Sunday, October 31, 2010

the repetition, the repetition

The children have been doing that horrible child-thing lately, droning the same thing over and over and over. It's been working my last nerve whenever I'm confined in the car with them, and lately when we're in the car, I truly am confined with them. The side passenger seatbelt froze up and can't be used, and not only will it cost over $350 to get a new one, it's taking forfreakingever for the new one to allegedly come from frigging Sweden. I happen to know that Ford owns Volvo and that my mediocre car was made in the U.S., but when the seatbelt locks up permanently, the dealership can't fix it without asking for one to be handwoven at my expense by Swedish elves.

So, in the car, either the Sober Husband or I have to mash in the backseat with the hellspawn, who argue and argue because this means they have to touch each other. And they drone. It being Halloween, they made up some little ditty with about three words total, which largely consisted of them loudly singing, ""Kill Kill Kill" over and over again, without any tune.

I tried a repetition of my own. "I am going to cast a magical spell on you now. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP."

This had no effect on the little hellions. "Momdude, those are teasing words," one said scoldingly. "You shouldn't speak to us that way."

"You shouldn't drive me out of my mind saying the same thing over and over again!"

Not everyone minds a little brain-melting repetition, though. Yesterday Lola lay idly on the floor on the upstairs landing, with my parrot, Pigwidgeon. "Step up! Step down! Step up! Step down!" Pigwidgeon obediently stepped on Lola's hand, stepped off the hand onto the floor, then back on the hand, then back on the floor. Eventually Lola herself tired of this game and put the parrot on her parrot tree, and then we all got into the car to go somewhere, and the children began again to sing their wretched "Kill Kill Kill" song, and when I said "for the love of God will you quit that, you're driving me insane", the Sober Husband defended them by joining in.

Monday, October 18, 2010

the flagging ceremony

Yesterday Lola had her friend, Lawyer, Jr., over for a playdate. Towards the end of the afternoon the two distributed "Invitations To A Flagging Ceremony," illustrated with many tiny sketches of specific, named stuffed animals. Later they called us, and the Sober Husband, a cranky but oddly cooperative Iris, and I filed up to the upstairs landing, long-named "Blinking Street" by the children.

Before we could enter Blinking Street, Lola and Lawyer, Jr. collected our invitations to ensure we had the right to come to the ceremony. The Sober Husband was sent back to find his. Then we were shown to specific seats, with a view of my rowing machine lined and coated with as many stuffed animals as could be crammed onto it.

Afterwards I snagged the sheet of paper Lola and Lawyer, Jr. were passing back and forth between them and am thus able to preserve the words of the Flagging Ceremony.

Lola: Here yee, here yee, now the land called FFLOLO is now a land known to Feline cumunities.

This flagging ceramony is for only those fit for it.

Lawyer, Jr.: Now we shall celebrate in harmony and peace.

But only after we tell you the laws.

* All peace shall be respected and followed.

* Chaos shall be illegall.

* Everyone will be respected.


After shouting "LET'S ROCK!", the two little girls stuck a paper flag on a stick into my rowing machine. I clapped, which caused them to shriek and shriek at the top of their lungs in disapproval. "What, how could I know clapping was wrong?" I asked. Iris uber Alles took a more combative stance. "Screaming is CHAOS, and that is illegal according to your own laws!" she said hotly. The citizens of FFLOLO refused to take the point and shrieked madly. The privileged few invited to the flagging ceremony retreated to quieter lands deeper in the bowels of the house.

Friday, October 15, 2010

his sense of humor

Today I was leaving my house, running late to meet a friend for breakfast, and my neighbor waylaid me. I hadn't seen him since I'd complained that his house painters were driving me to the brink of homicide by blasting easy listening music all day.

My neighbor called me over. "They're done, they're all gone." Then he burst out laughing. "That music... It was the BeeGees! And it was so distorted!" He laughed and laughed, shaking his head and saying, "I didn't realize how loud it was." His hilarity grew greater. Pointing at me, he said through the guffaws, "And they had the radio out front, and it was at an angle, and IT WAS POINTED RIGHT AT YOUR HOUSE!" His laughter didn't allow him to speak more for some time.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

the grinch who stole easy listening

My house is "semi-detached": on one side, we rub right up against one next door neighbor's house, our houses cheek to jowl, but on the other side, there's a little space. The neighbors' house is right up on the edge of the border, but on our side there's a little room, with a paved and gated path from the sidewalk into our postage stamp-sized yard. Being "semi-detached" is a big selling point in San Francisco, where most houses are not detached in any way, because presumably it's quieter. That is nice for the neighbors, as our shrieking children and shrieking parrots can pump out the decibels at times, but meaningless for us. The neighbors are extremely quiet middle-aged gay professionals who rarely make any audible sounds, except when they are tending quasi-obsessively to the landscaping out front. We're quite lucky with the neighbors on both sides and across the street, who are all charming and highly enjoyable people.

You would think that when neighbors have work done, it would affect us more when it's the conjoined neighbor, but ironically, no, it's the semi-detached neighbors. I barely noticed a sound when the undetached neighbor had people in working. This year the semi-detached neighbors are renovating in a big way: replacing the foundation, building a new fence, re-paving their yard with special bricks, repainting the house, reshingling the roof, etc.., etc... My neighbor told me that his goal was to have the work done in the foggy, cold summer so when the heat of Indian summer hit, it would all be done and we could all peacefully enjoy our yards. I believed that, and I was hopeful that when I came home from Burning Man, all the work would be done and I could have some peace and quiet.

The contractor in charge of the prior work was quite possibly the loudest person I have ever met, and it drove me insane listening to him shouting obscenities all day long (I also got over-the-top filled with rage when his worker dropped a big pile of shingles on my miniature fuchsia). I was glad when his part of the project seemed done. Little did I know that those were the golden days. The next contractor, the one painting the house, was really the torturer. An extremely angry looking silver-haired old white man who glared at me every time I crossed his path, he had a horrible habit. Every morning he set a crappy ghetto blaster on the sidewalk in front of my neighbor's house, tuned to the easy listening station, and put it on as loud as it would go.

The Backstreet Boys. Mariah Carey. Whitney Houston. Miley Cyrus. Endless ads for colon cleanses and life insurance. All at horrible, nerve-rending, soul-killing volumes, and scratchy and distorted to boot. Shouldn't people doing manual labor rock out to heavy metal? Even house or trance music would have been preferable. Maybe free form jazz would have been worse, but maybe not.

I let it go. I like to listen to music or books on tape when I'm working with my hands, sewing or cooking, and I figured it couldn't take that long to get my neighbor's moderately sized house painted. They weren't even doing anything fancy, just slapping on another coat of dark brown, without even a contrasting trim. I just kept all my doors and windows hermetically sealed. But even so, that horrible, bland, scratchy music penetrated. I tried to take a nap a couple of days when I'd been tortured by insomnia, and that godawful easy listening music made my blood pressure so high I couldn't fall asleep, no matter how sleep-deprived and tired I was.

Additionally, because a small fraction of my neighbors' house can be reached only by coming onto my property, the painters wanted my gate kept open all the time, and the mellow-music addicted old crab was constantly striding up and down my path, glaring at me if I came or went. I figured my green hipster braids were offensive to his middle-of-the road sensibilities, but the angry glares added to the unpleasantness.

On Columbus Day the children had the day off from school, and I had a nasty head cold and no energy. Horrible Henry, our tabby, brought a very beautiful little dead mouse upstairs and left it in the middle of the landing. The children were extremely upset, and the only thing which calmed them down was the idea of a funeral. I donated a little jewelry box, and Lola made an exquisite card. She put a lot of thought into what a mouse needed for happiness, carefully inscribing "I wish you food, friends, and safety in your second life." They were ready to bury the little mouse in the backyard, but as soon as they ventured out, they were back in, corpse in hand. The blaring easy listening music and the glaring workman made it impossible to hold a solemn ceremony. "We can't be out there," they said firmly. I ended up dragging my Kleenex, aching head, and racking cough down to the Aquarium of the Bay so we could escape that awful music...

but when we came home, it seemed the children had misplaced the dear departed. Somewhere in this house, there is a small dead animal in a lovingly decorated little box, and I can't find it anywhere. I can only imagine that eventually we'll be able to locate the remains by smell, and I'm not looking forward to it.

I snapped on Tuesday. I was looking fruitlessly for the missing corpse, and the horrible mellow music was fraying my last nerve, pounding on me, and it was one of the few, tragically few, days in San Francisco over 80 degrees, but I couldn't even open a window. I wanted to be relaxing in my yard with a big glass of iced coffee and my cats, who love it when I spend time outside with them and are much more friendly and companionable in the yard than they ever are inside. I contacted my neighbor and told him I felt like I was living in Abu Ghraib and that if his painter didn't stop playing that godawful easy listening radio station I was going to commit a homicide. Within minutes the radio turned off, and it didn't come back on.

Now the painter does have a reason to glare at me, but maybe without the comforts of easy listening he'll pick up the pace and get that house painted. I can open the windows again, finally. Now if I could just find those remains, I could even have a solemn burial.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

a tourist in the land of black women's hair

Back in the nineties, I worked at a large, conservative law firm. We were all very conformist in our grooming, and things were much more formal then. We female associates wore pantyhose all the time, no matter how much we hated those hose, pumps with moderate heels, and wool suits. I lived with the constant fear that someone would realize I had a number of tattoos (at a couple of social events, I pretended I was coming down with a cold to explain why I was not getting in the pool/hot-tubbing/dressing lightly). But at least I got off easily in terms of hair.

One day another associate burst into my office. "Have you seen R.'s hair??? It's in a million tiny braids!" One of the two African American female associates (sidenote: we had no black male lawyers at all) had gotten her hair braided.

Everyone talked about this poor woman's hair behind her back. I was very close to the other black lawyer (who lives in France nowadays; I miss her so much to this day even though I haven't seen her in fifteen years), who was offended that there was so much gossip about the other attorney's hair. I said, mistakenly thinking I was making a diplomatic remark, that "you can't do something really elaborate with your hair and expect people not to talk about it." I compared it to my getting slammed by a partner for having dyed-black hair as a summer associate. My friend disagreed strongly and said firmly, "It's a basic style for black women. Classic. Simple." I didn't agree but I felt disqualified on the basis of skin color to argue the point. I was glad to drop the subject.

My friend complained at times about her own hair, which she never braided. "It doesn't look right," she said once, mourning the fact that her hair didn't move in the wind. I said I thought it was sad she felt that way. We agreed about that and sat silently for a moment. Actually I thought her hair looked great, but I knew she put a lot of work into straightening it and using hairpieces at times. I myself would have loved to have had a natural 'fro which held up to a breeze, because I hate how my hair looks when the wind blows it around. There's nothing pretty about windswept, frizzled bangs.

Oddly around that time I somehow got on a mailing list for a catalogue aimed at black women, and I found the extensive hair products section mesmerizing. My favorite part was the wigs: those wigs were so beautiful. I teetered on the brink of ordering one for myself, but somehow I felt it would be wrong for me, a WASP, to order one. It would be too much like tourism, too much like I was having frivolous fun when the other people were being extremely serious. I knew from my fellow lawyers what a serious business black women's hair could be.

A few years later I was practicing law on my own, and one of my clients was unhappy one afternoon. She told me she was going to get her hair rebraided straight after our meeting and that it hurt so much she dreaded it, but she felt she had to do it because she could not deal with straightening her long hair. I had never thought of that hairstyle, so controversial at my old law firm, as being painful.

In the world of Burning Man, many women took to getting their hair braided as a way of dealing with the omnipresent alkaline dust, strong winds, and difficulty in getting a good, thorough shampooing in the desert. I myself never did, I was always fine with my hair out there on the playa, but this year I felt reluctant to deal with Iris's hair there. Iris needs to wash her hair regularly, and I didn't want to set up a shower at our camp. Also, Iris's long, fine hair tangles so readily, and I didn't want our trip to be marred with disagreements over whether she had adequately brushed her hair. I asked Iris if she'd be willing to get her hair braided before our trip. "It will hurt a lot for a couple of hours, but then you won't have to brush it for a month. And you won't have to wash it, either." She decided she would. I found a place on Yelp which got rave reviews from Burner chicks and African-American women alike, and I booked Iris in.

When I dropped Iris off, we looked through a book of client photos. Page after page of clean-cut black women, smiling professionally, were interrupted occasionally by a picture of a wildly grinning white girl who was clearly playa-bound. The owner encouraged us to think about adding yarn to Iris's hair, and Iris picked a beautiful brown and blue mohair-blend skein. I kept looking at the pictures, and the owner smiled at me. "Go on!" Impulsively I decided to get my hair done as well, with mermaidy green and blue yarn.

We were there seven hours. Seven hours. And the pain was agonizing. It was more intense than most tattoos. At night, laying our heads on our pillows was agonizing. We had constant headaches for the first week. I kept the Motrin flowing.

Iris and I kept our braids in for over six weeks, and we soaked up lots of adulation during those weeks. True, some of the other parents at the girls' school gave me a bit of an odd look at pick-up time, but others were full of praise. "You're bringing some color to this place!" an always-friendly mom gushed. For me, I found I looked at least a decade younger with those green hipster braids. A waitress in Reno assumed Iris and I were sisters. I loved also not having to do anything with my hair. It was so freeing, having what was really like a piece of art on my head instead of hair needing to be washed, brushed, combed, and styled. I'd have kept the green braids forever, but I was running into the problem my old client lamented, that around the six-seven week point the hair has grown too much and they need to be redone (especially if, like me, you have dyed hair. An inch of undyed roots was too much. I took the pictures here the day I went in to take out my beloved green braids). And I had some occasions coming up when I needed to look more conservative.

Getting them out was agonizing as well, again as intense as a tattoo, and again I remembered the black lawyer with braids from my old firm. How awful, I thought, that on top of dealing with all the white people's gossiping, she undoubtedly had a headache as well, and all just for having easy hair.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

a miracle

One of my children ebulliently announced, "It was a farting miracle! I was in the bathroom, and I was farting, and [dramatic pause] it was to the tune of the Jaws theme! Da duh! Da duh!"

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

I bring the cats

The Sober Husband and the children were shouting at me, as I got dressed, brushed my teeth, washed my face, and put on make-up, that I needed to check out a website about "purrsonals." "It's for crazy cat people to meet each other!"

"I'm not single," I said suspiciously.

"I thought you'd like to check it out anyway," said the Sober Husband. "You know, connect with other cat people."

I contended that it sounded too much like a dating site and noted that it was creepy for my own spouse to send me towards one. Additionally, "even if I were single," I said firmly, "I don't think I'd want to hook up with another cat person. I think it is safe to say that I have enough cats to go around." I paused. "Wouldn't you agree," I asked the Sober Husband, "that in our relationship, I bring the cats? Don't you think I adequately supply enough cats for any two people?"

Sunday, October 03, 2010

party like you're in Burlingame

On Friday Lola turned eight. When she came downstairs, she asked us if we'd seen "the Ancient Romans." As she explained in great detail, Lola saw "Ancient Romans" taking down the leprechaun posters she'd put up last St. Patrick's Day and putting up posters about Lola's birthday. We went out and looked. The posters said "WOW 8 YEARS OF LOLA" (where the 8 was giant and the top loop of it made the O in "WOW") and "SIGN HERE IF YOU HAVE A GIFT" and "DRAW HERE IF YOU ARE HAPPY." We signed the poster indicating that we had gifts in store for Lola, and we drew to indicate we were happy. Lola was ecstatic.

At school, the Sober Husband handed out nut-free chocolate chip cookies to Lola's classmates. At home, I did our packing and errands. After picking up the girls at school, we drove to get Lawyer, Jr., Lola's best friend from preschool, and then the Sober Husband. Then we were off for a night of craziness in scenic Burlingame, California.

I wasn't feeling the birthday party fever this year. Every year for the last ten years, for the children's birthdays I've made invitations painstakingly by hand, prepared party decorations (this sometimes went over the top, particularly for Iris's "Dragon Tales" themed third birthday), baked a cake, made food for both the children and any parents who might linger, made punch, obsessed over the party bags, etc.., etc.., and this year I didn't have the energy. I'm recovering from August still: I spent far too much money on going to Burning Man, and my ankle hurts pretty much all the time from my injury. (Sidenote: I saw a foot and ankle specialist, and while my X-rays came back fine, it turns out that I injured the ligaments and the major nerve on the side of my leg. I can anticipate another six months of pain, and I got an ankle brace to help). Also, I've been having problems with the girls' school, and the money woes, chronic pain, and stress added up to take away any energy for putting on a party.

Luckily for me another child at Lola's school had a birthday recently, and her family celebrated by taking her and one of her friends to a hotel for the night, so they could swim in the pool. These two children drove everyone crazy with jealousy going on and on about this, and I decided to turn it into a trend. I spent an evening online browsing hotels of the mid-peninsula on the theory that everything is cheaper out of the city, and I ended up getting a suite in a hotel in Burlingame with a big, lovely heated pool and a gorgeous tropical atrium with a little river full of koi. Best of all there were two large rooms: one room with a fold-out couch and a big TV for Lola and Lawyer, Jr., and another room with two double beds and another big TV for Iris and the Sober Husband and me. "This bed is mine, the one across from the TV!" Iris said sternly.

At check-in I got a complimentary Anchor Steam. I loved this hotel.

Everyone swam (the children swam right up until 10:00 p.m., as the pool had "Adult Only Hours" 10:00 - 12:00). Iris watched TV. Lola and Lawyer, Jr. stayed up very late indeed; I fell asleep at some point to the sound of their voices muted by the closed door between us. Iris had insomnia and reported the next day that she'd gotten up around 4 AM and gone in and stared at sleeping Lola and sleeping Lawyer, Jr. She imitated their sleeping positions. Although Lola and Lawyer, Jr. laughed uproariously, I said, "Iris, that is CREEPY."

In the morning Iris watched a documentary about root beer on the history channel (as her cheap parents don't get cable, a hotel is a rare opportunity for Iris to wallow in all the channels) while Lola and Lawyer, Jr. played. We went to the free hotel breakfast, which was the best free hotel breakfast I'd ever seen, with pancakes, French toast, pastries of many sorts, and omelets made to order. The children went swimming again for a very long time, and eventually I took Iris back upstairs to get more cable viewing time while the Sober Husband supervised Lola and Lawyer, Jr. in the pool and in the sauna.

Finally it was check out time. No one but the Sober Husband wanted to leave. "I'm not paying for another night of this!" he said. "Pack up!"

Before we drove away, I made the children walk around some trails by the bay. Iris and I saw an albino mallard, which made our day. Lola and Lawyer, Jr. were physically exhausted and dragged slowly towards the car. Lola fell asleep in the car on the way home. After some sleep, she hugged me very close, thanking me for taking her to the incredibly luxurious and exotic land of Burlingame, California.