy man with a booming voice and a talent for singing and making up words when he couldn’t find one that fit just right. I’ll remember him in his recliner, wearing light blue jeans and ankle-high zip up boots, a white tee shirt, and thick-famed glasses, squeezing one of those hand exercisers made out of a coil of metal with plastic handles. He would stack us four deep in his maroon Buick and take us down to the ice cream shop, where they had peppermint ice cream with chunks of candy in it; he took us to see Return of the Jedi, despite my mother’s disapproval. He drug out what seemed like fifty old bicycles from his huge, pole barn garage on what was once his farm so that every cousin would have one to ride on a summer afternoon. He survived the depression, a Chicago childhood filled with drama and abuse, and a transplant to a Southern Indiana farm town just as his adolescence began, when he’d already seen too much. He survived a war. He survived as a farmer, and later an entrepreneur. He was a loving and committed husband, he was a wonderful father to my mother and her five brothers and sisters, proud to put every one of them through college. He was a doting and jolly Granddad with big thick hands and a thousand rich stories and silly voices for his fourteen grandchildren.

I am lucky to be one of the older ones. I got to know him for so long.

He didn’t look a thing like himself lying in the casket, covered in rosaries and roses. Birdy wanted to visit up close again and again, and I took her up to the casket whenver she wanted, to talk about him and let the fact of his death be unmistakably real to me, making myself answer her questions. Like why can’t we see his feet anymore? Because he doesn’t need them. Why doesn’t he move? Because he’s waiting to go to heaven. Granddad has a lot of flowers on his tummy! Yes, there’s one rose for each of us. And this tiny pink one is for you.

We sat and watched for several hours as a long line of people filed in to stand over his waxy, sunken face and made their way through the long line of hugs and handshakes for my grandmother, my mother, my aunts and uncles. We watched as dirty, weathered old farmhands he hadn’t seen in forty years filed right in behind the fragrant church ladies.

Keeping a toddler in a funeral home for four hours requires some creativity, and we took several walks around the perimeter of the building, pointing out the huge, run-down house with the stained-glass window where my Great-Grandmother on my dad’s side lived in her old age, with and amputated leg, too many parakeets and a stove that her children had disconnected so she wouldn’t burn the whole place down.

We all prayed the rosary together after the crowd had left. And it wasn’t about listening to the words as much as it was about all of us, this huge, dark-clad and tear-streaked flock of family, coming to one center point and saying the prayers together, nobody talking over anybody else, none of our characteristic joyful din. It was about pooling ourselves and our energy, and making a big collective ball of our memories of him to bring him into the room for a time, with all of us murmuring and chanting and crying. It felt ancient and it felt like letting go. Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, amen.

The funeral service couldn’t have been more beautiful, with one of my uncles delivering a powerful eulogy. And as un-Catholic as I claim to be, I don’t know if there is a place quite like a small-town Catholic church to feel so exquisitely sad.

Truly, we’d all been slowly grieving him for many years as he suffered stroke after stroke after stroke, with my Grandma praying fiercely by his bedside as she diapered and fed him day after day. When Hospice came to remove the hospital bed from their bedroom, her tidy little twin bed with the old reading lamp and the crucifix above it seemed so reverent, so faithful, so cheated, and so relieved. There was a well-worn path around the place where his bed had been for so many years, with plush beige carpet in the middle springing up like grass.

I held hands with my cousins and we all helped move his casket from the hearse to the gravesite, and something about giving him over in that place full of headstones with very familiar names made us feel like a sad and proud Royalty, like we’d all earned this badge of grief together, that we’d all had the honor of knowing him, all a part of something so solid and well-worn.

Now that we’re home, Birdy says, “Granddad isn’t old anymore. He’s getting UP! He went to heaven to see his friends.” She came up with parts of this explanation all on her own, and I have to believe that she understands this better than I do, because she’s never one bit sad.

02 May 2008

Week in Review

Monday, I had my cute little new-fangled phone sitting nice and flat on top of my little desktop speakers, on vibrate. A. sent me a text (which said "call me," by the way) and my phone began to shimmy, working itself off of its resting place and plunking itself directly into the glass of water below. Like a perfect little cell-phone high dive. The rest of the story is boring but involves the dismantling of the phone and laying it out piece by piece on my windowsill to dry, like a little beach for cell phone parts.

Tuesday, I got the standard "what's your story" questions from my coworkers in the break room, and became acutely aware of how I sound like a compulsive liar when I give my employment history. "I graduated from college, got accepted into a competitive Master's program but didn't go, worked with the crazy and homeless for 7 years, worked in an ad agency until it dissolved, had a baby, worked with people who happened to be dying from a cruel and rare terminal illness, and then landed here to be a writer. Oh, and I'm also a massage therapist."

I have suffered from awful allergies this week, beginning Wednesday-- sneezing, awful congestion, continually dripping nose. I know I'm a really welcome addition to this open-floorplan creative department, with my scronking and snurgking all the live-long day. Wednesday I took some generic Allergy meds and maintained a paranoid, clumsy, fuzzy high for 2 full days. My patience has been short with Bird (though she's contributed enough "TWO" this week to last a month) and I've been bumbling around like an idiot, not choosing the right words, the right shoes, or the right cross streets. My job pretty much revolves around my being clever, and clever I am not when I'm stoned on generic Claratin-D. Thursday morning I told Andy my head was full of snot, but what came out of my mouth was "my head feels like it needs to take a shit." which, come to think of it, is the most accurate thing I've said in a while.

My job is going well. When I'm being really honest, I'll tell you I'm a little lonely. Sitting in a quiet little room with nothing but words to think about shifts my brain into a different gear, like when you've been reading a novel for four hours and the phone rings and you kind of forget how to talk to live humans. Sometimes I'll put my two cents into a conversation, but I usually return to my office slapping my palm to my forehead and wondering how I have existed this long in the world and am still unable to make decent small talk without revealing my own weird shit. I find as I walk down the hall to the bathroom that I'm starting to narrate my own movements in my head, and sometimes I even narrate my own thoughts, like I'm describing to myself whatever it is that I'm thinking, which is kind of a messy process. And no, I have not been dropping acid.

And no, that doesn't mean I regret taking this job, either, or even that it's going badly. My social skills have always been weird. I'm ready to be six months into this and be able to stop explaining myself and telling the back story to everything. I'm ready to be comfortable, but it's only been two weeks.

I'm also just having to re-condition myself-- I haven't written in this kind of a marathon since college, really, and that was a while ago. I'm out of practice at being this acquainted with my own brain, being required to use it this way.

Oh, also at work this week someone was talking to someone else about kids in a kind of know what I mean? tone, and I was standing there a little in and a little out of the conversation, and this person said something to me like, "Well, you're not old enough to have any kids yet, but when you do..."

And I just sat there kind of stunned, not sure what to say, because WTF? So I came up with these three options:
  1. I got my period when I was thirteen, so technically I've been "old enough" to have kids for almost twenty years! Suck it!
Okay, I really only came up with one option, that was it. There was another option but it involved a very simple, one-fingered hand gesture. I'm not sure why it all bothered me so much.

Maybe it's because I'm adjusting to working in the creative field again, where everything you put out there is judged in some way, evaluated, chosen or not chosen. And feeling like a bad mama to boot, walking around all high on Claritin and ignoring my child until she acts out and I can't cope with her two-ness. And here is this person questioning my ability to be a mother? Or is it about questioning my experience on this earth in general? In any case, that remark freaking flew all over me.

What I actually said in response was, "I have a daughter. She's two and a half."

And then of course today, because I am the way I am, I had to start some totally unrelated conversation with the other person that had witnessed this exchange that called into question whether or not I should be birthing babies or trying on prom dresses. Some stupid, awkward conversation that I crafted to give myself the opportunity to state my true age. As you might imagine, this exchange was not gracefully executed on my part.

In other news, I got to hold my friend J's sweet and teensy little baby this evening. I could have eaten him in one delicious bite.