• DRINK TO THE LASSES: Notes from a Woman's College Womb
    DRINK TO THE LASSES: Notes from a Woman's College Womb
    by Mary Beth Ellis
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    Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers
    Random House Trade Paperbacks
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Entries from March 13, 2011 - March 19, 2011


On Sharing

Will The Small Child Nephew curled himself into a pile on a chair when I left him.  "Come give Aunt Beth a hug," I commanded after flinging my bags in the car, for what use are small children if they are not made to do one's bidding.

"I'm kind of tired," he said.

I crouched down next to him.  "I'm going away for a little while, and I'd rather leave with a hug."

"But I don't want you to go."  This, I suspect, had less to do with firm sentiment in the direction of his aunt than the fact that he receives unlimited Wii time when she is in charge.

"Will, Uncle Josh is sad without me.  There's no one at our house to make him terrible dinners."

"But I want you to come back."  I had also failed to make him cookies.

 "I promise I will come back." 

This was all supervised by his elder brother, Jim The Nephew, who was seething on the couch after having been informed that the Wii would stay off until after he finished his homework.  "Will," he said.  "You have to share."

This moment of moral authority was later followed, I was told, by Jim's newly acquired information about Lent.  After Will returned from a Cincinnati Zoo class (he recovered quickly enough once he heard that my presence would be replaced by fries for lunch), he shared the intelligence that tigers eat meat.

"Not on Friday," my godson amended.

"That's only Catholic tigers," Julie The NephewsMama said, and Jim added that he had made the executive decision to give up Will until Easter (Again:  My godson.) 

Tuition well spent.


Jason The Drum Major Participates in Take an Author to Work Day

It is a season to purge, and just before I left for Ohio, I administered a wicked enema to the boxes I've been toting from Cincinnati  to Florida to DC to ummmmm I forget to Alabama.  The one good aspect of boasting fifteen addresses in the past eighteen months is that you get real unattached to various crap, real quick.  So:  Participation trophy from third grade summer bowling league?  Gone.  Outstanding bench warrants?  Not important.  Baggie of Random Pieces of Somebody's Lawn...?

I sat for a very long time holding the Baggie of Random Pieces of Somebody's Lawn.  It was in fact blades of grass from the field at Notre Dame Stadium, gathered in my freshman year the night the student section rushed the goalposts after beating USC.  I split the handful I grabbed, sending the other half to my high school history teacher, a Notre Dame die-hard who wrote my letter of recommendation to Saint Mary's.  What remained was transferred intact from upper desk drawer to upper desk drawer in offices from Ohio to Orlando.  The blades had long since dried, some still bearing the chalk of the sideline.  That is the price of dealing in organic material, in what is graspable and real... it'll turn on you.

In Alabama, as I sat with my back to a pile of notebooks and Grown-Up Writer Girl skirts bound for Columbus, I stared at the little pocket of plastic, remembering my thin blue glove reaching to the Indiana turf, grabbing part of my brother school in my hand, the closest I could come to trapping the whole moment in a microscope slide, having it.  Now I sat a decade later with the brown and crumbling remnants, the tearing seams of the plastic, unwilling to throw it away and unable to have it in sight.  


A week later, with snow choking the parking lots and Charlie Sheen waving a machete from atop a hotel roof somewhere far away, Jason took me to see his office.

Nice, cozy little shack.

As we passed through an entrance gate, I made an exceedingly attractive noise which was somewhere between a laugh and a sob without quite being either. 

"You haven't been in here before, have you?"  he said.

"No," I told him.  "And I am having A Moment."  A Moment in which I was realizing that a Cincinnatian who had once buried her hands in the groomed grounds of the House that Rockne Built was currently being escorted through Ohio Stadium by its Head Drum Major... a product of the Cleveland area.  The meteors had been summoned.

In contrast to Notre Dame Stadium, Ohio Stadium seats a bigger crowd, boasts a more recent renovation plan, and brings the fans closer up on the field, but--and I did not say this to Jason, fearful of insulting his house and his manhood--it struck me as smaller than expected.  Maybe it's because a great part of it is sunken.  Maybe it's because it was built in the middle of a state capital instead of a cornfield.  Maybe it's because it was empty. 

The grass is fake here, forever striped.  It is not a mere simulation of the element earth-- it's an outright improvement.  Jason told me it's easier on his legs than hard turf, magnificent to strut upon. 

We stood facing the south end zone.  Jason let me acclimate for a few moments, as one might adjust to a shock of subzero temperatures, or news of the impending zombie apocalypse. 

"What's it like?" I said finally, not needing to elaborate.

"Loud," he answered, also not needing to elaborate.

"You come in here even when there's no real reason to, don't you," I said, and I will keep his reply between the two of us, but when he was done answering I stared at the concrete for several moments, remembering how many times I'd walked the long way from Notre Dame Library back to my dorm at Saint Mary's, just so I could have the Golden Dome in front of me and the busy, modern side of campus behind.

"You have got to be freezing," Jason said suddenly, and led me to where he does a significant amount of his work on game days.

He stopped midway down the ramp which leads to the north endzone, where, two by two, the entire band precedes him onto the field, leaving him alone with his baton and his adrenaline.  And the loud.

"It's only a few seconds," he said, "but it's the only time I have to myself all day."  The first time he performed as the Head Drum Major, the Alumni Band was lined up behind him, and he looked over his shoulder to see Stew The Kind of Big Deal, baton in hand and blending in with the scarlet background, now-- a whole host of alums who had stood where he was now standing, strutting where he was about to strut and beginning what he was about to begin.

I turned around myself, looking up through the damp quiet and the weak-tea February sun, and my dark German sense of humor was stirred by what I saw, there in the walls of the signature building of this very enormous, very public school.

"What's up, totally unexpected stained glass windows," I said, more to myself than to Jason, and finally surrendered myself over to the Instant Saccharine Analogy, because seriously, if I should someday read that a Catholic had fled her Catholic brother school for not being Catholic enough only to land at a godless condom-distributing state school where she is confronted by architecture imported directly from the Vatican, I would immediately fling the book across the room for Being Twee.

Jason, meanwhile, was tracing a thin, jagged X in the wall to our left.  "You ever wonder how we know where to stand before starting Ramp?"  he said.  "X marks the spot.  Drum Majors made this, with their batons."  I reached a glove out to the scar-- this defiant slash carved by hand and steel within sight of state-of-the-art Jumbotrons, the mark carved by different people wearing the same uniform,  deepened by Ohio cold and the shake of the band running past.  And since it was part of a gray wall that was missing, there was nothing to take from it, not a thing to seal away... but I felt that fissure against my hand, and it was real.

So is this.  Jason with a backhand cartwheel catch:


Keep Your Tickets

If you did not know by now, please note that we view Triple Crown season with exceeding seriousness around here.  We class it up.  I get a new hat, The Readers strongly consider bathing, and the staff upgrades the stock from Wild Irish Rose to Arbor Mist.  It is a gentle time, fresh with spring and squirt cheese right out of a brand-new can.

If you don't normally follow Thoroughbred racing and are wondering why we're busying ourselves in this fashion in mid-March, realize that in order to gather a Kentucky Derby field, Churchill Downs does not simply cram the first twenty horses who happen to wander down I-75 into a gate.  Horses must earn their way in through prep races, one of which is the esteemed Tampa Bay Derby. 

The Tampa Bay Derby is much like the Kentucky Derby, with the somewhat minor exceptions that the official drink is Natty Lite instead of the mint julep, chances that Michael Jordan will be in attendance are relatively slim, and you are going to be watching warmed-over SportsCenter fourth stringers on TVG instead of GARY STEVENS! on NBC.  Oh, and also, nobody cares.

That means it's perfect for us:

-We begin at the official POST of my bachelorettehood, Tampa Bay Downs.  The last time I attended the Tampa Bay Derby, the horse who won totally, utterly, and completely lost the Kentucky Derby.  Pat Day was riding.  As he is infallible, this was clearly my fault.  Today I watch from a safe, relatively non-threatening distance of about 500 miles.

It is not enough.

-Footage from Tampa Bay Downs is always distinguishable from that of other tracks because seagulls are constantly freaking out and wheeling out of the frame as the horses thunder past.  You'd think they'd have learned by now, but no.  Seagulls like Natty Lite as much as the next upstanding citizen.

-Here's another sign you're watching TVG: The ticker at the bottom of the screen is running odds from races round the country rather than truly important news bulletins out of the Worldwide Second By Second National Update Center on the Life, Times, and VD Status of the Cast of Jersey Shore.

-Wha... I am at a loss here.  While waiting for the Tampa Bay Derby to begin, they're showing another race entirely.  I am flummoxed.  And outraged.  How am I going to know what Smokey Robinson thinks about anything?  You people know absolutely nothing about how to properly broadcast a horse race.

-Please no.  Don't show the crowd.

...Oh wait, that's the 2:30 PM line for the Early Bird Dinner Special at Morrison's Cafeteria.  Never mind.

-There's actually quite a bit of money getting laid down on this race.  Word got out on the wicked awesome hot dogs served up at the BP at the highway exit down the block.

-Your favorite is 2010 Derby winner SuperSaver's half-brother, Brethren, who pricks his ears into the camera.  If horses had dimples, he'd totally be flashing them right now.  Not unlike Justin Timberlake, he's simply adorable, and he knows it, which makes him 1) a candidate for his own reality show 2) and therefore not to be trusted.

-Much discussion of Brethren trainer Todd Pletcher.  (Hey!  Has he won a Triple Crown race yet?)  The watershed moment of the feature is a zoom-out of Todd beginning with the four-color pen in his hand.  Oh snap, four colors?  That's some pretty staggering trainer glam right there.  I bet Baffert sees this and is all, "Well, who can possibly compete with that?"

-Maybe it's because I was just watching footage of Secretariat laying it down, but Brethren looks like he was foaled out of a Newborn My Little Pony box, only somewhat more realistically colored.  He is tiny.

-It is confirmed by the anchors that as far as Todd Pletcher is concerned, "when he shows up, he shows up."  There's your doom, Todd, for you and your four color pen.  Enjoy.

-The Timely Writer Stakes, won in convincing fashion by Breeders' Cup Juvie champ Uncle Mo, is rebroadcast.  The whole thing, too.  And then we are reminded, once again, that This Is TVG:  It is gaily announced that "if we were to have the opportunity to have (owner) Mike Repole on the line, he would be very pleased with what he saw."  But we... don't.  I mean, we tried calling, but it just went right to voicemail.  Mike has emailed us that he'll text later about whether or not he'll maybe think on maybe calling us back.

-See, I do not understand why more people don't demand that TVG become part of basic cable.  Here's your Expert Analysis on the Timely Writer:  "I think that was a perfect prep race.  Because, it was an easy one, yes, but he had to work just enough, I think, to make it a legitimate race.  It wasn't just a walk in the park-- I mean, it was kind of, but at least Rattlesnake Joe--  or Rattlesnake Bridge, excuse me..."  Back to you, anchors Candice Cameron and Scott Baio!

-I have never heard a commentary team which openly hates one another quite as much as these three.  During the desk-chat shot, they were constantly undercutting one another, and not in the fun, frat house, gonna-taze-you-bro fashion, either.  This is full on hhhhhaaaaaaaaaaate, to the point where I almost wish they'd cut away from the post parade and back to the desk in the hopes that some outright groin-punching breaks out.

-There's a colt in this race named Economic Summit.  Good call, owners.  "Let's make our Derby hopeful sound like a C-SPAN hearing!  People will swarm to buy the tee shirt!"

-By the way, there's no beating Brethren today!  Not with Todd Pletcher and his perfectly performing Derby hopefuls, no siree!

-We are reminded that we are "rockin' with the best-- TVG!"  Lines are open for Mike Repole, plus some requests and dedications, right after traffic on the 7's.

-Holy frickin' crap, Moonhanger flips in the gate, right in front of the Early Bird Special line and Todd Pletcher and everybody

-Jock Carlos Marquez is tossed but okay.  Oh geez, that was ugly.  In horseracing?  Hooves perpendicular to the ground is a bad thing.

-Everybody hangs out in the gate.  Stewardesses pass around SkyMall and bags of tiny little pretzels.  Brethren orders a SlumberSleeve.

-Horses movin' on the Redneck Riviera

-Moonhanger, having failed to exit the gate backwards, is now doing his level best to put some distance between himself and it in the opposite direction.  Whelp, that's one way to get a pacesetter.

-The one-two tracker at the bottom of the screen is priceless:  1-2 Brethren barely leads the 86-1 Crimson Knight.  Somebody screengrab this and make it all the world's wallpaper.

-Frickin' match race between Crimson Knight, once a claimer, and  Watch Me Go.  Brethren hangs in for a few strides and then is all. "Whatever, is my SlumberSleeve here yet?"

-Watch Me Go is trained by a person with a uterus.  Aw crap, is he in the Derby now?  NBC immediately parachutes a feature film crew into the infield. 


-Two grand exacta.  Early Bird at Morrison's is on me!  Feel free to order a drink instead of asking for water, even!