Friday, November 27, 2009

Actual Conversation

Innocent as all get out, today the Matron decided to swing by her favorite bagel shop for carbohydrates, the perfect post-Turkey topping.

Besides the fact that there are nearly 700 calories in a single peanut butter cookie, the other thing she finds disturbing at her local Bruegger's is that the woman who's been working that counter for at least the past 18 (Lord help her, the Matron has been haunting that shop that long) years, is the Matron's EXACT age (a new number, still less than 50 but now a wee bit more than 45ish) and in all of those 18 years, has smiled a great big entirely toothless smile.

Too many peanut butter cookies, perhaps? Or another victim of the current health insurance system. . . . .

Every time the Matron chats with this woman, she wants to chat about free and reduced dental clinics or call her own dentist and ask if he'll donate time and material. But she reigns in the impulse and simply, makes small talk, while the woman bags up her bagels.

So she is ALREADY slightly uncomfortable always and forever, when she has this exchange today. Did she mention the other bothersome element is that they share an age?

Matron: "How are you today?"

Worker: "I'm tired. We had the big old dinner with all the relatives, and of course there was too much drinking and my cousin Frank got out of hand. The police were there within 5 minutes but the whole jail and hospital thing just dragged me out."

Matron: "Oh! Why, that sounds exhausting. Uh, 9 plain and 3 garlic bagels, please."

Worker (showing no sign of interest in picking up a bagel at all): "Of course, then my mother had her car repossessed on Wednesday so we had to take a bus and then depend on my daughter's boyfriend to get home after seeing to Uncle Tom at the hospital. Frank should know better than to wear brass knuckles with family. Good Lord."

Matron: "I'm glad your daughter has a boyfriend."

Worker: "Don't be. That low life hasn't had a job in the three years he's known my daughter and being a felon and all doesn't seem to have that much of a future. Free-loading on my daughter's job at the Goodwill."

At least the bagels are now nearly in a bag.

Matron (memory, ringing): "Oh. Didn't your daughter and this boyfriend have a baby? A girl?"

Worker: "Oh yes! My Brianna had a sweet little dwarf baby 17 months ago. Them dwarf babies are so teeny tiny, like dolls them dwarfs. Big heads, too."

Matron: "Dwarf baby?"

Worker: "You know, a dwarf baby like them Sleeping Beauty buddies but a girl and real. Big head, too. She is the teeniest tiniest thing, though. Brianna gets to sometimes bring her along to the Goodwill. That's a fun day because shoppers always enjoy a dwarf baby."

Merciful lord, but the Matron -- who was handed her bag and noted a listening customer standing beside her -- had absolutely no idea whatsoever how one should politely and appropriately respond to just this precise situation of the dwarf baby at all, let alone a dwarf baby on display at the Goodwill.

Buddha-Allah-God-Oprah-Universe help her: this is actually what came out of her mouth

"Little body, big heart!"

It wasn't even a question or quip but a command, as in Exit Strategy. With that pearl of wisdom launched, the Matron turned on a heel and scuttled out. So weak-kneed is she that the addition of a dwarf baby to the toothless worker's ensemble might just mean she either needs to find a new bagel location or add a whole new vocabulary to her bantering skills.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Swing: There Goes Emotion

When the Matron was a Young Miss, she was nursing her firstborn baby when she got the phone call everyone dreads: her beloved father, dead! Gone, from a heart attack in just a few short unexpected minutes.

This was 13 years ago on November 27th, the day before Thanksgiving. Just like today. And also, on November 27th, the day after Young Miss's birthday which is on November 26th. She had talked to her father at length on her birthday and for this, she will always be grateful.

Dad: "Talking to you is always the best part of my day."

Sniffle! Me too, Dad. She knows she fell off the third person there by the way.

The Matron's father LOVED Thanksgiving. It was his holiday above all others - -the feast! the family! the phone calling!. She knows that her stepmother reads this blog and misses that man every single day. Hi Nancy. Me too.

She's written about this before: her brother and sister never knew their father, beyond shadows from early in their childhoods. She mourns that loss, as well as her own. And the day her father died? In some unnamed quarters, there was unbridled joy and celebration. Let's leave that party to the imagination. But all these dynamics color that day and this holiday, still.

Tomorrow, she will toast her own birthday! The Matron will give thanks --including the fact that she's not COOKING for the first time in eternity. Have you ever been invited to Thanksgiving dinner at the home of famous local chefs? Thanks to Merrick's friendship with their child (BONUS -- the grown-ups adore each other), the Matron happens to now be in the back pocket of the couple who started this restaurant and they are doing the food.

The Matron hasn't eaten in TWO WEEKS in preparation.

But she will toast her birthday. Give thanks for all the blessings at hand. And give a silent nod to the two deeply flawed people who created her, their lost loves, and the brilliant hope they left in their wake -- the children.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Know Thy Limits

Matron to John: "What would you think about me leading a team of college students to New Orleans to build houses for Habitat for Humanity? Our school is doing this in May and we need two more faculty members. We drive down in a big bus, sleep in a pile and work for six days. I think I should to this."

Here, John doubles over, pretending oh not so effectively that his laughing jag is a sudden tickle in delicate throat.

Matron: "What? What?"

John: "Benefit of doubt. I need more information."

Matron: "Okay, here are the job qualifications, from the email. Matronly call and John response."

  • Sense of humor (John: check)
  • Skilled construction labor (are you drunk at noon?)
  • Ability to live, eat, sleep, work in cramped quarters with no privacy or control? (This will send you to an institution)
  • Ability to entertain students during vast expanses of driving (Will you be allowed to read while entertaining?)
  • Flexible and adaptable, able to suspend own needs (This means no computer, honey)
  • Generally Sainted Demeanor while living in a tent and serving others (If there was no tent involved, maybe).
Matron: "OMIGOD. Driving in a bus with 200 students, living in a tent and eating (gasp) ham sandwiches while hammering nails and otherwise flirting with LABOR might not be ME!?"

John: "Darling, you can make the world better in a hundred different ways. Just not this one. Go organize something. Circulate that petition. Spearhead the campaign. But don't hop on a bus for eight days of communal living and hard labor. For everyone else's sake. Please."

Okay then.



Monday, November 23, 2009

Another One for the Stage Mother Books

In her travels and travails as a Stage Mother, the Matron has seen some sorry sights indeed. Now, just to bust those stereotypes, the Matron has also discovered that 99% of these Theater Hounds -- the young ones wedded to the stage-- are completely self-driven. As she's said before, you cannot WILL a child to radiate joy onstage 74 shows in a row.

But there's always that odd one percent and the Matron stumbled across just that today during a commercial audition.

These auditions follow a tight pattern. This is not a Secret Coded Pattern but something a normal human being picks up after, oh, one audition. Sort of like behavior for the dentist's or doctor's office, where you don't parade around in your panties. On auditions, you are in a waiting room with adult actors, child actors and their attending parents. You whisper because there is filming going on in an immediate room and it is POLITE to be quiet. (Did you hear that, Typhoon Mama? more on her coming) With the exception of the child actors, the other people in the room are professionals working locally in theater and film; many have supporting day jobs, as well. These people are colleagues in an industry and occasionally chat, as colleagues are wont to do. Sometimes the professional child converses as well. But mostly there is reading and the cornered adult whispered exchange about jobs or who just got divorced or what show is in the makings.

So this pattern was being adhered to today when Scarlett and the Matron arrived. As predictable as Minnesota snow in November, the auditions were running late -- this time as much as 40 minutes. Hooray! The Matron is devouring The White Tiger and was more than happy to wait, as was Scarlett who is on her third reading of The Lightning Thief series. (Dear Lord, to make that much money!) Everyone else in the room was in focused isolation on laptops and behind books; one pair was in the corner, updating lives and sharing pictures of children.

In walks . . . how shall she frame them? The Clampetts? Okay, that might capture parent's appearance but Jed definitely had more psychological sophistication than these two, combined. It wasn't just that they were dressed poorly and bearing beefy smelling Wendys bags into an office suite defined by citrus clean, sunshine and hip sophistication, but they were instantly, tremendously the Center of Attention. By their own design.

It did not help their situation that the parents were paired like Jack Sprat and his unfortunate wife -- the wife as rotund, loud and testy as the husband was tall, lean, and clearly longing for invisibility.

Still, one can -and should-- forget Appearance. But Behavior? Open game.

The first thing Typhoon Mama did was to gaze at the couch where the Matron, Scarlett and another man were sitting, survey the five inches of seat available on said couch and query:

"Can you guys all squinch over so we can sit and eat?"

Everyone 'squinched' and Typhoon Mama plopped plaid polyester self down next to Scarlett and patted the inch on her other side for her daughter -- a striking, stunning human of such beauty that the Matron nearly fell over. And? This 11 or 12 year old looked like she wanted to die. The Matron soon saw why. It wasn't the unfortunate decision to chow down on aromatic fast food while waiting for the audition, the bad clothes or generally scraggy appearance. Or that she spread food out on the pristine, magazine-fueled coffee table and LAID IN. It was this.

Typhoon Mama: "Dan! Dan! God dang it! Get over here! I know there's no place to sit but get over here. Give me them forms! You are SUCH an idiot."

Forms, gotten. Dan retreated to his corner again. Idiot, after all.

Typhoon Mama to daughter: "Baby, do you know how much you weigh? NO! I cannot believe that you don't know your own weight. Good God next thing you know you won't know your phone number. Dan! Dan! GET OVER HERE! Do you know how much Baby weighs? Of course not, you wouldn't know your own mother is I didn't point her out. Jeez, you two. HEY YOU!"

The 'Hey You" is Scarlett, who looks frightened for her life, probably because she will soon be told how useless she is and her older brother is nowhere in the room to do the deed.

Scarlett: "Yes?"

T.M: "How much do you weigh? Stand up a minute."

Scarlett stands up. The Matron pretends to be reading.

Scarlett: "Seventy pounds."

TM: "Turn around."

Scarlett spins.

T.Mama: "Okay, that's what we put seventy pounds. You can sit down now."

Scarlett sits. Squinches visibly closer to her Mama and SERIOUSLY puts her nose in her book.

T. Mama: "Dan! DAAN!! Why are you standing so far away! I mean, we need to know conflicts for January? What about that show Baby is in? Do you know when it rehearses? We need to know if Baby is available for the commercial shoot."

Dan: "Forget it. Who cares. This is a goddamn lottery. She's never going to be in a commercial anyway. Might as well buy that lottery ticket. Crazy business. Doesn't matter one whit what you write because she is never going to be in a commercial anyway."

All the working professionals who are routinely in commercials and know it is NOT a big deal whatsoever, are seriously, studiously not looking in this couple's direction, as the pair engage in a spirited debate about their daughter's ability to be in a commercial and said daughter's various shortcomings ("Well, she has YOUR nose") -- while that daughter dies a thousand visible deaths at their sides.

Typhoon Mama: "Hannah? (okay Baby actually has a name) Do you know your conflicts for the play? If you're in the commercial they want to know your conflicts. You're in that play in December. You're just one kid in the show so being absent shouldn't matter."

Hannah: "Mom, I'm two people in the show. I need to be there for two parts. I don't have my schedule yet."

TM: "You're one kid. Who cares if you're two people. Don't be stupid. One kid."

Hannah: "But I'm TWO characters which means more time. Two."

TM: "You're one kid. The most BIT player possible. Good grief. I drive you all the way here for all this hassle? Who cares what conflicts you have. You're never getting a commercial. Why am I wasting my time? This is MONEY not like the show. GOD. You are SO STUPID."

Hannah wilted. The future fell across her face and it was - hopeless.

The Matron wanted to: A) Grab this mother by the throat and shake her till the Wendy's burst her esophagus and B) Instill hope in this beautiful child: You can make your own destiny. You can escape! You are the next generation, the future. The beauty and grace within you will serve as your guide.

Instead, she sat glued to her book, praying for this moment to be over.

T.M: "HEY? Anybody here named Weisman? You're auditioning with my daughter as her parents? Stand up and BE SEEN. Yea, you? You're Weisman? You have blue eyes. That works. Heh-heh. You're my kid's new parents. BETTER GET SMARTER."

Weisman? A skinny forty-something man who'd been monitoring the drama from a corner, safe behind a People magazine.

Weisman: "Actually, I think your daughter has outpaced us all. She appears to be a (pause) survivor. I'd be honored to work with her."

And this stranger--this incredible, kind-hearted fatherly sort--stood up, walked to the couch, and put his hands on Hannah's shoulder and kissed the top of her head.

"You are beautiful, smart and kind. Never forget it. You'll go far."

Okay - it took ONE MILLION YEARS of evolution to get the Matron to the point of self-restraint where she didn't knock over Scarlett and land a big juicy wet one on that man's lips. Hero, hero, hero.

Hannah melted.

Dear Hannah. Here's to you, sweetheart. The Matron saw intelligence and discretion on your face. Things will get better.


Bless you.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nothing She Can Say to Precede

Though he was ill and in pain,
in disobedience to the instruction he
would have received if he had asked,
the old man got up from his bed,
dressed, and went to the barn.
The bare branches of winter had emerged
through the last leaf-colors of fall,
the loveliest of all, browns and yellows
delicate and nameless in the gray light
and the sifting rain. He put feed
in the troughs for eighteen ewe lambs,
sent the dog for them, and she
brought them. They came eager
to their feed, and he who felt
their hunger was by their feeding
eased. From no place in the time
of present places, within no boundary
nameable in human thought,
they had gathered once again,
the shepherd, his sheep, and his dog
with all the known and the unknown
round about to the heavens' limit.
Was this his stubbornness or bravado?
No. Only an ordinary act
of profoundest intimacy in a day
that might have been better. Still
the world persisted in its beauty,
he in his gratitude, and for this
he had most earnestly prayed.

Wendell Barry