Recent Work By Erika Rae

One who has control over the mind is tranquil in heat and cold, in pleasure and pain, and in honor and dishonor, and is ever steadfast with the Supreme Self.” -Bhagavad Gita

 

It is Monday morning and I am pulling on the smooth wooden handle of the sauna door at the North Boulder Rec Center. My eyes adjust to the dim light and I step inside under the watchful gaze of two men sitting at opposite sides of the bench facing the door. I smile without meeting either of their eyes and take a seat at the small bench next to the stove on the right. The bench burns the undersides of my thighs and I fidget under the sting of heat and male eyes above me. In a rush, I make for the empty, high bench opposite me, turn backwards and boost myself up with my palms so that I can sit with my back to the men and my eyes to the door as if we are in an elevator conceived in the mind of a man named Bikram.

I breathe in slowly.

I am out of practice with saunas, having spent the last few years of my life with a baby on one hip. Even so, I like to think of myself as one who enjoys the all-encompassing heat. I like the mental exercise—the progression of thoughts that branch in my mind.

My first thoughts, of course, spider toward Hell. But despite my evangelical roots, it’s not a particularly biblical image of Hell, favoring instead the imagination of Dante or Bosch. Demons goad. Bare breasted women with rotted out mouths taunt. Unshaven men limp from chamber to chamber with various impalements. All pathways are circular.

My next thought is that I don’t believe in Hell anymore.

After this, I remind myself that I enjoy heat. That I was born in the middle of a Sacramento summer. That I was born for this.

I remind myself that heat is a test of endurance. That surviving it—choosing to stay in it when easier air is only four feet away—is a matter of resolve.

My next thought is of a story Scott once told me about a massage parlor he visited in Hong Kong. There was a stretch of hot pebbles on which people were meant to walk in order to increase their sex life. Every minute on the rocks was an equivalent increase to one’s sex life. He said he watched one little, old man walk back and forth on the rocks the entire time he was there. Back and forth. Back and forth.

I remind myself that I can and must handle anything.

I remind myself that I am as strong as I will allow myself to be.

I breathe slowly, savoring the sensation that my nostril hairs are being singed.

I think of ovens. Crispy Peking duck. The witch in Hansel and Gretel. Jeffrey Dahmer.

I have had enough.

In spite of the fact that I have already traveled from Sacramento to Hong Kong with a stopover in Hell, in human terms I have only been in the sauna of the North Boulder Rec Center for about 45 seconds. I am just out of practice, I excuse myself weakly. I have had babies. Babies do not mix well with extreme heat. It says so quite clearly in the Operating Instructions. I can’t remember the exact wording but it was something like: “Saunas: No babies.” Behind me, the older man shifts his weight and lets out a deep sigh.

I study my legs pulled up in front of me to an upside down V. Since it’s dark, I don’t notice all of the imperfections I normally obsess over. Uneven color. Nicks from the razor. Little blue veins. I am wearing a steel gray swimsuit. It is a two-piece that covers my tummy and has halter straps that tie around the back of my neck. It says to anybody who is looking too hard or thoughtfully at it: I have had babies. Babies who don’t belong in the sauna.

And please stop looking at my tummy.

The bench behind me crackles and groans and the older man appears in my peripheral vision. He exits the sauna in a rush of air. The air feels like life.

When the door closes, I sit as still as the wooden planks surrounding me. I am aware that the water from the pool has evaporated from my body and I have commenced a slow bake. I wonder when I will begin to sweat. I long for this release.

Behind me, the young man pushes off the bench. I expect him to leave like the older man, but instead he stops, facing the door. I wait. From his lithe back, I surmise he is in his late twenties. His skin is tanned the color of the wood door and he has long Jesus hair, which tickles his back as his shoulders rise and fall once. He turns abruptly and hangs a light blue towel on the rail in front of the stove as if he intends to dry it out faster. I wonder if he is stupid.

He stands with his sweat drenched back to me and fills his lungs with air. From my place on the scorching planks I watch as his chiseled back expands with his breath. He stares at the door, blocking my entrance to it.

Sauna etiquette is not much different than elevator etiquette. No talking. No eye contact. Face the door. If you cough, you say, excuse me. If someone else coughs, you wait a full minute before bailing so it doesn’t appear you are leaving on account of them and their diseased lungs. Having never met this person before, I am fully prepared to play by the rules. I sit perched on the high bench, flanking him at 3 o’clock. When he turns around, I drop my eyes as if I don’t see him. As if I am so consumed with my own world of razor burn and the sex drive of little, old men that I don’t even register that he is there.

To our left, the stones hiss as he empties a ladleful of water over them. He turns toward 9 o’clock and stretches his back left and right. He exhales the slow leak of a loud, aspirated ‘h’.

Not stupid, I realize then. Enlightened.

Watching him over my shoulder, I realize I have made a mistake entering the sauna. The truth is, I don’t really enjoy the heat. That was something I just told myself when I was fresh out of the water and the thought of detoxing my pores appealed to me. I may have mentioned this before, but I am a lightweight. Babies and all.

Just then he drops his torso forward and reaches down for his toes, releasing as he does this a yogic groan that not only aligns his chakras, but mine as well.

I want to leave but also fully realize that my departure at this point might be considered rude. We’re in Boulder, after all. What he is doing isn’t that strange. Everyone does yoga here. The organic produce section of Whole Foods alone is practically filled with people doing yoga. Mountain pose to reach the salad sprinkles. Warrior pose to reach the kiwi and mango simultaneously. Triangle to procure cucumber. Would I make him feel uncomfortable if I left? Would he feel bad knowing he drove a fellow sauna sitter away? Would it set back his progress toward enlightenment?

I consider my possible responses and their effect on his dying ego. And if I leave now, what does that say about me? That I’m squeamish? Insecure? A Republican? He rights himself and turns back in my direction. My eyes snap to the door. Certainly I can handle a minor chakrasm alone in a sauna with a hippy version of Adonis himself.

When I lived in Hong Kong, there was a small English style pub I used to visit. There was only one bathroom in the pub, inside which was a toilet and a urinal separated by a curtain. There was no lock on the main bathroom door. Once I had just ducked into the toilet when the door swung wide and some guy walked in to use the urinal on the other side of the curtain beside me. I couldn’t do it. I stood up, zipped up, and left. Behind me, the man apologized profusely through the door insisting that we could somehow work it out between us. I don’t mind, he kept repeating. Come back!

He is now facing the back of the sauna. With arms raised, he bends his torso right then left. If I raised my left arm, my fingers would leave a trail through the sweat up his side. The closed door beckons me. He is slowly rolling his shoulders now and commencing pranayama. In my peripheral vision I watch as he fills his abdomen, then lungs; then he empties his lungs, then abdomen. He does this eleven times.

I am confused. I want to leave, but I no longer know how to do so gracefully. Clearly he has a regimen. From the looks of his slick and hollowed-out face, I estimate he has been in the sauna for at least three hours. If I leave now, he will understand. He will know it is not simply because I was made to feel uncomfortable or because he has detracted from my own karma with his practice. I may not have ridden it out to the lengths of, say, a Libertarian, but maybe at least to that of a Democrat. It would be all right. We have an African American president. I have simply had enough of the sauna. I will leave at the final emptying of his abdomen so as not to interrupt his Nirvana.

Without warning, he begins to make sharp, even bursts with his nose. I turn to look and see that his forehead is slightly bent forward and his eyes are closed. He increases in tempo until he is performing nearly three breaths per second. I have missed my opportunity. I wait for him to finish this respiratory miracle in the midst of the oppressive heat. My head is swirling now, having mastered nearly four whole minutes in the sauna of the North Boulder Rec Center. I wait for a pause in which to make my exit. But the pause doesn’t come. When he finishes his Breath of Fire, he pitches forward and umbrellas his Jesus hair over his toes. He groans with pleasure.

Not enlightened, I realize then. Asshole.

The thought alights on my shoulders like a lotus petal caught and fallen in the morning breeze. I can not believe I did not see it earlier. He wants me to leave. The entire time he has been trying to make me uncomfortable so that he can be alone. So that he can have the sauna of the North Boulder Rec Center all to himself. Right on cue, he begins gyrating his hips in slow, large circles with his head now thrown back to get a better look at eternity through the planks in the ceiling.

I hold my eyelids open with effort and watch him as he stirs the heat slowly with his kundalini. Suddenly he stops and looks my way. I look back at the door.

All this time I have been secretly admiring his lack of ego—his ability to break the social mores of the sauna-elevator classification—when in reality he is trying to drive me out of the sauna. His sauna.

I continue to stare at the door as his egoless ego bores a prana-shaped hole into my psyche. He has declared war.

It is enough. All at once, I give in to the heat and let my eyelids fall like a tankini over a stretched out stomach. I lean my head back against the wall for support—for when the unconsciousness will soon overtake me—and smile, just as somewhere in the background, the elevator musak switches tunes to that of a desperate om.

A couple of weeks ago, I was enjoying a mango margarita at a party down the street, when I was approached from the side by a friendly, neighborhood hippy.

“You know, somewhere on your property, there is an uncut four karat diamond buried by a tree,” she said.

I blinked at Tanya, a woman I know who lives down the road from me. She was dressed warmly in multiple layers of hippy attire for the cool June evening. A pair of purple pants stuck out under a floral patterned skirt and slouched over a pair of Elven-styled shoes fastened by leather straps. A loose knit brown sweater hugged her shoulders.

I smiled. I like Tanya. She is in her early 40s and has long, sandy hair and blue eyes. She stands close to 5’2”, but would probably be closer to 5’4” if she stood a little straighter. Several years ago, she was in a car accident, which left her with a somewhat debilitating head injury. Once she told my husband over a couple of beers that her husband was cheating on her and that he and his girlfriend were plotting to kill her.

“A four karat diamond?” I repeated in a tone not unlike one I use with my children when they tell me they just saw a giraffe in the forest or that a monster named Brian drank all of the maple syrup in the pantry.

“Well,” she hesitated, “it’s either the four karat diamond or a crystal. I can’t remember if I buried the diamond with the iguana.”

“The iguana,” I repeated, taking a long draw from my cup and angling off from the group of neighbors with whom I had been discussing the housing market only moments before. “There’s an iguana buried next to my house?” At 9000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, I was somewhat amused by this thought.

“No, the iguana is buried at my old apartment down in Boulder. I just can’t remember if I put the diamond in the box with the iguana, or if it was the crystal. Whichever one it’s not is buried on your property. It will also be in a wooden box.”

I nodded as if everything was perfectly clear now. A few moments of silence passed between us. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore.

“I’m sorry…why?”

“Because he was miserable in his cage – it was so obvious – so I used to let him roam freely around my apartment. It was the middle of winter and I accidentally left the window open and he got out. It was horrible. I found him frozen solid, huddled up against the building.”

I squinted at her.

“The iguana?”

She nodded somberly and pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes.

“No, I meant why did you bury a diamond—or a crystal—on my property?”

“I don’t know,” she began shaking her head. “Maybe it was a ‘put your money with your love’ thing? Derek and I wanted to buy that house and camped out there on the property border several times. We ended up not qualifying for the loan.”

“Oh.”

A few more moments of silence passed between us, but I couldn’t leave it alone.

“So, I gotta know. How did you get this diamond?” And what did it do to you to merit burial?, I completed in my head.

“Oh, this guy I knew gave it to me. He was part of the Rainbow People and we’d had a fling…he had several of these diamonds. He gave them out to a bunch of us. I wasn’t the only one.”

I nodded, imagining vividly the scene in which the Rainbow Man handed out diamonds to all of his hippy lovers. In my mind, they surrounded him in a forest glen with only the moon to light their faces.

I like hippies. That is to say, I don’t dislike them. Living where I do outside of Boulder, I have ample opportunity to comingle with the pagan unwashed. I even know a few by name: Marley. Moonbeam. Dharma. I don’t really know a Dharma, but I know of one. She and her life partner, Greg, live in an eclectically decorated apartment and have unusual friends. They are very funny.

In the small town just down the mountain pass from where I live, there are numerous hippies. It is a virtual hippy haven. When they are not crowded around a trashcan bonfire or on sofas on another hippy’s front porch, they congregate outside of a small diner called The Mercantile. “The Merc”, as it is known by locals, serves up home style vittles to the locals, as well as to a multitude of cyclists who make their way up the canyon trying to get away from the bustling metro-center of Boulder. The Merc offers things on its menu like burgers and jicama fajitas to their equally sweat-caked clientele and smells chronically of coffee and syrup no matter the time of day. It’s lovely. Truly. When Simon Smithson and Zara Potts came to visit recently, this is where we met. They called it “charming”.

I’m relatively content in my current lifestyle, but I imagine that if I wanted to reinvent myself and I had no ties, becoming a hippy would be reasonably attractive:

Certainly, I wouldn’t have to negotiate as much laundry as I currently do.

I could wear organically grown flowers in my hair without pretense.

I’ve never observed a hippy at the gym or jogging down the sidewalk, so I assume I could give up on the guilt I feel for not having a regular exercise program. This is not to say that hippies don’t exercise. As a matter of fact, hippies love kung fu. I love that hippies love kung fu.

I could be unabashedly and unapologetically polyamorous.

I could wear loose-fitting floral print cotton fabric paired with…other loose-fitting floral print cotton fabric.

I could throw myself full-time into causes I believe in and acquire a deep tan.

I could drink mate tea judiciously, eat hummus copiously and fart freely.

I could stop buying diapers for my one-year-old and let him just work it out naturally.

I could trade in my laptop for computer time at the public library where I would write free-style prose in between letters to my local members of Congress.

I could nurse my children openly and uncovered in public, as well as the children of my friends.

But there would be a darker side, too. I would have to force myself to like Reggae, which unlike Slade Ham’s recent experience with a world-class flag waver, might permanently bum me out. I once went to a reggae show in the back of a dirty restaurant in the heart of Boulder and aside from getting secondhand blitz-krieged by the bud cloud in there, I was cooked. Not only could I barely keep my eyes open after awhile from the repetitive rhythm, my knees were shot from repeatedly lifting them in the only reggae dance I know, which involves a sort of funky step not unlike an asynchronous military march. I spent the next 12 hours on somebody’s fully furnished porch waving away flies and some guy named Reefer who kept trying to gnaw on my arm.

I’m also not ready to give up Starbucks. While I’m not a regular there and will naturally gravitate toward the locally owned shop, I do occasionally find myself without a choice and before I know it I’m siphoning that brown mega-corp nectar through a straw like a half-crazed, sleep deprived mosquito. And everybody knows that if I were a hippy – a real hippy – that just couldn’t happen. Real hippies don’t go to Starbucks. They just don’t.

And then there is the body hair issue. It’s one thing to allow one’s leg and underarm hair to grow to the point of resembling a Silverback gorilla, but my face? I have eyebrows. I mean, I have eyebrows. And those little strays that sometimes pop out on my chin. Let’s just say that I am no stranger to tweezers and if I let my eyebrows unfurl across my face like a barbarian nautical flag, I’m just not sure I would be…OK…anymore. As a hippy, I assume that hypocrisy is carefully monitored by the clan, and if they caught me tweezing away at the mirror in the doorless, unisex bathroom – regardless of the fact that I could donate 6-inches of pit hair to Locks of Love – I would be done. Voted off the island. Washed away in a recycled rainwater sea.

In short, being a hippy looks easy to the outsider, but I’m not so sure it really is. People call hippies “slackers” or “lazy”, but I am beginning to suspect that the opposite is true. Modern culture blocks any effort that is less than heartfelt and the modern hippy often finds him or herself bracing against the waves that a counterculture life seems to attract, thus making life harder in the end.

In fact, every aspect of modern life is a blockade to the hippy. Certainly most restaurants don’t fit the dietary requirements. Transportation is limited to automobiles that rhyme with Schmolkswagen and that require regular maintenance and parts replacement due to an unspoken “circa 1965” clause. Hippy parents can find good, holistic education at certain institutions such as Waldorf, but places like Waldorf require money – money which, unless said hippy is a trust fund recipient, is entirely unattainable given the lack of top shelf jobs for people who refuse to shave or wear sleek, black pantsuits. Even entertainment is somewhat limited. Movie theaters are out as there are no hippy-approved snacks at the movie theater snack bar. Plus, they’re air-conditioned, which just seems, well, wrong as I don’t believe hippies mesh well with climate control. Simply put, a life decision to be a hippy is fundamentally a decision against being part of popular culture. This may be an obvious observation, but those who pull it off with any measure of success have my respect and fascination.

Tanya has managed it brilliantly in spite of a partially debilitating head injury.

Realizing that she has a special gift and that the trauma to her brain could very well at some point render further information gathering difficult, I pressed ahead with my interrogation.

“So, where did you bury it?” I asked, quickly adding that I would return it to her should it be found. A little too quickly, perhaps.

“I don’t remember exactly. It was a big tree.”

I nodded. There are hundreds of trees on my property.

“I think it was by the cabin,” she told me. “On the south side. Or maybe the west.”

“Was the tree to the south – or the west – of the cabin, or is that the position of the diamond – or crystal – in relation to the tree?”

“Both. Neither. I don’t really know.”

I nodded, crossing my arms and thinking about what it would take to dig a ring around every tree that fit that description. Surely there were at least a dozen. Or fifty. Clearly, she didn’t care. It was obvious she didn’t recognize or even want the value this could bring, having no doubt decided during her stint with the Rainbow People that American currency holds no power over her. But me, I would know just what to do with that money. Er, diamond. Or crystal. But I bet it was the diamond. Why else would she have said anything? I began making plans about how I would methodically start digging the next day at first light. Better yet, I could tell my 6-year-old that we were going on a treasure hunt and that there was actual treasure beneath one of the trees and that it was her goal to find it. I could bribe her with chocolate. Nilla Wafers. Or even just a non-scheduled private showing of Shrek. When she found it, I would take it straight to an appraiser. I might even stop at Starbucks along the way and wear a sleek, black pantsuit.

Man, I love hippies.

Last night, a thunderbolt from the heavens struck a 62 foot tall statue of Jesus in Ohio, and burned it to the ground. The statue, originally titled “King of Kings”, has become known as the “Touchdown Jesus” by pretty much everyone who has seen it:

The fact that a statue of Jesus was struck by lightning is likely to cause quite a stir in some circles. How could this have happened? Is there more than a random weather pattern at play?

Watch Touchdown Jesus Burn

People who watched the statue burn had a variety of reactions:

One woman said, “It sent goosebumps through my whole body because I am a believer. Of all the things that could have been struck, I just think that that would be protected. … It’s something that’s not supposed to happen, Jesus burning. I had to see it with my own eyes.”

Another woman was quoted as saying, “God struck God, I like the irony. Jesus struck Jesus.”

The sign for an adult store across the street was untouched.

Touchdown Jesus was constructed out of styrofoam, resin, fiberglass, wood and concrete. Total damages from the fire are estimated at around $700,000.

While I’ll leave the final conclusion to the theologians, I thought I would offer up at least a few ideas about how something like this could have happened. Please feel free to add to my list.

  • God has had enough of Big Butter Jesus video
  • Too many Obama voters in the church (Obama=antichrist)
  • Message from God (something about idolatry)
  • Stern message from Rio de Janeiro Jesus
  • Demonic terrorist attack
  • “Touchdown Jesus” victim of sabotage from other heavenly football team
  • Aliens mistook Touchdown Jesus for nuclear strike system
  • Failed attempt to raise Touchdown Jesus by alien tractor beam
  • Zeus has spoken
  • The statue was asking for it
  • God is actually Jewish
  • Jesus statue was in a pose of “drowning” – act of mercy from above
  • Flyby smiting…
  • Touchdown Jesus forgot to discharge static at the pump
  • Touchdown Jesus failed to follow up Doritos 3rd Degree Burn with Pepsi Max Cease Fire

·


Sometime before I left the comfort of my parents’ home, the safety of my childhood church, and the sanity of an era before piercings, I believed that old people were good. There was nothing a person could say to convince me otherwise. They were pure, holy. I believed, among other things, that the old person should be protected, much like a child. To offer anything other than a smile and a hand was negligent. To cuss in front of an old person was a reprehensible act. Playing rock music within earshot was downright disrespectful. It was as if the very existence of white down upon that wrinkly crown gave them wings.

At some point in my 20s, I began to realize, of course, that old people aren’t necessarily so pure or fragile. Most of my dealings with the older set had been through my church, so once I started to get out into the world a bit, I was sort of jolted into reality. Literally.

It all started when I came back from Hong Kong. While living on a small backpacker island for a couple of years while I finished my grad work, I had become a student of wing chun kung fu. Wanting to continue my practice, I joined up with the closest thing I could find in Denver at the time – a school that called itself “Progressive Martial Arts”. It wasn’t pure wing chun, but the school did boast that it taught jeet kune do, Bruce Lee’s contribution to the martial arts world. Since Bruce Lee got his start with wing chun and since my teacher in Hong Kong was Bruce Lee’s teacher’s son’s student, I reasoned that jeet kune do was a natural progression for me.

For the uninitiated, jeet kune do basically comes down to one thing: street fighting. Sure, we practiced all manner of arts ranging from jiu jitsu to eskrima to kenpo, but the thing our school taught best was a little thing they liked to call “Two-Rule Fighting”.

Two-Rule Fighting: The first rule was that there were no rules. The second rule was that you could not change the first rule.

And in case you’re still not catching on, yes. I belonged to a fight club.

In this class, we were groomed as fighters. We ran endless laps. We were made to lie on our backs with our hands pinned under our butts so that we could have medicine balls thrown at our stomachs. We would line up against a wall to be punched repeatedly in the face until we learned to tuck under our chins instinctively. Sometimes, we would lie down on the floor in a circle while the children’s class played stepping stones on us, jumping from stomach to stomach as fast and as recklessly as they could.

It was awesome.

When it was time to begin our Two-Rule Fighting part of the class, we were already drenched in sweat. First blood had usually already been drawn. We sucked on our mouthguards – the only gear we were allowed – and waited to be called out into the center.

The first time I did it, I was thoroughly and intentionally humiliated. My opponent was a teacher who had heard whom I had studied under and took it upon himself to put me in my place. He had at least six inches and close to 50 pounds on me and didn’t give a crap that I was new to jeet kune do or to the school. I held my own for a while, able to parry most of his advances. I believed I was playing a game of tag, so I did not hit him full force when I was able to get through to his face or neck. Not long into the fight, however, he found my weakness: I hadn’t learned how to fight with my legs yet. Twice, he dropped me to the floor gasping for air with a knee to the solar plexus. When I got back up the third time, he finished me off neatly with a hit to the mouth and ended by slamming me to the ground landing full force on top of me with his arms around my neck. I barely had the strength to tap out before I lost consciousness from his strangle hold.

I went back.

After almost a year and a half of studying there, I was nearly at the top of my game. I wasn’t the best fighter in the class, but I wasn’t the worst. I could hold my own in the ring or on the ground with men or women of assorted size. Until one day, she walked in.

She was a tall, solid structured woman with cheekbones like a pair of loosely veiled Nike swooshes. Her short hair was curled into gentle waves the color of modeling clay. Having recently undergone open-heart surgery, she wore protective chest armor, a black square-shaped athletic breastplate. She was 74.

I didn’t want to hit her. I never ever wanted to hit her. She had that gray old lady hair and armor over her chest where they had tinkered under the hood and she even had an old lady smell: talcum powder mixed with lilacs or lavender, I’m not sure which. Feeble she was not, but there were enough sensory cues to turn me into an upright citizen. I wanted to help her across the street, not practice my elbow strikes and roundhouse kicks on her.

When we were working out, the gym often played some loud kind of driving bloodlust music along the lines of Rob Zombie. I wanted to make them shut it off. Surely it was giving her a headache. I cringed for her every time they made us run laps. What if she was incontinent? Or worse – what if somebody jostled her too hard and her chest split back open? What if her heart popped out like in the game Operation? It was too much to bear.

I was hopelessly distracted. I would be on the floor in the middle of practicing a jiu jitsu side sweep when I would accidentally look over and see some young man she was practicing with on top of her and ready to choke her out and all I could think was that I wanted to grab her purse and beat the living crap out of him with it.

On the day they paired us up for two-rule fighting, I wanted to cry. I already decided that I would let her win. She was bigger than me anyway, so it would look legitimate. I just couldn’t do it – actually fight her. It’s wrong to hit old ladies, isn’t it? There’s some kind of special circle of hell for that. I’m sure of it. It is kept even warmer than the rest of hell and smells like ammonia and mothballs. They serve liver and onions there. Every night.

We bowed to each other, and began a slow circling. I didn’t want to look like I was throwing the fight, but where was I supposed to hit her? Her face? Her arm? Her Milton Bradley chest? From the corner of my eye, I could see my teacher watching me with his arms crossed over his chest. I loved my teacher. I wanted to make him proud. He was the US kickboxing champion in 1976 and I had a great deal of respect for him. Sensing his disapproval, I knew I had to make a move. I flicked her. She threw a punch. I parried.

“Come on, Erika, you’re not afraid of an old woman,” he taunted from the sidelines over Cradle of Filth playing in the background.

She smiled—an undeniable evil glint to it. Suddenly, without warning, she charged me with a jab-left-right combo. Only she didn’t stop there. She followed with another, which was in turn followed by some full on chain punches. Taken off guard and without the safety of a breastplate, I was getting pummeled. Something inside of me clicked and I began to defend myself. And then it all fell into place. I crossed over from “I’m beating up an old woman” to “I’m being beaten up by an old woman” and when that happened, well.

I’m not proud of what happened next, but it was an important transition for how I would feel about the elderly for the rest of my life. Once I worked out that I couldn’t aim for her center line, I went for her legs, her arms, her old lady waddle. I had been forced to confront my bias. And that’s when it hit me. Old people aren’t children who need protecting. Old people are just young people with loose skin…that jiggles when hit.

Laurie Notaro is my humor memoir IDOL, so it is with intense satisfaction that I get to announce that TNB is running a feature on her this upcoming week. Her new book, Spooky Little Girl, is available in stores and online April 13th. TNB will be smugly running an excerpt from the book on April 12.

Notaro has written several books, fiction and non-fiction, including the NYT bestseller The Idiot Girls Action-Adventure Club. I Love Everybody and Other Atrocious Lies, Thurber Award-nominated The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death, and her newest novel, Spooky Little Girl. Welcome, Laurie!


This one’s for all the sexy people out there, walking through parks, eating dinner al fresco outside of Whole Foods, drinking coffee at the fancy pants café.Spring is in the air and I don’t know if you noticed but that guy sitting behind you pretending to read the Onion is checking you out where your top misses your waistline by 1.2 inches. That’s right, lean forward just a little bit. Cue the Barry White and lick that foam off your lips.

Lit fans!  TNB fans!  Bookish folk!  AWPers!  Hold onto your hats, it’s time for some TNB served up in a Rocky Mountain oyster stew.  That’s right, TNB’s Literary Experience (TNBLE) is coming to downtown Denver, Colorado!

WHEN: Thursday, April 8th.  Doors at 6pm; program begins at 7pm

WHERE: Meadowlark 2701 Larimer St. / Denver, CO 80205, (303) 293-0251.

Readers will include award-winning author Alexander Chee (The Queen of the Night / Edinburgh), Ben Loory (his story “The TV” is in this week’s New Yorker magazine!), Tom Hansen (American Junkie), Gina Frangello (Slut Lullabies / My Sister’s Continent), Aaron Dietz, Megan DiLullo, Erika Rae, and poet Erica Dawson. Denver’s own Col. Hector Bravado from DenverSixShooter.com will emcee.

Live music from Hideous Men, Iuengliss and Ryat will follow at 9pm.

Happy Hour goes from 4-7, $1 PBR, $2 wells and domestics.

No cover; $5 suggested donation.

For more information please contact Erika Rae – [email protected].

Don’t forget yer spurs.

I’ve noticed a few silvers in the mirror lately and I’m kind of freaking out. Not in the way you might be thinking. I’m not afraid to grow old. I’m just afraid of grey hair. There’s a difference.

By the age of 30, my dad’s hair was dipped and preserved in silver like a knight’s helmet of radiance. It was beautiful hair and I never associated it with being “old”, per se. He had a youthful heart clear up ‘til the end. His hair wasn’t old – it was dignified.

I like silver hair. I think it’s actually sort of sexy. It shows that a person has earned his or her Scout badges and is probably worth talking to. I have beautiful friends with beautiful silver hair. I love it.

On them.

At 36, I understand full well what’s expected of me going forward. No midriff exposing halters. No Spandex. No more dancing on bars. I’m not saying I’m ready to lie down and let the Grim Reaper have his way with me. I’m a mother. A fighter. I’ve been known to jump out of a plane. I once joined a Chinese protest which ended with me being escorted out at gunpoint. I’m persistent, a lover of fun, and just a little bit scrappy. Let age try and get me. I’ll kick it in the head. In the teeth. I’ll bite age in the ass.

So, why am I afraid of the greys?

It was 1984. That year is all jumbled in my head. It was back in the days before the Wall had come down. Before Perestroika. George H. W. Bush did not yet know he was “not gonna do it” at that juncture. Nobody had a home computer, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway as Gore had not yet invented the Internet. Phones made a funny series of clicks when you pressed the number buttons and they always had a cord. Adventurous non-Asian Americans ate “Oriental food” like chop suey and Chun King Chow Mein from a can. There were no milkshakes in the yard – let alone a best one. Stretch denim and fleece had not hit the scene yet. Reality television was called “the news.” Life was in muted color, yellowed around the edges and prone to appearances of people with bad hair and even worse teeth.

At age 11, I was more awkward than most. And as this particular Year of Our Lord suggests, I was constantly under the scrutiny of my mother, who strove to keep me from falling into the clutches of unforeseen harm. My mother has a lot of motherly concerns: absence of a coat in winter, inadequate lighting – but nothing sends her into spasms of terror faster than the appearance of a freshly showered coif.

When I was younger, I would be putting the final touches on getting ready for school, when my mother’s silhouette would appear noiselessly at the bathroom door.

“And just where do you think you are going with that wet head, young lady?” She would ask, emphasizing the offense with raised eyebrows. “It is the middle of winter. You could catch pneumonia and die if you go out like that. I had a friend who died of pneumonia because of a wet head. Think about that for a minute. Her poor family.”

My mother has an entire graveyard worth of friends who have died due to unthinkable circumstances. They have fallen off three-legged stools, choked while eating in bed, fallen on screwdrivers while running…and yes, failed to dry hair adequately.

“Mom,” I would say, “It’s 60 degrees out. It’s not that cold.”

“Well, it’s too cold to be traipsing around with a wet head, that’s for sure. I want your hair dry before you leave this house.”

Obediently, I would take out the hairdryer and blast my head for several minutes. Gathering my coat and backpack, I would break for the door.

“Not so fast,” She would call from the kitchen as I turned the knob of the front door to catch my bus. “Wait, please.” She would then hustle to the door where she would proceed to run her fingers through my hair.

“It’s still wet,” she’d report.

“What? Where?” I would ask, trying to feel for myself.

“In the back. You can’t feel it because it’s in the back. Stop trying, you’re going to pull your shoulder out and cause permanent damage. That’s the last thing you need – permanent shoulder damage. Run back upstairs and dry it some more, please. And Erika?”

“Yes?”

“No more morning showers in the winter. Understood?”

At age 11, I was already more awkward than most kids. I was pudgy. I had a face that, according to my well-meaning father, would someday catch up with my nose. My arms and legs were covered in thick, brown wool, and I had a monobrow, the fact of which I was mercifully ignorant. I dressed entirely in outfits from a place called Anthony’s, which was mostly frequented by little old ladies and tired looking women pushing shopping cartfuls of children through the aisles. To make matters worse, my mother kept all of my sweaters in mothballs over the summer, so no matter how new my outfits from Anthony’s appeared, they always had a hint of the geriatric to them.

But most importantly, I had overactive oil glands on my head which made daily cleansing a requirement. Later, in my teen years, this excess oil problem would make a public mockery of my T-Zone. By the time I made it to my junior year, there was so much oil in my face and hair it would warrant the attention of OPEC. Men in robes and turbans would show up on our doorstep and attempt to make deals with my parents for drilling rights.

Regardless, my mother was resolute. There would be no hair washing in the morning before school. No daughter of hers would die of pneumonia from a wet head.

This was, of course, a problem. When I washed my hair before bed, I would wake up with large swirls and bumps, creating the impression that I had a large tumor growing under the surface. I could wet it back into place, but then we were back to square one with the whole wet head problem.

So imagine my relief when one morning my mother handed me a canister of MiniPoo.

MiniPoo, despite sounding suspiciously like something a hamster makes in the privacy of its cage, is a white powder intended for use in one’s hair for cleansing purposes.

When you can’t shampoo…MiniPoo!

Marketed to invalids stuck in their hospital beds, it is the answer to the problem of the wet head on a cold day. Simply shake the talc-like powder in your hair and brush out the oil and dirt. Et voila! Hair like a mink.

And who doesn’t want hair like a mink?

The picture on the canister showed a gorgeous shiny haired brunette who looked as if she had just stepped out of a salon. I’d shake that white powder into my slick brown locks and watch it go to work cleaning up like a baguette on an empty plate of peppers and Italian sausages.

At first, my roots would turn an unsettling color of gray, so I’d brush and brush the dirt and oil away. When the gray would not completely disappear, I would settle on trying to make the color of my hair uniform. It may not have glistened like the girl’s hair on the canister, but at least it didn’t make a cloud when bumped. At some point, I’d start to get frustrated when I would notice that the roots running down my part had attracted the MiniPoo, turning the white powder into a kind of a paste. I’d rub my head with a towel, trying to grind it in and out as best I could. When my hair was somewhat under control, I would notice that my monobrow was a distinctly different shade of brown than my hair. It was nothing that a little puff of MiniPoo couldn’t solve and I’d set to work rubbing that monobrow until the drapes matched the…table runner.

Thinking I had at long last conquered the problem of bad morning hair, I would grab my favorite moth-free sweater and head to the bus stop. Completely oblivious to the strange looks I was getting from my peers, I would take a seat alone at the front of the bus where I would strike up a conversation with the bus driver. Our bus driver was the father of my fourth grade teacher and often had funny stories to tell about when he was a young kid in school.

“Oh, those were the days,” he’d say. “Young Tim was always sneaking out of the house to go down to the dime store. There was a young lady he was sweet on whose father worked there.”

“Those were the days,” I’d nod, flipping my freshly MiniPooed hair back over my shoulder and releasing the sweet scent of an entirely intact sweater.

At school, the kids would give me a wide berth, although I didn’t understand why. It wasn’t until a kid in my homeroom class asked me what my room number at the nursing home was that I began to suspect that my new look wasn’t working for me.

Well, let me tell you, it wasn’t working for me then and it’s not going to work for me now. In a way not entirely unlike Benjamin Button, I’ve already been there, done that. And while I may have been raised under unusual circumstances, I simply refuse to return full circle to that reflection. And while I haven’t yet picked up the bottle of brown elixir and gotten to work freezing my hair in perma-youth, rest assured it is coming. Oh yes, it is coming.

I realize that the years may someday get the best of me. My hair dye may fail or I may get too old to regularly apply. The monobrow will no doubt return and I’ll be sitting in my attic apartment with the trunks filled with old clothes preserved forever with dichlorobenzine and camphor. My family will bring me pureed meals and give me the requested up-to-the-minute reports on the weather. At some point I’ll take permanently to my bed, never again to get up to use the toilet, let alone the shower. In those final moments, I will be transported back to my younger years – back to the fifth grade – and I will know with the wisdom that comes with age: I could lie there and let my hair become a grease pit so that when I die I could donate it to science, or perhaps to the chicken wing place down the street; or, I could MiniPoo, and die…with dignity.


 



Ed McClanahan has written a lot of books. He is also wickedly funny. According to one reviewer, “The effect of reading Ed McClanahan’s new collection, O the Clear Moment, is not unlike listening to a cheerfully erudite, slightly drunken old man reminiscing about his seemingly average life—a life that becomes, in the generosity and intelligence of the telling, something more than average.”

So why isn’t he being featured in the Nonfiction section this week like he is supposed to be? Well, we goofed. Luckily, he’s agreed to come back for the week of March 22. This time, we don’t intend to goof. Slightly drunken old men can turn on a dime, you know.

McClanahan’s website is www.edmcclanahan.com.

 

-Erika Rae

Co-editor – TNB Nonfiction

 

 

When I was in college, I had the bright idea to become a schoolbus driver. For this unfortunate career decision, I blame hairspray and sex.

It was my freshman year. I lived in Oklahoma City at the time and went to a fundamentalist evangelical university. I was 18, had been dating my boyfriend for four years, and was technically still a virgin. I say “technically” in a Bill Clinton sort of way. I might even still have the dress to prove it.

The reason it was important for us to stay virgins before we got married was that premarital sex was wrong. Thinking about it was wrong. Planning for it was wrong. And doing it was definitely wrong. We were supposed to be on fire for God, not each other.

There was only one way around it: Marriage.

In marriage, we could make sweet monkey love every night and it was OK. We could stop feeling guilty for all of those crazy, out of control desires that sent us parking in a steamed over car at the edge of the Nature Reserve night after night.

Yes, Oklahoma has a nature reserve. There is nature there.

The problem with our marriage plan was that we had no money. Neither of us had jobs.

Destined to become a teen bride so that I could stop feeling guilty for wanting to have sex, I discussed the issue with my roommate, who I shall call Gloria.

Gloria was a good southern girl. She dressed in flouncy blouses, had big hair, candied nails and wore Cole Haans loafers on her feet. I was not a good southern girl. I was from Colorado. I wore flannel. I had flannel sheets. I think I even had flannel socks on under my Tevas.

On the day I moved in with Gloria, I pushed open the door to walk into a windstorm of Aqua Net.

“Oh, sorry!” called out the intended recipient. I squinted into the haze as she slowly began to take shape. “I hope I didn’t get y’all in the eye!”

I checked behind me, unaware that I wasn’t alone. With no one in the hall, I proceeded forward with caution.

I attempted to make small talk for the next several minutes while she put the finishing touches on her tightly permed chestnut locks, which basically involved repeatedly blasting them from a spectrum of angles – angles, which I knew theoretically existed from my science geeky boyfriend with whom I longed to make sweet monkey love, but perhaps in a different plane or dimension.

“Y’all should drive a school bus like I do,” she told me one morning soon after we announced our engagement. It was morning and she was getting ready for her own route. The “bus barn” was just down the street and apparently had a lot of college kids on the payroll. Good pay and good hours for students.

She whipped out the can and got to work freeze-framing her locks as she talked. I did the math. It wouldn’t take much to live on if we got a small apartment with student housing. At the time, we could get a place for $160 a month on campus. Sure it was 300 square feet and had a view of the cafeteria dumpster, but we could put up curtains. Curtains to shield us from the prying eyes of the cafeteria workers, friends, our pastor and possibly even God himself so that we could skip from room to room wearing nothing but garlands in our hair.

Lured by the thought of being able to afford a life of marital bliss, one in which coitus came freely and without guilt, Scott and I both signed up for bus driving lessons.

The leader of the bus barn – a Mr. Trumbell – took us on and led us through a workshop on how to drive a schoolbus. Mr. Trumbell was old, had Marlboro stained creases on his face and appeared to have a lifetime of red meat stored in his gut. He walked slowly and with a limp and never failed to have a plastic mug filled with Folgers within three feet of him.

Mr. Trumbell was filled with bus driver wisdom. He taught us about lug nuts and airbrakes. He taught us how to park one of those SOBs backwards into a space with only three feet on either side. He taught us how to keep kids in their seats and quiet under threat of his Folgers breath of doom.

I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift, so he assigned me to a couple of other drivers who went to our school. There was a girl and a guy. The girl was blond, beautiful and sang constantly. She was the Cinderella of the bus driving world. When she stepped outside the bus, all manner of woodland creatures whirled admiringly about her, but when she was on the bus, she was all business. My other teacher doubled as a security guard on campus where he could be seen patrolling from the front seat of a golf cart. He was a large man and went by the name “Duck” for reasons unknown to me.

“Now put it into third,” she would say before trilling into an arpeggio from the seat behind me. “Good.” Somewhere behind her, Duck would crack a joke about a driver picking her nose in the car beside us. I would grab that giant stick shift that came up out of a shaft on the floor and grind it into submission all the while thinking about how I could use that move on Scott once we were married and in our $160 a month student apartment with curtains.

Over time, I learned my new craft. I could perform a complete safety check on the engine, replace those derned lug nuts when needed and park that SOB backwards into a space so tight it would require a tub of Crisco to dislodge it. Scott and I got our CDLs, passed our busdriver tests, and started our intern routes. Everything was going along smoothly until one day, Scott was turning left at an intersection and crunched the car next to him like a can of grape Fanta.

Mr. Trumbell was level headed about it, but explained to him that he couldn’t have brand new drivers on his payroll who had already had an accident involving kids. He let him go. Scott was real cool about it. He never let on for one second that this might postpone a chandelier swinging encounter or two. No worries, I thought. Scott would get something else by way of work, and I would pick up the slack. With only one month before we could strap harnesses onto ourselves and swing naked like Julianne Moore in The Big Lebowski over the canvas of our love, we were not about to let this little roadblock stop us. Finally, the day came for Mr. Trumbell to hand out our route schedules for the following year. He called me into his office and had me sit facing him, his Marlboro scented Folgers breath reaching out to me across his desk like tentacles.

“We just ain’t got nothing for you this semester,” explained Mr. Trumbell. “And anyway, I got plenty of drivers on a waiting list already. Ones who ain’t been in no accidents, neither.”

I sat breathing through my mouth, blinking at him.

“But I wasn’t in an accident. Scott was.” He shrugged.

“If I can’t give him a job, then I can’t give you one, neither.”

I was stunned. I walked away, tears burning in my eyes. Our teen wedding was planned and waiting for us upon our return home and we weren’t going to be able to afford peanut butter, let alone oysters. It was a disaster. What was I supposed to do with all that training? What use were lug nuts and stick shifts without curtains and a front door?

This was all Gloria’s fault. Gloria, with her nails that looked like Fun Dip and her huge hair that had to be held into place by industrial size hair spray cans. I had tried not to inhale, hiding under the sheets in the morning while she got ready to filter out the fumes, but those sheets were only 100-thread count because I couldn’t afford higher.

And who is to say that better sheets would have helped, anyway? Would they have truly filtered out the madness? Would Egyptian cotton have saved my soul? 

99 Red Balloons

By Erika Rae

Memoir

I had that dream again last night, the one where I’m floating on my back and looking up at the sky. Surrounding me is the weight of saturated white linen. It tickles my arms and the tops of my thighs as I breathe. The border of the halo of water around my face sparkles as it creeps. There are no clouds—only the intensity of an indifferent sun. The sky at the edges is so blue it produces an ache in a place inside of me that I can only describe as my soul.

I am waiting for something.

Once in a zoo in Copenhagen, I stood before a massive elephant locked behind giant iron bars. His trunk and legs were worn from a rhythmic and persistent rubbing against his cage. He was an old elephant, with long wiry hairs poking through his thick gray skin in a pattern that challenged any claim to divine design, or at least to a divine lack of humor. In the cell next to his, a baby elephant had recently been born and shadowed her mother as the crowds of people watched and pointed. The baby nervously looked from face to face, trying to understand this new life of hers as her mother tried to herd her baby back away from the bars. After a while, I turned back to the old elephant, methodically rubbing at his confines, and tried to meet his eye. But he would not see me. He had stopped looking.

Soon after, I returned to Vienna where we were living for a brief period of our lives. My sister-in-law lives there half of the year and took me out one night. In the dark, we walked past the looming Stefansdom and through the JudenPlatz, the old Jewish section of the city before 65,000 of its inhabitants were slaughtered by Nazi soldiers. We ended up in a small pub where we sang karaoke on the bar with a houseful of Austrians. Neunundneunzig Luftballons. Together we sent 99 red balloons into the sky over Jewish Vienna. And then we went home.

In the place between waking and sleeping, there is a separate existence as illusive as it is real. The moon overhead illuminates the mesh network within and pulls at the tide of unformed dreams lapping at the banks of the mind. Memories of a kind.

On my back, weightless in the water, I am aware of an encroaching cloud of red. It billows around me and I cry out as I am forced upright. Looking into the depths, I see it rising then, its bluish skin covered in white patches. I reach for him against the current and lift him to my breast.

Against the blue screen with my newborn pressed to me, I watch the elephant trapped in its corner of the sky as 99 red balloons drift past in the wind.

On the night my father died, I was knitting a scarf.

It was a ridiculous scarf, all pink and orange with hairy tendrils exploding from each stitch.  It was like something a chia pet would wear if it were attempting to be extravagantly redundant. I could imagine my niece at Christmas picking up the package, giving it a shake, and then clawing it open, unleashing it from its confines to burst open in her hands like a Pop Rocks sunrise.

Behind me, the door whispered open and the hospice nurse approached my dad’s bedside.  We made eye contact, she clearly aware of her own intrusion and me feeling oddly embarrassed.  I don’t know if I can explain the feeling.  There is something about watching someone close to you die that is extremely personal. It’s like being sick in the bathroom at a party – it should be done behind closed doors with a guardian staged at the outside: she’s fine, she wants to be alone, I’ve asked her already if I can help and she doesn’t want anybody around.

Before me, my father lay stretched out on his back, his face heavenward. His body was more or less catatonic, but I imagine his mind was as active as it could be after a few weeks of pureed nursing home food and the steady application of a morphine patch.

I had a strong urge to make him laugh.

He had always managed to make me laugh.

Once when I got bailing wire caught in my throat in an unfortunate church Youth Group incident, he took me to the emergency room late at night wearing the most horrendous pair of jeans. They were hip-hugging patchwork bellbottoms acquired in Italy circa 1965. It being the early 90s, the world was not yet ready for their return.

Having worked in college administration most of his life, he regularly wore three-piece suits and ties to work — every hair of his silver coif sprayed back into place, his shoes shining like hubcaps. I associate the smell of shoe polish with him. But when the weekends would hit and leisurewear was required, he would apparently become confused and start grabbing anything he had worn at one time or another over the previous decades of his life, no matter how outdated or threadbare.

Those patchwork jeans were evidence of his confusion.

To add to my teenage embarrassment of his outfit choice that night, Dad insisted on ‘cool walking’ down the hall to the examining room. Do not be fooled. ‘Cool walking’ is nothing if not a tragically ironic misnomer. He’d sort of strut, dipping his hips as he walked, swinging his arms. Usually he only did it at home for our benefit, my sisters and me giggling from the kitchen table. But that night, his courage bolstered by his hipster patchwork jeans, he did it in the wide inappropriate open. The teenage bailing-wire-stuck-in-her-throat version of myself should have been horrified. But really. What could I do but laugh?

My fingers gathered up a yard or so of scarf and compressed it into a ball around the needles, little pink and orange hairs sticking out through the creases of my fingers giving me the knuckles of a Jim Henson’s Muppet.  From the bed, his breaths didn’t change with the nurse’s approach.  They barely sounded organic – the deep, raspy mechanical sound of bellows running on automatic.  She stared at her watch, bobbing her forehead to the numbers in her head.

Earlier that afternoon she had stood in the exact same spot with another nurse.  The sheets were thrown back from the bottom up, landing on him mid-chest to expose a pair of cancer eaten bird legs.  Skin coating bone like a shroud. Notice the mottling pattern on his knees, they said.  He doesn’t have long.  It’s one of the signs, they said.  I looked away from a pair of legs I did not recognize and wish I could forget.

This was not worthy of my father. My father was a dignified man. He was an educator. A traveler. An ambassador. A hard worker, a singer, a hummer, a whistler, a lyricist, an artist, a speaker, a laugher, a storyteller, a mediocre golfer, a horrible trumpet player, an even worse driver, but he was a doer, a believer, a hug-you-close hugger, and the coolest cool walker ever to walk this planet’s crust.

They put the sheet down.

“It won’t be long,” she whispered again after recording her secret numbers.  Counting backwards to zero.

I nodded at her with a smile as if she had just informed me that she had spoken with the chef and that my poached salmon was on the way.  She hesitated as if there was more and I reinstated the smile on my face for her clear benefit, my closed lips holding in questions about numbers and time.  Go check on the salmon, my eyes pleaded.

The corners of my mouth went slack upon her exit and I resumed my task.

Knit one, purl one. Knit one, purl one.

Breathe in, breathe out.  Breathe in, breathe…

We were in a nursing home – a location I detested.  My mother had put him there when she she could no longer take care of him. There was no choice. He had been wandering the house at night and running into things.  Missing things like corners and toilets. Even then, he did not believe he was dying, becoming more and more disconnectedly zealous as the cancer gnawed away his brain.  Jesus was healing him. He would tell anyone who would listen: restaurant servers, friends, bagboys.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the table beside his bed and turned to examine its contents for the hundredth time:  A bottle of hand lotion.  A glass of water with a sponge.  A hymnal.  A pen and pad of paper.  A wrapper left over from one of his morphine patches.  I took a deep breath in and let it all the way out in deliberate syncopation with his.  Put my hand on top of his.  Looked over at his eyes, still focused steadily beyond the cabinet in front of him.  I wanted to do something for him.  If I couldn’t make him laugh, then at least make it easier.  Tell him that it was OK – that we would look after Mom.  He did not even know about her bypass surgery two weeks before. I told him we would take care of her.  She couldn’t be there, but we would take care of her and her broken heart.

Breathe in, breathe out.

His mouth looked so dry.  Earlier that day, I had attempted to sponge a little water into his mouth much like I imagined the people must have done under the cross with the vinegar for a dying Christ.  Since he didn’t move his lips, I sort of parted them for him and gave the sponge a tentative squeeze.  Nothing happened at first.  I was feeling very apostolic when he suddenly erupted into spasms.  He was choking.  Horrified, I stood there with the sponge poised guiltily in my hand.  It died down as quickly as it had started. I returned the sponge to the plate.

I picked up the needles and sang a little while I knitted.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

I had been singing him this song all day.  Earlier in the week, I had a much broader repertoire – maybe a dozen songs that I had been cycling through: It Is Well With My Soul, Swing Low Sweet Chariot… When Doves Cry.

I may have been grasping.

After a week of wracking my brain for something new and interesting, I had finally given up and had settled on Amazing Grace.  It happened naturally.  Nothing else felt appropriate.

I once was lost, but now am found.  Was blind but now…

I thought that I could detect something different about his breathing, and stopped for a moment to listen mid tune. I wondered if perhaps he was trying to talk to me through his breathing pattern.

I love you.  Tell your mother I love her.  Tell your sisters I love them.

What if he was trying to tell me that he was sick of me singing the same song over and over?

Knit one.  Purl one.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.

I tried to keep up with him so that I was matching him stitch for breath. I had to put the scarf down for a while when at one point, after having fallen behind, I caught myself hoping for a split second that he would slow down so that I could catch up.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.

I had begun singing again.  By default.

Somewhere behind me, I was aware of the hospice nurse taking up her station at a chair in the back of the room.  I kept singing, in spite of her.

I finished another row.  Something was definitely different about his breathing now. When I set the scarf down on the table beside his bed, I knew that the end was near.  The hospice nurse said, “Hm,” behind me.  The gap between breaths was widening.  I rested my hand on top of his, wondering if he could feel it there.  And then, the borders of his breath released and his breath became free.

In that moment, it was paramount that I record the time.  Feeling remarkably clearheaded, I stood to my feet and faced the whiteboard, jotting down the time with a red marker that squeaked.  I had experienced a similar level of clarity after a car wreck I had been in once.  I had just totaled the car and all I could do was reach into the center compartment for a Tic Tac.  My breath had needed freshening.  I would be talking to paramedics soon.  I needed fresh breath.

11:55pm.

Five minutes until the next day and I wanted to make sure that nobody got it wrong.  I could imagine the nurse saying that it had happened after midnight.  But it hadn’t.  It had happened then.  Right then. The nurse approached the bed.  Took his vitals.  Nothing. I stared at the numbers I had written on the board.  They were clear.  Completely legible.  There would be no confusion.  I should try to close his eyes.

They wouldn’t close.

I imagined then that he was up there somewhere looking down and so I waved at the ceiling, tearing up as I did so. I reached for the scarf.

Behind me, I did not recognize at first that the sounds I was hearing were coming from him. I turned in time to see him convulse violently three times, shaking the whole bed and knocking the table in the process.  For a brief moment, a smile lit up his face.  He exhaled one last time and then…nothing – the lids of his eyes slammed shut like a curtain dropped at the end of a show.

He had smiled.

I was shaking now, and he had smiled.

I turned back to the whiteboard and replaced the final 5 with a 7.  Two minutes had passed.  There had been nothing and then nothing again.  A pause in the workings.  An argument with God.  Behind me, the hospice nurse said, “Well, now.”

I picked up the scarf from off the floor where it had fallen in the commotion and stuffed it in my bag, knowing even as I did so that I would rip it apart the next day.


The other day I was amused to find my husband walking back and forth in front of our bedroom window without any clothes on.

As we live in a forest and are surrounded by trees, we are not overly concerned about the view into our windows. It’s not that we don’t have neighbors. We do. Our houses up here sit on 1-2 acre plots and back up against Roosevelt National Forest. But the trees between us do create a natural privacy border of sorts. And still, if somebody were looking, they could see us.

On one side of us is a beautiful modern cabin built only a few years ago. The man who built it went to high school with Scott’s mom and sometimes comes over for drinks. There are a lot of trees between us and him.

On the other side of us – the bedroom side – is a rather large home inhabited by a couple which has recently acquired a dog. I point out this seemingly banal detail only because we have received several phone calls from them to inform us that our dog was over there sitting at their back door. Once we got a call from them to let us know that our dog was “making footprints in [their] dirt” and that short of calling the sheriff, they didn’t know what to do.

I’m admittedly curious to see how this new dog of theirs fares.

For the past several years, the man in this couple – I’ll call him Dave – has been actively involved in thinning out the trees surrounding his house. As there are hundreds of trees on his property, this is no small task. In the nine years we’ve live here, we’ve grown accustomed to the loud buzz of his chainsaw as it chews its way through the lodge pole pines between his house and ours.

Scott and I like to joke that he pulls out the chainsaw whenever he and his wife are arguing. Or maybe he is sexually frustrated and can only find relief by hoisting heavy logs. But really, we have no idea why he is so hell-bent on razing his forest to the ground.

When he is finished disassembling the tree into branches and burnable split logs, he stacks them on one of several giant piles surrounding their home. I have heard him say that the reason he is thinning his trees is for fire mitigation purposes – as if a massive fire in the surrounding trees of our properties would stop short because of a few extra feet between house and trees. My father-in-law is a catastrophe adjuster and snickers at this idea. He once saw an adobe house in the middle of the California desert that had caught fire from embers that blew from several miles away. At any rate, the massive dried out woodpiles around his home would most certainly compensate for any gap left between his structure and the forest. Even burning through the wood during the winter, he has at least a 15-year supply of fuel out there. Possibly 20. We are talking about at least a dozen cords of wood, conservatively.

A few weeks ago I dreamt that I woke up to find that he had taken out all of the trees between us and that we could see into each other’s houses as clear as if we lived in a Denver McSuburb. A couple days later I awoke to find that the US Forestry Service was on the forest border thinning out trees at an alarming rate. The dream followed by the reality…it was sort of a Simon Smithson moment.

For several days they were out there raising up a mighty chorus of chainsaws. Every few minutes someone would shout and another tree would come crashing to the ground. I wanted to cry.

Occasionally, I would glance out the bedroom window to spot “Dave” next door staring wistfully toward the forest. I can’t be certain, but I think I spotted a glint of jealousy at the sheer chainsaw power so close, and yet so out of his reach.

Once I looked out to find that they had brought in a prison work crew to help them with the project. I am no genius, but it seemed odd to me that anyone would mix convicts and chainsaws. We made the kids go inside.

As this was happening, I was getting madder and madder at what they were doing to the forest. Our forest. We hike out there all of the time and know those woods well. They have become a part of our lives and daily experience. And now – because of a leftover George W. Bush policy – forests all over the nation that run along private property are being mowed down in the name of fire mitigation.

It sounds good: fire mitigation. But let’s be serious. If we have a forest fire behind our house, there will be no saving it. Our house is built from stone and cedar planks. We have a dried out shake roof from 1967. We have frequent lightning storms accompanied by upwards of 60 mph winds without a drop of moisture to be felt.

 

Smokey the Bear would definitely not approve of our domicile.

 

Smokey the Bear would definitely not approve of our domicile.

But even more to the point, the Forestry Service did not clean up after themselves. After glutting themselves on chainsaw grease and sawdust, they left the trees felled on the ground, stripped of their branches, which they then threw into giant 10 ft. piles.

Here is a picture of the piles they left:

 

Every 20 paces, you will run into another one. They are everywhere within the 200 yard cutting zone, which incidentally is not barren of trees – only thinned. They are giant bonfires waiting to happen. Branches waiting to kick up in one of our infamous windstorms and head straight toward our roof.

When my husband walks naked past the window for the 10th time in a row, he smiles smugly at me and winks. He knows he can’t stop the legacy of Bush and yet another poor policy decision. That glory train has already been set into motion. What he can do is hope that through the trees the neighbors catch a glimpse of his march. And when they see his raw determination, they will agree to put down the chainsaw and give a man some peace.

 

This year, being the proud Obamabot that I am, I eagerly followed the left wing conspiracy all the way to my garden. Never mind the fact that I live at 9000 ft in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and get exactly 11.3 weeks of contiguous summer. The White House grounds currently survive an inordinate measure of chill under the scrutiny of the GOP. If Michelle could do it, I reasoned, so could I.

There are so many reasons why growing a vegetable garden appeals to me – not least of which is that we live so far away from Boulder. Being 40 minutes from the nearest grocery store has instilled in me a sense of creative do-it-yourself-ness. If I’m out of bread, I make it. If my kids are craving chicken nuggets, I break out the Fry Daddy. Krispy Kreme donuts? You better believe I’ve got a recipe and I’m not afraid to use it. I am a little old fashioned that way. Go ahead, make fun of me. I’ve still got my kickboxing gear and I’m not afraid to use that, either.

So when I run out of the basics—the lettuce, the tomatoes, the flour—I tend to panic a bit. These are the things that the Fry Daddy simply cannot construct. Having a garden would help me feel not so helpless over the distance. If I could just learn the way of the green thumb, I could break free from my dependence.

Since we have such a short growing season, we planted our seeds in late February, to ensure plenty of growing time. We Zone 4 gardeners were going to need as much help as we could get.

We put our little seeds by an East-facing window and waited for them to sprout. It was our daughter’s job to make sure that the dirt stayed moist and safe. But despite her diligence, nothing happened. Five-year-olds are not strong on patience and when there was no sign of a single sprout by May 1st, she gave up. She had also recently procured for herself a hamster. Hamsters always trump gardens.

Not to worry, I told myself as I took over her job of filling the watering can one morning. It was only May. No doubt those seeds knew this – and that’s why they hadn’t sprouted. They were on some sort of timer, just waiting for us to edge closer to summer.

I’ve never been very active politically before and it felt good to be doing something so directly supportive of the American way of life. May passed. June began. It was still cold and overcast most days, but a few sprouts had begun to appear. The carrots. The lettuce. They weren’t yet much – maybe a couple inches tall – but they had clearly awakened from their little veggie dreamland and were getting ready to go to town.

Ha! I thought to myself as I transplanted the seedlings in containers on my deck. Yes, we can!

Stoked to see the first fruits of my civic responsibility, I searched the Internet to see how Michelle’s garden was coming along. Just, you know, checking in. To my surprise and abject horror, the news was abuzz with the first White House harvest.

Here is a picture of the first lady harvesting some lettuce the size of elephant ears:

OK. Baby elephants. Possibly still fetal. But you get my point.

I considered my options. Should I boost the nutrition content of my soil? Should I buy a heat lamp and direct it over the containers during the afternoons when sun was sparse? Do a shaman sun dance? Build a sweat lodge? What would Michelle do?

Being the responsible Democrat I am, I once again consulted the Internet. I knew that Michelle’s garden was organic and therefore so should be mine, so I ruled out pesticides and enhancers. I couldn’t very well have a Monsanto garden. Very unpatriotic.

But despite my diligence and occasional naked moonlit dancing, things continued to slow down the progress of my patriotism.

First, a woodrat snuck in under the netting one night and razed the tomato plants to the ground. Didn’t eat the plants or anything. Just mowed them down and left them all akimbo to rot. Like a fucking Weed Whacker.

Next, I caught my 2-year-old blowing bubbles over the garden and then watering the pots with her bubble solution. Aha, I said to myself. It was entirely possible that this was not the first time this had happened. Truth be told, I had been suspecting it for a while as I had found an open bottle of “Miracle Bubbles” in close proximity to the growing zone more than once. But now that I had caught her in the midst of this act of agroterrorism, I raised the Homeland Security flag to red and sent her to her room amidst a flurry of tears and general toddler angst.

I had always suspected she was a Republican.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not) this was about at the same time of the fateful soil sample that spoiled the organic status of the First Garden. Her garden. It turns out that years earlier the Clintons had used sewage sludge to fertilize the lawn. The result? Highly elevated levels of lead. And still…local lead is better than imported lead, right? Right?

That little discovery didn’t stop Michelle from serving up home grown endive salads in the White House banquets and it wasn’t going to stop me. So I had now lost my zucchini. My Anaheims. My beets. I was not about to be thwarted in doing my part to make a better America just because of a hamster, bad weather, and the fact that a little old wood rat and a toddler had gotten into my garden and destroyed, oh, 80% of my potential crop thus far. I still had my lettuce, my chives, and my carrots, too. By all accounts, I was still looking at one fine salad at the end of the growing season. One mighty fine salad.

For the next couple weeks before the snow started to fly, I diligently watched over my struggling crop. The salad leaves were doing great and the two surviving carrots we had planted way back in February looked promising. More than promising. Long, lacy leaves towered above the remaining now-barren pots like a liberty flag. Nothing could stop us now. I might not have much of anything else left, but those two carrots made everything else OK. Those carrots meant that although obstacles had gotten in the way, there was still hope. Hope for a better garden next year. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for life itself and for the future of all that is good and right. Those carrots were the American dream.

I watched over those carrots like a mother bear watches over her cub. Long afternoons were spent near the window and sitting on a chair overlooking the remainder of my freedom garden. We were in the final stretch.

Finally, the day came when I knew we couldn’t wait any longer. Snow was imminent and the nights would soon see the first frosts of autumn. I gathered the kids and we got to work. First the lettuce, then the chives. Next the carrots. It was glorious. True, it may not have been the bumper crop–or even the full salad bowl–for which I had hoped, but what we did pull up was inspiring, nonetheless. It was indeed the hope for a better tomorrow and for the prosperity of our progeny. Those carrots symbolized a new generation of global minded world citizens who would usher in an era of peace, justice and fulfillment for all. Hell, those carrots were not just carrots – they were Adam and Eve. I believe the picture speaks for itself:



Christian Sex Toys

By Erika Rae

Opinion


So, I was doing a little online shopping the other day when I came upon a Christian Sex Toy site. Now, I’m as adventurous as the next Sally, so I have to admit I was curious. What could the boudoir of the believer offer to spice up my marriage? What Would Jesus Do?

The answer was quite impressive.

As a matter of fact, there didn’t appear to be a whole lot that wasn’t on the list.

For the most part, it looked like any other site that I’ve…other people who have looked at such sites have described to me. The biggest distinction I could see was that the products were minus the standard red-lipsticked O faces these companies usually use to sell their products. Also, no fake pussies. Dildos yes; pussies no.

Unless you count the “Maven,” “Head Honcho,” or the “Stimulation Sleeve.”

Mmmmm…the Stimulation Sleeve. Pure marketing genius right there.

And no hanky spanky, either…just in case you were wondering.

The “Dolfinger” and the “Jelly Rabbit” are available for $28.99 and $15.50, respectively.

Respectfully.

The owners of the site, Kevin and Joy Wilson run the site for married couples only, so be sure and have your marriage license handy, along with your credit card.

Here’s a quote from an NPR interview with the owners of the site last year:

“We pray about things before we add them to our site,” she says. “We live our lives very openly in front of Jesus, so we just kind of pray for direction about which way he would have us go, and I have to be honest with you — he’s really surprised us. … Almost our whole entire ‘special order’ page has come about from that.”

The Special Order Page – which includes the Miss Lady Flexible Knobby, Remote Control Thongs and Briefs, and Crotchless Panties (among other ‘holey’ items) is a sanctified smorgasbord of sex.

I’ve got to say, I’m impressed. I mean, it’s no secret that Christians have and enjoy sex. Also, there has long been a therapeutic use for the vibrator, as uncovered in a previous post I wrote on “The History of the Vibrator” – so the fact that a couple of Christians have created a sex toy site is not really that racy or surprising.

But I’m also…disappointed.

The name of the site is “Book22.com” – a reference to Song of Solomon, the 22nd book in the canon – but this was Jewish text long before the Christians claimed it.

Are there Bible verses from the New Testament tucked into the Strip Chocolate Game? You were unable to quote Luke 4:9 correctly. Please remove your bra.

Is one of the 52 sexual positions in the card deck on one’s knees?

Is the “missionary position” referred to with at least a wink or a hint of irony?

What differentiates this site from, say, a Jewish sex toy site? Or a Muslim site, for that matter?

I am open to your thoughts and suggestions.