Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I am crossing the road, walking home from lunch with my boyfriend during his break from school. Lunchtime traffic runs steady through the arteries of the neighborhood, streets that are normally quiet. I wait for minutes before I can get across the main road onto my own street, and when I do get a break it is only a short one and I have to hoof it. The car in the far lane, a sleek late-model import, has to slow down for me a little. It flashes its headlights at me in what I assume is irritation, but I am safe already.

The car slows further and turns onto the side street with me, crowding me onto the curb. The driver is a man, alone. He is looking at me. I put my hands in my pockets, make my walk unfriendly. He pulls past me and away. Up ahead at the stop sign he pulls a U-turn and comes back, slows down again. His fingers lift from the steering wheel in a little wave. The car nudges towards me to an almost stop.

I make my face a mask of hostility. I meet his eyes, and my eyes say, No. Go away. He shows me his teeth in a smile. A man in the sagging of his middle years. Eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses do not look sinister, do not look like anything. Face so forgettable it hardly is a face, but I know it now and will know if I see it again.

I used not to know what this was, this kind of encounter. I thought prostitutes wore feather boas and boots and hung out on neon strips with rows of other hookers, smoking cigarettes. It never occurred to me that I'd be mistaken for one, a regular girl just trying to walk home from work in a sweaty T-shirt and jeans rolled up my calves. I didn't realize that most prostitutes look like regular girls, because they are regular girls, who will also have sex with you for money.

I don't know when I figured it out exactly. Some time after I'd seen how the mostly regular girls in their mostly regular clothes linger around certain corners not too far down the street I just crossed. Sometimes just one of them, or maybe two or three, but somehow always circulating alone, never seeming to have anything particular to do: waiting. Some time when I caught the expression on one of the almost faceless drivers of the anonymous cars -- some combination of hesitation and hope -- and I realized he was waiting on me. I was the one who was supposed to do or say the thing that would set this transaction in motion. Ah.

After a while I taught myself a kind of rolling swagger that I thought looked tough. I wore men's jackets and hoped I looked like a boy from behind. I made my face like stone -- I don't see you, you're not there -- and kept walking. And the cars would pull past me and drive away, fast. And my heart would slow down and I'd be left with just a little lingering lick of anger.

They're not bad men, probably, so I don't know why I dislike them like I do. I don't ignore them anymore. I wait for them to pull up by me so I can meet their eyes with my full coldness and my full contempt. They don't look like bad men. They just want their dicks sucked by a mostly regular girl walking down the street on a mostly regular day who for a sum of money will get into the car.

I don't know why I dislike them like I do, why I want my look to sting them, why I want to see their faces fall. They aren't hurting me. The girls up the street want their business, and that's fine with me. I just want to walk home from lunch in peace. But I do dislike them. I dislike their soft bodies inside the shells of their cars. I dislike the expectation on their faces.

This guy ducks his head a little to get a better look at me. I meet his eyes. Don't roll your window down. I'll spit on you. Is every woman a possible trick to you, or is it only in my part of town? His smile falters and he looks away. The car speeds up to the end of side street, turns out onto the main artery again. He's gone. Maybe he'll get his blowjob and maybe he won't. Better hurry. Lunchtime is almost over.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

the rules for riding bikes

So Ike ripped Houston a new one and here inland we got a run of sweet, cool weather. Sorry, Houston. Way to take one for the team. It'll get hot again, one more time. We all know this. Summer will give us one more run for its money, but it's days are numbered and it's like a different world now.

At the laundromat yesterday people were smiling and holding the doors for each other and a girl no higher than my waist with pink overalls and a long french braid watched me over the counter while I folded clothes and asked me if I was a teenager, and then how old I was and if I had any children and if I did have any children would they be boys or girls and what would their names be? I was loving her for her deep, old eyes and her shy, slow smile. When her mother came and took her hand and told her it was time to go we waved goodbye for a long time.

On Saturday C. and I had a fight, a big one. Over nothing, over whether it is OK for one of us to cross the road without the other while we are bicycling, and then we were out in the yard yelling at each other for all the neighbors to hear and then I got back on my bike and rode away. All day the edges of the hurricane system were blowing over us -- scraps of clouds going unnaturally fast, long banks of gray hanging in the sky like the bellies of pigs. We never got a drop of rain.

On Friday I fired Josh. He doesn't do the things he says he'll do any more. When he told me at the last minute that he couldn't make the job we'd scheduled I felt the second of total calm I feel before I get furious and then I fired him in three short sentences that ended with "fucking unacceptable" and hanging up the phone. I don't know that I've ever ended a conversation like that in my life, ever. Not with Josh, not even when we were sleeping together. Before C. I wasn't really one to fight with lovers. Fighting isn't worth it unless there's something serious at stake. Sleeping arrangements aren't that serious.

The project is serious. I've worked too hard to get tripped up by someone else's sloppiness, I don't care who it is. I don't know what the matter is with Josh. I don't know if he's doing coke again or if he just thinks he can't fired because we used to fuck. It doesn't really matter why. I'd drive myself crazy if I let myself care. I'll never understand him any better than I'll ever understand myself. I feel quite cold about it, and relieved to feel that way. Not everything can be my problem.

I fight with C. because I'm serious. Because I can't leave him, won't leave him. Because we love each other so much that we're stuck with each other and so we have to make it work. No picking up stakes and moving on and finding someone else who won't zoom through a yellow light ahead of me and leave me stuck. I fight about stupid things, because I'm still learning. And maybe because there's something in the air, some kind of hurricane mojo, the freakishness of waiting for something to hit you that never hits you, because the day before they were telling us to buy bottled water and hunker down and now it isn't even raining.

I rode my bike through the dark, headed nowhere, turning right and left at random. For a while I felt pleasantly disconnected and free, but then it caught up with me -- the anger and the boredom and the loneliness. And I thought, if I were a man I would go to a strip club now. And I thought, no wonder they are such depressing places to be.

I stopped at a bar in a neighborhood a long way from mine and I had a beer and then C. called my phone and I answered and he said, "I'm sorry. We'll figure it out. We'll make a list of rules for riding bikes. We're smart people and it can't be this hard."

I say I'm sorry, too and I'll be home soon and C. says to take my time. I try to take my time but I can't wait, so I slam my beer and coast home in a happy haze. C. meets me at the door and we lie in bed for a long time without talking. Over and over again I think I hear rain, but it's only wind. And when we wake up all the clouds are gone.

Monday, September 08, 2008

casual friday

On Friday I went to a pool party. I didn't mean to go to a pool party. I meant to go out with my friend and colleague Corinne for end-of-the-week drinks. The last few weeks have been tough going for the project. A presentation week before last was received very badly. On Wednesday a major non-financial partner withdrew from the project completely. Apparently I have generated controversy. Apparently everyone thought I was a nice girl who would do something nice. The project is not nice. It was never trying to be nice. Nice? No. Not nice.

Corinne tried to save me, but even she agrees that the project is not very nice, and if nice is what her people were expecting there is no point in trying to make this partnership work anymore. "We can still be friends, right?" Corinne asks, via text. We can still be friends.

She calls me as I'm leaving my house to meet her downtown, and she says, "Let's not go out. Let's go to Dave's."

Dave is her boyfriend. He has a condo on the lake, with a hot-tub. Going there and drinking beer out of the fridge will be a million times better than going to some bar. I agree, change course. I am covered with sweat when I get there. Corinne hands me a beer, asks if I want to freshen up. I take my beer into the shower. Cold beer in my mouth. Hot water on my face. I am so tired.

The day before I ran into a friend in the grocery store and she asked how the project was going. I told her we'd hit some rough spots. She asked what kind and I tried to explain, but talking about it made me feel worse. She said, "Honey, everybody gets to this point. You get to a point where you think you can't go anymore, but you do, and that's what separates you from all the people who don't make it."

I say, maybe I am one of the people who doesn't make it. I have to think about that. I have to let myself contemplate that that could be the truth. I say,"Maybe I'll just say fuck it. Maybe I'm done." I want to pretend for a second that it could be that easy. As easy as that fantasy I used to have of just buying a bus ticket, leaving town, leave the whole mess. Let everybody else work it out. Fuck it. I'm done.

She said, "You'll pull through."

My heart goes bang, starts racing. Maybe I don't want to pull through. I pick up my basket, start backing away down the soap aisle. "I'm sorry. I have to go. I really can't talk about it."

"Call me," she yells after me. "I'll cook for you. You look like shit."

I turn the handle in the shower, cranking the hot water slowly over to cool. I've started seeing an acupuncturist. She says I have a heat imbalance -- too much yang energy, too much activity, masculinity. She tells me to spend time doing yin activities, soothing, passive, feminine. Like what, I ask her. Swim, she says. Go for a walk in the morning when it's cool. Sit still.

I let the cool water run over my face. I could stand here forever. But not really, because this is a stranger's house and my friend is waiting for me downstairs. I turn the water off. I towel myself off and leave my hair down so it can dry.

"Your hair's so long," Corinne says as I come downstairs. "You should wear it down more."

"Is Dave home?"

"He's out by the pool. He'll be out there all weekend. We can go in a little bit, but I'm warning you now, it's a sausage fest. You'll think you're in a frat house. Beer?"


We sit on the couch and drink. Corinne says, "Look. Keep doing what you're doing. It's a good project. Now you don't have to worry about making us happy. You can do it your way and take as long as you want."

Yeah, it could go on forever. Just me and my project. Me and my fucking stupid fucking project.

Corinne says, "Let's go out to the pool."

We go out. It is a sausage fest. A bunch of guys. I forget how many because they all look alike to me. Eight? Ten? Throwing a football and splashing and shouting. Guys. Normal guys, who are like a weird foreign culture to me. I've never actually been to a frat party. But here I am and here they are, comporting themselves in their natural habitat. Corinne sit down and I take the deck chair next to her.

I am too tired to party. I lean back in the deck chair and keep drinking beer while the last of the sun dries the last of the water in my hair. Guys keep coming by and talking to me. Sometimes I open my eyes to see who it is and sometimes I don't. I can't keep their names straight anyway.

Some guy comes by and asks me about my job. I guess somebody told him about the project. I say yes, that is what I do. He says, "Wow. That's so great. Listen, I've been looking for someone..."

He tells me about the project he has in mind. I laugh. It's a funny idea. It's a silly idea. It's the kind of idea a guy like this would have. I tell him I love it, and it's brilliant, and it will make a million dollars and everyone will love it.

"So, how much?" he wants to know.

I shut my eyes and do a little math. I name a number, a ridiculous number.

"Done," he says. "Here, let me get your contact information."


"Honey," C. will say later, "Honey, I have a suspicion he was hitting on you."

"No shit. What difference does it make?"

C. will shrug and make a face. But that's all later. Meanwhile there's food on the grill and groups of people keep shifting and reshaping and going in and out of apartments. The last of the sun goes down and Corinne comes over and says, "Let's go inside."

Inside we start to talk about the project again, not what people think of it, but the real stuff of it, the parts I love, that keep me up at night, the stuff that makes us want to do the stuff we do, and suddenly I start to cry. For a while I can't stop. Strings of sobs like little implosions suck me in on myself, and in, and in. Corinne gets me water and sits by me quietly. She and I might be really good friends one day. I might pull myself together and get myself out of this. I might take the pool guy's project and we might make a million dollars. Stranger things have happened.

Monday, September 01, 2008

new stuff

New additions to the Grace Undressed Souvenir Gift Shoppe!

Cayenne & Praline Brownie Mix: During my first winter in the Lonestar State, a room-mate introduced me to the joys of Abuelita's-brand hot chocolate, a variety popular in Mexico, which comes as a flat cake of sweetened dark chocolate, spiced with cinnamon. To this, she added a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper for surprisingly delicious treat that warmed our inside when the weather was nasty and gray. This brownie mix duplicates the joy of that lovingly doctored chocolate. It is spicy, with a mild heat that brings the best out of the deep, dark cacoa powder I use.

Cookie Scrub: I originally invented this recipe to deal with the razor bumps I used to get when I shaved my Area. (I was going to call it Pussy Scrub, but I didn't want to get slapped with Etsy's "mature" label.) The combination of exfoliants (ground oats, brown sugar) and moisturizers (cocoa butter, coconut oil) is a double whammy for preventing unsightly shaving-related rashes. It also works wonderfully well on the rest of me, including the gnarly patches of dry skin I get on my upper arms in the winter. I now pass on the secret of my velvety soft skin to you!

Letter Writing Service: A reader suggested this, and I am delighted to offer it. Writing letters is pretty much my favorite form of communication. (Talking on the phone makes me nervous and texting is for hipsters.) Writing to strangers about the topics of their choice sounds like as much fun as writing this blog, only more personal. My areas of interest and expertise include yoga, film, natural health, current events, history, knitting, crafts, and cultural studies of call kinds, to name a few. I stand ready to take on whatever you can throw at me, so bring it on!

For those who are not signed up with Etsy and do not wish to register for one more damn thing in their lives, you can "donate" the amount of your desired purchase, and leave me a note detailing your order. Please remember to include shipping.