Thursday, February 24, 2011

Home Depot

We bought ourselves a camper trailer. It's a Traveleer circa 1952. No, it's not an Airstream. It's what's lovingly referred to as the "canned ham" style, thus named because it resembles, well, a canned ham. It's not in perfect condition; it's evident it has sixty years on it, in the form of peeling maple veneer walls, a floor you can see through and a musty scent. But it is a thing of quality. It has wood cabinets, a boothed dinette, an adorable, teensy, 50's stove, an old steel refrigerator that actually works, and lots of potential.

My handy guy has turned his mechanical attention to our little blue and white trailer. He's on a break from work and over the past week he has replaced the failing floor with sturdy sheets of blond maple. He has installed tail-lights on the back and hooked them successfully to the minivan. He's even rigged the van with a hefty hitch. All this work, of course, has required materials. So Ben has been spending an inordinate amount of time at Home Depot.

We all have our Home Depot stories. I've had a salesperson (and I use that term loosely) literally run away down the paint aisle when it was clear I had a question. The benefit of the place is that it is giant; it has lots of products. The downfall is it's impenetrability. Where might the washers be found to fix my dripping faucet? Okay, I found a hundred square feet of washers. Which one might be the washer to fit my Kohler Coralais single-handle pull-out spray kitchen faucet? One could ponder for hours.

One day last week, Ben ventured into Home Depot (known by my kids as "The Big Store") with Mihiretu in tow. Let it be said that Mihiretu in a store is a catastrophe waiting to happen. That boy is meant to be outside. Confine him indoors on an adult errand and you (and all innocent bystanders) will leave deaf and loony.

Ben was waiting in the returns line. It was a rainy Tuesday and Home Depot was (shocking!) understaffed. Five soggy men, including my own, stood silently, miserably, in cue. Mihiretu was hopping a giant roll of outdoor carpet. He'd jump, shrieking happily, and crash noisily on the other side.

Marin County, it's been said many times, is liberal. Home Depot, even the Marin branch, is not. Here you have the contractors, the DIYers, the manly men. What they made of a lunatic Ethiopian boy with a white guy in clogs is anyone's guess.

Ben, certain his grumpy compatriots would not save his spot, shout-whispered for Mihiretu to stop. Mihiretu, after one last terrific leap, wandered towards a display of indoor plants. Ben, distracted momentarily as he moved forward in line, looked up and found no boy. Soon, however, a mop of curls rose from among the plant containers. Merry, almond eyes peered at him from a jungle of palms. Suddenly, the jungle was moving, Mihiretu with it. As the plants slid into the checkout area, Ben saw that they were on a cart, a cart that was piloted by his son. More shout-whispers from Ben and the cart was abandoned diagonally, halfway between aisle and checkout stand, and Mihiretu, reluctantly, was at Ben's side, just as his transaction was finally completed. Ben scooped him up, to much earsplitting protest.

"Wanna shoulder-ride, Mihiretu?" Ben asked, in a last ditch effort to contain him. Every kid in our family loves shoulder-rides from Dad. Generally, when we're all together, I have a no-shoulder-ride rule, because a battle invariably ensues.

Mihiretu, happily perched on Ben's shoulders, small brown fingers attempting to pull Ben's very short hair, shrieks of joy echoing through the warehouse, was content. And so, working fast, Ben trundled his cart through the store, in search of Liquid Nails (you heard right, Liquid Nails, ladies and gentlemen). As Ben stood before the wall of glue, attempting to discern which particular kind of Liquid Nails fit the bill, Mihiretu quieted. Soon, as Ben held two bottles of glue in his hands, weighing their merits, he felt Mihiretu's chin rest on his head, Mihiretu's fingers loosen from his scalp and a small palm ooze slowly over his eye. Ben cocked his head to get a look at his passenger. His eyes were half-open, he listed to one side.

"You tired, buddy?" Ben asked.

Mihiretu's mouth pulled into a vague half-smile, which, when combined with the droopy eyes and the off-kilter posture, made him appear to be the littlest drunk in Marin.

Ben gently laid Mihiretu in the giant, as yet empty shopping cart. He placed Mihiretu's folded sweatshirt beneath his brown curls and spread his own over him like a blanket. Mihiretu's eyes closed completely and, head cocked askew on his neck, his mouth hung open in slumber.

Grateful for the silence, tucking the Liquid Nails in under Mihiretu's sneakered feet, Ben rolled the cart towards floor mats. Soon, the cart parked, he was halfway down the aisle, peacefully puzzling over his choices in the shriek-less quiet. A brawny middle-aged man, beer-bellied, wearing scuffed steel-toed boots and a Carhart jacket fraying at the cuffs, rounded the corner from the other direction. Ben glanced his way just in time to see him stop short in front of the cart, scratching his belly uncertainly. For all intents and purposes, this looked like a comatose - or worse - black child placed in the cart for purchase, with no discernible parent present. Now on which aisle can you find those?

Ben said later that as strange as the scene might have appeared to that guy, for Ben it was actually a good moment. Mihiretu was serenely asleep. Ben was happily perusing the Big Store. All was well. Did it look weird? Did Ben care? We Caprons are past the point of worrying how we appear to the outside world. Sometimes, most times, we are a tornado of seeming chaos, but sometimes, maybe even most times, we're doing okay. We're doing our very best to put one foot in front of the other. If we have strange looking shoes, so be it. And, hey, we've got a trailer. We're taking this circus on the road.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Apparently Ben and I have been using the f-word as an adverb far too frequently.

Recently Mihiretu has started saying "fucka-fucka-fucka" when he's feeling playful. He might be kicking a soccer ball through the house, say, or pushing a pint-sized dump-truck filled with legos. "Fucka-fucka-fucka", he'll say, almost to himself. Contentedly, like we are when we swear, generally speaking. It's only when we're feeling loose, when we're making jokes or exercising some theatricality that we use this word. "That is so fucking great!" we might howl when we realize that the new season of Survivor starts next week. Or "Fucking weasels. It was the fucking weasels that ate our chickens!"

A couple weeks ago, Mihiretu connected "fucka" with another favorite word, "butt". He, like most of the under-five set, just loves to talk about butts. "I see Lana's butt!" he'll crow when she changes into her pajamas. "Smell my butt!" he'll insist, post-fart, poking his bottom towards the nearest family member. Or, like yesterday, when we were seated next to a mom at the park who was showing a little crack, a whispered "Butt!" accompanied by a small pointing finger, a suppressed giggle and much maternal shushing.

Like the old Reeses commercial, "Fuck" and "butt" are two great tastes that taste great together. "Fucka-my-butt" he might mumble as he places one MegaBlock on another. When this particular linguistic combination was first launched, I, being the only adult present, ignored it, knowing that if I responded I would hear nothing but "fucka-my-butt" for months. Occasionally, over the last few weeks, he has busted out with it in public but because it was always half-hearted and combined with other nonsense words, I'm fairly certain no one noticed.

Last week, however, Mihiretu shouted "fucka-my-butt" in Ben's presence. He caught Ben at a particularly harried moment. "Don't ever say that!" he demanded.

And so, these days, when Mihiretu wants to piss us off, which is often, we hear a lot of "fucka-my-butt". We are now on the same united team of ignore so when he drops his favorite oath, we don't look at him, we don't say anything, we don't - ever - crack a smile. The girls are under strict orders to follow our lead.

Last night after the kids were in bed, Ben and I, nestled on the couch, feet propped on the coffee table, got on the topic of "fucka-my-butt". Soon, of course, we were laughing.

"I'm just worried," Ben said, "that people are going to think we taught him that. That," and here he gulped and wiped a tear of mirth, "it's a parental suggestion around here."

When we finally got off the couch, I asked Ben to please put the throw pillows back where he found them (as you might imagine they have very specific spots). "Fucka-my-butt", he said, conversationally, plumping pillows.

Later, propped up in bed with books, we heard a small voice call out for Mommy.

"Fucka-my-butt," I sighed as I bookmarked my novel and threw off the covers.

Even later, somewhere around two, Ben got paged by Mihiretu. "Fucka-my-BUTT," he mumbled groggily as he rolled out of bed. I couldn't sleep for laughing.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

First Loves

I got a message a couple days ago via Facebook from my friend, Casey. It read, in part, as follows.

"I was at work, and we were trying to find a title for an article written by one of our writers. It was about first loves. And I, out of no where!!!!!!!!!! spouted off, 'How 'bout Liz is a fucking asshole!'

Everyone stared at me, and one said 'Therapy's not going well, eh?'"

Casey, in case I piqued your interest, is male. And, for the record, though he would disagree, though he, in fact, has heartily voiced his disagreement not just today but in days past, in his case I wasn't really a fucking asshole. Or at least not as much of a fucking asshole as I was on other occasions, to other suitors. Casey and I were very close friends in high school. Drama freaks, both onstage and off. We had sadly unsynchronized crushes on each other. Or maybe by the time he finally proclaimed his love just after graduation, I was still crushed out but couldn't possibly pursue a relationship that involved someone who was actually into me, someone whom I knew so well.

Casey brings up an interesting point, though. More often than not, we do look back on those first loves and think with great passion, "What a fucking asshole!" At least if we've been thwarted. And usually we have. I had to actually de-friend my first love because his status updates were making me crazy. Even though I've long ago let go of my love for him (if it indeed was bonafide love and not deep, dark, infatuation), I don't need to know how he hearts his missus, his twenty-nine-year-old, six-foot, ninety-pound, professional model missus. My ego can't take it.

I think my marriage to Ben is, happily, even charged with some of that first love energy. We didn't start dating until we were twenty-eight but I remember him, I remember thinking he was cute, when we were eleven. He harkens back to adolescence, when my emotions were raw, my self-esteem low and my romantic fantasies giant. It imbues our union with some teenage magic.

As much as is made of how Facebook is reinventing our social structure, my theory is that it's largely powered by people seeking in the present what they didn't find in the past. If you're like me, you look up every past romantic liaison, hell every past crush you can think of, for curiosity's sake if nothing else. Or perhaps to see the guy you thought you would marry, the guy that could never say those three magic little words, with twenty extra pounds on him and very little hair. To prevail now because you didn't then.

Gillian Grisman was Casey's girlfriend junior year. Their relationship, played out before me in drama class, rendered me an unattractive shade of green. I didn't dislike Gillian, if fact I think we were friends, but when I got his message the other day, I responded:

"Who knew that being called a fucking asshole would feel like such a compliment? Face on you, Gillian Grisman. I won, after all..."

Revenge is best served cold, they say. And is there a bit of satisfaction for this mother of three, this woman knee-deep in laundry and dishes and demands, to think that she, or a younger, rounder, juicier version of her present self, once inspired not only love but misery? There is, my friends, there is. I'm a real heartbreaker, pushing my vacuum cleaner around the living room.