Wednesday, November 30, 2005

crazy talk

I’ve made a decision. I’m going to treat people to a dose of themselves. I’m going to go out of my way to say things like “You had your baby in a HOSPITAL?? Are you CRAZY??!” and “What?!? You mean to tell me your baby sleeps through the night?! At THIS age?! That’s just not normal!”

What if. What if the norms were shifted just a bit off center. It wouldn’t take much. Who decides what to measure against? Well, what if I took on that decision. Then what would our conversations sound like? Who’d be crazy then?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Mephistopheles Motors, Part I

The devil owns a car dealership.

Hell is not fire and pitchforks. Clearly, it is a car lot – a mangled mess of interest rates, credit checks, sticker shock, and hubcaps. I am in hell.

While my baby struggles with a fever at home with his dad, I have packed up my soul and headed out in search of semi-reliable transportation. I have my eye on a slightly used Mazda 3 hatchback 5-speed in orange. Yes, I am ashamed to admit that I care what color my car is. I don’t tell them this at the dealership. I carefully avoid including note of the color when I tell them which car I am interested in, but I’m sure they can read it in my eyes. I begin to see that the open-toed sandals showing off my orange toenails were a bad choice. I reassure myself that men don’t notice these things, look them in the eye and ask about the "Mazda with standard transmission." If they hear me use big, manly words like "transmission," hear me bypass the lay term of "stick shift," will I gain enough respect to be taken seriously?

Although I didn’t plan it, I had begun this dangerous adventure earlier in the day. A friend and I have been trying out a baby exchange. Once a week, her little boy comes over our house for an hour while mom takes a breather or runs some errands; and once a week, I leave Isaac with her. We pretend they will play together, making incredible advances in their development, but at this age they mostly drool on each other until they discover mommy missing, then cry until she returns. It was Isaac’s turn to cry.

I left him with a kiss and headed out to look at some apartments for rent. After driving by the first place, my faithful (read: piss-poor piece of shit) Jetta began beeping loudly at me. I noted the flashing oilcan on the dashboard and pulled into the drugstore. Hey, I needed diapers anyway. Since the Jetta has a history of oil leaks and other oil issues, I didn’t worry myself that I couldn’t find a cloth or paper towel to wipe the dipstick and check the oil level properly. I just poured in my two quarts and headed out again, determined to make a car decision soon. A quarter mile down the road, the beeping resumed. Maybe it was just hot and needed to settle down. On I drove. Beep Beep. Flash Flash. Not far down the road, I could see the giant sign for the lot where the orange Mazda we’d been sniffing around the day before lived. Reminded of my husband’s story of how his old truck died for good in the driveway of the Honda dealership, I took my cue and decided car shopping might trump apartment hunting for now. I pulled into the dealership and shut off the motor before anyone could detect where the beeping sound was coming from. I met someone named Chris and got my credit check started. I’d be back that evening.

So here I am. Driving around making small talk with Chris, my escort into Hell. He is working me, hard. I hear over and over again about his dogs, about how he hates sales pitches too. About how many hours he works. Why do people wear these things like a badge? Tell me all about how they come in on their day off? Are we giving out medals for being stupid these days? I remember reading an article some time ago about a man who had been killed. The writer had interviewed his boss from the grocery store where he’d worked. This man, who had friends, family, dreams was remembered as a "hard worker" who was "always willing to stay late or come in early." No wonder we cannot save the world.

"So, did your husband say if you liked it you could have it?" Chris asks me. So much for using the word "transmission." Though I am distracted thinking about Chris’ story of how just yesterday he told his wife he’d be "home when he was home" and finally closed his last deal at 10:00pm, I manage to focus long enough to see that I do like the car.

As much as I like any car, that is. On the phone with another dealer recently, I was just trying to find out if they had what I wanted to test drive. Jesse, my bud on the other end of the line, was working himself into an orgasmic lather telling me about some silver Pontiac Vibe with GPS tracking. "Look," I interrupted, "I hate cars, so let’s move on." "You told the car salesman you hate cars?" My husband shakes his head at me and shovels a spoonful of spinach into the baby’s waiting mouth. "Yeah, so?" I demand of him. And then, turning to Isaac, "Mommy hates cars, Little Guy! Yes, she does; yes, she does. Cars suckety suck suck, don’t they, Sweetie?" Isaac lets out a happy scream and spreads the green puree around his face.

It’s come to this. I am sitting at Chris’ desk, staring at a picture of his cocker spaniels, waiting. I wait. And I wait. And, I wait. It’s a bit like a police interrogation room – no stimuli to speak of, bright lights, mind games. Chris breezes back to tell me they almost have it – the deal. I wait some more. This must be what it feels like to be his wife. I start to read the email that is printed out and hanging next to the dogs’ photo. The subject line is "Affirmations." The body of the email includes a list of "positive" thoughts for the car salesman in your life, things like "I can sell anyone, anytime!" "Think win!!!!" and my favorite: "Fear Eroads (sic) Courage."

Another tidbit to live by, "I create positive relationships where everybody wins" is crossed out. When Chris returns again to check on me - the jackal to the carnage – I am chuckling merrily and pointing. "Whatsa matter?" I ask him. "You’re opting out of positive relationships, are you?" "No! No!" he tells me, seeming in a hurry to right my impression, "I didn’t do that. Someone else did." "You don’t have to pretend for me," I jibe him. "It’s all right there. I can read the writing on the cubicle wall." "No, no!" he repeats. "See these check marks next to each one? These are mine." He sounds so concerned. So sincere. In the back of my throat I taste something like pity. I decide to drop the joking.

This is just one example of the creepy, culty feeling I get over my time at Mephistopheles Motors. Chris tells me all about the trainings they get to go to on Fridays. How the boss, who, he reports proudly, asked him personally to take this particular job, pays for everyone to go, "even the receptionists." The latest training session was about balancing your personal and professional lives.

I am in awe of just how spot on our cultural caricatures of car salesmen are, how I can’t think of a more morally bereft and spiritually bankrupt profession.

When the numbers finally make it to paper, they begin with the original sticker price and end with a 14% interest rate for financing. If my joking hadn’t fallen away before… I’ll spare you the details and just tell you that Chris handed me over to his sales manager, who played bad cop, didn’t talk about his dogs, and after a certain amount of debate, I left in my beeping Jetta, my soul safe for another day.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be car salesmen.

Friday, November 18, 2005


I rush out of the house trying not to be late since they had to do the proverbial "squeeze us in" move. I have barely managed to get dressed; showers are for sissies; and let’s not talk about my hair.

The doctor’s assistant, who also happens to be his wife and at least ten years his junior, is tall and lithe, wears clothes that flow but never hang. She greets us smiling. Her hair is graceful on her shoulders and her figure - that of a woman’s half her age. She always fusses over Isaac, plays peek-a-boo, makes him grin, which is why I forgive her for being beautiful.

You think you know what kind of parent you’ll be. The kind that shrugs and says in a dispassionate voice, "All kids get sick." The kind that wants the fever to "do its job" and not be stymied by things like medicine. Then your baby – the one you tend to every day, the same one that left your body in a rush of blood and cord just months ago, that does that funny thing with his tongue when you feed him the first bite of anything, that is learning to wave bye-bye – leans against you solemn and lethargic, whimpers in the carseat he despises without the energy to fight off the five-point harness, wakes screaming in the night burning hot with fever, and see, see what you’ll do, how early you’ll have the doctor paged, which medicine you’ll reach for.

Even these times arrive with their own brand of comedy. Mike reads the thermometer to me. "100.8"

"108!??!" I shriek. "Call the doctor! Call the doctor!"

In the struggle to decide whether to make the doctor’s appointment, I have waited long enough that things are apparently on the upswing. Isaac bangs on the doctor’s desk with the flat of his palms and babbles a steady stream, seemingly reading him the riot act for poking around in his ears earlier. I leave with a baby that is still red-rimmed around the eyes, but the assistant’s black and red flowered skirt flares jauntily as she wishes us a good day and turns away down the hallway, and I’m pretty sure things will be all right.

Monday, November 14, 2005

snacking between meals

Everyone I talk to in my life that knows I write keeps asking me if I’ve been able to get back to writing since the baby. I tell them yes, a little. I have a regular sitter now and…blahblahblah…trying to create a schedule…yammer yammer... And then I tell them even when I don’t get to anything else, I am keeping up with my blog…they nod vacantly…which I’ve had since I was pregnant…they add in an idle "Oh."…I try to write in it as regularly as I can. … (silence)…about my experiences…(become distracted by street noise) …I mention that I’m trying to use some of the pieces I started on the blog and revise them to submit to various mama publications … "So, how’s Mike doing?" they want to know. …

I find it fascinating that all these people are so supportive of my passion, but none of them would really go so far as to engage me in further conversation about what I tell them I am writing or, I know it’s nuts, actually READ what I write.

Am I to assume that blogging is something like potato chips? It’s kinda food, but it doesn’t count as lunch.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Thanksgiving weekend five years ago I got a call from the SPCA to please take in a mama cat and her kittens as fosters. That was my Zap Mama, already showing us how she liked to be "different" – skipping the usual kitten season and instead getting knocked up over the fall and giving birth in the coldest time of the year.

We tried not to name the kittens, so as not to get too attached. A laughable concept. We identified them by their physical appearances – Grey Baby, Stripey, and Tuxedo Baby. Essentially, we named them. By the time they were two weeks old, Zap couldn’t lift them anymore, being – at the time – so tiny herself. So she sat back, playing nagging mother, while her children ran wild through our bedroom. Stripey was the only female and smart, smart, smart. She was the first to learn to do everything, taunting her brothers from her perch atop the bookcase, or racing through the blinds slalom-style. Cute as could be, but not the brightest bulbs, Grey and Tuxedo spent their time eating each other’s ears and falling off the bed. Stripey won her fans over with her cunning and then added a dash of darling. She climbed anyone and anything until, exhausted, she curled into the crook of my arm and slept. She’d need a special place to grow up.

The kittens were ready to be adopted in January. There were no other kittens to be had at that time of year. Everyone wanted these little fur balls. Being the spaz that I am, I couldn’t just return them to the SPCA to be adopted by whomever happened in. No, I advertised my little ones and carefully interviewed perspective families. Tuxedo Baby was adopted by a young couple who gushed over him in Polish. Grey Baby went to a socially awkward computer geek who shared his kitten’s startled look and seemed to be in need of the company. A perfect fit. And Stripey. She was the pick of a family with two teenagers and an incumbent housecat. I weighed the situation. Were they the right ones for our girl? After spending a long time with the kittens (with Zap cowering under the bed waiting for the intruders to leave), the mom announced it was time to go. The son, about 17 I’d guess, was holding Stripey in his palm. On hearing his mother’s command, the boy kissed the top of the kitten’s head and placed her gently down. "Did you see that?" I whispered to Mike as we ushered them out. "Yeah, I saw it." "I think they should get Stripey," I told him. "Yeah, I think they’re okay."

There is an automaticity in affection that you can’t fake. There is a sincerity in certain gestures that are tell tale. One of the most loving things I have experienced since having a baby is the genuine affection he is sometimes shown by people unrelated to us. I don’t mean the passers-by who tell me they like his hat. I mean the parent, his own child inches from him, who reaches out and touches Isaac’s head, sweetly, contemplatively, for no good reason.

Right now, my bathroom smells like jasmine from the back fence. My kitchen smells like guava from the farmer’s market. But the clearest sign of sweetness in my life is the memory of that hand, smoothing my baby’s hair.

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