Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cat Bath

I’m about to bring out a new condo listing and I’ve offered my client a little extra help because he’s a man living on his own without a helpmate and he’s out of state at the moment helping his father who is also a man living on his own without a helpmate.

A helpmate wipes down the kitchen counter, gathers the recycling, notices the PG&E bill is late, reattaches the dryer hose, takes the car to be washed, talks to the neighbors about the clanging gate, goes to the hardware store for a new toilet flange, empties the dishwasher, sweeps the soot from the front stairs.

The helpmate performs these tasks while you strain penne pasta, remove the dripping compost, balance the checkbook, procure washable placemats, clean the chocolate from around the cabinet handles, hang the delicates to dry, write a thank -you note, toss the moldy strawberries, scrub the floor of the shower.

I’ve been helping my bachelor client by having keys made and meeting the housecleaner and letting the technician in to reverse the handle on the new fridge door. As a matter of fact, at this moment, I’m sitting on the living room sofa in my new listing enjoying a summer-grey view of Ashbury Heights, while the window washer washes the windows. I’m hearing squeegee squeaks, water dripping and the thunk of a bucket on the floor.

There’s a cat in the window across the street. Actually, I’m not sure it’s a cat because I can’t quite see it, but its movements suggest a cat. Some flicks and flashes, languorous stretching, burst of orange fur. Or is it someone washing their hands at the sink? Yes. Someone is at the sink. Someone washing a cat?

Before I sat down here on the couch I peeled the blue plastic off the new stainless refrigerator and stove in the kitchen. I’m sitting because it was exhausting! I swear it took 30 minutes of carefully distributing the weight of my fingers on the edge of the film and then pulling – slowly, evenly and firmly. It was a lot like removing the barcode label from the glass front of a picture frame. One false move and you’re hosed. If it comes off clean, you’re a hero.

I need to remember to bring over some WD40 later, in order to clean up the fingerprints on the stainless surface. Never, ever buy stainless appliances is my advice: Unless you can afford to hire a full-time stainless cleaner or unless you appreciate that quaint smudgy spattered look. Then again, you could just leave the factory plastic wrap in place. It’s actually rather striking, reminiscent of a robins-egg-blue Frigidaire.

Now, back to the window across the way: Is he really washing a cat?

Monday, August 10, 2009


On the way to my son’s dermatology appointment he said “She’ll just shrug when she sees me and she’ll say it’s not so bad.”

His acne, that is, and I knew he was right. The doctor was going to say it was improving and that patience was required. My son would probably be disappointed, because he wanted the bomb, the cure, the magic. Like back when there were no STDs – just VD and it could be taken care of with a pill.

I sat in the waiting room wondering what skin conditions had brought those people to the dermatologist. Their faces looked fine. A bad rash? Scabies? The heartbreak of psoriasis? Bumps, scars, fissures, pits, scrapes, nits, protrusions, cysts, melanoma? One of those ghastly conditions pictured in a medical book? Every time I get an itch I consult that book so I’m well acquainted with the photographs.

I’ve had my share of skin problems. Acne. Contact dermatitis. Poison ivy. Rosacea. Hives after a night of adventure when I was 18: I woke up writhing, with welts all over my body for the first and only time in my life. I was sure it was brought on by doing it with a boy I’d just met at a bar, or using a fake i.d. to get into the bar, or drinking mass quantities of alcohol at the bar. This is the punishment I deserve, I decided, for screwing strangers and guzzling Singapore Slings.

The doctor prescribed some new cream for my boy and we walked to the pharmacy, where I looked around and wondered exactly what had brought all these people to the drug store. What, I considered, were their stories? Would I really want to know? Or would it be too upsetting?

After the little box of balm was paid for, we stepped into the sunshine. My son was blinking and looking up at the blue sky day. I was pretty sure he wished he didn’t have to go to school.

“You know, here I am worrying about my acne, just a normal part of life,” he said, “and there were all those other people coming in for their problems. They probably had worse problems than me. It makes you think, huh?”

He smiled and that cute little dimple of his appeared among the zits. I thought to myself (but didn’t say), “Gosh, you are a handsome young man!”

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Life During Wartime

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance, I’m getting’ used to it now. (Life During Wartime, Talking Heads)

I’m not really getting used to it. As in, I haven’t accepted it. But I’ve been hearing a lot of it lately since we moved from our house to a condo. Our television is no longer sequestered on a separate floor. It’s smack in the middle of the living room.

Rat a tat tat. Bursts of bullets. Blunt explosions. Shouted orders. Cries of anguish. Urgent orchestral strings. My boys transfixed with their PS3 controls glued to their fingers and thumbs.

A girlfriend of mine told me recently that her boys (same ages as mine) don’t play video games anymore. Been there, done that. They started at a younger age, while we chose not to open this particular Pandora’s Box until the middle-school years.

So now I’m cooking with my ipod on or hiding in the bedroom or going for another walk in the park. And when it really gets to be too much, I stand in front of the TV and make a time-out sign with my hands while my boys cry in anguish.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I'm Just a Love Machine

An earworm is trying to eat its way out of my brain. That’s earworm as in Ohrwurm which, according to Wikipedia, means "music being stuck in one's head” in German.

The Miracles (post-Smokey Robinson) are singing and dancing all over my cerebellum, punctuating the inane lyrics to Love Machine: “I’m just a love machine, and I won’t work for nobody but you.”

Comes a memory of a night on the leather couch in our basement den on Laurel Street, circa 1975. I was making out with the baddest of the bad boys at Harrisonburg High: M. J. Durell. This boy and I had no business together except monkey business. He had eyes green like hard candy and a crooked nose that made him tough and tender all at once. And I knew that he knew exactly what he wanted.

Dark. Late. Stoned. Horny. My parents off at a party. “Midnight Special” droning on the television. M. J.’s fingers hooking around the crotch of my cotton panties. My jeans out of reach under the coffee table. Me thinking maybe it’s time. Maybe this is what I want.

I don’t remember the exact words or the exact moves. It’s all murky mossy after 34 years underwater. But he had a rubber, and I looked away at Dad's recliner while he put it on. Then he was over me, breathing loudly and trying to get his thing in me.

That’s when The Miracles intervened, singing urgently from within the TV: “I’m just a love machine, and I won’t work for nobody but you. Yeah, baby, I’m just a love machine. A hugging, kissing fiend…”

The insistent beat, the burning vocals, calling, calling to me. Gosh, I thought, as M. J. adjusted and tried again, I’m not just a love machine. I won’t work for nobody. Not you. Not now. It's not too late to change my mind. It's not too late to say no.

He never called me again after that.