Despite the recent elevation of Norman Rockwell’s reputation in the art world, he’s still not my cup of tea, and I still see him more as an illustrator (albeit a superb one). But there are definitely things to admire about his art. For example, in his painting “Facts of Life,” which shows a father telling his embarrassed son about the birds and the bees, he has included a sleeping cat (shown above) under the father’s chair, and kittens playing on the boy’s chair. It’s subtext par excellence: a sly way of directly depicting the very topic—sex and reproduction—that is being so earnestly discussed in the abstract. It also cleverly pairs the adults (man and cat) and the young’uns (boy and kittens): experience on one side of the painting; innocence on the other. The boy might well envy the kittens for not having to endure an explanation of what’s eventually coming (pun intended).
This work is in the collection of the University of Kansas’s Spencer Museum of Art. See the full version at https://www.wikiart.org/en/norman-rockwell/facts-of-life.
I didn’t realize it was smirking at me until I saw the thumbnail image. Yet another iPhone photo. Mid-afternoon, Wilson, Kansas.
Do I dare to eat a peach?
Why yes, I ate one on the beach!
(You know that beach, my little squirt:
The one where mermaids come to flirt.)
I liked that peach so much, I swear
I’d eat a peach most anywhere.
I’d eat one on a sawdust floor,
I’d eat one standing at your door.
I’d eat one in the golden glow
Of rooms where women come and go.
I’d eat one any chance I got,
I’d eat a peck—that’s quite a lot!
This Prufrock is a silly man
To wonder if he truly can.
He can, I know. I’m sure he could,
If he just told himself he would.
The best things come to those who dare—
Unless they choose to eat a pear.
For that, I make no guarantee.
A pear can’t match a peach, you see!
Well, it started as a storm cloud. Then it turned into a flying pie, and artist Wayne Thiebaud came to mind, and it turned into a killer pie. Consider this as outsider art with an in-joke, perhaps.
I made a Walmart trip tonight. The store is deserted at about 10 p.m., so I’ve been going pretty late. When I checked out, the clerk spun the bag carousel around a couple of times to make sure we had everything loaded in my cart. He had it going pretty fast, and suddenly I had a vision of all the Walmart workers in this totally deserted store at 3 a.m. running up and down, spinning all the bag carousels.
Naturally, I asked the clerk, a middle-aged, not-very-happy-looking man, if they ever did that. He sort of grimaced, and I said, “I gather that would be frowned upon.” He said, “You’d be fired in about a minute.” And then, in a toneless, stoic voice, he said some immortal words: “There is no fun at Walmart.”
So now, writing this, I am envisioning a musical titled “There Is No Fun at Walmart,” and it would include a number where Walmart workers, feeling a momentary, illusory sense of liberation, would go waltzing down the checkout lines spinning the bag carousels and singing a song celebrating freedom.
This could be a thing. It really could be done, by someone who knows how to write a musical—a previously anonymous, toiling-in-the-trenches Chinese or Guatemalan composer, say—and you could pay your actors minimum wage so that you could sell tickets at low, low prices, and it could be a hit.
Maybe you could even do it in such a way that Walmart couldn’t sue you for millions.
But I doubt it.
*On further reflection, the number itself would be called “There Is No Fun at Walmart/Carousel Bagatelle.” The musical, for purposes of satire and a better title, would be called “Thank You for Shopping at Walmart!” The first number would, of course, be “The Greeter’s Song,” or possibly “The Greeter’s Lament.” You see, I’m actually thinking about this.
Today I went to Bed Bath & Beyond to buy an apple corer. I left with seventy-two dollars’ worth of stuff. After doing a double-take at the checkout counter, I finally accepted something I knew all along was true: Part 2 of The Walmart Syndrome applies to more than just Walmart.
The Walmart Syndrome comprises (1) enervation and (2) mission creep. Enervation, in my case, is a simple equation. Upon walking through the doors of a Walmart, I feel a slight malaise take hold. By minute 10, my feet hurt. By minute 20, my legs hurt. By minute 30, if not before, profound fatigue sets in, as well as an encroaching feeling of hopelessness at the state of humanity. And at minute 45 (god forbid, but Walmart trips can last this long if you must venture into the women’s clothing section), my blood sugar plummets. If screaming children are involved at any point in this journey, add a headache caused by my neuronal pathways twisting into aberrant shapes.
I expect enervation, but mission creep is more pernicious because I persist in believing I can avoid it, at least this one time. This belief flies in the face of all evidence. Last week, for instance, I discovered that I simply could not avoid a Walmart trip for four items not available at my local Walgreens. When I checked out, I couldn’t use the 20-item express lane because my cart was too full. (This is embarrassing to admit, but when I began this blog my life became an open book.)
For many people (and believe me, I’ve asked), mission creep appears to be inevitable. I’m sure Walmart counts on this. As I wrestle my cart through the too-narrow aisles, I can’t help but notice things that I need to stock up on but failed to put on my list. So mission creep has some value, because it helps reduce the frequency of Walmart trips and thus adds a token amount to what little peace and harmony remains in the world. I rejoice that I can usually get by with one Walmart trip a month. Still, the sheer scale of mission creep always shocks me. In that connection, I’ve learned to accept certain purchasing oddities. For example, I always think I’m almost out of business-size envelopes, so now I have three boxes in my desk; and I can’t explain why I have several bottles of Motrin. Well, maybe I can: Reaching for painkillers may simply be a natural reaction to being inside a Walmart.
Other aspects of mission creep distress me more; somehow I just end up with stuff, no matter how much I try to guard against it. In my case a lot of this stuff gets returned. There’s a rationale for all of it (new pillows for my new couch, although I wasn’t sure they’d be quite right, and they weren’t; leggings for physical therapy that I knew perfectly well would not fit, but I had to try). The next day, back went the pillows and the leggings.
Today, in Bed Bath & Beyond (aka B3), I was happy to finally find a comfortable reacher (I’ve been looking for one for months). I also recently discovered that I have a distressingly pressing need for some kind of vacuum attachment to clean out my dryer duct, which is lined with an entrenched, thickly matted layer of dog hair and lint. I found such an attachment at B3, and I figure that purchase was justifiable since it may keep my house from burning down. A little black wedge halfway between the texture of sponge and pumice promised to pick up dog hair, so I gambled on that, a foolish mistake since it will probably be uncleanable.
Finally, I bought a small vegetable chopper. Despite the condition of my wrists, which are permanently weakened from years of tendinitis, I can’t justify this at all. I mean, you first have to cut the vegetables in chunks to put them in the chopper for finer cutting, and then afterward you have to clean the chopper, a device with (presumably) sharp blades. Why not just do all the cutting with a knife and throw away the chopper? This purchase will probably be returned along with the apple corer, which I have no actual expectation of working.
As I was perusing B3’s kitchen section, I became aware of a whole utensil world most of which was heretofore unknown to me. Exploring the racks made me feel like an anthropologist parsing a tribe to which I did not belong. If a person bought all of these specialized utensils, it would take longer to find the one you wanted than to simply hack away randomly with a dull knife at your fruits, vegetables, cheeses, etc., which is the way I deal with most non-boxed-food for my own personal consumption.
After noticing the abundance of these utensils, I got out my iPhone and made a voice memo so I’d remember all of them for this post. Then I decided: Instead of transcribing the memo, which would lose something thereby, I’d just post it here. I thought this would be easy. This assumption goes under the burgeoning category “I Never Learn.” I apologize for this sound clip being three minutes long, but I haven’t yet figured out how to edit voice memos. In the past hour, however, I have learned how to get a voice memo onto my computer, convert it into an mp3 file, and open a SoundCloud account to post the damn thing, which requires a URL in WordPress. That was more than enough agony for one night, so if you listen to the end I’ll be your friend forever, like it or not.
This is the first time my voice has made an appearance (yes, a deliberately inappropriate word choice! revel in it!) on the Internet. Send me enough money and I promise it’ll be the last time.
A few weeks ago I watched an Internet video of a sloth crossing a road with agonizing, preternatural slowness, and it suddenly hit me: The sloth is my spirit animal.
I conceived of it as a Steven-Wright–type joke:
“I found out that the sloth is my spirit animal, but I’ve been kinda slow telling people.”
This seemed hilarious to me, although only a couple of people on my Facebook page seemed to appreciate it. But the incident got me to thinking about the whole issue of spirit animals, which certainly seems to fall into the category of cultural appropriation by Caucasian New Agers of a Native American concept. But that’s a matter for anthropologists or activists.
What interests me is that only certain animals seem to be candidates for spirit animals. You never hear anyone claim the echidna as her spirit animal, for example. I can imagine the reaction these would get in a standup comedy routine:
“My spirit animal is a naked mole rat.”
“A turkey vulture.”
No, it’s always a beautiful or strong or otherwise majestic mammal or bird. Eagles. Horses. Bears. Lions. Perhaps some inventive person somewhere has tabbed the Luna moth or the chameleon, but if so, I haven’t heard about it.
And after all, what would be wrong with an amphibian or reptile, an insect or crustacean? They have admirable qualities. Couldn’t your spirit animal be a jellyfish or a brittle sea star? How about a sea cucumber? The octopus is an extremely intelligent creature for an invertebrate; I’d be honored to have an octopus as my spirit animal.
It just isn’t done.
It subsequently occurred to me that, in my case at least, one spirit animal is not enough to cover the territory. I can’t deny that I have sloth-like tendencies. But on other occasions my spirit animal seems to be the little larva inside a Mexican jumping bean that makes the jumping bean jump (a purposeful thing: it’s trying to move the bean to a cooler place; but it looks erratic). Other times, my spirit animal seems to be a termite colony. I figure it can’t be a termite, singular, because a single termite can’t really do squat; the colony acts like one huge Borg-like organism. So when I’m working hard and my brain is brimming with activity, my spirit animal is the termite colony. I seldom have days any more when I feel pretty, but if I did, on that day my spirit animal would be a leafy sea dragon.
When you think about it, all sorts of possibilities seem plausible. This could be a new party game: What spirit animal fits a given celebrity? Donald Trump’s spirit animal is the crocodile, I think, and Mike Huckabee’s appears to be some type of pit viper. The Kardashians (and I still don’t really understand who they are, nor do I wish to) collectively seem to be a horde of mosquitoes, constantly whining away on the media.
So much potential unexplored! The concept of a spirit animal, I think, has a lot of life left in it.
Readers of this blog may remember a post I made a few months ago called God in the checkout lane, in which I noted that God is working as a cashier at my local grocery store. I knew that because this man sounds more like God than Morgan Freeman does.
Tonight he was there again.
We said hello. I got up my courage and asked his name, and it’s George. I introduced myself.
I said, “You’re the man with the voice.” He answered, “And you’re the girl with the hair.”
That took me aback. So he was serious in our last encounter when he complimented my hair, which happened, as it so often does, to be dirty and disorderly. After I realized he wasn’t being snide, I’d thought perhaps he was just being charitable. After all, he’s a religious man; I remember he’d said that he sings in his church choir, ostensibly praising…well, God. (That seems appropriate. If the Bible is God’s Word for humankind, then any reasonable person must acknowledge that God thinks highly of himself.)
Anyway, I said, “Yeah, and it’s messed up again.” He said, “No, no, it looks good.”
Woo! God likes my hair. He approves of it. I have at least one redeeming quality.
We chatted some more as he scanned my items and my grocery bill grew to alarming heights. I told him I was hoping to start singing lessons again. He said, “You sing?” I said yes but that I wasn’t very good (you don’t lie to God, I figure). When he looked at the plastic sheaf of hydrangeas I’d placed on the checkout counter and said I had good taste, I didn’t know if he meant that in an aesthetic way or if it was a comment on the price. I quickly owned up that I buy flowers for myself, but that this bunch (seven bucks!) was a real splurge and that I usually go for the two-dollar carnations.
As I was loading the bags into my car, I realized there was something I wanted to know and I hadn’t asked.
Is God married?
If not, would God maybe want to get coffee sometime, or iced tea, or a beer, or whatever God drinks? Is that thought de facto blasphemous?
God is probably married. Or gay. Or too weary to get coffee with some crazy, dirty-haired white woman who, unbeknownst to him, writes about him and would perhaps like to be his friend. (I know God is supposed to be omniscient, but I don’t think he knows about this blog. Shhh!)
The very notion poses problems. For example, it would be helpful to know God’s last name. And can you just blurt out to God “Are you married?” And if I did, could I ever use his checkout lane again? If other people heard me, would God be embarrassed?
Does God have a last name?
I had to rewrite the ending of this post because I forgot, or perhaps repressed, the most critical thing. As I was wheeling my cart away from the checkout lane, God said, “Now you behave yourself.” And instead of saying “Yes sir,” I said, “You too.”
Imagine here a cartoon character clapping her hands over her mouth in horror. No one tells God to be good. No one in the Bible even suggests to God that he might be better, that a potential act is not worthy of his righteousness—except for Abraham, in one of the most remarkable passages in the Old Testament (Genesis 18:20-33).
When the next thunderstorm comes, I’m going to be especially wary of lightning strikes.
Having made coffee for someone the other day for the first time in quite a while, I subsequently learned that (1) the coffee was past its expiration date, (2) I was incorrectly storing it in the freezer instead of the fridge, and (3) the filters I had were the wrong kind (cone-shaped instead of dish-shaped).
The latter seemed particularly absurd, as it didn’t take an engineer to see that what I had didn’t fit the shape of the coffee basket at all. Why I bought these particular filters (five years ago!), and why no one else had ever noted that they were the wrong kind, are mysteries.
At any rate, as I was perusing the coffee selection at the grocery store today, a voice just behind and beside me boomed, “Do you know what kind of coffee is good?” I jumped so hard that I heard myself say something like “Oh! Whoa! Oh!” and stumbled into the very tall man who’d spoken. When I caught my balance I said, “Not really. I’m buying this for someone else.”
The man, whom I now think of as the Coffee Seeker, waved a bag of Eight O’ Clock coffee in my general direction and said, “Is this any good?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t drink coffee myself.”
The Coffee Seeker said he didn’t drink coffee either and was buying it for his mother. He picked up another bag and held it out in front of him. “Is this ground?” he asked.
I reached over cautiously and squeezed the bag, which featured a large background photo of coffee beans. “I don’t think so,” I said. I was starting to feel sympathy pangs for his mother, whom I imagined as bedridden and longing only for an acceptable cup of coffee to help her bear her many burdens.
The Coffee Seeker continued standing there. At a loss, I said, “I’ve heard that Seattle’s Best is pretty good.” As I was saying this, I was scanning the shelves. No Seattle’s Best.
“I know that some people like Dunkin’ Donuts coffee,” I added, thus exhausting the last scrap of coffee-related knowledge in my possession. I pointed to the bottom shelf, but he didn’t move.
There was a long pause. He seemed to be harboring the suspicion that I secretly knew something else about coffee that I hadn’t divulged.
As he picked up a different bag, I panicked. “I’m afraid I’m probably the worst possible person to ask about coffee,” I said, with what I hoped was polite but emphatic finality.
The Coffee Seeker weighed this a moment. Then, without a goodbye (I felt we’d forged a sort of bond, but apparently his troubles were too all-consuming for that), he moved several feet down the aisle, to the section with boxes of coffee. (What is that all about, anyway? Does instant coffee now come in tea-type packets instead of jars, and if so, when did that happen?)
“Do you know what boxes of coffee are good?” I heard him ask a male shopper.
“I don’t know,” I heard the man begin. It sounded hopeless. Fearing the Coffee Seeker’s return, I picked up the bag I wanted, found the correct filters immediately (yes!), and decamped.
For all I know, the Coffee Seeker may still be standing in that aisle trying to figure out what to buy.
As for me, I thought I was doing well until I got home and remembered: creamer. Oh crumb. I can just see myself back at the grocery store, scrutinizing the multitudinous types of creamers, dazed and confused, when a voice will boom out at my shoulder, “Do you know what kind of creamer is good?”
I haven’t a clue. Didn’t you ask your mother?