Claire Went There

And wound up here

Archive for the month “March, 2014”

Smell and the World Smells With You

Several years ago a friend mentioned her new habit of looking waiters and cashiers in the eye when she spoke to them. She said she realized that they were always looking at her, but that she was looking at her bag, or the table, or just somewhere off in space. She was happier now that she was acknowledging and actually engaging with those who were helping her. I, too, had recently become an aggressive smiler – grinning at everyone, all the time, and I was also much cheerier and more open to the people around me. It only took me 45 years or so to adopt this ridiculously obvious habit.

My grandmother on the crazy side had a full-blown facial tic that caused her to look like she was smiling maniacally all the freaking time. She would stretch the corners of her mouth back, show her parted teeth and squinch up her eyes – kind of like The Joker if that helps with the visual. This happened maybe 6-7 times a minute. A minute. And while I can assure you that this woman was most definitely not smiling that much, everywhere she went people smiled at her. I can remember being very little and hearing my Mother and Aunt chuckling because Grandma did not like or understand why the shopkeepers or gas station attendants or anyone really, was acting so damn familiar with her. But she was “smiling;” she looked like the kind of person she absolutely was not.


Grandma looks nice

I have one of those faces that looks bitchy in repose. When all of my features relax, or when I’m concentrating, or not actively engaging my facial muscles, I appear unapproachable or maybe downright mean. There was a time when I cultivated this look. I guess I thought it made me look tough yet sexy, or bad but intriguing like Pat Benatar or Madonna. I made 80s bitch-face for 20 years.


I would smile all the time if I had that “shirt.”

Then one night during my power suit decade, I stopped at a Quickie Mart after work to buy cigarettes (which added to the working-girl-gone-rogue vibe). The cashier rang up my purchase then looked at me with his head tilted and said, “You smell.”

You smell!
What? I don’t smell!
You smell! Smell!
No! Stop!

The cashier then turned to his co-worker and said something quickly in another language that uses lots of hand gestures. The co-worker stepped to the counter and said, “He wants you to SMILE. He says smile!” His friend nodded his head and said “Yes! You smell more and it makes you nice!”

Three things came from that night. First, I tell the story all the time because it’s awesome and sweet and funny. Second, I smile all the time, at everyone. 18 years ago some dude from a faraway land working at a Quickie Mart on a busy road off I-75 told me I smell and has since changed everything about how I greet life and people, and how other people perceive me.

And third, I stopped smoking, because it’s possible that I did smell.


Maybe You Can Call Me Maybe!

Quick, what’s your nickname? You have at least one, right?  Congratulations, someone loves you.

I am among the nicknameless, the not-chosen ones, the ones who leave the “likes to be called” line blank.  I told Coach that I was going to write about how I have never had a nickname and he spent nearly 20 minutes saying “that’s so sad!” and telling me all of his, which I already know. I can tell when someone met Coach by the name they use;  Haji, Wuss, Big D, Cool Breeze, Coach, or his name plus “y.” He’s special and obviously much adored.

Here are the few, very lame, efforts others have made to give me a pet name: Clara, Clarabelle, Clayer, Clairey.

First, Coach is the only one who can call me Clara and get away with it, but even that depends on many factors, like distance, mood and what he wants.  My sister will say or write “Clayer,” which might be an homage to my 2nd grade mis-clap, or is perhaps the way she pronounces it. One friend – one – calls me Clairey. And then there’s Clarabelle, which is truly distressing because…

clarabelle clown

This is Clarabell

And this is Clarabelle

And this is Clarabelle

Who knows how much my lack of a tag would bother me if I hadn’t experienced a crisis in my middle grade years. During recess, I would stand outside against the wall poking at rocks with a stick, and listen to the Mustang cheerleaders practice their cheers. The fascinating “Roll Call” mocked and tortured me the most, and is the cheer that woke me up to my dilemma. In a call-and-response chant the girls would introduce themselves and their pet names. 

My name is Karen! (yeah!)
They call me Care (yeah!)
‘Cause what you’re handling (yeah?)
Is very rare! (CHECK IT OUT!)
Sha boogie, sha sha shaboogie, ROLL CALL!

I spent many tedious hours working through this cheer in case I ever tried out and was chosen for the Mustang Cheer Squad (SPOILER ALERT: didn’t happen). But the second line tripped me up every time.

My name is Claire (yeah!)
They call me Claire (yeah!)
‘Cause no one has ever (yeah?)
Called me anything other than that (CHECK IT OUT!)
Sha boogie, sha sha shaboogie, ROLL CALL!

My last chance at a fun epithet was motherhood – of course I’m mama, mommy, mom, but that’s what I AM, so it does not count. For a while the junior child called me Mamalee, and the more worrisome and random “Mother O’Brien,” neither of which had anything to do with anything at all.

And now my nickname ship has sailed. There is nothing else to call me. Either I never did anything particularly memorable or I am just not very pettable (I know which one it is, thanks).  For 38+ years the Roll Call cheer has taunted me. If you can finish it for me in a way that makes sense AND rhymes, please do so. You’ll be my best friend.

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