Where is my sponge candy?!

I left western New York for graduate school in Minnesota. They pay me to teach freshmen how to write creative writing. Tater tots are these people's wings. There's not nearly enough bleu cheese anywhere. Midwestern boys are hot. I'm working on my accent.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Goodbye, Goodbye

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This is the last of the Where Is My Sponge Candy blog. There's a new chapter starting, and it's over here at the new blog. This one will stay around on its own, so I can easily look back on those three years of grad school and shake my head and think, That was perfect. It was perfect. It was everything I could've ever asked for, even in the dead of winter, even when it was thirty below and I was walking home from school in two layers of coats, even when I was wondering why I didn't take the position they offered me in Miami. Coming to Minnesota was the best decision I ever made. The way it all worked out will continue to stun me for the rest of my life.

But for now, here's the rundown on my new blog home.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Lid Is On

The other night my friend Steph hosted another Pink Torpedo dinner party. There were trays of cheese, crackers, vegetables, cookies, cupcakes. There were shakers filled with martinis. There were mini glow-sticks to loop and drop in the bottom of our glasses so the five of us sat glowing pink and purple and blue and green on her front porch.

There was also a deck of cards. Conversation starters. And it's not like we can't start our own conversations--because we can and boy do we ever--but these were things that weren't normally on our radar, which generally consists of gossip about people we went to high school and college with.

One card we pulled asked which TV character's life we would most want to have. Without hesitation I said, "CJ from the West Wing." which had Amy and Becky countering with, "Donna from the West Wing"--basically because in the last season she got to have sex with Josh, and you'd think that would be my answer, since we all know how much I love Bradley Whitford, but I stood behind my original answer. CJ. I'd want to be press secretary. I'd want to be tall and sassy and adored by scrappy red-haired journalists who buy me goldfish.

Also, I always liked how the press secretary got to announce that "the lid" was on for the night, for the weekend, for whenever. No more news. The White House was locked up tight. There was nothing more to report. I'd want that lingo to be mine. I'd want the distinction of cracking a smile and saying to the press room, "That's a full lid, folks."

I guess I don't really need to be press secretary to say that, especially since the title of this post refers to the lid and it being on. It's on. At least for this part of my life, I guess. The Where Is My Sponge Candy blog is about end its journey.

It's just that I want this time in my life to stand separate. I want to be able to look back and say, "Those were the strangest three years of my life. See?"

It's time to move on. On August 4th, I drove my packed little silver car out of Minnesota and watched the hills of La Crosse fade into the background. I woke up the next morning in my old bedroom in my old house in my old hometown. I woke up feeling panicked, confused, lost, and out of my element.

I woke up feeling like I felt on my first day in Minnesota. It was only three years ago, but I was such a little girl. I look back on that time now, I leaf through my diary, I look at old photos, and I think, My God. I'm a baby.

After The Wily Republican looked back on some pictures of me from when I first moved here he said he couldn't get over how innocent I looked. "That's what you looked like before you met me," he said, proud of something I can't really define, even though I understand it. There was definitely something about me when I moved here--something silly, something loose, something young--that just isn't there anymore. Of course, the WR isn't the only thing that shaped the new me. It's everything.

It's especially the teaching. I was twenty-one years old when the college gave me my own section of composition to teach. "There you go," they said. They gave me a textbook and patted me on the head. It had been three months since I had graduated from college.

That forces a girl to grow up pretty quick.

But I loved every minute, and I loved every minute of my time in Minnesota, even during the worst months when I was going crazy, everyone was going crazy, and the wind was whipping to thirty below.

What is there to say that hasn't already been said? I didn't want to go. I didn't want to leave. I wouldn't have minded staying in the Midwest for a few more years, maybe live up in Minneapolis or in some swank little apartment in St. Paul. I would've loved to be in Wisconsin, near Rachel and Dan, near Madison or Milwaukee. It could've been nice. But it just didn't work out that way, no matter how many Wisconsin schools I papered with my curriculum vitae.

This--going home to western New York--is what had to happen. I know it's what had to happen because it's what did happen. This is my life now. Temporarily. The lid is officially on over my Minnesota life.

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No more Menards.

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No more Culver's.

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No more Happy Chef.

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No more giant Buffaloes. Okay, that was a lie.

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No more Blue Skunk.

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No more Mankato.

But there's a whole lot of stuff taking the place of all that Midwestern goodness, and there's a new blog to prove it. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Rhinestones Helped a Little

I will always have this to remember:

On the day that will probably be the last day I will ever see the Wily Republican--the day I went up to say goodbye, goodbye, thanks for the last three years of random bizarreness--I was lacing up my shoes and getting ready to leave his house. I was thinking about what a strange day it had been. I was thinking it didn't seem fair that our last day together had to feel like it did, which was like nothing I'd ever felt with him. It wasn't good. It wasn't bad. It just was.

And I was worrying over all those things and threading my rhinestone buckles together when the Wily Republican farted. That's what I got. Right before I stood to hug him goodbye, he farted.

There were no pretty words or admissions or last secrets to be told. There was only farting.

It still confounds me that he and Katy spent two years being mortal enemies when they could've spent all that time being best friends and talking about poop and farts.

But before the strange goodbye, the Wily Republican took me to lunch. "Get ready for the best burger of your life," he told me.

We went to the Lion's Tap, which, it turned out, had been the subject of a report the WR had done in high school. "It used to be a fruit and vegetable stand," he said as he held the door open for me. "They have good rootbeer." I found it charming. And the thought of the WR writing a paper for some goofy little high school assignment charmed me even more than I can explain. So did the fact that he was wearing sandals, but that's neither here nor there.

Our lunch place had good burgers. It's pretty much all they do. Hamburgers, hamburgers, hamburgers. I admire a place like that. And I admire a place where you have to specify that you want your burger "California-style" if it's to have any veggies on it.

We both ordered our hamburgers California-style. We both ate fries. When I got full and couldn't finish the last two mouthfuls of my burger and tried to feed it to him, the Wily gave me a Look and said, "You will finish your burger because it is a really good burger." And--somehow--I managed to.

After lunch he suggested we go to the library. Talk about admiring something. You've got to admire a man who wants to take his English nerd friend to his hometown library. He knows me oh so well. "It's really, really nice. And big," he said. "I've wanted to show you this forever." A good library is my favorite kind of porn, so we went.

He let me loose in the library. I wandered through the fiction, the poetry, the young adult, and then the magazines. There was a part of me that wanted to lie down in the corner and have a good cry. For several reasons--the first being that the whole day seemed so off. He and I were off. We weren't doing our normal schtick. We weren't snappy, we weren't speaking dialogue that sounded like it had been lifted from the script of a sitcom. There were heavy and uncomfortable moments of silence, and they were making me want to put something through my eye. Nothing was right.

I also wanted to have a little lie-down because, really, this was it. This was my last time with him. And this was how I was going to remember it. As off. As strange. Sure, lunch was delicious and there were moments when I looked across the table and saw the boy that I know, love, and, oddly enough, respect, but other times he was an entirely new beast. He was girlfriended, tired, and quiet. I wanted to press a giant rewind button. Surely there were things we had left to say to each other, things we had left to do together. Couldn't we go back to a time where there was no censor? Couldn't we go back to a time where there was a distinct chance I'd see him without a shirt?

And later, after lunch, after the library, after we'd come home to watch an episode of Rescue Me on his TiVo, after I'd swallowed my tongue so I didn't say something like, Girlfriend? What girlfriend? Let's go pretend to nap.--after all that, I tucked my toes back into the rhinestone buckled shoes. I stood up. I looked at him. I felt like this was supposed to be one of those defining life moments, where I might learn something very important about him, about myself, about what's meant to be and what's not, but that didn't happen. Instead, the Wily Republican farted. And I rolled my eyes. And he walked me upstairs. And I turned into his chest and didn't say, "Don't let me leave." And he didn't say, "Stay." or "I miss you." or "I'm going to miss you." Instead, he said, "Good luck." He said, "Drive safe, okay?"

So I got into my car and I drove away. It was just starting to rain again, and Minnesota was dark with thunderclouds. They piled up, stacked right on top of each other, and dropped heavy pocks of rain onto my windshield. And there it was: the last time I would drive down 169, back toward Mankato, away from the cities, away from him, away from things I was supposed to be over but wasn't. I watched steam rise from a far-off hill, where a bolt of lightning had just struck. I wanted to turn the car around or park it or just cry. But I kept on going. I didn't look back. I just kept on driving.

For Katy, Part 2

Last night I was sitting on Steph's front porch with the rest of the Pink Torpedos. We were drinking martinis and talking about upcoming weddings. That's when Katy called.

"You know people are going to think we're lesbians because of your blog," she said. "And could you have picked worse pictures of me? I look gross in every one. Pick a nice picture!"

Okay. Here's my favorite Katy picture of all time:

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Is that better, Katy?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Things I Will Miss, Volume 4

I meant to do this more. I meant to do it faithfully. But I haven't and I didn't, but this one is important and worth it, so here it is:

I am going to miss Katy.

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I met her in our two week TA training in August of '03. I wasn't very good in my head back then. The first thing I did when I entered that room was this: I evaluated the boys. I checked them out. Each and every one of them. Were they cute? Were they even sort of cute? If not, could there be some sort of redeeming quality that would make me love them in unreasonable ways? Would they be a guitar-playing poet? A boy who could read me the great literary works in their originally published language? Would the boys have strange facial tics that would make me want to smoothe my palms down their cheeks in an effort to make it all stop? Would they have a dance they did when they were drunk or happy? Who was I going to love? Who, and why?

The second thing I did when I entered the room was this: I evaluated the girls. I was sussing out who was going to be competition. After all, I had my eye on one of the older TAs, and I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, if there wasn't any steep competition, maybe I'd get a chance to show him what I had.

I looked around the room. I blinked. I assessed. And I breathed a sigh of relief when each girl announced her status. Engaged, engaged, taken, God-fearing, married, taken, married.

Katy was one of the taken ones. So I figured she'd be okay. She wouldn't be a problem. She wouldn't get in the way of my subtle and ingenious seduction, which in the end didn't get me jack squat.

Katy sat over on the wall opposite mine in our first office. My dartboard hung near her head. She had the nice radio and the Kleenex I had to borrow the second week of school when one of my students came in and plunked herself on the blue couch and started crying because it was hopeless, all of it, she'd never amount to anything, and she hadn't done a single piece of homework in any of her classes since school started, mostly because she'd been drinking a lot and making out with some boys, one of whom was in our class.

Katy saved the day with that one. Kleenex. I needed reams of it that day.

Katy got wide-eyed and silly whenever boys came around. She liked to giggle. She liked to wear chunky-heeled shoes. She hung up motivational posters that the boys hated, mocked, and threatened to take down. I would later learn that during that first semester she puked every single day before she went in to teach.

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I don't know when something shifted, but it did. I think it was probably after she got engaged. That, too, is a beautiful story. Her future husband--the man I like to think of as my own adopted husband because he's been so good to me--proposed to her when they were still living in the trailer they bought for very little money so that they could save for the house they were this close to buying. When people compare crappy proposal stories, Katy likes to throw down. "Oh yeah?" she'll say. "He got you flowers you're allergic to? So what? I was proposed to in a trailer park."

And people are usually awed by that.

Not me, though. "At least you were proposed to," I'd tell her, because this was pre-Wily Republican, and I was still itchy and trying to get used to my boy-less Minnesota situation.

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One night Katy showed up at my apartment. I'd invited her over because she needed some sort of clothes to borrow. And then we ended up lounging around my bedroom and trying on different outfits. We did this for hours. At the end and just as she was leaving, Katy clapped her hands together excitedly. "I'm so happy!" she said. "I have a girly friend again!"

I know a lot of people like to think of me as girly, but the world I came from--my pre-Minnesota world--had me ranked near the top as one of the least girly. Sure I like boots and sparkles and pink and boys and clothes and earrings and makeup, but that's nothing. If I need to, I can get ready in 30 minutes--shower, clothes, hair, makeup, everything. I can spend days without changing into an outfit I'd wear in public. I am completely content with a Sunday afternoon of NASCAR-watching and bacon-eating.

I think Katy was a little stunned by me. Unlike her, I showered every single day. I would do my hair before I went into public. I would not wear clothes that didn't look good on me, no matter how cute they might seem when hanging in the closet. I shopped at places other than the clearance rack at Kohl's.

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So maybe I was a little good for her. Maybe I gave her the girly things, and maybe she gave me other things. They're not necessarily non-girly, but they are oh-so Katy. She clipped coupons for me. She'd slip me a $5 eyebrow wax coupon and request that we drive to Walmart to buy pop or cornstarch. She took me to Menards. She forced me to try lefse. She talked about poop. She taught me how to make a fine tater tot hotdish. She opposed anything Wily-Republican related, and, one night at the town's dance club, reached over and pulled his shirt up, exposing his stomach and chest, and tweaked one of his nipples. Then she scampered away. Those things--those uniquely Katy-like things--kept me balanced and in check.

I was the maid of honor at her wedding, and it was one of the most beautiful pleasures I had during the three years of my Minnesota life. I got to hold her dress while she peed and she didn't even get mad at me when my lipstick smudged on the pristine white material as I helped her into it. She didn't roll her eyes when I made fun of her revulsion at the menu of a Minneapolis restaurant we'd once visited--a revulsion that forced her to order only a baked potato, with only butter and nothing else fancy, thank you--in my dinner speech.

She's been through it all with me, even more so in this past year. Most nights of the week I was over at her house, sacked out on her couch and shoving my face with some sort of brownie or cookie batter/dough we'd whipped up. We drank a lot of pink champagne and watched a lot of American Idol. We spent a lot of time running errands and buying shoes.

And the thing is I could fill pages and pages and pages with Katy anecdotes and strange things we did together, things that illustrate how good and crazy and fun she is, things that show you what she's done for and meant to me for the last three years, but it just wouldn't be enough. It could never be enough to really tell you what it's like to be this girl's friend.

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A few days ago I left Minnesota. After moving out of my apartment, I stayed on at Katy and Matt's for a little bit. The morning I left Katy walked me out to my car and I started crying because I'm a bit of a crier and not so fond of things like goodbyes, leaving, or change.

I didn't want her to see me crying, so I turned and put my back to her. I faced my open car door and tried to gather myself.

"Are you falling in love with the door?" she asked.

Then she reminded me that I'd never farted in front of her--which was something I'd promised I'd do before I left Minnesota because Katy was convinced I don't do those types of things since, unlike her--the girl who will release gas at any moment of the day, in any type of situation, and then tell you to smell it--I can control those types of functions.

Those were my last moments with Katy. She mocked me, then told me she was sad because I never farted in front of her.

And I guess, really, what other way could it have ended?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Flashback to Our Big Gay Time

Once, I was Bernadette. Once, I decided my considerable fortune came from an inherited bead store. Once, I loved a man named Rod. Once, I hung out with a girl named Peaches, and she drank her beer the only way you should: from a forty.

Part of my long goodbye to Minnesota was the girly trip up to Minneapolis for a sleep over/Mall of America trip/gay bar escapade that later involved Jer (alias: Rod). Finally, finally, finally I got my pictures back. I'd forgotten the digital camera that weekend, so I was forced to snap regular photos.

Here is the evidence of our good times:

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Peaches. She's showing off both her girly bits and her beer. She's looking toward the window and saying, "What's that, boys? You want to see me pole dance? Oh, just wait. Just wait."

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Those are two girls who are ready to go see some drag queens.

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I nominate one of the girls in this photo for BEST LEGS EVER.


And those were the pre-gay bar pictures. Those were taken as we lounged and readied ourselves and drank the hooch Jer had brought us.

These are the post-gay bar pictures. These were taken after drag shows and anorexic strippers and dance floors.

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Jer practices the new strutting moves he learned at the Gay 90s.

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And then Jer gathers the girls together. It is his main mission in life to protect them from strange men who roam downtown Minneapolis.

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Behind us in this photo, you can see Peaches who looks as though she's been caught in a Clark Kent-like moment, where she's about to launch forward into a whirl of clothing and lycra, only to come out the other side nicely spandexed and ready to save the world.

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And here's Jer again. The best thing to do at 2:00 AM is bundle up the only male in the room so he looks like he's wearing a giant green sari/diaper-duo.

It was just that good of a time.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Happy Anniversary, Minnesota

[This is a post written the day after I moved out of my apartment.]

Yesterday was the third anniversary of me being in Minnesota. On August 1, 2003, I drove into town in my Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, with my father behind me in a rented van. We had spent the last two days crossing the country to get to this small Minnesota town, and we talked over walkie-talkies the entire way. But when we finally pulled into this place, I was suddenly quiet. There was no denying it now. I had done it. I had moved away from home and to a state I knew virtually nothing about.

My father stayed two days to help me settle in. We went to Target and stocked up on supplies, food, and pots and pans. We tried some of the restaurants. We wandered the campus. We posed me in front of the fountain, in front of my picture on the faculty board, in front of the chalkboard in the very first classroom I'd ever teach.

And then he was gone, leaving me with an apartment filled with boxes yet to be unpacked and a cavernous, echoing room. I cried. I watched him drive out of the parking lot and toward the airport, and I cried. Then I went into my bedroom, sat on my bed and cried some more. I didn't like the way it sounded, the noise of my crying and its reverberation off the walls. I wanted to fill the room so it would stop sounding like that--empty, lonely, desperate.

On Sunday night, Katy, JP, and Matt helped me stuff my car with all the things I own. We clomped up and down the stairs a million times and sorted through what was absolutely necessary and what could stay until they came out to visit. Then we drank pitchers of pink lemonade and ate the frosting off a mini-chocolate cake from Walmart. There was ice cream, there was cupcakes. There was an empty living room, there were holes where my things used to be.

Then they left, and it was so quiet in my apartment. That old quiet, the one that nearly swallowed me the day I moved in. My TV was packed and my stereo too, so I had no choice but to listen to the sounds of me zipping up suitcases and spraying down the tub with Scrubbing Bubbles. Then I sat on my bed and cried.

I'm not good with silence. I haven't been good with it since my first boyfriend and I broke up. It was a loud breakup. There was screaming--lots of it--and I even threw a puzzle at him. Not very hard, of course. But it was sitting in front of me and advertising it's final put-together picture, which was the lighthouse in Maine where he took me on our first vacation together. I wanted to stab that puzzle. I wanted to break it. I wanted to tear it into smaller pieces and make him eat them. He'd cheated on me. He'd cheated on me with a girl from Eden, a girl who would go on to be a ring model at a boxing event--you know, the type that slides into the ring and holds up the sign that identifies the round.

And he and I tried to remain friends when he went on to date the girl from Eden, but that led to even more screaming and crying and my father stepping into my room one night to say, "Jessica, just hang up that phone. Just stop it now."

Which only made me cry more.

But that breakup changed everything. I used to be able to lie down in bed at night and not read, not watch a single minute of TV, not anything and be able to fall asleep. Just like that. But I found that after the breakup I needed to shut my head up or it would rattle off into a black fog of things that needed to be obsessed over. And that never helped me fall asleep.

Right after the end of our relationship I started watching TV Land late at night. I watched episode after episode of Cheers, Wings, and the Cosby Show. I watched them until everything that was buzzing inside of me shut down for the night. And then and only then could I turn the TV off and go to bed.

Over the years I've pared it down, especially since I moved to Minnesota and had to put my television out in the living room. Then it was reading before bed. Which is a much more effective use of my energy, I suppose.

But the point is this: there is never a night where I'm not doing something right before bed. There's never silence. Never. There's always TV or radio or something. But the night I moved out there was nothing. I was sitting on a bed in an empty room, which was once again echoing, and everything else was packed in my car. I had to tuck myself under the covers and sit and listen to silence. And my brain. And the occasional hiss of a locust or a cicada outside my window.

And I was thinking, Oh no. Not this again. Anything but this.

And I was thinking about the next few days, the nights I would spend sleeping on an air mattress at casa de Clay, where I would at least have a little companionship--a tiny lap dog who liked to sleep with his head propped on a pillow like he was a person--and how it would feel almost like a sleepover, how it would trick me into not being able to see ahead, all the days in my future where I would be wading through unclear moments and trying to find my way to the other side.

And I was thinking, I was the first person to move in to this apartment building.

And I was thinking, I am the only person to ever have lived in this room.

And I was thinking, I don't want to go.

And I was thinking, Don't make me go.

But I had to. And I did.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Changes Ahead

I'm going to spend the next week or so catching up on entries that I wanted to write last week but couldn't because I was busy doing things like moving out of my apartment, packing my entire life into the Civic, staying at casa de Clay, eating my way across Mankato, and gossiping into the late hours of the morning, afternoon, and night. I will be talking about things like goodbyes and driving away. I will be talking about things like baseball games and rhinestone-buckled shoes. I will be talking about the last few days of my Minnesota existence. Then, then, then, I will be talking about what's ahead.

And then everything is going to change, but it's going to be just fine.