Thursday, September 25, 2008

Big Dogs, But Not That Kind

Since my daughter Jamie, the artist, took pictures of her cute little feet in cute little sneakers for her blog (they had polka dots or daisies or something on them, that’s how cute she is), I figured, why can’t I? I have something interesting to say. But before I get to that, here are my feet.

I know. They’re big. They don’t smell or anything though. One time, a friend came over to my house who refused to take her shoes off. I’m still traumatized over that. Everyone knows I’m OCD about my floors and I can’t stand it when people come into my house with their nasty shoes on. It’s not like you can throw your carpet in the washing machine and then hang it out to dry. What? Now I’m supposed to lie down on that carpet and tussle with the dog or sprawl out and watch a movie with the kid after you’ve been walking around in the Wal-Mart parking lot in your new penny loafers? And then you want to come into my house and walk all over my straw-colored sisal, soft as the sheepskin collar on a leather jacket and made out of recycled bottle caps or something? Nah. It’s disgusting. You might as well just keep going and lick the ground while you’re at it.

It never entered my head about smelly feet. My friend started sweating bullets and ignored my carefully and politely worded plea to please just humor me when I asked wouldn’t she rather leave those muddy shoes by the door? She sat there at the kitchen table and I watched her mouth move but I didn’t hear anything she said. I was too busy thinking about the puddle forming underneath her chair. (Believe it or not, there was carpet in that kitchen. It wasn’t actually the kitchen. It was the dinette area; close enough. Hey, we weren’t the ones who installed it—the previous owners put it in. If we would have stayed there, that would have come out with the brass fixtures in the bathrooms and the wallpaper border with the blue geese on it in the spare bedroom.)

Later, someone told me that my friend has stinky feet and you will never, I repeat, never, see her with her shoes off. They’re cute little feet any self-respecting foot fetishist would jump at the chance to massage but that is neither here nor there since you will never see them bare. Like you’ll never see my breasts bare. Which is probably why they stink, if you ask me. Not my breasts. Her feet. They never get any air. And if they’re constantly encased in that cheap crap they try to get us to believe is leather that comes from China but looks like plastic, sometimes called pleather, well, no wonder.

Which led me to the conclusion that there are a lot worse things than having big dogs. Clodhoppers, banana boats, hoofs, puppies, whatever you want to call them. But I digress. The point of this story is to show you my new Converses. It appears, at 48-years-old, I am still happening. I told the salesgirl to bring out two pairs—a seven and a ten, one for Kelly and one for me. Kelly has big feet too. The poor kid doesn’t have a chance. Kurt’s a size twelve and I’m an eight but nine’s so comfortable I buy a ten. Alright, that’s not entirely true anymore. There have been occasions where I found a ten-and-a-half and bought them. Once I even happened upon an eleven and when no one was looking, tried them on. Suddenly, birds were singing and horns were blaring. They were comfortable!

I heard your feet, nose and ears never stop growing. They even keep growing after you’re dead. If that’s true, I would hate to be one of those people who have the job of exhuming bodies when the cops suspect the wrong person is buried there. Dead people with big feet, noses and ears has got to be a horror story. What kind of sick joke is that anyway? The things you want small, keep growing? Why can’t my breasts keep growing? Or even my hair? (Did you know that after a while, hair gets old, breaks off and won’t grow any longer depending on things like genetics and diet? It looks like it stopped growing but it’s actually just breaking off at a certain spot. My hair has never gotten past the middle of my back no matter how much I wanted to be a blonde Crystal Gale when I was sixteen. I had visions of swinging it to and fro and brushing it back with my pinky but no go.)

At any rate, I felt like the Converses took ten years off me. I told the salesgirl I’d wear them home and put my old grandma shoes in the box. Then, feeling cocky, I went into Hot Topic. But you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. I don’t think lime green corsets with black lace edges and skulls-and-crossbones designs would look good on me. I just don’t have the skin tone.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Hardworking Man

Kurt is building me a riding arena. He’s been chipping away at it, literally chipping away, for a couple of months. Every day he’d go out there after work and dig a little bit more. Even though our property is considered level land around here, it’s not. Flat land is what I had in Oklahoma where you could drop a marble and it wouldn’t roll unless the wind was blowing. Or even what I had in New Jersey where you couldn’t tell if something was off without getting out the level. Flat land here means sloping. Not rolling. But it’s not really flat either.

Since riding arenas have to be flat, especially for barrel racing, we picked the flattest spot on the property that we could find, which, luckily, happened to be in the most convenient place, right behind the round pen and the tobacco shed, not far from the barn, and next to a telephone pole where we will install a light someday for night riding. But it still needed to be leveled and so Kurt moved the earth on his bright orange Kubota. He bought metal teeth for the bucket and went out there every chance he got. He dug into the side of the slanted field, as hard as cement, and in big puffs of dust. Everything is hard and dry since we’ve been in a drought. Inch by inch he dug; carving really. Curls of striated clay and rocks filled his bucket and then he drove over to the other side and dumped it. Back and forth, back and forth. On the weekends, he spent whole days out there. When he came in at night, he was red from exertion and clay. All you could see were the whites of his eyes. I felt sorry for him, doing all this for me. But he said he was on a mission.

It took a couple of weeks to get it flat. Men came over for one thing or another, looked back and forth from Kurt’s tractor to the raw earth arena, obviously newly excavated, and whistled. They’d say, “He didn’t do that with that tractor, did he?” Someone had written “Wash Me,” and a smiley face in the red dust on the hydraulic arm and dried mud caked the tires like a ruffled collar. I’d proudly say that, yes, he sure did. It was the work most people hire bulldozers to do. It was the work of ten men. It was a major excavation job and Kurt did it all by himself.

After he got it all level, he started putting up the fence. The posts were even more difficult than the digging because of the drought. Even though he rented a gas-powered post-hole digger and broke down and hired another guy to help him (against his better judgment, being the super man that he is), the dirt was so hard that they spent one full day putting in half a dozen posts and broke the bit at one point and the belt at another. The earth, like concrete, ripped the thing apart and they had to stop and wait for rain before they could continue.

After the rain and the posts were in, the rails went pretty fast. Kurt worked the whole weekend nailing up the boards and got three quarters of it done before he ran out of wood. He threw all the scrap wood into the back of the pickup truck and when I went down to the Minute Market to get some milk, I stopped at the Dumpsters to get rid of all the trash. I backed the truck up to the container and climbed into the bed so I could throw the pieces of wood inside. I was up there flinging, when another car pulled up beside me and a lady with a grey ponytail and a faded sweatshirt with a picture of a Labrador retriever on it, got out and came over to my truck. She reached for the grain bag that was filled with scrap and garbage from the barn and was leaning in the corner of the bed of the truck.

“Does this go?” she asked. I stood up.

I was surprised. I was surprised that it was a woman offering to help me. Nine times out of ten when I go down to the Dumpsters to bring our garbage, if a man is there, he will reach into my truck and help me. And believe me, it’s not because I’m some hot mama down there all dolled up in my Cruel Girl jeans with my little pink tank that says, “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.” No. When I go down to the Dumpsters it’s usually in the morning after cleaning manure, in the same kind of faded sweatshirt this lady was wearing, maybe in a pair of bleach-splattered sweatpants, make-up-less, and hair all discombobulated, on the verge of turning into dreadlocks. Unrecognizable except to those who are on an intimate basis with me and know my truck with the little barrel racer sticker in the window, it’s not pretty. Things can get ugly on the farm. But guys will help as a matter of course. Not because they think you’re hot; just because it’s the gentlemanly thing to do. Especially country guys who call you ma’am and whatnot. But this was a woman.

“Yes, that goes,” I said. “Thank you.”

She pulled it out and hauled it into the Dumpster where it landed with a big thud and busted open. Then she climbed up onto my bumper and jumped into the bed with me. “I’ll help,” she said.

“Oh, you don’t have to,” I said, embarrassed.

Why am I embarrassed when someone does something nice for me anyway?

She reached down and gathered up coils of plastic binding and empty Mountain Dew cans and tossed them. She was moving fast so I moved faster to keep up with her. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk.

“Don’t matter none whether we got us a man or not,” she said. “Us women’s got to do things us-selves sometimes. Can’t count on no man to do it for you. Bunch a bums.”

She hefted a broken post like a torpedo. Boom!

I didn’t know what to say. My husband worked all weekend long building me a place to play with my horses. He was back there right now mixing up cement. You could write your name in the dirt on his back.

“I know what you mean,” I said. “Lazy bastards.”

“Ain’t that the truth.”

Kelly on Doc in the arena

Friday, September 12, 2008

What I Like About Being a Jersey Girl

Since I’ve been accused of picking on New Jersey, I promised I would write some nice things about my home state. Here are a dozen things I like:

1. Horseshoe crabs. What other place has a crab like this? This is the king daddy of crabs. They look like prehistoric helmets. They might scare you, but unlike regular crabs, they are really very gentle and I’ve never been bit or pinched by one even though I’ve carried hundreds of them to safety, back to the water, by that tail thingamajig they have.

2. Open-mindedness and tolerance. Which one depends on how you really feel about the person and the thing he does or is, but either way, you’re not going to get your ass up about someone who’s different than you. Gays don’t rattle us. Cross-dressers, transsexuals, transsexuals who are gay, racially-mixed families, people with Down syndrome, Parkinson’s disease or muscular dystrophy, turban-wearing Turkish next door neighbors, turkeys (as in idiots), go-go dancers, unwed mothers, fathers with custody, women who are never having children by choice, women bosses, Unitarians, Libertarians, Presbyterians, Wicca worshipers, tattooed freaks with pierced eyebrows and wooden disks in their earlobes, people who are better-looking than us and older women with younger men—none of it makes us blink an eye and any of them would be welcome to come home for dinner. Well, we’d try to avoid inviting the idiot. And maybe the chick who’s better-looking than us.

3. There’s a tavern on every corner. Not a bar. A tavern. The old kind, with a diamond-shaped window in the door, dusty red-and-white floor tiles and a jukebox with songs like, “Make the World Go Away,” “The Summer Wind,” and “Mack the Knife.” Some taverns of note include The Barrel Tavern in Jersey City, The Wagon Wheel in Keansburg, Backstadt’s in East Keansburg, The Cambridge Inn in Union Beach, and any American Legion or VFW hall whose bartender knows what a highball is and that has a shuffleboard machine.

4. The energy. Whenever I go up there, as soon as I get close, like the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I start to feel excited like I had too many cups of 24-hour diner coffee and I better hurry because I’m missing something. I used to feel the same way going over the George Washington Bridge or through the Lincoln Tunnel. Or when finding my seat at an Aerosmith concert. Or a peep show. There’s action up there. (Okay, I’m only kidding about the peep show.)

5. And that’s right. Diners. There are no diners down here. I miss French fries with mozzarella cheese and brown gravy at three in the morning in a diner with Greek decor, miniature jukeboxes attached to the wall over chrome napkin dispensers, and waitresses who call you hon and keep pouring the coffee whether you want it or not. You always want it.

6. Speaking of food, there’s no food like Jersey food but everyone knows that, don’t they? However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it because it’s one of the things I miss the most. Jersey has real Italian food loaded with garlic, fresh parmesan cheese and tomato sauce, sometimes called gravy, that simmers all day with basil and oregano. Forget that slop down here that has too much sugar like watered-down ketchup. It’s almost as bad as jar sauce. In Jersey there’s real pizza and real subs (as opposed to the fake stuff down here), cannolis lightly dusted with powdered sugar hand-cranked out of an aluminum sifter, Napoleons, biscotti and anisette cookies all from the Italian bakery (those Italians again), jelly donuts, zeppolis and French fries with vinegar from the boardwalk, French bread, Italian bread, bagels, hard rolls, pork roll, pork roll-egg-and-cheese on a hard roll, salami with peppercorns in it, Philly cheese-steak, Sabrette hot dogs with red onions, fluke, and White Castle hamburgers. Need I say more?

7. Anything you want, you can get. A job. Drugs. Rolfed. Tickets to see Hannah Montana or Air Supply—whatever floats your boat. A midwife. A reiki instructor. A pizza delivered. A taxi. Flying lessons. Three-hundred dollar ostrich-skin purple boots with a chunky heel and pointy toe. Lemon zest. (Edited to add—skip what I said about the drugs—this is supposed to be good stuff about Jersey. In fact, disregard the Hannah Montana mention too—no offense Kelly.)

8. Garage Sales. It’s garage sale heaven. Not because there are so many antiques up there. The country with its old farmhouses has the corner on that. No, it’s not the quality of the loot you can find but the quantity. It’s a numbers game. On any given weekend, weather permitting, many of the people who live in the one hundred-and-something matching houses in the new development down the road called Evergreen Estates or Three Oaks Manor, whatever, inspired by shows on HGTV, get the same idea—get rid of the junk. I furnished my whole house on modern garage sale when I was living in Jersey due to the invention of closet organizers alone. Check out my 1940s yellow kitchen table with chrome legs that I got for twenty bucks, Kelly’s red cowboy boots and the dual VCR you can use to make illegal copies of rented videos.

9. The people are good-looking. They’re slim, attractive and up-to-date. I don’t know if it’s the expensive haircuts, nail salon appointments, access to malls or what, but they’re slick like the display in a storefront window. Heck, I just found out what a Coach bag was, never mind carrying one. Jen would probably reprimand me for this too; accuse me of caring too much about what’s on the outside of a person. But it’s not true. Because pretentiousness and vanity is also one of the things I hate. It’s a love hate relationship. Here’s my position about our outer packaging—I’m always going to be a platinum blonde but I’m never going to get a face lift. There’s a fine line…Well, unless I run into big bucks, like hit the lottery or something.

10. People are educated about their animals up there. All dogs and cats get fixed. I hadn’t seen testicles for so long that I forgot they existed on the canine variety until I moved down here. When I spotted my first pair, the hound’s junk was swinging to and fro for everyone to see and I thought I was back in the caveman days. I might as well have been looking at two heads and not two balls, that’s how weird it was. And red-necky. But not in a good way red-necky.

11. This is cliché but I have to include the boardwalk. Especially the Keansburg Boardwalk. It doesn’t really have boards but it has seagulls, rock candy, and plastic buckets and shovels and rubber flip-flops for sale in the variety store on the corner. Clicking, ticking wheels lure you to games of chance where you can bet on names like Ike, Hal or Mom and win Sponge Bob Square Pants pillows and pictures of the New York skyline, with or without the twin towers, in shiny brass frames. There is Madam Marie who recently passed away in her nineties, God rest her soul, and who scammed, uh, removed the hex from my friend for a mere two-hundred dollars and who was immortalized by Bruce Springsteen along with a girl named Sandy on his Greetings From Asbury Park album. There are bumper cars with greasy rods that come out of the back and skim the ceiling causing sparks and making nervous children worry about electrocution, the Tilt-A-Whirl, skeeball, water gun games which I always win, and the dreaded spook-house. And when you get hungry, you can go and have a sausage-and-peppers sandwich and freshly squeezed lemonade in a wax cup.

12. The people up there tell it like it is. (Hence, the shameless mention of dog balls.) If you ask me, it’s better than pussyfooting around or being polite to a person’s face and then gossiping all over town about them the minute they turn their back. Or whispering about the unmentionables when what they should be embarrassed about is the fact that the dog even has them in the first place! In Jersey, they’ll tell you. Oh yeah. And if you don’t like it, too bad. Keep it up and you might get the middle finger.