Totally True Stories

We are never ever getting back together

Our relationship had been stagnant for years. I felt like I gave and gave and got very little back in return. Sure there were some bright spots over the years, Orphan Black, Project Runway in the Bravo days and the best adaptation ever of Pride & Prejudice back when A&E actually produced shows with art and entertainment in mind instead of ones about strange addictions and not knowing you are pregnant. Just like the real-life couple inspiration for the movie Love Story (Al & Tipper Gore, minus the leukemia) our very long-term relationship had reached the end of its days. This was no Becky with the good hair type of situation though, nobody cheated, it was simply time to cut the cord and move on so I did.

It was a tough break-up, as all mostly one-sided relationship break ups can be. It was especially tough in the beginning during those long, dark January nights when all I wanted to do was pick up the phone and tell them how sorry I was and that it was all me and not at all them. I missed not being able to mindlessly flip through endless channels of shows that I had zero interest in and home shopping channels I never purchased a single thing from but still watched sometimes because just like Mount Everest they were there. They were always there. But then I remembered how J-Lo said love don’t cost a thing and this particular love was costing me way too much so with Jen’s help I have been able to stay strong and Comcast-free for almost six months now.

It has not been easy but these days cutting the cord does not necessarily mean no cable access. With premiums channels like Showtime and HBO Now available as stand alones and subscription services from iTunes I figured I would just pay for what I really wanted and nobody ever had to put a ring on it. I could come and go as I damned well pleased something I could never do in my previous relationship. I also signed up for Sling TV’s basic internet cable package for $20 a month. With Sling I still have access to a news channel (CNN, not my fave but at least it is not FOX) for when bad things in the world happen and I feel the need to watch people with nebulous credentials say the same stuff over and over again without letting little things like facts get in the way. And while I no longer can watch Tiny House Nation (insert large crocodile tears here), HGTV devotes Monday nights to various tiny house shows so I can still be equally intrigued (a couch that turns into a bed, a ping-pong table AND a desk) and repulsed (composting toilets or people with children living without doors or walls) on a weekly basis. There are enough channels on Sling’s basic package that I can make it work just fine.

Because I like to know what is going on in my own town local channels were a must which meant I had to buy an antenna. I bought two different ones to see which worked best and so far I have to say neither. The Mohu Leaf got mostly positive reviews but it is still hit and miss reception-wise usually on the one channel I want to watch at that one particular moment. I also bought an RCA with good old-fashioned rabbit ears and it is the same damn thing. Supposedly the roof top mounted ones work great but if I wanted something ugly on my house I would get a satellite dish or a Trump banner. I guess I will learn to live with the spotty reception.

Unfortunately Comcast did get to keep the Minnesota Twins in our divorce. Years ago the Twins sold their not-at-all-immortal souls to Fox Sports North so the only way to see any of their home games on television is with a cable subscription. I figured if my dad could listen to Twins games on the radio then I could too and given how embarrassingly bad they are playing this year it’s probably for the best that I can’t actually see them because listening is tough enough. It is possible to buy a subscription from MLB for away games so if they ever start playing better than the Bad News Bears before Walter Matthau took over as coach I may sign up.

It took a little while to get used but I am feeling pretty good about this break up. The amount of money I am saving is a major plus and I am finally starting to make some headway through my long-ass Netflix queue. Because so many people are cutting the cord and the millennials never connected to one in the first place it is inevitable that the Comcasts of the world will figure out a way to capitalize on some sort of à la carte pricing structure but until then I think I am going to be okay out here on my own.

 

Purple Reignia

Minnesota, the land of 10,000 Prince stories. Pretty much everyone has one, including me. The last few days have been harder than I ever could have imagined and yet oddly comforting. The shock of his loss is palpable and everywhere but the outpouring of grief has been offset at least a little bit by the many public memorials, street concerts and all night dance parties that have happened across the city in his honor without any incidents because we’re classy like that up here in the north country. Forget Kevin Bacon and his six degrees of separation. No one in the Twin Cities has to go any further than two degrees of Prince separation. Everyone knows someone who either had an encounter with Prince at the state fair eating Tiny Tim donuts, or was in one of his many bands (two peeps from my high school for sure), or was an extra in Purple Rain (I’m just saying, if everybody who said they were in this movie really were than the credit list would be twice as long).

Unlike Dylan, the Coen Brothers or just about anyone else with an iota of fame, Prince never left us and for that he earned our eternal love and respect. He was a Minnesotan through and through. He went to sporting events (he loved the Minnesota Lynx), showed up at clubs (he had a permanently reserved table at the Dakota) and rode his bike around his Chanhassen neighborhood as if he were just a regular guy who worked at Target or Best Buy corporate. There was no drama with this one and there certainly could have been because he was a mega-genius wrapped up in a neat little pixie package.

The mid-to-late 80’s was a magical time to live in Minneapolis and be into the local music scene. Bands like the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Walt Mink, Trip Shakespeare and Soul Asylum meant you could go out just about any night and not regret the loss of sleep (well maybe once or twice if the ‘Mats were having an off night). Thanks to Prince, Alexander O’Neal, The Time and the Flyte Time crew, the Minneapolis sound was getting huge and gaining world-wide attention. Then Purple Rain came out and suddenly we were cooler-than-cool, and not in the expected winter-weather kind of way. Prince put our city, First Avenue and the mind-boggling purification benefits of Lake Minnetonka on the map and for that we are forever grateful.

There are and were many reasons to love Prince. He was an icon musically and sexually for a generation that needed some guidance during the just say no years. He spoke out about HIV/AIDS when the president at the time could not even acknowledge its existence. He could wear a puffy shirt like nobody’s business and didn’t mind a little black lace or shoulder pads, mainstays of 80’s fashion mostly reserved for Limited Express shoppers. I love the fact that Prince was a devoted Joni Mitchell fan and I especially love the fact that he wrote Purple Rain the ballad, as a direct response to the in-concert popularity of Bob Segar’s We’ve Got The Night. With a 1% African-American population in Minneapolis when he was growing up Prince had to find his inspiration somewhere and it certainly wasn’t going to be by watching Soul Train since the market was too small for it to even air here.

I had many Prince sightings throughout my formative years, usually at First Avenue where he was either tucked behind the glass of the VIP section or blocked by burly bodyguards. One time I saw him as he was coming up the stairs and I was coming down. There was no one else around and I could feel myself holding back from wanting to say something lest I blew my whole “we’re cool” persona. When we both stopped on the same step I realized that I was finally taller than someone in Minnesota and that someone was Prince. We both had on heels but his were much taller than mine. I was doing my happy dance on the inside when our eyes locked and he gave me that sly, pants-meltingly sexy smile he had. Let me tell you Prince was HOT up close, scorching really. I about died right then and there and hadn’t even been to a high school reunion yet. I lived and would run into him occasionally after that, usually at the grocery store, but we would never have meaningful eye contact again. Thanks to a job I had at the time I was lucky enough to be invited to the grand opening of Paisley Park and that is one piece of direct mail I will never, ever recycle.

Sometimes unfortunately it does snow in April in Minnesota and sometimes, just like Joni Mitchell said, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Prince’s charitable donations were many and not widely publicized, partly because of his faith and partly because he was not that kind of guy. There are people with solar power in Northern California thanks to him and a charter school in Minneapolis would not exist without his financial support. He bankrolled school music programs across the country and probably bought more boxes of Girl Scout cookies than you or I could ever imagine (hey, it very well could be true). The Carver County sheriff said it best at the press conference last Friday. To the rest of the world he was a celebrity but to us he was a neighbor and a friend, and we will miss that friend terribly.

You Spin Me Right Round Baby Right Round

Forgive me dear blog friends, it has been far too long since my last post and I am totally willing to binge-watch season two of both Catastrophe and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as punishment. (Since I have already finished Catastrophe this is going to one of the easiest penances ever.) For the last couple of weeks a local radio station has been asking listeners to send in their top ten essential albums. Essential to me means like the top ten records you would want to have with should you get stranded on a tropical island yet miraculously still had access to electricity or bucket loads of batteries to keep your Walkman powered up. I came up with a list but then I forgot my password and trying to remember what it could possibly be, or even resetting it, seemed like far too much work, hence this post.

Sometimes I feel a little sorry for the kids of today. They have no idea about one of the greatest ways ever to listen to music and no I am not talking about vinyl. Vinyl is the craft beer of music to hipsters and while I appreciate it, and still listen to records occasionally, my all-time favorite audio delivery system was and always will be the humble cassette. I loved just about everything about cassettes, their size, their portability, the familiar hiss and the sheer joy of spending hours on the floor in your bedroom, just you, a turn table and a couple of tape decks making the best mix tape ever. Sure you can make a mix CD but it is just not the same kind of DIY experience. Yes the tapes got eaten up by mean decks every now and again but unless the tape was completely torn apart you just needed a good ol’ number two pencil and some patience and that baby could be back up and playing sweet, sweet tunes in no time.

So here are the top ten essential albums I would have posted on the radio website if I cared enough to reset my password. These are the albums required for me to pass the time alone whilst stranded on a tropical island. FYI: I would also need some decent sunscreen, non-toxic bug spray and plenty of weather appropriate clothing because in my mind this is not some sort of wacky Naked & Afraid kind of scenario.

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen: I have to be honest, I have not seen the Boss in concert since the 80’s and I am fine with that because I saw him many times up until Born in the USA came out which was about the same time all the dumb shits like Chris Christie and Tim Pawlenty started to be fans. Twenty years later when they found out Bruce was a progressive they were like what?? And I was like umm, have you ever listened to the words to ANY of his songs? I thought not. BTR was one of my most treasured record purchases ever and will definitely be coming along for the ride.

Horses, Patti Smith: Growing up in the 70’s there were not a lot of female artists to look up to that were not of the folksy variety. Patti Smith showed me and lots of others that girls could be punk rockers too and for that I am eternally grateful. The album cover photo by Robert Mapplethorpe is stunning and so was Patti. Interestingly a couple of years later she had her one and only “hit” song (Because the Night), which was penned by the Boss himself. Patti is not only a musician but also an accomplished artist, poet, writer and world-renowned cat lady. She is my spirit animal.

Appetite for Destruction, Guns & Roses: Not gonna lie, I am a rock chick through and through. When Appetite came out I was working in my first grown up corporate job with a bunch of middle-aged moms and ex-frat boy sales dudes. To say that I did not fit in is an understatement of epic proportions. Every day when I left my suburban office I got in my car and blasted GNR the whole way home. Don’t ask me to defend Axl Rose for any of his abysmal behavior throughout the years because I can’t but if I am going to be stuck on a tropical island without cocktail service (can there be cocktail service, pretty please?) then I am going to need to release some steam somehow.

Hysteria, Def Leppard: When I got my new car (that is no longer at all new), the one thing that I missed from my much beloved Accord was the tape deck. And in that terribly missed tape deck there was a cassette that had been in there for years, and years, and years, and it was this one. Hysteria was 80’s pop metal at its finest and I will fight anyone to the death who says otherwise. There was nothing like cruising around one of Minneapolis’s beautiful lakes at night, moon roof open, blasting a little Animal and remembering those times will help while away the time waiting to be rescued.

Don’t Tell a Soul, Replacements: I loved the ‘Mats like mad. I went to their shows whenever I could and even when they were bloody AWFUL (which often was the case) they were still ten tons of fun and twenty times better than the bands that were getting all the attention/money at the time. I only ever bought one of their albums (again, cassette) and that was part of the problem. Their fans did not buy their music and despite Paul Westerberg being on many critics BEST SONGWRITER EVER lists at the time, they made very little money. Don’t Tell a Soul has both I’ll Be You and Aching to Be on it, two songs that pretty much guaranteed Westerberg’s inclusion in the rock lyricists hall of fame. I will think of this often while listening to my cassingle of Alex Chilton.

Disintegration, The Cure: Robert Smith, he of the hair that has never seen a comb and proud graduate of the Whatever Happened to Baby Jane school of lipstick application. You were and still are my favorite depressed Brit (with Morrissey being a very close second). Pictures of You, Lovesong and Fascination Street are just three of the great songs off this one. When I am feeling sad and lonely on the island I will pop this baby in and pray desperately for a search party.

Nevermind, Nirvana: Remember how in my Appetite for Destruction listing I talked about working in suburbia with people I had nothing in common with? This came out during that same time period. I loved Nirvana from the get-go, finally music that I liked was not only getting airplay and attention but also making money. I specifically remember coming to work the Monday after Nirvana was on Saturday Night Live and all my co-workers were talking about was how awful they were and all I could think of was that I had to get the hell out of there stat. (That and the fact that they were moving to a suburb even further away, but the Kurt Cobain derision makes for a much better story.)

Rocks, Aerosmith: I grew up in a suburb where the houses were close together. The kind of place where you needed at least two people’s front yards to play baseball, three if someone was really good at hitting or the outfielder was really bad at outfielding. I went through a pretty severe Steven Tyler phase, I thought he was the BOMB and I played this record non-stop. So much so that my next door neighbor once told me that he never had to play his because he heard mine blasting through the window all the time. You are welcome ex-neighbor boy.

Seven Travels, Atmosphere: Hip hop is not my thing generally but there are a few exceptions and Atmosphere is one of them. My favorite song on this one is a hidden track Say Shh and when I am alone on that island I am going to be playing this one on repeat because of lines like “Minnesota is dope” and “I’m from Minnesota, land of the cold air” which is something I will probably be missing after all that time in the heat. (But then again probably not.)

Frosting on the Beater, Posies: There is almost nothing better to me musically than a perfectly crafted pop song. The Posies were one of the many underrated and overlooked bands of the 90’s who deserved so much better. I was torn between this and Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend but the Seattle boys won out. There is not a stinker on this album anywhere and when I want to belt out a song or two for me and the monkeys to play air guitar on it will probably be one from this album.

Would any of these albums be on your list? What records would you choose to be stranded on an island with? Let me know in the comments!

 

Friday Night Lights

I did not grow up in a particularly religious household. We were Catholic in a very loosey goosey kind of way. My mother was the product of parochial schools and my father was a convert. The conversion happened years before I was born so in the sixteen years we had together the only Catholic experience I remember sharing with him was his funeral and he wasn’t really there so I’m not entirely sure that counts. Probably not.

Growing up the only times we went to church (my mother and I and sometimes my Swedish Lutheran grandmother, don’t ask) were the usual big deal holidays, Easter, Christmas, sometimes Palm Sunday. There were a couple of times in my life where I was a little more into it. After my father died I guilt-tripped my mother into going every Sunday for a while. My wanting to go regularly had absolutely nothing to do with the holy spirit and absolutely everything to do with a boy I went to high school with who had the kind of parents who MADE him go to weekly Mass. My goals were simple, sit close enough so when given the slightest chance we could shake hands during the “peace be with you” and “also with you” moment and no one would be the wiser and think that I planned it that way, no not at all. Teenagers think they are so smart. Problem was the parish was pretty large and finding space within the acceptable peace giving and receiving range was not that easy. I gave up eventually and went back to sleeping in on Sundays.

So while we did not go to confession or attend Mass regularly, the one thing we religiously did do was follow Lent rules. You had to give up something that mattered and there was no meat or poultry on Fridays, ever. Anyone who grew up in a Catholic home, even a not very religious one, probably did the same and can remember the dinners that came along with it. Friday meals often meant some sort of hotdish (casseroles for the non-Minnesota speakers).  Tuna hotdish was a staple and the bane of my Lenten existence. My mother made it like all the other suburban ladies of her generation with cream of mushroom soup, quite possibly the vilest creation Campbell’s ever foisted onto the culinary world, and I use that term loosely.

I cannot stand onions or mushrooms. She eventually caved in on the onions but the soup was non-negotiable. Heaven forbid anyone made a bechamel from scratch in those days. I did not care that the actual pieces of mushroom in the soup were the size of an atom, it was gross and disgusting and I much preferred the Fridays when she made salmon loaf or we had breakfast for dinner. The very best Friday night Lent dinners though were without a doubt going to a fish fry. Church fish frys are the best, VFWs and American Legions have their charm but nothing beats a church basement without proper restaurant-quality ventilation. It can quite literally take your breath away and stink up your clothes for days but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Since many churches cater to a certain nationality based upon the ethnic background of their parishioners you can take a virtual culinary trip around the world for cheap (generally about ten bucks) and not even have to bag your liquids or be body searched. If you like pierogies hit up a Polish church, if you like hummus find a Lebanese one, there are lots of options out there and Lent is too dang short to not try at least a couple while you’re at it.

For a classic fish fry experience there are two in Minneapolis not to miss. St. Albert the Great is about the closest thing to fish fry heaven there is on Earth. St. Albert’s is a city church with a diverse parish. If I was ever going to be a regular church-going person this one could be it and not just because they have homemade grandma desserts of which I could eat each and every one. Spaghetti, soft white rolls that stick to the roof of your mouth like Wonder bread and a priest straight out of central casting who walks around the basement with a microphone in hand like he owns the place. Father Gillespie talks to everyone, tells bad jokes and cajoles people into buying raffle tickets or playing bingo, whether they want to or not.

The other big kahuna fish fry happens only once a season and it is so damn popular there is even a drive-thru option for those not wanting to face the sometimes Disney-esque lines. Our Lady of Grace calls themselves the Lollapalooza of fish frys which seems kinda appropriate if the alt-fest was held smack dab in the middle of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The fish comes from local eatery Tin Fish (they cook it outside to cut down on the odor situation) and the pasta courtesy of D’Amico. It’s not in a basement but a gymnasium and the desserts are from Costco but don’t hold that against them because the food is pretty stellar. Throw in Wally the Beerman and a good time is pretty much guaranteed to be had by all.

 

The End Of The Innocence

I don’t normally use this blog to get all serious and Debbie Downer-y or to air my petty grievances (we all know that is what Twitter is for), but every once in a while a story hits the news and I just can’t help myself. Last week a couple of Virginia Tech college students were arrested for the murder of thirteen-year-old Nicole Lovell. Now I have lived in America all my life so unfortunately people being murdered or arrested for murder is a pretty standard affair. What made this murder stand out amid all the others was the victim and her particular story.

Nicole Lovell survived cancer, MRSA and a liver transplant at the age of five only to be lured out of her home and allegedly murdered by the 18-year-old “boyfriend” she met online. Nicole had a tracheotomy scar and took twice daily anti-rejection drugs that made her gain weight and because of this she was often bullied at school, so much so that her mother kept her home on more than one occasion. And while they may look like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths there isn’t anything more vicious in the wild than an 8th grader in yoga pants with an agenda. Nicole was ripe for the picking from a predator and the Internet made that all the more easy to do.

I think a large part of why this story just plain got to me is that we all could have been this girl (although in my day we did not have mobile phones or Kik and were lucky if we had a corded princess phone in our bedroom and a tv with four channels, max). By just about anyone’s measure the junior high/middle school days are the worst even if you don’t have anything to make you stand out from the bland madding crowd like scars and transplant drug weight issues. Throw in a Lord of the Flies survival-of-the fittest herd mentality and it’s a miracle any of us get out alive.

But survive most of us do, even if we do stupid things like lie to our parents or sneak out of the house, carrying a Minions blanket like Nicole did. Maybe because her school life was not the best she had an active online presence, posting selfies to sites asking total strangers to deem her hot or not. She met someone and showed his pictures to her friends and described him as her boyfriend. One of her classmates supposedly went to a school counselor because she thought he appeared older than the 16-years Nicole said he was. The school counselor denies the relationship was ever brought to his attention and it doesn’t really matter now because it is too late for Nicole but it shouldn’t be.

Girls from a young age are sold the fairy tale that there is a soul-mate out there, a proverbial cover for every pot, but sometimes that lid just doesn’t fit right and the Judge Judy show is jam-packed with cases of lonely women (mostly, not solely) so desperate to be loved that they take out loans to borrow money to a guy they have known for a New York minute.

I have a couple of thirteen-year-olds in my family and for all intents and purposes they are babies even if they don’t think so. My heart aches for Nicole’s family and all the other little girls out there who just wanted to be accepted and loved even if they are not standard issue Barbie dolls.

 

 

Life on Mars

2015 was not one of my better years but I kind of knew that going in since it was the year of the Goat (or Sheep or Ram, depending on who you believe) in the Chinese zodiac and as a Rat it was not going to be pretty no matter what horned creature was on the birth announcements. You see I have this totally unscientific but very practical theory that people born in even years (like moi) have less than satisfactory odd years. I have lived long enough to personally prove this theory but the Nobel committee probably needs a bit more empirical data. This premise is obviously reversed for those peeps born in odd years, but I can’t prove that either rather like the existence of the chupacabra or zero calorie pizza. (One I really do want to believe in, the other not so much.)

I did learn a few valuable lessons in 2015 though, things like if you think it’s merely a coincidence that your water softener seems to be running every time you go down to the laundry room it probably isn’t and you should have that checked out before you get a snot-a-gram from the city followed by a water bill that is more than a car payment, for a Range Rover. I also learned that I absolutely positively CAN NOT have Nutella in my house, ever. Maybe if I did not have any peanut butter to go along with it to make it even more delicious but that is just crazy talk and never going to happen. Also, don’t ever buy Target dental floss, it is crap.

I have spent the last couple of months trying to figure out the answer to life, my life in particular, because despite what Deep Thought the computer from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy spent seven million years calculating it sure as shit isn’t 42. (It also isn’t being able to wear stretchy pants practically every day while you are waiting for the right answer but you may as well be comfy in the interim.)

In case you never saw it, Life on Mars was a BBC series about a modern-day policeman, Sam Tyler (played by John Simm, aka the Master from Doctor Who) who after an accident gets sent back in time to the 1970’s (I personally can’t think of anything worse other than perhaps the 1870’s) but the show is awesome and the soundtrack alone, everything from Bowie to Nina Simone, is more than worth your time. (Sadly this is one is disk only, no streaming)

I am not sure what 2016 will bring, whether I will end up on Mars (yes please, it’s close and warm, I like warm), or Uranus. Is there anyway to even pronounce that planet’s name without sounding like a naughty eight-year-old? Your-anus versus Urine-us? Neither are good choices IMO. Heck, it may even be Pluto, which to some is not even a proper planet anymore but I am old school so it works for me. No matter, 2016 is the year of the Monkey and that means things are looking up for us Rats, it’s about time.

 

 

A tale of two sisters

The last time I saw my sister was at the Olive Garden. I don’t even like the Olive Garden yet that bastion of suburban culinary mediocrity is where I had my last physical contact with her. It was a fine enough lunch (who doesn’t like bread sticks?) but what was much more important than the food could ever be was the simple fact that we actually had a good time. Sadly that was not always the case when we were together. She seemed to be happy with a new job and a rekindled relationship with her only grandchild. We hugged in the parking lot and said we would talk soon. I loved my sister very much (both my sisters for the record) but it wasn’t always easy for me to show it. She was 19 years older than me so I had no memories of us ever living in the same house together even though we most certainly did. She grew up in one suburb of Minneapolis while I grew up in another, the only thing we shared were parents, and yes they were the same pair.

When I was little none of the other kids in the neighborhood even believed I had a sister, let alone two, both of whom lived in California at the time. We had some of my sister’s clothes in a closet in our den and I would proudly show them off to some of the naysayers just to prove that she was indeed real and not some Jan Brady fake boyfriend kind of thing.

During one of her visits home she took me shopping and I remember calling her SISTER at every possible opportunity like we were in some sort of weird religious cult. I wanted everyone within a five-mile radius to know that was who she was to me and not my mother. I already had a mother but a sister was not something I just had lying around the house like some Legos or Tinker Toys to take for granted like my friends with siblings got to do on the regular. My sister looked like Natalie Wood, dark auburn hair, big brown doe-eyes and I thought she was the prettiest, sweetest, kindest sister in the whole wide world. My sister was also very smart and could figure out how to do just about anything you needed her to much faster than my parents ever did.

Unfortunately despite all of this she had major self-esteem issues which ultimately contributed to her early death. When she was a teenager she thought she was fat (she wasn’t), but between the diet pills she took back when doctors prescribed them like candy and the anorexia/bulimia she developed afterwards, she ended up not only damaging her teeth (capped and recapped) but also her heart and so one night six years ago it just stopped.

My sister’s lack of self-esteem manifested itself in other harmful ways as well. One with more immediate results than the years of puking up every meal she ever ate. She married an abusive alcoholic and stuck with him no matter how many times my parents tried to rescue her. It seemed like once a year we got in the car and headed somewhere to retrieve her, Indiana, California, Nevada or Texas. Often times it was my Easter vacation. Other kids went to Disneyland or Disney World, I went to domestic abuse land and believe me it was way scarier than the Haunted Mansion or Space Mountain could ever be.

My sister was stabbed and had her jaw broken not once but twice. When I was about nine she moved back to Minnesota with her husband and son. Now I don’t come from drinking people, neither of my parents ever drank, yet the next few years of my life played out like one of the deranged drunken fight scenes from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. When my sister’s husband got drunk and abusive she ran home and he followed. Sometimes the police were involved, sometimes not, but she always went back. Always.

Holidays were a bit of a hit or miss proposition. Sometimes they would come, more often they would not. If they did come, sometimes it would be okay but many other times it wasn’t and would end in him storming off with her trailing right behind. Since abusers like to isolate their victims, we could go months without seeing her yet she lived mere blocks away. Not even the magical vocal powers of Adele could have saved some of our Thanksgivings.

The sister I loved did not love herself at all and it became harder and harder the older I got to try to understand why. We had the same parents and grandparents, my other sister who grew up with her was normal, what happened? No one seemed to know the answer. My sister and her husband moved to Florida when I was in my 20’s  and it was like my birthday and Christmas all rolled into one. No more having to sit across the table and ask the person who threatened to kill you and your entire family to pass the potatoes. I felt like I could finally breathe.

Ten years later they moved back, supposedly to be closer to family yet they lived 60 miles away. Typical. He was older now, no longer drinking and it seemed like the abuse days were over. It was still difficult for me to be around them because they were a package deal and every nerve, hair and hackle in my body was always on high-alert in case the craziness would re-surface and I would need to flee like so many times before. It didn’t, thank God, but the wariness remained.

My sister loved animals, I can’t tell you how many times she stopped the car and we got out to rescue a cat, a dog, ducklings or turtles trying to cross busy roads to go lay their eggs. She was generous to a fault and would gladly give you her last dollar no questions asked. She always got me an Easter Basket because no matter how old I was in real life I was always her baby sister and I miss that terribly.

Baggage man, we all have it. Some of us can fit it neatly under our seats while the rest of us pack too damn much and have to pay extra. Never pay extra people, sometimes we just need to take a note from the airlines and lose it altogether.

November Rain

One of the few side benefits of not tottling off to an office five days a week is how very clean and organized your house can be when you have little else to occupy your time. All that pent-up energy you used to spend on work things can now be spent on house things, all the projects, big and small that have been piling up because you were either too busy or too tired to care about them when you had a job. In the past few weeks I have taken on cleaning tasks that would make Martha Stewart (or the people who actually do the work for her) proud. I have straightened out every closet, dusted ceiling fans, scrubbed floors, cleaned windows and taken the dishwasher apart, in other words I have become my mother. This Suzy Homemaker vibe was so strong it even extended to my garage, a place the child that I used to take to school in the mornings told me was “very messy“. (For the record I am a very clean and neat person, but there are a couple of areas where I let my not-at-all-neat-freak flag fly, and one of those happens to be the garage.) On more than one occasion she even offered to send her dad over to straighten it up for me, not sure if he ever knew that because I never took him or her up on the offer.

I decided to do it myself because in addition to being on a major life-cleaning and purging mission, I was also on a quest to locate something from the past that I knew was in there, somewhere. The 80’s were known for a lot of things like skin-tight Guess jeans, really bad perms, cassette tapes, Bartle & Jaymes wine coolers and rain lamps. You know those lamps with the pseudo Venus de Milo statue (but with arms) surrounded by plastic greenery and crisscrossing strands of fishing line that tiny drops of something trickled down? Rain lamps were swank and elegant in a trashy 80’s kind of way and my mom was the proud owner of one she bought back in the day at Montgomery Ward (RIP).

I was pretty sure it was somewhere in my “very messy” garage, the question was where, and then once located, what kind of shape it would be in because it has been in there for at least a decade. After filling a garbage can with useless crap and finding more than a few things that I have been looking for for years (hello expensive pruners and skate blade protectors), lo and behold there it was, behind a Sharper Image elliptical machine that hadn’t been used since the Bush years. It was sealed in a box that was a little bit water damaged because it was sitting directly under an air conditioner but other than that looked pretty gosh darn good. My mom had promised this little slice of ’80’s heaven to my niece when she was little and now that she’s all grown up with a proper career and an apartment of her own in NOHO, she was looking to collect on her inheritance.

Despite being sealed in a box it was still a bit dusty in that dirty, clumpy, kinda suspiciously looks like spider eggs way. Thanks to my deep love of all things Charlotte’s Web, I am not in any way an arachnophobe but that doesn’t mean I want to go out of my way to encounter a bunch of spiders either. I grabbed some paper towels and started to clean it as best I could before putting it on my counter, just in case any little Charlottes were still around. I plugged the cord with its annoying chain into an outlet and hoped for the best.

Let there be light!

Success! I did not even have to search in vain for a tiny little lightbulb because the one in the lamp still had some lumens left in it. What wasn’t happening was any sort of rain action. I remembered back in the day that it took a while for the rain to kick in but also figured after ten plus years any sort of oil that had been in there had probably dried up long ago. According to my Google research, they stopped selling the original oil but you could order something similar online or use mineral oil. Since I am an immediate gratification kind of gal I went with the mineral oil, which only took me going to three stores to find. Good thing I have lots of time on my hands because if I had a job that lamp might have stayed in my garage for another ten years.

According to rain lamp experts, you pour the oil into the bottom, the amount varies depending on the size of the lamp. Per instructions, I poured the mineral oil in until the pump sound changed. If there still was no precip happening you could add more, which I did and then decided to wait, and wait and wait some more, a trait I am not generally known for.

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Snoopy McSnooperson decided he liked the taste of mineral oil and proceeded to lick all the fishing line and the fake shrubbery. I was just about to unplug the lamp in defeat when tiny drops of oil rain started down one strand and then another strand and the next thing you know it’s pouring and somewhere an old man is snoring.

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Now I just need to figure out how to remove the oil so I can ship this shining example of 80’s decor to its rightful owner. Of course another big thing from that era was over the top music videos, the more absurd and self-indulgent the better. Guns & Roses, a band known for both, gave us this gem and while technically it came from the 1991 stylistically I say close enough.