Wednesday, February 29, 2012

First Date With Myself- Age 11

At summer camp we used to take a trip to this roller skating rink in the middle of the woods. There was something magical about that place; magical and frightening at the same time. I mean it was this big wooden shell of a place, lit with twinkly lights with nothing around it but tall trees. It was like the candy house in Hansel and Gretel. Occasionally there would be Amish kids there and we’d stare openly at each other for what seemed like a long time, and then get back to tying our skates, these old crusty brown shoe/boots that I LOVED. I remember telling the pimply-faced Albino guy behind the counter my size and feeling like he was handing me back a gift. I remember the loud music and the louder sound of rolling wheels on the wood floor. I remember screaming and holding my hands out in front of me, grabbing someone’s arm and then pushing past. I don’t remember any friends being there, though I’m sure there must have been some, I only remembering smiling with my mouth open, sweating, and how good the soda tasted at the end of the night.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Music Banned

I realized recently that all three of my children have, at one time or another, been kicked out of music class. In fifth grade, Darla was banned from chorus. Banned! (Don't look at me.)

What do you mean banned? I asked her.
It means I can never be in chorus again for the rest of--
I know what banned means, but why?
I don't know, he's crazy.

What is it about most music teachers that suck the joy and life out of a subject that's so joyful and lively. My own teacher, Ms. Engel (yes she was one of the first to go by Ms. back in the day) had a big bald patch on the side of her head where she used to hit herself with her tuning fork in preparation for the first note of the song we were singing or playing. Mo's teacher "Denise"had a mustache and wore kneesocks with her birkenstocks and the only time she wasn't frowning was when she was playing the recorder.

Darla and Harry's teacher had long fllowing hair and wore his guitar strapped across his chest all day. At assemblies, he'd sing loudly along with the chorus and then say Thank you, thank you very much, like Elvis, at the end. I knew Dar was probably right in her assessment.

Too bad this isn't a requirement in music class.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Manhunt Manhunt Wacka Wacka Woo

Occasionally the cops come into the woods where I walk the dogs and give tickets to people who don't have their dogs on leashes, i.e. EVERYONE. We have an alert system though and word spreads pretty quickly. Cops in the Woods! Cops in the Woods! Someone does a whistle/scream eeeeeooooooeeeee, dogs bark and you hear the urgent sound of people running through leaves and bushes.

One of the cops'  walkies goes off ("502 on Echo Park Ave. Over").
"Bacon Near Effie Street Entrance!"
"I see him!"
"Right There."

More running through leaves, twigs snapping, then silence. I am crouched behind a rock, trying to breath quietly. My dogs stare at me, they are open-mouth smiling. They love this!

I think of the cops training at the Academy, jogging through obstacle courses and lifting weights; I think of them taking written exams about history and law, learning second languages and studying the psychology of emergency situations. My dog smacks his lips and goes back to panting/smiling, ready and eager to take off into a full run at any second.

These cops are not prepared for this.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Studying Myself and my Ancestors

I make a face like this one a few times a day. Not because I'm horrified. But because I'm trying to read something without my glasses. What is it about pulling the mouth down that helps me see better? Hmm. Another odd thing I do happens when I am driving and replaying a recent conversation in my head. While I'm thinking about what was said, I make the facial expressions of both the person I was talking to and myself. You don't have to tell me this is what insane homeless people do: I KNOW. It seems like a mystery until I follow my line of ancestry.

A few years ago my friend Holl visited the isle of Lewis off the coast of Scotland and discovered we were related. Not only that, but our ancestors were (as she put it) "inbred, mouth breathing, tongue chewers". My first thought was, YAY we're related! and my second thought was "Well, obviously I was your queen because I still carry the name". Don't think I overlooked that our ancestors were feeble-minded nut jobs; we had our own ISLAND, people. We were a strong and hearty lot! We survived hideously cold and wet and dark conditions for six months out of the year!  I am from royalty. And after thousands of years I had been reunited with my sister/wife/mother/servant!

So many mysteries were uncovered.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mr. Jing Jangles

Can you tell that he speaks Spanish and is very passionate.

Because they are gang members, Carlos and his family do not sit outside. In fact except for a handful of occasions, I have not seen them outside all together much at all. This is in contrast to Eddie's family who is outside every day, selling used clothing and furniture on the sidewalk. Once in a while I will see them getting in or out of their cars, they have a white BMW and a black Escalade, or sometimes Carlos is outside watering the lawn, but they do not hang out. Their little dog, a Chihuahua named Chomper has free reign of the neighborhood. He is not friendly, but he’s not mean either, he just trots up and down the street like he’s heading somewhere important. This dog holds his head high!  Before we knew his real name we used to call him Mr. Jing Jangles and it kind of stuck: Mister because he seemed like an executive and Jing Jangles because his balls were so big.
Hey Jing, hey Jingy, Jing-Jang come here!
We desperately wanted to pet him and make a fuss but he didn’t have time for us. He had places to go, things to do. A lot of people don’t like him because he poops on the sidewalk and chases their cats. He’s not very cute and he acts like he’s better than everyone. But I always marveled at how busy he is, how I’ve never seen him sit, the way he kind of just represents for his family: fearless, lawless and regret free.

When we first moved in, Carlos’ Grandfather was still alive. He was the only one who came outside, and he’d walk around the block from 9 in the morning to 12 noon, just shuffling, smoking and staring straight ahead. Then he’d go in for lunch and a nap, and sometimes around 3 or 4 he’d be back out to smoke and do his laps. Papi never looked at anyone, or said hello or had any expression on his face. He was like a sleep-walking Bugs Bunny, shuffling slowly through a busy intersection while cars and buses whizzed by him.
The only thing Papi did notice was Mr. Jing. Once in a while Papi would get lost, he would take a right instead of a left, or he would walk to the bus station and sit on a bench. He never went too far, and he usually knew to come back for lunch. If he was late though, Carlos' mother would send Jing out to find him. She'd hold the screen door open and give him specific instructions and he'd trot off, head high, balls jangling. A little while later he'd return, heading up the street so proud of himself, the old guy shuffling and smoking behind him.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Open Letter To a Ticket Person

(you do not deserve this song)

Dear Ticket Lady Who Pulled Up Behind Me Like A Shark and Told Me to Move Out of the Drop-off Zone At School Even Though No one Was Behind Me and I was Just Looking up the Address of Where I was Headed and Who Then Wrote a Ticket to the Dad who stopped in the Red Zone to Let his 10 Year Old Daughter on Crutches Get Out Closer to the Front Entrance,

   I hate you so much.  Just when I thought I was through with Ticket People and was beginning to feel utter indifference towards you and your kind, you have to make an evil cameo appearance and rejuvenate my rage. I don’t know what it is about you. Is it your self-righteous tattle-tale-iness? Is it that you remind me of all the things I don’t have: enough money, a house/life in the country where ticket people don’t exist. Or is it just that you’re mean and ugly and ignorant and are ready to accept that about yourself without making any effort to a better, happier and more peaceful existence. I have one word for you: Boo!

Deirdre Lewis

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Reposting An Oldie: My Black Heart

Whenever a psychic sees me walking down the street, she gets dollar signs in her eyes and the sound of a cash register goes cha-ching! I can say this honestly and completely, "Oh Self! " and then inside my head a room full of me-s laughs politely while holding their cocktails. But then a Lone Me stands up, No! They've been around for thousands of years! They do see things and can be connected to another dimension! They know! What they say is true...

I used to work at a restaurant called Yaffa’s in Tribeca in the 90s. The owner was Israeli and I forget her husband’s name but he was a math genius. The entire time I was there he was working on a math textbook that was going to completely revolutionize the power and meaning of numbers. His name might have been Danny or Eli. He and Yaffa looked a lot alike. They wore ponchos and cowboy hats and capes and boots, and had two dalmations that were always agitated. I don’t think Yaffa liked dogs, she just liked the way they looked when she walked down the street with them pulling the leashes out in front of her. She served in the Israeli army, of course, and had jumped out of planes.
Yaffa was never without a cigarette. She wore a ton of black eye makeup and face cream that made her skin shiny. She was a low talker so you had to move in close if you wanted to hear her, and when she talked to you she’d run her eyes up and down your body like snakes. She’d sort of smile at you while taking a drag from her cigarette. I think she thought I was odd but interesting. She recognized pain when she saw it.
There was a tearoom in the back. It had high ceilings and curtains of heavy velvet fabric. The bathroom was completely covered in broken plates and jewels ala Julien Schnabel.The bar was made from wood from elevators in the old Woolworth building. I worked mostly during lunch shifts so I’d have to get there by 10:30. I got there early, finished my set-up and still had time to sit and have coffee and a baguette. She sat next to me and smoked. Neither one of us said a word. She was a strange combination of intimidating and annoying. She called me Darda, which to me sounded a little too close to the word retarded.
Once when I was working in the tearoom a gypsy psychic came in and told me that the color she saw around me was black. Really? I said, but I’m an optimist, I have an 8 year old daughter, I like to laugh, please don’t tell me all you see is black. She held my hands across the table and said, Your heart has been broken.
I stared at her and stopped breathing and tears filled up in my eyes. Oh my God, it was broken, it really was, how did you know?
I’m looking at you.
I could barely speak. There was no point in denying it. She could see. I was na├»ve. I was only pretending that everything was ok, but really it wasn’t. Black was flowing out of me. "Will it get better?" I could barely whisper because of the lump in my throat.
She shook her head sadly, he was the love of your life.
Oh! I couldn’t even hold up my head. He was! He really was.
Darda? I could hear Yaffa calling me from the kitchen. I wasn’t supposed to sit down with the customers and I thought she was going to yell at me, so I got up and slumped to the curtain where she was standing. I had so much black pouring out of me I was like a dogfighter pilot spiraling into the ocean. She put her hand on my back and we stood that way for a few minutes.
Did she tell you your heart was broken?
I nodded.
She says that to everyone.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tickets Anonymous

Lately I have been on a streak of not getting traffic/parking tickets, but I feel like there have been times in my life when I have gotten a few a month. I have this (really loud and convincing) voice in my head that says "Don't worry, you'll be fine!" every time I park at a meter with 7 minutes. I do think it's a sickness, but I haven't wanted to analyze it much more than that. Anyway, here's an old post about a visit to T.A.

My name is Deirdre Lewis and I have a problem getting parking tickets.
(Hi Deirdre.)
Hi, um, I need to start out by saying that I just got a ticket yesterday.
(It’s ok. Don’t worry honey. You’re safe here.)
Thank you. I’m sorry—I’m going to try not to—you’re so kind.
(Go on girl. You can do it!)
Ok (clears throat). I got a ticket yesterday because I parked outside of my son’s Tae Kwon Do studio. I know… it’s a risk. I’ve gotten six tickets there already this year. Sometimes I leave my car in the loading only with my flashers on. Sometimes I park at the 15-minute spot in front of the Armenian Market. I know I know. It’s a chance that I take. I always think, I know it sounds stupid, but I always think: I’ll just run out and check every 15 minutes. Put another quarter in. Sit in the drivers seat. Whatever it takes. And then you know, behind that thought I have another thought, which is: This is my son’s Tae Kwon Do class! Shouldn’t I be allowed to get him there on time and stay and watch? Don't I have enough to worry about between leaving my job early to get him there in the first place and making sure he has interaction with a father figure, that I shouldn't have to worry about where I park. I can keep an eye on my goddam car, but let me sit on the bench and watch. I don’t mean to be self-righteous but you know, I--, I---. I can't help it. It’s just my nature.
(You can do this, Deirdre. We love you)
Ok so I parked in the 15 minute spot and I run out at 12 minutes, maybe it’s 14 and there’s that goddam freak with the bouffant, all ready with her car double parked, flashers going, her pad out, standing behind my car and I say Wait! Here I come, I have some change and she says over her shoulder, (in slow motion like a soldier about to throw a grenade), It’s.. too... late. And you know, well, I tried, I mean I, I couldn’t just…. I just snapped…
(This is the hardest part. Keep going. You’re almost there)
I told her she was a miserable human being. I asked her what it feels like to wake up every day hating herself. I asked her how it felt now that she was out of prison for molesting kittens.…
If someone had asked me: Deird would you like us to handcuff her and set fire to her head, I would have, well I… I would have said... YES. I would have. Said. yes.
(You did it, doll. Way to go. Yes!)
My name is Deirdre Lewis, and I get parking tckets.
(Clapping and cheers)
And I will never win against the parking ticket lady. I. Will Never. Win. Thank you.
(standing ovation)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Every Day At The Market

I go to the grocery store almost every day. Sometimes more than once. I know the full layout of the place: produce, frozen, dairy, cereal, dish soap, water, etc. I recognize some of the people who work there, and we know each other well enough to ask, how are you? or have a chat about the latest People headline, but that’s it.
I think recently the employees were given a pep talk about welcoming customers when they walk in the store and it always makes me uneasy and a little bit annoyed. I DON’T KNOW WHY.
Hello, welcome to Piggly Wiggly.
Hello, welcome to Piggly Wiggly, can I help you find something?
Hello welcome to Piggly Wiggly, can I help you find something today?
Back. The Fuck. Off.
I’m sorry. I just don’t need you in my face right now.
But I-
I gotta walk around those freaks with the clip-boards and their blue pinnys, asking me if I care about the environment.
Well, uh—
Seriously? Do I care about the environment? What kind of lame passive/aggressive question is that? Of course I care about the fucking environment. I just don’t want to stand in a parking lot talking about it.
And now you’re right up in my face.
Oh, sorry
No, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that out loud, but seriously, give me a minute before you attack me.
(chuckling) What—
I don’t even know what I want yet. How could you help me if I don’t even know—
I was just trying to be friendly.
But, see a friend doesn’t get all up in my face like that. A friend takes one look at me, assesses my situation, gives me a little space, and then decides what to say.
See you’re missing those crucial first steps. Don’t just spout out the same little words to everyone, you gotta read the person first. It only takes a few seconds.
Ok, ok let me try: Hi welcome to Piggly Wiggly, what the hell’s wrong with you?
See, that’s better, but you know, only a few of us can get away with that kind of aggression, if you can’t say it with love, then I think you’re just being mean.
Ok, um.
That’s not what you want.
You can do it. I know you can.
Welcome to Piggly Wiggly. I love you. I’m here if you need me.
That’s IT. See? Now you’re on to something.

(my grocery store is not called Piggly Wiggly, but if I lived down south it would be)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Sound of Genius

If you don't know who these guys are, you can read about them here and here.

It's not what a person says that makes you want to listen to them, but how they say it. If a person has an annoying voice, it's hard to focus on anything other than the sound. On the other hand, if you like a voice, you can listen to it talk about anything, even something like door knobs or car parts. Sometimes I can go through an entire day just hearing the sounds of different voices without really taking in what's being said. And sometimes I'll hear myself saying something to my kids for the 16,000th time and realize I might as well be saying Bladiddybla-nasalpassages.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Extro,Intro or Xintro

I was thinking about extroverts and introverts recently because I'd heard about this book called Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. I don't know what I am. I think of an extrovert as someone who walks into a room, opens his arms wide, yells out Hello Everyone! and suddenly the room turns into a stadium of 50,000 screaming, cheering fans, chanting his name. The introvert is the little guy who shuffles in behind him, says hi quietly with a shy wave, then with his head down walks over to the wall. I know, I know, those are extremes, and there are variations and combinations in between, but there are also versions that appear to be one thing and then are really another; so it's confusing. In trying to figure out my own type, I looked at a few general categories I belong to:
Ok, this seems obvious: Americans are extroverts, back slapping, fuck yeah kind of people, but even though I would never really define myself as "American",  I've realized from hanging out with people who are not, that I am. I've been told, politely and with love, that I am vulgar and loud. This is because I tend to talk about things that are inappropriate, I don't wait my turn to speak and I yell from one room to the next. And I'm not embarrassed about it! But I'm not self righteous and it's not hard for me to say I'm sorry when I've done something wrong (which is a good thing since I have to say it a lot) and I'm very quiet most of the time.
Again, this seems obvious: Shy people are introverts. I don't go out much. If I do, I prefer hanging out with children or else talking with the one person I know. I'll push myself to make an effort but I find I quickly run out of things to say. Still, if I'm in a group and there's an opportunity to stand up and say something to everyone, I will be the first to grab the mike. And if I'm at a Chippendales show with my sisters and one of the Chips pulls me on stage to dance: I WILL.
I am alone most of the time which would seem to automatically qualify me as an introverted, but one of the definitions of an introvert is that he is energized by being alone. This can happen to me periodically but more often than not, my time alone is spent wasting time, and then being depressed about it.
Both Parents are Actors
If both of your parents are extroverts, then you are automatically the opposite, (until you are old enough to realize, with horror, that you are exactly the same) but just because they are actors, does not mean they are extroverted. My mom actually does get completely energized when she spends time alone and my dad would rather be in a cluttered trailer in the desert than at a party.

I think I'm a little of both. What are you?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Outer Shell

                                                         (this photo is by Ryan McGinley)
Recently I was looking at some photos of scars and somehow, really without meaning to, I began seeing photos of the wounds that made the scars. When I say wounds, what I mean is open, bloody, skin-flapping, deep to the bone, gashes. I couldn’t look away! I mean, of course, that’s exactly what I did at first, but then I went back for a second look. After a while, it wasn’t human, it was just the torn fabric of skin wrapped around some raw steak. Ok, that’s still disgusting, but I don’t know, I was curious. I realized that when I took away the thought of pain, horror and shock, suddenly it wasn't so difficult to look at. It was just tan, red and white things.

I remember looking at a particular book in the library at school. We’d all huddle around the table, some of us leaning over on our knees on the chairs, and look at photos of skin diseases and burns and malformations. We’d giggle and gasp and then go silent: Ohhhhhhhh. It was fascinating. And we’d go back to it again and again. There was a weird sort of recognition and disconnect about it being an actual body that belonged to an actual human.

The idea that our body is just a shell is a strange one and yet, of course that’s all it is. We live inside it, all our impressions of and connections to things and people and places come through it. We become obsessed with different ways of feeding it and giving it rest. The body shows our age; usually it is the first thing we are judged by. It is what makes us conscious of ourselves, in an awkward way. I wonder if we stepped out of it every night and hung it up in a closet, if we’d feel differently about it.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Crack Truck

I don't know how it happened but I've always had a Pavlovian response to ice cream trucks. I hear the magical jingle. I'm instantly excited. I stop what I'm doing, I walk out the door. Period. That's how it is. I'm too old, or I mean I should be too old, but it's beyond my control. I don't even like half the stuff he sells.
This guy, his name is Oswaldo, comes twice a day, every single day, even Thanksgiving, even Christmas. Don't get me wrong, I still have a reaction. I still have the psychic secretion (did you know that's what Pavlov called it when the dogs salivated at the sound of a bell?) but it's a little different. Now I know Oswaldo, I know about his family. I know about his wife Maria. He asks about Mo's wedding, and Harry's black belt and Dar's high school visits. He asks about my goddam dogs, and my poor eyesight. I can't really ask him for a blue popsicle and still feel good about myself.
Shame is a lot stronger than the Pavlovian response.