Saturday, February 27, 2016

Inappropriate Laughter

Last Tuesday, I worked long and hard. At my computer by 7:45am, I completed a detailed online review for a local business, a tight, pithy anecdote for a grant report, a short story, and an edit of another short story. I updated my Texas Public Library email list (15 Excel pages, nearly 600 entries) and sent introductory emails, some of them personalized, to half the people on that list. I took only a coffee break, lunch break, tea break and chose to forego walking and yoga so as to feel smug and self-righteous at the end of the day. Which came at 6:45pm after nearly 11 hours of labor. Now I wait for the piles of cash to roll in, right? Welcome to the life of the self-employed arty farty. And if it sounds as if I'm blowing my own trumpet, well, so be it, but it's really more like self-encouragement, balancing the days where I do nothing, sweet Fanny Adams, sweet f*** all. Such days also play a huge part of the life of self-employed artist.

Anyway, at 6:45 p.m. all I could think about was WINE. I need WINE. There was nothing fitting that description in the house, unless you count an aged box of red, now answering to the name of vinegar. Better nip 'round to Fresh Plus, our nice, local, expensive corner store and get a bottle. "Need anything?" I called as I departed. "Beer!" was the response. "Sierra Nevada!"

I didn't look in a mirror before leaving home which, since turning fifty, (this is how I avoid saying, "as I approach sixty...") tends to be a mistake, especially when I've been alone all day with only cats for company. I thought about that as I walked towards the store and caught sight of my bedraggled self in the sliding glass door. "Did I brush my hair this morning?" I speculated. "Did I brush my teeth?"

I knew what I wanted and went straight there. No Sierra Nevada available in the Beer Cave so I got a 6-pack of Shiner IPA. The Sauvignon Blanc I selected was within my reach price-wise, but just out of it, height-wise. I beckoned a tall shop assistant who was happy to help this short, elderly woman. That's not how I'd describe myself, you understand; it's how this young man looked at me...with a look completely void of any kind of sexual interest, closer to that special brand of old folks' home flirting, where young men feel safe flattering the ladies because, well, clearly, no one's going to misinterpret it and think that they might actually be interested.

I made my way to the front, picking the checkout with two young men (high school? college?), one at the register, the other bagging purchases. They didn't acknowledge my presence as a human, but they did notice my purchase of two different types of alcohol. Seemed to me they gave each other a side glance that meant, "Whoa...a boozer..." To defuse the situation, I smiled and said, "Guess what I'm doing tonight!" They looked up for the first time, staring, frozen. Finally the cashier said, "Er, I dunno. What are you doing?" I put on a swagger and an appalling Texan accent. "Drankin'..." I said. No response. Complete blank. Their bug-eyes and slack jaws were so precious, so funny, that before I could stop myself, I released a loud cackle. Both lads literally jumped back, which made me laugh again. I fumbled my bags off the counter so I could escape without further display of weird. I was still laughing as I walked to my car, still laughing aloud, I mean. I imagined them telling their friends, "Served this crazy old bag lady today..." And you know what? As I curled up with my glass of crisp, citrusy New Zealand white in front of Finding Your Roots, it dawned on me that, after 11 hours alone at a computer, I probably fit that description rather well. And I'm not entirely ashamed to admit it. They should be grateful I wasn't still wearing my panda pajamas.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


What does the average woman expect to receive on St. Valentine's Day? Flowers, chocolates, and champagne come to mind, naughty knickers perhaps. At the very least, a card.

I haven't lived in Great Britain for ages, and haven't been there on that special occasion for thirty years so I can't be sure how it goes down in the 21st century, but back in my day (I'm old) you could count yourself really lucky to get a bunch of daffs or a box of chocs. You were much more likely to get just a Valentine's card, and these were sent anonymously--even if you were courting or married, your card wouldn't be signed personally. "Someone loves you!" or "Guess who?" All sorts of trouble could ensue if a married person received more than one card because, well, who the hell sent the second one? I once stirred things up when I sent my boyfriend two cards as a lark: an "anonymous" card which was obviously from me, and a cheeky second card ostensibly from someone else. He dismissed my card immediately as duly expected, and spent the whole day waxing fascinated by the concept that "someone else" was keen on him. Moron.

In the mid 80s, I lived in North Africa--Tripoli, to be precise. St. Valentine's Day, as you might imagine, was not big in Libya. There were no Valentine's Day specials: no red and sparkly balloons, no chocolate-coated strawberries, no scarlet, frilly undies in shop windows, teasing panting lovers to splurge their well-earned dinars on their partners. And there were certainly no romantic, whimsical, kissy-kissy cocktails on Tripoli restaurant menus. If you found your regular bread, sweaty Emmental cheese and a coupla tins of sardines, you'd count yourself blessed.

This meant that on St. Valentine's Day 1985, my fellow secretaries and I were feeling a bit sorry for ourselves. Some of the ladies still had boyfriends in the UK, and not a single one of those sorry twits appeared to have remembered the event. The overseas snail-mail came and went without a tell-tale red envelope. Actually, I'm not sure that red envelopes were the thing back then, but you know what I mean--an envelope that spoke of LOVE. Those of us with boyfriends among the British expatriate community in Tripoli held our breath for a while...until it was obvious that nothing was going to arrive to lift our spirits...I mean, we didn't want to die. I sat at my desk wallowing in self-pity, and when Jackie, Sally, and Janice passed by my office, we all grumbled at our misfortune. The following thought did cross my mind, "What are you expecting? Hand-delivered home-made cards? Really? From Englishmen? From geologists?" but I wasn't prepared to allow that thought to influence my self-righteous indignation.

When my boyfriend, Steve, eventually phoned me from his office on the other side of downtown Tripoli, it was clear that he'd no idea it was Valentine's Day. I soon sorted him out. "How could you forget?" I said, "How could you?" though of course I was fully aware that unless a note had been pinned to his forehead with a thumbtack, there was absolutely no way he'd remember, and even then, it probably wouldn't have occurred to him to have done anything. He was English, a geologist, and an ex-public school boy. Nothing I knew of his upbringing had led me to expect a romantic gesture of any sort ever. And yet, and yet....

I told him that the secretaries were upset, particularly the ones who regularly hung out with the geologists, and that he was to find a way to correct the situation, and quickly.

About half an hour later, my fax machine clicked and whirred, and I've attached what came through. When I called Steve to acknowledge its receipt, he told me I was to photocopy it and pass it around. Please note, I am not first on the list so either Steve didn't create this masterpiece himself, or he liked Jackie more than he liked me.

As my mother would've said, "Well, darling, it's better than a slap in the belly with a wet fish."

I suppose so. But only a little.

Happy Valentine's Day from some English Geologists