Saturday, January 30, 2010

Woman on the Rocks!

The Scene:

A winter Sunday at the Jersey Shore. Waves are big and messy. Water temp, 40 degrees. Air temp, less.

The Players:

My three surfing friends: Sunday, Pete and Clint (with ass crack showing). And me.

Oh and let's not forget....

The Jetties

The Tale:

It's a big wave day - big for the Jersey shore at least. 6 - 7 foot waves, hollow, fast. Arriving at our surf spot late, I'm amped up but a little nervous. I make sure my wetsuit is on properly. You can't mess around in this temperature. It's a few degrees above freezing after all.

I run onto the beach and Sunday is getting out of the water already. What? Sunday is a marathon surfer. She'll stay in forever. She has a frozen smile on her face but something appears to be wrong.

"What happened?"

"I got hit in the leg with my board. And the paddle out is a bitch. Walk up north a while. The current is strong. You'll get pulled toward the jetties quickly."

Quick lesson: paddling out is the most strenuous part of surfing. It's when you are literally swimming upstream. Once you are out past the breakers, you can sit on your board and catch your breath and wait until you're ready to grab a wave. Until then, you are in danger zone.

 Me last winter, paddling out and punching my board through
an oncoming wave.

Now if you're paddling out and there's a current, you have added problem. You need to paddle out quickly so you don't accidentally hit these:

Jetties are rocks used to prevent beach erosion. Slimy unyielding rocks.

Pete has gotten out of the water as well. He says the same thing: "Give yourself some distance. The current is strong."

Okay, fine. So I start walking up the beach, away from the jetties, about a 1/8 of a mile so I have lots of room to get pulled down and still make it past the jetties. Which are rocks. Slimy, sharp...oh I told you.

But suddenly, I see a lull. Calm as a lake for a second! Go, go! I decide to forgo advice and paddle out just a little closer to the jetties. I can make it out in puhlenty of time. It's easy.

Leaping into the ice cold ocean water, I begin my paddle out. Interesting...that lull seems to have suddenly disappeared, replaced by a set of large waves heading toward me. Not a problem. I'll rock it. I'll just get past these waves, the lull will return, and I'll be fine.

Looking over to the right, I see the jetties a little closer than I remembered only a minute ago, but I still have a good amount of distance. Not nervous yet...nope, nope, nope. 

Then a larger wave hits me directly and I rag doll around. When I finally resurface, I look to the right and what do my wide eyes see?

Hello large objects.

Oh, this is bad. Really bad. I'm only a few feet from the jetties now. If the next wave hits me, it will put me on top of those rocks. I jump off the board and start swimming furiously in the other direction. This is a silly move but what happens when you panic.

At this point, I can feel the pulling action of the jetties. The jetties have currents swirling around them. To be caught in one of these currents is an unmistakable sensation. You can't move. It's nature's supermagnet. You don't stand a chance. 

I see an approaching wave. I know this is the one. The waves lifts me up like on a wrestler's shoulder and slam, right on the rocks. I lay there for a moment, stunned. At the shoreline, I see Sunday, Pete and Clint in a stunned panic, not sure what to do. Sunday has her hands over her mouth.

There's nothing they can do. Short of an airlift, nobody can get to me. It's too dangerous.

I look behind me and realize the fun has only just begun. Another wave hits. Slam, lift, slam!

You're in a mild state of shock and everything slows down to a surreal craw. You notice small things, unable to take in the big picture. There's seaweed on my face. I wish I wasn't here right now. I hope my board is all right.

I belly-crawl over to my board and lift it up, determined not to let it hit the rocks again. BAM! Another wave hits and the board is taken again. How futile!

Damnit why must my my new board take a beating too? It's one of the only things I've purchased for myself in like a year. It was a gift to myself.

I can see the dings on it already. It looked so pretty and white before...hopeful. Now it's getting banged up repeatedly so it fits in with everything else in my life, including me at this moment.

Suddenly, Clint appears right next to me. He paddled out to the "safe" side of the jetties. He still needs to stay several yards away or he too could get sucked in, even on his side.

He shouts:

"You're in danger! You need to get off of the rocks now!"

Somehow I manage an ounce of sarcasm: "Ya think?"

"Are you alright?"

I check in with my body for the first time. Nothing is broken. Bruised, yes. Wetsuit, torn. My body feels strangely relaxed. Starfish, you're supposed to pose like a starfish when this happens (just in case you're ever caught on top of jetties.) Lay low, flat and outstretched. Don't even think of standing or even crawling....just let the waves wash you off, eventually. If you're lucky.

I look behind me and see another wave approaching. This time, I work with the propelling direction and it propels me off the rocks, rather smoothly. Like it escorted me to the door and let me out. Goodbye, sucker, it said to me.

I start paddling out to the breakers instead of heading back to the beach. Hell, I made it this far, right?

Clint paddles up to me.

"You're in shock. You know that, right?"

"Story of my life."

Later that night, I sit with Clint in front of the fire. The aches are beginning to set in and I pop an Advil or two.

"Why Clint? Why didn't I care about myself? Why did I only worry about my board?"



"Or ballsy."


"Maybe you just knew you'd be alright. Maybe God was with you."

"Maybe all of the above."

Me and few of my "war wounds":

This is a MUCH more extreme version of a difficult paddle out.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I'm the Most Underrated Actress I Know

Winter of 76...or was it '77? from Beth Mann on Vimeo.

This was written for Open Salon's Topic of the Week: Who's the Most Underrated Actor?"
This touching monologue is just one of Beth Mann's finer pieces. It's from a VERY indie film entitled "The Winter of 76...or was it 77?"

Note the force, the intensity behind her acting - the way she shifts from melancholy to horror and finally, to self-realization. Of course, she owes much to the hotshot cinematographer on the set, Beth Mann. And the firm but flexible guidance of director, Beth Mann. The writer, Beth Mann, also should be noted for her exposed yet sharp screenplay.

Now, some may say Jeff Bridges or Don Cheadle are underrated. Though both are not hurting for work, I'm sure. Their homes in Beverly Hills have been built, their sports cars paid off and trips to exclusive resorts have been planned.

But if you really want to understand underrated - like "I'm not getting paid for this shit" underrated, you'll have to give your vote to Beth Mann and about one million other artists out there.

Next week, Beth Mann will showcase her skills once again as she fends off bill collectors, fixes her  rusty muffler and figures out why she's getting shocked each time she touches the faucet in the kitchen in "Life Ain't for the Faint at Heart."

Sunday, January 03, 2010

the shabby heart of a closet princess

It’s not easy, letting someone into your home. Because then they see the holes in the walls, the off-kilter frames, the cobwebs in the corner.

It’s not easy, letting someone see you as you really are. Because then they see the worn look in your eyes, the clenched jaw, the slumped shoulders.

It’s not easy, letting someone in.

Big, black tie ball at the upscale hotel here. It’s New Year’s Eve and Clint, a Kurt Cobain-esque friend at the Jersey shore, doesn’t want to go “empty-handed.” He's shy and needs me as social reinforcement. He stands at my doorway and I’m wearing long johns, bowl of chips in hand.

“No way, Clint. Do I look like I have “ball” in me? And it’s 100 bucks. I can’t spend that right now.”

My budget is tight. It’s always tight. It wears me down in that soul-sucking way that only being broke can do.

“Well, I’m paying. Besides, I probably owe you anyway,” he mutters.

Yes, he does. Even though he and his family have a big beautiful home at the end of the street, the boys spend a good amount of time at my place. I feed them and give them clothes, booze and bad advice. Yeah, they totally owe me. But still…
Kyle, Kurt and Clint

And me

“No, Clint. I need to watch Criminal Minds and um, eat chips. Leave me alone.”

“You’re going. You said you were going last week.”

“I was drunk. Mind changed.”

“Let me see your dress.”

“Clint, please leave her alone.” (I sometimes refer to myself in 3rd person just to make people uncomfortable. I learned it from Buffalo Bill in the Silence of the Lambs.)

“Come on. Let me see it.”

I reluctantly walk into the bedroom and he follows. There it is, hanging from my closet door.  A long black, silky gown. Formal and pretty. Mocking me.
“Wow. It’s beautiful. Please, Beth. Come as my date.”

Clint and I aren’t romantically involved. I don’t date any of the brothers. That whole “don’t shit where you eat” philosophy, a phrase that always grossed me out but really sends the message. Having sex with them might cost me the only semblance of a family I have here. So I know what he means by a date. A make-believe date.
Looking at him standing in my doorway, tall and handsome in a Kurt Cobain kinda way, I realize a fake date with Clint may trump a show on abuse and murder. Maybe.

“Okay,” I mutter.

Great! Now get ready. It’s 10:30.”

Clint and I have this game when I undress in the bedroom. I don’t ask him to leave. He’ll go on the computer or do something to avert his eyes. And I enjoy it. The simple act of undressing with a man in my room feels warm and sexy.

I squeeze into this never-before-tight gown and begin hating myself almost instantly. Why doesn’t it fit like before? Why is it betraying me so? I start taking it off, with a groan.

“Let me see it first.”

“No, Clint. It’s wrong. It’s…”

“Let me see it!”

I turn around and his pale blue eyes light up. A tight gown means something totally different to him, I realize.

“Perfect. Now keep going.”

But I can’t. I’m stuck in mud, suddenly. I want to cry and sink into a pile on the floor. I don’t feel good about myself. Somehow my loneliness feels highlighted by this dress, like I don’t deserve to be in it. A pervasive ugliness lays it unwelcome hands all over me.
Clint sees me struggling and takes over. He picks out some jewelry and shoes (which all seem kinda worn. I want new shoes. Why can’t I get new shoes, like other people?). He watches me apply makeup and tells me when to stop.

“Okay, that's enough. You’re pretty enough without it.” My face warms a little. The words feel good and hurt. Clint isn’t one for giving out compliments and I’m not one for being able to receive one lately.

Living in this house doesn’t help. It’s an old-ass house and while its been a familiar location and offered me the opportunity to start my own online marketing business, it’s still old-ass. My brother is a hoarder and doesn’t see the disrepair that everyone else does. Or he doesn’t choose to. I, on the other hand, can often see nothing but house’s shortcomings.

His shit was everywhere when I first moved in. It took me months to make it livable. I eventually hit a wall and could do no more. This house needs a fucking wrecking ball not a woman’s touch. Here’s your “woman’s touch” shit, anyway. Do we get paid for that magical touch of ours?

Several weeks ago, I had a date over for dinner. He saw the ceiling tiles in the living room, falling in from a leak in the roof.

“Your ceiling really need repaired,” he says offhandedly.

“Really? You free Wednesday?” I respond.
It’s easy for people with sturdy little houses and lives to make comments like that. They don’t understand the decades of dysfunction that brought us to this place.

Sitting in my bedroom after dinner, he looked around at the hodgepodge of artwork and chipped paint on my walls. My home offended his sensibilities. I could tell. If you think this place is a wreck, wait until you get to know me, dude. 
Clint is more used to my “mess.”

“Come on, Beth. Focus. It’s quarter of 11. Do your hair,” Clint says.

I brush my hair and pull it up on my head. Then take it down. Then put it back up.

“How about a glass of wine?”

“God yes. Please”

Clint leaves my bedroom and makes his way through the maze of blankets hanging throughout the doorways of the house. We have no central heat here. The bedrooms and the kitchen are heated by space heaters. The hanging blankets, like that leaking roof, inflame the shame, infect my spirit.

But Clint has seen my hanging blankets and falling tiles. He’s done repairs here. Not usually of this personal nature though.
When he comes back in the room, my tears have been neatly placed in the jewelry box.

“You look amazing.”

I try to smile.

"Is my room...awful?"

"What?" He looks around. "No. I always thought you room was kinda sexy, in a gypsy sorta way."
Sometimes I just want my home to be normal. The house I grew up in was nothing like the Joneses. After my dad died, my mother worked full-time and came home exhausted, depressed. The house suffered. Holes in the rugs and furniture, fleas on the dogs, dishes in the sink. I couldn’t stand it.

When I’d throw a slumber party, I’d clean that house all day yet feel so self-conscious and nervous when the other girls would arrive. You can’t clean away that “your home isn’t good enough” feeling, no matter how hard you scrub. One girl was allergic to fleas and got bitten repeatedly. She had to leave.

The next day, I sprayed bug killer everywhere, even on my bed and pillows. I’d be prepared for the next slumber party. As if there would be one. As if I could kill that feeling of shame with Raid.

I read once that shame is one of the most corrosive and useless of emotions. Guilt can spur an apology when needed, for instance. But shame? It serves no purpose other than to make you feel like shit. And like the stains on the curtains, its hard to get rid of.
Clint plays music on the computer as I finish my hair. That helps. My hips sway a little. I grab some red lipstick and take a sip of a nice Syrah I found.

It’s funny. Even with all my tenuous and tight budget, my tastes have continued to get finer, like I was waiting for wealth. My mother used to laugh at my lofty inclinations as a child.

“I swear, you’d think you’re a Rockefeller or something. I don’t know where you get it. Just a head’s up, girl – we’re poor!”
But she was the one who taught me to have good taste. Even on her puny secretary’s salary, we’d occasionally go to fine restaurants and expand our culinary horizons. She took me to the movies constantly, so I could "see the world." She taught me manners, good manners. Somehow I felt like a lady-in-training…just a broke one.

If I complained about the condition of our house, she'd bellow:

A house is supposed to look like it's lived in, damnit. You try raising 5 children on my salary! You try coming home and cooking dinner and cleaning. You see how it feels! No one appreciates the work I do. No one!"

The lipstick is a blazing red. After applying it, I “unveil” myself to Clint.
“Good enough?”

“Very much so,” he says shyly.
"Thank you, Clint," I say gratefully.

Oh, doesn’t he seem like the sweetest guy? Well, that's because this is a story.

Real life has fleas and worn spots in the rugs. In a few nights, Clint will “jokingly” tell me that I "owe" him money for the ticket he bought me. I will become livid and detail the countless meals I’ve fed him, the times he’s stayed at my place, borrowed my car...

No one appreciates the work I do! No one!

I explain how his jokes just ruin that special feeling I had New Year's Eve. She needs to hold on to that feeling right now. So back off. You hear me? Leave her alone!

But for now, for this night, the stars align and it’s New Year's Eve and Clint is my prince.

He puts my long black coat with a faux fur collar on me and opens up the front door, which is starting to fall of its hinges. We take a step out on the icy front porch, the wood creaking from age. The full moon and blast of arctic air instantly charge my spirits. The night becomes me suddenly.
I feel alive, very alive. I could probably fly there if I wanted. But I'd rather drive with Clint in his old red pick-up truck and sing to the tunes on the radio. We links arms, so I don’t slip on the icy steps. His arms feel so big and protective.

And for that moment, she feels safe and pretty.