The Prince of Minnesota

When someone of note passes, it's become de rigueur for anyone with internet access to write a tribute of some sort. Not more than 40 minutes after the news broke, Huffington Post had at least two Prince-memorial pieces up. It's not surprising, given the ripples this diminutive life-force created in his lifetime. I normally don't care for the navel-gazing posts that litter cyberspace after a "celebrity" crosses over (are you ready for the "10 Prince songs that made me a better parent" articles?) but this time it's different, at least for those of us who communicate primarily via writing here in Minnesota. Even for those of us who do so lazily and as a hobby. We need to share our Prince stories, as we would have had this happened a hundred and fifty or so years ago- we'd have sat around a fire telling our kinfolk about that time we ran into Prince at the City Center food court. "...and he was so tiny I probably could have tucked him into my purse! Okay, kids, back into the covered wagon."

If you're from Minnesota, you don't ask your fellow citizens if they like Prince. It would be like asking them if they enjoyed breathing. "Well, yeah, you know, if the mood is right." Nope. Not saying every Minnesotan is a Misery-style fangirl or boy, but still. Growing up here, in PrinceLand, you know things. You learn his lyrics via osmosis. When a song of his pops out of the speakers at the grocery store or Target it isn't novel or surprising, it just is.

One of the many rites of passage here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes is driving around town, preferably around one or two of those aforementioned lakes, windows down, your friend in the passenger seat next to you with her feet up on the dash and a perfectly fitting Prince jam blaring on the radio. His songs? They were all pretty much fitting. Even when it was discussing how many positions there are in a one night stand or fighting parents or horses hanging around watching a kid lose his virginity in a barn, his music just fit. Perfectly.

My peers and I came of age during the 80's. At the time there was no indication that it was a magical point in history, a beautiful chunk of years to be alive and young and free to roam the streets. Looking back now, as various icons leave us and move on to the next place, it fills me with both a grateful joy and a profound sadness. The joy is because we were able to drench ourselves in their talent for such a sweet stretch of time, the sadness is because it's over and no matter how much fun was had, it will never feel like we got enough. Just one more song, just one more movie, just one more concert...just one more, please.

When we Minnesotans get braggy about our state, we mention several cultural standouts. Betty Crocker! Paul freakin Bunyan! Post it Notes! Bob Dylan! And always, always our sweet Prince. He is as Minnesota as the Vikings, only he won a lot of things and he built his own mother effing stadium.

It's a routine in our home to have music playing while whichever kids who are around and I gather in the kitchen either preparing dinner or asking when it'll be ready. The night we lost our Prince was no exception and of course, it was him and his lyrical gift filling the room. As one son prepped the burgers for grilling and the other stood by the fridge observing, the observant one said: "Mom, one of my favorite memories is you and me in the car, singing along to Raspberry Beret really loud. Man, I'm sad."

And that sums it up. I can't properly express what a loss this is to the world. Especially our world here in Minnesota. There aren't enough words...so I'm just going to echo what my son said.

Man, I'm sad.


Basic Instincts (and coffee)

On a cold November morning in 2009, a bad thing happened.

My coffee maker died.

Since it was one of the relics from my marriage, it was top-of-the-line as far as java cookers go. That thing was yuuuge (go ahead, say it in a Donald voice) and sleek and looked like something you'd see on a counter-top in a swanky Euro kitchen. It made espresso and cappuccino and frothed milk like a mother effer. My ex loved shiny expensive things and this workhorse was no exception. How it ended up with me, and not lovingly ensconced in his starter love-nest is a mystery.

Anyway. It died. I remember going through the motions that morning: filling it up with water, grinding the beans, pushing "BREW" and then gasping in sleepy horror as a pool of water started spreading out from beneath the vessel. I did what every self-respecting addict did in those days and immediately posted on the facebook about it.

LOL@ Angie

Juliana, a friend for a long time, came to my rescue and dropped off a gently used machine that morning. It was a Krups, just like the now-expired beast in my kitchen, but a much more basic model. It did one thing: make coffee. It also told time but I never did get around to setting the clock. It was white, had seem some life and many brew cycles. I took the gold mesh filter from the dead machine (of course it had a gold mesh filter. OF COURSE IT DID.) and placed it in the "new" one, went through the motions and pressed "BREW".

And there was coffee. Not espresso, not cappuccino, not a frothed concoction. Nope. Just straight coffee. Hot and strong and gloriously basic.

Fast-forward 7 years. Different house, different kitchen, different life. Same coffee maker. Every single morning, without fail, that hand-me-down Krups coffee maker does what it was put on this Earth to do. It makes my coffee. I can't vouch for how decent of a brew it makes, since I have atrocious taste in many things, coffee included. But one of my kids has started pilfering it, so it must be okay.

I am firmly entrenched in the Ain't Broke? Don't Fix It camp. Always have been and probably always will be. When you think about it, that may be one of the reasons my marriage didn't work. Aside from the adultery and all that stuff, but still: I was married to someone who wanted more. Newer, better, prettier, fancier. Always on the lookout for the next big thing, he was. While I was the opposite. The polar opposite: why buy new when you already have one that works? Older doesn't mean obsolete, it means quality. To me, spending time and energy to replace something that works JUST FINE is silly.

I get it, though. I understand wanting to make improvements and being lured by the promise of something just a bit faster and edgier and better. That's why I don't have a flip phone, people. A now almost antiquated iPhone 5, yes, but it's still kind of smart even though the guys at the AT&T store regarded it with mild amusement/curiosity and warned me to avoid doing any more updates on it: "Lady, it will just stop working. Don't do it!".

As some of you here have reminded me, other people's money is not ours to spend. If you have the means, or even just the desire and decent credit, go for it. I'm not judging those of you who do want shinier and newer and possibly more efficient. Gadgets are fun. Buying stuff is fun. The smell of newness is always fun. I will admit to feeling something that is probably envy when I see someone with a nice car and I'm sitting behind the wheel of my well-loved, still-running vehicle that is held together with duct tape and solidified mid-life sweat thanks to the non-functioning air conditioning. But then I remind myself that as long as the car drives, it's all I really need.

Just like my beloved hand-me-down coffee maker. And really, I guess, just like a lot of us.

Basic. Gently used. Been through a few brew cycles. But we do what we're supposed to do. So don't write us off just yet.


If You Give A Broke Mom a Tax Refund...

Tax time. Those two words have been daunting to me over the past several years. With the exception of one exciting April many moons ago, I have owed money to our government every single year. I don't know how I scraped up the cash, honestly. Somehow, like everything else- they got paid, and miraculously, paid on time.

The irony of the poorest chick in the hen house having to pay Uncle Sam wasn't lost on me. It made me roll my eyes at all of the election-year hyperbole even more...people complaining about their precious tax dollars going to help the lazy freeloaders of society and all that. There I was, squatting at poverty level, contributing what little I had to all of those precious tax dollars being grabbed at by those "leeches" like game show contestants in the Wind Tunnel O'Money. please note the quotation marks around leeches...personally I believe corporate welfare is a far bigger shame than helping those who are in real need. Let's not get into that though.

This year held a glimmer of hope, however, due to the end of alimony in late 2014 and the addition of child support from then on. You see, my ex-husband is pretty smart when it comes to all things financial and long ago he and his lawyer went to great lengths to ensure that any money he sent my way was counted as spousal maintenance versus child support. Because, tax benefits. Back then I was overjoyed to be getting anything other than an ulcer from him, so of course I agreed. That is what ended up biting me in the arse over and over again at tax time. Maybe an ulcer would've been better?

It was with tentative optimism, then, that I sat down in front of the computer and loaded up the old Turbo Tax. I had all of my receipts, all of my records, all of the social security numbers organized and in order. I clickety-clacked, entered numbers and reconciled all of it. Dependents and educational expenses and rent paid, oh my. The dollar amount under the words "YOUR FEDERAL REFUND" increased as I went along. I tried to not look at it but couldn't stop, my eyes wide like they get when it's 1:30 on Friday and I see the word "martini".

When all was said and done I sat back and exhaled. Then, I ran the numbers again. And once more just to be sure.

I've heard stories of big huge fat tax refunds, but thought they were legends like Big Foot and low cost cable television. People always went on about what they were going to do with their refunds and I'd be crying in the corner, writing a check to the IRS and cursing the family court system.

This time, though. Boy howdy. It was big, by my standards.

Believe it or not, I didn't cry. I might have let out a big whoooop and I also may have texted my bestie.

And then, I got scared.

Here's the bizarre thing. Being poor effs with your head in many ways, and one of the weirdest is what it does to your relationship with money. Now, I'm saying poor as in "one mishap away from being homeless" poor and not "aughh we can't afford both a winter and a spring vacation this year" poor, okay? When you spend a bit of time worrying about feeding your kids and keeping a roof over your heads, money becomes like this big evil alien spacecraft, not unlike the one that hovered above the White House in the movie Independence Day. Fretting about it consumes every waking moment, and most of your sleeping ones, too.

So this little windfall was as terrifying as it was exciting. Maybe a little more the former than the latter.

I thought about it, during the days before it was deposited in my checking account. I considered the things that needed to be paid for, the things we really needed but could never afford, the fun stuff a broke ass mom and her kids could do for once, without the mom chewing her lower lip to bits trying to avoid thinking about the financial repercussions.

My god, I thought. I can get the stupid broken handle on my car door fixed! No more would I have to leave the window open only to haul ass out to the parking lot mid-rain to roll it up!

I could help my eldest with his car repair bill! I could get my poor dog's ear medicine! I could get new contacts and throw away the trial pair I've been wearing for way too many months! We could go out to dinner, all five of us and we could order whatever we wanted! Oh mah gah. I could maybe even afford to get a second car for the kids. A beater, of course, like my little silver tuna can Ford Focus, but just think...a second car!

Fantasies traipsed through my brain like fleet-footed nymphs: I imagined walking into a liquor store and saying in my best Gery Poupon accent "I say, good man, please point me in the direction of your finest wines within the 8-10 dollar range!" and then "Benson, I have procured several bottles. Please pull the car around so I may take leave of this fine establishment."

I even caught myself standing in front of a 40" Smart TV at Costco one night. It was marked way, way down and I stood there for a good five minutes, picturing myself in bed with a big shiny tv on my dresser and how nice it would be to watch my British shows on something besides the wee little chromebook. My days (actually nights) of falling asleep on the couch could be history! What could be better than dozing off in the comfort of my own bed, the dulcet tones of Netflix rocking me to sleep?

Luckily, I bitch-slapped myself right out of that one. I said out loud, "Who do you think you are, Beyonce??? Get real, Jenny." And then went on to get the milk and eggs and bulk pack of Hawaiian Sweet rolls I went there for in the first place.

What I did, and am doing with it, is this: I let us have some fun. Nothing crazy, of course, but there have been dinners and some new clothes and yes, a big linen-scented candle. I splurged on some gluten-free licorice from Amazon and am planning my 18 year old's graduation party without wincing and my daughter is finally going to get contacts (shh, that one's a surprise).

But that's it. The rest of it is remaining untouched. If I could find an old-timey Folgers coffee can and bury it somewhere, I would. Because being poor doesn't only make you afraid of money...it teaches you that you can't be trusted with it. That somehow, you are to blame for the financial mess you're in. You've made bad choices, dumb decisions and if only you'd somehow been just slightly smarter with your dollars, you wouldn't be in straits so dire.

I'm trying to get over that one. I think a fear of money is okay, to some extent, but I need to prove to myself that I am responsible, I am smart enough to handle this stupid chunk of change and I won't blow it. I was married, for a long time, to someone who had holes in his pockets and every bonus or gift horse was spent within days: new cars, new suits, new golf clubs, new kitchens. My first instinct then, when confronted with any excess money is HOW CAN I SPEND THIS AS QUICKLY AND FRIVOLOUSLY AS POSSIBLE? Girls? Learn how to handle money wisely. Parents? Teach all of your kids how to do it. Please. 

I guess, in hindsight, dealing with financial stress for so long afterwards has been kind of a blessing/baptism by fire. It has taught me that new doesn't necessarily mean better. It has definitely hammered in the differences between wants and needs.

But perhaps the most important lesson learned is, sometimes it's okay to splurge. Even if your definition of splurge is much different than it used to be. Where there used to be fancy clothes and granite counter-tops, there are now Old Navy sale sprees, scented candles and Saturday movie dates with a kid or two.

I think this definition better. Better, but I'm still scared.


I Am That Goose

The search history on my computer isn't too scary. It's more boring than anything else. It goes like this:

"gluten-free licorice"
"FedEx drop locations"
"costco hours"
"linen tunic 3/4 sleeve"
and then, there is this one:

"do geese mate for life"

I live in Minnesota, which for several months out of the year seems to be Goose Country. We get them in our yard, I see and hear them flying overhead and when out with the dog, encounter large groups of them by the trails and the ponds. Some people hate the geese but I have grown kind of fond of them. Except when my dog eats their poo. Then I curse them and their apparently irresistible droppings.

Some people would call me a bleeding heart animal lover. If it was within my means to buy a giant farm somewhere and populate it with injured and sickly animals, I would. So when I see a goose kind of limping, or one with a janky wing, I will worry about it.

I also worry about the lone geese. You know how, you will see a big gathering of geese (gaggle? flock?) and while the majority of them are coupled up you will see a few solo geese off to the side, staring off into the distance. Or as I like to think, rolling their geese-eyes and muttering "Jesus h Christ, Denise and Larry, quit your hysterical honking...everybody sees your precious gosling snowflakes, okay? We get it. They're adorable. Calm the eff down." 

So the next time I was at my computer I entered "do geese mate for life" into Google and found out that yes, for the most part, they do. And being the bleeding heart, I thought about all of those lone geese and wondered what their stories were. Did they have babies? Or did their mate disappear before that could happen? What if they had a nest of eggs and were all alone? What happens then? Do they feel lonely standing there with all the couples? How about when they're flying? Who watches out for them??

That's also when I wondered if perhaps it was time to go back on the Adderall.

And then it hit me: sweet Moses...am I a goose? Did I mate for life? Because I'm going to just put it out there- I almost always feel like that lone goose. The one standing there trying to look cool or at least not awkward in the flock of couples. The one thinking "yeah it's fine. I'm totally okay standing here, just me myself and I! We're good!"

I am that goose except my mate didn't meet the front end of an impatient/distracted SUV or a bullet or a hungry fox. Mine flapped off into the wings of another goose and never looked back. (and this also made me wonder, but not search, "do geese screw around"? and "what would you call a goose homewrecker?") (my answer to the second one: loosey goosey. LOL)

It was a chilling moment, sitting there in front of a computer, images of geese and goose factoids glowing before my eyes.

Did I mate for life? Holy shit. Maybe so.

Because it's starting to feel like perhaps mating for life is what I did. And I have become the human counterpart to all of those solo geese. When I have my head down, eating grass or whatever, there's no protective lover looking out for cars or foxes or middle aged ladies with dogs. When I sleep at night there's no warm bundle of feathers next to me. When I tend to my own goslings, and the one or two who can no longer be classified as goslings but are still adhered firmly to the nest, there's no backup or reinforcement. No manly goose who says "baby you look tired. go sit down and watch an episode of Happy Valley and I'll get dinner started". And no Plus One when I get invited to gatherings where one would normally go with another.

The scariest part of all, though, is this: I'm kind of okay with being the lone goose. Oh, don't worry, I still have those pondering moments, usually at about 2:00 a.m., when I think gee it would be nice to have someone here next to me. Or like yesterday, when one of my kids had a health scare and I was alone in the waiting room of the pediatrician's office trying really hard to keep positive and wondering what the hell kind of pediatrician's office waiting area doesn't have boxes of Kleenex on every table and also, when did parents get so young??

But for the most part, it seems to be fine. I seem to be fine. It's been so long that nobody bothers with the usual Single-Lady small talk anymore. You know, the "so are you seeing anyone?" conversations or even the "I know this guy..." talks. Although there is one person at work who insists that I need to mate up and is pushing me to go online and find The One. I don't have the heart or balls to tell her that I do have a couple other solo geese in my life, who make me laugh and who sometimes ruffle my feathers and that's pretty much all I have the time or desire for right now. I humor her by going onto Match.com and pretending to work on my profile but unbeknownst to her I never save it.

I still think about the life-stories of those alone geese, though, and wonder how they're doing. I wonder if geese get lonely or if there's not enough room in those tiny brains for such frilly emotions. I wonder if they look at the couples surrounding them and think "damn I miss mate" or if it's more like "almost time to fly south" or "I smell fox, must honk!".

All I know is that now when I walk by a group of them and I see Mr or Ms Single Goose, I mentally kiss my fingers and give him/her a good old Katniss solidarity salute.

I feel ya, geese.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...