Monday, June 22, 2009

And now for some comic relief!

I've been posting some SERIOUS stuff lately, so I thought I'd give us all a break and take you along with me on my day yesterday at a classic old American amusement park. It ain't pretty.

Damn illegal aliens taking jobs from Americans! Why don't they stay in Roswell like they're supposed to!

                                             One of the rides. Don't ask me!

                     The old carousel.   Queen Elizabeth or a jester in drag?

                                                She moves and laughs maniacally. 
                                          The stuff of little children's nightmares.

                                           I think I saw Elvis in line here.

                                       Honey, I've told you a million times,
                                        those cowboys will break your heart.

                             Oh My!  (Photoshopped for the boys on the blog.)

                          A cheap shot I know, but I never said I wasn't cheap.

           And finally, we might be trash, but by God, we're patriotic trash!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Requiem for a cool girl

When I was fourteen, my family moved to Taiwan. At the time, Taipei had a huge US military base which supported an entire suburb of families and a school. My father was a diplomat, though, so we lived in Taipei proper, far away from most other Americans, and each day I took a long bus ride to and from school. At first I sat alone dreaming out the window at this new place called home. But at some point during that first year, an older girl started sitting behind me and talking to me. I don't know why she chose me. I wasn't cool. I was a fourteen-year old nobody. But perhaps that's exactly why she talked to me. Being a nobody in the social hierarchy of school, I was unable to judge or harm her. I was safe.

Her name was Anya Phillips. She was Eurasian and had a slight tendency toward chubbiness. She was not remarkably beautiful or remarkably ugly, or really, remarkable in any way. She was two years ahead of me in school, and way ahead of me in all other ways. She smoked, did drugs, though that was no big deal in our school. Taipei was an R & R (Rest and Recreation) base for the GIs fighting in Vietnam, and they brought lots and lots of recreation with them. Heroin, acid, pot, hash, were consumed like candy at my school, and if that wasn't enough, you could walk in to any drug store and buy speed or downers without a prescription. Only the Jesus freaks or the new kids like me didn't do drugs of some sort. So Anya was just following along with the crowd, trying to be hip. Unsurprisingly, she never talked to me in school, and never called me at home. But on the bus - that demilitarized zone between the worlds that mattered to her - she talked to me about all kinds of things - gripes about her family, music, boys she thought were hot, things she thought were cool. She wanted desperately to be cool. She wasn't quite. Because in high school there were limits on what you could do for the sake of coolness; school dress codes that had to be adhered to, parents who held purse strings and had to be kept mollified.

When the next year started, she took her place behind me on the bus and her confessional monologues began again. That year, for me though, things began to change. My friends and I began to dabble with drugs. Anya was dealing by then, and about half way through the year, she offered to sell and I bought. A few weeks later I received my one and only phone call at home from Anya. She called to tell me she had been caught dealing by the MPs (military police). Then she said, "They said they wouldn't prosecute me if I told them who I sold to, so I gave them your name because you were less popular than the others." As I said, there was nothing more important to her than being cool, and even upset and frightened as I was at the time, I understood the emptiness and self loathing behind what she'd just said and done.

Things changed, of course, after that. My father was a diplomat so I had immunity. But I got scared straight and stopped doing drugs completely and forever. Anya was suspended from school and, when she came back, I stayed away from her. And so, she faded from my life, though not from my mind. I dined out on the pitiful story of her ratting me out for years: "Can you believe she actually said to me...!" And, more seriously, Anya gave me the story I told my teens when we had our talks about drugs; "I bought drugs and got caught and if I hadn't been lucky enough to have diplomatic immunity, I might not have been able to get into college, get a good job, adopt you." It packed a wallop, that little story. So, in a weird way, her bald, craven need for social approval and her lack of loyalty to anything but that need, changed my life for the better. You don't forget people who - for good or bad - change your life.

Well, today I was in a bookstore, leafing idly through a book on the New York punk scene, and there, in grainy black and white, was Anya. It was a night shot of her and a group of punk No Wavers - Lydia Lunch of Teen Age Jesus and the Jerks, and some others. "Girls," I yelled across the store to my daughters, "here's the woman who ratted me out for buying drugs because I wasn't popular enough!" They ran over and were fascinated. When I got home, I googled her. She had been big in the New York punk scene, hung out with Debbie Harry, helped found the Mudd Club, worked as an exotic dancer and an S & M dominatrix, and dealt and did heroin. She died in 1981 from cancer. On a computer chat group full of old and former punks, I found a thread about her. One of them wrote, "I went to the hospital [to visit her] once...but was unable to handle it and quickly ran out to get another bag [of heroin]." Just for the record, Anya, I would have stayed ....

So Anya, you finally made it to cool, babe. You were always cooler than me, but that was easy. In the end, though, you out-cooled everyone: all those boys who wouldn't date you in high school; who you wouldn't rat on to the MPs; who wouldn't give you the time of day even after that. While in life, there was always a sad eagerness for approval about you, but In death you've finally achieved elusiveness, that necessary ingredient for cool. In the pictures from that time, you are thin, smoking, dressed in black, and self-consciously, painfully chic and posed. Strangers see those pictures now and make comments like, "Coolest girl ever!" The beautiful sculptured shell you gave up so much for is all that's left of you now. But in my mind you're still a real and unremarkable girl, riding on the purgatory of that bus, that space between the Hell of home and the unreachable Heaven of popularity in school. You sit, forever, on a seat of cracked green vinyl. But now I'm the one that leans over the dull gray metal of the seat back to whisper in your ear something like a prayer. And this is what I it is. Anya, I truly hope that, somewhere there, in the brief, white-hot heart of New York heroin-chic, wearing your own dreamed-up leather-bondage fashions, doing Chinese white, thrashing to the loud music, you found the antidote you needed to fill your emptiness, to slake your endless aching thirst for love.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Suffer the little children

I am the mother of some obviously "different" kids. My twins are Asian, adopted when they were six months old. Another daughter is noticeably autistic. We get a lot of stares, questions, double takes, but I've worked hard to make sure we mostly live in a little protective bubble of a world that enthusiastically embraces the many differences we humans have from one another. I've also tried to talk about how the world treats and mistreats difference, and that it's not all goodness and light, but luckily for us these talks are mostly theoretical. To this end, however, when we were invited to a play called "Anne and Emmet," an imagined dialog between Anne Frank and Emmet Till, we decided to take the twins with us. It would be a cultural experience and good opportunity to broaden their knowledge of the world, but at a safe historical distance. The play was to take place at the Holocaust Museum in Washington on Wednesday. We drove to DC that day, arriving in the late afternoon. We were tired from the drive and, though my mother was urging us to leave immediately for the Mall, we dawdled and delayed. Finally, we got ourselves organized to go but, as we were about to leave, we got a call saying a white extremist had come into the Holocaust Museum and shot and killed a black guard. Had we left early to avoid DC rush hour, as my mother was urging us to do, my beautiful brown-skinned daughters might have been in the sights of a man who would have seen them, because of the simple fact of having extra pigmentation in their skin, as a threat to his idea of what America should be.

I can't express how grateful I am that my daughters were spared the violence, bloodshed, and trauma of being there. I tried my best to distract them from the shock that a man had been murdered that day, at a place we had been about to go to, for the crime of having brown skin, like theirs. I took them shopping, swimming, out for ice cream. But everywhere we turned, TVs and radios were blaring this man's twisted and hate-filled vision of the world or the tragic image of the man his hatred killed. The twins are level-headed girls and, having been abandoned at birth by their biological mother, having spent the first six months of their lives in an orphanage, they know that hard shit happens in this life. But this was different.

When they were little, they used to ask me, "What would you do to keep us safe?" And then they would proceed to make up scenarios that included all my worst phobias. "Would you bungee jump naked from the Empire State building?" And I would say "Yes, even though I would throw up, wet my pants, and faint if I did that, I would do it to keep you safe." And I would. And I'm sure that the mothers of Anne Frank and Emmet Till - those now no longer so safely historical object lessons - would have too. As would the mother of Stephen Tyrone Johns, the guard who died Wednesday and who lived, as do we all, in a world that, heartbreakingly, we cannot keep safe for our children.

(My husband was asked to write an opinion piece in the Washington Post putting the shooting in the context of the history of the Mall. Here's the link if you're interested:
Outlook op ed )

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Coming out, 21st century style

My teen-aged twin daughters came out to me today. Here's how it went:

(Mother and daughter sitting on the front porch on a quiet summer morning. Off stage the sound of an occasional car going by. Sun shines through a tall rhododendron, which screens them from the street.)
Me: "So, are you and N. dating?"
R: "Yeah. I was going to tell you...."
Me: "And you know that's totally fine with us, right?"
R: "Yeah. I know."
Me: "Good. What about Z? I haven't seen her for a while."
R: "She's on vacation. She and S. are.... I don't know."
Me: (Nodding) "When are you guys going out shopping today?"

Not exactly high drama, right? Which is as it should be, I guess. Honestly, I've been ready to join PFLAG since they were four and S. announced to me, "I don't want to ever get married, ever get pregnant, ever wear a dress again, or ever have breasts!" (To which I replied, "That's all fine with me, but you ARE going to have breasts. They'll be small though, since you're Asian.") And I have to admit that I suspected something was up before that, when they went through a phase of drawing pictures of themselves with penises. They would draw those cute circle bodies with eyes, nose, mouth, stick arms, and a little stick penis, then show me the picture saying, "This is me, with a penis!"
I remember saying, "But S., you don't have a penis. You could draw yourself with a vagina...."
"But I WANT to draw myself with a penis!"
No, Mr. Freud, it's not what you think.

The funny thing is that after (or because of?) all this emotional prepping and gearing up to be the MOST supportive parent ever!!!!!!!, I don't think they'll want me to join PFLAG. They're low-key girls who don't like making a big deal about much of anything. I'll ask them, but my guess is that they'll say, "Ummm... no...."

So welcome to the 21st century. We're here and we're queer, but we don't really want to make a big deal about it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I had to change the title of this post because some weird website in China kept adding dirty links to it!

I have seven kinds of old-fashioned roses blooming in my garden now. Seven! As I write this, the scent of Zephirine Drouhin is wafting in the open front window. Darlings, I might not be much of a housekeeper, but I do like to dig around in the dirt and plant things. And if you wait long enough, those little spindly leggy shoots turn into gorgeous blousey bombshells! Va va va voom!

The Grand Dames of the garden, two decades-old 10' x 10' beauties I call Big Pink:

A David Austin Yellow rose, a wild little pink climer and a big-pink bud:

A tiny pink sweetheart rose:

Zephirine Drouhin up close:

Zephirine Drouhin as it climbs up the trellis on my front porch:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sock it to me

(Warning: this post may bore you to death, but sometimes a girl just has to vent.)

Socks are the Aegean stables of my life. If I totaled up all the hours I've spent pawing through laundry baskets full of color-sorted unmatched socks, I'd probably realize I had found the true purpose of my life and immediately take to drink. And don't just tell me to throw away all those unmated socks. Those suckers are expensive! Those stylish little teenager socks, the ones I buy them for special occasions (as opposed to the usual Big-Lots irregulars I buy)? They are the price of a deli sandwich with all the fixins. I'm going to hunt those renegades down, rope 'em, and ride 'em back to the fold if it kills me.

So here's the way it goes. Each load of laundry spits out a few socks whose partners went AWOL. I toss them in a basket dedicated entirely to lonely socks. Then, each month, when the basket is full, I spend ridiculous amounts of time sorting them by color and hunting for matches. When I find a match, and I do find some, I feel like Tommy Lee Jones might have felt if he'd ever caught The Fugitive. But there are always socks, good socks, socks that have only been worn once, that get left behind, alone and unmated, in the Miss Lonely Hearts basket. And so the cycle (of laundry and life) begins again....

So, my dears, any advice?