Friday, March 19, 2010

Do You Feel Safer Now?

I've felt much safer since my girlfriend Sherry's 18-year old nephew Ben was detained in Detroit on his way from England to Little Rock, bearing a nefarious contract, and was not allowed to enter the these United States. The contract stated, among other things, that while the lad was visiting his family in Little Rock, he was to practice good manners, shadow his uncle on the job, learn QuickBooks, read, help around the house, write in a journal one day a week and volunteer for Habitat for Humanity (which had already been arranged). In return, he was entitled to the privileges that go with being a beloved part of a family, including the privilege "to learn…..Values are the desirable principles in someone’s character that society considers worthwhile." Like the other kids in the family, he was to receive all manner of goodies (a gym membership, music lessons, the occasional outing for bowling or horseback riding, use of the computer and a cell phone with limited range), providing he kept up his part of the bargain.

This document in his possession, written by Sherry, was one of four things that aroused suspicion. Because he had spent the last $25 of his debit card on a pair of jeans, he was deemed a credit risk. His mother, sister and grandparents live in England; however, since he is currently unemployed and does not own a house, he was declared a person with no ties to said country - and thus a risk to U.S. Security. Because he said he had no other relatives in the US, he was pronounced a risk for living in the U.S. illegally.

When Ben last visited his family here as a 14-year old, his main crime had been an aversion to showering - "Showers? I've had ever so many!"

As the contract Ben was carrying indicates, he was not flying across the Big Pond for an ordinary visit. He's floundering a bit and not getting along with his mum. The night before he was to arrive, Sherry told me that she was very excited that she would be able to teach him some life skills. I told her that only she would be excited about teaching a teenager some life skills.

On the plane Ben filled out a form that asked, among other things:
Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude? (I'm betting that the average 18-year old boy doesn't know whether he's committing moral turpitude, but will generally answer "no" to this question.)

Have you ever or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage or in terrorist activities, or in genocide? Were you involved in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies?

Do you masturbate?

Okay, I made that last one up. Questions like that always puzzle me; however -- secret agents, perverts, pedophiles, terrorists and their ilk are probably not going to board a plane to gain entrance to a country and then admit why they might be going there. "The thing is, I heard there are a lot of children for sale in Thailand." And I am aware that people who mean us harm often come in nice packages and that security officers must be vigilant. However, in this case Point A: Ben's mother, who was having the kind of problems with her eldest that parents everywhere can identify with, leads so clearly to Point B: the Sister/Aunt who stepped in as they always have and always will to bridge the chasm.

No ambiguity or smoking gun here -- not even a wisp to explain why he was pulled off the plane in the first place. This could have been the summer of an epiphany for him; instead, the humiliation of being escorted back to the plane in handcuffs will be seared in his memory.

My husband, who understands data of such sorts, believes that Ben was on a no-fly list (along with the late Senator Edward Kennedy). But I can't help but wonder if it was a random act of "because I can." You know the type: some go home and kick their dogs after a bad day at work, some are rude to waiters and sales people, others take it out on their spouses and children. Many of us have been the type, to our great shame, at some point in our lives.

Both Sherry and her husband Dallas (who, ironically, served his country in the national guard for more than 20 years) tried to make inquiries about how and why such a kid would be refused entry. Not only were they rebuffed, but in such a way as to make clear that they had no right even asking why their nephew not only lost his plane fare and his chance at at remarkable summer, but also a good deal of faith.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Reminds Me of the Chuckles the Clown Episode

Not long after the Mad Cow struck (see my previous blog), an old friend called to check on me -- he's VERY old -- we've known each other 40 years, give or take a few. I believe everyone should have two kinds of friends: one is the friend who listens to how someone like the Mad Cow disses you and offers an objective opinion: maybe she was having a terrible day, maybe she's lonely because she only has a decrepit German Shepherd for company, and he is waiting for her to weaken so he can feast on her. The other kind listens and immediately loathes the Mad Cow with every fiber of his being, cannot even say her name without hissing and volunteers to torch a bag of poop on her front porch. Because she hurt your feelings, this friend hates her as if she had shot his beloved dog. In front of his children.

Steven is the latter type of friend.

While I consider myself a compassionate person, his stories about his physical calamities evoke hilarity on my part. He is such a good friend that he continues to tell me about his physical misfortunes because they never fail to cheer me up. Sometimes I try to muffle my giggles, but he always seems to know and says something like "I'm SO glad you find this amusing," or "I can tell you're rolling on the floor."

We met during our first semester of college in an English class; I remember telling our instructor (they weren't all PhDs then) that I didn't like All the King's Men and she told me in kind of a snotty way that I was too immature to appreciate it. She also thought I had made up my name because Susie Toone just sounded too cute to be real. That English class was one of those serendipitous events that changed my life.

I've only witnessed him being in terrible physical pain one time, and I still cannot account for my behavior all those years ago. If I saw you, one of my numerous fans, fall down a flight of stairs, I would be seriously distressed and call 911. If I saw Steven fall, I might well wet myself laughing and hesitate to call 911 in case he said something really funny and I might miss it.

We were in thrall to the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, especially Aragorn. (I wanted to be Aragorn's true love, and seeing Viggo Mortenson in the part so many years later did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm). Steven wanted to be Aragorn, except he was fond of being clean and eating good food and not so much of fighting. It was late at night and we were running through a field. He was ahead of me and his cape was flying behind him -- he made a very dashing figure. Suddenly, he literally bounced back a foot or so, as if some unseen force had hurled him backwards. It turned out that he'd run into a line of barbed wire that hit him just at breast level.

Like my siblings and other close friends, he is my memory keeper, since it resembles a collander. Although I remember the scene, I couldn't really remember where it was and sent him an email asking for more details. He replied:

"It was that place in the country where D's boyfriend and some of his friends slaughtered a cow and ended up going to prison. We used to love playing in the surrounding woods and that particular evening, as the birds (hundreds of them) were coming in to nest as they did every night, I decided that we were playing hobbits and the black riders were after us. I remember yelling "RUN!" and next thing I knew I literally bounced off the barbed wire. I still have a scar right over my heart. Symbolic?"

And speaking of cows and prison time... a memory has surfaced about one of my previous husbands. We were living in North Little Rock -- a small house with a fabulous barn and a bit of land. He announced one day that we were going to babysit some cows for a friend of his. I am naive in many ways, but even I know you don't babysit cows: you might feed and water them and maybe even herd them to the barn if their owners are out of town, but your friends don't bring them to your house. I refused, and he told me furiously that I never supported his ideas, we could make some money from this, I was a lousy wife. Turns out -- surprise!!!!! - that the cattle were stolen; prison time was involved.

But I digress, as I always do. So as I was saying, I felt quite beaten down when Steven called the other night, and so he told me stories he knew would lighten my spirits: ones that would make my stomach and sides ache at his expense.

He has a friend with an antique shop that Steven used to manage, where stray cats could always find a meal and some affection. A tomcat came to take advantage of the hospitality; he would eat but otherwise would not let anyone approach him. One day, however, the tom sent all the signals that indicated he wanted affection: a tilting of the head, a certain sound, a subtle move of the tail -- and cat lovers everywhere know that it can be an honor if such a cat allows you to lay hands on him. So Steven gave him some nice scratches about the head and ears, which the tom seemed to love: he wriggled and moaned. Right before sinking his fangs and lower teeth into Steven's wrist and not wanting to let go. The four punctures spewed blood for a long time as he washed them; he thought that was a sign toxins were being released. However, only the wimpy toxins washed away in the endless flow of blood; the ruthless ones were gathering their strength for an all-out assault. After an endless, sleepless night in which his wrist swelled to the size of a of a pit bull's head and burned like the fires of hell, he went to see the doctor, who recommended he be hospitalized. He refused -- he does not go to the doctor unless he's close to dying, and it was only a cat bite -- what kind of sissy goes into the hospital for a cat bite? The doctor shot him up with antibiotics and sent him home with all manner of pills and unguents and infusions. By the next day, angry red streaks ran up his arm - the kind that indicate blood poisoning; I was almost hysterical by then, laughing so hard I could barely hear what he was saying. Which was basically that he refused hospitalization but had visit the doctor every morning for three days of strong shots. Apparently cat bites are almost as bad as human bites - who knew?

Although tears were flowing down my face and I could barely speak, he felt that I needed a bit more merriment to chase away any trace of the blues. So he told me another story that involved a screwdriver "that must have been 15 inches long and was as big as a billy club." Of course, it came down and hit him smack between the eyes on the bridge of his nose; as he was describing the pain and the blood gushing, I couldn't believe that once again, I was laughing like a maniac.

I tried telling my family the stories; they thought my imitation of the cat turning on him was kind of funny, especially the sound effects, but I can't come close to him in story telling. I can't convince him to write a blog, but he has promised that "In the future, as tragedies and such happen to me, I will make notes so I can tell you about it, leaving out no details." I will keep you posted.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Insult to Injury

I finally figured out why I'm feeling in such a lousy mood and why even my sense of humor has deserted me. It's not just that in the past few days I've been verbally assaulted by co-workers and family, and crushed by a remark not meant to hurt me. It's that when I spoke up about feeling bad, I've run smack into the old "first you offend/hurt me and then you get pissed off at me because I feel offended/hurt" routine.

I'm one of the wretched who wants everyone to like or at least respect me, even the bitter old pit bull of a hag who started my downward slide with some nasty remarks about me in a meeting, followed by a nastier email, which she copied to all involved. As an adult, I haven't had many people be malicious to me; first I was angry and then I crumpled like cheap tin -- three hits in two days took its toll. I tend to withdraw when hurt, and I don't need some crusty old bag to beat me up; doing so is one of my core competencies. As my sister Barbie says "guilt-ridden as charged."

So I've spent the better part of a beautiful weekend feeling sorry for myself -- letting others influence how I feel about myself.

I have friends going through much worse things right now -- one family is going through almost unendurable pain. So then I have to slap myself around a bit because my problems are nothing compared to theirs, much less to the suffering of the world. When I whined to a friend about my troubles and then what a loser I was for even feeling troubled, she looked sternly at me and said "pain is pain." And I think that's when I began to snap out of it -- I was in pain, but it was of my own choosing. I couldn't ask for a nicer life - I have people who not only like me, but love me unconditionally. So I can continue to hammer myself or pick myself up, get on with it, and, as my youngest advised me, "You should say to them 'I should tell you what I told the woman looking for Earl Porter!'"

I was totally perplexed for a minute. Then I remembered. A month or so ago, I kept getting calls at work from a thuggish-sounding guy making vague threats -- I kept hanging up on him but the threats kept escalating and he starting calling at night (I have the office phones rolled to my cell in the evenings and on weekends.) One night I got so furious that I called the number from which the call originated. It turned out that it was a collection agency looking for some guy named Earl Porter, but it took a second call to find that out -- the first woman I spoke to would not give me any information and was so infuriating that I screamed "Fuck you!" at her before slamming down the phone. (I wish I'd been on a land line because slamming a cell does not feel very satisfying).

Nice going, mom -- both girls heard me. So much for my lectures about making good choices, treating people with respect and plain good manners. So much for setting a good example. Just more ammunition to arm myself with against me when I'm down.

Still, maybe something good came of it -- it's a great line. And feel free to borrow the line when you can't hit back for some reason or other but feel compelled to say somethiing: "I should tell you what I told the woman looking for Earl Porter!"

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mommy Dearest

It was 1968 -- the year of hope, revolution and tragedy. But all I wanted to do was watch a new show called the Mod Squad. Those of you old enough to remember this show, about three mod detectives, won't want to admit you remember it, much less than you watched it. I've never even seen reruns of this on Nick at Nite, so it must have been really bad. I couldn't watch it because my dad would not let us watch television on school nights. EVER. Except on Sunday nights when he would make us watch Bonanza as a family -- forced family fun, as my sister Barbie refers to it.

I also had to watch Lawrence Welk with him -- I can't remember if he tortured the rest of the family in this particular way. My fans know that I did not have the best relationship with my father, and it did not help that he made me take accordion lessons. That sentence originally was that he made me "play" the accordion, but saying I "played" the accordion is like saying that my dogs "communicate" really well when they "speak." The only thing I remember playing with actual notes was "The Caissons Go Rolling Along"(dad was military - big surprise). My brother, a talented musician, would have given his eye teeth for a guitar and lessons. Which is probably one of the reasons Dad made me take lessons on this vile instrument from this creepy old guy. And probably one of the reasons that during my first and only recital, my brother ruined my hairdo: my mom had put my very thin, fine hair into a pitiful bun on top of my head, which a zephyr would have undone; my brother blew very gently on it, and it collapsed, leaving me in tears. I had to "play" this instrument of torture in front of people, some whose kids were playing Mozart on the piano, and you ruin my hair? Dude!

Last night John and I were talking about our rather dreadful childhoods and the fact that we both escaped to books as kids. There just wasn't much choice. (And that we both played outside until long after dark. And that milk was cheaper. Blah blah blah.) Our kids would much rather play Warcraft or watch crappy television than read Great Expectations. John is a big fan of Warcraft and I am a big fan of crappy television, but enough is enough. We're going to follow our President and the First Lady and allow television and the computer only on the weekends. Last week they had their privileges suspended for a few days, and our youngest hand-stitched a purse from some old jeans. Mostly they just bitch and ask when they can have their privileges back, but once in a while they make do just fine: reading, playing, making silk purses from sows' ears.

Our family time, except at dinner, is too much each to our own. Dinner often consists of us telling the kids really touching, funny stories about our lives. They rarely react or laugh, however, and we have to send them to their rooms for being sullen. Tonight we regaled them with tales of past diving exploits and a guy we dubbed Butt Belly -- one of those really fat guys who thought he looked good in a teensy Speedo. The name Butt Belly did make them chuckle politely.

But I digress. Quality family time, including a book club! Whether they like it or not. I just ordered three used copies of Tortilla Flat, which will be our first book club selection. Wish us luck.

p.s. Thanks to Sue K. for the title of this post. Which reminds me of some old-fashioned family fun. The girls have never seen Mommy, Dearest, but I told them about the most famous scene. I used to wait until they were almost asleep and then rush into their room, turn on the light and scream "No Wire Coat Hangers!" I have and am giving them some seriously good material for their therapists/memoirs.