Archive | July, 2013

Drinking Tea in Front of a Space Alien

19 Jul

Twice now my mother has witnessed me pouring almond milk into my tea, and on both occasions she commented upon it, as though it were the oddest thing. On both occasions, she said that her mother put milk and sugar in her tea. She said that as though she thinks this is unusual! Sometimes she behaves exactly as though she just came from another planet. You’d think her Regency romance novels, set in England, would constantly show people putting milk and sugar in their tea; I guess they’re more often shown drinking Madeira or port.

This time she said, “Mother.” Since she’s supposed to be my mother, not the other way around, I looked at her with my eyebrows raised in a nonverbal: What you trippin’ on? facial expression. To answer the question on my face, she continued, “My mother put milk in her tea.” She said this in wonderment.

I said, “Um, that’s normal.”

“It was before pasteurization…or homogenation? Whichever, the cream would rise to the top, and she’d use the cream in her tea.”

“You know, it’s customary to put milk in tea. Unless it’s green tea. If it’s black tea, then that’s what most people do.”

“I used picot.”



“Oh,” I said, and tactfully refrained from pointing out that I only buy Lipton if I intend to tea-dye fabric. I remember her drinking Lipton tea when I was a kid. I think she stopped because of all the prescriptions, or maybe it was under doctor’s orders.

“My mother put both milk and sugar in her tea. I guess that’s why she got fat. All that sugar.”

“More likely why she got cavities.”

I don’t know if she got cavities, but that makes more sense than getting fat only from putting sugar and cream in your tea. I think my grandmother got fat because she gave birth fourteen times. To suggest that no, it was because she put a tiny quantity of sugar in her tea every day, is insane. Giving birth way too many times; genetics; not working out; and eating bad food would all have contributed to her getting fat. (People from Kansas don’t generally know how to eat and at a potluck will point at hummus and ask, “What’s that?” I’m not exaggerating.)

She finally said, “I guess I’m the one who doesn’t do it the normal way.” Um, yeah. At least, on this planet.

I raised my eyebrows and nodded slowly. It didn’t occur to me until just now to ask her if she put anything in her tea. Plain black tea would generally be too bitter for my tastes. I typically add agave and almond milk, as I did this morning.

Well, it’s only a quarter after ten, and my dad’s already here. So I’m getting dressed and going out (to a bookstore!) rather than spending the rest of the morning quietly reading. But I did some reading, at least, before I started writing this.


3:19 PM

Today, the day after I read an article in Bitch magazine about fatphobia, I had this conversation with my dad before we left the gas station:

Dad: How much would you say that woman weighs? Four hundred, five hundred pounds?

Me: Fatphobic much?

Dad: Now that’s what you call obesity.

Me: Now that’s what you call bigotry.

(Either my dad is too ADD to pay attention to what I say, or he’s harder of hearing than I thought.)

He acts all smug, triumphant, and sanctimonious when commenting on people whom our society has branded with the pseudo-medical term “obesity.” I consider his behavior to be a blatant example of scapegoating, of “needing” someone on whom to pick. “Oh, it’s socially acceptable to demonize and ridicule fat people, so I’m going to do so whenever I get a chance!” His behavior is extremely dehumanizing and pushes my trauma buttons.

I’m lucky the popular media wasn’t going on and on about obesity when I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s. My mother, my brother, and the bullies at school seemed to think it necessary to continually remind me that I was fat and ugly and devoid of human worth. If my dad had been the way he is now, he would have pitched in relentlessly; according to Sally, he did that to her.

My parents are each completely insane.

Weird Things I’ve Noticed About Northwest Indiana

18 Jul

Door 1, Door 2, Door 3, Door 4. Are these people too stupid or illiterate to enter through the correct door without these ridiculous game show numbers? In businesses that have multiple entrances, the doors are decorated with large black placards that simply have a number on them, such as 1, or 2, or 3, or 4. Wow. I noticed this bizarre practice at both Morgan Township School (the shitschool where I endured Verbal Abuse as an Extreme Sport from elementary through high school) and at the clinic where I am currently waiting in the lobby while my dad has his first rehab appointment. In places outside this bizarre alternate reality, the name of the office or location is on a placard by the entrance.


Apparently Northwest Indiana, or at least Valparaiso, is crawling with completely batshit morning people who think the sun sets at about 2 pm. My dad talks as though Best Buy is abnormal because it opens at 10 am. Um, I have a lot of retail experience, and I assured him that ten is the normal, standard time for retail shops to open. (Actually, Portland has shops that open at 11 on weekdays.)

“Not around here,” my dad said. “Most shops open by 8 am.”

My dad’s favorite restaurants are white American Muggle restaurants that open at five or six in the morning. What alternate reality did I enter when I showed up here? Is this place under some sort of twisted enchantment? In Portland, I’m accustomed to brunch: it’s customary for restaurants to open at ten on Sunday for Sunday brunch and to serve breakfast food till, say, two in the afternoon. People who were out late partying and/or attending plays or concerts or hanging out in bars might wake up around noon and go off to Blossoming Lotus for a wonderful brunch. I have never noticed any restaurants in Portland opening at five or six in the morning, which seems utterly ridiculous and nonsensical, to say the least. I don’t understand why my dad behaves as though the sun sets at two pm and you have to rush, rush, to get your errands done and get home before that hour. Oh, yes—his life also revolves around seeing the five o’clock news, and he acts as though he’ll die a horrible death if he doesn’t get to the five o’clock news.

“Why would anyone working in retail want to be at their humiliating job at eight in the morning?” I said.

Really, being talked down to and bullied by customers, managers, and coworkers is traumatic and dehumanizing enough without it starting at eight in the morning.

“It’s about the customers, not the people who own the store.”

“I’m not talking about the people who ‘own’ the store. I’m talking about the people who would be expected to be at their crap humiliating job first thing in the morning.” Just so they can make minimum wage and be verbally abused and driven to suicide. Yay.

I spoke as someone who has years of experience in those jobs, and my dad spoke as someone who has never worked in retail in all his life and who’s probably a shopaholic.

I remember years ago at a retail job: a cocky young white male coworker said, “Hey, did you see all those losers waiting in the parking lot before we opened?”

“Yeah,” someone said. “Get a life!”

The morning is for sleeping, meditation, yoga, Pilates, and a cup of masala chai. It’s not for shopping, and it’s not for interacting with morning people and letting them talk your ear off and expect you to run around doing errands at dawn.

Every time you enter a business—be it a restaurant, a clinic, a grocery store, the bookstore, any kind of shop—the air conditioning is cranked up to about fifty-five degrees, or sixty degrees. It’s bizarre. At restaurants, I’ve been drinking hot tea even though it’s July. I realize it’s a hot climate in summer, but this is overkill. Just because the temperature is ninety degrees outside doesn’t mean it should be sixty degrees inside; it would make more sense to keep the air at about seventy-five, like it typically is at my parents’ house.

You never have that experience in Portland, where plenty of businesses (at least nonprofits, such as IOW) don’t even have air conditioning. Indeed, it’s normal to go into a restaurant or other business at which the windows and doors are open, and there aren’t screens. I remember repeatedly coaxing a beautiful calico cat out of the Vita Café; she was determined to go inside.


I am stunned at the quantity of Styrofoam I’ve seen since setting foot in Northwest Indiana. Clearly this region has not reached the twenty-first century. Even nice restaurants use Styrofoam take-home containers. Even the South Bend Chocolate Company Café gives you a Styrofoam mug if you have a cup of iced masala chai there! This is completely insane. In Portland, it’s normal to have thick recycled, compostable cardboard clamshell containers and compostable plastic cups, lids, and straws for beverages. That should be the norm. And as I anticipated, not a single restaurant or café or business of any sort has recycle bins, let alone compost bins. This region is so behind the times, and not just because the bookstores are overtly White Male Xian bookstores.

No matter what restaurant we visit, none of them had recycling or composting bins. (Because my dad is compelled to eat out nearly every day, in order to get the hell away from my mother, we spent a lot of time at restaurants.) Not even Roots, the all-natural vegan and vegetarian juice café, had a single recycling or composting bin in sight.

For that matter, when we’re in a shop and the person behind the counter automatically whips out a plastic bag, I hastily let them know that I don’t want a bag. My dad acts as though I’m the one who’s acting strange, and he’ll explain that I’m “one of those obsessive recyclers” or that I’m “from Portland, Oregon.” He doesn’t seem to understand that under the circumstances, I’m the only one who’s acting normal.


Whenever I’m behind a wheel, or simply outdoors in an area that has more than three cars, I encounter—yay! Fundamentalist Xian License Plates! Why practice separation of church and state if your state government is backasswords and run by fundamentalist Xians! Yes, that’s right: I keep seeing many license plates that say, “In God We Trust” because everyone on the road needs to know which cars are driven by smug and self-righteous, phallocratic, Goddess-rejecting monotheist. Wow, they must be really insecure about their religion if they think this is appropriate. Indiana has several choices of license plates; they don’t have to choose this particular one.

I am counting the days before I return to Portland. Seven.

Another Backward Bookstore

17 Jul

Yes, it seems that if you visit a bookstore in Northwest Indiana, it is inevitably backwards.

My dad and I went to BAM!, Books a Million, a bookstore at the Southlake Mall the town of Merrillville, in Lake County. I remember Merrillville as Where People Go To Shop. U. S. 30 in Merillville, Indiana, is lined with corporate retail chains.

I was eager to discover whether this bookstore, like the White Male Xian Buns & Noodle in Valparaiso, is completely devoid of the requisite Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Native American Studies, and Queer Studies that are a norm in any large bookstore, particularly any B&N since at least the 1990s. At least, so I believed until my visit to Valparaiso’s White Male Xian Buns & Noodle.

To my utter disgust—though by now not extreme shock—Books a Million in the Southlake Mall is also a White Male Xian BAM! It’s called BAM! Because it hits you between the eyes with a White Male Xian perspective and its disdain toward what I’ve always considered the most important categories at any B&N. And yes, this bookstore was quite large, like B&N.

The difference with BAM! Is that it does have an African American Fiction section…which I discovered consists of romance novels. And it does have a lot of emphasis on Science Fiction, actually including a big Doctor Who display that includes pencils topped with Daleks, glowing TARDISs—well, a variety of TARDISs, a K-9 keychain, Lego action figures of all the Doctors—well, you get the idea. I did have some fun, admittedly. But overall, I was yet again disappointed. I look soooo forward to returning to Portland, away from the Twilight Zone.

Treasure Trove in the Scary Basement

6 Jul

My poison ivy blotches are definitely drying up and beginning to fade. The worst spots on my wrists are no longer lumps—they’ve flattened out and are flaking a bit. I still itch, but it’s diminished somewhat.

This evening, I distracted myself from itching by having an adventure in my parents’ basement, looking through boxes and bags and sorting paraphernalia from my past—particularly books, magazines, toy animals, dolls (most of which I made), and craft supplies. I had a pile of “Recycling,” piles of “To thrift stores,” and piles of “Ship to me.” I found this project remarkably fun and exciting, despite the dust, dirt, and mouse turds. Much of the excitement came from curiosity—“I wonder what’s in this box”—and from revisiting my past and finding items that I remember but haven’t seen for a long time.

I started this adventure yesterday, in the afternoon or evening, and at that  time primarily found books. I was especially struck by the vast quantity of Doctor Who books, almost all novels. The oldest ones belonged to my brother; as teenagers in the 1980s, we read these novelized versions of real episodes. However, many more of the Doctor Who books belong to my sister and date to the 1990s and early 2000s, before the new Doctor Who series began in 2005. I could ask my siblings if they’d be willing to let me ship the Doctor Who books to Powell’s in Portland; we have many Who fans, and it’s the largest independent bookstore supposedly in the world.

Many of the items I’m shipping to myself are books from my childhood and adolescence that I’ve decided to donate to the In Other Words lending library. I also shall attempt to sell some of my old dolls at In Other Words, since the community center sells consignment.

One of my most exciting finds was a cloth doll I made in my mid to early teens and that I named Flora the Flapper. Back in Portland, I already have a box full of her clothing—a colorful and varied wardrobe fit for a flapper; my mother sent me that box within the past few years. When I saw the contents, I was dismayed at not finding the actual doll. But today I found her, wearing yet another smashing outfit, and with a long beaded necklace.

Something that struck me upon finding paraphernalia from my adolescence and childhood is how drastically my interests and tastes have changed. Granted, maybe they’re not as drastic as that statement implies. Certainly the colors I preferred in fabric (and hence in doll clothing and needlework projects) were, strangely, blue and green rather than red, orange, and purple. I found many Garfield the cat books, calendars, and stuffed toy animals. I even found a large stuffed toy Alf and at least two Alf puppets. I didn’t hesitate to sort all these items into “To thrift stores.” The same goes for many of my old books and crafting magazines. Though I do still enjoy crafts and needlework, I certainly wouldn’t be caught dead with some of the cutesy and country-themed magazines and projects I encountered, that as a teen I found attractive. However, I still have a taste for Victorian style, despite my more recent passion for Asian culture, so I intend to keep a few old needlework magazines and unfinished projects. Part of aging and maturing and gaining wisdom can be, at least for some people, a change in aesthetics and passions.

When I tell friends about my adolescence, I generally talk about how I was a social reject and didn’t have much of a social life, which gave me more time for creativity, imagination, and reading. I tell friends about the books I read as a teen, and about how I wrote many short stories and poems and wrote my first novel. I also have told friends and acquaintances that I designed and made dolls as a teen and probably even as a pre-teen. However, until I looked at certain items from my past, I’d practically forgotten how wrapped up in needlework and doll making/designing I truly was. This sank in when I found a large plastic bag full of (mostly Victorian) doll clothing I made, mostly in my early teens.

I haven’t finished boxing up paraphernalia to ship back to Portland, and I haven’t even finished looking through all the boxes I intend to investigate. Covered with sweat, I took a break at about 9:30 this evening, shortly after noticing a large cardboard box filled with what looks suspiciously like books and magazines from my adolescence. The adventure will continue tomorrow.


3 Jul

Today I discovered that my inconceivably severe case of mosquito bites is actually poison ivy. Because my dad had open-heart surgery three weeks ago, a nurse has been stopping by and checking on him. I finally broached the topic of my “allergy to mosquito bites” with her, and she broke the news. She was a font of information on the topic and even had a couple of little circles on her wrist that resembled mosquito bites that, she said, were poison ivy.

As soon as the nurse departed, my dad and I headed out for the CVS clinic that the nurse had recommended. After waiting for an hour or so, I learned that the nurse practitioner only had steroid pills, not the steroid shot for poison ivy. She recommended Doctor Ratnayaki’s clinic, conveniently a couple blocks up the street and open till seven. I was a bit surprised, because he’s my parents’ general practitioner, and I went to the same clinic when I was a teenager.

At the clinic, a nurse (or nurse practitioner) gave me the highly desired steroid shot. Afterward, a male doctor (from what I’ve seen so far, all the doctors in northwest Indiana are male, and rather imperious males at that) entered the examination room and explained poison ivy to me. He explained that when you touch the poison ivy, it releases a poisonous oil into your skin. The natural reaction is to scratch it. Then you might touch your neck to wipe away sweat. Next thing you know, it’s spreading. He prescribed the pill version of the steroid shot.

He also said I need to get a particular medicine called Tecnu. It comes in a cream or a spray bottle, and that I have to spray the infected areas and leave it on for fifteen minutes, then take a shower. He emphasized that Benadryl and other such medicines were not what I needed. The Tecnu not only relieves itching but also gets rid of the poisonous oils. He said to keep using the Tecnu until the poison ivy completely clears up.

I should be over the poison ivy in three days. That was a relief to hear—the end is relatively near.


How did I get poison ivy? When I brought my dad home from the hospital after his open-heart surgery, instead of greeting us, my mother yelled at him. One of the first things she yelled about was weeding her apple trees. I kid you not. Even after I had started weeding the apple trees the next day, she yelled, “Is one of you going to weed around the apple trees, or do we have to hire the next door neighbor?”

I felt absolutely furious and yelled back, “I DID start weeding the apple trees!”

The harpy said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest that you didn’t try to weed them.” Manipulation is one of those things that malignant narcissists (perpetual five-year-old bullies who, like sociopaths, are incapable of empathy or compassion) practice with enthusiasm. She was attempting to manipulate me into believing that I’m stupid and incompetent. Before this incident, she had turned to me and said, “Do you know the difference between apple trees and weeds?”

Furious yet eager to prove that I’m quite capable of weeding, I resumed weeding around the apple trees two more times. During the third time, I worked at it very intensely for one and a half hours and created capacious piles of weeds. I made huge progress, pulling up some weeds by the roots and trimming large tree-weeds with a large pair of clippers. That’s when the itching started.

If my so-called mother hadn’t pressured and nagged my dad and me about weeding the apple trees—while she simultaneously showed my dad absolutely no concern, empathy, or compassion for his surgery and health—I would not have weeded her apple trees and therefore would not have acquired poison ivy. Yet she has shown absolutely no concern, sympathy, empathy, or guilt over my severe case of poison ivy. I’ll never forget the cold look in her eyes.

Culinary Culture Shock in the Midwest

2 Jul

This stay at my parents’ house has reminded me of what my mother (and presumably her side of the family in general) considers to be food. My dad almost never cooked when I was a kid (my parents are stuck in the 1950s), and my mother always cooked greasy meat and little else. She still believes that most vegetables come out of freezer bags and cans, if she thinks of vegetables (other than potatoes) at all. She did most of the grocery shopping when I was a kid, and she’d bring home meat, cookies, and candy. In college, I began transitioning to vegetarianism, and by 1995 I was entirely a lacto-octo vegetarian; since moving to Portland, Oregon, in 2008, I’ve become vegan and have a primarily natural and organic diet.

My dad and I went out for a late breakfast yesterday, at one of my parents’ favorite restaurants. The menu appalled me and grossed me out. It was almost all meat, a lot of it greasy. I almost ordered breaded mushrooms, until I read that they’re deep fried. My dad said that’s my mother’s favorite restaurant, and no wonder! Today she asked if I like fried potatoes. I love potatoes, but she said that (like her mother) she slices potatoes thin and fries them with onions in oil. Gross. She wants to make these disgusting Kansas White Trash fried potatoes for July 4 (she’s from Kansas, otherwise known as the Twilight Zone), but fortunately she’s willing to make parsley potatoes (boiled with parsley) for my dad and me and fried potatoes just for her. Whew.

It’s no wonder I had an upset stomach so much when I was a teenager: bullies surrounded me, I lived with a malignant narcissist “mother,” and I ate disgusting crap.

Fortunately, I’ve managed to eat more than enough edible food during my stay in Indiana. I once got my dad to go with me to the Chinese restaurant that’s downtown (yes, Valparaiso has a total of one Chinese restaurant, zero Indian restaurants, zero Thai restaurants, and zero Vietnamese restaurants). There’s a Mediterranean restaurant that I have repeatedly attempted to convince my dad to visit with me—and I finally succeeded after showing him their online menu. We had a delightful lunch there today. I’ve twice gone with my dad to the Broadway Café because he particularly likes it, and it has a few good dishes (I keep ordering a vegetable wrap sans eggs and cheese). When my dad was in the hospital for about a week, I frequently consumed salad, between the cafeteria and the salad fixings my mother purchased before I arrived. I’ve had no trouble finding stuff at a particular supermarket, and I still have a considerable supply from my care package.

I intend to use up everything that I shipped in the large care package; I don’t want to have any left over to ship back to Portland. This morning I opened the bag of all-natural sesame sticks from Trader Joe’s, and my dad was curious about it, so I passed the bag on to him. He really loved the sesame sticks! He’s accustomed to what apparently white Midwestern Americans mistake for food, and it’s a relief when he tries something good—such as the sesame sticks, or the Lebanese food at the restaurant today, or pomegranate acai juice—and truly likes it. Unlike my mother, he’s…sometimes…willing to try new things.

Though it is my intention to consume everything I sent in the care package, it has proved challenging, because my dad enjoys frequently eating out for lunch or breakfast, and he also is a food hoarder who likes bringing home groceries even though the fridge and even the gigantic garage freezer are packed. I feel a lot of pressure to pig out. This is one of the reasons I intend to fast after I return to Portland; I’ll be meditating and fasting, getting rid of toxins.

The combination of fasting and meditating will do it. I did Pilates first thing this morning, for the first time in about three weeks. I was sweaty, but I’m calm after all that exercise, even though the malignant narcissist is sitting a few feet away from me.