Golly Gee Whiz

I can swear.  It’s not nice or pretty or necessarily called for, but in the heat of the moment I can drop a truck load of locked up bile that would rouse disappointed looks from a long line of long dead ancestors followed by a heated debate on exactly whose side of the family was at fault.  Clean up the stream of unnecessary adjectives from one of my tirades and you’ll uncover a stream of insults tailored to point out every flaw, each one punctuated by a bit of spittle and ideally designed to send the victim scurrying for apologetic cover.  Not me at my best, but a throwback to a time when I was bullied and learned that if the quiet orchestra girl unlocked this vitriolic spray, especially under her breath, people would back up. For example, the kids who told me if I rode the bus again they would kill me.  In my defense, I needed to continue to ride the bus.  I liked school.

Thankfully, I’m a “happy” person for the most part.  The kind of person people drop by and say, “hey, I just needed to see that smile.”  And also thankfully, my Mother taught me both manners and restraint (and how to sit up straight and chew with my mouth closed among many other useful party tricks).  This keeps me in check and allows me to say “golly” and “good grief” in polite company (polite company being family, children and overly sensitive pets of the toy variety – let’s face it, a Mastiff isn’t going to blush at a misplaced f-bomb).

Where I’m Going With This

Saturday rolls around and I’m with a sketch writing gang, sitting around a table and doing table reads in a very public location.  The first sketch out of the gate is a dream letter to a horrible parent written from the point of view of a very dignified school teacher who has finally reached her wits end.  The letter was sprinkled with all the things you should never write in a letter from a teacher to a student’s parent unless your intent was to embark on a career of living off the good will of others.  It really needed more, though.  It needed to go to the proverbial “there” to heighten the humor. You see, the writer was a little restrained because she really works in this field and for the most part isn’t the sort that will go for the jugular.  This is not to imply that she doesn’t get mad at times, I’m sure she does, but it’s framed in a more constructive light.  She’s not the type to level relationships with a wrecking ball of rage filled contempt.  That’s when I jokingly offered to help.

“Would you like me to teach you how to swear?”

“Yes, please.”

She looked up hopefully and I swear the sun framed her with a little halo as the part of me that is my Mother whispered, “Yes, darling.  Please regale us with that infamous mouth of yours. ” My throat became dry and my eyes darted around.  There were children.  They had balloons (I’m not kidding, they were handing out balloons).  We were near a playscape.  Lovely people surrounded us who were enjoying a beautiful day chatting with their equally lovely friends.  “Go on, Beth. Let out that angry 14 year old.”  I sputtered, “you could say uhhhh…” I blinked and stared as my mouth moved wordlessly up and down.  Finally, another sketch writer came to the rescue and she offered up, “call the parent a c@#7”.  OH MY! You can’t say the “c” word.  That’s a no-no word.  I looked around nervously to see if anyone else had heard.  I was sure parents were fainting around us. Children were being grabbed up to begin what would turn into years of therapy. Of all the words, that’s a forbidden word – the word only the raciest of women say when they’re in one of those places I don’t frequent – like a gym or a wine bar (I kid, I’m sure they say much worse there).

Her eagerness to learn stunned me into actual silence and my well honed abilities were temporarily (and thankfully) castrated by the idea of unlocking a bit of my ugliness and sharing it. “Look at that face. Look at the halo. She’s an innocent.  You can’t just swear at her. Why not go out and kill goodness while you’re at it, Potty Princess?” It occurred to me then that while swearing is one of my many skills that can never be formally listed on my résumé, it’s not something I can (nor should) pass along.   So, I’m here to tell you that I will not be offering up a Swearing 101 class any time soon.  You’ll just have to hang out at a gym or wine bar.

This Sunday at 6:30pm!

Finished your holiday shopping and looking for a way to spend that last $5? Why not come join us tomorrow at 6:30 pm for our Sketch Writing Showcase?  We have some truly hilarious and amazingly gifted writers in my class, so you won’t be disappointed (and I’ll be there, too!).  Of course, if you have something better to do, I completely understand and I’ll only hold this against you until my memory fades.  Oh, and Happy Holidays!

Fiction: My Nemesis

Today I’m submitting my first fiction piece to the writing group.  The great thing: I won’t be at the next meeting, so I won’t have to read it out loud.  The bad thing:  me and “fiction” are a lot like me and 5” heels; two things that should never be together, but still I gave it a shot.

How I know it’s bad?  I sent it off to friends with heavy disclaimers like “I do NOT write fiction.  This is a first attempt!” (Well, not a first attempt, but the only one I’ve shared with people who weren’t going to grade it with press-on gold stars and smiley faces.)  The non-writers came up with immediate feedback which boiled down to “good first try”.  The one that lived with me said “good, but some awkward sentences” (my hallmark) and the real writers, well let’s just say I know, because I am familiar with good writing and am very aware of what I wrote, that they’re thinking of polite ways to not crush my soul.  See, I KNEW this creative writing thing was a TERRIBLE idea.  Stick to non-fiction, my brain said, but nooooo had to go all fictiony. *sigh*

I knew I should have stuck with my hackneyed An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge idea.  I had researched all sorts of information on deserts, the various stages of dehydration, Juan Diego and the Virgen de Guadalupe (not that any of that was part of the story, but let’s just say that the desert is dangerous and people risk a lot on a dream).  Instead, I went with young adult fantasy fluff (at least there were no vampires or even dragons, thankfully).  The downside (well, aside from the fact that I don’t write fiction) was trying to cram a story into a slim two pages.  Since I had dialog, I decided 3 ½ was acceptable.  Still, there wasn’t a lot of space to develop the story and then wrap it up, which all add up to a lot of excuses for the fact that I cannot write fiction.  Did I mention the analogy about the 5” heels?

Brightside:  I still don’t have to read it.  WOO HOO!

It’s a Boy!

This month’s writing prompts came in the form of three photos posted on Flickr.  One was a rather vibrant photo of newly hatched robins – their necks outstretched, their eyes completely closed – truly gorgeous.  The next showed a Goth trailer sitting unhitched in front of a view of the beach – a scruffy looking dog faced the camera, while a thin guy ran in the foreground.  The final choice was a photo that reminded me of a local place called Hamilton Pool and a very particular day when I was around 15 years old.  Here’s my submission (it’s “mostly” true):

It’s a Boy!

When your parents proudly announce, “you’re going to be a big sister!” You tend to envision some bald, squawking, attention-hogging critter invading your space and leaving a long, disgusting drool trail in their wake.  At best, you picture them as the perfect little mini-me’s – whose bright future includes becoming your willing minion to boss around the house until they either grow a brain or grow to a larger size.  I should mention here that I’m an only child.  Sort of.

When I heard the news, I was 14 and my chubby cheeked baby brother turned out to be a 12-year-old skateboard punk who sported a faux hawk and a curled upper lip.  He came as part of the “Beth, we’re getting married!” package.  The only real perks were that he lived two states away and would only be around during the summers or the occasional holiday.

My first memory of spending time together was Christmas after we had finished moving into a new house.  We sat in the new living room opening presents when the neighbors came by bearing baked goodies as a welcome to neighborhood.  As the neighbors introduced themselves, my step-brother quickly snatched some horrible red, white and blue boots with tassels that my grandmother had knitted and waved them around shouting, “look at what Beth got!”  As a good teenage girl, I was completely mortified and shrieked at the injustice of having to suffer a brother.  I’m sure there was stomping (I’m quite the accomplished little stomper when motivated).

It took awhile for the neighbors to overcome the shell shock of our new family.

My step-brother and I were a study in opposites.  Where I desperately wanted to fit-in, he did everything he could to stand-out.  He would flood the house with Suicidal Tendencies, Agent Orange or Butthole Surfers and I would hole up in my room listening to the likes of Prince, The Police or Duran Duran.  He liked skate boarding and flailing around in mosh pits, while I liked orchestra and talking on the phone for hours.  It was shlock horror flicks like CHUD versus trashy Sci-Fi like Krull.  Stage make-up complete with fake blood, oozing wounds and prop knives versus Frank Herbert, Roger Zelazney and the Apple IIe.  I am Johnny!! Hello, please don’t notice me, I’m Beth.

Invariably, summer rolled around, Johnny came back into town and we had to suffer one of our first little family outings – a trip to Hamilton Pool.  Blankets, towels, coolers and sunscreen were piled into the family car – a 280ZX.  I don’t know if you’ve ever sat in a 280ZX, but I’m here to tell you the backseat is not meant for real people, much less real teens who have nothing better to do than to snap and snarl incessantly for 45 minutes.  Being confined in a small space over a prolonged period while sitting next to some unwelcome toad tends to make one grumpy.  The Texas heat didn’t help either.  By the time Dad parked, we had successfully made everyone miserable.  Mission accomplished.

We walked down the path to the pool, found our little spot and surveyed the swim hole tucked away in the small limestone cavern. Water spilled down from above forming a perfect little waterfall.  People flew into the water from a rope swing.  Swimmers called out to one another as they splashed around.  People were laughing and our “happy” family ate our lunch in tense silence.  Ignoring the 30 minute rule, we all slipped into the water and went our separate ways.  My stepmother swam to a little overhang near the waterfall where the water slowly dripped off the ledge.  Johnny headed towards the rope swing and I became Esther Williams – a Million Dollar Mermaid.  I swam. I flipped. My legs rose out of the water and I kicked them in the air slowly. I was in perfect sync with myself.

As the hours passed, the cool of the water and the full and generous sounds echoing throughout this almost secret place began wearing away at our silent anger.

At some point, I sat on the shore alone with my brother and we talked – really talked – the first of many conversations we would have when we were alone.  An unspoken truce was made – one that stated that in the presence of parents all bets were off, but in the cool quiet of a pool or a living room or any place that was  “just you and me”, we were allies and sometimes maybe even siblings.

 

Authorette’s note:

My family and older friends are probably having a moment, since they were either part of the story or have heard a different version it. For their sake (so I don’t have to hear about it later), I’ll fill in the missing bits.  Once at Hamilton Pool we all went our separate ways as I mentioned.  There was a woman who was there with several friend and her turn on the rope swing came right before Johnny’s.  Out she went over the pool.  There’s a moment on any rope swing when you’re supposed to release, when the rope has reached the point where it won’t go out any further.  She didn’t let go.  As she came back, her friends started screaming.  She froze and came crashing back hard into the dirt and limestone wall.  The force caused her to let go and her body crumpled and tumbled into the water.  Johnny, somewhat oblivious to the drama, reached for the rope and everyone started screaming.  The woman’s friends got to her, turned her over and floated her body using a partially deflated float.  She was conscious, but couldn’t move.  It seemed to take a while before EMS arrived (someone doubtlessly had to leave the park and call since cell phones were largely unheard of then).  Once at the scene they got a brace around her neck, moved her body onto a back board and slowly lifted her out of the water.

The shock of the events greatly overshadowed any petty need to continue squabbling; the uncertainty of her story occupied the car ride home.

Around this time, the unspoken truce I mentioned was formed.  We rarely fought when left completely alone and we did have some decent bonding moments.  In fact, he’s probably the only person I’m willing to watch a horror movie with – his love of special effects and his ability to laugh at tense scenes as he picked them apart eased all fears that worm people with human faces were ever going to become a problem at our house.

Writing Group

Well, today is Writing Group day and after much foot dragging, I have my story. I got a little tripped up on the writing prompts, where were:

1. Your most memorable experience involving something inherently Mexican (a vacation, a meal, a game, a souvenier, a friend). (honoring Cinco de Mayo)

2. If you had the opportunity to have a last conversation with someone who died, who would that person* be, and what would you say? (in honor of Memorial Day)

* feel free to substitute an animal or house plant or tree (Dutch Elm, American Chestnut, Christmas tree)

I toyed with the idea of writing about performing in a mariachi – about being tugged on a flatbed trailer through East Austin while trying to remain upright while playing Los Caballeros or singing Solamente Una Vez without tumbling into the road and smahing my viola. I could have spoken to my imperfect grito, which would make your ears bleed or how I love El Cascabel as sung by the beautiful Terri Hernandez or even how I secretly dig mariachi music, but then all the bolitos would scurry for their Top 40 stations and I’d find myself an outcast among my friends.

I finally decided on doing the Memorial Day tribute, but I’ve overdone the “Mom” theme, so I tried to think of a way to make it about the missing Roanoke colonists – my idea was “what is something that is not known, but could be known if you knew the right person to ask”. I didn’t get very far with that. I kept going back to the fact that I’m actually pissed off at Mom for not haunting me. (Look, you have your very special issues and I have mine.) Fine, I really don’t believe in ghosts, but that’s not a good reason for her not to take a moment out of her eternity to make a small appearance. When you grow up hearing “your great-grandmother visited your grandmother” or “your aunt heard from your grandmother” you end up with a lot of expectations from your dead. And I’m sure on a deeper level, it lightly touches on some of my Mom issues.

Anyway, here’s my submission – maybe it’s a little too rushed – too forced – too something, but my brain actually locked up when it came to the prompts. My only hope is I don’t embarrass myself today.

Connections

I don’t believe in ghosts. But with that said, the last time I saw a ghost, I was five and likely high on tales from daycare or hallucinating after being tricked into eating my Mother’s signature dish, Dr. Pepper marinated Spam.

Now there are plenty of ghost stories on my mother’s side of the family. There was the time my grandmother, Grandbuddi, was sitting at her kitchen table and turned to see her own mother staring back at her from the hallway. After Grandbuddi passed away, my aunt was going through a particularly rough time in her life, weeping on her bed and felt Grandbuddi kneel beside and pat her back comforting her with the words, “it’ll be ok, darling”. That same aunt woke abruptly one morning startled after having a dream where her younger sister, my Aunt Jen, passed away. A few minutes later the phone rang and my uncle delivered the unexpected and terrible news.

My mother never personally ran into any ghostly form of Grandbuddi, or anyone else to my knowledge; however, she did lose complete control of one side of her body while driving home from work. At that exact same moment, Grandbuddi had a stroke.

My mother would often say we had a connection and would use the ghost stories to reinforce this belief – that everyone in our family was connected – that there was some inexplicable bond tying us all together. To further prove this, Mom would point to the times we’d buy each other the same present. The best example was the year I bought Mom a ceramic clown that played “Send in the Clowns” a gift she had also purchased for me that same Christmas. At times I would call her house and she’d cheerfully declare, “I knew it was you! I was trying to send you a mental message to call me.” Or we’d play the game of “think of something and let me see if I can guess,” which usually had mixed results.

When Mom passed away she didn’t come to me in a vision, the muscles in my chest didn’t tighten up and I didn’t have any prophetic dreams. We were actually right in the middle of a conversation and for half a second before I ran down a hall desperately calling for the nurses, I thought she was teasing me. Since they weren’t expecting this, I wasn’t expecting it and I stood in the hallway waiting for them to bring me back in the room so she and I could laugh about how scary everything had been. Again, as I stood in the hallway waiting, I didn’t feel a breeze or see a shadow flit by; I was alone.

I’ve since had many dreams where my mother and I talk– usually about movies or musicals or why there’s a singing animal randomly strolling around. I talk to her picture. I talk to her at her grave and I’m keenly aware of how alone I am in those moments. She doesn’t send me butterflies or twittering birds. I don’t see her out of the corner of my eye shimmering above her grave. It’s just me and my thoughts.

When I even entertain the thought of one last conversation, it goes something like this:
How are things? Good good. Un-life treating you well? There’s a new show out now called “Glee”, lots of musical numbers. I think you might like it. Oh, and one more thing… you couldn’t be bothered with a little haunting? So busy these days you can’t get around to appearing in the hall? No little pats on the back for your only daughter? No no, I totally understand, you and Aunt Jen have some shopping to do, because really material items are so important where you are. No really, I get it. You only have all of eternity to work on your relationship with Grandbuddi. I’m just saying Grandbuddi managed to find the time. No, this isn’t a competition. I was just thinking you could pop by for a second or two, say hello and then be back on your way to hunting down Bob Fosse. Seriously though, could it hurt you to say hello to your daughter once in awhile? I wouldn’t think so.

After all this time, I figure you owe me more than a whiff of your perfume or blowing a balloon around on your birthday. That’s simply not going to cut it after being absent all these years without so much as a, “fine, how do you boo?” That’s right, I’m not going to be placated by a little visit in a dream anymore. I want solid information. I need you to do a little investigating before you pop back down. I want to know what became of the original Roanoke colony. I’m really curious about that and I’ve also got some friends who want to know the real story behind Stonehenge. I don’t know, Mom just find some druid from that time period. Maybe they could point you in the right direction. Mother, if I knew who to ask, don’t you think I’d tell you. It’s not like there was a prehistoric gravestone labeled “Bob the Druid: Architect of That Pile of Stones Over There”. Don’t forget, you’re my mom and you’re the one that put this notion in my head to begin with, so it’s not my fault I’m now fussy about the whole “not visiting” thing. I think as a bonus you should also find out about Jack the Ripper. Who was that guy? My money is on Queen Victoria’s nephew. Oh, you know something different? And don’t tell me that this is like your secret handshake when you belonged to the Rainbow Girls – no “Club Members Only” info. You’ve missed three of my birthdays and who knows how many potential haunting days and we never did get to see Flags of Our Father, so this is the very least you can do. No, I don’t care about Amelia Earhart.

Well, I love you, too and send my love to Buddi and Aunt Jen. No, you don’t have to talk to Dad’s family. Mom, I thought you were supposed to be a little nicer once you were there. Don’t forget, Old Hollywood will still be there – you can break away once in awhile – Judy can wait.

But remember that day, Mom? You can still faintly hear the song if you close your eyes.

Isn’t it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air

You said we were connected. Where are you?