Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Positive Obsessions

Last night at gayraoke (gay karaoke) I was stunned as two women and three men sang every word, every note, did the drum parts and the spoken parts to the dreadful 1987 abomination "Naughty Girls Need Love, Too". My stun turned to nausea when I realized I was one of the women. I am only able to write this because just one of us had the mic and blessedly it was not yours truly.

Your Honor, I plead guilty by reason of obsessive teen behavior to the charges of creating a public nuisance, curse and abuse (at Samantha Fox and Full Force for unleashing that demon hymn into the world), and impersonating a pouty British accent. My defense is that my co-defendants and I were teenagers when the song was released and thus had no immunity to what Billy Collins calls "a mad fan belt of a tune".

I think it is a decent defense. But I have my own bail bondsman and lawyer just in case I'm wrong.

I have a brain full of Nick Hornby which leads me to believe that obsessions are a necessary part of life. Unfortunately, I happen to know that when he wrote his most famous odes to obsession: High Fidelity, Fever Pitch, and About a Boy, Hornby was a functioning madman. I've read all three of these works in the past month as part of my grief abatement program, so as a somewhat functioning obsessive, I know of which I speak.

But let's go back to songs that grab you this time focusing on the better aspects of that phenomenon. When I hear Paul Simon I can remember the sound of my mother's record spinning in our living room. I remember rapping along with my classmates to "La-di-da-di, we like to party. We don't cause trouble; we don't bother nobody." I remember stopping what I was doing in Germany to find out who Lisa Stansfield was in 1990. I remember the first time I heard the voice of Roger Carroll, a talented local singer and saxman.

And I remember when emusic offered me a free song that they thought I might like based on previous downloads. Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of these things knows that they are hit or mostly miss. If you followed the four hyperlinks of the previous paragraph you can imagine what the iTunes genius and programs of its ilk are up against when they have to guess what I am going to like. I downloaded warily.

The song was "Crazy" by Whitey Morgan and the 78's. After a few weeks of listening to that song more and more, I downloaded three more songs by this band. Within a month I had downloaded the whole album in this day and age when whole album commitment is either a sign of abundant wealth or maniacal obsession. For me it was the latter.

Since I had become fanatical about this Flint, Michigan Honky Tonk band I decided to take the next step: I wrote a fan letter. I asked them when they thought they would get this way. That probably would have been the end of it except soon after I sent the letter I found out that they had been this way and had performed at a small place with no promotion. I sent a quick PS saying "XXXXX?!? You played at XXXXX? That's like booking George Jones at the Krispy Kreme. Look, if we can lure you back to Richmond, my friends and I will come out to party with you and we'll feed you a big ole' Southern meal at my place before the gig."

18 months later Whitey Morgan and the 78's will be playing this Saturday at the Playing Field at 7801 West Broad St. right here in river city. It didn't hurt that the booking guru at the Playing Field also contacted them. Also helpful was that the pedal steel player for Richmond's own The Chiggers, another band I love, contacted them and asked (and were subsequently invited) to open. And then their record company was nice enough to send them out on tour - it was all meant to be.

Some think that my over-the-top enthusiasm for music is a sign of a stunted maturity. I say that if maturity is keeping your ass on a comfortable couch and watching whatever pathetic pablum American TV broadcasting has coughed up this week instead of kicking up your heels on a dance floor with people who are talented and drove 667 miles to party with you... then you are damn skippy I am immature. I also think being able to gush and effuse about a band I've never met, never heard live, and yet am as excited as if those four bowl haircuts just stepped off the plane at Kennedy in 1964; well, that just makes me damn lucky in this life. I think it could be worse. I could obsessively hyperlink. Oh, wait...

Speaking of obsessions, I am embarking on my 5th trip to the Gulf Coast to rebuild houses. Between working in the ninth ward on construction, eating gumbo, and listening to live music I doubt I will have time to be blogging. That's a shame because I am doing my annual pilgrimage to the National Funeral Directors Association Convention at the end of the trip and I know how y'all love my blogging from that event. You can wish me a bon voyage Saturday night because as soon as Whitey says "Thank you, Richmond!" and turns off the amp, my driving buddy and I hit the road to NOLA.

Thanks for reading when you could have been web surfing for bands. Word to your mama.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The past, the soccer, the evil within, and at the end: boobies

My mother used to say that her earliest memory was of family members gathered around her cooing and applauding as she did a dance number. She was the first born of the first born and was considered by a large web of loving family to have invented cuteness. I've seen photos and have to agree.

My earliest memory is of potty training. My parents are both in a very small apartment bathroom encouraging me in sweet "you can do it, little one!" voices. I am on the toilet and scared. Then I am in the toilet, wet, and scared. And can you guess what my beloved parents did in the face of this scarring tragedy of their only child?

Those peckerwoods laughed their tails off. I was furious at the two of them trying not to laugh and tears streaming down their faces as they coughed out, "It's okay, baby" between fits of giggles. I may have only been two, but righteous indignation was an instinct.

In those earliest memories my mother and I both learned lessons we have used the rest of our lives. For Mama it was: you can be adored by many, but you will have to dance your sweet fanny off to keep their attention. For me it was: they are going to laugh at you no matter what, learn to like it. (My lesson was closely followed by a fear of water and of falling. Mama has an aversion to lace trimmed panties and tap shoes. But that's another story.)

I share my first remembered life lesson to goad myself into sharing yet another humiliating story about myself: why I am not allowed to follow sports. This is on my mind for two reasons. First, I am immersed in Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch, an engaging look at his decades long obsession with the English soccer team, Arsenal. Second, I am off in less than two weeks on my fifth trip to the Gulf Coast to rebuild after Katrina. This time I will be working in the 9th Ward of New Orleans and am finding the lure of Saints football to be almost overwhelming.

It may come as a surprise that in the marital rules by which my long-suffering spouse and I have lived for almost twenty years, there is a provision that restricts me from observing any sporting events other than German World Cup matches, the Super Bowl, and the occasional UVA basketball game. I can do an annual live baseball or soccer game only because in person I always find a crowd and our squirmy kids far more attention grabbing than the sport itself.

I will save the long version of my sordid sportsfan past for my memoirs. Let's just say that I have an ugly side that reared its head twice in the early nineties following a season of abysmal Raiders football and another of spectacular but ultimately soul obliterating Knicks basketball. After these seasons he enacted the draconian law that I am not allowed to follow a team for a full season. It is the only marital law he has ever enacted. The rest are requests, strong suggestions, and a wish list.

I have only been able to stop scowling and begin to laugh about this 17 year law for about... um... three... months. But in the spirit of dunking one's bottom in icy water and grinning, and seeing as how football mania is under way, I am sharing my struggle here.

I can very easily put the fanatic in fan. I have all the attributes: a long attention span, loyal affection, quick to forgive (although not at the end of the season). I am willing to alter my schedule for things I care about. I enjoy dressing in costumes. I like beer. Most of my friends are dudes.

These are the gifts I long to bring to the New Orleans Saints and possibly, through the miracles of the internet, Bayern Munich's soccer team. To the latter I also bring a gift of being able to mutter curses and shriek in glee in the German language.

Unfortunately, following sports even if allowed is pretty miserable for me because I become enmeshed. Ask my friends with whom I watched the World Cup this year. For the matches televised only on cable I arrived at their homes quiet and antsy. I failed at polite small talk. I barely spoke for the duration of the game unless it was in German directed at the TV. I was wearing German themed athletic gear. (And to think, I wasn't laughing at that point?!?) I exhibited a variety of nervous tics including sitting ramrod straight, holding my breath, and wringing my hands. God bless my friends. They laughed openly at me and let me drink their beer.

I handled it pretty well in the beginning. I mean who can't chuckle and enjoy the day when mopping the floor with Australia or cleaning the toilet with the jerseys of England? But there was never a point in Germany's meteoric rise through the tournament when I felt safe. After all, the pre-tournament talk was about France, the Africans, the South Americans, most anyone other than Germany's "young" team.

Like any good fan, I was wrapped up in the skills and failings of the players. I had fallen for the Polish powerhouses of Klose and Podolski four years earlier and was expecting good things from them. I had no hope for the newbie goalie, the aptly named Neuer, but was pleasantly surprised and soon gave him the pet name of the big Banana. It helped that I don't trust pretty men and thus had never been under the sway of former captain Ballack, so I was able to ignore the constant prattle that the team would be lost without him. (Is this talk creeping you out yet? It always stuns my family. I normally save this kind of detail for death, obscure theology, poetry, and rock and roll. Obsessive analysis of a sports team by yours truly is my equivalent of a sudden understanding of calculus.)

I could go on but I wouldn't want you to faint, so let me move on to my anxiety which reached its pinnacle in the days leading up to and including Germany's penultimate game that booted them from the final.

I was on pins and needles all week. I replayed the previous games in my mind. I followed World Cup news through a variety of apps and in three languages on my phone. I talked smack to Spain fans. I was so tense I didn't sleep well the night before. During the match itself I became increasingly unhinged as they were deftly over-powered by Spain. It has taken all these months to be able to stutter out that compliment to the World Champions.

But here is the best part. For that game I was in a van with my undertaker buddy and our kids on the way to South Carolina for his brother's wedding. In best-friend-enabling fashion he had let me watch as much as I could on his TV before we hit the road. Then we tuned in on some iffy radio stations. When those blitzed out another buddy... are you ready for this? ... gave me play by play analysis in a series of 90 some emails that I followed like a crazy woman on my phone.

When the game ended with Germany's loss I was green with carsickness and disappointment. In commentator buddy's last email he apologised to me and offered condolences on my loss. This from a man who probably gave himself acute carpal tunnel typing things like "Spain's striker rushes but Big Banana blocks it" for the better part of two hours. The undertaker held my hand and gave me his best undertaker comfort talk, while driving 75 miles an hour with the kids yakking away in the back in 95 degree heat. And folks, neither of these guys are German soccer fans.

It has taken me almost three months since the World Cup to realize why I am not allowed to follow sports and to laugh at long last on the marital moratorium: I am a sports menace. I have a natural ability to get people to jump in on my plans and in the sporting world this is called "inciting hooliganism."

"Hey y'all - let's go do karaoke even though only one of us sings and we all have stage fright." And the gang says, OK!

"If I lead a church will you come, even though you say you aren't religious and churches freak you out?" And the crew says, Sure, why not?

These are endearing and admirable traits when used for the good of humanity and honky tonk bands. (October 2, 8 o'clock, the Playing Field on Richmond's Broad Street. Be there and wear your dancing shoes.) But something about sports turns me into the Rasputin of the arena. Suddenly good, innocent people find themselves in bad places letting me act like an ass and bending to my fanatical will.

It is for YOUR OWN GOOD that I not be allowed to become a Saints devotee. If I were to follow the Saints this year, chances are some of my devoted readers would wake up in mid-winter with a giant Fleur de Lis tattooed on their backsides wondering how the hell that happened. At least one of you would be injured in a gumbo related accident. Far too many of you would be wearing feathers and flashing your chests come Mardi Gras. Mayhem would ensue and, should they start losing, quite possibly riots.

In the very best scenario I drink your beer and you have to email me play by play updates while I am at the opera. I just can't do that to you. So there you have it. My dark secret. My evil within.

But I know you did not read all this way for that. For my faithful readers who send me such sweet, supportive mail: boobies.

I was prodded, scanned, zapped, felt up, and squeezed by trained professionals and their high tech machines. Three well-educated medical specialists and two very expensive machines confirmed my high opinion of my faithful breasts. They are disease free. The diagnosis was another refrain of a mantra of my life: the problem is just another side effect from the nasty medicines I take.

Don't forget to get your mammograms! Save the ta tas and all that.

Thank you for reading. It keeps me from watching sports.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It is Not Like I Sprouted A Penis

Because that would be really embarrassing.

I talked to my beloved Dr. today. I had self-diagnosed myself with strep throat because I am brilliant that way. And by " brilliant that way" I mean that I have no idea what I am talking about.

I do not have strep throat. I have thrush again from the nasty medicines I take. And I have a lump in my breast because I do not know the difference between a swollen lymph node and a boobie bump. Brilliant that way.

So anyway, the Dr. and I were chatting about my other condition, grief zombietude (see previous post), when he asked me what my family and friends had to say on the subject. So I told him.

And he said, "How do you know?"

And I said, "Because I asked them, 'Just how much of a psycho-bitch am I right now?' "

And the Dr.'s jaw dropped. "You just asked them?"

But of course. How am I going to know if I don't ask?

This brings me back to my worldview and blog focus that people should talk about things. Mouths are good for eating, drinking, and breathing. Voices are good for yelling "HELP!" and singing along with Prince. Brains are good for eating. (Little zombie joke there.) Brains are good for everything.

Put a mouth, a voice, and brains together and you have someone who can talk which is a never-ending miracle unless they are talking about the MTV awards, Hollywood infidelity or are the Pope. (Secularism has made the UK a third world country?!? Nazis and atheism?!? He needs to have his potassium checked. Trust me. I'm brilliant that way.)

I've had concerned emails and calls today from the lovely tribe I call my friends about my blog post yesterday. Several of them are considerably more private than I am about their feelings and are a wee bit concerned that I would share such "intimate" details of my life. We have very different perspectives on this.

In review, people tell me stuff. All kinds of stuff. Stuff they don't tell just anyone. And most people tell me these things almost immediately after meeting me. After salsa dancing with a girlfriend I listened to the divorce and parenting woes of the man (a stranger) on the next barstool. My waiters share their money problems. My paper carrier and I have become blood sisters. I have never flown anywhere without hearing at least one deeply held secret from someone.

I think people tell me stuff because a) I don't mind a bit, b) I find people interesting, c) I encourage them because I think it makes them feel better and I always learn more about human nature, and d) I don't carry people's secrets around like they are secrets. I remember some. I forget most of them. If I see the person again, I treat them like I always have.

And this is what I have learned: secrets are just no big deal 95% of the time. They are usually just emotions that got housed in the wrong place and some strange occurrence resulted from the misfiling. Why should your pain be a secret? Why should your confusion be a secret? We all have these issues with love, grief, mortality, our bodies, and fear. No one is in a place to judge anyone else on these things.

So why wouldn't I confess to being a grief zombie? I've known lots of grief zombies. They were perfectly nice people. Why wouldn't I confront my co-workers on my level of bitchitude, more so since one is my husband and the other my best friend. Why wouldn't I talk publicly about suicide loss? It hurts. It sucks. And tons of people get it from a variety of angles. More importantly, I get it better now that I copped to it publicly. My willingness to talk about it has made lots of great people tell me their stories and I feel connected in new ways to old friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. This isn't "intimate". This is just life.

Not that I don't need help.

I called a new friend this afternoon because he'd sent the grief zombie a sweet message and I had then tried to put the toaster in the refrigerator. I don't know what the connection was and it turns out neither did he.

I called my blogging buddy Lizard Eater because I think this mammogram will probably hurt what with the lymph/boobie bump and all. She has more cancer experience than anyone should and we agreed that this is not a cancer scare. I may be brilliant that way but she actually knows a thing or two.

I read an email from a friend who became a close friend after I admitted on this blog to putting my dress on backwards, dropping my pants by accident in public, and making my own underwear. He has more Grief Abatement ideas a-brewing. Clothing will be firmly in place.

And somewhere along the way I explained that talking about these things for me is not intimate. Then I blurted, "It is not like I sprouted a penis." Since that is one of the funnier things I've said lately, I do believe I struck a blow against grief zombie-tude.

Rock on witcho' bad selves. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Long Wait

I have not been a very good grieving person. I wrote twenty thank-you notes in August. I have no idea where I put them. I have lost my ability to cry which is like a normal person saying, "I have lost my ability to pee." Every time a thought about grief starts sneaking into my consciousness I squish it like a spider. I don't have much to say because I am wrapped up in trying not to think about it. And when I try to think about it... nothing comes.

People have been so kind to me. I call them the Grief Abatement Patrol. They have taken me to movies, to the musem, cleaned up my yard, brought me food, taken me to karaoke, given me hugs, sent cards, cuddled my children, called, stopped by, even made me some mix CD's. It is really, really nice. But I am having trouble remembering it, absorbing it, showing my gratitude. I think something inside me died this go round and all that is left is a shell.

I have become a grief zombie. Zombies are no good at thank you notes.

I have watched my family and others who are feeling the pain and shock at my uncle's sudden death by his own hand. I try to mimic them. These are people who remember to buy groceries. These people seem to have a full range of emotions although they are predominantly sad and confused with an occasional angry outburst. These people seem to be able to speak and don't look like zombies. They smell good.

It is hard to write accurately what it feels like to be a grief zombie because the core of my zombie life is not having feelings. I say I try not to think about it, but what I mean is that when thoughts of sadness start floating in an emotionless voice says, "Not yet." It is not conscious so much as zombie survival instinct kicking in. I can no more will myself to feel, to not feel, or to concentrate than I can will myself to cry.

I used to see zombies like me all the time when I did grief counseling for a living. It was always a creepy thing to watch from the outside. The grief zombies I worked with never knew they were zombies. They thought they weren't upset. They thought they were handling their loss surprisingly well. They thought that they kept forgetting things and losing stuff because of some medication they were on. They never ever thought that their emotions were now undead: not functioning as alive, not yet dead.

The grief zombies were some of my toughest cases. They refused help. They had car accidents and fell down stairs. They lost interest in the usual joys of life. They tended to become ill, some of them terminally. And still, they did not know they were zombies.

So, I guess it is a good thing to know. Knowing I'm a grief zombie allows me to make a blog post to help explain why people aren't getting thank you cards or may get them in November. It means I don't have to worry about a Halloween costume. It takes the pressure off at meal time - I'm not hungry and no longer interested in food not because I am sick... I am just undead. And best of all, I can joke about it, because if I can laugh I can cry.

Speaking of crying, I have been able to cry twice in the past two weeks. Since we are in the middle of the High Holy days I have gone to some Jewish services. And I have managed to cry during the Mourner's Kaddish. It just sneaks in. I guess zombies can speak Hebrew.

If I were my grief counselor I would say, "Keep going, Zombie Girl. It takes awhile. If you cry at Shabbat services and no other time... go to Shabbat services. There is something in you that is trying to get out. You will come back to life but you need to give it time. Sometimes it is a Long Wait."

Zombie Girl Me would then tell Grief Counselor Me to shove some things where the sun don't shine and then have a "Long Wait" before getting them removed. Just because I am undead does not mean that I've lost my sass. I've lost my thank you cards, the stamps, some of my passwords, my allergy medicine, some bills, many shoes, my appetite, half a dozen partially read books, and my coherence.

But I got my Hebrew, my Grief Abatement Patrol, and my sass.