Friday, June 26, 2009

"Mama-say Mama-sah Mama-kusan!"

Pretty Young THING

Okay, I have to echo every person I hear in the media and say that Michael Jackson's music has been a soundtrack of my life. My sister Angela and I were hooked on his music from the first time we watched that oh so cheesy Jackson Five cartoon that came out in the early 70s, courtesy of Bass-Rankin, the folks who brought you Rudolph & the Snow Miser ( Michael was so cute and so talented. I felt very disloyal, liking him more than I liked Donny Osmond. But there you have it. I even saw "The Wiz." Ouch.

Even the songs we didn't like somehow loom large for us. For example, Angela still tortures me by singing that creepy song "Ben," which was all about an evil rat. I'm serious. Look it up if you don't believe me. ( I liked "Off the Wall" but it was the "Thriller" album that really got me. Ange was working at Miller Outpost at the time and used some of her money to get us MTV. This was 1982 and the video world was exploding. Sure bands like Journey just filmed themselves playing in an abandoned wherehouse, but cutting edge groups knew this medium could change everything. And Michael Jackson was the king.

I remember going to my girlfriend Amy's house in December 1983 when MTV was premiering the "Thriller" video/mini movie. We watched it over and over and had the dance memorized by the next day. [see guide below] I still do a great zombie and thoroughly embarrassed my kids whenever I hear that song. Or "Beat It." Or "The Way You Make Me Feel." Michael makes me dance. And dancing makes me happy.

And growing up in LA, Michael Jackson was more than just a pop legend, he was a local boy, a Jehovah's Witness who just might show up at your door with a "Watchtower" pamphlet, dressed in a yellow suit with a matching yellow umbrella even though it was June. [I am still so jealous that he came to Amy's house. She even got a picture of the back of his Jheri curled head.] I once fought over a pair of cowboy boots with his baby sister Janet, Miss Jackson if you're nasty (I won). Here is a photo from 1984 that captures the times so well. I'm flanked by Stephanie & Amy and we are on our way to go dancing at some skanky club in Santa Monica or Hollywood.

Of course his whole freakiness took over, surgery after surgery, monkeys and Elephant Man bones and then feeling so embarrassed for Lisa Marie Presley (She had no idea?!) and then the baby dangling incident. Seriously? Top it off with the whole Peter Pan lusting after the Lost Boys and he lost us. We distanced ourselves. We called him Wacko Jacko equated him with the National Enquirer. But alone in our cars, we still sang along, still wanted to HEAR his music if not SEE his unrecognizable face wearing masks long before the swine flu made them vogue.

Now that he's gone, it'll be easier to remember the good times.

One last link that kills me every time I see it. It's from the show Psych about a fake detective. This one they go undercover on an American Idolesque show and perform "Shout" from Tears for Fears but bring a Jacko quality to it. It reminds me why I stayed up all night watching MTV, waiting for "Beat It" to come on. Sham-on!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Father's Day Cards: When You Don't Care Enough to Send the Very Best

I heard a comedian once doing a bit about going to buy a birthday card and being freaked out by the overabundant variety of categories. Aside from the obvious birthday, wedding, anniversary and thank you cards, he went on to mention wacko categories like "I'm sorry your cat died of feline AIDS" cards and "Congratulations on the new hairpiece" cards. Ha ha. And I admit there are some odd occasions in the stacks of greeting cards. But today I had the opposite experience, and stared at rack after rack of cards and couldn't find anything that fit.

As you all know it's Father's Day this Sunday. Just ten years ago I had to buy for 6 dads/grandpas, and now I'm down to 2. Aside from Dave (best dad ever, whoot whoot) I also eagerly get a card for Russ, Dave's mom's husband who is the only grandpa my kids really know. My dad passed away last year and had been in poor health for a while and couldn't really visit. The kids know him in pictures, but don't KNOW him. And Dave hasn't talked to his dad in years. Estranged may be the term, if you assume indifference and not enmity on Dave's part.

I found a wacky one for Dave and a lovely one for Russ, and then, for nostalgia, tried to figure out what I would have sent to my dad. I always went to the funny ones, because while I could buy my grandpa one with a long poems about sacrifice and heroes and unconditional love and mean it, my relationship with my dad wasn't close enough for that. We were more comfortable navigating this distance between us with humor. It took a few tries but there it was. Something about a TV remote. It conveyed affectionate teasing. No false gushing. I mentally sent it heavenward and turned to go.

Then my damn inner-Christian had to get involved. "You really should send a card to Dave's dad. It would mean a lot to him." Sigh. "Fine," I said to Nice Heather. "I'll do it. But I won't lie." I can't buy a card unless I mean every word of it. So I set out to find a card that would wish him a happy Father's Day but NOT present sentiments that we did not feel. I knew the "For My Father" ones with fishing poles were out. I switched to "Grandpa" thinking that would be safer. But they all said stuff like, "We love you grandpa you are so fun you make me feel like number one." Well, my kids couldn't pick him out of a line up, so that's out. Under the "For Everyone" category, the cards all expressed deep regard and respect for the type of man he was. This is where I got one for Russ. But Dave's dad is literally and figuratively not in the same category. I was drawn to a Darth Vadar one (if you know the history it's obvious why), but the inside said, "To a Dad who's out of this world!!!!" Ummm nope.

Frustrated (and running late) I went around to another aisle in the more generic "Thinking of You" and "Friend" sections, hoping to even find a "blank inside" option. Way way too much gushing. Where are the cards that acknowledge someone as part of our lives without breaking into "Wind Beneath My Wings?"

I just can't believe we are alone in our ambivalence towards some key players in our lives, so here are some section headings I'd like to see Hallmark add to its Father's Day line: "Emotionally Absent Dad: Even though you loved golf/work/church more than me, you never beat me. Thanks." or "Sperm Donor: Thanks for the thick head of hair!" or "Good Enough Dad: You did your best and I'm not too screwed up" or "Feeling Magnanimous: Thanks for being there during a chunk of my life before abandoning us all--Nobody's mad (expect Mom)!" or "Drunk Daddy: Without the sauce you rocked!" Maybe Shoebox could do funny cartoons about garnishing wages or meeting the "other" family. And those new musical ones could open up and play "Cats in the Cradle."

I left the store feeling really bad. I want to acknowledge the man who donated half his genetics to my sweet Dave, who at one time was a dear friend to me, who, if he only made an effort, could be a true (and not just biological) Grandpa to my kids. Maybe I should have looked in the "Condolences" section, because honestly, he would be devastated if he knew how much awesomeness he was missing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Zen Citrus, Indians, & Neon Casts

Jonah's school requires several hours of community service each semester, and we decided to finish them off with a good old fashioned lemonade stand last Saturday. All proceeds would be donated to Heifer International which gives livestock to folks in developing countries who then raise them and give in kind to others. Everyone was so excited! The kids made the signs, the lemonade (or lemonaid) as we so cleverly spelled it), and set up shop around the corner (our street is too busy). Bea was the money collector, Millie and Georgia took turns pouring, and Jonah, who had a friend over, quickly abandoned the venture. (In return I'm making him do their chores this weekend.) Business was slow at first but picked up.

At one point I left the stand to Dave and the girls and ran back to the house. I had to grab my camera and capture a bit of the magic. My sister Angela and I ran endless lemonade stands, often the door to door variety aided by our red wagon. And whenever I see kids selling homemade drinks, I feel compelled to stop and support them. It's like reaching back in time and reconnecting with my 5 year old self. Life feels simpler, happier and more fun. I am obviously not alone in my nostalgia; most of the people who stopped were so delighted to see others reenacting some forgotten part of their childhood. So it seemed very appropriate when I was heading back to the girls that I misread the sign we'd put up.

As you can see, the "H" in "charity" sort of looks like an "L," which made me read it "Lemonaid for Clarity." Seeing my kids having so much fun raising money to buy rabbits and ducks for kids in far away places made me teary. And when Dave showed up, he got so into it he extended our "business hours" an extra 90 minutes just for the pleasure of handing over cold drinks to strangers. Even the mean neighbor coming over and accusing us of messing up her rock wall (which we didn't) couldn't mess with my high.
But our "high" could also be from all the drugs we're taking. Dave & I both have been sick--he with flu & pneumonia, me with flu & bronchitis. We fight over the codeine laced cough syrup. Luckily the kids are all in good places right now and very happy. Knock on wood.

Here is Jonah a couple months ago at his birthday. He has been amazingly helpful to me, especially when Dave travels. We get the girls to bed and giggle together watching "Malcolm in the Middle."

Georgia begged me to sign her up for softball. I was reluctant after two seasons of her begging to do soccer and then REFUSING to ever go on the field. But she loves it. Loves the chanting at the opposing team, loves playing catcher ("best position ever"), loves her purple glove, loves eating peanuts while on the bench. ("You can throw the shells on the ground!!!")

Millie broke her ankle two weeks ago on the trampoline (technically Jonah and Bekah broke her ankle but nobody's mad). So she rightfully is entitled to be grumpy but it's like she won some handicapped lottery. She LOVES her cast. She LOVES that the nurse insisted Millie use the wheelchair while at school. She LOVES the attention and still wears her E.R. bracelet. She has never been more pleasant. If I'd known an injury could turn her into Mary Sunshine, I'd of busted her foot years ago.

And here is Bea with her buddy Emmy, turning cream cheese into "nake-up." She is getting so grown up and it breaks my heart a little. Poor thing will always be my baby.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Nobody's Mad..."

Several years ago we went on a trip with Dave's sister Steph and her husband Jeff. There she introduced me to one of my favorite phrases, "nobody's mad." She'd use it in potentially tense situations where she was trying to get/give information without escalating emotions. For example: "Nobody's mad, but did we just miss our exit?" "Nobody's mad, I think we forgot your mom's birthday." "Nobody's mad, but that's my Diet Coke you're drinking and I have the swine flu."

Language works on so many levels. So while on the literal level a question like, "Did you feed the kids?" means "have the children eaten?" But for many of us, the question is less about food and more about accusation and blame: "You didn't feed the kids did you, even though I asked you to but of course if I want anything done right I have to do it myself." But sometimes you really ARE just trying to get the information, no judgement. Nobody IS mad.

So Dave and I use this phrase all the time, and the kids have adopted it. Now when Bea spills/breaks/ruins something, the first words out of her toddler mouth are "You are not mad. No one is mad, right mama?" The other day she knocked something over at Dindy's house and looked at her with a little panic and said, "Nobody's mad, right?" It's actually very funny when I am mad and tell her so. She kind of freaks out. Her next line is, "My [primary] teacher says Jesus says you can't be mad or he'll be mad!"

Then there is my mother who, when I tried to explain the phrase to her last Thanksgiving, could not grasp it. "So if I'm making the gravy and run out of something, I'll say, 'Is there more corn starch because the container is empty. Nobody's mad.'" And my mom said, "Oh so you ARE mad." "No, I may be frustrated or sad, but I don't want that to be misconstrued as anger. Get it?" "Yes. You're mad." At this point I WAS mad because she is so passive aggressive she would state the exact opposite of her feelings just to grind in the guilt. And the phrase can be used as a nice little shiv for emotional stabbing. One of my girlfriends used this phrase a lot in the early years of her marriage. She'd end an argument by saying, "I'm not mad, I just know you better now." Ouch ow owie. I love it. And have used it on occasion myself.

The phrase is catchy, and now I hear Stephanie's words coming out of dozens of people's mouths. Just last month a friend used it when speaking at a baptism "Nobody's mad that it took you 15 years to make this decision" (okay, so maybe she was a tiny ticked off but still, she trying NOT to be mad, and that counts for something). Another friend used it while we were out to dinner when the waiter got the drink order mixed up (when I say drink order I mean Diet Coke with or without lemon) as a way to get things fixed but let the guy know that it wasn't a big deal. And I used it at the ER when trying to figure out how much longer it would take for radiology to read Millie's ankle x-rays (Jonah & Becca doubled bounced her on the trampoline but nobody's mad).

Maybe I'm deluding myself, but I swear I've had smoother interactions since learning this phrase. It allows you to be direct without being a jerk. Unless of course, you really are mad.