Friday, August 31, 2007

Boston Triptych

An unknown Southerner once said, “I’m bicoastal...if the Mississippi River counts as one of the coasts.” In keeping with my bicoastal lifestyle, I just returned from a week and a half in Boston. My main objective was to raid Murky’s apartment, though I also had a job interview. Here are the essential bits:

I. In Which I Avoid Fiona Apple Puns (Not Really)

On the evening of my arrival, Murky surprised me with Fiona Apple/Nickel Creek tickets. Monster! As sure as Mr. Words knows my serious devotion to Miss Apple, he realizes I cannot avoid a bad pun. He must have delighted in kicking off a Celebrity Death Match between my artistic muses. In this corner, the Cameron Crowe wannabe, sweating to construct the perfect anthropological metaphor for Fiona’s career metamorphosis between Tidal (1996) and Extraordinary Machine(2005). In this corner, a singsong voice chanting: “I wish her tunes were friendlier / And within my vocal reach / But if ‘soft and fuzzy’ were her style / She’d be Fiona Peach.”

I chose to forgive Murky, because he smelled great, and also because the tickets were VIP. After purchasing special, VIP Aquafina bottles in the VIP tent, we Very Importantly slid into two cushioned folding chairs near the stage. Nickel Creek played a solo set for the first 30 minutes, probably to distinguish themselves from Nickelback. “Nice Allison Krauss vibe, but when will they play ‘How You Remind Me’?” I inquired. Oops.

Fiona started with “Extraordinary Machine,” which I hadn’t heard before, but subsequently acquired and played roughly 154.5 times. “It sounds like a musical number!” I exclaimed to Murky. “Surly With A Fringe On Top!” Lest she morph into Shirley Jones, Miss A. continued with several deliciously dismal numbers from When the Pawn...: “A Mistake,” “Paper Bag,” and “Fast As You Can.” For the latter tune, she whipped out her signature, convulsive dance moves. She could adopt a Cuban style / Like they do in old Havana / But if she danced flamenco, well / We’d call her Miss Banana.

Darn you, Murky! You knew this would happen!

Toward the middle of her set, Fiona announced: “There’s a very special person in the audience tonight.” Being VIPs, Murky and I glanced at our seatmates. No Liz Phair. No Ani. “Because of this person, every morning for a year I brushed my teeth and thought ‘Today is going to be a great day!’” Now, Fiona sounded almost chipper. Curious, indeed. “She’s my third grade teacher Linda! On the count of three, can everyone say, ‘Thank you, Linda!!’?”

Murky and I obliged. I love Fiona Apple. But if you think I’m going to make a crack about her being “good at the core,” you are so wrong.

II. In Which I Ponder The Hair-Hat

Murky does not live in a bachelor pad. Item 1a of the Bachelor Regulations for Refrigeration and Preservation (BRRP) states: “Bachelor pad refrigeration unit must contain no less than six (6) cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and no more than one (1) expired dairy product. Murky’s fridge has hummus. And in his shower, there’s a hair-hat.

The hair-hat came from Lowe’s, aisle 6: Female Roommate Essentials. Its intended purpose is to capture long, silky strands in the shower drain. But it’s much more fun as an air hockey puck. On Day 1 of my visit, I discovered that the hair-hat glides smoothly across water -- and if you kick it just so, it will ricochet off all four corners of the tub. Score!

Before Day 2, Murky ended my Olympics. “You know, will only catch hair if it sits directly on the drain.” Hair-hat: 0. Jesse: -1.

As penance, I decided to rename the hair-hat. I pondered as I showered. “Hair-hat” was merely an affectionate nickname, drawn from the hattish shape of the product. A proper moniker should incorporate the fashion and function of the tool. Also, it should be a pun.

Lockjaw? Manetee (like a manatee, but...not)? I was forced to dry off before the final christening -- pruny fingers, be damned!

Your ideas are welcome.

III. In Which I Spot Many Different Whales, Or The Same Whale Many Times

The couple who whales together stays together, so Murky and I went on a whale watch. In preparation for the watch, Murky purchased sunscreen and Dramamine. I bought fish-shaped foods. “Goldfish crackers! Perfect!” The CVS clerk eyed me suspiciously. (You thought I’d say “gave me the fish eye,” but punning time is over, pal.)

Our boat left the harbor at 12:30. At 12:27, Murky and I exited the parking garage and started running. We’d given ourselves over an hour for the 20-minute drive, but this margin wasn’t wide enough to fit a parade. No matter how many times Murky hit the “detour” button on his GPS, we couldn’t escape the ethnic pride parade winding through his neighborhood. I’m not sure what ethnicity was being celebrated. Murky muttered many equal-opportunity epithets as we waited. I placated him with Swedish fish candies.

We made it, barely. Our vessel was a high-speed catamaran: S.S. I-Don’t-Recall. Who cares? It was fast! On board, I watched for whales, and Murky watched the little girl in front of us, whom he charged with uttering, “Daddy, I don’t feel well.” Murky insisted we remain upwind of this child. “She’ll blow any second,” he grumbled. “The chunks will spew backwards, because of the wind. I’ve seen it happen before.” Oh, really? “Was that when you took your other girlfriends whale watching?”

“Eat your Goldfish.”

Our first whale surfaced after about an hour of cruising. This whale was soon followed by a second whale, who looked a lot like the first whale. “If you’ll look to your right, Molson the Whale is swimming alongside her calf!,” our guide enthused. “Which one is Molson, and which is the calf?” I asked Murky. He shrugged.

Here’s a whale-watch truism, from one who knows: there’s only one whale. The sea floor houses an immense baggage carousel, on which the single whale circulates like a forgotten Samsonite. Molson, Moby-Dick...same whale.

If you don’t believe me, take me back to Boston. I’ll prove it.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


It’s undisputed fact that “Saturday Night Live” stopped being funny when I was in Osh Kosh. Even so, I’m amused by a sketch from a few years ago. The premise is “World’s Friendliest Credit Card Company” -- a line of credit suited for the “Bad credit? No credit?” bunch. One by one, the actors marvel at how little information was needed for credit approval. Horatio Sanz: “I just said my name, and I was APPROVED.” Jimmy Fallon: “I thought I was ordering pizza, but I was APPROVED.” Chris Kattan: “I don‘t know what I’s approved for, but I’s APPROVED.”

Admit it, you smiled. Just a little? No? Weren’t you ever in middle school? I’ve been chasing approval since around October 1993, when our junior high headmistress ordered the eighth grade girls to form a horizontal line in the auditorium. Once we’d shuffled into place, the eighth grade boys received their mission: choose one girl to be Homecoming Representative. As I recall, the headmistress delivered an obligatory schpiel about “good leadership” and “good values,” but my hormone-addled brain wasn’t fooled a bit. May the prettiest girl win. I remember her name, too -- and not because it’s my own.

I’m past the Clearasil stage (well, mostly), but once in a while I land in the Homecoming lineup. Early this year, I was introduced to a woman whose approval of me seemed imperative. She was, and is, the Very Important Person to one of my Very Important People. I’ll call her Mrs. B.

Weeks before our meeting, I bought a gift. Doesn’t everyone enjoy candy? Days before, I planned my outfit. Long-sleeved, V-necked lace top over a plain white cami, matched with black linen pants. Feminine but tasteful. No saggy bra straps.

I stood on her doorstep, with my Very Important Person, and fidgeted. My VIP told me not to worry, that Mrs. B. would love me. I nodded and mentally debated the thickness of my eyeliner. Too much?

And, of course, I wondered what I’d say. I’d heard stories about Mrs. B. from my VIP. About how she worked as a nurse and instructed patients to put blueberries on their cereal, for extra vitamins. About how she made my VIP take his vitamins when he was younger and, to his chagrin, eat fish. About how she liked Broadway musicals. “You like musicals,” my VIP said. Where were my seventy-six trombones when I needed them?

In the slo-mo seconds before Mr. and Mrs. B. answered the doorbell, I smoothed my pants (Why linen? Does linen ever travel well?) and said a prayer.

She hugged me before I got over the threshold.

“Come in, dear! So nice to finally meet you! Have a glass of wine!”

I accepted the hug, and the huge glass of white wine, with Sally Field gratitude. Mrs. B. barely knew a thing about me, but she liked me. She really liked me!

She served shrimp etouffee in a crock pot, with brown rice. Etouffee! “A crock pot makes everything easy,” she explained. “You should get one.”

She told stories, too. When my VIP attempted an abominable imitation of my Tennessee accent, Mrs. B. recounted a futile search for her husband’s “car keys.” Turns out, he wanted his favorite “khakis.” Guess Southerners aren’t the only folks who get lost in translation.

At the end of the night, we hugged again, and Mrs. B. exclaimed how nice I looked. I told her I’d appreciate the etouffee recipe. I wasn’t just grubbing for approval, either. I planned to price crock pots.

I dined with Mrs. B. and her family three times. The last time was in late May. Weeks earlier, she’d been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Remarkably, her demeanor hadn’t changed a bit. She smiled and gave me a big hug. She told funny stories. She made me feel APPROVED, just for showing up.

She passed away about two weeks ago. Though it sounds immature, I truly thought she’d live forever. No one gets “eternity” in this life, I know -- not my VIPs or their VIPs, or even me, for that matter. But if you build up enough credit, through laughter and warm hugs and dinner invitations, how can it possibly run out?

I was lucky enough to meet many of Mrs. B’s friends, and even more family, at her services. In a way, I think funerals turn people into middle schoolers. Nobody really knows what to say. Lots of tugging at hems, toying with hair, dabbing mascara. Somewhere in a lineup of cousins, though, I realized an important difference. In this group of suits and skirts, everyone was approved. Not only approved, but chosen. As far as I can tell, Mrs. B. made everyone feel special -- whether she’d known them for a few evenings, or for many years.

Sure as my monthly Visa bill, I know heaven welcomed her like she welcomed me. And everyone up there loves the accent.