Thursday, February 26, 2009

Blue Blues

So anyhoo...

The Small Town is in a fury. Bad stuff abounds -- a school janitor accused of child rape (that thing I couldn't talk about), a teenager accused of the same, underage drinking with some serious and horrifying consequences. The place is atwitter of anxiety and second-guessing: we thought life was grand here, we thought we were safe here, they say. 

Dudes, no one is safe. Safe is for suckers. Life is dangerous. Danger lurks.

Meanwhile, the Kid is suffering through the Downturn and so we have our own anxiety at home. And I got the guts kicked out of me about The Book and realized my tough skin is a sham: I am wobbly-kneed at the core. Weak-witted maybe. 

I did what I do: tuned in to sad songs. 

BUT! This isn't one -- so much -- at least for me. This is a love letter to myself, and to the Kid, a song that played in my car when I drove him home those many years ago, before all of this, mortgages and bills and kids and grownupdom, and this is also a song to my friend, the Writer, the Authoress, the co-pilot on my flight to the beginning of the future. 

Blue is for you. We are not perfect. Thankfully.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

There are many many ways in which I am mean. I am mean when I ban skateboarding in the house. I am mean when I require clothes that are (relatively) clean (for school) and underpants underneath those clothes. (The horror!) I am mean for requiring sleep of children, for asking that wrappers not be thrown on the floor, for insisting that using the toilet as a testing ground for the submersiblity of an assortment of toys is not, in fact, a good idea. (Sorry to spoil the fun, but dudes, at least flush first...)

I am mostly mean because I will not give the nine year old a cell phone, even when she can name TWENTY FIVE other kids who have one. Maybe twenty nine, she says, maybe like forty. I am mean because I say that five hundred kids could have one and you still won't. And when she says there aren't five hundred kids in her school, I say, well, that's how mean I am. 

She begs. She pleads. She whines, which I remind her is the kiss of death to her desires. She stops whining. She presents a rational argument for owning a cell phone which consists of one fact: her friends have one. I laugh and laugh and laugh. She gets annoyed at me and plays with the ring tones on our home phone, which is currently a Star Spangled Banner thanks to her and which is also hella annoying. 

Who would you call, I ask. You, she says. From where, I reply...the playroom? She rolls her eyes and stuffs a smallish smile: she knows she is never that far away from me. She also knows this is a game she will never win, but still, she keeps playing. I think she likes knowing I will always say "no" more than she likes knowing that someday I will say yes. 

Her BFF showed off her new phone today. I considered reaching for mine to call the BFF's mom (who is also one of my BFFs) to deliver a tirade (lovingly) upon her for buying it. But I didn't as I figured she would be calling me soon enough to confess but also, she's the mom and can do whatever she wants. And anyway, I was too busy being mean again: licking a stick of butter is both disgusting and not allowed. I am such a bitch.

Someday, my kids will thank me. In a text message.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Downward Dog For Thinky

There is no place as divine as the Small Town indie book store. It is where I go when I have no kids with me and don't want to go home quite yet or don't know what else to do, but it's also where I go when I have kids with me: it's an elixir to their jumpiness sometimes. The quiet hum of the paperbacks and the pop-ups and the leather bounds coo to them and soothe their toy-aisled souls and who can say no to a kid wanting a book, so I get to be nice and cooed to and soothed all at the same time. It is yoga or church for the thinky.

The Small Town Book Store smells like a massage, or the way a massage would smell if you could smell one. Everyone and everything is hushed, but for the tunes playing (which I hear and don't hear, depending on what I see and read). Even the walls and windows seem mellow, quiet standers-by, loving constants, familiar the way most walls and windows aren't in public places. The violet hair of the girl behind the counter is more ballet than head banging, more beautiful than Manic Panic, and it's always exactly as it should be, even though it changes all the time (fuschia, black, cranberry).  It's like a clock I can't set my own by but that seems on-time every time.

There is a glass jar by the register filled with poems typed on squares of scrap paper. I reach in, as I'm invited to, and flip around a bit or just grab the one on top. My method doesn't matter: like choosing numbers for the lottery, there is no science here. I reach in with one hand, hand over a wad of cash with another, I pull out a square, I take my new book -- bought on instinct without recommendation, bought on a gamble, twenty bucks toward a wish that it will be everything I want it to be, that it will pay back in dividends -- and I leave with it and my tiny free poem which is the only true sure thing of the day.

It's my random snags of a snippet of paper, gifts from the Small Town Book Store, that have offered more weird truth than any horoscope or tarot card ever did or could; that have been more meaningful than most books I bought. It's the fact they have that cookie jar with it's mysterious fortunes and also because they are there, with piles of bound words and picture books on the busiest corner in town no less where only one push through the double doors will provide me all that I need when I need it, that I will never order books online or buy them anywhere else. 

 Today, I grabbed this:

Valentine for Ernest Mann
by Naomi Shihab Nye

You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter and say, "I'll take two"
and expect to have it handed it back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, "Here's my address,
write me a poem," deserves one in reply.
So I'll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottom of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that let's us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn't understand why she was crying.
"I thought they had such beautiful eyes"
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So he reinvented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of the skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we reinvent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sick of It

The GFYO is down for the count. He is chapped-lipped, red-cheeked, static-haired fever boy. 

He would not do the Jumpy Thing at the icky mall (an outing people! a staycation adventure!) which tipped me off to his illin. As did the hacking. And the mouth-breathing. And when he said "my ears hurt!" it helped the diagnosis too (am I Dr. House, or what?).  But we were already there, thirty minutes from home, on an adventure in the mall, and dammit, fun would be had.

He fell asleep in a grocery cart I swiped. It looked like I was pushing around a Short Drunk Person. Which I guess is better than pushing around a swiped grocery cart filled with swiped aluminum cans. But still...

Me and the girls raced through the errand we actually needed to do (file folders, what with all the home organizing I do) like we were on a game show: "aisle six!" "no! aisle five" "RUN!!!" "Here, take these trash bags!" Bonus points and all.

We got the passed out GFYO to the car and IN the car and finally, home to the couch where he hallucinated his way through much of the afternoon. The girls played with these foul blow-up tongues they needed (don't ask) (really, don't) and I put a load of laundry in and stripped the bed. 

I sat down at the screen finally to find an email asking Ivy League mothers to write 3,000 words about what it means to be a working parent or... to not be a working one and how that relates to the experience we apparently shared. 

Let's just say: I wish I was less tired and more inspired, but really? I don't need 3,000 words. I just need this: 

Short Drunk Person in shopping cart. 
Asleep and sick and snotty.
Need toilet paper too.
No one asks for Degree (or pedigree) at Check-out.
No one cares. 
Life goes on. 


Sunday, February 15, 2009


It's February break. A week in the middle of winter when educators are not educating our children. When they dispel us New England Small Towners to our own devices -- a private plane to Florida maybe? a ski house "up North"?  Yes and Yes for some and also, um, not so much for lots of others.

We once rented a ski place, me and my sister. We dug out the driveway with our kids because the husbands had to work (at last minute) and found our way into this rather lovely house with a lovely view and it was divine. But my sister abhors skiing (it is very, very hard to smoke while skiing; I know this my own self) but she loves the GFYO (who was the GTYO at the time) so all in all, it worked out.  I wish she and me were there right now, waiting on the dudes to come (which they always do), tending to extremely sleepy-from-skiing kids who are so easy to put to bed, and skipping our own dinner for a feast of Fritos and beer and delicious chat instead.  

We had good intentions to repeat it this year actually -- booked a place at my old mountain that would fit all ten of us -- and started thinking about who would cook what and when. And then? And then, we started (separately) to worry: we should save! we should spend! we should save! we should spend! And as if picking petals off a daisy... 

Well, we're both home this week. She's two states away, sadly, and there is only so much beer drinking and chip eating you can do over the phone (though, we are EXPERTS at both -- especially over the phone), and we're starting to see grass in the yard here, so even sledding is out.

So, that's right folks, I'll be here all week. Be kind to your waitress.

And buy me a drink.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ghost of Valentines Past

We decided to book a table in a chic Italian restaurant, one lit by candlelight, with dutiful servers and soft music. It seemed utterly romantic and decadent, mostly because we had to dress up and also because we were blowing a week's worth of groceries on the thing. We'd been married four years, which was massive at the time, and we had careers and two salaries and an apartment with a staircase -- two whole floors. And a dishwasher you had to pull out of a closet, roll across peeing linoleum and hook up to the sink. So that Valentine's Day, we were living large.

I left work early to hurry home and change. I was going to wear high heels and ditch the Doc Martens and jeans. A skirt! Shaved legs! Makeup! I was 1/2 mile from home when my car wheezed and sputtered and sighed and died. At an intersection. Near nothing except for a bank that was closed and a house with no lights turned on. And no cell phone because they weren't invented yet. And panic set in.

I did what any damsel in distress would do: I sat on the hood of my car and waited for the husband to ride by. I knew he'd left work later than me so I figured he would pass in no time. Which was wishful thinking as he is chronically late. So I sat there on the hood, in the dark, smoking butts and getting mildly panicky. 

I saw his headlights! I jumped from the hood. I waved my arms like an idiot (I was saved!) and yelled his name about twenty times. I could see him clearly, lit up by the green light he was speeding through, singing along to the radio. I saw his rear bumper, dented, zooming down the road to our house where he was imagining giving give me flowers and get all romantical with his young bride in high heels. Who he had just raced by, who was stranded on the side of the road, who was not in high heels and who was in fact weepy and a little nervous and almost out of cigarettes.

I don't remember how he eventually found me. I think I had started, sullenly, sadly walking home. The restaurant was closing but he called them and explained and begged and they were moved enough to give us table where they served us not so much what we wanted but whatever they had left. And they gave us on-the-house tiramisu, with a candle in it, and I even think one of the waiters sang to us in Italian. They were off the clock so I'm pretty sure they were all well into the vino. I suppose that added to the charm.

I tried to play footsy, since I was now fed and into the vino myself, but I think my giant punk rock boot knocked the leg of the table which was awkward so I decided against it.

This year? This year we'll watch a soccer game and I'll tell him to pipe down so as not to embarrass the girls and the GFYO will knock some ladies diet coke over and then we'll leave and have dinner somewhere, without burning candles because that could lead to serious trouble. We'll say -- sit on your bottom and eat your dinner and watch out and really? and no sir! and wow! and shhhh and finally, let's go. We'll tuck them in, we'll settle on the couch, we'll flip through the channels and yawn and hold hands maybe. We'll split a Good Humor drumstick or maybe some old m&ms and we won't miss the tiramisu one bit. 

Happy Valentines Day, lovahs!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tongue Tied and Bound

All week long, I've had a brain filled with big stuff, bad stuff, school stuff, legal stuff, and I couldn't say a word. 

It is never a good thing to tell a lover of words she cannot speak: it muffles her completely, shuts her down entirely. Even when she knows she can talk and write about other stuff, all her inane stuff, all her bullshit and gripes, it's that ONE thing that she cannot talk about that is like an anvil at the door she wishes to go through. 

John Updike died. He lived in my 'hood. He wrote three pages everyday like clockwork. He woke up and I don't know if he had coffee or tea but I know that he wrote everyday, like a factory worker, like a slave to it, like a workaday man. He was a whore of a dude, but he had children and if there were not days when his wife upset him enough, I assume there were days when his kids shook him out of his tree. Or just bad news. I am hoping he didn't write on those days. 

But maybe he did? And maybe that's the point. Maybe that's when Rabbit was born.

I need to get all Updikian. I need to be a writer after all. 

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Open Letter: WWED

Dear Franklin, Little Bear and Elmo,

All is forgiven. Come home. 

Love and Kisses, 

Ms Picket

PS: I know I was a little hard on you guys. I know sometimes I mimicked you behind your backs, but I never threatened to flush your cartoon head down the toilet (Caillou! I am coming for you, you whiny little runt) so that should count for something. And I sang along to all your theme songs, even when I didn't want to, even when I didn't mean to like at the grocery store or during a dinner party.

PSS: It wasn't that I didn't love you in some ways, because I did: you gave me thirty minutes of quiet after all. Well, quiet from my kids: you were still blaring in the back round with your ducks and your furry friends and all that annoying goldfish chatter. 

PSSS: I didn't mean that! Sorry! Ugh. 

PSSSS: The thing is guys, it was really much nicer to listen to you than those punks in the hotel and that girl with the wig. And now? The Toddlers in Tiara's crap I have just officially banned and the Jon and flippin' Kate? I resist the urge to serve Slim Jims and Twinkies to my kids for dinner as a protest to Kate's nutritious up-tightness but I can hear you still Elmo, my fuzzy moral compass, saying "uh oh!" so I don't. WWElmoD, I think. He would not serve processed tubes of pig's bottoms, that's for sure. (Though I know you like your salami, little fella, I know you do.)

PSSSSS: I shouldn't have taken you for granted. I know that now.

PSSSSSS: But really? Weren't there like ten million other poor fools who bought Tickle You Elmo so didn't I need to? I mean, honestly, dude: get over it.

PSSSSSSS: That was harsh. I'm sorry.

PSSSSSSSS: So, anyhoo. If it's not too late to make amends and if you haven't moved on so far from my reach, I would really really love it if you could find it in your hearts to woo the mushy brains of my kids just one more time. Bring Thomas the Train, if he's up for it, and please tell the triangle-crowned Teletubby that no one believed those homophobic slurs anyway and I am so so sorry about that crack I made about the whole show making me feel like I was on some bad acid trip because I know that was unkind and unfair and who doesn't love a robot vacuum or chasing rabbits in some English countryside? I mean really! Good times.

PSSSSSSSSSSSSSS: I mean it. I'm sorry. Come back. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

On Money

There are for sale signs and going out of business posters all over the Small Town. It's not like the factory has closed because there isn't a factory here; it's more a tight-wad sensibility made worse by scary news reports that has shuttered up so many shops. It's downright depressing, recession depressing.

And it's sinking in with Bridget, this current financial situation. Maybe not so much sinking in as floating close above her every day thoughts, like randomly hanging there, not so much something to worry about, but something she's (over)heard enough to consider more than once. 

Today she said, There is something I want. I don't need it. It's not something I need. It is definitely something I just want so I am just throwing it out there.

What? I said, half-heartedly, thinking she was thinking a new ski jacket (ch-ching), a new pair of boots (ch-ching), a pony (oh gawd).

A Patriots t-shirt, she said. You know, one that fits me.

I don't know why, but this completely crumbled me. A frickin' t-shirt? Post-football season? When no one really cares so much?  (She is not a trend-setter, I guess, unless she's ahead of some trend and knows something I don't know.) But honestly, I am sure I could score a Patriots t-shirt marked down at Target, so she might as well have been asking for a pair of new socks -- please mama? ones without holes if you can manage it. And a saltine? 

The only time my parents talked to me about money when I was a kid was to tell me that it was impolite to talk about money. My sister once bragged at school that my dad made a penny a minute and even though she was punished for being so impolite, they told that story over and over to their friends and laughed and laughed. I was five and already sucking at math: were they laughing because this was a lot or a little? 

Now, I try to use the words some PTO speaker told me to use -- "we are spending our money on other things" and/or "we are saving our money today" -- so as not to stress them out. I try to remind my kids that I am more than just the distributor of their heart's desires and I remind them that putting a couple bucks in the bucket is just as important as putting in a couple hours of work somewhere for free. I remind them that we will always have what we need but rarely have everything we want.

So dilemma approaches in the form of what is likely a discounted t-shirt at Target. Do I get it for her, because I can, or do I not get it, because she doesn't need it? Do I give her the thing she wants, probably because someone else had one and she needs a little help in that department, and you know, I love her, or do I tell her that it's unnecessary right now and hope she forgets? Do I use this as a bargaining/bribing tool to work more of my wicked ways aka never having to unload the dishwasher ever again?

Maybe I should take her downtown, to one of the few local shops that remain, and tell her I will match the money she chooses to spend from her savings and let her get some other cool t-shirt or some smelly pencils or those weird food-shaped erasers she loves. Because that feels sort of responsible and maybe a little indulgent, I realize, but she did ask nicely. And truth is, I do want to be the distributor of their heart's desires, I do (!), even when I know that is exactly what I shouldn't do, not right now and probably not ever. Still, ugh. What to do?

Monday, February 2, 2009

For Those About To Rock

I am going to take guitar lessons.

That's right dudes: mama's got a brand new bag. And she will carry it over her shoulder and look so stinkin' cool walking down the street that it won't matter that she can't play a lick or sing for the life of her. Or that she really has no reason to carry that axe around (since hopefully the lessons will be in her home) but whatever.

I am giving myself a solid year to learn one tune, because I am a low-bar-setter after all, and also because the last time I played, it was 8th grade and I think I learned maybe two chords of some heinous Rust song and so quit early on and never became the Joni Picket I imagined myself to be. He just didn't understand me, that instructor, so I will set set the bar low and find some teacher who can teach me only Neil Young songs and maybe some Faces thrown in there too. 

And I will practice (this time), because I am not a knitter or a crocheter or a cleaner or a cooker so god knows, I have the time and no excuses. I am an excellent game player on my Iphone but that's not quite a hobby now, is it?

Plus Rory wants to learn so I am already picturing our duets at family parties and the Iron Horse and Carnegie Hall. Trouble is, she is seven and her speaking voice is a cross between a high-pitched princess and the frog the princess kissed who smoked fifty cigarettes, and mine is...worse. But she can already play the start to Smoke on the Water on her own little guitar so there's hope!

And a girl's gotta dream! Right? And also, I think this is much more responsible than me fulfilling the other one I deferred: which is to skateboard. I am pretty sure it's impossible to break an elbow or tear an ACL with a guitar, so instead, this is the year I sling more than commands and mac & cheese. This is the year I rock. Or folk. Or (sigh) get all adult contemporary.

Or like this -- please.