May 16, 2009

I made two discoveries soon after we moved. First, that I had lost my laundry stick and second, that I now had only five handwoven napkins where I used to have six. This bothered me. I could make a new laundry stick, but it wouldn’t be the one my granny gave me, twin to her own. I could make another handwoven napkin, but it wouldn’t be part of the set. I kept the napkins rolled up in the top kitchen drawer, so I was pretty sure one must have rolled out the back of the drawer and was sitting in the bottom of the cabinet with the sawdust and spider webs.

What really bothered me, though, was the thought of it staying with my former raw-vegan-musician-nudist landlord.

This individual was such a trial there was no question of going back to ask if we could fish the napkin out of the cabinet or the laundry stick out of the laundry room. The goal was never to see him again. At all. The only thing more upsetting than the thought of my napkin remaining in his toxic (though unwitting) clutches was the thought of having to wake him up in the middle of the day in his white rajneeshi pyjamas and hear how the universe was ordering itself for his convenience because of how wonderful he was–a deeply held truth he inserted into most conversations–except when the universe wasn’t doing it’s part, which made him scared and mad.

Der Mann and I bore up by joking about him. Der Mann more than me, because I was around him more and tended to find him more scary than funny. Scary and pitiable. With an emphasis on the scary. Because a) he was very big and tall, and b) he was one of those guys who always has a toothsome groupie-girlfriend, and oozes a preening sexuality, and c) I grew up around mental illness and therefore have a very low tolerance for crazy people.

It’s interesting. The same situation that gave me a very low tolerance for crazy people gave me a very high tolerance for eccentricity. I tend to take what people say at face value, then analyze. When you are a kid in the care of a crazy person you can’t just get away from the craziness, so you become an expert at sorting it. Not everything a crazy person says is crazy. You have to assess situations individually. For instance, when an adult tells you that if a stranger ever tries to drag you off, you should yell “You’re not mommy!” as loudly as you can, because if you just kick and scream people will think you’re throwing a fit with one of your parents–that is actually pretty good advice. But when that same adult tells you that no, you can’t have any gum this time because Bad People might have replaced all the white chicklets in the gum machine at Sears with Ex-Lax, followed by an explanation of what Ex-Lax is and what it does–that is not really something you need to worry about at the age of five. (And I did not worry, but I did spend several years marveling over all the Ex-Lax f@tishists who went through the world scattering digestive mayhem. Oh brave new world, that has such people in it!)

So, I often find myself nodding earnestly as people tell me completely crazy things–like my landlord telling me about the apocryphal Gospel of Andrew, which is where he got his nudism–while I weigh the merits of their ideas. When I have collected enough opinions and soaked up enough vibrations, my intuition processes it all. It says either something like, “Huh. This guy has arrived at some uncommon beliefs in a fashion consistent with his personality and values. I wonder if he first encountered the Gospel of Andrew when he was a Hotshot Evangelical Youth or a Fundamentalist Christian Dad, or when he chucked his family and started hanging out with the Humorously Out-of-Date New Agers. His dome tent sounds cool, although I wish he would stop referring to it as a yurt.” Or my intuition says: “Something is very wrong here. Internal inconsistencies. Grandiosity. Strong whiffs of narcissism. I still feel unsettled days after talking with him. Yep. It’s the old allergic reaction. Once a bedbug-crazy zealot, always a bedbug-crazy zealot.”

The irony is that I attract crazy people. Since I am noncommittal, polite, and take their ideas seriously, they are on me like flies on honey. (See my allergic reaction in my metaphor!) I know a clinical psychologist would be more inclined to see craziness as a continuum rather than a yes / no thing. They would also have a lot more interest in someone like my landlord. I can only plead that what I mean by crazy is someone who is not in treatment and who actively indulges their craziness to the detriment of others, and that I am aware the line I draw between crazy and not crazy is subjective.

If only my intuition worked faster! See, what happens is I am still smiling and nodding, collecting information, when someone else would have already said to themselves, “Oh my god. My new landlord has just told me that in the near future no one will wear clothes. And I have affably pointed out that I like clothes, handmade clothes can be an art form, and that I would like to make handwoven garments. In reply to which he has smugly informed me that come Nirvana-on-earth I can still weave blankets. This guy is so full of shit!

Or more likely, someone else would have just skipped the whole hour-long conversation that led up to the blanket exchange, in favor of an immediate, “This guy is so full of shit!”

(The upside to my attractiveness to crazy people is that I also attract eccentrics–although they tend to be shyer than the crazies, and so not as many. This has studded my life with fascinating LONG conversations and a few very interesting friendships.)

To proceed.

Not long ago, Der Mann and I set out for our evening walk and discovered that our tiny town’s “First Friday” event was in progress, with an art-and-craft show set up in the community center. We wandered in. It was crowded and noisy and there was loud, re-verbed droning New Age music in the background. I figured we’d make a full circuit of the booths in a spirit of community support. Suddenly Der Mann stopped in his tracks and whispered, “I think that’s K___!”

“Where?” I said.

“The live music,” he said.

Like spies in a spy movie we had ducked behind a partition and were whispering. Der Mann ducked out, trying to get a sight line through the crowd without the man who was possibly K___ noticing him staring. The music swelled and droned in majestic digital excess. I said I was going back to wait in the other room where the naughty art was. I was really taken with the brash oils of sports cars and shiny gold human figures (a painting of a statue?) engaged in an act with a name which will not appear on this blog. They put that one at ceiling level. As if kids don’t look up.

Der Mann rejoined me after some reconnaissance. “I still couldn’t see, but it’s the hair. And the pyjamas.” We were both very giggly. We skittered outside feeling more like teenagers than we had in a while.

“And the car,” Der Mann added, pointing. At first I was willing to believe that someone else with a Volvo of that vintage and color was attending the art show, but it had the bumper stickers: Simplify. Begin Within.

We joked about our near miss all the way home. That awful music made me feel quite light about the whole messy business of extracting ourselves from the duplex. (I haven’t told you about the problem with the check he wrote us to refund our deposit.) Our former landlord is a skilled acoustic musician who could play anything he liked, and yet that is what he composes. That is what sounds good to him, and what he plays at paid gigs. Amazing. Those white pyjamas lost some of their sinister brilliance out in the fresh air, amid the pet-themed stained glass and homemade soap.

Further closure came with the napkin. A few days ago it fell out of Der Mann’s Homesar T-shirt. It had been in there since the last time it was washed, before we moved. I sang, I danced, I killed the fatted calf.

And when my granny told my grandpa I lost my laundry stick, he made me a new one.


6 Responses to “Prodigals”

  1. I’m with you on the crazies….we have some scary similarities there….I wonder if some of those similarities lead us both to countermarche looms too? (Now am I starting to sound a little crazy?)

    I am so-o-o-o-o glad that you found your handwoven napkin!! Phew!

    And it’s great that your grandfather can make you a new laundry stick. (Of course, I have no idea what a laundry stick is.)

    Great story! Thanks for posting it!


  2. jeannie Says:

    excellent story!
    i also grew up with mental illness around me and am very uncomfortable at the prospect of its unpredictability – never knowing what the crazy person is going to do, or say, and when…shudders! hence, i am the type who tunes the crazy people out and extract myself as quickly as possible (just in case it is significant, i weave on a jack loom).
    your situation was very understandable…and then in the telling of your story, you ‘wove’ a wonderful climax at the end. double yay about finding your napkin and getting a new laundry stick from your grandfather! i wonder though…if there can be a metaphor drawn from both items that were thought to be lost having an association with the laundry and how that might relate to your former landlord? maybe it’s not important, but i thought it interesting. at any rate, thank-you for sharing!

  3. Theresa Says:

    Yes, what is a laundry stick??? Great story and such a pretty napkin. How happy it has found it’s way back to the set.

  4. Ooh, that was suspenseful — I jumped for joy to find out you found the napkin to complete the set. I wasn’t sure from reading your previous posts whether your grandparents were still living — how wonderful to have the laundry stick replaced by the source.

    I’m so glad you’re gone from the old landlord, and don’t need to see him again. Even reading about him is scary. I scream out all bad feelings/ickiness while driving on the freeway — then roll down the windows to let it all float away.

  5. Dot Says:

    I’m so, ever so, glad the tale of the napkin had a happy ending.

    Losing things is the part I really hate about moving, there’s always something slips off into the unknown. Not to mention the things I was sensible and threw out before this move, or that move, and miss ever after.

  6. Trapunto Says:

    For the information of all and sundry: a laundry stick is a stick for sticking into laundry. I explain in the footnote at the bottom of this post:

    Sounds like a plan, SpinningLizzy.

    Dot, my granny of the laundry stick says she has a room in her head where she keeps all those things she wishes she hadn’t got rid of, or things she should have bought and didn’t.

    Sue and Jeannie. Thank you so much for your comments. No I don’t think that sounds crazy at all, Sue! Just as I’ve entered my thirties, I’ve been astonished to realize how many interests and habits, attractions and aversions in my life stem right back to a childhood full of the kinds of experiences I mentioned. Astonished because I (necessarily) focused a superhuman amount of energy in my teen years and twenties GETTING THE HELL AWAY from the crazy stuff / person / situation. Maybe you can relate? It’s been really weird to find out that the very thing I was running from turns out to have been a defining force.

    Actually, I was kind of wondering whether some other weavers would have had a childhood where at least one adult couldn’t be depended on to “be the grownup.” Weaving thrives on patience, concentration, and a willingness to immerse oneself in complicated, large-scale undertakings. (Also fine judements, an eye for subtlety.) I thinks it’s possible to learn those things on the fly at a very young age, hardly noticing it, when you are constantly forced to analyze and second-guess the actions of someone older and smarter than you, in order to find your way safely through the world.

    Huh. You could even say, weaving is the ultimate in “being the grownup.” Figuring out how to assemble and use and cope with the exact pecadillos of my flawed old countermarche loom, with not enough information and no teacher, felt a lot like trying to figure out the world as a kid. My husband watched me go through the process in horrified fascination, but it all seemed natural to me, however daunting. With the loom, there was an end in sight. It was like a manageable, discrete model of an unmagageable, limitless task. Or maybe, an almost-impossible model of an impossible one. Very compelling.

    I won’t even get into the cloth metaphors!

    Laundry symbology relating to my former landlord. That’s an interesting one. Well, the laundry room was what separated the two halves of the duplex, and where the landlords encroachments were most visible. When we moved in he’d explained that the laundry room was divided in half, with a washer and dryer, water heater, and shelves for each tenant on either side. But once the landlord moved in himself, he arranged his amps and bongos and sound equipments and shoe racks and crap across the floor and the whole back wall, so that I couldn’t get to my dryer. When he and his girlfriend did laundry they left their clothes basket blocking the middle of the narrow room, so I was forever trying to outsmart their laundry habits. I changed my own laundry day to avoid theirs, when it seemed like they were always doing laundry on Friday, but they were too erratic for that to work. Let me tell you, hippie girls do NOT all wear hippie underwear.

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