Tagged: doh!

Destabilize

I step into a baby clothing store on a whim, looking for a gift for a friend who’s just given birth. The shop is cheerful and whimsical, with a fluffy pastel cotton-candy interior. I’m a bit disoriented in this foreign world of cutesy teeny-tiny fashion.

Smelling fresh carrion, two black-clad saleswomen croak “Hello” and descend upon me. They bare their teeth into something resembling a smile.

One of them, an older woman with deep-set eyes, indicates the rack for newborns. I peruse the adorable clothing, realizing a simple onesie costs 55 euros…

I have no time to fake a polite exit before the dark-eyed woman re-materializes in a cloud of heavy perfume and the oppressive stink of 30 years’ worth of cigarettes and red wine. There’s something sinister about this husky-voiced woman with stingy hair and George Washington’s wooden teeth, cooing at me with a saccharine voice.

“How old did you say the baby was?”

“Uhm, about 2 months.”

“So it’s NOT a new baby then!”

“I guess not…”

“Et, c’est dans quel pays?”

My eyes narrow in confusion, and my mouth is parted–I’m breathing discreetly through my mouth.

Quel pays? What country? What kind of trick question is this?

“Pardon?”

She repeats herself, cartoonishly enunciating “Quel PAYS?” Her gray teeth stand out against the spackle caked on her face; she looks like a 20’s vaudeville clown.

“France.”

“No, no, no…” Her colleague joins in behind, and they are now both braying at me, in tandem: “Pays, pays, pays…”  All that’s missing here is an undead barbershop quartet to complete this ghastly spectacle.

What did I do to gain entry to this hellish dog and pony show?

“WHERE?”

“The south of France…?”

“Oh, voilà! You know, we only ask because every region’s weather is different, every season is different, which you must keep in mind when shopping…” Her smarmy response disgusts me, and their logic has me stumped.  I don’t belong here in this farce. I respond with logic that might speak to them:

“Well, this is a travelling baby. You know, the kind of baby that travels all over France with her parents, so any kind of clothing would be fine… At any rate, thanks very much for your help, have a great day!” I chirp and fly out of the store.

The air outside is heavy and oppressive, offering no relief from the burning that stings the back of my throat.  I feel foolish, destabilized, unsettled.  Despite their bizarrely condescending behavior, I still suspect the fault lies with me and my insufficient French.

It’s time to retreat home.  I’ll buy the gift another day.

Snapshot: Nausea

In class, one-to-one with a young woman. Her limp ponytail drags between her slumped shoulders. I’m patiently listening to her gulpy, whispered half-responses. Gently, I ask for a full sentence, and she’s staring down at the table, cold. Out of my peripheral vision, the television in the next room plays a special report: death rituals in some faraway country. The desiccated, hollow, toothy face of a man’s dead father comes up onscreen. My eyebrows twist in morbid fascination as he explains the bathing and offering of food and cigarettes to the mummified body of his father.

My attention whips back to my student, and I tune back in. It’s been almost a full minute of silence. I rephrase in favor of a black-or-white question. She continues staring down, frozen in time.

The full-length window facing the sidewalk buzzes with passersby. One figure looks in, then turns and stops. Staring at me through the window, vulgar, slack-jawed, grimy canvas vest, clutching a tattered shopping bag. I flush when my eyes meet his, and hurriedly tune back in to my student, who is just finishing her carefully composed response.

My eyes crinkle with a plaster-toothed, dry smile. “Great,” my voice creaks.

Mortify

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Onstage, seated cross-legged in front of a full audience.  I paint on my most charming smile, and begin speaking into the mic.  In the midst of the first wave of applause, I realize:  my script is missing.  The auditorium hushes, and I’m nervously fluttering through my binders.  I hear spectators growing restless, shifting from one buttcheek to the other in their seats, and I’m feeling panicked.  I look over my shoulder, and am sickened to see that offstage, she’s got my script.  Smiling, her face says, “How you like me now?”
I wake up with the same tight stomach.
§
Mortification is a word that’s followed me closely in my journey through life, like a pathetically faithful three-legged dog with fleas.
§
I think back to my first teaching job, and the little black nob protruding from the ceiling in every classroom:  CCTV.
I knew that classes were recorded, for evaluation purposes…  it wasn’t until a couple years in, that I realized everything was being recorded.  Whether there was a class or not, the cameras were rolling.  I instinctively cringe recalling the things I did while on camera.

I broke down crying at my desk before class.

I shook my booty to reggaeton music.

I bit my nails.

I had private telephone conversations.

I did unladylike things.

Those shining moments were captured, in addition to my horrific first forays into teaching:  kids scribbling on the walls, scooting around the classroom, slinging various objects, and stupefied Me in the eye of the pandemonium, pulling my hair out.

I can imagine the wide-eyed bewildered look of whatthef*ck on my supervisors’ faces when they sat down to replay and evaluate my classes.  I imagine they learned much more about me than they bargained for.
Now, looking back on that time, I wonder if there wasn’t a shred of pity in their eyes when they spoke to me.
I shudder, and come zooming back to the Present.  I could chastise myself for ever being that foolish.  But, knowing that Mortification will eventually come back to me, I prefer to laugh at myself.  It may not be pleasant, but it’s there to teach me a lesson.

Center

I’m not a spotlight reveler.  I’m the one reveling in anonymity and dancing in the negative space around the spotlight.  Like an escaped prison convict, I tend to go wide-eyed and freeze up in the blinding light of attention.
But when you get married, it’s kinda the point to be the center of attention.
Dress shopping and decision-making are turning things a bit sideways, as I learned yesterday.
Wedding dress shopping, first stop.  The bridal shop saleswoman is a mousy woman with wire-rimmed glasses and short dark hair.  She listens expectantly as I describe what I’d like, hoping to end the choreographed dance around the Price Question as soon as urbanely possible.  Finally, I name my budget, and the woman curtly responds, “No, madam, that just isn’t possible.  For what you want, you’re looking at X.”
X is several hundred euros more than I had imagined.
There are three people watching me fidget, and make a snap decision.  The potency of my French turns from espresso to dishwater.  I feel hot, and my throat starts to tighten.  I’m looking blankly into the seller’s eyes, and noticing that despite her calm mask, her skin is flushing.  My skin flushes in tandem, and my tongue swells.  The silence is oppressive, and I suddenly feel like a foolish girl.  I step outside my skin and envision how I must look, slack-jawed and cloddish, with my simple thumbs curled through the belt loops in my careworn jeans, surrounded by pristine white gowns.  I feel so inadequate.
“Well, then, I suppose it’ll have to be that much, but no more.”
“It’s you who decides, madam, not me!”
I can feel the eyes of my mother- and sister-in-law on my back, silently sharing this clumsy moment with me.  I want to evaporate.
My heart sinks as I try on several gorgeous wedding dresses.  I let my hair loose, and I admit to myself that I do look very nice.  My throat is still tight, and I manage to squeak out that, indeed, they flatter my figure.  I purse my lips, and as six eyes expectantly wait for a definitive “yes,” and that signature bride-to-be’s squeal of glee at finding The Dress, I feel myself crumbling inside.  I feel like a hollow doll, slathered in pretense and lace.
What’s the tactful way to say that this doesn’t feel right?  That I’m not cut out for this ostentatious charade?  How would Emily Post orchestrate my exit strategy?
“Well, this is a big decision that I’m not ready to make right now.  I think I’d like to sleep on it.”
I take the woman’s business card, slide it into my bag, and smile as I show myself the door.  Damn, that was rough.  But I’m happy that I listened to my gut instinct and did what was right, albeit uncomfortable:  I said no.
Even if I stumbled and scraped a knee back there, I think Emily would be happy with my (somewhat) diplomatic retreat.

Judge

Commute to work.

There’s the middle-aged homeless man, always perched somewhere on this commercial street, who I pass nearly every day.  He squints upward at me, and we exchange nods and hellos.  From time to time, I’ve given him my spare change, a bottle of water, some clementines from the market.

Today, I smile my usual hello to him in response to his greeting.  Our daily call-and-response.

I see a young, bearded man, about 25 years old.  I’ve seen him and other chipper young people, wearing a different color vest every couple months, canvassing for clean water, AIDS research, human rights protection… All noble causes that have web sites I can consult for more information.  I’m not looking to receive a lecture from a bright-eyed twenty-something about how I should be using my money.

I smile my hello in response to the perched man’s greeting, then see the young man approaching, in his fluorescent yellow vest, arms open wide and incredulous.  “How about you give him a sandwich instead of your ‘hello’?” he chastises me in French.

I feign ignorance and reply in English: “No thank you sir, have a good day!”

I walk off, brain buzzing in thought.  I wonder why he intervened.  I’m sure he thought he was doing the Right Thing.  He was so sure that he was justified in confronting me.  He decided that I was someone who needed to be put in her place, that I needed a lesson in how to be decent to other people.

In his mind, I’m a cold, uncaring, callous, selfish woman.  Am I?  In my mind, he’s a self-righteous busybody that projects judgment onto others, which saves him from directing it inward.  Is he?

 

We love weaving narratives from dubious scraps of information.

 

It comforts us to find a demonstrable cause-effect, an explanation to justify a conclusion we’ve decided.  How much of our reality has been decided, packaged and sealed up, and stamped “TRUE” in our brain?  No longer subject to analysis or criticism, or even logic, how many of the beliefs that guide our lives have we etched in stone?

 

That stranger is laughing as I walk by because they’re mocking me.

My friend hasn’t called because I’ve done something wrong and they’re mad at me.

I never win anything because that’s my fate.  I was born a Loser.

That dog chose to piss on the tree nearest me as a power move; that dog has it out for me.

 

My silly brain makes these sorts of little decisions all the time.  But I’ve learned it’s generally a good idea to subject them to review before filing them under “TRUE.”

Shop

Mid-January.

Winter rains coat the stone walkways in town.  Gray above, gray below.  A pre-recorded man’s voice ricochets off the stone buildings, and through my head.  Advertisements.  The pushy scripts are read by a noncommittal man’s voice, just innocuous enough to sound attractive.

50-percent off, get your King Cakes for the Epiphany at This Bakery.  That Shop is offering you a limited-time offer on Whatever.  Buy 2 Things, get one free at Some Other Store.

I feel morose as I find myself slithering through the wet streets, killing time before work.  I’m not above their stupid gimmicks after all.  How can I compete with perfectly-orchestrated color schemes designed to attract my eye?  I’m disappointed in my brain, as it falls for their slight-of-hand tricks that gussy up the same old products and commodities in flashy fake allure?  My brain is no match for those advertising bigwigs that are experts in the art of money extraction.

I feel guilty as my feet take me toward the attractively-colored Makeup Shop.  I choose a lipstick color, and stand in the checkout line, feeling defeated.  A tight-lipped saleswoman calls out to me in a firm, clipped voice:  Other line please, you sheep.

I’m thus herded with the others toward the designated station where I part with several euros of my hard-earned money, all for the sake of vanity.  I steal a moment after lunch to smear on my new lipstick.  Am I beautiful yet?  Is the sellout, commercialized and commodified Lari satisfied?

I look at myself in the mirror, and my heart softens a bit.  It actually looks nice.  I’ve allowed myself this one indulgence, and I can’t say I regret it.  The Me in the mirror gives a loving, yet reproachful smirk:  You’ve had your moment of excess.  Now wear that lipstick, and continue on your way.

Airplane

My stomach sinks, then jumps into my throat. I can’t breathe. Braced for impact, eyes are gritted together, and bitter tears start to eke out. Is this my fate, to die with shitty airline food in my stomach? Clutching to F’s sleeve, dampening it with my anxiety and dark imagination. I’ve lived a good life. I hope everyone knows I love them. I hope my mother-in-law doesn’t lose respect for me when she’s forced to go through my dirty laundry and bed-side table… Our plane is rocking side to side as the captain tries to land in a rainstorm. The French couple behind us sound nonplussed as they contemplate their lunch options. Two feet away, I’m having an existential crisis, regretting my shortcomings and life choices.

We finally touch ground, and the passengers give a round of applause. I’m short of breath, wiping away tears. Screw this plane, I want out!

§

For the second and final leg of the journey, the sun has come out.

Turns out Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson bring the funk hard enough for me to forget how much I hate takeoff. This time, I’m too busy bopping like Carlton to notice the horrible airplane engine revving. The sky is a perfect prism of rainbow, sitting above perfect Bob Ross clouds. Happy little clouds.

I’ve passed through the doom of my turbulence, and I can find humor around me once again.

I have seven hours to kill. I start by watching the people around me and judging them based on their in-flight movie choice. The dadboner to my right is cracking up at The Hangover. Hair parted down the middle, checked button-down, corduroy pants: check, check, and check. He’s taken off his shoes, and his little toesies wiggle in their comfy socks. Sitting in front of him is a nerdy scruffy dude watching Casino Royale. It’s a series of sculpted, eternally sweaty men gazing intensely at each other. So hot.

Me, I’m jamming. Lipsynching to Mariah Carey one minute, then pulling an Elvis lip when nobody’s around and I can get away with it. Hell, if everyone on this plane were asleep, I wouldn’t be against the idea of practicing my Michael Jackson flair leg kick. “Bad” comes on, and suddenly the cabin lights dim. You know I’m bad, dah, jamon! In my mind’s eye, I’m wearing a jaunty fedora. I sling a suspicious gaze at every passerby; the scowl transforms into a knowing smirk. Heh… I eat punks like you for breakfast. Then my profile slides neatly out of view. The song in my ear changes, and in my imagination I AM Lady Gaga’s background singer, wearing a velour onesie, saucily wagging my finger and hollering about my fill-in-the-blank. Yeah, if I wanted to, I could totally sing like that.

§

It’s a flight that arrives just in time for Christmas, and I appreciate the effort they’ve put into making it feel festive around here. Flight attendants wear earrings with Rudolph and candy canes. Buttons that read “Michief Maker.” Somehow, I doubt that. Garlands (admittedly a bit scraggly) have been hung, crookedly designating the bathrooms. One is awkwardly draped, the shape reminiscent of a middle-schooler’s tentative drawing of the road map of a woman’s reproductive system. No matter. It’s got a certain charm to it.

At the moment, we’re just off the southern coast of Greenland. Traveling back in time. We left Dublin at 3:00pm, and arrive on the East Coast just before 5:00pm. I’m almost home! I’ll be laughing about all this in no time…