Thursday, December 29, 2011

Solitude


Penny whines to wake me. "Quiet." I mumble, muffled, my face smushed within the furrows of my mother's guest room pillows. With eyes still crumpled closed, I curl back the covers like a stiff salty wave. I unfold and press my glasses to my eyes and stand. Eyes open. I stumble into sweatpants. Turn the door handle and pull. With stubbornly straight legs, I rock down the stairs. I bend and break Beau free from his rocking crate. We roll to the front door, our feet hollow beer barrels tumbling downhill. "Wanna go outside?" Claws scramble and scratch the stone foyer floor. Socks scuffle solo to the kitchen. COFFEE! The brown drips into my mug while I sit nearby on the pot, draining yellow. Beau clobbers the front door. Wipe. Flush. Wash hands. Pour cream into cup, watch it swirl and sink into new color. Let the dogs in. Sit and settle into the leather recliner. Move my computer to beneath my fingertips. The dogs sprawl onto the couch for first nap of the day. I sit writing. At noon, I stand and raise my hands high as if on a mountaintop. Dogs fall off the couch, excited to the point of humping. It's time! They're thinking (as much as dogs can think). But I'm not quite ready. I turn and run up the stairs two at a time. They follow. A three-beast stampede. Bathroom. Contact lenses, toothpaste, spit. Bedroom. Bra, sweatshirt, gloves, sunglasses, vest. Jump down the stairs. Scoop up my sneakers and sit. The dogs circle under my knees, knotting tails before I can loop my laces. Tied. Winter hat. Leashes from the junk drawer. LEASHES!  Beau is leaping now like a dolphin. Penny tries to remain calm. "Sit. SIT Beau!" He twirls. Sits. I reach for his collar, but he poorly anticipates the click and is leaping again. "SIT!" Sitting. Reaching. Grabbing. Clicking. Penny remains sitting, as if Showing Off were the command. Headphones playing my new favorite album: Metals by Feist. Loop the leashes around my left hand. Down the driveway. Up the street. Smelling mailboxes. Peeing on everything. We walk for two hours along the horse trails, which are adjacent to most of the nearby roads. I avoid the blue cement when I can because Beau, the Border Collie, tries to herd every passing car. As trucks rumble toward us, he crouches in the dry winter grass and just as they pass, he sprints toward their sides. I squeeze his unintentional near-suicide around my hand, scolding his stupid habit while the large metallic sheep slow before continuing on their way. We trek down to the reservoir. It's a particularly windy day and I want to watch them hunt waves on the small sand. Four days, I live alone. Leashes tug me through thick grassy paths, along back roads and through my loosened thoughts. Home now. My cheeks pinked, my nose wet like the dogs'. I flick on the lights and separate muddy sneakers from socks, remove my fleece hat from saluting static and gloves from my cold, yellow fingers. I fill a tall glass with water. Penny drinks from her bowl. Beau slurps from the toilet. I'm eating mostly Christmas leftovers this week. I went to the grocery store on Tuesday, but got only dog food and lettuce. I find half of a baked chicken in the fridge. Put it in a pot of water over medium heat and empty a bag of baby carrots, some chopped celery and minced garlic. I build a fire in the fireplace. Sticks, chopped wood and numerous wooden matches. Nothing catches. No more newspapers. We burned them all. I dig wrapping paper from the trash cans in the garage and used tissues from the bathrooms. The chicken simmers on the stove. I sit back down to writing, salty corn chips beside me. The dogs fall back into sleeping, their feet jerking through dream games of chase. My mind traps and maneuvers thoughts into words and eventual sentences. I eat supper around 4PM because there is no one else to consider and cook for. Except for the dogs, who get big bowls of kibble as the sun dunks behind the rows of lanky trees in the front yard. Later, I turn on the television when the wind startles the pups into barking. Old reruns from the 90s. I glance up often before submitting entirely to the blissful escape that is a good sitcom. When I tire of typing and laugh tracks, I stand and let the dogs out one last time. They refuse. I don't blame them. The cold air feels hard, but I won't have any accidents at 4am and so I shoo them out, pushing their behinds with my shin. I turn off most of the house lights, but plug in the Christmas tree. I then call to my companions. I escort Beau to his crate and lead Penny upstairs. It's windy again, which means she's going to push her furry face between my ear and shoulder. I don't mind. And in the morning, she'll wake me with whining and I will do this all again. Happily.

Solitude selects me, sucks me from the traffic of life and spits me out onto this simple schedule of dog walking and words. 


Monday, December 12, 2011

The Applicant

October 5, 2011

This winter, I am secretly applying for graduate acting school. However, if you are reading this before March of 2012 then this secret has escaped my rattling mouth like a brown bear from a birdcage.

The reason for this uncharacteristic decision to not tell my family, for I tell them nearly everything (except for that terribly awkward queef I emitted a few months back)is because I cannot, during the early vulnerable stages of this venture, receive any critical commentary. For everything my family says about me marches directly to my heart and either guards it or guns it down. "Why?" Is all they'd have to ask before I forfeited all plans. Surely, they'll scorn me for sliding a queef into that parenthesis up there, but that's nothing to fret my feelings over. Just a little sneaky shocking prattle about an eighty-six second vagina fart that flew around the room like a birthday balloon before deflating me into a frenzy of silent cackles and a pile of crumpled bones and wrinkled repugnance. See how poorly I cradle my private matters between the snow white bunny slopes of my 34B-sized bosom?

Let's see how long I last with this secret stuck between my two front teeth.

*****
October 13, 2011

I am pursuing a career in the theater because, for me, theater is like a cup of coffee after a restless sleep. It bursts into my body and energizes me with an extraordinary injection of intellectualized passion. I am pursuing a career in the theater because not only does it nourish my soul with perpetual inspiration and exploration, theater then decorates my world with vibrant light and articulation. It is here, inside this figurative and focused stage light, where I hope to live a long life, articulating ideas, emotions and experiences.

I want to be prepared to join with other theater professionals in sustaining this beautiful, raw, traditional, challenging and essential human art.

*****
October 14, 2011

The M.F.A Acting Programs I plan to apply to. 

  1. University of San Diego/Old Globe 
  2. A.C.T. American Conservatory Theater 
  3. Yale University 
  4. University of California (San Diego) 
  5. Brown University 
  6. University of California, Irvine 
***** 
November 1, 2011

University of San Diego/Old Globe asks me why. 
Why have you chosen to seek further training at this time rather than pursue work as a professional actor? 

My first attempt to be a professional actress, when I graduated college six years ago, was a bit of a flop. And that’s putting it kindly. I moved to New York City because that’s what actors did, I thought. But after one year, I found the theater scene to be much like a monster on a pedestal: big, ugly, mean and out of reach. I had an insufficient resume, bland looking headshots and absolutely no theater contacts in the city. After a few months, I mailed these aforementioned headshots and resumes to sixty-seven talent agencies and theater companies. I was clueless. After one year, I moved to Boston where I started taking improvisational classes, acting on an adventure boat in Boston Harbor and performing a little Shakespeare. However, after two years of the amateur theater community doing plays I wasn’t entirely interested in and the big professional theaters only hiring equity actors, I moved from Boston to Western Massachusetts to start The August Company. From an idea in a living room to six fully produced productions, I’ve gained a lot of experience helping build this company, both on and off stage. One major lesson I’ve learned is how to create theater relationships. How to meet, mingle and reach out to other theater, music and art makers/lovers for collaborations and bilateral audience support. As an actress with the company, I’ve learned that I possess the talent, confidence and drive necessary for a successful career in the theater, however, for my heart’s sake, my second venture into the professional theater scene must have a significantly higher potential for success than my first attempt six years ago. I am seeking admission to your thrilling, prestigious program because I want to be submerged in a constructively rigorous MFA Acting program where I can elevate my craft from raw and talented to honed and professional.
*****
November 18, 2011

Scott and I put together a one woman show of my writing for a local fringe festival. I perform it twice. We set up 45 mismatching chairs into our borrowed loft four stories above a quiet mill city's streetlights. For the first night, we have an audience of 60. The next night we have over 90. Those without seats sit on the floor at my feet or lean on the brick pillars and white plastered walls. By the end of both performances, nearly everyone is standing, applauding. And my little life feels forever changed.

The morning after my second performance, my sisters and mother press me for my plans. They think I should take my show to Boston. "I'm actually applying for graduate school too." I tell them, a mug of coffee pressed to the bottom lip of my careful words. They aren't surprised and the reveal of my secret is pleasantly anticlimactic. They are even encouraging, happy to hear I don't just plan to follow Scott.
*****
November 29, 2011

A suddenly strange snow storm on October 29th of this year sends a tree from the backyard to crack and crash onto the roof above our heads, piercing a two-inch branch through the white speckled ceiling like a fat needle. There had been booms all evening. Tree trunks and branches, soft still from summer, rocking when the wind blew and toppling from the weight of their dry leaves, flocks of fragile cradles. When the biggest boom hits, I am without a shirt. Ceiling dust drops like shrapnel onto us and 
Penny, our petrified pup, leaps onto my pillow. I tell Scott he really needs to stop kissing me and turn on the light. "I have ceiling on my skin." I say, stumbling to stand. With my glasses pushed to my face and a light on, I scan the ceiling for damage. At the site of the tree branch, I exclaim something and put on my underwear. Once dressed, we move to another bedroom like a pack of refuges, finding safety beneath clean bedcovers and the second floor. All night long, the dogs sleep close while outside, snow glitters the gutters, drapes the driveway and layers onto the roof of this house where we are so lucky to live. And yet, despite this suddenly strange snow storm two nights before Halloween, the weather has been warm. So warm they've sent the clipboard-carrying global warming interns back to the sidewalks. So warm I expect the smell of spring to surprise me. Say it snuck by winter somehow. Despite the weather's contrary behavior, most days I wear gloves and my new yellow coat. Yellow buttons and patterned polyester lining, I bought it primarily for the month of February, the time when I start to worry that sunshine is a myth. Besides these sixty-five degree days, firewood across the county has been split and piled into jagged jigsaw puzzles, wrapped with blue tarps and weighed by flat tires in preparation for this winter we await. My 6am mornings are dark blue and make me want to hide inside a hibernation. Make me want to wear fur lined snow boots, wool socks and fleece rimmed hats while I hunker down, slurping beef stew and poetry about pecan pie and adulterous nightmares. Makes me want to make a baby quietly in a hospital bed before excusing myself from myself. Because in this rhetorical recipe for my future, I left out a key ingredient. I let myself forget these words I write. These words that expose my tender soul, my rash sense of humor and my continuous curiosity. In the making of my courage and conviction, I then spilled the contents of my sweet marriage, which is my home of all homes, onto the dusty tiled floor as if it were just a box of quick bread mix and not eight years of delicious devotion.   

The Friday after Thanksgiving, I stay at my parents' house while Scott leaves for his. I take Penny out on her leash. I walk five miles, bobbing on the foot train of my free thoughts, while tracks are torn and rebuilt to accommodate my quickly changing answer to "what if...?" After an hour and a half, I walk into the living room and collapse into a sitting slump. With white and yellow papers in one hand, a pen in the other, my mother looks up over her red rectangle reading glasses and asks, "What's going on? You alight?" I weep through a summary of my scattered worries. If Scott and I both get into schools in different cities... What would we do? "You can't live apart." She says. "You wouldn't stay together."
Leaving Scott would require me to become a complete ignoramus, but I genuinely fear I'll put myself behind him instead of beside him if I do not pursue this. And that is the moment I discover that the biggest reason I wanted to apply for graduate school was for marital equally. The "if he gets to apply, why can't I?" conundrum. 


Later on, I send my brother a text message. "If I want to have a career like Spalding Gray, I don't need, really, acting school....would you agree?" Gray was a renowned writer, actor, performance artist and monologuist. 

"No, you need to live."

By Monday morning, I am ready to declare my new anti-decision. I write my friend who has agreed to write one of my letters of recommendation. I say, "After hours and hours of internal debate, I've come to the conclusion that graduate acting school is not really what I want after all. I know that I would love to attend, however I think the smartest thing for me to do is continue on my Puddle path." 


Tuesday morning, I receive an email from another old professor who has offered to help me find some audition monologues. He emails me Tuesday, of all FLIPPING days, and says he's got some material for me to look at and would I like him to mail it to me. I email him back, thanking him, but also telling him that I will not be applying to graduate school after all. I have one application out already to the University of San Diego/Old Globe. It's a two year intensive program where if, for some insane chance, I am accepted, I would be one of seven students, receive free classical training and perform at The Old Globe Theatre. It is the only program, at this point, that I would really and truly want to attend. I tell my professor that I'll check back with him if I get an audition.

That afternoon, of all FREAKING days, I receive a voicemail from University of San Diego/Old Globe. I have an audition in New York City January 24, 2012. I email my professor back and ask if I can get those monologues. Then I call Scott and blab to his answering machine that I'm just going to see what happens. Just going to see! 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Surviving the Suicide of Skin

In July, my doctor fails me three times. First, he fails to clearly communicate to me that he is treating me for MRSA, an incredibly contagious bacterial infection immune to most antibiotics. Second, he fails to perform the simple swab test to know for sure if the skin infection is MRSA. Third, he fails to inform me that he doesn't actually know the best way to treat it, but is going to try anyway, putting me on antibiotics, which ultimately prevents me from getting the swab test and seeking proper medical help. It's October now and still I have tiny erupting volcanic polka dots decorating my face.


Last month, my new dermatologist informs me that what I have just looks like acne to her. Like a "tendency to pick," she says, dumping cream samples into my purse and encouraging me to call when my new insurance goes through so that I won't have to pay full price for this new prescription she'd like me to try. I appreciate her help and tell her so, but doubt her diagnosis. "No, sorry," she says, she can't just assume I have MRSA, not without the swab test. I pay $50 and go on my way. 


Morning and night, I coat my face with this new combination of chemical creams. But then last week, an army of British redcoat impersonators punch through my skin with MRSA in their muskets and though I have no effective weapons to fight them with, I force my enemy to shoot the first yellow discharge. In the aftermath of our battle, mnew broken skin lays limp, red, ugly. Furiously, I mumble into the mirror that my dermatologist would have "a tendency to pick" too if across the scarred countryside of her once soft face, thickheaded bumps stood with sarcastic solutes while their previously dead comrades rise to join them 
in a newly assembled squad of zombie zits. Once sanitized with rubbing alcohol, I drape sticky circular bandage tents over every casualty and hope that they sleep or, better yet, suffocate. 


That night, my parents come for a visit. They see on my war torn face, expressions of hopelessness for health. The next day, my father emails me instructions for treating MRSA. He works with an infectious disease doctor. I am familiar with most of the information he sends me except for perhaps the most simple and important of steps: the right kind of soap. I research this suggested soap. It's an over-the-counter cleanser used primarily for cleaning wounds and scrubbing in and out of surgery. It's in a little blue bottle. $6 on sale at the pharmacy. It's been there this whole time, this whole confusing/frustrating/unbelievably embarrassing time.  After the pharmacy, I rush home and try the soap. I want to weep. Already things start to dry up, close, heal. I could scream at how simple it is, but I'm too relieved, too happy that something finally resembles recovery. 


For months, I cannot comprehend the sudden, utterly unequivocal ugliness that is my face. I cry into the pull down mirror of the passenger side's seat while Scott drives us to see friends or family. I want to see them. I just don't want them to see me and feel obligated to lie and say that my skin looks better than before, that I must be on my way to finally fixing the problem. Or for them to strain to keep eye contact with me, purposely preventing their instincts to stare at the red mounds on my cheeks, chin and forehead. Looking into the pull down mirror, I cover my skin with cream then powder. I try to resemble anything but a cherry pie, but the makeup makes it look like I've been baking cakes all day and so I wipe it off, slam the mirror into the ceiling and cry out, "I HATE MY FACE!" From wheat and dairy allergies to Lyme Disease to Rosacea to adult acne, I try treating everything, anything. Constantly I mention the state of my skin in conversations so that the person I am speaking with knows that I know that my face looks like a creature is trying to escape through its pores. "My skin's been really bad lately. I've been trying to figure out why." I say, shaking my head and wrinkling my eye brows and then looking for somewhere else to go so that this person won't say that they hadn't noticed. For me to deserve this supportive, patient, empathetic, continuously complimentary and still somehow attracted to me, husband. I must be one lucky girl. Or this world must be a much better place than I often give it credit for. I have a husband who says, when I need him to, that no one is paying attention to my skin and that it really isn't as bad as I think it is. That I am still beautiful. A husband who fumes at my lost, irretrievable confidence. "I hate that I care so much about what I look like." I say. "I just don't want to have open wounds on my face anymore." Sometimes I beg him, "Please don't look at my face." Because even his most familiar and gentlest of glances can make me want to hide inside the creases of my palms. I could accept that I am unattractive or that I'm just not very pretty. I could swallow that truth. I just don't want to look like a leper any more.  


cannot wait to look like me again. Not a better, prettier, skinner, sexier version of my old self. Just me, healthy me. Oh how incredible that will be! 



Thursday, September 22, 2011

Letter to a Long Arm



Dear Police Officer, 


I promise to tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help me. 


My husband and I do not host costume parties where plastic bags of crack cocaine are traded in dark kitchen corners for blow jobs and blow pops. Nor are we the type to attend shin digs where assault rifles are purchased from musty walk-in closets or the velvet-lined automobiles of actual mobsters. We have never been so obliterated by the consumption of cheap alcohol that we've agreed to assist an amateur tattoo artist in aborting twin fetuses from the loins of a passed out prostitute in some filthy basement dwelling. 


With my right hand over my heart and the other saluting an American flag, I swear that we try to be the best law-abiding citizens possible. Therefore, I hope it was worth the $50 tip we were told you get for ordering a truck to tow our car with a recently expired registration ON A SUNDAY from the center of town to the outskirts of town so that we, the negligent car owners, could be charged $180 to retrieve it. I'm sure this punishment probably makes perfect sense to you, sir, but for Free Speech's sake, I'd like to break it down for you so that you can see why your actions are so unbelievably infuriating to me. 


You're walking around town with your cocky straight backed swagger, I imagine, searching for license plates with orange "11" stickers. When you see our car, you excitedly plug the plate into your database. "Expired Registration," it reads. You call your favorite tow truck company and tell them to drive the five or so miles from their parking lot to the center of town. Pick up this car, you tell them, and move it to your lot. They do. A few hours later, my husband gets out of work. He's exhausted and sticky, covered in fresh coffee stains. He paces the sidewalk. Where the hell is his car? He wonders. A girl with a clipboard asks him if he cares about the environment. He tells her that he can't find his car. She walks away, wishing him luck. Has anyone with a clipboard asked you, officer, if you care about the environment? Scott walks to the police station. At the station, he is informed that because his registration is expired, his car was towed. Because I am in Boston, he takes a $12 taxi ride to the parking lot where our car is held hostage. It is nearly 6PM now. Inside the lot's office, Scott begs the tow truck guy to stay open for five more minutes so that he can update his registration online in order to pay his $180 fee and get his car back. The guy waits. Scott updates his registration, pays the guy the $180 plus the additional "after hours" fee and with empty pockets, he drives home. 


Is this supposed to be a lesson on "the harshness of the real world"? Because if that's the case, you're a bit mixed up. You're supposed to be the good guy. Not the ski-mask-sporting gunman bashing a baseball bat onto the windshield of our bank account balance.  I understand the importance of enforcing the law, but come on hall monitor, sometimes people just need to take a piss. 


I hope one day you have an accident. Not an injury or death necessarily. Just some serious embarrassment. I hope you forget to put the toilet seat down and fall in. Scream out and cough to cover up your feminine yelp for help. Wipe your dripping backside with an entire roll of toilet paper. Throw the wads of TP into the toilet bowl. Drop your deuces onto the soggy paper pile. Flush. And as you are buckling your belt and adjusting your pistol, the water rises so alarmingly high that your face starts to sweat and you find yourself wiping your brow with a piss-covered shirt sleeve. Brown water reaches the seat despite your revolting last resort to scoop up the poop and paper. Men at the urinals and sinks turn to watch shit water cascade onto your black boots. They hear you cry out, "THIS ISN'T FAIR! I'M A GOOD PERSON!" Well, unfortunately, in this world where you wear a badge, uniform and gun, that doesn't matter. In your world, good citizens are fined heavily (on our budget's scale) for small mistakes. Here, shit can soak and crust the tops of your socks regardless of how quickly you shovel shit from the top of crap-puking potties. Because you know what you've proved to be? The police officer that rappers write rhymes about. Yes, I feel discriminated against. I feel discriminated against for being a genetically fallible human being. We all make mistakes. You, as a law enforcer of human beings need to remember that.  The people who pay you to protect them are not angelic Ghandi creatures descended from virginal desert nuns. Besides, aren't there more important laws out there to enforce? Like drunk driving, domestic violence and library book thieving? Isn't there something more productive you could be doing than walking around town, ON A SUNDAY, plugging license plates into your little electronic device like an old lady at a nickel slot machine?


I believe in strict laws and most of the time, I believe in this country. I believe in the theory of police enforcement. I'm glad we have it. I'm grateful that I can dial 911 if I'm being chased, hounded, mauled, molested, murdered or badgered. I understand that the safety provided by the police force is crucial to my happiness and that I can generally trust police officers to not abuse the authority granted to them. I'm just saying, give me a little written warning. Wouldn't you rather protect the "police officer" title for a few more citizens? Isn't it hard enough with publicized racial profiling and viral video leaks of police brutality?  Because this makes me want to write my own rap song or start my very own verbal riot. CHECK YOUR CAR'S REGISTRATION DATE OR YOU'RE TAMPERING WITH YOUR MONEY'S FATE. I wouldn't start this poorly written rap riot because I think it's dangerous for anyone to forget to check the date of their car's registration, but so that you, sir, might spend an entire shift failing to find one expired registration. So that you would see the negligence in spending an entire day NOT stopping that fat homeless guy from standing beside the ATM machine saying, "What you mean you don't have any money, I just saw you take out $40." 


I mean, please tell me you didn't apply for the police academy to become a meter maid. 




Sincerely,
This Citizen 





Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Nuisance







I prefer to write words that are like the legs of little ballerinas: secretly strong with vintage beauty and emanative grace, but right now all I really want to write are clumsy run-on sentences where my bottled up belligerence flies from my fingers like the glistering yellow goop of burst blisters. A note has been taped to the front door of our apartment. “I don't know if you know this,” the note reads, “but your dog is a nuisance to the neighborhood. She barks the entire time you are not home.” I crumple the snobby scrawl inside my fist like a vexed detective trapped inside the grainy gray walls of his pipe-smoking genre before storming from the kitchen to collapse onto my bed for an old fashioned fit. 

Forty-seven seconds later, Scott leans on the doorframe, watching me wipe my one summoned tear. 

We will fix this, we declare, pumping our bicycle pedals to the pet store. With backs bent, we grasp our handlebars and side by side, discuss whether this neighbor has written condescending notes to all the houses on the street with barking dogs, landline answering machines, surround sound televisions, continuous construction work and garbage disposals. 

The ride soothes our hostile humiliation. 

At the store, we choose a collar that will send a small startling shock to Penny’s neck whenever she bellows out a bark. 

When home, Scott clicks the collar around Penny's thick mane and sends her from our bedroom to scare Mark's sister, who's just arrived. As she bursts from our bedroom, four full woofs rush from my dog's muzzle, followed by immediate whimpers, which then fade to a soft silence as Penny adjusts to this sudden and seemingly cruel bark-free existence. 

One drunken night, a few days after our pet store purchase, Scott sets out to test the bark collar's level of barbarism. Meticulously, he presses the collar's metal prongs to the center of his naked neck and begins to bark. Mark, Amy and I stand by, gawking at this suspenseful and yet strange audacity. After three or four deep bona fide barks, my husband yelps and stumbles backwards. Several seconds later, once our cackles have quieted, he reassures us that his shrill scream was not from pain, but merely from surprise. We, therefore, deem the experiment a success.     

Both women, downstairs and next door, want to get us out of earshot and out of sight. They miss the old woman who lived in the apartment before us, we presume.

This past April, Amy builds an herb and vegetable garden to the left of the back door. Rustic with dark chocolate soil and yellowish green tomato sprouts, this tall wooden box of future food pretties this previously plain piece of backyard. A couple weeks later, Scott and I push our grill to the other side of that same door. 

The next day, Downstairs Lady's lowly flowerpot (from the front porch) sits suspiciously beside our grill. I suspect she's trying to claim back this space she never thought to use before. 

A few days after her pot placement, Downstairs Lady asks Amy to move her garden. She's bought a basketball hoop for her son and wants to put it there, she says. Amy complies and Mark moves the entire garden arrangement to the only other place available: a shady spot at the top of the driveway. 

This strange woman's unequivocal bossiness throws me into a repetitive rage that night when Amy informs me of this most recent request. “A basketball hoop? There? Five feet from where we park our cars?... A basketball hoop.” 

One week later, Mark sits alone in the basement playing with his Lego's while Amy, Scott and I sleep upstairs in our beds. At around 11 o’clock that night, Downstairs Lady notices the music Mark is playing and it causes her to be so upset she calls the landlord in Pennsylvania. Take note: we live in Massachusetts. “Call them.” She demands, but Mr. Landlord asks that she speak with us herself. She she doesn't feel comfortable doing that, she says and hangs up. Then she decides that Mr. Landlord is "going to chicken out from calling” us and leaves her apartment to tell us to be quiet. When she discovers that the music is not coming from our apartment upstairs but from the basement below hers, she clomps down the dirty wooden stairs and the first thing out of her mouth is, “I’ve already called the landlord. Your music is too loud.” She then sort of snickers the part about the landlord chickening out from calling us (as if Mark will side with her) and begins a new tirade on how inappropriate his music is.  

Mark, ripped from his sublime solitude, looks up, and with utter befuddlement, slowly clarifies, “You called the landlord?” 

She doesn't understand the concept of renting an apartment.  Doesn’t understand that we don’t have to do the things she’s requested. That we've been the friendly cooperative neighbors she hasn't been. Sure we can turn down our music. Sure you can sensor the sound waves and we'll avoid playing lyrics littered with mother fucking shitty ass damn swears. Sure I can take the back stairwell when I walk Penny in the early morning because the front stairs creak. Sure we won't use our front porch light because it shines near your bedroom window. Sure you can have the good parking spot because you’re “the oldest.” Sure Scott can help the delivery guy carry in your dresser. Sure we can take the trash out. Sure we can move our garden. Sure you can take up more than half of the basement because you had to downsize from a house.  Sure you can set up a basketball hoop on the hoods of our cars. 

Downstairs Lady likes to have someone to hate, something to complain about. We have been that for her, I think. "I just can't stand that I want to avoid someone who lives downstairs from me." I say to Scott loud enough so that she might hear me through our open windows because I just don't care anymore. Scott says then that I can decide whether she bothers me. This stumps me so I go to the bathroom to rinse off the green facial mask I have applied to the pimples that have formed due to this unnecessary domestic stress.

With pockets of dog treats, a plastic bag for possible poop and music playing in my ears, I walk Penny to town. As we trot together, the sun shows itself for the first time today and it is warm and so are the faces of everyone we pass. That's when I realize that maybe I also just needed something or someone to complain about. Maybe I've had Downstairs Lady just as she's had me, like secret Santa's at some horribly crappy Christmas party. As this realization belly flops onto my brain waves, thick tension in my shoulders and chest loosens. Scott is right. I can choose to not complain about her and in doing so, I choose me.

Drawing from his interpretation of Downstairs Lady's inability to communicate clearly, Scott proposes a plan: we roommates will regard Downstairs Lady as a socially disabled person. (You need not be offended by the use of the word, "disabled," for this tactic is to prevent the flipping of tables, the screaming of fighting words and from the throwing of things like rotten tomatoes from Amy's garden.) Ultimately, the plan encourages us to not be frustrated by her frequently rude comments and requests, but to pity her for her written and verbal impotencies.      
A few months later, we are awarded, it seems, for these efforts. However it is possible you will think we are insensitive and even cruel for the satisfaction we feel for the following events. 

On the ground below, in the blue tint of twilight, two small dogs join by one obstinate jaw.  

"Oh NO!"

"Stop! STOP!"

"OH NO NONOOOOOO!" The woman next door wails from her wheelchair behind the railings of her side porch. Her tiny gray lamb-like dog (her beloved best friend, who is without a leash because he is always) wines in submission to the dog that lives downstairs from us, a characteristically insane canine who is also without a leash because he has, we learn later, bitten through his backyard dog run. 

When the scuffle started, a moment before, both dogs were growling and barking and as soon as Wheelchair Lady started screaming and Downstairs Lady began yelling, both dogs went into a full-fledged furry ferociousness.  

Penny stood on her hind legs, her front paws clinking a crowd of white votive candles on the windowsill. A small bark escaped her muzzle, but her collar startled her to shush, and she retreated behind the couch to lay inside the cool shadow of the cornered coffee table.  

Wheelchair Lady's puppy is limp now, dead or playing the part. "Stop it! STOP IT! NOOOO!" Wheelchair Lady projectile weeps, wheeling in and out of her kitchen to hide. A middle aged man, a visiting friend of Wheelchair Lady's, works to pry the dogs apart, skittishly circling the attempting homicide, reaching for the lifeless pup. 

"Shit! She bit me." He says, pulling away his hand.

After three awkwardly cacophonous minutes of violence, the man manages to free Wheelchair Lady's stiff pup and carry it to the wailing woman's lap. 

"She won't be here tomorrow." Downstairs Lady's wobbly word falls out and forward onto the cement walkway between the houses where there is now drying droplets of red. Next door, the kitchen door has closed, leaving a swift sudden stillness.   

With eyes and mouths stretched to the seams of our hairlines, Scott and I back away from the window of our second floor apartment.  

"That dog is a maniac." I whisper.  

"I'm so glad that had nothing to do with us." Scott says. 

A few minutes later, we watch, again from our window, as the gray haired man, now with bloodied paper towels around his hand, carries the puppy on a pillow.  

"Doesn't look like it's moving." Scott says, while Wheelchair Lady gets into the car and drives them away.

A few days later, Wheelchair Lady’s Puppy, cone-headed with stitches in its neck, returns home on its pillow throne. I haven't seen anyone walk Downstairs Dog in days, I say, starting apartment-wide rumors that Downstairs Dog has either been sent away, as promised, or been taught to use a litter box. A couple nights later, I get the courage to ask Downstairs Lady to retrieve her cold dry laundry from the dryer (usually, I just wait). I knock on her back door. Downstairs Son opens it and behind him, Downstairs Dog's claws scamper across the dusty wooden floor for me. The door is slammed shut in my face, leaving me in the dark stairwell to listen while Downstairs Lady scolds Downstairs Son for opening the door before putting Downstairs Dog into its crate. She then opens the door two inches and says something about needing to keep her dog in his crate, you know, she says, after what happened. I nod my head and say, "I was wondering if you, if you could get your laundry out of the dryer?..." Proof that I should also be regarded as socially inept.

Weeks later, Downstairs Dog is sent away to "a farm in New Hampshire." This isn't the first time he's done this, killed or attempted to kill a smaller animal. We're told the night of the near murder when we bump into Downstairs Lady and Downstairs Son at a play in town. I give our neighbor a surprised look. Not because I'm shocked her dog has killed or attempted to kill before, but because she expects some sort of sympathy from me.  

Now, at the end of August, we must move. Six months we have shared this second floor apartment, all five of us: Mark, Amy, Scott, Penny the dog and I. Sharing this small kitchen with its tall dark wooden cabinets, large double porcelain sink, a short fat refrigerator that has the tendency to freeze fruit and a white gas stove with black metal burners. Six months of sitting at our blue tiled kitchen island, drinking white wine, chopping vegetables, and making pots of coffee and sausage leek soup. Six months sharing our dining room table where Mark's pencil sketches of zombies, dinosaur monsters and sharks fight naked, heavily equipped mermaid Amy's. "He's gotten really good at drawing my boobs." She smirks. Six months of sharing one living room with a television designated almost exclusively for violent apocalyptic video games. Countless hours of Mark and Scott leaning into the amber glow, fiercely clicking fingers to kill and steal the rations of fictional fortune teller gypsies, elfish hunters and starving rabid children. Months of Amy working in the sweltering triangle-shaped attic, building her wedding dress of feathers, brass rings and clasps, white pleated cotton, a pale pink corset and cream-colored lace on a headless mannequin. Fraying antique lime fabric hangs from the rafters like a material mote meant to keep Mark from seeking out her slowly assembling gown. Six months lying in two separate beds in two separate bedrooms, split by walls and a bathroom. Nights where we'd all lay laughing at our dark ceilings while blunt dessert flatulences honk like smothered ducks from beneath our cotton sheets and feather down comforters. Or like the other night when Mark called me into his and Amy's room to watch him slap Amy's underweared ass. The point was to get Penny to do that cute thing where she stops domestic violence by pushing the aggressor's hand away with her muzzle. However Penny wouldn't really do it and so it just turned into Mark slapping Amy's bum while I stood in the doorway, laughing at this odd, unintentionally violent act. Six months walking home from dinners out in town like the time we ordered two pitches of red sangria at the pizza restaurant and Mark climbed that metal fire escape ladder in an alley and I nearly peed myself on the cracked sidewalk in front of our apartment because Amy made me laugh. Six months sitting on the front porch drinking coffee. The porch Mark wanted badly to pee off of, but was prevented by Amy one early morning. Prevented because this "porch" is not really a porch, but a room of windows that faces a neighborhood of middle aged homeowners. I had been on a walk with Penny before the sun had risen and as I walked into the kitchen I saw a blur go by. I thought it was Scott. With my headphones blocking all surrounding sound, I kicked the kitchen door closed and as I did Amy leapt from the hallway, scaring a full body spasm out of me. She wore a tank top and underwear, her usual pajama ensemble, and landed in the kitchen like a savage gorilla. "Did you see Mark?" Her coarse morning voice demanded. "He might have gone that way." I said, pointing to the living room. While I took Penny's leash off and my heart beat softened, Mark shuffled back through the kitchen. Amy followed. "He wanted to pee off the porch." She said. Apparently he once expressed interest in peeing off the porch and this morning, while she was half-asleep, she heard Mark mumble that he had to pee. She then noticed that the shower was going. Knowing Mark would not ask to pee while Scott was lathering up behind our transparent shower curtain, Amy drifted back to sleep. Seconds later, she woke to an empty bed. Still somewhat asleep, she stood and ran to the kitchen and then ran on to the porch where she stopped Mark from peeing off the porch, which is again not really a porch. "Just ask him." Amy told him in the kitchen. "Scott, can I come in to pee? I won't look." Mark asked. A side note to this story is that when Mark was a college student he had a plant in his dorm room, a thriving plant. When Amy met Mark she thought it was strange that a boy who could barely take care of himself could care so well for another living thing. It wasn't until later that she learned that this plant was "watered" solely by Mark's urine. Six months gathering rent from between couch cushions and savings accounts to mail to our landlord, a man who took the second syllable of his title too literally for after several threats to remove our kitchen sink disposal or shove our dog inside a travel crate, has cast us out by suddenly raising our rent by $200 a month and requiring a lease too far into all of our vagabond futures to be feasibly possible. Usually Scott is the speaker of our house, however he is in Israel when we receive this news from our lord of this overpriced land.

After a week of silence, I write to him. 

"We have worked very hard to be good, quiet tenants here at 31. We are respectful neighbors (once we fixed the barking problem) and we keep to ourselves. To be quite honest, the four of us really love living here and want to figure out a way to make it work. We chose this apartment because of the flexibility of the month-to-month lease and the affordability of sharing the $1150 rent. It feels like you really just want us to move out and I'm not sure why. Raising the rent by $200 after we've only been here for six months is, well, kind of ludicrous." 

While awaiting for a response to this, I eat an entire green bell pepper over the sink in the kitchen. "I just ate an entire green pepper." I tell Amy and we laugh.  A little while later, I receive this response, 

"Rachel - More for me to do in transition..."

Now, despite the dog fighting frenzy, these women, Downstairs Lady and Wheelchair Lady, cling to the concept that they can like one another. Downstairs Lady has sent off her old dog for a cuter quieter one and has already introduced the tiny pup to Wheelchair Lady. When the women speak to one another now, their voices crank to their highest pitches. This is how they'd like to live. That's fine with me. I won't have to be here to witness it much longer.

"MAAAAAOM! I'm going to take my shower now!" Downstairs Son yells every night around 8PM. 

Or, from the yard with the new tiny copper colored pup, I no longer have to listen to this routine hollering. 

"Mom?" 

"Yeah?" Downstairs Lady responds from inside the apartment. 

"Is she supposed to poop?" 

"What?"

"Is she supposed to...Oh! She pooped! She pooped, Mom!"

"She pooped?! Yaaaay! What a good guuuuurl! Wanna come inside? Yay!" Downstairs Lady squeals from the doorframe. 

That poor puppy. I can leave whenever I want to really, but not that little mill pup. No wonder the last little guy went postal, probably figured pound prison or even death by a large needle would be better than his mundane existence with daily walks never exceeding its itty bitty backyard.   
"Downstairs Lady?" I'd love to bellow from our moving truck.

"Yeah?" She'd yell back, her lips pressed to the plastic panels of her air conditioner. 

"I'm gonna move out now." 

"What?" 

"I'm gonna move out!"

"You're gonna move out? WHAT A GOOD GUUUUURL!"

"Downstairs Lady, you are batshit crazy."

I'd also like to write this little note and stick it to Wheelchair Lady's ugly front door.  

Dear Wheelchair Lady, 

I don't know if you know this, but your voice is a nuisance to the neighborhood. You cackle and holler like a banshee the entire time I am home. Maybe someone should put you in a crate? Or, if you'd like, I can lend you this red choker necklace of my dog's. It clicks fashionably in the back and has shockingly beautiful metal prongs that must be precisely placed over the front of your throat. 

Let me know and I'll drop it into your mailbox!   


Sincerely,
 The Girl Next Door with the Bangs










Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chocolate, Rum and Crocodiles



I awake from a dream this morning that takes place at this big house with numerous bedrooms. The house is a distorted version of the Fitzgerald's, the family of an old elementary school friend of mine who was one of ten Irish Catholic children.  I don't know why I have to stay here, but I do and it is apparently fine because there are weddings in town and many random people will also be staying in this house tonight. At least this is what I'm told by some blurry familiar someone. Also, I am with colleagues, two men I think, and we have some sort of mission to accomplish, business to tend to. We're serious about something.  Not sure what. Anyway, this house is like a crooked boat with many ladders and triangle shaped roofs and while I explore it, I realize I have to pee. I stumble upon the room with the toilet. It is a large dark bedroom adorned with dirty laundry piles. The toilet is at the end of the room like a throne, centered along the back wall. But just as I walk into this bedroom bathroom, I realize I don't have a shirt on. I am completely topless.  I cover my little boobies with my crossed arms and sit on the toilet to pee (trying not to wake the lump shifting in the sheets at the other end of the room). When finished and empty, I stand and that's when I see it. I have peed on the toilet with the white plastic lid still down and now there is a yellow puddle perched there as well as a small waterfall of my urine cascading down the porcelain john toward the surrounding piles of dirty laundry. I panic and begin picking up the wet crumpled clothing and carrying them, still topless, from this strange room to where I find a growing tropical forest fire down the hall. I watch the fire grow for a little while before realizing that no one has reported it. So, I report it and by reporting it, I mean, I run up and down the dirt road beside the forest fire yelling "FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!" This is when the crocodile starts attacking me. Luckily I have my cheap plastic umbrella in my hands to whack the creature over its bumpy biting face. After each clumsy blow, the thing backs up a bit and I return to my responsible screaming, but before I am positive I have truly informed the authorities, the snapping jaw comes back at me and I must try again to strike the mouth closed. For some reason, I know if I hit the enormous reptile square on the nose it will die or give up, but to no avail, the crocodile continues trying to eat me while, still half-naked, I scream "FIRE" beside a pile of pee drenched laundry. 


It is 6:30AM when I roll out of bed and feel for the bathroom with my eyes half closed.




So in deciphering my dream, or rather, reasons why I probably had this strange unconscious experience would be as follows...


  • Last night, at 8:45PM, I drank  half of a nip of spiced rum with a splash of ginger soda and pineapple juice.
  • At about 9:20PM, I ate a few forkfulls of peanut butter cup ice cream straight from the container.
  • At 10:30PM, I went to sleep. 
  • Also, yesterday morning, I drove by an enormous black bear sitting and having a picnic of trash in somebody's driveway.  This would explain my confusion about hitting the crocodile square on the nose. 
  • Oh and I'm lazy and often sit on public toilet seats even though I know so many disgusting bare butts have done the same before mine and even though my friend, Amy, says I could catch something. Also, to me, nothing is quite as shocking as sitting on top of the toilet seat bare-assed, feeling the plastic or wood press up to my privates. It always feels like I've accidentally molested myself. 
  • Finally, I  posses an unnecessarily rash fear of exposing my boobies.  



Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Deluge



Music crackles through my crappy car speakers while rainwater pelts my windshield like a pack of petty prizefighters, slapping and spitting at the station wagon's wide see-through face where my wipers frantically fail to dry the glass. When the rain stops, I'll drive fast enough to make up time, I tell myself, but slow enough to not be pulled over by idled patrol cars. 


“Are you free next Wednesday night?“ I asked my father.  "I want to take you out for Father's Day. See the Joe Purdy concert in Fall River. Just you and me." 

(Here is where I insert an explanation for the love I have for my father. Like all love, it is difficult to put into plain analogy-free phrases so I'll unabashedly define it by saying that whenever I am near him I have trouble not wrapping my arms around his middle like a bulky high waste belt. Sometimes I worry that he hates me, his profoundly profane daughter, though I know he never could. A tall conservative man with a wayward disposition, he sits at his place at the end of the dinner table, quietly listening while I work to make my mother laugh with stories of pooping in poison ivy on the banks of a river or humping my dog, Penny, to achieve dominance. With the front legs of his chair suspended, he shakes his head, the start of a smile poised at the crooks of his mustached mouth like a stilled rocking chair. He speaks when spoken to or when any mention of Jesus Christ, Mary the Mother of God, Catholic priests, the church choir director or God Himself graces the table. "Alright. Alright. That's enough." He'll say.) 

This is why I like to have him alone, for he will talk for hours on any number of subjects when prompted with mindful ears.  

Tonight, on my drive to our date, the rain never stops rushing from the crowded clouds and I never get above 55 miles an hour.  "I don't think I'm going to get home by six like I planned." I tell him over the phone. 

When I am an exit from my father's house, I turn off the highway and creep down the curved exit ramp, gripping my convulsing steering wheel with both hands. Please be engine trouble. I beg inside my brain. I can ignore engine trouble. I cannot ignore a flat tire. I turn left and pull off the road. As I open my door, a pickup truck stops beside me. "You've got a flat in the back," a beefy white guy with tattoos stretched around his biceps, tells me.  "Do you need any help?" 

"No thank you. My father lives down the road."

I call my father. 

Then I call for a tow truck. "Yes, I have a spare." I tell the ditsy dispatcher who stumbles through our dialogue like a drunk. "I got off 495 South at Exit 4, turned left and parked on the right side of the road." I say explicitly.    
When my father arrives, I retrieve the spare tire from beneath my hatchback's floor flaps, but it's just a tire. There is no middle, no rim. I don't know why this is so, I tell my father, but I blame my frustratingly frequent flats. 

A man arrives in a small yellow tow truck. My father explains that we don't have a rim on the spare. Tow truck man shakes his head. His left ear is pierced with a gold PlayBoy bunny earring. He calls for a flatbed tow truck and offers to stay so that we can get to our concert on time. We thank him. 

There isn't time to go to the Olive Garden at the mall. 

"Want to get a sandwich at McDonald's?" Dad asks, driving from my sunken car. 

"How 'bout Subway?" I ask. 

At the nearby shopping plaza with the grocery store and clustered row of small shops, we see that the sandwich chain is no longer there. It's been replaced by a hotdog stand in a storefront. Coney Island Hotdogs, it's called. Dad assumes I don't want a Brooklyn wiener and offers to drive us somewhere else, but we're nearly out of time. "I eat hotdogs!" I cry out. 

He stops the car in the fire lane. I unbuckle my seatbelt and get out. Inside, there are no photographs of ferris wheels, red roller coasters, creepy city clowns or even a New York City skyline. This place is nearly bare. A standing cooler of soda cans, a rack of chips and on the wall behind the counter there are glossy photographs of hotdogs topped with chunky red chili, grilled onions, and zig zagging condiments. "Hi, can I get three hotdogs with sauerkraut and mustard?" I ask the girl behind the counter. She nods and grabs at the greasy links rotating on the grill behind her. 

"EXACTLY $11!" A fat thirty-something homeboy exclaims at the register. I hand over a $20 bill. 

Dad balances his dinner of dogs on his lap, while he pulls out of the parking lot. 

“What a disaster!” I say. 

My dad disagrees.

We find the music hall, an old converted mill on the waterfront in Fall River, Massachusetts. We climb a couple flights of dark wooden stairs and make our way to the ticket table. I give my name to a short middle-aged man who stamps the tops of our hands with a big black music note. We find a wobbly table beside the stage and I walk across the room to another table named "Cafe" and buy two cups of decaf coffee and a brownie with walnuts. 

When the opening act, The Milk Carton Kids are introduced, I realize we're too far over to see the fast moving fingers of guitarist, Kenneth Pattengale.  And worst yet, the band's banter, which I had howled at two nights before when I saw the show in Northampton now seems forced in the presence of this inattentive crowd of BYO Boozers. 

This must be my fault, somehow. Like I brought these unsuspecting musicians my evening's godawful luck. 

Later on, when the main act, Joe Purdy takes the stage in his dark suede hat, fitted white tee shirt, gray tweed pants and cowboy boots, a car alarm begins to wail in the parking lot two flights below. Purdy starts the first solo song of his set, but pauses after a few bars to smirk and say, "Someone's really gotta check their car alarm." 

"Could that be you Dad?" I whisper. 

"No."

After a few solo songs, the alarm is silenced and the Milk Carton Kids join Purdy back onstage. Dad looks over to me with gleeful surprise, his legs and feet jumping. They are playing "Pioneer," a song he and I learned on the guitar together a few weeks before. Unabashed, my father sings along. At the table beside ours, slumped beside a small cooler of beer, a stranger sits alone. Afraid this man might say something mean to my father, I put my hand on the back of my daddy's neck then slyly move it over his mouth to shush him. I know I will regret it, but I do it anyway. Luckily, he disregards my awkward gesture and sings on. 

In the lobby after the show, we stop at the merchandise table. I tell my father that I'm going to buy him two CDs. "That'll be $20." I'm told. Inside my wallet there is $18. $18? I look over to Dad, my defeatist heart burning through the sleeve of my v-neck tee shirt. His money is already out of his pocket and between his short brown fingers. 

"How much do you need?" He asks me. 

When we leave the hall, it's raining again, but it's gentle and I linger in the parking lot, looking over to the Braga Bridge, waiting for the water to cover and cool my cheeks, to wash away my blued expectations.

The next morning, I drive Dad's truck from the east side of the state to the western side. No cruise control. No radio. I put put along, but before I leave my father's house, he gives me a folded up wad of singles. "Toll money." He says. I can't refuse. My wallet is empty still and again, I am nearly late.