25 December 2007

The Children Are Nestled All Snug in Their Beds

I hope those visions of sugarplums are still dancing in their heads.

The house is quiet, only the Christmas lights and candles glowing, pine and cinnamon wafting through the air -- yeah, it's Yankee Candle, so what? I'm trying to trick my brain into falling asleep with some herbal tea. I think I overdid the cookies or something, as I seem to be on some sort of jittery sugar high.

This year I finished my wrapping early: 3:00am. The Christmas Eve wrapfest is the one thing I still miss, as far as the ex. Every year, after the kids went to bed, we'd stay up late wrapping presents and talking, Christmas tunes playing, eggnog heavy on the rum. Even after we split, once I moved back overseas, he still came over every Christmas Eve and we kept the tradition up, which was nice. We'd reminisce about Christmases past and get our eggnog on as we fought with wrapping paper and curling ribbons.

Wrapping by one's self is a real pain, because by the time it's finished, the kids are at the door, executing a flanking movement to invade my bed. They send in the dogs as reinforcements to wake me up at some ungodly hour, oblivious to the fact that my eyes are slits and I've clearly lost a battle with scotch tape and the blasted curling ribbons. Dogs and kids are always perky at an ungodly hour on Christmas morning. Dogs are pretty much perky at any given ungodly hour, as they can go from snoring to leaping and bouncing in about .05 seconds, Christmas or not. And kids, you'd think that by the time they're all between the ages of 15 and almost-20, the early morning wake up call would be a thing of the past. Um, no. Which, truth be told, is a good thing.

Well, speaking of ungodly hours, my tea has had the desired effect, and it's time for Santa's helper to hit the sheets for my allotted slumber.

Wishing you all very happy merriment and happy warm connections with your loved ones today and this season.

23 December 2007

This Old Motherfucking House: Episode V

Episode V: Half Baked

My oven is broken. We nearly had an oven fire. There were no cinnamon rolls this morning, which was a damn shame, as we came in soaking wet from the park, and really could've used those cinnamon rolls with some hot coffee. My house still smells like wet dog.

The element broke. Completely. It's in two pieces, thanks to the white hot phosphorous explosion before I hit the circuit breaker. What the hell is it with me and Christmas? That sewer explosion in '05 should've covered me for life. And you all haven't even read the draft I started, which very nearly resulted in ginormous vet bills and/or a dead dog right before Christmas. Again. And I haven't even told you about the discrepancy with the plumbers bill. Oh, yes, their actual bill was quite a bit higher than Chuck's written "estimate". Fuck you, Chuck.

I'm on my way out to get the part. Not exactly the Christmas gift I would've bought myself, but whatever. Our oven is older than Methuselah's ass, so it will require much unscrewing and fastening of wires. No Plug-n-Play element here, not in the house of Cowbell.

GE does not post online repair manuals; they prefer that you order their manuals online for $17.95. I'm sorry, General Effing-Electric, but tomorrow is Christmas Eve. I don't have time to wait for your goddamn manual to arrive. We need macaroni and cheese tomorrow. Fuckers. Just tell me how to fix your oldass, brokeass oven.

I hope I can fix this POS. If not, I am going to be highly irate at ordering Pizza Hut for Christmas dinner. They'll probably be closed too. Bastards.

In other news:

Batman learned a new trick today, which I guess makes up for him almost dying with his foolish Ibuprofen-eating ass. Yeah. More on that later, but he can now sail over the net at the tennis court to retrieve his ball.

The Male Offspring learned how to ride the ripstick he got for his birthday. We'd been waiting since the end of November for a day without rain, so he could try it. This morning we just said screw it and went to the park. Welcome to winter in the PNW, people.

Oh, wait ------- BREAKING NEWS ------- Teen Demon just told me that the tub isn't draining.

15 December 2007

Pay No Mind to That Earlier Unpleasantness.

Why hello, darlings. Feeling much better now, thank you. It's a wonder what that extra three hours of sleep can do for a body! Of course, three hours of exercise and housecleaning would've done it more good, but then I'd still be bitchy. It's a trade off.

I wrote about wrestling here last season, the son's first season ever, how brave these kids are to grapple around in shiny, spandex suits in public while in the throes of puberty, the intricacies of wrestling a female opponent, and how much I respect these young people. It ain't for sissies, and I don't mean just physically either. There's something about the way team connects and looks out for each other, too.

Looking for the link, I realized I missed my first blogiversary, or whatever you call it, which was this insightful, erudite post:

So, this is my fancy blog. Testing, 1 2 3...

Not even kidding. Lame.

Anyway, this is the son's first year of high school wrestling. There are two other guys in his weight class. They challenge each other for the right to wrestle in the one varsity slot for each weight class. There's an older guy who's pretty good, and if the son does manage to get past him, guess who he ultimately has to challenge for that varsity slot?

That would be the team captain. He's a senior.

The son, no fool, said, "Well, I'll just challenge for the experience then," Smart kid. I would not want to be a freshman on varsity anyway. You'd get your ass kicked all the damn time.

Last week, Mr. Team Captain couldn't wrestle for some reason. I get this phone call:

Annoying Ring! Annoying Ring!

Me: Hello?

Male Offspring: Um, Anyu? I have some news that's going to sound good, but ... it's really not.

Me: [bracing myself] Okay, buddy, what's up?

MO: So, apparently, I'm wrestling varsity tonight. Michael can't wrestle.

Me: That's great! Good for you, buddy!

MO: Um, not really. All the older guys know my opponent. He's like, a beast or something!

Me: Well, okay, this is high school, you expect that, right? Besides, wasn't your nickname The Beast last year?

MO: That was middle school. This guy is seriously a beast. I think he has a beard. All the guys look sorry for me. They told me my goal is just to try not to get pinned. What the heck does that mean?

Me: Oh.

MO: This guy went to State last year! He's like a senior.

Me: Oh!

MO: .........

Me: Well ... okay then, honey! Try not to get pinned, then! See you tonight! Good luck!

Poor kid. Okay, in wrestling, your team scores higher if you win by pinning your opponent instead of just getting more points than your opponent. That's why the son's teammates were asking him not to get pinned -- they're basically telling him, he's going to beat you, but don't give up that pin. Even though you're wrestling a beast in spandex. With a beard.

The son was right. This guy WAS a beast. I mean, like a 152-pound Tasmanian devil. But the son held on for his six minutes. He was tired as hell by the end, staggering a bit, but the guy could not pin him. I told the son that he may have just experienced his most respectable loss ever. His team mates cheered pretty loud for him. Hell, yeah.

The son, getting ready to throw Beast Boy
(That's Teen Demon cheering on the left, the one w/ the hair ribbon)

And he throws him!
(This pretty much set Beast Boy off. He went into Tasmanian Devil mode after that.)

But today is a new day. The son sent me a text message that he won his first match of the day -- got a pin in 47 seconds! Hell. yeah. I'm sure he's feeling pretty beastly about that.

12 December 2007

This Old Motherfucking House: STILL Episode IV

STILL Episode IV: Pipe Dreams

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Mason, checking out my plumbing tools,
including $40 worth of new ones.
Which didn't work.

My version of those modern bowl-shaped sinks. Stainless steel, too!
Only the latest plumbing fashions in the house of Cowbell.
The bathroom's version. Yes, that paper to the left is the note I left to the offspring, 
instructing them to hold in any "number two" jobs until they get to school.
The new toilet.
And that's all I've got to say about that.
I've got your thousand words right here.

So I folded. I've called in the professionals. Shit. (Yeah, pun intended, wiseasses. Har-fucking-har.) I did not call Roto-Rooter. I called around and was getting nothing but bullshit from "telephone service representatives" who couldn't give me any real any information, not being "service technicians" themselves. They were, however, happy to send out a service technician who would, in turn, be happy to charge me a "service call" ranging from $71 to $99, which I'd have to pay whether I went with that company or not. Of course, the service call is rolled into your price if you go with them. But the telephone service representatives can't give you a ballpark price for what it will cost to actually get the work done -- for that, you pay the service charge, cross your fingers, and hope the estimate isn't too bad, and that you don't have to start over with someone else.

In other words, once they're standing in your yard, service charge in hand, they've pretty much got you bent over like a porn star. You can either pay whatever they ask, most likely getting a slow, uncomfortable screw, or you can pay up and then pay someone else, too, thus negating any savings you may have found with someone else.

They were all also happy to inform me that it was "very unusual" for Roto-Rooter to give free estimates! They gravely warned me that with Roto-Rooter's system, why, I could easily end up paying $800 or $1000! Better to go with their company instead. In other words, "Just pay our service charge, bitch. Bend over and say my name."  None of them gave a flying fuck about the whole single mom with Christmas looming thing. Fuck you very much, Ebenezer. Why are there never any plumbing Christmas sales?

I know these guys work with shit, and they should get paid good money for doing what no one else wants to do. I get that. Would it be so much to ask though, to maybe have sliding scales for necessary services, like heat, plumbing, electricity? I mean, it's not like I'm asking for a complete kitchen remodel or a face lift or a pool, for crying out loud. I just want to use my own damn toilet and wash my pits.

I called Zan, the Rad Dyke Plumber. I knew she was farther south than where I live, but what the hell, I've heard she's a straight shooter. Well, so to speak. My very cynical dear friend, who is, no doubt, lurking at this very moment, apparently used to know her, along with all kinds of other handy types. Anyway, I've heard good things about her, I love her web site, and figured I'd rather give my money to her than these asshats, so I called. She sounded just like I imagined she would, which was refreshingly like a real person, not some jerk preying on my wallet.

My joy, however, was short lived. Zan doesn't do snakes. Big surprise there, right? Damn. What about my needs, Zan? But she was very nice, and pointed me in the direction of Jerry's Sewer & Drain service. "But if you ever have any other type of plumbing problems, you just give me call now, OK?"

Okay, Zan. Fine. [sniff]

Jerry's pricing was better than the other places, and they specialize in sewer pipes, but unfortunately, I have to pay $70-$90 travel fee for them, as my city is out of their area. They get you coming or going. It pretty much evens out though, and since they were recommended, I guess I'm going with Jerry.

Until today, I was unaware that plumbers have different specialties. Like doctors. And they make about as much, without all that school debt.

Anyway, I begged the telephone service representative, who was very nice, to please send someone today. I haven't had a shower in three days, I need clean clothes, and I'm tired of peeing in a bucket. Don't judge. They were starting to look at me weird in the coffee shop.

Chuck just left, with his big cable and tools. Get your minds out of the sewer, people, I haven't showered in three days - not happening. Everything is once again flowing freely. Apparently, they charged me just half the travel fee. Jerry himself will follow up in a couple of days, and Chuck assures me that if "that baby clogs up within the next thirty days, I'll come out here and blast it myself, you won't pay a thing." Because that's how Jerry's place rolls when they're "trying to build a little history with you, here".
  • Total Bill, Having My Pipe Snaked: $195.93
  • No Longer Pissing in a Bucket: Priceless.

Oh, and Roto-Rooter? As Zan would say, "Get Wrenched!"

11 December 2007

This Old Motherfucking House: Episode IV

Episode IV: Roto-Rooted

I am not at work this morning. Oh, I'm still connected to my work files and email, via the wonders of modern technology, lest you think I'm here with my stockinged feet up, quaffing caffeine and stalking you.

I'm home because I'm expecting a visit from the Roto-Rooter man. No, you freaks, the plumbing and sewage company. If it were any other type of Roto-Rooting, I sure as hell wouldn't be sitting at my keyboard.

The drains are backing up again. Since this just happened in October, and seeing as we have since installed a high tech "hair catcher" that sits atop the bathtub drain, I'm thinking my problem may be worse than Teen Demon's prodigious hair donations. I suspect every homeowner's nightmare: tree roots.

My last house, a rental, came complete with a cheap and petulant property manager: a small, elderly, British dame named Doreen. Doreen was, to borrow a phrase from my father, "Tighter than a crab's ass ... and that's waterproof."
The homeowners had moved to Georgia, on a mission to translate the Bible into Georgian or something. Yes, I mean the U.S. Georgia. My rent covered the owners' mortgage in Georgia, the monthly payment to Doreen's property management company, and left them some profit to play with. Bitterness over that arrangement is what got me into my current situation, having thought that I, too, could finally catch a break by getting in on the formerly-profitable Seattle housing market.

We all know how that turned out.

Anyway, one time our drains clogged up. Doreen came by, all a-flutter, and said, with a pinched face, "Well, you have two teenage girls in the house; they can't be flushing those feminine products down the drains! Children use too much toilet paper! Now they don't know any better, but as the tenant, you are responsible for the cost of clearing drains due to negligence!"

First of all, unless you've drilled peep-holes into the walls, Doreen, you have no idea what we're flushing down the drain. We lived in a country where you could barely flush toilet paper down the drains before moving here; we're not stupid enough to flush tampons.

Second of all, you're a bitch.

Anyway, this being beyond Jay's abilities, she called out the plumbing crew. She imperiously informed me that they would run a camera down the drain - at extra expense - because "the owner" wanted to know the cause of the blockage. She had apparently briefed the plumber on our irresponsible flushing habits, because he told her, "Well, your problem is bigger than a clog, ma'am. It's not bathroom products after all," [Ha!] "You've got tree roots! Got nothing to do with the tenants -- you need to start regular root maintenance. I can schedule you out for every 6 months." He then pronounced, "Good thing you had us run that camera down there, ma'am!", with a sidelong wink to me.

By the look on Doreen's face, you'd have thought the plumber gave that stick up her ass an extra good twist.

Anyway, Doreen grudgingly paid the bill, the guys cut out the roots, and we were flushing freely once more. She informed me that the plumbers would be coming by annually to clear the roots. "Didn't he say every six months?" I asked. "This visit cost enough," she replied. "I've spoken with the owner, and annual service will be fine. Those plumbers always try to sell you more than you need. The owner isn't made of money, you know!"

Fast Forward: Christmas Eve, 2004: Cowbell is draining boiling water off the potatoes in preparation to mash them up into yummy deliciousness. The water doesn't go anywhere. I foolishly flip the disposal switch. Boiling potato-water erupts. Somehow I don't get burned.

I won't detail the rest of the story, mainly because I enjoy low blood pressure. It was a sad and sordid tale, starting with me borrowing a plumbing snake from my boss on Christmas Eve, and ending with a porta-potty in the front yard for two weeks during 20-degree weather, bulldozers in the back, a large scale pipe replacement and intensive sewage cleanup. Guess what, it wasn't the potatoes, too much food in the drain, or wayward feminine products, much too Doreen's surprise. It was the tree roots. Seems the annual maintenance schedule wasn't quite enough to keep those pesky tubers out, and the entire pipe collapsed.

The owner ended up with a bill for about $10,000. This included a new sewer pipe, the porta-potty rental, replacing carpet and walls on our lower level, and paying for COIT to clean up, sanitize, and dry the place. Yes, the sewage pipe backed up into our ground floor. Nasty doesn't even begin to cover it. At one point during this whole Charlie-Fox, Doreen came by to check the progress. She handed me a Glade plug-in air freshener. "I thought this might help," she announced. I stood there staring at the thing, wondering how that was possibly going to make a dent in the situation.

I bet she billed the owners for it.

The bill did not cover our ruined Christmas dinner, or the fact that a dear friend visiting from the East Coast could not bring herself to stay in our house, so I didn't see as much of her as I'd have liked. It didn't cover my frostbitten ass, or the humiliation of using a porta-potty in my FRONT YARD. One of the neighbors actually waved to me as I was heading in there one time. I only paid 1/3 of my rent that month, which twisted the stick up Doreen's ass even harder, but after reading my all legal-like letter, she sucked it up. "Well," she huffed, "I certainly don't know how the owner will take this ... the bill was so expensive, he's really going to need that rent money,"

Not my problem. Hope he has enough left over to pay your fee.

Anyway, that experience was pretty much imprinted on my brain, so tree roots were the first thing that entered my mind this morning. Oh what I wouldn't give for a simple grease clog, or a load of flushed tampons.

The Roto-Rooter people refused to give me a ballpark estimate over the phone, but they cheerily informed me that their Free Estimate was absolutely free of charge! (Yeah, I know what "free" means, lady)

This guy better get here soon. I've got to pay a visit to my friend John, and it's not going to be a quickie.


So I pretty much hate Roto-Rooter. First off, the lady on the phone this morning told me twice, very specifically, that they charge by the job, not by the hour. Okay, fine. Second, I'm in the wrong business, folks. Should've been a plumber. The guy, once he gets here, tells me his rates are $170 for the first half hour. They charge in 15-minute increments after that. When I relayed Phone Lady's info, he looked puzzled and said maybe she was new. Right. Whatever, asshat, you think I don't recognize your company's sneaky sales tactics? Please.

He estimated it would be between "$211 at the low end, to about $350 on the high end. Before tax," That's assuming it's not a bigger problem than he can ascertain before getting in there with his snake. He was nice enough to go get his bigass wrench and take the cap off of the clean-out access in the yard for me, once I told him that his price is not an option for a single mom before Christmas. He also gave me some DIY tips. Y'all know how I love DIY projects! Why let him have all the fun? So anyway, I'm getting ready to play with my snake now. I've only got a 25-footer, with no cutting blades on the end, but who knows, maybe it will be a giant hairball after all. Or maybe someone's been secretly flushing tampons. If only.

Oh, by the way, I went to coffee shop and bought a chai latte. The real reason for the latte was so I could surreptitiously utilize the latrine.


The bad news: it looks like roots are involved. I pulled up a small but very nasty mass of TP and what I thought might be a tangle of hair. Whoo, was I happy to see that disgusting mess. Upon closer inspection, however, it was actually a tangle of very fine, dark, baby roots. Crap. The good news: it looks like they're only about five or six feet into the pipe. Worse news: my snake is too puny to handle it. It bent in several places.

I'm headed to Lowe's now, to get a more substantial snake, one that can actually handle my needs.

Also, if you ever go to a coffee shop, specifically to use the restroom, but you buy something to make it look like you're not just there to use the restroom, don't buy something with caffeine. I have to pee already.

13 November 2007

Weekend Rain Phenomenon

Q: What are two rainy days in Seattle called?

A: The weekend.

pink umbrella photo by photographer Jef Maion

It's a gorgeous, sunny day here in the Puget Sound. Of course it is. It's Monday. Well, virtual Monday, yesterday being a holiday and all.

At first I thought it was my imagination, this idea that it somehow always rains on weekends, sunshine being doled out only on the days when I'm trapped in my hermetically sealed office.

I told myself to stop being such a Debbie Downer, that there aren't really rain gods up there, high-fiving each other and mocking me, down in my soggy, grey existence, every weekend.

Surely I only thought it rained more on the weekends because that's when I notice the rain. Right?

"Suck it up and drive on, Cowbell," I admonished myself, "Quit being such a whining babypants, it's just your imagination."

Except it wasn't.

There actually is scientific evidence explaining the rainy weekend phenomenon:
The fine particulate matter produced by car exhaust and other human sources of pollution form cloud condensation nuclei, leads to the production of clouds and increases the likelihood of rain.

As commuters and commercial traffic cause pollution to build up over the course of the week, the likelihood of rain increases: it peaks by Saturday, after five days of weekday pollution has been built up.

In heavily populated areas that are near the coast, such as the United States' Eastern Seaboard, the effect can be dramatic: there is a 22% higher chance of rain on Saturdays than on Mondays.

How about that. Our hellish commuter situation is contributing to our hellish rain situation.

Further research turned up a story on KOMO-4 news where our own Steve Pool, of Double Doppler fame, analyzed several years of rainfall records specifically to investigate the weekend rain phenomenon. The findings? Yes, Virginia, it does rain more on Saturday and Sunday than any other day, with Sunday edging out Saturday. Friday -- of course -- is the driest day of the week, which I can see nicely through my 20" wide office window.

Imagination my soggy, chapped ass.

11 November 2007

Tales from the Crypt

So the last post got me to thinking about sick and twisted family traditions. Our little family did not develop this particular brand of humor by accident.

My family of origin was rife with twisted humor. My mom, seen here with me and baby sister back in days of yore, was prone to punnery and word play, while my dad leaned more toward dry, sarcastic wit and scatological humor. It was my dad and I who often teamed up for jokes and hijinks. My mom and sister were, by default, often the victims of our depravity.

My parents moved us out to the country my freshman year of high school. That's a photo of my dad from that time. The one perched on his shoulder is Clara Clucker, my sister's Plymouth Rock hen.

We lived on about 25 acres, outside city limits. And by "city", I mean fewer than 6,000 people, townies and country folks combined. Our house was set about a quarter mile off the unpaved road. Country folks don't have driveways; they have lanes. Probably 2/3 of our land was woods, which started at the bottom of the hill behind our house.

Neighbors were widely spaced. The nearest ones may have been within shouting distance, meaning they might have heard an all out, blood-curdling scream if the windows were open, if the wind favored you, and if their TV wasn't turned up too loud. There were no streetlights, so dark meant dark. Satan's asshole dark. A car crunching down the gravel road was a rare enough occurrence to bring us to the front windows.

Daddy brought home a VCR one day, probably my freshman or sophomore year. This was a big deal in the early 80s. The newest technology! He also brought home a ColecoVision video game system, on which I spent many a happy hour with Donkey Kong and Mario. Anyway, with the VCR came the concept of family movie night. My dad and I loved scary movies. Mom and Sis, not so much. In fact, not at all.

Like the night we watched the original Halloween. Remember that scene where the young couple is in bed together, and the boyfriend leaves to go get her some milk or beer or something? (my sister and I were shocked to see the nekked breasts of the girlfriend character revealed, right there in our living room! The VCR was the best invention ever.) Anyway, in the scene, the "boyfriend" comes back covered in a sheet, wearing his glasses on top of the sheet. The girlfriend thinks it's cute, but of course it turns out to be the murderer, and she meets her demise in grisly fashion. It was scary as hell.

After the movie, Mom went to brush her teeth. A terrified scream pierced our tender eardrums, and my mom came flying back down the hall from her bedroom. Daddy had pinned a sheet up on the wall, and, in a stroke of genius, pinned up a pair of those black glasses with the nose and mustache attached as well.

Then he unscrewed the light bulb in their room. Genius.

The moon was out, so there was just enough light for her to come face to face with a ghostly sheet, complete with glasses. When the light didn't work and the realization kicked in that my dad, the prime suspect, was still out in the living room, and therefore, not under the sheet ... well, that was all she wrote. Mom had a major freak out.

Mom was not amused, but my sister and I sure were. I'm pretty sure part of Sis's laughter was relief at not being the intended victim this time, but still. My dad was well pleased with himself.

At some point during those years, Salem's Lot, a Stephen King thriller involving vampires, was made into a mini-series to be shown on TV. Daddy and I couldn't wait. Mom and Sis reluctantly agreed to watch.

That's me and my sister, over there to the left, long before any depravity had started. Well, actually, maybe some depravity had taken root; this photo was taken not long after I'd decided to cut my sister's hair. My mom was not happy, as she'd already scheduled the photo session. I thought Sis looked great, and was quite pleased with myself, as you can see in the pic.

Don't we look sweet as sugar, with our little nautical theme going on there? By the time high school rolled around, a lot of the sugar had worn off. Along with the nautical themes.

Anyway, Salem's Lot was showing! A mini-series was a big deal before Tivo, Netflix and 500 cable channels. Hell, before DVDs. Everyone in town was going to watch it. The fact that there really wasn't that much to do in our town made it an even bigger deal.

Salem's Lot was seriously scary. It had these horribly heinous vampires who would show up even in my nightmares, so you can imagine my sister's. In fact, looking at the fangs and yellow eyes of this guy to the right, I'm gaining a clearer understanding of why that beastly devil-rat from the last post currently making the rounds in my house freaks me out so much. There's an uncanny resemblance.

The Salem's Lot vampire may be lodged more deeply in my subconscious than I realized.

I don't remember a whole lot about the plot in Salem's Lot, but I do remember there was this floating little boy vampire who terrified my sister. He would appear at the window of the sleeping movie-child, and scratch ... scratch ... scratch against the screen, enticing the child to invite him in. The little boy vampire scared the crap out of my sister. He pretty much scared the crap out of me as well, but my mind was already formulating a plan.

That night after everyone was asleep, I carefully removed the screen from my window and picked up a long stick I'd placed there before bedtime. The stick was long enough that I could lean out and scratch ... scratch ... scratch against the screen of my sister's window, her room being just down the hall from mine.

I guess she wasn't sleeping too well that night, because it didn't take long for the scream to come, a scream like the undead loosed from the confines of hell. Timing was critical. I waited until she ran out into the hall, an extra beat for good measure, then ran out of my room, asking, "What happened?! What's the matter?"

My sister stopped cold. If I, the chief suspect, was in the house, in the hallway ... then who was outside scratching on her window?!? Sis continued to protest when mom told her it must've been a bad dream.  No! She really did hear something outside, she did! She wasn't crazy!

The folks checked Sis's room, but thankfully did not check outside, where the incriminating stick still lay. Daddy didn't say a word. The raised eyebrows and barely visible smile said enough.

Years later, I told Sis and Mom the real story -- Daddy and I were practically howling. Mom and Sis ... not so much.

10 November 2007

Fright Night

A few Halloweens ago, the Male Offspring and I took a little trip to Value Village, that Holy Grail of Halloween, on a quest for a cheap costume forged from the castaway clothing of others. With an old choir robe, a witch's hat, some reflective tape and some scissors, Male Offspring was magically transformed into a wizard.

Aww. Isn't he cute? He looks so little-boy here; it's amazing what a difference a couple of growth spurts can make.

Mystical symbols of wizardry, or reflective armament against idiotic drivers? Both! It's all about multifunctionality when it comes to cheap Halloween costumes.

These were the pumpkins from that year: Teen Demon's frog, my cat, Male Offspring's tree spirit, and the Bohemian's witchy symbology.

This was Teen Demon's costume. Even cheaper. She's a thrifty kid. The Bohemian put on a Nordic looking hat, a big knitted poncho, a scarf, and some funky boots and went as some type of ... I don't know, someone who lives in a cold place.


So anyway, all of that is backstory for today's subject, which stems from that fateful trip to Value Village with the Male Offspring. We were commending ourselves for keeping down the cost of costumery, when Male Offspring stumbled across the perfect Halloween item.

It was a rat. A giant, rubber devil-rat, long yellow fangs bared in a silent shriek of rage, revealing the angry scarlet portal to his despicable rat gullet. A monster rat. The kind of rat that would come flying across the room at you in a Stephen King novel, the kind of lurid beast that would just as soon rip your throat out as skitter through city sewers with his normal-rat brethren.

This was the Beelzebub of the rodent world.

The son and I cooked up a plan. The rat would come home with us, concealed until Halloween night, when he would make his appearance. He would appear on the back of the toilet, which, in that house, was tucked back in a recessed corner of the bathroom. Nature eventually calls. The girls were guaranteed to find him at some point.

Except they didn't, because we forgot to bring the archfiend out from his lair under my bed, by the time the fated night rolled around.

We were so disappointed! I couldn't believe we forgot. No matter; we could wait. The hell-rodent would remain our little secret for the next year.

Mostly he gathered dust, but not too much - there was a dust-ruffle around his lair, after all. Every once in a while though, Male Offspring or I would stealthily take him out. I'd hide him in the son's bed, or he'd put him in my bathroom sink and turn my dimmer way down. It scared the bejeezuz out of us every time. And each time the victim would silently plot revenge, biding time until the rat's next appearance.

We never have remembered to put him out on Halloween for the girls. He's become our own private fright night. Sometimes half a year goes by with no sign of the rat, then one night, I'll pull back my covers, unsuspecting, to discover its hideous. foul visage glaring up at me from my bed. Every time it makes me jump and scream like a girl. And curse. Last night I let loose a string of vilification scaring even the dogs, upon finding this in my bed:

wait for it....


The son is so going to pay.

07 November 2007

Happy Birthday, Joni

Down on your knees, all of you! Wow, so many of you were already there...

It is the birth date of my personal goddess, one Joni Mitchell. This here is a call to worship, people. Actually, Joni wouldn't want a big deal made...

"I never wanted to be a star. I didn't like entering the room with all eyes on me. I still don't like the attention of a birthday party. I prefer Christmas, which is everybody's holiday."

It's weird, whenever I read her words, I hear them in her voice, sometimes with her laugh. So, in celebration of her artistry, genius and all around beauty, Joni's words:

Songs are like tattoos

You know the times you impress me the most
are the times when you don't try.

~Woman of Heart and Mind

All I really really want our love to do
Is to bring out the best in me and in you too
~All I Want

I can't go back there anymore
You know my keys won't fit the door,
You know my thoughts don't fit the man
They never can,
They never can
~I Had a King

Marcie's faucet needs a plumber
Marcie's sorrow needs a man

Some get the gravy, some get the gristle.

It seems such a shame
We start out so kind and end so heartlessly
~See You Sometime

There's no comprehending
Just how close to the bone and the skin and the eyes
And the lips you can get,
And still feel so alone
And still feel related

But now it's cloak and dagger
Walk on eggshells and analyze
Every particle of difference
Gets like mountains in our eyes
~Good Friends

He reached past the wine for my hand to hold
And he saw me young and he saw me old
And he saw me, sitting there.

~The Priest

He's the warmest chord I ever heard~My Old Man

And he loved me so naughty
Made me weak in the knees


I know you don't like weak women
You get bored so quick,
And you don't like strong women
'Cause they're hip to your tricks

~You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio

Now she rallies her defenses,
For she fears that one will ask her

For eternity
And she's so busy being free.
~Cactus Tree

One minute she's so happy
Then she's crying on someone's knee,
Saying laughing and crying
You know it's the same release
~People's Parties

Sitting in a park in Paris France
Reading the news and it sure looks bad
They won't give peace a chance
That was just a dream some of us had

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on

With kids nearly grown and gone
Grown so fast,
Like the turn of a page
We look like our mothers did now,
When we were those kids' age
Nothing lasts for long
~Chinese Café

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down.
We're captive on the carousel of time,
We can't return we can only look
Behind from where we came,
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
~The Circle Game

Oh, you're in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet.
Oh I could drink a case of you darling,
And I would still be on my feet...
I would still be on my feet
~Case of You

Happy Birthday, Joni.

03 November 2007


Last night Male Offspring and I had the opportunity to go to a screening of the film, Banished - American Ethnic Cleansings. The film maker, Marco Williams, stayed to answer questions after the screening.

The film has been making the rounds of film festivals this year, and will be shown on PBS in January or February, 2008. It covers three (of many) communities in which the Black populations were forcibly expelled in the early 1900s, losing their homes and land. They were forced out with guns, bombs, fire, lynchings. Many of these communities remain White even today.

One family, including their 95-year-old matriarch, finds that the 38 acres of land once owned by their grandparents in Forsyth County, GA, is now a wealthy subdivision. Researching the deed history shows that there was never a deed of sale before the family was run out of town - other people took it afterward, by default, by illegal means. The people living on the land now, in $300,000 homes, believe they have purchased the land fair and square.

(When the Ex and I lived near Atlanta, we were told never to go to Forsyth County or Macon - that Black people "weren't allowed". That was in 1990.)

Another family attempts to recover a grandfather's remains from an unmarked grave in the all-White town of Pierce City, MO. The family had onced owned property in town, but was among those forced out by a mob of Whites who, with weapons from the local armory, fired on the homes of their Black neighbors.

The film maker also visits the all-white town of Harrison, Arkansas, where the confederate flag still flies. He interviews a pastor trying to take steps toward healing, as well as the head of the local KKK who considers himself a community leader.

Marco Williams was soft-spoken, thoughtful, and easy on the eyes. Hey, truth is truth, y'all. He said that before the actual filming started, he scouted out the towns on his own. I think he was brave as hell to do that as an African-American man, more so after seeing the footage. He admitted to being "terrified".

It was interesting how he used tangible means to tackle this subject - land. Property equals wealth. It is concrete, it appreciates in value, it can be passed on to our children. Over the course of time, it is how wealth is built. The land these families had worked for, when it was not easy for those of African descent to acquire land, was lost. Stolen.

The film raises the question, how different might the lives of the descendents be, had their families not lost their land - their wealth? They had to start over from scratch, often with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

Mr. Williams has included some trailers for the film on his site, if you're interested. These aren't actually in the final version of the film, but it gives an idea.

The film doesn't offer concrete answers, but it does bring out some difficult questions about a part of our history that we are not taught.

30 October 2007

Skank It Up, Ladies!

So Teen Demon calls the other day from Value Village. For those shoppers not acquainted with funky chic, Value Village is a huge thrift store. Halloween is the one time of year when they also get new items in - costumes, tights, masks, hair paint, crowns, capes, sabers, you name it. They are Halloween Central for the bargain shopper.

Teen Demon went to procure a suitable Halloween costume to fest things up at her place of employment. She slings fish part time at a local fast food seafood joint.

Anyway, my phone rings:

Annoying T-Mobile jingle!

Me: Hello?

Teen Demon: So, I'm here at Value Village, and I can't find a costume.

Me: How can you possibly not find a costume at Value Village? They're the holy grail of costume outlets.

Teen Demon: Yeah, if you're a guy. The costumes for girls are either slutty or Goth. Or both. Yeah. It's like, I can be a French Maid, a nurse, or witch that basically looks like a prostitute. They're really skanky.

Me: Oh, that.

Teen Demon: They should just go ahead and make a costume called "Skank Ho".

Me: 'Tis the season to be skanky.

Teen Demon: Pretty much. The guys get all the cool costumes, and they can even stay warm in theirs. They have cool masks and hello, the costumes actually cover their arms and legs. This is stupid.

Me: Maybe get a guy costume?

Teen Demon: Yeah right, like I want to be Frankenstein. I just want a normal cute costume that's not a slutty. Maybe I'll just get a little kid's pumpkin or Raggedy Ann costume.
Photo from Post Secret, discovered by Teen Demon

She ended up getting a pirate costume, which was very cute. Still a bit alarming for her mother, but yes, I'm fully aware that's my issue, due to the fact that she's flippin' gorgeous and a burlap sack would still look too good on her in her mother's opinion. Yeah, whatever, shut up -- you try having a daughter who looks like Teen Demon and see how long you hold onto that progressive and open-minded attitude. Those nasty boys circle around like jackals eyeing a kill. What's good for the goose is definitely not good for the gosling here, people. Not until she's 30.

Her costume was good though, very piratey. Her pseudo-Aunt, (previously referred to here as either My Bitch or that cynical Sicilian lurker) lent her some above-the-knee lace up leather boots that went perfectly with it - she looked great.

Of course, those boots have seen more stories than you'll ever find out about on this blog. I am not even joking. But that's another story. (Start a blog, you lurker.)

So it got me thinking about Halloween costumes and the whole gender thing. That's right, kids! We're hopping back on board the gender train! Halloween costumes are very different for men and women. It's like the costume makers are saying, "Hey gals, now that inner slutty girl we you secretly want you to be can come out with no repercussions!"

And actually ... there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not here to get all Taliban about sexy costumes. Nothing wrong with feeling hot. I think a lot of women appreciate the occasional excuse to indulge in slutting it up a bit. Yours truly included. What's more fun than Halloween in a mini skirt, knee-high black boots, and a cat tail? Meow.

What's not OK is when it becomes an expectation rather than an option.

It's not so fun when 9 out of 10 "girl costumes" at the costume mega-store involve you displaying your wares, when you're not about displaying them. Especially when the "guy costumes" actually show some creativity and imagination. And keep them warm.

Some of the names, too, just scream MALE FANTASY! Like Fallen Angel just above, with the black Goth wings. And hot boots. The witch up at the top of the page? Candy Corn Witch. Yummy! And this little lady to your right is not a Pirate, oh no, not even a Lady Pirate. No sir, this here's the Captain's Wench, maties. Ruffled, for his pleasure.
Oh, and who do we have here? Why, it's the Heavenly Devil! Madonna-Whore, anyone? *Yawn* Some imagination please, guys.
As a mother of teenaged girls, I must admit that Sexy Scholar down there causes me to morph into a downright prude. And Cowbell is not usually about the prudery. Come on guys, don't you have nieces or daughters? I don't know why the school girl fantasy is such a big one. Grown women too intimidating? The lure of flesh unspoiled by rivals too appealing? Or is your ego loving the fact that - since she doesn't know what she's doing - she'll think you're a sex god? If it's that whole Daddy figure thing, seriously, go get therapy, dude. Yes, 15 is a child.

And I won't even go into how all the models here are young skinny blonde white chicks. Oh, I take that back - Heavenly Devil is a young skinny brunette white chick. My bad. You can bet that my ass is not squeezing into one of those costumes, that's for damn sure. Somehow I doubt that the Candy Corn Witch costume has the same effect in a one-size-fits-all version.

I was talking to the Radical Bohemian about it on the phone, and she brought up an excellent point: guy costumes are about anonymity. Guy costumes mask the wearer, literally.

Guy costumes are also largely about power or fear. Monsters, psychos, superheroes, prisoners, muscle men, biker dudes, pirates, wizards ... characters that allow men to feel powerful or to inspire fear or respect in others. Anonymously.
Women's costumes, by contrast, are not anonymous, they are about revealing us. They are not about power, they are about availability and packaging us up in a way that appeals to typical male fantasies.

Sexy costumes and scary costumes are both fun, in different ways. So why not spread the love?

Costume manufacturers: more imaginitive - and warm - costumes for women that do not revolve around your fantasies, please. And try to not to be too disappointed when I want a scary costume that covers me from head to toe. And more sexy costumes for the mens, please. Can we get just some options and equity when tricking and treating? Is that so much to ask?

28 October 2007

Tonka: Built for Boyhood!

I've got toys on my mind. No, not toys for grown-up ladies, you naughty freaks. Toys for kids. Specifically, girl toys and boy toys.

Gender-specific toys.

Our favorite Big Ass Belle recently posted about "girl toys" by PLAYSKOOL. Meaning, of course, pink and flowery toys that revolve around, what else?


Lynette's Girl Toys post brought to mind a Tonka commercial I saw recently, advertising their toys which are "built for boyhood". Yep, Tonka is Celebrating 60 Years of Boyhood! It turns out Hasbro is the parent company of both Tonka and PLAYSKOOL.

That's right, PLAYSKOOL, of Rose Petal fame, and Tonka, built for boyhood, wedded together to helpfully model gender-appropriate play. How precious. The commercials for PLAYSKOOL's Rose Petal Cottage include this sugary sweet melody:

I love when my laundry gets so clean,
Taking care of my home is a dream, dream, dream!
In Rose Petal Cottage, my home,
A place of my very own!

So "taking care of my home" is the dream, dream, dream PLAYSKOOL wants for Teen Demon and the Bohemian? Because they're girls? I'm sorry, but washing socks and mopping crusty bits off the floor isn't exactly what I dreamed of for them while watching them sleep in their cribs.

It's sure as hell not what they're dreaming of for themselves. I know this because of the dirty socks and crusty bits on their floors.  No interest.  They could a Rose Petal attitude adjustment, come to think of it ...

At Hasbro.com, we learn that the Rose Petal Cottage
empowers preschool girls to use their imagination inside and around their very own play space, featuring everything they need to role-play alone or with friends.

From baking muffins to washing clothes to caring for their dolls, girls now have a place where they can set their imaginations free.
"Everything" a girl needs to set her imagination free? Is there no one in their marketing department without a penis? See, this is what happens when there's no diversity in hiring, people.  Maybe a toy kitchen is one thing to set imagination free.  And guess what, Tonka, my son loved the hell out of his toy kitchen.

And Tonka. Here's what their current commercial has to say about our future heads of households:

Boys! What can you say? They're just built different.
And now ... they can play their way!
It's built around what he does naturally. It's a shape sorter - or not!
Then, it helps him learn to walk. And chase!
Then [it's] his own sweet ride - from baby to big boy. All in one toy.
Let's face it; boys are built different.
And Tonka's got the blueprint.

Built different?  (Also, differently*, Tonka.  Adverb.)

So ... boys "naturally" exercise their minds and bodies by sorting shapes, running and chasing, while girls need nothing more than a pink playhouse to serve as "an entire world where your little girl can play, discover and explore."

Entire world?

Trouble with that is, the world they want my little girl to discover and explore is comprised of only a laundry room, nursery and kitchen. Probably she'll be expected to clean up after Tonka-boy, since he's shown tracking mud all through the house in his commercial, while mom smiles indulgently.

I find this purposeful gender-based marketing very disturbing. The unspoken gender expectations are ingrained so deeply within our society, it's virtually impossible to avoid them. So when toy companies purposefully SAY things like "boys are built different" and "taking care of my home is a dream, dream, dream", it leaves no doubt in kids' minds as to what's expected of them. What is "normal".

When toy companies purposely perpetuate gender roles, that pisses me off, because they're making my job harder as a parent.

If my little boy believes certain activities are more suited for him, likewise he will develop the belief that other activities and expectations are more suited for the girls and women in his life. Not only will he feel comfortable playing with trucks or light sabers, he'll also feel comfortable expecting the girls in his life not to do those things.

Tonka has told him that trucks are "built for boys". If I do nothing to balance the messages Tonka and PLAYSKOOL are sending him, he may one day feel comfortable with his mother, sisters, or wife in their Rose Petal kitchens, making that sandwich for him while he's out in the living room watching the game.

Um, no.

Male Offspring knows that females are all about watching the game. He would no sooner expect me to hit the kitchen before half-time than he would expect me to sprout wings and fly.

So, what about little Suzy, careening her Tonka truck around the living room? What about the little boy who loves playhouse tea parties and hates mud? How do they feel after seeing these commercials? Especially little Johnny. Society can deal with a tomboy, but a girlieman? Not so much. Chances are, Johnny will soon learn to keep that shit under wraps and play with the damn truck. At least when people are watching.

Both of them are getting a clear message about what it means to be a "normal" girl or boy.

My kids had gender-specific toys, sure.

Teen Demon was a wild hellion in her day. She loved her Little Tykes kitchen, and her pink doll stroller -- pink is still her favorite color -- and the girl bakes like, well, a demon. But, she also rode her Tonka truck like demolition derby time. She personally brought out my appreciation for that whole Tonka Tough thing, before Male Offspring ever came on the scene. She had a toy tool belt that she wore everywhere. With pink hiking boots. She didn't take any guff from little boys.

Yes, Male Offspring loved him some trucks and 'dozers. Tonka would've loved to have his rough-and-tumble boy-behind in their commercials. He was all about the boy toys. They probably would've cut scene, though, when he came clacking onto the set in his sisters' dress up clothes, sporting a pink tutu, white gloves and pearls with a purple straw hat. He adored the pastel pink Little Tykes Cottage. Especially talking on the toy phone, which should've given me some warning as to the boy's future cell phone addiction.

So yeah, my kids loved their girl toys and boy toys. Not like you can really avoid it. Nevertheless, according to Tonka & PLAYSKOOL, my kids were a bit confused as as to proper play for their respective genders.

Well, fear not - no more fretting over ambiguous gender behavior! Tonka, in order to help you navigate the gender divide, has helpfully provided Parenting Advice for Boys.

(Hey, Tonka, I'm pretty sure you meant to give parenting advice to parents of boys, not the little tykes themselves, right? How much do you pay your editor?)
Anyway, if your little darling sports a penis, don't worry, Mom, help is on the way:

Little boys can seem like alien creatures, especially to Moms who were raised as little girls! So to help you speak "boy language," here are some tips from Lawrence Cohen, PhD, Playskool Advisor and author of Playful Parenting.
Heavens! How did I ever manage to raise Male Offspring without learning to speak "boy language"? No worries - Doc Lawrence has tips to help clueless moms decipher their little boys:

(Yes, this shit is actually up at the Tonka site )
9-18 months: During this stage, your son will be learning all about himself, including what it means to be a boy... you can keep the emotional connection going by having your own truck that rolls alongside his (or sometimes gently crashes into his!).
My own truck? Are you sure, Lawrence, because ... I'm a girl. I'm "built different".

2-3 yrs: This is also the stage where "boy humor" begins; this type of humor--filled with jokes about body parts and bodily functions ... seems to be a product of some combination of boy biology and boy social training.
So fart jokes come from "boy biology"? What does that even mean? Is there a gene for fart jokes?

3-5 yrs: Some mothers try to eliminate every expression of aggression from boys’ play, but that doesn’t work--and besides, if we got rid of all aggressive stories, we’d have to exclude stories from Shakespeare, the Bible, and even history books!
The Bible? How'd that get slipped into a toy site?

And get this:
All Ages & Stages: Recognize that your son is absorbing all sorts of information from TV and movies, including many messages about what is expected from boys and men. The media -- and our own expectations -- can give boys the wrong idea that there is only one very narrow definition of masculinity.
No shit, Lawrence! Media like ... Tonka commercials and this website, asshat! How did they not catch that?

I call bullshit, Tonka. This guy should not be giving parenting advice. You should not be paying him.

So ...

---What if ... all types of play were presented as a choice for all kids? Without the frilly pink or tough blue packaging.

---What if nobody thought a thing about Johnny having tea party with his teddy bears, or playing with playhouse dolls?

---What if Suzy could play Pop Warner football or collect model cars instead of Barbies ... without being called a tomboy, without folks assuring her mom she'll "grow out of it"?

---Maybe then, Johnny grows up to be a sous chef in some fancyass restaurant. Or an awesome stay at home dad who knows how to fix a furnace and connect with his kids. Maybe Suzy fixes cars or runs a corporation.

---And maybe, if that were the case, taking care of a home might truly be seen as an option for both genders, not an expectation for one. In which case, it would probably be valued a lot more than it is now. Then role models - and advertising - for kids would be a whole lot different.

Maybe then Suzy feels OK being a cheerleader ...
... and a football player.
And maybe her brother grows up thinking his sister is pretty cool, and not necessarily girlie ...

...because he remembers
carrying that cheerleader's
football pads.

Yes, as a matter of fact, that was a shameless excuse to post cute pics of Teen Demon and Male Offspring. But there is a related point:

Teen Demon recently found out that her school no longer allows male cheerleaders. What? Apparently, there used to be guys on the football/basketball cheer squad. (Teen Demon cheers for wrestling - because the football/b'ball squad is a bunch of Barbie-bitches. According to her.) But the advisor - an adult - decided she didn't want guys on the squad about three years back.

What's sad is Teen Demon actually knows a couple of guys who would like to cheer. And, she said, it would actually make a better cheer squad, on account of the awesome stunts they'd be able to do with guys in the mix.

Male Offspring was in the room during this conversation, and he didn't snicker or make faces. What he said was, "That sucks. If girls can do wrestling and football, it's not fair that guys can't cheer. That's just dumb."

No, son, it's not fair, and it is dumb. I'm glad the kids were bothered by this, rather than thinking "cheerleading's for girls". If it were up to Hasbro, however, that would've been a different conversation.

And that's what's pissing me off about these commercials.