Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Rachel Memorial Chucks


My sister Rachel loves Chucks too, and that's been one of our more pleasant conversation topics since she's been in prison - although I guess it's not so pleasant in that it reminds her she will be wearing crummy prison shoes for who knows how long. She mentioned that her favorite pair was pink slip-ons and in response to my description of monogrammed custom Chucks, said she had a shopping fantasy of getting herself a pair of white slip-ons with her prison ID # (more real at this point than her name) on the back. I know she misses shopping...well, she misses clothes, jewelry, and the freedom to purchase (not to mention, money for purchasing). Even after 6 months of her being in jail, I still catch myself in the thought of, "I could order this for her..." Nope! She can't receive anything from the outside world but letters, other things printed on sheets of white paper, or new books shipped directly from a bookstore. (Imagine the opportunity for abuse if prisoners could receive care packages.)

I came up with the idea of ordering myself a pair of Chucks dedicated to her, with her ID on the back. I chose slip-ons, in an ecru-olive shade that I thought would match a lot of my pants (it actually doesn't), lined with pink in honor of her favorite slip-ons at home. Her ID number is boldly printed on the back. Despite the odd shade of green-brown the shoes turned out to be, I love them, although they don't make it easy - they smell really bad. Friends suggested a variety of deodorizing methods, none of which worked, notably a mesh bag of "volcanic rocks" that are guaranteed to deodorize a men's dorm room and in fact did wonders for Craig's shoe closet, but did nothing for the Rachel Memorial Chucks. After an especially disastrous attempt with scented shoe liners that made the shoes smell like dirty motel sheets sprayed with floral janitor spray, I aired them outside for 3 days to get out the sickly floralness. It was a relief to get the shoes back to their true smell, which though unpleasant (the custom Chucks are made in China, and I assume some chemical considered toxic by US standards was used in the dye) at least has more honesty than fake floral scent.

The shoes are from Converse's Project Red line, which in the slip-on category features frayed eyelet bands and two red eyelets. They are meant to look casual and God knows this pair does. The traditional (non-frayed) slip-ons Converse makes can be, in comparison, a bit preppy/prissy looking, but the custom ones look kicked-around, in a good way. And after all, prison memorial shoes can't look too bad, or probably even smell too bad.

I figured out two outfits that match the Rachel Chucks - one more casual (pictured here), and the rest slightly (only slightly) more dressy, with longer pants of a slightly (slightly) nicer fabric and a long-sleeved pink tee shirt. I made sure to accessorize myself for these photos since Rachel always notices jewelry - not only does she like to wear it, she used to sell sterling pieces at her tanning & manicure salon.

Rather than chase down Craig and try to make him understand why I was photographing myself in sloppy clothes on no special occasion (and try to micro-manage his artistic vision, which I doubt would extend to this subject), I fell back on my usual standby, the self-portrait. The lighting and framing are never ideal (not to mention my head and smile are always crooked), but at least I don't have to wait for someone else to take the photo...and I remain in control of the project! I figured out that if I do self-portraits in the bathroom the lighting is at least half-decent (we have 1980s style makeup bulbs above our bathroom mirrors), and I can check my framing by looking at the view-finder in the mirror as the camera lens faces me.

My note sent to Rachel with the photos said, "Guess I could have moved the Kleenex box and hand lotion to make a better backdrop," and "For some reason I was wearing double socks that day – the shoes fit fine with a single layer." [You know me - always with the disclaimers.]

Rachel loved the shoes and the photos and wrote back something to the effect that everyone in her prison dorm was envious of her having such a wonderful sister. (Aaawww.........)

Whose Address Was It, Anyway

The following was written in late September 27 to share with my spiritual writing group, where we have a written check-in as our warmup ritual.

***

If I can’t make a parallel between, I can at least talk about, my Freudian slip with my return address and a newly recognized dimension of my online shoe ordering. Prisoners can’t receive stickers or stamps, and while a return address label might be allowed it might not, so rather than have a sad rejection for my sister in the mailroom (too long a story to go into here, about other rejected items she’s written about in fine voice), I have been hand-writing my return address. It feels burdensome every time, and I write her a lot. I also grit my teeth when copying her jail address because the zip code is somewhat similar to my dad’s and jangles my mental gears. Several letters ago Rachel enclosed the torn cover of one of my envelopes – she had written, "I saw this when I copied your address," smiley face. I had my Garland street address but Tomball, TX and the Tomball zip. When I have time – I keep reprioritizing the things I want to write to her about, and try to first address [oops, overuse of the same word - I mean "discuss"] what she most needs to hear – I will make a joke like, "Can’t take the Tomball out of the girl." Not only do I verge into Rachel’s world, maybe too much, but interacting with Rachel, both the fact of getting close to a never-close sister and the subjects we write about, often childhood and Daddy, drags me back to Tomball…not always in a bad way, but – it hardly needs to be said – usually in a wearing way. On to Chucks, my only fresh air topic lately (if an addiction can be related to fresh air)… This morning as I AGAIN combed through the 3 pages of Zappos size 7 Chucks and the 2 pages of Converse outlet store Chucks, I forced myself to consider styles I had previously (many times, probably dozens of times, I look at these sites a lot) dismissed. It feels good to push my boundaries of comfort and taste. Am I sure I hate black toes and only like white toes? Am I sure I don’t want to spend the extra $ for this designer leather pair?, surely they wouldn’t be much less appropriate than all the other Chucks I’ve been guiltily/boldly (yes, in combination) wearing to my office…they are inappropriate but I haven’t been sent home to change yet. I have ordered shoes that were not my usual taste because I so much want to get shoes delivered to my door, but it’s a wonderful bonus that my taste has expanded at the same time. If I had more time I would stretch a point here about broadening my Sarah world close to Rachel’s and finding it an interesting, even valuable place.

***

Not my usual topic - Being Around Kids

Craig's dad, his wife and their 4 year old daughter are spending 6 months in Tyler, which is the closest they have lived to us since Craig's dad moved to Florida in 1998. We warned them, so as not to have (to avoid, anyway) hurt feelings, that even if Carrie chose a travel nursing contract within the state of Texas, we might not see them much more than if they lived in any other state. Craig's dad tries to respect our schedule but of course we have seen them more this fall than in past years. Frances is a great kid but like all kids she sometimes engenders in me my usual reactions to young humans - anxiety and exhaustion.

Having Frances spend the day at our house catapults me back to the 1970s when I did babysitting for a couple of years. I guess by some standards I was a good babysitter, since I had repeat business, but I hated it. I think that every other babysitter on the planet takes it easier than I did, assuming there is any truth to how babysitting is portrayed in the movies and on TV commercials - a relaxed teenager sitting on the couch with snacks and the TV remote while the kids do appropriate activities in the background. I was convinced that my job was to follow the kids around and interact with them, which I'm sure they enjoyed, but which made me feel like that old deodorant commercial where the star athlete tries to log as many miles as a stay-at-home mom does and collapses, exhausted, mid-afternoon. Even when I occasionally tried to take it easier or at least sit still for 5 minutes, the kids sensed that with minimal effort they could keep my focus on them. "I wanna show you something!", ad nauseum.

I used to have an if-I-ever-get-laid-off fantasy that I could teach public school if necessary, but a part of me, for very selfish reasons, was greatly relieved when the Dallas school district recently laid off hundreds of qualified teachers. Oh well, guess they won't be needing my services!

Frances is a well-behaved little lady now, but when she was younger we had some near misses at our house - Craig's and my idea of childproofing was moving the box of dog toys into the garage when toddlers came to visit. I had learned in a disgusting way that dog level is also toddler level when I caught a cousin’s son sucking happily on a rubber thing that had been an oral fixation of both dogs for many saliva-producing years.

Despite my history and non-history with kids, there has always been a small but significant level of comfort with Frances. She's not my child or even my immediate family, but I have some understanding of who she is...and maybe more importantly!, I have some authority over her. (I don't think I ever felt much authority as a babysitter.) It's nice when Craig and I spend time with her together. He provides the family connection – the reason she’s there and the reason we care and make an effort – and he also provides a counterbalance of childcare philosophies. It's not that we have opposing ideas, but every two people have different thoughts about childcare, and Lord knows it takes a team to manage a child.

[Craig was scowling because he thought enough photos had already been taken that weekend.]

Back to the Blog - back of a pickup truck


Back to the blog...starting with a grab bag of notes from the last couple of months...including, of all things, bumper sticker quotes. I see a lot of bumper stickers on the Garland roads, and I saw a trio on a pickup truck that I kind of liked, thinking I could relate them to my Chuck habit.

Fish tremble at the sound of my name. [Chucks tremble at the sound of my name?]

Beer: helping ugly people have sex since 1862. [I don't have a personal equivalent of that, but it IS a rude classic.]

And the best one: I spend my money on booze, gambling and women – the rest I waste.

[I spend my money on Chucks, jewelry, food & drink - the rest I waste. Obviously the 3rd item in my series is not as definite as the first two.]

Friday, August 29, 2008

Yes, another trip - San Francisco & Napa Valley

OK, we admit it - we were suckers for a marketing email that advertised great rates for our favorite hotel chain. We managed to get airline tickets before a fare increase and voila!, we were set for San Francisco. Who wouldn't want to, in August, visit a city that is 40 degrees cooler?

This was not our first trip to the city, so we went for relaxation over sights. On Sunday we did haul ourselves up at the crack of 8:15 (painful, even on Pacific time) to get on a bus to the wine country. The weather was great, our hotel was very comfortable, the food & wine never disappointed, and a bonus - we got to see two friends who live in the Bay Area.

Link to travel photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/sarahbowieme/SanFranciscoAndNapaValleyRRWeekend82208

On our last morning we took some photos (see slide show at top of blog) at the Palace of Fine Arts, built for the Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915. The romantic (Roman-style) Palace was so popular that although constructed of temporary materials - plaster and burlap - it was kept after the rest of the Exposition was torn down. The Palace slowly crumbled until funds were raised in the 1950s to recreate the original design from concrete. Just a few blocks from the Bay, even concrete is vulnerable to weather and age, and a modern refurbishment of the rotunda, colonnades and lagoon is now underway.

Weekend over...now we're back in Dallas, sigh...but at least fall is coming (someday).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Purple-influenced Portrait of Sisters on a Sofa

I had planned to work this image into the longer entry about Rachel below, but then it didn’t fit…the photo does speak about our early years together but since I’m 5 years old and she’s an infant, it shows much more about me than about Rachel.

The color comics hanging behind me indicate that it’s Sunday after church. My dress was one of my favorites, a purple-striped number that I once accessorized with a purple crayon in the pocket…I don’t know how my mother cleaned up all that mess after a warm-water wash and a hot dryer finish. Rachel was born in February, and my nylon-wooly slippers indicate it’s not summer yet, despite the short sleeves of my dress. (The seasons blur in temperate Tomball, anyway.)

I think the purple fabric was thrown over the couch because it needed recovering – not long afterward, my mother had the faded and ripped Early American print replaced with another Early American print, but not much better stuffing. The stripes seem rather bold for Mother, at least in decorating (she did wear some bold florals), so it may have been a gift. We used the sofa throw when we acted out the Christmas Story at home – wrapped about the head and shoulders, it looked to us Texans...Tomballians...like Middle Eastern garb.

I was not naturally adept with babies, at that age or since, so my mother must have carefully lined up the bottle in Rachel's mouth. Legend has it that the night before we claimed Rachel from the hospital (she was adopted as an infant), I stayed up past my bedtime, practicing big-sistering with my doll, the same gnarly-haired thing you see in the photo (doll hair has come a long way since the 1960s), tossed to the end of the couch so I could perform a real feeding.

That excited night before is vivid in my memory, since it marked the end of the Before Rachel time. The reality of Rachel was not as I had fantasized. She took more of Mother's attention than I would have liked, and when she got older she was brattily intrusive in my lifestyle, her more extreme behavior reaching a level unknown by my placid family. My parents, worn down by my cries of "Make her stop!", would advise me to ignore her, not understanding that such a passive approach was useless against Rachel's forcefield of energy. Five years was an awkward age difference - we couldn't share friends or activities, although my parents seemed oblivious to that, always wanting to pair up their children as The Boys (my brothers were 2 years apart) and The Girls.

In 1st or 2nd grade I brought home a red zinnia carefully grown from seeds in a Dixie cup - this passed for a science project in those days. Toward the end of the school year it was large enough to be transplanted to our flower bed. The dry clay in front of our house was pretty much a dead zone, and the zinnia really stood out, more colorfully than toddler Rachel could resist. Less than 10 minutes after planting, she had yanked my flower out by its roots, and her face held dark emotion that proved to me she wasn't one bit sorry. Oh, my screams of righteous anger...

She had more toys and more friends than I did, so I couldn't figure out why she bothered to hassle me. I guess I should have taken an early lesson from the zinnia incident - she wanted what I had, because I had it. Not so different from sisters anywhere, but a new experience for me.

Locked Up: as Metaphor and Fact

This posting has been especially difficult to write, which is why I’m using long chunks from my journal, mostly as-is, with just the question marks cleaned up – when I wrote these entries I kept struggling for words and trying out alternate phrases, each with question marks. It’s therapeutic for me to write that way but would give readers a headache.

I also had difficulty choosing generic photos for the posting, which is usually my favorite part of blogging. I chose the stylized image above because I thought it was attractive, but also because it was less upsetting than others I viewed – more details on that below.

The basic facts, to the extent that my sister has divulged them and/or I could look them up online, is that Rachel is serving a 5-year sentence for drug charges in the Texas prison system, possibly eligible for probation this November. She had been close to arrest for the past several years and went to court-ordered rehab but then got into further life messes, and this spring it all caught up with her. Her spring arrest was complicated by her probation on previous charges, so that although she says she’s been clean & sober since January, and had been making strides to communicate with family again and get back on track professionally, she is having to serve real time.

Rachel spent almost 4 months in the Harris County Jail in Houston, never seeing the sun – even her court date was inside the building. She had hoped to then be transferred to one of the larger state women’s facilities where she could have more educational options, but she is now in Dayton, Texas, which as best as I can figure out online, doesn’t offer much besides a prison garden. Dayton is about an hour from Houston, but in many ways it's far from Houston. Craig and I had thought of trying to visit Rachel when we go to see my dad during Labor Day weekend, but she won’t be eligible for visitors yet. Some prison mentality came up with the idea that new inmates must wait 30 business days for visitors. Is it just me, or does the concept of a "business day" sound odd in that context?

JOURNAL 7/31
How much to talk about it...It's not that I'm ashamed she's there, but I'm wondering if it's wrong or bad of me to write online about my reaction to her situation. It's my blog, but...already I fear this is getting too flip. I feel the feeling I want to write about when I feel close to her plight - by that, I mean visualizing her discomfort as I imagine myself in similar locked-up circumstances, which to me sound, which I imagine as, very claustrophobic. Reading online that she can almost never make phone calls and has to wait for a month and a half to have a visitor made my chest tighten and my brain kind of twist, flop, lock up, do the kind of queasy spasm you go into when you want to avoid something. Reading public web postings from family members of inmates, not complaints about Rachel's jail as a terrible place but expressing the expected frustrations and concerns with bureaucratic hassles and lack of...well, the lack of the system (Texas Department of Criminal Justice, TDCJ) to treat their loved one as the special person he/she is. And shit, I'm a very special person, but I would get no special treatment either - it's prison. Someone on the outside would have to raise the appropriate sort of hell - emailing, calling, threatening and copying the ACLU for me to get my anxiety meds, which are not exactly necessary to sustain life. Glaucoma and blood pressure meds might be a challenge too but I am most worried about the psych meds - after all, glaucoma and hypertension do silent damage, I wouldn't know about it other than worry/thought about it, but without even my small regular dose of stop-the-anxiety...hell, I could live without it, but I might want to kill myself, especially in a rural prison, with few activities other than the prison garden. And I wouldn't make friends immediately like Rachel - she's the kind of person who could win over the biggest bully, by the magic of her size, humor, earthiness, extroversion, drama...she has a way of drawing people to her, and people tend to give her a lot of chances. When she screws up she usually hurts herself more than them. Well, good - here I am talking about Rachel instead of myself! Poor Rachel, who was hoping to get to a large, sophisticated (that's clearly not the right word, but what would be?) facility where she could learn to drive a commercial truck and maybe parlay that into a good job after prison - assuming employers were ok with her having had a conviction. Worrying about her future is a whole other thing - lots of unknowns, and yet, a certain certainty of life patterning...not encouraging. She has had training and licenses in hair and manicures and managed to get a renewal around the time she was arrested, so she hopes to work in the prison beauty shop, according to a letter my dad got...the trading of information between us is kind of sad, and seems archaic, like my dad's much-delayed in mailing letters from WW 2. In an effort to coax myself toward putting something online on this topic, my sister is in jail, I looked on my usual free photo site for images. I was shocked by how sick I felt looking at the grimmer cell photos and especially people behind bars. How many movies, TV shows, books have I absorbed, even smirked and giggled at or otherwise critiqued, of the prison existence? But suddenly, I am one step closer. I told a friend at lunch yesterday that I felt a sort of luckiness at having a chance to get closer to something that is, after all, a reality of our society. But today I felt sick looking at online photos filmed/faked with models, because they made me imagine myself in a bad reality...that my sister is experiencing.

JOURNAL 8/8
“Getting used to my sister in jail” – possible title for blogging? I used "get used to" in reference to my dad, trying to calm Rachel in one of my letters, as in, he needs time to get used to your news. Actually I, and I guess anyone else who knows her, who hears about her, also has to go through a process (an adjustment) of whatever speed and complexity. Of course we Scholls want to, or seem to need to assume that, we are above such adjustments, but we go through stages of grief, anger, depression like other humans, however good we are at diverting, denying, the emotions that want to spike up - however good we are at flattening. Part of the problem is accepting all parts, or at least certain parts of the process - we may think it's OK to make jokes about Rachel but not OK to feel angry at her, or vice versa. Yes, I guess all families do this, and many families bury and squelch. I can't quite put my finger on what I think is unique about the Scholls... One big part of the Scholl approach to “getting used to” is guilt. Now, guilt is always acceptable, rarely or never squelched. It is perceived as a somehow virtuous, selfless emotion. Beyond my guilt of how I might have contributed to my sister's problems, which I've thought about for so long that the edges of that guilt have gotten less sharp, there is guilt of how I am using my adjustment to her situation (for example, with curiosity, or for blog fodder), especially since my relationship with her has not been a consistent part of my life - we are several years apart in age, and worlds apart in personality.

***

While searching for images I found this goofy one that I saved on a whim and then realized deserves inclusion. It illustrates my imaginary placing myself in Rachel’s situation – Sarah the nerd, office drone, librarian-type in jail, much to her surprise, of course. I keep making parallels between my behaviors of spending too much and drinking too much to Rachel’s drug involvement. Maybe those comparisons are silly, but I was raised to try to put myself in someone else’s shoes, and not just give blind judgment or patronizing compassion.

I inhaled pot in high school, not many times but in some riskily public situations, and it has struck me since that even one arrest for that (again, the comparisons get kind of silly, since Rachel has been arrested more than once) could have changed my life. I would not have gotten my first Dallas job, which had a mandatory check of criminal records – unusual for that time, but I worked for a government office. I stayed at that job for 5 years and it was an important and formative experience for me. Surely a drug arrest would have had repercussions beyond that as well, and certainly would have added to my self-consciousness and hesitation at selling myself professionally.

I wasn’t personally drawn to drugs but my friends were – I didn’t have many friends then and we didn’t have much in common, so I guess it was as important for me to give in to their desire to expose me to a high as it was important for them to loosen me up. Two memories from 1978/1979 really make me cringe – driving (with my 16-year-old poor driving reflexes) my grandfather’s old sedan to take one friend to see another on Friday night, on 2-lane and 1-lane unlit country roads, with a fresh bag of pot perched on the front seat. And, parked at the Sonic on Main Street (yep, as public an avenue as the name indicates) as my friends smoked up the pale-blue interior of Grandpa’s pale-blue sedan with pot. The Sonic pot use seemed harmless to me, about the same caliber as a classmate’s story about buying tater tots with cheese and discovering their petrified leftovers in her glove box 2 weeks later. (Not moldy, just petrified – not much real food there, after all.) The pot, like the tater tots, represented just another harmless high school Sonic experience, in my view. Granted, this was before Nancy Reagan’s War on Drugs…in a way there was less stigma back then, but in a way more stigma – back then, it was less imagined that good kids would try drugs.

Actually those two stories don’t make me cringe as much as a third one, which took place at our country destination, a single-wide mobile home, so at least was not public. My two friends puffed pot into a cone and bade me inhale (I think I took one brief, polite sniff), and they also poured beer in my glass of Coke, thinking I wouldn’t notice the taste and more importantly, that it would make me more fun.

How does this embarrassing story relate to Rachel? Well, through the perennial theme of peer pressure. Many of the people Rachel feels most comfortable with do drugs. Add that to the fact that Rachel tries to self-medicate for depression, low energy, high energy, or whatever with drugs (and here I always have to interject, how is that different from me and my Chardonnay?), and you have a situation that’s exacerbated – if not caused by – peer pressure.

I may be stretching a point too far, or giving in to too much Scholl guilt, but I still see connections between Rachel and me. That makes it impossible (as if it would be possible, regardless...) to dismiss concerns for her, being locked up.

Even PINK has been reclaimed

I can’t remember which came first, the inspiration for this image or the text…I confess I may have thrown together this posting as an excuse to post a rainbow of my pink-shade Chucks.

From my journal 7/16: "I actually ordered HOT PINK Chucks today - out of boredom? needing a backup purchase so I won't feel bereft if I return the other pair I ordered?, which are black with colored hearts. I guess with my fashion choices I am trying to reclaim hearts as well as certain colors." Heart shapes had always seemed too girlish to me, not to mention a painful reminder of singlehood during all my years of that status. A few years into my marriage Craig's mother gave me her mother's pearl & silver pendant, which is beautiful and special but a bit too sparkly for my taste. Actually when the heart Chucks arrived I loved them and have since bought two heart-shaped shell/stone pendants to wear with them - one is orange and one is apple green, and the pendants are beautifully chunky and arty rather than girlish.

But back to color reclamation...having successfully repossessed orange - I even have an orange purse ($22.99 pleather from Target) - it's on to pink.

I wrote on 7/16 that I was feeling strong in my pink shirt that day - worn with black pants and pink leather Chuck Mary Janes. Was it the black pants? Black & red and pink karma bracelets? Or had I felt good in other pink tops, with other bottoms? That day's outfit did not remind me of a girlish look...dark pants were definitely better than off-white. I nattered on to say that on Monday I had worn olive J Jill pants with a floral pink top and the same shoes, and that was not a bad look or feel. The previous month I accidentally ordered a 2nd thick-knit pink LL Bean long-sleeve shirt, tricked again because the online description made me think it was a purple, not pink...somehow I fell for the color confusion twice in a row. I wrote on and on about pink shirts...I tried to give one LL Bean shirt to Cousin Amy but it wasn't her size, and she suggested that my keeping 2 pink shirts was not a bad thing. Now I have 2 identical long-sleeve and 2 identical short-sleeve shirts...the short sleeves were another purchase accident, this time at Target, because I didn't double-check as I grabbed things off the sale shelves...but with a $6.99 shirt, it doesn't seem to matter if you have extras. When I bought my very first pink short-sleeve from Target, I thought I would layer it under black or white when I wore pink-print Chucks - actually my bunny-print Chucks are not really pink but more of a coral - which is OK since I have a Target coral shirt too, bought without the Chucks in hand, an impressive case of remote color matching - but I kept that first pink shirt anyway...and it has somehow encouraged much more pink in my closet.

[Note - when I wrote the journal entry I was drinking a glass of wine at ZiZiki's Greek restaurant and did not bother to look down at my shoes under the table - only after getting in my car did I realize I was not wearing pink shoes but black & cream Mary Jane Chucks with a red stripe on the rubber, worn with pink socks. It strikes me as really funny that I unconsciously changed the color of my shoes to fit my writing theme.]

In the early 1980s one of the fashionable pinks was a powdery pale version that I especially liked. It reminded me of childhood, the pastel shades of the early 1960s before the vivid color explosions that came later. One day I wore to work a cotton long-sleeve, kind of Bohemian powder-pink shirt with shoulder pads. To connect the blouse with my pleated denim skirt I wore a wide braided straw belt of multi colors (also very 1980s). I even had pale pink pumps, the perfect shade although thin plastic and cheap construction - the kind of shoe whose heel tip wears down almost immediately so that you're walking on the metal spike, not so great for downtown pavement. I should have carried the shoes and worn tennis shoes from my parking lot but I only had a couple of blocks to walk and I didn't want to break up the total look. When I passed the Dallas Museum of Art, which was across from my office building, I was close to a school bus full of...school kids. Some of them started yelling at me - I couldn't make out the words but the tone was critical. They were on my birthmark side and I felt very exposed as I walked the length of the bus. I associated that experience with wearing pink in public, and maybe my ensemble did highlight the red in my face. I'm not saying I didn't wear pink afterward, but when I did wear pink it was with more self-consciousness than glory in the color.

So it's especially cool now that when I wear pink, I feel POWERFUL. Sometimes accessorizing my pink shirts with red as well as pink crystal bracelets (the red beautifully sets off the pink) has helped my feeling of power - after all, pink is a shade of red, and red is nothing if not powerful.

I once read that in Victorian times, baby girls wore blue and baby boys wore pink, because pink was seen as being so close to red, and red was considered too strong for girls. I loved that factoid and completely believed it...although I have since seen paintings and other images from that era of girls in pink and boys in blue.

Last month Craig made a special trip to the outlet mall in Allen to look for his favorite kind of Nike shirt. He’s not a big shopper, but a very targeted one – like a hunter, he aims for specific items, and if he doesn’t see anything, he doesn’t shoot. To my surprise, he came home with not just a Nike shopping bag but also one from the Converse outlet. He had bought himself a pair of basic white low-tops for, in his words, “family solidarity.” How cute is that? He obviously can’t stamp out my feelings for Chucks, so he bought a pair of his own. The shoes look great on him but there is one negative - I feel internal pokes of guilt every time he complains about how much they cost, which actually was not a bad price for Chucks...I certainly don't want to educate him on how much I pay for mine.

And yes, this touching little story does tie back to the topic of PINK. Craig brought me back a present, a bright-pink Chuck Taylor All-Stars cap. I didn’t want to act like I didn’t like it – I do like it – but I was puzzled why he chose that color, over black, white, blue, red, and whatever else they had. Craig's explanation was, “I thought if you would wear any color of hat, you would wear pink.” How interesting, since Craig has almost never seen me wear pink until this summer, and my pinks are still not frequent. As usual Amy had an insightful explanation – she said that pink is in the same color family as orange, they are both warm colors. I started wearing orange last winter before I branched out to pink this spring. Considering all the reclusive and drab-dressing phases of my life, I consider it a nice thing to now be associated with warm colors. Thank you, Craig, for that…and for the hat.

Last Thursday night I wore the hat to a baseball game – not a big pastime of ours, but Craig had gotten free tickets. I spent a lot of effort trying to figure out what color shoes would tone down the hat, and finally decided that pink shoes with the pink hat would actually attract less attention than red shoes or navy shoes - without pink shoes, the pink hat would stand out like a piece of candy atop a cupcake. I wore a black shirt and blue-gray Capris – not the best fashion dressing, but I liked the total color palate. I don’t usually find caps comfortable but the Chucks hat feels good, soft and airy. Coincidence? I think not! Chucks are special in all forms.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Four Family Women


It adds to the challenge, but also the interestingness of things, when we find our memories are wrong, to whatever degree. I thought I had an ensemble photo, taken with Uncle Harvey's good camera and with his talented eye, of me, my mother, my sister Rachel and my mother's mother. However when I dragged out my slightly bug-inflicted family photo box from the top of a closet, I realized such an image would only exist in composite form, if I put 2 or 3 photos together. There is a photo of my mother in an orange dress, her mother, my sister Rachel, and one of Grandma's favorite caregivers, Virginia Radeke - I'm not in that photo, which would be OK, but a worse problem blog-wise is that the photo of the other women did not recopy well - too much of it was in the shade of Harvey's back porch - and wonderful as Virginia was, she doesn't fit my theme of family women. Using multiple photos instead of one is not necessarily a bad thing, although I intended my text to explain one artfully, psychologically consolidated photo of all of us. This makes it harder for me to get my points across, but I'll do my best below to patch together my original notes and updated text that fits the actual photos.

In the photo I had planned to use, my mother seemed at the time, and still looks in reviewing photos, so old...this was a couple of years before she died but her illness had already begun. She was also worn down by taking care of a senile parent, a hyperactive toddler, and a sensitive elementary schooler (moi). The too-dark-to-use photo reminds me that she liked orange too - her tweedy dress fabric probably seemed old-fashioned to me at the time, as did the orange-tweed new sofa we bought for our recently remodeled front room (my dad put down real wood planks, absolutely beautiful and perfect looking but something I had no appreciation for at the time, since that was an era when people carpeted over hardwood, thinking it progress). How interesting that she wore orange, since I have started wearing orange again...she had a red purse (which I forgot until my dad recently found it when moving his chest of drawers, it had been packed in there, a time capsule under old clothes and linens, soon after she died), and I recently bought an orange one. [In this substitute photo Mother is wearing one of her typical floral fabrics, that included orange, and the faded image has gotten more orange with age.]


Grandma had what was called hardening of the arteries, probably not Alzheimer's but something else that kept her from knowing where she was. She was still her sweet, polite self but she ran away when she could manage it, she obsessively picked microscopic lint off the floor, and she periodically went into tearful tangents about boys falling into the pond, about to drown...some kind of flashback to a childhood farm image...I thought then, and now, how horrible it was that senility had trapped her into anxiety nightmares from which she couldn't wake up.


In the same photo I didn’t use, my sister Rachel looked so out of place in the grouping, almost feral - not even kindergarten age yet, she was somehow fully in charge of herself, though hardly fit to be so...hunched into a child's miniature chair, with bare feet and skinny legs stretched out in front. [Even in this more dressy photo she clearly wants to be somewhere else, wearing something else.] But it's impossible to ever mention Rachel without saying that she had, still has, long moments of sweetness amid the wildness. She did run and climb like a monkey, didn't like to wear shoes, and sometimes left her shirts at home too, running short-haired and flat-chested like a tomboy. Although my mother took pride in my long little-girl hair, lovingly combing and braiding it (despite my shrieks of pain), she soon gave up on Rachel's, which was a different texture anyway, and cut it short, pixie cuts being rather in fashion then, anyway.

I also have to add that the adult Rachel has beautiful hair and as an adult keeps it beautifully arranged, is also capable of pulling together perfect makeup, lovely jewelry, and has a good color/dress sense. I know she's heavier than she wants to be, but her personality is somehow larger than life, so her size is not ill suited to her personality, and the whole effect can be so charming. Going from small to large size at a young age was not typical for a Scholl child - my brothers and I started out husky and then got slimmer, at least until middle age, so as an adopted, but loved and (we once thought) well integrated child, the size morphosis, and probably more so, her outgoing personality, set Rachel apart. My brother Tim behaved as an extrovert but I don't think that for him it came as naturally as it did Rachel. He acted as an extrovert to achieve more goals and make more personal connections, but an extroverted lifestyle - the furor & press of people around - was not his comfort zone as it was Rachel's.

And me...I felt lumpish and often peevish but savvy at that age, which must have been just before we realized I needed glasses, and obviously before I went on my adolescent, doctor-prescribed diet (carefully counting 1000 calories a day from a chart the doctor gave us, although I had heard my mother tell the doctor I didn't really eat much – true, I didn't, but everything I ate was a carb). I look at my image now and I see both savvy and gravitas in my face and posture, also more style than I thought I had, consumed as I was with thoughts of lumpishness.

Literary postscript:
I’m reading Collections of Nothing, by William Davies King, a book about his collections of hundreds of types of valueless items such as empty tuna cans (he has dozens of brands and varieties) and cat litter labels (he keeps them under plastic in 3-ring binders)…but more importantly the book is about who he is as a person and a personality, and why he collects. His need for and love of collecting can’t be separated from his childhood dreams and traumas.

I was especially struck by a quote at the end of his description of a sculpture he assembled while in college from his collection of broken chairs, an exhibit meant to represent his sister’s nervous breakdown. “There is no great joy in surviving…and value that is hard to share.” Ostensibly he’s referring to the chairs he threw away after the exhibit, but also to his survivor guilt at having a sister afflicted by cerebral palsy, brain damage and schizophrenia.

I hesitated to include the quote in this post because it sounds so dramatic, but as I read it I resonated with this important knowledge – my life since Mother has lacked the joy she would have brought to it. Not to say I’ve had a bad life, or that her existence in my adulthood wouldn’t have brought its own problems, but her loss created a shadowy hole I can look away from, and shut my eyes to, but can’t fill.

Author King also talks about how collections are attempts to compensate for other losses. That point is also highly resonant for me (the motherless Princess of a closet full of Chucks).

NEW ADDITION to Chuck World

There are always new shoes at Chuck World, most of which join the collection without fanfare, but today we announce something truly special - NEW SHOE STORAGE!, beautifully integrated into the existing Chuck World campus.

The eastern side of Chuck World remains the main site for Chucks, but on the new north end two new highrises have been built that will house such Chucks as are too seasonal (too white or bright for fall and winter, or too dark for spring and summer) to be experiencing current wear. Constructed of canvas, these new dwellings echo the canvas material of the Chucks while providing protection from dust and allowing needed ventilation of rubber. Aesthetics are of utmost importance in Chuck World and the new dual-occupancy units (one pair per tier) have been constructed with the southern side left open so that the renowned colors and patterns of the Chuck collection, still of beauty even if non-seasonal, remain in view.

As is obvious from its name, Chuck World is not an equal opportunity establishment. Clear preference is given to Chucks, and footwear of other materials and brands is relegated to the basement rows of the eastern racks. (The new highrises will house Chucks, and only Chucks.) This expanded housing has allowed several pairs previously contained in the secret stash behind the white plastic bins and white plastic bags* to be brought forward and introduced in prime location, on the eastern racks.













Chuck World is a pioneer not only in display methods but also in atmospheric scent. Its dusty bars of 1990s Yardley's Lavender Soap have been replaced by fresh Tom's of Maine Lavender Body bars, still in their protective plastic but cut open at the ends, situated in the east-rack basement. Early results indicate that Tom's is a much less powerful scent than Yardley's, but further experimentation will be conducted as we endeavor to help Chuck World and its closet universe smell as clean and fresh as possible. Lavender sachets may be revisited, although previous trials indicated their scent was not pleasing in daily exposure.

As is typical of new residential developments, the canvas units, while of high value, do not meet the needs of all residents; neither did the eastern racks. For this reason we have allowed space on the upper closet rack, above the vital rod that supports the new highrises, as penthouse dwellings for two special occupants: Plum-colored brocade Chucks (with gold threading, wine laces and rubber of a chocolate shade), in a wide, non-standard Chucks shoebox, are already in residence. Space has also been set aside for a second special resident, most recently at Zappos.com and currently in transit to Chuck World: limited-edition orange suede slip-ons. Due to fall fabric and color, it is expected that the second resident will spend the initial weeks at Chuck World in box seclusion.

* The white plastic bags contain shorts and slacks that are at this time out of the size range of Chuck World's designer and principal investor. While this is considered to be a temporary
situation, the decision was made to move these items off the closet rods to make room for larger-waisted sizes and more importantly, to make room for the new canvas highrises.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Selling T-Shirts on the Beach

I can't believe I am mentioning my former (eons ago) boyfriend J. on this blog, but certain things about our year and a half together are imbedded in my brain. He was a very intelligent college dropout (we had that in common) who thought being self-employed was the best way to succeed in life. Not having learned a lesson from his first failed venture, a franchise operation to patch vinyl car seats (he had been so sure that gem would succeed and many months later, was still grieving about it), he was always on the hunt for new business ideas. He tended to get fixated on things - another trait he and I shared - and at one point he insisted I ask my uncle Harvey if he would like to invest in a new business, managed (surprise!) by J himself. J. was equally insistent that this wouldn't be a favor we were asking, it would be a win-win situation for Harvey, a painless way for him to make money. Since he had by then learned exactly how to wear me down, I finally did, in great embarrassment, ask Harvey if he was interested. No, of course he wasn't, but my delivery of the question didn't help either, a version of how I used to sell Girl Scout cookies, which was fairly successful for a 10 year old but much less so for an entrepreneurial adult. "You wouldn't want to buy any cookies, would you?"

Yikes, can I stop talking about J. now? No, I need to provide more back story... One of his more intriguing business ideas (actually, his only intriguing business idea), not the one he wanted Harvey to partner on, was selling tee shirts at the beach. (This was before my 1991 illness made me more sensitive to heat in general, so it wasn't as completely Sarah-unrealistic as it sounds today.) He explained that since most beach traffic is seasonal, we wouldn't have to work year round - we could make enough money in the tourist months to sit on our butts the rest of the time. Or if we wanted gravy on our potatoes, we could come up with a second business idea for the other 6 months, but we would still have had our time on the beach. It didn't seem relevant that both of us were as pale as Casper, that we both had sensitive skin and that, being very insecure about his appearance (yep, another shared quirk), he was obsessive about keeping his hair helmet intact - I can't imagine how he would have coped with beach breezes. Or maybe that had been factored in and his business concept included a roofed shack - I didn't exactly press him for details, since this was after the beginning of our waning phase and I no longer enjoyed his enthusiastic spins on fantasy topics.

Maybe it's a kind of revenge J. karmically sent my way after our breakup, but whenever I get especially frustrated at work, I can't help thinking, geez, I should just quit this gig...and go sell tee shirts on the beach. There is such a freedom in even thinking of it, sigh...an impossible, unrealistic freedom, but still...such are the fantasies that help us survive in our North American office cubes.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Especially Manipulative Zapping

(Postscript to my Zappo'ed post of 7/29)

So today I did not order shoes but (oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh nnnnnooooo.....) I realized that Zappos also sells rapid-delivery jewelry and I ordered a few items. Even worse, after placing my order something inspired (no...something evilly attracted me) to click on a link on the post-order page below a silly photo of a bloodhound wearing a Zappos ballcap. The link said something like, see our other furry friends. Oh boy...a long scroll-down of dogs and cats wearing Zappos shoes, Zappos caps, posing inside Zappos boxes ("most popular shoe site on the web!") and beside Zappos shopping bags. I kept looking and scrolling down the page...I don't know why...I guess as a dog owner I like to look at dogs that look something like mine. There were 2 cute shots of beagles which I'm sure triggered God-knows what thing in my brain that will encourage me to Zappo again in the future. My poor old dog Marley doesn't really resemble a beagle any more, but he is one, and I haven't forgotten the tricolor beauty of his youth, even though he has gone white as a senior doggy. So..can I blame Marley next time I order from Zappos?

Here's Marley & me about 7 years ago..he was a young pup of 5 then and still had a bit of brown on him, at least in contrast to my white sweatshirt! Below are the evilly manipulative images from Zappos.















Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Are There Clothes on Mars?

Here's a topic I think about a lot, so it should be easier to write about, but I think I am overwhelmed by its universality - by that I'm not just making a Martian joke but also referring to the sad fact that other women I know (and consider gorgeous) have confessed to some of the same thoughts.

Here goes - I feel (or should I say, "I think"? - my brother Tim always corrected feel for think in his student's papers...although the older I get and the more therapy I have, the more I think/feel the words are interchangeable) that I have been imprisoned in a Martian body for lo, these many years

I was a chubby little girl...a skinny teen...a young adult of varying sizes...and in middle age still struggling to find my proper size. At some point I started theorizing to myself and anyone who would listen (a small subset of people) that I may not have a human body. It seems to defeat the odds that I was never a proper 6, 8, 10, 12 or 5, 7, 9, 11. "Odd" is a good word here - surely it is odd that I never hit any proper size, at any of my varying weights.

Catalogue and online retailers list their size charts, but when I plot my body measurements they are always at least 3 separate sizes on the charts and there are no instructions on how to approximate this into one clothing size. Part of the explanation is my inheritance of what my cousins call the Schmidt buttocks, pronounced "buh" as in butter (for good reason) with a very crisp "tocks!" at the end. Adding to the Schmidt buttocks (which remain even when the rest of the body is flat or starved, such as when I weighed 97 pounds, my near-anorexic phase) is the fact that I developed a bust very late in life, probably due to emotional stress in my teenage years (kind of a vicious teenage circle, since having no bust created more emotional distress), which accounts for an odd conglomeration of body parts for a certain time period, but I am now past my mid 40s and can't remember any segment of existence (shopping existence, which is surely the same as regular human existence) during which I was a legitimate size. In my anorexic teen phase I was a 4 or 5 - too big for a 4, too small for a 6, but 5's didn't fit either. In my slim adult years I was just below an 8 (that didn't last long...a couple of French fry sides with meals and I was back into size-8 land), then I hovered above 8 for a while (although various parts of pants and skirts still did not fit well), verging toward a 10 when I got bloated, and as soon as I gained even a few pounds I was a lumpy 10...and now I am more of a 12, but a "dryer 12" - meaning, when an item is clean and out of the dryer, size 12 fits me OK, but as soon as I put it on and it starts to stretch even a bit, it is too big. Yet...when I try on, or wash and wear, size 10s, they are definitely too small.

Would I fit in better, would things fit me better, on Mars? Do they actually wear clothing on Mars? It's too bad that the U.S. Mars Probe did not have these questions on its mission plan.

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that cheaper clothing manufacturers (maybe almost all clothing manufacturers) don't use consistent sizing - so that you can never be sure that things of a certain size will fit you.

Some people assume I am a Petite, maybe because I'm short and have a high voice...? It's true that my shoulders are petite, but the proportions of my bust/hips/crotch are not. I hate to use the C word, but Petite clothing makes me feel pulled tightly into the center without room to breathe...apparently there are not enough parts of me that are Petite.

Given varying sizes, even within a brand (different Kohl's sizes, J Jill sizes, Land's End sizes...you know, all the luxury brands). I remain amazed that my body has never morphed toward a standard size at any point in its growth. But maybe, probably, I was a perfect Land's End t-shirt size 10 for a few days...during which time I didn't happen to wear t-shirts...and then let's say I gained a few ounces, which put me into a different size, but I was still wearing things other than Land's End t-shirts...and by the time I put them on, maybe a week later, they were getting snug across the something (bust, shoulders, or pulling up at the waist). See how this works?, or doesn't work?

So to theorize and throw in a sloppy metaphor, there is a very short window during which I am a standard size, but that standard is different for different designers of different brands...so the whole thing is a crap shoot, with terrible odds.

If you plotted on a graph the changing size of my body parts, and the sizes of apparel on the market, there would be no intersection. Although, if I tried on every item in my closet, every day...stood up straight and put my shoulders back...and objectively assessed the fit (as if any woman can objectively assess her image in a mirror), I guess it's possible that I could catch the brief moments in which my clothes truly fit me. But my gosh, is that any kind of a life?

In my attempt to cope on Planet Earth, I continue buying bigger sizes of clothes, which are often baggy although sometimes still constrictive, and to hold onto the older smaller-size items I hope to get back into. Probably I should consider the problem in reverse...if I gain easily, rapidly passing a size, on my way back down weight-wise I should pass the size again. (But even as I typed that last sentence, I did not believe it.)

There is hope for the future - sometimes I have glimmers that I have evolved (sunk?) to a point where I am more interested in fabric colors and jewelry than clothing fit, and thus can somewhat tune out my silhouette while finding esoteric pleasure in dressing (color combinations, jewelry design, etc.). But the key word is, sometimes.

Spilled Goldfish - Best Attempt to Pick Them Up

Getting this posting right, or even figuring out in general terms what I want to do with it, has daunted me. I wrote a condensed version of it for a 2002 short story contest (the contest that catalyzed "Blood in New Orleans") but the finished product seemed to me like chunks of the tips of an iceberg - too brief and too scattered to serve the real topic. In one of my recent notes for updating the story I wrote, "love, loss, fear, guilt (joy?)". Yikes! No wonder I get overwhelmed if the story brings up, or should be about, all those emotions. In an effort to break through my webwriting block I have decided to go ahead and slap it online...maybe that will bring some magic to it by way of giving me a fresh perspective.



(The Short Story)

I was very nervous about starting 4th grade, which meant going to my older brothers’ former school and changing rooms between class periods. It had taken me until 3rd grade (when I became one of the older kids on campus) to get used to the elementary school, and now one year later my shyness and anxiety was refreshed with the move to Tomball Intermediate School.

Toward the end of my first lunch period - maybe the bell startled me - I accidentally spilled my sandwich bag full of Pepperidge Farm goldfish. I watched them hit the floor with horror, feeling bereft of a treat from my Mother-packed lunch and blaming myself with harshness - there was a strong sense of loss and a feeling that Mother had given me something I didn’t take good care of. The motherly preparation inherent in my newly purchased, color-coordinated lunch box and thermos (containing milk and ice cubes, my mother was very conscious of food safety) somehow added to the angst of the situation.

My mother died a few years later, and that’s one of the reasons why this spilled goldfish memory has remained powerfully emotional for me - I've never lost the image of myself sitting on the edge of a battered folding chair, holding an empty bag and sadly/angrily/guiltily looking down at the cafeteria floor. Many triggers from my own actions - disappointing a family member, disappointing myself, sometimes even just spilling food - have been effective at poking the bruise of the goldfish memory.

I knew that Mother took good practical care of us but in processing my memories I've struggled with the question of whether she and I had a special mother-daughter relationship - and I don’t even know whether I should define such a thing by 21st century psychology. These relationships weren't explored much in the early 1970s in middleclass Texas, and certainly not by my mother, who although supportive of my sensitivity was a no-nonsense type. I’ve wondered if I was just another responsibility for her?, a sensitive child who at times was probably a lot of work. We were a “Texas German” family (a term I later applied to our habits of not saying Good Morning and not being much into hugging). That label explained, culturally, why outward demonstrations of love (and demands for such affection) weren't easy for us, or valued by us, or... [Already I am getting lost in murky iceberg waters as I try to clarify my original statements here.]

My mother’s lunches were thrifty but not uninspired - I have a vivid memory of a field trip where the centerpiece of my sack lunch was a recycled margarine-tub portion of homemade buttermilk pie. Food was often an escape for my youthful sadness (as evidenced by my chubbiness) but sometimes I felt I didn’t deserve the blessed goodness of it, at least not in the tasty and creative way my mother sometimes presented food. She only gave me lunch things she knew I would eat (nothing yucky, even if that meant the meal was less than balanced) and occasionally would add perks like cheese strips on a toothpick and little notes on scraps of paper. [I would give anything to remember what she wrote on the notes - surely not "I love you," too demonstrative...and not "Be a good girl," that would have been too direct (my parents controlled us with guilt, not admonishments)...maybe simple jokes, like knock-knock?]

The memory of buttermilk pie is especially poignant, since the recipe was introduced to us by a caretaker of my ailing grandmother - and my mother, whose own health began to decline soon after, was very attracted to the ease of the recipe - you stirred simple ingredients together and poured them in a ready-made pie shell, no stovetop cooking was required as for a traditional custard pie. I loved the pie’s high-fat sweetness right away (like a chess pie, but with vanilla instead of lemon flavor), and buttermilk pie fandom was something my mother and I shared during the last two years of her life.

My years working as a secretary sometimes seemed to mimic parent-oriented struggles of guilt and anger. For a while my personal trigger to deflect frustration with my boss was the memory of an instance when I missed checking for an important fax he’d been nagging at me to watch for - so that by the time we noticed it was there, we had almost missed our client’s deadline and I had to cancel a personal appointment I’d scheduled after work, to stay late and finish our proposal. In some weird way I would use my mistake (even months or years later) as a way to excuse the office abuse I experienced. My boss was often a deadline-delayer and would throw various wrenches into the wheels of our day, but in that particular situation I felt the blame was clearly mine - there seemed to be many “should haves” I’d ignored including better checking of priorities and being better prepared. This memory became a deflection tool, handily converting anger toward my boss (over having to cancel a doctor appointment - actually/ironically, a psychotherapy appointment - in order to meet an office deadline) into blame of myself.

In a later and very different office example, my boss’s junior associate C. announced in a peevish tone (he was a redhead and a bit introverted, which meant he imploded sometimes) that he had poured his afternoon can of Diet Coke into a styrofoam cup without remembering the cup contained Pepperidge Farm goldfish (we worked for a professional services firm and our kitchen was well stocked with popcorn and chips - but no bowls, we ate the snacks out of cups or off paper towels). I wasn’t sure why C. had gone out of his way to mention this - he wasn’t exactly angry but he also wasn’t laughing.

I sat quietly at my desk after C. went back into his office, wondering why I didn’t find his goldfish cracker situation more personally poignant, given my own history. This time I felt only a dry memory connection and no bruising pain with the thoughts of drowned goldfish, and I almost regretted the lack of pain response if it meant that mental emotional files had been erased. Surely one should be grateful for the dulling of pain - but a precious family memory is a precious family memory, and did I really want to lose any of them?, even ones that were encumbered with anger and guilt?

I was relieved when I later realized that writing or thinking about my own spilled crackers, in more private surroundings than a busy office, could still provoke a deep wince - and the response is dulling only very gradually, so it will probably be there for a long time. I want to continue to have a visceral reaction to thoughts of my mother and my sadness over losing her, and the goldfish memories remain one way to get to that. [Well, when I wrote this pat ending in 2002 I still had a clear pain response, but by 2008 it is more of a ghostly vibration. Rather than digress into comments about brain cells killed by Chardonnay, I will allow myself to write that maybe I have grown up to the next stage - whatever that might be - of contemplation of this memory.]

***

Here are more of my update notes that the reader can probably connect to the story better than I could over-explain them:

Mother was a thrifty shopper - she checked the local newspapers for coupons and often drove to all 3 grocery stores (within a one-mile radius, since it was Tomball) to get the best prices. My favorite thrift-complaint (mild parental abuse) story is that when we got hamburgers to-go from the Goal Post, we had to put the cheese on at home to save the 10 cents per sandwich the restaurant charged. (Sometimes we did dine-in at the Goal Post and then it was OK to order a cheeseburger, with the cheese actually melted on a hot patty.) And yes, the name was a tribute to Tomball football - there was a fake goal structure out front wrapped with red & white like a candy cane. I'm a bit fuzzy on the architecture but I think the restaurant might have been a converted gas station. We usually ordered sandwiches...once my brother Dave branched out to fried fish and he couldn't eat it - they had left the scales and fins on and the bones in - that might be suitable in an ethnic restaurant but in a place that served chicken fried steak and overcooked everything to mush, it came across as nasty.

Mother did buy us some special things that were name brands, like Instant Breakfast, Oreos and Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers. She didn't try to make us feel guilty for consuming them but I, and I think my brothers too, always had a sense that these were special items, to be appreciated (not to say we didn't nag for more of them, more often, more flavors, and other brands as well). We didn't know all the details of my dad's childhood deprivation, but from his expression and occasional comments we deduced that he considered any snacks other than homemade and any drinks other than ice water (and not too much ice) to be frivolous. Written in his late 70s, his book "Growing Up in Rosehill: We Were Poor But Didn't Know It" pretty much tells you from the title - they didn't go to bed hungry but they didn't have goldfish crackers either.

And one more note about the lunchbox containing the goldfish, which I think was decorated with daisies...on another day I was upset that the matching thermos had broken and the glass liner had mixed into the milk - but although that was surely the result of my banging the thing around, I was more mad at fate, or even at Mother for not replacing the lunchbox set sooner, so I didn't personalize the incident as much as I had the goldfish. The melting ice thinned the milk to skim milk, and the glass didn't look so strange floating in it (dare I make another reference to icebergs?), but I knew from the odd rattle and altered weight that this thermos was a goner.

Why Chucks

I still have a backstock of Chucks in boxes (winter colors, or other styles I'm not ready to wear yet) but I keep wanting/needing to have more active pairs on my shoe racks. I had to break down and, instead of having them all prettily sole-down on the racks, turn them sideways, like they come in the box - sole to sole, one toe forward, the other toe back. I can still see the colors and maybe they will get less dusty this way. Each of my shelves can hold 5 pairs by using to the new setup - 4 turned sideways, with room left for another pair the original way, soles down. The colors have worked out in nice groupings - blues with red and purple, pink solids and prints, oranges and neutrals - of course doing the color groupings is one of my favorite things. My monthly household calendar, in addition to Clean A/C Filter and Dog Flea Meds, now has Dust Chucks. I have to admit I cradle the Chucks in my arms rather like babies as I gently wipe them with a towel.

And yes, I continue to freely admit it is an addiction, but there's more to it than that - in case anyone still wonders or cares, here is more detail on my Chuck Love.

Looking at the colored shoes on white backgrounds is great online shopping...the availability changes every day, almost like eBay or gambling. When I add an item to my Zappos cart the screen screams, "Only l left!" or "Only 2 left!" I admit it's more usually "Only 3 left!", which probably means they start out with 3 of every new style and size, so there's not really a run on my items. But I still fall for the sense of urgency. Sometimes it frustrates me that there's not a good way to eliminate the high-tops and punk designs (skulls, guitars, etc.) from my online searches, but in a way that makes it more fun, giving me more shoes to wade through in pursuit of something good, picturing different designs with my wardrobe..."Maybe the red & white tie-dies wouldn't actually look punk if I wear them with the right outfit" etc.
Because I have so many pairs to wear each one comes up only in infrequent rotation, and I can usually look at the shoes in my closet and remember where I wore them last - with what outfit and to see what people - little slices of my life made more colorful by Chucks.

Chucks have consistent sizing - they always fit with no surprises. This is so different from ordering clothes with a wide range of fit, or trying on items in a store and changing my mind at home when I get a new view of the fit (lack of fit) in my own mirror.

When Chucks arrive in their special Chucks box (brown & black, with eyelet holes punched in the box as if there is a turtle or hamster inside - presumably the holes are really to ventilate the canvas and rubber), they are already laced. There's a thin piece of tissue paper separating the shoes and occasionally each shoe has a small wad of paper inside but other than that, I can put them on immediately - no arduous lacing with alignment of long shoestrings, no break-in bending/stretching like you have to do with a real athletic pair.

It's a bit embarrassing to include but yes, Chucks give me a certain connection, however remote, with the world of sports. To state the obvious, I do not, and have never, played any sport...but Chucks are no longer worn for pro basketball, so the association is not as silly as it might be. And, because they are so simply engineered - the other end of a continuum from something as scientifically designed as a Nike - Chucks don't remind me that I don't exercise enough to need a real sports shoe (although I do wear New Balance or K-Swiss for my neighborhood walks, which would dirty my Chucks anyway).

Not to go too heavy on the medical drama here, but because of the nerve damage in my feet I don't walk well in thick soles. The increased ground contact I get with lightweight Chucks makes me feel almost like a dancer, or at least someone who walks with more spring.

There is another upside to the relative flimsiness of them - well-worn Chucks get dingy and they come apart (not that my zillion pairs would get enough rotation for this to happen anytime soon), but I kind of like the fact that they are temporary shoes, for play and for fun.

Chucks actually make it fun to get dressed - pairing colors and designs with outfits, even otherwise boring outfits. I'm able to look down at my cheerful Chucks while driving to my boring destination, i.e. the grocery store, and while I'm trudging down the aisles.

When I have to wear non-Chucks to the office, sometimes I leave a pair of Chucks in my car, with clean white socks, and I put them on for the drive home. Somehow they give me a boost, which is weird since in this weather they get warm while sitting in the car (even in a basement parking garage) and my feet don't work right when they're warm - but my office is freezing cold all day so putting on the slightly warm Chucks after 5 feels good.

Compliments received on Chucks are completely painless to accept, with no self-consciousness. Men seem to have a special fondness for Chucks, granting even my pastel star-studded pair a connection with the legacy of basketball, and a male compliment that has absolutely no reference to one's body is refreshing. Chuck compliments, which sometimes even come with squeals, are always sincere - nothing like the "Did you get a haircut?" type of comment received when people don't like your new style but just feel compelled to say something.

As previously mentioned online, my sainted brother wore Chucks, although he only had one or two pairs at a time (a newer pair, and a nastier pair) and only wore one color - the exact name of which, a legacy orange-gold, I haven't figured out yet. My sister-in-law has reminded me that Tim's friends acknowledged his habit by tying Chucks to the going-away car at their wedding.

I sometimes wore Keds as a child - there are photographs of me in a red pair - and while of course Keds are not the same as Chucks, they did have round toes and there is a certain nice nostalgia, especially when I wear my solid-red Chucks.

I think my father wore a predecessor of Chucks, some cheap 1930s version, in his childhood, when it got too cold to go barefoot. (Leather shoes were for rare occasions.) There's also a connection with the common canvas shoes worn in China and other Asian countries. Thus, family history Chucks? Global Chucks?

And OK, although I'm not usually snobby about brands, I like buying real Converse, which I do think are better made than the knockoffs, and cuter. (I have one pair of Target fakes, bought months before my addiction began, and they don't feel or look anything like the real thing.)

With Chucks, I'm matching my clothes from the shoes up - fewer concerns about skin color, hair color, age-appropriateness, or anything else. All kinds of colors are flattering on my feet! They are a truly blank canvas.

Although I'm usually a stickler for colors really matching, sometimes I allow off shades in clothes worn with Chucks - because except for long pants (and I wouldn't wear bright-colored pants anyway) the Chucks aren't adjacent to my outfit - my legs provide a separation so what's on my feet doesn't have to match exactly.

I had planned to write that my Chucks inspire me to accessorize more than I have in the past - even on slobby days where I'm only leaving the house to buy groceries or gas - but as of July, I am too hot to care about jewelry, even my beloved colored crystal bracelets. However, Chucks add Chuck-glamor to even a slobby outfit.

When I started wearing Chucks in the early spring, I needed double socks to keep them from sliding on my feet - but now that it's summer and I continue to swell from heat, wine and middle age, they fit great with just one pair of socks. I just slip them on and go - no fancy lacing, no special socks, no stiff heel to be broken in.

On days I work from home, I traditionally haven't worn shoes inside the house (I just let my white socks pick up floor dirt all day) but now I've started wearing Chucks on remote work days. This gives me an opportunity to put more mileage on the Chucks (wear more colors in a week), it gives me a psychological uplift (I smile down at my cute shoes), and having any type of shoe on somehow makes me feel more businesslike. There's something really silly about wearing shoes indoors though - it reminds me of a mother putting shoes on a baby that hasn't started walking yet. I think we follow the same principle: socks would be sufficient, but cute shoes are more fun.

Zappo'ed

This is a short entry, but the content is simple - the other dimension of my Chuck Taylor addiction: Zappos.com. The site provides such bang for the buck, a legal high - almost instant gratification. You place your order (free shipping and free returns) and select standard delivery. When you check your email the next morning, there is a message announcing more prompt shipment - for no extra charge, just because you are a special customer (as all their customers are - of course this is part of their gimmick). Unless ordered on a weekend, items - even if ordered late in the day - arrive the very next day. When I get that Expedited Shipping email, I immediately follow the link to UPS, and get excited reading that my shoes were put on an airplane early that morning, and within a few hours I read the item is in Dallas, on a truck and Out for Delivery. It's like Christmas morning - somebody pulled my box of shoes from a warehouse rack while I slept and they are on their way to me! I had thought that after several dozen such Christmas emails I would get immune to the excitement...but it hasn't happened yet.

Can we say...INTERVENTION?!?!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Blood in New Orleans, 1979 (nothing to do with voodoo or vampires)

I wrote this story in 2002 for a local public radio contest and it, Big Shock!, did not win—I don't think the problem was that they didn't want to have to read a story about menstruation on the air, it was more that the radio station likes "Texas color," meaning that the winning story had all kinds of Texas kitsch like, "As he banged the ripped screen door on his way to get a piece of Mama's pecan pie, big ole Texas horseflies buzzed inside." Clearly my story was too sophisticated for that contest.

Stories had to follow a short word count, per contest rules—I mention this in case readers can tell I truncated my usual amount of detail. For example, I couldn't cram in a mention of telling my dad's cousin Vera Mae I was worried about my reproductive system and her saying not to worry, because she had a relative who never started her period at all...and by the way, that cousin was a dwarf. There's nothing like being compared to a dwarf to make a 16 year old feel physically normal.

Last week I went to New Orleans for a company meeting, but that's not really what propelled me to put the story online. Ever since I started this blog I knew I wanted to feature the Blood story - yes, it's embarrassing, but also wonderfully visual.

A few background notes...

I was a junior in high school but graduated in three years, so 1978-1979 was my college decision year. Despite that pressure, I saw this trip as more of a fun vacation than an opportunity to seriously check out a college, even though I was a finalist for a prestigious scholarship. I didn't intend any disrespect for Tulane but had no idea who I was as a person or student.

I had tentatively indicated I was interested in the subject of English, and after meeting the Dean I had an even quicker meeting with a Writing professor in the English department...he had a dirty brown tweedy type couch (since I was having a leaky period, I was developing new appreciation for dark, crummy furniture). That guy made short work of me...he knew he could be blunt since he was a tenured academic, he had a parrot in a cage in his office (I kid you not), and it was New Orleans...he said something like, "It doesn't sound to me like you're interested in coming here...why did you ask to meet with me?" As mortifying as that moment was, I can't remember more about it...such as what I said in response?...because the day was absolutely overshadowed by my menses.

























It pains me to relate what I was wearing for my Tulane interviews—jeans and a homemade floral tunic shirt and platform loafers. I can't remember 70s fashion precepts too well but this doesn't sound quite appropriate, in retrospect. Pre-trip, I had discussed my clothes with Priscilla and we had bought me one new dress and shoes...it was kind of a party dress though (I wore it out to dinner at the end of the trip), and certainly I couldn't have worn anything that light-colored (lavender/pink) and floaty (a very light cotton) on my Heavy Day! And the shoes that went with it were purple leather slides...need I say more?, not your standard walking-around-campus shoe.

Regardless of all that...I had a good time, especially after I had gotten the Tulane stuff out of the way. We stayed at a fabulous hotel (basically our own little house in the French Quarter with a courtyard), Harvey's friend Peter V. joined us, and one day we rented a limo and went outside of town to see some of the restored plantations.















Until recent years when his health has worsened, Harvey traveled extensively, and he would research restaurants, hotels and sights from ads and articles in glossy travel magazines. "On my flight from New York I was reading about a restaurant I'd like to try..." Total glamour, right? I have to say, Internet trip research pales in comparison.

Harvey took hundreds of photos and got inspired to do many portraits of me with the backdrop of New Orleans brick and shutters. It's a whole lotta Sarah, I know...in the French Quarter I bought a shirt silk-screened with my photo image, and it displayed perfectly on my still-flat chest.



























***
THE STORY

I didn’t start having my period until I was 17, which made the menstrual onset especially traumatic for me. My second period, almost as momentous as the first, arrived unfortuitously on the day of a big trip—my bachelor uncle H. was generously taking me to New Orleans to check out a college there. My flow was heavy enough that I went to my stepmother for counsel—but she, who had grown up on a farm and had already raised five daughters with normal bodies/normal cycles (and no anxiety problems), had little to say on the subject of my self-perceived torrential deluge and simply found me a box of slightly larger Kotex.

Other “firsts” on the morning of the trip included cramping, lightheadedness and cravings, all of which I decided to handle with a quick Sonic run for caffeine and sugar. Literally carried away by my hormonal urges, I left my packed bags inside our front door, instructed my stepmother to direct Uncle H. to the Sonic, and walked the three blocks to our town’s Main Street as rapidly as my well-padded crotch would allow. I was standing at the order window when a rushed Uncle H. drove up—he seemed a little less enchanted by me than usual but was somewhat mollified when he saw I had ordered him a Coke float too.

We barely made our plane but since Uncle H. had gotten us first-class tickets, the flight attendants remained fairly gracious. Given my continued deluge-inous flow, I was vastly relieved to see that the seats were upholstered in a dark floral fabric. I made more than one trip to the restroom and on each return to my seat, tried to surreptitiously check whether the colors of the flower petals in the cushion fabric had changed.

My large and antique-filled room at our hotel surpassed my “princess imprisoned in a small Texas town” fantasies, but my heart sank when I saw the canopy bed’s expensive-looking, pristinely white comforter and sheets. (This was years before the wide popularity of novelist Anne Rice, in whose world blood on antique linens would have been justified.) For a moment I almost longed for cheaper, grungier lodging, maybe someplace with a dirty rust-colored bedspread and dingy sheets that could have used a good bleach boil anyway.



Our second day in town, I was scheduled for a scholarship interview with the Dean at my target college (my SAT scores having been higher than my common sense at this age). As I walked out of the Dean’s office after a very shyly uncomfortable meeting, I was horrified to spy a dot of blood on the orange leather armchair I’d been cringing in. As tremendously embarrassing as the stain was, I didn’t think it would have much effect on the outcome of my visit—all my interviews that day turned out to be rather bizarre in content and shortness, since I had no clear idea why I wanted to go to college (other than to get out of our town and away from my family) and certainly no specific idea why I would want to go to this particular Louisiana school.

After the conclusion of a few more time-wasting meetings with department heads and professors, I finally had the privacy to make a much-needed visit to the ladies’ room. I was horror-struck that there were no containers in any of the stalls for sanitary waste, a real dilemma since there were several students at the sinks and I didn’t think I could bear to walk past them clutching a suspicious wad of paper in my hands—I finally just left my little package of joy sitting on the back of the toilet. As I was washing my hands at the sink, two cleaning ladies came in and par-for-the-course of my life that day, within a few seconds one of them started on the stall I had just vacated and went into a loud diatribe about “Would you look at the stuff them girls leave in here?!”


That night, I was still bleeding quite a lot so I had to apply my befuddled teen brain to the project of how not to leak through my dress for the evening—a homemade navy-and-white striped number that I had designed and sewn to match some majorly platform shoes I’d found on sale. The shoes were on a fashion borderline even for the 1970s—they had cork bottoms and multi-colored straps, and I couldn’t walk in them for more than a few hundred yards (we had to take a cab the few blocks to the historic restaurant Uncle H. had chosen).

I had known I needed to build a kind of dam and ended up fashioning a plastic diaper out of Saran Wrap that I found in our hotel room’s kitchenette. Unfortunately I didn’t have any tape (had to depend on the elasticity of my pantyhose for adhesion), and for the latter part of the evening the stoppage apparatus was positioned at a very odd angle between my legs. I considered that night a major testament to my ingenuity, since not only did my dress and the pastel upholstered chair at the restaurant avoid damage, but also none of the dam-building components ever fell off or slid down onto an observable portion of my legs.

Ultimately, I chose a college in New Mexico (where I had a bathroom accident of another sort on my first visit there, since I was too shy to excuse myself during a lengthy seminar, regardless of the 5 glasses of water I had had with my spicy dinner). Despite the fact that I have never since had a menstrual cycle of that early, unearthly magnitude, I’ve never regained trust in my female parts and regard their operations as, at best, baroque.

Mercifully, I don't believe Uncle H. ever had any idea of the disgusting events I had to manage through in New Orleans. (Unless he suspected something when, after a gourmet Cajun lunch, I made him take me to a rundown convenience store so I could buy Cokes and a large package of Chips Ahoy, hoping those would help my cramping and cravings.)