Sunday, July 26, 2009

monkey girl

David and I have been spending a lot of time on our back porch this summer, mainly because of our lack of discretionary funds. It's certainly much cheaper to buy a six pack and listen to our little boom box than it is to go out. It's really no hardship, though. We have a lovely porch - wooden, roofed, shady from a natural canopy of sugar maples. Not the best place for my tomato plants, but a pretty damn good place for us.
During one of our back porch conversations, I found out that we had both had our stomachs pumped due to childhood indiscretions - David at age 2, but I think they managed to solve his mistake with Ipecac before they resorted to bigger things. I was 4 and remember it like it was yesterday.
My sister Peggy was sick - flu, cold, earache, I don't remember. She was 2 years old and my Mom kept feeding her what looked like orange candy. I believe I commented that I didn't think it was quite fair and where the hell was my candy only to be told to shut up.
I woke up the next morning filled with toddler angst. The house was silent, dawn just barely breaking, birds singing their heads off (I remember it being summer, but I could be wrong). I crept into the kitchen, pulled a chair up to the kitchen counter, climbed up and grabbed the bottle from where I remember Mom stashing it. It was almost full - yay! - but in a few minutes it was almost empty.
As far as candy goes, I remember it being particularly unsatisfying and thinking a 4-year-old's version of "Well, the hell with this - she can have 'em."I really don't remember a lot of what happened after that. All I remember is the hospital and a doctor making me swallow a tube. When I called my Mom for confirmation of these events, she said that yes, I had indeed crawled up on the kitchen counter, downed an entire bottle of Johnson's Baby Aspirin and gotten my stomach pumped as a result. At the hospital while her mother-in-law was accusing her of being a rotten mother my dad asked, "Why didn't you hide them?" My mom replied, "I did! They were in the kitchen cabinets on the very top shelf! I don't know how the hell she got up there!"
Then she remembered.
She remembered that I was the monkey girl.
"Monkey girl?" I said. "You climbed on everything" she said, "If we wanted to find you, we had to search every tree."
The moral of the story is that everything worked out alright. Obviously, I'm alive (even though the doctor told my mother that it was particularly dangerous for me to down the entire bottle on an empty stomach - that explains a lot). My sister got better. I lost my taste for Johnson's Baby Aspirin. I continued to climb trees, and could spend an entire afternoon in a mulberry tree with a library book. I haven't climbed a tree in a long time, but it just occurred to me why I like our porch so much. It's almost like being up there - listening to the wind rustle the leaves, watching people below you.
I'm gonna hate it when summer ends.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

summer not in the city

Summer always seems to make me a little more nostalgic - I guess it's because most of my favorite childhood memories involve warm weather - bikes, carnivals, lakes, softball. I'm never nostalgic for shovelling the walk or putting on 4 layers of clothes to go to school. 
I've been even more nostalgic than usual this year since the arrival of warm weather, probably triggered by 2 things - turning 50 and Facebook. Milestone birthdays make you want to get in touch with everyone you ever knew in your life and Facebook has helped me find a few - some who were probably better off being unfound
I may have mentioned it once or twice, but I grew up in small-town Illinois. Centralia, to be exact. Home of the Orphans (yes, that's really the high school team name, I swear). This morning, David mentioned the fact that a couple of the groups he belonged to on Facebook were really growing - Laclede Town and West End both have 70-80 members or so. Centralia's group on Facebook has 709 members. People there just have more time on their hands, I reckon. Except for one grumpy guy about my age who complains continually about how terrible the town has gotten, it's mostly people getting all nostalgic about their summer childhoods.  
But I digress . . . 
Like most small towns, Centralia had a recreational department that offered organized summer activities for a small fee - little league, swimming lessons, baton twirling. I did take swimming lessons, but they didn't stick - swimming is not one of my talents. My favorite - what I longed for all winter - was organized girl's softball. 
I was small for my age and not very coordinated; that meant that I was usually the catcher or more often than not, the right fielder. 
We played night games that rotated between 3 lighted fields. The field we seemed to end up at most was on the outskirts of town, right next to some Illinois Power generators and ringed by locust trees and woods where humidity and bugs just seemed to hang in the air. We played Slo-Pitch, thrown underhanded with a big arch that breaks right at the last possible second and hit with a pretty good-sized bat. Unless the other team had a lefty batter*, right field was a good place to put the smallest, most uncoordinated member of the team - not much happened there. I would stand with my hands on my knees, trying to look fearsome and ready for anything, watching balls sail into center or left field. With the humidity, the lack of a breeze and the size of the ball it would never go very far - just these pop flies that would hang in the air over your head then plop into the grass. 
I remember the one night a fly finally got hit into right field like it was yesterday. Both of my parents were there - highly unusual, because my dad's job involved a lot of travel. The air was so wet you could wring it out with both hands. It was one of the later innings and the grass was just beginning to get covered with dew. I don't remember the score, but we were probably losing - not a great team we had, but enthusiastic - when it happened. A big 8th grade lefty walloped a high fly ball to right field. The crowd and my teammates held their breath. "I've got it!" I hollered and ran like a rabbit, only to slip in the wet grass and land flat on my back. I turned my head just in time to see the ball land in the grass next to me. My humiliation was complete. I decided I was never getting up again.
I laid there for so long that they halted the game. My parents came down from the stands.  The coach ran out onto the field. I looked up into the ring of concerned faces and made a decision.
I would get up. I would go on. Logically, I knew it probably wasn't feasible for me to lay there forever. I wouldn't ever get to watch The Monkees again.  
When I stood up the crowd cheered just as if I had come back from a terrible injury, and I resumed looking right-field fearsome. I don't remember another fly being hit my way for the whole rest of the summer.
You know, I never thanked Micky, Davy, Peter and Mike for the strength to go on.
Perhaps I should.
* Up until probably the early 70's, most small town teachers were totally against left-handism. It was an aberration at best and at worst, a sign of the devil. I've heard stories of teachers actually tying a kid's left hand to their body and making them do everything with their right. I can't think of one left-handed kid in my whole grade school. 
 P.S. The photo has nothing to do with the Centralia Recreation Department, it just looked like summer to me. It ran recently in a sort of nostalgia edition of the local paper. I'm the clown with the Harpo wig on the far right. I was 11.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

baby, you can drive my car

As you've probably read in our blogs, David and I have been having nothing but trouble with cars since last fall. We had fatal bad wrong mechanical things happen to each of our vehicles within a week of each other and have been trying to cobble together transportation on very little money ever since. He's presently babying a Toyota through the miles and miles he drives every day at his job and holding his breath at every new noise, while I managed to buy a Nissan that actually has a carburetor. A bad carburetor. A bad, bad carburetor. Which no one will work on.
I think I know more about the workings of cars than most people. Not because I've actually been a mechanic, although I have spent many a childhood afternoon handing my dad various wrenches and listening to him cuss.
It's because when it comes to cars, I'll go for the interesting and highly unreliable over the boring and dependable every day. I've thrown rods, cracked blocks, blown head gaskets, torn belts, broken clutch cables, you name it.
But I only set a car on fire once.
It was 1977. My mom and dad were fairly recently divorced and she was working as the wire editor at the local newspaper. My sister was still in high school and I was starting my first year of junior college. We were living in a drafty old house that we couldn't really afford to heat and it was COLD. I remember piles and piles of snow that winter; snow that seemed to be around forever. The three of us were sharing one car - a 1971 VW squareback. Most days the schedule worked. Mom had to be at work at 6am, Peggy at school at 8am, I organized my classes around them. I think we only forgot Peggy a couple of times. She was a good sport about it.
The college was about 5 miles out of town in the middle of cornfields, but the VW was good in snow. Usually stingy in the heat department, this car was different. A previous owner had thoughtfully rigged a 2nd gasoline-powered heater to help out the standard weenie VW heater and it was almost tolerable.
I had a 9:00 class that morning and had plenty of time to get there. Radio blasting, singing along at the top of my lungs and plowing through the snow, I realised that the car was a little warmer than usual but didn't give it a second thought. Shortly after class started there was a knock on the door. The security guard asked for me and motioned me into the hall. "Are you the owner of a blue VW?" he said. I said that I wasn't really the owner but that I was the driver. "It caught on fire," he said. "You'd better come with me."
In my wildest dreams I was not prepared for the devastation that I met in the parking lot. The poor VW had not only caught fire, but taken down the cars on either side of it. Sitting in a huge lake of melted snow, it was a shell. A shell. A smoking, gray, hulking shell sitting on melted tires. Everything was gone - the seats, the roof, the dash, my Elvis Costello "Armed Forces" cassette. My books in the back seat. My Bicentennial high school graduation tassel with a Liberty Bell on it. The Impala on the left had melted tires and smoldering sleeping bags in the trunk. The Datsun on the right was luckier - it got away with melted trim and interesting charred patterns on the door. Of course a crowd had gathered - there were fire trucks and flames, and not much happened out in the middle of the cornfields that involved sirens.
The worst part was that my mom heard it on the scanner at the newspaper - "Car fire at the junior college, license plate #, blah, blah, blah . . . "
Pre-cell phone days, she did what any good newspaper woman would. She sent a photographer.
The insurance company's theory was that the supplemental heater had leaked onto the engine. We had full coverage and got the Blue Book amount when it was declared totalled; the odometer had melted. I don't remember how long it was before we got another car. Mom caught rides with a co-worker, Peggy was back on the bus and I carpooled with a sports reporter who happened to be going to the same college part time.
Gee, I feel better. Maybe a carburetor isn't that bad after all.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Driving home from work one day in the lovely spring sunshine, I saw three different people in three different oncoming cars yawn at me. I yawned right back at them. I know yawns are contagious, but I really don't know why. Turns out no one else really knows, either.
Some interesting yawning facts:
- The average yawn lasts about 6 seconds
- Your heart rate can rise as much as 30% during a yawn
- 55% of people will yawn within five minutes of seeing someone else yawn
- Blind people yawn more after hearing an audio tape of people yawning
- Reading about yawning will make you yawn (oops! - sorry.)
- Dogs will often yawn in response to a human yawn. Cats probably just can't be bothered.
This really is leading to a story. I swear.
Newly married, my husband and I were renting a little house in small town Illinois. He worked for the local newspaper, I worked at a newspaper about 25 miles of cornfields away.
I was brushing my teeth one morning when he ran into the bathroom with a panicky look in his eye and his mouth wide open. "What are you doing?" I said. "I'm gonna be late for work." All he could do was point at his face and make weird guttural sounds. I grabbed a pad of paper and a pencil and handed it to him. He wrote, "Big yawn. Jaw stuck."
I am NOT kidding.
I called his work, told them that his jaw was stuck open, they laughed, I called my work, told them that his jaw was stuck open, they laughed, then we drove to the emergency room.
Not much trauma going on in a small town on a weekday morning. The emergency room was empty except for one very bored nurse. She scratched her head, called a few of the on-call doctors, nobody seemed to know what to do. By this time it had probably been an hour and my husband was in real pain. The decision was made to send us to an oral surgeon in a town about 35 miles away.
We got back in the car and headed south on I-57. He was worn out, I was worn out, he put his head back on the headrest and I drove like a bat out of hell. I noticed that every person I passed had a horrified look on their face. I didn't realize until later that with his head back and his mouth wide open, it must have looked like I had a corpse riding shotgun.
The oral surgeon's office was packed and everyone stared when we walked in. The receptionist gave me a clipboard with about 24 forms on it and said, "Sit down and fill this out."
Well - and I'm not proud to say it - I went nuts. "LISTEN, Sister" I said, "This is an EMERGENCY! We just drove 30 MILES to get here! The doctor's gonna see him RIGHT NOW and MAYBE I'll fill these out when I get around to it, SEE?" She sighed and said, "The doctor will see you now."
All the oral surgeon did was get my husband in a head lock and - click! - click! - he could shut his mouth. I thought, "Hell! I could have done that."
He was then given a prescription for painkillers that I found hilarious. The label read "May cause drowsiness."
I guess the moral of this story, kids, is Live big. Yawn small. And only read lively stories.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Yes, Facebook has taken a lot of my free time, I'll admit it. I was coerced into joining at a Macy's Midwest reunion by a couple of friends. I'm glad I did - I would have lost touch with a lot of folks without it and have found some that I thought were lost forever. 
There are some slightly annoying aspects of it, though. The listing thing took off about a month ago. It's really simple - just answer a series of questions about yourself and send them to 10 of your friends, then wait for their answers to come back. 
At first it was fun but quickly started to get out of hand. There was a new list to fill out EVERY DAMN DAY. Frankly, I was getting tired of talking about myself and on the verge of just making stuff up when I ran across this one. My first thought was, "Sweet! My blog has just written itself!" It wasn't until I started filling it out that I realized my life had changed more than I realized in just the last 15 years.  
Interesting. At least to me, that is.   

15 YEARS AGO (1994)
1) How old were you? 36
2) Who were you dating? no one
3) Where did you work? Salem Times-Commoner in Salem, IL
4) Where did you live? Centralia, IL
5) Where did you hang out? Lots of house parties and the Green Grill
6) Did you wear contacts and/or glasses? Glasses
7) Who were your best friends? Wil, Anthony, Dana, Peggy
8) How many tattoos did you have? None
9) How many piercings did you have? 2 in one ear, 1 in the other
10) What kind of car did you drive? Ford Escort
11) Had you been to a real party? Hell, yeah!
12) Had you had your heart broken? Hell, yeah!
13) Were you Single/taken/Married/Divorced? Married
14) Any Kids? Nope

10 YEARS AGO (1999)
1) How old were you? 41
2) Who were you dating? Brian
3) Where did you work? Designer at Macy's Midwest
4) Where did you live? South St. Louis, MO (Dutchtown)
5) Where did you hang out? Soulard
6) Did you wear contacts and/or glasses? Glasses
7) Who were your best friends? Brian, Kay, Ronda, Jamie, John, Cheryl, Joan, Peggy
8) How many tattoos did you have? None
9) How many piercings did you have? 2 (I had given up on the 2nd piercing in one ear by then - it seemed so 80's)
10) What kind of car did you drive? 1974 VW Beetle
11) Had your heart broken? My marriage had just broken up, so
12) Were you Single/Taken/Married/Divorced? Divorced
13) Any Kids? Nope

TODAY (2009)
1) Age? 51
2) Where do you work? Call Newspapers
3) Where do you live? Benton Park, MO
4) Where do you hang out? Mostly at home, but sometimes the Shanti or Friendly's
5) Who are you dating? David's not crazy about me dating
6) Who are your closest friends? David, Tom, Drea, Andra, Hud, Peggy
7) Do you wear contacts and/or glasses? Tried contacts, now I just wear glasses to drive and watch T.V., and yes - they're bifocals
8) How many piercings do you have? Still just the 2 - don't even know if I could get an earring into the 3rd one anymore
9) How many tattoos? None - but I intend to get my first one this summer.
10) What kind of car do you have? Nissan Sentra that's being rebuilt. I swear I'll get to drive it someday
11) Had your heart been broken? Not in over 5 years or so
12) How many kids?None - that I
know of
13) Are you Single/Taken/Married/Divorce? Taken

It's much easier to just post this on my blog than send it to 10 folks. I just don't have time.
I'm very busy and important, you know. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

25 records that changed my life

I've gotten into Facebook recently - mostly to keep in touch with all of the dear friends I made during my sojourn at Macy's Midwest. When the ship went down we found that it was a handy way to to keep tabs on each other. 
Lately, Facebook seems to be all about lists - "Unknown facts about me", "Random songs on my iPod" - I'm gonna make a list of all of the lists, I swear. The one that really intrigued me was one that David just finished - "25 Records that Changed My Life". My first thought was "Jeez! 25? I'll never be able to come up with that many." After I got into it, I realized that 25 wasn't really enough. I love music that much.
So here it goes. In chronological order, I might add.
1. The Beatles, "Revolver", 1966
I loved the Beatles from the moment I heard them on KXOK. After the first rush they seemed to get into a pop groove - a truly spectacular groove - but I wanted them to grow. Then came "Revolver". Not only is every song a gem, the cover is spectacular. As a kid who spent all of her free time drawing and painting, I could stare at that cover for hours.
2. The Monkees, "Headquarters", 1967
The Monkees were never supposed to be a real band, just actors playing a pseudo-Beatles band in a beach house. After their second album was manufactured for them, they rebelled, fired Don Kirshner and made "Headquarters" all on their own. I listened to it over and over. Plus, Mike Nesmith is a hell of a song writer.
3. Jimi Hendrix, "Are You Experienced?", 1967
I had never heard anything like Jimi and probably never will again. 
4. Johnny Cash, "At Folsom Prison", 1968
I was weaned on old school country. This was my dad's favorite, and we listened to it over and over in the summer of '68. Cash was the coolest guy ever and I knew all of the words to "A Boy Named Sue", even the part they bleeped out on the radio.
5. Neil Young, "After the Gold Rush", 1970
I have a fondness for nontraditional voices. Neil's lyrics shed some light into my small town existence as to what the aftermath of the Summer of Love was all about.
6. David Bowie, "Hunky Dory", 1971
I loved David Bowie and thought he was the best-looking man I'd ever seen. "Oh, You Pretty Things" still pops into my head at odd times.
7. Big Star, "Big Star", 1972
They seemed to have influenced a lot of bands in their short career. All I know is that they went into a small studio in Memphis on a shoestring budget and made a great album. I recently got a copy after not hearing it for close to 25 years and I could listen to it every day.
8. The Who, "Quadrophenia", 1973
The greatest Who album ever. The. Greatest. Who. Album. Ever. Once you put it on, you can't take it off - the songs flow into each other and tell such a vivid story. 
9. The Pointer Sisters, "The Pointer Sisters", 1973
Now, don't laugh. This is not the "I'm So Excited", big-haired, spandex-wearin' Pointer Sisters. They had been singing in their daddy's church when they decided to rebel. Fueled my already growing love of jazz and vintage clothing. Their backup band is so good, I can almost forgive "Yes We Can, Can".
10. Cheap Trick, "In Color", 1977
Cheap Trick helped me fall in love with power pop and I never fell out. When I went to college in Central Illinois in the late 70's, they were not yet famous and still touring small college towns. I remember seeing them many times fueled by amyl nitrate, and dancing until I just fell down. 
11. Elvis Costello, "This Year's Model", 1978
I think this cassette stayed in my Datsun B210 deck for an entire year. 
12. Squeeze, "Argybargy", 1980
Such clever songwriters, and Glenn Tilbrook has one of the sweetest voices in pop.
13. Marshall Crenshaw, "Field Day", 1983
So many reviewers lauded his debut album, it was almost embarrassing. This second album is a little darker, a little harder, and it sparkles. 
14. The Feelies, "The Good Earth", 1985
Jangly, moody pop at it's best. 
15. U2, "The Joshua Tree", 1987
An album I would never want to be without, it makes me feel more peaceful just listening to it. 
16. R.E.M., "Green", 1988
After they left I.R.S. for Warner and big money, I was determined to boycott their capitalistic asses. Sure, it's bombastic, the production is slicker, but their souls still shine through.
17.  Uncle Tupelo, "Anodyne", 1993
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for these Metro East boys. Jay Farrar has the voice of an old soul, and Jeff Tweedy became - or maybe was allowed to - a major songwriter. 
18. Radiohead, "The Bends", 1995
I know, I know - "OK Computer" is considered one of the classic albums of all time, but this one is still my favorite. Call me a rebel.
19. Pavement, "Brighten the Corners", 1997
Witty and more solid than the band had ever sounded before, a step up made just as they were on their way down. (sigh)
20. Neutral Milk Hotel, "In An Aeroplane Over the Sea", 1998
Jeff Magnum's obsession with Anne Frank was the basis for this album, full of weird imagery and some of the most beautiful lyrics around.
21. The Flaming Lips, "The Soft Bulletin", 1999
My love of this band is legendary. When their innovative guitarist Ronald Jones succumbed to touring pressure and quit, they replaced him with drummer Steven Drozd and replaced Steven with an orchestra. Both groundbreaking and rule breaking for them, they re-invented themselves and moved on. 
22. The White Stripes, "Elephant", 2001
Meg plays a little drums, and Jack plays everything else. 
23. Wilco, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", 2002
The story is legendary. When Wilco presented their 4th album to Reprise Records, they rejected it and fired the band. Wilco streamed the album on their personal website until it was finally released to critical acclaim by Nonesuch Records. Complex and personal, it grabs on to you and won't let go. Ever. 
24. Son Volt, "Okemah and the Melody of Riot", 2005
David and I listened to this constantly when it first came out, and never got tired of it. Great songs, great band, great subject matter, with a lot of Midwest shout-outs.
25. Sufjan Stevens, "Come on Feel the Illinose", 2005
My latest obsession. I would love it even if it wasn't about my home state. The boy plays everything (and quite well, too) and is a great songwriter to boot. 
I know I'll probably wake up tomorrow and think, "Damn! I forgot that one!" 
Maybe 25 isn't enough after all. 


Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I know, I know . . . it 's a subject that's been on every one's mind right now. Love it or hate it, we all have to deal with it. 
I hate to drive in the snow. Let me state that again.
I. Hate. To. Drive. In. The. Snow. 
Winter was so much easier when I was a kid, even though it always seemed like there was a foot of snow on the ground and I was always shovelling it. My dad deemed it my job to shovel the walk, but I really didn't mind. In my memory bank the sky was always blue and the snow would sparkle where the sun hit it. I could get it done in an hour while singing my favorite Beatles songs at the top of my lungs, then go inside and have hot chocolate. 
I don't remember very many school snow days. My sister and I lived a block away. Principal Neudecker would never close the school because he said that he knew that at least we'd be there. Mom would make us wear 24 layers of clothes for that trek of one block. 
Now back in the day, girls couldn't wear pants to school unless there was a blizzard of avalanche-like proportions. Therefore, dressing for school in the winter involved 2 pairs of tights, wool socks, boots, a wool skirt and a sweater or two. Kept you warm, but you really had to plan ahead if you had to pee.
I was in first grade and recess was about 10 minutes away when I realized that I had to go. Now.
I don't remember the teacher's name. She was one of the younger ones and slightly overwhelmed, so when I raised my hand and asked politely to be excused, she gave me a whithering look and said (and this is something that most right-thinking adults would never say to a 6-year-old), "Can't you wait? It's almost recess."
I thought about it for a minute, decided that I just couldn't, and let it fly. The pee ran down the sides of my chair and puddled on the floor underneath. One by one my classmates started noticing, resulting in a lot of pointing and giggling. I just sat there serenely with my hands folded, looking everywhere else - the ceiling, the portrait of Abe on the wall, the window - until the teacher finally grabbed me by the arm and hauled me out the door. 
After a hurried conference with Mr. Neudecker, it was decided that since it was a sunny day the only way to sufficiently dry me off was to stand me in the hallway with my skirt flipped up and my butt facing the window. It was a sound idea in theory and I was all for it, until the recess bell rang. The entire school began filing out the door on either side of me and the sound of their laughter rang off the linoleum floor. 
I dried during recess and went back to my seat. Things were fine until I got home and Mom said, "How was your day?" When I told her her head exploded. We put on our coats, she grabbed my arm and we marched right back up to the school. I wasn't allowed inside Mr. Neudecker's office during their little talk, but the yelling was impressive. Mom stormed out the office, grabbed my arm and said, "Come on."
She must have scared the living crap out of everyone because the rest of the year was pure hell. The teacher would ask me in class every 5 minutes if I had to go, Mr. Neudecker would stop me in the hall and ask if I had to go, the other kids would ask me if I had to go while backing up slowly. It was enough to make a kid seize up.
There really is no point to this story, except that it makes me cringe when I read a news story that states the only way to stay warm in the winter is to dress in layers. 
It really works. Absolutely.
Just be sure to plan ahead.