Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Devil Wears Ikea

I hope it was my last time in Ikea.

It was necessary to return a mattress pad which didn't fit our bed. Our bed is Queen-sized; the mattress pad was Queen-sized as well. It should have fit. It didn't. I thought of just chucking it, but wasting something brand-new goes against my principles. I was in the neighborhood, so I took it back.

There were only two other people in the returning room. The ticker said #20. I got #52. I called out, "Are you using the numbers?"

A large, angry woman informed me that they were. She reached out and cranked all the numbers between 20 and 52. I'd be pissed off, too, if I had to wear those hideous bilious yellow and blue uniforms that shriek out for sunglasses.

"I have to return this because it didn't fit our bed," I said.

"You opened it," she snarled accusingly.

"That's how I know it didn't fit."

"You OPENED it," she repeated.

I ignored her lessons in logic. "The package says 'Queen' but it wasn't big enough. It must be marked wrong."

"We can't take back something you opened." She looked as if she wanted to punch me out. She was a lot bigger than I am, but I'm pretty brave.

"I wouldn't have returned it if it had fit. But it didn't."

She said, "Do you have an Ikea ----?"


"Do you have an Ikea ----?"

"I don't know what that is," I said. She was making sounds that were beyond mumbling. She was not foreign, just unintelligible.


Oh. Where's my damn conversion table? "No."

"Well, that's why it didn't fit. Our measurements are different."

"I've bought mattress pads before and if they're Queen-sized, they fit. This one didn't."

"You should have read it."

"It doesn't say anywhere that your measurements are different."

"I have to call my Supervisor," she said. Right in front of me, she yelled into the phone, "Got a Problem Customer here that don't agree with Our Policy."

Ten minutes later, another woman dressed for a hostile takeover in bilious yellow and blue arrived. I explained the situation. She glared at me.

"You opened it," she said.

"That's how I found out if wouldn't fit on my bed."

"Well, we can't sell it to another customer now. We don't know if you used it or not. It could be DIRTY." Watch it, sister. I'm twenty times cleaner than you are. And so are my germs.

"I had to OPEN it to try it on the bed. I didn't USE it because it didn't fit. If it HAD fit, I wouldn't have RETURNED it," I said.

"We have to charge you 30% for opening it," she snarled.

"It wouldn't work for another customer either Because It's The Wrong Size," I said. I did not add, "You miserable cow. You swine. You lowlife scumbag piece of shit stupidhead." I held my tongue. My mother would have been pleased. Also surprised.

Lucretia Borgia's face turned bright red and her wattles twitched like a turkey. You never want to make a turkey angry. I know we eat them and all, but they're really nasty animals.

"The dimensions are on the package. Right here. Did you measure the bed?"

"No. I don't know how many Inches it is. It's a Queen." (Fer Chrissakes.)

"You're saying The Package is WRONG?" Wattles waggling violently now. Cruella deVille was quivering with rage. A lot of misplaced emotion riding on this. Uh huh. Tell me about your childhood.

"It is not posted anywhere that Ikea sizes are different from normal sizes," I told her. I was right, of course. Not that it mattered.

I was really close to throwing it in her face. My misspent life was flashing before my eyes. Ikea makes me hyperventilate. I held out my arm so she could siphon all the blood out of it. I got my partial refund. I ran for the door.

As God is my witness, I will never set foot in Ikea again.


Archaeologists have found a stone snake that was carved long ago inside a cave in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana. It is as tall as a man and 20 feet long.

Scientists believed that human intelligence had not evolved the capacity to perform group rituals until 40,000 years ago. But this discovery of 70,000 year-old artifacts appears to represent the first known human rituals.

"You could see the mouth and eyes of the snake. It looked like a real python," said Sheila Coulson of the University of Oslo. "The play of sunlight over the indentations gave them the appearance of snake skin. At night, the firelight gave one the feeling that the snake was actually moving."

They also found spearheads made of stone that would have been brought to the cave from hundreds of miles away, and then burned.

There was no sign of normal habitation or ordinary tools at the site.

The modern San people of the region have legends that mankind descended from the python. They believe that the ancient dry stream beds around the hills were created by their python ancestor as it circled ceaselessly, looking for water.

"Our find means that humans were more organized and had the capacity for abstract thinking at a much earlier point in history than we have previously assumed," Coulson said. "All of the indications suggest that Tsodilo has been known to mankind for almost 100,000 years as a very special place in the pre-historic landscape."

The scientists found a secret chamber behind the python carving, where the shaman could have hidden himself. He would have had a good view of the inside of the cave while remaining invisible himself. When he spoke from his hiding place, it would have seemed as if the voice came from the snake. There was also a small shaft off the back through which he could leave the chamber.

What is most amazing to me is that mankind has had the capacity for nearly 100,000 years to create rituals involving abstract thinking, but has evolved into a race that ritually watches moronic TV shows while burning out brain cells. Our shamans speak to us from within the large box while the airwaves circle ceaselessly, creating arid places in our minds.

The Wizard of Oz, the Holy Grail, and the Kalahari Python got nothin' on us. With such brilliant beginnings, we could have done better.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dick & Jane Go To The Hospital

Last night, Flip discovered he had misplaced the manual to his recording equipment, which required both of us to ransack the apartment. We checked and rechecked all the usual suspects. He throws nearly everything into a large, antique trunk of mine, even though I have asked him not to. The Christmas ornaments are in there. They don't do well crushed under heavy mining equipment. I finally wised up and contained them in boxes with hard sides.

I suggested he get down a plastic milk crate which holds a lot of odds and ends and resides on a high shelf in the closet.

He found the manual along with many anonymous rejects from everyday life, then noticed his hand was bleeding profusely. We washed it and poured peroxide over it. It kept gushing. I managed to get his wound in a tight embrace with several bandaids, blotting all the while. He didn't whine too much. I was pleased. I went back to reading blogs.

An hour later, it was still bleeding through several changes of bandaid. I suggested again that it needed stitches, and this time he agreed to accompany me to the hospital.

It was a cold night, but the stores had closed and there wasn't much traffic. I even found a parking space two blocks away. I wanted to hold his hand but was afraid I'd kill him. Or get blood on me. The triage nurse looked at his hand and agreed that it was lucky Flip is left-handed. (When I injure my hand, it's always the right one, too, but I am right-handed. This has caused no end of inconvenience and grief, as well as surgery.)

We were ushered into a curtained area where another nurse, Scott, who kept asking us if he didn't look like "Dustin," administered a tetanus shot. He did, kind of, in an overblown sort of way. Like in "Tootsie." Dustin Hoffman is a great actor. Scott is a great nurse. And they're both male, give or take.

There was a lively debate over whether or not Flip needed stitches. The wound wouldn't stop bleeding, but on the other hand, it was over a knuckle and was more of a divot than a cut. Scott didn't think there was anything to sew together.

Enter the doctor. He looked like Wallace Shawn. He's the one in Woody Allan movies who always gets the beautiful women even though he's short, bald, and astoundingly ugly because he's hung like a horse. The doctor didn't play "Who's My Face?" with us. He was nice. He even acted like he wanted to be there, watching Flip bleed out on the cot.

The wound was sterilized and wrapped in plastic stuff that looked like it used to be a mask in a horror movie. (Again with the movies. Do you sense a theme here? ) We were fitted out with directions for its care and feeding, given several rubber gloves so Flip could keep it dry while showering, and discharged.

I stopped at the drug store to buy antibiotic wash and ointment while Flip visited the liquor store for his own idea of medicine, and we went home. He hit the remotes and I went back to blogging. (I've already seen all the Law & Order episodes at least three times.)

He bled through the bandage again. We blotted him around it and I asked if he wanted to go back to the hospital. He didn't. We wrapped it in gauze and an Ace bandage.

He finally took his injured paw to bed, and is still sleeping. I've checked him for breathing and don't see a pool of blood on the floor, so I'm hoping it finally clotted. I just discovered streaks of blood on the bathroom light switch and around the sink. It looks like a massacre took place in there. His DNA is everywhere. I should probably save it for evidence. Detective Benson will need it when she gets here.

Only the Good Die Young

Today was the birthday of Bruce Lee (1940-1973.) He was not only perhaps the greatest martial artist who ever lived, he was also a great philosopher. In his short life, he learned or intuited universal secrets that were formerly in the province of ancient sages.

He was an amazing man with a perfectly disciplined body and mind. Read these gems and your life will be better.

"A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at."

"The mind is like a fertile garden in which anything that is planted, flowers or weeds, will grow."

"As you think, so shall you become."

"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."

"Knowledge will give you power, but character, respect."

"Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them."

"To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one's potential."

"If you love life, don't waste time, for time is what life is made up of."

"Real living is living for others."

"Love is like a friendship caught on fire."

"The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering."

We remember you, Bruce. And in our recollection lies your immortality. Thank you for the lessons and the love.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Black Mood Friday, Bah Humbug

The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. Black Friday, so-called because if all goes well, shopkeepers begin to recoup their years' losses and edge back into the black, indicating profits.

I wouldn't be caught dead in a store on that day.

Apparently, many of the huge chains like Target, Circuit City, Wal-mart, CompUSA, Macy's, and all the other soulless mercantile entities competed this year to see who could open their doors the earliest. Best Buy was the winner (probably) as they made their wares available at 9:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Fist fights ensued in many cities as people got quite nasty in their attempts to land the best deals.

The spirit of Christmas is alive and well.

Some of the stores advertised tremendous bargains on big-ticket items, but customers who arrived as the doors opened were told they were mysteriously "sold out." A 250" flat screen TV for $99 is a mythical beast, and yes, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.

Sales clerks were pinned against counters in many stores, eerily reminiscent of rock concerts in which attendees have been trampled to death by hysterical, surging crowds.

Is this really what the season of love and joy is about? Somehow the concept of gifts from the heart has been replaced by this orgy of competitive overspending, but it has to be a bargain, too.

This is insanity.

I love to give presents to those I love, and even on occasion, to strangers. But I am put off by the idea that shopkeepers have decreed that everyone I know must get stuff on the same day. And while I like getting presents as much as anyone, I sincerely hope my family doesn't give me the gorgeous gifts they do out of obligation.

The ghost of Christmases past is with me still. It reminds me of strolling down 5th Avenue to gaze rapturously at the marvelous window displays, followed by skating in Rockefeller Plaza by the giant Christmas tree. How I yearned for a short skating skirt when I was a child. I didn't know how to figure skate, but that was of no concern; the outfit was what mattered.

Years later, I took my own children there. The hot chocolate with clouds of whipped cream was still wonderful, sipped outdoors in air so cold we could see our breath. I bought chestnuts roasted over braziers by old men, my favorite delicacy until my 6-year old daughter noted that the chestnut man had wiped his nose on his sleeve right before scooping our chestnuts into the little brown bag.

I fantasize sometimes about a homestyle Christmas in which everyone gives handmade goods or offers of personal services like a back massage or childcare. And then I visit one of the palatial emporiums with their glorious merchandise piled seductively right at my eye level, the luscious cashmere that insinuates itself into my passing hand, the yummy perfumes, the handbags and shoes so soft and elegant, the jewelry that cries out for my neck, my ears, my wrists and fingers, and I know. I know, deep down, that I will not bake cupcakes for loved ones this year either.

I will push off from shore and brave the rapids. I will risk life and limb. I who hate crowds will become a face in the crowd and do everything it takes to get my family the best holiday gifts I can. Because I really do love the process of sifting through countless items in dozens of stores until I've found the very ones that scream out for my husband, my daughters, my son, the others on my list.

I will lovingly wrap every one of them and barely contain myself until it's finally Christmas and we're all together, the smell of pine and great food is overpowering, and I realize once again that no gifts could possibly express the love I have for these people.

Besides, I don't bake all that well.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


First of all, the weed eaters have to go. I mean, who does that on the day before Thanksgiving? It's late November. There ARE no weeds. But we have a mechanical symphony going in stereo -- our neighbors on both sides have decided to vaporize those weeds right into the dirt.

I used to attend a Native American observance of Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Turkey Day is a day of mourning for those who were so royally screwed by the Mayflower riders and their descendants. The pilgrims stole their land, killed as many of them as they could, and imprisoned the rest on reservations.

Indian reservations have the worst schools and medical care in the country, as well as the highest suicide rate. Alcoholism is rampant, which shouldn't surprise anyone considering their entire way of life was destroyed. And then they were "honored" by the dominant culture naming streets in housing developments for them, and wearing turquoise jewelry.

My brother and I once argued about this. His position was that the Indians didn't leave any lasting monuments and deserved to lose their land so it could be improved. Mine was that they slipped through the world without stamping their brand on it. They did no harm but left it as they found it and therefore deserved to remain in charge. This will never be resolved because Native Americans have no political power. A surprising number of people do not even know they still exist, but believe they have gone their way like the buffalo herds that sustained so many of them.

I think this disagreement between members of the same family represents two world views that are diametrically opposed and can probably not be reconciled. Either one is for Indians or one is against them. The rest is what my daughter used to call "excusifying."

Indians from many tribes gathered on a hill overlooking Plymouth Harbor, eloquent speeches were given, and then a few men would walk downhill and piss on Plymouth Rock, which until recently, was surrounded only by a metal chain. (They've since built a mausoleum around it which looks like an ancient Greek ruin in very good condition.) Plymouth Rock should be called Plymouth Pebble; it isn't as large as its fabled presence. But then, all fables are Bunyonesque. Paul, himself, was probably about as tall as Tom Cruise.

After the speeches, everyone would gather in a local church and feast on dishes prepared by women of many tribes. It was wonderful. I was honored to be there, but then, unlike our culture which delights in excluding people, Native American culture is INclusive. Everyone of good will is welcome and judged for himself, regardless of his ethnicity. (Which, of course, is what got them into trouble in the first place.) There is so much we could and should learn from these highly evolved people, but we settle for appropriating their exotic names and discard the rest as irrelevant to our technologically advanced society.

I always prepared the traditional Thanksgiving meal on Sunday so my family wouldn't miss out on chestnut stuffing and pumpkin pie with homemade whipped cream dotted with bits of crystallized ginger.

I don't know any Native Americans in California, so we're having Thanksgiving again. It's a great meal. I love doing it. Of course, any meal shared with loved ones is a celebration, so while I'll always love Pocahontas, tomorrow is about family and food for me.

Happy day to all of you! Eat, drink, and especially, be merry.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Small Complaint

Does anybody else think it strange that Home Depot features Little People dressed as Santa's elves in its commercials?

While it's highly unlikely that any of these guys will get leading man roles in movies or television,* and allowing for the fact that residuals from commercials are easy money, a lot of easy money, I still wonder why they would choose to capitalize on their particular individuality in this way.

I'm happy to see people get work, but it also makes me cringe since this work depends upon a condition, dwarfism, which used to be considered a deformity but is quite rare now in developed countries as it is readily treatable with growth hormones. Just how does this latest foray into show biz differ from being in a circus sideshow? Is it the fact that "midgets," as they were once called, were openly ostracized in the circus as opposed to being more discreetly ostracized as Home Depot Christmas elves?

The word "midget" is now politically incorrect, having been replaced by "Little People," and has a pejorative connotation. So, now, does HOME DESPOT and the advertising genius who came up with this highly offensive campaign.

* One notable exception is Tom Cruise.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Badwill Day

I got up early to attend a designer sample sale which promised great bargains on cool stuff. I went to one of their other events several months ago and scored some nice things, so I was excited about it.

The sale started at 10:00, and when I got there at 10:20, there was a long line. This seemed strange because they were holding this one in an airplane hangar-sized building on the wharf, a place where all kinds of major events are held. They were letting people inside three or four at a time. Well, okay. Maybe they've had a theft problem. I could wait a while.

After forty minutes, I was about to leave when the two women ahead of me were admitted by the bouncer. I was standing so close behind them that if they had noticed me, they would have thought I was hitting on them. Another woman had crept up in line so she was next to me. As he lowered his arm, signifying that we couldn't enter, I said, "We're all together." He let girlfriend and me in.

They had only about six or seven racks of stuff, very nice stuff, but still. The last show had an entire large roomful of clothes, bags, shoes, all kinds of yummies. And they were letting only a few people at a time into the changing area with a 5-item limit.

I thinned the herds to five and found a space by a full-length mirror for midgets. One item was perfect, a gorgeous cashmere sweater that fit like it loved me. The other things were too big, so I dutifully hung them up again and found the checkout line, which had about 20 people ahead of me, most of them still shopping while holding their places.

Time went by. The line was not moving. The woman ahead of me was fairly tall, which I am not. She reported that there was only One Person checking people out. ONE PERSON. It was clearly going to be a long wait. I debated whether to just leave, or whether to stay since I had already invested so much time in the project. Fifteen minutes more went by. The line didn't move. I had a lot of things to do today. A lot.

I started to drape the beautiful sweater over a railing, but it felt soooo soft. It was VERY good cashmere. Dark red. With a hood. I took it into my arms again. More time went by. Nothing happened. I started to get claustrophobic, or at least, impatient.

Finally, I left. I put the sweater down and left. We were both a little tearful, but the clock had run out. The bouncer seemed surprised as I headed for the door, empty-handed.

"I just can't wait any longer," I said.

He murmured, "I'm sorry." But I knew he wasn't. He probably had his eye on that sweater himself.

I needed to leave so I could reunite with a cherished possession at the Goodwill, if I could get there soon enough. Tuesday, I donated a lot of things, including a large African basket I've loved for years because Flip had pointed out (repeatedly) that we didn't have room for it here. His reasoning was flawless, but I was sorry to see it go. Yesterday, we were in an antique store about 50 miles away and I saw its identical twin, marked $350. Omigod. My basket was worth 350 big ones.

"We have to get it back," I said.

Flip agreed. He was beginning to see the error of his ways. $350 worth of error, to be exact.

The woman running the antique store said it had just come in. When we got back to the city, we drove across town to the Goodwill. It wasn't there. I told an employee I would like to buy it back if it could be located.

He said it had been sent to another Goodwill store, also in San Francisco, so today we went there. We did not see the basket. Someone told me it was probably still in the receiving area down the street, so I walked over there. A very kind man named Jesse assured me it would have been set out the day after they received it. He took me on a tour of the entire operation, which was impressive, so I could see for myself that it was gone.

These people are Organized. They know which truck brought in each item, and they process everything and get it onto the selling floor immediately. Who knew Santa's elves were so efficient?

It was then I realized that the $350 African basket I saw in Petaluma WAS my African basket. How many could there be? No wonder it looked familiar. I've always heard of people who didn't realize what they had until they lost it. I just never expected to be one of them.

Later, we bought Flip a djembe drum from Senegal at a wonderful African store. It's not my basket, but it is from the same continent, and he's going to teach me to play it.

I'll get to Africa yet. I will.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Teardrops in my Eyes

Ruth Brown, the legendary R&B singer, is dead. Scratch that. She has died, but she is not dead. She succumbed to complications from a stroke and heart attack she suffered in Las Vegas, and we will never see the likes of her again.

Her magnificent voice was trained in a church choir in Portsmouth, VA, but she was equally comfortable with jazz, gospel, blues, and rock. She produced dozens of hits for Atlantic Records and turned it into a major record company, which repaid her by cheating her of her royalties.

She performed on stages around the world, made movies, and recorded hits in many genres for several different labels. She also became a tireless advocate for aging R&B musicians, and formed the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit dedicated to providing financial and medical assistance to those in need, as well as historical and cultural preservation of the musical genre.

I heard her in concert with Little Richard in September, and she still had the energy and voice of a much younger woman. An incredibly talented, vital and charming much younger woman. She was 78.

Ruth Brown was magical. She had the rare gift of making others happy, even those who didn't know her personally, but who suspended disbelief when she sang and saw the world as she did. As she wanted us to see it. She was hypnotic. She helped us to cross some kind of boundary and become her, almost. To hear her sing was to share her soul. That generosity was one of her greatest gifts.

She was a true lady in every sense of the word. She will be missed by so many.

I need to play some music now. And sing badly with Miss Ruth Brown.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


A mother was kicked off a Freedom Airlines flight for breast feeding her baby. Freedom operates a Delta Airlines commuter flight between Burlington, Vermont and New York City.

Emily Gillette of New Mexico was asked to leave the flight after she declined a flight attendant's offer of a blanket to cover her baby's head. She was seated by a window in the next-to-last row with her husband between her and the aisle. No part of her breast was showing, she said.

The flight attendant told her, "You offend me."

Gillette replied that she had a legal right to breast feed her baby. Soon after, a Delta ticket agent approached and said the flight attendant had asked that the family be removed from the flight. They complied, but have since filed a complaint against the two airlines.

"It embarrassed me. That was my first reaction, which is a weird reaction for doing something so good for a child. And then helpless," she said.

And in the Christmas season, too. We can only imagine how helpless Mary must have felt when she was denied room at the inn. Good thing she didn't try to get on an airplane with all those donkeys and lambs.

The boobs working for the airline are the ones who offend me.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Iceman Freezeth

It's easy to forget it's winter in some places when you live in California.

Here are pictures of some of the Fairbanks, Alaska, Ice Festival sculptures. Brrrr and Wow!!

Not Your Mother's Chatty Cathy Doll

A company that makes Barbie-sized talking Jesus dolls that quote the Bible donated 4,000 little saviors valued at $80,000 to the U.S. Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program. The toys were rejected when the Marines decided that religious items are not appropriate.

"We don't know if the kids we help celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. For us, it's just a matter of financial need," said a Marine spokesman.

The president of One2Believe estimated that 90% of Toys for Tots recipients are from Christian backgrounds, and apparently isn't concerned with the others. "I don't understand why they can't accept a toy that promotes good values," he complained. "I just think that it shouldn't be that big of a deal."

He claimed the Marines violated their own mission "to help needy children throughout the United States experience the joy of Christmas." The company's Messengers of Faith collection also includes the Virgin Mary, Moses, David and Esther dolls.

In their attempt to keep the Christ in Christmas, they've gone too far. This could be a slippery slope, my friends. Barbie and Skipper. GI Joe & Ken. Jesus 'n' Mary Magdalene?

What's next -- Bobblehead Jesus? How about Anatomically Correct Inflatable Jesus? That one could be a big seller in convents.

I'm waiting for the Sodom and Gomorrha train set with plaster-of-paris lambs. Lots of graven images. And of course, all our favorite Disney characters in Biblical garb. Minnie and Daisy bitch-slapping each other over the role of Mary. I see Goofy as Joseph, and Huey, Dewey and Louie as the Baby Jesus triplets.

I bet the real Jesus is turning over in his Shroud of Turin. R.I.P., Jesus. You never meant for this to happen. Forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Shaggy Dog Story

Flip got a haircut. We celebrated with coffee and croissants at the French bakery.

We were actually celebrating that his barber didn't amputate his head with her scissors. While cutting his hair, she announced that she hated to cut hair. She repeated it again later. This was really information that didn't need to be shared.

She was also wearing a bandage around her knee, over her jeans. I asked what she had done to her leg. She said it was broken. She had broken it on a visit to Vietnam in July, but didn't realize it was broken. How, exactly, does this escape ones notice, I wonder?

She said she just thought it hurt. It didn't occur to her that pain meant anything. She continued to walk on it.

"I can run faster than anybody," she stated. Well, okay. And you hate cutting hair. This is looking better and better.

I noticed she'd left some tufts on top, reminiscent of Big Bird. But no matter. Flip is taller than most people, so the top of his head is usually his secret. No blood was drawn, and croissants heal nearly everything.

Walking home, I noticed a dog I didn't know tied up outside a boutique. Male. Definitely male.

"That is the most over-endowed dog I've ever seen," I remarked.

Flip looked at him and whistled. "Where did he get THAT?"

"Well," I said. "He IS a Cocker Spaniel."

War Chest

We bought an antique on Friday to replace a lovely parquet-top table which had room only for a lamp and framed photos of my children as kids. (I need to get some new ones. Photos, not kids.) Our place is small. Everything needs to earn its keep in multiple ways. The new piece is a Chinese elm chest with doors that open on shelves and a couple of small drawers as well. It will hold even more pictures of my children on top.

We went back to the antique store to pick it up yesterday. Flip dropped me off and drove around to look for parking, an impossible task in San Francisco on a Saturday. He thinks double parking is immoral or something.

I've discovered that one of the local cab companies has mini-vans. Great to know when you've purchased something larger than your car and the store doesn't deliver. The shop's owner and I were carrying the chest to the sidewalk when another customer with a voice like a crow asked me, "What did you pay for it?"

I ignored her and held up my end of the chest. Kept walking. She repeated herself, louder.

I said, "I'm not sure. I bought a couple of things and don't know how it breaks down." Not true. I know exactly what I paid. It just wasn't any of her business.

She said, "Did you already pay for it?"

"Uh huh." Almost to the curb now.

"You PAID for it?" Well, no. Actually, I'm stealing it. And the owner is helping me.


She planted herself in front of Joanne, the shop owner, and said, "I need this piece. It goes perfectly with my console."

Joanne didn't say anything. What COULD she say, really? The woman said, "Did you hear me? I have to have this piece. How much was it?"

Joanne told her what I'd payed, which was a little less than the ticketed price because I'd asked if she could do better on it. The woman was screaming now.

"IREALLYNEEDTHIS. It matches my console perfectly." She was stroking it obscenely. I wanted to smack her hand. Nobody does that to my furniture.

Her friend piped up. "It matches her console."

Joanne said, "It's already sold."

My taxi-van was waiting.

The woman said, "Well, give her her money back and sell it to ME." She didn't offer to pay more; she just wanted to replace me as the buyer.

Joanne and I waited while the cab driver, Anne, opened her back doors.

The woman, still holding onto my elm chest, MY elm chest, said to me, "SELL IT TO ME!" It was clearly an order.

I shook my head. Smiled through cold teeth.

"I want it," I said. As in, that's why I bought it, you-stupid-bitch.

Her friend said, "But it goes with her console."

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Flip do a drive-by. He didn't double park. He disappeared into the ether again. I tried to call him on his cell, but it went straight to message. Of course it did. It was ringing on his desk at home.

Joanne and Anne and I hefted My Chest into the back of the van. It was carpeted, so we didn't need the blanket and thick quilt I had brought along, which were still circling the planet like a satellite in our car.

The woman and her friend were now trying to prevent Anne from closing her doors.

I pointed to the store and said, "There's another Chinese chest right by the door that's beautiful, and about the same size." I had to repeat myself because the woman was still loudly trying to bully Joanne into revoking my parental rights and selling it to her.

Finally, she heard me. She and her friend gave the other piece, which was quite lovely, a cursory glance, like a fly swatter killing a fly, and pronounced it "a piece of shit." Not like MY Chinese chest. The one that got away. The one that went to a Good Home.

"I want THIS one," she yelled. She was apoplectic now. The veins were standing out on her dried-up neck.

"Well, you should check back often, "I chirped cheerily. "She gets in new things all the time."

"That's what always happens," said Joanne. "As soon as something sells, someone else wants it." I wondered if they were all so aggressive and rude, but didn't ask. After all, I won this round. The taxi driver emptied about 90 pounds of stuff from her passenger seat and we headed for home.

I had asked Joanne to tell Flip that I'd had to leave if he ever came back, and just as Anne and I finished unloading the chest to my lobby, he showed up.

It looks beautiful by the fireplace, just as I knew it would. It looks happy here. I think it knows what a narrow escape it had. Everything deserves to be loved, and not just acquired.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Deja Scary

This gem came from my wonderful cousin, Billie, in Maine. We're putting her in a 12-Step Program for my relatives. You know how it goes...

"My name is Billie and I'm related to Heart in San Francisco."

"Hiiii, Billie."

Then everybody gets sloppy drunk and passes out.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

King Dad

Some memories remain forever.

My father died on this date in 1965.

I first heard the expression “Napoleonic complex” from his lips, describing another lawyer, not himself. It never crossed his mind that he had any flaws because of all the people on earth, God had singled out my father to embody total perfection. Dealing with everyone else’s glaring imperfections was a great trial to him. He was often “aggravated." My main job in life was not to aggravate my father.

He took frequent naps when he was home, requiring total silence throughout the house. I always marveled at his ability to sleep in the daytime as I couldn’t manage it myself. Even more surprisingly, he would undress and don his pajamas when he napped, exactly as if it were night time, which to me was as miraculous as the loaves and fishes would have been had I known about them.

When he was not napping, he sat in his big green chair in the study and read. Nobody else ever sat in that chair, even my brother; it was my father’s chair, and was by far the most comfortable seat in the house. He could not be interrupted for any reason when he was installed in his chair, reading.

My mother never had time to sit down anyway, as she had to tend to the many details of keeping house. I wondered what, exactly, "keeping house" meant, or more accurately, I knew very well what it meant, but wondered why. Why she had given her life to laundry, and why stewardship of my father’s house, for all things belonged to him, was a temporary condition needing to be renewed constantly. His entitlement was so great that the rest of us were there only by his considerable grace and we all knew it. We had no power, but had to take the oath of office every day. It was unsettling.

My father informed us smugly that all the best chefs were men, but I never saw him cook anything. On holidays, my mother roasted a turkey with stuffing and potatoes and vegetables, or she made roast beef with potatoes that she cooked in the same pan so they’d soak up the garlic and pepper she’d smeared on the meat.

My father made the salad dressing, a star turn dramatic performance. We watched breathlessly as he rubbed a clove of garlic over the inside of a large polished wooden bowl he had made on his basement lathe, and then he mixed oil and vinegar and something that turned it the rusty color of French’s French dressing. My mother cut up the salad vegetables while she checked her pie in the oven. When we sat down to dinner, everyone raved about my father’s heroic effort, how his salad dressing was the best in the world. It seemed so unfair but I did it too; we were all in this together. My father was the one we all hungered to please. Then we ate the huge meal my mother had spent the whole day preparing.

My father was a Mason. This was a secret organization with a secret password and a secret handshake, like the Boy Scouts but for grownups. Or the Ku Klux Klan, who burned a cross on our front lawn when I was three. I watched them in their ghostly bedsheets from my upstairs dormer window.

My father was proud of being a 32nd degree Mason, which was the highest you could go except for Shriner. The Shriners wore Turkish fez hats with tassels and went on parades. They all seemed to be Midwestern. My father even had a special Masonic Bible.

He said that Catholics couldn't be Masons because they had to tell all their secrets to the priest. Since I was a secret Catholic, I felt bad about this. I looked forward to the day I would have really bad things to confess.

One day I told him, “I know the Mason’s secret password.”

He regarded me with mild contempt. “And what do you think it is?” he said.

“It’s Tubalcaine!” I bellowed triumphantly. His eyes stopped moving for a second, and I knew I was right. I savored my moment of power.

“Where did you hear that?” he asked casually. My father was a trial lawyer and a poker player. I was a child, eager to even the score.

“I read it in a magazine,” I said. He didn’t answer.

“It’s from the Bible,” I announced.

“What would you know about that?” he sneered. He was losing patience now but I was on a roll. I couldn't stop myself.

“It’s from Genesis.” I recited, “He was a forger of brass and made pillars of stone.”

My father went back to his book. I had lost his attention and wished I knew how to get it back. I knew that "Mason" was short for "Freemason;" I wasn't sure what that meant but I’d heard of stonemasons. I didn’t understand why a lawyer would belong to a secret society of men who made things out of rocks, unless he had even more of a secret life than I suspected.

My father wore Hickey Freeman three-piece suits and a holster with a loaded .38. He was known to have caused other lawyers to hit the floor in their favorite lunch spot near the County Courthouse when he whipped it out and plunked it on the table, right next to the hot roast beef sandwiches.

He was a criminal lawyer, not a Mob lawyer like you have today, but a defender of private individuals who committed violent crimes like Tony Leckich, who shot his uncle at close range with a shotgun in their used car lot.

My father’s unsavory clientele, along with his own abrasive manner, made him the target of periodic death threats, so he was permitted by the police to carry a gun. He had several guns, actually, but carried only one at a time, thereby not flouting the authority of his permit.

He practiced shooting in our basement, pumping rounds into a man-sized target he'd bought on a family visit to the FBI in Washington one Christmas vacation. The tour guide at the FBI showed us pictures of famous criminals like Babyface Nelson and John Dillinger. I couldn't decide if I wanted to be a criminal or a G-man. There didn’t seem to be any women in these professions, and I was at a disadvantage in either case because I was afraid of guns.

I was convinced that any moment, a bullet would come through the floor and kill me. I hunched up small in my closet, chewing my nails and wondering if I would know I was dead right away, or if it would feel the same as being alive, except for being invisible and oozing through walls. I startled each time a shot rang out. I made up prayers because I didn't know any real ones.

My parents’ friends, Eric and Alice Bender, came to dinner occasionally. Eric was a roentgenologist and Alice was his office assistant; she adjusted people to have their X-Rays taken. She kept two pampered cats named Panda and Faust who drank water from the kitchen tap. She dressed them in tiny baby garments and bought them fish heads from a specialty market frequented by foreigners. The Benders had no children.

They had escaped Nazi Germany and come to America just in time; both lost all their family members in the Holocaust. Eric was a dark, gutteral man who argued with my father often as both were opinionated and invincible. Alice was a large, kind, bony woman with light hair and spaces between her strong yellow teeth.

One night at dinner, my father was showing his guns to the Benders. He brought them forth like Exhibit A and Exhibit B while sitting at table, spinning them tenderly in his blunt-fingered hands.

Alice became increasingly nervous and said, “Pleass put them avay, Irffing.”

He laughed and spun them faster. “They aren’t even loaded,” he said.

Alice looked as if she would slide senseless into her brisket with boiled potatoes and lima beans. “I vish you vould take them off the table,” she pleaded. All her w’s sounded like v’s.

“Look, Alice, they’re perfectly harmless,” my father said, grinning, as he pulled the trigger. The gun leaped in his hand. The noise was deafening in our small dining room. Our dog, Patty, exploded from under the table, yelping, butted the screen door open and raced down the street.

The next morning, Sunday, the phone rang while my parents were still in bed. My brother answered it and immediately left the house. I pulled on my jeans and t-shirt and ran after him, but he was already coming back from the far corner and wouldn't allow me to pass him.

I saw the brown heap of dog on the curb and struggled to go to her, but he got me in a kind of hammerlock and dragged me back to the house. He woke my parents because he didn't know what to do.

“Can we bury Patty in the back yard?” I asked.

“The town will take care of it,” my mother said in a tone which signified that I may not broach the subject again.

They left our dog stiffening on the far curb.

I cried silently for days under my soggy bed covers, making obligatory appearances at the dining table where I had to pretend nothing was wrong because children were not allowed to display their feelings in our home. I was ashamed that I had any. The only emotion that got expressed with impunity was my father’s anger, which was an unpredictable but regular occurrence. I felt as if I had a huge lump inside my head.

I made a marker out of a Good Humor stick that said, “Would God be wasting a dog like Patty?” which I thought sounded Irish. After all, Patty was a pedigreed Irish Terrier. Invoking God worried me as I was unsure of my parent’s position on Him. I hid the marker under a rose bush, but a few days later I saw it in the garbage can, and there were pink tea roses in a cut crystal vase on the sideboard.

No one ever mentioned Patty again.

A few years later, Alice Bender died of leukemia and Eric’s new assistant was not required to stand by the table while he took X-Rays.

Within a few months he married Judith, an elegant woman in a black upsweep hairdo with a single perfect strand of white accenting her refined features. She never set foot in his office, she gave away Alice’s cats, and they soon disappeared from my parent’s life.

To this day, I recall every detail of my father's death and the remarkable aftermath. He had always promised that if there were any way to send a message from beyond, he would. I never doubted it because he had told me my entire life that he could do anything.

An hour after he died, the entire East Coast of North America experienced an unprecedented complete blackout for which there was no logical explanation. Since my father was an accomplished curmudgeon, I was sure that if his lights were out, damn it, EVERYBODY'S would be out.

The Blackout of 1965 disrupted the supply of electricity from Canada through New England and down the Eastern Seaboard to Florida. Twenty-five million people over 80,000 square miles had no electricity for up to twelve hours. The cause of failure originated in Ontario when lines became overloaded, which automatically shut down the entire power distribution system like falling dominos within five minutes.

Since that day, whenever my brother's family and mine get together for weddings, funerals and other State Occasions, the lights go out briefly but unmistakably. Like a bird dipping its wings. And we know Dad is still with us.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Courtship Ritual

I had an obscene caller. He would call me at all hours of the day and night, and he only spoke one line:

"I want to eat your pussy."

The first few times, I slammed down the phone, shocked and offended. Then, one night he woke me at 3:30 a.m. to listen to his line.

"I want to eat your pussy," he said.

"Oh? And then what?" I asked, rubbing my eyes.

"I want to eat your pussy."

"Yes, I know that. What ELSE do you want to do to me?"

He was silent for a moment. Then, loudly, he stated, "I.Want.To.Eat.Your.Pussy."

"Look," I said. "There's a whole smorgasbord of things you can want to do to a woman. Why only that?"

A very long silence. Then, sadly, he mumbled, "I want to eat your pussy."

"This is stupid," I told him. "You wake me up at 3:30 in the morning to tell me something I already know. Tell me something new or I'm hanging up."

He whispered, "I want to eat your pussy?"

"You know what? I've had better obscene phone calls from twelve-year olds. You just don't know how to talk to a woman!"

I slammed the phone down and he never called me again.

Monday, November 06, 2006








Thursday, November 02, 2006

Memes R Us

My Heart Hurts at "Laugh More, Love More ... Don't Be So Afraid" has tagged me to tell Nine Weird Things About Myself.

Only nine?

I don't know where to begin. Either I'm boringly normal, or so weird that my abnormalities seem normal to me. You'll have to be the judge.

1. I usually keep new clothes for awhile before wearing them, unless they're for a special occasion. I'm uncomfortable in anything that is obviously new.

2. Most of my best friends have been four-leggeds. The only animals I fear are humans. A little face licking is a small price to pay for a lack of arrogance, pretentiousness, and deception. And no, I don't hate everyone. I just find humans more generally disappointing than other animals, where what you see is what you get.

3. I don't drink because I'm allergic to liquor. After 2 or 3 sips, I feel it coursing down my arms and legs which quickly become leaden, and then my throat closes. When I broke my back and was given morphine in the ambulance, it had the exact same effect. The paramedic discontinued my drip immediately. When I just say no, strangers usually assume I'm a recovering alcoholic on good behavior, but I've never been drunk or had a hangover in my life. Nor have I ever known the pleasure of a post-coital cigarette.

4. My father cared little for me because I was a girl, so to this day, when I see a man behaving tenderly toward his daughter, I almost cry. I am so astonished by such displays of paternal affection that I question them in my mind. I look carefully for signs that the man is faking it. Sometimes I photograph the people for my collection of loving-father pictures. It seems miraculous to me, not because I consider females inferior but because I was considered so during my formative years. When girlfriends tell me that their fathers valued them and believed in their abilities, it seems like some kind of fairy tale. I wish this were not so.

5. I never deliberately kill things. I will go to great lengths to catch and free an insect, but cannot bring myself to take a life. I do entertain homicidal fantasies about my next-door neighbor, though, as discussed earlier. When I clean, I remove cobwebs or not, as the mood strikes me. The spiders live or die depending on the caprices of a creature they cannot even comprehend. Does this mean that I am God to the spiders?

6. I have far too many houseplants. They take up a disproportionate amount of space in our apartment, yet I keep buying them. I develop a personal relationship with them and believe they do well for me because of this bond as much as for the care I give them. We have our very own rain forest, but without the enchanting tribal people, some of whom eat other enchanting tribal people. I compulsively pick dead leaves off other peoples' plants, in doctors' offices, malls, friends' homes, wherever they look neglected.

7. I fear haircuts more than dentistry or surgery. I have had some really bad ones besides the self-inflicted wounds, including a few where it was cut so short that I looked like a little boy in drag. I am good about injections but can barely swallow a pill, only caplets, and with difficulty. When I was on birth control pills, I crushed them in applesauce and ate them like a baby.

8. I don't wear polish on my fingernails, but feel naked without toenail polish.

9. I love extreme weather conditions, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes. I have not experienced a tsunami, but always look for rogue waves at the beach, along with abandoned toys. (I would never steal directly from a child, though. I have my scruples, you know.) Thunder, lightning, wind and pelting rain make me feel more alive.

Flip just meandered by, peered over my shoulder, and remarked, "An unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates lives.

I pass the torch on this meme to: Mist1, Crankster and Nihilistic.

The Ghost of Halloweens Past

The first year I lived in North Carolina, I noticed that my landlord's children didn't come trick-or-treating, so I prepared three big bags of candy with black cat and little ghostly decorations and took it across the street.

Their mother angrily informed me, "Halloween is from the devil. We don't celebrate Halloween. And Jesus hates Halloween, too." She refused my offerings and shut the door in my face.

This entire family, including Grandma, traveled 200 miles each way every Sunday of the year to attend a church where they could handle snakes and talk in tongues. This was an enormous commitment as it took time away from squirrel hunting. Their preacher healed penitents with holy oil, which allegedly poured out of his pores when he was in a healing frenzy. His flock all carried tiny squares of cloth saturated with holy oil from his very body in case the need to heal someone came on suddenly, miles from church.

I've been wondering about this ever since. We know Jesus was Jewish and knew how to party. (When did "party" become a verb?) Well, anyway. Look what he did with wine. And how about that Holy Ghost?

In America we have the doctrine, if not the practice, of separation of church and state. Depriving children of Halloween seems so very cruel, so un-American, even. How can bobbing for apples be evil? (Do they still bob for apples?)

But maybe I'm just bitter. Nobody came to our door this year. We live in an apartment. There are no kids in the building. No one can enter without being buzzed in by a tenant. And I'm feeling really sick from scarfing all those Reese's Peanut Butter Cups I bought, just in case, myself. The devil made me do it.