Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Twice A Day, Every Day.

I was thinking about television shows and music I used to listen to as a kid the other day, when I suddenly remembered a record that my brother, Thor, and I used to listen to all the time when we were little. It was a story called "Karius og Baktus," and it was all about the importance of brushing your teeth. On the other side of the record (yes, it was a real vinyl record) was another story called "Litla Ljót," which translates to "Little Ugly" and was kind of an "ugly duckling" story about a girl who is ugly and then becomes beautiful. That story was just fine, but I'm here to talk about Karius and Baktus. Allow me to put faces to the names. Here they are:

They look innocent enough, don't they? Well, don't be fooled. Within that fun and playful record jacket, carved into the black vinyl grooves, is some of the scariest, most messed up sh*t you will ever hear. Ok, let me back up.

So the story begins by introducing Karius and Baktus as two characters who are brothers. They like to sing and laugh and have fun all day. Where do they live? This is where the horror begins. They live... IN YOUR TEETH. Yes, that's right. And they build their houses in your teeth by chipping away at them with tiny axes and hammers and stuff. Their voices are especially creepy, they have these shrill little laughs and they make you eat sweet things so your teeth will rot. Imagine being a young child and thinking that at this very moment you, too, might have two little men chipping away at your teeth with pick axes. Thor and I certainly did.

So you're hearing everything from Karius and Baktus's point of view, and occasionally you hear the muffled, distant voice of their host, the little boy in whose mouth they live, and I think his mother as well. One day you hear The Voice moan and say that he has a toothache. So his mom tells him he has to go to the dentist.

This is where it starts to get really messed up. In fact, I think they scream at the kid not to go, and when the dentist tells him, "Opnaðu munnin," which means, "Open your mouth," I think they told him not to do it. They were really scared of the dentist. The boy opens his mouth, and I think he gets his cavity drilled. I'm a little foggy on the details, but the end result is this: Karius and Baktus are murdered. They die horrible, grizzly deaths, and you hear every last terrifying detail. They see a light when the boy opens his mouth, and then the dentist's tools come closer and closer, and the two brothers commence with wailing, screaming for help. One by one their houses are demolished by the various dental implements. But it doesn't stop there. They drown in the water the boy uses to rinse his mouth, and you hear them choking, sputtering, trying to swim to each other and save each other, until finally their screams fade into the distance and they are washed down the drain.

Imagine that you are six years old and your little brother is two, and you're both listening to this on the record player in the living room, eyes wide with horror, chubby little cheeks quivering with fear. I distinctly remember straining to listen for the voices of Karius and Baktus when I brushed my teeth as a little kid. Sometimes when I didn't want to brush my teeth, my mother would say, "Look, I can see where Karius and Baktus are building a house in your teeth, you'd better brush them!" which would fill me with terror of course, not just because little tiny trolls were digging cave-homes in my teeth, but also because now I would be forced to murder them with my own toothbrush.

Many children's stories are messed up in ways that we only truly grasp later on as adults. Have you ever gone to Disney World or Disneyland as a "grown-up"? It's weird. But as children with an Icelandic mother, we had extra things to be frightened of. Not only was there Karius and Baktus, even our version of Santa Claus was scary. The traditional story is that 13 "Yuletide Lads" as their name translates in English, come down out of the mountains to sneak into people's homes at night and play pranks on them. But their mother was even scarier. Her name is Grýla and she lives in the mountains and, as it was explained to me, either eats or enslaves naughty children. She and her (third) husband, Leppalúður, also have a huge black cat who eats children who don't wear new clothes on Christmas.


The worst thing about these stories, unlike many children's stories, is that they're totally plausible. There could be 13 weird guys who sneak around people's homes and peek in the windows, slam doors, steal food, etc. And there could be a mean lady who steals and mistreats children. According to the Wikipedia article on Grýla, in Iceland "a public decree was issued in 1746 prohibiting the use of Grýla and the Yule Lads to terrify children." Apparently, my mom did not get this memo. Even though I lived in America, I was regularly threatened with, "Á ég að kalla á Grýlu?" ("Should I call Grýla?) whenever I was bad. It never occurred to me that Grýla might not have a passport, or a plane ticket to America, or a phone, for that matter. I was scared of Grýla, and totally believed that my mom had her phone number and could have her here in the States to eat and/or enslave me at a moment's notice.

There were American tales that scared me too. The only one that really got me was the wicked witch from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Remember her?

Let's just say my childhood nightmares were well-stocked with frightening characters from various cultures. It's all right. Now it's something we can all laugh about (nervously). And I'm sure one day if I have kids who are driving me crazy, I'll pick up the phone and pretend to call Grýla too. And I'll definitely know how to get them to brush their teeth....

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Covered In Croissant Crumbs

What am I doing at Starbucks? I hate everything Starbucks stands for, I've decried it as "the McDonald's of coffee," I hate how they ruined the name Starbuck for me (it was the name of the first mate in Moby Dick), and I think their coffee tastes nasty and burned. But they have free internet. And my new house does not. That's why I'm here several times a week. That's also why the people who work here are starting to know my name. And what I usually order. "Refresh tea?" I switched it up to iced coffee today, to keep them on their toes.

I had to move away from my old place because my roommates wanted a new best friend instead of a roommate who had no interest in listening to their terrible music and watching romantic comedies with them. So now I live in a house that used to be a bed and breakfast, but is now divided up into rooms for rent. There are three guys who live upstairs (I've only seen two of them out in the driveway/parking area) and then my room and bathroom are downstairs. The landlady lives in the bigger part of the downstairs area.

The house is big and old and dark. But I only had about 48 hours to move, and the only other place I looked at was a couple of dead bodies shy of being a crack house. So I chose the bed and breakfast. It smells like mildew and is decorated in floral wallpaper, Bible quotes, and carousel horses. I'm sure plenty of people would find it cozy, but since my mother is a Scandinavian interior designer, I spend a good portion of my time mentally redecorating it.

And why, why, WHY do people around here decorate their homes with Bible quotes? I'm fine with the Bible, I'm a spiritual girl, and although my spiritual path is a mixture of a lot of different religions and beliefs, I'm not against Bible quotes in general. But I always pictured Jesus as this radical revolutionary of love. Some long-haired hippy guy beating the crap out of the coin changers in the temple and telling everybody to shut up and get along (in so many words). I just don't think he would like tacky, country-style wall hangings of his quotes all over the walls of poorly decorated homes! I sure don't. If you have to have Bible quotes all over your walls, at least make them cool looking! No teddy bears, please. They should have pictures of like, a dragon biting a lightning bolt coming out of a storm cloud, with a cyclone in the background and then in huge letters across the top the words, "Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  Wait no, that's not very warm and cuddly. OK, how about instead you could have like, two Viking warriors, wearing bear skin shirts and helmets, running toward each other on a muddy field, one with a battle axe raised above his head and the other with a huge sword raised over his, and then in between them a picture of Jesus holding out his hands saying, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Now THOSE are Bible quote pictures I would like to see. Not teddy bears and angels riding a carousel horse through a field of flowers. Come on.

Anyway, I'm still working at a major American department store, whose name will go unmentioned. You'd be surprised the situations you find yourself in working retail... *insert dream sequence here*

"The 12th Year Is Silk"

I was working in the woman's "intimate apparel" department the other day when I turned around and saw a man lingering on the edge of the pajama section looking uncomfortable and lost. He seemed too nervous to even look directly at the pajamas, just glanced at them every couple of seconds and then looked around. He clearly needed help.

I walked over to him, he looked like he had just come from work and his job obviously had him doing some kind of manual labor outdoors. He had on a baseball cap, a flannel shirt, dirty jeans, his hands were all covered in callouses, and his skin was tan and freckled. He looked like he was about my age, maybe older, but definitely not older than 32.

Me: "You look a little lost, do you need some help?"
Him (in a thick southern drawl, which was strange since we're in the North, but added to the effect): "Yeah, do y'all have any, um... silk pajamas?"
Me: "Well, we have these nighties and some robes. Or did you mean for men?"
His eyes widened and he shook his head no, as if I had called his manhood into question just by implying that a man might wear silk pajamas.
Me: "Ok... Well this is all we have that's silk. Who are you shopping for?"
Him: "My wife. It's our twelfth anniversary, and I looked it up on the internet, and the 12th anniversary is silk, so I figured I'd get her some silk pajamas or something."
Me: "Oh! Well yeah, you could get her one of these nighties and a robe to match."
Him (looking at the short, revealing nightgowns): "Now, this is probably just the man in me, but do you have anything a little more practical than these?"
Me: "Well, no offense or anything, but silk isn't exactly a practical material. You don't think she'd like these?"
Him: "Well, I guess she would..."

First of all, the fact that it was their twelfth wedding anniversary shocked me. I know they get married young out here, but I didn't know it was a high school graduation requirement! I assumed he was my age, but that would mean he had been married since he was 16! Hey, it's possible. My guess is he was about 30 and got married right out of high school at 18. Good grief! At least they're making it work, I guess.

We went through the process of picking out a size. ("To be honest, she'd probably need an Extra Large. I bought her a nightgown once and I remember it fitting fine on the bottom, but it was, uhhhh... a little tight on top.") Then he chose a color he thought she'd like (midnight blue, a classy and sexy choice! I was impressed.). Then he got a matching robe. (He couldn't decide if he should make it match or not. After going back and forth several times I finally said, "She's going to want it to match," and took one off the rack). Every single part of the process seemed to embarrass him more and more.

I told him I'd give him a gift receipt so she could return it if she didn't like it, but that I thought she would probably like it. He said, "Well, I think she'll like the fact that I put a lot of thought into it." How cute is that? I agreed, and said I thought it was really nice that he looked up the traditional gift and wanted to follow that. (I really don't care about stuff like that, but I did think the gesture itself was very nice.)

Then he said, "Yeah, last year was really tough, because I had my sister look up what the 11th anniversary gift should be, and it was stainless steel!"
"Stainless steel? What on earth did you get her?!" I replied.
"A skateboard."
How. Adorable. Is that.
"You got your wife a skateboard for your anniversary?"
"Yeah, well, we're really into snowboarding, so it was actually a longboard, and she liked it a lot. The board itself was wood, but the bearings were made of stainless steel."

By this time I was placing the items in a gift box and there were a couple of ladies waiting in line behind him. He was worried that she would see the credit card statement before he had a chance to give her the gift. I told him if she asked him why he went to *store name* he should just say something like, "Can't a man go to *store name* when he feels like it without being questioned like a common criminal?..." He laughed, and as soon as he walked away, the woman in line behind him immediately said, "He was so cute."

All I have to say is, she'd better like that anniversary gift, because I liked it, he did put a lot of thought into it. It took him forever to pick out the color. So see, people? It is the thought that counts. And it counts even more when you haven't thought about a gift at all. It always shows. I still remember one Valentine's Day in college when the guy I was dating at the time and I decided that since we were broke students we would only spend $10 on our Valentine's Day gifts. I got him a DVD of the movie "We Were Soldiers" because I knew he liked Vietnam War movies. He bought me a purple teddy bear holding a heart. We are no longer together.

All right, time to go! I have more things to do than sit here writing about presents all day... Ok, all I have to do is go to the grocery store and then go home and do nothing. I think I'll start practicing knitting again. One day I'd like to be able to knit something other than a rectangle.