Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Three Trolls

I’m gonna start by talking about what I mean by “troll.” Sure, the word has its origins in Scandinavian folklore, and I can recommend a book. Real, old school trolls that turn into stone in daylight are much better than today’s trolls. You wanna tell me what you think trolling means, go make your own blog post, or comment. Whatever. I think I might have an inner troll, and she’s hectoring me already.

The term “troll” comes from the fairly recent past, but those early days of the Internet, that feel like now, but it really wasn’t, because then the Internet was, you know, just for porn,  sparsely populated by the denizens of the specific-interest message-board; from those boards it sprang, this term. It means “A deliberately provocative message board user.”
Specifically, for me, more simply, it is a person who tries to make other people mad.

Though my older brother and I are close now, I am pretty certain that he was my first troll. I do remember we played well together, but I also remember that as soon as he started elementary school (and I didn’t), I was rejected for bigger, smarter, faster-running school friends. Friends who could catch and throw. Friends who were cool. I was also rejected for being a cry-baby. In my family, teasing was constant. It was an expression of love, perhaps, but here is my evidence: I gave my brother a concussion when I hit him over the head with my shiny new baton, driven to the deed by rage from teasing. And then. Having been punished and won the damned thing back from my parents, I did it again.

My second troll was the M-boy, who lived near my grandparents, in our neighborhood. On a good day, I was terrified to walk to school alone, and the M-boy made it so I was even more terrified to walk home. How long did I endure the bullying? I can’t say. I don’t remember anything that he said, but I do remember a bird’s nest being found and thrown at me. In the infinite wisdom of the late 60s/ early 70s, the solution to this bully was to keep him after school an extra 15 minutes every day so the rest of the kids could get a head start running home. I guess I wasn’t his only target.

When the M- boy died in an accident at his home, just a few years later, I took delivery on the twin feelings of relief that this bully would never bother me gain, and of guilt for not being sad about someone who was really, actually now dead.

I have resisted writing about my third troll, because, just as I struggle with my latest troll, who occasionally plagues me on Twitter, I worry that writing about it will give the troll exactly what she was looking for.

My third troll (so named for the purposes of this essay) and I were friends in high school. We had the same first name and a similar last name. We’d started in 9th grade we were in the same crop of new kids brought in at 9th grade. We hung out. Talked on the phone. Passed notes in French class. I spent the night at her house a couple of times. We rode her parent’s tandem bike in her neighborhood and got chased by a giant, angry poodle. I watched her cat Daisy steal a whole piece of fried chicken off the dinner table and was impressed. I’d never seen a cat steal a whole piece of fried chicken off the dinner table before.

At my highschool, there were many privileges afforded to seniors: a special lounge, a special parking lot, senior prefecture, electing a Mary and a Joseph to pose in the tableau at the highlight of the school Christmas Pageant. On Halloween, seniors got to wear costumes and no one else in the school had this right.
Glee Club, Halloween, 1980. Only seniors could wear costumes 
I don’t remember what I wore, though I may have spent four years planning it. What I do remember was that my same-named friend came as me on Halloween.

It wasn’t a complicated costume. She wore socks that matched her turtleneck, and a tiny side ponytail in the front of her hair, with matching ribbons. You could say I was a walking target, dressing like that every day.

I used part of my precious free period to use a pay phone and call my mother. She was even home. I was upset. I was always upset about something, but I didn't usually call my mom. She told me, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

I hung up, resolved to be cool about the fact that I felt mocked. In retrospect, I would describe the feeling as being trolled.

To the face of my same-name friend, I laughed. Maybe my eyes didn’t laugh, but I did.

Years later I dreamed I was having a swimming party at the house I grew up in. Everyone I had ever known was there: my cousins, my friends from college, my favorite TV actors. My same-name friend showed up with a machine gun and sprayed the place with bullets, shooting everyone.  It seemed real.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


We picked up our young dog from the trainer and he’d given her the nickname, “Quinny.” Back in those days, the Mythic Times, when software monopolies had hot and cold running spigots of money, when we had perfect house in the city and a farm on an island, we had a dog trainer who trained dogs for Seattle’s rock stars and lived on his own archipelago. He had a PhD in psychology and a rapid-fire banter full of references to E.P.A. Superfund sites and Shakespeare. There aren’t many people I’ve met who I had to struggle to keep up with verbally but talking to him was like the one mile of the Boston Marathon I ran in the 80s with my dad: I had to go as fast as I possibly could just to keep up.

I had to look up this word, “quinny.” And it was maybe 2000 or 2001, so I would have started in our Oxford English dictionary, where I thought I’d find it between “quinnet” and “quino,” but it wasn’t there. Imagine my surprise when the Internet told me it was an Elizabethan term for “vagina.” It’s also a baby stroller company; take that for what you will.

Crude terms for vagina also include “cunt,” “twat,” and, the primary insult of my childhood, “pussy.” Being a pussy had nothing to do with the other meaning of pussy, as in cat. Being a pussy was being a sissy, a weakling, a coward. “Wuss” was a variant on “pussy.” When my older brother teased me into an unsoothable rage, I wrote his name and “IS A PUSSY” in huge letters inside my closet. It was still there when my mother sold the house. Being a pussy was the One Thing we tried hardest Not To Be. It was the sine qua non of screamed insults you could hurl from a passing car, with or without mooning.

Since I was a known cry-baby, I was, de facto, a pussy. I am still a cry-baby, and a huge pussy, avoiding difficult, mildly stressful tasks like calling the dry cleaners to yell at them about my lost Rag & Bone scarf, or balancing the checkbook (two months overdue), or going to the dermatologist for the annual mole check.  I cry when other people get bad news, when I talk about people who’ve been mean to me, or in riding lessons when it goes especially poorly, or well.

Now that I have been empowered by my beloved Internet to embrace my real qualities, and to own my pussiness, and tell the sissy-haters that, baby, that’s woman-hating bullshit nonsense, I’m just gonna shed public tears about Mike Brown and Eric Garner like a real proud, pussy.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


When I was a kid, my dad was a businessman. He worked in an office in a tall building with sharp corners and many windows and he sat at his desk and talked on the phone and also went to meetings. He had a secretary and he carried a briefcase. I could picture him sitting in his office looking at papers and sometimes looking out the window.

Every day, when he got dressed, he put on a shirt with a lot of small, white buttons and a three-piece suit which was: a pair of pants with a matching vest with other buttons and a jacket to wear over that (and I knew it was called a sport coat). He wore a tie, too. When he came down to breakfast his necktie was tied but he had always forgotten to zip his fly. This was my job, to tell him to zip his fly. I don’t know if I said, “Dad, XYZ!” but I probably did. That was what we said, “XYZ!”
It stood for, “eXamine Your Zipper!”

When I went away to sleepover camp, I would get a letter or two from my dad, which he dictated to his secretary. These letters were among the very bests thing my dad did for me, and I went to camp knowing they would come, like a prize.

Bufo Americanus, American Toad, Dutchess County, NY
Now I am a grown-up, and almost an old lady, I have a husband, who I sometimes call the Bacon Provider. He has a job in the city, and by this I mean New York City. Every day, when he gets dressed, he puts on a shirt with lots of small, white buttons. Sometimes, he carries a briefcase. He doesn’t wear a tie to work, but he does have a secretary, although she isn’t called that, she is called his assistant. He rarely forgets to zip his fly.

At the farmhouse where we spend weekends, there are toads. They’re like the size of an apple, maybe, and speckledy brown and bumpy. Toads come out on our patio and just sit there. They have grumpy, frowning little faces, and brown all over bumps, and their front feet turn in. Maybe they make a toad noise but I haven’t heard it yet.

Anyway, sometimes the toads are there when we drive up to the house, sitting in front of the garage door. Other times, when we are driving down the driveway to leave on a Sunday night, there is one of the toads, sitting in the middle of the road, not moving at all. I always stop for a toad, not wanting to squish it, and hoping that the lights from the car’s headlights will scare it away. Nope. It doesn’t move. It never does. In the face of imminent danger, it just sits there. So, my husband, the Bacon Provider, he is the one who always hops out. He is a champion of small, helpless things and he walks to the front of the car. The toad never moves. The Bacon Provider stomps on the ground, but the toad just sits there. Some toads stiffen their front legs, to make themselves look tougher. The Bacon Provider very gently nudges the toad’s butt-end with the toe of his shoe. The toad will take a single hop, but it will still be in the path of the car. He has to touch it again and again to get it safely out of the way. 

I think This is all the Bacon Provider does at his job in the city, you know: Walking in front of the car and gently encouraging the toads to get out of the way.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Letter to the County Executive of Dutchess County, New York

The event I described happened in mid-July, and on that day I told the people I was with that I would write the sheriff and the county executive. They laughed. On a different day on that same stretch of road, my young horse spooked at a speeding garbage truck, dumped one of the barn's professionals on the ground, and took off galloping back to the barn. He stopped and we were able to catch him.
Recent events all across the United States involving police remind me to encourage you, dear readers, to write letters to your local law enforcement and their bosses if you have an opinion about what you see them do. 

Out Hacking
Marcus J. Molinaro
County Executive
County of Dutchess
22 Market Street
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601

Dear Mr. Molinaro:

Thank you for your kind letter welcoming me as a newly registered voter in Dutchess County. I look forward to participating in elections in my new rural community.

Recently, on a July weekday in the mid-afternoon on State Route XX in XXXXXX, I was out riding my horse on the road’s shoulder along with two other younger staff members of the barn where I ride. We were each wearing a helmet and riding a calm, older horse belonging to a private owner. An unmarked police vehicle approached and turned on its brightly colored lights and passed us, at an alarming speed. Because we are all experienced riders, we were able to calm our horses and continue; however, almost immediately the unmarked black police vehicle was joined by a marked Dutchess County Deputy Sheriff’s car, and passed us from the other direction at even greater speed.  Once again, we had to calm our horses and continue, which we did without further incident.

I have mulled over the encounter during the last couple of months and taken the time to confirm for myself that under Article 26 of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law, Section 1146 a., “Every driver of a vehicle shall approach a horse being ridden or led along a public highway at a reasonable and prudent speed so as to avoid frightening such horse and shall pass the horse at a reasonable distance.”

I believe that the drivers of both police vehicles, though they may have been responding to an emergency, failed to obey this law, endangering the lives of three people and three horses.

Should any staff members of the Dutchess County Sheriff’s office be interested in learning about basic horse safety, the barn where I ride is a British Horse Society Certified facility, with highly educated and experienced instructors who would be able to provide basic lessons in horsemanship. I would think these skills would be useful throughout much of Dutchess County.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

What Sun-Faded Signs Don’t Say

They stood together, angled to enclose me like a pair of blonde parentheses. “We feel like we know how great you’re doing because we see you on Facebook,” said one.

“I look at all your pictures,” said the other.

I wanted to tell them the verb people use for that is “creeping,” as in, “I creep on all your pictures.” I didn’t. I wanted to tell the other one that what people see on Facebook is only the good stuff. Facebook is for graduations, job promotions, new babies, softball tournaments. Facebook is not for rehab, dropping out of school, cancer scares, incompetent bosses. It’s like a roster of all the delicious desserts you’ve gotten to eat, and none of the disappointing frozen dinners.

By way of being honest with old friends, I said, “My constant presence on social media is a reflection of my loneliness and isolation.”

This elicited light laughter. It wasn’t unsympathetic laughter. It was appreciative, and only a little uncomfortable.

My husband and I had come a long way, back from New York, for the wedding of a mutual friend. Since we moved from Seattle, our friend had bought a farm, moved her business there, and rescued a bunch of animals. Now she was getting married, having planned a big wedding, marrying her best friend of a number of years. It was a circus-themed affair, and because of who it was, we weren’t scared away by a circus-themed wedding. Maybe somewhat hesitant, but we were going anyway.

Getting to Vashon Island had included a ferry ride from West Seattle. Our morning had been gobbled up settling a monetary crisis for another friend, but we had thought we had enough time to park, walk on the ferry and be met by the shuttle bus. The Washington State Ferry system is a glorious relic of the days when government was big and had an important role in getting people and goods from place to place. People voted for that, and paid for it with their taxes. The white and green-trimmed ferries are huge, with several decks for cars and trucks and other decks for passengers. There is never enough parking at the smaller, neighborhood ferry terminals, but we followed the lead of other cars parked on the street. Though the neat, small clapboard houses near Fauntleroy Dock look just like the rest of West Seattle, the streets are painted with special striping, and the street signs erupt with multiple placards of all sizes and colors, facing the street in erratic angles. The signs we could see and read described the many times that parking was not allowed, during the week, overnight, but we felt we’d found legal parking for the day.

After a short wait in the small terminal, we bought two $5.20 tickets and walked on. We climbed the stairs to the front of the ferry to spend our short crossing as we knew we had always loved to: in the wind and sun.  It was so much as it had always been, engines thrumming, waves slapping, gulls circling that we had not so much a sense of nostalgia but one of stasis, that Seattle was unchanged and unchanging.

The gloss on our feeling of expertise dulled when we walked off the ferry and saw no shuttles anywhere. We wandered around for a bit, and the Bacon Provider called for a cab. Vashon Island isn’t really the kind of a place with cabs per se. There was just a guy you could call, his name was on the Internet, and he’d send someone to get you. Our driver refused to charge us the agreed-upon $25 fare, accepting only $15, but taking the $20 offered her anyway.

So we were late to the wedding, though we didn’t feel late, but we missed the ceremony in the mossy, wooded grove of giant Douglas firs where the beloved old dog was buried, and missed the entrance of the bride on horseback. So be it. We were greeted first by one old friend, and then another. People were happy to see us, asked after the kids. It was easy and pleasant.

The farm is wooded and lush, presided over by tall firs and carpeted in moss and ferns. There is a trim house and neat barn and the circus-themed decorations were joyous rather than jarring. There were too many people to catch up with and not enough time. I spoke to the pair of blondes, toured the property with another friend. Someone mentioned a small nugget of real gossip, but then explained to me, in a whisper, “Another time, over a beer.” It was as close as I came to a real conversation, and it ended as soon as it started.

After the trapeze act finished, the dancing began with a samba dancer wearing a tiny costume consisting of three green sequins working the room. Then, the whole barn crowd from our Seattle years reassembled outside for a group photo. After the photo, one of the blondes confronted me again, this time with the question, “So do you miss Seattle?”

Looking away I said, “Almost every day.”

“What do you miss the most?” she pressed.

I did not answer her.

Later, when we got off the ferry, our rental car was still there, but it had a parking ticket on it. Apparently one of the illegible, sun-faded signs said, “No Parking Weekends or Holidays.” The ticket was $47. We saw it and both laughed: cheap parking by New York City standards.