mary’zine random redux: #20 January 2002

Scientifically proven to be the World’s Funniest ‘Zine! (also the Second Funniest)

… with occasional commentary by Pookie: Proud to be a Feline-American (watch for comments in italics, lowercase, no punctuation, plenty of sarcasm)

I can honestly say that this issue of the mary’zine is the world’s funniest ‘zine, because it contains the “world’s funniest joke” as determined by scientists in London. I kid you not. A professor at the University of Hertfordshire devised an experiment in conjunction with the British Association for the Advancement of Science (so you know it’s real science), in which 100,000 people around the world voted on the world’s funniest joke. Here it is:

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go camping, and pitch their tent under the stars. During the night, Holmes wakes his companion and says: “Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you deduce.”

Watson says, “I see millions of stars, and even if a few of those have planets, it’s quite likely there are some planets like Earth, and if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life.”

Holmes replies: “Watson, you idiot. Somebody stole our tent.”

To lay claim to also being the second funniest ‘zine, here is the joke voted second funniest:

Two hunters from New Jersey are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing. The other whips out his mobile phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps out to the operator: “My friend is dead. What can I do?”

The operator in a calm soothing voice says “Just take it easy. First let’s make sure he’s dead.”

There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says: “OK, now what?”

No one asked for my vote, but here is one of my all-time favorites:

Q: How do you know when an elephant is having her period?

A: There’s a dime on your purse and your mattress is gone.

I guess you have to be old enough to remember sanitary napkins to get that one.


OK, enough frivolity. Happy Y2K+2, everybody! It’s hard to believe we’ve already come this far into the brave new century. If only Edward Bellamy were still around to update his vision for the future. In 1888 he wrote Looking Backward, a utopian novel that describes the U.S. in the year 2000 as “an ideal socialist state featuring cooperation, brotherhood, and industry geared to human need.” And how right he was! No, wait, I must be thinking of Brave New World, “a nightmarish vision of a future society.” Or Nineteen Eighty-four, which continues to echo down through the years. On second thought—never mind. Let’s stop trying to imagine the future and just learn how to be in the present, shall we?

I mean, look at what we thought 2000 had in store for us. I still have my bag packed from 2 years ago. Still haven’t read that Patricia Cornwell novel I stuffed in there. The underwear and t-shirts surely don’t fit me anymore, and the aspirin probably expired months ago. The survival food bricks in the earthquake kit in the trunk of my car must be even more similar to real bricks by now. It’s hard to believe in preparing for the future when the most significant disaster we collectively experienced in the past year was unpredicted and seemingly unpredictable.

Well, at least—partly as a result of 9/11—I now have a cell phone that I can carry with me instead of the clunky AAA phone I had to plug into the cigarette lighter in my car. I haven’t had a real use for it so far, but I’ve made a few gratuitous calls to Peggy when I was driving home from the city. One day she called me back when I was on the Golden Gate Bridge—it was thrilling, my first call—and we basically spent 20 minutes reporting on our respective whereabouts.

M: Where are you?

P: Van Ness.

M: I’m on the bridge, ha ha. [we were both going north]

[Five minutes later]

M: Where are you now?

P: The Waldo Tunnel.

M: I’m at Paradise Drive already!

Do you think I could get a screenplay out of this material?

We did talk about other things, of course—like the weather.

P: Is it still raining where you are?

M: Yeah, but I can see blue sky!

P: So can I.

M: I wonder if we’re looking at the same clouds.

P: Probably.

M: I feel so close to you right now.

P: O-kaaaay.

And our respective physical states.

M: My arm isn’t very comfortable holding this thing.

P: Really? My door armrest is right at the right place.

M: I can’t turn corners very well with one hand.

P: That’s because you’re a pantywaist. [She didn’t really say that; I’m just trying to spice up the dialogue.]

After exhausting all the possible conversational topics specific to driving while on the phone, we hung up.

So my worst suspicions about cell phones have been confirmed. Not only was the call completely unnecessary, but my attention was, shall we say, frequently compromised. But too bad, we are now living in the apocalyptic 00’s, and we’ll take our anytime minutes any damn time we can get them.


It was a quiet Christmas in Lake Wobegon. Had a wonderful dinner at P&C’s and played with their kitties, Willie and Coco. Came home with catnip on my collar, but Pookie pretended not to notice. He’s long since decided that, in Ann Landers’ famous words, he’s better off with me than without me. He knows there are Other Cats, but as long as he doesn’t have to hear the gory details—the scratching of the tummy, the cooed endearments—he can deal.

Besides, I brought him home an armload of tissue paper, which now covers my upstairs hallway. It’s like swishing through a pile of autumn leaves every time I walk through. He hides his “cat dancer” with the furry mouse under the paper and then pounces on it and wrestles it into submission. He’s completely bored by the mouse when it’s in plain sight. Substandard intelligence is bliss, eh, Pookie?

Eh, Pookie?

dont bother me im napping

My friends and I didn’t help out the Xmas economy very much. We loosely followed the “white elephant exchange” model by bringing anonymously wrapped $5 presents and taking turns either choosing a wrapped gift or “stealing” one that someone had already opened. It’s a fairly new tradition that is acquiring more rules and more controversy every year. Do you get to choose a gift you brought yourself? Does the one couple in the group get to use a tag-team approach to claim their own gifts? (“I can steal this; she bought it.”) Can an unwrapped gift be stolen more than once? Forget how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, these are tough questions.

You think you can’t buy anything for $5? I came away with a bottle of organic olive oil, a wooden spoon set, one of those chocolate-orange balls that you whack to separate the wedges—it sent signals to me from the kitchen cupboard {{EAT ME}} until I had to give in—a vanilla-scented candle, some cool cocktail stirrers, a “nitelite” (the English language is going to hell in a handbasket), and the pièce de resistance, a lipstick holder, which I promptly took home and transformed into a coffin for a tiny skeleton. I am nothing if not


I thought you were napping.



What a difference therapy, psychiatric drugs, painting, dream work, and human relationships make. I’m feeling 100% better than I did the last time I wrote. The impotent rage is gone, or at least it’s retreated back into its cave in my inner Afghanistan. I don’t know if it was the “inner work” or the extra Zoloft, but it’s a blessing to be in this lighter state. I suppose the rage will always be a part of me, but it doesn’t have to be front and center all the time. “You can be angry at some of the people some of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t be angry at all of the people all of the time.”

In December I was blessed to take part in a 7-day painting intensive at the CCE ( Even though the studio is in San Francisco and I go home every night, painting for so many days in a row feels like total immersion. It’s a very powerful thing to spend several hours a day in such intimate contact with yourself—especially in the company of other people who are doing the same. Far from being alienating, being with yourself without distraction creates bonds with other people that go very deep. By the end of 7 days, the thrumming in my chest that means I’m in contact with a Source that shall remain Unnamed extends to everyone in the group and beyond. The intuitive painting process strips away the masks we wear with others and even with ourselves. It’s a sometimes painful but also exquisitely beautiful and reassuring process—and what it comes down to is the knowledge (in the midst of so much unknowing) that we are all born of that Unnamed Source. (“Sources high in the Deity said today….”)

Painting in this way leads inevitably to a change in perception. When I go out into the world between painting sessions, I connect more, I feel more, I take in more. I see beauty in unlikely places—like the complicated network of chimneys and vents on the tops of buildings. Everything that happens is fascinating. I share a laugh and a few words with a man at the deli counter in Andronico’s. It feels intimate, in a nonthreatening way; I’m more open to friendly vibes in this state. At the other end of the spectrum, a young guy tries to claim the parking space I’m waiting for. He lifts his middle finger in the rearview mirror just as I’m wondering if I dare to lift mine. He roars off in a burst of testosterone and fossil fuel, and I feel alternately relieved (to have won the parking space) and hurt (by his digital insult, which pierces my crumbling armor). But I see the mirroring that has just taken place: my “thought” finger anticipating his “real” finger; my parking greed played out in his manly aggression. We are the same force in different forms.

It’s like being in a lucid dream where you know everyone is a version of you and everything that happens has great significance. You see the interrelatedness of things. Three times during the week, twice at the exact same intersection near the studio, I heard a song on the radio with the lyric “Right here, right now; there is no other place I want to be.” And my chest started thrumming. In other words, you get to see how you create the world around you by what you notice, what you take in. Of course, the world also exists independently (doesn’t it?), but the perception with which you view it is crucial.

As with the angry parking rival, this hypersensitivity can be disconcerting. On day 4, I’m driving to the studio, and I hear on the radio that Vinnie of the morning show on Alice 96.3 radio is at the Any Mountain store in Corte Madera taking contributions for Toys for Tots—an annual event at which Marines collect money to buy Christmas toys for needy children in the area. The reports on the radio are all about how thrilling and lively the scene is, with listeners driving up to hand over checks or cash or toys to the rousing thank-yous of the radio people and the Marines. I get caught up in the spirit of the thing, and it seems like serendipity that I’m right near the Corte Madera exit. So I impulsively turn off and drive to the little shopping center where Vinnie and the Marines are waiting to cheer my Christmas spirit.

I expect a long line of cars, with helpers running out to the drivers’ windows to collect the contributions in high excitement. On the radio they say they’re handing out free t-shirts plus coffee and pastries. A party atmosphere, no doubt. But when I locate the Alice truck, mine is the only car there. Out on the sidewalk, shivering in the morning cold, are a few Marines standing around a table. I stop in front of them, but no one makes a move. I get out of my car, cash in hand. A guy holding a stack of t-shirts is standing right by the curb but doesn’t say anything. I mutter under my breath, “Who do I give it to?”

I approach the table feeling like I’m walking out onto a stage in front of hundreds of people. The Marines have become a blur of uniforms, but I recognize Vinnie. He’s not looking at me, which seems odd since I’m the only “civilian” around. Unlike my other experiences of heightened perception during the week, my gaze now is completely turned inward. I don’t look at the table at all; there might be a donut (doughnut) there with my name on it, but all I can think about is getting off that stage.

I walk up and hand Vinnie my $40, saying softly, “Hey.” Apparently, many other female listeners have been showing Vinnie their breasts or pinching his butt or at least screaming a little bit. But I feel like I’ve just walked into a time warp. I realize with a jolt that I don’t exactly fit the demographics of this station. I’ve never really thought about the fact that the DJs and most of the listeners are 20-somethings, or 30-somethings at the most. I have reached the age of something-something, and no matter how young at heart I may feel (no moldie-oldie station like KFOG for me), my image and persona in the world are quite different. The curse of being “old” in this society is that no one can see you for who you really are, or at least who you think you are (ouch). But that’s a diatribe for another time. Vinnie gives me a warm smile and says “Thank you,” but I can’t shake the feeling that he and the Marines are going to talk smack about me after I leave. “How did she hear about the toy drive? From her grandchildren?”

I accept the free t-shirt, which is from AAA and sports the message, “Santa Claus is coming to town—don’t hit him.” And then I get back in my car, shaken by the disconnect between my inner world and the world out there—although I’ve since realized that I was only doing my usual projecting. What do I really know about what any of the other players on that stage were thinking? I’ve come to value projection highly; it teaches you a lot about yourself if you can catch it in time. And a painting intensive is the perfect time to do that.

My fellow painters are also having some interesting perceptions this week. Diane L. tells how she arrived home the night before, and her boyfriend, a man of entrenched routine, wasn’t there. So she was sure he was dead, but she still walked down to Walgreen’s to get him some beer, because she was holding both things in her mind, that he was dead and not dead. But considering Schrödinger’s classic thought experiment in which the cat in the box is both dead and not dead until the experimenter opens the box, she was completely in tune with subatomic principles. In fact, I think that’s where both the “contact” and the “disconnect” come from when you paint. Painting puts you in touch with the world beneath the usual senses, so you perceive both the inherent beauty of things and the gap between your everyday idea of “objective reality” and the many possible interpretations that arise when you’re in a flowing state of perception.

do you really think anybody is still reading this psychobabble

I refuse to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed cat.

oh youre funny

Do you like living indoors?



On day 1, Barbara had stated that she was “not in charge,” that it was up to all of us to create the experience of the 7 days together. I remembered this on day 5, when I drove to Irving St. to get a burrito and saw some graffiti on a wall—in those curly, hard-to-read letters—that I thought said “Change is in Charge.” I was so impressed with this example of synchronicity. Yes! How true! Barbara’s not in charge, change is! When I got back to my car and drove past the graffiti again, I saw that it said “Charles is in Charge.” So much for synchronicity.

Barbara had also reminded us that we never really know what’s going to happen, even though we constantly act as if we do. That night as I drive home, I think about that. I see her theoretical point, of course, but I believe that I do know what’s going to happen this evening. I’m going to eat some oatmeal and ice cream and curl up in bed in front of NYPD Blue. After painting all day I don’t cook, I don’t work, I don’t read. When Pookie comes around to “say his prayers”—Give us this day our daily tuna-flavored laxative—I pet him, but I feel too wiped out to engage. Luckily, Pookie makes very few demands. Either he’s extremely content, or he’s planning my assassination, it’s hard to tell with him

heh heh

Anyway, contrary to expectation, I arrive home to find a message on my answering machine. It’s my sister Barb, and she’s crying so hard I can hardly understand her. I freeze. Someone must have died, probably her husband Skip, who’s in very poor health. I strain to hear what she’s saying. Yes, Skip has had a heart attack, but he’s still alive. They don’t know how bad it is yet. She hangs up, and I curse the creator of this unpredictable world. Whose bright idea was this concept of constant change? I’m sorry, Charles, but Change really is in Charge.

I spend the evening in a terror of what may lie ahead. If he dies, I’ll have to go back to Michigan for the funeral. It’s the dead of winter, and I don’t have the clothes for it. I haven’t seen snow in 30 years, but I remember it in every excruciating detail. Worse, I’ll have to reenter a family drama that I have been avoiding for the past 10 years. I don’t feel comfortable telling the whole story here, but basically I became estranged from Skip at a time when I was overwhelmed with grief at my mother’s impending death. At the most vulnerable time in my entire life—as he was driving me to my mother’s deathbed, my first visit to her in 2 or 3 years—Skip confided a deep secret to me and then spent the next 2 weeks cornering me to talk about it at every opportunity, with a stunning lack of clue about what I was going through. This was before I started therapy with J, before I had any idea of how to deal with other people’s intrusiveness. At the best of times, my boundaries were easily shattered, and at that point they were like a flimsy fence that had been completely trampled by my inner cattle stampeding out and other people’s inner cattle surging in.

My mother died soon after, but Skip wasn’t about to give up his new confidante. Months later, when I finally reached a breaking point—he was calling long-distance twice a week and expecting me to talk for hours at a time—I tried to explain to him that I “needed some space.” Then he’d call and say, “I’m going to take some of your space now.” After I wrote him what I thought was a tactful letter explaining my feelings, he got angry and withdrew—shades of my mother. So of course I withdrew, too—mother lives on in me. We have both refused to acknowledge each other’s existence ever since.

So that’s the background. I tried to call Barb the morning after I got her message, but she was at the hospital, so I called my other sister, K. We have little in common—she’s a factory worker, married, with children and grandchildren, and never left the area where we grew up. She’s 6 years younger than me, and we rarely talk or even write. But we have a bond that I always forget about until something happens to throw us together again.

Since 9/11, every time I heard that “we are all cherishing our families now more than ever,” I wondered why I had no such impulses. But as K and I talked, I felt that bond keenly. We talked about work, we compared middle-age maladies (hair falling out, for starters), and when her husband came home for lunch and found her talking on the phone while lying on the bed naked, holding her toothbrush, we laughed like sisters, like women who passeth the understanding of men.


The next morning, day 6, I’m grateful to have 2 full days left in which to confront my feelings about Skip in the painting process. I had never even painted my sisters before, except once or twice as little children, because they weren’t part of the primeval family drama of me, my brother who died, and my parents. (That my sisters had their own primeval family dramas going on never really occurred to me.) But on this day, I paint my sisters and their husbands, their children, and myself. I paint Death standing behind Skip, ready to claim him. Skip’s heart is being struck by lightning, and Barb’s heart is connected to his with strong ties. I paint little energy lines that eventually go from each person to every other person in the painting, and I feel the power of that energy that courses through all of us, beneath our conscious awareness.

As the hours pass and I get deeper into the altered state that is the hallmark of the painting process, I realize that some words are going through my mind, over and over. It’s a quotation from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

The quality of mercy is not strain’d;

It droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

The feeling that is coming with these words is so strong that I can hardly contain it. I have been painting drops of white coming down on all the figures in the painting, and I have added paper on top to paint God’s heart. Suddenly everything falls into place, and I know that the drops are mercy coming from God’s heart, and that it falls on all of us, regardless of our thoughtlessness or our boundary-overstepping. The realization is beautiful as only truth can be. I’m not sure why “mercy” is exactly the right word. “Forgiveness,” “compassion,” and even “love” are not quite right. I realize that I’ve been withholding mercy from Skip for 10 years, and that by withholding mercy from others, I withhold it also from myself.

In the afternoon sharing, I talk about the mercy painting and about the words and understanding that came to me. Later, Bonnie says one of the most astonishing things I’ve heard in a long time. First, she says that I’m “honest.” It’s always embarrassing to hear that, because I feel like such a fraud. Moi, honest? But that’s not what is astonishing. Bonnie also says that, the way it looks to her, my “honesty” shows that I love myself.

Are you reeling with me, dear reader? LOVE myself? How can that be? I am the Queen of the Bad Self-Image! But Bonnie’s words have stayed with me and have, in fact, created or encouraged a wave of self-love in their wake—the very best example of self-fulfilling prophecy. When I saw Jeremy recently, he also found self-acceptance in my dreams—including the I-have-a-giant-penis dream I described in the last issue. In a “dream joke” about how men equate the size of their penis with their self-worth, I discover, via this massive organ, that my self-worth is far in excess of what I had thought. Maybe it’s just the Zoloft, but I feel as if I’m being reborn—or, rather, reclaiming a knowledge from very early childhood that subsequent tragic events and my own fears and doubts have hidden from my conscious mind all these years.


One of the things I got to observe during the painting week was my jealousy. Kate and Jan and Kerry had come from out of town for the intensive and were staying with Barbara. In my imagination (and probably also in reality, let’s face it) they were all having a rollicking good time back at B’s house every evening, and old feelings of being “out of the loop” came rushing back to me. On the last day of the intensive, I tried one of my patented, transparent methods of getting reassurance when I “joked” to B that I was afraid she no longer loved me. I’ll never forget what she said. “That’s just human love, when you love one more than another.” It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear, but I saw the truth of it. (B doesn’t even remember saying this, so let the mary’zine be the publication of record for what really happens at these painting events.)

Got love? That human craving never really goes away. But thanks to a beautiful poem of Jan’s that she read to us on day 7, I realized that I do have a choice about which world I want to live in—the one where I am engaged in an endless, irresolvable cycle of conflict over a succession of pointless worries and judgments, or the one where I am free to accept myself and others as the Unnamed Source made us. As Jan’s poem (“The Lover”) asks, “…what kind of lover do you want?… [One] will always guard you against invasion, protect you from strange enemies and the unknown, a valiant soldier and bodyguard never leaving your side.” But “There is another lover…/The true you is the one he adores/He will leave you unprotected, sure in the trust of truth/He will delight in you wandering the unknown/This lover wants you to be yourself….”

I feel closer to choosing that second “lover” than I’ve ever been. Or maybe I’m just realizing that I’ve already made my choice.


On the last night of the intensive, after going out for a Kahlua drink and a fish sandwich at an Irish bar in the Mission with Diane L. and Diane D. (geez, I never mentioned how much fun I had with them this week), I dream that Barbara has file folders with lots of my old stuff in them, including several old pairs of glasses. It does seem as if the painting process—with the help of Barbara and my fellow painters—has taken away some of my old ways of seeing.


The next day, at home, like the proverbial morning after, I feel hung over. I wander from room to room in a daze, trying to remember what I normally do with my life. Taking some time to get back into my routine, I dawdle over the newspaper. The events that have taken place in the world in the past week are unreal. The story about John Walker, captured while fighting with the Taliban—the world cannot be that strange. They’re going after a fanatical foreigner and they come up with a kid from Fairfax?

Wandering around the house some more, I investigate the fridge. There is little there besides half-empty soda bottles (oh, OK, half full). Part of an old burrito. Green beans from another life. Clearly, I need to buy groceries. I’ve been pigging out, I mean eating out, no I mean pigging out, all week, so now would be a good time to start eating sensibly, ah-hahahahaha.

The house is a mess. The carpet is crunchy with cat litter bits that lodge between Pookie’s fat toes and drop like bread crumbs wherever he goes. And during the painting week, I have not had “time” (i.e., inclination) to clean up the stains from his latest barf episode, so there are tissues covering all the spots. I’ll never be one of those old ladies who keep dozens of cats, because I can’t even keep up with one.

But I have to put off my housekeeping duties for a while longer, because I promised Daniel, a doctor in Zurich, that I would edit his paper on perioperative transesophageal echocardiography this weekend. I find it pleasurable in a somewhat masochistic way—rather like driving while stoned—to try to comprehend the words of this German speaker as he explains the intricate workings of medical machinery and the human heart. But today scientific and even regular English words are escaping me. I have to use a thesaurus to find the word he means when he writes “stand against.” Hinder, block, impede, foil, parry, defeat, frustrate, thwart. Nothing works. I finally find “prevent,” and I realize that I’m the victim of dueling brain hemispheres. My right brain has been king of the hill all week and wants to retain its dominance. But my left brain is the half that brings home the proverbial bacon and must reassert its control. My solution is to alternate serious medical editing with rambling stream-of-consciousness riffs into my microcassette tape recorder, playing Pong with my fluid consciousness, or, I should say, being Pong as played by the Unnamed Source.


Skip is doing OK. A few days after he got home from the hospital, he left a message on my answering machine, thanking me for my concern about his health. With that reconciliatory gesture, and the softening toward him that I’d been feeling since painting him, a tremendous burden was lifted from me. My horoscope in the Sunday paper that week read as follows:

If you’ve neglected someone close, now’s the time to heal the split, Recognize that resentment may be justified on both sides, but you can afford to be generous. After all, you’re supposed to be the spiritual, enlightened one. Be honest with yourself. How much are you capable of giving? Then go for it—no more, no less!


Well, Pookie is still napping—quelle surprise—so I’m going to tiptoe out of here now. I want to be sure I get the last words in—it’s called the MARY’zine for a reason. Happy new year to all, and to all a good night.

dont let the bedbugs bite

heh heh

[Mary McKenney]

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One Response to “mary’zine random redux: #20 January 2002”

  1. Bobbie Says:

    I have so much to say in response to your writings, but it seems I only have time to read…so…rather than waiting until I have time, I’ll just let you know how much I’m enjoying reading! I agree that you are sooo honest and I loved reading about the magic wand and Nancy Friday. Mine lasted 20 years and same thing, bad cord. I haven’t picked up Nancy lately, I’ve got this doctor thing that’s been working really well for me . And of course I replaced it. The wand. Is this too sleazy? I’ve decided to start at the beginning of the ‘zine but I can’t quit figure out the beginning so I’m just wandering around reading whatever shows up. If you have anything to tell me that you think I “should” know about my first trip to San Francisco and my first intuitive painting workshop, I’d love to hear it. Yes, I’m the total stranger that signed up to be notified, etc.
    You are a kindred spirit or I am or however that works. I feel kinda silly sending this, but I really think you’re a great writer and I feel like I know you, must be that common human experience thing. That you express so well. So we’re back to the honest thing. So Mary McKenney, just know that I’m out here appreciating all you’ve written….although I am a little concerned about you reading my writing, cause of course it’s all about me. Later.


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