31 August 2007

This Old Motherfucking House: the Prequel

The Prequel: Kenmore Blues

I wrote this prior to the realization that problems with This Old Motherfucking House would be frequent enough to warrant a series. Consider this the prequel. 

My washer broke. Times like these are when I could use a sweet hookup with a Maytag repairman.

Well, I may not have an in with a hot repairman (my Maytag repairman would not be that guy from the commercial), but I do have a strapping young son who likes taking stuff apart. Plus, it was his crazy unbalanced load of sheets and smelly football jerseys which broke the washer.

Digression: Speaking of smelly football gear, here's a little aside from Friday:

Son, getting ready for football practice: Hey Anyu, have you seen my cup?


Are you sure? You didn't see it out here?

Yes, I'm sure. It better not be out here -- and you probably need to wash that thing.

Son: Not really...

Oh, I'm quite sure you do.

Son: Huh?

After all those football practices? Please.

Son, holding up handful of ibuprofen:
 ... um, my glass? My cup of water?
Hey, the boy was readying himself for football practice, getting his gear together, what do you want? Like you wouldn't have thought the same thing. An honest mistake.

Anyway. Back to the washer.

I figured if we installed a new toilet together, using only directions from The Internets, we could fix a washer. The old toilet, by the way, was from 1964. Older than I am. The new one is a veritable throne. Anyway, I formed a hypothesis about which part we needed for the washer and ordered it through a local shop.

That evening, the son and I faced our adversary, armed with screwdrivers and a flashlight.

The part in question involved wiring and connectors. Great. The son gets the new part put in. I clean the nasty gunk built up in various and sundry places around the washer's innards. This stuff is a sticky mess borne of fabric softener, soap scum, sweater lint, and dog hair.

Seriously people, everyone should dismantle their washer and get that crap out of there. It's nasty.

The first time we reassembled the washer, I forgot to reconnect the bleach dispenser hose. Crap. I poured water in the bleach receptacle, hoping I was wrong. Water ran straight out the base of the washer. Crap. The son went on for a while about how could I have forgotten to reconnect the bleach dispenser, yada-yada.

The second time we reassembled the washer, it still wouldn't spin. By this time, tempers were a bit short, because we could smell the burritos that Teen Demon was preparing, and the son wanted to watch the movie we'd rented: Blades of Glory.

Oh, please. Get off your high horse. You try living with teenagers, and tell me you don't watch stupid movies.

Anyway, a semi-heated discussion followed, as the son was convinced that there was, in fact, something ELSE wrong with the washer after all. I had checked the rest of the washer while it was flayed open, and was of the opinion that Boy Wonder had neglected to connect something, or something was hooked up backward, upside-down, or otherwise not fitting with Kenmore's finicky standards. This meant I may be able to live down the bleach-dispenser oversight. Silver linings, people.

We took it apart again. We knocked a small part down into the guts of the thing. Crap! Oh, and a long plastic piece, known to us as "The White Thing" had been falling off and getting jammed between the cabinet and the back since we started. Every damn time we touched any part of the washer, The White Thing would slip off.

I figured if we could get The White Thing to stay, that would free up my hand, enabling me to help with the cabinet, and protecting my foot from getting crushed by the cabinet, since I had to stand so close to the damn thing in order to hold The White Thing in place. So I'm yelling for Teen Demon to bring some Scotch tape to hold The White Thing in place while we're farting around with the cabinet.

Teen Demon informs me that there is no Scotch tape.

I know there is Scotch tape, because I personally commandeered a fresh roll out of the gift-wrapping basket (which sounds very organized but is pretty much a joke) and installed it in the tape dispenser which I commandeered from the surplus pile at work, and which currently resides in the "school supply" section of our desk.  Also pretty much a joke.  I know there is Scotch tape as surely as I know there are ballpoint pens: not only did I raid the gift wrapping basket for tape, I had also wisely purchased three dozen cheap ballpoint pens at Office Hell one day, while in a rage over how there are never any pens or sharpened pencils in my house when I need one. Cheap pens because good pens don't last but overnight. Good pens disappear into backpacks and into oblivion in the blink of an eye.

Then I realize that I had just been in another pen rage not two days ago, as the run-of-the-mill Bics I had so thoughtfully purchased were now gone. If the pens are gone, chances are the tape is gone as well. There is, however, a dried up glue stick available, with approximately 1/2 millimeter of old glue that I could possibly dig out with a fingernail.

Crap. I continue to keep The White Thing in place with one hand, while adroitly holding the flashlight in the other so the son can fish out the tiny part from the innards of the washer. There is the requisite discussion about how to prevent the tiny part from falling out again, ending with the son's exasperated, "I got this!"

We finally decide to leave the washer until after burritos and the movie. Thank goodness for Teen Demon's burritos that night. I call them D├ętente Burritos. Burritos, however, need lettuce, and there was only a sad tiny pile of limp lettuce available for burritos. Lettuce is not high on Teen Demon's list of burrito ingredients. It is pretty much a necessity for my burritos. I take off for the store with much squealing of tires to procure some lettuce. I don't know why I didn't get pens and Scotch tape while I was at it, but I didn't, so we're still out.

After a rousing round of burritos and Men on Ice, the son ventures back out to the garage.

Um ... the washer's fixed. I kind of forgot to connect the ends of the wires.

Vindicated. Also, that kid rocks.

If I ever win the lottery, I'm going to break my new bigass washer on purpose, just so I can enjoy calling a friggin' repairman, and let somebody else fix that shit for us.

23 August 2007

Taking on the Man

Okay y'all, wish me luck. Today is the big day when my fledgling parents' group meets with the school district superintendent and his minions. We've been working our asses off for this meeting. It's a grassroots group. It started off with a few of us sharing our stories, and realizing how many stories were out there, and how many "isolated incidents" were not isolated incidents at all, but a reflection of a systemic lack of awareness of the issues that students of color deal with every day. The more parents we spoke with, the more commonalities emerged.

Each parent thought it was "just them". In each case, the child was seen as the "issue". The commonalities were too blatant to ignore, though, and the kids are the ones internalizing this shit. It's amazing what's been going on with these kids! None of us knew the big picture until we started digging and talking to other parents, hearing their stories.

Anyway, it's been been me and three other women organizing this. This is on top of us all being single moms/aunt to teenagers and working. Yeah. Monday we put four hours in. Yesterday, three more. I spent the weekend doing a power point presentation. Last night I wrote the summary after the airport, got to bed about 0230, then got up to go with the son to freshman orientation at the high school.

Orientation -- please. I was expecting to get some actual information, but the "parents' activity" was coffee and muffins in the staff lounge. What? I don't have time for chatting over muffins, are you kidding me? Where's the friggin' information? I got pressured to sign up for the opening BBQ, some bake sale, some other fundraiser, some ticket selling thing -- hello, been there, done that, working single mom now, thank you. I don't have time to bake for my family, let alone some function. I also got hear about where so-and-so had bought her cute bag; how Sally was SO devastated about not making cheer, and she was better than that other girl anyway; how so-and-so misses her husband so much and doesn't know HOW she'll survive with him being gone for a week on business! She doesn't work. Please. You can't handle a week without your man and you don't even go to work? Buck up, honey, you'll live, I promise. I was out of there in five minutes.

I do digress. This was supposed to be a quickie. And you all know how good I am at brevity. (Stop the fake coughing JP, I see you.)

Anyway, today's the meeting, I ditched the orientation and am going over my summary. How I got stuck with the damn summary I have no idea. Well, yes I do. Let the white girl do it, she's less of a threat to white men in power, they'll listen to her. Which is sadly true. "If a white person notices racism, then it must actually be true, because they don't have 'ulterior motives' or a 'chip on their shoulders'."

It "goes down easier" coming from another white person; this has been documented. Which is ridiculous, because really, I'm not the one who has the innate understanding/experience to explain this shit. But, I've seen how it works: person of color starts a dialogue about his/her experience with racism; white person's sphincter immediately tightens, s/he goes on the defensive, secretly thinking that the PoC has "pulled the race card" and is "too sensitive"; white person either clams up and nods with a tight smile, or attempts to explain to the PoC why they have not actually experienced racism, they have in fact simply misunderstood, or been overly sensitive.

I really hate when white folks try to tell folks of color what racism is and isn't.

Okay, y'all, I know I'm on about this stuff a lot. I know some of you may be like,

Damn, Cowbell, lighten up, can't we all just get along? I never see this stuff going on. Pull the racism stick out of your ass and get back to writing about how your mom wants you to marry a preacher!

I know it sounds soapboxy to those who don't have to live with it or see it going on. I realize this.

You all think I just woke up one day and say, hey, I'm going to all of a sudden get a stick up my ass about racism and white privilege! That would be fun! No, it's not fun at all. What happened is that I see the effect on my kids, subtle and blatant. Particularly since my son has been hit with the puberty stick -- folks' perception of him has changed before my eyes, which breaks my heart and pisses me the fuck off. (He's good, he's kind, he's a kid for godssake, don't be scared of him, he's not going to steal your stupid greeting-card-store knick-knacks, bitch.) I see the bullshit in the media. I hear the comments. I see how it is subtly woven through our institutions. And when I talk to other parents, I hear stories worse than mine. Much worse.

My kids are kids of color, but the reality is that they are riding the coat tails of my white privilege. A teacher may make an assumption about my son, may send him out of the classroom while smiling at his white buddy who was also talking in class. To my son. When I show up to talk about it, the look of relief is plain to see, ("Oh, YOU'RE Mom! Whew!" Because I will "understand", I will not "be difficult".) On the phone, the administrators may not want to put my son in advanced classes, may not want to answer my questions about why I didn't receive the application packet in the mail. When I walk in though, when they see me, suddenly he is of the caliber to qualify for these classes.

Their perception of his home life, his support, his ability is suddenly different.

On the other hand, boy do they value his ass on the football field, the wrestling mat, the track. They are sending my son a message about where he is valued, where he is expected to excel.

My experience in the school principal's office is much different than the experience of my friends of color. Which is bullshit.

Goddamn but I do digress. Sorry.

Anyway, I'm doing the summary, in order to avoid the clenched-sphincter phenomenon brought on by "playing the race card." Well, these boys don't know it, but I'm about to pull the white card on their asses. I am going to connect with them on their level. I am going to talk about how, as white people, we are not born with an awareness of this. I was not born knowing about this. I floated along for years, blissfully unaware of what other people were living every day. I had to learn it. It was my responsibility to learn about it, in order to effectively parent my children. And the district has that same responsibility to educate themselves, because our children are their students. It's their school too, and they deserve to be appreciated and valued for who they are, not for how effectively they can assimilate into the dominant culture to avoid problems. Not for how well they learn to suppress that shit.

Anyway, they think they can "relate" better to me, okay, I'm expecting something from them. So we'll see how it goes. It's been a lot of work, and the damn overhead projector had best be working right.

[Climbs down off soapbox.] I really do suck at brevity, don't I?

Leaving on a Jet Plane

The eldest daughter left to go back to college tonight. It was harder than last year. We both cried like babies. OK, maybe not babies, but whatever. OK, I did, but not until I was in the car. I hate airports. They could use it for a question on the SAT: Airports are to Cowbell what hospitals are to most people. With all the times we've moved, and with so many of the people in our lives leading the same traveling type of life, airports usually mean saying goodbye. For most folks, an airport goodbye is usually temporary, like a vacation or business trip or college. For us, it's more often permanent, so I guess I've got some sort of Pavlov's dogs reaction going on. This goodbye isn't permanent, the daughter will be back at Thanksgiving. But hey, Fido's still going to drool even if you don't put the bowl out after ringing the bell, right? Airports still suck, it's ingrained.

Where did the summer go? I friggin' hate Seattle summers. It's like you keep waiting for it to hit, and then it's gone. I just can't believe it's the end of August.

13 August 2007

Mad Hattery

So I know you all are all stalking my blog like a bunch of vultures in breathless anticipation of details from my trip to Hatland.


[chirp, chirp]

Guys? Anybody out there?

Fine. It's not like I was blog-stalking either, when Lorraine went to Chi-town, or when the Hat came to Seattle. Please. I have a life, you know. Hmph.

So, what to say? How do I put it to words? The Hat has become Real. Like the Velveteen Rabbit.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you."

Well, The Hat certainly didn't have a stick-out handle, but after a certain number of tasty drinks, she may have had things buzzing inside her. Regardless, she is now Real, with a face and a voice and a fetchingly contagious smile.

I have to tell you all, I was amazed that she'd only been in her charming abode for little more than a month. From the gorgeously curvy (and oh so fitting) chaise lounge with funky pillows, to her Princess bed, to the flowers on her hat box end table, to the pictures on the walls - it was neat as a pin and looked like she'd been there for years. Lorraine would be proud.

I've been in my house for nearly a year. Ain't shit on my walls.
And yes, she actually does have an end table made of hat boxes. See for yourselves. Perfect? I think so.

Also, she had this hostess business down, y'all. I arrived to find a fancy spread of shrimp cocktail, mussels on ice, veggies, spinach dip (in bread bowl, of course), dill dip, 3 different cheeses, kalamata olives, and petite quiche.
Oh hell yes. The Hat rocked the kitchen.

She prepared some refreshing Iced Tea, perfect after my long and arduous journey. This tea was zippy and left me strangely giddy, yet able to grasp all the mysteries of the universe. It's some sort of Italian tea blend a la Lorraine. I liked it so much I snagged the recipe.
(Disclaimer: Italian Ice Tea not intended for those under the age of 21.)

The Hat's hostessing skillz really came to light with her change of attire for every course. The evening began with a flowy skirt and blouse ensemble, went to a frilly summer frock, then to basic black. She rounded up the evening with silky PJs in the color scheme of her chaise lounge, bedecked with flowers and a snappy trim. Impressive. I suspect she may have Superman phone booth skillz to boot, as I never actually saw this happen.

I brought a fine Chilean wine, based on my intimate knowledge of funky wine labels. You wine aficionados out there may recognize this particular blend as Voluptuous Beauty. Exactly. I really had no choice but to bring it, did I? Perfect for an evening at the Voluptuary. It didn't suck. I was proud. You can't tell so much in the cropped shot, but the backdrop for this shot was, in fact, beauteously voluptuous.
Sadly, there isn't as much photographic evidence as we'd planned. But really, who has time to snap pics when you're busy quaffing tea and untangling the mysteries of the universe? Anyway, here are a few of the pics. See, not too incriminating.

Below you'll see her Hatness chatting up one of her Real friends. We both had Real friends checking up via telephone, in case either of us turned out to be an axe murderer. We had to use code words and everything. Doesn't actually do much good though, when you tell the potential axe murderer about your code word.

(It does pay to be careful though, as this Australian farmer recently found out. He was kidnapped during an Internet meeting gone wrong. Of course, his visit did involve marriage and a dowry of gold bars, but whatever. It happens. Be careful out there.)

"So, things are going WELL ... yes, I said WELL."
(hello, adorable! Can we get a cyber wolf whistle here?)

"Wait! You should wear a hat!"
"Right! And pull it down over one eye like in the movies!
Do I look like a princess detective?"

"My! He really is a Dirty Rotten Kitty!"*

Frivolity abounded in direct proportion to the amount of "Iced Tea" consumed. And it really was just her chaise lounge that squeaked when she reached for her wine glass that time. I ended up crashing on the Hat's lovely chaise lounge, as we realized at one point it was 3:30 am. Oops.

Frivolity aside, I'm so glad to have met her. I never would've thought that this blogging business would lead to connections like this. I know there are people who don't see any difference between a blogging addiction and an online gaming or TV addiction.

The difference is the connection.

Meeting the Hat validated my feeling that these are, in fact, real connections. That these keyboard people with unknown faces, cyberly tied by the wisp of a broadband connection, are friends. As I got into this whole blogging thing more and more, I'd sometimes question myself. Okay, Cowbell, what's up -- is this online stuff isolating me from connections in the real world? Am I deluding myself that these are connections at all?

No. This online stuff is about building connections, and these folks are very much in the real world.

What I think about blogging is that it strips away all the things people normally connect over. Looks, age, gender, employment, location, orientation, education, income level, hot-factor, whether you're married or single, whether you have kids or not -- all of that is gone. Out of the equation. What's left is our insides, the core. Our beliefs, feelings, fears, humor, interests. The things that matter.

What is more real, connections based on those surface things, or a connection based on our insides? I'm thinking that a friendship based on shared beliefs is a lot more real than a friendship based on someone's hotness factor or income level.

If you take the step to meet a cyberbuddy in real life, you have already discovered shared beliefs, interests and humor. You have weeded through dozens of other blog sites before finding one that you connect with, and when you do connect, it's because there's something there beyond surface cosmetics. Well, unless someone has a really kickass template, that is.

I'm thinking this blogging thing is a pretty damn efficient way to meet Real Friends.

If you're wondering, yes, I did actually call her The Hat. No, there were no awkward silences. No "holy shit, what the hell am I doing here?"  We were not strangers. It was effortless. Okay, commenting over at The Club wasn't exactly effortless, but that was because of all the "Iced Tea" we'd consumed at that point. The rest of it though, was effortless. We talked about stuff way below the surface. Which didn't seem odd at all.
The Hat is every bit as lovely as I'd imagined. As I've already fawned over her pics at Lorraines, you know I think she is more delicious than a Daiquiri Shake (don't ask). And hello, the neighbor guy's comment? Well, let's just say, don't be too hard on him. Poor guy. The pressure was just too much. So yeah, the sparkly captivating hotness that comes through on her blog? Her. And yes, her smile really is that sunny.

*That last one is a long story. I stole Dirty Rotten Kitty from a friend on the East Coast a few years back, before her dog could destroy him. (He's actually a dog toy, but like the Velveteen Rabbit, is quite Real, and had to be rescued.) Since then he's kind of become like the world renowned Traveling Garden Gnome. He's been spotted in many places, and has much photographic evidence in his travel logs. He now has a new friend.

03 August 2007

Jesus Land

I just finished reading Jesus Land, a memoir by Julia Scheeres. Her story is written from the perspective of her 17-year-old self, and is both sweet and brutal. Her writing is very honest, sometimes disturbingly so, and her sarcastic dark humor flavors the agonizing experience that was her childhood.

Julia spent her teen years in rural Indiana, raised by fundamentalist Christian parents in the 80s. Her parents adopted two African American boys out of a sense of Christian guilt. Much of the story revolves around Julia's close relationship with her "twin" brother, David.

Their parents had no clue about raising a child of color in the cornfields of the Bible belt; the brothers' daily experiences with racism, both out in the world and at home, are central to the story. The parents were emotionally distant and abusive with all their children, and were physically abusive to Jerome and David. They were heavily into the whole Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child deal, to the point of having that bit of Biblery engraved on the two large paddles hanging on the wall.

My high school years were spent in the rural Midwest in the 80s, immersed in The Way, The Truth, The Life as well, so parts of the book had a familiar feel to me. Fortunately, I did not have the home life that Julia and her siblings dealt with -- my parents were not abusive, and though my mom was very religious (as was I), she was not a fundamentalist. The community though, from the school to food, dress, landscape and attitudes, could've been my town.

One thing that personally freaked me out a bit, was the music. Throughout the book, Christian music is the backdrop for the story. Mom continuously blasts Rejoice Radio over the home intercom system, and hymns and religious songs are often referenced. (The intercom is also used to eavesdrop on the kids' conversations, in case any heathenism is going down.)

I knew every single song in the book.

Every single one, y'all. Every hymn, every contemporary Christian hit, every camp song. After all these years, the words, melodies, harmonies -- in some cases multiple verses and even the tenor harmonies -- all still in there.

These songs have been running through my head for the last three days. It is freaking me the fuck out. I'm talking songs like,

Just As I Am
Power In the Blood
Were You There When They Crucified My Lord
All to Jesus I Surrender
Old Rugged Cross
Go To Dark Gethsemane

... like that. The Rejoice Radio hits too -- Sandy Patty, Amy Grant, Keith Green, Petra, those were my tunes in the 80s.

Secular music was sinful. It encouraged wild kids to have sex and become drug addicts. No bump and grind for me, no sir, I put my Keith Green in the tape deck and got my religion on.

So apparently, religious music is still in there, locked away among my neurons and synapses. Scary.

Anyway, this book kind of got in there for me. The racism that David and Jerome dealt with just tore at my heart. Adoption across racial lines is a whole'nuther post. I am not saying I think it's wrong in every circumstance, but I do believe that in many situations it is not the best option for the child. I may get a lot of disagreement on that. I'm in no way saying that every situation of interracial adoption is detrimental. I do think that it is often done by well-intentioned white folks trying to do a good deed who have no understanding of or connection to that child's culture. So the way of dealing with differences lots of times is to just assimilate the child into white culture, as a way to "make things easy" for them. So the child will "fit in" and be "accepted".

That shit doesn't work, in the end. You can assimilate your ass all day long, but it will never be white enough for society to afford you full membership privileges, and then you've lost connectivity to your culture and ethnicity to boot.

These particular parents should not have adopted any child, black or white; they had no concern or understanding of the issues that they brought upon these kids. Mom's answer to everything was "turn the other cheek". It broke my heart and pissed me off, to think of David living this life with no control over his situation, no one to understand, no one to get him the fuck out of Dodge. He was taken as a baby and given unto Jesus and and a white world of ignorance and hatred.

This book made me think of my own choice not to move back to the Midwest. It breaks my mom's heart to have us so far away, and I can't help but feel I'm going to reap what I've sown big time in the Karma department. I have this fear of my own kids scattering to the winds after they leave home, that I will not really be part of their lives, that it will be my Karmic reward for not being an actual presence in my parents' lives as an adult. (not fishing for comments about how that's not true and it will be fine -- I know in my head it's some weird guilt game, but the feeling is still there. Whaddya gonna do.)

My reasons for not moving back to the Midwest revolve largely around the conservative mindset there, and the levels of racism, right-wingery, and Bible-thumping the kids would be regularly exposed to. Not that you can avoid it anywhere in this country, but let's face it, some places are a whole lot worse than others.

I can't say it's just for the kids -- I don't think I could deal with living in that environment any more. Every time I go back to Ohio, it just sets my teeth on edge. A lot of it is subtle. A lot of it is blatant to me, but not really noticed there. I like living in a blue state, I like progressive thought being the norm.

So I struggle with that -- did I make the right choice? I don't know. My mom has MS and can't travel. I knew that, and that's part of the equation. I don't make the kind of money that would allow me to travel back and forth with three kids.

I miss my parents terribly.

On the other hand, the thought of raising kids of color in the Midwest was not something I could reconcile. We -- my ex and I -- made the conscious choice to bring each one of them into the world. I may not have understood all the ramifications at that time, but it's my responsibility to do the best I can with what I know now.

My folks say it's changed, it's not that bad, but their perception of "not that bad" is not the same as mine. Mom says, "There are a lot of East Indian and Asian kids in the schools now; they're so smart! Such good students." (I am just "looking for negatives" when I bring up the whole model minority thing.)

Anyway, this book got me thinking and remembering. I kind of got off on a tangent there. I'd suck ass as a book reviewer. I don't want to give away the story line, so no spoilers, but the story goes a lot deeper than I've mentioned here. I'm glad I read it, and will be looking for future works from this author.


The Radical Bohemian daughter and I are heading to Value Village to drop off some donations and see if she can find any funky clothes to get her style on. Then tonight we are going to see The Tallis Scholars, hello, at St. James Cathedral. Yes, I said The Tallis Scholars, hell yeah! OK, so it's only four of them, performing with the students from their annual summer school, but still. The daughter and I saw the whole group at St. Mark's once -- I have no words to describe that experience. If you like Early Music, you've got to check these guys out. They rock.