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For Immediate Release

Chintzeys Return Triumphantly to the Living Room
May 30, 2011

Spyco Records; Saint Cloud, Minnesota — The skies cleared from stormy to partly cloudy in a symbolic gesture Saturday afternoon as the St Cloud based new-wave art-rock band known to 24 fans as The Chintzeys returned to the “studio”.

The Chintzeys: the most dangerous band in the living room. At the time that this photo was taken.

The Chintzeys skyrocketed to number #77,547 on facebook in 2010 – a meaningless measure of anything to be sure. Though they have not technically “sold” any copies of their debut album “This Aint No Holocaust”, they have managed to give several copies away. After two unsuccessful attempts at a second album, The Chintzeys surprised no one more than themselves by putting together a Christmas album. Their beloved rendition of the classic “Fum, Fum, Fum” was roundly lauded as one of the most haunting- yet-dismal Christmas songs ever recorded.

The first half of 2011 was quiet for the Chintzeys. Jennifer, the less talented half of the band, took time off to record a solo EP with Producer Douglas, also in the Chintzeys. The project, known as Daycamp, features Jennifer stretching her musical arms to embrace several new instruments – namely trumpet and bass. More of hug than an embrace. A very tight hug that is almost like being strangled. The Daycamp CD features very lovely album art and two songs which may or may not be heard by human ears.

Meanwhile, Chintzey frontman Doug returned to the studio to explore numerous other projects, with musicians who actually write and play music, unlike the eclectic Jennifer who mostly offers opinions and drinks beers. Rumors indicated that the pair would never record again after quitting smoking. Smoke-free or puffing away, the world may never know. But we can all rest easy knowing that the we haven’t heard the last of this heartfelt, wacky trio. Yes, they are a trio. Horn man Pete has not been seen, but is believed to bealive and living in the Twin Cities metro.

Chintzey frontman Doug was not available for comment at the time of this release, due to heartburn, and the extraordinary laziness of the reporter. Jennifer paused on her way to the studio to give this brief statement: “I don’t remember anything and I don’t know what you’re talking about. Can you please let me through? This beer is getting warm, and it’s heavy.”

For additional information on The Chintzeys, whisper into the wind. Then wait.



Pushing 40 in a Polyester Skirt

I’m thirty-eight now. For my sister, fifteen years older, this bit of news hit hard. It seemed more upsetting to her than when she herself turned fifty, a milestone she passed with trademark grace. “But I was thirty-seven for a whole year, and that didn’t seem old.” I pleaded. “No.” She stood her ground, “You’re old now.”

And so I am, quite suddenly, old. At my birthday party, I felt punchy, liberated even, as I developed for myself the catch-phrase: “I’m pushing forty! I do the fuck I want!” It turns out this catch-phrase is limited in both application and enduring charm. But it does express a certain sense of relief I feel having made it to middle age. Cause let’s face it, given certain lifestyle choices on my behalf, I’m definitely there.

Sometimes people wait until they are actually elderly to stop caring what other people think. Since I’ve only ever marginally given a crap, it’s just taken the tiniest nudge to push me into all-out apathy. One of the things I don’t care about because I’m so fucking old is certainly what the fuck I wear.

Again, this has never truly been something I worry too much about in terms of “public opinion”. But let me clarify:  I care very much about my appearance when it comes to prospective employers, prospective boyfriends, friends who are more hip than me, and the parents of my children’s friends. The rest of you all can suck it. To whit: I just went to the corner grocery store in pajama pants, a tank top that highlights my mooshy mid-section, a scarf that is part of a child’s pirate costume worn as a do-rag and a men’s cardigan from 1984. (acrylic, navy) And you know what? The clerk who works six days a week because he is single (wink), and doesn’t have anything else to do anyway as he kindly informed me, kind of hit on me.

Throughout my life, like many misguided women of my generation, fashion has played a major role in defining my identity. Just in case you’ve only known me for two weeks, let me offer you a brief history of some of the highs and lows along the way:

K-8: She’s so unusual
My mother not only let me dress myself, but never even offered an opinion on the whack shit I left my house in. I wore fake leather pants in fourth grade for God’s sake. And because I lived in an insanely homogeneous small town with no mean rich girls to make fun of me, I really had no idea what a freak show I was becoming. In my defense, it was the eighties. My fashion idols were, duh, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. Having no access to clothing stores or the money to use at them, I raided my mom’s closet hand-me-downs, and a trunk of dress up clothes in the basement. The result was a midget-sized cross between Murphy Brown and Shelia E.

Highschool: Every day is Halloween
A crucial event between eighth grade and my freshman year was Art Camp. I smoked my first cigarette, met a boy who skateboarded and was introduced to Suicidal Tendencies. Also I met punk rockers from Madison.  I had packed every Forenza t-shirt and Esprit bermuda shorts in my collection, only to meet girls with shaved heads and combat boots who knew how to use blow torches. I returned to Hartford with a new bad habit and a head full of bad fashion ideas. Like torn  tights worn under jean cut-offs, or worse yet, long underwear under boxer shorts.

Thankfully I was delivered via Angie, my goth friend with access to and knowledge of the Army Surplus store on Wisconsin Avenue, and Sweet Doomed Angel, a vintage boutique on the East side of Milwaukee. Then there was Chris, my then-closeted gay friend, who became my own personal Tim Gunn. He could be cruel to be kind. He took me shopping for my prom dress, and actually blushed when I came out of the dressing room with decoletage, God Bless his queer heart.

I was, in fact, surrounded by like-minded, equally daring dressers. Each of us had our own signature – Jenny for example, favored hats neatly propped behind a massive wall of blonde bangs. Danielle did this thing with safety pins and the collars of men’s shirts… it’s hard to explain. But it looked cool! One thing we all had in common, as girls growing up in the eighties, was: at all costs obscure your killer bod. Giant, David Byrne like suits or men’s vintage shirts would mask any semblance of a breast. Youth, again, wasted on the young.

Personally, I settled into a new wave thing for most of high-school. I had a platinum bob and my style was not unlike Winona Ryder in Heathers. Lots of colored tights. It held until senior year, when I began to smoke pot, or at least pretend I did, and decided to become a hippie, or something. Things went downhill fast.

College: Rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes
Once I realized that head shops not only sold drug paraphernalia but also clothes and jewelry, it was over. So over, my friends. I wore Birkenstocks to the exclusion of all other footwear. Flannels, Guatemalan pants, and t-shirts ordered from the Wireless catalog – all at the SAME TIME. And weight gain. Dark times for this Little Wing. Thankfully I remember almost none of it. Except for my very expensive education which has been invaluable in too many ways to mention, Mom.

Twenties: Ballad of a ladyman
The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. The second step is to make a past-time out of shopping at the myriad kick-ass thrift stores of St Paul. Throughout my twenties I careened between ‘actually-sort-of-hip’ to ‘trying-a-little-too-hard’ to ‘what-the-hell-is-she-wearing-now?’ This was when I first heard people say to me: “I could never pull that off.” to which I might have answered “What? The cat-eye glasses, platform shoes or lavender pedal pushers?” I’m not joking. Look up tragically hip in the dictionary and I am cited. I had black hair with short bangs bla bla bla. Google Sleater Kinney. Next!

Thirties: Crossroads Blues
When I speak of the Crossroads, I speak not of the fabled place where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil, but rather the horrible Crossroads Mall in St Cloud Minnesota. Shudder. Three important things happened during my thirties, fashion wise:

  1. I had kids. For at least a year I really didn’t care what I was wearing as long as it was washable. My kids spit up so much I thought I’d never wear black again. Then, when I started to wake from the newborn-induced coma, I realized I hadn’t gone shopping in two years. Which leads to number 2.
  2. I lived in St Cloud. The best dressed women in St Cloud shop by mail order, or drive to the cities. The shopping mecca of St Cloud is the Crossroads Mall, which is peppered with overpriced stores that cater to the tween and/or slut set. So instead I culled a weird wardrobe from the insane clearance racks at Herberger’s and the local Savers which is unparalleled, in my opinion.
  3. I got a professional job. This job required me to appear, well, professional. Since I was a “Creative” (yes, that passes for a noun) I could get away with more than you might expect. Like pigtails. But sometimes they let the Creatives (monkeys) out of the cage and we had to go meet clients. It turns out I look like a midget when I wear a suit. Wrap dresses for every season ladies! Also I wore neck-ties because they are, and will always be, sexy on women.

Forties: Black to the Future?
In my late twenties, out of boredom, I formulated a plan that when I turned forty I would wear only black for a decade. I think I was trying to be original, or funny, or maybe I just am really that weird. In any case, the closer I get, the more my closet is trending in that direction and I think it isn’t a half bad idea. Except that I actually like color. But at least I no longer try to get away with pigtails (very often) or child barettes (hardly ever) or costume jewelry (only for parties and sometimes the gay bar). And I almost never wear age-inappropriate retro t-shirts or vintage skirts that look A&W uniforms. But when I do, I rock it, because you know why? That’s right: I’m pushing forty, I do the fuck I want! See it is catchy!

Author’s note: I’m forty one. I let my hair go grey, and I look more and more like David Lynch (in a dress) every day. Perfect. 

Inappropriate and Notorious

Wednesday night, two weeks ago, Ivan was hell-bent on finding the album “Green” by REM. It had been a long night, punctuated by bouts of hysteria from all corners, and we really wanted, needed, to find the CD. I dragged out every CD file I have and we began to flip through them.”Here it is!” he cried. And indeed, my 1988 original compact disc of REM’s commercial breakthrough still exists.

I put it in and Ivan skibbled around the living room. “Orange Crush!” he yelled. He air guitared and bounced around while I did the dishes. I cannot complain about my son’s musical taste or habits. I have heard children’s music.

Suddenly he was at my side, tugging at my sleeve, “Mom! I know! I can bring this for show and tell! “Orange Crush”! It starts with ‘C!'” Hmmm. Are children allowed to bring music for show-and-tell? Why not? And further, I reasoned, it is a compact disc, which also starts with ‘C’. Very clever, mom.

On the way to school the next morning, Ivan wondered aloud in the back seat, “Mom, I don’t think my classmates know very much about music.” Oh, sweet Ivan, if I had a nickel for every time I have thought that very thing! With conviction he added, “I think I have to help them.” I agreed, it was a noble pursuit.

Last Thursday, I picked up Ivan from school. “How was your day?” He held up an empty jewel case and pouted, “I forgot to bring my Duran Duran CD for ‘D’ show-and-tell day.” Sigh. “But, Ms Mary says I can bring it tomorrow.” Okay kiddo. Ruffle the hair, get in the car.

I had to call my ex-husband to procure the CD. It may surprise you to know that he owns a copy of their greatest hits and I do not. Ahem: we are unconstrained by gender stereotypes. “Oh brother.” he said, “is he going on about that again? I was going to send it along, but I thought it was kind of inappropriate.” I tell this to Ivan and he says earnestly, “I know almost every song on that and they are ALL appropriate!” Okay kiddo. Ruffle hair. We’ll see in the morning.

Inappropriate. The word has become positively insidious since my children have been old enough to, well, be inappropriate. For those of you who do not have children under the age of ten, I will explain. Inappropriate is a morally bland term to describe everything which our parents told us was wrong, naughty, or a sin. So instead of, “We don’t hit our brother, it’s wrong!” It’s “Please stop hitting your brother, it’s inappropriate”. Peeing in front of strangers at the park? Completely inappropriate! Peeing on another person? That is so inappropriate my head is going to explode!!

I have problems with the word’s vagueness, but I do employ it constantly, because it is code for “Don’t do that.” It also smooths over specifics that frankly, I am in no hurry to explain. Like when Veronica asked me the meaning of the word sexy. “Well, it’s like ‘pretty’ but more grown-up-like.” Blank stare. “You know how you feel embarrassed when people kiss in movies?” “Uh-huh. Gross” “Well, that’s kind of sexy.” More staring. “It’s inappropriate?” she offers. I nod furiously, “For an eight year old yes, absolutely. Sexy is inappropriate.”

And this is is how I find myself driving to school this morning reviewing the “greatest” of Duran Duran hits to determine which are appropriate to play for pre-schoolers. (Taste notwithstanding.)

“The first song has a naughty word,” says Ivan ominously, “nuclear war.” I’m trying to place it in the lyrics and start sussing out the melody aloud, “Yeah, it’s like “your something something something as a nuclear waaarrr…”

Ivan pipes up, “He says you’re about AS EASY as a nuclear war.” Gulp. Yep, inappropriate!

“Why can’t we do ‘Hungry Like the Wolf?‘” he asks.

“I think the panting sounds the woman makes in that song might scare your friends.” Also an immediate no: “Girls on Film“. “The Reflex” he doesn’t like, and I don’t blame him.

“What about Rio?'” I enthuse, “Everyone loves Rio’. It’s a classic. You can’t go wrong with ‘Rio’.” We listen together for a minute: ‘Cherry ice-cream smile, I suppose it’s very nice!‘ I start to protest.

“But mom! Every single one is going to be inappropriate! Why?”

“Well, Ivan. These songs are fine for you, because you don’t understand the meanings of most of the words, or the reason they are saying them. But if one of your classmates goes home, and sings something inappropriate, even if they don’t understand it, your school would be in trouble.”

“But I DO know what they mean!”

“Oh yeah, well, what does Notorious mean?”

Without missing a beat he says, “It’s just a woman’s name.”

“Ha!” I say, “Ha ha!! It means being famous for being bad! Like the Joker or Lex Luther!” I sure showed him, that precocious kindergardner! Whose the boss now?

Through his silence, my son concedes there may be hidden inappropriate messages in Duran Duran’s music – which, I assure you, there are legion. We agreed on “New Moon on Monday”, “Union of the Snake” and “Wild Boys”.

I picked him up from school and asked him how it went. He twisted his mouth up in consideration, “We just listened to half of two songs.”

“What do you do while you are listening? Dance?”

“Yeah. Until then Ms. Mary asked us to sit down.” He hung his head, slightly dejected. Okay kiddo, get in the car. I put in “Hungry Like the Wolf” for the ride home. I am not bothered by the woman panting, as I have explained to my son, she just has a stomach ache. And Robert Plant always has to sneeze.

Yes, my boy, ’tis a hard road – delivering the gospel of 1980’s rock and pop music. Next week it will be “E” show-and-tell week. I’ll be looking for my copy of Elvis Costello’s “My Aim Is True” this weekend. Do you think “Watching the Detectives” is inappropriate? Borderline, I think.

Oh How I’ve Missed (Torturing) You

If you’ve recently spent time away from someone you care about and are worried about an impending reunion, perhaps you’d like some pointers from Veronica and Ivan. My children, separated for four days, have mapped out this approach:

1. Immediately launch into stories of all the marvelous things that have happened to you in the last three days. As soon as the other person finishes talking say, “Oh I wouldn’t even like that. But guess what I did?” You can include really banal things, as long as you are enthusiastic. “Well, I stayed up until 10:00 and ate pudding.” “I don’t even like pudding. I had a CRAZY COOKIE and hurt my foot.” You get the idea.

2. Since you haven’t spent any time together, you’ll want to argue about what to do as soon as you can. In fact, it’s advisable to demand that your reunitee do something they find absolutely boring. Then, when they won’t, say you want to play alone anyway. Point out how bossy they are. You don’t have to say “I haven’t missed you either!” in order to get that point across. During this time employ foot stomping and shouting right into each others ears. Very effective.

3. Choose a common enemy. Nothing unites old chums like a mission of ill will. If you are children, your mother will be a perfect target. Perhaps she has spent 5 hours in the car and has stopped using her nicotine patches. Easy target. While she lies in wait on her bed begging for a moment’s peace, you should poke her, make horrible, nasty faces and laugh hysterically while she tries to read a book. It is important to be resolute in your intentions to irritate her.

4. Finally, with the dragon slayed (or storming around the kitchen making dinner) you can settle in to playing. Plan and host a party for an imaginary friend. Rehearse and perform a concert. Put on your pajamas and spend a lot of time tickling each other, beacuse above all what you have missed is having someone so sit on and tickle until they cry ‘Uncle”.

By now you should be fully re-acclimated. And your parent or guardian, used to caring for only one child, will be thoroughly exhausted. Which means he or she is probably ripe to give you whatever you want. Can you have a popsicle? Yes, of-course. A sleep over in your sister’s room? We’ll see.


72 Hours

72 HOURSIn the first 72 hours of smoking cessation: Symptoms of chemical withdrawal have peaked in intensity, including restlessness. The number of cue induced crave episodes experienced during any quitting day will peak for the “average” ex-user.

Day 1

Hour 8: Before I am out of bed, I slide open the bedside drawer and pull a patch from the box. The cashier at Target forgot to charge me for them, so I feel karmically indebted to quit smoking. On top of a lot of other reasons. (it’s stupid, causes cancer, et cetera) Coffee_vs._no_coffee

I descend into the pre-dawn light of the downstairs and quietly begin the morning rituals of coffee brewing. CAREFUL! COFFEE MIGHT BE A TRIGGER! says my brain. SHUT UP! also says my brain. I predict many future brain-to-brain conversations. The patch is shiny and transparent and my bicep itches.

The kids wake and within minutes they remember I have told them they can destroy what is left of my cigarettes. I film it with my camera, because I believe in making a public spectacle of my life. They are purposeful in their destruction. It seems like a waste of money, until I remind myself that cigarettes in and of themselves are a waste of money.

Hour 12 When my oldest friend unexpectedly calls, I tell her I am quitting today, and she tells me she is so proud of me. “Thanks.” I say, and my voice cracks. “It’s only noon!” she says despairingly, which makes me laugh and cry a little. I think it will be a long day. But these little patches are cunning and I feel resolved to stick it out. Plus, I don’t have any cigarettes. Damn.

Hour 17 I only lose my temper once, dramatically, in the Holiday parking lot. It has something to do with boots and dawdling I guess, but more to do with nicotine withdrawl and cabin fever. I say to Veronica, “You know, I am quitting smoking and it is really, really hard! Can you just give me a break today and cooperate?” She says, “well I don’t see what is so hard about it!” and I say, “Well, have you ever withdrawn from a chemically addictive substance VERONICA? HAVE YOU?” Yes I actually said that out loud to my 7 year old.  I thought to remind her of how she acted when I weaned her from breast milk – tantrums I tell you! – but thought better of it.

Hour 22 I carefully sew a bird patch on the knee of Veronica’s pants while I watch the Oscars, which are a total yawn. During every commercial break, I think for a split second that I should go have a cigarette before I go to bed. But I don’t have any. Damn.

Day 2

Hour 34 My first real test comes as I run the gauntlet after dropping Ivan at Montessori; my first time alone in my car. A time I typically savor, free from parental obligations, window down letting in the arctic midwinter air, radio turned up loud and smoking my first cigarette of the day. This morning, as the car warms up, the smell of stale smoke is overwhelming and I feel nauseous. I grab a bottle of Rose Geranium I keep in the ashtray and inhale deeply. I look at the label on the side: BALANCING. COMFORTING. Indeed.

Hour 35 I have a lunch date in Minneapolis. I have a minor wardrobe crisis and begin a mantra that goes: Not smoking makes me pretty which I absolutely do not feel, but repeat nonetheless. Again with the car thing. But the sun is high, and I have gum. I turn up Florence and the Machine (from an album unironically entitled Lungs) and sing, well, scream actually, all the way to the restaurant.

Hour 37 – 39 I take breaks in the afternoon to play the trumpet happily along with Mission of Burma when I feel like smoking. That’s when I reach for my revolver!! BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT!!! It tires my lungs and amuses me. A friend texts me to remind me I have to bowl tonight, which is great, because I was dreading the night alone without the kids and my cigarettes. I have the second wardrobe crisis du jour and spontaneously cut my hair. If you have ever cut your own hair, you know that once you start, it is hard to stop. Luckily, I am running late, so I put the scissors down before it becomes tragic.

Hours 40-42 I bowl for shit, but this is not unusual. A woman in lane two sets a half smoked Marlboro next to her pack while she bowls. She is a thin Northeast Minneapolis spectre with a grey, wrinkled face and caved in cheeks. Not smoking makes me pretty. Thanks lady!

Hours 43 – 46 I had grand plans for writing and sewing and cooking tonight,  but when I get home I see the pile of hair next to the sink, the trumpet next to my desk, and the couch in front of the TV. I feel scared, so I lay down and watch terrible broadcast television. I call my friend who is also quitting and he makes me laugh so hard I choke, for which I am extremely grateful. I climb in bed and wait for my new age book to put me to sleep.

Day 3

Hour 56 I realize that smoking has become the punctuation of my days, and it is for this reason that I miss it. Finish breakfast; comma smoke. Write proposal; period smoke. I’m bored; question mark smoke. When I’m drinking, it’s like: beer, comma, beer, question mark, beer, did I just smoke? Oh well, comma, comma, beer, beer.

I figure I need to find a new activity to punctuate the pivotal transitions in my day. Besides eating, which has become a long stream of consciousness monologue with my kitchen. I try sun salutations, and my friend suggested I run the stairs to get my chi going. Mostly though, I stand up and circle the apartment aimlessly every hour or so.

Hour 60 I find myself at Whole Foods around the noon hour buying ridiculously healthy foods (rainbow cale?). I feel ecstatic that I have driven here without losing my mind, and impulsively buy St. John’s Wort just in case. Just in case it gets harder. Just in case it might actually help. Just in case I forget for one minute that I am on day three of quitting smoking, I tell the cashier. She is nice about it.

The sun is shining and it is about forty degrees. I roll down the windows and drive half lost around St Paul, not entirely by accident. I sing along with Kate Pierson and imagine that my voice is already dramatically improved in range, and test this theory with abandon. Then, darkness falls.

Hour 64 Impulsively, I bake banana bread. Impulsively, I decide to go to Artemis’ house for American Idol and to gawk shamelessly at the Charlie Sheen debacle. I have to stop at my ex-husband’s house TRIGGER! to pick up school enrollment forms and my yoga mat. Veronica is having a meltdown for unclear, but surely not proportional, reasons. TRIGGER! I keep it short and civil (just like I learned in my court-ordered divorce class!) and get back in the car. TRIGGER!

At each possible point I make a wrong turn TRIGGER! but instead of telling me to backtrack, the GPS calmly urges me forward onto ever more unfamiliar roads. Cruising on my odd cocktail of nicotine patch and St Johns Wort, I calmly consider I would have likely smoked at least 3 cigarettes since leaving the house.  I pull into a gas station to pee.

I walk into the belly of the beast: convenience store. TRIGGER TRIGGER TRIGGER It would be convenient to buy a pack of cigarettes, smoke one, and throw the rest out the window. It would be super convenient to buy a pack, smoke three in quick succession and hide the rest under my seat. But it would also be incredibly disappointing and lame. So, instead I buy butterscotch discs and something approximating green tea. Back in the car, I pop in a butterscotch disc and think that it is the very best thing I have ever put in my mouth. I can’t believe they are legal, that is how good they are. Buttery warm nectar slides down my throat. I moan audibly and put the car in gear.

Hour 66 Artemis gives me pizza and offers me wine. I decline, because well: TRIGGER! Everyone says it will make you cave. But then I think I might as well face this demon as well, and have a glass. It’s a juicy little chianti and it goes great with butterscotch discs. Someone sings Judas Priest on American Idol and it is fucking fantastic.  Charlie Sheen is painful to watch but the best part is a shot of his girlfriend on a Cali Chronic magazine cover holding a bong and wearing a girl scout uniform (really!).

Jeff comes home and I am nervous because I know he has cigarettes. But  when he comes in it smells dusty and wrong. I feel pious and high on trash tv and several glasses of chianti. It is good to be with my friends and not think about when I can go outside and smoke. I drink water and pound wasabi peas and get ready to leave.

Hour 72 On the way to the car there is a sizable butt in the driveway I know Jeff has just left there. I consider picking it up. Twice. Then my brain says GROSS! and my brain agrees SUPER GROSS and I drive home without getting lost once.

I was inspired to keep this record by my good friend who also inspired me to quit, simply by deciding to do it himself. You can read his account here. I also did the illustrations, because at it turns out, drawing is a great pastime for your hands. At the time of typing this, I haven’t had a cig in 216 hours. Yay me.

Games for Boys and Girls

The following are illustrations from Games for Boys and Girls, E.O. Harbin, 1951.* The fifties certainly were a different time!

Game: Cat’s Meow
What You Need
: Chair, pillow, a subserviant boy, a mouthless girl
How to Play: Boy kneels on a pillow and mews plaintively until girl scratches boy’s head, signaling that humiliation is complete.
Everybody wins.

Game: Jawbreaker!
What You Need: Blindfold, brute strength
How to play: Blinfolded boy or girl “The Breaker” tenderly holds the face of “The Jaw”. The Jaw taunts the breaker until, filled with rage, The Breaker twists the Jaw’s head sharply clockwise. The other players yell “Jawbreaker!” and medical help, if necessary, is administered.

Game: Fetal Ball
What You Need: Fifth of whiskey
How to play: Pass around a fifth of whiskey until one of the players starts to cry. All players should hug their knees to signal fear. The player with the highest tolerance for alcohol stands and gently rocks the crying player until he or she tips over. Remaining players continue to pass whiskey until everyone is curled up like a fetal ball.
Game: Huff and Puff
What You Need: Paper bags, paint thinner
How to Play: Do not play.

Game: Sit and Spin and Barf
What You Need: One chair, one blindfold, barf bucket (not pictured).
How to Play: Isolate one player “Sitter” in a chair and ignore them. Choose a player with no empathy to be “The Spinner”. Blindfold  “The Barfer”. The Spinner turns the The Barfer while the other players scream, dance and taunt them. The Sitter calls out “What about me? Hey guys! I think he’s going to be sick!” Game is over when Barfer vomits. Game: Charades, Urban Dictionary Edition
What You Need: Internet connection, a willingness to experiment (optional: Box of Franzia White Zinfandel)
How to Play: I think you get the picture.

* For the record, the above illustrations are taken directly from the book referenced above; the descriptions that follow are conceived entirely by me. Except for the name “Cat’s Meow” which is the name of an actual gamebut, oddly, corresponds to a different illustration in the book.


They look like they like each other. It is late February on Mars, and the atmosphere around here is tense, at best. The children are bored with their Christmas toys, mommy is broke and crabby, and the regular onslaught of snow and bitter cold continues. Worst of all, Ivan and Veronica alternate between fighting and fits of giggly hysteria, both of which drive me crazy.

Time for a playdate.

I do not like arranging for these meetings, because it is too much like real dating in that I tend towards becoming an insecure, anxious mess. So far, Ivan has been stood up twice by Jack, his friend from Montessori school. In both cases, Jack was sick, and in both cases, Ivan was absolutely heartbroken. This week it looks hopeful.

I am nervous because the playdate is here. Jack lives in Arden Hills (which sounds like a women’s perfume) or Falcon Heights (which sounds like a men’s cologne). We live in Frogtown (which if it were a perfume, you would not want to smell) in an “artist’s co-operative.” Our neighbors are the Hmong marketplace, and a crumbing green house with a very suspicious looking trailer parked on the lawn. I find these details delightful, but I worry that Jack’s mother, wreathed in the fragrant aura of the suburbs, will not. I can only hope that Jack returns home to say, “And they have a bike in the living room.” and not, “Ivan’s mom only smokes outside and only when she gets really upset.”

As for Veronica, I tried to make a playdate with her friend from school who, like all of my daughter’s school friends, has a name I can neither spell nor pronounce. It sounded to me like Ellipses, but that can’t be right. Veronica brought home a post-it note with her friend’s phone number, written in her seven-year old scrawl. I left a tentative message,

“Hello, this is Jennifer, Veronica’s mom, and I was calling to see if Ellipses would like to play this weekend. If this is, in fact, Elleepsies mom (and here I change the pronunciation slightly, in hopes I will eventually nail it), which I hope it is (nervous laugh). Okay, then, just call me, Veronica would love to see Ulllisspes.” Following this call, Veronica by turns harassed me and checked my phone for messages until I called and left another message, and finally, another on Saturday morning.

Elipses mom called me back around eleven on the Saturday of the would-be playdate.

“Hi!” Elipses mom brightly said, “Obviously a playdate isn’t going to work out today!!” Obviously? I wonder if she understands the meaning of the word, “Oh? That’s too bad.”

“Yes, well, we volunteer on weekends, so that’s probably not going to work out.” I’m impressed by this information, particularly that she cajoles a seven year old to spend all weekend volunteering.

“Weeknights are a little too hectic, I suppose.” I say, thinking of V’s wriggly little handwriting and hand-wringing.

“No, it will probably have to wait til summer.” Ellipses mom says definitively. “But we both really appreciate the offer!” I am pretty sure I am being snubbed, but can’t fathom why. How can my reputation preceed me at this school? How can anyone snub my adorable girl? I mouth the words ‘fuck off’ into the receiver, “Hmmkay, let’s touch base then.” I hang up and yell to Veronica, “You need to find a different friend at school for your playdate. Ellipses isn’t going to work out!”

I decide to plan a playdate for her and I while Jack is visiting. We will make cookies so the house will smell like vanilla when Jack’s mom comes to pick him up, and he will tell his mom, “Ivan’s mom makes the best cookies!” Volunteer that.

February, 1994

Valentines for Seven Friends and a Stranger

Weary of girls floating by
cradling long boxes of roses like newborns
their sweet fragrant blossoms choking me,
A memento of my empty arms.

We contrive  a Valentine’s Day party –
Dress in black and come ready to mourn
the Death of Love by Hallmark Card.”

The coterie arrives alone, by necessity,
Each more bitter than the one before.
We revel in our loneliness
And drink the swill of co-misery.

But cupid’s arrows are fierce and frequent:
A pack of smokes, a hand-made card,
A shot of bourbon, and a dance of abandon in
the smoky haze of an otherwise empty bar.

I’m wounded, I’m hit,
With a quiver full of tenderness
For my lovely orphans, my drinking chums,
Oh my comrades and amigos!

To toast the love this day forgets
At two a.m. it is February 15th,
But still I call out to the bartender
“Eight more pickled eggs!”

Ripon, February 1994

Now I get It

First gig: Groovy Hipsters, backing vocals.

I spent years dating musicians. Not on purpose. But my first love – or more accurately, my first obsessive infatuation – was a guitar player. He was in a wedding band called “The Unexpected!” (punctuation mine) that played mostly 50-60’s classic rock. He was the lone teenager in the band, the rest were in their twenties. I used to go see him play and wait for The Kinks so I could go and dance like Molly Ringwold and gaze up at him, playing expressionless except for the odd, taut smile. I thought this was because he was cool, but now, I wonder if he was just concentrating really hard.

Anyway, our courtship consisted primarily of me gloomily smoking cigarettes and him playing the opening to Ceremony on an acoustic guitar, which never ceased to thrill me. Sometimes we had to walk to the gas station for more cigarettes, and sometimes we made out, but mostly, I think, I gazed at the ceiling and listened to him plink-a-plink. Then I would go home and dash out poems on my electric typewriter about our difficult and doomed love.

Stella, camping, 1995
It will comfort those who knew me then, I no longer play guitar.

One thing quickly became clear. Band practice comes first, girlfriend comes second. The guitar was his object of obsession, as he was mine. This fueled a resentment I harbored gleefully for all of my twenties, as I dated one musician after another. Then I married a painter, and moved to St Cloud and stopped thinking about rock and roll because I had babies and worked in advertising. Rest for eight measures.

When I met Doug, I thought he might be my boyfriend, but it turned out he was going to be my band-mate. This happened when he shoved a microphone in front of my face and said, “let’s see what you can do”. Then he put me in front of a keyboard and said “write a part” and I did. I think I surprised him a little, and nobody more than myself. Douglas does nearly all the hard work; drum parts, rhythm tracks, guitar, bass, mixing, producing and writing lyrics. I was – I am – a rank amateur. But I really, really love making music, and when I show up in his living room studio, I’m ready to work, and ridiculously serious about it.

I played a Chintzeys’ Christmas song for my mom, and she was utterly bemused. “So what now, you’re going to be a rock and roll star?” No mom, I’m not. But I don’t know, is this what it is like for some people who start golfing and just can’t get enough of it? Other people play softball, or build model trains or watch football, and I guess I make weird art-rock, new-wave music with my friend who graciously allows me to do so.

So, the actual recording is much less glamorous than you might have imagined.

So now I get it. Now I know why it was guitar first, girlfriend second. It’s just really fucking fun. To start the day with nothing and end it with a song is just short of alchemy. Like a secret I’ve just been told, and now I can’t help but blurt out to anyone who’ll listen. It’s not my life’s work, it’s not as important as parenting, or as natural as putting words down on paper, and it certainly doesn’t pay the rent. But it’s better than any high-school boyfriend I ever had. It’s not personal, it’s just I’d rather be doing this.

(Oh, and if you want to hear what happened when that microphone got shoved in my face, it was this.