Archive for November, 2002


In a recent epiphany, I hit upon the perfect X-mas present for my parents . . . the Telezapper. As some of you may recall from previous posts, my parents no longer answer the telephone (as if they ever did anyway), and, in fact, have recently made assertions to the effect that the Telemarketers have gotten so bad that, according to my mother, they “never want to have to answer phone ever again.” (How they’ve managed to ascertain the severity of the Telemarketer Problem when they don’t actually ever answer the phone, I’m a little bit unsure of, although I can certainly appreciate the sentiment.) I’m fairly convinced, though, that the notion of zapping the Telemarketers will undoubtedly fill my parents with profound glee. This brings us back to the problem of not answering the phone, however, as the phone must in point of fact be answered, in order for the Telemarketers to get their much-deserved zapping. So in addition to the Telezapper, I will also be sending my parents an Answering Machine, which will answer the phone for them, so that the Telemarketers can get zapped, without their having to actually answer the phone. Brilliant, isn’t it?

The only potentially dicey bit here is that the Telezapper and Answering Machine combo will now suddenly thrust my parents well into the realm of Cutting Edge Technology, and they will concomitantly be forced into finally having to install an actual Phone Jack. My parents, you see, are still using wall-mounted Rotary Dial Phones. (For those of you who may be too young to remember the Rotary Dial Phone, these would be the phones where one actually has to insert one’s index finger into the little holes over the corresponding numbers on the phone and manually rotate the circular dialer for each digit being dialed, thus making Long Distance really start to seem like Looong Distance.) For that matter, my parents don’t own a Clothes Dryer. Or a Digital Alarm Clock. (They have a Wind Up Alarm Clock.) Or a Microwave. Well . . . you get the picture. And I’m certainly not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with my parents for not having any of these items, particularly if they choose not to . . . i’s just that my mother is constantly implying that they are purposely denying themselves these luxury items due to the egregious expenses entailed by having had to raise such a Money-Blood-Sucker Daughter (her words) as myself. Hmmph.

Take the instance of the Microwave, though. I had thought for awhile that perhaps a Microwave would be the perfect gift for my parents . . . for example, they would no longer have to reheat their coffee in a pan on the stove, or defrost food items in the garage by setting them on top of the third car they never drive. In fact, after finding out that I had a Microwave (and after asking if I thought I was a Rockefeller, of course), my mother’s curiosity seemed piqued enough to ask me a number of questions. How did I like it? Could I do this? Or that? Was I sure it was safe? Wasn’t I worried about radioactive rays? Eureka! I thought to myself. It really will be the perfect X-mas gift for my parents! This was last fall. Sometime before X-mas actually rolled around, though, my parents called to interrogate me with a veritable barrage of questions about How To Use A Microwave. Apparently, my father had an out-of-town reading that entailed spending a night in a motel that actually had a Microwave right in the room! My parents seemed very excited and called several times to ask about Which Buttons To Push, and How Many Minutes To Cook, and Was I Sure Paper Was Okay And Not Aluminum Foil, and Important Safety Issues Regarding Radioactivity. They apparently made several Special Trips To Walmart To Study Microwaves, and Plan Their Microwaving Strategy. Special Menus were endlessly discussed, debated, and choreographed. When they returned from their trip I called them to make sure they got home okay, and eagerly asked how they liked the Microwave. “Oh,” my mother said. “We don’t use it. Too complicate. We chicken out.”

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The first time was an accident, really. I was maybe three at most, and accidentally wandered away from an English Department picnic that was being held in the mountains. Somehow, I remember being convinced that being lost meant that I was lost for good, and I assumed that everyone would just go home without me and I would have to live in the woods forever by myself. It’s odd, because even today I sometimes have dreams where I’m driving while lost, and the road metamorphosizes from highway to gravel road, to dirt road climbing up into the mountains, into no road at all so that I end up driving into an icy river or off a mountain pass and then after that there’s nothing at all . . . just blank whiteness. One of the English professors found me, though, and brought me back to the picnic. I think this is the same picnic where somebody gave me a hamburger that was, as my mother put it, cook right on grill with no protection, meaning that it hadn’t been properly sanitized according to my mother’s rather stringent standards. Apparently, up to this point in my life, all of my food intake was rather excruciatingly monitored, and my mother prohibited me from eating with silverware that she hadn’t personally sanitized. Torn between Possible Infanticide By Unchecked Bacteria and the Japanese duty of Being Polite To Husband’s Sensei Colleagues, my mother grimly allowed me to eat the hamburger. She always mournfully points out that I gobbled it right up, as if this were a personal affront to her. I’m sure I thought it was delicious. It’s strange to think that I’m now the same age as many of the English professors who were at that picnic.

It wasn’t until I was in the fourth grade that I was ever allowed to spend the night at somebody else’s house. The concept of a Slumber Party seemed almost too delicious to comprehend . . . it seemed so exotic, like something that people did on T.V. . . . so American. (Furthermore, my girlfriend’s family lived in an apartment, which somehow seemed chic and urbane beyond all belief. Very Mary Tyler Moore.) Needless to say, I worked myself up into such an apoplexy of excitement over my first-ever Slumber Party (with real sleeping bags!) that I was completely unable to sleep whatsoever and came down with, what I realized in retrospect, was my first migraine. It was a headache like no other. I was sure that I’d suddenly been stricken with a brain tumor in the middle of the night, and it seemed hopelessly rude to wake up my girlfriend’s parents to ask for Tylenol, so I just lay there. The next morning I gingerly attempted to eat eggs, sunny side up, for breakfast (in and of itself an exotic breakfast experience), with my migraine swirling around in my skull like socks tumbling about in a dryer, and all of a sudden everything flipped inside out and my stomach flew into my brain, and I had to run to the bathroom to throw up. Much to my chagrin, my parents were called to come and get me, and I had to forego the matinee movie, which made me very sad, because I’d only been to a rare handful of movies in the actual movie theater before. It was a Don Knotts Movie . . . The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, I believe, and I liked Don Knotts. I remember being unable to sleep one night and my father had let me sit up on the couch while he marked student papers, and I saw Don Knotts as The Incredible Mr. Limpet. I guess it must have made a big impression. Despite the fact that this initial debacle only confirmed my mother’s suspicions that slumber parties were dangerous activities sure to cause debilitating illnesses, I managed to acclimate a little bit better on subsequent occasions . . . although to this day I never sleep well my first night in a strange hotel when I’m giving an out-of-town reading.

When I was in the 8th grade I went out of town for the first time without my parents for any demonstrable length of time when I traveled to Washington, D.C. with my piano teacher. I had composed a piano sonata which won a national music composition award, and I was invited to perform at the Kennedy Center. The Kennedy Center was all plush and velvety inside . . . in plums and purples . . . . like the inside of a jewelry box. My piano teacher took me to the National Gallery . . . it was the first art museum I’d ever been to. She translated everything for me in terms of music. Baroque=Bach, Impressionists=Debussy, etc. I loved it so much we went back and did it all over again two days later. It was exciting to be in a city, to see so many different kinds of people, and I tried to imagine what their lives were like. I imagined where I would live in Washington, D.C., and the seeds of escape began to take root. Now, whenever I travel somewhere new, I always like to pick out where I would live, and construct a make-believe life for myself there. Later on, during my freshman year of college, when my piano teacher was dying of cancer, she would ask her husband to call me at my dorm room. Sometimes she wasn’t even able to talk, or she would be disoriented from the morphine, and so I would just talk to her for as long as she wanted. About anything. About everything. Sometimes I could hear her crying in the background from the pain.

At the age of 16, I spent a week at the University of Montana to go to Piano Camp. (Yes, the very term “Piano Camp” is oxymoronic enough to elicit a few snorts of disbelief, I realize, so please feel free to snigger away.) Ironically, although I’d been practicing eight hours a day all summer, I spent minimal time practicing the piano at Piano Camp. My roommate was a rather marvelously wanton young woman equipped with a seemingly endless supply of pot and a veritable wardrobe of string bikinis, and she was always dragging me off with her to get high. I remember being simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by a boy with complicated orthodonture involving the wiring shut of his braces. All of his meals had to be pureed for him in a blender . . . pizza, hamburgers, you name it. At the same, time, the fact that his mouth was wired shut made him come across as rather mysterious and thoughtful.

The day I left for college, I remember my parents standing by my shuttle bus in Ft. Collins, Colorado, waiting for it to leave for the Denver Stapleton Airport. I’d been accepted to the Indiana University School of Music as a Piano Performance major, and was off to make a future (or so I thought at the time) as a concert pianist. I’d also been accepted to the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. Sometimes I wonder if my life would have been significantly different if I’d gone to Peabody instead of Indiana. It was in Indiana that I eventually found myself as a writer (many years later), and where I found my most significantly formative writing teachers and mentors. I remember how earlier in the morning my mother tried to stuff me full of pastries, even though I felt too nervous to eat, and at the shuttle bus pick-up, she was exceptionally tense and brittle, avoiding my eyes, which meant that she was upset. Later on that night when she called me at the dorm to see if I’d arrived okay, she said that something strange had happened to her favorite jade ring. She said that when she got home, she found that the stone had fallen out of its setting, and that she was broken-hearted.

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You Should Marry A Carpenter

JM: Isn’t it nice that E. have carpenter husband so can fix her house? You should find handy carpenter man and marry so when you buy house he can fix all up for you.

[Indignantly wanting to retort that I don’t need a man to fix up my house for me, while simultaneously having to acknowledge to self that being rather clever when it comes to assembling put-together furniture does not really count as having significant carpentry skills.]

AH: Mom, I’m gay! Remember? Besides, aren’t you the one who’s always criticizing anybody I’ve ever dated who’s short of a Ph.D. or an M.D. [i.e., 99.9% of everyone I’ve ever gone out with] as being “ambition-less”? So now you’re changing your tune?

JM: Well maybe you not gay. Maybe you just too fat to get man anymore. But maybe you can marry handy carpenter man and he could be very useful for fixing house.

AH: Tell you what. A carpenter son-in-law? Not going to happen. But if it’ll make you happy, I’ll find a nice handy carpenter woman and marry her, and then you can have a handy carpenter daughter-in-law. What do you think of that?

JM: Don’t be stupid. No such thing.

On Dealing With The Fuzz

JM: What’s matter with you? You forget to take allergy medicine? Sneezing, sneezing!

AH: I took it, but it’s not helping.

JM: Ack! I bet you rubbing nose like crazy in public. Don’t do that.

AH: No I’m not.

JM: I don’t care even if allergy season, don’t ever rub your nose in public because that’s the Drug Abuser Salute. If Polico [pronounced pole-ee-ko] see you do that you going to be arrest.

AH: [Laughing] Mom, I’m pretty sure that it’s illegal to throw someone in the pokey for rubbing their nose in public . . . there needs to be a little bit of Search, a little bit of Seizure, a couple of warrants . . .

JM: Don’t joke about. Not funny. I had nightmare you smoked marijuana and went to jail and then all night long I can’t sleep. So when Polico pull up next to you in car make sure don’t look at him, otherwise he think you guilty of something and you end up in jail.

On Musical Taste

JM: You have somebody in your house? I can’t talk private if somebody there.

AH: Nobody’s here . . . I’m just listening to music.

JM: Good grief! I thought what that crazy sound? Woooo woo woo! I thought maybe one of your mongrel cat in heat. What kind crazy music you listen to?

AH: You mean Joni Mitchell???

JM: You too old to listen to that crazy kind music any more. Everybody going to think you a hippy. I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Junior high time you listen to that Throat Cancer Singer.

AH: You mean Rod Stewart???

JM: I don’t know who that is. He keep singing “Do You Think I’m Sexy” but so stupid. Nobody think he sexy . . . I think he have throat cancer.

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Isn’t it strange how a single smell can take one back years and years, calling up a lost memory? I spent the entire day wrestling with a migraine . . . one that slowly climbed up the back of my neck, paralyzing each vertebrae one by one until everything was stiff and brittle and locked . . . then it started up in broad, liquid circular washes of pain first in the back of my skull — growing larger, harder, and wider — before moving on up into the top of my head and pounding in oceanic waves against the front of my face. When I finally emerged at dusk, disoriented, with dark circles under my eyes, I stepped outside into the smell of wood smoke.

It made me remember driving up into the mountains with my parents as a small child to see the aspens turning in late fall . . . their slender limbs and hot-coal colors. There were salty chewy squares of beef jerky in my coat pocket, and it was the first time I can remember ever eating jerky. I loved how it lasted so long, like salty spicy gum. I had on a yellow sweater with red, blue, and green flowers my mother knit for me, and a matching yellow hat with dangling red, blue, and green pom-poms. There were antelope running along the highway with their graceful, bob-tailed strides, and I watched them through my father’s binoculars.

Afterwards, at home, there was a fire in the fireplace . . . that wonderful burnt tangy smell of wood smoke. It was a Sunday night. And that meant I got to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and after that, Walt Disney, on the black and white T.V. I thought it was the best day ever.

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Tonight there’s a soft feathery snow that’s falling light as goose down . . . it makes the trees look as if they’ve been spritzed with fake Christmas tree snow (it’s that frothy and sparkly), and covers the ground in white puffy fluffs like a head of whipped cream melting into black cappuccino. The cats have been alternately quarrelling over the choicest Heat Vents and Hugging Each Other on the Futon to stay warm.

All day long yesterday the trees simultaneously released entire branchfuls of leaves with exasperated sighs, and they came clattering down like breakfast cereal. How does it feel, I wonder, to relinquish oneself to winter in this way? And is it actually the trees that release their leaves, or the leaves that simply decide to let go?

I found a remnant of summer in the mop bucket . . . a perfectly preserved specimen of a Dog Day Cicada, in army-tank greens and blacks, with a glitterwing fretwork of laced wings, and two hind legs raised akimbo as if frozen in mid-stride. Also, a strange, Unidentified Insect that looks somewhat like an Albino Bee, or a Mutant Fly from the island of Dr. Moreau.

All night long, softly rhyming words falling down with the snow: hegemony, anemone, chalcedony, Persephone.

I bought a pair of pomegranates at the Hy-Vee yesterday. So beautiful and self-contained, with their lovely flowered crowns . . . mysteriously hiding their garnet-colored glistening seeds nested in egg-carton dimples of pulp inside. It is thought that Eve may have been tempted by the pomegranate, and not the apple. I wish I had an entire basket of pomegranates. I would love to stand on the sidewalk and press them one by one into the open palms of beautiful women, saying . . . remember.

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