Monday, August 18, 2008

Monologue & Memoirs

Well, in a classic twist of fate, Murder Monday was murdered by a migraine. It will be transformed into Tales of Trauma Tuesday this week. You can meet Murder Monday next Monday because no murderous migraines better mess with my melon meanwhile.

Instead of our regularly scheduled murder, we'll have a monologue and memoirs. The memoirs were written at least six years ago. The monologue happened like this:

Angie: aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh I'm so busy with classes and I need a monologue to memorize for class tomorrow and I haven't even found one yet aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh write me a monologue. I need it in twenty minutes. Call it "Darn It All."

Me: OK.

And then I did. It was wonderful to see her reaction to this. Moreover, she loved it.

Without further ado, we'll roll the tape of the memoirs and monologue. The memoirs move in a vignette-fashion.

I learned to drive in Flint, Michigan. My first time on the freeway, the instructor made me exit and reenter. “You need to go a lot faster” he warned. A drivers ed instructor telling a student to go faster? Fine, I thought, punching the gas. “That’s more like it!” he exclaims, settling back with a satisfied smile. Those early lessons still come in handy, something I can pull out when circumstances demand, like moving to a big city for the summer.
When I took the internship, I hadn’t considered the contrast between the small towns that I had grown up in and the rapidly growing metro area I was headed for. Dogs barking, sirens screaming, horns honking, bottles crashing, shouts echoing, a million noises screaming for attention. And city traffic, frank in its insistence that you move the second the light turns. And yet, Madison lulls its citizens into feeling that they are entering a small town with all the bells and whistles of a city. It is a gentle backdrop to new moments birthed in the small triumphs and successes that turn a kid into a grown-up. It is patient with its daughters whose scraped knees expose our recent attempts to stand on our own two feet. The city’s rhythm sways easily to the inner tune that pushes and pulls the fragile introspective, eager to raise from the pavement and begin again. It’s been a long road here.
Perching on a stool, I carefully nibble a peanut, my eyes following the deft movements of a brush quickly uncovering colors hidden in the canvas. He leans back, shifting his weight, eyes his work, and starts again.
“Dad, what’s that called?”
“A moll stick.”
“Moll stick…” I feel the words, tilting my head. The canvas bounces. Ernie Harwell crackles the radio waves, bringing the Tigers’ game right into our sunny studio. We can pick up WJR in central Indiana all the way from Detroit.
Shapes slowly emerge from the brown background – Burnt Umber, squeezed from a metal Grumbacher tube sharp with creases. He pauses, caught by the stadium action traveling over the radio.
“He rounds second…OH, the ball is fumbled…He rounds third, OH, and another run for the Tigers.” Dad shouts and the game resumes, accompanied by faint shouts from the hot dog vendors and rowdy fans in the background. I carefully ease myself down from the tall black stool and head to My Corner. A custom-crafted Hobbit House sits there, an appliance box in its former lifetime. Now, shutters and a door are cut, which I can push open and shut as I please. I stack my plastic tea set in the corner; there is just enough room for me, a hobbit-sized human. When Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey aren’t bringing us the game, J.R.R. Tolkein inhabits the space, tales coming to life from the tape player. “In a hole, in the ground, there lived a hobbit. It was not a dirty, wet hole, nor a dry, sandy hole. It was a hobbit hole. And that means comfort.” Soon goblins would invade the studio, though I often ignored them and kept coloring.
Dad is a self-employed professional artist, and mom a stay-at-home mom before staying at home and being a mom is trendy. I am happy having both parents at hand, capering around the house and yard, watching the excitement at the arrival of our first aquarium and fish, watching Sesame Street before we owned a VCR, watching our first telephone being installed. I carefully repeat our new number, eager to share it with playmates, as mom and dad drill my newly acquired set of telephone skills.
“Glass residence, this is Elizabeth speaking.”
“Just a minute while I get him.”
“He’s not here, would you like to speak to my mom?”
For about three horrible minutes I was sure I had tossed my cell phone along with my laundry into the washing machine. Sure, it’s good for that pesky ring-around-the-antenna, but its heck for your warranty. After running down two flights of stairs, quickly ducking my head through doorways in urgent scans for the phone, I halt in the basement. Beautiful. Serene. Silver, glistening in the dingy, half-hearted light of the cellar bulb, my cell phone is waiting calmly on the dryer for my retrieval. It was not, as I had feared, drowning in the merciless waters of the filling washing machine. Sigh. But relief awakens conciousness of my surroundings. I duck and flinch unnecessarily in The Basement of my sublet house because I think it’s where Peter Parker originally got his powers. Draping cobwebs, minimal light, boarded-over windows and boxes in storage have led this place to become a favorite residential area, like the rest of Madison is known. Only these residents have long, lithe legs, a gazillion eyes, sticky traps of death and a thirst for innocent launderer blood. My blood. I feel itchy for hours after darting down there for two minutes.
Other Madison experiences hold much less terror and much more enjoyment. The summer’s Saturday morning Farmer’s Market draws huge crowds that throng around the square of the Capitol building for hours. Stalls and booths lure in passersby with calls of “Cheese empanadas” or overflowing displays of fresh flowers. Baked goods, ostrich jerky, gladiola bulbs and beeswax fill the vendors’ tents, most of which offer samples, posies and scones for the frugal, or loaves, bouquets and baskets for the serious buyer. Some hawk their wares by shouting items, others by attracting attention visually. In the honeycomb-and-beeswax stall, the vendor wears a beehive hat while tending customers. Across the square, a plant lady sports a vest made of hosta leaves. Flowers are woven into unshaved hippies’ hair at another flower stall, while a man in a Dr. Seuss hat twists balloon animals for dozens of squirmy children.
Dedicated peddlers extend from the jam and lilies of the tents to the petitions and tables of the activists. Baked goods are not the only thing being sold downtown today: ideas and causes are advertised with just as much enthusiasm as the cheese curds that are guaranteed to squeak when you eat. Planned Parenthood balloons float in the breeze, NOW posters are held aloft by eager college students basking in their new importance, free rainbow ribbons are distributed at a PFLAG table where preoccupied parents sit. Greenpeace cheerily engages shoppers in conversation, soliciting donations while a turn-or-burn banner coordinates with the grating sermon of an ardent evangelist. But the masses mostly ignore these energetic efforts, entranced instead with the aroma of fresh bread. A small girl with chubby fingers leans on tiptoe, examining the bag of flower petals she is ready to purchase, paying her tightly clasped quarters. Languages infuse the air, snatches of Spanish and Japanese floating in the din. The Orange Guy plays his flute across the street; he lives in a U-Haul and wears only and always orange, dying his hair and beard to match. Families sprawl, strollers carry lush bouquets and tourists’ comments express the awe of a first-timer. A South American pan flute group performs while four ladies stand in a close circle – singing? In flowing, flowery sundresses and wide-brimmed hats, they hold themselves like seasoned performers, an audience to themselves. Their music consists of rhythm, sound, and harmony, though no words are evident.
I feel sunburn crawling over my skin and, realizing my parking meter is ever on the countdown, gather my packages, bidding adieu to Today’s Farmers’ Market, where Madison itself mingles along the walkways.

[setting: cemetery]
Darn it all…
By Elizabeth Glass
[elderly woman grasping trowel and geraniums from back seat of beat-up sedan parked in a cemetery, speaking to a 13 year old boy with baggy black jeans and punk hair]

boy, mumbling: Well, now you know why I’m here. But why are you here? I mean, no one’s forcing you. And well, you seems kinda pointless.

May: Pointless? Since when did flowers need a point? And anyway, it’s habit. For that matter, when did habit need a point? Hold this trowel, I need to empty out the basket.There we go. Squirrels again, hoarding nuts. They’re a nuisance, but I guess that’s their habit.
I’ve been coming here for 63 years. You ever notice how we “old” people either want to forget how long we’ve been at it or else we know down to the day? I decided twenty years ago to take pride in it. Time does something for you, gives you a right to be heard. I’ve been coming here for 63 years, and every year, I do the same thing. I plant, I cultivate, I water, I trim, I tidy. Now, I know what’s happening in that head of yours. You’re wondering why. After all, Bob doesn’t know, it doesn’t do him any good. And there’s nobody left to do it for me. I could say it’s a matter of doing the right thing, but geraniums aren’t a matter of right and wrong. I could say it’s patriotic spirit, or wifely duty. But that’s not really it, either. Darn it all, I do it because I decided to. I decided that his life would be beautiful for as long as I was alive, even if it was after his life had slipped away. And this (hoists up) geranium is my way of screwing the powers that be. I couldn’t do anything about grenade fragments tearing through my husband. I didn’t choose the war. But this – this – this is my choice. No one else’s. And as long as I have breath, I’ll keep making this choice. Because it’s all I have left. Beauty kicked the bucket at menopause, I’ve been retired twenty years from teaching and I have to sort my pills in a day of the week pillbox. But I can still make choices. For now, anyway. Now come on, I still have Earl to do.

Boy: Earl?

May: Yep. Husband number two.

1 comment:

Bob said...

So when you become a famous author..can I say, "I knew her when..." ??? love you--- daddy