Thursday, September 29, 2011

David Bowie Is Pretty Good

I've thought about it kind of hard, and I think "Ashes to Ashes" contains the best riff in music history. Because ya'll know I'm totally qualified to make that call.

Or, for those of you who might enjoy the Ethereal Lady Jams version. I assume you're familiar with weakness for the genera:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Name Makes a Sentence

I never realized this before today, but my name makes a sentence. Jesslyn Shields. Jesslyn shields. Granted, shield is a transitive verb, so makes a lame sentence without an object or whatever. But my name makes a sentence! It feels like I won some sort of raffle. And last time I won a raffle I was presented with some supplements to make my hair more lustrous, and I was like, "eeeek! I won!" and then I saw what I won and was like, "oh." But I was still kind of thrilled.

All day I've been thinking about what it means. I'm not certain who/what I'm supposed to be shielding or what I'm shielding them/it from. Or, you know--what kind of shield I would have. Like, would I throw my body in front of somebody else, human-shield style? Or would I have a big metal aegis bearing the bust of Gorgon? Not sure. I'll have to think about it a little more.

But at any rate, I'm feeling pretty heroic today.


Um, you guys. My dad's name is Pat Shields. It's a transitive verb AND its direct object. The implied subject is, of course, "you."

Which is seriously blowing my mind.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ding Dongs

The other night I stopped at a gas station, paid for my gas inside, and when I came back out to my car, I was approached by a man--an older gent with a sharp haircut. He was from South Carolina and was trying to get back to I-85 via 106, but first he and his wife wanted to go to the movie theater over on Lexington Highway because she wanted to see The Help. The theater (he pronounced it “thee-ay-ter”) in their town wasn't playing it anymore. They were playing Contagion instead. His wife was sitting in the passenger’s seat of their beige minivan, blinking furtively at me from behind thick, oval spectacles. I imagine she was wishing he had asked somebody who was not sweaty and wearing stupid workout clothes.

The thing about me is I'm a sucker for, a) giving people directions, and b) people from the country. So, I started pumping my gas and then came around the car and took the map the man offered me. It had been printed from MapQuest on a color printer that had run out of all but the cyan ink cartridge; it didn't show any streets--just names of roads following invisible, crooked lines.

Oh, and another thing I love? Being a hero.

So, I set that guy straight. I asked him if he preferred a map or driving directions. I considered landmarks that could be recognized by two elderly people in the dark. I gave him road names and approximate distances. Before he went back to his wife in the minivan, he told me I was a very helpful young lady. I smiled winningly at him, and with a spring my step, got into my car and drove away.

And of course I took the fuel pump nozzle and hose with me. Broke it slap off.

Now, I have never done this before, but it's totally something my mom would do. Last weekend, Mom crushed a hole in the bumper of my car, backing her truck around in her rather spacious driveway. Once when I was a kid, she filled the car up with diesel fuel instead of regular unleaded, and she had to call a mechanic to come drain the tank. I believe that time we were on the way to either the circus or the airport.

I think because this stuff happens to her so often, Mom deals with these situations with a lot of dignity and panache. And it’s not like she uses her feminine wiles to sucker some poor dope into helping her out—she’s actually a fairly butch lesbian lady approaching 70 who works with adjudicated youth. Mom’s just very good at acting repentant, a little flustered and utterly helpless. In short, my mom is a total ding dong, and she makes it work for her.

So, I’ve worked for 33 years to override this little lead nugget in my genetic code. But it’s hard to get around. I’m just a ding dong at my core.

Anyway, the gas station attendant had no idea what to do when I brought him the dismembered nozzle and hose. Earlier, when I paid for my gas, I’d spent an extra 20 seconds talking to him about why he was so sleepy: he had helped a friend move out of his apartment at 6 in the morning.

“I don’t know why I always help people move,” he said. “It’s not like anybody ever wants to help me move.”

“It’ll come back to you one of these days,” I said. “I think that’s the way karma is supposed to work.”

While I stood there under the florescent lights of the convenience store, holding the whole gas pump apparatus like an anaconda I had just killed with my bare hands, the attendant called his supervisor. I had been genuinely repentant and flustered as I told him the story. So as I stood there waiting, I realized I probably looked just like my mom would in the same situation—kind of helpless and uncomfortable. Because frankly, I was pretty sure I was going to end up paying for damn fuel pump.

While the attendant waited on the phone for his boss to answer, he looked at me vacantly, like people always do when they’re waiting on the phone. We made eye contact for a couple seconds, and he kind of grinned and rolled his eyes.

“Go on,” he said. “Hang that thing up on the pump before you leave.”

“Oh my god, thank you,” I said, my shoulders sagging under the weight of my quarry. He waved a hand for me to get out because his boss had just answered the phone.

As I backed out the door, I heard him tell his boss the customer had already driven away.

And then I got in my car and drove away, grinning like a fool. Just like my mom always does when she gets away with being a total ding dong.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


I don't drink beer. I never have, mostly because when I was 20, I backpacked through the desert for 3 months, getting my water from cattle troughs and out of seeps in canyon walls. You didn't know that about me, did you? Well, the reason I don't eat beef is that I've had to drink cow poop at about 50% potency, and I the reason I don't drink beer is because it tastes like cow poop water at about 50% potency.

Anyway, today was my sweet Kerry's birthday, and her plan was to go over to Terrapin Brewery and get hammered out of her tree. I had never been to this place, but I love me some Kerry Steinberg and, whatever--I'd find something to do. Hell, I'd bring Odessa. She'd find something to do, too.

So, at this place you give them $10 and they give you 8 tickets for "tastes" of beer, which is basically an entire pint of beer if you can successfully flirt with the right bartender. So all of my friends kept going back and returning triumphant with full glasses and smug, fluffy expressions on their faces.

I should mention that all this drinking was taking place on a big, flat, brown lawn. There were maybe 150 people there, all throwing frisbees and footballs with the kind of forethought, aim and trajectory you'd expect from mid-sized adults on their 4th high-gravity beer. Everybody was talking louder than was strictly necessary. This 4-year-old girl named Karma correctly identified me as the only sober adult on the premises and sat on our picnic blanket watching Odessa with laser-focused intensity, periodically asking, "Odessa, why don't you talk to me? I'm Kawma. Your fwend." When I told her Odessa wasn't very good at talking yet, she didn't take her eyes off Odessa but told me, "that's what you think."

It's actually pretty funny to be sober in the midst of a bunch of drunk people who aren't creepy. For instance, Kerry had a temporary tattoo of a shark on her right bicep and kept asking people if they wanted to see her "make it swim." Ricky spent a lot of time thoughtfully planning my birthday party at Medieval Times on his iPhone until he found out it would cost $50 per person. Jess got pegged by a football but didn't spill a drop of either of her beers. The whole scene reminded me of that island in Pinocchio where little boys smoke cigars and play pool and cuss, generally making jackasses of themselves until they're magically transformed into actual donkeys. Only this was cuter than it was in Pinocchio.

In other news, who knew Steve Winwood was a damn genius? Not me. But somehow this cover convinces me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mamas Don't Let Your Babies

The other day I was talking to Frank, this really nice guy I used to work with. I don't see him all that often, but when I do, he always asks after my family and wants to see pictures of Odessa and hear about what she's doing. And I always say the same thing: she's the cutest kid in the galaxy, charming, intelligent, etc. Sometimes I'll tell him a funny story about how she sometimes wakes up at 5 AM, gets Bryan's cell phone off the dresser and shines the light in his eyes to wake him up, or about the time she whined so much one day she made herself hoarse. Frank doesn't have kids, and when I tell stories like this he chuckles and nods as I talk, but he always wears a kind of bemused, slightly concerned expression.

So the other day when I saw Frank, I was finishing up the relation (which admittedly included some eye rolling) of how Odessa refuses to fall asleep unless her arms are wrapped like baby pythons around my neck and her face is pointed directly at my mouth so she can inhale my deoxygenated air. When I finished Frank looked at me with his head cocked to one side and said, "You know, I can tell you're a great mom--I mean, you even kind of look like one of those old paintings of Mary and Jesus. But sometimes when you tell stories about Odessa, you don't seem.... I mean, you're obviously a wonderful mom, but it sounds like you're kind of tough to please sometimes."

Wait, what? I don't seem what? Like the Virgin Mary? What?

Keep breathing, Jesslyn. A fake Daisy Buchanan laugh. Short, dismissive reference to "The Terrible Twos." Change the subject.

Here's the thing: being somebody's mom is challenging in the way that being the President of the United States is challenging. Everybody's got this picture of George Washington crossing the Delaware in their heads, and how the hell was Jimmy Carter supposed to live up to that? And everybody has a picture of a mother, too: their own mother, Maria Von Trapp, Clair Huxtable, Angelina Jolie, an African lady with a bowl on her head and a six month old tied to her back with a pair of pants. A goddamn 6th century icon of Mary, Mother of Jesus holding a tiny, disfigured man.

I remembered what Frank said to me this morning at 7:30, when the following Thing happened:
  • I found a cockroach egg case clinging to the shower curtain and threw it in the toilet.
  • Odessa saw me do this and promptly tried to go in after it.
  • I picked her up and told her "No, it's dirty in there."
  • She arched her back, twisted her face into a mask of agony and slithered out of my arms and onto the bathroom floor.
  • She busted her bottom lip on the sink on the way down.
  • After I checked that her brains weren't pouring out of her ear, I took five seconds as she sat on the floor screaming to close my eyes and take two deep breaths.
  • Afterwards, I spent a half hour holding her in my lap with a cold compress applied to her mouth while she emptied her piggy bank onto our bed and reinserted the coins, several paper clips, a barrette, a wad of dog stickers and a slightly soiled Curious George BandAid.
  • By the time I dropped her off at school, I needed a glass of wine. It was 9:06 AM. I settled for coffee.
I wonder if Jesus pulled shit like that when he was a little kid. And if he did, I wonder if his mom did everything right and then sang him an allegorical song in a clear, lovely Julie Andrews voice about how toilets are only for poop, pee, ticks, cockroach egg cases and toilet paper.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Words People Hate

Have you ever noticed that there are certain words that nearly everybody hates? Like these ones:
  • moist
  • ointment
  • mouthfeel
  • slacks
  • vomit
  • panties
In general, I like most words. Some more than others, but the way I see it, there's a perfect context for every word--even if it's a gross context. Like vomit? I'm sorry, but that word is awesome. Vomit is perfect.

So, I've recently become more aware of people's word prejudices because I find myself an unwitting soldier in this word jihad. The reason is that Odessa is potty trained now and I happen to call the item of clothing you wear underneath your slacks/skirt/cullotes..."panties."

And so a few times a week, Bryan and I have an exchange that goes something like this:

Me (digging through a basket of clean laundry): Honey, have you seen any of Dessa's panties?
Bryan: Really? Must you?
Me: Are you 8 years old?
Bryan: If you're referring to Odessa's underpants, I think there might be a pair in the drier.

So panties is one word people can't stand. Another is moist. It's like the most reviled word in the English language. And what did moist ever do to anybody? It made your brownies more delicious is what it did. It dampened the warm washcloth the stewardess on the overseas flight just handed your jetlagged ass. It lubricated some shit you needed lubricating. So don't start with me about moist.

And mouthfeel? Well, yeah. That's really disgusting.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hereditary Disability

It's been really dry here lately and Dad called me yesterday morning, mad as a bear. The news had been calling for rain this weekend--a seething, apocalyptic gullywasher that was going to carry off our livestock and force us all onto the roofs of our houses. So dad busted his butt on Sunday to plant all his garlic before the rains came. Instead what happened is it got really cloudy and it drizzled half an inch. Dad blamed the Madison County Board of Education.

"These people," he said. "They move out here to the country and everybody says 'oh, we gotta build'em a new school.' Because the county's 'projected to grow.' But then they build this big, ugly new school building and it sits around nearly empty because the economy crashed and now I'M paying taxes on it. What they should be doing is building all these schools like concourses at the airport with a bunch of docks on it so they can pull trailers up depending on how many kids they got."

Dad's rancor is nearly always misdirected at local government or hack meteorologists.

To tell the truth, I was grumpy yesterday too because I'm related to my dad and our emotions run on sunlight and hugs and Lay's Original potato chips. It took me a little longer to sink into the sweet pit of despair that dad was wallering in when I talked to him in the morning, but it happened. At around 5 in the afternoon, I flopped on the bed (it had started raining again) and I looked out the window at the dripping camellia bush. Bryan came in and asked me what was wrong.

"I don't think anybody likes me," I said.

Bryan laughed and then stopped kind of suddenly like a lawn mower running out of gas.

"Honey, everybody likes you," he said.

"But...." And then I didn't say anything else. Bryan rubbed my back for a while and left me to glare mournfully out at the mist and rain. When the rain let up, I went for a run and felt better. But here's the thing: I'm a psychologically healthy person with a crippling hereditary aversion to cloud cover. I'm not sure what to do about it, other than live someplace very sunny. But I've lived in the desert before and I like it better where it's green. Sunny and green like it usually is here.

The fact is, we're probably going to have to move away sometime next year because Bryan will finish his PhD and have to find a job. He was looking at postings today and he found one in Berkley, California that looked nice.

"I can't live in Berkley," I said. "Too foggy. I'd probably throw myself off a bridge or into a marina or something. Actually, I think there are a lot of bridges there, so I'd probably do that."

Bryan made a face like he was trying to condense all his features into the space right below his eyes.

Although I can accept today that I'm a generally likable person, it must be hard for Bryan to live with someone with my disability.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ethereal Lady Jams

My friend Chester and I love the crap out of each other, but we detest each other's taste in music. We spent an entire week this summer driving around south Georgia in my car with two very well-stocked iPods, and the only things we jointly agreed to listen to were "Edlewiess" performed by Captain Von Trapp and The Very Best of Prince in its entirety. The good news is I now know all the lyrics to "When Doves Cry."

So usually when Chester calls me he puts on this weird Napoleon Dynamite voice and says, 'Hello? What are you doing. Are you listening to some ethereal lady jams?"

To Chester, pretty much every song I've ever heard (even those not written, performed or produced by a lady) automatically classifies as an ethereal lady jam by virtue of the fact that the sound waves were carried to my ear and were processed by my brain. Chester doesn't know very many straight women besides his mom, so he basically looks to me to see what the ladies are into. Not that he's terribly interested.

Well, I listened to this song about 8 times today, and it's a genuine and authentic ethereal lady jam. So, if you're writing a term paper about ELJ and want some primary source material, I suggest you start here. I bet you could also interview Chester.

(BTW: I hate the stupid look on her face, too. But though that video leaves me with the distinct impression that girlfriend has zero self respect, this song very nearly makes up for it.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dream Interpretation: DOs and DON'Ts

I had this dream a couple of weeks ago...but no, wait.

First let me tell you that I know you don't want to hear about my dream. People hate hearing about other people's dreams. Because it's like this:

1) "Hey, I had this crazy/amazing/scary/weird dream last night." {And then they proceed to tell you a vague, boring, disjointed story that has no narrative arc because IT WAS A DAMN DREAM. I get it--I've had dreams before. It seems really cool and important while you're in the middle of it, but most of us just don't have the rhetorical powers to do our dreams justice. So instead, let's just go get some frozen yogurt and gossip about a mutual friend's relationship problems.}

2) "Hey, I had a dream about you last night." {SUBTEXT: "Wherein YOU were doing something gross or weird...let me tell you about it." To which I respond: This is not my problem.}

So anyway, back to my dream:

In the dream I had snuck into my friend Vicki's house and stolen a knife out of her knife block--one that was really dull--with the plan of taking it to the kitchen store to be sharpened as a birthday surprise. So I took the knife to the store and the two guys working there poured vegetable oil on the counter and sort of sloppily sloshed the knife around in the oil, all the time talking to each other about Fantasy Football. When they had finished, one of them went over to a cash register and, "Beep-boop-boup--that will be $106.36."

And you guys, in my dream, I started sobbing. Wailing like I was at a Romanian funeral. But I wasn't really all that upset--it was just that I was hoping that those guys would cut me a deal on their shoddy workmanship because, HEY--a lady's crying over here. But the more I cried, the less concerned they looked. I woke up and there were ACTUAL TEARS streaming down my face. I'm here to tell you it was intense.

So, why the hell did I just tell you that? Because that wasn't just a dream, it was my brain thumping me on the side of the head saying, "Look kid, you just exercised the nuclear option and it didn't make one bit of difference, did it?" And you know, that's been happening to me a lot lately in actual reality. I pull out all the stops, perform the grandest gesture I can think of, and whoever it's directed at is just sort of like, "ehhhhhhh. What else you got?"

All this is probably in my horoscope and stuff, but my dream pointed it out to me instead. So dreaming was actually useful this time! Did it give me the answers to what to do about it? Hell no. But my point is, THIS is dream interpretation, my babies.