Midnight Ramble

This place is made of  stories that struck me shiny and, magpie like, I lined my blog/nest with them. Today, I buzzed about Springtime happy, then caught up with the The Rejectionist. You must read her most recent post, if for no other reason than the last line is pure BRILLIANCE. In addition to the brilliant last line, I found this.  My mood thusly reoriented, I set off with my dogs for a twilight ramble around the nearest woodland pond. I will continue to ramble.

Tonight was the first warm night. My blood has thinned, and like a lizard needs a hot rock, I need the warmth to move, to live. I wasn’t the only one so affected; crickets and cicadas and frogs and toads and mockingbirds all sang a song for joy at the return of the Southern heat. The day’s hot sun set the smells free, too. Spicy onion grass, sweet fruit blossom and juicy fresh cut grass mingled along with the rising scent of asphalt on my street. But they were just a prelude for the pond, which has sat cold and flavorless throughout the long winter. Somehow I’d forgotten the way a pond smells during the summer, and once having met it again, I couldn’t believe I’d misplaced the memory.

I let Tom Foolery and Shenanigans off leash and they raced off, kicking up dust behind them. Even the dirt smelled alive. A fish leapt and landed with a splash. I’ve never actually seen one leap. I only ever see the ripples. For all I know it could be tiny aliens falling from the sky and landing in the pond, but I go ahead and presume it’s fish jumping.

Magic nights don’t come along everyday, and this one took me back to the best one of all. I thought about a night, a year and a half ago now, and how I wish I could tell its story. I’ve tried, many times. It started with a black man singing the blues as he walked down Queen Street. In the middle there was Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say” on a turntable in a ramshackle house covered in kudzu. It’s doors and windows were open. Red paisley sheets hung in the spaces, shining red-gold from the light and the music inside. It ended with a walk past the horse pasture on Main Street. It was true night by then, only the faintest bit of blue on the horizon. The horses, as they always do, felt something in the air. I watched them trot and snort and toss their heads, as they cast strange silhouettes up on the hillside. In between I saw a cloud of swallows erupt from the green metal roof of a rotting house, long since abandoned, along with bullfrogs and dogs and all sorts of things. It’s probably the best night I’ve ever known, and I don’t think I’ll ever do it justice.

But tonight wasn’t too shabby. I’ll take it. I wonder, what would a woman do without two dogs and some woods at hand? I suppose the question is particular to me. What would this woman do without two dogs and some woods at hand? It would be a lesser life to live.

Mutton Bustin’

Jake

Number 519, about to bust some mutton... with swagger.

Many moons ago, my mom was a rootin’, tootin’ would-have-been cowgirl growing up in Idaho. Would-have-been because, despite her all encompassing desire, her parents would not get her a horse. Despite living on acreage and being comfortably well off. And this is why, despite not living on much acreage and sometimes having financial difficulties because of it, my sisters and I did have horses. And it is because of my mother’s Idaho roots that we grew up watching rodeo, specifically bullriding.

This tradition has passed from my sister Becky to my nephew Jake. Jake has long loved watching bullriding. Becky records bullriding at night and then he’ll watch during the day, often the same rides over and over. His favorite rides feature “beeding.” What’s beeding, you might ask? Well, for some reason, Jake has a hard time putting the “L” in that word. It should be “bleeding.” “Is he beeding, Mama?” Jake will ask. A beeding cowboy is a for real cowboy, and Jake likes him some for real cowboys.  Jake also likes to ride horses. His first pony Frosty (or Froh-Froh, in Jakenenese) took Jake on many rides around the farm. He rides with good balance and no fear, just like a for real cowboy.  It is perhaps time I mentioned Jake is three, and won’t turn four until late October.

Yesterday, Jake and his parents, along with cousins and aunt, went to a local rodeo that featured Mutton Bustin’. Mutton Bustin’ being essentially bullriding for little kids, only on sheep. As Jake took in the spectacle he knew this was what he was made for. His cousins would be Mutton Bustin’, and, by God, so would Jake. The only thing was, the next youngest kid in the Mutton Bustin’ was six. But Jake had an all encompassing desire to be in the rodeo, much like his grandmother before him, and so my sister signed him up and got him a number.

As they waited in line Becky’s eyes grew wide at the sight of so many children crying, scared to bust some mutton. “Are you sure you want to do this, Jake?” she’d ask. “It’s okay, Mama,” Jake would reply. “It’s okay.” Children were leaving the arena bruised and bloody. “Jake, look at these kids,” Becky said, “see how they’re scraped up?” “That’s okay, Mama, that’s okay.” “You’re going to hit the ground hard, Jake!” “That’s okay, Mama, that’s okay.”

Finally, it was Jake’s turn. Jake’s dad, Brent, watched from the stands, where he had the opportunity to hear the announcer comment on Jake’s pending ride. “What kinda Mama puts their baby in the Mutton Bustin’?” the announcer asked. No doubt Brent attempted to look inconspicuous. Becky did not hear the announcer, as she was down in the belly of the beast, in the chutes and gates from which the rodeo operates. Jake got on his sheep in the for real bull riding chute. He was ready to go, and he was fearless.

Off Jake went, riding his sheep beautifully. He rode the sheep to the 8 second mark, earning a score of 65. He then continued to ride his sheep until it stopped. He stayed on the sheep until the ring assistants came over to him. He tried to stay on as they literally pried him off of his sheep. Jake was just getting started with his Mutton Bustin’. Ultimately, his score was good for a middle of the pack finish, placing him ahead of many children far older. While he didn’t win, being a three year old with a score of 65 was enough to turn him into a celebrity of sorts at the rodeo, with several strangers coming up to give him high-fives. Jake took his rock star turn as his due. After all, he’s always known he was a for real cowboy, it just took the rest of the world awhile to catch-up.

From Whence I Came

Shatner

When CBS picked up Sh*t My Dad Says they cast William Shatner in the role of the dad. And, without knowing it, in a way, also in the role of my mom.

My parents. They are a delight. And I mean this most sincerely. I got lucky in the parent lottery. Like Evan, I grew up with a lot of love and support. My dad, a fan of The Power of Myth series, found the phrase, “follow your bliss,” and both my parents used it often. They even meant it when they said it. My dad likes to call us all up and say, “I want you to know I love you, I’m proud of you, and here’s your mommy.” My mom does the heavy lifting part of actually holding a conversation with us. Which isn’t to say my dad isn’t sincere. He is. He just doesn’t have time for the details. (Followers of this blog may remember how much patience my family has.)

This pattern holds true elsewhere in my parents’ lives. My dad is a CPA and is extremely good at what he does. After being a special agent with IRS for 21 years, he has a unique perspective on the tax code and is especially adept at dealing with tax controversy. Plus, who wouldn’t want an accountant who radiates the message, “I love you and I’m proud of you”? Of course, he still tags on, “and now here’s Irene.” Because at the end of the day, it’s still my mom who does the details. She runs the office, and she’s very, very good at it. Growing up I always used to say, “my mom should have been the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.” I have no doubt she could have done so and excelled, but then I wouldn’t have had her for a mom (or at least not in the same way), so it worked out well for me.

Because it is tax season, and one of their employees is moving, I have been recruited to help out. My mom has a special brand of what I will call comedy that I find endlessly entertaining. During my first day back, it occurred to me that it is remarkably similar to the Twitter sensation, Sh*t My Dad Says. There are some important differences. Primarily, Irene is never profane. And I mean to say never. I have a nickname for her that she has mixed feelings about – Queen Irene. But hey – it rhymes and it’s descriptive. My mother holds herself with all the dignity and the authority of a monarch. So, while she would not engage in the profanity, the ode de, “I can’t believe I have to explain this to my semi-retarded child,” is identical.

A couple of examples.

During a lull on the first day my mom looked at me. I was wearing corduroys and a long sleeved cotton t-shirt. She said, “I feel like I need to take you somewhere and get you some professional clothes.” I looked at me and said, “is this not professional?” The rest of the women who work there were standing around us. “What do you want me to wear?” I ask. “Take a look around,” my mom said. “Get a visual.”

I have subsequently repeated, “get a visual” about 500 times since then.

The next day she said, “can you mail some things for me?” I, of course, say sure. Now, this is not my first rodeo. And by rodeo I mean tax season. I know where the outgoing mailboxes are. There is a row of boxes for UPS, US Mail, and FedEx. Quite reasonably, I think, I inquired as to what box it should go in. My mom fixed me in her steely blue stare and said, “mail it. US Mail.” I took the envelopes, which I now saw were affixed with stamps. “Okay,” I said. She continued to stare at me. “It’s the blue one,” she added. For the record, I am 33 years old.

In my mother’s defense, later that day I went out the office mailboxes and got the mail. I brought the mail back in. Upon arriving home (30 miles from the office) I discovered a frantic voicemail and a frantic e-mail. She wanted to know where her keys were. The mailbox key is on a ring with her car key, house key, office key and many other keys. I sent her an e-mail back. The answer, “in my pocket.”

ATTENTION!

I have important news for everyone who lives in Los Angeles, locales that are Los Angeles-adjacent, or who have frequent flyer miles/spare cash to burn: Peter Exline will be a very special guest at this year’s Lebowski Fest!

If you have the opportunity, go hear his stories live and in person. It’s worth the drive/time/money/what have you. It’ll be better recreation than driving, bowling, or even the occasional acid flashback.

This year’s Lebowski Fest is April 2nd and 3rd. In other words, coming up soon. For more information, go to Leblogski.

As a P.S., Jeff Bridges, God bless ’em, plugged Lebowski Fest in the media room immediately after winning his Oscar. And as an additional aside, was anyone else surprised to see just how Dude-like Bridges is in real life? I thought he’d really been acting in The Big Lebowski. Turns out, he was really acting in every other movie he’s ever been in.

You Can Totally Do This

Tomorrow, America’s Next Top Model returns to the CW for it’s 23rd season “cycle.” (That number is approximate.) Tyra Banks, God bless her, is an entertainer. Perhaps not in the manner in which she envisions, but an entertainer nonetheless. While some may beweep ANTM’s outcast state, for me every worsening edition is the lark at break of day arising, singing hymns at heaven’s gate. For when something goes from good to bad, to really bad, to unbelievably bad, we somehow cycle (ha!) back around to an art form that is nothing more or less than pure poetry. Hence the Shakespeare.

Jay Manuel

Jay Manuel, my spirit guide.

Back when I believed myself better than the pure poetry that is Tyra Banks, I became sick. A nasty head cold, mild fever, the kind of sick where you can’t sleep but you can’t do anything productive, either. You’re caught in limbo. Until you find an ANTM marathon on VH1 and suddenly you find out what heaven is like. “Who is the man with silver hair?” you ask, your voice ethereal as it drifts through heaven’s misty clouds. “He is our spirit guide,” the angels whisper back. “And creative director, Jay Manuel.” 

A few months after my discovery of ANTM I found myself on a night much like tonight, knowing that in a couple of days, the insanity would begin again. I slipped off to sleep, and there a dream overtook me.

I dreamed that I was me, and yet I was also a contestant on America’s Next Top Model. The other girls were as stupid and tall and skinny and mean as they always are, but I was confident. Jay Manuel, our “creative director,” gathered us for a challenge. Oddly, the challenge had nothing to do with modeling. Rather, it was our job to draw a picture. “Sweet!” I thought. “This challenge is really playing to my strengths.”

I drew a picture of a steam locomotive climbing a hill. It was a picture full of verve and ferocity. Jay was most pleased, especially as the other contestants had failed miserably. Right then and there, before all the rest of the girls, Jay turned to me and said, “you’re short, you’re fat, and you’re old, but you can TOTALLY do this.” I looked over at the others, haughty superiority in my eyes. “That’s right, chicas,” I silently communicated to them. “I can TOTALLY do this.”