She's a Real Mother

Mutha's got eyes in the back of her head.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Why Don't You Come Over Here and Show Mutha Your tattoo

My mother threatened every one of my brothers, "Don't you ever walk into this house having put a tattoo on the body God gave you."

I never thought I would get a tattoo, but, in all fairness she never threatened me.

Then my father died and I can't explain it, but I had the overwhelming feeling that I needed a mark on me. The change in my life had to be reflected on my body. So, I thought about a symbol. I thought about an Ohm.

But then I thought again and went to a woman I was studying Buddhism with at the time. I asked her if getting a tattoo, a permanent mark, would be defying the Buddhist notion of nonpermanence.

She thought for a moment and then said, "Only if you believe your body is a permanent thing."

I got the tattoo in a shop in Savannah, Georgia. When I tried to bond with my tattoo artist by asking her where she got her first tattoo, she answered, "Prison."

So much for small talk.

That was eleven years ago and I thought I was done. I love my tattoo, have never regretted it for a moment. But I have never had a flash like that again -- when I felt the need to get something else...until recently.

As I mull over this possibility, I got interested in hearing other folk's tattoo stories. If you've got one, lay it on me:
What is your tattoo (or your favorite if you have several)?
Where did you get it (on your body)?
Where did you get it (in the world)?
Got any colorful stories to tell about it?

I'm all ears...

Wait a Second, Say That Again #6

"If you believe in witches, your asshole will dry up."

Would you believe my grandmother is the one who I quote here? Would you believe she also told me that it rhymes in Polish?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Lots of Stupid Fun

The "Stupid Fun" series focuses on the under-appreciated art of silliness. This time, I'm highlighting Armpit Sounds.

My younger son (because of his broken wrist, we refer to him as One Armed Bandit) ran to me at the end of his first day of summer camp declaring, "Look what Justin taught me!!" The look of triumph and satisfaction on his face when a loud fart sound came from his armpit was equal to his expression on the day he first learned to walk.

I can honestly say that I never learned to make armpit sounds, so the science involved eludes me, but the part I do get is that it requires one cupped hand under the opposite armpit and a decisive move with the elbow. Is it a boy thing? Do I know any girls who did this when we were kids? Or did they save it for the privacy of their own home? Ah the questions that haunt us at 5 in the morning...

Now one armpit fart can be pretty funny, especially when delivered by such and enthusiastic performer, but three weeks into the skill our household has been over-run by it. Lets just say, the bloom is off the vine. And yet the other day, when my son got together with a friend he had not seen since the beginning of the summer, he was delighted to be greeted by his friend's gleeful declaration, "I learned how to make fart sounds! Listen!"

I've gotta admit, the back and forth armpit sound conversation that followed gave me a giggle.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Who Are the People In Your Neighborhood: Radio Promoter

Because I have a significant commute Monday through Friday, I have come to think of the CD player in my car as family. That was, until it broke on me a couple of months ago. Then it just became "WORK! YOU BITCH!" Anyway...that was when I started listening to music radio for the first time in a long time, and it got me thinking about how the whole thing works. How do bands get airplay? And that was when I thought of my friend Michael.

Michael has run his own radio promotions shop for years. He and his staff work on getting "signed" and "unsigned" bands (as in recording with or without a record company contract) radio airplay. Covering a wide range of sounds, they represent jazz, jambands, folk, reggae, indie rock, and singer/songwriters.

So, I decided to ask him some questions.

What is the best thing about being a Radio Promoter?
Well, are you surprised to hear it's the music? Michael and his staff spend a good deal of their time listening to new music before it even goes on sale and, apparently, getting into shows for free. Sweet. But how much of the music is actually good?

What is the worst part?
Michael reports the answer is A LOT. The technology involved in making and replicating a decent sounding CD is in the hands of bands now and according to Michael, it means "There is an overwhelming amount of good music out there." This means competition is fierce and bands may have expectations that do not match what might be a reason for celebrating. In other words, if you've got your heart set on charting in the top-ten, you better get ready to be psyched about reaching #11.

Alright, alright, people accusing you of ripping them off if they don't hit it big their first time (or ninth time) out...a drag for sure, but -- it ain't diggin a ditch. Right?

What would most folks not know about the job?
Apparently its like digging a ditch. Michael reports that there is a lot of work involved because of that fierce competition. And what adds injury to insult is that Michael says he is battling the misconception that Promoters are all guys in leisure suits, nursing cocktails, calling people "Baby" and saying things like, "Solid." If that was what it was like in the 70s, then it is Michael's turn to feel ripped off, exclaiming, "Holy Crap! I missed my era!"
On the contrary, the work requires relentless, repetitive phone and computer work that starts back at the bottom of the climb every time they start with a new CD.

Anything funny ever happen?
On the bright side, the answer is, "Constantly." Michael reports that there are a lot of characters out there. For instance, the Music Director who refuses to talk to you unless you refer to him by his DJ name, Commander Nasal Jelly. And apparently there is so much raw humor to be gleaned from the unsolicited pile of music and photos folks send in that Michael's staff displays their favorites on something they call "the Wall of Shame." The most favorite of the favorites is an artist named Jayce Steel who appears in a slick-looking photo with country/western looking S&M gear covering his enormous frame. Despite Jayce's size, Michael describes his voice as "thin," "high-pitched" and "girlish." The singers attempts to "belt out horrible songs with a vengeance," are only trumped by the photo in which it seems as if he means to play the guitar he is holding, and yet is wearing black leather studded gloves making it impossible. Jayce has been the King of the Wall of Shame for five years running. All hail the King.

Leopard Shoes

My co-worker and I had to interview a bunch of people for an open position in our project. We saw a real range of folks and, although this isn't a problem for me in general, with this group -- I couldn't seem to be able to remember anyone's name. So, we came up with a system of calling candidates by the detail I could remember.

I could remember where one woman was relocating from, so she became "Detroit."

I could remember that one woman chose to retreat her chair partially obscuring herself from view, so she became "Peek-A-Boo."

One man had a tie that reminded me of the interior of the house I grew up in, so he became "50s Wallpaper."

And one woman wore animal print footwear, so she became "Leopard Shoes."

"50s Wallpaper" gave her a real run for the money...but "Leopard Shoes" got the job.

Lesson here: Ummm, not sure...How about "Dress to Impress."

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Miss America Can Just Resign

I'm so pretty
That I pity
Any girl that isn't me today.

Maria in West Side Story

I recently had the good fortune of seeing a video featuring Siouxsie and the Banshees 2002 live concert. Besides being sorry I had forgotten to include them in my tribute to women in music (similar apologies go out to Kate Bush, Tina Turner and PJ Harvey), I also became intrigued by Siouxsie Sue's look. I told my husband, also a fan and also intrigued by Siouxsie, that I had once cut my hair to match her's. To which he inquired, "I thought you had Chrissie Hynde's haircut for a while..."

And I had to admit that was true too.

It got me thinking about the way I had come about my concepts of physical identity. Why Siouxsie Sue? Why Chrissie? Sure I loved their music, found them strong front women...but that isn't the same as wanting to look like them.

The quick answer came to me: while they are striking women, they aren't conventionally pretty.

And then the bigger answer: I identified with them when I couldn't resolve the pretty question myself.

The pretty question: What does a girl do when she finds herself -- if not ugly, then -- unpretty?

At what age do girls start to be aware of the pecking order associated with physical beauty? I may have started in later because I was the only girl in a mess of brothers, or because my mother and grandmother were strong women who weren't very concerned with how they looked. But I certainly was not protected from it for long, because I can honestly say I have no memory of thinking I was pretty -- even when I was very little.

Now, before the collective groan or sympathy starts to flow, let me say this: I'm down with being unpretty. Don't cry for me Argentina. Although I always perceived things as easier for pretty girls and women -- unpretty has its own power, and I see now that my stabs at imitating the musicians I loved was in an effort to steal some of their thunder until I developed my own.

But, were Siouxsie and Chrissie the only ones...

Last year a very close friend I have known since college was showing a picture of me to my son. The picture was from my college years, which occurred in the early 80's.

Son: Why does Mom look like that? I mean why does her hair do that?

Friend: Oh, see...Your Mom loved a band called the Cure.

Unpretty power comes in more than one flavor. I guess I should add Robert Smith to the list too.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Mutha Loves That Dirty Water

I have lived in the Boston area for most of my adult life beyond college. Because I moved several times as a kid, it turns out that I have lived here longer than I have lived anywhere else. And so, as the song goes, "I love that dirty water. Oh, Boston you're my home."

Now, in that song, "that dirty water" refers to the Charles River, but it reminds me of a broader theme -- and one of the reasons I really love Boston: the fact that it is flawed. The city has a historic, messy, sometimes dirty and always complicated history on every level imaginable and wears it as if it were a heart on a sleeve.

I have worked for years in programs that serve families in crisis and Boston's poor. These experiences have brought me in contact with this messy history and the ways it has played out and continues to play out in the lives of real people. It has inspired me to develop a real affection and loyalty for the neighborhoods in which these lives go on: Mission Hill, South Boston, Jackson Square, etc. That affection and loyalty springs from the knowledge that these people are not cookie-cutter stereo-types. Everyone has a story, and it is usually a rich one full of trauma but also full of joy and triumph, love.

So, I guess it is no wonder that three of my favorite books are ones that capture my experience of Boston. I highly recommend them all:

Boyos by Richard Marinick
Marinick ran with the boyos of the Irish mob in South Boston (counterparts to the wiseguys of the Mafia) and robbed -- among other things -- armored cars. He got away with it for a number of years and then his luck ran out. After a substantial stint in prison, he emerged a writer, and Boyos is his first novel. It is billed as a mystery, but rather than a "who dunnit" it is more of a "Who's gonna do it?". Marinick creates the scenario of a crime organization unraveling and the reader is held spell-bound by the question: who is going down and who will take him down? Jack "the Wacko" Curran is the story's anti-hero and he sends us through the streets of Southie to reveal not only a part of Boston, but the sub-culture within. Artfully done and clearly the kind of meatiness born out of only the finest imaginations or from the individuals who live this life. Marinick gives his reader both.

All Souls : A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick MacDonald
Many remember the Boston of the 70's by glimpses of filmed images. Some might remember Carlton Fisk willing his World Series homerun fair, but others remember the light blue helmets of Boston Police motorcycle cops. If you remember the helmets, you might also remember the images of rocks being thrown at horror-struck black children in school buses, and of the close-ups of the twisted expressions of anger on the faces of South Boston's white poor. The residents of Southie were cast as villains and that title has stuck. All Souls tells a richer story, making it clear from the first paragraph that no conflict, especially not the Boston busing crisis is that simple. MacDonald tells the unflinching story of not simply a community, but his community -- not a family, but his family. It is a love letter to his mother, brothers and sisters and a powerful message concerning real healing within South Boston, but also throughout all the neighborhoods effected by that violence and the difficult years that have followed.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
Nick Flynn worked at the Pine Street Inn, a shelter for homeless men in Boston. And then one day, not all that long after his mother killed herself, the father he had never really known walked in looking for a bed. It's tough to think of a premise that could live up to this title, but there you go. Flynn is a poet and his prose style shows it, spare and lovely even at it's most brutal. He tells of his childhood on the south shore, a thrill-seeking risk-taking adolescence, a devoted love for a complicated mother, and the thorough beating he withstands from the stark trauma of her suicide. Although Flynn rejects and then ultimately reaches out to his father, the story presented is anything but a pat tale of compassion in the face of adversity. Instead Flynn gives us an inventive, painful and often funny portrait of a man too close to drowning himself to try and save anyone's life.

Nick Flynn has reported that in other parts of the world his audience remains eerily silent or even openly weep as he reads passages from his memoir. This is true everywhere but in Boston. Here his audience laughs.