No Leaving Sandra Bland Behind

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The morning of the race was the sticky hot that reminded me of Houston in August.  Think: running a half marathon in a steam room with 13,000 people.  I never thought of not running because of (1) the 150.00 fee for the privilege of running down the street so hell no I’m not going back to bed, and (2) a masochistic streak I’ve been cultivating over four decades.

I elbowed my way to my starting corral, fine-tuning my running mix and arranging my energy gels in my pocket.  I was focused on me, myself, and I.

The temperature soared over 80 degrees at 6:15 a.m..  Houston in late July.

I saw a downed runner at mile eight just past an aid station.  Someone in an official-looking red vest (Red Cross?—did I really pay to participate in an event where the Red Cross was called in?) was putting an ice pack on the woman’s neck.  I didn’t stop because … well, I didn’t have a red vest.  The overheated runner was in good hands.  I wondered where her people were.  Was she alone? That must be scary.

At miles ten and eleven, where the unshaded white concrete shimmered in the heat, I saw two more runners down.  One was being dragged over to a shady spot on King Drive; the other was sitting on a curb with cheeks the color of stop signs.  No red vests in sight.  Still I didn’t stop.  The litany in my head: I’m not a doctor; I don’t have any water; and I was voted the person most likely to hide in a closet and binge on Dorito’s during a crisis.

No, they were better off without me.

Half a mile from the end, after an uphill on a particularly punishing stretch, I saw another runner down.  This guy—a kid, actually—was out cold.  Right as I approached, someone hooked their hands under his arm pits and lifted him up.  If you would have told me he was dead, I would have believed it.  He was surrounded by four people. Maybe five.

You know I didn’t stop.  After I passed him, I saw his running mentor, someone I actually know well, racing against the tide of finishers lurching toward their post-race Gatorade.  The panic look on his face said it all.

It was an emergency.

I didn’t stop.

I keep replaying that morning and my inexcusable inaction.  “I’m a mother, for God’s sake. If I don’t stop, who will?  One of them was just a kid.”

I’ve blogged about so many things over the years, most of them trivial, vain, absurd, obscure, or flat-out ridiculous.  I’ve never once blogged about race. It’s the most glaring hallmark of my white privilege.  I’ve let other bloggers cover Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Jr., Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Rumain Brisbon, Tony Robinson, Jordan Davis. There are others.  Sadly, we know there will be more.

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Am I really about to pass Sandra (Sandy) Bland, like a downed runner who’s not my responsibility?

No, I’m not.  No more focusing on the finish line while other people around me are perishing.  No more hiding behind feeble, “I’ve got nothing to offer” excuses.  No more criticizing Lena Dunham for saying so little about race, while churning out another blog post about Willie Nelson.  No more forwarding other #BlackLivesMatter posts on Facebook without generating any of my own.

She was all alone in a jail cell in Texas, about to start a new job as a student ambassador at Prairie View A&M.  Something about the promise of her working with young students tears me up.  I can’t bear the thought of leaving her by the side of the road for someone else to pick on the pages of her blog.  Roxanne Gay wrote that “we all should [feel this tragedy in the marrow of our bones], regardless of the identities we inhabit.”

I’m scared to fuck up being an ally. But I’m in the comfort of my air-conditioned home; Ms. Bland was all by herself staring down a man acting under the color of (Texas) state law who was goading her.  Hers was real, life-and-death terror. I’ll never know what that feels like, which is exactly why I must give my own anxiety the finger and step up.

This is my start. This is my fumbling over to a critical situation saying, “I’m here.  I’m engaged. I’m educating myself.  I’m an ally.”

Because Sandra Bland’s life matters.  #BlackLivesMatter

Something to Put a Pickle On

I want something to put a pickle on.

That’s my whine every night as I ride home on the crowded #3 bus.  At least it is ever since Jeff and I decided to eat vegan.  I’ve never said it out loud, this pickle prayer, but if I did, it would sound ridiculous.

Why are you eating vegan?  That’s the question everyone asks.  If I had a better answer to that, then this whole thing would be going better.

Animal rights? Um, nope. It’s shameful, but I don’t particularly care about animals. No, I don’t gun the gas when I see a broken-winged bird in the street.  But I can’t pretend that my vegan experiment stems from a crystallizing moment when I stared into the eyes of a gorilla at the zoo and just knew.  Actually, the fact that I willingly visit zoos probably points away from a deep communion with the animal kingdom, Amiright?

Health benefits? Another great answer, but also false. I’m fairly reckless with my health. Exhibit A: I run home in pitch dark during the winter.  Exhibit B: I don’t always wear sunscreen because GREASY.   I think the China Study is compelling and believe that animal products spell big problems for our hearts and the size of our asses, but none of that is as compelling as a tasty hunk of brie or milk chocolate.

So, basically, I agreed to go vegan for all the wrong reasons.

First, I wanted to beat Jeff.  I knew he’d be more moderate in his approach.  I, knowing nothing of moderation, planned to out-vegan my husband and raise my fists in victory.  On day four he caved at a business meeting while I was home eating quinoa and asparagus.  Victory was mine in less than 96 hours.

Second, I love talking about food.  And of all the conversations I’ve started about food– including ones with an opening salvo about my anorexic and bulimic past– nothing gets people more riled up than talking about plant-based eating.  Ooooh eeeeeh, I’ve heard some mouthfuls on this.  Vegan enthusiasts at work stopped by to give me tips on new ways to eat beans.  Ardent champions of meat stopped by with their sausage McMuffins to taunt me and describe their grandma’s thick-cut bacon.  Friends expressed their concern when I posted a picture of vegan cheese on Facebook:

Nachos.  "Nachos." Not chos.  Not chosen to be eaten because vegan cheese is puke.

Nachos. “Nachos.” Not chos. Not chosen to be eaten because vegan cheese is puke.

(I was trying to make nachos.)  I liked the attention.  I liked the discussion about the ethics of eating, mindfulness about food, and the health benefits of food choices.  It was enjoyable to watch other people froth at the mouth in defense of their own food choices.

(For the record, I’m not judging others.  I’m too busy grieving the loss of cheese in my life.)

Third, I’d been in a rut for a while with the chopped/cobb/Caesar salad routine, so it was a novelty to order the hummus with pita toast points and carrots.  I started eating an avocado every single day.  I replaced my afternoon yogurt with nuts and a mango.  I wept with joy when I found something called Soy Chorizo at Trader Joe’s.  Now of course I’m in a vegan rut.  I’ve eaten a criminal portion of beans over the past twenty eight days.  Lentils now remind me of the mushy hairballs I’ve pulled from the pipes in my sink. I had a crisis of faith when all the avocados at the store were rock hard.

I’ve put pickles on the black-bean-and-corn “burgers” that Jeff has perfected.  Folks, it’s not the same.  Think about putting a pickle on a loosely packed pile of beans and corn.  See? Not appetizing.

I’m willing to stick with vegan eating for all kinds of morally muddy reasons.  But please, someone, help me find something to put a pickle on.

Please.

If Loving Willie Nelson Makes Me a Redneck, Then Pass The Canned Meat

Willie Nelson photographed for Rolling Stone, in his main building ... I think they call it the saloon, outside of Austin TX on November 4, 2013 Display or On Page credit: Photograph by LeAnn Mueller CAPITAL 'A' in LeAnn

Willie Nelson photographed for Rolling Stone, in his main building … I think they call it the saloon, outside of Austin TX on November 4, 2013
Display or On Page credit: Photograph by LeAnn Mueller
CAPITAL ‘A’ in LeAnn

Last month I was at a swanky luncheon for a birthday party.  Never very good at small talk, I leaned over to a virtual stranger and posed this question: “Does having an obsession with Willie Nelson make me white trash?”  To her credit, she blinked only once and gave me an emphatic, ” ‘Fraid so.” She wasn’t kidding.  She’s also ten years my junior and a thousand times hipper (like I’m pretty sure she doesn’t drive a mini-van or turn in at 9:30 at night), so I know she was telling the truth.  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  My friend Robert has been referring for years to the “redneck Willie Nelson thing” I do.

At summer camp one year we had a white trash day (is that racist? tasteless?) and I remember lots of jokes about canned meat, like Vienna sausages, and marrying family members with no teeth.  If that’s what people think of when they think of Willie and his music, well, I can’t stop ’em.

But let me say this:

It’s not easy being a fan of an 82-year-old country music legend.

First, people assume I like country music.  For the record, I hate country music.  Hate. It.  I’m serious.  As a genre it ranks just after Gregorian chant and only slightly above Yo Gabba Gabba.  I really only like Willie.  I can tolerate Johnny Cash.  Waylon Jennings is alright.  I enjoy Kris Kristofferson, but he’s a Rhodes scholar who studied literature at Oxford, and he has a gorgeous head of hair to boot.  There’s nothing trash about that.

But contemporary country.  Yuck.  I have no opinion on Miranda Lambert and that tall guy she’s married to.  Or Eric Church.  I’ll cop to a soft spot for all Texas-born musicians, which is roughly 4/5 of them, but I don’t want to listen to them.  I will also declare my undying devotion to Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith, but they’re not country. They’re “singer songwriters.”

Wait. I know what you’re thinking.  Yes, I’m a Dolly Parton fan, but that’s technically blue grass, so fuck off.

My point is that 99% of country music can go have a cocktail with Bill Cosby for all I care.

Second, and way worse than being mistaken for a country music fan (*shudder*), is that octogenarians who tour sometimes have to cancel their shows.  Like last Friday, when Willie’s undisclosed health issue forced him to cancel a show in Hammon, Indiana.  I had second row (center) seats for that show at the Horseshoe Casino.  (Classy, thy name is Christie.)

I got the email about the cancellation in the middle of the work day.  I pounded on my desk so hard and let out a barbaric yawp so loud and pathetic that my next-door neighbor coworker ran into my office to check on me.

It’s pretty amazing to tell someone who thinks you just erased a day’s worth of work or blew a court-ordered deadline that, no, you’re just having a conniption fit because Willie Nelson canceled his show. (God, just writing that sentence makes me well up.)

“Hi, coworker who is still trying to decide if I’m cool, don’t mind me having a complete episode of decompensation over the status of Willie Nelson’s health.  Move along.”

I moped around all night, then crawled into bed to read his just-released memoir It’s A Long Story.  I find comfort where I can get it.

There is hope: the show’s been rescheduled to September.  I’m saying the rosary every night that Willie is healthy and strong enough to play that night.   In the meantime, I’m picking up the pieces and moving on the best I can, but not eating potted meats or listening to twangy, Nashville country “music.”

 

Cake Balls Make You Popular

I’m popular right now.   Here’s why:

Mommy! We've never loved you more! We forgive you for yelling all the damn time.

Mommy! We’ve never loved you more! We forgive you for yelling all the damn time.

Those are chocolate-covered strawberries, and they taste like a farmers’ market collided with an artisanal chocolate stand in some remote South American country.  But these are better because they weren’t procured under the corruption of a FARC-like guerilla group that terrorizes the countryside.  And because my “treat policy” at home is ever-shifting, in violation of the number one rule of parenting– BE CONSISTENT!– my kids were shocked I let them pick one and eat it.  They’re not stupid, they popped them in their mouths before I could flip-flop on them and start talking about the evils of sugar in the American childhood diet.

For a brief sixteen minute period, I was not only their favorite parent, but their favorite person in the world.  (Besides their beloved nanny, who Sadie wishes was her mom, but that’s another post I promise I’ll write when I get that dagger out of my aorta.)

Since I like feeling like the most loved person in the room, I decided to take some to work.  Funny, when you tell your co-workers you have specialty cake truffles in your office, suddenly they’re all, “hey, can I get you some paperclips?” Or “Want me to create a fax cover sheet for you?”

We gathered around my desk and popped those truffles in our maws and never looked back.  The soothing effects of delicious, bite-sized confections distracted us from the flurry of emails about the “roach problem” in the office.  “Roaches? Who cares? I have an almond joy truffle in my mouth.”

Not gonna lie, it felt really good.  Like Oprah, I was all, “There’s a cake truffle for you, Marcie from accounting! And you, Jim from procurement! And you, Big Bruce from…(well, none of us know what Bruce does) the cubicle by the bathroom.”

 

Cake balls. Delivered.

Cake balls. Delivered.

 

The packaging was super pretty.  Sadie’s going to take the insert into here classroom for show-and-tell.  Not the actual food, but the pretty pictures, so she may not win friends and influence her fellow kindergarteners with that.  Whatever. It’s not about her, it’s about me.

Back to me.

I’m grateful that Shari’s Berries offered to let me pick out some of their products.  These opinions are all my own, but they did send me these treats gratis– they arrived in boxes with fun cooling packs (ala Blue Apron).

I got my 15 minutes of fame and stardom in my little circle.  I’m must saying that if you want yours, you could get your own goodies and head to work.

 

Each bite was MOIST (my coworker said I had to stop saying that or she would stop letting me feed her cake pops) and delish.

Each bite was MOIST (my coworker said I had to stop saying that or she would stop letting me feed her cake pops) and delish.

 

Do you deserve this? Yes you do.

 

Not quite a little blue box, but not too shabby.

Not quite a little blue box, but not too shabby.

This Is Not a Tribute

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This is not a tribute post.

This is not a post about the string of glowy, happy memories we had together.  I have memories, sure, but do you really want to hear about the time I met her at Starbucks after her “bad” oncology visit? We sat outside. She drank one of those Naked fresh fruit juices and nibbled on melon slices. She told me how she rescued her dog and how she survived her childhood. I listened, hoping my presence helped her bear the outrage and indignity of the disease’s intrusion into her body and medical establishment’s constant misspelling of her last name.  “Those motherfuckers.”

Before I could claim her as my own, half my friends had already tagged her.  The stories I heard.  She strong-armed D. into on-line dating by getting her professional portraits and writing her profile.  Naturally, D met her husband in less than two weeks, whereupon she was assisted in planning a Hawaiian destination wedding with the help of none other.  You know who.  She of the Channel bags and the Four Seasons suites.  She played mother-of-the-bride, wedding coordinator, travel agent and matron of honor.

I didn’t know her then.

Not all the stories I heard were Mother Hen cum hero tales.  Some of them–  most?– included phantasmagorical viciousness.  She uninvited D. to her own wedding day-of because she didn’t want any “drama.”  She cut people out of her life, was known to accuse friend’s boyfriends of defrauding investors, and became famous in my circle for a steadfast refusal to take care of anyone’s feelings.

By the time I was face-to-face with her, she’d already been sick for two years.  She liked to joke that the cancer made her a shadow of her former “raging bitch self.”  Honestly, I wanted to see her slicing and dicing (so long as it wasn’t my flesh or vital organs).  I saw glimpses, mostly when she’d rail against the incompetence of the doctors involved in her early diagnosis or her mother’s shitty habit of hanging her every disappointment on her.

I guess when you’re fighting for your life and engaged in such tasks as “managing pain with morphine” there’s not much energy left over to get your bitch on.

This morning the texts were ominous.  We’re going to say our goodbyes.  By this afternoon, they were worse.  Putting her in twilight.  I comforted myself by assuring myself we were hardly more than acquaintances.  I was a blip on the radar of her life.  “She was really more of a friend of a friend,” I told a co-worker this morning as I tried to sort myself out for a day of productivity in the shadow of those texts.

I didn’t think about the time she came with me and Sadie to get a manicure, though I almost blurted out at dinner with my children, “Mommy’s friend– the one from the manicure, remember?– is dying tonight.”  I berated myself for borrowing someone else’s sorrows and claiming them as my own.

I decided it would be my job to console my friends who were closer to her.  Sending supportive texts like “Are you okay?” to shaken friends returning from hospital visits.   I sent one to B. who saw her this afternoon. His response betrayed his panic– run-on sentences, frantic fragments about her skeletal appearance, her joy that he’d come.

“Her cousin asked me if I was the writer,” B. reported.  “It appears she told her family about you.”

Me? B’s wrong. That can’t be right. She must know other writers, right?  I rack my brain.  I have no fucking idea what other writers she knows.  B. thought she was talking about me.

Maybe she was.

Maybe this is a tribute post.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Crying in Public

Sometimes I cry, and sometimes I’m in public when the urge strikes.  I’ve learned a lot from crying out in the big wide world, and because I’m a giver, I made a primer.

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These are my tips for the fine art of losing your shit in front of strangers.  Pass them along.

1. Do walk a few blocks away from your office. The only thing worse than avoiding strangers who might try to console you on the sidewalk is running into your co-workers who will be full of questions. It will be awkward if you have to lie and say, “Gram’s in hospice” or “I’m pregnant” because you don’t want them to know that the boss who just offered them the corner office by the good copier just offered you a free subscription to Monster.com.

2. Do bring your phone. You don’t have to call anyone. You don’t even need a charged battery. You really just need a phone case. When the urge to keen strikes, hold the phone case up to your ear and wail like it’s the day the music died. Strangers who see you weeping into a cell phone (case) will give you wide berth on the sidewalk. This prop is especially useful for people who like to scream when they cry. It’s much better to scream into your phone (case), “But what’s it all for? I gave them the best years of my life!” than to risk having shop owners trying to eject you from the premises.

3. Do get your brows waxed. This is good for when you’re on the verge of a big cry, but can’t get it out. Head over to a local nail salon. As a non-English-speaking Vietnamese woman named Tammi plucks your brows, the pain will trigger a flood of tears. Tammi will feel terrible, but explain, “It’s not your fault. It’s just that I gave them the best years of my life, and also? You’re tweezing the skin off my forehead.” Later if you have to explain why you are sobbing on the corner of LaSalle and Lake Street, you can point to your eyebrows. “Just got plucked. Hurts like a mother fucker.”

4. Do lean. The best public crying posture is to face a brick building, raise your arms above your head as if you are being frisked by an officer of the law, and let your salty tears drench the dirty city sidewalk. This stance allows you to avoid eye contact and also stretch your deltoids.

5. Do bring Kleenex. Humanity is generally a caring lot. People are going to offer you crumb-dusted tissues pulled from the bottom of their NPR tote bags. Unless you want to blow your nose into a tissue of unknown provenance, you should have your own. If you see someone reaching into her in her bag, or God forbid, into his trouser pocket to hand you a hanky, then wave your travel-size package of tissues and assure them, “I’m good. Thanks.”

6. Don’t compete with panhandlers. If you are public crying in a large urban city, be respectful of the people who are working and living on the streets. Don’t encroach on a homeless person’s turf or the turf of those who are advocating for the poor. This gets tricky during the holidays, a prime season for taking emotions to the streets, because you can’t ever cry in front of Target because SALVATION ARMY.

7. Don’t cry in an Ann Taylor Loft dressing room. You don’t want a twenty-something shop girl stopping by every three seconds to check on you, asking if you want to open an Ann Taylor Loft credit card in order to save extra 10% today. A better retail option for losing your shit is H&M because the music is so loud no one would hear you even if you were bludgeoned to death with a spiked bat.

8. Don’t duck into the foyer of a capital assessment management office building. The security guards tend to be skittish about full-grown women convulsing in spasms of grief. They tend to want to keep the business of mentally falling into shambles far away from the business of making billions of dollars for capital asset managers.

9. Don’t wander over by your therapist’s building, hoping you’ll catch him coming or going. If you “happen” to bump into him, he may charge you for his time, or, if he’s the nervous sort, he may file charges against you. Better to wander anonymously. Perhaps stroll by the local movie house so if you spot someone (say, Tom from accounting who was recently promoted to VP, Business Development), you can tell him you just saw a double feature, Terms of Endearment and Steele Magnolias.

Rosco P. Coltrane and Lessons From The Dukes of Hazzard

Childhood idol: Roscoe P. Coltrane

Childhood idol: Rosco P. Coltrane

 

In the late 70s and early 80s, I watched a lot of TV. Back then, parents were mere mortals (most of them smoking, drinking Tab and generally oblivious to things like seat belts and sun screen), not hovercrafts. It wasn’t easy to find overlapping television interests with my older-by-only-14-months brother. Where I favored Little House on the Prairie and Guiding Light, he liked the Six Million Dollar Man and Sanford & Son.

 

There was but one tiny patch of harmony from 1979-1985, a single show that we both embraced along with our Tang and Chips Ahoy. In The Dukes of Hazzard, we found characters we could both love– those rascally Duke boys and the zany cast of characters who chased, reviled, protected, guided and admired them.

 

Oh the Dukes of Hazzard.

 

There weren’t a lot of women on the show, except of course Daisy Duke, whose shorts eventually inspired a song by 69 Boyz (also of Tootsee Roll fame and indisputable national treasures, I think we can all agree). Dear old Daisy—she had long hair, tan legs, sparkly teeth, and men were always fawning all over her.

 

She wasn’t my favorite, though. She never got to do anything fun, except teeter around on those high heels trying to keep her vagina from falling out of her denim fig leaf. (This reminds me of another Dukes character, Cooter Davenport, who was the local mechanic.) I was nothing if not a budding feminist.

 

My favorite was Rosco P. Coltrane.  Now there was a character. Sure, he was the inept and crooked county sheriff who was buddies with the evil Boss Hogg, but I couldn’t get enough of him. He was better than the Duke boys because his car doors worked.  His dog was cute.  I liked his uniform.  But most of all, I distinctly remember thinking he had the greatest name of any television character I’d ever heard of. (At the time, I thought his name was actually “Rosco Peako Train,” but whatever.) When my brother and I played cops and robbers games down at my grandmother’s farm, I insisted on playing Rosco.

 

Here’s how it broke down: I wanted to marry Bo Duke, played by the fluffy-haired John Schneider; I wanted to be Rosco P. Coltrane; and I wanted Uncle Jesse to be my sage, next-door neighbor. (In a phenomenal twist of fate, the actor who played Uncle Jesse, Denver Pyle, ended up marrying a woman (Tippie Johnston) from a small town in Texas (Forreston) and lived a half mile from my grandmother’s farm.  I have an autographed picture.)

 

Having just seen that the actor who played in the indomitable Rosco P. Coltrane left this earth last week, I’m gripped with an urgent need to memorialize the lessons from Dukes of Hazzard. On the off chance that my children (1) learn to read, (2) find this blog, and (3) do not expire from mortification, I’d like them to know the following:

 

  1. Minor characters are often more interesting than the so-called main protagonists. See Rosco P. Coltrane, Enos Strate, Cooter Davenport, Cletus Hogg. (This is also true of Sanford & Son, whose minor characters include Grady Wilson, Rollo Lawson, Bubba Bexley, et al.)
  2. Always use your middle initial, so you can replicate the greatness of “ROSCO P. COLTRANE.”
  3. Never watch a show that glamorizes the Confederacy, which includes shows that slap the stars and bars on an old beater car that has doors that won’t open.
  4. If you become enamored with a bumble-fuck minor character who has no moral center, I will shuttle you straight to therapy, no matter how cute his hound is.
  5. When you get to therapy, show the good doctor this post as Ex. A, potential white trash roots.
  6. Do not make your name wearing scandalously short shorts because that’s all anyone will remember about you.
  7. Do not launch a country music career after you have made a “chase” show set in a fictional rural town in Kentucky. (Looking at you, John Schneider.)
  8. Don’t bother going back to watch any of the shows from the late 70s or early 80s.
  9. Exception: Go back and watch Sanford & Son.
  10. DO NOT tell Uncle Doug that I ever admitted that Sanford & Son was a seminal show or that Redd Foxx is a fucking genius.
  11. Don’t say “fucking.”
  12. You kids should find something better to do than watch TV.
  13. Don’t call a vagina a “cooter,” even though I was really tempted to do just that above.