Saturday, November 13, 2010

The World Eats Children

I was reading the local paper yesterday morning (the online version to save the trees, of course). As per usual, I hit the obits second (front page comes first). I’ve always been drawn to the obituaries, just as I’ve always felt myself attracted to cemeteries. The last, usually loving tributes to folks who aren’t anymore. It’s beautiful, but beyond that, it often brings with it a wave of “what ifs.” You know—“what if I died, what would Tom put in my obit?” and “What if that was my mother, what would I say about her?”

Yesterday, it was “What if my 12 year old child who loved playing guitar and dreamed of traveling had committed suicide?”

Oh, damn. What if? What if it was my beautiful child, my heart, his life tapped out in a few dozen lines on an obit page? What if the world chewed up my boy and spat him out broken?

I look back on all the things my parents didn’t discuss with me. Suicide, drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, bullying, peer pressure, devastating depression—all of which were a big part of my growing up. I shambled through my childhood, completely lost. I was lucky in that most of my friends were good ones. Maybe not moral compasses, but certainly not wells of depravity, either. I was lucky that, with one notable exception, they all cared about my welfare, even if the stick they used to measure good from bad wasn’t quite in keeping with society’s norms. Or “nerms,” as we used to say.

They say the world is what we make it. If that’s true, we’re breathtakingly broken. I sit down and I talk about suicide, meth, and teen pregnancy with my 12 year old and my brain screams, “WHY? Why does he have to know this stuff at 12 years old? What is WRONG with us, that we’ve created a world where 12 year olds are getting other 12 year olds pregnant and 13 year olds are bullying their classmates to DEATH?”

Why do I have to explain to my child that poking at people who are different, whether it be skin color or sexual orientation, is a bad thing? Shouldn’t we, as a society, already know that? Shouldn’t that be a given? It’s 2010—how can racism or bigotry still be an issue? Aren’t we smarter than that?

And am I part of the problem because I’m making my child aware? I told him about auto-erotic asphyxiation and “huffing” when he was NINE, because other NINE year olds were doing it—and DYING. How jacked up is that? How terrible?

And if you think all THAT'S bad, imagine being a child in Gaza? Haiti? Thailand?

I don’t have a point here. I’m railing against a messed up world that eats people. That eats children. And my heart is thrumming and mind is buzzing with fear because maybe our love and our lectures and our watchful eyes just aren’t enough. That child in yesterday’s paper? Her parents loved her, too. She was their heart. They watched and guided and adored.

And the world got her anyway.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Just Me and Mine

My husband was driving home today when he passed an accident near the train tracks on 12th Street. He said (on his hands-free!), “Oh, God—motorcycle, looks like bodies, ambulance coming in silent.” And I said, “I hope it’s not anyone we know.”

“I hope it’s not anyone we know.”

What a crappy thought! I’m serious, what is wrong with me? Why would I even think that? What I SHOULD have thought (and said) was, “I hope you’re wrong. I hope no one is dead or badly hurt. I hope the ambulance is coming in silent because no one is injured.”

Please don’t let me become that person. You know, the person who looks out after her own and to hell with the rest? I remember, years back, a teenage girl getting hit by a truck on a Friday night on 12th Street. Tommy, Sean and I were at the drive-through at Burger King, and I saw the girl get nailed. Only two people got out into that road to render aid—me and the driver of the truck. A couple other people stopped once we had her off the asphalt and onto the grass, but, for the most part, everyone drove right by. No one offered to call an ambulance (luckily, Tommy had done so), no seemed to CARE, unless gawking somehow indicates deep concern.

They probably zipped by, saying to themselves, “Gosh, glad that isn’t anyone I know.”

No cute, photo-shoppy picture this time out. Hardly seems appropriate, considering.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Because "Fruitless" is my Middle Name.

Years and years and years ago, when I was just a little girl, I fell utterly in love with a locket I found in my mother’s jewelry box. It was an amazing thing—an 1800s “mourning locket” that was substantial, heavy, and strangely masculine. It may have been gold, it may have been pinchbeck. It possessed a commanding, emerald-cut rectangular stone centered in a bed of smooth, intricate, muscular scroll work. I always believed it to be onyx, but it could have been obsidian. The interior was a pale, uneven robin’s-egg blue—perhaps enamel, I don’t know. At around two inches long, it was BIG, weighty, and it stole my heart. It dangled with authority from a long, heavy, box-linked chain, and I spent many a day in my mother’s bedroom, admiring the locket, which had been a gift to her from a woman who had received it from her mother, and she from hers before.

NOT the locket, NOT the chain, just my photoshop
attempt to approximate
As a teen, I showed the locket to my friends, all of whom were  convinced it was a dark, malevolent relic of the occult. We used to  pass it around and groove on the wicked “vibe.” Yeah, insert  spooky organ music here.

Not the actual chain, but a closer representation
When I was just shy of 17 and preparing to marry, my mother  held out her jewelry box and told me to pick something for myself.   Something to wear under my frilly dress. My something “old.”

I chose the locket. I don’t think she was too happy about that,  but, to her credit, she did not renege, though, no doubt, she likely wished she'd offered me "something borrowed." To my utter mortification,  she did, years and years later, deny having offered it. But that’s  my family, and that’s another story.

The last clear memory I have of possessing the locket is (I think?) living in Provo, Utah with a very nice man who happened to be having sex with my husband. Yeah. That, too, is another story. It all ended badly, and I wound up moving out QUICKLY while no one was home. It wasn’t until much later that I had the time to dig through everything and come to the realization that the locket was gone. I actually got a court order (and a police escort) to dig through stored things at my pending-ex’s grandmother’s house, but no joy. The locket was gone. The ex, of course, denied any knowledge of the locket or its whereabouts. This is the same guy who made off with HALF my stereo (left the turntable and one speaker), the BOXSPRINGS to my bed, much of my paltry jewelry collection, and most of my vinyl records. Oh, and half my wardrobe. The red always did look better on you, darlin’.

For years, I have pined for my locket. I have cursed my ex, cried, and, since the advent of “all you can eat” internet access, cruised hundreds of auction and estate sale sites. I have chewed through ebay time and time again, leaving a highway of messages and board posts and pleas.


It wasn’t until recently that I began to wonder—did my ex-husband steal it? Did he? Or was it already gone by another’s hand? I look around now, suspicious. What about Lou? That girl stole my grandmother’s pearls from me--not once but TWICE. Each time, being the wonderful, kind, caring, stupid, ass-headed person I was, I quietly secreted them back without confronting her because I didn’t want HER to feel bad about stealing from ME. Did SHE take the locket? She sure liked it, and she had been down to visit not long before I left Provo. What about BJ? She was a thief, no question about it. But she was also completely insane, and when she flipped from one “her” to another, she almost always confessed her crimes. So probably not. But what about those others who've made locket-coveting noises over the years? Is that where my locket went? Have I been wrongly vilifying my ex all these years?

No. He deserves the downing, whether he took the locket or not.

I don’t have a picture. I can’t draw one. But if I SAW it, I would absolutely know it. I would know it because it is indelibly imprinted in my mind’s eye. I’ve spent a good five hours just in the past two days once again poring over auction and antique sites. Hoping. I know. I know I’m likely not ever going to see it again, and that breaks my heart. I know it’s “just a thing,” but come on—can we all admit that some things are very special to us? This locket is very special to me. I see it in my mind almost every day. If you see it in your journeys, snap it up for me—I may have to make payments, but I swear I’m good for it.

I'm updating this, what--almost three years later?  Still no locket, but a growing fear--as these lockets become increasingly popular, the prices go through the roof--lockets that might have gone for three hundred a few years ago are going for fifteen hundred or more today.  What if I find it and it's completely beyond me?  Or worse--what if someone gets hold of it and decides to tear it up or deface it for some "steampunking" thing?  Oh, I wish I'd kept a better hold on this!  Hindsight really is 20/20--I'd have kept it around my neck 24/7 had I known it would be stolen!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Strippers and Fractures and BILLS, Oh, MY!

Back in the day, I was a tender of bars. I’d been doing it on and off for a couple of years when I wound up at a particularly oogy dive. I’ll call it “The 4th Concerto” to protect the not-so-innocent. This place was a cesspool in all senses of the word—no phone (owner hadn’t paid the Bill), no beer distributor (owner hadn’t paid the Bill, which left us buying beer at the grocery store to stock the coolers), no heat or hot water (owner hadn’t paid the Bill), and an inch of ice-cold standing water behind the bar due to a broken drain pipe from the sinks. The only thing that redeemed this job was that my best friend and roommate was also my co-bartender. She could make just about any crap situation better.

One of the classier forms of entertainment offered at “The 4th Concerto?” Strippers, of course! Not just the pasty-twirling type, either! Oh, goodness no! We had “male exotic dancers,” too. Three, in fact (if you don’t count the psychopath who came in one night wearing a banana g-string and scared all the customers into the bathroom). One was a tall, aloof, oh-so-cool Nordic type. I’ll call him Ringo. Johnny Ringo. The second was an amazingly handsome Asian man who doubled as a martial arts expert. I'll dub him Lee. Bryce Lee. Yes, Bryce—come on, how obvious do I need to be? And the third mythic “dancer?”

An impossibly built, long, smooth, lean black man I’ll call Brian. If we switched two letters in his name, it’d be “brain.” But those letters will forever remain unreversed. Believe me.

It was a typical night at the ol’ Concerto. Cold, wet, loud, with a rowdy crowd of women working themselves up for the strippers. As something of a safety measure, we had women accompanied by their boyfriends or husbands in the very back to reduce clashes between our male strippers and our male customers. In addition to our usual gaggle of customers, we had a very special group of guests—a friend, whom I shall call Petra, had brought her older mother in to celebrate her 65th birthday with some “exotic dancing.” Her mother spoke almost no English. Let’s say she was from Azerbaijan. She wasn't, but let's say she was. Not a lot of male strippers in Azerbaijan, so she was in for a surprisingly good time.

Or not.

It took only a short time for disaster, in the form of a particularly coke-and-steroid intoxicated Brian, to strike. Rather than grinding it for the girls up near the stage, Brian decided to head to the absolute back of the club and press his junk right into the face of a very married, very accompanied-by-her-husband woman. The husband asked Brian to back off, and the fight was on. It was like watching a 6'5" badger with fists.

It made a Tiger Shark feeding frenzy look positively kind.

Understand this man had no chance against Brian. Even if Brian weren’t 6 inches taller and a good 70 lbs of testosterone-laden muscle heavier, he was also full of enough coke to chew a hole in God’s Holy Septum.

I began to shout for my “male” (I use that term SO loosely) coworkers to charge in and save the customer. To no avail. So I grabbed my keys, locked up my cash register, and flew over the bar with my co-bartender/roommate/best friend to break things up. With no shoes on (try tending bar for 8+ hours in spiked heels ), the first casualty was my feet—broken glass from the brawl. The second casualty?

Petra’s 65 year old mother’s face. They may not have male strippers in Azerbaijan, but taking a table to the face has pretty much the same effect everywhere.

Blood flew, and not just from our poor Azerbaijani woman. Our wife-defending husband was, by the time we arrived, on the floor, curled up, and in danger of being beaten to death. I looked around—every male in the place had backed off ten paces and was watching warily (or eagerly, depending upon how kind you want to be). I looked to the other dancers, but neither was willing to get in Brian’s way—Johnny Ringo because he knew he’d get dead, and Bryce Lee because he didn’t want to kill anyone. My roomie and I took a deep breath and jumped in, placing ourselves between the flying fists of coke and the victim. Brian threw me a smile that involved ALL the teeth, then cocked his fist to take me out next.

And then came the holy hand of Wayne, saving the day.

I’m not changing Wayne’s name. He probably saved my life that night, and credit where credit is due, you know?

Wayne, who was a good 10 inches shorter than Brian, grabbed Brian’s wrist and shook his head. He said, in a surprisingly quiet voice, “Dude, you know I love you, but I’ll kill your ass if you hit her.”

Turns out Brian and Wayne were lifting buddies. Also turns out Wayne and I had been pals in high school, though I hadn’t seen him in four years. Fortuitous, huh?

Brian stalked off, somewhat deflated, while Wayne smiled at me and said, “Boy, you’re still too stupid for your own good, aren’t you?” My co-bartender/roommate and I coddled Petra’s mom, cleaned up the mess, and encouraged Mr. Pulpy-Husband to leave. I bought Wayne a beer, and we spent some time getting reacquainted while the bar crowd staggered to find its rhythm again. Wayne wandered off to shoot some pool, and all was as well as could be expected in my world.

For a minute.

It was only a few minutes later that my roomie came dashing toward the bar, shouting that Brian had our earlier victim out on the sidewalk and was killing him. I shouted for her to call the cops (from the pay phone--no bar phone, remember?), and I dashed outside with no clear idea of what I was going to do, other than not let someone die if I could help it. I burst out the front door to find a crowd of men in a circle around the killing action. None making any move to break things up, many of them CHEERING. Yeah, I still remember your stupid faces. Brian had the man by the hair and was slamming his head against the curb. I did the only thing I could think of doing.

I launched myself at Brian’s back, grabbed him under the arms, and threw myself backwards. I was a skinny girl back then, but there was enough of me to drag him away. We wound up in a pile on the sidewalk, me on my ass and Brian on me. I remember very clearly thinking, “Okay, now what?” But, of course, there was no “now what.” I was going to die.

Please remember that Brian was a stripper. He was oiled, and wearing only a g-string. Oh, and sparklies in his hair. How’s that mental picture for you? I have some Tums here if you need.

Just as Brian, a deep, rumbling growl growing in his chest, managed to slip-slide out of my grasp and whirl around for the kill, Wayne appeared again. Like an angel, he scooped me up and scooted me behind him. Brian, choosing to not tangle with his lifting buddy, stormed inside. Screaming at the Concerto’s owner, he cried that I was all sorts of awful things and demanded I be dead or fired by the next Wednesday, else he’d be shaking his well-oiled booty somewhere else, thank you VERY much!

Interesting stories almost make crap jobs in crap places working for crap people worth it.


Oh, for the record? I was almost fired that night--for pissing off a dancer and, more importantly, committing the sin of telling my partner to call the police. Guess saving someone's life just isn't a good enough excuse when there are Bills to pay.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Education on the Dashboard

I’m having a terribly sad day. Terribly sad of the “sit in front of the computer and cry my stupid eyes out” variety. It’s made all the worse because I should have known. You’d think I was stupid er sumpthin’.

Back in the summer of '93, I was all set to graduate from Weber. I had my generals filled, my major filled, thought I owed one class on my minor. Took the National CLEP to fill my English requirements, and life was good.

But. Always one of those, right?

Because I was planning to register for that one course come fall quarter, I decided to wait on filing my CLEP certificate with the Records Office.

Stupid me.

Two weeks after receiving my CLEP certificate in the mail, I was in a wowser car accident. The kind of accident where the police don’t put a neat little “x” on the damage sticker, but rather scribble off the entire front end of the car. I suffered substantial facial fractures, deep tissue bleeding in the hips and belly (seat belt), a lasting back injury, and, most importantly, a traumatic brain injury.

At the same time, my then-husband left the country, leaving me buried under an avalanche of unpaid debts I hadn’t even known existed. Oh, and my boss fired me—apparently the Frankenstein-like black stitching all over my face was “scaring the customers.”

So there I was. Dain bramaged, maimed, jobless, spouseless, and being sued from all sides by my then-estranged husband’s creditors.

By the time the mental fog cleared (somewhat—those who know me well know I never was the same), I was in serious arrears with UHEAA. Yes, I filed a deferment. Who knows to whom I actually MAILED the request? Considering I sent Columbia House my five hundred dollar Citgo payment, the deferment request could have gone just about anywhere. "Addled" doesn't even begin to describe what a mess I was in the months after the accident.

Obviously, no student aid meant no tuition at that point. No tuition meant no degree. At some point I tucked my bright pink CLEP certificate into an envelope and slid it into a folder. A folder marked, apparently, “Space this off for a decade or more, Dain Bramage Girl.”

Fast forward to 2010. I’m moving out of state. I’m 44 years old. There are things I would like to do someday that can only be done with that degree. So I’ve spent the past few days on the phone. Turns out that one class I thought I needed? I didn’t. In fact, all I needed to do was check off with my advisors and file that CLEP certificate and I had graduation sussed. I earned my degree in FULL.


Weber State’s Records Office tells me they won’t recognize my CLEP certificate. They’ve changed the crediting system, and the certificate isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Never mind I paid for the test AND took it TWICE as part of a study focused on the implementation of computers in CLEP administration. That’s right—I took it twice. Once in pencil, once on computer. And it means nothing. I suppose I could retake the CLEP for English, but these days you can’t clear your English Requirement with a CLEP. I know, I asked.

I’m still making calls. I’m still dropping emails. Arts and Humanities, Child and Family, Psychology, English, Records, Graduation, Academic Advisement—I’ve had all of them on the phone over the past couple of days, and the wonderful folks I’ve spoken to have been as helpful as they can be. But I’m so discouraged, and so angry at myself for being stupid enough to get my hopes up. Had I not let a friend wrap me and my car around a tree at 60 mph en route to Arby's, I’d have that degree.

To sum it up? I appear to have traded a BS for a roast beef sandwich from Arby’s. What really sucks? I didn't even get to EAT the sandwich; I found it festering under the driver's seat a few weeks post-accident. Maybe if it had been a really good sandwich, the very BEST sandwich I'd ever had, it wouldn't sting so much.

Boy, don’t I feel utterly stupid?

Friday, January 1, 2010

All I Want for New Year's is a Shiny New Home

Well, here it is again. Came frighteningly fast this time, didn't it? When Stephen King spoke of “short time” for the grownups, he sure as spit knew what he was talking about. Time moves so fast anymore it brings me to tears. If it only took this few blinks to get from bright-eyed 18 to here then here to dead must only be a flash away, you know?

Weee! How very positive of me!

I’m really not that negative a person. In fact, I am brimming with hope for this new year. Sure, I have the usual hopes: be more patient with our son, lose weight, write more, write better, exercise more, get healthier. But I have one more hope, one very special desire this year. One resolution that I can’t imagine surviving failure.

What is it?

Gettin’ the hell outta Dodge. That’s right—after spending the better part of 38 years here in Utah, I am OUTTA here with the people I love the very most! Back to where I came from, back whence my family came, back to where the world is green and the air is alive with possibility.

I won’t lie—I’m not just running to something, I’m running away from something. Away from dysfunctional relationships that have sucked the joy from me for years. Away from the dry and the yellow, brown, and grey. Away from being forever the outsider, the one who must join fringe groups and minority cliques in order to be not alone. Away from almost everything Utah is for me.

I know I seem to be “dissing” Utah. What can I say? I actively dislike this place. I know some say, “Well, if you only KNEW Utah!” I do—and familiarity has bred just a bit of contempt. From Grafton to Logan, from Vernal to Vernon, I’ve driven, hiked, backpacked, camped, and all-around explored this place. And I’m all done with it. I’ve been here. I don’t want to be here anymore.

Let me say from my heart that I’m not “dissing” the people who DO love this place. Great! Seriously! I am absolutely sincere when I say that I am very glad that you love Utah, that Ogden (or Salt Lake City) rocks your world! I think it would be terribly sad if that weren’t the case! The way you feel about Utah? That’s how I feel about the East Coast. The warm pride that rises up in you when you think of Snow Basin, Ben Lomond, the Union Station, or the Pie Pizzeria? That’s how I feel about the Franklin Institute, Sturbridge Village, the beach at Wells, Maine, and Pat’s King of Steaks. They’re mine, and that’s where I want to be. Where I need to be.

I’m not saying that Utah has nothing to offer. I’m not saying that there’s nothing beautiful or worthwhile here. Of course there is! What I’m saying is that I’ve done that, and I don’t want to do it anymore. My heart isn’t here, and I need something else. I need my home.

Be happy for me. Please. Don’t wrinkle your nose and declare that I’m “missing out.” Instead, understand that we’re all different, and what works for you is killing me. Love your Utah, make it everything you can, and spare a hope or a prayer that my dreams for the east coast come to pass and are everything I wish for. Will you do that for me? I don’t want a whole lot. Just new home with my wonderful husband and magical boy. Please, cross your fingers and wish me luck!