An Open Letter to Jim of Dominion Gas

Dear Jim,

Truthfully, I’ve never been a champion of mankind. The furred and feathered are more my kind. I could say that a lot of disappointments and heartbreaks have tarnished my spirit and dulled my soul. But if we’re being honest, and I feel like you and I can be honest, Jim, I’ve been stuffing my pockets with catfood and waiting out the feral furries since I was a child. And I’ve spent a lifetime dodging human conversation or skillfully making others feel awkward enough that they back away slowly. Bit of a feral creature myself.

I don’t know who you thought you saw when you came to restore my new house’s gas today, but she must have been wild with desperation.

You rolled up in that house like a guy who turns on gas for a living. And you said, “Did you get the gas leaks fixed?” And my eyeballs bulged, and I said, “What gas leaks?” And you said, “The ones we came out and shut the gas off for in August of 2014.” And I said, “I just bought the house this August. No one told me about gas leaks.” And in my head I said, “Son of a bitch,” but my eyes said, “Help!” And you said, “Enh, let’s go take a look.”

“Whoa, you got some stuff going on.” I should have warned you about the bathroom vanity in the living room. “You gonna sand those wood floors?” I’m no stranger to the male-female dynamic, Jim. I am as handy as I need to be, and I need for you to know that. “Yes, sir.” I also need for you to know that I don’t know how to fix my gas leaks. “Honestly, I’ve never had gas before. What do I need to do?” You didn’t even laugh. You’re no stranger to gas jokes, but I wasn’t kidding.

I confessed to the clusterfuck of plumbing. Although fixable sometime in the future and much improved courtesy of my brother, the issues have caused me to finesse my squatting position within the confines of the bathtub as I urinate into a foam cup from my gas station Mountain Dew. I didn’t tell you about that because, frankly, it’s too soon in our relationship for bathroom habits to be aired during daylight hours. You eyeballed the moldy corner of my basement as I said that pretty much everything had burst last winter. And you nodded. I told you that the house must have been a do-it-yourselfer special, but I plan to do it better. Because I know how to look stuff up on google and I have man-hands. Two fingers already smashed. Then, I took it all back because I owe that little house love. “I’m still happy. I’m still excited.” You nodded and replied, “Good little brick house.”

Jim, when you squeezed your flashlight in the notch between neck and shoulder, when you leveraged one giant wrench and a smaller one apart to untwist the meter in a clear display of mechanical prowess, I knew that you were no stranger to toil. I am a head taller, but you’re the one with the pipes. Still leaking, so you looked over my small maze of black iron. Valves and joints and compounds and fractional sizes of stuff that I tried to log into my brain while you spoke. 3/4” valve, I repeated. I asked who to call, a plumber? But I was walking through hardware stores in my imagination, wondering where I could find the valves and how I could figure this out. Fractions and dollar signs performed a tiny jig behind my eyes. I said to you, “Okay, I’ll call a plumber. It would be good to have heat this winter. That would be ideal.” In my head I said, “Wait until this guy leaves to wallow in your bewilderment.” You were standing by the corpse of the water heater killed by old man winter, and you mumbled, “Ah, let me go check in my truck.”

I didn’t know what to do or where to go, so I followed you out. With spare parts in hand and a flashlight shining out of your pants pocket, you strutted back into the house. “You are about to make my day,” I said to your back. “I’m trying,” you replied.

I’ll be damned if you didn’t do it! Superman powers leveraged against 70-year-old furnace pipes, and it was a ridiculous thing to watch. For 15 minutes I stood swelling with the kind of thankfulness that rises when a stranger does you a solid. When you tried the lines again and proclaimed, “No leak!” I mini-clapped and gave a “yay!” You wanted more than a squeak, you said. And I asked your name and told you with the kind of earnestness that I’ve refined to cross into uncomfortable territory that I was so grateful. You mumbled, “I’d just rather see you spend your money somewhere else.”

You saw a crazy kid tumbling headlong into life, maybe misjudging just how many other tumbles she’s had, but accurately judging her direction.

This is a paper towel artist's rendering of Jim, who looked nothing like this.

This is a paper towel artist’s rendering of Jim, who looked nothing like this.

And so, Jim, hero for this day, thanks for being a kind person. Thanks for helping me to remember that people, with labyrinths of heart and nerves in their own beings, are kind. Thanks for investing your time into my vision. Thanks for giving me gas.


Little Brick House Lady

The Journey of Heroines and the Return of the Bionic Woman

Ed Asner I’d heard about. Lindsay Wagner was the real news. Lindsay “The Bionic Woman” Wagner. That’s how she signs her checks. Coming to my town to film a made-for-tv movie of fluff.

Once upon a time, I was not so bold as I am now. I was even shier, hiding under bangs, braces, and glasses. In 1994, my family moved from a rural Ohio town, where I’d lived with my siblings, rode my bike to see friends, and discovered my own “secret” spots by the creek near dumped tires and toilets, to an even more rural Ohio town. My minister father had landed his dream appointment, which landed me sans siblings or friends in a ranch house surrounded by cornfields on 3 sides. I started 7th grade with my Looney Tunes Sylvester t-shirt, Chuck Taylor All Stars, and Jansport backpack full of loneliness. Do you ask other 13 year-olds if you can sit beside them at lunch or do you sidle onto a bench unnoticed? Can you wrestle a sports bra on in the locker room without anyone seeing your boobs? How do you stay discrete with feminine hygiene? It’s hard to socialize when you work so hard to remain unseen. I was a phantom.

My mom kept this in her dresser. My sister and I 20 years ago. Phew.

My mom kept this in her dresser. My sister and I 20 years ago. Phew.

By 8th grade, I’d settled in and had the world by the tail! I cut my hair into a trapezoidal topiary and put drumsticks up my nose when the math teacher wasn’t looking. I found gal pals for sleepovers and bitchy-teen plotting. We were snarky at best. Yet, lining another girl’s locker in maximum absorbency pads didn’t create the bonding experience I desired. Friendships felt tenuous. The doctor told my mom I had an ulcer, though I now know that my stomach pain was caused by an aversion to defecating in public facilities. I missed more days than was permitted by the school district. Should have been held back. There was discussion. Administrators and my mom. But even the Man couldn’t deny my name on the honor roll. And Darlene Wallace wouldn’t hear any more about it. Straight A’s and staying home to watch my stories=winning. The school counselor asked me why I missed so much, if something was wrong. Nothing an obsession with 1970s reruns couldn’t fix.

Charlie’s Angels was the gateway drug of 1970s camp. It was on during the day, around 11am on a Turner channel. During my “sick days,” I watched it right after quality time in my precious turquoise and green lavatory. We didn’t connect though, Charlie’s Angels and me. Another challenge to my trust. There was too much flat-chested sexiness and personality conflict amongst the Angels. A man from a talking box bossed them around, and they packed the tiniest heat possible. Feminine heat. Excessive lip gloss. Guest appearance by Sammy Davis, Jr., and so many different Angels. Not my scene. No disrespect, Angel’s fans. And then, one afternoon on the Sci-Fi channel, The Bionic Woman and I found each other. Jaime Sommers wasn’t just another gangly lady with baby-sized pistols. She was the product of love, hope, and scientific badassery. Neither completely woman nor completely machine. A medical breakthrough and 5’9” of tough stuff. In her life before working for OSI, Jaime played professional tennis. She lost her parents in a tragic car crash only to survive a sky-diving accident herself years later. To survive it with the scientific improvements that enabled her to mop the floor with anti-‘mericans and meanies. She taught middle-schoolers on the side. Tall, smiley, and a little awkward. Smart, kind, and semi-reluctant to beat the spit out of baddies.

Strong and sexy. And then there's Steve, too.

Strong and sexy. And then there’s Steve, too.

Jaime Sommers is who I wanted to be. Her boss Oscar’s repeated use of the nickname, “Babe,” makes me regurgitate now. When I was 13-14? Jaime was solid enough to carry casual sexism, knowing all the while that she could crush Oscar’s manhood in her one bionic hand at any moment. Look out, Oscar! Here comes a Fembot. What is the greatest threat to the world? Strong, unthinking a-holes. What totally undermines a lady’s right to have rights? Physically strong and intellectually/emotionally weak Fembots. No one was fooled by your mechanical vaginas, Fembots. Least of all Jaime. My bionic hero fused force, strength, emotion, humanity, progression, thoughtfulness, intelligence, and audacity into one woman. This would be my evolution, I decided. A force of good and blondness flinging myself at life because I could handle any situation, save any basket of kittens, and reject any man so I might stay home and needlepoint Shakespeare quotes. Strong enough to be single while also getting nasty occasionally with Ken-doll Steve Austin; it’s my prerogative.

In three short seasons of reruns, Jaime and I had a kinship. Maybe this part of my life was the meaningless meandering of a growing kid brain and weird hormones. Who remembers puberty being described as blossoming? Ah, the gift of menstruation! I think that it was more. Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers was the intellectual and emotional being I saw in my own mother. But my mom’s body stayed broken. By the time my mom passed away last January, she had two femurs held by metal rods, plates, pins, and screws. Her knee, hip, and elbow had been replaced. Toes fused. Fingers curled around joint deformities. She walked with a cane as long as I remember and didn’t walk at all for the last 5 years of her life. That is reality. Medicine and science don’t make ordinary people into superhumans. Diseases like rheumatoid arthritis can make a vital woman full of love, brass, and her own kind of grace feel subhuman. Instead of recognizing the grit it took for my mom to get out of bed in the morning, I looked to Jaime Sommers to teach me how to be a phenomenal woman.

Square glasses, mirthless smile, jowls. Everything about my mom said,

Square glasses, mirthless smile, jowls. Everything about my mom said, “dictator.” I miss her, you know?

No one’s mom is cool when you are 13. Maybe there’s some well-adjusted, homeschooled, breastfed, genius uncontaminated by teenagerdom who thinks her mom is the bomb. Unnatural. It’s a mom’s duty to suck sometimes, and honestly, mine seemed to relish her tyrannical rule. Yeah, she was a fucking trooper trapped in a rapidly decaying body and struggling with the complications of tragedy, a whole lotta holy rolling, and narcotics in her brain. But when I was 13, she was a dictator turned master humiliater. It was like living out Kim Jong-Il’s blooper reel. She threw all 5’ of roundness at whatever she loved. She went to college when I was in kindergarten. Took on tiny, rural, woman-hating churches as pastor. I watched her, in the last weeks of her life, extend loving kindness to more nurses, aides, and random strangers than I can count. And in the ICU, I overheard her telling more than one person that I was hiding a pregnancy when she knew this oven to be militantly patrolled against buns. When I had ovarian cysts at 18, she notified the church community that 1)I had lady issues 2)I was still a virgin. Why did I confide in this woman? Because I trusted her above all others. Her kids were her proudest achievement, and, as youngest of 4, I was unable to escape the domicile before she’d worked her mommy magic. As the bond with a fictional late-70s crime fighting cyborg cannot be broken, neither can the bonds between my mom and me.

Who didn't want to be this lady at one point in life?

Who didn’t want to be this lady at one point in life?

From this vantage point, my life is a prairie. I see so much while wondering what is yet unexplored. Past, present, and future. The Bionic Woman was not who I expected to come back into my life to seduce me with her smile and incredible listening skills. But here she is! Or rather the actual human, Lindsay Wagner. Can she get me a deal on a Sleep Number Bed? Probably. I’d be a fool not to ask. Who do I want to share it with most? My evil but completely accepting and supportive mom. I have to do this for her. I have to honor the woman who watched me run through a screen door more than once, whistled from the audience when I played last-chair-position percussion instruments at band concerts, and allowed me to explore the chasms of quirkiness that make my personality. If I can’t track down and at least stand silently and awkwardly before Lindsay Wagner (and this tv movie production company says I can’t), then I hope she frequents the Dollar General, IGA,and Marathon station while in town. I must see her from afar, at least. You can’t break a self-made bionic spirit. I’m cross-stitching a pillowcase that says so.