Friday, January 29, 2010

A Brimming Bowl of Genuis

My friend Lauren and I are here at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse for a writing session and while I was sitting here waiting for inspiration to hit I suddenly thought about JD Salinger and his frozen peas.

I saw a documentary on him a few years ago, you know, about that reclusive writer who had spent the last 40 years or so in a small town not talking to many people. Since he hasn't done an interview practically since The Catcher in the Rye was published, they had to interview people in the town and women who'd lived with him over the years. One of them described his morning routine. He would get up early in the morning, stretch, meditate and then eat fruit or a bowl of frozen peas that he would defrost in the sink.

The peas, more than any other detail, has stuck in my mind about JD Salinger. JD Salinger, one of the best writers of the 20th century. He ate a bowl of thawed peas? For breakfast? From his sink? Were they still cold? Were some cold and watery and thus extra mushy when he bit into them? It's healthy, yes, and not necessarily the creamcheese-laden toasted bagel that one would expect from an old bachelor, but he ate them PLAIN? No pinch of salt? Did he ever fill the bowl with milk and eat it like cereal? You might think I'm gross for suggesting that, but Jesus, the man ate sink peas. How did his lover react when she saw him eating this for the first time?

"Want an omelet?" she would ask, strutting across the kitchen floor in her underwear and a tanktop, because I imagine that young lovers of reclusive, famous writers are always at the ready to be taken to bed. Shit, I would. It's one of the perks.
"Hm. No," he would say, leaning against the sink, holding a bowl up to his chin, and shoveling a spoonful of peas into his mouth.
"How about waffles? I could make waffles."
"Can you put peas in them?" he'd say.
"Excuse me?"
"Frozen peas."
He would open his freezer, which would be stacked from top to bottom with boxes of frozen peas.
"...That would be horrid," she would say, putting her pants back on.
"If you want we could roll them around in the sink first."

And I imagine that the relationship would deteriorate from there. You may think it's in poor taste to assume things about his love life when I didn't know the man, when NO ONE really knew the man, but since he gave us nothing to go on, one must speculate these kinds of things with the information that we have. And all I've got is a sink full of defrosted peas.

I wonder if they've found more of his writing since his death. I can't imagine that he stopped writing just because he stopped publishing. By the same token, I bet they'll find tons of material by Harper Lee, stashed under her bed or something, after her death. On the one hand it seems a shame that people with such distinct voices, whose art influenced countless writers (myself included), would keep their writing from the world. But then, as one of my friends says, you got to do what you can live with at the end of the day. And they couldn't live with the attention.

What will they say about my breakfast habits when I'm gone, assuming I'm ever famous?
"Toast," my former lover will say. "And the blood of her critics."
"That's interesting," the interviewer will comment. "Now, if you don't mind, can you please put on some pants?"
"Genevieve stipulated in her will that I am to never wear them again."
"I see."

Yes. I will be THAT kind of famous person. The kind who makes outlandish requests in her will. "My children may have their inheritance, if and only if they do the following: they must all spend the night in my haunted mansion, which I plan to haunt. And then they must plant a mustard seed garden and then throw a very loud, raucus, costume dinner party and then call the police on themselves." Then I will only leave them 15 bucks a piece. Lord, I'm strange and cruel when I'm dead.

And now, I'm tempted to read Cather in the Rye again. Or his short stories, which I've never read. He was the kind of writer that you could open his book and pick a line out of context and nine times out of ten it would be beautiful. Like this one, "It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road." I wonder what he thought about that line. Did he feel good after he wrote it, like he was having a poetic moment and it was cathardic to write it down? Do you know what I'm talking about?

Or maybe this line will stick with you more, "All morons hate it when you call them a moron." Damn, that could be a T-shirt.

Sleep well, JD. Ole' Breakfast of Champions. Thanks for the voice.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Read, girl

I have to quit the library, even though I love it, even though the other day I met another librarian with a wandering eye, inch thick glasses, and a Boris and Natasha tie on who discussed Anthony Burgess at length and I thought, "I simply love this place. This is the adult nerd's refuge." I mean, I can be openly nerdy there. I am no longer closeted. That's right. I (prepare yourself) am a geek. And goddamn it, I'm proud. I'm here and I'm weird.

But I was offered a full-time job at Ochsner Hospital and the kids and I need the money and the benefits. I'm going to have to be a nerd some place else. Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful for the new job. It's a good step towards becoming a medical writer. But I am going to miss being a professional bookworm and answering questions like "Who wrote A Movable Feast?" To which I dig deep into my superior knowledge and intellect and reply, "Um, Rachael Ray?"

So what can I tell you about this geek's paradise that I shall miss? And I mean that in the most affectionate way. It made me remember some things that I had forgotten. First, book lovers, true book lovers, read EVERYTHING. The other day my manager said she recently finished a book on calculus and that it was just fascinating.
"That would be like reading a foreign language to me," I said.
"Ordinarily me too," she answered. "But this was a young adult book, and it explained it in an easy way. I could really appreciate it, even though I didn't totally understand it."

The woman read a kids' book on calculus and found it fascinating. I love that. These are people who appreciate anything for the sake of its delivery, as long as it's told well it could be about anything.

And it reminded me about something I haven't been doing much of lately. Reading. I've read several times that the best way to learn to write is to read whatever you can get your hands on. But other than reading self-help type stuff, I've fallen behind on the stuff I love. Literature, personal essays, German pornography and stuff like that. So, for some reason or another, the universe has decided to give me a sign. Literally.

If you live in New Orleans, you can drive down St. Claude and see this, and I suggest you do. There is a house that's all boarded up, with four windows on the front of it, like the tall kind of windows you can stand in. Those windows have long boards patching them up, and spray painted on each board, large enough to read easily from the road, is one letter that spells out the word "READ." Below the "D" is the word "girl." So on this broken down, ugly as hell house is the message, "READ, girl."

And I intend to. I'm sorry that I have to quit the library, but I'm so thankful to be reaquinted with an old love. Right now I'm reading Bird by Bird, which I highly recommend. It's by Emeril Lagasse, I think.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Tillman Conversation Piece

I have to tell you about my hunt for the perfect 2010 calender. Every year it's a big deal to get just the right one. For me, it's not just a way to keep track of appointments, or due dates for the kids' school projects. It says something about where I am at the beginning of the year, and what the rest of the year will look like.

Through most of high school if you would have walked into my bedroom you would have seen a Green Peace calender, telling you that not only did I love critters, but that I wanted you to think I was liberal. Senior year you would have found a Guns N' Roses calender, which should have been a sign to me that I was going to grow up to be attracted to rude, unstable, and emotionally unavailable people. More recently, last year in fact, you would have found a Sandra Boynton Mommy's calender, complete with large spaces to fill the day with everything that a mom needed to remember. It was helpful and cute in an originally Sandra Boynton-whackadoodle sort of way.

This year is different. This year I'm going through a divorce and I'm broke. So I decided to wait until after New Year's when the calenders were 50% off to find the perfect one that would make me smile when I walked into my kitchen. The unforeseen problem with this was, that since I was hitting the after-Christmas sale, I was also hitting the after-Christmas leftovers. I'd gone to Barnes & Noble excited. It's a nerdy thing to get excited about, but still. What would I pick on my first year on my own? Would there be a single mom's calender? Maybe something to do with writers? A coffeecake of the month calender perhaps? No. There was instead "Sock Monkees 2010." "Trout 2010." And most notably "Outhouses 2010."

I flipped through that last one, which someone had taken out of it's plastic to get a better look at I guess and then decided against it, and I thought, "Hey, I could put this in the bathroom." Then I started giggling at the kind of notes I could fill in at random dates just to further confuse guests who use my bathroom. Maybe I would just make scratch marks to indicate that I was counting something, but not specify what that thing was. I would definitely fill in one of those days with something like 21 marks, some number that would make someone's eyes go wide and suddenly feel uncomfortable. But then, to be taking your pants down in someone else's house is already a bit of a compromising act for whatever reason, and I would imagine that I might have trouble peeing if I was sitting across from such a calender. No, no, I thought. I'm too gentile of a hostess for that.

I left Barnes & Noble without getting anything, but now that I look back on it "Sock Monkees 2010" might have been fun.

When I got home, I decided to look on-line, thinking that there might be more available. And there wasn't, really. I also did a search for "single mom's calender," which produced nothing. But then, what would such a thing look like? "February 14th - Get drunk and cry." "December 25th - get drunk, look at pictures and cry?" Would it come with a skull and cross bones sticker to put on the day of my anniversary? I think I would rather "Outhouses" or "Trout."

What I found, eventually, was what seemed like the perfect one. It was called "Coffee Talk 2010." As you all know I kinda dig on coffee. A lot. Almost more than talking. This was a wall calender of 50's-ish looking men and women, looking polished and super enthused and saying things like, "I'm just plain EVIL without my coffee." I looked at this as something whimsical and different from my usual choices. A conversation piece, perhaps.

It was Claire, my conservative 10 year old, who discovered the flaw in it when it came in the mail and she curiously flipped through the months. She had asked to look at it before I had a chance to and because I was wrapped up in something else, most likely dishes or laundry because that's mostly what I do with my life, I told her to go for it.

"Um...Mom," I heard her say tentively from the kitchen. "Did you know this thing swears?"
"Swears?" I poked my head in the room.
Claire turned the page from February to March. Her eyes widened.
"Moooooooom," she said, uneasily. "Why did you get this?"

The month of February isn't too too bad, though still inappropriate for the kids, I think. It's a dad patting his daughter on the head saying something like, "I love you too. Now where's my damn coffee?" The next month is a secretary at a type writer. She has curly blonde hair, rosey cheeks and a jolly smile. She's lifting her cup of coffee, a toast to you it seems, and she's saying, "Coffee takes away 20% of the shittiness of my day." I decided to donate the calender to my sister, April, who's 2 year old and three month old can not read.

So I was once again without a calender, lost in time. Until I went to my friend Brenda's pet store in the French Quarter and she gave me one for free because she's an awesomely fantastical person. I almost didn't take it. I love animal calenders but I'm partial to the endangered ones, the ones who are hurt, mistreated, or otherwise exotic. In other words, "2010 The Year of the Kitten" would not appeal to me. The one Brenda offered me was different though. It's Tillman the Skateboarding Dog. Cute doggy calenders rank down there with kitten calenders for me. I wouldn't have chosen Tillman or paid for him, though I must admit, that dude can tear it up on a skateboard.

But then I realized that my Tillman calender really is perfect. It's free and I'm flat broke. This is where I am in life, working hard to stabilize life for me and the kids, cutting corners where need be, and relying on the love, generosity and silliness of my friends and family. This month, Tillman is featured at the Rose Bowl Parade, his rosey likeness riding a skateboard on a float. Next month is a picture of an officer giving Tillman a speeding ticket. You get the idea. It does make me smile in the morning, when I get up to brew my coffee. It takes away 20% of the shittiness of my day (smile).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Dishbreak Bop

The kids are adjusting ok to all the changes lately. When I say ok what I mean is that they haven't started listening to Rage Against the Machine and smoking dope, which is exactly what I've been tempted to do lately but have not. Their dad and I split up in August, and I think they're doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances. There are lots of difficult questions to be answered and intense emotions, but then there is also the usual ridiculousness. This morning I made pancakes from scratch and Claire complained that, though they were tasty, they were too fluffy.

"So what you're saying is," I said, for clarity's sake, "they taste good, but the texture is too light and heavenly?"
"YES!" she screamed, pushing away the plate.
Here is a child, I thought, who would find something to complain about if we won the lottery.
"Well," she'd say, skeptically eyeing the pile of cash. "A hundred million is nice but won't this bump us up to the next tax bracket? Were you thinking about that at all before you wantonly bought that ticket?"

So how am I doing? I'm ok.

Our dishwasher is broken so I've been washing all the dishes by hand lately - and also not washing them at all and letting them pile up, which works for me too. I HATE doing the dishes. Doing the dishes for me is Claire's nightmare equivalent of a stack of fluffy pancakes. So the way I've been muscling through it lately is by playing videos on youtube and dancing while I wash. This is a process that takes longer, exspecially if I'm listening to ska and I have to stop washing for a second to hop in place, but the end result is good. Me and the kids have clean dishes and I'm in a good, peppy mood, despite dish pan hands. How could I not be when accompanied by lyrics like this:
dancin am dancin to the restafarian up--beat,
hangin with ma rude ska brothers in the--street,
our brother oer here say turn up the box-a,
dancin'n'dancin, rock us all the day long!

Can I sing it? No! In fact, I didn't know what the words were until I googled them just now. I only knew that the name of the song is "Skankin to the Beat" and that was enough for me.

And when I'm feeling really angry about having to do the dishes (when the kids aren't home) I'll play Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name." Why is it that's there's something healing about screaming "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!" whilst scrubbing a plate of caked-on ketchup? I can't tell you friends. But it works. And if I'm feeling real fiesty I'll play White Zombies "Thunder Kiss '65." I'll try to dance like the girls in the video, all hippy-shaky and sexy, but I'll end up stumbling around like Rob Zombie instead.

When the kids are home, though, the selection changes. It'll be "Rio" by Duran Duran, or "Dancin With Myself" by Billy Idol because sometimes if I play stuff like that the kids will dance with me. Especially is I play "Cool For Cats."

As you can imagine, there have been some dish casualties as a result of this. Cups and plates have broken, sure, but I look at it this, there are now less dishes to do. Yes, that is how I have chosen to perceive it. You could say that my dishwashing process has a Darwinian touch. The strong survive. The weak can't handle hearing Metallica's "Seek and Destroy" one more time, and toss themselves over the sink onto the floor. I'm not just doing the dishes. I'm thinning the herd.

God, I can't wait to get my dishwasher fixed.