Hostmama.

The other day, I rediscovered the diary I kept during my time abroad in Spain in college.  Lately (always), I’ve been thinking about money, and how I don’t have much of it.  It makes me think I should be more politically aware, so that I can vote for the person who will take away less of my money, but I’d rather just brood on how my tiny little bank account probably won’t lead me to Europe anytime soon.

Before I found the diary, I was doing that thing where I look back on the time I spent abroad and thinking to myself, “Wow, I should have lived more! I should have ridden tandem bicycles and picnicked and skinny dipped in some body of water with an ethnic man!”  But then I remember that I probably would have gotten injured (picnic) or pregnant (bike ride) if I had done those things.  Plus, as the diary reminded me, everyone in Spain hated me.

Making friends is hard, especially when you’re in Madrid and you don’t speak great Spanish, so you’re afraid to talk to people who don’t speak English.  Making friends is even harder when you’re also afraid to talk to the people in your program who speak English, because they all came to Spain with their best friends, so you’re left standing alone by the vending machine during every class break pretending that you’re trying to decide what snack to get, but what you’re actually thinking is, “DON’T LOOK AT ME I AM DECIDING THINGS AND THEN I WILL GO HOME AND SKYPE WITH MY BEST FRIEND EVER WHO IS IN AMERICA AND IS MY MOM.”

But in reality, I went home to a certifiably insane host mother and three devastatingly beautiful Spanish ho(s)t sisters, none of whom understood anything I tried to say.  It took me a week to figure out how to ask where the toilet paper was, so I kept stealing rolls from the Sisters’ bathroom out of shame.  Hostmama and the Sisters only ever called me “chica,” because none of them seemed capable of remembering my real name.

My first day there, Hostmama gave me a mug to use, and told me that I was only ever allowed to use that mug.  I couldn’t drink out of any of the other cups in the kitchen.  Every morning I would walk into the kitchen to clean The Mug, and find Hostmama patting her stomach and saying to herself in Spanish, “I am a little fat. But only a little.”  Then I would say, “good morning” in (what I thought was) Spanish, and she would look at me vacantly.  Then Hostmama would walk out into the hallway and yell at me to put my shoes in my room–even if there weren’t any shoes in the hallway. Every morning.

Hostmama also got deeply offended when I couldn’t finish all the food she piled on my plate.  Each scoop felt like a thrown gauntlet.  I tried so hard, so hard, to eat her huge platefuls of potatoes and ham and some kind of tomato salad, and whenever I just couldn’t get the last bites down, one of the Sisters would gleefully yell to Hostmama, “MAMA! CHICA DOESN’T WANT TO EAT ANYMORE!” and then Hostmama would appear out of nowhere, take my plate, push the uneaten food into the trash, and stare at me the whole time.

After two weeks, she stopped giving me whatever the family would eat, and gave me a single, cold hotdog on a plate instead.

I did have three pseudo-friends at one point during the program, two guys and a girl, and that was only because I tripped over one of their outstretched legs and scratched my knee, so they felt obligated to adopt me. I shall call the boys Fred and Tom, and the girl will be Ginger.

FTG and I did everything together for two weeks, and I felt like I should get a tattoo to remember how happy I was to finally have friends–although I kind of knew we would never have been friends outside of mutual desperation for company.  Fred was in a metal band and chain-smoked, Tom was an insufferable philosophy major who made Woody Allen look like Pollyanna, and Ginger was the daughter of religious zealots, and she had only one goal while in Spain: find a topless beach. Regardless, we did stuff together because everyone else in the program already had friends, and for a while, I think we actually enjoyed hanging out.

But then stuff happened.  Fred and Ginger started sleeping together, while Tom and I got into a huge fight about who should win the Oscar for Best Actor that year (Sean Penn for Milk or Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler).  When we decided to take a weekend trip to a couple cities in southern Spain, things imploded.

Fred and Ginger shared a hostel room, so Tom and I were forced to share a room, despite our thinly veiled, growing contempt for one another.  Tom had decided I was very stupid, because I once told TGF that I hadn’t finished reading The Canterbury Tales in high school–I fell asleep every time I tried.  Tom then took every opportunity to tell me that I wasn’t “well-read enough.”  I took every opportunity to tell him to shut up or I would “Canterbury him somewhere even his mother wouldn’t find him.”  Things were tense.

Our second night of the trip, we all went out to dinner, and then I decided to go back to the hostel because we had an early train to catch.  TGF was going to go to a nearby bar for “a drink.”  I went back, read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency for a while, and then fell asleep with the light on.

Around 6AM (our train was leaving at 8AM), TGF all stumbled into the hostel, tripping balls on a whole myriad of drugs that they described as “gooey.”  Tom fell into his bed, stared at the ceiling, and started to methodically recite the alphabet forward and backward, while Fred and Ginger sat on the floor and took turns slowly touching the other’s face and whispering, “Wow.”

Fred and Ginger eventually retreated back to their own room, presumably to continue re-enacting Lionel Richie’s “Hello” music video, and Tom stopped reciting the alphabet.  When the alarm went off a half hour later, Tom sat up and looked around like a caged animal, balls clearly still on an extended trip.  He stared at me.  I stared at him.  Then he spoke in hushed, frightened tones.

Tom: Is there a cockroach in the bathroom?
Keely: What?
Tom: Cockroach. In the bathroom.
Keely: Have you been in there?
Tom: I don’t know, have I?
Keely: Is this some philosophy exercise?  Because we need to be out of here five minutes ago–
Tom: SHHHHH!
Keely: …
Tom: …
Keely: …
Tom: …I went in there and it looked at me.
Keely: Great. Get dressed.
Tom: I can’t move.  My legs won’t work until I know.
Keely: THERE IS NO COCKROACH.
Tom: YOU DON’T KNOW THAT.
Keely: Fine. Look. [Keely walks over to the bathroom, pushes open the door, and sees a cockroach on the sink. It looks at her.  She looks at it.] OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD–
Tom: I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT! KILL IT!
Keely: YOU KILL IT!
Tom: MY LEGS DON’T WORK!
Keely: I HATE THIS I HATE YOU!

I grabbed my already-packed suitcase and ran downstairs, where I waited.  Twenty minutes later, Tom and Fred came ambling down the stairs, supporting a giggly Ginger, who hummed and tried to braid my hair every step of our silent  journey to the bus station.  Halfway through the bus ride, FTG’s balls came back from vaca, and they all started looking a little green.  Ginger went and threw up in the bathroom.

When we got to our next city, it was a slow journey to the new hostel.  We each took turns carrying Ginger like a backpack.  FTG slept that entire day, while I tried to find my way around the town.  I came back in the evening to a note that simply said, “Beach.”  I walked down to the beach, where I found Ginger awake and happy and skipping around and completely topless.  Fred and Tom reclined on towels, watching her unblinkingly.  Tom looked at my one-piece and said, “Nice towel.” I gave him the finger and sat down.

While Tom and Fred talked about obscure bands, and about their hallucinations the night before, they sometimes included me in the chat by commenting on how I had totally missed out and shouldn’t have flaked to go back and read my “chick-lit or whatever,” and how I wasn’t really experiencing the culture because of my unwillingness to experience new things, I started to get really mad.

Then Tom made my short, stout little teapot steam up and shout with a final, “I could understand if you were flaking for good literature, but–” and then I lost my mind.  Kind of.  In my head, this is what I said to them:

“Ya know, fuck you both.  Seriously.  You spent the whole day sleeping off your drug binge while I went around the city and ‘experienced culture.’ and The Canterbury Tales sucks.  It’s long, and it’s boring, and no one likes it.  Neither of you like it.  Name me three of the characters.”  And they just look startled, and ashamed, and can’t name any character. “Exactly. But I would still rather read that whole awful goddamn book than hang out with you assholes.  And you [indicates Tom] are too much of a pussy to even kill a cockroach, so fuck you and the Encyclopedia you read in your spare time.  And ya know, fuck Mickey Rourke.  Because he won’t win for Best Actor over Sean Penn, because Sean Penn is the best actor ever.”

What actually happened was I just got up and left without a word, grabbed my stuff from the hostel, took a bus back to Madrid, and ignored all three of them for the rest of the program, much like a child would.

But you know what happened after that?

THIS.

Life Isn’t RenFaire.

I’ve been researching sea cucumbers since Saturday evening, when I returned from the New York Renaissance Faire.  One of the sea cucumber’s natural defenses–well, its only one as far as I know, since it’s a cucumber–is expelling its intestines if it feels like it’s being attacked.  The idea is that the predator will get caught up in the intestines, and think it’s a big surprise party of silly string, thereby giving the sea cucumber time to slowly scooch away.

I have decided that I’d like to be a sea cucumber.  I would like to be able to, at any point in time, vomit up my guts so that I can temporarily confuse people into partying, while my remaining bits sneak off and return to RenFaire.  That’s how magical a place it is.

When I was age seven, my parents and brother and I went to the RenFaire in Ohio.  There were bawdy Shakespeare performers who said the word “damn,” and that was a dangerous and sensational word!  We watched jousting, I ate a turkey leg bigger than my torso, and bought a princess headdress that I was positive made me look like the Childlike Empress from The NeverEnding Story–in reality, with my blunt little blonde bob and bangs, it made me look more like a medieval pageboy.  I still screamed, “SAY MY NAAAAME, BASTIAN!” during most of the ride home.  Then the turkey coma hit, and I passed out before I could even get the headdress off.

I haven’t been to a Renaissance Faire since then.  About a month ago, a girl I went to theatre school with posted on Facebook that she was performing in the NY RenFaire–her post just happened to coincide with my not getting a job I thought I had in the bag, and I saw that post, and the tiny, malnourished remnants of my inner child screamed, “A LIGHT! A TINY LIGHT THAT WILL KEEP THE DARKNESS FROM SWALLOWING US, BIGKEELY! CATCH IT WITH YOUR DEBIT CARD!”  And so I did, and proceeded to get so excited about RenFaire that it took on a monumental importance in my life: it became the ultimate symbol of reclaiming my childhood happiness. (Also, Rendress.)

Each day became an obstacle between me and RenFaire 2012.  Ultraman also got a ticket, even though he isn’t really into that kind of thing.  He’s always been too attractive and well-adjusted to really need the fantasy/medieval culture.  I think he agreed to along because he’s seen me very excited, and it’s almost as scary as seeing me very depressed.  He did, very wisely, suggest we bring sunscreen.  I stopped Googling “female chain mail armor” long enough to wave my hand dismissively and tell him that “where we’re going, sunscreen hasn’t been invented yet.”

The day came!  We took a cab to the bus station, because I was convinced leaving only an hour ahead of the scheduled boarding time was cutting it too close to take the subway.  We somehow navigated Port Authority, and when we turned the corner to our gate, we were met by a huge line of waiting passengers.

Just as I began pumping my first and shrieking, “WE’RE ALL PUNCTUAL AND WE’VE ALL SEEN A KNIGHT’S TALE” I realized that the long line was not for our gate.  Our gate was the neighboring gate, and unmistakably, the gate for RenFaire.

The pink fairy told me the long line was for some outdoor shopping mall upstate.  I told her that I loved her outfit, then got so excited that I got the hiccups.  When we pulled into the parking lot, I refused to let Ultraman pee, and dragged him by his long arm toward the castle-like entrance.  Let me tell you.  Renaissance Faires have changed a lot since I was seven years old.  These days, they are even cooler.  I will describe RenFaire in big letters!

There were turkey legs everywhere, and a field where knights jousted, and a game where people threw axes at a big wooden panel!  Robin Hood and Maid Marian and Queen Elizabeth danced around a Maypole, and there was even an archery stand where I tried shooting a bow and arrow for the first time, and felt my inner-Katniss Everdeen die violently of shame!

And a petting zoo that featured a depressed porcupine,

a chubby hawk named Utah,


and some ducks waddling around in front of a camouflage shower curtain!

There was strangely endearing product placement!

Unemployed fairies!

A crazy, hammy parrot named Buddy!

And, maybe most importantly, headdresses.

Putting that headdress on was like stepping into a time machine.  I put it on and felt myself become The Childlike Empress.  RenFaire was my Fantasia, Ultraman was Atreyu, and everyone else was Falcor.  It was the perfect day. No part of me wanted to leave, especially after I got the hiccups for the third time during the final joust–spoiler alert, Queen Elizabeth gets into an axe fight, and it’s awesome.

But 6:30PM came, and we had to get back on the bus.  I felt like a kid being forced to leave a playground, and part of me wanted to curl up in a ball and scream and cry until someone told me that I could stay there forever.  I felt the little light I had bought with my debit card begin to go out, and my inner child slowly slipping back into malnourished pseudo-being.  I began to feel small and insignificant again, and everyone else was starting to look more like people and less like Falcor.  I felt my face doing the thing it does before I cry.

Then the turkey coma hit, and I passed out before I could even get the headdress off.

The Lochte Monster.

Ryan Lochte is reportedly in talks to do an unspecified reality TV show.

I think Ryan Lochte is one helluva swimmer, and a satiating piece of eye candy, but I can’t imagine any existing reality TV shows would do his particular talents justice.

So before this process goes any further, I would like to offer up the 10 ideas I can think of that would interest me in watching Ryan Lochte on a reality TV show.

The Top 10 Ryan Lochte Reality TV Show Pitches

1) The Lochte Monster

Ryan Lochte is forced to live in a lake for 365 days.
Tagline: Nessie Ain’t Sh*t.

2) Lochte Who’s Talking Now!

A dating game show during which Ryan Lochte interviews different women while wearing his famous grill.  Whichever lady comes closest to understanding what he says gets to go on a date with him.
Tagline: Intelligence Unlochtes His Heart.

3) Lochte and Throw Away the Key

Each episode focuses on Ryan Lochte’s survival skills.  He is placed in a confined space–various suburban basements, caves, foxholes, etc.–with only his Olympic speedo, swim cap, and goggles, and must find a way to freedom before the 6-hour mark.
Tagline: This Time Winning Means Living.

4) Taking Tea with Lochte.

A weekly televised book review that features Ryan Lochte taking Afternoon Tea in various famous tea houses around the world, while offering up his intellectual views on classic literature.
Tagline: Lochte and Sympathy–For Proust, Because He Was Totally Overrated, AmiRight?!

5) Grillin’ with Lochte

A Food Network special that features Ryan Lochte grilling meat while wearing his grill. (Note: Subtitles are a must.)
Tagline: GRRRRRILSWIVUNOLIMPSCHMMMP.
(Grillin’ With an Olympic Champ.)

6) Lochteeth

A camera crew follows Ryan Lochte’s charismatic grill on its daily goings on.  From meeting with companies who have endorsed Ryan Lochte, to calling Lochte’s mother to check up on her health, we come to find that behind every great Olympic athlete, there’s a greater accessory.
Tagline: Where’s There’s a Grill, There’s A Way.

7) Trophy Wife

A Bachelor-esque type show, starring Ryan Lochte and ten beautiful ladies.  The ladies all come from different backgrounds and countries, but have one thing in common: their love for Ryan Lochte.  The show ends with Ryan Lochte giving one of these girls her dream come true: a one-night stand with Ryan Lochte.
Tagline: Ten Women, One-Night Stand.

8) Lochteam

Ryan Lochte must teach a group of ten, sassy NYC inner city public school kids how to swim.  The season ends with the team competing in a district swimming competition, and if they lose, Ryan Lochte has to give back all his Olympic medals.
Tagline: It’s All on the Lane.

9) Lochtean Slip

We follow Ryan Lochte as he uses the word “JEAH!” in entirely inappropriate social contexts in his everyday life.
Example:

Devon Lochte: Ryan, great news!  Grandma’s gonna be ok!
Ryan Lochte: JEAH!
Devon Lochte: Dude. Come on.

Tagline: Can a Catchphrase be Too Catchy?

10) Lochtearas and Toddlers.

A difficult but comely toddler is coached to success (or failure) on the youth beauty pageant circuit by King of Fashion, Ryan Lochte.  Watch Ryan tap, sing, and do what he loves best: wear clothes.
Tagline: Youth, Beauty, and Green Rhinestones.

Say ‘Yes’ to Distress.

My best friend is getting married, and she asked me to be her maid of honor.  I am flattered and thrilled, and I adore her fiance, and I have no idea what I’m doing.

Lilly is a petite size nothing, brunette knockout with huge blue eyes.  She looks like a very tiny statue, or a huge fairy.  And even worse, she has the personality blend of Amy Adams and Emma Stone.  If you met her, you’d want to hate her real bad, and end up wanting to take her out to a pricey lunch.  So when I did the one thing I know a maid of honor is supposed to do and made her an appointment to try on wedding dresses–at the wonderful Lovely Bride–I knew that it was going to be an emotional day.

I’m protective of my sweet little Lilly, mainly because she’s the size of an edamame pod, and I’ve fiercely hated many of her boyfriends.  I also knew that it would be a physically taxing day, because I was going to have to avoid standing next to her in mirrors.  I even dressed down so that when I caught the accidental glimpse, I could mindscream, “IT’S OK, YOU DIDN’T EVEN TRY TODAY.”  Whenever Lillypod and I have considered a possible bridesmaid dress, this has been my only criterion:

Lillypod: What do you think of this one?
Keely: That’s so nice! Will you feel upstaged if I wear this though?
Lillypod: Aww, no of course not!
Keely: Then I’m not getting it.

She looked amazing in everything, of course, and I made lots of jokes about how now I would have to change my retirement plans.  That’s the only real inconvenience of the wedding.  I had always thought our combined poverty would somehow buy Lillypod and I a large house in New England, where we would adopt many cats, and fuel the local rumors that we were lesbian witches.  And that our magic was derived from our gayness.  It was all very Practical Magic meets Thelma and Louise meets The Kids are All Right.

Our time at Lovely Bride was, well, lovely.  We had a private room, and a sort of medieval handmaiden to lace and button Lillypod in and out of each dress.  They had the perfect music playing, the kind of music that makes you look at yourself/your loved one in a wedding dress and weep with happiness, then fork over $2,000 before the Dixie Chicks’ “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)” is over.

It was magical, and we both left feeling happy, and a little overwhelmed, because we were both realizing a little bit more that Lillypod is getting married.  And that’s a big deal. But more than that, we felt the need for Jamba Juice.

Lillypod suggested we check out David’s Bridal, because it was nearby, and why not?  I had seen a David’s Bridal in Ohio, and because there was one in Ohio, I assumed we didn’t need an appointment.

Well, we did. And as we waited for Lilly’s named to be called, perusing the bridal magazines and listening to “Waiting for Tonight” by Jennifer Lopez playing overhead just a little too loudly–perhaps David’s Bridal endorses saving the carnal pleasures of life for marriage?–it became clear this would be a very different experience from Lovely Bride.  So sweet little Lillypod sat there and read for a while, completely serene and content and pod-like.  Because I’m going to the Renaissance Faire next weekend–AND I AM SO EXCITED–Lillypod jokingly pointed out a dress to me, expecting me to laugh:

But I didn’t laugh. Because when you find your soul mate, you don’t laugh, you get very quiet and still and grateful.  When you find the wedding dress destined to be yours, it’s a magical moment.  When you find something that reminds you of your beloved Renaissance Faire, your time abroad in Madrid wishing you knew how to flamenco dance, and bloodstained Lady MacBeth all wrapped up into a few glorious yards of cheap fabric, you don’t make a peep; you shed a tear.

And so I wiped my tear of reverence away, and we decided to look around.  I knew that the day was going to be emotional, but it turns out that David’s Bridal makes you feel things you never thought you’d feel when it comes to dresses:

Confusion.
What is it? Why is it?  It must be a sleeved trashcan, or a headless swan in a t-shirt.

Comfort.
Nothing says ‘warmth’ like watching a blushing bride walk down the aisle in a winter cape. And nothing else.

Anger.
If you show up to Lillypod’s wedding in a bedazzled highlighter, you will be banned from the buffet.

Vagina.
Because it’s Vaginadress.


Fear.
GHOSTS!!!!

Relief.
Now you can tell your mother OR your father where to find their wedding attire!


And finally…

Apprehension.

Cautious optimism.

Optimism…

ELATION!
RENDRESS.

While I sat down with a calculator and tried to figure out whether or not it was possible to mortgage a dress, Lillypod’s name was called and she started trying on dresses.  People around her went crazy.  One woman punched me in the shoulder, pointed to Lillypod, and whispered “Audrey Hepburn.” I punched her back and said, “DON’T TOUCH ME I AM MAKING NUMBERS FOR RENDRESS.”

Lillypod tried on a few form-fitting, lace dresses, and looked stunning in all of them.  Punchwoman cried out, “Oh! Grace Kelly!” and at the same moment,  I stopped making numbers and realized that Rendress would never be mine.  I was undermoneyed, and did not understand anything about mortgages.   Something small in me snapped.  I thought, “Stupid Punchwoman! These uncultured buffoons! NO ONE can look like Grace Kelly AND Audrey Hepburn! They look nothing alike! You’re just saying names you’ve heard on the TV!”

And so I did an evil thing.  I did a thing that was selfish, and not maid of honorly at all.  I told Lillypod she should try on a big fluffy ball gown, for the lulz–but really, embittered and poor, I just wanted to see her look like a child in a christening gown. I wanted to see her lost in yards of fabric and go, “AH HAH! NOT FLATTERING!”

The saleswoman grabbed some huge, cotton-ball-looking-ballerina-on-steroids concoction from the back, and Lillypod disappeared into the changing room and got dressed while I sat outside and tapped my fingertips together sinisterly.

Then she came out. And you know what?

She looked like the goddamn lovechild of Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn.