Wednesday, October 24, 2007


If you were to venture to, you could find a collection of celebrity accounts of their “aha moments.” Invariably, they are tales of experiences wherein your favorite female star realized she's not as eco-conscious as she could be (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), that she hasn’t properly introduced her deceased mother to her children (Oprah’s BFF, Gayle King), or that she is both black and beautiful (Alfre Woodard).

This one’s for you, Oprah.

This past weekend, I had a real-life “aha” moment. I felt the universe tugging on my skirt (yeah, I was wearing a skirt), all, “Psst. Jess. Hey. Psst.” I was occupying my place as the third leg in the generational relay race through time that had gathered around my mother’s kitchen counter. My grandmother and I had just returned from the dedication ceremony for my friends’ new baby. I had told my mom about all the delicious food my friend had made for the lunch reception afterwards and was just about to marvel at the vast differences between my life and my friend’s when I remembered to ask what she had done all day. Turns out, she was pretty exhausted, what with all the burning of the Bibles.

“Psst. Jess.”

“Shut up, Universe! Mom, you did what?”

When I left that morning, I knew my mother would probably spend the day cleaning, as she’s preparing to sell her home. In a house where six people once lived and various people have stayed over the last ten years, it’s now down to her, my grandma, my little brother, and all the shit we deserters left behind. And so the task of gutting the house has largely fallen to my mom. Sure, she makes piles for Goodwill and “do you want this?” stacks for me to look at when I visit, but lately, it would seem, she’s taken to burning stuff she doesn’t want to take with her when she moves.

“How many Bibles did you burn?” I asked, a little astonished.

“I don’t know. Maybe five.”

“You found five Bibles here? Whose were they?”

She couldn’t say for sure.

“What else do you burn?”

“Oh, just shit I find. You know, some papers, a big map, some clothes.”

Some Bibles.

No wonder I’d been nervous about going to church to see my friends’ baby dedicated. I’ve always felt a little silly sitting in congregations where I clearly do not belong…which is to say, all of them. When I do find myself in church for the inevitable procession of marriages of friends and baptisms of their babies that comes with being 20-something, I’m usually able to sit quietly, sing inaudibly, and maybe even give the impression of deep understanding with my patented faraway, could-be-thoughtful gaze.

My grandma had met these friends of mine at the wedding that was my left knee’s undoing. She’d developed quite a crush on their little family, and so when I got the invitation to the dedication of their third child, I thought it was the perfect chance for her to ogle my friend’s husband (only peripherally, thanks to macular degeneration) and coo over their truly lovely and ever-growing family.

And so I sat with my grandma in church on a Sunday morning for the first time I can remember. The congregation was very young and friendly, with people constantly catching my eye and smiling right at me. They were different from my usual crowd, but I managed to smile back after a few initial suspicious glances proved to be pretty clearly not the appropriate response. People shook my hand and welcomed me; their hearts seemed warmed by the sight of me in my skirt, leading my mostly blind grandma to the restroom.

I was almost out. With a few nods to people I recognized from the service and a loud declaration to my grandma that, “it really was a thought-provoking sermon,” we were in the parking lot and the home stretch. There was only one church member between my slow-moving grandma and our parked car. It was an older gentleman with a gray beard and a large motorcycle. He was putting on a leather vest that was truly riddled with various buttons along the alternating themes of patriotism, motorcycles, and Jesus.

And then something fluttered in the corner of my grandma’s eye. Universe! Why did it have to be the corner? That’s the only part where she can see!

There were two flags waving on the back of his motorcycle: one was the stars and stripes; the other was black with the POW/MIA insignia. The man told us a touching story of how the Lord had returned his POW/MIA flag when it had been dislodged by enemy wind on his way home one night. He hadn’t realized it was gone until he got home, but just as he was vowing to never give up on his missing flag, his wife pulled into the driveway and held it out to him, saying, “You missing something?”

Come on! But I kept my mouth shut. I smiled and said, “That’s amazing. Well, have a great ride home.” And I turned to continue toward the car. As soon as my grandma spoke, I knew.

“Well, you better watch out with your American flag,” my grandmother said to this very patriotic man. She pointed vaguely to where she knew I stood. “She’ll run right over it if you give her the chance.”

He was a large man, and he turned like a bear to face me. Somewhere in the cackling, nervous laughter, I managed to form the words “Canada,” “motorcycle,” “flag,” and “it was an accident.” The bear seemed placated, if not wholly amused. I held out my hand to my grandma and politely begged her to come along. She was shouting over her shoulder, “And it was on the Fourth of July,” when we finally reached the car.

“Well, that was a nice service,” she said from the passenger’s seat.

At my friends’ house, my grandma found a woman roughly her own age to talk to, the grandmother of my friend’s husband. They shared family stories over plates of cheesy potatoes and meatballs. Collected in the house were four generations of this particular family, with this woman’s great-grandchildren shouting playfully in the other room and her daughter sitting with us, sharing doting observations of the little ones.

I told my grandma her best chance at great-grandchildren was probably my younger brother, but even that chance seemed slim at the moment. “You should have taken this woman’s lead,” I joked, with a big gesture so she could see I was indicating her new friend. “You should have just had more kids to begin with and increased your chances.”

We all chuckled.

“Oh, I think I had enough.” My grandmother laughed.

We all laughed.

“And I think I’m safe now,” she said with a nudge of camaraderie to her new friend.

I laughed a little nervously.

“You’re safe, aren’t you?” she asked the woman.

“Oh, yes, I should think so,” the woman replied with a laugh.

“G—“ I started.

“Well, you never know,” she continued. “Just because there’s snow on the roof doesn’t mean there isn't fire in the furnace.”

Later, in my mother’s kitchen, the Universe tugs at my costume of a skirt. “Pst. Hey.”

How could my friend and I—roughly the same age, having grown up in the same area, gone to the same college—lead such vastly different lives now? I’d seen members of all the generations of her family earlier that day, and here were all three generations of mine, all sharing what we’d done that day.


Aha! And I realized that probably at the same moment my grandmother had been joking about postmenopausal sexuality, my mother had been poking at a pile of burning Bibles, smiling through the smoke with a real sense of accomplishment.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pony Up

Like that creative writing teacher in high school, Blog Action Day has provided me with a prompt today: “The environment. You have till midnight, the end of Blog Action Day. Go!"

It is with pangs of guilt that I write about the environment. Not only am I currently driving by myself to and from work every day, but I am doing it in a car that is more liberally spewing pollutants into the air than other cars on the road. I am, in fact, a hypocritical ass.

I recently made a huge life decision: that I would get rid of my car and try to, like, save the Earth and stuff by personally accounting for less pollution than I usually do. As soon as the idea entered my mind, it just felt right. Not only would it help out the aforementioned Earth, but it would make me feel better about myself, and that’s really what ultimately matters.

My plan hit a snag, however, when a little light depicting a submarine and the word “check” flashed on my car’s dashboard. I took the car to a mechanic, who informed me that there was in fact no submarine to check and also that the drawing was of an automobile engine. After checking the engine, he told me that the catalytic converter in my car was no good.

The mechanic now put my two options before me. One: I could fix the catalytic converter for an absolutely obscene amount of money and dismiss all hope of even breaking even on the sale of this car. Two: I could just have him turn off the submarine light, because Minnesota doesn’t have emissions standards. With what I’m assuming would be a flick of his wrist, he could make my little submarine problem disappear.

I looked up the catalytic converter and its function when I got home. If I’m understanding the internet diagrams correctly, the catalytic converter is like a magical pony attached to your car’s undercarriage whose favorite food is pollutants. She could eat that stuff all day. Sure, some gets by her, but she eats what she can, and the air is better for it.

Oh, Universe! Why do you got to make shit so difficult? The price of a new pony was truly atrocious, and, so very soon after making my resolve to get rid of my car and be less of an asshole to the planet, the Universe was like, “Hey, asshole, why don’t you just go home and watch some TV instead?”

So, sadly, that’s what I did. What difference would it make anyway? I’m just one person with one car, and it looks like I’ll be keeping it for now.

If I believed in fate, I’d think it was a sign that "The Day After Tomorrow" was on television the day I decided to sell my car and take up the carless lifestyle. In this film, mankind has puffed so much pollution into the air that the weather gets apocalyptic and ushers in a new ice age. Cities are laid to waste by massive tornadoes, and golf-cart sized hail squishes unsuspecting Asian people. The entire Northern hemisphere is plunged into frozen chaos, all resulting in poor, lovely Jake Gyllenhaal being trapped in the New York Public Library with a killer superstorm fast approaching. That is how bad shit can get, people.

And if I had any hope that there was a deus to ex-machina our asses out of the trouble mankind is in, none of this stuff would seem scary. But the cards are stacked against hope for children of the ‘80s. Ours was one of the first generations to be sat down and told in firm tones by reliable authority figures that the environment was in trouble. Furry creatures were endangered. Exxon was a dirty word. There was a hole—a giant freakin’ hole—in the protective ozone barrier between us and the careening asteroids. Had we been allowed to swear, our collective cry would have been, “Holy fucking shit!”

And the world seems to have stalled in that moment, if pop culture—which is really the only culture, if you ask me—is any indicator. All the end-of-the world references have me scared out of my mind. According to my exhaustive research, mankind’s destruction by global war, pandemic zombie infection, asteroid collision or robot uprising seems a foregone conclusion. Sometime after that “holy shit” moment in middle school and all these glimpses into the dismal, dismal future, me and many of my generation seem to have lost all hope that we as a species might actually pull this one out of the fire.

But wait; it gets worse. Having gathered a great deal of evidence in watching a great many of these scenarios unfold on TV and in movies, I must conclude that I’m not pretty enough to survive the apocalypse. While I enjoy the stories of the ragtag group of survivors eking out an existence after the decimation of their cultures by war or by superstorms or asteroids or cylons, I know that were it to come to that now, I’d be among those cautionary tales the good-looking ragtag survivors would tell.

“You’ve got to pull yourself together, Chloe! Sure, food is scarce, human skeletons are lying everywhere, and all the wild animals that were in zoos are now roaming the deserted streets of ruined cities with enormous chips on each of their four furry shoulders, but you’re a survivor. You don’t want to end up like those people who gathered their most precious seasons of TV on DVD and wandered around for weeks, finally succumbing to the ravages of hunger and disease on the plains of South Dakota? Do you? Huh?” Man, if the apocalypse hits, I just know I’m going to end up in South Dakota.

The problem seems too big. What we need, children of the ‘80s, is a sledgehammer of hope to break it down! South Dakota looms large, but it seems the first step, the only step we can take is to believe that what we do makes a difference. In my case, that will allow for possible future steps: a new pony for my car, carpooling, getting rid of my car altogether. Who knows? It’s easier on my conscience and my wallet to ignore the submarine light, but Jake Gyllenhaal is counting on me not to be a jerk to the environment. Just say no to superstorms!

So while my point is vague at best, as if seen through a veil of smog (See? It's an intentionally hazy blog entry.), and I don’t seem to be taking any immediate action myself, damned if my blog can’t be active on Blog Action Day. Just you wait. On Crotchety Girl Action Day, I’ll be all kinds of motivated and specific. It’ll be sweet.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Take Back the Knight: How Baby Got Back in the Saddle

I have lived in the shadow of defeat for the past year. Sure, I’ve gone to work, socialized with friends, even made a few new ones. I’ve laughed and joked and gone about my life, but it has all been under the pall of tainted honor. For one year ago, I met a knight who proved my better. I fell to the swift sword of his infectious beat. One year ago, I fell to the notorious Sir Mix-A-Lot.

I won’t soon forget the challenge Mix-A-Lot issued to the assembled revelers at my good friends’ wedding reception. Sure, I had a couple chocolate martinis in me…and some rum from a thermos a friend had spirited into the building, but I felt ready to meet Sir Mix-A-Lot on the level ground of the makeshift dance floor covering the marble of the Minnesota Historical Society. His words said all the wrong things, objectifying women, reducing their worth to the circumference of their backsides; but the beat of the song said something else. The rhythm pounding through the rented sound system said, “I dare you not to dance to this.”

Well, this knight had picked the wrong day to make assumptions about my reluctance to dance due to moral and political reservations about a song’s lyrics. As a woman who sometimes forgets to brush her hair, I was feeling special in my plum-colored bridesmaid dress, neatly curled hair, and professionally applied makeup. And I had an advantage over Mix-A-Lot: he didn’t know of my family’s wedding dancing legacy. He couldn’t know that my father is none other than “The Dancing Machine” of southeastern Wisconsin.

Ah, but as fate would have it, my father’s legacy is a cruelly ironic one. For as I bore the mantle of The Dancing Machine, little did I know that my knees were quaking under the weight of it. I had inherited my father’s weak knees, and they were about to prove my very public undoing.

Just as I was answering Mix-A-Lot’s call to shake it, shake it, shake that healthy butt, there was an ear-splitting POP, and I found myself flat on the very moneymaker I’d been shaking mere moments before. At first, I was at a loss as to what had happened. My mind raced for the answer, quickly weighing the little evidence I had. There was the loud POP and the fact that I was on the floor. “Am I shot?” I wondered. But before I could remember if Sir Mix-A-Lot was from the East or West Coast, I caught sight of a foot to my left. It was wearing my shoe and appeared to be attached to a leg in my skirt, but the angle was all wrong; it couldn’t be attached to me.

As my friends formed a supportive circle of laughter around me, I was horrified to discover that the foot and the awkwardly bent leg were indeed mine. Unable to stand on my own and finding all my friends’ hands occupied in the act of pointing at me, I exited the dance floor by the only means left to me: this baby scooted backwards out of the flashing lights and into the darkness of a shame that has haunted me for a year.

The scooting may have managed to jostle my wayward joint back into place, but I limped through the world for a good two months. And when the swelling in my knee and foot finally went down, I carried the scars of my encounter with Sir Mix-A-Lot on the inside. My confidence was shaken; my ability to continue my family’s proud wedding dancing legacy was in doubt. I thought about Mix-A-Lot often, thought of a rematch. I knew how to find him; he had brazenly shouted his number, 1-900-MIX-ALOT, as I struggled to remove my fancy shoe from my rapidly swelling foot. But I couldn’t bring myself to meet him again…

…That is, not until a wedding I attended last weekend. It was in a small town in Wisconsin, and there were far more people at the bar than on the dance floor. This was my comeback dance, and I had eased back into it with the twist and some flailing to Love Shack. Along with the bride, I was one of about six women on the dance floor when the DJ announced a special request from one local man to another. The bride and her local friends froze as the DJ continued, “I don’t really want to know what this is all about, but here we go.”

“We got to get out of here,” the bride said as she joined the exodus from the dance floor. I was almost back to my table when I heard that unmistakable beat and that whiny woman’s voice urging Becky to look at another woman’s impossibly big butt, and I knew in an instant why everyone had run. This whiny woman is but the herald to the dark knight who commands feet and legs to dance and, yes, knees to bend unnaturally before him. As the local women scattered, I couldn’t blame them for their fear. The last time I’d faced Sir Mix-A-Lot, I’d ended up missing two days of work and riding the electric shopping cart at Target.

“I like big butts, and I cannot lie,” came his voice through the darkened dance hall. I spun on my heels and looked back at the deserted dance floor. Lights flickered on empty parquet flooring. Not a soul, it seemed, was brave enough to face Mix-A-Lot in that arena. I looked to my friend Sarah, who had been witness (pointing, laughing witness) to my fall one year ago. She looked to the dance floor and back at me then nodded slowly; I knew would not face him alone. I persuaded the bride to come back to the dance floor with us, and several women reluctantly followed her.

Our little mass of flailing femininity moved toward the dance floor, and I steeled myself with quiet resolve: I would not kneel before Sir Mix-A-Lot…mostly because I can’t really kneel anymore without shooting pains in my leg. But as I took those first tentative steps back into the flickering lights, that familiar beat pounding through the autumn air, I was surrounded by women shaking their butts in solidarity, and I knew I had already won.