September 3, 2015

Seasoned Favorites

There is a header at the top of Neil Gaiman’s blog in which a photographic “bust” of him is perched looking out at the reader. He sports his trademark unruly hair and traditional rumpled vibe. But what captivates me at the moment I’m looking are his eyes.

He has bags under his eyes.  A healthy portion of them.

And I think to myself how interesting it is that they are not Photoshopped, not minimized and it thrills me.  It thrills me in the way that I’m thrilled by a plate of real food in the world of processed, fake garbage edibles. Or by someone who maintains eye contact with me during a conversation despite the fact that their phone is dinging with incoming text messages. Or by a friendly moment with a stranger in which you see some humanity instead of the jet trail they leave behind as they race past you like you don’t exist.

I guess I’m talking about authenticity. But particularly with the bodies we wear while we are alive.
There is so much energy and money put into holding back time, to pretending we are not what we are – seasoned, experienced.  Weathered.

Neil Gaiman is weathered.  And it’s awesome.  So was Maya Angelou, Georgia O’Keefe.  So is Margaret Atwood.  But I look at their pictures and I find their faces beautiful because they tell a story.  Those are faces that have lived and seen and done things.  The faces announce, “I’m here and I’m perfectly fine where I am on this path toward Home.” To me there is something comforting in looking at a person like that.

There’s a perverse irony in approaching waning youth armed with scalpels and injectables and other horrors of the invasive shoring up of the body against the ravages of time.  We’ve all seen the plastic surgery fails posts online. The harder you try to fix it, the more bizarre and less human the face becomes until you’re left with a strange mask that resembles much of nothing, a faint shadow of whatever dissatisfied person is left in there.

 My favorites are the bodies that are like old journals, the supple leather ones that are creased and worn. The ones that when cracked open have a thousand scrawled pages of stories inside, that are interesting because they have spent their energy on living and earning every mark they carry instead of spending it on avoiding what is inevitable – that we carry ourselves around in a vessel that is subject to wear, subject to imperfection. Destined for eventual failure.

Some mornings under the harsh light of my bathroom mirror I gently touch the skin around my own tired eyes, nudging them smooth until they look ten years younger, then sigh and let it resume being what it is.  Me.

Beautiful, real me.

Images from Wikimedia Commons.

July 9, 2015

Summer Carols

I've decided we need Christmas-style Carols for summer time to hold us over until we get to December.

So, I'm starting the trend.

Deck the Yard (sung to the tune of "Deck the Halls")

Deck the yard with citronella,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Tis' the season to be bitten,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Ticks and chiggers love the springtime,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la.,
Donn we now our stinky bug spray,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

See mosquitoes fly before us,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Slap your arms and curse the summer,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Follow me to Lawn and Garden
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Where we get our Deet repellent,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Chemicals may give us cancer,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Keep us from the itching, scratching,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Scabby chiggers, painful bug bites
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
We’re avoiding West Nile Virus,
Fa la la la la, la la la la la la la la

December 12, 2014

One Day in Summer...


Summer, 1984. I got my first real paying job. It was in a hardware store and I knew pretty much nothing about working in a hardware store.  I was 17 and pretty much new nothing about anything.

That summer I learned a lot.  I learned that a 2x4 isn't actually two inches thick.  I learned the names of 10 different types of nails and what is the appropriate job for each nail.  I learned about the mistake of falling in love with someone you can't have.  And falling out of love with someone you can have, but maybe shouldn't.

But the most important lesson I learned was about earning respect and how important it is to fight for the things you deserve.

They started me off by dusting. The least domestic girl in the universe started at the southeast corner of the building and worked her way to the northwest corner. The manager said, "This will help you learn what we have in inventory and where everything is. By the time you are done, you'll be familiar with the lay of the land."

It was hard to argue with that reasoning.  It seemed reasonable.  At least until about two weeks in and I was somewhere in the flood-mud encrusted electrical supplies that had been salvaged two years ago when our town was under eight or ten feet of water for days. My hands were dry and cracked and the smell of Murphy's Oil Soap made me want to vomit.  Two weeks in I was ready to quit my first real job.

I was too young to know then what I could do or what I was capable of, but the Boss could see. He was an astute observer of people, a salesman, he was a seasoned employer.  One day I stood up from wiping the bottom shelf in the middle of the fastener section and there he stood.

"Follow me," he said and walked to his office.

When I got there he handed me a huge binder. "Read this. If you study this and you pass the test, I will give you a five cent raise per hour.  We have a bunch of these.  You can do as many as you want.  I don't mind paying extra for an employee who is willing to learn and better herself. The more you know, the more money you'll make me. In the meantime, keep dusting."

As I dusted, I looked at everything. If I didn't know what something was, I read the package. I remembered where everything was. I could find anything in the store. At night I read the binder.  It was all about electricity and electrical parts. I passed the test and got my first raise.

The store was in the middle of a country town, a tiny town where time had stopped about fifty years prior. Ours was the only hardware store in town.  A coffee machine was in the back and men would come and hang out, spin windys, spit tobacco juice into old styrofoam cups. They'd eyeball me as they came in the door, then headed to the back to buy their supplies. They always asked for Dave who would write up their ticket, then tell them what bay to pull around to for loading. "The boys will load you up. Good day, Sir."

Dave was the master of every construction problem known to mankind.  And I'm pretty sure Dave hated me. Now and again I'd ask him a question and he never wanted to answer it.  He always wanted to take the problem from me and fix it. He never wanted to teach me. Dave had no time for a silly 17-year-old girl.

I'd glance to the back of the office, past the bookkeeper and I'd see Boss lurking in the dark passage between his office and the employee bathroom watching us. He knew Dave and I were not good. We made eye contact and he'd nod a single time, sharply, then turn away and go back into his office. He the Emperor, we the gladiators.

For weeks, I owned the binders. Nobody else was using them. I burned through electrical, hardware, plumbing. I became intrigued by how houses were built, that you could take basically sticks and metal spikes and fasteners and create a dwelling that could last hundreds of years if you did it right. At the back of the building was a sample of tiny cut up pieces of wood molding.  I memorized those, too, even without the promise of a raise.

I watched Dave wait on customers. I peeked over the displays I was dusting and eyeballed him when he wasn't looking. Periodically, I'd see Boss squinting at me through the picture window of his office and I'd duck down and dust some more. I got brave enough to start asking customers who came in, "Can I help you, Sir?"

Without fail their answer was always, "Yeah, get me one of the men."

Without fail I always did. For weeks and weeks. Until the day I didn't.

"Can I help you, Sir?"

"Yeah, get me one of the men."

"No, sir. I won't get you one of the men."

He jerked his head back as if I'd slapped him.  "What?"

"I can help you."

He laughed.  I smiled good-naturedly, expecting him to insist I get him one of the men, but secretly hoping he'd give me a chance.  He looked around me to the back and couldn't see anyone he could call out for.  There was nobody to rescue him from the girl who thought she knew about hardware.

"Listen... I'll make a deal with you."

"What's that?"

"You tell me what you need.  I'll help you and if turns out I can't help you, I'll get you one of the men.  I think you'll find I'm just as smart as them and a whole lot better looking."

He laughed again as if this were a game and shrugged.  "Alright, missy. Here's what I need..."

We ran through his list. I found everything.  I solved one problem and on the way to the check-out counter I sold him a flashlight he didn't actually need.

I turned to go back to dusting and saw Boss standing in the shadows. I'm pretty sure he smiled, the first one I'd ever seen on his face.

The next day I was fired from dusting duty and put in charge of the electrical department. And soon enough I was taking orders and solving problems just like Dave. I stopped hearing "get me one of the men."  The next time I heard it was when it was said to a new girl, Patty, who had taken over the dusting where I had left off.

And Dave still hated me, but he hated me more now because I wasn't a silly 17-year-old girl. I was the girl who one day had to explain to Dave where something was because he couldn't find it himself.

It was a good summer, the first of many spent learning about coming into my own. And that you only get the amount of respect you earn. And you earn it because you fight for it, sometimes by doing hard things, bold things.

And I learned that often the fruits on the highest part of the tree are the ones that taste the very best.