Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kineahora, M-f-er

I receive an email from a former coworker who I haven’t seen in a few years. Sorry for your loss, it says. Which loss?, I think, my first clue that the last few years have been a bit rough-going for the Cruds.

In summer 2005, my father died after a protracted battle with colon cancer. The entire family was able to say good-bye to Dad even though by the time we were sniffling our good-byes he could not respond. His eyes were vacant, his body a pale, splotchy shadow of parts that had once been so familiar and comforting. The chest where I’d buried my head hundreds of times, the arms that tossed me basketball after basketball while I shot free throws, the almost comically long, lean legs that turned most pants into highwaters. After all the chemo, the slow and cruel loss of his ability to read or make sense of a TV show, and a wasting away so pronounced that he was barely recognizable, we gathered around him, told him it was okay to let go, and watched as the life drained out of him. I wish it had been some spiritual awakening, some moment when I felt the presence of G-d or a portal to another plane of existence, but the image that sticks with me is watching the flutter of his pulse on his neck, the frantic beating as his heart made its last, best attempt to keep doing what it had been doing for 60 years, and then the stillness, the tears, my final kiss on his cheek. He died with his family surrounding him. I read this phrase in obituaries and the scene comes alive to me all over again. With terminal cancer, this is all you can ask for. This constitutes a good death. Pretty fucking relative if you ask me.

Next in the shitty-shitty-bang-bang loss parade came the death of my grandfather last fall. Again, cancer. He’d survived two bouts of cancer: one when I was in high school and wasn’t told that he had cancer until my parents packed my brother and I into the car to visit him in the hospital, and another round at the same time that my dad had entered into what would be his final tango with the metastatic cells of doom. The third bout, after Dad’s death, got him. And got him mercifully quick. Despite a painfully swollen lump on his calf, he put off going to the hospital for fear that the doctors wouldn’t allow him to go on one of the international trips that had filled his life since the death of my grandmother. Finally he relented. He went to the hospital. He was dead within a week. Of course I was sad, sadder still that my final attempts at calling him were a wrong number and I lost my chance for one last “I love you.” But grandparents are supposed to die. I feel lucky that he had lived so long. Long enough to see me grow out of my purple-haired combative phase and long enough for me to see him as a man greater than the sum of grandpa parts.

Sorry for your loss. And they surround me. Losses. Plural.

Last night Mom called. The test results that I had been trying not to worry about since she told me about the test the previous weekend were in. “I didn’t get the news I wanted,” she said. The small lump found on a routine mammogram was malignant.

One parent with cancer is bad luck. Two? That’s destiny. This cancer is somebody I’m going to meet whether I want to or not. I really should quit smoking. Rob the cancer of the home base that would cause self-loathing beyond belief. I picture the satisfied smirks of all those who have warned me to quit throughout the years. (Reality check—people don’t typically smirk to your face when you announce you have cancer, but they engage in some head-shaking tsk-tsking when you’re out of earshot.) Recently I read an essay by a woman whose father died of throat cancer. “Did he smoke?” is always the first question people ask when she shares the cause of her father’s death. Until reading this, it never struck me how fucked up of a question that is. The real questions asked being: Did he deserve cancer? Am I safe from it?

I consider cutting off my breasts, robbing cancer of another potential command center. I can no longer content myself with the belief that Dad’s colon cancer came from a lifetime of meat, that I can escape his fate with the help of diet, yoga, and early colonoscopies. My mom has experienced some bouts of sedentary lifestyle, of less-than-healthy eating but for the most part she follows the guidelines. No alcohol, no smoking, vegetables out the wazoo. Still. Cancer. I am nowhere near the guideline follower that she is. I have a checks and balances theory. Sure, I have a few smokes and glasses of wine but I eat my greens, drink of the antioxidant rich green tea, and overachieve in the exercise department. My theory seems ludicrous now. I feel crosshairs on my cells, and I don’t know how to rearrange them or pump them up with a rousing anti-cancer pep talk to escape the bulls-eye.

Through this entire storm, I’ve remained relatively sane. I cry sometimes but I haven’t crossed over into rage until now. Something is boiling and it isn’t tonight’s pasta water. Thanks again, G-d. This is about what I should expect from the being who let the Holocaust happen. Or Darfur. Or any one of a million other words that signify pain, suffering, and misery. Typhoon, anyone? Tsunami? Taunting G-d isn’t the best strategy. I know this. I’ve seen G-d’s work and know that it can get much, much worse than a first trimester miscarriage and an early cancer diagnosis. A new niece is on the way, my sister-in-law’s due date in July. Kineahora! It’s an old school exclamation to scare off the evil eye. You’ll probably be hearing a lot of it.

PS--News from Mom is relatively good, as good as it can be in breast cancer universe. Also my niece, Lyla Crud, was born on Saturday. See? It's not all bummers in bummertown.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Namaste?


Namaste is a Sanskrit word, meaning (loosely) “the divine light in me honors the divine light in you.” It can be a greeting, an email sign-off for people who work at Yoga Journal, but most often you will find namaste-s being murmured at the end of yoga class as a way for the teacher and students to honor each others’ efforts.

During today’s noontime walk around downtown Portland, I waited at a corner for the green light so I could cross. Construction is rampant. The intersection clogged. Just as the light was about to change, three cars rushed into the intersection, blocking—as they say in our nation’s capital—the box. My pedestrian comrades and I snaked our way through the cars. The buttoned-down fellow walking towards me slowed down as he stepped in front of one of the box-blocking cars. He shook his head and threw the driver an “I’m very disappointed in you” look. I met his eye. I smiled. Is there a Sanskrit word that expresses “The annoyed pedestrian in me honors the annoyed pedestrian in you?” I so need to learn that word.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hey Check Us Out!

After reading my profile, some of you ask, "What exactly is a Gollipopp?" That is a hard question to answer, my friends. I hope this slice of Gollipopp-hood will alleviate some of the mystery. Here we are playing our hit, Carpe Meridian Per Diem at the Galaxy Hut in Arlington, Virginia somewhere in the late '90s. I cannot be seen as I am crouching down to play the Casio. Those random weird keyboard noises? All me. Before I was writing crud, I was playing it.

This post may be labelled Blast Off Country Style. Chaudbaise was a member of BOCS before dedicating his full attention to the Popps.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Passover Seder: My Own Private Everest


Mr. Crud is a loud and proud, though not particularly observant, member of the tribe. No judgment here. I am of the annoying majority of Americans that are unaffiliated with any one religion, but claim to be spiritual. (Or rather “spiritual” or spiritual depending on how you want to say it while rolling your eyes.)

Between the Buddhism I absorb from Yoga Journal and my childhood image of G-d as Santa Claus, I’ve cobbled together a Kt religion that if held up under even the weakest of dime store magnifying glasses in the light of day would burst into flames. Aside from being baptized by Reverend Roach (the coolest thing about my baptism was his name), a few grandmother-induced trips to church, and a brief high school flirtation with Catholicism thanks to the punk rockers in the youth group, I have steered clear of steeples, temples, and mosques.

Three times a year Mr. Crud gets a yen to return to his Jewish roots. Chanukah is my favorite: lighting candles, eating latkes, and exchanging presents. What’s not to love? This year I proudly said the prayers without relying on the transliterations sitting next to the flickering candles on the menorah.

Rosh Hashanah is trickier. I’m all for celebrating new beginnings, but my main emotion during Rosh Hashanah services, if it can be called an emotion, is boredom with a side of outcast anxiety. Mr. Crud has taken me to some pretty liberal congregations, but still, I stick out like a tall blonde with Nazi blue eyes. Not knowing any of the prayers or songs doesn’t help either. I gave Rosh Hashanah a chance, but not having grown up bathed in G-d language, I find myself rolling my eyes at all the praise and unable to turn off my bratty critical brain. Man, this seems like overkill for a supreme being that let the Holocaust happen. Sorry to bring up the H-word, but every time I read this overflowing praise, it bobs to the surface. Not to mention the kazillion other evils of the world. We are dealing with an angry G-d. Rather the Jewish folk are dealing with an angry/loving G-d. My Santa G-d is all-forgiving and exerts minimal control over the affairs of humans. Santa G-d is too busy drinking martinis and reading dlisted. (I was made in her image after all.)

Yom Kippur is a non-starter. I’ve never attended a service. I don’t fast. I’m not big on atonement. I hope that my attempts at self-improvement--yoga counts for something, right?—have covered my mortal soul. Frequently this holiday falls on a workday so I don’t look like such a dick for opting out of an opportunity to share Mr. Crud’s culture. I think that those attending the service would thank me for skipping. Don’t let me get hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.

Enter Passover. I like the idea of Passover, a holiday to celebrate freedom from bondage. Plus there’s mandatory wine drinking and a large meal. There is a catch. The meal comes after a lot lot lot of praying, singing, reading of stories, and, as this is a gathering of Jewish folk, discussion about the meaning of those stories.

My first Passover seder was part of Mr. Crud’s and my mission to find a rabbi to marry us. We had attended services at a Jewish renewal congregation before and, for the most part, they were a kind and accepting bunch. However they liked to sing and dance and both Mr. Crud and I found the proceedings to be a bit cheesy. Part of what he was seeking by attending the seder was a connection to his family and past seders. The tunes were unfamiliar, the service wasn’t what he expected, and ultimately the rabbi had other obligations around the time of our wedding.

“Can we leave now?” I whispered mid-seder after hearing that the rabbi crossed himself off our list of possible officiants.

Mr. Crud nudged my knee. “Not yet. It’s not over.”

But I want to drink wine and smoke a cigarette. I pouted. The Jews are always keeping me from the fun stuff.

Like eating.

The common thread that runs through my experience of the seders I’ve attended is a whining voice that pounds in my head--“Why won’t the Jews let me eat?”—until dinner is served and the voice is drowned out by wolfish eating noises and snarling at anyone who dare come between me and my brisket.

Passover seder 2008 was promising. Hershel*, a college friend of Mr. Crud’s hosted along with his goyish girlfriend, Heidi*. When we arrived, Hershel was setting out a plate of cheese and matzo, putting my mind to rest. Ah, maybe it won’t be test of my hunger denial powers. Heidi dipped canned macaroons in chocolate.

Sarah* arrived next, lugging a huge pan of brisket and a Pyrex of kugel. As the introductions continued, along with the ceremonial complimenting of each other’s fine taste in seder wear, I realized I’d met Sarah before.

8 years ago in a fit of volunteerism—one which I try to kick-start every few years but hasn’t taken yet—I offered my services to the local feminist bookstore. Mostly a volunteer operation, they relied on the kindness of strangers to keep the goods and services flowing. I signed up to work the cash register. My retail experience was limited to a few years at a local record store during high school, but I was confident things hadn’t changed too much in the past 8 years.

In full-on eager beaver mode I arrived at the bookstore for my appointed shift. Sarah stood behind the cash register, phone cradled on her shoulder. I walked around the stacks of books for awhile, pretending to browse while waiting for her to hang up so I could introduce myself.

“Hello, I’m a fellow warrior in the fight against sexism. Nice to meet you.” I would say.

By the time she hung up, I had memorized the magazine rack. She started to dial again. I tripped over my feet getting to the cash register.

“Hi! I’m Kt. I’m a new volunteer and I believe you are my trainer.” I said it with a false cheesiness, trying to salvage an essentially dorky moment.

“Oh. Hey.” She put the phone down and held out her hand. “Sarah.” She poked her lip piercing with her tongue. “I need to make one more phone call then I can introduce you to the exciting world of feminist bookstores.”

I liked her sarcasm immediately. We were feminists but we didn’t need to be all spazzy about it.

I poked around the literature section, scanning the shelves for any out-of-order titles. When I signed up, I meant it. I was raring to alphabetize, reorganize, recommend while keeping an eagle eye out for shoplifters. While Sarah talked, I neatened and re-shelved before settling down on the floor with an Adrienne Rich book I’d meant to check out. Sarah’s bland chatter blended with the low-volume Ani Difranco. Some day I will pick out the music, I thought. I caught a glimpse of some Sleater-Kinney behind the desk. That would do just fine.

Another half hour passed before Sarah called me up to the register. She ran me through how to ring a sale, how to run a credit card, and showed me the big book of information should I find myself in a pickle. All the animation of her phone call voice vanished as she explained the ropes of feminist bookstoring.

“I guess that’s it until closing,” she said with a shrug.

I looked at the clock. Closing was two hours away.

“How long have you been working here?” I asked.

“A few years. I don’t know. Forever.” She laughed.

“Cool.”

Overly long pause.

“So, do you like it?”

“It’s okay.”

Overly long pause part two.

“Look, if you just want to hang and check the place out, I have some calls I gotta make,” Sarah said.

Call she did. I, on the other hand, found other sections of the store to memorize. A few customers meandered in the store. I hung back. Maybe I should give up-selling a whirl. “Would you like a Sexism is a Social Disease bumper sticker with your Off Our Backs?” During my record store days the concept of overbearing customer service was in its fetal stage. Our job was more to make sure that the rap and country sections remained secure against the parade of juvenile delinquents and burping Chesapeake Bay patrons who wandered along the strip mall.

I decided to keep my aggressive sales tactics in the realm of fantasy.

Whenever a customer stepped to the counter to make a purchase I raced to Sarah’s side to observe. A few times Sarah let me ring up a purchase while she and the phone headed to a more private part of the store.

A million crawling minutes later, closing time came.

Due to a scheduling error, the next time I signed up to work I was alone. No Sarah to offer even the most lackadaisical of guidance. I did the best I could, but a month had elapsed between Sarah’s tutelage and my leap into solo retail waters. At the end of the night, I couldn’t figure out the register and may have, in fact, fucked it up totally. I left a note of apology and never went back again. In the intervening years, I blamed Sarah for her poor training, her lack of desire to initiate me into the ways of the non-profit bookstore.

At the seder, Sarah didn’t show any signs of recognizing me. I was more than happy to play along that this was our first meeting. I have an uncanny ability to remember faces, leading to many conversations that go like this:

“Hey Blahblahblah! How’s it going?” I ask.

“Uh, hey.” Total confusion clouds Blahblahblah’s face.

“I’m Kt from the Dingdongery?”

“Oh yeah. Hey.”

It’s a nice skill to have, but it’s no way to live. Such exchanges inevitably end with me turning to Mr. Crud and uttering, “Am I so freaking forgettable?”

After Sarah, another couple entered, Moishe* and Francoise*, the third Jew-Goy pairing of the night. “We’re doing our part to fight Tay-Sachs disease,” Moishe joked later in the night. Ah, Tay-Sachs disease. A few weeks ago Mr. Crud and I sat in our genetic counselor’s office talking about how our divergent genetic ancestries made this disease an unlikely threat in my pregnancy. Then came the ultrasound of doom.

The final sederite, Rachel*, arrived and we got down to business. Wine poured, the seder plate with the traditional horseradish, lamb shank, charoset, egg, parsley and the non-traditional orange set in the middle of the table, we cracked open the Haggadah chosen for the night’s proceedings because it was foreign to all participants. No home court Haggadah advantage in this seder.

Haggadahs are chock full of prayers, songs, stories, pictures, poems, along with remembrances written by the author of each edition. The creator intends that the participants will pick some parts while discarding others. I was aware of the cherry-picking nature of the Haggadah so I didn’t panic when I noticed it was 60 pages long.

Then we got going. The round robin plan quickly fell apart so people just spoke up whenever they felt the spirit—is that you, Elijah?—move them.

A tickle of panic took root. They were reading everything, even the silly poem about seder preparation. My head spun when we reached the list of necessary steps for a seder and Hershel read them aloud, both the Hebrew names and two translations. My stomach growled.

I had done my best to prepare for the late dinner. I ate a huge burrito at 2:30. I snacked on peanuts and whole grain crackers minutes before we left for Herschel’s house. I ate my share of cheese and matzo when we arrived. But the hunger hit me mid-“discussion” about whether Israel was more oppressive than other nations of the world. Moishe took the typical lefty view that Israel was illegal, wrong, cruelly and unusually oppressive to the Palestinians, etc. while Mr. Crud countered that most countries were, including our own.

Why won’t the Jews let me eat? My inner voice brought it loud and strong. My blood sugar plummeted. I looked around the room like a caged dog. These kind strangers had invited us into their home. How could I ask that they put the brakes on all the talking and get to the part where dishes of kugel and brisket circled the table? In such low blood sugar situations, things can go one of two ways: I cry or I lose my shit and start yelling at people. As the second of the options seemed the most likely to upset Mr. Crud and everyone else, I started crying. First intermittently and sporadically enough that I could—I hope—play it off as allergies. I sucked down wine—really not helping the situation—and broke off chunks of matzo to nibble at every chance.

Only bits and pieces of the conversation—“Well, I don’t know what the Native Americans would say about that?”—penetrated my wall. Rachel ran interference. She hunted for middle ground between Mr. Crud and Moishe. Sarah clapped. "I love these discussions!" I sniffled. I tried to think of past seders, to laugh at this seemingly inescapable element of my own private seder hell, but those laughs were too far in the distance for me to hear.

Then the talk somehow turned to wombs and pregnancy and the dreaded c-word. (How I wish it had been cunt.)

“So, do you all want children?” Sarah asked, looking in Mr. Crud and my direction.

“Eventually,” Mr. Crud said, not betraying the tiniest hint of our recent ordeal.

“Where’s the bathroom?” I mumbled as I clattered from my chair and attempted to stanch the sobs that choked me.

I closed myself in the bathroom and took deep breaths. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival pamphlet distracted me, but fat tears rolled down my cheeks.

“I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” I whispered to the empty room.

I stood up. I took another deep breath. I looked in the mirror. “You have to do this.”

Before the seder I psyched myself up through the invocation of yoga, that attending this and supporting Mr. Crud would simply be practicing seva (or service). I tried to remember yoga, to remember breathing through periods of discomfort. I opened the bathroom door. Mr. Crud stood outside.

“Are you okay?”

All my hard tear-drying work down the drain. “I can’t do this,” I said, falling into his arms.

Eventually the tears dried enough to return to the table. The crowd had dispersed in search of the afikomen, a piece of matzo broken off and hidden as a game for kids to find.

“Is everything okay?” Hershel asked us.

“I’m not feeling well,” I said, looking down for fear of bursting into tears again.

“I think we need to eat,” Mr. Crud said. My hero.

A fine feast of matzo ball soup, salad, asparagus, kugel, and brisket followed. Nary a word escaped my mouth aside from a few grunts of approval over each course. I glanced at my watch. 9:00. Dinner at 9:00? Are they mad? Do they know who they are dealing with? I recounted my ordeal to my pal Dawn the next night. Sometimes I think Dawn and I share a stomach we are so much on the same eating schedule. “Hell no. What were they thinking?” She granted me permission to call her should I find myself in a similar situation in the future. Lasagna was promised.

Dinner ended with the required Clinton v. Obama debate, which was likely a part of many seders around the country, and me barely restraining my frequent watch-checking. A few more prayers and then the clean-up. I cleared a few dishes and saran-wrapped the potato salad and charoset Mr. Crud made for the seder. While everyone else busily scraped dishes clean and divvied up leftover brisket, I pulled Mr. Crud aside.

“Now?” he asked

I nodded.

I wondered if we’d ever see these people again.

We walked to the car, Mr. Crud’s arm around my shoulder.

“Thank you for sticking it out.”

“Thank you for understanding.”

The silver lining to all the recent shit of our lives has been the strengthened bond between Mr. Crud and me. We survived a miscarriage. We survived another fraught seder. I didn’t let my inner voice migrate to the outside. Though maybe if it had I would have found the answer to the question that plagues me, the question that should be added to the official 4 questions asked—maybe the wicked child could swap out the usual question for this one: Why won’t the Jews let me eat?

I understand delayed gratification, but really, trust a goy on this one, you’re taking it too far.

*Names have been changed to protect the seder participants. Haven’t they suffered enough?