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Scarlet Mantle Goes to Goodwill

by Marina J. Neary

part 1 of 4

Or Why You Should Not Play the Vatican Roulette at the Height of Your Dancing Career

“The USA is one gigantic cemetery for dreams” — Rinnie Griff

The reasons to hate me

If you’re looking for a heroine who is “flawed yet sympathetic” and “vulnerable yet resilient” pick up a copy of Gone With the Wind and don’t read any further. But if you still want to hear my story, you better prepare to cringe and point fingers. God knows, there are many reasons to hate me.

My favorite activities include teasing, bullying and criticizing.

I don’t just laugh at offensive jokes, I invent them. Next time one of your insensitive friends e-mails you a politically incorrect joke, you’ll know who started the thread.

My checkbook is closed to the Third World. All that yuppie money never reaches its noble destination anyway. You think you’re helping the little Maria-Tortilla-Garcia battle a skin infection, and in fact you’re funding a boob job for some budding starlet on a Mexican soap opera. Your daily eighty-four cents, donated in favor of little Paquito-Juanito-Chiquito’s literacy, translate into mounds of celluloid on Miss Venezuela. One time I suggested to our parish priest that maybe instead of canned food for the children, we should send packs of Trojan condoms to their parents. This proposal, as you can imagine, wasn’t well received.

Please don’t knock on my door trying to recruit me into cleaning neighborhoods. Don’t tempt me with free hotdogs and soda afterwards, my cholesterol is high enough already. Don’t squirt that cleaning solution in front of my nose, it aggravates my asthma. Don’t shove those latex gloves in my face, I’m allergic to rubber. And why should any middle-class woman ruin her manicure on community service? There’s a reason why I pay three-quarters of my monthly salary for my Hobbit hole in the Avalon Groves luxury apartment complex.

Don’t ask me to be the maid of honor at your wedding; I’ll probably show up in black leather, carrying a whip instead of a bouquet. Don’t invite me to your son’s christening, I’ll be tempted to drown the twerp in a dish of holy water. Don’t even invite me to your house for linguini, I’ll tell you that Sergio’s Pizza across the street does a far superior job.

When small children see me, they start crying and hiding behind their parents. Even dogs start growling when they pass me on the street.

What can I say? I’m just not a nice human being. Some would argue that I’m not a human being at all. I have a rotting turnip where normal people have a heart.

Do you hate me yet? Do you? Please, pretty please, hate me! Or else there will be no point in my continuing the story. Oh wait, I see you turning your noses. Good, keep doing it!

Just picture a cocky Eurotrash princess in her early twenties with a natural D cup, a perfectly useless (let’s face it!) degree in creative writing and a partly justified superiority complex.

My parents had no other daughters to compare me to, but every time there was a beauty pageant on TV, Mommy mercifully changed the channel. It wasn’t wholesome for her poor little Rinnie to look at all those tall blonde girls. Poor Rinnie, with her short legs and chipmunk cheeks!

Fortunately, it was not in my nature to crawl into a corner with a finger down my throat. I repeatedly told myself that my physical flaws, most of which my mother tried to ignore, had their unique purposes. The hair on my arms, a legacy of my Jewish grandfather, kept me warm in winter, and my wide feet with fanned out toes, calloused from years of ballet, helped me stand on the ground. Gradually I came to view myself as quite an exotic creature, above all commercial standards. So what if I didn’t have any grace or style? I had character. So what if I didn’t have friends? I had my own fan club made up of stuffed animals.

Fitzgerald’s crusade

And yet, even convicted witches like me secretly dream of finding Good Husbands to nourish their egotism.

A Good Husband knows his place, which is on the couch, in front of a TV, with a can of beer in one hand and a remote control in another. His sleeves must be rolled up, and his fly must be open at least halfway. When the wife comes home from work late at night, there should be a bowl of popcorn and a new issue of Working Mother magazine waiting for her. The two-point-three teenage kids must be in the basement, air-jamming to Hootie and the Blowfish. That’s what I call “American Dream: the Revised Edition.”

My life has no room for American Dreams. I am the American Reality. I stand for everything that Americans are low enough to think and feel but too cowardly to put into words. My favorite unpaid job is to crack golden shells and spill the putrid filling before my fellow countrymen. I foster no delusions about being the first one to endeavor something of the sort. F.S. Fitzgerald lit the stinky torch back in the 1920s but didn’t carry it too far. Most Americans didn’t get his message, at least not right away. He was a gentleman. He communicated in unobtrusive metaphors and green lights across the bay. He deluded his venom with cherry-flavored syrup, so that an average American reader could swallow it without wincing.

Well, unlike Mr. Fitzgerald, I’m not a gentleman. I’m an immigrant girl from a broken home. I speak without metaphors.

In our age of Hallmark, cynicism doesn’t sell. Even the basest human intentions must come wrapped in glittery paper with pink hearts. For instance, when some office rat says she wants to be a stay-at-home Mom, it means she just wants to pull her throbbing feet out of her leather pumps and shove them into oversized loafers. Or, when a college dropout says she wants to move to a big city to “find herself” it really means that she is tired of blowing her high school sweethearts under the bleachers and is ready to move on to starving urban artists. That was the America I discovered upon my arrival in 1992. USA is one gigantic cemetery for dreams.

And yet, on a rare occasion, a dream does survive. Mine was about finding that Good Husband. In my sleep I could feel his clean dry hands massaging my temples. I heard his voice pouring passages from the Divine Comedy into my ear. I looked for him among my father’s friends, my mother’s clients, my college professors and even Anglican clergy. No luck. They were either married, or addicted to Prozac, or secretly gay, or all of the above.

The aphrodisiac powers of Guinness

And then, in the spring of 1998, I met Bailey Griff. He was ten years older than me and loaded — mostly with delusions, which automatically made him my soul mate. It all started at an Irish festival in Philadelphia. Fate arranged for us to stand in the same line for beer. The first thing I noticed about him was his magnificent Adam’s apple moving up and down his slender throat. Naturally, I started wondering about other elements of his anatomy. With his concave cheeks and his yellow mullet he looked like a prince from a fantasy B-movie. I mentally removed his Guinness T-shirt and threw a scarlet mantle over his shoulders, replaced his muddy sandals with shiny boots, stuck a plumed helmet on his head, and the transformation was complete. He must have felt my surgical gaze, because his left knee started twitching.

There was no point in making him wait any longer. I touched his pointy elbow and greeted him in Gaelic.

Dia duit!

Bailey shuddered and dropped his glasses in the mud. I slowly picked them up and put them back on his bony nose.

“Same to you...” he mumbled with an Apallachian accent. “Where d’you learn to talk like that?”

“At the Irish club. Tuesday nights. You pay seventy bucks for the classes, plus the book and the tapes. It’s mostly for old folks who want to reconnect with their heritage, and for ex-communists like me who want to disconnect from theirs. I bet you never thought you’d run into a hot Russian chick at an Irish festival, huh?”

I figured there was no reason to come on softly and pretend to be a lady. He looked harmless and non-judgmental. His agitation was escalating by the second. He started cleaning his glasses with the bottom of his T-shirt.

I put my hand on his wrist and ordered in the tone of a kindergarten teacher:

“Stop playing with your glasses. You’ll bend the frame.”

He complied most obediently and then coughed in his fist, recovering from his embarrassment.

“You... You like Yeats?”

I rolled my eyes.

“You mean, that pompous fascist?”

Bailey made that I’ve-been-punched-in-the-stomach face.

“Excuse... me... What did you say?”

“So you’re not only blind but deaf too? I said Yeats was a pompous fascist. Now stop gasping for air and buy me a pint of Guinness.”

You can imagine what happened next: more literary criticism and linguistic discussions. Then, his dirty thirties plunging into my roaring twenties... Bite marks on my earlobes, puddles of Bailey’s Irish Cream on my stomach... And finally, a surprisingly classy wedding in Philadelphia’s oldest Catholic cathedral! Diplomatically put, it was a royal middle finger to all American matrimonial traditions. That’s right. No bridesmaids in canary gowns hissing behind my back. No “Here Comes the Bride.” No “Electric Slide.” No Celine Dion ballads. I walked down the aisle to an obscure voluntary by John Stanley, escorted by two of my favorite English professors, both in their early forties, both in mandatory wool turtlenecks. Bailey looked smashing in his Count Dracula tuxedo. It was ninety-seven degrees outside that day. My face shone like honey-glazed ham.

The reasons for buying a digital camera

Thus began our married life. At the end of the day we would gladly abandon our respective hells of burned office coffee and rush to our two-bedroom Avalon grove filled with incense, British rock and Irish poetry. Bailey was my Gaelic Swan, my King of Ulster. In turn, I was his Rose of Belfast, his Emerald Fairy, his Siberian Fox. We never resorted to the same generic endearments that middle-aged suburbanites normally use.

Our marriage evolved into something of a cult for two. I became his goddess, and he became my high priest. His main job was to worship me. When I scribbled a poem, he read it. When I danced on stage with an Irish rock band, he took pictures. When I locked lips with Amy, a luscious leather-clad lesbian of Anglo-Mexican blood, he took pictures too. As you can see, there is no lack of Kodak moments in our family. In just six months of marriage we filled up three enormous albums, mainly with pictures of me, myself, my Majesty, and occasionally of Amy with her exquisite profile against my perfectly flat stomach.

I’m not gay, just ambiguously, unobtrusively bisexual. I can change my orientation with the same ease one would change color contacts. You won’t see me marching in a gay pride parade. I indulge in Sapphic love exclusively for recreational purposes.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2009 by Marina J. Neary

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