Oral Hygiene Queen

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Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

A Good Nose for Business

One thing that's always sad about the annual long summer visit to my in-laws' place is going downtown in their Jersey Shore hamlet and seeing which of my favorite businesses has gone bust and given way to some ridiculous chi chi boutique I'd never patronize in a million years. Their town used to be a hip but somewhat rough-around-the-edges place, with punk rock teenagers loitering on Broadway, lots of funky little stores, and a higher-than-average number of head shops. But as the town has gentrified more and more over the last ten years, the funky elements have given way to high-rent ventures.The cool health food store went under a few years back, making way for a fancy dog grooming salon. The used book store turned into one of those clothing stores where you can get a pair of distressed jeans off the sale rack for a mere hundred bucks. The little hole-in-the-wall vegan restaurant gave way to a gourmet pet food boutique. (I shit you not. These rich Jersey Shore people take their pets very seriously.)

With the economy in a slump, the death of the downtown businesses has sped up. This summer I noticed a business that had apparently opened and closed since last time we were in town. A designer perfume and make-up discount store. Hm. That's strange. With all the perfume, cologne, and cosmetics that people on the Jersey Shore use, I'd think a place that sells the designer shit at a bargain price would be able to weather the current economic climate. But wait. The name.


"What's That Smell?" Really? That's the name you chose for your discount designer perfume shop? Why not "What the Fuck is That Smell?" or "What Cavernous Mouth of Hell Opened Up and Released That Smell?"

Don't these people have any sort of ear for their own language? "What's that smell?" is not a phrasal synonym for "Mmm, what's that delicate fragrance wafting toward my grateful nose?" It means "What's that foul smell?" It means "What's wrong here?" It means...


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Notes on Bear Week

I just got back from Provincetown, Massachusetts, where I spent a week with O., and Roo, the Old Man. They frolicked on the beach every morning while I was off at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center taking a poetry workshop. In the afternoons, my Old Man would take O. off exploring while Roo napped and I wrote poems to bring back to the workshop. Then we'd all go off to try to find a restaurant which would tolerate our children and not necessitate taking out a second mortgage on our home.

We've been to P-town twice before, both times so that I could take workshops at the FAWC. (I love the FAWC because people there actually call it the FAWC, which is pronounced "fahc," which starts to sound a lot like "fuuuck" when you say it often enough. Who wouldn't want to take a workshop in fiction, poetry, or painting at "the fuuuck"? It's kind of like "the shit," only better.) Provincetown has a long history as an artists' and writers' retreat, and is well-known for its many art galleries and its local literary giants. Located on the tip of Cape Cod, it's also a big old tourist trap. And, most impressively, it's one of the most well-known gay resort towns in the US.

Both times we've been to P-town before, we've heard people talk about "bear week." According to the Ptown Bears website, bears are "a subculture of gay men who embrace natural body hair." But that doesn't seem to sum it up entirely. Based on my observations, and conversations I've had and overheard in P-town, bears tend not only to have a goodly amount of body hair, but also observable facial hair, and a particular type of build. Bears are big. Even short bears are big. They're often muscular, but whether they're built or not, they generally have a belly. Many of them seem to favor leather. Motorcycles are not uncommon. Apparently, there are associations between bears and firefighters, I'm not sure why. Maybe because of Smokey? Only YOU over there in that body-conscious tank top with luxuriant chest hair tufting out can prevent forest fires.

Well, this year, we were in luck. The week we had planned to be in Provincetown? Bear week! My Old Man was a bit disappointed that he'd gone through the trouble of doing some extra manscaping (to make it more likely that he might pass for your average gay dad as he singlehandedly shepherded the children though the extra-queer-friendly East End). Why bother, when it's bear week?

Anyway, having observed bears in their natural (vacation) habitat for a week, I can report that although bears are not aggressive, they are not friendly, either. I smiled or said hi to every bear I passed during my stay in P-town, and I got not one smile back. I imagine they're probably friendly to other bears, but not to skinny tourist women in big hats.

Maybe part of the reason the bears in P-town were not particularly friendly to me is that Bear Week has become a well-known enough event that even the clueless straight people who vacation in Provincetown know about it, and thus the bears become something of a spectacle, perhaps in a way that gets annoying. Maybe a lot of silly tourist women were smiling extra widely at them during this last week. (I tend to be pretty friendly generally, but I was probably smiling a little wider at the bears. Who doesn't get excited when they're on vacation in a wild place and they see a bear?)

We always enjoy spending a week in Provincetown, but it has its annoyances and drawbacks. It's fucking expensive for one. If I hadn't had a fellowship for my workshop, I'd never have been able to afford the tuition and lodging, but trying to feed yourself and keep yourself in coffee and your kids in ice cream is a mammoth expense in itself. It's also a crowded tourist spot that has grown up in a town that was founded long before the revolutionary period (this is where the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact , recall). So by the end of the week, we're ready to leave and get back to a less pricey and less jostled existence.

That's why as we were heading out of town, my Old Man cued up the perfect "Sayonara, Cape Cod!" song, "Walcott" by Vampire Weekend. Walcott, Don't you know that it's insane? Don't you want to get out of Cape Cod? Out of Cape Cod tonight? It's an especially perfect song for us, given our destination, back to the loving arms of the Jersey Shore. Walcott, All the way to New Jersey, All the way to The Garden State, Out of Cape Cod tonight

But when we came to the verse where they sing Walcott, Fuck the women from Wellfleet, Fuck the bears out in Provincetown, Out of Cape Cod Tonight, I couldn't sing along with as much gusto. I mean, I don't know any women in Wellfleet, so who am I to say? And although the Provincetown bears did not return my smiles and greetings, I don't hold it against them. I still salute their embrace of natural body hair (hey, we have something in common!) and their grizzly aesthetic.


But maybe I'm misreading that line. Maybe Vampire Weekend mean something entirely different when they say "Fuck the bears out in Provincetown." It's hard to say what "fuck" means after you've spent a week parsing out the nuances of poem after poem at the FAWC. Fuuuck!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

You Wanna Bet Your Pretty Neck?

My man hates show tunes. My man hates musicals in general. Keep this in mind.

So, here we are spending a month or so with my Old Man's family on the Jersey Shore. This year, it's more like three weeks, since we're going to Cape Cod for six days in the middle of the visit, but still. A long visit. Six people in a house that usually holds two. (Plus my sister-in-law is in town from Florida, and though she's not sleeping here, she's around much of time during the day and evening.) I've mentioned that this is actually harder on my man than on me. Let me explain a bit more about why that is.

Obviously, it's harder in some ways for my man to stay with his family for several weeks at a stretch because he has all this history with them and they push his buttons and everyone reverts to old modes and habits that drive everyone else crazy. Except me, who mostly finds it all pretty amusing (except when it occasionally makes me want to throw a potted plant at someone).

But there are other reasons that this is easier for me than him, and I'm just sort of starting to articulate those, here in our seventh extended summer visit. This is partly due to an epiphany I had at dinner last night.

Okay, dinner. It's me, my Old Man, his mom (who tends to go by the handle Gram), his dad (code name Pop-Pop), baby Roo (in her high chair), six-year-old O., and my Old Man's sister, Aunt A. Dishes are being passed every which way, debates are raging over whether the corn is undercooked or just bad, speculations are being made about when Jersey corn will finally be in season. Everyone is loud, everyone is talking over each other, and every adult-oriented comment is punctuated by an observation of something cute that Roo is doing, an extra-loud question intended to engage O., or a suggestion that O. eat more, use his napkin, or stop lurching into Gram to the beat of the frenetic, horn-heavy jazz that is perpetually playing in the background.

At some point Roo does or says something exceptionally cute, and this inspires Gram to begin singing to Roo a song from the venerable Broadway favorite Guys and Dolls, the corniest song in a show abounding in corny songs. I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck sings Gram, and then Pop-Pop joins in, A hug around the neck and a barrel and a heap. Then Aunt A. joins in A barrel and a heap and I'm talking in my sleep, about you, about you. And, dangit, I can't help it (after all, I played the role of Sister Sarah Brown in my high school production of Guys and Dolls, and after all, these people are singing this song of love to my adorable toddler, who I actually happen to really love barrels and heaps, etc.). I just have to join in I love you a bushel and a peck, you bet your pretty neck I do.

"Your pretty neck?" Egad. But we keep singing and it just gets worse when we hit the Doodle oodle oooh doo, Doodle oodle oooh doo, Doodle oodle oooh doo doooooooo! And remember, this is all being sung over the sounds of frenetic, horn-heavy jazz.

Needless to say, my Old Man is not singing along, however much love he might have for his baby girl (love he'd more likely measure in kilos or assloads than bushels and pecks). He does not know this song, and if by some bizarre circumstance he did, he would never sing it. I don't even need to look at his face to know that he's in serious pain right now.

And this is part of the reason it's harder for him than for me to be here. In some ways, I'm more like his family than he is. I'm cornier than him, I'm less inhibited, more able to quickly and comfortably shift social modes and rhetorical registers. He and I have a lot in common. We're both ironic, we both love to read, we both cherish quiet time. But I'm more able to shift from irony to cheesy jokes without feeling a painful wrench, and I'm more able to temporarily forgo my need for quiet reflection and solitude when super-social chaos is the order of the day. My man is actually a very goofy dude much of the time when he's in the comfort of his own home, but his goofiness tends to run the order of absurdist humor and scatology rather than bad puns and cheesy ribbing.

Anyway, to his credit, he did not shriek or run from the table when this outburst occurred. I think he still likes me, even though I went there with his family of origin, to that place of unspeakable darkness, the spontaneous show tune singalong.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Six is Company - Six is (Still) a Crowd

I'm back on the Jersey Shore for another Month With the In-Laws. We've been here a week and I have stories to tell, but I always like to write some sort of "intro to the whole concept of spending a month with your in-laws" post before I do any East Coast blogging. Reading back over the posts that served that purpose in years past, I'm amazed at how true my first-ever Jersey Shore Intro post still reads, despite the fact that it's three years later and we've had a baby in the interim. So I'm going to rerun that post below, and wherever I mention three-year-old O. you can fill in "six-year-old O. and baby sister Roo" in that blank. The the cons are still the same (down to the fact that my father-in-law still tries to talk to me while I'm reading and I still ignore him as politely as it is possible to ignore someone) and the pros are still the same (except with a baby added to the mix, the sleeping-in thing is even sweeter.) The wine rack is a little thinner in these economic hard times, but it still plays a pivotal role in my ability to maintain my patience during this blessed month-long visit. My Old Man and I still invariably end up needing to have a "talk" some time during the first week. Even the "six" of the title is still true, except my sister-in-law has gotten married and moved out, but her spot's been filled by little Roo.

So now, for your reading pleasure, an Oral Hygiene Classic Post:

So, here I am in New Jersey, spending what amounts to a month with my husband's family. Someone out there may be wondering Why in the name of Christ and all his long-haired friends would you do that? When I've mentioned our East Coast summer plans to friends or aquaintances, the response often amounts to that.

In fact, this is the fourth [nay, in 2009, seventh] summer that my Old Man and I have packed up the car, strapped O. into his car seat, and headed out to spend a month on the Jersey shore with my in-laws.

The why is a bit complicated, but basically simmers down to two reasons. One: my man grew up less than a mile from the ocean, and now we live in a landlocked part of the Midwest. He needs to spend time near the ocean in order to retain his sanity. I love him very much, and I know he needs this. Two: my Old Man's parents love their only grandchild to distraction and get to see him just a few times a year. I want O. to really know his grandparents in a way that you can only know people you've spent expanses of time with. O. is lucky enough to live near my folks (though, given that my mom and stepdad are hardcore Westcoasters, how that came about is a post of its own), and this trip gives him the chance to live with my Old Man's folks.

The actual visit is wonderful in some ways, and hellish in others. The pros outweigh the cons, or else I never would have come back after the first (and hardest) month-long summer visit. My mother-in-law is sweet and very easy to get along with, my father-in-law is completely well-meaning and annoying only in the relatively minor ways that make me realize how really petty I am for being driven momentarily insane by them. My Old Man's adult sister is warm, funny, and unabashedly weird, and over the years we've grown so close that she feels like a sister rather than an in-law. The advantages to having these good people in-house are easy to rattle off: the Old Man and I sleep in together almost every morning we're here, we have free childcare just about any time we want it from people who love our son, and people are constantly cooking for us (and if we're not careful, cleaning up after us). Add to that the perks of our location in a hip Jersey shore town: we're a ten-minute drive from the ocean, a 45 minute train ride from NYC, and close to more excellent dining than we could ever hope to (or afford to) enjoy in one month.

I admit that I also love the crowded chaos, most of the time. I grew up in the same house as grandparents and aunts, a house where it wasn't unusual to find second cousins sleeping on the laundry room floor because every available bed and couch was taken by some other family member. My family is loud and loving and sometimes pushy and annoying, and cramming a bunch of us into one house for an extended visit was always fun, even if tears were sometimes shed and doors slammed. Sitting around the overcrowded dinner table with my son, husband, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandmother-in-law, sis-in-law, and brother-in-law-to-be, with everyone talking over one another and affectionate jokes competing with mildly cutting sarcasm - it all feels very right, more often than not.

But it's hard, too. This isn't my family, and that makes it easier for me. It is my Old Man's family, and that makes it much more challenging for him. These people do not push my buttons, but they ride his. I think the hardest thing for me about this set-up, harder than the relative lack of privacy, sharing a computer with four other adults, or trying to read a book while my father-in-law persists in making inane small talk with me, is seeing my beloved man at his most adolescent. Sometimes he's unrecognizable. And I get so irritated, at the same time that I do not blame him. I try to imagine spending a week under my father's roof, much less a month, and I know I would be so much worse. Still, it's a strain on our relationship. And that much more because we can't even have a decent argument in the privacy of our own home.

So that's when you have to fight adolescent regression with adolescent therapies. This evening, I found myself grabbing my Old Man by the hand and dragging him out the door for a long walk and a serious talk. It's only day three of the visit, but already we needed it. We ended up sitting in the grass in a field not far from his folks' house like a pair of teenagers in relationship-crisis-mode. We got the space we needed and reconnected. (But before we could do that we had to do something I never had to worry about as a teenager: ask his mom if she'd watch our kid while we went and dealt with our angst.)

After my man and I had worked shit out, I came back in and had a couple glasses of a very nice pinot noir. So let me end with props to the unacknowledged ingredient that allows us to pull off this marathon visit: my in-laws' well-stocked wine rack.