Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Some things that you usually have to find out on your own

including, but not limited to, The Caffeine Chasm

Toe socks add mucho bulkage in between your toes, and nearly double the size of the end of your foot, from outside of the big toe to the outside of the pinky. Think about how you look with cotton balls shoved between your toes during a home pedicure. What shoes to you currently own that will accommodate all that extra toe room? Probably none. So your choices are these: Only wear the toe socks around the house, enduring that endless toe wedgie feeling for the sake of cuteness, or don't buy them at all. Take it from someone who made the mistake of buying them during the first toe sock craze of the late 70's, and don't buy them at all. Nothing is cute enough to endure that endless toe wedgie feeling.

If your girlfriends and co-workers make no bones about telling you to your face on a regular basis that you are really mean to your husband, they are probably right. And one day, Mr. Longsuffering will figure this out for himself, if he hasn't already. Either work on the issues between you two, or prepare yourself for the day he decides to upgrade to Wife 2.0. Sorry, but if you can't see this coming, someone has to give you the heads up.

Those water yo yo things, if squeezed hard enough, will explode right in your face. J and I found this out the hard way. Well, to be more accurate, I should say J did, because when I got him one as a joke, and said, "Look what happens when you squeeze them," he got way more than he bargained for. Sppplllurrrrttt! "Oh, sorry honey, that's NOT what I thought was going to happen!" (Snicker.)

Brush your teeth before you put on your shirt for work, or you are going to get toothpaste on it. Yes, you will. Don't think that scrubbing it with water and a wash cloth will get it totally out, either. You had better just get a whole new shirt. Toothpaste is magic, and can re-appear even hours later, even if you have vigorously scrubbed and soaked it away. Yes, it will. And if you don't follow this advice, and go to work in the shirt after thinking that you scrubbed it all out, your co-workers see the toothpaste stain, and they are not going to believe you when you get all embarrassed and mumble something about it being toothpaste. No, they won't.

Never ask a coffee drinker to get you a tea: Part I of the Caffeine Chasm. You will not get your hot beverage the way you like it, no matter how well intentioned the person is, because they are on the other side of the caffeine chasm, and they simply do NOT understand how to make your drink for you. For example, tea with honey and lemon, has to be done in a certain order, to get the most out of each ingredient. First, you put the honey in the cup. Then, pour in the hot water while stirring the honey around, so that the honey is mixed thoroughly into the hot water. Next, dunk the tea bag over and over until you get just the right tea color, and then through the tea bag out. Last, drop the lemon juice or squeeze lemon over the tea and stir in between drops, until you get just the right amount of yellow tinge to the tea. Promise me now that you'll do it this way, instead of doing tea-ruining things like leaving the bag in (wicked strong bitter tea is the result) or do something foolish, like leave it to the end to add the honey. That is just silly and messy.

Never ask a tea drinker to get you a coffee: Part II of the Caffeine Chasm. You will not get your hot beverage the way you like it, no matter how well intentioned the person is, because they are on the other side of the caffeine chasm, and they simply do NOT understand how to make your drink for you. For example, if you like your coffee light and sweet, most tea drinkers don't understand that you put the sugar in first, then the milk or half 'n' half second. Let's not even get into the fact that they almost never think to ask your preference about the milk or half 'n' half, but get to the real crux of the matter: They always pour the coffee first, and then worry, "Did I leave enough room for the milk?" Next, they are standing over a drain or garbage, pouring out the excess black coffee and adding milk drip by drip to try to get it to look slightly like milk was added at all, and they will come back all red in the face and meekly hand you a decidedly DARK cup of coffee. You must educate these poor, wretched souls, if you ever want to drink a decent cup of coffee again. Sugar and milk first, dammit! THEN, pour in the coffee.

The Caffeine Chasm Part III: People who drink neither coffee nor tea are to be given a wide berth, as one would a crashed gasoline tanker on the verge of exploding. There is something wrong with them, and they are not to be trusted.

There now, I hope that these rules have given you something to think about, and you will lead a happier life as a result. Or at least you will get a better cup of coffee next time.

Monday, November 10, 2003

The The The Answering Machine Message

It is difficult to explain to people what it was like growing up with a mentally ill parent. Let me backtrack for a moment, and re-start this by saying that I don't begin acquaintances by telling people about my Mom. It's certainly not as if I go to a party, extend my hand in greeting to a new person, and announce, "Hi, I'm Carrie, and my Mom was a Paranoid Schizophrenic! How ya doin'?" Um, no, that wouldn't do at all, now would it?

The subject usually only comes up when I've gotten to know someone well, I trust them, and I surmise that they are intelligent enough to have a conversation about such a thing, even if they don't know much about the topic, without ignorantly extrapolating from such a revelation that I must then, by nature or nurture, be insane as well. I'm not the picture of mental health by a long-shot, but although it seems silly, you'd be surprised how many people think that if your parent is Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, that the apple won't fall far from the tree.

Having said all that, over the years, I've gotten an interesting range of reactions from people when I confess my family's dark secret to them. Most of them seem concerned that they will offend me or upset me by discussing it, but now that my mother is dead and her ashes safely buried in a memorial garden, it is no longer a topic fraught with anxiety. Oh yeah, those years made their mark on my psyche for sure, but it doesn't make me feel any worse to discuss it. It actually seems to help, being able to talk about it, feeling less stigmatized by being able to just be open about it. I prefer to relate the stories of those days with humor, because as I've often said, I'd rather laugh about it than cry.

I suspect that people don't know how to react when I find some humor in the situation, or in specific, darkly comical events. Some people act as if I started making jokes about how someone died while standing over their coffin at a wake. You are not allowed to poke fun at certain situations - it is just not done! How dare I find my situation amusing?

Well, that attitude frustrates me, because it reminds me of the ridiculous way my mother's family would pretend that she wasn't "really" mentally ill. They would completely avoid any real discussion of her illness, and preferred to remember her as she was before her break with reality: A smart, vibrant, pretty, young woman, with her whole life ahead of her.

I understand that it is always heartbreaking to the family of a mentally ill person to see all that promise wasting away, their beautiful young woman turned into a mute, hallucinating shell of her former self. Still, imagine the confusion and inner turmoil of a child, who instinctively senses that something is "wrong" with Mommy, but everyone pretends as if she just had the flu, and that she will be better, and ignores or makes excuses for her bizarre and selfish behavior. It is an excellent training ground, if you want that child to grow up constantly doubting her own perceptions and instincts. "It felt like something was wrong with Mom, but since everyone else says she's okay, I guess I'm wrong. I mean, they are probably right, she just needs a nap. Or the other day, when she was acting strange, I guess it makes sense that they said her blood sugar must be low and it makes her moody. And of course, those damn doctors keep filling her up with pills, she would have been fine if those villains had just left her alone. Yes, she would have eventually stopped calling Dad at work when I was an infant, to tell him that the voices were telling her to harm me. If only those damn doctors would've just left her alone, she'd have been back to her old self in no time."

If you have spent even one evening sitting in a church basement room full of chairs and people who talk about their problems, you will have heard of the concept of ignoring the elephant sitting in the living room. In this metaphor, my Mom was the elephant, and her family sat around talking about the weather, while some of them tried to sneak the elephant some peanuts while no one was looking. It took me a long time to understand that family dynamic, and an equally long time struggling to forgive it. I think I'm almost there, even though some bitterness sneaks up on me once in a while.

There are funny moments that will shine through all the muck and mire that was that existence, and some of the most hysterical stories from those times were at the expense of Mom and her mental patient friends. I already know that I'm going to hell for finding amusement at the expense of these poor souls, so don't bother pointing that out. Making fun of her insane friends, and especially this one fellow Jim, who she decided was her "boyfriend", was sport in our apartment. Even though my father bent over backwards to keep Mom at home with us instead of institutionalizing her, this selfish bitch would complain bitterly about my father, and would talk about how perfect her Jim was, and sometimes she would threaten to run away with him. "Go ahead!" my Dad would bellow, almost amused, and of course she wouldn't move a muscle to get packing. She would just seethe at him the rest of the day for calling her bluff. Dad realized it was all bullshit, but it made me, and most especially my brother, boil over with rage that she would dare attempt to cuckold my father, even if it was all a deluded fantasy. After all, Jim was really a guy about half Mom's age, mentally ill, unemployed, a chronic stutterer who lived with his parents well past an acceptable age. What were the odds of these two hitting the road together? Her threat was an emotionally ruthless, yet totally laughable bluff.

Now that you have the background, here's one of the stories that I enjoy telling people about my lovely family life, because it touches on so many layers of absurdity. Picture this: My father was sitting in our living room, watching television, and Mom was in her accustomed lounging position on the couch opposite him, enjoying one of an endless stream of Salem 100's. Our answering machine was perched up on a high shelf in the adjoining dinette, and I was standing up on a dining room chair, pressing the buttons on top of the machine to listen back to our messages.

Unfortunately, we would soon find out that the answering machine was loaded with messages, but they were all from one person.

Outgoing message. Beep! "Huh huuuuuh huh huh huuuuuuuh huuuaye huh hi there C-Cuh.-Cuh...." BEEP!

Beep! "Huh huuuuuh...........huh huuuuh huuuuuh huaye hi there" BEEP!

Beep! "Hauh........huh..........huh..........huh...........hi there Connie, this is" BEEP!

I glanced towards my Dad, and although he pretended to be watching television, I knew by a certain telltale curl of the corner of his mouth that he was engaged in the same battle for self-control I was. The stakes were high. If we broke down and laughed, either or both of us, Mom would be a bitter, harranging harpy for the rest of the evening, and we would have to listen to the endless tirade about wonderful Jim and what awful people we were for mocking the afflicted. I dared not meet Dad's eye, or it would be the end for both of us. I admired his self-control, knowing full well that Mom was staring right at Dad while these messages played back, looking for an excuse to lash into him. I, however, at least had the cover of standing up on the chair, with part of the wall between rooms for cover between myself and Mom's glare.

The torture continued on.

Beep! "Huuuuuuuh. Huh huh huuuuuuh hi Connie, this is J-J-J-J" BEEP!

Beep! "Huh huh. Huuuuuhuhuhuh. Huuuuuuuuuuh............Huh huh."BEEP!

Beep! "Huh huh hi Connie, this is J-J-J-J Jim. Jim. I wuh wuh" BEEP!

Beep! "Huh huhhh, huuuuuuuh.......huhuhuh hi hi huhuh."BEEP!

The silly bastard kept starting over from the top! It was too much to bear. I was silently laughing my ass off, clinging to the wall and the shelf, my knees buckling and about to pee my pants any second. It was just too funny to be able to hold back. I knew that my crumbling would spell disaster for my Dad, who was now letting out funny hiccupping sounds, trying desperately to pay attention to the damn television. Mom, who I managed a peek at, was boring a large hole through my father's forehead with her intense loathing for him at that moment, because her wonderful boyfriend's humiliation was perfect and complete.

Beep! "Hi there C-C-C......Connie. This is yuh yuh yuh your friend J-J-J-J" BEEP!

Beep! "Huh huh huuuuuuhuhuhuhuh. Huh. Hi..."

That was it. It must've been around the ninth or tenth message when the damn broke. Dad and I burst out laughing at the exact same time, because it was now beyond impossible to ignore the double whammy of his formidable Mel Tillis impression, combined with the stupidity of continually starting his message from the top, no matter how much progress he'd made on the last one. I collapsed in a spasm of laughter, right off the chair I'd been standing on, and Dad laughed so hard that tears were streaming down his face.

I know it was passive-aggressive, unkind to stutterers, and that we were doomed to be in the dog house for the rest of the day. And oh, trust me, we paid the price for that indescretion. But damn, was that funny.

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