Reviewing the Situation

A friend of mine, who I have never met in real time but have spent some time getting to know via social networking and her awesome blog Metal, Misery and Mayhem, left a comment on my previous entry about the gym that has me thinking. She said that perhaps some of the rage that I feel towards the anorexic woman in class, and her in turn towards an incredibly annoying sounding co-worker, could be natural alpha instinct.

This intrigues  me because I’m often trying to figure out exactly how much of my behavior is natural personality, and how much is damage-related. I struggle with my natural instinct toward cranky reaction to much outer stimuli found in normal life.

My equally awesome friend, Mr. Eerie Von of Danzig fame, says that I should simply embrace the fact that I am naturally crabby and stop wasting time examining the bitch lint inside the mental bellybutton. This metaphor is mine by the way, he’s far too cool and busy to talk about bellybutton lint, metaphorically or otherwise.

And indeed, I have been crabby since birth. Bear with me as I share a few tedious childhood details: I was a difficult baby, or “colicky” as they used to call it. I cried and cried and cried. And then I cried some more. When I was three years old my mother wrote in my baby book, “Mary has a VERY low frustration tolerance.” The word “very” was underlined numerous times, in a what looked to be a weary hand.

I think there was an enormous sigh of relief when my brother was born a year behind me and turned out to be the happiest thing in a diaper. He was roly-poly chubby and wore a smile a mile wide at all times. He looks as if he’s giggling in every baby photo. He was as happy as I was cranky, from the get.

When the two of us were old enough to walk and talk it became clear who the alpha was in the relationship, as I dictated his every cheerful toddler move. I was always coming up with new plans for action that ended in him getting hurt, in trouble, in tears, and once on a bloody trip to the hospital for stitches. I loved my brother, he was my pal and it wasn’t that I wanted to hurt him. I just pushed the envelope with a brain too young to follow logic through to envisioned consequences. And he was happy and open and willing to follow orders. I was authoritative: get on this scooter and I will push you down the long hardwood floor hall as fast as I can and then I will let you go spinning out on your own a few feet before you hit the radiator at full speed. He would waver for a moment, his baby survival mechanism holding him back. I would point with stubby finger. Get on the damn thing, what could possibly go wrong?

Once we ventured outside of the safety of the family unit and into the social river of ravenous pirahna that is grade school, things shifted. I was already bookish and shy outside of my home, and learned around third grade that I was not attractive, primarily due to poor eyesight and the unfortunate need for glasses with very thick lens.
First year of glasses, blissfully unaware that my social life was about to go straight into the crapper:

So I shut the fuck up publicly. For years. I was still Bossy McBosserson with my younger siblings, but outside of their orbit I remained a silent egghead, opening my mouth only to answer questions pertaining to sentence diagramming or algebraic formula. And although I wasn’t bullied, I was a nerd of the deepest order, and did get the occasional mean comment thrown my way. It wounded me deeply enough that I still remember where I was standing and what I was wearing when Dan Something-or-Other called me a dog to his friend who had a locker next to mine. I was beyond mortified when I found out my nickname with the boys in 8th grade was “tits on a tube”. The irony of this was not lost on me, by the way, when I noticed some years later that Sebastian Bach had bought his teeny wife a rocking pair of tits to go with her non-existent frame. If only I had known then what I know now.

But I digress. The point is, I have spent some time being distinctly non-alpha and I am grateful for the lesson of compassion that it taught me. But I never want to go back there again, it’s painful and powerless.

Once I got contact lens at age 16 and realized that most of the boys in high school were nitwits, I was back in the bossy game, often by default. We’d be forced into work groups in Social Studies and everyone would sit there staring at their notebooks instead of choosing who worked on what end of the project. I couldn’t take the lame duck energy, it was too much like wrangling my four younger siblings. So I’d yank the pad of paper out of someone’s hand and assign tasks just to get things rolling.

And then all of a sudden, I was REALLY alpha, obnoxious alpha, like completely OUT OF CONTROL alpha. I was famous, sort of; I looked pretty good so guys liked me; I was angry for all kinds of reasons and cultivating a badass persona that had more to do with wanting to be Catwoman when I was ten than anything based in reality:

And I had a whole crew of girls who would do whatever I told them to do. I’d say, “I don’t want to talk to her.” The person in question would approach and someone would step in front of me and say, “She doesn’t want to talk to you!” I would mention there was someone I didn’t like in the room and someone else would “accidentally” spill a drink on them. Can you imagine? It was crazy. It was AWESOME. I still can’t believe anyone listened to a word I said. And of course it was rotten and I abused it to the point that even I finally noticed that I was a big fat jerk. And I’ve been trying to find my way back ever since.

Luckily for the world, or at least New York City, it was temporary. Sometimes I watch Oprah on TV (okay, constantly I watch Oprah on TV) and I think, wow, I wonder how hard it is for her not to want to shout “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!” every once in a while. You know, just to see how it feels rolling off the tongue and if the staff would start making frantic calls to locate a guillotine. They’d probably ring Martha Stewart first to see if she had one stored in one of the million rooms of her fancy Connecticut country home.

Since then I have sifted through the rubble of the standard semi-damaged childhood psyche and navigated through a day to day existence in which I have often been too quick to state a thought or opinion in too blunt a fashion. Sometimes something sounds funny in my head and then after I say it out loud I see the face in front of me crumple and I think, ooh, filter is clearly not working. And someone is then sad or angry due to my bad behavior and I feel like a piece of shit.

I have a third friend who will walk into a room, beam the widest smile, and dive right in with each person in the vicinity: what’s your name, what do you do, your eyes are so pretty, are you married, do you have children, how is the cheese dip? She’s genuinely interested in everyone. Her energy is open and there is never a moment where she looks uncomfortable or appears annoyed regardless of whether she’s surrounded by strangers or loved ones. People step on her shoes and bump into her and she doesn’t even notice.

I want to be like that! I don’t want to be prickly and the one who always tells the waiter who gets what meal because I’m impatient and annoyed that no one has their shit together enough to raise their hand when he calls out the dish. I want to be gentle and kind and interested in everyone in the room. But I also still secretly want to be Catwoman and only 10% of the people in the room seem genuinely interesting to me. Small talk makes me break out in hives. I’m uncomfortable around new people. I’m annoyed by people bumping into me! Mraow! Hiss!!

So again, the question remains, how much is natural alpha and necessary for survival and achievement, and how much is just being an asshole? And how do you clean yourself up enough mentally that you can do right by your fellow man while still retaining the essence of who you were meant to be, of what makes you interesting and different?

Clearly I have no idea or I wouldn’t have just spent yet another hour writing about my same old shit like it’s the most fascinating stuff on the planet. I think this entire blog entry may be a flimsy excuse to post a photo of Julie Newmar.

A Small Piece from the "Book"

A few months later, on October 23rd, 1987 to be exact, Guns n Roses were scheduled to play in NY at the Ritz. It was my birthday and we were all pretty stoked to finally be able to see the band.

We met up at Lismar, of course: Betty, Pete, Glenn Benson, Man Ray, Brian “Cycle Boy”, Donna, Betty’s roommate Lisa, Gini and me in as much rock and roll gear as we could pack on: multiple belts, bracelets, and bootstraps. And because it was such an auspicious occasion, we all took ecstasy. Gini most likely abstained because she was smarter than the rest of us, but I hopped right in there with characteristic enthusiasm. Happy birthday to me! I swallowed a big white capsule of powder with Betty in the bathroom, applied another layer of eyeliner, and hoped for the best.

Two hours later at the Ritz: we all stood in a row, blasted out of our minds and holding hands like toddlers on a field trip. Our mouths hung open as we watched Guns n Roses own the stage in a way that I had never seen before. The lights wound around us and the sound thrummed through my body. The entire room vibrated; the band looked and sounded glorious. They were gods of youth and thunder delivering a rock and roll assault of epic proportions. I knew it wasn’t just the drugs, but they definitely helped the overall mood.

I grinned, turned to Man Ray and shouted over the din, “This is the best band I’ve ever seen!” He said, “Right??? Happy birthday, baby!”

I wished I had spent more time at the bar talking to Axl the singer about Axel the jewelry designer when I had had the chance, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered at that moment except the sound and being with my friends.

It was a pretty stellar birthday.


The glamorous Lismar:

Man Ray, Pete, and Brian:

Betty & me in a classic “day-after” pose:

Mental Exercise

So I go to a Chisel class at Crunch gym nearly every Friday or Saturday. I hate it, but I do it.

When you go to those classes often, you get to know the regulars. Most of them are cool: there’s a model that I hate because she’s gorgeous but I love because she’s low key and nice to look at; there’s a very young, frumpy blonde who is so uncoordinated that she’s always on the verge of completely toppling over during the simplest of exercises, which fascinates me; and there’s a no nonsense woman who could kick all of our asses but instead is very polite and accommodating to everyone in her path. The Friday class teacher is very sweet in the class, but standoffish outside of it. She has a baby bump and for months I have been trying to figure out whether she’s pregnant or not. The Saturday teacher is a superstar black gay man, the class is usually too crowded because he’s so popular.

And then there’s me. I am uptight. Like, really uptight. I don’t look like I should be uptight, I’m the only one in a Motorhead tee and tattoos. But my weights are lined up just so and I would never lay on the mat without a towel and I get testy when anyone encroaches on what I deem as my space.

I have a long list of rules in my head that no one has any idea exist but everyone has to follow or I get annoyed. Like, don’t leisurely fill your water bottle at the fountain when there’s a line of people behind you waiting to take a drink. Or don’t sloppily throw your weights everywhere so that I’m in danger of killing myself during lunges. Don’t show up ten minutes late and jam yourself in somewhere that you don’t really fit, inconveniencing the people who got there on time. Don’t clump around getting in everyone’s way by putting your shit away before the class is done so you can leave early during the final stretching part of the class. Don’t do a lot of creepily sexual sighing during yoga class. Don’t wear tight, see-through shorts so I am forced to get to know your ladyparts every time you stretch a hamstring.

The list goes on and on. But I try to keep a lid on myself because I know I’m nuts. I take the attitude that the imagined transgressions are the Universe’s way of teaching me to relax, to be patient, to stretch my emotional hamstrings in a modest pair of non-see-through pants, if you will. And on most days I am able to refrain from being a complete asshole.

But there is one “teacher” that I have not been able to decipher just yet, so I am writing about it here in the hope that by doing so I will be able to unravel the mystery of the strong feelings that come up.

She is a severely anorexic woman. I would guess she is anywhere from her mid 30’s to 40’s, it’s hard to tell. She always dresses in baggy grey sweats, baggy greyish white tee. Her clothes hang off of her, her skin is grey, her hair is black and frizzy with gray running through it, cut in the worst Roseanne Roseannadana bob imaginable. Her arms and legs are mere toothpicks, it’s a miracle they can hold her up as she hops around nonstop through any class that features cardio. She ignores the weight training segments and hops around on the step. She ignores the stretching segments and hops around on the step. She is moving, moving, moving, and looks like she could expire at any moment.

On top of this excessive visual stimuli, she’s got a death wheeze that you can hear from a fair distance. Wheeze in, wheeze out, wheeze in, wheeze out. I find it beyond distracting, as I do the nonstop hopping, and I always pray that she parks herself far away from me when she enters the class. One time she was directly behind me and I spent the entire hour focused on the wheeze. In, out, in, out, in out. Gah!!!! It drove me mad. 
But most of the time she’s not that near me, and I’m still pissed off. I’m obsessed. I actually look around for her when the class starts, and I hate her with more passion than makes sense. And it really doesn’t matter where she is in the room, she just has to be there to send me on a demented mental tangent:

MEAN ME: Just look at her over there. Does she think we don’t know what’s going on? Stop that fucking jumping, you maniac and get yourself to a hospital. You are annoying. ANNOYING.

NICE ME: Why are you being so ridiculous? She’s got a disorder. She’s not doing this to hurt anyone. Maybe she experienced some major trauma and this is how she’s learned to cope. You don’t know what her life is like.

MEAN ME: I’m not ridiculous, she’s ridiculous. That bullshit behavior is totally disruptive. It’s been long enough, she needs to pull it together. That wheezing is making me crazy, CRAZY!

NICE ME: She’s halfway across the room, fer Chrissake. If you spent more time focused on working out and less time focused on judging other people, you’d have a better time. You’re doing this to yourself, you know.

MEAN ME: Whatever…I hate her hair…

I have no idea why I take her condition so personally. Am I afraid of my own weakness? Am I somehow jealous that she is able to control her pasta intake much more capably than I can? Am I upset that she’s breaking the rules? Am I afraid that I could fall into disorder insanity too? Or am I merely uptight and thus annoyed at having so much visual and aural distraction while I’m trying to concentrate? Maybe I’m just an incredibly crabby person. I don’t know, I don’t know!

It’s clear that my problem with her is really some problem within myself. I have heard and read and experienced many times that the people that we react most strongly to are mirrors held up to reveal to us something about ourselves. But I haven’t quite figured this one out yet, so I guess she will remain in my consciousness until I do.

When I work it out properly, I’ll try to write something more insightful than I’ve given you today as I realize that this is a somewhat pointless entry. But I do feel better at having openly admitted (once again) that I am an awful person.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Google Docs

DREW: It’s so cold here. I can’t get warm. I’ve been freezing all week.
ME: I told you to bring warmer clothes when you were packing.
DREW (sighing): I know you did, Mary.
ME: Remember? I said, “It’s going to be cold there, and that sweatshirt is not going to be enough.” And you said I was wrong, and that you would be fine. And now you’re cold, and I was right.
DREW (irritated): Yessss, you told me I’d be cold.
ME: I know. It’s pretty amazing. I’m always right and yet you never listen. I think I’m going to start keeping a list.
DREW: Another list?
ME: A list of all the times that I am right and you don’t listen.
DREW: Well, that is annoying.
ME: No, it’s gonna be great. Hang on, I’m starting a new google doc.
DREW: You can’t google doc and blog me all the time. It’s not cool.
ME: Okay, here we go. Number 1: I told Drew it would be cold in Minnesota but he didn’t listen to me and spent the entire trip freezing.
DREW: Please stop typing.
ME: Number 2: I always tell Drew not to eat pizza directly out of the box because it’s too hot but he does anyway and burns his mouth every time.
DREW: I hate you.
ME: Number 3. Hmm…Let’s think…
DREW: I’m hanging up now.
ME: That’s okay, you can access google docs from anywhere. I’ll email the link.
ME: Hello…hello?
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