by Samantha Prust
I panicked because I thought I my midlife crisis was beginning, but then I really examined the situation. What the heck is a midlife crisis anyway? I mean, how can you have a midlife crisis in a country where you can go to one department store and get everything you need to make your life better, full of appeal and free of all pain and inconvenience—all in all, more wonderful?
You start out in cosmetics: rows of coal black eye pencils, luminescent lipsticks, tubes of gritty mud masks, tubes of rub-in cellulite remover, tiny clear jars of sticky age-defying gels, pink bottles of hair-strengthener, and dandruff remover.
Then on to the pharmacy: headache-aides, stomach-aides, pills that make you alert, pills that put you to sleep, pills that dissipate uncomfortable and embarrassing gas, pills that make you think better, powders that make you thinner, powders that make you stronger.
In aisles of kitchen wares: shiny silver garlic presses, stout wooden pepper grinders, white plastic-handled carrot peelers, handy egg slicers, electric can openers, electric breadmakers, electric knife sharpeners, electric woks, electric waffle irons, electric sandwich makers, even electric salsa makers.
Make your way to bath items: faux-marble toothbrush holders, in green, black and grey, little matching rinse cups, little wicker baskets for soaps and bubblebath or shells, if you prefer, plush toilet seat covers in sheepskin, or a new toilet seat altogether in wood or sponge-filled plastic.
In bedding, bigger, softer pillows, double-cushioned mattress pads, fuzzy flannel sheets, smooth satin sheets, flouncy dust ruffles that hide unsightly junk lurking under beds, satin eye masks you wear to keep out all light while you’re sleeping so that even your dreams are better.
So what is a midlife crisis? It must be discovering that it’s not much longer before you’re halfway to death and there’s no mud mask or gel, no pill or powder, no electric anything, not the plushest toilet seat cover in the world, not the softest pillow, that can stop that. But that’s okay. I don’t want to live forever—unless there’s a pill for that.
by Samantha Prust
Photographs were the least responsible for my realization that my parents are human, even though the pictures of them in various stages of their separate lives would seem to provide the most evidence for this fact. I had the realization as a kid, and it was a big deal because it meant that, yes, my mom and dad had been children, just like me. Finally, we had something in common. Those photos were to me rare and almost impossible: Mom in grade school, standing on a small hill outside a white schoolhouse, pouting, wearing a lace bonnet and holding a small, white purse; Dad in a tight-fitting suit, not pouting, but not smiling, either, standing in front of a garage door. Older, they stood on beaches, in parks, grasped hands, let them go, beat up or got beat up by siblings, rode the bus, drove a car, went to prom, graduated from high school, and went to college where they met and thus ended their lives as human beings in the eyes of the children they had. The photographs were mere props to me, planted in drawers for me to find; it was my parents’ stories about their childhoods that really made me understand that they’re human.
Next Time, Just Ask
When my mother was 5 years old, one of her brother’s friends had a used bike that was her size for sale for five dollars. Her dad said she could buy it if she saved up the money. So she worked and slaved, put a down payment on it, and finally, was able to buy it. She had a “new” bike and couldn’t wait to ride it.
Her family lived in a big house that they could get to by going down a dirt path through a field. She walked her new bike down the dirt path—because she didn’t have any idea how to ride it. She said that she didn’t know where her parents were during this time. She would sit on the bike propped up by a white picket fence, trying to get up the nerve to make it go. Finally, after about a week, she did make it go, and she pedaled like crazy down the road toward another friend’s house. Stopping hadn’t occurred to her before, but now it was an issue; she just looked for something to hit that was fairly soft. It worked.
That whole summer, she would run the bike into big bushes to stop. When crossing intersections, she remembers praying that no cars would come down the street, and somehow, she survived those first few weeks. One good method she remembers doing was to just wipe out so that she wouldn’t hit something really hard. She wanted to ride the bike, but she hated being scared and having to run into things. Sometimes, before she wanted to stop, she would just slow way down and then jump off before it fell over.
She had a lot of bloody knees and noses, and gravel pitted palms, until finally, her mom asked her why she was getting hurt so much when riding her bike. Mom confessed her bike-stopping methods and her mother showed her that you push the pedals backwards to engage the brakes. My mother thought it was a miracle. She still suspects that her brother Lance knew all about how she was crashing her bike to stop, but didn’t tell her how to use the brakes. She says that her parents seemed to feel that their kids would figure everything out if they wanted to badly enough; they didn’t hover or offer much advice unless directly asked.
A Lesson on Revenge
My father, age 10, and his friend Keith Kilmer were riding their bikes back from the woods one day. As they rode past the house where the bad seed kid lived, he came out and blew a bunch of beans at them through a blowgun.
So they went to the mom and pop grocery store right next to their house and bought a bag of navy beans and a cane fishing pole. When they went back home, they cut the cane pole into pieces and it made handy dandy blowguns. Grabbing their bean ammo and weapons, they hopped on their bikes and headed back up the street toward the bad seed’s house.
As they rode up the street, there came the bad seed, running at them full blast with his blowgun in his mouth. My father and his friend pedaled their bikes, sporting their blowguns, mouths bulging like crazed chipmunks, and brrrraaaatttt, brrraaaatttt, pttttewwww—a barrage of beans completely pulverized the bad seed.
Later that evening my grandfather called my father into the kitchen. It seems the bad seed had a bean stuck in his ear and had to go to the hospital to have it removed. Crack! and Splinter! went the blowguns and my dad had to endure an hour-long lecture about the riskiness of propelling legumes at bodily orifices. Maybe the lesson should have been about revenge, although I’m not sure that “be careful when you get revenge because you might hurt someone” is at the top of every revenge-getter’s list.