Monday, July 07, 2008

SOMETHING ABOUT SMOKING

(Update: Since writing this, I have quit smoking. I didn't want to, really, but, life is about anything but doing what you want to do. Hopefully that's not true, but, the point is, I gave up the smokes. Enjoy.)

I would like to start by saying that I don't think smoking is a good idea. I know it's a terrible idea. I'm not in denial about the fact that it's a bad habit, and I'll address that later. Also, I don't necessarily suggest that anyone who isn't already a smoker start, and for those of you who do participate in this habit (myself included), it's probably a good idea for you to stop. Children, parents of children, and pregnant women, should not smoke, nor should people with respiratory problems or arsonphobia, or no thumbs (matches are a pain). With those disclaimers out of the way, I can say this: I love smoking. It makes me feel alright.

(Photo by Wayne Miller)

When I was a young lass, I had a number of health problems. One of them was asthma, which was discovered by a doctor my mother took me to after I had complained of severe headaches. The woman with a heavy East Indian accent ran a battery of tests, some of which included poking me with a variety of needles and waiting for something to stick (pun intended) and cause my skin to swell. Aside from finding that I was allergic to some sort of tree sap, that painful test was in vain: allergies were not the root of my headaches. Next it was time to blow into a machine and test my lungs, and "Voila!", there was our problem. I was given an inhaler and instructions on how to use it and sent on my way, wondering why the lung test hadn't come first.

This fact about my body, coupled with bad memories of visiting my father's parents' house and leaving with a cold and bloodshot eyes from so much second-hand smoke, led me to find smoking repulsive for more than half of my life. Also, my mother hates cigarettes, and therefore I hated them, following in her footsteps, like those little kids who hold up anti-gay protest signs that say "I Hate Fags" (again, pun intended...that's the last one, I swear), only less hateful.

Eventually I would reach my late teenage years, as the lucky do, and became friends with Kansas punk rock kids, the only people in my high school who didn't depress me with their sameness, because I hadn't yet recognized that the punks were conforming in their own way. The punks I knew smoked not only to look tough and cool, but also out of boredom. Cigarettes were a filler for their conversation and something to do while they were figuring out what else to do, and scheming with fake IDs and calling around to find an older sibling to buy them took up a good chunk of time as well. It was an activity, a conquest, and an art.

I enjoy watching people smoke, and seeing their different methods. A brand can tell you about a person (David Sedaris has a great primer for this here), and also how they pack their cigarettes, and how fast they smoke them, and whether or not they French inhale. How many they smoke and whether or not they smoke in their home can also be informative. The people who smoke cigars and pipes or drugs but will not smoke cigarettes and, in fact, find them revolting, is something to note as well.

One of my first boyfriends, Reid, started smoking long before I'd met him through our mutual friend Terry, who had a mohawk. Reid was sixteen, a year older than myself, and one night in the summer he skateboarded to my house. We were living with my grandparents at the time and we sat on the back patio, on the porch swing. I offered him an Otter-Pop and had one myself, and we talked about music and the people we knew and he smoked. I hoped my mom wouldn't come outside to find him there so late in the dark with her daughter, smoking cigarettes, and he kissed me. His mouth was cold and tasted like cigarettes and Little Orphan Orange.

I started smoking a cigarette or two every weekend when I began going to rock shows in Wichita. I recognize that it seems like I came to this habit because I was hanging around with the wrong crowd, but it's more that the act itself began to appeal to me more. I have always been and am still fiercely self-conscious, but with a cigarette in my hand, I began to feel less so. Still, being underage and living at home, I knew it would not be wise to get addicted to something that would get me nothing but disappointed lectures from my mother, so I decided not to add it to my Angsty List Of Reasons To Hate Life And Talk About Getting The Hell Out Of This Place.

My lungs were given another pardon when I started dating Bryan, who despised cigarettes and gave me dirty looks when I smoked them with his sister in Mexico, and who shook his head at me when, after an argument in our hotel room in Venice, I walked the winding sidewalks to a store and purchased a full pack of my own (my first, and how monumental) and chain-smoked them, leaning against a pillar around the perimeter of the Piazza San Marco before finding my way back to Hotel Noemi. I would like to say that once at the hotel, I apologized for storming out and we made up, but I believe I spent the rest of the afternoon in stubborn silence, my throat sore from smoking so many cigarettes in succession, watching the same BBC news report about Rupert Murdoch buying some soccer team over and over again.

When I returned to Kansas a few months later, I picked up the habit full-time. Living with my parents for the summer, I would only smoke when I drove to Wichita to hang out with my friends. After getting my first apartment alone, I smoked more, sitting on the sidewalk outside my door, swatting away bugs and realizing that I, too, had fallen into smoking out of boredom. My friends and I would meet for coffee and light up, punctuating our sentences with the flick of a lighter, adding exhalations where commas would go.

Being on the road during my ostrich riding gig (which I've yet to figure out how to explain in prose) increased my habit, again, out of boredom. By the time I moved to New York, smoking had become a fully-developed part of me, like an extra limb that I would ignite when I got the urge.

This is where I  honed the skill of defending smoking to people who, as is their right, think it's a risk not worth taking. The smokers of modern New York are corralled in pens outside of bars and made to examine our lifestyle choices as we freeze in the frigid temperatures and sweat in the muggy, just to inhale toxins that we know could kill us, as the odds suggest is highly possible. Yet we continue to puff away, with the kind of defiant pride found in children denying themselves pleasure to prove some sort of point.

Though proud, I fancy myself as considerate as a smoker can be. I'm sure to walk away from groups of non-smokers and children when I light up, unless these people have chosen to walk with me, in which case, they are agreeing to tolerate my smoke, though I am careful to blow it away from them. If the wind chooses to blow it in their direction, it's the wind's fault, and I am not to be blamed. I will not light a cigarette near a person who came near me and didn't know that it might happen (such as a stranger sitting on a park bench next to me, while I am reading a book and in between cigarettes).

Still, I can't deny that I am contributing to careless second-hand smoke often, as I light a cigarette almost every time I:

-wake up
-leave a place
-have been at a place for more than an hour and am not watching a film
-complete a difficult task
-emerge from a train station/am about to enter a train station and am not in a hurry
-have just finished a meal
-know a stranger is looking at me
-think a stranger might be looking at me
-think about the possibility of a stranger ever looking at me
-wonder what a stranger might think were he/she to look at me
-think the stranger might think that my arms look fat in this shirt
-think not to think so negatively about myself
-think about how I should talk about this in therapy
-think about therapy
-think about death

(Photo by Peter Marlow)

The last one is an odd thought to inspire one to smoke a cigarette, I agree. For someone who contemplates the end of life as much as I do, it's amazing that I would even consider smoking. And this is where my logic becomes a bit strange. Other than appreciating the act of smoking (lighting a cigarette, puffing on it, inhaling it, tasting it, and holding something in my dominant hand), I believe that death has a bit to do with why it's so important to me.

Having known people who have perished from cancer (not lung, that I know of, but cancer is cancer), I am well-aware of the suddenness of it, and the "Why me?" aspect. Being a hypochondriac atheist who is resigned to her fate, whenever and however it may come and knowing for myself that I will not find comfort in the old fall-backs ("This is just God's plan for me", et al.), I would kind of rather have a reason. If I get cancer, and I definitely hope that I don't, I will be able to say, "Well, Jodi, I told you this would happen. You shouldn't have smoked." If I were to have never smoked a day in my life, even if I were to be diagnosed with some sort of cancer that had nothing to do with smoking, I would feel like a victim. "But I never even smoked!" I would say, and the grim reaper of my imagination, who takes the shape of a giant crab, would laugh and say, "It doesn't matter! What a prat, you are!" and I would immediately croak.

Perhaps this is just all an excuse for not putting forth the effort to quit something that I thoroughly enjoy, but know is terrible. I went through the D.A.R.E. program and have seen the posters in the subway cars featuring the woman who smoked and had to cut off all of her fingers. I've encountered people with holes in their throats, still sucking the nicotine down through their wounds. And I've heard all of the speeches, so save them for someone who won't just sit there in pigheaded silence with a sore throat, watching the news.

Friday, November 09, 2007

SOMETHING ABOUT MY MOTHER

Her birthday was last week and as has been the case for at least two years of my life, I wasn't there to help her celebrate. I sent an eCard and called to let her know I was thinking of her and wonder what she was getting into on her special day.

"Oh, not much," she said, "Just going out to dinner later at Lone Star. The usual!" She told me that she wished that I could be there. I told her that I wished I could be there, too, and hung up. I sat on my bed and thought about my mom and how special she is to me, and how important, and how much like oxygen, and I couldn't decide whether I wanted to smile or cry.

My mom raised us kids alone, for the most part. My beautiful grandparents were always there to lend a hand and spoil us with the cable television we didn't get at home, but otherwise it was just her. I was born to a mother and a father, of course, but the father bit didn't last too long. He was in and out of our lives and though my older sister clung to his leg every time he left, I pegged him early on for what he was: something extraneous. I had my mom and my grandparents and that was enough.

The first job I remember her having was a secretarial position at a law firm. She worked for a lawyer named Ethan Potter (a lawyer who my sister liked so much that she, before I was born, had suggested that my mother might name me after him, regardless of my sex...this same sister's youngest baby boy is named Ethan). She would sit at a desk and type on a typewriter and before I started school, I would sit at her feet and color until the crayons became naked stumps, the wrappers discarded in the box, or until I had a thought to share with her. The office was right by Little Caesar's Pizza, and occasionally on a payday, we would get a pizza and take it home with us.

In those days, my mother and sister and I formed bit of a special club. Not necessarily privileged, but quiet and intimate. The three of us spent a lot of time together in our house at 929 Pawnee, a nice big rental with wood floors and a basement like a cave. We watched movies on our big wooden television and weekend days were spent jumping on the bed, trying to knock the glittering sheet rock off the ceiling because my sister had convinced me that it was fairy dust. My mom worked and we went to school, where she was always present for holiday parties. She would show up with cupcakes and help at the school carnivals, something that I realize, as a working adult, was no small feat.

She started seeing my first step dad, John, and I really liked him. He came with a bratty daughter who hated my mother (much to my astonishment---I didn't think it was possible) and broke her favorite cookie jar, which was shaped like a goose. Eventually they were married and there were good years with two adults in the house. After awhile, my step-sister Jessica had stopped hating my mother so much. We lived at 509 Vine Street, which was a few brick sidewalk and ancient oak tree-lined blocks from my elementary school, Nettie Hartnett. My mom worked at the middle school, with kids afflicted with behavioral disorders. This period of my life was where most of my nostalgia for summer comes from; those days when the creek was behind the house and everything seemed to be taken care of.

It was around this time that I got the news that my mom was pregnant with my little brother. I didn't want him at first. I wrote about the looming loss of my status as the youngest child in my "Precious Moments" diary. I drew a stick-figure of my mother alone and circled it. I drew another beside it, this version with a baby in her arms, and I circled it as well, then drew a line through it, as it if were the burning cigarette on a "no smoking" sign. She got bigger and bigger and I warmed up to the idea of a little brother more and more. I wrote in my diary a week before he was born that my mom was overdue and that they were going to have to induce labor by putting jelly in her "bajina" (my sister later found this diary, read it, and ridiculed me for the "bajina" thing, but it's probably one of the best things I've ever written).

The day he was born, my sister, Grandma, and I waited in the lobby of Cushing Hospital and played Uno. I was nervous. I was really nervous. "What if my mom dies?" I thought over and over as I tried to concentrate on the game at hand. She didn't, luckily, and before I knew it I was sitting in a chair in her room, holding my little brother and also my breath (I was afraid that if I took too big of a breath, my stomach would push him too much and he would fall out of my arms).

Not too long after that, my step dad John got sick and that was that. The security we'd felt for a few years was gone. John was gone. A rapist was prowling around the neighborhood and my mom slept with a bat beside her bed. It turned out to be this guy Walter who was a friend of the family and wouldn't have dared to harm her, but I can't imagine how terrified she must have been.

Middle school was a bad time for my mom and I. As are most adolescents in some way, I was miserable. I was chubby and had stupid hair and felt that no one liked me because we couldn't afford the coolest clothes and didn't live in this subdivision called Rock Creek, where all the cool kids lived. Everything sucked and everyone was cooler than me and it was all my mom's fault. I was sure that she could afford to buy me shirts that said "American Eagle," but that she was just holding back to be cruel.

My first dance took place at the beginning of the year and it would produce one of the most memorable and heartbreaking moments of my life, even to this day. My mom and I were excited. I borrowed an ill-fitting black dress of my sister's and she did my hair and make-up, being sure to let me know that the make-up was a special occasion thing and that I couldn't really wear it until I turned sixteen. I felt pretty and my great-grandparents, who we lived with at the time, whistled and smiled when I walked into the room. My mom drove me to school, a 15 minute drive from our house in the country. We talked about the boys I might dance with and I felt optimistic that I'd dance with at least one.

When we pulled up to the school, I looked out of the window to see that not a single one of my classmates was dressed up. They were all wearing jeans and shirts and just regular clothes. No dresses. I felt instantly humiliated and turned to my mom to suggest that she take me home, with as much anger as I could muster. When I looked at her face, though, and saw that tears were welling up in her eyes as she realized what I had, I felt the intense need to make her feel better. "Ok Mom, I'll see you at 8!" I said, my voice seething with forced enthusiasm. I felt like an idiot the whole night, and we've never discussed it to this day.

My friend Lindsey Reifschneider got cancer in eighth grade and it was devastating to me. One day, maybe because she sensed that I was becoming sad beyond my years, my mom took me to the mall and bought me clothes that I now realize were ridiculously silly and too expensive for what they were. That was the day that a news crew from Kansas City came to film at my middle school because all of Lindsey's male friends had shaved their heads in a show of support. While my contemporaries were rubbing elbows with local news celebrities, I was riding back from Kansas City, talking to my mom about the whole thing. We stopped at a stoplight and I saw a fire hydrant spewing out water for no reason. It was cold outside. Some of them got their picture in the paper--smiling pre-teens, some bald, surrounding a frail-looking Lindsey.

A few years later, high school wasn't much better. My freshman year was rough, rife with terrible insecurity and loneliness that I was sure no one had ever experienced before and would never experience again. My mom met a wonderful man, Bill. They decided to get married, which meant that I would move from Leavenworth, Kansas to Hutchinson, Kansas...about a three hour drive between them. I was mostly apathetic about the move at first, even looking forward to it.

Then Lindsey died. She'd had a sudden relapse and the cancer was eating her bones up and there was nothing anyone could do about it. She went while my mom was in Hutchinson visiting Bill and getting things ready for the move. I called her on the phone, blinded by tears, and somehow managed to let her know that Lindsey was dead. I was so mad at her for not being there, even though she couldn't have known. We moved a few weeks after the funeral and I became more angry with her the first time I went to Hutchinson and realized that there were no trees. Things got better, though, as they always seem to do.

When I moved to Nashville, I immediately purchased a cellphone, my first, because I needed to be able to speak to my mother. We talked almost every day, updating each other on the goings on in our respective lives. We spoke as adults, both of us with our problems and responsibilities. I stayed there only a short time, and drove back to Kansas with Bryan on my 19th birthday. She wasn't expecting me for another month and we stayed with my grandparents the night before, driving on to Hutchinson the next day to surprise her. I started crying before I even saw her and when I found her in the backyard, we hugged tight and left tear-spots on each other's shoulders. I moved back to Kansas and we got to see each other more often, her and Bill coming to Wichita with my brother in tow to eat dinner every once in awhile. Each time I see her, I laugh more than usual (which, if you know me, is a lot), and I feel safe.

Now I live in New York, a place that might as well be on the moon as far as my mom is concerned. Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the right thing by depriving myself of the company of someone so incredibly important to me, just for the sake of excitement. I went home a few weeks ago and held it together when I said goodbye to my parents at the security checkpoint at KCI, but not much after that. I sat facing the window with a view of the airplanes and put my sunglasses on to have a good, quiet cry.

Though we were burdened by the problems that I imagine many mothers and daughters having, I always recognized my mom as being an amazing person. It's always been easy for me to get down, and still is in a lot of ways. Something small will make me think of death and pointlessness and all of the things that ail the world. My mom is a living example of the serenity prayer. She accepts the things she cannot change, has the courage to change the things she can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

When I hear people speak of their relationships with their mothers, whether they're good or bad, I secretly think that no matter what, I'm the luckiest. I know that my mother will always support my decisions, but that she'll object if she's not that fond of them. I know that she'll always laugh at my jokes and will always read my writing and say, "Jodi, you're like Erma Bombeck...I just love Erma Bombeck." I know that when I call her every few days, she'll always say "Yeah, not much going on around here..." after she tells me all that's been going on. I know that she'll always be my mother, and I'll always need her, like oxygen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

SOMETHING ABOUT SUMMER

Growing up, summer was always my favorite season. I believed that it was an inherent love and that there was just no other choice for me. I was born to long for the summer months, when the light was around more and the weather was such that you could go out in barely any clothes and feel good. Fall and spring were too uneventful to be contenders, and winter was just a horrible kind of time. Summer represented all that was good in the world.

I realize more with each year that passes that I was not born to love the stretch of time somewhere between mid-June and mid-September, but that it was more of a circumstantial kind of thing. The things that I appreciated about summer become less important as I grow older. No school, staying up late, and my birthday. They're not such special things these days.

During my elementary summer months, my mom was a babysitter. I don't remember how many kids she watched, but I do remember the presence of my step-cousins, Zack and Nick. Zack was my age and Nick two or so years younger. Then there was my older sister Michelle, and some other random kids whose faces I can't remember. Sometimes annoying when I wanted to read in peace and quiet, but good for always having someone to play with, I mostly liked having these kids around because it meant that my mom would have things for us to do that she might not have otherwise, if it would have been just me and my sister.

One of the most special was summer movies. The local movie theater screened kid's movies from two or three seasons before and all you had to do was show them your pass, which they hole-punched. The passes themselves were sold at school before it let out for the year and they were cheap. There was a calendar of the movies and sometimes when Mom had money we would get the movie theater equivalent of a Happy Meal, which contained popcorn, a small pop, and a small bag of Skittles or Sour Patch Kids.

The biggest thing about summer, though, was playing outside in the general area we referred to as "the creek". We lived in a great neighborhood. As an adult, I envy the location of my favorite rented home in Leavenworth, at 509 Vine Street. Behind the row of houses, there was a small alley that was only used by people who lived in the area and knew it was there, or maybe a car or two that had taken a wrong turn.



The alley was great for riding bikes, for this reason. It had so little traffic that we were allowed to ride there all of the time, without Mom worrying so much. There were light poles on either end and a little gray box in the middle near our garage. We would ride on the proper sides, pretending we were driving cars, and being the innovative kid I was, I started a trend of stopping at the gray box near the garage to fill our bikes up with pretend gas.

We never used the garage for anything except for playing, and from my small room in New York, I cringe at the thought of all of that unused space. It smelled weird, and there was chalk graffiti on the damp walls that said things like, "poop" and "crap" and there was a drawing of a butt with a turd coming out of it. There were loft-like shelves on the walls and we would store things there, like a collection weird shells that fell from the trees. I don't know what kind of nuts they were, but if you cracked them open, the shape reminded me of a pig's snout. Once Zack and I found a half-full container of Kool-Aid mix, and took it to the garage to eat it, but it was infested with ants, as sweet things found in the trash usually tend to be.

The creek proper, whence the name "the creek" given to the larger area of play came, was a body of water probably around five feet wide and two or three feet deep, depending on how much it rained. It ran the length of the alley and at the end of either side there were grand stone entrances to tunnels. My sister once told me that the creek bed had once contained railroad tracks, and that the tunnels led to other places far away, but I don't think that was true. It was probably just some sort of drainage system. I remember imagining that if I walked into the tunnel long enough, I'd come out on the other side of the world, or a place I didn't know where kids like us were playing and wondering about the tunnel, too.

There were times on a bet or a dare, when one of us would venture inside the tunnel. Shoes lying abandoned on the the dry grass on the bank, the brave soul would wade slowly toward the tunnel with a flashlight. I did this once. The air inside the tunnel was heavy and stagnant and it smelled like an old book. Even with the flashlight and the light coming from the entrance, it was dark. I remember feeling a tadpole slip around my toes and I only walked a few yards in before I got scared and turned back.

The body of water wasn't the only great thing about "the creek," though. It was in what was a small valley with lots of grass and trees that provided shade on hot days and branches from which to hang tire swings. We would sit with our feet in the water and some of the other kids would catch crawdads but they creeped me out. One summer there was a turf war between my siblings and me and a family of weird kids that lived a few doors down, the Blandins. We'd live there longer, but they had a dad who was always making things out of wood, forts and stuff, so we were pretty much on even ground.

Our other neighbors were two tall blond boys named Matt and Andrew who were a year apart and gorgeous. They only lived in the house at the end of the alley part-time, with their dad and step-mom, and when they were around, my sisters and I became slightly more sophisticated. Bobby and Monica, whose grandpa my grandpa was friends with, lived across the street from us. Bobby was a tall, big, fat, freckled red-headed boy who was gross sometimes, but mostly nice. Monica always looked older than she was, but she was nice, too, and I spent the night at her house a few times, playing computer games and trying to avoid her Pomeranian who terrified me. Their mom wore her house slippers to go to the store, with her frizzy red hair that looked like a pyramid on her head. I lost touch with them over time, and didn't really think about them until my freshman year of high school, when I went Bobby's funeral. He'd holed up in that same house and shot himself in the head with a shotgun, leaving behind a pregnant girlfriend. When I heard, I wondered about the Pomeranian, and then felt awful. I thought about swimming in the blow-up pool they had in the backyard.

My mom never learned how to swim. We took lessons as kids, though, and I liked to swim for the most part. I always had a headache afterward and the sensitive skin right under my eyes would burn for hours, but it was worth it. Had I known at the time that being in the sun so much wasn't only giving me sunburns, but was also the reason I had so many of the freckles I hated, it might not have been.

My friend Amy lived down the block, too, with her dad. They had a swimming pool that I don't remember ever using. Amy and I hadn't been friends for very long when I found a kitten who had drown in the water that had gathered on the tarp covering the pool. Its little pink tongue stuck out while it floated around. Amy cried when I pointed it out and I went to get her dad. We would always go to the country club to which her grandparents, Joan and Pop-Pop, belonged. We would throw neon-colored rings into the pool and then compete against each other to see who could get the most.



I never won. I was afraid of unplugging my nose underwater, and trying to retrieve the rings with only one hand was tricky, because I was always floating upward. Joan and Pop-Pop had an account, so we would take a break from swimming around when we got too pruney and go to the snack bar to get frozen Milky Ways and pretzels and charge it to their tab. We'd let our skin dry and get hot again before we got back into the pool. If we had goggles, we'd go underwater and mouth things to each other, trying to guess what the other was saying, a game we named "tea party".

The end of the summer was always marked by the day that we would get our school supply list and go shopping for pencils and crayons. I would beg for the folders and notebooks that had some kind of horse or dolphin on them, but we got the cheap, plain ones instead and I felt like life really wasn't fair. A week or so after the shopping, it would be time to go back to school and find out who was in your class and if your teacher was nice and all of that stuff. Weekends became more relevant and before you knew it, a jacket was important and Halloween was around the corner.

Summer has become less magical over the years, taking a cue from many other things from my childhood, despite how much I might wish they didn't. The last time summer felt special and beautiful was right after I graduated high school, when I went on a road-trip with my boyfriend, and even then it was all so different.

Now, I don't like wearing shorts because I don't like my legs. I don't appreciate the heat because I have to wait for trains underground, where even the filthy air whipped up by a passing train is a welcome respite from the otherwise miserable environment. It's kind of like being in that weird tunnel, but I know where I'm going, and there are no tadpoles swimming around my toes.

Photos by Richard Kalvar

Friday, April 13, 2007

SOMETHING ABOUT CROSSING THE STREET

I grew up in Kansas. In Leavenworth, Kansas, a town known for a few things. A federal penitentiary, a fort, being the first city in Kansas, the birthplace of singer/song-writer Melissa Etheridge (an admittedly lesser-known fact that one picks up with time spent there), these are all attributes of Leavenworth. With a population of about 40,000, though, being called a bustling metropolis, or even either of those adjectives separately, is not something Leavenworth can boast.

My mom, like her mom and her mom and many moms before and during and after her, never failed to whip out the ol' "Look both ways" before I would bound out of the front door on the way to a neighbor's house. This was for safety's sake, of course, and I took it to heart. I would look both ways several times, and if I saw a car or its headlights no more than than two blocks away, I would linger on the patch of grass between the sidewalk and the curb, keeping a safe distance from the street until the car crawled past.

I would then look both ways again, and if I were lucky the coast would be clear and I would bolt across the street as fast as I could, fearing that I might have missed a car somehow, and I was seconds away from being flattened into the pavement, akin to a doornail that is dead, but deader. I always had that tickling feeling in my back, the same feeling I would get when running up the basement stairs at my grandparents' house, not wanting to be captured by the ghost that was probably right behind me.

When I moved to Nashville, I had a rough go of it at first. I would be given guff for being so meek about crossing the street. I would hold my boyfriend's hand and pull him back if I felt like he was being too rash about crossing at a certain time, if I suspected that maybe that car a few blocks away was going a little too fast not to plow in to one or both of our forms and send our limbs and guts flying all over the way. My imagination on this topic was graphic and I was just sure that I was justified in being overly cautious, though I've never known someone who got hit by a car.

In Italy, though, this same former man-friend forced me to get over my problem. Roman streets were tangled webs of scooters, buses, and tiny little cars. When there was any sort of opening or pause in the flow, a person walked into it and much to my amazement, made it safely to the other side. "We're walking across after this car," he said to me once, very gently, and I held my breath and his hand as we rushed across the street, him looking ahead, me looking worriedly at the stream of cars coming toward us. My heart was beating like a scared rabbit's must and I felt like crying like one, too. I wonder why this was such a big deal to me, but I've never come to a conclusion. It just was. After that time, though, I began to enjoy the challenge of crossing a busy street as soon as I could.

Now, I live in New York. I stand on the street-side of the curb and watch the light, waiting for it to turn yellow so that I can start my journey across before the signal tells me to do so. I've had to step back several times, just in time, so that a cab on its way to drop a fare off at the curb doesn't take my arm with it. I look both ways, but it's not for safety, it's a way of checking to see if I can cross before the next vehicle flies through my lane. Even on a leisurely walk with no destination, I push my way through with the rest of them, continuing my lazy pace on the other side. Perhaps it's the pride of a fear lost, or maybe I'm just trying to fit in. Maybe if I still lived in Kansas, I'd stand away from the curb and wait awhile.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

SOMETHING ABOUT THE INTERNET

For most of my life, the internet (as most people know it, for personal use) has existed. I got my first e-mail address in sixth grade when I took my first computer class from a teacher named Mr. Douglas who my cousin Megan and I called "Crater Face Douglas" because he looked eerily similar to the character of the same name from the movie Grease, which we were obsessed with.

My first e-mail address was saint3313@hotmail.com, because I was a big fan of a group called The Kottonmouth Kings, who white-boy rapped about smoking pot and other things that I didn't actually know anything about. Saint Dawg was a member of the group, and my favorite, so, "saint" was added to the e-mail mix. I don't know where the numbers came from. I guess I was just really into threes that year. This e-mail address still works. The first e-mail was from my friend Jeff Drake, who was in my class, and it reads "Jodi, want to play Warcraft?" I replied, "I don't know what that is. So no."

I can't imagine my life without the internet. I think about how many bands I know of because of the internet, and how many different obscure topics I've discovered and researched on the internet. As sad as this sounds, public school history classes taught me less than half, I would guess, what the internet has taught me. I've met countless friends on the internet. I've (gasp) fallen in love with someone on the internet. Or, at least, the idea of someone.

Kelly and I were talking the other day about how we're only four years apart (She's 24, I'm 20), but there's still such a rift between us as far as the internet goes. I don't think there's anything weird about meeting people from the internet, she and her friends still feel like it's a little bit shady. I know how to italicize things using html out of habit, it comes naturally to me, because I've just always known how to do it. She just learned, and has to stop and think about it.

My little brother Tyler is eleven years old. This means that he's never even been alive in a world where the internet didn't exist. He's never known a time when you have to manually open a phone book and squint to read the tiny type (what's with that, anyway?) if you want to look up the number for a pizza place. Though I would not for a minute want to go back to a world unconnected by wires and frequencies, it's a good thing to me that I have known it. I can bond a bit with the old people like my parents and my boyfriend, who were alive before there were even microwaves. I am the same way with the internet. When I am eighty and people are traveling around by hovercraft (not likely, but I'm crossing my fingers), I will be able to say, "Ah, I remember a day when there wasn't even an internet!"

And, it's impossible for me to mention all of this without confessing that though I use the internet as much as I can, sometimes too much, I don't actually have a great grasp on it. To me, it's a place. I am on the internet. I'm not using something, I am interacting with it. I am in it. It's like going to a location, really, it's like how you go to the store. You go to the store, you go to the internet, you go to school, you go to the coffeeshop.

And you can get anything here. You can read anything, you can watch anything, you can hear anything. Anything you'd like and a lot that you wouldn't like. Before, you had to rely on a number of sources to give you information, to let you know what's going on a few towns over. Now we're all closely and directly connected, again, whether we like it or not. It's interesting, is all.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

SOMETHING ABOUT CRUSHES

Yesterday I lounged around the house of my grandparents, wandering from one room to another, slightly bored and completely stuffed from snacking on wintertime holiday food, non-diet pop, and chocolate milk. I was tired, the kind of tired that makes your eyes burn a little bit, despite the fact that I had slept a full ten hours the night before, and had even had a little cat nap.

I finally rolled myself into the family room and settled deep into the couch under a blanket. I took control of the remote. I flipped through the billions of channels my grandparents have in their television and luck would have it that I landed on Oliver just as it was about to start. When I saw the title and realized that it was indeed the version that I remembered watching as a child, my heart started to beat a little faster than usual. I couldn't help but smile when the beautiful little blonde boy who played Oliver appeared on the screen.



I don't usually make a habit of fawning over little boys, but this was different. This was different because Oliver Twist was my very first, ever, in the world, crush. I was six years old. Being a girl who has always had a handful of crushes at any given time, celebrity and real, this is a big thing. This little sullen orphan boy was the first to take my little breath away with his "Please, sir, I want some more," and his heartbreaking question "Where is love?" as he looked out the window of the undertaker's cellar and, oh god, I just loved him.

The film was made in 1968, eighteen years before I was even in the world, but as a young girl I felt that the boy playing Oliver must have already died, or something, because I don't think I had a very good grasp of the fact that it was an actor playing a part. It was all so romantic.

Doing a little IMDB.com research, I found out that Peter Sellers was originally attached to the part of Fagin. Anyone who knows me knows that I consider the fact that Peter Sellers died six years before I was born to be the great tragedy of my life. Why? Because he's my biggest crush.

There have been probably hundreds of crushes in my life, from Oliver to Ira Glass to Louise Brooks, and they all have one thing in common: I'm never going to even meet them. And, that's what's so strange about the whole concept. Everyone has had a crush, and you idealize this person and romanticize this person, and they're probably nothing how you'd imagine in them, but it doesn't matter, because that's all part of the fun. This might also explain while normal-people crushes aren't as fun; you might meet them. You might even get to go on a date with them. And they might (very likely might) even be in no way how you imagined them, and they might disappoint you.

So, Mark Lester, the man who was the boy who played Oliver, here's to you. My first, but definitely not my last, crush.

Monday, December 18, 2006

SOMETHING ABOUT "GREATS"

Most people don't ever meet their great-grandparents. They're just ancestors, people that you stemmed from but are no more real than the faded photos you've seen at your grandparents' house. I'm lucky, though, because not only did I know my great-grandparents, I also knew my great-great-grandmother, and I lived in their house for two years. I know how they smelled and how they sounded and what good people they were.

My great-grandpa and grandma lived on a farm in Lansing, Kansas. I don't think I was around for a time when the land on the farm was actually used for farming, but there were a few barns with hay and lofts, and my cousins would go in them and sneak cigarettes. Sometimes I would be designated as the lookout, the person who would warn them if an adult were coming, in exchange for one of my cousins saddling a horse for me to ride as payment.

The house was a small one-story ranch with ugly green carpet. The wallpaper in the living room was awful and everything smelled like cigarette smoke that had been wafting about for decades, because it had. There was a rotary phone in the dining room and the living room was filled with easy chairs. It was the most comfortable place to me, second only to my grandparent's house, and maybe only that won because it smelled better. It was my family history in house form.

I don't remember ever seeing my great-great-grandmother outside of the back bedroom. She was blind and small and had horn-rimmed glasses and would sit on her bed and tell us stories about when she was a child in England. I've had a lust for other worlds since as long as I can remember, so being made to sit in the room and awkwardly converse with someone so much older than me was something I looked forward to in the case of great-great-grandma Matz. After she died, I would find out that she'd never even been to England, and that she was either senile, or making it up to amuse herself. I like to think it was the latter, because if the trends in my family are correct (that all of the lefties are alike, and Grandma Matz was a lefty), I will lie to my great-great-grandchildren when I'm that old, not because of insanity, but because I will be bored.

My great-grandma was wheelchair ridden for as long as I knew her, because of car accident years before. I remember her in the kitchen, mostly, I remember sitting at the kitchen table with her while she smoked cigarette after cigarette and talked. She talked fast, and said "warsh" instead of "wash," and other things that have always annoyed me, but she told stories that I wish I remembered. One time I swatted the air and her cigarette smoke disappeared. I told her that the smoke twirling in the air reminded me of a marble, and I could tell that she didn't know what I meant, but she laughed anyway. Great-Grandpa would always make her laugh and she would say, "Oh, Virg," and I think now about how well they must have known each other.

My last memory of her was when I was in 5th grade. It was some sort of special day at school, but I got sick, and my mom came to pick me up. I was miserable because the special day was space themed, and at the time I had just gotten a telescope that I couldn't figure out how to put together, and I wanted to be an astronaut. When I got home, I threw up Sprite and Tylenol all over the table in a weird yellow mess and Great-Grandma laughed in a way that was comforting, for some reason. She died in a hospital, I don't remember why, but she was sick and old and it was her time. I cried at the funeral, and it was the first time that I had been to a funeral of a person I knew I would miss, and also I cried for my Grandma because it was the first time I realized that she had lost her mother.

Great-Grandpa had a deep, raspy voice from all of his years of smoking like a train, and maybe because of the same car accident that left his wife crippled, though I'm not entirely sure. He was tall and skinny and had white hair and he wore black framed glasses with no intention of irony. He was the most ornery person you would ever meet, and was always thinking of new ways to torture his great-grandchildren. He would ask you if you wanted to do something that sounded pleasant, but it would turn out to be some painful but funny thing. "Want me to milk the mouse?" he'd say, and he'd tell you to give him your hand, which you would do warily, and then he would bend your pinky in a way that was excruciating and tickled at the same time, and he would laugh that big, rough, laugh at your face. It wasn't mean; it was great, and you would keep going back time after time, even though you knew what would happen.

Great-Grandpa was always working in the shop, a huge garage that smelled like oil and gas and had so many machines and tools in it that I can't even imagine what they all did. There were always little kittens running around in the shop, playing in the dirt. He had a small dog named Jake that followed him around, and I hated that dog because he was moody, but my great-grandpa loved him, even if he had to give him a little kick every now and then.

My mom told me that when they took him in to the hospital, the doctors were amazed at how much muscle he had, how strong he was. The last time I saw him was when I went home from Nashville during March of 2005, at my niece Alyssa's birthday party. Though I wish I'd had the insight to sit down and have him tell me his life story, I'm not sorry that seeing him then was the last time I'd seen him, because he was just as I knew him then.

I can say that I heard my great-great-grandmother lie, my great-grandmother's smoke looked like marbles, and that my great-grandfather told great jokes. The last of my Greats is gone, now, but I'll always remember them, and I'll always realize that I was lucky to have had the honor.