Thursday, September 30, 2010

The things we have forgotten

Yeah, last night, I wrote vaguely stupid, bourbon-fueled post about nothing in particular, and saved it in draft form, or rather, I, inadvertently, maybe, accidentally, actually, published it. (See the word between stupid and fueled for a perfect explanation.) It wasn't heart-exposing or unkind or even gripping. It was drivel. A one-night stand that looks ugly and only talks of the World of Warcraft in the morning. I was winding down from a long week without my husband, who went to Atlanta to see Rush. I wanted to write. I wanted to explain what this was like, but it is kind of fine, and sometimes overwhelming, but mostly just fine. Really, I ended up writing about nothing in particular, and when I saw it live in my own reader, I shook my head, grumbled, and resaved it as a draft.

Pretty much my tweet this morning sums it up:

When I drink and write, I like to have coffee with my post in the morning before posting. That one was doing the walk of shame.

Oh, I know the walk of shame well. Yeah, yeah, ethics. Caches. It really is not anything anyone would want to read, so that whole cache thing, knock yourself out.

Here are the highlights: I complain about Rush, not the angry, conservative jackass, but the wacky Canadian band. I explain how my husband loves them and has traveled to Atlanta to see them with his brother. I call myself the Mr. Magoo of parenting and have been sleeping alone in my own bed for the first time in three years unintentionally. It scares me to have so much mattress. And I muse on how amazing it would be to be married to me.

It would. At least for a while.

Tonight, for example, my ex-husband (G.) and I were chatting on the "My Face" (Mother of Pearl, that sounds dirty). He found a short story I wrote when I was 19. See, we fell in love writing actual snail mail. I wrote on an old typewriter, like any pretentious goth teenager worth her sallow-complected weight would, and he hand wrote on the back of old scripts from the independent experimental plays he was acting in. Our mail also involved alot of altered art, found objects and strange tokens of our very opposite worlds. He was a painter and videographer with a few CDs out and a budding acting career. His letters and art made every part of me embrace the idea of a life that was impossible in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania.

Anyway, he kept this cache of old writings of mine and I have a few old, odd pieces from him, that even in my most blazing anger could not destroy by flame. We wrote to each other for six months before ever kissing. It was very romantic, and strange, and doomed us to unrealistic expectations from the beginning. This was pre-internet for normal people, so we occassionally talked on the phone, which was hella expensive in those days, but mostly wrote down our stories everyday and mailed them off.  Days lapsed between sending the mail and getting it, and life changed quickly in those days. One night of debauchery, and the next night of holiness. Even years after we married, we still would send each other postcards from work to our home address and pretend we didn't know where they came from. "I dunno know, dude, it is just addressed to 'DJ Dumbass', I can only assume that means you."

It was the highlight of my day, the mailman. I still get a jolt of excitement when I hear the kuclunk of the mail slot opening. It is why I participate in so many swaps, and am willing to send things to anyone at any time. Because I am like a puppy--MAILMAN!!!!

One piece of altered art I still have from G. is a photocopied picture of him painted blue with a highlighter and glued realistically to a postcard of Shiva where he wrote on his T-shirt, "I'm with the Blue Guy." and an arrow pointing to Shiva. On the back he wrote, "Dear Angie, Me and the Blue Guy are just hanging out emanating flowers. Stay Brown. Love, G." It still cracks me up. I actually was recently reminded of this postcard in the local post office last week where I overheard the woman in front of me making chitchat with the postal worker. They talked about the humidity, and at the end, she said, "Well, alright, stay black."
The postal worker replied, "I will. I will."

G. says he will scan some stories in for me, if I want, which of course I want. It is like opening a time capsule. Me before the fire. Me before the marriage, divorce, sickness, betrayals and lies. This one story he found, he claims, is legendary. The very best of the stories I sent him. He calls it Batdog, and claims it is a Beatnik rambling through existence, identity and quantum physics.

Yeah, here is the thing. I have absolutely no fucking recollection of this story at all. Even after he posted quotes, then told me the entire story via chat, I have no memory of writing it, reading it, or sending it. Funny that. Now with the advent of the personal home computer, I reread my crap over and over and over, edit the shit out of it, until it is palatable milquetoast drivel. Until it has no cajones, or tetita power. Sure, I keep drafts, but when you are facing twenty versions of the same crap, you usually just go with the latest. When you type on an old fashioned typewriter with a bunch of old flyers you collected from the local cafe, you either start over fresh on a new sheet of band announcement, or just go for it, dude, and make it work. So, I'm sure I just often went for it, especially with him, because he brings out the brazen fool in all of us. The snarkier and more insane the better.

I do kind of pride myself on my memory, my rationale, my decent sense. I am good at faces and names and details of people's lives, except, apparently, my own. I frequently ask my sister to tell me that story of something that happened to me. But this is weird. To create and forget. One wonders how much creation is floating out there absolutely forgotten. And what that means for art and existence when you create something meaningful to someone who you married, and it means almost nothing to you, except that it means something to him. Is art art when you create it for one person? Is it important? Should it be shown?

It reminds me of that Paul Auster novel, the Book of Illusions, which totally and completely made me believe in existentialism again. If you read it, just know that there is a child and wife death in it. Grief. Desperate, beautiful grief.

Last night's post and subsequent demotion to draft status reminded me that the me at 19 would have left it up, and probably added a few dozen more inflamatory remarks, and the me now just drafts the damn thing and figures it is unpalatably bad.

Anyway, here is the portion of Batdog G. posted on my Facebook profile.

I go to bed early. But later that night I'm awakened by a racket outside the house. Stumbling to the window, I see my brother and his friends file drunk across the moonlit yard and pile clumsily, and with much merriment, into MY car. As if this is not bad enough, it is my brother – my abstemious, licenseless brother – who climbs behind the wheel, waving a beer bottle. I am just about to run downstairs when I hear an ungodly howl. And that’s when I see it, swooping low out of the shadows of Mr. Gordon’s oak tree only to rise, gliding gracefully, into the bright yellow moon above Stoop Conover’s place. I only see it for a moment, but it looks like a Chihuahua with wings…
 The original Chupacabra, no doubt.

So what have you forgotten lately?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Trees from still life 365

 As most of you know, I am the editor of still life 365. We have a new feature today called Ten Questions. Ten Questions around the monthly theme, and a blog roundup over there. I really envisioned the Ten Questions being ten questions to work with for writing, or just answering like a meme. So, I really wanted to use these questions as jumping off points for a bit of exploration.

8. Trees have also been used to represent families. Talk a bit about your own family tree.
9. What are your feelings now about family trees and exploring your own lineage?

My own family tree twists and turns around cultures and places. My mother emigrated to the United States in 1968 from Central America and my father was born in the coal mining region of Pennsylvania.  One of his great uncles was the last of the Molly Maguires hung in Pennsylvania. My father's families are both Irish and German. My mother's family, both sides, emigrated to Panama. Her father was originally from San Salvador, and his brothers both moved to Mexico to become film makers. My grandmother's family emigrated to Panama from Spain and Italy. Her father was the son of olive farmers outside of Turino, and when he fell in love with my great-grandmother, who was living in Panama already with her own family but training in Spain to be a teacher, sent Luka's sister to live with them in Panama. Celestina was her name, and she never married. Her duty was to live with my great-grandfather. She lived to be 103 and always spoke with a heavy Italian accent, but she kept the stories of the family and often told them to my mother when she would come to visit her, so then my mother told them to me, and I have written some of them down. I always saw myself that way, which is strange. But even as a child, I tried to commit the stories to memory, retell them to myself, and weave yarns about what I saw. I never could see myself with a family before I met Sam, but I could always see myself as an old woman, telling stories about my family, stories without me involved, but what I witnessed. Family folk legends and myths. I don't know if it is a long process of whisper down the alley, or if one hundred years ago, there was more magic.

It's funny to think about family tales when I think about family trees, but I do. I feel like I can visualize this huge, lopsided tree, and the tales of each branch. My family tree on my mother's side is so heavy--my mother has eleven siblings, 49 nieces and nephews, 57 grand nieces and nephews. And my father has one half sister who died in her early 40s. She never had children. It was not too long ago that I found out that my father's family isn't quite what we thought it was. Respecting his privacy, I won't go further, but I will someday tell that strange, sad, crazy story. I only wished I known there was a missing link there when I was being tested and treated for pre-cancer services. 

I find genealogy fascinating and genetics even more fascinating. There are times I look at my children and wonder whose nose that is, perhaps my great Spanish grandmother's nose, after trying to fit my own and my husband's features over them. But my relationship with family trees, most recently, has been to figure out our medical history to see the genetic markers for Lucy's death. So, instead of stories, I see strokes and cancers. Heart conditions and high cholesterol. When we met with the genetic counselor at the beginning of Thor's pregnancy, we had to fill in our family tree. Well, not ours. Lucy's family tree. It gave me a kind of calm to imagine all these people coming together for one little baby girl. And so I kept thinking, this is Lucy's tree. A tree of personalities and diseases and ages and life spans all long enough to have babies of their own.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Thor stares at Beezus' post-nap fake oreo like he has been hunting cookie for weeks. I put him on his belly, and he arches his back, mouth extend------o. Or while sitting up, he swipes, and misses. Beez, she of the ninja reflexes when it comes to anything with *sugar*, darts left, inserts cookie, and she smiles at him, tauntingly.

It reminds me of my favorite Onion article, "Hey, You Got Something to Eat?" by a Goat. "Uh, you gonna eat that, sis?"

It's not that he has mastered the solid, or even the mushy food. Cripes, I feed him like one meal a day, if that, so he doesn't even really eat much real food, it's just that deep in him, like an instinctual, genetic memory, he knows the cream-filled chocolate cookie are the way of his people.

I delight in him. His perpetually moist bib, his drooling lip, his faint scent of milk and bread. His chubby feet. His absolutely insane nom-nom thighs. His smile and giggle and even his scared little scream when the dog barks too loudly. I am still amazed he is in my lap most days. I still feel like I am borrowing him and some angry archangel is going to knock on the door and demand him back.

"Do you have a really adorable baby who is perfect? You don't get him. We made an error."

Today, a torrent of tears came. The emotions I mostly push into a ball in the back of my head until they finally build up and explode out tear ducts and nostrils and open mouths in one rush of everything. I cried because he is really here. I cried because I love him. I cried because he is happy. I cried because he lived. I cried because Lucy didn't live. How did Lucy not live?

Recently, I have tried to friend some other mothers from around the hood and other kid-like venues. Hey after three kids and four years or whatever, it is time to have a lasting mama relationship. I have no fucking idea what I am doing. Did you ever realize you were coming on too strong when you were coming on too strong and not quite be able to stop yourself? And my brain rationalizes it all. I want them to know that we are flexible and want friendships and also have no idea what we are doing.

We are installing a woodstove which means building some slate thing for the stove, and then a stacked stone backdrop and this meant moving everything around--all the furniture and altars and rugs and toys. We also moved the antique secretary that houses my daughter Lucy's ashes. I hate moving my daughter like she is one of my things, even though she is in one of my things. Is an urn something you own? You buy it, certainly, but is it yours to own? It feels otherworldy, somehow, like sacred and profane, and it bothers me that someone inscribes their maker name on the bottom of it. I didn't notice that before. That the inside of the urn was touched by someone before it housed the ashes of my baby.

I moved her and tried to keep to business, even though it still surprises me that she is dead. Now we simply put hands on each others' shoulders, look at the ground and nod, "I know, honey. I know." I keep going, putting the ashes somewhere they won't knock over until we move everything. I realize today is the 22nd. It has been a long time since I have thought about the 22nd as her day of the month. Funny that. Like babies, you mark their weeks, then their months, then only their years of age, and same with Lucy, I guess, I mostly only mark her years now, except when the seasons change it reminds me of her death.

So many things changed after Lucy died. I both lost and gained a sense of the holy. Marking her death by the seasons have given me a kind of earth-centered spirituality and seasonal mourning. Delighting in and appreciating the seasons in a way I never have before.  I took that a step further by buying some pagan seasonal activity books with Beezus. Yesterday, we made a Mabon altar. It suggested going into the wild and picking some plants going to seed for your altar. And we headed out into the backyard, Thor in the backpack, Beezus with scissors, and we stared at our weed-y yard. Christ, it is a mess back there. But suddenly, with our eyes open to beauty and flowers and the seasons, those weeds transformed. We had goldenrod, and butterfly bush, and even our fuzzy grasses looked stunning together. I was in awe of how truly beautiful our bouquet became. Then we had a basket of our Lucy altar (from moving everything to build a hearth), and placed things that meant something to us on the altar. Beatrice put a glass heart from her shiny rock basket on the altar. "This is for my family," she said.

We then collected acorns and pinecones, and grape leaves from our vines, and colored leaves, and created a centerpiece with candles to remind us that autumn is here. We ate earthy, fall foods, and drank red wine, and told stories and laughed. Later, we lit our firepit and said things that made us grateful. The moon was bright last night, and yet the stars were clear and alive. I couldn't remember a day that was happier than yesterday was for me. I remember my friend relating a story of morning. It was a simple morning, where she had a cup of hot coffee and sat on the porch of her rented beach house, watching the sun rise over the ocean. At that moment, she thought, "Is this the happiest moment of my life?" She told me this story in her sixties, and she still isn't quite sure, but she thought it might be. And yesterday I had this sense of that, touching a contentment of adulthood that seemed unobtainable even five years ago. And I wonder if the profound grief and sadness of losing my child has given me the ability to feel content when all is content.

I fought against the world for taking my daughter. I felt like by taking that one baby, the universe took everything. I can admit this now, but I tried to manipulate the laws of physics and the universe with my mind. I tried to turn back time, and save her. Magical thinking and superstition haunted my every move. I crossed myself, and threw salt and promised to never do anything bad again. I starved myself. I meditated. I wished on every fucking star, and blew every dead dandelion head to bring her back. I pushed my eyes so hard some moments, watching the stars behind the lids, wondering if I punished myself enough, if I could bring her back. Now, when a star streaks across the sky, I wish for a long life for my kids. May they outlast me. Oh, I am still fucking angry, but I also am grateful for what I have, the abundance of love and good fortune, even at the end of the harvest season when all the sweet fruits dry up and we eat roots for six months.

The little I have is enough. That is what the point is. The little I have, not all of what I thought I should have, not with all my children, but the little beings I do have, and the love with my husband, and a chill dog, and a little hearth, is enough. And it is not just a little. It is a fucking lot.

Autumnal equinox is a time that people read the story of Persephone taken to the underworld--kidnapped and raped, really. Persephone, daughter of Demeter, goddess of the grain and the harvest, searches for her. She hears she is in the underworld, taken by Hades as wife. And Demeter's grief causes the crops on earth to die. She mourns, and wanders the earth. And it is said that she is taken in by a family who asks no questions of her grief, but simply sit and love Demeter as the old crone. They simply abide in her grief, and she blesses them. The world's abundance dried up and Famine roamed the lands.  Persephone holds out in the underworld, tries not to eat, hoping to be saved, but eventually she sees her husband as a good man, a decent man who tempts her with six pomegranate seeds. She eats them so is doomed to spend six months in the underworld, without her mother. Mabon marks the time she travels with her husband, and her mother Demeter, the goddess of abundance, mourns again.

I have spent twenty-one months mourning my daughter, roaming the land, causing famine and anguish. Honoring my daughter with the change of seasons feels so right and important to me, that this is what feels soothing, I think, to imagine that a mother controls the world, a grieving mother at that. This is my season of mourning. This is my season of grief. And it is right to come into it through a day of pure contentment.

Friday, September 17, 2010

new look

As you may have noticed, my blog got an overhaul. The new header has photo from the amazing Marco Braun's photo series Squared Circles. I was absolutely mesmerized by that set. I initially began looking for ensos and then found these. Anyway, long, incredibly boring story made a tad shorter. I like it. What do you think?

This morning, I woke up with the immediate thought, after, "Holy crap, I can't believe it is morning already" was that I needed to redesign my blog. I don't know why, exactly.What I really wanted to do was sit down and write, but I ended up designing instead. Maybe the old painting of me just wasn't working anymore. It seems so old. Well, as old as a year old painting can feel...still when you live with it everyday it gets, well, tired. We are also overhauling our house, moving furniture, going through old things, building a fireplace/hearth for the new woodstove we have purchased. We are laying stacked stone bricks and using slate. It is all so earthy and cozy, I swear the Capricorn in me is about to explode with cellular contentedness.

Anyway, I have more stuff to update, like the young Thor has popped out two teeth, which means he is sleeping, and that brings its own level of contentedness. I am enjoying more fall-like weather. I have more, but no time. So, I leave you with this perspective:

Friday, September 10, 2010


I have yet to find an occasion in which Dansko clogs do not work. I wore them to my own wedding, and probably to yours, if you were so decent as to invite me. It all started at the Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors meeting in which I manned a transportation engineering booth for my firm, chitchatting with township engineers and supervisors from all over the state. When the Bucks County Township Engineer walked up in a tweed jacket, corduroy pants, and clogs, I felt my brain split open. He told me the name of the Scandinavian specialty shop where he bought them, but remarked how they were almost identical to Danskos. A suited Dansko person?! It hadn't even occurred to me that I could look smart and sassy in a suit AND clogs. He projected an air of self-confidence and professionalism mixed in with, dare I say, whimsy. Even though I had a three hundred dollar pair of uncomfortable peeptoe wedges on my feet right at that moment, I wanted to be dressed like that dude. Beard and everything.

I started gradually integrating them into my life, first with a pair of the professional black clog, then some Mary Janes, then some more business type styles with semi-heels, now I have six pairs. Not long after my clog obsession began, when I was single, working a professional, extremely conservative corporate gig, and my mostly paired up friends ached to get me into a relationship, a co-worker/friend invited me to a picnic that promised to have lots of single men. To be honest, the single men meant nothing to me. It was the spectacle of the vodka ice slalom was the real draw.

I skipped that part of college, the drinking as sport part. My friend hadn't, and neither had her friends. She absolutely knew how to take binge drinking to a new level--she designed themes and take home supplies to go along with her parties.  In college, I did my drinking alone in the ghetto across town after a long shift waiting table while listening to "Blue Train" and writing poetry like, "Death Surrounds Me Like a Shroud , No. 487."  Seeing an ice sculpture designed specifically to get people drunk intrigued me. The closest I had gotten to a sorority party was working as a graphic designer for t-shirt promoting sorority events. (Yes, I really did that in my twenties.) I feared this party was going to be much like watching a Wild Kingdom special entitled Mating Rituals of the Suburban Corporate Professional, in which, like most Wild Kingdom episodes, I'd like to watch, but not participate.

I showed up and it was even worse than I suspected. Red Bull was involved. Jello shots. There was also a large ring in the middle of the yard where people were to put on fat Sumo Wrestling outfits and wrestle each other, I suppose, while drunk on shots that were just administered by a stranger pouring Raspberry Stoli on an ice slide as you knelt in front of them, tongue extended waiting for your dignity to pass out.

I was woefully out of my element. The hostess was my friend from work, and one of the funniest people I have ever met. But we were, uh, different. I lived in the city, rode my courier bike everywhere and frequently would walk around with one pant leg rolled up to my knee with nary a thought about it. I drove a beat up VW Jetta that flooded every time it rained, because of an uncaulked sunroof. I just named the car Jacques, as in Cousteau, and bailed him with my Nalgene if I needed to drive, otherwise, I just opened the windows and let him air dry. She, on the other hand, wore those pointy elven shoes, drove a pristine Beamer and was without fail, done up to the shizzle. Nails. Hair. She even had a mirror in her cubicle that had a little crown painted on it so when you looked at yourself, it appeared that you were wearing a tiara, and it said in Puerto Rican gangsta script, "La Princesa." She agreed with my mother that my black hair needed to be dyed down to light brown, so I didn't look so old.


I was really looking forward to the picnic, I admit. It was like being able to experience the drunken revelry I missed in college. I admit I drank once in high school, never smoked pot. I went to university and began working night shift at a restaurant. I just missed all the debauchery that defined youth. I wore my red dansko clog sandals, white capris and a black v-neck sweater. My friend sidled up to me when I walked in.
I gave her the vata nod. "Hey."
"What the fuck, Ang?"
"Ang, I love you, but those are the fugliest shoes I have ever seen."
"I really could care less what you think. I think they are cool. Not to mention comfortable." She began explaining to me in Spanish, as she was Dominican and I am half-Panamanian, and when she was serious, she turned it on. She said she had men she wanted to introduce me to, and now she can't. She told me that she would grease my size ten feet up and stuff them into her size six strappy numbers, if she had to. She told me she was going to do my hair while we are at it, and maybe put me in a short skirt.
"Who the fuck wears pants to a picnic, Manita?" She roared in English.
"Uh, me. Lay off, dude. I look fine."

And to her credit, she did. She proceeded to give me a drink, then show me around the place. And by show me around the picnic, I of course mean that she walked me around the house and yard, systematically asking every man in the party what they thought of my shoes, my pants and my hair. I suppose this was her version of Shock Therapy. It would have worked if I were attracted to the type of man that enjoys vodka shots off of ice slaloms, kicking someone's ass while dressed in a fat suit and Red Bull mixed drinks, but in general, I tuned out. It is a beautiful escape hatch of the brain to suppress traumatic events. Having that type of honest insight into every man's brain at that given picnic, hearing what they think of my shoes, my white pants, my cleavage and my hair made the introvert in me pull the fucking ejection seat.

I imagined I laughed nervously a lot. I am positive that I drank heavily. What I do remember is thinking, beyond writing snottily feminist manifestos in my head, as well as horribly insulting and downright snobbish things about each person I encountered that night is this: "There is a man out there in this wild, cruel world who understands the red Danskos. A man who finds sensible, Scandinavian footwear as sexy as the reasonable, early-to-bed person who is wearing them. Who doesn't judge a woman by the content on her feet."

"You really have the coolest shoes. I especially love your red sandals."
"Thanks." We stare into each other's eyes and make out again. I am so in love with my husband. I think he complimented my shoes every date, and got this impressed, curious look when I explained how they were great when I rode my bike too. I was instantly enthralled with his particular brand of confidence, humility and kindness. Our first dates were bike rides, walks to the dog park, watching Sigur Ros in concert, and campfires out of the city.

I have never met anyone or dated anyone who believed in me as much as this man. Who thinks that my artsy, weird take on the world works. Nor had I met anyone who wears that rare combination of capable and vulnerable as sexily and fashionably as my husband does. I should say, I have never met anyone that I believe in as much as this man. We celebrated our four year wedding anniversary last week. We don't give each other gifts as such. No surprises, really. He sends me flowers enough from work that when they came on our anniversaryn the flower man said, "Happy Anniversary, Angie." And I blushed. And my gift is always that I write a blog post that he won't read for a few weeks. So, husband, I love you more than red Dansko clogs.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Milagros are scattered all over my desk this morning. I ordered a bag of them not too long ago from Etsy. Five dollars and two bits for fifty medals of varying internal organs and symbols in antiqued silver. Milagros are little medals made of copper or silver or gold, even, that are like little symbols of your prayer. You pin them, or leave them on altars, in shrines, on statues of saints, as an offering or reminder of your prayer. I love the imagery of them, the idea of milagros, which literally translates to miracles. Last night, I searched through them frantically, after my mother called to tell me my cousin's eight month old son was being transferred from his local small town hospital to the larger children's hospital where my husband works. I felt so desperately helpless. I talked to my husband in the hospital, and my mother at home. I wanted something to do. I cling to ritual in my most helpless times. The repetition soothes me. The baby is doing well, now. He is waiting today on a battery of tests to show why he was suddenly so sick and now again, so well.

Today, I am over at Glow in the Woods, talking about milagros.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Labor Day

My father is a rabid anti-Communist.

Or was. I don't know if one can be rabidly anti-Communist anymore, but if you can, he is.

I found this out the hard way as a child. Every morning, my father smoked his Marlboro Reds in his underwear, drinking a Coke and watched the news on a large dial television on the tallboy in his room before work. Our family have always been a group of early risers, so the lot of us were up before 7 am shooting the shit before work or school. My sister and I would wrestle on the bed, as my father would lean on his dresser, smoking and my mother drinking coffee and paying bills. It sounds terrible now. I couldn't imagine, even if I was a smoker, smoking in my house, or the car, with my kids within inhalation distance. My father didn't care. Truly. In fact, the pediatrician told my dad he should take his smoking outside because of my asthma and he said, "No one is going to tell me where to smoke my own goddamn cigarettes in my own goddamn house."

At the time, Iran factored majorly in the news. This day, though, I remember a news story coming out about the egregious misallocation of funds by the American government in which a hammer cost $2500 dollars and a ream of paper $300. I don't remember exactly the amounts, but the story was how government contracts paid ridiculous amounts for ordinary things because of corruption, or bureaucracy or, perhaps, even ineptitude. I was a kid, so cut me a break on the specifics.

Still, the story played out and my father stood, mouth agape. "Sons of bitches."
"So, Daddy, why don't the people who make hammers just give them to the president?"
"What was that, babes?"
"Uh," I suddenly felt shy unsure if I was asked to repeat because he didn't hear, or because I said something wrong. "Why don't the people that make hammers just give them to the government? Why does the president have to buy them? Why don't the hammer makers just give the hammers to the president so he doesn't have to spend all his money on hammers? It just seems like the government could help the hammer makers out or something, and the hammer makers could help the president out."
My dad stared at me like I had two heads and they both looked like Fidel Castro.
"Are you a Communist?"

I didn't know how to answer this question because I was seven and I didn't know what a Communist was.

"No. I just wonder why people don't just trade with the government. We all are living here together. And if everyone was nice to everyone else and gave everyone what they needed, no one would fight."
"There are no pinko Commies living in this house. Are you learning Russian too?"

I was not the contrarian of our house. I was the pleaser, and as such I found my father's tone upsetting. I didn't know what pinko meant, or Commie, but I didn't want my father to continue his line of questioning. Am I or have I ever been a Communist? Probably. I am a twin. I was a born Communist. My sister, on the other hand, jumped right into the fray.
"I am a Communist."
And my father laughed that upsetting I-know-something-you-don't-know laugh. The House of UnAmerican Activities was going to have a field day with this shit, his smirk said.

My father is the type of man to dunk on a seven year old girl. I only know that because he did it to me. He whipped my ass everyday in P-I-G and delighted in it. He pointed at me after each successful shot and said something to the effect of "Booooooya". He taunted me that I couldn't ever even shoot on him and he said it in the way that only a six foot one warehouse worker can, "You aren't even trying, Ang." He absolutely does not think that childhood gives you an out from, well, anything, let alone being an asshole, and he defines asshole as anyone who disagrees with him.

My sister stood with both hands on her hips, staring at him with the kind of bravery that eludes me even now, declaring herself a Commie. This was the time of the Cold War. I'm sure now kids being Communists are welcomed by parents, "She is thinking about politics!" At least, perhaps, that is what I would think.

My father drove a forklift and voted for Nixon. He fought in Vietnam. He believes and perhaps still believes in the domino effect. Having a bunch of little brown girls arguing with him about the inherent righteousness of a classless and stateless society based on the communal ownership of property was probably last on his list of things he wanted to argue about in his Fruit of the Looms first thing in the morning. So, he just gave a dismissive laugh. "Communists are assholes. Now go get ready in your Red little outfits."

And we left his room. The last thing we wanted to be at age seven was an asshole.


Every year we had a picnic on Labor Day. I'd feel remiss if I didn't mention that it was the hugest, most amazing potluck in the history of suburbia. My father bought lime and made a regulation size volleyball court in which to whoop himself some neighbor ass. He made people cry regularly. And sometimes created rifts that lasted for years. Usually there were two kegs, and a keg of root beer, and they were all gone at the end of the day. My father made an ass of himself most years, being a drunk and a jerk and all, but it didn't stop us kids from having fun. We created full shows for the parents, played in the cornfields, spun bottles, stole blueberry schnapps, and organized mile long games of Grey Ghost with twenty kids.

One year we found a dog. He was a red and white Irish Setter. He named him Labor Day Picnic, Labor for short, and fed him hot dogs until he vomited and re-ate them.

He lived with us for six years or so before our creepy inbred farmer neighbor came over in the middle of Amityville Horror to report in typical hick fashion, "Yur dog is dead. Someone hit it on the road."

He wasn't dead, in fact, but neither me nor my sister or cousin has ever rewatched that cursed movie. Labor lived a blind and disabled life for another year until my parents took pity on him and decided it was time.

Still, Labor Day always reminds me of our dog. My father, in his sickness and disability now, has a picture of a dog that looks like Labor hanging in his room amongst the pictures of his Communist girls and his pinko grandchildren. And of course, that dog may have made our neighbors think that my father was himself a Communist.

Happy Labor Day. Wherever you are.