Spooky Dolls

I’m not sure why – maybe because Halloween is just around the bend – but I just returned from a wild, three-hour virtual ride: It started off innocently enough with a saunter down Memory Lane, but then took a detour onto the Donner Party Cannibals’ Trail over the Rockies before finally diving into the sick and twisted pits of Google Images. This post was supposed to be an homage to my Grandma, but somehow turned into an exploration of Barbie-induced rage in the dark psyche of the internet. Here’s how it all started:

ragdollMy reunion with The Gingerbread Man last week got me thinking about the other treasured gift from my Grandma still in my possession. When my sister and I were young, we each got a homemade rag doll for Christmas along with different costumes: princess, gypsy, ballerina, 60’s mod . . . We loved these dolls and played with them all the time. My own daughters inherited them, and they liked them a lot too, but somehow it wasn’t the same.

They were never all that into playing with dolls in general. Even so, year after year, thanks mostly to the magic of manipulative marketing, they put the latest Barbie swag at the top of their Christmas wish lists. I hated Barbie. She was boring and materialistic. Barbie needed stuff. Barbie needed a horse. Barbie needed a car. Barbie needed a palace. Barbie needed a Ken. Her only talents were wearing clothes and losing shoes. Without bendable knees, she couldn’t even sit in a chair. She couldn’t stand on her own.

I would question the girls about their wishes – “Are you sure this is what you want? It doesn’t seem to me like you ever play with your Barbies.” Unfortunately the messages of the TV commercials spoke louder. So the Barbie house was bought and wrapped and put under the tree. It was grabbed and ripped open and the gazillion pieces strewn about. The coveted Barbie bathtub was found and promptly filled with water and the Barbie Bubble Bath added. The doll was submerged. And then . . .

Disappointment. Somehow it wasn’t nearly as cool as it had looked on TV. I mean, once the smiling plastic stick is in the tub, what else is there to do?

It’s really no wonder that girls use Barbies like cudgels to pound on things. That Barbies routinely they get their limbs twisted into weird positions and their heads torn off. Their hair gets matted or chopped off and their faces get drawn on in permanent ink. They end up lying around the house, cold and naked, or are left to drown in the now-cold and slimy bathwater.

I once listened to an NPR program about how kids play with different types of dolls. Rag dolls, they said, were treated like friends and equals. They slept in the same bed, had tea parties, and became confidants or vessels for projected emotions. Baby dolls, on the other hand, induced role playing with the child slipping into the role of caretaker. The dolls were fed, bathed, diapered, wrapped up, sung to . . . And Barbie dolls? They tended to bring out a child’s aggression. It had something to do with that permanent smile.

(Although, as an aside, I do have to add a creepy memory here of my elder daughter trying to force feed her Baby Born. It was the kind that you could give water to with a special baby bottle. The liquid would drain through the baby and come out the other end, wetting its special $2 Brand name disposable diaper. Of course this got old fast, so my daughter tried feeding the doll something more solid. It was really hard to press into the tiny mouth hole so she went in search of a sharp pointy instrument to help her stuff the food in. Gruesome.)

I started searching the internet to see if I could find the study I had heard about on this NPR program and that is when things started to get really dark.

patty reed doll

The first page I found was called “10 Freaky Dolls You Don’t Want To Play With”.  It immediately caught my attention because #10 was “Patty Reed’s Doll”. The author explains . . .

“. . . Patty, eight years old, was traveling to California in 1846 with her family and other pioneers, a group known to history as the Donner Party. As you may well already know, this group of travelers became snowbound and turned to eating bits of leather, mice, old bones—and, finally, each other.”

I know from my older sister – who is our family’s genealogy expert – that we are the direct descendants of someone who was in the Donner Party and that we have direct ancestors named “Reed”. It made me wonder if this very doll witnessed the addition of cannibalism to my gene pool. The question distracted me for an hour or so as I rummaged through the thousands of pages of my sister’s genealogical research. I finally gave up and returned to the original quest.

The search terms I tried out led me into the internet world of Barbie rage. Images started popping up of “Average Barbie”, “Barbie at 50”, “Plus-size Barbie”, “Bald Barbie” , “Divorced Barbie” . . . I remembered joking once about how the company should bring out a “Shoe Fetish Barbie” or a “Bulimic Barbie”. I wondered . . . .

Sure enough.

There was one final image that ended my foray into this topic. It was a Barbie kneeling on a kitchen floor with cleaning supplies around her. I thought, “That’s funny!” but then noticed that what she was mopping up was a big pool of blood. I looked more closely and then finally saw it: Ken’s decapitated body hanging on the wall and his head stuffed sideways into the open fridge.

I confess, I actually started feeling just a little bit sorry for Barbie. She may be a disappointingly empty-headed, strange-bodied, rage-inducing, useless, soon-to-be-garbage piece of smiling plastic, but, . . . hey, . . .

. . . at least she’s not a cannibal.

It’s April 11th

I once commented to my sister about her “interesting relationship with her mail”. I said it after wondering for quite a while about all the piles of unopened envelopes and catalogues and various sundry paper things scattered around her kitchen and pantry. She just waved her hand in a dismissive gesture and made a sound that clearly signaled disgust. At the time, I didn’t understand her attitude. Mail was cool! Mail was news from home! Mail brought pleasant and unexpected surprises!

I have to say now that I have totally come around to her perspective on things.

I don’t know how most people deal with their mail, but I take the short walk to our mailbox about once a week on average. On the way back, I stop at the paper recycling bin placed strategically between the mailbox and our front door to dump all the advertising flyers, uninteresting catalogs, and anything addressed to “Household” – that is about 95% of it. For a few fleeting seconds, I reflect on the energy and resources (trees!) used up for the completely senseless conception, gestation, birth, and long journey of these materials, none of whom will ever fulfill their transient purpose in life. Upon arriving at their destination, they go unheeded and are summarily dumped. As I shut the lid of the bin, I hear the pathetic dying echoes of their calls: “SALE!!” – “Act NOW while the offer lasts!” – “For a limited time only!” – “Buy One – Get One Free!”

The rest of the mail gets carried into the house and added to the pile on the front hall cabinet -to be dealt with at some un-predetermined future date. The only exceptions are differently colored envelopes and anything I had to sign for. The pile grows for several weeks until it reaches a height that threatens to topple over. At that point, I find some time to deal with it all. With the waste paper basket at my side, I slit open the envelopes one-by-one and sort the contents into groups. Toss, File, Pass On, Deal With Soon, and Deal With Yesterday.

The first group, Toss, is self-explanatory.

Anything from a bank or insurance company goes into the File pile, whereby “file” means “throw it into that wooden box in the office and deal with it later”. The wooden box also includes all of the receipts, work contracts, bank statements, etc. from the past 11 months.

Pass On is really just code for “let the husband handle it”.

A lone-standing bill or one paired with only a single reminder goes onto the Deal With Soon pile.

The Deal With Yesterday pile is usually reserved for bills with two or more reminders including penalties or vaguely threatening references to possible legal action. I say “usually”, because today, a letter from the Finance Ministry was added to that pile. In a paternalistic tone, they expressed their disappointment in me for not submitting my 2014 tax returns yet. They set a new deadline for next Tuesday.

They’re trying to ruin my four-day weekend.

Now, instead of wallowing in lethargy like I did last weekend, I am going to have to deal with the contents of the wooden box.

Goodbye and Have a Nice Life

My teenage daughter is in a crappy mood and won’t – or can’t – say why. She has been giving me grunt-like, one-syllable answers when I ask her anything. Meanwhile, her cell phone is permanently positioned 16 inches in front of her face. The expression on that face makes it clear that the little device is not making her happier.

I’m wondering if this mood has to do with something she told me a few days ago – how she had decided to delete (or was it “block”? or “unfriend”?) one of her contacts – a member of her former class.

Before she switched to a new school, she had spent four years sharing a classroom with 23 other kids and a lot happened in that time. My daughter was elected “Class Speaker” for the last two years during which she earned her nickname: “The Socializer”. At the end of her last year, a boy who would probably have been bullied or cast out in a different class handed her a letter. In it, he thanked my daughter profusely for how much she had helped him to find his place in the group. He wrote that she would always be a very important person in his life.

She has always had a huge heart and I noticed a long time ago that once she lets someone into it, they stay there forever. It made me a little worried that some (boy) down the road could potentially hurt her very badly. I hinted to her many times that she would need to learn to protect that huge heart of hers – that there might be some people out there who don’t deserve a place in it. All the while, I sort of knew that she didn’t really understand me, that experience would end up being her teacher. And that there was no way for me to spare her from that. I could only be there afterward to help pick up the pieces and patch them back together.

I’m not sure that something like heartbreak is the reason for her present mood. I only know that it is a very big deal for her to be “unfriending” anyone.

That is where kids are today. They can’t simply move on to bigger and better things because the little device in their pockets keeps them connected to everyone they ever met. No one ever says “Goodbye” anymore.

In all of my travels, I met and connected with so many people in a time-limited way. With many it was clear from the start that a “Goodbye and Have a Nice Life” was somewhere off in the future. Of course, we didn’t say that expressly – there was often a pro-forma exchange of addresses and a (very likely empty) promise to keep in touch, sometimes even a letter or two in the mailbox before the relationship officially petered out. The point is that our lives intersected for a while and then one or both of us moved on with no hard feelings.

Of course, here and there a connection was made with sticking power – friendships that continued over time and despite distance. But these were the wonderful exceptions. There were also incidences of people suddenly and unexpectedly reappearing after years. Like an emailed apology I once got – twenty years after the fact – from an ex-boyfriend who had dumped me. (Can you spell “mid-life crisis”?) On the brighter side, there are the friendships that can be neglected for years but then simply pick up where they left off when the opportunity arises.

Time and distance sorted all this out for us. We didn’t have to actively disconnect from – or “unfriend” – anyone.

On the first day at her new school, my daughter’s new class set up their Whats App group and started carefully approaching one another via text message. In the classroom, they were all quiet and shy – hardly speaking with one another. In the evening the messages flew rapid-fire back and forth. In between, she monitored the goings on of her old class. She was neither here nor there. How can you ever arrive at a new place if you never leave the old one?

Technology today makes communicating with friends so much easier and not communicating with not friends so much harder.

I told my daughter that there will come a day when she has trouble remembering the names of the kids in her old class. She didn’t believe me. I’m not sure anymore if I should believe me.

Mental Adjustments

Daylight Savings Time is such a pain. I’ve had to adjust my mental systems for how to read all the clocks in my house. The bedroom clock is connected to some world clock by radio waves so it is always right. My laptop seems to have changed itself too, so that’s okay. My cell phone also reset itself, and it is still five minutes ahead, but I try to forget that fact so that I get places on time. The library clock was always set at DST, so I have to stop adding an hour there and start subtracting an hour from the hall clock, instead. My car clock used to be easy to read – I just added three hours and subtracted 3 minutes from whatever time it showed. Now I have to add only two hours and that will be harder to remember. I might reset it to one minute later so that it is plus two/minus two.

Winter is Coming

yuccaMeet my nemesis:

This is the Yucca-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless that I once prematurely eulogized. (“Master Whacker”). Once again he has returned from the brink. Once again, he has fought his way back from the houseplant dumping grounds near the compost pile. I just brought him back into the house for the winter.

Please join me in observing a moment of silence to honor his tenacity and lament his impending doom.

My Velveteen Rabbit

gbm5While picking up the house today, I found Gingerbread Man stuffed way into the back of the nightstand. It’s been years since I’ve seen him and despite his forlorn and dusty state, we had a sweet reunion. He might not seem like much, but he has led an interesting, if not always easy, life.

If family legend is to be believed, he was my very first Christmas present. My grandma made a stuffed animal for each of the five kids that year – and he was mine. He has been my companion ever since. He went to summer camp and sleepovers. He took part in a high school exchange program and went to Austria in his teens. He studied in Germany for a year. He went to Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and the Philippines. He immigrated to Austria.

His college years were especially eventful. It started harmlessly with a lot of dorm room parties, but the pictures from those days tell a story of constantly increasing abuse. In one he is being bitten, in another someone is sitting on him and laughing. A particularly gruesome photograph shows him hanging from a ceiling lamp and me in the process of cutting him down. He also lost an eye at some point, but I can’t remember the circumstances. Once he suffered serious burn injuries when my roommate chose a reading lamp as the place to hide him. I came home and turned on the light – a few minutes later, smoke appeared and the smell of burned yarn filled the air. He ended up being patched and re-stuffed by my very remorseful roommate’s mother. The scars on his back are still visible.

gbm2Then the kidnappings started. I would come home to find a note on my bed in the place where the Gingerbread Man usually lay. At first it was just Twinkies, but the ransoms kept getting bigger. Once I had to pay two whole pizzas to get him back. But that wasn’t the worst part. The ransom notes were so vicious – calling him “the little brown turd” and worse. Threatening that if I complied with their demands, I might see him again before spring break. “If not, IT’S LAMPSHADE TIME!!!!!!!!”

Gingerbread Man was so relieved when we finally graduated and moved back to Europe. The first few years were peaceful and full of travels to exciting new pillows. But then we got married and that didn’t work out too well for him. My husband said he was ugly and objected to him lying on our bed. (That is how he ended up in the dark nightstand.) Later, when I showed him to my daughters, their reaction was along the lines of “Eeeewww!” Something tells me they won’t be fighting over who gets to inherit him one day. I may have to take him with me when I go.

Whitewaterfosterlewinskybosniangunfire- benghaziprivateserveremailgate

I actually watched some of Hillary Clinton’s testimony in the Benghazi hearings today. Not that she did much talking. During the hour or so that I saw, she mostly sat there listening to long drawn out speeches I mean “questions”. She was usually given about 15 seconds to untwist the words, correct the record and shift the focus back toward reality before being arrogantly interrupted, contradicted, or indirectly accused of lying.

I have always liked Hillary, but was never a devotee. I didn’t vote for her in 2008 and am still undecided for 2016, but I have to say, she rose in my estimation today. In a million years, I could never have mustered the same patience and self-control necessary to deal with the likes of Trey Gowdy.

Trey Gowdy. I heard that name many times before ever seeing it written. In my mind, I spelled it “Très Gaudi” – with “très” being French for “very” and “Gaudi” being the Austrian slang word for “good time”. It is fitting somehow – he is the only person in that room having a very good time. He is clearly basking in what must be the pinnacle of his fifteen minutes I mean months of fame. As I watched him I found myself wishing he would just go away.

I also found myself thinking about my grandfather.

When I was a child, we visited my grandparents every Sunday. When we walked in the door, my grandfather would hand my mom a dry Martini and my grandmother would whisk us five kids off to some arts and crafts project or a ball game in the yard. Later, after a good German meal like sauerbraten or beef roulade, a lot of us would congregate around the TV for the Sunday football game. On rainy days or Sundays in non-football seasons, there was a cabinet full of games to play. Chinese Checkers was my favorite.

There was a time, though, when I was 10 or 11 years old, when the usual routines were interrupted. We arrived at the grandparent’s house to find my grandpa glued to the TV, watching a bunch of serious men talking about something serious in a serious looking room. I sat with him for a while, trying to figure out what the allure of this program was. I didn’t understand the significance of the show, but I understood what it was doing to my Grandpa. He was captivated. He was devastated. His whole world was crashing down around him. It was really, really bad.

Watergate was a real thing.

Whitewaterfosterlewinskybosniangunfirebenghaziprivateserveremailgate . . . is not a real thing.

At some point, the Republicans realized that if they simply repeated something often enough, people would remember it and  begin to think it is real and important. Psychologists even have a name for this – it is (unfortunately) called the “availability heuristic” – a term absolutely no one understands. Thankfully, Wikipedia explains:
“The availability heuristic operates on the notion that if something can be recalled, it must be important, or at least more important than alternative solutions which are not as readily recalled.”

What does all this mean? It means that if you remember it, it must be important. It means that if Hillary Clinton’s opponents keep harping about “Clinton” and “scandal” in the same sentence, it will eventually become memorable and “true”: “Clinton”=”scandal”.

Whatever those men were talking about for 11 hours, it was not a scandal. But I think my grandpa would be just as devastated. He would be devastated about what a joke our politics have become. A very good joke. A really good time. Très Gaudi.