Fur checks with Santa

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, December 18, 2011

Santa: [answering phone, already annoyed] Blitzen, stop pestering me about the formation, would you? It’s a year ending in 1, and you’re behind Comet. Period. [pauses] You listening?

MCW: Hello, um, is this Santa???

Santa: [pauses] Who is this? How did you get this number?

MCW: I got it on Facebook. Wow, your voice. It sounds so potentially jolly, so authentic. Wait — are you saying you didn’t post on Facebook? Because you got 2.9 million Likes.

Santa: Of course not. Why would I post on Facebook? There’s one elf who’s always getting into something, it must’ve been him. [strokes beard] That many Likes? And you’re the only one who actually dialed the number? Figures.

MCW: What do you mean, it fig—

Santa: Figures that everyone thought it was a joke. Also figures it’s you — that one adult who’s been writing me letters every year. Telling me I look like Freud and that I’m a superhero and a lot of other rubbish. Then feeling smart about it. Then asking me for things I can’t possibly give you like transformation and hints about the Big Picture. You need remedial Santa letter writing. Big time.

MCW: Why do you think I was so eager to call? I mean I had actually just written “Make me a reed in the wind” when I saw the post on FB.

Santa: A reed! Next you’d be asking me for three more metaphors! I don’t do metaphors, FYI. Only rarely do I do sarcasm. I deal with concrete wants, Michelle. Bulleted lists and such, which children are remarkably good at.

MCW: Well, can I try it now? I’ll do better—

Santa: [sighing, checking watch] Only if you promise: no follow-up letter! I’ll do it to keep you from going right back to those mesmerizing organizing tips at marthastewart.com. While shoveling buttery popcorn into your mouth.

MCW: [wiping grease from lips] You actually see me when I’m bad or good?

Santa: Ho, ho, ho—

MCW: Hey, you said you didn’t do sarcasm.

Santa: I said rarely. Because I rarely deal with adults. But adults rarely understand sincerity, so I have to improvise.

MCW: Marthastewart.com puts a little bubble of serene hilarity beneath my sternum bone. It’s both calming and ridiculous, which is …

MCW with Santa chiming in: … not a combination you feel very often.”

MCW: You know what I’m going to say, too? I mean, what happened to free will?

Santa: Oh stop! I gave up philosophy when I took this job. Now, then. I’m putting you on speakerphone. [immediate din of a toy shop]. Tell Santa what you want for Christmas.

MCW: In front of all those people?

Santa: They’re not people, they’re elves. Plus, ever since I told them no more Justin Bieber, most of them have headphones on.

MCW: Ew. Well — I want the same things I always want. Which you already know, so what real good does it do—

Santa: [interrupting] You don’t get it. The list is for YOU. YOU have to know what you want. [sound of hand over phone and muffled Get Dasher and Vixen in here for fur checks please? And page that blasted elf, what’s his name… Bjorn.] OK. Tell me which candles you want. Again. Practice asking.

MCW: [crushed] Forget it. I’m just going to put the links up on my blog. [sniffs] You know very well it’s diptyqueparis.com. [shyly] So what’s it smell like where you are?

Santa: [inhales deeply] All the smells you like … fir needles, clove, sandalwood, notes of vanilla, rosemary, sweet orange, a touch of patchouli.

MCW: I hate patchouli—

Santa: [real belly laughing] You don’t even realize it’s in every perfume you love! Every single one. Speaking of metaphors. Go scratch your head about that one.

MCW: I like patchouli?

Santa: In the proper amounts, it’s your catnip.

MCW: [blushing] Oh. Well, what else do I like that I thought I hated?

Santa: Wrong magical being for that question. Stick to the list. Didn’t you want to ask me for the new 27-inch iMac? Graphics software? Coffee table books from taschen.com? Facials with what’s her name?

MCW: Stop! Gee, I thought I was supposed to practice asking! Plus, I was going to edit that list. How embarrassing. I sound so … oh, whatever. Can I call you again in, like, 10 minutes when I’m more prepared?

Santa: I’m late for fur checks already. But next year, if Bjorn or one of his minions posts on Facebook again, and if you happen to see it, I will expect your call. Our code word will be…

MCW: Patchouli?

Santa: Correct! Have a Merry Christmas, snowflake.

Note: True and recent discovery about patchouli. How could I possibly make this up? I went to http://www.basenotes.com and found all my favorite perfumes, which I admit to having a great weakness for, contain it. All I have ever done is complain about patchouli oil. This fries the basenotes in my brain.

Rock, paper, scissors, hair

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, December 4, 2011

I am standing, scissors in hand, poised and inches away from my sister’s thick hardly-gray-even-though-she’s-ten-years-older tresses, thinking about gene puddles and the great wagon wheel of karma.

Joelle and I, though we have identical voice registries and laugh at the same time at the same jokes, look not only dissimilar, but as if we’re from different hemispheres. I’m from my dad’s Scotto-Iro-Anglo, freckled, digestion-sensitive half of the family, and she’s from my mother’s French-Moorish, olive-skinned, good-haired side.

Irish, French, Irish, French

When, as a pre-teen, I was getting summer sunburns (in Seattle!) building wood replicas of hydroplanes like Miss Bardahl and Miss Budweiser with my friends, she, the teenager, was lying out on the upper deck using Johnson’s Baby Oil, browning herself to perfection for every one of the beautiful boyfriends I was secretly in love with. Joelle, with her thick, wavy black hair and dark skin, at any time might have been mistaken for a world citizen – Turkish or Mexican or Iranian or Greek. Me? I had a guy come up to me on a Manhattan street once and ask me if I was Irish or Chinese, and when I reluctantly told him I was half French he rubbed his greasy chin and told me that that made sense.

What kind of sense did it make? Did it matter he’d just exited Off Track Betting and I had headphones on and had to remove them to hear what he obviously felt was important enough to interrupt me, a complete stranger, for? What compels someone to demand to know where a face – or hair – comes from? Every face, it seems – with its kaleidoscopic mish mash — may not launch a thousand ships but certainly a thousand questions.  It does in my family, anyway.

My father was quirky about hair. Joelle had to wait until she was twelve to have it cut, but was instantly offered an outlandish sum for the fifteen inches being held up by the beautician like a shimmery fish. I was allowed to have mine cut at age eight and still have my braids from that very day.  Joelle was given a big-girl bob appropriate for 1960. Me? A pixie, inappropriate for any year, including 1966. A haircut so short that I’m mistaken for a boy and called Michael at third grade roll call. “It’ll grow,” says my mother casually, my mother, whose brushed black hair is one of the furling and unfurling flags that has captured my dad. Who on earth will a pixie cut ever capture?

Boy, girl, or pixie?

Flash forward to the present moment. My sister has just had her hair butchered by a sleepwalker holding shears in a shopping-mall chain, and then gone on to Penney’s Salon for remedial work — bad choices made by someone who has never feared for the shape her filamentous biomaterial will – or will not — take.

“Did you want so much cut?” asks her son, Jeremy, who has had every haircut on earth, including dreads (as a rapper in Beijing) and now a buzz cut  (as Chinese language specialist in the army).

“I went in for a trim–” she insists, as I rake my fingers through a baffling sort of hirsute luxuriance. Her hair was long and now it’s long-short, a wildly lopsided quasi-mullet, six inches on one side of her head and about three and a half on the other.

“It’ll grow,” it’s Jeremy’s turn to say, while his wife, a slight, very hip Korean woman, looks on. “I don’t think it’s so bad,” June says with so much conviction everyone feels better for a second, then somehow worse. June Lee has straight black hair that looks fantastic short and long and probably even long-short.

“How do you even know how to cut hair?” My daughter, who got my hair and not her father’s (thick, wavy hair she knows full well I’d always cut), continues to hold this against me. It’s tense as small increments of her aunt’s genetically superior hair fall to the floor.

There is no choice, at this point, but for me to retell the Story of the Perm. The one Joelle gives me at seventeen. The one she leaves in way, way too long, thinking it won’t take on my shoulder-length, baby-fine locks. The one that takes well enough to leave me with a 70’s Afro so extensive and so tight there’s no getting a cake cutter – let alone a comb —through it. The one her Danish beautician friend takes one saucer-eyed look at before saying “Oh my.” And then deftly cuts right back to that third-grade length.

We all laugh.

In a game of karma wheel, family tree and scissors, doesn’t scissors win over family tree? I do a little Edward Scissorhands clicking next to Joelle’s ear as I ponder our far-flung features, our pale to dark eyes, our freckles and tans, our thin to thick manes, our voices, and our vanities that sometimes require a bit more pruning than our precious hair.

The originals, French and Irish

“That future boom, boom, boom…”

 Telluride Daily Planet, Saturday, November 12, 2011 

MCW: [crossing herself] Bless me father, for I have sinned. It’s been, um, 35 years since my last confession.

Father: Welcome back, my child. And it’s 36, actually. But who’s counting?

MCW: Oh. Well, [sound of fidgeting] where to start, right? Disrespectful thoughts about my parents when they were still alive? Passive aggressive behaviors? Vanity, pride? Stealing grapes from the grocery store — and even a kumquat once. And some yogurt pretzels from the bulk bins and a cookie in 1982 from a box of Entemann’s. Then there’s the prevaricating. And cursing so many times I can’t really guestimate. [pauses] Because back in the ‘80s —

Father: The ‘80s were bad … let’s not start breaking it down into time periods, however.

MCW: Oh. Then, uh — not necessarily recently or in any order — I’ve smoked, drunk, was wanton and threw myself at men, was envious of others, was disrespectful to myself, I listened to a lot of hip-hop, spoke words of ill-will and held rancor in my heart. Also gluttony.

Father: [sighs] You need to watch the passive aggression and the rancor especially. But what was that fourth-to-the-last thing you said?

MCW: That thing about … hip-hop?

Father: Yes. That. Is that recent?

MCW: Well. Pretty recent. Like on the way here. [starts swaying and singing “She was buzzing all over me…”]

Father: A woman of your age?

MCW: [bows head] However unnatural and wrong I know it is, I just keep listening, singing, dancing and downloading. Then the inevitable shame. And then scorn for the genre. In public, I pretend I don’t even know the songs.

Father: Scorn is not a good thing. Ever. [pauses] When did this start?

MCW: [taps fingers in dark confessional] Hm. Sixth grade. Mrs. Lee’s music class. We were dancing to Michael Jackson’s “A B C” when James Woods — the tallest boy in the class — said I was officially a soul sister. Michael Jackson was exactly our age.

Father: They found that doctor guilty of manslaughter, you know. Go on.

MCW: Then I guess there was no stopping the rest of Motown. Especially Marvin Gaye. I must have listened to that “I Want You” album five thousand times.

Father: Thinking impure thoughts all the while?

MCW: Dude. I mean, Father: I was 15 and in Catholic girls school. Most of my thoughts were impure. Repression does that, you know.

Father: No comment.

MCW: It’s just … I never had much interest in so-called white music. When my brother Eric told me his band was on the radio and it was called Cream, I believed him because I was 9 and had no idea who they were.

Father: [snorts] That was Eric Clapton. A soul frater in his own right.

MCW: Yeah, well. My husband used to say I missed the ‘70s entirely. I never even knew who the Grateful Dead were until I saw them here in 1987. I’d been listening to Parliament Funkadelic and Prince.

Father: [speaking low] Shakin’ your groove thang?

MCW: [ignoring him] Even after Tupac when it all sort of devolved for me into that contagious hip-pop. The T-Pains, and Jay-Zs and DJ Khaleds and Kid Cudis and Beyonces and Rihannas and Nicky Minajs of the world. Music that makes me feel so good I know it has to be bad.

Father: Now I know you’re a Catholic! [mumbles in Latin] But. Not to say this isn’t inappropriate for someone in her mid-fif—

MCW: [interrupting] I know this, OK?! How do you think it feels to find myself singing “Shawty’s like a melody in my head/ That I can’t keep out, got me singing like/ Na na na na everyday/Got my iPod stuck on replay, replay.” Or “I’m so 3000 and 8, you so 2000 and late. I got that boom boom boom, that future boom boom boom.” Not to mention all the “unh”s and “yeeeuh”s, which, if I’m not careful are going to come out of my mouth at work one day.

Father: [sighs] Altar boys listen to that stuff, not their mothers—

MCW: What do I do?

Father: You need remedial 1970s. Revisit the Allman Brothers and the Dead. Cool down your blood. In fact a little bloodletting might not be a bad idea.

MCW: [stunned into silence]

Father: Just kidding! I guess just this once I’m going to tell you something I don’t want you to repeat. You never heard it and this never happened, OK? As in, off the record.

MCW: [leaning in] OK. What is it?

Father: If it feels good, do it, my child. For all the other stuff, say 50 Hail Mary’s — not the Tupac song but the prayer — and sin no more.

MCW: Really????

Father: In nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti. Go in peace, Shawty.

All saints, all souls, all seekers

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, October 30, 2011

It is the Day of the Dead.

And. Although I say a prayer for the souls who have passed over, who are no longer with us as we knew them – while I am saying a prayer for peace and momentum on their untethered and zero-gravity journeys, wading through the deep waters of way beyond – I am saying more feverish ones for those of us still here on our spinning orblet, in our three dimensions, with our five senses, our four directions on something called a compass whose needle suggests wavering but definitive direction.

For those of us staring at our hands and picking at our cuticles, thinking about touching and not touching things. What delicacy and awkwardness we bring to our fingertips. What gripping. What releasing with what tender reluctance.

For those of us wanting to knit again, with our antiseptic and empty hands, for no apparent reason, knit too-large sweaters out of wool made from the shorn skins of animals who generously give and give and give to spinners who spin so that we can make order out of fiber and slip our arms into sleeves of comfort because our own skins are not enough, not since we became rational creatures whose blackboard equations cannot answer questions like What’s a naked uber-animal doing in a place like this? And questions like What is a rational mind without perspective? And other questions like Why didn’t they teach us that kind of perspective in school, and Who, exactly, would teach it?

For those of us left to decipher things. Decipher fortunes from cookies, and flowchart patterns of raindrops converging, and sum columns of ledgers, and the angle of the sun when the shadows make lazy giants of us and our horses and haybales, and the infinite kindness of breezes. To decipher our Calder-mobile solar system when sleep doesn’t come, and unfamiliar words spoken by familiar people, and the lay of the land as it melts in the spring under our feet, and the horizon line when we are fortunate enough to see it, and glances from strangers who may not really be strangers, and fate lines, and food lines, and stories made-up but more real than reportage. To decipher stories, stories, and always mores stories for those of us left to play our parts sometimes like sleepwalkers simply told to go back to bed.

For those of us pinned to history like butterflies on cork, lying flat and struggling to remember what it was like to fly, our micro-feet free, our macro wings stuck and slightly ripped like the sheerest of silk with a nevertheless flight-canceling hole. Those of us trying to retrieve what is past and, then, once memory is worn again like its old sweater, trying to un-knit ourselves from its suffocating and tweedy warmth and into the light of a new room-temperature day.

Those of us left here lining up shoes in our closets, and sometimes shining them, and then looking out of windows as yellow leaves stick to the windshields of cars — crimping the already piecemeal view — because of lashing rain that will turn to snow in the blink of an eye, which will remind us of all the cold and quiet things that hibernate, and wouldn’t be nice if we could hibernate for a few months, just sleep with the sleepers of the world and that part of the sleeping world that is really and truly asleep or at least seems not to dream?

Those of us not only awake but watching the hands of clocks tick around, and clouds time-lapse by, and watching birds grip their high-perch branches with tiny bony feet as if, if they let go, they would be sucked into the whipping vortex of world weather patterns. Those of us watching seeds actually grow, and cheese actually mold, watching bookmarks change their position in nightstand tomes that may or may not say anything at all.

I say prayers for the living who get up each day to light gas flames that heat water that makes tea hot enough to comfort the coldest bodies on the coldest days so we can sip it and sip it again and think to ourselves, Hey, it’s quiet here in my brain for once and I feel the sun on my shoulders like warm and golden honey; and maybe someone will be nice to me today in a way that gives me infinite hope.

I say a prayer for the living. Those left to decipher. Those left to let go — and then learn to fly again with their patchwork wings of silk and feather and dust, and powered by the beating of their hearts.