Friday, July 06, 2012

Weekend Storytime

I have interesting stories, but I'm a shit storyteller. I can't create an interesting plot, I ramble in poorly punctuated sentences, and my conclusions are typically something along the lines of, "and then we all went home." Yeah, that's not going to stop me from subjecting you to snippets of strangeness from my forty-plus (plus, plus) years of life. Rather than go the traditional route, I thought it might be more interesting to reduce them to something longer than a Tweet, but shorter than a short story, tossing the weirdness out for readers without trying to understand it. I think this will be a regular feature-let me know what you think.

Teen Girl With String and a Bottle of Ink

In what was probably the nicest dorm accommodation in North America, I shared a house with eight other girls, two adults, and their toddler child. We each had our own rooms, nicer than many a bedroom I've had since.

I needed to ask someone a question-let's call her "Nicki", wait, scratch that, her name was, "Nicki". I find her sitting on the bedroom floor with a needle knotted several times, and a few bottles of coloured ink. I probably asked something intelligent like, "Hey, whatcha doin' with the needles and ink?" because even at fifteen, I had a knack for asking interesting questions. Needles, string, ink-it looked interesting, so I asked.

"I'm going to give myself a tattoo." she replied. Over the years, I've tried to remember if she actually called it a "prison tattoo" , as that's what I've come to understand the method of needles and string as. Seeing how I have one very small tattoo on my waist that I got in 1984 as a way of freaking out my mother (it worked!) I'm not really an expert on tattoo, or prison. I haven't done the prison thing (yet).

"Cool." I said. I probably said, "cool" that was what people said then. I might have said, "nifty" if I was being clever, but most teenagers aren't clever-I probably said, "cool." I admit to being somewhat of a magpie when it comes to art supplies, so I'd guess I sat down on the floor to look at the ink. I didn't want her to give me a tattoo-I'd seen the way she applied her robin's egg blue eye makeup-a tattoo from that girl would flirt with a level of self hate even my fifteen year old self couldn't manage.

I picked up a couple of the colourful bottles with dropper stoppers. My mother liked to paint. I won't go as far as saying she was an artist, but she'd been to art school, and when the right balance of valium and diet pills kicked in, she'd mix up some paint and slap it on canvas. Sometimes, I'd help mix the paint. She didn't like to mix paint whilst smoking because she'd have to wash her hands before returning to the cigarette, lest the toxic pigments get transfered to her mouth via the cigarette paper.

I held up a couple bottles-I think it was cobalt and something containing cadmium-I can't remember, but I recall saying something like, "You're going to die if you do this." My adult self likes to think I was matter-of-fact about it, but I probably said something like, "Don't you have any ink that isn't labeled toxic?" As I had the reputation as the one who was, "good at science", she went rummaging for the other purchases, finally settling on a bottle of India ink.

"See, the label says it conforms to standards..." I don't know what the standards were back then, or what the label said, but we arrived at the conclusion that the bottle of India ink was safe. She wanted to do a test on the sole of her foot, in case it looked really bad, which seemed reasonable. Then, the unreasonable happened-she used my foot instead. How this came to be is lost in the decades since, though it must have been persuasive as I'm not generally the sort of person who bends to peer pressure.

The soles of your feet have (thankfully) plenty of calloused, dead layers. I didn't look until the very end, which I'm glad for, or I might have laughed causing her to puncture me. Less prison than home economics, she'd neatly dipped the thread in ink, then sewn a few lines on the bottom of my foot. Under a single layer of skin she'd dragged the thread in the way that my sister used to take a string a sew her calloused fingertips together as a way to entertain her baby sister.

It lasted a few weeks, then sloughed away.

It Isn't the Opposite of Existentialism

The house-parents were Fundamentalist Christians. At some point, someone mentioned Surrealism, and before long, the toddler daughter of the Fundamentalists Christians was responding to every query such as, "Do you want cheese for lunch?" or, "Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour" with, "Surrealistic."

She did that for a while.

Go Smoke a Cigarette

Two boys arrived to first period class late. It was winter, in Chicago. The teacher was a flake, I can't remember what she taught suggesting there wasn't much to take from whatever it was she was assigned to teach us. They mumbled some excuse about having wet hair, and needing to dry it before going out the door, or they'd get pneumonia. Lame, of course, but an excuse probably offered up successfully before.

"You can't catch cold from a wet head." she informed them. That should have been the end of it, or maybe staying after school to do a few menial tasks. Instead, she made them go to the sink, wet their hair, and stand outside the classroom door in the freezing Chicago winter. I think they were instructed to stay out there until they'd finished a couple cigarettes (look, it was over thirty years ago, before zero tolerance). The plan was to check them over the next few days to see if either had developed any illness. They lived.


My mother had hip surgery, and I went to see her in the recovery room. A rabbi came to see her, and she demanded of him, "Do you have any morphine?"
"Well, no" he replied. Before he could offer to fetch a nurse, she screamed at him with considerable strength for someone that had just undergone surgery,
"Then get the fuck out of my room!"


When I lived in Boston, the family that lived in house behind mine were really loud. Sometimes we'd hear them fighting. Occasionally the mother would get drunk, sit on the back porch and sing, "Old MacDonald" for the entire neighbourhood.

"I'm so fucking ashamed of you, you whore, I can't stand to have people over here because they'll see you...and you used up a whole god damned bottle of my fucking conditioner! A whole bottle, you piece of shit!"

"Gosh", that's a terrible way to speak to your daughter", I said to Mr. ETB.

"Oh, that's the daughter talking to the mother. Sometimes they lock her out on the porch when she's drunk, and she sings Old MacDonald."

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