Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I bet you thought I fell and broke my hip or something. Cuz I'm an old.

Well, this is something that I clearly shouldn’t mention, now or in the future; in print, online, or in a small voice in a crowded bar to my parole officer; in a box, with a fox, in a house, or even with a mouse. It is the purview of the media to address issues such as this, issues that were, back in my day, not-discussed and discussed-around in college classrooms that I may or may not have been sleeping in.

The issue, of course, is that kind of lazy, centralized hatred termed racism or homophobia or anti-Semitism, depending on which group has chosen you as your own particular hatred-totem. I’m thinking of this now, as yesterday I had the opportunity (opportunity? Nay, gift! … I have no television of my own, you see) to watch Paula Zahn beat her gums pointlessly over whether We As a Society should stop using the En Word and the Eff Word (and by this I mean—to steal a term from a blogger I read and love—Gentlemen Who Can’t Catch, not that other Eff Word, which apparently is fine with Ms. Zahn) and possibly other words that I didn’t see discussed, having by that point in the show been driven out of the bar by a fellow who had applied his cologne that morning with a hose and a bucket.

Just in case there was any confusion, I am conservative in some matters.

The main issues being discussed in Ms. Zahn’s report were (1) a small town in the ______-ern United States (Texas? Oklahoma? Illinois? Maine? I have no idea) whose mayor had tried to proscribe use of the En Word, and (2) the Grey’s Anatomy scandal involving Isaiah Washington, T.R. Knight, and the Eff Word. In both cases, we have, in the one corner, a word that has historically been used to insult people we don’t like; and in the other, that group of people who have been hurt (probably) by use of said word at some point during their lives, who may or may not want to reclaim that word for their own personal use, in order to kind of rid it of the power it once held over them. And then, in the stands, that group of howling, wide-eyed idiots that one usually finds in the stands, clamoring for their god-given right to use the word in any way they see fit. After all, we’re Americans, goddammit, and what are our boys doing over there fighting in Iraq if not to preserve our freedoms over here, including the right to say the En Word and the Eff Word, and even, perhaps, the Cee Word and the Other Cee Word and an Ess Word or two if we feel like it.

This is, apparently, what’s happening in Nowheresville, U.S.A., where the ban was roundly defeated in an embarrassing rally to protect free speech of the worst kind. Honestly, I just don’t get it. I like words—don’t get me wrong. If someone told me that I was no longer allowed to use the word spoon or moon or June or, oh, I don’t know, douchebag, I would be angry. Douchebag is such an appropriate word these days. I find it rolling off the tongue several times daily. But the En Word, in particular, is something that I really have never wanted to use, and certainly have never felt that I have the right to. It’s as though it’s someone else’s unattractive husband: he’s not available for me to sleep with, and anyway, I don’t want to. I feel that there’s something else to be said here—some greater, more persuasive argument to be made to the good citizens of Nowheresville that would make them understand how unreasonable they’re being. But no. Isn’t this enough?

It’s hurtful.
You don’t get to say it.
You shouldn’t want to say it.
There are many other words that you can say, most of which you probably haven’t heard of.

Which kind of leads into my next point, which is that, except for what I certainly hope is a small, exclusive crowd of out-and-out hatemongers, skinheads, and (let’s face it) my grandma, most people who insult others by using racial slurs and the like don’t really hate the person they’re insulting because of his race, religion, or sexual identity. Isaiah Washington—who has graciously offered up himself as the example of What Not To Do—called T.R. Knight the Eff Word, but—I believe, anyway, being the astute observer of human nature that I am—really found him offensive because he’s (having seen the show a few times, I assume) an annoying, gape-mouthed whiner. Or something. Point is, unless you’re one of those people who simply writes off large sections of humanity because one of their defining external characteristics is unacceptable to you, it’s just really lazy to insult someone with this kind of language. Frankly, it’s the kind of thinking that one would expect from a Finn, and I think we can all agree that that’s just not cool.

In the name of full disclosure, I should admit that I do have my own prejudices, which include, but are not limited to, the following:

Libertarians, people who hold degrees in psychology or political science, Ayn Rand fans, Mormons, Republicans, people who own “art” by Thomas Kinkade or Anne Geddes, Scientologist, the Dutch, olds, SCA members, the lactose-intolerant, bloggers, Texans, FIBs, Wisconsinites, mortgage brokers, skins, shicks, pullies, kelpos, pipmos, roncos, shags, wags, jobbers, ferret-owners, people who wear too much cologne (duh), people with extraordinarily large teeth, those who sport suspiciously small teeth, orange-colored folk, text-messagers, magicians, Scorpios, gin-drinkers, politicians, and—let’s see. I’m forgetting a few. Oh yeah: Women, men, etc.

The strange thing is, once you get to know them on an individual basis, they’re not all bad people, really. Surely most of them are—I mean, stereotypes gotta come from somewhere, right?—but surprisingly, some of them are actually almost like normal people. And the best part is, now that you’ve taken the time to get to know that corn-toothed Mitch Albom fan from Amsterdam, you’ve got a lot more ammunition when it’s time to hurl cutting (and creative!) insults at her.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Aunty Christ and the rude interruption

Somewhere in Aunty Christ’s dank, fetid brain lies the remainder of that story she began in earnest last week—the one about when she got fired from her job in Nameless, CO, which no doubt has its modern-day counterpoint in lessons that would be useful for her to remember these days, as a once-again-unemployed youngish woman thinking about re-entering the workforce. But phooey. We will return to that subject later. Aunty Christ is sick of thinking about employment and her lack thereof. Aunty Christ wants to think about, well, da Bears, for one thing. Being in the Chicagoland area for a brief time has instilled in her all sorts of that regional pride best achieved by sitting in front of a television and watching one group of bulky men play a game with another group of bulky men, each group clothed in a signature color. Go, da Bears.

Other things I’ve been up to include: (1) sleeping in the daytime, since Mother Christ has decided to thumb her nose at collective human knowledge, keeping the house warmed to around 90˚ at night and lowering the temperature during the day to the point where it is unwise to remain indoors and not be encased in a thick, down comforter and several hats. In fact, I’ve only just now woken from a nightmare-bedeviled nap, at 3 p.m. These nightmares concerned Rich Bachelor, I think (though don’t ask me what he was up to; it became unclear upon waking)—which is a better-quality nightmare than the ones I thought up yesterday, which had me gluing false eyelashes on what initially was supposed to be a young boy, and later became a woman, who then was revealed to be (gasp!) myself. The flipside of course is that I have been (2) not sleeping at night, which somewhat explains the loopy opaqueness of my dreams, and instead have been sweating a great deal and reading about the end of poorly planned societies (Collapse) and processed foodstuff (Fast Food Nation). I have also been (3) seeing people, and that is what I wish to talk about today, in this blog post that I will subtitle Two Random Things About People I’ve Seen Recently.

1. My grandma is 87 and in fine health, despite breaking her hip last month. Her main concerns these days fall under the general categories of What Will Happen to All This When I’m Gone? and Change Sucks. I’m with her on that second part, incidentally. I hate change—especially the kind that’s beyond one’s own control. Moving to Saskatoon is fine, generally speaking (actually, maybe it’s not, but that’s something we haven’t made up our mind on yet), but moving from one’s home because one’s relatives are hounding one about it must suck. For all Daddy Christ’s complaints about not wanting Grandma to wait until she needs daily assistance before she signs up for a spot in an assisted-living facility, and all my own worries that Grandma will break her other hip one of these days, only this time with no one around to take her to the hospital, in this debate I land firmly on the side promoting elderly independence. “If I ever get that bad”—meaning that stubborn, I think, or that unwise, that stupidly, stubbornly independent—“just shoot me,” my mom and dad have both told me. Truly, maybe that’s the best solution. I myself would rather be shot in the head than live out my years being bossed around by orderlies, nurses, and my own children. All of which is to say: Poor Grandma. What one really longs for at a time like this is a way to turn the clock back to 1946 or 1956 or 1926 and keep it there.

As for What Will Happen To All This When I’m Gone?, it is not simply a question of acquisitions, though there is the constant worry about the warships that Grandma’s father made, and whether Cousin Nancy inherited them from Grandma’s sister, or whether they’re in the attic with the rest of the crap no one wants. Really, though, over the past few years, each visit to Grandma’s house has become a highly structured ritual, topped by a series of two or three stories from Grandma’s childhood, each designed to impart a Life Lesson or perhaps just tell How Life Is. Story #1 begins with Grandma as a little girl in school. Her class was doing a performance of some sort, and in conjunction with that the teacher asked if anyone had a red wagon with yellow wheels that they could bring the following day. My grandma didn’t, but she said she did. At dinner she was worried, quiet, not hungry. Her parents asked why she was acting strangely, and finally she came out with the truth: She was afraid she’d be found out as a liar—and a wagonless one at that. Her father scolded her a very little bit, and she realized that lying was wrong. The next day, when she got up to go to school, there on the porch was a red wagon with yellow wheels that her father had stayed up all night making for her. Now, I must admit I have always been confused by this story. Is the moral “Lying is wrong, but not so wrong we want our daughter to be castigated for it by her schoolmates”? Or is it that “Lying is okay, but only when we know that our father will go out of his way to fix it so our lies are never found out”? Whichever, it seems that the primary lesson that this story demonstrates is “Our family sticks together, and we are better than those other families, which do not have red wagons and have no means by which to get them.”

This is borne out by Story #2, in which Grandma and her sister jokingly poison the neighbors’ dog with Ex Lax, and their mother covers their evil tracks. In Story #3, the sisters drop said dog into a latrine, and, working together, learn to solve the problem they’ve created by lifting the shit-covered dog out of the latrine and letting it run away, probably back to the neighbors’ house—which is why, in modern-day America, dogs and little girls are no longer allowed to run around loose, and outdoor latrines have been all but done away with.*

Point is, telling these stories is, I guess, Grandma’s way of keeping time stuck in 1926, for at least a while. I have only a vague idea what the most recent 80 years of her life were like, and certainly she’s told me no stories about anything specific that happened, say, when her kids were young or when she met her husband. I can only assume that means that her life hit its peak when she was seven years old, and it’s been downhill ever since.

2. My best friend when I was seven is back home as well. We’re still close, or close-ish, anyway. We haven’t seen each other in four years (she’s been living in Japan since graduating college), but when we saw each other for the first time on Thursday and decided to see if we could get a peek inside our remodeled high school building (we couldn’t, for safety reasons), it was as though time had collapsed and half our lives melted away—walking from the parking lot to the high school with my best friend, giggling over something really retarded.

At some point, sometime when I have enough time, I’ll have to write about her. I haven’t mentioned her much in my blogs, I guess because I’m afraid I won’t do her, or those times, justice. It’ll come off as an all-female version of The Notebook, or an unscary It, or a younger, less-morbid Tuesdays with Morrie. I know—now—that our friendship was special—to me, anyway. But it’s maybe not so special in the context of friendships everywhere, throughout humankind. Probably—hopefully—everyone’s had one of those friends who lets you be stupid sometimes, and who tells you how smart you are sometimes, and who brings you into her family as an escape from your own sometimes-intolerable one. Yeah, I intend to write about all that someday, but not now. Not when I’m already feeling overly emotional about her.

I guess all I wanted to say about her now is that, when I’m 87 years old (and I hope I never am), the stories I tell the people around me, the stories I’m trying not to forget—unless life gets pretty damn wonderful sometime soon, I think my friend will star in all of them.

*I realize that all my Grandma’s stories seem slightly familiar, like something from a school primer or a Hallmark movie-of-the-week. I do not know whether this is because she’s stolen them from a school primer or a Hallmark movie-of-the-week, or if they seem familiar to me in particular because I’ve heard them a million and a half times, or if they are the kind of thing that happened to every girl in the mid 1920s. In my family, they are revered as legends.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Aunty Christ and the paper wars: Part 1

Well, and as much as we’d like it to, it simply won’t do to have that depressing shit above the fold for the next week. Yeah, that’s right: For the next week, I’ll be in beautiful, tropical, sunny … Chicago. Ugh. Kinda makes one wish that one’s parents would just hurry up and move—well, anywhere, really. Anywhere it doesn’t snow or, really, since you asked, drop below 70 degrees, I mean.

All week I’ve been mulling over a new blog post, based on the idea that, when times are bad, when you feel down, the best thing to do, often, is to recount a tale of a time that was probably even worse, but through the passing of time and the killing off of brain cells has come to seem passable. Or fun, even. Which brings us to the summer (and a bit of the spring and fall) of 2001, when I was still living in Nameless, CO, with my boyfriend, Scorpio, and a small thug dawg, working—at the start of the story, anyway, long hours for a few cents over minimum wage at a newspaper—one of three that covered roughly the same, 3,000-odd-reader beat. I got the job when I first moved to town, the fall before, which, coincidentally, was only a few weeks after all the former employees of said paper picked up and left to start their own paper. Something about—well, they said it was because they didn’t like the editorial direction the new management was taking, but, considering one of the evacuees was the editor, that excuse always struck me as a little fishy. More realistically, the five who left didn’t like having anyone else in the office to report to, and under new management they did: a large, bearded man with a soft voice and thoroughly unpleasant demeanor, the managing editor, Rocky. While I was there, anyway, Rocky had almost nothing to say about editorial direction, writing style, point of view. He managed, nonetheless, to be the office black hole—sucking in creativity and whatever little bit of joy we had managed to create whenever he was sitting dourly at his desk. Luckily, that was hardly ever, and, quite frankly, if he had taken issue with any article published in the paper—well, for one thing, I doubt he even read our paper, but if he had—he would have been at a loss as to which one of us to blame. By which I mean to say that he had no idea who any of his employees were—in a philosophical sense, yes, but even more fundamentally, he didn’t even know our fucking names.

But that’s all—more or less—irrelevant. Point is, five employees—the editor, assistant editor, sportsguy, photographer, and office manager—left one paper and started a new one on their parents’ dime, leaving lots and lots of vacant positions, one of which became mine: copy editor, and arts/culture/society writer. I reviewed plays, went to symposiums, interviewed People You Should Know—anything that wasn’t news but might be published in a newspaper was my purview. Important? No. But it was a job, and as I do for every job I have (for less than two years) I tried damn hard.

Now to set the scene: It was after April Fool’s Day, I know, because we had recently published our April Fool’s Day issue—a kind of homegrown Onion knockoff, except not terribly clever. And it was before—right before—the ski area closed for the season. So, mid- to late-April, most likely. It was a Thursday, and on any other Thursday the office would have been mostly empty. Mondays were for writing, research, typing, and meetings, Tuesdays were for finishing up, Wednesdays were for copy editing and layout, and Thursdays we ate breakfast together, smacked each other on the backs supportively, sneered at the other two papers’ headlines, brainstormed story ideas for the next week, and then went home and napped and woke to watch Jeopardy and then napped again until Scorpio woke us for a glass of wine. Or I did, anyway. But Rocky had told us that we should all come in on this particular Thursday. It was known that he was going to meet with the publishers, two unknowns who none of us had ever met, let alone seen, and who we did not even know the names of. I personally was hoping that somehow, if the meeting was about some kind of rearranging of positions in the office, it would lead to my getting the assistant editor position that would presumably be up for grabs after our assistant editor was suitably vetted to take over for our interim editor, who was leaving shortly to go back to his wife in the Four Corners region. It seemed unlikely that our paper’s mystery owners would be involved in the decision, but then, perhaps they were rethinking Rocky’s position in the company, and he would be moved back to wherever he was from (which was almost certainly somewhere more urban than Nameless, since he cursed daily the provinciality that had brought Scorpio and I there), and I would be discovered by his more astute replacement as the bright young thing I knew I was. And, to be honest, there was a sense of despair over the office that day. Everyone was tense. Employees don’t get called in on their day off to talk about a meeting that hasn’t happened unless the outcome of the meeting is likely to be disastrous.

On the other hand, I had nothing else to do that day, Scorpio having headed to Denver that morning for an intelligence/charm exam to see if he would make a suitable quiz show contestant. Ah—remember quiz shows? Maybe the resurgence in those things’ popularity was confined to our apartment, now that I stop to consider, but it seemed like, all that winter, it was all anyone was talking about: How many questions did you get right on the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? hotline? Oh, but I didn’t have too many friends who didn’t live in my apartment and weren’t Scorpio, so perhaps that’s not a large enough sampling for a fair assessment. But point is, I had been woken early and, without the large heat-generating device that I’d grown accustomed to in my bed, found it difficult to go back to sleep. So, whatever. Even if my presence there hadn’t been demanded, I might have ended up in the office anyway.

But the day was rather slow, it being a day on which no one was used to doing work, and not a whole lot of work got done. Oh, it was all sunshine and butterflies, it was. Well, except for the butterflies part. Sunshine and … us downstairs denizens, Sylvan and N.O. and Laurel and me, trading potshots and insults, more like. I was getting a few things lined up for the next week, though, when Rocky called us upstairs for a meeting. “I don’t have all the details right now, but what I’ve been told is that the paper has been bought by an unknown source and we all need to clear out of here by four o’clock.” It was 3:20. “The buyers want to keep on N.O. [advertising saleswoman] and Luna [classifieds]. The rest of us are let go.” And that was the only time I’ve ever been fired from a job, and I can’t do justice to how I felt, truly, truly I cannot. My face was flushed, and I wanted to cry. My first concern was this: So I’m not getting the assistant editor position. And then I thought about my checking account and how empty it was, and then how hard we had worked to make our paper a good paper, competitive with the other two papers in our tiny town. And how hard I had worked personally—the long nights, all-nighters, how interesting I had tried to make my articles, and how much better they were than anything either of the other papers ever printed. Oh, it was a knife to the heart—it wasn’t just a job, or a paycheck. I had made it bigger than that. I had let it matter—and that was the mistake.

I cleared my desk, deleted files from my computer, and walked out to the car, crying. On the way, I stopped at the photo-processing lab across the parking lot from the newspaper offices, to let the man who worked there know that we wouldn’t be developing our negatives there any longer. Morgan was a little older than me, bearded, balding, and I had always sensed that he had a bit of a crush on me.

I said hello to him when I walked into the store, and waited for him to notice that my cheeks were glossy with tears and snot. “So, we’ve been bought out. And they fired everyone. They gave us less than an hour’s notice to clear out.”

“Oh, yeah,” Morgan said, kind of looking away from me. “I’m sorry about that.”

Something was off, and it occurred to me suddenly that he already knew about the sale; that he had known before I did; that perhaps everyone in town knew and yet didn’t warn us. Because we were outsiders—running a paper for less than a year. Or because they preferred the other papers to ours. The reason didn’t even matter. We were being fired not just by some unnamed corporate buyer, but by our community—the community we had worked to represent and serve. Stung deeply by that realization, I said goodbye to Morgan and drove home, where I sobbed into Gallant’s fur and wished Scorpio was home.

Five years later, of course, everyone had figured out that the other papers sucked just as bad. But that’s another story for another time.

The phone rang. It was Kristen, my (former) chief rival for the assistant editor position. I wailed into the phone, knowing she’d understand my pain, my loss.

“It’s only a job, Aunty. Come on! We’re all at Crotch-Eater’s—get your ass down here.”

And I can’t say that my sorrow and pain just ended then. It took several days of fretting before I finally came to terms with the fact that I had lost my identity as a journalist, and as a person who spends way too much time at work, and as a thinker and writer of Big Important Thoughts. And after a few days of worrying, Granny Christ came through with a hefty sum of money, enough to get me through nearly half a year of unemployment (only part of it uncomfortably), so that was another worry off my plate. But what Kristen did for me, effectively, was give me a nice, affirming punch to the jaw—which, not incidentally, I really fucking needed at that moment. It was just the thing.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there.”

“You sure? I’ll send Sylvan up after you if we don’t see you in ten minutes.”

“I’m sure. Yeah, I could use a drink.”

To be continued.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Aunty Christ and the dark winter

I’ve read a fair amount of Virginia Woolf, though I don’t know much about her, other than the stuff that everyone over age 13 or a 70 IQ knows: rocks, river. I saw that movie with Nicole Kidman and the prosthetic nose, so that presumably covers any gaps in my education in that area.

Anyway, lately—the last few weeks or so—I imagine myself to be kind of a kindred spirit to good ol’ Mizz Woolf. Except not famous. And not brilliant. And not a great writer. Just in the rocks, river way, I guess, or the quickly spiraling downhill (and sometimes popping surprisingly uphill for a sec) way. I guess what I’m saying is that I fear I’m going crazy, or perhaps just rapidly downward-spiraling, though to put it in those terms certainly makes whatever this is seem far less glamorous than to say that I’m entering my Virginia Woolf period. Or my Sylvia Plath period. It’s kind of like when, as a 15-year-old girl, you’re moping about not having ever gone on a date, and your dad tells you that Cindy Crawford didn’t date until she was nigh on 20 years old, and that’s supposed to make you feel better for some reason. Of course, that was back in Colonial times, when I was young, and Dad was wearing britches and a leather apron and shoeing a horse. To compare a young girl now to Cindy Crawford would I’m sure evoke either blank stares or tears. I wonder what the modern-day equivalent would be: “Don’t worry, sweetie. Mischa Barton didn’t lose her virginity until she was nine.” And they’d be wearing vagina-revealing skirts instead of whale-bone corsets and panniers, as was the fashion in my times.

Oh, to be young again.

So anyway, back to my problems. Yeah, I dunno. I’m sure I’ll get over this, whatever it is—malaise, melancholia, heartsickness, homesickness—long before I need to start collecting stones to put in my pockets.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

This whole blog needs an enema!

No, no … Aunty Christ is only teasing. What Aunty Christ really meant to say is that those people who may or may not be (or may not be!) douchebags, asshats, pricks, twatwaffles, buttdiggers, poopslices, or fucktards may kindly carry on with their ass-implant plans and leave her the fuck alone. That was all she meant. Nothing bad or anything, fergahd’s sake. All she’s saying, really, is that if she were left alone, she’s sure all this talk of douchebaggery would simmer down real quick-like.

Present company excluded, of course. All the above applies to no one who hasn’t emailed me recently saying that he intends not to read my blog anymore.

It’s that time of year again, when we clean our minds, bodies, and souls—scrub clean that ol’ friendship-bucket and toss out the ones that are a little smelly or worn-out, give the other ones—the old favorites or the new shiny ones that haven’t had a chance to offend—a little spit-shine (if you know what I mean, and I think you do—am I right, people? Am I right?), and look ahead to the new year and all its opportunities to again screw up and make the wrong decisions and generally show yourself to be the fuckup you are.

In that vein, I’ve been trying to (because one has to start somewhere) clean the apartment. Only a few months into the rental agreement, and already it’s covered with a fine film of dog hair, dog vomit, dog urine, dog excrement … and, you know, various human excreta as well, surely. Oh, it’s hard to clean from the confines of one’s moderately comfy bed, that’s for sure. And it’s hard to want to get out of bed when what awaits outside it is, well, dog urine, dog vomit, etc. Part of the problem with the dogs (who shall henceforth be known as “tha thug dawgs,” in an effort to confound google searchers everywhere) is that they don’t like to go outside when it’s raining, which it frequently is here in, oh, let’s say Saskatoon, where I have always lived. Even with the raincoats—or so I suspect. Oh, who am I kidding. The only time they’ve worn the raincoats was for a picture taken for my amusement. I have no ambition to ever wrassel them into little rubber outfits again. So, I open the door to display rain, puddles, sea otters sliding down the stairs holding tiny umbrellas. Tha thugs strain against their leashes the entire way out the door, down the street. Virtually no limb movement of any kind, serious little grimaces on their faces. I won’t let them in until they’ve done something, so Gallant makes a lame leg-lift attempt next to a bush, and Goofus eats something he’s found underneath the bush. Finally, we’re all soaked, and I give up on my attempt to drag tha thugs down the street, and we go back inside … where tha thugs wait for me to turn my back, and then poop on the rug my first boyfriend brought back from Turkey, my favorite rug, and one of the only nonliving things that I own that means anything to me, and the only rug I own that cannot be cleaned in any kind of meaningful way, due to vegetable dyes and smearage.

And on sunny days, for unknown reasons, it’s turned into pretty much the same thing.

So, we turn from trying to clean the apartment—a losing battle, agreed?—to cleaning one’s body, mind, and soul. My mind and soul have been troubled lately: no doubt about that. People have gone out of their way lately to make sure that I know I’m a bad person. Which, I’ll admit, sometimes I am. It seems unwise to meet those admonishments with anything other than silence or the brief email saying, “Leave me alone,” so I’ve been trying not to—first paragraph of this post excluded. Sometimes the desire to be heard outweighs the knowledge that no one’s really listening, y’know? But what I’m thinking is that there are not that many acknowledged ways to purify the heart. There’s meditation, prayer, contemplation, silence, seclusion, charity, various methods of absolution—but being nonreligious and in fact quite cynical works against me in this way. Oh, if only five (or 20 or 50) Hail Marys would do it for me. Instead, I am considering the possibility of at least asking Great-Grandma Christ, recently laid up with a broken hip, if she would like her granddaughter to stay with her in north suburban Chicago hell for the three or four months it should take to get her back in working order. I’m not sure that she would, even, but if penance is needed, that’s the penance I’m willing to pay. It’s not like life seems to have better, more important plans for me at the moment: jobless, virtually friendless, etc. I don’t know, actually, if doing that thing will make me feel any better (it occurs to me that three months of living with a cranky old lady might be soul damaging rather than soul affirming, but at least I’ll have material for my next novel, Tuesdays with Bitchy), but I know that the idea of it helps.

Tonight, though, is all about bodily purity. We noticed the other day that a Finnish-style sauna/steamroom/bar opened up on the southeast side, and I for one can think of no better way to start the new year than with a healthy pore-cleansing sit in a steambath, followed by a good ol’ shot to the liver in the form of stomach-affirming vodka drinks.