Category Archives: Life in the Suburbs

Survivalist Porn (with a nod to reenactment nerds)

I should know by now that when all the women in my family are passing a book around and even becoming irate when it isn’t returned fast enough, something’s up with that book. With the 50 Shades of Grey series, their attraction was obvious. The marketing makes it hard to avoid the 50 Shades pervasive theme—fucking, and so the matrons of my kin red-facedly admitted that they were reading sex simply by owning copies. They didn’t share with me what would have been horrifying details coming from, say, my mother or my aunt, but the ladies acknowledged what they had to acknowledge—they were all reading erotica.

After the 50 Shades of Grey and its attendant shades craze, which—incidentally—I still refuse to read, I should have known that The Outlander was a much-better disguised (and written) bit of porn itself. My mother has been recommending the series for years, but it was my latest interest in edible weeds and other information on basic survivalism that led me, finally, to crack it open (pardon the pun). Before I even knew Outlander was historical porn, I was quite satisfied with what I got—I didn’t drift off after every few pages, I started visualizing landscapes, and I even began highlighting points of interest. For the first hundred pages of The Outlander, I was perfectly content to learn about pagan traditions, the Scottish countryside, healing herbs, and eighteenth-century fashion.

Then—WHAMMO—the leading lady gets force-married to the hunkiest outlaw Highlander in the gang, who plows her and/or beats her into unconsciousness every twenty pages or so. Then the plot becomes a distraction!

Of course, I am exaggerating a little. Claire doesn’t explicitly say she was unconscious on those occasions… she might have just been playing dead… OK, seriously, there are the tender moments, too; and entertaining dialogue and bizarre vocabulary for objects that no one has used in two-hundred years. Basically, it’s a learny kind of text, the kind that I will annotate. And it’s also erotica. So I am reading it with gusto, like all the other women in my family read it. Interestingly, none of these women ever said a single word about the copious sex scenes. I actually got lured into joining their porny book club by the assurance that I would learn a whole lot about how people lived in the eighteenth century. I really am a nerd, aren’t I?

Since my family appears to be too prudish to admit that there’s a heck of a lot more to this series than the rich descriptions of the stars in the sky and the blue lochs of Scotland in the eighteenth-century, I’ll go ahead and introduce the series on their behalf—there’s lots of sex. Tender sex, grimy sex, violent sex, any kind of sex. It’s there. But, oh boy, is it ever providing me with so much historical information. If you’ll excuse me, I have studying to do…

Was it something I said?

Gimme a W!  Gimme a T!  Gimme an F!  What’s it spell?  Well, I don’t need to spell it out for you.  If you don’t know the acronym by now, then you just might be TOO old to be reading this old broad’s blog.

Something strange happened recently:  I almost LMFAO (in the past tense) when I discovered that my blog had been viewed 55 times in one day.  55 times.  Huh.  That’s more times than I’ve seen it, I think.  Was it something I said?  Probably.  Was it something I don’t remember that I said?  Perhaps.

I didn’t laugh when I saw those stats because I can’t believe people would read this.  Quite the contrary.  I sometimes believe that I have a story worth telling, something that might spark thought or conversation or even friendship (see “Why are the Forties the New Forties?”).  I laughed because I can’t seem to tell a story unless it’s accompanied by crisis.

Years ago, when I was blundering neck deep in personal and financial crises–a legal battle that went on and on, an unhealthy accumulation of debt, unmedicated depression, a job that I was flushing down the toilet, “new” parenthood, you name it–I sought some refuge in my oldest and best friends, alcohol and writing.  Actually, I didn’t seek some refuge there, I sought it all.  Almost every night, I posted some besotted rant in my blog about my husband’s ex wife or the thankless and misunderstood job of the stepmother, or the teacher, or whatever.  I was angry, exhausted, and unhealthy.  And people seemed to like those rants.  I had a solid audience.

Then, the wounds began to heal–we settled our custody disputes with my husband’s ex, we sorted out some of our money problems, we moved to a very safe and boring place, I found a job I really liked, I went on meds, then I went sober, then I lost a bunch of weight, and then I had nothing to kvetch about anymore.

For the past five to six years, I’ve distracted myself with a string of short-lived hobbies: gardening, repurposing old furniture that I found on the sidewalk, playing the guitar (today, I am fond of playing Cracker’s “Turn on, tune in, drop out”), everything but what really defined me for so much of my adult life–drinking and being pissed off.  Can those be hobbies?

I’d like to say I don’t know what sparked my latest first-world crisis that seems to have produced more thoughts that others are willing to read, but that would be dishonest.  I’m introspective enough to know what has shot me back out of the cannon.  I can even pinpoint the date–November 8, 2016.

I’ve gained a bunch of weight and started waking up with hangovers again, but it’s not all bad.  Those 55 views (even if some were same viewers going back) are my proof of that. And I am loving some of the material that these viewers produce–stuff about alcoholism, depression, alternative lifestyles.  Some write feel-good poetry.  Some write books.  Some have advanced graphics skills that make my blog look sloppy and primitive (soooo 2003). Give me more, please!

As for the crisis, I’ll deal with it.  I have to.  45 year-old drunks are unsexy.  Where’s that life hacks book, again?  I think I need a glass of cold water and some barbells…

Repeating history

I realize that I don’t contribute much to this blog, my only blog, my only writing outlet, in fact. I write a lot of entries that don’t get posted because I don’t know what kind of a point I’m trying to make. I write a lot of entries that don’t get posted because they’re for-real-and-for-true too revealing to the few parties that occasionally read the blog.   I write a lot of entries that just trail off… my boredom revealed in the white spaces at the end.

I’ve decided that I will post this particular entry in whatever state that it becomes. It will address a topic that I believe applies to the theme of 40s are the new 40s—depression, addiction, divorce, adult ADD, children, aging parents, politics, wrinkles, you name it. Everything applies to us, doesn’t it? We’re adults, and as a consequence of our age and our growing cache of wisdom and experience, we can come up with something to say about anything. We’ve been there, done that. And the younger generations that follow us will feel the same way after they’ve stopped believing that they can figure everything out.

Speaking of the younger generations, I have no hostility, some envy, and a whole lot of curiosity about what’s going on there. I have spoken to few people my age who don’t have a fantasy “do-over.” My husband would have been a medical doctor. I would have been a lawyer. My cousin would have been a boat mechanic on a pier someplace where the sun always shines. This is normal to us, and we see the younger people around us as simply younger versions of ourselves—people on the verge of making that one bad decision that will alter their lives. But what if these younger people aren’t like that? What if they don’t have the time that we had in the eighties and nineties to enjoy relative national peace, prosperity, and opportunity?

We know that people decades younger than us have one distinct advantage, and that’s time on their sides, time to figure it out, time to make mistakes, and time to revel in their youth. We did that. But I don’t see them doing that. I don’t see little “mes” in the twenty-something women I interact with and work with. I see women in their teens and twenties moving quickly, being savvy, and getting on with it in ways that make me wonder if these generations are exquisitely different. Did my mother see that in me?

Just like my mother and I are alien to one another and yet familiar, young people today are both alien and familiar to me. I wish them well because “times they are a changin’.” They will confront the new. I’ll observe it. They’ll fight to secure their survival. I’ll fight to secure my old age.   And sure, I’ll fight injustice where I can, and sure, I’ll continue to grow and develop as a human being. Maybe I’ll even write that pilot that I’ve been talking about since 2004. But they have decades and decades of a future to navigate. They’re gonna see some shit that we never will, just like we saw some shit that they can’t imagine (life without an Internet connection? How did we do it?). I wish them well, and I hope—I really hope—that they let us in and ask questions and respect our perspective.

Isn’t there some famous aphorism about history? About how if you don’t know what happened before you knew it all, then you’ll just become a tool to someone else who does?

Random Thoughts on Stupid Holidays

SONY DSCI did what I usually do on gift-giving holidays in our household, and I bought what I wanted—a heart-shaped box of good old-fashioned drugstore chocolates! Russell Stover, if you will, the chocolates of my childhood. My grandma used to serve those on occasions I can’t remember—maybe she just always had them around—just not in the heart-shaped box.

Drugstores are fun places to go on the night before Valentine’s Day. I stood in line behind a man who looked like maybe 65 buying a similar heart-shaped box, and I stood in front of a man who looked like maybe 75 buying a couple of cards and a KitKat. The onus is always on the man in a hetero situation, which doesn’t make much sense because the majority of hetero men have no idea how to celebrate a stupid holiday like Valentine’s Day. Imagine them planning a wedding.

Anyway, I was in line in a Walgreens between two old men buying last-minute drugstore crap for their significant others, the way it should be. Neither of these guys looked particularly affluent because the affluent around here probably give their wives and daughters jewelry and custom sweets from niche shops that charge four times what my box of chocolates cost (I’m sure there’s a woman within a mile of here who found a new car in her driveway this morning). I’d rather stand in a line with these guys in a Walgreens than interact with that other type who drive Mercedes and have no sense of humor.

Anyway, my dad is probably right about now, at 8-something in the morning, looking for a last-minute card in a supermarket. At least that’s what he would do if he were home. He and my mom are on a winter pilgrimage from rented beach condo to my aunt’s and uncle’s house to maybe a visit or two with a cousin and then back home. Takes about a month. I’m sure my dad will find his usual card and write something romantic inside of it like “Love, His Name,” but I’m also sure that—because he’s with my aunt—he’ll do much more. My aunt likes cool stuff and big productions. I’ll Facetime my mom later and get the scoop on the big plans.

So there’s a system for how one eats a box of Russell Stover assorted chocolates. I’m sure everyone has her method. Mine starts with the caramels, always. The smooth caramels go first, followed by the nutty caramels, before other caramel-like consistencies. Here is my hierarchy of an assorted box of drugstore chocolates:

  1. Cream caramels
  2. Fruit & nut caramels
  3. Peanut butter crunch (to give my jaw and my fillings a break after gnawing on the hard caramels)
  4. Molasses chew (caramel consistency)
  5. Nut clusters (dark chocolate first, then milk)
  6. Roman nougats (more caramel consistency, but weird fruit flavors)
  7. Coconut creams (I hate cream textures, but I like coconut flavor)
  8. Maple nut creams (ditto)
  9. Chocolate truffles (weird consistency, but still chocolate)
  10. Vanilla creams (anything beats fruit flavors)
  11. Whatever is left (fruit flavors)

I’m still eyeing that apricot cream with apprehension. My friend and I went out the other night and listened to sad stories live and later discussed our propensity for eating whole boxes of chocolates and/or cookies in one sitting. She, too, used to be a workout queen. She, too, also used to be a drinker. We have that kind of crazy in common that only people who live with addiction for their entire lives can really understand. Another friend of mine claims that these behaviors—hiding wine bottles behind the couch or eating whole boxes of Chips Ahoy or working out for hours—are all symptoms, not the problem itself. I believe her. I just don’t know what to do anymore.

Monogamy, for S.

Monogamy. Yes, what better topic to bring up around the holidays, to ring in the new year? Monogamy.

I seem to know a lot of people in nontraditional relationships. I have friends in open relationships, gay friends, divorced friends, asexual friends, never married friends; friends who chose the kids and not the spouse, the spouse and not the kids, multiple spouses… and these are just the friends. I’m not talking about acquaintances or friends of friends or people I’ve read about or heard on a podcast. Those really run the gamut, from all types of polyamorous couples to swingers to people who just do life differently than your standard nuclear family. Whatever you imagine can be done–believe me–someone’s doing it. I suspect if we’ve made it this far in life then we’ve heard the rumors about this writer’s or that celebrity’s penchant for swing parties or polyamorous marriage, or weirder stuff. Well, it ain’t just celebrities dipping their toes in those weird waters. It’s a threatening world out there in the gray area if you are a black-and-white kind of thinker.

Well, I’m not a black-and-white kind of thinker unless I’m trying to piss someone off. Maybe that’s why I have the friends that I do, and maybe that’s why I have so few friends here in La-La Land. I found most of my friends back in the city, once upon a time before I moved. Cities are adult playgrounds. They’re full of galleries and theaters and ballroom dance clubs and beer-making groups, activities for adults. The suburbs are where we go to leave all that, to forget art or live music in order to take up bee keeping and the community association, to talk about school budgets and to transfer our identities to our children (See, I’m speaking in blacks-and-whites here for you suburban readers. Go on, challenge me!). I miss my city friends. I miss the anything goes kind of attitude that we all had in our thirties. I miss the hunt-and-chase mentality of the dating world. Some people my age tell me this is just a fact of life—that with age comes dullness. Just deal with it. I’m not so sure.

I flirt with other men sometimes. I can’t help it. They’re there. The more different they are from my husband, the more compelling I find them. My husband doesn’t seem to mind, though. He doesn’t know how to flirt, at ALL, or he probably would do it himself. We acknowledged a long time ago that we’re human, that we don’t stop finding the opposite sex attractive just because we’re committed to each other. Of course, we’re each on our second marriage, and second marriages often come with better communication and more realistic expectations. I never lie to my husband about anything significant or relationship-altering (although I have been known to cast a little white lie once in while to boost his ego.). I love him. To me, he’s perfect and worth every minute of the havoc, the financial and emotional distress, and the lost time that divorce and remarriage has cost us.

But even the bright and shiny newness of a second marriage, a better marriage, begins to fade. You reach a stage in your relationship where it’s totally ok to wear the same pair of paint-splattered yoga pants and the holey t-shirt for three days in a row. If you work out of the home or have longer breaks from work like we do, you have to jog your memory sometimes to recall your last shower. And sometimes you realize that you haven’t showered for days, as many days as you’ve been wearing those yoga pants. And you ask yourself, “Would I have done this eight years ago when I met him?” The answer is an absolute “no.” When he and I started dating, I spent a lot of time maintaining: I fixed my hair; I wore makeup, which I’ve rarely worn in my lifetime. I even teetered around in uncomfortable shoes and clothes that fit a little too tightly. And when I began to slip back into the comfortable clothes, the air-dried hair, and the no-makeup routine, I still tried to salvage a little mystery by hiding my feminine products and refusing to allow him near my laundry.

These days I’d be crazy to pass up an opportunity to hand him a basket of my worn undergarments and everything else, for that matter (I mean, hell, if he’s willing to do the laundry…). Now we’ve been married for going on seven years, and sometimes I wear the same yoga pants for three days running—just get out of bed, put them back on, and go make coffee. Isn’t there a myth about a seven-year itch? That time in a marriage when the breadwinners of the fifties and sixties (and seventies… and eighties…) would run off with their secretaries or their fitness instructors or their kids’ teachers? Are we there now, at mid-life crisis time? Second marriage or not, eight years is a long time to have sex with the same person. I get it. It was around the eight-year mark when I left my first husband, for someone else, of course. I’m the dude who ran off with his secretary.

But I have no intentions of running off this time around. I find the concept, in fact, absurd. New sex and the thrill of the chase might be a nice distraction; but it can’t replace a good spouse, a good partnership, and real love. Sex might get routine and boring; but new sex, if it’s forbidden, is only going to wreck the relationship, the one you worked so hard to build, the financial security, the trust, all gone. Who wants that? Who wants that drama?

Maybe these nontraditional people are on to something, especially the ones who swing or keep an extra partner around the house from time-to-time. My nontraditional friends are all confident people, confident in their choices, confident in their relationships. When you are forging your own path and not following one that was made for you, your choices for happiness and personal satisfaction seem unlimited.

So it’s been seven years. Time to evaluate. I’ve started by learning more about makeup and hair and skin products, by working my alcohol-wrecked body back into a size six and living clean and rocking some heels from time-to-time. I’m back where I was eight years ago, but that doesn’t change one key fact—I’m not new sex, and neither is he. Can we live with that? Do we really have a choice?

Home, Home in the Suburbs…

So many folks in this affluent suburb are baking bread and returning to the range, raising chickens and bees in their quarter-acre backyards and jarring the fruits of our local farmers’ harvests. A buzz in the community newsletter referenced Michael Pollan without providing contextual clues for readers who lack subscriptions to The New York Times. I stopped by the kids’ mother’s house, and she answered the door in a flour-dusted apron. Just baking the day’s bread, she said, while participating in a teleconference. She sends the kids back to our house with date-labeled Ball jars full of jam and pickled heirloom tomatoes, which I eat with a mix a of gratitude and mild disdain.

Members of my community appear to be initiating a revival. They’re having their milk delivered in reusable bottles, and they’re befriending the butcher who carves up their grass-fed beef.

You know where this is going, right?

Before I have my critical say about this suburban revolution, I should mention that I have nothing against homemade goods or sustainable agriculture: I’ve disliked factory farms since the days when you were labeled a socialist for doing so (These days, I think “terrorist” is the new term for any kind of real factory farm protest*). And I was raised on seasonal picks from our large, backyard garden, supplemented by informal weekend visits to various growers—some professional, some just dawdlers with a lot of land and generations of knowledge of practical husbandry. My father referred to all of them by first or last name: “Let’s walk over to Wilson’s** and see what he’s got. Let’s ride over to George’s and see if the corn is ready.” I spent my summers consuming bowls of steamed Swiss Chard and boiled corn-on-the-cob. Whenever I visit my childhood home, I try to do the rounds, bagging up as many seasonal goods as I can keep and cook.

When I’m home, that is.

See, when I’m home, I can go to a local farm, walk into a barn, collect a pile of whatever happens to be in season—if it’s fall, maybe a couple of heads of cauliflower and cabbage, a peck of apples, some cider, a bunch of winter squash, some late-season greens, some beets—and the proprietor will look at my collection of goods and pretend like she’s adding something up in her head and then throw out some absurd number like, “Twelve dollars.”

There’s the rub.

I can buy similar, locally-produced and wholesome fruits and veggies in my town-square farmers’ market, situated near a consignment shop that pedals used Fendi handbags for $600 (OBO) and a boutique furniture store with signs on all the chairs that say, “Please refrain from seating yourself.” Just multiply those twelve dollars above by, oh, say ten, and I can have my country home right here in this posh metropolitan region. You can have anything you want for a price. You can take your kids on international vacations every school break, and you can still make apple butter.

Last summer, while listening to an organic gardener’s podcast***, I learned some equation for balancing money and time and labor. I don’t remember the mathematical construct, if he even shared that, but I remember his justifications for doing what he did—he used rabbit manure instead of fertilizer on the garden because it was cheap and plentiful. He fed the rabbits with garden waste, so he didn’t need to spend money on feed (And he ate the rabbits.). And he invested no time and effort in weeding his garden because the physical energy “costs” of weeding the garden would then be greater than the fuel energy supplied by its harvest. He saved a lot of money, fed his family, and—from what I was able to gather about his circumstances—didn’t take expensive vacations or own a GPS system for his bicycle.

Here’s what irks me about the suburban farm-to-table movement—it’s so expensive, and so conscious. It’s like seeing a completely restored, pre-eighties-gas-crisis muscle machine outside a two-million-dollar home. I still appreciate the car for what it is, for the nostalgia it evokes, but I know the owner just paid someone else a lot of money to do all the hard stuff with it before it ended up in his driveway.

But I think that analogy needs some work of its own, and I think I digress.

What sets the real homespun pursuits apart from those of the suburban breadmakers is, in my opinion, a matter of necessity. A friend of mine from back home keeps pigs in her garage, raises ducks and turkeys and chickens in her yard, and trades foul and pork for beef that her sister raises on her own, substantial chunk of rural property. Another friend of mine from the city survived a six-month layoff by living on whatever she could make from scratch with a ration of flour and oil, including her own daily bread. And some of my favorite childhood memories involve making elderberry jam with my mother, using the elderberries that we picked from overgrown patches along the roadside.

Necessity. One friend lives so far from her nearest grocery store that keeping a stock of fresh meat on her property is both healthy and economical. Another friend was flat broke. And my mother just didn’t want to see all those elderberries go to waste. Whether by choice or by chance, Mr. Organic Gardener and my mom and my friends who keep pigs in their garages have more in common with each other than my neighborhood nine-to-fivers who rush home in eight-lane traffic to feed the chickens. The former live a life of practical necessity. The math adds up.

I began this post with a caveat, that I have nothing against homespun pursuits. It’s true. In the big picture, it’s probably more noble to have your milk delivered to your doorstep 1950s-style than to decorate your driveway with an immaculate, 1950s coupe.   Both acts are quite retro, but one is retro in the name of saving the earth and America’s health and the livelihood of the small farmer. The other is just fun (I salivate at the thought of owning a vintage American car with a V8 engine. I confess.). But whether we spend a lot of money in social protest or we spend a lot of money to make a social statement (Hey, this car still has the original chrome detailing…), it takes money to do it. It takes privilege. Because of the prohibitive costs of maintaining a diet of locally-produced fare, our suburban food movement is not so much a revolution as it is a fad. And unless the price of local apples plummets to something closer to that of a bag of them at the local WalMart, it will remain a fad until something takes its place.

* reference from Green is the New Red.

**all names have been changed to protect the identities of the now dead or feeble.

***can’t reference it because I can’t find it anymore.