Wednesday, October 31, 2007

But Enough About Me, Let’s Talk About Me!

This weekend I ran into not one, not two, but nearly a dozen Allaboutme’s. You know the type: you ask them question after question, not because you’re trying to hit on them or pick them up, not because you’re interviewing them or building a dossier on them, but simply because you want them to feel comfortable during a social gathering, as complete silence can, at times, be a tad awkward.

Note: I’m referring to the instances where Allaboutme’s pals are already engaged in conversation with others, and Allaboutme is the odd man or woman out. Or perhaps they are a new client, and you want to establish a rapport. Perhaps they are the significant other of a relative, overwhelmed by their first visit during a holiday event. You may have even felt sorry for them, so you reached out, and now you wish you had been born with your mouth fused shut, because they turned out to have the social skills of a Soviet-era taxicab built in 1972.

After you’ve learned all about Allaboutme, you wait for the reciprocal questions to be asked. But no, Allaboutme is not interested in you. Not in the least. Allaboutme could give a ferret’s anus what you do for a living, what your family is like, what your hobbies are, or what books, movies, vacations, or interesting anecdotes have recently migrated into your life. (Disclaimer: Unless they want something from you. Then, Allaboutme will only ask the pertinent questions to achieve exactly that.)

After one or two encounters with an Allaboutme you want to give up and live in a yurt in Montana, but we humans are social animals. So you resign yourself to the fact that into every life, a couple hundred Allaboutme’s must fall.

Now, I don’t want this post to be Allaboutme. But that’s kind of hard with a blog, isn’t it? It’s a one-sided conversation. So here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to ask you three questions. If you feel like participating, please answer them in the comments. In the meantime, I’ll be frantically finishing my copyediting and carving a pumpkin or two.

(I should add that a worse variant on the Allaboutme is the One-Upper, famous for steering every conversation back to him or herself with lines like, “You think YOU’RE depressed, wait ‘til you hear about MY day!” Or “Yeah, sorry about your uncle. But at least he didn’t have cancer of the personality, which runs in my family and has already stricken both of my parents. Oh, you haven’t SEEN pain until you’ve struggled with cancer of the personality, which causes awful things to come out of your mouth as well as uncontrolled extension of the middle finger.”)

Okay. Enough. On with the interactive questions.
  1. What’s your weirdest or most embarrassing Halloween memory? Mine is of inadvertently trick-or-treating at the home of an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s disease. She didn’t know it was Halloween and gave us a bunch of money.
  2. What’s the most creative Halloween costume you’ve ever worn? (Alternately, what’s the cleverest one you’ve seen on someone else?)
  3. On pumpkin-carving: patterns or freehand? Save and roast the seeds or dump ‘em?

This Friday I’m at the Debs, blogging about Halloween mammaries...I mean MEMORIES. (I guess I still have the image in my mind of this guy wearing a bra stuffed with cumin and pepper and cinnamon--he was a "Spice Rack." Get it?) Stop by if you're not too sick of the holiday yet.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Detailed Foray Down Memory Lane

I was thinking about writing a blog on my weekend again, but then the clouds parted over my head and I heard this giant raspberry followed by a booming voice: “WHO CARES?”

And right away I thought, great, even God is bored by my life. Well, it was either God or I was having a flashback to a creative writing professor I had in college.

So instead I’ll tell you about the J. Geils Band. I heard them on the radio the other day. Remember them? Angel is a centerfold and all that poppycock? Well, I remember them. Because when I was eight, life blessed me in a way that it never had before. I received a buttload of first communion money. After I spent most of it on angel dust and absinthe, I took a little side-trip to Kmart to purchase the Holy Grail (which you could buy back then) of childhood: a portable black cassette recorder.

For a mere $34 dollars, you could purchase bliss. You could purchase the ability to be cool for the thirty-eight minutes your school bus traveled from your doorstep to your elementary school doors. You could sit in the back seat and entertain every tapioca-scented, chubby-cheeked passenger with taped-from-the-radio gems like Eddie Rabbit’s “I Love a Rainy Night” and The Pretenders’ “Chain Gang” and “Come on Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners and yes, “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band.

You would sit by the radio (and if you were lucky, it actually had detached speakers next to which you could perch), waiting for the DJ to play your favorite song. And then: NIRVANA! There it WAS! The Pointer Sisters' “So Excited!” Laura Branigan’s “Gloria!” Toni Basil! Rick Springfield! But the jerky DJ would keep chit-chatting right through the opening riffs, so you’d get your song, but some assclown DJ’s inane intro as well: “And now, Survivor with ‘Eye of the Tiger!’ Only on WSTD, your source for today’s hottest hits and smoothest licks! Keep listening for your chance to win tickets to the Hall and Oates show at the Blabbity Center. Have you ever seen them live? I have, and let me tell you: those tickets were worth every cent. But not when you can win 'em before you can buy 'em! Only on your station with the megaty-most fun, WSTD. What's that again? WSTD!” And that dude’s voice would stretch long into that kickass drumbeat, right up to the actual singing, and you’d be silently and frantically praying near the speaker: “Just shut up! Just play the song! This is no good, this is just NO GOOD!!!”

And you’d tape it, and then play it on the bus, turning the volume way down during the DJ, then cranking it up. Halfway through the song you’d hear your mom yelling at the dog to get off the sofa, and then a clatter when you dropped your tape recorder to give her the what-not stare: Mo-om, I'm taping Air Supply!!! Sometimes you’d miss the first half of the song altogether, but what the hell: you got the second half! And the kids on the bus loved you for it. Oh, and just think of the possibilities at RECESS! Recess with a soundtrack. Songs to chase the boys to. Could there be anything more divine?

You were on top of the world. You had a portable black cassette player and hits taped right from the Weekly Top Forty. You had the J. Geils Band, on demand, and life had never been sweeter.

Well, at least until you got your first Walkman and Purple Rain in your Easter basket.

(Don’t even get me started on my first Rubik’s Cube, which was a mail-in offer from the Chex Cereal company. Instead of bright colors, you had to line up bananas and strawberries and little Chex cereal pieces. I didn’t care, just as long as the little stickers peeled-off and re-stuck easily.)
Yeah, I was a dorky eight year old. Were you?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wow, look at all the links!

Sometimes you have the kind of weekend where so much happens that it’s nearly impossible to condense into a bloggable, bite-sized nugget without it sounding like play-by-play commentary on ESPN. And then you think, Maybe I’ll just blog about how my husband nearly burned the house down today by accidentally nuking a shitty microwave burrito for ELEVEN MINUTES and the stink will never wash off you, not even after 35,495 showers in purified water and bleach, and the dog was sneezing and rubbing her nose all over the carpet and your furniture will now and forever smell like a charcoal sphincter and your nose hairs have petitioned the Body at Large for a change of address, they are so wounded.

But then, you have a change of heart. You should write about the weekend, because you had FUN. You want to capture the moment for posterity.

So Friday night I hung out with my fellow Deb, the all-around lovely, gracious, and amazing Gail Konop Baker. We attended the Wisconsin Book Festival to see T.C. Boyle read on Friday, and then all sorts of martini-fueled hijinks ensued, which Gail very eloquently wrote about here.

(Okay, I’m making it sound more exciting than it was. But to me? Curl-up-with-a-good-book-and-tea-on-a-Friday-night Girl? Who will use her prosaic powers only for beige-colored good? It was like being strapped to the most dangerous, condemned ride in the history of amusement parks, and the carnie just broke the lever off in “Neck-snapping whiplash” position. It rocked.)

Note to all drunken young people: YES! People have in fact told me I look exactly like Tina Fey. But, now listen—and this is important: I am not her, or I’d be in New York, rolling around on a bed of money, tossing off jokes to my entourage of laughing, sycophantic, bare-chested young men/errand boys as they scurry behind me from party to party. *sigh* I love her...

Saturday Gail and I got to see Alan Weisman’s talk on his book The World Without Us, and THEN (this is the exciting part) Gail and I got to have lunch with him! He was so truly cool and down-to-earth. And SMART. I was a bit goggle-eyed in his presence. I have only recently begun to actually email my favorite authors to tell them how much I adore their books, so having lunch with such a talented, amazing writer … (well, see the part above about the carnie and the broken lever).

And then today? I saw my first potential cover design for Driving Sideways. I can’t share it yet, because it may be tweaked here and there, but…I’m happy.

More to come...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Don't Let Age Make You Her Bitch

Today I had lunch with an old friend of mine—my roommate from Artsworld. (If you’d like to learn more about Artsworld, this magical gathering of nerds from around the state, I wrote about it on May 17, 2006. Yeah, I couldn’t make a functional link to the exact entry. You have to scroll down.)

Anyway, lunch was fantastic, and a nice break from my existential weekend, particularly Sunday, a portion of which was spent with my family at my grandmother’s assisted living facility. My Grandma Dot is a vibrant, spunky 88, and it pains her a great deal to be stuck with a herd of deaf, forgetful, cataract-ridden old farts. My grandma still loves to flirt and dance and crack jokes, but most of her fellow residents…don’t. As we visited in the sunroom, a hunched-over man named Glenn cautiously pushed past with his walker, and Grandma Dot said, “Glenn. GLENN! This is my family. My family came to visit me.”

Glenn turned his head two degrees to the left in the time it might take a talented construction crew to erect a skyscraper. He was non-plussed, to say the least, sparking Grandma’s ire. Her good mood collapsed and she frowned. “Oh, you don’t hear me.” She adopted a mocking, sing-song tone and started snapping and shaking her fingers at him. She nearly stuck her tongue out at him; in fact, I think she did a little. “You old coot, you don’t hear, you’re all blah-blah-blah. Put your hearing aid in.”

Glenn seemed to know he was being made fun of and shook his head (in the time it might take for a civilization to rise, thrive, and fall), resuming his glacial trek to his room. Grandma was frustrated. If she could have punched Glenn in an age spot, she would have. “He has hearing aids, but he won’t wear them!” she vented to us, completely perplexed that her peers have allowed Age to make them her bitches. She crossed her arms, put them on her hips, refolded them across her body. And at this point, her eyes filled with tears.

The image of some of the more rutabaga-like residents slumped in chairs in the dayroom still fresh in my mind’s eye, I leaned over and whispered to my mother, “Good lord, this place is depressing as hell.”

My mother whispered back, “This is why your father and I are driving over a cliff.”

“Yeah right, you’ll be aimlessly tooling around in your beige Buick, looking for a cliff, unable to find anything but a gently sloping hill. And you’ll coast slowly down it and collide gently with a child’s backyard playset.”

Grandma shed more tears when we got ready to leave, and there was an endless waving good-bye from the sidewalk until our car disappeared beyond the horizon. We all remarked at how hard it was to see Grandma so sad.

I remember thinking, Christ, I don’t want to get old.

I’ve been on a major health-kick lately (even shunning onion rings and a turtle sundae on Saturday), working out, taking my vitamins, eating right. As we visited with Grandma Dot, still healthy, an orphan and a widow watching more friends and children and siblings die than anyone should ever have to, it occurred to me: why the hell am I taking such good care of myself? I don’t want to be the last one standing, wondering who will fill my dance card, holding conversations with turnips that don’t remember what I said five minutes ago, missing my long-dead loved ones, feeling alternately despondent and annoyed by forced group activities facilitated by an activity director named “Tuba Dan.”

I sometimes hear people say, “I only want to live ‘til ninety (or beyond) if I have my health and I’m still mentally sharp.”

Well, most things sound great in theory.
But gosh, look at this:


There are things that can make almost anything bearable.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

To the grubby-fingered, thoughtless jerk who stole three cases of my CDs last week:

First, I must say that I am partly to blame for the music-free situation I am now in. My garage door was unlocked. My car door was unlocked. I all but spraypainted my driveway with “Thieves Welcome!” I had practically arranged my mums and mini-pumpkins in a hieroglyphic with an unmistakable message: “Na├»ve rube lives here!”

And with such obvious invitation, the opportunity to steal a collection of fairly mundane CDs from a woman who uses Oil of Olay and hasn’t purchased an impractical pair of shoes since 2001 was just too hard to pass up. I get it, truly. You saw the birdfeeders in the yard and the muddy gardening clogs near the back door and what other thought could you have had than, “Wow, a really cool person must live here! I’m SURE she listens to Master P and Obi Trice. C’mon, let’s rummage through the glove box!”

So now it’s good-bye Modest Mouse--may you float on well. Farewell Death Cab for Cutie; I’m afraid I won’t be following you into the light. Adios all three Radiohead discs, including the so-aptly titled, Hail to the Thief. Adieu Aimee Mann, Keane, Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Weezer, Kings of Leon, Coldplay, White Stripes, Madonna, Men at Work, Tears for Fears, Eagles Greatest Hits, Perfect Circle, John Lennon, Moby, ELO, Incubus, Perfect Circle, so many, many dozens of others…

But hey, Kleptomania Karl? Here’s what I don’t get. Will you sing along with John Denver’s "Calypso" on a buoyant Sunday afternoon? Will you groove out to Steely Dan and Willie Nelson during a basement sock hop with your friends? Will you blast The Indigo Girls while doing pushups in your bedroom? Will you swoon to the smooth, operatic stylings of Jeff Buckley when you’re home with your little punk friends watching Ultimate Fighting Champion on Homecoming night? On Fridays after work, when you want to let you hair down after a long week, will you pop in Duran Duran or ABBA and do a little car-dancing? Oh wait. You don’t work. What am I thinking?

My only consolation is that my most treasured CDs were indoors, safely nestled next to my computer: all three Trampled by Turtles discs, Sufjan Stevens, Muse, Andrew Bird, Feist, The Shins, Guster, and Wilco’s newest. (Shhhh my babies, mamma will protect you from the grubby-fingered little thief...)

I guess now I’ll have to step into the 21st century and get an iPod or satellite radio.

In totally unrelated news, they ARE changing the title of my novel after all. Farewell, Riding with Larry Resnick. Hello, Driving Sideways. (Named for an Aimee Mann song and indicative of the non-linear journey of the characters.) This is it folks. My masthead will change next week. No ifs, ands, or buts. No BS. No take-backs. I'm throwing Larry a going-away party this weekend.

Also, I’m at The Debs this Friday dishing about secrets.