Friday, September 02, 2005

one possible reason i remain unmarried

Some men--I know this is hard to believe--might find it distressing to find a dead frog in the freezer. Dead, dessicated, and flat.

But when I saw Frogzilla here, on the Pacific Crest Trail heading up to the Mount Judah Loop, I just had to pick him up. My aunt was mortified--are you really picking that up? Are you really going to take it home? What do you mean, you want the Tupperware the salad was in? Do you want to put it on a bed of lettuce? Why don't you put it in your own sandwich bag?

Which is very strange, coming from her, and I'll tell you why.

I like to say that J is my "cool" aunt. It's redundant of course, seeing as how she is my only aunt. But I bet even if there were others, J would be the interesting, Bohemian one.

She never married, preferring a string of disreputable and charming lovers. I have a letter she wrote me when I was seven or eight years old, where she mentioned that the police had come by, looking for her latest swain, who she'd met when he came to do some work on her house. I told them I didn't know where he was, she wrote, but that if they found him, I really wanted my tools back. She smoked dope and had a mirror over her bed long before I knew what that meant. She liked puppets and toys and modern music, versus the folk music and King Crimson and Bob Seeger swirling endlessly around my house. One year when we went to visit her in Chicago, she had found these eensy-beensy toy cigarettes, and a little plastic dog with a hole in its mouth to stick them in. Once lit, the cigarettes looked like they were being smoked. J poked a hole in George Washington's mouth on a dollar bill and made him smoke, which delighted me. Although she was a little awkward with adult gifts (her wedding gift to my parents was a sculpture she'd made, my mother says, by turning a blowtorch on some plastic grapes), she was really good at kid gifts; I still have and treasure a "fantasy" cookbook she gave me many years ago, with explanations of why fairies eat this and dwarves that.

But the thing that stands out is a paperweight.

My aunt went to medical school to become a medical illustrator. One of her assignments there required that she dissect a frog. When she was done, she reassembled it, made it into a sandwich with bread, cheese, an olive on a frilled toothpick, the whole nine yards.

Then she encased the whole thing in resin, and made a paperweight out of it.

I loved that paperweight. Every single time we visited her, I had to look at it. It was better even than the penguin nailbrush, the cartoonish drawing of a hippo with a bunch of little hippos floating inside it, the sheets printed with the night sky. It summed up everything that was unusual and desirable about the way my aunt lived. I wanted to be just like my aunt when I grew up (except not quite so spacy), a hip artist type who wasn't all square and tied down, who made things and laughed a lot.

Fast forward nearly thirty years and the deaths of my aunt's complete nuclear family; both parents and her beloved protector, my father. She's faced down cancer herself and won, been through countless unsatisfying jobs, become a Buddhist. In trying to forge an adult relationship with her I'm realizing that I'm seeing her as she was twenty and thirty years ago, and that's not fair. Although she'll still go drinking and dancing at the age of sixty (and took me along last year to do it), she's not quite as wacky as she was, not quite as open as I remember her being (J on California cuisine: I hate it. I ate a sundried tomato once and it was like chewing on an ear.)

In other words, I was kind of hoping she'd wait for me so we could be crazy wild adult artist ladies together, but she had her own changes to face.

And when she recoiled from Frogzilla, I didn't have the heart to remind her of the frog sandwich.

She eased up during the Bataan Death March back to the lodge, which consisted of our going down the wrong road for quite some way, and having to retrace our steps, and nearly passing out from altitude and heat exhaustion by the side of the road while whooping fellas in pickups roared past. We debated the fate of my find. Would I use it to do gyotaku? Could I put it on my scanner and make up some Frogzilla stationery? If properly sealed, could it be jewelery? What about making a mold from it, and casting a series of plaster replicas? She suggested that I could make a bunch of Christmas tree ornaments that way, if I added a little Santa hat and appropriate paint job.

So if that's what you get from me, you know who to blame.