Saturday, August 28, 2010

Grocery Gaffe

This morning I pulled up to the Porkly Workly in a faintly peevish mood. The Mister had taken Phartacus and Slappy to soccer practice, but not before I'd had to do all the work of getting them ready, lest they turn up at the field without water, sunblock, pants, etc. Then I got myself ready and stepped outside into the kind of sultry southern summer morning where the sun is blazing and the air is so humid that you feel as if you have to push yourself through it. I drove to the grocery store behind a person with their hand sticking out the car window, lazily flopping in time to their musical selection. You know you are not getting anywhere quickly when you are behind a person with their hand hanging out the window. Not that I was in any particular hurry, but it irks me that people who wish to drive slowly don't care that they are forcing everyone else to go at their pace. Anyway, all that hand flopping was apparently having a negative impact on the driver's ability to navigate curves, gradients, etc., so that it was some time before I arrived at the Porkly Workly parking lot and pulled into a vacant spot. After rummaging around in my purse and spilling half of its contents into the seat cracks, I realized that I had left the grocery list at home. Meanwhile the rummaging process had somehow pressed some odd combination of buttons on my cell phone and locked it up. As I struggled to remove the phone's battery compartment lid, I let out a loud AAAAARRRRGGGHHH of frustration. I quickly fixed the phone, grabbed my keys, and got out of the car, whereupon I found myself two feet from the open passenger window of a Chevy Tahoe, from which several sets of eyes were peering out.

Realizing my AAAAARRRRGGGHHH had been witnessed and was probably loud enough to have also been heard, I felt somewhat squirmy, but this was nothing compared to my reaction when my eyes adjusted to the darker interior of the Tahoe and realized the passenger seat occupant was Vivien, surrounded by her family.  Vivien was a woman I had met at my first Mother's Milk meeting as a new Splendaville resident, when I was too desperate to make mom friends to notice that there was something slightly unhinged about the expression in her wide blue eyes. I persevered with the friendship, despite a few signs that something was amiss. For example, on my first visit to her home, Vivi popped in a children's video and turned to me, wide blue eyes full of alarm, to point out that the toy airplane crashing into two rectangles was clearly a 9/11 message from Osama bin Laden to his minions. Then there was the time she told me that telling people in The South that I was Catholic was like saying "nigger". Not to mention the exorcism she was convinced her husband needed to perform on their oil painting, and her extended-nursing son who could unbutton her blouse himself before diving in. Not shockingly, the friendship fizzled, and she called all of the other Mother's Milk members to tell them what a West Coast freak I was.

"Wale, haaah Patsy," Vivi said in her syrupy drawl, "Ah thowt that wuz ewe! Hah ewe doin'?"

"Just fine, Vivi, how nice to see you. I hope you enjoyed my little tantrum when I locked up my phone and couldn't find my grocery list. Ha-ha! You take care now!"

That was what I should have said. What I actually said was, "ep," and took off.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Birks on the Treadmill

So after that last post about Southern women I went to the gym and, while gasping for breath on a treadmill enveloped by the perfume cloud of the woman next to me (at least, that's how I've decided to explain the gasping), I saw a woman several machines over, walking slowly while reading a book. If I thought I wasn't fitting in here, she was bucking the local trend in a huge way. She was a middle-aged lady with long gray braided hair and thick-framed plastic glasses, wearing a purple and green tie dye t-shirt, faded pink cotton pants with the knees blown out, Birkenstocks with multi-colored yarn socks, and ear cuffs on each ear. As I looked at her I thought -- now there is a woman who knows who she is, and doesn't care what other people think. A woman who probably does what feels right, rather than what looks good. Someone full of spirituality, wisdom, and acceptance, who looks beyond the superficial to what really matters. Surely not someone who wastes time and energy fretting over her place in the herd. Perhaps the kind of woman I should aspire to become.

Pondering this, I looked again and also thought -- there is a woman who lives with several large dogs and lets them lick her on the lips.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Being a Woman in the South

I am by no means any kind of expert on Southern women, nor do I mean to lump all Dixie darlins into one stereotypical category. But, having wondered where it was I always seemed to go wrong, I began to notice a few key elements of being a certain breed of woman in the South. Should you wish to make a better impression than I have, you will need to take the following to heart:
  • Get dolled up for all errands, including morning preschool drop-off. If you roll up to the classroom without espadrilles, drop earrings and a Bumpit, or at least a color-coordinated Under Armour gym outfit with a Bumpit ponytail, you won't ever need to explain that you're a foreigner whose mama didn't raise you right. They'll know.
  • Speak in a voice at least one octave higher than your natural register. Squeak if it's someone you really can't abide and whose religious deficits you plan to discuss at your next Bible Study meeting. The women at my son's preschool address me at a decibel only dogs can hear.
  • Apologize before expressing a request or an opinion, if you dare offer one. "I'm sorry, but would you mind asking James Ryan not to jump on my coffee table in his cowboy boots?" "I'm sorry, but Pat Robertson says Halloween is for slaughtering kittens and that Jesus wants us to Trunk Or Treat in the church parking lot."
  • Southern hospitality be damned, mi casa no es su casa, and if I forget to refill your sweet tea you will smile silently and wait for me to remember my hostessing duties even if your tonsils are on fire. It doesn't matter if we've been having bi-weekly get-togethers for three years and I've seen you covered in baby vomit and jumping nekkid into the pool after too many Mint Juleps, you will not open my fridge and dole out a refill. If the flames have turned your tonsils into charcoal and are now headed down your esophagus, you might eventually squeak, "I'm sorry, but would you mind if I had more tea? James Ryan, honey, please don't jump on Miss Patsy's coffee table."
  • Pray on it. If asked where your child will be going to Kindergarten or whether you're going to Myrtle Beach in August, don't say you've been thinking about it or trying to decide. Tell the person you've been "praying on it." Replacing cognitive reasoning with prayer is an unquestioned convention which will elicit from the non-conversant questioner a brief startled silence, followed by mechanical nodding and a rubbery smile (you know, like that grin Farmer Ted gives the prom queen in "Sixteen Candles" when he's trying to convince her he's Jake?), whereas Biblical comrades will... well, I don't really know. I can't imagine what the proper response to such a statement would be, so I stick with the nod, realize it will be only moments before they find out I don't go to the right church anyway, and try to back away at the earliest opportunity.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Privy Is Not Always Private

I seem to be alone. I go to the bathroom, close the door, and sit down on the toilet. The cat pushes the door open, sensing instinctively that it has a captive audience. Phartacus, Slappy, and their neighborhood pal suddenly come stampeding up from the basement in urgent need of 100-calorie packs of baked Cheetos. I am trapped, peeing, mid-stream. No escape now. Capris around the ankles, I issue my decree from the throne: One pack apiece, throw the wrappers in the trash, and would you kindly close the door. Phartacus pulls the latch on the neighbor kid's riveted gaze.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday at Wal-Mart: The Great Unchurched

Going to Wal-Mart at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning is akin to publicly wearing your religion... or lack thereof. Stumble inside wearing your favorite sweatpants and t-shirt, sporting a pillow-shaped hairdo and faint mascara smudges under one eye, and you're advertising to the client base that You Are Unchurched.

And yet, this is the hour that the siren song of Wal-Mart wails loudest to my heathen ears. I have been awake for an hour and 15 minutes, meaning I have blissfully slept through those productive hours when enthusiastic morning persons have presumably sat around sunny breakfast nooks with their tousle-headed families, noshing on grapefruit and sausage links before scrubbing the dishes and then scrubbing up for Jesus. If I shake a leg, I can get my shopping done without getting stuck in the traffic jam between Splendaville Best Christian Church and Golden Corral.

As I deliberate over decorator paper towels -- grapes and bananas, seashells, or teddy bears? -- I encounter a freshly-saved family, straight from The Lord's dwelling place. Mom wears a floral dress and heels (some even go for hose if they're really feeling penitent.) Dad is valiantly atoning for his sins with a round of family shopping in squeaky shoes, but Junior's spit-shine is wearing thin and he's pretending to choke on his zip-up tie. Baby Girl has smeared the smushy remnants of a Gerber teething biscuit all over her smocked dress with embroidered cherries on the Peter Pan collar, and is about to wipe her fingers on Junior's cowlick when I toss the seashell paper towels into my cart and shove off towards the toaster pastries.

As I pass, I imagine they might be taking in my slovenly appearance and general lack of sanctification, and I start to rationalize: Hey, I might have gone to the early service and changed before making my grocery run. Or maybe I'm going to the five o'clock session and am shopping for my big wholesome family dinner with the pastor. It's possible; they don't really know.

I glance down at my cart, which contains self-tanner, Mylanta, Funyuns, two boxes of wine, and seashell paper towels, and wonder who I think I am kidding.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Compact Car Drivers are Parking Lot Sadists

How many times have I driven around a parking lot, thought I spotted an open space and hustled over to it, only to find that there was a tiny clown car already in place, pulled up so far that the car's nose was actually straddling the line dividing it from the opposite space? I am beginning to suspect that small car drivers deliberately pull into a parking spot as far as they can to psyche me out and make me think it's available. I live in a town filled with minivans, full-size SUVs, and extended cab pickups, and so I have decided that it must be a passive-aggressive ploy to punish us irresponsible breeders with big floppy carbon footprints. This aggrieves me because these auto autocrats have not even hung around long enough to notice the canvas totes that I dutifully pull from my cavernous hatchback, or that I make my kids reuse their Happy Meal boxes as hats before we throw them in the trash recycling bin. I mean, does the fact that I use my minivan for planet-saving carpooling count for nothing with these fuel fascists?? 

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Loving Mother

I just spent the morning with my local friend and her three small children. Every time one of her kids interrupted, she kissed them. Every time one of them sulked, she snuggled with them. A morning full of kisses and snuggles, it was. I need a drink.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ah Sylvan Summer, Thou Dost Cover Junk Heaps So Verdantly

I love looking out from my back deck right now, primarily for what I don't see rather than what I do...
I see:
  • potted plants
  • leaves of sweetgum, ash, and oak
  • neighboring tree tops
  • chunks of blue sky between tree tops
I don't see:
  • neighbor's Sanford & Son junk heap
  • other neighbor's Sanford & Son junk heap (this heap vanishes seasonally under a mass of honeysuckle and Virginia creeper)
  • neighbor's peeling, rusted van - aka storage unit - stuffed full of old pillows and Hefty sacks
  • neighbor's "work area" behind dilapidated shed
  • neighbor's collection of concrete yard art toadstools and bunnies
I see some of, but delightfully not all of:
  • Neighbor In Swim Trunks From Two Sizes Ago floating like big white water bug in above-ground pool
  • NISTFTSA bending over to futz with equipment of above-ground pool
  • NISTFTSA's teenage son and friends peeing off the deck
  • NISTFTSA's missus on pool float scratching recurring personal itch
  • Neighbor's tattered POW MIA and Don't Tread On Me flags

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Dreaded Buick

If you are on a two-lane road and pull up behind a Buick with his-and-her initialed vanity plates, you might as well relax, Rhonda, and settle in, because you ain't getting nowhere in a hurry.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vacation Bible School

Before moving to Splendaville I had never heard of Vacation Bible School, or "VBS", for those in the know. (I hadn't heard of Mary Kay, Creative Memories, or Pampered Chef either, and I now realize that all of these things exist in the outside world, but such was the glorious urban bubble I mentioned in my initial post.) The first time someone mentioned Vacation Bible School, I thought it was possibly the most oxymoronic title I'd ever heard. Exactly whose idea of a vacation is that? (That's rhetorical, I do know exactly whose idea it is.) And I noticed that this fabulous getaway is only offered to children who, unless emancipated, really don't have any say in the matter. You lucky little devils! Getting to spend a week of your increasingly-abbreviated summer vacation listening to Bible stories, making "Walk with Jesus" flip flops, and learning how to Live for The Lord!

Say what you want about summer fun and connecting with God -- the big unspoken appeal for this is free childcare. The church knows it, the parents know it. What stay-at-home parent can long resist the lure of a place to send their kids for five mornings or evenings, at no charge? Including snacks! Well, I couldn't. This summer I sent Phartacus off with his friend for a religious holiday, so excited by the prospect of three less hours of daily bickering with his little brother that I scarcely bothered to ask what was on the agenda besides the obvious. Phartacus was fortunate enough to enjoy a program that emphasized putting the Bible back in VBS, (who knew it had left?) ate graham crackers coated in frosting and red licorice, brought home a couple of nifty music CDs and a t-shirt that will only be seen by the Tooth Fairy, and generally had a good time until the last day, when some kid threw stones at him. Now that's Biblical.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Safe, clean affordable Splendaville, where one steady salary can buy a 1972 Raised Ranch home with contractor-grade beige carpet, freshly-painted white walls, and a dank basement straight out of "Silence of the Lambs", surrounded by a quarter acre of your very own crabgrass, straggly azaleas and scruffy crepe myrtles, adjacent to neighbors with re-purposed yard art, jalopies half-engulfed by weeds in the side yard, and dogs that are free to roam right over to your newly-planted periwinkle patch.

Safe, clean, wholesome Splendaville, where telling someone what church you go in the same breath that you use to introduce yourself is considered normal, and not Just Cause for hiding your children behind you while making a mental note to have that refresher talk about creepy strangers. Where, in fact, if you don't respond in kind with an approved church -- like some sort of secret Masonic handshake -- that smiling Christian will frost over faster than green grass goes through a goose, and hide his or her own wee vessels of The Lord behind them before hastily departing to report you to the nearest Baptist church, which will begin sending you pamphlets about Knowing Jesus in a Personal Way and put you on their Neighbor Evangelization List for monthly doorstop proclamations of the gospel and invites to the Friday Night Petting Zoo. At least, that seems to be how it works.

Safe, clean, trusting Splendaville, where neighbors will send children you've only just met running to your yard the minute you set foot out the door at 9:30am on a Tuesday morning and stagger, bleary and braless, to gather the newspaper from the driveway. Where, in fact, you will likely be entrusted with these tiny treasures' well-being for hours at a time, given implicit authority to administer Kool Aid, popsicles, and Doritos as needed until your cupboards run dry or an unmentioned allergy triggers anaphylactic shock. Free, apparently, to assume that their parents don't mind if you teach them how to juggle knives, or let them walk into the living room when that scene is playing from "Little Children" where Kate Winslet and the guy are banging away on a washing machine.

Monday, August 9, 2010

If Someone Had Told Me in High School That I'd End Up...

Some years back, I moved from a large western city to what, at the time, seemed like a small eastern town of about a million inhabitants. Ah, l'amour. Several years after that, I swapped a career for stay-at-home motherhood and followed l'amour to a place I call Splendaville, a tiny southern hub, where over time I have painfully and laboriously discovered that I am actually a freak who lived in a gloriously ignorant urban bubble that I will likely never inhabit again. After a year of wailing and thumb sucking along with my first born, I decided to try and get along in this strangely homogenous, Lord-loving realm. I joined a mother's group and set about attempting to fit in with all the happy-looking women I saw around me. I joined the local gym, hosted cookie-decorating play dates and visits to pumpkin patches, nodded pleasantly during conversations about Bible study class, and brought hors d'oeuvres to the monthly bunco night. I bent over backwards trying to be that fun yet caring friend you knew you could count on in a pinch, sure that it would give me all the sense of belonging I lacked.

Attempting to fit in eventually proved to be a spectacular failure, resulting in a physical and psychological collapse that I might discuss if I ever sober up. The upshot is that I gave up on fitting in around here and decided to focus on enjoying all that is lovely about The South (deep front porches, gnarled live oaks, fireflies, fluffy lard biscuits, beautiful seasons, charming architecture, summer storms, hush puppies, old-fashioned drawls, Southern Magnolias, affordable homes, nice manners, genteel pace of life, and glorious pork barbeque, just to name a few), and ridiculing the rest in a random and gratifying internal monologue that I recently decided to put down here for my personal amusement.