Thursday, July 27, 2006

Winning isn't everything, it's the ONLY thing

How comfortable are you with competitiveness? Do you forge ahead in any game, stepping on every toe, eyes on the brass ring, savoring the taste of victory in your mouth and doing a little happy dance on the bodies of your vanquished foes? Or do you hold back just a little, afraid you'll hurt someone’s feelings, and credit your win to the luck of the draw.

If you do the former, you’re probably a man. If you do the latter, you’re most likely a woman.

There’s no polite way to say it: I suck at sports and I’ve never been Numero Uno at cerebral activities. But I can play a mean game of Scrabble, and, more importantly, I love the game. Over the years I’ve had a few Scrabble buddies who pushed me to play harder and better. I watched Word Wars about true Scrabble champions, and I’m well-adjusted enough to be grateful I’ll never be that good. The game has always entertained me, and I really can’t remember learning how to play. I never studied any strategy guides or surfed the net to look up advice.

Now I’ve got a new Scrabble buddy, and he’s really pushing me to get better. For the first time, I picked up a book called Everything Scrabble, and spent an entire weekend working through anagrams, looking at parallel plays, memorizing acceptable 2-letter words -– in short, I gloried in the world of the word geek.

In my competitive frenzy, I noticed something. The nature of competition cropped up in several of the books I’m currently reading. I first came across a discussion of it in The girls of summer, in which Coach Anson Dorrance talks about the difficulties of making competitiveness not only socially acceptable for the members of the U.S. women's soccer team, but admirable.

Our society trains women to be acquiescent and is fundamentally at odds with the culture of competition in general and athletics in particular. Women tend to be motivated differently than men; for women, relationships mean as much as competition. Aha! I said to myself. This is why I always fret after playing a game, hoping I didn’t crush anyone’s self-esteem or destroy a fragile psyche.

Then, I read of another concept in a book by local author, Allyn Mitchell Evans. She explores the difficulties women have in breaking free of male-dominated cultural roles. Like her, I was brought up with Southern cultural imperatives: be nice, don't call attention to yourself, remember your manners, mask your own desires while putting others before you. These instructions came from my parents, which were passed down from their parents. Once you're accustomed to wearing a mask, it's not easy to remove it.

Maybe one day I’ll be comfortable with my desire to crush my Scrabble opponents. Perhaps I’ll be able to walk away from a game, after having bluffed everyone into accepting a made-up two-letter like “Za” (for a double word score, no less), and not have to justify it internally on the 20-minute ride back home.

Until then, I’ll keep playing. And studying. And, hopefully, winning!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Wrapped in plastic

On Saturday, I went to pick up my grandmother for lunch. Arriving at the house, I found the vacuum waiting for me. "Would you mind?" my mother asked. "I've already picked up all the mats, so it will be easy!"

My mother has about 457 floor mats scattered around her home. She's also covered each chair and sofa with a blanket or throw of some kind. There's little chance a bare foot or pant-covered thigh will touch original carpet or upholstery. What is her deal with keeping furniture pristine?

This must be something inherited from the previous thrifty (some might say cheapskate) generation. Each summer during the 1970s, we would travel to Arkansas to visit my dad's parents. We kids would groan to ourselves. None of us liked going. A visit to the Arkansas clan was never fun. It was always hot, and the mosquitoes were bad. The relatives were all ancient, and went to bed at 7 o'clock. We had to do lots of yard work and we couldn't sit on the furniture.

That's right. We weren't allowed on the furniture. Grandma Lena had purchased a new couch in 1965. Ten years later, it still looked brand new. And it was still covered in the plastic it had been wrapped in at the factory.

We used to make a game out of it -- see which one of us could sit on it for the longest amount of time. It was the single highlight of our dreary day.

The air hung heavy with humidity and the smell of fried food. Grandma Lena would only turn the air conditioner on when the preacher came by for a visit. The rest of the time she used ancient fans to push the heat around. My brother would sneak into the living room while my sister and I played dominoes at the big dining room table. Sure enough, tiny Grandma Lena would swat him on the leg and chase him out of the room.

"Get off my couch!"

Her ear was tuned to the sound of crinkling plastic. One night, as I sat watching an episode of Little House on the Prairie, I slid under the coffee table where it was cooler, lying on my belly. One of my feet happened to graze the bottom of the sofa, and the plastic gave a low moan.

"Get off my couch!"

My sister was the worst offender. She was the favorite of the Arkansas clan, as she most resembled that side of the family. Her status gave her temporary immunity, but there was only so much sofa sitting Grandma Lena could handle. She'd glare at my sister, her hands crossed over her chest in disapproval, until the tension was unbearable. Finally my sister could stand it no longer, and she'd hop off and run with me to the front porch. We'd sit in the wooden swing, swatting skeeters and making footprints on the wall, laughing at how silly it all was.

Grandma Lena's gone now, but I'll bet that couch is still out there somewhere. I wonder who finally took off the plastic and plopped down on it, pressing flesh to fabric, admiring the sheen of the pristine material. I wonder if it still smelled new.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Head wound Harry

It's the late night call all parents dread.

"Don't worry, he's all right. Just a little flesh wound."

My brother was on the other end of the line, his voice careful and calm, telling us that Sport was in the emergency room. He'd tripped over some firewood and fallen onto the flagstone, tearing a gash into his left arm. He was going to need stitches, and the doctor wanted to talk to us.

I passed the phone to SO. I could feel panic setting in and I didn't want to embarrass myself, as I've already got a reputation for being overly emotional. As he relayed our insurance information to the hospital receptionist, I had flashbacks to other incidents. With kids, you're always poised on the edge of disaster, no matter how careful you try to be. Any wisdom you try to pass on is ignored; instructions are forgotten; warnings are dismissed. Kids run pell mell into danger. Nine times out of ten, they're fine. But when danger catches up with them, it breaks your heart.

LegoGuy is 3 years old. He's got his bike helmet on and is slowly riding his tricycle down the driveway. He hits a patch of gravel and flies over the handlebars, knocking a front tooth out on the pavement. Blood is all over his face, lip puffed up like a French pastry.

Now he's a year older and running across a field. He falls hard on a twig and a piece of wood is lodged deep in his leg. It gets infected and has to be removed. The doctor is digging it out, and despite a local to numb the area, LegoGuy is screaming. I have to hold him down as he thrashes, "Mommy, please! I'll be good. Don't let them hurt me! I promise I'll be good!"

Sport is learning to walk. He's on the driveway and falls forward, scraping his nose. Before he lets out a bellow, he turns to find me, and though he can't talk, I can see it in his eyes. Why didn't you catch me? Why did you let me fall?

We're at a friend's house, getting ready to go swimming. She's telling me about an acquaintance who drowned, and I'm suddenly aware that Sport is not beside me. I turn and see him flailing in the pool. Fully clothed, I go in after him. He's trembling, and so am I.

Now he's climbing the back fence. He's just turned 4, and catches his arm on a piece of metal. The puncture wound is deep, and his cries make me cry along with him. We wash the wound out, clean it with peroxide, and put on a butterfly bandage. He falls asleep in my arms, exhausted.

"Don't play on the flagstones," I tell LegoGuy. He is 7 years old, and full of energy. I turn around, then hear the crash. I know what's happened before I turn back to see my child on the ground, the skin on his leg turned to hamburger. I put him in the bathtub and run water over the leg, scrubbing it to remove the gravel and sand. He tries to be brave, but there are tears in his eyes.

This latest incident with Sport is only a link in a chain of many more disasters to come. But each time it happens, there's one thing that SO and I are both thinking that we never voice.

"What would we do without them?"

Monday, July 17, 2006

I wish we'd all been ready

"I'm not sure how you feel about the Rapture, but I hope you're ready," my mom told me this morning. She figures that the Israeli bombings of Lebanon, the latest tsunami in Indonesia, and the current heat wave affecting the entire United States must mean Jesus is getting ready to part the clouds and gather the faithful few. "It's the End Times," she assured me.

I've heard that phrase so often throughout my lifetime, I'm thinking of getting it tattooed on my left shoulder. Growing up, every earthquake was an indicator of the End Times. Hostage crisis in Iran? End Times. The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan? End Times. Floods, mud slides, hurricanes, dogs and cats living together? End Times.

As for the Rapture itself, I've got a foot in both camps. True, I've grown way beyond seeing it as a literal return of Jesus Christ. For example, there's that troubling little verse in Matthew in which Jesus tells his disciples, "Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." (Matthew 16:28) And having been told about 10,000 times that it's just around the corner has dulled my sense of anticipation. "Alright, already, Mom. Let me know when you hear the trumpets sound."

Still, I retain enough of my childlike wonder to know that I wouldn't blink if I saw Jesus descending in a cloud, a beautific smile upon his face. I'd be first in line for a hug. I'd also be the first to run and hide if Christ started exploding Unbelievers, as Tim LaHaye has described in his repulsive Left Behind book series, making little flesh bombs out of their stubborn bodies. "If you'd only believed in Me, I wouldn't have to do this!" Crash, kerpow, splat!

My therapist has told me that I was a victim of religious abuse. I guess if I had to be a victim of some kind of abuse, I'm glad it was religious. I'm glad I'm not in one of the growing support groups filled with little girls who were recipients of their parent's verbal, physical or sexual abuse. But I will say it's no picnic to be hyper-imaginative and hear that the devil's out to get me. It's no fun to lie awake in the dark and fear the swooshing sound I hear is not the curtain rustling in the breeze, but one of Satan's minions crawling out from under my bed to grab me by the ankle and into the depths of Hell. It's rather disturbing to search the house for Mom and Dad, and, not finding them, fall to my knees sobbing, certain I'd been left behind. That I wasn't good enough. Never good enough. I was bad, sinful, evil.

Okay, that's a little heavy.

Mom feels End Times events are bad news wrapped in the promise of good news. I guess I think it's wishful thinking. "Hurry up Jesus and take us away from a planet we've trashed so badly, it's almost too late to save it. Hurry up, Jesus, and save us from ourselves."

I think I'll buy a bumper sticker I saw on the way to church the other day. It really cracked me up. In case of Rapture, can I have your car?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

That's so random

We’ve experienced a couple of slow days at work this week, and by slow I mean the watch the paint curl on the wall, stare at the blades of the ceiling fan, hope for a gas leak on the block so we can all go home kind of slow. To entertain myself, I emailed Shank a philosophical question about whether or not it's more stressful to be too busy or not busy enough and got a rather unsympathetic rant about “the Kafka-esque prison of ennui that the Cataloging Department has become” and how he was just a little bit too busy at the moment to debate the issue.

All these random thoughts and emails are flitting through my brain, and I’m flinging them into the blogosphere.

Is it true, as Sport says, that there is too much potato in French fries?

Was Roy Keane, as LegoGuy insists, the best soccer player in Ireland?

SO asks, Does being a good son require that he dog-sit a yappy Schnauzer for an entire month in October?

EarthMama wants to know, Which relative would you resurrect and what would you ask them?

BlueCat wonders, If our lunch hours overlapped, would it cause a time warp that would rip the very fabric of the space-time continuum and suck all of us into a parallel dimension where the books and CDs cataloged us?

Snickers says, Do all B&Bs require their guests to socialize and have breakfast with the proprietor, (like the old lady in Flirting with Disaster)? And if so, why?

Cher asks, Does anyone have the guts to sneak into our mother’s closet and throw away the pink Pimp Daddy beret lurking there? Anyone? (Bueller … Bueller …)

Shank agonizes, Why did Zidane throw a headbutt, and what are the moral implications that come with defending the flawed, but god-like futboler?

I’m wondering about the term, Lucky Pierre, which I heard at lunch today, and if there’s such a thing as a Lucky Pierrette. Is the thought of it more enticing than actually participating?

Aaahhh, so many questions. So much time to wonder.

Monday, July 10, 2006

It ain't easy being hot

I've been trying to imagine life without air conditioning. I have some inkling of what it's like; we didn't have central air when I was growing up -- just an enormous window unit working overtime in the South Texas humidity. None of the public schools I attended had air conditioning. We threw upon the windows and fanned away the gnats that flew near our eyes, seeking moisture. My sister and I often slept on the floor of our room, heads hanging out into the hallway to catch the faintest of drafts. I remember being very, very uncomfortable.

But it's been years since then, and I'm accustomed to being cool. I sleep with a ceiling fan on and a little one next to me whirling white noise into the night. I get cranky when I'm hot. Most people do.

A fellow cataloger passed an article to me the other day about the environmental costs of air conditioning. It made me very, very unhappy. I know I'm part of the problem. So I've been trying to kick the thermostat up a couple of notches and drive without turning on the air. Today, I had to make an emergency trip downtown to deliver some notes to my boss. I kept the windows of the car rolled down. It was freakin' hot. I started to sweat, but I didn't cave. I left the damn thing off.

I know it doesn't make a bit of difference to the environment, but I'm trying to see if I can make it when we finally have no choice. I don't want to be one of the weak ones -- weeded out by the heat index.

Thinking back, I know that the only thing that brings relief to an unairconditioned soul is water. As kids, we'd spend lots of time in the public pool, splashing the grown-ups who were chatting with each other in the shallows, or running through the sprinkler, or flopping on our bellies on a yellow Slip 'n Slide. It kept us out of the sweltering indoors.

Tonight, while walking the dog, a storm rolled in, bringing with it a welcome breeze and the blessing of rain. The boys rushed out of the house and started puddle jumping. I sat with my back against the front door and stuck my hot, bare feet into the waterfall pouring off the roof.

Sheer bliss.

Friday, July 07, 2006

I love Superman

Earthmama's expecting the birth of a new grandson -- the baby should be making his arrival any day now. Her son and his wife are thinking of naming him Superman. Think about the advantages this kid would have with a name like that. School bullies would think twice before pushing him around. Teachers would be eager to call on him to answer their questions. Teenage girls would yearn to smooth down his spit curl. He'd have it made.

Yesterday afternoon we took the boys to see Superman Returns. It's a pretty good movie. As usual with Hollywood blockbusters, the special effects are awesome. The actor is an eerie replica of Christopher Reeve. The story is tried but true: Superman saves us from the evil schemes of bad boy Lex Luthor after first fighting off the effects of Kryptonite.

There is something so compelling about Superman. He's idealistic and concerned. He looks down upon Earth, cape spread loftily out behind him, and listens to cries for help. Then he goes into action, flying from continent to continent at nearly the speed of light. He's inspiring.

And those red go-go boots he wears are to die for.

My boys love Superman. LegoGuy spent the first five years of his life drawing Superman pictures, dressing up as Superman, praying he could fly like Superman. He'd stand in front of the mirror after his bath and pull down a lock of hair, shaping it into a perfect curl, pressing it flat against his forehead. Sport used to wear a Superman costume, complete with sculpted abs. He loved running around, looking over his shoulder as the polyester cape flapped.

I love Superman, too. But to be honest, I don't understand the guy. I don't get it. Why does he keeps saving us? Why doesn't he get depressed when he sees us continue on our path to destruction? Why doesn't he just say, "Screw it!" and go in search of another planet to champion?

He must be a masochist.