Posts Tagged ‘food’

mary’zine #49: April/May 2011

April 28, 2011

if I had a hammer…

A couple of years ago, a church here in town had a sign out front at Easter time that read, “We use duct tape, God used nails.”

Now the sign reads, “We tried to use nails, but he got loose.”

Is this not the essence of vulgarity? (“morally crude”; “lacking in cultivation, perception, or taste”). The Easter bunny has more dignity.

Happy Spring!

but first… say good-bye to winter

Its being April already—almost May!—I thought I had overshot the winter window for writing about wet, cold weather. But we had snow on the 15th, and again on the 19th and 20th, so we’re still in its thrall. As I write this, it’s 46 degrees and I have a window open. The snow is gone, for now. I watch every day for signs that the buds will come out on the trees soon, and flare green.

The House Was Quiet on a Winter Afternoon

 Someone was reading in the back,

two travelers had gone somewhere,

maybe to Chicago,


a boy was out walking, muffled up,

alert on the frozen creek,

a sauce was simmering on the stove.


Birds outside at the feeder

threw themselves softly

from branch to branch.


Suddenly I did not want my life

to be any different.

I was where I needed to be.


The birds swirled in the dusk.

The boy came back from the creek.

The dead were holding us up

the way the ice held him,

helping us breathe the way

air helps snowflakes swirl and fall.


And the sadness felt just right,

like a still and moving wave

on which the sun shone brilliantly.

 —David Young

(Reprinted with permission of the author)

you don’t need a weatherman…

My sister Barb called one evening in early March to ask if my “hatches were battened down”: We were due to get hit by a big winter storm within the next 6 or 7 hours. “Oh?” I asked, only vaguely aware of the thing called “weather” taking place outside my cozy homestead.

About a year after I moved back to my hometown, she had called with another weather warning, this time about a tornado that was whirling and dervishing its way across northern Wisconsin and the U.P. I took her seriously and ended up in the downstairs bathroom, sitting in the tub on a comforter (wishing I’d brought a book), two cats closed in with me along with their litter box, food and water. I had my radio tuned to the weather channel, and the ominous, staticky voice (as if carried on radio waves from a ship on a distant ocean) kept announcing at-risk counties and specific deadlines (8:15 to 8:45) past which you could breathe a sigh of relief, assuming the tornado had not already whisked you and your pets and lawn furniture above the tree line. Luther was pretty copacetic—he’s a born follower—but Brutus was literally climbing the walls. At one point, sensing movement above my head, I looked up to see him hanging straight down, by his claws, from a swinging cabinet door. Hang in there, baby! So we hung in there until the weatherman announced the all-clear. I vowed never to be led down this bad-weather path again by my well-meaning sister.

But in this case, it was just snow on the way, predictable and fluffy. I had an hour before Van’s IGA closed, so I ran (drove) down there, delightedly rationalizing to myself that though I had plenty of “real” food on hand… egg salad, fresh bread, penne with Italian sausage, tomatoes, and cream (which I had cooked myself, personally!), and broccoli… if I couldn’t get out of my driveway the next day I would be seriously bereft of snacks. I knew, in the rational part of my brain, that it wasn’t going to be a huge deal, my nephew would plow me out and I could surely last 24-48 hours without potato chips, but the reptilian brain that’s addicted to said thin slices of spud and sea salt took the weather warning ball and ran (drove) with it. I stalked the aisles of the little store, assessing the best bang for my buck: Ruffles, Doritos, chocolate chip cookies? I needed eggs anyway, so I got those, and, in the spirit of “gettin’ while the gettin’s good,” picked up some breakfast sausage too, because I didn’t want to be caught without a source of protein. I took a stroll past the freezer section, eyed the Mackinac Island Fudge ice cream, but kept on walking, proud of this minor act of restraint.

I’m reminded of Anne Lamott describing her desperate purchases of alcohol back in the day. For better or worse, I’m my mother’s daughter more than my Irish alcoholic father’s. In my refrigerator are a few bottles of Bud Light and some raspberry-flavored Smirnoff that I bought longer ago than I can remember, plus a half bottle of gin in a cupboard that a houseguest left behind. It never occurs to me to drink any of them.

So… I slept for a few hours, and when I woke up the snow was coming down in droves, the poor birds were pecking around, trying to unearth (unsnow) the seeds and nuts they remembered from yesterday, and mourning doves were lined up on the fence, quite content, it seemed, to be sitting in a fluffy downfall, knowing that spring was near despite all evidence to the contrary. I don’t envy them their need to scavenge in harsh conditions, but, Ah, the beauty of flight, to live above it all.

The snow fell and the storm passed. Was it too soon to hope for signs of spring?

Yes, it was. Father Snow—or is it Mother who covers us with those cold but beautiful blankets?—was not done with us yet. Two and a half days after “the first day of spring”—an impractical joke that is played on us Midwesterners every year—we got the worst storm I’ve seen here, a total white-out. And it was the oddest thing: The temperature had been hovering just above to just below freezing, so Nature split the difference and brought us loud cracking thunder just as the snowish-rain or rainish-snow began to fall. For the next 36 hours it sounded like all hell had broken loose, as blinding blowing gusts of snow flung themselves against the windows, creating intricate crystal-doily designs.

In the daylight hours, I watched the birdfeeders blowing back and forth from white-thick branches, the little birds holding on to the perches for dear life and the bigger ones hunched together in the trees, feathers ruffling like petticoats in the wind. I felt especially bad for the one cardinal that comes around in the wintertime, contrasting gloriously red against the driven snow, because it has no one to be of a feather with. The squirrels are plentiful, but it’s hard to make out their relationships: no coats of a different color, and when we think they’re playing?… chasing one another up and down the tree trunks? No, it’s life and death, a Masterpiece Theatre of drama with a plot that’s impossible to follow. Is it brother versus brother out there, like in the Civil War? Are all the womensquirrelfolk back in some hidey-hole, keeping the home fires burning? Is it a tragic story?… or just one of the many quirks of Mother Nature, who put large populations of incompatible creatures on the earth and then made them compete for limited resources?

I was snowbound for an entire day, and when I woke up the morning after that, the sun was shining on the white wonder windless winter land. The birds were back in force, pecking holes in the snow so they could feast on the fat seeds that lay beneath. I stood at one of my upstairs windows and spotted a mixed flight of birds—united in their birdiness regardless of feather identification—rise up and flee en masse. That usually means they have seen me peeking through the blinds, but this time, right at eye level, I saw a small hawk sitting imperiously in the birch tree, its head swiveling and eyes beadily scanning for prey. It either didn’t notice me or wasn’t bothered—human-behind-glass, big deal. I watched the beautiful creature until it swooped down and through my yard and disappeared from sight.

I know that, to truly appreciate Nature, I’m supposed to be out there getting cold and wet and buffeted by the harsh wind, being One With It All. Maybe this is hubris, but I feel like we’re already One. I may be like a small Russian doll inside my house-within-a-bigger-Doll, seemingly uninvolved, unexposed, a creature intent on her own comfort, abstractly appreciating but not truly interacting with that which is “outside” me. But in a larger sense, none of it is outside, it’s all inside me, all the feeling that comes through sight and sound and caring-about and caring-for those innocent winged and fluffy-tailed ones that feast on my largess. I am practically bursting with involvement, my heart exposed, they are not background to my life, they and Brutus and Luther, my cats, are integral to my life, as are the sad-dog, sad-cat, sad-elephant or -horse pictures in magazines. They have a physical existence apart from me (especially the ones on paper), but I take them into my heart—no, they are already there, we coexist in our animalness, our together-on-this-earth-ness, our depth of love and hopeless signaling to or fleeing from one another, like birds of a different feather but One flightless shared soul.

changes in l’attitude…

In every pot of ointment soon appears a fly. Your good fortune lies in not needing to forget it or deny it. In every situation hides some creative chance.—Sidney Cox

Lately, the family seams are being stretched a bit. I blame the Republicans and my brother-in-law, not necessarily in that order. During the huge protests in Madison about the rights of public sector workers, there was a mostly unvoiced but palpable tension between the unionized retired teacher (sister Barb) and the nonunionized, still-working factory worker (sister K). Every night on the news, shills for the GOP hammered home the fiction—and the contradiction—that teachers are the New Elite who (a) think they’re better than their family members and neighbors who work in grocery stores and factories—as if Republicans were siding with the “true” working class—but (b) engage in “class warfare” against the poor, misunderstood plutocrats and fat cats. I have to hand it to those guys: They can twist words, and they know just whose neck to twist them around. Bankers are extolled as a class that “performs a wonderful service and creates jobs”—and does it for measly millions in bonuses and golden parachutes. Much is made of teachers working short days and having summers off. But everyone who knows a teacher knows that they rarely have an evening or weekend free of grading papers, planning ways to keep their students interested in class, or dealing with demanding parents. Barb spent at least half of each summer planning for the coming school year because the administrators kept giving her new classes to teach. She was as dedicated to her work and the kids in her charge as anyone I’ve ever known.

Nothing much was said around the family hearth (TV) on Friday nights, but it wasn’t too hard to see what was going on. K muttered that the protesters “couldn’t live there” (the state capitol in Madison) and offered up a coworker’s opinion that they could try Gov. Walker’s budget plan for a year or so, and if it didn’t help the economy, they could go back. Barb and I exclaimed in unison, “They never go back!!” Her statement assumed that the Republicans were just trying to do their best to help everyone get through the hard times. Her naivety was alarming. So there was bad (or at least slightly tainted) blood bubbling just under the surface, but both Barb and I were afraid to push it. K and my nephew believe that unions “do nothing for you but take your money,” so it was strange that they envied other union members who supposedly make too much. There’s not a lot of rationality when the non-college-going members of the family start spouting off. And I’m not being snarky, it’s just a fact that if your information comes only from the local TV news, you’re at the mercy of any well-coiffed reader of a teleprompter. According to one Green Bay news anchor, the teachers were not protesting but merely complaining. Words matter.

In other Wisconsin news, the lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, opined that if gay people are allowed to get married, people will surely want to marry their furniture. (I must have missed those marches.) “Can I marry this table,” she asks, “or this, you know, clock?” I would love to see this, by the way. Right now you can marry a serial killer or a drunk you just met in a bar as long as you have opposing genitalia. But if you want stable relationships, I can think of worse combinations than a guy and a table. (Two guys and a table would, of course, be outlawed.) Inanimate polyamory is another possibility: “And the dish ran away with the spoon” (but two forks? no way!).

A week after this mostly silent, thin-lipped brouhaha, I was uncharacteristically looking forward to seeing my peeps, downing a burger or two or a fish fry, watching some harmless crime shows, and hopefully having a few laughs. When I arrived, everyone else was already there, doing the usual comparison shopping between fast food places: “What are you in the mood for?” “I don’t know, what are you going to get?” Right off the bat I felt uneasy, I don’t know why—like I didn’t belong there. It could be because my nephew’s girlfriend always acknowledges (if you can call it that) my arrival by flicking her eyes over me and then looking away. OK, so she’s “nobody” in the grand scheme of things, but it’s annoying.

A new plan had been announced for Friday nights; now we were each supposed to pay for our own food, rather than take turns paying for everyone. I’m sure this had to do with my questioning MP (brother-in-law, a.k.a. blood-in-law) last week about paying only for his own food, so that (it seemed to me) he never had to spend a penny on anyone else. The “plan” is changed often, because my sister K is all about streamlining; she once suggested that we all eat before we get there, and I suggested that it would be even more efficient if we didn’t get together at all. Gosh, do you think my smart-ass self could be part of the problem?

After we ate our greasy portions of meat or fish, we checked to see what shows they had recorded during the week: not much, because there had been a lot of reruns. It was decided that we would watch “NCIS.”

It’s MP’s “job” (prerogative) to handle the remote… which becomes a problem when he falls asleep, which he does every week. When awake, he fast-forwards through the commercials, or mutes them if we’re watching live TV, but tonight he has to be nudged awake. So he hits the fast-forward button and apparently falls back asleep, because the rest of the show goes whizzing by, way beyond the one commercial break. “You went too far!,” my sisters cry. So he rewinds and then goes practically all the way back to the beginning. “Oh no! We’ve seen this part already!” I make one of my trademark, only slightly barbed, observations: “Maybe someone who doesn’t fall asleep should keep the remote.” He stops the show in the part we already saw (and it wasn’t that good the first time) and stomps out of the room, his usual way of expressing his annoyance with one of us “girls.” Barb hands the remote to K, thinking she can take over, and K says, grimly, “I don’t know how to use it.” And then she adds, “You shouldn’t mess with the guy who runs the TV.” That’s a criticism of me, for stating the obvious and not being willing to enable the man of the house in his delusions of grandeur. She’s quiet for the rest of the evening, and MP never comes back out, so I decide to leave early. Barb gets up to go too. Her approach to MP is not to let him know that he gets to her, so she calls out, “Good night, MP,” as she always does, and I don’t say anything because my attitude is—not to put too fine a point on it—“Fuck ‘im.” If K stood up to him once in a while, he wouldn’t be able to get away with that prima don act. But her attitude has always been that it’s better not to challenge him so as to “keep the peace.” An uneasy peace, if you ask me—if it’s any kind of peace at all.

I’ve been dealing with this situation for 6 and a half years now, with greater or lesser degrees of success…. trying to use humor to deflect his moods… keeping my mouth shut when he makes disgusting remarks about brothers of another color… trying, for the sake of my sister, not to cause a scene. But I know that this is just the “wages of family”—like the wages of sin—not death, but endless cycles of compromise and drama and rebellion, from each according to her ability to cope, to each according to his place in the family dynamic.

This straw having shattered the camel’s aching back, we all realized that something had to change. We agreed to “play it by ear,” and it was understood that we wouldn’t be getting together in the same configuration for a few weeks. The following Friday, Barb and I happily ate at The Landing, dining high on the hog, or at least the chicken—cacciatore and marsala—for a change. We entertained thoughts of future rendezvous at the local medium-to-high-end restaurants in the area: Table 6, Little Nugget Golf Club, Riverside Country Club. If we include Green Bay as a destination, the possibilities are, if not endless, at least more appetizing than the round of fast food places we usually have to choose from.

The following Friday sounded promising, as K, Barb and I were planning a sisters’ breakfast out and shopping. We arranged to meet at Schloegel’s at 8:00 a.m. I got there a bit early and waited in the Jeep for them to arrive… and soon, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but… MP. K had thought he was working that day, but he wasn’t, so she told him he “could come with if [he] didn’t want to be alone.” It felt bizarre to be sitting together in a restaurant so early in the day, especially when we had been expecting a laugh-fest sister-clatch. After breakfast (for which MP paid—reflecting generosity, or his assertion of control?) MP drove us to Peshtigo and Marinette to buy a recliner for Barb and miscellaneous necessities at Shopko and Penney’s for her and K.

I actually ended up buying some beautiful dining room chairs, so the day wasn’t a complete loss. MP stayed in the truck at each store, which I’m sure put pressure on my sisters to hurry through their browsings and purchasings. Oddly, I sat in the truck with him for much of the time, because my legs hurt and I didn’t need anything in particular. He was perfectly amenable; I actually feel very comfortable with him most of the time—it just seemed like he was exerting his control over K (indeed, all of us) by impinging on our sisterly fun.

Is this what being close to someone means—knowing their limitations, their ego-boosting delusions and self-serving grottiness, as well as you know your own? Being able to predict their reactions, their facial expressions, down to the last word and grimace, so that disappointment and a sickening sense of predictability surge up and crush the breath out of you the moment you clap eyes on them, before anyone’s uttered a word?  —Sophie Hannah

As family dramas go, ours is no Downstairs, Downstairs. Or maybe that’s exactly what it is. The complaints are petty, secrecy is prized, and self-awareness is “more honor’d in the breach than the observance.” Conflict is expressed in veiled glances, cold silence, and premature departures. For all my fancy talk and psychological sophistication, I’m as primitive as anyone else. I’d like to find a way to achieve harmony with my bloods and blood-in-law without exposing all the messy differences between us. I want them to be a book I’ve already read and can put down with satisfaction as I sip my glass of wine and perhaps take an aspirin for the slight headache caused by my intense concentration. One of my favorite memories* of college life was being alone in the apartment one night while my roommates were away; I finished reading Katharine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools, heated up a can of tomato soup, and then went out for a long walk in the snowy, silent night. I enjoyed the feeling of being immersed in a drama that did not, strictly speaking, involve me… except as an engrossed but disinterested reader in a position to write several pages about it for Dr. Burhans. Literature allowed me to enter into relationships that distracted me from my own life and then to withdraw at The End. With one’s real-life relationships, there seems to be no End. (My mother died 20 years ago, and yet my blood still boils at certain memories of her.)

*I know, it’s pathetic: a favorite memory of college life is a night alone with a book? Welcome to my world.

Funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’… for a little while. —Jeff Bridges, singing in “Crazy Heart”

Yes, news flash: Real relationship is messy, and family relationships may be the messiest of all. The bond that holds us together is stronger than preference or delight; friends may float away if there’s a falling out, but there’s no floating and plenty of falling from the family tree—it’s all guts and no glory, unbreakable but no easier for all that.

The uneasy peace lasts for a few weeks. Barb and I have our Pleasant Valley Fridays, but there’s no clear sense of how things are supposed to change or who’s supposed to make the first move. Finally, we’re invited back, but I’m clear that I don’t want to simply revert to the same routine. There’s talk of going out for Easter brunch, if we can find a good one. Barb keeps me informed of all the news by e-mail, since my sleeping schedule is so erratic that it’s “better not to call.” (I got them to stop “dropping by” years ago.) So that’s a buffer that I cherish.

Then there are two strange occurrences. Though I’ve been grumbling about various annoying aspects of MP, I’m reading the New Yorker one day and come upon an article about a book he’s been waiting to come out for 3 years. In fact, the article is about how everyone has been waiting for it for 3 years: George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons. I cut the article out and mail it to him with a note signed “Love,” along with money for Josh’s last snowplowing of my driveway. It’s not that I decided to make up with him or anything, it was action first, and feeling followed.

Then, within a day of my attempt at rapprochement, MP becomes ill in the middle of the night and is taken by ambulance to Green Bay. It is feared that he has spinal meningitis. Barb e-mails me the news, and I call K to offer to drive her down to the hospital. She thanks me but later passes the news along, through Barb, that my nephew is going to drive her. I had not talked to her since our pseudo sister visit, but there is no hint of discomfort or caution. I have already made a gesture of peace to MP, which he will get when he returns home from the hospital, and the offer of a ride to K is not even a gesture, it’s just plain, down-home assurance: “I’m here if you need me.” Fortunately, MP didn’t have meningitis, it was an infection from a badly administered tetanus shot. The VA works in mysterious ways.

The following Friday, we all took our usual places on couch and recliners, and it was as if nothing had changed—and not in a good way. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I guess I’m still waiting for my creative chance.

Finally, we come to some good news. I underwent a screening for calcium in my heart arteries, and to my amazement, I scored 0%! The nurse couldn’t believe it either; she said she’d trade with me if she could. She went on and on about how great it was, exclaiming, “You’re going to live a long, long time!” And I kid you not, my first thought was, “Oh shit.” She followed that up with, “You’d better get your retirement money together!” Again, “Oh shit.” She was so enthusiastic on my behalf that it made me go all quiet and just nod and nod with a fake half-smile, even though I was thrilled also. Excitable people wear me out. After spending half an hour lecturing me about heart attacks and blocked arteries, etc. (Why? I’m obviously invincible, cardio-wise), she helped me on with my coat, complimented me on it, shook my hand, and walked me partway down the hall to be sure I found the right exit. I half expected her to ask if she could see me again.

I like when I hear something in passing, at random, a peep or a croak almost beyond my awareness, a peripheral vision of the ear. And it sounds so simple, obvious, what-else-is-new, and yet it sums up an essential fact of my being. This happened one day when I was listening to a podcast by the comedian Marc Maron ( It was a simple statement that overeating isn’t about food, it’s about anxiety. Obvious, right? But it struck me, and stuck with me. Later in the day, I was thinking about how Barb was going to drive her son down to the Green Bay airport so he could return to Texas. And I had a familiar feeling of anxiety about her driving in possibly treacherous conditions. And suddenly I connected that feeling to my longtime dread, my constant wondering of, Who’s going to die next? When will the next tragedy strike? My grandmother, with whom I was very close, died when I was 4; my little brother died of leukemia when I was 6; and my father became incapacitated by multiple sclerosis when I was 7; it was as if he had died, because he came home after several months in the VA hospital so changed (physically and mentally) that he didn’t seem like my father at all. For the next few years I could hardly bear to let my mother out of my sight, because for all I knew, this was simply what happened: People died—in droves—dropped like flies—consecutively checked out every couple of years, and the next to go was surely my mother. When she would go down the basement to change a fuse, I would practically hold my breath, picturing her standing in the water that had spilled over from the wringer washer and being struck down by fuse lightning. Of course, there were many other scenarios, infinite ways in which death could come again.

I just thought of this, how my father, who was able to walk with a cane for a few years after his initial diagnosis, was eventually confined to his recliner and a wheelchair. His anxiety (and anger) expressed itself in the same way mine did, but a little more vocally. My mother worked at Montgomery Ward for a while, and he would listen to the radio when she went to work, and if he heard about a car accident happening in town, he would immediately think it was her, and he would get all agitated and call her at work to find out if she was all right. He was also extremely jealous (hey, me too!) and would accuse her of resting her breasts on the card table during our Scrabble games with their “handicapped” friends, supposedly as a way of enticing Vince, who had a milder version of MS. But my dad had an autoimmune disease, what was my excuse? Just growing up in that household, observing how the world seemed to work, how fears and frustrations combined to construct a personality, a point of view? I’ve always assumed that I took my cues from my mother, her passive-aggressive response to a life of hardship and enforced care giving for a man she had wanted to divorce before his illness… not that my circumstances were similar, but I surely adopted another of her defense/attack ploys: eating. Being an observant sponge, I took bits from Mom and bits from Dad and created my own chef’s blend of anger, anxiety, and food substitution.

life is short: eat the Doritos first

I was a skinny kid and adolescent; I weighed only 112 in college. So it wasn’t obvious that I had a thing about food. But I remember, as a teenager, lying on the couch watching “Perry Mason,” and a character saying, “I was so upset, I couldn’t eat.” And I thought, “There’s no way I wouldn’t be able to eat.” And that has proved to be true.

I went to NutriSystem the first time when I weighed 148. And everyone there exclaimed that I didn’t look like I needed to lose weight, but I was trying to nip myself in the bud. I got down to 117, prompting one of my friends to say I looked like a concentration camp victim. Now she’s lecturing me the other way. Of course, the weight slowly piled back on, like snow flakes that look so insubstantial drifting in the air but build up on the ground in minutes. The diet industry will never go away, because the process is stacked against you, like the odds in a casino. You deprive yourself for the period of the diet, and when you’re done and feel invincibly thin, a mouthful of the simplest food tastes like manna: a piece of toast with a bit of butter: heaven! But it’s not long before your taste buds long for Mexican food, or Chinese. And at first it seems you’re getting away with it, because your new pounds come on so slowly, like those snowflakes again. (Is every pound unique, I wonder?) The mantra of the diet industry is that you should change your whole way of eating, yeah, duh. But they count on no one being willing or able to do that. And programs like NutriSystem keep offering better and better tasting food (according to them), so you’re still rewarding yourself with food, just temporarily less caloric.

It feels good to be thin, but more important to me is that when I’m thin I look better, thus avoid (that particular) judgment from others—a judgment that is grossly unfair, but that’s human beings for ya. A thin person who eats like a pig with no visible consequences is envied… but an obese one on a perpetual diet is considered lazy and lacking in self-discipline. Nothing stands in the way of the media excoriating Midwesterners (especially), all that stock footage of headless fat people trudging toward their next meal, presumably. Fatness is immoral. Even pedophiles, though reviled, are understood to not be able to help it.

In a side note, you’ve probably noticed that those shots of the overly large on the evening news are all of white people, in some sort of perverse fear of accusing black people of anything… just as “white trash” is a respectable, widely understood term, but it would be unthinkable to refer to “black trash.” I read recently that the term “white trash” is actually an insult to black people, because if you drop the modifier “white,” then all you have is trash. I don’t buy this. “White trash” is an insult to poor white people, an acceptable target. Poor black people are equally (or more) despised, but it would be so impolite to admit it. Do I have to say this explicitly?—that I’m no apologist for racism: my point is that there are lots of ways that racism in this country has turned from rabid to subtle (but still real), and one of those ways is to divert attention from our uncomfortable feelings about race by attacking poor and working class whites for their (often rabider) racism and overall uncouthness, such as having poor taste in clothes and, you know, being fat.

I’ve always felt that I’m “afraid” to be hungry. It’s not that I went hungry as a child, but I have an association with food as a bulwark against… something…. In concrete terms, it seems that it keeps me from feeling sick. There is a sublime sense of security when my belly is full. So I’m thinking about my constant pursuit of food as a sign of my baseline anxiety. I stay up all night most nights, and so there are long, empty hours when I want to eat. The night after I rediscovered the association between anxiety and eating, I got through the night without going downstairs and raiding the freezer for ice cream bars; it wasn’t what I really wanted. What I really wanted was for no one close to me to ever die again.

Anxiety’s doppelgänger is anger. Another duh, I suppose. But sometimes insights catch you flat-footed, telling you something viscerally that you thought you already knew.

I was thinking about anger one day, and this is exactly how the sentence went in my head: “I don’t know why I’m still so hungry, I mean, angry.” Those words are already forever linked by being the only two words in the English language that end in “-gry.” As with the connection between hunger and anxiety, it helped for a few days to focus on my anger whenever I wanted to eat. But the internal forces demanding to be satisfied greatly outweigh (so to speak) those that are willing to face the truth. You can call it laziness, but I think it has more to do with an overwhelming sense that what your “better judgment” is asking you to do is simply impossible.


finally—family fun!

In our hiatus from Friday nights at K&MP’s, Barb and I usually get together to eat good food and watch quality TV or movies. The night before Easter, we ate at Table 6 (or Ta6le Six, as they like to call it—foiling all attempts at alphabetization). We both had versions of pasta carbonara/alfredo, plus salad. I tried a new sauvignon blanc from Germany, and Barb finally found a wine that was sweet enough for her—a Riesling—also from Germany. We passed on dessert. Then we went back to her house to watch 2 episodes of “Nurse Jackie” that she had recorded; “The King’s Speech,” which I had gotten from Netflix; and “Black Swan,” on Movies on Demand. All were excellent except for “BS,” which was compelling but extremely unpleasant to watch. When it was over, I actually wished I hadn’t seen it.

For Easter—a beautiful sunny day (52 degrees but felt like 70)—Barb and I went out to the country to have dinner with her daughter and her husband and two boys. We had ham, cheesy potatoes, jello salad (but good! with cranberries and walnuts), corn, rolls, lemon cake, and pumpkin bread. I ate exactly twice as much as I should have, then took home the equivalent of another 2 meals and repeated the whole experience later that night.

After dinner, we waddled out to the barn to see their newly acquired baby chicks and ducks. I held a little chick for a long time, stroking its soft yellow head and wishing I could take it home with me. (I don’t think the cats would mind, do you?) The chicks are for eventual egg-laying, but the ducks are pets. The 16-year-old named his duck Bruce Willis (no explanation forthcoming), and the 10-year-old named his Sarge. Since that one is a female, my niece asked him why the name? He said, “Women are in the armed forces, and they can be sergeants.” I thought this was hilarious and amazing. He is an extremely intelligent, loveable, creative kid. His older brother got a job for the summer, working as a receptionist in a nursing home. He aced the job interview when he was asked to waylay a resident who was trying to escape out the front door. He went up to her, asked if he could take her hand, and spoke to her so gently that she went with him without a fuss. He too is highly intelligent, an excellent student, and an athlete. And he and his brother are both avid readers! These lovely boys and their gentle, hard-working father contravene my long-held generalizations about males.

It was a beautiful Easter after all.

 Au revoir! Bon appetit!

[Mary McKenney]

mary’zine #41: December 2009

December 2, 2009

First, a note about salad. Salad is generally a mixture of leafy greens, cut-up vegetables, and a nice dressing, say, balsamic vinaigrette. Here is what salad is not: broccoli, American cheese cubes, and Miracle Whip. A variation on salad is the fruit salad, an assortment of fresh fruits, perhaps lightly bathed in yogurt or sour cream. Here is what fruit salad is not: canned “fruit cocktail,” tiny marshmallows, and Cool Whip. I think it was last Thanksgiving that my sister Barb offered to bring a fruit salad, and I started salivating at the thought of fresh cantaloupe, strawberries, and grapes. But no, what we got was the can, the Whip, the mallow. There is also the notorious Jello salad—Jell-O brand gelatin with carrots or pineapple suspended in it, which is commonly found in Lutheran church basements and stories from Lake Wobegon. Another mixture that is salad in name only is meat ground up and mixed with Miracle Whip: your chicken salad, your ham salad, your baloney salad. Baloney (or bologna, but according to the online dictionary it’s pronounced the same) salad, in particular, is proof that you can never truly go home again: I have tried to eat it as an adult and could not fathom what made it such a treat way back when.

That is all I have to say about salad. For now.

the micro world

I once told a scientist at my lab a joke I had made up myself. Rather, I wrote it down to get the full effect:

Q: What does a cow say in the micro world?

A: mu. [OK, the joke is ruined; apparently I can’t make a Greek letter here]

He looked at me blankly, totally not getting it: “Micron?” “No,” I gently remonstrated. “Mu!” (the Greek letter “mu” stands for the “micro” in microgram, microliter, etc., when you abbreviate them).

If I were a scientist (a big if), I would not be a star-gazer, I would be a particle-gazer at the Large Hadron Collider in (under) Europe, looking to detect the quirks and quarks, the mesons, yousons, shesons, hesons, glueballs, blueballs, charginos, cashinos, leptons, leprechauns, whathaveyous, and howareyouse. (Guess which of the above are real particles!)

But I am up here observing life at the macro level, where there is plenty of micro action to be had. Some powerful things can happen in the course of a split atom when even the unlikeliest pairings of persons meet. If everything happens in the now, then now is both immediate and eternal, and the smallest spark here, between you and another person, is as significant as the largest forest fire far, far away. The size of the interaction has nothing to do with it: It’s all about love, about hearts, about minds for a moment melding, like a sunbeam on a mirror causing an ant to catch on fire. Wait. That’s something else.

2 cases in point:

(1) Back in 1972, living in southern Maryland, I was a long-haired, army shirt-wearing, Red Wing boot-stomping, hippie dyke librarian, just bursting with contradictions. I was walking into a bank one day, and a man wearing a suit and tie was walking toward me. Instinctively, I held the door for him, and as I continued on my way, he said “Thank you!” in the most wondering, disbelieving voice. I still remember him, so who knows if, how, why, or wherefore his mind was blown by having his preconceptions thrown in his face by a door-holding, war-resisting, ungirlie-girl. But in that moment, at least, there was a slight trembling of the earth as one made-up mind met another in a spontaneous act of ordinary human courtesy.

(2) A few weeks ago, I was at the McDonald’s drive-through (mea culpa), and the boy working the window handed me back my change. I fumbled, or he fumbled—a fumble occurred—and a coin dropped on the ground. The boy looked down, spotted the coin, and thrust himself out the window, head down, legs in the air, and reached down and picked it up. He handed it back to me with a flourish, and I said, admiringly, “Wow, that was going beyond the call.” And he grinned and said thanks… not disbelievingly like the man in the previous story, but genuinely, happily. At that moment we shared complete delight in his physicality and sense of purpose, this gangly 16-year-old and tubby 62-year-old of unlike chromosomes and vastly different life experience.

These times of gently shocking grace are what I live for. Eyes meeting across a room when something is funny. A confidence shared with a grocery clerk—“I bought this wine because I was embarrassed to buy the cheaper kind I like better”—and he says he does the same thing. Bantering at the salad bar with a woman I don’t know, who feels the need to apologize for the large salad she’s assembling, explaining that it’s for her and her husband—and then happening to be in line together at the same check-out, where I say to the clerk, “Look at that huge salad! She claims she’s going to share it”—and the woman laughs and I feel like, maybe I’m not such a misanthrope after all, maybe I could reach out more often instead of taking the easier path of restraint and avoidance.

As befits someone who focuses on the fine print (having once proofread California state tax law for a living), prefers the lake to the ocean, and fantasizes that she will someday understand particle physics (as opposed to the ball-rolling-down-the-board variety [though I wonder about particle board]), it’s no surprise that I’m drawn to the small, the subtle, the hidden, and indeed strive to remain largely hidden myself. Over the past month or so, as I watched and waited for ideas, memories, words or phrases to waft up from my subconscious so they could be plumbed, pummeled, and puréed into a ‘zine, what kept coming up was just that word: hidden. It seems to be my second nature to hide, or maybe I just heard too many times from my mother that I was afraid of everyone when I was a baby. It seems as good an explanation as any… yup… born that way.

I forgot about Halloween this year—forgot to hide with my lights off, hoping not to hear the sound of children in the street. Don’t ring my bell, I’m not home! … and if I were, I’d have nothing for you! … and if I did, I would have eaten it all by now! … and if I hadn’t, I’d be hoarding it against my future late night (probably tonight) snacking. In theory, I wouldn’t mind giving candy to random kids, but I hate to open my door to anyone but the UPS guy. Let the little ones pass me by and head to the many households where huge inflatable plastic pumpkins and ghosts in the yard and lighted skulls on the porch announce their willingness to participate.

Maybe the timing of my birth vis-à-vis Halloween has something to do with this. On my birthday, October 30, I feel like neon, lit from the inside, waiting for someone to notice. Then comes the “real” holiday, the sugar-coated ritual of masked intrusive assaults on strangers in their own homes. My “special” day has come and gone, and now I’m at the whim of anyone who wants to invade my space and take away my candy.

I only realized that I had forgotten to hide when I got an e-mail from a friend in California who wrote that she had gotten only 6 trick-or-treaters. I was relieved, of course—no one had come to my door so, technically, hiding had been unnecessary—but I also felt a little like I do when I discover I’ve left the front door unlocked all night… exposed in retrospect… as if vulnerability crosses all time zones to include the unchangeable past—which makes sense if the now is both now and forever. (This also explains why I can still feel humiliated over long-past mistakes, such as handing out separate sheets of dialogue to each of the actors in my little play in the fifth grade: I realized too late that they needed to know, not only their own lines, but when to say them. I’m one who has trouble seeing the forest for the trees. “Micro” again.)

the friday report

Are you sick of reading my homely homilies from the Life of Mare? I’m still trying to figure out this family thing, making a hash of it at times but still invited back week after week. The place where they have to let you in.

[Reminder: K=younger sister; MP=her husband; Barb=youngest sister]

So we’re back on the scene at the K&MP residence, Friday night, the nearly obligatory get-together of the Almost Oldest Generation (one of us still has a parent), sometimes visited by the young and still-floundering offspring. Nephew 1 is still on the lam, long unaccounted for. Nephew 2 is thinking of moving back home from Texas to be with his kids, but the job outlook here is mostly cloudy and overcast with doubts. StormWatch at 11. Seems his geographical solution was no resolution—wherever he goes, there he is. Nephew 3 is “off the road” but still driving a truck locally, has a new girlfriend, head over heels but with the challenge of joining a ready-made family. He’s happy, though. We all sit back, parked in our recliners or on the couch, as he stands in the doorway relaying the ups and downs of living with his sweetie and her two kids. We wish him well, knowing there’s nothing we can do but be there, recline, listen, nod, laugh, and think that there but for the grace of God go us.

His last love affair was with a married woman, also with two kids, who lived in another state. Drama, thy name is Youth. I look back at my twenties and think, How the hell did I make it this far? I was so far off the social grid that I played third wheel in a lesbian ménage à trois—the second wheel had two little kids and was married to a large macho man. (One of my proudest moments was when he saw me for the first time, glowering at the top of a flight of stairs, wearing my cowboy shirt and shit-kicking boots, and he later claimed that he’d thought I was going to kick his ass. Ha!)

So we commiserate with the lad’s challenges and appreciate that he thinks he’s found the love of his life, and then we wave good-bye and return to our Friday night programmed dramas, our “NCIS”s, “CSI”s, “CBI”s, “FBI”s, “SVU”s, “SUV”s, “ISBN”s, and now I’m just being silly.

Most of the time, on those Friday nights, I feel like I’m soaking in warm bathwater, lulled by the distant murmurs of my kin and by all that is left unsaid. I close my eyes and drift, a small pleasure that I could never have in other company. And I think, This is how I’d like to go out, wrapped in my cocoon, no worries, no demands. I see myself as someone who will always choose comfort over challenge, and yet the scratchy sand in the oyster makes its own demands: The challenge, the making of the pearl, is built-in and inescapable. Once in a while something takes hold of me, I get grit in my eye, and I start to shake inside. The pearl remains hidden, but the oyster gets its panties in a bunch. Mare goes off.

One night, MP mentioned that something was happening with Nephew #3, possibly involving his ex-wife, but he couldn’t tell us about it until after a certain date had passed or a certain action was carried out. I protested, “Who do you think we’re going to tell?” And, “Why bring it up, then?” And, “You always do this!” My frustration wouldn’t rest until it was all out there, hanging in the air like a familial mushroom cloud. I even started to cry. This had to be stuff from the past coming up. It seems I can turn any married or civilly conjoined couple into a parent trap. It’s scary to think that we walk around with the bulk of our emotional responses emanating from a deep well of past fears or hurts…. while focusing on the proximal cause, the easy target, the substitute annoyance. In this case, my reaction may have had something to do with the many years of being treated like a child by the married gurus I had orbited back in the long ago… the tyranny of the two over the one: the manipulation, the lying, the denial of one’s perceptions: “Drop M off before you get to the studio, so no one will think you’re special”; “You’re not taking M’s illness seriously enough—now you stay here with her while I go hiking with my friend”).

It was par for the course (it seemed to me) that K&MP were the keepers of marital and parental secrets, not that I would care if they weren’t dangled in front of me and then quickly withdrawn as if I couldn’t be trusted. There had been another incident, a few months back, when one of them “spilled the beans” about something. “Oh, I wasn’t supposed to tell you that,” says one, and “Oh, I guess you told them,” says the other. Plus, there’s the periodic suggestion that we “eat before coming over,” or in some other way lessen our Friday footprint. And there had been the apple pie caper, when my sister lied to my face and claimed that the apple pie I smelled did not exist. It felt like—K&MP: the co-conspirators; me: the hapless harridan. So the trigger gets pulled, I react, and BAM, it’s high noon at 6 o’clock on a Friday night.

But it was interesting to see the others’ reactions. K was confused but copacetic: “What’s this now?” MP set about trying to fix the situation, i.e., get me to stop crying. Barb, for a while, sat there as if terrified to move or speak, but then she gathered her wits and tried changing the subject to anything, anything at all. Suddenly crying out, “K, is that a new clock on the wall?” and “Oh look, there’s a chickadee at the birdfeeder!” and even, to me, “So what’s new with you? What’s new with Peggy? How’s the weather back there?” K, like the trouper she is, would take each bit of bait that Barb threw out and try to reel in the big fish (or perhaps rubber boot) of emotion and steer us out of dangerous waters. But MP kept bringing us back to the swirling rapids, wanting to resolve my tears and understand my outburst, long past the time when I saw any point in talking about it. That warm bathwater feeling suddenly seemed like my lost Shangri-la.

The hypocrisy, of course, the contradiction, is that I want to be kept in the loop at all times but reserve the right to hide my own damn self. For example, I’m trying to keep this very ‘zine/blog a secret from my family. I can’t face the hurt feelings or, more likely, the passive-aggressive silence if I write something about them that’s less than flattering. But it’s a secret that’s surely doomed to come out of hiding. Both Barb and MP have been known to Google themselves, other family members, and local pedophiles, so it’s only a matter of time before they stumble across me in cyberspace. In fact, Barb said recently that I should write about a particular event in “your next mary‘zine,” which made me wonder if she’s been following it all along. (And why not? I finally remembered that I had told them about it back when I first went online.) So we could be hiding from each other, which wouldn’t surprise me one bit. Stranger things have happened. I recently got an e-mail from an old friend from the early ‘70s who found the blog by accident and read about himself—as an initial, anyway—in a story I had told about him and another man confronting each other in my log cabin, neither of them previously aware of the other’s claim on me. He wrote to correct one part of the story and said that that standoff “may have been [his] finest hour.”

So my hiding place is no hiding place at all. ‘Zines I wrote years ago that were only read by 20 or 30 friends are now instantly searchable, including the town in which my sister teaches (now removed as a tag), and there’s no way to control whatever shit hits the fan.

(Speaking of which, I had very few responses to my shit massacre story in the last issue, but I appreciate the friend who wrote about feeling the same disaster coming on when she was at an awards dinner 20 miles from home. Fortunately, she made it without disgusting incident: “Your shit storm story kept me going all the way home.” I now feel completely vindicated for that oversharing. Sometimes “too much information” is exactly the amount of information you need.)

But back to my crisis at K&MP’s. We were going to Schusslers’ Supper Club that night for MP’s birthday, so that’s what finally broke the emotional stalemate. K and Barb quickly got up and headed for the door, but MP waited while I gathered my wits and my wad of wet Kleenex. As he gestured for me to go ahead of him, he said softly, “You’re all right, you’re all right,” and I was so touched that the tears started flowing again. I stopped him and pulled him aside and said how much I appreciated his willingness to listen to me and not just try to change the subject. It’s really ironic, not only because women are supposed to be the sensitive ones, but because MP himself blusters and curses and acts like a modern-day Archie Bunker a lot of the time. As much as I like to complain about men, I seem to have a soft spot for the ones who act all tough and gruff on the outside but have the proverbial heart of gold.

MP is cut from the same cloth as my father—working class, comes from a large family, regular beatings as a child, low on the social graces scale—but he has mellowed as a result of the love and tireless efforts of my sister, his wife. I’m not trying to make him into a saint, but I respect how far he’s come. And the fact that he thinks I’m both smart and hilarious doesn’t hurt, either.

So we hugged and then happily went off for steaks and margaritas, and a good time was had by all.

the ever-present past

As if to illustrate my theme of “the past never really goes away,” I have a long-time “stalker”—newly emboldened since I moved back to my hometown 5 years ago—a friend from the fifth through seventh grades who seems to have made me into a lifelong project. I’ve written about her before (#13). I can’t say she’s been overly aggressive, but she’s definitely persistent. Over the past 45 years—ever since I left home to go to college—she has continually accosted my sisters to ask if I was ever going to move back here. My sisters would cheerfully tell her, “Probably not!,” but then I defied logic and all odds by doing just that. I’m sure she was in seventh heaven, at least for the first year or two, when she thought that we were about to relive those halcyon days in the Girl Scouts and Girls’ Athletic Association—but when I didn’t call and didn’t call and didn’t call (the local obligatory 3x repeat for emphasis), she must, at the 5-year mark, be starting to get the hint. Or maybe not.

Several years ago, when I was still in California, she sent me pictures from our grade school (!) reunion along with a tea bag to symbolize how much she “missed” me. I had seen her at my mother’s wake, but other than that we’d had no contact since 1964. So now that I’m in town and theoretically available to attend any and all reunions, she can’t let it go. Every time we run into each other—and when she runs into either of my sisters—she brings up the reunion thing and asks if I still live where I live. (She found out from being on the reunion committee. For all I know, she is the reunion committee.) This summer, my sister was selling her jewelry at an art fair in the park near me, and my stalker showed up, interrogated her (again) about where I live and said she wanted me to help her plan the next grade school (!) reunion. Barb explained, as always, that they don’t call or drop in on me because I sleep odd hours, and my stalker’s reaction was that she would stop by and ring my doorbell because I wouldn’t get mad at her. I know it’s hard for some people to keep track of reality, but this is ridiculous.

A few weeks ago, I saw her at the grocery store and veered away from the checkout lines to hide in an aisle that just happened to be the candy aisle. I’m sure there’s no connection between my sudden relational anxiety and my gratuitous purchase of a bag of chocolate-covered peanuts. If I had fled to the next aisle over, do you think I would have dropped a can of sauerkraut in my cart? I think not. When it seemed like enough time had passed, I paid for my groceries and headed for the parking lot. And there she was, right in my path. It was kismet, but not the good kind. She was thrilled to see me, as always, and the usual interrogation ensued: “Do you still live over by the park?” [Yes] “Do you want to be invited to the grade school [!] reunion?” [No] “Why not?” [I don’t want to]. (My verbal skills abandon me in times of stress.) And here was the kicker: “You can’t stay hidden forever,” she says. I was furious, probably because I had indeed just been hiding from her. Looking straight into her eyes set like coal in her snowman-lumpy face, I protest, “I’m not hidden.” She sneers, “Oh, you’re not? Then what are you, busy?” I get in my Jeep and ignore her suddenly amiable “OK, well, take care!”


If I wanted to be cute about it, I could say I had three Thanksgivings this year: one new, one old, and one vicarious.

Since death and divorce decimated the family troops, our holiday get-togethers have devolved to the point where there’s little ritual and very little magic. This Thanksgiving there were only four of us—the three sisters and one grudging male. And, as always, it was all about the food, the ultimate familial glue. For the past couple of years, we have ordered our turkey dinner as takeout: once from Angeli’s supermarket and this year from Schusslers’, our go-to celebration restaurant.

The original plan, concocted by MP, was for us sisters to go somewhere else and leave him home alone to watch the Packer game. So we ordered the food and planned to drop him off his share and then proceed to Barb’s, where we would chow down, chat without fear of reprisal, and guiltlessly watch anything but football. Then MP decided that we would have it at their house after all, and he would go into another room to watch the game. Fine. So the game in question was on in the living room when we arrived at noon. We took our usual positions on couch and recliner and tried extra hard not to disturb The Man. K and Barb, instead of talking loud enough to be heard over the TV, whispered or remained quiet for whole minutes at a time. But Barb is irrepressible, so she gradually raised the volume on her stories about school, and the teachers’ union, and what she’s bought her grandkids for Christmas so far. Whenever we see her, she has a mental list the length of her arm of things to tell. You’d think she lived a global life of epic proportions. Her 2 cats, their sleeping arrangements, their in-one-door-and-out-the-other, their bringing of unidentifiable small prey into the house to leave inedible organs and fur under the dining room table are but one element of her presentation. I am not above sharing the cutesy details of my own cats’ shenanigans, but her lengthy tales render me mute. I’m kind of a lethargic sort anyway, and I’m exhausted by the inexhaustible energy with which she comes up with these little anecdotes, which I know she has told, or will tell, to at least 5 other people, in exactly the same words. So when it’s “my turn” and I get the dreaded question, “So what’s new with you, Mare?” I either croak out a concise, unhelpful “Nothing” or drag up something I hope will be newsworthy, such as, “My godchild got married,” and I try to make a little story out of it, “Well, she and her new husband are stilt-walkers and clowns, sort of, but he’s also a registered nurse, and they paraded through town with their friends and were married in a park by her stepmother, a minister.” And there’s silence (I can’t really blame them), and Barb asks how old she is, “34,” and that’s the end of that. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t know if they’re just not interested in anything outside their world, or I’m so grudging or mysterious in the few things I do share that they’d just as soon not know.

So where was I? Oh yeah, Barb and K have started chatting at normal decibels, so MP gets up and leaves the room, and K looks chastened, like, we all have to tiptoe around The Man’s many moods (I know, I should talk). K leaves the game blaring, only muting the commercials, and I’m sure it’s so she won’t get in trouble for turning it off when he comes back. Not that I really care. I can passively watch helmeted men in tight pants crash into each other, it’s nothing to do with me. Sometimes there’s the long pass that gets caught, and the catcher (I know he’s not called that) does his little victory preen in the end zone. But that doesn’t happen much in this game, because it’s between the Favre-less Packers and the perennially inept Detroit Lions. (How do I even know that much about it?) I amuse myself by picturing the players wearing those Nazi-like motorcycle half-helmets instead of the ones that actually protect their heads, and I chuckle a little bit. Ah, the pleasures of the imagination.

An hour or so later, MP comes back, complaining that he needs to get a bigger TV for the other room, but since K anticipated this, the game is still on and thus he just plops down and continues watching. Of course, all this would have been avoided if he had adhered to his own home-alone plan, but no one mentions that, because silence is golden for children, wives, and sisters-in-law.

Our Thanksgiving dinner, delivered by Schusslers’ that morning, has to be reheated, so that takes up another hour or so, and then K lays it all out on the kitchen table. (We eat in the living room in front of the TV, and no one asks brightly what we’re all thankful for.) I bypass the carrots, vinegary coleslaw, and stuffing, and later regret taking the cranberry/fruit(cocktail?) “salad” because it tastes like nothing I’ve ever eaten, and not in a good way. The “mashed cheddar ranch potatoes” have that instant-right-out-of-the-box aftertaste, and the sliced turkey is kind of dry. K has heated up some canned corn, so I have that, and I do finish the potatoes, though grudgingly. Unlike the usual American Thanksgiving feast, this one leaves me not only not “stuffed” but actually hungry. So I have the one slice of pumpkin pie allotted to me, with a dollop of Cool Whip, and that’s that. MP is surprised when I announce that I thought the meal “sucked,” but my sisters more or less agree with me. Barb takes home some leftovers, but only to gorge her cats on turkey. (The turkey has been ruined for sandwiches because it came with gravy poured all over it.)

I try to perk up a bit as I help K clean up and wash the dishes, because I feel like a slug. Usually, I manage a little hilarity around the proverbial family hearth, but I have nothing to offer this day, and when at 3:00 Barb suggests the three of us go over to her house to watch a movie, all I can think is that I want to go home. Besides, it’s clear that K would only go if MP said she could. But she doesn’t ask, and instead we hang around there some more and watch a taped episode of “CSI: NY.” I take my leave at 5:00, after K and Barb have figured out their schedule for taking care of my cats when I’m gone to the painting intensive in San Francisco. We’re all milling around the kitchen and they’re looking at the calendar, factoring in MP’s knee surgery which will take place while I’m gone, and K says to me as we hug good-bye, “We’ll take good care of your kitties,” and she has such a bright, loving look in her eye, and Barb hugs me too, and MP says Bye, and they watch me leave, I’m in the dark garage and they’re framed together in the bright kitchen light, and I think, wow, it’s really true, I can be myself with these people. I feel a pang because I take them so for granted, but I guess that’s part of the family pact. The place where they have to let you in, and you don’t have to fake engagement when you don’t feel it, though they sure appreciate it when you try.

By that point I’m so tired and sluggish-feeling that I wonder if I’m coming down with something, but after a mere half-hour nap in my comfy chair, I feel much better. I mess around on the computer for a while, checking to see which podcasts have been downloaded, who was interviewed on “Fresh Air” today, yadda yadda, and, as always, I can’t resist checking my “blog stats” at (you’re here!… those of you who are here). It’s intriguing to see which parts of the blog have gotten hits, especially when it’s some years-old issue of the ’zine, and on this night, for some reason, I click on one of them, and I read it again because it’s been a while.

So: it just so happens that the issue is #31, February 2005, about 5 months after I moved back to my hometown. And boy did I wax enthusiastic about the family back then, about winter, about Thanksgiving and Christmas and my New Year’s Day brunch. I had such ambition then, such naive hope for my full immersion in this real-live, new-to-me family.

And yet, the contrast between that happy reunion Thanksgiving—when I had everyone over to my house and even cooked Swedish meatballs and arranged Mackinaw Island fudge in pleasing patterns—and this rather desultory one, empty of kids and grandkids, didn’t really depress me. For some reason I seem to be able to accept the changes that have taken place over the past 5 years that are (a) natural and (b) out of my hands. It’s like I’m getting all mature and seeing “what is” for what it is and not wasting my time and thought-energy by being beaten down by unexpected developments. There is still plenty to be thankful for, plenty of surprises, plenty of everyday delights(cats), plenty of the wholeness of life that doesn’t need to reflect itself as a hologram in every little thing for me to know it’s there, nothing missing, nobody perfect (least of all me), the beat goes on, my cats will be well cared for when I’m gone on my dis-comforting trip through the un-friendly skies, with who-knows-what accidents and resentments to write about later, though I’m pretty sure I will not let any goddamn toilet seat cover cling to my sweaty thighs this time, and I’ll have mysterious, deep, disturbing, fun times while painting and hanging with my non-family family of painters, and I’ll get back home in one piece (knock on wood), and Christmas will happen, and we’ll eat cold cuts and rolls from Sam’s Club, and I’ll beg off early to return home to my beloved cats, and then regular life will start up again and I’ll continue on to the next year gone by, and I’ll have all the time in the world—or not, and that’s OK too.

But I forgot to mention my third, vicarious Thanksgiving, which took place on the brilliant show about a charming vigilante killer, “Dexter.” I watched in horror/fascination as two serial killers played out their pretend family blessings, followed by a smashing fight, flying accusations, and Dexter’s escape to his own unknowing family’s holiday meal, and Dexter’s voiceover wonders how many people at his table, besides him, have deep, dark secrets of their own, and I think… hey… my secrets, my hiding and dissembling aren’t so bad, it’s just the way I am. And my family are who they are, with their own agendas, shame and pride, secrets and long, long stories. I’m thankful for them and for my life, whether I announce it around a holiday table or not. I’m living life maybe not to the fullest, but to the best of my ability.

[Mary McKenney]

mary’zine random redux: #19 December 2001

April 17, 2009

Wartime Edition (rated R for language and brief nudity)

Hello, people. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, it’s the wartime edition of maryzine.

When I was in Berkeley a few weeks ago, I saw posters on telephone poles advertising The Fuck The War Ball. To my lasting regret, I didn’t stop to get the details, but those lovely Anglo-Saxon words have been reverberating in my head ever since.

The times they have a’changed, all right. Back in the day, it was Make Love Not War. Now it’s Fuck the War. Where do we go from here? Nowadays, it wouldn’t be enough for John and Yoko to sit naked in bed to protest the war, they’d have to, well, you know, fuck.

But there are still flag-wavers in Berkeley, so I expect The Fuck The War Ball might get some anti-protest protesters. Perhaps a pro-war group will stage The Fuck The Fuck The War Ball Ball, which will in turn be answered by The Fuck The Fuck The Fuck The War Ball Ball Ball Ball. (Notice, in this flight of fancy, how Fuck and Ball keep getting repeated, and The War stays unchanged. That’s about how much effect The Fuck The War Ball is going to have on real life.)

I actually don’t have much to say about the war Out There. (Après la guerre, moi.) I’m experiencing my own warlike symptoms. In some weird way, I seem to be living out a parallel reality in which the armies of the night are gathering in me. Something inside me is raging, but I don’t know what or who the target is. It’s as if all the pent-up anger from my lifetime stockpile is rumbling just beneath the surface. (They don’t call me Mary Mary Quite Contrary for nothing.) I’m at war, and like The Fuck The War War, it’s an undeclared war against an unknown enemy. Am I projecting onto the world, or is the world projecting onto me? I’m a terrorist of my own self, unpredictable, unappeasable. Mentally I’m crashing into my own building, mailing anthrax letters to my own address. I’m on hyperalert for whatever I’m going to do to myself next. My inner President Bush gives stirring, morale-boosting speeches to a crowd of chanting dissidents, my alter egos. Fuck The Fuck The War The War The Ball The Ball, we echo, overpowering the voice of executive reason.

I cry out for something to be done. Call out the National Guard! Patrol the bridges! Arrest the racially profiled! Scare the citizenry! Pull around the wagons! No, that’s the wrong century!

I wanna be sedated.
—The Ramones

Terrorism and war—both the Inner and the Outer—are wreaking havoc with my personal mental health program. The psychiatrist has upgraded my dosage of anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, anti-obsessive-compulsive-disorder-sneezing-aching-coughing-so-you-can-sleep-better-to-feel-better medicine. It is my hope that 75 mg of Zoloft will soon calm the citizenry of my personal nation state. My economy is ailing, and it’s time to get out there and buy. At least I haven’t laid myself off yet.

(You think I can’t keep this up for 10 pages? Watch me.)

It’s like all this roiling, boiling feeling is rising to the top—“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.” The rage may have been triggered by 9/11, but it doesn’t seem to be about that anymore, though terrorism is certainly a handy point-of-reference/excuse/public domain/mass hysteria kind of deal. It’s almost like having permission, somehow, to feel whatever I’m truly, madly, deeply feeling, or as my friend D says, “Then there are the loons like me (and I think there are a lot of us) who are actually relieved because now the outside chaos matches the inside chaos/turmoil/uncertainty/certainty of imminent death!”

Yet despite the War on Terrorism, terrorism itself has become almost passé. The news people are all: Ho hum, another person has died of anthrax, and it’s a complete mystery because she was an elderly shut-in and never got any mail. Now for our main story, Are Americans going to spend a lot of money for Christmas this year?

On the other front in my personal war against self-induced terrorism is my therapist, J. Dr. P. gives me the drugs, but J has to deal with me. She’s always trying to bring me back into my body, and I’m always trying to escape. The classic therapist question is “How do you feel about that?” but J’s question is “Where do you feel it in your body?” My answer is always the same. “I don’t know!”

Therapy doesn’t follow a straight path. Why would it? Painting doesn’t; life doesn’t. It seems to go in waves—just as I’m approaching a central stumbling block-slash-snake pit in my psyche, like, for instance, my deep and scary feelings of Fuck The World (you’re all invited to The Fuck The World Ball)—bam!—something else comes up, some crisis of relationship or work or health that calls for immediate attention, and I have once again escaped facing my personal war-mongering tendencies.

If the Zoloft were still working—or at least working the way it did pre-9/11—I could possibly escape forever. But no such luck. Actually, Jeremy told me that he’s known several people on anti-whatevers who have had the same reaction. I suspect that the medication calms you down and diverts your attention from trivial frustrations, and then Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back in the Water, your inner Godzilla rears its ugly head. (Godzilla, Jaws, whatever.)

By the way, Terry pointed out the synchronicity of the word “God” in Godzilla, which completely escaped my attention in last issue’s riff about the tableau on the back of my washing machine (Godzilla v. Buddha), but you can’t go home again to already-overblown analogies, so never mind.

Anyway, I was at therapy one morning recently, complaining about my constant headaches and other psychosomatic preoccupations, when I told J how angry I’ve been feeling since 9/11. I started crying, which is par for the course, and got up to retrieve the Kleenex from her bookshelf. She just moved our sessions to a new office, so the accoutrements so necessary to the therapeutic process are not yet in place, including an end table for the couch. I brought the Kleenex box back to the couch and “jokingly” said, “I’ll just put it on the TABLE” and dropped the box where the table should have been. Even as the Kleenex box was falling to the floor, I realized how much aggression there was behind my “joke.”

J is nothing if not sharp as a freakin’ TACK, so she immediately said, “Do that again—but organize it.” My somatic task was to exaggerate the gesture, bring the anger out from hiding behind my sarcastic wit. So I picked up the Kleenex box again and tried to throw it to the floor instead of just letting it drop. This was surprisingly difficult to do. I kept working at it—I must have thrown it down 10 times or more—and discovered that I was afraid to “hurt” the Kleenex (or something that the Kleenex represented?—Après la Kleenex, moi?) The box was starting to get torn and crumpled, and the tissues kept threatening to fall out. It was really strange to see how afraid I was to let my anger out, even against an inanimate object. (But then some physicists think subatomic particles are sentient beings. I kid you not.) (2009 update: That’s probably just as ignorant as Sarah Palin complaining about “fruit fly research in Paris, France, I kid you not.” For all I know, sentient subatomic particles are the Drosophila melanogaster of the physics world.)

So then J decided to give me something to abuse that would be a little more sturdy, so she rolled up a throw/blanket/shawl kind of thing that was on the back of the couch and told me to “beat it.” I started to leave—no—I started to bang it on the couch cushion. She wanted me to really get into it and even say words—whatever came to me—as I hit the couch. At first, little pipsqueak “nos” and “fucks” came out. But gradually, I lost some of my self-consciousness and managed to make a few loud noises, NO, NO, NO, as I beat that cushion into submission.

“What did you learn in therapy today?”
“Watch out or I’ll beat you with this SHAWL.”

When J let me stop, I had little time to be relieved, because then she wanted me to use the beating-something-with-every-fiber-of-my-physical-being VOICE to tell her how angry I was. It didn’t even have to make sense, it was just a way to practice coming from this other place. But that was even harder than beating the couch. All my so-called anger, even when I was making it up—“How dare you not bring me coffee this morning?”—came out in this thin, teary whine that I immediately recognized as my natural voice. I just couldn’t get down in my diaphragm and even pretend to be angry. I kept having an irresistible urge to laugh or make a joke—ah, what is that they say about the hostility in humor?—or I’d start crying again. The experience was mortifying—but then, “else what’s a therapy for?”

As I was trying to summon up my angry voice, this great analogy came to me. (When I’m trying to get out of working on somatic patterns and feeling feelings in my body, I like to impress J with my brilliant metaphorical skills.) I told her that I felt like Moses parting the Red Sea. (Inflated much?) I felt as if my attempt to speak with a clear, angry voice was like Moses parting the waters and then having to walk through the dry path with all his people while the temporarily suspended waves on either side threatened to drown them all. (Dry path = my anger; waves = my whiny tears.) I tried to fit J into the analogy, but casting her as the Pharaoh didn’t go over real well, and I realized she wasn’t chasing me anyway, she was on the other side of the sea urging me on. I said I didn’t know what was on the other side of the sea for Moses, and she said “the wilderness, the unknown.” That sounded about right. She also pointed out that Moses never claimed to know what he was doing, he was just obeying God, and that sounded about right, too—at least the not-knowing-what-he-was-doing part.

The reason this exercise was so hard for me was that I have perfected my mother’s art of “expressing” anger through silence and withdrawal, which had the all-important safety feature of putting her out of reach of a counterattack. The other person (usually me) could use the same tactic back at her, but then nothing was ever aired and no one was ever happy. Conversely, my father, a helpless invalid, raged and hollered all the livelong day and it never got him anywhere, because my mother could literally walk away from him. One time when he was bellowing about something or other—she had taken too long to come back from the store, or she had leaned her breasts on the table while playing Scrabble, and Vince, another guy with multiple sclerosis, had been eyeing them—she hauled him into his wheelchair and wheeled him out of the house, down the ramp, and out to our deserted country road where he could sit and rage at the woods to his heart’s content. Naturally, that stopped him cold. My mother never lost a fight.

Lately, I’ve seen what a dead end this tactic of angry withdrawal truly is, but I’ve despaired of learning new tricks at my ripe old age. It was probably a dead end for my mother, too, but at least she had us kids to pass the silent gene on to. I’ve noticed that my sister’s deepest expression of anger is a heartfelt, sarcastically tinged “Huh.” Since my mother was an aspiring writer, you’d think she would be a natural talker, a creative wordsmith of emotion. (But then my father, the Irish talker, never had the urge to read or write.) But I’m reminded of something Adair Lara wrote: “… you have to be pretty good at language to get the full savagery from silence.”

So my assignment for the next few weeks is to beat the bejesus (bemoses?) out of my mattress and holler like a banshee while I’m doing it. It should be easier to do this without an audience, although I’ll probably worry about my neighbor Kim hearing me through the wall. I just can’t seem to admit to myself that it’s the sound and fury itself that scares me.

This is what I dreamed after that therapy session:

I have a PENIS, which is fairly new, and I’m looking at it and thinking it doesn’t look very big. I remember that most guys measure theirs, so I decide to do that. I feel down at the base of it to see where to measure from, but then I remember that you’re supposed to measure it when it’s erect. As I have that thought, I immediately start to get erect, and the penis gets longer and longer and curves up and touches me between my eyes. I’m so impressed.

I also dreamed that I was really angry at a guy wearing bright orange pants, and I yelled at him and pushed him down and started shoving him with my foot.

Pandora’s Box much?

So, getting back to the world Out There, it’s becoming harder and harder to read the newspaper these days. There’s just too much information to absorb—every day, some shocking new report of a world that has forever changed. Take this headline from the S.F. Chronicle of November 11: “People turn to food to ease terror anxiety.” I was floored when I read this. A proven link between food consumption and anxiety? Get out! I scanned the article for more details about this amazing finding.

People across the country have turned to food—from chocolate to mashed potatoes to peanut butter and jelly—to deal with the anxiety of the Sept. 11 attacks and anthrax scares, according to dietitians and psychologists.

“What’s one more chocolate?” asks Almquist, 24. “It seems a little strange to be obsessing about something like that when there’s so much more going on.”

Zumberge, 49, typically would think twice about indulging his sweet coffee craving. “But now? Not so much,” he says.

[Some] say they don’t need the added stress of carefully watching what they eat. “Why do I want to put myself through that right now? There’s enough stuff going on,” said Johnson, 36, a Newport Beach receptionist.

I skip to the end of the article to see if there is some explanation for this stunning new evidence of the mind-body-food connection.

Clinical psychologist Emanuel Maidenberg said Johnson’s feelings are not surprising. “Food of that kind is typically associated with pleasant feelings—comfort, relaxation, calm,” said Maidenberg.

Whoa. Talk about food for thought. I put down my bag of chips—no, actually, I stuff another fistful in my mouth as I consider this possibly life-changing information. Could I possibly be—gasp—using food as a way to deal with my war-induced stress? I review my food choices over the past couple of months. Hmm. A steady diet of hamburgers, enchiladas, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, popcorn, chocolate, Ben & Jerry’s….. I know I have to take a long, hard look at myself to see if my eating habits have been affected by 9/11. Let me think. Nope, nothing’s changed.

This is how I torture myself. One day I bought a Hershey bar and put it in the cupboard, hoping to forget about it so that when I was desperately wanting a treat sometime, and I despaired of finding anything suitable in the house that would be a good substitute for whatever it was I really wanted, I’d suddenly spring up like Einstein discovering relativity and cry “Eureka! I have chocolate!” The problem with that plan is that first you have to forget the chocolate is there. I wouldn’t let myself have it if I couldn’t forget about it, but if I could forget about it, I wouldn’t have come up with such a ridiculous scheme in the first place. I was in a mental prison of my own making, and a bar of chocolate with almonds was my jailer. The more I rattled the bars of my cage, the harder the jailer laughed. “Eat me!” he cried. (I know it was a he, because it had nuts.) (Oh God. Now I’m channeling the teenage boys who used to torture me with this “joke” when I was working at the snack bar in the park.)

To distract myself from the thought of food, I hurry past the terror-anxiety news to the entertainment section of the paper, where I hope to escape into fantasy. But once again I am faced with shocking revelations:

“Shallow Hal” actress found she wasn’t the center of attention in a fat suit.

You’ve got to be kidding me! I can’t take this!

In this movie, Gwyneth Paltrow, beautiful movie star and daughter of a beautiful movie star and a movie producer, plays a 300-pound woman, a role for which she wears a fat suit.

She donned the fat suit and makeup for a day and walked around the lobby of a New York hotel…. At first she was concerned that the crowds in the lobby would figure out who she was right away. To her surprise, no one did. “People wouldn’t even look at me,” Paltrow says with astonishment. “They wouldn’t make eye contact with me at all. It was awful.”

The actress says she experienced a similar reaction whenever she wore the fat suit on the set. “I felt no sexual energy from men,” she says.

After I pick myself up off the floor, I go straight to the cupboard, fall on the Hershey bar, and tear off the wrapper. I think about saving half, but—ah-hahahahahaha. Later that afternoon, I have that moment I had been waiting for—the moment of despairing of finding anything suitable in the house that would be a good substitute for whatever it was I really wanted. But by then, of course, it’s too late.

C’est la guerre.

I’m going to lick this food thing yet. But first, I have more to say.

I do not seek novelty.
—Kay Ryan, poet

I am an enjoyer of repeat experience. Others are drawn to the new; I’m drawn to the been there–done that–enjoyed that–let’s do that again. I generally order the same food in the same restaurants, and I can identify my menu item of choice in just about every restaurant I’ve ever been in. I’m a serial monogamist when it comes to food. In Ann Arbor one summer, when I was 23 and very much alone, I ate a chili dog for lunch every single day. Peggy can attest that I have been searching for a chili dog of that caliber ever since. Maybe it was my need for comfort, not the chili dog itself, that made it such a tasty, satisfying treat—the old mouth-of-the-beholder theory.

Actually a lot of my favorite comfort food comes from Michigan, which is odd in one sense, because my home state is not exactly a culinary paradise. But I guess the whole point of comfort food is to remind you of your childhood. Except, if I wanted to be reminded of my childhood, you’d think I’d be craving pasties (not the little circles that cover a stripper’s nipples but a horrible vegetable pie that the U.P. is known for); creamed salmon and peas on toast (known to my ex-Army dad as shit-on-a-shingle); boiled New England dinner; a dozen varieties of “hot dish” (hamburger or tuna casserole with noodles and canned vegetables); and lime or orange Jell-O with fruit cocktail suspended inside. True, in the summer there was corn on the cob (13 for a quarter, picked that day from the farm next door), potato salad, baked beans, hot dogs—to this day, my favorite food is picnic food—and my mother was an excellent baker. She made the world’s best pie crust—I have yet to taste its equal, and that goes for all the fancy-schmancy crumbles and crisps I’ve had in Bay Area restaurants. Sometimes, all we’d have for supper was strawberry shortcake, if the strawberries were fresh and that’s all anybody (i.e., my mother) wanted. Sometimes we’d have only rice porridge, a Danish rice soup that was basically dessert by any other name—rice cooked in milk, to which we added butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar at the table.

As a kid, I generally refused to play with any gender-appropriate gifts I got—especially dolls—but I did like the little Easy Bake oven I got for Christmas one year. Down in the basement, next to the wringer washer, I would bake little chocolate cupcakes from the tiny boxes of cake mix that came with the oven. I think what I liked was the miniature size of everything—the oven itself, the little pans and pink spatula, the bite-sized cupcakes—and the privacy, the solo adventure in micro-cookery that seemed almost scientific in its precision. Obviously, my mother had an ulterior motive for giving me this gift, because she kept hauling me up from the basement to the grown-up kitchen, where I was supposed to transfer my newfound culinary skills to making pork roasts and boiled potatoes for the family. I never really made the transition—I had my own ideas about what I was going to do with my life. When I got the Junior Betty Crocker cookbook as another gift (I never realized how pointed so many of those gifts were), I was drawn to the recipes primarily as esthetic arrangements. I wanted to make what looked good in the pictures. I was more interested in the art—the red tomato soup offsetting the white and yellow of the egg salad sandwiches—than in throwing together whatever leftovers were in the fridge.

I also tried out some of my irrepressible religious humor when I made this supper:
“It’s like we’re eating the body and blood of Jesus.”
“I say, it’s like we’re eating the body and blood of Jesus.”
“That’s enough,” says Mom.

I thought of my Easy Bake oven experiences when I read about a panel of professional chefs who competed in the Easy Bake Oven Bake-Off. They had to use all the creativity and skills at their disposal to bake their dessert specialties in the tiny toy oven, which is nothing but an aluminum box powered by a 100-watt light bulb. The winning entries were a huckleberry tart topped with goat cheese ice cream and a chocolate flourless cake. The most surprising thing I read in the article was that the Easy Bake oven “was introduced to the market in 1963.” I figured it must be a typo, because that made me a junior in high school when I was playing cupcake chef down in the basement. And why was my mother giving me such a thing at that age anyway? Well, that’s more understandable. For my 21st birthday, she gave me Pat Boone’s book of advice for teens called ‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty. I guess she couldn’t do the math.

I was going to say that this ‘50s nostalgia thing is really getting out of hand, but I guess instead it’s this early ‘60s nostalgia thing that’s getting out of hand. However, I’m pretty sure paint-by-number was around when I was an actual child. Believe it or not, even that is becoming trendy, in an all-things-kitschy-are-in-again kind of way. Some guy has a huge collection of these paintings and is trying to make sociological/historical/cultural/financial hay out of this supreme example of noncreativity. In the article I read, he was quoted as saying, “Some people actually painted these paintings to hang on their walls,” and I thought, “Yeah, you got my family pegged.” Well, my mother never did that, but my aunt put up the paintings that my cousins did. I am so torn right now between being sarcastic about the condescension of trend-spotters who exploit unsophisticated people for financial gain and getting all condescending myself about the unworldly pleasures of the people to whom I was born. Or maybe I’m not really theirs, maybe they found me in a basket in the bulrushes. (I am inflated much.)

But when it’s all you can do to survive and raise a family and you aren’t exposed to art (except Norman Rockwell—who’s also making a comeback, by the way) or music (except Lawrence Welk, ‘nuff said) or books (except possibly Reader’s Digest condensed books), you really don’t know any better. And that is the eternal shame in being working class (a.k.a. white trash) in this country. You don’t have the right clothes, the right accent, or the right knowledge about the right things, because you never had the financial means to buy yourself 4 years of leisure (a.k.a. college) to become more discerning. If you’re lucky, your kids manage to elevate themselves enough to get an education and come back to make fun of you for your primitive preferences. I could go on and on about class and about what it’s like to have come from that background and then try to fit in with people who assume you had the same privileged background they did, and maybe someday I will.

But for now, I think I’ll call it a day. It’s a day. No comments from you-know-who (starts with “P” and ends with “e”). Our latest noteworthy encounter was when I gave him a “bath” with a waterless shampoo that smells (a.k.a. reeks) of tea tree oil, with which I had had no prior experience. It was frustrating not to be able to explain to him how lucky he was, that it was this or get hauled down to the professional cat shampooers for the full treatment. (They should have a cat wash, like a car wash; just strap ‘em in and run ‘em through.) Afterward, I felt sorry for him, because he kept trying to get away from the smell by getting up off the floor and hunkering down on straight-backed chairs for a few moments before moving on. I knew just how he felt. It’s hell not to be able to get away from yourself when you want to. I’ll have more to say about that next time, I hope—after beating my mattress with a towel every day and yelling FUCK YOU to the universe (The Fuck The Universe Ball, why not), possibly getting myself some bright orange pants in which to haul around my gigantic new PENIS—oh, and I suppose BALLS go along with that. And so we come full circle.

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