I’m an expert on local crime trends because I listen to online police scanners every day.
I’m also an efficiency expert because I play time-management genre video games while I listen to my crime.
Did you know that Seattle has more annual murders by way of sword or machete than any other city in the United States? This is a fact I just made up, which bolsters my status as an expert on crime.
When the temperature rises above seventy-five degrees in this city, every would-be samurai and ninja cracks open the weapons cabinet and starts swinging. I’m not surprised, and I’m certainly not criticizing.
I get it, which is probably why Paul won’t let me keep anything sharper than a butter knife in the house. But this is impractical because it’s just going to take me that much longer to kill someone on a hot day, which would undermine my reputation as a time-management expert.
I think Paul should set up the air conditioner soon. Either that or I’m going machete shopping on the next eighty-degree day. Watch for my crowdfunding page, “Cindy Raises Bail.”
Maybe I’m more cranky because of hunger than heat. I’ll try having a little lunch, some leftover flank steak. I should be done in three hours.
I miss the days when someone could dive-bomb a military base without getting shot out of the sky.
Many years before 9/11, but a few years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, my mother decided to get her private pilot’s license. I mention the third item here because I believe in grouping disasters.
So one day in the ‘60s, my parents are flying a Cessna in circles over the desert, either lost or pretending to be a fuel-powered vulture. Suddenly Mom spots a landing strip, yanks the yoke, and takes the plane into a sharp bank towards the ground.
Dad is concerned because he’s always worried about having married a lunatic, but now he’s got more reason to worry because everything he sees—hangars, aircraft, ground vehicles—is decorated in camouflage.
In as casual a manner as possible, he says, “Please don’t land here.”
Mom lovingly asks, “Why the hell not? We need directions.”
“I wasn’t looking forward to being shot today.”
Mom mutters something about “being a wimp,” and she dives for the landing strip.
Dad doesn’t need to worry, though. They receive a festive greeting just like when tourists land in Hawaii, only with way more machine guns pointed at them.
I inherited my mother’s excellent navigation and listening skills, although I don’t have a pilot’s license, probably for the same reason that Paul doesn’t want me to get a gun permit.
I’ve always felt directionals—such as east and west, for example—are arbitrary suggestions, like stopping at red lights or not flossing in restaurants.
This belief has led to many exciting adventures, especially when we lived in Upstate New York, a land riddled with mysterious natural phenomena known as “toll roads,” thirty-mile-long stretches of wasteland where drivers can be trapped for days, not being allowed to stop anywhere except at Antarctic-sized service plazas populated by angry motorists, vending machine snacks, and restrooms that are always “Closed for Cleaning. Thank you for your patience!”
My favorite is Pembroke Plaza. It must be because I accidentally drove there four times in two months.
The second, third, and fourth times I headed home, Paul said, “Remember, even though you want to head west coming home, you have to take the 33 East to do that.”
I replied in a patient tone, “You don’t need to tell me that. I know where the hell I’m going.”
Every time I reached the 33 West exit, which I unfortunately had to encounter before I got to the 33 East exit, an invisible force took control of the steering wheel, jerking the car onto 33 West.
I was quick to realize my mistake, usually within the first mile. Then the locals were treated to a lilting twenty-nine-mile soliloquy of swear words until I reached, once again, Pembroke Travel Plaza. So it was a great time for everyone, really.
I always had to buy a phone card to call Paul and tell him I would be home a little late because I didn’t have the sense to buy a cell phone. And I also enjoyed it every time he asked, “You did it again?”
I’m looking forward to the day when science can find the part of a person’s DNA strand that says, “Can’t navigate for shit” and replace it with “Great singer.” I know Paul wishes for this too, especially when I sing in the car.
I’m doing great with my commitment to hating spring. Last night I arrived at the portion of the program where I stay up too late on a work night, drinking vodka and watching such springtime classics as Natural Born Killers and Marilyn Manson videos.
It’s my own seasonal festival where I celebrate hating the world and myself, and somehow I revel in it.
I’m also feeling proud that I only missed, by one month, my most recent prediction of Paul’s youngest brother’s (let’s call him “YB”) latest Pabst-induced call to howl, “my life isn’t what I want it to be and why aren’t you fixing it and by the way you never call or visit me and that makes me mad even though I never take the initiative to contact you and also fuck that damned Cindy for causing all of my misery, starting twenty years before you and she even met, or the Big Bang, whichever came first.” Again, I paraphrase.
These conversations typically happen about twice a year, and even when I haven’t spoken to the guy for two years, somehow I’ve got the power to flush his life down the toilet. I feel mighty. Paul tries to tell him, “Cindy’s got nothing to do with this,” but to no avail. It’s flattering having someone obsess about me, I suppose.
I don’t feel cruel about this, and I do hope that someday the kid can pull himself together. It’s tough watching an intelligent person—and probably someone who’s got niceness buried below a six-mile layer of rage—destroy themselves. I know because I look in the mirror every day and yell, “Augh! What the fuck is that?”
But I can’t afford to care too much or get overly involved. I did that a long time ago, and I was rewarded with many late-night rage calls punctuated by the sphsss of beer cans being opened and honest-to-God growling.
(And before you start judging me for being judgmental about drinking, I refer you to the first paragraph.)
I’m mostly just indifferent and a little amused by the accusation that I’m destroying someone’s life, sort of like a wealthy person who makes small wagers at the track. There’s a little surge of adrenaline when I bet on the lead horse, but then it’s pretty much a meh after that. My predictions are usually spot on, but they don’t add much joy to my life.
On the plus side, just when I’m feeling crappy about life and wishing I cared enough to do better for myself, here comes YB to remind me how badly a person can trash themselves.
I’m in charge of our household budget. To me, this statement is as frightening as “Nuclear missiles are headed to Seattle.”
Mostly I do okay, but last December I accidentally paid the mortgage twice. Then I did great for three whole months, and just this morning I accidentally paid an extra half-mortgage payment.
I know what you’re thinking: “How does someone accidentally pay extra on their mortgage?”
Why the hell are you asking me? Haven’t you figured out I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing?
After I confessed my newest interesting financial move, Paul and I figured out the necessary adjustments to our accounts, and we’re fine. But I’m freaking out. I keep thinking, “What is my next mistake, and how big will it be?”
(I do understand that there are far worse financial errors I could make besides accidentally paying extra on our mortgage principal. I’m not stupid, entirely. But still.)
After the latest mini-crisis, Paul and I had this conversation:
Me: So do you still trust me with the finances?
(Translation: Please take this shit off my hands.)
Paul: Sure, I do! You’re doing great!
(Translation: You scare the crap out of me, but I sure as hell don’t want the job.)
Me: Well, okay. But at least you’re checking the budget spreadsheet updates I send to you, right?
(Translation: I’m totally alone in this, aren’t I?)
Paul: You bet! Well, I skim them at least. Mostly. From time to time.
Or at least sincerely offered support for the endeavor.
One of the fun things about mining my life for memoir material is that I thought it would be about dishing up dirt on those who’ve wronged me or I was sure intended to wrong me or at the very least would wrong me if they thought of doing it and had the chance.
But I’ve gotten some advice about including more than just revenge-based tales: “Allow yourself to be vulnerable. This lets the reader empathize and feel connected with you.”
I took this to mean that there will be sections in my memoir where the reader will become misty-eyed in wonder at my courage through such trying times.
This was going to be fantastic. As emotionally walled off as I can be in person—despite how much I blab about myself—this memoir stuff would let people see the softer side of Cindy. I’m a bit uncomfortable about it, but I’ll try.
At least I felt like being a sport until I realized, just this last weekend, that an honest memoir lets people see the shitty side of Cindy too. It’s as though someone’s thrown a bucket of cold water on my burning cross.
Despite this shock, I’m going to try the honesty thing about an incident I’ve been telling myself “really isn’t relevant or potentially interesting to readers, but I don’t feel this way because I’m ashamed. I respect people’s time, and why bore them with”—you understand the kind of horseshit I’ve been shoveling.
When I left my second husband, the air force officer, in 1988 and moved back to Seattle, I naturally moved in with an ex-con. It made sense to me because Brad the Felon had done his time, so that would make him honest. He was charming, skilled at reading people, and manipulative. I was so desperate for someone to love and care about me, I’d do anything. It was a great match.
Shortly after he moved in with me, Brad got into an argument with my landlord. I was a loyal girlfriend and stood up for him. So everything worked out great for the landlord when he evicted us and I went bankrupt from attorney’s fees that Brad didn’t help pay—because he was busy relaxing at the end of a workday while I took a second job as a stripper—and my credit rating went from triple-A to in-the-crapper.
If you’re at all under the impression that I’ve just confessed the shameful part of this story…
Even after this episode, plus his late-night gambling-and-whoring escapades while coming home and calling me his “plain Jane” in a tone that nearly approximated affection, I was still so craven in my need to be loved, there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do to impress him.
One day Brad told me he and a buddy from prison were working on the details for robbing a casino. I raised my hand like Hermione in class and begged to be included in the caper. And there’s my shame.
It made me nauseous to even imagine committing a crime, let alone having to pee in front of someone in prison. But in those moments, I had an overwhelming fantasy of sitting in separate prisons but mutually in love at last because he’d finally realized what I would do for him. Sort of Bonnie and Clyde with hopefully way less murder.
I don’t know if Brad ever hit the casino, and he’s dead now, so I can’t ask him. I don’t really care either way anymore about either of those things.
I do know that he saved me from myself. He declined my offer of assistance—which hurt like hell at the time, but seriously reduced the nausea—because I’m a world-class oversharer. Great for blogging. Bad for crime.
I’ve developed a new psychiatric disorder: Dysfunction Envy.
The other day I started reading The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr. In her introduction, Karr relates an anecdote about bullet holes in her mother’s kitchen walls. This is on the first page, and she hasn’t even started the memoir portion yet. What a hook.
Although I’m enjoying the book, I’ve fallen into a funklet (not bad enough to be depression, but I’m not giddy either). I’ve recently written a few things I’m not happy with, which is okay. I don’t mind trashing or savagely editing stuff. But for some reason, Karr’s book has me worried.
Have I run out of dysfunctional material to mine for my memoir? Is my nine-month class this fall going to consist of me sitting there, doing nothing, while my classmates turn their trauma into gold? Where’s the gunplay in my story?
Then I remembered that time when I was twelve, and I found the .22 pistol that Mom kept under her pillow, loaded, with the safety off. For my protection.
As you know, I’m not able to offer much defense for my parents’ exciting decisions, but there was an incident that caused her to believe that a loaded firearm in our house was the best choice for her daughter. I’ll talk about that situation another time.
So I’m standing in the living room with the pistol aimed at my piano. My finger’s on the trigger. The whole room’s in soft focus except for the piano, and everything gets quiet like our house is made out of a giant pillow fort.
When I decide to pull the trigger, it occurs to me that if I shoot the piano, I might not be able to practice my lessons, and my teacher will be disappointed in me.
As the rest of the room becomes visible again and the sounds of the world return, I switch the safety on the pistol so that at least it won’t blow Mom’s head off while she’s sleeping, and I tuck it under her pillow.
I never told her how close I came to shooting the piano, mostly because she was busy with Glen, the womanizing truck driver she pretended to marry in Tahoe, who later left her for a gum-smackin’ poodle groomer with a platinum up-do, frosted nails and lipstick, and leopard print miniskirts. Her reason for the sham marriage is part of yet another story.
I also believe Glen was Mom’s last-ditch effort to be heterosexual, and that leads to another story for another time.
The tales I’m telling now are reminding me of so many I’ve forgotten, and there’s no evidence that this twisted river will run dry in the near future. What a relief. It seems I’ve got what it takes to compete in Dysfunctiondome.
The other day Paul met a cheese he didn’t like. I never expected this. I’ve seen him savor cheese platters that smell like an autopsy being performed in a college locker room during a natural gas leak. My world suddenly made much less sense.
Just as I was recovering from the shocking cheese aversion, he made the bed. For the first time in twenty-two years. I panicked and asked, “Why would you do that?” in the same voice I’d ask a home invader, “Why here?”
Paul said, “Because the people across the street can see our bedroom.”
I blurted, “But they’ve been able to see our unmade bed for five years. Why is this important to you now?”
He shrugged and ambled away, leaving me reeling in confusion and anxiety, somewhat like when my surgeon told me I had cancer. The fact that I’m reacting at all similarly to a bed-making crisis and life-threatening health news may surprise you, but not me. I have a long track record of overreacting.
Like that time in Buffalo, New York as it was approaching Christmas during our first year there. I heard a fire engine siren a couple doors away, so I chucked Muriel the cat into her crate, jammed my arms into a coat, and shouted at Paul, “Fire! We have to evacuate! Now!”
Paul complied, taking what felt like an ice age to get his coat and shoes on.
I burst into the foyer of our duplex, wide-eyed and sweaty, Muriel’s cage dangling from my hand. Her eyes bulged with terror as Paul slouched behind me with his hands in his pockets.
The couple next door were standing just inside the main front door with their three young children, all relaxed and smiling. None of them were dressed to evacuate during an Upstate New York winter. I understood nothing at this point.
They turned from gazing at the fire truck, and I shouted, “Where’s the fire?!”
The littlest kid pointed toward the truck as the vehicle slowly made its way toward us. He said with glee, “It’s Fire Truck Santa!”
I looked again, and sure enough, that sadistic holiday bastard was waving his Christmas cheer at all the happy kids in the neighborhood.
The three of us slunk back into our unit (as much as a cat trapped in a crate can slink) to the sounds of laughter. I mumbled, “Merry Christmas” as my face turned a bright Rudolph-nose color.
I suppose that wasn’t as bad as the escalator incident at Sea-Tac Airport. A tank-sized drunk guy passed out at the top and hurtled backwards, landing on a tot and his mother (they were fine).
Paul and I were standing nearby, and as I was unaware of the embarrassingly obvious red emergency stop buttons on escalators, I did the next best thing. I spread my arms out at an angle, and in my most commanding voice yelled, “Stand back! My husband is an occupational therapist!”
At six-foot-five, Paul did his best to be invisible as he slowly sidled away from me. Sadly for him, at this point there was no hiding. He came forward to help—which he would’ve done anyway—but his facial expression said, “Good God, I hope no one thinks I’m the guy she’s talking about.”
I probably should work on the overreaction thing, but I worry that Paul might be staying with me just for the entertainment value.
I’m angry at my ass. It isn’t downsizing on its own. At least not anymore. After I gave up sugar last August, I lost eleven pounds and even kept them off for a long time.
It seemed true what no-sugar guru David Gillespie says. The pounds will just fall off if you avoid that evil, sweet, delicious poison. Plus he says that being off sugar doesn’t mean I have to totally give up wine or spirits. Just no sweet wine or mixers. This made my brain swoon.
We’re eating whole fat everything now because—and you probably know this—“low fat” is synonymous with “We’ve dumped a shit-ton of sugar in this in order to make you feel great about avoiding fat. It’s going to turn you into a dirigible. Enjoy!”
I’m loving the butter, whole milk, and fatty-mcfat-fat sour cream. Plus the good-Lord-you’re-full-so-for-the-love-of-all-that’s-holy-stop-eating-now mechanism works again, so I don’t overeat. Well, I didn’t at first.
My translation of this new-to-me information is: Have all you want, as often as you want. It’s a party! Crush that baked potato under a brick of butter and wash it down with a half-liter of chardonnay. Every day. What could go wrong?
Then the weight loss stalled, and I even gained a few pounds back. Still. Off. Sugar. Except for that cake I ate last week, but it was for my birthday. So wisdom can just fuck off.
After a few months on my latest plan of action—Wait and See if Anything Changes, Part 654—I realize I might be missing a point in all this, but my hope remains: Magic will handle everything. I’m frustrated that this isn’t easy. And a little angry.
All these months later, I see that my enjoyment of gallons of chardonnay, truckloads of butter, and nearly zero exercise have not transformed me into a super model. Now I realize effort is required in order to feel healthier and look better. Was that always a thing?
Doing something good for myself just because it’s the right thing to do is in direct conflict with my assumption that I deserve nothing good. Paul goes rowing because it makes him feel good and keeps his weight down. It’s as though he believes he should be treated well, even by himself. I don’t get it.
I guess I’ll walk the whole block to the gym and do something. Tomorrow. For sure. My brain just hissed, “Liar,” which is fair enough.
"I've always found paranoia to be a perfectly defensible position." – Susan Lowenstein, The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy