mary’zine #43: March 2010

… an engaging, intermittently exciting but ultimately frustrating mix of assertion, reminiscence, free association, repetition, clowning and showing off, with just enough talent on display to keep you [reading]. —from a book review in the New York Times

Sometimes I wonder: Can you be a narcissist if you have the insight to wonder if you’re a narcissist? My mother surely never thought of herself that way, but she was incapable of seeing her children as separate beings. Sometimes I feel like a Ph.D. candidate working in an obscure field such as the use of alliteration in 19th century Albanian literature. Except my obscure field is me.

A friend of mine, new to the mary‘zine, wrote me:

I am surely no extrovert, but you are researching every nook of your self! … I myself see me as a configuration of matter who perhaps finds out more about it(self), but in the end, were there not pain and happiness, find it not important whether it is me or not.

To which I responded:

You came very close to calling me egotistical, but I see my explicated introversive excavations as inquiries into the self, not necessarily mine. You could say I’m detecting my own personal particles, the better to understand what we’re all made of and how we’re divided, sometimes by being slammed against each other at high speeds.

I love having the power to slant anything I want in my favor.

Now you may be wondering: Where the heck did that come from? Well, as I was reading the book review quoted above (a biography of Little Richard), I had a strong sense of déjà vu, as if I had read (or written!) those lines before. If you want to call that “making everything about me,” so be it. If being a narcissist is a crime, then put me in jail and throw away the key. At least I’ll be in good company.

makes you wanna holler!

It’s balmy days in the U.P.—low to mid 30s, and even edging into the 40s at times. Wait—I can’t keep up—now we’re up to 53! There’s an icebreaker boat out on the bay, and they’ve taken away the little ice fishing houses. Ice!—it’s a thing of the past, almost! The frozen, bent trunk of my birch tree that I was so worried about a couple months ago has sprung back impressively. The birds are out in force, chirping like a Greek chorus with only good things to say. They’re even more excited about spring than I am, because I live indoors and can order takeout over the phone. They’re on their own, except for my largess—store-bought seeds, heated bathwater, etc. I’m going broke keeping them in the style to which they have become accustomed.

I’m in that transitional period between paying for snow-plowing and paying for lawn-mowing. It’s a sweet spot that won’t last, but it all adds up. In February I saved a bundle in housecleaning money because my niece’s back went out and she couldn’t do anything strenuous for a couple weeks. It’s terrible to look at things that way, but times are tough. My grand total of earnings for December, January, and February was $1,445. It’s time to start thinking about withdrawing funds from my IRAs, though I’m putting off signing up for social security until I can’t manage without it. (I have a suggestion for a nomenclature change: How about we reject the terms “seniors” and “boomers” and start calling ourselves “the socially secure.” Ha, ha. With a bitter top note of irony.) By the way, I love how the old folks “randomly selected” to be interviewed on Fox “News” for their views on health care reform were all in agreement that government-sponsored benefits are just the worst thing since Teddy Roosevelt—except for their own social security and Medicare, I presume. Some old guy at a rally was carrying a sign that read “Keep the Govmint Out of My Medicare.” Hey, take another look at your checks, old-timer. And really: “Govmint”? Walter Brennan called and wants his hillbilly dictionary back.

I don’t write about politics much, partly because it’s too depressing to see my Obama hopes go the way of my Clinton hopes, and partly because others can do it so much better. If you’re not reading Frank Rich in the Sunday New York Times, you’re missing one of our national treasures. His column on February 27, 2010, “The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged,” brilliantly analyzes the antics and dangers of the so-called tea partyers and the old-time Republicans. It’s hard sometimes to see the future of this country in positive terms, when I was all giddy with excitement a year ago. I just can’t reconcile the idiocy that’s all over the news these days with the fact that a majority of voting Americans elected a black man to the presidency with great fanfare. Have progressives become the new Silent Majority, now that the regressives have taken center stage?

I would like Frank Rich to write about the “open carriers” (of guns) who have been cropping up in the Bay Area, flaunting their right to wear a pistol on one hip and ammo on the other. (One guy said he could get his gun out of the holster, remove the clip, get the ammo out of the other holster, and load his gun in 2 seconds flat—making the claim of “unloaded” pretty meaningless.) Some of them even question the right of the police to stop them to see if the guns are actually unloaded. I get crazy when I read about people like this, and it’s not hard to make the mental leap to Nazi Germany. When this practice becomes commonplace, and these guys—too many to stop and check on—are walking the streets (and Starbucks) with their attitude of entitlement and macho posture of faux populist vigilantism, I see no plus side. Guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people.


I was going to say that 2009 was a quiet year for house repairs, but actually that’s when I got my new green siding, new doors, new driveway, etc. Now it’s raining men again. It started with a small flood (of water, not men!) around my downstairs toilet, and then my upstairs toilet, which had been giving me trouble for a while, finally met its maker (How do you do, Mr. Kohler; sorry I crapped out on you). Around the same time, two ceiling fans broke on me—one I couldn’t turn on, and one I couldn’t turn off. It was like an episode of “Bewitched.” Then my shower fixtures developed a leak, and I noticed mold on the ceiling of the garage, right under the bathroom. Plus, I’d put off having the rest of my roof replaced when I had the front, older part done 2 years ago, so this summer I’ll get the rest of it done. I’m fortunate to have a competent, reliable contractor, so I want to use him (till I use h-i-i-i-m up) as much as possible before he retires. My sisters have had horrible experiences with builders and roofers: K&MP had to sue one guy for doing a terrible job on their deck, and the guy who replaced the roof on Barb’s garage got drunk and told her to fuck off: Apparently one of his workers had offered to do some other work for her, and she thought he was working with the original guy, but he was poaching, if that’s the right word for stealing jobs behind somebody’s back. And here I come waltzing in from California, knowing nothing about the construction trade and less about the local talent, and I get this good guy.

Oh, and as long as he was here to fix the toilets, I had him fill some major cracks between the wall and the ceiling in four different rooms. Then I had to get my hands dirty and paint over all the plaster. It was horrible—all that leaning and reaching and trying not to drip and trying to keep the cats out from under foot—why does anyone choose to do physical work when they could sit in a comfortable chair and think about words all day?—and even though I managed to get the same colors from when K painted all my interior walls when I first moved in, you can still tell where I did the touch-ups.

The upstairs bathroom had the most cracks, and it was the one room K didn’t paint, so I’m faced with either painting it myself or asking her to do it on her infrequent days off. She wouldn’t say no, and she might even be offended if I don’t ask her—it’s so hard to read the social clues from someone who purposely hides them—but I told Peggy I was going to “put on my big girl panties” (a phrase I have never used before and, with luck, will never use again) and do it myself. I painted the attic room (see pics in #35), but that was fun because I could do anything I wanted. Bathrooms bring out the conventional side of me.

So today, Paul and a helper are tearing out the drywall in the garage, and Paul is fixing the plumbing in the shower. K&MP dropped by to bring me the leftover pizza I had forgotten at their house last night, and MP stood around and criticized everything the guys were doing until his bad knee started to give way. I really hate that macho bullshit—especially when I’m paying one guy to do something he says absolutely needs to be done in a certain way, and another guy tells me I’m being taken. My nephew says he wouldn’t trust Paul any farther than he could throw him, but he barely knows the guy. I trust Paul completely, but I still get nervous about agreeing to things I know nothing about. When the weather’s nice enough to put the roof on, it’ll be like it was 2 years ago: all men all the time, trooping in and out to use the bathroom and get a can of pop, and probably neighbors stopping by to ask if I’m married (see #35).

old folks’ night out

It’s 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon in February, and my sisters and brother-in-law and I are going out to Schussler’s, our favorite supper club. We’d had our usual Friday night gathering the night before, with takeout from McDonald’s, Applebee’s and Culver’s, but tonight we’re dining higher on the hog. Dinner is going to be on me, to thank them for taking care of my cats Brutus and Luther when I was in San Francisco.

K has just woken up from a nap, so she’s in the bathroom freshening up, and MP is watching one of those horrible movies where a dinosaur/dragon hybrid is harassing a couple of people in a forest. The dialogue is almost worth paying attention to, but not really. “On the highway are bodies as far as the eye can see,” a bald sheriff brandishing a rifle is saying. “It’s not letting anyone out!” [of where, exactly, I’m not sure]. Our hero and heroine are unhurt so far, even though the creature recently pounced on the car where the scared woman was trying to stay out of its clutches, while the man was off looking for it. She shoots the creature several times, to no avail, and the hero hears the shots and runs back, but now the creature is gone. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the same bald sheriff (how did he “get out”?) hesitantly hands a woman a rifle: “Do you know how to use this?” he condescends. I pipe up, “Yeah, even a woman knows how to pull a trigger,” whereupon MP challenges me as to whether I could handle a 357. “Yeah, you pull the trigger,” I repeat. I think he and I are in some sort of evil competition to see who can out-macho the other. I have to give him credit for holding up under my superior word power, but he’s got the advantage of threatening to show me his penis, whereupon I squeal like a girl and back off.

K hurries out of the bathroom to head off any possible fisticuffs, which only MP and I seem to understand will never happen: this is fun for us. We all get on our coats and boots, and K and Barb hurry out the door (“like George Costanza,” Barb says, as she closes the door in our faces; I guess she’s referring to George [on “Seinfeld”] pushing and shoving his way out of a burning building, knocking down old ladies in his way). I tell MP we should pretend to be having a real fight, so we both start yelling “OW,” “Stop!” and “You kicked me in the nuts!” (that was MP; I’m not that macho). K yells through the door to not make her come in there and kick our butts.

Then we’re outside, deciding whose vehicle to take. Barb offers to drive, but MP needs room for his recently-operated-on leg to stretch out, so he wants to take his truck. However, I have just closed the door to the house, which locks, and he doesn’t have his keys or a garage door remote on him, so he calls me a roundhead. K has keys, but she tries to open the deadbolt first, which wasn’t locked, so he calls her a roundhead. She finally gets the door open, MP gets in his big Ford truck, roars out of the garage, and we hoist ourselves up into the cab. We do not yet need mechanical assistance to do this, but that day is not far off. K is as agile as when she was a girl, but Barb and I are fighting the good (anti-gravity) fight. MP backs out of the driveway and then stops in the middle of the street to fumble around for the seatbelt extension for Barb (I have miraculously managed to fit into the regular one), and finally we’re ready to go. As he steps on the gas I say, “Old folks’ night out,” and we’re off.

We arrive at Schussler’s without further incident and troop into the bar, where there are 5 or 6 people enjoying a peaceful drink or two before going into the dining room. We sit down at the bar, and for some reason I go into performer mode—could it be because there’s an audience??—and so does MP. He starts the ball rolling, when he announces to the room, “She kicked me in the nuts!” I retort, “I hurt my toe! My little toe!” Everyone goes “Oooooo,” and I put my dukes up in case he’s going to come after me. I glance across the bar and see a woman smiling behind her hand. Thus emboldened, I ask MP why he’s sitting so far away. He says, “That’s where the chair was!” so of course I ask if the chair was facing the wall would he have sat there? He claims yes. I say, “If Johnny jumped off the bridge, would you….” and he responds, “Yes, I’d jump in after him.” We play-pummel each other’s upper arms. Oh, the fun we old-timers have. You kids have no idea.

I imagine K and Barb are trying to disavow any knowledge of us, which is difficult since we came in together, but they’re laughing whenever I look their way, so what the hell. When I next look to the other side of the bar, the audience has mysteriously vanished, so we have only the bartender to play to. I tell him that I like to challenge MP. He asks why I have to challenge him so hard, and I say, “It’s not hard.”

MP, probably exhausted from all the fun, goes off to find our table and be first at the salad bar, as I finish up my first margarita and ask for a second. Fortunately, our favorite waitress, Jackie, is working, and she earns her $30 tip by running our steaks back and forth to the kitchen, because they’re always too rare the first or second time around. She claims the cook doesn’t mind, and there’s no evidence of spittle on my tenderloin, but then there wouldn’t be, would there? Jackie looks like an older version of Carol, the receptionist on the Bob Newhart show where he plays a psychologist. She has the knack for making us feel like we’re her favorite customers, though I know she is beloved by all. I’m sure the big tips have something to do with it, but she does like us, and we don’t misbehave in the dining room like we do in the bar. We often hug as we’re leaving. She’s going to retire soon, and she’s planning to hand us down to her daughter, who also works there. Still, it’ll be a sad day.

So we enjoy our respective steaks and chicken and salmon, but we pass on dessert, because Midwestern desserts tend to be high in sugar and fat but low in taste—how is that even possible?—especially once you’ve had the real thing (“How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm once they’ve seen San Francisco?”).

Back in the truck, headed for home, it’s pitch dark out, but I notice on the dashboard clock that it’s only 6:15. That’s what happens when you go to dinner at 4:30. At K&MP’s, the two cats, Psycho and Orph, are ensconced on “my” recliner—one on the back and one on the footrest—so I awkwardly plop into the chair sideways, hanging awkwardly over the arm, which, later, K has to help me get out of. (I was an English major, can you tell?)

Over dinner I had mentioned that I’d gone to the Playgirl website to check out what’s-his-name (almost son-in-law of “Caribou Barbie”)’s semi-nude pictures and was surprised to see that the magazine is no longer the prim, harmless collection of photos of shirtless men with no visible cocks or only small, flaccid ones. Now it’s actively going after gay men, showing pics of pecs and awkwardly arranged poses, super-sized units, and purple tumescent prose such as “Young Billy has a hard, hot cock that wants to be sucked all night long!” (With that sentence, is Google going to insert my innocent little ‘zine into the results with all the bad-ass porn, I wonder?) After browsing the website but seeing nothing much of interest, I tried to leave, but pop-up ads for porn sites kept coming (is everything a double entendre, or is it just me?) as fast as I could close them. I’m pretty sure I’d still be trying to get out of there if I hadn’t pulled the plug on Firefox. When I restarted it, there was no sign of the multiplying marauders, but since I’m quite the sophisticated computer user, I know about cookies. (Who makes up the names for these things?) So I went to my cookie file and deleted all the ones that contained the words “porn,” “hot,” “sex,” “horny,” and anything else that looked suspicious. MP asked me how to remove cookies, so when we got back to the house I showed him what to do. I discreetly looked away so as not to see what he has listed there, though it can’t be any worse than mine.

By then it’s 6:45, it’s too hot in the house, and it looks like we’re not even going to watch TV, so I decide to call it a night. They all thank me for dinner, and I’m off. I stop at Angeli’s for broccoli, bread, a pre-made ham sandwich for tomorrow, and “reduced fat” (no two words are more beloved by the would-be dieter and self-deluded potato chip addict) Ruffles, and go home to spend the next several hours figuring out how to convert my TIFF photos to JPEG and uploading them (see “family photos rescued from 50-year-old slides” under “About” on the right side of the home page). I love that I can do anything I want with my site, including foisting digitized versions of yellow’d, pink’d, and orange’d moldy old slides on an unsuspecting public. It’s not about great production values for me, though I do envy the professional-looking sites of others. I tell myself that my crappy photos from 1960 are suitably impressionistic, vague, and out of focus, like my imperfect memories. I’m trying to turn lemons into lemonade here.

Google me Elmo

(Nothing to do with Elmo, so don’t get your hopes up.) I took a little unexpected walk down memory lane the other night. I occasionally Google myself, mostly to see how far down in the results my blog appears. The first time I searched for myself online, years ago, I couldn’t find anything about me, but there was an awful lot of information about someone with my name who was born and died in the 1800s. What made her so great, huh?, that’s what I want to know. But now my name and exploits are sprinkled throughout the results, from various sources, and I got bored with searching after about 8 pages… proving that even narcissists get sick of themselves at some point.

What was interesting this time was that I came upon all this old stuff from my days as a “radical librarian” in the early ‘70s. It was kind of cool but also mystifying to see that a world I was part of only briefly (in librarian years) is now part of history. (Or herstory, one of many ‘60s neologisms that never really caught on). There are some librarians now who are actually interested in that period and possibly envious of our radical shenanigans, like starting “underground” publications, writing upstart screeds for the big traditional journals, and protesting/infiltrating events at American Library Association conventions. Even though I was politically engaged at the time, all my activities felt kind of small and personal. I did get attention for writing an article on gay liberation for School Library Journal (!) in 1972 (!), writing scathing reviews of traditional women’s magazines for a reference book called Magazines for Libraries, and reviewing underground and extremist newspapers and journals for From Radical Left to Extreme Right. Also, after I was fired from my one and only library job at a small college in Maryland, I spent a year researching a bibliography on divorce (of all things) which was published as a hardbound book in 1975: You can still buy the one extant copy for $5.00 on Amazon. As long as I’m sharing my curriculum vitae, I wrote an article on “Class and Professionalism” that was published in a radical librarian magazine called Booklegger and reprinted in Quest, a feminist journal, and then in Library Lit. 7: The Best of 1976.

I was also a co-publisher of the Alternative Press Index and had great fun corresponding with volunteer indexer-librarians for a year before moving to the small college library in Maryland and causing a big rumpus on campus after getting fired for “undermining the director.” I realize that this recitation of my accomplishments from 30-40 years ago is kind of obnoxious, but I might as well throw in the fact that Library Journal received an angry letter from Gloria Steinem about my review of Ms.’s first issue, which I thought was woefully bourgeois. I don’t blame her for being upset—I was horribly self-righteous like the rest of my generation…. But if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

When I became a scientific editor—first at the American Journal of Respiratory Disease and later at UCSF—and got out of the radical librarian racket, I sort of forgot about all that. Now there are scholarly books in which my name appears in reference to my writing, publishing, indexing, and rabble-rousing. Daring to Find Our Names: The Search for Lesbigay Library History looked like the perfect place to look up my youthful legacy, but it costs $119.95. Sorry, I’m not that interested. And plus: Lesbigay?? I found the book on a site that would give me a free trial for 1 day, and then if I didn’t cancel, I’d be charged $19.95/mo. until I canceled. And nowhere on the site did it say how to cancel! I did get the page numbers where my name appears, so when I found excerpts from the book in Google Books, I looked up those pages. It was bizarre to see my no-longer self cited for all the things I falsely modestly bragged about in the paragraph above. Not bad for being an actual librarian for less than a year.

And of course (we’re still Googling) there are lots of citations from when I was listed in the acknowledgments of articles I edited at UCSF, and this blog turns up every now and then, causing strangers to visit my site looking for “dinosaur traps” (5 times!), “paintings of dew drops,” “canvas fix guide awning” (?), “lark coaxing,” and “derelict boiler rooms.” One person got to my site from Googling “everybody loses from potato bruises,” which I did mention somewhere in these pages because I was puzzled at seeing that phrase on a bumper sticker. She (or he) left this comment:

This is currently the only page on the internet with the phrase “Everybody Loses From Potato Bruises,” according to Google. We saw that bumper sticker today, too! Some old Nissan or something clunking around in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, WA. We were similarly nonplussed. Oh, they had a Denver Broncos bumper sticker too. Hmm.

Well, now it will appear on the internets twice. Maybe we can start a movement!

fonda Fond du Lac

A friend of mine was telling me about some of her youthful, and not so youthful, craziness, which often featured the telling of whopper lies just to mess with people. She and a friend were at the hospital visiting someone, and she told a nurse that they were lesbian moms who were there to pick up their new baby. (The friend didn’t appreciate that.) Just recently, she told an elderly woman at her church that she “ran crack” back in the ‘80s. I think she told her doctor that one, too. She has a deadpan delivery and tends to assume that everyone will know she’s joking. I reminded her that she had once told a boyfriend in high school that she was either (a) transgender or (b) born with both male and female genitalia. (I couldn’t remember the story exactly.) She vehemently denied it, but I’m sure it was something like that (but what would be “like that”?). Anyway, my favorite story of hers is that she and some friends were at a bar, and they met this guy who had just gotten out of prison. So she decided to pretend she had done time herself. She had seen lots of “Lock-Up” episodes on TV so had picked up some prison slang. So she says to the guy, “I did a nickel down in Fond du Lac.” (I’m sure you know that in prison lingo, “nickel” =  5 years.) When she told me this, we both doubled over laughing. I love that sentence so much that I want to use it as my epitaph. Let future generations wonder. Before she made the fatal mistake of telling the guy, “I’m just fuckin’ with ya,” a male friend of hers hustled her out of there, sure that the guy would kick her ass (or worse) if he found out she was lying.

Well, that seems an awkward note to go out on, and I have no grand statement with which to tie all the stories, such as they are, together. Frankly, I don’t even know what I wrote about this time. Here, I’ll try to think of it without looking back. Library glory days, playing dangerous games with ex-cons and brothers-in-law, the weather (always fascinating!), my poor house (which may yet send me to the poorhouse), and… Levi Johnston?? Help! Someone get me some new ideas! Is it better to have boring stuff to read than nothing at all? We shall see. Happy Spring, Almost!

[Mary McKenney]

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