Thursday, January 29, 2009

There are few things more boring, in my opinion, than listening to somebody complain about how boring their day was. In terms of boring activities, it rates right up there with listening to somebody recount their dreams or read their horoscope; it elicits in this friendly listener the desire to say: "Excuse me? In case you haven't bothered to notice, I'm only interested in myself. Frankly, I don't give a flying fruitcake about your boring day. Or your dreams. Or your horoscope. So please--SPARE ME."

Since I'm not a hypocrite (at least not in front of other people), I'm going to spare my readers the excruciating boredom of having to read about how boring my day was. Instead, I'll relate a fascinating true story of stupidity, negligence, procrastination, and, ultimately, more stupidity.

For about a year Joedy and I have been using my mother Benita's grey Toyota Corolla, which she gave us to facilitate the commute to and from Santa Barbara. Not long after we started using it, one of the keys broke when it fell in the driveway; the metal part--the key itself--was fine, but the plastic ring at the end was broken, and even with creative use of masking tape we were unable to get the key to stay on a key ring.

Benita had told us about another key--a hide-a-key, stuck to the frame of the car in one of those little magnetic pouches. Joedy and I promptly retrieved it and I, as the main user of the Toyota, put that key on my key ring.

About three months ago, that key broke while in the ignition. Luckily--since I was in Santa Barbara--it still worked for starting the car (thus enabling me to drive home), but it couldn't be used to lock and unlock the doors. The broken piece was still stuck deep in the bowels of the ignition, and when Joedy and I dug up the first key, the one with the broken plastic ring, it quickly became clear that it could only be used to lock and unlock the doors.

I was ridiculously, fanatically anal about the two keys, since each could only be used for one specific and highly important purpose, and although it was annoying to have to be hyper-vigilant it seemed easier than calling up a locksmith and having the broken piece removed from the ignition. For that matter, it seemed easier than having a new key made from the key with the broken plastic ring, although I did ask whether it was possible to make a copy of the key with the broken tip (it wasn't possible). Since I was the one using the car most of the time, and I am not as prone to losing very important objects as some people we know, it seemed as if the hyper-vigilant key-watching method could last a long, long time--at least until we decided to spend the couple hundred bucks, or whatever, it would take to fix the car.

Then one day Joedy took the Toyota to work. It was a Saturday, and we still don't know why he decided to take the Toyota, but that's beside the point now--what matters is that upon returning home he left the car door key (the one with the broken plastic ring) in the console between the two front seats, and when I went outside to pick up dog poop I noticed the car doors were unlocked and I locked them. I didn't notice that the key to the door was sitting in the car.

Once it was clear that a metal clothes hanger was not going to solve the problem of the only key to the door being locked in the car, we faced the truth: we'd have to ask Benita if she had another key. The thought of admitting that we'd been driving around using two broken keys, instead of having gotten the car fixed like normal responsible people, caused me a quite a bit of embarrassment, but she didn't make a big deal out of it and she did have another key and we were able to open the car door and--

We couldn't find the key with the broken tip. The key that turned the car on and off. The key I had incredibly fastidiously made sure I never lost, because that would mean the car would be un-startable. The key that somehow, right after someone else used it, mysteriously disappeared. Vanished.

Luckily, we have an old VW bus that some friends living in Utah have asked us to babysit, so one of us was able to drive that to work while we continued putting off fixing the Toyota. Then, however, the VW broke down, and we were forced once again to face reality.

So we went to a hardware store and bought a magnet, one that could lift 150 pounds of raw metal, and some long pointy tools like those used by dentists. Although it seemed like maybe not such a good idea to place such a strong magnet against the ignition in hopes of pulling out the broken piece of key--because who knows, it might pull off the entire steering wheel column--we were caught up in the spirit of ingenuity and thinking-outside-of-the-box and, besides, we didn't want to spend money getting it fixed the normal way--we're cheap, self-reliant folk, by god, and this was proof of it!

When we got home from the hardware store, we discovered that the Toyota keys are in fact not made out of magnetic metal (neither are our forks, apparently). But we're not ones to give up easily, so we headed back out to the car armed with our dental tools and...the vacuum cleaner. The very strong German vacuum cleaner which would maybe, just maybe, if angled the right way, suck that broken piece of key out.

Well, guess what: it didn't. We fiddled around with the dental tools for a while, but it soon became clear that we would have to--horror of horrors!--call a locksmith.

So we did. The locksmith came today and took out the ignition and took out the broken piece of key and made us some new keys.

The saga is over, and now we know that the key to stupidity is not taking care of broken keys.


Monday, January 26, 2009

I've got it--Portland! Very environmentally friendly, very D.I.Y., very liberal, not too much sun but still quite a bit, plenty of cold and rain, good nature quotient, far from California earthquakes, near snowboarding places, LAURENCE WANTS TO LIVE THERE TOO, CLOSE TO ADRIEN AND GWENN (for now, at least).

Now I just need to convince everyone, including (and especially?) Joedy, that they want to move there too.

P.S. Some people know that I can be, at times, a little impulsive. Also, that I change my mind a lot. So, frankly, I wouldn't put too much store in anything I just wrote. Except that...what the fruitcake!! Let's do this!!!

P.P.S. Can someone please advise me on subtly convincing Joedy that he really wants to move to Portland? Of course, this would not be manipulative at all. Especially considering that it would be in his best interest in the long run. As Laurence pointed out, there are great waves in Portland. And if he wears a high-altitude sleeping bag under his wetsuit, he won't even run the risk of losing limbs to frostbite.

Seriously, I'm very serious.


P.P.S.S. No thanks! I'm going to PORTLAND! HA HA HA!


Sunday, January 25, 2009

This afternoon Joedy, Lula, and I went to run some errands, and while we were out we stopped at a coffee shop for some caffeine-fuelled revivification. The coffee shop was one of ten billion others just like it, and sitting there in that bland, stale, character-less place, surrounded on all sides by a sea of even more garish, ugly, stupid franchise stores, a gloom descended on me that didn't let up until I ate six brownies' worth of uncooked brownie batter.

We were in a part of Ventura we try to avoid, an endless strip mall littered with trash, congested with cars, and populated by far too many Middle Americans. The intense commercial feeling, the distinct dumbing down, and the overall offensiveness of the landscape made me feel, well, offended. It make me feel angry. It made me feel depressed that people, many many many people, are perfectly content with it, just like they're content spending their free time staring at a stupid box that fills their head with crap and robs them of their lives and just like they're content eating crap that fills them with crap and robs them of their lives.

Driving around that part of Ventura gives me the heebie-jeebies, and today it confirmed again that I--we--don't like Ventura all that much; it's an ok place, it's got some good things going for it, but no way in HELL do I--we--want to live here for a long time, no way in hell will we settle for less and settle down here. No thank you, no thank you very fruitcaking much!

The other part of my gloomy mood came from feeling lonely, isolated from friends and family (but mostly family). I know this is my--our--fault, we have chosen to live on the West Coast, in Southern California, where we don't have a lot of family, and that's the way it is for now. But I don't want to live like this much longer: it simply doesn't feel right. Time is moving quickly, and I want to be with the people I love.

So! We get to this fun question: where in the world should we live?

This question makes me want to shoot myself, because we've been thinking about it for so long, we've made so many resolutions around finding work and finding a home--a home we can settle down in happily for a long time--and gone back and radically revised our resolutions, that I feel completely at a loss.

I don't know what to do. I don't know what to plan for, what to try for. So many things about California bother me; so many things about the East Coast, and anywhere else, daunt me. What's realistic? What's doable? Where can we live where we'll be close to family and where we'll be able to buy a home, find decent jobs, and truly enjoy our surroundings?

I'm in a tizzy with this whole thing, so I'm going to stop thinking about it for a while. What I'm going to think about instead is what colors we'd paint the awesome pre-fab recycled-materials home we'd build (with help, over a long weekend, from all our friends and family) on those four acres in that lovely rural area near that charming city by the sea...

And no, I don't mean Ventura.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Q: What's more fun than sitting in a bathtub with a 4-year-old, a submarine, two hairbrushes, a helicopter, and an airplane?

A: Sitting in a bathtub with a 4-year-old, a submarine, two hairbrushes, a helicopter, an airplane, and water.

About two weeks ago, Joedy took a bath with Lula and forgot to close the drain. Fifteen minutes after starting the bath, they were still sitting in the tub in just a couple inches of water, and by the time Joedy realized he'd forgotten to lift the lever behind him, there was no hot water left. Understandably, I found this very funny.

Tonight the same thing happened to me, and it was not so funny. There we were, the three of us--Lula, the Great White Stomach, and me--huddled in three inches of lukewarm water, fighting for precious bathtub real estate while the pointy parts of miniature machines reminded us unpleasantly of their presence. Bravely, we stuck it out, and twenty-five minutes later, when the water ran hot again, Lula "washed" my hair (her technique involves a lot of forceful pressing on my head in order to submerge it, and then, once it's submerged, stringent commands to open my eyes, despite the fact that she never opens her eyes unless she has a washcloth, or, better, a giant down comforter to pat them dry with) and it was actually quite pleasant.

Today was Martin Luther King Day, so Lula and I were home together (Joedy had to work) and it was nice even though she had some behavorial dips that I attributed to tiredness and a reaction to the dry, unseasonal, windy, disgusting heat we had AGAIN and which puts me in a bad mood. Overall, since instating the Prize Box about a week ago, Lula has been really well behaved, spontaneously saying "I love you" to Joedy and me, giving us lots of hugs and kisses, patting our heads when we're lying on the couch with her, offering to do the laundry, etc. I think it's pretty clear that the Prize Box has brought about a change in her behavior, and since she's still so aware of it (she's asked almost every evening if she's been good, which I know means she's thinking about getting another reward, in the form of glitter pens or stickers or a little plastic submarine, out of the foil-wrapped box) I think we need to gradually phase it out, replacing it with the even greater reward of her parents' love and approval. Gee--lucky kid!

That's that kid. The other kid is making it very clear that he, too, has buckets o' personality, especially after his mommy has eaten. Not five seconds after I've swallowed my first bite of Garlic Lover's Delight, it's all alienesque body parts sticking out of the Great White Stomach at odd angles, and enough side-to-side jostling that I'm convinced my uterus is doubling as a lap pool. My belly button has officially popped, to the amusement of my coworkers, and mentally I'm right on the cusp of the I'm Over This stage, thinking "Two more months? That's an ETERNITY! And this stomach is going to get BIGGER!"

Two more months of growth means, of course, that I will have to keep wearing maternity clothes for a while longer. Which means that my pants will continue to fall into one of two categories:



Maternity pants, though having been blessed with the recent discovery of the Revolutionary! Amazing! Gravity-defying! technology known as the "Secret-Fit Belly," which refers to a band of stretchy material attached to the top of the pants that you're supposed to wear pulled up, over your Great White Stomach, so that under your shirt you look like a very bloated matador, still have a ways to go. My main gripe is with the sizing: you are either a slender, short person or a fat, tall person. There is very little fluctuation beyond these two categories, so my pants either fit well but are too short, or they are too big but the right length.

It is annoying, yes. But it is just one little gripe in the midst of a pregnancy that has in most ways been a breeze. Things are going well, overall--so what if my pants are falling down and you can tell I'm wearing my husband's underwear.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Let's say you and your partner had a bad night, during which one of you got locked in the garage*, one of you flew into a panshard--Olde Englyshe for "passionate rage"--one of you "slept" on the ridiculously tiny couch, and one of you had oddly enjoyable visions of hot pokers and eyeballs. Let's say the morning didn't go much better, and one of you left three messages, partially in a screaming tone of voice, on the other's cell phone on the way to work.

Let's say that, for one of you, the idea of going to work was comparable to the idea of rubbing all your skin off with sandpaper, because: a) you felt terrible and antisocial b) you felt horrible and introverted c) you felt awful and didn't want to talk to, see, or be talked to or seen by anybody. Most of all, you didn't want to sit at a desk in front of all your coworkers and answer the phone in a cheery manner. But you had to go to work, so go to work you did.

Then let's say that around 12:30 a man walked into the office carrying a vase of flowers. He asked "Is (your name) here?" and when you identifed yourself as (your name) he put the flowers on your desk and you were momentarily completely and totally thrilled. You thought "Ahh...!"

"Ahh," you thought, "everything is ok. Everything is going to be ok."

The bouquet of flowers--all purple and white, and salmon and pink, and yellow and red, against dark green glossy leaves--sat next to the printer on the corner of your desk, radiating love. You were so delighted to have been given this gift, to have been told through its exploding colors that everything--all the love and happiness, the comfort and warmth, the friendship and fun--were still right there, it was all you could do to not take it in your arms and smother it with kisses.

When you went to lunch, i.e., went to take a nap in your car, you wanted to take the flowers with you. When you came back from your lunch/nap, you noticed again how much they brightened the office, how much the spicy smell of carnations and the sweet smell of lilies lifted your spirits and made you happy to be there, at work, at 2 o'clock on Thursday afternoon. The flowers made you happy to be there, and they made you happy with everything else, too.

*by mistake


Sunday, January 11, 2009


I used to think that people who described childraising as "humbling" were being kind of silly. I thought they were referring to some enlightenment they'd experienced while observing their offspring, some lesson they'd learned about what's really important in life--simple, kid-oriented things like sharing one's toys, taking naps, marveling at all the colors in the rainbow, and playing on the monkey bars. I heard the words spoken in a hushed, reverential tone, accompanied by a dopey aren't-children-a-blessing look, while the purported little blessings ran around, beating each other with sticks, and I thought to myself: "Ha! You'll never catch ME saying that!"

Then the other day I found myself locked in the bathroom in an effort to not beat my own child with a stick, and as I stared at my bleary-eyed reflection, feeling squished and flattened by the Great Steamroller of Life, a nagging thought I'd glimpsed before slithered into my mind and filled me with its frightening, irrefutable, and--ahem--humbling message:

Dude, you don't have a clue about parenting. You don't know what you're doing now, and you'll probably never know what you're doing in the future. You might as well just accept that.

I sighed, listening to Lula scream "No, Joedy! No, Joedy!! NOOOOOOOO!!" on the other side of the door, expressing, in a perfectly sensible way, that she did not wish for her fingers to be peeled off the door knob, she did not wish to be put in her room, she did not wish to be told that she was a Very. Bad. Girl.

In terms of averting disaster/a tantrum, The No More Playtime Method hadn't worked, apparently, just like the (Infinite) Time Out Method didn't work, just like the Ignoring This Awful Small Person Method didn't work, just like the I'm Taking Away All Your Christmas Presents Method didn't work. Nothing was working, abso-fruitcaking-lutely NOTHING--not one of the "so simple! piece of cake! works like a charm!" strategies laid out in the parenting book. Nothing my parents had done (successfully! we were angels) with us kids, nothing anyone recommended, nothing that came to me in blazing flashes of clarity during nights spent awake. Nothing: I was, and am, a parent who does not know what she is doing.

I can live with that, I guess--I guess I'll have to. And to be honest, it's not so much accepting a permanent state of humility vis-a-vis childraising that bothers me, it's the hope--the hope that's raised each day to this time get it right, the hope that's routinely flung to the ground and trampled on by little four-year-old feet, feet that belong to a person whose stubbornness and propensity for drama exceed perhaps even her mother's. Yes, I can accept that I don't know what I'm doing, that this feeling of uncertainty and ineptitude will uncoil and fill me on a regular basis for the rest of my life, but I'll have to watch out for the hope. I'll have to keep an eye out for the hope as I devise and plan a new tantrum-prevention strategy; I'll have to keep an ear out for the whispering voice of hope that says "Yes, this time you've got it right: this time, using the infallible Prize Box Method, you'll all be spared another Category 5 tantrum. Lula will be sweet and adorable, and you won't have to worry about getting a knock on the door from the neighbors or, worse, the cops."

It's the hope--the excitement and anticipation, the visions of a delighted and delightful child--I'll have to guard myself against when wandering around the toy store, looking for cheap but neat little presents to put in the Prize Box. It's the hope that's scary, because it can get big, as big as my love; but, unlike my love, it can be washed away--in one clean sweep, by a tidal wave of tantrum-fuelled tears.


As soon as I finished writing the above "Part I," Lula came home from the neighbors' house, tired from a long afternoon and evening spent with the kids there. Joedy had gone to get her, and I was apprehensive about how the transition from fun time to bedtime would go. When they walked in the door, I felt myself bracing for the worst, which lately (especially after time spent with friends) has been lots of screaming, lots of defiance, lots of overall bad behavior, lots of...tantrums. Since it was already 8 o'clock, we knew she should go straight to bed, and as Joedy headed back out to get a movie I told her she needed to come into the bathroom to brush her teeth, etc.

"No, I don't WANT to! I want to go with Joedy!"

"Well, you have to. Now. It's late, and you're tired."

I stood over her--she was on the couch--and gave her my hand, which she took, and we walked into the bathroom. She washed her hands, and I cleaned the smudges from her face, and then I took her toothbrush out of the little cup on the sink.

"I don't want to brush my teeth!" she said, and ran out of the bathroom.

I found her in the doorway leading to the garage, huddled up in a little ball.

"Lula, if you don't go back into the bathroom now, I'm going to be mad, and you don't want that, do you?"

She hesitated, and then, after a little more prompting from me, got up from the floor and walked back to the bathroom.

As I squeezed toothpaste onto her toothbrush she said, referring to the Prize Box that had been sitting on the mantle since yesterday:

"If I'm good today, do I get a present?"

She opened her mouth for me to brush her miniature teeth, and I said that yes, she would get a present if she was good for the rest of the day.

After her pyjamas were on and her hair was brushed and she had a new little airplane in her hands, I tucked the blankets around her and told her she'd been pretty good and I was happy with her. There'd been no tantrums, and she had come into the bathroom both times by herself (i.e. not dragged by me). Her eyes closed, she nodded, and then she said "I love you, Maman."

Did the Prize Box Method work? And is it right to use bribery to get good behavior out of your kid? I don't know. I don't know much, if anything, about any of this childraising business. But I do know that she was unusually cooperative tonight, and we had a wonderful, loving connection. I hope the same thing happens tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Twinkle Arlington interviews Isabel on the first day of her 35th year on Planet Earth.

Twinkle Arlington: So, Isabobaroonie, I hear it's your special day! Feliz Compleanos! Many happy returns! May the saints go marching in!

Isabel: Um, thanks.

Twinkle: Watcha got planned? Anything fun? A trip to the spa, some shopping at the mall, or maybe lunch with the g-friends?

Isabel: No, none of that. I'm not doing anything, actually. Just staying home, alone, in the quiet house.

Twinkle: Well geez! Sounds like fun. What are you, depressed? The ole' 35 gettin' to ya?

Isabel: No, I don't give a fuck about turning 35--

Twinkle: Whoa--watch the lingo! This is a public blog! Maybe from now on you can use the word "fruitcake" instead know.

Isabel: Ok. I don't give a fruitcake about turning 35. I don't give a fruitcake about anything, actually.


Twinkle: know, I think I'm hearing a little anger in there. Or at least some pessimism. Are you feeling angry and/or pessimistic?

Isabel: No, I just don't give a fruitcaking fruitcake about my fruitcaking birthday.

Twinkle: Ok, let's switch gears. So--have you been reading about Gaza lately?

Isabel: Kind of, not really. It's too depressing.

Twinkle: Yes. All those kids.

Isabel: Yes.

Twinkle: Soooo...don't you think those kids would like to be turning 35 some day instead of, say, being blown up when they're 7?

Isabel: What's your point, exactly?

Twinkle: Oh, I don't know, it's just a random question. I don't really mean anything by it.


Isabel: You think I'm an ingrate?

Twinkle: No! No, certainly not. You are SO not an ingrate. You are the paragon of non-ingrate-ness. You are so sweet, so charming, always a lovely gal, ALWAYS SO APPRECIATIVE of everything you have, such as your life, your health, your family, your friends, your animals, your motor vehicles, your gall bladder. (Breaks into song) You are dreeeaaammmy, always so dreeeaaammmmyy, you are--

Isabel: Ok, I get it. You think I should have a better birthday attitude.

Twinkle: Well, it wasn't very fucking nice of you--

Isabel: Whoa, watch the lingo!

Twinkle: Yeah, I mean, it wasn't very fruitcaking nice of you to say "whatever" when your husband told you "happy birthday" this morning.

Isabel: Oh right--that. Well, I was up till 2 a.m. with pregnancy insomnia, and then I asked him to take Lula to school so I could sleep in--

Twinkle: Dude, I don't care. Get over it. You can be a real pain in the ass sometimes, you know that?

Isabel: Well, god!! Thanks a lot! I thought this was supposed to be, like, an interview where you say good things about me.

Twinkle: I did. But you also get on my nerves. I find that you have a little too much fruitcaking attitude these days. I find you just a little bit insufferable. And yes, I think you take things for granted. Like the fact that you're turning 35. I mean, grow up and get out of yourself, you know? Be happy for what you have, be grateful, get over your nihilistic silliness. And you know what else? Show some appreciation for all the phone calls and emails you got today. People love you, and YOU ARE LUCKY.


Isabel: Fine then. I'll be happy. I'll blow out the candles and all that, I'll be more sociable and appreciative.

Twinkle: Good. And try to remember, this year, it's not all about YOU.

Isabel: You got it, Twinkiecakes.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

So I'm lying on a couch in a back room at the local roller skating rink, listening to piped-in Barry White and chewing on a wedge of lime, when all of a sudden it hits me that this is no ordinary social gathering. I look down at the ice cubes in my red plastic cup and then up at the ceiling, which is covered in streamers and balloons, and think, holy shit, this is a funeral.

I admit that, between the couples skating in tandem beneath a giant disco ball, the open caipirinha bar, the lolling on couches in darkened corners, and the general feeling of merriment, it had kind of slipped my mind that I was at a funeral. That I was at Ronia's funeral. Of course, she was always a little odd--some might say she was downright weird--so an unusual funeral was kind of to be expected, but even I was taken aback when the "minister" turned out to be a contortionist who flowed seamlessly from the Pretzel to the Strudel to the Baba au Rum while chanting these three lines over and over:

"God is a clown!"
"Floss in the morning, after plaque has settled!"
"Cell phones equal death!"

It was somewhat unsettling, especially since he was naked, and later, when I noticed him standing next to me at the bar, I asked him as politely as I could about the choice of ceremony. He said Ronia had simply requested that it be entertaining and thought-provoking; that was all she gave in terms of guidelines. When I gingerly asked why he had been selected as officiant, he said it was because she used to wax his thighs and he therefore owed her a favor.

I didn't want to seem rude, like I was questioning the details of Ronia's funeral, but a nagging question remained.

"Um, I was just wondering--do you know where Ronia's body is? I think some people here were expecting to see it, like, in a casket or something."

The contortionist/minister took a sip of his drink, reached down to scratch himself in a place I purposely did not form a mental picture of, and laughed.

"Oh yes! Her body. It's in my trunk."

"Your trunk?!"

"Yeah--well, not her real body. What she referred to as 'her body'--her body of work, her writing. I don't know what happened to her real body. I heard she just wandered off into the mountains."

He leaned forward abruptly, the bare skin of his left shoulder just beneath my nose.

"WAIT A MINUTE!" he yelled, jabbing at the name tag stuck to my shirt, "YOU'RE ISABEL!"

"Um--yes," I said, glancing around us, thinking it might be good to locate help, in the form of a corkscrew or a roller skate, if he got any closer.

"I've been looking for you!" To my relief, he stepped back, set his empty cup on the bar, and crossed his arms. "Ronia told me to give you 'her body'--her body of work, her writing, blah blah. Apparently she was working on some project and wanted you to take it over. It was her gift, she said, though"--he chuckled and winked--"judging by the quality of some of the stuff I read, I'm not sure what a gift it was."

Ten hours later, I had drunk half my body weight in cachaca, sampled two or three (or was it six?) party favors, and, amazingly, shot the duck for twelve songs straight, until I got a permanent cramp in my outstretched leg and had to lie down on a couch.

And that's how I ended up on that couch, gazing at bright-colored balloons tangled in bright-colored streamers, reflecting on the fact that Ronia's final shebang was a lot more like a New Year's Eve party than a funeral, with everyone dancing and laughing and having fun. Everyone, it seemed, was celebrating life and happiness, the start of new chapters and the promise of fresh tomorrows, the open and limitless future that stretched out, friendly and beckoning, in front of each of us. I closed my eyes and pictured Ronia walking down a long dirt road lined with green grass; the grass waved and whispered beneath the blue sky and in the distance tall mountains rose gently, their dark flanks folded over and around a lifetime of stories.