Saturday, March 8, 2008

The neighborhood bar

If the woman in my son’s electronic guitar tells me one more time that she plays the guitar and wants everyone to sing in her band I’m going to place it in the street and clap my hands as traffic grinds it down into a million, tiny pieces. Obviously she plays the guitar. But really, do five sheep, four kittens, three horses, two chickens, and one pig really count as band members?

The woman sounds like a “Donna.” I don’t always dislike her. On good parenting days I even catch myself humming along—“Sure Donna, you’re a great lead singer for your band”—but on the days I dislike her, I really dislike her.

For one, she’s too freaken happy. All the time. I bet she has long, shiny blonde hair that she calmly brushes before bed, like Marsha Brady. As she hums her one pathetic song. And I bet she doesn’t drink or overeat or bite her nails or pick her nose, even in her own bathroom. I bet her poop comes out in perfect little logs that thank her perky butt cheeks for gently squeezing them out. I bet she never speeds or gets pimples, never farts accidentally while her husband is spooning her, and never, ever contemplates the logistics of a new identity and life in Mexico when her baby won’t stop crying.

Some days I imagine meeting her at a bar and how the encounter would go down. I imagine it’s a day that I’ve been awake since 5:30 and my son is really grumpy (like on my birthday—he was awful and it’s recorded in his baby book so he can feel appropriately guilty when he’s an adult).

I imagine the encounter goes something like this:

I walk into the bar. My hair is a curly, unruly mess because I couldn’t stand having my poor kid watch me blow dry it again (he’s watched me dry my hair every two days for the last eight months, for a total of 120 times—I don’t know why that bothers me so). Anyway, I have a good buzz already from the bottle of wine I had for dinner. I’m wearing sweats because it’s the neighborhood bar and that means I’ll be the best dressed. Until stupid Donna gets there with her little, plastic guitar and entourage. The livestock stink up the bar but no one cares. The town we live in is so forgotten, so remote that people are grateful for something new, even if it’s a super happy woman with five sheep.

When she steps in front of the microphone her white teeth catch the light of the neon Bud sign in the window. It takes people’s breath away. She arranges her band members behind her, settling them into place in a motherly fashion: fluffing feathers, brushing manes, petting the kitties.

Oh gawd, I think. But everyone else is lapping it up. Especially the guy with the mullet.

Donna puts her guitar up to her designer jeans and Anthropologie sweater set and shouts out a greeting like it’s a crowd of 500. She’s smooth and skinny. She smells good, despite the pig and wet sheep (it’s raining). The guy behind me, the one I thought was passed out in his greasy meatless chicken wings, shouts back. The lights dim. And she begins.

“I play my guitar who will sing in my band?” She turns to her band members. The sheep baaah five times, the kittens meow, the horses neigh, and so on. When the pig oinks once, the song is over. No one calls for an encore but Donna doesn’t care. She’s so fucking satisfied with her pathetic one-line song.

As she waves goodnight and packs up her guitar I realize—happily—that without the animals she’d be nothing. I’m about to tell her as much when she sits down next to me, but before I can say anything she’s already offered to pay everyone’s tabs. There’s a soda with lemon waiting for her; the chicken wing guy sent it over.

When she sees the empty line of beer bottles in front of me she smiles: a real, genuine smile like her world is soft-petaled daisies and organic milk and fair trade coffee. God I can’t stand her.

“Your song sucks,” I say with as much fortitude as I can.

“Excuse me?”

“I said, your song sucks. It’s not even a song. It’s one stupid line. I hate it. I don’t want to play in your band. Ever. And I don’t want my son to play in your band. If he traveled the country with domesticated animals and you”—I point my drunken finger—“I would be devastated.”

“That’s not very nice now is it?” she asks the pig.

I look at the pig. He’s got cherub cheeks and a patch of brown on his nose that reminds me of Canada, the friendly country. My God, I bet she’s Canadian. That makes perfect sense. I bet if I tripped her she’d thank me for the quarter she discovered on the floor. Or the stray peanut she can feed to the homeless man she recently took into her home.

“My song,” she tells me, “encourages learning, participation, and enthusiasm. If you don’t care about these things maybe you shouldn’t have had a kid.” She keeps going: “Maybe you’re pissed at me because you’re not the perfect, happy parent you thought you’d be. Maybe you’re pissed at me because I’m not still wearing maternity clothes and instead I have cool, trendy clothes and a paying job that lets me travel.” She lets me digest what she’s said before adding, “Or maybe you’re just a bitch.”

“I don’t think Playskool would like it if they knew you were talking to me like that.”

“When I’m not playing my guitar they don’t care what I say.”

“Apparently.” I look at my watch. It’s ten o’clock. Time to start the mile walk home through town. “I don’t drink and drive,” I offer feebly.

The pig rolls his eyes.

“Can I brush your horse for you?”


“Sheer your sheep?”

“I think you should just go.”

On the way home I realize there’s some truth in Donna’s comments. She does indeed play the guitar.

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