Be careful with scissors

2173-300x199-BlackbarbershearsHave I ever mentioned Matt, my hair stylist? He’s been cutting my hair for almost ten years. Aside from working magic with scissors, he’s intuitive. We have these great conversations that always go deeper, like there’s a trapdoor under his styling chair and he can just push a button and flip me down into his own personal underworld. He’s into reiki and healing stones, self-improvement and energy drinks. Sometimes he’s a little out there, but every single time I get out of his chair, I leave feeling more like myself on the outside and the inside.

Matt’s salon closed in January. He promised to get in touch when he found a new salon, but in the meantime, I decided to try out this cute little place near the coffee shop where I write. It’s got bookcases and art on the walls, and it’s adorable. I was psyched.

But everything went wrong: The stylist ran late, really late. She had bedraggled brown, shoulder-length hair and she wore an outfit that should have sent me running. She hesitated to start cutting my hair, then got carried away and cut it too short. She mumbled incoherent cutting rules to herself as she worked, Swedish chef–fashion. She took cell phone calls while I was in her chair. I left feeling glad to get away.

My haircut wasn’t truly horrible, but when I looked in the mirror I could see the new stylist’s unkempt hair sort of superimposed over mine like a hologram. It’s freaky, but it’s almost as if she spilled some of herself out onto my hair.

Fast forward three weeks. Time has worked wonders. I can look in the mirror without seeing her and I can almost pull my hair back into a ponytail again. And it turns out that Matt found a new space just down the street. But I’m still wondering whether this happens in all of our relationships. Do we hijack each other and glom on our own preferences, just to further our own interests? Or do we adopt each other’s traits without even realizing it? And if so, what happens to our true selves in the process?

Can you tell I’m still reeling from a shocking citique?

Once I was afraid

This is not a birth story. This is a story about fear.

This is not a birth story, I swear. I’ve had three kids, three labors. Three times, I’ve observed my body open, like a scene from some twisted sci-fi flick. Three times, a baby emerged from my body, impossibly and in spite of all logic to the contrary.

With my first two pregnancies, fear was a constant companion. I felt afraid for weeks, even months, before labor began. Spread out over time, my fear mellowed out into a steady but firm pressure on my mind, akin to a pair of hands squeezing my throat. Let’s call it my awareness of the impossible becoming reality. Over a period of weeks, I coped. I read constantly, I took classes, I nested, I distracted myself from the large, cold hands around my throat.

In spite of all of my attempts at distraction, those hands remained firmly around my throat the entire length of each of my pregnancies.

When I was pregnant with Nate, things felt different. Anna and Gabe kept me busy. I felt foolishly confident. I’d been through labor twice before, I knew what I was doing. I barely read; I took no classes. I relegated my emotions to the far corners of my mind.

Want to know something about me? I’m stubborn. I knew those strong, cold fingers were pressed to my esophagus, but I refused to acknowledge them.

My third labor developed over a number of weeks. I recall feeling annoyed when contractions began at eight months. But I continued caring for my toddlers, I continued doing what I needed to do. I did not permit myself to pay attention to my fear.

The night before Nate was born, I readied the house. I think I might have even baked banana bread. I put everything in order, and I ignored the fingers on my throat. When it was time to go to the hospital, Geoff actually argued that I wasn’t ready because I did not seem afraid, but I was certain.

At the hospital, I calmly signed in, I quietly let the nurses do their thing. In just a little while though, I fell apart. I called my midwife even though Geoff was right there with me. “I’m afraid,” I told her. I was. The cold hands squeezed my throat and shut out my air. Nothing could have prepared me.

“Of course you are,” my midwife said matter-of-factly. She rubbed my back and a few minutes later, Nate showed up and I could breathe again.

Photo via Deviantart
Photo via Deviantart

“Want to guess his weight?” one of the nurses asked my midwife.

“Ten-three,” she answered right away.

My midwife was spot on.

I was afraid once, for good reason.

I have a friend who’s hot

I have a friend who’s hot. I’ve thought so for so long that I can no longer recall what initially attracted me to her. I’ve thought so for so long that I can no longer recall whether I liked her just as a friend first (I did), if her physicality became sexy to me because of how she acts (it did), or if I thought she was irresistibly beautiful (she is) and our friendship grew from there (maybe it did).

I have a friend who’s hot. We’ve known each other for more than 20 years. We became friends in high school. She was the one who painted not just her face but her entire (beautiful, sexy) body for football games. She was the one who dragged me along to the grocery store to buy flowers for a guy she liked. She was the one who was always up for a party. She was the one who tried to get me to sneak a beer with some cute guys when we were 17. She was the one who was always ready for an adventure.

Now listen up, this is important. This friend of mine? She’s smart. Intimidatingly smart. If there’s one thing that’s hotter to me than her body, it’s her mind. I have to work hard to keep up with her intellectually, and I never get tired of it. I always feel just a little less smart than her, and somehow my brain interprets that to mean that I’m just a little less sexy too. I know, it’s not a contest. But if it was, she would win.

That’s cool with me. I have a friend who’s hot, and she makes me work harder than I usually do. She makes me want to be just like her, even if I never quite get there. I have a friend who’s hot, and she makes me want to be just a little imperfect so she can always be hotter than me.

I hate money

I know that sounds ridiculous. Maybe you don’t believe me; I mean, money has never been a huge concern for me as an adult. I owe a debt of gratitude to Geoff for working so hard to make that possible.

But trust me when I tell you that money is a struggle for me. Or, rather, it used to be a huge concern. I grew up dirt poor. Because of her anxiety, my mom couldn’t work outside the home. She didn’t much go outside the home, remember? She received disability, food stamps, Section 8, and occasional gifts from my Bubbie. She sewed small things for a lady with a craft shop.

I grew up poor to the point where not-money had a lot of power over me. I carpooled to school because my mom didn’t have a car, and I lived in fear of being left behind. I was embarrassed about receiving FREE lunch at school. I never had any new clothes unless my Bubbie bought them for me. I missed field trips because my mom had no money for them.

My mom did an amazing amount with the small bit of money she had every month. But the fact was that every single grocery item got tallied up before getting in the checkout line, and the fact is that paying too much attention to money to this day makes me panic.

When I was a kid, I never starved but I did go hungry. There were no snacks and meals were small. My mom did her absolute best. She did better than that. She made our bread, she made all sorts of things from scratch. My mom showed me just how much you can make from almost nothing.

When I was a kid, Bubbie would periodically swoop in and take my mom and me to restaurants or to the mall for shopping sprees. Money was how Bubbie showed her love. She redecorated my mom’s apartment twice. On my birthday every year, she’d buy me a large savings bond, until she stopped.

Bubbie made me hate money. She didn’t mean to, but it happened anyway. She made it so I still don’t trust people giving me money. To this day, I’d much rather give a gift than sell something. And I only buy what I absolutely need. I hate the mall, hate shopping. I barely ever make a grocery list, let alone count up what I’m buying before I get in the checkout line.

Luckily, I have a fairly good, but not perfect, sense of what I need, of what my family needs. I kind of emotionally gauge my purchases and I resist many of my urges to buy things. It’s not a failproof system. But I have kind of insulated myself against money.

In my dream world, there is no money and everyone barters for what they need, because I like to negotiate and I hate money.

Coffee with a friend

I had coffee with a friend this weekend. Not so unusual, except that this was a very old friend whom I haven’t seen in a while. To be honest, it was only the second time we’d ever been alone together.

We’ve known each other for close to two decades. He reads my blog. Mostly I hate it when people talk to me in real life about things they read here, but with him, it was okay.

We talked about things we want. We talked about what it feels like to go crazy. We talked a little bit about marriage, but mostly what we talked about wasn’t important.

Sometimes you have coffee with an old friend and afterwards the old friend feels new again.

I am not special

I was born special, in July instead of September. I was born special like a gold charm in a velvet case only opened up on birthdays and Christmas. I was born special and I always had a job to do. I had to make up for the past. I was born special. I was always a signifier for redemption.

Special named me after the fucking son of God and special gave me two religions instead of one. Special convinced my mom not to give me up for adoption, and special taught her how to raise a rich girl in a slummy neighborhood.

I grew up so special that I even learned to pick her for myself. Special handed me a wad of rubber and told me to erase my drunk dad from the picture. Special got me a scholarship to an all-girl’s Catholic school even though I was Jewish. Special taught me to pass. Special made me give up my second language, and special made me trust the slippery voice of fate. Special made me shove all my sexiness down into a tiny box and hide it under the bed. Special lured me into a cage and called it home.

Special is a good teacher. She knows all about feelings and she cares about responsibility. She’s an expert at creating reality. She taught me to read and to listen, to watch others. She taught be to be a shape-shifter and to become what people want. Special showed me how to exist only for other people.

Lately, special and I have been talking. I told her that I’m sick and tired of her. I told her to get out of town for awhile. I bought a big mirror and I broke a few of her rules. I started doing some of the things I always wanted to do. I started hanging with unspecial.

Unspecial never pays any attention to me. Unspecial doesn’t care how I look and she lets me have my way every time. Unspecial lets me wander in and out of rooms that used to be boarded up and she lets me leave the doors open behind me. Unspecial doesn’t expect anything. Unspecial could care less about the past. Unspecial let me pick my own name. I like her.

Hanging with unspecial makes me miss special, though. Special and unspecial are both funny. They’re quick and sly and smart. I need them both but I don’t trust either one.

Did your Grandma ever make you pee in a bucket?

I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this story, but once my Bubbie made me pee in a bucket. I was, what, maybe eight at the time? I can’t remember how old I was. I only remember that I was over at her house on one of my visits. I’d spent the night and it was the following afternoon. My aunt, who lived with Bubbie at the time, had a date. Or maybe it was a meeting. Or a doctor’s house call, maybe. I don’t remember. All I remember is my Bubbie and me waiting in her bedroom for the strange man to leave. I think we watched The Price is Right while we waited. I sat on the bed and she sat in her rocker.

Bubbie had outfitted a bucket with a potty seat for such occasions. Is this normal old-lady behavior? I don’t know, but I hope not. I have no idea why we couldn’t leave the room to use the bathroom. The bathroom was right next door. It was strange, that’s for sure.

In any case, I think I peed in the bucket. Maybe I’m remembering wrong, though. I might be remembering another time, when I was much younger. All I know is, my Bubbie had a bucket-potty. All I know is, one time I peed with my Bubbie there, and somehow I got pee on my hand. I got pee on my hand, just like I did when I was two and I fed my baby doll water and she peed on me. I cried when I was two, and I cried that time I was with my Bubbie. The time with my Bubbie, Bubbie laughed her bitter laugh and told me to get over it.

“Stop crying, it’s just sissy,” she probably said. I don’t exactly remember. I was probably younger than eight. The bucket-potty was probably some other time. Memories are funny. The thing is, when you’re a kid and your mean old grandma tells you not to cry, you don’t cry. At least I never did. I just got over it.


I used to have a cellar

I don’t want to freak you out, but there was a time that I used to store dead bodies down there.

Not just any bodies, don’t worry. And not so many, only three.

I live in an old house with a full-height cellar. In the last few years, we’ve had the basement waterproofed and finished. Now it’s colorful and neat, and you’d never suspect what it used to be like.

But that cellar was once dark, damp, and irrational. It held an ancient hulk of a furnace and a solitary toilet standing in one corner. Pipes snaked over the ceiling. Our cellar used to be frightening.

When we moved into this house, we brought the cremated remains of our first dog, Theo. We had trouble letting go, so we stashed his little wooden box in the cellar on the pantry shelf.

A few months later, my mom died, and we jokingly set her remains on the shelf next to Theo’s. Theo would guard her, we rationalized, until we could find the appropriate time to scatter their ashes.


Several months passed and I hired a company to clean out my mom’s storage locker. You know, the sort that Walt and Skyler used to store their cash. Late one afternoon, I got a call from the owner of the company.

“Ma’am, I have something important here,” I think the gentleman said.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Do you know Dorothy B–?”

“Yes, she was my grandmother,” I said, still not catching on.

“Well, ma’am, I have her remains here,” the owner cleared his throat uncomfortably.

Of course I laughed. It had been three months since my mom had died unexpectedly, and just three weeks since I had learned the horrible truth about Mike the used-car salesman. Of course Mike the used-car salesman had stashed my Bubbie’s remains in the storage locker and pocketed the cash that he was supposed to use to hire a boat and scatter her ashes. It was perfect and all I could do was laugh.

The nice gentleman from the estate liquidation company overnighted Bubbie’s ashes and I put her on the shelf with Theo and took to letting the laundry pile up.

When Mother’s Day finally rolled around again, we took a trip to the lake and set everyone free. Soon after that, we hired a basement contractor to hide the evidence.

There’s this blog I like

Something weird happened yesterday. I was reading this week’s Gargleblasters, preparing to vote for my favorites, and I came across one that I really liked.

This particular Gargleblaster used a photo that grabbed my attention, an old black and white of soldiers by a trench, some lying dead in it, some standing next to it. I had an immediate emotional reaction to that photo, probably because my grandfather died in WWII. Have I mentioned that before?

In any case, the photo grabbed my attention, and the 42 words that followed kept it. They described a man buried alive with his dead comrades. It was brutal and lovely image. Even grammatically incorrect as they were, those 42 words managed to pack a punch.

I turned my attention to the (extremely plain) blog header and I found the title, Irrational Realist, unfamiliar but incredibly evocative. Obviously my next step was to click on the About page to find out a bit more. Unfortunately, there was no personal description of any sort, only a public blog roll. And that’s when things got weird. The blogger had included only two other blogs, the first of which was mine. Weird, right?

Had I been able to, I would have left a comment on this new blog, introducing myself. However, I don’t have a Blogger account, or one in any of the other formats permitted in this blogger’s comment box. So here I am, composing this public introduction.

If you are the writer of the blog Irrational Realist, I am curious about you. Welcome to the blogosphere, or whatever you call it. I’d like to understand more about irrational realism. It resonates with me. If you’re reading this, then you know where to find me.

Canard is French for

duckling01I’ve always liked to lie. Maybe that’s why writing fiction appeals to me so much.

The first time I remember lying, I was seven years old. My best school friend, a fellow Catholic schoolgirl, was over and we were playing in my room. I guess I could blame what happened on her, but it was my idea. We played post office. I did the writing. She sealed the envelopes. I addressed them. Even back then I didn’t like to relinquish my pen.

Afterward we delivered the letters to all the neighbors: Miss Lil, who had hanging plants above a poster of Matisse’s goldfish; Miss Shirley, the young divorcee with two kids and a case of herpes; our top-floor drug addicts; ever kind Miss Malcolm who once bandaged my bleeding toe when my mom wasn’t around. And there were more.

My friend and I finished our deliveries and came back to my house for a snack. Hours passed and she went home. When the knocks on the door began, I wasn’t worried. First Miss Lil came to the back door, frantic, nearly in tears. I grinned on the way to my room. I didn’t get to see the rest of the neighbors come, but each one did. I missed their worried looks and concerned hugs. I never got to witness the fruits of my labor, except in my imagination.

I’m sure there was an appropriate punishment. What I did was evil. Good girls never lie and tell the neighbors that their mom died. Good girls don’t trick nice people into thinking they’re starving and miserable. But I did, and I was never sorry, not even for one single second.

Still, it’s funny how the universe always brings out the best in me. By chance, nice old Miss Malcolm got my friendship poem and came downstairs the next day to thank me.