I hope you’re enjoying yours as much as Christopher and I are enjoying ours!
So the newspapers are starting their annual How-To-Waste-Your-Hard-Earned-Money-On-People-You-Don’t-Really-Care-About spiel. Yes, blonde woman with more money than sense, please tell me what to buy — I’m sure it’s pure coincidence that everything you steer me toward is from a company that’s supplied you with products all year.
Bah humbug to you lot.
Even gift guides written by those who don’t personally benefit from sales are usually rubbish. ‘Gifts For Guys’? Come on now. I can guarantee you that my father, Christopher and Roy Keane, despite each being a so-called guy, have tastes which differ greatly. Any gift-giving recommendation based on gender has been offered by an idiot.
Same goes for suggestions based on age. These two were both born in 1928, but I seriously doubt their lists to Santa include the same items.
During my life, I’ve met many people and many types of people and have satisfied most of them. Thanks to this experience, I’ve put together some guidance that, while frank, should prove useful.
Firstly, let me ask, have you or your partner given birth to some sort of offspring in the last five years? If so, put a picture of it on a mug and give one to every person you know. Older relatives will appreciate this — no one else will, of course, but they’ll expect it from you so go ahead and take advantage of that. Once the child is older than five, no one (including you) is going to want anything to do with it, for its existence will no longer seem so magical; therefore, strike while the iron is hot.
Secondly, are you a narcissist? If so, you likely only give presents so that people will think you’re wonderful. But think about this: you are wonderful, you know that in your heart already. So put your wallet away; just let us bask in your glory for another year. That’s more than gift enough.
Thirdly, on an unrelated subject, do you own a gun? Why?
Now let’s focus on the people you are shopping for. Often what causes the most stress when holiday shopping is trying to find the perfect gift for each and every person you know. No. That’s not going to happen so just you stop thinking about that right now. Basically, here’s what it boils down to:
That’s the gist of it. Christmas shopping doesn’t have to be a maddening or bank-busting event. Use your common sense, be thoughtful, and you’ll be fine. And get rid of your gun, for god’s sake, what are you thinking?
Punishment: it isn’t all bad. We look at countries where those who steal have their hands cut off, where those who betray are thrown out of the community, where those who murder are murdered themselves, and certainly, those of us living in a civilised world would never approve of such measures. However, while our punishments may be different, they serve the same purpose: a wrongdoer must get her comeuppance. Our society would fail to function if we could not be assured of this belief.
I first witnessed this precept beautifully illustrated many years ago. I will never forget the date: it was sometime in April when I was anywhere between seven and fourteen years old. My mother and two of her bridge-playing girlfriends had insisted that I come with them to see a young artist who was giving a talk at the State Museum. My mother had won the tickets through a radio contest (I believe she had correctly guessed the weight of the DJ’s recently shaved beard clippings). I was dragged along to make up the foursome (my father had refused to go as he believed it was bad luck to be the only man walking with a trio of women).
I have always loved the State Museum; even as a child, I could see myself in so many of the breath-taking exhibits that have been on display there. However, I had not been keen to attend this afternoon, only because it meant spending an afternoon with Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters. On the way into the building, I caught my reflection in the window glass—I was wearing a particularly nice hat —and decided to just keep as much distance between them and myself once we got around other people.
The gallery was quite packed (luckily, there were only eight other radio prize winners there and, believe you me, they were easily recognisable). My mother and her friends sat in the front row (so obvious), but I chose a seat closer to the back, where the lighting more subtly accented my striking features. The artist—she went only by the name Melinda—was beautiful. I can see her now in my mind’s eye as clear as if I had seen her yesterday. She had long blonde hair, gorgeously tanned shoulders, penetrating eyes, and shades of midnight blue paint staining her fingertips. I was transfixed by her and hung on every word of her speech on whatever it was she was talking about. When she finished, I gave her a standing ovation. As people began milling out, I was horrified to see that my mother and her cronies had cornered Melinda. Although I had hoped to speak to her myself, I could not think of anything worse than being identified with those three so I did my best to sneak out of the room unnoticed. I escaped to the bathroom, where I splashed some water to cool my reddened cheeks.
However, the humiliation was far from over. I was galled to hear that my mother had arranged for Melinda to come over to our house later that evening. This meant that the next few hours were spent in a rushed panic, my mother desperate to stage a scene which implied she was a more interesting woman than she was. She stopped at the most expensive florist and bakery in town. Once we got home, I hoped my father would put his foot down, but, as usual, she disregarded him completely. In fact, she forced my father to shave (despite the fact that it was a Saturday) before Melinda’s arrival, as she had the nerve to claim “we artists find stubble repellent.” She put me in charge of hoovering (her not giving me the responsibility of arranging the flowers indicates her level of ignorance). By eight o’clock, we were ready to greet Melinda.
My, how the time flew by! Melinda entertained us with incredible stories of her adventures across the country, doing everything a bohemian artist should be doing. I was enthralled and felt I was getting a glimpse into my own future. Luckily, Melinda’s fascinating chestnuts—peppered with details of colours, sounds, and smells—kept my mother silent for the majority of the night. This fact alone, I think, helped charm my father, who was quickly as seduced as I.
Around midnight, Melinda was clearly tiring. She had explained when she first arrived that she was flying out the following morning to show some work in an offbeat gallery in Trois-Rivières. However, my mother, it seemed, was not ready to bid the artist farewell. She dragged out some of her own paintings and asked Melinda for some constructive criticism. It was torturous.
In an effort to wrap things up, my father began tidying up the dishes. My mother admonished him for “rushing our guest” when there was still a piece of cake left. The room went silent. I wondered whether my father would take his usual, easy route of surrendering to my mother’s vicious tongue or if Melinda’s presence had changed his life in the way I already knew she had changed mine.
However, before he had a chance to decide what to do, Melinda stood up. “It’s a wonderful thing to have such a conscientious husband,” she said to my mother. “He’s right, though, it is time for me to go.” She stepped over my mother’s canvases to make her way to collect her coat.
“But Melinda,” my mother cried, “Please eat the last piece of cake.”
My father sat back down. I was frozen in the tension of the moment.
“No, Mrs Whitt-Wellington, I will not eat the last piece of cake.”
Melinda came over and gave me a peck on the cheek. She walked over to my father and extended her hand. I silently prayed that he would grab her, wrap his arms around her slender figure and the three of us would walk out of my mother’s house forever. But he didn’t. He shook her hand. Melinda passed my mother on her way to the door, gently touching her shoulder. And then she was gone.
Seeing my mother receive her just desserts for once in her bloody life has stayed with me all these years. I shall never forget that moment (probably because I replay it in my mind at least twice a day). She did wrong, and wrongdoers must eventually reap what they sow. I am so grateful that I was there to witness it.
Punishment where punishment was due.
Well, today marks sixty long years since the world lost the lovely, lonely James Dean. If I could remember the event, I’m sure I’d remember it like it was yesterday. There were just too many unusual things about his death for me to have ever really properly come to terms with it (which may explain why I will only ride in a Porsche if there are no other non-James-Dean-killing cars available).
However, the truth is that there were just too many unusual things about James Dean himself; perhaps an unusual death is the only one that would have made sense. He really was something else — his beautiful face, the way he became his characters, his cheeky charm, his fluidity (you know what I’m talking about), his hair. I mean, come on, we’re talking perfection here, people. And, of course, his early death means he stays precisely as he was: we never had to watch him grow up to make humiliating professional and personal choices as all other young actors eventually do.
In truth, my admiration for James Dean played a role in my decision to hire Christopher. I realised that if I squinted really hard and totally blocked out his voice when he spoke, Christopher was the spitting image of James Dean as Cal in East of Eden. Sadly, that was some time ago now, and glancing over at him now as I write this, I am filled with a sense of real disappointment. How hard could it be for a man to stay beautiful forever, I ask?
I don’t know. However, instead of squinting at Christopher, I think I’ll spend my evening in my bedroom, thinking of James Dean when he was beautiful and not dead.
There’s an old cowboy song called “Red River Valley” that includes these lines:
For a long time, my darling, I’ve waited
For the sweet words you never would say
Now at last all my fond hopes have vanished
For they say that you’re going away
Now history tells us the title probably refers to the Red River in Manitoba, but as someone who almost completed a minor in Feminist Literary Criticism, I can tell that this is a lyrical explanation of the mood changes that can be caused by menstruation.
Menstruation. It’s a word we don’t say very much in polite society. Is it because of that weird u that doesn’t really get pronounced even though it seems like it should? Is that why we rarely say it despite close to two billion people on earth spend two months a year doing it?
Of course, that’s not the reason. It’s more likely because it has to do with downstairs lady parts and even though there’s about three and a half billion of us walking around with said parts in our pants, they don’t come up too frequently in conversations, until a scared man gets called one or a strong man feels like pounding one.
Isn’t that lovely?
Anyway, I am going to talk about menstruation for a moment. It’s relatively simple: the uterus has a lining where an egg, if fertilised, hangs out to get nutrients and whatnot. Now uteri like to keep a tidy shop so if there’s no blastocyst in need, it cleans house, abandoning that lining and getting to work on a nicer one with a little more kerb appeal for the next month’s possible buyer. (Please note: this is a metaphor. Do not consider burning candles or baking bread in your uterus to increase the chances of a fertilised egg moving in.)
That’s all menstruation is, the shedding of the uterine lining. Nothing magical or mystical or mysterious about it. Just like we shed thousands of dead skins cells each day, women’s bodies are just eliminating something that is no longer needed.
Except it’s not quite as simple as that, is it? No.
Firstly, because it’s gross. Let’s be fair, it is. The endometrium is a mucous membrane, and when the word mucous makes an appearance, it’s never pleasant. What’s expelled each month is basically blood and tissue, which is, for most people, kind of disgusting. And painful too. Unlike with a nose, a good blow won’t clear this passage. It often takes uterine contractions, and those can hurt.
So what comes out and the process of getting it out aren’t the nicest. Plus the place out of which it comes is generally a private, members-only club, so could that be why people (and when I say people I mean men) struggle to talk about it? No, because those things could describe urine and excrement as well, and god knows, men love talking toilet business.
What makes menstruation different is because men know hormones are involved. Some men get confused by the concept of hormones. They think there are two hormones and each functions only as an excuse: the male hormone makes them think about sex at inappropriate times and the female hormone makes women bitchy once a month (or when moderating presidential candidate debates).
Some men think this because they are idiots.
The human body is pretty fucking complicated. With the greatest respect for and the least amount of interest in the complexity of science, let’s just boil it down to this: the human body is full of chemicals that move around our bloodstream telling different parts to do this or not do that. Essentially, they regulate us — all our systems, our sleep, our growth, our metabolism, our behaviour, and our moods. There’s a whole mess of them in there, and they control a lot.
So yes, sometimes oestrogen can affect a woman’s mood. It’s true; sometimes you’re just going to have to keep waiting for those sweet words I’m not going to say. But guess what, men? You’ve got oestrogen in your body as well. So there. And that testosterone you’re so proud of? It does more than just explain your boner, you know. Just to pick one example purely at random, some studies have shown a connection between testosterone and risky financial decisions. And women have testosterone in them as well, which may explain why I gave Christopher twenty pounds for his taxi ride home even though there’s a chance I’ll never see the change from that. Perhaps it was testosterone what made me do it.
Except probably not. Because even though our hormones do affect the way we act and feel, there are some things that we can control. For example, in stressful situations, our autonomic nervous systems use hormones to prepare a fight-or-flight response, but most of us don’t punch the television or run out of the room and hide just because the news upsets us. We don’t always eat when we’re hungry or leave the Sunday sermon early just because we’ve had a rush of sexual arousal (except that one time, but he was flying back to Uruguay that afternoon so time was of the essence). Even if my oestogen levels are playing havoc with my mood or I’ve got blood coming out of my wherever, I’m still a professional at work, and I will keep signing books until that queue is gone or I’ve at least earned enough to cover the costs of this new dress.
As you all know, I’m no scientist and the few I’ve slept with didn’t do a lot of talking while we were together, so I know my explanation does not reflect the full intricacies of the human body, its processes and their effects. However, I’m hoping I’ve at least made you realise that menstruation, while not the loveliest part of a woman’s experience, is natural and nothing to be afraid of.
Unless you’re a misogynist billionaire racist. But if you are, I imagine you’ve got quite a few items on your list of things to be worried about, like maybe why do I continue to embarrass myself and other Americans on an international stage or if it’s really true that the taller the tower, the smaller the penis. How about you get those other issues sorted before you start sharing your views on menstruation, yeah?
The longer days, the brighter sun and warmer temperatures (at least theoretically) mean many things, only one of which I’ll be discussing today. Semesters are wrapping up, terms will soon be ending and we will be faced with the annual deluge of children with little to do and my neighbourhood to do it in.
I’m not here to argue for more government funding for activities for children; I’m no fool. Pleas for reason clearly fall on deaf ears when the brains in between them aren’t bright enough to see the importance of funding schools and children’s health care—trying to get cash for a skate park seems a bit daft. So instead I am directing this to parents themselves: focus on your own children, meet up with other parents and work it out together. It’s not that I advocate embracing the concept of the Big Society, but let’s face it, politicians aren’t doing jack to help.
Therefore, the starting point is to introduce hobbies that keep young people interested and away from my front gate. A good hobby is beneficial to each of us—it can keep us healthy, productive and happy. Through my own research, I have determined that the most popular hobbies of youth today include swearing, spitting and pulling up their trousers. Unfortunately these hobbies are not good ones.
In an ideal world, I would recommend sitting down with your children to discuss their interests. However, the interests of young people are decidedly stupid so that’s a non-starter. Instead, I have provided a few sensible suggestions.
Arts and Crafts: An old summer camp favourite, arts and crafts can encourage children’s creativity and produce beautiful, useful items. Drawing, painting, knitting, building birdhouses—there’s something for everyone and supplies needn’t break the bank. Some of our greatest artists started off as potential hoodlums whose lives were changed the moment they were handed an egg carton, glue and fuzzy felt.
Reading: Before you laugh, consider this: your mild alcoholism is clearly an attempt to escape the drudgery of your home; children, until licensing laws are changed, cannot turn to the bottle. Good books, on the other hand, can take readers on magical adventures where they can live the life you’d have given them if you hadn’t made such poor choices.
Gardening: Growing something—whether it’s cress in a yoghurt pot, roses in flower bed or veggies in a greenhouse—can teach children planning, hard work and responsibility. A particularly helpful strategy is telling them that sitting silently and watching the plants will help them grow more quickly.
Running on the spot: Not all kids like sports, and many child development experts feel the competition of teams can lead to thug violence. Running in place is an excellent alternative. It keeps a body healthy and in its own back garden.
Crime Solving: Thousands of cold cases go unsolved annually because police stations just do not have enough officers to sift through the evidence. Children’s natural curiosity and deviousness could shed new light on mysteries and criminals that have eluded justice for years. Additionally, staring at crime scene photos for hours on end may keep them on the straight and narrow in the future.
Classical Dressage: Most kids love animals so participating in classical dressage can be both fun and educational. Supplies needed: a Lipizzaner horse, tack (saddle, bridle, bit), clothing (shirt, stock tie, breeches, gloves, coat, dress boots, spurs and hunting cap) and small arena.
Give each at least a week—if it keeps your children busy, continue to encourage it; if they are still risks to society, try the next one. With a little luck, we’ll find one that strengthens their minds and hearts, and, at the very least, we’ll have neutralised their poisonous affect on the community until the schools reopen.
I was very disheartened to read about the passing of one of my dearest old friends, Lawrence Magnolia, this weekend. My heart goes out to his family as I am sure your hearts go out to me during this difficult period of adjustment.
I last spoke to old Mags just twenty six years ago when we bumped into each other in the lobby of some dilapidated theatre which was showing a revival of our mutual friend’s cabaret show, How Not to Get Kicked When Involved in a Street Fight (the arrangements for which were done by a lovely man whose name I can’t just now recall but whose begonias were amongst the best I’ve ever seen). Lawrence looked resplendent in his corduroy suit, though I remember him remarking that he felt a bit overheated and I think now if I only I had insisted that he go straight to hospital to get that checked out, perhaps he would still be with us today.
I wish I could ring his darling wife Margaret to let her know how I am coping with the loss, but I am afraid I’ve misplaced their phone number and also I have never met her. But my thoughts are with her as I struggle with the knowledge that so many of my friends, people I’ve known and greatly influenced for the better part of my life, are proving to be less hardy than I.
This Monday was Memorial Day in America, which has traditionally marked the beginning of summer. When I was young, Memorial Day always meant the opening of our city swimming pool, an event which had even the most uncoordinated and physically unappealing kids in our neighbourhood giddy with excitement. Unfortunately, my siblings and I were not allowed to go to the pool, because my mother was afraid we’d get warts and be unable to wear sandals.
Instead, our Memorial Day ritual involved helping my mother move her winter wardrobe into the attic.
That was until my eleventh year, which is when I solved my first crime. It wasn’t a murder or anything like that. But still, it sets that year apart.
The night before this Memorial Day, my parents had attended a party at the Flanagans’. Mrs Flanagan wore clogs. Apparently my mother found this unacceptable. There were words and then shouting, and then my parents returned home, where there was more words and shouting and then a cigarette was put out in a gin and tonic. That’s when I decided to get up from the top of the stairs and go to bed. When I woke up in the morning, my father was sleeping on the sofa. I pushed on his shoulder until he woke up. He looked at me and said, “I want crepes.”
Because I was (and still am) his favourite, he and I left before anyone else was awake. We went to our special restaurant where he never took my mother, and he ordered us each some crepes and black coffee. While we were there, a truck pulled up outside and a man who was wearing an undershirt as a shirt came in. He smiled at my father and my father smiled back. Because that’s the kind of man he is.
The rest of the breakfast passed normally. We slowly made our way home, both of us dreading the inevitable appearance of my mother’s clipboard and complicated storage system. Three police cars passed us as we walked.
“I bet they’re arresting that truck man,” I said to my father.
“You’re probably right,” my father said. He laughed a little and then added, “You don’t need to mention him to your mother.”
On the evening news, there was a bulletin saying that a shoe store had been robbed. The guy got away with the safe and five pairs of girls’ saddle shoes. My mother said the man was probably a pervert.
My father winked at me.
Even though the weather’s warming up, it doesn’t mean it’s time to start stripping off in public. Is what the policeman advised Christopher after cautioning him on the village green. I don’t normally turn to coppers for fashion advice, but he did have a point.
But in fairness to Christopher, it has been quite nice. The weather people claim we’ll have a real scorcher on our hands this summer. So all sensible people should be getting their bods and wardrobes sorted pronto. I’m no slave to fashion, but there seems to be some generally accepted guidelines bandied about by glossy magazine editors. The first step is to determine your body type.
Naturally, doctors and/or fashionistas have decided to classify women’s bodies by species of fruit. I can only presume they base this on shape, rather than flavour or ability to be made into marmalade, but there are some surprising other similarities as well.
If you have broader shoulders than hips, you are an Apple.
Fashion-wise, it’s helpful to wear to wear the biggest shoulder pads available to really highlight this feature. I’m talking proper Dynasty style babies. This means you can also wear whatever you fancy on the bottom, because no one will be able to look past your huge, manly shoulders.
Apples also tend to keep doctors away so you can give up on any ideas of living beyond your station.
If you’re bigger on the bottom, you’re a pear. Get over it.
Pears want to keep things simple in terms of trousers and skirts. No leopard prints or ruffles. Seriously.
Pears, like most pear-shaped women, feel bad they’re not apples. In society, there are negative connotations to big-bottomed shapes, which is, in my opinion, is a crying shame.
Bananas are long and lean.
Wear a belt. Problem solved.
This is probably hearsay but if you peel off a banana-shaped woman’s skin and bake it, you can make LSD. Just something to think about.
THE PASSION FRUIT
If your body looks like this, seek medical help immediately.
The truth is when we’re born, we all have bodies and while these bodies do grow, they stay the same basic shape our whole lives (except women get titties obviously). There’s no reason to begrudge yourself your body’s shape: it is what it is. Look after it, adorn it in pretty clothes and shiny baubles if you want. Bare it if you dare (and the setting is appropriate). It’s important to accept your body and even embrace it (if you’re into that thing).
As we turn over our calendars to expose the new month, we are unsurprisingly greeted with May 1, known as May Day in many cultures. People celebrate it in a variety of ways, but most festivities involve weaving flowers into one’s hair, dancing in an inordinately silly manner and/or the bashing in the brains of factory bosses. May 1 holds meaning for me as well, though I cannot bring myself to think of it fondly. In my family, May 1 is remembered only as the Day of the Incident.
It began, as so many unhappy stories do, with my mother’s Bridge Club. I’m afraid the competition between the women players extended far beyond the card game. The ladies were always trying to outdo each other in their personal lives: a husband’s promotion, a son’s sporting triumph or an exotic accent belonging to a cleaner—all were fodder for the rivalry. While often the bragging was greeted simply with patronizing nods, sometimes the afternoons would end with bitter silences and, on one occasion, actual bloodshed.
One Tuesday, something said really set my mother off. It came from the mouth of Deborah Bullwinkle, a relative newcomer to the group, who was married to a dentist whose hygienist’s attitude my mother found objectionable. This particular afternoon, Mrs Bullwinkle came in with the story of her daughter’s first menstrual period, a tale so fascinating that no one could deny that she had “won” (not at cards, of course—my mother almost always won at bridge because she is famously a cheat).
When my mother returned home, she was fuming. She began to pick on me—why hadn’t I cleaned up my room, swept the back porch or started dinner? She demanded to see my homework, something she rarely did as by then she had realised that my intellectual abilities had surpassed her own. She criticised my handwriting and noted that my dress was wrinkled. This abuse continued until she confessed that what was really upsetting her was the fact that I had yet to shed my uterine lining.
Now when my mother came back from bridge, she was usually pretty loaded so there was no point in trying to introduce any logic into the conversation. At the time, I had yet to reach double digits so my lack of menstruation was hardly my fault. But my mother was determined that I should be able to outdo the Bullwinkles. She then announced that the next day—May 1—I would not be going into school but instead she and I would be heading to Gatsby’s Department Store. She would become the first of the Club to buy her daughter a proper, grown up lady’s brassiere.
I shan’t go into great detail about the excursion, partly because I do not want to frighten my younger readers but also because the clerk has served her time and paid her debt to society. Suffice it to say that my mother was not amused by her suggestion that we start off with a training bra. My mother had not allowed me training wheels for my bicycle when I was learning (as evidenced by the still-visible-today scars on my knees), and “my daughter got her first training bra” would not earn her the respect she was expecting at next month’s bridge game. So the clerk, my mother and I bundled into the changing room with a pencil, a pad of paper, and a measuring tape, leaving little space for my dignity.
Ultimately, my mother’s bragging about my early entry into the world of intimate apparel gave her the triumph she had hoped for. The fact that my bosom didn’t properly fill the cups until quite a few years later was irrelevant. My mother had turned my tender breast buds into a weapon, and it’s a testament to my moral fiber that I was able to overcome such trauma and go on to develop the magnificent bustline that I still maintain today.
So this May Day be assured that I’ll be remembering the Incident and the hurt that it caused. Whether you’re dancing around with ribbons or demonstrating around a bonfire, you know I’d appreciate your taking a moment to think of me. Then, if you aren’t already doing so, think of my breasts.
Nice, aren’t they?