24 August 2005

Dantés Auto Return

One fine day in April, my 11-year-old son, who I'll call, say, "Liam," and I, were heading toward the Bay Bridge in my spiffy 1995 Seafoam MomMobile to see The Homeopathy God. The Homeopathy God is this amazing world-renowned Homeopathic MD that I've been seeing for years in Point Richmond, in the East Bay, for my unique set of physical symptoms. The Homeopathy God only has an appointment available about every 4 months to hear my bubbele-meinzes (that's "grandma stories" in Yiddish, aka "complaints," like as if that's all Jewish grandmas can tell stories about). No one understands my bubbele-meinzes better than The Homeopathy God, except maybe a real bubbele. In this particular case, Liam had some bubbele-meinzes, too.

The winter had been, for us, a bumper-crop year for flus and their ilk. Liam and I were still suffering from the tail end of a flu that had wrecked my already iffy nervous system so thoroughly that walking into my studio (next door to my bedroom) felt like an expedition to the South Pole. Panting, shivering, I'd sit down at my Mac and be jolted clear across the room by Brian Eno's perky bonggg; then I'd squint at my computer's unforgiving, nonsensical shaft of rectangular light before turning the darned thing off and shuffling back to my blankies. Liam missed a lot of school, and when he wasn't missing school entirely, he was calling me from school to get picked up because he was sicker than we thought he was. It seemed like it would never end. Every day I had a fever. A friend of mine who's a lawyer had fallen victim to this same awful fate, and for what seemed like centuries he and I exchanged brown paper bags full of books and videos and vitamins. I was horrified that he was working in his office and driving his car and actually appearing in court on behalf of his clients in this condition, because for me, heating up canned chicken noodle soup in a little pot was about all I could manage.

Anyway, this went on for quite some time, and I remember it had some gruesome effect on the tummy, too, which is gone now but kina hora, you can just imagine. What's that disease that's supposed to make all your organs decompose while you're still alive? I am not going there on the internet. Well, anyway, for the first three months of 2005, Liam and I wrestled with this abomination of the flesh, and by the first week of April we were well enough to trundle off to The Homeopathy God in search of some immune-system-sustaining homeopathic support.

We were late for our appointment, so naturally our freeway entrance was closed. I drove around the block several times, saying things I'm not particularly proud of saying in front of a child. Down Market Street to Eighth we went, turning right, moving over to the left, signaling all the way, eager to drive onto the freeway. Then I became aware of the flashing red and yellow lights and the siren and the speaker saying "pull over to your left...don't get out of the car." Surely this was not intended for me, as I had been extra-careful to drive perfectly; I had recently been towed unexpectedly (anyone here ever expect to get towed? hands?) for outstanding parking tickets, an experience I vowed never to repeat. I thought this special attention was intended for someone else, certainly not a busy mom in her MomMobile heading purposefully to the doctor with her son. Perhaps there was some poor soul nearby who really needed the help of a friendly California Highway Patrolman?

Perhaps not.

I pulled neatly over to the left, right across Eighth Street from the Holiday Inn, where I could see the helpful California Highway Patrolman unmount his motorcycle and head right over to my car, obviously eagerly anticipating a personal consultation with me.

As it happens, he was distressed by the fact that I didn't have a current California registration sticker on the rear bumper of my car.

"Yes, officer, I can explain that" I said, pulling out my current drivers license, my current insurance statement and my current registration payment receipt. "You see, it's all paid for; I registered the car and paid the full amount, $285 and my firstborn son, but I still needed the Smog Certificate,*" and, smiling triumphantly, I proudly presented my current Smog Certificate, which I had finally managed to pull together the previous week, thank God. "Here's the Smog Certificate," I said, helpfully. "I've just been sick, you see, and hadn't gotten a chance to go b..."

The officer was nonplussed. "You were supposed to have your sticker by now. You applied for it —" He lifted his darkly-tinted motorcycle goggles to examine his UPS-style electronic clipboard. "Last November. That was six months ago."

I can't believe I fell for that. It was five months ago, actually. Four and a half, really. Four, if you take off for Christmas and, well, Chanukah came early last year. I think it was Thanksgiving Weekend, in fact, which was absurd. So it was really three months.

"It's PAID, Officer. I just don't have the little bitty sticker."

"Yes, but even if you did pay for it, the rule is that if you're driving around without a sticker for six months, I have to have you t—"

My doctor's appointment was just being frittered away, and it was making me crazy. It was at this point that I became a bit overwrought, causing me to revert to my native speech pattern, that of Queens, New York, where I'm originally from. Occasionally I find that Californians aren't so fond of my speech pattern. It is best exemplified by those old screwball comedies where Eastern City Women are trying to explain things to Cowboys. The City Woman, played by a fuel-injected, fast-talking blonde like Judy Holiday — who died tragically of cancer at 43 and, incidentally, is reputed to have had an IQ of 170 — babbles, in a squeaky voice, something like, "I nevah shoulda come heah in tha foist place; whaddid you say yaw name was? I sweah, someone has gotta get me outta this joint."

"The END of November, yes, officer, but you see, then there was Christmas, and since New Year's my son and I have been ill constantly. In fact (bringing my voice up an octave here) we are right now going to the doctor because, (another octave up, and a little faster because I had the sense that he was getting a little impatient) because we are sick and have had the flu for weeks and please officer please let us go, it takes months to get an appointment (a few coughs here I think) with The Homeopathy God and my son here needs to use a bathroom and so do I and please officer I already paid the registration and you can see I have everything here, I just haven't had time to go back to the DMV and get the actual sticker because we've been sick. Isn't that in there somewhere?" I pointed to his clipboard.

Then Gary Cooper pauses, takes the weed out of his mouth and goes, "huh-yup."

"Please step out of the vehicle" said the Helpful Policeman.

We were beginning to create a bit of a scene.

Liam started to panic.

"Officer, I can't step out of the car, I have to get my son and me to the doctor. We're already late for our appointment." I waved my cell phone at him and indicated that I had finally reached The Homeopathy God's Receptionist, who was comforting me as best she could by suggesting we do the appointment right then, over the phone. I had become quite distraught, and I couldn't find my Rescue Remedy.

Liam said, "Mom, I've gotta puke."

We got out of the car so Liam could puke.

"You are a very, very bad man." I said, like Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz, except under my breath. Go Dorothy!

We were detained for an eternity. This guy was one of these guys that actually gets off on watching women and children suffer. I think they're called "Sadists" or "Nazis" or something; he was one of those sick people. I was gobsmacked to be having an interaction with such pure, crystal-clear Evil. When Liam told him he needed to use the bathroom, the officer said, "You can go to the hotel across the street." My jaw dropped. We were not even at a crosswalk.

"My son is not crossing this street by himself and going to a public restroom in this neighborhood without me," I asserted. "Mooom" said my son, desperately. "Sir!" I pleaded. "Please let me and my son cross the street and let me take him to the bathroom!" Liam and I started to cry.

"Ma'am, if you don't calm down, I'm going to have to call my Supervisor." Well, all right! I can really wield my power over a hysterical woman thought the Policeman. She probably deserves it. Hell, they all deserve it. Women, bah.

"Call your Supervisor! Please call your Supervisor!" I bellowed, clutching my child. I had trouble imagining one person this nasty; it was impossible to envision another. I was certain I could convince this Supervisor that this was just a terrible mistake, an intrusion into the everyday business of a workaday mother, PTA member, university instructor, art director, published writer, upright contributer to the community — and her sweet, innocent — sickly even, as he is quite slender — little boy, and that he would admonish his subordinate for being needlessly cruel, snatching away his badge, cartoon beads of sweat popping off his demoted forehead as he pleaded for mercy.

As Liam says so often and so eloquently: "Ri-i-i-i-ght."

Suddenly I had two motorcycle cops on my hands, as well as two large motorcycles and a small but colorful group of onlookers. As The Supervisor unmounted his horse, I mean bike, I started explaining the details of how I was being detained unnecessarily to the point of abuse.

There was a long pause as The Supervisor lifted off his helmet, revealing an unusually large head. He took out his clipboard.

"It appears you also had a fix-it ticket for a broken tail light," observed The Supervisorator.

"I had it fixed," I said, pointing out my fixed tail light. I started jumping up and down, shaking my hands from my wrists like a teenager doing the Frug.

"But you didn't send in the fix-it ticket with the $10, saying you'd fixed it."

Yeah, fine, make a federal case out of it.

"I had no idea. I got a fix-it ticket, so I fixed it. I never got one before. I thought I just had to fix it, not show it to anybody."

I had not previously even heard of a fix-it ticket. I had gotten a fix-it ticket the week before, but I was drunk. Fortunately, I was not driving; my date, the Designated Driver, was driving. The cop that escorted us off the Bay Bridge that night gave the Designated Driver a sobriety test, and he passed; then he gave him a fix-it ticket and mentioned that I should get the car smogged, which I did, the next day. But I was drunk, so I don't remember the rules regarding the fix-it ticket; it's not against the law to be drunk in a car you own as long as you're not driving it, right? And by the time I sobered up and got the damned Smog Certificate, I'd been dumped by the Designated Driver. Even now, he won't take my calls.

"Look, I don't want to get back together with you," I could have said; "I just want to know, do you know what I'm supposed to do with that fix-it ticket?"

"Boy, that chick was really needy" my ex-Designated Driver would have commented astutely.

I looked up and saw a tow truck backing up to the front of my car.

"Lady, we have to tow you," said The Evil CHP Supervisor-dude.

"What?! You're not serious. You're kidding, right?" I searched the windows to the souls of both California Highway Patrolmen, but didn't find any. I looked around wildly for help. The crowd had dispersed by then; even the vagrants in the Tenderloin had more important things to do. So I got in my car.

"I'm not moving" I said. "Liam, get in the car."

"Mom, I have to use the bathroom!" said Liam.

"Get in the car! I yelled like a crazy person. "I am not going anywhere." I said emphatically, to everyone, even the people who weren't there anymore.

Liam got in the car.

"Ma'am, I don't want to have to take you down to the station house," said Sadistic Highway Cop #1.

I sat stonily, facing forward, arms crossed. "We're not getting out of the car."

The tow truck driver started feeling up my front bumper. I felt violated.

"Leave my car alone!" I shouted.

A woman pulled up next to me and rolled down her window. Liam unrolled the passenger window.

She leaned out of the window. "Are you getting out?" she hollered.

"What?! Am I getting out? You're kidding, right? I'm in the middle of getting arrested. Yeah, I'm getting out," I cackled insanely. "In five years, with good behavior!"

I settled back down. "I do not believe this" I said to Liam, while a part of me totally believed it and was stowing it away for a screenplay, a comic, a column. Something. I was increasingly floored by how difficult life had become in this town, and I was, and still am, considering a flight to the suburbs. I considered Fairfax for a minute. Then I dialed my Lawyer Friend, the one who had been sick with me, whose office was nearby. I had no idea what he could do, as he's not a Registration Sticker Lawyer, but he's always worth a try. He does have his own kindly way of helping, even if it's just standing by, looking tall and blonde and dapper in a pressed suit, letting me blow my nose on his crisp sleeve.

The last time I called my Lawyer Friend in a Time of Need it went something like this:

Violet (on the phone): They turned off my electricity! Those bastards! Can't you do something?
LF: Um, yes, I'll call you right back.
He calls me right back.
LF: Well, I fixed it, you're ok now.
Violet: Really? What'd you do?
LF: I paid the bill.
Violet: Paid my bill!? Oh, come on. You can't have paid my bill!
LF: Yes, well, I find that the easiest way to get people like PG&E to cooperate is by giving them money, so I gave them some.

So my Lawyer Friend came by, and advised me to get out of the car and to let them tow it. Then he tells me that cops hate lawyers; who knew? I never watch TV. He thought it best just to go along with it and deal with it later. (Stop the presses, he's a lawyer.) I took a few things out of my car and clasped his starched arm while he walked us three blocks over to the AAA office, where I didn't even have to wait in line to get my sticker. Before dashing off, he threw us a few extra bucks for a taxi down to the Courthouse, where I was charged $600 and directed to go even further down, to the Pits of Hell, to be exact, to get my car.

I enlisted my friend Lisa to help us with that part. She met us while we were sipping expensive, frosty, rejuvenating shakes in front of a Jamba Juice at the Potrero Shopping Center, and drove us down there. As it happens, it was the day (of the month? of the year??) that they auction off the unclaimed vehicles at the Pits of Hell, so it was teeming with sweaty men of just about every description, some of them women. I was trying to get my car back before they auctioned it off. I had to beg and plead and cry for them to pay any attention to me at the creepy trailer office parked at the bottom of the Pits of Hell. I felt extremely prim and delicate. Getting my car back was like having to step through the Hell Panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights in a white linen suit. Without the good sex.

I was a nervous wreck because Lisa was with Liam in her car, and had to drive over to UC Berkeley and teach that evening, and had I not made a big fuss, all three of us would still be there right now. I was SO happy to drive up the long ramp out of the Pits of Hell, pick up my son, bid adieu to Lisa and drive off, it felt like I was being brought back to life on the emergency room table.

"Mom," says Liam on the way home. "You know what was the funniest thing? You know that lady that wanted our parking spot? On the way to AAA I noticed she'd just waited behind us, and when they towed our car, she actually took our spot!"

"You're kidding!" I grimaced, unable to actually smile quite yet, but telling myself there would be a time in my life that I would in fact smile again. It was hard to fathom.

"Did I ever tell you about the time I was in an accident on the Grand Central Parkway, near Grandma and Grandpa's house in New York, with my boyfriend Jonathan Wallace when I was 19?"


"We were in his mother's big, fancy Citröen, driving past Creedmoor State Mental Hospital, and there was a ten-car-pileup, and we were in the middle of it. Lots of people got hurt; ambulances and fire trucks rushed to the scene. But the car was so well-appointed and plush, all we did was bash our lips on the dashboard, so we both had blood dripping from our mouths, but we weren't badly hurt."

"I know, Mom."

"Anyway, ambulances arrived, there were stretchers and tow trucks everywhere, and while we were stumbling around with blood-soaked Kleenex hanging from our chins trying to figure out what to do next, a woman driving along the Parkway pulls up next to me, rolls down her window and says, "Is this the way to the Cross-Island Expressway?"

That's the New York version of THAT story.

"I know, Mom. You told me."

And so, you might ask, why do I bring this up now?

Well, subsequently, I got two additional bills from the Department of Parking and Traffic regarding my driving without a sticker and having not reported fixing my tail light. For a total of over $2000! No way was I going to pay that. So I went to court Monday. I brought all kinds of documentation, medical records, papers from my glove compartment. Waiting in line for the doors to open, I shared my story with a young Realtor who had gotten in trouble for not knowing what to do with a fix-it ticket for a broken tail light. Ten minutes later, we were both dismissed, and I was ordered to go downstairs to the cashier and pay $20. No one had the faintest idea of how to file a report against having been abused by a California Highway Patrolman. They said it wasn't their department.

*For those of you who live in states without compulsory Smog Certification (are there any? West Virginia? Montana? The Bronx??), you should know that this is — quelle suprise! — a total Racket. If you have a car that's such an old shitbox that you know it can't possibly pass certification, you are exempt and you can just go without it. If you have a modern car that can pass certification, you have to pay $95 and show the DMV a certificate. For an explanation of why this is weird, Google B.F. Skinner.

21 August 2005

The Twinkie Malt and Other Cheap Shots

I have no idea how I wound up on the Patty's Newsletter mailing list, but the twinkie recipe is priceless, and worth passing on. I keep thinking of great, deep, funny pieces to write and by the time I sit down here and actually write, all I can do is post this ridiculous newsletter I got today. But how could I resist? Go to her website and see what "Patty's Newsletter" SELLS! I want the Monkey Welcome Plaque and I want it NOW.

Vol 2. no. 4
Hello my friends!
I have been working on a new website www.pattysneighborhood.com which I invite all of you to visit.

It reminds me of this old Far Side with the caption that reads "What if dolphins really COULD talk?" and it shows 2 dolphins swimming, and one is saying to the other, "Knock, knock...c'mon. Knock, knock."

Not everyone is WORTHY of a newsletter, Patty.
Then she provides us with the following recipes, just in case we're on an IQ-free diet:

Citrus Jello Cake, "from my cousin Marie"

1 Lemon Cake Mix
10 oz Sunkist Diet Lemonade (soda)
1 Can mandarin oranges, drained and rinsed
1 Package sugar free orange Jell-O

Mix cake mix, soda and oranges. Blend with mixer until smooth (about 1-1/2 minutes on medium). Pour into a 9X12 inch pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes, until lightly brown on top and firm to touch.

Mix Jell-O with 1/2 cup hot water, sir to dissolve. Add 1 cup ice cubes and stir until ice cubes melt. Prick cake lightly with fork and pour Jell-O over cake. Refrigerate for about 3 hours.

( TOPPING?! She never said there was topping! Now she tells me! Now I have to go out and buy some Dessert Topping, and the cake will get all...all...what will it get? I can't even figure it out. Melted? Hard? Warm? Cold? No, it's already cold. I give up.)

1/2 container fat free whipped topping
1/2 of an eight ounce package fat free cream cheese

Blend topping and cheese with mixer until smooth. Spread over chilled cake and serve.

Come on Marie, what's with the 1/2 packages? Live a little. And now for something completely disgusting...

Twinkie Malt

2 cups milk
6 Hostess Twinkies
4 Oreo cookies
3 cups vanilla ice cream
1/3 cup milk

Blend milk and Twinkies for 5 to 10 seconds. Add Oreo cookies. Blend together. Add 3 cups vanilla ice cream. Blend until smooth. Pour in milk and enjoy.

Pour in milk? Pour what in milk? Pour this thing INTO a glass of milk? I am confused, Patty. I am frightened and confused and I don't know where my Twinkies went. They were here a minute ago.

Now for Patty's Spiritually Uplifting quotes:

“When I look at my life through the lens of gratitude, all my experiences take on a rosy glow”
-Thomas Kinkade

“Your faith is what you believe, not what you know”
-John Lancaster Spalding

Regarding the first quote, I think when Thomas Kincaid looks through the lens of gratitude he ought to see a rosy glow, considering how much money people have shelled out for his creepy signed prints. When I look at his life through the lens of Aunt Violet, I see the greenish glow of lots of little winged dollar bills.

Now, let's take this second quote. Who IS this John Lancaster Spalding person? It makes a great companion piece to the excellent editorial in this week's New Yorker, which is about the Bush Administration being, well, a little unsure about the veracity of "science." You know, apparently this Administration finds "science" to be a controversial subject. I could never come close to saying it nearly as eloquently as Hertzberg, so I'll just publish the link here.

Your faith is what you believe, not what you know? Your faith is that you believe that Iraq has WMDs but now we know they don't have them but we'll keep blasting the shit out of them and killing our young soldiers anyway, because our faith is what we believe but not what we know? What kind of bullshit is this? Do people think they can just write just anything in quotes these days? Oh, man.

If the NYer has taken the Hertzberg piece down, write to me and I'll send it to you.

Aunt Vi, with a migraine

12 August 2005

The Luckiest People In The World

"You can never change your life until you change something you do daily." - John Maxwell

Indeed you cannot.

I have been thinking all week about how to make my life more Camp Mather-like. What was it that felt so...so healthy about it? Why did I have so much energy? Was it the fresh air? Was it the peace of knowing my kid was doing something healthy, like riding his bike and cavorting in the pool, rather than lying on the couch worshipping magic cards, eating Zours or Squints or Squirms and not using kleenex?

Was it that someone else was cooking the food? Was it the beautiful lake? Was it the peace of mind generated by an unlimited quantity of easy-to-access roughage?

Indeed it was not.

It was the people. Yes, the people. The community. I am just one of these people that gets energy from other people. And according to Barbra Streisand, I'm one of the Luckiest People in the World.

Now, that last bit may have been true in Brooklyn in 1963, but is it still true in 2005? In Northern California? Let's take a closer look.

When I was a kid growing up in Darkest Queens (which is almost Brooklyn, but not), other families used to go on, oh I dunno, picnics for entertainment, or something. We went to Idylwild International Airport to watch the Italians greet each other at the terminal. We'd sit there, my dad would get a coke out of a machine that would sometimes run out of cups and just knock out some ice cubes and piss coke into a plastic tray, and my mother and sister and I would park ourselves on a bench and eat Belgian Waffles and watch old Sicilian widows see their American grandchildren for the first time. It was...moving. While other families were racking up impressive shuffleboard scores and working on their tans, we were sitting on a concrete at Jones Beach's mutant "boardwalk," our transluscent shoulders covered with pastel cardigans, "people watching."

I had no idea this was weird, but over the past few years I have raised an eyebrow at some cues. Here are two that immediately come to mind:

1. A conversation with my Polish-from-Chicago-coder-geek-saxplayer-ex-boyfriend, G, who happens to be getting married next weekend not that I give a shit, that went something like this:

Setting: On the way to The Friedlich's Fourth of July BBQ (in the Sunset District, for all you Bay Areans) with G, who was attending this annual event for the first time, and my son, let's call him, say, Liam.

V: What's that?
G: It's a frisbee.
V: What's it for?
G: It's for throwing around in the backyard.
V: Oh we don't need that.
G: What are we going to do for 7 hours?
V: We're going to Visit.
G: We're going to Visit? Sheesh, that sounds really boring.
V: What do you mean "boring?" There'll be about 20 of my old friends there! And the kids just run around. It's not boring.
G: It sounds boring, like when I used to have to visit my aunt in Downtown Chicago. We'd better bring a frisbee.
V: This is not your aunt's! It's nothing like your aunt's! It's not THAT kind of visiting. It's Fun visiting. We talk! We joke! We tell stories!
G: (frowning) I've never had fun visiting.
V: It's what we do. Everyone is really smart and funny and we all know how to cook so the food is great. We're going to have witty repartee, the children will frolic, and we'll all eat like pigs. At about 4 PM everyone will start freezing, and we'll start putting on sweaters and pulling on socks and legwarmers, and wrapping ourselves up in woolen blankets and the hides of sheep, and one by one we'll move inside for coffee and tea and Sally's yummy home made pie, and complain about how we live in the coldest spot in the Northern Hemisphere. Then we'll drive home at dusk, and stop briefly to try to watch the fireworks up on Clipper Street — but we won't be able to see them through the fog. Then we'll go home. A frisbee is not necessary.
G: I'm bringing the frisbee.

2. Another conversation with G, my Polish-from-Chicago-coder-geek-sax-player-ex-boyfriend who, as you know, happens to be getting married next weekend, not that I give a shit:

Setting: Afternoon, Harbin Hot Springs (hip spa in Northern California with various hot tubs at various sizes and temperatures where everyone is naked).

V: Wow, floating in pools of various sizes and temperatures for two days was really relaxing, but I'm feeling a bit pruney, and I can't take any more of these Watsu sharks*. Whaddaya wanna do now?
G: Oh, I was considering an orthobionomic massage, or maybe trying that 2-hour-long Bikram Yoga** class.
V: Well, have fun. I think I'm going to lie on a towel on this big deck and watch the naked bodies go by, and eavesdrop on what naked people say to one another. I'm bringing my sketchpad so I can look busy.

Come to think of it, these may not be the greatest examples, because there's a wee chance maybe it was my ex-boyfriend that was weird and not me. But I'll go into that another time. Did I mention he was getting married next weekend? I have no problem with that.

It seems normal for me to be surrounded by civilization. Even naked civilization. But in the city where I reside, it's so civilized it's all going on behind closed doors and in back yards. And if I want my kid to roam around, 'cause he's a wanderer, yeah-eah a wanderer, tough luck: the streets are too steep and his friends are scattered all over the damned city because the public schools are so lousy there's a lottery system that places kids in schools all over town. My son has never thrown a basketball through the basketball hoop next door, because the neighborhood kids don't know him. Who knows, it might belong to some gang or something.

PTA members correspond with one another online; you can live in Estonia and still be an active PTA participant, though you'll miss the Spam Sushi and Gluten-free Kugel at the multicultural pot-luck.

I went to a party two doors down one night because they jammed a flyer in my mailbox inviting me (and the whole block) to stop in. I thought they were serious and really wanted me to come. Pathetically, I got all dressed up, and even gift-wrapped a vintage cooking pamphlet for them as a housewarming present: "1000 Things To Do With Hamburger Meat the Betty Crocker Way." I walked into their flat, and it was fabulous, like a Hollywood set. I expected Gwyneth Paltrow and Renee Zellweger to waltz out, fresh from Bikram Yoga. Instead, some ingenue that wasn't even old enough to ride a bus by herself emerged and took my oddball gift in a poised but irony-free way (why try to explain?). Then they introduced me to the towering megaplex of swollen gin and vodka bottles on their oversized oak diningroom table. I made friends with a strikingly tall bottle of gin, told it my best party jokes, and split hastily, after having caught sight of a short older guy (who must have been one of their dads) sharing his party jokes with younger, Betty Crocker pamphlet-free babes. I went home and started cruising the M-seeking-W section of Craigslist.

Many years ago when I was married and had a baby on my hands, I lived in a building where, for a few precious years, several of us tenants became friends. It was cool, even though my girlfriend across the hall thought she was Lucy and I was Ethel. Certainly I was far Lucyer. At any rate, she and her husband are now divorced; he lives in Shanghai and has a new baby, and she eventually got so many tattoos she became the bookkeeper for Burning Man. I'm divorced now, too. Though I have lived in San Francisco for 25 years, the fact that most of the time I don't really know my neighbors still seems wrong to me. I miss Lucy-and-Ethel time.

It's unnatural that my real communities — most of the Camp Mather people, for example, were from the wonderful community of parents from Liam's artsy alternative elementary school — have to travel 150 miles to the High Sierras to sit around a lake and schmooze on a daily basis without an appointment.

I adore my online community of friends, and consider them my comrades, truly. But I need a network of messy, breathing, pheromone-producing humans to interact with. I tried going to my local café but no one there talks to anyone else unless they're having a website planning meeting or a job interview. When I try to make helpful suggestions to people in these stuations they somehow act annoyed with me. Perhaps I should actually get an on-site job? This is a
scary thought. Move to the suburbs? A town? Both? Neither?

There must be a better way.
For now, I rant.

Aunt Violet

*Watsu sharks: A sort of Northern California-style gigolo; a guy with strong arms who hangs around in warm pools at Harbin looking for single women to float.
**Bikram Yoga: Yoga that is done in a room heated to about 100˚ for absolutely no reason I can possibly imagine. I do yoga myself, but it makes my arms ache just thinking about this hot room. From reading magazines at the checkout at Safeway I have learned that Gwyneth Paltrow does this kind of yoga.

10 August 2005

After Camp Mather

What I really wanted to do here, see, before it was 2AM, was write a little about how changed I was by going to a fucking Family Camp. Am I allowed to curse on here? I certainly hope so.

I went to this Family Camp for San Francisco residents last week, because my friend B. called me up and said, "We're going to Camp Mather, get me your tax return so [you and me and our kids] can get a cabin at the discount rate. And make it snappy, this thing has to be in by tomorrow afternoon." Well, I was just floored. I mean, I had no idea what she was talking about, really, but I knew some intelligent and engaging people that actually went to this Family Camp. And LIKED it. A LOT. I tore the place apart looking for last year's tax return.

Now, I know how to arrive in Paris and New York; I could arrive in Rome, too, without too much ado, and Boston, or Vancouver, and pretty much any place that used the same alphabet as me. Philadelphia. Aix-en-Provence. But the California wilderness?! I hadn't a clue. This place is in the High Sierras, right next to Yosemite. Would we have to sleep in a tent? (She said "cabin," didn't she?) Would we have to hang our food from ropes so bears wouldn't eat it? Would we have to poop in a cartoon outhouse with a moon on it, in a hole in a plank of wood ? I had so many questions. And dear, lovely friends were actually coming out of the wood...er, woods, COACHING me, so that I could really, really do this absurd thing: go to Family Camp with my son and my friend's family for a week.

Mosquito nets and extension cords and fans and lawn chairs started filling up the Purgatory Area of my apartment.

I always liked the British idea of Family Camp, but I had no idea they had them here in the United States. Here, most of us had to make a kind of leap to understand the whole Tommy's Holiday Camp thing...like, why were there adults at camp with the kids? And if there were adults, why was Uncle Ernie allowed to fiddle about? What WE did HERE for "sleep-away camp" was send kids alone up to the mountains, so they could have "fun" by themselves in The Country. That is the myth, anyway. I will spare you my expanded discourse on the tortures I endured at the hands of evil bunkmates at Camp Louemma, an innocent Native-American-sounding name until one realized the camp was run by sports fiends Lou and Emma. (I'll save this for another rant, one about clueless camp directors and sadistic 11-year-old girls.) Anyway, this Family Camp thing actually sounded like a pretty good idea, but I had no idea they had them here.

I had been mortified by an old friend who once told me, after she'd had kids and I didn't (yet), that she and her husband had gone on a Disney Cruise. This kept me from having kids for at least another 6 years. Is this what parenting would make of me? A person that will go on a Disney Cruise? It felt like I'd be selling my soul to the devil. I was horrrified, with 3 r's. It was creepy, like that housing development in the "F" State next door to Disney World, or ThomasKinkadeland. It would be like having to live with Barney 24/7 and those creepy teenagers (who should be out scoring crack or something) that hang out with him. No thank you. Can you even begin to imagine the food? And the prices?? And all the HATS?! And...Pinocchio? Oh dear, don't get me started.

Well, it's almost three and I haven't made my point yet, so I'd better hop to it. I KNEW this would happen if I started ranting in one of these blog thingies.

The point is, I had a wonderful time at Family Camp. Like that Talking Heads concert I saw in 1988 at the Civic, where there was like Before the Talking Heads Concert and there was After the Talking Heads Concert. I was blown away, I was never the same. This was true for Camp Mather. It was all about being outside, and people all eating together, and eating whatever I wanted (3 meals a day, prepared by someone else, eaten at a dining hall, outside, on a big patio), and not gaining weight because I was happy and I was walking and riding horses and playing ping-pong and swimming and talking and dancing and singing and hiking and lounging by a lake reading and playing bingo and walking many yards (a block?) to a bath house (NOT a plank, thank heavens) every day and back, and I swear I am ready to join a commune. I was so happy and healthy I almost forgot that I wasn't having any sex.

Yes, it was a virtually sexless week, and I came home more determined than ever to create for myself more of a family, which meant joining three more online dating sites. (I would have joined four had there actually been a "Kikes&Goys.com," but that one was apparently a joke on the part of a friend.) Yes, it would have been perfect if I'd gotten to snuggle up with Mr. Right at the end of every wholesome fun-filled day and gotten to have some incredibly wholesome fun-filled sex.

Of course, it was also the first time in 10 years I'd been without email for more than 3 days.

But it was great anyway.

I am a Changed Woman. I went to Trad'r Joe's and bought seven large plants and put them out on "the porch" (formerly known as "the fire escape.") OK, Real Plant People probably don't buy their plants at TJs but it was a start. And now I have a garden! And you won't believe this, but tonight I made oatmeal cookies.

Something unusual is definitely going on here.

Welcome to Rant Violet, Aunt Violet's non-blog.

Vi (do you sign these things?)

09 August 2005

Rant Violet #1

Hi there. Is this thing working?

Welcome to Rant Violet.