Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Inside the Thoughts of Zygotes

I'm in Phoenix for a couple of days. Job interview.

My friend Lori and her almost-4-year-old son Nat take care of my cat, Hankie, while I'm out of town. We like to call it Hankie-Nannying. Lori wrote me this email last night after I got to Phoenix.

"Nat and I were walking over to your house and Nat ran ahead of me and wouldn't stop at first when I called him. So I was lecturing him about the dangers of running too far on a busy road, not minding me, etc, but he didn't seem to care at all until we got to your house and I was unlocking the door. Then he started crying and said 'Please, please stop talking now. I don't want Hankie to hear about this.' His only concern was that Hankie would know he got in trouble! Hankie's new toy took his mind off things, though, and he was very careful walking back."

I love this kid. I love hearing how his brain works.

Today, I spent way too much time out baking by the pool, and when I got hungry I found some fig newtons in Scott's cupboard. I didn't even know he liked fig newtons. The combo of swimming and eating those cookies flashed me back to when I was 9 or 10 and my mom would take me to this old couples' farm to swim in their lake with some other bored-to-death farm kids. I would swim my brains out, as kids do, and when we got home I would eat 2 fig newtons and fall asleep. It was wonderful, exhausted, gone-to-another-planet-don't-bother-leaving-a-note sleep. The kind where you're almost certain that every organ in your body has been put on "pause" like an old Betamax. The kind of sleep you get to have before you're old enough for job interviews and 401-K's and colonoscopies. Occasionally I still get that kind of sleep, mostly after yoga class or immediately after ragingly good sex.

Fig newtons brought back all kinds of memories. Here are some things I used to believe when I was a kid:

1. Those TV ads for furniture stores that said "90 Days Same As Cash!" I thought they were saying "famous cash." I didn't know how you got your hands on famous cash, or how the store would be able to tell it was famous when you got there.

2. There had to be only 365 people on the earth, because there could only be one person for each birthday.

3. All dogs were boys. All cats were girls.

4. When I was about 15 and starting to look up colleges, I would read this:

Undergraduates: 1500
Graduates: 16

and I would think that not very many people were able to graduate, and so why would I want to go there?

What did you believe when you were little?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

When Students Get Scary

Since the Virginia Tech massacre, several people have asked me if any of my creative writing students have ever been really creepy. Yes, some have.

4 of them have vividly stuck in my memory. All males.

One was an extremely obnoxious student named Greg. He was in my fiction writing course. At 26 he was a few years older than the other students. His demeanor in class was stunningly pompous, and every person in the room seemed to despise him. I couldn't look at any other student when he spoke, because the eye-rolling was so distracting. He, of course, never noticed it while basking in his own imagined brilliance. Occasionally he would prop his feet up on my desk, and I'd ask him to move. (This was 7 or 8 years ago. These days that behavior would never happen in my classroom.) His sickening personality wasn't the creepy part. He would come to my office hours and try to be funny, and never get to any point, although I would ask him why exactly he had come, (no answer) and then ask him to leave. He had that desperate, aren't-I-clever, toxic cloud around him that makes you wonder who did the masterful head trip: mom or dad. Greg had very recognizable handwriting. Over a year after he had graduated, I was in my office late at night, alone, cleaning off my desk for the beginning of a new semester. I moved a stack of books off a shelf and found a folded piece of notebook paper back behind them. In his writing: "You make my penis swell up like a little pig." In another context I might have laughed at such a stupid sentence. At 2 in the morning in an old campus building, in the dead quiet, I felt sick.

Another was more overt in his odd behavior. A 6' 3" or so, hugely muscled black kid named Lamar, who had a ridiculous temper, got pissed off in class one day when I said I would not accept his late paper. (I never accept those, and he knew it.) He stood up and screamed in my face, then stomped toward the door of the classroom to leave. Before he left, he jerked around and said "I think you get off on making people look like assholes!" To which I replied "You're doing that perfectly on your own." He took off in a lather of fury, fisting the wall as he disappeared around the corner. All kinds of things went through my head. Was he going to retaliate? Could I have stopped myself from snapping back at him? (Yeah. Right.) 2 minutes later he showed up again, like a beaten puppy, apologizing, near tears. None of us looked at him the same way again.

Third was a 45-year-old returning student named Michael. He wore, every single day, overalls and a straw hat. He always made sure to sit next to a girl, and every comment he made in class was slimy innuendo. About 3 class sessions into the semester, I'd had all I could take. He made an adolescent comment about "peters" and I said to him: "I've had all of you I'm fucking going to take." I had the dean remove him from my class. He so thoroughly creeped me out that I still cringe every time I see someone in overalls.

Last was a very very creative student named Kevin. He always wore a long black trenchoat, had a shaved head, tattoos, and big chunky silver rings on every finger, ornamented with things like spiders and skulls and daggers. 2 years after the Columbine school shooting, he was in my fiction writing class and wrote a long story called "Harris and Klebold Have Nothing on Me." Harris and Klebold were the Columbine shooters. The story was extremely detailed and graphic and bloody and terrifying. The "narrator" told about shooting and stabbing students at his high school and then taking great pleasure in moving their bodies around by inserting his hand into each mouth and dragging them by their teeth. This guy maybe should have scared me. But he didn't. Because he had a personality. A great sense of humor in class. Hobbies. Family he was close to. He was human and fully present. Part of his curiosity about writing was in the exploration of the perpectives of the despicable. Which is really no different than most people who are speculating about what the bloody hell was swirling around in the despised head of the V. Tech murderer.

It is comforting to find a connection point with another human you've never met. Whether it's a lame, friendly joke in an elevator or having someone let you into a long line of traffic from your hopeless spot on a side street. Tiny glimmers of humanity can keep you going on a ruthless day. The story of the killer on the Virginia campus is the scariest kind of all. No one behind the face, no warmth, no chance of making contact. I can't help but be haunted by the thought of his dorm roommate, getting into bed just feet away from that emptiness every night, pulling up the covers, and closing his eyes.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Some People Just Know How to Be Good Parents

In my creative nonfiction writing class, my students are finishing up long essays (15 pages) about an experience they've had. One of my best students, Jon, wrote about the summer he worked at a humane shelter. It's a great essay. I got this email from Jon today:

"Here's one tidbit I didn't include in my piece: as
you might expect, white trash tend to frequent animal shelters, and
my town was no exception. One time this Hell's Angel type came in
WITH HIS KIDS and wearing a black t-shirt that said the following: 'It
ain't gonna suck itself.' I almost shat myself when he walked by me."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wikipedia, the Evil Temptress

Late last night I went to Wikipedia to look up Howard Nemerov, big famous award-winning poet. I was taking one of his poems to work this morning to show my poetry writing class.

However, some prankster had given in to the temptation of contorting all the information in the wiki-kingdom, and this is what I found:

"Born in Rudyard, Michigan, his parents were Gertrude and Jack Meoff. His younger sister was the slut of the town and the only porn photographer the town had......

"Nemerov then began sex position (sic), first at Beaver College and later at benderover College, Brain University, and finally Washingina University...where he was Distinguished University Professor of Porn...

"Nemerov's work is formalist. He's known for having a very large penis."

The Beavis type who supplied such colorful biographical tidbits about Nemerov and his tidbit is no doubt, right this minute, pulled over to the side of a winding Indiana 2-lane highway, spray painting a "Do Not Pass" sign to read "Do Not Piss," having grown bored with trying to figure out how to fold the back cover of his Mad Magazine to see the mysterious new picture.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What Makes Colleen So Snooty?

One of my long time habits is going to eat, alone, at Denny's-type restaurants and eavesdropping on the conversations. I know, it's rude and possibly unethical and mostly it just sounds pitiful that anybody is lame enough to go do this. But I still do it.

Tonight I went right after work to a locally owned place. They have superb deep-fried cauliflower that I was craving after a long day of being surrounded by edgy swarms of college students. I got a booth in the back, where the noise is less intrusive and the lighting is better. In case a person would want to take notes about something.

People, all of us, as you may already know, are generally as dull as hand cream. Their everyday conversations in restaurants are about bills and weather and celebrities and what they're eating at the moment and what they ate yesterday. But not always.

At a table about 8 feet from my booth sat a big, burly, overalled, white-bearded Santa looking guy, probably in his late sixties, and his dining companion, a bad-dye-job red-haired 50-ish woman in a lavender sleeveless top and big hoop earrings the circumference of small grapefruits. At first they weren't talking, but the 2 old guys at the booth across the room were. I could only pick up tiny bits of that dialogue. This is all I got:



"Which eye?"

[Here I would like to mention that these kinds of restaurants often produce conversations about eye problems. I used to go to Steak 'n Shake each year during the Super Bowl, because it was wall to wall old people and very peaceful and a good place to think on the things of life. (I tape the game so I can watch the commercials later.) I sat nursing my limp cheese fries and heard the sentence "He just ain't been the same since he lost that eye...ask anybody."]

The conversation between Santa and the hoops woman started.

"Everybody likes you, John. Do you know that, John?"


"Everybody but me."

(slight break for eating)

"John, you picked a good night to buy, because my dinner only comes to $3.25."

"Why do you want me to buy?"

"Because it's your turn," she said.

"I thought you bought me things out of the goodness of your heart," he said.

"Then I want to change my answer. I want you to buy my dinner out of the goodness of your heart."

(more eating)

She says "I only ordered this cheesecake and some coffee, so you're getting off cheap."

John is silent. More eating.

"John, tell me what Kenneth said about me. You owe me some secrets since you betrayed me."

"I don't remember..."

"I know you were at Perkins. When you called me to get a ride, the caller I.D. said 'Perkins.'"

"Yeah, we were at Perkins," he said.

"What in the world brought it up anyway? What topic were you on?"

"Oh, just an ongoing conversation about friendship."

"Did he look out the window?"

(long silence)

"John, were you in sexuality class when Colleen said that she would not date a man who had a mental illness?"


"I think that's very snooty of Colleen. Bill, when he hears voices, he goes to that good support group. You don't hear voices do you, John?"

"Well, I do, yes."

"Oh," she said. "SEE ya! Ha ha ha."


"John, do you believe in karma?"


"Do you? Tell me, John."

"If a dog kills a cat, then no. But what comes around goes around with everybody else."

Monday, April 09, 2007

A Visit to the Hometown Buffet

Note from Candy: This is the only post I've ever written that I had second thoughts about. I was afraid it was too malicious. I wrote it on a night that I was sick to death of my own bad habits, one of which is eating junk food when I'm too "busy" to pay attention to what my poor wailing body needs. To stay somewhat sane, I occasionally just aim at a clear target when I write. Believe me when I say the target was me, even though I only have 20 extra pounds to struggle with. My vices are much more disguised. One can be obese with self destruction in many forms.

After Saturday night service at the Methodist church every week, a few of us go out to dinner. Usually to Panera. But when my friend Nancy has her two grandkids with her (ages 6 and 8) she takes them to the Hometown Buffet after church. They think this is a magical, heavenly place because they can choose any food from the vast array and they can just have it.

I had not been to the Buffet de la Hometown in 5 or 6 years. I now remember why.

It never fails. Every single time I've been there, I've had to stifle my startle reaction upon my first glimpse of a very very very very very fat person. My mother and I are both intensely fascinated by lard-asses. We can't help it. We become involuntarily hyper-focused when we see them.

She usually starts the lambasting with a long drawn out, half-whispered "holyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy sh*t." And I will know exactly which masticating manatee she is referring to, because it's not like trying to find an Easter egg in tall grass, is it?

Admittedly, we don't do much actual eating at Hometown Buffet, because every bite is flying in the face of a cautionary tale. It's like trying to inject heroin while staring into the nearly-embalmed visage of Keith Richards, or chewing sirloin steak while facing a Heimlich poster.

We watch as the ample-flanked ones waddle up to the sneeze-guarded trough, their giant buttocks moving in that way that giant buttocks do: one cheek independently hoisting upward, all on its own, only to smear downward against the other one as it heaves upward toward the sad equator of the Sisyphian-tortured belt. This slow, fleshy 2-step continues until the destination of the shiny silver buffet is reached. Some of the more massive cannot even make it to the buffet without help.

In one memorable scene, we witnessed a hugely obese guy being helped up to the buffet with a person on either side, holding tightly to one of his arms. He seemed to point with his sweaty forehead at the glistening delicacies he desired, then was assisted back to his table while one of the enabling sentinels went back to the pigatorium to fill his death-plate. The first of many plates. I know. I watched. And so did my mother. And by this time, we were allowing ourselves to split one mere chicken wing for dinner, lest we become one of the flesh monsters we so recoil from. It is, FYI, not a simple task to split a chicken wing.

I'm not talking chubby here. I'm not even talking fat. I'm referring to the kind of girth that mutates a butt into two of those blow-up exercise balls, glommed together and stuffed into billowing, special-ordered pants. And to accompany it, there is sometimes a horrifying front bulge that hangs completely off the bench seat of the booth until it comes to an uneasy rest on the Hometown Buffet carpet, sticky with meat sauces and hot fudge syrup.

Candy, you are so judgmental, you may be saying. These people are hurting, they come from dysfunctional families, they're crying for help. It doesn't matter what they're crying for. What they're going to get is an early heart attack or intestinal burst, and then an awkward funeral where the attendees pretend not to notice that Uncle Slugly is being lowered into the earth in a grand piano case.

Maybe I'm envious. Because the bottom line, for me, is that they've given in. There is no way I can look at someone who weighs 500 pounds and not think they've thrown in the towel. They might as well hire a plane and skywrite "I give up." And really, there is at least some kind of freedom in giving in to that constant insistent knocking and throwing open the front door of your life to let in your own ruination, in whatever form it takes, be it high-fructose syrup, department store credit card, tiny little line of coke, viscous cloud of remorse, hidden decades-old hubris, or charming quick-fisted man with the eyes of a shark. No more stabs at self-discipline, no more disappointing plummets into not being that person you were hoping to be. Stop the striving, end the failure. Finger-pointing onlookers be damned.

I need to go. Someone's at the door.