How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Dead People

26 Apr

Disgruntler Alert: the following post contains little-to-no snarkiness, offensive opinions or crude observations. We will return to standard programming when we damn well feel like it.

After a fruitless morning search underscored by a complete lack of planning, I now found myself waist-high in blackberry bushes, breathlessly close to a discovery.  The brambles clutched desperately at my clothes, as if to intentionally delay me in my quest;  Nature Always Finds A Way, I thought to myself.  This tangle of thorns had made short work of overtaking the graveyard, and now turned its attention toward the unexpected human invaders, reminding us that they – the bushes, the earth – would ultimately have the last word.  At least I was wearing my motorcycle boots.

As much as I’d like to say the stone marker beckoned to me in some way, that it was psychically calling out “Over here!” with cinematic flair, in reality, it was simply the last accessible gravestone left in the plot, and I was going to be bummed if it didn’t pan out.  I tried to fabricate some sort of meaning from the ominous, foot-swallowing critter hole directly beside the marker, as if this hole was a clear sign that This Stone Must Be It.   But the agnostic in me knew:  that’s no omen, it’s just a fucking critter hole.

A short couple of steps up the hill, then a brief struggle with a particularly determined clump of bushes, and I awkwardly managed to work myself around to the other side of the stone. Clearing off some clinging Virginia Creeper, I was startled to see my imagined cinematic scenario fulfilled. “TALBERT,” it read.  Really?  Yes.  “TALBERT.”

No specific individuals’ names or dates were listed, but it was the surname I was searching for, and felt satisfied to have found this much.  It was already more than I figured we’d be able to accomplish, given that, as I said, there’d been a complete lack of planning in this venture.  I guess I had just thought I’d roll into Abingdon, VA – my father’s family’s home for over a century – and see what I could find.  Check out what’s in the historical society, stop into a few stores and ask around, what have you.  Except that I didn’t think about this being a Sunday.  In a small town, in the South. To my fellow confused Californians out there:  this means that basically everything’s closed.  Strangely, no-one seems to be home either.

Earlier that day, armed only with Google Maps’ insistence that there was a small plot of land here called “Hayter Cemetery” – where I knew that the Talberts, my paternal grandmother’s family, were buried –  I had quickly discovered what any native Virginian could have easily told me; that there are hundreds of family cemeteries all over this history-riddled countryside, but many have been moved, destroyed, or otherwise made virtually inaccessible, laying within the confines of other people’s private property.

Which explained why the “unnamed street” where the cemetery had appeared on the map turned out to be someone’s driveway.  And why now – pinned between blackberry bushes and the gaping hole of some animal’s den, amongst the remains of my long-dead ancestors – technically, I was trespassing.


Next up: creepy things happen!  And then we go to the theatre.


Because I Do

12 Jan

As much as I enjoy my own misanthropic tendencies, the growing realization that this questionable attribute has clearly been passed on to my offspring, leaves me with some misgivings.  Certainly I have not done him any favors.  The world smiles upon those who are apt to smile back; but for the rest of us curmudgeons?  Not so much.

While I am more of a private hater (prior to going public in The Disgruntler), and have spent my life compensating for my secret via outgoing antics and a passable degree of friendliness, my son seems less interested in such nonsense. His disdain is Out. True, at sixteen, he is probably at the nadir of his charm, with nowhere to go from here but up, personality-wise.  But it is impossible to ignore just how spot-on his highly judgmental yet hilarious descriptions of people can be: “basically a Burning Man sleazeball,” “your typical film school douchebag,” “generally dislikable sports-type meathead,” “hipster with stupid nerd glasses and an ugly sweater,” “self-righteous Noe Valley mom who only gives her kids herbs for medicine or some shit.”  That’s more than mere 16 year-old ennui talking; I think he’s in solid curmudgeon territory here.

So, as I said – misgivings.  It can be a fine line of difference between the neighborhood Cat Lady and, say, Aileen Wournos. On one side, there’s your healthy punk rock aversion to mob mentality/fashionable trends/shopping malls/mass-produced culture/suspiciously enthusiastic people/overattended events/etc. – that’s the sort of misanthrope I am – and then there’s the sociopath.  I really really REALLY hope I haven’t unwittingly created one of those.

Or are the real Bad Seeds something that just come out of the blue, an evolutionary luck of the draw sort of thing? You reach into the genetic grab bag and pull out – oh shit, it’s Richard Speck.  I’m just riffing here; in no way at all do I question my son’s sanity or grasp on reality.  He’s clearly paying attention to the details, that’s what makes his wit so razor sharp.  Though I’m sure just being a 16 year-old boy alone qualifies one as borderline sociopath; and since he won’t be sixteen forever, in theory, he’ll grow out of it.

And if not, well maybe it’s preferable to a generally dislikable sports-type meathead.

Pray Tell

23 Dec

The latest preventable American tragedy to touch ground on our conflicted shores – this time in Connecticut – has incited the usual maelstrom of fevered public discourse.  Also as usual, I am doggedly avoiding entering the fray.  So much talking, such incessant commentary, as if we can just talk-talk-talk the horror of it all away. A dirty bandaid over a fresh gaping wound. Thankfully however, it seems that even-tempered logic is prevailing over knee-jerk hysteria this time around, and perhaps some positive societal changes may eke their way out in the end.

I have also consistently noticed amidst this particular Media Aftermath – somewhat inappropriately, I admit – how irksome I find the repeated references to prayer.  We send our prayers, so-and-so is praying for them, the community is holding a prayer service, etc etc etc.  Of course I understand that this is, in spirit, a positive thing, but I also find it both vaguely oppressive and decidedly exclusive.  What about those families who are not of the Christian faith – and certainly Christian-based prayer is what they’re talking about – or moreover, not of any faith at all? And by that I don’t mean hopeless people “without any faith,” but those who are non-theist.  Lest we forget, not everyone seeks solace in prayer.

Again, logically I understand there are positive intentions behind these unsolicited spiritual offerings.  But I also know that being insistently handed a cocktail or a joint at a party when I don’t want one is, at the very least, unnerving.  Actually that usually bugs the shit out of me and I leave.  It’s just so fucking presumptuous, in a desperate sort of way. 

So I can’t help wondering, where do the non-religious families fit into this tragedy? Where do they go?  Do you show up at the prayer services anyway and just try to ignore the mumbo-jumbo part of the program?  If someone you don’t even know says how they’re “praying for you,” do you say thanks-but-no-thanks, or just muster a wan smile?  It would grow tiresome.

Churchy folk, I’m sure you’re awesome.  But if you feel compelled to start churning out prayer vibes like microwaves, remember some folks prefer not to cook their food that way.  We can all still eat at the same table, though.










What’s All This Then?

3 Dec

who’s in the what now?

So what would YOU do if your OB/GYN told you, with unexpected dramatic flair, “You need to go right home, and throw all your birth control pills away!  You’re DONE!” ?  Me, I kinda felt like crying a little.  My pills? But we’ve been together my entire adult life!  Ironically, my longest relationship by far.  Then … Confusion. What do I do now?  Are there even other forms of birth control out there?  Wait, how does it all work again?  Followed by … Anger.  Shit, don’t tell me we’re going to have to start using condoms!  That blows (no pun intended, well, maybe a little)!  

Seems that if you throw 25+ years on birth control pills in with a few ocular migraines and raise the blood pressure a bit – voila, you’ve got your classic Pre-Stroke Indicators.  Which means no more BCPs.  Ever.  Again.  Fuck, man, I want to keep fucking! 

The snappy OB/GYN lady wanted me to get an IUD fast-fast-fast, because apparently the second you go off the pill your body starts to go cray-cray for making a bay-bay and cranks the factory into overdrive. I know the Dalcon Shield fiasco is decades behind us, but I’m sorry, it’s still pretty hard to warm up to the idea of a pointy metal lance dancing around inside you day in and day out, like a bitter chaperone at a middle school dance continually breaking up the make-out sessions on the cozy sofas that are your uterus.  They want me to get an IUD but I said no, no, no.

Why not free-ball it for awhile?  It’d been so long since I hadn’t either been taking some sort of artificial hormones, or having my real hormones royally fucked with by the wondrous joy that is pregnancy, that I figured it might be interesting to see what it’d be like to go au natural.


oh boy, I can still square dance!

Fast forward a month or two: FUCK I FORGOT HOW MUCH THIS SUCKS.  Clearly I was getting my karmic due for once blithely bragging to a friend in the midst of menstrual woes about how I didn’t hardly have a period at all anymore and felt great.  WHY must I intermittently feel horrendous and mercilessly bloodthirsty for chocolate according to some mysterious Satanic schedule, and HOLY JESUS what’s with all the BLOOD?  I know you menfolk are cringing right now so please, pardon the fuck out of me very much, but us 52% of the population occasionally needs to break the shackles of your squeamishness and voice our complaints.

Speaking of which, I have another one. During the many years I was enjoying not serving among the ranks of tampon purchasers, it appears that some genius did away with the concept of cardboard applicators.  Wow, plastic is our only option now?  That just makes SO much sense, since there’s simply not enough plastic in the world already.  Plus, the “smooth glide” that plastic provides – reassuringly promoted on a number of brands’ perkily-colored boxes – is just SUCH a concern when the whole, well, AREA is liberally lubricated.  You know, with BLOOD.

Well-trained San Franciscan that I am, I simply cannot throw anything plastic in the “landfill” bin.  Which includes these damn applicators.  I know you’re thinking EW, but they can be WASHED, dammit, and after I do that I make sure they are buried deep, deep in the recycling bin.  I live with a teenage boy and I do not want to accidentally create a horrifically vivid lifelong memory for him by leaving a tampon applicator laying around, one he will know is his (ack!) mother’s, since I’m the only female in the house.

God bless this great gift that is the female body, it’s awesome. 

Next issue:  Who’s Up For A Little Snip-Snip?, or, Family Planning Phase II

Bring the Noise. Please Also Include Ear Plugs.

15 Sep

With the growing din of Presidential mudslinging promising to drown out the noise of other societal Hot Topics from here til November, I want nothing more than to fall into a Van Winklenian slumber until election day.  When once I was a young upstart eager to take on debate with all Arch Conservative Foes about American-Imperialism-This and Impending-Environmental-Disaster-That, today I just want to silently back out of the room.  Move along, nothing to see here.

I hate that I’ve developed such an apathetic attitude; civic engagement and debate are, after all, the backbone of a healthy democracy.  Unfortunately, the majority of current public political discourse – if it could even be called that – has devolved into a toxic display of windbaggery, equal parts Snake Oil Salesman’s pitch, and a rabid preacher’s fury intent on getting our collective panties whipped into knots.  There is barely a shred of anything truly useful in any of it to inform or empower the electorate; its main purpose is as a tool of mass distraction, and in upping the lucrative Entertainment ante among news outlets.

I also don’t bother with heated debate because in most cases it’s a pointless exercise.  Just as I know that there is really no way in hell anyone’s going to convince me to shift my core beliefs, no matter how many fetus-in-trash-can photos they brandish or snappy photo/sound-bite memes they circulate on Facebook, I have to appreciate that there are folks with opposing viewpoints who are as staunchly committed to theirs as I am to mine.  And that is Way Cool.  We can agree to disagree, no energy is wasted;  Awesome. As long as you truly believe something because you came to that conclusion on your own,  that you’re down for a cause not because some sweaty radio blowhard barked it in your ear, or a dreamy-eyed intern at PETA told you to do it, s’all good in my book.  God bless America.

Who I really take issue with are the spin-swallowing hoards mindlessly signing on to any random ridiculous rhetoric of the day, be it the thinly-veiled racism of the Birther movement, or the attempt to ban circumcision by (anti-Semitic?) lefty do-gooders, what have you. We’ve become knee-jerk reactionaries to every scent of a pseudo-story, a population of sensational headline readers that never gets past the first sentence of a news article, because our opinion has already been formed in the frenzy.  Why bother?

And I will never, ever understand the vast legions of folks who simply DO NOT VOTE, a useless mass that somehow makes up the majority of our citizenry.  Sure, it’s your “right” to “not vote,” just like it’s your right to consume three cheeseburgers and a 64-oz Coke every day for lunch; but, as will prove true with  the cheeseburger scenario, there will be long-term repercussions to your choice  – or perhaps more correctly in this instance, your non-choice.  Repercussions such as  … well, just take a quick look around.  Are you 100% pleased with what you see?  No?  Well then.

So here’s to a good, long nap until November …. Or perhaps not a nap, but a dream-like moonwalk with my breath held tight, so as not to inhale the toxicity in the air.  Stay focused on the future, America, don’t drink the Kool-Aid, and please, please try and do some homework before the big exam.


Beware All Who Looketh Here

9 Jun

Having just spent the past hour unsuccessfully foraging for AA batteries in my parents’ house, I’ve come to learn a lot more about them.  Things I don’t think I wanted to know.  Nothing tawdry or illicit; simply confusing … and maybe slightly disturbing in a vague sort of way.

While a quest for batteries in my own home will most likely end up unfulfilled, it’s the last thing I expected here. I knew I was up for a challenge – the surface illusion of tidiness in my parents’s home is due to a large-scale proliferation of baskets, cubbies, and drawers brimming with everyday First World detritus, and those batteries could be fucking anywhere – but given my parents’ suburban Costco-fed habits of Bulk Buying, I figured there’d have to be a Duracell goldmine here somewhere.  Just which wicker basket or junk drawer is it?

Oh, I was so close.  So many near-misses; stashes of lightbulbs, office supplies, tangles of cords here and there, the sorts of items that hint at batteries living nearby, but, alas, they all led me astray.  As quickly as I’d hit upon one of these promising finds, it would become clear that the seemingly logical roommate or at least neighbor of the discovered item – that ever-useful AA battery – was puzzlingly absent.

Have the batteries been forced into an unholy union with other, unrelated items, like toilet paper, or, god forbid, clothing?  Could my parents be so unhinged as to store the double-As in the linen closet, or the china cabinet? My search clearly would have to encompass the entire house, and involve some creative problem-solving (luckily I am the product of a California public education system considerably pre-No-Child-Left-Behind and can do this).  I needed to scour bedrooms, closets, maybe even my stepdad’s workout room. It was time to think like middle class 70-somethings who’ve lived in the same house for 25 years.

Here’s what I did manage to find:

ready for the Apocalypse

A pile of plastic casters from some piece of furniture-or-other; a number of crates housing mysterious jugs of what I chose to believe were pool-cleaning chemicals; an apocalyptic supply of paper towels and napkins; one Ziploc bag each of pennies, nickels and dimes; loads of my little brother’s crap in clearly-labeled boxes, which I guess is permissible since he’s still under 30; one half- and one almost-full case of Corona and Newcastle, respectively; a small decorative box full of quarters, on a completely different side of the house from the aforementioned Ziploc-encased coins; neatly binder-clipped stacks of bills topped with notes in my stepdad’s handwriting; a healthy collection of what I assume to be fairly good wine; and, inexplicably, a case of baby wipes, among many, many, many other things.  And not a single goddamn battery.

So, as I said, confusing, right?  What’s with the baby wipes?  And why is that change all separated out and stashed in a bathroom drawer?  I once had a crazy roommate who would take down stuff I’d hung on the walls, wrap it in towels and hide it in the bathroom cabinets, and the discovery of the Ziplocked change made me think of her and shiver.

Now I can’t even remember why I needed those double-As.

Where Apples Fall

11 Feb

my son & his friend long before teenagedom; irradiated but still sweet

Yesterday I had the privilege of being the focus of a classic teenagerism, which – though luckily a fairly rare occurrence with my particular 15 year-old – literally made me laugh out loud.  (I also somewhat unethically shared it with a room full of co-workers, for their boisterous enjoyment.)  Upon inquiring what time said movie was that he and a group of friends were on their way to see, I received the response, “I dunno; not everyone plans everything out in advance like you, mom!” Note the line reading here of “mom;” the drawn-out, exaggerated tone of disgust is most crucial.  Muhaahmmm!

It’s true, not everyone plans things out in advance.  Actually, I feel I’ve done relatively little life planning at all; I seem to arrived at this juncture, of being the mortifyingly embarrassing muhaahmmm of a teenager, all too quickly.  What was it I was going to do with my life, exactly?  I can’t entirely recall.  But I do remember that the prevailing theme had something to do with the punk rock ethics of Challenging the Status Quo whenever possible, and Intentionally Living on the Peripheries of Polite Society.  Well, done and done, pretty much.

Punk rock moms and dads are all the rage these days. I see them everywhere, their piercings hanging a little heavier from the weight of sleep deprivation that comes with early parenthood, tattoos slowly fading from spending too much time in sun-drenched playgrounds. Last year’s documentary, The Other F Word, apparently chronicles the new challenge of punk – that of fatherhood – and though I am vaguely interested in what that film may have to illustrate …. really, do we need yet another expose on a variation of the white male experience? Am I going to learn anything new? I’m guessing it’s pretty much same shit, different day.  Punk takes on Society, yet somehow that ethos is most pertinent as seen through the eyes of a man. Oh, the irony!

You know what else is ironic?  Not rain on your wedding day or a black fly in your chardonnay – sorry, Alanis,

artist's approximation of The Man

those things are merely unfortunate.  What’s ironic is that raising a child to question the social and political status quo means that this challenge is ultimately directed at you, the parent.  Because, of course, from where your child’s sitting, YOU are the status quo.   No no no, wait, I’M not The Man!  The Man is all that other stuff – you know, the patriarchal corporatocracy, the military industrial complex, the knee-jerk hype mongers at Fox News!!  That’s what we’re really up against here!  The Man has nothing at all to do with me wanting to know what time your movie’s at – I just need to know what I can shove into my own Friday night plans before I have to pick your ass up from way the fuck out in the Richmond.

But, all muhaahmmms notwithstanding, they do eventually get it.  My son may prefer to load his iPod with Old Blue Eyes, the Ink Spots and whoever else is decidedly NOT the Dead Kennedys and X in my dusty CD bins, but at least Sinatra is no Justin Bieber.  The apple may have actually fallen somewhere within range of the tree.