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 river runs through it

Even though it is not particularly wintry yet in these parts it still gets dark before the local news comes on so the time is right for parking yourself in front of the old tv machine and watching something other than Masters of None (no slam). I loves me some Tom Haverford/Aziz Ansari but I’m figuring you have already binged yourself silly on that one and there are plenty of other shows equally deserving of your precious time.

River: The latest collab between the BBC and our besties at Netflix is one of those shows you should schedule some quality time with real soon. Starring Stellan Skarsgård as John River (Alexander’s dad) and Nicola Walker (Jackie “Stevie” Stevenson here, but forever known as MI-5’s Ruth Evershed). The two play a couple of police detectives but the similarities to all other cop buddy shows ends there. Like the little boy in the Sixth Sense John River sees dead people but unlike Haley Joel Osment’s Cole Sear, River also talks to them, gets into fisticuffs with them and even buys them banana milkshakes at the drive-thru. River is unabashedly weird, even weirder than that “friendship” between the tiger and the goat that was supposed to be his dinner only way less creepy than that because eating your friends is just plain wrong, except perhaps if your plane crashes in the Andes or you get stuck in a blizzard on the Oregon Trail.

Stevie is a major karaoke fan and the song I Love to Love* figures prominently throughout the series. Now Ruth Evershed/Stevie has a lovely voice, but anyone who has had the aural misfortune of seeing (and hearing) the film version of Mama Mia knows that is not the case with Stellan, or Colin Firth, or Pierce Brosnan for that matter. Thankfully Stellan doesn’t spend too much time crooning as he spends all six episodes acting his pants off, not literally of course, but he really impresses here. After a pretty shocking reveal about mid-way through episode one I was hooked. I don’t want to say too much more lest I ruin this cleverer than average show. #nospoilersforyou (Netflix)

Iris: ” You’re not pretty, you’ll never be pretty but you have style”, says the not-so-very-nice owner of Loehmann’s to a young Iris Apfel. No matter how backhanded of a compliment that was, Iris more than took it to heart. True style is something very few people have and it doesn’t necessarily have to mean couture as we see Ms. Apfel collects both designer and flea market finds with equal zeal. Prior to this movie I knew very little about Iris other than her obvious love of Mr. Magoo inspired eyewear but you don’t even need to know that to enjoy this documentary. In addition to being a fashion icon Iris was also a very successful interior designer who along with her husband Carl decorated homes around the world, including the White House for nine presidents. Not too shabby.

Iris is the last movie from Albert Maysles, best known (along with his brother David) for bringing the world the greatest documentary ever made Grey Gardens and for that we will forever be in their debt. In Iris, Maysles found his staunchest, chicest character since Little Edie wore a skirt upside down (mainly because it didn’t fit the regular way) and slapped a sweater on her head with a lovely brooch because after all, accessories do make the outfit. (Netflix, iTunes)

Getting On: is one of the best shows on HBO that you have probably never heard of. I had not until recently and it’s already in its third (and possibly its last) season. Consider it the John Kasich of premium cable, stuck at the kids table while Game of Thrones and Girls hang out at the adult table sucking up all the attention à la someone we all know that I refuse to acknowledge exists. Uncomfortably funny in the British Office sense (not at all surprising since it is based on a BBC series with the very same name), Getting On stars Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) as self-centered head of medicine Dr. Jenna James, Niecy Nash (Reno 911) as the sweet and kind nurse Didi Ortley and Alex Borstein (MADtv’s Miss Swan) as her nut-cake boss and fellow nurse Dawn Forchette.

Getting On is set in a geriatric extended care facility called Billy Barnes and anyone who has ever spent an iota of time in such a place will be able to practically smell the hand sanitizer through the screen. Just like in real life, Billy Barnes tries to alleviate its medical industrial state institutionality with therapy dogs, music and water features. Now I like all three of those things but no amount of puppy love, Duran Duran or even a spectacular waterfall could ever make an extended stay in a care facility seem appealing. This show sucked me in though and I binged watched all three seasons in two nights. Much less impressive than it sounds since there are only six episodes a season (and there is one more left of the current season) but still, squad goals people. (HBO, Amazon, Hulu)

* Iceland’s favorite pixie scream queen Bjork got her first recording contract covering this alleged disco classic. The world makes no sense sometimes.

 

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. 

Girl, you’re gonna be disappointed

First of all, gross. Who wants to wear their fiancé’s dead old tooth on their hitching finger? I don’t care how nice the setting is or if is made from platinum mined by the original seven dwarves (although that would be pretty cool), that is just nasty.

According to a story on Buzzfeed a couple of hipsters with some not-so-subliminal serial killer tendencies decided that gem stones were just too boring for their one true love and thought an excavated wisdom tooth was more representative of their mutual affection than a gem stone. Which kinda takes the notion of blood diamonds to a whole ‘nother level and not one I want to visit any time soon.

I get their frustration at the whole wedding industrial complex and how it can make brides-to-be think that if they are not wearing a diamond the size of a Yugo on their finger then the groom-to-be must be a right cheap bastard. Yet if they ever tried to sell said Yugo sized diamond they would never ever get back what they originally paid for it. Depreciation ‘bro, it’s not just for cars anymore.

Secondly, I can tell you from my own personal experience that wisdom teeth have a short shelf life, which given today’s divorce rate might not be such a problem for Carlee and Lucas. I had four of those suckers removed and it was a nightmare, I woke up from the anesthesia before they were done and bled for three days before they decided I needed more stitches. Even though I was barely functioning I made sure I got those four bad asses in an envelope as a reminder of how valiant a battle they fought not to be removed from my mouth. Seriously, they were the worst squatters ever.

A few years later I was cleaning out a drawer and found the little envelope with my dental souvenirs. I decided to revisit my past and opened up the clasp only to find four wisdom teeth in various stages of decomposition. No wonder some of my reserve socks had a less than fresh scent. So take it from me Carlee, ditch the tooth and go for the diamond, it’ll last longer and should you ever find yourself in a financial pinch you can always sell it for Yugo.