Ear Defenders

I have been bitching for years about the universal plague of the earbud, the solipsistic me-world accessory that isolates other gym members in their own little music bubble and makes them impervious to things like friendly conversation or requests to “work in” on the machine they’ve been hogging for three sets without getting off in between. Well, you can talk to them, but you have to cause an international incident by raising your voice and waving your hand in front of their faces and repeating yourself when they fork the gross wax-glazed bud out of their ear and say “Huh?” like an old deefer in a retirement home.

Only I seem to have joined them. No, I don’t stick things in my ears. Never have, never will; it’s disgusting, and TOO GODDAM LOUD. I don’t need my music inside my bodily orifices; I really don’t need it in the gym at all. Which is sort of the reason. Gold’s was bad enough — they had their own disgusting radio station peppered with repetitions of the same ads every fifteen minutes,, for teeth whitener or Spandex leggings or what not. Back at Planet Fitness, where I reluctantly retreated after the millionth commercial and one too many rude assholes and a paucity of warmup bikes — they pick a Sirius station, and on Sundays I can stand the classic rock, which sort of takes me back to my roots at the biker gym that was my home in the 80s. The current top forty, however, can take a hike. It either sounds like a bad case of fleas or someone banging his head on a wall for eternity, and one of the current songs features a talentless female vocalist ascending to a dramatic peak note — practically in whistle register and grotesquely flat. I was raised on real music, goddammit — Mozart and Bruckner and Schumann and Brahms. I don’t know why people need to fray their nerves with this amateurish shit all day. No wonder society is in a mess.

So what happened was, I was reading the Twitter feed of Steven Silberman, who wrote the book, literally, about autistic people finding their place in human culture, and one of his autistic tweeps posted about wearing his Ear Defenders in the subway and meeting a gradeschool-age autistic kid who was excited at the sight because he wore them too.

I perked up. I have always gravitated toward people on the spectrum, though I didn’t usually know it because “on the spectrum” hasn’t been a term for most of my life. But forex, my first decent boyfriend (my “transgender ex,” as it turned out) ticked all the boxes for Aspie whiz kid with tics and quirks — could play reams of Bach and Beethoven by heart, chess maniac, used to make weird rolling movements with his hands and hum to himself, wore clothes until they were in tatters because they were familiar and soft. The Congressional protest candidate that I worked for in the oughts used to routinely stim while driving the car, holding his hand over the air vents and waving it continually at the wrist; couldn’t remember a face for five minutes; couldn’t shut up once he started talking, did statistics for a living, handled carefully planned public speaking with grace but had genuine meltdowns when there was too much unscripted interaction. (I earned some kind of an award for stage-managing his candidacy.) He had had a ham radio call sign since his teens — a hobby that was home to autistic people before the digital age gave them a larger playground. I was always sorry that I couldn’t coax him, a man born long before adult autism diagnosis was a “thing,” into getting evaluated, but like neurotypicals (that’s me and pro’lly you) of his generation, could only hear me suggesting that he had an awful defect instead of alternative wiring.

The common ground is that I get the characteristic low threshold that autistic people have for sensory input. I get a violent headache and throw up if I view 3-D movies or even the vivid animations that often precede a feature film. I cannot be near anything like a disco or party and, lacking any desire to attend a rock concert, can detect (and be crazed by) a loud stereo two houses away that the Engineer can’t even hear. This is a “thing,” too, though it is kind of mortifying that it is termed “high sensitivity,” which sounds like I am trying to align with a cohort of tender weepers who swoon if you say “fuck.” Whatever. It makes me a good bodyworker and ruthless lifter who says “fuck” a lot in the presence of excess commotion. Maybe that is its own neurotribe.

I stuck “Ear Defender” into the search bar.

A few days later this wonderful pair of orange things showed up.


They look like the headphones that a lot of gym peeps wear, they’re just not connected to anything. No one else has to know that. They muffle 37 decibels, are considered adequate for driving monster trucks or light shooting, and I can attest that while they do not obliterate the vile noise that pours from the gym speakers, they move it way up the road. Also, I don’t have to overhear screamingly banal conversation from the schlubby housewives and shuffling pudgy men who use the machines backward and operate the bikes on zero resistance in slo-mo just so they can tell their doctors they “work out.” I miss the days when only goons and buff gay men (and me) hung out in gyms.

Now I get to be the one saying “Hm?” What the hell. It’s nice and quiet in here.



Not Little Nemo

For those who don’t get the reference, “Little Nemo In Slumberland” was a classic comic strip involving a child protagonist who had a series of weird but fairly sentimental dream adventures.

Then there’s this. Props to the Engineer, a webcomics geek, for cuing it up after the 1300th time I woke up in the morning and told him about my weird dream.


I have been getting early morning stress dreams more and more recently. I wake up taut as a guy wire and feeling as if I’m trying to break out of six restraints at once. Today, I dreamed I was interned in some sort of residential school/prison and that a few people had organized a plan in which I and another inmate, a lanky light skinned young black man, would escape. We had to have our “go bags” ready but avoid risk of their being detected in a locker check — there was some sort of kerfuffle about the combination locks — and the escape was timed for midnight on a specific night, something to do with the security schedule. I got my clothing and supplies all stuffed into a small rucksack. The time hit and we moved, aided by someone who was something like the facility nurse. I was focused on connecting, on the outside, with former FBI director and current hot-headline memoirist James Comey, whom I have apparently internalized as the personification of straight-arrow authority ready to help people in flight from evil state oppression. (He’s a bit of a diva, and I will never figure out what the hell he was thinking with the Clinton matter, but probably that characterization’s not far off.)

I just wish I could draw like Lackadaisy.


OK, this is bullshit.


Background: It is now high tree pollen season in the Tidewater, a beautiful time of year distinguished by blowing blossom, temperate breezes and the complete impaction of my sinuses. For a month now, I have been practicing the disgusting morning ritual of boiling water, mixing a solution of baking soda and Himalayan salt, putting about a quart of it in an old fashioned red rubber douche bag, sticking the hose up one nostril and letting it rip, swapping nostrils half way through. We will not discuss the precise nature of what emerges. It’s the only way I can get through the day, but it works a treat — no sneezing, sniffing or stuffiness.

The magic bullet of this is a quick douse of decongestant spray a minute or two before you open the sluice — trickled into your nose, not sprayed, with head tilted back. Believe me the stuff tastes disgusting, but it opens all the crevices, and the immediate rinse keeps you from getting the rebound congestion that is a problem with these nostrums. Of course, this goes through a lot of it, so yesterday I opened a new three-pack of the stuff. The outer box instructed me to Push Down And Turn on the Safety Cap, which I presume is there so some kid does not go through a whole bottle of the stuff at once and decongest to death — it’s impossible to imagine someone actually drinking it.

I pushed. The neck of the plastic bottle bent, and the lid went round and round fruitlessly.

The Engineer wandered by, and gave it a try. “Design flaw,” he said, which is something engineers like to say when they can’t get shit to work. I had to agree though.

After a few more tries he went to the utility room and brought back a large and small channel lock wrench, a strap wrench and a pair of pliers. A few struggles using the small channel lock got the outer lid off, leaving the inner clear plastic lid, which was too small and slick for the channel lock and required the pliers. The spray nozzle popped off with it, but snapped back in after the Engineer retrieved it from across the room.

So there it was, ten minutes  and two different tools for an engineer and a weightlifter to get into a bottle of SAFETY SEALED… nasal spray.

I can see a bottle of prescription Valium maybe, or a drowsy nostrum like Benadryl, needing a safety seal, But Afrin? Really? This has gotten out of control.

Seriously, in general, I have mostly scorn for this habit of kid-proofing everything. I shout curses inside my car every time i have to stop for a school bus with the flashing red lights and Stop sign that bring traffic to a  halt in BOTH directions at every stop, not just because in These Our Times every mommeee has to come meet the bus, greet her child, greet the driver and ask how Precious’s day was before the next mommeee steps up to the bus door in turn and does the same thing, while your hair grows. FFS if they are old enough to ride the bus, they are old enough to know to look both ways before crossing the street, and if they don’t, I’m a firm believer in Darwin in such instances. Same with all these safety sealed mouth washes and God knows what else. If some child is enough of a dimwit to chug it, let nature take its course, I say.

When I was eight, we lived next door to a family with three children — a girl about my age with the lively mind of a sweet potato and the mean streak that usually goes with that kind of drab intellect; and fraternal twins about five years younger, who were bluntly dumber than a box of rocks. I don’t think I ever heard the boy say anything but “Huh?” My father was heard to remark to guests that “the people next door have retarded twins” — this was the 1960s when no one expected you to use precious circumlocutions — and I don’t know if they were, clinically, but there didn’t seem to be much upstairs but cole slaw. One day the boy was found eating a box of moth balls and apparently actually did utter the words “Good candy,” leading to drama on the block with an emergency rush to get his stomach pumped. Though this is possibly an argument that some kid would, if left to it, drink a tot of Afrin, I defy anyone to argue that the world would have been a poorer place if they had left him alone with the moth balls.

So for crying out loud, Bayer Healthcare. And Bristol Myers and all you other people. Give us a break. I shouldn’t need a toolkit to get into a bottle of allergy medicine, which, by the way, I now can’t exactly seal again, though it will be OK as long as it sits upright. Just, if I ever meet the guy that designed this travesty, something is going up his nose, and it won’t be decongestant.



The Evil “P” Place

Costco is one of life’s necessary evils. Well, fundamentally, it isn’t evil. I shop there two or three times a year — and not at other warehouse stores — because Costco, formerly Price Club, has a track record of treating employees well and good citizenship generally, something that can’t be said for the Wal-Mart affiliates of the world. It’s just that, between the death-trap parking lot and the crush of people and the sensory inundation of acres of fluorescent-lit aisles, I go in there like someone making a foray into No Man’s Land in 1916 or so, not quite with my bayonet in my teeth but damn close. When I was dating my Albino Ex, who loved economies of scale even if it meant keeping a gallon of mustard in the refrigerator for four and a half years, he dubbed it the Evil “P” (for Price Club) Place in honor of my hostile-territory approach.

The place is the size of the Air And Space Museum, for one thing, and about as easy to navigate as the Chartres Labyrinth. Especially now, with a handful of spots in my legs that never, ever stop hurting, trundling that SUV-sized cart up and down is a penitence even when the place doesn’t look like Hong Kong at rush hour. You have to go through complicated rituals with the membership card and the parking ticket and your receipt, and half the time, at my local store, the parking lot exit bar won’t work and an ancient gentleman in a reflective vest has to shuffle out of his fishbowl work station and manually release me. And there is always, guaranteed, at least one wretched infant or toddler in there who starts uttering that hitching, howling, poor-me-I’m-not-happy-fix-it-NOW wail that falls somewhere between a fire klaxon and a pig being killed. This always awakens in me a volcanic, barely suppressible urge to bring a brain-rattling bitch-slap or five right up out of my hip pocket. Not a recipe for inner peace.

But I go there, because for one thing I run a business out of my place and people getting bodywork always want to pee first and the only sane strategy is to go buy a couple of those 48-count pallets of bog roll and hope it lasts till the next time I can face the place. Also, they make my glasses for about a quarter the cost at my optometrist’s.  I just steel myself.

Today was oddly calm for the week before Easter; I couldn’t put it off any longer, but I was gloomily resigned to a demolition derby. In fact it was empty by Costco standards, there was only one screeching toddler, and the card checker at the entrance wished me a good holiday. I had already tried to forget about it, and did a double take.

The cashier wished me a good holiday too. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I always keep my head down until holidays are over.

On the way out, the lady who always looks at your receipt to make sure you haven’t boosted something glanced into my cart at the case of Port City IPA — a nice local Belgian — that was my impulse purchase of the day.

“Only one box beer for holiday then?” she said in a lilting Asian accent.

Go figure. If Easter has become a beer drinking holiday there may be hope.

Rhymes With Orange (II)

My father — he’s been dead ten years and more now, and for most of the twenty-seven before that he was swanning around saying “I have no daughter” when people asked — complicated story — well, families suck, but he was a man who could tell a story, which redeems a lot. He played the French Horn in The United States Army Band, or TUSAB, an acronym which was stenciled on everything in sight at the Fort Myer band auditorium, puzzling me in my childhood when I was often dragged along on quick missions on base. Everything on base was either dingy light yellow, battleship grey, or brown, wavy linoleum. It’s much spiffier now, but these were the days of clapboard “temporary” buildings” that had been temping along since the end of the war.

I guess you could call my father a veteran. He never saw even the back end of a battlefield, having bad eyes and flat feet, the dead last of cohorts to be deployed, and in his abortive memoir of the war years, he described his ohmigodIdontwanttogetmyassshotoff moment of truth when he sent home for his horn to try out for the camp band. He had observed that troops shipped in and troops shipped out, but the band stayed. It worked. And he became a military bandsman for life, playing the last honors for countless veterans laid to rest in Arlington, playing for President Kennedy’s funeral while I huddled at home with a bad flu, tearfully watching everything on a tiny black and white screen. He gave his respect where it was deserved. Where it was not, he found… ways of expressing himself.

He got moved around to two more bases before the war ended — the last one in Georgia, commanded by a generally despised officer named Braun who had, the rumor went, been sent back from the European theater for vague “inhumane” behavior. According to my dad, he was a stuck up little martinet, fond of Draconian penalties, who relished little more than the regularly performed base “pass in review” — when the infantry had to march in formation past the reviewing stand, saluting as they went, metronomed into line by the base band playing a march as they, too, strode by. Base personnel speculated that a little Nazi had rubbed off on him.

There were tuba players in the band, of course, and they were friends with my father; there is a freemasonry among all musicians but a distinct one among brass players, who seem to share a crude, mutinous sense of humor. I think it is because of the farting noises that you invariably make while trying to learn the right way of getting a sound out of a brass instrument. (Note for what it is worth: I learned to play the oboe.) If you don’t have the inner eleven-year-old that remains capable of laughing hysterically at this kind of noise all your life, you may not be a brass section candidate.

Somewhere along the line, someone coined a cantrip on the notes so-so-so-so-la-ti-do-re-mi, mi, re, do! with the potted German everybody-talk lyric: “Was ist die Farbe, dem Pferdenscheiss? Braun, braun, braun!” [What’s the color of horse-shit? Brown, brown, brown!] It went around the base rapidly, as such things do in time of war when people need to blow off steam and frustration at being dragged off the farm or out of the family store, or just ward off fear of deployment.

Thereafter, every time the band passed in front of Colonel Braun on the reviewing stand, no matter what march was being played, the tuba section on a high sign would play that melody. History does not record whether the CO ever noticed, for all anyone knows he was tone deaf, but people felt better.

I understand the current denizen of the Oval wants a big ass military parade across Memorial Bridge, with tanks and things — never mind that it’s ready to fall into the Potomac — and down Pennsylvania Avenue.

I suppose you don’t really need a rhyme for orange. Or oh-rang-eh as it would be in German. Just a suitably disgusting substance. Any ideas? Slime mold? Metamucil? I’m almost ready to call up my dad on the Ouija board.

An American Classic

I deeply distrust unexpected knocks on the door, especially after dark. So when Thomas M. McCabe the Second (not “Jr.”) hammered for entry on the night before the night before Christmas, I was mostly all “oh fuck go away” and hoping it was one of the nabes with misdelivered mail.

Thomas M. McCabe the Second was over seventy, gray of hair, stooped of shoulder, caparisoned in a satiny Redskins jacket and visibly distraught. He wanted to know if he could use our phone. In these days of cell phones this sort of thing happens less often than it used to, although there’s been one other instance in the last couple of years. Thomas McCabe, however, really needed help. He was shaking in a way that would have done credit to an advanced Parkinson’s patient and he really did not seem to be tracking. He had two flat tires, he said. Went over something. I think he actually must have blown them both on the curb of the median.

The Engineer got a phone handset and the ritual of calling the insurance company and summoning a tow truck began. He had been at a Christmas party thrown by his ex wife where he got to see all his kids and grandkids, said Thomas McCabe. Oughta be home by now. Had this car five years, never a problem. He kept apologizing for all the shaking.

“Shake like crazy if you want,” I coached him. “This happens it’s a specialty of mine. The shakin is part of the shock reaction. It’s what gets you a re-set. You just let it happen till it’s done.”

You detect I was diverting into my American Old Home dialect because that is what I heard coming from him. If you talk to me under normal conditions you will hear something that sounds vaguely academic crossed with the BBC accent, though I invoke American Redneck at the drop of a hat.

Thomas M. McCabe, I learned over the ensuing hour, hailed from the Canaan Valley in West Virginia before moving here. He was seventy-six. His folks had been in WV long enough they pretty much dominated the land holdings around where he grew up. He had served in the Air Force, I’m figuring Vietnam era.

“Most days, I just wear jeans, but I dressed all up for the party,” he said ruefully as the chilly December breezes blew through our clothes out on the porch where we were keeping an eye out for the tow truck.

The Engineer did the yeoman work: accepting a text message from the insurance company showing the tow company’s provenance and destination, writing down details, knocking on the neighbors’ door to ask if they could move their pickup and make space for the tow truck to hitch up. I just kept telling Thomas M. McCabe that for crying out loud, why are we here if we aren’t gonna look out for each other?

“Well that’s what I think,” he said. But he was still painfully over-grateful when we dropped him at his apartment ten minutes away, after a fairly complicated interaction with the driver of a flatbed tow truck and an expedition to a garage behind some desiderate Seven-Eleven off the local state highway. He seemed not to have taken in that the insurance was going to spot him a rental to be delivered in the morning, and remarked that he’d have to eat sparingly till he could get to the market. I kept reminding him that he could not only get to the market with his rental car but to all his family’s holiday events. He kept thanking us for helping and writing things down.

He asked if he owed us anything.

“Will y’all HUSH?” I rebounded without even thinking. From his reaction, it was the right way to say it.

I wanted to hug him, but that didn’t seem like his style or generation.

He debarked from the Engineer’s car, carrying a bag of O’Doul’s Dark and a tray of fudge that his family had pressed on him. I can imagine worse hangovers.


Bath Bombs

I dreamed I was giving a massage to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. There was nothing salacious about this. Bodywork is my skill, my calling, my career. I fix stressed, injured people. Probably it was easy for my dreaming mind to imagine that Mr. Mueller could use some destressing. The odd thing was that I was using the dining room table that lived in the house(s) I grew up in, one that was made for the family by a Maine artisan related to a family friend, out of solid oak, not a nail or screw in it, all wooden pegged with a longitudinal strut that I used to sneakily rest my feet on. No clothing was off. I kept getting interrupted between this extremity and that, so that when people started arriving expecting to be served some sort of repast on that table I hadn’t done Mr. Mueller’s feet yet. I held out. Feet are important.

One of the chattering, irritating, girly arrivals had come with a supply of “Bath Bombs,” I’ve read of the things, blobs of bath salts or bubble stuff with usually obnoxious aromas. These, though differently colored and composed, were all pecan-scented.

My Southern relatives, whom I repudiate to the extent that I would carve their DNA out of myself with a blunt knife if it were possible and survivable, owned many pecan orchards. They would probably vote for Roy “Lolitaphile” Moore if they were still living. Don’t know about subsequent generations. I cut them off.

There’s just something wrong about dreaming politics. I’m glad the next segment of the dream involved an old client of mine coming into possession of a hot pink convertible.