Thursday, July 20, 2006

toastmasters and tripping

I went to a Toastmasters meeting this week. It was probably one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

(Most of my surreal experiences have come from dropping acid and doing mushrooms. Certainly, going to see Rocky Horror should be a required activity while tripping; during the movie we were either cowering in fear at the stuff being tossed around or hollering and giggling wildly.

Tripping and enjoying cocktails while watching highly skilled performers make balloon animals--and then stand there looking mean and expecting a tip--was another frightening, surreal experience. [Wow, how did they DO that? Man, that's cool....Whoa, what? They want a TIP...? Uhhh, shit, we gotta get OUT of here, man.]

Shrooms made me feel as if every bodily orifice was oozing something.)

Toastmasters ranked right up there with tripping in surreality.

The meeting was in a church basement, of course; aren't all slightly subversive meetings of people with some kind of problem held in church basements? There was no sign outside, so I made my way in look at the crowd, and I wondered if this was in fact an AA meeting.

"Heh heh. No, this is Toastmasters. Hi. I'm Garrett. I got your email."

Garret seemed to be a nice guy. The rest of the group appeared to be nice, completely ordinary, geeky individuals who would have looked quite at home at a Star Wars convention.

It was a very highly structured meeting, with a timekeeper, a grammarian, an "ah" and "um" counter, an MC..everybody had some kind of job. There was only one main speaker (she spoke about memory, but I forget what she said). Then there was the table topics guy, who'd ask others to come up, ask them a question and watch with glee as they melted under the hot light of extemporaneous speaking.

And applause. They applaud everything. Everybody who gets up and speaks, no matter how poorly, is worthy of applause. I found this rather distracting and...surreal.

Toward the end of the meeting, the MC got up, explained how people can choose to speak or just say no...and then leers in my direction.

"Would our guest care to come up and speak?"

Now, I've done a lot of theater. I announce at sporting events. I usually don't have a problem with speaking in public, even if the audience is in my lap. It doesn't mean I'm particularly good at it, although I have brought people to tears--intentionally--but I'm comfortable with it.

But now, I felt incredibly inept. I didn't know what to do with my arms...I'm very animated and tend to wave them around a lot. So I crossed them, uncrossed them, held my hands in front of me, behind me, couldn't I ended up waving them around anyway as I told the audience about my girlhood experience of getting lost in Atlantic City, and being rescued by Mr. Peanut.

Yup. THAT Mr. Peanut, that 7-foot tap-dancing, cane-twirling top-hatted legume. I had wandered onto the boardwalk (this was before casinos) and evidently followed the aroma of fresh roasted peanuts. I used to collect Mr. Peanut memorabilia, so it seemed quite serendipitous to find the man/nut himself, strolling on the boardwalk.

So I told this story, embellishing it where it needed a boost, waving my hands all around, nervous as I've ever been before an audience...and they laughed. They LAUGHED! They LIKED me!

And then, they applauded!

It wasn't a good speech; in fact, I think I went over my allotted time.

But since they were so nice to me, and applauded and laughed and generally gave my ego the stroking it needs...I might just become an offical Toastmaster, and learn all the very serious toasting skills necessary to one day, perhaps, WOW an audience.

Without tripping.

Monday, July 17, 2006

wanted: wives for hoboes

My younger son, J, has a new obsession.


He's always talking about these mythical "hoboes," riding the rails singing railroad songs, like the hobo in Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Every homeless guy he sees on the street is a hobo.

"But he's not on a train," I remind him.

"Well, that's ok. He's walking. And look, he's spitting too."

"Is that what hoboes do?"

"Yeah, they walk and spit a lot."

"Why do you think they walk a lot?"

"I dunno."

"Do you think perhaps they don't have anywhere to go?"

"Well, they don't live in houses."

"Why not?"

"I don't know. They don't have a wife, so they don't have a house."

"But couldn't they live by themselves, in a nicely furnished bachelor pad?"

"Too many questions, Mom."

I explain to him that perhaps, instead of jolly, singing hoboes, these dirty guys he sees pushing shopping carts around are really just homeless. They have problems, so they don't have jobs, they don't have money, and they don't have a home.

"Right. Because they don't have a wife to take care of them. Look, there's another one!" he yells happily. He wants me to roll the window down so he can say hi.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

is she psycho? or just 12?

My 11-year-old son used to be friends with a neighbor girl, who's now 12. And then something happened about two years ago.

They stopped being friends.

I understand this. Boys and girls become equally icky and cootie-ridden. I was a 12-year-old girl once, and remember doing stupid stuff simply because I was a 12-year-old girl. But I don't recall girls becoming lying, spying, taunting, hitting psychopaths.

She and a friend would tease and taunt E when he returned from school. Kicking the bookbag, pushing, calling names, etc. E, of course, cannot retaliate physically because, well, these are wimpy, powerless girls. I've advised him to simply run rings around her logically, or at least hurl a razor-sharp sarcastic comment her way. And he tries, he really does. But somehow, "I know you are but what am I?" loses its effectiveness after two attempts.

Previously, we caught the girls throwing stones at our house.

Last weekend, at the neighbor's party, she told both my boys that they and their father were all going to hell. Or rather, they were going to "perish" in hell. (Thanks, Catholic Church!) She called them names, she hit them and threw things at them.

Now she'll actually taunt their dad, acting like a gorilla and hollering at him--like any gorilla in the zoo might-- in effect letting him know that she's not scared of him. She'll spy on us from her bedroom window. She knows she's off her rocker, I think, because we've spoken to her, her mom has spoken to her, etc. To no avail. Did I mention her rather intense, earlier interest in Wicca?

For the purpose of full disclosure, I'll say my kids are NOT perfect. But they do nothing to provoke this kind of weirdness. They just want to be left alone.

So. Is she psycho? Is she a bully? Is she hormonal? Will she outgrow it before finding a pierced, satan-worshipping boyfriend? Does she secretly LIKE my son? Is this just perfectly normal behavior for a 12-year-old and I should unload the gun? If anyone has any suggestions, I'm all ears.

Monday, July 10, 2006

part 3: yawn

The after party was kinda boring. But I'm happy to report that the youngsters are still playing drunken beer pong and jamming badly in garage bands. Free Bird, dude!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

the best darn 4th of July in America, part 2

The Wenonah 4th of July has an odd effect on people. Like a magnet. People move out of town, out of state...and they still come back for the 4th.

The mug line forms early, because the mugs will sell out if it's a popular design, as is this year's Vulture mug. I'd venture to say that this was one of the most popular designs ever; usually it's a depiction of some old boring historical building or another. Residents and ex-residents have been collecting these things for decades.

The mugs come with 3 tickets for beer. Technically, when you've used your tickets, you're done drinking; with most people, this is easily within a half hour. In reality, people trade tickets back and forth, so there are always plenty of black-market tickets floating around.

The beer lasts a couple of hours.

And it's always the hottest day of the year. Out on the apron of the firehouse. With no shade.

The fine ladies of the Ladies' Auxiliary handle the hot dog duties. Nothing tastes quite so delicious as a Ladies' Auxiliary hot dog--with kraut!--wrapped up in tin foil for an undetermined length of time, scarfed down on the hot apron after quickly downing 3 mugfuls of beer in a half hour on the hottest, sunniest day of the year.

Once the buzz kicks in, people start to look like this:

And you'll see horrifying footwear like this:
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After standing there for an hour or two, drinking beer, talking to old pals, new pals, your new best friend's mighty attractive 24-year-old son, guys with plates in their heads, women formerly known as town sluts, ex-hippies, current hippies, friends' parents, uptight Republicans, Harley riders, old teachers, kids you babysat for who have kids of their own...the sun and the heat work their magic and create a sleepy lull over the crowd, blanketing everyone with a slightly dazed, beatific expression that says "Yes. I've made it through another 4th. All is right with the world."

The saddest part of the day is when the kegs are emptied, the firehouse garage doors shut down, and people shuffle off hoping to crash one of several private parties in town, where usually everyone's welcome anyway. Or they make their way to the lake, to sail in the relatively new Anything That Floats contest (this year's winner: a Chevy Blazer cap turned upside down.) Or perhaps to the softball game, although I'm not sure anyone really does that anymore. Some traditions have to die to make room for new ones.

Some take well-deserved naps.

In our case, we hit a party, got caught in a thunderstorm, and in a sacrilegious act of near-treason, headed off to another party in our own town.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

the best darn 4th of July in America, part 1

To my knowledge, I've never missed a Wenonah 4th of July.

A little town about one mile square, Wenonah thrives on its history as a former vacation resort and rail town, not far from Philly. Revolutionary War-era homes dot the town, but it's most noted for its big, stately Victorian homes. In the eighties, Yuppies moved in, took out huge loans, and fixed those babies up nicely. There's a whiff of snobbery in the air.

In the past several years, huge turkey vultures have descended on the town, ganging up on the roofs of some of these old homes, creating a distinct Gothic atmosphere. Nobody seems to know why they've come--there's no film crew nearby--but the residents don't mind. In fact, they've honored their presence by immortalizing them on the official 2006 Wenonah Fire Company Independence Day Celebration/Vulture Festival beer mug.
(Spooky is in the background, clearly pissed that I've disturbed her nap.)

I cannot tell you what a huge honor this is for the vultures.

The day begins with 4 one-minute blasts of the fire siren, signaling everyone to start moving to town for the parade. And then the drinking starts. On wraparound front porches, in lush backyards, along the road of the parade...drinking, and lots of it. Wenonah is a dry town, and the display of public drinking is a cherished tradition.

The Waverunners are in the parade this year. Don drives the truck with some swimmers in the back, while the rest of us walk behind. He could've fit another swimmer in the truck, but the seat was already occupied by the industrial-size jug of mimosas.

Unfortunately, being in the parade means you pretty much miss the parade. As always, it's the hottest morning of the year; halfway down the route and we're all soaked. We throw candy; Kelly beans an elderly spectator in the rather ample backside with a tootsie roll. Nice shot, Kelly!

Although I don't live there now, Wenonah is my hometown, and I know quite a few people who live there. I walked happily down the street, waving at people, saying howdy, giving was like I was running for mayor. Some of the other swim moms snarked that I should have my own float. Great idea! And you can drive it, bitch.

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The patriotic ceremonies take place after parade. There are veterans involved. I don't know anything else about this event; I've never attended because the words "patriotic ceremonies" are just code for "boring." Schedule of events--8:45 am: PARADE; 11:am: BORING.

The games of athletic prowess continue after that. Peanut scramble, sack races, running races for the kids. The peanuts are the best damn peanuts you'll find anywhere; my boys know they'd better come back from that scramble with their bags brimming with peanuts or I'll lock them in the nearby portapot. (The one on the right is mine.)

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While I enjoy watching my boys participate in the games, I'm itching to get to the firehouse, where the fire company volunteers generously donate their valuable time for the most important event of the day: the beer pouring. On a hot day with a thirsty crowd, the mug line stretches to the street and beyond, but the volunteers work quickly to move the line along. Beer manages to create instant love around the apron of the firehouse, turning your most hated 6th grade rival into your best friend, and making your best friend's son look mighty attractive for a 24-year-old.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

when shopping, don't forget the tampoons

Been a little surly lately, and really: who gives a shit about this anyway?

Why, when boys first discover the renegade tampon(wrapped!) that's rolled out from under the driver's seat, they insist on putting it in their mouth and pretending it's a cigarette, and then ask: "What's a tampoon?"

I've noticed that you can't buy a pound of ground beef anymore. It's always something like 1.27 pounds. Even the bigger sizes are off. How the hell do you split a 3.41-pound big pink mass of ground cow? Each half is more than a pound. All the things I can make with ground beef--admittedly, a pretty lame selection--involve a pound of the stuff.

So I pay more for meat I don't want or need. I don't like being manipulated by my supermarket.

Same with coupons. You have to buy 2 of something anymore to use a coupon. I don't WANT to pay $6.00 for 2 of something and save 20 cents. It's stupid. I hate that.

Grocery shopping has always made me nervous, especially if it's crowded. I get very claustrophobic in the supermarket, and hate it when people get in my way. I always try to be civil, but I desperately want to just get in and get out.

I read in a book once that one way to deal with people who leave their carts in the middle of the aisle is to stock your own cart with some embarrassing health and hygiene products, such as Ex-lax, condoms, douche, Bean-O, Depends, etc. and then quickly toss them in the offending cart when you go by. Try it next time you go shopping!