If you love, adore the moon. If you rob, steal a camel.

Stories for the Long Silk Road

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

KJ Hannah Greenberg: Baking Cookies, Counting Cheshire Cats, Espousing Classical Rhetoric, Raising Rabbits and Signing off from Cancer

From the second floor of the medical complex, situated at Oak Park’s fringe, closest to “desirable social amenities,” such as the municipal pool, the community library, and the veterans’ hospital, a fairly new doctor has taken it upon herself to inform me, via daily calls, emails, and tweets, that my caring for others is killing me. This gal in white seems to have missed that my demise has been prophesized; at the end of about three weeks, I’m due for dead.

If I listen to her, for my final twenty days, I forfeit being countermanded by opinionated hedgehogs, debating with meddlesome hyraxes, and deconstructing the verbal dribbles of chipmunks prone to gossip. Kowtowing to that medico’s desires won’t help me fall asleep, even when clothed in denim overalls. Listening to her commands won’t keep food down even were my office wired for Internet and air conditioning. All that her advice yields is my: baking fewer cookies for PTA events, chairing no more civic center fund raising committee lunches, and letting go of that novel of mine featuring six hundred veil-wearing tourists, whose costumes get tangled in the scraggly toupees of magicians employed at rundown amusement parks. The writing of shaggy dog stories remains important to me.

My healthcare practitioner neglected to learn the circumstances of my life. Without realizing my proclivity toward lecturing while walking on students’ desks, my penchant for rabidly disagreeing with Avon ladies, or my predisposition toward  buying yellow tomatoes and purple carrots, as a replacement for produce of ordinary hues, she deigns to prescribe my final days.

I won’t be around long enough to register a complaint about that slipshod “professionalism.” I choose to use up my hours on gigacoasters and under sun lamps. Besides, I’m loath to sit among lawyers when hard science fiction, written by unknowns in Asia and in the Middle East, calls to me more than do stacks of government-regulated forms.

In spite of that, that doc ought to check records to grasp that ceasing and desisting are incompatible with breeding lizards, eating dessert before salad, and painting blue streaks in one’s hair. That stupid white coat needs to know that if the height of a thrill ride is increased, the potential energy in that amusement’s transport must also increase. I’m going out in smoke and blazes.

I have no intention of forsaking hot tub time to visit much-touted art exhibits in Erlangen or to forego all-night marshmallow fests celebrated with my children. I’d no sooner “take it easy,” than devote minutes to scouring frying pan coated with baked-on egg or to hunkering down under quilts, even under covers with hand-pieced work ‘cause a medico so instructed.

In my childhood, for example, local geography consisted of: my neighborhood, others’ neighborhoods, and neighborhoods-where-allegedly-dangerous-people-lived. Persons from that last category later constituted my dearest friends, most loyal customers, and chief suppliers of rabbits. Had I remained prejudiced, I’d be devoid of lapin fun, in general, and my published flights of fancy, more specifically, wouldn’t have been actualized.

As a youth, I learned to adjudicate social strata by dint of academic prowess or hair style. The greater number of riots occurring within my elm-festooned neighborhood, or just beyond its iron gates, came from people culturally resembling me. Even when bowl cuts, as contended by my most illustrious guides, were deemed as horrific and when possessing “merely” a high school education was eschewed, our dog and pony shows almost always featured “upstanding citizens.”

Once, a popular DJ, rich in in-laws and in small children, but noticeably different  in appearance from my neighbors, deigned to climb the fence surrounding the local golf club, after being accidently locked postparty. One German shepherd, two moonlighting rent-a-cops, and three girls, all trying to improve their trigonometry grades by practicing physical equations with their teacher, chased that songster away. Large amounts of small town ruckus followed. Thereafter, the balladeer became a regional sensation, while his pursuers, except for the math teacher, who died from a heart attack, ended up in trailer parks.

Another time, our district’s superintendent’s well-meaning friends, dissatisfied with our community’s newest property tax, caused a small conflagration to occur at that man’s home. Bridge sets, in men’s clubs, and hair dryers, at the classy beauty parlor, whispered that the newly raised monies were not being used to improve the elementary school’s library, to send the town’s geriatrics to the state capitol, or to show “educational” films at the community center, but to pad school board members’ pockets.

A television team filmed the local legislator in his Hawaiian-looking skivvies after firefighters evacuated that personage and his family from their home. Sheathed in a fireman’s protective coat, the politico successfully avoided the troop’s powerful hoses’ backsplash, but imprudently sawed on about the unholy goings on of certain state commissioners’ daughters (who worked as news reporters) and about the reckless behavior of certain local fire marshal’s sons (who manned hook and ladder trucks). He mouthed, too, about the ill-advised collaborations among those youths, positing that their acts were due to their liberal arts educations. That superintendent was unseated in the next election.

Such sentimental moments failed to impress upon me the importance of obeying external strictures, so I lost out on professional rewards. Poor puddings, like my book review column in a district newspaper, notwithstanding, I was short sheeted for refusing a testosterone-reeking penname and for failing to bribe publishers. My high school and state college graduations were accompanied by boiler plate praise, mediocre academic honors, and actual pats on the head. Rejecting the rules meant rejecting significant job offers and meant missing the chance for elite graduate programs’ fellowships.

I attended an Ivy League via awkward financial assistance: I became the lackey of a man enamored of “liberalism” and of short skirts. He forbade me to advocate centralist ideas or to wear long, baggy couture. Too many years later, when I earned my diploma, he, at last, glimpsed my derriere and heard my rightist talk; my fully covered bottom faced him as I pushed open his office door and ran into the adjoining hallway without offering him a simple adieu or even an uncomplicated aufwiedersehen. As well, I gestured at him in the impolite manner of stoned conservatives.

Shortly thereafter, at a grand conference, where I presented my thoughts on new rhetoric, that boorish man again accosted me. He cornered me in a meeting room and tried to coerce me into hearing more yawn-inspiring tales of his imposed limits on semantic conundrums as occurred at his butcher’s shop, and of his making sunlight, for his Freshman Writing class, of a diatribe on text messaging’s ills. That lout believed that his expose’ would soften me enough to bed him. He hadn’t counted on my spitting at him and then walking away equal parts truck driver and ballerina. A second time, I doffed part of my skirt and snaked a hand gesture behind my back.

Had I not wanted to make a scene in front of my family, I would have sucker punched that old goat. After graduating, I had practiced kicks, blocks and punches, in a dojo frequented by men and women nearly twice my size. Yet, it would have been poor form to allow my children to see Ma carted off (that particular conference was the one and the only one, to which my Heart’s Fire had packed up all of our children and driven for fifteen hours to surprise me).

Upon entering the hotel lobby with our goopy darlings, My Mister had begun, loudly, to tout religious life’s plusses. He felt such language, as an apologia, would distract hotel workers from: our two year-old’s bowling over of enormous vases of expensive plants, our four year-old’s puking of oat cereal on the foyer’s Persian carpet, and our six year-old’s use of his permanent marker on all of the area’s leather sofas. My Better Half was mistaken.

Though I was lecturing at that communications conference, my fellow teachers wanted to tape Hubby’s speech for their classes. Also, hotel management was not flummoxed by Hubby’s verbal prestidigitation. They sent staff running to him with platters of food, hot beverages, and coupons for a manicure. In the establishment’s mind, the destruction wrought by our offspring was secondary (they dispensed two bellhops, one junior manager, and an entire cleaning squadron to deal with the “incidentals”).

My spouse was stymied. Our children were corralled. Thereafter, the hotel’s powers tried to bribe us into leaving. They offered me an upgrade on my return flight and a vacation package, discounted seven per cent, to a Florida resort, which, unlike their suave selves, encouraged occupancy by the sticky set.

I nay-sayed their generosity countering that the establishment ought to upgrade us, gratuitously, to a suite. I had a second paper, on the isolation and independence concomitant to working in European universities, yet to deliver.

Management acquiesced. Regardless, in our fancy digs, my husband and I found our not hitherto potty-trained toddlers’ turds floating in our Jacuzzi. Those little souls, too, had poured soured milk into our room’s marble sinks, and had laughed while sprinkling wheat flakes and cheese bits around our sitting area’s alabaster-colored carpet, before insisting on bathing in our special “tub.”

By four in the morning, when the kids were asleep, my lover and I shifted our attention away from discerning whether or not the stains from the marker could be removed from our lamps, television stands, oaken desktops and fine, woolen blankets to the matter of making goo-goo eyes at each other. We had one and one half hours to do so; I was due to preside over the women’s breakfast meeting for faculty intent on removing gender-biased remarks from our discipline’s newsletter. That ninety minutes of face time was superb.

Before having children, I had given up actualizing my visions of leisure nights filled with old port, with mushroom-encrusted chicken, and with overstuffed pillows. After having sons and daughters, I gave up my fantasies, too. Ecstasy became finding matching socks.

Our children exceeded all of my expectations of sacrificing footnotes for dripping breasts, fellowships for postpartum perineum soreness, and professional tributes for wiping that last tiny, muddy footprint from the kitchen floor. Accordingly, more than a decade elapsed between giving that academic idiot the finger and denouncing him to an investigative panel.

Meanwhile, some cohorts labeled mommy me “stalwart,” while others mocked my dwindling subsidies and blemished professional name. Communication theorists’ intrigue with behavioral variables is nothing relative to the field studies, conducted daily, by parents. My work morphed from mainstream to revolutionary. I dared to suggest that we investigate: the motivation behind preschool potty-mouths, the failed grandeur of elementary school pageants, and the lack of sagacity inherent in preadolescents using iPods. Plus, I demeaned insisted that the interaction among species, specifically among long-eared rodents and people, called for immediate research; a friend had given me a rabbit.

Even so, those professional eggheads and former collaborators lapped up my treaties on human tendencies regarding love or money only when my remarks referenced dead Greeks or Romans or on contemporary European rulers appreciated by “focused” individuals. Yearly, I was invited to present my findings at national symposia and in juried, print venues. My husband, alone, understood that my work was transparent blather.

A good man, he nonetheless remained willing to sponsor, per fiduciary arrangements and time, my furthering my profession (as long as I ceased to hold him culpable for issues with which my name became associated). My guy liked my intimate sharings, but remained uncertain that he wanted to be associated with a professor who willingly gave highfalutin words to bathroom mold, to overflowing diaper bins, and to unwashed pets. My Main Squeeze saw such matters as unwisely highlighting linguistic artifacts of culturally enforced gender-associated role strain and as documenting my poor housekeeping.

Bombastic language aside, my mate struggled with my notoriety until the advent of my illness. The few times when he accompanied me to professional convocations, sans kids, he bravely, regularly, contended with reminders that he married a particularly disreputable scholar. No amount of his indignation succeeded in quelling my peers’ decrying of my scholarship simultaneous with their falling all over themselves to host me at their panels. There was not yet room, in academia, to validate traditional women’s work.

During my last expedition to volley against scholastic poverty, my man chose to stay home. Unfortunately, our pet of the moment, Mr. Ears, who ought to have been hippity hoppiting from his sunny spot in front of our salon’s window, straight into the bathroom, where our rabbits had been trained to take care of his alimentary needs, instead sat in his own waste. He suffered, too, from a dry nose and from droopy appendages.

My husband stuffed our fun bun into a breathable cotton casing and routed him to our vet. A few of the local harridans, whom my mate passed en route, warned him that if his journey proved to be anything short of a veterinary emergency, Mr. Ears would become a ward of our township’s animal control division and my husband would be made into mittens.

Given that that most our happy valley’s residents adore fur-fashioned sartorial goods and strain to show off culinary exploits made from frog or goat, such exclamations made for poor interpersonal subtexts. My Life’s Love, no rhetorician, prayed that those waggy chins would fail to make good on their threats.

Temporarily, as our eldest child tells it, many of our neighborhood’s kids, too, pointed at my husband, verbally accosting him regarding the wiggly nose protruding beyond our pillowcase’s rim. An impromptu parade of bikes flowing with streamers, of acne-marked, music box-toting adolescents, and of nannies with baby carriages, followed My Love all the way to our goodly animal doctor.

Whereas, in olden days, fie and drum corps were needed to inspire the movements of armies, contemporary children are sufficiently self-motivated to make their activities in sync with those of their middle-aged parents. While Hubby was getting bunny assessed, not only were our neighbors’ scion awaiting the veterinary pronouncement, but our own kids were at the corner store picking up cans of grape leaves and cartons of ice cream for dinner.

Accordingly, our chemically-filled youngsters proceeded to make some stupid choices. One joined a friend in hitching to a music festival, another nearly burned the house down while trying to warm Baked Alaska, a third imprinted a permanent marker design on our livingroom wall, and our youngest broke most of our stemware while experimenting with resonance. Since they were hand-crafted, our glasses would have held up if only he had used a fork or spoon in lieu of a ball pen hammer.

Meanwhile, the animal doc declared that Mr. Ears’ was not ill or injured, but preggers. We had mistakenly bought a doe, not a buck. A litter of six caramel-colored babies arrived a few weeks later.

As for our kids, my partner phoned the fire department in time to save the house and shrugged off the new, permanent artwork in our family’s main space. He called in some favors from his bowling team, resulting in our eldest being hauled home in a car of importance, minus its flashing lights and sirens, My Guy cleaned up all of the broken glassware, without lancing more than two fingers, as well.

My experience was less providential. My colleagues, during the question and answer period following my lone presentation, made pieces out of the very language that my research attempted to proffer, and alluded that my entire body of findings were, at best, wearisome. In less than coded semantics, they posited that my insights were rubbish and that my department chair should force me to resign. Additionally, that misogynous coot from my formative years elected to approach me in the hotel’s grand hall. I got in a good palm heel strike to his face. I admit I grinned when he attempted to sop up nose blood with his handkerchief.

As clear from my life choices, I am no champion of medical protocol nor do I intend to “sit pretty” until planted over with daisies just because of existent social traditions.

I laugh at the neighbors, who have banded together to push through a local law banning wild flower gardens where they deem only pelts of turf ought to grow, while I harvest echinacea and iron weed from my front lawn. I scheme of sending Mr. Ears’ children loose in their beds of impotent snapdragons and petunias and of sending my marker-happy third grader to their unguarded garbage cans and milk boxes.

I’m too busy for such trivial activities, though. I need to fill our wading pool with gelatin, to invite a busload of urban schoolchildren into our backyard to pick roses and honeysuckle and to steam the nettle, chickweed, and plantain that grow around our swing set. I need, too, to sing, loudly, in the middle of our street at sunrise.

I’ve not a minute for hosing down my sons and daughters, for cleaning a saucer or a cup or for caring whether a document follows the MLA or the APA style. As long as I breathe, I will bake cookies, scoff at chemo and at doctors who think self-poisoning is the best response to incurable illness, and will allow my skirts to slip far enough up to reveal my purple bloomers.

KJ Hannah Greenberg snorts and snuffs in poetry and prose. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Hannah unabashedly uses word play to poke at culture. Her two newest collections are A Bank Robber's Bad Luck with His Ex-Girlfriend, Unbound CONTENT, 2011, poetry, and Don't Pet the Sweaty Things, Bards & Sages Publishing, 2012, short fictions.


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Silk Road Mantra

by Suchoon Mo

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

I go and go

from west to east

I go and go

from east to west

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road


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