Friday, January 28, 2011

I Vow to Let You Scrub the Toilet in Perpetuity

'Tis the wedding pre-season. I have a lovely batch of Spring weddings lined up and am in dispatching advice mode. Examples include:

"Do not make that guy a groomsman - he has a BO problem."

"The chocolate fountain seems great until you see the flower girl pick her nose and try to chocolate coat the green treasure."

"Perhaps your parents should get that valium prescription now so it won't be such a shock to their systems when they pop 'em like tic tacs on the big day."

"No, I will not wear a robe that matches the flowers."

"No, I will not speak in the Princess Bride priest voice without $250 extra paid now (cash) and a note in the program that it was not my idea."

"Yes, I would like the salmon."

"One word I want you to consider prayerfully and deeply: ELOPE."

"Should the time come, Gawd forbid, I will not testify at the custody hearing."

Just kidding. I do have extra-adorable couples this year and I do believe that this is the first year that I am biologically capable of being their mother. Oh, heavens.

A question on their minds right now is whether or not to write their own vows. Here's my real advice on writing one's own vows...

When writing your own wedding vows you want to cover the following things briefly:
Who do you see your partner as:
"You are my lifeline";
"You are my true love";
"You are the one who makes me stop being such a jerk."

Next - what is special about your relationship:
"I want to wake up to your warmth beside me for the next fifty years";
"You make me want to see U2 another 20 times"; (I have a couple for whom this is a meaningful truth.)
"Our work with AIDS patients in the steppes gave me my calling and gave me your love";
"I wake up and go to sleep with a smile on my face and peace in my heart because you love me."
Now the core of your vows:
"I give to you my heart, my devotion, and my trust";
"I vow to be open to the changes that will come in our lives together knowing always that my life is best with you as my partner";
"I vow to be your dearest confidante, your lover, your cheerleader, and your companion through all the valleys and peaks of life."
Then a quick ending like:
"You are my greatest love and I want you to be my wife";
"I love our life together and I want to grow old with you";
"You have been my love and today we become a family."

The big no-no's on writing your own vows include:

1) Work it out between you as to how long they will be. One of my grooms was a very romantic and loving man who was uncomfortable in saying too much and wrote a lovely paragraph. His sweet and devoted bride wrote a page. They felt awkward during the ceremony. Uncomfortable shoes and fancy lingerie should be one's only wedding discomforts.

2) Don't make the Jots mistake. I wrote my own vows. I was 20 and my husband was about to go to war. I sobbed through every word and have felt like an idiot for the past 20 years. Can't say them without boo-hooing? There is no dishonor in hearing the officiant say the magic words, "Repeat after me."

3) No one wants to hear about your phenomenal sex life.

4) Keep the jokes to a minimum. This is your wedding - the symbolic event that recognizes a lifelong commitment. I am all for humor, imagine that. But too much humor in the vows makes the Vegas oddmakers start tipping the payoff toward the miracle of your reaching a 5th anniversary. And no jokes about your inlaws, your redneck roots, your shared Herpes, that hot groomsman, or your beloved's birth defect. None. EVER.

5) Have them typed days beforehand and practice them. My friend Todd gave his completely off the cuff and they were amazing. We are not all Todd. If you met Todd, you would know that almost no one is Todd and the world is a duller place because of it. But also... sadly, Todd is divorced.

We all know that the most important parts of marriage are left unsaid in the wedding. But from all of us who have been married 20+ years, please consider that the following are what your vows really say:

"I am hitching my life to yours from now on. We will be together through miscarriages, burglaries, cancer scares, cancer diagnoses, presidents we hate, presidents we disagree on, some craziness our families will pull, unemployment, the baby having to be hospitalized, your addiction, my addiction, our addictions."

"We will not kill each other when we move. We will sometimes have sex when one of us is not totally in the mood. We will clean up puke and feces from animals, offspring, and each other. We will worry ourselves into insomnia and silently cry ourselves to sleep so as not to wake the other. We will at some point think of each other as a really bad phase we were going through. We will change and argue and quietly fume and forget really important things."

"And we will get up every day and try again because what we feel for each other is the truest most genuine emotion either of us selfish, imperfect goof balls has ever experienced. I am not equipped for much of what the future will hurl at us but I will face every challenge with the goal of getting to the other side with your hand in mine."

"I will say I am sorry. I will bury the hatchet. I will just plain forget that nervous tic of yours. I will work to make you happy and I will work to understand what makes me happy. I will go to counseling with you. I will make you a birthday card. I will teach the children songs I made up about how great you are. When I am dying, I want your face to be the last vision I have. When you are dying, I will hold you in my arms until your last breath knowing that the greatest part of me dies with you."

"I love you. It is the messiest emotion I have ever had but I vow to rise to being a better person for you, for us."


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Music Fantasy

I have lived every music fan's fantasy. I have also lived the nightmare. And I did them both on the same day.

I have already told the story on this blog about how I sent a fan letter to a honky tonk band out of Flint, Michigan and how less than 2 years later Whitey Morgan and the 78's were on my doorstep. And they even came back.

This is the music fan's dream. You fall in love with a band. You learn all their music. You send them a fan letter. They respond. They come to stay with you and tell you that you are marvelous. They are even better live than you had hoped. Then I go to Brooklyn to see them and Whitey picks me up with one arm and growls, "Hey, girl! How's the family?"

Oh, wait.

I guess that last part is just my thing and I didn't dream it because, at close to 6 ft. tall, the idea of someone lifting me is preposterous even in fantasy. But that did happen. And it was really cool. You short gals have all the fun.

Where was I? Ah, yes. Dreams come true. Then comes the nightmare part. I hesitate to even write this because somehow, some day Nick Hornby is going to find this blog post and he is going to die of embarrassment on my behalf. I don't want Nick Hornby to die. He hasn't written enough yet.

Nick Hornby has written six books that are pretty integral to my life. One is Juliet Naked which tells that fan dream story I have lived and another is High Fidelity. If you have not read High Fidelity, shame on you. It is the book that decodes the complete insanity that comes with being a music fanatic. And it will help you understand why I nearly ruptured a brain vessel when Whitey Morgan sat on my couch and started idly flipping through my CD rack.

(Just imagine me in the interview room of a cop show. I look sort of normal on the outside but as I recount my version of events it rapidly becomes clear that I am criminally insane.)

The cd's were not in order, you see. He was sitting right there. And the cd's. THEY WERE NOT IN ORDER. I don't listen to those cd's now. The children have knocked them down so many times. I don't even know what is up there. No. No. Those aren't the ones. Those might not even be mine. I had to kill him. Don't you see? He didn't see the real stuff I listen to! He might have told the rest of the band. I couldn't let Jeremy the bass player know about my Annie Lennox phase. I was just curious about 3rd Bass in 1992, but he wouldn't understand that. I should have given that away years ago. What if Travis the drummer found out about my Daft Punk or Billy Idol? Dear God, Tamineh the fiddler might have seen my Greatest Hits of Garth Brooks. Don't you get it? She would have told Brett and Stubby and it would have brought about the honky tonk apocalypse. Don't you see? He had to die. Yes. It was the only way. So I slipped a Koko Taylor disc in his bbq sandwich. He went peacefully. I did not disrespect him. I kept my Randy Travis to myself, officer. Koko is a great way, an honorable way to go. He knew I loved him.

So that is not how it went down. But my husband did think I was going to cry.

"You did not enjoy that, did you?" he asked today.

NO! This is my band and they are rifling through my husband's Doobie Brothers, my opera cd's. It just doesn't make any sense. As a fan, you want to show your musical idols what you are made of. It is not necessarily a kissup. I don't listen to that much honky tonk. But I do listen to its distant musical cousins that make for some good conversations.

Fans and musicians are people who sit around and wonder what would have happened if Jim Morrison lived, if the Smiths had not broken up, if Hank Jr. and Dolly Parton had a baby (it would be Whitey Morgan), if Janis Joplin and Marvin Gaye had a baby (sadly it would be Amy Winehouse.)

This is the band with whom I belted Dale Watson's (love child of Hank Sr. and Frank Sinatra) "Whiskey or God" in a van as we crossed a snowy bridge across the mighty James River. We bond through music and my uncle's Wagner cd's that I listen to annually are not going to further bonding.

So I am rewriting the nightmare. This is how it should have gone down. If they ever come back, these are the cd's that will be on the top shelf in random order, of course. I'm not OCD. I'm just fanatical.

This is my music, what I listen to. No one has to die. Just stick with this list and no one gets hurt.

Prince - (any of my 23 cd's)
Billy Ray Hatley and the Showdogs - More Years Than I Got, Deuce, Cryin' Shame
Lucero (any of 6)
Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears - Tell 'Em What Your Name Is
John Mellencamp - Life, Death, Love, and Freedom
Aretha Franklin - Queen of Soul
Delbert McClinton - Acquired Taste
The Gourds - Shinebox
Cedric Burnside and Malcolm Lightning - Two Man Wrecking Crew
Temple of the Dog - self titled
Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3 - (all)
Gladys Knight and the Pips - Greatest Hits
The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever
Mary J. Blige - What's the 411?
John Paul Keith and the 145's - Spills and Thrills
Allman Brothers - Eat a Peach
Independent Music Awards '09, '10 - Now Hear This
Whitey Morgan and the 78's - Honky Tonks and Cheap Motels, and self titled
Koko Taylor - The Earthshaker, Old School

Should the band never come back to my house, I would welcome some time on a bar stool with a similarly minded fanatic or two as we consider what would happen if Hank III converted to Judaism. Or the possible radical transformation of Richmond bluegrass if Jim Skelding of the Slack Family quit with the home repairs and devoted the bulk of his immense energy and talent to that fiddle of his. Or even who would you rather be stuck in a canoe with for two days: Waylon Jennings, June Carter Cash, or Elvis?

You buy first round.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

And They Call it Puppy Love

I am mostly unconscious, drooling on my pillow in the middle of the day. Minding my own business, and thick with a cold I am trying to breathe through any possible vent in my face. Visions of friends and road trips are beginning to dance through my stuffed, dozing mind when out of nowhere a dog flies through the air and lands on my head.


Meet the newest member of our family: the puppy mutt named Chunk. Chunk is 8 months old. She likes to chew. She has a rather weak bladder. She digs when she is anxious. The outdoors make her anxious. The back yard makes her very anxious.

She is fortunate to look like a cross between two of our beloved who have died in the past two years. She is unfortunate to have already been named when we got her.

I consulted the Honky Tonk Dog Whisperer Whitey Morgan at a gig in Brooklyn last month about her issues. He said he would be glad to give her a lookover when the band rolled through town again. I was greatly looking forward to his advice. Whitey is an Alpha Male to the Nth degree, so I figured he would teach me a snarl and a menacing glare that would put Chunk in line and we would all live happily ever after.

Whitey and his glorious band the 78's came by last weekend. They shared a supper table with us and then rocked the house at the bar down the street. Our town has finally recognized their Honky Tonk greatness. The show was sold out and the dance floor did not empty for a single song.

But first Whitey met Chunk. Before I even had the chance to introduce them, Chunk sneak attacked Whitey's massive leg and kind of bumped off it with a stunned look. I have a personal rule not to sneak attack people with neck tattoos. Chunk has no rules and I think Whitey respects that, being a little free and untamed himself.

"Well, there she is, Whitey. What do you think?"

And that's when the Alpha Male of outlaw music in Flint, Michigan turned on me. I have a personal rule not to give giants with neck tattoos reason to turn on me. He gave me a mean stare that looked like a cross between Clint, Chuck, and the Duke.

"She's a perfect little baby!" he started to coo in an octave I didn't believe men that size could hit. Then he got down to Chunk's level and the only word I can think of is... snuggled her.

"What a good girl! Yes. You are such a pretty one, aren't you? That's a good girl."

Chunk and Whitey spent the rest of the meal together. She would sneak attack him. He would cuddle and coo. As the person who was hoping for a showdown, it was all a tad disgusting to me. They were in love. Completely in love. Love is all good and fine but anyone who has ever fallen in love with a baby knows: love don't keep the urine in the bladder, now does it?

After we finished our superb meal (that was blessedly hijacked by my best buddy and transformed from food into cuisine... bastard) Whitey began his pronouncements on Chunk.

"First of all, you can't call her Chunk. That's just gonna' give her a complex. She's a Princess. Or a Fancy. Aren't you, baby?" More cuddling on their part. More gagging on my part.

"You got yourself a fine dog here. She's gonna' be just great." Scratching behind ears. Hers. Licking on neck. His.

"I know that, Whitey. But what do I do in the carpet peeing, fence jumping, sneak attack meantime?" Chunk is teething on Whitey's huge hand. The band all start to chuckle.

"You think Whitey is gonna' help you get your dog to stop jumping the fence?" asks a man who, I kid you not, is named Stubby.

"Hahahahaha..." they all laugh together. Whitey and Chunk make more lovey faces at each other. I scowl politely in the corner because Whitey is my guest, Chunk is mighty cute, and let me reiterate: That Dude is HUGE.

Turns out the Alpha Male of Flint is a pushover for female dogs. His girl, Bella, jumps the fence at will and still gets the cooing and the loving, while his male dog gets comments like, "Angus! It's time we had a talk, boy" as he his led out of the house, tail between his legs.

Be that as it may, Whitey did have what is probably the only advice that will work.

"You're gonna have to wear her out. She's tired enough, she won't go jumping fences. That's it."

That's it?

"Just tire her out and give her plenty of love. She's a mighty fine animal. Aren't you, Princess?"

As I write this, Whitey and the 78's are back home in Michigan (and Austin, for their phenomenal fiddle player) for a break in touring. My cold has eased up. The back yard looks like a training ground for grenade throwing. The children are asleep. The dryer is doing its clack clack turning. The original dog is sleeping on the floor like a good dog does.

Meanwhile, the royal Chunk is curled up on the couch where she absolutely does not belong. I was going to move her but it is the very spot where Whitey sat during his visit. She is sleeping and no doubt dreaming Flint, Michigan Alpha Male dreams. I know how she feels. I miss the band, too. I wouldn't snuggle with them, but they make some mighty fine music. I relate to the misty reminiscing - me dreaming of the shows I've seen, her dreaming of the one person who understands her. I cannot deny a fellow fan her dreams.

Then I remember all the chewed up refrigerator magnets. The professional carpet cleaning appointment. The tiller we will have to borrow in the Spring. The BITE MARKS on my prescription GLASSES.

Oh, the hell I can't. Whitey ain't here to save you now, puppy-cita. SNEAK ATTACK!!!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Oysters, Atheists and a Mini-Skirt does not a Skank Make

This week at Jots has been full of celebrations: a birthday, the anniversary of the family business, the new year and yesterday - our 20th wedding anniversary.
In lieu of a post I am sharing excerpts from the note I sent my mentor, a brilliant Unitarian Universalist retired minister of refined taste and faith up in Maine. My letter was part of my thanks for his agreeing to marry us when we were young and D-U-M dumb. Six years later he and I shared leadership of a congregation. This was back when I was skinny and he was unbelievably patient - except with ministers in mini-skirts.
He had sent me a note that said "May your marriage last until 2040 when Trout Unlimited says my life membership is up and I will expire."
Dear Guru,
I am concerned by your recent letter. Is it really up to Trout Unlimited to determine your lifespan? If so, my theology is completely screwed up.
For our 20th wedding anniversary, we had a lovely dinner with the kids at the Robin Inn, the former hangout for the crotchety atheists at church. The fun-loving atheists always went to the Strawberry Street Cafe to eat salad out of the bathtub. These days I am related to all the crotchety atheists that are left, so ours is now a roaming show.
After I hissed at and threatened the children all afternoon, they were perfectly sweet to each other and did not bicker once during the meal or on the way home. In fact they were singing songs together at the breakfast table this morning which is an encouraging development. They weren't even anarchist anthems. But the lyrics seemed to inexplicably revolve around my parents' neighbors being in bed together. I'm trying not to overthink that one.
I am reading an important new work in faith and childrearing. It is called Stop Dressing Your 6 Year Old Like A Skank and is hilarious. Evidently any mom with a stripe of independence in the South has the exact same experience in raising rugrats. I have laughed myself silly. There is a great Maine vs. Disney World chapter. I think Maine wins.
Before that I read a GREAT book about oysters. It was called Sex, Death, and Oysters but that is a horrible title because it should have been "Oysters Don't Even Have (recognizable) Sex and We Keep Killing Them Off". Or maybe "Oysters are Not Clinically Proven Aphrodisacs so Don't Eat Them Out of Season Because They Could Kill You".In spite of the misleading title, the work has lit a fire in me to make a pilgrimage to Apalachicola, Florida to try their tonged-only oysters, in season.
As far as the quilting I had planned to do once freed from the bonds of a congregation, I haven't stitched an inch in months. Don't tell your bride. (Correction: I did make a pillowcase for a friend. It was covered with small roosters. The fabric sales-lady asked me my plan for it and looked perplexed when I told her. I had to look at her meaningfully and ask if she knew the other name of a rooster. When it dawned on her, her jaw dropped and I said, "Let's just say it suits him and leave it at that." She was still giggling as I walked out the door.)
The law practice is going well. The only drawback is that the boss is sleeping with his totally inept secretary. Since I also make dinner and care for his children he's keeping me around at both home and work. One year in practice and I still don't know the difference between the courts, can't read his handwriting, and I just finally completed all the insurance misery.
In one year we doubled our life insurance, picked up a disability policy for him, bought our own health insurance, and dealt with the phenomenally expensive malpractice insurance. And yet, when I confer with our many agents I still say things like, "I picked out that second one. The one with the $3,000 thing." Or more simply, "Don't explain. Just tell me how much and where to sign." (All of that was just included so that you wouldn't feel like an old geezer. I know that people of your vintage have a lot to bitch about when it comes to insurance, so I just thought I'd share a moan or two with you.)
Our eight-year-old decided this week that "braggadocio" is a word he should drop into casual conversation more often. The kindergartener asked for three braids this morning. You know me. As long as they are polite and don't freebase crack, I'm happy. Speaking of happy, as I write this from my office... I. AM. WEARING. A. MINISKIRT! Take that.
Oh, one more thing. Having learned to wrap his mouth around the words "Unitarian Universalist" at a very young age, our son likes to drop it often. During Hanukkah this year, our daughter asked if we were Jewish. I was cooking homemade latkes in the kitchen and the menorah was burning in the living room so it was a reasonable question. Little Man huffed and said, "NOOOOOOO! We are Unitarian Universalist." As if the child had suggested we might be something asinine like, I don't know... people who think Fox broadcasts news.
She dropped it for a few days. I walked through the kitchen recently as she and her father were talking. I did not hear her father's side but her response was, "Come on, Dad. Aren't we a little Jew? We celebrate Hanukkah!"
I picked up the bag I had come into the kitchen for. As I made my exit I said, "Plenty of Unitarian Universalists celebrate Hanukkah, too."
She perked right up and Dad looked relieved. Maybe I need to ease up on the trips to the synagogue? Or at least tell her that we are lanky Jews who like to hang with crotchety atheists.
Love and Shalom!
Death Becomes Her

Monday, January 03, 2011

Consciousness is a Turbulent Stream

Frankenstein wanted to pick flowers. Dracula wants a meaningful relationship. Aliens are just satisfying an innate scientific curiosity when they abduct and probe humans. And me? I'm just trying to work some things out aloud.

Someone mistook me for a budding author yesterday. An easy mistake since I did write a novel in November which I am editing now. There are forty-some pages of a memoir started years ago, and hundreds of pages of sermons that I try to pretend aren't taking up every inch of filing space. But I am not a budding author.

Here's how this works. As far as all that written on paper stuff - it's just a phase I am going through (like Frankenstein's lab destruction phase.) Some people do marathons. Some try eating contests. Some dabble in kama sutra. Me? I just write stuff down every now and again. I will grow out of it at some point. Probably when the weather warms up.

The blog on the other hand is my ongoing conversation with friends, family, former congregants, and myself. (As far as you strangers go, you are welcome as long as you don't weird me out, but I do strongly suggest you figure out what on earth brought you here.) When I wrote back in June about my clothing failures we all got to know each other REAL WELL. You write and say, "What do you think about..." and I respond. It isn't writing - it is just talking while saving our vocal cords.

Two friends whom I've known for over twenty years recently confessed to keeping up with the blog. Both did so a wee bit sheepishly. Let me put this out there once and for all: YOU ARE NOT STALKING ME IF YOU READ THIS BLOG.

The guy with the webcam outside my kitchen window? Stalking. The friend who sends me postcards? Not stalking. The one who drives by my house on purpose but does not stop to say hi? Stalking. Readers of the blog? Not stalking. Facebook and Google searches? Let me get back to you on those.

My friend Michelle published a critically acclaimed novel and she has to go around and read from it all the time. I was sort of hoping that writing it down would mean I could move on and do something else. I would rather read your grocery list aloud than to read aloud more than once something I've written. I haven't even re-read any blog posts of my own in years. It would be like replaying a telephone call. (This is my way of getting off the hook for being redundant in my posts. I forget that you have been on all my trips to rebuild the Gulf Coast, funeral conventions, and the funerals of my friends and loved ones.)

Enough of that - what did you get for Christmas? Is that not the weirdest question ever? In my house we did 16 days of Hanukkah because I flunked the first go round. We did the winter solstice, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Eve and Day, and my husband's birthday. Somewhere in there I hosted a mini-reunion for my high school friends from out of town. Over the season I saw over sixty of my family and friends. What did I get? Great memories and indigestion.

I have been over conspiculous consumption so long I don't think I was ever under it. It was an easy step for me to take part in Yes! magazine's "No Impact Week" this week. It is set up in a way that seems inspired by Kwanzaa. Each day represents a different principle of reduction of our impact on the environment. Yesterday was consumption. Today is trash.

Those are two issues I think of often. It was impossible not to think of them during the holiday season. The blessing of a difficult economy is that we all were pretty creative in gift giving this year. There was not a giant pile of trash at the end of it all. As far as consumption is concerned, the days when I did not have to buy anything were the best days of the season.

So this is what I am up to this week. I am writing just for the hell of it. I am thinking about my family's impact on the environment and ways to cut back even further. I am still making resolutions for the new year. The number has gone up again but getting organized, losing weight, and stopping smoking are nowhere on it. Oh crap. I forgot to start smoking in 2010. Another lost opportunity for growth and change.

It would not be me if there weren't something kind of depressing: I am thinking about my uncle a lot these days. He died less than five months ago and some of the pain is really just hitting now. Much of the pain is not my own personal feelings but due to being part of a network of family who love each other and hurt for each other. My parents are sad. My children miss him. My extended family are all dealing with his absence in their own personal ways. But at the heart of it we are all wishing he did not have to die alone, even if it was his choice. We thought so much more of him than he thought of himself. And that just makes us sad.

Six of us went to a church service yesterday which included a ritual for those who died and were born in 2010. It was painful for us to stand in his honor wishing he had chosen life and not fully understanding his long struggle. But just as we were seated and passing tissues down the aisle, we had to stand up again in honor of my brother's baby who was born this year. And the tears that came with that one felt more refreshing than the earlier tears. She is an adorable addition to the family and we are lucky to have her.

Yesterday I was supposed to keep my trash for No Impact Week. I had panty hose packaging (recyclable), hard candy wrappers from keeping the kids occupied during the service, twenty used tissues (all mine), a receipt from the comfort lunch I dragged everyone to, and the tags I took off the new PJ's my mom gave me that I put on at 5:30PM. "For where your treasure is, there too your trash will be."

Happy New Year!
May you have more blessings than heartaches.
May you fall in love with the world all over again.
May you see something amazing in nature.
May you have moments of bliss and inspiration peppered in with meaningful work.
May you push yourself to be your best and forgive yourself when you fall short.
When it is time for you to leave us, may you be missed. But may that time be a long ways off.

Thank you for reading. Feel free to send your grocery list.