Really we were jealous of Moira Keegan, who had had polio when she was small, but we pretended moral outrage. She was said to be fast, but no one actually knew this for sure or knew for sure what “fast” meant. Rumor had it that she let boys feel her up inside her blouse and that sometimes she hiked up her skirt so they could fool around up there. What they would do once they got to her cotton panties we didn’t know, not then, but privately we thought it had to be delicious. At least I thought that.

On the playground, Mrs. Lamb, Mrs. Curtis, and Mr. Downing, the fifth grade teachers, stood at the center of our dodge ball game and warned us about Moira. We were scared for her, and some of us were just scared. We could only imagine wet kissing, not much more, and even that was a big mystery.

One Saturday afternoon, I met Johnny D’Angelo, a hood, at the movies. He was with Kevin Kelleher, and the three of us sat together. Once the theater went dark, Johnny slid his arm around my shoulders, leaned over me, and went straight for a tonsil kiss. There was nothing tender about it or him. When it was over, he leaned towards Kevin and said something that made them both laugh. After that, the three of us stared up at the screen.

The following Monday, I knew I would have to face Johnny and say something. When he sauntered into the classroom, I was standing by the coat closet with some other little girls. “I’m not Moira Keegan,” I shouted across the room and surprised myself.


Survivor guilt

I want to tell you in advance that I am at this point in my life pained whenever I spend money on frivolous things, like pedicures, or on things that are more expensive than they ought to be, like women’s clothes sold at blimped-out prices. I have witnessed so much poverty and suffering in the world and have myself lived so often on the very edge of life that indulgences like these make me feel ashamed. That said, I had a pedicure today and, after, bought overpriced ladies’ garments.

The pedicure I can explain: I no longer see well enough to clip, much less polish, my own toenails, and painting your toenails in summer is de rigueur if you wear open shoes at work. The clothes I can’t really explain, but, in my defense, it’s rare for me to run into deeply discounted fashions that fit me well. I have found that one needs to be a size 0 and below or a size 16 and above to have really good luck at sales. And, my mother drilled into me, and sadly to the core, the idea that only the poor and the uneducated buy things on sale, even though she had only a high school education and, while growing up, was herself poor.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I reek of guilt whenever I walk into a nail salon, and to compensate I become meek. Today, however, I gave up that silly show when a pimply young girl in a stained pink dress bent my toe so hard that I howled and then dug into the cuticle so deeply that I bled. She giggled, gossiped with the  toiling pedicurists to her left and right, and looked everywhere else but down. At one point, her cell, which was across the room, rang, and she ran off to answer it. “Really?” I asked no one in particular.

Generally, I am obsequious in any situation where I feel I am exploiting people who are doing dog work. Today, however, I wanted to eviscerate this adolescent, who grew tired of my feet in about ten minutes; instead of disembowelling her, though, I left without giving her a tip. “Bitch,” she probably muttered as I walked on by.

Later, while trawling a nearby Chico’s, I wanted to throttle the fawning saleswomen who refused to leave me alone. Could they help me, no thank you, was I sure they couldn’t help me, no thank you, could they hang up my clothes in a dressing room, no thank you, could they bring me something in a larger size, no thank you, could they bring me something in a smaller size, no thank you, could they see how I looked in the blue one, no thank you. Let me just say that I didn’t behave well.

I think it is this that got me upset and made me behave badly: I can no longer endure the insensitivities and cruelties of others, and I suppose this is partly so because of the long line of ragtag scoundrels who have traipsed heavyfooted through my life. More true now, though, is the pain I feel when I see us become the machines nature intended.


Everything but the frogs and boils

I once was sturdy on the road, careful though never afraid. I didn’t think twice about driving 80 in the fast lane or passing an 18 wheeler on the right. Not even my fear of bridges, tunnels, and retaining walls kept me from going where I wanted to go. Now, I am as frightened as a cat in a covered dumpster and think I will one day die in a fiery twist of metal.

Late yesterday afternoon, while trundling down the open road under a sky the color of soot, I thought that day had come. It started as a light rain, then a heavier rain, then a few claps of thunder, and then everything went dark. “A tornado warning is in effect for Baltimore County until 6:00 PM,” said the radio announcer, who apologized for interrupting All Things Considered. I was in Baltimore County, and it was 5:35. “If you’re in a vehicle or a mobile home,” he continued, “move to a location with a substantial structure and watch out for flying debris.” I looked around. Everyone was slowing to near gridlock. I looked out my windshield and up. Funnel clouds were forming above. Even if I had wanted to hightail it to a safe building, I wouldn’t have been able to budge. I seriously entertained the idea of leaping from my car and throwing myself under a flowering shrub at the side of the road.

Although I’m not very good at praying, I began to pray hard and to bargain: If You do this, I’ll do that; if You do that, I’ll do this. Perhaps it worked because, soon after, the sky brightened, we began to move, and the immediate threat seemed to pass. Phew, I thought. And with that thought came a lightning crack, a deafening boom, and a sideways downpour. Another round of praying brought the rain to a drizzle.

Once off the Beltway and onto a four-lane road, I saw that the water was running high. “There are flash-flood warnings in Maryland, Northern Virginia, and the District,” the interrupting radio announcer announced. I was in Maryland headed towards the District, and I was begging God to keep me safe for a while longer. But for the muscle-bound sun king who stepped off a traffic island when I had the green light and who shook his head at me when I almost hit him and for the screaming fire truck with which I nearly collided head on, I made it to my home without incident.

This morning, I went outside and saw that the sky was clear, except for a scattering of cloud wisps. When I got to my car, I discovered white and brown diarrhea smeared across the hood. Even the birds had been scared poopless.