Monday, November 9, 2015

I've been in a Virgin Suicides kind of mood lately.  A sort of ELO, Carpenters, gold microphone, bad hair mood.  A dreamy middle child in a 1970s suburban development mood.

This is basically the last of the walls to fall when it comes to my ideas about things I will and will not do.  I don't care!

A few years ago, a friend and I decided to start a band.  I told her we should start a Chad & Jeremy and/or Peter & Gordon cover band called Brittany & Anita.  She was game - she had a maraca - and we eagerly planned to really annoyingly explore this development during a long winter weekend at her place in New Mexico.

So on a beautifully cold November weekend at the feet of the Sandias, I queued a playlist and told her, Here's the shit you gotta learn to play, bro.

I played "I Go to Pieces" or something, and she froze.  Then screamed, "Oldies? I HATE OLDIES!"  WHAT, I screamed back, hands flying around my face in horror.  "That's what Chad & Jeremy is!"  "I didn't know!" she screamed.  We just stared at each other in silent remonstrance, both disappointed.

And as amused as I am by her wild hatred of "oldies" and all sentimental music, I dissolved the band.

So I'm not going to send this playlist to her, because somehow I feel this is so much worse in her book than the Everlys or Peter & Gordon could ever be.

This Todd Rundgren song is one of my mom's favorite songs of all time, and ELO is probably her actual favorite band of all time.

I finally kind of get it.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

I'm pretty immune to typical Texas stuff because I hate Christianity and conservatives, but I went to an event in Houston the other week that took me right back to my childhood, a time full of horses and dirt and country music, and I loved it.

Everyone talks about how shitty country got after 1981 or whatever, but I actually secretly really love 90s country.  I don't care, some of it is excellent!

Austin isn't very country.  I know everyone's experience is different and that Phoenix is about as city as it gets with miles of concrete and malls, but in the 90s, my family spent our weekends in Cave Creek or Casa Grande to visit our horses and go to rodeos.  I was the only kid in this group, so it was a little lonely for me, but I was surrounded by old cowboys and country women with work-gnarled hands and dogs and frogs and the smell of horse shit, which isn't so bad.

I felt like I was so fucking in love with George Strait then.  It made me want to cry.

One year, I would guess 1992, we spent the fourth of July at our extended family's little ranch in Casa Grande.  Again, the only child around on a drinking holiday, I wandered out to the paddocks by myself and took my horse out.  I wanted to ride her, but she was a wild card and I knew I was inexperienced, so I put her in the round pen, where she couldn't get away.  My greatest fear was losing the damn horse.  I put a bridle on her and walked her out without a saddle, pulled her up next to the fence and used it to climb on her bare back.  We walked around the pen aimlessly for a while until the fireworks started.  I stopped trying to move her around and she just stood for what seemed like forever while I held a handful of her mane with the reins and watched the sky.  I felt that it was a very American thing to be a child sitting on a horse alone watching fireworks on the fourth of July while my parents laughed indoors.  It felt like a commercial about wholesomeness.  I put her away and thought about how no one would know that that moment had ever happened but me.

So anyway, I went to a fancy event out in Houston held at a polo club.  Even though the place is meant for elites, it still smelled like horse shit and the faint dirt kicked up by hooves still floated in the breeze and still smelled the same.  The horsey musk emanating from the clean, white paddocks paired with an endless playlist of 90s country hits took me all of the way back home.  Arizona's more country and western than Texas no matter what some a Texan will tell you, but you wouldn't know it in Houston.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

1933 Party

It's raining all over Texas, filling the creeks and roads with flood waters.  After this storm passes, the broken rains of Patricia will follow.

It's inadvisable to be out in Austin at times like this.  Road deaths are constant and flash floods really are flash floods.  Several people still haven't been found after 40 feet of water came crashing down the Comal River last May, pulling vacation houses into the water and snapping 500 year old Cypresses in half.

Better to open the house to the wet, Bay area style fog, bake, embroider, and listen to hits of the 20s and 30s.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Ruined by Jesus: The Trials of Estate Shopping

Estate sales can be awkward.  It's uncomfortable to paw through the belongings of someone's dead grandmother as the family watches, listlessly attaching price stickers to obsolete serveware and Porter Wagoner cassettes.

I'm hyper-aware of everything that's wrong within certain discomforting scenarios, so I kind of hate estate sales, but I also absolutely love them because they are treasure troves of amazing, mint vintage being sold for change by people who can't believe anyone would ever buy this shit.

Today I bought an armload of 1960s nightgowns, from the carefully handmade cotton variety to flouncy pink chiffon with embroidered rosettes, and even a buttery smooth nylon gown that clothiers stopped making 50 years ago because of their extreme flammability.  If you fell asleep with a cigarette in bed, as people were apparently wont to do regularly, you would be quickly engulfed in flames in one of these gowns.  And now I have one of my own!

This was excellent luck, as I've recently become interested in vintage nightgowns and have wasted endless time searching the internet for new pieces made in antique patterns of the Edwardian and Georgian variety.  Let me save some time for you: THEY'RE NOT OUT THERE.  So this dearly departed old Texas woman has saved the day for me, although she's lent me an evening fashion that is less Lady Mary and more Priscilla Presley.  I'm ok with it.

It felt so strange and wrong to be standing in another woman's closet, shrewdly inspecting the state of her clothes, holding things up to myself, and debating on whether I could pull off her things even in jest.  I know she was very old because she had a large collection of hats and gloves, and not only that, she kept them.  She had polyester pantsuits, pencil skirts cut to a 1950s length, chiffon and silk scarves, and dressing gowns with matching housecoats that were too old ladyish, even for me.  They made me recall my great-grandmother, old Italian mother Marian English, and her rigid observation of outdated fashion practices.  Curlers, nightgowns, polyester, and bags that matched your shoes.

My great-grandmother wore a nightgown to bed every night, and put a silk housecoat on over it if she was still up and about the house.  For years, I spent Friday nights at her house, and I remember when she tried to give me a nightgown and housecoat of my own.  I was around 10 years old, and this was too much for me to handle.  We had clashed many times as persons of different eras, and with a diplomacy reserved only for her, I'd usually back down.  I'd eat her bran muffins instead of doughnuts and let her serve me a bowl of frozen grapes as a "treat" instead of candy.  I'd let her listen to Dr. Bob Martin at a deafening volume all day on the radio without complaint.  I followed her instructions on etiquette when it came to answering the phone.  I'd let her force me to wash my face at night even though I for some reason hated to do it, but the nightgown was where I put my foot down.

I looked at this thing made of slimy pink satin, tattered and moth eaten from literal decades of wear, and threw a fit.  I couldn't stand the sight of myself in it.  Something about it repelled me.  It was the opposite of the image I wanted, and I cringed at the thought of my friends somehow seeing me in it.  This went on for a few weeks until she couldn't take it anymore and doubled down on me: I could not wear my dirty clothes to bed on her watch.  I gave in and put it on.  She handed me the matching housecoat - another layer, this time of lace, with floppy rosettes sewn to all the edges.  She had won.

Today's old Texan grandmother also had linens for me, which I purchased for impending projects, a collection of stories by Dashiell Hammett, and various pieces of Limoges porcelain dishes.  She had a collection of dish cloths from the 70s, which I loved, until I unfolded them and found they were all covered with religious art.  More perfectly fine items ruined by Jesus!  The perils of estate shopping in the bible belt.

The grizzly old guy at the cashbox reviewed my items, shaking the nighties and the linens out one by one, and leveled a googly eye at me: You want all this stuff?  Yeah! I shouted defensively.  He laughed and said, "Uh, five bucks I guess."  He doesn't know what a pink chiffon nightgown goes for on Etsy.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Late Summer Turning

I get a twinge each year around September.  A muted voice inside of my bones says the season will be changing soon.  I'm not sure why it's telling me.  It seems that a couple of hundred years or more spent indoors in an industrialized culture might be long enough to make the inner consciousness of your physical body forget about seasonal preparations.  Or maybe a handful of generations in modernity isn't enough to kill the internal calendar composed by thousands of years of agronomic ancestry.

The middle of Arizona is like a glass bowl full of dust placed under a heat lamp.  There's no reason to be worrying about fall in September when living on the cracked earth of one of the hottest deserts in the world.  Still, every year I anticipated a subtle turn that never came.  The feeling would make its way to my thoughts and, for an unconscious moment, I'd allow myself expect it: autumn.  Cold mornings, dark windows behind jarring alarm clocks, changing leaves, and that feeling one gets when it's cold outside but warm inside.  

The summer is long in Texas, too, but it's not that long - the sudden tapering of summer that I sensed a couple of weeks ago when first attempting to write this is real now.  A cool breeze drifts through the hot sunshine, and mornings are not quite cool, but they're no longer warm.  It'll take another month for it to get here, but it's coming.

I guess I just don't like warm weather, because over the past couple of months, I've slunk into something closely resembling the seasonal affective disorder I joked about when living in Arizona.  I really did sleep longer and do less over the summer.  I kept the blinds drawn and the television on.  Texas' summer is far less punishing overall, but in place of the soul-evaporating, dry heat is a constant, pervasive steam.  Mere moments spent outdoors will warrant a shower.  The air will stand and thicken, breezeless, so that you can feel the water vapor as you pass through it, and it lays sticky on your skin.  All movement is exhausting.  The lethargy and physical pain I experienced after exertion had me worried at first.  Had my metabolism simply ended at 32?  Was I dying of something?  Had I somehow gained hundreds of pounds of weight and not noticed it?  I felt like crawling up the stairs to my apartment after leisurely evening walks in my neighborhood.  I hadn't yet researched the great imposition humidity wreaks on the body, particularly when one is used to humid conditions of 8%.  In Austin, a nice day is under 50%.

I began to view the city differently.  To turn, unmoved, from beautiful views that I'm still not quite used to.  Although the creeks are dry and the toads are gone (dead? or moved), the trees and grasses are lush and the greenery hasn't vanished.  Still, the film of humidity smears the beauty of the city, and I began to complain openly of everything that isn't good.  The traffic, the housing market, the obsession with barbecue, my hatred of random live music and ironic mustaches.  Everything was wrong, wrong!  I began my research for a move to upstate NY.

As soon as the heat was cut through with the first cool breezes of autumn, barely recognizable but making all the difference, my mood changed.  The first coolness of the season is thrilling to me, and fills me with a sense of awe and potential.  Driving with the windows down, or leaving the door open for the cat to roll in a patch of cool sun make incredible differences in my quality of life.  Fall in Texas looks like any other time in Texas, but it feels different already.  Everything feels more beautiful, more charming.  Bluejays wing around while deer cavort in tiny preserves tucked unexpectedly around the city.  It's a bit like when Snow White woke up.

Enduring a new summer has given me perspective on my ideal landscape.  If I still believed in reincarnation, I'd think I was looking for something I lost: mountains and forests, and not the kind you find west of the Mississippi.  Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York feel like a return for me.  

Monday, September 7, 2015

Reunion Stories

Iowa is cold in May.  

50 of my extended family members, all mostly descended from my grandma's family of 13, visited tiny Percival for the second Monaghan family reunion.  The first was in 1959.

The farmhouse is still in our family, although it's decayed in the ten years since we saw it last.  It's one of those things you just can't think about, because you can't do anything about it.  It'll be ok, but it's not the showpiece it once was.  Some of the siding is rotting and one of the porch columns has been replaced by some kind of...jack.  

Circa 1915


It was very amusing for me to compare the branches of our family.  All of the Arizona people are dark, aggressive, funny, and a little scary.  My grandma moved to Phoenix in 1949 and two of her brothers soon followed.  Most of their children fit this bill, but none more than my grandma's four children.

In contrast, our midwestern family are all gentle, mild, religious, and peaceful individuals.  One of the cousins from Wisconsin said they were afraid of the Benz kids back in high school.  They were scary-looking, rude, and were still prone to fist-fighting in the living room.  My aunt threw knives at her brothers because she couldn't fight.  I always thought this was a funny lie my father told until he brought it up at a recent get together.  I looked to her for her denial - she only shrugged and said, "They deserved worse!"

My uncle got very drunk one night and missed the toilet in the bathroom the whole house shared.  My dad got up some time after this and became enraged when his bare foot met a puddle of cold urine.  He returned to the bedroom he shared with his brother, punched the sleeping boy in the face twice, and went back to bed.  His brother didn't even ask the next morning why his face was bloodied and his eye a little silver bag.  He just went with it.

Offensive jokes in the parlor
I love to freak my cousin out by recounting my morbid grandmother's tales of death in the house.  No house gets that old without a few grisly experiences.  The parlor we're sitting in held the body of my great-great grandfather Ed Monaghan, who entered the US illegally from Ireland, and worked on the railroads until he could bring his wife and child to Iowa.  They built a little house, and then built this house in 1895.  Their son married a girl from South Dakota and brought her to live in the home with his parents and sister, and over the next 20 years, she had 11 children.  They all lived to adulthood.

Ed's body lay in state in the parlor for a few days before he was buried in Nebraska City.  My dad made sure to tell my brother that the night he slept on the couch down there.

My great-aunt Julia died in the house during childbirth and she probably stayed a few days in the parlor, too.  Ed's wife Bridget died in there and doubtless lay in state as well.  These are practically ghost stories to us now, but death wasn't so intimidating back then.  It happened all the time.  When someone died, there wasn't a service to come haul the body off before you had to look at it like there is now.  You'd probably wash and dress the corpse yourself, then leave them in your front room for a few days in case anyone wanted to see it before it went in the ground.  No big deal.

The overture screen from Gone with the Wind?  No.  My great-grandma's porch.
My skepticism grows as I age and I can't even pretend to believe all the paranormal shit that I at least cautiously considered in the past.  Still, I think the house is a little disturbed.  I've slept there several times and each time has been less restful than the last.

It's the only place where I've ever woken up screaming in the middle of the night.  It was a setting of pure gothic horror: a lone Victorian house in the middle of an empty stretch of middle America.  A violent electrical storm with tree branches beating at the windows of the tiny upstairs bedroom I slept in.  A dream of a creature or spirit advancing upon me in the dark and a scream when it finally arrives at the bed.  

An old black walnut mirror sits on a shelf in my bedroom now.  It's from the farmhouse, some of the original set of furniture purchased by my great-great grandparents in 1895 for their fancy new house. The wood is chipped and splintering now and the glass is speckled and cloudy.  One of the few superstitions I allow myself is an aversion to keeping mirrors in the bedroom.  I don't like catching a reflection in the dark, and I guess that's one old Irish widow's tale that stuck with me - I don't want them in there.  But this one is, and it's ok.  I like to think of the faces that have looked into it and imagine the glass remembers them and could show them again.  That's not really reducing the creepiness of having a mirror in the bedroom, but ancestral ghosts don't seem so scary.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I missed Phoenix for the first time.  I think it was sleeplessness mixed with the frustration of too many minor mishaps and disruptions in my daily life.  I seem to really require a feeling of absolute peace and safety at home and when it's disrupted, I'm completely disturbed.

But I thought about the wide flatness and caliche and old citrus trees and oleanders and canal water sluicing silently through the city at night.  I didn't miss it, I just felt like it was a place where everything is completely understood and, although boring, pretty safe.  I might've wanted to be there for that moment.

Do not tell my mother.

It's probably that the summer heat is tiring now and that I'm frustrated too often and spending all of my money on terribly mundane shit, but life in Central Texas seems so charmless compared to how I felt before.  I don't see the greenery as much, am forgetting the dusty lifeless brown of the Sonoran desert, and didn't feel the swell of "oh thank god" the last time I drove home from the airport.  I travel every other month or so, and the first four or so times I left Austin, I felt annoyed and resentful: I wanted to stay here!  I didn't want to leave for a day!  And when I watched the shadow of the plane land at pathetic Bergstrom airport, I was so relieved. 

Someone told me that moving out of state is very traumatizing.  I don't think it was for me.  Getting in an absurd car accident was a thousand times more traumatic.  The only traumatic thing about my move was staying overnight in Van Horn, Texas.  For that I owe my good friend Andrea an all expenses paid trip to someplace exotic and, some day, I'll give it to her.  Is Galveston Island exotic?  It is to me!  They have turtles and everything.

My mother and poor grandmother have made comments about 15 times since I moved about my eventual move back - asking if my employer has Phoenix offices, and letting me know that there's no humidity in central Arizona, and that I can call them in January when it's 30 degrees and raining and blowing in Austin to get a real nice description of Phoenix's sunny 65 degree day.  I laugh every time, because my grandma is 80 and I can't argue with her.  But it's strange to me that my mom still thinks that when I leave here, it'll be to Arizona.  Maybe I will one day, but when I do, I sure as hell won't be in my 30s.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Essential Summer Tunes

Playlist of Summer 2015!  PARTY

I daydreamed of my mother traveling to LA in the 60s and socializing with the musicians in Laurel Canyon.  She was a little too young for that.

My dad was perfectly aged to be a late 60s bohemian, but instead he just dated them while maintaining his workaday blue collar lifestyle, buying homes and driving pickup trucks.  He's a strange combination of wildness and staid Americana.  When I was a little girl, I would flinch and silently swallow tears during his infrequent, but memorable rages, but now sympathize more with my dad's angry side, and sometimes I shock even he with my acidic comments about the world.  Sorry, dad, but I guess you shouldn't be that surprised?

But here's something I love:

Eric Burdon and his subdued and wry body language in this video which could otherwise be another silly 60s beach party.  He acts as though he's written the lyrics himself.  But we know he didn't - he just loves good music.

Because no matter how upbeat it is, nothing is sadder than Sam Cook's version.  Unlike most hit artists of the day, Sam actually wrote this song.  If you've ever read about his death, you're unable to hear his voice without wanting to clench your fingernails into your fist.  Police cover up in civil rights era Los Angeles.  What's changed?

But let's go back to olde towne.

You're welcome.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Disaster of Unknown Proportion

I have never been so relieved in my life by something so irritating.

My mother is constantly telling me that I freak out too hard before I have all of the information, oftentimes almost dying from silent, heart-rupturing stress before finding out that whatever is troubling me is either 1. fictional or 2. not that bad.  It's so far been impossible for me to apply this opinion to my life in any meaningful way.

Here is the chain of events.

I noticed some black specks on my bedsheets.  Tiny, inexplicable specks of indeterminate origin on my clean sheets in my safe and hallowed bedroom.  Seemed odd.  I have a cat, so cat-related shed on the foot of my bed is a pretty regular thing, but I've never seen this before.  I thought about it in the shower until the Acme safe of painful realization fell upon my heart:

ONE: A COWORKER TOLD ME THAT THE HOTEL WE STAYED IN LAST WEEK FOR A STAFF RETREAT HAD A BEDBUG OUTBREAK A FEW YEARS AGO.  She learned this on Trip Advisor.  Naturally, my only response was, "What? NOOO!" "Well you didn't have any bites, right?" She asked.  I guessed not and, for the sake of my own peace, resolved to forget the interaction.


Conclusion: Bedbugs.  BED BUGS.


I rushed to my bed and closely inspected the spots, memorizing them.  Then I rushed to the internet and learned that bedbugs do in fact leave little dark spots in their wake.  They're shitting your own blood back onto the sheets in which you sleep.  This is the fucking LEVEL we're dealing with.

I ran back to the bed, carefully peeled all of the layers off, and stuffed them into a laundry hamper.  I then inspected the entire bed and floor, searching for signs of bugs.  I pulled the bed away from the wall, the protective cover from the mattress, inspected the walls, the floor, the box spring, for any sign of insect activity, and found none.  This was no comfort, for I knew that the bugs are crafty and they can hide anywhere.    

Then I realized the embuggened sheets were with my dirty clothes and tore them from the hamper.  I had read that a bedbug can travel from 5 to 20 feet looking for a host.  I put the sheets in garbage bags and left them by the front door, for future washing or incineration.

Then came the real research.  I flinched and flailed, reading story after story of thousands of dollars and multiple years spent battling the bugs.  I learned that trained dogs can sniff out the bedbugs during an inspection.  I learned that 50% of bites are undetectable by humans.  I looked at pictures of the bugs at all life stages, the bites, and the stains they leave behind.  I noticed cautiously that their stains didn't look like my flecks.  I went back and looked at the sheets again.  Definitely not consistent with the photos from bedbug infestations.  Nevertheless, I emailed a local bedbug exterminator, requesting a quote for a dog inspection. (how cute! dogs with jobs)

Then I remembered mocking my cat earlier in the day when she fell over while frenetically licking her own back.  She seemed to be unusually hurried.  I also noticed a black speck in her fur while petting her.

I went to the cat, turned her over, and shook her over the bathtub.  She wailed like an indignant fire engine while I ruffled her fur.  Just as I suspected, more black specks rained out.  In an alternate, hopeful internet search, I had learned that fleas leave specks of their own.  Much like the bedbug, the flea shits your own blood back onto your body, if you happen to be a dog or cat or 14th century peasant.  The way you can determine if the black specks are "flea dirt" is to wet them.  If they turn red (because blood), it's fleas.

I tested this.  The specks turned red.  Somehow my indoor cat has gotten fleas.  Instant relief!  It's easy to deal swift and permanent death to a flea outbreak without packing your entire house, fumigating it, burning it, freezing it, or enduring the other end-times procedures necessary to eradicate bedbugs.

Whether they bit me is unknown.  My leg was indeed itching yesterday, but I did also spend an hour and a half last night sitting in grass under a bridge in 90 degree heat and 60 percent humidity waiting for some bats to fly out of a hole so I could take a picture of them.  If anything could create a rash, that's probably the environment.

So, after only a couple of hours, a modest freakout, and a call to my mother, I have determined comfortably enough to sleep at home tonight that I probably don't have bedbugs.

I am definitely improving.

Post text: And sleeping with the door shut tonight.  And maybe forever.  Sorry, cat.

hashtag parasitic insects, hashtag rather have freddy kreuger probably.  hashtag still not bedbugs.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Only Children: Obnoxiously Not Needy

Today, a person at work made a comment about how someone we mutually dislike is annoying because he is an only child, and only-children are always flailing about for reassurance to match that which they assumedly received while basking in their singleness during childhood.

Dude: only child here to confirm that is bullshit.

1. He is annoying because he's stupid, and
2. I think only-childism actually breeds a problematic lack of reverence for belonging, and for the approval one receives from others in their pack.  All of the only-children that I have known have followed a pattern of deliberate self-isolation, neither requiring nor (oftentimes) accepting praise.  They're fuckin' weirdos, man.  Missed out on some important social times in the formative years!

My sample size is pretty large.  Growing up, my close friends always seemed to be only-children.  I am thinking of three different longterm BFFs 1993-present.  Secondly, I have dated other only-children, sometimes at length.  I know what I'm talking about.  These people don't want a high five.  I also begin to wonder if only children link up together subconsciously.  At one time, in my early 20s, 6 out of 8 of my main everyday crew were only children.  Were 75% of YOUR friends only children?  I think not.

I think it is the more thoroughly socialized who require consistent back patting.  These are the same people who tear up whenever they are alone, because they don't know what to do in the absence of chatter and touching, like little tree monkeys taken away from their communities, for whom context only exists in the group.

I mean, no judgment.  It took me decades to turn my antisocial behaviors around into something that closely resembles normalcy, and being an only child definitely creates a deficit when it comes to understanding other people.

I am not big on jesusy forgiveness of people who have committed significant transgressions, and I think it's because I don't have a community-oriented brain.  I have no problem ejecting people from my life once I've come to the objective conclusion that there's no value in it for us, no matter how close we were once.  Hey, I'm not a monster.  If we were close friends, then it may take me a few years (or an unforgivable event) to do it, but I will eventually do it, and it won't be difficult.  And, if I'm honest, I've only waited to end those friendships because I didn't want to be perceived as cold, enhancing the deluded narrative that the idiot I'm getting rid of will doubtlessly create about the situation.

And what's with people randomly citing only children in their lists of demonstrably fucked up people?  RUDE.