Thursday, March 18, 2010

Da Mayor

“So, what was it like growing up as the Mayor’s daughter?”
I must have had this question asked of me hundreds of times in my adult life. I typically gave the standard response: “well, it was tough. Since my mother was the Mayor of a semi-small suburban town, everyone knew everyone else and that included keeping a watchful eye over what I was up to. I never really got into trouble in high school, never drank stale beer at keg parties in some field somewhere, never got below a 3.6 grade point average in fear that the entire city council would find out about it and pass some ordinance that required me to put homework before any other priority in my life, and never stole lipstick or stayed out past midnight on a weekend. My between-the-lines behavior was strictly motivated by fear of exposure. It was pretty uneventful from that vantage point.”

My real answer is as follows:

My mother got bored a lot. When we moved to Livermore, she had to have her hands in everything. She started the shelter for battered women when I was just a little kid, but that effort was short lived. After the shelter was up and running successfully, she was on to her next big project “Once you find yourself without a life challenge, you might as well close up shop, cause there’s no use living, just put me out of my misery at that point.”

Life was never mundane in our household and I say this with some distain, for having some downtime every once in awhile might have had an actual calming effect on us children. But with any other “hobby” my mother had, the excitement of running the shelter eventually wore off and she was off on her next adventure: the city council. “I have a lot to offer this fine community. It needs some fixing up.”

As the campaign kicked into high gear, I was summoned to walk precincts, dress in clown outfits while passing out flyers at grocery stores and putting up lawn signs. I was exhausted on the weekends, but my mother said the work built character. Sitting in the back of our blue pinto, clown makeup on my face, waving Cathie Brown for City Council signs out the window and having people smile and wave back was fun, absolutely. But what wasn’t fun and albeit rather stressful was getting kicked off of the grocery store property and having angry constituents slam doors in our faces – character building, my ass. “Look at it this way kids, if you don’t experience these things, you’ll never know how to recognize who your opponents are”.

When my mother was finally sworn in to public office, I almost half expected that her manic, crazy side would be pared down a bit, that her unconventional ways, her insatiable attraction of everything “weird” would either cease or be significantly reduced. But, really, what was I thinking? This new identity almost encouraged my mother to act peculiar and get away with it. “Just put me down now if I can’t stir it up with my family and still be a public figure.” And with that in mind, she declared that half of Saturdays and all day Sundays were officially branded as family time. This declaration didn’t necessarily affect my father’s daily life because he had “family time” every evening by cooking meals, helping with homework and becoming the sympathetic yet way out of his league sounding board to my boyfriend troubles.

But because of my parents’ limited income – my mother received a small monthly stipend and my father’s steady paycheck was stagnant from his early departures for home, our “family time” was nothing like the theme park, cinema, ski trip weekends that I had hoped for.

The family would typically choose Saturday night to venture to San Francisco. We would travel by way of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), which was a thirty minute ride to the City, and once there, we would walk and walk and walk. I do not remember my folks ever splurging for a taxi cab ride. It was either the train or our feet. Our only stop for the evening before we strolled around Pier 39 and Fishermans’ Warf was a magic store right on the main drag, where we would load up on cheap gag gifts – hand buzzers, squirting nickels, fake flies, gum that stained your teeth blue, and our personal favorite, Snappy Snot.

Who would have ever thought that my mother, along with a seventy-five cent, twelve inch piece of silicon could provide pure entertainment for an entire evening? It went something like this: we would load up on Snappy Snot, stake out our victims (typically someone with a vulnerable stomach), and have our way with them. Following my mother to places like fudge shops, all you can eat diners and all night donut shops was always the most exciting part – Inspector Clouseau meets Candid Camera.

And then we would wait. We would wait behind garbage cans, trees, even walk behind people, and then when we spotted our victim, my mother gave us a little shove on the back to indicate that it was show time. We would then walk in front of our victim who was typically walking out of the fudge shop, stuffing their face, and as we had practiced a million times before, fake a sneeze that would inevitably get the patron’s attention, letting the Snappy Snot fling out of our hands and dangle in our noses. I wondered during those family times if my mother would be spotted, if her mayoral duties would be called to the carpet, but they never were in San Francisco. Her infamous “off campus” philosophy worked wonders in the anonymous City. “If they recognize me here flinging Snappy Snot, I might as well hang up my mayor hat, because this is what life is all about kids.”

Was it, really?

Other weekends were often spent in various populated places which would spurn my mother into one of her crazed fits of goofiness. I have a vivid memory of her walking out of a public restroom with a toilet seat protector around her head, claiming it was awfully sunny outside and she sure wished she had remembered her sun glasses, “but this little contraption will do just fine. Look, it even has a visor.” As I stared in horror, she proceeded to stroll past us down the busy tourist street. I would often plead with my father for some sort of assistance, please do something! But he just shook his head, puffed on his cigarette and told me to pretend I didn’t know her, “pretend she’s someone else’s mother.” Everyday, Dad, everyday.. That advice actually made me enjoy my mother’s behavior – listening to people a couple of yards back talk about how crazy that woman was, or how they have never seen anything quite so innovative. My mother, innovative?

A couple of years later, as I barely managed to maintain a “B” grade in my high school Spanish class, I was panicked about a presentation I had to do in front of the students. It was a “how to” and I had no idea how to do anything, let alone teach how to do it in Spanish. So, my mother, in passing, recommended that I teach people all the different ways to use toilet seat protectors.

Next thing I knew, we were planning covert operations to pilfer about forty toilet seat protectors from the Denny’s down the street from our house. “We’ll order sodas at the bar, and then you go in about 10 minutes later and stuff as many as you can into your jacket. I will follow after and get the rest.” Could one get arrested for stealing bathroom supplies? I hadn’t a clue, but somehow if we got caught that would be the least of our worries. Headlines: Mayor gets nabbed in ass gasket burglary.

It was a little surprising to learn that my “101 Uses For a Toilet Seat Protector” project not only got me an “A”, but it also created quite a new fashion statement at Livermore High. And little did my classmates know that the Mayor was the brains behind this operation.

But my mother couldn’t always hide her loony side away from the outside world and have her daughter be the buffer. During those weekend family times, they slipped out even when we were in the dangerous boundaries of city limits. In fact, when my parents broke down and bought a ping pong table, it became our new obsession. These ping pong games were never leisure pastimes, they became all-out competitive wars which inevitably included loud yelling, outdoor spot lights when the sun went down, and the occasional shedding of clothing. The biggest challenges were always between my parents. My father never let up - his slam shots would leave bruising on my mother’s neck, arms and chest, leaving him victorious and bragging for weeks about how no one could beat him.

Never being one to lose, though, my mother got tricky and began stripping off pieces of clothing with every shot she won, which left my painfully weak father missing serves and stumbling over himself. One day, I had some of my high school friends over. We were playing Atari video games in the living room when I heard the all too familiar shrills coming from the patio. Being rather inquisitive, my friends would ask what was going on in the backyard, to which I replied, “oh, nothing. My parents are just arguing” assuming that most parents argued while playing games, that this was somehow normal. But as the shrills turned to panicked shrieks, my friends popped their heads up to peer outside and what they found was their mayor, my mother, in her Birthday suit beating my father in ping pong.

Aside from this being a concern for the obvious reasons, I felt nervous about my friends going home and telling their parents about my mother’s secret and that it would soon be discovered that she was hiding her real side, and again, the dreaded newspaper headline popped into my head: Jay Bird Mayor, Victorious in Table Tennis. Instead, my loyal friends never said a word to their folks, instead, they would call first, asking if they could come over and if my mother was fully clothed.

I knew her luck would eventually run out someday, and that one of her loony episodes would be exposed, and unfortunately, I was there to witness her final fall from grace.

For fun, I used to attend my mother’s council meetings as a teenager. I think my motivation for going was to witness this professional woman who I didn’t really know that well. It fascinated me to see my mother as a completely different person, speaking with such serious conviction. I often wondered how, after these meetings, she changed back to being goofy mom again - was it during the car ride home? When she arrived in the driveway? Did she morph while dressing for bed that evening? And how did she keep her alter ego from slipping out?

My mother had this horrible habit of snapping her chewing gum between her molars when she was annoyed. And during this particular council meeting, it appeared as though she was about to lunge out of her seat and go for the throat of one of her fellow council members. The snapping in the microphone was unbearable, and when staff caught her attention, they motioned for her to take her gum out. Her motions were always exaggerated as she exhaled loudly and stuffed her gum inside a tissue and put it in her purse. Instead of snapping her gum, my mother then began chewing on her lip. I sensed that this was one of those rare times she was going to lose her cool and I really wished I hadn’t stuck around to see it.

As the meeting dragged on, and my mother’s patience wore thin, she took out a tissue from her purse and began blowing her nose rather loudly into the microphone, that is until she realized that it was the same tissue she used to deposit her gum.

The gum became permanently stuck to her nose hairs. It was bright pink. I could see it. Instead of excusing herself, she began to laugh as she tugged on the gum with her thumb and first finger, and then began putting her whole fingers up there to get it out. When she noticed the entire crowd staring at her, she made a joke about how it smelled like cinnamon in the room. The chambers broke out in hysterics as the press began scribbling on their pads. I, on the other hand, was horrified and bolted out the backdoor, racing home on my bike.

And all of those fears that one day those ridiculous events would somehow find their way into public were realized the following morning, where I found my mother, hunched over the kitchen table reading the headlines: Mayor Cathie Brown – Her Nose in the News. She looked up from the paper, defeated, and said, “Let this be a lesson to all of us. Not everyone is like us Browns.”

No, Mom, not everyone is like you.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Feeling of Love For those who are paid to touch me.

Is it odd to be secretly enamored with the people who put their hands on my body? Whether it be my scalp or the pinched nerve in my neck, whoever takes the time to lay their hands on me holds a special place in my heart.. and yes this includes those who are paid to do so.

I pay a hefty price to be man handled. There’s nothing more alluring than someone who knows how to pull hair or needle out a shoulder knot with hot rocks. The people who do it well are considered healers to me, or Gods, take your pick.

Let’s start with Renna. Here’s a woman who vaguely resembles Linda Evangelista, the supermodel from the 90s who appeared on every Vogue cover from January 1991 and beyond. Except Renna has a Bohemian style with a street style flair – think Ed Hardy meets bourgeois flower child (and don’t assume I know what I am talking about here – thank God for google). In other words, Renna has style, attitude (a positive one), lots of tattoos and bottom line: she’s hot. And magic fingers. There. I said it. Let’s move on.

I walk into Renna’s salon work space once every eight weeks to receive my coveted “cut and color”. Let me be clear: this is a highlight of my life in routine. And to make it particularly special, I never schedule these little rendezvous’ before 4:00 in the afternoon because Renna takes care of me in that stress free kind of way by offering me wine, hot tea, and my monthly supply of current events through outlets such as US Weekly, People and the latest celebrity hairstyles – women’s version of erotica, as far as I am concerned. I cherish this time with Renna like a patient spending time with her therapist. Every part of my being is fulfilled – my emotional needs (I delve into details about how stressful my day was), my physical well being (the eye popping head rubs in the shampoo bowl), my sense of smell (the jasmine oil she rubs on my temples), my stress relief (okay, just one more glass of wine), and my appearance (my hair will never be this healthy, stylish and manageable at home. I better have someplace important to go after this).

The experience with Renna is so full of rapture, that my husband doesn’t pass up the chance to cough up 50 bones every three weeks to get his do done by Renna too. He feels the same way as I do about her. In fact, she and her family are a part of our family – we spend time with them: Halloween, birthdays, our annual bocce ball tournaments. And I think a lot of it has to do with the theory of classical conditioning: her presence alone induces a certain stimuli that makes us feel calm, happy and well rested. Classical conditioning is most commonly described by the salivary reactions of Pavlov’s dogs.

When Renna is around, I start to drool, whether she’s doing my hair or not.

I remember a specific time when I made an appointment about two months after Yack was born. I felt stressed, overweight, sleep deprived, overweight.. I took Yack with me figuring that he would just sleep in his little portable car seat while I got the treatment. The stars aligned and he was asleep for most of the time I was under Renna’s spell. I felt so much better when she was done, that I ended up staying all afternoon and chatting, breast feeding and helping Renna with her other customers. I would like to take this opportunity to offer up a public apology to those patrons of Renna’s on that particular day. I know I stole your precious time with her by demanding her attention, and if you have the same feelings that I have for her, I know it must have burned you to have me yammering on and on with a baby hanging from my breast while you got your coveted head massage, but I deserved it at the time. So, I am sorry, but it’s safe to say that I would probably do it all over again.

It’s pretty safe to say too, that I love Renna. I pay for that love and I don’t apologize for it.

I also pay for the love I get from my masseuse. For purposes of this blog entry, I will refer to him as the Healer. When I was first introduced to the Healer it was through a coworker who was sick and tired of my constant high pitched complaining about my sore back. I think my breaking point was when I had to stand up to type on my computer, and use his $150 leather belt to strap an ice pack to my back. He even had a primary care physician make a house call to the office and stick me in the arm with a needle full of muscle relaxer medicine. (I have yet to replace the water stained belt I ruined two years ago, but it’s on my to do list.)

“You really need to go see the Healer. You’re driving us all crazy.” My coworker has a great bedside manner.

“What’s he going to do for me? I have pinched nerves all the way up my spine. I think I need a year’s supply of Vicoden and probably some Percocet too.”

After his lecture on the addictive nature of said prescription drugs (like I didn’t know that already), he explained that the only way I am going to be pain free is if those knots (bulging nervey muscle lumps) are worked out.

Hhhrmuph, I responded. I got the Healer’s number and sat on it for one year, developing an unhealthy dependency on generic Ibuprofen.

That is, until I couldn’t take it anymore. Not being able to turn around and look in my blind spot while driving without wincing in pain – that was my “bottom”.

“Hi. I am a coworker/friend of Mr. Insensitive. He says that I need to come see you. Please text me back. TTYL.”

The Healer responded within 20 minutes, “Oh, sweetie, Mr. Insensitive told me about your back. I am here to help. I am avail Mon, Tues, Thurs in afternoon. Let me know what works best. :)"

I felt better already. I almost started to cry.

When I arrived at the Healer’s massage studio, I was greeted by the sound of soft music and ocean waves, and a man who listened to my ailments. I sounded like one of those old ladies who complains about sciatica and hearing loss. The Healer was soft spoken, direct and told me exactly what he was going to do to me.

And over the course of the next two hours, he transformed my broken body into a toxin free rubber toy. The experience included hot rocks, foot scrubs, hair pulling, cheek bone reflexology, and magic hands. He kneaded areas that I didn’t even know were throbbing in pain. He awakened me.

That’s the day I fell in love with the Healer. And I have returned for pieces of his love at least once a month since.

On Valentines Day this year, the Healer came to us. He brought all of his tools and chisels, oils and potions and set up shop right in our bedroom. He “did” Pants first, who had the works – the full shoulder kink rubs, the head massage, the foot scrub. I was growing impatient as I paced the hallway outside of our door– who could blame me? They were in there for over two hours. So, I entered the room and sat on the floor impetuously waiting my turn, looking up at Pants’ face poking through the massage table headrest. “Hi there, my turn. Happy Valentines’ Day. Love you. Amscray” (this is a nice way of saying “scram” in pig latin. Less offensive. Try it on someone you love and see the response that you get.)

The Healer worked on my every crook for what seemed like eternity. After it was over, I didn’t want him to leave. I almost sat on the floor and wrapped myself around his leg like a dead weight – something I did to my father as a kid when he was leaving me to do something more important than raising his children. But after four and a half hours at our house, the Healer was ready to go, and so I reluctantly paid for his hands and friendship and bid him farewell.

I am not ashamed that I must pay for love. I am not at all embarrassed by the fact that I love these two people in my life. It may be the one-way street kind of love, but it’s certainly something I can live with, and for the record, if they ever wanted me to lay my hands on them, I would do it without charging a cent, because that’s love, but I probably couldn’t do it for very long. My fingers are brittle and they get sore pretty easily. Which reminds me, I need to make an appointment..

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Princess and the Pee

I used to be an expert at sleeping. I would get a good nine hours plus a night regularly, and when my lights were out, there was no shaking me out of my sacred slumber. Bang a few trash can lids together, use a leaf blower, unload the dishwasher – nothing was going to get me up before I was good and ready for day break. I was in solid, dreamless slumber until at least 7:30 a.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. on weekends. It’s what I did best. It’s one of the few things of which I am most proud.

All of this somewhat changed when I started slumbering side by side with my husband, Pants. In this particular segment, I will refer to him as Princess and the Pea and not in an endearing way.

Some may argue that I don’t have a lot to grumble about – he doesn’t snore, he doesn’t have restless leg syndrome (whatever they are trying to sell at 2 a.m. on my beloved Infomercial channel is something that I have considered purchasing.) He is generally a diplomatic sleeper. He tip toes to the bathroom when nature calls in the dead of night. He never flips on the overhead light when he needs to read to fall asleep. He stares at the ceiling mummified while I saw logs. So, the sleepless nights fall in his camp, not mine. Let’s be clear: Pants has a sleeping disorder. The disorder is that he can’t sleep. We have talked over coffee (bad idea), over wine (a grade A sleeping aid in my personal experience) or a carbo load pasta meal to dissect this issue that is affecting his ability to sleep, thus affecting his productivity during the daylight hours. The conversation invariably goes something like this:

Pants: “I think we need a new mattress.”

Me: “Maybe you just need to up your dose of Ambien. Try taking two.. or three.”

Pants: “Being dependent upon sleeping aids is not a solid resolution.”

Me: “If we buy another mattress, I will leave your ass.”

This last comment puts me into an inner turmoil tail spin. I could just assume sleep on the hardwood floor. I like it hard. The harder the better. I have a fundamental and historical belief that hard surfaces were made for sleeping in the stone ages to ensure that spinal cords were kept in a linear position. No kinks, no pinched nerves, no bulging discs. This is how our ancestors wanted it. Not some squishy mush pot that conformed to your scoliosis ridden hunch back. But Pants likes these types of sleeping experiences, which I call “enablers”. He would rather sleep on a water bed or a box of cotton than anything that remotely resembled a hard surface, or what I would call a regular mattress.

Our first mattress as a married couple was a posture pediatric wonder pad. I frankly liked it. Again, I go back to my original preference – the harder the better. This new mattress wasn’t the hardwood variety, but it was comfortable. I slept for several hours at a time without incident.

Pants hated it. The bed was too hard, he said, claiming that his sleepless wonder world is going to cause him to lose his job. We took back the $1,500 mattress and bought a new one.

Trying to return a mattress after you purchase it is a little like returning underwear after you take off that sanitary strip in the crotch and use it for a few days. Your bacteria is all over the place. Resale is hardly worth it to the retailer. How are they going to remarket that stuff? “Mattress: slightly used by couple of over 20 years. Used only for sleeping.” Or, “gently used undergarments by someone who didn’t use the loo a lot.”

So, we sold our “gently used mattress” on Craig’s list.

For half the price we paid.

On to mattress number two. This one was supposed to be primo and contain microfibers. Supposedly, if you put a glass of wine on the corner of the bed and jump in the middle, the wine wouldn’t spill. But it did. We slept on the wine stained mattress one night. Well, I slept. Pants rolled back and forth and mumbled about how he was sleeping on a bed of needles.

So, we sold that one on Craig’s list too under the title, “Commercial experiment gone awry.”

This was sold for a third of the price for which we bought it.

Pants had heard that the new sleep number beds were the shizzle and I was tired of sleeping on a box spring so I said let’s go for it. After a five grand net loss on bed products, my patience was wearing thin. Anything would do at this point. I hoped that this time would be the last in a couple of years that we would have to throw money out the window on mattresses that weren’t just right.

Pants began to blame his ailments on the bed – his rotator cuff, his lower back spasms, his tired mood swings.. I felt as if I were living in a 1940s fairy tale. So I broke down and agreed to the remote control mattress which set us back by a few vacation trips to Hawaii – ah, but if it made my dude happy, what’s a couple of missed vacations stuffed in a sleep filled mattress? As long as he was sleeping.

On our first night in our new high tech bed, I had these intense dreams – dreams that brought forth images of flying gargoyles and man eating spiders, and a work day that would never end. This was a rare occurrence as I never dream; subconsciously I knew the higher ups were playing their hand. They were sending me a message I couldn’t quite understand… that is, until I woke up in a puddle of my own urine. Now, imagine how odd it was to me have soiled my bed when that has never happened in my adult life. I abandoned that part of my self conscious behavior back when I was eight after my first (and only) viewing of Friday the 13th. Why now? Why as a 37 year old?

Perhaps it was my way of putting a stop to the mattress madness. Perhaps I needed my husband to just stick with a decision and deal with the pain and anguish that came along with a sleeping condition. Perhaps I needed him to start looking inward rather than what’s holding him up horizontally.

Perhaps I am just tired.

Perhaps I am not really happy with the fact that I am stuck with a remote control bed that doesn’t satisfy my sleep necessities in the least. I mentioned to Pants tonight as we were putting our much overdue clean sheets on our bed, “you know, Pants, I hate our bed. I feel like I am on a rocking boat, and that I keep rolling into the middle.”

He smiles and says, “too bad we can’t sell it on Craigs List. You can’t sell pee on Craig’s List.”