Archive for April, 2011

He with the most toys. . .

Sally and I aren’t big consumers. Stuff, we’ve decided, mainly complicates, and we’ve figured out that it doesn’t make us happy.

Which brings me to this:

And, yes, I know. Sally and I don’t play golf and don’t intend to start.

We tell ourselves we bought the golf cart to tote the boys to the neighborhood pool, the lake, the trail, and the children’s park, all of which are less than a mile away but down and up a steep hill. We tell ourselves that we picked up the cart because it’s fun to putter around our neighborhood, Apache Shores, a floaty bungied to the cart roof, the cooler loaded with sandwiches, Lone Star, and juice boxes, the warm air soothing away the day.

And that’s all some of it, no doubt.

But most of it is that we like accumulating stuff more than we care to admit.


So Easter.

Both the boys woke up before sunrise to dig through their baskets and fill up on Peeps, jelly beans, and chocolate. Then they raced around the yard looking for eggs. It was wacky fun.

After breakfast, we joined the second annual Apache Shores Easter egg hunt. As with most things Apache Shores, the event, which featured mimosas, screw drivers, and a sad potluck, was as much a party for the adults as it was a gathering for the kids. The Easter Bunny made an appearance, too, riding into the park on a folding bike with tiny wheels.

That afternoon we ate ham sandwiches and yellow Oreos and stared at the lake with good people, including this dangerous family. And by 9:00 PM we were all dead out.


This is your brain on drugs

My periodontist is a friendly, manicured man who mistakenly calls me by my last name and asks if I have children.

“Yes, Dr. Dan, I still have two boys,” I’ll tell him.

“Oh, that’s right, Lesley,” he’ll say, his hair gelled and immaculate, his teeth straight and very white. “I keep forgetting.”

Wednesday, I ended up in Dr. Dan’s office with an IV dripping narcotics into my veins. I was there for a dental implant to replace a tooth that had become infected at the bone and had to be extracted.

“How are you today, Lesley?” Dr. Dan asked, the IV already starting to make the room shine and hum.

“Fine,” I said and then blacked out.

When I came to, I was being rolled through a parking lot in a wheelchair and the sun was very bright.

Where? Wait? What? Ooooh, the sun. Will you look at the sun! Have you ever seen anything so pretty and powerful and magical? Oh, hey, I see cars! They’re like everywhere, dudes! Awesome! Cars are totally awesome!

The world had become fuzzy and was spasming on and off like a shorted electrical device, but I felt especially good in this hazy, sunny, new world.

As the day floated and flickered by, my head sharpened, and my gums no longer bled, and my mouth began to ache, and I stopped drooling over automobiles. The power outages in my short-term memory continued, though.

I remember, for instance, telling Sally that I was going to mow the lawn, and her telling me that I really shouldn’t, and me telling her that she shouldn’t worry so much, that I was perfectly capable of doing a little yard work.

When I awoke the next day, I didn’t think I’d mowed the lawn till I walked Eli to the bus stop and noticed that the yard had been cut and edged.

“Did I do that?” I later asked Sally.

“You really don’t remember?”

“Well, I recall unrolling the extension cord for the weed eater and blasting a dead caterpillar off the patio with the leaf blower, so I’m guessing I might have.”

Sally looked at me with her mouth open and sighed and patted me on the head. I’m pretty sure this means that, yes, I mowed the lawn stoned all the way out of my noodle.

After the surgery, I was on five different medications. That’s right. Five.

And I felt stellar.

At least, I think I did.

Four pills were to help me recover from the implant, and the other was for heartburn. The heartburn medication, I know, I was supposed to take on an empty stomach. One of the others I was to take after I ate. And there was one, the anti-inflamatory perhaps?, that I wasn’t to mix with something. Ibuprofen maybe? Caffeine perhaps? Pink peeps? LSD? I’m not sure.

I also have a foggy recollection of somebody warning me that if my stool turned green and became thick like peanut butter, that I was to contact the doctor. I wonder if I made that one up in my head. I mean, green peanut butter turds just doesn’t sound like a deadly side effect.

And, yes, I’ve inspected, and so far, five days later, no green dookie.

So I really can’t complain.


Saturday, Eli pedaled his two wheeler in his first mountain bike race. He got tangled up in a crash right out of the gate and came around the first corner in last place. Trying to pass a kid at the next corner, he bounced off the trail, which pushed him farther back.

“Keep your head up,” I remember thinking. “Don’t get frustrated. Don’t give up.”

And he didn’t. After going off the trail, Eli passed one boy after another and crossed the finish line somewhere in the middle of the pack. With another lap, I bet he would have contended for the win.

I asked him how it was when it was over.

“Cool,” he said. “Can I ride some more?”

I’m guessing that means he had a good time. I’m guessing that also means we’ll have to find another race for six-year-old to do.

How suicide songs saved my life

I fell in love with suicide music the fall I was 15. I was lonely, shy, and bone skinny that autumn, and my mom had just moved the two of us to a dumpy two-bedroom apartment in El Paso while my dad remained in Iowa to finish out his teaching term and sell the house.

To me, El Paso was concrete and heat and thugs with guns and pretty girls walking right by me. I detested that city. It was my very own scorched hell.

One Sunday, my mom, who realized I was depressed and homesick and wanted to help me make friends, took me to Trinity First United Methodist church. After the service, which lasted an hour but felt like a season, I was pointed to Sunday school in the basement in a building behind the church. I found the room, slipped in, and saw a teenager wearing a black cape.

Sure. I know. A cape. Like Zorro.

The boy in the cape was talking to a balloon-shaped girl with acne and a guy about my age with horse teeth who looked like Hoho the clown.

Sunday school lasted another season, but the kids were welcoming, and balloon girl kept checking me out, and Hoho the clown never stopped grinning, and I have to admit that I liked being with fellow teenagers, even if they rocked out to Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant, even if their preferred adjectives were “nifty,” “swell,” and “super.”

That same night, I went to my first Methodist Youth Fellowship or MYF as the smiling misfits in Sunday school had glowingly referred to it.

As you might suspect, I didn’t go to MYF to commune with Jesus, not that I had anything against the dude or his omnipotent old man or the holy ghost, whatever that was.


I showed up in the hopes that I might meet a cute girl who’d be charmed by an underweight newcomer who believed that the El Paso sun was his one true enemy. The girl, as I envisioned her, would be snarky and smart and maybe a Christian but not too devout. I didn’t want to have to marry the girl to see her boobs, after all.

I didn’t meet the girl of my dreams that night, but I did make a friend. His name was Andy and he’d just moved to El Paso from Arizona. Like me, he was a first timer at MYF.

Three things stood out about Andy:

1. He wore a Free Nelson Mandela tee-shirt, and it wasn’t even tucked in.

2. He was either laughing loudly or smirking every time I noticed at him.

3. He won a burping contest, one of the activities the youth minister dreamed up to show us that worshipping Jesus was cooler than drinking candy-colored cocktails with beautiful co-eds at any of probably a hundred bars less than 10 minutes away in Juarez.

Toward the end of MYF that evening, I walked up to Andy.

“Cool shirt,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said, smiling or maybe smirking. “You know, I bet none of these fucking idiots even knows who Nelson Mandela is.” He pointed to the lopsided lot of teenagers who had started to form a circle a few feet away to pray or sing Kumbaya or play another game that would demonstrate God’s great love for us all.

Hoho the clown, turned around and smiled, a questioning look in his eyes. The poor bastard had heard Andy. I suspected they all had, and no doubt, they weren’t much impressed with the smirking new addition.

But I was. I liked Andy from the get go.

Andy and I soon became friends because we loathed El Paso, hated high school, disregarded most of the rules, read good books, and adored melancholy music.

Music, especially, cemented our friendship. Andy introduced me to the blackest bands I’d ever heard that fall—The Sisters of Mercy, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, early Cocteau Twins—and I loved them all.

It was the Cocteau Twins, in particular, a group that would later make ethereal and soothing records, that blossomed inside me like a tumor. I heard them for the first time one afternoon at an MYF retreat in which Andy and I skipped bible study to smoke cigarettes and talk music in the trees outside our bunk house.

“Listen to this,” he said and lobbed me a copied tape of the Cocteau Twins’ first album Garlands as we sat under a tall ponderosa and smoked More 120’s. I slipped it in my Walkman and pushed the play button.

A thin drum machine and a wall of guitars that sounded a lot like cats dying backed up a female vocalist who screeched or sang or maybe yodeled. I didn’t know what to make of it. The only lyrics I could understand were, “Die in a rosary. Die in a rosary. Die in a rosary.”

And then again. “Die in a rosary. Die in a rosary. Die in a rosary.” Was this music or noise or something evil? I wondered.

But the more I listened to that tape, the more it seeped inside and became melodic and pulsed in time with the hurt in my heart. By the time I got to the song “Blood Bitch,” I was hooked.

“This might be my new favorite band,” I told Andy.

“I knew you’d get it,” he said like I’d cracked a code.

Looking back on all those recordings from the Smiths and Diamanda Galas and Christian Death and The The and the Dead Kennedy’s, I realize Andy and I had collected the perfect music to off ourselves to, but for me at least, the tapes I kept in a box and grocery bag served the opposite purpose. The music whispered that I wasn’t alone. It reminded me I was part of a community. It manufactured a space for me to express myself and be different and grow into my own strange mind.

And it probably saved my life.

Andy probably saved my life as well. He was sometimes an asshole and we’d bicker like brothers on a cross-country road trip, but he was as loyal a friend as I’ve ever had.

And he was my only friend those first few months in that burning city when I hated everything and suicide music was the soundtrack that accompanied my every step.