taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

When I first started this blog, I really never imagined that it might end up as some kind of referendum on my character, or that the intersection of my public and private lives might become complex. I never imagined, actually, that it would be anything but a kind of extended letter to my friends--friends that I talked to a lot, and friends that I didn't. I thought of it as a way to publish all those little half-formed essays I carried around with me all the time--a place to be honest, sure, and public, of course. But I intended it to be enjoyed if it was enjoyable, and ignored otherwise.

But I've recently realized that a lot of people are reading this thing, and not all of them like me any more after they read it than they did before. On one level, I don't really care--I can't make myself likeable, and I've never hidden my true self here. I just write what I see around me, and it's not really up to anyone else to tell me whether that's right or wrong, any more than it's up to anyone else to tell me what to feel or think. I have spent most of my adult life, as we all do, sublimating my real thoughts and feelings for the greater good, or expediency, or to spare other people's feelings. Here is the one place I can write honestly and potentially connect with other people who might feel the same way, but were afraid to say so.

But I still manage to offend, or be wrong, or be fundamentally misunderstood.And this realization is the heart of true dismay. To understand that whatever it was you were doing was somehow wrong all along, that what you felt was wrong and what you thought. That after all--despite whatever superficial feeling of connection you had with the world--it was as you always suspected.

And yet I make no apologies. I've had a couple of experiences lately that actually made me think I should shut the doors on the Home of Dismay--if not forever, then temporarily. But then I thought you know what? Fuck 'em. This is mine. I own it. I own dismay! And I own my words and thoughts, and I own the ability to write about them and put them out there--and if it's unpleasant or unappealing, so be it. No one has to read it.

So here it remains. Like it or not.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

I've spent the weekend trying to make the house look as though no one really lives here, which is, I've been told, what Prospective Buyers want. While I think my taste is wonderful, it's entirely possible that less sophisticated people might not agree. Also, I seem to have somehow acquired many pieces of art and knicknacks involving naked ladies. There are the amusing vintage "boobie" salt and pepper shakers, my framed 1940's pinups, and my mermaid jewelry dish. Looking around with a fresh eye, I realized that my house is filled with bare breasts. How could I not have noticed this before?

The real estate agents are coming over on Tuesday, and I'm sure they'll have plenty to say about what I need to do. They'll probably tell me to paint the whole place white, which would break my heart. One advantage of living with an artist is you end up with lovely wall colors. But I think most people don't like lovely wall colors.

I was thinking that maybe I should insist that anyone who makes an offer on the house must also submit a 1,000 word essay on the subject of "Why I Want This House and What I Plan To Do With It." That way, I could weed out the philistines and determine which buyers are worthy of living here. I've loved this house more than anyplace I've ever lived, and I've done everything here with great care and consideration. I don't want some fools moving in here, knocking down walls and installing ugly light fixtures. I'm also thinking I'll refuse offers from anyone who's moving from D.C. I suspect that people who move to Roland Park from D.C. have more money than taste, and they might do something hideous like install a whirlpool tub, or cut down my azaleas. I guess I just have to remind myself never to drive by here again after I move out.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The division of the Marital Property, with the mediator, took about an hour and a half. We didn't argue because there's not that much to argue about--the house, a few bank accounts, some furniture.

But now I've come to the Division Of The Books.

Okay, in some instances it's pretty clear. The James M. Cain, the Raymond Chandler, the Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, Lawrence Block, A.S. Byatt, that's all mine. Most of the Nabakov, too, and all the feminist screeds, linguistic texts, and literary criticism.

He could make a case for Paul Auster but he won't, or Mark Helprin either. The Umberto Eco gets a little sketchy there for a minute, but I know he arrived at the marriage with "Name of the Rose." And it's clear that all the Calvino and most of the science fiction is his, although I could conceivably fight for Phillip K. Dick. But J.G. Ballard's all mine--he never did really get J.G. Ballard.

And some of the books we have duplicates, so it's no biggie--we each get an "Alice in Wonderland," a "Lost in the Funhouse," a "Great Gatsby," most of the plays of Shakespeare, and inexplicably, some Wole Soyinka.

But what am I supposed to do with, say, Neuromancer? I want Neuromancer and I can't remember who bought it. Or "Mathematics and the Imagination"--a book so inexplicably comforting that both of us will fight for it? (And it's not just the text--it has to be THAT COPY, the one that's dogeared on the google page, with the seventies fonts on the cover.)

I mean, it's one thing to divide equity and armoires and the titles to cars. It's a whole other thing to say that suddenly you can no longer live in the same house as that particular copy of Neuromancer, the one you read while eating spaghetti in the dining room of an apartment overlooking a park, listening to a restless child and the wind in the trees three stories below.

My daughter is working on a school report about the state of Utah, which means I've been asked to spell "polygamist" at least five times in the last three days. Their assignment is to write about interesting facts about each state, and she's decided that polygamy is pretty damn interesting. Weirdly repulsive but interesting. Her take on it, and the last sentence of her report: "I don't know why anyone would need ten wives!"

Her last report was about Florida. I tried to get her to put some stuff in there about stolen elections and the Bush family dynasty, but she didn't think that was quite as interesting as conquistadores and orange groves. Oh well.

Today I received the loveliest email from a friend of mine, a woman I worked with & have been friends with for years. I told her about the separation and she responded in just the most wonderful, understanding way. She never once said it was so sad or she was so sad, or that it was horrible or how were the children. She just said that we were very brave for choosing to find out what life might be like without the other, and that she knew that we loved each other and were committed to the girls, and that we would make it work. It was so incredibly unselfish and encouraging, I couldn't believe it.

It's good to have friends. Actually, it might be good to have ten wives, too. But I think it's better to have friends.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The outpouring of support from friends and loved ones has been truly amazing, and almost counters the sick feeling I carry around with me in the pit of my stomach these days. I am the victim of my own choices, some tiny and some big, an accretion of little choices. I'll go this way, I'll do this, I'll go here, and then one day I woke up and I was at the edge of a giant cliff, one foot in the air and ready to jump.

Maybe it's because we're going to see the mediator today, and I actually called a real estate agent, and it's all becoming real now. But I just mentally stopped last night. I hit the wall and I stopped and I said, wow. How did this HAPPEN? What the hell happened?

You get married, and you don't really think about what you're doing. Especially when you're 21--how can you know what "forever" means, or "hard work"? I didn't. I didn't even understand that everything you do has consequences. Every choice changes your destiny just that little bit, until you've veered in an entirely new direction. And one day you wake up and you've got a career and kids and a house and it's just like that Talking Heads song--"This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife."

And the days go by.

Here's the thing--there's nothing to regret. There's no moment to look back on and say "Oh, that's when it happened. If only I'd done blah blah blah instead." Which is a blessing, in a way, and a curse. Because with no single cause and no one to blame, I find myself feeling like maybe we don't really control our own lives very much at all. We think our choices are well-made and thought-through, but since we have no clue about their outcomes, we're just guessing. And now it's another choice, although it doesn't feel like a choice at all. I look back at the path behind me and it's all overgrown, and there's no breadcrumbs leading me back home.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

My latest search engine referrers have me laughing out loud. Ahem:

x-rays of objects stuck in assholes
alef golem
find money to teach senitivity to teachers
how come my internet connection on and off
momomomomomom

It's time for me to own up to what's been going on here at the Home of Dismay. I thought about this for a long time, whether to write about this, and finally decided that I have to, because otherwise I can't write about anything here with even a semblance of honesty.

My husband and I are about to separate. I have discovered that when I tell people this, they have a lot of questions. So for you, dear readers, I have prepared an FAQ to answer what I find are the most commonly asked questions about the impending breakup of the Home of Dismay. Please excuse me if the answers are a bit brusque, but some of the questions I've been getting are, I think, rather impertinent.

THE HOME OF DISMAY SEPARATION FAQ

Q: Do you feel sad or happy about the separation?
A: Both. But I've done my crying and now I mostly feel relieved.

Q: How am I supposed to react to this news? I want to be supportive, and yet I feel sad.
A: That's okay. Just say "If there's anything you need, let me know."

Q: Is the separation amicable?
A: Yes. My husband is my BFF and always will be. We love each other a lot, but can't live together.

Q: Have you told the children?
A: Yes, although The Queen didn't understand a word we said. The Panda is taking it remarkably well and wants to have a yard sale and decorate her new bedrooms.

Q: What brought this on?
A: If you don't already know the answer to this question, it's probably none of your business.

Q: What does this say about marriage as an institution?
A: Nothing whatsoever.

Q: Will you keep the house?
A: No. Unfortunately, we will have to move to a less eccentric, less ritzy neighborhood.

Q: Is there anything I can do?
A: The husband will need a cheese grater, a vegetable peeler, and a new TV. I will need dining room chairs and a bed. We were considering starting a "divorce registry" at Target but thought you all might think that was tacky. Other than that, babysitting is always much appreciated.

Q: You seem a little bit emotionless about this. Why aren't you a giant wreck?
A: I was a giant wreck for about a year. I just didn't tell anyone but my therapist. That has passed, and now it's time to be calm and clearheaded and organized, because all that matters now is doing this the right way, for the children.

Q: What about counselling?
A: While I appreciate that you are trying to help, I am not actually asking for any advice about my marriage. But thank you for the suggestion.

Q: Are you going to be okay?
A: Yes. I'm going to be just fine and so will the kids. If you are a Friend of the Husband, though, please be sure to give him a lot of love and support.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Star Wars and Me: A Chronology

1978: Heard on the nursery school playground that Star Wars was cool. (Even then, overly influenced by the ill-considered opinions of boys.) Drag parents to the Church Lane Theater, in Timonium, where we sat through an interminable hour(during which I whined) until my parents decided they'd had enough, too. I knew that the movie was gonna be bad as soon as those yellow words started scrolling--BORING!--but stuck with it anyway because I felt like I should.

1980: Now that I'm seven and not that babyish five year old any more, I go see the Empire Strikes Back. Started to feel less alienated from my peer group because I kinda liked it--mostly because of the muppets. But I liked Raiders of the Lost Ark way better.

1983: (Just so you know, I had to look these dates up on IMDB.)Ah yes, Return of the Jedi. I have no memories of seeing this movie and yet I know I did, probably repeatedly, because I remember it fairly well. Is it possible that I absorbed the entire movie through some sort of cultural osmosis?

FAST FORWARD....

1991: An early date with the man who would become my husband. "You don't like Star Wars? What are you talking about?" We spend an evening in my parent's basement watching it while he tries to point out the reasons I should be into it. It was exactly like the way deadheads say "Oh, man, you don't like the Dead? Oh, you just never heard the Red Rocks '77 recording" and then you have to sit there and nod and pretend like you're into it because they're so clearly smitten. And yet you find no redeeming value whatsoever in the whole thing.

1997: My baby is being nannied by the Hairy Godmother, aka Tim, my BFF and a lovely man all round. At the end of the workday I come home--every day--to find them watching one or another Star Wars tape from the collection. Amanda in her saucer, staring raptly at the screen, while the cheesy dialogue turns her brain to mush. She had also been given a Darth Vader coin bank, into which she delighted in putting pennies. "YOU ARE NOT A JEDI YET!" the bank would exclaim at all hours of the day and night. I removed its batteries eventually.

1999-2005: This "prequel" shit comes out. I think that out of obligation I actually watched "The Phantom Menace" and found it so intolerably horrifyingly bad that I didn't actually force myself to watch that next one about clones. Honestly, I couldn't even follow what was going on. Who were these people? What happened to Natalie Portman since she was so great in "The Professional"? Oh, so unspeakably boring! I was proud that after four movies, I finally realized that I didn't HAVE to watch Star Wars movies any more if I didn't want to. I didn't have to be clued into that part of the culture at all! No one cares if I know who Palpatine is or when exactly he became bad!

Although I have to admit I do quote Yoda from time to time, but only that one line--"Try? There is no try. There is only do." (It's worth noting that Yoda and Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid are the exact same character, but whatever, that was a good quote. As was "wax on, wax off!")

Thursday, May 19, 2005

After I got married and had the Panda, I thought married people without children were hopelessly self-involved. Here I was, twenty-three, working full time and going to school, with a kiddo and a house. And I found myself in a neighborhood absolutely full of childless married people. Rich, self-involved, with too much time to think about wine and home decor and their jobs and their relationships.

These people irritated me no end. Their late-middle-aged hipsterism. Their smug, too-considered marriages. They were like the gray-headed, overly-self-aware line drawings in seventies sex manuals. Navel-gazing and babyish, seeking their own happiness. At that time, I honestly thought "Happiness? Pah! Life is fucking hard, get over it!" I believed that the having and rearing of children was the most essential part of becoming a grownup.

I still believe that, only now I believe something else too: children ruin marriages.

I'm not even going to preface any of this with the usual disclaimers. (OK, OK: I think it should be obvious that I adore my children, that I do whatever it takes to keep them happy and well-fed and well-educated, that I enjoy their company and I'm beyond glad I had them.) But let's face it--having young children is a marriage-killer. They demand far more than they give. They inhibit your sexual relationship with your spouse in ways you could have never dreamed of--you suddenly lack any semblance of privacy, time, or energy. They keep you from leaving the house as a couple almost ever. They increase your workload a hundredfold, and the work is frankly mindless drudgery most of the time. They don't care what you think about any of this, and they shouldn't. And the times you're not with them, you're biologically compelled to think about them. If this isn't a recipe for marital disaster, what is?

The common wisdom goes something like this: Make time for YOU! Make time for the COUPLE and the MARRIAGE! Ask any parent--that's fucking FUNNY. Make time for YOU? I'm picturing some twenty two year old intern at Redbook dreaming this shit up. As though babysitters are waiting on every streetcorner like migrant workers, ready to be picked up at a moment's notice so that your (suddenly untired) spouse can whisk you off to a dinner you can't afford. As though the experience of giving birth (or witnessing a birth) a couple of times--not to mention the years spent with an average of three hours sleep a night--isn't going to impinge on your desire to do anything but pass out at nine o' clock.

I count among my friend several married couples who have consciously decided not to have children. And while at one time, I admit, I would have said they were dooming themselves to a life of trivial self-involvement, I now see that they're pretty much the only happily married couples I know. Because marriage wasn't meant to support what we ask from it. It wasn't meant to be a love match AND an economic arrangement AND a living situation AND a coparenting relationship AND a daycare.

A friend of mine recently told me a story about some MICA kids back in the seventies who decided to install a pool on the second floor of a Victorian rowhouse. Predictably, when they filled up the pool, the whole thing came crashing down under its own weight and water flowed out like a tsunami, breaking the front windows of the house. Families are like that too--a wonderful fantasy gone terrifically awry, collapsing under the weight of their own expectations. When your kids ask you, how do babies get made? you should tell them that story. And the moral? "Sometimes Mommies and Daddies get really brilliant ideas, and then they carry them out, and sometimes it doesn't turn out the way that Mommies and Daddies expected it to."

Saturday, May 14, 2005

It's only a month til my birthday! Because I'm childish, I spend a lot of time thinking about my own birthday. What I want to do that day, what I want for presents. Now it's countdown time. I'm gonna be 32! It's momentous. That's how old my mom was when she had me. When I was little that sounded so OLD. Anyway, I thought that I might try and help those of you who were spending all your time thinking "Now what does Claire want for her birthday?" Well, wonder no longer! I want:

-A crockpot (don't ask. I make a lot of pot roast.)
-A mandoline (I'm sucky at slicing potatoes)
-Jewelry(preferably a cheap Tiffany knockoff)
-Amusing books from Atomic
-A day off, which I will spend eating a roast beef sandwich and drinking wine--from a snapple bottle!-- at the pool.
-Another bottle of my favorite perfume (Hey! This here says my perfume "style" is realistic, sincere, and uncomplicated! That is so not true!)
-A new coffeepot

So there you go! It's not so much to ask. I wish all the rest of y'all would start listing your birthday desires on your blogs. It would make it so much easier!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Tales from Smalltimore Part 503954059:

Today I'm at work and this guy walks in who looks incredibly familiar. Turns out he's the one who has been on Papa Leave for the two weeks since I started. Anyway he comes up to my desk and introduces himself and says "You look really familiar!"

Let's just be clear here--besides the fact that this is my OLD new job (in that I worked there seven years ago) and the fact that two of my clients I already know from past work/social lives--now I know this guy? And I was starting to get this feeling that I actually knew him from a time when I was somewhat less--ahem--conventional than I am today.

So I played the whole thing as coolly as I could--which (since I'm a giant dork) is not very cool at all--and realization starts to dawn on him. "Did you used to go to shows a lot in the early nineties? Hang out at [insert bar name here]?" I'm all "Um yeaaahh... I did." So we get talking about various bands that used to exist around town and people we know in common and it turns out all my fears were unjustified. If indeed he does remember my bad behavior he was not going to mention it. And anyway my connection with him was so peripheral that he probably doesn't remember my bad behavior. Wasn't everyone behaving badly back then after all? I hope--for their sakes--that my peers didn't squander their youth on pre-law classes and the writings of Derrida.

And then it occurred to me that I was worried about maybe a two-year span of my life that happened FIFTEEN YEARS AGO. I've been a married mama for almost ten years--way longer than I was a crazy teenager. So why should those two years continue to give me such anxiety?

It's just that Baltimore never lets you forget. You can totally transform yourself--hey guys! I'm professional Claire now! I've spent ten years busting my ass and I now really DO know something! And yet even in your professional life there are whole sets of people who remember you doing shots of SoCo while sitting on top of the bar at the Vous. Or even worse--"I remember you running around in your didies when you were a little baby!" (And yes. There are people still active in my industry who remember this particular image of me.) Everywhere you go someone knows you from before--and that includes work. Baltimore offers no escape. You are continually forced to face every single thing you ever did.

I have to remember this--because today is tomorrow's past. At the time all my behavior seemed totally appropriate--as does everything I do now. But in twenty years what will I encounter? "That's the woman I worked with twenty years ago! She's a VP now but back then she had purple hair and said whatever the hell came into her head! A real attitude problem! And did I mention she used to do shots of Soco while sitting on the bar at the Vous?"

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Mother's Day 2005 began with the familiar wailing-from-the-crib. The Queen doesn't mind sitting in there alone in the morning squeezing her duck and chewing on board books--but when she's done she's done. And she lets us know. I was a little rough around the edges at first. I went out last night with the mother of one of Panda's best friends and I think I drank two beers for every one she downed. On the plus side: I did get to see the results of her tummy tuck. Remind me never to get a tummy tuck. It's flat all right but she's got a scar from hip to hip.

We headed over to my sister's for some serious eating. My neice made a feast involving eggs and sausage and millions of bread products. There was champagne available but I avoided it. The Mother waltzed in late with her boyfriend. Let's call him White Tennis Shoes. Because really there's no better way to describe him. He's very friendly but in this way that makes me uncomfortable.

Or maybe the idea of The Mother with a boyfriend makes me uncomfortable. The word boyfriend is so inappropriate for White Tennis Shoes anyway. He does drive a sporty car but he's bald and... he's..... Dating. My. Mother.

You know--even from a young age I understood The Mother was considered rather attractive. Maybe it was the way six men at the gas station had to attend to our car at every visit. Maybe it was the times men approached her when we were out (yes! with me there!) and tried to make conversation. Maybe it was the time the photographer we went to--to have our mother-daughter portrait taken--asked her if she'd like to do some "solo intimate shots"--you know--for "your husband." I mean really--if I learned nothing else from growing up with The Mother it was that men can be really icky.

But all those years I knew it was all okay because even if she was hot--and even if men wouldn't leave her alone--she was MARRIED and so she clearly couldn't be Having Sex. Married people after all didn't have sex. And if they did it was probably just to make more babies. But now? Now she has White Tennis Shoes. And what am I supposed to make of that?

Of course I'd forgotten to buy gifts in advance so we had to hit the grocery store for plants beforehand. The card rack was picked-over. Mostly what was left were sympathy cards. I thought I might be able to make something out of one of those. "In your time of need.... know that I am deeply sorry" and then I could write underneath "...that you had to suffer me as a daughter." I bought a hydrangea. I didn't know it was a hydrangea until The Mother said "Oh is that hydrangea for me? I was hoping it was when I saw it!" So I guess it was a good choice.

I wonder what people with more traditional mother-types do on Mother's Day. Do they get all warm and gooey feeling? Do they think "When I feel alone all I have to do is think of Mom!" Do they hug their mothers in a way that's not kind of air-kissy? Do their mothers say to their white-tennis-shod boyfriends "Honey--get me a drink" at brunch? Do their mothers invest in real estate and seem to be more interested in their window treatments than--say--their work and marriages?

I'm not knocking The Mother. She's a great lady. She's like someone I met at a fancy restaurant one night while waiting for a table at the bar. She's impeccably dressed and a ton of fun and generous to a fault. She's just not... I dunno... momly. And I guess neither am I. I suppose that in twenty years the Panda will show up in May with a hydrangea and a card and we'll air kiss and have a glass of wine and laugh together. I actually look forward to it. But I do wonder if there's some Mom gene that's inexplicably missing from my DNA.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

I'm beginning to think the lack of commas has been good for my writing. At first it felt awkward--but with the help of parentheses and em dashes I adapted rather quickly. No more long discursive sentences. No more strings of useless adjectives. No more asides. I am now forced to think through exactly what I mean to say in advance. It requires far more discipline.

I always felt that the comma lent a lilting rhythym to sentences. For instance: in that last sentence I viscerally wanted to add a comma at the end and restate what I had just said in a different way. How useless! Who wants to listen to me say the same thing three times? The comma drove me to be show-offy. It caused me to write long indecipherable phrases. Now if I want to add rhythym to my paragraphs I am forced to create more complex and better-built sentences.

I finally understand what a slave I'd become to the comma. It had corrupted my style thoroughly. Nowadays even at work--where I have full comma access--I find myself avoiding the curly little monster. I believe that the comma is the halfway-decent writer's worst enemy. There might even be a Zen parable in there somewhere--something to do with being an acolyte and not knowing how to use a comma. And then becoming fluent and too precious with your commas until finally you reach satori and give up the comma altogether. (Or something. Look-the lack of comma hasn't helped my ability to create metaphors.)

Writing teachers take note: make your students write an entire essay without a comma. It doesn't rival Georges Perec*. But it can be terribly enlightening.
_____________________________

*I'd have added a link there but the lack of comma also interferes with my html tags. Georges Perec wrote a novel without an E anwywhere in it (the english version is called "A Void.") It's pretty much unreadable--one of those virtuoso performances you can't stand to sit through--but admirable in some insane way. I suspect he wrote it simply because he was a man whose name contained too many e's. I often think about the guy who translated it into English--because the only thing worse than writing a book with no e's in French must be translating it into English. Whatever happened to Gilbert Adair? Ah--let's see:

"He has also written a parody of Pope's The Rape of the Lock, sequels to Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan and a number of books of non-fiction, including Hollywood's Vietnam (1981) and The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice (1992)."

"The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice"?? You've got to be kidding me.

Today was Spring Fair at the Panda's shool and all I can say is..... oh the other mothers.

The other mothers have been a problem for me since Amanda was born. Back then I was too young and poor to participate in any of their discussions about clothing and activities. The baby and I pretty much entertained ourselves by going on long walks to the grocery store with carefully clipped coupons. Nowadays I'm a more appropriate age for motherhood so I do try and join their seemingly effortless little cliques. But clearly there's something wrong with me because they aren't very nice to me.

Now I happen to know that other people like me. Non-mother types. And even some other mothers invite me out on occasion. Maybe it's just the mother's at the Panda's school.

You see today was Spring Fair and I--as class mom (ha!)--was in charge of the snowball booth. My other class mom couldn't be there so I had to do everything by myself. Which was fine. But almost immediately I ran into trouble with the Other Mothers.

First it was the Parent Association Bitch. We'll call her "Supermom." Supermom has three children and no job and a fabulous totally renovated house in one of the city's swankier and hipper urban neighborhoods. She seems to spend all her time pretending she's nice in order to rope suckers like me into volunteering to be class moms. But then once you're in? Oh her tune changes pretty fast. She seems to have a conversational tone that ranges from schoolmarmish to satanic. She says things like "Claire. Why on earth did you put the napkins THERE? They clearly belong over here." Or "Hmmm. Didn't see you at the last Spring Fair meeting. I suppose you're too BUSY? We're all BUSY."

Anyway. There I am--on time and all and lugging all the stuff I bought for the snowball stand--which I might add I donated to the school--and she sees me and is on me right away. Helpful-like. "Your booth is over there next to this one."

"This booth?" I ask in confusion.

"The ONE over THERE!" she repeats in a very nasty tone but does not point.

"This one?" I ask to confirm.

"Claire. That one. OKAY?"

I give up and decide to just pick a booth and luckily it was the right one. Proceed to get myself all set up and work the snowball stand for two hours because one of my volunteers didn't show. Hauling ice and scooping it into little cups til my fingers are numb. Covered in syrup but still cheerful. I realize I hadn't eaten breakfast and the hotdogs next door are spinning on that weird silver thing. (The sign orginially read "Hot Dogs $1." But they quickly changed it to "PORK hot dogs $1" out of cultural senitivity. Which of course made me want one even more.)

I'd given all my money to the Panda so that she coud suck on lemon sticks and drink sodas. The husband was supposed to be there at 10 and it was 10:45. Finally I got a break and got some food. I saw a woman who used to be very friendly to me but she breezed by me without a word. Every time I saw her I tryied to say "Hi M..." but she acted as if I didn't exist. It was like when you offend some girl in high school but you're not sure what you did and up til graduation she won't speak to you? And then at the drunken party after graduation she tells you "Oh in 10th grade you pissed me off by borrowing my pencil without asking me" or something. (Not that that ever happened to me. Really. But it could have.)

Anyway I go back to check on the booth and two strangers are in it. "Hi I'm Claire." I say. "I'm nominally in charge of the booth. Can I help you out?"

Well. Icy stare. I mean just withering. What had I done this time?

"There's styrofoam bits in the ice" this bitch tells me. Suddenly I realize who it is. She is a Very Important Person In Baltimore Whom One Must Never Offend Because She Is Bigger And Better Than This Stinkin' Burg. I will say no more but I had been warned.

I think all this through and then think: fuck her.

"Is it from the foam coolers?" I ask sweetly.

"Yes. These cheap foam coolers are totally inadequate." These are the foam coolers I had to go to three stores on a aturday to find and buy with my own money.

By this time my husband is there and to his credit he jumps right in to stick up for me. "No one else volunteered to bring any." He can see I'm starting to poof out like an angry cat.

"Well." she huffs. "No one asked me. I'm a parent and no one called me."

"We were trying to work it out among the class parents" I say. "And you know what? There's a giant plastic bucket that I also bought. Right there." Pointing. "So why don't we use that."

Please keep in mind that I was using my most imperious and bitchy tone at this point. Which is--I say with some pride--very imperious and bitchy.

She looks at the bucket and deflates slightly. "Oh. Okay." I'm thinking: maybe if your nose wasn't stuck so far in the air you'd have seen the fucking bucket on the ground.

I get the ice in the bucket and run off to find quarters for them. I even had to beg some off this very-ex-boyfriend who was (fittingly somehow) working the hot dog booth next door. I gave him a two dollar bill. He just looked at me and shook his head at me--the exact way he used to in 1990--and gave me the quarters.

At this point I guess I'd proved my utility to The Very Important Person One Must Not Offend because she softened slightly. Instead of treating me like a criminally insane retard she shifted in tone so that I felt more like a barely-tolerated incompetent lackey. An improvement of sorts.

By noon the baby was fussing and I'd had enough. I asked the husband to share the noon shift with Mr. Supermom (who is inexplicably cheerful in a way that makes me suspicious). My husband looked completely taken aback by everyone's tone. Especially in the midst of this very sweet little fair. I mean the fair itself was delightful and adorable. But the women! My god! Who are these people? The husband is still there and I pray for his sanity and his soul. God only knows what he will encounter during cleanup.

Luckily tonight I am going to have drinks with a mom who actually likes me. She subs at the Panda's school and I intend to ask her: is it me? or is it them? Do I have some vibe that makes other mothers just despise me? Was it the tight shirt that led them to believe I am incompetent and worthy of scorn? Is it my stupid jokes? I really don't get it.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Just heard this term--it's the white guy equivalent of the D.L.--"dutch girlfriend". So if you say a married guy has a Dutch girlfriend it really means he has a boyfriend. Or twelve of them.

Pass it on.

My daughter's teacher Ms. M. is blonde and wears miniskirts and platform shoes. This means I relate to her--even though she's 25 and more authoritative with children than I am. Children see me and "sucka" is writ large across my forehead. They know I'll give them cupcakes and let them use my makeup. Not so Ms. M. One day she told the class "There's a reason I don't teach daycare and that's because I don't want to teach babies. Now if you all continue to act like babies I'm bringing a box of Pampers in here and you all are going to have to wear them." My daughter--who is not unfamiliar with Pampers--said in an incredulous voice: "I think she is actually serious Mumma." I laughed and laughed. It was brilliant--the class was under control for a whole day.

The latest Ms. M. gossip is that she broke up with her boyfriend. I suspect her boyfriend was a bit of a wuss. He came in every Thursday for lunch and sat in one of the small chairs and ate his sandwich while the children hassled him. So obviously Ms. M. had to tell the class why he wasn't there on Thursday. She said "We broke up. Should I email him right now and tell him he's missing lunch?" And the class was in an uproar. "Email him! Email him!" they shouted. She said "I will!" On Friday morning of course the children asked "Did he write back?" Ms. M. had to tell them she'd gotten no response. Perhaps the wussy boyfriend was tired of having mayonnaise smeared in his hair. Perhaps Ms. M. told him she would put him in Pampers if he didn't stop acting like a baby.