Jun 17, 2009

All the Apocalypse Purses: Devotional Packing Practices for Posi End Time Spins

This time last year, I was riding my bicycle on the north shore of Lake Superior with my dear friend, Roger. Route 61 in Northern Minnesota is one of the most gorgeous roads I’ve ever ridden. Roger had rigged a pair of solar powered ipod speakers to his handlebar bag (he was going all the way to Labrador) and with Fleetwood Mac on our side, we pedaled long into the far-north summer solstice days, stopping only for the homemade pie sold all along the Scandinavian-inhabited shore.

Maybe it was that Lake Superior itself was a cold and mean old Daddy such as I had never met. It could whip up storms so nefarious we were sure the fore riders of the apocalypse had arrived. I’d find myself one moment contemplating the water’s stillness, darkness, and eerie silence, the next riding through sheets of rain to the echo of distant tornado sirens. Maybe it was the Finnish wizardry that Roger began practicing to guide said storms after picking up a spell book at a small town solstice auction. It could have been that I was headed towards the Canadian border on a bicycle, riding a road made more lonely and gorgeous by the fact that gas prices had topped five dollars. Then again, maybe it was just that Roger was reading Octavia Butler’s Parables series and our nightly conversations over re-hydrated split pea soup and cans of tuna inevitably turned to what kind of getaway bikes we should build in case of industrial collapse…But somewhere on route 61, I took to casually referencing the end times in relation to how we might best approach any given activity or quandary.

The thing was, I felt pretty positively about the end times we spoke of. It’s not that we weren’t talking about doomsday, but that we were more so speaking about readiness—a commitment to being ready—not just for the coming world—but for the one already here. One thing I’ve always appreciated sharing with Roger is a sense of camp, emptiness, and maybe even possibility arising from an appreciation of the utter absurdity of late capitalism. It’s as though we both agree what we have on our hands already is, and will continue to become—far stranger than any end of the world we can imagine.

The end-times-speak used between Roger and me took on it’s own internal conceptual framework, that though unarticulated, we understood to be generally positive or at least matter of fact. I spent much of the rest of that summer traveling alone. End times-speak—the language of readiness—became a private language I used with myself to maintain a sense of agency, accountability, and in-placeness while regarding the brutality and absurdity of such realities as borders, capital, and US citizenship. End-times-speak was such a precious part of my private internal lexicon that I didn’t realize until I was back in the company of friends that constant off-handed references to the end of the world didn’t work well for most people.

In the midst of my re-integration, I caught a performance by Justin Bond in New York. I remember being particularly struck as Justin spoke of witchcraft and calling corners from SF drag show dressing rooms in the pre-ARV days of the HIV virus. She sang songs to lost loved ones—“luminaries of affliction,” she called them. “The end of the world already happened to queers,” I remember thinking. The end of the world already came for queers and the end of the world came to most of the world five hundred years ago when white people started running ashore all over the place.

The end of the world is happening right now, it’s just a matter of where you stand in relation to that end. And by ‘end’ I mean both death and violence and destruction and domination AND I also mean the end of stabilized and naturalized notions of those violences. By “end” I mean the world that is unfolding out in front of our feet again and again—all of the time.

The end of the world is scary not because it asks us to hole up with ammunition and iodine tablets but because it asks us to take responsibility for the world that we find before us. Right now. It asks us to be ready for what is coming—without having more than a guess about exactly what that might be and only educated guesses about how to best make it happen. It demands that we keep our shit fresh and our hearts open and that above all, we be paying attention.

As for preparation, I might burlify my bike. I might keep some iodine tablets around. The early summer’s draft of my apocalypse-packing list (made while biking the North Shore) included things like: spare bike parts, solar panels, autonomous Marxism, potlucks, sex, and calisthenics. I quickly realized my packing list was trying to balance out a need to take care of shit with a need to appreciate it as it is. And this made me think, that really, the best way towards the apocalypse/promised world was really in and through our love of this one. That by loving this world well—really well—that we also locate our readiness to have it change in ways beyond what we find imaginable.

I began asking myself and others: what is it we want to take into the next world with us? If we had to pack purses for the apocalypse, what would we put in them? What do we love enough to carry, or what are we loving so well that it delivers us to the next place, allows us imagine a profoundly different world?

For me, it turns out to be things like watching teenagers dance, or a pair of kittens I helped nurse in Brooklyn, or Stevie Nicks youtube videos, or stretch denim, and definitely this picture:

Munira, Tuesday, and Ser on a broken down ferry in Maine last August

When I ask most people what they would put in their apocalypse purse, the first thing they want to know is how big the purse is and how much space things like youtube videos take up. This is really hard to answer. I’m not here to tell you whether there will be anything like youtube after the apocalypse or help you figure out how big a purse you should carry. The apocalypse purse is a conceptual packing list. It is a practice, a sacrament of sorts.

Once, someone answered that the only thing they would need to pack was “world peace.” I don’t want to mock anyone’s packing process. Maybe you are a heavy packer. Maybe you don’t carry purses. That’s fine. But I will say this: How are you going to put it in the purse if you don’t have it to pack? That’s the only rule. That we are working with the material we have available to us.

It’s like Mary Poppins’ carpetbag. It’s bottomless. You might never see the things you put in there ever again. And I think that’s okay. Because it’s the packing, not the contents, that count.

It’s all tumbling out in front of us. The new world. It’s happening very quickly. Likely there won’t be any hard and fast lines we cross, but should we find ourselves having moved into a new territory, a landscape maybe even known as the apocalypse, I’m willing to wager the question is going to be not what we are carrying but how devotionally we have packed.

Jun 16, 2009

How I Became A Houseboy Hiring Agent (Or A Brief History Of Some Of My More Bizarre Jobs)

For those who lived in Portland during the early 2000's, there was a special skill set involved in making enough money to pay for a two hundred dollar moldy basement room in a collective house while in a city that was: a) experiencing the highest unemployment rate in the country b) is a giant tea bag that is secretly geographically larger than all but a handful of U.S. cities and hence, where no one wants to leave their houses for nine consecutive months c) where despite aforementioned hardships, is known as a city where people go to underachieve in peace and so, d) is home to more than its fair share of culturally hip weirdoes who comprise a market wherein other, cheaper weirdoes can potentially make enough money to pay for their moldy basements.

I did have an on call job, as a drawbridge operator, that I had to quit when I had recurring nightmares of grain ships crashing into the Broadway bridge, probably on account of sleeping with a beeper (yes, a beeper) next to my head for three years. Thereafter, and during the low water months of the bridge job when no ships needed beep me for my services, I spent a lot of time dreaming up strange means for making extra money. Mira and I had long dreamed of an urban history scavenger hunt picnic dating service, which could have proved lucrative with my insider status on the city’s lift spans, but like most Portland ideas involving too much effort, it never got off the ground.

I did work special holidays at an area florist, snapping thorns off rose stems. I had a Summer job with Parks and Rec starting water fights, and I sometimes took on work repairing tent poles with a friend of my parents. Occasionally, my elaborate conceptual cake-making services were subsidized; until Portland’s art-cake market became oversaturated with the appearance of a team of inedible cake-maker girls who filled theirs with things like broken mirrors and road kill. I cleaned houses in Northwest Portland with green cleaning products and played gay nanny for a while, but I really got my break when I began working for a local company producing raw foods.

I worked in a small industrial kitchen managed by an ultra-conservative dessert-maker named Cortland, who had been raised in an ashram in the West Hills. We’d jockey over whether Fleetwood Mac or republican talk radio should be played in the kitchen, but either way, he always left behind for us the edges of his flourless brownies on our shelf in the walk-in. It was likely because of the brownies (as well as my general commitment to cooked food) that the owner of the raw hummus company found me to be far more dependable and grounded that the raw foodists who usually came around to help him.

I took well to the rhythm of the work and there was something about the aesthetics of the kitchen that suited me: massive mason jars of soaking garbanzos, lined in multiples of three and the way the hummus rolled in on itself forming strange hummus-labia whenever it was stirred. I became a regular and quickly began picking up work for other raw foods companies, beginning to distribute for several. The hummus kitchen became something of a center of revolving-door queer punk non-raw-foodist employment as more friends and acquaintances picked up work there and I always had enough leftover raw hummus to trade for things like homemade tinctures or fresh caught fish.

I lasted at Livin’ Spoonfuls until I was taken down by a pickup truck on my bicycle one day in 2005 on my happy way home from an annual pap smear. I returned to the kitchen, minimally, even before I could walk. But finding myself in more medical debt than I would like to put a number to, and feeling disillusioned with lifestyle anarchism and the lack of disability analysis surrounding me, I knew it was time to move on. I also understood that move meant going somewhere where some people, maybe, possibly, had health insurance. A harm-reduction-oriented herb school program in Oakland seemed a good excuse to skip town once I was healed.

When I arrived in the Bay Area, my rent doubled and I held onto this idea of wanting a job with a regular schedule (no beepers, no seasons) and maybe some health insurance. I wasn't quite sure how to make it happen, or how to relate to getting it, knowing most work in the world was paid by the piece, pound, freelanced, contracted, or just plain stolen.

While in Portland, I had discovered that scouring the shelves of health food stores for items with shoddy labels or biodegradable packaging was a great way to find out which companies were operating locally and might need a hand. Of course this search yielded the added benefit of being able to stake out the parking lot after hours for the dregs of their agave syrup or olive oil, not to mention food-grade five gallon buckets. I did the same sort of research in Oakland and after sending out about a dozen unsolicited resumes, the only reply I received was from a woman named Leila, who ran a small company making aromatherapy sexual lubricants in the East Bay saying she needed a production assistant.

I was charmed, if a little put off, by her website which hosted hokey names for glycerin-filled lubes and lots of pictures of her lounging on plush couches wrapped in pink feather boas. I was new to the Bay area, and didn’t really have an understanding of the vast number of eccentric thirty and forty-somethings that form the yearly base for burning man, nor had Portland prepared me to understand the amount of wealth potentially at the disposal of eccentrics like Leila. I simply assumed she was part of the Bay Area culture of white women who act like the project of their public sexual liberation might save the world, particularly if they make a business out of it (I would learn more about this when I went on to work at Good Vibrations).

When I pulled up outside Leila’s West Oakland loft (she insisted it was Emeryville) on my first day, I buzzed upstairs and was ready to leave for lack of reply when she hung her towel-wrapped head out the window, asking me if I didn’t mind waiting just a little longer, darling. A little longer dragged into twenty minutes before I was ushered into Leila’s palatial top floor loft. Literally, the ceilings and windows may have been twenty five feet high, as I would later discover teetering atop many a ladder for her. The vast interior was broken into various sitting areas of chaise lounges, massage tables, and other plush surfaces. A quick survey of the space suggested there were about thirty different places to have sex with scarcely a wall between them. The only separated spaces were her loft where she kept special things like her collection of Chanel heels and her tiny kitchen. “I mostly order in,” she said as she bypassed the kitchen on our tour of the space.

When I asked to see the production space, she led me to a separate apartment in the same building, which seemed to function as something of a glorified craft space. The production area was generally limited to a tiny kitchen nook where about forty kinds of essential oils were stored, but not much else. Business was not booming, but Leila did not seem especially concerned.

As she led me back upstairs, Leila handed me a notebook, suggesting I keep it at hand to take notes of her ideas throughout the day. Immediately she began rattling off things to be done: shirts to return to anthropologie, movies to be made (she was not a filmmaker), the best places to buy orchids, her weekly shopping list, new ways of decorating her loft, themes for her holiday party (it was October), and thoughts about astral projection. She could use me about six hours a day, to start, she said, and if we got along well and she found me a good creative influence, maybe more. She eyed my outfit and haircut, surmising, I guessed, that I had enough potential to keep around while also being pathetic enough to be a fun project. Immediately, she led me up to her loft to help her sort through older clothes (she was expecting a large order from BCBG arriving with UPS that day)and suggesting items for me to try on.

It was clear that Leila did not need a production assistant, and the only thing that had thus far kept her from having a personal assistant was that no one had yet suggested it to her. I spent most of the first week praying for my life and taking notes as Leila drove us recklessly about town blaming all of our near traffic accidents on the position of this or that planet and showing me off at the shops and cafes she frequented.

While at the loft, Leila’s bidding required constant attention. She frequently expected me to read her mind, and would chastise me and my astrological chart for messiness when I left behind one pointless activity to tend to whatever random whim she might have. Leila had an irrational fear of having her name be readable on any mail that was being thrown out, so on my tenth day, as I cut up the addresses printed on her eighteen magazine subscriptions and countless catalogs (Leila despised the sound of tearing paper and thought me crude for not agreeing) she began to get a read on me for making too much a mess as I processed the mountain of catalogs.

Looking over the utter pointlessness of my task, I realized that Leila was genuinely enjoying having something of a protégé and a submissive in me, and that the primary problem at hand (besides the independent wealth, her fake company, and her underpaying me) was just that she had simply chosen the wrong person for the job. I stood up and began to explain that I couldn’t work for her anymore because she was cruel and bossy and seemed to enjoy demeaning me, and that I really didn’t like it, BUT that I thought she had some special talent in being cruel and demeaning. I assured her there was someone out there who would like it and that she was really just barking up the wrong tree with the personal assistant thing.

At first Leila seemed shocked and offended but immediately was overtaken by the prospect that there was some territory of decadence, opulence, and eccentricity that she had yet explore and that I was about to reveal to her (these ideas were, after all, a part of why she had hired me). As soon as I said the word “houseboy” she lowered herself to the couch saying, “tell me more.” No sooner had I given her the rough wikipedia-style description of having a household submissive and Leila was telling me she wanted to have one for every day of the week. I tried to explain to her that it wasn’t just free labor, that she would have to interact with them, negotiate a dynamic—but that if her treatment of me as a personal assistant had been any indication, that I really thought she had what it would take. I spent the rest of my last day as Leila’s personal assistant pulling up and reading aloud how-to articles for her and negotiating the terms of my employment as her houseboy hiring agent.

The craigslist ad I posted got forty replies on the first day. Leila was an attractive, single woman who basically lived alone in a mansion, plus she had a young female assistant to play middle man, which I’m sure added an air of mystery and intrigue. I responded to about twelve replies and dressed up smartly one day for a round of rotating interviews at a local coffee shop. It became immediately clear to me that the more experienced subs would not get what they wanted from an arrangement with Leila and I was about to give up when Ted showed up.

Ted was handsome, but awkward. He was a massage therapist and had discovered his love of service as one of he main organizers of the yearly “hookah dome” at burning man, though he had no formal experience as a houseboy. Thinking it couldn’t get much better, I put him in touch with Leila and later set him up with a date to visit her loft.

As soon as Ted arrived at the loft, Leila immediately sent him to her hairstylist to get his rugged mane under control. He seemed neither annoyed nor amused by this, and I spent the duration of his appointment trying to think about how to construct the most hookah-dome like experience possible for Ted. It really didn’t seem like it would be hard in the plush ballroom of Leila’s home, considering it may have already resembled the interior of a uterus.

When Ted returned, Leila seemed to have less interest in taking out her ways with him than continuing to do so with me and then having me act as something of a middle management domme. It seemed that after all she really did want a lady in waiting more than a houseboy. So I played middle manager. Ted, for his purposes seemed to have fun with all of this. As for me, it kept me interested for a minute, but ultimately I decided it wasn’t much different than being her personal assistant had been, that I was still getting underpaid, and that if I wanted to be someone’s Mistress, I could be getting my own apartment cleaned.

I did finally get a job with health insurance. Ted and I did go back and work some seasonal events for Leila. It was my job, for instance, to choose a yuletide g-string for Ted which he could wear while feeding and offering massages to her guests. I also negotiated a much higher payment for myself and a few other friends to serve drinks, but ended up uncomfortable when the lady partygoers would lose their shit exoticizing the young queers holding the hor'dourve plates. When Leila asked me to hire and train a team of boys to dress as sexy cupids for her Valentines bash, I gave her a copy of the Topping book I picked up at my new place of work and bid her farewell.

Jun 15, 2009

Smorgasbord Strategy: Expert Tips and Tactical Maneuvers for Ensuring a Rewarding Buffet Experience

This is my friend Nicoletta. She has a lot of good ideas about how to be fancy while staying on the cheap. Recently when her hours were cut at work, she told me that instead of switching away from using Bumble & Bumble products, she was just cutting her hair so she’d use less conditioner. Genius.

I recently had to consult Nicoletta because I was on my way to Vegas for my mother’s fiftieth birthday and I planned to hit up a very special buffet. I usually don’t go to buffets without Nicoletta, and wasn’t sure what I would do without her live buffet-coaching. In fact, I wasn’t really sure what I would do in Vegas at all without Nicoletta, but I did my best (future post).

Nicoletta came naturally to her obsession with Vegas. Her grandfather is a professional gambler in Oakland and when I met her as a teenager she was working as a waitress in a bingo hall in Oregon. None of us were surprised when Nicoletta fell hard for Vegas at age twenty, the same year she got “glamour for rent” tattooed on left ass cheek. She later got a job as a sex toy buyer which allowed her to make frequent trips to Las Vegas. Between her love of the mystical mermaid penny slots, food, and a good bargain, Nicoletta was able to develop the most comprehensive buffet strategy known to man. Below, Nicoletta shares her thoughts on buffet etiquette, pre-game high-fiber diets, and buffet-performance enhancing drugs.

Addy: So, often, eating at buffets mean we are skimping on quality. Is there some sort of buffet alogorithim of how low you can go on quality and still get good value? If I’m choosing a buffet, what do I keep in mind? How do I stay out of trouble?

Nicoletta: Do your research. There are some bad buffets. Survey the décor. If they haven’t updated the dining room, they might not have updated the menu. Also, yelp and citysearch can be good.

Addy: But everyone on yelp are these weird haters who can’t enjoy anything about their lives because they are too busy being fake food critics for free. What is it that you look for in a buffet?

Well, Breakfast buffets are always a favorite. I love breakfast food. It’s hard to make breakfast food disgusting. It’s just harder to mess up. Except for that time you and I went to the Flamingo (makes gagging noise), but usually—usually it’s harder to mess up!

Plus, the breakfast buffets are the cheapest. Brunch is another story. The great thing about going for breakfast—okay, I like to get there about like, 40 minutes before lunch time. So you pay the breakfast price, you get to try the breakfast food, but THEN the lunch stuff comes out. So you take a break, you chill out. and then you get lunch at the breakfast price. Lunch stuff is usually worth more money. And I really like to feel like I’m getting my money’s worth at a buffet.

Addy: Yeah, so these are tough times. Are buffets an unnecessary indulgence or a wise bargain?

Nicoletta: Well, they are a little bit of both. You get to treat yourself, but if you find a good deal—if you go at the switchover times—it can be a bargain. Also—well don’t try this in Vegas because they are really intense there and have cameras everywhere—but most places you can take some to go. I mean, you aren’t supposed to, but just line your purse with some tin foil or ziplock bags and. you know…I went to this amazing fried chicken buffet in SF and I mean, I don’t even usually like fried chicken but it was amazing. We got a whole bag to go without being harassed.

Addy: A fried chicken purse! But not in Vegas?

Nicoletta: No way. I have a friend who tried to put a roll in her napkin there and they sent someone to ask her where she was going with it.

Addy: What! Did they want it back?! Brunch big brother is watching you.

I know right! Seriously! Cameras everywhere. Most places that don’t have buffets all the time aren’t as strict.

Addy: Their buffet surveillance technology is a little less evolved.

Nicoletta: Exactly. And anyway, you don’t always want to-go. Sometimes you don’t want to look at food after a buffet. When I went to Vegas, I just got up every day, did the breakfast-lunch crossover, and then swam the rest of the day. That was it.

Las Vegas' Wynn Buffet

Addy: So, what’s your take on buffet performance enhancing drugs? Are they cheating?

Nicoletta: I think they are great, I’ve really been enjoying them before going to my new favorite buffet, Salty’s on the Columbia. But that’s not always the experience you want. But I have a new buffet. The spirit mountain casino in grand ron Oregon. They have a Wednesday night sea food buffet. And it’s ah-mazing. The desserts were in-sane. And the crab legs. I drank a lot of orange juice.

Addy: Okay, about orange juice. Beverages—a necessary component of the buffet experience, or a waste of precious stomach space?

Nicoletta: You know, it really depends. I usually would say waste of stomach space, but I always feel like I should order things at buffets. One thing I like to do—and I’m not usually a juice fan—is order some apple juice. It helps to settle my stomach throughout the buffet. The pectin is really good for holding your poop together.

Addy: Okay, it’s the night before a buffet. How are we getting ready?

Nicoletta: Well don’t make the mistake of not eating or eating too little because your stomach is going to shrink before he buffet. You know, eat your normal amount, maybe a little more. Things that move through you fast. You know, fruits, vegetables. Don’t overdo it, but keep eating. Then stuff will move through you quicker later at the buffet because you’ll have something in there, I think.

Were going for high volume, high fiber. Next item. Talk to me about attire. What are we wearing to the buffet? I understand expandability is a primary concern. There are basics. No button flies. And we may need to look respectable enough to fly below the radar if we are packing a fried chicken purse. What else?

Nicoletta: Yeah, totally totally. Well, luckily these days there is a lot of jersey cotton in the world and I’m a big fan. I like to dress up, you know to go to a nice buffet. Recently I did make the mistake of wearing tight jeans. I felt so full and so sick I didn’t even come close to eating in buffet quantities.

That’s pretty much my general experience of wearing pants in the world. I feel really held back. I mean, what if you want to dance—or eat a buffet? You never know when you might need an elastic waistband.

Drop crotch pants may be a fashionable and sensible buffet choice for maximum expandability and extra space for smuggling your fried chicken purse.

Addy: Now, a question that may concern many of us when we cross through the turnstiles. Is there such a thing as buffet etiquette?

Nicoletta: There is. There is buffet etiquette. You know, don’t cut in line. I mean, it’s okay to go around someone if they are stuck on one thing, but you don’t want to reach over people. It’s hard. You see something good, or you are on a final round and you know what you want and you just want to make a beeline. One thing that is always good to remember at a buffet, though, is that it’s not a race. It’s just not a race. You can relax. You can take breathers. Maybe go poop if you need to.

Addy: Okay, and about poop. We touched on fiber before, but…Laxitives? Coffee?

Nicoletta: Well, I wouldn’t recommend laxatives. That’s just me.

Addy: Well, I’ve been wearing heels, training for Vegas, and I’ve been noticing something. See, this yoga teacher I used to know had a poop stool in her bathroom, you know, to rest your feet on to emulate a squatting position. It’s way better pooping ergonomics. And high heels, they really jack up your knees and put you in that classic squatting position that is conducive to bm’s. They are like poop stools that are actually attached to your feet. They can really help things. Maybe a good choice for buffets?

Nicoletta: And people who don’t wear heels, they can think about propping their feet up on something. Tampon disposal boxes.

My Las Vegas poop stools plus KFC's witch flats

Addy: Okay, let’s get back to the good stuff. Stomach space. You are approaching the buffet. What do you start with?

I think it’s good to start with ruffage. Some salad. A lot of people think you can make salad at home and it’s a waste, but I think it’s a good start. Whatever you do, you want to never ever start with carbs. It’s the most common mistake. Round two I go for proteins. After that you are free to roam and finish yourself off in whatever way you like.

Addy: And what about if you get something and you don’t like it?

Nicoletta: Well, take small portions. You can always go back. You are at a buffet. Also, start with small bites. I personally like it when buffets have paper napkins and I can discretely spit the things out that I don’t want to designate stomach space for. It helps if you have a bowl to put them in, and if the people you are going with aren’t grossed out by this. You know, the great thing about going to buffets with crab legs is that they have buckets you can put the legs in. I just put all kinds of things in there. I think more buffets should have disposal buckets.

Addy: Maybe they should have compost motes that flow behind the tables for people to just throw stuff into. But we’d have to be careful that everyone tottering around in their poop-stool high heels wouldn’t fall in. That could be dangerous.

Nicoletta: And smell bad. I think the buckets are better. Just remember, small bites.

Addy: And I have to ask about the old salty panty trick.

Nicoletta: Ah, well one thing you can do at a fancy buffet is plant a pair of dirty underwear under the table when you arrive and then when you are done with the buffet you can “find” them under the table and try to find out what’s going on. This happened to my friend’s family at Salty’s on the Columbia, but it was all accidental. They didn’t know where the panties came from until later, but they got half off their buffet anyway.

Addy: So, it works better if the people who find the panties didn’t plant them there so they can actually complain in earnest?

Nicoletta: Yes, and it helps if you have a kid to find them under the table (laughing).

Addy: So talk to me about this: how do you know when it’s time to stop? Just stop eating?

Just listen to your body. I think when I first started going, I overdid it. It’s exciting. It’s hard. You just want to keep going. But it’s really not a race. It’s not worth it. When you are done, just be done. It’s okay. There will be more buffets in the future. There will always be more buffets.

Jun 1, 2009

Fibs, Fables, and Fifty: An Interview With My Mom As She Preps For Her Next Half Century

This is Kathy Failes Carpenter. She is my mom. She is also one of the coolest, wisest, and weirdest people I know. In a lot of ways, she is sort of what this blog is about. When Mira and I first talked about a weird girl blog, we mostly wanted to do a lot of mom-interviews, but then missed the mother’s day release date. Luckily, KFC turns 50 on June 5th, so we are just in time.

Now, KFC isn’t an eccentric lefty or an ex-hippie. She’s a Catholic lady from Minnesota who through the here-and-there of a career Air Force marriage now lives in the suburbs of Washington state.

There’s a lot to say about KFC. She is super smart. She figures stuff out faster than anyone I know, is really good at teaching herself things, and pretty much isn’t scared to say anything to anyone, ever. She has this way of moving through the world as though she doesn’t have enough information to know she might fail, or isn’t paying attention to it if she does. As a result, she gets mad shit done.

Somehow, she manages not to trip over herself with self doubt or neurotic self evaluation (which I am still trying to learn from her). I think this has a lot to do with having had to figure a lot of stuff out on her own. KFC married my Dad at 20, followed him overseas (he was in the Air Force) where she had a baby (me) and realized she couldn’t relate to other military wives (duh) and so hung out with neighbors twenty years older (and taught herself German).

Other things about Kathy: She knows more people and has an easier time getting phone numbers than any queer hipster I know. She enjoys doing karaoke alone in her living room or sometimes out with her hairdresser. She enjoys pickles dipped in chocolate malts. And, she just knows stuff. Like, how she gave me kombucha and the new sandpaper hair removal system in my Easter basket. She isn’t missing a beat. She takes information from anywhere and everywhere.

KFC is working with this form of deep mom-wisdom. And she knows it. What’s unique, though, is that she has this almost unshakeable faith in her own weird wisdom, especially since Mira and I started a campaign to convince her she’s a witch. Now I receive all sorts of mixed medium text messages from her involving strange pictures and abbreviated poetics. Important clues in the mystery, all of them. KFC even bought a pair of witch shoes last year that she wears on days she really needs luck on her side.

KFC turns fifty this week. Each year, she becomes more brazen and less apologetic for her ways, and she’s here as living proof that where weird girl wisdom is concerned, it’s good to get started early.

I’m about to leave for Las Vegas, where I’ll be celebrating KFC's 50th by taking in Bette Midler on the full moon (yes). I’m excited about honoring fifty years of her on this planet, and excited to have already gotten to be around for 27 of them. Below is KFC’s first interview for the weird girl blog where she talks to us about fibs vs. lies, the art of toilet-papering houses, and the benefits of graying hair...


Addy: So, I’ve never interviewed you before! How are you feeling about turning 50?
KFC: So for some reason there’s all these things that go with turning 50 that mean you are older and I’m not sure if that’s working. Working on the garage floor with your dad has reminded me I’m not 30. I’ve had to go to the chiropractor twice already. Though your Dad and I went to the chiropractor for our 30th anniversary, so I guess it’s a favorite outing in this family. Oops.

Addy: You’re entering the second half of a century, how you are you feeling about the first half?

KFC: Well, people know I’m here (laughs).

Addy: So, you know this is for the weird girl blog, right?

KFC: Oh, yeah. Sure. I think it was in third grade, or oops, maybe it was fourth, I spelled 'weird' wrong and they made me write it on the board a hundred times. It didn’t help.

Addy: So, a lot of the blog is about information people are working with in the world. What do you know a lot about?

KFC: Um, flying by the seat of my pants. Backing up ten and punt. Because everything is a crap shoot and oops, maybe it’s a carp shoot. and you have to do what you have to do cause anything could change and you can’t be stuck so you have to kind of go with the flow. And my motto for my 50th birthday is WYSIWYG.

Addy: What does WYSIWYG mean?

KFC: It’s been on my refrigerator for 15 years now, and it means what you see is what you get. It’s an old computer term, but it sort of personifies me in six letters or less.

Addy: So, how do you think you learned to do that? The WYSIWYG flying by the seat of your pants stuff?

KFC: It’s about paying attention. Also, my environment. The dynamics of my family with disabilities and other things that created a situation where I had to walk through and make sure people didn’t get stuck on my watch.

Addy: So you had to be thinking ahead.

KFC: Always always. Staying a step ahead of it, and then when it changes, back up ten and punt again.

Addy: What are some other things you know a lot about?

KFC: Being loud. Making sure everyone else is having fun. Flying by the seat of my pants. Computers. Flying. I know a lot about helping people who are visually impaired. I know a lot about tools in a funny way. I had to because i was Opa’s eyes. I know how to make a party happen in a moment’s notice.

Addy: Well I know at the last two parties of mine you came to you threw down. One you came to dressed as a kangaroo, bearing toilet paper and scared away some uptight crust punks I didn’t even want there and then at my bike accident anniversary brunch you made all the Mission hipster queers write their names with their butts.

KFC: You know that’s on the agenda for Vegas. It’s a prerequisite to getting your WYSIWYG temporary tattoo, Write your name with your butt.

Addy: Dot the i’s and cross the t’s? Too bad this isn’t a video blog.

KFC: Ah--yeah, jump. Good. (laughs). Don’t wanna go there right now.

Addy: So, we know what you are good at, what do you like?

KFC: You mean when I'm not stuck working in front of the computer? Oops. I like to fart around in the garden. Riding my bike. Big big hobby. You come by that naturally. Pretty sure i did that while pregnant with you and then with you on the back and Meghan on the front. I was kind of like a one man band rolling through our neighborhood in North Carolina. It kind of worried people, but i was careful. Rode my bike everyday this week.

Let’s see, what else? Internet searching. I’m the internet search queen. If you need something. you tell me a few words and you’ve got ten links.

Addy: You are the internet. I also ask you if i need to know if I can accomplish something. Like, if i needed to know if i could borrow a wheelchair from Ohare airport. I would call you.

KFC: And the answer to that would be go for it, and if they say no, stop. Two words: Just ask. Or not (laughs).

Addy: Or not, how about not.

KFC: Ignorance is 99 percent of the truth. I think there’s a really good pic of you in fake fur coat in that wheelchair.

Addy: Yeah we took my busted ass out to brunch in that. Chicago’s big, I would have never have made it around just with crutches. Good thing we had it. Well yeah, you are kind of my go-to man on a lot of things. Not just mom things. Those too, but if I needed to tell a lie to some sort of authority, and I wanted to know if I could get away with it, I would call you.

KFC: Well, the other day, I knew this person was from Minnesota because they said “it’s a fib.” And this is the key. A fib. It’s not a lie. And a fib is something that isn’t toally the truth but isn’t going to hurt. It might help.

Addy: Healthy embellishment? Story truth?

KFC: I actually need to look up what it means cause i really want to know now, hold on. I always used to do that before the internet. We’d make a list of stuff to look up when you were kids and we went to the library most weeks. (looking up) Okay, 'fib' is related to 'fable.' And fables pretty much have a moral to the story, so oops, I don’t know, maybe fibbing is telling the truth in a way. Fibbing fables in a way.

Addy: Okay, so some other questions. How do you stay willing to learn?

KFC: Paying attention. You need to be open and willing to just work with what’s happening. because if you get too stuck on what you think it should be like, well, number one: You aren’t going to have any fun. Number two: You are going to piss somebody off. And number three: the opportunity won’t present itself again so you might as well not be that guy and have some more options next time.

Addy: Do you think it’s hard for people to keep up with you with that attitude?

KFC: No, they are kind of all to the point now where they can at least go, ‘Oh, that’s Kathy.' On the other hand, I don’t know there’s gonna be times I’m not as good at something as they are and then I acknowledge and embrace their talents and so I back off. I’m learning to delegate.

Addy: What’s the greatest thing about getting older?

KFC: Oh! Being able to get away with stuff! Nobody looks at you cross-eyed. It’s like, ever since I stopped dying my hair, nobody tries to stop me anymore.

Addy: So then, what’s in store with the clever middle aged lady disguise?

KFC: Toilet papering.

Addy: Who is your next target and why do they deserve it?

KFC: The you-know-who’s [sexist male neighbor and his friend who is on the SWAT Team].

Well, they have a horse-sized dog with horse-sized shit that makes me about pass out every time I’m on that side of the house. Plus, they think they can solve all the worlds problems with a cigar and a folding chair in their driveway and I’m always the butt of their jokes. Like when I’m on my bike. They are always asking me where my broom is. And where my little dog is.

Addy: They are still at it then? Feminist toilet papering revenge, then?

KFC: It’s not revenge, It’s just a message. It’s art. It will be beautiful.

Addy: I hope so cause it’s next to your house, you’ll have to look at it.

KFC: It will be beautiful. Maybe we’ll do our house too and then they’ll just be really confused about what hit them. [Some other neighbors] are staying here while work is done at their house and I’m going to teach them to do it.

Addy: Passing the torch? So, will you save the toilet paper?

KFC: Well, you don’t live here anymore, so that doesn’t seem like a good idea. Like the last time I brought you that big black bag of toilet paper you kept in your tub at your house in Portland cause you were mad we were wasting the paper.

Addy: Well, I came politically of age during late nineties forest activism in Oregon, what was I supposed to do?

KFC: You crack me up. You are really interviewing your mother.

Addy: You should write for us.

KFC: Send me some topics, then.

Addy: Okay, I love you mom. Goodnight.

KFC: Thank you it was lovely (laughs). And in the scheme of things, I’m just gonna say that the related forms of 'fib' are 'fibber' and 'fibbster.' KFC changed from Kentucky Fried Chicken to Kentucky Grilled Chicken, so I need a new claim to fame. Now the 'F' isn’t for fried. It’s for fibbster. It’s a new half a century for me. Hey, how come you are so cute?

Addy: Cause my parents are cute.

KFC: Oops, just checking.

Post interview text messages sent by KFC:

Two minutes later: “synonym for fibber is fabulist speaks for itself in one way but means a composer of fables hmmm.”

Four minutes later
: “fable meaning a short tale to teach a lesson. when you tell your story, you set someone free. amen and good night.”