Friday, October 30, 2009

Huzzah!


If you are into people watching like I am, there is no better venue than the annual Renaissance Festival. I never miss it. It is a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of carnival regulars and community theater wannabe’s. If you have a hankering for a corn cob on a stick and some poorly executed British accents, then look no further. The freaks have arrived.

You can’t begin your tour of the pretend sixteenth century without first securing your adult beverage and over-sized turkey leg. Sure, you can try the corn chowder in a bread bowl if it’s a chilly day or sausage on a stick for some variety, but eating a roasted turkey leg the size of an adult male’s thigh is an absolute requirement. It makes me feel all “Henry the VIII” when I walk around with my turkey leg in one hand and a goblet of ale in the other. “Off with her head!” I say, but usually only when some wench is holding up the Porta-John line by yapping on her cell phone. Now, with food and drink in hand, off we go.

The first thing I always notice is bosoms, lots and lots of ample bosoms. They are spilling out every where, from the tavern wench selling beer to the peasant girl washing her make-believe laundry on a rock for our viewing pleasure. I frequently need to avert the eyes of my pre-pubescent son, lest he get a nearly X-rated peep show while waiting in line to ride the Flying Dutchman. “Look”, I say quickly, “here comes the talking tree,” as the well-endowed Lady in Waiting passes too close for comfort. It is evident that modesty is not a virtue for these Renaissance women.

Another festival must-see is the Jousting Tournament. I face a dilemma deciding who to root for each year. It’s a well known fact that I have a thing for bad boys, so I’m usually drawn to the rider in the black cape on a black horse that always seems to pull a dirty trick or two. As I take my place on the bleachers, I think how, back then, this was the big night-on-the-town event for the Renaissance folks. And who among us wouldn’t enjoy getting gussied up and watching as grown men charge at each other, lances in hand, hoping to quickly end the life of his unworthy opponent? As strange as it may seem, I have to admit that I would take watching my fellow man being gored to death over watching “Dancing with the Stars” or “American Idol” any day of the week. Jousting was the original reality entertainment.

No trip to the Renaissance Festival would be complete without emptying my wallet at several of the gift shops along the way. What little girl can live without a twenty-five dollar princess hat that will be squished under her  bed in less than 24 hours? Don’t forget the wooden sword that will set you back another thirty-five bucks or so...you know, the one that will be taken away by the time you get home because your son is bonking your daughter on the head with it. My favorite tent to visit is the one with incense and hemp skirts for sale, though. I know for a fact the stoners behind the counter really dress that way every day, because I saw them recently stocking up on Ramen noodles at Costco.

As the sun starts to descend on the horizon, our trip back in time must come to an end. Another successful freak show is committed to memory. We smile at the dancing maidens, and wave good-bye to the Court Jester. I’m almost reluctant to leave because this is the one place on Earth where, for a couple of hours each year, I am always regarded with a deep bow of respect and the title of “m’ Lady”.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Mummy


My family’s worst-kept secret is the fact that my paternal grandmother was the spawn of Satan. She was evil incarnate by all accounts of those unfortunate souls in her inner circle. Okay, so more than likely, she wasn’t technically a child of the devil, but maybe just his Girl Friday, whose job it was to torment and torture her kin. She was sent here to make their life a special kind of hell on Earth, and she excelled in that capacity.

In the 1920’s, my grandmother married an unlikely suitor – a Reverend in the Church of God. My grandfather was a much-loved and very well-respected southern preacher with a kind heart. I certainly don’t have knowledge of their courtship, but I can only imagine that either he never saw her evil side, or that he knew of her diabolical ways and felt that, with God’s help, he could change her. I also wonder why she would choose such a life, to be at the right hand of a man of God, putting on her fake smile as she sat in the front row of church each Sunday. It could be that she was sent by the devil on a covert mission to infiltrate this congregation of Christians who engaged in speaking in tongues and running the aisles of the church. That seems plausible.

Whatever the reason, somehow it worked, and they were married for more than fifty years. However, on his deathbed, my grandfather gave a solemn warning to his children, “Watch out for that one”, and by “that one”, they all knew what he meant. He spent his entire married life working to keep this evil woman under wraps, and now, he was handing over the reigns.

My grandmother’s specific crimes against her family are too numerous to mention here. She seemed to specialize, though, in humiliation and degradation. When her six year old wet the bed, she would hold his face down in the wet sheets as punishment, and then hang the soiled laundry out to dry in the front of the house for all of his friends to see. She harbored a special hatred toward my mother, and held tightly to the opinion that my oldest brother couldn’t possibly belong to my father because there was no family resemblance. You can see that in a newborn? Don’t most children look like Mr. Magoo’s side of the family at birth? She declared her suspicions proudly, and made sure everyone knew. Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth.

When my second brother was born, my father was deployed with the army, leaving my mother to care for two boys only fourteen months apart in age. My grandmother was partial to the newborn because he looked more like “her side” of the family. She came in from out of town under the guise of helping my mother, and then offered to take the baby home with her for a few days to give my mom some rest. She knew my mother had no means of traveling, and proceeded to keep my brother for nearly two months. She did this despite my mother’s pleading for her son’s return. For lack of a better term, she held the baby hostage. I can only imagine the lies she concocted to fool my grandfather into believing this arrangement met with my mother’s approval. I assume that it was sometimes easier for him to turn a blind eye than to engage her in battle.

My grandmother also frequently dabbled in falsely accusing male family members of inappropriate sexual advances and nonchalantly telling the world that those closest to her were being physically abusive and mistreating her. She would hug you and tell you how happy she was to see you one moment, then rip you a gaping new one when you were safely out of earshot. I guess you could say she wasn’t exactly the kindly, sweet Grandma who bakes you cookies and cuddles by the fire.

When her ninetieth birthday came and went, we all reached the same conclusion – she was continuing to live for spite only. She had already outlived her husband and two of her four children, so we figured she was going for broke this time. No one in the family wanted the responsibility of caring for her, and so she was placed in a nursing home several hours away. On the occasional visit from her daughter, it was confirmed that even in her declining state of health, she was still spewing hatred, although her new victims were the nurses and assistants charged with her care. She hadn’t lost her touch.

She died on April Fool’s Day in 2002 at the age of ninety-six. There was no family visitation, no funeral, not even a memorial service. My aunt, the oldest of her children, instructed the mortician not to bother with dressing my grandmother in her Sunday finest for the traditional viewing by her loved ones. There would be none of that. Instead, they were told to simply wrap her in sheets and put her in the coffin. And so they did. I’m ashamed to admit it, but that scene evokes a humorous image in my mind - my grandmother, The Mummy.

Her two living children accompanied the hearse to the gravesite, and she was unceremoniously interred. Even though I was two hundred miles away, I am certain that, at the moment the coffin was lowered into the ground, I heard a resounding sigh of relief.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Talkin' About My Generation...


When did we cross the line as adults and become a youth obsessed, backward baseball hat wearing, slang talking, video game playing population of slackers? I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

A few days ago I was looking through some of my mom’s old black and white pictures. At first glance, it seemed that my family was at the top of the 1950's social scene, as each photo depicted what looked like a fabulous soiree, with dapper guys and gals all smiling for the camera. All of the pictures were the same in that no matter the location, the women were always in dresses (even hats and gloves sometimes) and the men were never without a tie. I even found a picture of my mom playing in the snow with my two oldest brothers circa 1954, and she was wearing a dress, with galoshes of course, but still – a dress. I have fond, although somewhat fuzzy memories of my grandfather mowing his lawn in dress pants and a button-up shirt. I’m sure they didn’t give it a second thought at the time, because that is how grown-ups were supposed to dress. It was common knowledge that only farm kids and Rebels Without A Cause wore denim pants and plain tee shirts in public. For me, there seemed to be a palpable sense of decorum in every one of those pictures. It was as if there was a sour, old school marm standing just outside the camera shot with a ruler poised to smack the hand of anyone who dared to engage in any sort of levity.

But gone is the time of gentlemen in fedoras and women with their lace hankies. Nowadays, the line between grown-ups and kids has been smeared to the point of almost being invisible. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing, although I will confess to being guilty as charged when it comes to dressing twenty years too young for my age sometimes. A glance at my fashion statement today confirms it – skinny jeans, fitted tunic top, and ballet flats. Walk the halls of any high school, and I’m sure you’ll find a sixteen year old sporting the same look. I guess I should be ashamed of myself, but Miley Cyrus says it’s cool, and she knows best.

Our media-driven society deems getting older as unacceptable, and we follow along like little lost lambs devouring every morsel of gossip and footage on those fashion forward celebrity youngsters. How dare you let a wrinkle show through? Botox, chemical peels and plastic surgery are an essential part of aging because you should look like your child’s sibling, not their parent. Oh, and most certainly be sure to cover that gray hair, lest you be mistaken for the Jonas Brothers’ Grandpa.

Another side effect of our loosening of the Grown-Up Dress Code, is that it seems to have opened the flood gates on our dirty laundry as well. People are fighting for the chance to be on reality shows where they will swap wives, reveal their alcohol and drug abuse, or claw their way into the bed of a has-been rock star. And millions of us tune in each week to revel in just how nasty, vile and over the top crude our fellow Americans have become. Fifty years ago, even the President could have an affair, and it would be kept secret. Now, if you are a celebrity without a sex tape, you obviously haven’t arrived.

It is abundantly clear that our society will never return to the days of starched white shirts, petticoats and poodle skirts – a time when there was a clear line between adults and children. “Grown-up” is a relative term now that applies mostly to chronological age as opposed to mentality. I’m blaming it on the hippies. All of those psychedelic drugs, poor fashion choices and rebellion against authority set a precedent that can never be undone. We all just want to be young and hip forever, man. Don’t you know that forty is the new twenty?

That’s enough for now. I’ve got to grab myself a Red Bull, because “Cougartown” is about to start.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dem Bones


I’m thinking about skeletons. Everywhere I go this time of year, I’m accosted by the images of skeletons. I see them on front doors, coffee mugs, and tee shirts. I see them dancing on my television screen inviting me to shop for furniture with prices that are “spooktacular”. And I have even spied that creepy figure in my neighbor’s front yard, just patiently waiting for Halloween night to scare a trick-or-treater with its battery-operated moaning. But that isn’t the kind of skeleton I have on my mind. I’m interested in the skeleton you are keeping at your house. You know, the one you have hidden in the back of your closet, banished from ever seeing the light of day.

We are all harboring a dirty, little secret, although granted, there are varying degrees of naughtiness. Underneath the fa├žade of the beautiful house, beautiful family, perfect job and perfect life, you will always find some little detail, an unattractive piece of your history that was shoved to the back of the closet and then covered hastily with battered, old galoshes and your high school yearbooks. No one will ever think to look there, so close the door quickly before it gets out.

Maybe it’s just the jaded cynic in me that can’t comprehend a life where everything goes exactly as planned. The Homecoming Queen marries the Football Star, and they produce a gorgeous son and daughter who excel both at academics and sports. They have an impressive home and are surrounded by a bevy of well-connected friends who are more than happy to accompany them to wine tastings and trips to their stellar beach home. No life can be that perfect. I am imagining (secretly hoping, really) that the Football Star is suffering from erectile dysfunction, which causes the Homecoming Queen to engage in a sordid, lusty affair with the nineteen-year-old neighbor two houses down. In my sick, twisted world, the gorgeous son would be a pothead who frequently skips class, and the pretty daughter would be hiding the fact that she’s a lesbian and is sleeping with her softball coach. Now that’s more like it.

I will be the first to admit that I have an entire posse of old bones rattling in my closet. At first, I stood with my back against the door, digging in my heels with all my might to keep those skeletons at bay, my reputation at stake, no less. Now, I just sit back with a glass of wine, reacquaint myself with the ghosts of my past, and let them know they are free to go if they so choose. Some of those skeletons have retreated to the safety of the closet floor for now, while others have run amok, doing their best to bring me shame, but without success. These crafty skeletons couldn’t have possibly known that by virtue of being released, simply put out there for the world to see, they were no longer a threat to me. They lost their power, and I am free.

Your skeletons will escape sooner or later. Sometimes, you mistakenly leave the door ajar, giving them an open invitation to walk out under your nose, and sometimes, they pry their boney fingers into the lock and slip away on their own. But know for sure that if you aren’t in charge of their exodus, you will certainly one day feel a cold tap on your shoulder only to turn around and look into the empty, black eyes of a secret you thought was long ago dead and buried.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Run, Forrest, Run!


I run. It is not because I want to. It is not because I like it. I run not because I was born an athlete with races to win and personal records to set. I run because I splashed down squarely into a gene pool worthy of a carnival side show freak. Simply breathing in the heavenly fumes emanating from the Cinnabon store at the mall will add three inches to my waist. I get no “runner’s high” from enduring eight miles of hills and over-protective dogs with a vendetta against all moving objects. No, I run for the sake of my butt. And by that, I mean the size of my butt…and by that, I mean that if I don’t run, my butt will be the size of a Volkswagon Beetle.

The mandatory nature of my running encourages me hate other people. You are quite possibly among the lucky members of my I Hate Skinny People club. I say “lucky” because my hate is truly borne from envy. If you are one of those people who have maintained an acceptable weight while adhering to a steady diet of cheeseburgers, french fries and cold beer, then yes, I hate you. Welcome to the club, and help yourself to the sausage balls and cheesecake.

I don’t even experience remorse from harboring these ill feelings. I hate you because while I’m eating a plain turkey sandwich or another piece of grilled chicken, I am forced to watch you eat Krispy Kreme doughnuts and a meat lover’s pizza. You plop your satisfied, skinny rear end on the sofa with your pork rinds or lounge by the pool drinking a Mountain Dew as I labor through a sweaty, difficult run to keep myself from having to shop in the husky girls section. You complain about how tired you are and I think, “Oh yeah, playing on Facebook or watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ is tough. You should take a break.”

The odds are stacked against me. You only need to look through my family photo album to confirm this truth. I hail from a long line of hearty eaters and plus-sized Southern cooks. But the chunk stops here, folks. Gone are the Sunday dinners of fried chicken, fried okra and home made biscuits with butter. I no longer partake in decadent fudge, gooey macaroni and cheese, or country-style steak. If I plan to keep my jean size in the single digits, then seedless grapes and a breath of fresh air will have to do.

Whenever I start missing onion rings or hot fudge sundaes, I just keep telling myself that there is no food that tastes as good as being thin feels. And do you know what Myself has the nerve to scream back at me? “You liar!” I just nod my head in agreement as I solemnly lace up my sneakers.