123Valerie Strikes Again

Unprecedented Self-Indulgence.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Let There Be Light

Today is my birthday, marking 29 years on this beautiful planet. Still, birthdays always bring me down a little bit, which my astrologer says is to be expected: “Beware of any day that is celebrated with candles; the candles are used to offset the darkness that most of us feel.”

On the very upside, though, my wonderful step-Mom sent me a new outfit, and it fell right off me. Well, not right off, but I was able to easily take the pants off without unbuttoning them, which could come in handy, I suppose.

Especially if one were to, say, meet a married German guy in a cheesy hotel bar during a business trip and go back to his room and get to know him better, though not totally, but enough to know that, yes, European men have a whole different concept of what constitutes as underwear. *

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

So, to celebrate pulling my pants down and a pretty great set of 29 years, I’m going to keep preparing for another 29 amazing years. A kick-ass workout, a leafy green salad, a run with the Dodger dog, a little songwriting and a hot bath are in the cards tonight.

Total Snoozeville, I admit, but there’s a lot to be said for getting to bed on time so I can get to Saturday’s farmers’ market early and flirt with the homemade salsa guy (both of them so spicy!).

You know, this whole physical transformation for me -- from the hair, to the fitness, to trying to remain more conscious of the “vibe” I’m putting out to people -- was born out of frustration, frustration that people I thought mattered were failing to see my true qualities. (Why, hello, self-absorbed Aries nature! Nice to meet y... wait, let's focus on me some more.)

I started this endeavor thinking that -- right, wrong or indifferent -- being my “best” self in every sense of the word would allow me more options, that I could be the one deciding when someone wasn’t up to my standards, and not the other way around.

I wish I could say that I’ve shaken that external motivation, but the fact is, it’s only been reinforced now that I’m turning heads again and ex-boyfriends are sending “Hey, you look great. We should get together” messages.

I just find it hard to believe that 15 stupid pounds and some hair color can make THAT much difference, so I have to assume that maybe my inner beauty has also improved, too.

Or maybe I just think too highly of people and we are that superficial.

Nah. I have enough awesome people in my life to disprove that theory, the very same people I often forget to tell how much they mean to me. It seems to me the key to having a happy birthday is not to dwell on who’s missing from the “party” but who’s already there.

Welp, I’ve got plenty of birthday love to go around, so let’s all light a candle and make a wish today. Oh, and stop by The Maiden Metallurgist, who is my Birthday Twin, with good tidings!

In the Comments section, tell me what your wish is. I don't believe in superstitions, so I’ll share mine: a true and comfortable love. That shouldn’t be so hard, right?

*Not proud of it, mind you, but I’ve found that at the very least, every bad judgment call makes a pretty good story.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Monkey’s Uncle

My Uncle A told me the other day he uses ‘human urine’ to keep the deer out of his garden.

“Yeah, I just go out there at night when the neighbors are asleep and mark the perimeter. Don’t have no trouble with the deer.”

This sort of absurd practicality and disregard for social convention sums up Uncle A pretty squarely.

I should explain that he is the archetypal crazy uncle. He’s a recluse who never left the nest of the family home and he’s extraordinarily Luddite. He still uses a rotary phone and a hand-wringing washing machine. He’s never used a credit card. But, of course, as the quintessential bachelor he’s succumbed to a flat-screen TV, which is shockingly out of place next to his woodstove.

“Not a plasma. You catch the glare. Just your run-of-the-mill HD TV,” which is hooked up to an antennae that Uncle A affixed to the roof in 1963, the same one he can be seen scrambling up a ladder to adjust when the cloud cover is high.

He is very thrifty, which is why he’d never pay for cable. He darns his own socks, he’s got a (very organized) collection of empty jars and bottles that he’ll never use, and he’s the only man I’ve ever seen excited about triple coupons. Not surprisingly, he informed us that, at any given time, he likes to keep between $3,000 and $4,000 in cash on his person.

“The tractor dealer gives me a better rate when I pay cash” was his answer to our anxious protests.

Lest you think Uncle A was a turn of the century child, let me tell you he’s only 64, just a few years older than me old Da. But there is a sibling rivalry between them (at least in Uncle A’s mind) that has existed since the advent of time.

Maybe it’s because my Dad has had enough love affairs, job changes and general life experiences for the both of them but my Uncle A has felt it necessary to stake out the one area where he reigns over my Dad: memories.

His few extra years on this planet have granted him the only key to the family history, and each visit I’ll hear, ”Now, your father won’t remember this, but …” and Uncle A will spin some tale of family gossip that my father couldn’t possibly remember, even if, say, it involved my father’s wedding(s).

He’s a bizarre, but kind man. We suspect that living all those years under the controlling thumb of my judgmental grand-dad, as well as a case of undiagnosed Asperger’s or high-functioning autism, explains it.

He’s basically a gentle soul, but he has frenetic impulses and a complusive need for order; he stacked and re-stacked his 10-foot woodpile four times because he couldn’t “get the wood to lay right.”

His house has been completely unchanged since the late ‘80s, since my grand-dad died. A family photo taken in the kitchen this Christmas might be mistaken for the one we took in 1988, if it weren’t for the change in the subjects.

The funny thing is, Uncle A wasn’t always so … strange. I mean, he was born a little odd, to be sure, but my Dad tells us that he used to race stock cars and pal around with “the guys.” He took girls out for drinks after work.

Uncle A told me about a night when he and a lady friend ended up at a go-go club. He asked the girl to dance and, after trying to Watusi or the Twist or whatever it was they did back then, he succumbed to the music. He told his dancing date, “You can do what you want do; I’m gonna follow the go-go dancer” and he began flailing his arms. (This has, as you might imagine, become a favorite family quote, especially when trying to decide on the banal, like whether to have chicken or spaghetti for dinner.)

Soon after that night, Uncle A took ballroom dancing lessons on a whim, and it turned out he was a natural. He toured on the semi-pro circuit for a while, and even fell in love with a fellow dancer, who later broke his heart.

So, Uncle A’s had “normal” episodes, which doesn’t help explain the fraught, lonely man I saw last week.

The one who asked me to sew a hem on the chair cover (the same one from 1971), and then patiently collected the bits of discarded string in an old pill bottle just “in case” I wanted to reuse them for something. The one who talked baby-talk to my dog, but returned my “I love you” with a quick “Yep, OK.” The one whose arms hung at his side when I hugged him, but then ran after my car to tell me to be careful.

It doesn’t explain it at all, which makes me wonder when he crossed that line? The line that divides possibility from resignation. I guess more immediately, as someone who is an isolationist and independent to a fault, I wonder what I can do to ensure that I vnever cross that line.

I know how Uncle A would answer that question: You can do what you want to do; I’m gonna follow the go-go dancer.

In the Comments section, tell me if you have an Uncle A type person in your life.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009


I take my nephew to a free karate class at the Sunbeam School on Thursdays so my sister can go to jazzercise, which is an entertaining thought in itself, but the class is a whole mess of fun -- and I just watch.

It's a motley collection of 6 to 9 year-olds and one very colorful sensei, Mr. Johnson. Sensei Johnson is a great-grandfather so you "can't get no stuff" on him, as he likes to tell the kids. He's, maybe, 70 and has a shiny, black, bald head and very alive grey goatee.

He also has a little toe. I mean, we all have little toes, but his little toe is littler and it's crooked. The toe is positioned sideways so that when you look at the foot head-on, you actually see the side of the little toe and not the tip.

It's fascinating, and, as you might imagine, kids sometimes ask about his little toe. His response is an order for 10 pushups on their knuckles and then he makes them leave the room. They are forever banished.

Sensei runs a tight ship. I've seen him smack a few of the kidders in the back of the head with a clear "pop," which is unsettling but it does have the desired effect. He's fond of telling them that corporal punishment isn't illegal and that he's allowed -- and ready -- to beat their "bunnies." That's what he calls their butts.

"Sit back on your bunnies, chil'ren."

He makes the kids take off their shoes and bow before entering the room, and then they all meditate for a few minutes. You could tell me that you've seen something cuter than a six-year-old in a lotus position, but I wouldn't believe you.

And then the real fun begins.

Now, I live in a suburb of Cleveland, but we're close enough that if you go a few blocks south, you could find any kind of trouble you wanted. I suspect that Sensei found a lot of trouble in his day.

"Chil'ren, we're going to practice getting out of a chokehold. I want all you girls to pay close attention because one day when some big man got you by the throat, you'll know what to do."

Oh, my.

"Now, you may think that if someone comes up behind you and stuffs a gun in your back because they are messed up on drugs, the best thing is to kick them in their privates. You would be wrong. You kick them in the shins! And then you run like hell."

My sister and I have discussed the possible negative ramifications of his "colorful" way of teaching, but so far all Sam seems to have gleaned is that it's fun to kick and punch, so we keep going back. Besides, I caught him meditating the other day, so I think the good is outweighing the bad.

But I have to admit, part of me supports his continued attendance because I'm just so darn curious about that toe.

In the Comments section, tell me about a colorful person in your life.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Buyable Thoughts

I get really nervous when I have to ring doorbells.

Even if I'm standing on the threshold of a dear relative's or friend's house, I still hold my breath, anxious with worries of what will happen when they answer. Or worse, if they don't answer.

As you might imagine, I was terrible at Girl Scout cookie sales.

But, my little affliction has given me an empathy for all of those souls who find themselves on my doorstep, namely solicitors of crap and Jehova's Witnesses. Both are selling something, and I am unable to turn them away without at least listening to their shcpeil (schpeel? shcpeel? schpeal?).

Sometimes, though, they have just what I need.

This past Saturday morning, two very dapper gentlemen came to the door. They had their little bibles and they had their little sacks of tracts. I opened the door, resigned to their speech.

"Hello. I'm sorry I can't open the screen door—the dog. He's not always friendly."

"Oh, that's all right. We can spread God's love through the screen," said Dapper Gentleman No. 1. "May we share a bible thought with you?"

"Sure. Lay it on me."

"All right. This is coming from Matthew Chapter 6, verse 25." He flipped around for a bit, cleared his throat and said:

"'This is why I tell you: Do not be worried about the food and drink you need in order to stay alive, or about clothes for your body. After all, isn't life worth more than food? Look at the birds: They do not plant seeds, gather a harvest and put it in barns; yet your Father in heaven takes care of them! Are you worth much more than birds? Can any of you live a bit longer by worrying about it?'" (This is from the Catholic bible, so ya'lls' versions might be a lil' bit different.)

"Miss, do you know why it is that most of us experience anxiety?" No. 1 asked me.

First of all, I like it when people call me "miss." Second, I like it when I have the right answer. I told him that it's because we fail to live in the present and spend most of our time worrying about what has been or what will be.

"Very good! Very good. You've got it down. Do you see that bird on the tree? Do you think he worries about what he's going to eat or where he's going to sleep?"

"No, I don't. He doesn't even seem overly concerned with where he poops, given the neighbor's car."

"That's right. He doesn't worry because he knows he's taken care of by God's love. And in that way, you and I are taken care of, as well. We need not worry. We need not be anxious."

Now, say what you want about religious zealots and what not, but the dog, who usually bares teeth at any stranger who even uses the sidewalk, sat there and listened to the bible thought with me, quiet as a church mouse. If I didn't know better, I'd of thought these Dapper Gentlemen were made of bacon, the way he was so quietly transfixed on them.

I thanked both gents sincerely for the reminder that worry is worthless, and I was rewarded with a copy of The Watch Tower and a promise that they'd return again with another bible thought.

Now, I'm not a bible thumper, and quite honestly, I'm generally uncomfortable with the idea of religious passion. It embarrasses me. I've also had my ins and outs with organized religion over the years, but there's something so very comforting about knowing that it's all taken care of, you know? That's a just a wonderful message to share.

So, be the bird today. Don't let worries about future material matters weigh you down. Just keep flying.

Oh, Lord. That was bad. I am sorry for the sappy wrap-up. I'm gonna have to go to confession for that one.

In the Comments section, tell me if you think these gentlemen were made of bacon.

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