I just learned a historical fact that blew my mind.
Matt is reading a book on the dark ages right now, and he told me that there is a paragraph describing that from ancient times, beer was made almost exclusively by women. But in the 1500s, men decided that they wanted to take over beer making as careers and set about putting the brewers known as “alewives” out of business. So they called them witches and drove them out beer making. Here is a video that shows how the details we associate with witches, such as brooms and cats, directly came from the legacy of the alewives.
So interesting! Makes me want to go buy another pumpkin, carve the word “Patriarchy” on it, and smash that motherfucker.
Last summer, we went to a wedding for one of Matt’s cousins. Ethan, then six, looked dashing in his suit. We accepted that he would play in it and get it dirty, so there was only one problem: the clip on tie.
Apparently the metal of the clip was touching his neck and irritating him. We made it as comfortable as possible but it’s not like we could loosen it.
After the pictures were taken, I got an idea. I told him, “you know, if you clipped it to your back buckle loop, it wouldn’t touch your skin. And it would look like a tail!”
Ethan was delighted and he wore it on his butt the rest of the wedding, which delighted others as well. But Matt was not pleased. I’m not sure his parents approved either, though usually Ethan can do no wrong.
“He’s wearing it!” I protested. “I’m a genius!”
No more was said about it, but next time I guess I need to go through Matt before I make any more of my costuming compromises.
Ok guys, gotta warn you before you read on: there is grossness ahead! (Gross as in dead rats… nothing pervy.)
We had a rough week for the wildlife in and around the house. Don’t panic; Wensley is fine! But we’ve had some other issues.
It started with the rats, actually. I love backyard birding, but feeders attract rodents. That’s been an issue ever since I first moved in to the house and invested in my feeders. I don’t mind the squirrels, which I realize is basically a form of rodent racism. But they are cute and rats are not. So the squirrels can stay. The rats have to fuck off.
I have tried all the different types of traps that they have at Home Depot and the only kind I have had any luck with are the old timey Tom and Jerry wood and guillotine wire ones. I bought a big one because these rats are huge. Actually, I bought several because I looked out the window one morning and saw that I had a whole family crowding around under the feeder, picking through the seeds that the birds dropped on the ground.
I quickly discovered that rats don’t eat the part skim mozzarella that I buy for snacks to try to keep the calories down. They insist on the good cheese because apparently, I have snobby rats, like Patton Ozwalt’s character in Ratatouille. Only if they do decide they want the cheese (because it is quality locally sourced sharp cheddar), they will find a way to grab it off the trap without triggering it. These are seriously smart rats!
Maybe I should have invited them in and asked them if they could cook and then hire them and live happily ever after. Only, there’s no way because I couldn’t even get past that idea when it was just a cartoon. I sat through the entire movie feeling like I needed to wash my hands. By the end I needed to take a bath in hot Purell. Then, shortly after, I heard that Peter O’Toole died, and I am still convinced it is because those chefy rats gave him the bubonic plague.
After the good cheese, I decided that I needed something messier. I took a small cut of an apple and I smeared it in peanut butter. That was tricky to set up and the trap snapped closed on me. I didn’t lose any fingers but I did invent a new type of cluster bomb that spreads peanut butter from hell to breakfast. If your enemies have peanut allergies, it would be quite lethal. I’m still finding spattered globs on the backyard furniture.
I did finally manage to get the trap set up. Unfortunately, the ants ate all the peanut butter off bait before the rats got to it.
That was about mid-week and Matt had the idea that we should go out that night. He got tickets to a Bees game, our local Minor League Baseball team. Ethan is seven now and loves going out to games. He especially loves the Bees because they have a nice playground and he can’t sit through a whole game. Of course, it turns out that none of us could. Sit through the whole game, that is. It was hot as hell and the innings were taking forever. We finally left just after the seventh inning stretch because it was after 10 pm and we needed to get the kiddo to bed.
Back at home, Matt made a terrible discovery while Ethan was changing into his pajamas. “Oh no!” he yelled, making all of us stop in our tracks. “I think Kaa is dead!”
Back when the boys moved in with me two years ago, I had only one reservation, and that was the pet snake, Kaa (named for the python in Rudyard Kilpling’s, The Jungle Book). He was a twelve-year-old corn snake and he was humongous. Here is a photo I took when we first got his terrarium set up in Ethan’s new room.
And here is a photo of Matt holding the last skin Kaa shed.
I never measured Kaa, but Matt is over six feet tall. You can see what I’m talking about. Big. Ass. Snake.
Once he moved in, I completely forgot about him. We actually had to write his feedings on the calendar to keep track of them, or we would have forgotten. Matt fed him a frozen rat (thawed, of course) once every two months or so. Then shortly after that there would be a slimy reptilian turd to clean up. Matt once told me that if I was bored I could take care of those for him. I laughed. Like it is possible to get that bored. I told him, “I will clean up every accident Wensley ever has but I’m not touching that stuff.”
Other than that, Kaa was the easiest pet on earth. I never bonded with him. I couldn’t even make myself touch him. I knew he wasn’t dangerous, but I couldn’t make my hand go near him. It’s like there was an instinctual imperative – something hard coded in my DNA – that just wouldn’t allow it. But God Damn I didn’t want him to die!
I went into Ethan’s room to give him a hug and that’s when the smell hit me. Matt has a terrible olfactory sense. We’ll be driving along and I’ll say that I smell a skunk and we will have to go another five miles before he will smell it. I started clawing at the window to get it open. As I mentioned before, it was damn hot and we had turned the A/C down before we left to be green. Not realizing, obviously, that Kaa would decided to buy they farm and start the decomposing process.
I pinched my nose closed and walked over to the terrarium. I guess I wasn’t expecting to be able to tell that he was dead by looking at him, just by the smell. After all, snakes have no faces. It didn’t occur to me that they could have tortured facial expressions. I was wrong. I’ll never get that image out of my mind. His mouth was wide open and his little onyx-black eyes – once his only “cute” feature – were sunken and dried.
“What are we going to do with him?” Matt asked. I knew exactly what he meant. It was nearly eleven at night and still ninety-five degrees outside. The smell was overwhelming. We just couldn’t put Kaa outside or in the garage for the night and then bury him in the morning. The smell would attract racoons, or worse. I decided that we had to do what my biologist sister would do. I went to the kitchen to clean out some space in the freezer. A lot of space.
I grabbed Ethan’s sleeping bag so that he could sleep down in the basement with us, away from the stench. At first, Matt protested, asking if that was really necessary. Then, as he picked up the lifeless snake with a garbage bag like you might do with a giant dog shit, the smell finally hit him. “Oh my God!!!”
The next day we had a little funeral. Ethan took a nice river stone he had collected on one of our hikes and made it into a headstone. It had a grass stain on it because I had thrown it at a rat a few days before, but we decided that Kaa would appreciate that. Then we buried him in a nice spot under the bird feeder. We talked about what a good snake he was, and mused out loud that he might enjoy being near the birds and the rats.
It gave me an idea, in fact. That night, I went back out with a trap loaded with a peanut butter smeared cracker. This time, instead of just setting it below the feeder in plain sight, I buried it so that the wooden slat was hidden and only the bait was visible. The next morning, I went outside with Wensley on his early morning constitutional and saw that I had caught something.
I pulled the trash bin into the back yard and grabbed my shovel from the shed. It wasn’t until I got close to the trap that I realized there were two dead rats in it. It was the two juveniles of the family. They must have got to the bait and the same time and were both caught when the bar came down. I started to feel heartless for having done this, and so I reminded myself that I didn’t kill them to be a dick. They aren’t safe! We have a dog and a second grader! Neither of whom need rabies or the plague! I had to do it!
“Ug,” I said out loud as I lifted the rats and trap with my shovel, refusing to get any closer than that. “Sorry guys.” And then I dropped them into the trash bin and closed the lid. Then I went in search of some Purell.
That should have been the end of the story, but there’s more. Just a few days later, my younger sister and her family came to town for a visit. We were all hanging out at my older sister’s house. One of my nephews came running in from the yard yelling, “There’s a dead thing! It’s a chipmunk or a rat or something! And it’s gross! I can’t play back there!”
I gave the universe this look:
Then I said to the other adults, “It’s okay, I got it. I’ve been training for this.”
I grabbed a plastic shopping bag out of the closet and followed my nephew out to the yard. It was not a chipmunk. It was a juvenile robin. It didn’t have a head but I was able to identify it by the scattered belly feathers. “It’s just a bird,” I told my nephew. “Looks like a cat got it.”
He took a few steps back as I wrapped my hand in the bag and then took a hold of it. There was a stick that had fallen on top of the bird so it was awkward to grab. I ended up having to flip it over. As soon as I did I yelped in horror. A golf ball sized mass of writhing maggots pulsed in the open chest cavity, like a new myriad chambered heart. My nephew moved to look but I warned him off. I flipped the bag inside out, capturing the entire “disgusterous” (to quote the BFG) mess and disposed of it the same way I had the rats.
We went back inside and I (you guessed it) washed my hands for fifteen minutes. I even made my nephew wash his hands and he hadn’t touched it. My mom asked what was going on and I ended up telling her the whole story of my crazy week of death and decay.
That is when Mom told me that when she first got married she used to re-use mouse traps to save money. “I’d just open up the wire and toss the dead mouse out, and then I’d use it again.”
That blew my mind. For just one second, cleaning up that gross dead bird for my nephew, I felt like an adult. That is a rare feeling for me. Sometimes I still feel like I’m twenty, but only until I spend a little time with someone who actually is in their twenties, and then I’m like, “Nope. I’m forty.” But even after all these years of having a real job and making mortgage payments, I never feel like a bona fide adult. Then my nephew asked for someone to protect him from a dead thing and even though I hadn’t particularly wanted to, I stepped up and I did it. Like a grown up. Then I tried to picture myself pulling back the wire on one of those traps and taking the limp mouse out because my family needed to save that dollar… and I realized that I will never be that adult. And you know what? I don’t give a rat’s ass.
NOTE: Sorry for the re-post, but I do love this one! Happy Pioneer Day or Pie & Beer Day! And if you do not celebrate either because you are a normal person, I hope you are having a great Wednesday!
Ever since I left the Mormon Church to join the Church of Sleep-in on Sunday and go to Brunch, I have experienced a significant improvement in quality of life. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still love my Mormon ancestors. I am particularly proud of the Mormon women. The men did a lot of interesting stuff, and the polygamists are just wacky fun. But the women? The women could give birth in a back room with nothing for pain management but a stick between their teeth and not even wake up the other wives sleeping upstairs. And then they got up and washed the sheets. Those women were ballers.
In honor of Pioneer Day (or, as we heathens call it, Pie and Beer Day), I want to write a brief biography of my Great Great Great Great Grandmother, Phebe Draper Palmer Brown. Phebe was the daughter of William Draper, for whom the town of Draper in Salt Lake County is named (or for her brother William Draper – I have heard it both ways). She was born 1797 in Rome New York. The Drapers moved to Canada when Phebe was a girl and she married her first husband George Palmer at the age of 18. The Drapers joined the LDS church a few years later (though George never did) and Phebe was baptized by Brigham Young. George and Phebe had six children and another on the way when he up and died on her in 1833. She was 38.
Phebe packed up her family and followed the Drapers back to the states. They met up with other Canadian Saints but were driven out of Ohio and then Missouri by Mormon-haters. They eventually settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. She received a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith who told her to be good and that she would get another man. This was a little ahead of the polygamy trend, but I don’t think Joseph would have snatched her up in any case. He preferred 14 year-olds who had not yet pushed a half a dozen babies out of their vaginas. Phebe was 40 and she looked like she had pushed two of her seven children out of her eyes.
My sisters and I often joke about having inherited our looks from Phebe.
Phebe worked hard to support her family and I have read she had some talent for nursing. Luckily she wasn’t too good at it, because after Phebe failed to nurse her friend Ann Brown back to health, she married her widower, Ebenezer. That was in 1842. Ann left him with four young children and it just made sense to join forces. He was a looker, also.
The Mormon situation in Illinois was becoming untenable. In 1844 Joseph Smith was killed. In 1846, Phebe and Ebenezer joined the group of Saints who were following Brigham Young (now president of the church) west to the new “Promised Land.” They were passing through Council Bluffs Iowa in July and were met by US soldiers. The war with Mexico was in full swing and the soldiers asked Brigham to give them 500 men to take to California to fight. He complied – hoping to obtain government aid for the migration (because he was a “taker”).
Along with another 550ish Mormons, Ebenezer and Phebe both volunteered – probably to get away from the children. Actually, Phebe’s 14 year-old son Zemira Palmer joined also. They pawned the younger children off on relatives in the wagon train.
What would come to be known as “The Mormon Battalion” marched 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California. Phebe worked as a cook and laundress and Zemira served as a Colonel’s aid. The trek was pretty miserable, by all accounts. They walked through the deserts and mountains… for a year. Phebe was one of only four women who made the entire trip and at 49 she was by far the oldest of the four (the second oldest was 22).
Considering the distance and the difficulty of the terrain, they actually made pretty good time. But by the time they got to San Diego, the war was over and the Battalion was dismissed. (There is one story about a herd of wild cattle attacking the Battalion as they crossed through Arizona, so they did see some action.)
Ebenezer and Phebe were out of money so they re-enlisted for another year. They were sent to Sutter’s Mill and were among the group who found flakes of gold in the American River, a discovery the led to the California Gold Rush. They collected a small amount of gold but then received the call from Brother Brigham. It was time for them to re-join the Saints in Salt Lake City.
On their way back through the California mountains, they were part of the group that discovered the remains of the Donner-Reed party. (I know what you are thinking. “What? Not possible! Was your GGGG Grandmother Forest Gump?” I don’t know how much of it is true. I just know what I have read.) The survivors and rescuers of the Donner Party had been unable to bury the dead due to the ice and snow, so the Mormons stopped and buried all the bodies they could find before pressing on to Salt Lake City.
Phebe, Ebenezer and Zemira arrived in Salt Lake in 1848, at the end of a 3,000 mile journey. Phebe had a mule to ride by then, so that’s nice. They settled in Willow Creek, which would later be renamed as “Draper,” as I mentioned before. Ebenezer became the Postmaster, but he couldn’t read so Phebe (who was well educated for the time) served as Postmistress. She also ran a school for small children. Zemira was sent to work in Orderville, which was Brigham Young’s big communist experiment. Two guesses as to how that turned out.
Unfortunately, Brigham Young wasn’t finished with the Draper-Palmers yet. Brother Brigham told Ebenezer that he wanted him to become a polygamist and have more children. Phebe is said to have approved, and in 1853 and 1854 Ebenezer married two more women. One of them died a decade later, leaving Phebe with yet another brood of small children to raise.
Phebe died in 1879 at the incredible age of 82. (Granted, in the photo she appears to be about 127, and it looks like she made at least part of her 3,000 mile march by walking with her face.) That lady was a stone cold badass, and I’m proud to be her descendant.
Also, in reading up on all of this stuff, something has occurred to me that may be a brilliant bit of insight as to how Mormon services are operated. Perhaps the reason that those damn meetings are three hours long is because it was the only time those poor people got to sit down! It HAD to be as long as they could possibly get away with!
One more thing – this is a letter from Zemira to Phebe from Orderville. I think it is adorable in its presciently passive/aggressive tone, which is still the Mormon modus operandi. I especially love the way he waves off his inheritance and then signs the letter from “your unworthy son.”
I had better luck today! I didn’t get as close as I would have liked because I didn’t want to scare him into the basement again. I feel confident that it is my same old owl because he has the same asymmetrical left “ear” tuft.
It’s weird, but it really hurt my feelings when he hid from me the other day. It was a flashback to those early tween years when you realize that life isn’t like the movies; your crush doesn’t always (or ever) crush back. That’s the “crushing” part.
I took a hiatus from blogging for a bit. I’ve been traveling for work and for fun and it’s been difficult to write. I’m home for the foreseeable future, however. So here’s to getting back into the routine!
More importantly, Owlbertson is back! I saw him in his tree a few days ago! I stopped to get a photo of him to post here, but as soon as I got out of my car he jumped down into the hole he likes to perch in and disappeared. So maybe that’s why I haven’t seen him in such a long time; it turns out he has a basement!
So, no photo. Sorry about that. Instead, here is a description of a conversation I had last night with a ten-year-old.
I went to see the Avett Brothers with some friends. They were playing at this huge venue here in Utah called USANA, which is far away from downtown Salt Lake City, near the foothills of the Oquirrh Mountains. My friends each brought one of their children, which was fun. It also made us behave a little better than we sometimes do when we go to see live music when we are completely off Mom duty.
It was between sets and I suddenly smelled a cloud of marijuana funk wafting over from nearby. I could see on the kids faces that they registered the stink, and for some reason I decided to tell a fib about it. Maybe to protect their innocence just a little longer.
“Oh no,” I said. “Smells like there’s a skunk!”
“Yeah,” said the ten-year-old girl. “But where could it be?” looking around at all the people and wondering how a skunk could possibly be mingling among us without a mass freak-out.
I pointed toward the mountains just beyond the stadium. “Out there, somewhere, I guess.”
“Huh,” she said. “Must be. But the funny thing is, I went to a country music concert a few months ago, and there was a skunk there, too!”
“That is a coincidence!” I said.
It’s a lot harder to protect kids from the “skunks” of the world now that it was when I was growing up. Then again, I grew up in Utah County, the capitol of Mormondom, in the 80s, and we truly did have more skunks than joints. *Sigh.* It was a simpler time.
Things that have been getting me down, in order of least importance to most importance:
1.) It has been raining a lot. Like, A LOT.
2.) Game of Thrones is over.
3.) I haven’t seen Owlbertson in weeks and I’m starting to accept that something has happened to him.
Yes, I know. We need the rain. Shows come to an end. And it is never a good idea to name a wild animal. One must accept these physical laws or face certain heartbreak. But… still.
I have one of those constitutions that is susceptible to influence of dark weather. The winter ended some time ago and tomorrow is the first day of June, which I consider “real summer,” not just the technical summer that starts after the equinox. And yet, you wouldn’t know it. Here is a photo I took of a parking lot a few days ago:
I’m not kidding. Those ducks are floating in parking spaces. It’s been intense. And I live in a desert, so… not what I signed up for. But I heard a report on NPR yesterday that our reservoirs are full for the first time in years and that’s good for both urban and wild ecosystems, and so I’m dealing.
As for the Game of Thrones thing, I won’t give spoilers or bore you with my assessment. There is nothing original left to say. And it wouldn’t matter anyway. Let’s say that I loved the last season and the finale, and it gave me everything I was hoping for. It’s still a bummer. Remember the last time you turned a page on the last Harry Potter novel and you knew that was it? There was no more? It’s like that. There are no new twists or reveals coming from that world; it’s done. And I’m mourning it like the loss of a long followed but never known personally celebrity. You didn’t care about me, but I cared about you, and I’m sad that you are gone.
The owl is a completely different matter. The owl is someone that I knew personally, if not intimately. In fact, I’m pretty sure he or she didn’t like me very much. But once I spotted that owl the first time about a year ago, I became obsessed. It was the highlight of my walks and I looked for it every time I went passed that tree. It was so exotic and amazing to be able to see an owl in the light of day! And it was something that I looked forward to during the sometimes very lonely hours of working from home.
It is fortunate, therefore, that – after many years – I was sent in to my company’s headquarters in New Jersey for a few days this month. I had a chance to interact with my real co-workers face to face and I underestimated just how much I miss that, working from home. I was delighted to see that, coincidentally, my coworkers have their own wild companions attached to their wing of the corporate office. They call it the raven’s nest.
This is the story that I heard while I was visiting.
Our company’s CEO, who doesn’t have a name (weird, right?), but let’s call him Maximilian Von Richypants for the story, also has an office in this building. One day, he came to work after months of jet-setting and big-deal-making, and discovered that two besotted ravens had begun to build their honeymoon home outside the window of his office. The nest is one thing… the poop which accompany’s it is quite another. There is also a considerable amount of noise. Maximilian snapped his fingers and a butler in a tuxedo appeared (I don’t actually know what happens at my company). The butler was instructed to “deal vis zees birts!” (My CEO is actually not a German commandant.) The butler clapped his hands twice, causing a flurry of activity, and then used the pristine white cloth draped over his arm to blot the sweat of Maximilian’s brow, telling him that everything would be alright, “sir.”
Some version of this happened. Then, the following Monday, my lowly co-workers came to work to discover that the birds, reacting to the destruction of their nest, had decided to rebuild on the other side of the building. They rebuilt quickly and soon there were eggs. I had heard about the ravens and the “baby watch” on a few of our conference calls. There was quite a celebratory mood on the line when the two hatch-lings made their first appearance. Any yet, seeing it for myself was special.
By the time I arrived the “babies” were four weeks old and indistinguishable from the parents, each of which was larger than my Yorkshire terrier. Ravens are quite intelligent and one of my coworkers demonstrated this by tapping on the glass, spurring the “baby” (seen above) to tap back in imitation.
In fairness to my CEO, the poop streaks are no small distraction. And there is more than just poop. You can make out parts of rats and mice, for instance. There is nothing sterile about it. And in pharmaceuticals, sterile is the name of the game. Imagine having the owner of a startup company over to your office to discuss a buyout and having that mess behind you while you try to convince her that her brain child and labor of decades of love will be in good hands here. There’s comedy value there, but it’s not very practical in this world.
Except imagine the delightful Forbes article about the CEO who actually loves science and biology, to the extent of keeping a rookery outside his office! I would read the shit out of that.
I went for a walk in the park yesterday and enjoyed a few minutes with the new Canada goslings. They are ridiculously cute.
I hope that Owlbertson migrated or found a better tree without a mega-fan watching his every move. But it is good to be reminded that life goes on. The rain gives life and there is also death, and it is all they way that it is supposed to be. I’ll find new wonders in my environment and remember the importance of keeping those human connections alive, also.
Now, let us all join hands and sing “The Circle of Life” together.
I had a tough time of it last week. Each morning I woke up feeling like a forced recipient of collagen injections. But it wasn’t just my swollen lips. The inside of my mouth was raw and itchy. Brushing my teeth was agony, and I skipped it a few mornings, thanking The Universe for the fact I work at home.
This was Monday:
As luck would have it, I had just started this online diet thing and I made a lot of little changes in my diet over the past month. Trying to pinpoint exactly which one was causing the problem was tricky. I tried to revert back to my old diet without returning to ALL the calories, but by Wednesday my face was swollen, too.
I was miserable. My sister reminded me of the time this happened when I was a kid. That time, the culprit was Sunny Delight. I pulled up the website and looked at the ingredients and noticed grapefruit. I just finished off a 12 pack of generic grapefruit seltzer and purchased a second box. The have zero calories and I had been drinking 4 a day.
I stopped drinking those right away. I also cut out all citrus fruit, and now I’m mostly back to normal. My gums are still a little sensitive but my head is it’s normal deflated size.
I am bummed, though. I love grapefruit. I love all citrus fruit! I love the smell, I love the taste. I love cooking with citrus. I named my blog after lemons, for one thing. I really don’t want to cut it out of my diet.
I’m hoping that it was a reaction to the fake flavoring in the seltzer that did it. Or even that it was just a result of an overdose. Maybe I can have the real thing in small amounts? Moderation is the key, they say. Meanwhile, I have a grapefruit in my fruit basket but I’m afraid to try my luck and eat it to test the theory.
The really annoying thing is that I was trying to get healthier and find alternatives to… say… vodka. Or wine. So I drink a bunch of fruit seltzer and I get punished for good behavior. Thanks a lot, Universe. You are an asshole.
Things are nearly back to normal now. I haven’t binged on booze as a reaction, though it has certainly crossed my mind. I’ve made some ice tea and I’ve drank a lot of plain old tap water (without so much as a damn lemon slice, like a goddamned savage). I’m trying to keep it all in perspective. Two steps forward, one step back…
But if cutting out citrus completely gives me a case of scurvy I’m buying vodka and making myself a screwdriver. I’m only human, even if it looks like my lips are made of polyurethane.
I worked at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts when I was in college back in the 90s. I was on a work study program, and I actually started in the work shop, in the basement.
This may sound like a mismatch, and it was, but not for the obvious reasons. I took shop in Jr. High school and, all things considered, I did pretty well. The class was one year long but divided into three sections: wood shop, technology, and metal shop. My wood shop teacher loved me. He gave me 150% on one assignment because I carved a 3D design when everyone else had done a 2D cutout. I rarely saw the tech teacher but his student teacher told me flat out (and in front of the entire class) not to come to him with any questions because he had no intention of helping me. “I know you are only here to meet boys.”
I was thirteen and I would not have known what to do with a boy if I managed to get one’s positive attention. And anyway, I spent each day of class just trying to stay out of the path of those trolls. I don’t know if there were particularly nasty personalities in that group or if it was the result of getting too many thirteen year old boys in one room with power tools, but those boys were the worst! They were both mean and dangerous and they made every day torture. They were constantly trying to humiliate me into quitting, or at least crying. If I said anything in class – right or wrong – I was teased for it for the rest of the period. One day they would roll the spot welder into place behind me and set it off to burn my arms and singe my clothes with the flying sparks. The next, they would wait for me to walk into class and then they would strip the skinny nerdy kid of his pants and push him toward me. It was an exercise in tolerance, and I survived it, one day at a time. I hope that skinny nerdy kid did, too.
The metal shop instructor in the final section of class was helpful but stern. I never got a sense that he knew I was in any way different from the 29 other male students. Then one day I got called down to the office and learned he had nominated me for student of the month. Maybe he wanted to reward my fortitude? Or maybe he felt bad about putting the spot welder on wheeled castors to begin with. I’ll never know.
Fast forward a few years, and I was looking for a work study job at the University of Utah. I saw a post at the art museum and thought it would be fun to work there. I think I listed two things on my job application: 1.) my year of shop training in 8th grade and 2.) the fact that I got the highest possible score on my AP art history exam. I got the job. I may have been the only person who applied.
My boss in the museum’s shop was what we would now call a “hot mess,” though by the time I met him he was cold and lumpy. On my first day, he told me to “earthquake proof the Pre-Columbian exhibit.” Then he went back into his office where he sat at his desk and stared at a corner in the ceiling while medium priced scotch directly from the bottle. We never spoke again.
I had no idea what to do or where to start. Maybe if this weren’t the year 1995 it would have occurred to me to look up “how to earthquake proof old ceramics” on the internet, but it wasn’t and I was screwed. I walked around the exhibit trying to get some ideas. I looked for ways to suspend the smaller objects from the ceiling so that if there were a quake they would swing around but never hit the ground. Or each other? But still be out of reach of thieves or handsy children? I decided it wouldn’t work but I was feeling like I had made some progress by having a bad idea and eliminating it and that seemed positive. Then I noticed a large mask under filtered light. It had a strangely familiar texture. I leaned in and read the card next to the plexiglass box which read, “made of animal skin.” It was the generality that made it come together for me. Human. It was definitely human skin. I was convinced. I still am. If I had ever found a way to secure that collection I might have left that particular object to fend for itself.
I still had a work ethic back then and I couldn’t just not work. Having no clue what I was supposed to do and a distinct fear of trying and failing, I was stuck. Then I noticed a shop-vac in the corner. It was one of those trash-can sized deals on wheels with a suction tube like an elephant’s trunk coming off the side. I named it R2 and it was my only co-worker for a while. I showed up to work three afternoons a week and I vacuumed every nook and crevice whether it needed it or not. And it didn’t. Not at all. At the end of each shift I emptied R2 and then I went home. Until one day I showed up and was informed (not by my boss, but someone else) that I had been transferred to the gift shop. For a few seconds before the relief set in, I felt that I had let all of womankind down. I had a shop job, and I failed. Then I headed upstairs to the lobby and the sunlight and I left R2 behind without so much as a backward glance.
My new boss was a man named Brad who rarely came in to work, but when he did he was over dressed and wearing too much foundation. On the days that he didn’t come in, I was told he suffered from migraines. I interpreted this as code for a penchant for late nights and hangovers, but I don’t really know. I just know that I was again left alone, but this time with post cards, a cash register, and some clear expectations.
This was not the MET or MOMA. Sometimes I would go days without a customer. There was plenty of time to do homework, but in the summers I read entire Steven King novels while sitting behind the register. Once in a while I had a customer, and they would want to pay with a credit card. On those occasions I had to run through the museum and ask everyone in their offices to hang up their phones. “We made a sale! I need to use the phone line to run a charge!”
The 90s were an adorable time to be alive. I’m sorry if you missed them.
One day I was sitting at my station, writing in my journal or something, when the security guard stopped by to ask if I needed a bathroom break. Her name was Debbie and I just adored her. She was sweet and worldly and she had one deformed tiny hand, not unlike the Kristen Wiig “Dooneese” sketches on Saturday Night Live. At least, that is what it made me think of, many years later, when I saw them. Debbie told me that when she was growing up, her mother always made her use her tiny had to clean out the garbage disposal and she was always frightened it might turn on spontaneously.
“Yes!” I shouted, hopping off my too tall stool. “Thank you!” But as I landed, the stool fell back and hit this weird waist high block thing that we used to push in front of the cash register area when no one was on duty in the gift shop. (It was very secure, obviously.) The block made a thunk and tipped on its side in the direction of the glass wall that was the only thing separating the gift shop area from the ten foot tall Tiffany crystal doors. I was told that they were a gift from Louis Comfort Tiffany to the LDS church in the late 1800s, but church leaders didn’t want them because they featured winged angels. Mormon angels don’t have wings (because Joseph Smith saw some angels and he said they didn’t have wings, and man who sees angels and talks to them in the woods and then reads secret books by putting his head in a hat and using magic stones to translate them into English is not weird. Angels with wings? That’s silly. Amazing what bunk some folks believe in. We don’t want those. Give them to the university in case they ever get an art museum.).
I leapt between the falling block and the glass and stopped the impending crash with my body, the right angle edge of the block crushing into my full bladder. Luckily I was 19 and I didn’t piss myself so that was the end of the drama.
“Woah,” I said. I looked back at the Tiffany angels, which are not the classic blue and green of the classic Tiffany lamp shades that you are probably picturing. They are long elegant slices of crystal with frosted angel designs carved into them. They could be the doors leading to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. For a moment I imagined them shattered and skittering in icy pieces across the floor. At the time, the museum’s director was a diminutive octogenarian and man shaped ball of rage named Frank Sanguinetti. I had witnessed a few of his milder temper tantrums by then and I was imagining my new life as his forced butler or maid as I tried to work off the debt of the priceless art I had destroyed. I would have been buried in his garden beneath the irises within the week.
“Don’t worry,” Debbie said, helping to unpin me with her little hand. “I always get clutzy on my period, too.”
That is when my head exploded. Yes, but how did she…? And was it true that…? Now that I think about it… Oh my goodness, yes! Why had no one told me before! This should be common knowledge! There should be a PSA or a warning label on forklifts, at the very least!
There have been a few occasions since that day nearly 20 years ago where I have watched a woman struggle with a task or gravity and, if I felt I knew her well enough, I repeated Debbie’s phrase. “Don’t worry, Sweetpea. I get like that when my red sea is parting, too.” (Side note, I just googled euphemisms for menstruation to find a funny one and was reminded that there aren’t any, so I just made that up. I did learn that in Japan they call it the “Arrival of Mathew Perry” which is the best thing I ever heard but I failed at finding a way to make it work here.) And each time I have witnessed a similar series of responses. Incredulousness, recognition, connection, amazement, horror, and finally amusement and laughter. Maybe not in that order exactly, but the moment usually ends with laughter. But there is always that moment of recognition. That moment of “Damn, she’s right! Why didn’t I put that together myself? And why don’t they mention that in those fifth grade maturation videos?”
I don’t know the answer. It would have been nice. But as far as I can tell, it is still a well-kept secret.
I’ve been thinking about all of this the last few days, ever since I got the devastating alert on my phone that read the Cathedral of Notre Dame was on fire. It hurts to think about the loss of history and human accomplishment. The last I heard, they still didn’t know how the fire began. It seems they have out-ruled arson, but I read that there was some reconstruction work going on somewhere in the cathedral. Which isn’t a surprise. 800 year old buildings have a lot of maintenance required.
I just hope whatever stared the fire was some faulty piece of equipment being operated by some man. Women have suffered enough to build our cred with power tools. That is one disaster we simply do not need.