When it rains in South Texas







The Husband: Is that real rain?

Bluebird: Yessir, it sure is. From last night’s thunderstorm.

The Husband: So you didn’t use any instant rain?

Bluebird: (Tilts eyebrow.) Instant rain?

The Husband: You know… (Waves hands carelessly.) …the kind you get from a mix. Like little Betty Crocker’s Instant Thunderstorm Mix.

Bluebird: (Stares at The Husband for a long moment.) You’re really, really weird.

The Husband: Yes’m, I sure am.


[Super-Secret Friday Night 5-Minute Dance Party] Am I Awake?





Is it that time again?

Wasn’t it already then?

So does it have to be

The time it was again?



I will only admit to this once: I’ve actually done a “This is Sparta” to The Husband…more than twice.

And we’re notorious for doing the “Two-Man Saw.”

Any funky sleeping going on at your house? Do you recognize any of these sleep moves? C’mon—I know you’ve at least seen, or participated in, at least one “Circle of Life.”


[5-Minute Dance Party] Suor Cristina Scuccia







Everyone on this earth has a secret dream, right?


Well Sister Cristina Succcia’s secret dream was to sing on Italy’s “The Voice.” It turns out her dream and her talents are well-matched.

Do you have a secret dream? Don’t worry—I won’t ask you what your secret dream happens to be. But I would like to know what you think of secret dreams in general.

For instance, when is okay for a person to allow a dream remain a dream? When do you think a person should pursue a secret dream? When is a secret dream truly unfeasible? Are there cultural norms for how we view personal dreams? Gender norms? And just what is a secret dream anyway?

No, really, I’m asking!




(Click CC for captions in various languages to hear the judges talk about this nun’s amazing talent.)

Names: Some secret, some not




The foster dog looks at The Husband



1.

I have been caring for a foster dog for five weeks and I have not given him any name, even a temporary one on which we all can hang our future hopes for him. Instead, I have called him “Bub” and “Junior” and “the baby” and “darling” and “you.” When I croon to him, the foster dog has heard himself named “sweetie” and “good boy” and “good dog” in the dulcet sing-song I use with babies and young dogs. And when the foster dog requires correction, my stentorian tones linger on “mister” and “sir” and “buddy” — as in “Buddy, you had better leave that power strip alone or we’ll all get a shock today.” and “Sir! Compose yourself.”

In these five weeks, I have called the foster dog so many random things that he does not know when he is being called except that I routinely clap my hand twice across my breastbone and whistle to bring him in from the darkness at the edges of the yard. When he races on three legs from out of the shadows of the loquat trees, I drop to my heels to catch him in my arms and call him “good dog” and “sweet baby” and “love.” While he sighs and presses into my shoulder, I massage his cheeks with the palms of my hands in the circle of brightness from the security light by the back door. And there it is: I regret another day in which I have not named him.


2.

I myself have two first names—a public name and a private name. Nearly four decades ago, my mother asked her mother to drive her to municipal libraries in three cities to look for names for the spark she carried between her small hips. It was my grandmother who told me this story first—with an equal amount of amusement and wonder and respect—because she, herself, would not have gone to any wild trouble over a name—names came to you, she believed, not you to them. You did not, as my grandmother put it “hunt them down” or “track a name to the near-ends of the earth.” But this is exactly what my mother did when she was six months pregnant and beginning to show a little, even when she wore her car coat.

Put another way, my mother didn’t require someone else to climb over the fence of the witch’s garden patch next door to settle her craving for green spring peas like the pregnant woman in the fairy tale. She herself launched over that garden wall with a leg up from my grandmother. Only my mother knew what she was craving, and only she could find it. And woe be to any witch who threatened my mother —she was the hero on a quest. Everybody knows you don’t mess with the hero of the story. You drive them to the library to hunt for names, or you get out of the way.

My mother, the hunter. My mother, the hero. My mother, the sorceress. My mother, who gave me two first names, one secret, one not.

To know my true name is to conjure me on the spot.


3.

In fairy tales, one’s name is the source of great power. Think of the hapless promise the terrified miller’s daughter makes to an opportunistic imp when she must spin straw into gold, or die. The imp can fix these matters if the miller’s daughter will promise him her future first child. She agrees, tout suite. True to all fairy tales, there is a twist to the promise: Should she can somehow discover the imp’s true name before he claims the child, he must forfeit her firstborn. Straw becomes gold; she lives to marry the king. When the imp arrives a year later to take her newborn child, it is the wind that finally saves the queen by carrying the imp’s name across the mountains. At the last minute, when the imp is about to lay hands on the infant, the former miller’s daughter calls him by name—Rumpelstiltskin!

Shocked, he blips out of existence. End of story.

Or is it? What has history taught us about names and naming that’s any different than the terror experienced by Rumpelstiltskin when the miller’s daughter speaks his true name? It’s the same old story, rewritten so the broken promise of the queen in the third act will appear gilded and heroic. But still: A broken promise is a broken promise. But still: The queen named names. But still: There is no Rumplestiltskin.


4.

We don’t speak our names to strangers: We give them our names. Our names are also our surest currency: We can put our name behind a venture; we can let someone work under our name to get ahead in business. That’s assuming we have a good name to start with—meaning an acquired set of respected traits that people imagine when one’s name is conjured in conversation. For bad or for good, someone can act in your name because that’s the name of the game, but if your name is mud you may have to clear your name. Even so, your name may remain tarnished beyond recognition.

Regardless, I answer to the name Courtenay. But I am also called ________, which means almost no one is on a first-name basis with me.

Besides, I will probably not catch your name for the first six times I hear it. It’s not that I’m rude—I’m just terrible at names.


5.

Names are the architecture on which we build the self. Names are the conqueror’s last word on an occupied space. Names lift and fall and bury and rise at an equal rate at which we speak those names aloud. Some names are magic. Some names are mysteries. Some names are crystalline structures that blow down at the first breath. Some things are felt to be so terrible are named ‘unnameable.’ Some names can never tbe spoken aloud or one will be seen as using that name in vain—or worse.

A name is a tailor-made burden. A name is the bright electric torch that illumines our way through everyday darkness. A name is a stamp and a trademark and a wish. A name is what we use to recall ourselves to ourselves long after the ones who named us have left the room. Sometimes we are named after someone and must live up to that name. Sometimes our names are our own to make or to destroy.

When we marry and take someone else’s name, we can even disappear.

There is no greater sleight-of-hand than a name.


6.

I am standing in darkness; the foster dog hops along the fence line, bending the branches of the loquat trees as he goes. His paralyzed foot drags across the dead leaves, which then crackle and pop. In a few weeks, the cicadas will wake from their seven-year sleep and rise from the ground to sing in chorus during the watches of the night. It’s time to go inside. I thump my breastbone and whistle out to the dog. I can hear him turning around beneath the trees, considering my call. I thump my breastbone again and whistle twice: I am the only one outside tonight.

He turns to run to me; my hands are open. He runs; I will catch him in my arms.

Every dog deserves a name.




HEY! Want to help me name a foster dog? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

[5-Minute Dance Party] That’s Not My Name










They call me ‘hell’
They call me ‘Stacey’
They call me ‘her’
They call me ‘Jane’
That’s not my name



Has anyone ever gotten your name wrong? I mean, really, really wrong?


Listen, I once allowed a woman to call me “Whitney” for eight years. It wasn’t a big deal, really—I didn’t see her often, and she was awfully nice, and Whitney was close enough that the only bother was remembering to answer her when she called me by name. I mean, her version of my name.

The longer this farce went on, the more weird it would seem if I turned around to this woman and suddenly said, “You know what? My name is actually Courtenay.”

I needn’t have worried. Eight years later, I was sitting in an airport bus headed for an Irish stepdance and music thing with ten other people from my dance school. While we were bouncing around the back on bad shocks, that lovely woman leaned forward and put her hand on my shoulder—”Whitney, here—”

“WHITney?” Someone roared from the very back. “Her name is COURTenay.”

“Oh. OH! Is this true, Whitney?” She emitted a small embarrassed laugh. “—Courtenay.”

The lights from the street lamps crisscrossed my knees as we drove into the city. “You were just so nice.” I worked my hands in the air, trying to conjure an exact explanation. “I just didn’t know how to tell you.”

I was a month shy of 18 when I had that conversation in an airport van with a woman who accidentally called me Whitney for eight years. My life lay before me in so many strange trips to so many cities with so many people who didn’t know my name, that this moment seemed like a blip. And who can call someone to fault for misnaming you when it was your own correction to make?


And besides, Courtenay is not actually my “real” name.

Courtenay is my nickname. Almost nobody knows this. In essence, my mother gave me two first names to do with as I wished. And my wish has been to keep one of my names somewhat secret.

Why am I bringing this up now? Today’s upcoming story is all about names!


STAY TUNED FOR TODAY’S ESSAY! In the meantime, please enjoy this rather apt pop song by The Ting Tings.

That’s Not My Name hit the top of the British charts in 2008. Note the intentional visual references in this music video to Toni Basil’s early ’80s hit music video for “Mickey.” Fun, right?


The Marriage Interpreter [No. 50]

Illustrated  Husband making bunny ears.

THE HUSBAND strolls into Bluebird’s office. BLUEBIRD is on the phone with Phillip.

The Husband: What are the din deets?

Bluebird: (On the phone with Phillip Lozano.) Wait, this is for you Phillip. (Turns on speaker phone.)

The Husband: What are the din deets? That means ‘dinner details’— it’s for people who are too busy to say entire words.

Phillip: (Laughs.) How are you?

The Husband: (Grabbing the speaker phone and walking away.) What have I been doing? I’ve been busy, busy. I’m busy growing out a mustache and that takes time….


***


THE HUSBAND looks glum.

Bluebird: What’s wrong?

The Husband: I was just listening to a Gwen Stefani song and now I’m confused.

Bluebird: Okay?

The Husband: (Frustrated.) What’s a hollowbacked girl?




Wait! Don’t tell me! Your talking about Eggy Strop. (Flustered.) I mean, Streggy Loop! I mean, Piggy Ope! I mean—




THE HUSBAND is driving south. BLUEBIRD is in the passenger seat talking a mile-a-minute.

Bluebird: …and that reminds me of—

The Husband: Wait! Don’t tell me! Your talking about Eggy Strop. (Flustered.) I mean, Streggy Loop! I mean, Piggy Ope! I mean—

Bluebird: (Wide-eyed.) —Iggy Pop?

The Husband: (A beat. Then, casual-like.) Well, naturally it’s…that guy.


***


THE HUSBAND IS SENDING TEXT MESSAGES to Bluebird from the ranch.

(Ping! A message arrives.)

The Husband: I’m changing my pen name to Verdana Fontt.

Bluebird: (Texting back.) Okay? What’s your middle name, then?

The Husband: Futura. (Ping!) But she’s thinking about changing it to her mother’s maiden name—

Bluebird: (Realizes what’s coming.) (Small voice.) Oh no.

The Husband: (Ping!) —San Serif.

(Bluebird covers her eyes with her hands.)

The Husband: (Ping!) Are you still there? (Ping!) Anyway, Verdana Fontt is also a superhero. (Ping!) She can give you an instant migraine at will if you stare at her too long.


***


THE HUSBAND is calling Bluebird from the ranch on Easter Sunday.

Bluebird: (Answering phone.) Hello?

The Husband: Happy Halloween!

Bluebird: ??? (Pause.) Are you having a stroke?

The Husband: (Ignoring question.) Did you know you can make an omelette with Cadbury Cream Eggs? (Talking faster.) I’ve had six cups of coffee! (And faster.) I think I may go for a run this morning!

Bluebird: I…(Stumped.) Hunh.

The Husband: (Talking at the speed of sound.) Thenewespressomaker fromthethriftstore worksgreat! (Even faster.) I’mgoingtohavemorecoffeenow! Iwillcallyouafter Ifinishstudying! HappyEaster!

(The Husband hangs up.)

The Bluebird looks at her phone in wonder.

Bluebird: (Out loud.) What just happened?

Photo-illustration of The Husband making Bunny Ears.




(Happy Easter, everyone!)

[5-Minute Dance Party] Sunny and Steve — Enjoy the Sweets









Happy Easter!


When was the last time you fought over Easter candy at your house?

The last time we fought over Easter candy was, let me see here—about three weeks ago?


On a related note, I’ve got some happy news!

We’re posting our 50th Marriage Interpreter today!

Can you believe it?

What’s been your favorite Marriage Interpreter moment so far?

(I think mine will always be the Cookie Movie incident.)







Our regular and original feature, Our Sunday Best, will return to its weekly posted time next Sunday.

And then you wake (Reprise)





Dream pop Courtenay Bluebird Faux Noir Cover



Well, what can I say? It’s been one helluva month, that’s what I can say.


In any which case, I missed you. Can you tell that I was trying to make a photograph that looked like one of those late 1960s pallet-knife paintings? Science fiction paperbacks used that style a lot. So did pulp novels. You know what those look like, right?

Tell you what—What I really want to hear is a story about the cover of your favorite paperback book.


  • More

    [5-Minute Dance Party] Jimmy's Gang
    Tenderness for the Promises We Make
    About Courtenay Bluebird
    A Possum For Don
    [5-Minute Dance Party] I'd Never Tell
    Seasonal Discombobulation Disorder in the Country of Bluebirdistan