Monday, June 22, 2009

I'm the Dermoplast Girl

It’s no glamorous job being the Dermoplast Girl. I coined that name for myself about 20 years ago. Sexy, huh? It was borne from the realization that I’m about as pale as they come. And don’t think that fact wasn’t seared into my brain when my good-looking co-worker starting dating “Miss Hawaiian Tropic”. I thought I’d be clever and create a moniker of my very own. Unfortunately, my title didn’t come with benefits such as a sash, crown, or personal appearances at the local Harley Davidson dealership. No, no, no. I only got red skin, peeling shoulders, and certain death from skin cancer.

My parents should have owned stock in Dermoplast. I’m sure all of you folks blessed with an abundance of melanin have probably never even heard of this miracle in a can. It was a pain-relieving topical spray for sunburn sufferers that smelled like the inside of a bicycle tire, and I was coated in it from May to October back in the ‘70’s.

For some reason, my mom was never proactive when it came to preventing sunburn. She was part Cherokee Indian and would easily tan. Apparently, she just didn’t see the need for much sunscreen. You would never even know that she gave birth to me with my lily-white skin. I inherited every gene from the Scotch-Irish part of the family, damn it. And it was such a vicious cycle too – unprotected sun exposure then sunburn then blisters then Dermoplast then peeling then right back out in the sun again. Do you see why I still hate summer?

And it only got worse as I got older. Teenage girls know that teenage boys have zero interest in the pale chicks that look anemic in a bikini, so I lathered up in baby oil and literally cooked my body every summer. I would tell myself that this would be the year I became the hot girl with the native tan. Funny how that never happened… (I also told myself back then that my hair would be thick and luxurious, and I would become bubbly, outgoing and popular. Hmmmm...that never happened either.)

I’m a dermatologist’s wet dream nowadays – pale skin, history of serious sunburns, history of skin cancer in the family, strange spots all over me and extreme anxiety over those strange spots. As I was scorching myself in the sun 2 decades ago, I had no idea I was going to be funding the college education for the children of an overly-chemical-peeled skin doctor. My son and daughter unfortunately look just like me, so I guess it never ends.

It’s such a shame that spray-on tan technology hadn’t been perfected back in the ‘80’s. It would have changed my summer experience altogether. I might have found a boyfriend that actually wanted me for something other than my brilliant mind. (Ok, now that’s just funny.) I chuckle now at the fact that I’m the only person I know that actually “tans” at night.

These days, I get to pretend to be one of the beautiful people. I walk down the beach with confidence, and maybe, just maybe, there might be guys taking a second look at me. Well, especially since my glaring white mid-section isn’t blinding them any more.

Tan girls have all the fun anyway, right? There is no telling what this “native” tan might make me do. You better watch out, boys. This middle-aged, fake-tanned mama might be coming to a wet t-shirt contest near you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Taken too soon...

Parents share a common horror – losing their child. For me, it’s such a source of anxiety that I don’t even allow the thought to linger in my mind for more than a second or two. Push it away or else you’ll jinx yourself. I hover over my children and see every stranger as a potential abductor. I tell them to sit straight in their seatbelts for fear of an accident. I live at the end of a quiet street in a “safe” neighborhood, but I still don’t allow my children in the yard without an adult present. Of course I know this is unhealthy, but obsessing is my strong suit.

For about 10 months now, I have been following the blog of a local woman who lost her teenage son in a car accident last June. Her words are so personal and her feelings so raw and unfiltered, that sometimes I feel physically ill after reading them. Her words echo in my head long after each blog entry (“I’m sorry, but we weren’t able to save your son. He died.”), and I can’t imagine her gut-wrenching pain. I have to keep reading though. It’s like a train wreck that you can’t turn away from no matter how hard you try. Twice a week I faithfully log on, just hoping that this will be the week she finds peace. Not yet.

Then it happened again. It was exactly a week shy of the one year anniversary of the blogger mom’s tragedy. Only this time it wasn’t a stranger. This time when I turned on my computer, I saw a familiar name staring back at me. I could only put my hands to my face and breathe deeply. John Daniel had been killed in a car accident.

John Daniel is the son of a family friend. He was the only son, the only child born to parents who adored him, and loved him desperately. He was gorgeous, athletic, charming and the life of the party. As a rising senior in college, he had a promising future in front of him. He volunteered as a coach for a Myrtle Beach high school football team and those kids looked up to him. He was only 20 years old.

His mom confided in friends how it always worried her that she had just one child. What if something happened to him? How would she ever be the same? After he was killed, she said that she had no reason to live now. He was her life. For 20 years, he was the reason for waking up each day. At the funeral home, his dad kept looking at the picture of John Daniel almost as if to remind himself of why he was there. In his mind, I’m sure he was thinking, “This isn’t really happening, is it?” There are just no words to comfort them. They simply don’t exist.

I’ve been haunted by these tragedies - consumed with them, really. That blogger mom gave me a small glimpse into the depths of hell and that impression is forever burned into my brain. I don’t even want to think about the day when my kids are out of the house, driving cars and doing stupid things. You know, like I did and like you did, I’m sure. I just want to hold their hands and keep them safe forever, but that only makes me feel better, not them. For me, the one powerful thought that lingers in my head is how one phone call can change the course of your life forever. It’s that one life-shattering phone call that every parent dreads…

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why is it sticky?

Has any other unit of currency been so debased and denigrated as the two dollar bill? If someone hands you one, it is with a pause of embarrassment. Shame at handing it to you face to face.

"Here. Here's some stripper money. It was probably recently wedged in some ass crack. Sorry about that."

It would make no difference that the bill was a crisp, newly minted note. It might be clean, but it was dirty by association.

Poor Jefferson. Founding father relegated to a g-string stuffing.

At least he's still got the nickel.

Not So Good Humor...

When did an ice cream man become the icon for a drug-addicted pedophile? This strange thought came to me the other day when a yellow, dilapidated ice cream truck pulled in front of me in traffic. It was hard to tell that it was even an ice cream truck (and I still have my doubts.) There were no dancing Popsicles or smiling cones painted on the side. There wasn’t even a fresh coat of paint. Nothing - just a plain, rusty, yellow van. My only clue was the creepy, scratchy sound of a warped rendition of “The Entertainer” playing loudly from speakers that sounded as if the batteries were running low.

My first thought, of course, was, “I better not EVER see you in my neighborhood, you freak.” Then I decided to cut him some slack. Maybe this was a good person just trying to earn a living. It would have been so refreshing to see that it really WAS the Good Humor Man. Remember him? He was clean-cut and smiling from underneath a smart cap, wearing a crisp, white shirt and bow tie. “Please excuse the vehicle, ma’am. The good van is in the shop. How may I help you today?”

Not even close.

When the van stopped and made a slow, left turn, I caught a glimpse in the mirror of the driver. He was so exactly what I expected to see, that I had to laugh out loud. He was dirty-looking with a scruffy beard and greasy hair. He was sporting what appeared to be a mechanic's work shirt. And the best accessory of all? He had a cigarette dangling from his lips. Nice. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I’ll bet he was hoping some scantily-clad teen girls were craving ice cream sandwiches on that hot day.

I don’t remember the ice cream man being a creepy figure when I was a child. I have fond memories of muggy, summer nights, playing in the yard and hearing the distant sound of his music playing. You knew the truck was far enough away to give you time to find your mom, get some coins and rush back to the street to wave him down. I always loved the orange “push-ups” and the red, white and blue Popsicles. Between getting ice cream and chasing the city truck that was spraying a cloud of toxic chemicals to kill mosquitoes, you just couldn’t beat growing up in the South. (I think the fact that I actually played in the toxic chemical cloud explains a lot…)

My kids are growing up in a different world than my generation. My daughter has never even seen an ice cream truck. I don’t really believe that people are that much meaner these days. I just think we are more aware of them now. Pedophiles and serial killers have always been among us, just not necessarily driving an ice cream truck. Our parents weren’t glued to the internet and CNN like we are. The media wasn’t bombarding them with dark messages that made them feel like Ted Bundy was lurking around every corner. And even though he probably was, sometimes ignorance is bliss. Hell, we didn’t even have seat belts in our car!

I’m afraid the Good Humor Man of yesteryear has gone the way of dapper, full-service gas station attendants, soda shops and American Bandstand. Our casual, foul-mouthed culture would certainly find them tragically un-hip and without value. Sad really, but life goes on I guess. I do need to say for the record, though, that if that seedy Popsicle-peddler in his rusty, yellow van ever finds his way within 50 yards of my kids, it will most certainly be the last stop on the route for that 21st century Ice Cream Man…

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Giraffe

As I bounce through this life, I have always been a little envious of those who knew their direction. Those who said "I'm going to grow up to be a doctor," and then grew up to become a doctor. Nothing ever felt that pressingly important in my life. It was as if that part of the brain that directs the feeling of "This... This is what I have to be doing with my life," was somehow mis-wired to work erratically. Almost every career I have led (wilderness guide, line cook, pizza chef, college professor, graphic designer, waiter, bartender, bar manager, team development facilitator, landscaper, peddler of outdoor gear, bourbon specialist, camp director... etc... etc... etc.) was important to me at the time, but somewhere deep in the folds of my gray matter, I knew that I could never see myself doing any of them for the rest of my life. It is a bit disheartening to believe that I am destined to roam restlessly looking for that "one thing" I am supposed to be doing.

Last week I had this brilliant moment of clarity. My circuitry wasn't quite as screwy as I had originally thought. There was something that I was supposed to be doing. It is the one thing I have already been doing for throughout life. The one thing that I have a "need" to do and always brings me joy when I do it. And it all came clear because of a bucket.

Frank(the dog) and I were roaming the fields near the train tracks when I found the old galvanized bucket in an overgrown thicket. I knew it needed to come home with me... regardless of the fact that I have buckets at my house and that the four bullet-holes in this bucket have rendered it completely useless for its intended purpose as a vessel of liquid conveyance. And so, it sat under my carport, rusty, misshapened and basically useless, while I pondered its future and occasionally kicked it.

A couple days later, the next-door neighbor finally took down what was left of the white picket fence that was rotting in his front yard. Not intentionally, mind you. He clipped one of the posts with his truck and the whole structure (term used loosely) collapsed in despair. After assaulting the wreckage with a wood axe, he conscientiously drug the detritus to the roadside in front of my house. Assuming that he had gifted his fence to me, I scavenged a few of the less spongy fence slats and stacked them to accompany my bucket.

That night as I was falling asleep, the realization of what that pile in my carport was "supposed" to be came into focus. A mere three days and four trips to Home Depot later, it had developed into exactly(more or less) what I had envisioned.

After fixing the neck in place, I stepped back and grinned at the ridiculous goofiness of my project. And that's when it clicked. This is what makes me happy. I am here to create.

I am loath to use the word "artist," because just like chef, professor or doctor, it becomes a label on one's existence and holds a person to a set of expectations, both internally and from others. Besides, some people use that title of "artist" as a license to only use half of their brain and to excuse terrible clothing choices. I take full responsibility for all of my own terrible choices... stylistic and otherwise without blaming it on the fact that I carry a sketch book. I'm just a dude who has an incessant need to express his imagination. Whether it be a comic strip, oil painting or the assemblage of other people's garbage, the creating makes me happy.

All this time I thought I had to be looking for a vocation, when all I needed was the acknowledgment from the inner self that it's okay to do something for the sheer joy of it and not for some extrinsic purpose. This is an integral part of who I am. The same as my curly hair and penchant for sipping expensive bourbon. And I learned it from a bucket and a giraffe.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Pill

Anxiety enjoys masquerading as normal in my life. I am afraid of everything. Heights, bridges, germs, enclosed spaces, open spaces, clowns, coughing toddlers, Golden Corral, and the population of planet Earth in general. I know it’s sad, but please don’t pity me. I like to live by the words of one of the great philosophers of our time, Homer Simpson, who said, “Just because you’re stuck in a hole doesn’t mean you can’t live a rich and full life.”

Excessive anxiety has its benefits. I use it as a weight management tool in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise. I’m convinced that my fidgeting and jittery-ness burns calories. I know for sure that worry causes loss of appetite, which, in turn, keeps me bikini ready. People ask me all time how I keep my girlish figure. “Simple”, I say, “Worry and Fret, The Wonder Twins”.

About 4 years ago, I decided to see how the other half lives. You know, the half that isn’t teetering on the brink of psychosis. I put on my big girl panties and went to my doctor. I told her I’d like to wake up each day and not feel like I was on a roller coaster, not strapped in, and her response is now one of my favorite sayings ever.

“There’s a pill for that.”

So, I’m off to the pharmacy, prescription in hand. I can’t wait to feel calm, serene even – like you, right? I purchase the “Normal in a Bottle” she prescribed and rush home. She told me it could take up to 2 weeks to feel the full effects, but that’s a drop in the bucket considering that I’ve been holding on by a straw for so many years.

And then it happened, just as predicted. I woke up to a brave, new world. The Pill encouraged me to do things I would never have imagined. But that isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Looking back on that time, there are things that I did that I wish I could expunge from my permanent record.

I cut off my hair. I cut if off Halle-Berry-in-the-late-90’s style. Oh yeah, that little, round miracle of modern medicine made me look into my mirror and believe that I was a beautiful, sexy black woman with porcelain skin and a personal stylist. I whacked it off, and it’s never been the same. I have neither the patience nor inclination to grow it back. I am sentenced to Practical Mommy Hair for the rest of my days. 

I signed up to sell cosmetics. That’s right, skin care. Now, it wasn’t Avon or Mary Kay, a little higher end, but what does that matter? Me, the person who hates to talk to people, getting out there and hosting skin care parties. Me, the person who would, without hesitation or remorse, slap a bubbly, motivational speaker in the back of the head, giving presentations on how this business would make you “grow” as a person. I had my upline telling me to “get out of my comfort zone". What they didn’t realize was that my comfort zone was as deep as the Grand Canyon, and I was sitting at the very bottom of the gorge on a lazy mule. Sorry, but there is no getting out of my comfort zone. This foray into direct marketing lasted as long as my prescription. 

I adopted 3 dogs and a cat. I swore in front of God and everyone that I would NEVER have pets in my house. I meant it, until The Pill invaded my brain and started wreaking havoc with my rational, sensible side. This is a side effect that will take about 10-12 years to wear off (according to my vet). I signed the contract and agreed to love and care for these animals. They are the bane of my existence, but there is no “out” on this one. They get to stay. 

After a year or so, I looked around at the carnage that was my life and decided The Pill just wasn’t for me. I quit cold turkey, which isn’t recommended, but drastic times call for drastic measures.

Another side effect of this miracle, anxiety-reducing drug that they conveniently forget to tell you, is that you just don’t laugh as much as you did before. Sure, this pill takes away the worry and fret, but those two emotions are also deeply connected to laughter and happiness. You see, it all goes together in some kind of human fuse box. If you cut the power to this one emotion, you’re cutting the power to others. I had grown tired of living a life in monotones.

I simply decided that I’d be glad to suffer through the pain and anxiety, because it would give me a gauge in which to measure the good times. How do you know how precious your life is without the ability to look in your rear view mirror at the trials and tribulations you’ve successfully endured? This was a no-brainer for me. I decided that I’d rather have the roller coaster…

Monday, June 1, 2009

And all that jazz...

I read liner notes. Front to back and usually more than once. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you can relax because I'm a bigger geek than you. Congratulations.

I have been a music geek from the beginning. I have crystal clear memories of myself as a pre-schooler, swinging in my backyard and belting out tunes for the neighborhood's listening pleasure. My repertoire included, but was not limited to, "I Think I Love You" by teen-star-turned-Vegas-legend David Cassidy, "Shambala" by Three Dog Night, and every Jim Croce song I could remember, but especially "Operator". ("She's living in LA with my best old ex-friend Ray...") Can you tell I listened to my teenage siblings' music? That was quite a set list for my 1970's pre-kindergarten one-woman-show.

Music geeks like me need to know everything there is to know about the music they like, hence the obsession with cd liner notes. I delight in reading the names of those people the artist feels compelled to shower with thanks, even though I don't know them. I also want to know the studio where it was recorded and who wrote each song.

Who cares? This dork, that's who. My redemption came recently while devouring one of my newer purchases. The artist wrote in his note that he wanted to thank every person taking the time to read - yep, you guessed it - the liner notes because it is that kind of fan that makes the hard work worth it. Awwww...I love you right back, Dude!

I raised the geeky-ness bar to a new level as I entered junior high and high school by being a member of both the chorus and the band. Please tell me why it isn't cool to be in the band? Do you know how hard it is to memorize the music and steps for a high school half-time show? Stand on a football field practicing for 8 hours in July and tell me it's not demanding. It was an exhausting slice of heaven on Earth. I cherish those band camp memories. To this day, whenever I hear a marching band, my heartbeat quickens and I get butterflies in my stomach. It comes from the exhilarating memory of marching onto the field, drummers pounding out the cadence in front of a stadium full of people, all eyes trained on you. For a few shining moments, you are the star.

I'm thankful technology allows my life to have a constant soundtrack. It thrills me that there are so many channels to choose from now. I want to listen to retro adult alternative or uncensored electronica today? Decisions, decisions.

Don't even think the nerd-dom stops with me. My daughter seems to have inherited my music fetish and I am overjoyed. She sings, plays her recorder and dances to the beat of her own crazy drummer. She's always cajoling me to sing along with her. "Come on, Mommy, you know the words to this one!" Lately she has been entertaining us with her slightly off key rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner". A very lofty song choice for a kid her age, and I'm impressed. Of course, my very serious son has no patience for her loud and lyric-challenged belting out of tunes. What he doesn't know is that I hear him in the shower, singing his heart out, too, like he's the only one around. 

I couldn't bear to live in a world without music. It is in my marrow and the air I breathe. It soothes me when my heart is breaking and calms me when my nerves are frayed. It takes me back to my 16-year-old world and sometimes haunts my every waking thought. I'm going to sing loudly and play the air drums when I run, and I hope you enjoy the show. Music is my constant companion, and from where I sit, who needs Xanax when you have satellite radio?