Tuesday, November 08, 2011

dia de los muertos

Another day, another Day of the Dead. On Saturday, Robbie and I hit the event in Santa Ana, which featured dancing, face-painting, costumes and traditional altars in ebullient color and masks of the merry macabre. It is a festival that celebrates life and mocks death as a jaunty jester; inevitable but not inevitably permanent, as the spirits of the dearly departed are summoned and guided with offerings of food, drink, arts and entertainments, that they may once again partake of earthly delights and, if so inclined, intercede on behalf of their loved ones. Traditionally, marigolds are strewn from the cemetery to the door of the house, the better for souls to follow their yellow and orange-hued paths home. The ghosts are not seen, but their presence is felt, I am told, in the movement of tissue paper cutouts of wreaths, crosses and flowers.

I had a great time. We laughed, we ate, we drank. We admired the beauty of the costumes and the wisdom of centuries. It's a melancholy sort of mirth, but all comedy is famously born of tragedy, and it is probably what has kept the human race from committing collective suicide over many a bad century. It is a warm, happy, familial festival that embraces the journey of mankind. Death may be inevitable, but love is eternal. Until, of course, the death of the last to love, who leaves none behind to build altars of devotion or flowers to light the way back to the warmth of the living. What, I wonder, becomes of them.

I placed my marigolds, but no one followed the yellow brick road home to me. Must be the Santa Anas - those damn devil winds are blowing again. Not even the living are easy in their skins.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

snakes in a drain

So it's about 5:00 on a Friday afternoon. The sink in the guest bath had started backing up suddenly and severely. It was time to tackle the problem head on. Congratulating myself on my Rosy the Riveter-like self-sufficiency, I plunged in, sans plunger. I pulled out the plug and poured baking soda and vinegar down the drain. 20 minutes later I poured a pot of boiling water down the hole, but still the drain did not flow. I fished around with my fingers, pulling out a tangled bit of dark hair. Disgusted but determined, I put my fingers in deeper, this time pulling out a long, slick mass.

"This is coming out awfully...sleekly," I thought. And continued to pull.

That was when I saw the eyes. I screamed. It lay there. "What the f*#k is that?!" I yelled at the offending basin. I ran to the kitchen. I poured myself a beer. I tiptoed back to the bathroom and peered from the doorway. Yep. That is exactly what the f*#k that was.

I called my brother.

"Is this a bad time?" I always ask that when I call people, because it always is. There is never a good time to hear from me. I always seem to be either hysterical or depressed. Occasionally both.

"Kinda. I've got a gig, and I'm just about there. What's up?"

I told him. He laughed.

"So pull it out!"

"I CAN'T! It's too horrible! I can't go near it!"

"What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to come and get this mother*#%ing snake out of my mother*#%ing drain!"

I should mention my brother's gig happens to be in Texas, where he also happens to most inconveniently live.

"Gi, you just have to man-up, grow a pair, and get it out of there yourself. You can do it. Look, I'm here; gotta go. I'll call you later."

I poured another beer. Went into the bathroom, turned my head, pointed my phone at the sink and took a picture. Tried to imagine growing a pair and just yanking it out of there. Went back to the kitchen, grabbed a roll of paper towels, a plastic bag and a pair of tongs. Thought deep thoughts.

Went to the cupboard, found half a Xanax and washed it down with beer. Which of course you should never do. Watched TMZ, which you should also never do. Ah, Kim Kardashian, you beautiful, privileged moron. I'll bet you never had to slay your own dragons.

I, on the other hand, am Pioneer Woman - sturdy, pragmatic, brave and strong. I am my own Knight in Shining yoga pants, fearless, flexible and a little fuzzy around the edges. I grabbed the tongs, marched into the bathroom, threw a couple of yards of paper toweling over the wretched creature and pulled. It...broke. Undaunted, I tossed the mess into the bag and trotted it out to the bin.

Proudly, I went back to the bathroom, turned on the faucet and watched the water flow as freely as Niagara Falls in springtime. I so totally rock, I thought.

And then I noticed that the water was freely flowing out through the drain and onto the floor. No, I don't know what it is yet. But you can be sure of one thing. Somebody's about to get an inconvenient call.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Wanting Memories

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.

You used to rock me in the cradle of your arms,
You said you'd hold me till the pains of life were gone.
You said you'd comfort me in times like these and now I need you,
Now I need you, and you are gone.

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
Since you've gone and left me, there's been so little beauty,
But I know I saw it clearly through your eyes.

Now the world outside is such a cold and bitter place,
Here inside I have few things that will console.
And when I try to hear your voice above the storms of life,
Then I remember all the things that I was told.

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.

~~~ from Wanting Memories, by Kealii Reichel

[ full Lyrics here ]

Monday, September 12, 2011


Question: How many Me does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Just one, but it takes 4 1/2 hours.

In my defense, the bulb had broken off in an odd way from the silver tread-thingy and required some unusual light bulb-changing handiwork and possibly tools, of which I could find none. Or at least none suitable, which caused me to use my fingers and what's left of my nails. Which caused my brother to groan long distance as I balanced barefoot on the sink, holding the phone in one hand and jamming the other into the light socket with random precision. I am almost sure he groaned because he feared for my safety, and not because I call him every time something that needs to be done appears to call for a tool of some sort. And by that I mean no disrespect.

I needed needle-nosed pliers and had no idea where they were, but my nails are usually there at the tips of my fingers, although not always, and what's a little jolt of electrical current now and then? Frankly, I found it invigorating.

Of course, once I was up there and saw all the accumulated dirt of days gone-by, I was forced to drag out all the requisite equipment and scrub the room from top to bottom. And also plunge the sink, which I would like to point out is not my area of expertise. And while I do not have an actual area of expertise, I can now state with some certainty that this is not it. Still water runs, languidly.

Having no one to congratulate me on my new-found plumbing and electrical skills, I did what any Really Occasional Housewife of Orange County would do; I drew a picture of it. Wrote about and Photoshopped it; pinned a medal on it. Gave myself a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval and a merit scholarship. Imagined a reality show featuring me changing light bulbs and unplugging drains. Green-lit the project, in which I will be played by Susan Sarandon, because I really want to be her.

Naturally, I had to blog the entire process. Then question the wisdom of doing most, if not all, of the above.

4 1/2 hours. And people wonder why I never clean anymore.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

flip flop foe fum

It's been so long since I cleaned my house, I have apparently forgotten how.

So as I flew around, barefoot, trying to get the place looking pretty and perfect for my first attempt at having a couple of our old friends over since last we entertained I ran, at some speed, into the leg of the kitchen table. It hurt so badly I cried for a moment, and then continued on my way, from vacuum to mower to grill. All of this was so much easier and infinitely more fun as a team effort, but the show must go on. Or so I am told. Some do, anyway. We'll see.

Now the little toe is almost certainly broken as, two weeks later, I can't put on heels, runners or shoes of any kind. I am living in these whimsical pink camouflage flip flops that I bought at WalMart around 2007, and which I now count among my most treasured possessions.

Yes, that weird shape is a bunion. And no, I don't care. Stilettos are my last vice. Nearly my last vice. One of my last four vices. Top five, and quit counting.

On Tuesday I have jury duty. Again. I think the pink camo flip flops might finally get me off. I certainly wouldn't want them deciding anyone's fate.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

sunflowers for Russ

I bought these flowers to bring to the cemetery on Saturday, but didn't make it before my guests arrived. So I put them on the patio table that I used to use for painting, and kept glancing at them all night long. They looked so determinedly cheerful. Come to the party, sweetie. We need you. I need you.

Monday, August 08, 2011

the widow throws down

Granted, I did not plan the page out very carefully. Pretty poorly, in fact. It is as messy and overwrought as grief itself. Well, not quite as ugly as that, really, but it was cathartic. I was trying something new, and I have decided to like it anyway. The subject is damaged but defiant; she will be wounded, yes, but she will bear her wounds in her own fashion. If she has to defy the laws of physics and man, then by god she will.

But she will do it in a tasteful mini widow's weave, because the laws of style are a different issue entirely, and not to be trifled with. There are rules, people.

I continue to have a lot of problems with pen v paint v glue v scissors v paper (yes, I am such a skilled artisan that all my materials are actually at war). In this battle there can be no winners, only collateral damage. Because apparently, THE WIDOW also DOES NOT LIKE TO READ INSTRUCTIONS!

Muddy colors and sticky fingers ensue.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


This is my life now. Absurd but unpredictable. Not absurd because unpredictable but unpredictable because absurd. If I have lost the meaning of my life, and the love of my life, I might still find small treasured things amid the spilled and pilfered trash.

~ Joyce Carol Oates, "A Widow's Story"

I went up to Big Bear Lake to go kayaking this weekend with a friend.

We arrived early enough in the day, checked into our disappointingly adequate room and headed out the door. She turned toward the lake. I turned toward the village.

"Don't you want to check out the marina?" she asked.

"Let's have a drink first," I replied.

It is a phrase I hear myself saying rather often of late. It should make me feel badly, I suppose, seeking this most pedestrian of refuges. Frankly, it does not. I should probably be calling an agent and seeking treatment with the good Dr. Drew or, even more onerously, the bad Dr. Phil, but I do not. I have my dignity. And I am cheerful when imbibing, in ways I am not when entirely clearheaded. My mind goes blurry around the edges and for a little while I can almost remember who I used to be.

My friend eyed me dubiously. "Well, okay. One drink." We struck off in search of a quaint little pub. What we found was an adorable little biker bar whose clientele proved to be a welcoming blend of friendly locals and even friendlier tourists. She ordered a cocktail. I sprang for a beer. We were served by a barmaid called Charlie, who wore her cherry-red hair, hot pants topped by a belt of shining silver and 60 some-odd years like a sparkling tiara. I became very cheerful indeed.

At some point the next morning, we went kayaking.

I floated dreamily on a bed of lily pads as electric blue dragonflies hovered and silver-lit fish of indeterminate species leapt above the water. A tour boat modeled to look like a pirate ship listed by, a papier-mache deckhand swinging in the rigging. I dipped my hands in the water and rolled gently in the pirate ship's wake.

This is my life now. Absurd but unpredictable. If I have lost everything, I may yet find small treasured things. Or small things to treasure. Somehow, it will have to be enough.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

down at the grill

We'd ordered our drinks, a vodka and tonic for him, a white wine for me.

"Now, I'll let you draw my picture," he said, leaning back in the booth with a playful smile.

This is the reason we came to the Macaroni Grill. For the fresh bread, coated in rosemary and oil, and because he loved their mushroom ravioli. And because they encourage you to draw on the butcher paper tablecloths. I always drew him. It was part of the ritual.

"I never get your nose right," I said.

"You always make it too big," he said, eyes twinkling, as I hacked away with red and green crayons, the only two colors I ever seem to get. "Why is it always too big?"

I think I held up my wine and took a deep drink. "This could have something to do with it!" We both smiled. The drinks made me a better a artist and he a more entertaining subject, we always thought, or at least until the light of day.

I can still him sitting across from me, fed, relaxed and happy, basking in the glow of his wife's
undivided attention. Did it happen often enough, I wonder, that I so flattered him? When I go back in my mind, I try to make it so. In my mind's eye, I am always telling him how much I love him.

Rising from the table, he asks the waiter, as he always did, "Well, does it look like me?"

I know he asks this for my benefit, not his. He wants to hear me complimented. The waiter obliges, as always, indicating that it is indeed a very handsome likeness of a very handsome man, or words to that effect. We tip well.

It is not, in fact, a particularly good likeness - I did not get his nose right, yet again, and he looks much older than he ever did - but I tore the picture from the table and took it home anyway, thinking I might be able to work it up to something better. A week later to the day he was gone.

I've been using the picture as a totem ever since. I displayed it at the memorial service, explaining to all who inquired; We were going there that night! I was going to draw him again...only better this time.

It has become the talisman with which I try to make time stand still. I mess with it and play with it and torture it beyond recognition. I stop today only because the paper can take no more, and is puckering and tearing in protest.
How I've managed to age him! His eyes have gone funny and his mouth is all wrong. I'm sorry, honey.

So I will put it under glass, because that is what the widow does with the myriad minuscule moments in time, moments tiny and tender that will be no more. That we can't stop yearning for or let go of, no matter how tortured they become.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

in brief

It's been awhile since I've written. There are many reasons, the primary being that, at least since August, I have been paralyzed by a grief I feel barely able to survive, let alone write about. I have no desire to describe it here, nor could I. It is feral, personal and inarticulate. Sometimes the ache is so great I believe I could die of it. I will it. Some days are better or worse than others. I will either learn to live with it, or not. I state the facts here now not to elicit words of pity nor even encouragement; I've no use for the former and will only take the latter as a denial of reality as I've described it, and be resentful. It is what it is. I write only so that I might be able to use this space again without the sense that I am hiding a central fact of my life.

That life ended on a beautiful summer's day six months ago, the day my husband died. He had a massive coronary while mowing the lawn. We had had plans to go out to dinner; earlier that afternoon
I'd entered the den where he was watching golf. Looking up, he'd grinned broadly & exclaimed, "Hi, Gorgeous!" I laughed. Later, when I finally went out front to look for him, slightly impatient because he hadn't yet come in to shower and change I found him, slumped against a side gate in a corner of the yard, the lawnmower standing silently nearby. The police, paramedics and fire engines came and he was taken to the hospital, but I knew in my heart that he was gone when I found him.

He was my love, my light and my life. Whatever joy there was in this world ended for me on that sunny afternoon by the garden gate on an emerald green lawn, shielded behind a white oleander whose draping boughs I loathed to be trimmed.
His loss has been devastating.

My husband was a wonderful man, a true gentleman; funny and playful; honest, strong, smart and kind. As one speaker at his funeral put it, a 'real class act'. Everyone liked him. He was legendary for the stories he could tell about growing up in Chicago; stories about working the freight docks and railroad yards; the exploits of he and his buddies: Otho, Danny, Jake the Bake, Marco the Greek God Giannopolis; 'the one-eyed guy from the Three-Eye league' and all the boys of Red's Bar.

He served in the army and once had a tryout for a pro ball team. He was good too; he would have made it, but responsibilities back home beckoned and he chose to cut out early, losing his shot at the big leagues. That's just the kind of guy he was. He saw Ella and Duke at the Blue Note, Elvis in Vegas. He had an adventurous spirit, great intellectual curiosity and in his youth traveled solo to distant places. I fell in love with his stories and the man who could tell them with an easy, self-effacing charm. I was honored and grateful that such a man could love me so. I still am. I adored him. I still do.

My husband and I were selfish as a couple, in the sense that we never needed a lot of other people in our lives. We had no children, no relatives living close by and although we thoroughly enjoyed a small, amiable group of friends with whom we played, dined and planned parties, our lives revolved almost solely around each other. We lived in one another's pockets, I don’t think either one of us realized to what extent. We were enough for each other.

He loved baseball, golf, reading, crossword puzzles and me. Mostly, he loved me. He was my best friend, protector and number one fan. Alone, we were ridiculously corny, sentimental and happy. We made each other laugh. He brought me coffee in bed every morning and sang a song he'd made up to the tune of 'My Darling Clementine'. He loved it when I drew his picture; the painting above of him reading the paper in the blue and white tiled kitchen he designed was his favorite. I loved his gentleness, his strength and his passion; the way his face lit up when I walked into the room.
We rarely ran out of conversation; our silences were filled with the whispered dialogue of contentment. Our union was a joy and a gift and a refuge for 27 years. But now one is gone, and the other is left with little to live for. Except remember, and mourn.