mary’zine random redux #21: February 2002

This was my horoscope for the week of February 10, 2002:

Scorpio: A home office of sorts stirs your fancy. Maybe a suite, maybe a small corner. Whatever the size, time and effort spent there can change your life. Family matters are tricky, possibly bittersweet. Maybe you’ll use your home office for a little writing.

Yeah, I wish. I already have a home office, it’s no suite, and yes, the time and effort spent there have changed my life. (Plus, family matters are indeed tricky.) But I wish I had more time for “a little writing.”

I had high hopes for this issue. I usually write on Sunday, my one “day off” (if you don’t count housecleaning, bill paying, tax return preparing, large batches of spaghetti sauce making, etc. etc.). So I spent one whole Sunday chasing down filaments of thoughts that were begging to be woven together into a coherent, warm garment of prose. But now I don’t have time to follow up on all those threads, so I figured half an issue is better than none.

The good news/bad news is that I’m in overdrive, workwise. One of the publishers I’m working with makes its freelancers practically typeset the book; every paragraph, every heading, every bold or italic word, every superscript and subscript character has to be coded for the right format: e.g., PO{sb}4{end}{sp}3{-}{end}. The authors are two Brazilian professors, both very sweet, very learned, but not exactly up on their English syntax. (But to be fair, my Portuguese is terrible.) And the book—on histology, the study of the “minute structure of animal and plant tissues as discernible with the microscope”—is huge and has drawings and photomicrographs galore, with cryptic instructions by the Brazilians that I have to figure out and translate for the art studio. Oh, don’t get me started.

I’m editing another book for a different publisher, this one about microbes and fun diseases like anthrax and an even worse one called guinea worm disease…. I am doing you a big favor by not describing it to you.

Also, there are research papers, reports, and grant proposals coming in over the e-wires from Portugal, Italy, Austria, and right across the bay. I’ve been self-employed for a little over 5 years, and this is the most work I’ve had to juggle at one time. And when I’m not complaining about it, I’m thrilled. That’s the weird part, the saving grace. I love this. I wouldn’t take a regular job now. What used to be the scariest part of self-employment—not knowing where my next dollar was coming from—is now a source of pleasure, because now that I know I can count on fairly steady work, it’s exciting to know that my “next dollar,” or next 500 dollars, could come from anywhere at any time.

So instead of plumbing the depths of meaning and existence, the past, the future, the nature of everything—hey, maybe next time—I’m going to riff ‘n’ rant about a couple of things, share some wacky correspondence, and call it a ‘zine.


One of my favorite nicknames for Pookie is Goofball—a classic case of projection, I’m sure. I thought of this when I happened to catch a glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror before leaving to go for a walk this morning. Here’s the picture, from bottom to top: white Nikes, baggy black twill pants, gray t-shirt, green zippered jacket that could have been worn by my father in the ‘50s when he was fixing the car, dark “movie star” sunglasses, and a baseball cap with “Marin General Hospital” on the front. The glasses were the only cool item, but they didn’t help the ensemble one bit. Or rather, it’s my body that can’t pull off the neo-working-class-dyke look anymore. (My friends are divided on the appeal of those sunglasses anyway; most make the movie star connection, but last winter when I was walking with a cane because my back was in spasm, one friend asked in all seriousness if I was going blind.)

And I realized that it’s only going to get worse. When I’m old, I mean older, I’m not going to “wear purple” like the poem says. I’m going to look just like my mother, who also had a short dykey haircut and made odd fashion statements by not caring about fashion whatsoever. Believe it or not, I do care—but not enough to do anything about it. Pudgy face, pudgy body, it’s only a matter of time before I start putting my few remaining hairs up in curlers and wearing flower-print housedresses with white ankle socks and sensible shoes.

Hi, my name is Mary, and I am a goofball. I am not cool. I am going to be doddering soon. I think it’s time I learned to live with it instead of pretending to the world that “I’m not how I look.” The world had me pegged long ago, and why should I care? I’ve got my posse, and they love me just the way I am.

But I must get back to work now! Fortunately, I was able to pillage my voluminous files and find this story about a shopping incident from the not-too-distant past….

the Long’s way home

One day I drop into Long’s Drugs to make a quick purchase. All I need is one of those Glade deodorizers that you plug into a socket—I’m on a crusade to mask the aroma of eau du Pooké, if you know what I mean. After much aimless wandering around the store, I finally find the shelf with the confusing array of Glade Plug-InsR-related products—your Scented Oil (“an exciting breakthrough in home fragrancing”), your refills, your extra outlets. It’s hard to know if the Scented Oil is the thing itself, or if maybe it’s just the exciting breakthrough that you attach to the thing itself. But I don’t find anything that looks more like a basic unit, so after eliminating the refills, the snowman novelty warmer, and the extra outlets, I decide that the Scented Oil (“NEW WARMER Uses only ONE Outlet”) is indeed IT. Then I have to decide which “enchanting, no fade scent” I want. I choose the one called Vanilla BreezeR, on the theory that Country GardenR would be too cloying and “vanilla” at least implies an olfactory connection with baking. (I am so gullible.)

With my selection in hand, I proceed briskly to the express line, which is clearly labeled “9 items or less” (“or fewer,” I mentally edit). The woman in line ahead of me seems to have more than 9 items, so I silently count them. Stop at 10, get all indignant.

I really want to be on my way with my 1 measly item, so I weigh my options. The other lines are likely to be worse, and if I say something to the woman about being in the wrong line, it will be completely pointless, because now—I’ve waited too long—the clerk is ringing her stuff up  (v e r y  s l o w l y—there’s a reason they call it L o n g ‘ s). It will also be petty. Do I just want to make this woman feel bad? Well, shouldn’t she feel just a little bad? We live in a society. It has rules. My usual tactic in this situation is to stand there and seethe and hope the pissed-off molecules radiating off me will penetrate the object of my scorn. They rarely do, but I’m eternally optimistic. So I look pointedly up at the sign and back at the woman, and I will her to hear me silently screaming, DOES THAT LOOK LIKE 9 ITEMS TO YOU??

For whatever reason, probably just generalized hostility, I decide to go for it. I say to the woman, “express line you know.”

She turns and looks at me, confused. “What?”

I mutter into my chest, “express line.” (My rage is big and bad when it’s seething inside, but it deflates on contact with the air.)

The woman looks up at the sign, and there’s a moment when our relationship—fleeting though it may be, and defined only by our proximity and the fact of my 1-item virtue compared with her profligate spending in the wrong line—can go either way. It’s a fork in the road of the social construct known as the “point of purchase,” where everyone is in a hurry, even if they’ve just spent half an hour poring over all the possible choices of deodorizers.

The woman, bless her, takes the road less traveled by when she says, “Oh, I’m SORRY. I didn’t see that. I just saw the sign that said they take ATM cards.”

Of course, when someone responds that way to a mild-mannered complaint, you completely forgive them and want to rush to assure them that it’s perfectly OK—even when, as I now realize, it turns out she’s returning something and the clerk has to write the equivalent of the Magna Carta on a tag and then again on the box, and the woman has to run her ATM card through the little machine twice because she’s flustered, having racked up $135 (!) worth of more than 10 items while I’m standing there waiting to buy my little Glade Plug-InR.

So by now I totally want to save her further embarrassment—whereas, if she had reacted snidely, I’d be writing this story up as a curmudgeonly rant about her probable ownership of an SUV and her self-centered life in general. So, as we watch the clerk labor over her chore, I say in a comradely manner, “This is the slowest place in the world anyway.” And she replies that Thrifty at Northgate is even worse, and I respond, “Yeah?,” and we go back to waiting, and I look in the other direction at the end-of-aisle specials—the Pillsbury cake mixes and the elaborate plastic water Uzis—as if I’m fascinated by all the wonderful things for sale and completely unconcerned by how long this is taking.

After another minute or two, she says again, “I’m really sorry,” and I say, “That’s OK.”

The geologic clock is ticking, but the clerk manages to complete the transaction before the next Ice Age arrives. The woman gathers up her bags and says one more “I’m sorry” for the road. As she’s rushing off, I call to her, “That’s OK, you were really nice about it.” And she turns and gives me a genuine smile and says, “You were, too,” and I smile back, and I feel as if little bluebirds are twittering around our heads and bunny rabbits are frolicking at our feet just like in the happy part of “Snow White.” As simple and seemingly mundane as our interaction was, we succeeded in modeling right relationship between strangers, possibly the only hope for humanity in these perilous times of road, air, and store rage, not to mention ye olde terrorism and hockey-dad furiosity.

Of course I’m not saying that the war on terrorism or even the war on rabid sports fathers will be won by our all being just a little nicer to one another. But I do believe in the profound effect of tiny actions and tiny choices. The microworld of matter—bacteria, atoms, quarks, and God knows what else—is a real force in the world we can see, so how could the microworld of consciousness not be at least as powerful?

So I recommend that we extend ourselves just slightly beyond our own boundaries and put ourselves in someone else’s place when we can—not to usurp them, not even to move them, but simply to call a moment’s truce in the middle of the battlefield of life and to hear the cartoon bluebirds come twittering around our heads in cheerful abandon.

p.s. Here is my review of the Glade Plug-InR: The “long-lasting rich fragrance that unfolds throughout your home for a full 60 days” is so strong and so sweet that you feel as if you’re being prematurely embalmed. If you enjoy that sensation, by all means, go for it.

fan mail from some flounder

As author, editor, and publisher of the mary’zine, I get some interesting mail. (Not enough, but what I do get is great.) The other day, amid the usual snail’d collection of junk and bills, I received something unique, to say the least. It appeared to be a letter from my old friend K in Michigan, but there was a name I didn’t recognize in the return address: “Skelly, c/o….” Inside, nestled between two sheets of notepaper, was a soft-plastic skeleton, about 4 inches high, and the following carefully printed letter:

Dearest Mary—

Have I found a home at last? When my mistress K— read that you keep tiny skeletons in lipstick cases, she was certain that you would not turn me away. She has been looking for an appropriate—and loving—home for me ever since the little daughter of her best friend (who also once gave her a much treasured lipstick case… but she keeps lipstick in it, if you can imagine) gave me to her for Halloween.

K—, who is marking her poor, failing aunt’s underpants tonight with the name “R—“ in big black letters so she can take them to the retirement home tomorrow, wants me to tell you that Michigan isn’t really so bad, despite Skip et al. In fact, she and D— enjoy vacationing in the very geographic area (well, the U.P., that is) that you fear to return to (or rather, to which you fear to return). She also wants me to tell you that she ordered the back pain book and has read every word… and thinks there may be some sense in it. Well, I certainly don’t need to worry about my back too much. What color lipstick case might I call home do you suppose??


P.S. I love cats… and K— may soon get a DOG……

P.P.S. I hope the P.O. doesn’t think I’m anthrax or something.

Well, as you might imagine, this was quite a surprise, but I was more than happy to give the wayfaring—nay, banished—bony little stranger a home. Later, in my e-mail out-box, I found the following letter that Skelly him/her/itself wrote to K—:

Dear K—,

Just thought I’d drop you a line to say I arrived chez Mary safe and sound and none the worse for wear, considering the long journey. I have to admit I had my doubts when you stuffed me in that envelope and sent me off to take my chances in those brutal postal machines—fortunately I’m already flat. I stayed very still so they wouldn’t suspect me of being a bacterium.

Anyhoo, now that I’m here, I’m happy as can be. You wouldn’t believe the weather! It’s practically balmy! You can take your snow and shove(l) it, my dear! WOOOOO-OOOOO…. Sorry, I’m getting a little carried away.

Mary is SO NICE. And her house is full of my people!—all shapes and sizes, doing all sorts of interesting things. I don’t know where I’m going to bunk yet. I’m too big for a lipstick case, that’s for sure! She’s been giving me a tour of the place and trying to decide just where I’d be most comfortable.

The Cat is kind of intimidating, but his meow is worse than his scratch. He’s even taken me under his paw and showed me how to use the computer.

Well, gotta go. Thanks again for caring enough to find me a good home, one where I would be truly appreciated.

As always, Skelly

p.s. Mary thought my letter was pretty funny and wanted me to ask you if she could print it in something called a… zeen? As you recall, I made a couple of personal remarks about you, not to mention your poor aunt, so she will understand if you want to remain anonymous and unheralded. But thanks to you, I’ve discovered that I really enjoy writing, so I may take knucklebone to keyboard again sometime, if the Cat doesn’t mind giving me another lift up.

The next day, I was lucky enough to intercept K’s reply:

Dear Skelly,

I am relieved that you have at last found a cozy resting place, despite the cat. (Now that you’re gone, we’re thinking of getting a Corgi—and you know how puppies love to chew.) You never did look very comfortable in the old ashtray in the cupboard.

Tell Mary she can reprint the letter, although I can’t remember most of it. Did you even show it to me? If you mentioned my aunt’s rather unusual last name, perhaps she will change it or use just the first letter or something. Who knows how many R—s might be out there in that state. In fact, her father spent a bit of time gold prospecting there in the 19th century—maybe he left bastards behind.

Well, I must return to some BORING citation editing. Give Mary my best and thank her often for her kindness.

Bottoms up. K

Skelly now resides in my home office, pinned to a bulletin board where I can rest my weary eyes upon him/her/it as I’m toiling away. If s/he doesn’t like it, s/he knows where the mailbox is.


is she gone

yeah, that pin was ridiculously easy to pull out. give me a boost up, will you… thanks.

no problem… youre a skinny little thing arent you… so how do you like her royal highness so far…

well, other than her weird sense of humor, she’s really cool… so thoughtful and kind… why are you laughing?

all in due time, my bony little friend, all in due time

and she’s got a point. i am he/she/it. i am beyond sex roles and of course sex itself. i am truly trans-sexual.

dude… youre a hunk o plastic

maybe… but i represent the foundation and the future of embodiment… the flesh is weak but the skeletal structure goes on Forever.

hey how did you make that capital letter

all in due time, my fat furry friend… all in due time.

[Mary McKenney]

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One Response to “mary’zine random redux #21: February 2002”

  1. Paul Wynn Says:

    LOL, coming from experience as a grocery clerk. That person fully knew what she was doing. She wanted to take advantage of the situation and her usual response would be sorry as if it justifies her ignorance.


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