Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Silver and Gold, etc.

For some reason, I've always really hated that Girl Scouts song that goes, "make new friends but keep the old--one is silver and the other is gold." I don't know why it rankles me. Actually, yes, I do know: it's a really dweeby song, and people are all the time using it against you when you're just trying to mind your business and be mad at somebody.

For instance, Jane and I have fought a bit in the 20 years we've known each other. Now, ya'll know Jane's my soul sister and everything. I seriously couldn't love that lady more if I had given birth to her myself, and she's both the second person I would call if I got put in jail (Bryan being first, obvs) and the only person whose puke I might consider cleaning up besides Odessa's. HOWEVER, Jane can be unbelievably provoking. (Jane, honey: I know you're reading this, but let's face it--your silent treatment is brutal.) On a couple of occasions (ahem. March-April, 1996; July, 2001; a good chunk of 2003-2004), I was pretty sure we'd never love again. And during those tempestuous times, my mom would be like, "How's Jane?" and I would be like, "Oh, I don't know--probably out somewhere disemboweling a pygmy hippo or yanking the eyeballs out of baby hedgehogs for her witch's potion or something." And my mom would kind of frown and then sing that damn song and I would be like JESUS HELL SHUT UP MOM.

But now that I'm old-ish, I kind of see that when Odessa gets to be 15 and hates her best friend for a while because of something trifling, I'll probably trudge sheepishly in my own mother's footsteps and sing her that stupid song, or at the very least give her some suspiciously adjacent advice. Because here's the thing: old friends are dead useful. For one thing, even though Jane and I have been terrible to one another from time to time, we've also made each other better people. Cheesy but true. Also, old friends usually know your family, or at least the backstory to most stuff, so you don't have to explain everything all the time. And that's nice.

Plus! Old friends remember different stuff than you. Case in point: my dear friend Missy Sue was visiting this weekend. Missy is one of my top 5 favorite people of all time and I've known her since my freshman year of college when she persuaded me to cook gnocchi in the electric tea kettle in my dorm room, which ruined the kettle, but whatever. What I love about Missy is that she's wise, hilarious and when she's allergic to something her lips puff up really big like croissants. Another thing I love about Missy is that our memories hitch onto completely different things. For instance, she remembers coming to my family's house for Thanksgiving one year in which all of the following things happened:
  • A pie caught fire and had to be stamped out on the kitchen floor.
  • We ate quail eggs.
  • In attendance was a large, redheaded English farmer who demanded that someone prepare Watergate Salad.
  • My mom whipped up a Watergate Salad, which is basically just green jello set in bundt pan with canned pineapple and marshmallows trapped in it. (Mom grew up in the 50's with a mother who regularly served Baked Alaska, so of course she knows about Jello molds).
  • We played touch football.
  • Ma's then-partner Mercedes wore a different fuzzy pastel angora sweater every day Missy was there.
  • There was a pot-bellied pig roaming around the house.
I remember none of this, although I can't say I'm surprised by any of it. But see? Now I can suspect I remember it!

So, I'm just saying the song is probably right, even though someone should write another song. I think the Girl Scouts of America would benefit.

Note: the photograph above is not of Jane or Missy Sue, but of me and Jennifer, who was my freshman roommate in college, and whom I still love to this day. It appears to have been taken in November of 1996. I appear to be icing a cookie. I have no memories of this event. Next time I see Jennifer, I'm going to ask her what the hell was going on in this picture.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Old Timey

This artist named Lisa Emaleh from New York came out to Dad's house a couple of weeks ago to photograph him with an old timey large format tintype camera, presumably because she heard that Dad looks like this:
And you don't run into a man who looks like that everyday. Nor do you want to.

That said, I thought she captured something about him that photographs usually don't. Plus, she got a good one of his crazy outsized meat paws, for which I will always be grateful:
And here's another one:
My dad emailed these to me today and the one above was the first one I saw. Frankly, it threw me off because I was like, "that big, old-timey guy looks soooo much like my dad and he's standing in my dad's garlic field--but Dad doesn't ever stand like that." And then I saw this one:
And I was like "Oh, hey Dad."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mamas' Songs

Yesterday was Mother's Day, and today I saw a thing on NPR Music where each of the staff writers talked about their mom's favorite song. It made me start thinking about what my mom's favorite song would be.

Ma loooooooouuuves music. She grew up with three older brothers who were all in the Washington Cathedral Boy's Choir, and as a result she's bananas about hymns and frittered away her valuable political capital when we were children forcing us to learn the different parts to all her favorites so we'd be able to sing Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light in three part harmony whenever she felt like it. Well, that was her plan, anyway--turns out you can lead a 14 year old girl to Bach, but you can't make her and her sister sing it on command.

Anyway, as much as Ma loves churchy music, when I think of her I think of this song:

Growing up, we'd listen to the oldies station in the car a lot, and when "Different Drum" came on, she'd start kind of bopping around in the most upsetting sort of Mom way, singing lustily along. And then during the chorus when Linda Ronstadt sings,

Yes, and I ain't saying you ain't pretty
All I'm saying is I'm not ready
For any person, place or thing....

Mom would jab her finger at the radio and yell, "THAT'S A NOUN!" and then she'd chuckle maniacally. I know: it sounds kind of weird, but it was actually pretty cute--I even secretly thought so at the time. It made me feel kind of misty eyed and protective of that weird lady who was raising me.

And now? Now I'm the weird lady. And I think pretty hard about what I sing around Odessa because, for better or worse, she's going to associate all the songs I sing with me. They're going to be My Songs--just like that silly Lovin' Spoonful song "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" is one of Ma's songs. I think that will probably horrify her to learn that, but there it is.

Every night, I put Odessa to bed, and read her 3 books and then I commence what she calls "Dongs," which is basically me singing selections from the White Album and some hits from The Sound of Music, and I usually throw in "Moon River" if she's having a hard time settling down. Odessa's favorite song is Blackbird because, duh: it really is just about perfect--even a 2 year old knows that. Plus I'm actually really good at singing that part that goes,

Into the line of a dark black niiiiiiight.

My favorite song to sing to Odessa is "I Will."

I sing it to her every single night, because for the rest of her life, I want her to think of me when she hears it. Because it's not a song about complicated feelings--just regular old undying love and devotion. But that's what I got for that little girl.

Which, I assume, is also what Ma was always feeling for me whenever she sang Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and/or Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Today I didn't wear a bra and it made me feel kind of uncomfortable. I'm not one of those people who technically needs to be wearing one all the time, but since circa 1999, I've pretty much always worn every undergarment that could be necessary in a given situation. The way I figure it, at least I'll never regret wearing them.

But I didn't always see it that way. As a youth, I went to hippie college, or "hiking school" as my dad calls it. It was small, liberal artsy (with an emphasis on the liberal) and located in what I like to call the Crystal Belt of Arizona. There are a lot of shops that sell healing crystals in central Arizona. In fact, while I lived there I frequented the crystal shop of this psychic named Ann Marie who believed she was regularly getting hit on by the ghost of a horny old gold prospector. Ann Marie said he mostly hung out in her car, so sometimes when I was coming down the valley to visit her, she would ask me to pick up a pack of cigarettes or a gallon of orange juice because she didn't feel like dealing with him. I honestly can't say I blame her. Plus, she read my tarot cards for free, so I kind of owed it to her.

Anyway, the school I went to had a motto: "Education is a Journey, not a Destination." It should be noted that 85% of the incoming freshmen at this college began their journey with the kind of lumpy, beaded, filthy dreadlocks only privileged white kids from Minnesota or Birmingham can stand to grow out to their full expression. About 0% graduated with them. A lot of girls wore backless shirts. I once actually found myself at the grocery store wearing tattered Carhartt overalls I fished out of the school free box and a piece of fabric tied strategically around my torso, in lieu of a shirt. I had been wearing this get-up for a few hours, and suddenly I looked down at myself while standing in front of the refrigerator case at Prescott Natural Foods, and my brain was like, "Honey, no." So I put my basket down with everything in it and walked out the door, got in my Subaru Justy, drove directly home and put on a shirt.

Unbelievably, this is not the incident that made me start wearing underwear every single day of my life. That was this next time, which I'm fixing to tell you about.

Once when I was at a party, this kid came up to me and just started talking. He was exceptionally drunk, and I didn't know him very well. He was in one of my classes, about 19, Jewish I think, from Los Angeles, and his father was a movie producer or something. He wore expensive sunglasses and impressively ornamented dreadlocks which I imagine were profoundly unsettling to his parents. I can't remember his name for the life of me, but I remember he always called other guys "brah." I had never heard that before.

So rarely does someone hand you a completely unsolicited critique of your entire existence, that when someone does...well, it makes you reconsider some of your life choices. That's what happened with this kid, at this party. This is how it went down:

"Jesslyn! Hey! That's crazy--I was just talking about you to Micah a little while ago. Yeah.... I was saying I think you're like an 8. Like for real an 8. And Micah was like "no way, brah," but my argument was like, sure--if I just saw her on the street? Or if I just met her or some shit? I'd be like, she's like a 5 or 6, looks-wise. I mean, don't take that the wrong way because--waywaywaywaywait. Wait. Don't take that the wrong way because I'm just trying to be real with you. And I'm wasted. But then when you talk to you and shit? You find out like you have this attitude that's pretty bad ass, actually. Seriously--I can tell you don't believe me, but believe me. You're kind of a bad ass, which is hot. And you're fucking hilarious. But then the other thing is you have awesome tits. For real--never nurse a baby or whatever because I'd be afraid it would ruin those girls because they're killer...."

Yeah--that's the moment I started wearing a bra. In fact, the way I remember it, I turned around went home that very minute, passing my best friend Elizabeth in the hall who was my ride home, but she making out with some guy she was probably supposed to be selling weed to. So I walked about two miles home and when I got there, I seriously considered stapling a bra to my chest.

And that's the reason I always wear all the undergarments I can get my hands on.

You might be interested to know that I had one other conversation with my assailant, about a year and a half later. He had cut off his dreads, grown this weird little goatee and wore tiny, round tortoiseshell glasses he bought in Prague, where he had spent the summer. I had to give him a ride home from a school field trip and he talked the whole time about this bottle of absinthe he smuggled home from the Czech Republic. I don't think he remembered The Incident. And then he left his sweet-ass camera bag with $35 in the pocket in the back of my car, and you know what I did? I kept it.

Well, he never asked for it back! And also that guy deserved it.