Pretty Girls: Coyote, Ramrod & Goth (our school pictures, 1966)
Another touching scene in Our Town takes place on the front porch, while Emily is helping her mother snap the beans. Emily cannot stop pestering:
"Mama, am I good looking?"
"What I mean is: am I pretty?"
"Mama, were you pretty?"
"Am I pretty enough . . . "
Finally in exasperation, Mrs. Webb exclaims:
"Emily, you make me tired. Now stop it. You're pretty enough for all normal purposes. -- Come along now and bring that bowl with you."
Over the years, Mrs. Webb's concluding remark has become a stock phrase in our family, applicable to any number of situations. Is the car clean enough? It's clean enough for all normal purposes. Is there enough frosting on the cake? There's enough frosting for all normal purposes. Have we planted enough okra? We've planted enough okra for all normal purposes. How did the school pictures turn out this year? Good enough for all normal purposes. Have I included enough examples in this paragraph? Well, enough for all normal purposes!
dialogue from Our Town (1938)
by Thornton Wilder, American playwright (1897 - 1975)
P.S. For more on "Coyote, Ramrod, and Goth," see below:
August 3rd & 5th.
"Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? -- every, every minute?"
You've probably already noticed that Emily Webb's question from the classic American drama, Our Town (1938) appears as a perpetual header for this life-is-just-so-daily blog, chosen because it so accurately captures the sense of dailyness that I want to convey in the every-other-day-or-so entries that appear here on the Quotidian Kit.
My friends and I fell in love with Our Town when it was produced by our highschool drama club in 1973, and my twin brother Bruce played the part of George Gibbs. One of our favorite scenes occurs at the end of Act I, when Rebecca (George's little sister, played by my friend Joni), reads out the mind-boggling address that she saw on an envelope:
The Crofut Farm
United States of America
Continent of North America
The Solar System The Universe
The Mind of God
Suddenly in awe of our own cosmic identity, we spent a lot of time recopying this long address, inserting our own names and addresses, and passing our versions around to each other in geometry class. (Sorry, Mr. Anderson!) Not that any mysteries, either universal or local, were revealed; but it sort of felt that way.
Our granny had a simple yet profound way of looking at life. She'd hear a problem and have one of three things to say about it. It didn't matter what the problem was; one of her three responses would take care of it. Having had only an eighth-grade education, she used bad English, but her words were wise. She'd say:
1. "It don't matter."
2. "He don't mean nothin' by that."
3. We can't tell you the third one. She reserved this one for people like Hitler.
You could go to her and say, "My husband just ran off to Tahiti with his secretary," and she'd say, "Oh, honey, he don't mean nothin' by that." You could tell her you lost your wallet and all the grocery money was in it, and she'd say, "It don't matter." (Catch-Up on the Kitchen, 83-84).
These grandmotherly antidotes to fretfulness should serve you well if your interpersonal pitfalls, like mine, include being too reactive, flying off the handle before taking time to measure the insignificance of every little upset, feeling too easily wounded by stray remarks instead of dismissing them for what they are worth (usually very little). The next time I sense myself veering off in one of these fretful directions, I shall remember the message of Pam & Peggy's grandmother -- i.e., there's just no need to take most things so personally!
Another piece of inspiring grandmotherly advice comes from one of Ilene Beckerman's darling books: What We Do For Love:
My grandmother knew what she was talking about when she said, "If you have to stand on your head to make somebody happy, all you can expect is a big headache." (142).
All Caught Up In The Kitchen:
Homegrown eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes from my husband's garden;
apples from Michigan; citrus fruit from Florida;
Christmas cards up year round!
Pam Young and Peggy Jones are two earnest comediennes, who half-seriously, half-jokingly call themselves "The Slob Sisters."
Their books include:
SIDETRACKED HOME EXECUTIVES
GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER
THE SIDETRACKED SISTERS CATCH-UP ON THE KITCHEN
THE PHONY GOURMET
Slob Sisters or Domestic Goddesses? You decide. These gals really are sisters and they really are the greatest! I love their books and their humor and their advice on life & happiness. Their message covers so much much more than keeping the house running smoothly, though it must be said, they are good at that too!
Pam and Peggy's books help you work your way around and through and out of any number of stupid, fretful, forgetful-making things, freeing up your mind and your time for worthier pursuits. And they know how do it not only with file cards, charts and recipes, but also with references to Shakespeare, Emerson, and William James.
Pere & Fils at Camp ELMO
Somewhere in Pennsylvania, 2002
"What if we all got along & people loved each other
& sang songs about peace? he said.
Would that be a good world?
& I said I didn't know about that,
but it would be a good summer camp . . ."
by Brian Andreas, STORYPEOPLE
If you want to start every day with a bit of wit & insight,
go to storypeople.com and sign up to receive the Story of the Day from Brian Andreas, irresistible artist, poet, and prophet for the New Millennium.
About those movies that I like in spite of myself (see August 10th below: "Monday: Pop Quiz"). Here's why:
Talladega Nights (2006): because of the hilarious table grace & the cougar named Karen.
Zoolander (2001): because of the School for Ants.
The Terminator (1984): because, unlike the follow-ups, this one resembles real science fiction (Harlan Ellison &Philip K. Dick), not just special effects.
Another movie that I'm crazy about, not so much in spite of myself, but rather unaccountably, is Choose Me(1984). The setting is dreamy and offbeat, like One From the Heart (1982), which I mentioned on my Fortnightly blog not too long ago (see "Child Beheads Mannequin," Monday, June 15, 2009). Both movies are accompanied perfectly by sultry signature songs: "One From the Heart" by Tom Waits and Crystal Gale; and "You're My Choice Tonight (Choose Me)" by Teddy Pendergrass.
Choose Me is the kind of movie that I recommend to my friends and they say, "Why did you tell me to watch that? What do you like about that odd movie?" Well, first, I have just adored Lesley Anne Warren ever since she portrayed Cinderella on television in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical (1965); and, second, Keith Carradine ever since he sang "I'm Easy," in Nashville (1975); and, third, Genevieve Bujold ever since Coma (1978), not to mention King of Hearts / Le roi de couer (1966) and her portrayal of Cassandra in The Trojan Women (1971).
In Choose Me, Lesley Anne Warren is named Eve (Everywoman) and her bar is called "Eve's" (named not for her but for the previous owner, another Everywoman). I've always been intrigued by the poster you can see on the wall (in the apartment not the bar) that says, if you look really close: "She often thought of killing him." Whoa!
But what I like most about this movie and always have liked is the imperative title -- CHOOSE ME! That's what has stayed in my mind. Isn't that what we all really want? And the people who can't or won't do that -- well, to heck with them. The only people in whom it's worth investing time & emotion are those who are into us, those who choose us. I love lots of movies (everything Christmas, everything Meryl Streep, everything Kristin Scott Thomas), but if I have to choose just one, I always choose Choose Me.
University City Swim Club, West Philadelphia
Back when our kids were little, one of my neighbors called to ask me if we should take them all to the pool that evening.
I started pondering the drawbacks: "Oh dear, we already went this afternoon."
She wasn't giving in that easy: "Guess what? You can go twice in one day!"
My next excuse: "Well, yes, but I've already moisturized, and if I get in the water again, then I'll have to moisturize again."
Her persuasive reasoning: "Think of it this way: re-moisturizing is not a hardship! It's a luxury! Now, get ready!"
Around that same time, another neighbor called up with last minute tickets to go see STOMP. Again, I defaulted into noncommittal hemming & hawing and thinking of reasons why this might not be possible; but she quickly interrupted me: "All you have to say is Yes."
I learned a couple of important things that summer:
1. Re-moisturizing is a blessing &
2. When an unexpected gift presents itself, say Yes! Thank you!
I like the observation by editor Henry-Jean Servat that even when the questions were simply of the yes / no variety, Proust's answers were not: "The stupid answers in the album would have required conclusive answers, too uncouth to be exact. But a master with words like Proust knew how to get out of a trap like this. And he escapes either by remaining silent and not answering, or by doing the opposite and producing long lists or general ideas."
I tried to do the same, though I never realized when I was doing these a few years back with a few friends and relatives, that we were following in the footsteps of Proust!
I'D LOVE TO BE A FLY ON THE WALL OF: Shakespeare & Jesus, so that we could have comprehensive biographies of these two guys.
IF I COULD WIGGLE MY NOSE LIKE IN BEWITCHED, I WOULD: Pop in to visit all my faraway friends & relatives.
ALWAYS MAKES ME LAUGH: Reading Dave Barry, Bill Bryson, Roz Chast, Jack Handey, Anne Lamott, David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell; listening to Stephen Colbert; watching Christmas Vacation.
MY MOTHER / FATHER WAS RIGHT ABOUT: Learn to drive a standard before an automatic!
ECO-FRIENDLY CHANGES IN MY LIFE: No more Plastic "Glad" Wrap, instead I save the wax paper cereal bags to reuse for food storage; always running the dishwasher on "Light" and doing most of the laundry on "Delicate" -- so far, everything still comes out clean (see sorting tip, above).
MY LIFE WOULD BE SIMPLER IF: I would stop being so fretful.
I WOULD STOP BEING SO FRETFUL IF: Only I knew how to stop being so fretful. (See righthand column!)
I CAN'T IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT: Books. Cats.
SOME MOVIES THAT I LIKE IN SPITE OF MYSELF: Talladega Nights, The Terminator (#1 only, the others -- no), Zoolander
ON MY "NOT TO DO" LIST: Coloring my hair & polishing the ceiling (our phrase for excessive housecleaning)
I WOULD REALLY WELCOME SOME FEEDBACK REGARDING: My blogs
My younger son asked me the other day, "Mom, can you banquish?
Hmmm. Let's see. You can vanish and vanquish; and you can banish, but you can't really banquish. Though you have to admit, it sounds like a pretty good word, and it seems like something one should be able to do.
A couple of days later, I came across a similar conundrum, some characters in one of my summer reading selections discussing astoundished and astonded: "No, that's not, not quite -- Astonished? . . . Astounded?" (p 192).
This conversation takes place in The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart, a book I picked up only because Benedict is the name of my other son (older brother to the banquished Sam). The Benedict Society consists of four quirky little geniuses (Constance Contraire, Kate Wetherall, Reynard Muldoon, and George "Sticky" Washington) out to save the brave new world, kind of like Edward Gory's Gashlycrumb Tinies, except upbeat and resourceful instead of doomed.
A favorite place for us (pseudo) Goth Girls to hang out is on my sister Peg's screened deck, which we have taken to calling The Lanai, because that sounds so much more romantic and exotic than veranda or patio or porch or deck. Well, The Lanai is important to us, and I readily confess to random capitalization as one of my favorite English usage errors, not to mention that important words should be capitalized.
When my brother-in-law Tom (Di's husband, the Warrior-Worrier, see June 25) saw that we were capitalizing this word in our e-mails, he said, "Why? Is this Lanai a person?" No. A place? Well, kind of. It's not a place as in Lanai -- Hawaii's most enticing island; but it is a place we like to be. A mere thing? Well, it is a thing, but it's not merely a thing. It's a favorite thing. It's our vacation hideout, the way we used to build a clubhouse in the summertime, in the woods or on a vacant lot.
Okay, said Tom. Let's think about this: "Imagine the word, Springfield. Is it a field full of (coil) springs, not capitalized; or is it a place, e.g., Springfield, Missouri? There is a Springfield in just about every state. If there is a Lanai in almost every state (not just Hawaii!), then I think it's okay to capitalize. See you have to dig deep to see the real meaning of life."
Then he offered a conclusion that sounded for all the world like something our dear departed dad would have said: "Just thought some calcification was in order."
After reading Sarah Vowell's essay, "American Goth," (in Take the Cannoli) my sisters and I decided that we needed to pick some goth names for ourselves. In this wicked little essay, Vowell recounts her experience of getting a "goth makeover," in hopes of turning herself into someone more menacing less sweetie-pie, someone the waitresses don't call "Hon."
She signs up for private goth lessons, complete with goth homework, like listening to sad songs, writing goth haiku, and picking a goth name. After running through some of the darker, more sinister choices, Vowell looks in another direction for inspiration: post-war Pleasantville, USA. Now there's Goth for you! Amazing her goth instructors with her insight, she settles on "Becky." Perfect! I like it too, for it suggests that maybe I've had a goth name all along and didn't even know it.
If you look in the baby name books, names like mine and my older sister's: Kitti Beth & Peggy Linn, turn up on lists entitled "Freckle - Faced" or "Comfy," or "Short & Sweet" (compiled, apparently, by non-goth editors who know nothing of "Becky"). Whereas Peg and I got the "girlish" names, our younger sister got the "feminine" names: Teresa Diane, both of which are likely to appear on lists like "Sheer Elegance" or "Goddess - Given."
When picking our new goth names, we decided that Di has a lot to live down, after all those years of elegance, so we're just going to call her "Goth" for awhile. For Peg, it's "Coyote," in reference to a card she received upon her recent retirement, likening her to a Wild * Free * Coyote. And for me, "Ramrod," derived from my newly acquired reputation for forcing my opinions upon the rest of the family. We love our new goth names, although a couple of times my sloppy hand-writing has led my sisters to call me "Raymond." But, hey, that also sounds kind of goth, doesn't it?
I guess my only other way of being goth (besides being named "Kitti" -- haha) occurred when I got my first pair of prescription sunglasses and started wearing them all the time. One overcast day, I ran into a bothersome acquaintance at a bus stop, who asked me why I had my sunglasses on when the sun wasn't out; I said, "Well, the sun may not be OUT but it is UP." That was back in the day when I cultivated my "Doberman" attitude in order to dissuade people (that guy at the bus stop, for instance) from speaking to me on the street. After reading Sarah Vowell, I realize, that was my "Goth" stance. Nevertheless, all the grocery store ladies still called me "Hon"!