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I’m with stupid.


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I'm with stupid. Thank goodness.

I

It takes someone really, really intelligent to pull off stupid.

I don’t mean your ordinary, garden-variety stupid — the kind of stupid I encounter like this:

Me, to my dog, Tucker:Arrêt. Assieds. Viens ici.” (Meaning, in informal French, “Stop. Sit down. Come here.” More about this later.*)

Onlooker (or is it “onlistener?”): “Your dog speaks French?”

Me: (struggling to restrain myself from flicking their head with my thumb and forefinger) “Well, he’s really terrible at correcting my French, I’ll say that much. But mostly he’s a good listener.”

Because dogs don’t speak ANYTHING, DUH.

So I don’t mean THAT kind of stupid. We’re all immersed in THAT kind of stupid everyday, and actually we can view it positively.

especially when we do something that makes us feel developmentally disabled, like struggle for an embarrassingly long time pushing on a door you’re supposed to pull, when you tuck your skirt into your pantyhose, or when some joker at the party ruins your joke by saying something annoying like “What do you mean you don’t remember the binomial theorem?”

especially when we do something that makes us feel developmentally disabled, like struggle for an embarrassingly long time pushing on a door you’re supposed to pull, when you tuck your skirt into your pantyhose, or when some joker at the party ruins your joke by saying something annoying like “What do you mean you don’t remember the binomial theorem?”

We can feel like geniuses, especially when we do something that makes us feel developmentally disabled, like struggle for an embarrassingly long time pushing on a door you’re supposed to pull, when you tuck your skirt into your pantyhose, or when some joker at the party ruins your joke by saying something annoying like “What do you mean you don’t remember the binomial theorem?”

Or worse, when you’re wasting time online and get sucked into those horrid IQ tests, and realize that you really aren’t even dull normal. (Why don’t I know the capital of Greenland? Did I ever? Do I need to? Does anyone else? Do they even, in Greenland?)

Still worse is when your nine-year-old comes to you with her math homework, and you — you, who began your own college career as a math major before you realized you didn’t have the imagination for it and became a writer instead — goggle at it, desperately turn the workbook upside-down in the hopes that perhaps that will help, and then feign a casual shrug, rationalize that you are encouraging their independence and say: “We learned math a different way when I was in fifth grade. I suggest you ask your teacher.”

Okay. So now that we’ve ruled out the kind of stupid I don’t mean, let’s talk about the kind of stupid I do mean.

I have enormous admiration for actors like Brenda Song, Suzanne Somers, and Ashton Kutcher, all of whom play, or have played, characters who are so dim they border on nearly retarded, were they to inhabit real life. It takes an extremely intelligent actor to pull that off.

You can tell, because less intelligent actors try to do it and it just doesn’t work. They actually ARE stupid, and it shows.  The jokes aren’t funny, the timing is off, the whole thing falls flat.

Two days ago, my older daughter, who is 12 going on 22, and I, were having a very funny exchange, making fun of each other because she is a golden blonde who dyes her hair red, and I am a redhead who dyes her hair blonde.

(I do this, not for the blonde thing, but because my naturally auburn hair grows in dark – but the very second I step into the sunlight – winter or summer – my hair lightens considerably, making it LOOK as if I color my hair. So I figured, what the heck, why not play?)

Hence, blonde jokes are inevitable. Now: my oldest has developed a rapier wit that leaves you bleeding before you even feel the knife. I’m funny, but her dad is funny too – in a very dry way. She’s gotten the best of both. She’s a colossus of brainy humor, and you NEVER see it coming.

I am at the stove, obediently cooking bacon for the girl, who is growing like a beanstalk and already towering like a willow over me. She is sitting on the kitchen island, swinging her long legs, sitting bolt upright, hands crossed over her chest, lips pursed.

“I don’t know if I can eat that,” she says, in a too-sweet voice. “Is bacon a meat?

Not quite catching on yet, I turn a head. “Boy, you really ARE blonde.”

“Well,” she continues, à la Valley Girl, “I’m re-evaluating my commitment to meatatarianism.”

I hop onto the stupid train with her. “Well, it’s a spiritual thing, you know. A real commitment has to last, you know, like, at least, like, a few hours, at least – you know?”

“Are you a vegetarian?” she asks, big blue eyes wide.

“I don’t know,” I respond helplessly.

She tilts a sympathetic head. “It’s Oh-Kay…” she says, extending the vowels, “everyone experiments sexually.”

I was gone after that. Not only was I flabbergasted that my 12-year-old could make such a clever joke, but I was delighted that she was intelligent enough to play stupid so very well.

* I speak French to my dog for two reasons: one, he is more intelligent than most humans, and once I taught him all the commands in English, he got bored, so I decided to reteach him everything in French. The other reason is that I don’t have anyone else to speak French to, so I speak French to him.

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Secrets from the Closely-Guarded Girl Manual


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what's left of the rosebushSure. I could pay a tree service. Or whoever you hire to take down a massive rose bush with thorns the size of my thumb that one neighborhood kid has already gotten himself snagged on.

This rose bush – less than a foot tall when I naively planted it – has mushroomed to mammoth proportions, as if some evil fairy I neglected to invite to a party has cursed me and now is attempting to surround my house like Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

The leviathan is, now nine feet tall, extending numberless barbed branches like seven foot-tentacles, searching for victims as it waves in the wind like deadly chimes.

We’re all afraid of it.

It’s already injured a neighbor’s kid. Diving for a stray ball, this 11-year-old boy slid like a prince diving for rescue under the horrid brambles. Got snagged by these malignant, inch-long thorns. On his face, no less. Nice kid, too. Even nicer parents.

“Don’t worry about it,” they said, blithely attributing his carelessness for throwing himself into what is obviously a Hansel-and-Gretel child-catcher.

No roses on the diabolical thing, either.

Really. No roses. Well – it actually DOES blossom – tons of them, white, perfect, with a fragrance that would make you lift off the ground with pleasure. It would be a stunner, except for a beast more evil than the rosebush.

Deer – actual, living, tick-infested deer, in this actual city.

These skinny, spindly-legged monsters flock the very day the roses bloom, devouring every one right down to the petals, save for a few lonely, lingering blooms teetering at the top to taunt us.

Fearless, despite their flinchy reputations, nervy enough to high-step their pointy little hooves right up to my front porch and munch their wicked little hearts out.

(So that makes, what? Kittens and deer that I don’t love? Wait, who’s the monster? I really AM much nicer than I sound, I swear.)

So: here I am, facing this titanic mass of thorns, a menace to the neighborhood, which attract even more menacing deer, dropping ticks on my lawn for my children to contract Lyme disease.

At last I find the hedge clippers, which is a small miracle of hope in itself, since Peter won’t be back for another two weeks.

Despite my nine-year-old’s frantic warnings for me to stay the hell away from it – after all, if I am successful in chopping the damn thing down, think, woman, think! It will fall on you, stupid – I nevertheless am desperate enough to try, even though all I am wearing is a tank top and short shorts.

Ow. Ow. Yikes, ow. Now I am bleeding. “You’re right,” I agree. Not only am I stupid, this is not working. Hedge clippers are not the thing. I need a chainsaw.

And Peter.

But since Peter is not here, and neither is a chainsaw, I need to rely on the only tools I have.

The tank top and short shorts.

Hence, The Closely-Guarded Secret Girl Manual, given out in the nicotine hazed girls’ rooms in every middle school across the country, filled with secrets like: Never Call First; Don’t Tell Him Why You’re Mad; It Drives Him Crazy When You Won’t Talk To Him; The Less You Seem Interested, The More He Will Want You; etc.

There’s a whole chapter on how to get work done for you.

It goes sort of like this:

You have a rosebush you hate and want to get rid of, but the thorns are really sharp, and it’s going to be a real pain in the ass.

And Peter is away, or he would totally do it for you, because he has the energy of a small steam locomotive, and besides, he would probably simply pull out his Leatherman, take two swipes at the thing, and it would be gone, leaving you feeling both foolish and full of admiration at the same time. “Rosebushes?” Peter would say. “Easy! You just do this.”

If his arm was hanging off when he was done, he’d just snap it back into place and sit down for dinner without another word.

Instead, I see, far up the street, jogging along, at a nice little amble, my kids’ dad. My head flips through its mental rolodex and I rustle up said chapter in The Closely Guarded Secret Girl Manual, and I begin hacking away at the rosebush randomly, violently, and with some bloodshed on my part. Within minutes, my lawn is covered with thorny stalks.

He stops. Anyone would, really. I look like a madwoman, my shirt half up my belly by now. This is intentional. A pretty, blonde, madwoman.

“What are you doing?” he asks.

“I can’t stand this rosebush any longer. I have to get rid of it.”

“Do you need some help?”

“I really, really do. I think I’m overheating,” I say.

I hand him the hedgeclippers, and head into the house, where he, at least, manages to get rid of most of the stalks I left on the lawn, and defenestrate the bulk of the bush.

He doesn’t complete the job, of course – I know him too well to expect miracles – but Peter will be home soon.

“What the hell happened to the rosebush?” he’ll ask.

“I tried to get rid of it,” I’ll say.

“Rosebushes? They’re easy,” he’ll say, and in a fit of testosterone, he’ll whip out his Leatherman, and take care of the rest of it for me.

And I’ll put away The Closely Guarded Secret Girl Manual until I need it again.

(photo © elizabeth williams bushey. it’s what’s left of the rosebush.)

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