Sunday, December 09, 2012

75 Reasons Why I Love my Dad

1. You trained an alligator to play tug of war with a sapling.

2. You taught me to fish.

3. You are noble, and taught me to aspire to be noble.

4. You still loved me when I was not as noble as both of us would have liked me to be.

5. You are strong.

6. You are kind.

7. You carried a shotgun into the high school and pulled my brothers and sisters out of a riot.

8. You always thought I was much more than I was, and that made me believe in my own possibility.

9. You are a wonderful storyteller.

10. As a child, you once thought Lake Monroe was the Atlantic Ocean.

11. You had a friend named Seven-Up who wore go-go boots with the toes cut out.

12. You built a bar in our front yard and made me virgin strawberry daiquiris.

13. You have goddamned beautiful hair.

14. You have bravely battled back from five amputations, dozens of operations, two heart attacks and one stroke. Not to mention the premature birth. Because you knew we wanted you here so badly, and I knew how much you just wanted to rest.

15. You found late in life a job you loved, and you loved it because you were in a place where you could comfort people.

16. You make cornbread in an iron skillet.

17. You have strange nutritional ideas about breakfast. (Nothing you eat for breakfast can hurt you.)

18. You lived with so much pain.

19. You neither hid that pain, nor made it my burden.

20. You let me love you so much.

21. You came to Girl Scouts.

22. You were kind to my friends.

23. You love babies.

24. That you fed the fish off the dock where you lived so often the shadow of their cone-shaped school followed you back and forth along the dock.

25. That you always fished with shiners.

26. That you said, “I ain’t going to stay in a boat with you casting.” This, you said, partially because I was 7, but mostly because my mother pierced your face once with a hook, and the fish that had been her bait beat a panicked rhythm against your cheek.

27. That you came with me to cheerleading practice.

28. That you bought me a pony.

29. You let me love you so much.

30. You were my first editor.

31. You loved my mother so much, that I once caught you staring at her, and when you saw me you said, “Your mother is a very beautiful woman.”

32. That you told me about the day I was born.

33. That you remember the day, when I was a baby, when I couldn’t stop staring at my hands and that made you laugh.

34. That you pulled me out of bed one night after you saw a news story about a young girl who had been attacked in Yeehaw Junction and showed me how to break someone’s nose, if I ever had to.

35. That I was wearing pink feety pajamas the night you got a call people were breaking into your car lot, and you grabbed your shot gun and put me – pajamas and all – into the truck with you and you said, “Whatever happens, don’t get out of this truck,” and luckily it was a false alarm, no one was there, and we didn’t end up in shoot out that night.

36. That you let me go when you wanted to hang on so fiercely.

37. That you weathered my teen years as best you could.

38. That you always opened doors for ladies.

39. That you packed my lunch every day – sometimes ham and biscuits, sometimes a fried pork chop in Saran wrap, sometimes Brunswick stew.

40. That you took me with you everywhere, even the used car auction in Tarry Town, where we walked around and looked at all the cars and you bought me bean soup.

41. That you used to make me carry your doggy bag out of restaurants because you said, “Men ain’t supposed to have leftovers.”

42. That when you learned you were so sick the first question you asked was whether you had been a good father.

43. Because you’ve done enough crossword puzzles to paper the Grand Canyon.

44. Because I have your low forehead and wide nose, and when I look in the mirror I see your face and when I look at your face I see my own.

45. Because we both read magazines back to front.

46. Because one more bite makes you uncomfortable.

47. Because the last time you went hunting, you said the deer walking past were so beautiful you couldn’t shoot them, and you weren’t embarrassed to tell me this.

48. Because you bought me a rod and reel on my third birthday, and it was as tall as me.

49. That you always found a way.

50. We don’t have to talk.

51. When you think of something funny, you laugh out loud, even when you’re alone.

52. You always told me the truth as best you could.

53. Your favorite writer was Hemingway. You loved The Old Man and the Sea.

54. You like to dress up.

55. You like colors, and in the 1980s picked out our mauve sofa.

56. When you bought the new pontoon boat, I was your first passenger.

57. You made red-eye gravy.

58. You buried Tom the cat three times.

59. You tried to put my hair in pigtails. The effect was post-modern, perhaps cubist. Definitely traumatic for both of us.

60. You saved my life when the truck door flew open when I was six. You caught my leg with your right hand. When doctors took the pinky of that hand, and threw it in the trash, I thought, “That finger is responsible for 20 percent of my life.”

61. That you seemed to know everything, but seemed to believe you knew nothing, and that made you all the more wise.

62. You took me to breakfast on my birthday.

63. We never went back to the doughnut place with the painted curtains.

64. You bought us Smoky, and then Tuesday.

65. When my first grade teacher said he was concerned because I’d been sick that day you laughed and said, “That’s just what she does.”

66. You pulled over and let me get sick the first time I went to dance class.

67. You didn’t abandon your mother.

68. You didn’t abandon your father.

69. You believe so strongly in love.

70. You believe your children are your wealth.

71. You watch Bonanza every day, and get upset if an episode airs that you’ve already seen.

72. Your limitations were not nearly as great as you imagined.

73. You taught me to bottle feed the baby cows.

74. You have a kinship with the Earth I haven’t seen before or since. You have great compassion and respect for animals, water, storms, and lightning.

75. You let me love you so much.

I have carried stories about you with me all over the world, and the world, too, loves you. They love you because your nobility, humor and spirit are unique and admirable, that you’ve never tried to be anything that who you are, that you are genuine, to-the-point and complex. I am so lucky.

All my love, Kelly

Thursday, December 02, 2010

In support of sex, but not Karen Owen

I must have been sleeping under a rock last month when the Karen Owen kerfuffle hit the ‘net and the morning shows – two organisms that feed almost entirely off sex scandal.

I ran across Karen’s story recently in a blog written by Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of history and education at New York University. For those of you sharing my rock, Karen Owen is a senior at Duke University who put together a 42-page faux senior thesis – complete with a PowerPoint slideshow – about the student athletes she bedded. She sent it to friends, who sent it to friends, who sent it to friends, and, thusly, a new viral video star was born.

An Education Beyond the Classroom: Excelling in the Realm of Horizontal Academics, details, at nauseam, raunchy, booze-fueled evenings with 13 men met at a local watering hole called Shooters. Karen evaluated her “subjects” based on “memorable moments,” “pros,” “cons,” and a final, “raw score.”

In his blog, Zimmerman compares Karen to Hester Prynne – and says the fact that her “thesis” went viral – is proof that there is still a sexual double standard in this country -- that women are still expected to remain virtuous and pure while men are expected to be sexually aggressive and experienced.

I kept Zimmerman’s thoughts in mind the first time I watched the slideshow. But I didn’t see what he saw. First of all, I don’t think a single, attractive, 22-year-old woman sleeping with 13 men in four years is that big of a deal. That’s what, 3.2 men a year? Second, the thesis reads like the bathroom-wall ramblings of a young woman with a limited vocabulary just trying to make her friends laugh.
“I mean, we fucked in the Duke University library during fucking finals week,” she squeals.
That’s not funny, witty or an interesting take on sex in 2010. It’s just embarrassing.

What interested me more was that this “news story” made the Today Show, where an earnest looking reporter interviews one student who said,“This is the last thing this university needed.”
Um, right. To make matters even more weird, Meredith Vieira interviewed Donna Rice Hughes, who – for those of us older than a Duke University senior – we remember as having been photographed, pants-less, on a yacht called Monkey Business, on the lap of Gary Hart, then the democratic presidential front runner.

Donna Rice Hughes back in the day
The photo killed Hart’s political aspirations. Now Rice calls herself an “internet safety advocate” and is director of a center called Enough is Enough. During a five-minute interview, Vieira never, ever even comes close to asking Rice about her own, personal sex scandal – despite the fact that I was yelling at her over and over to do so. I think this says more about journalism today than Karen Owen says about sex.
I watched Karen’s slideshow several times and I read the comments beneath it, which called her everything from a diseased whore to a modern-day Che Guevara. One Neanderthal in a ball cap posted a pointless rambling about how Karen had slept with 42 men. (It was 42 pages, and 13 men, you idiot. If you can’t tell a page from a penis, I refuse to acknowledge your opinion.)
Now, I am not so old that I can’t remember how easily a young woman’s reputation can be sullied. My roommate said she once stepped outside a high school dance to have a cigarette with a guy and rumors soon swirled that the two had had sex outside.
“It was winter in Wisconsin,” she says now. “What the hell did they think we were doing out there?”
I was 12 when a boy I had a crush on sacrificed my reputation to inflate his own. In the locker room at school, he described me doing things I hadn’t even heard of before.
But I see that as another issue entirely. I don’t see Karen as a victim. It’s not like someone created the slideshow behind her back and played in front of the crowd at graduation. If what she writes is true, she was a willing and sometimes aggressive participant when she had sex with these men. And to that I say, “Good for you, dammit. Go get laid. Often and early. Yay sex!”
What would I think if I ran across a slideshow detailing the female sexual conquests of a male Duke University student? I know I would be livid. I would believe that those girls had been publically humiliated and victimized.
That, I believe, is the issue here. I don’t know if women today suffer from repressed sexuality as they have in the past. Karen certainly doesn’t. And since I wasn’t the least bit shocked that she’s slept with 13 men in four years, I guess I’m not either.
It’s my opinion we now live an age when people are getting married older (Hmmm Hmmm) and that people are not judged as harshly as they once were for having sex before marriage or outside of relationships. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for discretion. You never heard 007 blabbing to Pussy Galore about Holly Goodhead.
What I see in the PowerPoint slideshow is not so much that Karen is Hester Prynne. What I see is lack of kindness for people you once licked.
I’m older than the dirt clinging to the sides of the rock I live under – but I still believe that taking off your clothes and participating in acts with another person that are, at best, unsanitary – means you have entered into a contract to be kind to that person. It means you agree not to disclose publically their most humiliating figure flaws, needs, desires, wants and tears. And that goes for men and women.
Karen did defend herself in the online publication, er, Jezebel, saying that her PowerPoint is no different than what frat boys have been doing for generations. And that may be so. But like my sexually repressed grandma used to say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Sex is an animal desire that is two-fold. First, we are driven to procreate. That’s an easy one. But there’s also the desire to crawl into bed with another person, have them put a hand on an ill-conceived tattoo, scar or stretch mark, and say, if not verbally, that we are loveable anyway – that despite dimples, pimples and moles – we are accepted and even desired.
That’s the line, in my mind, Karen crossed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Notes as breadcrumbs

I’m sitting alone at a table in Fairfax, Virginia, working on two assignments, but using the same notepad.

I’m re-reading Joan Didion’s The White Album for a paper. At first, I didn’t get Joan Didion. I wonder if women with butts and boobs are supposed to get Joan Didion. Her writing is as sharp and clean as her figure – she’s a scalpel of a writer. The first time I read The White Album I thought it was blindingly harsh – like those days when you are driving down the freeway and suddenly the sun comes out from behind a cloud and you almost plow right into the back of a sedan loping along in front of you with Canadian plates. That, to me, is Joan Didion. But I am re-reading The White Album and reading, for the first time, The Year of Magical Thinking and discovering brilliance on these pages – like my eyes finally adjusted to the light.

I’m also working on a restaurant review for an online publication. I’m trying to hide my notes from friendly Taylor, who’s grinning at me, refilling my coffee, and doing a very fine job of NOT asking why one five-foot-tall woman just ordered two appetizers and two entrees. (I ask people to come with me on these things, but Tuesdays never good. Neither are Wednesdays. And never on Mondays. And so on. Eventually I have a deadline. You get the picture. Sometimes I get take-out and make my landlady try the food with me – but she comes up with really oddball remarks like “the hummus tastes minty on the tip of my tongue and lemony on the back of my tongue.” And then I feel like I have to write that down so she doesn’t think I’m ignoring her thoughts and ideas. Because I did come to her for help, didn’t I?)

I look down at my notes.
P. 1 – “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

I jot below it: We tell our loved ones stories to make them laugh, to distract them from the fact that life just took a wild, irreversible, gruesome left turn.

And then just below that: The Mexican chowder is vegetable soup’s sexy new girlfriend. The one his mother won’t let him marry. (No projecting there.) And then, I guess, I think twice about this analogy and write, No, the Mexican chowder is the offspring of chili and vegetable soup. Ah, that’s better.

I love notes. I jot down things all the time. I just need a better filing system. Sometimes, I’ll be looking for a phone number I scrawled sideways along a yellowed notepad buried in a drawer for two years and run across something like, “Third day without sleep. The midgets are coming. Buy helmet.” I have absolutely no idea what this means anymore. Perhaps it was a poem.

Third day
Without sleep
The midgets are coming

When I was moving, I found a list of goals I’d jotted down when I was about 23. Back then, I had hoped, I could perhaps land a communications job in a non-profit. (I was then an executive assistant.) At that age, I didn’t have the balls to give writing a real shot. And I was too timid to even consider journalism. Unless I had seen the note with my eyes, I never would have believed I had blown through my own expectations.

Speaking of notes, there’s a passage in The Year of Magical Thinking that haunts me. Didion is browsing the files on her husband’s computer almost a year after his death. He keeps a file marked “AAA Random Thoughts” and she notices it was updated the date of his death. She opens it. What was he thinking that day? What stone had skipped across his mind, leaving tiny ripples, and then disappeared?

“The file called “AAA Random Thoughts” was 80 pages long. What it was he added or amended and saved at 1:08 p.m. that afternoon I have no way of knowing.”

That's one of those crushing mysteries, isn't it?

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ex-boyfriend for sale or trade

The best relationship advice I ever heard came from a white-sneakered septuagenarian strapped next to me on a transatlantic flight from Boston to Rome. We were held captive by the lit seatbelt sign, snug between tray table and knobby blue seat. My boyfriend at the time was collapsed in slumber next to the window, drooling on a pillow the flight attendant brought him five minutes after boarding.
We sensed in one another a kinship – both descended from the Tribe of Chat. She asked the first, polite question – nothing I remember. And then we were off -- two women desperately in need of muzzles. Three hours later, we’d each knocked back four tee-tiny airline bottles of wine, and she was flagging down the attendant in hopes of scoring us a few shots of Bailey’s.
I think it was after our second shot (or was it third?) that she confided in me a secret. She was a bride of one month, she said, when she decided her husband’s hours as a doctor left too few moments for her. And so she packed a bag and went home to her mother and father. Her parents brewed a pot of coffee, sat her down, and her father said this, “Your marriage has a price. And only you can determine what that price is."
She said she went to bed that night, and the next morning went home to her husband. By the time she was speaking to me on the plane, she’d been married more than 50 years. She decided that the price she had to pay (time without her husband) was worth the sliver of time she did get to be with him.
That advice stuck with me. It’s simple and puts things in perspective. I think of it today – as yet another boyfriend – who started out so funny and fun -- is about to bite the dust. (He’s smothering me to the point where I want to paint my face blue and run across an open field waving a flag with a giant vagina on it, screaming Freeeeedddooooooommmmm.) I've decided the price of his opening doors and picking up checks is not worth this persistent feeling that a dwarf is sitting on my trachea.
For me, it's helpful to think of relationships in economic terms. (Is the weight of a dwarf worth free Buffalo chicken sliders at Ruby Tuesdays? I think not.)

Even better, I think, what if women could buy or trade one another’s past relationships on eBay or Craigslist? What if we could make a little money off our past love lessons and heartbreak? And you know what they say, one woman’s clingy psycho is another woman’s treasure.
48-hour fling with incredibly good looking, 40-year-old Peter Pan-type narcissist. Let him take you to his favorite haunt on South Beach. Look at your reflection in his designer sunglasses as he prattles on about himself and try to remember why you are here. Buy now for $25. Will also negotiate for a Starbucks gift card or a coupon for two free Nachos Belle Grande.
Six month relationship with world’s fattest tri-athlete. Get up at 4 a.m. every six weeks to shout “Go! Go!” as he waddles into the surf. Try to ignore that a perfectly innocent bicycle seat disappears beneath his giant ass. Then sit trapped in the car with him as he yells at you for talking in the transition area – which is the ONLY reason he came in last. Buy now for $50. Will also trade for a used Billie Holiday CD and a bottle of Pinot Noir.
Tequila-fueled, one night stand with smoking-hot Turkish filmmaker who spent two years working on a 120-minute documentary about hands. Obtain during said evening the best compliment you’ve ever had or will ever have. Buy now for $5,000 or trade for similar.
Two year relationship with the British version of Woody Allen. Listen to him worry incessantly about everything and nothing in “adorable” “smart-sounding” accent. Tell time "he's not really losing his hair. Really." Buy now for $200. Will also trade for one night of Salsa dancing and cocktails with sexy Latino.
10-year friendship with world’s best guy ever. Date him five years, plus five years of miraculous friendship. Watch him save your ass time and again. Bounce nutty ideas off him time and again. Be amazed as he surfs the crazy in your life like Kelly Slater. Buy now for $5 million. May trade for kidney or organ of similar importance.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

For better or for worse; and in support of same sex marriage

I am seduced by the gamble of free parking. I could buy a parking permit. But this way, each day, I have the opportunity for victory.

My favorite free parking spot is alongside a nursing home, not too far from campus. On the days when I leave before dark, I see a man standing beside a woman who is seated in a wheelchair. She is cocooned in stark-white blankets and bandages – so just the grey of her face shows. They both look off into the horizon – her blue eyes empty vessels, his weighty with sadness. Her hands are buried beneath her blanket; his are fists inside his pockets. They do not look at each other, they do not speak.

I believe they are married.

I often wonder when people say those words, “for better or for worse,” if they think about the worse – if they realize the worse will breeze in one day – like the wealthy Shylock coming for his pound of flesh.

The woman wears the same expression my grandmother wore in those last years. My grandmother’s eyes were vacant pools – seated at the bedside of a dying husband she no longer knew. I remember my grandparents seeming all at once alone and united – she is her world, he, clinging to the edge of ours. Sixty years before they had made a promise to each other, and against all odds, against all oddities – they remained together. Family chosen. Wed.

It’s this bond that is inspiring, breathtaking and horrifying -- to no longer know the face of the father of your children – and yet to feel the gravitational pull to his bedside – and to refuse to go anywhere else.

The desire to pick our mate – to choose a tribe, burns deep at the center of us, somewhere between belly-button and spine. It’s more than desire, though, isn’t it? It’s instinct. It’s the compass that tells us to find a partner, build a home, raise a family and stand as one with the people we love – caring for them when they are ill, standing watch when they lie down to die.

This is why I believe same sex marriage should be legal.

To deny someone something so basic, to me, seems far more against nature than having sex with someone of the same gender. To not legalize such a partnership is not only unjust, but inhumane.

I have yet to hear an argument against same sex marriage that makes sense to me.

The Family Research Council reports that gay couples, especially men, could not be faithful to one another – and that the raging gay libido would “undercut the norm of sexual fidelity within marriage.” Meanwhile, there are statistics floating around out there that say 50 percent of heterosexual women and 60 percent of heterosexual men will have extramarital affairs.

The Council also says that same sex marriages “isolate marriage from its procreative purpose.” But aren’t we living in an age where people procreate outside of marriage? In fact, don’t people sometimes procreate outside of relationships? And if this is the case, wouldn’t some of these children need homes? And aren’t there same sex couples who would love to raise these children? Doesn’t that kind of look like a win-win situation?

In addition, the Council said that marriages “thrive when spouses specialize in gender-typical roles.” Which makes me wonder – what’s gender typical anymore? My parents have been married 40 years and my dad was a stay at home dad. I know another guy, married 20 years, who does all the cooking. I have a woman friend, married 25 years, who prefers mowing the lawn to cooking. And look at Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, prettiest little girl in the world – can’t get her out of a three-piece suit.

Meanwhile, heterosexual couples do not seem to be doing as well as the Family Research Council would like to believe. The latest statistics show 53 percent of marriages end in divorce – and 41 percent of those end because of infidelity.
Frankly, these figures do not surprise me.

It’s not easy to love someone. It requires time you do not have. It requires patience you do not have. It requires a commitment that will have to last long after you’ve forgotten why you made it.

Gay or straight, isn’t marriage a daily gamble – sort of like my parking game? Every day is an opportunity for victory.

I think of that woman in the wheelchair, and I wonder what would happen to her if she had been denied her partner. I wonder who would take her out, in her bandages and blankets, to gaze at the sky.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Men doing dishes? Stop the presses.

So, I trudged through a six-page article in Newsweek magazine called – I love this part -- “Men’s Lib: To survive in a hostile world, guys needs to embrace girly jobs and dirty diapers. Why it’s time to reimagine masculinity at work and at home.”

I kept waiting for the article to say something, as I listened to the steady, distant tick tick tick of my life go passing by.

And then finally, on the last page, in the last paragraph, there was this little nugget, “Ultimately, the New Macho boils down to a simple principle: in a changing world, men should do whatever it takes to contribute their fair share at home and at work, and schools, policy-makers, and employers should do whatever they can to help them.”

Oh, thank you Sun Tzu. Whatever did we do without your infinite wisdom?

See, this is the kind of shit that pisses me off.

The impetus for the story is this: more men than women have lost jobs in the bad economy. Further, researchers believe that when jobs do come back, they will be jobs historically held by women. So, Newsweek put two intrepid reporters on the case – charged with unlocking the mystery of exactly how men are expected to face this impending tragedy. Which makes me wonder – in 2010 – do people really need a news magazine to say that if one isn’t working, one should help out by, oh, I don’t know, CLEANING THE FUCKING HOUSE?

This is not about men. Or men vs. women. I love men. And a larger number than I care to mention will attest to that.

What bothers me is a willingness to accept that men changing diapers or emptying bedpans is some sort of novel idea. Plus, the rallying cry, “and schools, policy-makers, and employers should do whatever they can to help them,” that makes me want to stand on something really, really high and scream, “ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?”

We need policy-makers to tell us it’s only fair to share housework? That’s right -- because we don’t have things like hungry children to take care of in this country. We should dedicate resources to the Get Off Your Ass and Load the Dishwasher Committee. Or the Are Your Damn Arms Broke Committee.


Back in 1979, my Mom was the only Mom, it seemed, who traveled on business. She left me and my dad home alone a lot. Dad was a construction-worker-grown-old (they are like athletes that way.) He took blue color work, but his primary responsibility was taking care of me. In 1979.

I’ll admit, it was not a Martha Stewart household. Dad cooked truck stop fair like fried bologna and macaroni and cheese. Flowered tops without question matched polka-dot pants. Cowboy boots went with everything. Hair did not always have to be combed. Fishing came before homework, and rightly so.

Back then, it wasn’t an easy life for Dad – always the only guy at Girl Scouts and the PTA – and a big, burly, rough-looking one at that. But I have never heard him complain. Sometimes, he asks me if I can remember what he packed in my lunch every day – and of course I remember – ham and biscuits.

My point is, when my Mom’s career took off, my Dad stepped in without question. I’m baffled why, 31 years later, we’re still surprised by such a suggestion – so, surprised, in fact, it’s called news.

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Friday, September 03, 2010

The Great Scholar: Day One

If God loves me, a corkscrew will be at the top of this box.

I say this as I slice open one of two yet-to-be unpacked boxes stacked in my bedroom. I don’t even remember what I put inside them a month ago.

My first night of classes was a sweaty nightmare, where I got my classes confused – believing a Thursday class met on Wednesday; THEN getting lost trying to locate aforementioned Thursday class on Wednesday; THEN, once finding the classroom, realizing no one was there; THEN having to find the information desk to find out where the class was meeting, only to be told that Kelly Wolfe – you great scholar you – the class meets on THURSDAY not WEDNESDAY; THEN having to ask the woman at the information desk what class I was actually supposed to be at; THEN, realizing I had forgotten which classroom the woman told me to go to as soon as I walked away; THEN having to go back to the information desk and ask again; THEN having to take with me a massive, color-coded campus map marked – humiliatingly – with big black Xs and arrows.

I pour the wine and remember that this is what I said I wanted. This is everything I said I wanted.

The good news is God loves me.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

I’m walking into spider webs, so leave a message and I’ll call you back

I liked my new landlady – Lala -- immediately. And the longer she talks, the more I like her.

“I’m pro-spider,” she says, while pouring me a cup of coffee from beans smuggled into the country from Nicaragua – beans she ground herself this morning. She slams a pint of soy creamer in front of me and tosses a teaspoon in a glass sugar bowl like the one my mom reserved only for company. Today she’s wearing a royal-blue T-shirt that hugs a slender, athletic figure that appears – at least to me – a helluva lot more youthful than her 63 years.

“But all those webs start to make a house look, well, not so lived in,” Lala says. “So, I had to take a few down. I hate that.”

I kind of wish Lala had told me she was pro-spider before I rented the sunny yellow room overlooking a pretty, winding road – only three miles from campus – for the outrageously reasonable price of $550 a month including utilities. But on the other hand, my Grandma was pro-spider too, a woman who believed that spiders in your house brought luck.

For me, personally, it all depends. I grew up in a little house in rural Florida in the black, cool shadow of a great Oak that I am sure was already an adult when Hernando de Soto landed in Florida. We were constantly invaded by grey wood spiders as large as my hand is today – absolutely massive. I shudder now to think of it. But that also means that I’m not bothered much by the little guys – the smaller spiders most people see in their homes. I couldn’t care less about them.

Lala’s house is a cozy, old split level with a large deck over-looking a wild, green, wooded park. There’s at least one funky painting on every wall – three paintings in my bathroom alone. The parts of the house that are not covered in books are covered in plants – ivy spiraling its way toward the creaky, hardwood floors like a bored, naughty Rapunzel. I love it here.

Lala and I share the house with a young man I’ll call Hot Gary who lives, according to Lala, “under the kitchen.” Every once in a while, two fat, fluffy, white kitty cats named Pushkin and Charlie make an appearance.

Lala is tall, strong, and very attractive. She wears her hair in a short, blond wispy cut that manages to be both jaunty and chic. She has a booming voice – and appears to truly enjoy the company of others. She keeps seeking me out while I am desperately trying to put away my things. This is one of the few chicks I’ve ever met in my life who makes me look like a shrinking violet. And her laugh comes from some cave buried in the pit of her belly -- like the bellow of a lioness in her prime. Together, we’re loud as hell.

I soon learn that a conversation with Lala could go in any direction at any time. It’s sort of like riding Space Mountain. I’m sipping my coffee and trying to hang on.

“Ever notice how occult people are really wacky?” she asks me.

No, I think. You don’t say? Please DO go on. (If there’s anything I love more than crazy people, I honestly don’t know what it is.)

Somehow, my asking for directions to Target turns into her show-stopping description of trying to have shower sex with a boyfriend so paralyzed by obsessive compulsive disorder that he simply couldn’t get interested in her naked self until the towels were folded just right. And don’t even get her started on the inappropriate time outs for squeegee-ing.

“It was just not sexy,” Lala says.

“No,” I answer. “I can’t imagine how it would be.”

We laugh. We’re both horrifically loud. It’s only a matter of time before the neighbors file a noise complaint. Hot Gary may move out.

I return an hour later with red and white bags stuffed with new, white linens and blue hangers.

I set to work putting away half a dozen Space Bags filled with winter clothes I haven’t seen in eight years. That’s when the proverbial itsy-bitsy spider bungee jumps from a web attached to the ceiling and seems to stop right in front of my face – as if checking me out. It’s so teeny – about half the size of my pinky nail – that I’m neither alarmed nor afraid. I step around it, trying to respect Lala’s pro-spider household and hoping Grandma was right – that the pale little guy will bring me some luck.

I’m in an entirely different corner of the room when the same little spider dive bombs me again – twice now stopping right in front of my face – greeting me or giving me shit, depending on your perspective.

OK. Now I’m annoyed. Because I am trying to get things done dammit and I don’t speak spider for crying out loud and I don’t know what this little guy wants from me. The spider is now reminding me of one of those people on the plane who keeps talking despite that fact that you have so obviously opened a book and are trying to read/ignore him.

I’m back at the closet, trying to decide if I really need my red velvet smoking jacket or if it can go under the bed for the time being -- I like it because it makes me feel like Hugh Hefner -- when the little spider makes a third appearance. Again, dropping right down in front of my face.

At this point, I’m really annoyed. Here, I had tried to respect this little spider’s space – but it was obviously just trying to fuck with me. I was over it. Who’s at the top of food chain here, anyway?

So I just grabbed that tee-tiny spider by its little web and cast it on the floor. I felt bad for the spider. I felt bad for Lala. And I hope I hadn’t damaged any good luck headed my way.

But I just dropped everything to be here -- and anything getting in my face right now is going to have hell to pay.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Notes on a new life: I look like shit

In the past 11 days, I’ve driven to Virginia, found a place to live, moved in, sold four pieces of Brandon’s furniture, helped move some of Brandon’s things, helped Brandon pack some of his things, met Brandon’s fiancé, visited campus, signed up for classes, called half a dozen yoga studios looking for a new place to practice, and lined up two interviews for part-time work to supplement my modest teaching stipend.

And I did it all while sleeping on Brandon’s couch. Which means, in short, I look like shit.

I’m so sleepy, I almost got into a car accident with a cop last night. For whatever reason, he took pity on me and let me go with a warning. But today I feel like I’m plowing through all my good karma with stupid traffic violations and I won’t have any left when the adorable French guy – mid 40s, divorced, grown kids – sits next to me in my non-fiction class. (I know this is going to happen because I’ve been meditating on it at yoga.)

I don't want to whine about being tired because, frankly, I'm living my dream -- and a lot of other people's dreams if what you tell me is true. Plus, as a western woman, I try to remember I don’t have a lot to complain about. Not really. Not when I have access to hot water, a toilet, a working automobile, and enough food to keep my rear end in its Kardashian-like glory. I think it’s vulgar to complain about little things when our sisters in the Congo are being systematically gang-raped as part of political maneuvering. I’m sure those girls would take a look at me in this luxury condo two blocks from the metro and say “Oh, poor thing. You tired on that couch? Well, I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night in the refugee camp, either, Bitch.”

But today I have to be more than grateful. I have to look halfway decent. And that's going to be a challenge. I have an interview for a part-time job. I don’t want to tell you all that much about it because I’m superstitious about these things. (I know you find this surprising – a gal who drops everything to write in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, who is addicted to yoga, who believes whole-heartedly in karma, and is trying to will a French lover into her life through meditation -- is also superstitious. I’m not even going to tell you how I feel about the dark.)

And since I don’t know where my hair dryer is, and my current look is starting to edge toward – how shall I say? Rastafarian? I booked an appointment for a shampoo and blow-out at a nearby salon.

I was put in the capable hands of Veronica, a tee-tiny little Romanian thing with big blue eyes and arms that would make Madonna seethe with jealousy. She asked me how I wanted my hair. I don’t like it when stylists ask this. I have no idea. Make me look like that Russian spy. That would be nice.

“Not like this," I told her. "Extra points if you make me look like a girl again.”

First, Veronica shampooed me, and I fell asleep in the sink. She woke me up to me in the chair at her station, where I promptly fell asleep again. That blow-dryer made the most delicious white noise and the cape was so warm. When I came too, Veronica's itty bitty self had wrestled my hair into shiny submission. I couldn’t believe it.

“Wow,” I said. “I can’t believe it.”

I left her a huge tip. She gave me her card.

“When you get settled in your new place, make a wish,” she said. “In Romania, that’s what we do. When you move into some place new, make a wish.”

“Did you make a wish,” I asked her.


“Did it come true?” I asked.

“Well, it’s sort of a long time thing.”

“I hear ya sister,” I said.

When I left, I felt my hair bouncing in my wake. It felt good to have something in my life in order. I was grateful for that.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Notes on a new life: Toolbox

Call me Ishmael. I’m a whale of a pain in your ass.

That’s what I’m thinking while the zygote in the next room clad in his Virginia Tech T-shirt and fashionably-distressed khaki shorts looks over Brandon’s old particle-board desk. We put it on craigslist for $25 – and now the kid is looking at it under a jeweler’s loop.

“How old is it,” he asks. I don’t know how old the damn thing is. I’ve known Brandon10 years, and he’s had it that long. It’s safe to assume most of the furniture in Brandon’s apartment could be described as pre-Etruscan.

Ishmael is tiptoeing through a cavern of boxes because Brandon and I are both in various stages of moving. I’ve been crashing on the couch for more than a week after driving up from Florida. My suitcase is vomiting black T-shirts and denim next to the stack of bedding I fold up every day so the room has some semblance of order.

Occasionally, Ishmael will touch something, ask how much it is, and then how old it is. What the hell do I look like? Antiques Roadshow?

When I was looking for places to rent, the lady who chose me to move into her house said she liked me because I seemed laid back. Which I am. But now that I’m home wheeling and dealing while Brandon is at work – lucky duck -- I see what she means.

The desk is $25 for crying out loud. And the guy is acting like I’m asking for a testicle. What makes matters worse is that I can tell this is the kind of douche who will pay that much for a Grey Goose martini on U Street Saturday night.

Plus, I’m still thinking about the little incident in the parking garage. He refused to park on the street outside the condo and put his flashers on. So, I let him into the parking garage. Where he immediately drove into another car, bashing the shit out of it. Then, he checks out his own car, and walks off as if nothing happened. Bad karma. Bad karma everywhere. This is not the yoga way. I kind of wave my hands in front of my face to divert any bad energy. He looks at me as if I'm the one with the problem.

After an hour of my life I’ll never get back, Ishmael decides he’ll take the desk. But he needs a tool to take it apart to fit into his car. I think of about a dozen tool jokes in my head, but am proud of myself when I manage to keep them all between my ears. Then he asks if he can take Brandon’s screwdriver to put the desk back together when he gets home. Is he crazy? No, I tell him. You can’t. Brandon needs that. Jeebus.

Happy our little interlude is almost over, I help Ishmael haul the desk out of the condo, down the hall, into the elevator, and into his shiny new Honda SUV paid for by the folks. We get everything squared away and he goes to get into his SUV.

Then he turns, seems to think about something, and without a word pulls the screwdriver out of his pocket. That’s right. He almost stole the screwdriver I told him he couldn’t take. Why he gave it a second thought, I have no idea. I didn’t see him take it. He could have gotten away with it.

He hands it to me. I take it.

“Thanks,” I say, and walk away.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Notes on a new life: To protect and serve

I was driving back from lunch when I got stopped by a cop for making a U-turn.

I got distracted on my way back to the condo – I know, can you imagine? – missed my turn and ended up lost at the intersection of 495 and WTF.

It doesn’t help that I am the worst driver ever, a woman who honest-to-God lives in fear of the people driving behind her. I hate it when people ask me to drive them somewhere because they always cling to the dash and scream a little. That makes me even more nervous and my driving becomes even less tidy.

It also doesn’t help that my car is still packed with everything I own. It seriously looks like the opening credits of the Beverly Hillbillies. All I need is Granny.

Anyway, I was parked on the side of the road, my hair still wet from my shower, last night’s tank top on, rocking the Hillbilly-mobile – when I look up and into the most gorgeous brown eyes I’ve seen in a long time. This cop was seriously one hawt mofo, and I wasn’t even wearing my best bra.

I handed him my driver’s license and then hurled myself out my driver’s side window to watch him walk back to his cruiser. Hel-lo Fairfax PD.

Then I checked my own reflection. Day-am. I have had better days. Would it have killed me to put on mascara?

Before long, he was back at my window, checking out my pile of stuff.

“Please search me, please search me, please search me,” I prayed. (I hope this was silent, but you never know.)

Then he started to speak.

“Blah, blah, blah,” he said, while I stared at his face, then his chest, then down at his thighs. “Blah, blah.”

“OK,” I said, not knowing what I was agreeing too, but feeling fairly comfortable I’d be up for anything he had in mind.

He let me go with a warning, which is so nice. But I still kicked myself for my total lack of game. I didn’t even try to force my number on him.

I eventually found my way back to the condo and e-mailed my friend Melissa.

“Are you crazy,” she said. “Why didn’t you tell him you were lost and needed a police escort back to your house?”

I don’t know, I replied. I’m disoriented. I’m not myself.

“If I had gotten him back here,” I said. “Maybe I could have convinced him that I am so confused from the move that I need help getting my clothes off.”

“Now you’re thinking,” she said.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

What we choose to take

I’m sleeping on my best buddy’s couch, while the little green machine remains stuffed with everything I own five floors below in a parking garage in Vienna, Va.

Despite the fact that I’ve lived in D.C. before, have friends here, and know I will love it here – eventually, right now I feel like I just went from the Technicolor Oz to black and white Kansas. Except Oz is my home. I want to click my ruby slippers and go back. I miss the pink and yellow houses, the big, blue sky, the scarlet sunsets, and the lime-green margaritas. I’m also not used to everyone walking around looking so serious. And I haven’t seen one Guy Harvey T-shirt in days.

I’m disoriented.

The drive up was fine, except for the claustrophobia. My things were packed around me so tight I could barely move my arms.

I found, in a last-minute, last sweep of my apartment, a package of those massive overnight pads – the huge ones with wings -- each the size of a small duffel bag. I tossed them into the pile on back seat, and anytime I hit the brakes, one would go flying past my head like a missile wrapped for my protection.

I brought with me only things I decided I could not live without: clothes, bedding, towels, butterfly-shaped magazine rack, cowboy hat, yoga mat, wooden walking stick bought in Tanzania, blue and white teapot, magic wand, flat-screen TV, and jazz collection.

And, of course, the goblets.

My grandmother’s set of four, blue, Carnival Glass goblets have moved all over the world with me, since her death on October 31, 1993. I took them when my sister and I cleaned out her little green and white house.

They are a beautiful, iridescent blue, with a grape pattern stamped into the glass. My grandmother loved grapes. She liked the way the light kissed the small, purple globes. They are worth as little as $5 each on the Internet – so I won’t be taking them to Antiques Roadshow. But I doubt I would part with them at any price.

They’ve lived with me in Florida, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and London, England. I usually keep them in a rarely-used cabinet, fearing some sort of accidental tap will send them careening to the floor.

I love them so.

Once, I asked my mother if I should give them to my sister, since she is the one Grandma remembered. Not me. Grandma didn’t know me in the end. My sister has Grandma’s red hair, freckles, and profile, and was recognized as family. I look like my father.

My face became that of a stranger, just another thing – in the blurred tapestry of her life in its twilight – that confused her. Because I fixed her food and prepared warm water for her bath, she decided I was the maid.

It wasn’t always like that. When I was small and she was healthy, I was like a barnacle at her side, helping her plant tomatoes, admiring her sunflowers, watching her turn wild blackberries into homemade pie.

In her simple house, with its cheap, Corelle dinnerware and old, thrift store davenport, those goblets were one of her few luxuries, one of a handful of things she could hold to the light and watch sparkle.

One summer day when I had not yet reached the double-digits, she took them down from the cabinet where she kept them hidden, held them up toward the sun, and touched the grapes with a work-weary fingertip.

“Aren’t they pretty,” she said.

I looked at her eyes. I thought they were blue – as blue as the goblets -- but she said they were hazel. I watched her eyes sparkle alongside the glass.

“Yes, Grandma,” I said. “They are.”

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

You are moving. You think. Could be. Or maybe not.

You are moving. Or you should be moving. You are aware that at some point this week, all your things should be encased in boxes and ensconced in some ugly storage facility somewhere and that your little green car should be pointed north on the Florida Turnpike. This was supposed to happen Saturday. It is now Tuesday.

Today, you ran out of coffee and toilet paper – the only things you truly need to survive – and had to go to Publix. You linger over the two-for-one bins as if you could possibly need two big bottles of red pasta sauce or Crisco oil. You remember the toilet paper at the last minute, when you are in line with two tee-tiny bags of coffee and a Coke. You remember it as you gaze at the magazines – your personal crack, your heroin, and remember that you don’t have time to read a magazine because you are moving Goddammit.

You have moved before. You once moved to three states in one year. There was a time when you were a professional nomad. You don’t know what is wrong with you this time. The Kardashians aren’t that interesting – and yet you find yourself time and again sitting on the couch wondering what in the world Kourtney sees in Scott – although you have to admit he’s a snappy dresser. Perhaps you took The Secret too seriously, and are expecting the universe to pop into your Delray Beach crib like Mary Poppins and gather everything up in the few moments it takes to belt out an engaging little number about change.

What you are doing when you aren’t moving is answering the phone, answering texts, obsessively checking e-mail, and looking at everyone’s pictures on Facebook. You realize this is not moving. You realize you aren’t even having conversations about moving when you catch yourself Monday complaining about visiting a friend in Maine four years ago and the fact that he didn’t tell you about a Halloween party so you could bring a costume.

“Because hey, I’m festive,” you shout into the phone at your friend Betsy.

“You are festive,” said Betsy. “If someone asked me ‘Is Kelly festive?’ I would have no choice but to say yes.”

You yak for one more hour before telling Betsy, “I have to get off this phone. I am starting to think I am never, really going to leave.”

“Well, I can’t say your fears aren’t valid,” she says.

You finally hang up the phone. It rings again. On Monday, you take three more calls, make dinner plans, and, at 3 p.m., decide it is really, really time you get started moving Goddammit.

That is when Clemente arrives at your door – again.

“What up, Clem,” you say.

You’ve seen Clemente numerous times over the past several days. He works for Comcast, which is turning off the basic cable at your condo complex because so many people are in foreclosure that the condo association can no longer afford to pay the bill. Clemente is having a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that you don’t want cable anymore.

“Clemente, I’m moving,” you say.

Clemente looks over your shoulder and into your apartment and points his brown eyes at the two measly boxes sitting on the floor and then stares at you with suspicion.

“I really am,” you say.

“Jo-kay,” Clemente says finally. And you know he doesn’t believe you.

He hands you a piece of paper where the words “Notice of Discontent” are highlighted in yellow marker.

“What’s this?” you ask.

“Jur notice of deesconnect,” Clemente says.

You look at the paper again. Sure enough, it says Notice of Disconnect at the top.

You finally get rid of Clemente.

In the one hour you have before you have to get showered for dinner, you decide to concentrate on the kitchen. You are putting things in three piles: things you don’t want; things you want, but aren’t taking with you right now; and things you are taking with you right now, but have to be small enough to fit into aforementioned little green car.

You decide you can’t live without your rolling pin, cheese grater and massive, black Rabbit corkscrew given to you by a male friend who said “I always wanted to give you one good screw.”

You find the place card from the wedding of one of your best friends and wonder if it is junk or a memento. You kept it because it reads: Mr. Kelly Wolfe. This is funny because you were there when this couple shared their first kiss. You were there when they adopted a kid together. You danced drunk at their wedding, came onto their DJ, and referred to their 12-year-old as “your wingman” all night. These are people who know you well. And still, they think you are Chaz Bono. The place card goes into the keep pile.

With the last 30 minutes you have before showering for dinner, you decide to shred some old bank statements and bills you throw into a drawer and never look at again. You are happily whizzing away when one page catches your eye. It reads: This page intentionally left blank.

You put it into the keep pile, thinking it will make a nice epitaph one day.

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Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Walk on the Beach

We are walking on the beach after dark.

My sister is experiencing a vodka-fueled delusion in which she is the reincarnation of Steve Irwin, and has just pulled a well-meaning grandpa aside because he had the gall to take a walk with his granddaughter, and is showing her seashells by flashlight.

My sister is slurring something about sea turtle nesting season and she wants this tourist this so and so to nix the light so the turtle mommies won’t get confused on their way back to the Atlantic. Never mind there’s not a turtle in sight. Never mind this guy is grasping the tiny hand of what looks like a 5-year-old girl, still wearing a flower-print bathing suit and carrying a pink, plastic bucket. Never mind my sister is clutching a faded, 22-ounce insulated cup advertising the 1996 Olympic Games filled to the brim with vodka, Diet Coke, and ice.

My mom and I are standing several feet away, eyes turned up at the sky, trying to summon the power of invisibility.

This, my friends, is how we roll.

My mother, sister and I have gathered at our favorite meeting spot on the beach – exactly two hours drive for each of us -- for our last girls’ weekend before I move to Virginia. We’ve come here many times over the years. We’ve sat on the balcony celebrating mother’s days and promotions, talking politics and careers and once even choking down a yellow piece of birthday cake on my nephew’s 32nd birthday – three months after his death.

I am wondering how many times our heels have made indentations in the sand here, when my sister points to Venus, a lone light shining above our left shoulders, as if God punched a hole in the sky.

“Is that the first star of the night,” she asks me. Before I can answer, she throws her arms out – as if embracing the air around her, sloshing vodka and Diet Coke all over the sand. “Star light, star bright…”

“Is that a star or a planet?” I interrupt. Why I do this, I don’t know. I’m such a freaking know it all, I can’t even stand by and let my sister make a wish.

“It’s the North Star,” my Mom says with so much certainty that it’s impossible not to let it go.

“Mom, it’s can’t be the North Star,” I say.

“Why not?” she asks.

“First of all, it’s in the west,” I say.

“That just depends on where you’re standing,” my mom says.

“No way, Magellan,” I say. “North is always north. The Atlantic is there – so that’s east. That’s south. That’s north. That’s WEST.” I point in all four directions for effect – as if my index finger makes things absolute.

“It’s Venus,” I say. I know this, ironically, because my mother’s mother told me so.

“Well, I think it’s the North Star,” my Mom says.

I leave it at that.

We are hoping this walk will somehow diminish the impact of having consumed a pound each of bread, grease and cheese. My mother and sister ordered a Domino’s pizza called The Extravaganza because they couldn’t resist the name. It came loaded with pepperoni, ham and sausage, despite the fact I gave up beef and pork at age 13. I tried to pick most of it off, leaving behinds heaps of carnage on a soggy, paper plate.

To make the walk bearable, we each poured a sizeable cocktail into insulated tumblers we brought from home.

“My shoulder hurts,” Mom says. “Do you think it’s because I’m carrying this giant drink?”

She stops then to take a sip, as if to lessen her load.

I laugh, then grow concerned.

“Is it your right shoulder or your left shoulder,” I ask.

“The left.”

“Is it your shoulder and your arm?”

“Just the shoulder,” she says.

There’s a beat.

“Don’t worry,” she says. “I’m not having a heart attack.”

I continue to worry because I know without a doubt she wouldn’t tell me if she were having a heart attack. In her mind, it would be better to collapse in the sand and die than go through the trouble of calling an ambulance. She once thought she was stroking out and insisted on driving to the hospital with me in the passenger seat screaming “You know you’re going to have an accident and kill us both.”

“I know,” my mother answered then, cool as the other side of your pillow.

So, that’s what I’m dealing with here. We decide if mom is about to die, it’s best to make it back to the tiki bar at the hotel.

We clamor back up the dunes, wash our feet, and take seats at the hotel’s outdoor bar, next to a door where we can hear the music from a wedding inside. (My sister, upon seeing the bride and groom up close, slurred that the bride was much prettier from our 10th floor balcony and her husband must be a good 20 years older than her.)

I watch my mom study her legs with a frown and wonder “what now?”

“My ankles are swollen,” she says, twirling her bare feet in little circles. “Must be from the walking.”

I laugh.

“You’re right, Mom,” I said. “It can’t possibly be from the quart of vodka and heavy dose of Extravaganza.”

She laughs.

She says she’ll miss me.

“It’s only because I like you,” she says. “I wouldn’t miss you if I didn’t like you. And it’s a wonderful thing to like your daughter as well as love her.”

I like my mom too. I admire her. I believe she has accomplished more in her life than she believes she has. It is not easy to leave her. She thinks it is. She thinks I have spent my life rejecting the steady, solid, brick house of a life she built – the life she chose. But that is not the case.

It sucks that my dreams right now reside in a place that I am not. I don’t want to leave my family, my home, or the stretch of beach where my mother and I leave footprints only inches apart.

I look at her now, and wonder who will sit in the passenger seat the next time she’s inclined to drive herself to the hospital.

I think this, but do not say it. Because more than half of my heart wants to stay here with her, and be a comfort as age settles over her like a long, afternoon shadow. I know what’s coming. I was there when it happened to her mother.

But then I think about when it comes to be my turn – when I have to watch my skin thin and my hair whiten and to think with regret of all the unexamined possibilities scattered behind me on my path.

My chest hurts. I blame the Extravaganza.

I look up at the sky and try to spot the North Star – thinking of how much better it would be to depend on the light of something so far away, something so far removed from the choices we’re faced with here on Earth.

It would be so nice to depend on something other than head, heart and gut to guide you -- knowing with certainty the direction you were meant to travel.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Project MoJo(y)

EDITOR'S NOTE: I wrote this in January, after the earthquake in Haiti. I was thinking then about resurrecting the blog, then decided I wasn't ready. Material wasn't coming often enough. And I didn't have the balls. I found this musing recently, and decided I liked it well enough to post. You'll see I wrote this in the twilight of a very dark period that has since blown over like one of those black, afternoon clouds we get here in South Florida. It also reminds me of what my mother likes to say when things are not working out as we planned "Wait six months," she says. "Everything changes in six months." Over the course of a lifetime, I have found this to be true.

I used to write a blog. People used to like it. Sometimes, they ask me to start writing again. And I say I should. Then I don’t. Because I like to write humor. And I’m not funny right now.

Plus, my old schtick, the perpetual single gal – is just tired, tired, tired. And my new schtick would go something like this: “Couldn’t sleep. Went to work. Worked. Watched HIMYM. Couldn’t sleep. Went to work. Worked. Watched HIMYM.”

But I’ve been told by more than one person (ahem, more than five people) that I’m a lot more sane when I’m writing than when I’m not. So I’m going to give it a shot. I apologize in advance for any boredom you might experience. And as I’ve always said to my parents, “keep your expectations low.”

My new schtick is Project MoJo(y). Because I want more joy in my life. And I need to find my MoJo, which is around here somewhere – probably buried under that hey-uge stack of books, magazines, dog-eared J. Crew catalogues and spiral-bound calendars I buy once a year and never use. (I swear I will organize that pile next weekend. Yes. Next weekend that stack will be history.)

I recently read a first-person essay in the New York Times about a woman who dodged divorce by simply ignoring her husband whenever he asked her for one. He would say “I don’t love you anymore.” And she would look him square in the eye and say “I don’t buy it.” And lo and behold, he never left. She said it turned out to be just a mid-life thingamajigit and he got over it and now they are happier than ever.

So I’ve decided I can do the same thing with this icky icky poo poo cloud that’s been hanging over my head the past year. I’m just going to ignore it.

Find Joy.

That’s what I jotted down on a yellow Post-It and stuck to my bathroom mirror January 1.

It’s my New Year’s Resolution, and when I stuck it there I thought the concept sounded complicated, intimidating and out of reach.

But today it just looks shameful.

Only a few hundred miles away, people are clawing at dusty piles of rubble with raw, bloody hands. They are trying to find babies, parents, brothers and sisters. They are trying to find food, water and shelter. They are trying to find diapers, Neosporin, bandages and doctors. They are stepping over the dead, looking for the path out of hell.

I, meanwhile, am cozy in my reasonably-priced one bedroom apartment two miles from the beach with soy milk in the fridge. I have toilet paper, Q-tips, face soap and clean socks. I have salt and pepper shakers shaped like little fish. I have glasses for both red and white wine. I have three pairs of sandy flip flops by my front door. I have a big, stained, comfy chair that has started to spill its stuffing. I have a lace curtain that hangs in my kitchen window.

I live in a heaven beyond comprehension.

Armed with this new insight, and not knowing what else to do, I gave more than I could afford to the Red Cross. And I’ll go to Wal-Mart and buy some diapers, medicine, bandages and granola bars and drop the whole lot off at one of the 3,000 Haitian organizations here in South Florida collecting for the cause.
Even though I know it’s not nearly enough.

I wonder how I have managed to be so fortunate, despite being so ungrateful this past year. I wonder why it wasn’t my home that toppled down on top of me. I sure haven’t racked up a whole lotta good karma, that’s for dang sure. Except for helping a little old lady find the caffeine free Diet Coke today, I haven’t done much for anyone lately.

Earlier this week, I actually thought I had a point with all my malaise and carrying on about the malaise and wearing my malaise around on my head like a great, big, hat that would make even Carmen Miranda pull me into the ladies room and say “Girl, it might be time to crank it down a notch.”

My biggest complaint is that I do not believe I have fulfilled my potential. And I am trying to figure out what I can do over the next few years to change that. And I’m weighing all the risks involved in doing so. Big freaking woop.

Can you imagine the fundraising effort that might go along with that crisis?

I picture the commercial, a video montage of people like me: driving Hondas and Toyotas bought after pouring over Consumer Reports magazine; standing in line at Starbucks, waiting to order a venti soy skinny mocha latte; buying Greek yogurt; and taking a Pilates class.

The voice-over would go something like this: “Look at these images. Don’t turn away. Right now, as you sit in front of the TV, millions of bored people need your help. You, yes, you, can save them.

Close-up on me.

Voice-over: “For the price of a mani-pedi, a bottle of Pinot and a Birkin bag, you can help this generic, white, western woman find joy.”

I look at my Post-It and wonder if I should take it down. It just seems so silly. But only the other hand, it’s a daily reminder of what I hope to do in this blog. Find Joy.

So I sat down in front of the TV with a glass of wine to mull the whole dilemma over and the answer came to me in the waning moments of The Karate Kid.

I grabbed another Post-It, jotted down another message, and slapped my new mantra right next to the old one.

Don’t forget. Life is Good.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

This is*

This is how to climb out of a warm bed when you’re still tired; This is how to pretend you’re not tired; This is how to dress; This is how to look busy while you think of other things; This is what to say when asked why you're always so happy; It's easy to look happy; This is how to remember; This is how to forget; This is how to pretend you’ve forgotten; This is how to fall in love; This is how to pretend you’re not in love; This is how to let love flutter past your fingertips (again) and move on; This is how to laugh when a voice slices your soul; This is how to hurt people you love; This is how people you love hurt you; This is how to breathe; In and out, no matter what, remember; This is what's important; This is what’s at stake

*This is a blatant rip off of the great Jamaica Kincaid

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Sunday, July 04, 2010

Where did all this stuff come from anyway?

I am being cruel with my things, tossing all the clothes I've bought over the course of a lifetime into one of three piles -- items to keep, donations to Goodwill, and trash.

I want to ignore the memories that permeate the fabric like a perfume I used to wear, but don't anymore. But here they are, like a gnat buzzing around my face. I swat. But they return.

I am finally getting rid of the black cardigan I wore the last time I saw him. Before I found out he was getting engaged. Almost a year to the day he asked me to leave the apartment we picked out together. Fuck memory lane. To Goodwill with you.

But the red top stays. I wore it that one day, walking down the street in West Chester, Pa., when the guy slammed on his brakes, rolled down the window, and shouted that I looked great in red. Those kinds of things, a girl has to keep. I’ll be dragging it to the nursing home with me like Linus’s blanket, telling the bored looking woman giving me a sponge bath “You wouldn’t know it now, but one day back in 2001 I actually stopped traffic. By the way, what’s my name again?”

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

The tiniest, sliver of a second

Our big story du jour was about a fundraiser for a sheriff’s deputy who lost her arm in a boating accident. Apparently, people are selling green bracelets to raise money for her medical expenses. Now, the irony of selling bracelets to collect money for a woman who lost her arm was not wasted on a room full of apathetic news people – and bad jokes were soon volleyed around the room like a good, old-fashioned game of pong.

Afterward, I looked at my co-worker and said, “I feel the flames of hell licking at my ass.”

It was just one of those days -- one of those aware days.

I noticed it again when a press release rolled into my inbox, and I opened a new document and began to write:

A woman is in jail on charges she beat her 12-year-old adopted son with an extension cord, stuffed a pair of socks in his mouth and secured a piece of blue tape over his lips.

I looked at the sentence and thought about how easily I had typed it out, a skill honed after more than a dozen years spent boiling down someone else’s tragedy.

A man shot his 6-year-old cousin after Thanksgiving dinner
Police said a 16-year-old girl was gang raped
A Downingtown man is accused of stabbing his wife while she slept

If I’m not careful, I think about it. And I hate it when I do that. Because the difference between a good day, and a life-changing, gut-wrenching, holy-fucking-shit day is just the tiniest sliver of a second – and that’s not information you want to meditate on for any length of time.

Tick. Tock.

I’ve heard this is why we should live every moment like it’s our last. But I think that’s too much pressure. Naturally, you are going to find yourself in the grocery store behind a blue-hair with a stack of coupons as thick as the Fountainhead stuffed in her withered little fist and you don’t want to be standing there thinking “This arthritic living corpse is stealing my life.” That’s just not Zen.

I think about all the precious moments I wasted today: at least 45 minutes spent talking like a gypsy with my friend Chris, making up raunchy, fake fortunes; about 25minutes spent trying to look interested in a co-worker’s personal problem; and probably several minutes peeing. Which, frankly, would be the perfect epitaph for my tombstone: “Here lies Kelly Wolfe. She pissed away her life.”

Tick. Tock.

The other scary part of the whole deal is that these life changing tragedies often have nothing to do with decisions we make ourselves. We might be cruising along, paying our bills on time, using our blinkers, and making grocery lists when some nutjob decides that your life is about to take one hella turn. (The six-year-old was asleep in her bed. I picture her in pink jammies, clutching a favorite toy. I hope she was dreaming. I hope she didn’t wake up.)

Tick. Tock.

I think of one night, in those fragile days after 9/11, when I was working in Philly. We reporters would work 12 hours, then get together late at night to eat, drink, and just not be alone goddamn it. On this night, I’d been lost in thought when I parked my car (a newly-wed had been showing me a photo of her husband of two months. He was out there she was sure, we just had to find him) and I hadn’t paid attention when I slipped my car into a parallel spot and turned off the engine.

It was well past 1 a.m. when we all parted ways after dinner. And, of course, I couldn’t find my car. I was walking along a deserted, dark, narrow street – looking for something, anything familiar – when I saw headlights approach me. It was a green station wagon with three young men inside. The car slowed. They gathered in a little knot and gazed out the windshield at me. I ignored them and walked on – refusing to appear rattled. The car passed me. I heard it speed up and turn a corner. A few minutes later, I saw the car approaching me again. It slowed. The three men stared. I walked on. The car sped up, turned a corner.

I picked up my pace, and thought about trying to find a place to hide. I didn’t know what to do. Keep looking for my car? Hide in the shadows of an alley where, if they find me, what then? In the midst of trying to formulate a plan, I saw the car approaching again. It slowed. The three men stared. Then the car sped up, and turned a corner.

Just then, my phone rang. It was Bob, a friend who worked with me at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Hey, what’s up?” he said. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“It ain’t good, friend,” I said. “I’m over by Fairmont and I can’t find my car. Some guys are driving around, circling me. They keep slowing down to look at me.

Bob, I think they are going to grab me.” I whispered the last sentence.

“Calm down,” he said. “I would slow down to look at you, too.”

Bob laughed. I did not. I was scared.

“Fuck you, Bob,” I spat. “Just write me a nice obit tomorrow, will you?”

Bob was still laughing.

“I won’t have to write your obit tomorrow, Crazy,” he said.

Men. It must be nice to gallivant around the world without a vagina – never feeling like prey.

I took the phone away from my ear and screamed into the mouthpiece.

“Dude! I! Am! Not! Kidding! I! Am! Fucking! Scared!”

I put the phone back to my ear.

“This is really bad, Bob. I can feel it.”

There was silence on the other end.

“What do you want me to do?” Bob asked. I heard concern in his voice. It was a real question. Frankly, I couldn’t think of anything he could do. If my gut was right, I’d be tied up in a basement somewhere by the time Bob made it from his apartment on South Street to Fairmont Avenue in a cab.

“Look, Bob, it’s a green station wagon. Three guys. Dark hair. I’m off Fairmont. That’s all I got. Stay on the phone with me. If you lose me, call the police.”


I cut him off with a whisper.

“Bob, here they come again.”

The car approached. I stopped on the sidewalk with the phone to my ear and looked at the driver. He had dark, wavy hair down to his shoulders and was wearing small, round sunglasses even though it was now almost 2 a.m. The car slowed to an idle. The driver and I looked at each other for a long time. He was not smiling. I felt my heart thrash against my rib cage.

Tick. Tock.
Tick. Tock.
Tick. Tock.

Then the driver slowly turned his head, looked back at the road, punched the gas, and drove away.

A stood for a second, steadying myself.

“Hello? Hello? Kelly, are you alright?”

Bob was yelling into the phone, but his voice sounded far away, somewhere beyond the current of blood rushing through my ears.

“I don’t know,” I answered.

My legs felt wobbly. I don’t know how long I stood on that corner, trying to remember how to breathe, holding the phone to my ear, Bob and I silent at either end.


“Yeah,” I said.

“Stay right there. I am coming to get you.”

“Hurry,” I said.

I looked up and down the street, trying to pinpoint a landmark so I could help Bob find me.

Just then I saw the dark outline of my car, parked just ahead, about two blocks away. Honestly, it was like it materialized there.

It felt like the sun had just come out. I honestly thought I heard a chorus of angels singing.

“It’s OK, Bob,” I said. “I see my car!”

“Oh, Thank God,” he said. I heard relief in his voice.

We hung up and I sprinted. My hands shook as I slid the key in the lock. I got in and gunned it away from the curve, not stopping until I came to a red light at Spring Garden. Then I rested my head against the steering wheel. When the light turned green, someone behind me honked, and I jumped.

Tick. Tock.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bad Photo Good times

So, I flip flop into Best Buy to purchase my first digital camera.

Between trying to sell some stuff online, and taking this blog somewhat seriously, I decided it was time to take a giant leap into 2002. Also, I was shamed during a trip to Costa Rica, when a sinewy, golden, 20-year-old blond in shorts about the size of my thong pointed at my film camera and said “What’s that?” So. Yeah.

I approach shopping as I do all things – having done absolutely no research and having no idea what I really need, want or should spend. I like to watch a story unfold. I’m all about the journey.

Anyway, I enter Best Buy still suffering from a cold I can’t shake, having just been told that Panera is no longer selling tomato soup because “it’s out of season.” I’m not usually one to pick on a teenage girl saving up for a pair of Seven jeans. But what the what? Is summer not tomato season? So, I’m sick, disoriented, hungry and in no mood.

That’s when I’m greeted by Dorothy, a small blond in a blue smock who would be about my aunt’s age – if I had an aunt. She introduces herself, and tries to help me, but at this point, the Sinutab is kicking in and I’m just pushing shiny buttons and whispering “pretty, pretty.”

So she makes herself scarce for about 15 minutes. But is apparently undaunted by peculiarity. She appears again over my right shoulder.

“Do you know what you are looking for,” she asks.

I look into her green eyes. Wow, I think, there are about a gatrillion answers to that question.

“Just your basic digital camera,” I say.

She points in the direction of a reasonably-priced Fuji, just marked down today. Its greatest selling point, she says, is this massive red dial on the back with images denoting a flower, dog, smiling person, and smiling group. It’s supposed to make the camera easy to use. But I already know I can’t whip out that thing in front of my girls. I’ll look like a freaking dork.

“Yo,” I say. “I’m a lot cooler than that. I can’t roll with that big, red dial.”
Dorothy searches my face. My nose is red from blowing. And my hair is still wet from my first shower in three days. She looks skeptical of my coolness.

I also just remembered I need a video option, I say. Because I have to record my mad dance floor skillz.

Again, Dorothy looks skeptical.

“Well, this one is a great deal today,” she said, walking over to a selection of waterproof cameras that have been reduced by $50.

“Do you like to snorkel?” she asks.

“I LOVE to snorkel,” I say, already picturing glorious photos of tropical fish taken by yours truly hanging in my living room. (I zip into a small fantasy – “Yes,” I say during a crowded house party. “I took that one while diving The Blue Hole in Belize. What?? You’ve never BEEENNN?”)

Dorothy senses I suddenly have focus.

“Here,” she says. “I’ll show you some of the options.”

“There’s a Facebook option,” she says.

“I LOVE Facebook!”

“And a blog option,” she says.

“I HAVE a blog!”

Of course, all of these options are really just plug the thing into the computer, and load onto XYZ Website. I know this, but am still enjoying watching Dorothy’s fingers work the buttons. Blame Sinutab.

“Look,” she says. “You have this option where you can blur out faces.”

“Do you think I can use it to erase people from my past?” I ask her.

Dorothy laughs. She gets it.

“Here,” she says. “Let me take a picture of us.”

And before I know it, our heads are together and we’re smiling up at a camera Dorothy is holding with some sort of massive Don’t Steal Me gadget attached to it.

The photo is atrocious. Dorothy’s face is flash burned. Her cute blond haircut looks like a birds nest. Meanwhile, all you can see of me is a big, red, Rudolph nose and some slicked-back Mickey Rourke hair.

We collapse in giggles.

“Oh, Dorothy, that is not a good look,” I say.

I thought seriously about asking Dorothy to send me the photo, so I could post it here. But I can’t have that thing circulating the innernets. I still like to go out with a boy every once in a while ya’ll – and that photo would send me straight to dating Syberia.

“Let’s take another one,” she says.

Gaze up. Grin. Click.

“Oh dear lord, it’s much worse,” I say.

We’re in the midst of our second giggle fest of the afternoon, when a woman walks up sporting combed hair and make-up.

“Is that the waterproof Fuji blahty blah?” she asks. (I’m paraphrasing. I think she actually knew the name of the camera, unlike me.)

“Yes,” said Dorothy, then handed her a box. “We were just going over some of the options if you want to join us.”

“No,” the woman said. “I did all my homework online.”

Then she walked away. Just like that. Dorothy and I looked at each other. I kind of felt bad for Ms. Research. She was missing out.

Dorothy then helped me pick out some sort of other doomafligit that I needed, and a cute little camera case that will fit in my evening bag. I was all set. I wanted to hug her. Except I was sick.

“Well, bye,” I said, kind of lingering.

“Bye,” she said.

“I had fun,” I said.

“Me, too,” she answered.

I stood at the cash register and popped in my pin number, glad, as usual, that I was prepared for nothing, ready for anything.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Thoughts on leaving

When I left home at 18, I knew I would blow through my 20s like a surprise Christmas bonus. And I did.

What I didn’t expect was to go hurling into my 30s, barely tapping the brakes at 35, and arriving here, at age 37, on the cusp of arguably one of the biggest risks of my life.

And that is saying something.

I’m a woman who’s danced drunk and barefoot on three continents (and in most major cities), lived in Europe, missed the last train home, and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro on a whim because I'd always wanted to go to Africa. I’ve zip lined in Costa Rica during a thunderstorm so heavy it felt as though the rain drops would peel my flesh right off the bone. I drank wine sitting more naked than not in a hot spring in the shadow of an active volcano – bright orange lava spraying into the midnight sky. I've covered press conferences at the White House, engaged in hand to hand combat with an ABC cameraman, and gone out with (seemingly) all the wrong men.

Recently, a friend gave me shit for staying in on a Saturday night to make a big pot of lentil soup. Yeah, I thought then, talk to me after you’ve found yourself headed west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, driving a stranger's Jeep, backpack in the trunk, asking some guy you only know as Kevin, "So, where to?"

I've earned the right to be boring.

But here I am taking another gulp, another leap, when I really don’t have the stomach for it anymore. If you ask me now what I want, what I really, really want, I would say that I want to live in a small house near the beach, with a nice guy who likes to grill out and have friends over on Sundays. I would consider that success.

But right now that life does not exist. And the opportunity that does exist is to study and teach creative writing at George Mason University near Washington, D.C.

When I tell people the news, they are happy for me. And I realize I should be happy too. That I am a real asshole for not being happy. My friend Betsy – a much greater talent than I will ever be – said “Kelly, you do realize you have to go. You have to go so I can go. Because I can’t go. So go and tell me everything.” Of course, the reason Betsy can’t go is because she’s living in a beachside condo in Miami with the sexiest man alive, working on the world’s best yet-to-be published book that is going to blow your freaking mind. So, don’t cry for her, Argentina.

And I will go. Am going. At the end of July. And I know it is the right thing to do. It’s just that I feel old and tired and done with new. I didn’t reserve any energy – any patience for change – for this age. I used it all up – thinking I would have slipped into some sort of stability by now. (My friend Brandon says “You know, Kell, stability isn’t really your thing.” But that doesn’t mean I don’t keep hoping.)

Oh, I know it will be fine. Everything, I’ve learned, is eventually fine. I will find a new home. I will make new friends. I will find favorite bars and restaurants and get a new library card. But I’ve done this 100 times before, and it doesn’t feel exciting this time.

I’m tired, ya’ll.

Plus, I’ve never been as happy as I’ve been in SoFla. I have a golden set of friends that are my angels and my true loves – smart, gentle, kind, funny women who, upon seeing a young, male fashion victim wearing a fedora at a house party, will go out into the hallway for a drunken, giggly rendition of “One” from A Chorus Line -- complete with high kicks. They are the reason I have felt loved and safe and home here. I don't know what I ever did to deserve them.

For several weeks after getting the offer from George Mason, I didn’t believe I’d actually take it. I made no move to, well, move. A few weeks ago, my friend Lisa asked “Are you going? Because you don’t act like you are going.”

At that point, I had made a list of pros and cons. And my only reason for not going was that I just didn’t want to. I liked my life, I decided. I love my farmer’s market, the beach and the library. I love that the owner of my favorite restaurant in Delray thinks we knew each other in past life.

I saw no reason for a new life.

Then one morning I woke up and realized – as sudden as sudden can be – that I had to go – that staying in my comfy little nest was not an option. Because nests really don’t take you anywhere -- they are merely a place where one prepares to fly. (Even old birds, like me.)

I realized how fortuitous it is to get another shot at the brass ring in this stage of the game – and that if I rallied I could still reach for it.

Stability, you elusive bitch, will just have to wait.

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