Epizoodiks & Purple Cows

“Epizoodiks” is southern slang for short, persistent coughs. It’s also a tribute to my Muddy, Kathleen Critzer, who uses the term often whenever anyone gets sick. “Do you have the epizoodiks?” she’ll ask. She’s my grandmother, but everyone calls her “Muddy”. It’s funny, too, her name is Kathleen, but she hates it and insists that everyone call her Katherine. At 93 years old, whatever she wants us to call her is fine with us.

I’m not sure where “Muddy” came from. Mother? Who knows, but I remember my friends teasing me growing up. “Doesn’t she wash? Why is she so dirty? So muddy?” they’d ask gleefully. I love her fiercely and would defend her defiantly. “That’s her name idiot!” as if anyone could ask such a stupid question.

Muddy grew up in The Grottoes, just west of Waynesboro, Virginia, near Staunton. Her father owned a farm, and when she married my grandfather, he worked every acre of that farm. Both my mother and aunt were born in the front bedroom. I think my Mama had a pet duck. Muddy was happy to move into town, though, when Mama was about 5, her sister 4. “Better heat in the winter” she’d say. My sis has a picture of Mama and Shirley from this time, they’re so young, holding hands out in front of the old farmhouse. I wish I had a copy.

I’ve been out to the old farm, still standing. The big white house, the fields. It’s beautiful. We’d never go in the house, but Grandaddy always made sure we realized that he worked every acre of land we could see, as far as our eyes can see, he’d proclaim, sweeping his arm to and fro.

The old farm is near a purple cow. Yep, you heard me a purple cow. We’d never make a visit out to the old homestead without stopping to say hi to the purple cow.

I called the blog “epizoodiks” because that’s what it is. Little coughs. Little proclamations, memories, comments. Little epizoodiks. I looked up the term, and it actually means an epidemic occuring in animals. But that’s not how Muddy used it, and that’s not how I want it to be thought of. Jeez, it’s not a sickness, more of an annoying itch, something to be scratched, or loosened, coughed up and gotten rid of and put somewhere.

She always spells out stuff too, as if we can’t spell. Of course when we were younger we couldn’t. She’d say, “You better drink that before it gets as warm as P-I-double S” and in our minds we’d spell it out, our minds would register the fact that Muddy just cussed! and we’d say, “Awwwwwwww! That’s a BAD WORD” before laughing hysterically. She’d laugh too.

And everything we drank was “a Pepsi”. It might be Dr. Pepper, Coke, Sprite, or Mr. Pibb (remember that?) but to her it was Pepsi. “You want a Pepsi?” she’d ask.

And I always remember her wiping down the oilcloth tablecloth in the kitchen. When our small family of four visited, that’s where we hung out most of the time. Her kitchen had an old swinging door which creaked, and we’d walk through and sit at the old red formica table in the breakfast nook, a tight squeeze. She’d wipe off the oilcloth covering the formica (that swish swish noise of wet dishrag on oilcloth is a sound I’ll never forget) before serving up cherry vanilla ice cream, homemade coconut cake and Pepsi. That cake must’ve had 8 layers. It was gigantic and light as air. She’d serve it up, and then sit on one of those high kitchen stool slash chairs that all the kitchens in the 1950’s had. I’ve got one today. It was like she wanted to be ready at a moment’s notice to get us another slice, another scoop, another Pepsi.

She always cut our peanut butter toast into 9 small squares when we had breakfast. It was our special “Muddy” way of having peanut butter toast. When Mama tried to do that at home, it just wasn’t the same. The peanut butter toast always tasted better in Muddy’s kitchen.

She had one of those yellow, plastic fiesta-ware pitchers full of ice water in her fridge. It tasted so good.

She has long grey hair to her waist, but keeps it pinned up underneath a black wig. Jackie-O style. I love that long grey hair though, and always wondered why she kept it hidden. It just kept growing under that bouffant wig.

And Muddy always says, “Heck” when you tell her an amazing fact or unbelievable story. She’ll put one arm up, her chin in her hand, and as she’s listening to you she’ll shake her head back and forth and breath out the word, “Heeeeeeeeeeck” every so often. As if to say, “Well, I never” or “Oh my God, what you’re telling me is just too good to be true”. It’s her little way.

As I grow older, I appreciate more these little epizoodiks. I miss her coconut cake, her kitchen table. I wished we lived closer. I’m afraid I won’t find out her story, her history, before she’s gone. I’m starting to look more like her which I find scary and comforting at the same time. Big Love Muddy.

State Tests and Strip Clubs

So I’m a teacher. I teach 8th grade Language Arts – at least for the next 65 school days. I’m quitting this year. After 7 years I’m totally burned out. On our system, on the administration, on my colleagues, on the parents, to some extent on the kids. It’s just too toxic. Now, I don’t want to spend my blog-time ranting and raving and whining on the reasons why. That’s boring to everyone, even me. I don’t want sympathy either, I knew what I was signing up for.

Hell, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be accomplishing here with this space. Maybe it’s more important not to think too much about what the goal is. As long as I feel something is important enough to put down, I’ll just put it down without another thought.

So last week was our big state writing test. Our esteemed leader has declared that no child be left behind, and so I spend most of my 180 days busting my ass, doing cartwheels in front of a bunch of kids to cajole them into creating original masterpieces of writing for this test. It’s very tough, but at times gratifying. I like to compare it to serving meatloaf every night for dinner. It’s the same old stuff, but you decorate it in a different way so the kids don’t know what they’re eating.

We go through countless hours learning the writing process, practicing freewrites, creating and revising drafts, discussing graphic organizers, all so that during one three-day marathon of writing, which really only includes two questions, they can dazzle the “judges” with their technique.

By the end of last week I was exhausted. I felt like a teacher, cheerleader, dictator, mentor, coach, guru, and incompetent asshole all at the same time. I knew by the end of it that probably a few would really create something good, most would just squeak by, and a few would be totally lost, because frankly, they are always totally lost.

This still grates on me though, and keeps me up nights. I just have never been able to accept in my gut that I can’t “get through” to everyone. It bugs me to no end. Which, I know, led to this burnout.

Anyway, the one persuasive question they had was pretty simple. An anonymous donor has given your community $100,000 to improve the area. Convince community leaders what you would do with the money. Most suggested things like a rec center, repairing potholes in the road, bringing back our language program (which they canceled last year due to lack of funding).

However, two students wrote, at length, they thought the money should be used to open a strip club. And they were dead serious. On a state test. In 8 to 10 paragraphs.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m not going to get through to everyone. But I read these and felt like I had been shot in the gut. Now the one kid despises me, for whatever reason, so I know his was a personal jab at my own “technique” in the classroom or whatever. He feels the need, as he says, “to keep people on their toes” which I could respect if his actions had any substance behind them. Imagine an unfunny Tom Greene and you’ll get a better picture of what I’m talking about.

But the other kid is a writer, he writes all the time. We’ve discussed his writing at length. When I asked him about his motives for writing this, he very plainly said that he thought the idea was a good one.

How do you compete with that? When I found out he was serious, I was speechless. I had no idea how to respond. I made some half-hearted comments about “knowing your audience” but inside I was thinking…….hell, I wasn’t thinking anything, my mind was totally blank. Inside, I was throwing up my hands. It’s not that I wanted to quit per se, I just felt like David up against Goliath, without even a slingshot to protect me. Is it his home life? The culture we live in? What?

Johari Window

Wow! This is so interesting, and scary at the same time:

“The Johari Window was invented by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingram in the 1950s as a model for mapping personality awareness. By describing yourself from a fixed list of adjectives, then asking your friends and colleagues to describe you from the same list, a grid of overlap and difference can be built up.

You are reading this page because Nee Nee wants to know how you’d describe him or her – pick the five or six words from the list below that you think describe Nee Nee the best. (You can set up your own Johari Window afterwards, if you like.)”

Okay, I’m totally interested, and totally freaked out at the same time. Go to this link, and try it, if you dare! Bwaahahahahahaha! 🙂 Big love.

p.s. I just noticed there is also a “darker” Nohari window. Whoa. I might be “courageous” but not THAT courageous! :0)

Thank You Laura, Thank You Jackson…

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So I get home yesterday to a pile of mail, mostly bills. I open something that I think is junk mail, only to find that it’s a thank you letter and handwritten note from “The Community Foundation” who started a memorial endowment for the Harvey Family. The hubby and I had sent some money a while ago, along with a condolence note, and our prayers. What I got in response was so unexpected, caught me so off guard, that I started to weep and had to sit down. Laura Loe has created a beautiful painting depicting the family (above) and a postcard of this painting was included with the letter. The note attached was so heartfelt and personal, that along with the painting is what really got me. It captures their spirit, the essence of who they are so completely.

That same night I by chance heard the song “For a Dancer” by Jackson Browne for the first time, and I pictured the girls dancing, Kathryn dancing, Bryan strumming his guitar. I think it was really the first time since this whole thing happened that I felt that warm flame of LIFE for them in my heart. It’s weird how the world seems to send you signs sometimes. Today’s signs said to me, “Everything is okay.” I love, love, love when that happens.

Celluloid Cow

Once again, I began this blog to remember the Harveys, but it seems to have turned into something more. The more I remember it seems, the more I remember.

I was thinking yesterday of something that I bought at World of Mirth when I worked there, back when it was still upstairs from Exile. I’ve already talked about this, but I worked for store credit. At the time, I needed furniture, and it worked out well for me anyway because every time I walked in there I wanted to buy up half the store.

Red mexican candles in huge glass containers that were supposed to bring you love if you burned them long enough, quirky mexican postcards and greeting cards. Stacks of vintage postcards. Winkies…..those little pictures that moved if you held them a certain way. Kathryn began my collection of winkies that I still try to add on to when I find them. A tiny little man strums a guitar, and in another a girl picks up a phone while her friends in the background dance the “frug” when you flick your wrist ever so slightly up and down. I still have these, I turned them into refrigerator magnets, even though they couldn’t really hold up as much as a piece of tissue paper.

At one point I bought a celluloid cow. It lived under her counter for the longest time. No one wanted this small item, probably because it had been damaged, a small rip up one side. It was so thin, so fragile and brittle. Celluloid was what they made the first plastics from, and it didn’t hold up – remember all those old films that would burn at the drop of a hat? This cow looked like it would do that if you breathed on it, just burst into flames right there like a magic trick.

I wanted it though – I couldn’t believe something made of celluloid had lasted so long, plus I collect bulls, always have. Yeah, it was a cow, but it had enough of that toughness, that stubborness that it could pass. It had lasted all these years despite being created out of some gossimer-thin ancestor of plastic, right?

And I bought it, and set it on a shelf———–somewhere. Today I have NO IDEA where this bull is. I’ve looked and looked, but nothing. It’s like I put it in such a special place, so it wouldn’t get damaged further, so that it would survive, and now I can’t find it. It’s somewhere safe though, I’m sure of it. I think Kathryn would like that, that my collectible, my fragile bull (oxymoron?) is somewhere so safe as to be nowhere. If you can’t find the celluloid bull, does it still exist? Or did it go up in flames when you weren’t looking?


Gabbora, whose name I’m probably spelling completely wrong, was Mimi’s pitbull mix who watched over her and the customers at Exile on Grace Street. This blog, by Mollie who used to work at Grace Place next door, brought a lot of memories back.

Exile was the completely cool store that sat on Grace Street, and I hope still sits there, next to the Biograph Theater. It was full of all the accessories a punk or punk wannabe would need: Doc Martens, Manic Panic hair dye, studded bracelets and belts, body jewelry, as well as vintage clothing, shoes, and bags. I also remember the walls being studded with T-shirts of old blues guys: Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell. I had just discovered Blues music, and I remember wondering if being blind was a pre-requisite or something.

Mimi used to tell me it was the sale of Manic Panic that kept her in business, she couldn’t keep the stuff in stock. I wonder if that’s still true.

Gaborra patrolled the store, along with her companion, a half-blind husky whose name I forget. Gaborra was all black, and looked menacing, but was actually a big teddy bear who loved having her belly rubbed. She was a big, sweet thing who everyone at first feared, then fell in love with.

Mimi had named her after “Gaborra, the Gorilla Girl” a sideshow freak who performed, and for all I know still performs each year at the Virginia State Fair. A scantily-clad female appears in a cage, the sideshow barker comes out, and makes his pronouncements. “No one has ever seen the likes of GA—-BOR—A!” and “You will be stunned, speechless, amazed!” Then, the lights lower and change, and while the barker begins to shout, growing louder and louder with each word “Gaborra, Gaborra, Gaborra, Gaborra, Gaborra…..” the woman turns into a gorilla right before our eyes. It’s a trick of the lights I know, but the show is such a spectacle and so hilarious in its “fakery” that you can’t help but love it.

Mollie’s blog reminded me about Grace Place – I remembered there was an awesome vegetarian place next door but couldn’t remember the name. Kathryn, Mimi and I would make food and drink runs there constantly since it was so nearby. Great food, and I loved the patio they had out back. I had quite a few dates, blind and otherwise, back there and I distinctly remember asking my roommate Kim to watch my cats so I could go to Scotland, and was stunned when she agreed. It’s weird what you remember when you think of a place.

Mollie also helped me remember about the “draft door” at Exile. Mollie explains this better than I can, but basically, there was a vestibule before you came in the store, where the $1 rack was. If you didn’t shut the door firmly, it would come back open. Mimi was always making sure the dogs wouldn’t “make a run for it” or you wouldn’t let out the heat in the winter. “Shut the door please!” was a constant request, particularly around September, when the new crop of “just arrived at art school and need to express myself” young folks would come tramping through the door.

I remember I had a great pair of green Israeli Army boots I bought from Exile, and wore for years and years until they fell apart.

I remember a guy completely covered in tattoos who worked there. When I found out that he got tattoos because the pain of the needle took his mind off the screaming pain of the headaches he always had, I was filled with sympathy and a new appreciation of the “Don’t judge a book…” thing.

I remember Mimi recommending a tattoo guy to me when I finally decided to overcome my own fear of needles enough to get one, the first of many of my own, I hope, but that’s a WHOLE other story.

I remember having a huge crush on a guy who worked the counter, but can’t remember now what he looked like or his name. Just remember my heart beating out of my chest practically when I would shut the creaking door, walk cooly to the back of the store, and pretend to browse through the vintage bags, my weakness.

I remember Mimi’s black bob, which I was always jealous of because my face was too round to wear in such a Louise Brooks style. Mimi was generous to a fault, could be gruff when she wanted, and I was always a little intimidated by her, even when I worked upstairs at World of Mirth. She taught me to swing dance, she exposed me first to the people of the Blues, and African Art (along with her Mom, who had this great shop out on 301 in an antique market). I’m sure they never knew it, but she and Kathryn were two of the first people who made a little, dorky girl from Northside feel not so freakish, but accepted. They helped me come out of the thick shell of fear I had built around myself by the time I was 20.

Whew, that’s a lot to admit on a Friday. But it’s true. Thanks ladies. Big Love.

Big Love…

…so why do I sign off many of my posts with “Big Love” ? It’s a tribute to my friend Scott Nichols. I’ve lost touch with him, in fact, have no idea where he is these days or even if he’s still alive. But he always said, “Big Love” to me at the end of every phone conversation, every visit. A big hug, and “Big Love”.

It’s such a silly way to say so long. But I like it. It has heft in some weird way, it feels good to say it, while at the same time it’s silly enough without being too hokey. At the same time, it’s so over the top “hokey” that you can’t help but grin (or roll your eyes) when you hear it.

I remember Scott and I going to Christopher’s, this dive bar in Richmond that’s not there anymore. We made a bet with each other that we couldn’t get thrown out of the “worst” bar in Richmond (next to the Broadway of course) before proceeding to do just that. We got so drunk, began to act like a couple having a halacious fight, and got thrown out. It was spectacular.

I remember going to visit Mark Phillips’s quilt square with him on the Mall in Washington, the last time the AIDS quilt was ever presented in its entirety. Up to that moment, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I remember Ouzo-filled nights, and a drunken road trip to Atlanta. We passed by the giant peach at about 2 in the morning, and thought it was a hallucination. Then we stopped at a Wafflehouse for sausage and egg sandwiches. He stayed in the car, too paranoid to come in. I watched the guy making the sandwiches, and to this day, I think that was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Wafflehouse, our oasis in the night.

Scott is a breath of fresh air, a spitfire, a silly, irresponsible, full of life, hell-bent kind of man. He never learned to take care of himself, always self-destructive, always relying on the care of others to help him through. And he would fully admit this to anyone who called him on it. This honesty made him even more appealing.

Unfortunately, this is what also ultimately made me pull away. I just couldn’t bear anymore to see him destroy himself with drink and drugs.

Now, I can’t help kicking myself for being so damn judgemental. He’s been through an awful lot in his life. Dammit, he’s got every right to drown his sorrows any way he can. At the time I couldn’t see this, I could only think of my own plight and worry that if I didn’t do something to get my own life “right” and surround myself with people who did the same, I would never be happy and free of those crutches so many people lean on.

It’s not as if I don’t have crutches of my own, even now. Judge not, right?

If I saw him today, I’d give him a huge hug and apologize over and over for being such a crap friend. I had a dream once that I did just this, and awoke with tears on my face. I hope this dream comes true. Scott, if you’re out there, I’m so sorry, I miss you, and “Big Love”.