I am in the bathroom of my apartment in Fairfax, California. I have been here for a long time, at this point close to an hour. No, I do not have the runs. Or a stomach virus. I am here because there is a stranger in my living room talking to my husband. Because of the floor plan of this apartment, I can't leave the bathroom without being seen by the stranger. If I am seen by the stranger, I will have to introduce myself. My husband will not introduce me because introducing people is a social skill he hasn't acquired. I will have to say, "Hi, I'm Bronwyn," and the stranger will say, "What? Brownwyn? Bronson? Benson?"
At age almost thirty, I am sick unto death of this routine and so I have opted to remain in the bathroom until the stranger leaves. If necessary, I'll stay until midnight. I'll curl up on the bathmat with a rolled towel under my head and sleep here. If the stranger needs to relieve himself, he's out of luck because I AM NOT UNLOCKING THE DOOR.
In the meantime, I take down my hair dryer. I turn it on high and its amplified mosquito-sounding whine drowns out the voices in the living room. I have already towel dried my hair after stepping out of the shower half an hour ago and it is no longer wet, just slightly damp. I try to create an old-fashioned pageboy hair style by turning the ends under with my comb. My hair is slippery and fine and rarely cooperates with any attempt to control it. Consequently, half of the ends turn under and the other half insist on flipping up.
After awhile, I get sick of the hair styling ruse but I can't stop because I'm out of reasons for remaining in the bathroom. The stranger probably already thinks I'm weird. That's okay, though, because the year is 1973 and, in Fairfax, California, which is about 30 miles North of San Francisco, it's still au courant to be weird. In fact, I could be sitting in here stoned out of my mind on acid and most people wouldn't bat an eye. If discovered, I could say, "I'm really digging the molecules in this shower curtain," and most people would say, "Cool!" and go off in search of their own alternative reality.
Right now, though, I'm thinking that being held prisoner in my very own bathroom by my very own choice is massively dysfunctional. It's not my fault, though; it's my parents' fault for naming me Bronwyn. It's also my husband's fault for inviting someone I don't know into our apartment.
I notice that the hair dryer feels as if it's overheating but I'm afraid to turn it off. Also, my hair has begun to smell singed. I summon up courage by taking one deep breath, then another. On the third inhalation, I turn the dryer off.
I listen. Listen some more. No voices. Nothing. With trembling hand, I unlock the bathroom door and opening it a tiny crack, peer out. My husband is humming but that doesn't tell me anything. My husband is always humming even while he talks. He is a musician but his music is complex, unconventional and, speaking on behalf of the unenlightened public, generally unfathomable. I can't decide whether he is a genius or a schizophrenic. Maybe both.
I speculate on what will happen if I venture out of the bathroom. Possibly the stranger, who has been hiding in the kitchen, will pounce on me. "Gotcha, Bronson!" he'll say, laughing.
Finally, after five minutes of nothing but humming, I take my courage in hand and walk out. No one is there but my husband who has picked up his guitar and is plucking the A string over and over. He doesn't notice me until I sit down next to him and clear my throat. "Oh..um, hi, Bronwyn," he says, and I am thinking now that I'm lucky to be married to someone who will never think to ask me why I have spent the last two hours in the bathroom.
I want to ask about the stranger but decide it is better just to let it go. If it was hospitality he was looking for, he won't be back anytime soon.
Friday, October 19, 2012
Cobwebs. They are actually spiderwebs with an implication of dustiness and disuse. Abandoned spiderwebs, perhaps. You are supposed to get rid of them since their presence in your home is clearly a sign of poor housekeeping.
Yet these structures, even when sooty, torn and sagging, are a miracle of meticulous construction. No other creature can produce this phenomenon: create art using materials from its own body. When new, they shimmer in the slant of a sunbeam. They are beautiful but cunningly constructed to kill. A filigreed slaughterhouse, an abattoir disguised as a fairy castle.
In science fiction people sometimes dress in clothes made of spider silk which are always described as soft and incredibly light.
Spiders evoke fear in a lot of people though only a few of them are poisonous. They creep around on eight spindly legs, have multiple eyes and disproportionately fat bodies. These are features which many humans find revolting.
On the positive side there is Spiderman who is feared only by those who've gone over to the dark side. Then there is Anansi, the spider god of Africa and the Carribbean. As with Coyote and other trickster characters, he is both clever and foolish, cunning and inept. Even more compelling is Charlotte, the literary archetype of friendship and abiding loyalty, created by E.B. White. She uses her web-spinning ability to save the life of a sentient pig.
Quite frankly, I find it sad and rather hypocritical that the very children who cried their eyes out when Charlotte died grow up to commit multiple homicides against harmless household spiders.
I, for one, do not kill spiders. If necessary I transport them carefully to the great outdoors. In the days when I was teaching, both my students and my coworkers knew to alert me whenever a spider appeared in the classroom whereupon I would gently and humanely remove it from their arachnophobic presence.
In my own home, I never destroy an occupied web. Why should I? Spiders catch flies more efficiently than I can running around with a fly swatter or a rolled newspaper. "What if it's a black widow or a recluse spider?" you ask. I have never come across either of those indoors but, if I did, I suppose I would have to kill them. Yet, I would not do so gladly. I mean, it's not their fault they carry around sacks of poison. I believe it is only human beings who deliberately chose to be lethal.
It is almost Halloween when good housekeepers will sweep away the authentic cobwebs and replace them with fabricated replicas containing synthetic spiders. Some of these fake arachnids will move up and down when you clap your hands. Others are constructed to crawl across the floor while their ominous-looking eyes blink red like live coals garnered from the depths of hell.
Elderly retirees such as myself sometimes imagine their once orderly, spic and span brains now cluttered with cobwebs. Old knowledge is obscured, new knowledge confounded. Thoughts no longer speed along a well-lit road but fumble and grope through a gauzy wilderness Cobwebs, though, can be soft as mist and ticklish as fox tails. Perhaps senility occurs that way at times.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
"Is that Santa?" The black and white photo was of a bearded elderly man wearing a smile that seemed mischievous but in a good way. Almost certainly in a good way.
The child carried the photo album over to where her mother was scrambling eggs in a big red bowl. "Is that Santa?" she asked again, pointing.
"No, that's Uncle Irwin, the Communist. Now take that dusty old book away from the food."
"Someone who believes in Communism. A Russian."
"Was Uncle Irwin a Russian?
"He ran away to live in Russia is what I heard. Now stop with the questions, Carolyn Jean."
"Call me CeeJay. What's com...comulism?"
"Some anti-American thing they have in places like Russia and China. Now put that album back and go sit at the table. Breakfast's almost ready."
"Some anti-American thing, Mom? Seriously?" CeeJay's fifteen-year-old brother, Prescott, entered the room scowling fiercely. He was incredibly tall and skinny and had eyes almost the color of violet. Just recently he'd dyed his straw-colored shaggy hair jet black. "Communism is a philosophy originated by Karl Marx in which the means of production is owned by the workers. 'From each according to his ability; to each according to his need'. It's never been practiced in its pure form though -- definitely not in the Soviet Union. Not in China either."
"Okay, Mr. Smarty Know-it-all. Think you're good enough to eat breakfast with us?" CeeJay noted a faint smile of pride playing on the edges of her mother's lips. Would her mother ever smile about her that way, she wondered. It seemed unlikely. Mainly her mother wanted her to be pretty. Which, so far, at age seven, she definitely wasn't. She was pigeon-toed, for one thing and had bad posture. Worst of all, though, was her hair that refused to be tamed by braids, barrettes or gobs of styling gel. Her mother wasn't exactly pretty either but she had been once -- in the years before Daddy left and she got all thin and tired and frowny.
CeeJay pulled an extra chair next to her own at the table and sat the album down on that. It was still turned to the page with the picture of Uncle Irwin. Where's Russia?" she asked, addressing Prescott.
"It's actually the biggest country in the world. Part in Asia part in Europe."
"Is it near the North Pole?"
"Some of it is, I guess."
"I said enough questions, Carolyn Jean. Just eat before your eggs get cold."
"How's CeeJay going to learn if she doesn't ask questions?" Prescott challenged.
Their mother sighed heavily. "She goes to school, doesn't she? Let her ask her questions there."
"I doubt her teachers receive them any better than you. It's not like they actually know anything."
"Now, Prescott, you know that isn't true. Some of your teachers..."
"Is Santa a Communist?" CeeJay interrupted.
"Is...? Good lord, no wonder your hair's so flyaway crazy; it's got its roots in that flyaway crazy head of yours." Her mother laughed sharply in appreciation of her own wit.
"Well, he looks like a communist," CeeJay insisted. Her cheeks were beginning to burn.
"Don't you get the logic, Mom," Prescott said. "It's a false syllogism: Uncle Irwin is a communist; Uncle Irwin has a beard; therefore all bearded people are communists."
Their mother was no longer amused. "If the both of you don't start acting normal right this minute, I'm going to bring the TV in here and turn it on to the food channel." "And," she added, addressing her daughter, "I'll write to Santa and tell him to put a dirty old lump of coal in your stocking this Christmas."