Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Father, Foaming at the Mouth

On Monday, I received a phone call from my mother, who was not unusually frantic. I perked up to hear her usual "Oh my God" because, let's face it, I am a stay-at-home mother who is always looking for something to think, talk or write about. Mom Drama, Yes! "We need your help," she said in her usual careless way (as if talking was primary and talking to me was secondary, it could have been anyone and they could or could not have been listening). I was, of course, hooked despite knowing this because--as my whole family knows--I LOVE to help. Well, not exactly help. I love to try and try and try again to help.

I was walking with my cell phone, partly listening and partly picking things (i.e. the things around my house: a dirty diaper, a slobbery block, a Band aid wrapper, a rubber fish, a Boppy, one of my breast pads) up around the house. Despite her urgency, I figured (for that flash-like moment in time in which one figures) that she was simply in a right-fighter conversation with my father over some trivial matter or some actual piece of trivia and wanted me to ask The Source (my wife who has a PhD...something that is envied and admired in my family) for a confirming answer. I was right that she wanted me to consult with The Source, but I was wrong about the subject.

My mother wanted to know about rabies. Rabies. What? Why? Who has rabies? So, she proceeded to tell me about the incident that left her terrified for my father's went something like this.

There was a freak accident in the muddy backyard on Chasewood Lane involving two incestuous beagles, my father, and a small skunk. Not everyone survived the ordeal. Unfortunately the little skunk did not survive. The beagles are now under an order of compulsory isolation (some might consider it quarantine or garage arrest or crate arrest). And my father, well we were worried about him for awhile but it turns out he will be with us for some indefinite time. Apparently, a rabid skunk found its way into my parents' backyard where he then encountered two overly-friendly beagles. (Note: these beagles are cute and harmless except when it comes to other female dogs, food or anything edible including their own poop at times, and small animals that are within range of their tangled leashes.) The skunk and the beagles (we're not sure who started it, though we blame the one we KNOW has rabies) got into it real bad. They got into a brawl, that is. My parents heard snarling and howling, and found that Stella (the sister/female beagle who had to abort the embryos she and her brother made together) and Mr. Skunk (yes, I'll make him male...If we were to genderize the language, I believe rabies would be a male disease) were mouth to mouth. I don't know what Scamper (the brother/male beagle who has an issue with incontinence and a taste for his own poop) was doing-- howling in the background, I imagine.

Now this is the most truly disturbing part of the story, so readers beware. My dad acted on impulse, and ran out onto the patio with a broom to break up the fight. I wasn't there, so I can only imagine what went on next. All I know is that somehow my father got into it with Mr. Skunk, and HE BEAT MR. SKUNK TO DEATH WITH A BROOM. According to my father, Mr. Skunk put up a good fight, and he had to bash him in the head ten times before he finally gave up and died. (Deep breath.) Poor Mr. Skunk. I understand that my father had to act fast to protect the beagles and the neighbors and all that. Still, I can't help but cringe at the thought of my father beating a tiny skunk to death. I know he didn't enjoy it (my father, I mean), but it is disturbing for me to think of him being so violent. It makes me think of a story someone once told me about my Papa beating a bunny (okay, I'll quit using pet names...a rabbit, ahem) to death with a bat. He was fed up with the rabbit stealing things from his garden. Poor rabbit. Poor Bunny. Let us be silent for a moment in honor of both the angry, rabid skunklet and the hungry bunny. I know the two situations are different, yet I can't help but respond emotionally to the thought of my father and papa violently beating helpless animals to death. I suppose I could beat a helpless animal to death if I had to do it to save my family, but it would be really hard and I would definitely feel guilty for eternity and hate every millisecond of the experience. I think my dad is sorry he had to beat it to death, but, even if he is not, we will remind him of the incident for years to come...buying him books about skunks and skunk families, giving him stuffed skunks, dressing our daughter up as a skunk for Halloween. In fact, I encourage you to revive Mr. Skunk once in a while. So, fear not, the skunk will live on. Mr. Skunk did not die in rabid vain.

For a while, we feared my father might end up having the worse end of the deal: he had been in contact with the skunk and the slobbery beagles (who might have had some rabidskunksaliva on their noses). And he was suffering from seasonal allergies that morning, and was rubbing his eyes! This whole situation made my mother more frantic than usual. We also realized how little all of us knew about rabies. Mr. Skunk's head had to be cut off and shipped to a lab for an evaluation (because rabies can only be officially detected once the animal is dead). The beagles have been ordered to be quarantined in the garage for six months, until the threat of rabies has ended (even though a veterinarian said that the beagles were up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations).

And then there's my dad. I guess he got off easy. He doesn't have to die a painful death and have his head cut off. He doesn't have to spend months in a tiny crate devoid of human contact. All he has to do it get jabbed a few times with a needle and put up with a few bad rabies jokes. He is in the process of receiving a series of rabies vaccinations. He had to have them because rabies is only treatable for a certain period of time; once a person starts showing signs of having rabies it is already too late for them and death is certain. The chances that my father received the poisonous saliva (from skunk to beagle to his eye or mouth) are slim, but it is not worth waiting around to find out. If you encounter my dad, you might want to be aware of this. Watch for signs after the encounter, such as foaming at the mouth and lashing out violently, and whatever you do DO NOT EXCHANGE BODILY FLUIDS WITH THE MAN. We can be sure my father's brain is safe from the disease, however we cannot erase the rabid memories he stored in it. He'll always carry Mr. Skunk with him. My father survived, but the two are connected for life.

How is my mother faring? She has dealt with the situation by talking on the phone and cleaning the house over and over and over. She has been using bleach and scented candles to combat the stench of an angry and dead skunk. And believe you me, that is one stench that has not and will not go quietly into the night.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Boob Talk: Things Lesbians Say to their Daughters and Wives (Another Lesbian Shocker)

Come and have some Boobie.
She wants Boob.
Get on the Boob Train.
Come to Boobie # 1.
No, Boobie # 2 doesn't need you right now.
It's time to stop at Boob Station.
Put The Boob in your mouth.
Why won't you eat Boobie?
Boobie wants you.
Make Boobie happy, please.
Boobie needs you.
Eat the boob. Now.
I don't have all day; take the boob.
Boobie doesn't have all day.
Boob. Boob. Booooooooooooob.
No, we're not talking. Back to the boob.
Argh, why doesn't she want Boob?
All I want is for her to suck on the boob.
I can't stand when she does this to my boob.
Oh, poor Boobie. She's sad you don't want her.
Yes, Boobie loves you.
Oh yes, you love your Boobie.
Put the boobie in your mouth.
Open your mouth and suck.
You're hurting Boob's feelings.
It's Boobie time. Come to Boobie.
Mummy's boobs need you.
She's such a boobie lover.
Boob. In the mouth. Right now.
All you need to do is think about Boobie.
She doesn't want Boobie anymore.
Oh, I squirt it in her ear.
I am just glad she is eating it.
Boobie thanks you.
Open your mouth. Open your mouth.
Gotta love The Boobie.
When Boobie ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Mason is my Middle Name

I am not a brick layerer, no. That is not how I became a mason. My father's grandfather, Joseph, immigrated to the United States from Hungary. He was a Mason. Well, scratch that. He may not have actually been a Mason either (are there really any Masons out there who are 100% sure they’re Masons?). My late grandfather, Papa, once suggested that his father's actual surname was some variation on Mason-- maybe Mascin or Masan or Masirevich. But Mason was the legal name that Joseph was given, nevertheless. When I think of the name, Mason, I think of three short, roly-poly, pot-bellied, roundandred-faced Hungarian men: my Papa and his brothers. I also think of Joseph, who--it turns out--molested some of the female members of the family when they were children. It certainly spoils my image of him as a grandfatherly, bald-headed Pope or God type (you'll know the type if you are Catholic; he's the Catholic version of God, with his shiny scalp and white dress, that you prayed to as a child or may still pray to). I guess it's fitting for that image to have been spoiled. Mason, also meaning brick-layerer, has a nice, solid sound to it. It's not a name you want to let go of, even if it came to you from the rude structure of patriarchy and even if it came to the United States with a somewhat monstrous and very human man who you’ve only seen in pictures yet whose genes flow through you.

Until I turned twenty, Mason was my last name. Marie was both my and my mother's (and a large percent of U.S. women's) middle name. Jessica Marie Mason was a nice name, and a very appropriate name for my former self and her guilt-ridden, martyrous ways. I don’t have any particularly negative feeling against Marie; I (or my ego) just never bonded with it. Jessica is slightly abrasive and very interesting on the tongue, Marie is, well, too familiar on the tongue to be interesting. And I don’t mean to insult you if your name is Marie or your middle name is Marie or your mother’s mother’s mother’s name was Marie. And then, there is Mason. It’s becoming increasingly popular as a boy’s name in America, which is in part why I find it so appropriate and appealing as my middle name. I like that no one (directly) gave me the name, Mason. I chose it and I chose how to use it. My father and his father, despite my deep love for them, had little to do with it.

A wonderful, bookish strangerwoman at the social security office in Amherst, New York gave me my new name: Jessica Mason McFadden. I say wonderful because she transgressed (for the benefit of my wife and me) on what seemed to be a whim. I didn’t speak to her, I only watched her from a small ticket window. She transgressed based on her own concept of fairness, not some indoctrinated rule-bound one. Or so I imagine. Maybe she was pissed off at a colleague, or trying to get back at an American politician who crossed her one too many times. Regardless, her moment’s decision changed our lives and (at least momentarily) restored our hope in humanity. When we arrived at the social security office in the hopes of changing my name, we weren’t quite sure what to expect but figured it was worth a try. We brought our Canadian marriage certificate with us, and I presented it to a middle-aged male employee on the other side of the window. I did not say much, but passed the certificate through to the other side. He looked at it, at first pleasantly, and then his expression soured increasingly as he (must have) realized that the spouse on my certificate was a woman. Oh, God help us, he must have been thinking: not this! No, actually, I still cannot figure from his annoyance whether he had dealt with this “ethical” dilemma many times or had never encountered such a request before (that dilemma being that same-sex marriages, regardless of state law and private institutional recognition, are not federally recognized as legal marriages in the United States). He looked at me with great unease, and said, “Uh, I don’t think so. I’ll have to check,” -- then off he went in search of what he assumed would be a straightforward, federally (re)sound(ing) "NO." I watched closely as he had a tense conversation with a short-haired woman, whom I assume was his supervisor. She looked at me, paused for a moment, and said, “Well, it’s legally recognized in Canada so I don’t see a problem.” He came back, looking unhappier than when he had left me at the window, and said that he would go ahead and file the name change. And so my name officially/federally/legally became Jessica Mason McFadden, and I have the social security card to prove it. Had that woman not have been present, he would probably have denied my request and Sandy and I would have had to jump through a lot of legal and financial hoops to change my name. I don’t why she broke the rules, but I imagine she must have known what we would have had to go through to change my name if she had obeyed the rules -- and how unnecessary and unfair those rules were. That social security card is incredibly important; it represents my identity and connection to Sandy (and, now, our kids). And it does its job; it provides security for all of us as the McFadden family. Yes, it’s political. Yes, it’s personal.

My father takes issue with my name change. This came out a couple of months ago while he was visiting us for the weekend. He saw the article about Western Illinois University’s annual Big Picture in the Macomb Journal, and it was brought to his attention (again, because this of course was not news to him in any way) that I am Jessica Mason McFadden and Sandy is Sandra Lee McFadden and Darah is Darah Sage McFadden. Neither Sandy nor Darah are Masons, yet somehow we are all McFaddens. So he said he had a question to ask me. Of course: why did you take Sandy’s last name but she didn’t take your last name? Oh, I knew it wasn’t going to go very well, but I had hoped my rational explanations would be enough to calm his emotional issue. He went right for it, and asked pointedly how I can support equality within relationships as a so-called feminist yet we did not have equal last names and our daughter would only take Sandy’s name. Sure, I explained that Sandy had already established her name professionally as Sandra L. McFadden and that I hadn’t yet done that. I explained that I liked the way McFadden sounded as a last name for myself and for Darah, and that I did not want Darah to have more than three names (Darah Sage Mason McFadden would be his ideal, I suppose). I had to remind him that my last name isn’t really Mason McFadden; Mason is my middle name and McFadden is my last name (although I usually include all three names because I like including my middle name and having the full name written out). I explained that I already had the biological connection to Darah, so I felt it was right and fair for Sandy to share the name with her. But perhaps most importantly, I explained, was that it was one way of challenging heterosexual norms. Now I understand that many people challenge patriarchal and heterosexual norms and institutions by refusing to marry or by taking each other’s names equally, but Sandy and I are challenging those norms and institutions simply by virtue of my having taken the last name of a WOMAN. It may not be equal in one sense, but it is certainly unusual and transgressive in another. I am a woman who is challenging the heterosexual institution of marriage by taking a woman's last name. And now we will change the patriarchal line of names by having had, at least at one point, a woman rather than a man pass down a name. Our children will be named after both of their mothers. This is a progressive action and has little to do with whether other areas of our name-choices and life-choices are stereotypically feminist or egalitarian or progressive.

As a feminist, I do not run my life according to any prescribed "feminist rules or doctrine"; I run my life according to my own habits of mind and sense of morality. My personal definition of feminism involves these core principles: Feminism (take out your notepad) is a state of mind and action in which one supports the right of her or himself as well as the rights of others to live authentically and possess agency, as well as for the equal right of each person to make decisions on her/his own behalf while not harming any other individual’s safety and well being in the process. Well, something like that. Something very broad and yet very simple. I don’t know if my definition works for you; it certainly didn’t work for my father. He still feels dissatisfied with our decision: that Darah will not be connected to him and his father by name. It works for us, though, and that’s what matters. If you are feeling sorry for him, you needn’t worry. My brother, Billy, has assured him that the name will be carried on—all nine of his hypothetical children will be named Mason. And, although my father doesn’t like it, I’m still a Mason. It’s just in the middle of my name.