FullSizeRender (1)Everything I own is broken. I am not exaggerating. When I say everything I own is broken, I mean EVERYTHING I OWN IS BROKEN, including the eternally clogged drain, the blitzed-out light over the upstairs toilet and the malfunctioning Dwight Schrute bobblehead that wouldn’t actually bobble, just flop sadly over in existential despair, until I wadded up paper and crammed it into his head. So I guess it technically isn’t broken any longer.

But my cars. Holy shit. You know how I hate them suckers, right? How they just break down uninvited, get into accidents for the heck of it and poop out muffler insulation that resembles cheapo wigs? Well, let it be known that that’s been happening again. In a big way. A big, big way. Involving THE IMPENETRABLE KAFKAESQUE NETHER-ZONE OF INSURANCE-COMPANY CONVERSATIONS.

Plus I just paid, like, a million dollars to replace every last bit of one entire Honda after it threatened to kill me on the drive to work. I’m serious. I brought it in immediately to the nearest possible shop, and now it’s like a whoooole new vehicle. You know that Richard Scarry book where Mr. Frumble takes his pickle car in for repairs and it comes back a hot dog, or something? This is like that. Exactly. I swear.

Also, my dryer broke. And my piano needs fixing. I could go on (NO! NO! NO! howl all six of my readers) but won’t, mainly because it’s an endless list, and I could be here all night, and I still need to exercise and shower and practice the violin and watch the first “X-Files” movie with my son. But also because, well, isn’t this how it works, this complicated gizmo of life? There are too many moving parts to it, too much occasion for cosmic chance. At some point — at most points, actually — it’s sure to break down.

So am I. I’m broken, too. I don’t just mean the mess in my knees or the ever-increasing hyperopia of my eyeballs. I mean I’m broken inside, but I don’t know who isn’t. As a person of faith, I believe we’re born with a sense of order, a yearning for perfection, that amounts, I think, to a kind of metaphysical homing signal. On some level we KNOW things are better somewhere else, more seamless and loving and less prone to breakdown, and we try like crazy to replicate that here.

Of course we can’t. Of course we can’t stop trying, either. That’s what plumbers are for.

correction: that was the wig that *wasn’t*


I learned something new, people! I learned that mufflers, ON THEIR OWN, grow hair like Donald Trump’s! They do! And then, when they get too old to drive, they spit it out their undercarriage in shiny, regurgitated whorls of toupee-like ejecta! Yup.

Thanks to one of my children’s former band teachers, who corrected me politely on Facebook, I now comprehend that, in fact, it’s just this hirsuite internal wrapping of fiberglass that makes modern mufflers muffle.

Apparently, mufflers puke up wigs when they get all holey. And apparently I need a new one.

You don’t believe it, just click here for a disturbing array of hairy automotive strangeness.

Be warned: that’s some scary shit. I’m surprised such aberrant muffler behavior hasn’t inspired a horror flick of some kind. If they can make a movie about a serial-killing car tire, which I was lucky enough to review in my former life as a critic, why not muffler hair? You see my point? Imagine the combovers!

Hmmm. Maybe I’ll write it.

ORIGINAL WEIRD POST (i.e., that was the wig that was):

Okay, so this is weird.

The other day, after pulling up in front of my house in the way-way-older of my two blue Hondas, I casually glanced at the rear end and spied something gray and hairy, kind of like my head, draped from a hole in the muffler. It looked like the fur from the belly of a long-haired cat. Or maybe a luxuriously pelted fox. Or a raccoon. Or a grandmother. Shit! Was that a ponytail dangling out of my rear? Had I actually run over a sentient being unawares and sucked it up my exhaust?wig

I got down on my knees and examined the bushy extrusion, first with my eyeballs and then, tentatively, with my fingers. I took a deep breath. THANK GOD it wasn’t human, or even mammalian; it was some cheapo plasticky silver fright wig streaked with pinkish highlights. The ensuing twin revelations (Yay! I didn’t kill anyone! and What a vile thing to put on someone’s head!) were quickly followed by a third, more inquisitive thought (What the fork was that doing in the road?), which led to my fourth and final conclusion (Shit! I better get that thing outta my muffler before it spontaneously combusts and I’m consumed by a rolling fireball!).

With this last, forceful imperative in mind, I yanked at the first draping lock of hideous faux hair. Out it came. Out more came. Out came so much that I started to worry that the neighbors would emerge from their homes, watch me surgically extracting hair from my car’s underbelly, and call the police. But this worry did not stop me on my quest to de-wig my aged Honda. I pulled, and I pulled, and I pulled, tugging at that fibrous mass until I had, on the pavement beside me, a giant, swirling barf-up of wiggy plastic filaments.

I must say, it creeped me out. It looked like it might be a sentient being unto itself. Would this puzzling vortex of hair start talking to me? Would it demand to be fed, like the Audrey 2 in “Little Shop of Horrors?” Would it sprout legs, put on a tie and run for president?

Naturally, I whipped out my iPhone and snapped a picture.

I have no great wisdom to offer, here. This is not going to be one of those blog posts where I reflect oozily on life, death, mental illness, grief after suicide or some fun combo of all four. I’m not even going to try to draw profound conclusions about the weirdness and mystery of life,  the peculiar and surprising happenstance that dots our daily progress. Nope. This is only a post about THE WIG THAT GOT STUCK IN MY MUFFLER THAT DAY, and that is all.

I swear that’s it. Nothing more. No deeper meaning anywhere.

Besides, I threw it out.


nerd for life

cup o' shat

cup o’ shat

I was 13 when I fell in love with “Star Trek” and its studly captain, James T. Kirk. This is a true fact. This is also a known fact, as I’ve written about it before. Among the truest, factiest things I’ve written about it is something most people would go to their graves without revealing: namely, that I had a dream about William Shatner the morning before my mother died in 1994. In it, I recited her obituary to him. Yes! Fact-o-licious! Depressing and cringe-inducing, but also kind of funny, right? You have to admit you’re laughing; I am.

Anyway, the Shatner revelation is sort of fitting, as my mother cared approximately zilch what other people thought of her, and she once predicted that I’d reach a stage in life when the same was true of me. I was around 15 when she made this insightful prognostication, so you can just imagine how I received it. As I recall, I moaned out long, ballooning vowel sounds along the lines of MooooOOOOOOOooooooOOOOOm, followed by eyerolls so dramatic that mama had to yank them back with a crowbar.

How right she was about me. How little I care, these days. And how I would love to deliver this news to my former self. Imagine if I could just sail back in time to the late 1970s and drop in unannounced on Teen Amy (sounds like a horror film, doesn’t it?) as she pores over her “Star Trek” novels and drips saliva all over her hot-hot-hot Shatner pictures. I’d say, HEY KID, LOOSEN UP, and MAMA’S RIGHT, YOU WON’T GIVE A SNOT and LOOK AT HOW GRAY YOU’LL BE AT 50. I might also add, SHATNER MORPHS INTO A REALLY ODD DUCK AS HE GETS OLDER, but this might traumatize the poor pubescent lass. Besides, the same could be said of me.

And now that I think of it, being a Trekkie and a Shatnerphile was good preparation for life. It gave me a chance to define myself early on; it gave me a sense of myself, a secret inner understanding that became less and less secret over time.

At first I was just a nerd. Then I was a self-aware nerd, a nerd willing to admit as much to herself in the quiet of her cluttered bedroom. Then I became a nerd who bonded with fellow Trekkies. Finally, after talking about Tribbles or Klingons or Spock pinches in larger groups and not liquefying from embarrassment or public opprobrium, I became a nerd who didn’t much care what other people thought of her nerd-dom. If not a proud nerd, then an open nerd. A nerd without apologies. A nerd for life.

And one more thing: Mama had a crush on Shatner, too.

tooting and texting

honk honk.

honk honk.

Back when I was a kid on a lake in lovely, sylvan Connecticut, gamboling through the woods or gallivanting about with friends at their cottage down on the water, Mama used to call me home for supper. Sometimes she just cupped her hands to her mouth and bellowed, “AAAAAAYMEEEEEEEEEE,” and I’d lope up the hill. But sometimes, when she was feeling impish, she used a cow horn.

I have no idea where it came from — my mother’s side of the family, I guess. It was handed down, maybe from her grandmother, maybe her great-grandmother. Someone in Peoria long ago. Or someone in North Carolina, less long ago. Beats me. It’s one of those things I never thought to ask my mother about before she died. Or if she told me, I don’t remember.

But I do remember this about the horn: It sounded like a giant fart.  And when I say a “giant fart,” I mean A GIANT FART, as in, the type of flatulence that might actually be produced by a cyclops. This is why she loved to call me home with it, because she KNEW it sounded like a giant fart, she KNEW it had no musical virtues whatsoever, she KNEW it would embarrass me terribly, and she KNEW one of our next-door neighbors, the one with the dry wit, would venture onto his porch and give her grief about it. “WHY DON’T YOU LEARN TO PLAY THAT THING?” he’d yell.

Why she didn’t come out onto steps with her violin to play the Bach Chaconne with all of her crazy-amazing virtuosity to call me home for supper, I’ll never know. Oh, I know why: because it wouldn’t have sounded like a fart.

In my twenty years of motherhood, I have never used that horn to call my children home, although I have bellowed plenty; mine is a bellowing kind of street, the sort where even if you can’t see your kid you can usually hear him, and if you can’t hear him you can be pretty sure he’s lurking somewhere fetchable by shouting. I’m not sure why I’ve never used the Mitchell Family’s Giant Farting Heirloom for these fetching purposes.

It would certainly beat texting my kids home, which I am appalled to say I now do much more frequently than bellowing. I have made a sad, shameful habit of pulling up in my car to retrieve some child at mine at some friend’s house, or some school, or some other place where in previous times I might have moved my lazy ass out of the car and retrieved them. Do you recall those days? When we rang doorbells? You remember doorbells, don’t you? But my lazy ass is now stuck. What I do is this: After driving up to the location in question, I sit in the car, whip out my evil, lazy-ass-enabling iPhone and text my offspring. And I don’t even text them a sentence. Instead, I text them one word: “here.” I don’t even capitalize the damn thing. Just: “here.”

Maybe, next time, I should bring along The Horn of Flatulence. I should roll down the window, put it up to my lips, and toot like the wind. What do you think? Do you think they’d be embarrassed? Maybe I should learn to play it first.

…and all I got was this awesome t-shirt

tell me you don't want one

tell me you don’t want one

Here we have an item that has nothing to do with anything — death, woe, gnashing of teeth, shoveling of snow — other than my lovely daughter Jeanne and her recent, oh-so-fabulous school trip to Italy and Greece. (Yes, she went there. And NO, SADLY. I DID NOT.)

In Rome she ate lots of pizza and visited the Colosseum, the Forum, the Trevi Fountain and the Vatican, where she ooohhhed and aaahhhed at masterworks of the High Renaissance (I wasn’t there to hear her, but it’s a safe bet) and, even better, purchased this t-shirt, which I very much heart. The coolness of Catholicism’s latest pope is a matter much discussed elsewhere, and I won’t go into the specifics of his coolness here except to observe that, you know, it’s kinda nice having a dude in charge who apparently reads the same Gospels I do. (Love and forgiveness! Rock on!) It makes me feel warm and mellow and groovy inside, like all of a sudden I want to wear patchouli and crowd surf at a Phish concert, and I don’t even like Phish.

The point is, in 24 years of being Catholic, I have never owned, much less worn, a pontiff fan t-shirt. I have never before even idly considered such a thing in hypothetical terms, as in, “Oh, my ‘Hard Rock Cafe Vulcan’ T has holes in both armpits. Crud. If only I had a Pope Benedict v-neck to replace it.” But this one? I’ll keep it. And I’ll keep Pope Francis, too.

my missive from graham greene

photo (19)

Shatner never wrote back. The poop.

In the summer of ’89, I was living in Somerville, Mass., that unfairly maligned suburb of Boston. For three years, my sister Lucy and I shared the bottom third of a triple-decker house with a third roommate, and if I were numerologically inclined, I might extrapolate some woozy mystical import from all those threes. Hmm. Weird. But I’m not big on numbers. Words are my bag, and have been since I decided at a stupidly young age that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.

I had no idea what this meant. I knew that my dad, Louis, was a writer, because I’d seen his name on the spine of quite a few books lining our shelves, and because he periodically retreated behind closed doors and made violent pounding noises interrupted by dings. He brutalized typewriters. I do more or less the same with computer keyboards, or so I’m told by colleagues too often forced to pick the shrapnel from their sad and bloodied faces.

In fifth grade, I think it was, I volunteered to help write the script for some school play or other, and I remember nothing about the process other than it yielded utter crap. A year or two later, a venturesome English teacher broke her class into small groups for a similar exercise in playwriting, and once again, I found myself writing utter crap. But at least I remember it; memorable crap always preferable to the bland, nameless and neglected sort that squats in the cobwebs of some dingy corner of the brain.

No, this second attempt at writerly writing was well worth remembering: It was a soap opera. The story began with my character spouting some drippy dialogue before heading offstage to get hit by a car, only to return in a wheelchair — that is, a molded plastic school chair pushed by a classmate. I even bent my legs underneath me to simulate amputation. I’m not shitting you. It was that bad.

From this propitious beginning, my writing career progressed to the woolly English essays and groovy abstract poetry I wrote in my teens. Around then I decided on journalism, and thank God I did, or I might still be writing blank-verse meditations on life and swirling blobs of color. In college I discovered William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor and Graham Greene, whose dark/light depictions of God, Catholicism and our combative human nature spoke to my own noirish inclinations and budding spiritual life.

In my mid-20s I was living with Lucy — watching her light spirit fight against the dark of suicidality — and gobbling up the last of Greene’s gripping, unsentimental novels, with their screwed-up protagonists and grayscale overlaps of good and evil. I’d read somewhere that he lived in Antibes, and that he responded to every letter he received. These two pieces of information emboldened me to fire one off. Into one page I crammed my appreciation for all that he gave me, all that I learned, all that I hoped for with my own young ambitions.

I addressed it “Graham Greene, Antibes, France,” and it got there. He wrote back. Finding that envelop in the mailbox outside my apartment remains one of the great postal triumphs of my life, ranking between my acceptance to Hamilton College (which had both a great English department AND a freshly minted women’s varsity soccer team, thank you, Title IX) and that autographed glossy from Gene Kelly (the hottest man ever to dance in high waters). He responded to my fan letter, too. William Shatner didn’t. But I don’t hold that against him. Much.

I cherish my missive from Graham Greene. Whether it pushed and punted me down the road to being a better writer, I don’t know. But over the years I’ve turned to it at moments high and low, focusing intensely on that one line: “I wish you every success with your writing.” Every success. Not just worldly. Not just money in the bank and eyeballs on the page. He also meant creative success, the quiet victory of simply putting a decent sentence together — and then two decent sentences, and then a few decent paragraphs, and then an article, a play, a book.

Because it isn’t so simple; it isn’t so small. The threat of utter crap looms always and everywhere, held at bay by the thrashing of keyboards. And somehow, I still want to be a writer when I grow up.

flightless nylon mona lisa

photo (13)

What am I thinking?

One benefit of having an iPhone is being able to take high-quality pictures of inanimate objects. One benefit of having an iPhone and children together in the same place at the same time is that the children, no matter their ages and maturity levels, and no matter whether they own iPhones themselves — which is analogous to the number of boots they possess when they want to borrow mom’s, even if they already own enough to have shod the Napoleonic army at Smolensk — will seize the iPhone and start snapping high-quality pictures of inanimate objects. This is especially true when you aren’t paying very close attention. And it’s especially truer when the inanimate object at issue is an inflatable light-up penguin.

We adopted this little fella from Home Depot last week. We were there buying a Christmas tree, and before you object that Home Depot is kind of a sad place to buy a Christmas tree, I will reassure you that we were and remain totally at peace with this. We started going there by default the first Christmas after Chris died — when, honestly, just buying a tree at all was a major triumph — and by now, at our third Christmas without him, it’s become a kind of tradition. Part of that tradition is making additional impulse purchases that make no sense at the time or later on, after we’ve had some occasion to reflect. Last year we bought big glittery plastic orbs packaged and touted as ornaments only to get home and realize that they didn’t have any hooks, loops or other specialized doohickeys with which to hang them from the tree. They were literally just big glittery plastic orbs.

So this year, after selecting a tree, my three kids went off on their hunting-gathering expedition through Home Depot and returned with the above creature, having trapped and hauled him in from the electrified-Christmas-baubles aisle designed to vacuum-suck fat wads of parental money from unfortified pockets. With a wide smile, my oldest presented this to me and asked, “Mom! Mom! Can we buy this! Mom!”  And I replied, Sure! Ha ha! How adorable! Seriously! Wow!

And it is. Wow. Seriously. So adorable. I am not being ironic. Its serious adorability is intended to be displayed outside, but apparently we lack the proper outdoor plugs, so instead we display it indoors whenever we’re feeling merry or just want to amuse ourselves by looking at it (him? her?) and listening to it (her? him?) whir. During a recent jam session with my neighborhood band, it (he? she?) whirred thusly beside us through five hours of ka-chung ka-chung ka-chunging on “Psycho Killer” reimagined with dulcimer and ukes.

It was only much later in the evening that I looked at my phone and remembered that my children had, several days earlier, snapped seven pictures of the thing. Seven. In each, it presents its enigmatic smiley-face to the world like some flightless nylon Mona Lisa.

I am not asking you to name it; I am not planning a new poll and some subsequent futile exercise in the democratic process. Instead, I am asking you to tell me this: WHAT IS IT THINKING? Is it thinking, “I am penguin. Hear me whir.” Or maybe: “If I purse my beak like this, I could post my selfie to Facebook. If only I owned an iPhone! And, like, hands.” Or even: “I shall hold you in my thrall with my fixed gaze and fartly humming!” Or is it thinking, “I am a messenger of joy. Happy Everything!”

I’m going with the last one. Because it is. Seriously. So. Adorable.