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...

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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.”

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