Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Postcards from the Egg

During the summer of 1995, the season before my senior year of high school, my mother Gloria, younger sister Jenny and I embarked on a two-week long road trip in mom’s spanking new Geo Metro (the white, bullet-shaped, manual transmission vehicle that later became known as “The Egg”). The Egg enjoyed relatively solid gas mileage, a reflection of Gloria’s commitment to stretching the one-income budget of a RN with two teenage daughters as far as it could go. In these heady days before Mapquest and Google Earth, I set up our collegiate campus tour itinerary with little more than then help of a road atlas and a Red Roof Inn location directory. We three women packed The Egg as full of snacks and luggage as we could and hit the open road.

On a quest to find the institution of higher learning that I planned to call home for the next four years, our stops included many exciting places Jenny and I had either never been, or couldn’t recall: my younger sister’s birthplace in Hopewell, Virginia, sections of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and of course the grand dames of Northeastern cultural ideology, Boston and New York. Many hours of traveling music were audited, adventurous meals were consumed and winding, digressive conversations were enjoyed.

But a lesser known piece of family historical data is that there was one state we planned to visit, yet did not – Maine. Though my sibling and I were dying to check out some of the area’s plentiful liberal arts colleges, and despite a lifelong devotion to seafood, we cut our trip short by three days to return to Chicago that much faster. At the time, Jenny and I offered an unbearable absence from our then-boyfriends as the reason for the abbreviated journey, but the truth was much darker and more potentially damaging to our mother’s ego: we simply could not endure another night of her epic snoring.

Yes it’s true, Gloria was a storied log sawer, producing the kind of deep throated, rumbling commotion that my old Italian grandmother proclaimed would “wake the dead.” I have never been ever to prove this scientifically, but have hypothesized that our mother’s three to four pack a day smoking habit was not an asset in this regard (nor many others). The weirdest part was, despite a long career as a health professional, Gloria expressed little concern about her snoring, as it pertained to her own health or the mental faculties of those around her. Hell her estranged husband, our father Gregg, was nearly as bad. Both deep, sound sleepers, Gregg’s multiple broken noses as a young boy growing up on the baseball diamond, and Gloria’s fondness for smoky treats left Jenny and I pleased that our shared bedroom was far away from their loud, labored breathing.

But within the confines of a shared motel room, there is nowhere to hide. With a mixture of fondness and misery, I recall Jenny and I trying to bed down in hotel bathrooms, The Egg and when all attempts a peaceful rest failed, hatching semi-serious murder plots in the pre-dawn hours. Ultimately, after 11 straight nights of piss poor rest, we begged Gloria to drive us back home to the comforting land of separate bedroom doors. She acquiesced but it took her weeks to forgive our “selfishness,” longer before she could mention the trip to sympathetic friends without watery eyes

As an adult, and in part a response to this hellaciously under-rested excursion, I vowed to find myself a partner who neither a) smoked nor b) snored.

What is that they say about the best of intentions? I’ll have to consult with Dr. Freud on this one but for whatever reason, nearly every single one of my companions has been a chain smoker with a penchant for shaking the earth with nocturnal rumblings.

That’s no different with my current, and if all goes to plan, final squeeze, the hilarious, wonderful, infuriating, and idiosyncratic JC. The recent turn in Chicago weather toward the bitterly cold has left a thirst in the air that no humidifier seems to quench (we tried), bringing out my smoking lover’s most disruptive sleeping behaviors.

But unlike my teen years, I cannot run to the bathroom with a quilt, nor sleep in the car (we don’t have one) and even if I thought I could get away with the crime and the idea is sometimes tempting, I can’t kill JC. I love and need him too much.

So instead my small studio apartment is awash in accoutrements procured by my beloved in an attempt to restore nighttime harmony to our space: ear plugs, nose guards, mouth guards, breathing strips, headphones.

I couldn’t get away from my mother fast enough but as I hear my own repetitive, quiet and patient pleadings with JC to “Honey, please turn over,” followed by the whispered and sincere “I’m sorry baby, I love you,” I realize we have weapons in our arsenal one doesn’t normally associate with battle: commitment, self-awareness and unconditional affection. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Becky Book

"Don't drink my wine! You're not choking anymore!"

This is the latest entry in JC's new project, a handwritten collection of non sequiturs and utterances taken out of context that my comedy terrorist partner ultimately believes to be an accurate reflection of my character. For better or worse, I have inherited a reputation as a straight shooter with good intentions, who could nonetheless benefit from the installation of a weigh station between the neurons and pie hole.

"I think I love Eminem because he reminds me so much of me."

It was last weekend that JC fell in love with 1990s-era retail sensation, the dollar store. Don't ask me how a 41 year-old man from Fort Wayne, Indiana managed to sidestep this cultural rite of passage. I told him the story just last evening of my parents' routine bribe of a $5 spending allowance on days when my sister and I were particularly well-behaved while running a particular errand (a visit to an insurance office, a utility payment or GOD FORBID a trip to a home improvement store). $5 in dollar store cash, then and now, is a veritable fortune to a young teenager looking to accumulate. Somehow JC had overlooked this unusually trippy place, composed of equal parts close-out cosmetics, snack food, housewares and seasonal merchandise.

"If I didn't have Botox, I'd give you such a stink eye!"

Eight months ago, when our relationship began after years of disinterested acquaintance (on my part anyway), JC first issued a facetious threat to begin jotting down the idiosyncratic dispatches that seemed to accumulate in his presence. If there is any truth behind the idea that the formation of close bonds leads to increased silliness, then JC and I are a perfect case study. However, I dismissed these warnings as the affectionate bluff of one peculiarly enamored with gibberish - until he returned from the dollar store with a mini notebook bearing the following title page: The Becky Book.

"You don't like Sally Field?! I should break this wine glass over your head."

Frankly, I underestimated the enthusiasm with which beloved friends of mine would serve as willing accomplices in the compilation of this material. Last Saturday, JC and I were on a double date with my chum of 20 years and his partner. More than once I leaned in to hear my high school comrade highlighting a bon mot that JC may have missed over the din of the jukebox.

"There might be sugary stuff in meth."

My lover's ultimate plans for this anthology remain a mystery. Also mysterious is the reaction that the awareness of The Becky Book produces in me. Far from eliciting a conscious effort toward self-censorship, I feel empowered by its existence, emboldened to speak my mind, unencumbered by a self-consciousness that in the past often materialized as standoffishness. I knew very well that weird shit just seemed to tumble from my mouth without warning. But it took someone's appreciation of my particular brand of randomness, a concerted chronicling of verbal oddities, to make me look at it in a different way. In a predictable, Klout score-regulated society, I am unscripted and he loves me for it. Maybe, just maybe a trait I long considered a liability turned out to be an asset.

"I love you, dummy."

I don't worry about this odd collection of my intellectual property. Paranoid by nature, I cannot consider JC's curated chitchat a threat. I am able to see The Becky Book for what it is: a record, a one-sided time capsule of personal incongruity that has confused and alienated many, yet finally stumbled upon its perfect audience. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Fiscal Sniff

Last year I began writing a weekly political column for online liberal magazine, Given the gift of a regular outlet for Washington thoughts and musings, I began to recast the mission of this blog as a means of sharing my personal story, a story in which I figure as a central character but am by no means mistress of ceremony. In the process of deconstructing and examining personal foibles, tics and trials, the goal is to arrive at a more holistic understanding of the self, with a loftier promise of making educated, well-considered moves that will sustain or augment mental, physical and spiritual health.

This self-involved introduction is offered by way of placing a forthcoming rant into context.

Though I strenuously seek to separate roles and personalities that are best kept compartmentalized in the interest of efficiency, life, as we all know, has a habit of defying our attempts at organization. And so it is that until this morning, my political self was left completely paralyzed by the disgusting gamesmanship and ultimately pathetic resolution to the year-end "fiscal cliff" crisis. For two full weeks, I was rendered unable to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard if you will), to produce thoughts - coherent or otherwise.

Allow me to quote some of my own Facebook comments, dated January 2, 2013 in an attempt to account for this malaise:

"I loathe the treasonous House Republicans. I loathe that Congress manufactured this crisis in the first place 18 months ago, then waited until the last possible second to reach a deal that does nothing to solve our long-term financial problems. I loathe that for all intents and purposes, the Bush tax cuts have been codified for all eternity. I loathe that the wealthy class has been redefined and insulated while regular stiffs like you and I will lose more take home pay. I don't care that the House GOP 'looks bad' in all of this. I am approaching a resentment level that demands nothing short of a public hanging for the way this half-wit, wackadoo minority has been able to hold every initiative, so matter how small or crucial, hostage. General public opinion and the voice of the electorate has been silenced. Our process is a mockery and it's hard to envision a real way out at this point.

If we had done nothing at all, the threshold for tax increases on the wealthiest Americans would have stayed at $250,000, rather than the final $400,000. But the tradeoff would have been deep and immediate spending cuts that would undoubtedly have plunged this still wobbly recession back in the direction from which it's struggling to escape. The House GOP knew this and in the end, strong-armed the 400k mark, at which I must add, they remain dissatisfied (because nothing short of 0 taxes assuages this nutty group). These 'concerned citizens' were so worried about our long-term fiscal health that they were willing, for the second time in two years, to display us to the world as a nation that does not know how to address its own problems. They win. Again. Meanwhile discussions about spending cuts are temporarily off the table, but I will be the unpopular liberal who actually admits that we need structural solutions to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security and a realignment of our defense budget. But do you think this group of charlatans is going to be able to come up with anything like a sensible plan? I do not lay the blame at Obama's feet. He is not able to pass legislation singlehandedly. The hypocrisy is fucking disgusting, pardon my French. These clowns didn't veto a single spending bill under Dubya, a huge part of why we're here (the other part being the economic meltdown that Dubya's policies wrought) and yet somehow we and the media have allowed this to be framed as the inevitable outcome of tax and spend liberal policy. It's truly sickening."

I can't say that my sentiments differ substantially today than they did when I wrote those words a week ago. And I find myself wondering: if Congressional games have the comprehensive power to disgust and disillusion writers like myself, who follow political developments for a living and nurture a genuine passion for American democracy, what is the effect on those outside the political circle, particularly individuals and families struggling to hold onto homes and jobs, terribly concerned with immediate survival and the future solvency? Have they, out of necessity, long ago relegated the lethargic legislative process of our leaders to white noise? Or perhaps a more pertinent question might be: is this exactly what today's elected officials are counting on?