First Kiss Blog Hop: Spring Cleaning

If you're here, reading this post, you likely already know it's part of the First Kiss Blog Hop. If you want to read the other stories in the Hop--and they are all so worth the read--check out the full schedule at Audra North's website.

You are about to read my very first short story ever *crosses fingers.*



Spring Cleaning

"Ava, dear. Over here." 

Shit. 

The first rule of this reality T.V. set is: look busy when Her Lady of the Immaculate Clacking Clipboard comes a calling, or she’ll find a less-than-desirable task for you. Testing the dozens of broken bathroom scales I uncovered yesterday, one-by-one, instead of tossing them, clearly isn’t busy enough for her.

The second rule, which I heard the crew joking about is: it’s not a wrap until someone falls in love or gets their heart broken.

My school brain thinks this is gossip spread by someone who should find something more productive to do than testing her weight on broken scales.

Lizard brain—my brains almost never agree—has her money on the busty sorority girl working off community service hours for crimes unstated, who has been flirting with the PA since orientation. Heartbreak is in her future. For sure.

I sidle around the growing pyramid of ancient Keds and cross trainers—who keeps worn through shoes, anyway?—to reach Her Lady, wondering what torture awaits me.

Then I see him, behind her, half shaded under the admin tent: Thor, or some version of a Greek God.

Nitwit, school brain chides. Thor is Norse, which you’d know if you hadn’t napped through Mythologies of the World last year.  Lizard brain’s only input is Thor pretty. I’m with her on this one.

Nodding from Thor to me as introduction, Her lady says, "Conner just signed on—show him the ropes,” and then she disappears back into the tent.

I shove my hand at him like a groupie demanding an autograph. School brain is disgusted by my eagerness, but his hand takes mine before mine reaches his, so the eager is mutual. I think. I hope.

“Hey,” I say. “Welcome.”

Welcome? That’s all you got? Try again.

I tug his hand to make his head bend toward me, and scan the lot, overrun with 47 years of hoarded something-or-others, pulling his eyes with me. In my best fake TV announcer voice I say: “This week, on ‘Our Parents Were Hoarders,’ underpaid spring break cast offs shovel shit into a dumpster. People grow. Cry. Everyone’s inspired. Stay tuned.”

Framing his answering smile are gleeful divots. A girl could get lost in one or the other of those.

"So, we’re the shit shovelers, I take it." His sunny syllables loosens the stays of my balance. Holding his hand becomes necessary.

School brain is sure he smiles like that for all the girls, but my internal hearing has gone as soft as my center of gravity. I’m not quite listening.

When we unlock hands, I step back take in the rest of him. The blunt, grunge ends of his dark blond hair brush a smooth jaw. His eyes are kind and open. He’s taller than me, but not so tall I strain my neck to see him. Closer inspection reveals this boy is no Thor.

All Thor has is that dumb hammer. Conner’s superpower, school chimes in, is navigating the vestibular labyrinth. Lizard brain simplifies this to messing with physics.

Conner, my two brains, and my slightly wobbly self spend the rest of morning hauling shit to the dumpster. Broken toys older than both of us combined. Every copy ever of Reader’s Digest. Twisted blinds. Mildewed sofa cushions, sans sofa. The pièce de résistance in this morbid museum of detritus: thousands of empty bread bags Russian-dolled into seventeen trash bags and legions of ants calling them home.

When we clear all that away, there are four decades of flattened boxes stacked floor to ceiling, kinda like the walls of the Grand Canyon, if the Grand Canyon smelled a bit like the alley behind the post office.

“It’d be quicker to burn the joint down,” he says.

“Her Lady of the Immaculate Clacking Clipboard says lighter fluid isn’t in the budget. I asked.”

His laughter is orange poppies.

“Is that what everyone calls her?”

“Just me. But she is kind of imperious with the clacking.”

I walk along the boxes to see around it, but it’s a solid sedimentary wall of cardboard, chipboard, and dust. For a hoarder, this guy was pretty orderly, but it still left the question: for what?

“Ava dear,” Conner mocks Her Lady’s chirp, “why on earth are you frowning?”

I am frowning. I’ve fallen into the dumpster of my own brains again, which is a frowny place.

“Isn’t it dreary? How a whole life adds up to no more than a few dumpsters full of crap no one wants, but this widower can’t seem to part with.”

“It’s kind of cool though,” he offers, closing the distance between us. Closer is nicer. “This is only the stuff of someone’s life. We get to help take the life out of the stuff or something, and give the good parts back to the guy who lives here.”

School brain knows an optimist when she hears one. But she’s got a soft spot for rosy thinkers, and I can’t say I blame her.

We get back to work. He lifts the boxes off the top of a stack, and setting them on the floor, makes a second stack I can reach. As I watch, gravity wobbles again. School brain notes, with uncharacteristic longing, the full curve of his brachioradalis muscles when he reaches above his head. 

Good griddle—Lizard brain sounds like an old-timey hair dresser when she’s worked up—School, this isn’t an anatomy quiz. Can’t you just admire the boy’s arms. Or put your smarts to use and fanaticize how a sudden spring storm might send rivels of rain down them

Rivulets, school corrects.

You’re always killing the moment. Now, imagine licking the crease of the curve, all the way from wrist to elbow, twisting it round to taste the flex, swallowing those rivels of rain...

I sure hope rain is in the forecast.

* * *

“Was this job in your spring break plans?” I ask Conner during a disappointingly clear-skied lunch.

“I went up to Yosemite with buddies. I thought we’d hike and climb. Adventure stuff.”

“But no adventure?”

“They started drinking the minute we got there. I did a few short hikes, but I’m not stupid enough to climb alone. Or with drunks.”

“This is kind of an adventure. Think of it as an olfactory safari of the suburbs.”

“Yeah, not quite the same.”

Through the afternoon, though, Conner conjures a different sort of adventure. If this one-hundred-dollar-a-day job is my sack lunch, it’s his buffet. Shortly he knows the names of all the fulltime crew, and the majors and hometowns of the college kids. He tugs the matted tangle of my life and pulls clean my story like yarn on a map, moving town-to-town with my migrant farm family, through my school years, and on to my favorite professors and whether or not I underline or highlight in my textbooks.

My brains and I are in agreement about his company.

“So, is this what you’d planned to do for spring break?” he asks.

“I work every break. The university is a stickler about getting paid, so money. Even though we’re filthy and that crate of skunky Louis L’Amour’s will off-gas from our pores well into finals week, this isn’t my worst spring break job ever, if you can believe it.”

“No?”

“Last year I deep-cleaned the dorm cafeteria for a month’s free board. Considering I mostly lost my appetite for dorm food after that, they got a deal. But that was still better than the year before.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I went scrap metal junkin’ with my uncle Luis.”

“I have no idea what that is.”

“You go round to businesses and farms and pay to take away their old junk metal. But you can’t sell the metal until you remove all the plastic and whatnot, so you burn it off and breathe in the fumes and think you’re going to die. For days.”

“Sounds super fun.”

“I might have committed felonies. Luis gave me 200 bucks and told me to keep my mouth shut.”

“Luis sounds like a winner.”

“Yeah, but he can bullshit the bark off a tree. Don’t let him corner you.”

“I’ll keep that in mind for when I meet him,” he says. Like maybe he means to.

* * *

As we work deeper into the garage, school wants to learn the lesson here. Lizard’s policy is: keep only what you can carry. Such was my childhood. I still own only as much as I can haul on my bike in a few trips. (I don’t tell either brain that I sometimes fantasize about a wardrobe of shimmery pajamas, a closet full of knee high leather boots, and palates of coffee table books. It would just start a fight and we’re all getting along so nicely today.)

When Her Lady of the Clacking Clipboard reappears, she warns us of the impending camera. “Perk up and smile pretty” is her command, before conferring with the lighting guys.

“Too bad I don’t smile pretty,” I grumble to myself as soon as she’s gone.

But then Conner’s behind me, and he tugs me into him so I am flat to his chest and holds me there with a broad hand on my stomach. I’ve been sweating since morning, but my skin erupts into a parade of goose bumps at the insistence of his touch.

The shifty gravity is back. If he lets go I might perk right down into a lump on the floor.

He’s not letting go. His words “you do too smile pretty,” brush wisps of my hair over my ears and neck.

School barely restrains my urge to rub back against him like a cat might a door jamb.

Lizard is breathing too shallow and quick for words.

Then he takes my opposite hand and twists me until I am facing him. His other hand steadies me at the waist. His curious, earnest face closes in, becoming my whole view.

My brains are useless to this vista.

His thumb teases my jaw line, earlobe to chin. “You’re smiling now.”

I am not, actually, smiling.

But by the time I think the thought, I am, actually, smiling. I smile because he sees me smiling.

Then I kiss him.

Because I see myself kissing him.

For a while, it’s light lips on light lips.

Then it’s not so light lips and urgent bodies and no space between them.

When a voice yells, “roll camera,” my arms are around his neck, my hands in his hair, demanding his face be in my face.

Our kiss tastes like our work day and of spring to come.

And it is not enough.

I get an inkling of it now, this hoarding.

I want to hoard all the seasons of these kisses, and the kisses still to come. To gather them at our lips. To lick the pans of the feast clean. To eat the crumbs from the floor. To collect them all and hoard them in my cells for always.



P.S. Here is how I imagine Ava and Conner.

Original fiction. Copyright © 2014 Cherri Porter. Please do not reprint without permission.

Oh Harken Young Maidens

A few weeks ago I posted some American Sentences I wrote a couple of years ago, most of which are related to the processes of aging.

               New plan: pluck my sinewy goat hairs for saving in specimen jars.

I read a few to my students during our poetry unit--who knows why I do the things I do?--and mostly got odd looks in response.

The next day I got a delightful email from a student in that class who, inspired by the goat hair sentence, wrote a poem. A whole poem. I LOVE it, and she gave me permission to publish it here.


The Goat
Gayle Love

 
Hello old foe
I see that you’re back.
That again you’ve survived
The tweezing attack.

Coward you are
In the war that you wage.
Your only assault
Is upon women of age.

Once you were black
But now wiry grey,
From the moment we met
I have since rued that day

Oh harken young maidens
For my word it is true.
There is no escape
The goat’s coming for you.

2014




"Googled You in Quotes / Got No Results"

Favorite Mix Tapes from my Stash

I made a playlist! *pats self on back* It's such a simple pleasure, the playlist, and I've just been reminded that it's so much more fun to make a playlist for someone else than it is to do it for one's self. Now that I'm old and not courting and everything is digital, it's a rare pleasure to sit down and choose music for someone you love.

This one is for the lovely Shari Slade, purveyor of gooey angst, pusher of naughty gifs, and ducky word-smith. (I have no idea what ducky word-smith means; it just sounds right.) It's named after one of the most haunting lines on Pete Yorn's album Back & Forth.

Googled You in Quotes / Got No Results

  1. 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten, Lucinda Williams
  2. My First Lover, Gillian Welch
  3. Broken Things, Lucy Kaplansky (Cover of Julie Miller)
  4. Blossom, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
  5. Kiss Catastrophe, The Nadas (cover The Damnwells)
  6. Social Development Dance, Pete Yorn
  7. Jealous Girl, Ben Kweller
  8. Down On The River By The Sugar Plant, Mike Doughty
  9. Magick, Ryan Adams
  10. Lonely Boy, The Black Keys (The video is awesome!)
  11. Real Live Bleeding Fingers And Broken Guitar Strings, Lucinda Williams
  12. Down Home Girl, Old Crow Medicine Show
  13. Wolf Like Me, Lera Lynn
  14. Don't Mind Me, Lucy Kaplansky
  15. Are You Happy Now? Richard Shindell
  16. Hard Out Here, Garrett Hedlund

Stocking Stuffers & Gifts for Tween Boys

In My Etsy Store

This lists has been months in the making. Right before Christmas, I was struggling to find stocking stuffers and small gifts appropriate for my twelve year-old son, who is both all-boy and a bit geeky. I did not want to buy him any more video games nor junk that would end up in the closet in a matter of days, so I scoured the internet and quizzed my mom friends for gift ideas for tween boys. There are not many ideas out there, and much of what is there is lame. So, I made my own list and it grew and grew.

This list is the result of hours of brainstorming. I've included hyper-links to unusual items. Most of the gifts on this list are inexpensive ($1-$15 price points), although there are a couple of items that fall above $30.

The list includes ideas for tween boys that would work for stocking stuffers, easter baskets, birthday parties, party favors, and Christmas and birthday gifts.



I've divided the list into somewhat arbitrary categories, but the categories do let you in a bit on my thinking process. There are more than 125 distinct items listed, and I bet you haven't thought of most of them. There are a few old standards here as well.

This list is now free. Click here for the free download.
Gift list appropriate for boys ages 9-14. 
Stocking stuffers. Easter Baskets. Birthday Gifts. Party Favors. Christmas Gifts.



Cherri Doesn't Dance

A couple of years ago I took an online poetry workshop and became interested in poetry forms that required counting--you know, like meter and syllabus and those kinds of things one counts when one writes a form-y poem.

I am terrible at anything that involves counting or keeping time--knitting, aerobics, dancing are all challenging activities for me. I sometimes count ceiling tiles, or stairs, or the slats in wainscoting out of boredom, but I always have to restart as I lose my place. When I was in high school, aerobics was one of the gym class options. As my friends can attest, I had to stand in the back row at the end, because my mistakes in footwork and direction would muck the whole room up otherwise.


So, in keeping with my general klutziness, I thought I'd start small, with Haiku. As one learns quickly, Haiku is far more complicated than it seems. I like reading the more concrete Haikus, but the idea of how to write one that didn't sound like a child's poem about the seasons escaped me, then and still. This is what I came up with after a lot of agonizing:

say not to anyone
call me crazy because they
most certainly will

Haiku isn't completely about counting syllabus though, which led me to the American interpretation of it: American Sentences, which are 17 syllable sentence poems. That sounded like something I could handle--HA! Here are the ones I wrote. Apparently, I'm obsessed with skin and hair.

New plan: pluck my sinewy goat hairs for saving in specimen jars.

No one warned me about ingrown hairs and it’s gross I’m telling you.

What’s with adult acne and skin things? Warning: never google skin things.

I am so practiced at clenching my jaw my teeth don’t touch nor my knees.


And, a couplet

I am struggling with the life lesson wherein I learn the first things.
Until fed, all of my poems being with want's greedy mouths.

Great and Goofy Christmas Tunes

There are so many terrible Christmas songs out there. Like, really bad songs and terrible versions of decent songs, and stuff like Manheim Steamroller and the TransSiberian Orchestra--stuff I can’t even believe has the popularity it does because it’s bad, stuff my in-laws like. I almost can’t listen to the holiday music on the radio, as the ratio of bad songs to ads to good songs is 7 : 7 : 1.

Fortunately there are digital playlists, and I’ve got mine narrowed down to only the best of the best. Some of these are old standards and some are new originals, but they are all good.

One of the commonalities between these songs is that they are not high pitched and tinny. I hate that crap passed off as children’s music, but really it’s synthesized shit. I also can’t stand that every major pop star, and every studio, and every genre of music over the last four decades has done a covers of every song, so there isn’t just one bad song, there are 37 versions of it.

As a kid, my favorite holiday album was Monster Christmas Mash. I had it on record, but it’s since disappeared into the ether. (If you have a copy laying around, please pass it on to me.)

So, what are my favorites now?
______________________________

Nicholas The Saint

I know it’s unfair to begin my list with something you can no longer buy, but it’s just that good you need to know about it.

video

In 2009 a few Des Moines area musicians got together at The Sonic Factory and produced these wonderful songs. They are not only great pop/rock tunes, but they are Christmassy without being gimmicky. At the time, a few of the guys were dealing with their first Christmas alone after a breakup, and that melancholy comes through the cheer. (If I come totally clean here, these four songs are the most played songs in my itunes, ever. I love them that much.)

You can get a flavor of the album in the facebook video above. (Click here to view the video if it doesn't show; it's being fussy.) If you love it as much as I do, please DM me on Twitter or email me and I’ll hook you up. I know a guy who would like the music to be in your hands. ;-)

December 18th

Everybody singin’ ‘Joy to the World’
But I can’t ‘cause I miss my girl
I don’t want to celebrate Christmas
By myself
...
Sitting alone by the fire
Drinking eggnog with no desire
To plug in the tree


Mistletoe

I love it all, but I love especially when Mike Butterworth from the Nadas cameos and sings:

I lost my mind
And I lost you
It’s Christmas time
And I miss you love


Where is Christmas?

If this one doesn’t make you smile, well, you’re scroogier than me.

Where is Christmas?
The best time of the year
I’ve heard it’s joyful and jolly
and merry and bright
And my life will just fill up with cheer
But the yuletide just magnifies my blues
______________________________

Here Comes Christmas, The Nadas

Oof, the heart ache of this one. It’s a slow burn, so give it a couple of listens before you desert it.



Can you explain to me
How to get down the chimney


The Nadas do a holiday show in Des Moines each December and here is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from last year. 
_______________________


Merry Christmas From The Family, Robert Earl Keen

Lots of drinking and trips to the quick pack store to buy tampons. It’s a sing-a-long tune a la National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

_______________________

Dolly (and Kenny)

One of my favorite childhood memories is watching Dolly Parton’s Smokey Mountain Christmas every year (Lee Majors!), and the holiday special she and Kenny did. Here are my top picks from her album Once Upon a Christmas.
Maybe I'll clear my junk
Maybe I'll just get drunk
on apple wine
Curled up by a fireplace
in a Tahoe ski chalet
With a fast talking lover
and some slow burning wood*
*It was the 80s y’all, so I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by “wood.” *snort*

Also, check out Christmas Without You.
(The video of this song is pure 80s.)
_______________________

River, Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell’s version is delicate; The Indigo Girls add a bit of rawness to it that I’ve always loved.
_______________________

I’m not really into the pop belters, except I love this song. And anything by Kelly Clarkson, like her version of this song. I dislike most other versions though.
_______________________

Christmas All Over Again, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
_______________________


Please Come Home for Christmas

I like my men harmonizing. Don Henley and Jon Bon Jovi are both good; Sister Hazel is better.
_______________________

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Judy Garland


This is my favorite standard. Judy Garland is positively transcendent. Seriously.
_______________________

What is not to love about this cheeky romp. If I quote my favorite lines, I’ll end up quoting the whole song.
_______________________

Jingle Bells, Ella Fitzgerald

The greek chorus sings, “I’m just nuts about bells” and Ella ends it with “I’m just crazy about horses.” Makes me smile every time.
_______________________

Winter Wonderland, Ray Charles

_______________________

It's the holiday season
With the whoop-de-do and hickory dock
And don't forget to hang up your sock
_______________________

Other favorites include Cool Yule by Louis Armstrong, White Christmas by Bing Crosby, Holly Jolly Christmas by Burl Ives, and I’ll be Home for Christmas by Glenn Campbell.

What are yours?

Addiction Books

The Best Book You've Never Heard of . . . 
on Addiction.


Lighting Up: How I Stopped Smoking, Drinking, and Everything Else I Loved in Life Except Sex, Susan Shapiro  

This book was a surprise. I noticed it first in a list of books Gretchen Rubin found helpful when she was working on The Happiness Project. Since I'm not addicted to hard drugs, cigarettes or alcohol, I wondered if I would connect with it. But then I realized that Gretchen Rubin wasn't either and she still found it useful and interesting. I did too.

This book is for anyone who has tried to quit a bad habit and found it really, really hard. The first person narration keeps the reader inside Shapiro's head as she goes through therapy and transfers her addictive personality from one drug to the next substance. At one point she has a full on addiction to fro-yo. Ultimately, it takes a very long time to overcome addiction and the process is a full time job. It's a great read and I learned a lot about myself while reading.

Whereas Lighting Up is very much a memoir, Shapiro and her therapist later co-authored a non-fiction book together, Unhooked, which goes into more therapeutic detail about how addiction works and how we need to work to overcome it. It's very useful for the non-addict as well as the addict. There are many checklists in this book and many myths about addiction are debunked.




Linked up with Modern Ms Darcy's Best Books You've Never Heard Of.

Read more of Cherris' reviews here.