Like a Pig In Mud
By Susan Head
Disclaimer: The events depicted herein are based loosely around real life, however the characters are mostly fictional bearing little or no resemblance to actual people, apart from the indomitable “Miss Piggy”, who remains larger than life, as always!
I’ve had a few inspiring Miss Piggy moments recently. So it’s only natural that I would turn to her larger than life character when searching for that all important and not-to-be-forgotten name for a new start up. Take for example what happened after I turned up, full of expectation and exuberance, for my first Car Park duty last weekend.
The appeal for more volunteers a month earlier had been irresistible. I mean what woman wouldn’t take the opportunity to get rid of those pesky bits of excess flesh that hang down like a cow’s udder when you lift up your arms whilst simultaneously telling (mostly male) drivers where to go?
Five kilogram weights they promised in their demonstration, one in each hand; colourful cones that will work out even the flabbiest of wobbly triceps as you wave them around and direct traffic. What could be easier? I could take or leave the fluorescent vest that went with it, but then again, orange is making a big comeback this season I rationalized and like Miss Piggy, a girl can always accessorize.
I had taken my time before wandering up to the stand, in the hope that I would avoid the inevitable crush from like-minded women responding to the call to arms. My strategy paid off. Trying not to look too eager I scribbled my name on the clipboard. And then came my next Miss Piggy moment.
The team leader I fronted up to stared at me in excited disbelief and kept asking if I was sure I wanted to volunteer for car park.
‘Er, yes,’ I mumbled feeling flattered. Did he think my arms didn’t need a workout? I was tempted to flutter my eyelashes at him like she would have, but settled for tossing my hair over my shoulder instead.
‘It’s just that… you’re…. well, the first,’ he confessed. I had noticed that I was the only name on the sheet, but assumed they were just starting a new page given how sure I was of the crowds of women that would have flocked to their table ahead of me.
Until it became too obvious, even for Miss Piggy. It was not just that I was the only name on the page. It was that I was the only female name on the page. Ever.
‘You’ve gotta be kidding me,’ I grunted, thrusting my face towards him and dropping any semblance of lady-like demure.
‘No one? No other women?’ What was I missing?
The sweat breaking out on the young man’s face, inches from my own must have distracted me. Beads of it gathered across his temple and threatened to drip into his eyes. How unmanly, I thought, and not at all attractive. I gave him my best Miss Piggy withering look until the implication of what he’d just said finally sank in and grabbed my attention back.
All men, he’d said! And me! This unforseen twist could be the answer to my current dilemma.
Newly single and having just moved into a brand new house, it caused me no end of chagrin to admit, that what I needed the most right now, was a man. Only certain parts you understand.
No, No, No! Not those parts. (Well, maybe not). No, what I need is the brawn; the muscle for heavy lifting and digging and electrocuting themselves on my behalf. And with no other female within cooee competing for their attention…. what was a girl to do? I threw down the gauntlet.
‘What can be so hard?’ I snorted. ‘What’s wrong with them all?’
I tossed my hair over my other shoulder and pushed the clipboard back towards him. Miss Piggy eat your heart out!
I’m sure you can therefore imagine why it took me awhile to dress for my first roster, last weekend, making sure whatever I chose would not clash with the fluro orange that I was about to don. I groaned as I slipped on my flat loafers, an OH& S requirement apparently, obviously a directive from a man who had no idea that women and heels were like men and remotes; inseparable. Finally after three-quarters of my wardrobe had been discarded to the bedroom floor, I was satisfied. Tucking a pair of my favourite heels into my oversized tote and with one last admiring glance in the mirror (for Miss Piggy), I was out the door early.
I had alerted all my friends to be on the lookout for me, making sure they knew the auspiciousness and historic nature of the occasion. I was therefore more than a little put out when the weekend deacons stared at me blankly when I announced in my best stage voice whisper, ‘I’m here for car park duty’.
‘Your name’s not on the roster,’ the tall dark one said.
‘Besides, you can’t possibly be,’ added short balding man. ‘You’re dressed far too nicely for car park’.
I tossed my ponytail in frustration. Honestly, can you ever be dressed too nicely? And besides, hadn’t he seen my flat loafers? Compliment or not, no one was going to get in between that car park and me.
‘Well it’s on my roster.’ I squeezed out between pursed lips. The inevitable Mexican standoff, Miss Piggy style, was only avoided by the emergence of the young team leader striding down the hall. Rather dashingly I thought, all memory of sweating brows wiped from my memory.
Eager to show I had been listening to his instructions from my training day, I grabbed the vest he handed me from the cupboard labelled ‘Car Park’.
‘Oh!’ I exclaimed. ‘It’s so big!’ I was sure they would have ordered in a smaller one for me by now. What were they thinking? Flat shoes and now this oversized garbage bag look? I was distracted from my annoyance by the weight of the walkie-talkie that I had clipped to my waist. Without a belt, my trousers started to inch their way downwards with each step I took. It wasn’t hard to see why there were no women on the team.
Trying his best not to look like he was groping me, young team leader awkwardly attempted to hang the man sized walkie-talkie from various parts of my clothing. He eventually secured it to the oversized vest under my armpit and stretched the cord around my back and up to my neck, which had the effect of pulling the centre zip sideways so I looked like part of me was permanently caught in a door. Even my accessories couldn’t overcome this fashion disaster.
But the final blow came when I reached out to grab the promised arm-wobble-reducing cones, from the shelf behind him.
‘Surely you know they’re only used at night,’ he scoffed as we walked out into the bright afternoon sun. It was his o-so-condescending tone that hurt the most. Perhaps that was my closest Miss Piggy moment.
My expectation and exuberance had now been entirely extinguished and was replaced with not a little apprehension and anxiety. Not that I was letting on of course.
I was given the option of having a go or just watching from the sidelines, ‘till I felt confident enough of course’. Annoyance arose. No one puts Miss Piggy on the sidelines.
‘What? ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me?’ I snorted contemptuously over my shoulder. ‘I didn’t leave my heels in my handbag just to watch.’ And marched out into the oncoming traffic.
Much to everyone’s surprise including mine, I turned out to be ‘a natural’. I waved my hands in the air and took control of the cars streaming in and then out of the gates. Directing them to stop, go; give way or park wherever I pointed. Women gasped with delight as they stood obediently behind my outstretched hand at the pedestrian crossing whilst I impatiently wound up the slow drivers with the other. One woman even broke free and ran across to hug me, gushing with gratitude. Admiring looks and waves were aplenty and the occasional man would step out of his parked car and begrudgingly admit that I was ‘doing a good job’.
‘It’s a perfect fit for control freaks’ said young team leader over the walkie-talkie to no one in particular, as if to neutralize the compliments.
‘It takes one to know one!’ I retorted holding my finger on the button a moment longer than was needed, just to make sure I wasn’t cut off.
But by this stage no one could wipe the grin off my face. I was truly in my element. Just like a pig in mud.
Which explains I guess why I finally called my new business ‘Pig In Mud Styling’. Credit where credit is due.
I sit on my balcony while the lingering sun stretches fingers across a perfect Christmas sky. Overhanging leaves from the gum rustle softly, dappling the lazy rays. A few more moments and it will slip behind the distant tree line, nestling itself into the horizon for the evening. Downstairs, the lights around my sparse Christmas tree blink on, off, on.
Truth be told, its not so much a tree as a twig. Well, several twigs. In a vase. You know, the twisted willow tree type, that curl in a sophisticated way outward. I’ve seen them in shops in those ever-so-fashionable parts of town that you visit but never buy from. Unless you don’t mind being fleeced. Which I do. So I don’t.
Twig-willow Christmas trees have become quite the rage so when I couldn’t find the old plastic tree, or the stand for a fresh one, I thought I would be resourceful and hang our decorations on the twigs instead. It was coming together rather nicely until I pulled the angel out of the storage box. It was her weight that was the problem. I thought only humans had issues in that department until the twig snapped and toppled her from on high. Just like Lucifer I imagined. A right come down. But a Christmas tree without an angel is like a sleigh without Santa. So instead of being on top overseeing the world I jammed her tightly into the thick middle and hoped she wouldn’t mind having to abandon her lofty vantage point for just this year. After all, she wasn’t the only one experiencing a downturn in her circumstances. Which in the end, I thought, was quite fitting.
Relieved to have solved what could have been a deal breaker I moved on to the next challenge. The tree lights. Again, weight was the sticking point.
It’s not until after Christmas that I am usually so focussed on weight. Then about the day after the day after Boxing Day, when most of the food that just-has-to-be-eaten or it will go off- has been, the shadows begin to appear. The blurring in the mirror, the larger than I remembered reflection, a somewhat bloated version bearing resemblance, but surely not me, stares back.
Truth be told though, most cooks will admit that the problem always starts a lot earlier than Christmas day. It’s the amount of baking that needs sampling. And the odd block of chocolate, tucked very carefully away at the back of the pantry for the Florentines, that proves to be too much temptation when the stress of all the baking, amongst other things, gets to you. When only chocolate or wine will do. Or both, usually. Yes weight gain, like most problems in life I’ve found, starts a lot earlier than we want to admit. But only gets acknowledged when it becomes so in your face, in the mirror, that you can no longer dodge around its shadows.
Having learnt how fragile dead twigs are from the angel incident, I skipped to solution mode more quickly. ‘Why is it that we always have to make a mistake before we learn?’ My thoughts tangled momentarily around fallen angels and Lucifer again, until the tyrant called time marched back into my consciousness.
Lights. I gathered them up and bunched them in a circle around the base of the vase. Concentrated white light blazed off and on in unison. ‘And the glory of the Lord shone around’, I mused, distracted at my eclectic associations. I stood back to admire the effect. I was rather proud of the end result. Not only fiscally responsible, but a creative masterpiece, I thought smugly. Until the children came home that is.
‘It nearly poked my eye out!’ the big one complained. ‘And it’s not a Christmas tree’ the other one interposed contemptuously. Amazing how crushing scorn can be. And the effect it can have on you. Reaching into the recesses of my somewhat dim childhood I retorted, ‘It is so a Christmas tree!’
Later of course, when the full season of my years returned to me, I had to concede their point. Technically speaking it wasn’t. But I was still a little miffed that they couldn’t see the connection – twigs and trees were definitely related. My twigs were just dead trees, that’s all.
I push back into my seat, and slide lower in silent agreement with the setting sun. It has been a long day. Again. Too many emotions have pressed against the walls of my heart. I am in need of time, to process, to wade through.
Dead trees can still be useful. And even beautiful. I proved that didn’t I? It’s just that we are not used to looking at a bunch of dead twigs and seeing they still have life in them. A different life perhaps, a different purpose. But of value nonetheless. Only those awash with youthful arrogance can afford to be so dismissive.
I sink deeper and my gaze rests on the large barked branches. I look with out understanding at a growth that seems attached but not a part of it. Gradually as my eyes adjust and focus I register movement and realize I am not alone savouring the sunset.
I trace the outline of two kookaburras pensively leaning into each other. From a distance they look woolly, fluffy even. Their feathers more like fur. Huddled together as only lovers can, their silent intimacy makes me feel like the intruder.
I’m fascinated by their stillness. They too have settled for the night, beaks buried in mottled plumage. Such an enviable peace rests between them.
Is this the peace that the angels were foretelling when the glory shone all around?
That one day, we sinful humans would be clothed in harmonising plumes of understanding and have hearts that beat as one.
No more falling angels.
Too Good To Be True
I was running late. She was early. Situation normal.
I edged forward in the congested traffic by another five metres and did a mental calculation of how long it would take me to travel the remaining 50 metres. A glance at the clock on the dashboard confirmed my fear. Too long. I began to prepare my usual excuses.
She rang at precisely five minutes to eleven. I was busy trying to re-route Google maps in the hope I could avoid the inevitable chastisement but to my surprise she launched instead into a breathless description of the establishment, saying we should call the whole thing off. Caught off guard, I hesitated. It couldn’t be that bad could it? I was reluctant to abandon our plans after so much effort to get there.
‘She’ll be right’, I offered hopefully.
A sudden break in the traffic and I was through the junction.
‘I’m parking’, I exclaimed triumphantly, thankful to whatever it was keeping her off my back.
I spotted her from some distance, standing hesitantly on the pavement, outside a non-descript building. The faded red paint that had been splashed across its walls reminded me of smudged lipstick on a woman well past her prime.
‘We can always leave after the foot thing’ I offered, slinging my arm around her shoulder in a display of solidarity as we moved towards the entrance.
I was inclined to be less troubled by appearances than she was of late, given my own fall from grace. And I was still riding a wave of euphoria that my late arrival had somehow escaped notice. And her scathing tongue. So the early warning signs slipped by in a veil of self-absorption.
We pushed open the door and a familiar seed of misgiving began to germinate. What was it she had said exactly? As always, I regretted not paying more attention.
But there was no opportunity to turn back. We were whisked through a doorway into the bowels of the building. Neglect hung heavily in the air and a short middle-aged Korean or possibly Vietnamese man who seemed to be the boss, motioned impatiently for us to sit down. The windowless room was divided up into shoe-box-sized cubicles replete with three-quarter-length hanging curtains that served as partitions. Small stools had been placed in an orderly fashion at each entrance. A hospital-style bench was the only other item in the sparsely furnished booths, reminiscent of the third world emergency wards found in archived episodes of MASH. Except for the man in the black cotton tunic – definitely no Alan Alda.
I followed Nadine’s example and took up my allocated place at the entrance of the booth next to hers. We sat facing out into the corridor like two naughty preppies. Short women, also in black-cottoned tunics, moved about hurriedly, seemingly under instructions from the boss-man. Nadine caught on quicker than me and already had her shoes and socks off. As usual, my fingers had chilled and unzipping my boots proved cumbersome. I set them hastily behind my stool turning back just in time as a bucket of hot water was left in front of me.
Not wanting to look as ignorant as I felt, I squinted sideways towards Nadine to see what was expected.
‘What’s with the water?’ I muttered.
‘Tea’, she grimaced back, ‘for your feet!’
She wasn’t kidding. Leaning a little closer I saw a tea bag floating around her plastic lined rubbish bin.
My expectation of the Herbal Foot Spa that we had booked and paid for as part of our Pamper Package was lounging in a pulsating armchair, whilst my feet and legs were lathered and massaged in moisture-rich oils and gently patted dry with a toe-nail-painted finale.
But my toes were now as white as my fingers, which was probably just as well or I would have put my boots back on then and there. Despite how objectionable a bucket of tea was, my ice-cold toes needed heat and so did my hands. I thrust my feet gratefully into the hot water and sat hunched over the bucket dipping fingers covertly into the mulled tea and waited for a girl to come and start massaging my feet. Needless to say, no one did.
Instead, after about 15 minutes of tea-bag-soaking, tunic-clad-boss-man re-appeared waving his arms towards Nadine. Without a word or a backward glance at me, my fiercely outspoken and modest friend gathered her shoes and socks and disappeared meekly into the cubicle opposite closely followed by a tunic-clad-girl.
I strained to catch snatches of the conversation until boss-man burst back through the curtains and gesticulated for me to follow him. When it began to dawn on me that there was no tunic-girl joining us in my cubicle I wondered how many ladders I had walked under lately or how many black cats I’d crossed. I was pretty sure I hadn’t run over any china men.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.
With halting English he made it clear that I was to take my clothes off. Clearly I had drawn the short straw. Pay-back, I thought to myself, for always being late and thinking I could get away with it. If I believed in Karma this was surely it.
I was horrified and stumbled around with my words, awkwardly hoping that I had misunderstood him but he became even more animated and moved his hands in circular motions around his chest and repeated his instruction to ‘take off all clothes’. My heart sank. That included the bra. There was no mistaking him this time. He slipped out through the curtain and I stood still clutching my boots to my chest in a pool of indecision. Should I make a run for it now? In bare feet? Was I about to let a strange stranger have his way with me?
Low voices from Nadine’s direction reminded me that we were only separated by thin layers of curtain which seduced me into thinking I was somehow safe. Realizing he could come back any minute I tugged at my jumper, pulling it quickly over my head. I wanted to be well and truly under the blanket that lay on the bed before then.
I could hear my heart pounding as I lay waiting, face down. I chose ‘remedial’ over ‘relaxing’ deciding it was more appropriate and proper given the circumstances. I was ready and had resolved to stay alert and on guard, to hate every minute and find fault with every aspect of this very unpampering ‘pamper package’. I had no doubt that Nadine would file a complaint with the Deals.com web site despite the old adage of buyer beware. We had both laughed at the price saying it was ‘too good to be true’, and booked it anyway. It was our own fault we hadn’t done our homework and read the fine print, obviously. I felt a fool for being fooled.
But we had plenty of ammunition to fight back with. Where were all the forms we normally had to fill out before a masseuse would lay a hand on you? What used to feel like suffocating over regulated health and safety checks and multiple questionnaires inquiring into past medical histories now felt reassuringly comforting- we were in a first world country after all. Yes, Nadine would see to it that this business would be shut down in no time, I reminded myself smugly.
Formalities finished with, tunic-clad-boss-man got down to business.
Grabbing my hair he deftly twisted it up into a sweeping bun and secured it on top of my head with a flourish.
That grabbed my attention.
Impressive, I thought, especially for a man. Then mentally shook away such a concession.
However, a further five minutes into the hour-long treatment and all my resistance had been overpowered. Every muscle in my body was worked until it gave up its struggle. My mind, drugged by the release of so much tension, fought valiantly to find fault and failed. Even the unusual sensation of fingers massaging inside my ears didn’t raise an objection. I fleetingly wondered at how I would defend the treatment against Nadine’s sure criticism, until she floated past my cubicle on the way out.
One look at her and I knew she too had just experienced true conversion.
Later, we sat across from one another, sipping coffees in surprised silence. Contemplating both our good fortune and our shameful prejudices.
Like two preppies that had been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
After they had swallowed the last mouthful!
A Word About D
If I could re-order the alphabet
I’d skip right past the D
Do not disturb
on the wall
for all to see
Some say we should eat the A
it keeps the Devilled D away
I’m not convinced
I well remember
it led Adam as well as Eve astray
So I’d start with B
Beautiful when Betrothed
yet Bold and double Barrelled
on the Battlefront opposite D
C can get Cantankerous
Clogged Courts trying to Contain
the Consequences of broken Contracts
when in Contempt of D
E’s a straight traveller
(notice we’ve skipped past D from C)
you’ll Encounter Evidence
words of great Encouragement
Endearing even wouldn’t you agree
Whereas F is often Fraudulent
spinning Flights of Fancy
setting Foxes amongst the vines
Flatulence a Figment of imagination
a Frequent liar I have found
At this point
I’d set my sights on J
collect Integrity and Impartiality
along the way
and Head to Justice
straight up and down
and Hope the Jurisprudent Juror
I long to dawdle through time
Linger in bed just longer than enough
And run fingers through cobwebbed thoughts
I could untangle knots of anxiety
Cornered decisions could stretch and grow
Expectations would wander carelessly and free
I yearn for empty spaces
Unallocated to other’s deafening demands
Left alone to ponder cravings as yet unmet
With an absence of hurriedness I could loiter
Down cobbled paths of dust-covered dreams
Window shop through my unexplored future
To stop and stay awhile in one memory
Pay my respects and bid it adieu
Would be a luxury found only lost in time
Can I help you?
Planning a wedding, decorating an event or styling a home, is not just a business to me; it’s what I love to do.