I JUSTIFY MY NEW STUDIO LIKE THIS: I dismissed the lawn mower and the driveway plower. The lawn mower dudes would have charged us even more this summer due to the number of objects they would need to maneuver around, since Leah planted 23 – count ‘em, 23 – fruit trees. All of which are being snacked upon like gourmet hors d’oeuvres by our resident deer, Piggy Pet (who glares at us and pees when we come outside to yell at her), her sister Fatty and their fawns. Now I mow the lawn, which is an ass-pain and a half. It’s an obstacle course, I tell Leah. But just think of the fruit we’ll have in the years to come, she says, as Piggy Pet munches, glares and pees.
The shop/studio took up half the driveway, so I’m sure shoveling won’t be so bad this winter. I say that now. Ask me again in a few months when the mail carrier leaves one of those “I can’t get to your mailbox, bitches” notes.
I also quit going to shiatsu regularly. We haven’t played much music this summer so I haven’t been hauling around my 30 pound body bag (bass case), hence I have less aches and pains. Getting enough Vitamin D helps. Lawn mowing and anticipating shoveling does not help.
So lawn mowing ($50/week), driveway plowing ($30 a pop) and shiatsu ($65 twice a month) is my portion of the “rent” also known as a home equity loan payment towards the new shop. Downstairs will be Leah’s woodworking and upstairs will be a creative space for both of us.
I think I can justify not taking any freelancing writing on for now, and just working on my Lounge book. Here’s an excerpt:
People think being a social worker for 13 years should have prepared me for being a bartender. My theory is that counseling people is about as similar to bartending as being a surgeon is to chopping vegetables. Some of the tools may be vaguely related, but a serrated kitchen knife is not the same instrument as a scalpel, and with the exception of Hannibal Lecter, a scalpel would not be used to prepare dinner.
I never dreamed of being a bartender. When I was 14, I decided I wanted spending money to buy a pair of tight Jordache jeans, the ones with the signature squiggle stitched onto the back pocket where I could keep my oversized plastic hair-feathering comb while I was roller skating, so I applied for a job at the Char Pit and for one at the Catholic Church rectory. I spent the next four years stuffing inserts into Sunday bulletins and emptying priests’ ashtrays. I never heard from the Char Pit. I assumed this was a message from God that I was not meant to work in the food service industry.
Not that I didn’t learn some useful skills at the rectory. I became an expert at answering the phone in a sing-song voice, “Our Lady of Mercy Rectory, may I help you?” and when the priest said, “Oh shit, him again?” I learned to shamelessly lie to the poor wretched soul in need of spiritual counseling on the other end of the line. “I’m sorry, sir, Father Quinn is not available at the moment. May I take a message?”
Going to an all girls’ Catholic high school that pushed community service fed my belief that I should be selflessly serving others. When I was 15, Sister Damien, who chose her unfortunate religious name long before The Omen was released, had me stay back after history class so she could ask me if I had ever considered that God might be calling me to join the Sisterhood. “You mean like be a nun?” I asked her in disbelief. She was convinced I was being called to the ministry. I was positive God was not talking to me, not like that anyway. I liked boys too much to even remotely consider the possibility of a life of chastity. I had been chasing the high of my first kiss and seeking my Prince Charming since I was 12 (Tomboy Princess). Sixteen Candles was – and embarrassingly still is – my favorite movie of all time. I continue to faithfully follow the careers of Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and John (and Joan) Cusak. While watching the Breakfast Club, I intensely lusted Molly Ringwald’s boots. I was positive nuns did not have such worldly desires.
What was more deeply concerning to me was why Sister Damien had approached me out of 100 girls in my class of ’88, because I assumed I was the only one. What was it about me that made her think I would make a good nun? Did I come off as a bland, asexual being who craved short man-hair and practical shoes? I was mortified at the image that I might be projecting to others. Did Sister Damien think I would develop an apple-shaped body and cankles, the unofficial yet unquestionable archetype of the Sisterhood? I only told my best friend about Sister Damien’s epiphany, and I swore her to secrecy.
I admit I was a bit of a prissy do-gooder. Amy Two-Shoes, my driver’s ed instructor called me, which was markedly better than the nicknames given by him to the other kids in my car, “Crash,” “Andy-Pants,” and “Dopey.” Other than the time I told an elderly Nazi-style nun to fuck off during a fit of PMS-related hall wandering without a pass, I tried to be good. Fortunately most of the nuns at my high school leaned toward liberal. After my parents insisted that I attend a Catholic high school, they probably regretted it when I came home and announced how cool it was that Sister Marilyn had chained herself to the fence at the Seneca Army Depot in protest of nuclear warheads, and that I wanted to go to the warring El Salvador like Sister Donna and be a missionary. I most definitely, however, did not want to become a nun, at least not if it meant giving up boys and never having sex.
When Sister Damien approached me again my junior year about the start of a peer counseling program at our high school, I jumped at the chance to ignore my own emotional issues and help those less fortunate than I. Though the program never got off the ground, I felt far ahead of my peers at dealing with depressed coeds and chronic masturbating callers when I volunteered for the crisis line at my college.
Like being a receptionist at the church, counseling also inspired me to put on a happy, how-can-I-help-you face. Later, as a client-centered therapist with a Masters degree in social work, when I wanted to yell “Snap out of it!” to a college student distressed because he got B’s instead of A’s, or, to an 85 lb anorexic sorority girl, “ Would you just freaking eat already,” I instead encouraged them to describe their early childhood relationships with their parents and how those might have instilled an unrealistic sense of perfectionism into their damaged psyches.
Bartenders, on the other hand, can walk away from their customers when things get weird or annoying. I still offer service with a smile, but if I ask someone, “How are you?” as I greet them with a napkin and a menu and they say, “I just had the worst day of my life,” my response is, “What can I get you to drink?” Easy fix. You feel bad, I get you a drink, you feel better. I’ve done my job, and I don’t go home at night worrying that you might kill yourself because I paused too long before responding to your deep, vulnerable over-sharing of emotions with a near-stranger.