Thursday, December 25, 2008

Damn Tannenbaum

"O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!"

I was fine with scaling back this Christmas. No flourishes. No expensive gifts between Michael and I. All I’m asking for are ear buds for my iPhone. I somehow lost mine and I continually tempt fate driving around, talking on my cell, one hand off the wheel. This act happens to be newly illegal in our fair state. But a pair of buds, allowing my hands to remain at two and ten o’clock keeps me from breaking the law, and I would be a complete mommywife.

This year, it’s all about the kids. And let me tell you, Santa went crazy at Target. I hate Tar-jay. Especially when there are three floors of it, two days before Christmas. It felt like I was picking through an already picked at carcass. My daughter is two but already wears 3T. I found cute shirts and pants and pajamas in 2T, and then 4T, all the way up to adult practically. But there was a 3T black hole in their inventory. Leaving me the skeletal remains.

We decided on the $24.95 Home Depot Christmas tree. Usually, we go to one of those private Christmas tree lots, that have beautiful Noble and Douglas firs. We like an eight, maybe nine foot tree. Something tall and well proportioned. And a tall, well proportioned guy tying it to the top of my car is always a welcome perk. All together, including stand and tip, we have spent upwards to $210 on a tree. Trust me this exorbitance is not lost on me.

In 2000, Michael and I had our first Christmas party and an empty tree. Everyone was asked to bring an ornament, purchased or home made, didn’t matter. Otherwise they would be subjected to a pathetic Charlie Brown Christmas tree look-alike. It was a wonderful hodgepodge: Backstreet Boys figurines, a blown-out, painted eggshell, origami birds, photographs, Santa in a biplane. We loved it. Since then, we have supplemented with special ornaments purchased, mostly on trips. A glass ball filled with the black sands of Kauai, various glass animals wearing glasses and dancing jigs, and a few Christopher Radko ornaments. Christopher Radko has made a mint by commercializing Christmas. On average you shell out forty bucks for one of his beautiful glass ornaments. We’ve purchased many, including Black Santa, Flamenco Senorita, and one I love to call Betty Grable Santa. It’s Santa Clause in the classic Betty Grable poster pose, wearing a bathing suit, showing off spectacular gams. Whereas one can see how Betty got our boys through WW II, the same come hither look from Santa is just downright peculiar.

Two years ago, Michael informed his mother that he was going to buy a tree for her house. A real tree, that will spill needles from time to time. He said our kids need a cheery Christmas and the Santa that sings James Brown would not be enough. Well, my mother-in-law grumbled but succumbed. We bought tree, stand and ornaments. Put it all together and everyone enjoyed it...until it fell over! Thank goodness, no one was hurt. We refutzed with it and voila, once again it looked great, if not a bit flattened on one side. But six hours later...plop. We ended up leaning it against the wall.

This story’s significance, we bought that tree and stand from La Depot. So, this time, I had my eyes wide open. We were not going to get the ten dollar stand with the narrow base. I was willing to splurge the extra twenty for a wider-based stand and a falling-down free Christmas. But two nights ago, at one in the morning, our tree crashed to the floor.

Michael and I quickly ran to the living room. The destruction was tremendous. I jumped into action, quickly disentangling the salvageable ornaments, putting them aside. I don’t think I would have rescued casualties of war with any less sense of purpose. First ones to save, the polka dot ornaments we bought in Madison when visiting my sister. Then I rescue Dorothy and Glinda. Followed by Cruella de Vil, Fancy Flamingo with Top Hat, Turtle with Pearls, Muscular Merman... (I’m not sure if we don gay apparel during this season, but we have one flaming Christmas tree.)

When that was done I took stock in the devastation. My back seized up, I noticed a shortness of breath. I swear, it’s the closest to a panic attack I’ve ever felt. Everything from my spine to my demeanor caved in.

Michael and I had just talked about the ornaments, where we got them, their significance, the people who gave them to us. And BAM... Black Santa, gone. Kauai sands, gone. Many of the polka dots from Madison, gone. Ornaments from my childhood, gone. Polar Bear, gone. Betty Grable Santa, Flamenco Senorita, Octopus with Sunglasses, gone, gone, gone. It was horrible. Glittery shards and limbs lined my waste basket. Merry fucking Christmas.

We’ve resecured the tree as best we could. Although a ribbon knotted around the trunk of the tree and secured on a picture hook seems like dicey fix. (Definitely a flaming household; we don’t have any rope, but I can find you some durable satin ribbon in a blink.)

I’ve done the math. This year’s tree: $20. Overly priced, cheap-ass stand: $30. Ornament destruction: about $260. Making a grand total of a $310 Christmas tree. Now, last year’s tree, sturdy stand and sturdy gent to tie it down: $210. We’re in an economic spiral, and we spent one hundred dollars more for a tree than last year!

Yesterday, something miraculous happened. I found my chipper Christmas spirit as I stirred kirsch into the Christmas Eve fondu. (Talk about flaming.) The carnage of the previous day’s events seemed trivial. My family was healthy and safe, and I was drinking a hearty red wine.

I’ve experienced two other Christmas miracles since then. We were asked by our church to light the last advent candle, and my self-proclaimed, Atheist husband agreed! The other miracle was that our son, who usually awakens at 6:30, didn’t rouse himself until 8:40.

I was operating the camera as the kids came into the living room. We may have spent $310 on our Christmas tree, but the look on their faces...priceless.
"O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree
How lovely are thy needles!"

Friday, December 19, 2008

Reality, You Can't Make This Crap Up

My husband was determined to get us on The Amazing Race. That's the show where couples frantically race around the world, doing cockamamie things to win a million dollars. And I seriously thought about it, even with our two little kids, or perhaps because of our two little kids. On the surface searching for clues in the mud flats of the Ukraine, bribing smelly cab drivers, and eating a pound of putrid yak meat seems more glamorous than the monotony of home life. So, yes, truly considered, if only for a moment. Then, reality came smashing down, "Michael, you can’t swim." And this revelation opened the floodgates. You have to fly to the various exotic destinations. Michael has a fear of flying. Challenges include jumping off buildings and mountains suspended only by a cord. He also has fear of heights. Fear of ledges. Fear of bungee. And if anything is near or involves a body of water, well, there's always... Fear of tides. Fear of currents. Fear of boats. Fear of seaplanes. Fear of sharks. Fear of... You get my drift. Fear of rafts. We’d lose.

Subsequently, his need to get us on The Amazing Race has been substituted by getting us on any reality TV. About a year ago, Michael got an email saying some show was looking for houses that are haunted. He quickly emailed his info.

Michael has always seen ghosts. In college, for instance, he was visited in his dorm room by David, a closeted coed who couldn’t handle life's pressures and committed suicide. David, with piercing blue eyes and a spot-on Carmen Miranda impersonation, has appeared to Michael at various times since then. However in our house, he sees a man in a trench coat walking our halls. Living near Hollywood, I can't help but wonder if in a previous life this succubus was a stand in for Humphrey Bogart.

All this was put into Michael’s email and in no time we were chosen to be on Lifetime’s Lisa Williams: Life Among the Dead. (Ironic that Lifetime would produce a show about the dead.)

Being on a reality show is a rite of passage in LA. I have friends who have gotten rooms redecorated in home make over shows. I have another friend who was My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance. It was only a matter of time before we took part in this wacky phenomenon.

I admit I have experienced two peculiar-leaning-towards-paranormal occurrences in our home. But realize, I’m skeptical about their significance. The first was when I saw/felt someone/thing over my shoulder. I turned. But nothing. Now, we've all had those glimmers out of the corner of the eye. You figure it’s the light playing tricks, or you’re fatigued, or you’re plastered. But this was different. It's like when you know the answer to a question you have no right knowing. Same sort of thing. I have an unflinching certainty that someone/thing was there. And just as quickly, it was gone.

And the other occurrence was when Michael and I were sharing an adult moment. (And those of you who are parents know how imperative and sadly infrequent these can be.) When we reached a certain pitch in the evening’s activities...yes, I am referring to that...our computer screen inopportunely flashed on. Our naked bodies exposed in eerie blue light. Once again, someone/thing there. Observing? Applauding?

Here’s how I see things. I’m not necessarily a believer of ghosts, aliens, organized religion. But I’m not a disbeliever either. And I’m okay with my indecision in these matters. But how about others? Lisa Williams: Life Among the Dead is more than a reality show. It’s entertainment, it’s episodic, it's ratings. I had a strong foreboding.

They plan to exploit me. It's what reality shows do. There’s always that one person who provides conflict for the episode’s arc. The prima donna. The disbeliever. The Sanjaya. I'm going to be edited down to look like an asshole.

In perhaps an over-blown panic I turned to Michael, "I am not doing the show!" And afterwards, I took on a cynical tone towards the whole endeavor. Even as they set up lights, camera, sound in my house, I both physically and mentally crossed my arms and glowered from the corner. My goal, to maintain an air of disdain. I actually pitied the pimply PA who came over with a clipboard and asked me to sign something.

"Why?" I demanded. "I am not a part of this. "

"Just in case the camera pans your way and you get caught on camera," he stammered.

And in my best Katharine Hepburn, "I better not be caught on camera. Get me the director." The PA scuttled away, tail between his legs.

That’s right. Be afraid. I refuse to be anybody’s shill.

The director came over all smiles. Said he would abide by my wishes. But if I ever want to change my mind...

Right after I swallow a jug of 409 All-Purpose Cleaner.

Finally, Lisa Williams makes her entrance. That's the format. She's the last to arrive, and she claims to know nothing about the case.

Know nothing, my Aunt Freddie and Fanny. I bet she’s been given a dossier on both our families.

She walked around "getting the feel." And she sensed NOTHING.

Because you're a fake.

She was about to leave, when she asked if we have a basement. That's where ghosts hang out, evidently. So, everyone went tramping down to our basement, camera operator and all.

Could have warned us. The one place we didn’t clean.

And that’s when Lisa saw David hanging from the ceiling. He's showing me how he committed suicide, she said. She coaxed David upstairs, away from the dusty Christmas ornaments and rat turds, and had a sit down with him at our dining room table. That’s when Trench Coat appeared to her.

You've got to be kidding.

She found out Trench Coat was a pianist not a stand in. He used to live in our house and it was one of the happiest times of his life. Then another spirit showed himself to Lisa. She said he smelled of bourbon and cigarettes.

If she says it's Henry Fonda...

Michael, jumps in, "That’s my Uncle Bob."

No, baby, don't drink the Kool-Aid.

Lisa then saw three angels go zipping by.

Which ones? Jill? Kelly? Sabrina?

Lisa conferred with the ghosts some more. Turned out, David was activating the computer. He likes electronics. Trench Coat hoped we would allow him to stay in our house. And Uncle Bob told Michael to call Cousin Doris and ask about her bum knee.

Okay. That's freaky. How did Lisa know about Cousin Doris's knee?

At some point, Michael happened to mention Sebastian's name and Lisa sort of cocked her head to the side and froze. She then stopped the shoot and sent everyone from the room except for the two of us. She became very serious and said she had something to tell us about our son.

Let me guess. He's the reincarnation of Barbara Stanwyck.

She told us the reason she was here had nothing to do with our ghost and angel infestation, but had everything to do with Sebastian. He is a special boy, she said. She described how finicky he is. How he smells his food before eating. How he's light sensitive and sound sensitive. How he makes up incredible stories, parts of which are spoken in his own language. All true.

There can't be any dossier that complete.

Lisa went on to say she herself is a mother, and at her suggestion neither of our children would be part of the shoot. She didn't want us to feel they were being exploited. I was so intent on cultivating cynicism, I didn’t even think about the well being of my kids.

Bad mommy.

She then told us Sebastian will flourish in ways we cannot imagine. We should not try to staunch his abilities. We are the guardians of his specialness.

Might not sound like much written down, but just then I felt like the Grinch when his heart begins to grow. Perhaps there is room for the other in my belief structure. I'm not rushing out to buy a Ouija board, but Lisa Williams, mommy, psychic, conduit to the dead, is truly a genuine person, and that does matter.

No cynicism. Italics nonetheless.

I still chose not to participate in the episode. We allowed Trench Coat to stay. And David promised to stop messing with the computer, and when I say messing with the computer, I mean watching us have sex.

Afterthought. Lisa Williams: Life Among the Dead never aired our segment. But Michael finally got his wish. Our little family will be on TV. A commercial, but TV all the same. There’s a group, Get to Know Me First, which is fighting the Proposition 8 ruling by introducing the California public to gay couples and gay families. Feel free to view our print ad gettoknowmefirst.org. We’re shooting in our house in January. I wonder if Trench Coat will be roaming the halls that day, or if David will screw with their equipment. Reality TV, you can't make this crap up.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The V Word

Don't be so cocksure you know what this is about. The title might refer to vermicelli. Although that seems highly unlikely. Or it could be about a vasectomy. Surely the cringe factor alone warrants the coded "V word." Or this could be about Versailles Village or vacuum vibrators or Vince Vaughn or...or...or...

Or your original suspicions are correct. This does pertain to that V word...

Vestal virgin? Vice versa? Vampyre Vodka?

When I was a little boy, Mother told me that I tinkled out of my do-do. (Not pronounced like the extinct bird, but rather like the extinct bird's excrement.) No matter. Either pronunciation when referring to the male phallus seems pretty silly today. Most parents I know label it unapologetically. The penis is the penis is the penis, plain and simple. And the girly stuff is...

Ventricular valve? Viper venom? Video verité?

I don't recall being aware of the word penis until sex ed in junior high. My school separated the girls from the boys. We had Mr. Lyons as our teacher, a slight man with Ricky Ricardo hair. Each boy was encouraged to write a question on a piece of paper that would go into a hat. Then Mr. Lyons would truthfully answer them. ANY QUESTION. I couldn't write anything. I was mortified. I barely moved. I figured if I sat really still maybe even I wouldn't notice I was there.

Mr. Lyons put on his game face and pulled the first piece of paper. "What does fuck mean?" Neither did he show embarrassment nor any glint of mischievousness. His answer was precise. It was delivered with the dryness of a dissertation on the use of the swastika in architecture pre World War II. "Fuck is a vulgar word that pertains to the sexual act." He didn't falter. He was probably a terrific gambler. He pulls another piece of paper. "Do fuck and intercourse mean the same thing?" A moment. "With intercourse, there is an emotional connection..." He could see he was loosing us. "Yes, pretty much the same thing."

On and on it went. Fuck making a regular appearance. I don't recall any questions about genitalia. Nothing about penises. And certainly nothing about...

Vincent van Gogh? Vietnam vet? Veal vindaloo?

As a matter of fact, the only other question I remember was, "Will our armpit hair be the same as Louis Rivera's Afro?" The words out of Mr. Lyons's mouth before he knew what he was saying. He stumbled. The only question to crack his verile veneer.

Violet vendetta? Ventriloquist voice? Vicky Vale?

Even after that, I don't remember calling my penis a penis. And I definitely did not to refer to it as do-do anymore. Can you imagine the ridicule? It wasn't shlong, nor cock, nor pud. Not johnson, prick, family jewels, balls, nuts, salami, member. Even dick would catch in the back of my throat. Don't be smutty. I couldn't use Dick because it's my dad's name. It's ironic, even though it was becoming an important part of my life, I probably refrained from referring to it as much as possible.

I don't know what Mother taught my sisters to call their...

Virginia vulture?

If penis was do-do, I can only imagine the cutesy nomenclature she applied to female parts. Hoo-ha? Woo-Woo?

Vesuvius volcano? Volleyball victory? Viennese valtz?

Here's the thing, mommies, and anyone else who would care to field this one, my two-year-old daughter is potty training and that is foreign territory, so I need advice. For instance, what do you say when teaching your girl child to wipe? "Fold the toilet paper and wipe your..."

Vivian Vance?

Because I stumble. I cannot say...

Violin virtuoso?

And it's not because I'm one of those queens who goes into convulsions at the mere mention of...

Venetian villas?

No, my stalling has to do with what I learned in Mr. Lyons's class. I may have been mortified, but I was a mortified sponge. I soaked in all the information. And as I recall, the female is more evolved down below than the male. The penis is both reproductive and voider of urine. (Makes you wonder how clean your man's picante pepperoni really is.) But the woman has a vast vestibule with two distinct ducts: one for pee pee and of course the...

Velvet vixen?

Here's the crux of the matter, mommies, what should we call our daughter's pee pee opening? They deserve the correct terminology, don't they? According to Gray's Anatomy, the medical text not the tv show, it is labeled as the urethral duct. But, come on! "Fold the toilet paper and pat your urethral duct." Even the cutesified "ri-ri" defeats the purpose of being informative parents. Help me, mommies. We have to find some word for the pee pee duct. Because technically, it is NOT what Grey's Anatomy, the McJuggernaut not the tome, refers to it as va-jay-jay.

Vaudevillian villain? Varicellazoster virus? Valencia, Venezuela? Vasili Vasilievich Vereshchagin? Valentine verse? Vineyard vines? Vaux le Vicomte? Vascular varicose veins?

Until I hear back from you, I have a solution. The two must be differentiated, so I propose we use both "the V word" and "the C word."

Va-va-voom? Carol Channing?

I know some of you will take umbrage with my brazenness...and my verbose vernacular...but this is for the best. If it's in reference to sex, the vagina. And instead of urethral duct, let's just bite the bullet and jointly agree to call the pissing place the cooter.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thing-in-Hand

I'm late. I'm running around the house trying to find Black Doggie. But Black Doggie seems to have gone by the way of Loni Anderson's career. It's disappeared! I plead with my two-year-old daughter, "Pink Poodle? Baby Owl? Spotted Seal?" Maxie shakes her head no. Nothing else will do. Maxie is one of those kids who does better in the car, going to bed, with thing-in-hand, something she can hold tight in her vice-like grip. I'm sure the books will tell you thing-in-hand offers security, gives the child a sense of control. But I'm not a mommy who reads those books. I just know the car ride goes much smoother when thing-in-hand is indeed in hand. Her things-in-hand are small plushy representations of the animal kingdom, usually canine, most of them pink or black, her favorite colors. (Possibly a future career in international fashion? The funeral service industry?)

I'm usually pretty good at finding things-in-hand. While making breakfast, say, I happen to spot Black Doggie on the cookbook shelf, and make a mental note. Then, later, I can successfully execute the perfect mommy swoop, keys, diaper bag, thing-in-hand in one fluid motion and not be late. But today, Emeril and Barefoot Contessa haven't seen Black Doggie on their shelf. I'm pulling items out of the toy drawer, sweat at my brow, kitchen floor getting cluttered when...aha...I find my quarry hiding in a Hello Kitty purse. Fucking Kitty. I hold it up with the triumph of an Oscar winner. But Maxie, once again, shakes her head no. I had found Mommy Black Doggie. She wants Baby Black Doggie.

My six-year-old usually likes to hold an item of transport: car, airplane, train; or an action figure; or a toy cell phone; or a pirate's eye patch... Doesn't really matter what thing-in-hand he chooses, it invariably becomes a pretend gun shooting pretend bullets. From his booster seat he carefully aims Thomas the Train or Spidey at the back of my head. Pssshew, pssshew! "Stop trying to kill Papa while he's driving."

When he was a baby, before his interest in firearms, Sebastian's first thing-in-hand was a lavender monkey with a big pink heart on its chest. It had actually been mine, an opening night gift for a play, in which I played Oscar Wilde. (It occurs to me Oscar might have appreciated a frisky monkey with a big pink heart on.)

One hellish day, Monkey went by the way of Steve Guttenberg's career and trauma ensued. I desperately searched every nook and cranny. Did the play date take it by accident? Did the housekeeper steal it? I call our housekeeper and make her retrace her steps. "We have to find Monkey. We just have to!" She felt obliged to come by and help us search. The pitch in the house was decidedly frantic. Was it washed in the laundry? Flushed down the toilet? You would have thought I had lost a winning lottery ticket, upending the house, calling out "Monkey" as if the stupid thing would respond. We never found it.

Decades before the Monkey fiasco, my first thing-in-hand was Beaver, which ironically mirrors my first sexual experience. But unlike that furry plaything, Beaver had a flat tail, buck teeth, a necktie and a pork pie hat. Sometime after Beaver, I was introduced to Dolly. She was light blue all over and soft. There were no hands or fingers or feet or toes or even hair on her vague body-like form. The one incongruity amongst the plushness was her hard plastic face. She had beautiful long eyelashes and her eyes magically closed when I lay her down. I was smitten. I then rejected Beaver, which ironically I also did later in life. I carried Dolly everywhere. One evening, I was spending the night with my older cousins, Dolly in tow, and they told me boys don't play with dolls. I was crushed. This was my introduction to socialized shame, at the age of three. Dolly was placed on the shelf, banished with Beaver.

I turned from my Dolly disgrace and poured my energy into song. We had a player piano, which presently lives in my house in disrepair. I couldn't read the song titles of the piano roll boxes, but by the shape and length of the words I could always find my favorite song. Hello Dolly! My three year old voice warbled about the friend I had rejected. "So nice to have you back where you belong..."

Oddly, I don't remember a special thing-in-hand after that. Well...maybe at thirteen, when I locked myself into my room and thing-in-hand took on an entirely different meaning. But as a kid, was there anything after Dolly? A special car or baseball mitt or pencil? I don't think so. I can't imagine my father tolerating, nor my mother helping me find my favorite Hot Wheel. Which makes me query, are today's parents too indulgent?

There's a boy at Maxie's pre-preschool who carries around an old wig. (Future hairdresser, perhaps? Drag queen?) It looks grotesque, binkie in mouth, gnarled wig dragging behind. I'm sure health codes are being violated every time he steps onto school property. I can't help but wonder how did this attraction start? Was it thought of as cute? Is that why his parents indulged this bizarre perversion? And now is it too late to take "Wiggie" away?

Maybe we were lucky Monkey disappeared before Sebastian's attachment was too deep. I remember tucking him into bed that night, hoping he wouldn't ask. But he did. He asked for Monkey. A gelatinous mess on the inside, I calmly spoke the truth, "I don't know where Monkey is." Sebastian was perturbed for a moment, then he shrugged, rolled over and went to sleep.

Were Michael and I feeding into a simian obsession that wasn't there? Is that what today's parents do? Encourage dependence? Black Doggie, Monkey, Wig. It's adorable, it's individual, part of their unique personality, and before you know it your kid is dragging his filthy hairpiece through Safeway. If so, we're a sick lot. It's time to rip the Band-Aid off. Take that pacifier out of your kid's mouth. Get rid of blankie. And no more things-in-hand.

I look at my two-year-old. I'm empathetic but firm, "Black Doggie is gone." She seems perturbed for a moment, then she looks me in the face and screams. That's when my cell phone rings. I jump up and run to my bedroom. It's Mother. "If it's all right with you, I think I'll give you money for Christmas." Maxie still screaming in the background. "You don't think that's too impersonal, do you?" Hold up. I have an honest to God smack myself in the head V8 moment. I just abandoned my distraught daughter, went sprinting through the house like Carl Lewis because I couldn't do without my thing-in-hand. Holy crap. "Unless you want me to go out and buy you something." And we all have them. iPhone. Blackberry. Trio. Sidekick. We say they're our lifeline, but be honest, there are very few emails, few phone calls or texts that are that important. They are the adult binkie.

I spy Baby Black Doggie partially hidden under the covers of my bed. "No, money will be fine, Mom. I gotta go." I put down the phone and head to the kitchen. "It's okay, sweetheart. Look what Papa found."